Episode #31: Reflections From The Deep
It has often been thought that the reknowned, 19th Century composer, Anton Bruckner lost his marbles after the second performance of his Third Symphony. His cognizance, pouring from his nose, and ears into an undone puddle on the floor--traduced to blubbering idiocy before a royal contingent of wastrel playboys in top hats, and their gold digging, immoral, high maintenance mistresses.
The reasons for his collapse have oft been speculated upon. Mostly, it came down to the fact that the symphony really wasn't very good, and had, in fact, garnered him a violent lambasting by Viennese critics in 1877, during it's premiere in 1877. Cabbages notwithstanding, on that previous occasion, Bruckner's confidence, born of stupid, foolish youth, helped him to survive the intellectual castration, and the visceral humiliations that befell him in the tenebrous, Bengal paws of the Upper Crust.
Possibly, the Third Symphony was too dreary. It is known that the maestro included numerous references to motifs that were spawned by his idol/hero/role model/Divine Inspiration with a capital "D," Richard Wagner. Wagner demurred this honor, asking that all homages to his work be stricken from Symphony No. 3; that Bruckner's notes be trashed; that they burn, and stir the ashes.
Wagner thought it was boring too.
As boring as it may have been--for empathetically we know (???Don't we???), the daily lux is so, and the mouthy dorks that rob plants of precious air, though the plants were smarter, are but mirror images of nous. He's boring; she's boring; you, and I are boring. Res ipsa lequitor--the thing speaks for itself. Existence can be as orgasmic, and engrossing as two microscopic grains of ice, almost colliding in the void of space. Their surfaces are rather vitreous, but in the end, they are only bland, H20, are they not? Highly compressed, glacial H20, but water is water, no matter how you pour it, and no one will ever compare it to a finely blended Rothschilds, or an eighty year old Bordeaux, fermented to sophistication in sequestered barrels.
For all of that, as mundane as one's individual perceptions of this slo-mo universe may be, it would not equal, many billions of times over, the mighty drudgery that is life on Moonbase Alpha. Despite the blaze of the mighty sequence star which cast its white glow over the roof tops of the facility, and which made it possible to detect magnesium in the black, hell pots of Frigoris, it was still just another day of twiddling thumbs, and slow anguish, which was nothing more than boredom's incestuous sister.
Alan Carter yawned openly, his elbow propped against the port's metallic sill. Behind him, Victor Bergman was moving about the conference table, and handing out green flimsies to the entrenched command staff. His words, inaudible in from without. On the obverse side of the fish tank, his voice could be heard, and it was chockablock with enthusiasm, and pride in the possibilities of discovery.
The pilot decided that his view of La Condamine hadn't changed one scintilla in the past five years. With that, he drug his unsurprised behind back to the table.
Angelina Carter craved some excitement. On her laptop screen, the spreadsheet of work orders for Technical Section only had two highlighted in red: instead of the usual 20 or so. Sorting through the list by technician, she was pleasantly surprised to find even Ed Malcom was on schedule with his jobs. Everyone in her section was now on a 5 days on and 2 days off schedule and into a routine.
The routine was welcomed at first then became dull and uninspiring.
Angelina tried to find inspiration in the latest buzz from Stellar Cartography. She eagerly flipped past the astronomical mumbo-jumbo to the conclusion.
"Three suns?!?!" Ang blurted in awe and disbelief.
"Amazing, isn't it." Bergman said excitedly, in the sheer light of the conference room monitor. His laser pointer wasn't moving fast enough. "What we have here," He explained indicating with his middle two fingers. "Is a phenomenon that we initially catalogued as one star.
"Going only by it's magnitude, of course.
"As we moved in closer, we realized what we really had. It's a ternary system. Three suns."
"Initially, this cluster was comprised of thirty suns." Ben Ouma added with emphasis. Rolls of register tape telemetry sat before him like gambling chips at the Lucky Dollar Casino. Paul Morrow nodded, sufficiently impressed, while Sandra Benes poured over astro shots of the stellar hegemony.
Alan Carter whistled his laud. He had no idea what the relevance was, as pertains to sucking air, that this situation afforded them, but he went along with Bergman's trip.
"Might be nice to have an Earth-type planet around at least one of those beauties." He offered subjunctively. He looked at Ang,' and nodded compliantly. Their luck usually didn't run that way. The way their luck usually ran, there would be a dozen planets, but none that were terrestrial; only a bagatelle of mud-trapped, primeval worlds orbiting some central hellfire.
"Ahhh, we can't have everything unfortunately." Bergman informed him. "As a matter of fact, there are no planets atoll. We have the supermassive star, Eta Carinae, here in the center." Continuing, the Good Doctor said, using his laser pointer to outline the largest of the photospheres, "It's a hundred times larger than the Earth's sun. To the left, we have Eta Carinae Positive. A smaller dwarf star, in opposition to the former.
"Oh, and the star in the foreground is Eta Carinae Negative. Together they form a celestial Triumvirate for this sector of space."
Paul Morrow raised an eyebrow. Despite five years, his astrophysics were still not on par with the others, but he could question Sandra about it later-after all, she was still working on a Bergman-sponsored Doctorate in that particular scientific branch.
"Heyyyyyyyyyy, Gringo." Chef Hector Gonazles inquired, restless, and disconsolate. "Why do I have to sit through this? Huh?"
They ignored him, though Paul shot him a 'Deputy Commander Warning Glance'.
Angelina looked over at Sandra who rolled her eyes with a look of slight disgust on her face. It was Doctor Russell's idea to include Alphans who were not part of Command staff at the regular Command Staff meetings. Helena had suggested it as a way for the Command staff to listen to the concerns and suggestions of the community by encouraging the attendance of "Joe Average" and to allow the section heads to be more "connected" with the people. It was all a bunch of nice, liberal, intellectual hogwash and another result of the routine and boredom. When one is struggling to survive, intellectualism is the last thing on one's mind. It was quite obvious survival was less of a struggle.
Last week Ed Malcom and Claude Murneau attended the meetings, showing the staff just how much Technical section had deteriorated.
It was all in Angelina's master plan, you see. Perhaps she might be able to convince Victor or Paul to allow some of the finer minds of Scientific or even Main Mission to transfer to her team. Now it was Sandra's turn to allow her finest to "shine".
"Professor, this is all quite cool and interesting, but how close are we going to pass by this triumvirate?" Angelina queried, skimming the report for the answer.
"It's on page three." Bergman said kindly. "And in response to your question: Not very close. We'll come within a hundred parsecs of Eta Carinae Positive. It's a concern, to be sure. But, as you already know, the further away we are from the magnetic radius, the less there is to worry about. The amount of force is inversely proportionate to the square of the distance from an object. Twice as far means only one fourth the amount of force, and twice the mass, means twice the force."
Bergman switched charts on the monitor.
"As you can see from this slide." He said, aiming his pointer at the pool of orbital references. "Right now, we're in a tightening ellipse. There's just enough pressure to tow the Moon into a figure eight revolution near the second star--though half-way through that, we'll achieve ten times more momentum than we need to reach escape velocity."
"That's a good thing," Paul murmured, more to himself than to anyone else-his mind already working through the preparations for such a 'close' pass of the triad of stellar primaries-reinforcing shielding, backing up all systems, checking the viewport shutter systems, reverifying all bulkhead seals.
"I've reviewed Victor's prognosticate myself." John Koenig said, dusting off his physicist's chapeau. "More than once." He addended. "Right now, I see no cause for alarm. This is a scientific meeting only."
"Why am I here?" Gonzales groaned, plaintively--his precious asparagus tips, boiling to a plastic in the hands of Hugo Willet.
Again, it fell on deaf ears, though Paul glared at him to sit down and shut up. Dammit, he thought to himself, this is the last damn time we bring non-contributors to these meetings-I don't care if it *IS* Dr. Russell's prized project these days.
Angelina scanned the data. "With all due respect Professor, the historic data on the movement of the suns and the subsequent calculation of the projected trajectories appear to be a rather small sample. I'm not one to go looking for trouble but the amount of data we have so far does not appear to be enough to make projections of our course with a high degree of confidence."
Too many times Angelina had made the mistake of drawing conclusions based on insufficient data....and those suppositions turned out to be incorrect.
She sat back and sighed, eyeing her laptop screen as an instant message window appeared from Chris Potter. Potter had been covering the electronics instrumentation group, since Livy DeHavilliand was still in a coma. "Besides, with our luck..." She stopped. No sense in conveying a pessimistic and alarmist attitude.
"Oh, forget it," she made a slight waving motion with her right hand as she typed the response 'Not now' in the instant message window to Potter and closed it.
Bergman smiled warmly.
"Right now, the mathematics is all we have, though." He explained gently--never forgetting such humiliations of Calculus as Nicol Tessla's well meaning, but adulterated plans to create robot submarines, and death rays, and sonic agitators that could level Nazi bridges, and munitions dumps. Science was a freeway sign, the professor knew, from his own, personal laughing-stock priori of angst, and shammuah. It was not the destination unto itself.
"Computer has verified the Moon's present trajectory." Benjamin Ouma concurred. Mechanically. Because he really had no idea. And because he could feel the zonk rays already beating down on them from Eta Carinae Positive, though Alpha's biospheric temperature remained a constant 58 degrees. "We'll be in perigee within the hour, but the interaction won't last long. Our pitch has been modified, slightly, but other than that, our forward motion hasn't changed significantly since we left Earth's orbit."
He knew though. His destiny was to interpret Computer. Computer was not his friend, however. Mostly, he felt like Microsoft's answer to a babysitter, and his charge was about as sophisticated, and precocious as a tic on a hog's tucchis. Of computer, it could be said biblically: she wasn't fast, but she sure was slow.
"We'll know soon." Bergman said paternally.
Then the lights dimmed--peradventure it was the gods blinking their dissent. Then the 4.5 table-shaker moonquake, which deposited Gonzales' coffee cup into his lap. Helena Russell would have been tossed, but fortunately Tony Allen flopped on top of her, circumventing her communion au fiber tile. Victor Bergman stared at Ouma--his complexion turned to cold, water-based paint. His laser pointer was on the other side of the room. Buried, beneath Gorski trinkets.
John Koenig's right eyebrow raised sternly as he reached for his commlock.
"Yeah," he kicked. "We sure will know soon."
"No reported damage, Commander," Paul commented, his eyes glued to the scrollwork across the tiny color screen on his commlock--he'd beaten the
Commander to the punch, as usual, but then again, that was his job--save the Commander work so that Koenig would have time for the important things in life, such as making the life-and-death decisions for the base. "Tech reports a bit of a shaking on the subsurface structures, but that's normal-the surface installations were initially constructed to absorb moonquakes." He examined the device in his hand. "We'll have a total report in an hour."
"Good." Koenig said, admirably composed again, as he returned to his seat, and prepared to rejoin the scientific kumbaya.' Problem solved. Then he noticed that Helena Russell's face had turned completely ashen; her lips were a tundra of blue shock. Then he was sliding backward in his space-age plastic chair--heading for the starboard commstation, and accelerating. His white leather command chair greeted him half way.
Hello, John. It seemed to say, and clouted him upside the head.
There was the savage, multitronic shriek of overloading bus panels, and the horrifying, accordant roar of metal collapsing all around them. Somewhere in the sterile corridors of Moonbase Alpha, screamers of dislodged shell plating, shattered perspex, and high voltage wires flooded through the two archways of Main Mission Control like the damned crying out from the A-1 Sauces of the Ninth Circle.
Alan Carter swallowed a heaping mouthful of plaster as he slid down the conference table like penguin on ice. He joined the pretzel on the other side of the room, Tony Allen, and Victor Bergman, grappled for stability on either side. Gonzales' final destination was the john (the other "John") where he kamikazied his bald head against the porcelain tank.
A more poetical fate could not have befallen him.
One moment Angelina Carter was perusing Bergman's report, the next moment she found herself flying out of her chair in projectile motion toward the steps leading to Koenig's desk. Her forehead clipped the edge of the table and instantly a stream of blood trickled into her right eye. Luckily for her, Paul Morrow was already on the floor and Deputy Commander broke the Chief of Technical's fall.
The zigzag, 8.0 exterminator quake uncreated everything in it's path. Atop Launch Pad Three, seismic waves that rivaled even those of the Good Friday
Quake in Alaska, hurled an orange moonbuggy into a neatly stacked row of storage octagons near the primary anti-gravity dish. Medical Center was buried alive beneath megatons of dust, and converging regolith. The Plato Crater received a face lift, and a nose job, and every monitor on the base turned scarlet.
Alan Carter considered himself a goner. His life paraded in front of him like an out-of-time, and underbudget Tournament Of Roses. He thought he could hear harp glissandi from Saint Peter's Angels.
It was only the RED ALERT Claxon.
"!!!Paul!!!" Koenig cried, while attempting to pull Sandra Benes from the floor. "!!!Track that!!!"
The big doors were half-way open when the diaphanous beast stopped tap dancing on the Moon.
Despite the cut on her head emanating a thin line of blood which spotted the shoulder of her tunic, Angelina hurried to the Technical station after Morrow pulled her up from the floor. She looked at her monitor then at the big screen, blinded by the image of the triple suns. She shook her head in horror as she looked at her monitor again then at the Commander.
"Sir," Angelina said blankly and, ironically, without the hint of surprise. "It appears we have changed course."
Sandra nodded numbly from the Data Analyst station and Bergman, standing behind Ang, glanced at Koenig forlornly.
"We are now on a collision course with the triumvirate."
That's not the way our luck usually runs, someone spake.
John Koenig stood leaning against port number two on the balcony. He thought, and pondered, and ratiocinated the nearest star until the x-rays, and sun spots from Eta Carinae Positive began to strobe his vision. A perdition of fused hydrogen, and helium, with incinerating, Calvinesque temperatures of up to 50 K at it's core. A crematorium in space, and it had their name on it. Emma Black moved past him with her clipboard. There was a woebegone rictus on her proprietary face. On the bottom landing, Helena Russell stood with her hand against the railing. Sloven, The Candy Striper passed her a cheerful check list for his volunteer rounds in Medical Center. That caused an upturning from the corners of her mouth, but nothing else.
Angelina tracked Sloven as he passed Tanya Alexander and gave her an apparently affectionate caress to the back of her neck then disappeared through the right archway... apparently. Her best reaction was neutrality, not a smile, not a returned loving glance. Ang had been studying Tanya's face again and, realizing she was the object of scrutiny, Tanya covered the possible slight discoloration under her right eye with her hand. Possible...the lighting was subdued and she seemed to have a preference of wearing an inordinate amount of foundation.
Angelina cornered Tanya on the balcony one month prior.
"Is Ivan beating you up?" she asked bluntly and unexpectedly over her cup of strong Moonbase Alpha coffee.
"No, of course not," Tanya laughed nervously. "I enjoy racketball but I'm clumsy, you know." That was a lie; Tanya Alexander was probably one of the most gracefully athletic women on the base. She quickly excused herself and returned to her station.
At that moment, Angelina Carter was convinced Ivan Sloven use Tanya Alexander as a punching bag. However, many others seemed to think he was just marvelous; he was helpful and friendly and kind and..etcetra. Yep, Sloven was one hell of a guy.
Victor Bergman stood by the tray, waiting for the circuits to stop opening, and closing near the mainframe. As soon as the register tape unfurled, he impatiently tore it off, and headed down the steps to Morrow's workstation.
"Well, sure enough, it's endgame for us." He said terminally to the controller's gooseneck lamp. He looked upwards at the balcony, and saw Koenig braced. "It's confirmed, we're being pulled into the chromosphere of the second star." He told him.
"I just don't get it." Carter said, irked, and standing at the Capcomm Desk with his hand on his hip. "Victor, I thought your people had this worked out."
"I thought we had." The professor explained, turning away from Koenig. "We monitored the gravitational pull of the Triumvirate, and we're still monitoring it.
"The thing is, whatever is pulling us in isn't gravity--at least not yet." He winced. "I'm not sure what it is."
"Right," Ang replied, now focused on their current situation. "From this distance, the gravitational forces of the triumvirate could not have possibly changed our course. It won't be until another 72 hours before we come under the gravitational influences of the Eta Carinae trio. However, once we are affected..."
She trailed off and sat back. They knew the situation. Once they were being dragged in toward the triple suns, they would be pulled in with such force and with such acceleration that there would be no escape.
"However, there is a slight chance we might beat this thing and perhaps effect a course change." Ang nodded toward Victor and Sandra, who did not have the blank looks of the rest of those in Main Mission and were already in the know from an earlier conversation between the professor, Sandra and Ang.
"???How long do we have before our life support systems are neutralized???" The Unhappy Camper (a.k.a. John Koenig) asked as he hustled back down the steps.
"It will take only two days for the intense heat to quash our air recycling systems." Sandra Benes reported while gazing at her monitor. "That's before we even enter trans-solar injection. Not long after that, our oxygen supply will evaporate--even in the cryo reserve tanks."
"That's cherries on a tree, alright." Carter flipped. "In other words, long before the Moon gets fried, we'll be lying here like an oven full of corpse pizzas."
"That gives us three days to effect a course change." Bergman summarized, situating a blockade between himself, Carter, and the commander. "Maybe five days to decide whether, or not we're going to have to abandon Alpha, although by then, it shan't be much of a choice."
"Revised data has just come in from our orbital satellites." Ouma announced, rotating the computer desk on its turntable to face them. "Whatever caused the two seismic displacements that we felt--it originated from coordinates that are obverse to the Triumvirate." He articulated. "And we weren't 'pulled.' We were 'pushed.' A tremendous pulse of energy that seems to have emanated from somewhere outside the galaxy.
"The data ends there." The chief said, and with pangs of ignorant guilt, returned to facing the big screen once more.
Observing the distressed and non-working faces of the Main Mission operatives, Koenig directed the Command staff back into his office. After righting chairs and dusting plaster off the table, Koenig swiveled toward the group.
"What's the plan, Ang?" Koenig queried as the big doors rolled to a close behind him.
Ang glanced at Carter who was clearly pissed off; she pictured steam rising from his nostrils and was amused for a split second. She cleared her throat.
"Well, theoretically, it is basically creating a shockwave. When the gravitational forces of the three suns are about to influence us and pull us in, we set off a series of nuclear charges, a combination of nuclear mines and a few of the nukes, which would, theoretically, counter the force of the suns. This action introduce an angular momentum which would veer us away from the suns.....theoretically."
"Theoretically," Paul Morrow commented. "Theoretically we should still be in Earth orbit." He took a deep breath. "Have you run the simulations on this yet? How many of our remaining weapons do we need to dedicate to this project? What will be the effects on Alpha-can we expect another Magnitude Eight moonquake? Do we need to reprocess more plutonium to create more weapons-and mind you," he said, "based on past performance, we don't have the time to do that-the last time, it took us almost a week to refine enough weapons-grade plutonium for a single nuke, and another week to assemble it-though, granted," he acknowledged, "now that we have the process down, we could conceivably shave time from that deadline."
John Koenig moved away from his leaning position by the monitor, damping his bruised, and kabossed' cheek with a wet handkerchief. Candid, and immediately detectable black, and purple splotches on both sides made him look like Seymour, The Raccoon.
Then along came Sloven, through the maintenance hatch with an angelic look on his pug-face. He stole across the room to where Alan Carter was sitting, and passed him a green flimsied PM report on the post-shake, and bake status of the LSRO Hub. Carter nodded congenially. Then, Father Sloven turned his benevolence on Koenig, who frowned deeply, and judgmentally at him.
Angelina narrowed her eyes, regarding him coolly.
With that, the security guard turned his tail between his legs, and made good his fashionable retreat from the room, waving to Bergman as he went.
"We could conceivable cannibalize the P249 that we have earmarked for Alpha's reactors." Sandra Benes added. "But I don't recommend it. By the time it reaches that level, the isotope has already been refined for use in the power generation areas. Upgrading it for ballistic use has never been tried, and frankly, I think it would end in disaster, and at exactly the wrong time."
"No," The commander objected tersely. "Whatever happens--we don't go there. No robbing Peter to pay Paul. Those reactors are damn hard to re-up, and all of the scenarios we have for doing it involve a half-assed rigging that could get us all killed. Given the choice of being burned alive, or turned into freeze pops--neither option is acceptable. If we're going to save Alpha, we're going to have to do it with the resources we have.
"Victor, would you say that five day forecast is a reliable one."
"Reliable?" He said, ruffling through his notes. "It's as accurate as it can be, based on the information we have now. Remember though, we have yet to record any gravimetric readings from the Triumvirate itself. Once the Moon begins to fall towards that second star, the rules will change drastically.
"And," He segued, introducing the next topic in the agenda, as the problems began to breed like hot, and eager rabbits. "We also have to consider the time factor that's involved if we have to exodus the base. The launch window for our Eagles is crucial, if we're going to avoid having our fleet sucked in, and vaporized.
"By the way," The professor winked at Ouma. "That's something that I would prefer computer not calculate. No offense, of course."
The mainframe chief nodded in agreement.
Angelina silently counted to ten during the questions; Paul's rapid fire inquiries were annoying. He damn well knew there had only been preliminary discussions and they had not had the opportunity to work the details.
She answered, smiling patiently. "No, we have not run simulations because we just discussions less than 15 minutes ago. As you know, we have 8 Titans remaining and we will likely need to use 4 or 5. Petrov has begun prepping Evil Mushroom now. As far as a another magnitude 8 quake, perhaps, if we are subjected to another "push" by the external force that caused us to change our course. Otherwise, we definitely could expect more quakes once we come under the influence of the gravitational pull of the triumvirate in 3 days." She paused. "Of course, by then we will have much greater concerns. Concerning the question of reprocessing plutonium, we really don't have time to do it. We have 7 nuclear mines ready for use. It would have been nice to have more so we didn't have to use the Titans but so be it."
He turned to Ben Ouma. "I want the simulations-the top three simulations-in the next four hours. Before we commit to this, we need at least some assurance that we're not putting us into a hyperbolic course directly into Eta Prime."
He settled back, his fingers moving unconsciously along the frets of an invisible guitar as he forced himself to relax as much as he ever did. "Professor Bergman," he continued, "work with Captain Carter on an emergency evacuation plan-what would the possibilities be of placing enough supplies in our subsurface facilities to restore this base to minimal operating capabilities should we have to evacuate for the duration of the moon's close pass through the system?" Despite the forceful confidence of his voice, he knew there was no possibility-Eagles had a limited range and despite efforts, their meager resources were already stretched to-if not past-the breaking point.
"Agreed." Koenig said, moving behind Morrow, and Sandra, almost crushing a loose Gorski-thingamajig' underfoot. "But let's face it, evacuating the base is an absolute last resort. Before we waste any more of our time, I'd like Carter, and Professor Bergman to go up in Eagle One, and do a reconnaissance." He moved over to the pilot's side. "Ouma will have a procedure worked up for you. I want you to turn your I-Band Omni dish towards the coordinates that he gives you. I want to know if we're still being 'pushed,' and if we are, where exactly it's coming from.
"Right away, commander." The pilot said, nodding to Bergman.
"Ang,' I'd like you, and Paul to start work on Operation: Cool-Down. We'll devote as much time as we can to simulation study, but time is not on our side. Start assimilating the nuclear charges. Paul I want you to deploy them the minute they're ready.
"And remember." He added. "The clock is ticking--for all of us."
"Very good, Commander," Angelina typed in a series of pages to some of her technical staff.
"John," Helena Russell added, before allowing the meeting to break up, "the heat will begin to increase exponentially to the point where our HVAC systems will not be able to maintain a 68 degree constant environment very soon."
She unconsciously tapped her pen on the desk. "Things are going to start becoming very uncomfortable soon. I suggest not only enforcing mandatory water breaks to stave off dehydration but also allow all personnel to dress in light weight clothing rather than in the standard duty uniform; unless, of course, lack of covering would introduce a safety hazard on the job."
The doctor glanced at the faces around the room then back to Commander Koenig. "I don't need to remind you that with the increased heat, tempers will probably flare as well."
The commander nodded.
"Alright." He assented sans chagrin. "I'll ask Ang' to issue a Priority Three advisory on the chillers, and air-handling units. Paul, forward a hard copy of Dr. Russell's instructions to Alpha News Service." He said, while moving back towards his desk. "While you're at it, track down Pierce Quentin, and tell him I want to see him in my office.
Angelina Carter stepped out of Travel Tube C and took a quick right turn into the short corridor that led to the room which was at one time the bane of the Tri-Continent.
It was already stifling in the upper levels of Alpha, although it was still relatively cool in this lower level control room. The Chief of Technical Section was nevertheless dressed in shorts, tank top and sneakers, her commlock clipped precariously at her hip pocket. She approached the manager of Tactical and Defense, the former Colonel Yuri Petrov.
Tactical and Defense was sort of Security and sort of Technical. As of this moment, the section fell under the wing of Technical though Paul had recently voiced his preference to have the group under the Main Mission organization and hence, under him. Angelina didn't care either way; Tactical was probably one of the most self sufficient organizations, as Petrov ran a pretty tight ship. However, Commander Koenig did not see the urgency in moving the organization and today it was still her responsibility.
"We will definitely need 5 nukes, Colonel," Angelina approached him with a red flimsie. "How are the preparations coming along?"
"Paciihahhe," the tactician replied sedately in mother Russian, while handing Ang' the requisite radiation badge, though her gums appeared not to be bleeding, and though she appeared to not be glowing in the dark. "On schedule, with a few minor infelicities of staffing." He disclosed, and shook his head balefully at Dr. Roberta Specter. On the opposite side of the observation window, she appeared to be hectoring the PhD's as they tried to reach comity over the hot wires, exposed in an open gas hatch on the warhead's mid-stage. Dr. Teller wielded his clipboard, and appeared to be shouting mute, though no less personal, antonyms in her general direction. Dr. Jessup shook his head ruefully, and ignored her. "She's fair with logistics. There's leadership inside her that's dying to be expressed. But everyone considers her an airhead--myself included. Such is her quandary."
It choked him up just thinking about it. She never seemed to gain that priceless experiential knowledge, but went on, yakking,' and turning Deuterium initiators into fool's gold; her common sense, overwritten, as if by some higher agency.
Outside the gantry elevator, Harness Bull Pound was engaged in light conversation with Michelle Cranston, but the nearby LGM25C, code named Raven Nine was bigger than them all.
"STAGE TWO PRESSURIZATION NOMINAL, VORTEX INITIATED." Evil Mushroom broke in suddenly--it's sterile phonyms echoing from every speaker in the silo. "TURBOPUMP, AND R/V BACKUP SYSTEMS NOMINAL."
"The most sophisticated circuit on this base." The colonel said, not fondly, of the cybernetic dinosaur, designed, and built by SAC/NORAD. "Yet, if it had even one-quarter of Dr. Specter's ability to reason, it would be dangerous.
"I take it the launch coordinates have yet to be determined." He said evenly, examining the status of one of the concurrent launches, Raven 10, in the harsh yellow light of the gooseneck lamp.
"That would be correct," Angelina nodded then stifled a yawn as she leaned against the desk.
"The professor and Alan left 20 minutes ago on a reconnaissance mission. It is scientific, data gathering, really. Besides determining the coordinate to send the nukes and set the mines, the Professor is suppose to figure out what pushed us toward the trio suns."
She noticed a sheen of perspiration forming on Petrov's forehead. The tunics of the technicians working on Raven 9 had sweat stains on the back in the shape of a tree. "You guys should change out of the wool uniforms and make sure you drink plenty of water. I don't need the crew passing out from heat stroke and dehydration for the sake of a dress code."
"What about the nuke mines? What is the status on those?" Angelina eyed the giddy Dr. Specter and shook her head slightly.
"I'm afraid this area doesn't lend itself very well to summer fashions." Petrov explained, watching Dr. Jessup fix the helmet to his silver radiation suit before stepping inside the warhead's casing. From afar, he looked like Klaatu from "The Day The Earth Stood Still." Then Teller donned his fail safe gear, and took on the burden of the magnetically sealed crate that Michelle Cranston was carrying. The wall-mounted seal beams turned a cautionary blue color as she, and Pound ran like hell to opposing sides of the containment field. "We have three fission devices waiting to be armed. During my tour of duty in the Baltic, we referred to them as 'Island Busters.' Small--but exceptionally dirty.
"As to the remaining charges, I have no idea. Seems Mining Section is having difficulty excavating enough Plutonium locally for the thermonuclear transaction. The last I heard, they were so desperate that they were even willing to repel inside the bottomless pit at Wargentin."
Luckily, Petrov had never heard of any moonbase miners falling heels over shovel into the crater's screaming chassids. Then again, there was a first time for everything.
Angelina's commlock chirped and she removed it from the waistband of her Moonbase Alpha issued gym shorts. It was a text message from Chief Mining Engineer Steve Gardner. It read as follows:
"GOOD NEWS. WE FOUND MORE URANIUM. BAD NEWS. ONLY ENOUGH FOR 2 MINES. DELIVER @ PROCESS CENTER BY 1600. GARDNER"
"Right," Angelina murmured acknowledging receipt of the message. She looked up at Petrov. "Colonel, it looks like we will need another Tritan. You can have as many of the Electronics and Nuclear Techs as you need to get the job done."
Giving Petrov her best electronics people would of course, deprive her of techs to work on the HVAC system. However, priorities were priorities. She'd figure something out and had enough of a baseline knowledge to do some of the work herself; she was sure the Commander would give a hand too.
"Of course," Ang smirked, "I won't send you Malcom."
She expected Yuri Petrov to return her smirk, ever so slightly in his cool Russian demeanor. Only he did not. In fact, his expression was aptly described as frozen; so was his body. Petrov was in the middle of scratching his nose when he stopped completely. He did not blink.
Angelina Carter looked around and noticed Tellar, Cranston and Pound were also statuesque. The chatter of Evil Mushroom slowed to the murmur of a 45 record being played at 33 1/3 rpm. Fifteen feet from Petrov the empty space took on a ripple. Angelina slowly backed away, against the wall panel as she saw a definite form. She squinted then suddenly gasped as she felt a slow squeezing around her throat.
She could not move and she could not cry out. As she began to black out and her sight turned to tunnel vision, the ripple began to take on the form of a hideously, mutilated and decayed, though somewhat opaque face. It was nearly nose to nose with her, drawing closer and closer to her, when she closed her eyes.
In the next instant she found herself leaning against the wall, hand to her forehead. She looked around and saw Tellar, Cranston and Pound at work again and the background noise of the defense computer.
"You know," Petrov began, offering her a mug of water as Ang' crawled back up the rabbit hole to Moonbase Alpha. "I had a dual citizenship. I lived for ten years in Washington, Indiana.
"Don't ask. Anyway, they had an expression there that matches your expression to a tee;' 'messed up,' is the phrase. Would you like to hear the Russian cognate."
Michelle Cranston was exiting the connector ramp, and moving towards the elevator when she saw Ang,' and waved to her through the transparency. She seemed jovial at first, but then her mirth became an instant, add water grimace when she saw the swollen, left over horror on Angs' face. Harness Bull Pound didn't wave at all. He had his back turned to her while he spoke to someone on his commlock. His Brain Banger Prism dangled in its triangular holster like an unevolved tail.
Then the blue warning lights were replaced with soft, white, fluorescent again as Drs. Teller, and Jessup emerged from the belly of Raven Nine.
"Uh, sure, "Angelina stammered, as she took the water and quenched her sudden dessert thirst. He taught her the Russian translation and she heard it but she was not listening.
Michelle Cranston's brow was crinkled and Ang, waving the green flimsie like a fan, conveyed the non-verbal 'I'm just hot, that's all.' Cranston nodded slightly and followed Pound, deciding that she should probably get into some light weight clothing as well.
