Chapter 6 The Doorways Beyond

A short time later, the base was back in operation, all systems functioning. Damage was being repaired, casualties - which were astonishingly light - being cared for.

Koenig sat in his chair at his desk, looking over the latest status report. "I'd say we're just about back to normal - whatever that means now."

Helena, leaning against the desk, nodded her agreement. "The only one I'm worried about right now is the Commissioner. When he got off the Eagle he went straight to his quarters and locked the door. He isn't responding to comm signals, either. I'm assuming he just needs time to recover, but if I don't hear from him soon I'll ask security to open the door."

"Fine," Koenig replied. "How are you taking it?"

"Oh, pretty well, considering. And you?"

"It's just one more damn problem to deal with," Koenig said breezily. He realized his expression showed his real feelings, and added, "Ask me again when we've had a chance to look over those planets out there. I'm hoping at least one of them might be capable of providing an evacuation site for us. Which reminds me - Paul!"

"Yes, Commander?"

"When you think we're back to operational level, arrange for another survey Eagle. We're going to want to know which, if any of those planets might be habitable."

"Understood, Sir. I'll get right on it."

"Hey," Victor said, coming in through the side door from the corridor. "I've been going over my initial space-warp calculations, and..."

"Let me guess," Koenig said. "You're going to say you predicted it all perfectly."

Victor grinned sheepishly. "Actually, quite the opposite. I'm going to have to reexamine all of my assumptions. Funny how I keep having to do that, isn't it? I suppose it comes with the territory. Anyway, the fact that Carter's Eagle came along with us even though it was in orbit and not in contact with the Moon means it wasn't just us that became insubstantial - it was space itself that opened up, and let us pass through."

"So it was a space-warp?" Helena asked. "Of some kind, at least."

Victor nodded. "Yup. And it's not as simple an effect as I originally thought. I think that the explosion at Area II has somehow made the Moon's core into some kind of resonant 'key', which unlocks gravitational doors in space. These "space warps" may be connected in some way to gravitational sources, like stars and planets, which is why we wound up here, near another solar system. And it's also likely, when we pass beyond this system, we'll encounter another point at which we'll space-warp to another system, perhaps the next one intersected by our original flight path. Possibly the warp entrances represent balance points between stellar systems, places where the fabric of space itself is equipotential." He smiles. "Or maybe I just don't understand what's really going on. We must always allow that possibility."

"So it's a crap shoot," Koenig observed. "If we don't find anything in this system, we just pull in the oars and wait until we've drifted into the next one."

"You think perhaps that's how Meta wound up near our system?" Helena asked.

"More than that," Victor said, "I'm almost positive of it. You remember that Meta displayed the same magnetic field effect as the Moon. And if that wasn't a natural phenomenon..."

Koenig saw it. "Then perhaps we're not alone in our folly. Maybe in Meta's case when it happened it was the planet, not the Moon, that was hurled out of orbit."

"Even if so," Victor said, "that folly helped save our lives. Contact with Meta has somehow 'healed' the Moon, made it more stable." He smiled ruefully. "That's one way of putting a bright spin on it, I suppose."

"Victor," Koenig reminded him, "you said earlier there was a possibility that the Area II explosion created a singularity, buried in the Moon's crust - could that be the 'key' you mean?"

"Stipulating that I don't know what I'm talking about, it's a possibility, yes."

"Well, if that's the case, how long might we have?"

Victor grinned. "Oh, well. That'd be the good news. Barring any changes in present readings I'd say we'd have, oh, say thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years before it became an issue. Depends on how small the singularity is, of course."

Koenig relaxed. "Well, with that much time, we're certain to have found a new home for ourselves by then."

He, Helena, and Victor exchanged a smile, and turned to look out at Main Mission, where already Paul, Sandra, and Alan Carter were organizing the ship and crew for the survey team.