Episode 28: Deus Irae
It happened in units of time, immeasurable to the human psyche--it may have been five million years ago; it may have been five hundred trillion, 'cajillion years ago. Who knows? The memory of the event faded to black under the magical, lavender tinted rays of Erakis' sun. As usual, with each subsequent retelling of the event, the story became increasingly convoluted, and ever so much more horrific. A century after peace had finally been established, a single cut was reiterated as Technicolor buckets of gore. Bland mothers--fearful themselves of the new order--tucked their children to sleep in huts of mud, and straw. Glowing kettles illuminated the rooms, as the sun had set, and they were now deprived of Mu Cephei's ability to vanquish the shadows. The mothers pulled the covers up over them with patronizing hands, and whispered "shhhhhhhh;" "shhhhhhhhhhh, children." After all, it was only a bad dream.
Bad dreams however, usually preside over some pretty undesirable facts--like a decayed, rotting, ant ridden, apple, shriveled, and put away--hopefully forever--in a filthy loin cloth. The stuff those attic trunks are made of.
The Perfect Order was nestled at the base of the Tarsec Mountains. Rows of huts, twenty on each side, formed a--well, almost perfect--line to the Vatec Gorge, where there was mist, and death. Countless millennia ago, this was the business district. Farms and farmers were scattered everywhere over a radius of three hundred acres. The boulder strewn, uncooperative, miserable fucked-up earth yielded--sometimes--the human equivalent to corn, and potatoes. Beyond the multi-spired temple of worship, was the palace of Critikye, the Arrogant One. That morning, on that fateful anniversary date--millions of years ago--he breakfasted on salted pork, and potatoes, and dressed in his armor, and mail. His battle helmet was spiked, and glittered like the last evening star. The light had turned blue against the high cathedral windows. Twilight time, and another day disappeared forever, and ever. His squire--mortally terrified and eyes perpetually down gazing at the sight of his master--arrived to tell him that his carriage was ready. The destroyer told him he had one last task to perform before leaving, and yonder squire fled without further invitation. The lord of the castle crept down the spiraling steps, feeling the granite, and algae slide gracefully beneath his boot shod feet. He stopped, and pulled back the scarlet tapestry. Beholden to him was the site of his mistress sleeping with his brother. They were petrified at first, the woman pulling the covers up over her bosom. Brother Bartek's skin was ashen, save for the blue trim around his icy lips.
At this sight, the destroyer laughed heartily. He laughed so high, and so sweet, and for so long, that he convinced both culprits that it was without a doubt the funniest sight he had ever seen. After a while, they too began to see the situation as humorous. It wasn't; it wasn't humorous one iota, but they laughed any way. Being the homicidal Jinn that he was, the destroyer waited until their laughter reached perfect jocularity, and then he ran them both through with his sword.
Using the bed sheets to remove the entrails of his mistress' womb, he exited the chamber, snuffing the candle out as he went.
At the hollowed entrance to the Vatec Gorge, the battle was waged. Fierce northerly winds cascaded brown, and red leaves everywhere. Above hung Erakis' quartet of pomegranate shaped satellites. Beyond them was the other world. The place of dragons, and damnation, it was rumored. The destroyer took all rumors seriously, however. It came from his days of ruling in the land of dark stars, and white space. There was a place, and a time--he knew--when all measuring sticks must necessarily be broken over one's knee.
His enemy waited by the black witch tree--up to his armored joints in dead, yellowing grass. His head was shaped like a crescent moon, and his battle-axe was already drawn.
The destroyer dismounted from the carriage, knowing that his enemy was from another land. He was inexperienced--almost naive in his understanding of the cosmos. He was a believer in nomenclature, and numbers. He would not attack until he was certain he would be attacked. It brought a tear to the destroyer's eye--so valiant, and all encompassing of character. As he drew his battle-axe, and drew towards the witch tree, he reminded himself to say a prayer for the holiest opponent he had ever vanquished....
The proximity alert sounded at fifty thousand kilometers without prior warning. Sandra Benes stared down at her desk, jack slapped with surprise, and disbelief. Almost falling backwards in his seat, Paul Morrow leaned over, and looked at the panel himself. The remote status panels were still dark. The contacts had appeared out of no where--seemingly, they had emerged from some where in the dark limbo between the Moon, and the planet encased in swirling, violet clouds.
"Where did they come from?" John Koenig said, vaulting down the steps to the operations level with Victor Bergman flanking him.
"I don't know." The Data Analyst replied, watching the plasma thermometer as the orbital satellite telemetry to finished loading. "There was absolutely no indication on our long range scanning systems."
Angelina Verdeschi sighed as she sat back in the white plastic chair in the travel tube, heading for Main Mission. She had just spent the last two hours trying to comfort her son, 8 month old Nicholas Carter. The normally happy child began screaming inconsolably about 1/2 hour after she left him with his nurse that morning. He babbled and cried mournfully for hours until, out of desperation and perhaps the need for a break, the nurse called her during a late morning meeting in technical. Dr. Mathias had once again determined there was nothing physically wrong with him, as he handed her the screaming baby with some relief when she arrived in Medical Center.
What was perhaps the most disturbing to Angelina was the terrible images she saw as she was trying to comfort him; images of mass destruction to Alpha; Images of death and suffering abounded. After about 2 hours of unrelenting crying in her arms, the child collapsed from sheer exhaustion into a deep slumber. Angelina had an afternoon Command Conference but also wanted to arrive a few minutes early to catch Alan Carter and tell him what happened.
Angelina walked into Main Mission through the right archway, noticing the apparent tension in the room. She glanced at the big screen; then she did a quick double take.
"That's not possible." Paul Morrow stated, though the images being telecast through the electronic ether said otherwise. He almost felt like taping a sign to his own backside: PINCH ME IF I'M NOT DREAMING. Chances were, he would get a good one. His every instinct told him so.
"Com-scan results." Koenig said. "Confirm." Like a Grimm's Fairy Tale, the book got longer, and longer, and the typeset increasingly indiscernible.
"The contacts are real." Sandra assured them, after double, and triple, and quadruple checking the satellite feedback. The bogeys had made deft use of the double blind technique. Their angle of approach would bring them over the far side, in a low altitude course over the Xenophanes Crater. Their apparent heading was upwards, towards the Polar Regions.
Ben Ouma waited transfixed for the print out to unfurl, tearing the tape away from the feed with a single swipe of the hand. His brow furrowed as he moved down the list of known facts.
"Their size, and weight is consistent with what we know." He verified, while at the same time, considering how grand it would be to be dyslexic, if only for a moment. "Their velocity is trademark Ram Jet Propulsion."
Contained within the box dimensions of the big screen were three vessels. They moved swiftly, in gull-like formation, one atop the other rather than making themselves more accessible targets by travelling side, by side, one would suppose. Their markings were orange. The command modules, wider, more stream-lined than the beam of Moonbase Alpha's pudgy, out of shape, over-the-hill, Eagle Transport Fleet. The magazine was cylindrical. There were no visible hatches for ingress on the side. Alan Carter remembered quite vividly, how many times he had been called upon to slip through one of the topside submarine hatches on one of those things. Oh, they were beautiful ships. Of that you could be certain. Models of astronomical and military profundity. There was no visible landing gear. There was no need. The ships they were seeing now were creatures that were born, and died in space--most of the time, ferrying untold others to hell with them before they went. Launched from NSA Star Forts to destinations that were as vulnerable as they were indefensible. Each of the ships bore outward nacelles that Koenig, and Carter immediately identified as the characteristic, dual missile launchers. Bringing up the rear--a piece of tres beau engineering, surpassed by none--was a single, Ram Jet Engine Bell.
"Those are Hawks." Victor Bergman said, placing one hand on John Koenig's shoulder for effect. "Those are Mark IX Hawks."
"They're war machines." Carter corrected. "And that's enough for me."
"Get going, Alan," Koenig said grimly, slapping him on the shoulder.
"Coop," Carter leaned over the cap-comm station calling flight control, "Prepare Eagles 1, 5 and 7 for launch." Then pressing another code," Frasier, Graham, move it."
As Morrow ordered all non essential personnel to the underground shelters, Carter and Ang briefly gazed at each other; he nodded to her slightly then left the room. Angelina's eyes tracked him until he disappeared through the left archway. She knew this day would come, sooner or later, though she was hoping much, much later. She knew that the day would come when the probability was mercilessly high that she would never see him again. Angelina did not have time to contemplate the enormous odds against Alan Carter; she had work to do.
"Grace," she called Nicky's nurse, "you heard the order. Don't pack anything. Take Nicky down stairs now.This is the real deal and not a drill."
Upon Nurse Grace's acknowledgement, Angelina switched another channel and to conference the 3 managers. There was a great deal of noise in Main Mission with the activity to secure the base.
"Guys," she started. "We have 3 Mark IX Hawks approaching, closing fast with unknown intentions." Joe Erhlich, Patrick Osgood and Pete Garforth faces' dropped.
"Secure your areas. Do the best you can" Angelina did not need to tell them what to do; they were all experts in their particular areas but time was limited and running out.
"Report to Paul when you are secure. Joe, I'm on my way to the Main Power Generation area." There was no further discussion as she cut the link.
The only thing Angelina could do at this point was to help her people secure Technical, in particular the power generation areas. Also, she was not particularly interested in watching the battle on the big screen since she had a very personal interest in it. She wasn't sure she could take watching Carter's Eagle possibly getting blown up before her eyes.
Koenig nodded to Angelina and returned to the business of securing the base, as Angelina left the activity and buzz of Main Mission to the Main Power Generation area
The squadron filled the big screen with 'ner do well intent, getting closer, larger, nastier. They climbed expertly over the Compton Range, working their way north.
"Paul, keep trying to contact them." Koenig said, and advanced to his desk.
At the controller's desk, there were two square, white amplification switches on the forward panel. They were used to boost the Omni-band, interstellar parabola. Morrow thumbed both buttons simultaneously, and spoke into the microphone. If his voice was heard, somewhere in the crackling, static-filled Sargasso between the two worlds, no sign was given.
"This is Moonbase Alpha calling. We are people from the planet Earth, please acknowledge."
Zilch, and more zilch. The golden, outer planet peaked around it's neighbor's shoulder at them, but otherwise nothing. Morrow looked blankly at Sandra, and Ben Ouma before continuing.
"I repeat, this is Moonbase Alpha calling. We are people from the planet Earth. Please acknowledge."
In the mean time, the alien fleet cleared the Compton Mountains, and moved on towards the Belkovich Crater with inexplicable determination.
In the belly of Launch Pad Three, Miguel Atiqua was on a cherry picker, capping off Eagle One's propellant tanks when Gordon Cooper, and Alan Carter, and Tom Graham charged through the hangar doors. The latter, and the former were already in their orange flight suits. Carissa Englebert looked up from her spreadsheet, momentarily startled by the hectic revision to protocol.
"Get him down off there." 'Coop barked, almost causing Miguel to topple from his cherry picker. "And clear the goddamn area."
"We're still prepping the fuel tanks." The flight engineer protested.
"No time." Carter said, checking the fuel pressure on Antiqua's zamboni as he headed up the steps. Eight thousand pounds was as good as it would get. "They're prepped enough."
Cooper waved his arms symophorically to the technicians in the crow's nest high above. Moments later, the tractor driver cranked up beneath them, and Eagle One moved forward on the conveyor belt, taking Miguel Antiqua with it. He jumped from the platform, tucked, and rolled back onto the hangar floor--effectively throwing his rotary cup, way, way out of joint.
"'Coop, hook us up." Carter said as the ship moved towards the crane at the foot of the space doors. "As soon as we're away, I want Flight Two ready for immediate launch."
The doors to the passenger module closed slowly on them as the electronic Red Alert Klaxon echoed through the underground garage. While the block was being lowered onto Eagle One's trellis, Carter, and Graham sprung into the command module, dropping hurriedly into their respective seats.
"Main motors." Carter said, sliding into position before his console.
In Main Mission, Andy Dempsey had to switch over three times before he could find the right satellite transponder. The encroaching ships were playing an ingenious game--albeit a masochistic game--of hide, and seek with them. 'Booga-booga-booga. Tag, you're dead. The alternate cameras showed them verging on the Plato basin. They were now only two thousand kilometers from Moonbase Alpha.
"Attention all sections Alpha." The commander said, hearing his voice echo through his own damn office. "Alien ships are approaching the base, and their intentions are not known." It was a clarion call for action that could be heard in every corridor, laboratory, travel tube, living room, and restroom in the complex.
"Eagle Flight One will intercept." The orders could be heard, booming from the communications posts. Ron Fugita, and Angelina Robinson, and about thirty pale-faced others, listened carefully, having no idea whatsoever as to what was going on. "Flight two to back-up positions. Emergency, and technical crews stand by. Medical Center prepare to receive casualties." On the wards, though, Helena Russell had fought through the mad rush in the corridors early, and was proud to announce that she, and Bob Mathias were already ahead of the First Aid/ Trauma Game. "Priority One to launch pad areas. Priority Two to medical."
Perchance they heard a rap, tap, tapping at their chamber door. Quoted the Hawks, "nevermore."
Velma Hill was in corridor 15, playing traffic cop and crowd control.
"This way, this way," she motioned, to the non-essential and off duty personnel. "Down to the shelters. Walk quickly, don't run." Velma tried to keep her voice strong, steady and autocratic. Velma felt sick to her stomach; a feeling of dread and doom crept over her.
In the Main Power Generation Room, Angelina and Joan Conway bolted down the mezzanine stairs. Non critical transformers had been taken offline. Power had been reduced in the non-critical areas with Launch areas, Medical Center and Main Mission retaining all phases of power. Carter Jackson had been working on bringing the online reactors to minimal functioning status, flooding the cores in all but one.
"Seal reactor bulkheads," Angelina called into the PA system linking all nuclear reactor room. In Nuclear Reactor 1, George Crato, jumping from his desk and knocking his clipboard to the floor, ran out of the room, as the great reactor room doors slowly slid shut.
"Manufacturing is secure, "Patrick Osgood spoke from the compost. "However the plating baths are still draining from the open tanks into the underground storage receptacles."
"No time to worry about that, Patrick, "Angelina replied. "Get your people out of there."
As Patrick cut the link, Peter Garforth appeared on the compost. "Still securing equipment and shutting down testers, Ang."
Angelina looked at Carter Jackson and nodded. Joan Conway nodded and said "Go ahead, we're all set."
Angelina and Carter Jackson headed toward the electronics and testing labs. Angelina's comlock paged her.
"Ang," Paul said calmly, " once Technical is secure, the Commander wants you back in Main Mission."
"Right, Paul, "Angelina replied, though she did not feel right leaving her people. "I'm going to the electronics lab to help out Pete. Once he's all set, I'll be right up."
Morrow nodded and cut the link
Angelina and Carter Jackson rounded the corridor and stepped inside the electronics lab where Pete Garforth and Julio Armando were deactivating and powering down testers, as well as physically securing the massive units.
In Main Mission, all eyes were watching the approaching Hawks and the Eagles that were closing on them.
"20 seconds," Morrow solemnly announced. The counter beep..beep..beeped....
"We're locked in on them, Commander," Carter stated from the blue and white monitor under the big screen, as he closed and sealed his visor.
"15 seconds" Morrow declared. Beep...Beep...Beep...
"It's an attack, John, "Bergman stated with certainty. Koenig stared at the big screen. He did not appear to be moving a muscle, although his jaw muscle on the left side of his face began to spasm involuntarily.
"10 seconds," Beep....beep...beep....
"We can't hold them," Carter's shout booming through the Dolby speakers.
"Alpha's wide open!!" Victor moved directly behind Koenig.
"5 seconds," Beep...beep...beep.....
The creeping task force Eagles circumvented the Hawks over the Alpine Highlands. Breaking jets were fired on both sides. At a distance it appeared that the first volley had already been fired. This was only the prologue, however.
"Flight leader to Flight One." Carter said into his helmet microphone, remembering his baptism of fire over the Tri-Con Space Platform. "Listen up, mates. It is possible for an Eagle to dust one of these things, but here's what you're going to have to do. There's a reactant coil that feeds into their primary fuel tanks. Hit them right on the beak. If you miss, you're going to get waxed."
The red bar lines of the digital target display criss-crossed Carter's visor. He nodded to Graham to take over the yoke, and flipped up the red safety panels on the laser firing controls. He elected to use the switch on the right, which would output the narrow, cutting beam.
Then interminable wait came to a single, irrevocable order from Main Mission.
"!!!!!!!! FIRE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Eagle 1 fired its laser volley, hitting the center Hawk. The primary fuel tanks glowed momentarily then the ship exploded from the spreading heat and fire.
Eagle 7 fired its volley, hitting the lower Hawk. Eagle 7 fired again and as it did so , the lower Hawk's super structure collapsed and exploded into three large pieces; the fiery wrecks pummeling down to Moonbase Alpha.
Bill Frasier, in Eagle 5, fired his laser volley and missed as the Hawk suddenly swung around hard to starboard. Eagles 1 and 7 took evasive action as the Hawk suddenly came around behind them, targeting Eagle 5.
"Flight leader, this is Eagle 5, I'm in trouble..cover me cover me AAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!"
The crackle of static was followed by: Silence. Eagle 5 and Bill Frasier were vaporized.
The lone Hawk bore down on Moonbase Alpha firing its remaining missile. The missile hit and annihilated Launch Pad 3 in a fiery maelstrom. The hawk swept low over Alpha, firing its turrets.
Inside the electronics lab, Angelina, Carter Jackson, Peter Garforth and Julio Armondo was securing the equipment.
"LOOK!!!!" Jackson said, aghast, pointing to the viewport. The Hawk was diving straight for them.
"Let's get outta here!!!! NOW!!!!" Ang shouted..Carter Jackson was already out the door in the hallway.
"No! Wait!" Julio Armondo protested, "I need to finish reprogramming the solar batteries. Just a minute!!!"
They did not have a minute.
The remaining Hawk fired its turrets, shattering the viewport window.
Garforth grabbed his supervisor, just as the viewport blew outward. A geyser of glass, and plastic evacuated into the nitrous/oxygen filled night.
"Julio!!! JULIO!!!!!!" Angelina shouted in horror, as Peter Garforth practically pulled her arm out of its socket through the door. Carter Jackson already had his comlock out and closed the door.
The electronics manager pulled her to safety--the solar batteries were A-Okay, now.
Julio Armando was not so lucky. He was caught in the ensuing cyclone, and pulled through the zero gravity towards the collapsed viewport....
As Julio Armondo's body hurled through the viewport into the blackness of space, Carter in Eagle one, fired at the offending Hawk. The last hawk of the first wave exploded, debris slamming into nuclear reactor #2.
"Get down to the shelters," Angelina ordered Garforth and Jackson, stoically. Julio Armondo was the first casualty that she knew of, anyway. She needed to get to Main Mission per the Commander's instructions; she was sure she would find out her other losses.
"But .." Garforth protested.
"Do it, " Angelina cut off the big man. Angelina looked at him sincerely. "If something happens to me, you will need to take over."
Before he could say more, Ang turned on her heel and headed the relatively short distance to Main Mission.
Minus a few feathers, to be sure, but for the most part Eagle one was flying high. Carter took over the big seat again, and turned his ship away from the orbiting debris. The forty-five degree turn brought him around through the aquarium of metal shards, and plastic insulators which bounced off the intact spacecraft, like hacked off Lilliputians on Gulliver's tail. He adjusted his pitch, watching the eight ball angle its way back into something like a normal coordinate line. Somewhere beneath him, the blasted rubble of Launch Pad Three drifted into range. The platform appeared to be intact, through smeared with reliquary traces of Eagle Five, and Eagle Five's crew. The boarding tube was gnarled, and twisted like a goose's neck. Unable to bear the load, it dangled akimbo from the embarkation area, which was showing no lights.
Carter executed a five-second burn which gave him a panoramic view of the remaining areas of the base. They appeared to be nominal.
So, the bad news went something like this:
Three dead Hawk pilots.
Three dead Hawk gunners.
Two dead Eagle pilots--well, one dead Eagle pilot, and the ambiguous passing of Bill Frasier. Give it a 1.5 loss for the home team.
"This is Carter in Eagle One." He said, motioning to Graham as he caught a glimpse of the gas clouds rising from the walls of Technical Section. "What's the situation down there."
"Fair." John Koenig replied squarely. "It could have been worse. Much worse. Nice work, Alan."
Carter paused, and appraised his co-pilot, who had already flipped up his visor, and was cavalierly wiping the sweat from his chin. Prepared so soon for the heroes welcome, followed by the ticker tape parade down Times Square, the Cross Of Freedom, and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, shaking their pom-poms, and their anatomically perfect navels in his face. He wondered if the same premature reverie had begun in Wolusky's Eagle.
For some reason, the founts of champagne had been set flowing, when by all rights they should have been dead.
"It was too easy," was the pilot's wet blanket judgement.
In Main Mission, Koenig was halfway back to his desk when the proximity alert sounded again. He honestly couldn't say he was surprised. Again, this new telemetry seemed to materialize out of thin air. No early warning. It was almost like a sadistic version of Mr. Scott was using his transporter to fuck with them. Paul Morrow removed his hand from the Red Alert silence breaker, and closed the multi-function hatch.
"We have a new contact." Sandra Benes announced, astonished perhaps by the method, but not by the approach itself. "Coming from the direction of the outer planet; in the vicinity of orbital reference 5-9-8."
The second wave of Hawks looped in over the flat iron icebergs of Anaximenes, like a cat preparing to disembowel a mouse. The problem was not one of meters per second, but rather kilometers per second. The fully operational Ram Jets propelled the gun ships towards sector 0.0 in a plasma free flow that was unequalled. Koenig doubted that they had returned to congratulate Carter's people on their fine shooting.
"Flight Two, skip the checks. Lift off immediately." The commander said, pouncing on Morrow's upper keyboard. Quietly desperate, but doing an apt job of hiding it, Victor Bergman moved in to survey the situation from Tanya Alexander's console. The mistake had been in mistaking the motives, and the intent of the encroaching vessels. This wasn't a duel. This wasn't one of those single shot guerilla campaigns--to be counteracted by a brave police action to punish the offending aliens to death. Oh no, the military complex on the purple planet obviously had a package deal in mind. Their goals were long, and lofty in both time, and carnage.
Rather than viewing Lexington-Concorde, and Bull Run as books unto themselves, Koenig saw both disputes for what they were: the first volleys in very long, very bloody conflicts.
"Looks like we have ourselves a war." He said, and the connection came down on the Main Mission operatives like iron blocks from the heavens. On the big screen, the squadron of Hawks negotiated the Sea Of Cold with freezing, at-home precision.
The alien attack commenced after Pierre Danielle awoke from the most refreshing snoozer he had ever had. Elated dreams followed him all night long. He was driving around in a 1999 Firebird--candy apple red with tinted front, and rear windows, and dual cherry bombs in the rear. The t-top was open to let in all of that Polynesian glory that crowned the Maui skyline. Admiring himself in the rear view mirror, he had to admit he looked cool as a moose in his chic Raybans, and with a matching hula shirt. The fantasy was almost perfect. He had a pair of pink fuzzy dice over the dash, and a pink mini-skirted femme--and a ringer for Carolyn Ducey at that--sitting before the dash. This brunette goddess twirled her hair, and smiled exotically as Pierre whipped the bird into the driveway of his beach house, and applied the emergency break. His dream abode was a real charmer too--complete with a Hemingway view of the South Pacific; satellite television; a fully stocked wet bar; and a jacuzzi with overhead, whoopee mirrors, and three different types of light filters.
Of course the beach house's most esoteric feature was the boudoir--which the Carolyn Ducey clone immediately wanted to see. All night long. All night long.
When the pilot's alarm call came at 4:00 A.M., he yawned, stretched, and stumbled into the john wearing his red, and white boxer shorts. His routine had not altered in years. He shaved himself with a straight razor; splashed after shave balm on the numerous cuts left by the straight razor; brushed his teeth with replicated toothpaste, and gargled from a tube of replicated mouth wash so foul that Listerine tasted like Mountain Dew by comparison.
Afterwards, he hopped in the shower, and sung himself a tune:
"Oh, shake, shake, shake. Shake, shake, shake. Shake your booty. Shake your boo-tay-aaaaayyyyyyy."
His upstairs neighbor was Deadhead Ed Malcom, who had banker's hours. He had until 9:00 A.M. to report for duty, which gave him time to bitch, and pound the floor with his plunger before Pierre Danielle had time to finish the final stanza of his song. By the time he entered the mess hall, he was feeling gargantuan. No, better than gargantuan. He felt euphoric.
"Today is a good day to die." He said heroically.
"You're full of crap." Gonzales said, slopping his tray with powdered eggs, and just-like-bacon. Dave Reilly almost busted his funny hat, and his paper apron, back there behind the beverage dispenser; such was the humor that he saw in this remark. And that was okay. The pilot was feeling too fine. No disgruntled cooks, or defrocked geologist/dishwashers could ruin this imperial day.
Then the Red Alert sounded. That'll do it. Pierre Danielle thought to himself as his mood went immediately to the dogs.
It was in the checkered half-light of the forest--far from the groves of the perfect order, that the Arrogant One took his battle axe, and cleaved his enemies helmet in two. With the looming orb of The Other as his witness, he stood gloating as the grass about the witch tree was showered with a violet mist....
The second compliment of Hawks crossed the 60th parallel in time to see the spectacular rise of their neighboring world over the LaPlace Promontory. Their malodorous brains, all slugs, and mire. In the vague light, they brought trouble that lifted, and breathed, as Isaac Rosenberg would say. The vanguard of Eagle Flight Two lifted off from Launch Pad One--the facility that was closest to the command tower. Eagle Twelve rose into the dead, black sea on a chemically propelled magic carpet. Her pilot was preparing to initiate forward thrust, but then Hawk-D intruded upon Sector 0.0.
And so it goes.
Machine gun bursts of light appeared from a barrel just beneath the gun ship's command module. The fusion cannons roared soundlessly, and Eagle Twelve was vaporized before she had really had a chance to start. Launch Pad One was showered with comets of scrap metal; the embarkation area; the Ready Room, and the Corridor-G became a new kind of Swiss cheese for the Man in the Moon to palate. The collateral damage nary laid waste to Main Mission Control.
War is always a story--a grim, bloody, cadaverous story. Consider this: Rescue Eagle Nine was the only transport of it's kind equipped with a laser pack. On Earth, this new bell, and whistle was deployed to help in high orbital, First Aid applications. Ever so much more practical than grabbing the Jaws Of Life, and doing a space walk to pry open a crippled shuttle like a can of corn. That was on Earth. Here in deep space, other declarations had been made, and the Rescue Ship was now a fighter.
Eagle Nine never made it off the ground. Hawk-D appeared above her like Satan, and obliterated the entire craft before the hangar elevator ever reached the surface. In Main Mission, Angelina Verdeschi joined in the fun, entering to the left of the big screen, just as the lower ceiling panels--light ballast, high voltage wires, plastic tubing--nearly the whole 'shebang--gave into a structural overload worthy of John Dykstra. She almost bought the farm as one of the special effects came close to electrocuting her with the same DC Power Grid that she had once helped to service.
On Launch Pad Four, a lone ship soared upwards through the lines. Hawk-F moved faster, firing shells that were crawling with death, but Eagle 15 was well primed. Her pilot, one Pierre Danielle, had figured that a Bay of Pigs-like disaster was going to occur--why else had he been afforded the opportunity to dream of Hawaii, and women in painted mini skirts? With hard earned wisdom as his buffer, he had followed his captain's lead--taking off directly from the underground garage, rather than meeting the enemy nose, to nose, before bothering to unclip his holster.
Hawk-F was not impressed. The war ship came about 80 degrees starboard, and continued on, in hot pursuit of the one that got away.
"!!!Eagle Flight Two ineffectual!!!" Sandra Benes cried, coughing up a burning plume of plaster dust.
"!!!'Ang!!!" Koenig called, amidst the popping, crackling overload at the controller's desk. "!!!Inform Tactical!!! Tell them to prepare for an immediate ground assault!!!"
"Petrov!!" Angelina Verdeschi yelled into the commutation at the Technical desk. "Engage laser tanks now. Fire Laser turrets!!"
On the surface outside of MBA, 5 laser tanks, resembling Eagle command modules, took aim and began blasting at the Hawks above. At the same time, the three laser turrets swiveled silently into position. Hawk E, not to be left out of the action, immediately obliterated 3 of the 5 laser tanks, as debris scattered, smashing into the outside of Hydroponics Farm #1.
Also, for good measure, Hawk E pounced on 2 of the 3 laser turrets; so much for the ground defenses.
Hawk E then set its sights on Moonbase Alpha as Eagle 1 and Eagle 15 were engaging in play with Hawk D and Hawk F. Hawk E unleashed a fury of machine gun fire; the access corridor between the main technical labs, still filled with technicians frantically trying to reach the shelters suffered a breach.
Angelina immediately noticed the warning signal at the technical station. "Get out of that corridor...Close the bulkhead doors...NOW!!!!" she shouted as she brought up the camera for the corridor.
The structural integrity of the wall collapsed....the breach blew outwards as a gaping hole, at least 10 feet in diameter, opened up. Those who were left in Main Mission momentarily froze and watched the static filled big screen as at least 30 technicians were sucked out into the cold vacuum of space.
"!!NO!!" Angelina cried out, bolting to the right archway.
Victor Bergman grabbed her, effectively stopping her in her tracks.
"There's nothing you can do," Bergman whispered in her ear, half embracing her, half restraining her.
Angelina's face grew hot. She swallowed hard and did not blink. Blinking would mean the tears would start and there was no time or place for that right now.
"Paul, Ben, Ang, Sandra," Koenig said behind her. "Stay here with me. The rest of you, get below."
Main Mission was quickly vacated as Koenig turned to go up the stairs toward his desk. Turning around, Koenig said, "You too Victor."
Bergman gave Angelina a reassuring pat on the arm and walked out the right archway. Paul, Ben, Sandra and Angelina surveyed the damage around them, when their inspection was interrupted. Hawk E had resumed its assault and this time on the Main Mission tower.
Small explosions and fires erupted from the desks and at the computer consoles. Sandra and Ang leaped toward the computer panels under the balcony to put fires out. The monitor next to the fire Sandra was putting out exploded and glass shards flew outward, narrowly missing Sandra. Paul, Ben and the Commander were likewise putting out fires as more erupted and cables and plaster fell from the ceiling.
"BEN!!!! LOOK OUT!!!" Morrow, by chance looking up, saw an I-Beam hanging literally by a thread from the ceiling, suddenly gave away and crashed down on Benjamin Ouma. Ouma shrieked in agony as it landed on his left leg.
