The door opened. Kelly stepped in, appearing weary.
"You look like you've been standing behind an Eagle engine all day," Melita said with a kind but mildly concerned smile.
"Sure," he said to his wife. "Close. The captain had us running through emergency procedures all day. Including setting up a giant portable fan and blasting hot air at us. DPCS."
"Desert Planet Crash Scenario."
"Oh, that explains it," Melita said, running her hand through his messy hair and lightly across his cheek.
He smiled at her pleasant, caring touch.
Melita smiled some more in return. "You only call him 'the captain' in my presence when you find a task particularly onerous."
"Well, I don't mean any disrespect. Never did like excessive heat much. I suppose that is why he runs some of these training exercises. Speaking of explaining things, what's with the uniform just before...? Oh."
"Yes, late shift tonight and the next three days."
"Right," he said in recall, resignation, and disappointment.
"I took out some of those leftovers from last night. Just heat them. I'm sure you can find some other surprise to suit you if you're still hungry."
They exchanged a kiss. Not a peck, but a kiss. Perhaps no couple felt so secure in life on an itinerant Moonbase.
Then she left. He found the leftovers, stuffed them in the small microwave oven that each quarters came with. He decided after a long day, that was not going to do. He looked in the small 'cube' refrigerator in the same corner stand as the microwave, but while apples felt precious in their own little way too, that was not going to do. He looked in the small, pumpkin-shaped ceramic jar that was always empty since Melita had first brought it here, presumably from Stores.
"Oh, wow, surprise indeed. This will do nicely."
He pulled a cookie out from the bottom of the jar, and put the cover back on. It had what looked like small bittersweet chocolate chips. He walked away back towards the microwave, but surprised and delighted with his wife's little sense of humor and generosity, turned around, took the cover off, reached in again, grabbed another, and found it was an oatmeal raisin cookie.
The microwave beeped. He pulled out his main course, added the two cookies to an emptyish spot on the plate, on top of the rice, and proceeded over to the computer desk, to read some new piloting procedure while he ate.
For the cookies, though, he stopped reading. They were definitely to savor. They seemed to be the genuine article. Seemingly not the pseudo-items that were increasingly becoming staples of "Alphan" diet.
Of course, last year, while still in Earth orbit, many food items had reached the Moonbase in a sort of "neo-flash-freeze" -- sometimes called "neoflash food" that when defrosted seemed more "fresh" than by more typical freezing still in use for most items. Fresh, neoflash, frozen, leftovers, stale, rotten -- the modified list of informal "grades" of food.
Plus, there were dwindling supplies of original-Earth items that could still be had. Sometimes it was due to trades over less-critical duty times, laundry "points" (a whole system of work share on that), or simply but sadly the death of the former holder of some special non-critical food supplies that had not been pulled back to Stores. So either as pre-made or as from-scratch, genuine or mostly-genuine cookies were not yet rare, but no longer common either, while pseudo-cookies were becoming more common. Kelly had no gourmet palate, but these tasted more real than fake. He would definitely have to thank Melita for however she had come up with these.
However, he saw little of Melita the next few days, as alternating shifts and then a crisis had them both busy; and when they were together, time felt rushed, and the priority of cookies, however grateful he had been, still had to wait for a quieter time.
Still, the cookies still helped. To his surprise, another batch appeared two nights later. When does she find the time? He loved her for all sorts of reasons, but this little surprise only reaffirmed that.
Melita hated these long days. Besides the planned odd shifts, another strange encounter had occurred. Perils abounded in their new life. It sometimes seemed a cruel universe, but she could usually seek solace in Kelly's embrace, knowing he also found some solace in her arms.
Today, though, she was rooting for some food in the tiny, depleted refrigerator. Despite wanting only a bite, she was thinking that she would probably have to walk all the way to a cafeteria, even though she was also very tired and almost ready for bed. A long walk might just start waking her back up more.