As Petrov talked, she reasoned to herself that she was tired, stressed and beginning to suffer from the heat; although she was not entirely convinced of the logic. She was sufficiently experienced now in weird phenomena to be suspicious; guilty until proven innocent.
"It sounds like you are on schedule and have things under control, Yuri," Angelina complimented. "Good job. Don't let Paul Morrow hassle you. Let me know if you run into any problems or need anything else."
"This is my Sanctum Sanctorum, down here." Petrov said copascetically. "I don't hear much from command staff."
He almost added: "Unless it is a directive to kill someone," or to make a crack attempt at same.
Angs' complexion gave him pause--maudlin, and only a few degrees above pale. It was possible that she doubted his veracity; thought he was full of it. He suddenly realized why he was stuck in the can with Evil Mushroom, and a garrison of Harness Bulls--each, and every one, an unstable, loony tune. He didn't much care for people. Too many surprises, and trying to anticipate them all gave him a acid reflux. He liked the human race better when he was barraging them with artillery, and raining nukes' upon their heads.
Pravda; not the wastrel Moon. Now there was a town to be in.
The temperature on the base was now 95 degrees. Ed Malcom was on his way to the commissary. He was hot. He was galded. He was sheathed in raw sweat from the bank of his forehead, to the flab of his wide load. His bunion was killing him. His appetite was enigmatically, unaffected. He stepped miserably into Travel Tube-A, and waited for the car to accelerate.
Suddenly, sitting directly across from him on one of the Futura plastic couches, a brown squirrel of duplicity, and petty intent twitched its nose at him. Malcom was stunned--even enthralled by the atypical sight. He wanted to move closer for a better look, but suddenly, invisible bands of iron encircled him like a gigantic slinky. He couldn't stand, or reach for his commlock, or halt the degenerative progress of the travel tube car.
The squirrel-entity was now in control.
"It bothers you that I've joined you." The squirrel-entity said. He wasn't offended. "I can see that you're shocked. At my demeanor. My phenotype. Tell me, have you ever seen the Rogers & Hammerstein musical, "South Pacific?"
The technician's tongue tipped at his lips, a ubiquitous fist crunched at his vocal cords.
"You would probably like it, though the use of the glockenspiel, and the triangle was a bit extraneous." The squirrel-entity shrugged. "My guess is, you're a fan of percussion, though too dumb to appreciate the savvy of an artisan like Buddy Rich.
"Do you even recognize that name? You don't do you."
Ed Malcom gagged.
"Resistance is fruitless." The squirrel-entity advised. "There's no escape from us elementals. How can you possibly retreat from beings that exist between diatoms, and chlorophyll. You can run, but you can't hide. There is one way." The squirrel-entity admitted, but it was a long-shot, at best. "There's a mineral complex on the fifth planet in the constellation Pleiades. Its called Tryoxinmethylocarbaminechloronitrate. A drop in your coffee, and you would never again be susceptible to extrasensory harassment like this. Tryoxinmethylocarbaminechloronitrate has been known to block certain neural pathways that lead to the hypothalamus of the brain. An unfortunate platitude is that is causes the simultaneous firing of neurons in certain species of crustaceans, endemic to the system. For approximately fifteen seconds, they are at one with the Sublime. Then they rot like salmon in a fish market."
Ed Malcom wanted to vomit, but it would surely land on his fat gut, and roll down his stricken chest. He would be reek, as well as being hot, and galded. The future seemed dim.
"In your present situation, Trioxinmethylocarbaminechloronitrate is not an option." The squirrel-entity lamented. "It seems stupid that I should have to tell you that. It's a double redundancy, but I thought I would point it out anyway, just to be conversational." The squirrel-entity said, scamping to the edge of his plastic couch. "Now, as to my purpose--I have come to lift the complex layers of stupidity from your eyes, so the prophecy might come true; that the blind may once again see. For if you are made to glean, this entire asteroid, and everyone on it would axiomatically fall into the lower, death realms that are my theological domain. I have a master plan. However," the squirrel-entity cautioned "I should probably tell you that this will involve dispensing the shadows that you laughingly refer to as 'I.' Your life will become unbearable. I wouldn't wish it on my own worst enemy, really.
"What do you think about that?"
"!!!NO!!!" Ed Malcom choked.
"Yes." The squirrel-entity said, switching its tale.
The travel tube zoomed down a highway to hell.
Still dark...but not much. Eta Carinae Positive was murdering the night.
Eagles One, and Seven maintained a holding pattern in close proximity. Eagle One's bow was aimed at all coordinates 43S.10SW. Eagle Seven was aimed in the opposite direction, astern of the solar alee. Major Donald Franzen had the helm. Eagle Flight One was under the direct command of Captain Alan Carter, WSCA. While Franzen corrected the degs on his ship, Professor Bergman seated himself at the workstation in Eagle One's laboratory module, and keyboarded the formula DM = m - M = 5lg (r/10pc) + A. The dish lowered from a hatch in the transport's keel, and modulated towards Ben Ouma's Widget Thing From Another Galaxy. Said Widget didn't want to be found, however. After only five minutes it became incenseingly, punch the fucking wall obviate. The professor groaned, and capped his ink pen.
"Bergman here." He said glumly to Carter through the link. "That scan came back two apples, and a banana. No telemetry. I think its time to spread out. I'll try boosting the signal gain through the MoonSat Network. Hopefully, I won't break anything."
"Alpha, did you get that?" Carter said into his headset microphone, as he opened the ship's drive.
"Affirmative Eagle One, we copy." Controller Winters replied, with all the elan of Robby, The Robot. "Eagle Seven, haul starboard. Eagle One, slow ahead to meridian."
Somewhere on the Main Mission observatory, Klaus Rotstein assisted himself to a nice, cushy chair next to an AC vent, where he did not have to produce, and spin. The lap of luxury, in the Royal Kuwaiti Palace of his worthless, do-nothing brain. The ice cubes in his moonbase cup melted almost instantly from the orange rays of the furnace outside.
"Roger that." Carter replied, tightening his safety harness. He opened the idiot switch, and fired a ten second burst of plasma from the aft thrusters. In space, Eagle One, and Eagle Seven parted ways--Carter moving forward into the scalding omnipresence of the Triumvirate; Franzen, to his destiny near the baked aurora of Tycho. "Eagle Seven, stand by for braking."
"Copy." Franzen said. With his Liverpoolian accent, he would have fit in perfectly alongside, George, and Ringo, and Paul, and John, who didn't mean to say that his group was better than Jesus Christ as a person, or anything.
Eagle Flight One was a hot mission--in more ways than one. Carter's hair was pasted to his head like a slimy, hirsute alien that intended to suck his brains.
"Nothing." Bergman said to the Boolean maps that lined the wall monitors. "As near as I can tell, the waveform originated over 300 AU's beyond the galactic system. Way, way out there, in the vicinity of Thetis.
"Apparently, it's stopped." He exhaled, turning away from the gooseneck lamp. "Which is good. I guess." He said, mocking the wholly useless auspiciousness of it all. It was like having some poltroon act all ennobled because he was able to offer you regular, or extra crispy for your Salem stake burning.
"Right." Carter sighed, wiping his brow with the right sleeve of his environment suit. He closed the port covers, and brought up the navigational display again. "Alpha/Eagle One. It's a no-go out here. Whatever it was, it's gone now. I'm reeling the dish in.
"Eagle Seven, you're on the Lubber's Line. We're returning to base."
Then out of nowhere, Arthur C. Clark's stargate opened, and closed, and before it was over, Carter was left to offer condolences to Moonbase Alpha's umpteenth widow. He would obsess over the proposition of blowing the goddamned computer to kingdom come.
"Franzen, did you get that? We're through. Time to pack up, and go home." He fumed while turning his forepeak away from Eta Carinae positive, and back towards the lunar poles.
No response. A million copulating bees on a white sheet of paper. In the lab, Victor Bergman acquired a taste for india ink.
"Eagle Seven, this is Carter." The pilot said angrily as his ship began to coast towards Plato. "Pull your head out of your ass, and answer up. I'm not in the mood."
"...the Moon...." Major Donald Franzen's voice piped weakly through the intership channel. "The...it's gone...can't triangulate...."
"???What the bloody hell are you talking about???" Carter bellowed, already working the Neptune Panel to fix the other pilot's position. The doors parted, and Victor Bergman entered the module, his frown lines much deepened.
"...too...many...." Franzen replied, even as he was being buried alive in subspace static. Bum rushed to his death in a place of black ash, and falling stars. A place of Roman Barges, and decaying pyramids, and lost milk carton children. The universe of Jimmy Hoffa, and Amelia Earhart, and TBF Avengers. The home of the UFO that sank Elvis, and the RMS Titanic, but not at the same time.
"Alpha, this is Eagle One." Carter said frantically. "Eagle Seven is in trouble. I need help locating his position."
They tried. They coordinated Franzen's last reported position. They attempted to project on Carter's last relative approach. They broadcast homing beacons, and rescue blyphs on the interstellar band. Helena Russell tried to somehow tie in the lost pilot's bioscan readings (which were flatline) with the tower's deep space tracking system, which Ouma rigged with a flathead screwdriver, and five yards of duct tape. Koenig ordered Klaus Rotstein out onto the surface for a frugal search. Moonbuggies were dispatched.
Carter did a spacewalk.
But Eagle Seven was gone. Graveyard gone.
The roar of the compressors deadened Angelina Carter's hearing and eventually her mind.
After spending nearly 2 hours on her back half inside and half outside the enormous unit, as one of a team of engineers attempting to optimize the cooling system, Ang's eyelids became heavier and heavier. Even Ed Malcom's grumbling and the distant country music from Commander Koenig's CD player as he worked on the giant fan unit on the other side of the auditorium could not keep her from yawning.
The black soil sprinkled slowly from her hands as in an hour glass. From this soil, next year's harvest would be great. The twin moons had risen early in the reddish sky, as the red dwarf sun billions and billions of miles distant began to disappear below the horizon. The nocturnal creatures would soon emerge and the thunderheads in the distance forewarned of rain.
The air was sweetly pungent, from the aroma of the fruit, appetizing in appearance, on the nearby trees, which resembled gigantic vines, intertwining each other than trees. Angelina closed her eyes, feeling the cool breeze on her face, listening to the thunder in the distance.
The storms grew impossibly close to her as thunder clapped above her and lighting struck a nearby tree. It burst into flames. In record time, before she could stand, the fire had spread and she was suddenly surrounded. With nowhere to run, she watched frantically, as tears streamed down her cheeks, and the circle of inferno closed in on her.
Angelina gasped and jumped when she felt movement against her. Carter had maneuvered himself into the opposite equally narrow second service entrance and was right next to her. Perhaps he would be more useful. Ed Malcom, who had earlier gotten stuck in the opening as he tried to squeeze his bulk into it, had been sent to help Commander Koenig.
If they survived this latest crisis, Koenig would probably get back at her by assigning her to overnight Command coverage for at least a month. Such would be the way he would extract his "revenge" on her, she mused. Still, to Ang, it was probably worth it; she did not relish the thought of making full side body contact with Ed Malcom. His body odor was so bad, even from a distance Ang thought she would gag.
"Eagle 7 still missing?" She asked, resetting the voltmeter, though she already knew the answer. She was concerned but she was, as always whenever he went out in an Eagle, so very happy to see Alan return.
"Zero." Carter said. "The whole search was a Drover's dog. No sign of Franzen; no sign of Eagle Seven; not even a radioactive jetsam left behind by his Howitzers. I saw him in the autoforg facility this morning. Ten hours later, and it's like he never existed." He recanted miserably, removing another 43" X 48" screen from the open condenser dog house. "I just don't get it." He sighed, dropping the sheet, and placing his left fist against his forehead, as if to punch the answer through. "He wasn't even ten kilometers away. I had him on my scanners. How can a blasted 300 ton ship just disappear through the cracks with it's pilot. Like sliding behind a lousy, goddamned refrigerator."
It desolated him.
"A squirrel." John Koenig declared with ire, and voluminous choler. "Well, I think that's totally whacked." He informed Ed Malcom, reaching for the lever to close down Pump Number One. "I don't want to hear any such nonsense."
Five years in space. Sixty months, and what a craze-mill Deadhead Ed had already become. It was like Kool-Aid drying up in a jug. The commander saw it coming.
"Then I won't tell you about his kampf. His hideous plan, and how he would love nothing more than to cast every living thing into an unpurgatorial oblivion." The technician sulked, knowing that at this point, it would be more apropos to refer to 'he' with the more accurate, and insidious pronoun 'it.' "I wonder if we would enjoy greater success boosting the chillers if we realign the outside sensors."
"I already thought of that." Koenig said, aggravated, while reattaching the solid state circuit board to the control panel. Of course, the ground wire wouldn't reach. Another fun day-roasting in the inferno with Ed Malcom, and his cohort, the Squirrel, From Hell. "They were turned when the temperature reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
"It is now 108 degrees Fahrenheit." He announced, hoping to shock the technician back into reality. The result was a pittance. Nothing. A disaster cake.
"I'm concerned." His exogenous partner groaned.
"Then go see Bob Mathias, and have him plaster your skull with some industrial strength dope." Koenig halloo'ed. "But first--hand me that deep well socket out of the tool chest."
"Your remarks humble me." Ed Malcom complimented.
Angelina gazed at Carter sympathetically for a moment. All the while she remembered her weird moment in the Evil Mushroom control room: The marching of time, no longer marching. The horribly bizarre face thing that nearly Eskimo kissed her. She wanted to tell him about it. However, the strain and despair in his eyes told her he really didn't need another tale of being transported to the land of Oz. Perhaps it was just a result of a weary mind.
"I'm sorry, Alan," she replied and gently kissed his cheek. "I'll be right back."
She pulled herself sliding on her back feet first out of the service entrance of the compressor unit.
Paul Morrow looked down at her. "I was wondering how long it would take you to wake back up and realize that I've been standing here for almost ten minutes." He crouched down beside her. "Your staff also owes me the simulation profiles for the course corrections blast-that was due three hours ago. Atop that, where is your husband-his flight operations people are behind the power curve on the Eagle refit operations, and their share of the tentative flight plan for Operation Noah's Ark." Noah's Ark, of course, was merely the motions of 'Plan B' to temporarily evacuate Alpha in case the nukes would fail to move the moon out of its present course.
As though 'Noah's Ark' would actually be viable. Eagles simply didn't have the range, oxygen reserve, or any sort of duration capability to actually pull such a maneuver off. Still, Paul had to arrange the contingency plans.
He waited a moment to allow Ang to gather her thoughts, then said, "Well?"
Ang stood up, brushing herself off. Morrow was drowning in his own perspiration, his hair wet and helmet like on his head.
"My staff is working on prepping the Ravens and mines. My resources are primarily dedicated to actually making the shockwave happen at this point, Paul. Jim Haines is working on the simulations, but frankly since we've never encountered a triumvirate before and the gravitation effects are unknown, the simulations profiles in this case are no better than best guesses." She wiped the back of her hands, teeming with sweat, on her shorts.
"The commander agrees," she added, turning toward the tool cart for the 1/6" driver bit. "As for a status from Alan, you should ask him yourself." She nodded to Carter who was straightening to a standing position behind Morrow.
He was neither ticked, nor termagant, nor inclined to massacre. Franzen was just the latest victim in the Moon's low RBI Score. Another sacrificial fucking goat, but he had little doubt, Morrow still had his tea promptly at 4:00 PM, regardless--ha-ha-ha, you insensate, limey cock sucker. Some must die, so others can live. That's probably what this John Fogerty with a moustache would say. His pores held the strain--sort of--but when it came time to make a basket, his eyeballs had an irritating habit of receding into his skull. Later, he'd rationalize it away with polemical statements that endorsed his office. Right. As far as Carter was concerned, the game had gone on for too long. Far too long. The hour was late; the clock was broken, and the batteries were cheap. He stepped casually beside Morrow, and turned his bottom teeth into a laconical, savage leer.
"Twenty-seven Eagles." Carter said with demeaning hyperbola. "Up to snuff, and with ancillaries for long range excursion--however long that might turn out to be. Ostrog pulled Eagle One into the outfitting quay an hour ago, and that was the last of them. She ought be ready right now.
"And," Paul said, with complete and total neutrality, "You never thought to make a verbal progress report? I thought better of you."
"You know." Carter brimmed. "I think you're becoming kind of a drip, Paul. Seems like I told you about this twice before I came in here."
"Three times, actually-but then I'll give you credit for having the cajones to at least have said it to my face." Paul glanced down at his palmpilot. "And five more times to others in passing conversation. Bad form, that."
"Maybe the heat has melted your ear drums, eh?"
She froze again in mid-reach for the recharged battery pack, gazing intently at Alan. Her non-verbal shouting "Don't Do It!!!" was either not received or ignored.
Paul looked up at Alan without moving his head-the effect was that of a exasperated teacher regarding an slow but otherwise poor student's lackluster performance in class. "I beg your pardon?" he said softly, his entire frame relaxing back into something other than a leisurely state. "If you're under the impression that you can stand here liberally squandering what precious little time Alpha has left, I can help find you additional labor." He glanced back down at his palmpilot and made a tickmark.
From across the pipes came the alto section. John Koenig found a nut--a 500 pound nut, but no squirrel--as Ray Price profoundly enunciated his ballad "The Green, Green Grass Of Home."
Paul glanced up again. "You certainly are a busy man," he admitted. "Imagine-all this time on your hands."
"Well, there are top people working on the map room calculations--adjunct, of course, to the planning committee. They check in with me, believe it, or not." Carter revealed. "Of course my very best star gazer disappeared several hours ago. He was assisting Professor Bergman, and myself. !!!Poof!!! Right out of space, he slipped by.
"No thanks to you, Mr. Main Mission Controller. "Heh," he gaped insanely. "Barb' Franzen is curious as to what you were up to when that happened also. I just told her you were in your cuppa'--now there's a priority, if ever there was one. You may want to talk to her--after you finish your fucking power trip, of course."
Angelina eyed both men as she finished snapping in the freshly charged battery into the bottom of the driver. She could see exactly where this was going; Ang decided she should attempt to play peacemaking diplomat. "Well," she spoke calmly and evenly. "I think we should take a deep breath and count to 10. Paul," she shot Carter a glance, "as you can see things are well under control and no one is slacking off."
In the background, Ed Malcom could be heard whining how his head hurt and how he was sick to his stomach.
Paul simply cocked an eyebrow and looked at Ang with unreadable eyes.
"Well, almost." Ang smirked. Although there was nothing funny about the situation, she was hot, exhausted and stressed; she couldn't explain it. Once again they were facing certain doom and after over 5 years, Ed Malcom still did not grasp the concept of teamwork. Funny, actually.
She continued to attempt diffusing efforts. "So now that you know everything is honky-dorey, would you like to give us a hand down here?" She smiled sweetly, offering the driver.
"!!!Sonofabitch!!!" John Koenig cried angrily, dropping the circuit card like a 20/20, death-by-high voltage potato. He shook his benumbed, and static charged hand. The grease on his saturated white Haines tee formed a line directly to the perpetrator. Ed Malcom hung his head in shame. "!!!I thought I told you to shut this thing down!!!"
"You did." The technician said contritely. "And I failed to listen because I was otherwise invested in a miserable cosmogeny of my own making. I throw myself upon your mercy, sir. You can chastise me, or if you like, I can chastise myself."
He made as if to paddle himself with a monkey wrench to the arse.
Koenig shook his head pyrrhonically--unwilling to accept that cremation in pairs with Ed Malcom was the rara avis, final ending for his spiritual life. It just couldn't end this way. It was like having someone give you the Hope Diamond, only to jerk it away, and drop it in a septic tank. It was with an abject, incurable hand that he grabbed his commlock from the tool chest.
"John." Victor Bergman said, uttermost, on the opposite end of the link. "Something very interesting. We need you in Main Mission right away. Tell Carter, and Morrow, we need them here too."
He broke the link.
Ed Malcom turned and lumbered miserably toward Carter, Morrow and his boss.
Eta Carinae--destined to outshine the universe.
As the sprawling network of Moonbase Alpha began to shimmer, and steam in the detonated horizon; a crock pot of heat; a char four million times more intense than human beings had ever known. Eta Carinae had money to burn. She looked not too bad, considering the fact that the star had gone supernova in the southern skies of 1730. Normal obscurity returned eventually, but with a new wrinkle in the hem of space. The offspring of the explosion produced T-Tauri, the first cause of Paul Morrow's ass-case; the principal behind Claude Murneau's to-be-avoided, unmanageable moustache; the hot Olympus that squelched the air, and corrupted the mind; that compelled Sloven to a violent throtelen of Tanya Alexander, who was too tired to fend for her unbruised neck, and breasts.
What a guy.
T-Tauri, otherwise known as Eta Carinae Minor; otherwise known as Eta Carinae Positive. It took so long to bake the cake, and she might never find the recipe again. The source was brighter than Sirius, and the double-lobed gases devoured space, faster than Mikey could gourmand Life Cereal. Eta Carinae would just eat anything. As the digital clock beneath the big screen counted down to plasma degeneration, myth, and physical law merged at the oven doors. It took 140 light seconds for radio waves from the mother star to reach Moonbase Alpha's central array. At the end of long road, in the volcanic core, all questions were answered.
Could the Moon possibly survive impact with the star? No.
Could the Moon cope with the incinerating heat? Hell, no.
Could anyone on Moonbase Alpha hope to surmount this current botheration? Probably not.
Eta Cariane was the home of golf playing, coke-snorting, petty, uncaring, lazy lump gods. Her blistering pantheon included Odin, and Hecuba, and Osiris, and Bridg, and Zeus--that wonderful anthropomorph who got jollies screwing his mortal mistresses. Damnation, however, was a process, not an event. Time had to be allotted for every biped, triped, and protozoan to get their fair share.
There were three suns......but there were a million Moons.
Hot town, summer in the city, back of my neck getting dirt, and gritty....
They took the stairs based on a hunch that it would be cooler. How about those hunches? It was just as sweltering, and draining, and electrolyzing as the lift ever was. By the time they reached the top step, the commander was breathless, stupefied, desert dog. Carter, and Morrow were stifled, propping themselves up on opposing, transparent quartz rails--rest in exchange for respiration. One nodded to the other as they prepared for the final eight meters, down the OK Corridor, and into the auditorium.
By the time they entered Main Mission, the internal temperature was 118 degrees.
"Alright, Victor, what do you have." Koenig inquired, handing his towel back to Emma Black. Carter relieved Gordon Cooper at the Capcomm Station, and Morrow landed on Deputy Winters with both feet. Ang' Carter exited the elevator at balcony level, and descended the steps to the technical workstation.
"Listen to this." Bergman said, unpausing the DAT copy that was loaded into the communications module beneath the big screen. Helena Russell stood by to assist. "We recorded it about a half hour ago." The professor said over the introductory static. "On it, you'll hear three of our Rescue Eagles. They were in the vacinity of Orbital Reference 2-4-8. Thirty-thousand miles perigee, and near the last reported position of Eagle Seven.
"We also discovered something else."
He nodded to Helena Russell as they waited for the static to clear.
"...over Compton...working our way towards Tycho...." The overlapping, deep space radio gargle commenced, almost audible.
"...Mission we are "GO" for altitude correction, and burn...." The voice of pilot Pierre Danielle.
"...2-9...we're looking at multiple caution, and warning lights, but...pitch...five...."
At this point, Carter crossed the open pit, and analyzed the litany that was emanating from the tape.
"...we don't see ANYTHING down there, but holes in the Moon...." Opine, courtesy of Thomas Graham, parallel flanking, and frustrated pustule.
"...crossed the Anderson Line, and heading north...empty space...."
"...to say; we must be...vein of Limonite...with my sensors...." Pilot Vicello Tiziano, fighting the good fight.
Bergman paused the system again, his upper lip, stiff.
During this time, Angelina had relieved a blood shot eyed, catatonic and dripping wet Andy Dempsey. She reminded herself again that she needed to talk to Paul about Andy. The technical station screen had reverted to energy saver mode, due to disuse.
She keyed up the Electronics Testing section status on a hunch and recent memory.
"Commander," Ang began "The main navigational unit for Eagle 2-9 is still in the burn-in chamber. It is not even close to being released to Reconnaissance for installation."
She looked to Carter. "Unless your guys swapped out another unit from another ship." That action, however, was not done without a very good reason and Technical would certainly know about it for traceability purposes.
"I didn't recognize three of those voices." Carter said, bewildered. "They may be piloting Eagles, but they're not in Reconnaissance Section."
John Koenig looked grim.
Helena Russell looked blankly from person, to person. The professor relaxed, folding his arms over his chest. The desired effect had been rendered.
"Hangar bay." Gordon Cooper said--perturbed, and getting more perturbed from the Capcomm Station. "What's the situation with Eagle 2-9."
"Main Mission/Hangar Bay." A middle aged, former Trinidad answered from beneath the lunar surface. "Uzil here. Eagle 2-9 is still in the graving dock. The navigational assembly was pulled. Technical Section is remanufacturing the system. No word yet, but we're still waiting.
"Eagle One has been refitted; likewise Eagle 3-2. All systems are 'GO.'"
"Paul." Koenig said calmly. "Contact Eagle Flight Two. Tell them to scan the area. See if they can spot any other ships."
Bergman looked reticently at Ang,' and Carter. As if knowing what the outcome of that stratagem would be.
Helena Russell blinked.
Ben Ouma had taken the initiative. "Computer has analyzed and attempted to match the voices on the recording. It recognizes the voice patterns of Pilots Pierre Danielle, Tom Graham and Vicello Tiziano. Computer cannot make positive identification of three of the voices."
The storm door to the bizarre opened and closed. Angelina Carter was transfixed on the opaque, semi-shapeless figure descending the balcony steps. The figure passed in front of the Commander's desk and descended the two steps toward the Technical Station.
Ang was perspiring profusely from the heat when she felt her skin go cold and clammy as the thing touched her. A pins and needles sensation intensified on her entire left side momentarily then disappeared. She sat back in the chair rubbing her forehead, feeling herself blacking out. Then, suddenly, all was well and she felt instantly better.
She refocused on the screen in front of her and took a large swig of water. Sandra Benes noted the technical manager's flushed sallowness from her position in the adjoining workstation. She considered saying something, but her observations stopped short of her teeth.
"...maybe...." Koenig reeled, his soaked tee drying from the icy encroachment across his skin. "Sandra." He asked turning. "Is it possible we're receiving some kind of reflection, or a distortion. There's a ton of magnetite in that crater. Tycho is hard on ship-to-base communication. Could the local geography be interfering with Flight Two's transmitters."
"It is possible," Sandra acknowledged, "but not likely. An echo transmission would not have the signal strength of its originator. According to computer analysis the source signal strength of the unknown transmissions is nearly as strong as the known communications and, more importantly, the wave form is NOT the opposite, as would be expected in a reflection.
Sandra frowned, cupping her hand to her earpiece. "Commander, I'm receiving another transmission."
"Put it on speakers, Sandra." Koenig was instantly behind her.
"Eagle 2-9 to Alpha....!!!!what's happening!!!!...acknowledge...Eagle 2-9 to Eagle 3-6...OBrien....did you see....explosions...Main Mission tower...it's gone!!...Reactors....destroyed....return to base....rescue.......Eagle 3-6..!!! Evasive Action!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH"
The transmission was followed by a crackle then...silence.
The sparsely furnished room in the deepest levels of Moonbase Alpha, in the catacombs, was now the most popular place on the base. The temperature in this room was only 80 degrees F. The occupants were the youngest members of the Moonbase Alpha population and the adults attending them; in this case, there was no shortage of adult volunteers to baby-sit the children.
Clare Profitt sat in a corner attempting to feed and comfort 6 week old James, one of her identical twin sons, who was crying fitfully with full blown colic. His brother, Jack, slept contently in the makeshift bouncy seat.
Eight month old Gretchen Erhlich watched as Nicky Carter built a tower of blocks. One swipe of her small hand sent the tower to the ground. Nicky responded with hearty laughter and both began throwing the blocks around the room until Joe Erhlich, gently but firmly reprimanded them.
Irina Volkovich, 6 months pregnant, reclined miserably on the couch.
Angelina Carter stepped into the room. Ivan Sloven had graciously volunteered to help watch the children. What a guy. He was on the floor, drawing with Jackie Crawford. Nicky had rambunctiously ambushed him, jumping on his back. Good ole Uncle "Ivan" responded with tickling and gentle roughhousing and Nicky was laughing so hard, his face was flaming red. What a saint.
Angelina did not think so; not at all. She couldn't prove it but thought Ivan Sloven was too good to be true. Men who beat up women are rotten to the core. She couldn't prove that either; but she was working on it. She eyed Sloven coolly as Nicky saw and ran to her. Sloven smiled graciously, innocently and returned his attention to coloring with Jackie.
Nicky hugged Angelina tightly and for good reason. Ang was no longer hot. She was no longer burning up and no longer sweating. In fact, her skin was cool and dry. Her son, on the other hand, felt like a furnace but he relished the coolness of her skin. She was, however, exhausted and she sat in a corner, holding her son. Her eyes became very heavy.
The rose quartz colored midday ski was marred only by the passage of lavender tinged clouds overhead. The waterfall shimmered and sparkled and the sound of splashing and laughter of children and adults alike could be heard on the other side of the waterfall.
Angelina realized she was pregnant, very pregnant, and carefully made her way over the rocks to the waterfall. The laughter grew louder and louder; she looked forward to joining in on the fun. She stepped behind the waterfall to be greeted with silence. Suddenly she felt pain and with one push, she gave birth to her child. This baby was a rare blessing and she cuddled him close to her. At the same time, she heard the voices again, but this time, they were screaming, begging for her to help. She gently laid the baby on the soft moss and covered him then stepped out of the waterfall.
The screaming stopped. She looked around, blinking, squinting at the reddish sun.
When she stepped behind the curtain of water again, Angelina screamed. The baby was gone. Blackness and the void overcame her and claimed her once again.
She awoke with a start, Nicky sound asleep against her. She didn't care about the voices. She would not lose the baby. She knew what she had to do.
One hundred, and thirty degrees. The same temperature one would find in the arid, thirsty plains of Afghanistan. To the vulgar, unrefined, slack-off sentience of the Triumvirate, it was entirely too wintry, and gelid. While Professor Bergman stood at the empty conference table, using his muscle shirt to clear the mug, and ventilation backup from his calculator, John Koenig communed with Betty Crocker. He stood a-borning to the march of vision ports, careful not to gaze directly into the eyes of the gorgon. Pierre Danielle's ship was the last to return, the hydraulic pads touching down in the hot sands of Launch Pad Two. On a nearby commstation, Emma Black perspired on-screen, her tenacity, and sense of purpose, muted by the zero volume.
"Well," Bergman solicited, putting away his calculator. "This is a bit of strange situation we're in, isn't it. We need to think of something. Haul the nail. And do it before we acquire any more problems."
So ended his words of post-existential wisdom.
Koenig's white tee shirt was yellow under the arms from perspiration. He mopped his brow with the already damp bandana and shoved it into hip back pocket of his gym shorts.
"In 2 hours we will know whether things will turn around for us and we'll start to cool down or if we have to pack up and head out of here." Koenig looked up at the A/C vent. It had long ago stopped blowing cool air. He stepped to the side and continued gazing out the window. The elevator of Launch Pad 2 slowly lifted Eagle 10, with mine payload securely attached, to surface level.
"The mines are all set and attached to the Eagles. Lift off is scheduled in 30 minutes and computer has downloaded the coordinates."
Koenig turned to Victor who was now sitting in the low rider couch...sitting....sticking.