Hawk E had moved on to strafing Medical Center. As Morrow and Sandra rushed to Ben Ouma's aid, Dr. Helena Russell appeared on the right monitor under the Big Screen.
"John, we have an atmosphere leak.......John, can you hear me..."
"Dammit, Helena," Koenig punched the communication button, "Get out of there!!!"
"John, I don't know if you can hear me. I don't know how long it will hold."
Obviously, Dr. Russell could NOT hear him.
Koenig turned toward them. "Paul, Sandra, get Ben down to Medical in the lower levels. Ang, you stay here and cover Main Mission."
Koenig bolted out the door. Paul and Sandra, propping Ben up on either side, quickly left toward the lower levels. Angelina, with destruction all around her, was left alone in Main Mission
Fifty kilometers above the lunar surface, Pierre Danielle was only a hair away from having his ass shot off. The camera mounted to Eagle 15's stern showed the interceptor firing a laser guided smart missile at him from its port rocket launcher. The pilot jerked the yoke upwards, and attempted to roll away from it. He felt a terrifying, metallic !!!Ka-Thump!!! with a wicked 'shimmy thrown in for good measure. The projectile's dorsal fin scraped the undercarriage of his passenger module. One of the keel thruster engine bells was sheared off. It spun away like a gray china cup in the palpable darkness. The good news: this was not enough to trigger the warhead's pressure sensors.
How fortunate for Pierre Danielle--a fact that was not lost on him. Ten seconds later, the timer hit 00.00 on the status panel, and the missile detonated about 40 meters south west of him. The bad news: Hawk-F had no intention of giving up, and the gap between the two ships was closing rapidly.
"Flight Two Eagle, you've got a buzzard on your backside." The voice suddenly boomed from the pilot's helmet microphone. "Come around to course 38.42.15. I suggest you continue evasive maneuvers, or you're history."
"Copy." Pierre Danielle said, filling the command module with barrels of his own sweat.
"???Big P???" Alan Carter asked, recognizing the voice on the radio.
Pierre Danielle had a very witty--one might say 'profoundly four-lettered'--remark to make concerning his late arrival at the party, but the announcement was interrupted when Hawk-F fired it's last tact missile. The pilot reversed thrust, and prayed. Prayed that this heat seeking leach was not smarter than Isaac Newton. The shell casing ran straight across the decelerating command module. Sparks flew from the overhead attitude control circuitry. The lights within the cockpit dimmed once, and then went out completely. Pierre Danielle was immediately thrown back into the seventeenth century--battling the forces of evil with only a candlestick to light his way.
The remaining missile exploded safely out of range. Then, it was out of the frying pan, and into the fire. The monitor showed Hawk-F cutting loose on him with its fusion cannons. The red dot beneath its command module, blinking on, and off, transmitting its lethal Morse code. The pilot had to decelerate to avoid being creamed by the missile. In so doing, he had also succeeded in throwing himself upon the matador's sword, or so to speak. There was no way he could dodge the on-coming shells; not at this range.
Pierre Danielle thanked God for his middle-of-the-road, so-so, sexually innocuous life. He waved good bye to the Moon, and to his friends, and to the fucksticks on the purple planet who had realized his passing at a more youthful age than he had ever imagined.
Somewhere behind him, Hawk-F exploded into a billion incendiary fragments.
"Got him." Wolusky could be heard shouting ebulliently over the pilot's helmet transmitter.
"Alright." Carter said, dispensing with the pleasantries. "Big P, you're with us. Flight One fall into formation. The game's not over yet. My scanner is showing three bogies approaching.
"Direction: LaGrange Point; location: the outer planet."
Carter did the math; it didn't require the likes of Nicol Tessla to figure it out. Hawks-A through C were neutralized, as was Hawk-F. Hawk-D, and Hawk-E were out of visual range, but he surmised that they were probably renovating Moonbase Alpha, even as they spoke. Their squadron had consisted of three heavy cruisers, one of which got roasted in the last fire fight. A simple process of elimination based on time, trajectory, and Carter's instincts revealed the identity of the newest impulses on his scanner grid.
Hawks G, H, and I had arrived as reinforcements.
Hawk D and Hawk E had been doing a marvelous job redecorating Moonbase Alpha: obliterating Launch Pad 3, destroying Manufacturing Area B, reducing Reactor #1 and #4 to rubble, etc, etc, etc. As fate would have it, Alpha suddenly got a break.
One of the two remaining laser tanks, in conjunction with the remaining laser turret hit Hawk D, the Ram Propulsion Single Engine Bell ripped from the body of the ship. Hawk D's Engine Bell spiraled toward Hawk E, which, fortunately for the Alphans, was not evasive enough with his evasive action. Hawk E exploded instantly, lighting up the sky above the Main Mission tower like a Fourth of July fireworks grand finale display. That, however, was not the grand finale.
Hawk D spun out of control toward the lunar surface, crashing into Reactor #3. The resulting blinding explosion threw Angelina back hard against the steps behind the controller's desk.
The attack appeared to have stopped as there were no more explosions and rumblings; just the smothering computer panels and the occasional crackle of circuits broke the silence of Main Mission. Main Power had long since been lost and the wall panels exuded the eerie red glow of the emergency batteries.
Angelina bolted to the capcomm station. The screen still was functioning showing the Eagles and their relative positions to MBA. The beacons indicated the remaining fleet was 3 in number: Eagle 15, Eagle 7 and Eagle 1.
"Oh shit," Angelina muttered, as she saw 3 more contacts coming from the opposite direction of Alpha. Sensors confirmed the obvious: Alien, Mark IX Hawks in configuration.
Angelina opened a channel to Eagle 1. She was pretty sure that Carter already knew about the 3 new contacts. If nothing else, Angelina would get to hear Alan's voice again.
"Alpha to Flight leader. You have 3 more contacts closing from orbital reference 3-4-8. How are you guys doing up there?"
What was left of Medical Center was the stuff of flea markets. Each of the three wards were virtually uninhabitable, though the beds were full. Bob Mathias picked himself up from the floor; plastic cuts riddled his hands, and face. Next to him, like a coffin, lay one of the collapsed commstations, where the only sense was the non-sense static coming from it's monitor. Above him, the low ceiling beams creaked the way boards creak on a condemned house. Here, and there, he felt the dirty rain of gray plaster in his hair, and in his face. The unit was dark, save for the light pouring through the smeared viewports. Beyond them, he could see the heat flash of the artillery barrage which was still at full tilt boogey.
"!!!Air leak!!!" He heard Ben Vincent shriek. Helena Russell, Dorothy Sullivan, Raul Nunez, and Jerry Parker moved into high gear then, you had better believe it. Nunez, in particular, took to evacuating patients so quickly, at one point, he looked like an EMT, instead of an RN; dragging along two in each arm.
Mathias grabbed one of the white canisters of seal-plast, and went to work.
"!!!Get everyone out of here!!!" He told his colleague, pushing him aside. The window panel showed that the atmospheric pressure was down to almost 60 PSI. The physician's lungs bled as he applied aerosol plastic to the cracked view plate. He thought of many things as he did so; towers falling in New York City; the last unblighted day of his life. Seconds later, John Koenig pushed back one of the double doors, and assisted Ann Delline, and Eva Zoref in removing a patient whose back had been twisted into a pretzel in the hangar of Launch Pad One.
Beyond the transparent plastic, Mathias caught a glimpse of one of the Hawks. He had the distinction of being the only one at ground level to see one with the naked eye. It turned it's sheol, and brimstone on the security complex. Moments later, the entire structure was gone. Just gone. He grabbed a handful of trampled paperwork from the floor, and reinforced his seal with a blank intake form. It was a noble effort, but it was an ignominious situation. Moonbase Alpha was being murdered, and the cracks in the viewport were like the silvery lathe of a spider's web.
"!!!Let's get out of here!!!" He heard Koenig, shout over the cacophony in the rear.
"!!!Bob!!!" Helena Russell called after him. Mathias added a blank x-ray flimsy, and the results of Ed Malcom's bunion removal--an agenda grabbing ailment, if ever there was one--to his bad patchwork job.
"!!!Hurry!!! It won't hold!!!"
The arms that bear hugged him had a black stripe on one sleeve. He fumbled backwards as the commander drug him forcibly along, his hush puppy heels leaving scrapes on the splintered tile floor. Ben Vincent, who Mathias had known, joined him in this intervention since he was an intern. They ferried him past Bed # 7, the sheets were a table cloth of gore, it's blue-lipped occupant, apparently left for dead. Past the fallen commstation--the power to it's monitor now gone. Koenig pulled him over the threshold, and Nunez closed the doors behind them.
Then, explosive decompression was actualized. The wards were emptied, and rendered totally lifeless in the resulting tsunami. As Bob Mathias looked around, Ben Vincent was not among the grateful refugees on the opposite side of the door.
"Moonbase Alpha/ Flight One; we're reading you loud, and clear." Carter replied, displaying his immense relief to his brooding co-pilot, and any angels that might be riding it out in the cockpit with them. "We lost Frasier, but I reckon the rest of us are hanging in there." Though still out of visual range, the new violence was right around the corner. The blips on his scanner slowed as the war ships began their inertial breaking. It occurred to him that their position may not have showed up on the enemies' deep space tracking systems yet. Then he cuckolded himself for being such a block head. Of course they knew they were there. "Pierre Danielle is on the front line with us now.
"How about the other two Eagles. What's happening on Alpha."
Carter estimated that he had about one minute.
"Eagles nine and twelve were completely destroyed," Angelina sighed. "They didn't even make it off the Launch Pads."
"We've had extensive damage throughout the base. We suffered two major structural breaches resulting in explosive decompression," she paused then shuddered, "including a major one in technical that took at least 20 or 30 techs. All of the Launch pads have suffered some sort of damage. All the reactors are down and we're running on solar batteries....It's bad, Alan.."
"Everyone who made it down to the shelters is OK." Angelina added, "that includes Nicky."
"We're trying to send you more reinforcements but we're having a problem with the hoists on the only functional launch pad, #3. We'll try to send you help but right now you guys are the only thing stopping them from getting at us."
She tried to be encouraging...there just wasn't much to be encouraging about, this time.
Carter's smiled reassuringly from the other side of black, and white Monitor Land.
"We'll take care of you." He said, and it came as a bitter note that he would be late to the party if he didn't sign off soon. By their angle of inflection, the Hawk bullies appeared to be honing in on him. They had gathered rather quickly, which transport was serving as the flag ship. During the war, he had made it a point to whack the officers as quickly as possible. Alan Carter, open thy mouth, and prepare to swallow. Behold--your own rancid medicine. "Sweetheart, give my regards to every one. Especially, the little guy."
The pilot lowered his visor, feeling the yoke slip away as Graham took over the navigational controls. The CGI Target Display showed three bogies--low, and slow. Still ten kilometers away, but already firing their fusion cannons. Hot death in the cold void.
"Flight Leader, to Flight One." Carter said to the other pilots on VOX. "Choose your opposite number, and put it to him. If any of those ships get through, we won't have a home to go to." Flexing his gloved hands, he nodded to Graham. "Tommy, take us in."
Hawks G, H, and I dominated the veldt of space, predatory, humorless, unmerciful. The Ram Jet Ions had long ceased firing. They coasted forward--javelins looking for a set of heart, and lungs to impale.
Eagles One, Ten, and 15--together they formed the reassembled Flight One Strike Force. They gallantly transversed the distance, though they were way too slow. Tortoises belong in their shells, but death is no respecter of shells. They continued, unafraid of the purple planet's cruelty, of their incomprehensible, unnegotiable dislike for the Moon, and the inmates therein.
Hawks G, H, and I drew closer, wolves ready for a game of barn yard butchery.
Eagle Flight One became more, and more determined; martyrs, with a will that was not to be vitiated.
Faster than you can say "war sucks," they clashed.
Hawk-H immediately had Wolusky's Eagle for din-din. The weaker ship exploded, leaving behind fragments the size of thumb tacks. In Eagle 15--though he had declared that morning his acceptance of death--Pierre Danielle suddenly decided that what he really wanted to do was to live to be 110 years old. He pushed his eight ball nearly into the red, banking hard to starboard so fast that he nearly unhelmuted his gunner, William Gregory Harms III. Hawk-G duplicated the move, firing its micro-nukes at his engine assembly. Harms cussed him out, and admonished his pilot to keep the controls steady while he was targeting.
"Are you kidding?" Pierre Danielle said incredulously.
Hawk-G made a considerable, irrefutable blunder by crossing the axis of fire, rather than remaining on the fringes. Too bad, because Alan Carter was waiting with his right index finger poised over the cutting beam. The enemy bird was consumed in its own fuel conflagration. Aboard Eagle 15, Harms grinned like a Massachusetts Republican when Hawk-I ended up buck naked in his co-axial crosshairs. He used the atomizing beam, which was ill-advised. The opposing gun ship was destroyed, but it took them with it. So, what was the use? Harms kicked himself in the glutes repeatedly. He was encouraged to do this by Pierre Danielle as their Eagle spiraled into the open palms of chaos, and destruction.
Six little Indians, and then there was Carter, and Graham. The only extant Eagle in Flight One jousted with Hawk-H. Carter watched his opposite number weave in, and out of scope. He had a sobering moment where he felt sure they were going to the pearly gates. Then, Hawk-H seemed to grow uncertain. The effect only lasted .00000001 of a second, but it was long enough for the evasive maneuver to lull them into point blank range.
Bon voyage, you creepy fuckers. Carter bade, and introduced Hawk-H to his C-Beam. The resulting weld unperched the hungry Hawk, and spilled its metal form intestines, all over the lunar surface. All except for a z-shaped chunk of titanium from its fore peak, which collided with Eagle One.
"!!!We're hit!!!" Carter bellowed into his helmet mike, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory; riding a bronco with Mad Cow's disease instead of a triumphant chariot. "!!!Reduce power!!!" He said, shutting down the plasma drive while Graham released the control arms like a pair of hot potatoes.
Eagle One was now adrift in hostile space.
"We're sitting ducks." Graham observed. His depression showed no signs of lifting.
"Let's hope they take us for a dead one." Carter said, lifting his visor up. After he killed the breakers, the cockpit was black as pitch.
Angelina watched as Eagle 10 disappeared off the capcomm station monitor screen, followed by one of the Hawk blips blanking out. Likewise, she watched the blip for Eagle 15 spiraling across the screen then finally off the screen, as another Hawk disappeared into oblivion. Sensors confirmed that Eagle 15 crash landed on the lunar surface about 100 miles from Alpha. The distress beacon for Eagle 15 had been activated but Angelina found she could not respond; for the moment, anyway, Pilots Danielle and Harms were on their own, if they were both still alive.
She watched tensely as the remaining Hawk closed in on the Eagle 1 blip. The split second of elation as the Hawk blip disappeared forever from the screen was replaced with anxiety when she heard Carter call out "We've been hit!!!".
The static over the speakers suddenly went dead. However, according to the locator beam, Eagle 1 had not been vaporized..yet.
"Eagle one, do you copy?" Angelina called, fear creeping in her voice.
"Eagle one, this is Alpha, please acknowledge!" Angelina called again. 'Oh, please, please God, let them be alive' she thought to herself.
Sensors were useless in confirming life signs. Only the locator beacon emitted its intermittent blips from the ship.
"Eagle One, this is Alpha, please acknowledge. Alan, are you alright? Send me any kind of signal if you can." Over and over again, in one variation or another. Angelina felt sick; she thought she was going to throw up.
As she sank into despair, yet still holding on to a glimmer of hope, she saw another blip on the sensor. Like the others, it too appeared out of nowhere. Angelina trained the remaining camera on it.
Angelina was suddenly terrified, like she had never been terrified before, as she stared at the image on the big screen.
The single ship on the screen was huge, no, more than huge. Great javelin looking projections reached out from the main section of a ship, which resembled the body of a reptile, scales and all. The end section of the ship had 10 large engine bells and an ominous triangular projection from the back. The belly of the ship appear bloated. The doors of the ship bottom opened to reveal several large cylindrical tubes. The ship was escorted by two Hawks which were dwarfed in comparison to the ship...they looked like a couple of ants next to the mammoth menace, as it crept slowly toward Alpha.
Commander Koenig strode into Main Mission to see her staring, in shock at the big screen.
"C-Commander?" Ang whispered and pointed...just pointed. The message was plain in her eyes...'We've had it...game over'
"Well, well.." Commander Koenig had come around next to her and was also staring at the big screen. "They're going by the book. First they take out the defenses. Then they bring in the bombers."
Angelina was numb but suddenly felt the Commander's arm around her shoulder. "There's nothing we can do," Koenig stated softly.
Eagle One was now almost a kilometer from it's original fake-out/ damage position. The ship drifted backwards slowly, listing gently in the cosmic eddies. Debris from that last Hawk orbited the hull in an angel glow of hydrogen, and metal fibers. Tom Graham sat in the dark, trying to multiply 375, by a fact of 5 on his pocket calculator, but it was solar powered, and the "X" sign never did work very well. He heard Alan Carter whistle as the dreadnought moved past them. A mile away, and it still filled the angled viewports. It's shell plating caused serpentine shadows to dance across Graham's right arm, and inner airlock door.
"Any way, it's bigger than a football field." The co-pilot said, disgustedly. He abandoned his calculator, though he had only had it for a month. "At least five hundred meters."
"Yeah, and Alpha only has one laser equipped Eagle left." Carter said, noting that the vessel was moving in with its bomb bay doors already open. The Hawk pilots were either cocky, and did not care that they were there, or they simply hadn't noticed. "That's if they can get it off the ground.
"Tommy, some how this one's down to us."
The bomber's hyper-geometric stern at last moved out of range. It had taken a total of fifteen minutes; a long, long wait to cross the railroad tracks. It left in it's wake a fusion jet spray that caused the free floating shards, and chemicals to spiral around their viewports like whirling dervishes.
"Alright, let's do it." Carter said, lowering his visor. "Head up the target display, and give me all the power you've got."
Eagle One bucked, and protested as the Main Motors were brought back on-line. Gallons of nitrozine, and tetroxide were added to the surrounding halo from the transport's damaged fuel assembly. Could the alien war ship be disabled, from this attitude, and from this range, was a question. How the Hawks would respond to sniper activity, certainly was a question. Would Eagle One blow itself to bits in the course of this philanthropistic, self-sacrificing gesture? That was actually a more relevant query than either the latter, or the former.
"!!!Try, and hold her steady!!!" Carter shouted, doubting seriously that Graham could hear him over the honked off gorgon that was tearing apart their service module. The pilot rode the pogo stick, his tongue doing the blub-blub-blub thing whenever he redirected Graham.
The grates covering the battle ship's propellant tanks drifted in, and out of the metric cross-hairs. The target moved further, and further out with each with each passing second. One of the vessel's lower antennae complexes appeared again briefly beneath the left grid. It looked like an upside down toad's stool.
Seconds past, and then the toad stool bobbed back into the right, East/West Grid.
The bomber fired it's bow thrusters, slowing itself for trans-lunar insertion--a complex equation in physics that was apparently no sweat/ no strain to their on-board computers. A revolution was plotted--one that would eventually carry it within range of Moonbase Alpha. This final burn also placed it within the killing zone of Carter's targeting computer. He fired the flame thrower this time. The Heat Beam glinted in the night, striking the war ship's reactor head on.
Eagle One's pilot, and co-pilot shielded their eyes as a new star was born.
Commander Koenig and Angelina Verdeschi in Main Mission were blinded and suddenly hurled to the floor from the shockwave of the explosion. Angelina went flying against Koenig and they skidded across the floor, stopping just short of the stairs on the left side of Morrow's desk.
"Are you OK?" Koenig asked, pulling Angelina up to a standing position. Angelina was more than elated; the destruction of the massive bomber could mean only one thing. The pilots of Eagle 1 were alive.
Ang nodded as Koenig ordered, "Ang, take computer. Quick status on our situation and find a replacement for Ben Ouma."
"Alpha to Eagle 1. Alan, that was terrific!" Koenig sighed with relief.
The pilots were almost totally cut off, visually. The Moon was somewhere beneath the 99.9 percent haze. Graham had to boost their transponders in order to transform an incoherent message into one that was kind of, sort of audible. A word, or two gave Carter the gist of it; the base was still there.
"It was the big one." He agreed. The ship was now drifting through highly radiated, blast residue. Temperatures varied somewhere between six, and 6,00 degrees Kelvin, and right now, Eagle One was in the shade. "I'd say it had Alpha's name on it."
"I'm sure it did." Koenig replied, his visual image losing its resolution in the post atomic flux.
"How are things there."
"Bad." The commander said simply as the command module reclined at a forty-five degree angle. Graham's unloved calculator fell from the console, and landed back in its owners lap. Regardless of the danger to life, and limb, they were going to have to do a course correction soon, or end up doing cart wheels. "Can you make it back to the base."
"I can coax her a little." Carter had no idea. "What do you think they have planned next."
Graham's right ear expanded to twice it's normal, nosy size, as he waited for the commander's educated response.
"We have no idea. We're relying on you to tell us, Alan." John Koenig felt like a moron today. The sentiment was all over the base. Many were getting a two-for-one deal, as they felt like dead morons. In the hierarchy of problems, lack of respiration was the ultimate, to-be-pitied hassle.
Carter took the yoke, and brought the engines back on one quarter power. It still felt like they were riding the massage pad from hell, but the idea of a safe landing didn't seem as hilarious as it had ten minutes before. The navigational hardware lay smashed somewhere beneath Graham's boots, but the pilot was able to draft a return trajectory using the tubes of smoke as a reference point. It was a formula invented by Leonardo Da Vinci. Whether he had conceived the idea before--or after--cutting off his ear, and sending it to the woman he loved, Carter had no idea.
Before long, the functionally challenged Eagle--now black in color--emerged from the morning glory of radiation, and descended, towards 'Ang, and the obliterated Hiroshima that was Moonbase Alpha.
Angelina smiled broadly as she listened to the exchange. It was nothing short of a miracle that they survived.
Koenig keyed the internal communications code to the underground shelters. "Victor? How is everything down there?"
Bergman's face appeared on the right monitor, the only intact monitor, under the big screen. "Oh, yes, we're alright down here. What was that explosion?"
"It was their doomsday weapon and Alan got in its way."
"Alan?!? Is he..."
"Yes, he's alright," Koenig replied. "Alpha's in tough shape, Victor. Come on up here and we will have a Command Conference as soon as Alan gets back, in 1 hour. Angelina will give you a safe route. Ang?" Koenig looked to her.
Angelina would have turned the computer station toward Koenig but the motor had failed on the turntable.
"Corridor 33 to travel tube 2. Take Corridor 8. From there, gain access to Main Mission from the Commander's Office." Angelina reported.
The issue of a replacement for an injured Ben Ouma needed to be addressed. Angelina sadly noted that Julio Armondo, swept out into space during the first round of the attack from explosive decompression, would have been the natural backup for the job. Angelina was pondering who to get as a temporary replacement for Benjamin when the compost paged her.
"Danny Chan, here." The young information specialist's face appeared on the monitor. Angelina remembered Chan's name mentioned by Ouma with high praise.
"Ma'am, I just wanted to report that central computer is offline but we will be working on getting it up again. We do have life support control. I estimate approximately 6 hours for limited service for all other functions, depending on the power situation." Chan replied with a sigh.
"Thank you, Danny," Angelina smiled warmly at the computer tech, despite the direness of the present situation. She was impressed with his initiative. "You don't have to call me 'Ma'am', Danny," Angelina smirked. "I'm not THAT much older than you. 'Angelina' will do just fine." The young technician nodded and smiled, despite the apparent stress of his situation.
"Danny, when you have things under control, I need you to report to Main Mission to take over the computer desk. Ben was injured and I really need someone up here to monitor computer operations. When can I expect you up here?"
"Is an hour OK?" Chan asked.
Angelina nodded, Chan gave the thumbs up and she cut the link. Angelina had perhaps a 10 second chance to get her breath when the damage reports started to pour in and the Main Mission staff began trickling in, taking their stations as well.
Joe Erhlich surveyed the remains of Reactor Area 1. As least this area had a breathable atmosphere. The other two reactors were also disabled, with Reactor #3 appearing to be hopelessly smashed. A closer inspection would be required in EVA suits.
Joe was not looking for to this activity, especially going into Reactor Area #2. Reactor Area #3 had been evacuate before being destroyed but Reactor Area #1 still had George Crato and a number of technicians inside when the structure breech created by a piece of a Hawk carcass resulted in explosive decompression.
Erhlich looked over to Carter Jackson who was ruefully examining the remains of the main coolant transformers. Joan Conway was up on the mezzanine, shaking her head, studying the damaged breakers.
'What's the use?' Joe thought to himself. 'We would have been better off killed off by those purple planet assholes right off.' The thought of death by slow suffocation made him shudder with anxiety.
After briefly hearing the bad news from Joan and Carter, he watched them turn back to their tasks; they were not going to give up despite the 1000 to 1 odds against them.
"I'll be back soon," Joe said, turning toward the alternate exit. Normally, it was only about a 5 minute trip to Main Mission. Now, of course, Joe would not be able to take elevators, travel tubes or even main routes. He had to take maintenance access corridors and ladder to Main Mission, where his supervisor, Angelina Verdeschi, would be waiting for the news she probably already figured would be devastating and bleak
High atop the balcony in Main Mission, Ed Malcom was missing the chuck key to his screw gun, and he knew who took it, and the resentment was seething, bubbling--overflowing the pot like a quantity of possum stew. With the purple planet framed above them, they had just finished removing a deformed dog house casing to clean out the densely filthy, nasty air scrubbers. It was Profitt's job, but Malcom had agreed to assist, but only under extreme protest. He was just that kind of guy.
"You're fucked in the head, Ed." The other technician chuckled while carefully removing the cylinder. Black dust drifted to the floor, and onto Malcom's clean, tan flares. There was something about him; the beam in his eye; his ice tray professionalism; the welsh accent. He thought he knew everything, Ed Malcom decided. "If you were truly worried about that drill, you would have charged the battery."
Marcus Profitt was glad that he had thought to bring the ratchet set along. The day had been unequivocally bad. Murphy's Law had declared war on them, and it had no intention of quartering prisoners.
"The battery was charged." Malcom replied calmly, grinding his fat-boy, tombstone teeth. "Some lazy asshole borrowed it yesterday, and didn't bother to place it back on the charger. They also lost my chuck key.
"???Now, who could that have been???"
"I used it yesterday." Profitt admitted, simultaneously hoisting the Jolly Roger, and blowing grime at Deadhead Ed. He would have felt more sympathy; he would have pitied Ed Malcom--hugely overweight, and with filter dust in his face, but metaphysically speaking, they were now in the valley of the shadow of death, and he just didn't give a shit. Add to that, the fact that he, and everyone else for that matter, had long since grown weary of picking up the slack for The Hindenberg, smelling his bad breath, listening to his endless profusion of corny puns. Angelina Verdeschi either didn't care about their plight, or she was just being loyal to the Society Of All Blonde Bimbettes.
"Do something about it, then." Profitt grinned. "Cross the line, Fred."
Ed Malcom advanced on him with his red knuckled fists already clenched.
Angelina was reviewing the incessant flow of data from computer with Daniel Chan when she heard the "B-O-O-M" above.
For a split second, she thought the occupants of the purple planet had renewed their barrage. She was wrong; Ed Malcom's enormous girth had landed hard against the balcony floor. She looked up and saw the continuing scuffle between Marcus Profitt and Ed Malcom.
Angelina bounded up the balcony steps, followed closely by Danny Chan. Ed Malcom was shrieking, a river of blood issued from his nose, as he was lunging at Profitt. He missed and Profitt responded by giving Ed a shiner to his left eye. As Ed tried to swing at Profitt, who was again drawing back his fist, Angelina stepped dead center into the dog fight. She grabbed each of them by the tunics and in one motion, shoved them both apart in opposite directions, as Ed lost his balance and slammed into the wall.
"!! WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!?!?!?!!!!!"
Angelina Verdeschi was clearly angry. She knew of course what was wrong. All 3 nuclear reactors were severely damaged and unless the Lord above granted them a miracle, they would all be dead in 18 days. It was not common knowledge yet but, being in technical,
Profitt and Malcom had their own internal sources.
She narrowed her eyes, looking back and forth between a crying Malcom and an expressionless Profitt. Andy Dempsey had just reached the top of the balcony stairs.
"WELL?!?!?!" Angelina prompted, "Speak up!"
!!!He stole my drill!!!" Malcom exploded. The fact that he was shaking the drill at Profitt as he spoke, apparently unnoticed.
"Right, you daft block head." Profitt retorted. His Somerset brogue made him sound like an angry Scot. "Let's face it--you had no intentions of coming to work today, but certain factors forced you to haul that balloon ass off the couch, didn't they, Ed."
"Enough!" Angelina stated firmly. Then she turned her attention to Ed. "YOUR drill, Ed?!? That drill is the property of Technical section and the last department personnel roster lists Marcus as part of Technical and therefore entitled to use the drill as necessary."
Ed Malcom's head was beginning to look like a battered Italian sausage.
"Get to Medical and fix your face," Angelina directed, taking the drill from his hand.
Ed Malcom mumbled under his breath as he lumbered down the stairs.
Mark Winters was leaning against the controllers desk as the Dumbo came in for a landing. The deputy's arms were folded, and he had a sadistic, shit-eating grin on his face. He had so enjoyed the show, he had not even bothered to call security. His overnight, orange-sleeved second, Klaus Rotstein savored the brawl with comparable oeuvre. The Saxon malcontent slapped his chummy boss on the back, and pointed out that Malcom had managed to split his pants during the course of the fight too. Tanya Alexander came up from the maintenance panel beneath the desk, and looked on both of them with cold disgust.
Angelina turned to Marcus Profitt. "There are not many of us left, Marcus. We need everyone, including Ed," her tone softened, as she handed him the drill.
"Of course." The other technician said. Extreme guilt had set in, and it was having a calming effect on him. He regretted blowing furnace dust in Ed Malcom's face.
"Professor Bergman and I have been discussing some options regarding the power situation. The game is not over yet. Don't lose hope." Angelina told him, reassuringly. Of course, she was hiding her own doubts. The options they had talked about were theoretical in nature, the stuff of pontificating professors in the halls of universities.
Profitt hung his head low. As he nodded, his chin bobbed against the tip of his tunic. He quickly reset the air scrubber, and exited the balcony. He contritely returned two of the futurama plastic chairs to the upright position again, and returned to his tower of work orders on the cart below. Winters, and Rotstein messed with him behind his back, of course, as he left. Angelina Verdeschi never saw the excellent, NC-17 puppet show that the controller, and his assistant were enacting with their hands. They ceased, and desisted the minute she looked over the rail. They immediately reverted back to pillars of seriousness, except for a smug upturning of the lips.