Then she noticed the old ceramic container had moved. Puzzled, she went to move it back in place, liking an orderly space. However, it was heavy. Way too heavy. Puzzled, she set it down, grabbed the top "stem" and lifted the cover.
She reached in, and pulled out a cookie. Peanut butter? With chocolate chips? Where did Kelly find these? Or did he make them? Or ask someone to bake them?
At the moment. she did not care, loving the gesture, and happy for the convenience. Some surprise energy for tomorrow, in a small package. Fifteen minutes later, the cover back on the jar, and covers on her, as she was already in bed, sleeping soundly and with dreams of childhood.
It was nearly a week before the first odd-shift day reached the last for the couple. Both had been eating cookies along the way, until finally....
"Melita," Kelly said, giving her a kiss on the cheek as they settled in for their first evening -- actually it was only 1644 now -- alone together for awhile. "These cookies are wonderful."
"Oh, yes, they are. So thoughtful."
They looked at each other oddly, thinking it was like they were complimenting themselves more than each other.
"But you--" Kelly started.
"I thought..." Melita said simultaneously.
They stared at each other for another moment, then almost sprinted to that corner of the room. Kelly reached out to the cookie jar, and lifted it up. "Full," he said.
"Did you do that?" Melita asked.
"No. Did you?" Kelly asked her.
They stared again. Implications of strangeness and dangers in space, or weirdo sneaks among people, flicked through their minds.
"I'm going to Medical," Melita said.
"I'm going to Security," Kelly said, reaching for the cookie jar.
"Wait," she said, then reached into a drawer of the same foodprep stand, and pulled out a plastic bag -- something Manufacturing was still capable of making, though this was one batch that had come out opaque due to a temporary problem. "Dump some of them in here."
Chief Medical Officer Helena Russell looked up from her commlock as Melita walked in. "What is it?" Helena immediately asked, seeing a concerned look on Melita's face, and then a bag in her hand. "What is that?"
Melita walked forward and dropped an opaque bag on Helena's desk like there was a dead rat inside.
"Look.... They... just. I don't know. Kelly thought... I thought...."
In the duration Melita was not making any sense, Helena carefully opened the bag, only to be assaulted by the smell of... molasses. "Cookies?" she asked, baffled.
"We don't know where they came from."
"I don't understand. They were in your quarters?"
"In the cookie jar I picked up from Stores a few months ago."
"Are they stale?" Helena asked, still trying to pin down why Melita was so agitated about the sweet treats.
"They have been appearing in the jar. Neither Kelly nor I are putting them in there. I am concerned they may be... poisonous or something."
Finally, something Helena could latch onto. She called in a nurse and ordered up chemical and toxicology analyses of the cookies and Melita's blood.
"I will call Security about--" Helena started, only to be interrupted.
"Kelly is taking the jar and the remaining cookies to Security."
"Oh, where are you taking that jar?" Security Guard Tony Verdeschi, on duty watch in Security Center, asked.
"Here," Kelly said. "There is some sort of security problem with it."
"With a jar?" Tony asked, baffled.
"Cookies have just been appearing in it. Neither Melita nor I have been responsible."
It took only a moment for the always slightly-suspicious Verdeschi to latch on.
"A creeper with a weird sense of humor? Poison?"
"Melita took some to Medical."
Kelly had set the jar down on the watch desk.
Verdeschi took out some dust and a scanner. The latter interfaced with Main Computer, and a minute later.... "Only fingerprints are yours and Melita's." He opened it up, and a maybe half a dozen varied cookies filled the bottom third or so of the small jar.
He set its cover back on it, turned to the keyboard and monitor set in the desk, and typed away. A minute later....
"The only commlock entries into your quarters are those of the two of you, at least since three weeks ago, when Harper from Maintenance--"
"Too long ago. This has been refilled twice in just a week."
"How long have you been using this jar?"
"We've had it in our quarters for a few months now. The couple of times I looked inside in the past, it was empty. Then when I looked a week ago, it was full. Well, not full, but it didn't have any in before. I thought Melita had done that."
