Dragon's Domain: The Alan Carter Story
Written on the Space:1999 The Classic Adventures SIM
by tgarnett25, moonbasealpha_s1 & alpha
World Space Commission
FILED BY: Helena Russell, MD
DATE: 10/15/02 AB
CC: Commander John Koenig, Dr. Robert Mathias, Victor Bergman, Ph.D., Angelina Verdeschi, Chief of Technical Section
RE: THE GENERAL MENTAL STATE OF CAPTAIN ALAN CARTER
It was on our 1,132 day since leaving Earth's orbit--the Moon was between solar systems, and galaxies--when Alan Carter dreamt that he was once again facing his mortal enemy....
Angelina Verdeschi was deep in thought before she drifted off to sleep. Sleep was a rare gift these days for Ang. She glanced at her baby, 6 week old Nicholas Alan Carter, as the cradle, a practical gift from some of the guys in technical, gently and automatically rocked him next to her side of the bed. For the first two weeks, life was a blur for Angelina as she recovered from the rather dramatic birth and she was up every 2 hours, 24-7 nursing the child. Eventually, he did begin to last longer between feedings, say 3-4 hours. But when Nicky was three weeks old, Angelina found herself working part time "unofficially". The base was in shambles after the encounter with the Conceit; the list of repairs was mind-boggling. Between nursing a growing infant and a work load which seemed to gradually grow on a daily basis, Angelina found it to be a godsend that Nicky Carter was beginning to break the 6 hour night time sleep barrier.
But not tonight: Three hours later, Angelina jolted awake to a loud C<R<A<S<H followed by a small explosion of circuits overloading and shorting from the living area of the quarters shared by Alan Carter and Angelina Verdeschi. Baby Nicky, also startled, began to cry and cry loudly. Angelina gathered up the screaming child, jumped out of bed and dashed into the living area.
Alan Carter, in his Alpha pajamas, was drenched in sweat looking somewhat disoriented and staring at the source of the small explosion. A tomahawk was buried in the compost.
"Alan?!?! What happened?" Angelina asked above the continued frightened cries of the infant.
Carter released the tomahawk's leather handle, noticeably impressed by what an apt job he had done of short-circuiting the analogue clock on the upper module. He wiped sweat from his brow, in a haze of disassociated dream logic, and petrified motivation. He remembered being startled back to consciousness by the spinning wraith. He also remembered making a conscious decision to become Monster Alpo, in an attempt to lure the most horrifying thing he knew of, away from the people he loved most. Once in the living room, he also remembered making a conscious decision to slowly--carefully--reach for one of the pieces in his ornate collection of armory, the tomahawk. He remembered wondering how much time he would have before his mind would be enthralled, and with that dead line in mind, he lunged at the fucker. He made three attempts, total. On his last attempt, the taunting spinner moved away at the last minute. Now the Carter home was without an analogue clock.
What Alan Carter did not remember was that he had already gone to sleep that night, kissing 'Ang, and the baby good night before he did so. At the moment, he also was not cognizant of the fact that when people go to sleep, they sometimes dream. Moreover, it could be said that Carter was not truly awake. Sweating buckets, he gazed at Angelina, and the baby with filial guilt, and terror--as if he had just led them into the arena, and the wrought iron gate leading to the lion's den was now being raised.
"I-" he started, open handed. His eyes were imploring. He heard the electronic paging tone sound on the comm-post, but it was a billion light years away.
"Alan?" Helena Russell said. The tomahawk was buried only inches from her reticent visual image on the monitor. "Is everything alright?"
"Yeah." The pilot said distantly. "I just had a bad dream, I guess." He only half saw his wife shaking her head at the ridiculousness of his last statement.
"Your heart rate peaked into the danger zone." It caused the medical alarm to sound." Moonbase Alpha's Chief of Medical emphasized this last statement rather loudly, as if she hoped that some one else would be there to hear it.
"I'm okay, though." Carter said, exasperated. "It was just a dream."
Helena Russell smiled warmly above the tomahawk. "Well, alright. If you need any thing, I'll be on duty tonight." She said, and the screen went blank.
Alan turned to face his family, knowing that the only way to ensure their safety was to leave.
Angelina had settled into one of the imitation leather highback chairs, rocking little Nicky, who was quiet only because he was greedily nursing.
Angelina looked at Alan, visibly upset. She had never seen him like this before. She motioned him to sit down next to her and tried to lighten the mood by saying "That's OK, I didn't like that clock anyway. Now I have an excuse to replace it with a digital one." Alan did not crack a smile...not even the slightest smirk. He did not move toward her either.
Her expression grew serious. "Wanna tell me about it?"
Alan just turned away from her, grabbed his comlock and started for the door as Angelina, in a cautiously raised voice asked "Alan, where are you going?!"
As he left the room, something occurred to her; the Ultraprobe. Alan never talked about it. But one night, many, many months ago, when they were both just a little drunk on Julio Armondo's homemade wine, and they were listening to some good, though somber 80's metal, Alan told her about his horrifying experience on the Ultraprobe during Guns and Roses power ballad "November Rain". Besides her, only John Koenig, Victor Bergman and Helena Russell knew about the details of that doomed mission. As Angelina lifted Nicky up onto her shoulder to burp him, she reached for her comlock and keyed in the Commander's code.
The Commander, who had been roused from slumber, answered sleepily, "Yes, Angelina, what is it?"
"Commander, "Angelina started. "Something strange just happened to Alan. He had a terrible nightmare, to the point of burying a tomahawk into the compost. He is very upset, Commander. He just left and he would not tell me where he was going. I'm sorry to bother you, sir, but I'm very worried about him. Where do you suppose he's going?"
Koenig shook the cobwebs off, and pulled his duty tunic over his head, and shoulders. "Don't worry, 'Ang. I'm on it." He said, and zipped his black sleeve. He was reaching for his boots when overnight Controller Mark Winters' face appeared on his comm-post screen.
"Sorry to bother you, Commander." He said. "I thought you should know. Alan Carter has just entered the debarkation area to Launch Pad Three, and he's not responding to our queries."
"Alright Winters, thank you." He said, and used the keypad to punch up Carter's comlock. "Alan, what's up?" He said standing.
On the other side of the base, Alan Carter moved hastily down the corridor in his pajamas, past the vacant Ready Room, as he wended his way towards the Cap-Comm Station, and the boarding tube to Launch Pad Three. His mind was a dimly lit room, prompted by images of spinning demons, and thermonuclear warheads, and plastic yellow ducks, bobbing for water. "Answer me, Alan." The voice emanating from his comlock said, but Carter ignored it.
'Dammit, what are you up to?' In his quarters, John Koenig disconnected fretfully, and sprang for the door. "Winters, cancel his comlock." He said, and bolted down the corridor to Travel Tube A.
Carter tried twice to open the hatch to the boarding tube. He could feel no vibrations at all coming from the magnet on his comlock. It was a sure sign that it had been deactivated, and he felt certain that he was running out of time. He was about to utter a litany of profanity when Pierre Danielle emerged from the solitude of the Cap-Comm Station. Night turn did nothing to alter his energetic disposition.
"Alan Carter sleep walking." He declared placing his hands at his hips, every bit as excited as a geologist who has just discovered a new form of fossil fuel.
"How are you, Big P?" Alan said genially, and then grabbed Danielle's comlock, and clouted him upside the head with it. There was a hideous cracking sound, as the blunt end of the comlock impacted against Danielle's skull. The other pilot's eyes crossed momentarily as he dropped to his knees, and then forward onto his face. Carter painfully noted a single teardrop of blood on the comlock's micro monitor.
John Koenig arrived just minutes after the double doors were closed, and sealed. He stooped to feel the low-ebb pulse in Pierre Danielle's unconscious neck. "Medical unit to debarkation area." He said into his comlock, and then on another channel: "Security to Launch Pad Three." Any delusions he may have had of this being a misunderstanding, or even a joke--a bad joke--flew cheerfully out the window.
When he attempted to open the hatch to the boarding tube, he triggered the flashing yellow COUNTDOWN light, and the Master Alarm claxon. On-board protocols were now in effect. Eagle Five was powering up for launch. The muscles in his neck grew taught.
"Computer." He said. "This is a direct command order. Cancel all safety restrictions, and give me access."
Angelina fretted when Alan did not respond to her repeated attempts to contact him on her comlock. Then, after less than 5 minutes, she received the low buzzing sound during her communication attempts that told her his comlock had been deactivated. Something was up.
"Computer, Chief Engineer Verdeschi, Angelina. Last known location of Captain Alan Carter's comlock prior to deactivation."
"Launch Area 3," monotoned the Computer.
"Launch Area 3?" she murmured to herself," Where does he think he's going?"
Sensors had shown that they were at least 3 months away from ANYTHING as they drifted deeper into space. There was literally nothing out there.
Angelina quickly dressed and since it was the middle of the night and she felt there was no time to wait for someone to come and watch Nicky. Angelina wrapped the now sleeping infant in a blanket, picked him up and headed toward Launch Pad 3.
When she got there, she noted Carter's handiwork on Pierre Danielle, who was rousing back to consciousness under the watchful gaze of Velma Hill; she heard the medics scrambling towards them down the corridor. Angelina proceeded onto the Eagle, which she also noted, had its launch attempt aborted.
In the boarding tube, she heard Alan say, "Let me go, John" and Angelina stepped into the passenger module to see Carter and Koenig in a laser face-off. She gasped and instinctively gripped the baby tighter, backing away, as Carter glanced at her. This distraction gave Koenig the opportunity to laser Carter; he dropped to the floor with a groan from the stun.
"He won't be awake for a few more hours, Ang," Dr. Russell informed her. "Why don't you go get some rest?" Helena looks her in the eye. "He's going to be alright."
Angelina glanced over at Carter, who was unconscious in bed with a hi-tech wireless life support unit above his chest. "His physical condition is not the part that worries me, Doctor."
Russell did not answer the unspoken question. "I'll call you when he starts to wake up." Angelina turned and reluctantly left Medical Center.
Commander John Koenig entered almost as soon as Angelina left. "Well, how is he?" he queried, striding over to Dr. Russell.
Helena Russell shrugged non-committaly. She noticed that the Life Support LED was blinking on the giant range hood above Carter's head. It wasn't necessary to have it on.
"As well as can be expected after a point-blank stun." She said, turning the gray dial to the OFF position. "I've been afraid something like this was going to happen."
Koenig glanced from Dr. Russell to Carter and back again at Dr. Russell. He knew precisely where the conversation was going.
"He's an individualist, Helena. You didn't know him before the Ultra Probe was launched. He was the best amateur athlete I've ever seen, an honored veteran, an all round astronaut, in fact the best all rounder I've ever met."
"I'm not questioning Alan's character." Helena Russell admonished. "I hate this as badly as you do, but the fact of the matter is, he was at high risk for an episode like this." She paused, facing Koenig squarely. "You tell me. Where was he going in the middle of the night--in his pajamas, with three months Eagle travel time to the nearest star system." She presented Carter's unconscious form with a flourish. "I mean, he didn't even take his tooth brush."
She turned away again, facing the view ports, and the engulfed, cratered topography that lay in the everlasting night beyond.
"In Alan's mind, the situation was never resolved." She opined. "You know what I'm talking about."
The topic had collected dust for perhaps too long.
Koenig walked over to the viewport, putting his arm around Helena's shoulder. He was silent for a moment as he too stared out at the lunar landscape. Koenig sighed and continued. "Something happened out there. Something happened out there beyond Ultra, that neither you nor I could understand. Hell, he can't even understand it. That's why it's haunted him. But what I don't understand is, after all this time, why now?"
Moonbase Alpha, Inside Flight Control March 3, 1996
A television journalist appeared on screen. "This is CNN Headline News for March 3, 1996. Our top story tonight: The Ultra Probe. Who will command the ship? Anton Gorski, commander of Moonbase Alpha, is expected to put an end to the speculations later this week."
Victor turned off the monitor and rolled his eyes. He faced John Koenig and Alan Carter who were both at a workbench reviewing flight notes. "Yes, yes. We need a decision, you know. You can't both go. Someone's gotta control the whole operation from here." Bergman chuckled. "You can't leave that to Gorski."
Koenig extended his orange sleeved left arm and grabbed a coined shape spacer."Alright, Alan. Tell you what. I'll flip you for it. Winner takes the ship, loser tells Gorski. Red or white?"
"Uh, Red." Carter replied. Koenig flipped for it. The spacer landed red side up. "Well," Carter said good-naturedly slapping Koenig on the shoulder. "I'd say the gods do know the better astronaut."
Koenig with mock anger, "The gods know my foot, the gods know the best brains have to stay down here on Alpha to oversee the mission. Still I wish I was going."
Carter chuckled, "Maybe next time, eh? Then again, maybe not."
Victor clapped his hands together in slight excitement "I take it that's it, then?"
"Yeah, that's it." Koenig said with a hint of defeat..
"Because," Helena said, turning. "It could happen at any time." Her frustration mounted, and mounted. She was trapped between the horns of her loyalty to Carter, and Koenig, and her conviction of what was medically, and psychologically right. "You know Alan Carter as well as I do.
"The Ultra Probe was important to you, but it was vital to him." She said, despising the sound of it, but seeing no other way around it. "He can't take failure. For that reason alone, you would have been a better choice to command that probe."
'I'm sorry, Alan,' she thought dismally.' Truth hurt; greater truths hurt even greater.'
John Koenig abruptly released Helena. "Stick with Alan." The Commander was getting angry. Raising his voice slightly, "Are you like everyone else? Do you believe the "official" report as gospel? Do you also think that he made a disastrous mistake on that probeship and couldn't bring himself to admit it?"
Koenig stiffened, growing more defensive. "It's not his style."
Helena Russell refused to back down. As insane as it might seem, in light of her recent comments, Carter's well being was still her responsibility. "Oh, this is wonderful." She snapped, her cheeks turning crimson. "You refuse to acknowledge there's a problem; he refuses to acknowledge there's a problem, but as a doctor--I CAN'T."
"Helena, he doesn't HAVE a problem," Koenig walked away from her toward Carter then stopped. He turned toward her and angrily spouted "Nothing was proven!"
"John, I was part of the medical team who examined Alan." Helena disclosed, arms folded. "My findings reinforced the case against him." She waited for a reaction, but received none; only cold silence. "I simply reported the facts as I saw them."
Koenig stormed toward her and yelled, "There were no facts!"
"Alan Carter is suffering from clinical obsession." Helena bounded back from the turnbuckle. "And as such, his behavior could very well pose a threat to the safety of Alpha."
And that was how Moonbase Alpha's Chief Medical Officer reluctantly butchered two friendships for the price of one.
Koenig stopped in front of her. "Maybe I just should've had the laser set on kill to eliminate your so called safety threat."
Koenig turned and as he stormed out said "Why don't you write another damn report to the space commission?"
Carter was back aboard the Marilyn M--his old, six-engine bomber. They were sucking birds native to the Arabian Peninsular into the turbines, right, and left. They came in low over Bahrain, and made their turn at The Dead Sea. Sand that would soon be turned to glass, and houses that would soon be blown off the map appeared beneath them, as the B52 descended from 35,000 feet. Carter pulled back the throttle, and opened the bomb bay doors.
Eric Sparkman, holding his headset in quivering hands, entered the cockpit through the dwarf's hatch. His face could best be described as confrontationally cheerful. Carter's co-pilot, Tim Donovan--realizing what was about to happen--took to his checklist. It was an excellent way to prevent fall-out inside the cabin.
"We made good time," Sparkman informed the pilot, his lieutenant's bars resting prominently on the epaulettes of his jacket. "Assume a holding pattern, and await further orders." He was climbing back down the tunnel when he heard 25-year old, Major Alan Carter say "no."
