Episode #27 : The Breakaway Loop
Above the dreary lunar landscape, high above Moonbase Alpha, the planet Mira Cathexis unveiled her regal, northern hemisphere. Discovering the colorful world was akin to finding an oasis in a cemetery. Her concentric swirls of snow white clouds, and the warm pink that was reflected back from her atmosphere was candy to the eye--an attractive planet that rivaled even that big, blue marble that was light years away now, Earth. Behind the virgin planet was her star--the great main sequencer, Omicron Ceti. The red super giant glowed brighter, and brighter with each new flare of its orbiting solar material.
In Main Mission, professor Victor Bergman strolled enthusiastically down the stairs of the observatory holding a folder containing the latest Phase I Reconnaissance Data. Pete Irving stood before the capcomm station. Mark Winters was seated a handsbreadth away at the controller's desk.
"Transmission coming in now from Eagle Seven, professor." Winters said elatedly, and added: "You know, I could sure get used to the color of that sun."
"I love it already." Irving said, slapping the deputy controller companionably on the shoulder.
Bergman took position behind Winter's chair, opening his folder like a Bible to page one.
"Computer does, too." Benjamin Ouma said, smiling, and rotating his desk to face the optimistic assembly. He was holding a tear of register tape that was at least a mile long.
"Professor Bergman, do we go ahead with the Commander's last orders?"
Victor Bergman immediately became the agreed upon center of the universe. All eyes fell upon him.
"Oh, I think so." Bergman said, grinning. "Can't disobey orders, now can we?"
Ouma punched the switch.
On the big screen, and the two monitors beneath it, Alpha Test Patterns were replaced by black warning cards with white letters: OPERATION EXODUS MAXIMUM ALERT. This was accompanied by alarm claxons that were heard throughout the base. Winters waited fifteen seconds, and then silenced the bells.
At that point, Pierre Danielle's voice could be heard, echoing throughout Main Mission.
"Eagle Seven to Main Mission, do you copy?"
"We copy you, Eagle 7," Mark Winters responded cheerfully. "What's it like down there, Pierre?"
Pierre Danielle smiled. "I think we made it this time, guys. I think we made it. It is fantastic. So, when are we moving?"
"Well, I'd reserve a UHaul if I were you," Winters replied, "It's looking good. Set her down on Launch pad 2." Mark instructed then punched another button on his console. "Eagle 1, you're clear to lift off."
"Eagle one, copy," came Carter's response as the main motors rumbled and the thrusters came to life.
Phase 2 of Operation Exodus had commenced with the flight of the final planetary survey team. The decision of whether or not to completely abandon Moonbase Alpha and begin their new lives on this earth type planet would be made as a result of this mission. The survey team consisted of Commander John Koenig, Controller Paul Morrow, Data Analyst Sandra Benes, Dr. Bob Mathias, Captain Alan Carter and Chief Engineer Angelina Verdeschi. Their mission would be completed in 12 hours and they would be back on Alpha for hopefully the last time, into the business of moving.
Angelina had checked her survey equipment. The scans indicated that the raw materials and minerals needed to build and one-day manufacture on this planet were like earth. Now, all that remained was to verify their presence. Commander Koenig was reviewing calculations and data with Sandra. Bob was checking over his medical scanning equipment. Paul was in the co-pilot's seat in the command module doing his best impressions of the Austin Powers character ensemble while Carter was guffawing with (or perhaps at) him while he was flying the craft.
Angelina yawned and closed her eyes. She did not allow herself to become too optimistic. But, then again, they had never gotten so close to finding a real home before. Angelina yawned again and sipped at her coffee. She had not gotten much sleep since Mira Cathexis came in sensor range. Everyone on Alpha became increasingly elated as the news spread about the apparent paradise of the planet and finally the promise of a wonderful new home; except for her 6-month-old son Nicholas Carter. The normally cheerful dispositioned baby had gradually become a bear. He looked miserable during the day and he was tormented and fretful during the night. There appeared to be no physical cause; he was not teething. His expression was melancholy and he constantly had tears in his eyes, often breaking out, unprovoked, into a cry. The worst was when Angelina left him in the care of his nurse to go on the mission. Angelina had been away from him for at least 12 hours before but Nicky did his best to ensure she now had the "guilty mother leaving baby" syndrome. He clung to her screaming with such intensity that his voice started cracking. She wished she knew the reason behind her child's personality change.
Angelina got up and walked into the command module, still feeling guilty about leaving her suffering son. Paul Morrow, sensing her downcast mood and imitating Dr. Evil, looked at her and said "You are quasi-evil. You are the Diet Coke of evil. You are not evil enough." Angelina did not recall seeing Paul look so happy and jovial since leaving earth.
Angelina stared at him as Morrow laughed at his own silliness. "You're so weird," she said to Paul with a smirk. Paul replied with an evil 'Wah hah hah hah' laugh.
She crouched down beside Alan, on one knee and peered out the left viewport over his shoulder. The beautiful cotton candy appearance of the planet grew closer and closer. Angelina had never seen such a remarkable looking heavenly body.
"Hey, looks kind of promising, doesn't it," she understated with a smile to Carter.
"It looks promising." Carter agreed. The option was there to just let go, and let computer handle the brainwork. They were slated for a touch down in a small glade that was 43' North/ 57' Northwest. These coordinates were in the epicenter of a small continent that Alpha's geologists had christened Neopanacea. At 50,000 feet, Carter's right-angled viewport was covered in a snow white mass of billowing clouds as the ship began it's final descent in increments of ten. The command module shuddered slightly in the red carpet turbulence. This tapering-off was a gradual process. Braking, and touch down would not actually occur for another 75 kilometers.
In the co-pilot's seat, Morrow's pantomime, and elated mood became fantastically sour. In the blink of an eye he was back to his grim, humorless, stick-in-the-mud, Paul Morrow self.
"Don't you sound optimistic." He criticized, giving the pilot an ironic look, as though he were the provable laundry mat of wet blankets.
Carter shrugged, never taking his hands off the control arms. They moved up, and down easily, and effortlessly through the troposphere. Some people like apple pie; others cherry. He did not like Mira Cathexis. For some reason, this adorable little world put him in mind of a drag queen. From ten feet away, the illusion was perfect, but the closer you got, the more whiskers, and bad breath you got. A razor blade, patiently, and cleverly mixed into a bowl of chocolate cake batter. 'Gee, grandma, Little Red Riding Hood chirps. Cool bonnet, but what an ugly, foaming snout you have. And what sharp, penetrating mandibles, you have. And what a hungry, child-devouring cannibalistic look you have. How could that be? My, oh my....
In the passenger module, John Koenig was sitting on the edge of the desk holding a computer-generated map. In the bright light of the goose neck lamp, the landing area was discernable in pastel green, with all of the local landmarks highlighted with black lettering. On Moonbase Alpha, the view from space was of a fertile s-shaped paradise.
"We'll follow this small stream south-east," He explained to Victor Bergman, running his finger along the printout's smooth surface. "I still want to do a more thorough analysis of the planet's water, and soil content. The Phase One Probe was encouraging. If we don't barf, and keel over from the minute we drink the water--you have to admit, that will be even more encouraging."
"Understood, John." Bergman said from Monitor Number One.
"The data obtained from our last pass found the nitrogen, and the nitrates to be sufficient for cropping." Helena Russell said, tele-conferencing from Monitor Number Two. "The only draw back I see is that the planet has unusually long summers, due to its proximity to the red sun. We may have to learn contour farming. The average temperature is a reliable 57 degrees year round, though."
"Victor, I want to be cautious about this." He said. "At the same time, I've never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth. If all lights are green after our survey, we're going to shake the rock. I'll want every one off Alpha, and down here by nightfall. We'll still have six days to gut the base."
Then came another air pocket--an indication that Carter was cutting back his wind speed. The new world was upon them. John Koenig grabbed his map before it could tumble to the floor.
Carter landed Eagle 1 flawlessly and smoothly in the glade on Mira Cathexis.
Angelina jumped up from her seat next to Bob Mathias in the passenger module and, after gathering her instruments and delegating some to Carter to lug around, she was first at the door. Angelina had not been on many reconn missions so to her, this was like being a kid in a toy store. Her excitement was contagious among the others, except for Alan. She dismissed his dour pessimism as a consequence of lack of sleep from his son's frequent waking over the last few nights.
Koenig handed Carter a copy of the area map. Everyone took a laser and holstered it. Angelina did not like to carry a weapon but it was standard procedure on reconn missions.
"Alan, Bob and Ang," Koenig instructed, pointing along the map."Follow the stream in this direction. Paul, Sandra and I will go in the opposite direction. We contact each other every 15 minutes and we meet back here at 1630 hours."
Carter nodded. Morrow opened the door to Mira Cathexis.
The sky was pink and there was a lavender glow around. It was soothing, comforting. The pink contrasted with the lush greenery and the deep blue water of the slowly meandering stream. Angelina took a deep breath of the fresh air; not since their encounter with Ariel and the temporary atmosphere they had given them on the moon had Angelina actually experienced real air. She felt exhilarated and at the same time, felt her guard gradually drop. She was certain they had found their home and allowed serenity to envelop her. It was the perfect place and she imagined their son laughing and playing in the glow of the red sunshine.
She watched the Commander, Paul and Sandra depart in the opposite direction, equally ebullient and taken in by the surroundings. Bob was taking a sample of the water, his mood jolly, as he muttered something about taking a swim if it got any warmer. Angelina turned to Carter, the only one who did not seem happy.
"Well, I've made up my mind," Angelina laughed and proclaimed with finality, "I hope you're a good carpenter. I want my house next to a lake. We'd better go find one and stake our claim." Romantic visions of American pioneers crossing the Great Plains graced her mind.
In Main Mission, Victor Bergman paced the floor behind Mark Winters. One pondering index finger was placed against the tip of his nose. Tanya Alexander approached him with a blue flimsy, which he accepted, but delayed reading.
At the capcomm station, Pete Irving was reclining in his seat with a stack of refueling orders. Pierre Danielle's Eagle had landed over thirty minutes ago. On the monitor grid before him, the satellite locator blyph affirmed the latitude, and longitude of Eagle One's landing coordinates. There had been no further word from the Phase II Landing Party.
Bergman strolled to the top of the steps. On the big screen, the red sun gradually disappeared behind the picaresque, snow-capped, polar regions of the new world.
"Try to raise Commander Koenig."
Winters laid his clipboard next to the upper keyboard, and tweaked the long-range communications relay.
"Main Mission calling Commander Koenig."
Enough time elapsed for the controller to take two sips from his coffee cup.
"Main Mission to Phase II Landing Party, do you read?"
Still no answer.
Suddenly, the auditorium went completely dark. Even the emergency lights took a hiatus. The familiar chattering of the mainframe computer panels was replaced by an icy stillness. Alarmed, Victor Bergman grasped the corner of the desk.
"What's going on? Where's the power?"
"It's impossible to say." Ben Ouma said, genuinely confused; his face illuminated only by the blue beams of star light that were coming through the viewports. "One minute we were fine, and then the carpet was pulled out from underneath us."
Then, as suddenly as it had left, artificial sunshine returned to Main Mission. The out-of-control Master Computer unfurled miles of blank computer paper into Ouma's lap. From across the Dolby Surround Speakers, a brass orchestra section assaulted their ear hearing. Irving dropped his paper work, and stood, grasping his ears. Winter's accidentally spilled his coffee cup into his lap. The rendition of "Leap Frog"--Les Brown's golden age them to "American Bandstand" could be heard even in the catacombs beneath the base.
"Close communications!!!" Bergman shouted over the trumpets.
Winters fumbled for the volume control while Kate Bullen looked on. Pete Irving's eyes narrowed to slits, and then widened with stupefying realization. As the controller muted the auditorium speakers, the capcomm grabbed his outboard monitor with both hands.
"It's gone." He said, chaotically. "Eagle One is gone."
The unoiled hinges on the double windowpanes creaked as Bob Mathias closed them against the beserker traffic on 8th Avenue. The Broadway consumers would soon rise from their boxes of native soil--a summons not fit for man, nor beast. He loosened his necktie, and gave the laminated Hilton room service menu a quick once over. In an instant, he decided that a Pepperoni Pizza croissant would not bode well when mixed with the Martini he was drinking. The olive floating at the bottom of the plastic, hotel glass was his only breakfast. Aboard the Boeing 737, he had been offered a stale, coach-class granola bar, along with a cold, coach-class cup of coffee, but he had declined. A garrulous, corpse-like businessman sat next to him on the flight in. He claimed to own stock in not one, but five, Fortune Five Hundred companies. He described his investment portfolio in tediously mediocre detail.
I'm a poor guy, the physician tried to inform him. I don't read The Wall Street Journal, and I have no idea what the consequences will be if the Dow rolls over.
Oh, the stock jock said, crestfallen.
His last tour of duty--one year--had lasted longer than he thought. Seated at the bulkhead, he had found himself transfixed by the endless blue canvass before him. He thumbed through an abused, back issue of Field, And Stream. He made it halfway through "TEN HOT IDEAS FOR BETTER BASS FISHING," before returning it to its pouch, unengrossed. The stock jock asked him if he was going to eat his granola bar.
Bob told him to help himself.
Returning to the present, Mathias drained the last of his martini, and picked up the white phone receiver. Dialing the New Jersey area code, he found it amusing that he had to use a phone card to make a call that used to be considered local. An unfamiliar female voice answered on the other line.
"Yes, may I please speak to Laura Mathias." He said, unbuttoning the top three buttons on his shirt. "Tell her it's Bob."
The rumble of the thrusters of Shuttle Eagle 11 as it descended onto Launch Pad 4 caused Angelina Verdeschi to jolt awake. 'I must have dozed off,' she shook her head, trying to wake up. No wonder; Angelina had been reviewing status reports and personnel files of the Moonbase Alpha Nuclear and Power Generation area, for which she, in approximately 10 minutes, would take on full management responsibility.
It had been over 1 1/2 years since she was stationed on Alpha, when Commissioner Dixon put a rather abrupt end to her last tour of duty. The good Commissioner, however, moved on to the corporate world, to harass the minions in private industry, no doubt, and Commissioner Simmonds filled his vacancy a few months ago. Commissioner Simmonds had practically begged Angelina Verdeschi to come back. Angelina congratulated herself on holding out for financial compensation which, if she so chose, would allow her to live the rest of her life as a lady of leisure after her tour of duty was completed and recorded history.
She nodded and smiled at the big man sitting across from her, Pierre Danielle, who was assigned to reconnaissance as an Eagle pilot. His presence kept her thinking about Eric Sparkman; and the fact that she had not heard from him in nearly a week. No phone calls. No emails. Nothing. She would soon find out why and had a fairly good chewing out speech for him if it turned out the reason for his silence was something mundane such as "I've been busy, Angie."
Once the boarding tube connected and they were clear to leave the Eagle, Angelina wished Pierre Danielle good luck on his tour and gave him the standard "see you around". Her brother, Tony Verdeschi was waiting for her.
"Hey, sis, " Tony greets her with a hug. "Did you bring Momma's cannoli?"
Angelina produced a wax bakery type bag and gave it to him. Tony looked inside it.
"Ah, Ang," he whined. "It's smashed up! You should have been more careful. Did you get me my barley?"
Angelina rolled her eyes. "Sure Tony, it's in the luggage." Angelina looked around "Hey, where's Eric?"
Tony averted his gaze. "Uh, that's why I'm here, Ang. Eric is in Medical Center. He's got some sort of virus."
Just behind Stewart Morrow, there was a round, gold leaf painted column that bore the blurb "NEW POETRY: Live Readings By Philip Larkin." The Poetry Library was deluged with teenagers, and young adults--most of them predominantly shit-faced. The canned recording of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rites Of Spring" piped through the hidden speakers like a failed attempt at cultural tear gas.
Morrow twiddled his thumbs, his brown leather jacket creaking mysteriously as he appraised the daft fellow sitting across from him.
"You'll end up an old maid, is what you're going to end up being." He said, realizing that his prophecy was falling on deaf ears.
"My life is exciting enough." The daft fellow--Paul, by name--replied, adding lemon to his tea. "I don't need a relationship to complicate things."
"You were adopted." The older Morrow decided. "'Mum, and Dad found you under a rock--that's what I think. There is absolutely no way you that you, and I can share the same DNA."
One corner of Paul's mouth raised slightly.
"I like things to be just so." He explained, taking a deep sip of the dark pekoe blend.
"Yeah, I think I gathered that, chum." 'Stew said, taking a healthy swig of Smirnoff Vodka. "Well, if predictable is what you want, you shall have it my friend. Just keep doing what you're doing.
"'Aye, you know--just today, I 'boffed my paralegal right on top of the 'bloomin copying machine." 'Stew frowned. "Now, granted, that can't possibly compare to the joys of lunar living. Every now, and then, I bet you get to do something really extraordinary--like filling out a landing permit, in triplicate. That is sooo, exciting, 'lil brother. The pink sheet, and then the copy that looks like vomit; let us not forget the white sheet. I'll bet you get to keep that one...maybe even file it. And ink. Let us not forget that--all over your hands, isn't it.
"Here's to living on the edge." 'Stew toasted, and poured a Smirnoff double into Paul's china cup before taking another swig himself.
Paul winced, embarrassed.
"At least I'm not on the dole. I could be a lot worse off than I am now."
'Stew shook his head. Again, they disagreed.
"No man is an island, entire of itself." He quoted. "John Donne said that, and I agree with him. Paul, you got the looks, you got the mind. You could have any woman in London, I'd wager.
"However, for some reason that I can not quite fathom, you choose the Moon, and microwave dinners, and the occasional 'bout of suicidal depression."
"I'm not depressed." Paul corrected, sipping his spiked tea. Pretty good, actually.
"That's good." 'Stew allowed. "For my part, just looking at your wasted ass makes me want to cut my own throat." He said, standing.
"I'll drink to that." 'Lil brother said enthusiastically, readying his cup for the next toast.
"Right." 'Stew said, wobbling precariously away from the table. "I'm going to take a leak now. Don't do anything silly while I'm gone. Make sure you alienate every one around you. You've got that image to protect."
As he staggered up the spiral staircase to the lavatory. The full moon that was visible through the arched window only confirmed what he already knew. He would be doing the driving tonight. While he waited for brother 'Stew to finish his business, he ruminated over the damp, September air outside; Philip Larkin, and his epic verse (hickory dickory dock, my life sure is mundane); he called his mental meeting to order--the first task on the agenda, to confirm that he was a worthwhile human being, despite the older Morrow's forecast of loneliness, and degradation.