"A few months, you said. Where did you get it?"
"I don't know. Melita brought it in. From Stores. I think."
"Are you sure it wasn't from a friend?"
"Could have been. I don't know."
Verdeschi gave an odd expression, looking somewhat suspiciously at Kelly.
"Look," Kelly said, "I am not joking, Mr. Verdeschi."
The guard looked at Kelly's face for a moment more, then called Controller Paul Morrow, who as second-in-command of Moonbase Alpha, also oversaw Security Section.
After a few hours, chem and blood panels on Melita came back negative.
It was then that Helena heard from Paul. He was calling from Security Center, and had ordered a few other officers there. "Could you and Melita please join us here?"
A few minutes later, Helena and Melita walked in to find David Kano saying he would check if any computer records were tampered with. Tony Verdeschi was off to the side, seemingly half-content to let the officers take over but still keeping a very interested eye and ear on the discussion.
Paul was asking Sandra Benes, as Service Section head, to go over personnel records and look for anything that stood out for people who might have sneaky or strange aspects to them.
"That should have been filtered out--"
"Maybe not entirely," John said.
Helena nodded, saying, "Stress can bring subtle problems to the surface."
"I can have Bob also go over--"
"Tony," Paul's voice sounded. "I thought you mentioned a half-dozen cookies in here."
That brought the room to silence.
"Yes. Six or seven. Bottom third of the jar."
Paul held the lid up higher, and looked down at the jar.
Tony walked over, suspicious look on his face. The jar was almost brimming.
"What? No. It was not full when Kelly brought it in, and it has been in my sight the whole time."
"An hallucinogen?" Paul proffered as speculation.
"Seen by many people but centered solely around a single object?" Helena said. "Highly unlikely."
"What the hell?" Tony grumbled. "Does it have an Inter-Dimensional Cookie Portal built in?"
"I kept asking about space being weird," Kelly protested, looking pointedly -- but still respectfully -- towards Paul and Tony.
Professor Victor Bergman looked into the mysteriously-behaving, small, ceramic, pumpkin-shaped cookie jar. He ran some scanners over it, then pulled a cookie out, and looked at it. More officers were present now.
"You have tasted these?" he asked Melita and Kelly, who were now standing next to each other, as part of a circle around the desk on which the jar sat. It had been moved to LQ12, Victor's quarters and his preferred lab.
"Not those, which are new, but previous batches."
"And you say they've been fresh?"
"When low, not brand-new fresh, but certainly fine for something that may have sat in a jar for some days. However, one set still felt a bit warm at first." Kelly offered.
Victor walked over to another table and grabbed a clean sample container that had last held some moonrocks from a drilling site Sanderson had visited a few weeks before -- some of which had water bound in their molecular structure.
Victor emptied the jar into the container, then set the container on a scale. Then he set the jar down on the table, put a small device in it, and then put the jar's cover back on.
"Have we tracked the jar back to its original source?" John asked, looking around at Tony, Paul, and Sandra. Each answered in turn.
"Melita confirmed she got it from Stores," Tony said.
"I had Sandra track the record of it," Paul stated, turning to her.
"I just got a communication back. It was put in there after the death of Regina Kesslann. It was Regina's before she died."
Silence. She had died a strange, confused death, her mind caught between two parallel realities that had diverged but had met a different times in their own lines. Mental or physical contact with doppelgangers had killed -- slowly or quickly. Whereas most doppelgangers had lived separate lives for short or long times since the divergence, Regina's Alpha-side version had lived the Earth-side version's reality during the short time Alpha was affected, until both versions had died. One origin, then two bodies, but one mind. It had been a short, sadly-disturbed life of the Alpha-side Regina.
Though the reminder was saddening to all, Chief Pilot Alan Carter looked the most pained. The Alpha-side version of Regina had died in his arms, her confusing him with the planet-side Regina's husband -- a doppelganger of Alan who had died in an Eagle crash.