Sparkman did an about face.
"This jet is running low on fuel." The pilot explained. "Our target will be in range in about five seconds. Unless we receive orders to the contrary, I'm going to drop our pay-load, and get the hell out of here before we get ourselves ditched."
"We were instructed to hold until further orders, Major." Sparkman blustered. "Besides that, you're not going to drop a fucking thing until I tell you to."
"All do respect, lieutenant sir, yes I am. " Carter said defiantly over the sound of the roaring engines. The fortress was beneath the twilight mantle of clouds now. The dark skinned pedestrians could be seen on the streets below, looking upwards with wonder, and damnation. "You can file a report with the United Nations if you like, but given the choice, a bunch of 'freakin, shit-for-brains towel heads, or this crew--the Is have it."
"Carter, I'm not going to play with you on this." Sparkman said, disgusted. "I realize this mission is more important to you than innocent lives. Most of those people down there don't belong to Hamas; they don't belong to Al Quaida, or The Weather Underground. They're human beings with a right to live, the same as you, or I. If you release our pay-load, there's going to be a court martial, and you my friend will be the special guest star at the proceedings. Am I making myself clear on that."
"Look!" Donovan yelled, as the plane moved into final descent. The towel head was clearly visible, running down the now vacant street as if Iblis himself were chasing closely behind.
Carter chuckled, jocularly.
"Where does he think he's going to?" He said, placing his hand on the release lever.
"It's her." Donovan said, noting the woman--arms outstretched--who was pleading to him from the porch of the house. "He's trying to save her."
"He needs to worry about saving himself." Carter advised, and defying Lieutenant Eric Sparkman's direct orders, he pulled the release, and dropped the fuel-air bomb over ground zero.
The armored capsule floated to the street from the end of a green, khaki parachute. Moments later, it detonated. A chemical reaction took place, which incinerated everything within two square miles of the target--a house that was thought to be a major weapons depot for The Militants Of Black September. That was it. Their only reason for making the bombing run--and to cream a few Arabs. Any one else who was unfortunate enough to live within a couple of blocks of the small tract house got the BOOBY PRIZE; their lungs were sucked straight from their chest cavities, and exited through their screaming mouths.
"Too bad for you, cobber." Carter remarked, maneuvering the jet upwards again. The needles on the fuel gauges were practically laid down, but they probably had enough in the reserve tank to make it back into Turkish Air Space. "I don't see why they worry about it." He said, puzzled. "Chances are, the bastard probably had ten wives."
He glanced from the cockpit of the B52. Hanging before him, in mid-air, was the wraith-like spinner. It's legs moving closer, and closer; completing hundreds of revolutions per minute.
Alan Carter returned to the Moon with a thud. His terror was such that he almost awoke. The wall monitors in Medical Center recorded a measurable increase in rapid eye movements, but otherwise he remained still, sliding down the stairwell railing into the most unfathomable terror he had ever known.
Angelina stood next to Carter, holding the baby.
At 6 weeks, the inquisitive, blue eyed, white haired Carter offspring was mentally advanced for his age. He was now doing things that would be developmentally expected from a 3-month-old. It all began at 2 weeks when Dr. Bob Mathias, giving him a 2-week physical was shocked to notice him actually socially smiling at his mother. This milestone was not suppose to happen until he was at least 5-6 weeks old. Mathias was at a loss to explain the exceptional mental development or the fact that his hair and eyebrows and eyelashes lacked pigment.
Nicky had a somber expression on his face as he stared at his father, sitting in the crux of his mother's arm. One might have discerned, that he was actually upset by his father's state, but would also dismiss the notion because of the child's physical age.
Carter's eyes opened gradually; he looked toward Angelina.
"Hey," Angelina said softly, gently touching one side of his face with her free hand and leaning down, kissing him on the other side of his face. "Welcome back, "she continued sitting back. The child's eyes lit up with excitement and he chortled with recognition. If he was physically developed enough, he would have tried to sit up and reach out for his father.
Carter buried his defeated face in his hands, and worked to shake off the stun. His memory of the night before moved back and forth like an oscillating fan. It returned to him in fragments, and half-assed vignettes. His temples throbbed under the merciless jurisdiction of the world-beater headache he was experiencing. He felt as though some one had emptied all of the blood from his body, and replaced it with eight pints of spoiled milk.
"Hey." He said weakly, his wet blonde hair sticking to his forehead in spikes. The horror was gone now--gone, but not at all forgotten. The only thing still spinning was his stomach
Dr. Ben Vincent immediately came to the bedside and administered an injection with the laser hypo to Carter's neck. As Ben disconnected monitors and removed electrodes from Carter, Angelina helped him sit up. She dispensed ice water from a burnt orange plastic pitcher into an equally burnt orange matching cup and assisted giving him a drink.
The Ultraprobe: Angelina Verdeschi was suppose to go on that mission.
Moonbase Alpha..February 23, 1996. Technical Lab 2....
Angelina Verdeschi was working on calculations at a computer console. Astronaut Eric Sparkman was looking on, casually sitting on the edge of the desk.
"All work and no play; that's no way to live, Angie" Eric Sparkman cheerfully proclaimed.
"And you'd be an expert at play, Eric?" Angelina replied without even looking up.
Angelina secretly admired the astronaut's persistence in pursuing her. Eric Sparkman had been showing up in Tech Lab 2 every day for the past 3 weeks around lunchtime; a very sly way to get a date. Angelina had lunch sent in each and every time and continued working at her desk. In her mind, she had to focus on preparing to go on the Ultraprobe mission; not on a potential boyfriend.
Sparkman laughed heartily. "Astronauts invented the word play. So how about a date, Angie?"
"How about the 2nd Tuesday of next week, Eric."
Angelina was laughing. Eric Sparkman was not.
"I'm serious, Angie. Look, I know you are going on the Ultraprobe. That does not bother me. If we hit it off, which I think we will, I will be waiting for you when you get back. I am also NOT like the other astronauts on this base. Hey, if you have zero interest in me, even though I think you're a gorgeous woman, then I'll leave you alone. I can take a hint." Eric's normal jocular expression had a hint of resignation.
Angelina sat back and looked at the handsome astronaut. "OK, Eric," she replied softly. "I'll go out with you; the first Tuesday of next week. 1800 hours. Don't be late." She smiled at him.
At that moment, Professor Bergman came in.
"Good afternoon, Professor. How are you doing today?" Sparkman asked happily.
"Oh, not too bad," Bergman replied warmly. "Lt., I need to have a word with Angelina alone.
"No problem, Professor," Eric said, turning to Angelina. "See you later, Angie." Sparkman left.
"Got a new friend, I see," Bergman started, as the door closed behind Sparkman.
"Just a friend, Professor," Angelina stated. "What's up?"
Bergman sat next to her. "Angelina, I'm afraid I have some bad news for you. You will not be going to Ultra." Bergman paused, waiting for the news to sink in. "Darwin King will be going instead."
Angelina was shocked. Her face became hot as her cheeks flushed. "Professor! WHY?!?" was all she could blurt out.
"Commander Gorski feels that you are not experienced enough to go on the mission," Bergman stated, knowing that he was telling her a white lie.
"Professor, that's bullshit and you know it!!! I am highly qualified and frankly, how can I gain experience on deep space missions if I don't go on deep space missions. Darwin King?!?! He is less qualified than I am; he's never been in space before, never left earth!" Angelina fumed.
Bergman refused to stand behind the smoke screen any longer. He could not lie to his former graduate student who had just been awarded her doctorate. "Angelina, the fact that you are continuing your research on the magnetic radiation theory and how it is related to nuclear waste is very unsettling to some parties."
"Damn politicians!! I knew it! I knew it!!!" Angelina was angry. "What is so wrong with continuing the research? If I'm wrong, then I look like an idiot. But if I'm right, Professor, if I'm right, you know what could possibly happen...."
"I know your theory has merits. I cannot say that I completely agree with your catastrophic predictions. There are too many variables that have to come into play for that to happen. If your theory is proven, there will need to be major changes in how nuclear waste is handled and stored; that will cost money. I know you are intelligent enough to figure out the rest of the scenario from there." Bergman paused then continued. "You may continue the research, Angelina, but you need to keep it low key, not your primary job. I am interested in your efforts. But Commissioner Dixon has instructed Commander Gorski to remove you from the Ultraprobe team to send you a message...cool it! I can't say I like or even agree with it. You have been living in the ivory towers of academia all of you life and have just recently discovered the real world. It is vastly different from what you are accustomed to. Please listen to my advice in this matter."
Angelina carefully considered Professor Berman's advice. She didn't like the news she had just been given; she was deeply upset.
Angelina looked at Alan, massaging the back of his neck. "It's OK. We are 3 months from anything. We are in the middle of nowhere and there is nothing out there." Angelina wondered why this horrifying part of his past was coming back to haunt him now.
Carter looked at the baby and smiled at him, as he attempted to conceal his lingering anxiety and fear. Nicky smiled back with a wide toothless grin. Carter motioned to Angelina and she gave the baby to him.
"Babe, you look great." The pilot said, watching his child doze comfortably on his chest. "Don't bother returning the compliment." Awkward? Yes. As a matter of fact, Carter felt like a tightrope walker in a nightmarish Circus Of The Damned--a horrendous cross between roman blood sport, and Barnum, and Bailey. One wrong move, and he would tumble, but into a flaming cauldron rather than a net.
"You know, I can explain all of this, I really can." Thumbs down, the coliseum proceeded to 'boo him; the hulking gladiator Maximus drew his sword for the death knell. "Say, how come I'm not in the brig?"
Carter scratched his whiskers. "I need a shave."
Angelina blinked. The mask of concern melted into shock, then irritation. She sat back slightly.
"What?!? You deprive me of an excellent chance of getting a fairly good night's sleep by destroying the clock on our compost. You smack poor Pierre in the head while you're trying to steal an Eagle in the middle of the night, to take off to God knows where! Then you scare the hell out of me in your laser standoff with the Commander and you get a point blank stun, ending up in Medical! Now all you have to say is 'I need a shave.' Give me a break, Captain!"
Angelina looked away momentarily, took a deep breath and look at Carter again. Her eyes filled with love and concern. "Please don't put on the Clint Eastwood, tough guy act," she said softly. "Not with me. What is really going on, Alan?"
Carter flushed, and looked away. Angelina had given him no time to dig a foxhole. The minute he awoke, she opened fire with both barrels. Nicky shifted on his chest as the dispute grew more heated. The pilot held him protectively with both hands.
"I was just sleep walking--no law against it." He said limply, but he would have to do better than that. Angelina was leaning over him now, berating him, and cajoling him. Her finger pointed at him accusatorily. A solitary drop of water fell from the rafters to the hay below. Carter wondered if he would have been better off planting the tomahawk in his own skull. "Hey." He said, miserably, his skin growing pale.
Either the Moon, or his bed tilted forty-five degrees. Angelina's face grew to mascot size. He could see her anger escalating, but he was totally deaf to what she was saying, literally. He wondered if she was going to jack slap him. The fusion of blood cycling in his forehead brought only the sounds of an empty crypt. The yellow wall panels faded to green, and then gray, and then went out completely. Another drop of water fell, and landed in the rippling oval pool.
"I've got this thing...." He said, feeling as though he were about to throw up. "'Ang, you don't...understand."
Grabbing his forehead with ice tipped fingers. Her proportions were impossibly warped. She now looked like one of those big head toys, yelling, and screaming in the mystic blue light of the viewports.
"You don't understand."
He had no idea what she was even saying. He tried to retreat, but the world wouldn't go away. In the loft above, a hungry Black Widow descended towards the sleeping woman's mouth. In the shadow of the pitchfork, her red lips, parted in an almost perfect "O" to receive it. The leaking bucket, as loud as cannonades.
"FOR CHRIST'S SAKE!!!"
"!!!YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!!!"
The Arch Of Time was compromised, and Alan Carter was left straddling two completely different dimensions. His blood pressure rose to a nearly lethal 300/180. Blue veins tunneled outward on his forehead, and on his left arm. His blood pressure, and pulse rate, were both very similar to that of a psychic who has passed over into a trance state.
"!!!MY DREAM!!! IT WAS HAPPENING ON ALPHA!!!"
Carter's throat was ruined, but Angelina still couldn't hear him.
The dead woman lay in the hay. Just above her teeth, the Black Widow disintegrated, and reintegrated. Strobe lights covered the wall of the barn, as the glowing spinner moved in on its prey.
"!!!THE FUCKING THING IS COMING BACK!!!" He cried, as though it would be his last chance ever to communicate from beyond the grave.
When he looked up, the lights were back up again, and he could hear the sounds emitted by the medical monitors. On the screen marked CARTER, the situation appeared to be far from normal.
His son was crying, and Angelina stood gaping at him.
I was just sleep walking--no law against it."
Angelina stared at him for a few seconds. "Sleepwalking?! You were swinging a tomahawk around in our quarters. What were you fighting? What if I happen to walk in during that 'sleep walking' episode..with the baby? What if you buried the tomahawk in us as opposed to the compost?" Angelina was starting to fume again.
"Hey." He said, miserably, his skin growing pale.
"Why are you shutting me out? We are billions of miles from Ultra. We are billions of miles from the derelict ships. What happened is in the past " Angelina saw the color completely drain from his face. "ALAN?!? What's the matter?"
"I've got this thing... Ang, you don't...understand."
Carter was sweating and beginning to pant. His color was ashen. The baby started to squirm but he was gripping him tighter.
"What is it, Alan?!? Tell me what's wrong." She implored, now with one hand on his arm and the other hand over Nicky's back, out of concern that he might drop him. To the contrary, Carter's grip was even tighter.
"You don't understand."
"Don't understand what? Please tell me!" He was pale and becoming agitated. His eyes were closed and he was beginning to shake, gasping for air.
"FOR CHRIST'S SAKE!!!!!!YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!!!"
Nicky jolted awake and let out a cry. Angelina reached for her comlock.
"Bob! Bob!! I need help in here, " she yelled into the comlock to Mathias. Carter's yelling in the background needed no further explanation from Angelina. She dropped the comlock to the floor.
"!!!MY DREAM!!! IT WAS HAPPENING ON ALPHA!!!"
"It's OK, Alan, It's OK," Angelina tried to assure him. She was frightened; she thought he was going to have a heart attack, stroke or maybe both. The baby was screaming and Angelina tried to take him. She could not break Carter's firm hold on him. "Alan, give me the baby. Give me the baby!!"
"!!!THE FUCKING THING IS COMING BACK!!!"
Angelina was stunned and although her hands were still on the baby, she stopped trying to pull the screaming infant from his grasp.
Dr. Mathias and Jerry Parker dashed in at that moment and Bob unceremoniously pushed Angelina aside and applied a laser hypo to Carter's neck. Jerry Parker had successfully wrestled Nicky form Carter's grasp and handed the howling child to her. The tranquilizer Mathias had given Alan instantly mellowed him. He looked at her, helplessly, for a few moments then sleep claimed him.
Angelina was comforting Nicky and his crying gradually subsided. Angelina found herself gazing out the view port at the lunar surface and the blackness beyond. A feeling of foreboding and doom came over her and she shuttered. She knew he was right; the nightmare was happening again.
There was not a wide variety of color in deep space. Basically there were two shades: dark, and darker.
Commander John Koenig was not completely alone in his office--his thoughts kept him company, not pleasant. It was a bit like entertaining morbid houseguests who think it's the height of wit to cut off pieces of their own anatomy. A full cup of coffee sat before him on the round conference table, untouched. About eight inches away was Alan Carter's tomahawk. It was an impressive piece, he had to admit; A museum quality, late eighteenth century Miami Tribe, big and heavy. One could only marvel at what an admirable scalping one could receive from that little gem. You 'gettum heap big, hair transplant, kimosabee. Most appraisers would probably be inclined to take forty-percent off its net worth due to the crescent shaped burn left by the compost.