"Did Ang give you a status on the Titans?"
"Sure." The professor said, scratching his head. "From the looks of it, they're ready to go. It would be nice to have a goodly, round number waiting for us at the end of it, but we don't. I think Operation: Cool-Down is a little more theoretical than I would like it to be." He admitted, spinning his calculator on the damp surface of the table. "Then there's also the other problem; the difficulty we seem to be having keeping track of personnel, and equipment in this area of space."
It was like reading "Amazing Stories," or in MIA Franzen's case, "Weird Tales." There was nothing palpable; nothing to put on paper to speak of. It was all pap, and "creative" trigonometry.
"Yeah," Koenig sat on the steps as he took a gigantic gulp from his water bottle. "But the thing is, we haven't lost any personnel or equipment. All Eagles were accounted for, one in pieces. Everyone was on base except for pilots Danielle, Graham and Tiziano."
'And Franzen,' Koenig thought mournfully.
"If I didn't know any better, I'd say we were dealing with a premise from a bad Star Trek episode and we were on the verge of proving The Theory of Reality Displacement. What a bunch of crap." Koenig rubbed his forehead and chuckled. The Theory of Reality Displacement proposed that many alternate versions of reality existed on different planes of the time/space continuum. On earth, it had been dismissed as nonsense, the stuff of science fiction films.
Koenig slowly looked over the edge of his thumb and index finger resting under his eyes toward Bergman.
"Then again, Dr. Angelina Verdeschi proposed that nuclear waste accumulations would eventually result in a magnetic field that when discharged could create a megabomb. 'Nonsense' had been one of the milder words used to describe that theory in the academic community." Koenig sighed. "Now look where we are."
Bergman swayed, resting comfortably on the couch with his fingers kneaded behind his head. Somewhere in the office, a black, and white Emma Black was unknowingly sneezeworting a silver, fatidic Gorski plant stand. Elucidation from the converging flames outside had turned the interior wall panels to flush wine. He briefly recalled his painful immigration into the land of "know nothing." Knowing nothing, and living with the fact, day by day, was an truckling process, particularly at MIT--the Elysian Fields, where you not only were supposed to "know something;" rather, you were supposed to "know everything," or topple from balustrade of high repute. He remembered being disemboweled by Diophantine Equations--formulae in which he demonstrated only the sheerest stupidity. Particularly maddening were the expressions a(n), and y(n). They were generally unsolvable. The procedure was mostly regarded as useless, but there they were. The linear ones were solvable, but only after the quantities were stripped of their underwear, and made numerical.
Talk is cheap, Cullen Hightower once said. Except when Congress does it.
"The problem with science as we know it is that it only covers physical laws, and reality." Bergman remarked. "But there's a lot out there that we can't see, John. Our textbooks are archaic. They're about as relevant today as leaching, and lobotomies were before we left Earth. Thirty suns exploded in this sector of space.
"Imagine it. Thirty suns. Our knowledge of the inner working of even one star is limited, at best. There's no way of knowing how deeply it traumatized the framework of time, and space. We don't know how it weakened it...tore through it.... We could be walking on a bad floor, in a condemned house." Bergman analogized, while still the king of "know nothing." "Whenever two particles collide, an infinite number of outcomes follow."
Koenig took another swig of water as his commlock chirped on his elastic waistband.
"Commander, I need to talk to you. I'm here on the other side of the auxiliary door of your office," the woman on the micromonitor requested. "Please."
Commander Koenig pointed the bottom of his commlock toward the door, deactivating the lock. Angelina Carter stepped inside and the door whooshed shut behind her.
Koenig thought there was something odd about her. Then, he realized that she did not have the slightest sheen of perspiration on her. It could be heat stroke. However, her skin was not flushed either and she did not appear to be on the verge of collapse.
"What's up, Ang?" Koenig asked. Bergman drank his Vitaseed.
"We have to evacuate Alpha in the Eagles, sir. Operation Cool-Down is not our best option. You know that it is theoretical at best. We should stop wasting time and leave." She gazed out the bright orange viewport. "What we want...our home...will be out there."
Koenig, and Bergman shared a polite stun by hammer.
The commander absconded at first, inclining his head towards her--as if impaired by some bad plumbing in his eardrums.
"Leave?" He oppugned.
"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," Bergman foundered. He prefaced, gathering his humours. "That sounds...promising. Where do you propose we go. Do you have any additional findings that we aren't aware of. If so, please tell us."
"Ang.'" Koenig said with dawning concert. "We did a multipoint sweep of this area. You, and Sandra both. Remember. There are no planets here--only the Triumvirate."
His attempted smile was broken ludicrousness. Compellers of argon rolled across the vision ports etherically. Before the temperature was 130; now it was 132. In the stage, the transparencies had begun to weep. Emma Black signed off, and her image was replaced with Clare Profitt's.
"We subjected this entire area to a 1,000 GHz radio sweep." Bergman gibed tenderly. "Along with CAMra, and holographic imaging. The results turned up nothing. There's no place to go; no where to evacuate to."
Angelina gazed at Koenig and Bergman, like they were a couple of simpletons.
"Of course we didn't find anything," Ang waved her hand dismissively. "The electromagnetic radiation from the sun trio is wreaking too much havoc with our long range sensors. The data is unreliable."
She was beginning to pace but not perspire.
"It is difficult to say how long the journey would be but certainly within the limit of our resources." She was not sure how she knew this statement. She just knew it to be true.
She stopped and turned toward them. "However, Commander, if we try to create a shockwave under these conditions, we certainly could end up with far more disastrous results. We could rip a hole in the very fabric of the time/space continuum itself."
She paused briefly. It was as if she heard herself speaking in a tunnel. She heard herself speak words that she had not formulated in her thoughts. They just...appeared.
"Don't you understand the implications of that?!?" For some reason, she was becoming exasperated.
"Now, you know better than that." Bergman reassured. "Of course we understand the implications, but how can we make a decision like that without further data. You're too good a researcher to be ignoring the exigencies of this. Believe me, if there's a planet out there, we're interested." He chortled. "Oh, are we ever interested." He affirmed, feeling the sweat trickle down his palpable forehead.
Koenig sipped his water neutrally, always thinking.
"Does Sandra concur with this." He probed, hoping. "How about Lars Manroot. What's the revised forecast from stellar cartography. Are you far enough along with this to provide latitude, longitude, flight coordinates."
Total, unbidden desperation.
A way out would be quite fine, thank you. Everyone on Moonbase Alpha keened. It would be better than being broiled alive like a Jew in Dachau. Christ, it was hot.
Angelina Carter, cool as a cucumber and in fact, beginning to feel a bit on the chilly side looked back and forth between Koenig and Bergman. Her instinct was strong but her logical mind could not prove it. She would never convince them..ever. She would have to take matters into her own hands when the time was right.
"The data from stellar cartography is inconclusive," Ang admitted, shaking her head. "But I don't see how working to create a theoretical shockwave is going to improve our chances either. It could result in damage to the base that would deprive us of the necessary resources for a long road trip in the Eagles."
"However, I will continue to support your decision." She lied. She knew what she had to do. There would be fall out during the long Eagle voyage ahead; she was convinced of it. However, she knew they would eventually understand that she was acting in the best interests of the community. "Excuse me, but I have more work to do before the blast."
Ang turned and left by the privacy door through Main Mission, shivering.
Koenig, and Bergman regarded each other with uncertainty.
Know nothings were they all.
What does it take to achieve in life???
Let us consider the following expression:
If ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQURSTUVWXYZ could be rationalized to 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 910 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26
Then of course:
A-S-S-K-I-S-S-I-N-G 1+19+19+11+9+19+19+9+14+7=118 %
"Marriage." The squirrel entity lectured nervously to his acolyte. "Procreation."
Ed Malcom shrieked.
The activity level in Main Mission was beginning to reach a peak. The clock on the big screen showed a countdown of T-15 minutes until the blast that would create the shockwave and theoretically (hopefully?) would change the course of the moon.
Ben Ouma swiveled his computer desk between Sandra's Data Analyst station and Paul's Controller station. Paul was attending to the activity of securing the base. Sandra continued to gather sensor data and relay it to Emma Black on the computer deck. Main Mission Operatives were rushing about sweating in summer attire in the 145 degree heat.
Bergman continued calculations at the computer under the big screen.
* * * * *
Dr. Helena Russell stared out the viewport after ensuring medical was ready for whatever may result from the blast: either severe casualties, a quick evacuation...or both. A change in the background beep-and-ping of the life support monitors caused her to furrow her brow and look about in surprise-then a medical alarm went off from ICU.
On the heels of Bob Mathias, Helena plowed into ICU followed closely by Dorothy Sullivan-all three MDs came to a screeching halt, Bob at the EEG and yelling for a nurse to bring in something for the IV; Dot and Helena at the shoulders of Olivia deHavilland, who was sitting up.
Seven months of absolutely nothing-her mind barely registering activity on the brain-wave monitors; seven months of IV feeding and people changing her position every hour on the hour to avoid blood pooling, seven months of the tiny doll for the play purposes of the medical staff continuously losing weight from loss of body mass until she was no more than flaccid flesh covering bone.
And she, naked but for the continuously circulated, fluid-filled cooling blanket, was sitting up, eyes open and registering-something, her lips moving-from the long disuse of her vocal cords, soundlessly.
* * * * *
Commander Koenig, at his desk, and Paul Morrow shouted briefings and status to each other over the cacophony of Main Mission as Koenig intently typed at his keyboard.
Angelina Carter stood unnoticed on the computer deck under the balcony.
Captain Alan Carter, followed by Lt. Pierre Danielle, strode into Main Mission relieving Tom Graham at the Capcomm station. Ang nodded slightly to acknowledge him but that was the extent of the fanfare.
The last of the mines had been place. Now, all that remained was launching the nukes.
"CAPCOMM," Paul called, "Time readout to launch--Alan? Are all your birds grounded and undercover?" He knew the answer, of course, but wanted-for the third time in as many minutes-confirmation.
"Right." Carter affirmed--for the third time, and in as many minutes-confirmation. "Coop,' we're about to light the candle. Close the blast doors, and get your kiester out of there."
"Main Mission, we copy." Marilys Sing replied from her post in the Reconn Net.
The pilot turned to Morrow, and gave him a good natured slap on the rotary cup. They exchanged-despite the earlier friction-agreeable nods as Ben Ouma stepped across no-person's land to where John Koenig stood going over greenbar sheets with Dr. Specter. Her ears--trapped between them, there was only water.
Nobody seemed to notice that Angelina Carter was the only person in the room not drenched in perspiration. She turned toward the keypad on the computer and silently engaged the Evil Mushroom server.
Over yards of register tape, Ben Ouma noticed the words "ABORT SEQUENCE 1 COMPLETE" appear on his monitor. At the same time, Clare Profitt brushed past Angelina. She gasped. Ang's skin was ice cold.
"Are you alright?" Clare gently put a hand on her shoulder and immediately felt her entire arm grow cold. Angelina turned and glared at Clare. Clare let her go and stumbled back a step, eyes widening with fear.
Angelina Carter's eyes were no longer green. They were black. Her pupils had enlarged to oversized proportions that the colored iris was barely visible. She turned back to the computer and resumed typing.
* * * * *
"CRASH CART!" Yelled Bob Matthias as Olivia suddenly fell backwards onto the bed, the bioscanners screaming a flatline howl.
"10cc Atropine," called Helena, yanking the blanket away from the tiny form on the bed, "STAT!"
Already, Dot Sullivan was committed to chest compressions, one per second as a nurse slapped an oxygen mask over the mouth and nose of the lifeless mannequin on the bed--and suddenly, the biomonitors beeped with a near normal blood pressure and pulse.
"What happened?" questioned Helena, recovering the little engineer's form with the cooling blanket as everyone else began to put away the resucitation equipment. "She was in a coma and then..."
Dot stood back, staring at Livy. She'd seen the woman's lips move, and had been able to tell what she had said-and it chilled her soul.
"Commander." The computer chief said in confidential tones. "Transmission from Tactical Section. Security Code Umbra is now in place. Transfer of protocols to the EM Mainframe in T-5 Minutes."
He looked unhappy, though. Bergman had the empathy to shake his hand, as Moonbase Alpha's master computer was now, officially useless. This isn't to say that it had ever been officially useful.
Koenig thanked him through a mouth that felt dryer than Death Valley. He looked from print outs to big screen with anxious beau ideal. The pop-gun, low orbital satellite transmissions didn't do it justice, though all monitors were gorged, and surfeit, and bursting at the seams. Spectroscopy, and photometric bombardment had neither the lexicon, nor the sack to truly define what they were seeing at this range. It was wondrous.
Eta Carinae Positive was fire.
The cameras returned too close images of molten, circumstellar dust. Eruptions of magma, approximate enough for the naked eye to glean. There was variability of light, which strobed through Main Mission like a crystal ball in Gehenna's disco tech. Then came the Halpha Emissions, and the UV Photons, and the x-rays--powerful enough, even outside of the gravitational pull, to begin persecuting, and beleaguering the lunar surface. It was lurid, and formidable, and terrifying.
It was light.
"Internal moonbase temperature now 155 degrees, and climbing." Sandra Benes reported, her eyes glued to the devil.
Ivan Sloven noticed the horrified look on Clare Profitt's face and began moving toward them from the right archway.
"ABORT SEQUENCE 2 COMPLETE" were the words that flashed on Ouma's display as he returned to his desk.
"Wha?!?!" Ben mumbled and began to type into his keyboard. "What the hell is going on?" He drummed his fingers on his desk as the hour glass tumbled on the monitor. Finally, he found the source of abort command data entries as "ABORT SEQUENCE 3 COMPLETE" appeared on his display.
He slowly turned his head toward Angelina Carter on the computer deck.
"Ang?!? What are you doing?!!?" Ouma called to her, as Sloven came next to her.
Evil Mushroom activated the claxon and boomed "FINAL ABORT SEQUENCE INITIATED....COMMAND CODES REQUIRED...FINAL ABORT SEQUENCE INITIATED.."
Paul looked up from his console-"What the hell?" he wondered aloud, then, "OVERRIDE ABORT SEQUENCE!"
Angelina Carter knew all the command codes.
"Stop her!!!" Ouma yelled.
Security Guard Ivan Sloven grabbed Ang by the typing wrist. Her skin was ice cold. Momentarily startled, he released her. Bad mistake. Ang grabbed Sloven by the wrist and in a swift turning motion aided by inhuman strength she snapped the bones of his wrist as if it was a dry twig. Sloven screamed in agony as she shoved him backwards and he staggered, falling down the steps.
Angelina Carter smiled and returned to typing the access codes. Ignoring Sloven's fate, Paul vaulted his own console and charged head-first across Main Mission at Ang.
Whilst Sloven was having his bones fractured--being put to the ultimate test, and to the floor, Drs. Tellar, and Goldman met Petrov at the crow's nest atrium. The colonel calmly ascended four stories to the static-free, germ-free, radiation shielded accessway which led into the AI Brian Center of Evil Mushroom. He waited to for the elderly Doctor Goldman to show signs of respiration again, and then moved swiftly into the antechamber, pointing his commlock at the locks box that was magnetically sealed to the wall. The small, 4" X 8" panel popped open, exposing an ovate baffle, with three inset black switches. They were marked, easily enough, 1, 2, and 3.
Petrov pressed all of them, and waited for the retinal scan to finish blinding him.
The hatch opened, and the three entered the psychotronic, perspex mind of Evil Mushroom. The Red Room, as it was known, was bleary, and confounded. Goldman worked with arthritic slowness to overwrite Angelina Carter's abort sequence. How about that? Teller removed a screw driver from his tool belt, and tried installing a pneumonic erasure. How about that?
Petrov moved the mouse sprightly, navigating the terminal deep into the EM Mainframe's purely autonomic systems. He clicked on a rotating, CGI delta, and every covert, unpulchritudinous thing that the United Nations ever sequestered to this system was there. Bacilli Carrying Warheads; ICBMs; Cobalt Aspersion. Every kind of death. Every option for unleashing death. Death was large; it contained multitudes. He arrowed down the menu until he reached the appropriate file. A dialogue box opened which read:
Enough was enough and Ang had enough of Ronny Baer, the school bully, tormenting her every day. She had fantasized about this moment, when she would strike back and seriously wound her fellow third grade classmate. Most of the children in the class picked on ugly duckling Angelina Verdeschi.
"ANGELINA?!?! STOP IT!! IT'S OK!!" The teacher who strangely resembled Sandra Benes screamed in her face.
Suddenly, Ang was beset with another bully, Robbie Meserve, who tried to grab her from behind. With her new found strength she thrust her elbow backwards, resulting in an audible cracking of ribs. Her assailant also stumbled backwards, shrieking in pain and striking his head against the balcony railing.
* * * * *
Paul Morrow fell back and collapsed, an unconscious sack of sweating humanity, blood trickling from his torn scalp.
Sandra lost it. The heat, the violence, the tension. . .the nukes. Her hand clenched into the form of an unfamiliar fist and she swung, hard, striking Angelina dead center between the eyes on the bridge of the nose.
This action, had no effect, of course, but to give Ang a slight bloody nose. She grabbed Sandra by the throat and, lifting her up, slammed her against the wall of computers. Sparks few as she crumbled to the floor in a gagging, gasping heap.
Angelina shoved Ben Ouma back who went flying against Klaus Rotstein as she typed in the final command.
Red skies....purple hued trees growing in rich dark soil...strange fur covered birds flying above her...all things to be anticipated...all visions of hope swimming in her head....a future...a REAL future.
Evil Mushroom droned "FINAL ABORT SEQUENCE COMPLETE...T-10 seconds, 9...8..."
Then came Harness Bull Pound--man of action. He considered laying down a suppressing cloud of Sheep Dip Grenades, until he realized that he would cause every extrinsic in Main Mission to blow chunks. He settled for Safe Physical Maintenance, throwing his armored forearm around Ang's chin, and pulling her backward into half, of half of a Prone Bridge. He succeeded only in throwing his torso, and serendipitous shoulder muscles out of whack. Ang' grunted, bearing her teeth. She never left her feet, but soon he was airborne--heading for Proxima Centauri, and gaining speed. His blundering elbows flailed against the keyboard, and multifunction hatch on Morrow's console. His helmeted, head was clobbered against the gooseneck lamp, which was much harder than he speculated. Left to his bemoan, and his considerable pain, he wondered if his strategy had been a fallacious one; if maybe the rocket gun would have been the wiser choice.
He was probably onto something.
Carter discarded a damaged Sloven, and threw the overturned chair aside. He was reaching for the shoulder strap, but longer bones, with higher radiuses got to it first. John Koenig side stepped the fallen pilot, and pulled the rifle from the floor.
He primed the core, and squeezed the rubber stock.
When the photons finally dissolved--to their extreme chagrin, and horror--Angelina Carter, though brained by the stun, was still standing. Her lips were pursed as if slightly amused by a slow person. She turned away from the keyboard to face the others. The static charge left her hair standing totally on end.
She looked like Elsa Lanchester from "The Bride Of Frankenstein."
Wetting her lips with her tongue as she prepared to address the topic of persiflage, and the lunar nation, she raised one articulating finger from the dais.
And ate moondust, falling flat on her face on top of Sandra Benes.
"EMERGENCY OVERRIDE....ENGAGED." The words flashed on the big screen as Evil Mushroom boomed through the auditorium. The claxon sounded.
"LAUNCH COUNTDOWN T-5:00 MINUTES."
4:59...4:58..4:57...4:56...The countdown displayed on the big screen in large white, arial font numbers.
All eyes, however, were not on the big screen. A shimmering outline, a vaguely humanoid and translucent figure slowly rose out of Angelina Carter. It stood 8 feet tall and its face was indescribably grotesque, striking terror in every heart.
It slowly walked from the prone forms of Angelina Carter and Sandra Benes, stepping through the unconscious Paul Morrow and stopped in front of Koenig's desk.
Koenig sensed remorse from the entity. It looked back at the Commander very briefly and nodded.
Then, it sank into the floor as if swallowed to places unknown.
"LAUNCH COUNTDOWN T-2:00 MINUTES. AUTOMATIC BULKHEADS SECURE."
The doors between Koenig's office and Main Mission rolled closed with a loud thud as Helena Russell barely made it through the opening.
"ABORT PROCEDURES....NEGATED. EMERGENCY POWER ENGAGED."
The point of no return. The lights panels grew red, striped by intermittent flashes of the gumball emergency light high above Main Mission.
"If this doesn't work, we're dead." Ben Ouma mentioned in passing. His white tee-shirt was drenched gray. His gym shorts were water logged. He may as well have gone swimming in his clothes.
It was 170 degrees on Moonbase Alpha, a factoid which put El Azizia to pittance, without recourse.
"Come on...." John Koenig urged, standing at Morrow's station with Bergman, and Russell on either side. It was something like a parting death wish.
The floor beneath them began to tremor, and seism. Multicolored flimsies fell to the floor, as did Sloven before he even had a chance to stand. Dust, and unsecured kipple began to rain from the ceiling. Eta Carinae's gravity. She had arrived to welcome them into her Cocytus embrace.
"PYRO ARM IS GO." Evil Mushroom announced over the devilment of the foghorn claxon. "ALL WARHEADS ARE GO. SATURN V BOOSTERS TO IGNITION."
Over a kilometer away from the moonbase net, hypertrophied lids rolled upwards on their hinges to reveal a series of dark wells atop the perimeter stations. Large enough to swallow a small office building. Large enough to give the impression that there were many black eyes staring back at creepy space. The blanket beyond the mountain tops of Frigoris was an anguished, consumptive white. Compton's Crater looked more the garish daymare of Cydonia on Mars.
"LAUNCH IN T-5 SECONDS."
On the far side of the Moon, in what remained of the Montgolfier Basin, the canyon that was formerly Nuclear Disposal Area Two was opened in Flaminious relief.
"LAUNCH IN T-3 SECONDS. FIRING SEQUENCE INTIATED."
Carter was kneeling beside Ang' when Sandra Benes awoke to the deafening Oberons. Closing her hands over her ears, she whole-heartedly wished that she could have remained asleep.
Unwillingly, the star allowed the rocketing black, thermonuclear talismans into her breast. From afar, it looked like someone was throwing darts at a piece of white cohosh. One by one, the projectiles shimmered, and melted away from the tactile veil. Then she was alone again, with a lone asteroid at door to her broiling appliance.
In the end, the rapacious spell of Eta Carinae Positive was no match for the curse of humankind. The countdown clock expired, and the fission wheels were spun, unleashing the end time that Kazakhstan, and French Polynesia, and Yucca Flats never saw. Beyond the crest of the Alpine Valley, the vituperation was abruptly joined by the detonation of the nuclear mines.
The result was a 10,000,000 Gig blast that showered the cosmos with new stars. The lunar horizon was cast into a scalding, calefactive hell of radiation, and dividing atoms.
Then, the synergy sequent.
The even numbered charges were collaterally detonated, and space itself was rent in discompose as even the Triumvirate ceased parsing in the grand catechism of things. The Aertex of space died like an animal in the dream nova.
And then, the meson superglue was turned to rice paper.
And then, the singularity of dimensions was ripped apart with extreme prejudice, and contempt, like a badly written essay.
And then it got ugly.
Her senses returned to her gradually and when they did re-establish themselves, all she felt was pain and aching misery. The aftereffects of a stun from a laser were not pleasant. The after effects of a stun from a laser rifle, which was maximum stun for the stun setting, were more horrendous many times over. First she heard voices as sound itself seemed to create waves of agony in her ears, not to mention the pounding headache.
"She's coming around."
Angelina Carter determined it was Bob Mathias though he sounded like he was miles away, talking through a tin can and string. Next she became aware of the pins and needles sensation and the frequent and random muscle spasms throughout her body resulting in more pain. She began gasping as she shook uncontrollably and began to cry. She still could not see and suddenly felt terrified. Perhaps she was blind.
"Easy...Easy...You're safe now. I'm right here." The second voice. Alan's voice.
She continued to shake, tortured by thousands of tiny daggers, when she felt the pinpoint pressure of a laser hypo against her neck. She sat up abruptly, still not seeing and felt Carter's arm around her. She instinctively grabbed him, though he had no intention of letting her go and falling.
Angelina had the migraine to beat all migraines. Still sitting upright, she rested her head against his shoulder, allowing her vision to focus. The light burned her eyes; more pain, more agony. Sight returned as the first thing she saw was Carter's orange zipper sleeved elbow. Her arms felt like they weighed at least 100 pounds each and her head felt like a gigantic cinder block. The unrelenting pounding in her skull was joined by her stomach performing somersaults. He offered her some water from a burnt orange moonbase cup and, with his help, she gulped it down. Add extreme thirst to her already long list of miseries.
She looked up at him, her eyes filled with pain, remorse and loss...yes, loss. When she spoke, her voice was hoarse and husky.
"I suppose I finally got myself committed to the loony bin. Either that, or when I can stand, it will be off to the slammer for me."
The corners of Carter's mouth twitched slightly.
"Well, av-a-go-yer-mug." He said sincerely. "No brig for you. Only the hard road. I guess you're going to have to hang with me for a while longer."
He smoothed her worried, lame locks away from her eyes.
"You'll live." Bob Mathias concurred, pulling the metabolic scanning aperture away from the bed. Jerry Parker was there to zip his bag for him. Heart rate, blood pressure, white blood count--all flowers. She would probably end up with a killer case of pneumonia before it was all over with, as would they all. Moonbase Alpha--your roving capital of the sinus belt. Nunez was already working his industrious, little flanges to the bone in the pharmacology lab; synthesizing economy-sized gallons of penicillin, and ampecillin. Helena Russell was maintaining their current, TR Program for heat shock, dehydration, and the almost stroke that Horst Goldman suffered.
The dentist was pretentiously busy, but in reality his beak was jammed, on-again, off-again, in a Max Brand western.
Ed Malcom took complete, intellectual credit for the success of Operation: Cool Down.
The temperature in the Plato Crater--otherwise known as Fantasy Island South--was now 143 degrees, and falling. The Moon was rebounding, and not into the jaws of the primary, or the dwarf kindred of Eta Carinae Positive. They appeared to be making a true, perpendicular, B-Line back into deep space.
"We were just a tad bit concerned about you, gorgeous." Carter bungled. "Any idea what that thing was."
"Thing!??" She nodded gratefully at Anne Delline as she refilled her orange mug. Her memory was coming back in bits and pieces.
She cleared her throat. He might not believe it but on this travelling circus and everything they had gone through, it was difficult to know.
"When I was checking on Petrov and crew in the cortex of Evil Mushroom, something weird happened to me. Time seemed to slow down and freeze. Something came face to face with me. Then it was gone. After that, when we were in Main Mission listening to the extra voices on the flight recorder, I saw it again. It approached me and..." She trailed off, astounded at the craziness of what she was saying.
"There's a planet out there...for us. But it's too late now. Don't ask me how I know. I just do...or did. We should have left in the Eagles. Now, we're stuck here."
She sighed, shaking her head. "I tried to convince the Commander and the Professor that we should go. They thought I was nuts, I'm sure."
"I don't remember precisely what happened after that." She furrowed her brow as a scrap of memory came back, sort of. "Is Sandra OK? What happened? What did I do? How did I end up here?"
Carter gathered it all up, twiddling his nomenclative thumbs.
"Sandra's fine." He said ponderously. "We're a-okay. The Moon is heading for a spot in the shade, and all you need to worry about is fixing the time pieces around here." He grinned, somewhat effortlessly. "For some reason, there isn't a single clock on this base that's keeping accurate time.
"Victor thinks it may have something to do with...magnetism...or some such thing."
Harness Bull Pound exited Dot Sullivan's office with his opinionated, middle finger in a metal splint. He gave Ang' the cold shoulder, and exited into the corridor, cool as Italian Ice.
("Sandra's fine." He heard himself say again as concentric pools of negative bosuns shuddered through the room like a flash flood. In the unified continuum, this transphysicality was experienced as a breathless pause. "We're a-okay. The Moon is heading for a spot in the shade." He reiterated, hating the sound of his own voice, and the warped, 45 rpm record of space, and time that was causing him to ellipse himself. At this point, he became worried. "And all you need to worry about is fixing the time pieces around here." Dumb, and dumber--he was trapped in the anachronism of a moment, and his tongue was not his own. "For some reason there isn't a single clock on this base that's keeping accurate time." He said, paling, and favoring Ang' with the petrified look of a man who was no longer in control. "Victor thinks it may have something to do with...magnetism...or some such thing?"
(Harness Bull Pound exited Dot Sullivan's office again, only this time with the look of someone who has two flat tires on their car instead of one. His opinionated middle finger was still in its metal splint. When he scowled at Ang' this time, it was more out of expectation, and rotation, than any viable grudge. He was nearly sliced in half by one of the expanding, Stonehenge arcs of energy before two stepping into the corridor.
Across the ward, Anne Delline dropped a duplicate laser hypo, the contents of which she was about to administer to a duplicate Horst Goldman who crabbed duplicit insults from his bed. Two pains in the ass for the price of one.
Bob Mathias staggered, holding his migraine assured forehead. Helena Russell staggered into the room with the look of one who was recently jack hammered into unconsciousness. She spun around, startled, and with no short term memory of anything salient.
The dentist forgot which paragraph he was reading. He knew it had something to do with a busty can-can dancer, and that he had read it twice. He had comprehended the meaning of the word 'boudoir' the first time.
"Did you feel that?" The pilot asked Ang,' reeling as he stood.
Angelina shivered violently and shook her head, eyes closed tightly in an attempt to shut out the double images. Double the pleasure. Double the trouble. Double the fun.
She opened her eyes. Single reality had returned as quickly as it left her.
"Y-yeah, "she stammered. "I thought that maybe it was just me."
Helena Russell and Bob Mathias exchanged anxious and disturbed glances, as Ang swung her legs over the edge of the bed, negotiating a sitting position and then a stand.
She stood up, weaved slightly and faced Carter as he helped her regain her balance.
"Why is it that the deeper we go into space the shit that happens gets weirder and weirder?" She whispered earnestly. "And how much more can we possibly take?!?!"
"It gets better...." Bob Mathias said, his courage, or lack thereof, extruding from his mouth. The analog was still locked up, but the digital clock was moving again. He watched a minute transfer the load to another minute on a nearby commstation. Sixty seconds that arrived at the party too early. Through some eminent, sneaky process of hyper chronology, the display now read 12:35 Lunar Time. Before it was 07:15 Lunar Time. Five hours had flown by them like a reckless, breakneck driver with a block of lead, instead of a foot.
Suddenly not one person in the room looked familiar to Angelina Carter. All strangers stared at her, dressed in Alpha duty uniforms that were similar but had obvious differences. They were ethereal in appearance, inundated by the soap bubble refraction of colors.
"Alllllllllllllllllaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnnnnn? Booooooooobbbbbbbbbbbbb? Hellllllllllllleennnnnnnnnnnnnaaaaaaaa?" Ang queried and listened to her voice echo through the room.
She blinked and all the people in the room looked familiar, though when she saw the analogue clock, the minute hand was spinning impossibly fast.
Horst Goldman would go no more aroving. He had fired his last nuke,' and all that was left now was Heavenly Pastures. As fetid, unfair luck would have it, he had died that morning, but it took the discombobulated Master Alarms too long to catch up. Nurse Delline was only two feet away from him when he passed. Carter caught a glint of--what was before--dispersing clouds beyond the line of Medical Center ports. The ribbon of gases was no longer wafting. It's mass had increased to a swirling, super cell of radiation, and random discharges of electricity that was unleashing a storm of meta particles like hail from the eye of a hurricane.