He was now the first to frame a halting, quiet question. "But why would..." he paused awkwardly, "a cookie jar be... affected?"
"And why in this way?" John asked. "I mean, what would it be connecting to?"
Victor shook his head. "We still do not understand what happened then. The divergence, the re-approach, Regina's death, the collision."
Over the next two days, the jar became the most studied object on the entire Moon. That yielded no answers. It only yielded more cookies.
The mysterious food was put in a secure refrigerator. Until the mystery was unraveled or at least some more certainty of safety could be reached, they would be currently verboten.
Eventually, the jar was set aside in a secure location, emptied of cookies fairly frequently, and monitored, but otherwise left alone for now.
Neither Kelly nor Melita seemed to suffer any problems.
Tony's offhand comment of Inter-Dimensional Cookie Portal had stuck. It was now the IDCP "situation."
But though the object had to largely languish, the discussion raged. The least important word in the phrase was "Cookie." The possibility it were some strange "Portal" had caught fire.
Victor had soon left a note in the jar, but like Victor's sensor, it remained. From time to time, a cookie appeared wrapped around the sensor, with no sign of where the lost portion of the cookie went. One time, one of the edible disk's plane intersected with the letter, leaving two halves of a cookie, each with a nearly-perfect edge.
The sensor was replaced with a camera. Like the sensor, nothing was recorded. A tiny flat-scale also used recorded the weight gain was instantaneous. Absent of food. Weighed down by food. Until the scale shorted out one time. Its sealed innards were filled with some caramel-filled cookie slices.
Someone had suggested leaving the top off the jar and have a camera peer into it; but with that, nothing happened. It seemed the portal needed containment.
No one was sure what they could do with this phenomenon.
Friends of Regina recognized the jar from when she was alive, but could not recall whether they had heard much about it.
Victor looked up. He was in another lab, looking at a dying plant. While not an expert botanist, Dr. James Warren had requested his opinion. In space, one discipline could not always be vertical. The Alphans were increasingly finding cross-communication was necessary.
It was not a botanist calling for his attention now, but Joan Conway, a physicist. He had requested she monitor the strange IDCP mystery. She was holding a slip of paper in her hand.
"Is that the latest scan?" he asked.
"No, something new."
She walked over and handed him the slip of paper. He looked at it, puzzled. "German?"
"No, I think it is Dutch. Flemish maybe, but probably Dutch."
It was a fairly short, handwritten note, but he could not make sense of it.
He excused himself from Botany and they returned to his lab, calling Paul along the way, and requesting he gather some officers and Anna Davis, the linguist. The meeting was quickly set up in Koenig's office, around the large table there.
Anna looked at the writing. "Yes, it is Dutch."
"Can you read it?"
"Give me a few moments. I am not an expert on this language but can interpolate until I can take some more time and work out a better translation. Initial transliteration, though.... Let's see....
"'Who is the... stealer -- thief? Years living... here.... Eat none at start.... Now a... whole... overnight every... two months? Humiliation.' No, maybe 'shame you' -- 'on you. Start... lifting?... the... car road.' Signed... 'Grandma.' I can get a smoother interpretation later, but that is the best I can offer at the moment."
"Grandma...," John whispered.
"I can search for any handwritten letters Regina may have had in her possession," Sandra offered.
John looked at Sandra sharply. "Yes, do that."
The handwriting matched several letters Regina had had in her possession. Those were signed as Regina's mother. Medical records had a Maartje Kesslann listed as her mother. Regina had been Maartje's oldest, and still fairly young at Breakaway. No nieces or nephews were recorded for Regina. Yet only months after Breakaway, and Maartje was complaining to grandchildren who had not yet existed but were now old enough to be "shoveling the driveway" as Anna's later translation clarified.
"Time dilation," Victor proffered.
