Episode #30: Empire of Illusion
From beneath the clouds of sleep,
Another flash of light in the window....
You will hear.
Looking down upon the sky,
Am I the only one who will need you, over me.
I want you...
...to touch me....
I want you...
...to touch me....
Is this how you reach me? You burn your visions in my mind?
Are you, trying to teach me? Are you trying to make me blind?
The orange Moon, dislocative, and galaxy trotting in the slums of Aunshuung. The largest ocean on the Moon was the Mare Imbrium, the Sea Of Showers. Located in the Imbrium Basin, it's constituents were molded during the lower Imbrium Epoch. Copernicus, and Plato crowned it's Atlantean borders like minor earldoms. Due to the ratio of the Moon's size, to the surrounding stars, it disappeared into total eclipse, once every seven hours. Three times a day, the lights went out completely, except for the miniscule fiber optic points that were within the claustrophobic, on-the-brink, two mile compass known as Moonbase Alpha--humankind's great, perhaps way too late, achievement. A memento mori that was knuckleballed from another time, another place.
Ten stories above the ancient desecration, Andy Dempsey shut off his boom box on Controller Paul Morrow's signal. King Black Acid was replaced by caqueterie from central computer. Sandra Benes' face glowed flush as she looked up from her gooseneck lamp to see Captain Alan Carter entering to the left of the big screen. He paused, momentarily confused by the lapsed Mission Clock. Victor Bergman ignored him as he stood in the center of the auditorium, in deep, inconclusive thought, with his elbow propped beneath his left palm.
"Ang,'" The scientist said curtly. "Try a suborbital relay. Try to get a satellite picture of him."
Carter looked at Ang,' and Bergman--suddenly, and profoundly impaled.
"He's ten minutes late." Morrow griped sternly, leaning with his palms just below his upper keyboard.
"What the devil's going on?" Carter asked, feeling the effects of his late party crashing. "What's happened to the commander?"
Gordon Cooper shrugged uneasily from the capcomm desk, while Dempsey simply bowed his head. Ang,' and Tanya Alexander kept their noses to the ugly, unpetite grindstone.
"The commander went out to Area 3 to check on a recorded increase in neutron count," Angelina informed Alan, who had been pulling night turn in Reconnaissance that week. For him, it was the middle of the night and Gordon Cooper had awakened him from his slumber.
"He missed his regular communication check in 30 minutes ago."
Angelina continued to query the roving orbital satellites high above the base, sending commands to rotate the camera angles. In her mind, she had already decided the Eagle had crashed and the cameras were trained to scan the lunar surface. Suddenly, she spotted the Eagle streak by, very low to the ground.
"Moonbase Alpha calling Eagle 2," Sandra called repeatedly. "Come in Commander Koenig, we are not receiving you."
Ang typed in a few more commands and satellite rottweiler captured the entire ugly scene.
"There he is," she announced in horror as she put the image on the big screen.
No doubt Carter would agree with her amateur assessment that something was not quite right with the flight path of Eagle 2. The part that did grab her attention was the area the Commander was performing his aerial acrobatics: Nuclear Disposal Area 3.
Ang silently type in a text message to fellow Nuclear Physicist Joe Erhlich: 'Come to Main Mission....NOW!'
John Koenig didn't know from neutron count.
He was in a honkey tonk called The Thirsty Bull. It may have been in Queens. It may have been in the Bronx. Who knows? He remembered being the only one in the group that night who wasn't bagged beyond recognition. Turk DeLarge couldn't handle the sauce, that was the predicament. Maverick was parked in the triple decker lock, and somehow, he had to pour Turk DeLarge into the passenger seat before the local precinct honed in. DeLarge talked about the women he'd duked, the wad of money he made as flight director in Houston, his hatred for pickeled pig's feet, and the future of extrasolar space travel. The minute Koenig touched his shoulder, he belched uncontrollably, and commenced to singing:
Koenig tried to intervene, but both men toppled into one of the red, and black fire hydrants. Then the blue lights appeared, and they were a public spectacle. A Latino woman called to them from the porch of a two story brownstone. Gorgeous in hair pins, and Donald Duck Mules, she cut Turk DeLarge with lamina insults, and comparisons to her besotted ex.' The tanked flight controller was about to give her the dutch oven when bald Officer Borg approached with his special NYPD, very sarcastic smirk.
"I can explain this." Koenig said, his mouth containing not a drop of spit, while Turk DeLarge hosed down a nearby pot of Azalias. Then a second cruiser pulled up to the curb, followed by another, and another, and another. "Now, I know you think he's drunk, and I admit, it sort of looks that way, but-"
"Why, you ignorant fucking punk." Officer Borg enphoned, swinging his nightstick like a baton. He was about to air out Turk DeLarge's skull, and for the crime of whizzing in a vehicle that was owned, and operated by the city. His squad car. The flight controller sang, and did Number One right on the front seat. "What to you think that is? NUCLEAR DISPOSAL AREA THREE?"
John Koenig was the devil's sober advocate, and almost got cold cocked in the process.
Joseph Erhlich, PhD strode into Main Mission under the right archway and made a B-line to Ang at the technical station, pulling up Andy Dempsey's white plastic chair.
He looked up at the Big Screen, then down at the monitor and the stream of data coming from the Eagle's onboard computers, which Ben Ouma had somehow successfully relinked to the Main Server.
"Still a high neutron count," Joe commented. Ang nodded in affirmation. She was also doing the headbobbing thing of monitor, big screen, monitor, big screen.
"He's gonna crash," Gordon Cooper stated blankly.
"Oh my God!" Klaus Rotstein blurted, having come down from the balcony from his coffee break. "If he hits one of those domes, he'll blow up all up!!!"
"No," Ang corrected, "that would take specific stimulation from an atomic trigger and fuel."
Ang thought she saw Joe Erhlich roll his eyes and smirk at the panic stricken Rotstein.
Dr. Helena Russell had silently entered the control center and stood by Victor. She removed her comlock from her belt."Medical," she spoke calmly and evenly, "stand by for a crash emergency."
"Rescue Eagle 4 to Launch pad 2," Paul Morrow instructed Flight Control, then looked at Carter.
"Take a couple of nuclear physicists with you," Bergman added, eyeing Erhlich and Angelina.
"Ang, Joe, let's go." Carter was already under the archway as Joe and Angelina gathered their clipboards to follow.
Commander Koenig's Eagle continued its perilous nosedive to the lunar surface: and the nuclear waste domes of Area 3.
Suddenly in what seemed to be more of a hallucination than anything John Koenig regained his sanity as the Eagle loomed near the lunar surface. Eyes racing across the warning lights on the control panel in front of him, he tried to pull the doomed Eagle back up. Realizing his worst fears, not knowing what had happened to him, he braced for the crash.
Eagle one came in low to the lunar surface. The under belly of the ship seemed to skim the tip of the ground as John Koenig braced himself in the crash position. Impact with the moon was anything but smooth. Once on the surface he tried to guide the ship to avoid hitting the nuclear domes nearby.
Pulling back he gritted his teeth and his face and body plunged forward hitting the control dash. The Eagle, still spinning in a circle, reminded him of the time he did doughnuts in his high school parking lot after a snow storm back on Earth. As it started to slow down, slightly, he fell back in his chair. Just as the ship came to a stop, sparks and spurts of fire started throughout the ship.
He could hear the air leaking out of the command module of the Eagle. The hissing let him know he needed to find his helmet quickly before losing atmosphere. Still unsure of what had just occurred he clicked on the locator beacon for the Eagle when he had his helmet completely sealed.
The cool rush of oxygen made his head swim not to mention the cut on his face near his lip left the sickening taste of blood in his mouth. As his head swam from the impending unconsciousness, he wondered silently to himself. 'Am I going to die here in this Eagle?'
He slowly drifted into the black voids of his mind.
Livy-Olivia deHavilland-concentrated on the delicate repair to the fragile electronic board-she was jammed upside down and halfway into the central platform that separated the pilot and co-pilot seats; twisted pretzel-wise with her arms crossed over her head and buried within the electronic guts of the Eagle-Rescue 4-Command Module. Uncomfortable at best, she could at least see what she was doing-a feat accomplishable only by the blessed curse of her small size.
Her commlock bleeped-distrubing her concentration. The tiny woman simply ignored it as she continued her labor. Rescue 4 shifted around her, the overhead lift taking hold of the vessel dragging it to the elevator. Oblivious to this activity, Livy, never once taking her eyes off her work, twisted her arm down and around, instinctively reaching for-and finding-the microlaser welder in the belt at her waist.
Her commlock pinged again-and again, the little brunette ignored it, using the tiny laser welder to seamlessly secure the repaired navigational board back into its proper place.
The Eagle shimmied on its shock-absorbing landing gear as both the shuttle rose up on its pad into the arclight-illuminated launchpad. It rotated on the servocontrolled elevator until the access hatch of the rescue pod was directly facing the already extending boarding tube. Livy pulled her small form out of the access hatch and closed and secured it; then-as she felt the boarding ramp seal against the side of the Eagle, stretched to her full four-foot eight inches and worked the kinks out of her back, listening as the tube equalized pressure with the Eagle.
The doors slid open to the travel tube for Launch Pad 2. Carter, Angelina and Erhlich immediately filed out and stepped into the ready room. Yul Ostrog and Marilys Singh distributed the silver radiation EVA suits and the stenciled orange helmets: CARTER, VERDESCHI CARTER and ERHLICH.
Livy tapped the access door to the Command Module open and stepped through into the hatchway, pressing herself up against the side of the hull, knowing what was coming-one of those she considered to be the bains of her existence.
Carter, already completely suited, motioned to Ang and Joe, who were about half-suited toward the boarding tube. The rectangular sign with the word "ACCESS" lit up and they proceeded onto the rescue Eagle. Carter immediately raced to the command module.
Livy cleared her throat as the Pilot charged past. "Morning, Alan," she called cheerfully, heading back to the rear where the rest of her tools were located.
Carter grumbled discordantly, and kept on walking. His helmut swinging at his hip.
Ang and Joe continued the process of suiting up but when computer announced the Five Second lift off warning, Ang jumped into a seat behind Joe, still struggling with her bread box.
"Ang, Joseph." Livy nodded her greetings to her boss as she began to struggle quickly into an extra-small radiation EVA suit she kept handy in her toolbox for just such an emergency.
"Hi, Livy," Angelina acknowledged with a smile, despite the situation.
"Who's in trouble now?" Before Livy zipped it up, she wrapped her long auburn braid around her neck twice like some perverse, triple-stranded snake.
"The Commander went out to check an increase in neutron count in Area 3," Ang replied, adjusting the strap to the air pack. "His flight path became erratic and he's going down in the area of NDA3."
Angelina did not go into the details of the looney acrobatics she witnessed on the Main Mission screen. The new Chief Electronics Instrumentation Engineer was aggressive and blunt, but that is exactly what Ang needed in Technical. Pete Garforth had recently made a lateral job move into the position of Chief Eagle Flight Engineer, now working for Alan in Reconnaissance, but leaving a vacancy in Ang's group. Although Ang knew Livy's preference would always be Eagles, she asked her anyway if she would consider the promotion. Livy accepted and Ang was confident she made the right choice.
"You and Alan will go after the Commander," Ang began calibrating the radon monitor. "Joe and I will check out the area."
Joe Erhlich wearily adjusted the Geiger counter.
Carter rolled forward in his zero-gee chair, and donned his headset like a Mousekateer. The double doors, emblazoned with the number "5," though it was a "4" mission code, slid closed like mingy butlers. The checklist was branded to his brain by rote: telmu, procedures, booster, retro, guidance, network, system. His gloved left hand moved clockwise around the cabin. The workhorse was up, and running in less time than it would take to say "Commander In A Straightjacket."
"Alan, above all else, make sure you keep your S-Band Omni aimed at the disposal area." Victor Bergman reminded him from the forward monitor. Carter felt the yokes fall forward as guidance control was uploaded to the command module.
"It looks like he went down south of Euripedes." Coop' reported from the co-pilot's monitor. "We're still getting cockpit telemetry, but from the looks of it, Eagle Two is running on emergency bats.' It's a total wash."
"Life readings. Is he doing." Carter asked with his right hand poised on the plasma release.
"Right," Carter said, and the link was immediately replaced with a black, and white, aerial sensor swipe. There was an audible 'thud' within the cockpit as the boarding tube was retracted. He cleared the barber pole, and grabbed hold of the train as the engine bells on the keel fired in sequence. The depot lights on the surface were blinding suns. Then slowly, the elevator moved upwards. Before long, the Microsoft Corporation was at the helm. The ship turned 98 degrees, port yaw. Almost a kilometer below, the comparatively miniscule Command Tower slid diagonally from view. In less than two minutes, the outer frontier of Moonbase Alpha disappeared into the night.
Her low center of gravity compensating for the g-forces that escaped through Rescue-4's gravity generators, Livy moved forward towards the Command Module.
Beyond Perimeter Station Seven, there was nothing, but craters, and rock, and dust, and desolation, and death out of mind. World without end, hallellujah.
Olivia made her way forward, just in time to hear Carter comment.
"Let's hope the Pennzoil Princess did right by us." Carter bitched to the empty co-pilot's seat, which never failed to listen. Most of the time he preferred that.
"Pennzoil Princess my ass," Livy growled back at him, sliding her petite frame into the co-pilot's seat. "If it weren't for Pete, me and the rest of the engineers, you wouldn't have a slingshot to ride, let alone an Eagle."
"Oh, Christ." Carter groaned, feeling his forearm zipper for Tylenol, but finding only the insulating foam, and the wool of his tunic beneath. Obviously her desire was to co-pilot him. The avian head of the command module suddenly pulsed, and throbbed, and nagged from the force of a five hundred megaton headache.
Livy pulled the shoulder and lap harnesses over her shoulders and belted them as tight as they could go-there was still a lot of slack left, particularly over the shoulders. "In my book, Carter," she fired back, "you've only got two things going for you-Ang, of course, and the fact that every so often, you actually bring back an Eagle with minimal damage."
"Well," Carter said with salt, and expert innuendo. "I'll do my best to live up to your expectations."
"Cool it, Livy," Angelina's voice came from behind, echoing through the Command Module. Ang immediately regretted the tone of the quasi-reprimand as she crouched beside Carter. No doubt Alan probably said something to deserve the retort.
Livy opened her mouth-then shut it again, shifting in her seat enough to be able to see out the viewport.
Once again, Ang was unusually short tempered from sleep deprivation as 11 month old Nicky had been up crying, fitfully and inconsolably for the last few nights. He had always done this before something major was about to happen. He was a clockwork predictor of impending trouble.
"What did you say to her?" Ang whispered to Carter as she peered over his shoulder through the left viewport.
"Why not a thing." Alan Carter, the Holy Saint Of Reconnaisance said. There was quite the hint of triumphant rancor in his upturned lips. "Half pint, and me--we're best buds,' ain't that right, DeHavilland?"
Technical Section: it had the most lackwit staffing of all Alpha sectors, he mused to himself. Malcom, Murneau, and DeHavilland, but the worst of these was Ed Malcom, he had to concede. Gaseous nitrogen vented from divots in the avian head of the command module as the ship turned hard to port over the Mare Crisium. Almost 400 overflow pounds were expunged, but Carter was venting quite a bit more in his own shitheaded way.
"Uh, huh," Ang murmured, unconvinced, "Sure you didn't."
Livy looked over at the pilot who radiated innocence. "Ang," she said softly, "Pint-and-a-half is absolutely right-we are just the very best of friends, they could probably write a musical about us."
Angelina smirked slightly and nodded approvingly at Livy, as she activated the radiation sensor.
She needed a bit of levity. First she was up all night. Then when she walked into her office Livy and the equally ferocious Michelle Cranston, the Chief Manufacturing Engineer, were verbally lambasting each other over printed circuit boards.
Where are my fucking boards, Mike?!?!
They're still in the goddamn testers, Livy!!! I don't know why, though; they'll be all fucked up once you get your mitts on them
I wouldn't have to fuck with them if you'd build them right in the first place!
On and on and on...until Ang drew the verbal sword, swung it in the air and told them both to sit their little asses down and shut the hell up. The nonverbal battle between "Mike" and Livy still continued...covertly. Joe Erhlich watched the volleys fire with amusement. The amazing thing was that when they were off duty, Michelle and Livy were like two peas in a pod, the best of friends.
Finally with 15 minutes alone between meetings, Ang tried the relaxation technique thing. Her mind was at peace; her memories were curiously stimulated. For some reason she thought of her beloved brother Guido. She wanted to cry; she would never see him again but then his image became clearer and clearer and clearer...'Ang, Sono Qui'
The Jiminy Cricket voice soothed her... 'Imagine you are somewhere you want to be (earth), in a place you want to be (a beach on Cape Cod). There's no place like home...there's no place like home...the sun, the sand, the waves, the gentle bree-'
Her 30 seconds of bliss were interrupted as Chris Potter and Claude Murneau blasted into her office in a heated shouting match. She shook her head, disconcertedly. Then it was off to Main Mission to monitor Commander Koenig's sensor sweep of NDA 3. Ang was studying what she thought was a shiner on Tanya Alexander's face when the trouble began with Koenig's Eagle.
Watching out the viewport at the moonscape that scrolled past, the timbre of Livy's voice changed-its business now, not personal. "What sort of status did Main Mission give as to the condition of the Commander's Eagle?" Livy failed to mention the tight, hard turn of the Eagle that Alan had put through-either wisely, or out of the fact that it didn't violate operating parameters of the spacecraft.
The answer was immediately obvious. The centigrade covered domes of NDA3 came into view on the horizon. Angelina felt her stomach ball up into a knot as she saw smoke wafting between domes 12 and 13. It was obviously the Commander's Eagle. She squinted hard, leaning forward.
"It doesn't look like he completely opened up a dome," she stated cautiously as she scanned the radiation readings processed by the onboard computers.
From Carter's vantage point, it was almost impossible to see the crash site, but the halo of orbiting debris was substantive. In the irradiated glow of the burst fuel tanks, he watched as a mangled, triangular strip of titanium drifted by the nose of the Rescue Eagle. It was followed by aruptured condenser hose, and a free-floating acceleration chair from the obliterated passenger module. Through the green fog, he was able to make out the broken spine of John Koenig's ship, and the junkyard command module. It was leaning upright against one of the debilitated dome covers like an attentive pet.
"Aw, shit," Livy moaned quietly at seeing one of her babies in this much agony. "God help me, if we can get the Commander out alive, I'll kill him." She looked forward.
Ang stared in horror, finding it difficult to concentrate on the continuous data stream
Then Bill Gates arrived to guide them to shore. The inertial damping eased. Rescue Eagle Four paused, hovering fifty meters above, and just to the left, of Dome Thirteen. Carter heard the drive shut down, and gradually, the ship began to descend.
"Alpha/Eagle Four." He called into the headset. "Paul, we've located the Commander's Eagle. It's hard on the eyes. Touchdown procedure has been initiated."
"Remains of the Eagle," Livy said softly. "I don't think we can save this one-she's almost written off as parts."
Ang quickly returned to the passenger module. "Ready?" she asked Joe.
"All set," he nodded in response, gathering his sensor.
"You do the geiger counter reading and I'll get the neutron count." As Ang sealed her helmet, Carter and Livy were completely suited with fire extinguishers in tow and a backboard.
The passenger module hissed as the cabin decompressed and the door opened to the lunar surface.
Stepping out into the 1/6 Lunar gravity, Ang jumped from the 3rd step to theground. Joe Erhlich quickly came up behind her. The first sight to greet them was the damaged centigrade cover of dome 12,as well as the decimated monitoring antennae. Ang turned to study the final trajectory of the Eagle and noted a landing pod had been clipped but otherwise still attached. The Eagle, however, resembled a squashed centipede. Livy and Alan set off in haste toward the Eagle.
Ang came beside Joe, who had already began collecting readings on the Geiger counter. "How does it look?"
"It could have been worse," Joe reported. "Slight fluctuation but nothing to have a stroke over."
Ang began taking digital and infrared pictures of the site. Following the photo session, she began an area sweep of for neutron count irregularities.
"Alpha to Angelina Carter," Victor Bergman's voice boomed inside hersuit.
"How's it look out there?"
"Nothing bad so far. He did clip the cover on #12 but it looks like its not a complete breech. The sensor array for 12 is scrap though."
"Anything on Commander Koenig?"
Ang cringed as she heard the barely contained anxiety in the professor's voice.
"Not yet, professor. Alan and Livy are going after him now."
Livy, even though loaded down with her EVA suit, her share of the rescue equipment, and her own tools, managed gainfully to keep up with themuch taller pilot. "Alan," she asked calmly, "take a look through the main viewport-see if the Commander's got his helmet on-if so, I think..."
She popped a hidden panel in the aft of the Command Module, sheared away from its mounts on the main chassis of the Eagle.
"Yeah. I can override and blow the hatch-I read pressure, about half standard inside." Still staring at the panel, she called again, "Alan? Any luck?"
The pilot returned from his semi-doze. He was standing by the lacerated fuselage with one palm against the casing, and with his left boot against the dome's concrete foundation. Behind them, Eagle Two's remaining body parts smoldered across Area Three for a radius of one half kilometer. High above them, the acceleration chair was listing back, and forth; surrounded by shrapnel, and hanging like a beacon in the void. Eventually it would fall like the rest of the breccia cloud. Carter was about to quip. He was about to ask DeHavilland if she saw the same thing that he had seen.
There were three stars visible in the afterimage of the crash. The high star in the trinity was Antares. In the epicenter of the partnership, there was a peculiarity in either vision, or space. A discomposition. A ripple. The blue, and white, NYPD police cruiser took his attention away from that.
It was parked in the regolith adjacent to Dome Six. Its gumball machine was rolling. It's driver's side door was open, though no occupants were visible. The riot gun, mounted to the dash looked perfectly sanguine--like it had every business being on the opposite end of the sidereal universe with the orphaned Moon. He paused to clear his vision.
When he looked again, it was gone. There was only the dome, and Joe Ehrlich's sprite form, padding slowly between boulders in the almost negligible gravity.
"Alan?" Livy skirted her way back around to the front of the damaged command module and stareed at the motionless pilot, her anger at being ignored diffusing into worry. "Alan? Do you hear me?"
Carter shook off the daggy, and paused before answering. He'd been working too hard. Yeah, that's it. Too much midnight oil; he was overcommitted, and divested; alot of shit; alot of jobs that Harms should have been given for edification, and upbraidment. Ergo, the damp squid he had become, which only thought for a moment that it had seen a squad car in the near vacuum of space. Yeah, that had to be it.
"Crazy." He declared aloud, dropping to his knees, and using his heels to propel himself upward. He softlanded on the nose cone of the obliterated hulk. He used his right glove to wipe away the layer of stardust. Behind it was a garish orange glow. One of the aft modules cast an eerie lantern light. There was fumes, and violent, warm light, and--the outline of a helmeted figure shifting, and divigating in his sleep.
Total wash, indeed. The fact that he had survived was nothing short of Providence.
Behind them, the striped ER Module of Rescue Eagle Nine, pulled up alongside Cargo Eagle Twelve, which waited in a holding pattern. It's electromagnet dangled at the end of the winch like a giant, silver thimble. Eagle Nine hit its floodlights, and its powered descent next to Eagle Four.
"Let's get him out of there." The pilot said. In this fairy tale, there was no bottle that said DRINK ME.
Livy just nodded-this was just getting weird. "Right," she said softly, barely audible over the hum and pump of her own life support system.
Ang saw the billowing lunar dust and, looking up, saw the descent of rescue Eagle 9. She was in the process of completing the set up of the temporary monitoring sensor array for dome 12.
"Link up, Ben," Ang called the Computer Operations Chief in Main Mission.
"Receiving signal. Modulate 10." Ouma reported back methodically.
Ang adjusted the sensor console. "Check."
"Confirmed optimal reception. Ouma out."
Moving towards the rear of the Command Module, Livy punched in the emergency override code into the panel, and was rewarded by the soundless *pumf* of escaping atmosphere-a very small puff of crystalized oxygen, barely even enough to take note of. Then she clambered inside the ruined module, unbuckling and carefully maneuvering Koenig out of his seat.
"Swear to god," she grumped loudly at the motionless, unconscious form, her mood returning to normal-though she suppressed her own worry and took note of the fact she needed to talk to Ang about Alan-"if you weren't already out of it, I'd kick your ass for what you did to my Eagle."
Slowly, carefully, she eased the Commander out of the Eagle and into Alan's waiting arms.
Joe Erhlich nodded to Ang as she bounded toward the Eagle. "Dome 13 is intact. No significant increase in angstroms." He reported with a thumbs up, and traded the Geiger counter for the infrared camera.
"Good," Ang acknowledged. She was so, so relieved that the damage was minimal. It could have easily been much worse. Surely, there was a God. Now the only remaining task was to assess any possible radiation leakage from the doomed Eagle's nuclear fuel cells.
She scanned the area as, out of the corner of her eye, they retrieve the Commander from the Command Module.
Carter motioned to Ang. "It looks good so far, Joe. Finish up for me while I help get the Commander out of here."
Erhlich nodded, took the sensor and continued. Ang took Koenig's left arm over her shoulder while Alan had his right arm. She looked over at Livy.
"I'll hang here with the Rescue Eagle," she says, looking over the wreckage. "I'll pick up the pieces and see what's salvageable.
"Good," Ang replied. "Joe will be out here with you completing the radiation count on the nuke cells."
Carter and Ang returned to Eagle 4 with the unconscious Commander.
John Koenig could feel his body being moved but was unable to talk or say anything. His mind became hazy and he found himself drifting back to a time he thought he had forgotten..
Koenig found himself at his grandmother's house running through the hallway. Laughing, he found his grandmother's wig and he was running with it in his hands as his grandmother followed him.
"John Robert Koenig, you come here right now!" his grandmother demanded.
The young boy rounded the corner again laughing out loud in delight knowing his grandmother was chasing him. Only this time he changed his path rounding around the next corner, and slid on the rug in the hallway falling down landing on his backside. Surprised by his fall his grandmother caught up with him at last.
"See young man you will always get caught when you do something wrong. What would your parents say about all of this if they were still alive??" she asked him then regretted bringing up John's parents. Helping him to his feet she looked into his blue eyes and patted his coal black hair. Taking the wig from him she led him into the living room, and sat him down on the couch beside her. "What are we going to do with you John?" she asked him.
Shrugging his shoulders he bowed his face looking down at the floor. Reaching over to him she gently lifted his face to look up to her. "John, you are a prankster, but eventually these pranks will catch up with you. What do you want to do with your life John?" she asked him watching his face light up with excitement. She knew John had been a mischievous child, but he was also full of energy and a top student in his school. She knew, someday, her grandson would hold a job with some authority.
"I am going to the moon and see all the planets grandma" he replied with a wide smile on his face.
Thankful for her grandson and the company he had been for her over the past four years, she was grateful that he did not know about her cancer. John had experienced death too early for any child, but especially the death of his parents was hardest on him of all.
"Grandma since your hair is grown back can we burn your wig?" John asked as she now held the wig in her hands.
Smiling down at him "Sure you can John, lets get the matches and go outside." With that they walked into the kitchen and she got the box of matches. John held the door for his grandmother as they walked together in the backyard to the garbage can where they burned leaves and trash. Looking up as the dark was slowly falling upon them John saw the bright white glow of the moon.
"See grandma that is where I am going someday" he said pointing up to the moon enthusiastically.
"Yes, I see John. Now put the wig in the trash can and come over here and stand on the step if you are going to burn it." she handed him the matches and watched as he struck it on the back of the box. Tossing the match in the can he watched as it caught fire
Watching him closely, she wondered what he was thinking as his facial expression changed. Watching the fire grow as the wig and the papers in the trash can started to burn John suddenly saw his father's car.
It was a red mustang, his dad's pride and joy. The day started out wonderful as his parents took him to the beach for the day. Then on the drive back that night, they were hit by a drunk driver just as John drifted off to sleep sending the car into the railing and telephone poll. Feeling his dad's big hands lift him from the back seat he watched as his dad went back to get his mother. Suddenly, as soon as his dad went back to the car it exploded into flames and John could hear his parents scream as they burned inside the car.
Brought back by the screaming from his grandmother as she grabbed him before he fell into the trash can, John stared at her in horror seeing the impending death in her face.
The medical team waited in the Command module of Eagle 4 as Carter and Ang brought Koenig into the passenger section and repressurized the cabin. As soon as computer monotoned, "Earth Atmosphere/Earth Gravity", Raul Nunez and Jerry Parker charged out of the Command module.
Ang, removing her helmet, followed Carter into the Command module, jumping into the co-pilots chair. As Carter prepared for take off, she immediately linked the radiation sensor to the onboard computer, which relayed the readings to the server on Moonbase Alpha.
Carter had been extremely quiet while they were bringing the Commander to the ship; once again, her intuition was telling her something was wrong; the glass was definitely half empty, not half full.
"Are you OK?" Ang looked up from studying the data on the co-pilots screen. "You know, Nicky was up all night last night...again, third night in a row...you know when he turns into the child from hell, trouble is coming."
Oh yes--Carter understood that implicitly now. He had learned, friends, and neighbors. Gone was the Doubting Thomas, and the untractable revisionist. Gone was the insolent click of the tongue, and the brow beating braggadocio. He did like to be cautious, though.
"Chance nothing." He said, redundantly holding the yoke while computer executed a final approach course. They approached the base through the back door. Far below, he saw Eagle Four's silhouette eclipse the peaks of Frigoris, wending its way across the frozen ejecta towards home--such as it was. "I think I got the raptures out there." He confessed, squinting at the declination in altitude. The speed of the ship slowed to 200 KPH. "I want Gunther to check my cryo tank when I get back. It's probably nothing."
"Hmmm," She eyed him curiously. She wanted to believe the logical explanation but her instinct shouted 'No! No! No!'
"You've been working too hard, sweetheart. Come to think of it, I have too." She laughed softly. "We need a vacation. Unfortunately, I don't see that coming any time soon. You know, I'm starting to imagine stuff too. Just this morning, between referee calls in the battle of technicians, I could swear Guido was in my office with me. I thought I could hear his voice and even smell his cologne."
She looked away to the monitor at the data, her eyes filling with tears. Again the pain of separation, of never seeing her brother again. "God, I miss him." She sniffed imperceptibly and swallowed.
Carter looked at the yellow panels, disservingly. He honestly didn't know what to say. Comfort clung to the roof of his mouth like slag peanut butter. He wanted to cop a rainbow, and tell her brighter days were ahead; life is worth living; apples, she'll be. It didn't sound sanguine to him though, and 'Ang was anything, but a rum-dumb. Kind of reminded him of a cartoon he once saw in a rag called High Times. Picture a Marmaduke, mutt type dog; eating it's pile, and loving every minute of it. The tormenting speculations barged into his mind every day like unloved, meter men. 'Oh, hello Alan,' his fears razed him. 'Here I am. Just thought I'd drop by, and turn your lemonade to piss. Yeah, it blows that you didn't turn that Eagle 180 degrees, and head back for the good Earth while you had the chance--oh, and I did remind you, again, didn't I? For the upteenth, centrillion time that you did have a chance? One, not-to-be-repeated chance. And you blew it. And now you're locked up like a sardine in a tin can on the bogus Moon. And there's every possibility that you will outlive your wife, and child. More's the pity. Bad move, cobber.'
"How about that neutron count." He said, scratching his chin pensively. "What's the word."
The Plato Range was closing on them. Several kilometers beyond the vale, he could see the pivotal landing beacon atop the Command Tower. Coop' was at the remote pack. He'd bring them down without a bump.
Ang wrinkled her nose slightly, studying the data. "From close up, we get intermittent high neutron counts that appear to be random. But...I don't know. I mean, since yesterday.." She punched up a few buttons. "It probably is nothing but I should run if by Ben to see if it matches some weird or obscure statistical model."
Carter nodded. Over his left shoulder, Ang' could see the Medical Center Extension. On the way down, Jerry Parker passed them. He was peering forlornly at them from the wide, vision port in the pharmacology lab. He was about to chug non-committaly from his white plastic cup, when the area beneath the ship began to bake in the foreglow of the landing lights. The lean, sprawling eastern wall of Technical Section broadened to meet them.
"Eagle Four, touchdown in five seconds." Controller Paul Morrow informed them from the forward monitors as Launch Pad Two expanded beneath them. Then, after careful deliberation, he said: "How is Commander Koenig."
Jerry Parker, MSN, Chief Nurse leaned over Carter's shoulder and spoke into the pilot's monitor. "His condition is critical," Parker replied bluntly. "He has severe head injury. He needs an MRI and a Cat-scan as soon as we arrive."
"Understood," Morow replied grimly. "Dr. Russell and team will meet the travel tube at the embarkation point."
Ang, visibly upset, shook her head in disbelief, as Morrow cut the link. "Will he make it?" she asked the tall male nurse.
"We'll do our best," Parker nodded solemnly as he turned and headed back into the passenger module.
She was quiet for 10 seconds when Bergman appeared on the pilot's monitor.
"Alan, you and Ang need to report to Main Mission when you disembark. Scanners are picking up something...unusual."
Dr. Helena Russell paced back and forth before the travel tube entrance. The chime sounded and the doors parted; Jerry Parker pulled the gurney while Raul Nunez released the air in the blood pressure cuff and noted the latest reading. Russell began running alongside the gurney carrying a flaccid, ashen Koenig. The oxygen tubes running from his nostril entangled the EKG and EEG leads like an overgrown Ivy hedge.
"Condition?" she inquired.
"Pulse 95...BP 90/40...Respiration 10....Left Pupil is blown.." Nunez reported with zero emotion in his voice.
Parker guided the gurney to the MRI chamber.
"Full head scan and CT," he ordered the medical technician initializing the machine.
