The old man leaned heavily on a cane. Through round glasses, his wide eyes studied the base-level solar panels, then arced upward, shaded by a flat hand, to take in the gleaming spire.
His reverence seemed religious.
Curiosity got the better of her and she approached him. “Most people are more interested in the Millennium Gate stores.”
“I can shop anywhere.” His voice was deep, resonant, as if age didn’t dare steal dignity from his diction. “This self-contained biosphere component — it’s an engineering marvel. Why, a design like this could lead to space stations all over the galaxy!”
“The plan is Mars first, but I like the way you think.” She pointed to her name badge. “I’m Shannon O'Donnel, one of the consulting engineers.”
He pushed on his cane, his back straightening to almost his full height. “My name is Benny. Benny Russell.”
Her gasp was as small as she could manage.
“Benny Russell.” She could almost feel the old paperbacks in her hands, novels from the 1960s that told of a dark-skinned space soldier on a faraway assignment. “When I was younger, I dreamed of being an astronaut. Your space station series helped me envision what it might be like.”
“That’s good to hear.” His resonant voice softened. “I’ve written a lot of things, but those books are my favorites.”
There was only about half an hour before her next meeting, but meetings happened nearly every day.
This was important.
“Would you like a tour? I could show you the biosphere — including living quarters that take into account various family combinations you mentioned in your books, like the single father and his son.”
His gratified smile brought a warmth to her belly. “It would be a pleasure to see at least some of my dreams become reality.”
Her smile matched his, and, as she led him toward the Millennium Gate biosphere, Shannon began to tell Benny about the self-contained ecosystem, variable weather processors, and how this could be only the beginning.
He stood at a viewport, his head angled to see the starship docked at an upper pylon. His gaze lingered on the duranium hull structure, then swept to the primary sensor array.
She almost strode past — there was so much to do — but he stared at the ship with what seemed like profound appreciation.
She wanted to understand why.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?” She joined him at the viewport. “I must admit, I’m proud.”
He turned. “Is she yours?”
Her neck flexed slightly, just enough to enjoy the weight of her fourth pip. “She is. Brand new. USS Voyager. I’m Kathryn Janeway.”
“I’m Benjamin Sisko.” He motioned toward the station’s central core. “I command Deep Space Nine, but the Intrepid-class was in the design phase when I was stationed at Utopia Planitia. I wasn’t sure if I would ever see one up close. Admiral Patterson didn’t appear to like my suggestions that angling the nacelles could increase top cruising speed.”
“You designed Voyager?” She could almost feel the padds of specs in her hands — all those months of studying the ship that was finally hers. And here was someone who helped make it happen.
“I consulted a little.” His shrug was slight. “I was assigned to another project. But, when designing a warship, plans for a ship of exploration could be a reminder of why we should be in space.”
His glance out the viewport was wistful.
She had hoped to squeeze in half an hour to see the promenade before reviewing final systems status reports. The stores on Deep Space Nine were rumored to be unlike those on any other space station.
But this would be a short mission. Once it was over, she could shop.
“Would you like a tour? I’d be happy to show you the ship — including angled nacelle geometry that Admiral Patterson said was an innovation like none other.”
His gratified smile brought a warmth to her belly. “It would be a pleasure to see a dream starship become reality.”
Her smile matched his, and, as she led him toward Voyager, Kathryn began to tell Benjamin about the bioneural gelpacks, the warp core’s tricyclic input manifold, and how this could be only the beginning.