On Phoenix’s viewscreen was a world torn between perpetual day and perpetual night. One day it would become home to thousands of people, people who were stubborn in their ways. With some sadness Regina looked on to the slim grounds between a scorching day and a freezing night. “I think we looked at it long enough.” She shook her head, negotiations with Dawn Horizon had failed, and for more than negotiations she was neither willing, nor authorised. Much to the disliking of Equatorian officials.

“Lay in a course for our next POI.” Feeling weird she left the bridge.

“I hear we are leaving the tidal locked planet?” As usual when she left the bridge Kurt somehow managed to know and apprehend, or find her. “We are. How do you always find me when I leave the bridge?”

Smiling he nestled with her collar. “I have planted a tracking device on you, how else?” She knew he was joking, and she even thought his remark was funny. But she felt not like laughing. “I need a break.” She sighed, gesturing him to leave her alone.

Sometimes, although not often she just needed a break from everything.

Including him.

Now was such a time.

 

Disappointed that he could not spend more time with the woman he loved Kurt returned to the control centre. For a few months Phoenix had been lying idle in orbit over RV-p296. For one to teach the Equatorians how to build an antimatter reactor and the propulsion systems of Phoenix in a safe way. The designs present in their databases was the faulty unstable one from the original Ark-class ships. For the other reason to tweak their own propulsion system.

Fineman and Kurt had refined the designs and made it faster, now that they had the chance to redesign their engines and go to a lush sunny planet, Regina wanted to do this.

The trip back to Mars would take months, not years.

With the new design they were still a far way from the efficiency of the linker engines, but also had come a far way from what they had started with.

“We’re ready to engage, when you are.” Linus reported to the bridge next door, just as Kurt entered.

Moments later the antimatter drive engaged.

“Are you going to miss the sun?” Estranged by the unusual question, Kurt was a little baffled. In addition Linus’ expression was suggestive.

By now his relationship with the General was an open secret. “I think I will miss it a little, but we have an adequate substitute on board.” He winked.

“The gardens or the beds?” Smirking at the suggestive question Kurt reminisced for a moment about the sandy beaches of Equatoria. Which were not as far spread as he had envisioned. Most of Equatoria was swampy, with wide fields of local crops, and the colony siting in the delta of a river.

But there were beaches, and the crew of Phoenix flocked to them like migrating birds.

Shore leave. For the first time in their lives at an actual shore.

From Benjamin Fuller, Kurt had gotten the tip of a secretive small beach in a cove where a smaller arm of the river opens to the sea.

Kurt and Regina had gone there, supposedly unseen.

“Both really. I can not recommend sleeping on Equatoria, the beds are too short for martian people.” A fact that might change if they introduce artificial gravity to Martian territory. There certainly is enough power from Mars’ interior.

“Oh.” Nodding in over acted understanding Linus turned towards his console. “Well, everything here checks out.”

Kurt looked at his, couldn’t agree more. “How about lunch?” He turned to Linus, whose turn itwas now to be baffled at an unusual question.

Sure the two men had formed a friendship, had taken lunches together. But only sporadically. When Kurt declined an invitation to lunch in order to eat alone, he ate with the General. “Sure thing, is there bad weather?”

“The weather on this twilight rock is always the same. Wind from the night side!” Overly dramatic gesturing with his hands Kurt looked towards the door.

“Alright, we should go then, unless we only want the leftovers in the cantina.” Internally Kurt cringed. The lunch dates with Regina had another benefit.

No cantina, no food from the cantina.

In secret Kurt suspected the cook to have a grudge over his or her assignment, thus delivering bad food. Or it was just as it has always been in most of human history since cantinas were introduced to society. Cantinas serve bad food.

Nutritional, maybe.

Good, no.

 

“Well I can tell you Regina, your healthy as a horse.” Doctor Cassandra Smith sat down at the table in the small room. “Why do I feel like vomiting then?” Buttoning up her uniform, Regina gave the black woman with the long braids a demanding glare.