The MRI unit began clanking and churning. Helena Russell stepped inside the scan room to begin a live reading of the MRI images. In a split second, she closed her eyes; she could hardly see through the tears which began welling the minute she turned away from the others. She swallowed hard and cleared her throat.
Dr. Bob Mathias, back to her, did not see her momentary lapse in cool professionalism as he brought up the multiple displays.
Removing his black bone glasses from the pocket of his white frock coat, Mathias donned them, and stared intently at the Polaroid Processed exposures of John Koenig's mind. Four rows, and every neuron seemed to be cooperating in the carefully pruned template. While exploring the bottom row, he vassalated (blinking twice at a hobgoblin of nature that waved back to him from the scan like a hauteur on a cruise ship) on the bridge between the left, and right hemisphere. Instinctively, Parker handed him a compass that had been married to a fiber tipped marker.
"Any idea what caused the crash." He asked Helena Russell as he drew a dime sized circle around the corpus collosum. The damaged lobe was obnoxiously easy to find. Ed Malcom could have diagnosed the injury. His cure would have been Twinkies. Forget Harvard, and John's Hopkins, and their lofty, cannibalistically priced "research units." Even a bottom feeding, pre-med student could have articulated this problem. Mathias shook his head discouragingly. The disintegration between the two components was heralded by a shadow in the lower right corner that looked too much like a skull. He added four arrows, opening outwards, north, south, east, and west to indicate the rapid swelling, and expansion of ablated tissues.
"It does not appear to be a mechanical failure, according to the preliminary analysis of the flight data from Ben Ouma," Russell responded.
"Oh God," she whispered, just the hint of emotion in her voice, as she studied the area of injury. She swallowed and cleared her throat. "Well, surgery is out of the question. If we start slicing and dicing into that region, even with the microlaser, chances are the Commander will become a vegetable." She stated with cool professionalism. She was finding it difficult to keep her emotions at bay. It took the bulk of her psychological training and experience to stay emotionally detached from this particular patient.
"So, our only option is to break in the Von Bonn Electrocephlographic Complex."
Break in...as in 'Number of customers served=one.'
From where Mathias was standing, there were no other options. Happy Hour, and Karyoake was over, my dear woman. If the injured area wasn't assuaged, and soon, neurodegeneration would result. Chronic amnesia was the least of the symptoms John Koenig would experience. Oh, he'd get along...for a while, at least. Being a fraction of your former self is, after all, better than biting the dust totally, one could argue. He could also look forward to a short life, riddled with epileptic seizures, and eventual amplification unto death from a Grand Mau Hemmorrhage--the day would come when the mushroom between his ears would superheat, and melt, evacuating onto his pillow while he screamed in his sleep of ill-fated dreams.
"Alright, you know invasive surgery is out of the question. He'd be better off if you set his brain on the desk, and took a hammer to it." The physician reminded his colleague. "If we put him on the system, the inflamation will ease. After that, there's the slight chance that neuroblasts will form, and take on the function of the damaged cells." This they knew only from laboratory rats, and the mostly laughable research conducted on human subjects. "I won't lie to you, though. I don't think his chances are wonderful, even with therapy.
"And like it, or not, I think you need to prepare for that eventuality." He said dispassionately, looking over his shoulder. Beyond the observation window, Delline, and Parker were already attaching the saline deposits to the commander's forehead.
"Yes," Russell stated with complete external calm. "Statistically he has about a 20% chance." 'On a lucky day,' Helena thought but did not add. "But it is still about 10 times greater than the chance he would have without the VBEC treatment."
Hope, there was always hope.
Dr. Russell left the imaging room and began uploading the neurological feedback program from the medical server as Anne Delline finished attaching the last of the electrodes. Mathias had followed her into the room.
"Well," Russell began tenaciously," here goes."
Koenig's body trembled slightly as the electric impulses the Von Bonn received were modulated, amplified and transmitted to his brain. The inverted sine wave appeared on the monitor.
"OK, now all we can do is wait."
They had to wait. On the other end of the cosmic schtick, John Koenig had infinity to compose. This, following the curtain, and soapsuds swipe that washed his brain like a mug in a roadside diner.
He was crunched into a desk, at MIT, or Yale, or some other Mount Olympus for the mentally gifted. Sitting before him, Helena Russell was sitting astutely, taking notes, and listening without the slightest criticism, or ratiocination to Adjunct Professor Santa Claus, who was lecturing, not on medicine, but on nineteenth-century British Romanticism. The erudite stepped away from the lecturn, stroking his long, white beard for intellectual fluff. He pondered the imponderousness of it all as his reflection slid down the rows of interlocking, checkered tiles.
"This class sucks." Truman Starns said, taking up space in the unrecalcitrant back row.
"That's funny." Koenig commented, making his assumptions audible. "I wonder if we're having the same dream."
The detective shook his head, and then beamed Victor Bergman's zombie forehead with a .50 caliber spit wad.
"No, it's no dream. Although, in its present form, I admit the whole thing is a little Daliesque."
"But yester-night," The Burl Ives professor quoted, louder still. "I prayed aloud in anguish, and in agony, upstarting from the fiendish crowd of shapes, and thoughts that tortured me: a lurid light, a trampling throng, sense of intolerable wrong...."
Taking an ice cube from his cup of Bubba Cola, he was going to give Helena Russell the freeze out, because it was fat. Yes, he was going to ease back the collar of her turtleneck, and drop it right down her dreck-worshipping back. Such was the lot of a sane man in The Pains Of Sleep.
"And whom I scorned, those only strong!" White Beard, the Professor continued. He was looking directly at him this time.
Beyond the purple, semitransparency of light, he noticed that Russell's collar was inaccessible. This was because her neck was hyper extended onto his blank, spiralbound notebook now. Her dark, and fathomless eye orbits stared placidly towards the ceiling like a Quaalude Junkie on a fix; a Heroin addict on a really gonzo trip. Attached to her apathetic, who-gives-a-shit tempel, a membraneous hose was extracting toxic individuality from her mind like old tea. Koenig could hear macabre sucking, and dripping sounds as the creature's colon eliminated the rest onto the floor.
"That plug's for you." Starns said neutrally, looking crosseyed, and a bit annoyed as one of the suction cups smacked him right between the eyes. "And all that you do. That plug's for you."
John Koenig dove from the desk, a strangled cry barely escaping his lips. Globular shadows surrounded him. Escapees from "It Came From Outer Space," "Earth V. The Flying Saucers," "The Blob," and any number of other bloodsucking, B-Movie hybrid mutations. He groped for imaginary weapons. Surrounded now, he was about to concede to darkest brain drain, when suddenly, the converging horde appraised him to be out of taste; a greasy, unrepast box of White Castle's cheese sticks when what they truly craved was a filet mignon.
"'Waiting for the UFO's,'" Officer Borg sang, unable to carry a tune in a bucket with his vibrating, granny vocal cords, as his skull withered, and shrank like a rotting apple.
John Koenig waned into a Morphine cloud, his aggressors waving bye-bye with their batrachian tentacles as he went. 'Be seeing you,' the group pledged with monstrous, thirsty oath.
And that was no bull.
Victor Bergman scratched his head while waiting for the register tape to unspool from Panel Number Three. His combed, mad scientist remainders were almost vertical to the ceiling when the blue bar code rolled into his palm. Behind him, Ben Ouma was watching patiently from the mainframe control desk. Paul Morrow stood transfixed, leaning against his chair with both hands, while Sandra Benes retired from the diffusing garlands of multicolored light on the big screen. The abstract of preliminary information, available to her from high orbital analysis, and imaging--about as useful as a pair of fuzzy, pink dice. Her brooding profile appeared red, then blue, bright yellow, and then returning to lavender again. The same high voltage hues whirled like Warholian Funk Art against the bulkheads, though nothing, but bleak, empty space was visible beyond the vision ports.
Bergman dismounted the computer deck--somehow, succeeding in walking, talking, and scratching his chin, and all at the same time. Andy Dempsey chanced a glimpse at the download as he strolled past, grasping his clipboard like a shield. Paul Morrow's skin crawled--literally. It was like having the Shingles, and on top of that, every member on his apple green body felt as though it weighed fifty pounds. Including that place.
"Absolutely astonishing." Bergman said, glancing from paper to big screen. "Whatever it is, it's being propelled over 1,130 times faster than normal values."
"???The normal values of light???" Morrow decried. "That's impossible. No natural phenomenon can move at that rate of speed."
"The stars." Ouma observed, swallowing hard. "They're moving towards it."
"It's an optical effect--a product of superluminal velocity, combined with the object's oblique angle of approach." Sandra explained. "We're also picking up definite trace particles of Cherenkov Radiation."
Olivia deHavilland sauntered into Main Mission, hands jammed into the grubby, grease-stained coveralls she wore; olive-drab coveralls with a "Meta Probe Engineering Team" patch on the upper left shoulder, coveralls drenched and soaked with sweat from hours in a space suit recovering a broken Eagle. She looks around and asks, "Who's got Cherenkov radiation? Somebody build an FTL ship when I wasn't looking?"
Rotstein decided to put in an honest day's work, which was the most incomprehensible piece of data. He entered to the left of the big screen, only five steps ahead of Alan, and Ang' Carter. The pilot followed Bergman's gaze, and uttered a meretricious whistle. Above him, the spiraling, black hole of psychosurreal photons devoured the universe in a cirrus of flame. The origin was occupied by a beige birthmark of matter that was increasing proportionately in size, as it drew closer.
"O'kay," Carter said. "I don't know about the rest of you, but whatever it is, it's got my attention."
Livy eased up next to Carter, her eyes holding steady-though skeptical-at the monitor. "You and me both, brother," she says softly.
Angelina shook her head in disbelief at the Technical Station.
'No way..no way..no way' she thought over and over again. Way.
The theory of Relativity was accepted because it made enough sense mathematically and no one had yet proven that it wasn't true. Ang listened to Sandra announce that the object was first 40 million miles, then 20 million miles, all the while considering her life's work a complete and utter waste of time. Her books, her notes, her papers: all to be tossed aside now like last week's K-Mart sales flyer.
"Range is now 10 million miles," Sandra's small voice echoed through the room. Everyone in Main Mission, save perhaps Rotstein, was astute enough to experience the historical ramifications of this event.
"Computer confirms object is artificial, powered and manned," Ouma unraveled the tape issued from the computer swivel desk station.
Angelina shook away the daze. She knew it, Carter knew it and Morrow knew it. At that speed, it would be difficult to guarantee an Eagle welcoming committee greeting the visitors in time as their sole source of self defense.. She looked to Morrow, who nodded at her.
"Petrov, arm all laser cannons, NOW!" She relayed to the former Lietenant Colonel.
"It is trying to hail us," Sandra stated calmly, as she adjusted knobs and hit switches.
"Moonbase Alpha to unknown ship," Morrow began after clearing his throat. "Identify yourselves, repeat..Identify yourselves"
"Moonbase Alpha, this is the Infinity Albatross. Do not be alarmed; we are from the planet Earth.
Livy's mouth narrowed. "No. The Albie was a sketch on a damn napkin when we were drinking too much." She shook her head. "No."
Audible gasps echoed throughout the auditorium. As Sandra adjusted the signal modulation, Ang jumped up and raced around to the controller's station, standing between Paul and Alan.
"I have a visual," Sandra reported, the anticipation and anxiety finally evident in her voice.
"Put it up on the Big Screen, Sandra," Morrow stated the obvious.
The image of the 40 something handsome man on the screen hit Angelina Carter like a ton of bricks.
The figure on the screen favored Clark Kent after a humongous, bad day. His classically chiseled face looked wizened with the beard stubble of desperate living. His eyes were red rimmed, and watery from exhaustion--the corrosive effect that was typical of deep space exploration, and the long, oh-so-long, boring, mundane, excruciatingly uneventful, hapless, sexless four hours on/ four hours off cockpit time. His demeanor was such of plight that Carter almost regretted giving Morrow the clandestined nod. In turn, the controller showed Coop' a thumbs down beneath the desk. Moments later, the preflight checklist was aborted, and the welcome wagon was on it's way regardless, which was good. Eagle One, and Eagle Three looked indistinguishable from the ships in the survey fleet. The only difference was the HEAT Packs that were concealed on the underside of the command modules.
When the visual link was made, the pilot who was approaching them from the gulf of space brightened dramatically. As if seeing something in Main Mission that made all the difference between life, and the bone farm.
"You'll never believe this." He said to his off-screen co-pilot with disbelief, while ignoring Morrow. "I had just about decided this was a fool's errand. Thirty-seven days in transit, and all we see is layer, upon layer of black. Ten minutes ago, I would have sworn this was just a tax payer's nightmare."
"That's an ace. Got er' on the first try, did you?" The co-pilot without a face said enthusiastically. The voice sounded vaguely familiar to Carter.
The man on the screen nodded weakly. He dithered. He drowned in the anticlimactic Scylla, and Charybdis.
"Absolutely on the first try. Like stepping on a beer can, and finding the Hope Diamond underneath." The pilot--Guido Verdeschi by name--caroled almost spasmodically. "Hello, little sister."
Livy held her tongue in check; this was more than enough for her. "I'm off for a shower-and then I want to look at that damn bird," she announced to all, spinning on her heels and marching out of Main Mission.
Angelina grabbed Carter's lower arm, for balance. She was never one for swooning with the vapors until this moment. Not breathing had that effect on a person. Then, a look of utter joy and drunken happiness crossed her face.
"Guido!! I-it's my brother Guido!!" She uncharacteristically squealed like a giddy cheerleader. The effect of her squeal led to a chain reaction of ear piercing squealing throughout the room by the other women. The men, for the most part, were stunned into silence.
"Petrov!" Ang gleefully shoved Morrow aside and stabbed at the control for Tactical. "Disarm and retract all laser cannons."
Her attention turned to the big screen. She could not believe her eyes. It was a dream come true, a dream which she only allowed herself to occasionally explore from the peripheral edges of reality, lest she be devastated with the impossibility of the desire. She cleared her throat and regained her composure.
"Buon Giorno, Guido," Angelina proudly beamed. She squeezed Carter's hand lovingly.
"???Strike force Eagles???" The Unknown Co-pilot said, bemused as Harms, and Danielle became scanner visible. "You've got to be bloody joking me." The Voice said, and emitted a giddy, iced chuckle. More embarrassed than offended. "???Is that the deal???"
To Carter it was the voice of doom, a maladorous breeze, yesterday's wind.
"Petrov, hold on that last order." Morrow said emotionlessly. "Maintain alert status."
"What in the hell are you doing?!?!?" Angelina hissed at Morrow. She straightened her back. "Have you lost your mind?!?! Why aren't you giving them permission to land?!!?!"
"Now, Ang," Bergman interjected paternally, "We don't know for certain if they really are from earth."
Bergman was rebuked with a sudden fury of protest from several Main Mission Operatives.
"Of course it is."
"It has too be..."
Angelina had a confounded expression on her face, pondering, wondering, looking quizzically at Carter for an answer. He had none for her.
"That ship IS from earth and that IS my brother. I will not let you shoot it down, Paul." Ang stated defiantly, arms crossing over her chest.
Truman Starns gave Harness Bull Duncan a sidewise glance.
"Colonel Petrov." The Ominous Co-pilot said with admiration; his own ego, sublimated for the moment. "He's still around, is he? It kind of figures--if cockroaches could survive The Big One, he'd be right there with them, and probably plotting a fierce, punitive, retaliatory campaign.
"I was in his brigade for the first three months, you know." He boasted to Guido Verdeschi, meandering over the good ol' days of World War Terminus. "We bombed the snot out of The Great Wall. Of course, that was nothing. You should have seen the Argonne Forrest after he finished nuking' it. It still glows in the dark, to this day. I mean, he invented a new kind of plastic out of that one. No trees though. All gone now. Pity."
"???WHO THE HELL IS THAT???" Carter piped up, suddenly. He was curious to the point of rage.
When it came to stoicism, and arctic reserve, Morrow was the Great Pyramid Of Cheops.
"Negative, Infinity Albatross." He demured expertly. "Come to course 37 degrees west, by 15 meters, northwest. Assume a holding pattern until further notice."
The controller was about to arbitarily cut the link when a third person entered the conversation.
"You blimey,' blockheaded, sexually anal, boring-to-the-point-of-suicide, arsehole of a person." The third interlocutor adjudged. "You thankless git. If our old dad could see you now. You heard the bloke.' We've been in space, back of the beyond for over a month--lousy food; no women, really; nothing to lubricate our throats except for Tang, and all for the unworthy benefit of Mr. Paul "Stuffshirt" Morrow.
"See if I try to pull your bum out of the fire again."
With that, Guido Verdeschi unplugged, and allowed Morrow's critic to have a look-see from the HAB Module. The face that appeared on the big screen looked very much like the controller's, only somewhat older, and with an Errol Flynn moustache, and a flat top hair cut.
"???Stu???" Morrow said at last to his older brother.
Angelina Carter looked up at the big screen, once again confounded.
Sister Mary Finnegan, her first grade teacher was suddenly in front of her.
"Angelina Verdeschi!!" The elder nun must have been 8 feet tall. "Stop daydreaming, young lady. Pay attention to the real world, child!"
"The real world...what the hell is the real world? Could reality be whatever one makes it to be?" adult Angelina asked in 1st grade Angelina's body.
Angelina Carter looked around the glazed faces in Main Mission, now including Paul.
"Ang," Guido Verdeschi's voice piped in through the dolby speakers. "I've come back to take you home. The sooner you let us land, the sooner you'll be home."
She closed her eyes 'There's no place like home; there's no place like home.....'
Victor Bergman turned away from the big screen, and leaned over the gooseneck lamp, facing Ben Ouma at his station. His brow was furrowed, and his shoulder muscles were as taught as cables. Ouma looked at Bergman. Bergman looked at Ouma, raising his eyebrows--a semiphoric response to a question that had yet to be asked. Every eye in Main Mission was upon him. Ang' waited tensely beside Carter whose head was inclined perpetually upwards, but who seemed to be putting the pieces together, for good, or ill. Paul Morrow crumpled the monthly, revised flight schedule without realizing it; his skepticism was now light years from the mono-blip traffic board that was mounted to his station. Sandra Benes stood nearby. In a way she agreed; in a way she didn't. You might say she was of two minds on the subject--of course, this was beyond compare to how Commander John Koenig would feel when he was, at last, liberated from his concussion. Au contraire mon amis. For the time being, he rested almost tolerably while Helena Russell's miracle machine massaged his brain, and vibrated his skull, but not necessarily in that order.
"Professor?" Morrow asked tentatively.
The embarkation area for Launch Pad 3 was filled with excited, chattering and nervous Alphans. It was Miller time...party time and they were going home.
Hair still sodden from the quick shower she'd taken, and with not enough time to actually towel it dry, Livy sauntered up, still brushing at the rough mass, the auburn mane that waved and bounced of its own accord. In honor of the celebration, she opted to put on her one sole remaining clean Alphan uniform-the otherwise wide belt custom fit for her.
The Carters were among the throng. Ang had picked up Nicky prior to going to the area, which would reunite her with her brother and introduce him to his nephew. Nicky's first birthday was exactly one week away and she could not have given him a better gift: going home to Earth. The child had started independent walking two weeks before and delighted in "practicing", running up and down the corridor. His crying fit had subsided and Ang mused, perhaps he was teething or something. At any rate, soon he would be running through fields of grass or sand on the beach instead of the cold, neutral halls of Moonbase Alpha.
Olivia brightened up immediately. "Nicky!" she called to the toddler, glad to see the one person in this god-forsaken place that was shorter than she. Dropping to one knee, she held her arms out wide, tempting him with a big, big, smile, and a long, long, lock, ready for the pulling. "Heya, Ang. Carter." she called.
Nicky Carter laughed heartily as he ran toward Livy, plowing into her arms as she swept him up into the air.
Angelina and Alan both waved enthusiastically at Livy.
Behind the bulkhead, the pump hissed. The light turned green. The double doors sighed open, and out stepped the first Terrans to visit Moonbase Alpha in over four years. The party exited the travel tube into the defunct reception area where Marilys Sing played host person, alongside a posthumous Sloven. Though they were offworlders, she wasn't particularly concerned about passports, or marching them single file through the metal detector, and the inspection cube. Harness Bull Pound clanked forward in his armor to greet folks. The first visitor to enter the base was Infinity Albatross' mission commander, Guido Verdeschi--still in his environment suit, and loaden with World Space Commission rank, and glissandi. Exhausted, but reinvigorated enough to scoop his sister off her feet before he hugged her.
Carter stood amicably by, his thumbs hitched inside his tan belt. Then he dropped the evil load, realizing at last who Infinity Albatross' grim, talky ambassador must have been. The ship's pilot was the next to enter the base, alongside a distinguished looking gentleman with a learned white beard. Truman Starns rubbed his palm against his chin, and stood vigil near the desk. Carter felt like the dink who digs, and digs to the bottom of the basket, only to realize that the pineapples were in front of him, all the while.
"Captain Carter." The fortysomething astronaut with the black widow's peak, and frothing complexion exclaimed, extending an uncharacteristically beneficent hand.
"Captain Kilpack." Carter replied, and gave him the power clutch. "I must admit, I was worried there for a minute--then I realized, there's only one jackeroo I know who has that much hellfire, and brimstone in his veins.
"You're lucky we didn't send your smartass packing."
Suddenly, amidst this commaraderie, and esprit de corps, years of loathing, and detestation were wiped clean like a formica counter. It suddenly seemed of no consequence to Carter that only last week, he hated Dirk Kilpack's guts; had endured a horrific nightmare concerning this self-same fellow--he of the gloomy pronouncements, and Goth haircut.
"Take the glare out of your stare." Rotstein warned his opponent. He had come along to hobnob, and assert his amoral self, and to suck up, then the moustachioed crewman Lambadaed out of the travel tube. He was openly--proudly--condescending, and emitted the air of a man who lived to cause trouble. He licked his chops at the assistant controller's viability as Used Condom; a Taj Ma Hal for practical jokes, and torture.
"That's a sprog." Stu Morrow said, and bequeathed him an unimpressed, disrespectful, reserved-for-the-retarded slap on his conniving shoulder, as he moved towards Paul.
Angelina sobbed tears of joy. She was completely overcome with happiness. She regained her composure and sniffed "Still wearing Old Navy just like I remember? Some things never change," she smiled.
After an eternity, which was still not enough in his mind, he broke the embrace.
"Hey," Guido queried. "Where's Tony?"
Angelina lowered her eyes and shook her head silently.
Truman Starns scanned the crowd, perhaps hoping for a familiar face. It was at this point he felt a small hand grab his flair. When he looked down, Nicky Carter's face was a mask of fear. Wide eyed, mouth agape and lower lip quivering slightly, he was staring at the visitors from earth. Suddenly, his expression went blank. He rubbed his eyes and stared into the crowd again, a puzzled expression crossing his face. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a woman staring at the child and approaching both of them. Nicky looked up at Starns and Starns, taking his cue, picked him up.
"My name is Diana Morris," the woman pleasantly introduced herself. She looked intently at Nicky, eyes fixed. "What a lovely child! Does he belong to you?"
Nicky Carter still confused, looked away, burying his face in Starn's shoulder.
The detective looked heedfully at the child, paused, as if in deep thought, and then extended a hand to Diana Morris. She didn't seem to appreciate his interrogatory approach. That was o'kay. It had been brought to his attention before. On Earth, he was briefly employed by Interpol. His partner was a fellow named Fritz Lyon. Every now, and again, as they wandered the fleshpots of Dark City, bringing to justice the illegal immigrants; the cyber sex fiends; the hookers, and the used car salesmen, Fritz would criticize him for his rude, and crude gander; "Just looking at you makes me feel guilty, Rodeo," the other detective would often opine.
"No, he's not mine." Starns said illiberally. "I'm Truman Starns, lieutenant, Chief Investigator for the International Lunar Commission. Your name sounds familiar to me. It seems like we've met before, either in Huntsville, Alabama, or in Houston, Texas, but I can't remember when."
"Perhaps in Houston," she replied in a demur, pleasant tone. "I am a flight controller and actually a friend of Commander Koenig."
"Well," Starns said dryly. "It's a small galaxy, isn't it." In lieu of becoming a criticule on the welcome mat, he jigged around the bad news of the crash. No one voyaged three astronomical units away from their home--light years unstatistical, and only to hear of a friend's inauspicious health. Also, he avoided the topic because he wasn't sure that he wanted these people to know that there was a pendant on life, and death, power vacuum waiting to be filled. They would find out eventually, he had no qualms, but for the time being, John Koenig was alive, and commander of the base. In the nonce, that was all they needed to know, and that was all he cared to let them know.
"Flight, it's a pleasure to meet you. So, how are things in Houston. It must have been a real load off. No more trips to the nuclear waste dumps, and on that note, here is my look of empathy, and dire remorse for the incumbent WSC Chairperson."
His expression was unhappy forever, sans punch line.
"Well, the aftermath of breakaway was pretty hairy," she replied vaguely "but we survived."
Diana Morris was rather conservatively dressed and rather "bookish" looking. In other words, Starns mused, a female geek. Behind the Coke bottle thick bone rimmed glasses, he could see the beauty of a woman with soft brown eyes and ivory skin: a diamond in the rough. His hypnotic trance was broken as Nicky Carter spotted his mother and squirmed out of Starns arms.
"Uh-oh, tired of our company already." The detective said suspiciously, placing Nicky on the ground and watched as he darted toward his mother. He tipped a wink to Diana Morris--had to throw that in, a flirt, even though she seemed guilty of something, though he knew not what. His glands thus abided, he moved on to other topics. "I used to love the metroplex area, though I actually spent very little time there." He explained, blanching, as though attacked by a burgeoning, bad memory. "Ten months out of the year, I was on duty. The International Space Station. I made landfall as often as I could.
"A fellow named Chris Craft, and I used to frequent a place called 'Zaks.' It was just north of Jones Road. The best Cajun-Hawaiian Restaurant I've ever eaten at. True, it was also the only Cajun-Hawaiian food I'd ever eaten.
"Ever been there?"
"Why, no," Diana Morris quipped pleasantly and deftly took his arm. She gazed at Truman Starns, intently, studiously. "Perhaps, if I may be so bold," she blushed, "We can go there some time. You know...when you get back."
"Oh." She stammered, her cheeks turning bright red as she removed her glasses. "I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me. I mean, I am not usually so forward..I just thought...Oh, never mind."
Out of the crowd, the handsome man of 5'6" stepped toward Livy and tapped her on the shoulder. Livy gasped, her cool demeanor completely shattered and her skepticism out the window.
"Hello, sweetheart," the man said tenderly, arms outstretched. "I'm so glad to see you. This time, you are coming home."
Livy looked up-and her mouth fell open agape. "Stevie?" she questioned him.
"Yes." He smiled a full, white smile at her.
With an incoherent sob, she threw herself at him, her arms wrapped tightly around him, so tightly that he gasped for air while laughing. "Hey, small bird," he gasped, "Not so tight, huh? I'm here, and you're going home now."
She held on for a moment to him, as he held her, and a muffled sob could be heard from somewhere deep within her-then she pulled back, her face streaked with-unusually-tears, tears of gratitude, tears of joy, tears of relief. This was not a face of Olivia deHavilland that Alpha has ever seen presented from her-and she smiled up at Steve Harris-who too wore a Meta Probe Engineering patch on the left shoulder of his jacket-with gratitude. "Let me show you around-then you can show me Albie," she said softly, her face unusually illuminated with joy. Its an odd expression to see upon the face of the tiny engineering technician, normally so aggressively bitchy.
"Talk about psychic emanations," Dirk Kilpack thwarted Ang's introduction jocularly. "You must be the cook."
"That's Mrs. Cook to you." Carter said territorially. "My dear, have a look at this here animal. Believe it, or not, it took 10,000,000 years to produce a slag like this."
Kilpack annointed her hand with a kiss while the pilot rolled his eyes.
"His jealousy, and deep seated inferiority no doubt prevented him from ever mentioning me. Your husband, and I served together during the war." He explained, throwing a consociate arm around Carter's shoulder. Friends to the end. We're just old, old pals, their vernacular unrealistically communicated. All they needed was a group photo of the Kilpacks, and the Carters standing beside an outdoor grill, while the men bid aloha to their hairlines with cans of Meisterbrow. "The 5-0-9 Bomb Group, under Colonel William Blythen; advanced, Austrailian Expeditionary Force. God Save The Queen--the rest of the Goons are Gainesburger, of course."
Angelina was stunned. Alan had, in fact, told her all about Captain Dirk Kilpack. The word "monster" would not have been descriptive enough of this character. Alan had conveyed to her some of his tales of war and conquering, particularly in his exploits with Kilpack with much regret and remorse. He did, in fact, dislike Kilpack with a passion. Now..she didn't know what to think.
"We were in the same cockpit; over 79 missions, and he was just real homely, and goofy." Kilpack noted. "It probably explains why I'm such a warped headcase to this day."
"Hey," her brother Guido was suddenly behind her, eyeing Carter with filial suspicion. "Did I hear the word 'husband'?"
Ang immediately and gladly withdrew her hand from Kilpack, who was perhaps holding it a bit too long, and stood beside Carter.
"Uh, yes, Guido, this is my husband Alan," she stated strongly. "Carter. Alan, this is my brother, Guido."
She regarded both men, who were locked in a staring contest with plastic smiles etched on their faces.
"I believe at this point you are suppose to shake hands."
Guido relinquished first. "Of course, nice to meet you, Alan," He broke into a genuine smile. "You will, of course, be meeting the rest of the Verdeschi clan....soon." He gave Carter a slight nod.
"I consider that an honor." Carter said authentically, leaning his shoulder against the bulkhead.
Angelina picked up Nicky who regarded Guido Verdeschi and Dirk Kilpack warily. Guido Verdeschi was stunned into silence.
"This is our son, Nicholas." She hugged him while he instantly grabbd her around the neck.
Nicky looked into her eyes; anguished, puzzled and imploring.
"What's the matter, baby?" She asked softly. "Is something wrong?" The feeling that something was amiss suddenly left Ang as quickly as it appeared.
"Nicholas!! Come to Uncle Guido!!" Verdeschi gleefully reached for the child.
Nicky Carter hollered a loud "NO!!" and recoiled, turning away, the look of confusion mixed with distress never leaving his face. Ang was embarrassed.
"I'm sorry, Guido," Angelina stammered. "He has never been around unfamiliar faces before. I mean, there are only about 160 of us left and he knows just about everybody on this base."
"That's OK, Ang," Guido affirmed fraternally. "I won't be unfamiliar too long. Will I, big guy?" He patted Nicky affectionately on the back.
Nicky stared miserably at his father over Ang's shoulder, amidst the laughter and chatter of the Alphans in the corridor.
"Buck up." Kilpack said to the toddler, touching him lightly on the cheek for reassurance. From Nicky Carter's perspective, this was an unwarranted, unmitigated act of sadism. "One of these days, I'll tell you some embarrassing, R-Rated stories about your old man." He promised, touching his fist to his aorta. "They get me every time." Then on a wisp, he looked about the Debarkation Quad, disinvigorated. "I must admit, I'm surprised to see children here at all, buddyroo. The drive was shut down over the Sea Of Tranquility. That's when we turned our scanners on Plato. I almost choked to death on a squeeze tube of Rigatoni when I saw the streaming video footage of Alpha."
He laughed ironically.
"The base has changed a little since the last time I was here." He remarked kindly. "I don't know what surprised me more, the ruins, or the fact that the ruins could still support life, but our ship's surgeon, the good Dr. Shaw, there, assured us that the complex was still inhabited.
"So, brother...the life of a survivor; groined by your fellow castaways...skewered, and served up with fried bananas by the local cannibals. Space is stupendous...terrifying. Not exactly the best place to raise a child though, I'm sure you'll agree, Ang.'"
Ang decided she did not like Captain Dirk Kilpack. She eyed him cooly, gripping Nicky, who was dozing off on her shoulder, tighter and tighter.
Her anger was unctuous and she began to wonder the odds of the entire crew of the Infinity Albatross being people that everyone seemed to know when she seemed to forget the thought as her brother spoke up and put his arm around her. She was distracted by the sight of Livy and Steve Harris.
The two wandered off, hand in hand, Livy being first led by-then leading, Steve. As they left, she said, "I gotta apologize now for the condition of my quarters-if I'd have known you were coming, I'd have cleaned it up."
"Now, Kilpack," Guido Verdeschi said in dismay. "Don't be a jerk. Of course this is not the best place to raise a child but its not like they planned to blow the moon out of orbit. But we're here to fix that," Guido kissed Ang sweetly on the forehead. "Aren't we, sis?"
"Yeah," Ang murmured. She had lost her train of thought and she had the slightest headache. She looked at Verdeschi and Kilpack...and grabbed Carter by the elbow. "Could you excuse us for a minute please?"
Without waiting for an answer, she dragged Carter about 20 feet down the corridor.
"That guy is an ass," Angelina clearly distressed, whispered to Carter. "I thought you hated him and I can certainly understand why. So how come you're acting like he's your long lost best mate? Don't you think it is strange that everyone from earth seems to know everyone here?" She glanced at Nicky. "And why is our son acting so weird?"
Carter choked up an incohesive groan.
"This time last week, everyone was hating Alpha with a passion; appears now, I'm the lone wolf." He quipped. "Babe, look--this might be too much cakehole for me. I-"
"Alan, Ang,'" Victor Bergman said enthusiastically, pushing, and defoliating his way through the crowd with the bearded gentleman in tow. "I want to introduce you to someone." He said enthusiastically. "This is Doctor Raymond Shaw. Winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physiology. He wrote a dissertation on cognition, and acceleration that was nothing short of revolutionary. Amazing insights."