Feeling the buzz now, Paul was preparing to put paid to his tea. The first thing he noticed was that the Formica table had started to vibrate. There was a hushed silence, as the quasi-serene, south bank sounds were sublimated by deafening explosion. This auditory assault was followed by a retina blasting, burst of white light. Morrow saw spots; he saw his life pass before him. Shards of glass, and debris showered down on him, plopping hideously into his coffee cup.
Ceiling beams began to tumble like match sticks as the floor disappeared beneath him. He watched as a limey brunette in a floral print mini-skirt pointed upwards through the open hole in the roof. He was following the direction of the banshee's wail when one of the Doric columns collapsed on top of him.
"...'freaking world's coming apart...." He heard one of the teen's say, vaguely, as he left the south bank region, and entered the state of shock.
"...get down, get down...." He heard another bloke scream, using himself as a human shield to protect his girlfriend. Moments later, the second floor of The Poetry Library collapsed, killing them both.
Morrow regurgitated blood, his eye lids becoming iron dead weights.
"...the sky is on fire...." Some Chicken Little bastard cried out before he bought the farm.
The Moon, some one said as Paul Morrow descended to parameters unseen.
Angelina Verdeschi put aside her grief as Professor Bergman left her quarters. Eric was dead but now they had a greater problem.
Making her way to the Main Power Generation area, she gathered her staff and robotically gave the customary introductory speech. "My name is Angelina Verdeschi. Some of you know me. Some, I am meeting for the first time. I am your new manager. My door is always open.." etc, etc, etc. After the meeting, Angelina and two of her senior nuclear engineers, Joe Erhlich and Jack Crawford gathered at the monitors in her office. They were watching the video feed from Main Mission of the remote Eagle sent to area two to collect data on the newly discovered magnetic radiation effect.
"Holy Mother of God," Erhlich exclaimed as the magnetic radiation field readings went of the scale.
"Look !! It's crashing!" Jack Crawford interjected, as the 3 of them stared at the Eagle plow into the lunar surface, narrowly missing the centigrade capped waste domes.
Angelina was deep in thought. "Take down Reactor #1" she directed Jack. "Flood the core. Disconnect the transformers and power supplies and secure the area."
Crawford looked at her amazed. "You think something is going to happen?"
"Just being cautious, Jack," she replied somberly. "Just being cautious."
As Crawford left, Professor Bergman entered and began pacing. "Did you see it?"
"Yes, Professor, I saw it, " Angelina nodded and continued understating, "It does not look good." The memory of The Globe headline "Countdown To Doomsday" that Commissioner Dixon had thrown in her face over 1 1/2 years ago filled her mind. The countdown was almost to zero.
"I'm afraid your theory may be correct, Angelina." Bergman suggested scratching his head. "What do you recommend? Is there time to avert the explosion?"
"We can try to disperse the nuclear waste canisters over a larger area. That would, in effect, reduce the size of the magnetic radiation field. But there is so much nuclear waste in area two, so many canisters. Professor, we don't have a lot of time. In fact, we may have already run out of time. Every Eagle we have should get into the act. Of course, that is the Commander's decision."
"I agree, Angelina, I will make that recommendation to Commander Koenig. The Commander has recognized the seriousness of the situation and called Commissioner Simmonds to Alpha.
Angelina watched Professor Bergman hurry out of her office. Suddenly, she thought she heard something..a familiar voice..a strange sound..."Moonbase Alpha calling Phase 2 Landing Party. Come in Phase 2 landing party". Angelina shook her head and looked around. The voice was gone.
Sandra was walking near Paul, letting the Commander Koenig behind them. They each had a small box in which they put all samples they could find. The planet seemed really what they had always wanted, the planet which would allow them to built a new home.
Paul was smiling like she never had seen him smile. His eyes were sparkling like stars, and his smile started from one ear to join the other. She liked to think he was enjoying the planet of course, but not only that; she hoped he was as happy as she was to be together.
She could hear birds' songs, feel the warm of the sun's planet on her skin, and the wind in her short hair.
Nothing could be wrong. They would soon join the rest of the landing party and everybody would go back toAlpha to prepare the Exodus Operation. She needed things to belike that.
But suddenly, as if she was in a bad dream, she saw the Commander and Paul yell and take their head in their hands, not realizing immediately she was doing exactly the same, collapsing on the ground, screaming.
Then all became black and Sandra was back on Alpha. She was at her desk, looking at Victor and the Commander discussing Area One. She knew what day it was, September 13, 1999. In just 5 days, she would leave Alpha, go back on Earth and marry Peter Rockwell. She waited that moment eagerly. They had all the plans ready, and Peter had even sent the drawings of their future house a few days ago. He was a nice young man, a data analyst like herself, and she cherished in her mind the day when they first met in class. It was love at first sight, and they had decided to marry very quickly. But Sandra had to finish her duty on Alpha. She jumped hearing Paul's voice.
"Sandra, check ten on Area One, please, and bring it in"
"Yes, Paul", she answered, doing what he wanted her to do.
Paul was a little too serious for her, but she felt there was something nice underneath his serious face. He had a great responsibility in Main Mission and she was really aware of that. He wanted everybody here to obey and work very seriously. Sandra was sometimes a little afraid of the man, but she would have loved to known him better. Peter was so different, always laughing, ready to start a new adventure, a new travel, a new discovery! But...
"Paul!", she said. "Commander! There is a step rise in heat levels in Disposal Area One. This is impossible! All the indication show that the radiation level is normal but the heat continues to rise!"
Sandra looked at the Commander frown and take his comlock to call Victor, asking him to come right now. She looked at Paul, who was staring at her, lost in his thoughts. He jumped, as if he made a fault.
"Bring Area One on video!" ordered the Commander.
Sandra put the area on the big screen and shivered when she saw the pictures. They could see a lot of lightning arcs on the black of the space.
"It is an incredible heat. But still no radiation....", she said slowly, reading the information on her computer.
What was the problem? How could it be possible to have heat without atomic activity? Nobody could answer that question, and all were staring at the big screen, until the screen became blank. She put a second camera on but like the first, it burnt out.
"All visual contact lost...", said Sandra.
"Paul! I want an Eagle on the pad for immediate lift off", said the Commander, before leaving Main Mission quickly.
Sandra looked at Ouma, then Tanya. Nobody understood what was outside. She looked at Paul, ordering the Eagle for the Commander. When he finished, he felt her look at her. It was for just a moment, but Sandra had enough time to read concern in his eyes. And without knowing why exactly, she felt fear, feeling she would never see Peter again...
As the Eagles below in the hangars were being outfitted with winches to begin the operation of dispersing the waste canisters, the Eagle shuttle to earth (which would end up being the last Eagle shuttle to earth...ever) was on Launch Pad 2 ready for launch.
Angelina Verdeschi caught up to former Commander Anton Gorski as he was about to embark on his final travel tube trip to the embarkation area.
"Commander Gorski, " she spoke at him, looking him in the eye. "Why did you lie to me?"
Gorski looked away and put on his politician's best image of deceit and lies.
"Ankalina, " he said calmly, "I know you ist upset over da loss of your Erwick. Believe me ven I tell you dat I am heartsick over da loss of such an excellent pilot and such a vonderful person. I feel for you, mein dear," he finished, touching her shoulder gently.
Angelina shook off his hand. "DON'T touch me." Lightening bolts shot forth from her eyes. "Who the hell are you to say what kind of 'person' he was? You didn't know him. You lied to me! When Eric had not responded to me in nearly a week, you told me two days ago in an email that he was OK. He was dying and you knew it. Why didn't you tell me, Commander? Why didn't you tell me the truth?!?!"
Gorski stiffened slightly. "Now Ang, you know dat in certain situation ve have a communication blackout. I vas only following mein orders. You must understand dat ve could not let dat story get out. Come on, Ang, ve have to remember ve must maintain a positive image if ve vish to continue to be funded by the International Lunar Commission." Gorski turned to leave.
"What?!?" Angelina fumed. "How could you morally and ethically lie about Eric's condition to me? I could have caught an earlier shuttle. You purposely kept me in the dark, you bastard, all in the name of political position. You were a Commander. You were suppose to lead and guide your people and yes, even give a damn about them. You bastard, you don't give a damn about anyone but yourself."
Gorski whirled around and glared at Angelina, startling her. "At least I do not fabricate falsehoods about nuclear vaste and Armageddon in an effort to seek fame and fortune. You are back on dis base for von reason. Kummander Koenig vanted you back as part of his offer to assume da role of kummander to get da Metaprobe launched, "Gorski chuckled as he boarded the travel tube. "But I see he is already a failure at dat. I vill be back, Ms. Verdeschi," Gorski stated erroneously, "and ven I come back, you vill be leaving. Good day." The travel tube doors closed and Gorski was gone.
Hours later, Angelina and Joe were in her office again watching the movement of the canisters in area two; Jack was still working in the area of reactor #1.
"Commander, it's going up!!!!" exclaimed Paul Morrow.
The explosions...the lunar surface rumbled..the floor rumbled...small explosions from monitoring sensors..the moonquakes became more violent...Red Alert.....the bulk heads sealed and they were trapped in the main Power Generating Area...screaming and shouting abounded....an unseen hand slammed Angelina, Joe and the other technicians hard to the floor.
Angelina looked over and saw Alan Carter, lounging against a rock and Bob Mathias leaning against a tree, both surrounded by a pink haze....."Alan?....Bob?".......................
Through the observation window in Medical Center, Angelina Verdeschi stared silently at the dying man, her fiancé Eric Sparkman. "Go ahead and see him now, " Dr. Bob Mathias told her kindly, his hand resting on her shoulder.
The round platform was outfitted with a microphone; a stool; a pair of Bose speaker towers, complete with wooden voice rings. The sub-woofer was plugged into an equalizer, and placed strategically at the foot of the stage. Now when the poet waxed raspy, it would be in Dolby 5.1 surround. The scribbler mounted the stool, and opened his note book. He looked depressed, gloomy, and perhaps even suicidal. His tired, worldly goatee terminated just above his black turtleneck.
There was a hush as the lights dimmed over the inebriated crowd.
"Take a picture." 'Stew Morrow advised in his tantrum, smart-ass way. "They say it lasts longer."
"Sorry." Paul said, bewildered. He felt as though he had entered the room viz. the ceiling. "I just did a double take, I guess." He looked down at his china cup. A test sip proved that it contained nothing, but Cinnamon Dark Kona.
"You look bad, brother." 'Stew observed, and added a healthy shot of Smirnoff into the younger Morrow's tea.
"Well, that's why I took a vacation."
"Well, you're sexually deprived too." 'Stew corrected, and then picked up his itinerary again. "You can't keep going like this, you know." He said. The flip quality was no longer there; it was more the concern of one sibling for another. "You're alone entirely too much, and that's not good. You could take other postings in the WSC. If you ask me, being assigned to Alpha is the ultimate expression of your anti-social nature."
'Stew belched, and wiped his mouth with his fist.
"No man is an island...." Morrow started, handing him a napkin.
"Entire of itself." 'Stew agreed, and took it from him. Printed across the wine colored cloth, in white lettering, was the logo for The Poetry Library. "That's what John Donne thinks, and that's what I think too."
There was a whine of feedback from the speakers. It was tuned out by one of the 'roadees--a throw back from the 1970's, with plaid bell bottoms, and perchance loudest--the puffiest, bird-catching bouffant ever styled. On his hairy exposed forearm was a badly done tattoo of a pair of dice.
"'The Maze.'" The unhappy poet said, announcing his title. "'A Tribute To Horace Walpole.'" He lubricated his throat with a gulp of Ozo before continuing:
"'In my twilight reverie--I wander the unexplored nightworld.
"'My comrades vanquished by armies of the damned.
"The Maze, knew no end.'"
The poet paused to see what effect this had. Just beneath him, a couple of teenagers were doing some heavy petting that knew no end. Most of the audience had commenced some low chatter amongst themselves.
"'In the valley of the ancient castle;
"'Only the unending continuance; the spirit of shame;
"'It took my life in the corridor of the skull.'"
"His poetry 'freakin sucks." 'Stew observed, and filled Paul's glass again. "Jack, and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jill came down, and said: 'Hey, I've got two pails!!!"
SSSSSSSSSSSSsshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, an elite woman, big of chest, brunette of hair whispered to him, irritated. 'Stew winked, and followed the line of her thigh all the way up her mini-skirt.
Paul wasn't listening. The sight of some one he knew on the grand stairwell distracted him. Standing beside the arched window, in a pool of mystic moon light was Sandra Benes. Her eyes were far away--transfixed at something that was not necessarily in the room.
The fact that she was supposed to be on Moonbase Alpha right now--together with the idea that she had not even had time to change out of her uniform, told him something was rotten in Denmark, and probably every where else, too.
He pushed back his chair, and strolled briskly towards the stairwell. He was half-way up when the violent earthquake threw him over the balustrade. He landed with a crash of wood, glass, and fractured bone marrow.
Before the roof cave-in buried him alive, he saw that the Data Analyst was gone. Like the Moon's presence in the window, there was no trace.
Commander John Koenig looked around, puzzled. "Commissioner Simmonds?"
Commissioner Gerald Simmonds, presumed dead Commissioner Simmonds, stood in front of Koenig, reaching toward Koenig. "Well, Koenig? Aren't you going to give me a comlock?"
Koenig looked down. He had no extra comlock.
"Come on, come on, "Simmonds stated impatiently. "How do you expect me to get around the base?"
Koenig stretched out his hand; and Simmonds grabbed an invisible comlock from it. Simmonds continued. "My office tried to query you about your Emergency Code Alpha One. You didn't seem to be available."
Koenig's eyes narrowed. "What are you doing here?"
"What am I doing here?!?!? You called me up here, Koenig. I don't have time for your games. This way, Koenig."
John Koenig turned around and found himself suddenly in his command office in the company of Victor, Helena and Commissioner Simmonds.
"Commissioner, " Victor began, pacing, " the heat is starting to rise on the interior of Area Two as well. Now it contains one hundred and forty times the amount of waste in Area One. With quantities like that there could be a chain reaction."
"What are the chances it could burn itself out, like Area One?" Simmonds asked in a huff.
Bergman, Simmonds then Helena Russell turned and stared at Koenig. Suddenly, behind Russell, he saw an actor cue card appear, seemingly floating in mid air. It read:
"Simmonds." <walk down steps> "You don't seem to understand. We're sitting on top of it, there is no chance."
Commander John Koenig thought that in any other situation, this would be a hilarious movie bit. The problem, however, was that they were suppose to be on Mira Cathexis and he was about to make the decision to activate the final stage of operation exodus. Koenig did not say a word.
"Well, what's to be done?" Simmonds looked at Koenig as he continued his "line".
Victor played his part. "Oh, we could try and break the pile apart, rip up the bomb, destroy the mass: if we could disperse the mass over a wider area-"
"Alright, come on, let's do it." Simmonds interrupted.
"We do have limited time, "came Victor's somber response.
Koenig followed Bergman, Simmonds and Russell into Main Mission. When he looked up at the screen, he saw the moon, bathed in a pink haze. There was normal activity in Main Mission except for the statuesque figures of Paul Morrow and Sandra Benes.
Koenig closed his eyes, shook his head but when he reopened his eyes, Paul and Sandra were also enveloped in the pink haze.
Koenig looked down and reached for his comlock. When he looked up, he saw Commissioner Simmonds at the travel tube doors. "Well, Koenig?" Commissioner Simmonds asked, extending his out stretched hand.
Angelina stepped inside the isolation ward, looking up as the door slid shut behind her. She gasped.
Sitting on a couple of stools at what appeared to be a bar were Frank Warren and Eric Sparkman.
"Angie!" Sparkman shouted ebulliently,"Nice of you to join us. Have a seat."
Angelina blinked. She blinked again. 'No, 'she thought. 'You're dying, Eric.'
As if he had read her thoughts Eric Sparkman responded, "Of course I'm dying. I'm pretty much a goner. Frank too."
"Hey!" Frank Warren exclaimed, looking up from his draught, foam clinging to his mustache,"Speak for yourself. I'm not dead yet."
"Yeah, well you are going first, pal, "Sparkman snickered. "He hasn't accepted it yet, Angie," he informed Angelina in a low whisper. "Listen, baby. I have to tell you something. Things are not as they seem here. You need to get the hell out of here and do it quickly."
"I've got to be dreaming, "Angelina mumbled, looking around. What was that pink haze?!?
"No dream, baby. No dream at all. Listen,"Sparkman looked around a bit nervously, "Gotta go. Remember what I said. Get out of here."
Angelina closed her eyes. When she opened them, she was standing in the Medical Center isolation ward next to Eric Sparkman's prone form on the bed; medical monitors counting down the final minutes of his life.
Angelina turned to leave. As she went out the door, rather than being in a corridor, she found herself entering the Main Power Generation Room.
"Come watch this, Ang," Joe motioned to her. "They're moving the nuclear waste canisters now."
'What?!? Huh?!?' Angelina felt as though she was reading a familiar novel and suddenly skipped the next 50 pages.
"Commander!! It's going up!!" Paul Morrow's voice boomed over the PA speaker.
Commander! It's going up!! It's going up!! going up!! going up!! going up!!
The echo was loud and persistent as Angelina was thrown to the floor, amidst rumbling and explosions, by an unseen force. She could not move and could barely breathe....She turned her head expecting to see Joe Erhlich. Instead, it was Commissioner Dixon; albeit a barely recognizable Commissioner Dixon. His face was hideously gashed, a sizable chunk of his cheek was missing. He was missing an eye and his lower lip along with a good part of his jaw, was gone.
"My future is bound up in the space program and I'll do anything to protect that, " the apparent Commissioner informed her as he slowly inched its way toward her.
For a brief second beyond him, Angelina saw Carter speaking into his comlock, surrounded by a pink haze. The Commission was now within arms reach of her. Angelina found her voice and screamed in terror.
While leaning against the table in the map room, listening to the sham commander buttress him for some bullshit bad news, Carter was reminded of a comedy skit by Stephen Wright:
"Thank you...thank you." Wright thanked his longsuffering 'improv audience in a voice that was every bit as arresting as that of a C-Span Commentator. A few chuckled at the bit about the Irish Setter, but mostly the audience was falling asleep. Myriad cigarette lighters appeared in the darkened night club. As he prepared for his next flat, thoroughly unfunny bon mott, several dissatisfied customers headed for the door.
