The Architect of Horror
Space:1999 The Classic Adventures
Season 2: Episode 25
"We are riding on the razor edge
"Bow Wave of Time,
"The past just fell behind us,
"The present is only a microsecond and
"It just ended,
"The future is at hand."
Commander John Koenig paused momentarily while sitting at his desk writing in his journal. The lighting was low, characteristic of night mode. As usual, Koenig was working late though the inactivity of the past four months should have resulted more into a 9 to 5 routine.
It did not.
As commander of a base of nearly 300 souls, likely all that remained of the people of earth, his work was never completed and the pressure of survival was unrelenting. He stared out viewport number 3, over the roof of the central complex of Technical Section.
"I often wonder about our purpose, both as individuals and as a collective of the human community." Koenig continued writing in his burgundy leather bound journal. "From the perspective of Moonbase Alpha, I believe the recent change in Technical Section has so far, proved to be beneficial to the base. It was clear that breaking the group into Computer Operations and Technical Operations was the right choice. As Chief of Computer Operations, David Kano was able to concentrate his abilities and talents on what he did best: maintaining and optimizing computer hardware and software functions. All other functions of technical, Technical Operations, were placed in the capable hands of long time colleague Angelina Verdeschi."
He paused thoughtfully for a moment then continued.
"Ironically, had the political pundits of earth considered Ang's graduate thesis on magnetic radiation from spent nuclear waste as more than 'mathematical fantasy', we may very well have avoided the disaster of September 13, 1999. Nevertheless, here we are, out in deep space, attempting to survive one day at a time and perhaps, just perhaps, searching for our purpose."
The commander sat back in his chair, gazing out the viewport again. Black on black on black: he closed his journal.
The solar system was an empty place.
Before the blast--caused by incalculable penury, pyloric air headedness, and everlasting human stupidity--there were nine planets in the grand ecliptic, each inclined seven degrees from the star's equator. The ninth planet deviated the most with an inclination of 17 degrees, but they were together in the same sense. All except for the deluged, anguished third rock from the sun. It took five thousand years to create human history. Out of this pentacle, there were maybe five years where the unwitting were spared the leadership of such bright bulbs as Caesar Dormition, Marshall Stalin, Heinrich, and his befuddled buddy Adolph; the Shah of Iran, and Dr. Laura Slesinger--from their mouths cometh hogwash. It took five seconds to deracinate the whole thing. The death knell came early, with nuclear fission in maundering hands.
Nine planets. One hundred, and thirty satellites. The time, and place of Earth's long appealed execution came on the far side of the Moon, and it was purified with a fire powerful enough to vaporize the North Atlantic.
Now there were only 129 satellites, minus the one that was sent to the interplanetary backwater regions before the solar system was turned to salt. It plunged further, and further, exponentially faster, and faster into weird space; hopelessly engrossed in teeming, wholesale darkness. It was now beyond the range of telescope, and memory.
Beneath a pulsar, or two--migrating through cosmogenies that were not their own, there was Moonbase Alpha, the soul survivor of the Great Age Of Space Exploration. Gunmetal gray bulkheads circled the central core; fluorescent red launch platforms that pitted the core of engineers against the sublime unknown; the core of engineers would get more than they bargained for; travel tube tunnels terminated in the bleak, obsidian perimeter, the outer reaches of Plato Crater.
Dr. Angelina Verdeschi, Chief of Technical Operations and Carissa Englebert, Senior Eagle Flight Engineer, were in the passenger module of Eagle 6. The mission to monitor the area of the former nuclear waste dumps on the far side of the moon was routine and generally uneventful. Angelina studied the monitors, expecting nothing, while Carissa played a game of Solitaire on the other PC. Suddenly, the readings on the electromagnetic sensor array bounced frantically into the red.
The inner and outer hatches to the passenger module parted like curtains on a Shakespearean tragedy. Larry Parks entered (he wasn't feeling tragic, but he did have unrelievable acid indigestion), carrying a clipboard steeped with the latest predictions. Little did he know, the forecast was death, and carnage. On the other hand, he was about to have his heartburn cured forever. Seeing the confounded expressions on everyone's face, he was about to ask what was wrong. He discerned this on his own, with faster-than-thought rapidity, when Eagle Six rocked hard to port, throwing him like a carnival cupie against the obdurate module behind Angelina. The mission had been so routine that he was considering taking a nap.
His slumbers were diverted by a barbershop quartet of cracked ribs.
"Eagle Six, Eagle One," came Alan Carter's startled voice over the static filled speakers. "I'm not getting any orbital feedback control on you. What the hell's going on?"
Kevin Bannion, the pilot of Eagle 6, yelled into the comm system, "We've lost main navigation control! Switching to back up." A thin line of perspiration appeared on Bannion's lip as his experience and intuition told him his situation was going from bad to worse. "Not sure how long it will last, chief!"
Angelina assisted the injured Larry while Carissa stumbled into the pilot's section. Carissa could not fly but since she was a Flight Engineer, she might be able to determine what was happening with Eagle 6. Angelina went back to the sensors to replay the recording to the time of the anomaly. She frowned, noting the blip was a huge surge in magnetic radiation, of such a degree they hadn't seen since breakaway.
"Eagle 6 to Main Mission, do you copy?" Angelina called, while holding onto the desk as the ship began to descend downward.
"Main Mission to Eagle 6. We copy." Sandra answered with alarm.
"What's wrong, Ang'?" Commander Koenig's face replaced the Data Analyst's on the monitor.
"Sir, just before the main navigational system on the ship failed, sensors picked up a huge reading, off the scale, of magnetic radiation. Then it was gone..."
"Backup navigational systems have failed," Kevin Bannion yelled from the command module. The doors between the command module and passenger module automatically slid shut. "We're going down...Distress and rescue beacon activated...10 seconds to impact!" he informed everyone over the speakers.
While the ship was wildly descending, Ang was thankful for Kevin Bannion's skill as a pilot for at least keeping the ship from rolling. She closed the visor on Larry Parks' helmet and sealed his suit. After she prepped her own helmet and suit, her last thought before the Eagle impacted the lunar surface, was Alan Carter.
In the cockpit of Eagle One, Alan Carter punched control switches big enough to handle with gloved hands. The Service Propulsion System fired atomic streamers of emergency propellant. Hydrazine, and Hydrogen Peroxide showered the surface of the Moon with faux stars. They were one nautical mile behind Eagle 6, and closing. Through the left-angle rendezvous window, he could see Bannion's Eagle vaulting up, and down, sporadically, in the vacuum-several times they were so low that the ship's landing gear almost clipped the synthegrade radiation covers that lined this area of the lunar surface like Morlock Holes in an H.G. Wells novel.
'Ang, he thought. Crash position, babe.
"!!!EAGLE SIX, BREAKING MANUEVERS!!! GET YOUR BOWSPRIT UP, AND ACTIVATE YOUR LUNAR LANDING SYSTEM!!!"
Carter saw a violent starburst quad of fuel vapor appear behind the other spacecraft's service module. It was Bannion, firing his retro-rockets to the green--like a good pilot would do, and it did, of course, do no good to speak of.
"Eagle One, Main Mission." Controller Paul Morrow's face suddenly appeared on the CDR/CMP consoles, grimly serious. "Stand by one, Alan. They're in a crash trajectory."
"Main Mission, Eagle One. You don't say? Thanks for the update. It would be helpful if I was some, bloody back of the bourke." The pilot replied, shaking his head sarcastically, and lowering his helmet visor. He thought he heard the Commander saying something, but he shut down communications with the base before the new orders could be heard, and interpreted.
Carter looked up for a visual confirmation. Eighty meters. Dead Person's Altitude. Eagle Six was only forty seconds away from a bad landing. That was also when he saw the reflection against the outside--not the inside-of the ship's command module. It hung before him, ghostly, and obfuscated by the reinforced transparency. The sterile lights of the CM danced across his banal, intruding cheeks like malign urchins. An older being-facial features taught, with a black, pointed beard. Villainous in a literary sort of way. His forehead was furrowed, and partly concealed in shadows, as were his eyes. He was clearly shaking his head to the negative. Carter felt a shock wave of abnormality run from the bottom of his spine to the top of his neck dam.
"What the Chri-" He started, and grew pale
The blip at the epicenter of his tracking equipment disappeared for good as Eagle Six went down.
Eagle Six did a Doolittle landing on its keel, skidding across the lunar surface as the landing gear and two of the landing pods were ripped away from the craft like price tags on the costliest adventure ever attempted. A new highland was created on the lunar surface as the ship plowed up the lunar dust, and came to a halt only when there was nothing left to smash.
"Main Mission calling Eagle Six. Come in Eagle Six"
There was no response.
"Rescue units to Launch Pad Three. Medical Teams stand by." Koenig barked, and glared--mostly at Victor Bergman. His effortful plastic smile, and wet blanket pragmatism were on the commander's nerve.
"John," The professor said, trying to balance individual decency with communal salvation. "If that is electro-magnetic radiation, we can't-"
Koenig whacked his tonsils out, predicting what would be said, before it was said. All that remained was the bleeding vessel of Bergman's rational opposition.
"What am I supposed to do, Victor? Leave them there to die?" He challenged, and Bergman stepped back, vanquished. Koenig stepped up to his desk, incensed. "Paul, tell Carter he's to remain in a holding pattern over the wreckage until the Rescue Eagle arrives. In case he has any doubts, tell him I said: 'It's an order.'"
The view from five nautical miles: It did not look good. Carter's stomach was a finally weaved pant filled with ants. The camera mounted to the centraline showed that Eagle Six was paraplegic now. The gnarled rungs of the connector lay in the No Man's Land between the fore, and aft compartments. A debris field consisting of sheared off landing pads, vycor, and shards of titanium alloy was strewn between the point of touch down, and the point of mush. Bannion's ship had left four, deeply carved trailers in the moon dust--four roads to death, and chaos.
"Eagle One to Eagle Six, come in Eagle Six." He repeated over, and over, and over again like a repetitive loon, but the ship-to-ship frequency band was a hopeless incoherent beehive. "!!!C'MON BANNION, BREAK TIME IS OVER MATE!!!"
Angelina stirred on the passenger cabin floor. She heard Alan's insistent calls over the speaker and closed her eyes. Her head hurt and she had pain, stabbing at her left side. She rolled onto her hands and knees, clutching her ribs. Ang crawled agonizingly toward the comm console, pulling herself up. It was then that she noticed the window out to the lunar surface; only the passenger module of the Eagles did not HAVE any windows.
The internal sensor confirmed the obvious. Zero atmosphere...lunar gravity.
Angelina looked over at Larry Parks, his visor smashed beyond repair, his face no longer a recognizable face; the eye balls and the blood vessels had exploded since there had been no pressure to counter his internal body pressure. Globules of frozen blood floated macabrely around the passenger module. She instantly felt ill, not only because of the gruesomeness of the scene but because of the irreplaceable loss. Larry Parks was dead.
Carter kept calling insistently, the stress and anxiety evident in his voice. Angelina plugged the wire from her suit's internal speaker into the com station. She hoped the transmitter was not damaged.
"Eagle 1, this is Eagle 6..Alan? Are you receiving?" Angelina spoke, almost in a whisper, praying that he heard her.
Nothingness begot nothingness. Angelina listened, but soon all modulation faded away. The interference caused by broken diodes and digital resistors was slowly replaced by another sound--a sound almost placid in its clarity.
A young female, performing an aria; Madame Butterfly--no, closer to Don Giovanni. The melody she produced was both, and neither. Measure, by measure, her soprano reached The Column Nebula, and beyond. It took no time for Angelina Verdeschi to discern that the sound was not coming from the damaged communications post. This was coming into her helmet speakers from the smoking, wisps of vacuum.
Then as quickly, the libretto was replaced with vengeful accusation: !!!Butchers!!! BASTARDS!!! The woman wept in mourning.
Ang gasped when she heard the savage and brutal voice, startling her as she lost her balance and reeled back to the floor, landing on her painful left side. She screamed from the dagger like pain. The terror she felt from the voice sent violent chills down her spine. She rolled onto her back and tried to calm herself.
The lightheadedness and the agony from her side prevented her from sitting up. She kept talking to herself; by talking to herself, hoping to discourage the terrible voice from intruding on her thoughts. Through the new "window" in the Eagle passenger section, she saw lunar dust billow and the red and white stripe rescue Eagle land.
Forty-five minutes later, but the ghosts appeared to be in their graves again, and with one new addition to the fraternity.
"Paul, we're at the crash site." Carter reported--his voice bouncing off of the big doors, and back, causing all eyes to fall on Paul Morrow for the coming confirmation. The Controller dropped the red flimsy, and turned the volume up hesitantly.
"We copy, Alan." He paused with quiet exasperation, his right hand poised over his keyboard. "How is it?"
"Parks is dead." Carter replied, deflated. "Angelina is alive. The others we don't know about." Morrow listened, nodding. "We've tried tapping out a Morse code signal to Engelbert and Bannion in the CM, but there's been no response."
At this, Paul Morrow's fingers began to type pre-emptive, multi-coded command orders to Medical Center, and the hangar bay.
"The metallurgical team is here." Alan said. "They're going to have to cut the hull open to get them out. If the survivors inside don't answer soon....Tell Coop' to put a salvage team on standby. This is getting more, and more complex by the second."
"Understood." Morrow said, glumly, while Sandra Benes looked on from her chair at the Data Analyst's station.
In Rescue Eagle 4, Dr. Mathias was examining Angelina, Carter next to her. She was immensely grateful to see him but she was still greatly distressed Carissa and Kevin's conditions were still not known. The pain she felt in her left side turned out to be 2 broken ribs plus the nauseating headache was the result of a moderate concussion.
"You're lucky," Mathias stated simply, the distress over the fact that his friend was injured coming through his professional exterior.
"With that kind of luck, I still wouldn't gamble the mortgage at Vegas," she stated as she was given an analgesic and sedative. Despite of or perhaps because of the mind altering drugs now coursing through her body, she remember the terror with unfortunate clarity. She looked directly at Alan, squeezing his hand tightly, her voice shaking with uncharacteristic fright. "There's something out here. I heard voices. A beautiful melodic voice followed by a terrible voice screaming " Butchers...bastards"...it scared the hell out of me...what was it? Please stay with me.." Angelina's voice trailed off, her mind melting into a fog from the sedative.
He squeezed her hand tighter.
"Hey, sleepy head--you're 'gonna be alright. It's all clear skies, and a rainbow, or two."
Actually, it was more like black space, and an asteroid, or two. Carter's voice croaked slightly, despite his best efforts to mask it.
It had been one whopper of a bad day--a decidedly bipolar day that left him alternately ebullient over finding the woman he loved alive, but aggrieved over the loss of Larry Parks. He filed away the dusky memory of the phantasmagoric image that had stared back at him from the bow of Eagle One, because it was crazy. Absurd. Nutty. Three cards short of a full deck, and 'Ang didn't need to hold hands with a head case during this long, dark epoch.
That's a bunch of bull, and you know it." John Koenig decided, miles away, on the other side of the three-quarter Moon. "There's nothing left out there that could cause our navigational systems to go awry like that. Since the Moon broke away, we've monitored ground zero constantly. The nuclear fission, source material was exhausted in the blast."
Bergman sat on the steps of the darkened office with his back to the Commander in a contemplative posture. "Yeah." He agreed, smacking his lips together for emphasis. "That's what we always assumed. Of course, we also assumed that the magnetic radiation was a by-product of the nuclear waste dumped there."
Koenig stood, walking past the stylus globe of the Earth, and spun it impatiently as he passed. "Could be we 'assumed' too much."
Bergman said, somewhat bemused. "We may be looking at something endemic to the surface of the Moon in that region." He shrugged. "Then there's the matter of Carter's Eagle, and the rescue team--they obviously didn't experience any problems; at least not yet.
"Still, I'd like to see another close, sensor sweep of the area, and compare the results to the half-life, flow charts from last month." He concluded.
In Eagle 6 the rescue team successfully cut away the doors to the service section of the broken Eagle. They entered the service section to hear pounding on the other side. Carissa Englebert panted and sweated in her suit with the failed cooling unit. Kevin Bannion was trapped but miraculously, he seemed OK. At least they were both in EVA suits since the CM had also lost atmosphere; no surprise there. As the rescue team cut through the pilot section door and began to free Kevin Bannion, Carissa Englebert blurted into her suit's internal microphone. "Thank God you're here! How's Ang and Larry?"
Phil Inoshiro was the metallurgist who amputated the five-ton section of quarter bulkhead from Eagle Six's ruined corpse, allowing entrance into the totaled out command module. As a result, the entire section of wall behind Bannion's pilot seat ceased to exist, falling slowly to the surface in the one-eighth lunar gravity. As he spelunked his way through the hole, Carissa Englebert could clearly see the red stripes of the Rescue Eagle-red flashers, and flood lights aimed towards her downed ship.
The decimated interior of the command module was a smoke-filled haze of overloaded transformers, and static filled screens that continued to suck power from the depleting, nickel cadmium batteries. It was, Phil Inoshiro decided, an absolute epiphany that any one had survived. The fact that Engelbert and Bannion were still breathing was a reprieve from Physics' All Time Greatest Hits.
"Dr. Verdeschi is fine." Phil Inoshiro said busily, aiming his mag-lite into the cockpit, directly beneath the hole. He cursed audible comparisons betwixt Eagle design engineers, and various species of sex-starved coyotes. The ventilation duct, and the lower bulkhead that it was adjacent to was going to have to come out before any one in an environment suit could make it through.
A onerous ending to a decidedly shitty day.
They were in the farthest reaches of space; the Moon had promises to keep--and miles to go before they sleep. Through the ballet of lavender-to-purple strata clouds, three almost significant specks of dust were now sensor-visible. The specks moved solar centrally around a defeated Brown Dwarf Host. In another 2.5 Million years, or so, it's nuclear fuel would evaporate, and the star would give up the ghost. A new solar system, that neither the mind, nor the hand of humanity dare reproach.
"There you are." Professor Victor Bergman 'cooed, staring beyond the formations of hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. He adjusted the magnification on the radio telescope so that the trio of heavenly bodies zoomed forward by a factor of ten. Other than the inflectionless proclamations of the Master Computer, he was alone in the observatory.
"STAR HR-8775...." Computer revealed, in a mechanized voice that sounded filtered through a tin can. "HD CLASSIFICATION 217905...CATALOGUED...." The information came rolling out, with every bit as much joy, as that of listening to a fresh coat of pain dry.
Medical Center was in night mode with the lights dimmed and the bottles on the shelves casting long, creepy shadows. Angelina Verdeschi was luckier than even Bob Mathias had originally thought; her two broken ribs were vague hairline fractures and her concussion was classified as mild rather than moderate. The only other injuries she sustained were bumps and bruises from being thrown about the passenger module of the eagle during the crash. After a night of observation, she would be released in the morning, returning to her role of babysitter. Carissa and Kevin were checked over earlier and they were both given a clean bill of health and though they hung out with her awhile, Angelina was alone in Medical, with her thoughts, recounting the one, no, two weird "sights" of the day.
*********Four hours earlier**********
"Ouch," Angelina Verdeschi winced on the exam table as Dr. Mathias poked at her ribs. "OUCH!" she barked again, recoiling slightly.
"You big wussie," her long time friend retorted. "I hardly touched you."
"Hardly touched me!??! I'm not your cadaver from Med school, Bob."
"My cadaver was a 350 pound Puerto Rican aristocrat lady who left her body to science. Lots of adipose tissue to deal with..."
"I think I'm going to be sick," Ang shook her head in disgust, her stomach in a whirl for the last few days.
"At least it gave me experience in treating Ed Malcom..." he chuckled.
"I REALLY am going to be sick.." She closed her eyes, swallowing the bile creeping up her throat "Ed Malcom. Who would have thought managing that one guy would be the toughest part of this job? Chief of Technical Operations. Right. I feel more like Chief Babysitter."
Mathias gave her his trademark Bob Mathias grin, shrugged and continued his exam, working across and down her abdomen. He stopped suddenly and frowned slightly. The x-ray image on the video screen interrupted him.
"You broke a couple of ribs, see?" He pointed to the image.
She squinted. "I don't see anything. Just a bunch of blurry images of what vaguely looks like ribs." She scowled impatiently. "How about some more party drugs, Bob? More Demerol, maybe? I think the stuff you gave me in the Eagle is wearing off. I don't care if I'm bitchy around you but I want to be in a cheery mood when Alan comes back."
"Not yet..." Mathias pull out the phlebotomy tray. "I vant your blood!!" The doctor grinned doing his best or rather worst vampire imitation, as he tied the tourniquet on her upper arm.
Angelina hardly noticed and she did not feel the stick of the hypodermic needle. Her gaze was fixed dreamily on the figure in the shadow between bed 1 and bed 2 in the darkened and empty intensive care unit: A 7 foot tall male in a long robe with a long beard, a terror filled and betrayed expression etched on his face.
So here she was, alone, as she glared at Jerry Parker, MSRN, for kicking out her best friend Melita Kelly. Some stupid policy about visiting hours, though he told her he felt generous and would allow Alan Carter to visit her any time. She was in his kingdom now and at the mercy of the egotistical chief nurse. Her irritation though was merely a diversion. Something told her that the voice in her head and the weird apparition she saw in the exam room were not the result of concussion induced hallucination no matter how much she tried to rationalize it.
She sighed, depressed, the death of Larry Parks, and the image of his corpse, firmly planted in her mind. To die such an unspeakably horrific death made her shudder. As a teenager, Angelina liked to watch slasher type, horror movies when she was rather rebellious. No Hollywood movie could ever capture the reality of a true explosive decompression of a human being.
Angelina grew restless and did not want to be alone; despite the fact that Medical was located deep inside of Alpha, one of the safest places on the base, she did not feel safe at all.
Dr. Ben Vincent approached her with a laser hypo. "Looks like you need a nightcap, Ang," he said cheerily. "Have I got some good stuff for you."
"Yeah Ben, I'll have a double martini..shaken not stirred." she replied good-naturedly.
"You'll have to settle for this," Ben replied as he emptied the contents of the hypo into her wrist. "Get some sleep now and call if you need anything..good night."
Angelina smiled and nodded, pulling the covers up to her neck. Suddenly, she felt very cold.
The snow had fallen and the silence of the field seemed to echo over the landscape. The icy branches waved softly in the wind. The only sound was crunching as she walked along the snow-covered road with the dog. The animal, sensing movement in the woods, ran toward the sound. Angelina succumbed to the playful urge and fell backwards into the 2-foot deep bed of fluffy snow.
She became aware of an unusual silence. The wind had stopped blowing. She heard the dog yelp and instantly sat up. "Mason? Mason?!?" she called. She went toward the sound and found the animal...he was completely gutted and mutilated beyond recognition, the ghastly bloody carcass still oozing. She frantically looked around but no one was there.
When she turned around, corpses, disemboweled and bloody, stacked up in neat piles, blocked the road. A river of blood rushed toward her, changing the white snow covered road into a Sea of Red.
Angelina cried out in terror and turning to run, came face to face with "Jason" from the "Friday The 13th" Horror movies.
"BUTCHERS!! BASTARDS!!!!" he screamed as he wielded his machete at her.
Dr. Ben Vincent, who was nearly nodding off at his desk, banged his head on the damn Italian lamp, and awoke startled by Angelina Verdeschi's gut wrenching, hysterical screams.
'A little less Vermouth in that martini next time,' he thought, after hearing the tortured cries.
Jerry Parker immediately brought the lights up in the ward as Ben Vincent approached Angelina's bedside. He positioned himself beside her, careful not to disturb the midsection, bandaged beneath her blue karate pajamas.
"'Ang...hey, it's going to be all right." He said.
She was sitting totally up in bed; her blond hair, and her pallid face, slicked with sweat as thick as petroleum.
"Seconal." He declared, chasing Parker to the pharmacy. "Ten milligrams, now." He placed his hand gently on her shoulder."Everything is going to be fine. It was just a dream." He said rhythmically. "Just a dream."
Angelina, trembling, grasped Ben's arm and tried to avoid the injection.
"No..No..NO!..it was not a dream...it was NOT a dream. I heard those words again. The same ones I heard in the Eagle 'Butchers, Bastards'..the same words and the SAME VOICE. There's something out there, there's something terrible out there." She tried to get out of bed, fighting Ben's attempts to restrain her. "PLEASE listen to me! There's terrible, terrible danger. You've got to let me warn the Commander..."
Ben Vincent nodded sympathetically--attempting to understand as much of the inexplicable as was advised. He was fifty-four years old. Three months from now--ninety days to be mortally precise--he would be fifty-five, and a survivor of September 13, 1999. One did not attain these laurels by thinking too hard about butchers, bastards, and the paranormal.
It was padded room stuff; better living through electro-shock therapy.
"Of course you can talk to the commander." He promised. "But I want to give you something to help you relax first."
He took the hypo from Parker, and found the artery in her neck.
"Can you tell me what kind of danger we're in." He asked, placing the laser back on the tray. "Would it bother you to talk about it."
Carter would be there any moment now.
Angelina realized or perhaps the Seconal helped her realize that she would get nowhere acting erratically, except perhaps a psyche consult.
"After we crashed, I was knocked out and I woke up on the floor of the passenger module. I heard Alan call us. I tried to communicate with him by patching the internal communicator of the suit into the com system. The next thing I heard was a very melodic voice. Then, there was another voice, a terrible, angry voice yelling 'Butchers, Bastards!' Ben, I just heard the same voice AGAIN" she closed her eyes, shaking her head.
Alan Carter walked in at this point, and heard the rest of it.
"An original episode of 'Friday the 13th Part 55' staring hockey mask boy Jason. At the end of it, I heard the same voice, the same words again 'Butchers, Bastards!'"
It was obvious Vincent was being condescending toward Ang and not believing a word she said as anything other than a hallucination. She glanced at Carter imploringly. "Alan! I heard it again. It was the same voice, same words that I heard in the Eagle."
Carter closed the double doors behind him, and hooked his commlock back onto his belt. His expression was completely blank. Those strongly cast, heroic features that had always seemed so confident to Angelina in the past, now seemed debunked, defeated, and disillusioned.
"You two probably want to be alone." Ben Vincent awkwardly deduced, and motioned towards Parker to beat it. "If you need anything, I'll be in the other ward. 'Ang, if you would still like to talk later, I'll be around."
"They just called me away from a command conference." Carter said unbelievingly. His concern struggled to survive his skeptical mind's attempt to kill it. "What's going on?"
Ben Vincent made good his escape, and walked into the Lovecraftian night world of Ward-A. There were only empty beds there. Six neatly made on the right side of the room; six on the left. Walls continued upright. Doors remained sensibly shut. The red, emergency bulbs bathed the vacant, single mattresses in rose-colored hues that disappeared at a vanishing point near the far wall. A goose stepped over his grave. Feedback from the system server droned on, like the oppressive tonalities of some insane organ player, turning his vertebrae to ice cubes.
Boo-boop, boop, boop....Boo-boop, boop, boop....
It chimed monotonously. On, and on, and on. The ambient work sounds that had become so domestic, and annoying as to ruin his hottest, most bodaciously daring wet dreams. Now they sounded like omens from an urn, a hob's heckling from the heart of a haunted tree.
"Who's there?" He said aloud, seeing the dark traveler emerge from between Bed #7, and Bed #6.
The figure was tall, and incredibly broad shouldered. Its gown swished regally, secretly across pieces of interlocking tile that now seemed more like the decaying stone work of some sorcerer's castle. His black bearded cheeks, and his cracked lips--visible only for a moment in the crimson light.
"Who are you?" Vincent demanded, groping for his commlock spasmodically, and keen to the fact that his gumption was no longer in Ward-A with him. The form turned its head so slowly--so casually--that it may as well have been mounted on a turntable. His thumb was on the pager button. When he looked up again, he saw only a dark room with two neatly made rows of beds.
The visitation--if that was the word--had apparently ended.
Angelina studied Alan's blank expression as he sat on the edge of her bed. "I heard those words again, Alan, same words and the same voice..'butchers, bastards.' Really, I did. It was all so real."
"Sounds like you had a nightmare, " Carter rephrased through an ingratiating smile that was politely unimpressed. "Tell me about it."
Angelina conveyed the terrible events and the images of the nightmare to him as he held her.
"A machete, huh?" The pilot recounted, blanching her trauma with hubris, and stoicism. The impact was totally lost on him. "Isn't that a tart? I guess everyone has enemies." T'would have been better to have said the lavatories were not working. "Don't worry creampuff, I still like you. Sort of."
His attempt to lighten the mood was not appreciated by her.
"It's not funny, Alan," she replied getting a bit edgy, "I know it sounds crazy. Maybe the first time could have been a nightmare, a hallucination, whatever, but I heard the same words in the same voice again the second time. How can that be possible, even in a dream? That's impossible. Help me out here; I haven't lost it. I know what I heard."
Her confidence over what she knew as true was unnerving to him. She softened somewhat, remembering his blank expression she saw when he walked into the room.