Angelina looked around calmly trying to make sense of the bizarre. Her gaze shifted to Horst Goldman and she gasped, the sound echoing loudly through the room.
He looked like he had been dead for days. Rigor mortis had long set in and the flesh had already begun to collapse from his now barely recognizable face and recede from his fingernails, which had grown to vamp lengths.
"Good Christ." Carter exclaimed, moving around the bed.
("Tsirhc Doog." He heard himself back mask, fully cognizant of what was apparently an automatic, four-speed canker in reality, and time. He looked back to Ang,' and Mathias who were momentarily speechless. His hand, poised on his dippy, confused commlock. The walls of Medical Center were black, and white ripples of water with silver ovulets, substantiating, and waning again, and again.)
From within the two mile expanse of Moonbase Alpha, came the shifting of tectonic plates; the low thunder that throbbed, and pulsed as forces out of calculus drummed against the roof tops. The aortic ebb, and flow grew to a wawling, ululating multisynchronous whang that drowned out hassled voices from the perimeter stations, as well as the Red Alert Claxon.
"???What is that???"
Out of the wall of placental mist, it began to crown.
......big screen...colossal...cap...rock...circular...there...not there...ionization...forty-eight kilometers...BIG...proximity...black...daymare...death...larger body...unified field...garbage...unreality...fear...fear offearitself...chaos...creation...demise...darknessfalling...electricity...water...fire...screaming...death...birth...devolution
..sorcery...prayers...useless physics...useless computer...death........htaed...retupmoc sselessu...scisyhp sselesu...sreyarp...yrecros...epar...noituloved...htrib...htaed...gnimaercs...erif...retaw...yticirtcele...gnillaf
flesti..raef fo raef...raef...ytilaernu...egabrag...dleif...deifinu...ydob regral...HTAED...eramyad...kcalb...ytimixorp...BIG...sretemolik...thgie-ytrof...noitazinoi...erehtton...ereht...
11010100000000101 111000101000010101111 1110001010111101010
01010101010000011 111101010110101010000 0101100101000011110
11110000101000011 111111111110101000011 0101111111111000101
Passion purissima, Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it. That passiveness with pain. The essence of which is, perhaps, passivity?
"!!!INCREASE MAGNIFICATION!!!" John Koenig cried out over the volcanic maelstrom, holding onto the funhouse, physical realm, as well as Ouma's workstation for dear life.
From under the right archway emerged Alan Carter, Angelina Carter and Helena Russell. There was no time for pleasantries as Victor Bergman, standing behind Paul Morrow's station, pensively stared at the big screen while rubbing his chin with his right hand.
Ang did a double take. OK.
Perhaps it was a false signal, an echo, a reflection of their moon. It was possible.
Sandra read her mind. "The object is real. Sensors show that it has physical mass." She nodded at Ang, wincing slightly despite the slight smile with the look of forgiveness. Ang winced as well (apologetically) when she noticed the black and blue telltale marks of bruising around her petite neck.
The object looked familiar to everyone in the room.
"It looks exactly like our moon," Angelina mused, in denial of what her instinct was screaming at her. "What are the chances of that?"
The asteroid was only 30% visible to the Satcom Network. Even though it was blighted by the barreling radium, and fermions of the surrounding storm, it told a compelling, unforgettable narrative. A bed time charmer that abode lifelessness, and sterility; barren lunar domes, and collapsed lava tubes in ancient rile. As it drifted out of the mist, ghost craters, and smooching Catena rolled by the big screen as the planetoid rotated haphazardly on an eccentric axis. As it became 48% visible, it became apparent that this new body sure wasn't very young, but it sure was very old, with titanium, and copper streaks bearing the only signs of post-dynamic imbue.
"What are the chances of us colliding with it?" Clare Profitt wondered, instead, standing atop the computer deck.
"Computer says 'no.'" Ben Ouma said briefly, and then resumed typing.
Victor Bergman nodded, pointing to the screen.
"We're close." He admitted. "But not close enough for that, thank God. Whatever the disturbance was that caused this, it appears to be collapsing in on itself now." He assured Koenig. "We'll be alright."
"Data confirms that the object has exceeded the Roche Limit." Sandra Benes corroborated. "The Triumvirate has it now."
The commander whewwwwwwwwww'ed. However, when all other contingencies failed, whatever did not shake the floor must be the truth. He exhaled deeply.
"Paul, order up an immediate spectroscopic analysis of that planetoid." He said, turning away from the screen. "Those charges we set off." He commented, leaning against his right shoulder, and addressing Bergman. "Could they have caused this."
The professor's bravura expertise, and ratiocination was lightning-like.
"You tell me." He said, scratching his head. "Then we'll both know."
Out of the corner of her eye, Angelina noticed Andy Dempsey. His eyes had their usual glazed look but his facial expression was abject horror. She slowly look in the direction Andy was gaping, the balcony.
She looked back at Andy again and his terror filled gaze was frozen. She looked back up at the balcony again.
"Are you OK, Andy?" Ang whispered, gently touched his shoulder.
"!!!!JESUS CHRIST!!!" Dempsey blurted, as he brusquely threw her arm aside, and jumped up facing her. The terror stricken look instantly changed to murderous rage.
Ang recoiled backwards, surprised. A tense microsecond seem to be momentarily drawn out to infinity.
"I...uh," Dempsey swallowed, looking down. "I'm sorry. I-I- I was startled."
He scanned the shocked faces around him, staring at him.
"I-I'm very sorry," he said again extremely contritely as he sat down and returned to the keyboard. "It's been a long day."
Ang glanced up at the balcony again. Nothing.
"It certainly has been." The professor said compassionately. "You've been hard at it. Go have yourself a rest. Kate can handle it."
Close by, John Koenig watched sternly as Dempsey exited through the left archway. His aggravated wary, and apprehensiveness was mimicked by Alan Carter at the Capcomm Station. Gordon Cooper shook his head.
"Spectroscopic analysis." The Data Analyst announced as file began to open on her monitor. "Sensors indicate that the planetoid is 3,500 kilometers in diameter."
Bergman grew tense as the body in space grew 89% visible.
"Arc of rotation is approximately 20.32 Earth days." Sandra continued inflectionlessly. "Thermal, and geographic show a core that's dead, inactive. Meteoroid debris, and regolith covers the surface to a depth of five, to ten meters in the maria. Constituent elements, plagiocase feldspar, iron, and volcanic breccia. Zero atmosphere.
"Lunar gravity." She paused. "There appear to be residual traces of radiation emanating from the far side, but the emissions are dated, and interspersed with atomic particles from the explosion."
Koenig looked circumspectly at Ang.' On the big screen, the asteroid was now 100% visible.
"Scan the poles for life readings." He said, knowing what they would find. At this point, deduction was easy.
"Life readings." Sandra confirmed uneasily.
"Look at that." Carter declared as the object showed them yet another, familiar facet. It had begun its deathfall into the fires of Eta Carinae Positive. "That dark spot in the northwest sector."
"It's called the Mare Imbrium." Koenig announced, without ignorance, or dim affidavit, as he turned to face Bergman, Morrow, and Russell. "What the hell have we done?"
"It's too strong of a coincidence," Helena Russell acknowledged. "Of course, we have been through this before." She stated plainly, alluding to the time they encounter the rapture corridor and the resulting alternate moon and earth.
"I don't know," Sandra piped up, perplexed. "I'm receiving a signal. Listen...."
The speakers were flooded with a rhythmic beeping and pinging.
"A navigation signal?" Sandra proposed. "But obviously not ours."
However, it was strangely familiar. Ang paused a minute and typed a few commands, modulating tone and frequency. She frowned, as she listened to her recomposition on her head phones, then nodded.
"Oh yeah?" Angelina offered. "How about this?"
The modified navigation signal played back on the speakers. It was the same as the signal from the other only in reverse sequence. It was THEIR navigation signal.
John Koenig turned towards the computer platform. A little bemused, a little disgusted.
"It's the area of space we're in." Victor Bergman said, throwing his red flimsies for Operation: Cool Down into Paul Morrow's recycling bin. "It's like ice. Very fragile. Either one, or the both of us, managed to punch a hole right through it, and this is the result."
In the meantime, Sloven descended the balcony steps, and waited half-way for his requisite ear full.
"We're receiving a distress signal." Kate Bullen--the solution to a freaked-out Andy Dempsey said, wary. "It's non-verbal. Semaphoric, and very low ebb. They're bounding light off of the emissions halo."
Koenig burned, unable to face the analyst's workstation.
"Are we going to check it out." Carter wondered aloud.
"I don't think 'we' have much choice." The commander replied, tersely.
The pronoun 'we,' as in relativistic fracturing; as in deepest crapola; as in two.
Andy Dempsey stumbled out of Travel Tube C, already feeling the effects of his withdrawal. Everyone had stared at him in Main Mission. He tried so hard to hide his problem. Did they really buy his reason for nearly ripping the Chief of Technical Section's head off as "It's been a long day"?
A sprite young woman from Services eyed him curiously as he fumbled for his commlock with shaking hands to open the door to his quarters.
"Long day," he murmured to her, glancing with bloodshot eyes, then stepped into his quarters.
As the door slid and locked shut behind him, he staggered into the lavatory, leaning over the sink, and splashing water in his face. After casting aside the towel, he lowered the lights and reclined uneasily on his back in his bed, closing his eyes. His heart was racing. He felt ill. He felt weak. He had to call Anne. He had to summon the energy. He opened his eyes.
Hateful silence. Dudgeon, stark-raving reality.
Dempsey returned to the ergonomic bed, rolling his head from side, to side miserably. While splashing, and dog-paddling through his wretched self-pity, he remembered grade school, and chalk boards, and Nuns, who had none. Sister Edgar Horace, shooting flame from her undying mouth. It was one of those hypertensive moments where it is easy to recall everything, particularly the most Alexandrian horrors that visit one when the room is dark, and no human ken is about.
Suddenly, flashing through the DVD player of his mind was the Sioux legend of Henry Tall Horse. One fine autumn day, while ducking homicidal land barons, and requisite massacre at the hands of Custer's army, he came upon a pair of spirits. The gay ghouls danced amongst the cropped corpses of roses, and shapeshifted into devilish, bilious forms of conceited evil.
"It's an omen." Henry Tall Horse's sage father interpreted later. "And when she asks you to marry her, say 'NO.'"
In a fit of rage, Dempsey rose from the bed, and hurled an alabaster bust of Diogenes against his bedroom mirror.
Silver dust, falling forever in the light of Eta Carinae Positive.
The mirror shattered, which amused his night visitors to no end. They were entrenched about him, cleverly sealing the room against thoroughly considerate escape. One of the centurions blocked the exit to his quarters, its finger on the draw string of a pendulum, large enough, and incisive enough to razor someone's head off. His cohort was a female whose iceberg hands comprehended fire.
The other witch--whose eldritch sihlouette was viably close to the vision ports--had snow white hair, and held an oxidized, sand blasted compass, beveled with knives. Certain death awaited if he attempted to use the bathroom.
The being with the scythe was closest to his bed.
"Andy...so sorry to barge in on you...."
It spoke pidgeon English--wonky, and robotic, but easily apprehended. It's pronunciations, and enunciations crawled over black lips; through a mouth filled with graveyard dirt, ready for scripture. And he was not sorry.
Of course, they were familiar to him. He 'met' them 30 minutes ago. Andy Dempsey's skin began to crawl. Bugs..again with the bugs. He closed his eyes shaking his head violently, his body trembling.
"No!" He affirmed. It was just a hallucination. It was another consequence of his withdrawal and a testament of a need for a 'hit'. He willed them away. Upon opening his eyes, they were still there. He ignored them, instead, grabbing his comlock.
"Annie, please...you've got to help me. Annie, you've got to....." Static and snow was his response.
"No." He whispered, then, his face contorted in anger and disbelief.
"NNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!" He screamed. "GET OUT!!!!GET OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
"...we have always...known...you...." The alien with the scythe-ever after, referred to as 'Mouth' said, looking around in admiration of the operative's quarters. "...you are fine this evening...and no, we can not leave...our time together will be...most short....
"Time is always short."
His words were holy truth.
One of the albino witches--the one with a flame thrower instead of a hand, nodded solemnly. Her snoze was long, and prominent--a fly-ridden peccadillo. Then Andy Dempsey saw things--through the hands covering his eyes. A three legged dog. A two headed calf. The screams of an infant, burning in the sheol of The Triumvirate.
"Tell us what you know." She said, illuminating the room with her ancient, torch gauntlet. Contrary to Mouth, Nose's voice modulation was almost too fast. She walked backwards in the direction of the commstation. She was as graceful as a ballerina doing "Swan Lake."
"...yes...what you know...." Mouth reiterated, massaging Dempsey's exposed neck with refrigerated talons. "Relax...you know...we love you...."
The alien guarding the door sobbed copiously as he readied his pendulum for another swing. There was a guillotine rack beneath it, and a leather abattoir--one would assume, this feature was for recovering the severed heads. This being, with the auto de fey, and the black, unblinking pupils would burn itself into Andy Dempsey's nightmares, inexorably. He came to know it as 'Eyes.'
Chilled electrical shocks raced down Andy's back to the base of his spine.
"I-I-" He gulped. His mind exploded in a nightmarish collage of all the things he ever did that shamed him greatly.
The time, as a 10 year old, he mutilated the 5 day old puppy, slicing off its tail; its yelps echoed through the room.
The time, as a 12 year old, when he was angry at his best friend and sabotaged his bike; the handlebars snapped sending him face first to the ground, breaking his jaw and several teeth.
The time, as a 14 year old, he forced himself on his 10 year old cousin; his deepest, darkest secret.
Somehow he suddenly found strength and courage. Defiance.
"I don't have any idea what you're talking about. Know? Know what?" He laughed impossibly. "I'm just a peon here. I don't know anything."
"Not anything...." Mouth remarked, exhaling permafrost, and with the bones in his browless forehead raising conspicuously. "THEN YOU ARE A LIAR, AS WELL AS A PEON."
Eyes let the pendulum swoop during a practice run. The blade, forged from the iron in mortal blood sliced, and diced the imagination. Dempsey grabbed his erupting forehead as the remainders of a terrifying, murderous collage fell into place. Rotting bodies, piled high to the ruined sky. Ruined organs, baking in the hot sun. Screaming mouths, wrapped with barbed wire. The behooving, piteous glare of puppy mutilators, and incestuous Main Mission Operatives.
"Perhaps he's not thinking clearly." Nose adjudicated in Dempsey's behest. "He needs his medicine."
"Ah, yes." Mouth cackled, his throat filled with serpents. "Those little blue pills.... The naked...lunch, as it were.... The quintessential dragon."
He grabbed the operative by his bangs, and dragged him across the room. Dempsey shrieked as he shuffled on his knees across the tile. He tried to writhe, to escape--even if it meant hurling himself at one of the vision ports, but Mouth's scythe held his Adam's apple at bay.
"Please cooperate." The witch by the window said, almost maternally. "We're here to...help you...."
Her compass would fit exactingly about his neck.
"I vote that we kill Andy Dempsey now, and be done with him." Nose opined, grabbing the operative's commlock, and plugging it into the commstation. She left third degree burns on his thigh--her vocation, and sport.
"Why...are you still...here?" Mouth asked politely, drawing the scythe flush with Dempsey's harsh gulping trachea.
"I-I'm sorry," Dempsey sobbed tormented tears of grief and sorrow. The memory of his most heinous act sprang to life as if it just happened yesterday. The looks of betrayal in his beloved cousin's eyes..the blood...the cries of pain...the rasping of her voice as she pleaded with him. The threat on her life he issued to her when he was through with her.
"I don't know why I am still here." He murmured, feeling the scythe press against his flesh. One quick move and it would be over..done. "I don't want to be here. Anywhere is better than here."
"I don't understand what you want from me." He couldn't take it any more. "Kill me. You'd be doing me a favor." His voice shook. "Please."
"Andy Dempsey...." Mouth railed at him. "The self-pitying...dope fiend...liar...puppy killer. He thinks death is the end."
Eyes laughed maniacally from the shadows. Long shadows from his pendulum looped back, and forth across the operatives right shoulder, and spine in a crippled L-shape. He heard a blissful gurgling sound--as if gurgling, and drowning were the most desirable sensations in all of the aesthetic universe. Nose moved away from the commstation, and dropped the syrupy, membrane covered commlock on the floor.
"It's not there either." She reported. "Not there...not in the master...computer banks."
"We still have to check the Evil Mushroom circuit." The witch with the knives said, taunting; proud to be one up on her colleague.
"???WHERE IS THE OTHER???" Mouth said, jerking Dempsey's head upwards.
"We know...he is still here...." The witch added, offended and hurt that the operative would keep such vital information from them. They had been so good to him. It was the apex of ingratitude.
On his knees on the floor, Andy saw something ooze forth from the red light panels, spilling onto the floor. Slowly, the pool spread toward him. His face was instantly flush from the heat. The moment the magma contacted his commlock it burst into temporary flames then the plastics and metal melted into an unrecognizable mass.
"O-other?!?!? Other who? Other what?" Andy gasped in physical and mental agony. "Please...please..I don't know what you are talking about."
Then, in a effort to try to comprehend, "Who is still here?" He croaked in desperation, sweating profusely and eyeing the approaching liquid inferno.
Eyes buried his face in Nose's bosom, weeping, but still holding the vein of corpuscular rip-cord that was attached to his guillotine. The operative's quarters filled with the charnel house aroma of a killing field. Mouth straightened his knees, and looked pensively at the growing flames.
"What you have experienced here...you WILL share...with NO ONE...." He cautioned, spraying bile, and turning away from Andy Dempsey in disgust.
"Good...day to you..."
When the operative looked up again, the Inquisition was no longer in the room. There remained only traces of a chuckling in the long, lunar night. On the floor between his palms, the molten fire had burned three rows of characters into reeking, rubber miasma of gray tile:
ODAY OTNAY AITWAY
ORFAY ETHAY ARKNESSDAY
Three weeks later, after summoning the sneaky courage to re-enter his quarters, even the message was gone. The malodor of burning flesh remained.
Initially it appeared to be an asteroid, emerging from shadows of the third quarter Moon, and disappearing behind a heat wave in the nuclear horizon. Descending through the radioactive vapors, Rescue Eagle Four eased her quarterdeck away from the Moon. In the meantime, the translation drive opened up, propelling her towards the Moon. It was an eerie, but practical, demonstration of the truth behind the poem by WH Auden; no matter where you go, there you are. The 73,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons of hot rock that loomed before them like a forerunner, brought an indefatigable pall of deja vous. They had been here before.
Only five minutes before, as a matter of fact.
"You got the dogwatch, Alan." Controller Winters advised unassumingly. Winters was an unassuming kind of guy.
The pilot looked to the right side of the cockpit, where John Koenig sat in dreamy repose under the long yellow seal beams. Neither of them felt like talking. Carter felt like an iron mask had been welded to his face. The commander's face was reinforced plastic. If a stowaway suddenly barged into the command module, instead of peregrinating towards a duplicate moon, both would have flown through the roof.
"Affirmative." The pilot said into the link. "Rolling starboard, zero-three-zero.
"We've lost the signal again. It couldn't have been too strong. Of course we're on the far side now, and that can throw a wrench into things." He added conversationally; once the ship began it's axis tilt over the doppler remains of Navigation Beacon Delta. Another nuclear waste dump on a mirror Moon. A rose by any other name. It looked identical to the blackened, fizzled-out mounds, and rubble on their own Moon. He had given up feigning ignorance, though he didn't have to count quite as many sheep when he did. It was like a revolving door--a corridor with no windows, no exit. "Commander, if you have anything to say, speak now, or forever hold your peace."
Ha-ha, Carter. Lend me a hand, you juke-artist. He berated himself mildly afterwards. No, how about a foot? As jokes went it was about as funny as Mad Cow's Disease.
"I hold my peace...until later." Commander Koenig smirked slightly. Actually, there was nothing funny about the situation, nothing comical about it as they departed the barbecue pit remains of NWDA1. His fatigue, however, lend itself to no other emotion and dry humor seemed appropriate.
As they passed out of the interference from the left over radiation of NWDA1, Koenig cocked his head slightly as they received a faint distress signal.
"This is Moonbase Alpha to Eagle. Please identify yourself."
An unknown, weary and desperate female voice emanated from the speakers. At first the signal was peppered with static and barely audible. However, as they approach Plato crater, the volume was greater but the person speaking was no less desperate and weak.
Koenig's eyes widened as he got a glimpse of the "other" Moonbase Alpha. It was nearly unrecognizable as vast areas of uninhabited building had experienced explosive decompression. The contents of these areas strewn all over the lunar surface. Initial sensor readings confirmed his intuition: human bodies were among the "debris" and the numbers were staggering. Many of the other buildings that were intact were dark.
"Moonbase Alpha," Koenig responded , "This is Eagle 5 from...Moonbase Alpha. We have come to ...assist. Request permission to land."
Hearing the panical voice sent Carter into a cold sweat, though the cockpit temperature was at least 140 degrees.
Koenig waited, the accordion around his neck growing thick in the afterburn. The stillness was broken only by the Master Alarm going off on the one of the Christmas Tree modules by Carter's knee. The pilot silenced the alert, and punched dual, white thumb switches; one was labeled HISTORY, and the other REPORT. He flexed, and unflexed his gloved fingers while they waited.
"...didn't think it was a reflection. This whole scenario has existed in theory for quite some time." An elderly female was overheard saying, somewhere in the metallic convolution below. She sounded infinitely persuasive, reasonable, human. "True, the starbow effect can do strange things, but an hallucination wouldn't need to talk back to us on the ship-to-base frequency band."
"...not sure...I think they're from the other Moon." The harried female who had spoken to Koenig reported to some third party, from somewhere in the kilometers of metal convolution below. Her gratitude was undying. In the meantime, phase transition clouds vertexed away from ruptured aquaducts, as the last of Moonbase Alpha's fresh water was consumed by the flares of Eta Carinae Positive. "They identified themselves as Eagle Five."
And in the meantime, the meteorological software gave Carter the Scantron Card he had been waiting for.
"Commander." He quiesced. "We've got another problem. According to computer, the UV-B rays here are growing exponentially. Pretty soon, the entire area will be saturated with solar radiation, and our screens won't be able to handle it.
"That goddamn star is just frying everything."
"Eagle Five...Moonbase Alpha." Another male voice hailed them. "Thank you.... You're cleared to land on Launch Pad Two. I think we have a lot to discuss, and very little time."
"Agreed," Koenig acknowledged as Carter brought the ship to a hover over Launch pad 2 then began the descent.
As the boarding tube moved toward Eagle 5, Koenig hesitated then passed a laser to Carter before taking one for himself. Somehow he did not feel it was necessary but experience had taught him it was better to be safe than sorry. He disengaged the safety then reholstered his laser.
"No such thing as too cautious, is there." The pilot remarked, moving the stud on his own weapon into the minimum, STUN position.
The boarding tube contacted the door of Eagle 5's passenger module with a THUD and they waited as the airlock sealed and reached atmospheric pressure.
When the door slid open, they were greeted with a sight that was recently familiar to them. Human beings dressed in Moonbase Alpha issued gym shorts and t-shirts, sweating profusely and utterly exhausted. Koenig immediately notice the logo on the shirt was on the opposite side of the chest of the woman in her mid 50s, a man in his mid 40s and another younger woman, perhaps in her early 30's.
"I am Commander John Koenig, leader of what you would consider the 'other' Moonbase Alpha." Koenig began. "This is Captain Alan Carter, chief of Reconnaissance."
"There were five billion people there when we left orbit." The Voice Of God said, as an omnivorous cloud fell over Motshidisi, South Africa. "To this day we have no idea what happened to them."
Her name was Lorna O'Brian--once professor of astrophysics at Yves Zenu-Z University. Her manner was disarming; her tone relaxing. As if the power of her 50+ years gave her listening audience a high, relaxing tolerance. Her accent was more towards Dubliner Irish. The topic was hot--regardless of the heat. She stepped away from the row of monitors in the what was left of the Techical Hub. Behind her was a recognizable map, but of a planet that was not Earth.
"Terra?" Carter said curiously. "That's the name of your planet? It looks just like Earth."
Koenig nodded--not so much following the Yellow Brick Road as speeding down it in a formula racer.
"Just a matter of syntax, I'd say." Electronics, and instrumentation specialist Philip Geist commented, wiping the sweat from his brow with his WSC issue, gray tee. Think Ed Malcom, only with brains, instead of baked cabbage. "Everything we've seen so far seems to suggest a similar evolutionary development."
This was the person who had given them clearance to land, along with coordinates for final approach. Somehow, he sounded older, and slightly more case hardened in person.
"Our galaxy is GR-8." The young woman sitting across from Carter told Koenig, comparing, and contrasting. Submitted for your approval: Data Analyst Adisa Talic. The name sounded Bosnian to Carter, though the accent was more of an Estonian hybrid. She was also the last, surviving member of Moonbase Alpha's command staff. "You?"
"We're from the Milky Way." The pilot responded expertly. No one left Huntsville without learning their way around space, and Carter was a navigator for the first four months after shipping out; during the war. Then they turned him loose in an Eagle Freighter. After that, it was massacre time, and Hawk City. "Almost 6,000 light years in the other direction."
Lorna O'Brian nodded with a sage look on her face. She did not appear to be surprised.
"We were passing a safe distance from Eta Carinae when suddenly and unexplainably we experienced a strong gravitational pull. This force resulted lunar quakes of unprecedented magnitude never recorded in history. The structural integrity of most surface buildings was compromised and we immediately lost over two thirds of our numbers to explosive decompression including our commander and the majority of the command staff when the Main Mission tower collapsed. It also started our collision course toward the Triumvirate." She paused, glancing at the tilted and shattered commpost."We are unable to divert the Moon's course now."
She waved her hand toward the bustling activity in the hall. "As you can see, we are in the process of implementing Operation Exodus. We have 8 Eagles in which we can escape."
"There are 87 of us left, Commander," Adisa Talic spoke distantly. Then she managed to find humor in a humorless predicament and smiled slightly. "Plus two hens and one very hateful rooster from the poultry farm."
Koenig garnered it all in--the intensity of Farenheits turning his gears to white hot mush. The temperature had risen ten degrees since they boarded the travel tube. The launch window for the fleet was critical. There would actually be two opportunities for the contingent to pull up stakes, and leave. The first was two hours from now. The second was at 14:28 hours, lunar time, but this was inutile, to say the least. A transport can't be piloted by the melted dead.
"The gravimetric pressure is another problem." Dr. O'Brian noted. "The effects of that transgalactic pulse that broadsided us. It did something to the Fe core; it created cracks in our lithosphere, and they're growing worse."
"Alpha won't survive to enter the corona of Eta Major." Phil Geist translated into lay-person's terms. "Somewhere between 15:00, and 15:48 hours, the core will disintegrate completely." He squinched, angrily. "Commander Aldornia never should have allowed those goddamn...experiments."
"She's dead now." O'Brian said, non-plussed. "What's done is done, and in my opinion those tests had nothing to do with it."
"Then what did?" Geist challenged. "Sounds like something the late Dr. Gaunt would have said. Anything to further the interest of science. Looks like his curiosity got the better of him, and us. You honestly believe that beam just came out of nowhere?"
Carter was clearing his throat when another technician entered the conference room. Black hair; gray temples; an intense, mediterranean probity amidst the hassle, and the sweat. He handed Geist a red flimsey, and paused when he saw the pilot, and Koenig glaring at him.
"Eagle Two is being moved to gantry level." He explained to the technician, creeped out, and fulminating over the dirty looks he was being given. "The fuel cells have been replaced. We'll get three light days out of her, anyway. All systems are go."
"Right." Geist said. "We're pulling out. Better head back to the map room, and see if the rest of the shop is in order." The technician nodded coldly, almost scowling at the rude, and crude, extra Alphans sitting at the table.
He looked like he could be Sloven's twin brother.
Koenig glanced at Carter during a long moment of silence. Some matters could not be left to the decision of a committee and a consensus, especially when time was a constraint. During the last 5 years, John Koenig had made many decisions that would dramatically affect the lives of his people. Some decisions were good one; some sucked but somehow they managed to survive.
Although they did not understand the theory of alternate realities now becoming reality, the fact remained that these Alphans were people from Earth. Perhaps not their Earth (actually Terra) but Earth nonetheless. Koenig also knew that in order to continue to survive, the Moonbase Alpha of his reality would need a population increase to survive. His people were few in number, overworked and certainly underpaid. Technical Section was just barely keeping up with maintenance of the base. Research and experimental activities as well as increasing the size and the capacity of the base had been abandoned due to lack of personnel. They were treading water in the vast ocean of space and going nowhere.
"About a year ago, we encounter a race that for unknown reasons attacked us and we lost over 125 people. We are currently at a population of 158 people including 5 children." Koenig paused thoughtfully. "Your odds of surviving in space are very slim. We extend an offer for you to join us on our Moonbase Alpha."
Adisa Talic straightened in her seat. Her hopeless comportment, verging on promise.
Phil Geist rumbled, and snorted.
"Minus the 'scientific research' I hope. Well, there you go." He said."Commander, I can't speak for the rest of the lot, but you can count me in. I was an astronaut before I hooked in with Technical Section. I can tell you right now, there isn't a helmsman in Hell who would give us a farthing for our chances out there." He declared, pointing towards the vision ports. "We can only last three weeks, maximum, and there's flat out, fucking no where to go to.
"Where do I sign on?"
"Wait," Lorna O'Brian said grievously, though she combed every scintilla for a 'yes' answer. Flame was the penultimate motivator, and Eta Carinae Positive was getting big in the window. "At the very least, our people would have to be quarantined until we can determine the long-term effects of mixing the two populations together."
"Bull." Phil Geist said, rough, and tumble. "They've been here for almost an hour, and I feel fine. "Hang together, or die separately. That's the deal, and as long as their scientific, and research departments are smarter than ours, I'll give it a go."
"I agree." Adisa Talic said, casting her ballot. "And I don't think we'll have any trouble obtaining the other 84 votes."
"We'll even leave that nasty, blyguard rooster behind." Geist assured Koenig.
"Alright." Lorna O'Brian capitulated. No twisting of the arm here--more disparate, and impending rotisserie. "It's a mad idea, but you can count me in too. May I suggest a complete battery of tests once we're there. If commingling will include a list of special precautions, it's better to find out now, as opposed to later."
"Agreed," Koenig nodded. "It will be a good idea if you can download to us the medical files of all your personnel. Our chief medical officer, Dr. Helena Russell and her staff will begin reviewing the physiological data immediately." He paused. "Include photos as well. I noticed that the gentleman who just left looks exactly like one of our security officers. I agree concerning long-term precautions of commingling but let's take this one step at a time and also the potential psychological effects of individuals meeting their 'twin'. We should determine how many cases are involved and comparing photos and DNA records will be the best and quickest method."
"You will, of course, be quarantined temporarily when you arrive at our moon but we will work out the details. Right now, of course, the first priority is to get you off this moon, salvaging whatever you can and getting you away from the Triumvirate."
Koenig realized he was unconsciously salivating. "Oh, and by the way. Bring the hens AND the rooster. Our Alpha does not have a poultry farm. The ILC had just approved it prior to breakaway but was never set up. We rely on soybeans as our primary protein source and the diversification would be to all of our advantages." The Commander pushed back his chair and stood up.
"We would like to return to our base now and speak to the rest of the Command staff and prepare our people for your arrival." Koenig continued. In reality, there was not much time for "preparation" and he was not exactly sure what that would entail anyway. "Do you require any sort of assistance from us?"
"It's been a while," Geist admitted. "But I think I can get our ships off without too much trouble. It would be nice to have a capsule commander standing by."