Unable to conjure any intelligent, premeditative actions, Koenig figured he might as well pace the floor again. He mounted to the deck, and leaned against vinyl backing of his desk chair. Most days, he felt as though a moron was sitting in it. No one else seemed wise to that little tidbit, as they continued to roll it out for him.
Standing on the deck got old again, so he walked somberly to one of the viewports. He rested his elbow on the recess, and stared past his own reflection. Ten stories below, he could see the roof of the Experimental Laboratory; the sprawling network of travel tube tunnels, and the oviform of Launch Pad Two. There were no stars out tonight--only two miles more, as Charlotte Bronte would say.
Koenig rubbed his temples in the palpable quietude. Presently, another reflection joined his, brimming with ill advised, cocky overconfidence.
"Better late than never, I guess." Victor Bergman commented, looking at them from the opposite side of his Celestial Mechanics Equation. Koenig, and Sparkman both checked their watches. By most measuring sticks, one hour could be considered late. Sparkman just shook his head. He had long ago deemed the newly promoted captain as irresponsible. In fact, he had come to expect it.
Carter just shrugged, and acted the way he always did. It was premium Alan Carter. If he didn't like the taste of the dip, it was time to reorganize the party. Bring on the girls. It was lights, camera, action, only when he was in the room.
"Well, I got held up a bit." He said, and smiled winningly--a gesture that seemed totally lost on Sparkman. "What's up, doc." He said, extending his hand to Koenig. Two years after the fact, Carter was among the foundering few that still addressed him that way. Koenig's transfer from the Physics Laboratory, to Reconnaissance Section had been a sudden, and unexpected career move. The yellow sleeve just made sense, he would often think to himself. Why waste time thinking, and preparing for the diaphanous, the tumultuous, the inexplicable, when the opportunity was there to go out, and see it. Unbeknownst to the physicist, turned pilot, the time would come when the diaphanous, the tumultuous, and the inexplicable would effectively be on his last nerve.
"Held up a bit?" Sparkman said impossibly, as if it were the biggest understatement he had ever heard.
At that point, Bergman's young graduate assistant entered the room, and looked attentively at Carter's former commanding officer. Of course, the newly promoted captain seized the opportunity, and threw her a lascivious wink as she gathered her notes together. Angelina Verdeschi scowled.
Sparkman wanted to choke him.
"Alan, the cape has set your departure time for 08:00 hours tomorrow." Koenig said, hoping business would forestall homicide. "If you're even a minute late, Gorski will be chugging Maalox. Will you be ready?"
"I just came from the simulators." Carter said, eyeing Sparkman coolly. "I was aboard the probe ship all day yesterday, and I'm due back there later this evening. I've been over that cockpit with a fine toothed comb.
"As far as I'm concerned, she's ready to go. Don't you worry, crater face." He told Sparkman flippantly. "I plan to be on time. Does that shock you?"
"The only thing that shocks me is that you were chosen to pilot this mission." His adversary conceded. "Hey, pug, do us all a favor. If you discover life on Ultra, don't tell them you're from Earth. We'll be the loneliest planet in the universe." On Moonbase Alpha, it was harvest season for sour grapes.
Koenig sighed deeply, and gave both men an irritated, "don't start" look. But Sparkman kept on picking, and Carter kept on grinning.
"Now, about communication." Koenig interjected. "The I-Band Omni Radio Complex will be pointed towards Earth at all times. Victor, and I will be watching the whole thing on television. The first leg of the mission calls for a geosynchronous orbit. When you move in behind Ultra, we both go out for popcorn. The radio waves will be eclipsed, and there will be no contact at all with the base.
"So, watch yourself out there. We'll see you on the flip side. Powered descent will occur twenty-four hours later. That's when we break out the champagne bottles."
Koenig smiled affably, and Carter gave him a thumbs up sign.
The rest, as they say, is history. The fact that Carter was indeed on time the next day now seemed vengeful karma to the commander. He moved away from the viewport, and aimed his comlock at the privacy hatch in one corner of the big doors. Light from Main Mission spilled through, along with the sounds of incongruous human, and machine activity.
"Winters, how is everything."
The controller turned in his chair, routinely clutching an ink pen with a matching blue flimsy. "All quiet, commander." He said flatly. "No other problems to report."
John Koenig hoped it would remain that way.
Bob Mathias burned the midnight oil.
He sat in his office reviewing a copy of Carter's bioscan report from earlier this evening. The information on the register tape print out did not lie. The pilot was not sleep staging when the problems began earlier that evening. So much for the Ebenezer Scrooge, undigested potato theory of mental illness.
Through the open door, he could see clearly into the sanitary wardroom. Helena Russell was standing beside Carter's bedside, checking the status panels on his chest plate. Upon finishing, she flipped open a green Steno Pad, and recorded her observations using a black fiber tipped marker.
Mathias glanced down at his desk blotter. Just to the right of his coffee cup ("Kiss The Quack," the legend burned), and a hastily written prescription for Xanax, the gold plated, stylus frame called to him. He winced at the fake wagon wheel--a piece of sham, plastic crap that Wild Bill Cody was fortunate not to have known, back there in the old west. His ex-wife, and his daughter smiled, and said cheese, enjoying an immortality that only Kodacolor Paper could provide. It was at times like this that he missed them the most.
In the ward, Carter stirred uneasily in his sleep. Mathias looked up, and saw that a tall, vibrant woman with long, brunette hair had relieved Helena Russell. She turned, and waved as she removed her stethoscope.
"Monique, you're an angel." He said, greeting her as she approached the open door. "If that had been me, I would have given Mr. Ed Malcom a suppository job." He said through evil, clenched teeth.
"How do you know that I didn't?" Dr. Monique Foucher connived, batting her eyelashes. "Don't mess with the Dietary Diva, Bobby. Mr. Malcom will be cured of that tray of apple turnovers in about five minutes."
"Oh, you beauty." Moonbase Alpha's Chief Of Medical Services said, in awe, and pulling up a chair for her. "Did you short sheet his bed while you were out there."
"And I put cayenne pepper in his fruit cup."
Mathias was in love.
"Didn't I ask you to marry me once." He recalled
"Yes, but then I introduced you to my best friend, and as it turned out, the two of you were a perfect match." The other physician recalled fondly, crossing her right leg, lady-like over her left knee. "Where is Laura by the way."
All of the air suddenly went out of Bob Mathias' whoopee cushion. The lights in his office became as hot as the orange blister over the Gobi Dessert.
"She refused to come with me." He said. "We're separated."
"I think this one's for good." He said, trailing off into immense gloom, and doom. "Amy's birthday is next week. I got her a training bike. I'm going to try to talk to Laura again, but I don't know how it's going to go." He said, worriedly sipping his cold, crummy moobase coffee. "I'm afraid she's looking at making changes that are more...permanent."
Monique Foucher waited too long before speaking again. Mathias headed her off at the pass.
"So, planet Ultra." He said, shifting gears uneasily. "You'll be the first GP from Earth to set foot there." Not to be out done, Bob Mathias had obviously been busy mapping the horizon on Planet Asshole.
"We leave tomorrow morning." Monique agreed. No news flash there. The departure of The Ultraprobe was being subjected to marathon news coverage on all of the major cable, satellite, and network television stations worldwide. The radio hype alone was enough to drive the casual listener bonkers. Just last week, Foucher had been awarded the dubious honor of posing for the cover of "People Magazine." The photo was taken on a sound stage that had been cobbled together to look like a kitchen. She found that fact...amusing, in a tacky sort of way. She drummed her manicured nails against the office chair. In truth, she thought Mathias was full of it. At Harvard, he had been a close friend, a confidante, and fellow Pre-Med torture victim; on Earth, he was probably the most well respected doctor in The Big Apple; on Moonbase Alpha, his talents were stretched to the ingenious, and beyond.
Still, he was full of it. A rationalization ranger, Foucher decided, seeing the grief that he was still trying to hide behind his clumsy Bob Mathias smile. She was an attractive woman in her mid-thirties. Any number of horny males could attest to the seductive quality in her exotic eastern eyes. However, there was also intelligence, compassion, and love.
"Hey, dip stick." She said softly. "We'll be boarding the Eagle at 07:00 hours tomorrow. If you need to talk to me before then, my answering machine will be turned off." She pointed to the comlock beneath her white frock coat.
It was the last time Bob Mathias ever saw her.
Sandra sighed, and tried to move her legs. She was still under morphia but her body was already used to it, and she didn't feel nausea anymore. She frowned. Her legs were so heavy! But Helena said her she would be on her feet soon: she had to believe she would quickly forget she had been burned so much.
She closed her eyes. Around her, the routine on Alpha was going on. She could hear in the silence the voices of two nurses in the next room, discussing the latest events on the Moon Base. The beep of her monitor, just above her head, helped Sandra to be calm, to accept she would have to stay in her bed for several days again.
She had all the time she wanted to think. She smiled. She knew Paul would probably come to see her as soon as he would have finished his duty. Maybe their relationship would change quicker than she thought? She'd just hoped so. She needed to have close relationships, to share her joys, her feelings, but her fears too... It was time for her to accept her feelings for Paul. She loved him, simply loved him..
People here just seemed to understand that it was time to discover each other more, and to show each other feelings. Maybe it was just because of that adventure on Arkadia. The Commander showed the people on Alpha his deep feelings for Helena. For the first time, Sandra and the others saw John Koenig become only a man afraid of loosing the woman he loved. After Alan came back with Helena on Alpha, things had start to change slowly, as if the needs of everybody on Alpha had the right to be said; as if life and love had the right to exist on Alpha, as if a normal life could exist for the Alphans.
Sandra opened her eyes and thought of all the people she had left behind her on September 13 1999. Her family, her friends... Where were they now? Still alive? Professor Bergman said one time they should all be dead now, even if they'd survive after the Moon hurled into space. One year here was so much more on Earth. Would she die on this rock, lost in space? Will she die like so many others?
Sandra's eyes filled with tears. Juliet... Her friend, the funny little Juliet MacKay, was always ready to laugh, and begin new adventures and experiences. Sandra remembered the last day she saw her. They were both sad, because they knew they would be separated for long months. They were sitting in that restaurant, eating an enormous chocolate ice cream, trying to hide their feelings behind jokes and laughs. They discussed a lot about the Ultra Probe Mission. Juliet was so happy to start with the crew of that fabulous experience, she couldn't stop talking about trying to find what they would find. A new planet, a new Earth? New people, a new civilization? At the end of the day, Sandra and Juliet separated, Juliet assuring her friend she would be back with marvelous stories to tell her; that they would need at least one month of evenings together to share everything.
Tears escaped from Sandra's eyes. She had never seen Juliet again, and she wanted to keep in her mind the image of her friend laughing, happy to live. Space was so hard, without pity.
She jumped when she saw Doctor Mathias standing near her bed, face concerned, probably wondering why she was crying. Sandra smiled softly. Bob must have felt the same sometimes. He had lost too his friend, Monique, in the Ultra Probe Mission. Bob asked her if she was suffering, ready to give her another dose of morphia.
"No, no, it's ok. Thank you, doctor. I was just thinking... My friend Juliet, on the Ultra Probe... I don't know why, I miss her right now..."
(excerpt from Dr. Helena Russell's report to the World Space Commission, dated October 15, 2002 AB)
...the launch date for Ultraprobe was the sixth of June, 1996. Her crew included commander, Captain Alan Carter; astrophysicist, Dr. Darwin King; radiation expert, Dr. Juliet MacKay, and Dr. Monique Foucher, who would tend to the crews dietary, and psychological needs. The crew was shuttled to the Interplanetary Space Station where the Ultraprobe ship was docked. Embarkation, and countdown occurred without a hitch.
Departure took place at 08:00 hours, on schedule.
So the longest ever manned space flight began. It continued through six months of uneventful routine. Nothing disturbed the measured pace of the voyage; no malfunction of the ship broke the monotony. Navigation was flawless.
For days, excitement mounted as readings progressively confirmed that conditions on Ultra were similar to those on Earth. Plans were made for a manned landing, but as the probe ship moved to the far side of Ultra, contact was temporarily lost with Moonbase Alpha.
The landing was never made....
Juliet MacKay was seated at the technical station in the command module reviewing the latest scan data of Ultra. The radiation type and emissions were very similar to Earth. One of the primary concerns about Ultra was the radiation. If the scanners had spewed out a bunch of "unknown" entries for radiation types, the Ultraprobe would have had to turn around and make the long road trip back to Earth and Moonbase Alpha.
Juliet smiled as she went over the data. Beside her, Captain Alan Carter was looking on, also smiling.
"How about some coffee?" He asked cheerfully.
"That would be nice, thank you," she replied without looking up.
Carter was busy at the navigation controls. He laughed. "No, I mean you get me a cup." He chuckled....women.
Juliet glared at him. She had reached the end of her rope with this man. She mused that she should get some sort of bonus for putting up with him in tight quarters for the last 6 months plus the next 7 months.
"Get it yourself, Captain, "she snapped. "If you took the time to notice anyone or anything other than yourself, you would see that I am busy. I am not your freakin' waitress."
"Whoa!!! Easy! I'm just kidding around with you." He was amused. She was not. "So when we get back to earth, how about a date with Australia's most eligible and soon-to-be famous bachelor?
Carter had been coming on to her for the last several weeks. Juliet wasn't sure why; she did not seem to be his type. He was attractive in many respects. Nevertheless, Juliet could not stand his extreme cockiness. He was arrogant as hell and had zero regard for others, completely absorbed in his own greatness. In her mind, he was like Peter Pan; the little boy who never grew up. Juliet had politely declined his interest for several weeks but now the volcano was about to erupt.
Juliet swiveled around toward him. "I have repeatedly told you 'no'. Which part of 'no' don't you understand? Captain, I have absolutely no interest in you. You are the most immature, self-serving asshole I have ever met. Angelina Verdeschi warned me about you and by God, she was absolutely right."
Carter scowled. "Angelina Verdeschi? You trust her taste in men? She was going out with Sparkman when we left." Carter chuckled. "I hope she would have sense enough to dump that loser by the time we get back. Maybe I'll give her a second chance if she does, " he finished somewhat bitterly.
"OH! Does the Captain have a bruised ego cause one woman isn't falling all over herself to get to you? One woman....make that two women, buster," Juliet got up and stormed out. 'Well,' she thought 'so much for a pleasant trip back.'
Carter was about to verbalize his thought of 'Wait and see, you'll come around' when the warning light went off on the sensor panel. He queried the onboard computer and whistled as he read the print out.
"Hey Darwin," Carter called. "Come in here and check this out. We have a contact."
At his swivel chair, Darwin King was holding a calculator in one hand, and a squeeze tube of nutritious broccoli in the other. He set both aside, and stood, feeling the muscles in his legs stretch.
"Metallic?" He asked Carter. His expression was bland, as he expected the answer to be a big, depressing, but not surprising NO.
Through the cockpit's recessed windows, the rim of Planet Ultra slid gracefully beneath them. The atmosphere of the planet was livid with reds, and greens, and traces of white--the bi-product of salt-water precipitation in the planet's vast hydrological system. The southern hemisphere appeared to be home to massive electrical activity in the southeast sector. It appeared as a giant red eye--kilometers long, and dragon-like. It was the one feature that Ultra shared with her distant neighbor, the planet Jupiter. In approximately ten minutes, a burn was scheduled that would nudge them into a secure orbit around the planet's ice caps.