"In a cookie jar?" Paul snorted. "Portal or not, why--"
"No, the time dilation is not in the portal, it is relative to us and Earth. We are traveling in a strange way. Perhaps a decade or two have passed on Earth for the months we have been journeying."
"That cannot be the Earth of our doppelgangers," Paul said.
"Nooo, indeed not," Victor said. "That might be our Earth."
There was a pause, but then Paul had another question. "So somehow another connection started forming, er, 'close' to Regina? Something she possessed, maybe valued, to a counterpart on our Earth?"
"Or another parallel Earth," Victor commented.
Kano rolled his eyes. He was not the type into physics except the small-scale stuff only insofar as it was electricity running through microchips in the computer.
"But if it's our Earth," Helena protested, "we should redouble our efforts to get the transfer going both ways, to send a message back."
"High energy radiation bombardment, perhaps," Joan offered.
Victor put his fingers together, pensively. "Maybe."
"A data disk would not survive such treatment," Kano protested.
"In a small lead case it might," Victor countered.
"Try that," Commander Koenig stated. "Sandra, assemble the data. Logs of the journey, personnel and personal statements. Wait for my input too. Kano, once complete, she'll send you the data to copy to disk."
A few days later, and after only skimming a couple more cookies so as to not totally annoy Regina's mother about her grandchildren, but still keep her checking the jar, they emptied the jar, set the disk in its small lead container, and bombarded it. Later, they checked. They now had a new batch of cookies -- and they tested very radioactive. The missive remained.
They feared endangering the Dutch grandmother and her family members, even though they suspected the radiation had lingered at Alpha's end of the equation and only irradiated the cookies once they popped in. So they changed tactics, altering the radiation used, to a non-persistent kind, and replacing the original disk with a slightly updated one.
This time, something different happened. The jar abruptly -- indeed instantaneously -- vanished in the middle of the regimen.
Regina's former quarters were scoured, as were those of Kelly and Melita. An order was posted for everyone else to search their quarters, work areas, Eagles, and such. No sign of the portal-holding jar was found.
"We may never know what happened to it," Victor had eventually said, sighing.
Maartje Kesslann, 79 years old, walked over to the counter. Her two grandchildren had, to this day, denied taking more than a couple cookies a week. They were not liars, so Maartje could only assume it was their friends pilfering more than their share.
The children had grown older, and the pumpkin-shaped jar had become the running point of humor in the family the last few years. Every month or two, the jar, declining slowly, would just abruptly empty during some 24-hour stretch.
The children were orphans after Maartje's son and daughter-in-law had died in a car crash when a fissure opened up underneath them in Italy, while they were on vacation as a couple. Good old Earth had not quite been the same since the Moon had abruptly broken away, and there were increasing signs of further future trouble ahead.
That left Maartje only one daughter, who had a larger family already, so Maartje was raising Ineke and Alfons.
She thought wistfully of her children when they had been young. Now there was only one child of her own.
Regina had disappeared with the Moon -- Missing and Presumed Dead. That still gnawed at her, but today she just remembered a young Regina coming up to her, a cookie in hand, asking politely if she could take it from the jar -- even though she already had removed it from there.
It was strange, really. Maartje was convinced she had given this jar to the adult Regina. Yet Maartje had found it in the garage one day, years after the Moon's accident, and not long after Pieter and his wife Georgina had died. Regina had treasured that object, had even said she had taken it with her when she accepted that offer from the International Lunar Commission, after someone affiliated with the World Space Authority had recommended Regina. Maartje and her late husband Herman had been so proud. Perhaps the jar had been paired, and Maartje had bought both but only ever used one. Still, she could not recall that being the case, though she could not be certain either way.
The last vanishing act of fresh-baked food had been only a month ago, a shorter interval than usual.
So she checked today. Removing the cover, she frowned. There was a metal-gray square at the top. She pulled that out. Below that, she pulled out some dust-covered rags.
Ineke was staying at a friend's house. It could not have been her. Alfons? He could be a bit mischievous, but not in an odd way.