"Ahhhh." Shaw mantled. "Victor, you'll turn my head. In truth "The Glasgow Journal Of Neurology" thought it was as weak as salmon in a sand pit. I almost lost out to the candidate from New Zealand. I must admit, the research he did on peanut allergies was truly definitive."
"It's nice to meet you Dr. Shaw," Angelina shook the gentleman's hand amicably. Dr. Shaw exuded a paternal warmth and Ang took and instant liking to him. "Is it true Dr. Russell studied under you?"
"Why, of course," Dr. Shaw pulled out his pipe. "She was one of my best students.
"Dr. Shaw!" Helena Russell suddenly appeared and exclaimed with giddy joy.
"Helena!" Shaw immediately embraced her. "It is wonderful, absolutely wonderful to see you, my dear."
Guido Verdeschi had sauntered up next to Ang and draped his arm around her. Nicky was sound asleep. Angelina was awashed with a sense of warmth and security: everything will be fine, just fine.
Livy-wearing just shorts and half-shirt, curled on the arm of the one chair in her quarters not otherwise occupied by the residue of life-Steve sat in the deep chair, playing with her unbound, wavy auburn hair as he told anecdotes of the events following Breakaway; both had glasses of a bubbling champagne that she had kept hidden for a special occasion but never had cause to open over the past years.
Laughter flowed-she was happy for the first time in quite a long time-impetuously, the woman reached out and kissed him, bringing the old lusts, the old love, the old feeling back. "Now," she whispered, "there's been only you since we left." Deep inside her, she realized that it really has been over three years since she last had sex-was she far too picky for her own good? Was there no one on Alpha that measured up to her expectations?
She leaned forward again, interrupting Steve's commentary on the construction of the Albatross with a full, open-mouth kiss, her hands diving into his shirt. Surprised, he returned the kiss, a kiss that grew in fervor.
And then there was a moment, a moment when two were one. And some moments can last forever.
Midnight at Alpha is, as anywhere else, a quiet time, a lonely time, the bewitching hour. Livy slid out of bed naked, careful to not disturb the sleeping form of Steve Harris-her onetime and once again, lover. Quietly, ever so quietly, she picked up her sleeveless shortie robe and bunny slippers and eased herself, slowly pulling the garment on and belting it about her waist, out and into the corridor. Her curiosity up over the Infinity Albatross, she gave a small, defiant toss of her long, unbound mane of auburn hair and headed at a quick walk towards the nearest travel tube and off to Pad Three, where the interstellar ship quietly rested.
Olivia sauntered-as though she belonged there-through the boarding tube and up to the still-open hatch of the Albatross and-looking furtively around the first intersection of the ship, proceeded on board. "Amazing," she whispered to herself, running her hands across the walls, examining the ship's internal control surfaces, conduits, the few points of exposed wiring, and shook her head. Sure enough, she could see the hand of Stevie Harris in the construction of the vessel; there was a certain unfinished air about it.
Finishing her first circle of the interior of the vessel, she stopped. Something did not feel. . .right.
Making her way back up to the command center of the ship, she took a good, hard look at the central gangway that led all the way aft to the motors and engine room. With a deep breath of the reprocessed air, she closed her eyes and began to walk towards the rear of the vessel, carefully counting her footsteps.
She opened her eyes when she hit one-hundred twenty and her heart sank as she found herself only two-thirds of the way aft. Olivia knew this ship-and she'd walked it before, a hundred times in her dreams, and once for real just minutes prior. This Albatross was larger than it seemed-but she'd counted her footsteps aft-to-fore with her eyes open, and came up with the exact number of 120 steps.
Disheartened, Livy pushed her way aft and into the engine room, and began to cautiously examine the power conduits and wiring; finding an easily accessible baffle plate, she levered it up slowly and examined the interior-and her shoulders slumped as her eyes closed. "Too good," she whispered to herself, heart-broken even as she replaces the plate, tears blurring her vision. "Too good to be true."
She stood up, dusting her fingertips against her bare legs and straightened her robe-then jumped as Steve appeared at the accessway to the engine compartment. "What are you doing here," he demanded.
She turned, a smile on her face. "I couldn't wait," she said, walking slowly up to him, undoing the belt that held the sleeveless robe closed-then let it fall. "And you know what new machinery does to me." Standing on tiptoes and clad only in her long, unbound auburn tresses, she reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down for a kiss-he picked her up; she wrapped her legs around his waist.
Livy made all the right noises at all the right times. She made all the right movements with her hips at the right time. She arched her back at the exact right time. She said, "Thank you," and "I love you," at the exact right time.
All the while, she held him close and looked at the bulkheads, the wiring, the conduit system-and reverse engineered the Albatross that was presented to her in her own mind-and came up with one inescapable conclusion.
They lay on the deck of the Albatross, Livy scarcely able to breathe from Steve's weight; he lay lightly dozing atop her, her eyes still moving and examining the entire structure anew; tears run slowly, painfully from her as her heart broke within her tiny form. Slowly, the one became two again as he fell asleep-she brushed-almost distastefully so-her lips across his cheek and whispered a lie: "I have to go-I have a meeting in an hour."
He mumbled something incoherent but rolled off of the petite brunette. Quietly, she got up and pulled on her robe and bunny slippers even as she made her way, not wanting to run, but still almost unable to hold herself back, out of the Albatross. An aptly named albatross, it was something that now hung about her neck, and the neck of Moonbase Alpha.
Livy, hands jammed in the waist pockets of her robe, shuffled her way across the breadth and width of Alpha, her head down, face hidden by her auburn tresses. As her mind worked she began to comprehend the ramifications of what she-and she alone-knew to be true: the Infinity Albatross was not from Earth, and while she didn't know who-or what-had come aboard that vessel, but within the pit of her stomach, she knew that it boded ill.
She passed the Carters; and utterly failed to see them.
She padded past the Sandra; and didn't hear her greeting.
Olivia found herself seated on a pile of crates, far back in the cold, almost forgotten regions of the Moonbase, her head in her hands, her face flushed and red from crying, her body shuddering from sobs.
And still it evaded her: Who could she tell?
Kilometers above the dusty film, and the wandering sea of uncertainty, there was the decaying brown dwarf, HG485697. Descending on the Moon from an aurora, just to the left of the Clementine massif, interlocking strands of mauve illuminated the crater walls in violent curlicues. From a distance, the 600 meter scatter of ejecta that surrounded Launch Pad Three seemed like an uncivil--yet deceptively civil, and unpredictable--militia that was unorganized, but unflaggingly loyal to the ship it was guarding. Atop the turntable, the supralight carrier, Infinity Albatross rested, it's nose cone pointed towards Ed Malcom's unkempt, fucked up, disaster quarters. Light from the neighboring star created a rainbow of varying bronze, and orange about the ovaform HAB Module. Panel lights reflected against the windows of the unoccupied cockpit almost telegraphically.
Within the core area of the complex, and ten stories above the, now, most loved boarding tube on Moonbase Alpha, a magniloquent lights burned atop the Main Mission Tower. Data Analyst Sandra Benes made her rounds about the conference table, handing out red flimsies that were stamped with the legend
PROCEDURE: OPERATION EXODUS, PHASE THREE.
Only three people needed refreshing. The others knew the deal like the back of their hands; the back of their armpits; the back of their buttocks. Here was the most famous protocol on Moonbase Alpha, which was interesting, when one considers how much agony, and sudden death there was conjoined to it, like an evil Siamese twin. Yet Bob Mathias was already planning a bowl of his foul--but not too shabby--Robitussin Jesus. Paul Morrow had already organized all of the pre-flight manifests, and Technical Section was in the process of backing up files from the mainframe, to be returned to Earth for illumination on humankind's place in this mind-expanding, LSD trip of a universe.
"Dr. Shaw." Sandra said, handing the elderly physician a copy.
Shaw thanked her, still green, following a huge gulp of Vitaseed.
"Now, having said all of that," Guido Verdeschi continued in fell. "I strongly recommend expediting the evacuation. To be honest with you, we should have been out of here yesterday. Forget packing your dishes up. No hustle, no Earth. That's pretty much where the situation stands."
He nodded to June Akaiwa who passed and placed a cup of coffee in front of him.
"The problem," Dirk Kilpack explained. "Has to do with the relative position of Earth. The launch window for a return trip is critical. Space doesn't have a precise entry point, and exit point; "X" doesn't mark the spot. That's not how it works. The Albatross is an invership. She doesn't navigate under physical laws, but rather quantum theorems, derived by Dr. Cameron, and Dr. Borges.
"Think of the space-time continuum as being like a tide. You never know precisely when it's going to hit the shore, but you can have a general idea. Earth will be in line for inveritable passage early tomorrow morning. Phase one, if you like.
"Ten days later, another window will open, and that's the Grand Atropos. We'd best be on the way by then, or it will be another year before the Moon will enter alignment again. I realize that doesn't sound like much, however-"
"Alot can happen in one year." Dr. Shaw agreed, completing the pilot's sentence. "And none of it good."
Dr. Helena Russell was not at the operation exodus committee meeting. She gazed tensely at the prone form of Commander John Koenig as the last of the VBEC transmission feedback was displayed on the monitor. The words "Cycle Complete" appeared on the blue and white monitor and the descending hum indicated the unit was powering down.
Koenig's eyes slowly fluttered open and he looked up at Doctor Russell.
"Commander," Helena started, her voice shaking slightly. "Can you tell me your name? Do you know who I am?"
This was it. If he failed the essential test of identity, the Von Bonn Electrocephalic Complex could serve a better purpose as scrap metal for the recycle center.
"???Helena???" The commander swallowed the bowling ball of lint. Then the flourescent lights began to penetrate the amnion of sleep. He recognized the voice, but the rest was a vague ebauch in the shadows of Medical Center. As the ward came into focus, his serene, thanks to dope, hypnogogic mind reminded him of every cowardly, and foreboding thing he had ever thought, or felt. An episode of "The Twilight Zone" called "Eye Of The Beholder." Condemned by the black, and white Pig Snouts, and you too Turk DeLarge.
"Let me get these." Mathias said, removing the depleted electrodes from Koenig's forehead, and depositing them onto the cart.
Once again Ang was blindside with conflicting thoughts. *Quantum theorems? Then how does the Infinity Albatross fly at all?!?! And what about the Time Distortion Continuum?!!* She was wrinkling her brow looking toward Victor, who also gave her a quizzical glance then turned away. Her mind suddenly drew a blank as Guido put his arm around her shoulder.
"Now as you know, the team in the pre-pilot ship will be Alan, Ang and Joe Erhlich," Guido patted her affectionately. "Ang, you were always fortunate with games of chance. Congratulations on being one of the lucky three."
"Yeah, thanks...lucky," Ang rubbed her temple slightly. Maybe Bob could give her something for this headache. She had complained to him earlier but he told her it was the excitement and now the stress of readjusting to living on earth again. Sure, that's what it was.
"I don't think they are THAT lucky," Kilpack motioned dismissively. "Afterall, the press will descend on them like a pack of hyenas. But I'm sure Commissioner Dixon and his 'lovely' assistant Beulah Hawkins will have everything arranged to keep the dogs at bay." He took a sip of coffee and scowled.
"Commissioner Dixon?" Ang repeated with wet blanket enthusiasm. "Oh, that's nice."
Kilpack gauped at Ang' admiringly. Then the dignity was washed away by the hassled lines in his forehead, and it was back to the Jerk Off Mardis Gras. Beside him, Dr. Shaw shifted uneasily, cocking his left knee over his right leg, and quietly deliberated, tapping his ink pen against the table. Binary computer language was encrypted into his beard from the nearby monitor. For that instant, he appeared to be a sappy computer melvin's dream of artificial intelligence. At one with the ohm, and the kilowatt.
"Young lady, with all due respect--the balance of Earth's politics, or the lack thereof--is not your immediate problem." Shaw advised, gently. "Getting hell, and gone from here. That's your problem. Many things have changed on Earth. Some of the changes were good. Some will make you crave Pepto Bismol, and Bufferin, and a Highball, potently blended."
Ang nodded demurely, as if she had just received paternal grains of wisdom.
"Yeah," Carter smirked. "Right. You just show us where the door is. We'll fly now, and pay later. I can't speak for everyone, but if Earth was in total carnage; if it was nothing, but flames, and pitchforks; if I had to spend the rest of my days, standing on my head in fudge, it would still be way better than riding this old Moon to the end of the universe."
Ang stifled a grin as she intercepted Carter's hand, discreetly under the table, moving up the inside of her thigh. She had never seen him this way before; he was so, so very happy, the stress of living on the wandering moon miraculously vanished. Just 90 minutes earlier they had engaged in some sweaty, hard core, physically satisfying sex while Guido watched Nicky in the next room, who seemed to have awaken from his nap with a fresh, more friendly attitude toward his uncle. Alan had assured her by this time next year, Carter Jr. #2 would already be on the way, if not already on the scene. Everything was perfect; the future was bright and sunny. She was considering names for her second, as yet conceived, child when Guido broke her train of thought.
"Dr. Shaw is right, Ang," Guido remarked enthusiastically, "Don't you worry about the political pundits. All of you have huge bonuses and compensation packages that will put you in the lap of luxury for the rest of your lives. Believe it or not, but Dixon saw to that! Everything is going to be fine, just fine and all you have to do is get on the pilot ship and go home."
Helena Russell could not contain her joy.
"JOHN!!" she exclaimed and hugged him tightly. 'To hell with professionalism,' she thought. "John," Helena continued with the restraint of a child in a candy store, "there is something I have to tell you."
She took a deep breath and began to blather non-stop. "A ship has come to us from earth. Don't ask me how because I am not a physicist. But it is commanded by Guido Verdeschi, Angelina Carter's brother. Stu Morrow, Paul's brother, is among the crew too. Dirk Kilpack, an old friend of Alan Carter, is the co-pilot. Steve Allen, Livy DeHavilliand's fiancee, is the flight engineer. Jessica Simpson, Carter Jackson's girlfriend, is a radiation specialist. Dr. Shaw, you remember how I told you about Dr. Shaw? He is here too. John...we are going home to Earth!"
"And, uh, Diana Morris is part of the crew too." Helena smirked. "But sorry, John, she seems to have taken a liking to Truman Starns. You snooze, you lose." Russell giggled uncharacteristically.
"Bob," Koenig started, attempting to sit up, and accidentally banging his head against the badly arranged Bio-Scan Modules. "O'kay, then. What's one more squashed brain cell. Whoever designed these goddamn panels hated humanity. Some of us like pillows. Pillows are more comfortable than metal plates with rivets." He felt like Rip Van Winkle, but instead of dozing on a log, he felt like he had snoozed away the years, mouth open, and on a flatiron in Death Valley. "Heyyyyyyyy, that water dispenser looks nice, and cold today. I bet it is."
Mathias returned with one of the white, plastic moonbase cups filled with water.
Koenig chugged, his adam's apple moving up, and down like a monkey on a stick.
"Careful, commander." Mathias cautioned. "Drink it slow."
Then the mercy of half-sleep was replaced by the crashing, unanticipated return to reality.
"!!!The Eagle!!!" He exclaimed, sitting bolt upright with avidity. "Disposal Area Three. What happened?"
Helena looked momentarily somber. "You crashed in Area 3. The Eagle is totaled but none of the domes were damaged. You..." She paused momentarily. How could she tell him that the cause of the crash did not appear to be mechanical error?
"Something affected you out there, John. We don't know what may have...influenced you."
"Influenced me?" Koenig questioned, his right eyebrow arching. "Helena, the flight recorders.... If there was no mechanical error, then it must have been pilot error." He pushed a groggy, dishelved bang back over his eyes. His face drained of color, becoming corpulent. "It was a routine flight." He added, pointing a finger at the multicolored vaccines on the nexalite medicine cart. "That makes absolutely no sense at all. The preliminary findings from the sensor sweep were unrevealing, and I've made that pass a 1,000 times, I-"
Jerry Parker blinked, but otherwise he was a pillar, frozen in time. A statue of Henry V, Marx--Theodore Roosevelt, trapped in the city square with punks flying their kites all around him, but that was just bully.
Mathias stood closely by, arms folded forebearantly over his tunic. Outwardly, he was expressionless, but inwardly, he desired other duties. Any duties, no matter how uphill, or burdensome they might be. Giving Claude Murneau hydrotherapy for the carpal tunnel that had beset his big toe, for example. That would have been preferable to watching the angst-filled, fee-faw-fum, deconstruction of a proud man.
Koenig's shoulders slumped, like a felon who is slow to realize that court is now in session.
"But John, did you just hear what I said?" She gently gripped his shoulders after setting down the empty water cup. "We are going home." The width of her smile nearly consumed her glowing flace.
The commander used his amature thumb to massage away the imaginary chisel that was protruding from his ineffectual brow. Apparently, he was much more steely-eyed, and proficient at cultivating head pain than he was in the cockpit of an Eagle.
"I don't know which is more depressing." He admitted to Parker, unnerved. "The fact that I steer like a ninety year old man, or that Victor Bergman has become such a con artist, his tasteless jokes are now considered good for any occasion.
"People from Earth, huh? Let me guess. They all flew in on a magic carpet. Of course, it took them a few minutes to make the trip from Earth to here." He laughed impossibly, snapping his fingers. Then, a more likely picayune occurred to him. "No, that's much too pedestrian. Imagine the torment if you had to use the bathroom.
"No, our benefactors either showed up in a flying saucer filled with little gray aliens, or aboard some psuedoscientific nonsense like the Infinity Albatross."
"No sweat, no strain." Paul Morrow said ebulliently, while Victor Bergman recreated, index fingers poised, and smiling in agreement. "Talk about a dream come true."
Somewhere behind Kilpack, THE MOST ACCUSATORY MAN ON MOONBASE ALPHA (aka Truman Starns), stood by the number four vision port, stirring his coffee with a plastic spoon. His reserve, somehow mimicked by the bespangled lights surrounding the Infinity Albatross. A tableau that Chief Pierce Quenton despised, and hated, and hated, and hated, and hated, and eschewed--he wanted to grab the detective by his beatnick sideburns, and put the hurt on him. He wanted to bellow in his face: "!!!WE'RE GOING HOME. WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH THAT, YOU DAFT, OVERLY SUSPICIOUS BASTARD!!!"
It raised his blood pressure. So help him, at times like this, when yonder sleuth got on this trip (which was often) of being the heroic skeptic, he wanted to shake him until his objector's teeth tumbled down his goddamn pants leg.
"Lt. Starns," He said instead, waving a sardonic hand over the empty seat beside him. "Help us do the business. I'm sure the committee is eagerly awaiting any dobs of wisdom you might offer."
"No," The detective responded, unperturbed. "I'm fine right here."
Dirk Kilpack nodded.
Ang smirked at Quinton; he looked like he was about to blow his stack. Ang looked at Starns curiously, giving him the 'what's up?' expression then...turned away as her attention was once again captured by her brother. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Joe Erhlich, sitting on the white low rider couch, relaxed and completely at ease. His expression could best be described as...hypnotic.
"It's alot to grapple with." Dr. Shaw understood completely. "I keep looking around me. For the past four years, Earth has had no Moon. There isn't a single night that passes that I haven't looked into the sky, and winced at the emptiness; I cringe; the vacuum which nature deplores.
"Like the Marabar Caves in India, it's like something...obscene...unmentionable." He decided. "And yet, here I sit. What was once a flight of fancy has been willed into a reality.
"At the risk of sounding like I'm prying, may I ask, where is Dr. Koenig. John Koenig. He was commander of the base when the nuclear waste dumps exploded. Has that situation changed."
Shaw watched. He waited.
"How'd you guess?" Helena Russell beamed at Koenig's reference to the Infinity Albatross.
Neither Bob Mathias nor Jerry Parker burst into laughter. There was no group 'ha-ha, just kidding' jocularity. They were happily serious.
"In fact," she continued, "Operation Exodus committee is in phase 3 planning, meeting in your office right now. I think if you're up to it, you should join them."
"Oooooooooooooooo'kay, Helena." He mused, attempting to stand in his blue karate pajamas, but making a hash of it. "Incidentally, when you, and Professor Dyce Clay get together later to compare notes, you might want to ask him about this little problem that Einstein foresaw, relative to the Einstein-Rosen-Padolsky Bridge."
He nodded, satisfied that he had totally flummoxed her with his preparation, and lack of gullability. Faster than light propulsion. A very difficult weed to smoke in one's intellectual pipe. According to Newton in his "Principia" (Book One, Section XIV), the phenomena of Jupiter's satellites proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it took eight minutes for light to travel from Sol to Earth. The measurement was considered law. Thanks to Roemer (or maybe Huygen, who maybe used Roemer's data, or who maybe stole Roemer's data, or maybe Roemer stole his data), the three-quarters correct solution was determined to be 186,300 miles per second. Either Roemer, or Huygen was initially in error, it should be noted, believing the correct unit to be 125,000 miles per second. Kudos to the sheep, since either Roemer, or Huygen (Roemer professed that it was he) corrected this infelicity by taking the time that light needed to cross the Earth's orbit as sixteen minutes, as opposed to ungainly twenty-two minutes.
For all of that, Inveritable Theory was nothing, but a wet dream in the field of Celestial Mechanics. An olive dollop for a bored physicist's cocktail. If relativity was to be regarded as illuminata, then it must be accepted that the math was correct; no flubs'; there is no way to propel infinite mass, except in stories by Jack Vance, and the fictional chin-ups proposed by Larry Niven. Koenig thought it was bunk. That particular horse will never ride on a flea's back, he had often told his ambitious, but oh-so-naieve grad' school students. He didn't believe in comparative "Slow Zones." The universe itself was a slow zone. The only "Fast Zones" that he knew of, occured in nature, and they lay beyond the event horizon of a Black Sun, where matter is crushed, quarked, and removed to stasis.
"Helena...you can make with the punch line, if you like." He said with a dilatory scratch of the nose. "If you keep this up, I'm going to start believing you're serious."
Inside, his well massaged synapses were making graffiti connections. Like a gumball machine atop a police car; one minute nothing was there, then suddenly the world was in blue flames.
Ang looked at Carter who looked at Paul, who then sought an answer from Victor. Victor turned to Dr. Shaw and cleared his throat.
"I am prying." The physician decided self-effacingly.
Bergman told him.
"I see." Shaw said, pondering his liver-spotted hands. Behind him, Truman Starns stepped away from the vision port, and seated himself on one of the sunken bookshelves. The air about them seemed shocked, and bloated with happy endings; with Gorski marginalia. "I'm not opposed to V-BEC Restimulation...on a theoretical level--if you're a laboratory rat--it's grand.
"On the other hand, I am a neurologist." He said quietly. "I offer my services to you. If you feel that something more is required, please feel free to ask."
IN the deepest bowels of Alpha, Olivia slowly slid herself off of the storage case she'd sat on for hours. Hands shoved deeply into her pockets, she began to trudge back to the truly habitable areas of the base, mentally sweeping up the shards of her broken heart. *Stevie...* she thought to herself. He'd not been a fiancee, but then again, if he'd asked, she'd not have said no.
Technical details, her mind kept throwing in her face; her brain changed gears from the emotional that it was unable to handle to the technical, which was orderly, neat, and predictable.
But who to talk to? she wondered, scuffing along slowly, watching the toes of her bunny slippers put themselves forward, first one, then the other.
Sandra Benes redirected the Operation Exodus committee plus guests to the pertinent business and within 30 minutes they adjourned the meeting.
They moved from the commander's office into Main Mission, which had become the gathering point of the reunion, moved from the embarkation area. Punch with suspected alcoholic beverage "enhancements" flowed freely from the orange plastic Moonbase Alpha issued pitcher into the orange Moonbase Alpha plastic cups.
Laughter and enthusiastic chatter drowned the sound of the mainframe computers along with the music playing from a boombox on Andy Dempsey's station. Alphans and guests mingled together, coming and going from Main Mission. Patrolman Nick Long's attentions were captivated by a vivacious blonde from the Infinity Albatross
"Celebrate good times...COME ON.....There's a party goin' on right here...."
Ed Malcom was trying to make inroads, unsuccessfully, with Diana Morris. Stu Morrow eyed Sandra Benes lasciviously as Paul glared at him, shaking his head.
"Love, I feel sorry for you." The lawyer told the data analyst over his punch. "You can tell you've been marooned, you know. Terrible, seeing a beautiful, young woman in her prime reduced to acts of loneliness, and desperation like this."
Carter had his arms around Ang,' and Dorothy Sullivan, who got caught. In his half-sober, he managed to intone a very loud, off-key, nails against the blackboard rendition of that old, Aussie' chart topper, "The Shearing Of The Rams."
"!!!Oh, the colonial experience fella' he is there of course!!!" He sang, accidentally pouring punch down his wife's tunic. Sullivan delivered an enmeshed, sisterly smile to Ang,' her tolerance was heroic. "!!!With his shiney leggins' on, just got off the horse, gazes all around him like a real connoisseur, scented soap, and brilliantine...!!!"
"Can I buy you a drink?" Truman Starns asked Diana Morris, lowering a glass into her assenting palm. He winked, and led her up the steps to the unoccupied balcony.
Beneath the left archway stood Captain Dirk Kilpack: An island unto himself. He watched the carousal with tragicomical eyes. Kate Bullen attempted to make light conversation, but the veteran declined, politely, and exited into the corridor. Guido Verdeschi watched him go, his countenance wrathful, his cup, more venom than Robitussin.
Dr. Helena Russell completed the last of the diagnostic tests on Commander John Koenig.
"Well, John," she smiled, "It looks like you are the first success story of the Von Bonn Electroencephlographic Complex. It really is quite a distinction to become part of medical history."
She handed him his belt and comlock over the dressing screen. "Hurry up, slow poke," she chortled, "everyone's waiting for you to show up at the party."
"This isn't possible." Koenig said warily, zipping his tunic. His cheeks, and his brow line were contorted into a Draconian grimace.
Nicky Carter rested his head on Uncle Guido's shoulder. He looked dazed; he looked stoned. Glassy eyed, he was not responding to the festivities in the Main Mission auditorium. He appeared to be just a tired toddler.
Dorothy Sullivan had successfully slipped away from Carter and his complete and utterly lustful attention was focused on Ang. Ang was feeling a bit light headed as well. 'I know better than to drink mystery punch under any circumstances,' she tried to think logically to herself as her labido was igniting. She also thought it was extremely unusual that Guido had taken to Alan so well; he was not behaving like the overprotective big brother she had known on earth.
"Oh for God's sakes, " Guido smirked and winked at them, "why don't you two get a room?"
The hot couple, along with a few other twosomes who thought privacy was a good idea, were about to dash out of Main Mission when Tanya Alexander, sitting on Sloven's lap with drink in hand at her station, announced "Attention everyone! The commander is in the Main Mission complex elevator!"
Spontaneous, drunken cheers went up in the room.
Bob Mathias, carrying another batch of his Robitusson Jesus, entered first under the left archway. Commander Koenig and Doctor Russell, hand in hand, entered 10 paces after him. Koenig froze.
Ang took Nicky and grabbed Guido's hand moving toward him.
"Commander, it is good to see you are recovered," she smiled then looked proudly up at Guido. "I'd like to introduce my brother, Guido Verdeschi."
The commander dropped Helena Russell's hand.
"What is the meaning of this?" His face concaved, and exploded angrily inward. His blue eyes were glaring ovates of betrayed fire. All over the floor of Main Mission, their bowels had eliminated; piles of manure, and scoria. Rectangular lumina panels glowed red from the reduced power. The monitors were awry with jammed data; linguacode; cobol; html; unix; all let go like a rabid skunk in his ketchup stained, funeral home tee-shirt would do. A madman who has, perhaps, given up on caring; who would, perhaps, just as soon drink embalming fluid as Barq's Root Beer. "You're goddamn crazy." Koenig informed Ang,' retreating towards the office, stumbling on the first step towards escape. It was a literal judgement. The Technical Chief's eyes were dilated, and as red, and glassy as one of Gorski's cheap, quartz trinket rocks. When she spoke, phlegm depended from her borderline lips.
Before hurtling down the bottomless, brick shaft into the smoke-filled abyss, John Koenig was reminded of a quote, spoken for posterity by Tex Watson of Manson Family fame: "I am the devil! I am here to do the devil's business."
Moonbase systems were a total fooforaw--all except for the digital image on the big screen. The alien spacecraft, docked to Launch Pad Three was at least twelve stories high. It was pyramid shaped, and composite with hieroglyphs, which glowed like transflex.
"!!!WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU PEOPLE!!!"
Truman Starns stepped cautiously down the balcony steps. He denied nothing. He affirmed nothing. His tunic was covered with guano from the thing he had been embracing. The stalk that was coring its way into his forehead, given slack from a hideous, purple, and ebony colon beneath the sundry mutilations on the creature's backside.
Brother Guido moved in to assist, letting its grotesque fille de chamber take care of Ang.' It moved with frightening economic speed. An arachnid. A Tarantula, or perhaps it was the only image that Koenig could make fit, his only conception of that which was inconceivable. Sharp mandibles scuttled towards the commander, blood thirsty, and directed by nodules, filled with glassy, proteiform eyes. It's pronotum, and torso was covered with a thick, black bristles--hairs as sharp as razor blades.
"???Commander???" Alan Carter said blankly. His eyes were remote, narcotized. An eflux of dried, bronze hemoglobin covered his face in a mask, emanating from his ruptured brow line. He was made to speak. Carter, in verity, was too near death to have anything to say. The thing that had attached itself to him made a horrific mewwwww'ing sound. Here is the ventriloqist. Here is Alan Carter, sitting on his lap. Watch the ventriloquist drink his water, while Carter speaks. Beside him, Victor Bergman stood with his eyes closed, licking his lips compulsively. Occasionally a black talon would exit his lips, and study his nostrils.
Guido paused, looked askance at him momentarily before side stepping to its true target. Helena Russell.
"!!!STAY AWAY FROM HER!!!"
"What's the matter with him?!?!" Ang whispered to Dr. Shaw, visibly distressed.
Dr. Shaw shook his head somberly. "I was never a proponent of the VBEC and this is the reason why. Mental insanity. Complete breakdown of the synapses which control reason and emotion."
"Is it permanent? Can he be cured?!?"
Dr. Shaw's face darkened. "Honestly, my dear, I don't know."
"Commander," Paul Morrow approached him, as Carter moved unobserved to the side. "It is going to be alright. We are going home." Stu Morrow put a fraternal arm around Paul. "They are friends and family."
"John, please, take it easy." Victor approached him calmly. "Let's go somewhere and talk this over."
Commander Koenig pulled his laser aiming for Guido Verdeschi. The thing encircled both Angelina and Nicky, emanating hideous sucking noises.
"Ang, step away from that thing." He stared at her. "!!!!!!!!!!DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Sandra Benes looked on, with pity. An uncompromising, beneficent gesture--especially when one considers that she was completely nude; bent over her station in her birthday suit to facilitate multiple plug-ins. Guido had a coaxial cable attached to her spine, which quivered from the slight cold, and the Bumble Bee sting. The thing that was pulling Ang' Carter's strings also had a direct feed to her. The atrocity that Truman Starns held so near, and dear--its land line to the data analyst stretched all the way from the landing like a tortured grape vine loop, dangling obliviously against Sloven's right shoulder.
Enter Pierce Quenton, stage left. Harness Bull Pound, and Harness Bull Duncan followed in formation like heartless terminators, their rocket guns already drawn.
"!!!WAIT A MINUTE!!!" Starns rebuked the arresting officers, unhanding one of the many cloughed, and furry legs that he had been holding. "!!!HOLD YOUR FIRE!!!"
Chief Quenton--who obviously had no idea why they were being called to Main Mission--was totally in shock, and as a consequence, Brother Guido drilled yet another plug deeply into his ear. The dripping, amniotic slack unfurled, and unfurled, and unfurled, coiling itself around his brain like a snake. Five feet away, Ben Ouma hung upside down from the high ceiling in his cocoon. The silk basket that was weaved around him allowed for only a pair of air holes, and an opening for his mouth.
"Good Lord." He exclaimed.
With a little help from the plug, Pierce Quenton was able to determine his next course of action.
"BBP's." He amended. The two harness bulls slung their rifles back over their shoulders, and brandished their alternate weapons. They started towards opposite sides of the auditorium, rallying for the attack.
"!!!VICTOR, CAN'T YOU SEE WHAT'S HAPPENED HERE!!!" Koenig cried with futility. "!!!THESE AREN'T PEOPLE FROM EARTH!!! YOU'VE GOT TO FIGHT IT!!!"
There were a limited number of strings available for the puppet masters. With temporarily no physical contact from the creatures, Nicky Carter startled into full consciousness. He looked around the room and at his mother in terror, lower lip quivering then screamed, struggling so violently that Ang had to put him down or she would have dropped him.
He quickly scambled up the two steps toward Koenig, the only person in the room who did not have anything hideously attached to his body, as a single razor sharp tentacle pursued the toddler. The Commander simultaneously scooped up the boy and fired his laser at the tentacle, which exploded into a mangled, oozing purple slime. Nicky gripped small handfuls of Koenig's tunic so hard that the child was pinching his shoulders. He looked around the room, tears streaming down his face, frantically repeating the word "Go". Overwhelmed, he turned his head and buried his face into Koenig's shoulder.
Ang saw a scene quite different. Koenig was holding Nicky, alright, but he had his hand wrapped around her child's throat, slowly choking him. The Commander had a sadistic, maniacal smile on his face.
"Commander," Ang spoke calmly yet felt rage building up inside, "please, let us help you. Put Nicky down."
She looked imploringly to Carter, then Guido, then Pierce Quinton and the Harness Bulls.
Koenig held little Nicky Carter tightly against him, edging himself back away from the sickening creatures that surrounded his friends. He was still crying, and his sobbing left the commander's tunic wet.
"Can't you see what is next to you Ang? Don't you know why your son is afraid of being with you? Are you really that blind?" he nearly screamed at her, the veins in his neck popping out.