Refreshing his muse, the comedienne launched his next assault on contemporary
humor. "Have you ever gone home at the end of the day, and discovered that everything in your apartment had been replaced-by-an-exact-duplicate?"
Bewildered, shaking heads from those souls brave enough to further endure this anti-talent.
"Ha-ha-ha." Wright said psychopathically--doing his best Sam Kenison on Quaaludes impersonation. He bowed his head--a mystery of mad science--in the direction of the MEN's crapper.
"How are the backup crew." The android Koenig inquired, unremittingly. The computer panels behind him looked suddenly like a wall, a fence hiding who knows what.
"Still backing up, I guess." The pilot replied, not even trying to figure out the punch line of this particular joke. "They're all big, strong fellows. I'm sure they can 'back' into any thing you like."
The 'phooey Koenig was not amused, which delighted Carter to no end.
"Captain, I don't need your attitude." He bristled. Then came the guilt trip, one uttered in such beautiful meter that the pilot wished he could play the glockenspiel as accompaniment. "You do realize what is happening, don't you?"
"You bet." Carter replied, inattentively. It took all he had to keep from laughing. Nerves were involved too.
As long as he laughed, he wouldn't start punching. Then came the shameless wringing of pity--and all for a man who had been dead for four years now. The soy bean commander admonished his seeming heartlessness.
"You, and Eric Sparkman served together during the war." He bleeped. "The man saved your ass more times than you can count, and this is how you treat him?"
Carter shrugged non-commitally.
"Whatever." The baloney commander said, befuddled, but not caring. "Carter, whether you like it, or not, I've been sent here to sort things out. Something is brewing here that goes far beyond the Metaprobe. I would like your cooperation, but I'm not an idealist, and candidly speaking, your mouth is cashing checks your ass can't pay. Any future flack from you will result in a one-way ticket back to Earth. Is that understood?"
"Oh, absolutely." Carter said, giving a placatory thumbs up.
The Koenig knock-off left the room.
He had disliked Mira Cathexis even before they landed. So far, nothing had happened to alter this low esteem.
Obviously, something had gone wrong. One minute he was with 'Ang, and the next he was bombing some goofy alien's savoir faire test. Pathetic human, we will make you believe that you are orbiting Earth again, and that it is September 12, 1999 AD; only hours away from the greatest holocaust in the history of your race.
He reached for his comlock. Failure was almost preordained, but he had to try, regardless.
"This is Carter calling Moonbase Alpha, do you read me?"
"Who answered the phone?" Bob Mathias pried, removing his neck tie, and throwing it on the bed.
"A friend." Laura said, annoyed. It took her at least five minutes to pick up the receiver. The 'friend'--Stephanie, by name--said it was because she was in the shower.
"Good for you." Mathias congratulated, spilling twin Tylenol Capsules into his palm from an open bottle. "It's nice to hear that you have friends."
Upon lighting the fuse, he poured another drink, and waited for the bomb to go off.
"Bob, there must be some reason why you called?" His ex-wife said, surprisingly cool, and unperturbed. Apparently it wasn't quite as easy to push her buttons these days.
"Actually, there is." He explained, holding the phone between his shoulder, and ear while he returned the cap to the Tylenol Bottle. "Listen, I'm in Manhattan."
"Yeah, I figured that. Every time you call from the base, I can hear that toe-head griping about his bunions."
"Ed Malcom." The physician nodded affirmatively.
"Have you heard any thing from 'Ang lately? Did she get that position at MIT."
"Yes I have, and no she didn't. Word has it that the ILC has optioned her contract again. She's being returned to duty."
"Back on Moobase Alpha." His former spouse, espoused. In his mind, Mathias imagined a perfect rose, collapsing atop a pile of odious 'shat. "Poor girl. I take it that's supposed to be good news." Laura opined, in that sub-textual way that always maddened him. Many was the occasion when he had berated her to just say her piece, and stop nibbling at the corners. The conversational equivalent to Etch-A-Sketch.
"Any way." He said, doing an about face before they commenced to arguing. "I'm in town, and I was wondering if I could hop across the bridge, and see Amy." He waited tensely. "I know my timing is lousy, but this furlough was unplanned." A lie. He had contemplated it for three months, before actuating his leave slip. "Her birthday is next month."
"I know, and as usual, you won't be attending so you want to pre-pay." Laura fumed. "Tonight is no good at all. Tomorrow is Saturday. Her Franklin Planner is empty, and most father's can usually spare a moment of their precious time then. I say--'most fathers.'"
"How about if I pick the two of you up, say at about noon. We can come back here. Maybe have a little picnic in Central Park. The muggers are usually incarcerated by midnight Friday night. We can visit the art museum; maybe ride the Staten Island Ferry."
"Noon is too early." She replied. "Make it 1:00 PM. She'll be ready. Until tomorrow, Dr. Mathias." She said, and hung up on him.
In the space of only five hours, the rim of Mira Cathexis filled every monitor, every viewport, and every eye. Airless dreams in the void of space. On the big screen, the swirling pink cloud formations had begun to resemble bottomless pits of fog. What lay beneath the deep stage mists was still a mystery. In the great, universal game of Black Jack, Mira Cathexis was holding on to her cards. Her time was her own; her secrets were her secrets.
Mark Winters kept his eye glued to the communications panel. Even on the interstellar band, things were dead. Just plain dead.
"Assemble the department heads." Victor Bergman said blackly. "We'll meet in the commander's office in fifteen minutes."
Carl Renton had recently been released from the brig. He was one of the "leaders" of the mutiny during the encounter with the Conceit. In reality, Carl Renton was incapable of "leading" anything, but instead, followed Bill Frasier's leadership, questionable as it was too. Frasier was still in the brig; Renton wished he was still in there. Ever since his release, his boss, Captain Carter, had made life a living hell for him. Renton had been relegated to worse than the status of "water boy" on the Reconnaissance team. He spent his days cleaning and re-cleaning and re-cleaning again Eagle propulsion tubes and other assorted nasty, dirty jobs. If the job was not satisfactory to Carter, which it NEVER was, he would have to redo it again, often impinging on his off duty time. Carl Renton had seen absolutely zero flying time in months.
So when Pete Irving, Assistant Chief of Reconnaissance, briefed the pilots on the Mira Cathexis situation after the Command Conference led by Bergman, and asked for a volunteer to fly to the surface, Carl Renton eagerly volunteered for the job. Carl Renton did not give a rat's ass about Carter or his woman or any of the others for that matter, including Commander Koenig. No, Renton was doing this for the glory, for the recognition he would gain for being hero of the day.
"Wonderful job, Carl. You saved our lives," Koenig would say.
"Aw shucks, sir, it was nothing," Renton would answer.
"No, mate," Carter would say,"You're bravery and sacrifice are commendable."
Renton would shrug. "Just part of my job, sir. Every person on this base is important and we should sacrifice ourselves for each other. No big deal, really." Renton would bullshit...
"Eagle 17, you are cleared for lift off. Good luck." Mark Winter's voice broke Renton's mental fantasy.
"Eagle 17. Copy Main Mission." With a thunder of the thrusters, Eagle 17 launched and flew majestically and quickly toward Mira Cathexis.
"I'm moving into low orbit now." Renton said, managing to sound almost bored.
"Check." Winters said, watching the monitor blip circle a digital representation of the planet.
Next to him, Pierre Danielle's eyes were glued to the approach vector. There had been no surprises, thus far. "Your angles are good. Your trim is good." He told the semi-reformed mutineer. "Prepare for entry into the atmosphere. On my mark, your velocity will be 1,480 meters per minute."
"See if we can get a visual on that." Victor Bergman said, his right elbow cupped studiously beneath his left palm. Helena Russell waited patiently beside him.
"Renton, prepare to link-up with the orbital satellite cameras." Winters directed.
"Roger that." Renton said, apparently amused at what a slick fellow he was. "I'm breaking orbit for final descent. Entry into the upper troposphere in two minutes."
A white bar line in the center of the big screen opened outward. Before them was a beatific, aerial view of Mira Cathexis. The lush, myriad continents gradually rotated their way across the terminator onto the night side. Black space slowly dissipated into a red, water color horizon. The nose of Eagle 17's command module intruded into the picture. The undercarriage of the passenger module was soon replaced by the quad engine bells. Then it was gone from view completely.
"I'm descending to 40,000 feet now." Renton informed them. "I don't see what the problem is. I think it's absolutely beautiful."
Pierre Danielle stifled a laugh.
Bergman nodded, unconvinced.
"Tell him to take her down to 30,000 feet." He said, and exchanged looks of apprehension with Helena Russell.
The moving, picture postcard pictorial gimbaled before them on the big screen. Extreme satellite camera lenses following the rescue Eagle's every move. A cloud capped mountain resembling El Kapitan angled left, and then disappeared from view as the ship descended over a gorge of trees that extended for acres in every direction.
"I'm at 28,000 feet, and holding."
Bergman made note of this on his clip board.
"What was the minimum altitude you achieved during Phase I." He asked Pierre.
"About 5,000 feet. That's where we did our primary scanner, and sensor sweeps."
The professor nodded, trying to make notes with one eye remaining on the rush of visual telemetry.
"Tell him to descend to 4,000." He said cautiously.
"Do you copy that, Eagle 17." Winters strained.
The answer? Of course he copied that. He was Carl Renton--the man with a plan.
"Main motors cut back. I'm switching to thrusters." He announced victoriously.
The image on the screen was a POV Shot of someone on an elevator ride. The scarlet twilight grew deeper, darker, more enigmatic as the clifty wilderness tilted into camera range. The planet's rotation around the host sun was somewhat faster than what they were accustomed to on Earth. Days were usually only twelve hours long. The data looked so disarming, and familiar. Danielle could almost imagine cricket song at the base of the tall Birch trees there.
"I'm still here." Renton said, sounding more than a little impatient at this point. Eagle 17 hovered over terrain at the edge of night. The command module waving to, and fro slightly.
"Take her down to the Phase II Landing Site." Bergman decided, taking the largest step of all while closing his notebook.
"Renton, prepare to land your ship." Winters said. "Powered descent in five seconds. Let us know when you see the Commander's Eagle."
"I'm coming in for a landing now, and I'm switching to manual." Renton said, and commenced to whistling the theme to "The Love Boat."
Winters leaned back in his chair, galvanized with unbelief--as if discovering for the first time that the human brain was located in the anus. Bergman accompanied this by a groan of dismay.
"Negative." Pierre Danielle argued. "Keep your on-board systems on automatic--just in case."
"Oh, set a course for adventure, your mind on a new romance...." Renton sang, and whistled the theme to one of his all time favorite shows. As a child, it had challenged him on so many levels. Then again, so had "Captain Kangaroo." "Well, what do you know." He boasted. "It's amazing what you might find when your spine isn't painted yellow. Ladies, and gentlemen, I'm over the target now."
"Do you see the Phase II Eagle?" The professor asked hopefully.
"The radiation cover has been detached. I'm descending with the payload magnet."
"What the fuck are you talking about?" Pierre asked, astonished.
On the big screen, the elevator ride stopped.
"There's some friendly guyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyys--oh, on the friendly shorrRREsss." Renton sang, misquoting the lyrics, and in a voice so out of key, he could peel wall paper with it. "I'm bringing the container up now." Eagle 17 began to climb again. How fast was not known, but judging by the dizzying whirl on the screen, it was easy to see that he was moving well beyond fast enough. "I'm dispersing now to Grid Seven."
"What do you mean, Grid Seven?" Danielle barked. "!!!Renton slow it down!!!"
"It's loooooove!!!" He crooned, his voice so unpleasant, it made you want to choke him. The peak of the El Kapitan equivalent steeped into range again. Roughly cleaved individual rock formations zoomed forward at break-neck speed. Even if Eagle 17 were still under computer control, the point of no return had been reached. "Welcome aboard it's loooooooooOOOooooov-"
The screen went blank.
"That's a charm." Victor Bergman said superstitiously, sitting at the round table with the others in Koenig's office. "Since the commander, and the others disappeared, we've tried three times to penetrate the atmosphere of that planet." He rumpled with horror at the ineffectualness of Attempt # 3.
"Where does that leave us?" Helena Russell asked. She felt as though she was trying to traverse a bridge that had already been dynamited. She did not savor the feeling.
"Eagle Eight, and Eagle 2-9 both developed technical problems the moment they left the troposphere." Pete Irving reported. "Tom Graham said he had warning lights go off on his navigational array. Gordon Cooper had to return because his propellant tanks started to depressurize. No reason for it at all. The voltage just dropped. Carissa Englebert pulled the tanks when he got back. As it turns out, the problem was also electrical."
"What happened to Renton in Eagle 17." Winters observed. "That was no electrical problem, Pete."
"So far, Pierre's Phase One Eagle is the only one that has made it safely."
"We didn't land, though." Pilot Danielle pointed out, and after watching Renton get plastered against Mount Stuebing while singing Jack Jones' Greatest Hits, he was almighty grateful that they did not try.
"It is possible that the Phase One Eagle tripped something." Bergman theorized, standing. Presently he began to pace the worn out circumference of the table.
"Something that has probably been there a long, long time. The problem with space is that it's experiential. We have no idea where the light switches are." And unfortunately, he thought, but did not add, this particular house had a million of them, all cleverly hidden.
"The landing party's bio-readings are being constantly monitored." Russell said. "It's the only way we've been able to keep in contact with them."
"What's their status." The professor asked.
"Angelina Verdeschi's pulse, and heart rate jumped about an hour ago." She said, circumspectly. "The others seem to be nominal--all except for Paul Morrow. Every twenty minutes, or so, he flat-lines. I've never seen any thing like it. I'm hoping it's an equipment problem."
"That's it, then?" Bergman asked, surprised.
"No." The physician replied, and then added the grand googol to this affair. "No, it's not. They're all getting weaker. I'm sure there's a cycle to the degeneration, but it's not any thing our instruments can record. Each person is acting, and reacting to stimuli that we haven't seen."
Bergman glanced at the ceiling, his surprise effectively quaffed.
"We're going over the data from the Phase I Probe with a fine toothed comb." Kate Bullen said, injecting herself into the command conference. "We're throwing everything we've got at that planet, but so far, the feed back has been unrevealing."
"We'll be in range of Mira Cathexis for only six more days." Bergman reminded them, rubbing his palms together meditatively. "We have that long to come up with something."
"Professor, is the evacuation procedure cancelled then?" Danielle asked. Never any harm in asking.
Bergman remained as mute as space itself.
Victor Bergman met Angelina Verdeschi outside of the Intensive Care Unit. All told, she was handling death, and extinction pretty well. Hating to do so but seeing no way around it, the professor was about to refer her to a crucial looking red flimsy that he was carrying. Alan Carter made three, adding brute force, and a bodacious ticked-off attitude to the proceedings.
"Beat it." He told Bergman curtly, grabbing Angelina by the elbow.
"I believe the Boolean Coefficient shall eat my brain." The professor responded like a computer server that had no idea which program to access.
Carter dragged the physicist--blank of face--into the corner.
"!!!Are you going to talk like he does!!!" He said, shaking her violently. "???Huh??? Are you in there, 'Angie??? Pardon my bad manners, baby, but I'm doing a little survey on who is real, and who is Memorex. I can't believe I'm the only one who got popped into this fairy tale, so answer up!!!" He rattled her with such force, her head almost bounced off the bulkhead. "!!!DAMN YOU, I SAID ANSWER ME!!!
Angelina's eyes lit up to the spark of recognition. In her mind, she saw Captain Alan Carter in tunnel vision, surrounded by a lavender haze. The background, the planet, gradually began to materialize around him, the images sharpening.
"Alan?!?" she stammered. Angelina was confused. First she was in Medical Center on Alpha mourning the loss of Eric Sparkman. But Eric died over 4 years ago. How could that be? Then she was in a strange environment, a planet, where they had hoped to settle with the others. The others: where were the others?
"Alan? What's happening?" she asked with imploring eyes. She held onto him, and was about to embrace him when suddenly, she felt as if something had yanked her backwards by the neck. She was on Alpha in Flight Control. The "planet" had to be a dream. She was upset, that was all. Her expression darkened.
She pushed him violently away. "You bastard!! You knew he was dying! YOU KNEW IT! But you didn't contact me!!! Why?!? WHY?!?!?" she screamed venomously at him. "How could you do that?!?! What kind of monster are you?!?!
Carter remembered the first time he and Angelina went out on a formal "DATE"--if that was the right word. Reconnaissance Section had the smallest snack room on the base. Only one table, with two chairs; the other astronauts could either battle it out, or seek bad refreshments elsewhere. 'Ang was still working the power houses back then, but every now, and then the late king of ambiguists, David Kano, would send her over to initiate the newly compressed hydrogen in several of the fuel cells. He asked her if she would have a spot with him, and in a moment of mental instability, she accepted.
And she watched him spill that nasty C-Total crap all over his tunic.
He grabbed her firmly by the shoulders as she hectored him. Her eyes had a glazed, rapture quality about them. Some demanding, incipient energy, keeping her in a muse over things that had long since passed.
Deceiving representations of Doug Wayland, and Gordon Cooper stopped to nose in on what was happening. Carter told them to hit the bricks.
Angelina's antiquated rage found incentive. She balled her fists hulk-like, and took to battening on the pilot's chest. Carter took two steps backwards to keep her from toppling over with the force of her own blows. Angelina took two compensatory steps forward-getting in his face, really chewing his ass out. Her right boot heel fell upon the crumpled, red flimsy that the pasteurized, processed Victor Bergman had abandoned, for reasons unknown.
Carter watched the entire thing unfold in Angelina's eyes. At first, she was a volcano-insisting repeatedly that his entire character could be summarized in one four letter word. Then she stopped, and for a millisecond, she hung between ground, and space, saying nothing. Jocular disbelief replaced the blazing viscitudes that were inside her. After that, she was on her way down.
Angelina did the Hokey Pokey on Bergman's misplaced flimsy. Losing her balance, she fell backwards. Slamming into the huge tree caused the wind to be knocked out of her, not to mention the little concussion she received when the back of her head made contact with the huge tree. The huge tree?!?! Although there were trees in hydroponics, there were no "huge" trees on Alpha. As she gasped for air she looked up and realized that there were no trees like this one on Alpha either.