"What's wrong, " she asked, more relaxed in his embrace and momentarily forgetting her encounters with cinematic horror. He was keeping something from her; something was most certainly bothering him. "There's something on your mind. What's going on?" She asked with genuine love and concern. "Why is there a Command Conference in the middle of the night?"
Carter looked away. He considered relaying the facts to her concerning the blood freezing apparition that countenanced him through the window aboard Eagle One. Since he no longer believed it happened though, the expressions in this particular equation had all changed. The final formula looked something like this:
SPACE + TERRIFYING, BLENCHED SPIRIT FROM THE NETHERWORLD ='NAH.
The remains of Eagle 6 had been brought to Hangar 5 to be salvaged for parts. Hangar 5 was a creepy place because it was a junk yard or a ghost yard, depending on your point of view, of space craft and equipment parts. It was the junk drawer of Moonbase Alpha, where items were relegated for salvage or storage, in case there was ever a use for them 'someday.'
There was no way Eagle 6 would be rebuilt. Mike Ellis, Eagle Flight Engineer, surveyed the twisted wreckage. It really was a miracle that anyone had survived at all. In all of his years as an Eagle Flight Engineer, especially since leaving Earth, he had seen his share of wrecks, a couple killing all of the ship's occupants.
As he step into the remains of the passenger module, he became aware of a pungent odor. He turned and immediately saw the source of the odor.. one row of bodies, piled from the floor to the ceiling, but decayed to the extent that gravity affected the body parts of the higher layers of bodies. One of the heads drop off, thudding sickeningly to the ground. Mike Ellis, the smell of rotting flesh overpowering him, vomited as he staggered toward the opening of the passenger module.
"Butchers, Bastards!!" the terrible voice was ringing in his ears.
When he looked back, grappling for his commlock and gasping for breath, the bodies and the smell had disappeared. All that remained was the twisted wreckage of Eagle 6, the faint smell of burnt circuit cards and, of course, the regurgitated contents of his stomach.
"They're wondering what wrecked your ship." Carter parlayed. Then, the timely--highly insulting--caesura, where he looked away to devise a new stratagem for what he was going to say next. He had been there for fifteen minutes now, and Angelina had yet to concede what a knee-slapper her dream had been. He supposed that he had expected her to embrace again, the ordinances of cause, and effect; her senses, as stark, raving sober as the arc-sodium depot lights in the Eagle Garage. But the rolling-on-the-floor, gut bursting laughter never came. He saw in her business-like face, no pointed hats; no kazoos; she wasn't humming "The Road To Tiporari"-her contention of danger remained, and perhaps the feeling that God was kicked back stoned somewhere while she slept.
During World War Terminus, young Alan Carter had dropped Fuel-Air Bombs on the Weather Underground while the rest of Sydney burned. Death, and fell misadventure were no way to die, he had concluded, long, long ago, but he could cope with the idea because it represented something tangible. What Angelina was describing was more in the realm of bad--but compelling-horror comic kukah. Even worse, it bordered on bad--but compelling--horror movie kukah where the laws of life, and death were as easy, and as wide as the muse of a hack screenwriter who deserved to starve.
Oh well. He kissed her on the forehead anyway.
"Maybe it's time you got some real sleep." He said compassionately, winding up to pitch his next foul ball. "Better dreams will come--eh?"
While Alan Carter fondly patronized Angelina Verdeschi, John Koenig was realizing just how ignorant, ignorance could be. He was cantered at the round table with Paul Morrow, David Kano, Sandra Benes, and Helena Russell.
Victor Bergman paced the floor beneath a digital monitor that was spliced into separate, but identical, bar graphs. The similarity between the two surveys was so insignificant as to be supine. No. More than that. The indicators were downright blase--as in there was 'nothing' there--as in: "This is a superfluous exercise, and a waste of elbow grease, and
materials." The bars themselves, red, represented quarterly radioactive emissions, in killirads, from the blasted remains of Nuclear Disposal Area Two. Chart one was from six months ago; the information on chart two was plotted by Bergman fifteen minutes before the Command Conference had started.
"There's been no change at all." Paul Morrow said with tremendous angst.
"No, there hasn't been." Koenig acknowledged, calmer. "The sensor data from today's scan corroborates only what we knew six months ago."
"But the flight recorder on Bannion's Eagle did track an MR Sine Wave." Sandra Benes abided, her notes carefully organized on the table in front of her.
"That's true," Bergman gibed, "But...it's not necessarily the result of radioactive emissions from area two."
"Where did it come from then?" Helena Russell.
"And how will it effect us here on Alpha?" Paul Morrow, cheeks reddening.
"I can see that everyone is concerned." Koenig said with unctuous understatement, and acid indigestion while leaning forward on his elbows. "For that reason, I want to start cycling Alpha's screens to the highest possible calibration. That should give us some time to figure out the 'whys,' and the 'wherefores.'
"In the meantime, we have a new solar system." He said, swiveling towards Bergman. "Victor, how does it look?"
"If you're talking about a reconnaissance, it's not going to happen." The Voice Of Disparagement, David Kano intruded, answering the question for him. "We'll be in visual range of the system for about seven days, but the closest planet is at least 10,000 nautical downrange--too far out to attempt a landing. We should be in scanning range in about four hours though."
"Is it possible that there is something about the area of space we're in that caused Eagle Six's navigational failure?" Helena Russell wondered, speaking from the lay person's view.
"Any thing is possible." Bergman said, eyebrows up, and leaning against one of the empty chairs. "It's doubtful, though. Our tracking systems can detect radioactive particles travelling through space--in individual units, or as part of an overall spectrum."
"Then where does that leave us?"
To that, there was no answer.
Angelina Verdeschi knew Alan Carter did not believe her "visions" were anything other than a nightmare. She tried to convey to him what she saw was completely real. But how do you explain irrationalism to a rational man? She looked downcast and said, "You're right. It's probably all just a bad hallucination. I'm sorry to be a bother to you; you should go back to the meeting."
"Ouch." Carter squinched. "You aren't a bother to me at all gorgeous. As a matter of fact, you're the most pleasant distraction I've had all day." Her focus, and affections did nothing to make him believe in, or fear, the butchers, and the bastards, but his devotion to her did survive the psychotic break intact. Even to Ray Charles, his caring was salient. In fact, he wanted to do senior citizenship with her, and live in hope--preferably, in a place where their existence on Moonbase Alpha was a memory of the cheerless, distant past. "Even if you are a couple of cans short of a six pack right now."
She gazed at him neutrally then smiled. Maybe he was right. It was all a bad dream. There had to be a physical explanation. Yes, the trauma of the crash could have caused the mind to hear things in the Eagle. Yes, maybe whatever intravenous martini Vincent had given her could have played havoc with her psyche. She was utterly exhausted and an exhausted mind could easily succumb to misperceptions.
"I guess that makes us a matched set," she teased and hugged him affectionately.
Everything would be all right in the morning. She was sure of it.
Thirty minutes later, if you were an Alphan standing in the white room which crowned the boarding tube to Launch Pad Three, you would have seen a small, pinpoint of light appear beyond the vision ports in the endless, black sea. Seat Alphearas drifted above the walls of The Lorentz Crater like Tinkerbelle searching for Peter, and Wendy, and a corny Captain Hook. At a distance of twelve million astronomical units, it cast a dying light on its children; a triune of worlds that heard nothing; saw nothing, and addressed nothing. In a universe that increasingly made less, and less sense--'nothing' was perhaps the ultimate descriptor.
Or maybe an alligator with a clock in its gut would be more precise simile. In either case, the Moon kept rolling all night long.
"Alright." Controller Paul Morrow said some interminable, feverish hours later at his workstation. "Let's do it." His hands were kneaded anxiously together beneath the yellow gooseneck lamp. The three empty coffee cups next to his harmonic keyboard seemed, from his driven, overtime perspective, to be the eyes of some mysterious triclops. "Conversion in ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one...."
The plasma VU-Meters on the part of his console marked UTILITY came to life, violently expanding, and receding.
"Linkup to ACCEPT." Sandra Benes relayed back to him mechanically. "Deflection Screens to MAXIMUM." In the forever darkness outside the base, the circular march of radio towers broadcast the antithetical signal that would, in theory, neutralize most of Madame Curie's prime offenders.
"It's too little, too late, if you ask me." Kano balked, rotating his desk to face the big screen once more. "What if we're already contaminated?"
"Possibly. If so, I won't know what's worse Kano. Glowing in the dark, or listening to you bitch." Morrow honed-in, irritated, and most definitely not in the place to listen to someone belly ache. He could feel his lower back muscles crack like a gladiator's shield every time he moved.
Kano, along with ten tons of bruised ego, was about to fire a volley of assholish retorts when the reflection appeared on Sandra's micro-monitor.
"Paul!" She said with alarm.
Morrow bolted to her desk. In the center of her screen, the wave form--vaguely helical in structure, and electric blue in color--unraveled to extinction on the white grid iron. By the time Kano came around for a look, its bonded, DNA-like wrung had disappeared completely.
Alan Carter returned to say 'gidday,' but she was so doped up, and dissociative, he wasn't sure whether she was cognizant of his presence. Responses like "good night, Victor" caused him to rather doubt it. He couldn't resist having a gander at her any way, even if her horse sense was currently enjoying a time-out. He met the other two yellow-sleeved Reconnaissance Pilots--one blonde, the other with cold black hair, as the Medical Center doors closed behind him.
"Visiting hours are over, men." He chided good-naturedly. On a nearby comm-post, the lunar clock marched onward; soon 02:29 adjusted, and graduated to an unredeemed 02:30.
On the ward, visions of fragmenting nuclear waste dumps danced through Angelina Verdeschi's head. Through the haze, she could see Parker, and Nunez trying to make their break from the Autopsy Room. She knew it would be done clandestinely, but she wasn't sure when. She fancied an evil Santa Claus, spiriting Larry Parks' black body bag away in his engulfed sled.
'She's asleep.' She heard Nunez whisper, and imagined his ostrich neck inclining almost comically from the doorway. Move it.... She heard the wheels on the gurney screech slightly as they moved towards the one area on Moonbase Alpha that could wipe the grin off of your face, posthaste-The Morgue.
She dozed. She opened her eyes. Wide? Au contraire; they almost literally bulged from their sockets. Angelina gagged on the stick of dynamite that was suddenly lodged in her throat. Guilty shadows hovered over her.
"'Ang, we're sorry we woke you." Kevin Bannion said kindly, arms folded, and apologizing profusely. Dumb idea--it was written all over his face. "Alan thought it would be okay if we looked in on you, and my conscience has been bloody beastly."
"It ought to be." Larry Parks joked, unsuccessfully, though the attempt seemed well meant, and Angelina realized just how deeply she had taken her own sanity for granted. Parks didn't seem to realize that he was stone cold dead, and had been for hours. "After all--you wreck the ship, but she ends up being stuck with Dr. Big Mouth; Alpha's only undefeated Chess Champion."
"If that won't send you to your grave, I don't know what will." Larry Parks chuckled.
Angelina almost recognized this was some weird dream in her semi-conscious state and was even somewhat amused by Larry's Parks chess comment when, as Larry was looking at her, his face exploded; pieces of flesh, blood, sinew and subcutaneous fat rained everywhere, mainly toward Ang.
One of Larry's eyeballs landed on her chest.
"Pardon me for groping but I really need that." Parks, grinning at her, with a face mostly skull devoid of flesh, gingerly retrieved his eye from atop her breastbone. Angelina was no longer amused and beginning to wonder if this was really a dream. She screamed and lashed out violently at her comedic tormentors. Ben Vincent was once again startled by the agonized cries coming from Angelina Verdeschi's ward.
Dr. Vincent made his icy journey back from Ward-A, and was greeted with the sight of Angelina Verdeschi, reduced to an angry, hysterical time bomb, thrashing, and kicking so violently, she almost ruptured old Pierre Danielle. It was he who had accompanied Bannion on this errand of mercy, and not the eviscerated vestiges of Larry Parks. He wished that he had not done it. The pilot, pale at the thought of how close he had really come, took it as a warning, and stayed a precautionary five steps back for the remainder of the conversation.
"It's going to be okay." Kevin Bannion said, his expression now pale, and bleached, and feeling like a cross between Al Capone, and Dr. Josef Mengele. He knew that if he got close enough, Moonbase Alpha's Chief Of Technical Operations would promptly ring his neck.
Ben Vincent grabbed the nearest available hypo, and checked its contents as he ran. He was flanked by Parker and Nunez, who met him halfway between the freezer and Angelina's bed.
Inside his vinyl body bag, Larry Parks settled into profound rigor mortis
"Go away! Go away!!!! You're dead, Larry!!! !!You're DEAD!!!!!" Angelina screamed over and over, trying to fight off her imaginary assailant.
As Nunez and Parker tried to restrain her, they unexpectedly discovered that somehow her physical strength had multiplied at least 10 fold. She flung them both backwards, against Pierre Danielle and Kevin Bannion, the 4 of them crashing against carts and the opposite wall of the ward.
But in the process of throwing the two relatively strong men, Angelina felt a "pop" in her injured left side. She screamed in agony, falling off the bed, bringing her back to a now decidedly painful reality.
Carissa Englebert was enjoying a blissful dream of a happier time....when she could fly. Damage to her optic nerve during the breakaway explosion had permanently grounded her. After tossing and turning in a fitful sleep for half the night, she finally drifted off and found herself flying a reconn mission to a potentially habitable planet.
As she skillfully piloted the ship through the clouds, she looked over at her co-pilot to chat with him, to share her excitement over their awesome though rare experience of flying through clouds. Carissa gasped.
Seated next to her was a large man, dressed in a robe with broad shoulders. He had a black beard and black eyes and shook his head solemnly. To Carissa's horror, he grasped the flight sticks and sent the Eagle into a precarious downward plunge. Carissa was unable to override and could not take control of the ship. With nearly unbearable G-forces preventing her movement, she watched in terror through the viewport as the ground, a burning pool of lava, came closer and closer towards her.
Carissa woke up in her bed with a muffled scream. Her body, her pajamas, her sheets were completely soaked with sweat.
For the third time that night, Ben Vincent helped Angelina Verdeschi to sleep. He was a firm believer that in space, any thing was possible, and the fisticuffs he had enjoyed with Alan Carter later that night did nothing to deter this philosophy. He was about to contact Main Mission when everything just fell apart. He had no idea what he was going to tell them, but the proverbial 'something' seemed better than nothing.
"WHAT ABOUT THE BABY?" Carter had screamed. "DID YOU FOUL THAT ONE UP TOO?"
Vincent told him to calm down--he didn't ask, and perhaps that was where the mistake had been. In truth, he had not had a chance to test for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, although, at this point, baby Carter was certainly a candidate.
"Useless bastards." Carter evenly, slowly building up to a fission reaction of renunciation, and with venom dripping from his fangs. "!!!INCOMPENTENT STUPID, GARBO MOTHERFUCKERS!!! ALWAYS RIDING THE DOLE, AND NOW--WHEN YOU'RE MOST NEEDED--WHERE THE HECK ARE YOU??? YOU'RE LAYING IN A CORNER, AND POUNDING YOUR FUCKING WILLIES, THAT'S WHERE!!! I SWEAR TO YOU THAT IF ANYTHING HAPPENS TO HER, OR THE BABY, I'LL NICK YOU, AND MATHIAS BOTH, YOU LOUSY QUACKS!!!"
Vincent told him to leave, and that was when Carter threw him an upper-cut with his left fist. He saw birds; he saw stars; he felt something warm, and wet trickle down his chin. Recoiling fairly quickly, he rammed the Eagle Pilot squarely in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him. Both men tumbled to the floor, knocking the paper filled IN/OUT Basket on top of them. Carter was an apt pugilist; he instinctively went next for Ben Vincent's sternum. Vincent cried out, and planted his fist squarely on the Captain's hard head. This only caused his rage to escalate. He grabbed for the doctor's throat. Vincent rolled out of the way, and brought his elbow down hard on his opponent's back.
Light years away, on the other side of the office lay his commlock.
Angelina Verdeschi lay sound asleep, electrodes from each side of her head to the machine that induced electro-stimulated sleep. Dr. Bob Mathias was attending her. The drugs given to her earlier had caused her hallucinations and nightmares. Strange, she never, according to her records, had such an adverse reaction to them before. In fact, no one on Alpha had such a terrible reaction to either of these drugs. Now, of course, since her labs came back, they were severely limited in what they could give her for medication anyway. Angelina Verdeschi was about 8 weeks pregnant. Carter already knew about it. Angelina Verdeschi did not; the result of a careless Med tech reporting the lab result to Ben Vincent when Carter was within earshot in the next room.
With her last night terror and falling squarely on the floor, Angelina had managed to turn the hairline fracture in one of her ribs into a clean break. He was checking the condition of the baby, if it had perhaps died in utero. After applying the ultrasound gel, he placed the transducer against her abdomen and moved it around. He found the steady rhythm of Angelina's pulse from the main artery sending blood to her lower extremities. Mathias moved the transducer around and then he saw it: the tiny heart, beating at over twice the rate as Ang's. He smiled with satisfaction. For the moment, all was well and young Carter junior was alive. If he got to this point after the accident, his chances were excellent that he would continue to live.
He removed the transducer and wiped off the gel when he heard a strange sound in the headphones.
Clasping his ears, as the sound grew louder, BOOP! BOOP!!!! !!! BOOOOOP!!!!!, he turned to see the figure of a tall man in a robe with broad shoulders, black eyes and a black pointed beard.
"Who are you?" the doctor asked, feeling a wave of nausea. He bent down, overcome, and gagged. The sound abruptly stopped; Mathias was alone in the room with a sleeping Angelina Verdeschi.
The Assistant Chief Medical Officer then heard Carter's and Vincent's yelling in the other ward, followed by crashing and thudding. Mathias ran into the room, to find the melee; Carter and Vincent beating up each other with the Chief of Reconn appearing to have a decisive advantage.
Mathias jumped between the two of them, pulled them apart and threw them to opposite sides of the room.
"WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!?!??!"
Carter stepped back against the bulkhead, his anger--or at least half of it--spent. He looked from one side of the wrecked office to the other, more determined than ashamed. There was a small, one inch cut on his cheek from where the IN/OUT Tray had clocked him. Sweat poured down the front, and back of his tunic in a tree-shape. Bob Mathias would have done well to not hold his breath waiting for an answer. Carter's english was gone. It occurred to Ben Vincent that sometimes there was just no lexicon big enough for describing how you feel.
"Alan," He said, trying to manipulate his swollen jaw back into place. Thanks to Carter's left hook, he felt confident that he knew what it was like for Harry Houdini to hang from the Brooklyn Bridge with only a stirrup, and his teeth to support him. "I can see you're...upset." But then again, he would since the expended ire had been channeled towards beating the shit out of him. "I want to take a look at you; maybe give you something to take the edge off those nerves."
God knows, the pilot needed it.
Carter looked at the floor--his gratitude lodged some where in his throat.
"If it's about the baby, you're worrying for no reason." Mathias interjected. "It's perfect. I just checked."
"Yeah, Bob." Carter mumbled quietly, himself again. He left the office, and drifted out to the ward where Angelina was sleeping. He sat in the chair, and cupped his face in his palms.
He remained that way a long time.
Dr. Helena Russell had to tell Commander John Koenig about Angelina Verdeschi's new condition. She sighed, heavily. There had not been a birth on Alpha since Jackie Crawford. After that time, Commander Koenig made it clear that, due to the strain on the resources, planning for and trying to conceive children on Alpha could not be an option at this time. Of course, contraceptive failures could happen. She told John that despite all of the measures it would happen sooner or later. The time was now.
"Hello, John," Helena had let herself in his office and leaned up against his desk.
"Hello, Helena," John looked up and spoke to her softly. He gazed at her; his eyes giving away his exhaustion and the frustration of the events of the last 24 hours. Helena imagined what his face would look like as a young John Koenig; without the ravages of time and the unending burdens as Commander of Moonbase Alpha sans Earth. "What can I do for you?" He asked gently. He always had time for Helena Russell.
"John," she set down the tray holding two freshly brewed cups of bad Moonbase Alpha imitation coffee and handed him one of the steaming mugs. "There's something that you need to know, something we found out about Angelina Verdeschi."
Koenig suddenly looked concerned, eyebrow raising as he nodded his appreciation for the java. "Was she hurt worse than you thought in the crash? What's wrong?"
Helena stated it simply. "She's pregnant."
Koenig groaned and raised his hand to his eyes, shaking his head. Another life that he would be responsible for...."I'm sorry, Helena. I shouldn't have reacted like that."
"I understand, " Helena lightly touched his shoulder. "John, it was 'accidental'. The Norplant failed." Helena continued. "We knew it was only a matter of time before something like this would happen."
Actually, she was surprised it had not happened earlier. Life had a way of adapting biology to fulfill its primary goal: to reproduce.
"Yes, Helena, I know. Not exactly the best timing..." Koenig sipped slowly, staring over his cup out the viewport at the lunar landscape.
"These things never are," she replied matter-of-factly.
Silently, they continued sipping their coffees in the subdued light of the office.
Angelina woke up somewhat refreshed the next morning, though the pain in her ribs nagged her. She looked over and saw Alan lying in the bed next to her; his cheek was bandaged. He stirred, smiled at her and came over to her side.
"What happened to you?!" she blurted with great concern.
Carter yawned, and wiped the sleep from his eyes. He reckoned that he needed it, and apparently none of the Medical Center Staff had given a mind to his slumming around. As a matter of fact, he was almost certain that Mathias had stuck him with something while he was nodding off. His butt ached, but he was grateful for the stick.
"You're pregnant, cutie." He said bluntly, dropping her from ten feet atop the ladder. How many beatific ways were there to say it?
Main Mission Operative Kate Bullen was walking down Corridor-D to the command tower. For breakfast, she normally stopped by the Reconnaissance Hub, and obtained a print out of proposed Eagle departure times for Paul Morrow. Now that the problems with Nuclear Disposal Area Two appeared to be back with a roar, she didn't have that, or much of any thing to do. The Commander, and Professor Bergman had grounded all Eagles until further notice. If the gods of bad luck had truly returned for an encore performance of September 13, 1999, there wasn't much that she could think of that they could do to remedy the situation--except for maybe finding festival seats where they could watch the Moon be blown to kingdom come this time.
With the diminished work load, Kate Bullen had actually been hoping to have an easy day. Instead, she felt the passing of wayward souls as they moved over her lilac covered tombstone. She felt a hand grip her shoulder, and turned startled.
Her anxiety-ridden expression, devolved into a scowl.
"Isn't this the bees knees? You can always tell who the biggest slackers are on this base." She determined lovelessly, and punched the interloper on his orange sleeve. "What happened to the leash that 'Coop had you on?."
The 'leash' in this context was a two month, alternating stint on ground patrol. Circling the lunar basin day, and night. There was nothing interesting to be keened, just rocks, and more rocks. It was duty ex nilo. Oh, was it ever boring.
"That's no way to treat a suitor." David Trask said romantically, unperturbed, and with his left cheek turning upward into an award winning, PR Smile. "Besides, you have absolutely no idea what I had to go through to find you again, beautiful. No idea at all."
In truth, it had been like moving from one world to another, and later that day, Kate Bullen would decide that she did not much care for the look he had given her. David Trask didn't much care. He knew his time would come.
Alan Carter had a gift for deadpan humor. He knew Angelina was somewhat gullible and liked to tease her, muddling the facts of a story until it became so unbelievably ridiculous. Once he told her he drank too much of the products from Carissa's stil and took Eagle 1 for a joyride, doing a little "moon skimming" in the process. Her gut told her he was bullshitting her, but he was so convincing that she actually believed it for about 5 minutes. A series of logical questions, however, quickly tore apart the Eagle joyride story but the fact she even asked the questions was a further testament of her gullibility. He had "gotten" her and guffawed his way through the rest of dinner. Since then, he enjoyed occasionally muddling the line between truth and fiction when he told her stories about his exploits.
Angelina sat back, unimpressed, wincing from her ribs. "Very funny, Alan. Although I must say that is quite an original gag. That's something I'm suppose to announce to you, not the other way around. April Fool's day was 3 months ago." At this point, she was expecting him to crack a smile and start laughing loudly. He sat on the bed gazing at her with a loving smile. Seconds ticked by...maybe a minute...his smile still there...her's beginning to fade. "OK, joke's over, Alan," she said nervously "You are joking." Not said as a question but as a statement. Then attempting to dismiss the whole thing and thereby sanction it as a joke she asked with jest "So what happened to your face? Get in a fight?"
"Yeah, Ben Vincent, and I had a round, or two." Carter explained briefly, feeling his bandaged cheek. "He's actually not half bad. Maybe he should join up on the double with your brother." He laughed, thinking of Moonbase Alpha's other Verdeschi--a proveable dickhead; a laser packing horror of testosterone, and self-serving occupational goals that would ferment no better than his home brew; a 'nere do well--Italy's Last Action Hero who seemed strangely out of place in an enlightened age.
True, the core controls functioned as well as could be expected, but he didn't talk to Tony Verdeschi no more. Funny. The grape vine had it that the other Verdeschi, infamous, was also terminally on his boss' bad side. It wasn't a tres beau place to be, especially if your boss' last name was Morrow. He knew for a fact that 'Ang had to swing some formidable clout, on multivarious humanitarian occasions, to pry her brother out of the controller's claws.
"You think I'm joking, but I'm not." Carter said. "Mathias and Vincent both confirmed it. In about six months, we're going to have company, 'kiddo."
To say she was shocked would have been the understatement of the year...of the new millennia. Shock...anxiety.....outright fear.....dread.....joy ....Alan was not joking....he was not muddling any lines. In fact, he was making himself quite clear.
She felt sorry for Jackie Crawford although the little boy was the ultimate only child. Angelina swore that she would never have a child while they were adrift on their rock. Commander Koenig's "orders" notwithstanding, the reasons were obvious; any child, including young Crawford, could not look forward to a future filled with sunshine and promise. The future could end today for all of them.
On the one hand, she loved Alan Carter more than her own life and the thought of having a baby with him was a gift and a cause of great joy and happiness. It was a sign that love, the best aspect of humanity could grow and thrive, even out in the black wilderness. On the other hand, that gift could be taken away in an instant; a violent, gory instant. Even if their child never succumbed to the danger of space, if he grew old on Moonbase Alpha, what kind of life and future is that? To never breath real air, to never feel the warmth of a sun, to never go "outside" without protective EVA suit; that was the life they had to offer the future. In an instant, all these concerns and worries crossed her mind. Still....
She returned his gaze, as he moved closer to her. A slight smile crossed her face. "I love you," she stated simply and, glancing around to see that they were alone, she kissed him tenderly
They were not alone...not really.
Across an incomprehensible dimension, the sentient Mantis watched the scene with interest. It nodded its triangular head approvingly and had already come to a decision. It was time to prepare to change. It reached out and touched the essence of their creation, growing inside of her. The light blue glow of his soul transformed to brilliant white.
On Moonbase Alpha, light bulbs were worth their weight in gold.
Dr. Ismet Quahr, PhD, had spent a productive evening in the Reference Library, working on yet another in a series of brilliant, notable dissertations, on survival, and the ostracized community. She had started her new thesis six months ago, and had attacked it badly from seven different directions, but tonight was atypical. She left with a feeling of contribution that was every bit as substantial as that of a reconnaissance pilot's, though she was at far less risk of having her ass shot off. Let the M. Scott Peck's, and the Aaron T. Beck's of the cosmos probe their nostrils for intellectual winners; all of those awashed Book Of The Month Club last names that rhymed, and abominably boring tomes that did nothing to edify the human spirit. For you see, her theory was that the human animal survived because it wanted to. For the other three hundred, some odd men, and women on Moonbase Alpha who were not aware that this was the case, this would be a bombshell--one worthy of the likes of Jeremy Bentham, Jean Paul Sartre, and Rush Limbaugh.
Dr. Quahr was ambling down the darkened corridor with her prolific stack of notebooks when she heard the imp's rustle. All around her, she could hear the polyphony of voices; a crowd of men, and women--irreverent, poking at her, and prodding at her, and teasing her for her lack of reasonableness, like she was the star attraction at the local monkey house. Elongated shadows established themselves on the walls around her, like the bars of a cage. The disembodied females whispered evil judgments; the male voices would respond with belligerent laughter. They seemed to work in tandem, like the altos, and the sopranos in a baroque fugue.
Dr. Quahr dropped her notebooks, her blood now as warm as a cherry pop-sickle. The picky female revenants made note of her clumsiness. She looked around, nervously sucking her thumb.
"Uh-" She stammered.
Before she had a chance to prove her Nobel Prize worthy thesis by flight, tears, and incontinence, the darkness fell on her.
Harness Bull Tom Carlson was patrolling the base near the Anthropology Laboratory when his right boot clipped something near the open, utility closet. He aimed his security issue mag-lite at the floor. His first thought was to marvel at the rudeness, and the inappropriateness of some one who would throw their lousy note book on the floor, and just leave it. He suspected that the perpetrator was also crude enough, and rude enough to spill a whole cup of coffee--and then just leave it. There wasn't just one, there were about five, spiral bound, and splayed open around the hatch like fallen seagulls. A few of them appeared to have been on the losing side in a battle with a nigrosine ink cartridge.