John Koenig started to pull Helena back with him and Nicky when he noticed the alien coming closer to her. "Helena, stay away from them!!!" Adjusting Nicky in his arms, he stood with his Laser pointing out towards the aliens. It became obvious to him that they were not going to believe him very easily. His eyes were stinging from the sweat that was coming from his forehead.
Angelina froze. "You stupid bitch!!!" Koenig had screamed at her, laughing heartily while slowly choking the life out of her son. "Do you really think I'm going to let this freak kid live?" He chortled. "The little bastard is better off dead." His judgment rang in her ears.
"C-Commander," She calmly stated as she approached him, her brother by her side, "please, give me back my son. You don't know what you're doing."
Paul Morrow, entwined in goo and tentacles, stretched his arms toward Koenig. Paul's eyes were glazed and bloodshot, his hair matted from grotesque secretions. Turning back towards Paul, Koenig grimaced as he saw how Paul looked.
"Stay away from me Paul, or I will shoot!!!" he stated bluntly.
Just before Tony Allen pounced on him, John Koenig was in conflict with himself. The thought, almost preceding the actuated reality. He'd always had this inner sense; call it gut; call it instinct. There was no logical way of explaining it, but he had learned to trust its decree. Right now, his ID was telling him that holding the toddler was the last thing in the universe he should be doing.
"!!!I'M NOT THE ONE WHO NEEDS HELP!!!" He furored, tranferring Nicky to Kate Bullen's arms. "!!!ANG,' LOOK AT YOURSELF!!! CARTER!!! WAKE UP!!! HOW CAN YOU-"
At that point, Allen heaved himself over the rail, and swooped down on him. Truman Starns continued to shout remonstrances that went unheeded. Koenig spotted the move in his peripheral vision, and side stepped the assault, counter balancing the security guard's weight on his palm, just long enough to ballista him straight into Pound's outstretched gun hand. The two men rolled across the operations level like Stone Cold, Steve Austen, grappling with Mankind. Somewhere, amidst the abounding snafus,' and misexplications, the Brain Banger Prism was lit. Red, green, and blue, hypersonic conelets of light, and sound channeled towards the patrolman. Everyone in the auditorium held their ears against the stentorian BOOM--except for the crew of Earth's First Supralight Spacecraft. Guido Verdeschi, Dr. Shaw, Diana Morris, et al remained equable, and bloodlessly composed. Shaw scratched his wrinkled pate vaguely, as though he was recalling that he had to pick up a sack of potatoes at the grocery store.
Allen fell to his knees, and shrieked like a man being crucified. The frequency of the weapon honed in, vibrating the cells in his hypothalmus. The security guard sucked every bit of the air out of Main Mission. Then the migraine headache consumed him, and he fell forward. His face landed in the new lagoon that consisted of his own breakfast.
Koenig was in combat with Harness Bull Duncan when the professor knelt, and unclipped the laser from Allen's belt.
"John." He said delicately.
"!!!VICTOR, NO!!!" The commander choked.
Bergman stunned him.
"I have gone out, a possessed witch, haunting the black air, braver at night; dreaming evil...." --Anne Sexton
Even so, Captain Alan Carter would take his licks before coming to know the sneaky profundity in that statement.
In the cockpit of the pilot ship of The Infinity Albatross (Eagle 7), Angelina Carter, sitting between Carter and Erhlich, peered over the Joe's shoulder as he scribbled on a note pad (red flimsie).
"Whatcha doin?'" she asked, being nosey.
"See this," Joe pointed to the sketch (schematic). "The first thing I'm going to do when I get back is go to Home Depot. I'm building a swing set complete with curly slide and fort for Gretchen."
Ang peered at the drawing and read the title of the type of swing set: The Mammoth (Nuclear Core Hatch System).
"Joe," Ang studied it curiously (verified calculations). "Don't you think you're jumping the gun a bit? I mean, she's only 4 weeks old!" She laughed, turning back to her list.
"Well, you never can be over prepared," he chuckled and continued his drawing (recheck the schematic).
Ang, in the meantime, was continuing her list (checklist) of things that would need to be done around the beach front townhouse. (NWDA-3 Monitoring Station). It was quite a list and she knew just the man to help with it. She would certainly need to use all of her feminine wiles and charm.
"Alan," she cooed breathily in his right ear. "Here are a few things that need to be done when we get home." She handed him the extensive list. "Don't worry, you'll be rewarded handsomely after the jobs are done."
"Well, going home is already a prize." Carter glowed. "Then again, I'm not one to skip the icing on the cake." He winked, pulling his headset around his neck. He'd had a few preliminary concerns about his competence in piloting this vessel. When they left Earth four years ago, the Infinity Albatross was the stuff of comic books. Like the time travel, and the Sidonia Head, it made for some fascinating conjecture. Then came the purists to shoot your prognosticate down, with a dose of hard physics. Inwardly, and outwardly, he was ecstatic. He'd always fancied piloting a ship like this, but his pragmatic mind knew better. He wanted to leap the stars, moving faster than light, but the "real" world--the fact of struggling to survive on Prisonbase Alpha--obtruded like a bowl of freezing cold water.
Yet...here they were. The dreamers had found a way. The ship itself was pure magic. They'd entered through the HAB Module, which also served as the structural support for the space garage. Finally, the economy of design had advanced to the point where human beings were designing ships, within ships. There were only three, closet sized compartments--cockpit, commons area, and service module, but the whole was much more than the sum of each part. Truth be known, even this small EVA Craft was a hundred times more advanced than the newest Eagle off of DeHavilland's assembly line (and he intended to tell her that). The controls were fewer, and elementary enough that even Nicky could fly the thing.
"Well," he said, rubbing his gloved hands together anxiously. "Hottie,' I think its time you, and me blew this place. What do you say."
It was nice. Real homey. There was even a scuff mark next to the Thruster Control Arm. It reminded him of the time they ran out of fuel over Wargentin. He was trapped in a free floating nut house with William Gregory Harms, III until the refueling ship could arrive. Such was his frustration, and impatience, he ended up kicking the same apparatus aboard Eagle Seven.
"I gotta use the john (check on equipment)," Joe Erhlich grinned and left the cockpit. Carter immediately pulled Ang onto his lap. Oh yeah, he wanted to engage in some adult fun and games before arriving home. She was tempted as well; the ferociously ardent kiss he planted on her was the fruit from the forbidden tree. She couldn't relax. For some reason, her mind was working overtime. It reminded her of the times when, as a grad student she would be preparing for finals, running calculations over and over in her head. Or it was like the time in recent history when she and other engineers worked night and day to retrofit the alien device to bring up Nuclear Plant #2, doing it in just the nick of time.
At the very moment she decided 'what the hell' and give in to his advances, he stopped in mid-smooch and stared out the cockpit window. She turned and gasped in wonder.
It was one of the most beautiful sights she thought she'd never see again. The big blue marble winked at her from a few million miles away, and it grew by the minute. The sight of the deep blue oceans accentuated but the swirling white clouds brought tears to her eyes and she could see the continent of North America.
"Farewell, Sparrow One." Paul Morrow hailed from Main Mission, while Guido Verdeschi looked on. From the big screen, they watched the pentathlon, upwards ascent of the smaller ship. Carter paused, and then, as instructed, he contaminated deep space with the graviton pulse. Then came the arrogant humiliation of all unified theory, as the vessel seemed to retreat down an endless corridor. Then the stars caught up to them again, and the ship dematerialized into inveritable space.
"It brings a tear to my eye." Sloven whispered, pulling Tanya Alexander's hair secretly, but no less violently. "I'd better be on the next ship." He confided. "It's for the best. See to it. Chop, chop. Don't want me to start talking, do you, biscuit?"
The assistant controller was the only one glaring murderously, amidst the silent miracles on the screen.
In the solo, cockpit seat, Carter was enravished.
"Hello, stranger." He chuckled nervously, reducing velocity again. The bewitching systems aboard the lander had done it to him again. Alan Carter, Reconnaisance Pilot; the Bull Headed One; hero, and failed probe commander, all in one breath. He had returned home. Space had not bested him, as he so often predicted that it would be. Revolving towards them over the day glow horizon, the Republic of Zaire slid beneath the scout ship's undercarriage. It was verdant again. Rebuilt from the incinerator of World War Terminus, and the deluge that followed Breakaway. It was there that Carter had fire bombed the city of Kisangani. It was there that Dirk Kilpack raped, and murdered a prostitute with haunting eyes, and bronze skin. Nothing was ever done. Court martials meant squat when every day was a death sentence anyway.
The jaunt towards Sol lasted only seconds. Milliseconds. Antiseconds. One minute they were making a practice run on the dark side, the remains of Disposal Area Two. Carter extended his middle finger, and did a five second burn that raised the ship to escape velocity. The next he was facing a familiar spiraling cloud cover. A vanguard of international space stations, rotating slowly, and expanding in orbit, moved closer, and closer. The rescue fleet--only sand, against black--grew more, and more visible. There was not one, but thirty, Albatross Class Spacers preparing to embark.
"Incredible," Joe Erhlich whispered dreamily as they crossed the terminus from night into day.
Ang suddenly felt something she hadn't experienced in a long time: air turbulence. "Aw, geez, " she complained to Carter. "Did you really have to fly right through that cloud bank?" She thought she could taste her lunch at the back of her throat. She really was starting to feel ill. In a fleeting moment, as she closed her eyes, she thought she could smell something really bad. It was something putrid, rotting. It had to be air sickness...it just had to be.
Then, just as quickly, she felt better. The headache and nausea disappeared though the smell seemed to linger.
"Nicky would love this," she spoke softly then looked at Carter quizzically. Something did not feel right. "Why didn't we bring him with us?" Her expression was one of profound puzzlement and thought.
Carter leaned forward, and pressed the microphone closer to his ear. Through the army of white insects, human speech could be heard. He grinned widely, motioning to Ang,' and Ehrlich to come closer. Four years had made him a bit rusty. Apparently the Skywatch Network was as vigilant as ever. They were on the other side of the ionization flameout. There were probably over a hundred surveillance systems tracking their course now, including the voluminous, Chandra Radio Telescopes.
Eventually, the wall of fire subsided. Carter banked ninety-degrees, and cut back his air speed.
"Unidentified spacecraft/ Houston." The capcomm-gatekeeper hailed. He sounded like Johnny Cash. "We have you as incoming. Please identify yourself."
Carter was popeyed. An hour ago they were wondering where their next glass of water was coming from. Now normality was returning. Perhaps, though he dare not be so optimistic...something like a routine.
"Culbertson?" The pilot said, recognizing the voice that emanated from Mission Control, over a hundred kilometers away. He gave Ang' a heroic thumb's up. The sky around them was a gorgeous blanket of blue now; the night had fled, and it took the inhumane Moon with it.
"!!!Boys!!!" The capcomm blistered with sudden enthusiasm. "!!!You'll never guess what the cat dragged in!!!
"!!!I do believe it's that ol' Alan Carter!!!"
At 20,000 feet, they could see the shape of things to come. Coasting in at 5,000 feet, they witnessed a gorgeous, pink bouquet of a Monday morning along the Florida cape. Carter's awe was infectious. It was all still there. The vehicle assembly building. The outmoded--but too cool to the tourist trade--space shuttle gantrys. There was the aerospace museum. The parking lots. In the Restricted Access Zone, he passed launch pad, after launch pad. He saw ships venting nitrogen. Isolinear designs; binomial curves that were ready for launch. Designs that were only hinted at before Moonbase Alpha was rolled out of the solar system like a bowling ball. He saw ultraclean Condors, and Falcons. The Albatross was there. He saw maybe one Eagle. As he followed the navigational bliph towards an unoccupied landing pad, he was canacular over the amount of people he saw. Earth people. Hundreds of them, walking, and talking, and slaving their little kiesters off below.
"Shall I take us down." He joked with Ang,' "Or would you rather go back. Listen to that twit Malcom gripe about his corns for sixty, or seventy more years; maybe have our apricots ripped off by something that doesn't even have a name."
This was the ultimate high. It was capitilized, and in upper case letters. There was 'ultimate;' then there was 'ULTIMATE.'
"Well, DUH!!!" Joe Erhlich grinned enthusiastically as the craft descended and the boarding tube snaked its way toward them.
As they prepared to disembark, Ang realized that all of the major media outlets of the world would be among the throng of well-wishers.
"I wonder if I'll get an offer to write a book," she mused aloud.
"An offer?!?!!" Joe laughed heartily. "I'm sure YOU will be able to write your check, Ang."
They stepped out of the boarding tube toward the reception area (NWDA-3 Monitoring Station) onto a red carpet. On either side, behind red velvet ropes, the media hounds were contained, pushing and shoving each other to get the front spot.
Ang was suddenly blinded by the flash of at least 4 dozen cameras. She received a few dozen roses as they were led to a group of dignitaries. She recognized Commissioner Dixon, who had a plastic, political grin on is face, and his lovely admin Beulah Hawkins, who true to Ang's memory had no smile but was busy positioning and coordinating the dignitaries. Beside the Commissioner stood the President of the United States: William Jefferson Clinton. Ang was completely awestruck.
"Welcome, home, Dr. Carter!!" President Clinton drawled Arkansas style and eagerly shook her hand. She was completely overwhelmed. His demeanor reminded her of the time he visited the Wolf Creek Nuclear power plant in Burlington, Kansas. He was even wearing the same suit and tie.
"Thank you, sir," she demurred, as she received yet another bouquet of roses. She was overloaded. Beulah Hawkins snapped her fingers and an assistant immediately came forward, relieving her of the burden of flowers, except the dozen long stemmed variety the President gave her.
The Euromedia, and American Infotainment had to know. They awaited with micro-cassette recorders, and purloined ink pens. Some anorexic bastard from the Aussie' ISP barged forward to give Carter the shake, and stroke. As the flashbulbs began to orbit him, the pilot supposed it was time to say something profound: No new worlds to conquer; One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. Neither an astronaut, nor a nuclear physicist be; If you see the Moon being ripped from its ancient foundations--fly home, Bruce...fly home....
"Oh, you little bottler." He said instead, and kissed the ground while ticker-tape graffiti rained all around him. A long adjustment period was ahead, and there would be flashbacks, to be sure. The Breakaway equivalent to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Take now, for example. In a way, he felt as though they had never left the Moon, that he could just as easily be smooching the concrete floor in one of the Nuclear Waste Disposal Monitoring facilities.
Kind of funny....
Logistics Expert, Bobby Specter hustled her frozen tush across the damp floor of the hangar, the cold air chomping at her neck like a vampirific Frosty, The Snowman. She gave Patrolman Trevor Carson a perfunctory nod, and ran up the metal steps to the office, nestled in the crow's nest. Below, the forklifts, and flatbed carriers moved through the Mars V Tank Armory with abandon. Occasionally someone would honk their horn, and a pancake job would be circumvented. She nodded also to Harness Bull Douglas, and Harness Bull Tumblety, as she fumbled for her commlock to open the security hatch.
Once the seals were back in place, a sound pocket was created which blocked out the roar of the fifty foot industrial fans outside. She was removing her jacket, and the humongous, Donovan's Brain headset when she heard the twang of the familiar chord progression coming from the nearest commstation.
"THIS IS AN ALPHA NEWS SERVICE SPECIAL REPORT." Anchor Tara Bathory announced in her measured, life-in-the gravel-pit voice.
Before page one of her copy could be read, the hatch yawned open again. In came The Boss, apple sauce. Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Petrov entered, wearing his silver, thermal jacket, and carrying a binder of greenbar sheets, bigger than a hatbox, and impossible to read.
"The good, Dr. Specter." Petrov acclaimed with unthawed formality, as he unzipped his coat, and laid his commlock on the desk. "How are we doing today, or is that a terrible question to ask?"
This, and never once cracking a smile.
There was no way Bobby was going to let Petrov spoil her mood. Besides, his days, no hours, were numbered regarding his supervisory position over her. She looked up with a half smile as Tara Bathory continued on the commstation monitor.
"OPERATION EXODUS PHASE 3 PLANNING HAS NOW BEEN COMPLETED. PLANS HAVE BEEN DISTRIBUTED TO THE RESPECTIVE SECTION MANAGERS AND ALL PERSONEL WILL BE UPDATED WITH ASSIGNMENTS BY 2200 HOURS."
Bathory reminded Bobby of a Barbie doll. She had a frozen smile on he perfect plastic face.
"AFTER SUFFERING A NEAR FATAL CRASH, COMMANDER KOENIG HAS BEEN RELEASED FROM MEDICAL CENTER TO HIS QUARTERS AND IS RESTING COMFORTABLY." She paused and nodded slightly. "WE WISH THE COMMANDER A QUICK AND SPEEDY RECOVERY."
"Resting comfortably?" Spector repeated. "Humph....I was just talking to Danny Chan. I heard the Commander went mental in Main Mission. He tried to strangle little Nicky Carter!!! Resting comfortably in his quarters. If you ask me, he should be "resting comfortably" in the brig!"
Petrov took a seat at his desk, and pulled forward a pen, and a red flimsie: another memorandum from Technical Section. They still didn't want to give up the diamonds. The surface batteries needed the filaments badly. The reflector plates were replaced months ago, but the cannons would be ineffectual without semiconductors. He stirred his coffee with a white plastic spoon. Such was his equivalent to having a raging, Vesuvius tantrum.
"The commander is hardly the type of man to go arbitrarily 'mental,' as you put it." He said, sipping his java easily. "Don't believe everything you hear." Specter was the greatest thing since Butternut Bread when it came to working out the math. On the other hand, she was terribly bookish, and naieve to the ways of yellow journalism. William Randolph Herst started the Spanish-American War using it; feeding on public support like a tub of yogurt, oh yes. Of course John Koenig was also as human, and as prone to basket case behavior as any man, the colonel mused to himself. Better men had fallen from stress--Julius Caesar, Artorus, The Count Of The Saxon Shore, Earl Kitchner. When Rommel took his holiday in Africa, it was as much to plaster his ailing head, as it was to escape Dauchau, or Auschwitz.
So, in fine, he felt that Specter could make a good department head. Some day. As it was, her opinionated superego would defeat what good her organizational skills might bring. That was his opinion.
"What is this?" He asked, pulling the sticky memo from his gooseneck lamp. "Five security units have been reassigned to the Main Mission Tower?"
On Moonbase Alpha, where they functioned on alms, that was the equivalent of a garrison.
"Why, to protect the visitors, of course," Bobby replied incredulously. 'How daft can you be?' she thought.
"You may be convinced the Commander didn't go bonkers," she eyed him with disbelief, "but he did fire his laser, hurting and almost killing one of the crew from the Infinity Albatross. Sheesh, these people have been in space looking for US, mind you, for over a month and we give them a big wet kiss with the cutting beam of a laser. If that's not going off the deep end, then I don't know what is."
She looked down at her calculations again, though she was somewhat irked by the Colonel's suspicious attitude. In the next instant she mused that Colonel Petrov was never one to be suspicious without reason. However, the thought was immediately wiped away like erasing chalk from a blackboard. She lost the train of thought.
Speaking of perpetual suspicion, Bobby looked up as the door swooshed open and was not altogether surprised to see Truman Starns walk into the room.
"Sorry to barge in." The detective said. Knowing that Harness Bulls Tumblety, and Douglas were hot on his heels, he waved his commlock, closing the door in their faces. Tumblety muttered something derogatory on the opposite side of the transparency. Before long, both men were facing the hangar again. "I imagine you've heard by now what happened in the tower."
Starns unzipped his thermal jacket.
The colonel nodded patiently. The yellow, sticky note taped amicably to his left elbow now. On the floor of the hangar, a pair of the laser tanks began to roll forward towards the open door to the maintenance depot. Filtered, white smoke roiled past the office vision ports like a dissolve. Petrov didn't trust Specter. Oh, she was confidential in most areas, but today was the day of her Greatest Defiance, or so it seemed. Nevertheless, to send her out for more coffee; to make her read, and recite the greenbar mountain of computer paper, chapter, and verse, for no grander purpose than to get rid of her...that was maybe too conspiratorial.
"I take it you aren't referring to the arrival of the rescue team from Earth." The colonel said blandly.
Bobby Specter did not like this situation: she was frightened. It was suddenly clear to her that Starns and Petrov may be dangerous and not working in the interest of the Alphans. Her demeanor instantly changed.
"Poor Commander," she said sympathetically without looking up from her flimsie. "He has saved our butts time and again. I don't know. Maybe Danny was just exaggerating. I can't believe he would harm a kid like that. There's got to be a reasonable explanation."
She discreetly reached under the table. The type 1 stun only weapon she kept taped under there was for "just in case", since the dawn of the unsolved murders beginning with good ole cowboy Dave Reilly. She wanted an insurance policy, a safety, as she spent hours alone in this room. She had to put both of them down. They would not let her leave the room. A terrible thought occurred to her: perhaps Petrov was the mystery murderer. She had been working under the killer for months and did not realize it. Foolish...so foolish....
"Good," Starns commended. "You don't have to believe it because it's not true. I was there. At no time did the commander point a laser at Nicky Carter."
The detective appraised Specter--the flakiest femme since Goldie Hawn, apparently. Her chin was a quiver. A sheen of perspiration was forming on her stressed cheeks, and cerebral forehead. Inside Truman Starns' psyche, the Department Of Instinct was ever looking for the Bad Guy(s). The statistician looked incriminated enough to take in for questioning, and he would have--except for the fact that she had committed no crime. He wondered if Petrov was already aware of this defensive, pre-paranoia that was emulsifying in his assistant, if he found her dishevel unnerving.
Yes, and yes.
"Then I take it that Alpha News Service was--how should I put this? Not generous with the truth?" The colonel peeled the yellow note from his elbow, and round filed it.
Starns told him everything. The detective added provisos, where criminology, and psychology failed him. Petrov listened to every word, every syllable, every accent on every noun, and verb. His attention was overted, only when it came time to refresh his gaggle of monitors. Altogether, there were 25, and each kept track of activities in areas of the base that were mondo sensitive. There was a sixth, 43" X 38" wall monitor behind his chair. This was Evil Mushroom's mind on a plate. It was filled with streaming data from pneumonic memory circuits, and deftly encoded to flummox those who would dominate.
"I've encountered my share of horrible psychopaths." The detective recalled. "I'll tell you right now, I don't think the commander is one of them. For one thing, he was being too protective of the baby. An infanticidal lunatic wouldn't care how he was handling the child. A person like that would hold him by his hair; by his throat; by his ding dong--any old way because a person like that doesn't care. Koenig had the Carter baby turned sidewise, holding him carefully in one arm. It was as though he was shielding him.
"His other arm was busy extending the laser." He admitted, but then added. "I don't know how to explain how I know what I know. It defies all logic, and there sure weren't very many facts to support it, but I believe he was in a defensive posture, not an offensive one."
"Then you are in agreement with him?" Petrov said, raising a wise, enlightening finger from the desk blotter. "You believe Alpha has been invaded by aliens? That the rescue team from Earth is not what they appear to be?"
Starns walked to the vision port, despising the sleuthless eyes that gazed back at him from his own reflection.
"I didn't say that." The detective rebounded. "Then again...maybe Alpha News Service isn't the only agency that loves to keep a secret, even if they do so badly."
Bobby Specter swiveled in her chair, laser aimed at Starns. He froze. Directly behind him was a viewport to the lunar surface. If she fired and missed, blowing open a window, it would be curtains for all of them.
She motioned to Petrov. "Yuri, over there." Her voice shook slightly. Her pupils were dilated, sweat was pouring down her face. She hesitated, squinting at the laser, then rubbed the side of her head with her free hand, regaining her composure. There was no need for her to do this; she could not understand why she was doing this. However, to think was painful..literally.
She plucked the comlock from her belt intending to speed dial Pierce Quinton. "I'm sorry, sirs, but I'm going to have to report you as a security threat." She glanced down at her comlock to punch Quniton's code. This act was a mistake.
Bobby Specter's personal Moonbase Alpha split into fours as Truman Starns judo chopped her neck. There was the faintest sound of a muscle popping. The skin below her hairline turned purplesque, and she was done.
"Wait." Petrov instructed, holding her laser. He approached the nearest commstation, and depressed the black square.
"Control." Harness Bull Duncan said. His eyes were spurious, conquistador slits.
"What are you doing there?" The colonel abrogated. "I gave no orders to deploy you in Main Mission."
"Orders from Chief Quenton." The bull blustered.
"You don't take orders from security." Petrov reminded him. "I'm your commanding officer. Report to section immediately.
"You have five minutes."
In the meantime, Harness Bulls Tumblety, and Douglas helped Truman Starns lift the logician off the floor. Her red hair tickled the tile, with one hush puppy'ed foot dragging the floor behind. Petrov used his commlock to open the door to the accessway. It was a thirty meter, dead end, deserted, and illumined in a dusty cloud of emergency red.
"What's up with the power." Starns grunted, towing his end of the hefty Specter. "I never noticed that before."
Petrov motioned with his laser towards the box beyond the double doors. Specter was deposited inside. Tumblety, Douglas, and Starns exited with aching backs as the doors slid closed, and the colonel depressurized.
The outer doors opened, and wwwWWWWHHHHOOOOSHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! The mathematician's corpse cart wheeled through the void--flip flopping, hands waving bye-bye as it headed towards the roof of the Lunar Sciences Building, gaining velocity.
That was what Petrov thought they should do, and if this had been a combat situation--or even a prefix to a combat situation--Bobby Specter would be hurtin' for certain. The colonel was a viaticum, heartless prick when it came to dealing with POW's, finks, and gadflies. As it was, he lacked information, so when the door to the closet opened, he motioned with his laser, and Specter was proscribed. Harness Bull Douglas left her with an apple. Harness Bull Tumblety left her with a bucket.
Petrov ordered the doors locked under voice command.
"I detected a certain note of doubt in your voice." Starns said with light, and lore. "Do you still feel that way."
"I want to talk to Paul Morrow." Petrov said unkindly. "And until further notice, the Tactical Hub is off limits. The Umbra Code is now in effect." He told the harness bulls. "If you find anyone strolling through here without clearance, they're to be placed under arrest.
"She used to be reliable." He lamented of Specter, but in the end, she was out for herself. Petrov shrugged. Numero uno. Me, myself, and I. Who cares about the safety of the base, as long as she got her's, whatever the hell 'her's' might be. Stupid.
Such was the treacherous, motel intellect of the Ape Engagement, and all of those hypocritical ballets performed on Earth could be produced just as easily in deep space.
It tolls for thee, says F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Dirk Kilpack zeroed in on Ed Malcom, and Dr. Claude (a.k.a. "Clode," at home with the diode) Murneau, in the low watt, Watergate Hotel outside Technical Section. He trapped them unawares, and seized their limited attention spans with brio. The orders were transmitted through his engulfing gaze. It spanked thier brains, and muted thier vocal cords. Like Dracula, he assaulted them with his verago determinism. He squashed them, and molded them to his dark politico. The XXL technician, and the big honker physicist resisted, but the sheer, inconceivable force of Kilpack's gaze turned thier decision making capacity to Coolwhip. They came to believe the delusion that they were on the cusp of, maybe not Greatness, but Almost Greatness. For that dry, lake bed of a moment, they were Almost Bright.
After the spacer departed, they exchanged cursory glances, and headed immediately to Residence Building-C.
It had been years, literally, since she last rode in a limousine. From Cape Canaveral, they were whisked to the Tampa Bay area. The champagne flowed freely but Ang could not keep herself from staring out the window.
The interior of Florida was rather flat and not particularly impressive but it was green, not gray. Vegetation was abundant. As they crossed the I-275 bridge into St. Petersburg, the green was changed to the blue waters of the pristine bay. There were more than a few Herons diving into the water for their meals as well as a few human fisherman in competition.
The Jumbo shrimp at the meal was especially succulent, just as she remembered her favorite entree, served in a variety of styles. So it was no surprise to Angelina when the perfect day had an absolutely perfect ending.
From the penthouse suite on the beach, she watched from the open door to the balcony as the giant reddish ball slid lower and lower into the horizon. The surf lapped on the white sands below and the ocean breeze was cool and refreshing. She closed her eyes as Alan wrapped his arms around her waist, gently kissing her neck.
The ensuing intimacy was equally sweet and perfection. She drifted off to sleep as she gazed at him sleeping beside her, his strong features softly illuminated by the light of the full moon.
John Koenig woke up on his bed in his quarters lying diagonally. Finding himself in his silk blue pajamas he sat up and felt as if his head had caved in. Suddenly he remembered Victor stunning him. He hated the headache that accompanied him when he woke from a stun. 'Thank God it did not happen that often,' he thought to himself. Sitting up on the edge of the bed he let himself focus on his situation. Squinting slightly, he stood up and went over to his desk where his commlock was laying. Picking it up he walked to the door and pressed the button.
After seeing it did not let the door open he walked over to the communications post in his room. "Computer open my door" John stated bluntly.
"Commander Koenig is restricted to quarters" the computer replied back in a flat monotone.
"Why am I restricted to my quarters?" John asked as a wave of dizziness hit him and he grabbed onto the post to balance himself.
"Commander John Koenig threatens the safety of Alpha" the computer again replied in a mono tone.
Wiping the sweat from his brow he was growing angry. "By whose order am I restricted to my quarters?" he asked.
"Professor Victor Bergman and Dr. Helena Russell".
"Damn it " he yelled more to himself than anyone else. How could they do this to him? Why did they not see what was really out there? Wandering back to his bunk he sat down and rested his face in his hands. Now what was he going to do and how was he going to help his base????
Still sitting on his bed the door to his quarters slid open and Victor Bergman stepped into the room; the grotesque alien was still attached to him. Koenig hid his disgust hoping that if Victor did not see it maybe they would let him out of his quarters.
"John, computer notified me that you were awake. So how are you feeling?" Victor asked him easing a little closer to him, but not too close.
Looking down at the floor he looked back up at Victor. "I could be better. Maybe you were right Victor, maybe I did act rashly." The commander stood up and walked pass Victor and the alien. The smell the alien emitted did not seem to phase its victim, but made Koenig's stomach turn bitterly.
With his back still to Victor, he knew in order to convince Bergman to believe him, he would have to turn around and ignore the alien.
"You were right; I don't know exactly what came over me. Maybe it was from the head injury I suffered in the Eagle crash. Believe me I am sorry Victor." John turned around with those final words and looked directly into Victor Bergman's eyes. 'I have to convince him,' he thought to himself, 'that I believe them.'
"John, I am glad to see that you are coming back to your senses but you have to understand we have to run this by Helena too." Walking over to the commpost Victor keyed in the medical center code. Soon Dr. Russell's face appeared on the screen.
"Yes, Victor." she replied.
"John seems to be back to normal. Can you come to his quarters and give him a physical just to make sure? "
John sat down again on his chair in the room. The foul smell coming from the creature was making his stomach turn more and more. If Helena did not hurry he was not sure how he could keep up his deception. Victor chose to sit down on the couch across from John with the alien still attached. The bodily secretions from the alien oozed onto the floor of his quarters and edged over to his feet. Thankfully, the door slid open and Dr. Russell stepped through.
'Helena will believe me too,' he thought as she came over and sat down next to him. She ran a scanner over him and noticed his heart rate had increased; not dangerously high but high enough to watch him. As she searched through the bag she was glad she packed a sedative with her just in case he lost control again.
Suddenly without warning the smell finally put Koenig back on the offensive. Jumping up and over his chair he went to his desk drawer and pulled out his laser.
"Stay back!!! I don't want to hurt you, but I will shoot if I have too!!!" John shouted at Bergman and Russell. His arm shook as he struggled to keep from throwing up from the stench in his room.
Dr. Russell pressed the button on her commlock notifying the guards that there was trouble in the room. Koenig, standing with his back to the door, did not hear it open as he stood aiming the laser at them.
"John, please put the gun down. Victor and I just want to help you, that's all." Dr. Russell stated calmly to him. Holding her arms out toward him she inched closer and closer while watching the security guards sneak into the room around Koenig.
"No!! You don't want to help me. You're the ones who are delusional; Not me!! I will not allow you to destroy my base!!"
The security guards jumped Koenig and wrestled him to the ground. Russell went over to her bag and grabbed the laser hypo with the sedative and came back to him. His eyes looked wild as she bent down to inject him, both security guards struggling to hold him still.
"Damn you all!! I will kill you all before I let you destroy my people or my base!!" His veins popping from his neck. As Dr. Russell injected the sedative into the commander's right upper arm; he quickly lost consciousness.
Helena sighed and stood up as Victor and the security guards placed John back into his bed.
"Helena, will he ever recover?" Victor asked her.
"I don't know Victor; it seems that he is suffering from delusions inside his mind that I don't know how to tap. We will just have to wait."
They both left Koenig alone in his quarters as his dreams became not a dream but a nightmare of torment.
Commander John Koenig reclined in a semi-conscious, drug induced haze. The effort to remain coherent was monumental as he cursed Doctor Russell for administering such a high powered sedative. Many people would succumb to the urge to sleep. Koenig's mind was in a confused and anguished whirl.
Beside him lay Caesar the cat, who sat in high alert, front paws tucked under his chest. His tail flicked agitatedly from side to side, sometimes whacking the Commander in the face. Perhaps this action was also keeping him from slipping into sleep; that and the occasional growl, which would escape from the animal's throat. His green eyes were almost black from the overly enlarged pupils as they never left the door to the bedroom.
Tony Allen, and Horst Hexum blockaded the door outside. Thier thick, jockey necks, moving port, and starboard; cap versing the corridor like men on a mission. Occasionally, the tall rubber tree plant across from Allen would stir, and Hexum would palm his laser. The Muzak Can was long gone from the residence buildings, a casualty of the energy crisis imposed by breakaway. Allen alleviated the uneventful hebetude by whistling his favorite Barry Manilow tunes. Off-key, AM Gold hobo'ed its way to John Koenig from the other side of the door. It brought back the old songs; it came, and it gave--a gaseous, nauseating headache, and her name was Lola....