Still in a mental fog she again saw Carter in front of her. "Alan?" she asked, questioning her sanity. Maybe he was real and maybe he wasn't.
Suddenly, the corridors of Alpha faded out as in a movie and were replaced with the lush lavender hued landscape of Mira Cathexis. It was difficult enough to deal with the physical reality of the situation. She was on Mira Cathexis in the present, not Moonbase Alpha, hours before breakaway in the past. But the sudden shift in emotional and mental states from past to present was too overwhelming for Angelina. She began to sob, lowering her face into her hands.
"'Ang." He said, gently now, framing her beautiful face in both hands. "Hey, don't you remember. The planet. There were six of us. Me, you, Paul, Sandra, Bob, the commander. The Phase II Probe." He prompted. "Something went wrong, 'Ang. Something went badly wrong." On the floor lay the red flimsy. Face down, where the bogus Bergman dropped it.
Holding her against his chest, he decided to try his comlock again.
"This is Carter. Commander Koenig do you read me?"
Angelina closed her eyes while she listened to Alan's unsuccessful attempts at contacting the Commander. When she opened them again, she was still in his arms on Mira Cathexis. For some reason, the visions and illusions did not seem to affect her. She still wondered how real Alan was in this setting. She looked up at him and kissed him tenderly. She was now convinced he was not an illusion.
Mentally exhausted, she momentarily rested her head against his chest again and held onto him tightly. "We've got to get out of here," she murmured. She could barely keep her eyes open.
"Paul, do you read me?" Carter agreed, nodding. "Blast this lousy thing." He said--the comlock, filled with so much static that it easily could have passed for an AM Radio. "Okay." He decided. "That's okay because we're going to be alright." He pulled her into a crouching position with him, readying for a round of foxhole strategy. "'Ang, I know you're in a bad way, babe, but I need you to listen closely." He said sensitively. "I want you to tell me everything you remember from the moment we touched down."
To say that their present dilemma was confusing would have been the ALL TIME PRIZE WINNING UNDERSTATEMENT.
All Angelina wanted to do was take a nap..a long one. The back of her head was throbbing and she was feeling a little sick to her stomach. What she wanted and what needed to be done were two vastly different actions.
"Well, we were walking around here, on the planet, " she began, her brow wrinkled as she tried to jog her memory. "Then, I was back on Moonbase Alpha but not now; the past. I was landing in an Eagle, when I returned to Alpha. Pierre Danielle was there too. Tony greeted me. He wanted his cannoli, then told me Eric was dying. I was in Medical Center and next I had the confrontation with Gorski. After that, I was at the Main Power Station. Joe Erhlich and I were watching the canisters being dispersed from area two on the monitors. Then...the explosions...the rumbling...getting thrown to the floor. But then I saw you and Bob, surrounded by a pink haze."
Angelina shrugged. "Then you both disappeared and I was back in Medical Center again watching Eric die again. But this time it was a little more, weird. As I stepped out of Medical into what I thought should be corridor C, I was suddenly back at the Main Power Station. I could predict what happened next, anticipating what Joe was going to say. Then, breakaway again, but this time Commissioner Dixon was there...and he was pretty badly hurt. I saw you again, with the pink haze, speaking into your comlock."
Angelina paused. "It started again. I was back in medical with Professor Bergman....and you. It was strange because first I was on Alpha, then I was here with you, and then I was on Alpha again...in Flight Control...shouting at you. Next thing I know, my head hurt and I was here again."
She shook her head. "I must be out of my mind. Or am I?" Angelina gazed at him. "What do you see when you look around?"
The pager tone sounded on Carter's comlock. It was Paul Morrow, but it wasn't the person the pilot was trying to reach. The duality of this situation infuriated him.
"Alan, could you report to Main Mission, immediately?" The controller said, awaiting a response.
"No." Carter smiled, and terminated the link. "When I look around, I see Alpha, but something's not right about it." From his perspective, he had pulled 'Ang into a nearby utility closet. She was sitting on the floor Indian style, with her back to a First Aid Kit. "It's a duplicate that's perfect in every way, but the geometry is off, or something. It's almost like some thing, or some one built it in such a hurry that they were half an inch off on everything.
"Weird stuff." He allowed. "Also, every corridor I don't go into--it's like the power is out, or something. It's a pitch black hole. The minute I head in that direction, though, the power suddenly comes on." The pilot swallowed. "Then there's the people. Their faces are too perfect. They're alive, but they remind me of plastic dolls, or something. I can't think of any better way of describing it. Their appearance is stream lined. No details at all." Indeed, the Alphans on this muddled Moonbase seemed as vague, and intangible as a fading memory. "What are you seeing?"
Angelina nodded. "Yes, that is exactly what I was seeing too. I say 'was' because now I'm seeing the planet. We are on the planet and it is real...I think. I wonder why I'm not seeing Alpha and living in the past anymore, " Angelina mused while rubbing the knot on the back of her head. She sighed. "I can find the way back to the ship. But even if we manage to get the others on board, which I have a feeling will be a chore onto itself, you can't fly it as long as you're seeing a bogus Moonbase Alpha."
Suddenly, something caught Angelina's eye. "Hey, maybe we won't have to worry about getting out of here ourselves. Look! " She pointed near the Phase 2 Eagle. "It looks like we're being rescued."
Angelina stood up, weaved a little until her head stopped spinning but never taking her eyes off the incoming Eagle. "Come with me," she instructed, and taking his hand, they headed in the direction of the Eagle.
Angelina suddenly stopped at the top of the hill.
"Wait!!!" she shouted ineffectively as the Eagle suddenly gained altitude.
"Where in the hell does he think he's going?!?!?! OH MY GOD!!!!" She yelled as the Eagle gained speed and altitude but not enough to clear the collision course with a mountain. "He's gonna crash!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Angelina watched in horror as Eagle 17 slammed into the mountain and exploded, putting a decisive end to its "cruise."
Carter could not hear zilch. He was blind, deaf, and dumb in a cracked game of house. He poked his head out of the closet door, and saw Helena Russell consulting with Bob Mathias outside of Medical Center. Their rhetoric drifted over to him in pauses, and murmurs. A variation of the Bishop Barclay Conundrum occurred to him: would they even be there, if there were no possibility that he would be there to see them? They parted the Red Sea briefly to allow Ann Delline room to get through. She moved busily down the corridor, and used her comlock to open a fire engine red hatch at the end. Again, their hosts had failed to properly execute the blueprints to their bull crap base. There were no hatches like that at the end of Corridor M, or anywhere else on Moonbase Alpha. The twin, closing panels bore hieroglyphic crescents, instead of the usual countdown labels, seen throughout the complex.
"No, I didn't see, or hear any thing." He told her, ducking back inside. "Listen, there's something I want to check out. Wait for about five minutes. If I'm not back in that time, I want you to go back to the Eagle, and lift off immediately."
Angelina shook her head. "No way. Alan, you're seeing Moonbase Alpha and you completely missed that crash," Angelina stated, still staring at the smoldering wreckage on the distant mountain. "There's no way you'll be able to find the Eagle by yourself. Plus under the circumstances, it is best that we stick together, "she concluded with steely resolve.
The Moon's approach to Mira Cathexis peaked at 38,000 kilometers, perigee. It's national 'phiz was turning indifferently away from the unoccupied launch pads, and stellar cartographer's who were beginning to find more joy in a plate of stewed carrots, than the mighty legions of whipped cream clouds. The bodies of a million warriors might lay beneath the dead salt water seas on the planet's inconspicuous side. On Moonbase Alpha, the honeymoon was over, though. In fact, the marriage itself was on the skids.
"We've analyzed a DAT copy of the recording we heard in Main Mission just before the landing party disappeared." Benjamin Ouma told Professor Victor Bergman from a monitor near the conference table. "No unusual wave forms. It emanated from our own Reference Library. We do know that."
"Good." Bergman said, stirring his coffee. "It's nice that we know some thing. Alright, Ouma thank you."
"The look on your face says it all." Helena Russell commented, neurotically. All of the fun in hashing it out had been lost hours ago. They were the only two left at the conference table. Maybe it was because they seemed to know what they were doing.
"It does, does it?" Bergman removed his stirring stick, and noticed that half of it had melted into his coffee. "What Renton said--you know, I can't get that off my mind."
"'The Love Boat?'"
"No, the part about depositing something, or another to Grid Seven. Shades of Disposal Area Two going 'ka-bloowey."
"He was hallucinating." The physician explained, arranging her pneumonic file drawer.
"Yes, of course, but why that particular hallucination. Why not hallucinate about being a billionaire, or being stranded on an isle of naked women--no offence, of course."
"William James once wrote a paper on the nature of mind, and of the human collective consciousness." She began. "Tragic events, and household names are pervasive, and foundational. Every one knows about them, even if we don't remember experiencing them. Take for example Elvis Presley. When we begin raising children here, I have no doubt that alot of them will run around humming "Jailhouse Rock," and "Don't Be Cruel." How would they know about that? I don't think there are many fans of The King here on Alpha."
"I know if I were giving the music lessons, crap like "Poke Salad Annie" wouldn't be my first choice. You know the principal. Breakaway is an event that we all remember. It's indelible, and when the mind is loosed the way Renton's was, the indelible becomes fodder for hallucination."
"Loosed?" Bergman considered the application of the word. "Or, was his mind tapped?"
"How do you mean."
The professor scratched his chin.
"I don't know." He admitted. In a Catch 22 universe though, the phrase 'I don't know' seemed almost eschatological.
Communications Specialist Tim O'Connor took a sip of his cold coffee, shook his head and set it on the coaster. He was resigned to the fact that he wasn't moving anytime soon and that he might as well return to duty. Staring at his monitor, the electro magnetic anomaly would have been missed completely by the untrained eye.
"There it is again," Tim murmured, eyes still glued to the monitor. The high frequency range pulse was registering at regular intervals. It was barely perceptible. The problem was the fact that the blips should have been random, a result of background radiation noise. These readings were coming from Mira Cathexis, somewhere near the last known location of the phase 2 landing party.
Tim O'Connor collated the data and charted it. The chart clearly illustrated the high frequency blips as a signal, artificially generated, at regular intervals. This was not just noise!
Tim jumped up excitedly and went to the compost.
"Main Mission," answered a reserved Mark Winters.
"Mark," Tim replied, "Tim O'Connor in communications. I think I've found something."
"If I had a brain in my head, I'd insist you go back." Carter said bluntly. "There's no sense in every one dying, especially if the opportunity was there for one to be saved." He took her hand, and opened the closet door. The corridor outside was empty now. The hatch was hour-glass in design--wide of berth, and totally inimical to human design. "Let me know what's really going on." The pilot requested, reaching for his comlock. "You're my glasses. The first SNAFU that we run into, and you're heading back to the Eagle, whether you like it, or not."
Angelina nodded, though she had no intention of complying with the latter sentence.
They traversed the corridor. At the end, Carter aimed his comlock at the hatch, only to discover that it was not keyed to Moonbase security systems. He may as well have pulled out a skeleton key. Commlocks wouldn't work. There wasn't even a status panel, or manual control switches. Ann Delline had walked right in, but apparently, it was an exclusive club.
The pilot exhaled. He firmly expected black clouds of frustration to issue from his nostrils.
There was the heavy metallic sounds of bolts being drawn back; butterfly knobs slid back into their recesses. Slowly, the door parted into quarters. Why? Carter had not a clue. He produced the concealed laser he had hidden behind his tan belt without invitation. Chances are, it too was Memorex, since he had copped it from the main security arsenal. On the other hand, an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure. He nudged the staple gun-shaped weapon into its atomizing KILL setting.
On the opposite side of the hatch lay another dimension. White pixel crosses danced betwixt a post-quantum barrier that separated the Hollywood version of Moonbase Alpha from Mira Cathexis, and Carter believed that what they saw on the other side really was Mira Cathexis. The drag queen was out of uniform now. The ground was a variate, gray splash of gruel--dried hard, and rippled like old spaghetti sauce. The essential soil, baked hard beneath Omicron Ceti's dehydrating solar flares. The pilot looked to the left. Desolation, for miles, and miles; not even trees. He looked to the right--ditto, save for a small, lifeless mountain with a triune of ancient, collapsed calderas. From where he stood, it resembled the skull of a dead animal--a bull, perhaps, or a wildebeest. High above was the Earth's Moon--the face of the Mare Imbrium graduating to the dark side; drifting further, and further out of range with each passing second.
"Are you seeing this." He asked Angelina. The world beyond the red hatch was totally devoid of color. There was black, and there was white. Here, and there, a gray was visible, usually in the shadows. Medium sized electrical ignitions popped, and exploded all around them, like St. Elmo's Fire. There was a mysterious clicking sound that reverberated throughout the convoluted atmosphere. From the uppermost peak of the mountain, three beams of laser light were projected into space unfathomable. One red; one green, one blue. These were the only visible colors, slowly revolving on an alien turn table.
Ann Delline, RN, was no where to be seen. However they did see Commander John Koenig pointing a mutual laser at them.
Instead of a red hatch, Angelina at first thought they were headed straight into a tree. As they got closer to the tree, however, the trunk took on a shimmering appearance. She closed her eyes and stepped into it.
Angelina gasped when she opened her eyes. It was paradise lost; the opposite of Eden. Devoid of color, the world before them was dead and desolate. Omicron Ceti, no longer bathing the planet in a warm, pinkish glow, burned in the sky like the eye of a Cyclops. Any day dreams of the future on Mira Cathexis that she had of sitting on the porch of her Cape Cod style house while watching her husband and son romp and play in the white picket fenced yard were completely obliterated.
In answer to Carter's question "are you seeing this?" came the non verbal look of shock, disbelief and a bit of grief, followed by a slow nod.
It was then she also saw the Commander as well. "Commander? Wh-What are you doing?" she asked, then seeing his laser drawn on them. "Do you think its real?" she whispered to Alan.
"Carter!!! 'Ang!!!" John Koenig halted them, extending his palm. He knew they were real the moment he saw them. Partly, it was one of those command things. Partly, and unlike every one else he had encountered on the Mira Cathexis edition of Moonbase Alpha, they didn't look like Barbie & Ken pseudo-humans.
The commander slipped his laser back under his belt.
"Be careful if you try to step through." He cautioned, momentarily cast in emerald shadow from the corresponding projector atop the mountain. "It packs a punch. Alan, hold on tightly to her."
The pilot gripped Angelina's hand firmly, and placed his right foot through the doorway. He immediately felt his leg muscles begin to cramp. It felt like a humongous was had been surgically implanted in his calf, and now, panic stricken, was trying to extricate itself. The factory dye in his tan flares glowed solid white, save for the gray shadow in the drooping creases.
"Hold on tight, gorgeous." He said, smiling ruefully. "Here goes...."
Carter stepped through the portal. Atop the cliff, the laser lights widened their beams. The rotation ceased, and the individual projections merged to form a unified field. The otherworldly clicking, and clacking grew louder by decibels.
The pilot was there, to see his grandfather teach him how to catfish. The old man used oil of annis for bate, and the whiskered amphibian died a horrible death of mutilation. He was there--back aboard a war Hawk of Allied Block designation. He was the pilot. A fellow named Dirk Kilpack was the gunner. They fired a tact missile from outer space. It impacted on a mosque in The United Arab Emirates; about three dozen followers of the Homas Movement died horrible mutilating deaths. The mind of Mira Cathexis zapped him, and applied it's psychic vacuum cleaner nozzle. He was there--aboard pompous, insane, Gerald Simmond's Eagle. An Alexander The Great in his own mind, and one who really should have stayed home for corn flakes that day. The politician had left his brief case in the passenger module. The pilot watched as Nuclear Disposal Area Two lay waste to half the Moon. The big, blue marble beneath them died a horrible, mutilating death.
After an eternity of perusing the efficient miracles of non-existence, Carter emerged on the other side. Koenig caught him on the rebound as he began to topple.
The moment Angelina was pulled into the portal she felt as if she had been doused by a waterfall, her body and mind went numb. Reality? Who's to say what reality was....
She was 5 years old again and she was terrified because her brother Tony had locked her in her uncle's wine cellar in the dark. She heard his laughter and footsteps as he ran away.......As a graduate student at MIT, Professor Franklin Charles ridiculed her new hypothesis "Ridiculous!! Ludicrous!! Nuclear Waste cannot blow up by itself!! You need a trigger. You know better than that! Ms. Verdeschi, I'm surprised at you".....The terror of breakaway came alive for her again. The unseen hand from the excess G forces was crushing her into the floor. She couldn't move. She could barely breathe, such an effort to inhale. She prayed multiple Lord's Prayers and Hail Marys. She watched helplessly as the bulkhead door to Nuclear Reactor #1 sealed shut with Jack Crawford, already badly burned, pleading for help on the other side; leaving him to the ravages of further radiation poisoning.....Angelina relived the sweet, tender intimacy that resulted in the conception of their son. She felt the excruciating agony of his birth followed by the one of the greatest joys she ever experienced at the moment of his arrival.
Angelina's world was spinning as she emerged and collapsed to her knees. She was disoriented, fighting off the blackness of unconsciousness which was trying to overtake her.
Watch yourself." Carter said, propping Angelina up on the left side. Koenig was there immediately to prop her up on the right. Technical Section's manager was in the limbo some where in between.
"Take it easy, 'Ang." The commander said, dropping his utility case to the ground. "Boy, am I ever glad to see you two."
"Same here." Carter said. Angelina was beginning to straighten her back again. Apparently, the vertigo had run it's spiraling course. "How did you get here."
"I followed both of you." Koenig said paradoxically. "Through the red hatch."
The pilot shook his head. The unreality of this place was as terminal, and as confusing as a minefield.
"Commlocks are no good." The commander went on. "There's some sort of general damping field down here. That place is a closed loop system. There's some thing on this planet that's capable of translating our thoughts into matter, instantaneously. I've just spent the last several hours haggling it out with Gerald Simmonds--or at least with my memory of him. He's a nut."
"What's 'Plan-A.'" Carter inquired.
"'Plan-A' is that we find the source of the distortions, and attempt to shut it down. There's no way we could possibly risk trying to lift off while this is going on. We'd just end up crashing like that Rescue Eagle did."
"You saw that."
"Yeah," Koenig said grimly. "I saw it. 'Ang, are you going to be alright?"