"Yeah, I reckon they are." The pilot said, watching the sensor loop illuminate the contacts again. There were eight of them altogether. "And they sure don't appear to be going anywhere."
King examined the monitor that was at mid-panel, and beamed. His villainous moustache, all in an uproar. He ran back to his own console, and seized a handful of star charts. He moved with such rapidity that he knocked his broccoli onto the floor. The single, moody eye of the squeeze tube stared across the low grates at them.
He hovered over the pilot's shoulder, and made his selection, holding it in both eager hands, while using his knee as a table.
"Orbital Reference 109." He said. "We going in for a look?"
Carter removed his headset, and rubbed the weary corners on either side of his nose. The red LED light winked on as he transferred the probe's navigation to automatic. The greatest, most expensive space flight in history would now chase it's own tail until they could figure out what to do. Thousands, upon millions, upon trillions of dollars clicked away like the counter on a gas pump.
"The problem is the fuel it will require for the course correction." Carter said, looking down at his chest. "We have enough for the landing. We have enough for a 210-day orbit back to Earth. Don't get me wrong, doc--I'd love to help unravel nature's mysteries with you." He lied. "But I'd also kind of like to see this crew make it home."
Also, if something reached out, and bit them in the darkness behind Ultra, Main Mission would never know their fate. The fact was not lost on Alan Carter.
"Ahhhh." King groaned, with a touch of sensoriousness. "If worse came to worse, you could always get us on a free-return trajectory."
The pilot looked at the on-board clock. The digital numbers were counting down. Whether they went into orbit, or went a-roving to unravel nature's mysteries, they had to make a decision soon.
"I'm glad you have such faith in my abilities." Carter said, growing sincere. It was a side of him that was available if you had enough piss, and vinegar to tough it out. He looked thoughtfully upwards at the lit ceiling panels. What the hey, he thought. He reached across to the engineering panel and punched a square white switch marked VOLTAGE. In the service module of the probe, the low-watt plasma drive came to life after six months of being dormant. The ship shuddered slightly as the pilot steered the probe ship hard to starboard. Ultra disappeared beneath the horizon of their viewports.
"Let's do it." Carter said, putting his head set back on. "Beam every thing we have in that direction. We're going to have a look."
'Surprise,' was not exactly the word Alan Carter would have used to describe his reaction to esoteric junk heap situated before them.
"It's fantastic." Monique Foucher said, wide eyed, as she gazed out the porthole to the pilot's left.
"Where do they come from?" Juliet MacKay wondered. "What are they doing?"
The sensor sweep continued on the mid-panel display, although visual confirmation had been confirmed. As it turned out, the contacts turned out not to be a cluster of asteroids, as Darwin King had blearily, and thanklessly theorized. What they actually discovered would have merited a mission unto itself--so much so that the pilot wondered if the landing on Ultra would be downplayed when they got back, in favor of a new four-color, front page headline.
Shadows from the fleet of ships moved across Alan Carter's shoulders and chest, as he prepared to brake. A circular laser light, cast from the sensor blip, moved across his forehead like a thought. Before veering away from Ultra, there had been eight bogeys in all. Now there were ten, grouped together, and haphazardly breaking away from a unifying mass at the center. They were totally alien in design, and in intent. The probe ship made a near pass over the first of them--a vessel of approximate size, and weight that had huge lateral silos attached to it's hull; possibly some sort of refinery ship. It was dead in space, drifting. Two more derelicts hove into view, both were torpedo shaped, and maroon in color. Carbon spikes were visible in their aft sections--the effect of alien propulsion energies, Carter supposed. Lifeless hulks--both of them. Yet another ship--shaped like a giant, metallic commode plunger--an empty house, windows closed, doors locked mysteriously. All that was known about its owners was that they were not human, and they had gone who knows where.
"There's still no sign of life from any of them." Darwin brimmed joyously from his station. His monitor displays glowed orange, on again/ off again like an unheeded nuclear meltdown.
"Maybe it's a huge conference of all space peoples." Juliet bantered. "And this is their car park."
"Yeah?" Carter said, steering clear of a colossal derelict that fairly resembled a corkscrew. Something told him that if there was any wine aboard, the barrels would be fermented to extinction. "Then where are the people?"
He awaited an answer, but the radiation expert was mute.
"There's got to be some one around." He fumed. They cleared the S.S. Cork Screw, and were now passing a tub that looked like an over-sized version of one of the old, space-shuttle orbiters. "Sweetie pie, put the booster on every band in the life spectrum."
Juliet exited to her station through a hatch that was marked DANGER. It was a conduit hatch, and the sentiment was intended to illuminate one against the perils of explosive decompression. Ten months from now, after all was said, and done, Alan Carter would muse at how often they saw that word on the probe ship, but how little they--he, in particular--failed to heed it.
"With ships like this, we could do some serious exploring, Darwin." Carter observed, moving carefully over the rear dorsal fin of the alien space shuttle. Immediately another ship moved in to take its place. This one looked like a giant lamppost. "By 'serious,' I don't mean Neptune, and Pluto. Oh, no--I'm talking Proxima, M33--the places we really need to go."
The very existence of some of these ships was a slap in the face that dull, uninspiring, uncreative, superluminal theory. The builders of these space-fairing vessels didn't give a hang about things like infinite mass, and how to propel it. They had obviously found away around it. The probe was half way across the lamppost's beam when they squared up to the largest ship in the discarded fleet. This one was shaped like a giant four-way tire iron.
"All we need," King added, appearing behind him. "Is for some one to show us the way." His tone, and his bravura, suggested that he--Darwin King--was, in fact, that man.
"Still no signs of life?"
"None." King said, standing straight, and slapping his hands eagerly together. "So, when do we dock?"
"We don't." Carter said, using the maneuvering thrusters to bring them to a halt. The neglected broccoli tube slid across the compartment at them. "I'll suit up, and do a space walk." Darwin frowned. "I need you here to help Juliet." Darwin clenched his fists. "Keep monitoring for life signs. Try to get Main Mission on the horn." Darwin King's face turned umber--his exasperated big dome head seeming twenty stories taller. "I'll see what I can see from out there--maybe take a look through one of the windows."
"I don't see any reason why we can't just dock." King said, and was glad of it.
Carter threw his head set down, and stood, stretching his back.
"Because it's dangerous for one thing." He explained calmly. "Our systems are incompatible with theirs. There's no way to guarantee a tight vacuum seal. For another thing, we have no idea what we're going to find on the other side. I don't like reaching for light switches in the dark. We came to do a scientific exploration of the planet Ultra. We weren't sent to do a reconnaissance on a graveyard of alien ships."
King nodded frantically, his common sense totally buried in one of his textbooks.
"I know all of that, but look at them, Alan." He said, pointing carelessly out the viewport. "Look, the safety of this crew is just as important to me, as it is to you." He pontificated vaguely. "But we've done every scan we could possibly do, and there's simply no one here. They're dead in space. No life. Nothing. Why not avail ourselves of the opportunity now. There's no telling when Earth Command will get another ship back here.
"Hell, they may never send another ship back. We may be the only one."
Carter frowned, and thought about it.
Alan Carter caved on the docking idea.
In spurts of forward inertia, he maneuvered the probe ship to the uppermost differential of the tire iron ship. It's immense size, and the fact that the other spacecraft in the fleet protected it, physically, made it a principal target for boarding, Darwin King insisted. That was another problem, right there. Carter would go far to help further the boundaries of human knowledge, but the astrophysicist was becoming a pain in the arse, unpariel. Once their little excursion was over, the pilot had every intention of showing him who wore the pants on this mission.
But for now, he was like every one else--a curious cat in thrall of a boiling, black pot.
The Ultraprobe ship descended onto what appeared to be an oval docking ring. For all Carter knew, it might also be a waste disposal chute, but they had to start some where. The appearance of the octagon hatch buttressed his speculations. There was a heavy metallic thud, like low thunder, as the hull of the Ultraprobe made contact with a spacecraft from another world.
Amazingly, talk back on the connection was barber pole. The pilot experienced that grim, de ja vu. A feeling that he had taken steps like this before, only to discover that it was more like a tumble on a banana peel.
"Docking's secure." He said into the mouthpiece attached to his head set. He could sense Darwin King's orgasm, even if he couldn't see it. Outside, the others stood by the starboard airlock, awaiting the results of the environmental scan with eagerness, and anticipation. At that moment Carter could not get his mind off that long ago war; the one that seemed like only yesterday. The spirit of that towel headed bloke ran across the burning sands of his mind, over, and over again. The gauges were all 5 X 5. The VU Meters that measured the 02, and Nitrogen levels peaked into the 70-percentile range. The amount of C02, almost negligible. "The atmosphere appears to be safe." He announced cautiously." Carter moved on to the barometer readings. In a way he could understand, and in a way he could not. The way the guy had run back there, knowing that it might mean his own death. It was curtains, in fact. Fuel Air Bombs were a disgusting, disgraceful way to go. "The temperature's about 28 degrees. Better zippen your coat, cutie." He chided, not realizing that he had already concluded his last conversation, ever, with the radiation specialist. "It looks okay...I guess."
"C'mon Sesame, open up." Darwin snapped, impatiently.
"Comb your hair, Rogaine." Carter retorted evenly, reaching for the t-bar safety release.
"By the way, when you get back, we're going to have us a little talk." He said erroneously, and gripped the handle. "I'm opening the hatch now."
He moved the lever backward, one click at time on its metal gear.
In the laboratory module, the airlock door opened.
Juliet MacKay and Monique Foucher cautiously peered into the blackness inside while Darwin King stepped forward exuberantly into the airlock.
Suddenly a frigid blast of wind, at least 50 miles per hour accompanied by a vague light and a multi frequency shrieking sound that would cause a Doberman to yelp in pain came howling from the ship into the passenger section of the Ultraprobe. The force was enough to knock Darwin King back into the Ultraprobe, landing squarely on his backside.
"Close the hatch!!!!! CLOSE THE HATCH!!!!!!!" yelled Juliet MacKay to Carter as Monique Faucher screamed with fear.
"What is it?!" Carter anxiously queried, as he returned the hatch release lever to its original position. The doors immediately closed.
"Wind...Light ....Noise...It's really weird.." Darwin King replied, rubbing his ears.
The spinning wraith of white light began to materialize in the cargo section. The wind picked up again and the shrieking noise returned....escalating in intensity and volume. The spinner grew larger and larger but not closer, great tentacles of light extending from floor to ceiling. Then it changed....into something solid.
"Close the cargo doors!! CLOSE THE CARGO DOORS!!!!!" Juliet yelled. As they were beginning to close, a circuit shorted out and the doors to the cargo area remained open.
Monique Faucher screamed at the result of the transformation. The word "monster" is a word connected to childhood fairy tales. But there was no better word to describe it....and this was no fairly tale. It was literally a "monster".
The thing was at least 8 feet tall and it resembled an upright squid; that was where any similarity with any earth creature ended. A rancid smell accompanied the greenish-brown color of its scales. Great tentacles reached forward, at least a dozen perhaps closer to two dozen in number. In the center of what might be considered its head, was a great glowing eye, that resemble on old fluorescent kitchen ceiling light. The shrieking sound was now accompanied by a distinct roaring. The passenger cabin grew noticeably hotter and the temperature was rising, due to the fact that under the monster appeared to be a great heat source; an oven.
Darwin King sprinted back toward the Command module and began pounding on the door. "Let me in!!! Let me in!!!! Help me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Monique Foucher was closest to the thing. She had been screaming in fear. Juliet noticed a white spinner appear before her face; suddenly, Monique released the bulkhead she had desperately been clutching, hanging on for her life. She moved toward the thing.
"No, Monique, NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" cried Juliet.
Monique was practically on top of the thing when, as if she heard Juliet and her sanity returned, she turned and tried to desperately get away.
"No...NO....NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" Monique shriek as she seemed to be sucked down and pulled under the thing, into the inferno below.
Juliet MacKay shielded her eyes. Darwin King was staring in horror at the thing and yelled "Jesus Christ!!!!" as Monique Faucher's body, now resembling a spent charcoal briquette, was spewed out from under the monster along the floor. It stopped next to Juliet MacKay.
The thing was at work again as the mesmerizing spinner hypnotized Darwin King. At this point, Juliet had tied a rope around herself, connecting to an I-beam of the hull. As Darwin King robotically walked by, Juliet attempted to grab him. The monster intervened by wrapping two tentacles around his legs. In an instant, Darwin King, in a fit of screaming and yelling, was on the ground. He clawed desperately at the floor, momentarily holding on to one of the legs of a table bolted to the floor. His strength failed and he too ended up being pulled into the creature's broiler.
The acrid smell of Monique Faucher's remains was amplified by the equally horrendously putrid corpse of Darwin King, as it slid past her.
Juliet was now armed with a laser. She fired at it. Nothing. She fired again, this time aiming for "the eye". She suddenly felt at peace and contented by the spinning light in front of her eyes. No worries. No stress. One of its tentacles firmly wrapped itself around her neck. Juliet released the bulkhead and started toward the monster as Carter bolted into the passenger section.
To say that the creature was the most horrifying thing Alan Carter had ever seen would be the understatement of the soon to be finished millennia.
The sight...the cacophony...the pungent smell of it and the nauseating remains of Monique Foucher and Darwin King gave Carter pause for about half a second; then, he sprang into action.
One slimy, green tentacle was wrapping around Juliet MacKay's neck as another was pulling on and unraveling the rope that was tied between Juliet and the bulkhead.
"Help me, Alan, Help me, "she choked, imploring.
Carter tried the laser. Twice.
"It doesn't work...Help me, Alan, help me..." she gasped. She was losing strength, beginning to black out.
Carter grabbed the axe and started hacking at the tentacle. As soon as it was cut free, though, another immediately replaced it and a second one grabbed her by the upper thigh.
"No, you bastard, NO!!!!" Carter yelled as he chopped away and another tentacle grabbed her other leg. Suddenly, a gust of wind sent Carter backwards, slamming him near the command module. At that precise second, the rope, Juliet's lifeline snapped.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH! HELP ME! AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!"
The petrified screams of Juliet MacKay echoed through the ship as she was taken into the belly of hell. Her charred and putrid remains shot out at Carter.
Carter jumped up and bolted into the command module, attempting to shut the doors. A single monster tentacle reached around the opening and shorted out the console. Carter picked up the axe and hacked at the tentacle as he struggled with the manual override lever. After an eternity the door closed, shutting out the terror in the passenger module of the Ultraprobe.
As he was now, officially, chased out of town. Carter made haste for the pilot's couch. There was an impenetrable, moment from hell when he thought that he could hear Juliet's voice, crying out for aid, and rescue on the other side of the double doors. The pilot fastened his safety harness tightly, giving the slack a hurried, final pull. It wasn't possible, he decided. The flight of humankind's first extrasolar probe was over. Mission aborted. Juliet MacKay was gone. Only Carter remained, the soul surviving guitarist in a band whose members had dropped dead on stage. In the batrachian bowels of the laboratory module, he could hear something, pounding at the door like a bent, intractable salesman.
It's not over you, fucker. He incanted to himself, with blood, and integrity. Not by a long shot.
Situated on the floor beside the pilot's couch was a rectangular, 4" X 6" hatch. To the uninformed, it appeared to be a safety cover to an electrical outlet. Carter thumbed the hatch open. Beneath it was a second hatch covered with red warning stripes. Beyond that was a metal plunger, a countdown meter, and a label that was marked MODULE.
Carter thrust the plunger downward in a cold sweat.
"DANGER," The master computer's inhuman female voice boomed from the console speakers. "EXPLOSIVE BOLTS HAVE BEEN ARMED. DETONATION WILL OCCUR IN T-10 SECONDS; 9, 8, 7, 6,-"
Carter placed his headset on, and gripped the arms of the chair. A red warning light began to spiral above him.