The second thing he noticed was that he was standing on some one's hand. He backed away immediately to reveal the small, blood scattered digits, clamped tightly in a death grip. The horror doll's wrist was connected to exposed joints, syrupy tendons, and a glistening weave of amniotic muscle tissue. The hamstring of the horror doll's jaw was distended in a laureate's bombastic lecture pose--as if it's dying act had been to validate something about personal safety in the human village.
Dr. Helena Russell was doing a brief examine on the hideously mutilated body. She made sure that security had roped off the area because the scene was gruesome and did not relish the prospect of giving tranquilizers to passers-by.
"Any idea what could have caused this, Helena?" the Commander queried impatiently.
"No, John," Helena replied stoically, as she zipped the body bag. "I really need to do a full autopsy, though I admit I'm not sure there will be an answer. I don't see any evidence of mutilation with a weapon."
"What about a chemical? An acid?" Koenig suggested as he paced the same six feet behind her.
"No, the body does not suggest evidence of acid burns either." Helena shook her head. "It's as if the skin and most of the subcutaneous layers of fat have been...peeled off. But again, there is no evidence of a knife or other sharp object, no evidence of acid." She sighed. "I've never seen anything like it."
"Helena, we've come across a lot of things that would come under the category of 'never seen anything like it'. But there was always an answer, always a reason," Koenig retorted, scratching his head.
Koenig was getting angry. First the crash of Eagle 6 with still unknown causes and now this. Not to mention the fact that Koenig had also experienced a horrific nightmare the evening before that left him without sleep for the rest of the night. "We need answers, Dr. Russell, answers," he repeated in frustration.
Helena motioned and the stretcher was sent on its way, towed by the orderlies. She turned to the Commander and glared into his piercing blue eyes. "I'll do my best, John...but like I said, I don't know if I'll find any answers." She turned to leave.
"Helena," the Commander called after her, his voice growing gentle, "I know you'll do the best you can. Report to me as soon as you are ready with your findings."
Dr. Russell nodded and turned to follow the medical team. It was going to be a long night.
As Doctor Russell had predicted, the cause of the death of Dr. Quahr was unknown, the autopsy revealing no clue. Commander John Koenig ordered the details of the file sealed and all those involved in the discovery and investigation of the death were given a strict gag order. The official explanation was that the death was "accidental." Commander Koenig did not want to create panic throughout the base, but he was greatly unsettled by the fact that this mystery was not solved.
The investigation of the crash of Eagle 6 did not lead to any true answers either. Professor Bergman did offer the theory that the crash was caused by a sudden burst in magnetic radiation due to random cosmic magnetic radiation.
In both cases, the answers given to Koenig could be best summarized in two words :shit happens. No, Koenig, thought, shit doesn't happen...not without a reason. But what?!?
To the relief of all of those who unfortunately experienced the night terrors and the hallucinations, the visions seemed to stop.
As the weeks turned into months, Moonbase Alpha drifted through a relatively quiet area of space: an encounter with an asteroid that was mined for some much needed minerals was the extent of the excitement. No planets...no space warps...nothing. In time, the night terrors were forgotten although to Koenig, the crash of Eagle 6 and the inexplicable murder of Dr. Quahr were never far from his mind.
Technical Section had completed routine preventive maintenance and even the project to build a Mark 9 Hawk to add to Alpha's defensive capacity, a joint project between Technical and Reconnaissance, was on schedule.
Angelina Verdeschi was on schedule too. At 39 weeks pregnant, well established in her 3rd trimester, she found herself longing for the completion of an obvious project: increasing the population of Alpha by one member. The worst of pregnancy manifested itself with the backaches, the bloating, the heartburn and the unrelenting fatigue. Angelina would gladly endure more if the physical miseries translated into excellent health for her precious baby boy.
The months of quiet, though appreciated, were nevertheless beginning to become unsettling...for some reason.
In Number 123, Residence Building-A, there was a cacophony loud enough to arrest the dead from their estivate.
The time did come. A black sabbath had fallen over Moonbase Alpha like a shroud. It would not be the first time, but this might be the worst time.
On the flat screen, the drummer's foot pounded the bass pedal in 4/4 time; repeating, ultra-violet track lights strobed across his huge, punk rocker hands; then, an extreme close up of the twenty-something lead singer, eyes hidden beneath a pair of Raybans; his hair, a haphazardly, parted-in-the-center relic of the nineteen eighties. An optically created butterfly, flapped it's designer wings freely, and synchronously to the heavy metal rhythm. Comets fell from a weirdly convincing matte painting of the evening sky, as it had once been seen on Earth.
The red-hued hand reached carefully for the purloined scalpel on the moduform dresser.
In the background of the apartment, some one could be heard snapping their fingers....
"Once they killed this monster when it went into a trap...now he's making better ones on a higher step." The Osborne Clone on the screen enunciated, in perfect Halloween harmony with the morbid guitar licks coming from the Lead String. A long shot of the smoke-filled stadium where the concert was performed, showed the audience clapping, lighting cigarette lighters, and pot, and sundry other controlled substances--a perfect cross-sectional diagram of the lunatic fringe.
The Lead Player cut loose with a screeching, guitar solo, and the thing in Number 123, Residence Building-A placed the razor against his forearm, opening his life force with a single stroke.
"!!!!!!!!On a warm summer day, the doctor went away to a place where he could make it real...his assistants hips were nice....so he cloned her once or twice!!!!!!!!"
Then back to the drummer, who coordinated with the strings to produce the most hellish litany in all of heavy metal extreme.
A being, recently restored, placed his mutilated forearm against black lips, and drank deeply, leaving behind a row of grinning, blood-smeared teeth. Samples of blood fell to the carpet, and on his chest, and exposed groin area.
Long Shot: Of the vocalist, holding the omni directional microphone beneath his forearm, rallying the audience to clap louder, as the inebriated drum solo took to the stratosphere.
It had been a long journey, and the last 'bout had almost killed it, but the outcome had proved to be worthwhile, in more ways than one. His opponent was again left with empty pods, good for nothing, other than whacking its big green pecker. It was now stronger, and wiser than ever.
In the Multiverse, windbreaks were more prevalent than windmills, it decided, while helping itself to another drink.
A wide awake Angelina Verdeschi quietly on the bed with Alan sleeping soundly at her side. The baby was particularly busy tonight. Though space was limited for him, he could still move around and pack quite the punch or kick. Usually she could soothe him by massaging her belly or better yet, get Alan to do it, and bring the activity level down several notches so she could get some sleep. But tonight, nothing seemed to work: not the sound of her voice, not the gentle massages, not even getting up and walking around. If she didn't know any better, she would have thought something was upsetting him, wincing as he kicked her squarely under the ribs.
Switching positions for what seemed like the hundredth time, she found he was least active when she was on her back. Despite the continued admonishments from Dr. Russell not to lie on her back so late in the pregnancy, she stayed in that medically undesirable position.'
Angelina blinked and found herself in an operating room. White sheets were draped about her body except for her pregnant belly that was exposed; she shivered from the cold and dank air. Then she noticed her arms and leg were restrained. She tried to fight against the restraints but to no avail. The lights dimmed suddenly in the room and a figure stepped out of the shadows, dress in surgical scrubs. It approached her, smiling, revealing a row of canine teeth said "It's time."
Angelina gasped. Horrified, she realized she was not anesthetized as it picked up.....a chainsaw. Her blood-curdling shriek echoed through the dank room as the thing brought the instrument of destruction down on her baby, blood splattering all over the white sheets.
Alan Carter, in a deep slumber, woke up startled to his hysterically screaming, shaking and sweat-drenched fiancée.
"Whuuhh?" Carter labored with bad hair falling in his eyes as he shook Angelina. "'Ang. Show's over hot stuff. Wake up, and face the music.
"You hear me? Up and adam."
He thought this had ended six months ago. Now he knew that it hadn't.
Angelina shook her head slowly as she continued to gasp and sob, repeating in a low moan "It's not a dream..It's real...". She had a grip on Carter so tight that nothing could peel her away from him and her whole body was shaking uncontrollably.
In Medical Center, the computer sounded the alarm and the console spit out a printout.
"Angelina Verdeschi...Life functions: Critical Zone....2237-2239 Lunar time." Bob Mathias went to the com post and called Alan Carter's quarters.
"Yeah?" Carter answered. He looked like Al Bundy in the morning--through the ringer, and slapped against the rocks. In the background, low and intermittent sobs could be heard.
"Carter, it's Mathias. Is Ang OK? The alarm just went off in Medical. Her vital signs were lousy."
"She's just spooked." Carter explained, looking back at her. "Gonzales outdid himself with that Soybean Surprise tonight. That's probably what caused it."
"Are you sure?"
"Yep." The pilot lied. "I'm sure. Thanks anyway. I'll handle it."
"Right. Call me if you change your mind." Mathias cut the link warily.
The physician went back to his desk. It was quite an unusual night. It seemed that Angelina Verdeschi's case was the 6th time that night the Medical Center Computer alarms were activated for apparent nightmares. He shook his head and entered a note in her file.
Alan Carter had no problem with confrontation. As a matter of public record, he was Moonbase Alpha's heavyweight when it came to the art of calling a horse, a horse. He was a master of mendacity; a champion of choler, and rage. On more than one occasion, he had told Commander John Koenig-perhaps the most sprite of the marooned contingent--that his decisions were out to lunch. Over the years, he had gleaned in himself, a gradual acceptance-over time--of the few things in life that could not be confronted. To his knowledge, no one had ever successfully argued his way out of the bone yard; ergo, he accepted it. He was no longer liable for paying taxes, although his good fortune was situational. On September 13, 1998, if some weirded out psychic type-dudes had told him a year from now you shall be blown out of Earth's orbit along with the Moon--he would have asked them what kind of good crack they been smoking. Destroy the Moon? In sufficient quantity, any number of high tech 'nukes--from Extro warheads to the core cracking Jupiter Missiles could have accomplished that feat, but sever the goddess from terra firma's jealous gravity? Impossible, would have been his conclusion. You didn't have to be a Victor Bergman to figure that out.
But here they were; three years, and over a billion astronomical units later. So, he accepted it. He wondered how he would have reacted if this same, apocalyptic seer had told him that his raison deter--his reason for being; the one person whom he cared about more than himself, was going to go desperately off the deep end, while pregnant with his child. Man, he was having a damn hard road to hoe with that one. He couldn't just polka down the yellow brick road with this ghastly millstone around his 'friggin neck. He just couldn't.
"'Ang, what's really up with you?" He said, and though he regretted his defacto predisposition of her feelings, he did not regret asking the question itself.
Angelina had pieced together her composure and she knew there was no hideous and evil being ready to cut her open a la Texas Chainsaw Massacre. "I know you think I'm cracking up," she smiled slightly, "This is what I get for insisting on watching Jason, Michael Myers and the rest of the crew from hell episode after episode, as a rebellious 14 year old."
They embraced each other and he began gently massaging her belly, feeling the baby poke at him in response.
"I just don't know, Alan," she started pensively. "I've never been the sort to have nightmares, not any more than the normal person. Then, after the crash I heard the voices, but damn it, I was awake then! ...I think. Then Jason shows up and the same voices again. After that, Larry Parks shows up making comments about chess then his face explodes all over me. Then all seemed normal and then something out of another one of those wonderful horror movies shows up to...to..." she closed her eyes and lowered her voice. "Cut the baby out with a chainsaw."
She gazed at him, utterly convinced. "But despite the fact those nightmares were so different, I had the same feeling after each one.....there's a terrible, terrible presence here. Somewhere on Alpha..."
She continued watching him for a reaction but he said nothing; he looked down and stroked her belly in widening circles. "I'm not the only one who's had these terrible nightmares, Alan."
"Carissa told me about a strange nightmare she had about 6 months ago too. She said she was flying an Eagle on a reconn mission. She said the co-pilot was this really big guy dressed in a robe, an, uh alien, with black eyes and a pointed black beard."
He abruptly stopped massaging the baby.
"Then she said it grabbed the flight yokes and sent the Eagle straight down into a volcano. It really freaked her out." Angelina finished lightly. "So maybe I'm not the only one going crazy. I guess I'll have some company."
Carter blinked, but other than that, there was no response, relative to what she had said. He continued to massage the tenseness out of her in his disarming, Alan Carter way. Long before they ever became involved, she knew that the astronaut was not known for his rhetoric; his lack of diplomacy at times was actually god-awful, especially when he was convinced he was right. When he opened his mouth, no Chicken Soup For The Soul could be discerned, but she also knew that his feelings for her eclipsed all else.
"Every one has bad dreams." He said on a line of thought. "Any one on this old Moon who has any brain cells at all has a couple of really good ones each week. " He almost added that he sometimes envied the perpetual brainlessness that her brother seemed to enjoy, but he caught himself before the declaration could reach his tongue.
"You're not having second thoughts about things, are you?" He said through the watermelon that was lodged in his throat.
It was rare that Alan Carter showed vulnerability, even to her. She knew he really didn't doubt her love for him....but he needed assurance. She turned toward him and wrapping her arms around his shoulders and neck drew him into a tender, deep kiss. She pulled back slightly, while gazing into his eyes. "I love you, Alan. There's no one for me but you. Through all the personal sufferings we've both been through, I believe it was all because we were meant to be drawn together." She kissed him gently again. "We're having a baby. We made him. Our love created him; and I am happy beyond description to be blessed with giving you a son." She drew him toward her again, more passionately as she pressed her body against him, following up with several erotic kisses. "I'll always want you too," she whispered through heavy breathing.
David Kano and Bob Mathias were finishing up a late night round of chess.
"Check," Kano said matter-of-factly and crossed his arms.
"Oh shit," Mathias answered. No way out. He knocked the king over to indicate surrender. "I'm having a bad run of luck, Kano," Mathias shakes his head. "First Ang is toasting me now you."
David Kano merely shrugged and bragged. "I still beat her 2 out of 3 times."
"2 out of 3, Kano?" Mathias chuckled. "You are slipping. She's gaining on you with those odds."
"Never," Kano stated. "With her job and taking care of the kid soon, she won't have a chance to get any better." He stated confidently as he got up. "Well, I need to get to bed. Good night," Kano left, leaving Mathias to study the fatal error of his last play.
Kano walked down the darken corridor. Suddenly he heard a noise..a whisper... "Butchers....bastards..." He turned slowly. Nothing. When he faced forward again, he was greeted with the sight of a headless king...his king from the chess board...The decapitated neck was a mass of tangled vessels, muscles and oozing blood, bubbles forming over the remains of the trachea as air continued to move in and out.
The king pulled the sword from its sheath. "Checkmate" it gurgled as it swung the sword horizontally. Kano screamed, as he was sliced in half. Then....it was gone. The Chief of Computer Operations slid against the wall, sweating and panting, alone with the shadows of Corridor 15.
Carissa Englebert emerged from the drawer-lined supply depot, and rode the lift to the crow's nest. She stopped in the chart room to make sure the metric socket set had all of the units she was going to need. A diagnostic check of Eagle Two's drive assembly showed that fore, and aft quads were now performing in the tens, instead of in the upper ninety percentile range, which is where they should have been. She suspected that the problem had more to do with bad helium lines, and a leaking oxidizer tank, but she wouldn't know for sure until she crawled underneath the thing. Beyond the large viewport, deep within the belly of the whale, the hangar bay beneath Launch Pad Three was almost totally vacant now. There were ten ships in this particular hangar; parked side, by side in two even rows. To Carissa's overnight senses, they looked very much like Flying Dutchmen--omens to the wary seaman of some impending hardship. She walked past the overhead monitors, sparing a look at the black, and white sectors on each of them. She was now totally alone--Werner Von Braun's ghost not with standing.
She was heading towards the double doors that separated the hangar from the propulsion laboratory when she looked up, startled. Somewhere inside Carissa Englebert, a single red rose wilted, and died with the speed of time lapse video footage.
"I'm still here." Dave Trask said, Seri-flirtatiously. Arms folded, he was leaning casually against the open hatch. "My, my aren't we working late tonight?"
Carissa Englebert never saw him coming.
Carissa Englebert gasped and grabbed for her commlock, at first not recognizing the voice. She squinted in the darkness then relaxed.
"Dave, what in the hell are you doing, sneaking around the hangar in the middle of the night? Come to lend me a hand for once, you slacker?"
The pilot shrugged. Carissa wasn't sure whether it was the minimal lighting, or his health, but his face seemed much more anemic than usual. He was a tall, robust, 30-year old hunk of throttle jockey--similar in type to many of the others. His romantic delusions concerning the possibilities of deep space exploration directly juxtaposed his defiance of Isaac Newton, and sublime nature.
"Depends on what you need help with." He said, walking gracefully past her to admire the huge, 32" X 43" portrait on the wall of the Map Room--a high quality, digital of the space shuttle Atlantis, aft landing gear just touching the tarmac at the Kennedy Space Center. After a moment of quiet dissection, he rejoined the conversation. "Do you ever miss flying, Carissa?"
Carissa was flabbergasted; everyone knew she was one of the few surviving Breakaway pilots, grounded due to permanent damage to her optic nerve. Carissa suffered with the reality that she would never be able to fly again. At first, she felt the pain of her loss returning; then rage grew from the pit of her stomach.
"That's a stupid question to ask, Trask," she snapped," Of course I miss flying."
Heyyyyyyyyyy, Trask emoted, his charm machinery in full gear, and freshly oiled. No sweat, no strain. He ran his finger along the print of Atlantis' rear dorsal fin, before turning to face Carissa's ire.
"No harsh words, intended." He apologized. "Just making conversation." He looked around the Map Room, dazzled by the unseen wonders of the Moon. "But now that we're on the topic," he said. "Have you ever stopped to think about what you would do if that bad old optic nerve were somehow restored?
"How would you live your life? What might you be inclined to do in order to achieve that goal?"
To Dave Trask, they sounded like germane questions to ask.
Carissa blinked; her expression neutral. "I would do anything to be able to fly again; within moral and ethical reason, of course."
Trask toyed with his beard stubble, and considered his own reflection in the transparency--an image that was soon joined by Carissa's, over the shoulder, her curiosity peaked. Overhead, the crawler continued to circle the hangar bay in intervals of fifteen minutes. It would do so until some one killed the power at the breaker box.
"Morality, ethics." The pilot said, renouncing the coda--his sun rising."Spell 'evil' backwards and you have the word 'live.' These things are relative to the individual, I'm sure you'll agree?
"Nope. Rational self-interest is what I'm thinking about." He said. "I'm curious as to what Carissa would do to help Carissa? The cosmos be damned."
Carissa Englebert wondered who turned up the air conditioning. Suddenly, she was freezing. Trask gaped at her. The shadow from the crane arm, falling over him like a tack.
"What if I told you, I have the power to correct that nasty piece of Swiss cheese that you call an Optic Nerve?"
He hoped she wouldn't be too jealous of his abilities.
Carissa looked at him as if he had just been smoking illicit weed. She resented being teased about this sensitive subject. Deep down, she had always hoped for a miracle. So far, she was not that lucky. There was no way her injury could be healed. Carissa was getting angry again and just wanted him to drop the subject, stop tormenting her. Still...
"And what if I told you, you're full of shit?" Carissa replied, crossing her arms defiantly.
Trask leered like a shark. He seemed perfectly at home in the cold, and in the dark. In lower regions where the vain, red wailing of desperation was the only diversion from agony, and hopelessness. Talk was getting him no where, he realized.
"Have fun flying Carissa." He said, as he strolled past her towards the hangar. Carissa felt as though some one had suddenly adjusted some hidden vertical, and horizontal control switch in the back of her head. The top of her scalp was a large, black dial; a knob. The sensation caused her vision to blur, and her head reeled. "After you've settled back in, I'll ask you the same question again." He said, disappearing into the fog beyond the hangar bay.
Stricken, she collapsed, nauseated, to her knees.
Carissa Englebert was found in the hangar passed out. Dr. Bob Mathias performed a thorough exam on her in Medical Center after she revived and could find no apparent cause for the faint. Mathias was examining Carissa's eyes through the hulking computer controlled optical instrumentation.
"Hmm," Bob murmured.
"Dammit, doc, "Carissa replied irritated. "I hate it when you guys say 'hmm'. That's not good news in my book. What's wrong now?"
"Nothing is wrong, Carissa," Bob replied still looking examining her eyes with the scope. "That's the problem." He sat back. "Apparently, your optic nerve is in perfect condition. Carissa, if further tests confirm, you will be cleared for flying."
On this rare occasion, Carissa was stunned into silence.
Mornings came quickly on Moonbase Alpha and Angelina glanced at the lunar clock, scowling. Once again she had slept through Carter's wake up call and he made no effort to rouse her. Alan was long gone to the reconnaissance hub in preparation for his short (so he promised) bivouac mission. Just another 5 minutes, she said to herself, as the clock moved to 0635. Her body and mind were exhausted but there was so much work to do, to prepare for her upcoming maternity leave. With the help and dedication of a few key people, she had transformed the Operations side of Technical into a rather well oiled machine.
The urgent chime of her commlock startled her out of the peaceful doze. It was Tony.
"Ang, I need to talk to you," Tony demanded with misdirected rage.
Despite her objections and her requests to talk to him later, he wanted to see her NOW. She sighed and quickly went to his quarters. Tony was disheveled and reeked of his own home brew.
"The prick fired me," Tony stated simply as she stepped into the open door of his quarters. "Morrow fired me."
Angelina's compassion had finally been spent on her wayward brother. "You were drinking again, weren't you?" She said critically. "Well, Tony, this time you really blew it and I guess you got what you deserved."
"Come on, Ang," Tony Verdeschi slurred but boiled over with anger. "Speak to Morrow. He can't DO this to me! I'm Chief of Security!!!"
"You WERE Chief of Security. Once again you were drinking on the job," Angelina Verdeschi turned toward him, arms crossed over her 9 month pregnant abdomen, resting on it like a shelf. "I'm sorry Tony, but I've bailed you out at least a half dozen times and according to Paul, the last time WAS your last chance."
Verdeschi turned toward his gigantic beer brewing stil, glaring at the less than stein amount at the bottom. Angelina came toward him somewhat sympathetically, taking him by the purple sleeve.
"Please, Tony, please come with me and see Bob Mathias. There are things that can be done to treat your problem with alcohol." she said gently.
"You fucking WHORE!!" Verdeschi whirled around violently, raising his hand then stopped, imagining in a split second the consequences afforded to him by his future brother in-law if he bitch slapped his sister.
Angelina's face dropped. He'd found her button.
"That's right, you goddamn slut," he stayed in her face, breath wreaking with bad brew. "Who are you to tell me I have a problem? Look at yourself!!!"
"Tony, please," her defenses began to crumble. "This isn't about me. It's about you."
"Knocked up with a bastard by that useless fucker, who doesn't even have the decency to marry you?!?!?"
"Tony, that's not true," she replied pointlessly, her hormonally volatile state pushing her to the verge of tears. "We're engaged. Please don't talk about Alan like that..."
"You'd be such a disappointment to Momma and to Poppa." He sneered, seeing the effect of his words on her disposition, as he downed his last gulp from the 30 oz cup. "Donna Diablo...Woman of the Devil."
"You cold hearted bastard. You know that's not true" Ang yelling in frustration. "Who in the hell do you think you are passing judgement against me?!?!?!"
"That's OK, Ang," Tony began to back away, the smile on his face unwavering. "When that sonafabitch gets killed out in space, you can move on to the next guy on the base, if he'll have you," he belched and grinned drunkenly. "My slut, whore sister, the disgrace to the Verdeschi name."
"HE'S NOT GOING TO GET KILLED!! I AM NOT A WHORE!! WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME!!!! " She shouted after her brother as she stumbled out into the corridor, tears streaming down her face, and into the waiting empty travel tube. His cruel insults would never have bothered her before and she told herself to ignore them but she burst into a torrent of sobs as the travel tube sped down the track.
Tony Verdeschi collapsed, and was completely inebriated, passed out on his couch.
The unseen presence with the orange sleeve had watched the scene with amusement and was looking forward to taking his revenge as soon as the woman left the room. However, it was better for Verdeschi to be awake. It would wait.
Bivouac on the Moon went something like this....
While still worried, and in the overdrive of his conversation with 'Ang, Alan Carter choked down a badly made cup of the hydroponics 48-hour blend, and reported to the Ready Room at 1200 Hours. Once there, Noel Palakow, and two other pad technicians helped him through the cumbersome process of suiting up. Seamans secured the orange environment suit from the rear while Carter told rapier jokes about someone's polish ancestry; jab, after jab, after jab. The routine had not changed in years.
My johnson, was Palakow's response.
The other technicians attached the O2/ Nitrogen Pack--pulling the belt straps tightly into place, and turning the plastic armature clock-wise until the PGA pressure gloves were locked into position. Carter put the suit controls on STANDBY mode from the biomedical bread box on his chest. The multi-colored barber pole lights stalled, indicating zero pressure; zero atmosphere. Palakow tossed him the yellow helmet with the CARTER designation stenciled above the visor.
"Have a good one." He said, giving the pilot an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Carter stopped at the procedures desk, and Marilys Sing handed him his clipboard. It was here that every astronaut on Moonbase Alpha was empowered to do a lot, with very little--the final result being almost something.
Carter then boarded Travel Tube-A to Launch Pads Three, and Four. The car came to a hydraulic halt, and he exited to the double doors where he paused on the yellow CAUTION line, and waited for the signal to come through Pete Irving's head-set. Irving nodded for him to ingress, and Carter aimed his commlock magnet at the doors to the telescopic boarding tube. When they closed behind him, the square COUNTDOWN light above the frame, commenced to flashing the ten minute warning.
He moved down the ramp to Eagle One's command module, swinging his helmet at his hip. The powering up of the main motors, indicated that the pre-flight check list was already well underway.
"STC, CDR is on." He told Andy Dempsey in Main Mission as backup pilot Pierre Danielle relinquished his seat, and egressed the ship. "You reckon we're ready to go?" He asked his co-pilot as he slid behind the control toggles at the pilot's seat.
"We had a CAUTION, and WARNING light go off on the FDO's panel." Dave Trask reported." He indicated, setting his clipboard down beside him. "Since we're still alive, and in one piece, I take it as a fluke."
"Right." Carter said, cinching his couch harness. "Let's do it."
Eagle One lifted off from Launch Pad Four, leaving behind a majestic cloud of propellant. Trask asked Carter how much longer before junior lifted off, and the captain chuckled.
While Eagle One moved out of visual range, Antonio Dean Verdeschi angrily opened the door to his quarters, and staggered inside. Walking immediately to the small refrigerator in the kitchenette, he removed a tall, plastic moonbase-issue container with measurements on the side. He had approximately one pint of beer left, and he had not had the time to brew more. Across the room, dominating the entire space-age table, was the three chambered still, motionless on its counterbalance.
Antonio belched crudely, and gulped his shitty home brew straight from the jug, allowing a healthy amount to spill past his mouth, and onto his tunic. He set the jug down, and loosened his collar nervously.
Carter had battened on him, and battened on him good. He was supposed to be on maneuvers, but the launch had been delayed. Verdeschi took another gargantuan swig, hoping that drunkenness would claim him soon tonight. The fucker had cornered him, right on his own turf. He wasn't five feet away from his cubicle in Security Section, and there he was--like a mad dog.
He had thrown Verdeschi against the light panels with such ferocity, his laser unholstered, and fell to the floor.
"If you ever talk to her like that again, I'll break your neck." He said, forcing his elbow tighter, and tighter against the security guard's throat. Verdeschi turned purple; he gagged; his tongue protruded from between his teeth.
"Agghhhhhhhh...aggghhhhhhhh...ahhhhh...." He said, and Carter rabbit punched him.
"AGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH." Verdeschi AGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH'ed, and fell to the floor like a bull.
Antonio Dean Verdeschi drank to plaster his skull. To make matters worse, his own men had sat back, and watched the entire thing. When it was over, they simply walked away, and left him there to hold his bloody mouth in his palm. Now he was back in his quarters, and he fantasized about taking his revenge--true, it would no doubt remain in the realm of fantasy, but in his mind, Alan Carter was meat; he was on the floor. In his mind, that had to be good enough. He removed his torn jacket, and set it across the chair. Everyone laughed at him for wearing a jacket. The jackets were for planetary climates, these half-wits teased, and ridiculed. Why wear a jacket in the uniform biosphere of Moonbase Alpha, they hectored, but Verdeschi liked his jacket, and if he had his way, everyone would be wearing one some day.
This was not meant to be however, for as he drank his draught, and stripped down to only his briefs, and socks, inexorable fate met him half-way between his closet, and the bed. Verdeschi snapped the elastic of briefs that hid a dork, roughly the size of an acorn shell. He made a drunken muscle in the closet mirror, and polished off his beer.
Honey, I'm home, he thought, opening the closet to search for a much thumbed stack of hot books that he kept there. He closed the closet door, and admired his own handsome face, as he had done so many times in the past-the only difference this time, being that there were now two faces staring back at him.