Voices, in low, hermetic exchange outside. Motes of lamplight washed across his face as he rose up on gelatinous elbows to see what it was. His tongue latched to the ribbed, roof of his mouth like red Super Glue. He was about to utter a cry of terror at the forest of black, fur covered branches that resonated from the ceiling of his quarters. In his fugue, he suddenly realized that it was his own hair, dangling in his face.
Then the door sighed open, and Claude Murneau, and Ed Malcom entered, accents of puppet stupidity. They were both carrying three foot metal pipes.
"We obey." Ed Malcom said in ancient, distant tones. "You should really comb your hair, though."
"Bonsoir, Monsieur Commander." Claude Murneau said, the yellowing moustache beneath his beak, all trembling.
They advanced on him with lightning impel.
Caesar despised Ed Malcom. This human had stepped clumsily on his long tail on more than one occasion with his big, flat smelly feet. Caesar did not like Dr. Claude Murneau either. His overly long snout reminded him of his worst enemy; a black Schnauzer named Cookie who would yap and torment him when he lived on earth.
The moment the door open he jumped from the bed to the bookcase. He arched his back and growled, hair standing up on end.
He warned them. They either did not hear it or did not heed it. Too bad. Out of the shadows Caesar suddenly sprang onto Ed Malcolm, latching onto his face and throat with all four claws hyperextended, biting at his big Dumbo ears.
Koenig gandered it all from the dramatic, Vaseline fog. Ed Malcom pirouetted. Like a fifteen ton ballet dancer, he poised, shrieking like a caveman who has discovered fire the hard way. Caesar latched onto his melon head like a stuffed, Tunces. Around, and around they went. The technician smashed lamps, broke glasses, bonked his own head. A hollow ringing emanated from between his ears. Caesar, ears flung ferally back, gnawed at his triple chins like a hambone. The worthless, black pipe rolled easily across the floor to Koenig's feet, who was still getting his bearings.
"!!!PLEASE!!!" Malcom begged, ripped, and torn, as Caesar The Cat drank his blood.
Claude Murneau whirled on the calico with his length of pipe, smashing his cohort in the forehead by accident. Malcom's commlock fell to the floor, triggering the release. The door to Koenig's quarters slid open, and Malcom fell forward on his face, his flares splitting up the middle. Shamed, and vanquished, he sat crying like a Wimpus' as the metal separated him from the Field Of Honor.
"!!!NON!!!" Murneau scrambled to retreat. "!!!SI'L VOUS, PLAIT, GORGEOUS KITTY!!!"
Caesar moved in for the kill. He sprang. He pounced. Claude Murneau was suing for mercy when the claws wrapped around his head, as the sharp, iced fangs sank deep into his point blank nose. He bayed like a dog. Then he tasted real Pain. Caesar rabbit kicked his face, and lacerated his bald pate in crisscrossing diagonals. Seeing that his barge may have come in, and that The Boney One could not be far behind this psycho cat, the physicist made a last, desperate attempt to extricate himself. The short hair was scaling its way down his chest.
"!!!Sacre Bleu!!!" Murneau bellowed, groping to protect his itsy,' bitsy,' dork from unkind excoriation. Caesar was biting into his rear as the seal-tite parted again. Praying to Dieu, with mauled arms stretched beseechingly outward, the physicist toppled into the Loser's Arena, as the victor scampered back into the room.
Caesar immediately jumped into one of the white plastic moduform chairs and began preening himself, removing the stench and the blood and the goo.
Koenig was scratching the animal behind the ears when the door slid open again. Starns and Petrov stepped over the moaning carcasses of Murneau and Malcom. Patrolman Allen was about to follow them inside when Starns closed and locked the door.
Koenig eyed the men ruefully for a moment. He made his way to the pretzel chair in a fairly straight line, though it took some effort. It reminded him of the time he was caught for DWI. He tried to walk the line and was convinced he was successful; the state trooper however was not impressed and he ended up in the jail cell. Jean was not impressed either. She did not come and bail him out until the next morning.
"I'm assuming you are not here to assassinate me. Or is that a poor assumption?" Koenig began, as Caesar did the figure 8 thing and rubbed against his legs.
"Actually, I was about to ask you the same thing." Starns said warily, admiring the raw meat as the door closed. He bent to examine one of the leaden pipes. The other had rolled close to Vlad, The Impaling Cat, but he wasn't about to risk going near it. "Blown, process-plastic." He decided. "Correct me if I'm wrong--it's the same kind of material they use as molding in Eagle passenger modules.
"It's serving a different function now, of course." The detective told Petrov. "Looks like one of Garforth's people was in on this."
"Looks like." He agreed.
Though both men looked weary, they did not have the glassy-eyed hypnotic stares on their faces. They also did not have any aliens attached to them at all, though from the goo and excrement covering their uniforms and Petrov's rust color sleeve was now black, it was apparent they were tethered fairly recently. Both men sat adjacent to Koenig on the white low rider sofa, smearing glop in the process.
Caesar parked himself in Koenig's lap and purred loudly as he patted him from stem to stern.
"Why aren't you in Main Mission celebrating? You're going home." He said unconvincingly. "Why are you in here visiting a nutcase?"
"My information comes second hand." Petrov said patiently. "Fortunately, my source is sitting right next to me. I heard about the--oh, 'recontre,' I suppose we should say--in the tower.
"You do realize how ridiculous the story sounded?" The colonel absolved, his nostrils flaring, as if acknowledging some pungent odor that was soon gone. His chin was covered with streaks of viscous, black ooze--as if there had been an attempt to insert an alternate plug into his throat.
"Things are falling apart around here." Starns confided. "Main Mission is closed--authorized personnel only, or so they say. Pierce Quenton is using his patrolmen to create a Lock Down Zone. Funny thing is, our 'benefactors,' the rescue team from Earth, are allowed to go in, and out as often as they like. As a matter of fact, they have the highest security clearance on the base right now. Every time I question it, I have a hundred fingers pointing at me, telling me what an ingrate I am."
"There were actually two assassination attempts." Petrov indicated, pointing towards the closed door. "About an hour ago, my trusted assistant of over four years tried to kill both of us. She was insane; kept claiming that Detective Starns, and myself were a threat to the safety of Alpha.
"When I tried to contact control, our Deputy Commander was unavailable. Andy Dempsey put me on hold. After being transferred, and rerouted, and double-talked, and mumbo' jumbo'ed,' I eventually got the good Seargent Adolpho Martin-Zoe; Pierce Quenton's administrative assistant.
"So." The colonel continued, drumming his fingers against the chair. "I have sent out a text message to all tactical commlocks. All of the harness bulls have been withdrawn, and stationed around the section main building. The area is off limits."
"There have been two arrests already." Starns mused, seemingly oblivious to the bloody rent in his flares. "Two members of the rescue team. The woman, Barbara Millson, and her buddy, Didier Boniface. We interrupted thier tour of the laser arsenal. We have them on ice in the containment area. They're mad as hornets over our continued thanklessness." The detective laughed, unbeknownst to him, he was spraying bloody spittle all over his right forearm, and the arms of the low back foam chair he was sitting in.
"I have ten messages on my commlock now from Morrow." Petrov agreed. "I think we have thier attention now. I'm also quite sure we were followed on our way here. I have two harness bulls in a stand off with Allen, and Hexum outside."
"In other words, Commander," Starns went on, funneling the events into the dejour, $1,000,000 question. "We'd be very interested in hearing what you know."
Koenig poured himself a glass of water from the orange plastic Moonbase Alpha pitcher. He poured two more glasses for Starns and Petrov. They shook their heads.
Koenig stared at them. "Trust me," he said. "I think you are getting dehydrated. Drink." He pushed the plastic glasses toward them. They shrugged and took them.
Koenig told them everything. From his disbelief that people from earth had arrived (the physics is not possible...NOT possible) to what he saw when he entered Main Mission. Every bit of disgusting and graphic detail as well as the hypothesis that the aliens were using some form of telepathic mind control.
"Oh, and by the way," he said pouring more water into the cup, "you're both covered in shit too." He shook his head. "If only you can see yourselves..."
As if to underscore his point, Caesar who had gotten up and cruised toward Petrov, stopped about 6 inches away from him. His whiskers twitched...he sniffed at the discolored rust colored sleeve. His head recoiled back as the green eyes turned black.
"HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS" He scampered back into Koenig's bedroom, under the bed.
Petrov helped himself to a non-committal swig from his water cup. Starns eyebrows raised curiously. Time for a uniform change--even if the one he was wearing was only four hours old. Then a long, long shower--with soap--and well past the two minute limit, and then a trip through one of the empty booths in the Decontamination Area. Bob Mathias would monitor...even if he did think the detective was a crazed, germaphobal Howard Hughes of a man.
"Something else," he continued. "Quinton paused and one of the aliens released Nicky Carter to concentrate on Quinton, no doubt. The kid couldn't get away from his mother and get to me fast enough. He acted like he was being pursued. In fact, he was being chased by one of the tentacles. That's what I fired at and injured it. I think he can see these things for what they really are if they aren't touching him. Of course, that doesn't help a lot since he really can't speak and tell us about it anyway."
He shook his head with guilt. "I handed him to Kate. I had to give him up. I think if I held him a second more, Carter would have moved in for the kill. There would have been no mercy no matter how nutty I was perceived out there. Maybe that's what they wanted to happen and I got off lucky when Bergman stunned me."
"I can corroborate that." Starns added. "I never saw you pointing the laser at the child. From where I was standing, it was aimed at Guido Verdeschi...who had his arm around Ang' Carter...." He trailed away, puzzled.
"Assuming your story is true," Petrov recanted. "And believe me, Commander, I'm not assuming anything; it is possible that the aliens have a sphere of influence. They can expand it; broaden its bandwidth, perhaps, but beyond a certain point, it begins to lose its signal strength. Rather like a television transmission. Closeup, and on flat ground--you get the best signal. Unless extraordinary measures are taken, transmissions aimed at remote areas are less effective."
"They're all over the base, though." Starns elucidated. "As a matter of fact, it's amazing how many crew members were aboard that cruiser. Its mass deplacement looks to only be twice the size of one of our Eagles, yet our 'guests' seem to be everywhere.
"Not being a physicist, I can accept the idea of a spacecraft moving faster-than-light. I can't accept the idea that Earth has developed the equivalent of The TARDIS from 'Doctor Who.' That's hard to swallow, even for the lay person."
"Now, that is interesting." Petrov said genuinely.
"So what's happened since they put me down? What's going on?" Koenig leaned forward on his elbows, setting the cup on the coaster.
"A probe has been launched." Petrov said, pouring himself more water on a hunch. "A small lander that they separated from the mothership. The Carters,' and Joe Ehrlich are on thier way to Earth.
"I didn't see it lift-off. Unfortunately, we were otherwise occupied."
Though his demeanor would never express anything, vaguely similar to panic, the colonel wasn't conceived under a rock. He secretly desired to take the base to DEFCON FOUR. Problem. He had no earthly reason for doing it.
Koenig arose and powered up his PC at his desk. After it booted up, he discovered that he still had command access to all servers. He queried the Reconnaissance section server.
The hourglass tumbled on the screen and the EAGLE STATUS page appeared on his 21" monitor.
"The status of all Eagles," he began to explain, "is monitored by the Alpha maineframe, just like the majority of our systems. The status can be either manually entered or the ship onboard computer can automatically communicate with the server."
Koenig typed on the keyboard and clicked the mouse. He scanned the list. "Eagle 7," his voice drifting off. He typed a few more keys.
The Commander queried another server and the image changed to a live video feed.
"They aren't going to Earth," he pointed at the screen. "That's where they REALLY are...Nuclear Waste Disposal Area 3." He activated the zoom on the camera.
Three silver EVA suited figures were negotiating the 1/6 gravity near Dome #10. The female, blank faced, was holding a meter and scanning the outside. The two male figures, both equally blank faced, were setting up charges.
"It looks like they are trying to crack open the centegrade cover on the dome," Koenig informed. "What in the hell are they doing!?!??"
(The following transcript was dubbed for international release, and closed captioned for the hearing impaired)
"Lost On The Moon, And Craving Gatorade"
1. INT/DAY/A GYMNASIUM IN EVERYTOWN
LONG SHOT of a man lifting 150 pounds of deadweight on a workbench, sweating profusely.
CUT TO a CLOSE UP of heroic Breakaway Survivor, Captain Alan Carter, sitting up on the bench, with towel, and seizing a bottle of cold Gatorade Lime to quaffe his tortured, desert thirst.
PAN BACK to include his nutritionally, well developed, washboard, hunk's chest.
Carter (refreshed) "Hello, you know, being lost on the roving Moon was a real macaroon. While fighting the horrendous complexities of space, and time--and encountering aliens who wanted nothing more than to dominate the human race, and to throw our way of life to the dogs, the thing I missed the most was the old standbye. Gatorade, the drink that legends are made of."
(obsessively gorges half the bottle, his parch, insatiate)
CLOSE UP of Carter holding the label up for our conspicous observation as he flexes his muscle.
FADE TO BLACK
(The following is a transcript from the April 1, 3 AB edition of MSNBC's talk show, 'Rivera Live.' Present was Breakaway Survivor, Captain Alan Carter, and noted Astrophysicist, Professor Nile Oloff.)
Geralda Rivera : Captain Carter, it's good to have you back with us. Quite an ordeal that was, to say the least--on the Moon, and here on Earth. Dr. Oloff, it's always a pleasure.
Alan Carter: Thanks.
Nile Oloff: Yez,' but of courze.'
Geraldo: My understanding is that the rescue fleet was dispatched at 9:30 AM this morning, Greenwich Meantime. They're mission, to rescue the remaining survivors on Moonbase Alpha, and return them to Earth...safely. Captain, there were 311 men, and women living on the Moon when the nuclear waste dumps exploded. I understand that only a fraction of those people are still alive. What happened?
Oloff: Was de' Breakaway Zyndrome.'
Carter: No, it wasn't Breakaway. Alot of people died that day, but the vast majority survived.
Geraldo: Dr. Oloff, as I recall you were part of the oversite committee that pushed to have safer, more precise monitoring equipment installed on the far side of the Moon. As a matter of fact, you were against storing nuclear waste anywhere near the Earth, even if it was in the near vacuum of space.
Oloff: Tis' true. My propozal' would have seen the decaying wazte' material packed into rockets, and zent into a decaying orbit around de' sun. I was overruled by the zcientific' colloquy--in fact, many of them were rezearchers' assigned to Alpha, I do recall.
Carter: Well, chances are they're dead now, so I'd say you got your revenge.
Geraldo : Gentlemen (turning a page of hard copy). Captain, it took the rescue team over a month to find you, and that was at light speed. According to the cockpit flight recorder in your landing vehicle, the Infinity Albatross found the Moon in a region totally off the known coordinate lines--out near the Solomon Quasar. Billions of astronomical units away, and on the other side of the galaxy. How do you account for this. The Moon can't travel at light speed.
Oloff: Zertainly,' that is impozzible.
Carter: Well, it didn't exactly get there under its own power. We had some help, if you want to call it that.
Geraldo: You claim that two months after the Moon broke away from Earth's solar system, you encountered a fourth magnitude collopsar. For the benefit of our viewing audience, allow me to take a moment--time that we really don't have--to explain what I'm talking about. Basically what we're referring to is a Black Sun. A star explodes, but rather than expending its stellar material, it continues to collapse inward on itself, forming a bottomless gravity well.
Oloff: Dey' would not have zurvived.'
Carter : Well, as a matter of fact, we (expletive deleted) did survive...we have no idea how, though. We erected a forcefield, but that doesn't really explain how the Moon escaped being crushed.
Oloff : No, no, NO!!! If you had fallen within the influence of a Black Zun,' you would not be zitting' here, my unknowledgeable friend. Beyond de' event horizon, you would have been ground down to your conztituentz,' and held in de' quark field. Perhapz' you would like a copy of my dizzertation on de' unity of time, and gravity. You may find it edifying.
Carter: I don't think I (expletive deleted) like you.
Geraldo: Unfortunately, my engineer is waving at me. That means we have to pause for a commercial break. When we return, we'll have a look at the space program of today--in the Post Breakaway Age.
Transcript from television commercial produced by Tam-brands:
Int/Day/Patio Overlooking Garden: Long shot of woman in white dress, sitting comfortably with book in lap. Cue breeze from fan off camera. Pan in for CU. Woman looks up and smiles.
Angelina Carter, Breakaway survivor: "Hi. When you're in deep space, fighting for your life against deadly and unfriendly forces, the last thing you need to worry about is your feminine protection."
She smiles and picks up a box of Tampax Tampons, Unscented, Super Plus Absorbency.
Angelina: "That's why we depended on Tampax Tampons. It's superior leak protection molds to fit to a woman's individual contours...so we had one less worry in our fight for survival."
Angelina holds the box up and smiles demurely.
Angelina: "Tampax. The Official Tampon for the Women of Deep Space. Now in Fresh Country Spring scent too!"
FADE TO BLACK
"It looks like they are trying to crack open the centegrade cover on the dome," Koenig informed. "What in the hell are they doing!?!??"
"I'm not seeing it." Petrov shrugged, moving away from the desk, and Starns understood. The geodesic dome presided in the center of the open dialogue box. A tetrad of stars formed a curl over the central antennae complex. The reception was horrible, with the bottom three rows pixeling, sans color correction. If he squinted, he was able to make out a figure eight pattern of tracks, left behind by the moonbuggies that last surveyed the site. The ashen, to black surface was otherwise unoccupied, however. No Eagles. No nocturnal astronauts, infiltrating the dome with dire purposes.
"Can you clean the picture up a bit." The detective asked Koenig, frustrated. Harmonizing was out of the question, so long as they continued to be divided by incongrous perceptions. Then the doubts began to seep in again. What if the commander had slipped sideways into a babbling, dangerous psychosis. More to the point, what if their floodlight flexibility, thier attempt to come to terms had caused them to amble into the same degenerative mental disorder? Imprisoned forever in someone elses' howling, Ninth Configuration.
"Yeah," Koenig murmured. "The resolution isn't that great."
He punched a few commands. With the mouse, a pop-up window appeared and he played with the brightness and contrast bars by grabbing and letting them go. Actually, he overemphasized the contrasts, creating gray, gray and more gray shadows against the gray backdrop of the lunar surface. .
"See it now?" Koenig sighed under his breath, unconvinced. If they could not be convinced, he was not sure what else he could do to get them to "see" things from his perspective.
"I see," Truman Starns analyzed. "A butterfly sitting on top of a Volkswagon." He fretted impatiently at the imponderable, gray wash. He marched away to the vision ports, disgusted again. In the vicinity of Koenig's computer desk, Petrov's commlock was sounding off again. The colonel muted the tone while the commander swiveled away from the screen, arms folded bleakly over his chest. Attached to the partial bulkhead with velcro strips, hung the half sheet poster of Hank Williams, on stage at the London Paladium. His eyes were puffed, and intransitive beneath his floppy, ten gallon hat. He had achieved an illusion of buoyancy, nothing more. It was like trying to chase a rolling quarter, only to have it change direction ten, or fifteen times before disappearing through the mouse hole.
"No, there's something else there." Petrov disagreed. "Commander, could you print that image, please."
Koenig opened the print window, and made two copies. The green light came on as the printer began to convulse. The DeskJet images rolled onto the tray smelling of damp ink.
"Pardon me." The colonel said, swiping a black fiber marker from Koenig's MIT coffee cup/pen holder. He positioned the image with his left hand, while using his right to trace the outline of the indefinable half exposure. Crudely rendered ghosts became visible under the colonel's unpracticed hand. He started by circling what appeared to be moon rocks. Alongside this pebbling, he scrawled his pen upwards in a primitive arc. Adjoining the ellipsoid, he attached a sketchy, vertical line. He stopped drawing when he reached a hypoteneuse on the photographic border. He looked up for a moment to consider his spatial reasoning, and then added two more circles next to the grainy, tetra-color dome.
Truman Starns brought his unresolve back to the table. He was just in time to see Petrov attach stick figure bodies to circles, within circles. For cumulative effect, he added crosshatching to shade the astronaut's visors.
"It's a ship." He said, incredibly, now that he had eyes. "With someone doing an EVA out on the surface."
"Uh huh," Koenig nodded, adjusting the strap of his blue Alpha pajamas. He swiveled around to his desk to query the server again.
"Computer, location of comlocks assigned to the following: Carter, Captain Alan; Carter, Dr. Angelina; Ehrlich, Dr. Joseph."
Three seconds passed before computer monotoned: "Out of Base"
"There, "Koeng pointed to the screen as he brought up two sets of definitions on the monitor; one for a comlock 'Out of Base' and one for a comlock 'Out of Range."
"As you can see," he summarized gravely," if they were going to earth or at earth by now, the status of the commlocks would be 'Out of Range.'
Petrov's commlock squawked again. This time he removed it from his belt, and answered the call. The forty-something harness bull that appeared on the micro monitor was sitting before a gooseneck lamp. Beyond that was a 48" X 43" transparency that looked outward into the tank armory.
"Corporal Coldaryn here, sir." The bull said flatly. "Sorry to trouble you. There's been another arrest."
"Where." Petrov said easily, returning Koenig's pen to the MIT cup.
"In the restricted area beneath Perimeter Station Ten. One of the visitors, Sol Chompsky accessed the missile silo. He had no trouble at all opening the shield doors with his commlock. He claims that Paul Morrow approved his access."
"How about that Paul Morrow." Truman Starns said belligerently. "He's the perfect host. I'd say it's time for Pierce Quenton, and I to have a little pow' wow.'"
"You're on Orange Alert." The colonel told Harness Bull Coldaryn. "Make sure Mr. Chompsky is strip searched, and run through the X-Ray Corridor, and then lock him up."
"First thing we need to do," Koenig stopped as he stood up and the room spun around and around and around. Starns helped him back to his chair.
"First thing we need to do," he continued, eyes closed waiting for the spinning to stop as he rubbed his temples," is to make sure Dr. Russell, Mathias or anyone else in Medical does not give me any more of this happy medicine."
"Oh, that's a given." Petrov said inflectionlessly. "I've just declared a basewide alert. When I leave, Mr. Quenton's security team goes with me, and the harness bulls are staying. No one will be permitted to enter here under any circumstances.
"I would like another physician to examine you." He said broadly. "As well as Lieutenant Starns, and myself. Is there anyone capable of being objective, though."
"I can ask Dot' Sullivan to give us a once over." Starns interjected. "I don't know how deeply she's been affected, but it will be a third person's opinion, other than Russell's, and Mathias.'"
"Second, we need to round up all of our guests and confine them to one spot. I don't care what you do! Tell them there is a big party and attendance is mandatory." Koenig began rocking back and forth. "Third, we've got to find out why Nicky Carter and I can see these things as they are and why everyone else can't...AND what it takes for everyone else to be like us. Any theories?"
"Maybe there's something different in the chemical composition of your brain." Starns theorized, feeling like a token scientist in a pulp novel by L. Ron Hubbard. "It could be some natural immunity...somehow.
"No, commander--truthfully--I have no idea why you have this clarity."
As solutions go, it was not much, but it was the best he could offer.
"You're theory of their influence over our mental processes, as a bandwidth television type transmitter is interesting, Colonel." Koenig pensively wagged his finger. "It must have some merit; otherwise, we wouldn't be having this discussion now. If there was only some way to either block the transmission or," Koenig raised an eyebrow, "the reception."
"Assuming this is correct, and let's just assume that for now, we are trying to come up with an anatomical commonality, something that is blocking the reception of the images, between the Carter child and me," Koenig continued. "I don't think there is. We already know that Nicholas Carter has a unique brain wave pattern associated with people who have mental abilities."
Koenig wasn't sure they knew this information and it really was private medical information. Regardless, he had to reveal it for the sake of solving the problem.
"The thing with Nicky, though, is that once the alien makes physical contact with him, he appears to come under telepathic control that these things have over everyone else."
"But he wasn't completely influenced." Starns remembered vividly. "At least not right away. Initially, he was scared to death."
The memory of holding the toddler while he ogled Diana Morris returned to haunt him.
"So discounting Nicky, the only thing that happened differently to me compared to anyone else is that I was on that new VBEC machine."
Before anyone could answer, Starns comlock chirped. It was Dr. Dorothy Sullivan.
"Truman," the doctor began, looking extremely distressed. "I need to see you. Where are you?" She appeared to be near tears.
Starns informed her and within 10 minutes the door opened and shut again after Dr. Dorothy Sullivan stepped into the Commander's quarters.
Koenig had already prepared a glass of water for her to join them in dehydration rehabilitation. Starns nearly dropped it as she fumbled into the room in a non-compos, storm of confusion. Her red hair, dishelved; her green eyes dilate with emotional pain.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but something is wrong, terribly wrong," she gasped and stifled the tears, looked out onto the lunar surface. "You know that my sister Linda was among the crew of the Infinity Albatross." There was a long silence as Dot gathered her composure.
"All Linda has been talking about for the last 45 minutes is how Dad is doing and she is reliving all the things we did with Dad as girls...the picnics, the bike rides, going to the circus." Her voice cracked into a whisper. "Everything I ever dreamed about and wished I had ever done with my Dad." She stopped talking, swallowing hard.
Truman Starns blinked. It took several, expectant minutes before he could recover from his catatonia.
"It's not your sister." Petrov deduced easily, and on queue. "Is it?"
Starns shook his head. For over a decade, they had endeavoured to find the insincerity in the word 'sincere,' the physician, and he. He knew more about her life off-the-clock than most paramours, and married couples. If it was her sister--unless she was the queen of cruel, perfidious asshole, tasteless jokes; if she was not insane, she was a petit twist of a human being. Speaking of a dead man as if the latter were au courant was not a good thing. Dot' Sullivan's father died when she was five years old. A semi-tractor trailer cracked his Pinto Runabout open like a can of sweet potatoes. After five unsuccessful blood transfusions, and the removal of fifteen feet of his intestines, he parted from this monkey house of suffering.
"No," Dr. Sullivan regained her composure. "No, evidently not." She drank down the 8 oz plastic cup with water in one gulp and filled it once again.
There came a scratching, a tapping, and a screw pushed itself out of the air duct-a duct not quite two feet across, hooked into the central Alphan air system. It pushed itself open and a pair of dirty hands appeared, followed by the rest of-to Koenig-a nearly naked and disheveled Technician deHavilland.
Koenig and the rest of the group abruptly turned around. Koenig was speechless, shocked by the sight of her physical condition.
Livy pulled herself to her full four-foot eight and glared almost unhappily at the rest of the Alphan staff that had accumulated in the Commander's quarters; oddly, the Commander noted that no one besides himself seemed to actually note that the only covering Olivia seemed to have other than her long, unbound hair was a pair of ill-worn panties.
Staring at the Commander, Livy's face was tear-streaked and her eyes red-the tiny engineering manager said softly, "I lost him, but I don't know for how long-Steve won't stop following me." A trickle of fresh blood eased itself along a smear of already dried blood that caked both her inner thighs, blood that led from horrid wounds that were close-too close-to the femoral arteries on both legs. She gazed at Petrov and Starns, then at Truman and Dot Sullivan-and closed her eyes.
"Sir," she said softly, "I've been on that. . .ship. It's not-" She opened her eyes and took in the waiting glances of all. "Me and Stevie-and Bob and Melinda Trumball-we got drunk one night and designed the Albatross on a series of cocktail napkins." She takes a deep breath, idly scratching beneath one bare breast as one would a mosquito bite-Koenig watches her hand come away bloody from yet another gash along the small woman's ribs.
"That's not Albie out there," she states flatly. "I know every dimension of what the Albie should be, and I've walked this one-snuck on board-walked it three times, once with my eyes open, and twice closed-came up different between the three times. It's a lot smaller than it should be-and-" She looks at the ceiling, her eyes blank. "I distracted Stevie and looked-really looked at the engineering specs-reverse engineered it in my head while keeping him busy."
She plopped herself down in a chair-when she leaned forward, the low, white seat had a small smear of blood from where her back had made contact with the seat. "I don't know where they come from, but it's not Earth-nobody could have built that. . .thing. . .with the tech we currently have."
Sullivan was about to scan Koenig. "No," he motioned, "check her first. I think you will be surprised." He looked at Livy, whose expression was now blank. Koeng took the robe lying across the nearby chair. "Have her put this on."
From Starns, Petrov, Sullivan and even DeHavilland's perspective, the Chief Electronics Engineer was completely clothed, wearing a standard technical section jumpsuit. Dot Sullivan sat down next to Livy and, handing her the robe, began scanning her.
Dot's expression dropped. "She's in physical shock. I don't understand it. You look fine to me." She shook her head and pulled out a hypo from the medical kit.
"You need to lay down, Livy," Dot stated as she administered the hypo and practically pushed DeHavilland into the horizontal. After giving her a glass of water, she covered the dazed engineer.
Sullivan scanned the Commander and checked him over, as he sat down at his computer again, focusing the camera back on the lunar surface, then inside the nuclear monitoring station.
At the main console of the shield control, Angelina Carter sat with a blank face. She was covered alien secretions and dried blood had crusted a path from her nostrils down her throat. She looked deathly pale, on the verge of collapse.
"My God," he mumbled, then focused on what she was doing at the console. "She's opening up the core."
He switched the camera again to the male figures in EVA suits outside. His eyes widened in horror when he saw the objects being loaded in the moon buggy from the Nuclear Storage Warehouse.
"Computer," he spoke into the microphone of his PC,"close and lock outer radiation doors to Nuclear Monitoring Station 3." The outer radiation doors closed upon receiving the command from the server.
"If they are doing what they appear to be doing," Koenig turned to face the crowd, Livy with one eye open from the couch, "they are preparing to explode those nuclear waste domes, creating a chain reaction....just like breakaway. But why?!?! "We have to stop them!" Koenig abruptly stood up and weaved. "Dot, you have to give me something to counteract the effects of this sedative. I don't have time to sleep it off."
Sullivan nodded cooly.
"I can give you a handfull of Black Beauties." She agreed. "For the next 24 hours you'll feel like your caught in the brushes of a car wash. There is the danger of your veins bursting like a fire hydrant." She warned. "Hyperbolic blood pressure."
She could obtain the required dope with unethical ease. Helena Russell was spending little, or no time in Medical Center these days, and Bob Mathias seemed to prefer not working at all. In the rush to see the socko telemetry on the big screen in Main Mission, the Pharmacology Lab was ignored.
From the couch, Livy's faint voice could be heard. "Can't blow the core-well, can, but won't do much. Area three is half again the size Area One was, and not even a quarter the size of Area Three. It'll change vector some, but mostly, it'll just burn itself out." There is a moment of silence as the little woman's fuzzed mind works through the physics side of the house. "Might take us with it," she admits woozily, "but hey, that's just part of the game." Another moment's hestiation, and then Livy's voice is a bit stronger. "WHO is opening what core?"
"The nuclear monitoring team," Koenig informed over his shoulder, though never taking his eyes off the monitor. "Angelina Carter, Captain Carter and Joe Erhlich." Koenig shook his head. "If it was anyone else out there, I'd say it was 50-50 they could pull it off at NWDA3. But with that team..." His voice trailed off. He squinted, studying Ang's movements. "She's opened the electromagnetic shield to the core. Folks, we don't have much time left."
"I can distract Pierce Quenton." Starns said, marching to the door with braggadocio. "In fact, it will be a pleasure."
He left the room.
"I could send a detachment out to disposal area three." Petrov projected. "I believe that would be an unqualified disaster, though. Whatever they're doing out there, if they see thier plan is about to be circumvented, it could cause them to resort to acts of desperation.
"I recommend sending a clandestined, two person team out onto the surface--armed, of course--and absolutely--positively, I would not converge on them until the last minute." He advised, consulting the lunar time on his commlock. "As plans go, it's about as sloppy as a Delta Force Mission, but it's probably our only chance for success.
"I'm effected," The Colonel admitted. "But Alan Carter is deeply EFFECTED. You could tell by that glassy-eyed, moonbeamed look he had before he left. He wants this 'travesty' to be true, and he'll fight for his insanity to the bitter end. So. Two people. Dropped from an Eagle in low orbit that is there, ostensibly, to check the neutron count again.
"That will satisfy Morrow, too. By the way, if anyone is caught, our honorable, Deputy Commander will probably have them executed, and he would do so, believing that he's saving the base from malevolent, alien hands."
Behind him, the analogue clock on Koenig's commstation ticked away inexorably.
Koenig motioned to Petrov. "You and I will go out there. I can pilot and put it in auto to hold position while we are dropped onto the surface." Koenig looked over at Livy, who was dozing on and off. "Do what you can for her, Dr. Sullivan but I will need her to help you. You have both got to find a way to somehow replicate the effect I received while undergoing treatment on the VBEC for the rest of the population of the base."
Dr. Sullivan was thoughtful for a minute. "High frequency sound waves in rapid bursts would probably do the trick. However, the problem with that is determining how much is enough. Too little has no effect. Too much, and we could possibly cause permanent damage to the middle ear resulting in deafness. I could work those numbers out as best as I can but the delivery method will also be crucial."
She glanced over at the semi conscious Electronics Engineering Manager.
Livy, only half-way awake, whispers, "Let me think about it." Her voice slowly fades out, and her body goes limp.
Worried, Dorothy reached down and checked her pulse, which alerted her own medical senses-the engineer's heart rate was weak and thready, definite signs of shock-then Olivia sat up, her still-clouded eyes surprisingly clear.