Pierre Danielle had a beef too, but currently, his universe was so constricting that venting his frustrations was unrealistic. Ten kilometers behind them, the remains of their Eagle sat like a crushed beer can, half-in, and half-out of a the crater wall. The evacuation had been smooth, though the pilot had made the mistake of not aligning his helmet properly before clamping the seals. As a result, he looked like a voyeur, peering over the fence for his jollies. The commlock locator beams were on, so theoretically, finding the base should have been no problem.
Unless, it no longer existed. A distinct possibility.
"By the time I got around to G. Gordon Liddy, I had a deep throat informant warn me not to continue my quest for the truth." William Gregory Harms III stated matter-of-factly. "He told me this in a tone of voice that made you listen up, Big-P. Then again, he may also have been frustrated because his bathroom dispenser was jammed."
"Harms, your not a bit of a liar, and a bullshitter are you?" Pierre Danielle attempted to liberate his neck from the o-ring that was galling him. Since the beginning of their hike, it had been one fantastic story after the next. Currently, the other pilot was telling him about his involvement in the search for the men who killed Jack Kennedy. His statements were conspicuously void of fact, and the dates didn't jibe very well either. "You realize of course that if what you're saying is true, you would have been a two year old FBI Agent.
"Now, that's impossible."
"Well, I know it looks that way, until you take into account the years I spent developing a war time pharmacopoeia for the United Nations. Experimental drugs. Revolutionary anti-aging formulas. I'm much older than I look, Big-P."
Whenever the pilot attempted to opine, or modulate on what Harms was saying, he was cut off briefly, and his insertions were deemed layman nonsense. Like Malcom, and Profitt before him--having had enough, and unable to tolerate any more of Harms' stories, Pierre Danielle threw a punch. It was neutralized, and sissified in the 1/8 lunar gravity however. Not only did the other pilot see it coming, he interpreted the gesture as one of camaraderie. It ended in Danielle giving Harms a high five, when what he really wanted to do was knock him on his ass.
"You look stressed out, Big-P. Do you have to use the can? You can do it in these suits you know. It has a cooling effect, and the life support sub systems will recycle it into drinkable water." Harms considered recommending Gaba Gaba Root. Hydroponics section never really used it for any thing, and it was great for elevating one's mood, and as a release for morbid constipation. "You want me to carry the commlock for a while. I used to be a planesman aboard a submarine, too. Did I ever tell you that."
"No." Danielle said, checking the pedometer on his wrist. They still had a hundred kilometers to go. William Gregory Harms III would rather talk than breath, or so it seemed. As the walk continued, the colorful pilot continued his infinite digressions on G. Gordon Liddy, and Guy Bannister, and Clay Shaw--all of them shrank in fear, and trepidation the minute Harms pulled out his steno pad. Oswald could not have recycled a bolt action Carcano Rifle in the time allotted to fire the killing shot at Kennedy.
Pierre Danielle--on the other hand--wished that he had a Carcano Rifle to stick in his own mouth. The journey continued.
Angelina was in a bad mood as she hurried down the balcony stairs in Main Mission. She gave Mark Winters an irritated look and was heading toward him when she spied Pierce Quinton strolling into Main Mission under the right archway. Why security had not shown up or was even present to break up the fight between Profitt and Malcom was a question to which she wanted an answer.
"I want a word with you," she told him, pointing back in the direction she came, back into the corridor. Quinton complied because he was shocked; his past interactions with Angelina Verdeschi had always been pleasant.
Quinton also became annoyed as they entered the corridor. He had taken a great deal of crap from his former boss, her brother, the late Antonio Verdeschi for years. He was not about to take any bull from little sister Verdeschi.
"What do you want?" Quinton asked gruffly. "I need to make a report to the Commander.." Quinton had lost several of his men to explosive decompression, not to mention the fact that he had already pulled a double before the attack.
Angelina ignored his tone. "I just broke up a fight between Marcus Profitt and Ed Malcom in Main Mission. Pierce, where was security? Where IS security in Main Mission?"
"A fight between Profitt and Malcom? Hah! It must have been short and decisive: in Profitt's favor," Pierce Quinton smirked. Like many people on Alpha, he was often annoyed by Malcom and secretly would have loved to ditch him. "Too bad I missed the show."
"What?!?!" Angelina blurted in dismay. "What the hell?!? Look, we all have jobs to do around here and since I am limited in the number of technical folks, I would appreciate it if you would do your job and keep our people from killing each other!"
"Then some of us die just a few days short of the 18 days the rest of us got!!!!" Quinton yelled in her face.
"Is there a problem?" Commander Koenig seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.
Quinton immediately lowered his head. "Uh, no sir, none at all. I was just coming to see you to give my report."
Angelina, eyes downcast, slowly shook her head.
"Good," Koenig replied. "As managers, it is our job to set a positive example and work together as effectively as possible, "he continued, eyeing them both.
"Quinton, come with me, " Koenig motioned and they headed back into Main Mission toward the Commander's office.
Angelina leaned against the wall and stared up at the ceiling, fixating on a dangling mass of network cables.
One hour later, in the corridor about 100 yards outside the Commander's office, Angelina Verdeschi leaned against one of the many cracked light panels in the near darkness as members of her three departments briefed her on the status of Moonbase Alpha. The red glow of the emergency lights only exaggerated the dark and depressing demeanor of her 3 managers.
Joe Erhlich gave the mournful news on the power situation. It was bleak...it was bad...it was hopeless, as Angelina wrote down the details. Her expression was neutral, trying not to convey the feeling of defeat that was ballooning inside her with each enunciated detail.
Peter Garforth was next; his report on the situation in electronics instrumentation, though not as bad as power, was depressing. How do we even begin to "fix" anything when at least half of the tools and equipment used to "fix" are damaged themselves?
Patrick Osgood would have been up next, had he still been alive. Osgood and several manufacturing techs were sucked out into space when Manufacturing A suffered a breach then a collapse. Unfortunately, that area housed where most of the PCB assemblies were manufactured. Reporting in his place was Michelle Cranston, a petite Manufacturing Engineer but certainly not what one would call defeated and helpless. With everyone else in a depressed funk over the catastrophic situation on Alpha, Michelle Cranston was extremely ticked off at the aliens on the purple planet.
"Those pricks destroyed my whole fucking manufacturing complex and killed most of my crew!" Michelle steamed, tapping her foot. "When do we hit them back?"
"We don't for now, Michelle, we can't" Angelina answered a little perturbed. "You focus on setting up the prototype area to make boards, OK?"
Michelle looked down, reigning in her temper. "Sorry, boss, it's just.." she looked away.
"I understand," Ang affirmed. "We all do. Since power is our first priority, start working on the converter boards first." She smiled to be reassuring. "We'll get through this," she said as they left, making their way down the dark corridor though the debris and cables hanging from the ceiling. They did not answer her.
Angelina, alone, covered her eyes with her hand and sighed; it was hopeless. If there was going to be a time to let it out and cry, this was it. The tears, however, refused to come. It was just as well, as she heard a sound.
She went completely mute as Captain Alan Carter, stepping over a shattered light fixture, rounded the corner and suddenly found himself face to face with her.
Angelina thought of what could be described as their first "date". Still working in the power generation area, she would occasionally be sent to the hangars to initiate the newly compressed hydrogen. Actually, it was becoming more than occasionally since she began volunteering for the task more and more. It wasn't that she got a kick out of initiating compressed hydrogen tanks; it was who she would meet up with quite frequently that was of more interest to her. So, when Alan Carter asked her to take a break with him in the tiny Reconn snack room, she accepted, and a 20 minute break became over 60 minutes. During a fit of laughter, he spilled C-Total all over his tunic. Amused, Angelina helped him clean up. The effort of spot removal led to a moment when he took her hand and they gazed into each other's eyes. He leaned toward her to kiss her when....Pierre Danielle rounded the corner into the break room with a cheerful, 'What's up, guys?'
Ang smirked and immediately pull away, leaving with a 'See you later, Captain.' Carter glared momentarily at Pierre Danielle. "Big P" looked like he was about to be read a death sentence.
With words still choked in her throat, Angelina bolted the 8 or 10 steps to Carter and embraced him tightly, dropping her clipboard and notes in the process.
Carter wrapped arms around her that no Hawk on the purple planet could sever. The feeling of her cheek against his, her lips against his. His gratitude shook the ruler at him, reminding him always of just how close they had come to being separated for keeps. He arrived from Hangar Bay Three. Taking off from the garage had been a virtue. Landing in the garage was a necessity. Volunteers had managed to lower the platform by draining the hydraulics. There was no elevator, and there probably would be no elevator for some time to come. No elevator, no travel tube, not even a ready room. He unsuited in Corridor-M, before the stairwell leading up to the command tower. Before lifting off, the berth was filled with flight controllers, and technicians that he had worked with for years. Upon returning, there were no familiar faces--only a colloquy of random, unrelated personnel who had done their best to bring him in. Even in a situation like this, Gordon Cooper, and Tom Fitzpatrick would have met him at the airlock for the debriefing. This time, however, he and Graham walked away from Eagle One alone-there wasn't even a radiologist present to decontaminate them. The normal egress from Launch Pad Three, Corridor-C, was sealed behind the huge secondary bulkhead doors. Velma Hill, and Truman Strains stood solemn watch at this all too symbolic dead end, redirecting personnel to the remaining, functional areas of the base. He had to take the maintenance ladder one level up, to Corridor-H before he could find a safe exit.
"God, it's good to see you." He told the woman he loved while the remains of Moonbase Alpha settled all around them.
"Welcome back, Captain," Angelina congratulated kissed him tenderly again. She felt the tears forming in her eyes but held them back. She wanted to stay safe in his arms forever. Time, however, was marching on and not to their advantage. The situation with the power was bleak and they had 18 days worth of solar batteries....then....nothing. Carter nodded and smiled when she told him their son was OK, safe in the shelters below.
Reluctantly she let him go and gathered her notes. They silently traversed the short distance to the Commander's office. The mood inside was depressing yet sobering. Dr. Helena Russell was at the compost taking a report from Dr. Mathias; he was updating her on the casualty numbers and requesting more power. Sandra Benes and Paul Morrow were silently clearing away debris from the conference table and picking up chairs. Professor Bergman stared pensively out the view ports at the purple planet.
When Angelina Verdeschi and Alan Carter walked in, Koenig stepped down from his desk platform and motioned everyone to take a seat. Commander Koenig studied the exhausted and defeated faces before him, finally focusing in on Dr. Russell.
"Alright, Helena," Koenig began. "You first. Let's hear the bad news."
"The death tolls are still coming in." Russell explained. It was her first unpopular statement, but certainly not her last. "One hundred, and twenty-three people dead. Most of them were in crews assigned to launch pad areas." She reported, clearing away more of the plaster dust with the ball of her hand. "Mostly there's no trace of them...explosive decompression. Those who made it down to the shelters are pretty much alright. Those who didn't...." She trailed away, while making a clean spot for herself in the seat. "There's just no half-way about it."
Carter nodded, the air about him rife with horror, and dreams, and a surreal aspect that made green, box headed aliens from Mars seem cogent.
"Yeah...I watched four of them go myself." The pilot offered, now that the luxury of grief was affordable to him again. "There were four more after that. We have two pilots missing. I have no idea where they are, or what's become of them.
"Ten of our laser equipped Eagles were destroyed. Eagle One was badly damaged. We estimate that she'll be in dock for at least a month before it's okay to take her out again."
"It gets even better." Paul Morrow said, wondering if the over head klenco unit was going to collapse on him, or just hang askew. "Three of our launch pads are out of service. In all three cases, the platforms, and the lifters were simply blown away. The two emergency landing sites were also strafed. The hangar areas were compromised.
"The Experimental Laboratory is gone; Residence Building-B is gone. The security wing, and parts of medical center--intensive care, and the pharmacology labs, respectively--gone. There has been massive damage to the infrastructure of the base--particularly in maintenance, and services. Scanners, and sensors will be off-line for at least a week.
"Communications are still possible, but mostly on the short range frequency band. There's been no attempt from either the inner planet, or the outer planet to contact us. It seems their minds were made up the minute they saw us. Bad first impression, I suppose."
Sandra Benes, the Director of Services, cleared her throat as she organized her notes. "Hydroponics farm #1 has been destroyed and farm #2 has been severely damaged. Farm #3 is damaged but should be back in production in two weeks. Two of the protein synthesis units are damaged with repairs estimated from 6-8 weeks. The other protein synthesis unit is not as damaged but it will still take approximately 3-4 weeks to repair. We do have enough food in supply," Sandra paused mournfully," for the number of people left on the base, but we will have to ration."
She sat back, tapping her pen on her report. "Of most concern, however, is that our water recycling units have been damaged. The time to repair the least damaged one is approximately one week, best estimate. We will have to ration water in the meantime
Angelina had gotten up and slowly walked around the table as the others were giving their reports. In the shadow of the commander's desk, she imagined the presence of the grim reaper; tall, foreboding, long cloak with a sickle in its bony hands....waiting...as more grains of sand fell to the bottom of the hourglass. When Sandra finished, there was a moment of silence. Angelina was staring out at the viewport at the battered remnants of launch pad #1.
"Ang," the commander prompted, rolling his pen between his thumb and index finger. "What's the situation with Technical?"
Angelina slowly turned around and faced the group.
"All reactors are down. Reactor #1 is smashed beyond repair. Reactor #3 will required at least a year to repair and bring up. Reactor #4 and #5 will take a minimum of six months to repair. Reactor #2 is the least damaged. However, it will take an estimated 2 weeks to repair and another 3 weeks after that to bring it back online. That is assuming 24-7 repair operation and full concentration from manufacturing to fabricate parts."
Angelina leaned back against the wall. "We have the problem that Manufacturing Area A was completely destroyed. There is the prototype plating area, which Michelle Cranston is working on getting online now. However, my biggest problem is the lack of trained people."
She sighed heavily, crossing her arms and looking away momentarily. "I lost at least 60 engineers and technicians, mostly in the manufacturing and power generation area. Carter Jackson, Joan Conway, Joe Erhlich and I are the only remaining nuclear engineers plus a handful of nuclear technicians."
"However, I'm not sure any of this matters," Ang stated dismally. "We have less than 18 days of solar batteries left until they are exhausted."
Every person in the room fell silent. They were all intelligent enough to figure out quickly that 5 weeks to fix one reactor was 35 days...and 35 days was longer than 18 days.
"Professor Bergman and I have been discussing some options to reduce the time required for repairs. Mostly theoretical and potentially dangerous...."Angelina trailed off. At this point there was nothing more she could say.
Alan Carter listened to this memorandum to the bitter end. The permanent ellipses at the end of 'Ang's report was not lost on him. The pressure build-up from closed emotional dampers caused the pilot's iron boilers to explode. Her last paragraph caused his pipes to burst--his gauges erupted in spouts of blistering steam while the needle calibrations headed straight into the red. He pounded his fist against crap, and more crap which accomplished johnson, other than sending a precipitous cloud of crap up from the table top, and into everyone's faces.
Victor Bergman acknowledged his queue, and approached, stage front. In his mind, the cameras were rolling on him; the sound man had positioned his poodle-looking microphone in the professor's face. He had been probing, and shoveling, and excavating his psyche for some silver lining. Some sign that the waters were receding.
"Ah," He began, lubricating his throat. "We shall be within range of this planet for only four more days. Beyond that, the nearest star system is at least ten months too far."
Judging by the gimlet, suicidal ideation that stamped itself across the command team's collective faces, Bergman decided this was not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. He remembered his teaching days at MIT--a wry, but not altogether funny--adjunct professor had once given him a computer print out on The Politics Of Being Screwed. How horrendously unamusing it was that art so often imitates life. Porkus, The Almighty had indeed scattered Moonbase Alpha to the four winds. Terrible situation. The cosmos had given it's Final Exam--and they had flunked righteously. 'Ang's diatribe on experimental solutions for restarting the reactors was more cocktail party conversation than established Boolean Law. He had no idea how they were going to score a touch down with this one.
Disturbing, to say the least.
Alan Carter didn't need Telamon, or FOIL to help him connect the dots. Moonbase Alpha was out of the game, and nothing was going to change that. They were DOA; an offering to the anti-social gods of the purple planet, and there was nothing they could do about it. Well, actually, there was one thing they could do about it. Judgement had been passed, and their way of life was now ex nilo. On the other hand, humanity had its own toys, and a long, questionable history of using them. Rebuke from the mysterious planet orbiting Mu Cephei had been their down fall, their curse. However, they had their own curse--ready, willing, and all too able--in the lead protected silos beneath the leveled perimeter stations. In this sense, Carter could look out the viewport, and regard the binary world with the same empathy one would have for a serial killer who has been diagnosed as having Leukemia. They were dead also, but they were too cocky to realize it.
He waited until the end though to brook--what was to him--the most important topic.
Angelina was ready to offer the slim chance of their survival on Moonbase Alpha. She sat down again at the table and leaned forward on her elbows. "The main reason is will take 35 days to bring Reactor 2 back up is the amount of time it takes to initiate raw plutonium. To complete the repairs for the reactor itself, including fabricating the parts can be done in about 14 days. It will be a stretch but it can be done. However, it takes approximately 3 weeks to initiate the fuel and get the reaction going."
Angelina looked around making sure she wasn't losing everyone with the tech talk. "Remember the Alphearan wreck?" How could they not remember the wreck of the gargantuan ship discovered when they encountered the Conceit; Ang certainly did not forget that event.
"About 4 months ago, while Reconn crews were surveying the wreckage, we found some strange devices in what we think was the power generation area of the ship. One of them appears to be some sort of neutron accelerator. If we can figure out how it works and integrate it into our own system, it is possible, theoretically, to initiate the core in not weeks but days. However, it must be strictly controlled. If we make the plutonium too "rich", as it were, we could create a, uh, bomb."
"So when we throw the switch to start the reactor up," Paul interjected, "we could blow ourselves up."
Angelina glanced at Paul and nodded. "Yeah, that's sort of the idea, yes. But we'll do our best to make sure that doesn't happen.."
"!!!DO YOUR BEST?!?!!!!" Paul stood up, leaning forward on his knuckles toward her, the color of his ears nearly matched the flame red color of his sleeve. "Is that your plan? Just haphazardly make trial and error attempts to get this alien device to work and hope you don't kill us in the process?!?!? What the hell kind of plan is that?!?! We need a guarantee that..."
"!!!WAIT JUST A GODDAMN MINUTE!!!" Carter shouted, only inches from the controller's face. Paper work flew across the round table like refugees from an awry copying machine. Morrow's Damage Control Report soft landed in Helena Russell's lap. Glancing downward, she noticed the 92% threshold just beneath one of the dog-eared corners.
Slamming down the red flimsy and jumping up, Angelina launched her defense strike against Morrow.
"!!! I can't give you a fucking guarantee. We have to try it because we have noother choice!!! We are dead, Paul!!! Dead!!!! It's worth a try because we are dead in 18 days!! Capisce, amicio?!?!? Angelina's face was hot; she was so angry she would hardly see straight and was starting to shake. Mushroom clouds of plaster dust were billowing everywhere from the disturbed flimsy.
"Paul, 'Ang." Koenig advocated, stepping up to the table, he placed his right hand on Morrow's shoulder.
"That's not going to do us any good at all." Bergman said sympathetically.
Leaning back comfortably in his seat, his arms were folded calmly over his chest. "You can both hit the ceiling if you like, but eventually you'll have to come back down again. When you do, we'll still have the same problems, so you will have accomplished nothing."
"Alan." The commander said reasonably, and Carter returned to his dusty seat. Directly across from him, Helena Russell was attempting to cool 'Ang down. Morrow's report lay facedown in front of her.
Angelina felt Helena Russell's clawlike grip on her elbow, pulling her back into her seat. Head bowed, Angelina, now humbled, nodded silently. Since this little eruption now made two instances of losing control for her, she now felt like the ultimate hypocrite for chastising Ed Malcom and Marcus Profitt earlier. If she couldn't keep it together, how was she going to expect her people to maintain control?
Looking rather contrite she continued, "Paul's concern is valid. However, we have had the chance to play around with the unit since its discovery." Then looking directly at Paul. "I would give you a detailed plan on how we will proceed but frankly I do not have the resources or the time for paperwork. If you have specific questions, I will answer them for you." The effort of keeping her voice calm, even and without shaking was beginning to hurt Angelina's throat.
"Do what you can." Koenig said gently, regarding the smoke, and rubble that was gyrating through the execution haze outside. He tapped his pen against the table thrice considerately. "In the end--whatever we do, or don't do here--I'm afraid there's only one viable solution." He dropped his pen, ignoring it as it rolled away in a semi-circle. "Paul, I want you to put an unarmed Eagle on a functional launch pad.
"Helena, you and I are going down there."
As expected, this enterprise found less support than Standard Oil, and Ghonnoreah combined.
Morrow's stress runneth over. His bomb--not the one caused by riching Plutonium--had actually been defused. Placation had begun to set in, until he heard the commander's last statement. The old ticked off feeling returned, and his belief in irony, and stupidity found a new life.
Carter almost hammered the table again, but at the last minute, settled for an exhausted groan of disagreement, and flabbergastation.
"I rather thought they were trying to tell us to stay away." Bergman admitted, pointing over his shoulder to the lavender island beyond the view port.
Sandra and Ang stared at each other in utter disbelief.
"Commander," Angelina spoke first, "That's suicide! The professor is right. I mean, what do you hope to get accomplish?"
"If they wanted us to go down there, Commander," Sandra finished, "their invitation would have been a lot friendlier. It's madness to go there, sir!" Sandra's warm brown eyes turned dark and piercing.
"Madness." Carter said. "Yep, it sure is."
"Listen." Koenig said adamantly. "We're down to the point where we're praying for miracles. You want to know why the attack stopped? It's because they no longer need to bother. Alpha is dead. Now unless one of you has a better idea, the only course of action I can see is to go down there, meet them face to face on their own turf, and try to persuade them to talk."
No one had a better idea. Koenig stared at each one of them and they all looked away, vanquished, except for Carter. Carter would not be stared down and was about to accept the challenge.
Paul silently got up and headed to Main Mission to prepare the Eagle for Koenig's and Russell's reconnaissance to the purple planet, followed closely by Sandra. Helena Russell also went into Main Mission to communicate with Dr. Mathias for a status and casualty update. Professor Bergman told Angelina he would meet her in the Reactor 2 area in one hour and left out the side door.
During this time, Angelina was watching Carter. He was staring at Koenig, waiting for the opportunity to talk to him privately. He made no effort to leave the room. Koenig had walked up the steps and returned to his desk.
Angelina knew Carter well enough to see that a nasty confrontation was about to commence. She attempted to avert his potential political suicide by trying to get him to leave with her.
"Come with me and let's go see Nicky. Please?" She whispered.
"Can't." The pilot answered numbly. The Aussie in him pronounced the word as 'cahn't. "You go ahead though." He said, brightening. "I'll be along in a bit. Got some business to take care of."
From over 'Ang's shoulder, Koenig turned from his desk, his right eyebrow raised quizzically. He appeared to acknowledge that he was being stared at, and gave Carter a penetrating gaze of his own.
Like the incoming tide in the Bay of Fundy, Angelina clearly saw there was no way to stop him. "OK," she said, reluctantly, in a low voice.
With a nod toward the Commander as she left through the exit from his office, Angelina headed toward the shelters. She had not seen her son since the attack began and she would probably only have 30 minutes or so to interact with him. She would then go to Reactor #2 and begin the daunting task of attempting to make a miracle; resurrecting the dead reactor in less than 18 days instead of 35 days..
Once upon a time, there was a breaker panel beneath Paul Morrow's desk. Adjacent to the phone lines, and cable modem floor brackets, it was concealed with a plate that was uniform to the industrial gray linoleum that covered Main Mission wall, to wall. It used to aggravate the controller, since on more than one occasion, he would shift, and his boot heel would accidentally flip the hatch into the upwards position. Of course, he would have to bend down to close it again, and when he did--particularly in the days since Breakaway--he would get a laser beam, acid reflux reaction. The breaker box was hooked to a main bus panel that was located beneath the capcomm station, and it was a secondary bulkhead power conduit. Routed to it was the big, Main Mission doors.
Back in the days when Anton Gorski was at the height of his political wheeling, and dealing, it was possible to accidentally cause the big doors to open. But that had been a boon, considering that commander's anemic ethos, and considering the absence of fresh air, and sunshine laws.
Thanks to the butchering, Nazi Regime on the purple planet, the doors were now idiot proof. For all of that, they would never be closed again. Ten strong men, and elbow grease. That's the only way you could still close them. Unless, Morrow mused sarcastically, 'Ang found something in the Alphearan Wreck that her on-the-cusp team could use to adapt the mechanism. Door knobs, for example. How very innovative.
The more he thought about it, the angrier he got.
The lack of closure also ensured that Alan Carter's voice would echo loud, and clear throughout the control center.
"You're considering an exodus from the base, aren't you?" The pilot asked John Koenig, while only a few feet away from the now vacant conference table.
Commander Koenig once again stood up and walked down the 3 steps to the conference table in the pit, now about 4 feet from Carter.
"Considering it? Most definitely. At this point, evacuation is our only option. You heard the reports, Captain. There is no other choice. Do you have any other suggestions?"
"No sir, I do not." The pilot replied, candidly hitching his thumbs over the rim of his belt. He had no other suggestions, mostly because they were up the creek, sans paddle. 'Ang was the best in her field. On Alpha, she was the only game in town. There was something to be said about inalienable truths, though. Most of the time, Carter's desktop locked up whenever a file was downloaded from the Map Room. They had a difficult enough time trying to get computers to talk to one another on Earth. It was nothing short of Providence that the Internet was ever made to work. Binary chips, and vacuum tubes did not lend themselves to cannibalization, and conformity. The chances of her succeeding in marrying alien technology to Alpha technology was regrettably laughable. "But the way you're handling this is wrong headed.
"The time for talking is over. It's been over."
The tension was so thick, you could seal ruptured Moonbase sections with it.
"I see," Koenig turned away dismissively and began heading back up the stairs. Turning back toward him while halfway up the steps, Koenig queried, "and what would you suggest as an alternative to 'talk'? Speak up, Carter, if you have a suggestion in mind."
Koenig was not in the frame of mind to get into it with Carter right now, considering the situation. He was using every ounce of control he had left to not throw him out; he should have left with Ang.
"You know exactly what I'd suggest as an alternative." The pilot said, well entrenched. He had a lot of anger, and no problem at all focusing it.
Koenig shook his head. "Now what the hell good will that do? Devastate the planet with the 11 remaining missiles and what does that buy Alpha?! Nothing...Absolutely nothing. Unless Victor and Ang can work a miracle, we'll still be dead in less than 18 days."
On the commstation behind Carter, one of the Alpha test pattern appeared, and disappeared like a fleeting thought of salvation. Bits of dry wall mud continued to escape the condemned modu-form ceiling panels. The low rider sofa--once white, but now blood red in the shadow of the emergency bulbs--continued to catch most of it. Then the discussion headed down an entrails smeared cemetery, with Carter wielding his saber, and warrior's shield over Moonbase Alpha's tombstone.
"I don't believe in miracles." The pilot decided. "If we go down there with our pants down--which is what you're suggesting, commander, then we're dead any way." Carter opined. "And personally, after what's happened here, I see no reason not to take a few of them with us. Petrov can have those birds primed, and ready to fly in less than fifteen minutes. If you declare Def-Con Four now, those bastards will be pushing up daisies by nightfall. I haven't seen any thing they've got that could stop it."
Koenig shook his head--firmly, and incontrovertibly, the answer was NO.
"Take out their most populated areas." Carter went on, and on, and on. "When they're on their knees, we can evacuate to the far side of the planet, and not have to 'freakin worry about a bunch of Hawks blowing our unarmed passenger Eagles out of the sky."
Koenig was now down the step and standing face to face, about 3 feet away from Carter. "Then what do you propose? We hit them, we land on the planet and you don't expect them to hit us again?! Do you honestly think all would be well and we would live happily ever after?!?"
Koenig did not allow him to answer. "Of course not! At some point, sooner or later, they would hit us again. We would have zero chance of ever calling a truce or establishing peace because we would certainly be labeled the aggressors!" Koenig wasn't sure why he was engaging Carter in this discussion.
"!!We're already labeled as the aggressors!!" Carter fortissimoed. "!!Christsake commander; no one sends Hawks on a diplomatic mission. !!Those ships had one thing in mind, and it wasn't talk!! They came to annihilate us, and I've got news for you--they succeeded!!
"!!!These guys play for keeps!!! !!!If we send our ships into an unsecured perimeter, they'll make mince meat of them!!! !!!!WE'VE GOT TO LAY DOWN A SUPRESSING STRIKE!!!!
The last statement was loud enough, and bodacious enough to draw notice from Paul Morrow, who was well out of conventional ear shot, on the operations level of Main Mission. Klaus Rotstein craned his nosey neck from his perch on the capcomm station. Best two out of three, Morrow thought disapprovingly, but crawled after the breaker again any way.
No luck. The rear of the auditorium was a wide stage for Carter's views, and contentions.
Koenig was beginning to become agitated. "Suppressing strike?!?! Are you that confident, Carter, that we will be successful in a suppressing strike?!? By hitting their major population centers and then attempting to force our way onto the planet, we will guarantee war, misery and hostility for years to come!! Think beyond tomorrow, Captain! Is that the kind of future you want for your son?!?"
"I want the same thing for all of us." The pilot announced. "A fighting chance. !!!GOING DOWN THERE WITH OUR PANTS UNZIPPED DOES NOT FULFILL MY DEFINITION OF THAT!!! It may be a bad hand, no matter what we pull, but if we die, at the very least, we'll die trying!!"
Koenig shook his head. "You're being unreasonable, Carter. The only way we can successfully achieve Operation Exodus is to go down there, meet them face to face and try to come to an understanding. Then, maybe then, we may have a chance of settling on the planet."
"I sincerely hope you're right." Carter replied quietly, giving the old tonsils a rest. "If you're not, the bloodiest massacre of all has yet to come."
With that, the pilot did an about face on blazing heels, and stormed through the carbon polluted air to the corridor exit. The crippled book shelf insert--standing, but only barely--finally collapsed, sending useless Anton Gorski trinkets all over the heat wizened, plastic chair, and the burned, and pitted floor tiles. One of the dubious thingamajigs was a cheap smelling tea light that was shaped like a four leaf clover. Carter left to prepare an Eagle for a diplomatic mission that didn't stand a snow ball's chance in hell. It was nice to know where they stood. He took with him his rage, but left behind a question that was bigger than the Moon could hold.