"Antonio." The intruder with the orange sleeve said gleefully. "Ma rapido canay."
Verdeschi dropped his book--his blood turning to scarlet slush.
"It's pay-back time, loser." The figure said, as it drifted towards him. Verdeschi's mouth drained of all spit. He parted his lips to scream; to grovel; to beg for clemency. His assailant's black boot heels never even touched the laminated floor. He floated towards him in mid-air, and Antonio Dean Verdeschi was given over to an early oblivion.
Angelina Verdeschi was having a typical day when she received a typical message from Tony.
"I want to speak to you ASAP!" he had barked into the recording, time stamped just before Alan left in Eagle One. Though his tone was somewhat atypical, even for Tony.
'He has no right to speak to me like that,' Angelina fumed, hoping he was ready to apologize to her. Ang was still a little angry after her previous shouting match with him; though shouting matches with her brother were typical.
She broke down, a rare occasion, into tears. Atypical for her.
Alan walked in as she was drying the last of the tears but the blood shot eyes, red face and nasal stuffiness were telltale signs that something was amiss. Alan listened calmly as she told him what happened, occasionally failing to leave out the more descriptive language and metaphors; Alan's attentiveness and tenderness were typical.
Angelina was impressed that Alan did not immediately fly into a rage and hunt down her hapless brother. This behavior was somewhat atypical.
Carter was going on a routine mission in Eagle One with his co-pilot, Dave Trask; typical.
But he had left early, "to take care of some last minute things" before going on the mission. Alan was always very well organized and never saved details for the "last minute". Very atypical.
Angelina thought nothing more of the typical/atypical events of her otherwise typical day when she met Carissa Englebert for dinner. Angelina typed a text message into her commlock and sent it to Tony. "I'll see you at 1900 hours". She immediately received a text message in return:"He'll be waiting for you."
After pleasant fellowship with Carissa, Angelina walked to Tony's quarters, arriving at exactly 1900 hours. She buzzed him. No answer. She buzzed him again. No answer.
"Tony?" she asked after keying in his code into the commlock. No response.
Angelina waited a few more minutes. Tony had given her the key code for his quarters. Tony had just broken up with Shermeen Williams, but that did not mean that he wasn't with someone. Tony enjoyed one night stands. Angelina sighed and opened the door. 'Serves him right if I walk in and he's doing someone...he told me 1900 hours was OK.' she thought The door slid silently open. His quarter were lit in night mode.
"Tony?" she stepped in, looking around. The still was running, with dark liquid gurgling through the tubes. She tried to activate the lights but they remained in night mode.
She turned and gasped at the writing on the dimly lighted wall panel in red paint. "BUTCHERS..BASTARDS!" The words were shocking enough; a memory suddenly returned to life. Then another realization hit her...it was not red paint.
"Tony?! Tony?!??" she cried out rushing into the bedroom.
She found her brother, Antonio....on his bed...on his stomach....his head turned 180 degrees around...eyes lifelessly staring back at her, tongue protruding. His medical wrist monitor showed all life functions were normal. He was white and he looked freshly embalmed. For some reason, Angelina glanced back at the still; again she was hit with another shocking realization. She could not scream. Shaking, staggering to the com-post, she finally found her voice.
This was certainly an atypical ending to a typical day.
"Ismet Quahr was murdered, and the manner of her death was brutal, horrifying." John Koenig narrated, as he paced the floor in the late Antonio Dean Verdeshi's quarters, tossing the victim's torn LSRO sweater back across the chair. "We combed the base with every resource at our disposal, and the results were nil. The murderer was never found.
"Now--six months later--Tony Verdeschi. What's the connection?"
Behind them, Mathias signed the death certificate while Raul Nunez sealed the vinyl body bag. The crampt quarters were filled with over twenty security personnel, taking photographs, dusting for fingerprints, and interviewing Verdeschi's neighbors, above, below, and to either side. Currently Ed Malcom was on the hot seat, and hating it.
"Well, we know that he had it out with Carter." Victor Bergman said, unconvinced.
"That's true." Koenig responded, walking past the gruesome blood bank that had once served as a still. It's contents would not be removed until pathology had a chance to make a thorough toxicological analysis of it. "But 'Ang received the voice message from her brother at precisely the time that Carter was lifting off in Eagle One and the text message response to her query after he finalized his orbit."
"That third party response." Victor recalled pensively. "'He'll be waiting for you.' Gives it away right there, doesn't it? Whoever sent the reply didn't care if their deeds were disclosed, or not."
"That's assuming that the murderer was the one who sent the reply." Koenig said, scratching his brow.
"What do you mean?" The professor asked, rubbing his frigid palms together, and exhaling a plume of smoke.
"Some one on Alpha is not what they appear to be." The Commander said distantly--carefully examining each piece of the puzzle before inserting it. "That's what I mean."
"We do know one thing, John." Bergman discerned. "Verdeschi's quarters. Look at the place. Whoever the murderer was, they seemed to enjoy making a big production of it. Verdeschi's head was turned completely, 180 degrees; there was the added touch of leaving him splayed on the bed, almost ritualistically; then the sick irony of filling the still with the victim's blood." The professor shook his hands as if he had given himself the willies, and then flinched. "Our friend is obviously an attention seeker. Otherwise, he--or she--would have murdered Quahr, and Verdeschi in more mundane ways--with a laser for example. Verdeschi's is still sitting over there in it's holster. If murder had been the only thing on this person's mind, they could have used that; or a club; or a knife." Bergman sighed. "It seems pretty obvious that--whoever it was--they were looking for a reaction beyond death itself. This is ghastly." He conceded. "But it also could been done to fulfill some need...to satisfy some sick form of pride, for example."
"Or to elicit fear." Koenig countered, removing his commlock from his belt, and watching the forensic team as they awkwardly gathered evidence with only mag-lites to illuminate the room. Several of them were wearing thermal jackets to ward off the cold. Harness Bull Duncan turned his beam on a metallic Bic that had attached itself to the local commstation. He removed it with a jerk while the commander, and the professor watched.
"Very interesting." Koenig said, attaching his commlock adjacent to the digital lunar clock, and watching it hang there in uninterrupted equipoise.
"Yes it is." Bergman agreed. "Don't expect it to work either. This entire area has been charged with a high adductive energy--something similar to an electromagnetic pulse. The source is unknown, and the effect appears to terminate the second you walk back into the corridor."
"By the way, Verdeschi's bio-scan bracelet?" Bergman attached. "It was just like Quahr's. It failed to trigger the alarm on the Medical Computer."
"Everything has been completely depolarized." Bergman said, circumspect. "Just like Eagle Six."
"Yeah." Koenig said concordantly.
The reality of her brother's death and its gruesome nature left Angelina Verdeschi tearless, numb and in shock. In her quarters, Dr. Helena Russell was with her, keeping her company and checking her over.
"He was a better person prior to his encounter with Balor," Angelina said almost robotically, curled up under a blanket on the couch. "It was just-just that he never really came to terms with it." She looked up at the physician. "He's been slowly dying since then." She put her head down into her hands. Still, the tears would not come.
Helena Russell sat next to her, arm around her shoulder, listening sympathetically. "Here," she instructed. "I want you to take this. Yes, it is OK for the baby and it will help you get some rest." Helena found no indication that the shock was sending her into labor. Not a bad thing physically since she was only 4 days away from her calculated due date. Still, mentally and emotionally this would have been a bad day for her to deliver.
"I'm fine," Angelina said shaking her head. "I need Alan," she sighed mournfully, clutching a pillow tightly.
"He'll be here soon," Helena replied reassuringly. "Look, tell you what. He is suppose to arrive very late. You take this, get a nap, then you'll be awake to greet him when he comes back. Sound like a plan?"
"OK," Angelina swallowed the liquid. "Thank you, Helena." She sat silently on the couch and began nodding off, not remember when Dr. Russell had left after dimming the lights.
Eagle One vectored east. Carter manned his controls assuredly while Trask used his free hands to check off areas of the perimeter that had been covered thus far. It was a routine flight in most ways--there were no on-board experiments scheduled this time around, which allowed both pilots the freedom to sit back, and enjoy the ride over the hill. Translunar reconnaissance A.B. (After Breakaway) was not substantially different from the way it had been in the B.B. (Before Breakaway) days; neither drudgery, nor orgasm--it was still more for the purpose of helping the pilots to keep their skills honed.
Carter brought them in low over the granite flat irons of Schroter's Valley--the ship's altimeter needles dipping slightly to the left. Bringing the throttle a quarter of the way back, Carter reduced their velocity as the first glint of metal hit the scanning parabola. They were approximately one nautical mile into the scattered ejecta of the Oceanus Procellarum when visual contact was made.
"Davey, get a look at that would you." The captain whistled, surprised, and in awe of what he was seeing. A small network of sky scrapers, and road networks rose in silhouette from the ruins of a mammoth black, triangular base.
"Oh-my-golly-gee-whiz." Trask said hyperbolically, still more concerned with wiping off the lens on his Hasselblad camera.
"Paul, this is Carter in Eagle One." Alan said urgently into the communications link. "We've got a wrecked ship out here."
Angelina fell into a deep yet fitful repose.
She found herself at one end of a great, long hall. At the other end, a woman was laboring to bring forth her child. Suddenly another creature appeared at the foot of the bed. A hideous insectoid creature, it opened its cavernous, gaping mouth, with its row of canines, ready to consume the child. Angelina gasped, terrified and heard the woman shrieking.
Ang tried to run to the woman in painful slow motion, closed her eyes in anticipation of the gruesome sight. When she opened them, she found herself on the table!!!! SHE was the woman giving birth. She cried out in terror and in pain. She tried to back away but could not....the thing advanced forward, awaiting to shallow its prize, her child.
Suddenly, the thing reared back and turned around. "NOOOOOOOOOO!" It screamed when it saw a figure approaching. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! "
The figure was of a woman dressed in dazzling white, with strawberry blond, long curly hair. Flashes of white lightning bolts came out of her beautiful eyes.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" the thing exclaimed again! The lightning found its target and the thing evaporated into a pile of ash.
The woman in white came to her. "Do not be afraid. Trust me. I will help you."
Angelina awoke with a start. Despite the horrific dream, she felt a sense of tranquility. Angelina look at the lunar clock...Alan should have been back two hours ago.
The big doors to Main Mission slid open as Koenig swiveled and stood up from his chair. "Put it up on the big screen, Paul..."
Victor strolled in hurriedly and stared at the big screen. "Interesting," he mused, turning to Sandra."When was the last time that area was surveyed, Sandra?"
Sandra typed at her console. "Just under 7 months ago, Professor. Where did it come from?"
"I have no idea." The professor admitted, crossing his arms comfortably over his chest.
"Paul, have Carter perform a complete sensor scan of the area." Koenig said, anxiety on his face. "Including any signs of magnetic radiation. Then have him return to base. We need to assemble a complete reconnaissance team to investigate that ship."
Paul nodded. Koenig turned and walked up to his office, motioning Victor to follow. "Why didn't our sensors detect this ship before it crashed, when it entered within range?" Koenig queried with growing frustration.
"Main Mission to Eagle One," Paul calls, "Complete a sensor scan of the entire area including signs of magnetic radiation." Then in a lowered voice. "Alan, Tony Verdeschi was murdered. Angelina discovered his body in his quarters a few hours ago. The scene was, "he paused and cleared his throat "gruesome."
"We copy you, Alpha." Alan said stoically, biting the bullet at the news of Tony Verdeshi's passage from this vale of tears.
Eagle One hovered over the wreckage of the mammoth spacecraft. Carter squeezed propellant from the maneuvering jets, turning the command module towards a central structure; two vertical shafts that were honey combed with cresting view ports, upper, and lower, now dormant, lifeless--both were easily twenty stories tall, with a transparent connector unit that was compromised when the vessel went down. A large, silvery crack in the fuselage told the tale. Eagle One vented Tetroxide. Carter leaned forward in his seat, and examined the surface around the crash site. The bow of the ship was buried beneath the pulverized mantle of the Sea Of Storms. Carbonized moon rock, and rubble extended for a quarter of a mile around the point of impact in an asterisk shape. The dust around the decompressed hull was littered with a morass of debris which, at high altitude, appeared to be white curlicues--furniture, glass, and more than one alien body, Carter realized. The contents of the craft had been blown onto the lunar surface during the panic stricken exodus of the ship's atmosphere.
"Wherever could it have come from?" Trask demurred, powering up the sensor hardware with gloved hands. The mission plan flapped open against his forearm like a red-headed step child clamoring for recognition.
"'Dunno." Carter replied, returning the frequency band to VOX so that Main Mission could hear them. "Beginning sensor sweep now."
That was when Eagle One hit the interstellar rapids. The command module began to quake violently. The yellow light panels flickered, and dimmed as the automatic systems struggled to survive the sudden overload of static electricity. Trask's clip board hit the floor. His forehead, and nose hit the console even more efficiently, leaving behind a smeared cherry blossom of blood. The control toggles flew out of Carter's hands as the ship recoiled against the maelstrom of electrons in the process of annihilation, each carrying an opposing charge.
The question of whether, or not there was paramagnetic energy prevailing around the alien ship was now answered. On Carter's monitor, where there should have been wide-angled sensor data, there was only binary hokum:
"Eagle One to Main Mission." Carter shouted into the COM link before the modulation was cancelled forever, and ever . "!!! Something's got hold of us!!!"
"Eagle 1 is in trouble, Commander," Kano reported nonchalantly as his desk turned away from the big screen.
At that moment, Carter's call came blasting through the speakers. Koenig turned quickly and stepped down toward Paul. "Damn!" he cursed.
"Main Mission to Eagle 1, Main Mission to Eagle 1," Paul repeated, anxiety creeping into his voice.
Koenig flipped a switch on Paul's console. "Koenig to Eagle 1. Koenig to Eagle 1. Carter!! Alan!! Dave!! Answer me!"
"Sandra, what was their last position?"
"97degrees, 1300 miles...near the Sea of Storms crater." Sandra reported methodically, typing then looking up at the big screen.
Without being told otherwise, Paul responded "Rescue Eagle 4 to Launch Pad 2. Rescue Eagle 4 to Launch Pad 2. Immediately."
Tempus kept on fugiting.
One minute, Carter was in the cockpit of Eagle One, being jarred by random antiferro forces, and with all the care of brat shaking up a bottle of soda pop. The next minute, he was standing in Auditorium-B of Moonbase Alpha. He was not a regular visitor to the underground system, since it was mostly used for storage. Auditorium-B was beneath an area of the base called The Main Mission Plateau. In the past, it hadn't been much to boast about, per sey; there was mostly a lot of floor area, with a duplicate of the big screen that was used for briefings. Now it was littered with desks--three on each side of him, to be precise, and with what appeared to be a central controller's desk in the rear. Stacks of nonsensical, mostly stupid-looking paper work rose headache high from the IN Baskets.
It kind of reminded him of some of the front-line intelligence gathering units he had visited during the war, but mostly it was an office jockey's dream.
"I was sorry to hear you passed away, bloke." He told Tony Verdeschi who was sitting with his feet propped up on one of the desks. "True, I never much cared for you, but I didn't want to see you dead."
Then again, he wasn't complaining about it either.
"Yeah, right." The late security chief's ghost said ungratefully. "I'll admit I was misunderstood at times. Of course, having my head unscrewed like the cork on a wine bottle wasn't exactly how I envisioned going out.
"Not the most glamorous way to cash in." Verdeschi admitted. "For my part, allow me to offer my condolences on the loss of your boy--of course, knowing what I know now, I wish that the fucking moon buggy had exploded, instead of just turning over."
"What are you talking about?" Carter said, and on the heels of that: "Where's Trask?"
His newly deceased, almost brother-in-law nodded towards the side entrance, next to the rutted, orange computer modules. "He's busy right now. I wouldn't bother him, if I were you. He's not in the best of moods."
Carter sighed, relieved that he was not the soul survivor of the crash. In the corridor, he could he voices coming to him. Arguing.
"Imagine my surprise." The conceited male voice said wearily. It was Trask. "I knew that little bump in the road had your signature on it.
"It's been a long time, hasn't it? How's it going, princess? Still a follower, and not a leader, I presume."
"You are a fool." The female interlocutor replied, sincere, but fragile. "It's a shame the Alphans don't know you the way the Alpherans came to know you."
"They served their purpose." Trask blustered with inflated braggadocio. "I assume you have a reason for calling this little meeting? Or, did you want to impart to me the spiritual ecstasy of what it's like to do the horizontal mambo with a bug."
"He's a great man." The woman hissed, insulted.
"He sucks." Trask said politely. "Of course, the way I experience him is not the way you experience him, I'm sure. Then again, everyone has their strong points. Believe me, there's nothing like having him skewer you like a rotisserie turkey--oh princess, you have no idea what you missed."
"You almost condemned an entire universe by your rejection of the Élan Vitalla." The woman argued.
"Get to the goddamn point." Trask said bluntly.
"My point is this." The woman said, unperturbed. "Forget your plans concerning the woman, and her child. Observe the Élan Vitalla, or...."
"Or face the strictest consequences to ever be leveled at a sentient being. That is my warning to you."
"What's that noise?" Trask wondered aloud, distracted, and Carter could imagine him turning towards the doorway.
"It's nothing." The woman lied.
"You had better go, now." Tony Verdeschi's ghost said, aiming his commlock at the double doors at the rear of the auditorium. "Just follow the corridor. You'll find your way.
"Oh, and tell 'Ang she wasn't much of a sister. I always wanted to tell her that, and I never did. I didn't want to hurt her feelings; now, I could care less."
"Fuck you." Carter sibilated.
When the doors closed, he found himself in a corridor, unlike any he had ever seen before on Alpha. The brightly lit panels, and communications posts seemed to extend straight into infinity. About ten kilometers, or so into his walk, there was a frightening moment when he thought he could hear a voice, echoing through the encroaching dream mist.
Carter resumed walking, as fast as his feet would carry him. Twenty kilometers into his hike, he came to the familiar looking hatch. He used his commlock to open Eagle One's passenger module. He spared one last glance behind him, but all he could see was a wall of thick, gray mist.
When he awoke, he was in the smoke-filled cockpit, and buried under forty feet of lunar regolith. Trask was laid back in the CMP's couch, holding his battered forehead with blood stained gloves.
The compost bee-booped in the Carter's quarters and the emotionless face of Paul Morrow replaced the monitor wallpaper.
"Ang," Paul began, "Eagle 1 crashed on the lunar surface in the Sea of Storms crater."
Angelina felt her heart rising to her throat. "Alan?" she asked calmly.
Angelina heaved a sigh of relief.
"His copilot Dave Trask suffered minor facial injuries. They are already in Medical Center."
"Thanks, Paul," Angelina responded and cut the link.
The trip in the travel tube seemed tortuously long. When Angelina arrived in Medical, Alan was still being checked over for injuries. Pacing, she saw Dave Trask in the adjacent ward and she wandered in to offer well wishes. Angelina slowed somewhat as she approached him. She suddenly felt a strong desire to turn away and run out of the room. She dismissed the feeling as being alarmed by his appearance. Trask's face was pretty swollen, stitched and bruised; he evidently hit the console pretty hard.
"Hi, Dave, "Angelina began, "Nice to see you're safe."
Trask smiled at her, staring at her as he sat on the edge of the bed. When he did finally speak, his words were foreshadowed by an aromatic whiff at some fragrant bouquet.
"Awwwwwwww," He blushed. "Someone has a bun in the oven, or so I hear."
Angelina approached him a little closer. "I heard that the crash was caused by a huge influx of magnetic radiation and you discovered a ship. Very interesting."
Again, Dave did not reply though he did motion her toward him. When she was close enough, Trask unexpectedly patted Angelina's abdomen and mumbled "Soon...very soon."
Alarmed she recoiled away from him. She felt the child move around furiously, kicking her hard in the ribs, to the point where it was difficult to maintain her composure. Trask's only response was his disturbing, maniacal grin.
"I hope you feel better, Dave" she said backing away calmly. She could not get out of the ward fast enough. She turned the corner to see Alan walking out of the exam room. She embraced him, kissed him and said "Thank God you're safe!!! What happened out there?"
Carter placed one arm around her waist; the other around her left shoulder. As was so often the case in the past, he was gratified, and amazed that he was able to hold her once more. He wanted to kiss her immediately, but Big Brother was watching.
"Beat it." He told Trask, keeping 'Ang turned away, and holding her protectively.
"You bet, dad." The other pilot said elliptically, offering a half-hearted, lampoon of a salute as he left the room. Little pigs, little pigs, let me in. Alan Carter kissed his fiancé, and hugged her tightly, never wanting to let go.
"Do me a favor." He said when they both came up for air. "Stay away from him."
In light of her recent encounter with Trask and his laying on hands routine, Angelina became deeply distressed, alarmed, with Alan's directive. She could feel her emotional wall begin to crumble brick by brick. He began quietly walking her out of medical center toward their quarters, still in a rather tight embrace. Today had been one hell of a day: she found a family member hideously murdered and almost lost the love of her life. She told Alan about the gruesome murder scene of her brother.
During this dialogue, however, the words "soon, very soon" kept echoing in her head. She had an increasing sense of foreboding and fear. He closed and locked the door to their quarters. She wanted to stay hidden forever. "I'm afraid, Alan. Something terrible is about to happen to us." Then, the tears started to flow freely.
John Koenig paced in front of his desk; the doors to Main Mission had been closed. He listened carefully to the report Helena was giving him concerning Carter and Trask as Victor sat contemplatively in the low back style couch.
"So now it appears we have another mystery," Victor piped up after Helena finished her report. "Actually, two mysteries."
"More mysteries," Koenig replied, now sitting at his desk again, "and less answers."
"An adductive energy surge in the crash of Eagle 6," Victor began, wagging his finger. "Adductive Energy detected in the murders of Quarh and Verdeschi. Adductive Energy detected in the crash of Eagle 1."
"Kano," Koenig interrupted, calling from his Compost " Any word on reconnaissance Eagle 10 to the Sea of Storms crater to investigate that ship?"
"Eagle 10 has not made any official reports. Evidently they are having some problems with the on-board computer. They may need to return to base for repair."
Koenig merely nodded then cut the link.
"Is it possible, " Helena interjected, "that whoever is not who he appears to be could also be somehow projecting magnetic energy?
"Victor?" Koenig said, looking for a second opinion.
"Well, we do have that ship out there." The professor said evenly. "We haven't had a chance to survey the wreckage, but yeah...I'd say it's within the realm of possibility."
Koenig tapped his pen against the desk contemplatively. "That ship came in under our noses, literally; it's been there for six months, maybe longer." He told Helena. "It was both scanner, and sensor invisible. We didn't even notice when it crashed, but it did.
"At about the same time, Ismet Quahr was murdered. That was also when we started registering massive amounts of depolarization." He said, swiveling back towards the doctor. "I say it's not only likely that some one, or some thing is transmitting those EM Pulses--I would say it's probable."
"You mean we have a visitor here on Alpha." Bergman said carefully, the foam couch creaking mysteriously as he moved.
Koenig aimed his commlock at the communications post. The helical wallpaper was replaced with Controller Paul Morrow's face.
"Paul," he said. "Until further notice, I want security patrols to be doubled in all Alpha sections." Bergman's face was stricken with a look of sudden doom. Koenig pre-empted him by raising his hand.
"And, I want to be notified immediately if we detect any other radiating particles within the base.
"What's the situation with Eagle 10?"
"Bad." He said bluntly. "We can't get a single nautical mile in range of the wreck without the inertial guidance system going hay wire. The path-adaptive scheme also went down on the SM's instrument ring."
"Then I need volunteers for a surface team. Tell Eagle 10 to stand by. As soon as they land, they can pick us up, and take us as far as safety will allow. From there on, we'll walk. Notify Technical Section, and tell them I'll need a physicist, and a structural engineer."
"You're going to moonwalk through a contaminated area?" Helena said unbelievingly as Koenig closed the circuit.
"Helena, we have to." The commander said, standing. "We spent six months trying to figure out what was happening, and we kept coming up empty. I have no intention of heralding the New Year with a stack of mutilated bodies. The answers aren't here, but they just may be on that ship."
"You just watch yourself, all the same." Bergman chimed in. "I don't know about you, but what happened to Eagle One left me with the impression that some one doesn't want us out there."
Koenig agreed, but decided that he had better suit up all the same.
Angelina was awakened when her commlock chimed. With effort, she got up and went into the living area, careful not to awaken a sleeping Carter.
"Yes, Paul?" Angelina answered.
"I'm sorry to disturb you but the Commander is going on reconnaissance out to the wreckage of the ship in the Sea of Storm crater. Eagle 10 could not get within one kilometer of the wreckage without their onboard systems going haywire. They are going to fly in as close as they can then walk the rest of the way. He wants a physicist and a structural engineer to go with him. Who would you like to send?"
From the standpoint of magnetic radiation experience, Angelina was probably the most qualified nuclear physicist on the base. Her graduate thesis had offered the theory that strong magnetic radiation fields due to the breakdown of nuclear waste could build up possibly resulting in an explosive discharge. Her thesis was, at the time, completely mathematical and dismissed by much of the ivory towers of academia as "the stuff of a bad science fiction novel". Unfortunately it also turned out to be proven true on September 13, 1999.
Angelina smiled thoughtfully. "Joe Ehrlich for your physicist and Andrea Matthew for your structural engineer."
"Very good," Paul replied. "I'll call them for you."
"Thanks," Ang replied as he cut the link.
Angelina felt a cramping sensation in her lower belly. She had perceived them periodically during the previous day but they always stopped. She waited 20 minutes, sitting in the art deco chair, feeling 2 more in that time period, and wondering why she was sitting on hard plastic when she could be more comfortable in bed. However, in the 20 minutes after that she felt nothing except for the rhythmic "knocking" sensation she felt whenever baby Carter was experiencing the hiccups. It was another round of false labor. Despite her very late night, she decided she couldn't sleep and quietly dressed. She proceeded to Technical where she would brief Andrea and Joe before they went on the reconn mission.
Koenig held his mag-lite above his head, waving it back, and forth above his helmet semiphorically. Half a kilometer above them, Eagle 10--which had long since exceeded safe distance--began to veer away. Behind him, amidst the ablated shrapnel, and ruined metal conduits, Bob Mathias, and Joe Erhlich rolled one of the bodies over in the 1/6th gravity. A step at a time, the commander started back towards them. His labored breathing, heard only by himself.
It was not a pretty site. For the second time in six months, Koenig was given the chance to witness death by expiation, and he was not ebullient of the opportunity. The alien, humanoid in appearance, was covered with a layer of gray, pumice-like moon dust that settled, as they let his shoulders fall to the surface. It was garbed in a blue robe, with white diagonal piping. As far as mass displacement went, he was tall; probably just short of seven feet, the commander guessed. The long drift of black Rip Van Winkle Beard suggested that the alien's gender was male, although that had yet to be confirmed.
The rest of the facial features were indescribable. Bizarre globules of non-crystallized hemoglobin danced around the body like the fairies in a poem by Edmund Spencer.
"They all seem to have died the same way." He could hear Bob Mathias say, unchallenged, from the speaker inside his helmet. Seven meters away, Tom Carlson, and Tony Allen were deconstructing a grisly pile of corpses, and separating them into dignified rows.
"Bloody hell." He overheard Allen say, plaintively. "There must be over a hundred bodies here."
In verity, 'twas the deed of a Butcher, and a Bastard.
Koenig gazed upwards to see if he could find the top of the spacecraft. The upper levels of the alien Goliath were invisible to the naked eye, disappearing at a zenith, some where around the tenth story. The ruptured connector looked none too stable, and for that reason, Koenig took an advised step back. The hull of the ghost ship glinted in the minimal starlight. Hieroglyphics seemed to cover just about every thing--there was not a single section of shell plating that did not bear a plus, or a minus sign. Koenig experienced the sensation as his boots gritted against the litter of plastic, and metal shards. An eerie blue light bathed a metallic, two lane road, adequately mangled, that fed into a small urban area, comprised of small, oblong out buildings--the lights beyond the cracked atmosphere seals, now dark. Some of the skyscrapers appeared to be obelisks; some towers. The connection to fantasy was so great that Koenig half expected to see The Dark Lord Sauron step onto the balcony of one. If asked where the remainder of the crew was, Koenig felt he could answer with dreadful certainty.
To explore the wreck adequately would take hours, weeks, and months-maybe even years. Its scope was such that it crushed the ego, leaving the vastly ignorant human spirit in a riddled heap of exhaustion. Sleep, Koenig thought. Come sleep in the Oceanus Procellarum. The commander shook the weirdness off, attracting the attention of Andrea Matthew, who was taking multitudinous exposures with her digital camera.
"Alright, let's take a look inside." He said, turning his mag-lite on one of the vertical openings.
At that moment, one of the six wheeled, orange moon buggies braked suddenly, sliding sideways, and almost going 'kaboss against the derelicts hull.