He was looking directly at Alan Carter.
"Commander, I'll stay over, and help coordinate the launch." The pilot volunteered.
At the sound of the tone, the temperature will be 168 Degrees Fahrenheit. Lift-off would commence, but first they would be baked to a crisp. In the multiplex of universes, Murphy's Law was the one constant.
Angelina Carter sat in the pretzel chair in her quarters with her 17 month old son, Nicky in her lap. Despite the unpredictable void, she tried to instill some normality into her boy's childhood. The wall panel lights glowed a soothing yellow while the reading lamp shown on Nicky Carter's current favorite tome: Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.
"I am Sam." Angelina read as Nicky followed the words then turned the page.
"I am Sam." Nicky repeated and studied the picture for the 1000th time.
"Sam, I am." She spoke and smiled as he giggled at the expected though in his mind still humorous change in the sentence structure.
"That Sam I am, that Sam I am, I do not like that Sam I am." She verbalized as Nicky appeared to follow along.
"Do...You...Like...Green Eggs...and Ham?" The robotic, deep voice echoed through the room. Angelina looked up.
The room was still empty; no substance to substantiate the presence of other vocal cords. The kitchenette was all white panels, and plastic moonbase jars. The Mr. Coffee machine was clean for a day. The plastic, picnic style bench was unoccupied. Walls continued upright, doors remained sensibly shut. Pretzel chairs remained pretzeled. The sunken bookshelf beside the stairs was lined with rows of engineering texts, and one, or two of the better bestiaries on avionics. On the coffee table sat a Random House, hard cover biography on the life of Charles Lindberg. Carter was going to return it to the Reference Library some day. A print of the pre-1979, Skylab orbital laboratory adorned the corridor leading to the bedrooms, and the lavatory.
The usual saline.
Angelina was about to return to the world of a Theodore Geisel, and Sam, and green eggs, and ham when she heard a wretched sobbing coming from inside the lavatory. Deep, organic convulsions of pain, and fear. What was spilling blood, and tears into the commode was even more interesting. It's head was a bald, bulbous slush of lacerated tissue. The festering sores trickled as it turned the ketchup, and raw in Angelina's direction. A Jovian coldness took over the Carter home as the technical manager--abused by extreme horror--backtracked carefully towards the living room with Nicky at her side. The hallway was a vine-strewn, Python ridden jungle.
"Fox, socks, box, knox." The thing with the shock of snow white hair said as it ran its hand along the top of the television set. The voice was effeminate, but not female. "Chicks with bricks come. Chicks with blocks come. Chicks with bricks, and blocks, and clocks come."
"...good evening, Angelina Carter." A tall being with black lips said as he emerged from the kitchenette, his dark, pestilential robes gliding across the gray tile. "So sorry...to disturb you...." He said through plumes of ice. His sadistic smirk, clearly indicating that he was anything, but sorry.
Out of the antediluvian, moss-covered walls, another shadow emerged, and it was fire.
"Where...has time gone." Mouth said sardonically. His black eyes were eroded, tortured thumb screw tips.
The pre-Breakaway Angelina Verdeschi would have probably screamed in terror at the sight before her. The thing with the mutilated, shredded head emerged from the lavatory and made itself comfortable on her white low rider sofa, cocking its left leg over its right knee. Angelina's cool gaze shifted to Mouth and then Nose, who appeared by Nicky's activity table.
However, the post-Breakaway Angelina Verdeschi Carter had seen enough horror to last her a lifetime, perhaps two lifetimes.
The strange appearance of aliens with unknown intentions did not shock her and neither did the gore and the slasher movie horror. What did surprise her was the reaction of her son.
Nicky Carter studied Mouth neutrally while holding onto his mother's thigh. Then, suddenly, his grip relaxed. He looked up at Angelina and they locked eyes. Any fear that she retained was replaced by calm assurance. Nicky released her and as if bored by the 'guests' walked to the table in the corner of the living area and began to entertain himself with blocks of multiple shapes and colors, building something. He was completely unperturbed by the fact that Nose was standing less than two feet away from him.
Angelina slowly walked around Mouth and when she completed the circle, Eyes had appeared beside her.
"Who are you?" she addressed Mouth, "and how can I help you?"
"Like you...we are seekers." The alien said cryptically. "On...a quest for new worlds; for knowledge...revealed. That knowledge is Truth...as...rigorously...enforced. To some, we are light...itself; to others, we are sentinels...sworn to protect the capitol...of Time itself."
Nose pushed her saber, and sheath back so she could stoop lower to the floor. Her corrupted, Medusan locks hung low on her back. Cankers, and wormwoods danced in the shadows thrown against the wall from her upraised gauntlet of flame. She chose a blue, plastic Play School block, and examined it with tremendous educt before placing it in Nicky's out stretched palm.
The letter "C."
Eyes fiddled, and faddled, and eventually moved back towards the lavatory, stopping first to admire the photographs of the Carter family that hung in transparent frames against the yellow light panels. The images made him misty again, in all twenty-seven of his ocular orbits.
"You're very erotic, Angelina Carter." The witch by the commstation said with tremendous, bon appetite. "That is the word, isn't it? Soixante neuf?"
"No." Mouth admonished her sternly, his tongue red, and caustic. "We're not here...for that." He reminded her, and regarded 'Ang again with eyes that were softer, more sensitive. "You must...pardon my colleague. She is...just...but time is...perverse.
"Why didn't you leave. Why...did...you remain?"
The question was infinitely more direct.
The reddish sky with the lavender, cumulous-like clouds replaced the confines of Moonbase Alpha. Trees which resembled gargantuan intertwining vines replaced the wall panels and columns of the room. From the previous location of the corridor to the bedrooms, the waterfall appeared once again and Angelina found herself waist deep in warm water. She felt the currents rushing about her as if she was in a natural Jacuzzi. Nicky was still playing with blocks but he was on the edge of the water, on the beach with fine white sand. Overhead, she saw the strange two headed bird, one head glancing down at her while the other navigating its course.
"I don't want to stay but the final decision was not mine." She remembered again; the knowledge she had been given about the planet and then being used as a puppet by..something."The others....would not listen without more data...without more evidence."
She sighed sadly and admitted "I think I was not totally convinced it was real either.
The image of Eden disappeared forever, and was replaced by the cold, sterile environment of Moonbase Alpha.
Nicky returned to her side and wanted her to lift him up. She balanced him on her right hip, holding him close as he passed the block with the letter "C" to her. She gazed at it momentarily.
"Who are you? Why are you here?" She asked Mouth, as fog swirled about the room.
"Very...well...." Mouth said.
"It's too early for this." The witch said, rapid fire. "We still need to probe the mainframe."
"We shall...." Mouth agreed, touching the sunken temples of his forehead with the tips of his fingers. Ang' noticed that weird evolution had bestowed upon him the gift of six digits on each hand. "However, it will be...considered...a matter of record that they did not...believe...the warning they were given."
"I object." Nose said litigiously. She leaned casually against the CD stereo component set. Her arms were folded over her stressed leather bosom, though she was forced to keep the burning embers held high. "We have one more person to question."
Upon hearing this, Eyes stopped in the center of the hallway, and began to pour out his frustration, and remorse in schmaltzy tears. Nicky offered the distraught alien a Tonka dump truck that had seen better days, but the being was so deep into his universal pity party that he was blind to the gesture.
"We do...." Mouth said, squinting. "And we will. I do not think we will find...provenance there.... We are...finished...on this ledger....
"All that remains is to query Angelina Carter...." He said, poised. "Find out what she knows about...the Other."
The emphatic tonality told her that 'I don't know' was not sufficient enough answer to close this second ledger. Mouth waited while Eyes shriveled in his mildew.
"Other?" Ang looked confused; she was completely befuddled.
In a repetitive flash of images she saw them. First, her late brother Tony, standing with his back to her, staring at her. He could do this because his head was twisted 180 degrees. He seemed very perturbed that he could not drink from the cup of his own home brew that he was holding in his right hand. Next came the image of Dave Trask. Finally she saw a beautiful woman with golden locks, that she did not remember ever meeting but was positive she saw her from somewhere..sometime.
The pattern of images increased in frequency accompanied by a high pitched whining sound. She covered her ears and closed her eyes, sinking to the ground but she could still see the images and the pain in her ears began migrating down her neck.
Nicky was completely unaffected and played on the floor next to her, not noticing his mother's distress.
"No!!" She cried out, as the slideshow stopped and her ears were still ringing in the silence. She stood up, shakily.
"It was vanquished!" She croaked with distress. "The woman in white destroyed it. She sent it back from whatever hell it came from!! It's gone!!!"
Intuitively, she knew better; she knew the truth but she did not want to believe it. She looked down at Nicky, tears welling in her eyes, with dread, fear and sadness coming from inside. She looked from one alien to the next, finally focusing on Mouth again.
"Isn't it?" She whispered.
The witch cackled scrofulously. Her compass, and saber growing vague, and indistinct in the gaining wall of mist.
"Angelina." She said, her eyes watering from hilarious suffocation. "Ignore her. I think she's trying to arouse me with her ignorance." She suggested to Mouth. "I know better, even though I am tempted."
"You ought to stop placing expectations on eternal beings." Nose advised the technical manager condescendingly. "You aren't very good at it."
"Forget...that we were ever here." Mouth said, woebegone, and stern. "It would be best for all concerned."
They left--leaving only green eggs, and ham, and a pungent stench of decay in their wake.
Angelina woke abruptly in the pretzel chair and through heavy eyelids looked around. Nicky was sound asleep against her. The faintest pungent order lingered in the room; then suddenly it was gone.
Almost immediately after awakening from her disconcerting slumber, Paul had summoned Angelina and the rest of the Command Staff for a Command Conference. Ang had intercepted Commander Koenig as he disembarked from the Eagle.
He told her that Carter had remained on the duplicate moon to coordinate the evacuation. He would be back in three hours. That was it. He did not give her any more morsels, no more tasty bits of information as they rode silently in the travel tube to the command tower. Ang didn't ask, as she leaned her head back and closed her eyes, feeling the ebb of a tension headache. She followed behind as Koenig strode through Main Mission and gratefully accepted June Akaiwa's offer of coffee. In the Commander's office, the others were in the pit area: Doctor Russell, Professor Bergman, Sandra Benes and Paul Morrow as Koenig closed the privacy door to Main Mission while he and Ang stepped down toward the conference table.
"Here's the deal." The commander said, hooking his commlock back onto his belt. "The people over there are human. That Moon has maybe six hours to live. The concussion beam that hit them seriously damaged the core, and the polar regions have been destabilized. Add to that the gravitational pull of the Triumvirate.
"Waiting for a unanimous vote, or even a consultation was not an option." He informed them, sipping from his coffee cup. "A decision had to be made. If they have to evacuate to the Eagles, their chances aren't good. We, on the other hand, can not continue to man this base with the personnel that we have.
"To make a long story short, I've asked them to join us here--on our Alpha."
"Now, that's all very commendable." Victor Bergman said cautiously, twirling his ink pen between both forefingers. "But you aren't suggesting that we just roll out the red carpet. That's ill-advised. There are one, or two tests that I'd like to see done first."
"I realize that, Victor." Koenig said, stopping just behind Helena Russell's chair. Behind both of them, standing next to the red light panels, there was Tony Allen, and Sloven, The Great--nursing a newly acquired set of bruised knuckles with an Ace bandage. "So do they. There will be a necessary isolation period, but as soon as possible, I want them integrated into our population here.
"I think their knowledge, and assistance is crucial to our survival."
"The medical data so far shows that they are compatible with us," Helena Russell acknowledged. "It would be premature to say that they are human, John, without analysis of tissue samples. However, if what they have given us for data is true, results would certainly lead to that conclusion."
Angelina scanned the report in front of her hastily. It was more of an outline than a report. She sighed and fumed audibly and began pacing in front of her chair. "Commander, we have a problem of where to put these people. We have been concentrating our rebuilding effort on restoring and expanding the infrastructure of Alpha. Reconstruction of actual structures has not been a high priority. The outer perimeter research facilities no longer exist. Aside from hangar bays, I'm not sure where we could put these people into isolation. Even then the hangar bays share the same HVAC system as the rest of the base, so it really isn't isolation at all, is it?"
Visibly agitated, she slapped the report down onto the table. "Right. Minor excuse. But doesn't anyone here remember what happened about 7 months ago? I do. Yeah, they looked human alright, but they weren't."
Sandra nodded in agreement while shuddering at the memory of their previous encounter with 'people.' "She has got a point, Commander. How can we be sure these beings really are people from Earth...or an Earth?"
"I'll answer one question at a time." Koenig said intensely, leaning against the table with one hand on his commlock. "As to where to put them: I see no reason why we can't reactivate the biosphere at the Tycho facility. It has oxygen, water, and a fully functional launch pad. Food, and sundries can be supplied from our stores here. Compared to the amount of energy we use here, the amount of power it would require is minimal. It would also give them some feeling of autonomy, and control over their own lives, which they will desperately need in the days, and months to come.
"The only draw back would be quartering eighty people in a complex that was designed to hold forty. Hopefully, that situation won't last long.
"Incidentally, the other moonbase was not powered by hot fusion the way we are. Apparently they had break throughs in the area of cold fusion power. Eventually, I would love to see that implemented on our Alpha. It's easier to maintain, and it's a hell of a lot safer."
The commander paused, sighing deeply. "As to how I know for a fact that these people are human--I don't.
"I can't explain this sense that I have logically." Koenig prefaced. "I just have this feeling. It's an instinct that I've learned to rely on. Every time I've heeded it, things have worked out. Every time I've ignored it, the consequences have been grievous."
Angelina merely nodded in acknowledgement. She understood the gut reaction, the instinct. Have faith.
"In that case," Ang continued, nodding to Sandra and typing a series of text pages. "We need to get a team of technicians and service operatives together to make the Tycho facility good enough for a camp out.." The last time anyone had been to the facility was approximately 6 months previously. The building was being use as a warehouse and a training ground for the damage control team in security. Sandra was also typing pages to members of Services, coordinating the housekeeping logistics.
"I, for one, am very anxious to see what they have to offer in terms of cold fusion technology," Ang glanced at Bergman then back at the report before returning her attention to her lap top. She did a double take.
"Chickens?!?!?" She smirked. "Very funny. I like your sense of humor, Commander."
"Hey, no that's real." Koenig said sincerely. "I think it's a great idea. Better than Gonzales' Soybean Surprise." He elucidated, scratching his chin. "Yeah, that guy Geist. I think he has a tendency to overexaggerate. I'm sure we'll be able to welcome that rooster with open arms, and open fork."
He grinned, slapping Paul Morrow on the back amicably.
"There is one other thing we ought to discuss." Victor Bergman said, pissing all over their dreams of Colonel Sanders.
He nodded towards Sandra.
"We have the results back from our extended spectroscopy. "The data analyst said with morbid reserve. "They didn't appear until I had the main antennae complex recalibrated. The units appeared in groups of four, eight, and twelve. This was after we bombarded a sample with Alpha/Beta/Gamma Radiation.
"It appears that the other Moon is saturated with Tetryon Particles." She said with import, calmly folding her arms over her chest.
"And so was your Eagle." Bergman added for emphasis. "I should have put 2 + 2 together the minute that other Moon appeared, but it took a while for the brain cell to kick in, I'm afraid. Given the number of supernovae this sector has seen, it would be ludicrous to expect clear space. We've got three, possibly four Rapture Corridors lurking out there somewhere."
"Jesus Christ!" Ang blurted in barely restrained panic. The fact that Alan was still on the other moon was foremost on her mind. Navigation and returning home was going to be tricky. "They will have to constantly monitor for possible areas of rapture corridors using wide beams of alpha/beta/gamma radiation while in flight and adjust their course accordingly."
She sighed. "Has anyone passed this information on to Alan yet?"
"Dammit." Koenig hissed. He stood, and paced the floor while rubbing an abraded temple.
"We've confirmed the existence of three." The data analyst went on with some peccability. "Part of the answer was in how they were affecting the gravitational fields of the Triumvirate. The other is theoretical."
"The good news is that Carter should get on pretty well on the return trip." Bergman said, convinced. "Corridor Edgar, and Corridor Alex are too far away to effect us profoundly.
"Corridor Evelyn only exists on paper, so that's not an obstacle." He reminded them, staid. "The bad news is this: That blast we set off. It's sent us on a direct course with the worst of the three, Corridor Clara, and there's no way of getting around her. Her outer reach is thousands of kilometers in each direction."
"That's just great." Koenig said, slapping a retired, futile hand to his thigh. "???How long do we have???"
"It's impossible to determine with any kind of precision." The professor cautioned. "These phenomena are highly unstable. Our velocity will increase proportionately to the amount of bulk matter in this area of space.
"Mind you, this is only a rough guess." Bergman warned. "But I would say we'll have three hours--and I do mean TOPS--to conclude rescue operations here. After that...we'll be so far away from the Triumvirate, Alan wouldn't find us if he searched for a thousand centuries."
Angelina was also cognizant of the theory that rapture corridors opened up avenues to other dimensions. The weird dream that she had before coming to the Command conference seemed so real; not like any kind of dream she ever experienced.
Before leaving her quarters to Main Mission, Nicky's blocks had been arranged in a strange message: DO NOT WAIT FOR THE DARKNESS TO FALL
"Well," Ang replied blandly, "then he should be back in two hours instead of three."
An instant message appeared on her laptop screen from Structural Engineer Don Cho.
"Tycho base currently has no atmosphere due to structural breech. Estimated repair time 72 hours. Don"
Angelina read the message aloud for everyone's benefit.
"It looks like the Tycho option is out." Sandra repeated the sour conclusion.
"We cannot let them sit on the lunar surface, especially if we are about to go through a rapture corridor. It will not be safe. The only protection I can see for them is to bring them into the hangars and, well, they will just have to stay in the Eagles in their own self contained atmosphere."
Helena Russell nodded to Koenig. "I don't see any other way, John. Dr. Mathias and I will work as quickly as we can on the medical screening tests for compatibility as quickly as possible." She tapped her pen pensively on the desk. "Psychologically, I think it is best that the new Alphans be integrated into the population as soon as possible after they are medically cleared. Segregating them will not help either group in the process of uniting."
She looked around the room. "It is not going to be easy. I believe it will be our biggest challenge yet from a social and psychological perspective, integrating and accepting the new Alphans into our community." She smiled somewhat warmly. "I expect that as leaders of your sections you will be able to handle the task successfully."
The Commander's commlock chimed and he unclipped it from his belt. Tanya Alexander appeared on the micro monitor. "Commander, may I come in? I have a report from Captain Carter."
Koenig had instructed Tanya that any report should be delivered personally to him. He had not made an announcement to Alpha yet concerning the arrival of the other Alphans. He aimed his comlock and opened the privacy door. Tanya stepped inside and the door whooshed shut behind her. The dark ring around her right eye was obvious, not only from the swelling but from the shovelfuls of foundation she used in an attempt to conceal it.
Paul glanced up-and for a moment his eyes darkened, and then there was no reaction, just the standard Morrow sitting, waiting for the information contained in the report.
Sandra took notice and exchanged a shocked glance with Angelina.
"Captain Carter reports that all eight Eagles from the other moon have lifted off and are returning to base. He is piloting Eagle 16. ETA is 45 minutes. He is requesting landing and disembarkation instructions." Tanya let the right side of her pageboy cut dangle across her cheek as she looked down at the gray tile.
"Another racket ball accident, Tanya? " Angelina interrupted before Koenig could answer her. Angelina looked directly at Sloven, never taking her eyes off him. "You must have been hit pretty hard." She hoped the others would finally take notice of the festering situation.
There were ten things in the commander's life that he always wanted to do. The needs of subsistence had intervened to deny him each, and every one the them. As he closed his flimsy, and throttled the security guard with his brow, and prejudicial disgust, he was reminded of all ten:
1) Win the Nobel Peace Prize for significant contributions to the Law Of Energy Conservation.
2) Somehow stay married.
3) Somehow, maintain a family.
4) Run naked with a hula girl at the base of Krakatoa.
5) Declare Ed Malcom brain dead (with ceremony).
6) Develop a Methadone-like cure for artichoke addiction.
7) Eat his cake, and have it too.
8) Find a way to make the Moon look like St. Croix in the Virgin Isles, replete with beaches, and four star liners.
9) Prosecute Operation: Exodus--for once, successfully. He wouldn't know how to act, they had failed, oh so many times.
10) Choke the shit out of Sloven.
The primacy of the above goals was dependent on situation, and attainability.
Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, number nine topped the list. This didn't mean that Koenig's desire to pound the security guard to flinders was any less meaningful. It was a matter of duty, before pleasure, one might say. The Sloven ringer on the other moon--an Eagle Mechanic named Umberto Garzon.
He was already in a hole, and they had yet to hit the Rapture Corridor.
"Tell Carter to stand by." The commander said. "Paul, go bring them in, and make sure that the hangar bays are off limits to all, except authorized personnel. Helena, I hope we won't need them, but it would probably be a good idea to have some EMT's hanging around the Reconnaisance Hub."
Paul nodded. "Yes, Commander." He stood and began to make his way towards the door-and as he passed Tanya, stopped in mid-stride, thinking.
"Victor, keep an eye on Clara. If three hours mysteriously changes to two hours,
I want to know about it. The minute you sight an accretion disk; an apparent horizon--anything--let me know about it. If it's anything like the last one," he said, recalling Corridor Elwood, which they had run afoul two months before. "We best be battening down the hatches.
"As of this moment, we're on Yellow Alert."
Paul nodded as though to himself and relayed the Commander's Base Status Condition through his commlock to Operations, then turned. "Sloven-got a few? Got a special Morrow Project for you."
Sloven groaned inwardly-nobody liked Paul Morrow's Special Projects-under the best of circumstances, he'd be hard-put to complete both his own duties and whatever it was that the Deputy Commander had in mind.
Angelina passed the crowd at the windows of Launch Pad 2 as she headed for the Hangar of Launch Pad 3. Carter had left the passenger module of Eagle 16 on the pad and brought the rest of the Eagle to the other launch pad.
When she arrived in flight control, Gordon Cooper was sipping on a coffee, extra sweetener, as he manipulated the joystick which controlled the crane in the hangar, bringing the anorexic looking, passenger module-less Eagle into its temporary berth. When Carter emerged she took the stairs down to the ground level of the hangar; the stair well was dimly lit, too dimly lit for a stairwell and made a mental note to install brighter lights in the area.
Carter opened the door as she reached the bottom of the steps, nearly colliding with him. The stairs were giving her the creeps and she had a strange feeling of panic overtake her as she dashed down the metal steps.
"You're back," she greeted, the immense relief evident in her voice. "There is no way I will stand for some other woman in the form of a rapture corridor name Clara to take you away from me."
She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him deeply. Had her eyes been open, she would have noted a flicker in the shadow behind him.
"G'day--I found me a beauty." The pilot said, returning the smooch. "On the way down, I kind of figured something was up. It seemed too easy, and the stars were all wrong." He confided, rolling his helmet towards Yul Ostrog, who snatched it up as he honked, and swooshed by in one of the maintenance Bobcats. "As a matter of fact, I almost had a little barney with our buddy Geist over that very same topic.
"In any case, I uploaded some pretty gloomy rolls of color for Victor to look at." He said, his eyes drifting across the hangar to the two individuals who were boarding the outbound tram. Sloven waved back to him from across the noise, and wet. It's all good, his expression seemed to say. Everything is cool, jake.
But there was a bruise on his forehead, almost impossible to see in the light due to Sloven's own skin tone, and his nose appeared to be somewhat swollen...and there was a stain on the front of his uniform trousers, a stain that no one else either noticed-or chose not to notice. Tanya Alexander was much less convincing--probably because everyone's favorite security guard had her elbow twisted so far behind her back, she could bite the nails on her right hand. Of course, this was impossible to see at an angle.
The Main Mission operative looked like an ashen, haggard, old bag who lost the war with Mary Kay. His mate was apples though.
"That bastard has been beating up Tanya again," Angelina hissed as she gave Sloven a sidewise glance, a glance that was returned when Sloven felt himself unobserved, a glance filled with hatred and anger-that someone would pay for something done to him...and that somehow, Ang was at fault.
She focused on the shadows behind Sloven. There were four of them, moving in a unison. The oddity of the situation was that the shadows were not attached to anybody or anything.
A jostle of memory of an encounter with...someone or something overcame her. An unexplainable feeling of fear, fear for Nicky's life, enshrouded her soul as she stared at the shadow figures, drifting toward Sloven. She thought one of them gazed at her and shook its "head" in the negative. She felt faint and the room was elongating hideously.
"Uh..," she stammered, her mouth completely dry. "Why can't you see what is happening with her?"
She realized she was gripping his shoulders. Her head stopped spinning and she relaxed. "He'll end up killing her if someone doesn't stop him," she croaked then cleared her throat.
Suddenly, she felt as if Tanya would not have any more problems as far as Sloven was concerned, soon.
Carter shook his head. He bit his tongue. The miracle of reunion was at hand. Triumvirate space was as thin as rice paper. One wrong twist of the eight ball, and you're out of this universe. Maybe even out of this continuum. He made it back safely--Eagle One was still miraculously intact, which was unusual-and he helped a few people in the process. He didn't know that Sloven was using Tanya Alexander as a punching bag. He doubted it for two reasons: A) According to Andy Dempsey, she really was a klutz. Some people are just like that; all bruises, and contusions--all banana peels, while everyone else enjoyed the coordinated way of life; B) She didn't even like Sloven. She had been known to say, in fact,that she thought he was a mofo,' and an SOB. That being the case, why would she cover his tracks, wipe away the fingerprints, every time he battened on her? He had neither love, nor sex, nor blackmail as a bargaining tool. It was hard for the pilot to reconcile the cycle of codependent abuse with objective hatred.
"Still no time piece." He remarked, changing the subject as he looked at the blank screen on his commlock. "Did you ever figure out what's causing that."
The mag' shuttle recycled back into the hangar--minus Sloven, The Bruiser, and his victim of choice. Pierre Danielle was about to board the outbound car, when Marilys Sing, and Lars Manroot caused him to be late. He smiled, and nodded patiently as technician handed him a stack of work orders to sign, as the tram moved away without him. In the interim, Gordon Cooper rushed across the tarmac, cursing under his breath as he just made the lift to the crow's nest.
Ang blinked and the bizarre shadows were gone; only the long shadow cast by the giant overhead crane used to move Eagles around the hangar.
"Ben says it's a software issue," Ang murmured in response, still eyeing the opposite wall for any vestige of the dark oddity. She looked up, trying to focus into the conversation. "He is being nonspecific about what kind of software issue, ergo he doesn't know what's going on either."
She glanced back as they walked through the hangar. "Chris Potter says its not the hardware, not the electronics either. The professor says it could be a 'residual' effect from our encounter with the Triumvirate but he holds the notion that we are facing a 'new' effect due to the proximity of so many rapture corridors in this area of space."
She sighed, shaking her head. "So, no, we don't have a clue why some timepieces are telling the wrong time, counting seconds either too fast or too slow or not telling time at all. Truthfully, we really don't have time," she snickered at her own bad pun, "to keep looking into the matter. We are trying to prepare for our unavoidable encounter with that rapture corridor in about 2 hours."
Angelina gazed at him earnestly and stopped walking. "I had a really strange dream while you were gone. Funny thing is, I can't remember the details, just that it was really weird. But what I do remember is the impression it left on me when I woke up. I had a terrible feeling that Nicky's life is in danger, that something here on this very base is threatening him."
She shook her head and laughed softly. "I wish insanity would just claim me in one swoop and be done with me. This thing of losing my mind by degrees really bites."
Carter covered his right ear to block out the noise of the huge, chopper exhaust fans that were mounted over head. From far away, he could hear shrill jet whine of several Howitzer engines being test fired before being shipped off to the outfitting quay. He wanted to impress her with the impossibility of what she was saying, the lack of deduction, and reason. Then he considered where he had been, and where they were all going, and his confidence was shaken. All that remained was September 13, 1999, and a bull headedness that he could ill afford.
"It was just a dream." He said semantically, while helping her up the steps to an empty mag' rail car. "Besides, look at it this way. Before long we'll be out of range of this hell hole, and I'll tell you this much--it ain't going to break my heart, cupcake."
His neck was another matter.
"I thought you'd want to have a look at this." Victor Bergman said on the other side of the transparent marker plate. In the center, someone had drawn a schematic, with lines stabbing through an oval. There were four labels in toto: THE CRUST; SOLID UPPER MANTLE; NONRIGID INNER MANTLE; and POSSIBLE IRON RICH CORE. "They're shots taken by Carter on his return trip.
Oh, and there was also the motto SWISS CHEESE which was hastily included by Ed Malcom. A bad joke, from one whose melon was obviously impaired. A moronic attempt to seduce a fine figured, red headed lab technician, who thought he was a geek/ignoramus.
"It's the other Moon." The professor added for clarification as he released the zoom knob on the Scanning Probe Microscope.
Koenig laid aside the purple, and quartz Siderite Nodule, and moved around the chalkboard to study the exposures.
"His onboard camera was the standard, monochrome frame grabber." Bergman explained, handing over the first 12" X 14" inch photos. "However--for some reason--the shutter only operated a 1/1000 of it's normal speed."
The glossy, digital photo displayed the vulcanized breakup of Mont Blanc. The mountain was reduced to rubble beneath a cluster of white flares. The black lacuna over the Terran Moon was reduced to a gaseous mirage in an ocean of flame--violently imposed upon by the oxidizing conflagration of Eta Carinae Positive.
In the background, Technician Shannon O'Leary, the red-headed object of Ed Malcom's latest lustful affections, and Technician Liju Patel packed microscopes and lenses in the hexagonal storage modules in preparation for the upcoming encounter with the rapture corridor. At least this time, they had some advanced warning.
Patel listened patiently as O'Leary opined about 'that jerk Malcom.'
Koenig shook his head in awe, studying the photographs. "Incredible. These photos are a rare opportunity to view the sequential breakup of a sub-planetary body."
Koenig became fixated on one area of one of the exposures. A feature seemed unfamiliar to him. Perhaps it was due to a fault with the camera, a momentarily glitch. He pointed to site, tapping it with his felt pen.
"Victor. Have any idea what this is?" Koenig queried, arching his left brow.
"I noticed the same thing." The professor turned, and pointed his commlock at the viewing plate. "This is the same photo, only magnified; computer enhanced a thousand times. As you can see," he grimaced, placing a compass against the screen. "Upon closer inspection, these fragmented white areas no longer resemble radioactive dust, and debris."
An accurate assessment. What the data looked like was smoke with fangs. Each of the anomalies had a tale that was kilometers long. Their central mass was divided into two sections that appeared to be hinged by a right, and left jawbone. John Koenig concluded that he had failed the Rorshack Test. Instead of seeing angels, he was seeing abominations from outer space. Bergman's sihlouette paused over a pixeled, red rim of moon rock that appeared to be funneling towards the comet monsters.
"You'll notice," he went on, placing the compass spike against a dark origin, and spinning it across one sector. "These chunks of regolith being lifted from the surface--but they're not being pulled relative to Eta Carinae Positive. As a matter of fact, the star doesn't seem to be having much of an effect at all.
"There are G-Forces." Bergman extrapolated. "In fact the gravity is such that the lunar surface has begun to disintegrate from a pressure that is ten times its own weight. Strange thing is, the rubble isn't being pulled towards the sun." He climaxed, clapping his hands together. "Some how, it's being pulled towards the NLO's we see here." He tapped one of the omnivores with the thumb nail of his index finger. "Matter falls within range.
"And then it ceases to exist."