Commander Koenig turned up the stairs and sat in the high back imitation leather chair at his desk. In the near darkness, with the eerie glow of the red emergency lights, Koenig sat for at least 10 minutes, his right hand covering his eyes. Koenig stabbed at a com-panel button.
"Petrov," answered the tactical technician.
"Petrov, I want you to prepare two...no three of the birds in the silos for launch....on my order or Professor Bergman's order only." Koenig quietly commanded. In Koenig's mind, he may need the dreaded nukes for protection for his Reconn mission to the planet with Dr. Russell.
"Right, sir," Petrov signed off. He knew exactly the reference for the "birds in the silos" as he statused the 11 remaining warheads and picked his "candidates."
At that point, Dr. Helena Russell silently walked up to his desk. "I'm ready," was all she said.
Koenig stood up and they exchanged a momentary gaze. "We need to see Victor on the way to the Eagle."
Russell nodded and followed Koenig out through Main Mission.
Dr. Helena Russell began the process of suiting up in an EVA suit in the passenger compartment of the unarmed Eagle 16. Hangar 4 under Launch Pad 4 was the only hangar area that was still pressurized, though the boarding tube was not functional. As the lift raised the Eagle to the surface, it suddenly stopped, half way up the shaft, and Helena Russell nearly lost her balance. Koenig caught her, preventing her from crashing into the bulkhead. Evidently the hydraulics for the platform were still in need of further repairs.
Helena followed Koenig silently into the Command module and took the co-pilots chair as Koenig prepared to launch Eagle 16, from the half down/half up launch platform.
"What do you think we'll find down there, John?" She broke the silence, nervously and unconsciously clenching and unclenching her gloved hands.
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," Koenig snickered, pulling his safety harness over his right shoulder. "Little bit of this; a little bit of that."
A little bit of death; a little bit of "NO." Wherever you went, war was war. Innocent people are slaughtered, senselessly, and for reasons far, and away from the political impetus that started it--and the winners are not the ones who need to worry about deposturing. The peace mission was less about Operation Exodus, and more about being able to say they tried. Even if their ship was blasted into sub-atomic bits.
The main motors powered up to an inexorable burn. Koenig punched the three white start-up switches to the right of the console, thereby bringing the navigational computer on-line. The scanner blip appeared automatically. Grasping the floor mounted handle, he pulled the lever to the MANUAL position. Moments later, the green light was given from Main Mission. The countdown clock reset itself at 00.00 as Morrow cleared them for launch.
"Ten seconds to lift-off, commander." The controller informed them. "RETRO, and PROCEDURES are go. Your HRT-Tanks are pressurized. Static charge compensated."
"Right." Koenig replied, taking up the yoke. "Let's do it. Paul, keep trying to contact the outer planet." He paused, and then, finding a grape of confidence on an uncertain branch. "Also, I want you to start hailing the inner planet."
"Yes sir." He said finally, and terminated the link.
He burned the keel thrusters for fifteen seconds. Eagle One Six lifted off from the sunken platform like a gold miner that was tired of digging. He spared Helena a glance, momentarily, watching the stars pass by her on the upward elevator ride. He also got a first hand look a one of the collapsed travel tube tunnels, and the mountain of carnage that used to be Corridor-M. Before long, the purple planet floated serenely into position--again outside of Helena's vision port, but Koenig pulled hard to starboard, aligning the world's terminator with the nose cone of the command module.
"Here we go." He said. The vertical ascent, slowing to a hover.
Koenig fired the main motors.
In the Main Mission tower, Morrow repeated his call over and over and over again.
"This is Moonbase Alpha. We are people from the planet Earth. The ship approaching you now is unarmed. We ask that mercy be shown for the people remaining on this base......"
Danny Chan frowned at the computer station, discerning the plethora of software error messages generated by main computer, scrolling down the monitor. Captain Alan Carter, at the capcomm station monitoring the progress of Eagle 16, shook his head as Morrow started to sound like a broken record.
Sandra Benes was under a console attempting to effect a repair with Tanya Alexander when, an electric arc from a control circuit caused Tanya to rise up suddenly, whacking her head and cursing loudly.
Various other Main Mission Operatives were attempting repairs and clean ups under the direction of Andy Dempsey.
In Eagle 16, Helena Russell sat in silence as she watched the purple planet get closer and closer and closer. The swirling clouds had a gray tinge and almost resembled pollution. It was not an attractive world. Helena had the feeling that its appearance was caused by an unnatural disaster. Once they reached the troposphere, the view did not get any better. It was truly a desolate world. Crossing the terminator from night into day did not make it better.
Suddenly the ship shuttered and Helena Russell was alarmed as John Koenig began to furiously push buttons and throw switches.
He was still trying to gain control of the ship five minutes later when planet fall occurred. At 50,000 feet, he actually shut down the drive system; the end result was that they kept right on descending. The vacuum of space disappeared, as did the stars. Eagle 16 was pulled down through one primitive shade of lavender after another, growing lighter as their altitude decreased. The command module was jarred again the moment contact with the atmosphere was made. Koenig released the yoke, and folded his arms casually over his chest. A picture is worth more than a 1,000 words. He regarded Helena Russell with a look that said it all. Some one, or some thing, had just replaced him as pilot.
"People of Earth, do not be afraid." A female voice announced redundantly over the intercom. Their mastery of the English Language was impeccable. It was cordial, but cool. Sensitive, but at the same time, having the timbre of one who feels comfortable sitting on a bucket of crushed ice. It reminded Koenig of the HAL-9000 computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey. "We have taken control of your vessel. Stand by to land."
Then the kilometers clicked by at breakneck speed. Eagle 16 was delivered through a black ribbon of clouds, with sulfur vapors rising upwards from the red, irradiating land forms in the east. Ecologically, the purple planet was a Greenpeace nightmare of out-of-control waste, and unrestraint. They were pulled over a dead sea of salt water, and unrefined oil deposits. By the time they began their final descent, a huge post-industrial continent rolled beneath them, with pockets of blue steam, exuenting from flaming smoke stacks. At 5,000 feet, they saw one factory after another. No sign of farm land, or even an area that could reasonably support crops. The buildings were Neo-Gothic in design--medieval fortresses, complete with ramparts, and crenellated walls; framed in yellow grass, and dead white shrubbery. Arching bridges, united with redstone, and pitch. Pollution blackened keeps with ovular stained glass windows, cranoogs, and adjacent tower houses. As their air speed was reduced, Koenig noticed that the structure they were being pulled towards looked a lot like the Notre Dame Cathedral on Earth.
There was no sign of pedestrians on the cobble stone streets. No people, no motor vehicles, no wildlife--not even fouls in the air.
Eagle 16 approached a raised, circular platform and Helena Russell surmised it was the launch pad. The landing area, however, was overrun with the yellow grass and white shrubbery. Needless to say, it looked like it hadn't been used in years, decades, even centuries. Eagle 16 hovered over the archaic landing area and its retros fired, lowering it on the platform.
The doors from the command module and service module to the passenger module slid open. Helena immediately went to the scanners.
"We won't need our helmets," she reported to Koenig. "Atmosphere is breathable but it is dense with pollutants: carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide. Here." Helena injected the Commander and then herself with a laser hypo. "This substance is rich in concentrated oxygen. We are not use to the level of pollutants in this atmosphere and they could make us sick, as in nauseous and light headed. This little boost will help our bodies with the sudden oxygen deprivation," she finished, patting his wrist reassuringly.
Koenig nodded, rolling back in the pilot's seat, flexing his muscle to get the hypo moving. A tainted ground fog--acrid, and lion shaped--rolled by the forepeak, causing a brown condensation to bleed from the view ports. The planet's atmosphere flooded the personnel areas. Helena was right. The air was breathable, but harsh. Catching a whiff of it, it reminded Koenig of hangar bay oil, and grease; nitrozine rocket fuel, and puddles of escaped coolant, half dried in some saturation compound. Grinders, reforming warped metal--emitting sparks, and the smell from hell.
He unclipped his laser as he, and Helena Russell made their way towards the gaping airlock. The scorched grass at the bottom of the steps was slippery with dew. Caught in the branches of the largest dead tree in the court yard, and over top a march of smoke stacks in the west, they could see the Moon, roiling in, and out of the unfiltered exhaust. Helena Russell's horror was note worthy. She stood beside what appeared to be a bird bath, cracked, and desiccated from a thousand seasons of chemical rain, snow, and thaw.
It gave futile, pathetic meaning to T.S. Eliot's definition of 'wasteland.'
Koenig approached one of the stone sculptures--a bearded, law giving humanoid male. He was holding a great book under his right forearm, and pointing towards the disintegrating sky with his left index finger. The companion sculpture that framed the opposite side of the promenade was almost identical, save for the fact that it appeared to be a female of the race, eyes militant, and severely shadowed to points on her granite cheeks. The ambassadors turned suddenly--both holding their lasers. The explosion could not have been half a kilometer away. Helena Russell pressed her right palm against her forehead, startled, and pained. Koenig heard a ringing in his ears. It could have been the enemy mine launching a sneak attack.
But more than likely, the noise came from activity in one of the factory complexes.
The two crossed a narrow bridge that dead ended in a tangle of vines. The wall of the cathedral, easily 700 feet high, was completely covered with bramble, and ancient blackberry creepers. Using his gloved hands, Koenig tore away the vines until he had unearthed the light source beneath. It was an open doorway--the wooden frame, and hinges rusted orange. The crystal knob was covered with algae. There was no apparent locking mechanism. The flag stones on the opposite side met unevenly like disagreeing continents. The stairwell to the mezzanine level was covered with leaves, crushed green milk balls, dirt, and broken twigs. He pulled Helena Russell inside as rain began to pelt the ground, turning to refinery steam, and then wafting back into the atmosphere.
They mounted to the central corridor, and moved forward in the shadow of the mammoth, over head ceiling fans. Dank, mildewed tapestries lined the walls on either side. The way was lit mostly by candelabras. Enough light to see, but predisposing them to avenues incomprehensible. The search ended in one of the brick, octagonal tower rooms. Before them was a wooden table, shaped like a crescent. Ten figures, seated side by side, scrutinized them emotionlessly. Koenig could barely discern their cheek bones, and mouth. He was about to give them up for dead when, slowly, they drew their hoods back.
Dr. Helena Russell was amazed; they even looked like medieval inquisitioners. Helena was also pondering the fact that she had not seen anything yet to suggest that the technology of the people of this planet could support space flight. Yet the Hawks came from this planet!
The ten figures, 5 males and 5 females, stared somberly at Koenig and Russell. After an uncomfortably long wait, an elderly female in the center of the group addressed them.
Her long gray hair was pulled back into a single braid. If she was from earth, it could have been guessed that she was well into her 80's. On the ring finger of her right hand, she wore a ring with a huge blood red, stone. She pointed her wizened right index finger at Koenig, the light from the candelabra dancing off the blood red stone ring.
"Speak Earthman." The cloaked elder in the center seat said robotically, her voice echoing through the stone cathedral. "State your case...."
"Why did you attack us." Koenig exclaimed, stepping forward into the garish arena of torches.
Helena Russell studied the chiseled faces for some kind of reaction. She discovered only an icy pathos.
"We've been trying to contact this planet since the moment we first became aware of it's existence. !!When you did respond, it was with Hawks, and bombers!!"
The physician felt certain that the third person on the right shifted in her seat. Then, too much time elapsed, and she determined that it was probably her imagination.
"!!!Dammit, answer me!!!" Koenig said furiously, leaning against the table. The ten faces were far away mannequins, toiling not, neither did they spin. "You asked me to state my case. Here it is: we came in peace. !!You attacked my people, and destroyed my base!! !!!Now you've left us without the means to live!!!"
Helena Russell shared the outrage, the futility. She felt the hatred expiate in her like an exhausted fuse.
The female leader finally answered, monotoned and emotionless. "You cannot stay here. You have no place in space. You have no future."
Russell step forward and exploded. "We cannot live on Alpha!! Who are you to deny us out future?!?!" Her cheeks were hot; she was enraged as she unconsciously unclipped the holster of her side arm.
"You aligned yourselves with our enemy--the darkest, unholiest prince ever conceived." The ancient female said, freezing Helena Russell's and John Koenig's spirit cold. From beneath the dark hood, she appeared to have no eyes, only dark holes that dissipated somewhere past her cheeks. "Trust me, you have no future...."
"You are wrong! We do have a future! We have survived despite astronomical odds and we will continue to survive!!" Helena rebuked, nearly shouting.
As if on cue, all 10 aliens silently shook their heads to the negative in unison.
"It has taken over a millennia to build our perfect way of life." Male Elder, fourth from the left said easily. "You, and your kind will not be allowed to contaminate that. You are a virus--prone to violence, and negative emotions, like fear."
"Fear." Male Elder, third from the right chimed. The most malodorous lyric in the universe.
"Fear." Male Elder, second from left made the final, dire affirmation. "Go back to your base. God's judgement is unalterable."
It was like a crossword puzzle, and the answer to fifteen across was ATTENTION DEFICIT. Some things just couldn't be fixed, and they had known the probability before sticking their hands into the jelly bean bowl. Koenig saw what was about to happen, and gently placed his hand on Helena's trigger finger.
"Very well." The commander said. The guts of anger, and disappointment were all tightly sewed up. "We're leaving. We came in peace, and now we shall leave you in peace.
"Know this though: Whatever happens next, you've brought it on yourselves."
"If you threaten us out of emotion," the 1st female on the left responded, "your emotions shall be turned against you. It is our only means of defense."
"You are ruled by emotions....fear, anger, hatred. You have chosen our enemy as your ally. Reject the negative emotions and you will have rejected our enemy. Embrace them...and they will destroy you."
The lead female elder sighed. "It appears you are destined to die."
Helena Russell spoke to the assembly. "Again, you are wrong. We will survive," as she allowed Koenig to take her firing hand from her weapon at her side.
Then, silently, Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell left the great hall, to return to the Eagle.
"Now slowly," Bram Cedrix said through the helmet mike, his handle-bar moustache, all in an uproar. "Pull the lever back, and hold on."
The volunteers were a good five meters above the abandoned cherry picker. We were within the bowels of Launch Pad Three. During it's hyacinth, it was the best maintained facility on Moonbase Alpha. Somewhere (probably on the lunar surface...now) there was a plaque of former Mercury Astronaut John Glenn, cutting a red ribbon to celebrate the opening of the area. Nichol Halverson--commander of the base at the time demurred, slightly off camera. Now, all of the people who used to maintain her were stone, cold dead. The task of repairing the lubricated gizzards fell to Hugo Willet, who had begun his day as a dish washer; laboring under the verbal, and spiritual lash of Gonzales, the mean head cook.
Light years away, John Glenn became Time Magazine's man of the year, 1994. Nichol Halverson retired to Bermuda. Gonzales' work load was now greatly reduced, having a hundred some odd less mouths to feed. Hugo Willet was stuck having to repair the launch pad, and he was oh, so unmechanicallly inclined. Like Pierre Danielle, lost in some gray epoch on the far side of the Moon, all he ever wanted was peace, and quiet.
"!!!What's this supposed to do, anyway!!!" Willet yelled, as steam poured from the open pit cocks after pulling the lever. After giving himself the makings for a splitting, damn headache, he realized that one need not yell when one is communicating viz. wave radio.
"We're repressurizing the ballast." Cedrix explained. "You're doing a fine job of it too. I feel bad for you, Willet. All of that talent wasted on Calgon, and grease pits, and Hobart Meat Slicers. You know, we could use another hand in Technical Section."
He promised to speak to Angelina Verdeschi on his behest.
"No thanks." Willet said. He didn't much care for the mortality rate. "So, are we going to evacuate?"
"I don't know." Cedrix admitted. "First, they say "yes," and then they say "no." The last I heard the commander is on his way back."
"With an important announcement." Willet finished for him, and Cedrix nodded.
They had both heard the same rumor, apparently. "Can I come down now?"
Four hours later, Willet had a sprained lumbago, and Launch Pad Three still wasn't functioning.
By his own account, William Gregory Harms III was born to greatness--it was truly the stuff of a Horatio Alger novel. Born to Hector, and Gladys Harms in the city of Milan (North Dakota, and not the other Milan which is in the exotic Mediterranean; Milan, North Dakota was not exotic; Milan, North Dakota made Gary, Indiana look like the Nassau), he was ambitious, and he worked hard, and he worked smart. He over came his father's predilection for gambling, and the mass consumption of Pastrami Sandwiches. At the tender age of 16, he was appointed to West Point by Senator Alden H. Boyntner (D)--young Harms' reward for pulling his daughter out from beneath the wheels of a CSI Garbage Truck.
"No way." Pierre Danielle commented.
Sensing the unnecessary monster of jealousy, floating upward from the well of his fellow patriot's soul, WGA promised maternally to abbreviate his personal history. According to Harms, he was awarded elite, prestigious firing range commendations for his deft use of the Uzi nine millimeter assault weapon, and the Russian SKS. As a matter of fact, he didn't like to admit it, but he took the trophy for the Army/Navy sharp shooter competition in the spring of 1994. From there, it was off to the White House, for a special ceremony, hosted by President William Jefferson Clinton. The most powerful man in the world talked about many things, problems in Haiti, Socialized Healthcare Policies--his favorite Havana Corona Cigars. Notation was given to his favorite interns. One was named Monique, or Michellette, or Monica. Harms wasn't sure. Any way, when the time came for the Blue Ribbon Winner to share of himself, the Commander, And Chief was highly disappointed by the young man's level of quietude, and humility. However, General Schwarzkopft was there for the gala, and saw something--call it an ignoble presence; call it a war toxin to duty; call it acid indigestion from too many oeuvre doeurves.
"Jesus, help me," wept Pierre Danielle.
The next day, he began his career as an NSC Agent. There were times, Harms was sure you knew, when he had bitten off more than he could chew. The record showed, that he took the blows, and did it his way. There was the time when he single handedly rounded up a Hamas assassination, burglary, murder squad using a Laws Rocket. This he had seized from a rank amateur, who was obviously a jar head in descent. All of this occurred on the lawn of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Life can not be all stress, however, so it wasn't long after receiving the Bronze Cluster for uncommon bravery, and service, that he resigned from Uncle. After that, he slummed it, by his own admission--rewriting an otherwise bleak history for the Pinkerton Association. In no time, Harms became General Of The Washington Guard. He remembered the sturm, the drang, the unexpected scrapes with The Boney One. So much to correct, and or, come to terms with. There was "The Case Of The Missing Bathroom Tissue," and let us not forget his entanglement with "The League Of Sexually Harassing, Male Chauvinist Pig, Fellow Guards." The most disquieting was "The Stolen Tires From The Firestone Plant Adventure."
It could be said that his boots were shod for magnificence though. The limelight couldn't stay off of William Gregory Harms III for long, so he soon landed back in the service. This time it was a Navy commission. Before him was pilot's training, and a hungry Tomcat--all after burners, and Hellfire Cruise Missiles--ready to prowl enemy lands for gross sustenance.
That was the way their hike progressed. Harms went around, around, around, around, around, around, as Kurt Cobain would say. Pierre Danielle was already driven to the brink of madness, and they still had fifty miles to go.
Angelina quickly made her way to the area of Reactor #2. Her reunion with her child was both disheartening and joyful. Joyful, in the sense that she was indescribably happy to see him again, safe from the carnage above. However, her visit was also disheartening in that she would be seeing very little of him for the next several days. The probability of success was almost nil and logically, it made sense for her to forget about attempting the integration of the alien device into the reactor and spend her last days with her family. Love is not borne of logic and Angelina would never consider such a thought. She had to try. She had to make it work. She would make it work.
Professor Bergman met her in front of one of the secondary bulkheads, removing his EVA suit. Currently, there was no atmosphere in Reactor 2 area, though the environmental engineers were working on it.
"How is he," Bergman asked Angelina, as he removed his gloves.
"He's fine, professor," Angelina replied, as she stepped into her suit, beginning the cumbersome process of donning an EVA suit. "What's the situation in there?"
"Well," Bergman began, "Carter Jackson is evaluating the condition of the coolant system."
"And," Bergman continued, now unzipping his suit," well, Jackson was cursing quite loudly when I left."
"Hmmm," Angelina replied, "a bit unusual for Carter. I wish George Crato had made it," Angelina sighed, "He was the resident expert in the coolant systems. Carter knows it somewhat and he had been working with George but..." She trailed off.
"There's no sense in wasting our energy wishing for the impossible, is there," Bergman stated paternally. "Joan Conway is evaluating the transformers. Garret Logan and a couple other Eagle power techs are in there helping as well."
"How's the core?" Angelina inquired, locking the seal on her gloves.
"Further analysis shows that the infrastructure of the housing is OK and the plutonium rods are only 25% spent. But they still need to be initiated....." He replied trailing off. "I'm going to work on the calculation for the neutron accelerations and the time required to initiate the core in a 3 day period versus a 3 week period using the Alphearan device." He pat her reassuringly on the shoulder. "You work on getting the device integrated into our systems."
Angelina now had her helmet on and it was sealed. She gave the Professor the thumbs up as he turned to leave. Angelina opened the secondary bulkhead, closed it and depressurized, stepping into the Reactor 2 area when depressurization was complete....Angelina was weary but it was going to be a long night....
Michelle Cranston struggled with the etchant caked nozzle on the prototype etch machine. Donned in an engineering jumpsuit, she wore rubber gloves that went up to her armpits and boots that went up to her mid-thigh. The fume respirator mask combined with the goggles were hot, making her sweat even more.
"AAARRRRRGGGGGGHHHH," she yelled as the nozzle began to unscrew, turning on the spray bar for the first time in a long time, if ever. The last nozzle was always the toughest to remove, for some reason. It also had to be dead center in the etchant chamber making the job that much nastier.
"OK," Michelle instructed the technician, her voice muffled by the respirator mask. "Take the nozzles and clean them...and hey, make sure it's done under a hood, right? Then we can put them back on the machine, fill it and we're ready to go."
"No problem," the technician answered, also muffled voice, with a thumbs up.
"Yeah, and get a move on, OK?" Michelle yelled after the tech. He responded by quickening his pace. Out of the corner of her eye, Michelle saw Angelina Verdeschi motioning to her through the glass observation window in the late Patrick Osgood's office. Michelle welcomed the opportunity for a "break" since she hadn't taken one in several hours.
As petite, slim, and blonde Michelle Cranston entered the office, Angelina motioned her to take a seat, asking "How's it going, Michelle?"
Michelle noticed instantly that the Chief of Technical Operations looked exhausted. Angelina poured coffee from a thermos she brought with her and gave a cup to Michelle.
"Thanks," Michelle took the cup and immediately took a sip. "Well, its going. We are actually building fabs but it is a step by step process. You know, get the machine up, perform the operation on the panels, get the machine up, perform the next operation on the panels, etc."
Angelina nodded. "That's good news...the prototype area has been down for so long. I knew it would be difficult to get the equipment going again."
"Yeah," Michelle agreed, "but I like a challenge...and boy, am I getting one now. Actually, once the etcher is up and panels go through, we can depanelize the boards and begin adding the components. I'm hoping sometime late tomorrow. Buddy Benelli is working on the surface mount machines now." Michelle set her cup down and rubbed her forehead with both hands. "I got spoiled with the state of the art equipment in the manufacturing complex. Now, I have the old, rinky-dink prototype stuff to work with..I guess it could be worse..I could have no equipment."
"You got that right," Angelina concurred, cupping her coffee with both hands. The power conservation efforts had already kicked in and the air temperature was starting to get chilly. She made a mental note to make sure the manufacturing folks received their thermal jackets as soon as possible. "How are you on people?"
"Well, the services section people are working out OK, I guess. No worse than the Rocky Balboa security guards," Michelle paused mournfully. Many of the "Rockys" she had trained were dead....blown out into space when security section had suffered a structural breach. She shook her head, holding back the emotion. "Yeah, and I finally got an Electronics Tech down here to fix the in-circuit tester."
"Finally?" Angelina inquired.
"Yeah," Michelle answered. "Finally. I called Main Mission because I wanted Marcus Profitt down here and they sent that bozo Ed Malcom. Well, Paul Morrow gives me attitude and tells me that Profitt is fixing the Big Screen. Oh yeah, I'm thinking, fixing the big screen is more important than fixing the circuit fab equipment? The reactor won't be up in 16 days because the boards will not be ready and we'll all be dying, but AT LEAST THE GODDAMN BIG SCREEN IS WORKING! "
Angelina smirked slightly and took another swallow of coffee. "Next time you need something like that done, call me and let me deal with Controller Morrow, OK?" Angelina said gently.
"Sure, gladly..Anyway," Michelle continued, "maybe Professor Bergman intervened because within like 20 minutes Marcus came in...and fixed it in about 15 minutes..after Malcom spent nearly an hour messing with it."
Michelle looked up and saw the technician with the pail of now clean nozzles return to the etcher, donning his safety gear. "Well, " she stood up," my boy is back with his bucket. Time to put the etcher together and fire her up."
Angelina also stood up. She just wanted to check on Michelle's progress and to see how Michelle was holding up. "Yeah, I need to get back to the Reactor. Let me know if you need anything. I'll try to catch you later tomorrow if I don't hear from you."
"Sure, thanks, "Michelle started to leave. "Oh, uh, Ms. Verdeschi?"
"Please, Michelle, there is no need for formality right now...call me Ang."
"OK.. Ang? Has anyone heard from, " Michelle paused, not sure if she should ask but she was dying to know. "...from Pierre Danielle?"
Angelina turned and smiled. "Oh? I didn't know you were close."
"Uh, no...just friends...pals, you know," Michelle was blushing and took a drink of coffee to hide her facial expression. Yes, Michelle Cranston and Pierre Danielle were friends...buds...pals. Michelle secretly wished they were more than pals. But in the area of love and romance, Michelle, unlike the rest of her personality, was painfully shy. She would rather remain just friends than to take the risk of not spending any time around him ever again because she wanted more and he probably not and the resulting awkwardness causing them to not even be friends anymore.
"Oh, I see, "Angelina nodded, not believing her. '"Actually, the sensors were down. We didn't know exactly where they were but the last reports had them crash landing on the lunar surface, about 100 miles from here. The short range sensors just came back online and we are receiving the signal from their comlocks and they are getting closer. Medical just reported that they are now receiving their life signs. Alan is trying to get a rescue Eagle ready but the only launch pad which has a decent chance of working is still not working."
Michelle nodded, brightening somewhat. "You think they are walking back to base?"
"Sounds like it, " Angelina agreed. "Don't worry, Michelle. He and William Harms will be found."
"William Harms was his co-pilot? And he's on a long hike with him?!?!" Michelle burst out laughing.
"Thanks for dropping by," Michelle turned to leave, guffawing all the way back to the etcher.
It was good to see Michelle amused...if only for a little while...
Carter Jackson and Angelina were descending the steps from the mezzanine in Reactor Area #2 in their bulky EVA suits when she saw Environmental Engineer Gregory Lane about 10 feet in front of her....without an EVA suit.
"You have atmosphere," Greg reported blandly with the enthusiasm of a dead cat.
"Well, DUH!" Jackson retorted as he lifted up his visor. "Otherwise, you'd be in about a bazillion little pieces and we'd have to call Big Dave Reilly in to mop you up." Jackson chuckled.
Greg Lane was not amused. "I don't see the point. We're all going to die soon anyway." He glared at Carter Jackson. The stress and fatigue was all over Lane's face and he was ready for a fight. Angelina had experienced 3 "combat" situations recently, actually 4 including the little conflict the purple planet pinheads waged against them, and she was not receptive to another battle.
Angelina removed her helmet as Jackson removed his gloves. "No, we are not going to die. And thanks to you, Greg, you have just made working conditions a lot easier down here....Trust me, it has helped us tremendously."
Angelina did not see the rude gesture Carter Jackson made toward Greg Lane.
Greg glared at Carter's back as he made his way toward the coolant coils again. He decided not to pursue and have Jackson explain himself.....now, anyway. He nodded and turned away.
Angelina feared this was only the beginning. Even among the group in the reactor #2 area, there had already been a few verbal disputes and scuffles. The monster of apathy was now in its infancy...and growing.
The young (age 18) botanist technician, Shermeen Williams, was reviewing the list of damages to the least damaged hydroponics farm. It was hopelessly long and maybe, just maybe, the soy bean crop in that farm could be saved as well as some rice. It would be a long time before the citrus trees began producing fruit again and the section containing the almost ready to be harvested crop of garden vegetables was affected by explosive decompression. The lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes had instantly frozen.
But Shermeen's work was far from her mind. The attack by the purple planet people was really the piece de resistance in her life this year.
It all started less than a year ago when the late Tony Verdeschi approached her about helping him brew his beer. He convinced her to cultivate hops and he helped himself quite regularly to her virgin crop of hops; he also helped himself to something else of hers that was "virgin."
'I was such a gullible fool,' Shermeen thought, 'falling for the suave, debonair Verdeschi. He certainly fed me a line.'
Shortly after she gave him the one thing she could never give to anyone else, Tony Verdeschi dumped her. However, he had left her with a "gift", so to speak; she was pregnant. The day before Tony Verdeschi was killed, Shermeen was going to Tony's quarters to tell him when she passed by the open door of the Carter quarters and heard the horrendous shouting match between Tony and his sister Angelina.
Angelina was very pregnant and Tony, sounding very drunk, was shouting at her, berating her. He called her a slut and a whore for "living in sin" and being pregnant without being married. He told her she was easily going to be a widow and her "bastard son" an orphan because of Captain Carter's occupation. Shermeen cringed as he proceeded on a barrage of insults again until his sister broke down into agonized sobs. She ducked around the corner as he staggered out the door and it closed behind him. She decided that perhaps that day was not a good day to tell him her "news."
Of course, the next day he was killed by the Conceit and he never knew about his impending bundle of joy. Of course, it didn't matter anyway since just 4 weeks later, Shermeen miscarried and lost Tony Verdeschi's offspring. Since then, she was in and out of depression. Life was just one hopeless and pointless day after another hopeless and pointless day.
Shermeen contemplated all of these events as she proceeded to the Moonbase Alpha West Airlock. Ignoring the signs which read, "Danger. Airlock. Authorized Personnel Only" she opened the inner airlock door, having procured the combination code when her careless supervisor left his comlock on his desk.
They were all going to be dead in a matter of days. There was no point in going on...no point in going on. Her only regret was that someone would have one hell of a mess to clean up inside the airlock.