"Hey John." Victor Bergman called from the low rider passenger seat. "Have a look at this."
He was holding a yellow Moonbase Alpha issue EVA Helmut--one with a cracked visor.
The name TRASK was stenciled above it.
Nuclear Power Generating Station #2 was located on the northwest corner of the Moonbase Alpha Complex. It contained one of 4 nuclear reactors that were used to provide power and ultimately life to Alpha. At this time, due to a major overhaul on Reactor #1 and routine maintenance being performed on Reactor #2, only 2 nuclear reactors were fully functioning.
Angelina decided to take the energy she used brooding and funnel it into something constructive. She opted to help George Crato and the techs in Nuclear Power Generating Station #2 change out a new transformer for the reactor coolant system.
As Ang sat at the main console programming the new transformer, she noticed Coolant System #1 monitor light go "RED". The reactor had 5 water coolant systems used to cool the reactor core and keep the nuclear fissioning process from going out of control.
"What the---" Angelina said, looking up from programming the transformer at the Red light. It was unusual for Coolant Systems to just stop circulating. Usually indicators went "Yellow" and stayed "Yellow" for quite sometime. As Angelina was trying to solve the mystery, Coolant System #3 monitor light went "RED".
"Dammit," she exclaimed. "George, can you come here...NOW?"
George, hearing the urgency in Angelina's tone, immediately dashed down the steep mezzanine steps to the console. "Goddammit!!!" he exclaimed, as he quickly surveyed the situation. "What the hell is going on?!?!" The resident coolant expert was now adequately confounded.
Unexpectedly, Coolant System #2 monitor light went Red. On the core temperature monitor, the graph of the temperature, which had already begun a steady temperature increase, continued on an even steeper gradient..up! Angelina and George hurriedly began moving to other consoles and monitors, working furiously to reset and reactivate the coolant systems..
"What's happening, George? Why are all the Coolant Systems just...stopping?"
Angelina asked a question that she knew George did not have an answer. Without warning, Coolant System #4 light went "RED" ...and the RED ALERT Klaxons automatically sounded.
"Power Station #2, report your situation," Paul Morrow's voice echoed over the speakers. Joan Conway and Carter Jackson, both Nuclear Engineers, had arrived and began trying to stem the tide of the oncoming inevitable tsunami under George's frantic directions.
"Four of the 5 coolant systems for reactor #2 have failed, Paul," Angelina responded, breathlessly. "We can't get them restarted." If the monitor had been color, Angelina would have noticed that Paul's face had lost all color.
Angelina turned to see that the last coolant indicator had gone red.
"TOO LATE!!" Carter Jackson yelled in the background. "Core temperature past critical."
Angelina tuned back to Paul. "Paul, core melt down inevitable. Evacuate the entire section and seal of the bulkheads!! You have 10 minutes."
Angelina did not wait for his response: Angelina, George, Joan, Carter and the remaining techs hurried out the door as the reactor room bulkhead closed behind them.
"Attention All Sections Alpha, Evacuate Section B. Reactor Core Meltdown inevitable. Bulkheads will be sealed in 10 minutes. Medical Section, prepare to receive casualties" Paul announced over the Red Alert Klaxons.
When Koenig and the reconn team returned to Alpha, the Commander had already learned the news of the core meltdown of Reactor #2. Koenig immediately called a Command Conference to discuss the power situation and to review the preliminary findings of the mysterious wreck.
Koenig sat down at the conference table in the pit area then looked at the faces of his staff: Victor, Helena, Paul, Sandra, Kano, Alan and Angelina, who was sitting next to him.
"Alright, Ang," Koenig started, swiveling toward her, "let's start with you. What happened?"
"Nuclear Reactor #2 suffered a catastrophic core meltdown due to a complete failure of all 5 coolant systems. It will be at least 3 months before the radiation levels are acceptably low enough for anyone to begin repairs. Then it will be another 2 months before the reactor is operational again," she stated somberly then continued. "Reactor #1 is undergoing a complete overhaul and not expected to be back online for another 6 weeks. The machine shop and the electronics shop are still fabricating parts. I've already instructed both shops to work 24-7 and make these items top priority on their work in process lists. Really, though, that will only save us 2 weeks. I suppose 4 weeks down is better than 6. We should be OK for power on the remaining reactors in the interim."
"That sounds like a good plan," Koenig nodded sagely. "Do you know what caused the coolant systems to shut down?"
Angelina heaved a heavy sigh. "No, sir, I do not. It's as if, and this may sound weird, as if someone just turned off a 'switch' to the coolant systems. I can't explain it, sir; it doesn't make sense the way they all suddenly stopped."
"What do you mean 'you don't know'," Paul interjected, face turning red. "There's got to be a cause, Ang."
"I don't know, Paul," Angelina replied evenly. "Coolant systems just don't stop circulating water and stop cooling...and all 5 of them to stop? That is against probability."
"You have a whole team of nuclear experts including yourself and you 'don't know?'" Kano quipped at her, sarcastically, "That is absurd."
"Why don't you have computer come up with the answer, David," Ang shot back at the Chief of Computer Operations.
Kano was about to make a further retort when Koenig interjected "Bickering will not solve anything." Kano stared into space. Angelina nodded and lowered her head.
"Sir, " Sandra reported. "Sensors did detect a slight rise in magnetic radiation levels during the reactor #2 crisis. It was not enough to set off alarms, but it is a slight increase above mean levels compared to the last 6 months." Sandra shuffled the papers in front of her.
"There's the magnetic radiation levels connection again, John," Helena nodded toward Koenig.
The Commander contemplatively turned to Bergman. "Victor?"
Bergman, sitting back pensively with hands folded on top of his head, elaborated, "Well, once again, perhaps something or someone is responsible for an incident which appears to be directly correlated with magnetic radiation levels. Angelina is correct in that certainly, under normal, explainable circumstances, the coolant systems for the reactor core should not have shut down so quickly. It appears likely that they were shut down by an external influence."
Bergman got up and grabbed a medium sized reconn collection container, placing it on the table in front of him.
"This is something we discovered among the wreckage of the alien ship." Bergman pulled out the EVA helmet with the cracked visor.
"???Trask???" Carter blurted, seeing the stenciled name. A mixture of shock, realization and anxiety crossed his face.
No one else had the opportunity to say anything. Everyone turned as the door to the corridor opened. Dave Trask stepped inside, grinning
"Sorry to disturb everyone." Trask said, standing on the steps above. Clearly, he was not sorry. "This just couldn't wait, though." The eyes at the conference table glanced at the broken helmet, and the ghostly image of its owner, staring back at them from the cracked visor. Trask stepped into the pit, and approached John Koenig's seat. Paul Morrow, and Alan Carter sprung towards him defensively, but Koenig motioned them to re-seat themselves.
The commander was the one who stood, grabbing the helmet as he did. He already knew the answer to his immediate question. It was painfully obviate. The fish bowl on the helmet was ruptured. To continue drawing oxygen with this helmet would have been as difficult as sipping ice water in a blast furnace. There had been no attempt to use seal-plast, or any other compound to repair it. Moonbase Alpha was over fifty kilometers away from the region where it was found, and that by accident. David Trask could not have survived.
However, something else apparently did.
"Actually, you're right on time." Koenig said, unflinchingly. "About an hour ago we found this near the wreck of what was, to us, an alien ship."
"The person who was wearing it perished." The alien said candidly, connecting the dots while revealing a row of almost perfectly formed fangs, and incisors. "It wasn't my fault, of course." He said honestly, pacing back, and forth in the moon glow. "There was an accident on the lunar surface. Apparently your man, Trask, was on ground reconnaissance when something caused his moon buggy to over turn. The Sea Of Storms is famous for it's jagged rock formations. Death was instantaneous.
"He was an important fellow." The alien said sardonically, turning to face them with David Trask's purloined body. "At the very least, he was the catalyst--the catalyst for my return, and for that I'm grateful beyond words." He bowed his head, in acknowledgement of a debt he had no intention of repaying.
"You murdered him." The Commander decided.
"No." The alien said, and even managed to sound offended. "His reckless driving was what did him in. I merely took advantage of the opportunity."
"Your ship." Victor Bergman chimed in, moving to stand beside Koenig. "It came in low over Alpha, scanner, and sensor invisible. What caused it to crash, and how did you manage to keep our survey equipment from detecting it?"
"Oh, that wreck you found wasn't my ship." The Trask semblance pointed out arrogantly. "My ship is buried deep within the walls of the Oceanus Procellarum. However, the Alphearans did use a photo sensitive shield to cloak their arrival. Their technology was thousands of years more advanced than any thing you have on Alpha." He admitted. "But in the grand scheme of things, they were imbecilic children, and greedy ones at that."
"Alphearas." Victor said, turning his mental calendar back six months. "Seat Alphearas?" The star, and its triune system of planets was the last contact that the roving Moon had made.
The alien nodded.
"You could say that I sent out a distress signal, and they were good enough--or aggrandizing enough--to respond."
"I'm inclined to assume that they exacted a terrible price for that greed." Bergman responded aloud. He noticed that the cool expression on Trask's face never faltered. The others still sitting at the conference table watched the interlocutor like jurors, witnessing the judge as he pronounced sentence on some felon. All except Carter, who was now standing also.
"I'm inclined to agree." Koenig said, his eyes never leaving Trask's. "What do you know about Tony Verdeschi. Are we supposed to believe that was also an accident?"
The commander set the damaged helmet back on the table.
"Unfortunately, that was my doing." The alien conceded. "Nothing against you fine people, but Antonio, and I had an old score to settle. I don't expect you to understand. The Economies of Time are a bit difficult for sperm like yourselves to grasp.
"No offense, of course.
"I do regret what happened to Dr. Quahr, though. She was garrulous, and annoying--and you probably are better off without her--but killing her truly was more vice than virtue. You must understand, I was weak at the time, and needed to feed."
"Feed?" Bergman questioned obscenely.
"Allow me to explain." Trask said, and with that, the big doors opened--seemingly of their own volition. Tanya Alexander, Andy Dempsey, and the other Main Mission Operatives overturned their chairs, and fumbled their clip boards, startled. Trask stepped up to the now brightly lit platform as if he owned the place. Nick Long, and Pierce Quinton--not liking the looks of this development one bit--advanced on the reconnaissance pilot who was not a reconnaissance pilot. Hands reached for holstered laser guns. It was Bergman this time who motioned for surcease.
"Behold," Trask said, pointing an incredibly long many jointed finger. "The Megaverse, where life is eternal; where love, and death are indivisible."
On the big screen, an image appeared. An infinite field of white, with a supermassive black sun in the center. A system of dark, terrestrial worlds some how orbited this life draining collapsar.
"It hasn't existed for over five billion of your years." Trask explained, delighting in their confusion. He was a delightful sort of a guy.
"An alternate universe," Victor remarked. "Go on."
Trask had every intention of going on.
"Long before your race was fomented out of protoplasm, there existed the Multiverse, as it is; as it was; as it ever shall be. A fantastic race of beings who held dominion over every universe; every galaxy; every solar system; indeed, every planet, and species there in." He smiled, proudly. "They were the authors of Seven Vices; Seven Virtues. This was the foundation upon which the Multiverse was built--The Elan Vitalla." But this was said with all the reverence of some one who has just said the word 'pornography.' "I come from a race of eternals; great law givers who sought to instruct you sperm banks in all things, good, and evil. We were the architects of decision making. A decision is, you know, the most powerful force in the universe. They have toppled empires. Children have died in wars as a result. It was given to my people to instruct the infant races in the consequences of their decisions--the negative consequences. Every time one of you was burned, it was one of my kind who raised boils, and blisters. When your ancestors, cromagnum, and Australopithecus learned to fashion crude weapons from the dust, and decay of fallen beasts--one of my kind was there to show them how to use them."
"Why did you harm the Alpherans when they sent you a distress signal?" Sandra interrupted the fake Trask. "What kind of a being are you?"
"It is a closed system." The Trask-thing demonstrated, eyeing Sandra covetously. "Our existence is based on the fulfillment of our mission. As long as there is one individual who needs to learn the penalties for their actions, one of my kind will be there." He said, and then suddenly frowning. "Despite several unsuccessful attempts on the behest of certain parties to eradicate us completely. Indeed, my reason for being here is because my ship was forced down--eons ago--by members of The Megaverse who were not grateful for our contribution. Who sought moral conformity--murderous, Butchers, Bastards.
"The Alphearans came because they thought I would teach them the ways of the Multiverse. They wanted power. That was the reward they sought for rescuing me from my underground prison. What I gave them was their true reward. In other words, I taught them the consequences of their greed."
"So you are a race that thrives on fear, hatred, violent emotions and you propagate it." Victor speculated.
Paul Morrow stood, irritation edging his voice. "Then why haven't you just destroyed us? What do you want? "
"What does any race want." Trask said, looking at the controller as though he was the most unintelligent thing since the monkey wrapped its tail around the flag pole. " Why do you continue on? Here, on this massive rock, drifting through time, and space--at the mercy of every single thing. You exist, but you do not thrive." He pontificated. "I seek to thrive. I seek to begin my race again. A new order that will reshape the very fabric of the Elan Vitalla, and punish a treacherous, vengeful God for His myopia, and His duplicity."
"But in order to do that, I will need to proliferate. I can survive in transit, from one body to the other, but for my kind to begin again, I will need that good old sperm-based talent for procreation.
"And on that note." He said, appraising Angelina coldly. "I do believe I've hit the jackpot. She's pregnant. I intend to join with her offspring. We will be one part human, one part god. Together we will go forth, and recreate the Megaverse, and resurrect the cult of consequences--the soul rending, sweet fear. The Multiverse will be ours, and we will be the only God."
Carter lunged for Trask, barely restrained by Morrow. Angelina's expression instantly changed from shock to horror. She composed herself and looked the Trask thing in the eye. "The answer is no. What makes you think I or anyone else would permit you to 'join' with my baby?"
Trask shook his head woefully. He behaved as though some one was trying to entertain him with a badly written episode of The Three Stooges.
"Because you have no choice." He replied. "I have been patient long enough. You have seventy-two hours to make your decision. I can't force you to cooperate with me, but I can correct you, oh yes." He said, a mad gimlet of glee in his sunken eyes. "Do as I ask, and I'll leave you in peace. Resist, and I'll level this base; I'll crack the core of the Moon, and you will all--each, and every one of you--die the most horrible death imaginable.
"Commander Koenig, I suggest you scan this area of space with the widest possible, projection lens. I think you'll find something that will verify the validity of what I'm saying.
"You have three days. I'll be waiting." He reminded and then suddenly, he was gone
They stared at the empty space where Trask was standing.
"Can he carry out his threat?" Angelina asked, finally breaking the silence.
Koenig glance at the Chief of Technical Operations then nodding to Sandra,
"I want sensors to make a wide area scan of the area, Sandra." Everyone got up and headed towards Main Mission, trailing Sandra.
"You're staying with me." Carter announced to Ang. As she arose, she felt a squeezing pain across her abdomen and gasped. "What's wrong?" he asked, alarmed.
Angelina wasn't 100% sure; maybe she was going into labor or maybe it was more false labor. Regardless, she did not wish to cause alarm. "I'm OK...just a pulled muscle," she lied.
They proceeded out into Main Mission as Sandra reported, "Scan complete. Visual in 2 seconds."
At first there was nothing, other than the infinite reaches of space. Violet blue, cumulous cloud formations, and a matrix of red filaments. They appeared to be heading towards a red dwarf host at some time in the near future. Then again, maybe not. The picture in the center of the big screen looked almost serendip, framed by the active, building-block pattern of LED Lights.
"There." Bergman motioned with his right hand, nudging Koenig with his left. "At ten o'clock."
The Commander leaned over Morrow's keyboard, squinting. There was something there, but at this range, it appeared to be only a speck of white dust.
"Sandra, tilt orbital cameras and zoom." He said. "Widest possible angle."
She did, and then it was down hill from there. The Master Alarm on Sandra Benes' scanning grid began to chime, and her desk was suddenly lit by a veritable Christmas Tree of red, and green warning lights. She stood with the others, unable to believe the image that the dish network was relaying back to them.
On the big screen, endless vacuum was replaced by the image of a heavenly body. It was oblong in shape, and its chiseled facets were reminiscent of the vanguard world of Earth's solar system, the planet Mercury. It's arc brought three large craters into view, although this satellite was at least seventy times the size of the Moon.
"That can't be." Carter said with absolute denial.
The lifeless satellite that was growing larger in the distance, by degrees, was no natural satellite. It was a sculpture--as meticulously crafted as Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Effigy, Christ over Rio or any of the others--save for one difference that was becoming more, and more apparent as the lunar seconds ticked by. The finely cleaved surface appeared to consist of some hard travertine, or shale. The bottomless, black ocular orbits must have been millions of kilometers in diameter. The yawning mouth was large enough to swallow a planet the size of Jupiter.
A leering jocund, face in space.
David Kano tore the register tape from it's feed with freezing hands; the position of the Moon, relative to the object.
"We're on a collision course." He said through a mouth that felt as though it had been injected with an overdose of Novocain. "Estimated time of impact will be just under seventy-two hours."
Round two of the Command Conference:
"How are we going to get out of this one?" Paul exasperated, holding his head in his hands.
Angelina and Bergman had quickly discussed the options, as outlandish as could be in the present situation. Angelina still felt mild contractions. They were not going away and this was real labor. However, she could not allow herself to be distracted: not now.
"Obviously due to the size of the object, we can't blow it up," Ang began.
"Obviously," Kano quipped sarcastically. The Chief of Technical Operations glared at him icily.
"A shockwave would not work either," Bergman stated, shaking his head.
"What about using the remains of the nuclear waste dumps? Triggering the explosion and altering our trajectory? " Koenig queried while tapping his pen.
"That wouldn't do much good, I'm afraid, John, "Bergman replied pensively. "Doing that may alter our course a few degrees at best. From the initial calculations of the object's size, we would still be on a collision course. Even a greater than 90 degree course change, if possible, would not help either since the object is gaining speed."
"Then the only course of action would be complete and total evacuation, getting away in the Eagles." Koenig concluded, with a gaze of steel.
"John," Helena interjected, "The psychological strain of living in close quarters like that..."
"Helena," Koenig interrupted, "We have no choice. Remember breakaway? First it was believed we would not survive. Then, it was believed that the strain of 300 people being in such close quarters would be our demise. Well, guess what? We survived; and we will survive again." Koenig looked around at the faces and focused on Angelina. "No one is going to dictate terms to us; especially concerning one of our own."
"Well, I agree," Sandra nodded though inwardly resigned, "I suppose we need to start drawing up plans for operation exodus."
Suddenly, the comm-post screen came to life with Tanya Alexander's anxiety ridden face. "Commander, I'm sorry to interrupt, but Carissa Engelbert reported all Eagles except two have been 'disabled'. They cannot determine the cause of the defect."
Everyone was stunned into silence. Their only option to escape had just been eliminated.
"There is one other option," Kano spoke up, as if he was testing newly formed lake ice. "We could do what the alien demands; give him what he wants. He said he would leave us in peace if we gave him what he wanted."
Kano refused to look at Ang but nevertheless his comments were clearly directed toward her. "Maybe you should consider what is good for the rest of Alpha. Perhaps you should consider letting him have the child."
Angelina could not believe what she was hearing. While trying to contain the growing pain of another contraction, her face grew hot: she was feeling shock, anger, horror and fear at the same moment. Devastated that Kano could even make such a suggestion, she felt sick, and instinctively looked over to Alan in desperation.
Yet the command conference was not a complete travesty. From a certain point of view, it could be said that they were still forging A HEAD. David Kano barely had a chance to extrapolate his thoughts. Somewhere in between the translation from his cerebral cortex to his indiscreet mouth, Alan Carter intervened, coming across the circular table at him so violently, Paul Morrow almost got tossed.
The captain was known to possess variegated attributes. Subtlety was not one of them.
"!!!You ignorant bastard!!!" Carter grabbed a hefty hand full of Kano's tunic, and jerked him forward in a whip lash motion, dragging him across the table. "!!!What the hell do you mean, even suggesting such a thing!!!" The pilot drew back his fist. Kano closed his eyes, and prayed. "!!!Maybe we ought to feed you to that thing!!!"
It occurred to Carter that at some time during the course of this transaction, his fiancé's arms became wrapped futilely around his waist. Paul Morrow was using both hands to grapple with his slugging arm. The Commander was in there too, one arm wrapped around Carter's neck, and the other was opting for an unsuccessful Half Nelson.
"!!!Carter!!!" Koenig barked again, but to no avail. The pilot pummeled the computer chief with his fist; Kano attempted to block this with his nose. The battle had been joined, but with uneven weaponry. A blood vessel ruptured, and angry red tear drops sprayed across the open neck area of his tunic.
"!!!Alan!!!" Helena Russell tried to put her two cents in. "!!!Alan, stop it!!!"
Then Tanya Alexander's stunned, calcimine face appeared on the comm-post screen again, and David Kano was granted a reprieve from further ass whipping.
"Commander Koenig--urgent. Explosive decompression in Medical Center. We've lost all contact with the north unit."
A still action shot would best describe the scene in the commander's office.
"God, NO," Dr. Russell exclaimed as she bolted through the side entrance.
"Helena, STOP!" Koenig shouted at her. "Damn!" Koenig blurted in frustration as he opened the Main Mission doors, followed by the rest of the Command staff. Kano was sniffing and plugging his nose in an effort to stop the blood, grabbing for gauze in a nearby first aid kit.
Angelina stood behind the technical desk. "Paul, bulkheads closed in Medical Section M2. Area sealed off."
"Evacuate all non-essential personnel to the lower levels. Seal airlocks and launch pad areas," Koenig barked as he paced back and forth in front of his desk. He lowered his voice. "I wonder what the hell that was all about, Victor. Let me guess...."
"It seems like our alien friend wants to give us a little demonstration--that would be my guess, John." Victor agreed, scratching his sideburn.
"Attention all non-essential and off duty personnel. Evacuate to the lower shelters, repeat evacuate to the lower shelters." Morrow's announcement echoed through the base. "Security seal all airlocks."
"Reconnaissance control this is Carter." The pilot called to the RCC. "'Coop, we're in a scrub situation. I repeat: We are in a scrub situation. All primary crews to egress; pad leaders prepare for emergency spacecraft retrieval."
"Commander!" Sandra yelled "Fire in the explosive chemicals storage room."
Without waiting for Paul, Koenig bounded to the Controller's desk. "Attention personnel in section D2. Evacuate immediately. Evacuate section D2 immediately."
The explosion that followed produced a shock wave that sent everyone in Main Mission either on the floor or barely maintaining balance. Coffee cups and flimsie scattered in a hail storm fury.
Sandra went flying backwards, landing against the steps. Paul was flung forward, smacking his ribs painfully against his console. Koenig and Bergman were thrown back against the walls. Angelina lost her balance and collided against Alan, causing both of them to land on the floor.
Paul, painfully holding his ribs, stabbed the white internal PA com button. "Attention all sections Alpha. Report your damage!!"
Despite these efforts, the Trask-semblance was already A HEAD of the game. Kilometers above the rolling, dead hills of the Plato Crater, the Dyson Sphere grew steadily larger. As Moonbase Alpha was given over to rack, and ruin, the smoothly rounded features of the object--only a speck at first--became plainly visible to the naked eye. The colossal humanoid face seemed oblique to any stress; copascetic to any strain. I'll swallow you, so what? That was the impression that it gave.
Gordon Cooper was in the block house adjacent to Launch Pad Two when Paul Morrow's front line orders came through. He darted from his plate of mixed vegetables, and immediately punched a square thumb nail switch marked DISENGAGE. Two stories above him, the boarding tube to the launch pad broke away from Eagle 10. If good old Pierre Danielle had decided to linger around in the cockpit, he would surely be cussing every one, and no one, by now. Cooper flipped the toggle. The hydraulic pumps started. The elevator platform started down the shaft towards the flame trench, slowly, slowly--too slowly.
Is there time for this? 'Coop wondered.
Well, the answer was "no" actually. Moments after its descent started, Eagle 10 exploded. The blast started somewhere in the couplings surrounding the nuclear fuel cells. A spark attached itself to a coil, which, in turn, zigzagged it's way to a pitcock, feeding into propellant tanks filled with unsymmetrical fuel. One hundred gallons of LOX erupted, blowing the service module, and quad engine bells to kingdom come. The ship was dissected in intervals of ten seconds. A pod, and it's landing pad broke away, and went spinning across the roof of the security cube. About a dozen security guards would never know how close they came to buying the farm. The passenger module bucked the bronco, but lost the heat. It careened madly upwards, then came down perpendicular to the still descending platform, it's modular fuel tanks erupting in turn. The command tower was showered with fiery plastic, and metal shell plating, and the gnarled trellis that had formerly been the centraline of Eagle 10. The command module remained curiously untouched. Some how it ended up being the only piece left to make it to the hangar bay.
It lay capsized on the floor of the elevator, like the head of a squashed insect.
In the Ready Room, Pilot William "Bill" Frasier emerged with coffee, and white plaster dust all over his totally unnecessary LSRO Jacket. In his autopsy room of a mind, he saw no sense in what was happening.
"Look at me, I'm covered with plaster dust." He said, stating the obvious. Rumors had a tendency to spread like exploding fuel tanks in the narrow confines of Moonbase Alpha, and William "Bill" Frasier knew them all.
"Bullshit." He remarked, uncontested.
Others were supportive, and that was how mob rules came into being.
One of the major errors the Japanese committed in the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was being arrogant enough to assume that by destroying the existing naval fleet, it would irreparably cripple the United States. What the Japanese had not counted on was the fact that the United States in very short order managed to replace their fleet....the Japanese should have hit the factories rather than the fleet. That mistake was NOT about to be repeated by the Trask monster.
Michelle Cranston, Manufacturing Engineer, was surveying the recently dumped and cleaned plating line tanks, and now almost filled with fresh chemical baths. The lab techs had just taken samples from each of the 12 bay, 1000 gallon tanks. Michelle, on the mezzanine, was in a good mood today; for once, manufacturing was running smoothly. While the seasoned plating operator loaded the panels of printed circuit boards onto the plating racks, Michelle received word from the lab that everything was a-okay to go.
"Alright, Let her rip!!!!" bellowed Michelle to the operator with a thumbs up. Rip...The explosion in the chemical storage area that caused a shockwave and sent everyone in Main Mission to the floor also encouraged the formation on a stress crack in the tanks. The crack seemed to run across all 12 bays.
A run-on of profanity was uttered by petite, tough Michelle Cranston as she dashed across the mezzanine, closely followed by the stunned plating operator and both narrowly missed getting doused with a lethal plating chemical cocktail. "Paul!!!! Emergency, no, a fuckin' disaster in Manufacturing!!!!" she yelled into the comm-post.
Having instantly punched up the cameras, Angelina watched in horror as the plating area became a deadly wading pool, the individual bays completely collapsed and smaller pieces floating on the pool.
"!!!!!!!!!MICHELLE!!!!!!!!!!!!! GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE"
Ang froze. Until this point she had successfully disguised the discomfort of labor. The next contraction did not deserve the designation of "discomfort". In fact, it was made clear to her why contractions were called labor "pain" and not labor "discomfort.
Looking up from her console, her eyes widened and she inhaled making a hissing sound as she felt her gut imploding. She closed her eyes as the pain increased and peaked for what seemed like an eternity. In reality it lasted only about 50 seconds. Sighing with relief when it was over, she noted the hocked expressions of those around her.
John Koenig, and Victor Bergman felt the RIP. Sure they did. They arrived to find that Medical Center's north unit now had zero atmosphere, and endemic gravity. The cause of this was uncertain, although the burst in the wide viewport along the wall next to Helena Russell's office could not have helped. Homeless patients, and staff lined the walls of the corridor. They were busy evacuating the west unit when plastic flasks, and medicine bottles began to vibrate on the shelves. One of the floor lamps toppled over, shattering the bulb. The RIP was right on schedule.
"!!!Get out of there!!!" Koenig shouted to the physician, and her nurse, as the floor began to quake--a healthy 4.5 on the Richter Scale--beneath them.
About a week ago, Dac Capano had taken a tumble from his cherry picker while working in Hydroponics Section. He was rewarded with a broken collar bone. This made it difficult, to say the least, for him to walk under his own power. The commander stumbled forward on rubbery legs--literally, the floor was falling out from under him.
Half-way across the room, he fell flat on his face. He shoved Helena towards the double doors which wasn't hard to do under the present circumstances.
"Move it!!!" He said, throwing Anne Delline out next, gruff. The nurse's boot heels twisted on the slick, vibrating surface, causing her to fall forward. Bob Mathias was at home plate to catch her.
Since Koenig was more worried about Capano's life than his ailing collarbone, no kid gloves were used. He threw the screaming specialist over his shoulder, and headed for the metaphorical hills. He lost his center of gravity just as they entered the corridor.
"Close that hatch!!!" He yelled to Pierce Quinton on the way down. "Close it!!!"