Ed Malcom lumbered toward O'Leary and Patel with a self-appointed, authoritarian 'Are you almost done?'
Liju Patel ignored him and kept working on the packing. Ed Malcom fancied himself as interim head of the Electronics Instrumentation section while that 'bitchy little shrimp', as he called his boss Livy DeHavilland, was in Medical. In fact, Chris Potter had been left in charge of the area. Malcom was convince that any day now, Angelina Carter would permanently appoint him Electronics Instrumentation Section Chief.
"Hey Ed." Shannon said gleefully. "Did you hear Livy woke up? Bet she'll be back to work real soon." She grinned broadly, appreciating Malcom's disappointment.
Koenig paused thoughtfully, studying the picture.
"If I was a preacher on earth and I had this picture in my possession," he mused thoughtfully,"I could make a convincing case for the existence of hell." He chuckled, "and easily rival Bill Gates in his wealth."
He shook his head. "Victor, you said that the shutter only operated a 1/1000 of it's normal speed. Could that have caused this...this aberration?" Koenig was grasping for straws and he knew it.
"Funny, you should mention that." The professor said, returning to his stool. "I haven't the foggiest notion of what might be causing it. I do know that since we fell within range of the Triumvirate, we've had problems with time. Franzen's Eagle winks out of existence; the other Moon appears out of nowhere; the fabric is shot through with rapture corridors.
"Then last, but not least--the conspicuous lack of clocks." He reminded Koenig, with a nod towards the commstation. "We're being showered subatomic debris. Fermions; leptons, and classifications of molecules that can't even be expressed as a whole number."
On the screen behind him, the ultimate impression was that of dinner time. All of the protons, and neutrons in every nucleus did not equal the whole of the mass number. What they were seeing went beyond biblical, beyond the Last Judgement. It was the end of time itself, represented by a grinding, devouring army of Polarises. The other Moon was carry-out for the gods, guttling the surface like it was Ready Whip on a chocolate sundae. It was the obverse of the Big Bang Theory. Here creation was effectively put to death, and the clustering ballocks were the instruments of its demise.
"It is possible," Bergman articulated. "That time has been slowed to the point where things often invisible to the naked eye are now visible. Everything we thought we knew on Earth about momentum, and gravity, and the unified field.
"Maybe we were wrong, John. Maybe this is how a planet really dies, and our situation has alloted us the opportunity to observe it first hand. The secret workings of nature. A glimpse behind the scenes."
"The apocalypse," Koenig murmured, rubbing his chin with his right thumb and forefinger. "Or something else?" His brow furrowed, emphasizing the deep creases in his forehead.
His thoughts were interrupted when his commlock toned him.
"Koenig," he answered, absentmindedly, still studying the photographs.
"The last of the eight Eagles from the other moon has landed, Commander" Mark Winter's expressionless image appeared on the commlock monitor. "All Eagles are now in Hangar 4. All personnel from the other moon remain inside the passenger module of the ships. Security has secured the area and Doctor Russell's medical team has arrived, ready to begin their evaluations of the crew."
Only a handbreadth away, Victor Bergman huffed, quietly, and propped himself against the module. His gorge swelled, and pouted, as if steeping towards the ultimate bowel movement. He gulped hard, twice, wiped his perspiring forehead, and looked about the frenetic lab. The shadows in the room were now lit by fire flies, fucking their way through a cirrus of clouds, and bi-product. He watched as his boots racked in, and out of focus before feeling the Moon give way beneath him.
As the details of the new Alphan integration ran through his mind, out of the corner of his eye Koenig saw Bergman weave like a sprung Jack-in-the-box man.
"VICTOR!" The Commander immediately grabbed the professor before he hit the floor, easing him into a white moduform chair. "What's wrong?"
The professor was ashen and sweating profusely. Koenig removed his commlock from his belt. "Mathias, I need someone to take a look at Professor Bergman. He almost fainted."
"I feel fine." He said after being retrieved from a nice trip. "Really, I'm alright."
Vomit mixed with hydroponic celery cauterized the upside of his tonsils.
"Commander Koenig." Benjamin Ouma inserted himself, via the priority commlock channel. His expression--filled with contained trepidation--countenanced many things. Isaac Newton, belittled, and made speechless by rebellious physics. Trains at full throttle, stopping on a dime. Momentum that is not equal to mass, multiplied by velocity. Word problems, designed to kill. "Our rotational inertia has ceased." The computer chief announced with frenzied cold. "Gyroscopic readings are zero.
"The Moon--it's slowing down."
Paul sat stoically as Dr. Sullivan carefully applied the sutures to the cut on his forehead and applied the bandage. "Really," Dorothy chastened him, "You need to be a lot more careful-even if clumsiness does seem to be going around these days."
Paul simply nodded. "I will, Doctor," he replied calmly-then both looked up at a medical alert speaker that rudely spat its alarm. Dot found herself moving automatically towards ICU-but was beaten to the door by Morrow, who held it open for her-then both, crossing the threshold, simply stopped and stared. Olivia DeHavilland's eyes were open, her mouth moving in a raspy, mechanical way said, in a voice strangled by months of inactivity and disuse, "Wa...water..."
Paul quickly gathered a small cup as Dot checked the monitors, then helped raise the small woman's head-the little engineer had little muscle tone or strength despite months of ROM exercises to maintain some semblance of muscle tone as the Deputy Commander brought the glass to Livy's lips.
Despite it all, Livy's eyes were tiredly bright and quick as she scanned ICU and what she could see of Medical, then, her eyes focusing on both Paul and Dot, whispered, "I...remember...", then faded off to a more normal sleep.
Dot looked at the biomonitors over the bed and nodded sagely. "You'd better go, Paul-I think she'll be fine, but she still needs to sleep normally. "She glanced at the monitor again, then reached out and patted his hand. "I think you helped a great deal, coming in here to talk to her almost every night."
Paul almost blushed. "I'd rather you not say anything about it," he said, turning to leave.
Dorothy smiled. "Your secret is safe with me," she said as he stepped out through the doorway and into the hall.
Sandra Benes sighed heavily as she stepped into the travel tube. After nearly 16 hours on duty, she was looking at least another 4-6 hours depending on the severity of their trip through the rapture corridor.
She sat hypnotized by the rectangular lights blinking intermittently as the travel tube made its way toward corridor 15. When it came to a halt and the doors open, Sandra was nearly plowed under by two technician rushing inside before she had a chance to exit. Her look of annoyance was returned with a weary 'sorry' followed by their quick return to reviewing their schematics as the door closed behind her.
She had one hour to eat then perhaps find a secluded spot in the recreation center to crash for 20 minutes or so before returning to the Main Mission tower. Sandra looked up brightly as she saw Paul Morrow stepping out of Medical Center.
"Paul!" she exclaimed, as she walked toward him. "Are you ok?"
Lost in his own thoughts, Paul almost didn't see Sandra-until she spoke, then he looked up and gave a little smile. "I'm fine," he admitted, "Just..." He tried to decide how to explain the cut in an inoffensive way, and opted to say nothing, though he also knew that Sandra would pick up on the fact that he was much more relaxed than he had been for some time-expending his anger and hatred on a viable target always did that to him-and he rather wished it wouldn't, that he could be a bit more...normal.
She reached up and moved her hand gently over the stitched and bandaged cut on his head. "Is your head bothering you?"
"Not anymore," he said softly, then cast a bit of misdirection, knowing that Sandra would ignore it and continue to question the injury. "Liv-I mean, deHavilland woke up, finally," he said.
"I heard," she replied with a soft smile. Sandra was aware of Paul's visits to the comatose engineer. She felt neither threatened nor jealous. It would not harm and could certainly benefit both of them. Apparently, for Livy, it had benefited her, as she had miraculously awaken from her 7 month long sleep.
"I was not referring to the bump you received from a, uh, possessed Angelina Carter in Main Mission." She winced internally. The bruises around her neck were still tender and coughing or clearing her throat were still irritatingly uncomfortable.
"It looks like you have a new injury. Be straight with me, Paul. What happened?" They rounded the corner entered the cafeteria. She glanced at him knowingly; rumors spread like wildfire on Moonbase Alpha.
Paul kept his own counsel, walking slowly next to Sandra, keeping his own usual pace down to her smaller steps. Absently, he replied, "It's nothing-just aggravated the abuse Ang piled upon me explaining a few minor operational facts to someone with a harder head than I expected."
Gonzale's Special of the Day: Shepard's Pie "Surprise". Sandra felt the acid indigestion beginning already. She opted for Hydroponic Salad instead.
Taking a tray of the 'Surprise', Paul instinctively reacted to the scent as per his training: he simply shut down his senses of taste and smell, convincing himself that it, as everything else, was merely 'Body Fuel', a habit that enabled him to drink, and in fact, almost like, the coffee almost continually served on Alpha. A part of him wished for a can, just one cup, of Folger's Dark Roast.
He sat down opposite Sandra and reached out tenderly to touch the bruises on her throat. "Someone had to do something," he whispered, keeping his voice down. "Tanya is a good person, and...I'm at fault, too." He shook his head, withdrawing his fingers from the gentle curve of Sandra's neck and absently taking a bite of the 'Surprise'. "I should've stopped it a long time ago-but I thought it would blow over; I thought she was stronger than that, I thought..." His voice trailed off. "And I almost went out of control." His eyes met hers-and for the first time in a long time, Sandra could see the pain there, a pain caused by something that he'd ever only vaguely hinted at throughout the years.
Sandra gazed at him sympathetically. "Paul, it was up to Tanya to seek help. Whenever anyone suspected she was having a problem with Sloven, she would categorically deny anything was wrong. She would even defend him. At any rate, I am also guilty of just trying to ignore it, hoping it would get better. Either she has very low self worth to be with him or..."
"Or?" He paused, a forkful of 'Surprise' halfway between plate and mouth.
She paused and her expression turned quizzical. "Or he is blackmailing her with something. But what? What is so terrible that she must buy silence with bruises and abuse?"
Paul did not appear to react. He did not blink. Sandra noticed that everyone in the room seemed to stop in their track. Ed Malcolm had his fork loaded with the "special" half way to his mouth, staring at it piteously. Sandra surveyed the room before glancing down at her hydroponic salad. She gasped and quickly sat back in her white plastic chair.
In the bed of iceberg lettuce, the cucumber slices had arranged themselves as eyes, the baby carrots had taken on the semblance of a nose and the celery had formed into a yawning maw. The salad dressing spread out over the meal and down the sides of the lettuce bed as if a spider were consuming the screaming face.
Sandra blinked and glanced at the salad again. The image was gone; just salad. Time seemed to be progressing normally. Paul was looking at her with a puzzled expression. "What..." he asked softly, half-standing, one hand reaching gently towards her.
"I'm sorry," she spoke softly and apologetically, "I didn't mean to startle you." She chuckled nervously. "I am very fatigued and I think my imagination is running wild."
Paul shook his head slowly as he gazed deep into her eyes. Years of experience on Alpha had given him insights into most all the personnel, Sandra most of all. "No," he whispered softly, his right hand touching her left gently, making the physical contact required in an established, trusting relationship, "you saw something-tell me." He refused to say aloud his thought, *anything that affects you-anyone-to the point of a scream, no matter how soundless, concerns me-and all of Alpha.*
He smiled gently, trying to be the man rather than the Deputy Commander, a separation more and more distinct and hard to make with each passing day.
Sandra gazed patiently at Paul. She really wanted to tell him but then just formulating the thoughts of seeing a 'salad monster' made her take pause and reconsider her response.
Nutty. Absolutely certifiable.
Additionally, she saw the stress of the situation, his effort to keep his composure, was written on his face in lines etched deeply, prematurely, on his forehead. It was just a hallucination...just a product of an overtired mind, that was all. She did not add any more emotional burden to the one person she cared about more than herself on Moonbase Alpha.
"It was nothing. Just my imagination, Paul." She pushed the chair back. "I need to get back and I suppose you are heading that way too?"
Paul shook his head as he reached across the table and took Sandra's hands. "I'm the Deputy Commander," he said softly, "you don't have to be back to work until I say so-and you're not that kind of person to see ghosts and goblins." He smiled, pulling her back down into her chair. "Talk to me, Sandra, tell me what you saw, please." He pushed his tray aside and leaned forward, eliminating any distractions between the two. "Please." He took her hands in his and, locking eyes, gave her his undivided attention.
She looked up with her dark eyes, drawing her hands toward her outstretching his arms. She knew he sensed there was something wrong and he would persist in his efforts for her to tell him. She lowered her voice.
"When we were talking about Tanya's situation with Sloven, I noticed everything slow down in the room, as if I was watching a movie and the DVD player slowed to half speed, then quarter speed..then..stop. It was very eerie. When I looked down at my meal, I saw...a face."
She paused, her cheeks turning crimson with embarassment. It was completely strange. She laughed softly. "I told you I am very tired, seeing monsters in my salad."
Paul shook his head, pulling her hands back close again to him. "I know you're tired, we all are," he confirmed gently, "but I know you-you're too analytical-you wouldn't see something unless it had been there." He thought for a minute. "Think about it-we have another Alpha not too distant in the stellar perspective from us; we have a rapture tube less than twelve hours away-and we have, for no reason, changed course at least once caused by an external force for which we have no way to sense or measure." He smiled-and for a moment, the man slipped out from the mask, weary, amused, warm-"perhaps whoever you saw was a warning to us-or perhaps a reassurance, or maybe even an invitation." The mask slipped back on. "You told me something you didn't want to tell-later, I'll tell you something I've never told." A Deputy Commander smile. "I promise."
"!!!Power loss in all Alpha quadrants. Main bus circuitry inoperable!!!" Ouma carped frantically, turning his desk around to face Morrow. The big screen was nothing, but random static charges. The gooseneck lamps mounted to the desks began to flicker, and dim.
"!!All reactors have gone into automatic shutdown. All cores are flooded!!" Angelina Carter added to the mayhem from the technical station. "Initiating Solar Battery Reserves!!"
"Reserve power," commanded Paul Morrow from his own station, a station of ghastly, unreadable screens that spewed gibberish almost as fast as Ed Malcom.
"!!!Reserve power in ten!!!" Sandra Benes said, her fingers poised on the CTRL, ALT, and SHIFT keys.
"Reserve power on my mark," Morrow glanced at his wristwatch, irritated that it was flashing 12:00 on 1/1/00 rather than the true date and time.
"!!!It won't happen!!!" Kate Bullen reported, leaning against her desk. The blue glow of the monitor dancing against her cheeks in idiograms. "!!!Something's jamming the relays!!! There's no way to transfer the load!!!"
"Angelina. Reroute through Secondary Systems-Kate, reboot primary system controls-Ben, pull that Computer of yours offline, we're going Manual on all systems." Paul crossed his arms and stared unseeingly at the master screen, plotting his next series of actions based on the responses gained by the staff.
"!!Dammit!!" Angelina blurted as she bolted up to the computer deck. Emma Black had already cue the power schematics on the monitor. Ang studied and began typing.
"Main Relay to Alt 4....no.....Main to Alt 16 to Alt 5....shit....Main to Alt 2 to Alt 7 to..." She uttered several possible combinations as she typed only to be rewarded with the word "inoperative" pop up on the screen in yellow 20 point Arial font.
"Joe!" she cued the Chief Nuclear Power Engineer on audio,"I need those solar batteries."
"I can't do it, Ang! Something keeps tripping the mains!" Joe's harried voice echoed through the giant Main Power Generation Room.
"Dammit," cursed the Deputy Commander, "Easy fix. Reroute half power through secondaries and the other half through tertiary systems."
Koenig, and Bergman entered through the darkened office--as grateful as Lazarus that they had elected not to use the command tower elevator on this occasion. The professor collided head-on with Andy Dempsey, who was an ICBM of panic as he attempted to bolt out, and gather up data from the perimeter stations by hand.
"Commander!" Ang called out. "Complete and total power loss in 5 seconds!!!"
Paul opened his mouth as the cry of "!!!Rotation zero!!!" from Ben Ouma updated the situation. "!!!Velocity zero!!! Tetryon waves are building!!!"
Then the lights went out on Moonbase Alpha. Bergman's last sight was of the Ultra VGA monitor atop Paul Morrow's keyboard. It was jammed with three rows of telemetry which read:
This continued until the picture lost all horizontal, and faded to a phosphor dot in the center. Then they were alone in the dark. Gradually, Bergman saw an orange shroud appear on Helena Russell's cheeks. Morrow's taut shoulders appeared again--still trying to resurrect his workstation. Carter rushed in through the archway, and slid to a stop in a pillar of moonlight. The O-Kay Corridor was spotlit by a sate of invisible candles. The universe turned bronze. Only the creak of the desktops violated the incorruptible silence.
Then, the rise of the banshee. The eerie, symphonic pulsar which raised the hair on John Koenig's neck, and caused Carter's nose to prick, and bleed.
The ceiling above disappeared behind a cloud cover of orphic radiation, angels, and daemons poured from the red stratum. A scarlet light source appeared like a starburst in the center of the vortex. The light dispersed the darkness until a giant, blurred image covered the ceiling. The titanium floor of Level-A was gone. Recycled air turned to slush. The blurred visage that sanctioned them appeared from the other side of the transdimensional hole in space. It's galaxy was darkness. Behind the blurred face, and sunken eyes, a pendulum formed of exotic, esoteric alien skulls swung back, and forth in quiet toxin.
"???Who am I addressing???" The sibylline, alien voice inquired, a voice that scanned throughout the entire auditory range of human perception, vibrating the sleek plastic-and-metal workstations, buzzing off the pickup grids of commlocks.
It's eye sockets were black, and undelineated.
Carter looked at the rows of blank faces--at the desks, and in the recesses of the auditorium. The only light in the auditorium came from that surreal threshold in the ceiling. Even the reserve module on panel four was dark. The being's mouth was large enough to swallow Jonah. The voice sounded human, but the reverb sounded like the forlorn whale song in the depths of the Mariannas Trench. He glanced at Ang,' and then Morrow, and then back to the falling mists that were emanating from the portal.
"I'm John Koenig." The commander said, moving dead center of the febrile, red light. The black arc of the pendulum, canting back, and forth across the wool tunic covering his chest. "Leader of this community."
"Actually, we were about to ask you the very same thing." Bergman said distrustfully.
"You're from the planet Earth." The alien proclaimed with distaste, and disdain, and ignoring the professor completely. As if someone had told him a foul tale of sodomy, and wanton depravity. "Why did you ignore the warning you were given? You have transversed realms where the soma, and the finite are not permitted to be."
"We had no choice." The commander argued with bitter calumniation. "We were pushed into the gravity of the Triumvirate. To not act would have meant death for all of us."
"We are artisans of the meta-moment." The being explicated--at last, answering, badly, the question posed by Victor Bergman. "The time before. We know nothing of the aftermoment. The movement of your Moon; all of your days, and nights; the dawn of your tomorrows.
"We are the ornamentalists of destruction. We provide the canvass upon which every second in the physical plane is adorned.
"Every second, of every moment in your so-called lives is framed by us, our Great Work."
Every person in the room was suddenly granted the home movies of their lives. First there was darkness..the darkness of the womb. Next came the screams of a woman and every person realized they were listening to the cries of their own mother's giving birth to each one of them. Gradually the world became coherent as understanding and wisdom were gained by growth and maturation.
Climbing trees...racing bikes...playing house...mutilating puppies...
Life. Death. War. Peace. The violence of War. The gentleness of Peace. Love. Hate. A bathing of all human emotion and experience compressed into a momentary pulse.
In a flash of less than 10 seconds, each Alphan relieved toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence and adulthood, all culminating in the event which led them all to the moment.
The unifying calamity of September 13, 1999..The images stopped. Several Main Mission personnel, overwhelmed by the images, dropped in a heap to the ground, losing consciousness. Angelina Carter had a horrendous migraine, but otherwise, she looked around and saw Alan, Paul, the commander, the professor, Doctor Russell and June Akaiwa still standing. Sandra had slid against the wall, trying to fight the encroaching darkness. Angelina immediately went to her side and propped her up as Sandra shook her head. She gazed upward again as Sandra leaned her head on her shoulder, eyes fluttering half open.
"What do you want of us?" Koenig asked firmly but weakly as he negotiated the orientation of the room, spinning in his mind. To him, the ceiling could have now been the floor. "Thirty-eight minutes." Sandra Benes remarked, her eyebrow raised critically. "That's how long we have before our cryo-reserve tanks expire. After that--no more fresh air."
"No more air period." The overnight, Mr. Winters said with his usual, impeachable charisma.
"We draw your attention to your moon's regrettable intrusion into our space." The alien, listing into a bodacious, territorial expostulation.
"Are you responsible for the breakup of the other Moon?" Bergman cross-examined, his head tilted towards the ceiling, and resting against his analytical palm. Forthwith, Bob Mathias appeared on the first landing of the balcony stairs. Trailing just behind were two other sets of flares, belonging to Lorna O'Brian, and Phil Geist, respectively. The astrophysicist froze in her traces, and blinked incredulously at the psyche that was booming to them from the fog encased ceiling. The technician responded with blunt, his lower lip dropping to the floor of Main Mission, a phiz severe.
"Annihilation proceeds the birth of a moment." The persona concurred from a pinnacle of righteousness, Brahmas, and milestone maintenance. "This schema was meant to flow easily. Your presence here--performing unorthodox, foolish experimentation with laws you cannot even begin to comprehend--has delayed the coming of the next moment.
"These obstructions must be eliminated." The alien continued, no heart, no soul, no time. "To restore the even stream, YOU MUST PUT BACK WHAT YOU HAVE TAKEN, AND YOU WILL DO SO IMMEDIATELY."
"Please...we don't understand. What has been taken?" Helena Russell rasped, after finding her voice, and gripping the edge of the Capcomm station. She, too, was trying to regain her sense of balance and direction. The aliens gazed chilled her to the core. In one sense, he was an ominous stranger. In another sense, she felt that she had seen him before, some time, some where.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Lorna O'Brian and Phil Geist glancing at each other nervously. Helena looked at them intently. "Do you understand?"
"More importantly," Paul said, his eyes intent, his soul slicing out the bits of reality that would detract from his purpose, even as a part of his mind sorted through the Operations options that would give Alpha a bit more of literal breathing space beyond the thirty-eight, no, now thirty-seven minutes remaining, "you have yet to define your role in the breakup of our doppelganger moon-and are we to be held accountable for a violation of the sovereignty of your claimed realm through no fault of our own?" He intentionally ignored Helena's questioning of O'Brian and Geist-though he knew that somehow, they must be central to this disaster that loomed over the base like an iceberg of Titanic-and he forced himself to quell the suspicion that they would be an Albatross about Alpha's neck...
"Oh please." The Head In Space groaned, steeped in bullshit. "Just what we need today. Cavil from an Earth man who would just as soon throw himself against the bench, than jeopardize his ego. Commander Koenig, you would do well to remind your people that because of our 'sovereignty,' we are not obligated to provide substantiation.
"IT IS YOU WHO ARE BEING QUESTIONED."
The oblong shadow, tick-tocked across Paul Morrow's neck like the honing blade of a reaper.
Koenig shook his head exasperated.
"I'll do nothing of the sort." He said, pointing angrily. "You've brought the Moon to a dead stop, and for all intents, and purposes, you're holding us captive. I gather that we're on trial, but you have yet to state the charges against us. Clarify yourself, or-"
"OR NOTHING." The alien exploded back, causing Lars Manroot, and Ben Ouma to flinch. "DISABUSE YOURSELF OF THE IDEA THAT WE ARE BEHOLDEN TO YOU FOR A MOMENT. WE CAN EASILY LOOSE THE BONDS THAT HOLD THIS PLANETOID TOGETHER. OH, DON'T TEMPT-"
"!!!Tempt you, or what!!!" Koenig blazed defiantly. "!!!Reprisal against us for some mysterious crime that we can't even remember committing!!!"
"YOU DID MEDDLE." The face proclaimed.
"!!!We detonated missiles!!!" The commander countered.
"YOU HAVE UNRAVELLED THE HELIX OF SPACE."
"Oh God." Lorna O'Brian gasped, almost to the point of a shriek. The connections arrived with unmerciful rapidity.
Phil Geist nodded.
"I know what he's referring to." The physicist said, looking at Morrow, Russell, and Bergman. "It is our fault."
"WHAT!?!" Klaus Rotstein shrieked as he bounded down the balcony stair. No one could ever remember seeing Rotstein move with such speed. Instantly, he was in Phil Geist's face, grabbing handfuls of tunic at this neck and shoving him against the red light panels.
"I knew it!! I knew you fuckin' 'people'", he spat the word 'people' with acidity and hatred," would cause problems for us." Rotstein began drawing back his fisted right arm.
"Stop it, Klaus!!" Angelina grappled at his right arm, trying to restrain his motion toward Philip Geist's jaw. "Are you mad?!?! LET HIM GO!!!!"
Rotstein pulled his arm back sharply, slamming his elbow into Angelina's collarbone. Ang cried out in pain, letting his slugging arm go as she stumbled backwards.
Teardrops of blood showering from Philip Geist's nose splattered everywhere after the sound of the crack of a broken septum as Rotstein's fist made contact with Geist's face.
"!!!WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!!!" Koenig roared, momentarily forgetting that there was an entity hanging over their heads.
"That's it, Rotstein, you old drongo." Carter assuaged, after giving the controller atomic drop therapy, and then turning his wrist counter clockwise 180 degrees. Hair hanging in his face, and with a triumphant smirk etching itself across his lips.
Morrow helped to relax his subordinate by jamming his knee into Rotstein's bread basket while clutching his carotid, physically lifting him from the floor by one arm, his left arm drawn back.
Rotstein, choking, still managed to murder the vernacular, and accused the pilot's mother breeding illegitimate children with armadillos for a moment, then failed to draw breath as Paul's hand tightened...
Carter nodded, panting. "Yeah...whatever you say, skag." He agreed, his face a massive blush of molten lava, and blue veins. "As long as you understand that if you try to get up, I'm going to sing you a lullabye.
Paul's left arm cocked back-then Rotstein's body flew several feet back as the Deputy Commander just threw the man away as though disposing of non-recyclable trash.
Sandra stared from Ang's side, where she'd sprinted to help the other woman: Morrow stood, hands and stance loose the look on his face strange, as though he was returning from somewhere else-and she realized that she'd not seen Paul's hands move.
Paul's whole form trembled for a moment as though changing physical and mental gears, then, merely looking down at the writhing form of Rotstein, said, "Klaus, we'll discuss this later," as he drew his commlock and turned to Phil Geist.
"Medical, Main Mission-we've had an injury." Cutting the commlock signal without waiting for a response, he quickly examined the man's nose. "Broken-just a second, then you can explain what you mean by, 'it's our fault'." Paul put his hands to the man's nose-there was another sharp pop and Geist cried out in a burst of pain and blood flowed-and, when Paul removed his hands, Geist's nose was no longer out of joint.
"Explain. What did you do on your moon to warrant the appearance of these beings?" Paul questioned Geist.
"Charming." The voice in the rafters said censoriously. "The next moment is in danger of being fragmented, but that still isn't enough to wring generosity, and good character from the heart of an Earth man."
"Odd that you should be so critical." Bergman said calmly, leaning against Kate Bullen's workstation. "You see, in my opinion, you are the one who is responsible for all of this."
Koenig shot atomic, laser mendacity at the three men playing Twister on the gunmetal gray tile. "!!!WE NEED TIME TO SORT THIS OUT!!!" He told the dismal, Fiddler On The Roof. With a hectic nod, Harness Bulls Pound, and Dyrenforth fell on Rotstein with eager hands, not kind.
"Really?" The overhead lips turned upwards into a Grand Mal sneer. "Unfortunately, 'time' is the one thing you don't have."
With that, the mist parted, and the floor of Level-A was visible once more. Precisely ten seconds later, Carter felt his equilibrium slip away as the lights returned, and motion sickness nudged at his bad supper.
The Moon was moving again.
While Harness Bull Pound, and Harness Bull Dyronforth were doing a destruct job on Klaus Rotstein in the security cube (Otherwise known as The Hole to veterans, and the insensate.), the others sucked in the cycling O2 without gratitude. Data Analyst Adisa Talic was summoned (The right word, for the right sentence; she was neither asked, nor invited.). When she approached the round table, she was frowned upon--decreased by the snottiness of certain parties. The immaturity, and bitterness, and lack of acceptance at this new pain-in-the-ass flummoxed her.
Mr. Deputy Overnight was far, and above, the worst.
"!!!I HATE THIS!!!" Winters whined like a bitch.
"Well, you best get used to it." Carter projected, too full of energy to sit, too tired to pace. "What's done is done. Stop being such an ankle biter."
"Ditto." John Koenig said, wishing that he had asked Helena Russell for a big, fat Tylenol before the meeting was convened. Now, of course, it was too late. "Wallowing in self-pity won't do you a damn bit of good.
"Let cooler heads prevail."
"Right on, dad." Phil Geist commented, holding the gauze while his brain seethed from his nose. "For the record, though--THAT IS THE LAST TIME I'M TAKING CREDIT FOR DR. GAUNT'S CONTRIBUTIONS TO SCIENCE."
His magniloquence was directed at Lorna O'Brian, who faced the table.
"Yeah, we figured that." Koenig said, leaning against the wall. "Ang,' Paul--how stable is our power."
Angelina, noting the either frosty or neutral responses to the other Alphans, smiled toward Adisa Talic to take a seat next to her. She nodded tentatively then sat in the white futuristic chair. Caesar the cat had planted his well fed carcass in Ang's lap, purring contently.
The white and tabby patch cat opened his eyes upon Mark Winter's bleating. His whiskers twitched, sniffing in the direction of Adisa Talic. With neither positive nor negative reaction, Caesar jumped out of Ang's lap onto the round conference table. He parked himself in the exact center of the table with his front paws tucked under his chest, tailing swishing back and forth across Bergman's flimsie. He closed his eyes and resumed purring, ignoring the tension in the room.
"Power levels are stable and rising again," Angelina responded. "Reactors should be at full capacity in 4 hours. As to the cause of the drop, all I can say is that it is 'unknown external causes." Angelina cringed. She knew that is not what the Commander wanted to hear. However, it was all she had to offer.
"We are going through the circuits again, the power management programs to comb for glitches but I doubt if we will find anything." She glanced at all the faces then looked directly at Koenig. "At this point, I don't believe we can prevent it from happening again."
"Fine," Morrow commented, "So we know it was unknown external causes that caused the power loss-but what point on the grid shows the fastest loss of power? And if were uniform, check a lateral spread instead of an overhead gain-determine top, mid, or bottom levels of Alpha." Already his brain was pumping out psychological pushups as possible solutions-probably all ineffective-raced through his mind.
"Not uniform," Ang answered patiently, "but unable to correlate maximum power loss rate to any grid point. There was no reason for the reactors to automatically initiate shut down and no reason power could not be routed from alternate sources, namely the solar batteries. It was as if all primary and alternate circuit routes suddenly became opens. Very odd."
"We can...." Ben Ouma said warily. "I have to tell you, Paul, I have little, or no confidence in any of those techniques; not after what happened in there." He explained, pointing towards the big doors. "I also don't trust computer to deliver accurate reports on any of those registers."
"Here's the problem." Victor Bergman said, stirring his Vitaseed with a wooden stick. "We're not in normal space, and clearly, we haven't been for some time. "In a sense--like the other Moon, we too have fallen into some sort of temporal annex.
"Oh, our momentum, and forward roll has returned." He qualified. "We're moving, but we're still not where we're supposed to be. Even worse, our 'friends' out there know that. They can stop us at any time--like placing your hand on a roulette wheel. Same principle."
"Ouma, that Rapture Corridor." The commander said curiously. "What's the latest forecast."