"...5, 4, 3, 2...."
Goodbye, Julie. The lights, the terror--all mutilation, and ruined dreams. Carter sank into the bottomless Lovecraftian nexus.
Behind him, ten 50-caliber charges exploded in unison. The cockpit quaked as though Armageddon was at hand. The command module crawled forward. Outside, amidst the hail of debris, a fan of metal plates blossomed outward as the lifeboat broke away from the probe ship's endoskeleton. The universe outside the recessed windows began to dip downward. Carter held tight, his face, and neck muscles throbbed uncontrollably.
Suddenly the buckle of his seat belt was on the ceiling of the command module. Then he coasted downward again. Blown backwards by the explosion, the module cleared the lamp post spacecraft. The oversized space shuttle orbiter was now gaining on him. The module had completed its second roll when Carter grasped the joystick, and fired the maneuvering thrusters.
In the center of his console, the monitor displayed a 3-D model constructed from white lines. At the end of a long, narrow corridor, a computer-generated image of the pod's mother ship disappeared as the kilometers clicked coldly by. The Ultraprobe had now been indoctrinated into that great, sub-orbital museum of horror, and stupidity.
It wasn't long before Ultra's thin, blue atmosphere envelope became visible again. Alan Carter approached the falls of grief--the only area in the cosmos where silence has lease.
From the Moon Base Alpha Medical Log of Dr. Helena Russell, October 15, 2002 A.B.:
Despite his ordeal, Captain Carter executed a brilliant maneuver to put his lifeboat into a low orbit round Ultra which hurled him back to Earth. He survived alone in the module for over six months. Carter's module was eventually located and brought back to Alpha. He was on the point of death.
What they returned to Moonbase Alpha, wracked with pneumonia, did not look very much like Alan Carter. Imagine a skeleton wearing a fandango skin suit. Said skin no longer contained any traces of warmth. Most of the color, and lividity was a billion miles away, still in orbit around Ultra. A long, pointed, Devil's Island beard rested on the sheets below his ancient chin.
For all of that, he was still breathing, if only barely.
The RN's bumped the gurney from Travel Tube A, and into the distilled light of the corridor. Jerry Parker pulled, while Raul Nunez pushed. Bob Mathias pulled back the sheet, and placed his stethoscope against Carter's rasping, wash board chest.
"Bob?" John Koenig said tentatively. "Will he make it?" Behind him, Victor Bergman braced for the bad news.
"Oh, yes." Mathias said, closing the door to the travel tube. "On courage."
Monique Foucher, and the others were not so lucky.
Mathias followed the gurney down the corridor, his stethoscope swinging to the beat of expiated time. Koenig, and Bergman followed close behind.
(excerpt from Helena Russell's report to The World Space Commission, dated October 15, 2002 AB)
...as Alan Carter began to recover his strength, the official attitude towards him went from congratulations, to doubt. The story of his encounter with the monster was difficult to believe, and the recorded data of the black box cast further doubt on his veracity. As a member of the space commission medical team, I began to inquire as to the mental state of the patient....
November 5, 1997
A day in the brand new life of Alan Carter--to be cherished, or suspect.
Dr. Helena Russell beat the morning rush hour traffic to the Bethesda Naval Hospital. It was a hectic task that almost wrecked her Volvo back on the I-97 Turnpike. Her opponent, an offensive driver in a black Mitsubishi apologized by demonstrating sign language, along with an invitation to hold synthesis with several species of birds, and fruits, and vegetables. She knocked on the door to Room 345, and a brunette nurse in maroon hospital scrubs admitted her.
"Alan Carter," She acknowledged, offering her hand. "Dr. Helena Russell, Space Commission Medical Center."
Carter set aside the sheet of hydraulic schematics he had been reading, and offered his own hand.
"Hello, doc." He said cordially. "Not here to ask about my sex life, are you? It's in a sad state of affairs right now."
Russell laughed, and at that moment decided not to use the micro-cassette recorder that she had concealed in her purse.
"If you're here for the other story you had better have a seat. It has that effect on people, or so I'm told. A few people needed a stiff drink when I finished. There's no alcohol here, but I'm told there's a wonderful little pub called Nielander's a few blocks down the street."
"What makes you think I'll need a drink?" The physician said, covering her knees with her skirt as she sat.
The pilot shrugged.
"Bug eyed mutants make wonderful B-Movie matinees." He supposed. "It's like the Alamagoosum; a kid's fantasy. But watch what happens if you actually produce something like that."
"How do you mean?" Russell asked.
"Well, take old Saint Nick." Carter typified. "The fact is, if some one in a red coat, with a white beard drove into town, he'd be arrested, and probably fitted for one of those funny jackets. You know--one of the white ones with the arms in the front." He stopped, eyeing her carefully. "That's pretty much what you have in mind already, isn't it. About me, I mean. I'm sure you read my report."
Helena Russell shook her head. She had indeed read the report. Was her diagnosis yet made? That was an emphatic "NO."
Carter relaxed, playing with the corner of his blue prints. It was labeled an AUTO CAD production, from the square legend in the center.
"I didn't have any thing specific in mind." The physician assured him.
"Good." Carter said, almost in a whisper. "Because I want to tell you that everything in my report is true. The tentacles, the blood suckers, everything."
Helena Russell twirled her hair pensively, keeping a discrete poker face.
"It's tough to do that, though." The pilot agreed sympathetically. "I mean, I want to be believed, but when I listen to myself, I know how I sound. I sound like a nutter. Totally, one hundred percent certifiable. Take my skull out, and put it under the wheel of a car. It's finished.
"I've known John Koenig, and Victor Bergman for years." He reflected. "But I'm sure that's how they feel, even if they won't admit it. Commissioner Dixon--well, that's another ball game entirely. He doesn't believe a single, solitary word of it."
"You want to be believed?" Russell asked neutrally.
"Yeah, I do." Carter said sincerely. "How to impress them with those things that I know to be true though. You see, I know I went head, to head with a dragon...and lost. I know that it's the truth, regardless of what the black box data says."
"That's a surprising statement for a rational man."
Carter smiled patiently.
"Doc, if you had been out there with us on the far side of Ultra, you would know that every thing we've been taught about rationality is a lie." He concluded bitterly. Outside the windows of the private room, the wind rustled gently through the eaves. Small drops of rain began to fall in scatters, here, and there. "I don't suppose you were in the war, were you?" He said, surprising the physician with the sudden change of subject.
Russell told him she wasn't.
Carter nodded, and stared blankly at his blue prints.
Early January 1998...Moonbase Alpha...
John Koenig strode into Tech Lab 2 as Professor Bergman was viewing files downloaded files from the red box on his 21" PC monitor. "Victor."
"Hmm. Yes, John?"
Koenig sighed "Bad news."
"Hmm," Victor mumbled without looking up. "What is it?"
"There's going to be a full scale inquiry. Commissioner Dixon has ordered us back to Earth. The story is there was a mechanical failure of the airlock mechanism causing the door to open prematurely, killing the crew. Technical is going to get pounded."
"Seems a logical explanation," Victor started, clicking the mouse to save the file. "Well, at least it's easier to believe than a monster, isn't it?"
"Victor. If the black box didn't record the monster, isn't it conceivable there are life forms our instruments can't detect?"
"Oh yeah. Sure, " Victor nodded. Koenig was pacing.
"It could have even jammed the black box. Just because we haven't experienced something doesn't mean it doesn't exist," Koenig exasperated.
"No, but we're not likely to know that unless we go back for a second look."
"No, I think we've gotta go back out there. In fact I know we must. Those spaceships out there could save the Space Program billions of dollars and hundreds of years. Now we know Alan wasn't fantasizing about those. Because those contacts are clearly recorded on the black box." Koenig pats the box confidently.
"Yeah, but that's all they are. Contacts. How do we know they're spaceships?"
John Koenig flustered. "Must we disbelieve everything Alan says?!"
"No, no, no, of course not, but I mean here's a man virtually come back from the dead. It's only natural he should have nightmares. It would be unnatural if he didn't," Victor rationalized calmly.
"Look, I refuse to let them dismiss it like that. Their explanation is a cop out. Plain and simple!"
"John, I'm afraid the facts are that our Probe was a failure, and somebody's heads got to roll. In a sense, it is a good thing that Carter's head is not on the chopping block."
"So it's got to be Technical Section?"
"It would be difficult to pin it on Carter given his service record and reputation. He's the model of the space program. The PR would be disastrous if the "model" was suddenly found to be less than ideal. It is much easier to lay the yoke on a faceless group called Technical Section." Victor closed out the file.
"Well I don't like it. It is not right," Koenig complained.
"Unfortunately it's Commissioner Dixon who will decide what is 'right' in this case," Bergman finished somberly.
Angelina Verdeschi walked in, with her laptop in hand.
"Ang," John Koenig turned to her. "Commissioner Dixon has recalled us to earth."
"Us?" Angelina queried, puzzled.
"Yeah, Professor Bergman, me and you too. We leave on the next Eagle shuttle scheduled departure time for 0900 hours tomorrow."
Commissioner Edward Dixon's office was located in the suburbs of Boston. The ILC Complex was ironically named the "peace" building. Whether this was a reference to some dream of human collaboration, or a descriptor for the body parts that had been lopped off there, no one knew. A dismal secretary admitted Carter, Bergman, and Koenig to the empty office. It was opulently decorated in hybrid tastes, some where between Louis XIV, and Atilla The Hun. The ILC Chair arrived promptly at 9:00 AM. He entered quietly, reading a stapled report, while closing the soundproof door behind him.
"Good morning, gentlemen." He greeted them, while continuing his review of the report.
"Good morning." Bergman replied, half-heartedly while pouring himself a cup of hi-test from a nearby urn. Carter already had a cup, and John Koenig apparently wasn't thirsty. He stood by the window, gazing out at the overcast day.
"Oh, please, sit, sit." Dixon said, moving around to the business side of his desk.
Bergman chose his electric chair; Koenig chose his electric chair. Carter elected to stand. He had yet to sip his coffee.
Dixon dropped down in the high back chair, placing his hands matter-of-factly on his knees.
"Well, we are in the red, aren't we?" He mused. "Strange, there's nothing like failure for drying up the money supply. I hope you all have some strong ideas for alleviating the-uh, draught?"
Koenig leaned forward, his features showing strong consternation, and intent.
"Commissioner, what about the positive aspects of the mission? Why not focus the public's attention on the earth-like qualities of the planet Ultra?"
"Hmmm." Dixon decided unoptimistically. "Vague possibilities don't carry the same PR Power as a thumping dramatic failure, I'm afraid."
"Alright, let's be positive. Let's launch a second probe right away, and put our experience to good use by getting right out there."
"Before we get carried away with the future," Dixon advised, directing the conversation back towards the double doors of the slaughterhouse. "We must first concentrate on the past. I want to know what you two really think happened out there."
The exclusionary phrase 'you two' was directed at the two scientists. Carter was ostracized to the position of attending invisible man.
"I'm the only one who can answer that question." The pilot said angrily.
"Oh yes?" Dixon said briefly, as if he were preparing for the punch line to the ultimate polish joke.
"Yeah." Carter mocked. "It's in my report. You read it."
"I most certainly did." Dixon agreed coldly. "Why do you think you're sitting here?"
"It's the truth." Carter insisted. "Every damn word of it."
"Or an elaborate cover-up for a system's failure that you're too arrogant to admit. You forget, Carter--I'm the one who appointed you. I know how that big ego of yours works. You're a glutton for praise, and if you can't have it one way, you'll certainly get it the other way.
"What do you say to that?"
"That's just not true." The pilot said hoarsely, clenching his fists.
"Now, I need to know what you two have to say." Dixon said, coming around to lean against his desk. "Do you believe in monsters?"
Bergman set his coffee cup down.
"Well, I believe whatever caused this disaster traumatized Alan in ways he can't recognize, and we can't even guess at."
"Koenig?" Dixon turned the tip of his lance on the other physicist.
"Commissioner, we know those ships are out there, and we know one of them is ours. What we should be asking ourselves is why they're there, and what happened to them."
The ILC Chair groaned inwardly.
"We have a series of unidentified bleeps recorded by the scanner." He said literally, as if he were the only lifeboat in a choppy sea of ignorance. "That's all. As far as I'm concerned, this romantic vision of a space ship's graveyard is as much the product of egomaniacal thinking as fierce battle with a ghoulish monster. So, please. Let's stick to the facts.
"Now tell me straight, Bergman. What caused the interference on that tape?"
The professor's mouth went dry as the inquisition turned towards him.
"Ahhhhhgggghh," He stammered. "How can you say?"
"Could it be him?" Dixon pointed to Carter.
"Alan could have done it." Bergman said carefully. "Although I honestly can't say why he should."
"As a cover up. Our hero can't be having his reputation sullied by something as mundane as a technical failure, can he?"
The doctor turned reconnaissance pilot made tired, irritated, impatient noises.
"Why would he restart normal recording four minutes, and 45 seconds later?" He asked, disgusted.
Dixon's smile was lethal.
"Are you going to suggest that the 'monster' did it?"
"We can't dismiss that possibility." Koenig announced genuinely.
"You surprise me, John."
"Commissioner, that black box recorded a breathable atmosphere inside that ship. The docking seal was intact. The moment the door was opened, the recording stopped. Therefore, there is no evidence of death by decompression on that tape." Koenig paused. "What I'm saying, commissioner, is that your case against Carter holds no more weight than his story does."
Dixon paced towards the window. His mental mathematics were almost audible. He considered the gray clouds as he bracketed his formulae; made subtractions where necessary; substituting whatever expression he needed to complete the equation. When he joined the circle again, his verdict was read: Strangulation by red tape.
"I'm afraid I shall have to discredit this entire affair." He said as dispassionately as an Eskimo topping the food chain. "Formal security oaths will be obtained from each of you, in writing. There's to be no more discussion of this."
"Commissioner." Koenig leaned against the desk, outraged. "We can't just drop this. Our experience has taught us a lot about the dangers we face out there--from black suns, neutron storms, and the like. But if we think we know everything, we are making a terrible mistake."
"The time may come when you will finally learn where your priorities are." Dixon said quietly. "Mine are quite clear to me."
The monster of disillusionment, stalking the ruined wastes of human history, picked John Koenig up by the shoulders, and sat him back in the chair.
"Carter, I'm done with you. Don't expect to do a lot of flying any time in the near future." Dixon said, and as the pilot moved towards the door, he added: "Given your grandiose thinking, I know it's tempting for you to look for the nearest newspaper editor, and spill your guts. It would be a shame if all of those wonderful skills you have were made to languish in some mental hospital."
"Believe me, it can be arranged."
"I don't doubt that a bit." Carter said, and closed the door behind him.
Angelina Verdeschi sat nervously in the reception area of Commissioner Dixon's office. She tried thumbing through the Forbes magazine and the Wall Street Journal but nothing caught her attention. Angelina had been called from Alpha to earth by the Commissioner's office and she had a pretty good idea the reason behind it.
Angelina arrived for her appointment on time but the Commissioner kept her waiting. Actually, he was in his office with Dr. John Koenig, Captain Alan Carter and Professor Bergman. Professor Bergman hinted to her that their conversation was going to be about the disastrous Ultraprobe mission.
It was January 1998 and it had been 6 months since Captain Carter was found near death in the Ultraprobe command module. All that the media circus reported was there was some sort of mechanical failure on the ship. Angelina could not figure out why Dixon needed to talk to Captain Carter. Afterall, it appeared that technical screwed this one up...in a major way.