Quinton turned his commlock on the twin doors like Wyatt Earp. Moments after they closed, two of the 43X36 vycor shields disintegrated. A maelstrom of high impact splinters blew out, and up; disappearing into the invisible Zero-G vortex.
Back on his feet again, the commander grabbed Bob Mathias by the elbow. His cheek was beginning to bleed in runners from a coincidental scrape.
"Find Carter." He said, panting. "Take Angelina, and Helena too. I want the four of you off Alpha as soon as possible."
"What?" Helena Russell said, incredulously. She was tending to Dac Capano when the announcement was heard. "We can't leave now--besides, we'd never make it."
"It's not going to get any better." Koenig said. "Our friend is applying pressure, and he's doing a damn good job. I want you to leave now before it gets any worse."
"You had better go." Victor Bergman agreed, stepping up behind Helena. "For the baby's sake. I get the distinct impression that something else brewing here, and it has nothing to do with our alien visitor.
"I don't much care for it." He told the commander emphatically.
"We'll try to create some kind of diversion." Koenig explained.
Helena Russell objected again, but by the time she was finished, the commander, and the professor had disappeared into Corridor 17.
Koenig and Bergman moved through the wreckage, and the RED ALERT Claxons to the command tower. Just before the power went completely out in that section, they were privy to a solitary message, scrawled across the bulk head in a child's hand writing script. The maxim was dried hard, as if it had been waiting for them for some time. While it was unknown as to what type of writing instrument was used, the ink substitute definitely bore a resemblance to human blood. It was not difficult to figure out who the author was.
MAKE A DECISION the message read.
Eddie Collins, botanist, was in hydroponics farm section #3 monitoring the irrigation of the soy bean crops. The crops would soon be ready to harvest. The irrigation system was computer controlled so monitoring was always more of a boring formality than a necessity.
Eddie was keeping tabs on various disasters that were taking place on Alpha and he was on alert, as computer controlled the switches and valves of the irrigation in the background. In hindsight, he should have been paying attention to the irrigation of the soy bean crops. All valves along the irrigation line were unexplainably switched to full "OPEN".
With his back turned on the observation window, Eddie was talking to his buddy Tom Graham, Eagle pilot, on his commlock, engrossed in Tom's tale of the destruction of Eagle 10. The soybean field began to resemble a rice paddy...then, a lake.
When Eddie turned around, his eyes widened in panic as he dropped his commlock and he dashed over to throw the manual override lever to stop the irrigation pumps.
Tom Graham's persistent "EDDIE!! EDDIE!! WHAT'S WRONG?" echoed through the no empty observation room.
It was too late. Suffice it to say, this crop of soy beans was ruined.
But it did not end there. The subsequent moonquake that everyone else on Moonbase Alpha experienced was also felt in Hydroponics. The irrigation pipes in the field burst, effectively undoing Eddie's previous action of manually shutting down the irrigation pumps.
It was just as well. John Koenig, and Victor Bergman didn't need soybean derivatives. They had plenty of dust to eat. On Moonbase Alpha, at the end of the network of Travel Tube Tunnels, there were perimeter stations, numbering one through ten. The even numbered stations all had two things in common. First, they were cylindrical; second, they were lined with a synthegrade radiation blister that was a quarter of a mile long, running deep beneath the lunar surface. Third, they bore markers with three upside down triangles and the legend DANGER: AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. For political reasons, it was oft denied that these silos even existed. It was also true that each one contained enough destructive power to lay waste to an entire continent. Bergman sat in the control room of the silo beneath Perimeter Station #4. His hands hastily moved across the keyboard.
"I'm no expert at this you know." He told Koenig, who was pacing the floor behind him. A window opened containing numerical coordinate options, numbering from one to one hundred. The monitor screen flashed a cautionary orange color intermittently. "I fancy nuclear power, but not for this purpose."
"I would imagine Saddam Hussein didn't much fancy these babies either." Koenig commented. "Considering that most of the time they were aimed at him while we were in Earth orbit."
Bergman used the mouse to place the cursor within box number one of the six digit spread. It appeared, and disappeared like an uncertain thought. "Where would you like it to come down." He asked, looking over his shoulder.
"Close." The commander said. "But not too close. Put it just over the wall. If it came down in the middle of Frigoris, we'd still feel it here on Alpha, wouldn't we?"
"Oh, you'd better believe we would." Bergman assured him, punching ENTER on the keyboard. The trajectory screen was replaced by a countdown clock. Bergman swiveled in his chair, slapping his hands against his knees. "Right." He said. "What I've done is I've disabled the nuclear charge-at least I hope that I did." His eyebrows raised. "Minus the initiators, what's left is a couple of hundred tons of TNT, mixed with solid rocket fuel."
"How much time do we have?"
"About a half hour." Bergman said dryly.
"Then we'd better get out of here." Koenig observed.
"Yeah, I'd say that's a good idea."
They hurried back to the elevator--leaving the silo to its dismal unpopularity. The countdown clock was at T-28 minutes.
Paul Morrow calmly stated "Ang, you should go to Medical. Dempsey," he continued without looking up " take over the technical station."
Alan and Angelina left Main Mission through the side entrance in the Commander's office, greeted by Bob Mathias. They proceeded with haste through the corridors but, after stopping to work through another contraction, she realized the three of them were not heading to Medical Center.
"Where are we going?" Angelina panted with additional anxiety, as they entered the travel tube.
"Hangar 2" Bob replied. "We have to get you off of the base."
Further questions were put off as another contraction hit her and she concentrated on the pant-blow routine. They arrived at the Eagle hangar, where they were met by Dr. Russell, who was pushing a cart loaded miscellaneous medical supplies. Moving quickly, they boarded Eagle 7. Once on board, the door closed and the area depressurized. When the signal was given from Bergman, Carter would launch the ship from inside the hangar.
Paul Morrow turned away from his desk for five seconds to hand Sandra Benes a damage control glossary. It was a long, long chronical of blasted metal, and irreparable pulverization. Chaos ruled the day. The Data Analyst's face turned as red as the flimsey the report was written on. She was a thermonuclear warhead ready for firing.
"IF THIS GOES ON MUCH LONGER, WE WON'T HAVE TO WAIT FOR OUR TIME TO ELAPSE." She fumed, her anger, and frustration bursting its bonds. She threw the report aside, and held her face in her hands. Even a neutral observer would have noticed the tendrils of smoke pouring from her ears.
Morrow could relate. His eyes were sunken, and glassy; about thirty minutes ago, he had begun to sweat buckets.
"He's using us for target practice." He agreed, nauseated, and when he returned to his monitor, a new spread sheet was waiting for him:
-Nuclear Generating Area #2/Offline
-East/West Sensor Array/Offline
-Launch Pad One/NA
-Perimeter Station One/NA (Blown to Kingdom Come, for lack of a better
This, he saw after only a leisurely glance. In toto, there were at least thirty items on the list. Certain areas of devastation were greater than others. For example, Morrow could have sworn that the air in Main Mission was beginning to thin. Then again, it may have been anxiety, following him about like a homely infatuated school girl.
Koenig and Bergman entered to the left of the big screen. Petrov's calm--but not too calm--face appeared on one of the smaller monitors as they walked past.
"Commander Koenig." He said, preparing to bamboozle them with his latest discovery. "I was checking one of our 'special areas,' and I happened to notice-"
"That's fascinating." The commander said briskly, turning him off.
The unfamiliar medical orderly with the strawberry blonde hair, intercepted him on the way to the computer deck, where David Kano stood--shocked, and frazzled, like a financier who has lost his entire investment portfolio. Her complexion was healthy, but extremely pale. Her demeanor was serene, pretty.
She looked familiar to no one.
"Commander, let me join with the alien." She said, following closely after him.
Koenig froze in mid-stride.
"Ah, don't be ridiculous." Victor Bergman said plainly, and returned his attention to the business at hand. By his commlock, they were at 05:45, and counting.
"I'm not being ridiculous." Her voice, while fragile, contained a contest that was undeniable. "Alpha will be destroyed if you don't act quickly."
"That's our problem." Koenig felt that he had met the orderly before, but it was something in the corner of his mind, a blank computer tape. "And right now I'm sure they need you in Medical Center."
"I'm telling the truth." The woman with the white sleeve said factually, but not imploringly. "Believe in me."
The words came to him like a CD that he had heard a billion times, but for the life of him, he could not remember the title of the song.
That was when William "Bill" Frasier, Dr. Edward Spencer, and Carl Renton entered Main Mission, lasers drawn. Judging by the rousted rabble noises in the corridor, they were not alone.
In Eagle 7, the foursome continued to wait for the "signal". Angelina Verdeschi was struggling with active labor, contractions coming every 2 or if she was lucky 3 minutes. Dr. Russell decided to check her progress: 3 centimeters. Angelina had to get to a 10 before she could even attempt to deliver.
Under normal circumstances, Angelina could have looked forward to the bliss of an epidural block and feel no pain. Unfortunately, this situation was far from normal and she could not be offered that option. The best that could be done was to take the "edge" off the pain with Demerol.
"Demerol!!!" Angelina gasped as she panted, sitting upright and drenched in sweat. "I need more Demerol."
Russell shook her head empathetically. "I'm sorry, Ang, I've given you the maximum you can get. I can't give you any more for another 2 hours."
The peak of a contraction hit her like a truck and she screamed.. loudly. Ang was not shy about expressing her discomfort. This particularly loud cry brought Carter dashing out of the Command module. "It...is...not....effect-ive," Angelina blurted through clenched teeth. "Isn't that friggen obvious?!?!? I need MORE!!!!!!!!!!!!"
With Carter now in her face telling her he thought she was a barbaric, Dr. Russell, ignoring Alan, stonily reiterated, "I'm sorry, Ang, but I've already given you the maximum dosage without detrimental effects to the baby. Concentrate on your breathing."
Angelina ended the contraction from hell with a deep breath and a sigh, knowing full well that relief was short lived. She burst into tears, further giving credence to the mercurial moods of a woman in labor. Carter glared at Russell and Mathias, as he tried to comfort Angelina. He knew when the next contraction hit; Angelina squeezed his hand harder and harder and harder as she breathed. He had no clue how strong her grip was until that moment and was somewhat impressed. Just as the contraction ended, Carter received the two minute warning.
"Lift off in two minutes....Gotta go," he said reluctantly prying his hand out of hers and disappeared into the command module.
In the CM, Carter completed the pre-flight checks. This particular launch would be a challenge but a feasible one. He signaled Cooper in the RCC who, in turn, opened the launch pad doors. As soon as the primary data transfer was completed, he fired the main motors.
For the first time since the beginning of this debacle, The Conceit could not explain the universe. He was sitting in a full lotus position on the hundred kilometer long, right eyebrow of the Dyson Sphere, without the benefit of an environment suit. He didn't need one. Unlike your typical creature of the womb, he had never known what it was like to be dependent on food, or air. It had been a frustrating evening, and his petulance had only exacerbated his predicament. He had no luck at all permeating The Dark Zone. Every time he tried, the bug was on his back. Here lately his almond eyed buddy was quick to block his spiritual quests, quoting some moronic scripture, or mantra that dealt with a level of conscience, and generosity that didn't exist any more. The Words Of Cyycix would banish him for a short while, but he would soon return, holier than ever.
Honesty was a philosophical delusion.
So, The Conceit perched on the right eyebrow of the Dyson Sphere, contemplating his next move. Unlike the view on most real planets, the star field never seemed to change here. This was partly due to the fact that it took the colossal effigy 1,998 days to complete a single rotation. Its presence in this galaxy was The Conceit's crowning achievement. There was only one other time in this century when he could have successfully transported it through the Hyper String, so the timing had been very opportune.
Across the boundless ocean of black, the infinitesimally small crescent Moon was now less than 100,000 kilometers away. Soon it would enter the mouth of the Dyson Sphere, and be crushed--whether the female joined with The Conceit, or not. However, the sperm banks were being so obstinate, so deadly dumb that there would probably be no one left alive in the human community by the time doomsday rolled around. In a matter of hours, he had wrecked over half of the base, and the evening forecast was not good. The Conceit expected a full capitulation within the next few hours, though.
He opened his mind, and focused on the Moon. Big Brother was watching, and there was nothing they could do to block his view. He knew every bit of laughter, every tear--he embraced the collective fears of these shitty apes, and gorged himself on them. The suicide attempts proved to be the most satisfying (there had already been a few). He had to admit, he enjoyed the heroism even more--it's futility made him laugh, and all beings need a good laugh. Ha-ha. The way the creatures had rushed to evacuate the Medical Center just before he drilled holes in their windows using the power of his mind. The way they bolstered each other in the burnt, and blasted corridor afterwards was fun to watch too, and then....
Something had happened that he had never thought possible. His mind was a cipher. Behind him, the globular cluster M15, and it's thousands of stars, spewing excited gas, and dust. Before him? He had no idea; not even a hunch. He couldn't see squat.
That was how he knew that the princess was up to her old tricks again. From the creature Trask, he obtained the image of an old Victorian movie house, where a massive red velvet curtain lowered to block the image of the creatures Koenig, and Bergman. The lights came up, the film sprockets wildly slapped the base of the projector.
The Conceit bitched, cursing The Woman In White in tongues that no longer existed. Trask's legs dissolved, forming the icy tail of a comet as he streaked back across the dark divide. Like nutless Oreanus of ancient Earth lore, he devoured anything that got in his way. He was half-way there when the crystal ball of light illuminated the wastes of the north pole, blinding mortals, and immortals alike.
Frasier surveyed the Main Mission area, making sure that he had everyone's undivided attention. Of course he, and his mob--about thirty strong-were not difficult to miss. Carl Renton seized control of the right side of the auditorium. Ed Spencer took charge of all of the territory on the left. John Koenig was starting up the stairs to the computer deck. The harsh track lights, beneath the floor of the observatory gave him a statuesque appearance. Tom Carlson, and Tony Allen--quick to respond--stood on either side of him with their lasers drawn, and pointing at Frasier, and Spencer. Morrow took aim on Carl Renton. Carl Renton lined up Sandra Benes, and Victor Bergman in his sights. Sandra Benes was pointing her own side arm at Dave Reilly, who had arrived to reinforce Frasier. For the longest time there was cold silence, broken only by the intermittent chatter from the big screen, and plaintive reports from the remaining perimeter stations.
"Commander," Frasier started, licking his lips uneasily. "Why are we not cooperating with the alien?" He shifted his aim on Kano, who made the mistake of breathing too loudly. "He'll kill us all if we don't. I think he's made that quite clear."
"COOPERATING WITH HIM WILL INVOLVE MAKING A DECISION WE HAVE NO RIGHT TO MAKE." Koenig explained, emphatic, and disgusted.
"So, we all die to preserve the dignity of one woman." Ed Spencer deduced. "I don't think so."
Carl Renton agreed completely.
"On the one hand, I admire your morality, Koenig." He said considerately. "On the other hand, I think you suck for having enough hubris to condemn an entire base, just so you can maintain your standing as a man of principal. You don't look very much like God to me. You don't even have a beard. I say it's time for a vote."
The other members of Frasier's laser-packing entourage murmured their assent.
"DON'T YOU REALIZE WHAT'S HAPPENING?" The commander blustered. "IF WE DO WHAT THE ALIEN WANTS, HE'LL DESTROY ALPHA ANY WAY. THERE'S NO ESCAPING THAT."
"How the hell do you know?" Frasier disagreed, cold perspiration forming on his upper lip. "If we give him what he wants, he would have no reason to destroy Alpha."
"Boyo, it's worth trying." Said Dave Reilly--the leprechaun from Texas. The prick even managed to sound inspirational.
"Angelina Verdeschi?" Frasier demanded. "Where are you keeping her?"
"Frasier, the only way you're going to get her is to shoot me first." Koenig explained wearily, dropping his hand to his knee.
"If that's your choice." The pistol packing pilot responded reasonably, tightening his finger on the laser's trigger. No skin off his long bladed, disloyal, Ichabod Crane nose.
The professor ran his hand along his rib cage, feigning discomfort. When the opportunity afforded itself, he tapped his commlock, and covertly pressed the SEND button. The text message he had prepared was relayed instantly to the crew of Eagle Seven. It contained just two words: LIFT OFF.
"Now, for the third time." Frasier warned, even though it was only the second time he said it, his bully kicked sand every where. "Where is she?"
Suddenly every screen went blank, every light was extinguished. The multiple viewports in the Main Mission Tower were filled with a blinding white light. Moribund shadows were cast onto the tile floor as the Moon itself seemed to die a howling death around them.
The moment Main Mission experienced the blinding flash from the Titan's detonation, Eagle Seven cleared the hangar and the launch pad. The clock was running. Carter had to keep the ship at a low altitude to avoid detection by the Moonbase network; so low, in fact that while flying over the Taurus range, one of the starboard pads was nearly clipped by a summit.
The destination was Mining Outpost Station 2. This colony was Alpha's most remote as well as least developed. It was recently a resurrection of a mine that had been abandoned prior to Breakaway once the mineral rich Mining Outpost Station 3 was discovered and resources were channeled to developing it. However, geological surveys had revealed that Mining Outpost Station 2 actually had high concentrations of minerals found on earth; minerals and ores which were lacking in the other two mining stations and in the catacombs below Moonbase Alpha. The Mining Outpost had been outfitted with a launch pad, small hangar and a pressurized boarding area leading to an elevator; which led down into the mines. Since the revival of this mining operation was fairly recent, few people outside of the Command Staff knew about its existence.
Because of the slow speed and low altitude flying, it took nearly an hour to reach this outpost, a trip that could normally be done in 20 minutes. Carter landed the Eagle and they disembarked onto the pressurized boarding area. The launch pad dropped and the hangar doors closed, concealing Eagle 7. Angelina, with contractions still coming frequently, was unsure where they were going, but not surprised to see Patrick Osgood.
Their progress was slow but steady through the maze. The tunnels winded and descended for what seemed like an eternity. Needing to stop few minutes to work through labor pain distorted Ang's perception of time and distance and made it appear to be longer. Finally, they came to a room that somewhat resembled living quarters. When Dr. Russell checked her again, she was at 5 centimeters. However, in the process of examining her, she broke her water. The labor pains increased in alarming intensity and frequency.
The Technical Manager was becoming a schizophrenic emotional mess from the labor and with fatigue. Her concern about the baby was weighed equally with concern about Alpha; accompanied by a twinge of guilt that she felt responsible for the situation.
As she was undergoing this introspection, Bob Mathias had given her another dose of Demerol. Angelina fell into a state of semi-consciousness. She was not able to completely fall asleep since the pain she felt every 2 minutes would jolt her out of the deeper levels of unconsciousness.
Through the swirling fog, Angelina focused on the woman in white. She comforted her, wrapping her arms around her, and Angelina felt her benevolence and was at peace. Ang thought she saw the face of her own mother in the face of the Woman in White. She blinked and the image of her mother was gone.
Deep in the bowels of Station Two, Bob Mathias was reminded of the opening scene from an old ITC Television series called, "The Prisoner." The title character, a secret agent, we are told--walking down a seemingly endless, sterile, concrete corridor, dark, and dank. The man in black enters his direct supervisors covert office, and after lambasting him, slaps an envelope down on the desk. He then pounds the desk blotter with his fist--repeatedly--and hard enough to shatter a china coffee cup. Scrawled across the envelope in angry cursive are the words RESIGNATION, and BY HAND. Mathias was in close quarters with Helena Russell no more than three minutes, and he instantly got a jones for envelopes.
As soon as the Eagle touched down, she became a master of disaster; she was cruising for a bruising. She seemed discontented with just sitting at Angelina's bedside, calmly reassuring her when the more agonizing contractions came. Oh no-she was right in her face telling her to breath steady, and the ever popular you've got to push. Sue Crawford may have been a model of maternity, but Miss Priss Know-It-All was now in the company of a hellion.
Besides, Mathias had one child of his own, so he knew what the inevitable outcome of these remonstrances would be if she kept it up. He entered the radio shack, still holding his stethoscope. Carter was just shutting down the transmitter as he entered.
"Any luck?" He said by rote, pretty well knowing what the answer would be.
"None at all." The pilot said--pushing the microphone away, and placing his hand to his forehead, concentrating. "I tried contacting them on the low frequency band. No luck. I could increase the modulation, but it might give our position away."
Mathias nodded, swinging his stethoscope like a pendulum.
"What do you think that was--that explosion as we were coming out of the hangar?"
The captain shook his head--the worry lines digging deep into his brow.
"There's no telling. I hope it was something that they rigged up intentionally, and not something that maniac cobbled together."
The bones cracked in Carter's back as he stood.
"Do you think they're alright?" Mathias couldn't help, but wonder.
"I've got my doubts about that." Carter said simply, and returned to the compartment where--risking life, and limb--Helena Russell continued to fuss over Angelina.
Hellion. That would have been an accurate description of Angelina Verdeschi in very active labor. True, Sue Crawford had been the model of maternity, a serene Madonna. Sue Crawford had also been given an epidural that numbed all pain and feeling from the bottom of the rib cage down. She felt no pain, not to mention the fact that little Jackie Crawford was only about 7 pounds. The last ultrasound showed baby Carter to be at least 8 1/2 and Mathias believed probably over 9 pounds. With the Demerol, Angelina had the pain relief equivalent of a children's Tylenol used for treating a migraine; she was fairly close to the overrated "natural childbirth experience." Ang was exhausted, pale, drenched with sweat and panting.
"Ang," Dr. Russell implored in her face, "calm down, you need to control your breathing. Come on now, you'll hyperventilate and pass out."
"GOOD," Angelina spat venomously at Russell, just as Carter and Mathias returned to the room. "If I pass out I won't feel the pain." She wished the CMO would go away. Helena's breath was beginning to smell raunchy, like the stuff you find in the bottom of a kitchen sink trap, and was making her queasy. "Oh GOD!!!!!!!!! I CAN'T TAKE THIS ANYMORE!!!!!" she cried out, unintentionally digging nails into Carter's hand, drowning out Helena's "Easy, Ang, take it easy." Angelina, still feeling queasy, dry heaved all over the floor next to her, as Mathias jumped deftly out of the way.
Dr. Russell looked up at Bob. "She must be in transition...she must be close." Then, she decided it was once again time to check Angelina for cervical dilation. When another horrible contraction ended, the doctor examined Ang to find that she was now at 8 centimeters; so near yet still so far. Suddenly, the motherlode of contractions hit Ang. By sheer reflex she kicked up, nearly making contact with Helena Russell's face. This time, she missed her.
Looming ominously above the launch pad to Mining Station Two, the black eyeless sockets of The Dyson Sphere.
There was no longer any need for scanners, sensors, or any other tool of discovery to know that collision was imminent. Like a fast moving train, it was upon them, pitiless; without compassion. The lines surrounding the eyes--large enough to swallow a thousand suns--were turned malevolently upward. Individual surface stones--brick colored, and kilometers long in diameter--were now conspicuous in the pale blue star light. Rat's Alley, the venerable poet T.S. Eliot once wrote; where the dead men lost their bones.
In the Dyson Sphere, they also would have lost their souls. It was a frozen nightmare, straight out of the ninth circle of Hell.
Deep within the underground cavern, Bob Mathias sat on the opposite side of Angelina's bed from Carter, who was holding her hand . It was Carter's first time, and he reminded Mathias so much of himself on Stork Day that it wasn't funny.
Can't you give her any thing else for the pain, Alan had asked. Word for word, it was the same thing he had asked Elias Heavener as Laura braved the depths of a miracle to produce Amy.
Mathias shook his head. "Alan, she doesn't need any more."
Carter returned to his tortured fiancé--her face every bit as contorted as one who was experiencing The Rack, or The Boot, or The Strappado. A fresh bowl of leaches, administered by a mysoginstic, medieval barber would not have been any more effective, or discomfiting. As any woman would attest, the beauty of child bearing came only after the fact of child bearing.
"I, uh-" The pilot started, but was stricken speechless. He squeezed Angelina's hand tighter. He asked Mathias if there was any thing he could do to help it along.
"Nope." The physician replied, realizing how tyrannical, and cruel that probably sounded. Alan took it well. When the roles were reversed, he had upbraided Heavener back there in Jersey. He remembered the older doctor putting a single wizened hand on his shoulder, and telling him not to worry; that this procedure was being handled by a specialist, you might say, and he wasn't referring to himself.
"Hmmmm." Carter chewed his upper lip off. "Maybe I can boil up some water, or some thing."
"That's an old wives tale." Mathias revealed, sensitive but bemused all the same. "Everything here is sanitary. There's nothing to disinfect yet." In his case, boiling water was not the suggestion. In Laura's case, he had pushed to have her anesthetized at the last minute. Heavener (somewhat grayer for having had Bob Mathias hanging around in his operating room) refuted this treatment plan, and reminded him that in about five minutes, he would realize that all of the pain, and all of the sorrow was well worth the wait, and he was not wrong.
"Ever have any kids, Bob?" Alan inquired, as nervous as he had ever been.
Mathias nodded wistfully.
Without warning, Angelina let out a wail that reverberated deep into the catacombs, bouncing from wall to wall in high operatic soprano. The cry was penultimate--loud enough, and alarming enough that Helena Russell returned to push Alan out of the way. She assumed her place on stage as the next great act in this emotional drama began to unfold.
Above them, stalagmights began to quake. Vibrating fragments of crystal from the gypsum lined walls began to drift to the floor in a powder. The surface beneath them began to tremor violently. Bob Mathias was thrown from his chair as effortlessly as some one who has failed to lock his safety bar on a roller coaster. Deep cracks suddenly formed in the cave drapery. Helena Russell fell on Angelina, offering herself as a human shield. The sound of exploding pockets of chlorine, and carbon dioxide came up the ventilation ducts from the lower levels. Patrick Osgood wondered if the Moon was breaking up, such was the force of the ensuing blitzkrieg. In the vacuum outside the cave, something had commenced to bombing them.
The room was shaking as Angelina, with Helena on top of her, felt a newer and more terrible sensation: the urge to push. As the quaking temporarily subsided, Angelina, shoving Helena off, sat up and announced "I've got to push. Oh GOD!!!!!!!!! I've got to push!!!"
After Dr. Russell examined Angelina, she made the declaration, "You can push now, Ang." Angelina relieved but still apprehensive. Carter helped keep her upright, as she leaned against him. The contractions were still painful but the urge to push gave her new purpose.
Angelina tried to listen carefully to Helena's instructions. She continued the arduous pushing and relaxing routine for the next hour...pushing and pushing and pushing...slowly making progress as the sensation of pressure on her pelvic floor grew stronger and stronger. Suddenly, the room quaked again.
Commander Koenig slowly focused on the red illuminated wall panel. His eyes burned from the flash of the Titan and he continued to see spots. He quickly sat up.
"Victor?" He called to the professor, helping him up.
"I'm fine, John, I'm fine," Bergman nodded, breathing deeply while rubbing the back of his neck. Koenig was already down the steps.
"I'm fine, sir." The controller replied, "Sandra?"
"I'm OK, Paul, thank you, " she smiled. "Your head!" Sandra noticed the cut on his forehead.
"Just a flesh wound." He grinned reassuringly, then his expression dropped. "KANO!!"
David Kano, laying across the computer console, was dead. Suddenly, Main Mission was flooded with at least 10 security guards with Pierce Quinton, Velma Hill and Nick Long leading the way.
"Disarm and arrest them." Quinton ordered, motioning to the mutineers who were either shakily standing or kneeling. Many of them, unfortunate enough to be next to the viewports when the Titan struck, were still on the floor, groaning in pain and with exploding, photo-flashed retinas. Frasier was trying to get up on one knee when Quinton yanked him to his feet, slapping handcuffs on his wrist. Carl Renton and Ed Spencer suffered the same treatment.
While all of this was happening and the other Main Mission operatives shakily helped each other off the floor as a Medical team came in, Sandra received a signal.
"Commander," Sandra started. "This is very odd. I am receiving a signal but I cannot track the original"
Koenig bolted to the Chief of Services. "What is it?"
"The message is 'Raise your defense shields." Sandra shrugged.
Koenig turned to Morrow.
"What's the power situation?"
"Desperate." The controller exacerbated frankly. "But we should have enough to raise the defense screens for awhile: approximately two hours."
"Do it, then." Koenig gambled.
"Message from friend or foe?" Victor mused approaching the commander with a whispered tone.
Koenig rubbed his own anguished temples until the thought dawned on him while staring Morrow's paper shredder.
"I wonder if they made it?" He pondered aloud.
Filling every viewport in Main Mission was the black terror of the approaching Dyson sphere. Suddenly the Main Mission wallpaper on the big screen changed...into Dave Trask's face.
Bob Mathias' hair was white with dust. He was checking Angelina's blood pressure while Helena Russell prepared the field for the final stages of delivery. Baby Carter was making his way down the birth canal, and that was an irrefutable certainty. They were between bombing sorties. Carter had the idea of going to the next level of the station; a small warehouse area filled with octagonal storage crates. Mathias nudged his memory as to why they had to close the vents on the Klenco Units. Toxic chemicals below ground were being used against them. Apparently Trask--or whatever he had become--didn't miss a beat when it came to wholesale massacre. If he could gas them to death, like a Rabbi taking a morning shower in Auschwitz, he would do it. The thing's pride was something like the number zero.