The computer chief shrugged.
"We're still reading a measurable increase in the velocity of local mass." He said routinely. "Every instrument we have seems to indicate that we're still on course, and holding. We should pass into the event horizon within a matter of hours."
"Then we'll slip sideways into CD Space." Bergman ratiocinated, sipping his Vitaseed, the drink that no one-except him-loved. If the other horn of the Parallel Dimension Theory held true, they would be in this universe no longer. The disruption of time, due to their transmigration would create yet another cosmogeny--one that never would have existed, had Clara not drawn them in. "Either those beings aren't aware of that curve's existence, or they are, but they don't see it as a threat."
"In other words, they can reach out from AB Space, and smack us down, regardless." Phil Geist said wretchedly.
The professor nodded. Paul nodded too, commenting, "At this juncture, I'd prefer to think that they're unaware of it."
Ang processed the conversation then regarded Lorna OBrian kindly. "I am really curious about the catalyst that caused the moon to come to a complete stop and the inexplicable loss of power. Who is Dr. Gaunt and what kind of experiments did he perform to result in the appearance of those, uh, aliens."
As the questioning began, Paul kept one ear on the discourse while sidling over next to Sandra's seat. "Sandra," he said quietly, so as to not interrupt the explanation of the Gaunt Theorem, "the face in your salad at dinner-was it the same face as our recent visitor-or was it something else?"
"No need to ask her, love." Geist exclaimed. "I'm the one who built the fucking thing. It was safe as long as it remained a problem in celestial mechanics on Gaunt's blackboard. It was our team of experts in Technical Section that breathed life into pure theory.
"That's why I don't resent that dummy Rotstein too much." He decided, the bruises circling his eyes deepening when he bowed his head. "I deserved it.
"It has to do with a process called MDR. Ever heard of it?"
Bergman's jaw dropped.
"That's impossible." Koenig said, but he wasn't sure.
A smirk began to cross Angelina Carter's face. She looked at Carter and suppressed a growing chuckle.
"MDR....Molecular Decimation and Reintegration," she enunciated as if trying out a new tongue. She eyed Sandra, who could no longer keep a straight face. The smile grew wider and wider as Sandra brought her hand up to cover her mouth. The stress, the tension, of the last few days needed a release.
"Beam me up, Scotty!" Sandra blurted to Ang.
"I cahn't do it, Captain. I cahn't reroute powa to da transportas." Ang replied in her best (though bad) Scottish brogue.
"Not funny." Phil Geist brimmed dismally.
Both women burst out laughing. Carter chuckled. Ouma let out a guffaw. Helena Russell turned away toward the viewport, suppressing giggles. Even the corners of Paul's mouth were upturned slightly as he bit his lip, trying to keep the humor inside. It took approximately 60 seconds for them both to regain a quasi composure.
"You don't understand." Phil Geist informed Alan Carter, who was grinning like Huck Finn. "It's sooooooooooo' not funny." He decreed, looking to Lorna O'Brian for support. She sat non-committally with her arms folded over her chest. "We hooked the thing to a 1,000 megaton CF-Pack. It blew the oscilloscope.
"Then it melted heat resistant glass.
"Then it laid waste to Moonbase Alpha."
"I'm sorry, Phil," Angelina nodded contritely, not daring to glance at Sandra for fear of starting another laughing fit. "There's no excuse for this outburst except exhaustion," she finished, still grinning and wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.
"Right...MDR.. It really does sound like something out of the imagination. Of course, before we welcomed you here, your very existence was imagination and unproven to us, but here you are."
"No offence taken. Actually, your doubts are grounded in scientific fact. Believe me, it took some hard knocks before we arrived at that conclusion." O'Brian agreed. "In theory, it looked kosher. Needless to say, the control test was quite the disaster."
"Right." Phil Geist fulminated. "Two hundred people were sent to their deaths. I guess you could call that a disaster."
"Alright, alright," Koenig interjecting like a headmaster, trying to restore order to the room. "What exactly were you or rather Gaunt trying to do?"
Koenig glanced at Victor. "Don't tell me you were attempting some sort of transportation method back to your earth. "
From across the commander's office, Tony Allen made eye contact with Ang and mouthed the word 'Energize.' Angelina looked down, biting almost painfully on her lower lip to distract herself from breaking into another laughing fit.
Commander Koenig shook his head incredulously. "Were you?"
"It seemed kosher." O'Brian said, the provable broken record, while tapping her nails against the obdurate table. "Then again, I didn't think he'd ever try to assemble the thing."
"It was alien technology." Adisa Talic added. "There's no other explanation. A crystalline cube that was orbiting a pulsar. The Moon was drifting through BFE, out near Corvus."
"When our scanners first locked onto it, it fired back an electromagnetic pulse that almost neutralized our main power grid." O'Brian rejoined, picking up the slack. "We figured it to be some type of defensive response.
"Our trajectory was carrying us right past the thing. Commander Aldornia, and our chief Eagle pilot went out to have a look. Maximum shielding. She thought it would be a good idea to find out what we were rubbing shoulders with.
"The cube's dimensions were perfectly, one meter squared."
"One meter squared," Sandra reiterated, now in awe. Once again, the old Earth Laws of Conservation of Matter and Energy were disproved and the mathematical model for the replacement laws did not exist. Here was yet another project for the Moonbase Alpha Theoretical Physics Section, with its population doubled from one to two with the arrival of the other Alphans. Dr. Peter Csavinszky would be more that occupied for the rest of his days.
"Incredible," Bergman commented as he sat back in his chair, fingers interlocked and hands on the top of his head. Caesar stretched comfortably across Bergman's flimsy, licking his right paw. Occasionally he would stop and stare at Phil Geist then resume his grooming activity.
"Go on." Bergman nodded.
"It was unlike anything I'd ever seen." O'Brian reflected.
"It was bloody unlike anything any of us had ever seen." Phil Geist corrected.
"Gaunt made a federal case out of letting Technical, and Services Section back engineer the Artifact--that's the name we gave to it. We eventually had to get a mandate from the Lunar Council, and even then he drug his heels. There was no circuitry within the cube." Adisa Talic recalled. "No diodes; no transmitters; no receivers; no high gain; no amplifiers.
"There were no transponders, and no definable source of power. We pasted a volt meter to it. The charge came up zero."
"It looked like a hunk of glass." Geist exclaimed. "Does he go where ever he wants?" He asked, concerned, and pointing to Caesar. "You double check the airlocks, and that? You keep an eye on how he's getting on?"
Sloven was on the landing next to the globe. His mug noticeably battened, and with a large gauze clamping his marbled cheeks together at the nose. He muttered something about someone's intelligence before resuming his impersonation of a Greek statue with Tony Allen.
"Oh, Caesar goes pretty much where he wants and everybody belongs to him." Angelina smiled as the cat returned to her lap, headbutting her cheek and purring loudly.
"Don't we, baby?" Ang cooed, showering him with caresses and kisses, as Carter looked on in disgust.
"Of course, we try to keep him out of the hangar areas because of the danger from the airlocks. I remember one time there was a routine mission to a mining station that delayed the launch for 3 hours because Caesar was somewhere in the hangar and wouldn't come out when we called him." Angelina laughed and continued, glancing at Alan who had not been amused by the incident. "They ended up having to get an Eagle from another hangar and launch it from another pad."
Recognizing the fact that Carter was not fond of him, Caesar disengaged the affection for Ang and jumped into the Chief of Reconn's lap.
"Aren't you just the ant's pants." The pilot said with rancor. "I'd feed you to the jungle rats, and watch them chew your apricots off, you raunchy bow-wow."
And his reward: The cougar claw/ rabbit kick.
"So you tried to reconstruct that thing, the Artifact," Angelina resumed the primary topic of discussion. "Then what?
"MDR." Geist pondered aloud. "Well, we got the decimation part right. All of Gaunt's philosophizing about the sublime joys of being destroyed, and then recreated. Too bad he was only half right.
"I wouldn't say he was intelligent, but I would say he was stupid." He continued. "He was smart enough to comprehend crystal intelligence, but not smart enough to realize that the knowledge it contained was as far beyond him as we are from bear skins, and Homoerectus."
"What went wrong." Koenig inquired. Oddly enough, instead of being horrified by the historic ramifications of Gaunt's research, he wished that they could have a gander at the Artifact. On the other hand, he doubted that any of the neoalphans had bothered to throw it in their suitcase next to their toothbrush, and Fruit Of The Looms.
"Maybe nothing." Geist suggested futilely. "Maybe it worked perfectly, and now Gaunt is bumming around Palm Beach with a Zombie in one hand, and some supermodel's butt in the other."
"No." O'Brian objected soberly, shaking her head. "No."
Adisa Talic closed her eyes against the black wash of bad memories.
"Explosive decompression wrecked the experimental lab in the Sea Of Tranquility." The Technician said in summation. "Not before it had the opportunity to create a seismic disturbance that ruptured the core of the Moon."
"Then the Artifact was lost." Koenig assumed, depressed.
"No, actually the Artifact survived intact." O'Brian said ironically. "It's still there. In the ruins of Gaunt's laboratory; probably buried in a pile of Gaunt's notes; and with what's left of Gaunt's heart, and lungs plastered all over it.
"It's shell is impenetrable." She qualified, but with venom. "That's why it was passed onto our own Dr. Frankenstein for further study. In the physics lab, we hit it with HEAT beams; CLEB beams; we even transported it outside the moonbase network, and lobbed a fusion grenade at it.
"Worlds turn to dust, but the Artifact remains."
The commpost bee-booped and Kate Bullen's face appeared on the monitor.
"Commander," she reported," long range sensors indicate the other moon has now been consumed by Eta Carinae Positive. It is now completely destroyed."
"Thank you, Kate," Koenig nodded. "Estimated time to rapture corridor?"
"Computer's latest calculations show that we have a bit more time, approximately 4 hours." She stated calmly.
So they were lucky enough to be granted more time but for what end? Perhaps it would just delay the inevitable. Koenig nodded to Morrow while speaking to Kate."Go to Yellow Alert."
"Helena, thanks for staying over." Koenig said as he placed his commlock next to the expanding maze screen saver, and seated himself at his desk. The conference table was empty except for a full cup of coffee that slob Sloven had deposited there hurriedly, mid-way through the meeting. "I'd like to know what your reactions are.
"Victor, what did you make of it."
"I think it all sounds about right." Bergman allowed. "Granted, I'm no master of MDR Relativity Theorem, but dividing atoms is a risky business, at best. Apparently Dr. Gaunt got way ahead of himself."
Koenig nodded. "Helena?"
"Dr. Gaunt reminds me of Ernst Queller." Helena shook her head as she scratched the back of Caesar's ears. The Chief of Medical leaned against the
Commander's desk as Caesar lounged on the top of Koenig's monitor. "Was his desire to unraveled the secrets of the Artifact or was it in pursuit of personal ego and aggrandizement?"
"It appeared to me that Gaunt was obsessed with the Artifact." She shrugged. "I could be wrong."
"What troubles me," Bergman said, wending his way towards a shelf of Gorski moon rocks. "Are the accusations the alien made. John, I'm not entirely certain we received an adequate explanation from the other Alphans.
"They altered time itself?
"Put back what was taken?" He summarized. "What did they mean by that?
"Were they asking for the return of the Artifact?"
"Possibly." Koenig said, leaning back in his chair. "Or were they asking us to send the other Alphans back to prevent a paradox from occurring; to preserve some natural order of events."
"Well," Bergman smiled calmly. "Not much prospect in that."
"Yeah. It's about the same as the odds of us reaching that rapture corridor." The commander decided with gloom, and despair, and agony on them. "They aren't finished with us yet; not by a long shot.
"Helena--the alien's candor towards us. How did you perceive what was happening in Main Mission. I for one had a bad, bad, bad feeling that there was nothing at all mysterious about it. It knew what it was fishing for, and it was convinced that we had the same knowledge."
There was one on Moonbase Alpha who had yet to deduce the ultimate mystery. The quandary de jour, if you like. Paul Morrow would never know exactly when Sloven had decided to traduce civilized humanity, use the uniservice code on his commlock to open the controller's quarters, and entre with murder, and mayhem on his mind.
"No, John," Helena responded evenly, "I don't believe they were asking us to put the other Alphans back. If they had, I would think they would have somehow addressed them specifically. They did not even differentiate or notice them. Also, why would the other Alphan not disclose everything they know? They were in Main Mission when the alien appeared."
She chortled as Caesar rolled over, too far over, and dropped off the top of the monitor onto Koenig's keyboard. Nonchalantly', Caesar merely gave Koenig a look that said 'I planned that' and sat statuesque on his keyboard. A unending line of "kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk"s appeared on the monitor.
"Perhaps we did something." She continued."They admitted experimenting with the artifact but WE may have been the ones who ripped open the fabric of time and space by setting off those charges. Remember when Angelina Carter tried to stop those charges from going off? Why did she do it? And what happened after you stunned her with the laser rifle? She didn't go down immediately and when she did, someone or something rose out of her, floated across Main Mission and then disappeared."
She took a sip from her cold coffee. "Do you suppose whatever 'that' was, whatever apparently took over Ang, needs to be put back?"
Sloven was also putting something back--standing in the kitchenette of Paul Morrow's quarters in Residence Building-C. The tile floor was an impressionistic collage of whole grain cereal, and OJ, and good, strong urine. A rotten flow of blood bulged from a vein in the security guard's forehead. He remembered the good times. Snapping Tanya Alexander's pinky (Damn that racket ball court.); jerking the hair from her head by the handful (Alopecia is so unattractive in a woman your age, mon cher.); mangling her throat (Tanya, Tanya--if you weren't such a total cunt, AND if you if you obeyed my ever command with slavish obeisance, AND if didn't pour yourself into hermetically sealed tunics, you wouldn't need to report for work in your silver jacket thingamajig.'); holding Andy Dempsey by the nose, and crunching his beak until the blood vessels popped (I got you addicted for a reason. Give me what I want, or pay the piper, you bitch-ass punk. Tell me about what's out there--AND WHILE YOU'RE AT IT, DROP DOWN, AND GIVE ME THE GOOD THING....). He returned his schlong to his briefs, and plucked out chop sticks on controller's prized, Les Paul acoustical guitar. The can of yellow cake sat on the marbled counter with the metal wynd-up key pointing towards his back like the barrel of a lipstick cannon.
"John, they've got both barrels aimed right at us." Bergman conceded. "And there's not a single, solitary thing we can do about it."
"On that note, here's my next question." Koenig said while Caesar, the cat pawed at the Mystical Mind screen saver on his monitor. "Should we, or should we not be making some attempt to retrieve the Artifact.
"I don't approve of sending anyone out there, John, considering the danger and proximity of the rapture corridor. However, if we can retrieve it via a remote controlled Eagle, as long as we don't repeat history and attempt to mess with something that is beyond our understanding as the other Alphans did..." she stopped, cringing as she thought of the disastrous results.
She turned and faced both Bergman and Koenig. "How do you know it is still out there? Kate said the other moon has been totally annihilated. What do you intend to do with it, if we can get the Artifact?"
"Oh," Bergman said, smoothing his hair back with a wizened hand. "A cargo Eagle on slave control could withstand the heat, and pressure. Problem is, even with our deep space tracking, it would be nearly impossible to find in the debris."
"Well, we surely WOULD NOT be building any matter-anti-matter annihilation chambers." The commander gesticulated to Helena Russell. "The current state of our technology here on Alpha--which is grossly inferior--would prohibit that. They paid a dear price for Gaunt's arrogance." He concurred, leaning forward gravely. "That doesn't mean that the Artifact is altogether useless. Based on what the other Alphans told us, it seems that someone out there has advanced the science of crystal power, and crystal intelligence to the Nth Degree.
"The Artifact may have been the equivalent to one of our black box recorders--jettisoned just before its mothership was vaporized. My point is this: Out there somewhere is a repository of knowledge, far in excess of our own."
"Yes." Bergman agreed provisionally. "Alien knowledge."
"Doesn't matter, Victor." Koenig argued. "With proper safety precautions it could be intrinsic to our survival in deep space, and as a defense."
"What the hell were you doing in there?" Truman Starns said offensively as Sloven crossed the Welcome mat of Morrow's quarters, back into the corridor. The grunt looked drained; non-plussed; el-loco; deranged--except for his leer, which never faultered.
"Orders from the commander." He grinned broadly--noticing that Dr. Angelina Verdeschi Carter was eavesdropping on them from the other side of the commstation. "Code Black, special delivery protocol package for Controller Morrow."
"Code Black?" The detective questioned with a suspicious eyebrow raised. "That's interesting--especially since those directives have a way of landing on my desk first. Who handed you this order?"
"Chief Quentin, I do believe." The security guard lied, exposing a tip of his lascivious tongue for Ang.'
Angelina remained expressionless, nauseous but expressionless.
"You're still on patrol?"
Sloven nodded, feeling the slime undulate between his ears.
"THEN GET BACK OUT THERE."
"Yes sir, Detective Starns." Sloven said, pronouncing the assent as 'yessuh.' After mocking a salute that more resembled a Pollock jeers, he rounded Section Four, and disappeared into the atrium.
The investigator looked at Morrow's door, while accessing Angs' blank facial expression.
"He's an ass," Angelina finally spoke to the detective. "He's up to something."
"It would be dangerous, but it would be even more dangerous for us to ignore the possibilities." Koenig explained to Bergman, and Russell while Caesar crossed the top panel of his desk. He stopped to prod, and insult one of the clear Gorski bulbs; one of the few legacies of Alpha's canned commander that were actually tasteful.
Helena Russell looked back and forth between Bergman and Koenig. The realization hit her squarely between the eyes.
"You're not thinking of going out there and retrieving that thing yourselves, are you?"
There was just a microsecond hint of emotion, panic, in her otherwise professional voice. She knew, of course, they would not allow anyone else to go because of the danger of the rapture corridor.
"Are you absolutely certain a remote controlled unmanned Eagle can't get the Artifact? Why must you both go out there? You know encountering the rapture corridor is inevitable. True, we have just under 4 hours but that time, from our experience is more of an estimate, not a fact."
"Hill." Starns spoke directly into his commlock while Ang' waited. "Hustle that 10-21r; dispatch a squad of Harness Bulls immediately to the sixth floor of Residence Building-C; send along a tactical expert for possible Code 10, and 10-53.
"And find Paul Morrow."
The detective frowned, communicating his foreboding to Ang' while ringing for the door buzzer for the fifteenth time. Nada response was given from the golden land of urine, and plastique.
"Helena." Koenig said, coming around the desk to face her. "Right now we're clamoring for options. If you've got a better one, I'm dying to hear it. We'll play it safe, but safety won't mean a whole lot when those beings start to disassemble this moon the way they did the other one. The Artifact may be our only chance."
"It's true." Bergman conceded, patting the physician reassuringly on her white sleeve. "Though it isn't saying very much. John, if you don't mind me saying so, we don't have a snowball's chance in hell of finding it through magnetism the way the other Alphans did.
"There's too much rubble.
"Too much gravimetric pull from the Triumvirate."
He sighed deeply.
"ATTENTION ALL SECTIONS ALPHA." Winters slogged in over the interbase frequency. "ACCRETION DISC SPOTTED. SINGULARITY OF EVENT IN TWO HOURS. EMERGENCY RED IS NOW IN EFECT."
"Clara." Koenig rumbled.
The Bob Villa Bomb exploded just as Sloven was riding the hydroelectric lift to Section-C from the maintenance tunnels. As he stepped off the platform, he was overwhelmed by the human race, in flight from the Red Alert atonia. He was deprived of the joy of watching Morrow's fucking guitar, and Morrow's darling Parcheesi Board, and Morrow's stuffed shirts be decompressed, and expelled onto the surface of the Plato Basin. Yet he was the only person on Moonbase Alpha who could usher a grin. No-necked fools rushed by like a school of tuna, ready for a Star-Kist label. Sloven acknowledged the NNF's, but remained cool as a cucumber as he whistled the merry jig' "Menuo Juodaragis" (aka "The Black-Horned Moon," or "The Horn Dog Moon," or some such traditional tune.). He completely ignored the fact that the information carrels were suddenly befogged, and as bleak as Victorian London as he passed.
"Sloooooooooo-ven." A voice seethed from the acrid, gray palisade--effectively blocking his path. A black, septic mass, up close, and personal.
Slovan stopped and drew his laser. He closed his eyes. He opened them again. Nothing.
He smirked as he ran his hand, masculine yet elegant in a GQ sort of style, through his full head of jet black hair. The Red Alert klaxons continued to blare to headache inducing heights. Odd, that there was no one else around. Odd, that the footsteps from the NNFs and others had ceased to echo.
Sloven turned again and walked in the direction from which he came. However, he found after about 50 paces, he was back to the place he started. He tried the opposite direction. It became apparent that he was going in circles. He looked about frantically and tried again. This time the corridor became narrower and narrower, closing in on him like a trash compactor. He turned again to face the same black septic, mass.
"No." He whispered, realizing, yet not acknowledging the presence in front of him.
Then he was guest star in perdition's answer to "The Price Is Right." The high-tech generalizations of Moonbase Alpha were replaced with red clay, and gothic archways; vined, subterranean nonmodernism. Stuff that Thomas DeQuincey forgot to mention in his opium eating confessions. His senses were assaulted with the unsanitary, radioactive odor of diaper kukah.' He withdrew from Door Number Two which held nothing for him, other than the shadow of a scythe growing large against the moss covered wall. He turned, and was confronted by the lancinating emit of the albino witch. Her razor extended in invitation. Her four foot bangs dangling above the dried carrion of previous eviscerations. As he retreated from Door Number Three, he was imparted a brutal kick to the caboose by the new horror emerging from door number four--a mutilated atrocity, covered with sinew, and bloodshot eyes that wept for his soul, even as it constipated itself with the possibilities of sadism. That was when he realized that his metaphors were inappropos. The name of this game should have been "The Price Is Too High."
He whirled like Rover chasing his tail. After five tries, he chucked the idea of science overcoming monstrosity. Ordinarily, he could depress the stud on the laser, and all of his problems would go away. Now, it was about as useful as a Cub Scout flashlight--good for nothing other than making birds, and Playboy bunnies against the wall.
"Slooooooooooooooo-ven." The underworld voice called to him from the open grave at the end of Door Number One.
The maddening hoots, and cackles of the four leviathans caused his ears to bleed. As there was no Door Number Five, he was presently surrounded.
"That...is not happiness to see us." Mouth roared, the tip of his saber pointing towards the security guard's throat. Behind him, the scythe ripped.
"Playing with fire, Sloven?" Nose ingratiated, the heat of her gauntlet growing too close. The hater of guitars, and Parcheesi games broke into a foul sweat.
From Eyes, large globular tears spilled to the floor forming a puddle of acid. It sizzled and steamed and popped as it slowly ate a hole in the floor.
"The fucker deserved it!!" Sloven shouted his justification.
A cacophony of clock sounds, tick tocked, pinged, buzzed and hummed in ever high volume and pitch. Sloven clasped his ears and sank to the ground onto his knees, screaming in agony as his ear drums burst. Blood flowed between his fingers down his sleeve. The noise abruptly stopped.
"I haven't done anything wrong," He croaked his lies. "What do you want?!?!"
The witch giggled coquettishly, and then grabbed his chin, causing the cleft to expand outwards. It was like wearing a football helmet with iron pitons driven through it. The security guard howled undulously, and recoiled as that piece of epidermis smoked, turned brown, and then died. The red eyes, the tears, his mortified chin--all added to the illusion of bliss over winning a pie eating contest. He slid against the yellow wall panel with the "C" designation, but was road blocked by Nose who drove fire into his left thigh. Sloven shrieked invectives, and fell to the ground. His fried artery coagulated, and emitted the stench of burning copper. He rolled back, and forth until the hip of his blackened flares, smothering the flame, but raising agony in the third degree. The alien with a propane torch instead of a hand nodded politely, and stepped back as Mouth re-entered the mystic circle, his robes hissing mysteriously across the floor.
"Abyssus abyssum invocat." The alien drawled, plunging Moonbase Alpha into an ice age. "You never learn...do you, Sloven."
"He's useless." The witch opined, grabbing the security guard by his ears, and craning his head towards her open mouth. She inserted her tongue. Sloven squinted in horror at the flow of black worms over his teeth, and against his tonsils.
"I thought we agreed." Mouth said, silencing his allies of fortune with six steadfast fingers. "You were going to be a good boy, but again our destinies have crossed.
"Look." The corpulent figure indicated, pointing to Eyes who was sharpening his scythe. "Homicidal depression."
"What is done, is done, and cannot be undone. Damn you, you'll pay for your dishonesty." The witch coo'ed hypocritically, running her razor blade manicure through Sloven's bleeding scalp.
"Where is he, Sloven?" Mouth inquired, doing a graceful two-step around the security guard's head.
"I-I-I don't know," Sloven croaked through bubbling saliva and blood.
"Who are you talking about?" He attempted to salvage his momentary lapse in deceit.
His hands was frozen to the sub arctic floor. The pool of Liquid Nitrogen s-l-o-w-l-y approached the soles of his boots. Even with impending torture of freeze and shatter, he still lied. Perhaps the thing in his dreams, the thing that promised him power would come to his aid. Wishful thinking. Somehow, he knew it wouldn't give a shit about him.
"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Help Me!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'll do anything you ask!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Sloven shouted, his vision and strength waning.
"Oh, you'll do more than we ask." Mouth declared with chill mirth. "Where exactly were you going when we...renewed our acquaintance?"
"Sloven--The Man With The Plan." The witch was tickled, the white straw of her hair, highlighted with a scarlet red ambiance.
The vociferous BONG of the Big Ben bells, so relevant as omnamatopoeia to the attempt to pound information into the security guard's vacuous skull. The falling echoes transformed in duration, and timber into the horrific church bells of Holy Mass in Moldavia, where he cowered as a child from the thorn punctured crown of Christ, Our Savior; seeing real blood with his other mind, long tear drops that fell upon his open prayer book like a sacrilegious effluent over the nether regions. The lycanthropic dwarf in the pin stripe suit, who sold fresh, heroine dipped maize from a syndicated farm along the banks of the Danube. At night, he defiled mother's milk. Oh, and 'syndicated' did not mean 'mass marketed' in this case; 'syndicated' as in Al Capone, and Frank Sinatra, and Carlos Castellano; 'syndicated,' as in the entire lock, stock, and barrel was owned, and operated by the Turkish mob. Dropping his prayer book, and falling back through the crowd as the King Of Kings weeping stone effigy tired of being sedentary, came down from the cross, and stalked his incriminated, contaminated soul to the furthest reaches of a nightmare.
Mouth, Nose, the witch, and the thing that frothed out its melancholy, and shame, even as it sharpened its scythe to excoriate him. They had always been there.
"I have my doubts." Mouth confessed.
"!!!NO!!!" Sloven adjured. "!!!ANYTHING!!!"
"Our minds are benighted." Nose concurred insolubly. Behind her, the unquenchable dry-gulching of Eyes demanded surfeit.
Sloven squirmed like a maggot under a gasoline stamper. The outline of the blade fell across his neck like a show stopping cane at an unpopular Vaudeville act.
"Perhaps." The witch said with question.
They told him.
Eyes dried up, and commenced to whistling himself.
One floor above, the blast didn't even spill Emma Black's Raspberry Leaf Tea, but it did add two new colors to Paul Morrow's impeccable, Louis Keynes decorum--black, and blacker. The four inches of vacuum sealed, reinforced Titanium, and Mushet Tungsten--sold by the British pound, and not by the ton--absorbed the pyrotechnic shock wave, but five of the ectobar vision ports were a shuck, manufactured by the greediest sort of cheapskates.
Consequently, the deputy commander's prized, Les Paul guitar--or what was left thereof-joined his other keepsakes in the aeriform effusion of floor lamps, kitchen utensils, foam insulation, and depressurized, crystal commode water on the triangular roof of the maintenance hut, six stories below.
Harold Milkdale of Services Section heard it land, and said "Huh?"
Luckily, Angelina Carter, Truman Starns & C. were on the opposite side of the hatch when the compartment was expunged.
Koenig, and Bergman walked quickly from the atrium to Moonbase Alpha's newest airlock. Morrow was there, incensed. Harness Bulls Pound, and Coldaryn were on crowd control. Pierce Quentin was there--getting nowhere, though he wanted to be somewhere, though somewhere would prove to be nowhere. Velma Hill, and Starns were exchanging notes while Carter, and Ang' were ten meters removed from the others in hard debate.
Paul Morrow incensed looked like Paul Morrow, composed, and Paul Morrow, excited, or perhaps even Paul Morrow, the human. His only concession to the obvious anger that the ordinary person would be displaying were the pure-white of his knuckles as his fists clenched and unclenched.
The tactical team stood around looking like halfwits in their riot gear, and snorkels; with their attaché cases, and the jaws of life--it's mandibles pointing towards Koenig like a monster Venus fly trap, and 50 yards of cord, but with no outlet within a 100 yards.
Eventually, Pete Garforth's booted feet, and the knees of his coveralls lowered from the color coded pipes labeled red for oxygen; blue for nitrogen; and white for two cycle. He dropped to the floor like a paratrooper, and stood, wiping his hands on one of Ed Malcom's missing tunics while coolant dried in his hair.
"The structural integrity is holding." He told Koenig, and Ang' as they approached. "We've got the area sealed off. The crane will have the collision plates in place in about 30 minutes."
"Very good, Pete and thanks," Angelina nodded at the engineer, who was covered in dust and stringers of fiberglass insulation. "This residential area has already been evacuated as a precaution. Let me know when the work is complete so we can let everyone affected when to go home."
Ang glanced compassionately at Morrow, who would not be returning "home" for quite awhile. Despite the Deputy Commander's position, reconstructing quarters was not exactly the top of the construction crew projects. Irritatingly, Paul refused to look irate at the loss of almost everything he owned and prized.
"What happened?" Koenig fumed.
"I'm no criminologist, but you probably don't need one to figure that out." Bergman said, looking to Morrow with his eyebrows raised. Paul raised his eyebrow right back, his mouth tight.
"Right," Ang interjected. "Isn't it obvious? Apparently Sloven isn't fond of Morrow 'Special' Projects."
Paul simply looked at the Commander and, for the moment, ignored Ang's comment. "It would appear that we have a disgruntled employee," he said softly, debating on exactly what more to say. "I had a run-in with Sloven earlier today inregards to the proper treatment of other personnel on Alpha."
Carter approached the group, completely expressionless and silent.
Angelina continued. "The jerk doesn't have a problem using a woman as a punching bag so why should endangering the lives of others and blowing a hole in the base be a problem?"
Ang was enraged and the caustic side of her Italian heritage was taking center stage. The risk to human life, the senseless destruction from an apparent temper tantrum, and the addition of yet another project to Technical Section's alreadyoverworked and overburdened staff was overwhelmingly depressing. "Does someone have to get killed before believing that 'Sloven the Marvelous' is dangerous and maniacal?!?"
Sandra Benes had been on her way to the scene of Paul Morrow's decimated quarters when her commlock chirped on her belt.
"Sandra?" Pierre Danielle's face appeared on the micromonitor.
"Yes, Pierre," she nodded to the Assistant Chief of Reconnaissance.
"That dummy Ed Malcom did some maintenance on the high gain antennae on Eagle One. Well, he didn't put a work order into you guys in Services to get it calibrated and, uh, well I didn't check it before moving her to standby status and putting it on a Launch Pad." Pierre Danielle's cheeks turned a darker shade of gray, blushing with embarassment. "I was wondering if you could send someone over to get it calibrated like, uh, now? To Launch Pad 4?"