She looked at the rags. They looked like basic work rags, but were very soft, and all were covered with lots of dark gray dust. She wanted to shake them off, but struck by this mild mystery, set them aside.
The tiny metal box was heavy. Very heavy for its small size. She found a latch, and opened it. Inside was a disk. Like the data disks Alfons and Ineke used with their computer terminals, but of a design that even Maartje thought looked old.
However, there was also paper. Folded up, but when unfolded was still little more than a slip. She gasped twice, first at the Alpha Moonbase logo on it, then at the note, written small on it. It was in Dutch and read, "Maartje Kesslann or family. Moonbase Alpha has survived. Please get the disk to World Space Authority. They can read the high compression. Commander John Koenig, via Anna Davis. March 2000."
Maartje almost fainted. Something from Moonbase Alpha, decades old, appearing in a ceramic jar? She did not believe it at first. Yet, desperate for any hint of her daughter's fate, even if thinking maybe one of her grandchildren's friends might be playing a cruel joke, she nonetheless carefully bundled it all back together, walked to her little office, and sent a post to the WSA. The International Lunar Commission, of course, had ceased to exist within a few years of the Moon's blastaway.
Chief Geoffrey Athelbourne of the World Space Authority looked at the whole strange set of objects. A data disk from Moonbase Alpha, a small note with the MBA symbol, the small lead case, some moondust-covered rags, and the random ceramic jar they had been in. All were sitting on his desk.
The jar still existed, minus a few chips taken for analysis. There seemed nothing intrinsic to the jar to explain any of it. Yet the copious dust was confirmed as genuine regolith powder, from the Moon itself, not seen in such quantities outside of museums, labs, or other authorities. And the disk....
It was of an old design, but could still be read. It had listed to extraordinary detail things about Alpha, some known only to experts. Plus, the subsequent events described....
Yet it had been the personnel letters. Surviving family, to a person (outside of cases with some form of dementia), had confirmed details. Even reverse questioning, of asking for personal details that the WSA knew were on this disk.
Dust and disk -- confirmation of life and location, though the latter far from precise beyond saying it was the Moon. Confirmation was pegged at 99.99% certain, even though the circumstances were receiving hypotheses that were little more than speculation. The jar sat there, mute. Its surprise contents had spoken volumes, but the mundane vehicle said nothing. It was not even designed like a carved pumpkin with a face. Just a small orange pumpkin with a green stem -- in ceramic form.
Geoffrey himself had broken the sad news to Maartje Kesslann about the death of her daughter Regina, and had also provided the condolence text written by Commander Koenig.
This included that Regina had "died in the arms of a friend" -- but that was very much a simplification of a tragic last few days. Omitted both by the chief's words and commander's condolence letter were details that were included in the extensive logfiles. Regina's world in her remaining days was bizarre. Two Moons, an almost unrecognizable Earth, doppelgangers, a mind divided, an alternate with a deceased husband, but a confused duality that had her thinking he had returned.
There were some seriously strange occurrences in space, and some disturbing implications for Earth, even if that was not the same Earth. Star patterns changed, suggesting millions of years?
Some of the other encounters were no less fantastic. Knowledge of some of Earth's other lost souls? Some turned to immortals, 800 years on? The list of strangeness continued, log entry after log entry. How any of them were surviving all of that....
Physicists were talking time warps, but also time dilation in terms of the Moon's own travels. That theory had been discussed on the disk as well.
There had been a ceramic jar on the Moon too. They speculated something had caught not just Regina in some strange way that differed from the rest of the Alphans, but had perhaps affected some of her possessions too.
But there was one thing that stood out as needing long-term discussion. Within John Koenig's professional letter to the WSA -- he had correctly assumed the ILC would no longer exist -- there was something to which a policy would need to be formed. Oh, there was a lot in that letter, but one section was titled Earthbound.