Forming a broad smile Cassandra looked deep in Regina’s eyes. “Reg, do I really need to tell you?”

Sighing Regina sat back down, the exam bed made an elongated hissing noise as she did. “Yes Cassy, you need to. Because if you don’t, I’m going to make wild assumptions. And if my assumption is correct the physician who last maintained my implant on Mars, will receive a one way trip to Ericsson.”

“If your assumption is pregnancy, you better prepare that one seater to Ericsson.”

In silence Regina stared at Cassandra. “How far am I?”

Within a second Cassandra’s smile waned. “Not far. Why?” The stoney expresion Regina was almost famous for, returned to the General’s face, got mirrored by the doctor in front of her. “Not a single doctor in martian society would do that.”

“If I order you to?” Even her nasal tone had made a return. In the eyes of the general was the cold ambitious glow of a career oriented predator, sending a cold shiver down Cassandra’s spine. “I’d have to disobey. You know the laws as well as I do.”

Grinding her teeth Regina continued to stare at her friend and physician. Feeling uncomfortable with that glare on her Cassandra got up, only to realise that the General was not staring at her, but an undefined point in front of Regina.

“Look. With the new found technologies to take the martian populous to RV-p296, where the reproductive restrictions are slowly fazed out, it might come to pass that you can have an abortion. But as the law lies right now, I can only do that if the child is severely handicapped, the result of rape or incest, or the very real possibility of death for either the unborn or the mother is imminent.”

With the introduction of the implants, which also functioned as a contraceptive, laws for abortions had been made very restrictive. Mostly so that couples who applied for having the contraceptive turned off, would not then change their minds. Reflecting on those past developments Regina clenched her jaw. “Listen. I want you to look something up for me. Has Kurt Brown his implant’s function turned off?”

Displaying a benign smile again Cassandra sat down once again, the cold and hard expression in Regina’s face had been replaced by an expression of fear. “I already took the liberty of doing so, and yes. It had been turned off, he and his former wife had applied to when their son was three, apparently they never had any luck in conceiving again, and simply forgot the implants function for contraception was off.” Still stonefaced out of fear for her career Regina nodded.

“Listen, I know you’re afraid. I would probably be too. But try to see it from that perspective. We have assignments. There will be no one to replace you permanently available for at least a year, or much more. You can have the child, continue your position, and other than having a child on board, nothing will change.”

It was that “having a child on board” part that scared Regina. Cassandra was right, her position as General was secure. She just had never seen herself as a mother.

Kurt had a son, who was all grown up, so she was not entirely certain how he would react to the news.

 

Submerged deeply in thought Regina left the infirmary, headed to the garden on the spearhead. Certain that Kurt was not there, nor anyone else who would bother her, she sought out the bench she favored.

Having a kid was absolutely not in her interest. It troubled her that there was no way to have an abortion. Reproductive rights were already infringed by the implants and the two child policy, as it had been the case with the Orion-class ships crews. That was a matter of survival. Too many children would mean too many mouths to feed, with limited resources such as on the ships and on Mars that infringement on reproductive rights was necessary for the survival of the entire community.

Restrictions on abortion however, were not. They were a hassle, implemented to keep people from making dumb and rushed decisions. It was already hard to get permission if not married, so there was not exactly a spreading rash of potential abortions.

Determined to have another talk with Cassandra, Regina got up. Maybe she could have the whole ordeal done off the record?

No questions asked, no red tape, no one needed to know a thing.

Including and especially Kurt.

 

“I am bound by an oath to preserve life, not destroy it.”

“What life? What can I give this child? The feeling of being unwanted. I am dead certain that I could not warm up to it, let alone love it. I am a General, commanding a starship. We go out into deep space, we explore. Sooner or later we will encounter dangers unforseen, perhaps get annihilated one fine day. If the kid survives, or I dump it on Mars, or Equatoria, what great life will it have? Dead mother, one that had not been there in the first place.” Regina paced up and down the small examination room. “And I guarantee you, that I would not relinquish my command to raise it.”