"Got it," she states, her brow furrowed as the options ricocheted around in her mind. Pulling the robe about her shoulders, she smiled at Koenig. "Thank you, Sir," she said, "no idea why I'm so damned cold. C'mon, Dot." Leading the way out the door, she explained, "Three phases. Step one -run me through the VBEC. I need as clear a mind as possible, and it'll also give us a second subject for which to establish the baseline for strength and duration of the signal. Second, I need to take a look at the machine itself to see what systems I need to modify-I'm thinking of-no-tell you after I look. It'll be impressive, though."
She jams on her brakes and looks back at Petrov. "Send someone you trust to find me something that looks like a pony nuke," she says. "That's going to be required. Doesn't have to work-in fact, I'd rather it didn't-but its gotta look good." She gives an evil, rictus smile. "Nobody fucks with my dreams." She turns, and her voice is ice. "Nobody."
Koenig and Petrov watched as the door closed behind DeHavilland and Sullivan.
"Clearance will have to be obtained before lifting off in an Eagle." Petrov added. "Morrow won't exactly be obliging on this issue. However, there are ways to work around that."
Carpe dieum, and the life threatening urgency of the situation, forbade him from going into any long winded details as to HOW he was able to jog around it. Suffice to say, he had a hand in Main Mission. Two hands in fact. Two legs, a torso, and a head, with a jawbone that never unhinged, even under mutilating torture. To say that John Koenig had in his presence a 'iaeiyeuieu'--the Russian equivalent of a rat, a turncoat, a double-crossing operative--was maybe too strong. From Hitler, and the bombing of the Old Base, Petrov had learned that it was wise to keep a frondeur on hand. He slept better, having a loyal fink--especially one who could, on a whim, rummage through the command files, without argument, or ratiocination.
For a moment, there was the faintest trace of Jeeves & Wooster in the colonel's satirical gaze. Then John Koenig realized that it was just his imagination, that the tactician's demeanor remained as flat, and unevincing as a Pullman Car. His mind was his own.
According to his New York agent, it was to be a ten city tour for his new book, September 13, 1999. While only one day into it, and with fifty autographed copies under his belt, Joe Ehrlich was ready to drink Hemlock.
"I can't tell you what a Sacred, Transcendental Moment this is to me, Joe." The John Belushi simulacrum in the knock-off, rayon, unofficial Moonbase Alpha uniform said. Judging by the black collar, and the single black sleeve, his tailor had promoted him to the rank of commander. He had arrived fashionably late, and bludgeoned his way through the women, and the children, and the senior citizens with oxygen tanks, his dead weight reducing the sidewalk to gravel. Then he opened his mouth. Five seconds later, Ehrlich gave him the Good Housekeeping Seal Of Approval for dullheads. "You won't find a bigger supporter than me, of course you know that." He boasted, he winked, unconscionably sucking up while munching down handfuls of nasty, pizzalicious Doritos.
His name was Pearless Mandick. He spoke fecundly of all things, Moonbase Alpha. Working for a living appeared to not be a Top Ten Hit for him.
Then his ominous gut moved in front of the sun, and Ehrlich found himself trying to write amidst a solar eclipse. The crowd around the Golden Rule Christian, Judas With A Noose Bookstore began to rabble, and hiss. Panel trucks, and cars, bottlenecked by the 13th Street crowd in Washington DC began to honk, and swear, but not necessarily in that order. Ignoring them, Mandick went on to proclaim his Singularity; how he was founder of the Breakaway Memorial Society Online, which he ruled with wisdom, and decapitation.
"When I'm not going to ten holocaust conventions a month, my favorite thing to do," Pearless explained. "Is to sit around the television with my family, and watch the many television series, and docudramas that dealt with the accident on the lunar suface."
He told Ehrlich that Christian Slater's vague good looks didn't do the PhD justice, when he played him in the last film, titled "The Transmorph." Nicole Kidman played the exotic alien, who--according to the 'innovative,' heh, 'script writers'--was saved from her dying planet by the roving, Hollywood Moon. As the mantle exploded to chunks, she was spirited away in a CGI Eagle. Her insane, megolomaniac father remained to watch the ground open up for him. No longer concerned with rejuvenating his planet, he feared for his crust.
"The train's what?" Ehrlich said, his acid reflux at full magma now.
"The love," Mandick opined. "The happiness you all must have shared. When I heard that they had rescued you, I almost cried. The body was so overwhelmed with gratitude that the mind had to take a day off from work again--you know how it goes, Joe."
"Sure," Joe Ehrlich said with the amicability of a psychiatric nurse, while handing him his book back.
Res ipsa loquitur, the Latins say. The thing speaks for itself.
EXT: DAY/ STUDIO BUILDING IN LOS ANGELES:
CLOSEUP: Of Jerry Springer, holding his microphone like a smoking gun.
Jerry: "I don't care to fight, and argue. Today we're going to have a sensitive show." (continues) "We have with us, Dr. Angelina Verdeschi, Breakaway survivor, and chief of Technical Section, Moonbase Alpha. Hold onto your purses folks. This will be a show to remember--plus we don't want some tuchus stealing them."
FADE IN: On the opening credits. We see transvestites who have adopted children; we see red necks who learn to love the wives they have beaten to a pulp; we see snotty, teenage cretins, who need to be hung up by their flanges, but instead, get sent to boot camp.
LONG SHOT: Of Jerry walking majestically towards the stage. Ten feet away in the first row. A woman as big as his car turns around, and shows him her thing...all ten tons of it.
LONG SHOT/PAN LEFT: Over the crowd, shouting "!!!JERRY, JERRY, JERRY, JERRY!!!"
CLOSE UP: Of Jerry, standing beside the empty hot seats, ready for Open Pit Sauce.
ECU(extreme close up): As he gives the middle finger to a hooker from Rodeo Drive, who hectors him from afar.
Jerry: "You need to shut up. All of you."
"Shut the hell up."
"!!!I said shut the (expletive deleted) up!!!!"
LONG SHOT/PAN RIGHT: Over the crowd as they proceed to throw Weidemann Beer Bottles, and Big Mac Cartons, and poniards, sharpened by Lafit, metallurgist for John Gotti.
ECU: Of an LA cop dragging a deranged beatnick by his purple rooster tail. He shows formidable butt crack as he's let out the studio door to the awaiting paddy wagon.
Jerry: "!!!We'll have no show unless you shut the (expletive deleted) up!!!"
LONG SHOT: Of Jerry, pacing the stage, waiting. The patience of Job. Eventually the cacaphony ceases.
CLOSE UP: Of a trailor park hoe,' holding up a sign that says: JERRY, GIVE ME SEX.
CLOSE UP: Of Jerry, shaking his head, and wiping the perspiration with a handkerchief.
Jerry: "On todays show...."
TILT UP: Right into the face of a man who is eating a four way chili spaghetti, almost all of it escaping into his beard.
Jerry (second attempt) "On today's show, we have Angelina Verdeschi. Chief of Technical Operations for Moonbase Alpha. Marooned there when the Moon was blown out of Earth's orbit four years ago."
HOLD: On Jerry's expression as a lunatic from the audience cries out.
Lunatic: "JESUS SAYS REPENT, ZION IS AT HAND. MOTHER!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH...!!!!"
Jerry lubricates his throat with water as the police add another one to the rapidly filling armored car.
Jerry (his microphone tucked beneath his armpit) "Could we please have a warm, round of applause for Dr. Angelina Verdeschi."
Angelina is back stage, dressed in a snazzy suit with skirt falling to mid thigh, somewhat form fitting. Professional, sex but not slutty.
CLOSE UP: Faces in the crowd yelling "!!!BOO!!!"
THE ORCHESTRA BREAKS INTO "WHO'S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLF."
PAN RIGHT: Over the stage as Angelina Verdeschi comes out. An eighty-four year old man grabs the microphone away from Springer.
Old & Dumb: "Angelina Verdeschi, you make me want to puke, girlfriend."
Angelina: Don't they put locks on those nursing home doors, mister? Better get on home for your Depends change, sir...
AUDIENCE RABBLE RESPONSE: "!!!BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"
Angelina: WHAT? I said "sir" didn't I?
STEADICAM: Of a ringer for Queen Latifah, wearing spandex, and a bikini top, grabbing the microphone next.
Queen Spandex : "!!!YOU GOT YOU'RE NERVE (expletive deleted)!!! IF I WAS YOU, HONEYCHILE,' I WOULDN'T EVEN BE OPENING MY MOUTH!!!"
LONG SHOT: Of a SWAT Team entering through the rear doors. Jerry waves them away.
Angelina: Oh really? (crossing her legs ladylike, the suit skirt riding up her thigh)
CU: Teenage boys with pimples staring at Dr. Verdeschi's thighs...drooling...
FX SHOT: Of a hand grenade going off in the rear of the auditorium. No brain damage. No brains to be damaged.
LONG SHOT: Of Jerry, one foot propped on the platform steps as he prepares for the Inquistion.
Angelina (shaking her head): I guess there wasn't enough cleansing of the gene pool due to the breakaway syndrome.
Audience Response: "!!!BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"
Angelina: (looking at Queen Spandex, smiling sweetly) THAT much is obvious
Jerry (pointed): "Dr. Verdeschi."
CU: Lesbian biker chick on second row eyes Angelina, licking lips. Angelina blushes.
Jerry (fuming) "Dr. Verdeschi, please."
Angelina: Yes, Jerry. Incidently, despite the unpleasant welcome it really is a pleasure to be here. I am so happy to be home...
Jerry (pushing his glasses up)....CU on Angelina as she gets teary eyed...
Angelina: Back in the USA
LONG SHOT PAN AS: Crowd breaks out in chanting... "!!!!!!!USA...USA.....USA,,,,,USA....USA USA!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Crowd applauds.....chanting grows louder...
Jerry (incensed) "Dr. Verdeschi--can you tell us what it was like--BEING ON THE MOON!!!"
A tall, drink of water of a man, grabs the microphone next.
Tall DRINK (shaken, not stirred): "Dr. Verdeschi, I don't know what's worse, your outdated hair style, or the kind of lies you concoct."
Audience Reaction: "!!!BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"
Angelina: I can answer that. Hair styles come and go, my good man. Wait a few years and it will be in style again.
Spandex Queen: I think you'd look real nice if you'd corn row your hair. My man's sister in law can do it for you
Angelina (eyes Spandex Queen) : Thank you. I'll consider it. As for being on the moon...
CARD/ VOICE OVER: "If you know a Breakaway survivor who has sold thier Rotweiler for a pack of cigarettes, please call 1-800-SPRINGER.
Angelina: Yes, it was an ordeal. But we had hope...Every day was a struggle to survive....sort of like living government subsidy check to government subsidy check. We also faced terrible things....fierce aliens
Audience Response (medium) "!!BOOOOO!!!"
ECU: Of Jerry, consulting his notes. CU of toothless, anorexic woman in 3rd row wiping away a tear with sleeve.
Angelina: But if it wasn't for the human spirit, we would not have survived.. and if it wasn't for the ingenuity of the people left on earth...we would never have been found..
LONG SHOT: Of a man in the back row with huge Dumbo ears.
Dumbo Ear Guy: "Dr. Verdeschi, I wouldn't have sex with you if my life depended on it."
Angelina: I am especially grateful to the American scientist and engineers (ignoring dumbo ear guy)
LONG SHOT: Crowd breaks out in chants... "!!!!!!!!!!!!USA...USA....USA...USA.....!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Jerry (smiling confidentially) "Dr. Verdeschi, how was parenting on Moonbase Alpha."
Angelina: It was difficult. Oh, by the way, my name is now Angelina Carter. I was married when I was out there..
Audience Reaction: (mixed, but fond) "AAAAWWWWWWWWWWWWWW"
Angelina: and had a baby
Queen Spandex: "Hey, you know what I tell my old man--no glove, no love."
Angelina: (to Queen Spandex) Well, it wasn't that. He was a failed Norplant baby...but I digress
Jerry (smile widening): "Well, Dr. Carter, I have a surprise for you. You'll never guess what it is."
Dumbo Ears: "Who cares."
Angelina: Is my husband backstage? He really did not want me to come on this show....said it was dangerous and he said the show is stupid and a waste of time.
Jerry (frowning): "No, he's in jail for assaulting my producer." (pacing restlessly)
Angelina: Oh...care to give me the information which precinct jail he's in? So I can bail him out? (anguished) Oh GOD!!!!!!! Why did he have to do this to me?!?!?!
Queen Spandex: I say let him stay his ass in jail overnight...Don't you go out an' bail him out...Your man needs to learn a lesson...uh huh...
Audience Response: (very positive) PAN RIGHT: Over a horde of cheering faces.
DUMBO EARS: "I'd treat you better than that schlep."
Angelina: No...I need to stand by my man. <sniffs>
Jerry (wondering): "Well, before you head out to post bail, we do have another little surprise for you. That surprise is: THE VANGUARD OF THE RESCUE FLEET HAS RETURNED TO EARTH. YOUR SON NICKY IS NOW WITH US BACKSTAGE."
CUT TO: ESTABLISHING SHOT: Of Nicky being helped onto the stage with the help of a smoked up, burned-out grip.
THE ORCHESTRA BREAKS OUT INTO IT'S DISCO RENDITION OF "LONDON BRIDGE."
Angelina: Nicky!!!! (outstretched arms) Come to Momma!!! (tears in her eyes)
Nicky toddles quickly to her. Ang scoops him up and hold him tightly.
AUDIENCE REACTION: "AAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWW" followed by cheers and clapping
Angelina: Thank you, Jerry....Thank you so much.
CARD/ VOICE OVER: Do you know a daughter who has stabbed her father with her NOSE RINGS? Please call 1-800-SPRINGER.
CARD/ VOICE OVER: Taped transcripts of this episode, along with our DVD Editions of "Springer: Extreme Disembowelment," are now available by calling 1-800-JERRY.
FADE TO BLACK
Angelina moved slightly to the side as Alan took a rather sharp curve over the sand in the dune buggy.
"Easy, babe," she murmured as she studied the specs sheet for the house. She really should not read while riding. It always made her sick. However, she was trying to determine where they were on the East coast beach of Australia and which house they were scheduled to look at next.
It was Alan's idea to get a dune buggy and travel along the beach. It really wasn't a bad one at all. In the back, buckled securely in the car seat, Nicky was looking around wearing ample sunscreen, a hat and baby Raybans. He would chortle and point to every other sea bird that passed over them.
The sun shone and the wind whipped softly. It was "winter" in Australia but she could certainly get use to it....much better than "winter" in the Northeast United States.
They came to a stop at yet the 4th house they were considering purchasing today.
"It says here it has 5 bedrooms, 3 baths plus master bedroom suite with its own custom bath including jacuzzi. Five thousand square feet." She looked up and smiled warmly. "Five bedrooms? Planning on having a lot of kids or a lot of company?"
Carter raised an unassuming eyebrow.
"Whichever comes first." He said, and then his, by-birthright, love of the land took over the steering wheel. "Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, cream puff, take a gander at that little beaut.'"
Before Breakaway, he had been too pragmatic to appreciate the aesthetic delights offered by localities like 50 Murphy Street. Today, Swankville seemed mighty fine to his retiring/tired-of-surviving intellect. The open plan, timber beach house they were admiring now came with 270 degree views of Four Mile Beach, Low Isles, Marina Mirage, and Port Douglas Village. He hugged Ang,' and breathed deep the snow white air that wafted to them from the World Heritage Mountain ranges.
Sweet, except for the bloke who was standing on the front porch, giving the pilot his best Dr. Strange, demented, pervert, John Wayne Gacy stare. There, on the porch of their dream house, a fortysomething male.
His conquering browline was accented by the sharp widow's peak.
He was uniformed. Orange sleeve. Reconnaisance Section.
He was drumming his fingers impatiently against the stained porch rail.
He looked alot like Dirk Kilpack--accomplished murderer of prostitutes, and children, and anyone else who crossed his path, par excellence. Carter froze. For an extended, decade of a second in time, he sat gaping, and listening to the Aolian Harp chime in the brisk northerly winds. Before he could summon his next exclamation, the glissandi came to them from a vacant porch once more. Only three people on the eastern tip of Flagstaff Hill, not four.
Angelina had unbuckled the car seat and hoisted a giggling Nicky into the air. Everything was perfect. Although her son had begun to display signs of impending toddlerhood before the arrival of the Infinity Albatross, he was now acting like the perfect child. He did not throw food or protest at meal time. He went down for his nap without fussing. He slept 9 hours at night soundly, falling asleep in her arms after rocking to him and reading to him. Reprimanding him with "no" did not result in a tantrum. It was picture perfect. He was the model child. No doubt, returning home had made a dramatic impact on him, she convinced herself.
She gazed at the breathtaking horizon, passing Nicky to his father.
'H3O Atomic Accelerator +/- 95 kilograms,' came the thought out of nowhere. She shook her head. Huh?!?
"It is beautiful, absolutely stunning!" she spoke to Carter. She became serious as they turned toward the house. "I keep thinking I'm back on the moon, like in dreams or something. Sometimes I think I'm seeing things." She chuckled. "Maybe I'm just not use to all the sun, huh?"
"I think I can relate." Carter bullshitted, grabbing the roll bar, and pulling himself free of a yellow, and red dune buggy that existed only in his mind's eye. The image of Kilpack branded itself to his brain. Though he would never admit it, his mouth tasted coppery fear. Five feet away, one of the arachnid provocateurs--all hirsute, and tartarous eyes--monitored his hallucination, implacatory, but not insistent. It burrowed deep into the Lagoon Of Dreams, introducing its sewage a gram at a time. Carter, hopelessly suckered, folded his arms over his chest. Before Breakaway, he never could never have imagined what the closing cost would be on a house, the likes of which he was NOT seeing now.
The day would come when he would comprehend, too late, that it would have been cheap at half the price.
He walked past a lovely, picture postcard pictorial of a FOR SALE sign, oblivious to the fine print which said RESTRICTED ACCESS.
And on the heels of that: AUTHORIZED PERSONEL ONLY.
"Remember love, that's all behind us now." He said, punching the red, clown switch with a somnambulant, gloved hand. Some how, on his way up the porch, he completely missed the minutiae: DO NOT GO BEYOND THIS POINT UNDER PENALTY OF EXECUTION. Possibly, his mind was elsewhere. As the door to Disposal Area Three's warhead assembly line cranked open, he took Angs' hand, and led her away from dark thoughts of the past. "C'mon, now. Let's see what this baby's got."
For some reason, the house reeked of engine oil. Otherwise he loved it. A couple of cases of Lysol, and she was a keeper, oh dad.
Greatness, Bob Mathias thought, wiping the chunky gore, and sinew from his upper lip. Greatness is the larvae, turned papal, turned glorious butterfly, reborn from chrysalis. It flutters its wings, and is airborne, only when it touches the lives of others. If that statement was a truism, then perhaps he had done what he was destined to do, during his kicking, and screaming, hating every fucking minute of it life on Moonbase Alpha. These things he considered, as he stumbled around, blind in one eye, his vision blurred 80% in the other swollen occipital. They were working up an evacuation procedure for Medical Center.
The tenor of the half-dead souls was generally euphoric.
HORTICULTURALIST, MOUSTAPHA VAZIL, Computer droned. LIFE FUNCTIONS TERMINATED.
"Outstanding." Helena Russell emoted, with ham. "We have a list of names, and basically, that's all we're going to need." She told Ann Delline. "We don't have any patients in Intensive Care. All of our records will be downloaded to the rescue ships." She smiled, looking at Jerry Parker who was lying face down on the floor of Ward-B, his fundaments exposed. "All we have to do is pack an overnight bag, and...board the ship."
"Oh my," Mathias smirked. "That means our time on Alpha is limited." He clapped his tired hands, and let out a whoop.' It was greater than life, greater than death; it was like being reborn.
"I know," Russell abundantly agreed. "Morbidly depressing isn't it?"
She stepped on Parker's baldly breathing, gumbo head to make way for a spider the size of a Toyota Turcell. Seconds later it ran an anal cord deep into Nurse Ann Delline, and left it there. It's thorax ticked, and pitipated in delightful gambit.
The arrival of the rescue team was better than Improv;' a Wraith Scarab Jewell at the bottom of the slop bucket. It was ecstasy. If you ignored the clouds of rank, and ejestive death that settled all around them, the coming of their benefactors was the first real stroke of luck they'd had since leaving Earth's orbit. It was a gift beyond nouns, and verbs, and direct objects. It was beyond participles, and prepositions. It was...
...kind of nice....
Alone in his home with only the light of the red emergency lights, Nicholas Alan Carter cried incessantly, his voice now a barely audible rasp.
Hours of crying for "Momma" and "Dadda" resulted in nothing. He was hungry. He was cold. His diaper was drenching wet. He buried his face into his blanket on the floor, his nurse had long since lapsed into a coma. His bloodshot eyes were nearly swollen shut from the excessive crying as he tried to comfort himself sucking his moisture wrinkled thumb.
The door to his quarters slid open and in shuffled the indescribably horrible tarantula like alien. He screamed in terror, crawling into his room and under his crib, much too weak to walk.
The thing approached him, intentions far from benevolent. It scuttled across the unconscious form of Nurse Grace, leaving a trail of purple, reeking ooze in its wake.
The alien abruptly stopped 3 feet from the open door to Nicky Carter's nursery. For the first time, it was frightened.
"Oh no," the ethereal shadow spoke, eyes with red corneas boring into it. "You will not deprive me of my vengeance."
The image pointed to it with the blurry left orange sleeve, as the alien turned toward the door. " Cyycix flux ex infero," the nonphysical thing grinned.
The alien spontaneously combusted into a live bonfire, audibly shrieking in agony, as the door closed to Nicky Carter's room, locking him inside.
"A thousand millenia of glorious history." Dirk Kilpack mourned, telepathically. "Out of the fires of creation, we arrived, The Builders. Galaxies were sank upon our foundations. Weird, unintelligent life in remote carbonaceous nebulae cowared from our judgements.
"Oh how the mighty have fallen." He commented, in the now, twirling a fiber tipped marker on the conference table. Overall, he seemed cool, and unapproached by it all; as if it were the best of all possible outcomes.
Stu' Morrow scowled.
The rudiments of their language, from root, to stem, was a billion, trillion years removed from proto-indoeuropean, the eldest of the romance languages on Earth. The human cortex was not diverse enough, or adaptable enough to comprehend the simplest cognates. Learning to interlocute with humans was akin, for them, to learning how to grunt like Neanderthal, or Australopithecus.
"I must admit," Diana Morris reclined lazily on the steps as she defecated, "for primitives, I find them enticing to study. It is interesting how they are, relatively speaking, rather intelligent yet they are so ruled by their primal emotions. It is a wonder that this species has survived as long as they have."
She paused, as a razor sharp tentacle suctioned onto a Gorski trinket, a vase of blown glass. She hurled it across the room, narrowly missing Kilpack as it smashed into a thousand pieces when it landed on the floor.
"These creatures are much to fragile to have gotten this far. Just like....like whatever it was I just destroyed." A telepathic equivalent of a giggle escaped from Diana Morris.
"Moody today, aren't we?" The Kilpack simulacrum antagonized, leaning back in his chair, with an eye towards the shattered, Gorski rubble. "If I didn't know from personal experience how garralous, and vain you can be, I'd say you were beginning to have doubts about our brinkmanship." His rapier laugh hurt their minds. "Well, fear not, gorgeous. Your rationalizations will kick in. We're still the Lords Of The Universe. Just keep telling yourself that.
"Every principal we abuse; every garbage can we dine from--just remind yourself of our superiority, and you'll have a new view."
He threw his ink pen at Guido Verdeschi, who caught it. His hand closed around the barrel like the haft of a dagger.
"Moodiness be damned," Steve said, pushing his way through the open door of the conference room, "one would think we were defeated-and yet, we go on."
'He' ran a slender, multi-digited tendril across Diana's back lightly, pausing just *long* enough at the nape of 'her' 'neck' to elicit the desired response-her back arched slightly and she let out a slight gasp. He grinned evily at Kilpack who merely shook his head-though Stu Morrow's eyes narrowed, light reflecting off the many facets in a glittering pattern.
"Even we, when approached correctly and with the right emphasis," he said, "can be overruled by primal urges-but through our very superiority, have learned how to suborn them to our own purposes."
"You are overly confident and arrogant," the pseudo Guido Verdeschi eyed the bogus Kilpack. "You act as though we have been victorious. It is not over yet."
"Perhaps Diana was correct in that we needed further study before approaching these creatures. They are all vastly different and some are more resistent to control than others. Take my dear sister, for example," He smirked. "Two of us must be with her at all times. When one releases her, she begins to question the reality of the hallucination. Her mate is similar although we have tapped into his extreme desire for this illusion to be real."
Stevie dismissed this with a snort-and, with a last series of sensual touches from his tendrils to Diana's nape, stepped away from the female and around the table. "Mere involuntary reaction," he decided, "the mother's protectiveness of their young that you can find in any primitive creature. A mere tapping into my toy's desire destroyed every ounce of resistance that it might have had-a simple spacecraft occupied its mind and desires-so easy to control," he ruminated, more to himself than to any other.
"Then we have the child who cannot be deceived unless one of us is constantly in contact with him. We are fortunate he is too young to communicate with the others. Then we must consider the leader of this community, Koenig. He has been successful in evading our control." Psuedo Guido eyed Steve Harris.
"Mere happenstance," Steve uttered softly, dismissing the concern.
Guido Verdeschi's brow furrowed. "It is not over yet. Not, as they would say, by a long shot."
Stevie eased himself into a seat-it creaked beneath his mass, as did all the chairs. "So," he said softly, "our business here is nearly concluded-and we depart infinitely stronger than we came." He raised an eyebrow at a personal thought. "Have you changed your mind," Steve said to Kilpack, "about the keeping of pets? I've a desire to keep mine for a while-there is an inner reserve about it that I find refreshing-and it would help pass the time watching it perform its tricks-and it would make a wonderful snack during our travels."
"By all means," Kilpack said, diddling his fingers. "Do as you will. If you're as convinced of our providence as you seem to be, you will anyway. Don't let me stop you."
"That's enough." Dr. Shaw intervened, turning to the pilot who was not a pilot. "You know, it occurs to me that you're sliding back into the old behaviors again. The Builders could afford to be sanctimonious." He pointed out. "They were truly great. We on the other hand are all that remain of their hypocritical progeny. Our revered ancestors did not have to spend centuries in powerlessness, and squalor; endless conflicts, and rumors of conflict; fighting to survive daily on a mouthful of food."
"Ah," Steve rumbled, "but we have existed continuously long after the Builders ran their heads into the roadblock of evolution and forever removed themselves from the stellar library of races-thus proving our own superiority and flexibility above theirs."
Dr. Shaw ignored them. "Your notions of rectitude--your spirituality as a whole--is grossly antiquarian, and outdated, my friends. "In fin, your mouth is cashing checks your ass can't pay." Shaw concluded, borrowing a turn of speech.
Kilpack balked. He wished that he had another ink pen to wing at Guido Verdeschi, but he didn't.
"Really? I take it you consider this shameful debacle to be an act of quick wit, and bravery? And I do not appreciate you bringing my faith into this. I'm a religious leader no longer." He reminded them. "Now, I'm a soldier. Like the rest of you, I thought I was fighting a crusade for the preservation of our race. Fancy how, more, and more, I've come to feel like their Lady MacBeth--proclaiming my innocence, and all the while, I'm wiping the blood from my hands."
Guido Verdeschi laughed sardonically. "You are not listening. You may ruminate and philosophize as you wish but the fact remains there is a chance we may be defeated."
Diana Morris made the equivalent alien sound of seduction to Stevie, a gutteral, clicking sound as she moved next to him, completely ignoring Verdeschi.
Verdeschi ignored the scene. Stu Morrow gave Steve Harris a murderous look.
Steve and Diana both ignored the ersatz Morrow as, their tentacles intertwining into the ritualistic patterns of mating, Steve mounted Diana. Both disassociated their rational minds from their physical entertainment, preferring to maintain their attentions on the stimulating telepathic intercourse.
"What happened to the one sent to destroy the child? Did you not hear the screams?!?" Verdeschi was disgusted. "Burst into flames. How long can we conceal our physical weakness? You are all throwing caution to the wind."
Verdeschi, like the others, found the use of metaphores in communication quite interesting.
Stevie raised a thick, heavy brow that ran across his eyes in response to Verdeschi's use of the phrase, but said nothing. Idly, he wished that they had included members of the third gender of their race-the Breeders-something that would raise the fertilized ovum he and Diana were creating within her-he could well imagine their mixing of intelligences, her beauty, his confidence, all guaranteed by the careful genetic selection employed by the Breeder during the gestation of what would be the first of this next generation. He returned his focus to the conversation.
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," Kilpack smirked jocularly. "That does present a problem." He nodded. "If we're discovered, that will bring an abrupt ending to our little campaign, will it not?" He could have cared less. "Fear not, 'honest Guido.'" He mocked. From his tone, he could have just as easily said 'twisted Mussolini.' "We're nearing the final phase now. The carefully laid plans of mice, and monsters from outer space will come to fruition. We'll succeed, and you'll be showered with gardyloos on our indigent home world."
"As to the passing of our fearless, fearless comrade, who could find no worthier opponent than a helpless infant--I sensed it too."
"As did I." Dr. Shaw added, and paused a beat in the irradiant blue beams. "There's something else here. It's not human, yet it isn't one of us. I sensed it when we were on final approach, and the vibes are even stronger now. Last night I dreamt of a being, powerful enough to crack the core of the Moon in half, using only the power of its mind.
"We are quite out of time." He finished qualifiedly.
"And Monsters From Space," muttered Steve. "To me, at least, it would appear that you are beginning to sympathize far too much with these barely advanced primates-you refer to our advanced civilization as they might-and I, for one, question your own motives for doing so." He took a moment and reassociated with his physical body, checking the progression of the mating, then returned to the conversation. "I felt nothing-but I shall take your word for the fiery dissolution of Ulla'spos. It would appear that she assumed more responsibility than she was capable." He glanced at Stu Morrow, who virtually seethed in anger. "Do I offend," he questioned the other, "if so, I apologize-you may have your physical pleasure, too." Even while maintaining gentle hold upon Diana's nape, he dismounted the female, reproductive gel splattering across the floor in short, regular bursts. "With her permission, of course, feel free."
"The three on the lunar surface still have more work to do, however, and we are becoming weaker." Guido began to pace. "We will need to concentrate our energies on them, not only to ensure complete mental control but also to supplement their weakening physical bodies."
Another worried look crossed his face. "Who is monitoring Koenig?"
"Not necessary," Dianna Morris shrugged. "He has been sedated by his own people."
"!!!FOOLS!!!!!!!!!!!" Guido blurted, turning abruptly around. "He must be watched constantly. He presents our greatest threat!!"
"You greatly overestimate their intelligence," Steve stated flatly. "We have seen the simian-type of creature many times during our own history-and, without fail, they have never managed to advance beyond harnessing fire-this is a mere experiment gone horribly awry in their feeble attempts to control the universe around them." He settled back, massaging Diana's nape absently. "I say that none of the primates exhibits the slightest threat other than what an overeager, unemployed imagination would assign to them." He snorted. "When our business here is done, we simply remove them from the celestial gene pool. Cleanse it of the rubbish that would think itself greater than what it is." He leveled his gaze at Stu Morrow. "That means that we kill them," he explained, using small words.
Kilpack japed as Dr. Shaw, intuiting something, circled to the nearest vision port.
"There's a ship out there." He exclaimed, coldcocked, and in a voice rich with the Larne venacular that was characteristic of the man he was impersonating. "!!!IT'S TAKING OFF!!!"
Angelina Carter pulled the jeep back into the driveway with fearsome abandon. Night had begun to fall over the Land Of The Kangaroo. Balanced above her was a planetarium of a sky, precariously poised amidst a chill wind that called to her from the warlock peaks of the Heritage Range. From the stage over two kilometers away, a Heavy Metal band went into meltdown with the loudest, most sonorous, most stertorous, most unpoetic version of "One Of These Days" to ever reach the cult mass.
She was carrying her grocery bag, and fumbling for her keys when a dark shadow fell over her biscuits, and Black Rock Beer.
"Hello again." Captain Dirk Kilpack, stepping forward from underneath the bug mass murder bulb. His circumspect was nothing, if not art nouveau. "My, you certainly have become a domesticated little sheila, haven't you Ang'?"
A small gasp escaped her; she was completely surprised and caught off guard. While finding the correct key, she composed herself and turned toward Kilpack.
"Captain Kilpack. It is a surprise to see you again." Ang did not say it was a pleasure. It was not. She did not particularly care for Alan's nefarious ex-gunner. However, there was still something about him that seemed rather benign. The key found the lock and she turned it, opening the door, while juggling both grocery bags.
"Pardon me for sounding impolite but has it become socially acceptable to stalk women in their own front yards at dusk?" She was annoyed but not fearful. "Alan will be back with Nicky any time now."
For a split second the design on the mailbox resembled a modulating sine wave.
"You're trying to brush me off." Kilpack deduced, snapping his fingers to regain her attention. "Don't worry, I'm not offended. By the way, concerning your husband, and child, you're only 50% right." He peered into the paper OzeWorld supermarket bag, and whistled. "That's quite a meal you're cooking up, Ang.' I take it Carter likes his food hot? Very nice. I see you have all three of the food groups represented here:
"Uranium, Plutonium, Thorium; and for dessert, good old "yellowcake." A delicious, heaping helping of U2O3. The way to a man's heart truly is through his stomache."
The door to the minivan parked behind the jeep suddenly slammed shut.
"What the hell are you doing?!?" the imitation Guido Verdeschi glared at the fake Dirk KIlpack. 'Guido' wrapped an oozing tentacle loosely around Ang's wrist, pulling her away from Kilpack.
Of course, Ang heard him say "Kilpack. What a pleasant surprise. Come to visit the Carters in their new home?"