Shermeen Williams decompressed the airlock and felt her life and well as the air in her lungs sucked out of her as she blacked out...forever.
Joan Conway, Garrett Logan and Angelina Verdeschi studied the alien device one last time before the test. With some help from Marcus Profitt, they had wired the device to the main power transformer unit for its power supply. The core and the core housing of the nuclear reactor #2 were still far from ready for initiation. However, by the time it was ready, the Alpherean device would have to work, literally at the flip of the on switch. At least they had found the "on"switch, which wasn't really a switch but more like a touch sensitive, 1"x1" panel.
"Well," Angelina sighed,"now is as good a time as ever. Would you like to do the honors?" She nodded to Profitt.
"What? and get written up if it doesn't work? or worse?" Profitt looked uneasy.
Angelina smiled slightly. "Chicken," she said a she reached over and depressed the switch.
Angelina sat back at the power monitoring console. So far so good.
"Hey!" Angelina smiled triumphantly, prematurely. "It is drawing power. Well, we can at least hook it up and start it in our system. It looks like it is compatible, anyway. That is..."
"Blown circuit breaker!" Joan Conway announced from one of the wall computer monitors.
"Where?" Angelina inquired, slightly perturbed. Two steps forward, one step back, she thought.
"Medical Center, level K," Joan reported, typing and waiting for the ticker tape paper to spit out of the slot. "Intensive care!"
Intensive care. Power to the life support machines in Medical's intensive care unit was now out. Angelina knew for a fact there were seriously injured people hanging onto life with the assistance of those machines.
"Oh God!" Angelina answered calmly. "Garrett, reset the breaker!"
"No go, Ang," Logan stated, still attempting the computer controlled reset. His fingers were flying all over the keyboard. Sweat was forming on his brow.
"Marcus, re-route the power....re-route it...Quickly, we have less than two minutes."
No, the patients connected to the machines had less than 2 minutes. However, Angelina probably had less than 10 seconds before she would be receiving an angry page from Dr. Mathias.
"Commander, we have you on visual." Paul Morrow replied, standing at his console. It had taken Marcus Profitt almost an entire day to reconfigure the big screen module. The survey Eagle still looked like a refugee from a game of Space Invaders. The purple planet was a bloated mass of bar lines somewhere in the backdrop. "We have you on final approach at 28 degrees north. You can begin reducing your velocity over the Shackleton Range."
The MENU came up, and the picture was lost completely. Morrow clenched his fist, and ground his teeth. He would have throttled his desk at the indignity of it all, were it not for the fact that the whole affair would have keeled like a barn in Hootersville. Ed Malcom had finished his splicing over an hour ago, almost toppling twice from the thirty foot step ladder. The slack was bunched together with electrical tape, and concealed beneath stainless steel collision plates.
His numero uno complain was that Profitt kept stealing his wire cutters. A charge that was heatedly denied by the other technician.
The main frame desk had been hauled away as junk. The turntable was barren, except for a few crystal shards of plastic, and the closed port covers. The vacuum hoses had been reeled in. The waste basket beneath the controller's shredding machine was filled with empty cans of seal plast. Main Mission was still without a mission, but at least the wreckage had been cleared away. Any battle has it's minor victories. Likewise, when Paul Morrow thumbed the white stud, he was surprised, and humbled to see the big doors roll forward on their tracks.
It scared the hell out of Victor Bergman, who was sitting at the command desk. Finding himself alone in the closed office, he dropped the upgraded casualty list, and craned his neck until he heard the audible crack of strained muscles. For want of a better agenda, he strolled down to one of the vision ports, passing the plaster covered globe of the Earth. He folded his arms, and embraced the enigma.
"Professor." Alan Carter said, his silhouette appearing in the open doorway behind him.
"Ah, Alan." Bergman said pensively, without turning. The sea; the black Sargasso sea.
"We still haven't had any luck getting pad three up, and running again." The pilot said. He paused half way across the room, and admired the slopped up damage control. Carter sighted Malcom's lost wire cutters on one of the end tables. Victor Bergman sighted a curl, on an east/west trajectory; probing a universe full of unanswered questions. "I just don't get it." The pilot conceded, sitting on the edge of the low rider couch. "I know what war is about. I've been in battles before. Hell, at Estonia, I watched the cockpit on my mate's Corsair explode. He beat the glass as the flames devoured him. The plane spiraled into the Baltic, only half a mile from our carrier group."
"But this?" Carter shook his head. "Absolutely no rhyme, or reason for it. Not political, not religious, not philosophical. They hid in the dark, and when the time was right, they scrapped us.
"What's up with that?"
"I don't know." Bergman said evenly. "It could be some one is trying to tell us something. The deeper we travel through space...." He winced, turning uncertainly. "The old ways are gone now, Alan. Perhaps we've kidded ourselves with our illusion of normality. Change is unstoppable; it can be as subtle as a drop of water, or as dramatic as a barge wave.
"We can either accept the terms dictated, or go under."
"Seems to me we already have." Carter said, exasperated.
"No." Bergman said, returning to the unknown. "We're not finished yet."
"We live in hope." The professor said, the curl drifting like a muse.
Petrov was sitting in the swivel seat, peering through the observation window at Raven One. A pair of technicians circled the armored casing on steel grated platforms, ducking beneath the exhaust ports, and using their clipboards as shields. The information they relayed to the tactician differed slightly, but the gaps were negligible, at best. The sub systems had undergone a similar scrutiny. There was, however, one word kept appearing at the end of each phase:
N O M I N A L
The defense mainframe was paternally different from the X-5 Logic Circuit. The artificially intelligent voice had a cold, masculine tone to it that echoed through the silo; stopping only at the brick, and lead sheathing that protected the underground bunker. War was nothing, if not chauvinistic, Petrov decided bitterly. Eighty meters above, Perimeter Station One was a blackened, burned out joke.
"BOOSTER DIAGNOSTIC COMPLETE."
Evil Mushroom informed the technicians in the war room. Evil Mushroom was, of course, the mainframe's nom deplume. Petrov had been a lieutenant colonel, assigned to NATO during the war. The system's Viking platitudes were memorable, in an unnerving, heart burn inducing, Zoloft demanding sort of way.
"MAIN STAGE TEST FIRING IN FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE.... "
Immediately, both technician's ran for their lives. On the tactician's desk, the doomsday clock began to strobe a nauseating white.
"Understood Commander." Petrov replied into his head set while writing on a yellow legal pad with a fiber tipped marker. He then set his pencil aside, and picked up the red plastic brick that was sitting in the harsh glow of the gooseneck lamp. Using both hands, he broke the brick in half, and removed the fortune cookie for this, and the other chosen installations. The word that was typed in the center of the paper was MORNING GLORY.
Moments later, the claxon sounded. Moonbase Alpha was now on Orange Alert.
Dac Capano, PhD of Hydroponic Section picked up the remote control, and thumbed the PAUSE feature on his DVD player. Evelyn's face was frozen, the red, and white beach ball just beneath her chin. There was the barest hint of the South Pacific sea spray on her cheeks, and hair. The home movie was transferred only five years ago. Their honeymoon had been years, and years ago--in 1972 to be precise. In the eerie, red illuminata of his quarters, he missed her more than ever. On December 5 of that adjusted, breakaway year, the crop geneticist turned 60 years old. They had to eschew loading candles on his birthday cake, for fear of burning down the base (not that the fuckers on the purple planet hadn't already done an admirable job of that, yes). Evelyn had kept him company for most of the trip, hopping off the hay wagon five years ago. The BIG "C" ravaged her small intestines. She held on for six months, and then she was no more.
Dac Capano was in agony forever.
He pulled himself from the art deco chair, and made his way towards a floor model bookshelf that contained numerous dissertations on agricultural physiology, and pathology. The bottle of Numbutal was sitting next to his pipe rack. The prescription was given to him by Dr. Benjamin Vincent, deceased. The refill was authorized last week by Dr. Sullivan.
He squeezed the plastic safety cap, and turned the green arrow to the right. In the apartment next door, he could hear dickface whooping it up. Capano had no qualms about chucking it in. He had lived a good life, and he had reached an age inconceivable since the Moon broke away. One of the things he would not miss, however, was his next door neighbor's psycho-social/ psycho-sexual cacophony. The longer he was exposed to David Reilly, deposed geologist extraordinaire, the more he was amazed that they had survived as long as they had. He survived on his own laurels, but they were thorns, for all of that. With Reilly, every day was King Of The Hill, and he could care less if he had to roll dead bodies to the bottom in order to stay there. Demotions meant nothing to him. Respect meant nothing to him. The continued survival of Bubba--that meant everything to him.
Capano shook thirty of the beige pills into his hand, and carried the empty bottle into the dark kitchenette. No, he wasn't going to miss that a bit, he decided, filling his plastic water cup. Besides, Alpha didn't need an over-the-hill Oliver Wendell Douglas around--draining the last few amperes from the crippled life-support apparatus. Some day they may find a new world, Capano reckoned, carrying the pills to his mouth. When they did, though, it would be for the young. As far as he was concerned, his tour of duty was finished.
The person he most defined as 'young,' was of course Shermeen Williams. Little did he know that his teen colleague no longer needed any favors.
The agrarian was only a handbreadth away from checking out, when suddenly he heard a thud against his Living Room wall. Reilly doing physical damage to his quarters was nothing new, but this was a sickly thud that he heard. It sent his insatiable curiosity off to the races. He laid the handful of pills onto one corner of the lazy susan, and pulled his commlock from his belt. The corridor outside was darker than the Carlsbad Caverns. The static-filled commstation was silent once more--the monitor bearing the Alpha Test Pattern once again. The Hi-Vac Units were still deader than door knobs, as was the heat exchange system. The vents were as dry as corpse slabs.
Capano stared through the already open doorway to Reilly's quarters. Five feet in, there was a brown, and green knit, throw rug, bearing the scene of a wagon train under siege. Apaches, Capano had no doubt they were visiting some inhuman atrocity on settlers in the Great State Of Texas. In the center of the rug, just covering one of the grizzled coachmen, and his Native American attacker, there was an overturned hand, marbled, and covered with diagonal streamers of blood.
Only inches away from the splattered digits lay a bone handled woodsman's knife. The type of side arm that the Lone Star State's greatest heroes--Sam Houston, Davey Crockett--would have been proud to wear.
Angelina rounded the corridor to her quarters. She was tired of the darkness of the corridors, the emergency lighting. She was tired anyway and fought the urge to sit down and take a nap.
Ang was never one to be able to sleep anywhere. At this point, though, since it was 28 hours since she last slept, she thought that the minute she hit a horizontal position, anywhere and on anything, she would be out like the lights on Moonbase Alpha. Dr. Mathias had threatened her with confining her to Medical Center involuntarily if she did not voluntarily dismiss herself from Reactor #2 for a few hours and get some much needed rest.
Stepping inside the living area as the door slid open silently, Angelina's mind was a myriad of thermodynamic and nuclear physics equations. She was intensely pre-occupied, struggling to keep the fog of incoherence and exhaustion away for another minute. Nicky Carter, sitting on the floor, playing with his nurse looked up.
The brightness of his eyes when he spied Angelina seemed to light up the room. He crawled toward her in seconds. Grabbing her tan flares, he tried to pull himself up into a standing position, all the while breathlessly repeating "Mamamamama". His noble attempt at standing was once again unsuccessful as he landed softly on his diapered rear end on the floor. Despite the fatigue and muscle aches, Angelina picked up the baby instantly.
"Hey, little man," Angelina cooed softly to him, "How's my boy?"
Nurse Grace came over to her. "He's already eaten and ready for bed." She paused. "He's been crying for you most of the day. He seemed to be OK for awhile after Captain Carter came to see him but after that..." Grace paused again. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to make you feel bad."
Angelina understood and saw the exhaustion in her eyes. Taking care of a baby under normal circumstance during the day was exhausting enough. But under these conditions? Angelina knew, though Carter disagreed, that Nicky was hyper sensitive to environmental changes anyway. "Grace, you get some rest. I'll put him to bed." Angelina glanced at Nicky, who was playing with her hair, "after my little buddy and I spend a little time together."
Grace nodded. "Thanks. I'll see you tomorrow then." Grace quickly and gratefully left.
The normally rambunctious Nicholas, who would often try to struggle out of her arms, was content to be held by Angelina. Presently, while seated in a swivel chair, feeding him a bottle of warmed formula, Nicky's eyes slowly closed. Angelina gazed into his face.
'If it wasn't for you, my precious, I would have given up hours ago. You're my motivation,' Angelina thought, tears forming in her eyes. For some reason, a memory of a historical rumor occurred to Angelina. Ang had once read that one of the wives of Adolph Hitler's top advisors had poisoned her children then poisoned herself, in an effort to avoid what she thought was certain death by the Allies as Germany collapsed at the end of World War II. Ang was always horrified at such a thought. 'How can a mother poison her own children?'
In a split second, in the glow of the red lights, she understood.....Shocked, frightened and angry with herself, she grasped her child tightly. 'No, NO, NO!!!!' the thought screamed in her head. 'That mother was a coward and a murderer.'
Ang carefully picked up the sleeping babe and brought him to the bed with her. She laid down, holding him close to her.....and started to cry herself asleep.
Commander John Koenig and Dr. Helena Russell disembarked from the Eagle, in the area of Launch Pad 3. After removing their EVA suits and winding through the corridors, Koenig and Russell parted company at corridor J. Both had been silent since their Eagle landed on the still dysfunctional lift for Launch Pad 3.
"I'll call you with an updated casualty list after I talk with Bob." Helena began to turn toward the Medical area in the deeper levels, stepping over debris from a shattered light panel.
"Command conference in one hour," Koenig nodded. Then, in half an attempt to provide reassurance, "Helena, we've made it this far. It's not over yet." He smiled slightly at her. Helena, returning the slight smile, nodded and quickly turned the corner, disappearing into the darkness.
Koenig made his way to his office, up stairwells and climbing maintenance ladders. He stopped at the entrance to his office and was surprised to see the big doors to Main Mission open. Victor was seated at his desk.
As Koenig stepped down into the pit, silently, he closed the big doors with his comlock. He sat in the low rider white coach, elbows on knees, rubbing his temples. "How are we doing, Victor?"
"John." The professor exclaimed, swiveling around to face the sunken floor of the office. He walked to the foot of the steps, an uncapped ink pen between his teeth. His open binder sprouted stalks of notes, and addendums, and bar graphs, and abstracts that had been dog-eared, and stapled with cracked abandon. Dominating the unused side of a commissary napkin were two brain draining problems in fusion mechanics, along with their hypothetical solutions: URANIUM DIOXIDE FUEL ENRICHED BY 26%, Victor proposed. INTERNAL AXIAL CAVITY (diam .48 cm). "We've made progress as far as repairing some of the internal damage to the physical plant. Of course, most of the major systems are still down--all except for interstellar communications, which Morrow expects to be back up again by the end of the day." He explained, rambling a mile a minute. "It's been slow going as far as repairing the damage to the launch pads.
"Then again, I'm sure you've already ascertained that much. MMMMmmmm--We've had no luck at all with life support, the agro systems, and the extant reactors, which are still giving us trouble.
"Let's see." He said, thumbing through enough paper to make a tree hugger weep. "'Ang, has Technical Section working on it around the clock. We've had some luck in substituting the reactor's damaged laser driver with the alien hardware. I'm afraid that it's a long way from passing our simulation tests, though. Right now, we're trying to redesign the system--gearing it more towards a cascade multiplication of neutrons, which may be how the Alphearans tooled their own reactors. The problem 'Ang is facing is in trying to marry conventional thermodynamics to a piece that was probably equated for use in a coupled fissile system.
"It's a cold, cold road, but we're hanging in there." The professor nodded assuredly, taking a deep breath at last. "By the way, what happened on the planet."
"It's not good news, Victor," Koenig replied somberly, sitting back in the couch. "We are not welcome," Koenig made a sound that was a cross between a snort and a chuckle. "Like that is a surprise," he finished, shaking his head. Koenig was still trying to decipher the poetic nuances of the conversation with the inquisition attired aliens.
"The planet appears to be stuck in a medieval era yet it is industrialized. The whole planet is an ecological mess, though. The pollution content is nearly unbearable. The scans on the Eagle did not pick up as much as a square mile of greenspace.
"Hmmmm." Bergman remarked introspectively, closing his notebook for emphasis. Then the unspoken conversation was convened. It's docket, interminable. Beyond one of the view ports, an orange bulldozer rumbled past a broken, blasted pipe elbow. The driver plowed regolith against one, of Security Section's two remaining walls, and then backed up for another run. Half a kilometer away, the remains of Launch Pad One were still cooling, billowing plumes of volcanic gas into the ever starless night. "Well, they didn't exactly mince words with us the first time." The professor lamented. "There was a deeper meaning to that attack--it went above, and beyond issues of territory, and culture clash.
"No, that one was personal. Judging by what you've described, I think I can see now how they were able to replicate Mark IX Hawks so quickly; not that we would want it, but their technology is probably 1,000 years ahead of ours."
"They said we were a 'virus'...that we are ruled by fear. They said they spent 1000 years building their 'perfect' civilization, whatever that means." Koenig sighed. "It didn't look very much like a utopia to me."
Koenig rose from the couch and approached the viewport, watching the bulldozer working on the security section wall. Two EVA suited technicians were now working on the pipe elbow with the assistance of a small crane. Koenig stood next to Victor watching the activity, then glanced up at the purple planet beyond.
"Even if we tried to force out way onto the planet," Koenig finally broke the silence, "according to Helena, our people would suffer long term health consequences, if we could survive short term, on that planet." Koenig looked down at his clenched hands then up at Victor. "We cannot go to the planet. Operation Exodus is cancelled."
After a pause, Koenig asked, "Give it to me straight, Victor. What are the chances that you, Ang and her crew can get Reactor 2 up by the time the solar batteries run out? Are the odds better now since I left? The same? Worse?" Despite the tension, Koenig smirked. "Does our horse have a chance at winning the race or should we not even bother to place a bet?"
"The forecast is the same." Bergman said quietly, placing his notebook on the conference table. "We have a chance. We're learning more, and more all the time. The problem is, we're attempting to do in days something that would normally take months, and even years." He smiled thinly. "We have a...research gap, I suppose you could call it. On Earth, they would have spent a decade back engineering the device. We had to do it in hours.
"Cannibalization. It's not the same as fabrication."
The professor was half way to the big doors before he turned to face the commander again. From somewhere out in the corridor came the distant sounds of Ed Malcom's electric screw gun. Koenig, and Bergman could hear the warbling of metal plates as the damage control team worked their way towards the elevator shaft.
"You ask if our horse stands a chance." Bergman said pensively, rubbing his palms together. "I say it depends on the other horses we're running against.
"There's also something to be said about plain, old fashioned luck."
As Professor Bergman turned and disappeared through the small side door of the big doors, Koenig silently returned to his desk and wearily sat in his chair. He looked up, staring at a mass of power and Ethernet cables that had yet to be rerouted and placed back into the conduit in the ceiling.
Koenig decided that he would place his bet on the thousand to one long shot. If they win, no, WHEN they win, the payoff would be grand indeed; their lives. Koenig punched the button to the compost.
"Paul, Command Conference in 30 minutes. Gather the section heads."
"Yes, Commander." Morrow looked like he had aged at least 10 years, the worry lines digging deep into his forehead.
Koenig stood up as he opened the big doors to the activity in Main Mission. The Commander was about to make an announcement.
"Attention all sections Alpha, this is Commander John Koenig." He said, leaning against the quarters of his desk. Morrow, and Carter turned to face him from standing positions at their own desks. Klaus Rotstein peered over the balcony rail. Sandra Benes, Andy Dempsey, and Kate Bullen dropped fiber optic handfuls, and listened intently beneath the frozen big screen MENU. "Of all the trials we've experienced since our Moon broke away from Earth's orbit--none can compare to the oblique darkness--the evil, of this day.
"Why we were attacked is unknown. Militant forces on the planet's surface seemed to find no value in our spirit, and in our way of life. That is the only cause we discern, though it is just speculation. The strike came without warning, and from outposts that were scanner invisible. This was after we made numerous attempts to communicate our peaceful intent. Vicious, unprovocated.
Tanya Alexander, and Clare Bradford entered the auditorium to the right of the big screen, and stood poised. From his bed in the underground First Aid Station, Ben Ouma listened to the speech on one of the commstations while Bob Mathias re-upped his Morphine. Pierce Quentin, and Velma Hill stood quietly on guard--painfully aware that not only had they shown up late for the party, they also brought the wrong dip.
"Nothing we say, or do in the future will ever relieve the sorrow we feel for the loss of our friends, our colleagues." The commander said sincerely. "Each, and every one of you has lost some one close to you today. No eulogy will ever do these brave souls justice. Without their sacrifice, those of us who survived would not be here right now. Physically, they may be dead...but our memory of them will not perish. Their courage was undying; their selflessness, humbling. I am honored to have served with them."
Koenig paused at the on-rush of black grief. Deep within third containment, Victor Bergman patted Angelina Verdeschi on the back. Their next attempt to emergency re-start Reactor Number Two would fail. The verdict: Uncontrolled Flow. They would, however, try, and try again.
"The Moon's ability to support life was compromised in the assault." Koenig went on. "For all intents, and purposes, Moonbase Alpha is no more."
Marcus Profitt entered, and placed his arm gently around Clare Bradford's shoulder. Paul Morrow studied the floor tiles. He was tempted to pinch himself, but reality was not a salesman--to be shoved, and tripped, and to have the door slammed in it's face. What happened was as real as their mortal lives.
"Our options." Koenig continued, looking left, and then right. "After a careful survey of the planet's surface; after meeting with the beings who wrought our demise, I have concluded that to settle there would grant us not even the dignity of a speedy death. The world is an ecological, and theosophical disaster. For that reason, Operation Exodus has been cancelled."
On the opposite end of the First Aid Station--removed, so the sick, and injured would be spared the horror of seeing it--Dorothy Sullivan pulled the blue sheet over cowpoke Dave Reilly's gelatinous eyes. Helena Russell removed her vinyl gloves, and threw them into a nearby pan. Raul Nunez watched with overwhelming disbelief. Jerry Parker killed the light.
"That being the case, our only other option is to remain here on Alpha. By now, you all know the gravity of our situation." Koenig said, unpatronizingly. "If humankind is to survive this day--and I believe we will survive--we must attempt to do the impossible. Using only the resources we have left, we must attempt to rebuild Alpha from the ruins you see around you now. Our time is limited. In less than three weeks, our solar power will deplete itself.
"It will require untold bravery, and sacrifice. We can not accept that this is the end. If hope is to endure then our belief in ourselves must also endure. No alien instrumentality can ever take that from us.
"We will prevail.
"Thank you, and God bless."
Koenig broke the link.
Angelina looked up the maintenance shaft, wondering how she was going to get to the Commander's office in Main Mission while climbing a ladder and holding a baby. Though Nicky had never been present at a Command Conference, his nurse had been called away to assist Dr. Sullivan. Evidently, a fight had broken out in the mining complex and there were many cuts to be stitched and a few bones to be set. Angelina needed a break from reactor #2, a chance to clear her head. They had overcome the power issue with the alien device but at the same time they uncovered more obstacles.
As Ang was about to balance Nicky on her hip with her laptop, slung over her opposite shoulder, and attempt to climb up, Marcus Profitt, with the reluctant Hugo Willet, stopped her.
"Elevator is fixed," Hugo stated, sweating profusely. "I think," he added.
"It works," Profitt replied confidently, putting away his socket set in the portable bench.
"Good work," Angelina praised. "We'll have this base back in one piece in no time." Although she gave the thumbs up as the elevator door closed, her voice was monotone and unenthusiastic. She sighed and quickly moved away from the dangling cables Nicky was reaching for, hanging from the left side of the elevator. Angelina said a prayer as she depressed the button with the stenciled "MM" and the label beside it which read "Authorized Personnel Only." Angelina had been doing a lot of praying lately.
When they reached "MM" level, the doors slid open and Angelina entered Main Mission through the right archway, heading toward the small side door of the Commander's office. Danny Chan looked up briefly and nodded then returned to his screen. Other than that, everyone in Main Mission was too preoccupied with their work to notice her passing through with an "unauthorized" person.
When she stepped into the Commander's office, she noticed she was the last one and everyone was milling around in small groups: Carter, Russell, Benes, Morrow and Bergman. The Commander motioned everyone to take a seat. As he closed the small door to Main Mission, he sat down. Nicky Carter's attention was immediately captivated by an empty red flimsy in front of him, which he grabbed and tried to shove into his mouth.
The Commander studied all of the faces around the table. "Alright," Koenig began, placing his comlock on the table in front of him, "How are we doing?"
"Well, it appears that some of us are a little hungry." Bergman couldn't resist. He tipped 'Ang a little wink before continuing. "We're hard at it. I brought this with me." The professor opened his apocryphal notebook, and produced a sheet of blue line graph paper. An open vertex dominated the origins on the left, and right side. At the bottom was a hypothetical solution to a formula for Relativistic Collision, and particle annihilation. "In about an hour, we're going to try to implement it. I'm convinced that the problem is in adapting the flow from the Alphearan hardware into our own. During our last experiment, we were able to produce a 10,000 gigawatt pulse in one of our sub-systems. The effect only lasted .5 seconds, and then we went into overload again.
"'Ang, and her people are utilizing several types of bridge theory, but she can tell you more about that." Bergman leaned back in his chair--comfortably, or uncomfortably, no one knew. "We just have to hope that one of them works."
Morrow's contribution was perhaps the shortest.
"Sir, Tactical asked me to deliver this to you." Using both hands, he carefully slid a plastic, red brick in Koenig's direction. It's dimensions were modest in a ghastly sort of way--about the size of a pack of Wrigley's Spearmint Gum.
Angelina saw the "package" and her expression dropped; she knew exactly what it was. As she silently glanced at Morrow, then Koenig, then Carter, Nicky wriggled out of her lap and crawled over to the box of Gorski trinkets on the floor next to the low rider white couch. He entertained himself with a small, cheap looking, plastic "snowglobe", "Made in China" with a replica of the Apollo 13 against a gray moonscape inside.
Angelina, preferring her laptop to paper notes, had linked it to the only functioning Ethernet port on the conference table and put up her files on the small screen in the back of the room.
"As you can see," Angelina motioned everyone toward the wall screen, "we have made significant strides in integrating the device into our power systems. We did have a few minor set backs....."
Angelina paused and acknowledged Dr. Helena Russell's vigorous nodding and accompanying scowl.
"...one of which cause a BRIEF power outage in Medical. However, we were able to reroute the control circuits and, rest assured, it will not happen again...to the critical areas, that is."
"There are several different bridging scenarios," she continued, changing the graphs on the screen. "Without getting into all the murky details, Professor Bergman has postulated the ones that statistically will have the best chance of success. We will be trying the first scenario in about an hour. I can tell you now, however, I would be very surprised if it worked. We do not know how well our core coolant systems can handle the accelerated neutron influx into the plutonium rods."
Ang stopped, taking a sip of water in front of her, pensively sitting back and gazing at her son, who was still rummaging through the box, with a McDonald's snake "teenie beanie baby" dangling from his mouth.
"Is he okay with that." Morrow asked, pointing towards Nicky with his pen. 'Ang nodded.
"Reconnaissance Section Report." Carter began. "No change. We have one laser equipped Eagle left. We're working on fitting Eagle Two Three with an omnidioxide cutter from Mining Section. The systems aren't compatible, so we're looking at five days, tops, before it will be of any use to us.
"One bit of good news, Eagle One should be ready to roll again in about two days."
"We'll be out of range of the planet in forty-eight hours." Bergman reminded him gently.
"Yeah, I know." Carter said, staring at his hands. "No significant changes in the launch pad situation. We're working to shore up Launch Pad Three. Harms, and Danielle are alive, but they're on their own pretty much. They should arrive at the East Airlock by 1400 Hours."
The pilot considered the snow globe, and wondered about the doomed mission of the Apollo 13 space craft. Astronauts James Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert, and the horrific week they spent on a dead ship. He realized with ugly clarity that Moonbase Alpha was currently enjoying the same awful luck.
Sandra reported the food and water situation to the rest of the Command staff.
"The bad news is that the least damaged hydroponic farm will take about 3 days more to repair than we previously thought. We will definitely have to ration and my people are making up a plan and schedule now. The good news is that not all the water was contaminated. In fact, there is enough water to last us at least a month without having to ration....." Sandra's voice trailed off. She knew that if the reactor did not get up in a matter of days, having all the fresh water they wanted would not matter.
"One hundred and twenty-six dead," Dr. Helena Russell started, throwing down her pen onto the blue flimsy. "That makes an increase of 3 since my last casualty report. One of the seriously injured patients, Arthur O'Malley died in surgery. He had extensive internal injuries and blood loss. The prognosis for the other 16 patients in Medical is very good. I don't anticipate any more fatalities from physical injuries sustained from the attack."
Helena paused as she watched Nicky, bored with the Gorski trinkets, crawl back to the conference table toward Carter. He grabbed Carter's chair and attempted to stand...again.
"I do regret reporting, however, that Shermeen Williams, a hydroponic technician, did commit suicide by walking out an airlock without an EVA suit."
Everyone in the room was stunned. Angelina groaned , shaking her head. Sandra looked away, visibly shocked and upset, closing her eyes. No one said anything.
Helena Russell continued. "And...Dave Reilly was found dead in his quarters....horribly mutilated..."
"Mutilated?!?! You mean someone murdered him?!?" Angelina blurted in great consternation. She had not heard about this before now; then again, she had been spending all of her time working on the alien device at reactor #2.
Russell nodded. "Yes, he was murdered. Truman Starns is working on the case now. We have kept this incident confidential. If it gets out now, the morale on Alpha will take a nose dive. In fact, that is the next topic I wanted to bring up. We already have had numerous arguments and fights, some physical. In fact, the latest incident involved several miners but, fortunately, no one appears to be seriously injured."
Helena looked at Koenig, "I'm worried about someone getting hurt..or even killed as time goes on, John."
"I'm inclined to agree." Bergman said, frowning, and tracing his thumb against his left forefinger. "And I fear it's going to get worse, not better. The Moon's velocity has increased due to gravitational impetus from the planet. The further away we get, the more desperate people are going to become.
"No one wants to die." Bergman explained. "Fight, or flight is basic human nature."
"Are you saying that we may experience panicking, and rioting." Morrow asked, mortified. Like a nightmare, the situation went from terrifying, to the country of the insane.
The professor shrugged.
"There's no telling what we can expect." Bergman dusted his hands off. "We've never been in a situation this grave before. We need some sort of release valve. Unfortunately, those are hard to come by these days."