Angelina struggled to break through the lingering mental images as she listened to the conversation. She felt like her head was detached from her body. She marveled at how complete odd the sensation felt to her. The fog lifted slowly as Koenig asked her if she was going to be OK.
Angelina looked up momentarily glancing at Carter then smiled weakly at the commander and nodded. "I'm fine...I think. Thank you."
She turned and looked behind her. "I hope there's another door out of here. I really don't relish the thought of going back the way we came in." She sighed. "Commander, you said you were talking with your memory of Commissioner Simmonds for hours. I wonder how long we have really been here."
Angelina stared in disbelief as she pressed the time option on her comlock. She looked back and forth between Koenig and Carter."According to this, we have been here for nearly 4 days. We should be famished but I, for one, am not hungry. Perhaps that too is an illusion."
Then she looked at her medical wrist monitor. Angelina grabbed Carter's wrist to check his wrist monitor while Koenig took the cue and checked his medical monitor. "We're getting weaker, Commander." Angelina stated. "Yet, I feel fine. How do you feel?"
You, of course, was plural meaning Carter and Koenig.
"I feel alright." Carter said modestly.
Koenig agreed, even though his head felt about the size of the state of Texas. De riguers was something they had all quickly become accustomed to. Things were much simpler when the Moon was still in Earth's orbit.
"Whatever is happening has just as much of an effect on a person's memory as it does their perception." Koenig said bibliographically. "I saw Paul Morrow earlier--the real Paul Morrow. He just stood there, staring into space. When I tried to touch him, he just faded out, and the corridor was empty again."
"Assuming that we were all in the same state at one time, there's no telling how long we've been in here. That may just be insult to injury." He said, pointing to the egressing satellite. "In reality, the Moon may have moved out of range decades ago. We can't trust any thing that we see."
"Ang, I need you to find your way back to the Eagle." He said, echoing Carter's earlier directive. "It may be a lost cause, but still, we have to try. If you find any of the others, try to escort them back with you. It won't be easy."
"Alan, you and I are going mountain climbing. Are you up to it."
"Yes sir." Carter said, wondering why they had not taken these actions yesterday.
Angelina stared at the cracked earth beneath them. Ruddles, and rents in the ruined mud seeming to form more alien hieroglyphics. Her tear ducts ran, causing her vision to blur. The rippled ground merged. There was a moment when the words THE WORLD SHALL KNOW SORROW appeared to be etched in the blasted surface. She blinked, and when she opened her eyes again, the peroration was gone.
Angelina, dismissing the message from beyond as the musing of an overtired imagination, had no choice but to comply with the Commander's instruction. She really did not want to leave either of them; but again, what she had to do took center stage over what she wanted to do. With as much enthusiasm as she could muster, she gave them both a thumbs up and said "Right, meet you both back at the ship then."
Angelina went to the top of a hill. She really had no idea where she was going but she believed she could at least get a better view from the hill. The gray, dusty soil was depressing and reminded her of the lunar landscape. At the peak of the hill, Ang surveyed the dreariness and spotted the Phase 2 Eagle in the valley; it was about a mile away from her. Then, at the bottom of the hill, she saw Bob Mathias.
Angelina bolted to the bottom of the hill.
"Bob! BOB!" she shouted.
He did not respond. He continued to stare into the distance at nothing. She helped him to his feet but he was so weak, he leaned against her. She knew she had the real Bob and not an illusion Bob because every once in awhile he would call her "Laura" instead of being robotically compassionate.
After helping Bob onto a gurney in the passenger module, Angelina went into the Command module to attempt to raise Alpha.
"Moonbase Alpha, this is Eagle 1. Do you copy?" Over and over she called. Static was her response. She sat back in the pilot's chair and sighed, looking out over the dull gray landscape. Another lost dream. Another dashed hope. 'Had it really been 4 days?' she asked herself. She couldn't believe it. She closed her eyes because in a moment of fragility the tears were forming fast; the fact that she missed her baby was not lost on her but the possibility that he would never breath real air, feel the warmth of the sun on his face and the wind in his air hit her like a ton of bricks. She sniffed and swallowed. 'I have to find the others,' she concluded as she removed herself from the command module.
Before leaving the passenger module, she checked Bob again. He did not look good; he was terribly dehydrated. Bob had once shown Angelina how to start an IV and although she managed to successfully start one on herself, that was her only experience. Angelina's first attempt on Bob was not a success, as he winced, even in his catatonic state; she had blown the vein. She apologized profusely, though he was not listening. On her second try, she was successful though and after strapping him in so he wouldn't wander out, she stepped out of the Eagle. As she closed the door, she looked up at the moon; pulling away every second. She was now off to find Paul and Sandra.
Meanwhile, as Angelina was attempting to gather the troops, Carter and Koenig had scaled the large hill. In the center of the summit, a series of obelisks arranged in a circle around a gigantic obelisk captivated their attention. The huge center obelisk shot out red, blue then green laser beams of light into the sky, repeating the duration and pattern. Inside the circle, smaller multicolored laser beams danced between the center obelisk to the smaller obelisks on the perimeter of the circle. Psychedelic would be a good adjective to describe the scene.
"Do you think that's it, the control center?" Carter asked, griping his laser tighter.
"It looks that way," Koenig mused. "Set you laser on maximum."
Both men aimed and at Koenig's mark, fired at the center obelisk.
Sandra opened her eyes and sighed. She couldn't see anything and had a terrible headache. She was still on the ground, but she couldn't remember what happened. She was walking with Paul, and The Commander was just in front of them. Paul and her were talking when... When what?
She stood up slowly, moaning. Her clothes were dirty and ripped. She looked around, trying to find Paul and the Commander but she was alone. She took her comlock and activated it. "Paul! Paul, where are you? Paul, please, answer me!". She waited a moment for an answer, still trying to remember what happened. "This is Sandra Benes calling Moonbase Alpha. Please, answer!".
She sighed again and put her hand on her face. Her cheeks were wet with tears. But she didn't know why she cried. She just couldn't remember...She tried to walk, wanting to find Paul and the Commander. Suddenly, she saw legs behind a tree and ran. "Paul!', she exclaimed.
She knelt beside him and looked at him. His face was awfully pale and he seemed terrified. "Paul, Paul, answer me, please... Come on...", she asked him softly, trying to wake him up, running her fingers on his face.
"Moonbase Alpha calling Sandra, answer please."
"Thank God", she exclaimed, recognizing Professor Bergman's voice. "Professor, do you hear me? We have problems here, but I don't know what they are. I can't understand. We were walking then all here disappeared, and became black. I just wake up. I don't know where is the Commander but Paul is here, unconscious! Professor, what happened to us?"
"Sandra. You must try to find the Commander. That planet! We know now what is the problem and we're going to take you back. I have no time to explain. Be careful, you mustn't..."
The voice stopped, and Sandra looked at her comlock with despair.
"Professor? Professor? Alpha!"
She suddenly felt like ice, and her headache grew, as if her head was going to explode. "It's coming again!", she thought, before fall on Paul's legs.
She opened slowly the eyes and jumped, afraid. She was again on Alpha and through the window could see the Earth! "It's impossible!", she thought. "We are no longer in Earth orbit! We left it since months!".
"Waste Disposal Area One, Paul. Check out all the figures on Area One for the past ten days"
Sandra jumped hearing the Commander, and turned to look at the point where came the voice. She shivered when she recognized the Main Mission, with everyone at their post. But it was impossible, there were people here who were died!
"Sandra. Check ten on Area One, please, and bring it in.", asked Paul, looking at a young brunette at her desk.
"Yes, Paul", answered the young woman, turning to her console.
Sandra's eyes grew wide when she recognized that young woman. It was herself! Not knowing what to do, she run to Paul.
"Paul! Do you hear me? Paul, you're in danger. All is going to explode, the Moon will be blast out of her orbit and you'll never see again the Earth! Paul! Do you hear me? Can you see me? Paul, please, answer me!"
But the young man was looking through her and it was clear he wasn't hearing or seeing her. No one could see her. She jumped when she heard her own voice.
"Paul, Commander! There is a steep rise in heat levels in Disposal Area One. This is impossible. All indications show that the radiation level is normal but the heat continues to rise."
Sandra proceeded slowly to the second Sandra, checking her results, while looking with anxiety at the big screen. "I'm going to be crazy! I must do something to tell them they are in danger! Maybe... Maybe I came back in the past, and maybe I have now the possibility to change things... If I can tell them to leave Alpha now, maybe that mean myself, and all the others in the future won't be lost in space. Oh, God, please, help me! I must find a way!"
"All visual contact lost", said the second Sandra at her desk.
"Paul!", said eagerly the Commander. "I want an Eagle for immediate lift off. We've gotta see what's going on out there!"
Sandra, forgetting he couldn't see her, ran to him, trying to stop him.
"Please, Commander, you're losing time! You have so few hours to escape! Don't go, you're in danger! You must evacuate the Moonbase immediately! Please!"
But the Commander walked through her, heading quickly to the launch pad. The door closed on him and Sandra stopped dead. She couldn't go through or open it.
"I'm a prisoner! And I'm going to live again that awful day! I don't want to!"
She turned back to look at the people in Main Mission, still at peace, not knowing that in few hours, they would be people without home and family. She saw the blue Earth illuminating the dark space. Exhausted, her head heavy, she fell on her knees, sobbing.
"I can't do anything. They are lost! And it is my fault! I am here, I know what will happen and I can't help! My God, it's too much, I can't handle it. It's my fault, it's my fault...", and all became black again
The meeting was adjourned to the Experimental Laboratory. Jim Haines, and Tim O'Connor stood selflessly behind Victor Bergman as the light came on behind the monitor screen. The professor rapped his knuckles impatiently against the console, and waited. Before long, a dialogue box opened that stated the image was LOADING. Minutes later, a CGI representation of a vertex appeared, completing several revolutions per minute atop its theoretical origin.
"What is it professor?" Mark Winters inquired. He had offered his seat to Helena Russell, but she preferred to stand.
"That," Bergman said, using his index finger as a reference tool. "That is an unparticulated wave of gamma radiation. As you all know, just before the Phase II Landing Party disappeared, we experienced a total loss of power here on Alpha. When the power returned, we heard this." He pressed FORWARD arrow on a small CD Boom Box. The upbeat period march of "American Bandstand" filled the room. "As it turns out, it's an MP3 Audio Clip from our own Reference Library. We had no idea what triggered it. Thanks to Mr. O'Connor, I feel reasonably certain that it was that." He said, tipping an obligatory nod towards the sine wave again.
"How was radiation in that form able to affect our communications systems?" Kate Bullen asked astutely.
"Radiation is capable of travelling in any number of forms." Bergman prefaced, turning the boom box off. "Cosmic rays; the solar winds--take for example, our radiation screens here on Alpha. They're erected via radio waves. Likewise, the wave pattern we see here. It's being broadcast at an unknown bandwidth, and using an unknown form of radio telegraphy. It's constant--it wasn't before, but apparently it is now--and it's polarized to attract other forms of radiation. Hence, the replay of one of our own audio recordings. If my theory is correct, and I have no reason to believe that it isn't, the Phase I Eagle tripped it--possibly by breaking some elaborate motion sensitive beam."
"Then you don't see this as some form of natural phenomenon?" Helena Russell queried.
Bergman shook his head, and changed slides. A beautiful astro shot of Mira Cathexis appeared on the screen.
"I took this photo myself five days ago." Using the remote control, he abruptly brought up slide number three. "I took this shot today. The glow you see around the planet appeared after using several filters to enhance the image."
"Heyyyyyyyyyyyy." Pierre Danielle whistled, stupefied.
"What is it?" Kate Bullen asked, squinting.
"It's the same sine wave, only it's being broadcast over the entire planet--probably from a projector some where on the Neopanacea Continent. It's geomagnetic; it utilizes microwave technology vastly superior to our own; it's sonic. It may very well be a variation of HAARP."
"HAARP." Winters repeated aloud, confused.
"Sorry." Bergman apologized. "A High Frequency Aurora Research Program. HAARP. On Earth, we experimented with such a device as a means of controlling, and predicting the weather. But we didn't know what we were doing, so the research never panned out. Apparently, some one on Mira Cathexis did know what they were doing, but they paid a high price for the knowledge. Within that halo is enough radio energy to transmit a nuclear bomb. From the source, the super beams travel through the magnetosphere, triggering a chorus of signals at different frequencies. Three point six gigawatts of effective, radiated power. From our research on Earth, we know that we can understand, simulate, and control certain ionosphere processes with such a device.
But consider this: The human mind; our actions; our behaviors--are all the result of electrical activity within the brain. Hallucinations are mostly thought to be the product of electrochemical, internal stimuli, but what if some one discovered how to create them using external forces. What effect would such a machine have on us."
Pete Irving, and Garrett Logan had elected to sit in on the meeting. Logan had no idea what Bergman was talking about, but he could gander a few things, particularly if the ohm, and the kilowatt were involved. In the final analysis, no space craft was powered by elbow grease alone.
"That would explain why none of our Eagles have been able to safely traverse the sixteen kilometer, to sea level point." He supposed.
"Precisely." Bergman beamed. "It would also explain Carl Renton's bizarre behavior, just before the crash of Eagle 17."
"If Commander Koeing, and the others are trapped within that wave form, how do we get them out." Helena Russell interjected.
Bergman turned the monitor off.
"In about four hours, the Moon will be out of range of that planet." He said with terrible finality. "There's only one way that I know of to neutralize such massive amounts of energy, but it's an extreme measure at best. An EMP--transmitted from one of our own interstellar radio antennas. We may not shut it down completely, but we could punch a hole in it. It may buy us enough time to launch a Rescue Eagle."
"A pulse like that could tear the guts out of our on-board systems, though--our communications; our navigation; hell, our engines." Pete Irving retorted.
"Like I said, it's an extreme measure." Bergman reiterated. "At the same time, I don't see how we have any other choice. Time is a luxury we don't have." He seated himself in one of the space age plastic chairs, and awaited a response.
Laura Mathias studied her reflection in the tarnished mirror about the small vanity in the bathroom. 'More foundation,' she thought as she grabbed the make up from the shelf.
Last weekend, Laura Mathias finally threw out her now ex-boyfriend. Greg was an unemployed musician; a musician who liked to drink and had a temper. As he was making his final exit, Greg gave her a parting gift; the nasty shiner on her right eye. Despite the fact that it had been a week and was looking better, she still sported the yellowish, greenish hued color of a bruise in the final stages of healing. Therefore, she was force to wear make up, something she rarely did, to cover it up.
In the small living room, Amy had her favorite Barbies lined up, dressed up, and ready for inspection. Amy was eagerly awaiting for her father's arrival, dressed in her pink Britney Spears outfit. The cramped 2 bedroom upstairs apartment in an older though not dangerous neighborhood was a stretch for Laura Mathias every month. However, it was as close as she could get to Amy's school, which was still 20 miles away. She was glad Bob paid for Amy's private school in addition to the child support. The public schools around here were not that great.
The furniture she had in the apartment tended toward the run of the mill, Wal-Mart pressed particle board stuff. The apartment was neat and clean. Laura had painted and decorated the walls with flair and artistic pizzazz. It wasn't too bad, just the right size for her and her daughter. However, because she had trouble making ends meet, she took on her roommate Stephanie. Laura had never seen anyone with so many piercings but she really was a sweet girl. Stephanie worked as a bar tender at night and she had just left for work.
Laura Mathias sighed as she looked at her watch. It was 1:15. Late....typical Bob Mathias.
Bob Mathias sat across from his ex-wife on the patch work blanket. They were about fifty feet from one of those endless, one hundred foot long Central Park Benches. They had broke even on the set-up. A grizzled, boozer had accosted them the moment they arrived. He claimed to be a veteran of the war. He was about to go into a long, implausible recanting of his involvement as a paratrooper during Operation Shanghai Gate. Bored, and agonized unto tears, Bob asked him how much? The boozer said all he could hold down was mashed potatoes, so his needs were small. Mathias pried open his wallet, and handed him two bucks. The boozer looked at him like he was Ebenezer Scrooge incarnate.
"Faith, hope, and charity, but the greatest of these is charity." The boozer sermonized as he walked away, clutching his bagatelle. He belched, cussed, and aspersed the physician's mother, but not necessarily in that order.
"Get a job." Mathias heckled after him. Across the way, Amy had expertly kicked off on one of those wooden, merry-go-round platforms; the kind with the woefully ineffectual, orange safety bars. She was wearing a pair of pink KED's, a Donald Duck tee-shirt, and her mother had braided her hair before they left. She would leave many a male feeling like an inadequate nerd when she got older. She was as beautiful as her mother. "Now I remember why I gave up my practice in the city." He told Laura. In the distance, the boozer attempted to cut-off a jogger. He was probably about to microwave another tale of heroism--how he threw himself upon a hand grenade on Scum Hill, but the jogger by-passed this. He showed him the bird, and kept on going.
"You're wearing a lot of foundation these days, aren't you." Mathias said, with absolutely no humor in his voice at all. "So tell me, are you trying for the ribbon in a Tammy Faye Baker look-a-like contest. You stand a good chance of winning, you know."
Laura ignored the comment. Instead, she was focused on the drunk who was staggering away in the distance until he disappeared into a grove of trees.
"He is probably down on his luck because he feels guilty about murdering people during the war, "Laura opined her pacifism and liberal ideology. "As a physician, I would think you would recognize his emotional suffering and show more compassion toward him.
Amy had made her way to the monkey bars and was hanging upside down on one of the top bars. Laura watched her apprehensively, trying to decide whether or not to shout 'Get down from there!' to her daughter when she said, "I never really had a problem with you going to Moonbase Alpha for 6 months at a time. My problem was we couldn't go with you; the place is not exact family friendly."
Laura decided that Amy was indeed too precariously high and got up to chide her.
Mathias was hopeful, and intrigued that she had brought the topic up, but instead of pursuing it, he backed into the emotional junk yard again. The same old hub caps; the same old repetitive, even-when-I'm-wrong-I'm-right, contentions that had imploded their marriage.
"The man's a bum, Laura. He's too old to have been in the war; I don't recall reading anything about the exploits of the Gray Panther Brigade." He started pointing at her. That's the way it always started, be it about schools, or the price of beans in Okachobee. "People like you defend assholes like that, and in the mean time, he's laughing all the way to the liquor store. Those who want help, find help." He dropped his fork, disgusted. She made the best potato salad he had ever eaten, but he just wasn't hungry.