Commission Dixon's secretary reminded Angelina of Miss Moneypenny from the more recent James Bond movies, except she did not smile. It could not possibly be a joyous 9-5 life working directly for Commissioner Dixon; Angelina mused. Angelina stared out the window, watching the Bostonians below rushing about the ice and snow covered streets in the frigid January air.
"The Commissioner will see you now," ordered the frowning Miss Moneypenny look alike.
"Thank you," Angelina smiled graciously at her.
The leather like covered door opened as she approached and exiting Dixon's office was Captain Carter. They locked eyes and caught each other in a glance. In that split second, Angelina had never seen such a dismal, depressed and defeated look as the one he had in his eyes. Carter looked like he had just been sentenced to death. Despite the fact that up to this point she could not stand the man, she found herself gazing at him with compassion and sympathy, feeling his suffering and pain. There was something profoundly different about him, and something unsaid passed between them.
Carter may have just had his sentence handed to him but Angelina was now worrying about her own sentencing hearing and broke the gaze, walking past him into Dixon's office.
Angelina put on a professional, confident exterior as she closed the door behind her. Professor Bergman and John Koenig were seated in lounge chairs in front of Dixon's desk looking very somber indeed. Professor Bergman looked up and nodded to Angelina to take a seat next to him as Koenig stared straight ahead, stirring his coffee. Commissioner Dixon was seated at his desk, writing notes in a file, and did not look up at her. Angelina instantly knew that either the previous conversation with Carter had not been pleasant or her conversation was not going to be pleasant....or both.
"Good morning, Commissioner," Angelina greeted with a slight smile. "What can I do for you, sir?"
Dixon ignored her. He continued to put the finishing touches on his report, meticulously dotting his Is, and crossing his T's. He waited an interminably long period of time before answering, taking his good time, as though the keys to the space/time continuum belonged to he, and he alone.
"Ahhhh, yes." He said, finally, flipping his legal pad to expose a fresh sheet. "The young lady with a slide rule. Please, make yourself comfortable."
Angelina waned into a posture of hideous discomfort as the lens of the microscope descended on her. The ILC Chair seemed pleased by this. He dropped his ink pen to the blotter, and appraised her from behind his thick, black, bone-rimmed glasses. Appraised? No, that was perhaps too humane a verb. What he actually seemed to be doing was evaluating her worth as a sentient human being.
"I'd introduce you, but I'm sure these estimable gentlemen need no introduction." He said, bemused. "By the looks on their faces I'd say they certainly know you.
"So sorry to keep you waiting." He said, with all the remorse of a storm trooper at Dachau. "The reading material in the waiting room really isn't very interesting. Dry stuff, actually.
"Perhaps you'll find the magazines in here to be more to your taste." Dixon unkneaded his fingers, and opened the top drawer of the brilliantly stained, cherry wood desk. He removed a folded, onion skin periodical. It was trade paper size, and bound with staples. He held the paper's crease with well manicured index fingers, allowing the front page to drop for all to see."
"!!!COUNTDOWN TO DOOMSDAY!!!" The bold faced headline drooled. This was accompanied by the sub heading: "PHYSICIST PREDICTS THAT NUCLEAR WASTE DUMPS WILL DESTROY THE MOON, AND THE EARTH." This was the grimoire, and it was adorned with a pencil sketch ordeal that any self-respecting third grader would have proud to have rendered. Badly drawn, and badly shaded meteors dramatically pulverized the Eiffel Tower before their very eyes. For all of its artistic peccadilloes, the sketch did have some impact. The impact was that it was bad. Just above the footer, there was other news in the world today: "BAT BOY FROM ARKANSAS DEVOURS HAPLESS CAMPERS," along with a bone grinding editorial on how "ALIENS SANK THE TITANIC."
The rag was called The Globe. The commissioner let it flop to his desk, burying his bronze letter opener like a concealed dagger.
"I wonder who the physicist could be?" He said with counterfeit puzzlement. "So, what's it all about."
His gaze, as cool, and aloof as a block of ice.
Angelina glanced at the tabloid; and will much effort managed to stop herself from bursting out laughing.
"Sir," she began with as much humble pie as possible, "I have not been talking to anyone outside the Moonbase Alpha community about my work. I understand and follow the non-disclosure order as directed."
She glanced at Victor, then with a slight smirk. "Besides, sir, this is not exactly USA Today or The New York Times. What credibility does this rag have anyway?"
She thought she heard Bergman and Koenig momentarily stop breathing.
The commissioner leaned comfortably in the red leather, high back chair. As he listened to her, he clicked the nib of his ink pen, in and out: a reticulated python waiting to strike. His attitude of frozen protocol never faltered. He did seem to find Angelina's petite knowledge--her belief in what she thought she knew--endearing.
"How do I know it was you who communicated this story to the yellow press." He enumerated, staring up at the ceiling. "Who in the world would take a rag like this seriously. Those are your questions to me?"
Angelina nodded. Victor Bergman turned away, like a conscientious objector at a public execution.
"I'll address the second question first." He said, leaning forward on his elbows. "As a species, Homo sapiens don't want facts, Ms. Verdeschi. Nary should come a day when facts get in the way of public opinion." He brandished the newspaper again. The cover was dog-eared so badly that only the words PHYSICIST, and MOON were visible. "This 'rag' as you call it out sells The New York Times by a ratio of ten to one. People eat it up, even if it is a tissue of lies. Appropriations are made for the space program through honest reporting. How can our press affiliates possibly compete with The Bat Boy From Arkansas?" He said, aghast, and staring Angelina directly in the eye. "Or, the fantasies of an irresponsible young physicist, who is more concerned with fame, and opportunism than the future of this organization.
"Does that ring any bells with you?"
The latter was more judgement than question.
Angelina Verdeschi flushed; not because she was ashamed or embarrassed but because she was angry. Angry that the Commissioner was attacking her character, implying that she would sell out to some trashy tabloid.
She did not allow the Commissioner to stare her down. She retorted evenly and calmly. "My theory is not fantasy, sir. It is true that it is mathematically based and that my research can only lend greater plausibility to it and emphasize the need to modify our method of containment of the nuclear waste." She paused and continued. "I hope that the facts prove me wrong. I really do. But if I'm right, sir, if the truth confirms the theory, THAT," she points to the front page Doomsday tabloid, "will be an understatement, to say the least!"
Suddenly, the Calvary thundered in.
"Uh, Commissioner Dixon," Professor Bergman spoke up. "I have encouraged Dr. Verdeschi's research because, although many factors must come into play for a 'doomsday' scenario, her theory does have particular merits. I take full responsibility for allowing her and, yes, even encouraging her in further post-doctorate research."
"Commissioner," Koenig spoke in a strong voice, "We cannot ignore the potential consequences of this theory. I have reviewed her research to date and at the very least it points to an entirely different containment method in order to eliminate the chance of the occurrence of this magnetic radiation effect. This theory cannot be ignored..."
Dixon's black turtleneck was impeccably starched.
"There are a hundred different scenarios; yours is one possible theory." He said soberly. "Most of those waste units are too far into their half lives to pose any threat. Even if we were storing pure, 96 % Plutonium Ceramic, you can't have an explosion without an electron trigger.
"However, I must tell you that my criticism goes far beyond my concerns over the devastating PR Value of this story. Frankly, I have physicists on staff who think your calculations are absurd." The commissioner admonished, taking a deep, thoughtful breath before continuing. "Your dissertation would make a wonderful science-fiction novel." He conceded. "But this isn't science-fiction that we're dealing with; this isn't fantasy.
"I can see where this is leading. The three of you obviously aren't concerned about your reputations, but mine is bound up with the future of the space program, and I'll do any thing to protect that. In answer to your first question, I don't need to know who the source was for this article." He said petulantly. "I'm reorganizing Technical Section."
Professor Bergman cleared his throat. "As you well know, Commissioner, whenever a new theory crops up in the scientific community, there is bound to be a variety of opinions concerning its validity. But the facts from the current research do suggest that the magnetic radiation theory may not be absurd, as you put it. Conventional theory does require to create an explosion, one needs a trigger. However, this effect, this magnetic radiation is entirely new; completely different."
"At the very least, Commissioner," Koenig continued, setting down his coffee cup,"we are looking at completely redesigning the storage facilities. Surely we cannot afford to take the risk of not verifying the theory further."
Angelina was about to say something. She was getting aggravated. It was clear that Dixon was not listening. Angelina was not a political animal and extremely inexperienced in dealing with the likes of Commissioner Dixon. Professor Bergman gave her a glance that conveyed the message 'keep quiet.' She looked down at her hands folded in her lap.
You want facts?" Dixon said, addressing Bergman mono-a-mono. "Here's one for you. For all of you." He widened the field to include Angelina Verdeschi, and John Koenig. "Space exploration is terribly expensive. Opportunities come few, and far between, and then only one at a time. Internal opposition of this sort can only further impede that progress. I would also add that it is, at best, speculative, illegal, and highly, highly unethical.
"I'm afraid I shall have to relieve all of you of your posts." He said, sitting again.
"Hopefully, you two will learn what it feels like to have your feet on the ground.
"As for you, Ms. Verdeschi--I wish you well. I hope you have a long, illustrious career.It won't be while I'm in office."
"You're dismissed." He said, and returned to jotting down notes in his yellow legal pad.
September 12, 1999 Moonbase Alpha....
As it was, Commissioner Dixon remained in office only for another 15 months.
Angelina Verdeschi stared at the ceiling of her quarters through swollen, bloodshot eyes. Exactly 12 hours ago, she arrived on Moonbase Alpha to begin her tour of duty as the new Nuclear and Power Generation Engineering Manager in the Technical Section. Upon her arrival, she went to locate her fiancé, Astronaut Eric Sparkman, whom she had not heard from in nearly a week. She found him in Medical Center, suffering from the "Metaprobe Virus." Six hours later, Eric Sparkman had died; never having regained consciousness, never having recognized her presence, hopelessly brain damaged.
Her eyes hurt, her head was pounding and she was drowning in postnasal drip. She squinted as she went into the bathroom and saw the blotchy red face, swollen eye lid reflection in mirror, splashing cold water on her face. Her door chimed.
When Angelina let Professor Bergman in, Bergman immediately walked over to Angelina and silently embraced her. Finally after a few long moments he said "I'm so sorry about Eric." There was nothing more to say.
Angelina broke the embrace and turned toward the window, staring out at the lunar surface.
"Ang, " Bergman began,"I know this is not a good time but I need to talk with you. I believe we have a serious situation developing here."
"How can I help, Professor? " Angelina asked blankly.
"Did you hear about what happened in Area 1 this afternoon?" Victor asked apprehensively.
"The Commander had a crash...some sort of increase in radiation," Angelina sighed. "I don't know Professor. I'm sorry."
"No apology necessary. No, not an increase in radiation. Radiation levels are fine. Magnetic radiation." Victor paused, knowing her reaction.
Angelina slowly turned toward him. Her eyes switching from sadness to fear. "Magnetic radiation? With a rise in heat levels?"
Bergman nodded and handed her a CD. "Here, take a look at this data."
Angelina popped the CD into her CDROM drive of her PC. She pulled up the spreadsheet and reviewed the data. What she saw made her stomach turn. "Oh my God..." Angelina murmured.
"Now, Area One just burnt itself out in a sub surface fire storm." Victor continued, pacing.
"What about Area Two, Professor? How is Area Two? It is, what, like 150 time larger than Area One!!! Professor, we have a problem." Angelina exclaimed. "Have we gotten data readings from Area Two?"
"Not yet," Bergman replied. "A remote Eagle is being sent up within 30 minutes to obtain readings. Angelina, how much time do you think we have?"
Angelina studied the data from Area One and extrapolated. "Not much, Professor. Not much
Except from Dr. Helena Russell's Moonbase Alpha Medical Log, October 15, 2002 A.B.:
By September 13, 1999, the day the Moon was blasted out of Earth's orbit, John Koenig was back on Alpha, as Commander of the base. Victor Bergman, Angelina Verdeschi, Captain Alan Carter and I were also there. The events surrounding the Ultra Probeship disaster were forgotten in our fight for survival, until the night when Alan's nightmare revived all of the memories.
Angelina came to see if Alan was awake; he was not. In fact, despite the fact that he had been sedated, he looked far from peaceful. He flinched and grimaced in his fitful sleep, fighting something that was known by very few people. Angelina thought that perhaps she would have been better off not knowing about the details of the outcome of that disastrous mission; the truth, not the public relations type "official" explanation.
Angelina sadly glanced back at Carter as she left the ward. She knew that he was right. The thing was coming back. Furthermore, she knew that if he did not face it, he would never recover and descend into insanity.
Angelina went into the ward Sandra was staying in. She had suffered 3rd degree burns on her arm and leg 6 weeks before with her brave encounter with the malevolent immortal being, the Conceit, and she was still in Medical. Paul Morrow had been by her side practically every minute he was off duty.
Angelina knew that Sandra and Alan had been friends for a long time. She wanted to know what Sandra thought about the situation. Ang was not sure if Alan told her about the encounter with the dragon. Ang also knew that Juliet MacKay had been Sandra's best friend. This conversation was not going to be easy.
Angelina shifted Nicky in her arms as she approached Sandra. Nicky gazed at Sandra then smiled. Sandra beamed.
"Hi Sandra," Angelina greeted as she sat in the plastic chair next to the bed. Andy Dempsey had just left. Ang hoped Sandra wasn't too tired to talk but she seemed to be OK. "How are you doing? I see Andy just left. Are you too tired to talk now? I can come back later if you are.."
"Hi Angelina! Hi little Nicky!", answered Sandra with a soft smile. "No, it's OK. I'm not tired. I've been lying in this bed since... years I think! So, each person who comes to talk is really welcome. Hey Nicky, a big kiss for me, okay?"
The little boy giggled and Angelina let him kiss Sandra. Sandra stared at Nicky, thinking. She knew why Ang was here, to talk about Alan. When Alan came back from the Ultra Probe Mission alone, Sandra thought she would never speak to him again. She couldn't, as many others, believed his story with that... monster. She only understood one thing. Juliet was dead. She would never be heard laughing again, and they would never have those marvelous evenings of chats and secrets. But that was before the Moon hurled into space. Sandra now knew monsters could exist, that were no limits to the imagination; maybe even Father Christmas was living in a part of space...
"I know what you want to talk about. It's not easy for me. I lost my best friend. She was like a sister for me, and I thought, for a very long time, Alan was the one who killed her. But I now know he didn't. Alan is a righteous man, who is always ready to face danger and fight for each of us on this base. I don't know why he's like that right now, but I can see him and hear him. He's afraid and speaks even when he sleeps. He's not at peace. I'm afraid too because I feel he knows things that we don't know. Even if we can't see anything on our long-range scanners, I know there is something outside, waiting. Alan is maybe the only one who can help us..."
She sighed and took Nicky's little hand in hers, playing with the small fingers.
Angelina watched Sandra tickle Nicky's hand. The baby was laughing. Sandra did know about the encounter with the monster. It was clear that at first, she did not believe the incredible story but since their reluctant journey on the moon, she obvious had a change of heart.
Angelina nodded. "I'm glad that you think he's not crazy, Sandra. Just before they sedated him, he told me it was coming back. Dr. Russell thinks he's crazy, clinical obsession, she calls it. I think he is right. There is something sinister put there," Angelina affirmed. "There's got to be something out there. I've been having flashbacks, thinking about the events surrounding the Ultraprobe mission. Are you having memories of Juliet coming to life for you again? Have you thought about why you are thinking about her now?"