Angelina shuddered at the thought of rioting; the worst manifestation of human behavior. When World War Terminus began, Angelina Verdeschi had returned home with her family from her high school graduation ceremony. Her shining moment was literally extinguished as one of the first targets the terrorists hit was a major power grid that supplied energy to the greater Boston metro area. Boston was plunged in darkness; rioting, looting, rapes, shootings..all the sins of mankind. Even the outer suburbs were affected including Derry, New Hampshire. A group of aged hippies was protesting the war on Broadway Ave, in front of the ice cream stand. A group of disgruntled youths began harassing them. Both sides began shouting insults and obscenities. A fight ensured: and 8 people were killed. Angelina was with a friend, with a mint chocolate chip cone in hand, when she watched one of the hippies get his head blown off with a sawed-off shotgun, 10 days after her high school graduation. Welcome to the real world, Ang.
"I have doubled security patrols," Morrow offered.
Angelina wondered if that truly was going to help the situation. She was pondering the latest fight she broke up in her area when she noticed the top of Nicky's head and a small hand reaching over the edge of the conference table. Despite the bad news and the direness of the situation, she could not help but break into a smile. For days, Nicky had tried to pull himself to and maintain a standing position. He would end up on his padded derriere after perhaps 2 seconds. He tried and failed and tried and failed...over and over again. His efforts had now been rewarded. It had been at least 30 seconds of success when she motioned silently to Carter to see the milestone happening next to him.
"Will you look at that." Carter said, hoarse with amazement. "!!!He's standing!!!" He grabbed 'Ang, and hugged her right there. The damaged energy cells were not needed. The entire office was illuminated by the sheer starpower of the pilot's grin.
He felt guilty, having no cigars to give.
Helena, and Sandra immediately stood, and raced around the table for a better view. Morrow remained seated, nodding excitedly at each person in the room. Bergman pushed his chair back to make room for the others. Koenig moved in behind him, and chuckled pleasantly as Nicky threw away the table, and stepped onto the Moon.
"I'll bet your proud." Morrow said, cheerfully stating the obvious.
"You better believe I am." Carter caroled. "!!!He's standing--look at him, Victor!!!"
"Yeah, I see." The professor said joyfully. "Better hope he never sees an Eagle, or you'll be out of a job."
"Not that we're trying to give you a hint, or any thing, Alan." Koenig beamed widely.
The message was not lost on any of them. The youngest member of Moonbase Alpha reminded every person in that room the value of persistence.
As a semi-party mood broke out in the glow of the red emergency lights and Nicky Carter, laughing and babbling, continued to captivate the Command Staff, the expression on his face suddenly froze and dropped to neutrality. He grabbed the closest parent to him, who happened to be Carter. As Carter picked him up, Angelina noticed a look of terror cross the child's face. His lower lip quivered; his eyes filled with tears as he looked around and one by one, every person in the room stopped talking, the smiles fading from their faces.
Nicky Carter began screaming and crying with unnerving intensity, grabbing handfuls of Carter's tunic at his shoulders and driving his small forehead into his chest. Nicky's eyes were tightly closed and he cried out "Dada" repeatedly between screams. Carter's expression was shock and bewilderment as he tried to calm him to no avail. Angelina tried to comfort him, attempting to take him, but Nicky would not let go of his father. The tortured cries continued, as Helena Russell tried to check him over, running a scan over him but found nothing.
Carter was turning to leave with the inconsolable child when Tanya Alexander's face appeared on the commpost.
Koenig bolted up the steps to the commpost, though what she said was loud enough to be heard by everyone despite the moans and cries of the baby.
"Commander, we have 3 new alien contacts....from the planet!" Tanya desperately reported
In the Vatec Gorge--backwards, in a millenium of time before the old world decayed to dust.
The Destroyer stood over his Opponent like a black knight, blocking out the disclosure rays of Mu Cephei. Despite the fact that one of his legs had been gruesomely hacked off, and though he had long since been disarmed, and irregardless of the blood that poured from his half moon scalp--the Opponent felt confident of his chances. He uttered his 'Ho-tek Varum; his pledge to be true to the goddess Erakis. His chant floated across the wind swept plains, finding its way through the rough hewn windows--the huts of The Perfect Citizenry. Dropping their handlooms, and their buckets of pitch, and the reigns that held their beasts fast, they awaited the final verdict, but annihilation was not bound to any mortal calendar....
"Oh God." John Koenig heard some one utter hysterically, as he bolted down the steps to the controller's desk.
Alan Carter leaned closely to study the plasma grid over Gordon Cooper's shoulder. Hawks J, K, and L lit their Ram Jets, and moved in for the kill. It appeared to be the same maneuver that everyone on Alpha had come to know, and despise--one ship anchoring the other in a vertical formation. The pilot didn't need to see the barrels to know they had already commenced to firing their fusion cannons again. War, after all, was war. Forget what dance--it's the same old tune.
"???Range???" Koenig said, his eyes darting back, and forth from Cooper's station to the utterly useless big screen. With incredible angst, Morrow tried to toggle the arrow down until it reached the DISPLAY option on the main menu, but to no avail.
"They've cleared the sands of Hercules, and are advancing north, by northwest." Sandra Benes said carefully.
"That's less than thirty kilometers away." Carter affirmed, standing straight again in order to face the encroaching oblivion. "We don't stand a chance."
Paul Morrow reached across the OUTBOX, and took Sandra's hand. John Koenig bolted back up to the steps, passing Helena Russell, who was enjoying the terminal wonder of the damned atop the landing. He moved in behind his desk, and broke open the red, plastic brick, and extracted the fortune cookie. With certain resolve, he punched "C" on the alphabetical commpanel keys. Petrov's face appeared on the monitor screen as the visual link was opened.
"Main Mission to Tactical--launch nuclear missiles." The commander said succinctly, so there could be no doubt. "I repeat, launch nuclear missiles."
Carter, and 'Ang watched from the operations level--their mouths dry of spit; their jaws dropping to allow the final horror a respite.
Petrov's face was the stuff of quintessential coolness, and logic.
"I say 'MORNING GLORY.'" The former lieutenant colonel challenged.
"I say 'MORNING GLORY ON THE HORIZON.'" Koenig said, delivering the response code.
The monitor went blank. Three things happened after that--each in order of execution. First, the tactical alert claxon began to wail throughout the corridors--shrieking, ear ablating--sounding more like bells from hell, than an electronic pulse. Second, the lights went out completely as the transformers were tapped by the defense mainframe. The solar batteries were harnessed for the coming ascension into holocaust. Third--for the first time in hours, the big screen came to life as the emergency broadcast system pushed flesh, and blood out of Main Mission.
"ATTENTION, ALL SECTIONS ALPHA." Evil Mushroom echoed throughout the base.
All bulkhead doors slid solemnly closed as the automatic systems were rewritten.
"UPGRADE TO DEFCON-IV HAS BEEN INITIATED. ALL STATIONS KILO-BRAVO PROCEED TO THE UNDERGROUND SHELTERS. ALL NON-ESSENTIAL PERSONEL, AND GROUND CREWS TO MAXIMUM SAFE DISTANCE."
From somewhere above, a globe light began to revolve--policing the shadows with it's charnel red light. Carter held 'Ang as the claxon became deafening.
"SATURN FIVE BOOSTERS WILL FIRE IN T-MINUS ONE MINUTE. MISSILE STATUS IS IRREVOCABLE. MISSILE STATUS IS IRREVOCABLE."
Far beneath the clap-trap, burned out, used up foundations of Perimeter Station One, a match was lit. Gas, and sparks filled the concrete pit, as the final judgement was rendered.
They all had minutes to live....maybe.
The only light in Main Mission was the eerie flickering of the red stobe light in the dome.
"Hawks in range in 10 seconds," Sandra reported, as the ground shook slightly.
Alan and Angelina silently watched through one of the viewports as the three missiles, carrying their deadly payload, launched and began their final voyage to the purple planet. Nicky, still in his father's arms, was in a daze, resting his head on Carter's shoulder, eyes half closed and silent.
"5 seconds," Sandra announced, as Paul Morrow squeezed her hand tighter.
They were going to die. They had no chance against the Hawks. Angelina gripped Carter tighter but continued to stare at the encroaching instruments of hell. She was not afraid to die and was brave enough to face the enemy in the final showdown.
The laser cannons on the Hawks were ready to open fire.
Then, she saw something...unusual and unexpected. Angelina blinked...twice. Carter was stunned , mouth agape.
Angelina leaned forward, looking around out the viewport. Her visual confirmed Sandra's report.
"Commander! The Hawks have just.....disappeared!!!" Sandra announced, sighing with relief.
"Impossible!" The Commander blurted, discreetly releasing Helena Russell's hand and moving next to Sandra in an instant.
"There is no mistake, sir," Sandra replied with elation. "The contacts are no longer there."
The nuclear missiles were still real and Angelina and Alan were joined by Koenig, Russell, Bergman, Kate Bullen, Andy Dempsey, Sandra, Paul and Clare Bradford as Armageddon unfolded before their eyes.
On the planet, the eldest female of the 10 member ruling council spoke to the rest of the group.
"Soon we will be free," she said, her voice exhibiting an almost peaceful acceptance.
"Free," uttered the third male on the right, as the rest of the council nodded in ascent.
The nuclear missiles struck the largest population centers and the resulting mushroom cloud could be seen as a speck on Moon Base Alpha. It did not end there.....
Something caused a chain reaction.....the three mushroom clouds multiplied into 6, then 12 then 24..and so on..consuming the planet. Individuals and families alike, including children, stood with arms outstretched, awaited and welcomed the destruction. The screams of the damned where quickly obliterated as the raging fire spread, consuming factory after factory, building after building....The last to be consumed was the place of the council of 10, the Notre Dame cathedral imitation.
"It is finished," the elder female leader uttered and breathed her last as the fireball consumed her.
William Gregory Harms, III was a talking sucker.
Pierre Danielle had a fantasy, you see. It carried him through the miserable, endless, eternal, football fields of bullshit that his colleague loosed with a heavy hand. When they left Earth, the tallest building in the world was the Sears Tower in Chicago. He, and Harms are standing atop the security wall on the skydeck--the glass shield ending just below their knees. When Danielle is satisfied they are alone, he pushes the other pilot over the ledge, and watches him fall 103 stories down to the midtown traffic below.
Danielle had no doubt that Harms would die as he had lived--jawing, and jive talking, and fabricating impossible yarns that would mute the likes of J.R.R. Tolkein.
As they started up the Celestine Banks, he made a mental note to ask 'Cap if Harms was even a pilot, such was his skepticism. Then he recalled the connection between Gregory The Great, and the Reconnaissance Overnight Crew. He was good buddies with George Waylon, and Art Cousteau, which helped to support the probability of him having a pilot's license. Recognize that 'was' is the operative word here, since Waylon, and Cousteau were turned into jam sandwiches by a Texas scale cerebral cortex. If Harms had been on that Eagle, there would have been no problem. He would have talked the brain to death, thereby allowing the Moon to pass through the dead strands, umimpinged.
Having twenty-five miles to go before reaching the nearest airlock, Pierre Danielle concluded that enough was enough.
"You had sex with Michelle Cranston." He said; and then, on the heels of that: "AH-HA-HA-HA-HA-HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" He feared for his sanity.
"Big-P that's a crude way to look at it." Harms admonished. "What we shared could never have been so vulgar, so pedestrian...."
Pierre removed the remote apparatus from his bread box panel, and thumbed a stud marked 02 PURGE. The meter began to fill with an amber colored light.
Harms didn't have a clue.
"I would also remind you that, in the end, we decided to do what was best for all the nations on Earth, and that went far beyond our personal, and sexual agendas, though she is a very attractive woman.
"For the good of the base, I broke her heart, and threw her self-esteem to the four winds. Conscience. It makes celibates of us all.
"Hey, what are you doing?"
"Harms, nothing personal, but you're a lying sonofabitch. For the sake of my mental hygiene, I am now terminating this partnership. I will continue to say 'hello' in the corridors, during shift changes, and at times of high endurance. Otherwise, adieu." Danielle said, just before blowing one of his thirty-minute reserve tanks.
"Can I ask you a question before you go." Harms asked humbly--his curiosity needing quaffed.
Danielle nodded, bouncing his chin off of the mouthpiece of his crooked helmet.
"Did any one ever tell you that you look just like Al Borman from 'Home Improvement.'"
"Yes." Pierre conceded, and rode the magic carpet of venting oxygen, away, away, away. On the wings of a dove, he began his quest. Like Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century, he flew through the void, looking for some lunar hamlet where ears were open, and the obnoxious man kept his big mouth shut.
"...you don't have the beard though...." The other pilot noticed, as his companion soared out of communications range.
In this morally relative universe, who is to say what is right, and wrong. In the end, both pilots visited yonder fudge factory when they saw the triad of missiles arch gracefully, up over the ice bergs of Frigoris--meeting at a sublime epicenter--and then dispatching themselves to similar destinies on the purple planet.
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh." Danielle said.
"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh." Harms said, covering his face plate with a single gloved hand.
Nary a thesaurus had been written that could accurately describe how Pierre felt, watching the lap dogs of massacre, and misrule descend on the Moon's adversary. That's okay, though. Will Harms would tell everyone about it.
Joan Conway and Angelina Verdeschi were under the main coolant platform, making estimated adjustments to the coolant systems. The last time they tried the alien device, it failed: for uncontrolled flow. Angelina and Professor Bergman believed that perhaps enhancements would be required of the core coolant system, to eliminate the extra heat energy generated with the accelerated riching process.
Angelina, on her back, was adjusting a pressure sensor while Joan, on her belly, was making modifications to one of the secondary coolant return pipes. Above them was a myriad of pipes and gauges, the guts of the coolant system.
"So, Ang," Joan spoke as she twisted the wrench 1/4 turn, "when's the big day?"
Angelina was adjusting the sensor dial using the 5mm Allen wrench. "What big day?" she asked, half paying attention.
"Oh, come on! You guys have been walking down the aisle for quite some time now. What big day.....when are you and Alan getting married?" Joan repeated.
Angelina folded her arms across her chest, staring at the pressure gauge. "I don't know. I mean, does it really make a difference out here? We're happy together, we have a kid together, and we love each other. So what difference does it make?"
"Makes a big difference, Ang," Joan inspected the elbow joint. "The word is "commitment".
"Oh, he's committed to me, Joan, "Angelina affirmed. "He told me so. Besides, " Angelina smirked, "where's he going to go? It's not like his options are varied on Moonbase Alpha."
"I'm surprised you aren't pushing for the ceremony, Ang. Afterall, you're a good Catholic girl." Joan began a light hearted banter, teasing, "Right now, you're living in sin....ooooohhh......if you die today, Ang, you're going straight to hell!" Joan Conway laughed heartily.
"My view on faith has changed tremendously since Breakaway," Angelina answered. "I haven't been to Mass since our resident priest was killed ages ago. So technically, I'm already doomed. No, I'm thinking God is more generous and forgiving than that. I also think we have a purpose out here and someone is watching us. In fact, I'm convinced of it."
Angelina continued. "But I did mention one time that it would be nice to be married on paper. He told me a piece of paper was not important to him. I told him it was important to me." Angelina frowned; that screw was not turning.
Joan tightened the elbow another quarter turn. "Oh my...So then what did he say?"
"Nothing, he just gave me one of those blank looks that crosses his face when I can't tell what he's thinking. OOOHH!! That drives me crazy when he does that!" Angelina laughed.
"Ang," Professor Bergman called down from the platform above. "I've just entered the latest calculations into computer for the next test. How soon will you be ready?"
"Another 10 minutes, Professor!" Angelina sat up. "You all set?"
"Let's see how Carter is doing and, I guess we can try again."
Within 10 minutes, Joan Conway, Carter Jackson, Professor Bergman and Angelina Verdeschi were ready to initiate plutonium once again using the Alphearan device.
"5...4...3...2...1.." Angelina counted down. Everyone literally had their fingers crossed. "Initiate."
Carter activated the device. The computer monitors instantly came to life. The neutrons accelerated, bombarding the core, increasing the atomic mass of the plutonium...
"Oh my God, "Joan announced, prematurely. "It's working...IT'S WORKING!!!!"
Suddenly, the warning light for the coolant systems went off.
"Coolant #1 is malfunctioning....coolant #3 is malfunctioning," Carter announced.
"The coolant system is unable to handle to massive influx of energy. Shut it down!!" Angelina ordered.
A panel blew on the computer console, sparks and smoke emanating from the control.
"Unable to shut down...circuit short!"
"What!?!? Override, override."
"Coolant #4 malfunctioning. Core temperature increasing. Nearing critical zone."
Carter, Joan, Bergman and Angelina scrambled to reroute the power circuit but to no avail as Coolant #5 failed as well. The Red Alert Klaxon sounded.
Angelina dashed over the manual override and fumbled open the box. With tremendous strength she threw the manual breaker to the device. The emergency lights temporarily flickered before finally stabilizing. Angelina, gasping for breath and sweating leaned against the console. "Core temperature?"
"Stabilized and dropping," Joan reported. "That was close..."
"Too close," Professor Bergman replied, grasping his chest, as his mechanical heart struggled to recover.
"Reactor #2, report your situation!!!!!" Paul Morrow called with great angst.
"What's happening down there?!?!??!"
"Uh, nothing," Carter Jackson stabbed at the compost button, breathless. "Just a false alarm."
"Are you sure?!?!" Morrow asked in disbelief.
"Yeah, everything is under control. Nothing going on. Continuing to work on the device. Reactor #2 out." Carter cut the link.
Angelina, mustering all the strength she could manage to stop from bursting out laughing, said, "Carter, I don't believe it. You just lied to the Main Mission Controller."
Carter Jackson smirked and shrugged. Angelina could not resist and chuckled.
"Well, I suppose it is back to the drawing board," Joan said, downcast.
"Not exactly, "Angelina stated, trying to be positive. "Although, it looks like the coolant system will need a major overhaul. Take a break while the Professor and I start working some more numbers."
Two steps forward....one step back....
Paul was wondering how or when Ang would get the items she was working on back on line. Glancing over to where Alan just sat down at his desk, Paul walked over and leaned against the desk next to Alan's. "So do you think she has a chance at getting those up and running again anytime soon?" he said a hint of sarcasm in his voice. Not caring if it upset Alan or not he continued with the sarcasm, getting a little thicker. "You do know Alan the Commander is expecting her to get on the stick and get it fixed when he wants it done not by her schedule." Alan, biting down on his lower lip, felt the anger starting to fill up in his body and he clenched his fist as well as his teeth.
Then, like a top spinning on it's balance, the ill ilk was wiped away, and replaced with a grin. A plastic, toothsome, belittling, kiss-my-ass beam of disappointed superiority. Carter leaned against the capcomm station, supporting himself in the light of the goose neck lamp. His commlock hung to the side like a spectator that wanted none of it. He held the other hand on his hip at station ready. Lars Manroot, Danny Chan, and Kate Bullen looked on, disquietedly, over the cable enshrouded remains of the main frame desk. Manroot held an open C-clamp like an executive who doesn't know that the handle has broken off of his briefcase.
"'Gotcha." Carter said, showing Morrow another facet of his Donny Osmond grin. "Kind of reminds me of how we all wanted the controller to coordinate a competent strategic defense.
"We didn't get that either, did we, Paul? Guess we expected too much."
Morrow standing, his eyes narrowed to slits, chose to ignore Carter's comment. "What Ang proposes is in the realm of science fiction: bad science fiction at that. It is clear that Bergman has no clue what he is doing and she possesses even less of a clue. What! Is she going to jerry-rig that alien device, flip the switch, blow us up and say 'oh well, I tried?"
Morrow was incensed. Like everyone else he had a terrific headache and he could not overcome the feeling that the only light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train. Sandra, looking up from the data analyst station, had a look of annoyance on her face, as she looked back and forth at the two men.
"Oh well." Carter shrugged easily. Kate Bullen's hand drifted preventatively towards her commlock. Sandra Benes pushed past her, moving in behind Morrow. "You know what they say about incompetence. Starts from the top, and works its way down. 'Angie, Professor Bergman, and the rest of them--they're doing the best they can."
"If you think you can do better, then why don't you go fix the fucking thing."
Morrow turned and took three steps toward Carter. They were now face to face, less than a foot from each other. "You're defense of your girlfriend is touching, " Morrow hissed. "But the fact of the matter is she doesn't know what she's 'fucking' doing either when it comes to that device."
Andy Dempsey now rose from his station, glancing at Sandra. Danny Chan stopped typing at his keyboard, wrist in mid air.
Carter pushed away from the capcomm station. He didn't blink. His left fist bunched together, knuckles as solid as stainless steel rivets. Morrow seemed to want a fight. He was, in fact, begging for a fight. Congratulations were in order--he had found a fight. Kate Bullen prepared to speed dial John Koenig's commlock, as the battle lines were erected. Morrow, and Carter's flags were hoisted on either side of the grassy killing zone. Klaus Rotstein, on the other hand, believed in nothing, or no one. He mounted to his saddle of unrighteousness, therein. He leaned against the rail of the observatory stairwell with a bemused, shit eating grin on his Germanic puss.
"You got ten seconds to get out of my face." Carter warned. "If your still here after the eleventh second, they'll be mopping you up off the bloody floor."
Five seconds passed.....Morrow did not budge...
"PAUL!!" Sandra interjected, pushing the men apart and placing herself between the two of them. She glared at Morrow, lightening bolts arching from her piercing brown eyes.
At the same moment, all heads in Main Mission including Klaus Rotstein, turned toward the right archway as Angelina bellowed, "!!ALAN!!!"
Ang was in a yellow engineering jumpsuit, covered in dirt and grease. Strands of blonde hair had fallen out of her French braid, sticking to the sides of her face with sweat. She strode across the room to the trio. "Grace is going off duty. You need to get Nicky. I need to go back to work," she instructed, her voice now low and calm.
At that moment Gordon Cooper strolled into Main Mission with the status report on Launch Pad One. Surprise--it was a staggering list of bad news. He was halted in his tracks, and grew wide eyed--as if sensing that he had interrupted some one's disembowellment. He extended his clip board to Carter with rubber hands, and looked quizzically at Sandra, and 'Ang.
Carter took the clip board, and looked away disgustedly. His pissed-offness would have no release.
"Take over for me." He said, staring up at the dome--his entire face was as red as a fire engine. It required all the strength he could humanly muster to keep from smacking Morrow upside his head. He exited through Koenig's office, smoking, and with his fists still clenched. Angelina continued to the technical station, delivering a report to Tanya Alexander, and headed back out the right archway.
Andy Dempsey heard Rotstein let out a cynical snorting sound, very high pitched, and nasal.
Sandra turned on her heel and glared at Rotstein. All that remained was the slightest, nearly imperceptible smirk as he continued down the balcony stairs. She immediately turned the evil eye back to Paul, whose face and ears were flush.
Paul looked around. "Alright everyone, show's over. Back to work."
Danny Chan, expressionless, continued typing. Kate Bullen received a red flimsy from Andy Dempsey. Klaus Rotstein quickly exited out the right archway, whispering something in Tanya Alexander's ear as he passed by her station; with tremendous effort, she stifled the urge to laugh. Gordon Cooper sat at the capcomm station and refreshed the monitors in the area of Launch Pad 3. Paul slowly sat down at the Controller's station again and began typing at his key board. Sandra continued with her penetrating look into his back for another 10 seconds then returned quietly to her station.
Sandra's heart was beating hard. She couldn't understand why Paul was in that bad mood. She glanced at him and saw him stood up quickly.
"I need a break!", he said to Tanya, before leave the place. Sandra looked around her, not knowing what to do. She thought Paul would like to be alone, but she couldn't stop her and quickly run after him. She saw her back turning in a corridor.
"Paul!", she shouted. "Please, wait!". Paul turned back slowly, face pale and eyes hard. He looked at her coming without say a word. "Paul...", began softly Sandra. "What's the matter with you? I don't recognize you..."
Paul sighed eagerly.
"Please, don't go. There's something you don't tell us. Are you... Are you afraid? Afraid of death? Or maybe you think that, after all the events we survived, it is not justice we end like that? Because that's what you think, we're all gonna die..."
Sandra looked at the man still standing in front of her, silent.
"Oh, Paul, come on, tell me. I thought we were friends! Why did you attack Alan like that? Why did you say that about Angelina and Victor? You don't have faith in our possibilities to survive anymore? You heard the Commander. He said we can live, we can survive Paul! I don't want to die, and I know we will find a way to live, that we have a future somewhere, in some place and time. The situation is desperate. I know that what we're going to do can seem useless, but have you a better idea in mind? Don't you think you should be with all of us, your friends, then go away like that? Oh, Paul, speak, say something!"
But Paul was still standing there, staring at her.
"Well, do what you want, think what you want. I will go back with the others; I have faith in us. I know it will be hard, but we'll find a way." And, sighing and shaking her head, Sandra turned back, proceeding slowly to her desk .
'Oh murder,' Commander John Koenig mused hopelessly. The missing crown on Ed Malcom's front tooth was most noticeable when he smiled. The technician looked inadequately at the silver pliers in his hand, then back at the poorly stocked Homer Tool Chest. He immediately thought of 1,000 viable excuses for the lack of wire cutters on Moonbase Alpha. Each, and every one involved some dishonesty, and slip-shod carelessness on Marcus Profitt's part.
In the commander's mind, Marcus Profitt had already been given his last meal, and led to the electric chair. Courtesy of Ed Malcom, of course. He hadn't shut up about it for a minute. This had been going on all day long . all day long.
"Well, that's not going to work." Koenig said bluntly, from half way inside the maintenance hatch. He was on his back, with his shoulders crunched against the green, red, and yellow solid state circuits. His tee-shirt was covered with the grit, and grease that fell generously from the roof of the insulated dog house. "I have a pocket knife in my coveralls. Think you can get that for me?"
"Okay." Ed Malcom said. What an admirable shiner Profitt had left him with. Heh-heh-heh.
"Okay." Koenig smiled back, nodding once.
"Okay." Ed Malcom said again--idiocy incarnate.
"Okay." Koenig smiled, and nodded twice. Victor, and 'Ang would pay for this. What goes around, comes around. He considered it a maxim.
The volume increased on the small, battery operated CD Player. Ed Malcom--being the unabashed suck-up that he was--had brought along "Riders On The Purple Sage," which was Koenig's favorite. The technician returned with the pocket knife, opened the blade, and handed it to him. The commander fumbled for it, and tore into the green auxiliary pack, and exposed the copper filaments on the lead wire. Grateful, of course, that his associate had enough sense to turn the breaker boxes off. They were in Solardyne Number Two--a medium sized storage facility that was situated between the remains of Solardyne Number One, and Solardyne Number Three. Under ordinary circumstances, the units would have operated as a tandem. Now, this powerhouse was the only game in town. If it went down, every survivor on the base would suffocate in the dark. Claude Murneau was the first to suggest refreshing the batteries as a way of prolonging their emergency power. The chances of succeeding were slim, since such a proposal was usually dependent on the capacity of the other cells, which were now non-existent.
The attempt had to be made, however.
"Do you think that will work?" Ed Malcom asked sheepishly--his blobulous mass was hunkered down so he could see into the hole.
"I don't know." Koenig admitted, straightening the filaments with his bare hands. "It's not exactly my specialty."
"Oh." Malcom said vacantly. "Whose specialty is it?"
The commander closed the pocket knife, and laid it conveniently at his side.
"Someone who's dead now." He said simply as he started to unscrew the main distribution coupling.
"Oh." Ed Malcom considered the poorly lit room. He was starting to feel almost guilty for yelling at Marcus Profitt. "Hey, whatever happens, I want you to know that I really appreciate what you've tried to do for us."
"You know--it makes death more bearable...sort of...."
"We're not going to die, Ed." Koenig upheld. Over fifty people had said goodbye to him today, and he was tired of hearing it. As a matter of fact, the pity party ended here. The next person who said avoir was going to leave sooner than expected because he was going to rip their head off, and hand it to them. Conversely, the people he wished he could have said goodbye to were no longer sucking air. "Now, why don't you put a lid on it, and bring me some electrical tape."
It was a roll of the dice, though. One that neither the First Cause, nor John Koenig, nor Jerry Garcia could ever be certain of.
Christopher Potter, electronics engineer, sat back, shivering slightly. The oscilloscope he was repairing had blown a power supply during the last trial of the Alphearan device on Reactor #2. Chris also had a mountain of work orders but naturally, this one was priority. Right now, his boss, Pete Garforth was working on repairing Ed Malcom's voltmeter.
In the next room, Ed was complaining incessantly about the cold. His massive frame did not permit him to zip up his coat. Still, Chris mused, Malcom had enough blubber on him that he shouldn't be too cold...yet. He also thought that Pete, a tall and large framed man, also had a large amount of patience for listening to Ed Malcom. Earlier, Malcom had been griping to Chris and he came oh-so close to getting another shiner, on his opposite eye; that is, until Garforth stepped in and decided to deal with Malcom himself.
Chris took a sip of his mediocre coffee and spat; it too was cold. Chris zipped up his silver, thermal jacket, recently issued to all personnel due to further restrictions in the power and the drop in heat. The digital wall thermometer read 58 degrees.
Chris reminisced, remembering when they almost had to trade in their silver jackets for the NEW LSRO jackets, before breakaway. Yes, the uniform code was going to change by the end of 1999, to bring in the new century in "style". That move would have included getting rid of the silver jackets, in favor of the multi-colored LSRO jackets. Chris chuckled; he really didn't like them since they reminded him of Cub Scout uniforms, complete with "merit" badges. Of course, now it didn't matter since the event of September 13, 1999 determined the course of Alphan "fashion".
The coolant system for Reactor #2 was undergoing a major overhaul, including the electronics. Marcus Profitt silently entered the work shop.
"How soon before the scope is done?" Profitt asked Potter, obviously exhausted.
"I just have to screw the power supply to the chassis, put the case on and it's all yours," Potter replied, perhaps more cheerfully than he should under the circumstance. "How's it going at #2?"
"Oh, I don't know, "Profitt replied, noticing a missing 5/16 bit in his drill bit cabinet. "The nuke guys are basically rebuilding the coolant system...big job. It's going to take days."
"Yeah, well, we don't have too many 'days' left, dude."
"No kidding. But I'm not just going to sit on my ass and give up. They did get that thing to work, according to Jackson. "
Potter nodded as he drove the last screw into the power supply. In the background, Ed continued to complain to his supervisor about the still missing chuck key on his drill.