Sitting down on the bed she stared at Cassandra. “Cassy, right now, all I feel for it is a form of disgust. Like I’d feel for a leech, or a tick, or any parasite.”

Letting her shoulders hang Cassandra turned to the screen. “Look.” She touched a few displayed buttons. “I will show you how an abortion works, what I would do to you. Then, tell me again whether you really would want this or not.”

 

Days on Phoenix went by, one like the other. Especially when the ship was travelling. All that was left to do for Kurt was take readings, compare them to other readings.

Maintain a steady flow of antimatter into the reactor, keep the production of antimatter running at nominal levels, and generally things that did not challenge him. Linus did the same tasks, and they often changed their routines in order not to get bored.

Theoretical work, like he did in his laboratory on Mars did come a bit short, but he continued working on these things as well.

Instantaneous quantum entanglement communication enabled him to exchange his findings with other scientists, and get reviews, and news of other discoveries and research.

That was how he and Fineman had refined the designs for the engines.

Still, he missed the relative freedom he had in his lab. If he returned to Mars he would still not regain that freedom, but be tucked away in the new laboratory at the Harpy ship, and do some stuff the government told him to.

Compared to that, he preferred the ship. At least he was at the frontier of human exploration.

A notification began beeping in his pocket. Reluctantly he pulled out the glasses. After a few years he still did not warm up to it, would prefer messages and calls over the tablet.

“Meet me in five, my place.” Regina’s voice was hard, she allowed for no reply, as she ended the call right after telling him. A nervous expression began forming on Kurt’s face. Noticing that, Linus bowed over. “Has the weather changed?”

“I think there’s a storm brewing on the horizon.” Kurt replied. Neither had ever discussed the relationship between Kurt and the General, except for those metaphors that Linus used. Still it was a little relief for Kurt to say that.

“I’ll take over, tie everything down before the storm hits.” Linus winked with a supportive smile.

 

Shaky handed Kurt rang the door bell to Regina’s quarters. Why was he feeling so nervous? Her voice. Demanding, hard and distant.

Was this a professional call? Did the icy General want to speak to mad scientist Braun? Or was it something he had forgotten about their relationship?

Someone other than Linus must’ve seen them on the beach, he figured. Now rumors went around, and he was to get the full force of her rage over this.

“Alright, listen I’m sorr… umph.” He received a hard slap to the face. As soon as the doors behind him closed.

Immediately after, he felt Regina’s hand gently reaching for his chin, pulling his face over to hers so she could kiss him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hit you.”

“Yet you did.” He rubbed his cheek. “Why?” Looking at her he realised she was not entirely sure either. “Because you knocked me up, that’s why!” Raising her voice she marched a few paces away from him, stopped and turned back around, seeing utter confusion in his expression.

“You and Maya had applied for a second child, never had it though, apparently everyone had forgotten about this. And mine malfunctioned!” Close to tears she sat down.

Pale and suddenly short on breath Kurt also wandered to the chairs, sat down himself. “Alright? Now what?”

“I don’t know!” Like her voice Regina shot up, the tears were replaced by anger again. “I wanted an abortion because I don’t want a child, after seeing how that is carried out, I don’t think I want that either. I don’t know what to do at this point!”

I’ve heard of mood swings, and witnessed them with Maya, but she is on a roller coaster. “Calm down, would you? There is still time for an abortion should you change your mind.” Not certain if he wanted another child. After all, wasn’t he a bit too old for yet another child? By the time the kid turned eighteen he would be in his early sixties.

“What do you want?” She sat back down. Facing him, she gave him a look as if she was interrogating him.

“I,” he paused, otherwise he’d break I to stammering. “I don’t know. But I think we should remain calm and think these things through. That’s at least how I am used to deal with life.”

He began scratchimg his head, right where he was balding.

“I’m not used to that, I make quick decisions. Those hours since I learned for sure that I am pregnant, have been torture for me.”

Reclining in his seat, Kurt closed his eyes, his hands still on his head. Suddenly he felt Regina’s hand searching for his.