Amy coiled angrily over her mother's upbraiding. She offered as a defense the classic, time honored "I NEVER GET TO HAVE ANY FUN." This was followed by the predictable counter strategy: "!!!DADDY!!!"
"Don't try that on me, little girl. I'm no chump, and you know better." He admonished. "Listen to your mother, or I'll be having me a double ice cream cone, instead of a single."
Amy moved to let out a pre-teen, ear-piercing 'wwwwHHHHHAAAAAAAA!!!' Mathias stifled her with a raise of the eye brow, though.
If that's the way you feel. Amy communicated through immediate silence. Realizing that the monkey bars would be a futile enterprise, at best, she returned to the merry-go-round.
Laura was right about Moonbase Alpha's dissimilarity to Walton's Mountain. Couples could, and did live on the Moon, but there was little, or nothing for the extended family; no schools for children; no playgrounds; no place for your grandparents to rock back, and forth in their chairs. In that respect, it was more like working on an oil derrick.
"So, who is the new boyfriend?" He asked, picking listlessly at his chicken. "I gather that he's a boxer. Where does he live?"
"Ex-Boyfriend, Bob," Laura replied without emotion. "He is musician but as of last weekend I have no clue where he is...and I don't care either."
She paused momentarily, watching Amy pump her swing higher and higher. The moon had risen early and Amy seemed to be reaching for it.
"You didn't come back to convey your conservative ideologies to me yet again." She turned and gazed at him. "What are you doing here, Bob? Why did you come back?"
Mathias picked listlessly at Laura's good potato salad. He bore a hole through it. It transcended fresh, and became California Food. He reached for the knob again, but this time, a foot prevented him from closing the door on his true intentions. He was four months into his contract renewal with the International Lunar Commission. One month ago he had abdicated his position as Chief of Moonbase Medical Services. He had retained his status until he could properly acclimatize Dr. Helena Russell to her new job, and he did not envy her. The decision to throw in the towel had come after weeks of looking about the ward, and finding it to be all too much like a plate of liver, and onions. A terrific plate, until you paid for it with a case of over powering halitosis. The people were not too bad, generally. He was putting himself to the fullest possible use. There was nothing wrong with the cuisine, in and of itself, but it grew tiresome having only a toothpick for dessert. He had spent years, dreaming his ambitious moon dreams, only to discover that what lay outside of the sterile view ports was what he really wanted. What he needed, he had left behind, and what he wanted then, he didn't want now. What he always needed, and wanted was sitting across from him on a patch-work blanket with a black eye. Eventually he unraveled the mystery of how his needs, and his wants were truly, one and the same. On many nights, he would awaken in his quarters, and he could almost feel the person he used to wake up next to. The physician couldn't close the door on hope. His own foot was blocking the way.
"I've abdicated my throne." Mathias said sincerely. "I'm no longer medical director of the base. In two months my hitch will be up, and I'm not going back. I'm finished." He wanted to take her hand, and draw courage from its warmth. Ten thousand days, and nights of being smart-ass Bob Mathias had deprived him of that privilege though. Breaths there a woman who would still want a man who found her sock darning to be inferior? He thought not, and deservedly so. He could have all of the urinalysis tests he wanted. Hands? No.
The physician stared pensively at the afternoon Moon--full, and beautifully undesirable. It decorated a slice of blue sky just above the Empire State Building. He shook his head drunkenly. For a second there appeared to be two Moons, but this was not reality. Reality was that they were here, and 'one' really was the loneliest number.
The wind gently caressed Laura's long dark hair as she gazed transfixed at the moon.
"There's not much time left," she said distantly. Then, as if she switched channels on a television, "so you're leaving your true love." Her voice became soft and sincere. "I know exactly how that feels. I don't hold grudges and I have forgiven the past. You could not have known something catastrophic like that would happen."
Amy Mathias had jumped off the swing and she was running toward them; her braids swinging and the glitter ribbons sparkling in the sunlight.
Laura turned to Bob. "Why are you here? Why did you come back?" She asked again.
"Dad-deeeeeeeeeeeeee" Amy interjected, plopping into his lap, "When do I get the double scoop ice cream you promised me?" She asked, grinning at him with her irresistible little girl charm.
In Central Park, the late afternoon shadows fell hard on Laura Mathias' face, giving her Nordic cheek bones, and chin a mysterious expression. Bob Mathias bounced his daughter in his lap. They grew up on you, and so quickly that it made your head spin. Those who said that time was like gentle brook were in serious error. No, time was more like a dragster, whose driver is welded inside. You know the brick wall is coming, but the steering wheel, and the brakes are useless. He was 32 now, and old Chronos did not just go out for strolls in the evening--the sonofabitch sprinted--never growing tired, never losing his wind; not even stopping to sip his water bottle. He just kept on keeping on--over hill, and over dale--dragging your rotting bones behind him.
He kissed Amy on the forehead, and told her the double was just around the corner. Then she discovered a plastic yellow duck floating in a nearby bird bath, and decided that was worth a splash, or two, and they were alone again.
"Work was never my first love." He told her. "And it wasn't a money thing. You know yourself, I made more money in my private practice than I've ever made in the service. Laura, you divorced me because I'm impossible to live with. I understand, and appreciate your feelings. I have trouble living with myself. There are times--especially here lately--when I have these terrifying dreams. There's one in particular: I'm up there, and I can't get back. I could care less what happens to me personally, but the thought of something happening to you, and Amy--I can't cope with that atoll." He said, looking away. Under a nearby tree, a young woman caught his attention who looked alot like Angelina Verdeschi. He wondered if Laura noticed the similarity. He tested the waters to see if the woman he had courted, won, and lost, would allow him to hold her hand again. She did. "I'm not saying this to elicit pity from you. You know me better than that--at least I hope that you do. You were my first love, and I blew it to hell."
"You ask why I came back. Here it is: It's to see if I can repair the damage that I caused. I want to be your husband--a real husband, and not a cross between Bozo The Clown, and Trapper John M.D. I want to be Amy's father.
"Is that something you would be willing to consider."
Laura Mathias, still holding Bob's hand, looked into his eyes.
"I have always love you. I never stopped loving you. I have never blamed you for the end. You did not know it would happen. No one knew it would happen," she smirked, "well, accept for Angelina Verdeschi and no one would listen to her."
She looked up at the moon again. "Time is running out. For what remains, yes, we can be together again."
Then, she eyed him sadly. "Your dreams are reality." She knew that Bob would interpret her last statement as a fruition of his desire to be with her again; not its true meaning.
Contrary to her observations hours ago, Mira Cathexis was a most depressing place for Angelina Verdeschi. The dull gray landscape was complimented by a hot wind which never stopped; it reminded her of the year she spent in central Kansas working for a nuclear power plant after Commissioner Dixon had dismissed her from the ILC. The wind blew all the time in Kansas; cold biting wind in the winter and a hot, furnace like wind in the summer. In Kansas, though, at least there were golden fields of wheat, or corn or soy beans, some sort of color punctuated by a vast blue sky with glorious sunrises and sunsets. Mira Cathexis was just gray dust. The soil contained no life and the potential for life was no longer there either. The red sun broiled the land.
About half mile from Eagle One, Angelina found Sandra and Paul. Neither of them would willingly come with her; both just staring into space.
"Sandra? Sandra?" Angelina queried Sandra who had a blank expression. Sandra was weeping, her face wet with tears. The blowing dust now creating a layer of soot on her pretty face. Angelina took her by the hand and led to the Eagle. As they were going up the stairs, Sandra screamed and shook uncontrollably. Angelina put her arms around her, leading her up the stairs. When Sandra got inside, she immediately dropped to the floor and assumed a fetal position; her eyes glazed, seeing the unseen.
Angelina went outside again and locked the door to the passenger module; she had taken Sandra's comlock from her. Angelina did not believe Sandra would go anywhere in her current state but she did not want to take any chances.
When she returned to Paul, she found him on the ground. "Paul? PAUL!!!" Angelina called, as she felt for a pulse.
No pulse. "PAUL!!"
Angelina immediately began CPR.. Five compressions, one breath, five compressions, one breath....over and over again until, suddenly, he sucked in a breath and opened his eyes. He was back. Angelina did not know why or how but he was back. With a bit of effort, Angelina propped Paul against her and half carried, half dragged him back toward the Eagle. Angelina had to stop frequently; she was getting exhausted but determined to get him inside the ship. When she was about 100 yards from the Eagle, Paul's breathing and heartbeat stopped again. However, by the time she realized what happened and positioned him on the ground for another round of CPR, he had recovered his pulse and respiration with no intervention from her.
As she dragged him into the Eagle, it occurred to her that his flirtations with death might have something to do with the strangeness of Mira Cathexis. She put Paul in a seat in the passenger module. While she was gulping what seemed like a gallon of water, she observed Paul. Approximately 20 minutes after his last flatline episode, his heart and lungs again stopped working. Angelina counted the seconds...going into minutes. As the 2 minute mark hit, Paul gasped and Angelina felt his neck for the pulse.
Angelina checked on Sandra, still curled up on the floor. She was badly dehydrated and Angelina successfully started a saline IV on her. She also managed to get one started on Paul too.
"Moonbase Alpha, this is Eagle One, do you copy?" Angelina called from the Command module over and over as she was downing more water.
The revised chapter that he, and John Koenig had tried to include was deleted so quickly, it made his head spin--in excess of time, and velocity. If he hadn't known better, he would have thought the mountain top meeting was all just a day dream. Whatever fickle force, or mentality there was that ruled Mira Cathexis, it deposited Alan Carter on his pressure suited kiester in the cockpit of an Eagle. With hands that he could not remember putting gloves on, he was manipulating the control toggles. By the looks of it, he was about ten nautical miles up, and climbing. The crater Tycho disappeared beneath him at relative speed. On the scanner grid, he glimpsed at least thirty contacts. Cargo Eagles, and heading away from--you guessed it--Nuclear Disposal Area Two, with their hot pay loads in tow. No matter how many times he said 'humbug,' the fantasy rail kept a'rolling all night long--it's detailed, but otherwise mindless pirouette, never ceasing. It was alot like hell. Dante had Lucifer as the sink plug for a frozen universe. Mira Cathexis had Alan Carter, possibly fulfilling the same function. Living, and reliving the same event over, and over, and over again. It was like a tale told by some obnoxious old geezer--the kind that flattened your dogs, and itched your calves with the power of sheer boredom. The planet was a clock stopper, and he had overestimated his ability to reset the time.
Carter was well aware of the irony that was in the offing here. This was how he finally made good his escape from an unguided tour of a deranged cosmos. Mate, step forward, and receive your Bozo Button, he told himself. It was a bit like one of those baby in a microwave jokes. The humor was so blatantly unhilarious, and evil, as to be non-existent.
He was moving into equatorial orbit, and still listing things that he would never find the time to laugh about, when the Moon suddenly, and literally exploded beneath him.
(excerpt from "The New York Times" city page, dated September 13, 1999)
"Flatbush Avante Garde Takes A Beating"
At approximately 7:00 P.M. EST yesterday evening, a local, freelance artist named Gregg Wadsworth was assaulted by a man, who witnesses described as being an African American Male in his early thirties. Wadsworth was leaving The Thirsty Camel Tavern, and Eatery, and was heading towards his warehouse loft, on the 800 block of Warbuck Street. The car, a blue, 1995 Chevrolet Lumina, screeched to a halt, and the attacker came out swinging.
"He was a lunatic. I never stood a chance." Wadsworth lamented to reporters, his battered, melon head, wrapped in so much gauze tape that one had to lean forward to hear his grievous protestations. "I've never had any one try to strangle me before. Not ever."
Witnesses also claim that an African American female, possibly in her late twenties, was the driver of the vehicle. Though there have been rumors that the assailant was a renowned physician, there still exists no positive identification for either he, or the female who was purportedly driving the car.
Mathias sat in the big, reclining easy chair with his daughter in his lap. Outside the peeling window frame of his ex-wife's apartment, a full moon was caught in a raft of black clouds. There were stars, here, and there. Laura hustled head banger 'Steph out the door. She headed away to the bar with a fellow who was bald as a cue ball, save for a single, magenta ostrich tail that hung from the back of his bare pate. The window was half open, and a cool breeze gently rustled the curtains. Mathias read to his daughter from a huge trade paper compendium called Astronomy For Kids. The cover art depicted two acne ridden teens, one a female with orange pig tails; the other a male wearing a Chicago Cubs baseball cap. Both looked liked the strange, uggo's from the animated series "The Rug Rats."
Using the city sounds as his soundtrack (fire engines, police sirens, buses, foul, wind blown descriptive adjectives from the Saturday Night set) Bob read only a few of the shorter paragraphs. It was still pretty advanced stuff for a ten year old, though Amy was extremely bright (straight A's across the board, her mother trumpeted proudly). Occasionally she would prompt him to stop so she could have a closer look at one of the enlarged NASA Photos, or to ask a question that was integral to her budding comprehension. What is soul? Amy asked. Sol is our sun, pumpkin, Mathias responded, yawning slightly. What is approximate century, she wondered, tracing the stars contour with her small finger. Proxima Centauri is the closest star to us, the physician responded. It's way, away, away. He flipped the pages, in an attempt to stay awake; BLUE GIANT STARS is where they ended up. Is the sunlight blue, she asked, quite precociously, actually. It depends on what the sky is like, sweetie, he said. Because of the complexity of the material, and given their audience, the authors--Stoneybrook Fellowship Winners, Davis & Atkins--dropped the subject like a hot potato after only one, short, 15 point type page. The next category was RED GIANT STARS. The first to be discussed was that great nautical beacon, Tauri Ceti.
Daddy, when are you going back to the Moon, Amy asked, growing bored, and hugging him. I'm not going back, the physician replied. I'm staying here with you, and your mother. In the corner of his eye, a little star began to twinkle.
Who were the first people on the Moon, his daughter asked, temporarily diverted from the intellectual joys of Tauri Ceti. A guy named Armstrong, and a friend of his named Buzz Aldrin, Mathias held back his exhaustion, and turned another page. Actually, history told a less amicable tale; Armstrong, and Aldrin gave tolerance to one another, but the good feelings ended there. It took them about four days to get there, he explained. They landed in a place called The Sea Of Tranquility. It's no where near where I used to work, he added, anticipating the next question.
"What's that?" She asked, pointing at a full page exposure. The star in question was bracketed in white lines for easier reference.
Mathias checked the caption.
"That's Omicron Ceti." He said, the light in the sky becoming impossible to ignore. He looked away from the book, and towards the window. It was about at this point that Laura Mathias emerged from the bathroom, refreshed from her long, hot shower. She paused, brushing her hair, as the physician closed the book, and walked towards the window.
"Have you ever been there." His ten year old daughter asked, sitting alone now in the chair. She knew more than Mathias ever dreamed; more than any mortal who was still living.
"No." Mathias thought, staring past the lower Manhattan city scape, at the island of clouds drifting beneath the solitary space of a pink, pulsating star. "I've never been." He said dreamily.
Amy was preparing to say something else, but a look from her mother told her not to. Amy returned to reading a child's illustrated text that was miles, and miles beneath her level of understanding--the equivalent of playing tic-tac-toe with Edward Teller.
It's time to go home, Bob. Laura Mathias thought to herself. After a while, she sent Amy to bed, and she was alone with her husband again.
Tanya Alexander patiently sat at her console in Main Mission.
"5..4.." began Mark Winters nervously, "3..2..1....Now"
Tanya flipped a switch and immediately her monitor displayed the EMP pulse, in very short bursts, emitting from the communication satellite by outpost #5. The dish was aimed directly at Mira Cathexis.
Almost instantaneously, the static crackled loudly on the Main Mission surround sound speakers. "Moonbase Alpha, calling Eagle 1. Come in Eagle 1" Tanya spoke into the microphone of her headset, over and over.
Dr. Helena Russell stood at the top of the steps in front of the Commander's desk, wringing her hands, staring at the Big Screen, listening to the static. Professor Victor Bergman paced slowly in front of her. Mark Winters looked back at them both in desperation. Suddenly over the crackle of the speakers, Angelina Verdeschi's very faint voice:
"Moon.....Alpha....this....Eagle...un....Come in...'oon Base.....pha...." More crackle, more popping more static.
Professor Bergman bounded off the stairs toward Tanya as Dr. Russell jumped in close behind. Tanya Alexander furiously yet calmly punched buttons, adjusted dials and flipped switches. Hope returned to the room.
"Moon Base Alpha, this is Eagle One, Come in Moon Base Alpha," Angelina's voice was much clearer though static still intermixed. She clearly sounded weak.
"Moonbase Alpha to Eagle One. We read you Eagle One!!! " Mark Winters called excitedly.
"Moon Base Alpha, this is Eagle One, Come in Moon Base Alpha," repeated Angelina.
Mark Winters expression dropped. "Obviously she is not receiving us."
"At least we can hear them," Dr. Russell exclaimed, touching Bergman's elbow. "That's a start." Bergman nodded with restrained enthusiasm.
"Moonbase Alpha, this is Eagle One." continued Angelina. "I don't know if you can hear me Alpha but we are all caught in some sort of effect which has caused each of us hallucinations. It is possibly some sort of electro magnetic effect. We have all been affected to some degree. Bob, Paul and Sandra are back in the Eagle now, still under the influence of whatever is causing a hallucination." She paused then continued. "They are in a bad way. The Commander and Alan are trying to locate and destroy the possible source of the effect. I haven't heard from them in awhile and I'm about to....."
A burst of crackling and popping replaced Angelina Verdeschi's voice.
"Get her back...Get her back!!!" Mark Winters barked as Tanya and now Kate Bullen tried to capture the signal again. Nothing......
Professor Bergman rubbed his chin. "It appears that whatever effect is causing the HAARP, modulates and adjusts its signal. I think we've found the solution but we will need to continuously modify the frequency to buy us more time...enough time to achieve a rescue." Then to Mark Winters. "Call Tim O'Connor. Tell him I'm on my way to discuss the frequency modulation requirements. Pierre, put Rescue Eagle on Pad 2 for launch in 30 minutes.We don't have much time. Helena?"
"I'll meet you with a medical team at Launch Pad 2," Helena stated, already heading out the door.
Angelina jolted awake in the pilot's chair when she heard Paul moan in the passenger section. Obviously shortly after she had given up her attempts to communicate with Alpha she had fallen asleep. She checked the time on her comlock. If it was to be believed as actual time, she had been asleep for 30 minutes. She had wasted valuable time.