Bob Mathias snapped a vinyl glove over his left hand, and pushed RECORD on the DAT Console. Still draining on the metal slab before him was the late David Reilly. He looked dead. Gone were the roaming hands, sexually harassing just about every female--each, and every one, horridly disinterested--on Moonbase Alpha. Gone was the cheap, J.R. Ewing signature collection Stetson. Silent were the lips that conveyed idiocy only...and bullshit, and a certain cocky irreverence for decency, and common sense.
Away went his testicles, as a matter of fact--compliments of his malefactor. Some would argue that he never had any to begin with.
"Subject's name: David Morrison Reilly." Mathias dictated, pulling the lamp down, and pulling the sheet back to expose the jigsaw puzzle. "A forty-three year old male. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes. Senior Geologist, relieved of duty." The physician felt a cold hand willy it's way up his forearms. "International Lunar Commission Service Number: 432A745H." He pulled a scalpel from a nearby sanitary pan. "Cause of death appears to be from multiple stab wounds to the heart. Also in the left anterior--penetrating."
Unbeknownst to Mathias, just over his left shoulder, a black outline fluttered through the adjoining bulkhead, and drifted across the rectangular, red light panels. His nostrils fluttered from the myriad, offensive odors--burned pork, vomit, wild animal shit. The figure glided to the left, and then to the right.
And then obtruded into the space directly behind him, hovering marginally between floor, and ceiling. Mathias' mind was filled with a resonating tune of dread. It spun like a wire recording of Jimi Rogers singing "Ghost Riders In The Sky."
"Lateral stab wounds to the forehead, the neck, and the spine--just below the L-5 vertebrae. Neutering of the male sexual organs is also clearly visible." Mathias dropped the scalpel, and zipped his thermal jacket all the way to the collar. The Autopsy Room was down right hypothermic, easily forty below, or more. Close enough to yank the hairs on his neck, the dark figure opened what passed for it's eyes. No corneas, or pupils--only sickly, evil whites. It's shoulders tensed like the haunches on a bat.
"It's freezing in here." Mathias remarked aloud, exhaling a long plume of smoke. By the time he turned to reach for the stainless steel pizza cutter, the figure was gone. He saw nothing.
If Dave Reilly saw something, he couldn't honestly attest.
On Moonbase Alpha, night time wrestled with you. Sort of like a mouse, or maybe even a rat--one of those huge, emboldened sewer monstrosities--red eyes, long pink tail. It darted up your pants leg, and advanced on your pelvis, tearing your skin to ribbons with it's razor sharp nails. It brought with it typhus, and diphtheria, and if you screamed loudly enough, it would lodge itself in your mouth, squirming, and grappling for entrance while you clawed at it's quivering black torso. In Main Mission Control, Clare Bradford stepped away from her cart at Panel Number Three, and gave Andy Dempsey what he thought he wanted.
"You've got to be kidding me." The services assistant said, the red flimsy dangled between right thumb, and forefinger like bad, Drop Dead Fred, beat poetry. The bad news was partially visible through the open bird flap, and it looked something like this:
13,845 Au DECLINING
12,673 Au DECLINING
9,984 Au DECLINING
In fine, they would run out of breathable air long before Thomas Edison pulled the rug out from underneath them. It had transcended the plight of busted hardware, though no one was really certain as to why. Shortly after Evil Mushroom called the purple planet's bluff, Marcus Profitt became irate, and kicked one of the bottom modules. The panel was totally insignificant. There was no floor level wiring--just a cosmetic face plate. He left behind a rubber heel mark from one of his size 10 1/2 Hush Puppies, and exited the room with great umbrage.
Moments later, the animated MENU was replaced with a view of magic space from the starboard camera. Now the image they were seeing was of a bright green nebula. The formation was exotic, and stationary. It spun charged particles of stardust for light years in every direction. It was shaped like a cursive 'Y,' and coveted a blue dwarf near its epicenter.
Dempsey's groans were shortly interrupted by a MASTER ALARM at the controller's desk. Mark Winters returned his pen to its clip board, and set it atop the paper shredder. Klaus Rotstein, and Tom Graham looked on guardedly from the capcomm station. Everyone in the room was aware of what the situation was even before he opened the link.
"Commander Koenig," Winters said carefully into the commpanel. "We've reached the 99,000-Km demarcation.
"We're...out of range of the planet now."
"I saw the report," Angelina dropped into the chair across from her desk.
Professor Bergman glanced up at her over the rim of his reading glasses behind the mountain of paper and notes on her desk.
"It's just a slight setback," Bergman replied reassuringly. The professor sounded like he had a cold. The nasal tone of his voice was due to the oxygen tubing from the nearby O2 tank resting in his nostrils. His mechanical heart was unable to compensate quickly enough for the decrease in oxygen levels. The fact that he now had to tote around an oxygen tank like an emphysema patient did not appear to dampen his spirit or determination in the least.
"A setback?!?" Angelina retorted, aghast, "Sir, our situation has gone from impossible to difficult back to impossible again. The way things stand now, we are going to run out of air before the lights go out for good. It's just...just daunting." Angelina took a giant sip of her cold coffee and choked it down.
"Oh, I remember a young graduate student who was given the daunting task to troubleshoot and repair a coolant reactor leak in an Italian nuclear power plant in 4 days or it would face a major shutdown. She did it in 3."
"Yeah, well that was different. There, I was able to let some kid continue to play his Nintendo 64. Here, it is life and death."
"Now you know there was more to the Italian situation than that," Professor Bergman chided good-naturedly. "That too was an impossible situation. You saved the city of Turin and the surrounding suburbs and industry millions of Lira by preventing the shutdown of that reactor."
"I suppose. But it just seems like now I am really jousting windmills, you know, like Don Quixote." Angelina took another sip of horrible coffee. She was trying to stay two steps ahead of the sandman, who was constantly at her side now.
"Ah, Don Quixote. A good source of inspiration and an excellent role model right now," the Professor nodded, as he began sifting through the pile of notes for a misplaced piece of scratch paper.
"Role model?" Angelina laughed. "He was a nut. He refused to see the world as it was."
"Or," Bergman interrupted, "Did he try to shape the world as he saw it?"
Angelina sat back and stared at the poster behind her desk. It was the cartoon character Garfield the cat with his usual smug look on his face. The caption read, "I'd love to help you out. Which way did you come in?"
Suddenly, the lightbulb turned on.
"The Eagles! Professor, the Eagles!" Angelina exclaimed, jumping up excitedly. "The Eagles have generators and nuke cells. We can strip them out of the Eagles and junction them into the atmosphere control directly as an alternate power source!!"
"Very good," Bergman smiled. "See, not impossible anymore."
"Yeah," Angelina proclaimed as she pulled her comlock from the loop on her jumpsuit to call the Commander. "We're back to difficult now."
Angelina gazed at her sleeping son in his crib. His soft white hair was covered with a hat and he was dressed in two blanket sleepers to keep his small body warm. She had not seen Nicky at all that day, since she went to the Reactor before he woke up and returned after he went to bed.
She quietly crept into the bedroom and slid under the blankets. It was 2:30 am and she would have to go back to the reactor at 7:00am. Every muscle and every joint ached; her head was pounding. Alan turned over sleepily, eyes half open.
"Hey," she whispered. On the one hand, Ang just wanted to go to sleep. On the other, she had been so absorbed in Reactor #2 that she was nearly oblivious to other things happening around the rest of the base. Besides, she hadn't seen or talked to Alan that day either.
"'Hiya." Carter said, quasi-obliviously. His mouth, dry enough that he could have sworn a baby dragon had dozed off in there. He had tried sleep, but had ended up counting Hawks instead of sheep. "Don't you got some gusto." He yawned. "How did things go in the old factory today."
Angelina smirked . "No gusto. Living on coffee, I'm afraid, a lot of it and bad coffee at that. We're still modifying the coolant system, a project that would normally take months, but we don't have months." She paused, somewhat downcast.
"Yeah, then I lost it with Ed Malcom," she continued, staring at the ceiling with guilt. "He got into it with Claude Murneau. In the process, he managed to wire a transformer opposite polarity. When Murneau threw the switch, it blew up. Murneau went after Ed and gave him another shiner, opposite eye; not before Ed manage to split Claude's lip. I was up on the mezzanine when I heard the scuffle then Claude cussing and screaming in French. Carter broke it up, though I swore he took his time about it. When I got to them I was really pissed, lecturing both of them. Ed started mouthing off at me and he wouldn't shut up, even though I repeatedly told him to be quiet. I just...well, I just exploded."
"I told him that his 'whiney, fucking, incompetent, useless ass' was confined to his quarters," Angelina sighed. "He told me he was reporting me to the Commander for harassment and left. Maybe I'll get lucky and Koenig will fire me..." She swallowed hard and wasn't sure which was upsetting her more; the harsh words she said to Ed or losing control and blowing up at him.
Carter visualized 'Ang being relieved of duty by virtue of a bad hand from Ed Malcom. That was a good one. He would have exploded with laughter, were it not for the fact that they were sharing their quarters with Carissa Englebert, who was sleeping on the sofa. She probably wouldn't appreciate the tweak to her ravaged nerves. Nor would Yul Ostrog, who was crashed in Carter's tub. Englebert stirred fitfully, but Ostrog somehow managed to snore.
His talent at this eminently impressed Alan Carter. He had to hand it to him, no pillow, nothing.
"Oh, I don't think I'd worry too much about that." The pilot snorted, reaching for his comlock to check the Lunar Time. "Best of times, all that melon brain does is eat us out of house, and home. The commander's got bigger fish to fry. Word has it, they had no luck at all refreshing the solar batteries."
"No, they did not," Angelina replied, not surprised. "You really can't do it without another power source, which obviously we don't have." Angelina had moved next to him, resting her head against his chest, listening to his heart beating.
"Alan, are William Gregory Harms the third," Angelina chuckled softly, "and Pierre Danielle okay? Did they make it back alright?" Rather, Angelina thought, is Pierre Danielle still a rational and sane person? "And how is it that Yul can possibly be more comfortable in the bathtub than on the cot in the living room?"
"Big-P's fine. He's bunking with 'Coop, and Bannion."
"Harms is on duty." The pilot remarked, unsympathetically. "I put him in a standby Eagle." He wiped the grief from his haggard face, and then laid his comlock to rest next to 'Ang's. "Now, there's no way we can possibly launch an Eagle in the tens like that. The pads are still down, but there's a certain discipline we all have to observe. Right?"
"Besides that, he was getting on my nerves so bad, I wanted to bust his melvin. "
"Christ." Carter exclaimed, looking away to the productive saw mill in the darkened lavatory. "How the devil can he just crash in a tub like that. I can't go with having my feet hanging over the edge like that."
The pilot felt inferior.
She laughed softly in response. "I guess some people are...gifted?!?!"
She looked up at him as her expression became serious. "I'm sorry, Alan, but tomorrow all the launch pad areas will have to be shut down. In order to conserve energy, we will need to temporarily not provide atmosphere to several areas of the base. Priority will be given to the Reactor area and supporting manufacturing, the least damaged hydroponics farm which Sandra's people are working, residence and medical areas and Main Mission."
"It's going to be close. The rebuilding of the coolant system will be completed in two days. We don't have 5 days of batteries left. Launching the nukes drained them quite a bit. We have...about two days. Only the Commander, the professor, and I and now you know this tidbit of information. It hasn't been publicized yet. I think all hell and panic will break loose if it gets out."
Angelina paused mournfully, trying to read Carter's face; he remained expressionless.
"So what's the mood out there; how's morale? I mean, my world now revolves exclusively around reactor 2."
"Morale?" He said, offering her a cock-eyed look. "What's that? Everyone I come into contact with is settling their personal affairs; making their peace with God--all the good that will do. The map room is still pretty business-like, but everywhere else, I'm seeing more, and more people carrying around copies of The Holy Bible, and The Kaballah. Here, and there, I've even seen those pocket sized editions of The Koran.
"But deep down, they believe they're milking a slaughtered cow. You can tell by that dead look in their eyes. They've lost hope. Buddha, and Allah didn't keep their part of the bargain. That's the feeling I'm getting from them. Everyone feels betrayed. Angry.
"'Ang, the thing is--the launch pads, and most everything else can be repaired. Alpha was built to be self-supporting. It damn well had to be that way because it was constructed during war years. The real enemy is time--or our lack of it.
"Most people aren't seeing it that way, though. Regardless of what books they're reading, and what symbols they have around their necks--fate is what they're praying to. Forget initiative." Carter shook his head disgustedly. "I guess MacArthur was right. I think they once asked him about the first casualty of war. He said it was human nature."
He fought the slippery slope, but for all of his machinations, he could still feel his boot heels digging into the mud.
Despite his best efforts at masking it, Angelina caught the slightest glimpse of despair and hopelessness in his eyes. She felt herself sinking into the quagmire of depression when she heard the baby unexpectedly laugh in his sleep, with Yul's snoring as a background accompaniment.
She felt an overwhelming sense of urgency along with her overwhelming fatigue. "This is not how it's going to end," Angelina stated with steely resolve.
Despite the fact it had been at least 30 hours since she last slept and despite the protests of her back muscles, Angelina sat up abruptly as she stated, "I'm going back. I'm sure I can blackmail Mathias into giving me something to keep going."
"Uh-uh," Carter disagreed, reaching for his comlock. "No way, 'toots. You're staying right here."
He turned the magnet on the bedroom door. They both caught a glimpse of Carissa Englebert sitting up on the couch, running worried fingers through her bed head. In one corner of the outhouse, Yul Ostrog happily communed with the soap, and the shampoo, and the towels, and the scald proof brite work. It was a deep, abiding slumber. Solid as a rock.
Occasionally, he would hug 'Ang's tropical shower curtains.
In the crib, Nicky dreamt of small animals he had never actually seen.
"You aren't responsible for keeping the pep rally going here." He said, pointing the comlock's micro monitor at her like a gavel. "We've known the score for over four years now. Some of us will make it--some of us won't. Fixing that reactor isn't going to restore any one's belief in themselves, and as far as I'm concerned, that's the biggest problem we're facing right now. Survival is a choice. It's not up to you to decide for them. All you can do is give them the tools to make it possible.
"And you won't even be able to do that if you die of sleep deprivation.
"The commander's in there working on that now, and he probably doesn't need another egghead around to muddle things up. You'll get another crack at it in the morning. Right now your job is to get some sleep, and meet Professor Bergman for your regular shift."
Realizing that it was rude to point, Carter backed his comlock away, and returned it to its place on the bedside table.
"E drammatico!" Angelina blurted in Italian.
Angelina sighed heavily. "You're being dramatic. Nobody dies from a little lack of sleep." She looked at him; now would have been the perfect opportunity to open up the emotional dam and let the stress, anxiety and fear out with a good cry in the arms of the only person she would allow herself permission to do so. She did not; in the present circumstance, she did not want to add her emotional baggage to his. Besides, a crying jag would only further attest to her fatigue and need for sleep.
"I don't care about the idiots running about the base picking barroom brawls with each other over missing drill chuck keys and wire cutters. I have only two reasons for my motivation; one is the little dude in the crib and the other I'm looking at right now. Coffee isn't cutting it, Alan; I need something stronger. The air is starting to get thin now; in less than 48 hours, we are going to die, if reactor 2 does not start. I am responsible for that." She looked away finishing, "Time is running out and sleep will just rob us of a few precious hours."
"A 'little' lack of sleep, 'ay?" Carter said, dismissing her entire argument as hyperbole. "Blarney. 'Ang, what are you going to do when it comes time for another one of your control tests, but your too busy hallucinating to observe the results. Straight up--and what kind of hole are you going to put us all in if you get slap happy with one of the consoles.
"One hour can be considered a lack of sleep. Over thirty hours--that's nuttier than a can of cashews. You can't help any one in the condition your in right now. Ask me, you're a basket case. You want precious hours? Great, then you can spend some here with me--power napping. When you're thinking straight, and not over-apt to blow us to kingdom come, then you're more than welcome to have at that reactor again."
Thus spake Alan Carter, the patient grin never leaving his face.
She knew he was right; he knew he was right. She had a zero point zero percent chance of getting past him back to reactor 2 at this point. Ang allowed herself to be drawn back down into his embrace. She imagined her back and neck giving a collective sigh of relief as the annoying aching subsided.
Her gung-ho enthusiasm immediately collapsed as she hit the bottom of the emotional rollercoaster ride. She closed her eyes and found it difficult to prop up the two ton slabs that were called her eyelids. Why bother....
"You win," she croaked slightly, with utter defeat, way beyond tears.
Old Reilly was dead to begin with, so paraphrased Truman Starns, and from his favorite author, Charles Dickens. There is no doubt what so ever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. The aforementioned mourner was--by duty--Dr. Helena Russell, he supposed; more formality than fondness, it was.
Starns understood. Of the people he had questioned so far, not one of them offered anything, other than a fabled bird in the wind at the geologist/dishwasher/custodian/cowboy's passing. Some one had opened that Irish Gunslinger up like a tom turkey, but no one was exactly weeping over it. Suffice to say, Reilly was an abhorred quantity on Moonbase Alpha, which narrowed the murder suspects down to just about every one. This walnut was a tough one to crack. His forecast for this case was futility, and failure, but being a cop was rote behavior to him, so he pursued it any way.
"No offence," Starns began, staring into his contaminated cup of Glucose-A. "I think I'd like Dr. Sullivan to do an autopsy as well. You, and Dr. Mathias did a competent job, of course, but I've worked with her before, and she has more of a background in criminal pathology."
He nodded to Velma Hill, who then rolled Reilly's slab back into the meat locker, and closed the drawer.
"Of course Dr. Sullivan can re-examine the body, Lieutenant," Dr. Russell replied, removing her surgical/autopsy outer garments.
Not waiting for the obvious question, yet stating the obvious, Russell continued. "The death was definitely a homicide. The cause of death was massive blood loss due to a puncture of the aorta with a sharp object. That injury caused almost immediate death. Unfortunately, the rest of the, uh, cutting job, was done prior to the damage to the aorta."
Helena shook her head, sadly. "He probably suffered greatly before he died."
"Doctor, you're probably the first person I've interviewed who bothered to recognize that." Starns bleeped, at nothing particularly funny. "Mr. Reilly wasn't well liked.
"I admit, I found him less than--oh, I guess 'humble' is the word. He was also grievously lacking in social skills. It's the way that it was done that bothers me.
"Sad thing is, we may never know who did it." Starns closed his notepad.
The reasons why were obvious. In only a few days, the perpetrator would be punished no more, or no less than everyone else on Alpha. It was coincidental justice. The detective had no idea what was going on with the power situation. After he left Medical Center, he would spend the rest of his day pushing a wheel barrel around Reactor Two, along with the other volunteers. That spoke of no mean expertise. Still, judging by his own intermittent light headedness, and shallow breathing, he could swear that the air had begun to thin.
"Lieutenant," Helena assured, "we have a lot better chance of surviving than we did just a few days ago. Technical has made tremendous strides in adapting the Alphearan device to our system. The person who gambled that he or she would not be caught by murdering Dave Reilly is going to be quite surprised when he loses his bet."
Dr. Russell sighed. "This killing sounds like someone is having a psychological breakdown. I knew it was a matter of time before this would happen. The question is, do you think it will happen again?"
Starns collated his thoughts before speaking. Through the vent behind them, the fan belt could be heard revving from within the refrigerator casing.
"Chances are, yes." He waited for an emotional response from the physician before continuing. He left that day, impressed by her neutrality. "Human beings have been profiling cases like this for hundreds of years. Long before the age of Gein, and Gacy, and Chickatilla in the USSR. Dave Reilly wasn't just killed. He was murdered, and mutilated. It's reasonable to assume that, in order to do that, the killer must have derived some satisfaction from hacking him to pieces. Whoever it was, they weren't bothered by having blood all over their hands.
"Now that they've had a taste, they'll probably crave more. I know it's weird, and it sucks, but imagine, if you will: you've finally achieved your heart's desire. The one, taboo thing that you've always wanted to do. What would you do to maintain that warm, fuzzy feeling?"
Helena Russell nodded stoically. "Understood," came the one word response, swallowing hard. For someone, somewhere on Alpha, a boundary line had been crossed. "If you can give me a psychological profile of the killer, perhaps I could make a comparative record of psychological profiles of potential perpetrators of this crime. I say 'potential' because it is not foolproof by any stretch of the imagination."
Dr. Russell paused, tapping her pen. "It could be a start, though." She offered, trying to be encouraging. "Honestly, do you think that the situation we are in now was the 'trigger' for the murderer to act? Or do you think he or she would have 'acted' in time anyway?"
Starns rubbed his hands together for warmth, and then buttoned the collar of his silver overcoat.
"Whoever did this is a hunter." He explained. "I don't think it has any thing to do with stress. Our current situation just provided a nice diversion.
"They'll hunt again."
Hunt. Dr. Helena Russell was reminded of her late physician father who was also an avid deer hunter. He would go to great lengths to achieve the perfect prize for the season every year. The year before he died, Dad had chartered a plane to hunt reindeer in Labrador, Canada, where he caught a 2000 pound bull; that was his crowning achievement. Helena wondered to what lengths this 'hunter' would go to attain his "crowning achievement."
"Lt. Starns, do you have an idea, in terms of a preliminary profile of who the killer might be, based on your experience?"
"It's difficult to say at this point." He replied. "I have a 'type' in mind, but as far as an actual profile--too many roads lead to Rome, right now."
He hoped that some one else wouldn't have to die before it became apparent whether to turn left, or turn right. It would be insanity incarnate if the worse case happened--for want of viable leads, all of this became some horrific learning experience. He could even imagine it as a Dr. Suess book, The Loon On The Moon, or Red Ganglia, And Ham.
"We knew it was only a matter of time, before the unifying bond of our day to day struggle to survive would disintegrate and some of our community would reclaim the darker aspects of human behavior." Dr. Russell capped her pen. "First, we had the mutiny 8 months ago during our encounter with whatever that thing was that took over David Trask. Now we have this case. It almost feels like we've lost our innocence again, and getting ourselves kicked out of the Garden of Eden."
'Some Garden of Eden,' Helena thought to herself.
Ben Ouma hobbled backwards on his crutches, and waited for the software to finish downloading. The thermometer at the controller's desk went from 25%, to 50%, and--after each, and every person there was bored, and frustrated unto tears--100%. The information was then replaced by a dialogue box that said RECORD NOW.
"It's ready." The mainframe specialist said, joining Paul Morrow on the steps.
"You have about five minutes." Paul Morrow nodded, staring at his hands. Kate Bullen, and Pierre Danielle stood reverently by the capcomm desk.
"We are humanity." Sandra Benes said, taking a deep breath before continuing. "Our home was a planet called Earth. We built this base, called Alpha, so that we could unlock the mysteries of science--in the hopes that we could come to terms with a universe that is...baffling...in it's complexity."
Pierre Danielle turned away only long enough to lay his clipboard beside the gooseneck lamp.
"But a holocaust occurred which blasted this Moon out of Earth's orbit. Since then, we have wandered the galaxy in search of a home. Against impossible odds, we have struggled to maintain our integrity as a community--but above all else--our integrity as human beings; to remain true to who, and what we are. We have faced challenges that seemed insurmountable, but some how we survived. Now, we face a new challenge: our base was attacked--and destroyed--for no apparent reason, by an alien race that annihilated themselves in the process. We have passed beyond the limits of that hostile world, but we have been left with only a slim hope of surviving beyond the next few hours. Our commander, John Koenig, Professor Victor Bergman, and Professor Angelina Verdeschi have taken extraordinary measures to extend our life support capability beyond its reasonable capacity.
"However, the chances are not good." Sandra swallowed deeply. Kate Bullen watched as her eyes began to well with tears. Morrow stood, but the data analyst shook her head, and backed him away with a single emphatic palm. "There is a second planet in this solar system, and as it turns out, the Moon will be passing much closer than we previously expected. We have managed to repair one of our launch pads. As the end draws near, we find that it is possible for us to evacuate to surface.
"Possible...but not desirable. According to our long range sensors, the planet is rife with volcanic activity, and an atmosphere that is incommoded with methane, and ammonia vapor. There are areas that could sustain life--in fact, there seem to be areas that do sustain life.
Then, the unfairest gulp of all.
"But it is not for us. Perhaps we have come to far--fought too hard, to accept a conclusion that many would consider...unavoidable. Some voiced a desire to go--to take their chances on the outer planet. The vast majority of us, though, have elected to stay. Alpha was--and is--our only hope.
"If we are to die--it is far better for us to die here, believing in ourselves. Every thing that has transpired did mean something; it was not in vain."
Sandra brightened then, regardless of the lonely tear that was finding its way down her left cheek.
Commander John Koenig sat at his desk rubbing his temples. Despite pulling an all-nighter to relieve Ang from working on the reactor, he needed to hear the anticipated bad news from the hydroponics section. If or rather when they got past the lack of power situation, Koenig knew they faced a serious food shortage. The side door chimed. Koenig aimed his comlock and the door slid open, as Melita Kelly and Eddie Collins stepped inside. Sandra joined them from Main Mission.
"Well, how are we doing with the food situation?" Koenig smiled slightly and motioned to make themselves comfortable.
"We've made some progress in repairs but we've also had some set backs too," Eddie Collins volunteered, as he leaned on the edge of the low rider white couch. "Bottom line is this: It will be approximately 2 days after we run out of rations before the new crop of soybeans will be ready for consumption."
"Therefore, we are making the following recommendation," Melita Kelly continued. "It is possible to go without food for 48 hours, not comfortable, but still possible. Medical can also supplement with glucose IVs as required. There are some that should not go without nourishment for such a period of time. The following people would be exempt and will continue to have the remaining rations: the 12 patients in medical center, Jackie Crawford, Nicky Carter and Adele Erhlich. As you know, Adele is 5 months pregnant and Dr. Russell has recommended she continue to be provided rations as well."
"Commander, this estimate for the 48 hours is conservative," Sandra contributed. "It could be longer but we are working diligently to make sure that it is not longer. The good news is repairs to the protein production unit will take less time and the unit should be repair within another 2 days after the soybean crop is ready for harvest."
"So it looks like we're all going to be a lot skinnier when this is over," Eddie Collins added, with some jocularity.
Koenig nodded to the three of them. "Keep up the good work. I know right now the focus has been on getting the power online but your efforts are just as important and necessary. Once the reactor gets back online, if there are any additional resources or manpower you need, please don't hesitate to ask. Your area will become top priority."
The three nodded as they silently left the Commander's office. In the glow of the red emergency lights, Koenig sat back in his chair briefly before deciding to go back to Reactor #2.
Bram Cedrix backed down the ladder from the map room, almost sliding occumbo. He cursed the founder of Quaker State, and stepped into the dark hangar. Launch Pad Three was quiet. Quiet as a mortuary. The mammoth crane assembly circled over head on it's horse shoe track, looking like the rib cage of a deceased brontosaurus. The empty conveyor belt continued to feed towards the inner airlock, though the doors were closed. Eagle One was still in standby position, next to one of the Tetroxide Fuel Towers.
The technician walked to one of the junction boxes, and shut down the conveyor track. A hydraulic hiss could be heard, and then the flow died away.
Cedrix twirled his moustache. The final reactor test would begin soon. As foreman, it was his duty to make sure everyone was out of here when the atmosphere reserves got rerouted. All heads were accounted for, except for one.
"???Beldon???" He called vociferously, placing his hands against his cheeks. "!!!Front, and center!!! It's time to pull out of here!!!"
The foreman mounted the steps to the passenger module, and used his comlock to open the hatch. Inside, the rows of vinyl seats curved endlessly, giving the unlit compartment the same aspect that one would expect in some dark, mountainous, negative universe. The doors to the command module parted, but Cedrix found only Captain Invisible, and Lieutenant Oxygen in the pilot, and co-pilot's seats. The yokes moved up, and down mysteriously on their castors. The navigational display was dark, but the other hardware blinked back at him like quietly snotty, superior acting ghosts. Cedrix keyed his comlock as he approached the aft section. Technically, only Carter, and a handful of senior mechanics were allowed in the service module, but he was becoming desperate, and a little afraid.
On the other side of the hatch lay Richard Beldon, electronics, and instrumentation savant. He was curled up in a pre-fetal position beneath an insulated tank of Partassic Acid.
"???Wha-???" Cedrix started, and then his colleague grabbed him by the rim of his tunic.
"???Did you see them???" Beldon interrogated. It had taken only seconds for him to find his feet again. Behind him, the word DANGER was stenciled above the silver vat. "I saw Mitchell." The technician nodded frantically, his eyes all glazed, and red rimmed. "He wanted in. !!!He begged me to let him in!!! But I wouldn't do it!!!"
A proud smile rearranged the black tissue of the technician's lips.
Cedrix's head reeled.
"Then I looked out the window." Beldon declared, one corner of his mouth coated with a thin foam. "I looked, and I saw them--all of them. Mitchell, Landrum, Osaka, Davenport. !!!The whole hangar was full!!! There must have been a hundred of them, or more!!!"
He quaked. Presently, he began to urinate himself.
"Mitch Mitchell is dead." Cedrix adjured, his fear suddenly replaced by grievous comprehension.
Beldon's entire list of contacts were all technicians--stationed at Launch Pad Three when the purple planet laid waste to the upper maintenance levels. Beldon dropped to his knees, still clutching the foreman's flares. The cramped quarters were soon filled by pain wracked sobs.
"!!!I couldn't let them in!!!" He wept uncontrollably. "!!!They weren't like they used to be!!! Their voices--they sounded choked, and old!!! Like something else was using their bodies!!!"
Cedrix patted Beldon's shoulder, and removed his comlock from his belt. Using the speed dial, he contacted Medical Center.
"!!!I COULDN'T LET THEM KILL ME!!!" The other technician shrieked defensively.
His hair, once jet black, was now a dead fall of white.
The atmosphere of main recreation area on Moonbase Alpha took on the guise of a place of worship. In small groups there were those of Muslim faith, kneeling in prayers recited from the Koran. Another group of Jewish faithful were reciting prayers from the Torah. Various groups of other faiths and Christians were also huddled together in prayer.
Not a single, solitary one of them was sane. The brain damage was attributable to oxygen narcosis, stress, and in the case of their leaders, superlatively low IQ's.
Greg Sanderson, Peter Cernik and Darrin Stevens were taking solace in the Holy Bible. The air was thin and oxygen deprivation had begun to set in. Some personnel had lost consciousness.
"Look." Sanderson, an imposing technician with dark eyes began, "Look 'ere. It says it right here. And the dead shall be raised incorruptible. That's what all of this is about."
Sanderson began panting and wheezing, blinking his eyes to refocus his vision.
"And the C'mmander, and Bergman, and that bitch Angelina Verdeschi," he continued with disgust, "They're forestalling the Will of God."