Expect the arrival of five aliens calling themselves Kaldorians, They are 3 males and 2 females, all tall and with white hair, gentle. Led by Captain Zantor. It is difficult to say when they may arrive, but given what they say of their 75-year-remaining journey, and our latest guesses at what year it was on Earth when we encountered them, time dilation, they will most likely arrive in the late 21st Century -- early 22nd at latest. We accidentally killed one of their crew members, but they accepted it was without malice, and invited one of us to return. We tried to be fair, but Commissioner Simmonds -- we never formally rescinded the title but he had only advisory role -- went around the process and extorted his way into the ship.
Logs included elsewhere give more details, but I wanted to state personally that Simmonds will almost certainly arrive long-dead, as his forced presence bypassed the alien ship's lengthier protocols that would have been used to properly preserve and awaken him. It is an unfortunate fate, but a secondary effect of his own actions.
Please trust these alien people, who are merely seeking asylum after their world died. They are not that much different than us in a way now, for we too seek a new planet to call home.
Almost three years later, Chief Athelbourne finished re-reading the same letter. Though it and the far more detailed logs had been discussed from early on, no policy had been formed yet, in part because everything made it clear the Kaldorians would not arrive for decades. However, he was determined he would not let such policy decisions slide to the next Chief and his administration. So that discussion was to start next month. However, the rest of the material was now all back in his office for the first time in years, for other reasons.
He stared at the mute, virtually blank jar. At this point, he would have almost preferred the painting of eyes and a mouth, like an American jack-o-lantern design. Some face to smile gently, or just laugh, cry, or maybe even better, mock him about how it still guarded its mystery.
They had tried, repeatedly, to send a message back. However, the contents of the jar had no longer disappeared, neither on their own nor using the same irradiation patterns discussed in the last attempt the Alphans -- as they called themselves now -- had made. They had even tried putting more cookies in the jar, which would have seemed ridiculous had that not been the situation in the first place.
With the observations provided by Professor Bergman on how often they had removed some or all contents of the jar at their end, compared to the less rigorous memories of the Kesslanns -- grandmother and grandchildren -- the time dilation had been better estimated to 5.5±0.5 days on the Moon to every year on Earth -- at least on average. Perhaps the dilation disappeared during stellar encounters and was a little more pronounced than average in interstellar space.
The jar had stopped transmitting. Someone on Alpha had dubbed it an Inter-Dimensional Cookie Portal. But either Alpha had ceased to exist since their "message in a jar" or their finding a way to force something back had broken the portal. Or something was interfering.
The items -- letter, lead case, regolith-dusted rags, and the jar itself -- were to be moved to a secure passive monitoring facility. The weight of the entire set could be constantly monitored, even while no further, more-active tests were undertaken.
Geoffrey looked out his office window. For awhile, the main administrative base of the WSA had moved every decade or so, for political and geophysical reasons. A fault-line had beset London. Another location in Asia had suffered worse, being partially destroyed. While parts of Italy had suffered too, Rome had stayed intact, so far. The loss of the Moon in 1999 had destabilized the Earth to a degree, and added to other problems, there were deep concerns about the state of Earth. Though space exploration continued apace, measures were being studied to safeguard humanity on Earth.
From his 199th floor window in WSA's current, quake-reinforced headquarters in Rome, he could see Biosphere V under construction a few miles away. It was like the top half of an enclosed sphere, sitting on a smaller-diameter but still stocky cylinder. The theory was the base would be very earthquake-resistant, with various sliding mechanisms that could cope with up to R9 tremors, even if the top still shook a little. Flex but not break. The cylinder would also hold some of the environmental systems, while the upper portion would hold the rest and be that controlled environment.
If the test biosphere was successful, the theory was even larger ones -- immense ones -- could be built, complete with skyscrapers, parks, small lakes, and enclosed farms in the half-sphere portions. Already, some around here were dubbing the several that could hold Rome's population either Roma Nova or Mega-Roma.