Disgusted at herself, she jumped up and proceeded into the passenger module. She checked on Bob, Sandra and Paul then opened the doors to the dreary landscape beyond. Angelina was surprised to find the Commander, sitting on the steps.
"Commander!! Commander!!!" Angelina went to him and crouched down in front of him. "Wow, am I glad to see you! Did you find and disable what you were looking for on the mountain? Where's Alan?"
Commander Koenig gave Angelina the non-verbal response. His eyes were glazed, focusing on an object beyond her.
"Simmonds, why did you lie to me?" Koenig murmured.
Angelina shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Why, indeed."
Obviously whatever they had done, if anything, had not worked. Angelina look up at the moon; it was getting further and further away. She wondered if they were already out of range; if it was too late for all of them. Angelina helped the Commander up the steps, leading him by the hand, into the passenger module, while she continued to play the role of Commissioner Simmonds in his hallucination. In a moment of recognition, the Commander's eyes lost the spaced out look as he said "Angelina? Where are the others?" sipping much needed water. However, as quickly as reality returned, it was again lost.
"If you are in there, Commander, you'll be safe in here. I'm going to find Alan."
"...There will be no survivors," came Koenig's role play reply.
Angelina went down the steps and noticed the tracks coming from a different direction, one that she did not remember taking in her efforts to bring Bob, Paul and Sandra back to the Eagle. She followed the tracks about 1/4 of a mile until she saw Carter. She hoped he still retained some of the reality he had before she came out of her hallucinations.
"Alan. ALAN!!" She ran up to him and embraced him. "I am so happy to see you. What did you find?!?"
The lunar mantle was rent asunder. Carter waited for the retina-wasting blast to subside. He covered his eyes against the white out, the heat flash baptizing him in its nuclear fire. He pulled back on the control toggles, and watched as the Moon dosie-doe'd, to the left. It bounded against the ramparts of Earth's gravity well. Then the smaller world recoiled. He prepared to recite his own benediction as it seemed certain that the Moon was going to collide with Simmond's Eagle. Then the flux negated itself again. The satellite all-a-manned right, and started away from the Earth in an ever widening loop orbit, accelerating faster, and faster.
Then came the coin toss: Heads, he would attempt to chase after them, playing his senseless role like a good little Aussie pug; tales, he would throw his copy of the script at the stage manager, and the director, and exemplify passive resistance. Folding his arms, and calmly--but firmly--demonstrating his ability to not give a shit.
On a whim, the set was torn down. Space was snapped up like a reeling shade over a window. The Moon was bounced back to the prop closet like a basketball. Carter was washed down the sink of non-sentience along with the rest of the useless paint.
Niag dekcartkcab emit sa detutitsnoncer saw eh neht/ Then he was reconstituted as time backtracked again.
Tibro lairotauqe, tcefrep a ni mih ecalp dlouw taht yrotcejart a ni, elgaE s'dnommiS draoba/ He was aboard Simmond's Eagle, in a trajectory that would place him in a perfect equatorial orbit.
So, the reel-to-reel tape machine kept respooling. He had been through this ringer, what seemed like a hundred times in only the past hour, and there was no sign yet of immediate surcease. On his scanner, he saw maybe 30 contacts--Cargo Eagles, high tailing it away form Nuclear Disposal Area Two with their lethal booty in tow.
There was one add-on to the script this time. When he looked at the co-pilot's seat, he saw 'Ang--fully garbed in an orange environment suit. She looked almost comical, sporting a bread box control panel that was almost bigger than she was.
"No, sweetie, I'm back on the 'floppin roller coaster again." He replied bemusedly to her question. "All I've been able to see is the grand finale--the nuclear waste dumps exploding. If it were a TV Show, I'd win at Trivial Pursuit every time. Believe me, I know this episode by heart."
Then--miserable yawn--the Moon exploded again beneath him. He was about to comment that something else besides her presence seemed different about this re-re-re-recording. Seriousness landed upon his chuckling head like an unloved bat. Something was indeed different this time. The sun demon below took his speech away.
John Koenig opened his eyes to find himself back on Alpha and in his office. Turning in his leather chair he saw Commissioner Simmons enter the side door of his office. Feeling the headache start as soon as he entered the room he picked up a pen and pretended to be busy hoping to deter the length of the visit. Simmons walked up the steps to Koenig's desk and sat down on the edge of it. When John Koenig looked up he saw the Commissioner smiling at him. Laying the pen down on his desk John Koenig sat back in the chair folding his hands into his lap
"What can I do for you now Commissioner?" he replied his voice stern.
"It's not what you can do for me John, but what I can do for you."
Sighing Koenig stood up and began to pace the floor in his office. Simmons shifted his position on the desk so as to face Koenig again. "What just can you do for me Commissioner? I know there has to be a catch that will follow this. So you need to understand I will not agree to anything until I discuss it with my staff first."
Simmons waved Koenigs fears down with his hand motions. "I want to help you avert disaster John, and I don't need or want anything in return. So put your stubborn attitude away."
Shaking his head John Koenig still felt the layers of distrust for Simmons in his soul. Walking up the steps back to his desk he positioned himself in front of the Commissioner. "I don't buy that Commissioner. You never do anything for anyone without a favor for you somewhere behind it."
Realizing Koenig was not going to be easy to convince Simmons stared Koenig down "John, tell you what I will stop them from sending anymore Atomic Waste up for now, but I need for you to go with me back to Earth to convince them in doing this."
Walking down to where the windows were John Koenig stood in front of it looking out over his base. "You want me to leave my post to follow you to Earth to talk to them about stopping sending atomic waste up here?"
"Yes, that is exactly what I want John. They may believe you easier than me."
Shaking his head John Koenig looked back out over Alpha and then turned his attention back to the Commissioner. "NO" was all John said.
Simmons walked down to where John stood looking once again out the window over the base. "John you must. I can not do this alone they won't believe me." Simmons was nearly pleading with him.
John Koenig turned to him and folded his arms in front of his chest and stood tall and firm. "That sounds like your problem Commissioner not mine. My concern is the safety of this base and her personnel."
Watching Simmons pace the floor in the back of John Koenigs mind he had a nagging feeling that this was not right. This was not how it was supposed to be as he never knew Simmons to be so compliant and eager to help before in the past. Something is not right Koenig thought to himself, then suddenly the room started to spin and his vision became blurred and he felt himself black out.................
"Did you say Diet Pepsi?" The handsome dark haired almost 40 something man asked her, as he reached for the soft drink in the cooler.
Angelina blinked then blinked again. "Uh. yeah, Thanks."
Angelina turned to Carter. "You're not going to believe this, Alan but we are not in an Eagle. We are at the beach, Nausett Beach on Cape Cod by the looks of it, and my brother Guido just asked me what I want for a drink."
Angelina blinked a third time but could not block out the sounds: the sounds of the surf, the wind, the seagulls squawking above. She opened her eyes to the late afternoon sun, the warm yellow sand and the deep blue ocean. The early moon had just risen above the horizon in front of her.
Angelina turned and saw her sister-in-law, Theresa, sitting on a towel in a maternal type swimsuit with a wide brimmed straw hat atop her head, reading a book. "Buon Giorno, Angelina," Theresa Verdeschi smiled and returned to her book. About 20 yards away, playing in the surf, two little girls with dark pig tails were laughing and giggling, splashing water at each other. Angelina recognized the girls as her nieces, Guido's daughters.
Guido Verdeschi sat down beside her. "So, mia sorella, how are you doing? By the way, excellent choice in a man. Carter, is it? Well done." Guido motioned to Carter.
Angelina smirked. "You're not real. I already know what's happening. Besides, you've never met Alan, "Angelina paused. "Whatever kind of being you are, I already know you are capable of tapping minds.
"I assure you that I am not a figment of your imagination made reality by Mira Cathexis." Guido smiled at her. "Maybe this setting is but my family and I are not. You have always wondered what happened on earth after the catastrophe. Would you ever think that it would be our own egotistical arrogance that would do us in? Hell, I always thought it would be hatred, envy or greed, something obvious like that."
Guido Verdeschi looked up. "Girls! Girls! Come here, girls! It's time to pray."
The little girls immediately ran to their father and dropped to their knees. They began reciting the Rosary.
"Guido? Guido, what's going on?" Angelina asked.
Guido had his head bowed in prayer, also in recitation.
The sand shook slightly. Then the shaking grew stronger. Stronger....STRONGER.......
The images of the people around them were screaming as the ground thundered and quaked. Beach houses began to collapse and explode into fire. People were running, screaming.
Angelina looked up as someone yelled "THE MOON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
The moon was gyrating in the sky; you could see it move. Move and recede....RECEDE!!!!!!!!!!!! The moon was moving away from the earth. In a flash forward, Angelina saw something else looming on the horizon, just under the receding moon. Angelina squinted and gasped as she saw a wall of water approaching the shore at seemingly breakneck speed.
"TIDAL WAVE!!!!!!" someone shouted in panic and horror.
High above the Main Mission Tower, Mira Cathexis was obviously well on her way to parting company with the Moon. For the most part, the sentiment seemed to be good riddance to bad--even homicidal--rubbish. Only a few kilometers away from becoming a bizarre, disappointing notation on some old calendar page, the pink planet had moved into the shadow of Omicron Ceti, giving her best face more of a rust, or brick colored aspect.
Tanya Alexander stood poised by the countdown clock, just beneath the big screen. Phosphor dot characters clicked away irretrievably with each passing second. Her petite thumb nail was prepared to punch the white switch on the Satellite Uplink Control Module. It was not the only white switch. Most of the time, it was not even the most important. It was square, with a triangle emblem in the center. To have had so little use in the years since the Moon broke away from the Earth, the switch--which was normally used to clear the static charge from incoming, read only transmissions--was now more popular than Tom Cruise, Ben Affleck; it was a Leonardo DiCaprio unto itself, the little white switch was.
At the controller's desk, Mark Winters sat in the yellow glow of the gooseneck lamp, cracking his knuckles with such intensity that Kate Bullen thought it possible that he may have just broken his wrist. Pete Irving sat at the capcomm desk, gripping both sides of it with his large hands. There was just a hint of perspiration on his anticipatory lips. Benjamin Ouma was standing next to the main beam on the central computer platform. Behind him stood Andy Dempsey. He was holding a blue flimsy that contained a low-consumption fuel trajectory. He had been holding the same sheet, unattended, for over an hour. Sixty minutes hence, he would probably still be holding the same piece of blue plastic.
The zero hour came, and went. The real numbers on the screen formed two sets of eyes, looking outward at the operatives--patiently awaiting a response.
Victor Bergman nodded his head.
Bob Mathias was half awake when he heard an explosion so loud, he wondered if the peace treaty had fallen apart, thereby returning the Earth to a state of world war. An unnatural light poured through the windows. There was a quake so violent that it literally tossed him from the bed. The fourth floor of Laura's tenement building began to collapse on top of him--plaster, dust, wire mesh, furniture.
"!!!Laura!!! Amy!!!" He cried out, dodging a couch belonging to one of the upstairs neighbors. Prostrate on his elbows, he chanced to look up, and saw a nightmare through the window. The entire island was being violently tossed, and turned on its tectonic plate. There was lightning, there was thunder. There were waves of water from the East River, deluging the entire metroplex area. The foundation of Macy's Department Store was leveled in a cloud of smoke. Of Lady Liberty, there was no sign. Grant's Tomb collapsed on its pillars. At Radio City Music Hall, there would be no more Rockettes.
"!!!Laura!!!" He wailed, struggling to gain a foothold on the splintering hard wood floor.
Then, standing in the doorway of the bed room, the woman he had loved, and lost. She did not appear to be alarmed, or afraid. As a matter of fact, there was no recognition even of surprise. She stood patiently with another woman, and it was not head banger 'Steph. It was a younger female in her late teens, pretty, with raven hair, and tragic soft eyes. Neither of them seemed to stumble. Schrapnel appeared to just bounce from their impenetrable, observer's Slick 50 bodies.
Laura, and her anonymous companion turned to walk away, just as the meteor shower from above thundered judgement on human civilization. Mathias fell through a gaping hell hole in the floor. He plummeted to a place that was far beyond the first floor of the delapidated brown stone.
When he opened his eyes, the sky was still falling--most of the debris, zeroing in from the jettisoned Moon, which was now less than a dime in the evening sky. Mathias looked down, horrified at the scene on 5th Avenue. Cabs, buses, and people--either crushed or washed away completely. The city had been reduced to a muddy sand box--all except for the seeming miles of crumbling office suites beneath him.
Glancing briefly over his shoulder, he realized that he was no longer facing obliteration in Laura's apartment building. By some malign magic, he was dangling face down from the 86th floor observatory of the Empire State Building. From some where under the dome, one of the mangled, five foot pay-per-view magnifying lenses raced past him, just missing right cheek and disappearing into the maelstrom below. His criss-crossed ankles, attempted to bear the load, hooked to a collapsing safety rail.
The powdered glass inside his right forearm, shrieking at the tortured, guilt-edged stress supporting Captain Alan Carter who was only moments away from falling to his death.
Angelina's eyes widened in terror. The wall of water stretched from one end of the horizon to the other. It was at least 200 feet tall, a tsumani of unheard of size. The entire pennisula of Cape Cod was about to be flooded. The shaking around her, the screaming, the noise.....Alan helped her up and, pointlessly, they started to run. The earthquake knocked them to the ground.
When she opened her eyes, she was not longer at the beach but on a tall building...the Empire State building?!?!? New York City was the scene of Armaggedon. The earthquake had knocked down most buildings and had successfully blown out windows and walls of the Empire State building.
Angelina spied Bob Mathias, desperately trying to prevent himself from being pulled over the edge by....Carter.
"ALAN!" Angelina cried out horrorfied, running to the edge. She was not sure if this was real or not. Bob was in agony, trying to hold onto him. Angelina got on the floor and desperately grabbed his other arm. She did not have the strength to pull him up by herself.
"ANG," Koenig's voice came from behind. Koenig reached beyond her and the three of them managed to pull Carter back up and onto the floor.
The 4 of them sighed in relief, still holding on to each other, when the section of floor they were sitting on started to give and pull apart from the rest of the structure.
"Paul!!!! Sandra!!!" Angelina cried out in desperation.
Paul stood up brushing the dirt and dust from his hair and eyes. Squinting he saw Sandra getting up as well when the room started to shake harder. Trying hard to keep his balance he saw his four friends sitting on the floor and in trouble. Taking in a deep breath he ran over to where they were at right as the floor began to give way under them again. This time it was both Angelina and Alan who both went down hanging onto the edge both wanting to help the other and not able. Bob immediately grabbed onto Angelina while Koenig grabbed Alan. Paul got over just in time to help Koenig pull Alan up when another quake hit and by the time balance was regained, Bob Mathias was hanging half over the edge and half on the floor. Angelina cried out in terror.
"Hang on Ang we're here and we're going to save you" Alan yelled as he grabbed onto Mathias legs.
Feeling him now starting to slide forward he yelled for John Koenig to help.
"Commander, help me I can't hold them" desperation coming from his throat.
Koenig lunged out in time to grab Alan by the feet but looked up to know that they were in trouble as they were still sliding forward to the black hole. Koenig took his hand and wiped the sweat from his brow as it was stinging his eyes, noticing he could no longer see Mathias and that they were again being pulled to the hole.
"Paul, Paul I need you and Sandra, I can't hold them" Koenig looked back to see Paul grabbing onto his belt on his pants.
Thankfully Paul was there; he smiled at him.
"I would never let you go Commander, as we all make a good team. We have to get everyone out of here and fast" he said as everything began to shake again. Feeling the glass and pieces of stone fall on him as well as around him he looked back to see Sandra looking at where they all were, shock in her eyes.
"Sandra, we need...your help...It will take us all to break away from this..." he replied just as he felt himself slide forward still holding onto John Koenigs belt....
Sandra shook her head, wondering what she was doing here. Blue sky, sun, fresh air. Too much fresh air. Where was she? Suddenly, she realized Paul was shouting for her help. The ground was shaking and she fell on her knees. Her friends were here, Bob, Alan, Angelina, Paul and the Commander, all afraid and ready to fall in the empty sky. She understood one thing, no, only one.
There was no time for questions. Sandra couldn't stand on her feet so she began to crawl. The situation was hopeless. She had to do something and quickly or she would soon be alone on that roof. She looked around with despair, trying to find something to use to help. She shivered, hearing her friends' calls. Then she sighed, seeing a long rope.
She stood up quickly and rushed to the rope, taking it firmly in her hands, then running to a ladder fixed in a wall. She tied the rope around the ladder, then ran to Paul, kneeling to his side.
"Paul!,", she cried. "Oh my God....", she whispered, seeing Angelina ready to fall. "Please, take the rope, give it to the others."
Paul took the rope and gave it to the team. They all grabbed it, and started to climb with strain. Sandra on her belly, trying to help them as she could, taking what she could reach, a hand, a part of their clothes...
Carter accepted that the fall was going to be a screamer. The sky above him was in flames--a fiery, asteroid filled miasma that reminded him of the strange end title effects in many of Roger Corman's old B-Rated masterpieces; The Pit, And The Pendulum; The Tomb Of Ligeia; The Black Cat. He had felt the 85 floors beneath him begin to collapse like an old man who had overestimated his ability to ride the Ferris wheel. His last sight was that of a bird--a sea gull, rushing to escape the vortex that had engulfed New York Harbor. More than likely--given their current shortage of beau chance--it was a stately buzzard, coming to peck at his nostrils, and to peel at his desicated flesh, and to enunculate his eyeballs like some foul, white grapes. He closed his eyes, and prepared his soul for the next world--the world of worms, and dirt.
Then the breakers were tripped. Out came the vacuum cleaner plug, and the house was quiet again.
When the baked sands materialized beneath him, the joint peril atop the keeling tower became a bronze, and yellowing memory in an unthumbed scrap book. The bird was still there, though--along with the descending whine of a quartet of jet engines. Carter rolled over on his right side, and saw the door to Eagle One slide open. John Koenig slid down the door frame, and gripped the gangway rail. His face was a calcimine sheet--black, sleep deprived circles highlighted his anorexic cheeks. Beyond the dust covered spine of the Phase II Eagle, skull mountain peaked in infamy. The RGB Laser Light Show that they had witnessed earlier was gone. The plateau popped, and sizzled like a greasy frying pan on a cold burner. A dense, planet-wide fog enshrouded Mira Cathexis--the world that had indeed ended in sorrow.