Patrick Osgood entered the living quarters. When Alan Carter's head was safely turned, he motioned Bob with his right index finger. Mathias gently released Angelina's hand, which immediately took to clenching the sheets on her bed. It was physically impossible for her to chomp this bit for much longer. She wasn't a stallion, and this kid was huge. Angelina was not going to be able to handle one of those survivor-type deliveries; forty-eight hours being pummeled, battered, and broken by the maternal gauntlet . If her pregnancy rose to this evil occasion, Baby Carter would end up tragically killing his own mother on the long journey to the world above.
"I want to show you something." Osgood disclosed, and led him into the radio shack. A black, and white monitor cast a pale square of light on the desktop keyboard. Mathias experienced feelings of unreality--as if he had some how stepped into a live, interactive version of Yellow Submarine. "I wanted to have a look at what was bombing us." Osgood explained, his cheeks and forehead were sheened with sweat. "So I activated one of the surface cameras."
Mathias leaned over, and stared into the monitor.
His first impossible thought was to wonder how thousands of doves had ended up flying in formation across the inimical lunar wastes. That's how the objects appeared to look at a distance. This opinion changed with the first close-up. The movie being shown on the small monitor quickly changed from acid rock, counter culture, to something closer to horror. He saw a face-an identifiably male face--fly slowly past the lens, dark, and purposeful. The creatures all appeared to have been cut from the same mold; high Nordic cheekbones, classically chiseled foreheads, and chins. The wings were some how serpentine, with a complex system of bones, and white feathers, one row perfectly--almost artistically--overlapping the next.
If you ignored the fact that they had red corneas for eyes, the view would have been almost glorious. They looked like angels. Bob Mathias succumbed to the yellow streak. There were thousands of them. Maybe hundreds of thousands. Each was carrying a moon rock--which is not to be confused with moon pebbles. These were the huge, jagged pieces of iron ore, cleaved in only two directions, and weighing about a two hundred pounds each. That was what they were using to 'bomb' them with--nothing as comprehensible as a grenade; no air-to-surface missiles.
"Do you have a gun?" It was a redundant--maybe even a stupid statement to make--as futile a gesture as cussing someone's mother, but Mathias' logic had just flown out the window, no pun intended.
The attack resumed shortly after. When the mountains fell on them again, the portable generator shorted out. Patrick Osgood's response was made in a darkness so deep, Mathias could not see his hand in front of his face.
The sudden darkness was inconsequential to Angelina. The child's head was crowning and she was screaming in agony from the overwhelming pressure. She refused to push but at the same time the urge to push became greater than ever. Her face was wet with tears and sweat, now forming a fine layer of soot from the moon dust.
"Damn," Dr. Russell blurted as she grabbed the mag lite that she was insightful enough to place next to her.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH," Angelina yelled, gripping Carter's upper arms. "I'm splitting in two I'M SPLITTING IN TWO!!!!!!!!!!!!" Her entire body shook violently out of control.
In the radio shack Osgood fumbled in the dark on the workstation until he found his mining hard hat. He activated the weak light.
"I know there's a portable generator in here. I think its in the storage closet," He said as the beam of light shone on the opposite wall.
"We've got to hurry," Mathias stated the obvious, judging from Angelina's tortured screams. "Helena? Are you OK in there?!?!"
"I could use some help in here," Dr. Russell yelled back. She was trying to keep the delivery field as sterile as she could; a makeshift tent of sheets had been set up over them to keep as much of the dust and dirt off Ang as possible. "Come on, come on, don't stop pushing. Push, Ang, Push!" Helena caroled despite another risk of receiving a blackened eye.
"Leave me alone! Leave me alone!" Angelina sobbed hysterically. "I've changed my mind. I don't want to have a baby. AAAAAAHHHHHHH!"
With the beam from Osgood's hard hat leading the way, they returned to the living area with the generator and the auxiliary grid. They were heavy, unmerciful pieces of hardware. Both men kissed their backs goodbye. Osgood quickly set up the generator and Mathias helped with the bulbs. The lamps illuminated the delivery field, casting weird shadows on the walls. The room shook and vibrated from the onslaught above them.
Angelina continued to shrieking in indescribable agony. The pressure of the baby's head was worse than the labor itself. Mathias had seen enough. If Ang did not cooperate soon, Russell would be forced to use forceps. He looked over at Carter who was white as the sheets surrounding him. Carter was a man of action; but in this case he could not act at all and merely be a spectator of the extreme human misery before him.
"Ang," Mathias started calmly, getting her attention by taking her face in his hands. "I know you're in pain and you've been through the marathon. But you are almost there. Give me your hand." Angelina weakly complied and Mathias guided her hand down until she felt something hard with soft, wet hair. "That's your baby's head. He's right there, Ang, he's right there. But you need to help get him out. Push through the pain. It will be all over in a few moments."
Angelina nodded. With a renewed sense of confidence, she summoned the strength to push during the next contraction. She wailed, nearly blinded by the agony.
One moment she was suffering supreme pain, crying tormented tears; the next moment, she had an infant placed on her chest, as Helena joyfully announced "He's here, guys, he's here!"
The baby let out a series of hearty howls as Mathias rubbed him down with a towel. "He's huge, Ang," Mathias whistled.
Angelina's expression was pure elation as she held the baby, gently caressing his back and talking softly to him. He stopped crying and responded to her voice, staring at her face with wide blue eyes.
Carter stared at the baby, in awe over how the scene changed from one of the worst things he'd ever seen. He murmured a 'thanks to Mathias' wish of congratulations but was only half paying attention. He reached out silently and gently caressed his son's downy soft white hair.
The Gateway opened....
Far across the pitch of space, in the constellation Scorpius, the ancient red giant star, Antares; exiting her hydrogen phase, and entering her helium burning phase--commenced a new 332 day cycle. The pulsating variable star was as bright as she had ever been. On Earth, the cock crowed. She was clearly visible over the decimated eastern horizon. She was a shining light in this gloomy, midnight land.
Billions of kilometers away--in another aspect of space--there was no light; there was only the Dyson Sphere, now in terminal perigee over Earth's former Moon. Moonbase Alpha was in complete shadow--now visible only by the red emergency light pouring weakly from the view ports, and the winking navigational beacons that were mounted to the march of artificial gravity towers. The Dyson Sphere eclipsed the stars, and eradicated the instinct to survive, and thrive. It seemed all too obvious that Trask had sold John Koenig a bill of goods; he had no intention of giving them 72 hours to make their decision. Soon this artificial world--born of extra-dimensional inclinations--would square up to the satellite, and then everyone would eat a dish best served cold.
Time, gravity, light--the whole unified field was about to come crashing down around them, and hope was a prayer.
"Sorry to keep bothering you fine people." Trask apologized, his voice booming from the Dolby Surround Speakers. On the big screen, his face was a semi-transparent outline--as if he were partly in this universe, and partly some where else. The template was so precise that for a moment, his face was united with the effigy on the Dyson Sphere. "I know it's rude of me to keep barging in like this, but I just checked my watch, and I couldn't help, but notice--you are all out of time."
John Koenig frowned, shaking his head ruefully. "So much for 72 hours."
A look of end-of-the world resolve scripted itself on every one's face--except for Ed Spencer; cuffed, and stuffed, as he was now convicted. Somewhere beneath his pseudo-intellectual, quack smugness, a look of hope was beginning to crest.
"Tempus fugits." Was the only sympathy that Trask would allow, his image growing larger on the screen. "Time waits for no being--not even moi, as remarkable as that might seem. Besides, I've been listening in on your conversations, and I do not like the direction this dialogue is going in. It's not good for me." The resolution assumed a hellfire red glow, accompanied by a momentary pixeling as the alien left T.V. Land behind, in favor of the real world. His visage moved beyond the plate of the big screen, and hung ghost-like over their heads. Wisps of black ectoplasm distended from his neck in the shape of question marks. Several stars, once reference points on the monitor--moved into Main Mission with him, and dangled there like fire flies. "When I saw your little fireworks display, I took it as a sign that you have no intention of cooperating with me." He said--his voice was now local, and in real time; vibrating through Dave Trask's vocal cords, and not the speaker system. "Moreover, I also came to the disappointing realization that you have every intention of trying to thwart my plans.
"Koenig, you scoundrel."
"I'm glad you liked it." The commander replied with cool animosity.
The alien laughed heartily, as if some one had just told him a good one. Out of the accumulating dust, individual balls collided, and coagulated. His torso began to reintegrate physically. A plano hand--as white as a latex glove, shook a naughty, undeveloped proto-finger at Koenig.
"Subterfuge doesn't work on me." He advised, as his thigh bones began to calcify. For the most part, the head was complete. The split ends of Dave Trask's hunkish blonde mane began to restore themselves. "After all, I invented it. Believe me, over the past five billion years, I've seen it all."
Nick Long, and Tony Allen turned their lasers on him.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you." The alien said casually, his grin exposing a row of fanged incisors. Lymph nodes popped into place over his knee caps. Blue, and red circulatory veins enveloped the gory raw meat of his lower calves, like vines on a shrub.
Nick Long gave it a go. Upon doing so, what was left of him--now nude, and questionably human--crawled away from the smoking cinders of his own flesh. His discharged weapon lay behind him near Tony Allen's informed foot-the surviving piece, char broiled, and resembling a giant Allan Wrench. Main Mission reeked of burning pork. All that remained of his uniform, the wide Velcro belt, was boiled, and fused grotesquely to his hips.
"I fight with myself." Trask philosophized, his red eyes widening at the hilariousness of some thing that only he could understand. His bare legs were suddenly draped with tan flares. By the time he delevitated, he was also wearing boots.
"I'll ask you just one more time." He warned, standing whole, and breathing in the center of Main Mission. "What is your decision?"
All around them, the stars that had entered the auditorium with the alien exploded; as unrelenting, and as vociferous as a pack of M-80's.
"The decision," John Koenig said, "is 'NO.'"
Trask leered, rolling his eyes for every one in the room. Ed Spencer attempted to elbow away from Tony Allen, and Velma Hill. A cowardly ham lodged itself in his throat. His Adam's apple moved up, and down like a monkey on a stick. The pledge of allegiance to the alien's flag was clear enough in his own mind, but somehow it was lost in the translation to his mouth--a rarity for Ed Spencer.
Outside the view ports, the tranquil lunar landscape was now home to the worst sub-atomic firestorm since breakaway. Dendrite bolts of lightening conducted violently from plateaus consisting of crude metal, and from the outer bulkheads of Moonbase Alpha--only to disappear into the hungry maw of the Dyson Sphere. Columns of regolith cycloned across the surface, rewriting geologic history in a single fell swoop. Master Alarms sounded in Main Mission as, one by one, several of the artificial gravity towers were ripped from their concrete moorings, and cables. They rose slowly into the vortex, and were carried away into the encroaching jaws of death. On Launch Pad One, a moon buggy was blown from the platform, and swallowed up in a sea silt.
"Damn you." Trask swore through gnashing teeth--with hatred, and bile. Koenig stood his ground. He felt the floor of the command tower rock beneath him as the Moon fell rapidly into the gravitational field of another planet. Billowing rocks, and orange dust struck the viewports on the second level, and on the observatory.
Ed Spencer discovered his tonsils again.
"LISTEN SEE I'LL HELP YOU JUST SAVE ME DON'T LET ME DIE I'LL DO ANYTHING I MEAN ANYTHING I MEAN I'M NOT PROUD I'M NOT WITH THESE PEOPLE I TRIED TO HELP BUT FOR MERCY'S SAKE DON'T KILL ME I'LL DO ANY THING YOU ASK YOU WANT PEOPLE TO PRAY AND HAVE MEN FALL ALL OVER YOU I CAN DO THAT I ONLY ASK THAT YOU SPARE ME PLEASE OH PLEASE OH PLEASE OH PLEASE...."
Moonbase Alpha's former physician dropped to his knees, and assumed the groveling position. John Koenig winced.
Trask's penetrating, hate-filled rictus was one-to-one with the commander's.
Outside, where before there had been space beyond the caps of the Plato Crater, there was now only the Dyson Sphere. The floor quaked again. Transistors caught fire. Tongues of flame began to lap upwards from cracks in the modular computer panels.
"Sorry, Ed. I don't need any losers on my team." Trask broke the news to him. "Besides, you failed me."
"Please!!!!!!!!!! LISTEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Spencer shrieked, attempting to stand again while still cuffed. His face the color of a ripe tomato
"Cyycix flux ex infero." Trask uttered the incantation, ignoring him, and the good doctor burst into flames. It started on his forearms, and in his hair. Then it groped for the shelf of his chin. Within seconds, he was totally engulfed. Tony Allen, and Velma Hill recoiled helplessly, covering their faces against the intense heat. Spencer's unrecognizable form was a black silhouette in the center of the funeral pyre. He was lucky in the sense that he did not live long. Every RED ALERT Claxon on the base shrieked in betrayal as he collapsed face first on the floor, melting the gray tile around him.
"Make another choice." The alien whispered, grinning from one corner of his mouth.
"I think you heard us right the first time." Victor Bergman said, rubbing his palms together--his voice hoarse at the site of Spencer's roasting body. Plastic filled the professor's nostrils. He spoke as one who had seen quite enough.
Koenig nodded in agreement.
"!!!I SAID MAKE ANOTHER CHOICE!!!" Trask exclaimed in a voice filled with rancor, and desperation. The god of lost moons came forward to receive its own. That god was called the Dyson Sphere.
"Go to hell." Paul Morrow hissed quietly, and on the eve of his own death, the commander agreed with that too.
In the caverns of Mining Outpost Station #2, the joy and excitement quickly became somber. Angelina was starting to feel lightheaded and dizzy. Her skin tone became ashen.
"Let's check him out. Alan, come over here with me," Mathias motioned, as Bob picked up the baby. He saw the color of Angelina's skin; he also could not ignore the fact that Dr. Russell was working quickly and intently, to stop the profuse bleeding.
Angelina had already been checked for injuries and she had been stitched where needed. Still more bleeding. Russell examined and re-examined her repeatedly in case she missed something. Still more bleeding. Angelina had been given several shots of pitocin, to encourage contractions to staunch the red tide. Still more bleeding. It was inexplicable. The blood loss should have been decreasing but it was not. Angelina Verdeschi was dying.
In Main Mission, Sandra Benes slowly stood up.
"Are you deaf?" She spoke to the Trask thing. "The answer is NO." Her dark brown eyes glared a it coldly.
"What kind of arrogant, conceited being are you? You believe yourself to be from a superior race. You are wrong. The true mark of a superior race is to protect and nurture those who are weaker. If you destroy those around you who are weaker, you are left as the weaker species." Sandra said confidently.
Paul started toward her protectively but she raised her hand and continued. "We would never surrender any member of our community to preserve the rest," She eyed Frasier and Renton. "Even though there are some members at this point whom I would not mind delivering to you, the fact is, in our community, all lives are valued. We certainly will never sacrifice a helpless child to you."
"You make me sick," Sandra stared upward as Trask approached her. "Go ahead. Strike me down. Strike us all down. At least I will die with the satisfaction of knowing you did not get what you wanted. Trask or whatever you are, you LOSE!"
On the far side of the Moon, in the center of the Oceanus Procellarum, the otherworldly, gusts of stellar wind battened the wreckage of the Alphearan dreadnought. Her crew lay lifeless on the surface, buried in a thin layer of detritus. They rather had the appearance of having been cocooned by giant arachnids. The gaping, etched jaws of The Dyson Sphere opened to receive them. One by one, the tidal forces of eternity lifted them into the maelstrom. Alien Black Beard--perhaps the captain of this once mighty vessel; perhaps he was the latrine specialist--appeared to be unoffended by this rough handling, proving only that dead men do not, in fact, tell tales. His enunculated, congealed eyes stared patiently into the night. His body cart wheeled away, along with the others. Seventy-five nautical miles up, scrap metal, and alien DNA splattered all over the effigy's medieval, quantum surface. Beyond the wreckage of their spacecraft, the infinite wall grew closer, and closer, casting snot upon the human ego; making the highest mountains look like ant hills.
In the dug-out beneath Mining Station Two, Alan Carter flung wildly about. His face was covered with ash, and mud. His ire clearly evident in the seal beams they were using to illuminate the room. Outside, the Lorentz range was completely scooped away--stone, by stone, and disappeared into The Dyson Sphere's rapacious gravitational storm. The resulting moon quake put the pilot on his ass, but he rebounded with homicidal determination.
"!!!YOU'RE NOT GOING TO GET HER YOU BUGGERING MONSTER!!!" He cried, a single blue vein rising on his forehead. His promise was lost in the ambush, and the dark carnival of ensuing laughter.
Behind him, Helena Russell was doing everything in her power to save Angelina's life, but the effort was clearly a futile one. The alien had other plans. Bob Mathias was holding his son--his new born son, who only had minutes to live, judging by the chaos on the surface.
They would never have the chance to know him.
On the surface, the debarkation area to Mining Station Two surrendered to the inevitable structural overload. The already darkened viewports exploded inward, and the bulkhead walls collapsed in on one another like a fallen house of cards. A white, plastic coffee cup belonging to astronaut anonymous dangled in mid vacuum for a moment before rocketing away into the jaws of decimation.
The cave-in buried Alan Carter in blocks of granite up to his waist. Concussion, and broken arm not with standing, he continued to shake his fist at his invisible adversary. He rebelled through mouthfuls of dust, and dirt. The answer to that question was becoming more, and more evident.
Looking up at the ceiling, Alan Carter watched as the lava lamp effect became more pronounced. Huge orange globules joined together to form the brightest field of light he had ever seen. There was a gothic throne there, as much the product of spirit, as it was mind. It was formed from his combined hopes, and fears--together with something else; enigma material so insoluble, it would have every Telamon, and every Oppenheimer on Earth beating their heads against their blackboards. White quadrilles extended regally from the velvet seat. The princess unveiled her strawberry blonde hair, and gazed benevolently at the pilot. The pain in Carter's forehead, and in his left arm was vanquished. The weird disco lights, some how soothing.
"Now is the hour. Now is the time of the Elan Vitalla." The Woman In White decreed, her voice sad, and distant. She swallowed deeply, at once aggrieved, but also utterly convinced.
Carter felt certain that he had heard her voice before, but he could not remember where.
The Moon had about fifteen minutes to live.
Near the eastern sector of Moonbase Alpha, a squat, rounded silo rose from the surface near Launch Pad One. The refueling tower contained the nitrogen-Tetroxide oxidizer that enabled propellants for the Eagle Fleet's secondary propulsion system. A red diamond with the label NITRO-X was stenciled across it. The network of pipes, and girders that the tank sat upon gravity fed the contents into underground storage tanks inside the hangar bay.
Without warning, the tower exploded, showering the semi-buried launch pad, and the patterned roof of the pie-wedge-shaped Electronics Lab with shrapnel, and molotov cocktails of hypergolic fuel. Like Medical Center several hours before, all of the lights died away inside the complex. The blown support cables wrapped themselves slowly around the fuel tank as it toppled forward.
Inside the command tower, David Trask was preparing to have Sandra Benes for dinner.
He let her complete her testimony to hypocrisy, and self-aggrandizing martyrdom. His face, glowing, and perspiring in the light of the Main Mission fires.
When she finished, he clapped his hands slowly.
"That was beautiful." He lauded her, his nostrils flaring outward from smoke inhalation. Beside his right foot, Ed Spencer's corpse was laying with it's cheek to the side. In his barbecued repose, he looked a lot like The Incredible Melting Man. A single dead eye was visible beneath the folds of melted skin. "Too bad you aren't going to live to see my disappointment."
The right shoulder of Sandra's tunic immediately caught fire.
Beyond a poorly conceived notion of infinity, a causal relationship was opened in the ethereal Annex. On the surface of a planetoid in the Vega Star Cluster, a new direction became available for tetrads during Meiotic phasing.
On Moonbase Alpha, Controller Paul Morrow couldn't get his red sleeved duty tunic off fast enough. There was a moment of sheer horror when he feared that his zipper was going to stick. While he hastily stripped, Sandra Benes was beating her arm--now a torch, against her console, knocking over the yellow goose neck lamp. She fell shrieking to the floor, rolling, as the napalm spread to the wool material in her slacks.
Bare chested, Morrow rolled his tunic over one forearm, and beat the flames out. As he quelled the outbreak on her shoulder, the fire raced down her leg. He was soon joined by Velma Hill, and Andy Dempsey, both bearing cans of dry ammonium.
"!!!Wait!!!" The voice cried, fragile, but assured. "!!!Wait, please!!!"
The medical orderly with the strawberry blonde hair pushed past John Koenig, and Victor Bergman, to stand face-to-face with death itself.
The Moon's most noticeable feature, the Mare Imbrium, passed unceremoniously into the mouth of The Dyson Sphere. A vertical black pall--one that encompassed the entire 2000 square kilometers of the satellite--began to migrate across the lunar surface, swallowing up Copernicus, Wargentin, The Mare Tranquilitatus, barreling it's way towards the eastern hemisphere.
"You need to join with some one." The pretty medical orderly said, touching The Conceit's shoulder. "Why not join with me?"
The hottest of hotties, she was inarguably the most attractive woman on Moonbase Alpha. Though no one could quite recall her name, there was not a single person there who did not feel that they knew her. The acquaintance was sub rosa.
Totally unaware that they had done so, every operative in Main Mission had backed away, forming an almost perfect circle in the lower level of the auditorium. All except for Commander John Koenig who moved to grab the orderly as she passed.
"Are you crazy?" He exclaimed. "GET AWAY FROM HIM."
The orderly moved her small white palms, soothing, and tracing Trask's balmy cheeks, and hair. He eyed her suspiciously, but made no move to stop her.
"You don't need that child." She explained, caressing him. "You don't need that child's mother. I'm perfectly willing to assist you. I'll do any thing you say." Her blue eyes beamed. "All I ask is that you allow the others to live."
She rested her unblemished forehead on his panting chest.
"What makes you think I need you?" The Conceit challenged, aroused, and running his long fingers through her golden locks. "For that matter, what makes you think I'll even accept you." He tilted her chin up roughly, grabbing her by the dimples.
"Because I'm younger than she is." The orderly said seductively. "Because you'll have more time with me...I can bare you many children." She took one of his oversized palms in her own, servilely cleaning his fingertips with the tip of her licentious tongue.
The Conceit smiled a wide, treacherous, toothsome smile.
"We have a volunteer." He boomed, putting his arm around the orderly. "I knew some one would come along." He revealed smugly. "It was just a matter of time."
Victor Bergman shook his head mournfully. John Koenig was mute.
Outside, due to the Moon's synchronous rotation, the crater Ptolomaeus was the last area to be devoured by The Dyson Sphere. On the big screen, the interior of the black hole was disclosed in palpable waves of darkness. The now HO Scale satellite could only be moments away from colliding with one of the inconceivably large cave features.
"There's just one thing." The orderly said, massaging Trask's chest.
"What's that cutie?" He said, purposefully pinching one of her nipples as he clamped his arm around her. The orderly cringed at the pain, and truckled, dropping to her knees with her head lowered.
Her canines were perfectly filed as she glanced upwards at him. The sadistic redness of her corneas, matching his own.
"Cyycix flux dey callifey." She giggled nightmarishly, and amputated Trask's fore finger thumb nail with her teeth. Her pronunciation of the counter spell was flawless.
The Conceit screamed, his abruptly terrified eyes, almost as wide as his mouth. She rose, grabbing him by the throat with sharp, rose colored nails, leaving a claw print of blood as she tore at his neck. She chewed the rest of his fore finger off, swallowing it whole, leaving only the exposed bone marrow at the end of the bloody digit.
And then...the Moon collided with the Dyson Sphere.
The 791 kilometer, in diameter, Rook Montes, was the first lunar object to bear the brunt of the Dyson Sphere. The structure it impacted against could best be described as a tonsil; parsecs long in length, and breadth. The peak of the mountain met a raised blastycism on the obsidian tear-drop. The result was total, abject devolution.
The first noticeable change was that--save for a few rough bumps that left Controller Paul Morrow with yet another set of cracked ribs--the Moon just kept going, wreaking havoc with the effigy's interior. From a distance, the second most noticeable change was that the face on the Dyson Sphere was no longer yawning sinisterly. Somehow, it seemed more generalized--no longer the evil, and ancient sculpture that it once was. Immeasurable plumes of gas exploded outward from the eye sockets, and from loosened plates on the skull. Mile, after mile of engraved eyebrow began to dissolve in the tumultuous rockslides. Mountains were instantly reduced to particles no larger than a micrometer. The nose cavity softened, and collapsed into a sandbox large enough to bury the planet Earth several times over. The most detailed features disappeared in the smoothing over of topography, wrought by the intervening shock waves.
The roving Moon reversed the work of twenty million years in just five minutes. The obdurate chemical composition of the Dyson Sphere suddenly heated. Carbonization took place, and age old alien mortar dissolved to eject the face of the effigy. The Moon was no longer in danger of colliding with an object a centrillion times larger than itself. It was now in danger of being prematurely buried in the after-birth of a nebula.
The Dyson Sphere's phenotype was totally wiped clean. Two minutes after the collision, the effigy appeared to be a great flaming skull, annihilating itself in the deepest reaches of space. Red, and blue patches were visible in the in the mouth, and in areas of the scalp. Red representing the hotter regions; blue representing the regions that had already cooled. As the northern hemisphere began to break up, energized ultraviolet light was emitted, along with hot gases, and ripped electrons.
On the surface of the Moon, visibility was in a negative, decimal range, far below zero. Amidst the astral eye of this hurricane-of-all-hurricanes, there was a small, flickering bubble of white light as Moonbase Alpha's defensive screens strained to repel gross megatons of dust, and dirt--a function that the shield's creator's never visualized needing.
Inside Main Mission, the foxy medical orderly placed the broken, mutilated remains of The Conceit's hand in her mouth, and devoured it up to the joint in his wrist. The alien howled at the blinding scarlet bolts of pain, and withdrew--falling on it's back, it struggled to crawl away.
The Moon was exhumed when the base of the Dyson Sphere's scalp exploded outward. Wave after wave of gossamer doughnut-shaped rings followed as the rim of the artificial world melted completely, and disintegrated into a stellar cloud that was light years in radius. Elsewhere, the Woman In White began perfected her transformation--from righteous lawgiver, to divine executioner, and the powers in the Multiverse were shaken.
Paul Morrow, pulled Sandra Benes away from the howling Conceit. Barely conscious, Sandra was moaning in agony from her burns.
The Conceit continued to crawl away from the bearer of his judgement, screaming in pain and begging for mercy. There was none. The orderly closed in for the kill.
Koenig pulled Tanya Alexander, who had fallen out of her chair during the quake, out of the orderly's path. Andy Dempsey and Kate Bullen, with expressions of complete disbelief stepped away from their stations, backing toward the big screen. The mutineers including Frasier and Renton cowered in the corner of Main Mission, shaking and crying. Everyone else did not dare to breath or move a muscle.
Professor Bergman watched the scene of judgement in awe. The shaking had abruptly stopped. Bergman noticed that the shields appeared to be holding, deflecting the rain of microscopic debris that once was the Dyson Sphere.
Angelina's eyes slowly opened. She was clean, warm and comfortable, in a soft 4 poster canopy bed and draped in white sheers with white feather bedding. She sat up surveying her surroundings.
The woman with long curly strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes, dressed in dazzling white approached her. She held the hand of a small boy. Angelina recognized the child as her own and the little boy recognized her. The child was about a year old with white hair and dazzling blue eyes. His eyes were hypnotic yet soothing and exuded of compassion and goodness. The child smiled and reached for her. Angelina took him in her arms, kissing and caressing him. The boy giggled as he played with her hair then wrapped his small arms around her neck. When Angelina looked down at his cherubic face, he was sound asleep.
"Are we dead?" Angelina asked the Woman in White.
"No, " the woman in white gently responded. "You are not dead. I have a message for you."
Angelina bit her lip. "What kind of message?"
"The thing that took the form of David Trask could be called the Conceit," the woman began. "You would recognize him as a demon in your culture, the epitome of evil. It is the purveyor of hatred, fear and terror." The Woman in White saw Angelina was disturbed and gently put an arm around her shoulder, embracing her.
"The next time will be the last time," the Woman in White said with assurance.
"Next time?!?" Ang blurted in confusion and horror.
"Your son has been chosen. We have given him unique gifts. He will need to give evidence of the integrity and benevolence of his character using his talents for good rather than evil." She became grave. "There will be a pivotal temptation which will decide his destiny."
Angelina was silent.
"We will be with him and your people. We have always guided you." The Woman in White smiled gently. "You will not consciously remember our conversation."
Angelina opened her eyes. Lunar dust lingered in the air as evidence of the cave in. A single light remained on as the generator miraculously continued to hum, keeping away total blackness. Patrick was helping Dr. Russell up from the floor. Alan was digging himself out of a granite rock and lunar dust mound. Bob Mathias was crouched, holding the baby, trying to comfort him. The infant's crying was the only sound in the room.