Slowly he opened his eyes, found her looking at him. “I want to remain General, I want to keep my post on this ship, I want you close to me. I don’t want to be reassigned, or reassign myself, if the child means that, that would be my destiny, the child would suffer under my general unhappiness. If having this child would mean you would go back to Mars, or some other place, I would not be happy, the child would miss its mother, and probably would be a very unhappy one.”

If we both stay and something happens to either or both of us, the same thing would be happening. Chasing off that thought Kurt found himself staring into Regina’s blue eyes.

“Right now, I’m as torn on the subject as you are.” Raspy voiced he gently kissed her.

 

For hours Kurt and Regina had sat together, discussing, they had gone through various scenarios. Phoenix had no daycare. No schools for young children, the youngest person on board was a teen of 14 years.

“Our next POI is a dangerous one.” Regina rolled off of Kurt. Somewhen in their discussion the two had both become aroused, thinking of their time on the beach. “What was it again?” Kurt sighed in satisfaction.

“A neutron star, one that has not become a galaxy traversing planet devourer.”

Somewhat concerned Kurt leaned towards his girlfriend. “Can Phoenix withstand that kind of stress?”

“We park at a safe distance, launch only unmanned probes into the vicinity of the thing.” She seemed at peace with the upcoming mission and the dangers such a star harboured. “However, I gave orders in advance to stop at an even greater distance and take readings of the area ahead.”

For several minutes Kurt amd Regina were lying side by side, looking at each other. The topic of their discussion had gone off tracks.

“I will talk with Cassandra again tomorrow. She’ll do it off the record.”

An indefinable melancholy crept into Kurt’s mood. “Tell me when, I’ll be there for you.” Despite the dampening mood he still conjured up a supportive smile.

It was the best solution for their situation. No one could take care of the child, but either him, a man often called ‘borderline mad scientist’, and her, a career oriented general.

Neither was suited to care for an infant.

In addition the situations the Phoenix would end up in, were anything but suitable for a child.

 

“Hutzinger, Maryjane. Astrophysicist. Reporting as ordered.” Brown, curly hair, framing a freckled face with green eyes, the woman in her late fourties stood before Regina.

She was the only addition to the crew that had come from Equatoria.

After learning where the ship went next she volunteered, out of curiosity, and the fact that Phoenix had no astrophysicist. “Great, doctor, I presume.”

“Yes.” Beaming in pride to be on the ship Maryjane could hardly content herself.

“Please report to the control centre next door, we have all stations manned and sadly need them, safety issues, I’m sure you need no lecture about the dangers we might encounter.” Regina sat slightly bowed in her seat.

Why hadn’t she told Kurt? Why not take a few days off?

“No, you needn’t tell me.” Maryjane smiled, turning to the door.

 

Taking a seat near the leaders of the scientists and engineers working in the control centre, Maryjane was a bit nervous.

Other than what had been gleaned from the instruments on Mars, which were more focused on keeping its population alive, there was little close hand data available for a neutron star.

A soft bump went through Phoenix.

Startled Maryjane rose from her seat, saw that no one else had done so, so she sat back down. “Just a gravitational ripple. Calm down.” The chief engineer poked his head out of the cubicle he shared with Doctor Braun.

Still a little jittery she nodded turning her attention to the screen. A gravitational ripple. “A wave?” She looked over to Linus Tuovinen.

Comfirming he nodded, disappeared back inside his shared cubicle.

“Hutzinger to the bridge, please stay at momentary position.” Maryjane tried to make heads and tails of the data in her screen.

“We’re holding position, preparing to fall back.” It was the first officer speaking, someone in the background barked into another com line for a doctor to aid the General.

At a moment’s notice Kurt rushed by Maryjane, despite Linus shouting after him to stop.

 

Outside the control centre Kurt bumped into Cassandra, who was followed by two nurses wheeling a sickbed. Already Regina was lying on it.

“You let her work?” She hissed at Kurt, who was at a loss for words. Seeing this she just motioned him to follow them.