"Amen, amen...go on go on," Cernik cried out, also gasping.
"We weren't meant to survive, each, and every one of us has our destiny, beyond this Moon: beyond the borders of death." Sanderson threw the Bible at them.
"We've got to stop this attempt....This attempt to perpetuate the Harlot, and The Apostate Church, and The Beast, and his False Prophet."
"Praise God!! They must accept Jesus as their Lord and personalSavior..."Cernik blurted nonsensically.
"For the love of God, that reactor's got to come down!"
"Amen...Amen...Sanderson...." Darrin Stevens shouted.
Hugo Willet looked up. "We're...not...breathing; we aren't thinking straight."
"You shut your fucking hole, you heretic. Look--it says here...." Sanderson fumbled for the passage. He thought it was in the Book of Jude, but he was wrong.
"AWAY SATAN...away!!!" Cernik interrupted with hate in his eyes.
"In my father's house, there are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you." Sanderson began his sermon, handing out lasers. "I go to prepare a place for you. If I go to prepare a place, I will come again, and receive ye unto myself."
Cernik preferred to have his laser on the KILL setting.
"So that where I am--there ye may be also." Sanderson continued as he led the small group toward Corridor-C. "What they're doing is evil--it's evil, and it's demonic; their mouths are like open sepulchres. You who would be right with God, follow me. Those of you who to be Pharisees, and cast into everlasting darkness, where there shall be a wailing, and a gnashing of teeth.... You stay. Everyone else, follow me."
They chanted as they marched, a few fainting dead away before they reached the first maintenance ladder.
In Reactor #2, Angelina Verdeschi, Carter Jackson, Victor Bergman and Joan Conway were finishing the final modifications to the coolant system. The final test would begin in 5 minutes. Carter Jackson was on the mezzanine verifying coolant flow pressures.
Pierce Quentin, and Truman Starns were lasered immediately. This brought a steaming, putrid coda to security coverage in the area. They collapsed into fiery heaps from injuries to their chest, and thighs. Angelina looked up in alarm as Greg Sanderson, always a loose cannon, led the pack into the room. Carter Jackson discreetly activated the emergency beacon on his comlock.
"!!!Step away from that golden calf!!!" Sanderson bellowed to Angelina, waving his laser at her with a righteous flourish. She did not move from her position in front of the modified coolant system.
Sanderson continued, panting, and wheezing, sweating. "!!!You up there, get your fucking ass away from that alarm panel!!!" Cernik aimed his laser at Carter Jackson, who slowly raised his hands.
"Greg? What are you doing?" Angelina inquired, calmly. She realized Sanderson's sudden religious fanaticism could only be caused by oxygen deprivation. Reason would be out of the question. Stalling for time until help arrived would be their only option. Angelina glanced at Carter Jackson, who gave her the slightest, imperceptible nod.
"God's Will, now step away from that box, or I'm going to have to fry you."
He laughed sickly; there was something about the situation that reminded him of a joke he once heard. Something about blondes, and turtles.
"Do you see an angel?" Cernick spoke, with a glazed, blank look on his face.
Sanderson aimed the laser.
"I see an angel. He descended, and placed one foot on the Earth. And one foot on the sea. And declared to the dead, who therein are. That..."
Main Mission was already alerted and heard the dialogue in Reactor #2 on audio.
"!!!Sandra, get a picture of that!!!" Koenig ordered, as he bolted down the steps to stand behind Paul Morrow.
Angelina, continuing to buy time, spoke soothingly. "Where in the Bible does it say that, Greg? Show me."
"Security, to Power Generation Area." Koenig motioned to Carter. "Let's go."
"It's right here, you apostate. Right here." Sanderson pointed the laser at his mixed-up heart. "For the soul of a man is full of sin. And for their unbelief. The Lord God of Hosts....He sent.....He sent...."
Sanderson paused, weaving for several minutes. Cernik waited, also on the verge of fainting.
"He sent them strong delusion. That they might be damned for not abiding in the truth."
Sanderson continued to squint and grabbed onto a desk to regain his balance. Starns, and Quinten moaned, pressing bloody hands over their toasted injuries. The former, officially relieved of his wheel barrel duties.
Bergman grabbed Angelina's arm. "If he hits that panel, we're all dead."
Angelina continued to question Sanderson, taking a step forward, but she was still positioned between Sanderson and the coolant upgrade.
"Truth? What is truth?"
"The Son of God is the Truth. He is the way, the truth, and the light. No man cometh unto the father, except by him."
Obviously, the serpent had coiled itself around Angelina Verdeschi. Sanderson could see she was trying to confuse him, but his crusade was unstoppable. In his inner-most self, the glory of God exploded outward. The rest of him was just eaten up with mental illness.
Guards piled up outside the door, lead by Koenig, who was also holding a laser.
Koeing looked around the corner. "I see them, they're about five feet away from the coolant upgrade."
Angelina took another step toward Sanderson. "and we trust in God and his word?"
"We trust the creator of the heavens, and the Earth. Who do you think, you lousy bitch."
She was getting on his nerves. Sanderson regarded her resentfully.
"and you believe all that he tells you?" She continued, taking another step.
"What have men done, whore? What has your whoremaster done for you? What has become of your maidenhead?"
Cernik snickered ironically. He was about thirty seconds away from passing out.
"I could break his neck." Carter fumed.
Koenig backed Carter off with a raise of the left eyebrow.
Angelina continued. "But did he also tell you "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord your God?"
Sanderson raved on maniacally. "The Moon--severed from God's glory, to roam the universe for forty days, and forty nights. But the savior made a promise, and He intends to keep it."
Angelina tried to make sense of the nonsense, all the while praying for help to arrive.
"Remember when Satan took our Lord and tempted him with the loaves?"
"It was at Golgotha, the valley of the skull." Cernik volunteered, groggily.
Sanderson replied. "Yes, at Golgotha, where he was smote with a whip, and given to wear a crown of thorns, and crucified, rising again on the Sabbath day. He pushed away the boulder, and came unto them."
"Isn't that what you are doing, Greg? Tempting the Lord? Challenging him?"
Sanderson could hardly breath.
"It is your arrogance that brought us to this. Our destiny was to die, but you prolonged our trials....Our tribulations...."
Cernik dropped to his knees. "For the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
Angelina persisted. "Didn't the apostle Paul tell us that faith without works is without meaning?"
Sanderson weaved. "But God...but God....God is a vengeful God. And he will have no other gods before Him...... Him."
"God is a loving and forgiving God," she assured.
Koenig turned to Carter. "We've got to try something, or we've had it. You take out Cernik, I'll aim at Sanderson."
Somehow, Sanderson continued to find strength. "Vengeance is mine....I shall recompense...."
Cernik fainted. Sanderson ignored this set back, and went on, undaunted. "This is your final warning. Back away, or pay the final price."
Angelina did not move. "No, Greg, then you will disobey God."
Sanderson aimed his laser directly into her face.
"God also said Thou shalt not kill...and his greatest commandment : love your neighbor as yourself," Angelina stated calmly despite the fact she was looking down into the laser barrel. "You will disobey God and doom yourself to Hell if you kill me."
"For they shall be cast into outer darkness...for this purpose...hell...." Sanderson ranted. "Hell has widened herself...."
Sanderson fingered the trigger.
John Koenig stunned him. Sanderson dropped his laser. The heat flash died away, and the floor tiles beneath him were covered with condensation. Sanderson--his hair standing completely on end--continued to stand for several seconds, operating on high octane, maniac power. He cast a solid frown at Koenig. 'How dare you?' His disappointed gaze silently imparted. Then he fell like a martyr.
The others turned, and some managed not to faint. Everyone was dying at this point.
Koenig approached the group. "!!!Listen to me, all of you!!! This is our only chance!!! WE'VE GOT TO RESTART THAT REACTOR!!!"
Morrow called over the speakers from Main Mission. "We're running out of time. The atomic pile will be at critical mass in fifteen seconds."
"It's now, or never." Sandra affirmed.
Koenig continued. "!!!Consider everything we've been through!!! What god would allow it to end this way??? And if any of you believe in a power that would allow it to end this way--I SAY DAMN YOU, AND YOUR GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
"Five seconds." Morrow informed nervously from Main Mission.
"That's blasphemy." Stevens mumbled. "Blasphemy. Blasphemy. It's blasphemy...total blasph...."
Koenig watched as he toppled on his heels; with his last breath, the commander yelled "!!!HIT THAT SWITCH!!! NOW!!! HURRY!!!"
Carter Jackson threw the lever that moved the boron rods into position.
A low ebb humming issued forth from inside the armored casing.
In Main Mission, the words MAIN REACTOR SETUP IN PROGRESS appeared on the big screen.
A test pattern appeared.
Low ebb humming. Growing louder, and louder. The vengeance of God in an atom.
On console in the reactor area, four quadrants appeared. Quadrant-A turned green. Quadrant-B went from red to green.
Then, the neutron implosion escalated.
Quadrant-C went green.
For the first time in days, a familiar voice could be heard across the Dolby Surround Speakers.
MAIN POWER LEVELS IN FORTY SECONDS. FAILSAFES ARE ON-LINE.
Afterwards, computer returned to her vigil, offering only the MAIN REACTOR SETUP IN PROGRESS card, by way of explanation.
"Core temperature!?!??!" Angelina yelled over the humming.
"Steady!!" Joan Conway acknowledged.
Quadrant-D on the test pattern went from red to green.
"Core temperature still steady!!"
"Activate breakers!!" Angelina shouted, as she, Carter, and Joan each manually moved a breaker.
Computer: MAIN POWER LEVELS IN TEN SECONDS.
In Main Mission, Morrow heard a rumbling, and amidst the spirit draining dusk, believed it to be an explosion.
Then the realization came. The vents were opening up.
Computer: STAND BY FOR AUTOMATIC DISTRIBUTION. SITUATION NOMINAL.
Air began to pour from the nearby Hi-Vac Units. The exchange system returned from the grave. Clouds of dust were expelled from the dormant shafts.
A light outside one of the ruined Alpha Sections suddenly came on.
All lights came on in reactor area #2....
The computer panels, dormant until now, began to print out telemetry from a preliminary scan of the Hawks A, B, and C. All known mathematical laws had been brought to bear, and the conclusion was holes within holes. For all intents, and purposes, there were no Mark IX Hawks. There never had been. Everyone shielded their eyes, not accustomed to the bright lights in days...
Computer: REACTOR NUMBER TWO ON-LINE.
Angelina yelled, still shielding her eyes. "Recharge solar batteries now!"
Angelina would take no chances. She would make certain they would have an alternate source of energy if need.
Computer: SOLAR BATTERY INDUCTION CELLS OPENING.
The lights in Main Mission went from Red, to green, and then--bright yellow. Corridors began to light up, one after the other.
Carter slumped against the doorway, laser dangling at his side. Koenig slapped him on the shoulder, panting, and sweating. Carter gave 'Ang a vigorous thumbs up. 'Ang nodded in response.
"It's working, it's working!!!" Joan Conway shouted triumphantly.
On the lunar surface, life returned to a dead base. The wrecked buildings, and surrounding terrain were illuminated from the terrific fission force. Alpha still looked haunted. No doubt, it was.
Victor Bergman removed his oxygen supplementation. "Close call, wasn't it."
"Power steady." Sandra announces, taking deep breaths in Main Mission. "Power stabilizing."
Paul Morrow beamed.
Dr. Helena Russell called Koenig on his comlock. "John, am I hallucinating or did we get power back?"
Carter laughed, slapping his knee as 'Ang wearily joined him.
"No, it's no hallucination." Koenig smiled weakly at 'Ang, and Carter, and the security guards. "We're going to be alright."
In the background, the output retreated slightly. The maintenance systems trimmed the excess fat. The cycle was initiated. Power would continue to perpetuate from the atomic fields being stimulated. The car was rolling safely down hill.
(The following is an e-mail thread begun by Hugo Willet--typed with great mendacity, and under the guidance of Corporal Hector Gonzales, Senior Dietician, Moonbase Alpha. The writer of the e-mail was not washing dishes before he wrote it. The missive was proof-read by Ed Malcom, who simultaneously groaned about his gastritis, while scarfing down his last chocolate chip cookie....)
FROM: Hugo Willet, Kitchen Technician, First Class.
TO: Angelina Verdeschi, Manager, Technical Section
SUBJECT: LIBERATION DATE
Hello again :)
My, my, we do seem to be playing e-mail tag alot, don't we??? Dr. Verdeschi, I'm very pleased that things are going so well in your department. I can tell you with some authority, I'm very glad that I'm not going to suffocate/freeze to death :) It's a lease on life I can never repay :) Now, I realize that you're busy, judging by the fact that you haven't responded to my last ten e-mails.
And the fact that you delete my calls from your comlock.
And the fact that you always seem to head the other way when I walk in the room....
Be that as it may, I wonder I could perchance steal a few minutes of your time. I need to know exactly when--month/day/year--you will no longer be in need of my additional services.
Pardon my French, but I've got dishes up to my ass :)
FROM: Angelina Verdeschi, Chief of Technical Operations
TO: Hugo Willet, Kitchen Technician, First Class
SUBJECT: Re: Liberation Date
Dear Mr. Willet,
I apologize for not getting back to you in a more timely fashion. It is true that I have been extremely busy but that, of course, is no reason for my lack of response to one of Moonbase Alpha's most important priorities: our people.
According to Mr. Bram Cedrix and Mr. Marcus Profitt, you have proven to be a valuable resource to technical, with your inherent skill, dedication and patience. However, be that as it may, I understand your desire to return to your former position and I will make every effort possible to satisfy your request in due time. In fact, Captain Carter has requested that you be transferred to Reconnaissance under the supervision of Mr. Cedrix on a permanent basis; I, however, have been fighting for your cause and have repeatedly blocked his requests, knowing you wish to return to the kitchen. At this point, all I can tell you is that you will return to your former duties soon. Unfortunately, I cannot give you a date at this time because there are a few more projects Mr. Cedrix and Mr. Profitt would like you to complete prior to your discharge from Technical section.
Once again I appreciate your situation and I will consider fulfilling your request as soon as possible. By the way, your temporary new uniform tunic is waiting for pick up from you in the laundry center. Yes, you will be issued a rust colored sleeve tunic to signify your membership in the technical team but rest assured, this is only temporary. I will speak to Sandra Benes, Chief of Services Section and I'm sure she will have a talk with Mr. Gonzales concerning a temporary replacement for you in the cafeteria.
FROM: Hugo Willet, Kitchen Technician First Class
TO: Dr. Angelina Verdeschi, Manager Technical Section
SUBJECT: LIBERATION DATE
CC: Captain Alan Carter
That...sounds a little vague :)) Can you elaborate on that a little. LOL, I guess what I was hoping for was a number. You do know how long this is going to take, don't you???
FROM: Alan Carter
TO: Dr. Angelina Verdeschi
SUBJECT: LIBERATION DATE
'Angie, what is this crap. You're the apple in my eye, sweet pea, but I'm a little busy right now. The other launch pads won't fix themselves. By the way, where's your boy? What's-his-face? Willard? We could have used him on those compressors today.
FROM: Angelina Verdeschi, Chief of Technical Operation
TO: Hugo Willet SUBJECT: Mr. Willet's Liberation
CC: Captain Alan Carter, Mr. Bram Cedrix. Mr. Ed Malcom
As I have indicated, I do not know the anticipated timeline for the completion of the projects in technical section. It could be 6 days, 6 weeks or 6 months, to be honest with you: or any amount of time inside or outside those windows. Upon further discussions with Captain Carter, I believe it would be best to transfer you to Reconnaissance under the capable supervision of Mr. Bram Cedrix to work on repairing the remaining launch pads. You and Mr. Ed Malcom will be temporarily transferred to Reconnaissance effective immediately. Please direct any further questions you may have regarding your temporary transfer to Captain Carter.
FROM: Edward H. Malcom, Technician
TO: Captain Alan Carter
SUBJECT: PROMOTION TO EAGLE FLIGHT SYSTEMS
CC: Commander John Koenig, Dr. Angelina Verdeschi, Marcus Profitt, Bram Cedrix
Is abut time use realized my potentousness. 'Al, I'm the best there is, bud and believe me no blond can ever extract me from my work. Im no foal. See U brite, and early (no pudin around from me)!!!!!!!
Ed "Homer" Malcom
FROM: Hugo Willet, Kitchen Technician, First Class
TO: Dr. Angelina Verdeschi, Manager Techinical Section
SUBJECT: LIBERATION DATE
CC: Commander John Koenig, Captain Alan Carter, Bram Cedrix, Malcom
I see how you feel.... I see.... I see......... :((
FROM: Bram Cedrix, Coordinator, Technical Section
TO: Hugo Willet, Kitchen Technician, First Class
SUBJECT: LIBERATION DATE
CC: Commander John Koenig, Dr. Angelina Verdeschi, Captain Alan Carter, Marcus Profitt
Cheer up lad. Your attitude is all wrong. You have to look at the big picture. Welcome to the team.
FROM: John Koenig, Commander
TO: Hugo Willet, Dr. Angelina Verdeschi, Captain Alan Carter, Bram Cedrix, Marcus Profitt
SUBJECT: LIBERATION DATE
Commander John Koenig
FROM: Alan Carter
TO: Ed Malcom
SUBJECT: PROMOTION TO EAGLE FLIGHT SYSTEMS
CC: Dr. Angelina Verdeschi
Fat chance!!! People in hell want snow cones, you lousy bush oyster. 'Ang, I want to talk to you when you get home. This is just way beyond the black stump, love. By the way, tell Woodruff I need him to report to Launch Pad Four by 0800 Hours tomorrow.
FROM: Angelina Verdeschi
TO: Ed Malcom
SUBJECT: Ed's "Supposed" Promotion To Eagle Flight Systems...NOT
CC: Captain Alan Carter, Mr. Hugo Willet
Mr. Malcom: You are making assumptions that are just NOT true. You ARE NOT being promoted to Eagle Flight Systems. I would NOT allow you to get near an Eagle, much less attempt to fix one even if you were the last technician on Moonbase Alpha. Besides your repeated demonstrations of incompetence, there are several areas of an Eagle which you could not gain access to for regular maintenance due to your physical size. You ARE, however, being TEMPORARILY transferred to Reconn as part of the Launch Pad reconstruction crew. You, along with Mr. Willet, will report to Mr., Bram Cedrix at 0800 hours tomorrow.
Captain Carter, sweetheart....I would never ask you to allow Mr. Malcom the opportunity to repair and maintain Eagles. You did, however, indicate to me that you needed people to repair the launch pads. I am sending you my very competent trainee Mr. Willet and, uh, Mr. Malcom. What can I say...it's not a perfect world; I guess you have to take the good with the bad.
You also told me that you would do anything for me, including assist me in providing constructive career and disciplinary guidance to Mr. Malcom. True, you did make this commitment while we were having a naughty last night, but a promise is a promise. I'm sure you won't let me down.
FROM: John Koenig, Commander
TO: Professor Victor Bergman
SUBJECT: PROMOTION TO EAGLE FLIGHT SYSTEMS
CC: Dr. Angelina Verdeschi, Captain Alan Carter, Hugo Willet, Bram Cedrix
LOL, okay Victor....
FROM: Alan Carter
TO: Dr. Angelina Verdeschi, Ed Malcom
SUBJECT: LAUNCH PAD FOUR
CC: Hugo Willet, Bram Cedrix
Alright ace, but he's not going to even look at a single thing that's technical. Hey, air head, you report to the latrine at 0800 Hours. If you're late, I'm sending you back to section. Enough is enough. Waldorf, welcome aboard.
FROM: Victor Bergman, PhD.
TO: John Koenig, Commander
SUBJECT: PROMOTION TO EAGLE FLIGHT SYSTEMS
CC: Dr. Angelina Verdeschi, Captain Alan Carter, Hugo Willet, Bram Cedrix
What? I didn't say anything. ????
The victor returned to his mount, and placed the scythe back into it's holster. The Perfect Citizenry gathered round to witness remains of the bloody denouement. The last one standing then walked to the verge, and kicked the lifeless, foam rubber hand that was sprayed with moist drops of blood. One by one, marching single file, the spectators entered the Vatec Gorge, and bowed their heads in respect to this awesome event. Their brother's passing. As they started up the knoll again, they dropped cross-shaped coinage into the Destroyer's bucket. Forgetting the particulars of his trade, he acknowledged the social graces, and nodded to the bereaved. Nearby, the eaves rustled over the Opponent's steaming corpse.
In the village, empty shutters hung open as fire lapped it's way forward in an ever increasing radius. Ash, and silt corrupted the lavender sky as the nuclear night fell upon them. On one of the bleached branches, the Earth equivalent of a cardinal looked upon the conflagration of factories, and dynamos, and places of half-heard worship.
High above, a satellite that had long since been freed of it's ancient orbit, drifted further, and further into the deepest reaches of mind, and space.
Professor Victor Bergman overshot his target. Absently, he had pressed the wrong button, so the coach doors opened on the balcony level. That was fine, though. He was the only person on the elevator, and time appeared to be on their side again. He walked past the bars of blue starlight that poured through the wide vision ports, and descended to the operations level. Main Mission was silent once more. The landing was filled with modular computer panels, removed for servicing by Ben Ouma, and Hugo Willet. So barren was the control room's appearance, a child may have dreamt sweet dreams of Operation Exodus. Bergman arranged his red, and blue flimsies, nodding to Kate Bullen, and Sandra Benes in passing. Paul Morrow stared straight ahead from the quietude at his station. Angelina Verdeschi sat solemnly at her desk, never knowing--or caring--that the back of her head was the recipient of Ed Malcom's sour-puss gaze. After a time, Marcus Profitt hustled him along, and the cracked illumina panel was soon removed. This time, they used a chuckless drill.
"Never guess what I've got here." Bergman smiled as he approached John Koenig's desk. Helena Russell stepped politely back to make room. "Now, mind you, I don't normally listen to the thing, but get this." He dropped one of the blue flimsies on the desk top for the commander's conspicuous consumption. "Before we shut her down for repairs, computer assigned a 97.5 % efficiency rating to that new laser injector. We've got a starry night ahead when you can impress that bucket of bolts."
The percentage was decidedly a boon, considering that Alpha only had three remaining structures, not counting Launch Pad Three, of course.
"That is very good news, Victor," Koenig nodded. "I just spoke to Sandra and we should be getting our first square meals from the latest crop of soybeans from hydroponics farm #3 within 24 hours. If some of us can last that long, that is...." Koenig glance at Ed Malcom, who was bellyaching to Profitt about his hunger pangs.
A shift change was also beginning to take place among the Main Mission personnel. Alan Carter was walking into Main Mission talking with his relief, newly promoted Assistant Chief of Reconnaissance, Pierre Danielle. Mark Winters approached Paul Morrow and Clare Bradford was relieving Sandra Benes. Danny Chan made his way to Ben Ouma and the forlorn Hugo Willet. Michelle Cranston, stepping though the left archway, had a hint of nervousness on her face. She instantly put on a mask of self confidence as she strode to Angelina Verdeschi and tapped her on the shoulder.
"Somewhere in this mess...." Bergman fretted, shuffling the deck with the precision of Harry Blackstone, Jr. "Ah--here it is."
He handed Koenig a multi-page, red flimsy.
"It's still only theoretical, but here are the preliminary specs on automating Alpha services." He paused, looking for a way to interject his next statement. Hell with it, there was no positive way to do it. "The present scheme will involve rerouting the queues to a more autonomous server. Seems promising."
He nodded, trying hard to maintain his optimism. He awaited the inevitable question as to which server he was talking about. He had gone over the stats ten times, and got nothing for his pains except caffeine nerves. Out of the starting gate, Petrov voted "NO." Bergman was the middle man with a ten year old solar calculator. Even when computer was fully operational, the network was too dependent on keyboard input from human beings.
Koenig rocked silently as he perused the report. "In the long run, we obviously must have more of our operations automated. It really is top priority. The problem is, there are other, "top" priority jobs as well; bringing the protein production unit back up, bringing up a second reactor, structural damage repairs to the base. The list goes on and on. It will take resources to automate the server." Koenig paused, flipping through the pages. "Which server do you propose for the automation? I don't see it in here." Koenig smiled slightly.
"The EM-Defense Mainframe." Bergman said, without further adieu. "At least temporarily. Down the road, we're looking at adapting computer to take on those automated tasks, but as you said, we have quite a few irons in the fire."
John Koenig looked pensively out over Main Mission. Either Michelle Cranston or Angelina Verdeschi said something humorous, as both women suddenly burst out into laughter. Their laughter echoed through the nearly empty Main Mission. As if they were embarrassed to even allow themselves a laugh in the situation, they immediately became quiet and sheepishly glanced at the others in the room. Almost everyone returned the glance with a smirk.
"I see why Petrov immediately objected," Koenig turned toward him. "OK, Victor, we can start but it has to be after we get another launch pad going and 5 other laser equipped Eagles." Koenig looked over the schedule on the spreadsheet on his screen. "I would take a guess that you can start in about another 6 weeks. How's that sound?"
The commander turned to Dr. Russell for a report on the physical, mental and emotional state of the surviving Alphans of their community. "Well, Helena, how are we doing?"
"As well as can be expected under the present circumstances, John," Helena leaned on the corner of his desk. "It is almost identical to breakaway. We really have not had any time to mourn our losses. Even though the immediate crisis of lack of power is over, there is still a great deal of stress as now other projects, all of seeming equal importance, have come up."
"I'm concerned about the long term effects of the stress. Despite all of the projects, we are not machines. I recommend that all personnel work no more than 10 consecutive days without a day off....and no more than 12 hours per day."
Helena motioned to the weary faces of Main Mission to drive her point.
"The nightmare isn't over." He agreed. "And it will be much worse when everyone hears about the final telemetry we received from those alien ships." He clinched his fist, and scowled, as if the answer to the problem was some elusive thing in the palm of his hand. "It doesn't make a bit of sense. If those Hawks weren't even there, then how did this happen. We certainly didn't open fire on ourselves."
"Our people are dead, and it wasn't an illusion...it wasn't a hallucination, or a bad dream that we can just wake up from, and go about our business. Over 100 of us are laying out there on the surface of the Moon. Those of us who survived are left to wonder why." The corners of the professor's mouth turned upwards ruefully. "Problem is, the answer to that question doesn't appear to be forthcoming."
It was more than a bullet to the rational mind. What happened defied humanity. It butchered the heart, and left one to bounce from wall, to wall, in a state of barely functional shock. The purple planet was only a symbol. The worst genocide had been perpetrated by the most evil, and the most misanthropic of the Five W's.
The ever present, mass murdering 'why?'
Koenig leaned back reflectively, staring at one of the bundle of network cables still dangling from the ceiling but collected and tied together. "A civilization that was hell bent on destroying itself. Why?" John Koenig shook his head. "It just doesn't make any sense."
In Main Mission, Sandra Benes exited through the right archway with Melita Kelly. She was intent on checking on the progress of the repairs to hydroponics farm #3 before retiring. Ben Ouma limped out on his air-cast, deep in conversation with Paul Morrow, thought the left archway. Alan Carter had been standing behind a still sleep deprived Angelina Verdeschi, who was debriefing Michelle, for several minutes when Koenig overheard him interrupt, "Alright, Michelle can hold down the fort from here." Angelina gave him a sidewise glance, nodded to Michelle then left with Carter. The "fresh" faces in Main Mission did not look very "fresh" at all; they still had the same weary, battle-worn expressions as the last crew.
"It probably never will." Bergman lamented, rolling the flimsies into a cylinder. "Consider it though--a civilization with an instrumentality that was far beyond their own wisdom. They must have thought themselves to be beyond fear." He supposed, tapping his palm with the cylinder. "Beyond even their own conscience.
"They were perfect in the way they lived."
"Perfect in the way they died." Helena Russell eulogized. Amidst Moonbase Alpha's near total structural collapse, the human race was scattered to the four corners of the luna firma. Each had struggled to survive in a maddening, animus filled, Rubik's Cube of a universe. They had chosen to believe in themselves, in a reality where god-like extraterrestrial sometimes used mortals as bullets in a game of cosmic Russian Roulette. It made all hope seem like a deadly dumb proposition, especially when it was bogus to begin with. What could the dreams of a lonely race possibly mean when the ball drops; when the deus irae is at hand? The false teeth will begin to chatter, and the pepper gum will begin to burn, and until the day you die, you can kiss goodbye making any sense of it.
"Mankind has always believed that to attain a state of perfection is to attain the beauty of a "happily ever after" ending to the fairy tale." John Koenig mused, watching June Akaiwa and Tanya Alexander taking a coffee break on the balcony. "Perhaps we have just been granted a glimpse of the true definition of perfection. If that is the case, I want no part of it. I'll settle for our imperfect humanity." Koenig found himself cracking a smile. "If that will keep us alive for another day, that is."
"Yes." Bergman agreed, scratching the back of his head with the cylinder. "But tomorrows are going to be harder to come by than they were before." He nodded, acknowledging the score board they now faced. Ever after, the human race would be on, or near the bench. The ante had been forever upped. Each new day would be as unexpected as a sober Benny Hill. Space played for keeps. It was a game of cut throat Eucher--some one else, forever holding the bars. If you were prepared to go alone, you must also be prepared to die alone. It was an unforgiving void. No 'ooops, I'm sorry. Gosh, can I try that again.' They had a chance. They had nothing else, but a chance. Singular. No additional cards. The mistletoe had been set ablaze.
"But we will survive." Helena Russell queried vaguely.
Bergman favored Koenig with a crestfallen look, his flimsies had begun to unravel.
At his desk monitor, the flood gates opened, and the latest damage control reports began to pour in, immediately filling over four megabytes of memory. The circuit jammed before computer could really get down to business:
CEILING IMPLOSION IN MEDICAL NORTH
ELECTRICAL FIRE IN CORRIDOR-C
GAS MAIN EXPLOSION, LAUNCH PAD TWO
We will survive....
FIVE PANE BURST, HYDROPONIC SOLARIUM
ASBESTOS FIELD CONTAMINATION, PROTEIN SYNTHESIS
STRUCTURAL OVERLOAD, EXPERIMENTAL LABORATORY
We will survive....
John Koenig harkened quietly back to his own conviction. The words that he himself uttered, all of those centuries ago. The quest would go on. Compassion, and hope could neither be created, nor destroyed. The universe would continue...they must continue.
We will prevail....
"The heart tries never to deceive the poem,
"But it changes, as her image changes,
Written by the writers of Space:1999 The Classic Adventures: tgarnett25, moonbasealpha_s1, Alpha and Koenigsidekick. We acknowledge the work of Christopher Penfold for the epsiode "War Games", the original tale.