He looked away from the half-built prototype of the future he feared, to something a lot more mundane-looking but far more mysterious: the small ceramic jar which had somehow served as the portal that had sent cookies to the Moon and a data disk back to Earth.
There was one more reason it was here. Maartje Kesslann had asked for the jar back. Athelbourne had refused, and had explained that if they could ever determine what had happened, perhaps they could repeat it, and make contact again. Maartje had sighed, nodded, and asked just to look at it again. "It was perhaps one of the last things Regina had touched that I had touched since," she had said in halting English to the London-raised Athelbourne.
Though no sign of Alphan fingerprints was found on the jar, and scientists suspected the jar itself had somehow been a doppelganger, it was still hard to argue her request. No danger had ever been discerned from the portal's container.
Maartje had quietly removed a single cookie, in vacuum-packed plastic, with what seemed like some folded paper inside too. "I know Regina is gone, but maybe this will someday find its way to her friends. I know loss, they grieved for her too. Maybe someday...." She had trailed off with a voice that crackled with pain. Then she had gently placed the little cargo in the strange carrier, thanked him, and left.
John Koenig wrote his last report on the IDCP mystery. It was late, but a more urgent incident had occurred, and it had taken time to get back to the portal-in-a-jar.
There were now two possible carriers that might report on the base's survival. The Kaldorians, and the disk sent via IDCP. The latter was almost silly in comparison with living aliens. Yet something had altered Regina's fate, entangled her differently. Perhaps some part of this had clung to the inanimate object too. Perhaps the Moon's encounter with one alternate Earth and Moon had punched yet another hole through to something closer to their original Earth -- or that very one itself.
Hopefully at least one of the messengers had or would get to Earth. But the total disappearance of the IDCP and its container had left no trace for Alphans to decipher, and guesses ranged from "simple" disintegration to one first and last transfer the opposite direction. They would probably never know the fate of the Kaldorians either, but had hope they would make it and tell the tale, too.
Alpha would just have to keep trying, every chance it got, obvious or downright odd, to get a message through.
Kelly and Melita broke a cookie in half.
There were now many hundreds of the things, in all, on Alpha. They had eventually been declared "safe as far as we can determine" -- except for the irradiated batch. Of that, all had been sent to a Nuclear Disposal Area, except for one kept in a secure laboratory.
Most of the rest had been frozen, as emergency rations. Perhaps not the most nutritious but certainly energy-packed. They were an unexpected resource for Alpha. Like biomass brought back from planetary exploration and found to be safe, it became a permanent part of the moonbase's biological systems.
This cookie had fallen back underneath some paperwork in those first minutes of realizing something was amiss with the whole jar thing.
They could have turned this cookie in, but it seemed ridiculous to raise a lot more fuss and debate over it. It was ever so slightly stale, but they had consumed a couple dozen of them before realizing there was a problem, so they silently dismissed the concerns about the strange transfer, and anything that Dr. Russell or Cmdr. Koenig might say about their little action now.
Melita poured pseudo-milk in two glasses. Kelly toasted to the memory of Regina and wished Maartje and her surviving extended family happiness. Then they dipped the cookie halves in the milk, ate and drank, and found it was a pumpkin-flavored cookie. They ate the rest of it then, as the Moon continued sailing through the depths of mysterious space.
This not-for-profit amateur/fan publication
is designed for entertainment purposes only,
and is not intended to infringe upon the rights of
Gerry Anderson, ATV, ITC, Polygram, Carlton, Granada Ventures,
or any other current copyright holders of Space: 1999.
"The IDCP" an original short story based on Space: 1999 is
Copyright ©2014, David M. Welle (Space:1999 MetaForms), and
may not be reproduced or published without consent of author.
Revised: Spring '14
This not-for-profit amateur/fan publication is designed for entertainment purposes only, and is not intended to infringe upon the rights of Gerry Anderson, ATV, ITC, Polygram, Carlton, Granada Ventures, or any other current copyright holders of Space: 1999.
"The IDCP" an original short story based on Space: 1999 is