“The general has a,” glancing towards the two nurses Cassandra had to think of different words other than complication after her procedure. “n infection. I thought you were aware. Forgive my harsh tone.”

Momentarily Kurt was at a loss, but caught on after a moment. “No I was unaware. I didn’t even know she had an appointment with you.” Immediately toning it down, as to not rouse more suspicion concerning his relationship with the General, he still followed the two men and the doctor. “I wanted a word with the Admiral, concerning the development of the mission in light of these events, please notify me as soon as she has come around.”

At the door to the infirmary he stopped, looking like a dog, beaten and abandoned in the wilderness. “Will do.” Cassandra nodded over her shoulder, hurrying on.

 

“I told you, to go to your quarters and lie down. To tell your mad scientist, who I believe is mostly mad in love with you, so he could keep an eye on you.” Regina did not immediately know where she was, but she knew who was speaking.

“We’re alone, in case you wondered.” Slowly Cassandra checked the reflexes of her friend and patient.

“I’m,”

“A tough girl. I know, but these things are not to be taken lightly, I told you.” Scolding her was growing boring, besides it seemed to be fruitless. “You’ve had some minor complications, otherwise you’re fine. I took the liberty of writing you off from work for the next two days.” Her expression told Regina that it was with a fake reason, so no one would ever know what had happened.

Feeling bad for her actions on top of feeling bad from her condition Regina sank back into the sheets. “How’s Kurt?”

“Took it bravely, he is pacing around the hallways, a tablet in hand. I hear he tripled our antimatter supply, but I’m sure that’s just exaggeration.” Knowing her boyfriend, Regina guessed it was more the opposite of exaggerated. She had wanted to tell him, but felt that she was going to manage without him knowing.

“In case I ever change my mind, which probably won’t happen, but in case if?”

“In that case, my dear Reggie, listen to your doctor. But yes, that way is still open to you.” Somewhat satisfied and relieved Regina closed her eyes.

Why were they burning? Why was she close to tears?

“Kurt?” Sighing Cassandra rolled her eyes. With her left she typed a few words into her tablet, sending Kurt a message, asking him to come to the General, for the update on the mission, just in case anyone monitored his messages.

 

“I can’t believe what I’m seeing here!” In a whispery tone Maryjane leaned back from her console, Linus sat at her side. “Neither can I. Is that?”

“Yes.” Breathing more than speaking she touched the screen to be sure she wasn’t dreaming. “A strange star. We only theorised about this type of star. But here it is! And I’m the first to see it!” From the scientific community. She added in her head.

“Please fill us in, what is a strange star?” A man behind her asked, without her noticing, a bunch of people had gathered behind her, starig at the display.

“Normal matter is made up of an atom, which consists of electrons, neutrons and protons. The the latter are themselves composed of quarks. These quarks come in different colors. Up, down, strange, charm, top and bottom. Normally a proton is composed of quarks of a certain color. Here another color has replaced the normal composition, strange. Hence the name, strange star.” As if lecturing students Maryjane explained in the most basic terms she could think of.

Hoping no one would ask why the weird terms like ‘strange’ were called colors, and who had come up with that brilliantly confusing term, she turned her attention back to the screen. “It has been theorised that normal matter, the stuff we consist of, or the planets and stars we know, is just an unstabler version of strange matter. We are looking at a star made up of the most stable matter in the universe. Theoretically.”

 

“I hear you tripled our supplies?” Attempting a smile Regina greeted Kurt.

“The reports of my deeds are greatly exaggerated.” He smiled, glad to see her well. His eyes however spoke the question he dared not to ask. Why she hadn’t told him.

“I thought I could manage. Alone. Like I always have.” Ashamed that he saw her vulnerable she shied away from his gaze.

Feeling his hand reach for hers she turned her eyes back to him. “You’re not alone. Not anymore.”

Something began beeping in his trousers. “I think your other girl, this Phoenix, wants your attention.”