The Conceit clawed at the floor with his remaining hand, groping for purchase, but finding none. The medical orderly stooped like the quarterback on a football team, and grabbed him by both ankles, and drug him back into the arena, leaving behind a cream of congealing blood. His tunic slid up to his chin as she heaved both legs up to her chest, hyper-extending both barrels to the left. He slid past his dislodged commlock ("Pay backs are hell, aren't they?" the photo of the real Dave Trask seemed to say), and regarded the gaping, Main Mission Operatives with imploring eyes. There was a grisly snapping sound as Trask's ankle bones were splintered into green sticks.
The Conceit cried out, regretting for all time his bad taste in women. The orderly threw her strawberry blonde hair back. It flared outward, giving her the look of a wind blown siren. Her black, pen-line eyebrows were turned savagely downward, diving for the space between her nose. Frown lines as deep as crevasses bracketed her fanged teeth, as she plunged both of his legs to the waiting floor with masochistic aplomb, turning both of his kneecaps into bunched mounds of salt.
As the orderly prepared The Conceit for cold limbo, his blood splattered mouth, and cheeks craned to look at the being who had vanquished him.
"PLEASE." He said, beseechingly, and with great obloquy. "Please, please, please, PLEEEEEEEASE!"
He was pulled back, and up by his calf-muscles again. The orderly opened her moist lips to receive her prey.
The Conceit bargained, gorged now on humble pie.
"I was preparing to leave!!!!!!!! I wasn't going to stay!!!!!!!!!!!! I want to obey the Elan Vitalla, but I'm confused. I need some one to show me how--you understand that, don't you??? Haven't you ever been confused???
"!!!!!!!!!!!!!WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
There was now approximately six inches of space between the beautiful orderly's upper, and lower mandibles. The skin around her pale jaws rippled as flexor tendons, and muscles contorted, and reset for feeding. Her lower jaw started to sag, and droop as though it were made of yeast, falling slowly to the floor. By the time The Conceit was fully able to register the horror of what was happening, the opening was large enough to lob a basketball through.
"!!!!NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" He rocked, shaked, and unraveled, making a last ditch attempt to escape the claustrophobic tomb that was being prepared for him in the other world.
The orderly placed the toes of his size 10 1/2" boots in her mouth.
"!!!!!!!!!YOU TRICKED ME, YOU BITCH!!!!!!!!!" The Conceit cried--amazed by the depths of her dishonesty. He futilely beat the floor of Main Mission with a fist that was never his own. Tears of hopelessness, and despair streamed down his cheeks. The deep libretto that was familiar of the human, David Trask, was slowly being replaced with a high pitched, whining, insectoidal sound.
The orderly slid his lower calves into her mouth, appearing to not like the artificialness of his trousers, but the cannibal wasting of Dave Trask continued, regardless. Her lower jaw was hanging just beneath her wide, tanned uniform belt, when The Conceit's elbows left the floor. The flesh, and bone of her head reformed--became elastic--in direct proportion to the body part she was ingesting. By the time his rib cage bumped, and stabbed over her fangs she looked like a female Jabba The Hut. Water marks, and small freckles expanded to monstrous size--products of collagen inflated to monstrous proportions.
As she approached the shoulder blades, the process was accelerated. Why put off tomorrow what you could do today? Somewhere around The Conceit's collar bone, the jaw muscle began it's memorial retraction, closing tightly around his neck like a guillotine.
Trask moaned piteously
When the orderly's ruby red lips parted again, it was to receive the head. The Conceit shrieked as his neck muscles were twisted around his trachea like an Arabian pillar. His Adam's apple, stretched to an impossible six inches long, that terminated in a pencil point within the orderly's esophagus. Her eyes crossed, almost comically, as she focused on the arriving head, using her canines to clamp its sides tightly, just above the ears, and the chin.
No longer the wonderfully curvaceous inamorata, the orderly's midsection was now an whale sized pouch, large enough to hold a Bramah Bull. Her dinner beat at her insides with his remaining good hand, but to no avail. Once inside, his body almost immediately succumbed to the vitriol in her digestive tract.
The orderly gulped, placing a lovely fore finger to her chin.
"If you think this is the end, you're wrong." The Conceit vowed. His head was now on the opposite side of the orderly's teeth, awaiting acute dismissal from this mortal coil. The bones in his cheeks had been crushed--almost liquefied--to make the hard calcium of his skull more palatable. He gazed at the outside world with a horrendously elongated head; looking at him wrought hideous images of the cartoon character Dilbert, being swallowed by a Reticulated Python, although no one in Main Mission appeared to be laughing. "I'll be back." He promised, grinding his fangs to silver. "You can't get rid of me this easily, and when I do--YOU WILL ALL PAY!!!!!!!! THE WHORE; HER CHILD; EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THIS BASE!!!!!!!!!!!! CYYCIX FLUX AMORTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! EX INFERO!!!!!!!!!! SANGUINARA EX NILIO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
The orderly closed her mouth, and the huge bowling ball shaped object slid quietly down her lubricated throat. There was a blinding starburst that filled the entire auditorium--a light so bright, it burned itself onto everyone's brain pan. Through the twilight of purple, and pink spots, two objects could be seen, lying on the floor where The Woman In White had destroyed an entity more evil than human imagination could ever conceive. One of the objects was Dave Trask's commlock; the other was his Bioscan Bracelet.
According to Albert Einstein's dissertation on superluminal events, the light speed barrier could never be broken. Tom Carlson, however, did enjoy some meager success in breaking the catatonic barrier. He walked to the center of the smoke filled auditorium, and appraised the situation. He was soon joined by Andy Dempsey, George Crato, and Pierce Quentin, each bearing cans of Seal Plast. The word 'disaster' did not do it justice. All around them were the dying, sporadic moans of the base in low power mode. Tongues of orange flame crackled, and rose to the ceiling from three of the seven desks, including Paul Morrow's. Each of the monitors, including the alien's grand entranceway--the big screen--were filled with static. The mainframe panels beneath the observatory looked like the blackened doors on a besieged castle. Broken glass, and plastic shards were every where. The viewports were covered with a brick red film--evidence of the Moon's passage through...whatever that thing was they had gone through. The gray wall panels told the story of a host reactor that had gone to Host Reactor Heaven.
The late David Kano lay slumped, and lifeless over his keyboard, face down--as if to impart one final kiss to the one he loved most. His lips were blue; his skin, ashen gray. Ed Spencer's gruesome remains glowed red hot in the conflagration next to Alan Carter's desk. His hands were still cuffed. His remaining eye gleaned the world of the living beyond the inferno that had claimed his life.
In coda to the events that had transpired, Sandra Benes' desk lamp fell the remaining way to the floor, and cracked into two pieces. Carlson scratched his head, confused. He avoided stepping on Trask's commlock, and Bioscan bracelet. It was too much like trooping on some one's grave.
"Say...what was that?"
He spoke generally.
Paul Morrow, and Sandra Benes looked up from their place on the floor. Morrow shook his head solemnly, and returned to applying Morphine patches to the Data Analyst's wounds from a nearby First Aid Kit.
"Professor?" Carlson turned to Victor Bergman who was shaking up a second can of Seal Plast for John Koenig. The controller's desk was almost a total loss. The upper keyboard had landed on the floor of the pit. The communications hardware, and the remote pack were melted together in a mangled, deformed, general quantity in the center. One of the white, plastic legs had retracted like butter from the intense heat, giving the chair a crippled look.
"It was something that came from out there." Bergman said, using his unoccupied hand to point towards one of the silt encrusted view ports. "Beyond that--I have no idea."
The security guard considered the professor's words with no small intensity. He felt himself becoming light headed, and dizzy from the prodigious smoke.
"Is it possible...?"
Tom Carlson dropped the subject.
At Mining Station #2, there was approximately 45 minutes left of time on the portable generator. The room would then be plunged in total darkness. Worse, the air was no longer circulating and purifying since the main generator quit an hour ago. If the air exchange units were not activated soon, the party inside the station would die a slow death of asphyxiation.
Angelina gazed at the baby in her arms. She was so weak that Bob had positioned the child against her, keeping him secure with pillows. Her arms felt like 1000 pound lead weights. Ang had lost a tremendous amount of blood and it was nothing short of a miracle that she was even alive. But her heart and lungs were working overtime to supply her body with life giving blood and she would need a transfusion soon.
"Did we make it?" Ang tried to prop herself up but her upper body strength had totally evaporated.
"Be still," Mathias answered with more firmness than he had intended, watching her heart rate spike from the effort. "Yes, its over. They will come get us to take us back to Alpha soon." He softened his tone and masked his growing doubt about being rescued. "Please, Ang, you're in rough shape. Don't try to move. Go back to sleep."
Her son's countenance was the pure benevolence as he stared at her quietly, through the lids were slowly closing. His gaze was soothing and captivating but his small body demanded rest after the rigorous work of being born. He sighed and closed his eyes, drifting into a deep slumber.
Alan, Patrick and Helena had left for the generator area. When they stepped out of the room, they saw that the tunnel to the launch pad area had completely collapsed.
"Bloody hell," Osgood mumbled. "There's no way of telling the severity of the cave in. They'll probably have to dig us out."
"That could take days!" Helena complained, visibly upset and weary.
"Yeah, it could..or could be just a couple of hours. There's just no telling, doc," Patrick responded. "Eh, this way." He pointed down an access tunnel with his mag-light.
Surprisingly, this tunnel had not caved in and Carter, Osgood and Russell quickly made their way to the generating room. When they arrived, they found that it too was not completely inundated with rocks and dust as anticipated. Patrick pressed the reset switch on the generator.
Nothing. The generator was dead and soon they would be as well. The irony of the situation was not missed by anyone. They had survived an encounter with a sadistic entity from hell and they would end up dying, suffocating, because of a faulty generator; so much for technology saving the day!
"Well," Patrick said. "Maybe we should try to raise Alpha." He continued, as he directed the group toward the transmitter room.
When they arrived in the radio shack, they discovered that it had suffered from the cave in but the commstation was surprisingly intact. Carter and Patrick spent a few minutes replacing burnt circuit cards from ones found in the spares chassis. They attempted to reach the base.
"Do you think our luck will hold?" Helena asked apprehensively. "Do you think they'll hear us?"
"Only one way to find out." Carter replied skeptically. "Alpha, this is Mining Station Two. Do you copy?"
Sandra was fighting hard to keep her eyes open. She thought she was falling in a deep and black hole, with nothing around her to grasp and prevent her to fall more and more. The morphine was coming in her body, flowing in her veins like a hot lava, making her escape from her body. She made an effort and opened her eyes again. She frowned, trying to recognize the worried face just above her. The air was full of smoke and heat. It was too difficult. "Paul...", she finally said. He squeezed her hand gently but firmly. "What happened to us, Paul?. Our base could have been totally destroyed... Will we survive?"
She slowly turned her head, trying to look at the fire burning out on the desks, the glass on the floor, the bodies..... "No, no, Kano!" she cried. Some of them had not survived.
Paul changed position, making a barrier between Sandra and the body of the man who had been their colleague. He held her against him, as she cried, not knowing what to do or say to help her. She was still crying, exhausted, as she lost conscious in Paul's arms. Paul waited for help from the Medical but there were so many casualties.
He looked down at Sandra. He was very proud of her. She had shown them all she was a woman of principle, standing up to the Conceit, and how strong she was. He held her tightly and looked around him. Somehow they survived.
Another gurney raced in through the left archway and stopped next to the Data Analyst. Paul helped lift her unto the stretcher and followed the team out of Main Mission.
Alan Carter gripped the microphone, unnerved by the unending stream of white noise. Patrick Osgood stood close by--adjusting the bulb in the overhead seal beam. He perhaps hoped that in doing so, he would prolong their time in the sickly yellow light. Carter chewed his fist, and waited.
"Hello, Alpha. Hello, Moonbase Alpha. Do you read me?"
There was a moment of terrifying irony when he thought that they might already be dead, and just didn't know it. If that were the case, the radio set would not be a boon to them. He supposed they would need a medium, or a spirit guide.
Carter swiveled in his chair to face Osgood. His body language, and tepid facial expression were worth a 1000 words. It wasn't working. Osgood leaned tiredly against the wall, rubbing the sweat, and soot from his eyes.
"Captain Carter, this is Joe Ehrlich in Technical Section, I read you."
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!! The pilot didn't have to say it. His elation was obvious in the new energetic smile he acquired, and the speed at which he adjusted the volume. The signal did not noticeably improve, though.
"!!!!!We copy you, Joe!!!!!!" Carter said ebulliently, his sky rocket bursting. "How is everyone?" He leaned forward to hear the answer.
"It's pretty bad." Ehrlich conceded. "I haven't had a chance to do a walk-around inspection yet, but the reports we're getting are pretty dismal. All of the receivers are down in Main Mission-" The technician paused due to a fit of coughing. "Excuse me," he apologized. "The fumes in here are terrible. We had a maneuvering thruster that was loaded with auto fuel-it blew up on the test block. We have no idea why. It just did. Ed Malcolm was almost killed, but fortunately the shrapnel hit his gut. As I was saying, all of the communications hardware is out in Main Mission. If I hadn't been doing damage control on the transponders, probably no one would have heard you."
Carter nodded. "What's the situation there?"
"I think it's over." Ehrlich prefaced. "It's gotten really quiet, and I don't see that galaxy-sized baseball flying towards us any more. How's 'Ang doing?"
"She, and the baby are fine." Carter said. In turns, his exhaustion had given way to excitement, and now the excitement was giving up its seat to morbidity, and depression. The drama, and his own survival instincts were both getting on his nerves. He was tired of looking at dark corners. He just wanted to gather up his fiancé, his son, and the others, and blow Mining Station Two. "Joe, I need you to contact Carissa Englebert. Tell her to test fire the SPS engine in one of the Eagles. It doesn't matter which one. If she finds one that will lift off, I need a medical team, and a demolition crew to Mining Station Two. We're trapped, and the air is getting pretty foul down here. Pete Irving knows our exact coordinates. "Do you copy that?"
He did, and they did. The compressed hydrogen cells on Medical Eagle Four did fire, and forty minutes later, Irving, and Pierre Danielle assisted Steve Gardner in clearing away the mound of wreckage that had once been the debarkation area. The miner directed the accordion-like vacuum chamber into place over Station Two's pitted hatch. Angelina had fallen asleep with the baby in her arms. Helena Russell and Bob Mathias were struggling to remain awake; each time they exhaled, the already unbreathable air was doused with more CO2. Carter had a splitting headache.
A half hour later they were home...if you could call it that.
Victor Bergman met John Koenig beside the loud orange beverage dispenser in the newly repressurized Nuclear Generating Area Number Four. Koenig was still wearing his gray mechanic's coveralls, soiled from a day that was spent either on his back, or on his knees beneath some pipe conduit.
"Victor, it's all free so I'm buying." He said generously, his hand poised over the automat selector switches.
"Cup of Vitaseed for me." Bergman decided, causing the commander to turn green with nausea.
"Better you than me." Koenig replied unenviously, choosing coffee for himself.
They seated themselves at a nearby snack room table. Behind them was a historic print of George Westinghouse--in his sharpest bow tie, and seersucker suit, on the day that he christened the reactors at Hoover Dam on Earth. The commander unzipped his coveralls half-way, and leaned back in his chair, gazing deeply into the mystic pool of cream, and sugar.
"You've all done a remarkable job here." Bergman complimented, sipping his noxious Vitaseed with tremendous relish.
"This was the easy one." Koenig said modestly.
"Not as difficult as sitting behind a desk at Princeton is it?" Bergman acknowledged, setting his cup down.
"Ha-ha." Koenig said, enjoying the feel of the warm coffee going down his throat. Three days ago when they entered the power station, the temperature was -100 degrees below zero. "I spent all day yesterday with Joan Conway, and Claude Murneau. We finished the final computations for the fluids, and the gas dynamics. With a lot of help, and a lot of hard work, the reactor is back on-line."
"It appears there may be a silver lining to this cloud after all." Bergman speculated. "John, we made it."
"Some of us did." Koenig agreed quietly. "Some of us didn't."
The professor leaned back in his chair. One of the technicians honked the horn on his forklift as he rolled a Boron stack towards first containment.
"According to Trask's Bioscan bracelet, he had been dead for over 215 days." The professor ruminated. "Kind of makes you wonder whether, or not this solstice will be short lived. I mean, if death had no power over him-"
"Then he could come again." Koenig observed, remembering the alien's parting curse. The offer was there for a second cup of nutritious, albeit nasty-tasting Vitaseed, but Victor declined.
Carissa Engelbert was working with Mike Ellis, testing the stabilizers on Eagles 8, 11, 14, and 2-2. As they finished Eagle 11 and the great overhead crane picked up the Eagle and moved it to its stall, Carissa squinted at the monitor as she changed the ready indicator from red to green on the PC for Eagle 11. Alpha now had another Eagle repaired and ready for service.
Carissa had suffered from a headache most of the day. She had to squint several times to see the digital readouts. Eagle 14 had been moved to the test station and Carissa and Mike boarded, running the series of tests on the stabilizers.
"What's the voltage reading, Carissa? " Mike called out from under the stabilizer."2.5 Volts, Mike" Carissa yelled, squinting.
"What?!? That can't be right! Are you sure?" Mike repeated, now sounding irritated.
Carissa moved so that her face was only a couple of inches from the read out. "Uh, sorry, Mike, make that 7.5 volts!" She yelled.
"That's better," Mike called back, sounding relieved.
Carissa, on the other hand, was not relieved. If Mike adjusted the stabilizer unit according to her first reading, one of the main boards would have been fried. At that moment, Carissa received a page on her commlock.
"Engelbert," she responded.
"Dr. Mathias, here," as Bob's neutral image appeared on her micromonitor. "Could you come to Medical as soon as you can? It is rather urgent."
Dr. Helena Russell was returning to her desk to input patient notes in her PC on Sandra Bene's condition. The Medical Center was nearly full, even though it had been almost 3 days since the Conceit was banished by the supernatural orderly. As she approached her desk, she paused to watch a scene that warmed her heart; certainly a break from the pain and suffering she had witnessed for the past few days.
Alan Carter, sitting on the edge of Angelina Verdeschi's bed, was gently massaging her back as Ang nursed the baby, whom they named Nicholas Alan Carter. Angelina was also recovering, though she was probably going to be confined in Medical at least another 3 or 4 days.
Helena was so deep in thought that she did not notice Commander John Koenig's presence until he was beside her. "John," she acknowledged warmly. "How are you doing?" She knew he was busy overseeing the beginning of the massive list of repairs to the base. Her question was an interest in how HE was doing, not on the status of the repairs.
Koenig smiled thoughtfully. He removed his commlock, and leaned against the corner of the desk. For the first time in months he allowed his body, and mind to ease up on the return pressure. John, we made it. Victor Bergman proclaimed earlier, totally in awe of the sudden anticlimax they had witnessed in Main Mission. A week ago, Koenig would not have bet a plug nickel on their future. If it were a horse race, he would have put his money on that old crowd pleaser, Ugly Death. As a matter of fact, he saw Ugly Death winning the Exacta by more than just a nose. Now, the sturm und drang was replaced with a new sensation--the crashing return of boredom. Pete Garforth, and Ben Ouma had the cameras up, and running again. Threaded, mauve cloud formations filled the big screen, with a pentagram of stars framed in the center. They were fourth magnitude stars, burning stronger, and brighter than the human mind could initially perceive.
"How are you doing." He asked, focusing his attention completely on her. "And how are they doing."
In Ward-A, Alan Carter was teaching his infant son how to wave. Koenig waved back, and Nicky Carter drooled in response. The commander chuckled as his grossed out mother took charge of the situation, wiping the infant's mouth with a nearby roll of paper towels.
'Aw, that's not so bad.' He could read the justification on Carter's lips, though he couldn't actually hear him. The astronaut beamed proudly, like a father whose child has just solved the Mayan Codex.
"Busy, but not hectic," Helena gazed at the Commander." At least today there is no longer anyone listed as critical and I have 5 patients scheduled for discharge." She paused, growing somber, then continued."Of course, I have some people who are having trouble psychologically with what happen, Main Mission operatives in particular who witnessed that thing being destroyed by..by that other thing."
"John, who or what were those aliens? More importantly, perhaps, how did we ever survive? I thought for sure that this time..." Her voice trailed off.
Helena observed the scene in Ward A again. Carter had taken Nicky up on his shoulder and was vigorously trying to encourage a burp, by simultaneously bouncing him and patting his back. 'I wouldn't do that, if I were you,' Helena read Ang's lips. Carter was suddenly rewarded for his efforts by a healthy burp followed by a copious amount of Nicky's meal; all over his orange left sleeve. The shocked expression on Alan's face was priceless as Angelina snickered in response. Helena, laughing, saw the Commander chuckle at the sight of Carter's "baptism".
Oh boy, Koenig reeled, in audience with the blank ceiling. Ephemeral shadows played across its surface. Good question.
"I have no idea what that was." He admitted. "I know I didn't like it." He opined. "Some ancient struggle between good, and evil; a balance of power, and Alpha ended up crossing it's lines. Then again, it may have been something totally different; something beyond our understanding." The commander folded his arms, and took to trudging the dry rotted boards of metaphysical inquiry. In the end, he supposed he was destined to land on his butt in the pat-and-pending fruit cellar. "Maybe we survived because it just wasn't our time yet." A cornier theory there was not, and yet it was the only one he had. He recalled sitting in the unbroken stillness after leaving Arkadia, his journal open before him, his pen uncapped. It was a year ago, but it felt like only an hour ago. Time marched on with frightening abandon. It took the broad, parlous strides of a lunatic general who couldn't wait to see the remains. For every thing, and every one, there is a purpose. That was then--now he felt boinked upon by more questions than there were answers.
Helena Russell sat back. "I have always believed despite all human efforts, there is a higher power, God, that drives our destiny. Yes, even before I came to Moonbase Alpha there were instances when only God could have intervened to save a patient. Take Angelina Verdeschi," Helena motioned toward her. Angelina had taken the baby, still laughing and rather loudly saying 'I told you so', and was helping Carter wipe off his sleeve. Carter, though slightly disgusted, was nevertheless laughing as well.
"John, medically speaking, she should not be alive right now. After she delivered the baby she lost a tremendous amount of blood. She was dying. Then something happened. Something or someone intervened. When we returned to Alpha, her hematacrit reading was 10; normal is about 35-45. Ten? She should have been dead. She obviously wasn't. It took 4 units of blood to return her hematacrit to a low normal range." Helena shook her head. "It's inexplicable."
"It really does emphasize the fragility and pricelessness of human life." Helena looked up at him, changing the subject. "Unfortunately, this encounter with the alien showed that some of us have little regard for life. What is going to happen to Frasier, Renton and the other mutineers?"
"We always knew that the day might come when Alpha would be divided by opposing factions, and political ideologies." Koenig was surprised only by the fact that it hadn't happened sooner. The Moon's tenure as a satellite orbiting the Earth was a wilted rose, pressed against the pages of a yellowing history book; a broken stereo, awaiting a yard sale. "Before breakaway, they would have been deported back to Earth. There would have been a trial in the Court Of International Law, in the Netherlands. Terrorism, and attempted kidnapping are capitol offences." The commander explained. "No matter how hard they got the book thrown at them there, it would have been a love tap compared to what the International Lunar Commission would have done to them." Koenig paused, closing the doors of his mind against the legislative drafts. "We've jury rigged a para-military tribunal. More, or less, the hammer has been given over to me, and I intend to put that hammer right between Frasier, and Renton's eyes." Koenig disclosed with feral intensity. "Their supporters will no doubt cry out against the autocracy of it; in turn, I'll lower the boom even harder. If the pressure to release them becomes indefensible, I'll find some other way to be a pain. Helena, if the door to salvation continues to be through sacrificing other human beings, then we haven't learned a thing. If that's the way of it, maybe we would have been better off letting that alien flatten us with his bowling ball."
In his inner-most soul, he knew these things to be true.
Helena shook her head sadly. "By sacrificing others, we end up sacrificing ourselves in the long run. I don't understand why that is not obvious." Dr. Russell look wistfully at the Carter family, focusing on the baby.
"John, we have been in space for over 4 years now. We have suffered many losses but gained 2. I know you feel very strongly about population control for a variety of reasons, other than the limitations on our life support. The general consensus has been that we should not encourage births until we find a planet, a real home. But, John, as unpalatable as this may seem, have you considered it could be years before we find a home? We have a population of adults who are in the prime of their child bearing years now; in fact, there are some segments that are fast approaching the end of their childbearing prime." Helena looked at Koenig again. "Within 20 years, all of the women on this base will be at or have gone through menopause. After that point, there will be no opportunity to have children whether we find a home or not."
Koenig nodded. He'd considered it. Facts were facts; so far they had done a none too wonderful job of finding a new home. In his reverie came the grim contemplation of The Once, And Future Moonbase Alpha. A desolate rock, with Jack Crawford, Jr and Nicholas Carter--humankind's legacy in space. Inheritors of a lonely, dim, 2.5 mile sepulchre.
"The births can't exceed the number of available units. They just can't." He reminded her. "Also, for safety reasons, it can't happen haphazardly. Make up a list. We'll handle things a step at a time."
Dr. Russell smiled and nodded. "I already have two couples in mind who are willing and eager to try. I'll email the rest of the list by the end of the day. We'll handle it smart, John."
"Good." Koenig said, smiling genuinely. The conversation had moved into an area that was awkward for him. The joys of fitting a round peg into a hexagonal hole. His feelings were comparable to those of a Volkswagon Mechanic who has been pressed into repairing the Main Motors on an Eagle spacecraft--a 1,000 fathoms out of his league. For all of that, the subject matter was not altogether unpleasant. The commander waxed introspective for a moment, as he so often did, his eyes fixating on Helena Russell's. Out of the uncertainty, something else appeared.
The mutuality was not lost as the commander turned to walk away.
When Carissa Englebert was fifteen years old, her brother Augustus (plain old 'Augie to his friends, and family) used to take the twin engine Starcraft, and make a day of it in the skies over Martha's Vineyard. Carissa was still learning, but Augie went for the gusto. He would pick the clearest patch of blue sky he could find, and do loops, then swirls; he would turn the nose of the plane up at a 90 degree angle, and then cut back on his wind resistance--effectively causing his sister to upchuck. The whole adventure sounded pretty suicidal-- unless you were aware of 'Augie Englebert's talents as a pilot. His 'sis was never in any danger. Carissa's mother, and father left this vale of tears when she was ten. They entered the I-75 entrance ramp in Northern Kentucky, at approximately the same time that a good old boy trucker--toasted to the gills--used the same ramp to exit his eighteen wheeler. In the wild, blue yonder, all of the bad stuff suddenly made sense. High above the cool ocean waves, she gleaned that the whole was not equal to the sum of each part. She felt more than alive; she felt more than just the dry heaves; she was vital, and in control of a feeling.
Augustus Englebert, and his twin engine Starcraft were far away indeed. Behind the Moon, the debris from The Dyson Sphere continued to ripple outward, defying the laws of physics; turning the fabric of space into Jell-O Gelatin. In these lost regions, where the alien's weapon had died a dusty death, a new sun might some day gravitate into being from the compacting star material. Or perhaps reality had been traumatized so badly on the quantum level that a singularity would form, and swallow everything. If the latter proved to be true, Carissa hoped that the entity who acquired Dave Trask's body was now roasting at the bottom of the heap.
Bob Mathias set the opthamologic x-rays aside, and turned his laser pointer off. In the stark lighting of the examination room, he looked older than his years. Premature gray, already beginning to lobby for the territory south of his temples.
"How long do I have?" The flight engineer asked.
"About eight months." Mathias said. "Maybe longer if we do surgery immediately on your retina."
Carissa nodded. The tragedy in five acts had gone something like this: the crash of her Eagle at Breakaway; Dave Trask restoring her optic nerve to satisfy his evil approach, and using powers that she could not understand; belief in a hallelujah, glorious God; belief in a laid back, stoned God-and an Indian Giver to boot; calm acceptance of a world without colors, or people, or light--only sound, and touch, and a comical, lonely belief in the sensibility of it all.
Mathias relinquished a nod.
"Is there any thing I can do for you." He asked as she aimed her commlock at the door of the exam room.
The flight engineer shook her head.
The door panel closed behind her like the final page of the most depressing book ever written. The physician had read many such testimonies in his time. Many of the authors were no longer living, having hauled stakes in favor of a place where the air was free, and the human spirit was not incommoded by the whims of conceit.
The physician clenched his right fist until the bones cracked, until the tendons turned scarlet. Alone again, Mathias soon found a beaker filled with saline solution, and hurled it against the wall like an exploding gremlin.
And now, each night I count the stars
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not be counted,
I count the holes they leave.
BASED ON CHARACTERS, AND SITUATIONS CREATED BY GERRY, AND SYLVIA ANDERSON
Written by members of Space:1999 The Classic Adventures, T Garnett, S Vietti and C Tawsert.