Angelina was surprised to see Guido. Behind him, opening the door to the Ford Windstar minivan and grabbing bags was his wife, who was perfectly coiffed, and his two daughters, whose dresses were pressed and stain free, behaving like perfect, non-squabbling children. Bliss.
"Guido!" she gushed, washed in a feeling of safety and security, although she wasn't sure why. "I thought you weren't coming until next week. Change of plans?" She eyed Kilpack cooly, glancing at the contents of her grocery bag: steaks, salad fixings, potatoes and of course, beer.
"Awwww," Kilpack blushed. "Guido." He said with gagging saccharine. Then, beneath the physical table, on the mental plane: 'So, the general has condescended to join his troops in the field. It's about time you showed up. I thought we agreed that this has become a hands-on mission.'
"Someone has to keep an eye on that Alan Carter." He said, jocund, using his vocal cords this time. But beneath the smoke screen: 'Someone has to, or shall we sit in the conference room where it's safe, and watch the whole thing collapse?'
"You're going to completely fuck this all up, aren't you?" Guido monster spat at the Kilpack monster. "You are suppose to stay with Captain Carter. What are you doing here?!?!"
Angelina saw her 'brother' smile at her as he took her hand. "Well, Maria and the girls were anxious to see you and Alan and of course little Nicky." He sounded corny. "You know I can't deny my 'girls' anything. I hope it's not inconvenient. If it is, we can stay in a hotel in town."
Guido released Ang and wrapped the tentacle around Kilpack's 'neck'. "I've had just about enough from you, my demented, bipolar friend. Make a nice, polite exit and stay with Carter. Understand?"
Angelina blinked. The words began to materialize over the oval detailed glass of her front door. 'Danger. Nuclear Disposal Area 3. Main Core Substation. AUTHORIZED PERSONEL ONLY.'
Her head was suddenly pounding. She felt disoriented. For a moment she swore she was no longer in T-shirt, shorts and Princess style Reeboks; for a moment she felt like she was in an EVA suit, listening to the imperceptible whirling of the oxygen exchange unit.
Kilpack rolled his tongue against his jaw, and considered the tentacle that was wrapped around his neck. He smiled, and took a vexed bite out of Guido Verdeschi. The other alien let out an inflamed mewwwwwwwww'ing sound, and retreated. 'Don't fuck with me.' The unpilot told him.
"Don't fuck with me." He said again, loud, and proud, before God, and everyone, casting Verdeschi's hand aside; traducing him before a woman who was not his sister, and his cable-ready family. The denunciation returned Ang' to her regularly scheduled programming: Life Down Under, a kid, a honey-do, Saturday night bars, 2.5 cars, and a white picket fence. Bliss, a la Martha Stewart. He seemed on the verge of discharging--a mushroom cloud of rage rising into the solarized evening. Then he exhaled his radioactive ash, and was calm again.
"Sorry," He apologized insincerely. "Ang,' be sure to hug a vet.' Each day, they ask themselves if you were worth a case of PTSD." He explained, and then, straightening the other alien's jacket collar. "Conge, 'Guido.' It's been a pleasure. We really must do this again some time."
He dematerialized into the darkness of the Carter's dooryard.
"He's wierd," Angelina concluded to her 'brother' after Kilpack disappeared. "Do you think he got that way because of the war or was he always an asshole?" She mused, not really expecting an answer.
Guido Verdeschi's 'daughters' zoomed by her through the open door.
"You know," Ang continued, "Alan said we should not be surprised if we suffer occasional hallucinations due to post traumatic stress syndrome." She looked around, squinting, studying her surroundings.
She laughed. "Just now, I could have sworn I was on the moon, out on the lunar surface and about to enter the main core substation of nuclear waste disposal area 3. Well, that one hell of a hallucination! It seemed so real! Crazy, huh?"
"You bet." Guido Verdeschi said absently, studying the shadows beyond the porch rail. "Let's go inside."
With that, Guido Verdeschi led her inside. The outer airlock doors slid silently shut.
The entry alarm lit up the data analyst console in Main Mission. It went unheeded.
Getting past Pierce Quinton's patrolmen and harness bulls was no easy task. As Koenig arrived at the embarkation area of Launch Pad 3, Petrov lasered Pierre Danielle, who was about to alert Morrow in Main Mission and Koenig took down Patrolman Tony Allen. Amazingly, Koenig's command access to computer had not been cancelled. William Gregory Harms III turned as Koenig entered the command module of standby Eagle 10 and was about to alert Main Mission when he was judo chopped to the neck, rendering him unconscious.
Petrov dragged Harms into the passenger module and handcuffed him to his seat, as the boarding tube retracted from Eagle 10. As Petrov returned and took the co-pilots chair, Koenig had skipped the preflight checks and fired the thrusters.
"Suggestions for a plan of action?" Koenig asked the former colonel for advice as he grabbed the flight yokes.
"Our situation as obviously changed." The colonel said bluntly, surveying the passenger module. Harms' ostrich neck was craned radically back over the seat. Seconds later, he heard loud, industrious snoring. Bullwinkle, The Narcoleptic Moose, who counted ablated neurons instead of sheep before nodding off to dream land. "It's unwise for us to separate, however there may be an advantage to doing so." He indicated, adjusting the tint on the forward navigational console. Beyond the angled vision ports, there was only space, and nothing, but space. Cold limbo. An empty sheet of black poster board sans intelligent muse. "It would be difficult, but not impossible, for one person to subdue the Carters, and Ehrlich. At this stage, they are surely 'bardak.' Tubercular zombies who have only thier addictive fantasies to keep them going. With a little luck, and a strident hand, they could be immobilized fairly quickly, I should think." He paused, scratching his head, and gazing at his own reflection in the tile molding that lined the cockpit. "Yes, it could work." He conjectured. "On the other hand, the facility may be filled with undesirables of the alien sort.
"That would complicate things again."
In the passenger module, Harms whinnied like a great mouthed horse.
"If that were the case--what I would deem The Solo Theory would be a design for suicide. Whoever goes will probably be caught, and killed. However, before biting the tile, the neutralized accomplice could find solace in the fact that the station is still covered at high altitude. Whoever remains can atomize the station from orbit.
"You should be the one to remain in the Eagle. Since I have experience working in covert operations, I'm the most qualified candidate to infiltrate the facility, and begin the ground assault."
The port thrusters expelled gas, and crystalline propellant as the 45 degree turn was executed. A pulsating, blue Hygeia was visible over the Birkhoff Highlands. Eagle 10 coursed through the fall out, a sea of uncontained gamma particles; all that remained of Nuclear Disposal Area Two.
That, and a rift that would make the Grand Canyon look like a chuck hole.
"One problem," Koenig objected as he read data from the onboard computer. He had honed the sensors to picking up the comlock signals of the trio on the lunar surface.
"Joe Erhlich and Alan Carter are in the warehouse. No doubt they are gathering the materials, including the trigger to activate the core. Angelina Carter is in the Main Core Substation, probably prepping the core for receipt of the trigger." Koenig scratched his chin.
"If we can stop Joe and Alan, Ang can't do anything without the trigger. The trigger's not light either. It would normally require two men to lift it. Perhaps we should go to the warehouse first."
The area of NWDA3 was coming into view beyond the horizon.
"I see. Then we are committed to the worse of two evils." Petrov elicited, watching the automatic power-down of all non-essential systems. An invisible thumb, and forefinger moved from module, to module, snuffing out the lights. As the flood lights decimaled the netherworld below, he caught a glimpse of Weather Station Alley. Three, four story, oblongs--Chinese, Canadian, and--not to be bumrapped--Russian, drifted past the undercarriage like eidolons. Thier unused parabolic dish antennaes pointed ignorantly into the deepmouthed vacuum. The facilities were never used, even when the Moon was still orbiting Earth. One ambassador, or all had croaked, and bitched about the units' proximity to the nuclear waste dump. The Moon became a homeless entity before a practical solution could be found. All told, the construction of the buildings was a calamitous waste of time, and boodle. The colonel hoped that their appearance wasn't a subliminal jab concerning their present mission. "I agree concerning the warehouse." Petrov obliged. "I recommend however that we remain together at all times. I mean, within only a few feet of each other. There truly is strength in numbers, and...."
And he went on talking, but John Koenig was unpelfed, and insouciant of the colonel's expert vouchsafeing. Likewise, he had no sense of being in Eagle 10, nor of Harms' fortissimo snoring. While gazing into the terminal cloud of decay from area two, the dropladder opened, and he descended, hand, over hand, one level below. As the landing pads gravitated towards the rocks, and pumice, he found himself removed from physical truisms. The laws of physics, broken by a repeating felon. At the end of the maelstrom, he saw (HE SAW) the ring of icebergs, surrounding the jovian blackstar like carnival mirrors. He saw the indifferent doppleganger with the red ascott, clanging the bow of his strativarious against the thin soundpost, attacking him with wave, after wave of liquid tartini. He saw dendretic streams, translated into Egyptian Rivers Of Blood. He saw the Moon, turned to fiery orange wormwood in an ancient sky. He heard the lullabye of the winter nymphs. He saw (HE SAW)...
.....the dead man's finer part.
Shining with each faithful heart.
Of those bereft. Then said I:
"Thus must be his immortality." Koenig said spellbound, and then recoiled violently. He gazed at Petrov with the appalled, embarrassed look of a student who has walked to class in his sleep, and while wearing only his birthday suit.
"Commander, are you feeling quite well?" Petrov bobbled. He never smiled, but the exponential blandness said it all.
Koenig blinked and nodded. "Yeah." He grabbed a few more black beauties and took a swig of water. Nuff said. In Petrov's mind the reason for the Commanders zoned out state was obvious: lingering physical side effects from the earlier forced sedation.
John Koenig, though totally not convinced, also rationalized his strange vision as the work of a tired mind. Eagle 10 hovered in front of the warehouse and landed between domes #2 and #3. Through the right viewport, he saw Carter and Erhlich robotically loading a moonbuggy with al the ingredients of the cocktail to start the chain reaction in the core that would blow up NWDA #3.
"There they are," Koenig pointed as he passed a helmet to Petrov. "And there's the trigger."
Joe Erhlich really didn't mind when he saw the parking lot of the Salem, NH Home Depot overflowing capacity despite the fact that it was only 8 am. Afterall, it was a Saturday morning and it was time for all the honey-dos to get going on their various home improvement projects. Erhlich had the plans for his 4 week old daughter's monstrosity of a swing set/jungle gym in front of him but first he would need a few power tools. He was inspecting a 12Volt rechargeable DeWatt Power drill when he looked up and saw a familiar face.
"Hey, I suppose I'm not surprised to see you here," the nuclear physicist greeted Captain Alan Carter. The fact that Carter was in Salem, NH, USA and should have been half way around the world in Sydney, Australia was completely lost on him. "What kind of project is Ang having you do today?"
"I don't believe it." The retired pilot brimmed, extending his hand. "If this ain't the ant's pants."
When he looped into the Chapel Street parking lot of the Marquette Tool Shoppe, he had no bloody idea he would find such a familiar face. News of the returning fleet was days old, so his surprise was probably an inappropriate reaction. Carter found it warm, and humbling that the physicist would make an exclusive trip across the Pacific, hundreds of miles starboard, below the Equator, mind you, just to visit him, which was surely the case. Recalling the last time he took a crampt, suffocating, and disobliging trip on Aussie Airlines, he hoped that Ehrlich had at least flown coach.
"I came to pick up some Sackrete." He explained. "The cook is tired of standing over a hot stove. I thought I'd try my hand at building an outdoor barbeque."
Barbeque, yes. Considering his present situation, no one would ever question his, or Angs' afreet talents, their ability to heat things up, to torch things to a crisp.
Standing on the steps behind Ehrlich, a pair of ugly, offensive maladroits exited through the motion sensitive doors. The oldest one looked all of fifty-five. His sympathy for humankind, and his commitment to graceful aging was evident, as he wore no shirt. His cohort wore a shirt, but had uncombed hair down to his lardaceous ass. The sapless characatures of Beevis & Butthead rose indignantly from his vile, pornographic beer gut. Carter grimaced with putrid eschew, and turned to face Ehrlich again.
"So, how have you been."
"Not bad, not bad at all," he replied amicably, returning the shake with a friendly slap to the arm.
Joe Erhlich made a sidewise glance at the two figures approaching him from the plumbing section. One was dressed as that ridiculously and laughably insane father, Mentor, from the 'innovative' movie 'The Transmorph.' Joe was a little embarrassed when he made his last paid appearance at a Breakaway Memorial Society Convention because he thought the movie was a comedy and he laughed his way through it. Problem was, it was not suppose to be a comedy, but a serious science fiction thriller. Oh well, his bad. Joe was accustomed to the price of fame, since his face was plastered on the back of his New York Times best seller September 13, 1999.
Joe was usually accosted by fans dressed up as Alphans or aliens in his book. Today, the unreal "Mentor" was accompanied with a "security guard" in a badly fitting imitation uniform.
"Here," Joe volunteered. "Let me give you a hand with those sacks of concrete. I'd say you are going to need at least 6 or 7 bags."
"I want that trigger." Bevis, or Butthead fleered, and pointed compulsively at Carter's dinger. An elderly lady with an aluminum walker tottered away one debilitated step at a time, sickened. On the opposite side of the hot top, a Holden VT Pursuit Car pulled up to the wrought iron fence. One of Sydney's finest, exited the driver's side, and leaning casually against the hood, discerned the usual suspects. His palm rested at the end of his garrison belt. The stock of his Beretta 22LR protruded from its holster like an impatient cobra.
"Will it blow." His bare chested buddy exclaimed, licking his chops with erotic famine.
"What the hell kind of weirdo' boozers do we have here?" Carter wondered aloud, annoyed, and dropping his Sackrete into the rear of the dune buggy.
"Sorry, I don't drink." Dirk Kilpack said, suddenly appearing by Ehrlich's side. "True, I have oft been accused of being weird, though. Most recently by your wife, brother."
"You," Carter said grudgingly, and heaved another 100lb sack into the plastic covered rear. "I was wondering when you would show up 'brother.' I heard about that little freak show you put on the other night. I don't appreciate you starting fights on my goddamn front porch. Ang' was really unnerved by that.
"I ought to kick your ass."
"Hey, what are friends for." Kilpack said fatuously. "Anyway, now that I've finally located you, can I buy you two gentlemen a drink."
"No." Carter said, finishing. "I'm late already. The wife will have a fit."
Kilpack nodded appreciably, and looked away. Across the harbor, seagulls swooped, and dived over the spires of the opera house.
"Another time then." Kilpack proposed, and walked away. His cunning hands hidden from sight in the pockets of his Levis.
"He's not even listening to us." Bevis, or Butthead taunted with grinning, wholesale abasement.
Carter ignored him.
"Joe, tell you what. How about dinner. I know Ang' would love to see you."
"That would be great," Joe was about to activate his cell phone to tell his wife to meet them at The Outback Steakhouse in Methuen when 'Mentor' was suddenly in front of him.
"JOE!!! JOE!!!! Stop!!! You don't know what your doing." Crazed Mentor yelled in his face. "You're about to blow up the nuclear waste domes!!!"
At that moment, Joe Erhlich decided he had enough of the Breakaway Memorial Society Online fan movement. He was set for life, financially. He didn't need to put up with the silliness. He clobbered 'Mentor" with a right and watched him fly to the ground.
"That felt good," Joe Erhlich commented to Carter. "You know I've been wanting to do that for...."
His sentence went uncompleted as the 'security guard' in the badly fitting uniform accosted him. This guy was stronger and 'Mentor' had rejoined the melee. After a few more well placed slugs, Erlich fell to his knees, exhausted. The air compressor beside him kicked on, leaking air through the hose.
Only the 'hissing' sound was not from an air compressor; his air supply pack of the EVA suit had suffered a breach. The interior of the hardware store faded to black and was replaced with a view of the lunar surface and the exterior wall of Warehouse A.
"I....uh...."Erhlich gasped, scanning the two figures in EVA suits who were quickly approaching him. As he blacked out, he saw that Carter was also no longer on Earth but in an EVA suit, next to his dune buggy; which was, in reality, a moonbuggy.
Far away from Svengali, Copperfield, Penn & Teller--the end of delusion. All fake.
"!!!HIT HIS TANK WITH SOME SEALPLAST!!!" John Koenig's voice boomed through Petrov's helmut microphone. On the surface of the Moon, Joe Ehrlich's bones united with the forlorn sands. His gloved hands expanded, and relaxed, succumbed to oxygen narcosis. On the second story of the warehouse, a light came on in one of the vision ports. The commander turned, and gazed upwards.
"That won't work." The colonel informed him. "We have to get him back to the Eagle. Quickly. Quickly."
Alan Carter was nowhere to be seen.
Angelina Carter sat back in the leather executive chair at her PC, chatting online with a cyberfriend she made in the United States.
She was feeling a little guilty. She sent Alan out for concrete to build the barbeque while she played with Nicky on the beach. Now that Nicky was down for a nap, Ang took the opportunity to relax by going online. She was quite surprised that the connection speed was still so slow. Surely, in 5 years, there would have been improvements and the net would have become even faster. She really should be doing some housework. She never thought she could get into the stay-at-home mom thing but she was finding that she quite enjoyed it. Of course, even the tedious chore of matching socks was infinitely preferable to living on the wandering moon.
She gazed out over the pristine water then continued to type a response as her new cyber friend complained about the excess heat and humidity they were having in the Washington DC...oh well.
Angelina stood up and went to the stereo, adjusting the equalizers and volume.
"Hey little sister, what have you done?" Billy Idol blurted from the headphones. "Hey little sister, shotgun! It's a nice day for a ...white wedding."
She felt a wave of nausea and she was suddenly a bit dizzy. For a second, her stereo resembled the monitors and consoles of the Main Substation of NWDA#3. Angelina shook her head: perhaps it was time to see a shrink and try to deal with this thing called post traumatic stress syndrome.
Angelina Carter blankly watched the monitor. The modulating sine wave suddenly stabilized and the word "nominal" appeared in its place. She robotically typed in a code and a panel slid open, revealing a knob with the word "DANGER" above and in smaller font "Core Shield Control" below. She lowly turned the knob to the "open" position...
In Main Mission Control, everything was peachy keen. Paul Morrow stood at his workstation, initiating a ten page revamping for stage three of Operation Exodus. He had an unsatisfied, lachrmyose look about his "No Where Man," John Lennon-looking, sourpuss personage. So, what else was new. Sandra Benes sat faithfully nearby, sipping coffee from a cup she was holding with both hands, while behind her, Ben Ouma gripped the main beam support with one hand, while resetting the Lunar Clock with the other. A man with too much time on his hands. Get it?
One story up, in the celestrium, Sloven entertained unbiblical, lawbreaking, miscreant thoughts. He woke up at his usual time today, 5:30 AM. It was now 3:45 PM on the Moon, and he had done no work at all, as was relevant to personal sacrifice. He'd already decided that if push came to shove, he could kill Guido Verdeschi, and Dr. Shaw, and Dirk Kilpack, and Flavor Saver's brother. He could pirate the Infinity Albatross by force, or trick, and return to Earth, a fortunate hermit who had prevailed while some terrible Temblor Of God raked in the souls of his colleagues. The specifics of this Nebula winning piece of Wylie-Balmer fiction still weren't clear to him, but his intent was. It was all about attitude; mind over matter; and not pounding your meat, less you lose your seat.
Once Verdeschi was gone, Dirk Kilpack changed the channel on the big screen. For the past seventeen hours, all they had been looking at was static, anyway.
"When shall we three meet again?" The B&W hag said, stirring her gruel. "In thunder, lightning, or rain?"
"When the hurlyburly's done, when the battle's lost, and won." Her nasty, nasty sistren replied. On Moonbase Alpha, Dirk Kilpack was never displeased with the prime time television. Being a conqueror had it's advantages. Just ask the orgasmic Steve Harris. Today's classic film offering was the Orson Welles/ Mercury Theater adaptation of "MacBeth."
"Fair is foul, and foul is fair." He harmonized with the witches. He greeted the Master Alarm on Morrow's console with annoyance, and disdain.
"What is that?" The controller said, probing deeper. He was infintessimal seconds away from detecting the Eagle's launch when Kilpack clouded his ratiocination, made him to feel stupid. After all, there was nothing there. No proximity warnings, no scanner, or sensor data. Just space, and emptiness, and space, and despondent plateaus, and space, and unseen columny, and space....
"Speak if you can," Welles intruded into their lair as the ill-fated Scot. "What are you?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." Kilpack remarked, and changed channels.
It began without ours de' hourves:
Dr. Dorothy Sullivan wedged herself along the narrow air vent leading to Pierce Quinton's office. When she arrived at the grate, she hesitated and held her breath. Truman Starns and Pierce Quinton were having a rather heated discussion. Dot pounded on the grate in one swift motion, dislodging one side. By the time Truman came over, she had dismantled it completely. She pulled herself out and allowed Truman to help her to her feet. The detective asked her to wait outside, and waited until the door closed to exhale. Chief Quinton did not react at all to the fact that she had entered the room via an air vent.
"!!!Where's that Eagle flying off to!!!" The chief of security said with plastique, and a flame thrower rage which he turned on the office's only transparency. Yesterday morning, life was a tune by Joan Baez, all daisies, and picaresque sunsets, courtesy of the rescue team. Then Truman Starns--whose duties on the base in the AB of the exploding waste dumps, involved less, and less criminal detection; cold, but essentially true, he was more like a second appendix that consumed valuable oxygen without giving back--galloped in, and opened his discoursive mouth on the subject. The second best day of his life was thus reformatted into another kind of painting--"The Cry" by Edvard Munch, where all-consumptive tonsils pour out thier pitiless grief. "Morrow is going to here about it."
He was moving towards the commstation when he happened to notice Starns' laser pointing in his face.
"No you won't." He smiled, but Quenton didn't. "Surprised? I thought you would be. So tell me, Pierce. How long has it been since you took that plunge from the turnip truck?"
"What the hell are you talking about?" The chief retreated in horror.
Starns began moving forward. His shadow falling across the opposite wall like a harbinger.
"What I mean," The detective explained. "Is that your handling of this entire affair has been, well, shall we say just to the left of 'incompetent.'" He laughed with terrible glee. "No, really, 'incompetent' is the only word for describing it. You were central to having John Koenig relieved of his command. Discredited, and filed away in the nut folder. Yes? Then there's this matter of letting Verdeschi, and his people have the run of the base--particularly in areas like the command tower, and tactical operations.
"You aren't denying it are you?" Starns paused to smell the odorless, rubber tree plant on Quenton's desk. The security chief was inescapably, claustrophobically cornered.
"!!!I'M THE GODDAMN CHIEF OF SECURITY!!!" The older man postured angrily.
The detective shook his head, depressing the safety.
"You were the chief of security." He amended, and shot him.
"I'm done." He told Dot Sullivan outside. "He's not listening. We're on our own." Dot peered past him at Quinton's slumped form. She could smell the ozone from the discharged laser. "I see that," she nodded then continued.
"We came up with a plan on how we can break the control of the aliens on us. Livy has the device that mimics the VBEC and she is going to Main Mission. I need to get Nicky Carter and take him to the most remote section of the base since this could harm him. No doubt, though, I'm going to need a weapon." She was sweating profusely as she brushed a strand of red hair from her face.
Starns passed her a Type II laser and they moved quickly to the Carter quarters.
"The door's locked," Dot stated as the wall panel chirped in protest. Starns overrode the lock control and the door slid open.
"Oh my God..." Dr. Sullivan whispered in horror.
The stench of the toasted, whatever it was, made her gag. There was no illusion. It was an alien that had been burned in a bonfire. Beside the heap of charred mass, lay the body of Nurse Grace, killed by the fumes of the combusted creature.
"I'm still getting his life readings," Sullivan sighed with relief. Her comlock chirped louder as she pointed toward the nursery door. "I think he's in there."
The lock on his door was jammed and did not respond to Starn's comlock. Her fired the laser and forced it open. Dr. Sullivan raced past him as soon as he made an opening big enough for her.
"It's going to be alright, baby," she soothed as she bent down and retrieved Nicky Carter from under his crib. The child was barely conscious, cold and wet. Starns motioned her to go immediately but she balked, laying him on the changing table. In two minutes she checked him over, changed him and wrapped the shivering toddler in a blanket. On the way out the door, she grabbed a full bottle from the refrigerator.
"OK. Let's go."
"You go on ahead." The voice behind her said, rankling at the sight of the blackened, and burned quantity which lay in a contracted heap on the floor. Starns was nowhere to be seen. Somewhere along the way, Ed Malcom became her confrere. Behind him was a coveted piece in Alan Carter's collection, a Wasters Lundegaard Armoury battle shield. It hung slightly askew, from the recent struggles of one who didn't like the heat, and tried to get out of the kitchen. It seemed an oxymoron, seeing as how it served as the backdrop for Deadhead Ed's righteous gesture. "I have something to take care of."
He spoke as one who had a thought, and the turnabout to common sense, and brains surprised, and amazed Dot Sullivan. If Ed Malcom defied adequate intelligence--which he surely did--then the person in the room with her behaved almost like a twin brother, one who was hatched in a diverging reproduction, with a differing roll of the tetrads, and the spark to know when he was holding his glutes with both hands.
Shocking, to see him in control like that.
One minute, and 33 seconds after Truman Starns fled to the travel tube with Dot Sullivan, Truman Starns entered security section with a pair of Petrov-loyal Harness Bulls. To the neutral observer, it would have seemed an awful belch in the syncopations of space.
"Stunned." The detective said, examing the chief's dialated pupils. Harness Bull Coldaryn stood at the hatch with his rocket laser drawn, while Harness Bull Duncan combed the room for evidence. The office was immaculate, except for the rubbertree plant that fell to the floor when Quenton was subsumed. "Doesn't look like he put up much of a fight. Bad time to get sloppy." He observed, removing his commlock from his belt.
Dorothy Sullivan did not have time to reflect over the odd behavior of a seemingly improved Ed Malcom or the sudden disappearance of Truman Starns. She decided to head to Launch Pad area 4, and hoped that would be a remote enough area of the base.
Blocking the travel tube were two of Pierce Quinon's patrolmen along with one of the crew of the Infinity Albatross. Dot was not the best marksman, worse when she was carrying a 25 pound one year old. She decided she would have only one shot. From behind the compost, she stepped out and fired at the 'guest' from the Infinity Albatross. What she saw next caused absolutely no doubt about following the right path.
The Infinity Albatross crewman shireked and instantly transformed into its original form. Dot backed away at the sight of the alien, now a steaming, oozing, shriveling disgusting heap. Razor tentacles futily attempted to reach out toward her, twitching postmortum.
Patrolmen Tony Allen and Trevor Carson stood agape then Carson drew his weapon and fired at it again.
"I think one shot was enough," Sullivan stated nonchalantly.
"What the fuck was THAT?!?" Tony Allen blurted.
"Our visitors from Earth," Dot responded and began to scan them. Trevor Carson appeared to be physically stronger of the two patrolmen. "They have been affecting our minds," she explained. "Look, I don't have time for more details. Trevor, go to the security office and meet Truman. He will need your help. Tony, I need to get this little guy as far from Main Mission as possible. I need you to help me."
Without a word, Carson turned and headed toward the Chief of Security's office. Sullivan and Allen stepped into the travel tube. Allen was in a daze.
"When we arrive, I want you to drink as much water as you can stand. You are terribly dehydrated."
Nicky Carter, dry and relatively warm for the first time in hours, took an interest in nourishment and was gulping the bottle of formula when Sullivan's comlock chirped.
"Detective Starns?" she answered. "I think it is going to be a cinch to kill these things. I just stunned one and ended up killing it. Truman," she swallowed hard, "when I fired on it, it changed into its true form before dying. Think of the worst horror movie 'monster' you have ever seen and multiply it by 1000."
"Trevor Carson is coming to help you; make sure he gets water when he gets there. Tony Allen is with me. We are going to Launch Area 4 with the baby."
He Roger'ed, but Ed Malcom took the plunge, and was light years ahead of them all.
Olivia, through sheer force of will, towed the heavy case on its dolly behind her halfway across Alpha and into Main Mission.
As she pushed herself to the limits of her already strained endurance, she found herself both strengthened and sickened by the sight of Alpha's operational hub: Paul Morrow was the last man truly standing, swaying unsteadily forth and back. Sandra lay sprawled naked across her console, jagged wounds reminiscent of Livy's own scarred her body. Victor Bergman lay limply doll-like, propped up in one corner, his eyes glazed over and a faint trail of drool lining its track down his chin. In front of the main monitor hung someone-perhaps Ben Ouma-a bound mummy within a cocoon of an organic material-only a small slit provided the man inside air.
Everyone stood or sat in their own body wastes-fecal matter, urine, vomit-littered the floors and consoles; the panels that hid and protected the vital memory storage and subprocessors that maintained Alpha had been removed and strewn about; a heavy, viscous slime slowly solidified across the components.
Clutching the deadman switch with her left hand, she squeezed the small trigger-removing the safety-and pressing and holding it down with her thumb-arming the device, Livy raised the stungun she carried in her right hand and fired a single shot into the ceiling.
As the Main Mission staff began to stir as though rising from the dead, Livy called, "Now that I have your attention," and pressed the barrel of the weapon against her temple. For a moment, her voice caught in her throat as she saw-truly saw-the beings that had invaded Alpha, and then she found her voice and courage, "Now, nobody move, let me introduce to you my little friends."
She held up her left hand, a death grip on the little electronic device. "This is Mr. Deadman Switch," she said, then, gesturing back towards the case on its dolly with the same hand, the muzzle of the stungun not straying from its point of aim against her head, continued, "And this is Mr. One-Kiloton Nuclear Device." With a grin of the truly desperate, she said, waving the deadman switch around, "If, for any reason, I should let go of this little doodad here, well, the bomb goes off."
Olivia glanced around Main Mission knowing, feeling the last of her own energy drain away, the amphetamine rush of the drugs no longer helping. "Oh-" she said gaily to the monsterous creatures that stood at the entrance of the conference room, "did I mention that I put a second device-also tied into this switch-on your little ship?"
She grinned maniacally as the Eagle lifted off outside the viewports of Main Mission. "In case you're wondering," she said, "my little threat to buy time for the Commander is quite real-and I promise, you *WILL* not like the results." She grinned again, her vision beginning to tunnel out.
Lisa Boloni chewed her wad of gum, like a cow chewing its cud, as she sat in the Recreation Center of Moonbase Alpha. Lisa worked in the Services section as a hair stylist. She liked to proclaim that her favorite decade was the 1980's and she pronounced it loud and clear with her "big hair", her vampire length nails and her heavy make up, along with her tendency to tie rags in her hair and wear a multitude of rubber bracelets with her long dangling earrings. She idolized the singer Madonna from the mid 80's, though at 30 pounds overweight stuffed in a uniform that was two sizes too smaller, she hardly looked like famous singer from the decade which gave birth to MTV.
Lisa's looks were the least of her offensiveness. Lisa was from Long Island, NY and she fit the unfortunate sterotype of a Long Island New Yorker of the lower social classes; loud mouth, overly blunt, horrendously rude and arrogant. She would never, ever neglect to 'tell you like it is' no matter how tacky and how much it might hurt ones feelings.
Lisa Boloni was a "friend" of Joan Conway, who thought that Lisa was all wonderful, marvelous and right, despite constant and recurrent insults. Angelina Carter never understood Joan's affinity to the woman and in fact, viewed it as some bizarre form of self-abuse, to be so enamoured with her.
Joan Conway sat across from Lisa, watching her with admiration as she monopolized the conversation with Barnard Gallant, one of the crewmen of the Infinity Albatross, and also Joan Conway's boyfriend prior to Breakaway.
"You know, Barny," she continued, chomping her gum (he hated to be called 'Barny', but Lisa did not care)," when we get back, you really need to get to work on that kitchen. Joanie, your kitchen really sucks. The cabinets are right out of 1975," she paused, snapping her gum," and that tile on the floor....eck!!! It really is something out of my grandmother's house. Speaking of old, what about those appliances."
"Oh, LIIIIIISA! You're so funny," Joan gushed with bravado and admiration.
"Barny, can't you afford to upgrade that kitchen? I mean, really, you go out and spend a bundle on motorcycles and you can't help buy Joanie a stove that's not a Brady Bunch built in??!" She turned to Joan. "I bet he didn't fix the cement on your patio either while you were gone."
On and on and on....Without class and tact, she moved on to the state of the bathrooms in Joan Conway's lakeside summer cottage.
Barnard Gallant, the alien, initially thought Lisa Boloni would provide a nice snack and had planned to cocoon her for the long journey ahead. He changed his mind. No sense snacking on stale 'bologna'; he did not wish to purposely make himself ill.
Livy spun as the first of the monstrous figures took a step towards her. Pressing the laser barrel further into her temple, she again ordered-weaving on her feet from fatigue and blood loss, "Don't fucking move!"
Paul Morrow, his face blank and his eyes glazed, brought his weapon up and aimed it professionally at the tiny Engineer, who merely glowered back at him, "Yeah, right," she said, "go ahead, shoot-and we all go."
A long moment past, then the alien being that had made Livy believe it to be Steve Harris took another step forward.
"Right," she said, "That's it. Don't say you weren't warned."
DeHavilland pressed the firing stud of the laser-a corona of energy momentarily flared around her head and she fell, hard, to the floor, the weapon and the small deadman switch dropping from limp hands.
The Steve Harris simulacrum prodded at the cylindrical device that rolled to his feet. "Primates still trying in futility to harness fire," he said absently-then, to Stu Morrow, "And have your brother put his toy away-why did you let it keep that toy?"
Stu Morrow glared back. "I have had enough of you," he growled, deep in his throat, the additional range of his vocal cords speech giving a subharmonic resonance that amplified the underlying current of anger and hatred he felt towards the other. With a mental nudge, Paul's weapon swung itself around, aimed at Steve. "You sanctimonious. . ."