Sandra looked at Angelina. "Doctor Russell doesn't think Alan is crazy. I think she thinks his story is crazy. She must believe he tried to hide his faults behind that monster; she just can't believe those events! I don't know exactly why I trust Alan. Maybe because I saw how he has been since we left earth's orbit. He is always ready to face danger, even if he doesn't know how to fight against that danger. He's ready to give his life for all of Alpha. So, if he's afraid, I'm afraid. If he says there is a monster outside waiting for us, I think we should be careful." She sighed. "For Juliet, he never wanted to tell me exactly how she died. I suppose it's because she died horribly. She should have never come to such an end. She was joy, she was life... I don't know why I'm thinking about her right now. Maybe she's trying to tell me something? Maybe she's telling me to trust Alan? I'm sure she would never want Alpha to be attacked by the creature."
She smiled at the baby, letting him play with the chain around her neck, a gift Paul gave her a few days ago. "I can't explain it, but I think Juliet is near me sometimes, that she tries to communicate, and I'm not able to understand...". She stared at Angelina : "Do you know what the Commander thinks of all this?"
"I think the Commander believes Alan, Sandra," Angelina replied with great confidence. "I think he has always believed Alan. The official report blamed Technical Section for the failure of the mission; a mechanical failure of the airlock door. But that explanation just does not make sense. Technical was very careful doing their final series of inspection on the Ultraprobe ship and, frankly, a problem like that would have been found and corrected instantly."
The child had stopped playing and was rubbing his eyes. Angelina picked him up and he immediately lay his head on her shoulder, closing his eyes. Angelina noticed that Sandra looked tired as well.
"Well, I had better get this little guy to bed," Angelina stated. "Thank you for talking with me about this, Sandra, I know it is a difficult subject for you."
"Yeah, but it's good to have someone to talk about it. I'm happy to talk about Juliet...". Sandra smiled. "Have a good nap, young boy!"
She was smiling as she watched Angelina and her son leaving the medical center. She was tired, but she knew Paul would come soon. She closed her eyes, trying to forget Alan moaning in another bed. She was very anxious for him. She knew how his situation was difficult and she would have love to be able to do something for him. Maybe without knowing it, she had already helped him, showing him she didn't think he was responsible of the death of all the Ultra Probe crew.
The American Modernist, W.H. Auden, once wrote a jagged, referential, self-effacing poem that stated thus: If a person traveled far enough, they would eventually encounter themselves. Helena Russell concurred, unhappily. She had spent an unpleasant--though no less revealing--evening, staring into the mirror, only to notice how much she resembled Mary, Queen of Scots. It was to her credit that she had yet to burn any retainers at the stake. As she made her morning rounds, she pondered how informative a jaunt through deep space could be. She was doing a routine, system's check on Alan Carter's medical monitor when John Koenig's face appeared on a nearby comm-post.
"Helena, are you busy." He asked, semi-formally.
"No, actually Bob is about to put me out of my misery. I'm preparing to go off duty."
Nicky Carter's head lay sweetly against her shoulder. Angelina was sitting next to Alan. She looked worried. She looked frazzled. She was 'wazzled.' It was the look of a person who--when sleep came knock, knock, knocking--had taken tremendous pleasure in slamming the door on his foot.
"Do you mind if we talk." The commander asked, his image falling out of focus.
"No, of course-"
The double doors parted, and he was standing not five feet away from her.
Helena Russell laughed.
"John." She said, surprised. The commander beamed good-naturedly. He had keyed his comlock to the comm-post. As jokes went, it was about as hilarious as calling your buddy from the house next door.
Small pleasures, Koenig thought. Still, it eased his conscience to see Helena Russell laughing again.
"Hey there." He said to baby Nicky as the infant's eyes fluttered open. The physician attempted to pass the torch to Koenig, but when she did so, all sheol was unleashed. Nicky Carter flexed his small muscles like a body builder, and let out an amazingly loud cry of disagreement, and dismay.
The commander turned pale.
"He's hungry." Helena explained, taking him back. She found the bottle on the bedside table. Nicky drank like it was the last canteen in the center of Death Valley, his cocked eye warning Koenig away.
"He's definitely got his father's temper." He observed, and then, turning to the older Carter. "How is he."
"Much better." Helena replied, guardedly.
"You know, I just don't see why this is happening now. It's been over eight years since the Ultraprobe Mission."
"Because it can happen at any time." She knew that the battle lines could never be completely erased. A temporary cease-fire was the best that could be hoped for, and frankly, it was eating her lunch. "It's like I've been trying to say, this sort of problem doesn't just disappear. If you attempt to bury it, it will just dig itself out again, and it will be ten times worse than it was before."
"I disagree." Koenig said, taking up his sword again. "You pigeon hole this so easily. To be honest with you, it reminds me a 'helluva lot of-"
Backed into a corner, and with no where else to go, Helena Russell found refuge in her youngest patient. She kissed Nicky on his fragrant forehead. The baby snored lightly.
"Can I say something?" Alan Carter said hoarsely.
"Alan." Koenig said, moving to his bedside. "Just take it easy."
"Let me get these." Helena passed the infant back to his mother, and removed the electrodes from the pilot's head.
"What happened last night." The commander asked.
"Hard to say." Carter said elliptically as Angelina handed him a cup of water. "I sensed something, commander. I know it sounds crazy." He gulped. "No rhyme, or reason for it. I just felt like something was there."
"Where were you going. There's nothing around for billions of miles."
Carter sipped his water.
"You had a nightmare last night. At oh, three, four, seven." Helena prompted. "Medical computer raised the alarm, and I woke you. Remember."
"Yeah, I remember." The pilot said, returning the cup to Angelina.
"Alan, there was a tomahawk buried in the communications post in your quarters." Koenig said, digging deeper.
"My grandfather gave me that." Carter nodded. "Family heirloom."
"Was it the monster? Then why now. What were you doing in the Eagle. Were you going to face it."
Angelina placed a supportive arm on the pilot's shoulder.
"Yes sir, I was."
Again, the comm-post be-booped; not from the efforts of a practical joker.
"Commander." Paul Morrow said from across the room. "We have a contact. Can you come to Main Mission, please."
Carter swung his feet around, making a failed effort to stand. Angelina remonstrated him.
"Alright, Paul." Koenig said, and terminated the link. "I'll be back." He said, leaving multiple question marks behind the closing double doors.
Angelina cuddled the baby as Carter got dressed, under the continued protests of Helena Russell. Dr. Russell even tried to get Angelina involved in the nag-fest. Angelina was silent; she knew that he had to go and there was no point in stopping him. As she was about to give Nicky to his nurse, Carter intervened and took him momentarily.
"Hey, I'll see you later, mate," he whispered to the infant and kissed him on his cheek, past the line of drool running down his chin. He gave the child to the nurse and Angelina, Helena and Alan went to Main Mission.
In Main Mission, as Koenig arrived, Victor excitedly proclaimed, "John. Something quite extraordinary!"
The Commander stared in amazement and awe at the sight on the Big Screen. Alien ships of unknown origin, some of incredible design, some quite mundane; large ones, small ones, and stuff from imagination and vehicles unique to the imagination. No movement. No sign of life. It was the earth equivalent of an automotive bone yard.
"Kind of a space motor show." Pierre Danielle, at the cap-comm station, piped up with unbridled enthusiasm
"Well, Victor?" Koenig queried, wringing his hands together.
"It's the same sort of thing Carter described. The mission to planet Ultra." Victor read from his register receipt size computer printout.
The Commander took the Professor aside up the steps, in front of his desk."Victor. Last night Alan had a violent nightmare. Fighting his monster. After the nightmare, maybe even as part of it, he tried to steal an Eagle. I had to stun him. Now he just came round and I asked him what happened. He said he was going out to face it."
"The monster?" Victor cups his chin pensively with his left hand.
"Well, those could be the same spaceships he saw behind Ultra. And if they are, we could be facing the same danger he faced. Tanya, increase magnification."
"John, we're light years away from Ultra." The Professor shakes his head.
"Victor, the Moon has moved, so could they."
"Yes, but the coincidence." Bergman still could not believe the odds of them encountering the Ultraprobe ship among the wreckage.
"Something triggered Captain Carter. Something we can't ignore. Ouma."
"Sir?" Benjamin Ouma looks up from the computer console.
"I want Computer to check the records, the flight records of Ultra Probe nineteen ninety six. Now the flight recorder picked up certain contacts similar to those, I want to know if they're the same."
For the next two minutes, every eye in Main Mission was focused on the incredible graveyard of space ships. Imaginations ran wild; the tales, the beings, the experiences of all of these different races.
Benjamin Ouma spoke up."Commander, I have found it. The Ultra Probeship is there."
Victor Bergman's jaw practically dropped to the floor."It's incredible!!"
"Yeah. So is Alan's story about the monster. Pierre, I want a docking Eagle on pad one for immediate lift off. I want an escort, three ships ready for action. Go."
"Immediately, sir," Pierre Danielle replies and begins to leave Main Mission.
At that point, Alan, Angelina and Helena entered Main Mission. Pierre Danielle slowed, cautiously eyeed Carter, then continued out of the room. The 3 of them stare dup at the big screen. Angelina was completely shocked and gave Carter a wide-eyed look of amazement.
"So I get a second chance." Alan spoke up. He approached Paul's station. "Any sign of life?"
"I've scanned the whole area. There's nothing." Paul reported.
Carter shrugged."There never was."
Koenig interjected. "Alan, I'm taking an Eagle up there with an armed escort. We'll get as close as it's safe to and scan it. If Victor's absolutely certain there's no danger in the area or onboard the Probeship, we'll dock. Now, how does that sound to you?"
"Sounds fine, Commander."
Commander Koenig, knowing the answer to his question, asked anyway. "Are you willing to come with us?"
Carter glanced at Angelina. She knew he had to face his past. He turned to Koenig."I'd insist."
As the travel tube slowed to an inevitable stop, Alan Carter, and Victor Bergman exited first. Angelina Verdeschi shoved Tom Carlson to the way side, maintaining her position as the third person out of the car. The security guard whispered insulting homilies, and Pierce Quentin poured salt on them. John Koenig, and Helena Russell followed them into the sterile corridor. Data Analyst Sandra Benes, newly discharged from Medical Center, brought up the rear.
Gunther Went, and Kevin Bannion were engaging in light conversation as the procession passed by.
"No matter what you might think, my concern has always been for the safety of every one on Alpha, and that includes Alan." Helena Russell said.
Koenig waved half-heartedly at Went, and Bannion.
"Eight years is a long time." Koenig said flatly. "The truth is about to be made known. One way, or another, this will end--tonight."
At the embarkation point to Launch Pad One, Pete Irving stood vigil. He handed Carter his clipboard routinely, and adjusted his headset. In the command module of Eagle One, Pierre Danielle must have said something tremendously unfunny. The reconnaissance deputy frowned as if hearing that his mother had just been killed.
After everyone boarded the passenger module, John Koenig closed the hatch. Helena Russell seated herself before the keyboard at the mainframe desk. Sandra Benes brought the scanning hardware on-line.
"Helena, I want you to focus hard on those ships as we pass by." Koenig said. Behind him, Carter eased somberly past Quentin, and Bergman.
"I have some apologizing to do." The pilot said contritely. "If you need me, I'll be up front."
Angelina was exiting the cockpit as Carter strolled towards her with his clipboard. Eight years is a very long time. Time enough to learn that the grief never ends. Time enough to realize that coping is an illusion; that the best one can hope for is a daily reprieve. In that half moment, the pilot did indeed apologize--to himself, to those people in the past; the ghosts that would haunt all of his days, and nights forever. His experiences merged, forming white rose petals that were blown apart in the solar winds. The Alan Carter of yore was a smart-ass satyr with a penchant for dropping Fuel-Air Bombs. The New, And Improved Alan Carter understood why it was better to chase the Grim Reaper than to accept the company of the other monster--that tentacled, fire-breathing creature called loneliness.
He grabbed Angelina suddenly by the shoulders, and kissed her deeply. 'Ang's voice flew completely out the window.
Carter entered the command module. The slowly diminishing Mount Everest on Pierre Danielle's 'noggin gave out an early warning throb.
"Oh, no." He said aloud, his muscles tensing.
"Big P, sorry about last night."
"Yeah?" Danielle shifted suspiciously in his seat.
"You bet." The pilot said humbly, extending his hand. "I just want you to know, it was nothing personal."
Carter despised his previous behavior--using a comlock to render the other pilot unconscious. It was a knee-jerk reaction, committed in an fury of desperation. The wrongness of it was as clear as a billboard. Serious injury almost certainly could have resulted.
Which is why he elected to Judo chop the astronaut this time. It was lights-out for Big Pierre Danielle as all of the air went rushing from his lungs. Carter pulled him from the pilot's seat, and bumped him across the floor, depositing him roughly in the passenger module.
"Alan!!!" John Koenig said loudly.
Carter sealed the cockpit, and parked himself in Danielle's deposed pilot's seat. He reached for a panel on the console that was labeled with the abbreviation MOD SEP. There were foursquare push buttons, one of which bore a trident warning emblem. Ignoring the countdown clock, he depressed the buttons, and fired the ship's lift-off thrusters. The Master Alarm sounded, but Carter silenced it. The passenger module was left in a billowous cloud of propellant as the command module, and the service module lifted off without it. Forty-meters above Launch Pad One, the Eagle--essential services only--hovered at a forty-five degree angle over the lights of the base. Carter turned its nose towards the small conglomerate of lights, and fired the main motors.
In the abandoned passenger module, John Koenig punched up the all-frequency band on his comlock.
"Eagle's Three, and Four, immediate lift-off. Follow Carter in Eagle One. Eagle Two, jettison your passenger module, and pick us up on Launch Pad One."
Moments later, Carter's face appeared on one of the twin monitors above the starboard science station.
"Sorry, commander." He said, incontrovertibly. "Alpha's in danger now because of a mistake that I made. It's my enemy."
Before Koenig could retort, the screen went blank.
Eagle One ascended past the southeast swell of the crater. All told, the view had not changed substantially, Carter noticed. The two alien torpedo cruisers--the vanguards of the derelict fleet--continued their lifeless, powerless spin through the void.
Eagle 2 landed over the displaced passenger section of Eagle 1..
Commander Koenig opened up a channel to Main Mission on the commstation. "Paul."
"Commander?" Paul answered, his face appearing on the blue and white monitor.
"Beam every scanner we have in Carter's direction. If you find anything let me know right away."
"Yes sir," Paul replied and his image disappeared as he cut the link.
Helena Russell's expression was stern. "I knew this was going to happen. He is sick, John, and he has no business coming out here."
"He is NOT sick," Angelina broke her silence, eyeing Helena Russell.
"Angelina, he is suffering from Clinical Obsession," Russell retorted. "Now I know you think that.."
"No, Helena," Angelina interrupted," You are making your observations strictly from a medical standpoint. You don't know Alan as well as I know him. He is extremely rational and not the type of personality to believe in 'monsters'. That is, unless he actually saw one. His experience was real." Angelina grew somber and swallowed hard, past the lump in her throat. "Now he needs to face his past. He has to do it. Otherwise, even if he dies trying, he would die for not trying." Angelina turned away, working hard holding back the tears.
Koenig looked at Helena. She was not convinced. "You think he's gone ahead to destroy the evidence?"
Helena Russell did not answer.
Sandra Benes and Victor Bergman were helping Pierre Danielle, who was rubbing his neck. He was a bit perplexed and disillusioned. " Last week he told me I was doing a great job. Then he clouts me on the head twice in one day. What's that guy got against me?"
"Eagle Two docked on Eagle One, Commander." Tom Graham reported to Koenig.
"Alright, take it away, Tom. Give it everything we've got." Koenig nodded with satisfaction.
Eagle 2 with Eagle 1 passenger section launched and veered in pursuit of Carter's ship. After lift off, Koenig, pacing the passenger module, reopened the communication link to Main Mission.