The pilot craned to see what the commander was pointing at. So blurred was his vision, he couldn't even make out the red stripes until the Rescue Eagle's square landing pads recoiled easily on their springs. Then his eyes bullied themselves shut again, and both the Eagle, and the desert of the dead, disappeared as all of the candles were snuffed out.
Inside Eagle 1 lay Bob Mathias, Sandra Benes and Paul Morrow, all unconscious. On the steps of the Eagle lay the Commander. About 100 yards outside of Eagle 1 lay the prone figures of Angelina Verdeschi and Alan Carter on the lifeless gray dust of Mira Cathexis.
Dr. Helena Russell was at the door of rescue Eagle 4 along with 5 other members of Medical including Dr. Ben Vincent. For space purposes, she had decided that the medical team would spilt up, with Dr. Vincent leading one group and she leading another group. Dr. Vincent was going to Eagle 1 and he, along with two nurses was ready to charge out the door with the necessary medical equipment. Pilot Ed Davis, coming out of the command module after nodding to Pierre Danielle, would fly Eagle 1. The teams had to work quickly since Professor Bergman was not certain how long the EMP neutralizing the HARP would last before the HARP would modulate itself and the illusions would appear again. The phase 2 landing party was also running out of time as their life signs slowly ebbed away.
"Touch down in 5 seconds," came Pierre Danielle's nervous announcement.
Wringing her hands, Dr. Russell nodded to Ed and he opened the door. The landscape was an instant mood killer. The mid-day red sun blazed mercilessly in the sky. The wind was blowing the gray dust, stinging her eyes.
The teams immediately found Angelina Verdeschi and Alan Carter. Badly dehydrated, they were brought into rescue Eagle 4. Dr. Russell went to Commander Koenig, unconscious on the steps of Eagle 1. He, too, was dehydrated and was also brought to Rescue Eagle 4 when Bob Mathias, Sandra Benes and Paul Morrow, all unconscious were discovered in Eagle 1. Ed Davis dashed into Eagle 1 and as soon as Dr. Vincent's medical team had closed the passenger doors, he started the main motors, launching the Eagle.
Pierre Danielle had never cut his main motors. As soon as Dr. Russell step inside the Eagle with the Commander and closed the door, he grabbed the controls for the thrusters and immediately took off.
When they had entered the planets atmosphere as the EMP pulse was activated, the illusion of the beautiful Mira Cathexis was suddenly replaced with the real deal, as they came out of the clouds. As Eagle 1 and Eagle 4 left the trophoshere, the aft cameras revealed the dreamscape of Eden replacing the gray reality once again.
Sandra woke up, a familiar sound coming through her mind. She frowned then tried to open her eyes. She felt warmth around her body. One of her hands came on her chest, to feel the softness of silk. She tried to fix her attention to understand where she was. Above her head, she could see a white and known ceiling, with a soft and clear light. Alpha! She tried to move her head to look around her. She felt so tired, as if there were years she didn't sleep! A moan escaped from Sandra's lips.
She could see two nurses checking some medical equipment, and the back of someone working at his desk. The back was surmounted by a blond helmet of hair. "Doctor Russell...", thought Sandra, trying to call her.
But she couldn't speak, the words stopping in her throat. She sighed and raised her head, looking at the other beds near her.
"Oh, thank you my God! They are all there!", she smiled. The Commander, Angelina, Alan were sleeping, linked to monitors. Paul was just beside Sandra. A coincidence or a nice thought of the medical team?
Sandra held out her hand, trying to reach Paul.
"Paul, Paul, do you hear me?", she whispered. But the young man was still sleeping, marks of fear and tiredness on his face.
Sandra let her head fall on the bed, exhausted. She looked at the little lamp just above her head, feeling fear coming through her mind. Eyes wide open, she felt her heart beat louder and quicker. It was coming again.
"Paul!", she shouted. "Doctor Russell! Helena! Please, help me! We must leave Alpha now, all is going to explode! If we don't leave now, it will be too late! Too late! Paul!!!!!"
Doctor Russell hurried to Sandra's bedside, accompanied by Prof. Bergman.
"It's alright, Sandra, you're safe now," Russell said soothingly as she administered the Valium with the laser hypo. Sandra closed her eyes and drifted back to sleep, the muscles in her face relaxing.
"Have the others awaken yet?" Bergman queried, rubbing his chin.
"No, Sandra is the first." Russell replied. Then anticipating his next question. "I don't know if she was having a bad dream or if there has been some damage to them from this experience.
"Helena, you said the EEGs and the brain scans were normal. I would think that.."
"Physical damage has been ruled out," Russell interrupted. "But as far as psychological damage, well, we'll have to wait and see."
"Hmm, indeed we will, " Bergman nodded, surveying the patients in the ward.
It had been seven years since Bob Mathias last saw his favorite Ansel Adams portrait. The statement was used to decorate the waiting room in the two-story, shot-gun that housed his private practice in Stallings, New Jersey. A fall of lifeless trees, negative exposure only. Due to the position of the skeletal branches, there were holes within holes. Between the holes in the holes, there were more infintessimal, dark holes. Existence was forest of bullshit trees, ready for fire wood. Peering through the multitudinous holes, you had God, or an equivalent dice thrower--leering at you, and slathering at you, and voyeuristically experiencing hard ship through you. Every time you thought you were getting close enough to land some good chops, the round, cartoon eyes would vanish, and reappear through a hole in the opposite end of the grove. The portrait was crushed and mushed, somewhere between the Earth, and the Moon.
He, and Helena Russell had battled to the last over whether, or not he should remain in the care of Medical Center's crack specialists. She had argued heatedly, and almost persuasively, but in the end, there could be only one, and Mathias was unbudging. He preferred to do what he was doing right now--staring into the flicker of his crystal hurricane lamp, and watching the dancing light at the tip of the sea spray candle. It took some getting used to--the northbound B & O was de-railed without commentary, and the physician was trying to adjust to the recollection that his life had always been here. No Laura; no Amy; no bum in Central Park trying to separate him from his wallet. It was all merely the action of alien technology, impinging upon his brain. He imagined his cerebral cortex bobbing up, and down in a tank of amniotic solution; electrodes are fired. Now you taste Rubarb Pie; now you see a golden palace full of Harem Girls, gyrating their hips; now you smell the cheese that some one just cut.
A good drunk, to be sure, but now it was hang over time.
Mathias rested his head in his hands, while the sea spray candle burned to a diminished gob at the bottom of his hurricane lamp. Just before he fell asleep at the table, an almost indetectable luminance glowed briefly on the floor just behind him. It lingered until his mind waded past the troubled bridge, and then it faded away, leaving the elongated shadow of the commpost in it's wake.
Mira Cathexis was gone. The warmth of the red giant star was displaced with the deepest freeze the mind, and the soul could ever know. Even on the long range scanners, not even a trace of a speck, of a particle. The Moon was migrating through unoccupied space once more. There was a splinter of light just above Victor Bergman's head. Its pulsations stretched across a gulf that defied completion. Then some one brought up the lights in Medical Center, and the reflection was gone.
The ward was full, but it probably wouldn't be for much longer. Angelina Verdeschi was sitting upright in bed. Raul Nunez was discharged from his baby sitting position, and in his mother's arms, little Nicky Carter finally knew peace. He snoozed contentedly against her bosom. Marcus Profitt, and Ed Malcom arrived ten minutes before to deliver a status report on Technical Section. It was an easy report. Absolutely nothing was going on. Ed Malcom grunted, and wheezed, and bulged uncomfortably. He acted as though someone were about to give him two for flinching. His rotund dimensions, packed into ungainly uniform flares that were never designed to hold a Beluga Whale. In the adjacent bed, Alan Carter grew weary of his non-committal, servile, chicken shit whining, so he beamed him with a napkin. It bounced off Malcom's nose, and landed on the other technician's clip board.
Marcus Profitt chuckled approvingly.
Paul Morrow was sitting on the edge of Sandra Benes' bed. Perhaps they were talking about what might have been, but wasn't. Perhaps they were discussing their favorite television reruns, and concluding that "The Love Boat" was not one of them. Of Bob Mathias, there was no sign.
Sandra looked at Angelina playing with her son, then looked at Paul again. She was tired to be in that bed and wanted badly to leave medical center, go back to Main Mission and forget all of the strange story. She still felt guilty, as if it was really her fault that Moonbase Alpha was now lost in space, with its inhabitants searching for a new home. Finding a new home seemed an impossible mission for the Alphans. Sandra couldn't believe it but had to admit that, so incredible it seemed, they already visited a great number of planets, all not for them. But with Mira Cathexis, she really had thought for a long moment, they had found their home, a new Eden. Could this young man with worried brown eyes have been her Adam? That idea made her laugh, and she looked at him with tenderness. At least, it seemed that their relationship won't be the same anymore, and she hoped Paul would make the first step.
Angelina did not even crack the slightest smile in response to the napkin pelting of Ed Malcom. She felt like she was at the absolute bottom of the roller coaster ride and she'd felt that way ever since she came back from Mira Cathexis. The dark cloud of disappointment and despair had descended on Angelina and it was as ominous as it had been after breakaway.
She was, of course, elated with being reunited with her child, greeting her with his normal sunny disposition. Nicky Carter's true personality had returned as soon as they left Mira Cathexis, so said his nurse. However, his constant presence around her now only underscored the feelings of sadness, hopelessness and helplessness that nagged at her. Eden was lost and once again they were faced with the balancing act of survival and the ever present dangers of living in deep space. A part of her did not feel like going on; a part of her felt she needed to go on.
Angelina heard the report but was not listening. Marcus Profitt was insightful enough to see that the boss' mind was far from Alpha Technical Section, ended with a 'see you later' then left. Ed Malcom, however, stayed and whined some more. Presently, Nicky woke up and turned to see who was speaking. Ed Malcom immediately tried to do the "coochy-coo" thing with him and make faces. Expressionless, Nicky's lower lip quivered; then he cried loudly. It was at that point Ed Malcom waddled his way out of Medical as quickly as his flabby legs could carry him.
Carter took the child agreeing with his son's opinion of Ed Malcom with an "I don't blame you, mate." As the child calmed down, Angelina closed her eyes and sighed. Her thoughts preoccupied with the great loss of what might have been and a future that seemed interminably bleak.
"Cheer up, Ace." Carter said, bouncing his diapered son up, and down on his right knee. Nicky's face was, at once, astonished, and confused--like he was trying to make a decision, but the experience of bouncing made his conclusions slow in coming. "If you ask me it was no great loss." He would stake his reputation on this--more so now, after they had tasted the psycho fruit that Mira Cathexis had to offer. He held out some preliminary hope--same as all the others--when the planet first appeared on their long range scanners.
Months later, while the Phase I Probe was still in its planning stages, he decided that the scrumptious, too-good-to-be-true, oasis world was a real armadillo. He had no rational explanation for why he had felt that way. It was instinctual. His computer was in his gut. If Mira Cathexis was the brandy, and the Alphans were the cheesecake, he would rather see a blank star field on the big screen.
Seeing Alan playing with Nicholas as the baby laughed with delight was a heart warming sight for Angelina. It would have been a lot better, though, if the background was on an earth type planet; not the artificial, sterile and hazardous environment of Moonbase Alpha.
She was weary of the struggle, but couldn't stop struggling. She wanted to stop yet contemplated that to do so would be a waste of the efforts of survival thus far; and perhaps a dishonor to those who died in the game of survival. It was nothing short of a miracle that they had even survived at all. The miracle should be appreciated; dwelling on what might have been was pointless and certainly would not contribute to the continuous miracle of their existence.
Angelina smiled slightly, though there was still sadness in her eyes. "I suppose you're right," she replied, marveling at how well he was taking the disillusionment of Mira Cathexis. He was one of the few who was skeptical about the planet, not allowing himself to be caught up in the emotional giddiness of "finding a home" until the last card was dealt in the hand. She always admired his strong instinct and intuition in these matters.
Nicky's pogo-stick bouncing ceased, though his eyes continued to move up, and down for some time afterwards. As a grand finale, one would suppose, Ed Malcom peaked his fat, tortoise head back through the double doors one last time, perhaps remembering something that he had forgotten to mention. His mouth hung agape as Carter punked him away.
"Look at it this way." The pilot said as the baby reached for him. "We're looking for a home--a real home; not an acid trip, and that's exactly what that place was. Think abouthow that little jewel of a world looked when we last saw her, 'Ang." He urged, remembering the critical heat, and the austere sky. "The Moon looks better than that worthless pile of cole."
His son was hungry enough to eat a bear. Carter reached for the bottle of formula. It was gulped down in the space of minutes.
Angelina burst out laughing as Ed Malcolm once again removed himself reluctantly from Medical Center. Ed had been trying to get on Captain Carter's good side because he wanted to transfer into the Eagle Flight Electronics Engineering side of the business, in an attempt to get away from Peter Garforth's "merciless" jurisdiction. (Merciless was a sentiment held by Ed alone; none of the other electronics engineers and techs had a problem with working for Peter.) There was no way Ed Malcolm would ever be transferred to Reconnaissance. Angelina Verdeschi loved Carter too much to do THAT to him, even in jest.
She was still snickering about Ed while she was watching Carter feed Nicky when the Commander, Dr. Russell and Prof. Bergman approached them. Drawing her knees to her chest, Angelina motioned them to sit down. Koenig and Russell sat at the edge of her bed; Bergman sat next to Carter and the baby. Sandra Benes and Paul Morrow also came over, as Paul offered Sandra one of the white plastic chairs.
Victor Bergman leaned forward on his knees, and motioned 'Ang, and Carter to join the media res conversation. "I was just saying," he started. "How lucky we were to have figured out that EMP effect as a solution. I mean it was straight down to the wire, and the complexity of the whole thing amazes me. We didn't know it, but even here on Alpha, it was influencing us.
"We saw just exactly what we wanted to see: A Garden of Eden, complete with all of the trimmings."
"You bloody got that right; all of the trimmings, including a serpent." Carter said, and Koenig nodded his emphatic assent.
"It's mind boggling." Bergman went on, inviting debate. "Consider it for a moment: a machine that enables you to destroy yourself. Thereby, saving some one else the trouble, I suppose. Who would build such a device, and why?"
"Perhaps there was a war and this was the ultimate weapon," Angelina offered. " That would explain the illusions but how do you explain the condition of the planet. Obviously there were other types of weapons involved to lay waste to the planet; that is, if we are talking about a war as a reason for the true condition of the planet and the existence of the machine."
"We assume there was some kind of war." John Koenig indicated. For the first time in days, something like a complexion was beginning to return to his marbled skin. "Then again, whatever that mechanism was, it may have been crucial to the planet's survival at one time. There's a lot out there that we don't know about. It may have been some kind of ultimate weapon, erected, or placed there, by some hostile, alien culture. Then again, it may be something that's quite natural, and necessary, and we simply got in its way."
He let go of his intellectual grippe then, watching it fall to the floor, and spill out a photograph of Carl Renton's Eagle, exploding into flames against the unbargaining slope. It was all guts, and special effects by George Lucas. It was hard to sanguine an effect that could cause some thing like that as a kissing cousin to Manna from Heaven. Still, his contention that they had trampolined right into something they didn't understand, seemed generally accepted by the people who had lived it.
"Maybe Gods are just tired of us?", said Sandra, "and that they decided that we had no more rights to live". "History is full of blood, murder, fear... Maybe people on that planet created something to stop people start again a new civilization, and so start again all that fear and violence. I just don't know. Sometimes I wonder why fight so hard to live, why go on believe that we have a future somewhere. If we find a new Earth, what will we do of it? Do you think we'll know how not to make the same mistakes again?". She stopped and, looking at the young Nicky and into Paul's eyes, understood that they had to go on.
'Misery loves company,' thought Angelina as she realized she was not the only one depressed over the situation. She looked away when she realized Paul was giving a nonverbal expression of comfort to Sandra by his gaze.
"The whole situation reminds me of World War Terminus; how we came very close to destroying ourselves, annihilating ourselves. Yet, somehow, despite the horror of that war, we somehow found the courage to persist and to go on." Dr. Russell continued, inviting further discussion.
Koenig remembered the other war quite well. They all did. It wasn't all that long ago since the armistice was signed, ending a conflict that had ravaged every major continent on Earth. Huge, ostensible quotation marks were on the fabled word "armistice." Just before the catastrophe in Area Two, embargoes were starting to be levied again in Peking, and in the Persian Gulf. Were it not for the Moon taking a permanent hiatus from its orbit about the Earth, World War Terminus, Part II would have underway within months, he had no doubt. All of the toys were being dusted off--Cobalt Urns, ICBM's, Mirage F-1 Fighter Planes, Daisy Cutters, Hawks, Titan Missile drops from high orbital trajectories, Fusion Cannons, lasers, masers, HEAT Guns--who knows, maybe even a few SCUD-C Missiles with Anthrax married to their versatile tips. The human race had become a rabbit on a dog track--the ultimate truth dangling from a fishing line that was forever out of intellectual reach.
"We didn't learn any thing from that war." The commander concluded. "I wonder if the people on Mira Cathexis learned any thing from theirs."
"Maybe they did." Victor Bergman prefaced. "Maybe they didn't. We can't throw in the towel though, or pile up in some corner, and have ourselves a good cry. We have to go on believing that tomorrow is another day."
A gimlet of something appeared in John Koenig's eyes. It transcended the war to end all wars, imprisonment on Moonbase Alpha, and loco politicians demanding comlocks before the storm.
"You're right, Victor." He replied solemnly. "For us--tomorrow is another day." There were other planets, other people who were not so fortunate.
Bergman paused in his ruminations. Alan Carter nodded his head in agreement, as did Paul Morrow. 'Ang stared down at her hands, and Sandra Benes said nothing. Likewise, Helena Russell was mute. It was not the happiest thought a person could have: hoping for a better day, and wishing your life away simultaneously. Sometimes though, if you have a hundred acres of bad, rock-filled earth to hoe, you have to make do with a pickaxe, instead of a combine. The best any one can do is to come to the realization that it's a noble pickaxe. It's all that stands between you, and the niter of your own grave.
This episode was written as a collaborative effort by tgarnett25, moonbasealpha_s1, alpha and koenigs sidekick, members of the Space:1999 The Classic Adventures SIM..