The shipping crate on the wheeled dolly gave an audible whine-then the gravity generators cut out.
There was a moment of silence as everyone-aliens and Alphans alike-attempted to compensate for the sudden shift to 1/6th gravity. "I don't like this," Diana exclaimed, her tentacles lashing about and attaching themselves to Steve.
Then the gravity generators realigned.
The commsystem let an ear-splitting wail as the generators began broadcasting on the same microwave/gravitic wavelength as the VBEC.
Paul's thumb involuntarily spasmed, depressing the firing stud of his laser-which, as per the last instruction broadcast to him by his 'brother', was set to 'Kill'. His muscles locked up, the beam continued to play across Steve, a fact that would have brought incredible satisfaction to Stu Morrow-had not the being been writhing, as were all his kin, on the floor in pain as the VBEC-generated magnetic radiation interrupted the mental communications of the Mind. Amplified beyond comprehension by the same level of mental agility and ability, the invaders were-for the present-reduced to slavering, quivering mounds of spasming flesh, unable to even support their own weight upon uncontrolled, wildly writhing tentacles.
An eternity measured in minutes passed.
As Steve Harris collapsed beneath the life-ending flare of the laser, the beam continued its logical progression, lancing through the open space vacated by the dying form and striking Diana, removing her consciousness from the telepathic link and, as well, the realm of physical existence.
Computer, preprogrammed, cut the signal, realigning the gravity generators back to their original form and function, reinitiated gravity to Earth-rather, Alpha-standard.
Paul stood shakily, the laser held limply in his hand as he took in the horror that was Main Mission. Despite the migraine that pounded against the limited confines of his skull, he reraised the laser even as he began to bark out, his voice rough and raspy from dehydration and the fetid stench. "Put me on intercom," he ordered the partially awake Alibe. He depressed the firing stud again, this time at the still writhing form that had impersonated Dr. Shaw. Maintaining the stream of energy that flared forth, he slowly made his way to where Sandra, naked and barely alive, lay sprawled across her console.
"Sandra," he said softly, releasing the trigger and easing her back and into the feces-ridden seat with a gentle hand on her arm. "I need you to do this-Alpha needs you to do this-I want all department heads to get one-hundred percent accountability on all their personnel-weapons are to be issued, and a security cordon set around the accessways to that ship." He looked down at her, his face hard, and she looked back up at him blankly, her eyes clear.
Alibe, from across Main Mission, whispered, "Intercom on."
"Attention, Alpha," he rasped, scanning for more targets, his old reactions resurfacing, "Condition Red is initiated-all personnel are instructed to kill on sight any non-Alphan identified as such. Supervisors will detail teams of no fewer than four personnel to secure their areas-Security Chief will bring a detachment to Main Mission. Now." He made a chopping gesture, a knife-hand across his throat, indicating the end of transmission.
There were no more targets. Slowly, he made his way to where the body of Olivia deHavilland lay-he knelt beside the tiny form, weapon at the ready, and careful to avoid the burn mark at her temple where singed hair still smoldered, placed his hand on her carotid artery, checking for life. Vaguely, he could remember through the haze that the invaders had wrought across his-and all of Alpha's-mind, what she had done, the risk she had taken.
Standing, he looked to where Victor Bergman struggled to stand. "Victor," he commanded, "notify all sections that until Medical is cleared, we will set up a triage site here-" He stood from Livy's side. "And she is the first patient."
Carter seemed hyper, and in need of Ritalin that day. They ate a quiet dinner, with songstress Janet Seidel performing a divined rendition of "The Old Rugged Cross" on a nearby CD Player. House guest Joe Ehrlich hadn't spoken much since the godown in the parking lot of the Marquette Tool Shoppe. He didn't speak at all, in fact. He only smiled, and ate, and was the perfect arioso. He may as well have not even been there, for all of that.
"Let's take a ride on the beach, what say?" He said, scooping Ang' up, and away. "It's a perfect night, and I'm in the mood, missus."
He seemed intensely, coffee-nerved about something. Dark circles had begun to show under his eyes from lack of sleep. Some unforseen zenith; the mischance of a dream.
John Koenig exited the airlock, and entered the sterile magazine of station three, moving like a prowler, his footfalls clocking past a break of octagon receptacles, and a dusty, unemployed commstation, whose monitors glowed a fierce, incandescent red. Sitting atop a metal gurney, the 300 pound, horn-shaped trigger rolled towards the brass coupling, courtesy of Alan Carter. Ang' stood nearby, smiling benignantly as she riched the isotopes gradually, patiently towards combustion levels. The warning lights indicated that the Carter's 'missus' had already backed off the AGR CO2 Coolant. The thermometer was now terminally in the red, awaiting the touch of a flies legs, a spilled martini glass, impetus from the trigger to commence the fission reaction.
"You like." Carter asked her, his voice hoarse, and throaty. "Kewarra Beach. Used to come here all the time as a kid."
He told Joe Ehrlich, who was nowhere in sight, to belt himself in tight, that it was going to be a helluva' ride.
Creeping up on them from the opposite end of the station, Koenig squinted as the overhead seal beams played across the trigger's oiled, metallic surface.
The ocean breeze was refreshing and crisp.
"I love it," she squeezed Carter affectionately with one arm while holding Nicky with the other "What a great place to grow up!" She buckled the child into the car seat and with a thumbs up to Alan said, "Let's go!"
As they sped onlong the beach, Angelina became aware of someone following them. It was pretty obvious Carter was aware of it too judging by the sharp and sudden turns he was making with the dune buggy. They stopped in an area of a tidal pool, brimming with harmless marine life. Joe Erhlich sat in the back of the dunebuggy with a plastic relaxed smile. Angelina was watching Nicky pull out a starfish from the water while Alan was heaving the cooler off the back of the dune buggy when the weird, aged hippie with the matted hair charged at Alan. There was a scuffle and Alan and the cooler went flying to the ground. The crazed hippie turned toward Ang, who immediately picked up Nicky, backing away.
"Ang!!!!ANG!!!!" Koenig yelled in her face. The glazed look in her eyes conveyed that she did not understand him and the look turned to fear. "It's alright, Ang...You're going to be OK." Koenig changed his tone.
"!!!!!!!!!ALAN!!!!!!! " She cried out, but he appeared to be unconscious. Nicky wailed in terror as the demented beatnik pursued them. Angelina slipped and fell backwards, her head striking against a rock. She felt the impact reverberate from the back to the front of her skull and thought she was about to vomit.
The beach became the interior of the Main Substation of Nuclear Waste Disposal Area #3.
"C-Commander?!?!" A spark of recognition lit up her eyes. She looked down, expecting to see Nicky but she gasped and dropped her bundle with a loud C-L-A-N-K to the floor. "MY GOD!!! THAT'S ATOMIC FUEL!!"
"You were about to put it into the core along with the trigger!!" Koenig impressed on her.
"We would have blown ourselves up!!" She stated the obvious. The hideous, grotesque aliens came into full focus but Ang did not react from the mere sight of them. She screamed in agony as she violently dislodged the hold of the razor sharp tentacles from her neck, waist and wrist. Koenig hacked away at the appendages with an axe, ooze and alien blood splattering everywhere. She sank to her knees, shaking and crying bitter tears of grief and exhaustion when Carter suddenly jumped on Koenig, knocking him against the far wall. There was no mercy. Carter was on Koenig again like a panther.
The pilot was lost in his own, private Jerry Bruckheimer production. He picked up the thermos filled with coffee, and Pearl Harbor'ed the rebarative beatnick in the Bevis & Butthead shirt. It was like Armageddon. Fists fell from the deceptive Con-Air. Carter felt hot rain fall to his cheeks as the attacker cried out, pulling a 9mm semi-automatic from his pestilential pants pocket. The pilot locked the hood's gun hand, and forearm in a death grip, raised it high into the dusk, and brought it crashing down on the vinyl covered steering column. His reeking assailant bellowed as the joints in his right hand disintegrated, turned to bone colored glass shards.
"!!!CARTER!!!" The crazed truant shrieked, and side-stepped, executing a perfectly lethal Cobra Clutch, which the pilot did not expect, and which carried the two of them backwards into the hot sand. The pilot's face turned red as killing pressure closed over his larynx. He sank his teeth into Butthead's flesh covered gristle, and tasted copper. The Austrailian continent was moved techtonically; waves of sand, vile splatters of blood, and perspiration were carried away by the easterly bellows. Butthead corkscrewed wretchedly away, his gun hand reduced to Silly Putty now. Carter was on his knees when the hard rubber of the Nike high top came into contact with his teeth. Star shells exploded. Plates ignited in his cheeks, and lower gums.
He saw birds. He saw pound signs. The back of his head landed against one of Dirk Kilpack's Hush Puppies.
"Finish him, brother." His kindred in carnage advised dutifully, but with sardonic fleer. "Destroy the target, complete the mission."
Complete the mission.
"!!!ALAN, IT'S JOHN KOENIG!!!" Even in his pain, the hippie scorned stupidly.
Carter was rearranging his nose when the commander caught sight of the alien, standing equidistant between Ang,' and the oracular trigger. Koenig thought he knew what horror was. Seeing the thing that blotted out the light, and sent cold dessiminating shadows across the south wall of the station, he disabused himself of the idea. His salients went into the waste can, from naieve, to the most horrendously, embarrassingly stupid, and naieve. He knew nothing. A child in daycare was less of an ignoramous. The top of Ang' Carter's head barely made it to the second ligament of it's forward legs, just beneath the black, razor hairs of its pronotum. It was obviously of the same genome as the beings he encountered in Main Mission, save for the two flame-colored stripes that ran through the wild effusion of tentacles attached to its heinous spine.
Holding Carter by the throat, he thrust his bad hand forward, allowing his elbow to take the impact. The pilot's eyes rolled back in his head momentarily. Then, like a circuit breaker resetting itself, his lids opened again, and like a Murayana Warlord, lunged for John Koenig's jugular again. The commander's skull rebounded against the industrial gray tile. Looking up, he saw a billion feral eyes gazing downward at him. The last bulldozing had sent him careening within feeding distance of a second alien intruder. The commander's eyes dialated on the laser gun. With desperate gaga, he dog paddled through the oozing guano, and retrieved it with his left hand.
Angelina Carter leaned against the wall, barely able to stand and covered from head to toe with ooze and slime. She buried her head in her hands, sobbing in physical and mental pain. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Alan miraculously rise up from the floor. Beaten to a pulp, covered with blood and slime, with the 'help' of the aliens whose tentacles were entwined around him, he lifted the 300 pound trigger off the metal gurney.
Through the haze of tears, she unholstered her laser. To her horror, it had been set on "Kill". She nudged the setting back to stun, returning the safety setting. Carter had nearly reached the core opening.
"NO, Alan!!!" Ang yelled her warning. He looked back at her blankly very briefly then ignored her, turning back toward the core. With her other hand, she steadied her trigger arm as she fired the laser. The trigger dropped with a vibrating thud. Carter slumped unconscious over it.
One of the aliens approached her but she felt no strength to fight. She only wanted this whole debacle, this nightmare, to end.
Before her eyes, the alien physically transformed into Guido Verdeschi, while the others remained in their true form.
"Guido?!? No..." Angelina cried in disbelief.
"My dear sister," Guido spoke to her soothingly and hypnotically. 'Yes, it is me. I am exactly as you remember me and I have become your brother because I want to be your brother. I have indeed changed my physical form to become your brother."
"You're not real," she stated with a mixture of grief and yearning.
"What is real? Real is a relative term. Reality is a state of mind as well as time. Hasn't the reality of the last few days made you happier than you have been since before you left earth?"
"It's all a lie." John Koenig declared, his out of breath, apical, and feeling the residual effects of the stun that felled Carter. Columns of gracile ash fell uniformly from the high ceilings like snow. He had no idea where it came from. Possibly it came from the entropy which accompanied the aliens' tireless erasure of one reality in order to accomodate another. A static charge nested in his hair like an electric bat. Coming into focus behind him, Dirk Kilpack also traded his scrofulous bad looks, and donned a familiar, South Atlantic panoply once more. He clucked his tongue, and smiled passive-aggressively at Ang' before turning his muse on Carter's unconscious heap. Mission: Not Accomplished.
"And we can't live in lies, especially when they blind us from your true purpose--the destruction of Moonbase Alpha."
Angelina Carter. She heard him. Yet, he wondered if she HEARD him.
"What have you to look forward to other than existing day to day? You will never go home again, surely you know that. You may very well watch your husband, your son, your friends die around you while you live out your life on this barren rock."
"We have no guarantees." Koenig admitted, smashed to flinders, and standing on legs of water. "Death is all around us, but we have to believe that as long as we persevere, there's hope. WHAT YOU OFFER IS A CHEAT!!! IT'S OBLIVION WITH A RED RIBBON TIED AROUND IT!!! IT'S A WAY OF SENDING US QUIETLY TO OUR GRAVES SO YOU CAN OBTAIN WHATEVER THE HELL IT
IS THAT YOU WANT WITHOUT US GETTING IN THE WAY!!!"
The echoes of Kilpack's patently offensive, melodramatic applause echoed, and repercussed through every magazine, storage room, and airlock in thestation with tenebrous tonicity.
"We can offer you the happiness you so yearn and, frankly, after becoming familiar with you, Angelina, the happiness you so richly deserve. Let me take care of you." Guido took her hand and caressed the side of her face. "I missed you. I was so happy to see you again."
"Of illusion, empires are made." Kilpack prosyletized, bluff, and farcical--dropping yet another payload of salt; twisting the poniard of extinction into Koenig's defibrillating heart.
"No, they're not." Alan Carter said, eyes watering blood, and with his flesh easing away from his broken left cheek.
He fired his laser at Guido Verdeschi.
Angelina's brother, who was not her brother, slumped to the ground and rolled onto his back, looking up at her.
"It could have been so perfect," he croaked. "Mia sorella." A single tear shed from his opened and unseeing eyes as he exhaled his last breath.
Ang immediately started dry heaving. Then she shakily stepped over the body of her non-brother, staggering to Carter who was collapsing to his knees. Next to him was Koenig, who was on his side and attempting to prop himself up on one elbow. She tried to help the Commander up to a sitting position as she held onto Carter. The scene of the three of them trying to prop each other upright could best be described as 'pitiful.' They stared at Dirk Kilpack.
He was no longer smiling. Fixed to the furrows of his high forehead, there was something like relief. He stood beside Verdeschi's empty head; his airless lungs; his funeral mask, which marbled away, more, and more with each passing moment. After a while, he stooped down, and closed the eyes with a swift motion of the thumb, and little finger. Neon motes of ash accumulated on his cheeks, and nose, giving him the appearance of a mime. He closed Verdeschi's mouth so that none could fall there.
"Don't even try to understand why." He cautioned Ang,' John Koenig--Carter, who resisted the teeming darkness. He perpended on the great speculations, somewhere beyond the mists, frowning at first, but then reborn with a partial understanding. Verdeschi's fate was soon to be his fate. Submission to the izzards was a hard row to hoe, and less abstracted than having your every, materialistic, sexual desire bequeathed you. It was hallowed, numinous, perchance glorious.
"Captain." Dirk Kilpack said with a wave. Good game, he emoted with casual loser's grace. "Commander Koenig."
The grip of his handshake was formidable.
He paused when he came to Ang.' His lips pursed, as if to say something hinterland, but his epilogue defied language, so he said nothing.
He marched forward, pausing in the discus of lights that lined the walls of the main access corridor. He turned only once, as if hearing the stellar winds call for him by name. A hundred meters behind him, there was Ang,' and Alan Carter, and John Koenig. Three inch action figures on a chess board not of their making. Kilpack moved forward again, his lean body merging with the fulgor of ohms, and kilowatts. The particles blew behind him. They blew through him, and then he was gone completely.
On the opposite side of the Moon's rotation, the ectype of the Infinity Albatross blurred radically; became solarized, and ravaged as event realities punched through her evasions, and her sinistral bullshit. After the scourge had passed, all that remained--not quite eaten by the bugbears--was an alien spacer that towered ten stories above Moonbase Alpha. The exotic, hieroglyph patterns of light glowed virulently. Eventually the gunmetal hues of the outer hull were a stark, blazing white as the internal temperature put lava to the alien alloys. Positrons, and electrons annihilated one another; the T = 1,000 inferno reached the animal fuel source. The spacecraft glowed red hot, and then white hot, and while the angels sang, it exploded in a fission of gamma rays, and base elements.
Moonbase Alpha was a radioactive ghost with black vision ports. As the layers of gas, and debris were conducted away by the solar winds, a single, red light continued to wink variably from the Main Mission Tower.
What is past is prologue. What is the future? The sum of all fears, the gloomiest poltroons would apprehend.
Or maybe a drying tear.
Angelina sat Indian style, with Carter's bruised and bloodied head cradled in her lap; he had passed out. She fought hard, trying to bring the flood of tears under control.
She looked up at the Commander. In her mind's eye, she saw herself losing her sanity, screaming at him.
'!!!!!!!!!!I CAN'T FUCKING TAKE THIS SHIT ANYMORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!'
Then....going completely berserk and attempting to open the airlock, ending it for the three of them. Her next fleeting thought was spending the rest of her days on mind numbing tranqulizers and anti-depressants, locked away in the medical psych ward for extended periods of time.
Instead, she stood up shaking all over, the physical exhaustion evident as she staggered to the console on rubber band legs.
"The core needs to be stabilized and neutralized," she stated plainly as she activated the controls to bring the boron rods in place, which would absorb the free-floating neutrons. She watched blankly as the gauge of the core temperture slipped into the normal range.
Angelina Carter awoke with a start on the gurney in rescue Eagle 4.
"Ang," Dr. Bob Mathias gently shook her. His face resembled something from a horror movie. His left eye was swollen almost shut to a narrow slit. The right eye was perhaps half open but as bloodshot and watery as the left. His upper lip was swollen and she wasn't sure but thought his nose was had been broken.
"Bob?" She was disoriented and for a moment thought she was awakening from a nightmare. She closed her eyes, hoping that when she opened them again, she would be in bed in her quarters next to Alan. Alas, it was not just a bad dream. She tried to sit up only to result in a pounding headache and darkening vision.
Next to her on their own gurneys were Alan and the commander, both unconscious. Dr. Russell plus two nurses moved back and forth between them, monitoring them. Ang felt the forward and aft thrusters rumble and the Eagle lifted off.
"Welcome back, Dorothy. The Kansas Society For Consensual Cucumbers has been waiting for you." Mathias said dimly, checking the flow of the IV tube into Angs' arm. He felt like he had been bagged on Vodka for a solid week--only to be dumped, at the end of said week, into a gravel pit where there happened to be a Combine Demoliton Derby in progress. Following the Finish Line ceremonies, where the victor was awarded his trophy, the good doctor's treaded up, thrashed, raw meat carcass was then dropped on a conveyor belt, which fed into a pair of iron, machine mandibles which shredded him to a pulp, and transferred what was left into an empty tin of Treet--the mystery meat.
"Oh, and by the way--you came this close to the boneyard this time."
He made a micro, milliscopic, teeny, tiny, HO Scale gesture with his thumb, and forefinger.
"That's nice," he said, looking over Angs' gurney at the one next to her. "What is there about a jerk that makes them immune to sedatives." He commented moving around to the front.
"Kiss off, Mathias." John Koenig said defensively, trembling in agony while pushing Helena Russell's hypo-bearing hand away. "And 'no,' I don't want to be sedated. I've had quite enough of that.
"This won't put you out, John," Dr. Helena Russell easily overpowered him and emptied the contents of the laser hypo into his jugular. "It is a strong analgesic and it will help mitigate the pain."
Helena also had the 'hung over after a week of partying' appearance. Her eyes were bloodshot and her brow furrowed as she tried to deal with the merciless pounding in her head.
"Don't give us any more crap, Commander or I promise it will be lights out for you," she said firmly but with the very slightest smile trying to tug at the corners of her lips.
"Oh golly," Koenig hectored, wiping the sleep from his eyes as the analgesic block transported him to numbness. "The respect I get." He said, then his memory parachuted back into his aching skull.
"???Where's Paul????" He darted, attempting to stand, but too feeble. "I need to talk to Main Mission."
"Yeah, sure," Russell condescended as she help him back down to a sitting position. "Everything is under control. Paul has the situation well in hand. You, on the other hand, are not in control; you can barely sit up. I am not in a good mood, John. Don't hack me off again and remain quiet."
There was no hint of amusement this time, not at all. She moved around to Carter and continued working on him, all the while casting Koenig a wary eye.
Angelina became aware of the pain around her neck, around her wrists and around her waist. Temporary bandages and gauze obscured the wounds from inspection but she winced when she saw her torn and shredded tunic in the corner; covered with god-knows-what and with copious amounts of blood, which she realized was her own. She painfully turned over and gasped as she appraised the condition of Carter. With two IVs, wires linking him to a heart monitor and still on oxygen, he was in the worst health of the group at the moment. He began to stir and she inched close to him and took his hand.
"Alan." She whispered as he opened his eyes.
"Ay," The pilot said, aweary. His titanium eyelids, haggard, knackered, and played out. Troping, lying, spying treacherous eyes accepted the new light, though they had seen too much today. On the other side of midnight, he had dreamt. The attack on Anges. Fifteen Allied Block warships were launched from Space Station One. He was in the driver's seat of Hawk-D. Kilpack was executioner de jour. Four of the spacers dangled in hover mode, 10,000 nautical miles above the target. A munitions factory that took in Dole Pineapples, and recycled them, through the alchemy of war, as Exocet Missiles. This, viz. underground, hump railroad.
It's a dirty life you lead. Kilpack appraised, with uncharacteristic bemoan. It tainted his reputation as the esqutcheon of fear, the name of pain that Major Alan Carter had grown comfortable with. I do regret not getting to know you. Kilpack allowed. Perhaps another time....
Carter reached limply for Angelina's cheek.
"Apples." He said, and then colligated into the sands of kip, once more-his rest, now seeming less labored. His torment, a quietus made.
She held his hand against her face as he drifted off again, the sedative aptly doing its job. 'Apples.' She knew what he meant; Aussie slang for 'it'll be alright'. She wanted to believe him. He would never lie to her but....
Ang tried to sit up again only to be returned to the horizontal by Mathias.
"Where's Nicky?" she asked him with a lump in her throat and a maternal feeling of fear and dread.
"He's with Dot Sullivan and he's OK," he replied evenly, connecting another full saline and glucose IV bag to her line.
She nodded with immense relief and looked at the Commander who was sitting up, trying to stop the Eagle from spinning. He returned her gaze.
"Will everything be alright, Commander?" Angelina asked in a low voice, her confidence wavering. She didn't blink, lest she shed the tears welling in her eyes.
Koenig was fumbling for his commlock, his feet dangling two feet from the floor of the module, when the interpellate from 'Ang came. Out of the corner of his eye, Helena Russell paused in freeze frame, her hands gripping the First Aid Kit in the void between the utility cabinet, and Carter's gurney. Bob Mathias spared them a look, but continued to unpretzel plastic IV feed tubes. Petrov arrived for the party just in time, the double doors to the command module parting just in time to hear the final doctrine-the concluding dogma, until death do they part with it.
The commander's cheeks relaxed as he exchanged glances with each of them.
"Danielle here." The astronaut's voice boomed over cabin speakers. "Fifteen minutes to Plato."
Koenig had no idea, but not knowing was a god unto itself. He had lost track of what was real, and what was TDK the minute his Eagle had crashed. It was like the Allegory Of The Cave. Every time he convicted himself of some accuracy, a hand would fall on his shoulder. Come along dunce, an internal voice would say, with caugh syrup, and bandages--emancipating him from his current delusion, while escorting him to another. Trust me, dunce. The voice would assure him. This is the real artifact. Depend on it.
And all the while, Moonbase Alpha burned.
He released his grip on his commlock. Somewhere inside, his instincts stirred. More trustworthy than his consciousness of physical reality. His battered visage realigned itself, sure, and certainly. Nerve endings propelled themselves around his synapses like gossamer webbing. Muscle tissue wrapped, and cinched itself around calcium joints that were constant. Layers of epidermis draped themselves across his ravaged, puss-infrastructure, and contracted to conform. His complexioned brightened, exhaling with the strength of a belief.
"It's going to be alright." John Koenig replied, nodding. His dark eyes flaming hard.
Eagle 2-9 negotiated the remaining ten meters in free fall, pilot Rene Devorak, and his second were thrown forward slightly, along with eight other alphans in the passenger module, as the fuselage sprang upwards again from the surface of the launch pad. Most of the depot lights were up again, and the boarding tube clamped it's jaws to the airlock with slender exactitude.
The beauty of the situation--the miracle de resistance that should have brought them to their knees with gratitude, and humble recognition, was the fact that Moonbase Alpha, structurally, had suffered very little damage. Given the wholesale gutting, and pounding that they had endured over the past year, this was a startling thunderclap.
To everyone, save John Koenig, who turned away from the port in Helena Russell's office, looking like a poet, who can no longer poet.
"Commander Koenig," Mark Winters voice intruded with snot, and chest, from the speakers on his commlock. "All Eagles have reported back in. All structures on the southeastern grid have been repressurized. The core area is still showing stable."
"Alright Winters, thankyou." The commander replied, and joined Russell, and Bergman at the desk. "Helena, what's the word."
Helena turned from the 21" monitor on her desk, which was in split screen mode, monitoring the displaying the life functions of three patients. On the bottom of the left thrid was labelled "Benes"; the bottom of the center third bore the name "DeHavilliand" and the bottom right third was "Ouma."
"Livy is still in a deep coma. She is, however, stabilizing. I can't estimate when she will wake up." 'If ever,' Helena thought but did not feel the need to mention at the moment. She continued " Ben will not be released for at least another week and Sandra will probably be released in a few days."
Helena sank into her leather chair, sipping her now tepid coffee. Victor lounged comfortably in a white moduform chair next to the viewport, cupping his Vitaseed extract. 'All of these injuries, the physical injuires to everyone, will heal in time. I am very concerned about the psychological and emotional damage our people have suffered." She took a sip of her now tepid coffee. "Walk down any corridor, into any work area and there is very little talk other than what is necessary to do their jobs. The recreation centers and the gym are unusually quiet. People are still in shock, John. But we need to deal with it soon or there could very well be some long term emotional damage and consequences."
She turned and fixated on the blackness of space out the viewport. If he was expecting sunshine and roses, he wasn't getting it from her, not today. Her own physical fatigue had not waned in the last 72 hours as she had not the opportunity to deal with it.
Bergman didn't know if his Vitaseed was overdosed with celery, or wether it was the alien bod' job that caused him to experience guilt-by-association. In any case, after only one salty quaffe, his thirst was gone. In retrospect, his recent actions made him feel gaumless, and gooselike. He languished, indolently, under the dual sensations of loggerheadedness, and lumpeness. He also felt like a shithead. Vitaseed was not the cure. He rotated his perspiring cup pensively in his palms, opting for a wordless, yokel-headed look at the ceiling. John Koenig was no martinet. Then again, his offence had been unpardonably grievous, and disloyal.
"Hey, John." He fumbled, looking to his Vitaseed for moral mogul. "Look. I apologize for-"
"It's not necessary, Victor." The commander said squarely as he spun a kinetic sculpture on Helena Russell's desk. Ironically, it was shaped like an atom. Oh, how hilarious. A riot, to say the least. It was about as amusing as a rabbit with a hypodermic needle shoved up it's nose; a gallon of embalming fluid; a gigged Turk, already executed, but not knowing it as he clung to his impaling pike. "Everyone wanted it to be true.
"I wish that it had been."
"No one is at fault here, Victor," Helena affirmed gently, nodding toward the professor. "But this time we were lucky, very lucky, in the sense that if John had not been linked to the VBEC, he too would have been influenced by the aliens."
"We all would have been dead by now," she spoke with finality. "What disturbs me is perhaps we are still a primitive species, too easily influenced and ruled by our egos for our own good. Ang said there were many times when she thought there was something wrong with the illusion. I admit to that as well; but our strong desire for the situation to be real encouraged us to overrule our basic....I don't know...common sense? Is that the word I'm looking for?"
She sat back and watched Koenig contiue spinning the kinetic sculpture.
"It's as good as any." The commander said, and brought the orbiting molecule to an abrupt stop with his right palm. "It does lead one to wonder." He said, turning, while folding his arms over his chest. He quietly cerebrated the idea; tried the shoe on for size. It crushed his big toe, or so to speak. "Did the aliens really have to exert that much control, or were we victims of our own volition."
Bergman nodded, grasping the skein almost immediately.
"Killing us with kindness, you mean." He rephrased, setting his Vitaseed aside, and standing. "Destroying one's enemies by granting them their every wish. In that way, you acquire thier trust; learn thier secrets; manipulate them in any direction you like.
"It all adds up." The professor said, in premature coda.
"Talk about an explosive situation. Literally." He reflected, his eyes deep into a woolgathering beam. "I wonder what they were after. Whatever it was, they went to alot of trouble to obtain it."
"Even to the point of becoming the very individuals they were trying to mimic." Helena Russell mused. "The alien who was playing the role of Guido Verdeschi actually physically became a human being before he died. It is really quite extraordinary."
She rubbed her eyes and sighed. "Or, perhaps the alien WANTED to become Guido Verdeschi. Maybe they, like us, are capable of desiring something so profoundly that they too can be overruled by the desire for reality from an illusion."
She looked aside making eye contact with Victor. "I suppose we'll never know."
Koenig tilted his head askance, and then regarded the fake molecule on Helena Russell's desk again. It spun through the corrupted air, and the squalor, and the struggle of favored races to survive, with never a huzzah for the unknown, or the UNKNOWN. Around, and around, and around--until the cosmos divested itself back to the Great Omega Point. The Clam Chowder Of The Gods. Sometimes ignorance was a bouquet. A perfect rhodendron. It's song wrought merciful diversion for the individual with no tommorrows, other than something as noble as blunt evisceration.
It was a savvy, painless concept, but ultimately undigestable.
In Main Mission, Pierre Danielle was fit enough for the Capcomm Desk. Following the high calonic that was given to Moonbase Alpha, and the subsequent return of the Eagle Fleet, he could afford the luxury of staring blankly, thoughtlessly, into the bosom of quintessential ziltch once more. The opening of the airlocks, and the removal of the alien meadow pies left them with an atmosphere that was still vaguely fetid. It stank, and Pierre Danielle stank with it. Ang' Carter assured them that the air-handling units would eventually filter out the barnyard remainders, but what of sweet Pierre, and his morbid compulsion to stick his own pustule head in the commode?
There were no answers to that particular tangram at this time. He deserved no better.
Handing a stack of blue, color coded debriefings on to Paul Morrow, the pilot waved to Truman Starns, and patrolman James Dyrenforth as they entered to the left of the Big Screen. Dyrenforth returned the gesture with a destitute wave of his own while the detective consulted with Emma Black--the petite, but Viking-confident, fiftysomething, who would wear the shoes of Ben Ouma during the chief's absense.
Angelina Carter sat at the Technical station perpendicular to the cap comm station. She had just relieved Michelle who lingered, waiting for Carter to come in to relieve the suffering Pierre. Leaning against the viewport, Michelle stared into the dark void beyond, occasionally letting out a sigh. She politely refused June Akaiwa's offer for coffee. All she wanted to do was go to bed and sleep. At this point, she didn't care if she slept for the remainder of her days, though she silently reprimanded herself because that could very well be the case for her very good friend/enemy (depending on whether they were off duty or on) Livy DeHavilliand.
"He'll be here in a minute, Pierre, " Angelina glanced at the gaunt Danielle, "He's dropping Nicky off."
Ang glanced at Paul then at Emma Black who had taken her place in the rotating computer desk. She checked the status of the generators and the status of the work orders and found that Technical was surprising, not radically far behind in its work. She turned her attention to the green flimsie Emma Black past to her on the right corner of her desk.
She was about to grab it when.....
Angelina frowned then slowly looked up. She froze. She went to school, as did they all.
Clinging to the ectobar panels of the skylight, forty meters above, and surrounded by heat exchange vents on both sides, the stranger gaped at them, it's forgotten, pink gum line, a rot. Whoever the anonymous alphan was, they were born again, now. They would never again have to worry about the day-to-day contumely; the fardels, and the strife of etching out a substandard existence on a sterile rock in the boundless void. Truman Starns gazed upwards also--aghast of the corpulent, crimson tears that were shed on the back of his neck. Andy Dempsey backed away from his workstation. His opine moldered in his mouth.
Emma Black was baptized in comparable, satanic ichor as she retreated to Pierre Danielle's side of the auditorium.
The cocoon was shaped like a mortified, filthy starburst. It's signal threads, and mainstrands clung to the ventilator casings like mummified tenticles of a decaying squid. The eroding figure had been dead for hours. The beseech of the eyes which saw the final waste, and frippery. The tortured jaw which bargained, and begged. Until the final moment, it's screams had gone unheard. The head, and the upper torso were the only body parts to survive the slow, anguished dissolve in the sewage enzymes that had encased it.
Kate Bullen screamed.
"With blood as its avatar, and its seal
"The Red Death held sway over all."
--Edgar Allan Poe
"And we shrank back: for dreams of ruin
"To frozen caves our flight pursuing
"Made us keep silence--thus--and thus--
"Though silence is a hell to us."
--Percy Bysshe Shelley
"Under the harvest moon,
"When the soft silver
"Over garden nights,
"Death, the gray mocker,
"Comes and whispers to you
"As a beautiful friend
Written by : tgarnett35, moonbasealpha_s1, John and koenigs sidekick
The writers of Space:1999 The Classic Adventures would like to acknowledge the late Terence Feely as writer of the Space:1999 Y2 episode Bringers of Wonder , Parts 1 & 2, which is the basis of this story.