“I only have one other girl, that’s science. Phoenix is just a means to get that.” Smirking he reached for his tablet, at the same time another bump went through the ship.

After a second or two alarms began ringing, both on his tablet and in the hallways. “We’re orbiting a strange star!” He exhaled noisily. Smacking her a kiss on the forehead he turned to leave. “Your other love, Phoenix, might be in trouble.” He explained his departure.

 

Needing a larger screen than his own, Kurt headed to the bridge. The first officer sat in Regina’s chair, seemed to be at a loss. A wave of relief washed visibly over him as he saw Kurt, in the vain hopes that the General would follow close behind.

“We’re caught in some sheer.” A navigator belched out information so vague that none could make heads or tails of it.

“Prepare thrusters.”

“Don’t!” Kurt did not look up from his tablet. “You’ll gut the ship if you do!” He reached over to the controls on the General’s seat, displaying the data on the screen. Cursing himself after a moment. “We need to vent the antimatter.” He rushed over to the console normally manned by the first officer. Rich Bauman jumped from his seat. “All of it?”

“Affirmative, it seems that the magnetic turbulence from this star has far reaching implications. Right now it is interfering with our containment chambers, if we keep the antimatter, we’re going to rip apart, if we are lucky.”

Afraid to ask what would happen if they were unlucky Rich just gave Kurt permission to vent the antimatter.

 

Knocked off his feet Kurt stared at the ceiling, not certain what had happened after he pressed the button to vent the antimatter storage compartments.

An intricate web of antimatter surrounding Phoenix was etched into his mind, followed by a violent shaking of the ship.

Gradually he became aware of howling alarms around him. A periodically flickering light told him that the situation seemed to be dire, if even the visual alarms had gone off.

Weak in the knees he got to his feet. Most of the bridge crew were strewn around their seats, Rich had banged his head on the console before him, a trickle of blood ran across the casing and dripped on the floor. “Bridge to any medical personnel, Doctor Braun speaking, we have severely injured people here.”

After a disturbingly long moment of no reply finally an answer came through. “Cassandra Smith speaking, it’s the same picture all over Phoenix. We’ll be there as soon as we can.”

Kurt shook off a little dizziness, tried to focus on his screen, which was blank. Realising he must’ve suffered some sort of concussion, as he had trouble focusing his sight, Kurt tried glancing at the main viewscreen.

Also blank. The few lines of data that were present were only displaying the malfunction codes of their systems.

“Wha,” Rich tried to speak, quickly Kurt rushed to his side, calming the man. “Stay still, you have been injured, medics are on their way.”

Again Rich tried to speak, but seemed to be under too much pain to form a coherent sentence. “I don’t know what happened. Instruments and sensors are offline. I’m afraid some are damaged beyond repair.”

The door behind the two men opened.

“What the fuck did you do to my ship?” The short moment of hope that medical help had arrived was destroyed by Regina’s enraged voice.

“We saved it.” Still feeling dizzy Kurt replied stumbling back to his previous console. “The magnetic fields of the strange star were reacting with the containment of the antimatter, we would’ve been torn apart, so we vented it.”

Yanking at the touch display of the console, Kurt pried it open, revealing a keyboard underneath. With a flick of a switch he severed the station from the network, rebooted it.

After a few minutes it was back up, so he reconnected the network.

With a few commands, he looked up from a table next to the keyboard, he rebooted other systems. Sensors and other instruments.

Many did not react to his commands.

“We have visual sensors back!” The navigator stated looking at the screen. Out of the corner of his eye Kurt saw that Regina stood in awe of what she saw on the viewscreen. Still busy trying to get the other systems to follow the line of reboots Kurt also cast a glance at the viewscreen. Saw the planet, blue oceans, green forests and other areas, the broad polar icecaps, reaching far towards the equator. Obviously a planet at the beginning or end of an ice age.

Kurt turned back to the console, but stopped abruptly.

The shapes of the landmasses! Whirling his entire body around to take a look, he stared at what seemed to be lost, but yet sat there, according to the viewscreen at least.

 

Earth.

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