"He's nearing the spaceship now, Commander. He's running about six minutes ahead of you." Paul reported calmly.
"He could dock the command module on the probe ship. The control systems are compatible." Pierre Danielle piped up.
"We've got the area scanned from here, from Alpha, and close up from Eagles Three and Four. So far no life indications, no radiation, no energy field, nothing." Helena stated matter-of-factly.
"Paul?" Koenig asked, rubbing his temples.
"Still nothing indicated, Commander." Paul agreed.
"Dammit. There's gotta be something. Alan was right about those ships."
"That doesn't mean he was necessarily right about the monster." Helena stated. Angelina glared at her.
"No," Koenig answered, not only stating his view but also attempting to stifle a potential catfight between the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief of Technical Operations," but it makes him look a whole lot righter."
Koenig activated the bulkhead screen and studies the graveyard of alien ships, growing larger by the second "Victor?"
"Sorry, John, but beyond the obvious explanation I can't be much help." Victor replied, chewing his thumbnail.
" How about the obvious then."
"Well, they do look somewhat like flies caught in a spider's web." Victor mused poetically.
Koenig nodded. "Which brings us back to monsters."
Memory lane--a taste of All Hallows, with a bucket of gore thrown in for good measure.
Carter sat before the navigational display in the command module. The telemetry refreshed itself every five seconds. The wiper blade spiraled around, and around, in a clock-wise motion that was almost hypnotic. Tucked under his belt was a lean, black pouch with a Velcro seal. It looked like the kind of case you would carry a hunting knife in. Eagles Three, and Four had some catching up to do. They were at least forty nautical miles behind him. Carter wasn't worried; what he had to do would only take a moment.
As soon as the main motors had cleared the fuselage of the oversized shuttle orbiter, the pilot jettisoned the service module. The discarded engine compartment careened wildly past the derelict lamp post ship before disappearing from view. He free floated, using his port, and starboard maneuvering thrusters to negotiate a path towards the decapitated Ultraprobe ship. He had about forty pounds of propellant available for the maneuver. Outside the viewport, the star fix spun on an axis, and the orbiter drifted into view again. After executing the 180 turn, Carter reversed thrust. On the display, the wiper was replaced by a series of concentric homing circles that pulsed steadily as he backed his way in. Seconds later, there was a metallic thud that could only be heard inside the module. Then came a harsh, jackhammering sound as the module's male connectors were married to the open funnels on the probe ship.
Carter unbuckled his harness, and rolled back in his seat. A dialogue box opened on the screen in confirmation: EAGLE ONE DOCKED.
The doors to the cockpit parted. The pilot walked to the utility cabinet, and removed a hatchet, and 50 feet of rope, which he coiled over his shoulder like a sleeping snake. Taking a breath, he opened the inner airlock. Concealed beneath this two inch layer of titanium alloy was the outer airlock of the Ultraprobe. The numeral "8," the vessel's hull number, was only barely visible. Micro meteor collisions, and an encounter with some intense heat source had pitted, and blasted most of the tan paint.
Carter opened the final door.
The air inside tasted bad--it wreaked of decay; burned plastic; the aroma of rotting ham. The probe's power cells had long since exhausted themselves, leaving the laboratory compartment in perpetual darkness. Carter felt something beneath his boot heel. He aimed his mag-lite at the floor, and discovered a laser--his laser--from all of those years ago. The newer models were somewhat smaller. Covered with a thin layer of black dust, it remained right where he had dropped it.
The rear doors were still open. Beyond them was the safety orange containment hatch that led to the engineering levels. Before them lay the remains of Earth's first extrasolar crew. Darwin King, Monique Foucher, and Juliet MacKay. The latter he tried to stick for a cup of coffee, and in the same breath, he was arrogant enough to ask her out on a date. They were each covered in a thin, translucent veil of cobwebs. The only things visible were their empty ocular orbits, and their jawbones, unhinged since they died screaming. Darwin's skull gaped at him, as if to assure him that it was all very funny, in a ghastly sort of way. All innocent victims of diabolical destiny. One minute they were alive; four minutes, and forty-five seconds later they were all morbid footnotes in the annals of human space exploration. Food for the gods. Unhappy recipients from the left-handed urn.
Carter was back aboard the probe ship no more than three minutes when he started to question his own sanity. He considered this at length, in the unbroken stillness of the tomb.
Then, out of the ratfink shadows came the low screeching noises. It was then that Alan Carter realized that he was not crazy. His opponent, demonically punctual, had been there all along. It leaped the years, patiently waiting--like an insurance salesman who has time to file one more claim before taking on nine holes.
He felt the hot winds whip his hair back--his too long bangs covered his eyes briefly as he opened the pouch, and unclipped his laser. He hustled through the black charnel pit, and commenced to rapidly tying forty feet of his rope slack to one of the support beams in a sailor's knot. He had no idea how much time he would have, but he had no intention of letting the grace period expire. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a glint of light. He heard the devilish ringing--hell's xylophone playing its unearthly rendition of "I Only Have Eyes For You." The spinner took shape just behind the rear doors. He cinched the remaining slack to his waist.
Looking up, he saw that the materialization had been mercilessly fast. Without pomp, or circumstance, the compartment was filled with membranous tentacles, and perditions half-acre. The screeching equalized, and increased in volume, becoming a carnivorous roar. Carter saw the cyclopean eye--glowing, reaching out for his secrets; turning his fears to lemonade.
Without hesitation, he fired his laser straight into it. No effect.
He screamed homicidally into the red-hot vortex, and fired his laser again. The heat flash hit the eye point blank. No noticeable effect, except that the thing looked even hungrier.
There was a terrifying, washing machine whirl of light, and illogic that splattered his senses like a water balloon. Cold, factual, realities became the ultimate Dumbo Cartoons. Carter flipped open the black pouch, and then...
...he no longer believed in monsters. The compartment was quiet again, and the sweet silences were proof, in and of themselves. That prick, Dixon had been right, back there in Boston. In the archway between the rear doors, Juliet MacKay rested on her knees while holding her twisted ankle. The fact that she could have survived--alone--in a powered-down spacecraft, for almost a decade, seemed perfectly feasible to him. He strolled past Juliet Mackay's calcified corpse, as he moved to assist Juliet MacKay. She soundlessly beckoned him on, reaching for him with her lithe, and lovely hands. The weight of his implied guilt in her demise, all eloigned in a rush of warm water. Juliet parted her moist lips in a lullaby, whispering again, and again that there was no such thing as monsters...no such thing as monsters...no such thing as....
Carter removed the laser hypo from its black pouch. He injected 20cc's of Crystal Meth directly into his wrist. He nearly doubled over from the instantaneous heart palpitations, and the nausea. Stark raving sober again, he looked up to see that he was now only five feet away from the creature's forward tentacles. He blocked using his elbow, and seized the jointless, scab-ridden surface. Brandishing his hatchet, he began to hack away at it.
The creature raged at this stupidity, and coiled another tentacle about the pilot's neck. His hatred outweighed his need to breath, though. He continued to chop wildly, and furiously, even as the noose constricted about his neck, causing him to gag; the morass of tentacles, pulling him closer, and closer.
On the metal beam, the slack grew taught; the stressed-out hemp began to unravel.
Purple of face, but grim of purpose, Carter kept on slicing, and dicing. A foul ichor--as black as raw sewage, and just as fragrant--striped his face, and the chest of his tunic from the monster's open wounds. A few drops of it reached the pilot's mouth, tasting like aged vinegar.
Somewhere below his knees, beneath a curtain of seaweed-like intestines, the orange miasma--more corrosive than any acid--expanded to receive him.
Pierre Danielle expertly docked the Eagle to the port side of the Ultraprobe carcass.
"Vacuum seal confirmed and intact," Pierre announced over the speakers to the anxious Alphans in the passenger module. "Ten seconds to open the hatch."
Pierce Quentin and Tom Carlson were each armed with laser rifles; Tom making a last minute check on the charge, as they took up position on either side of the hatch.
Angelina picked her laser from the weapons storage rack. Koenig pulled her back.
"You're staying here with Helena and Sandra," he announced as he and Bergman picked their weapons.
Angelina looked up with him, eyes imploring. "Commander, please, I can handle it. You can't keep me from going in there. I must go in there."
Koenig hesitated then nodded; he understood her need to go inside and face the possible horrors within the Ultraprobe ship. "Stay behind us." He announced firmly.
At that moment Sandra also helped herself to a weapon. "It doesn't hurt to have another laser, Commander."
The hatch open and the blast of heat and putrid air caused Angelina to gag. The entire group was momentarily stunned. In a split second, Angelina had a memory. One night, a long time ago as a 5-year-old, she woke up screaming in the middle of the night, convinced there was a monster lurking under her bed. Her mother comforted her and told her there were no such things as monsters. Her mother was wrong. It was the thing of nightmares. But to Ang, the most frightening thing about it was that it had Alan, who was maniacally hacking at it with a hatchet, in its grasp, slimy tentacles wrapped about his waist and neck. It was choking the life out of him yet Alan seemed to be persistent in his assault.
Koenig, Bergman, Sandra and Angelina opened fire on the thing with their lasers. No effect.
Pierce Quentin and Tom Carlson pushed them aside and opened fire with the laser rifles. Still no effect. Suddenly, Tom Carlson was enthralled with the white spinner in front of his face. Although Koenig tried to grab him, Carlson walked toward it.
"Close your eyes!!" Sandra yelled her observation, as a tentacle wrapped around Carlson's knees and pulled him down on the floor. Carter, miraculously, was still hacking away at the thing.
"HELP ME!!! HELP MEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!," Carlson screamed as his sanity returned too late.
Angelina grabbed his arms but the monster yanked and pulled Carlson from her grasp. She felt like her arms had been pulled out of their sockets.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE," Carlson shrieked as he swooped into the belly of hell. His charred, putrid, still smoking remains were immediately sent out, stopping at Angelina's feet.
Angelina looked up and saw that the spinner had mesmerized Professor Bergman: Koenig was struggling to hold him back.
"No, Victor, NOO!!" Koenig yelled as the Professor seemed to fight him, trying to get away.
Carter was hacking at the thing but the wounds he inflicted were not killing it. His efforts appeared to weaken the tentacles grasp on him but it was apparent that Alan was getting exhausted and he would succumb to it before he could kill it.
A thought occurred to Angelina. The eye. The giant eye. The mind-bending spinner seemed to originate from there.
"THE EYE, ALAN, THE EYE......CHOP AT THE EYE!!!!" Angelina yelled at him, frantically looking for an axe in the near darkness. She could not find one.
Helena Russell entered the maw of the Ultraprobe ship, just behind Sandra Benes. She stood, locked in buffoonery, as a new mythology was penned before her very eyes. This new epic would not be titled in the post-modern style--"Alan Carter V. Obsessive Compulsive Neurosis." There was no gentle, self-reflection on one man's coming to terms with an awful past. Multiple lightning flares from the lasers, and Koenig, and Quentin's rocket guns, made it clear that her services as a psychiatrist would not be needed. She recoiled from the rapport as Sandra tried her weapon. The atomizing beam bounced off the thing like a rock off of a bucket.
The physician immediately rescinded her diagnosis, and looked for the DUNCE cap. Fourteen years of medical training, but it had turned out to be a stick of pepper gum in the grander scheme of space. Carter was right. Everything she knew was wrong.
The pilot was locked in mortal combat with a nightmare. A dozen pestilential tentacles, like leprous hoses, fought for ownership as he attempted to dissect it with a hatchet. For all of his destructive tenacity, Carter was still losing. He slipped in the grue beneath him, the waist tentacle drawing him further into the massive, indoor grill. He believed, and probably every one else believed that he was about to die. Then, in a last ditch effort, the pilot raised the wooden haft of the hatchet past his ears, and brought the curved, razor-sharp metal down in the center of the evil, white dwarf star that was burning in the center of the thing's torso.
The creature emitted a hideous cry of pain--a wail of such ultra-sonic, timbre that Helena Russell firmly expected every bit of crystal in the immediate area to shatter. It sounded almost like a dinosaur going down in a tar pit. Water issued from the eye's ruptured tear ducts, as the light source behind it dimmed to a faint, rust-colored ebb before going out completely.
Carter was immediately extricated as the shriveling tentacles released him. He staggered backwards with his hatchet. The shelf of the dead ENVIRONMENTAL SYSTEMS panel scooped him up, as he fell backwards against the console. His hair was a wind-blown, Einsteinian mess. His tunic, and face, covered with whole units of dark brown monster hemo.
The plugs were pulled on history's dance floor. The cascading maelstrom was once again, superceded by darkness, and a putrid hot steam. With it's sulfuric sack ruptured, the monster was greedily dissolved in it's own constituents. The tentacles diminished to only a third of their size. They resembled the flattened legs of a tarantula as they slowly retracted into rigor mortis somewhere beyond the rear doors. By the time Angelina, and Koenig reached the overwhelmed pilot, they were gone completely. Only a light mist remained.
The excursion team stood agog. Each person wanted to say something, but some ideas are perhaps too colossal--too horrifying--to fit within the narrow, electrochemical confines of the human mind.
John Koenig strung his laser rifle back over his shoulder, and assisted Angelina Verdeschi, and Helena Russell in leading Carter back to the Eagle. One by one, holsters were clipped, and the others followed suit. There was not a single survivor who did not spare a paranoid look over the shoulder as they left
Excerpt from Dr. Helena Russell's report : October 15, 2002 AB
The monster was more than any of us could believe. According to our criteria it was never alive, so how could we be sure that it was dead?
Eagle 2 cleared the space ship bone yard as Eagle 3 and Eagle 4 vectored toward it, awaiting orders from Main Mission. Inside Eagle 2 there was no conversation, just the radio communication on the speakers between Eagle 3 and 4 and Pierre Danielle in the command module, with occasional one word responses from Commander Koenig, who was sitting in the co-pilot's chair beside Danielle.
Sandra, Victor and Helena were sitting, deep in thought, and staring blankly into space trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. Pierce Quentin, with his hand covering his eyes, was also deep in thought; the loss of one of his men, Tom Carlson, weighing heavily on his mind.
Angelina sat next to Alan also deep in thought. No longer did the word "dragon" convey images of a distressed princess trapped in a tower, awaiting to be rescued by her prince who would slay the fairy tale fire breather. It just wasn't that simple and the horror of the true dragon was beyond candy coated imagination.
Presently, she felt Alan's arm around her shoulder as he whispered "Hey, you gonna be alright?"
She gazed at him; ironically, she should have been the one asking him that question. Afterall, he was the one who slew the dragon. "What will we tell him?" she asked softly.
"Tell who? What?" Carter queried, still in a whisper.
"Nicky," she replied. "When he's old enough to ask us if there are such things as monsters."
Carter, looking down, gave no reply.
As we hurried back to Alpha, before our Moon drifted beyond reach, we could only wonder about the astronauts of those other fabulous ships. All we knew about them was their terrible fate; a fate which was not to be our destiny.
"Main Mission to Eagles 3 and 4," Paul Morrow's voice came over the speakers. "Fire when ready."
Eagle 3 and Eagle 4 pelted the interconnected derelict with laser fire. The passenger module screen of Eagle 2 displayed the destruction. Another monument to gehenna was obliterated as the light of the explosions faded back to darkness.
"Then came the damnable, recurrent thing about the swineherd and his filthy drove in the twilit grotto."
The Dunwich Horror
"Call me Ishmael."
SPACE: 1999 THE CLASSIC ADVENTURES RESPECTFULLY ACKNOWLEDGES THE WORKS OF CHRISTOPHER PENFOLD IN THE CREATION OF THIS STORY.