"Sure, Pierre," Sandra smiled at the nervous pilot. "All of my people are busy right now but I will head over and do it myself. Consider it done."
"Thank you, Sandra. I owe you one." Danielle's image faded from the screen as Sandra returned the commlock to her belt. Paul's housing problem and her offer to have him stay with her would have to wait until later.
She turned and quickly headed toward the travel tube to take her to Launch Pad 4.
"It may be premature to accuse Sloven," Velma Hill returned the commlock to her belt. "Apparently the cameras were not functioning in this corridor in the last 2 hours and we don't have a video record of anyone entering or leaving the Deputy Commander Morrow's quarters."
Ang let out an audible sigh and the look of disgust enveloped her face as she shook her head. "How convenient."
"That makes two of us." Koenig shook his head emphatically. "Sorry Velma. I flat out disagree."
"He is, however, a suspect and since he works in security there is a possibility he may have disabled the cameras. We are looking for him now." Hill finished and returned to Starns.
Discretion being the better part of valor, Paul refused to acknowledge Ang's commentary upon Sloven, opting instead to pull his own commlock. Keying the Command Override, he said into the voice pickup, "Computer, locate Sloven, Security." He waited patiently as the idiot machine ground its way through all the possible options and the conversation raged around him.
"All due respects, commander, it's bloody beer scooting if you ask me." Pierce Quentin raged--loudly enough that the Harness Bulls were shaken out of their shiftless stupor. "He's different. He keeps to hisself, but he's never been a cheesey quaver before, and I see no goddamn reason to suspect him now."
"???Quentin???" Koenig refuted, sadly amazed.
"What the hell evidence have we got?" Quentin said, eyeing Morrow with contempt--as if he were the sole cause of the Battle Of Hastings, the French Revolution, the development of AIDS. "!!!FOR THAT MATTER, WE'VE ADDED ALMOST A HUNDRED NEW JACKSONS ON THIS BASE!!! WHY ARE WE NOT LOOKING AT THEM!!! MUST BE REAL, PIPING EASY TO BLAME ONE OUR OWN TO AVOID SOME COMPLEX, HUGER THAN SOUP!!!"
"OH GOD!! Just prejudicially blame it on the newbies. Are you stupid or just blind, Pierce?!?!" Angelina Carter's patience had exceeded the limit and her ire exploded. She gestured animatedly with her hands as she spoke. "That asshole has been brutalizing Tanya Alexander every other day and terrorizing Andy Dempsey on a weekly basis and god only knows doing whatever else while he slithers around the base, polishing up his Samaritan image."
She was now squarely in front of Quentin, glaring at him challengingly.
"Open your eyes, Chief Quentin. Or, is it just fucking impossible for you to believe that one of your good ole boys could ever be such a bad boy piece of shit?!?" She finished venomously, the shaking in her arms and shoulders barely perceptible.
There was a slight pause as the Computer thought about the request before announcing, "There is no individual assigned to Alpha by that name." Paul shook his head. "So-is there any place he doesn't have access to?"
All the while, Captain Alan Carter--chief Eagle pilot; survivor of over 50 bombing missions during the war; post Breakaway benefactor to Moonbase Alpha--ate crow. Black feathers protruding from his teeth, and the corner of his mouth as he stared inadequately at the door to the controller's quarters with a hung over, patrician look on his face. He had been dining out on a banquet of misconceptions--towards the lunar village, and human goodness--only to realize that he was for dessert.
"You want proof--I got proof." Truman Starns interjected angrily. "I'm the one that brought in Cox's army, and I doubt very seriously that Sloven was in there to drop off a command packet. An big, damn IID--that's what he was dropping off, Pierce. Get your head out of you ass, man, for chrissake."
"Quentin," Paul said, his voice dangerously soft, "find Sloven. Place him into protective confinement until we can determine whether or not he is guilty of the crimes accused against him." The Deputy Commander's voice gave absolutely no doubt as to what he personally thought on the subject, but justice was the Commander's purview, not his.
Koenig had his finger pointing--not at Starns, or Ang,' or Carter--and his tongue was on the verge of harangue when suddenly his commlock toned, with Gordon Cooper's face appearing on the micro-monitor.
"Commander, Cooper here. We've got a ROM lift-off on Eagle One. Whoever it is, they're ignoring our hails. Perimeter Station Five says they've cleared the Alpine Valley; heading into deep space."
Sandra Benes had been in the back of the Service Module when she heard footsteps. The calibration of the antennae was nearly complete. She assumed it was Pete Irving, who had given her access to the ship and she kept on working, verifying the reading on the voltmeter.
Suddenly, to her surprise, she heard the Main Motors fire, nearly deafening from her position in the ship. Eagle One lifted off, as she lost her balance and leaned against the far wall of the aft compartment.
"What the hell?!??" she murmured as she attempted to stand and regain her balance.
And on the heels of that--on Quenton's commlock.
"Chief, this is Mansfield. We're over in Residence Building-A. We've got a forced entry into the Carter quarters. Whoever did it trashed the place bad. You better get over here. The nurse, Donna Lorre is in a bad way, and Dr. Sullivan isn't sure she'll make it. Nicholas Carter is missing."
The color in Angelina Carter's face drained away and she gave Carter a terror-stricken look.
Paul closed his eyes and shook his head. "Carter," he said softly, more softly than before, "Get a pursuit Eagle ready to fly-and see if someone can come up with a way to remote-override that ship and bring it back." He turned his head and looked at Quinton. "and no later than tomorrow morning, I want to see the new Alpha security plan. It appears that the current one has a few holes in it."
The boarding tube retracted from Eagle 7, considered the fastest ship in the fleet, and Angelina Carter felt the rumble of the Main Motors. She barely heard Alan give the 10 second liftoff warning over the speakers of the passenger module.
Dr. Helena Russell, already strapped in, motioned Ang to take a seat next to her and temporarily abandon the monitoring station. She complied, feeling the ship shudder and lift off as she buckled herself in. Ang said nothing.
Helena Russell gently placed her hand over Angelina's slightly trembling hand. Ang said nothing. Instead, she nodded slightly but refused to make eye contact with the physician. If she did, she might have lost control, her eyes already filled with tears. She tried to keep her mind occupied with the logistics of running the sensor array; but the tightness in her chest and the constant lump in her throat made it difficult to focus.
"It's not over yet." The physician reminded her maternally, but cast an anxious eye on the command module when Ang' wasn't looking.
In Eagle One, Sandra carefully peered around the bulk head of the service module. In the command module, she saw a figure in the pilots chair with a purple sleeve.
Sandra was suddenly taken aback. Beside him, little Nicholas Carter stood silently. Why?! He did not appear to be distressed. He was not frightened and he was not crying. He appeared to be preoccupied, staring intently alternately between the purple sleeved figure and out the left viewport. Nevertheless, he did not belong on an Eagle. She heard a voice and immediately recognized it as Sloven's. She immediately assumed that he had kidnapped the toddler.
Sandra silently began to make her way forward through the passenger section, laser drawn.
Carter turned off the Master Alarm with a gloved hand that was cool on the outside, but sweating marbles underneath. The sensor display refreshed itself every five seconds, leaving behind in the digital imprints of stellar material, superheating under the nuclear fusion processes of Eta Carinae Positive.
The night receded, and before they knew it, Eagle Seven was coasting towards what appeared to be a pair of comets orbiting each other. Soon, the origin betwixt the two assumed the form of a purple aurora borealis as bulk rubble--a mine field of dispossessed rock, and obliterated core material from Terra's decimated Moon. The debris field was over a 1,000 kilometers wide, and dispersing. Thick clouds of ionized sulfur bleached Eagle Seven amidship, striping the hull with sickly orange bands as it began to bake in the neutronium oven.
Carter was instrument flying. He had given up any hope of making visual contact the minute they entered Point Zero. All he could see now were rocks that looked like lamenting, screaming faces.
"We're picking up an unusually strong magnetic impulse." Victor Bergman conceded on the AV Console between Koenig's yoke. "Whether, or not it's of the same magnitude that Geist, and O'Brian described is anyone's guess. Now that you're only 3,000,000 kilometers from the chronosphere, the entire area is polarized. Sorry John, I wish I could be more precise.
"As for Eagle One, it became scanner invisible the moment it entered the oort rings left behind by the other moon. I wish there was some way you could fix their position."
"Roger that." Koenig said critically, and then switching to the other link. "Paul, under no circumstances is anyone else to leave the base. All Eagles are grounded. Continue preparations for entry into the Rapture Corridor. If for some reason we don't make it back...you're in command."
"Sir, you shouldn't have come along." Carter said ardently once the controller's face was replaced with the onboard screensaver. "This is mine, and Angie's blue. You had no reason to endanger yourself...though I appreciate it."
Even as Paul Morrow cut the communications connection with Eagle Seven, he nodded at Tanya, who had ghosted her way into Main Mission. "Tanya," he said, his eyes cold, watching the growing veil of the rapture corridor known as Clara through the viewport, "Prepare Rescue-One for immediate lift-if you've got time, get the booster system package installed. Shouldn't take more than ten minutes."
She nodded, though her eyes flashed a brief, darkened question beneath their still heavy layer of makeup.
"How will I get home?" Sloven said, doubtful at last. It had taken about an hour for him to regain enough self-will, and self control to realize that the blonde stranger was unworthy of his trust. Inexperienced hands lowered the yoke to avoid colliding with a piece of moon rock--large enough, and consumptive enough to boink his purloined ship into oblivion. Then the vapors returned. The command module darkened, and he was surrounded again. Eagle One was full, though he recognized no one in this odd, mutilated crew. Several of them fought for space in cockpit; their faces a noxious green; their mouths opening to emit black hemoglobin.
Straight up--it will happen just as they told you it would. The tall, blonde stranger said through the open doorway in his mind. He turned, and smiled gently--almost child-like--seeing Sandra Benes approach with her laser in hand. He offered her a consoling wave of the hand while nodding towards her commlock.
Better cut back your forward motion, and switch to maneuvering jets. The tall, blonde stranger said as the ship drifted into the berthen of hot impact melt.
"Who are the others?" Sloven demanded. It started off being a good day, but the ending was frankly sucking the Big One. The fact that this bizarre middleman refused to sit was getting on his nerves too. There was something about him that looked oddly familiar, though. The acquaintance was sub rosa--at a level too deep to conjecture.
Don't worry about them. The tall, blonde stranger said, becoming annoyed. What we want is there. He said, or thought, or impinged--pointing towards a small starburst that lay in proximity outside the viewport--a night light in Hell, close enough to kiss.
Sandra Benes froze as little Nicky Carter waved his hand toward her, with all the confidence and demeanor of an adult. She had stopped just two feet in front of the Command Module.
Sloven was pale and drenched in sweat. She realized the burning smell came from his thigh, mutilated with a third degree burn. Dried blood covered his face, neck and tunic. His chin was mangled, the bone clearly visible under the flaps of flesh. He should not have even been conscious.
Yet, he was slumped slightly in the pilot's couch, flying the Eagle, his movements robotic, like a marionette. Sandra took another step toward them.
"NO!" Nicky Carter blurted at her, his ice blue eyes drilling into her. "Don't come in here!"
She stopped, alarmed. His voice was not the high pitched, baby voice of one just learning to speak. It was the voice of a mature man; a deep baritone, with the slightest hint of an Aussie accent.
Nicky Carter's demeanor changed and he smiled at her. 'It will be alright, Sandra. Trust me.' The thought suddenly appeared in her mind. He was not speaking to her yet she heard and understood him. Nicky nodded to her commlock. 'Please. Call them. They are worried.' The thought again gently etched into her mind.
The child returned his attention to Sloven and the ship. Sandra pulled her commlock from her belt. "Moonbase Alpha this is Sandra. Paul? Are you receiving? I am in Eagle One"
In Eagle 7, Angelina picked up the faint signal and adjusted the modulation, straining against the head set.
"Alan!! Commander!! I just picked up a signal from Eagle One. It's Sandra!!" Ang yelled toward the Command module as she relayed the signal to Eagle Seven's onboard tracking instrumentation.
*** * *
"Eagle One, Alpha. What's your situation, Sandra?" Paul nodded at Tanya, his eyebrow raised in the question of readiness for Rescue-Two.
Tanya merely shook her head and flashed four fingers in the air as he continued, "Eagle Seven is enroute to you now-can you take control and match with Seven?" He spun his own index finger around in the air-a 'hurry-up' gesture. "Sandra, can you talk at all with Seven?"
There was no response. Evidently, the communication granted to Sandra was one way; she could send but she could not receive.
From across Main Mission, Alibe shook her head, a gesture duplicated by Victor; both seemed to agree that the gravitational well of Clara was interfering with transmissions that close to the singularity's event horizon. Not surprising, that-Alpha had the gain and boost to amplify and clean the signals.
"Gotcha.'" Carter said, belligerently biting his lip as he boosted the detection wave parameters on the Neptune panel. Molecules of compressed hydrogen returned. "Looks like the bastard is stopped dead just inside the main ring."
"Okay." Koenig said, tightening his harness. "Let's see if he knows we're here. Paul, we don't know how much longer we'll be in contact because we're nearing ionization blackout from the heat. If you can hear me, we've located Eagle One, and we're going to try to move in, and dock."
"Alpha, Roger." Paul turned to Alibe. "Raid whatever power we can spare and pump it into the comm system-let's keep this thing alive as long as we can." Turning to Tanya, he simply raised an eyebrow and said, "Status?"
"The RTD Drive is shut down.'" Carter proceeded as the hydraulic joy stick lowered easily from the panel beneath his disguarded yoke. "I'm venting jet plasma now."
Somewhere, amidst the expanding nightmare of ignoble gases, feldspar boulders, and anorthositic crystals, Eagle One turned her cooling Howitzers against the inferno. Carter squeezed the rubber joy stick, expertly pushing the ship backwards through the microwaved breccia, and detritus. Occasionally, a dime sized NSO would strike the hull, causing the keel to vibrate, and haphazardly scaring the shit out of them. Gradually, Eagle One ranged on them--the ship's hull coated with demonic, flame colored particles, as fixed, and ordered as chaitin.
"!!!JOHN!!!" Victor Bergman's voice boomed across the interstellar frequency band. "!!!WE'RE PICKING UP LIFE FORMS OUT THERE!!! BILLIONS OF THEM!!! THEY'RE ALL AROUND YOU!!! WE-"
The signal went dead.
Sloven fired his thruster pack using the hand-held remote, and careened through the briney deep like a futuristic astronaut on the cover of a pulp science-fiction magazine; "Weird Science;" or "Amazing Stories." It's doubtful that Robert Teichner, Dean Wesley Smith, and the other artists, whose opera graced these covers ever dreamt of having a raving madman, with a letch for battering women, fight the sea monsters, and the sunflower seed/cannibal intruders that adorned these vintage tomes. Sloven's life may have been interesting fodder for the text itself--an epic tale titled "The Man With No Brain."
"This is it?" He asked the tall, blonde stranger impossibly, after the passenger module had been pressurized again. On the opposite side of the Sandra Benes knelt on the quarter deck with her ear pressed against the rear bulkhead. She heard not a single thing.
It's actually more powerful than you think. The tall, blonde stranger commented as the deranged, ex-security guard gazed at his bloodied, mongoloidal, misshapen reflection in the milky quartz surface. It weighed less than a cinder block, but more than a toaster. Races have committed genocide because they failed to acquire it. His companion went on. It was conceived by dark energies that haven't existed since the First Cause; the Big Bang; you supply the term.
"Who gives a shit." Sloven teetered, feeling queasy from the liter, or two of blood that his current enterprise had caust him. "It smells too. It smells like a tart's britches."
Show some respect. The blonde haired stranger warned. You're holding enough refined, crystal power to collapse the Triumvirate. Incidentally, the odor is coming from your own environment suit. It's called sulphur dioxide."
"When can I go home?" Sloven sighed, his ventricles coagulating.
Now, if you like.
He didn't like the way the tall, blonde stranger was smiling.
"Billions of life forms?!?!" Helena Russell and Angelina Carter blurted nearly simultaneous.
"Yes," Ang affirmed, "I am picking up life signs but....they are indeterminate. How can he say there are 'billions' of them?"
Ang still had something more important on her mind as Carter maneuvered Eagle 7 to docking position with Eagle 1. She tuned the ship's communication frequency to Sandra Bene's commock.
"Sandra. This is Eagle 7. We're coming to get you. Are you alright? What's happening in there? Is Nicky alright?!? Do you read me?" Angelina urgently whispered into the microphone. The worry, the tension, were overwhelming and her voice shook slightly.
"Docking procedure fixed, and programmed." Carter said with his eyes glued to a CGI, Unix representation of Eagle One.
The view from three million miles perigee was of Eagle Seven backing in to instrument dock with Eagle One. The solar winds battered both ships with a hale of atomic particles, and a hydrogen emulsion, courtesy of Eta Carinae Positive's nuclear fueling process. Carter activated the gaussing coils, nudging the ship into extreme quarters while aligning the pods. There was a moment of severe chop that interrupted the connection. Koenig lurched forward in his seat while Carter fired the abort thrusters to avoid colliding with Sloven's fucking ship.
"Jesus Christ." Koenig said, the spit draining from his tonsils.
Beyond the opaqued viewport, and the surrounding gauges they appeared. The first ten thousand ships materialized in the southeast quadrant; in the flares of the Triumvirate--diluted stars, red, green, and gold. They formed an impenetrable wall in the vast reaches behind Eagle One's engine bells. They were joined by another ten thousand; and then another ten thousand. Then the armada was embellished by ten million--alien cruisers, practical only to the race, or races that engineered them. They made the Mayans look like total dipsticks. They broke the abacus. Each ship was composed of photons, drawn from the nearby stars, and Tetryons. They were semicorporate, occupying half of this universe, and half somewhere else, and when reinforcements arrived, they came by the millions, and the hundred millions. They appeared vegisimally, twenty per .005 seconds. They converged on the two, rust bucket Eagles in unfathomable polynomials, and trinomials--transcendental Pi, creating a closed circumference around the hilarious, you've-got-to-be-kidding, rude, and crude chariots of humankind.
"I don't think Jesus has anything to do with it, Commander," Angelina replied in a low whisper, completely awestruck. She and Helena Russell had moved to the Command module and were kneeling in the center, Angelina next to Carter and Helena next to Koenig.
'I wonder if He could help us,' Angelina thought mournfully.
'He is the way and the truth and the light. Creation is one.' Ang glanced around and realized that a) no one in the Command module of the Eagle was speaking and b) the voice she heard inside her head was strange...yet...familiar.
The light and the alarm went off on the console signifying complete docking contact with Eagle One and broke her trance. Angelina forgot about the spectral armada outside the two linked Eagles. She cared for one thing only; she wanted her child and she wanted him alive and unscathed. If he wasn't alive or if he was hurt....
She immediately stood up and hurried into the passenger module, followed by Helena. She eyed the rack of lasers.
"Their total volume is greater than the Moon itself." Bergman gravely elucidated to Morrow, his eyes fixed to the overwhelming shock of alien spacers on the big screen. Lars Manroot stood numbly behind with his left foot propped on the steps. He was holding a red flimsie that contained the decentralization status of the master computer banks, in the event that Clara--being the bitch that she surely was--roughed them up. A cross section of ships from the blue fleet circumnavigated the lavender, and magenta effusion strands, and formed a perfect, almost ritual circle around the docked ships. The remainder of the fleet seemed content to observe from afar. "Looks like our time has run out."
Lorna O'Brian neither objected, nor sustained. She stood silently behind Andy Dempsey. Her expression was a cocktail of guilt, and inevitable repose.
Paul stared long and hard at the big screen and then let his gaze fall and slowly, emphatically linger upon the two alternate Alphans. "This counts," he said, "As a bit much. We, here on this Alpha, don't have time, patience, or enough luck left to deal with things like this. In the future, when someone says, 'Let's open a portal to another realm and see what comes out,' you come talk to me." He turned away.
"Professor Bergman. Paul." Ben Ouma looked at his desktop monitor, at the big screen, became suicidally depressed, and put the entire unit on energy saver mode as computer ran rough shod over the shitty remainders of their day.
The bad news ratio 40/60 was the first to appear. Lars Manroot quit caring about his decentralization report.
"EFFECTED FIELDS DUE TO RAPID EXPANSION OF NLO'S." Computer told them in her maudlin voice. "THE WILDING PRINCIPLE HAS CAUSED A SIXTY PERCENT INCREASE IN VELOCITY."
Klaus Rotstein sat atop the observatory, finishing his moonbase coffee in wretched misery, and doom.
"SINGULARITY OF EVENT IN FORTY MINUTES."
Paul nodded and made the decision. "Dammit. Pull Rescue-1 back into the hanger; clear the pads but keep Pad Three ready for an emergency landing-it's got the fastest elevator. Sandra..." He shook his head and glanced back over at Alibe. "Bring the meteor shields to full power-last test. We drop them only upon the arrival back of Eagle Seven-as of right now, Eagle One is again written off." With nothing left to do, he turned to watch the big screen and its rapidly diminishing clock-timer in the lower right hand corner.
Sloven went home. From a pinnacle of spirituality, home is where he belonged. The vitreous spikes bore themselves into his nostrils, and he shrieked as they increased to fill his sinus cavities on their inevitable, horrific quest for his brain. He spasmed maniacally against the low hanging transmitters, and vector gauges, and the gimball-locked eight ball, which was now an ichorous malage over black. His gore poured onto the instrument console in ropey, red streamers. His eyes were gone. His teeth were gone. His fingernails were gone. The tall, blonde stranger watched analytically as crystal molecules filled the empty spaces, giving off traces of mist from the recesses of his ocular orbits, and his screaming mouth. The object extended dendritic rivers to unite with his circulatory system, and his lungs--it crystallized his aorta, and his spinal cord. It marbled them; it made them odurate. Then it reduced them to a glass powder--just waiting for a high wind to carry the pile away.
Then it moved over his ruined, inhuman scalp, and crept down his face like a glacier.
And Sloven said: "!!!!!!!!!!!ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!"
"Oh, maybe I should have told you." The tall, blonde stranger said morosely. "It about Darwin, and the preservation of favored races. This object doesn't care for living beings. It's been exploited too many times. There's also some of that big-fish-devour-little-fish stuff going on.
"Don't feel badly though." He consoled the strangled security guard. "It may use your components as the blueprints for a new methane cloud, or a bog of toxic excrement on some unpopular, extraterrestrial, dump/planetoid."
Sloven's vocal cords broke apart like shaved ice. The kicking of his boots against the bus panel, together with the precipitation of blood caused the panels to short out in violent sparks. Still, he had even more woes, as one by one, the modules caught fire, engulfing the wool of his uniform. There was a brief second where he looked like the most sinister martyr who ever lived. Sloven, The Baptist. Saint Sloven. Sloven Of Ark.
He disgorged a piteous groan of horrendous anguish, and then died.
The light burned her eyes, seemingly penetrating the flesh and bones of her own hand as Sandra shielded her face. She felt blood splatter her, droplets flying like a rainstorm.
"NICKY!!!!!!" She yelled, groping for the toddler, while shielding her eyes.
It stopped and as the light gradually faded and the red floaters before her tightly closed eyes began to disappear, she suddenly felt depressed and mournful. Surely, the little boy had not survived.
A small hand gently touched her cheek.
In the dull light of the service module, Nicky Carter stood in front of her, smiling reassuringly. He was covered with blood but he was not frightened. He offered her his hand.
"The End," he stated casually in his normal voice, as if finishing one of his favorite Dr. Seuss stories.
The little boy led her into the passenger module. He held her hand, standing in front of the door to the airlock dock to Eagle Seven. Sandra did not speak. She stared down at Nicky, confused and a bit unnerved by his tranquil disposition.
The door slid open to Eagle One and Angelina, seeing Nicholas inundated with hemoglobin, let out an audible cry as she charged to him, scooping him up.
"My God, my God, what did he do to you?!?!" Angelina whispered over and over, tears, unable to be contained, streamed down her face. Holding and rocking him, she frantically removed his clothing until he was stripped to his diaper, as she and Helena Russell checked his body for injuries. Dr. Russell scanned the child and frowned, finding no injuries. Other than suddenly finding himself uncomfortable from lack of clothing, which he vocalized his displeasure with a loud, "Cold, Momma, Cold" he was completely calm and reserved; the brightly colored emergency oxygen cylinders behind Angelina attracted his attention and he tried lunging for them.
"He is not injured," Sandra stated blandly, eyeing Nicky, as Dr. Russell scanned her. Other than mild shock, Sandra was perfectly healthy. Koenig, meanwhile, had moved toward the Command module of Eagle One.
The commander was honestly horrified at the garish conflagration. Sloven's remains were a black, and bubbling scarecrow behind a wall of flame that dined on the smorgasbord of oxygen, and nitrogen. For one gruesome, never-to-be-forgotten moment in parallel time, a pair of ruined bicuspids--curiously white--became visible before the curtain of fire lowered over them again. The pilot, and co-pilot seats were pyres. Anoxic smoke billowed from the burning rubber, and high voltage wires within the consoles. The yokes still protruded--goblin arms, begging for alms in the form of human souls. Carter was smiling until he saw the pig roast of carrion over Koenig's shoulder. The aroma was wild, and randy. A catered slaughter house, and a cut of the erstwhile security guard was the odious filet.
"Spit the dummy." Carter exclaimed sickly.
The commander looked away.
Then the purifying cumulous reached the vulnerable 02 reserve tanks, and Koenig, and Carter were both sent reeling backwards into the passenger module by the roar of a profane god. Carter felt the bread box of his environment suit crunch metallically as he flopped over the starboard row of seats. The commander grabbed hold of the open utility closet, and white knuckled a blast that sent hot balls of flame rolling across the floor of the compartment. Ang,' Nicky, and Sandra were somewhere in the rear.
Outside, the quantum fleet began to veer away as the centralines of Eagle Seven, and her dying sister listed radically astern. Eagle One--her gyros blown; her insectoid vision ports filled with orange flame--fell thirty degrees to port while her twin topped her from the side at an unnegotiable cant. Trace gases began to vent from gunwhale as the boarding tube began to sing a precarious rendition of "Crinkle, Crinkle Little Star."
Safety sub routines were the only thing that saved them from being cast into the outer darkness beyond. The doors slid closed, sealing off the command module as Eagle One's forepeak exploded. The chain reaction ate the entire compartment, decapitating the ship.
"!!!WE'VE GOT TO GET OUT OF HERE!!!" Koenig cried over the cyclopic thunder of explosions, and the rush of escaping atmosphere. He pulled Sandra to the top of the falling hill, and pushed her towards the airlock. "!!!EVERYONE!!! ABANDONE SHIP!!!"
The Nitrosine propellant went next as the tanks mounted to pod number one, athwartship were vomited away with extreme heat, and prejudice. The vociferation of exploding fuel rocked the ships hard astarboard throwing everyone into the narrow divide of the boarding tube. Carter got noogied' against the titanium alloy of the vacuum chamber, reaching out to Ang,' and Nicky as the lights in the temporary corridor flickered on, and off in a strobe.
Sandra, on the threshold of Eagle 7 in the passenger module, pulled Helena Russell in as Koenig, scooping Nicky up in the temporary corridor, tossed him into Helena's arms.
Carter was dazed, a fresh stream of blood, running down the side of his face from the concussion inducing blow he received to his head. Angelina, knocked to the floor from the forces of the gyrating Eagles, rolled over next to him as atmosphere from Eagle One was quickly venting into the void.
"Alan!!! Get up!!!" She tried to lift him but her strength was disappearing. Koenig reached them just as a hole, the size of a baseball, blew open in the right side wall of the boarding tube.
'Too late,' Angelina thought in a split second as she felt herself being lift and drawn to the gaping hole to her death in a maelstrom of objects along with Koenig and Carter.
The rushing of the air into the blackness suddenly and inexplicably stopped; Angelina looked back at the hole into space and realized there was some sort of opaque covering, shimmering with the colors of a prism.
Nicky Carter stood at the door of Eagle 7, eyes fixed on the hole. Despite being nearly naked, he was sweating profusely and breathing heavily, as though having been put through the proverbial wringer, a pinocchio of outside forces that had no concept of the breaking point of a human's mental and physical being. Nicholas was enveloped by the transparent specter which Carter and Koenig had recognized before in Main Mission. Angelina was stunned but did not feel a sense of panic at the sight of the apparition.
"Let's get out of here," Koenig stated propping up Carter on one side while Angelina took his other arm. Their gaze never left Nicky.
Carter insisted he was OK, as the door sealed shut and Ang turned to pick up Nicky. He collapsed unconscious into her arms as the explosion on the other side rocked against the port side of Eagle Seven.
Koenig and Carter raced to the Command Module of Eagle 7 while Ang, holding Nicholas tightly, strapped herself in a passenger seat. Sandra sat beside her, warily glancing at Nicky. Helena Russell sat in front of Ang, momentarily studying Sandra's expression. Sandra pondered what she would tell them. What she saw..with Nicky. Yet, he was still a child. She was simultaneously filled with awe and admittedly some fear.
"EMERGENCY SEPARATION." Koenig said hurriedly, while opening a panel over the trio of square switches. He thumbed open a second failsafe hatch that was marked TUBE JETTISON. The cacophony of grinding metal was experienced as a powerful thud within the passenger module. The fifty caliber explosive bolts detached the vacuum chamber from the remainder of the trapped ship. The amputated arm fell away with the rest of the moldering ruins as Carter fired the main engines. Freon-colored jets of hydrogen blew outward from Eagle Seven's engine bells, pushing them away from Eagle One, whose death throes were about to end.
Magma roared through fuel lines that were shared by the other ship's utility compartment, and service module. The aftermath was spontaneous obliteration. What remained was a warhead of filth, and atomic glitter that coarsed, and spewed until the escalating heat, and grandeur of the Triumvirate expunged them for all time.
"It takes a village to raise a child." --Old African Proverb
"No it don't." --A 45 Year Old, Committed, Father Of Three From Des Moines, Iowa
The moment the door to the quarters slid open, Angelina Carter heard the rambunctious laughter of the man and the little boy coming from the living area.
Alan Carter, Chief of Reconnaissance, survivor of WWT, continued resident of post Breakaway Moonbase Alpha and in peak physical shape, was on his back on the floor at the mercy of his 17 month old son. Nicholas, all smiles, giggled with anticipation as he sat on the chief pilot's stomach, bouncing with increasing force and strength. He squealed with laughter as Carter grabbed him and flipped him over so he was upside down. Nicholas' face turned red as he was unable to stop the hearty laughing from the added tickling.
Angelina took a seat, smiling, in the pretzel chair as Alan roughhoused him a little more then righted him and brought the child down to his chest. Nicky rested his head against his father's shoulder, still chortling.
"I spoke to Sandra," Angelina leaned forward, gazing at them both. "She told me what she saw on Eagle One."
Angelina proceeded to tell him everything Sandra conveyed to her. The strange voice she heard and the one she did not hear, what happened to Sloven and how the child took her by the hand and led her to the door of Eagle One, waiting for them.
"Strange." Carter concurred, looking like the silliest bloke in christendom with his hair cleaved like a Rugrat. "Almost as strange as the thing that we saw in the boarding tube before Sloven cashed in, and took my ship with him.
"You were right, cream-puff. He was a deranged bastard, ay?"
He started tickling Nicky again.
With another joyful squeal, the child's laughter filled the otherwise sterile environment. When he managed to roll off his father and attempt to crawl away, still giggling, Alan grabbed him by the leg and gently pulled him back to resume the tickle-fest. Finally, when the child seemed to have enough, bright red face contrasting his white hair, Carter released him with a kiss.
Nicholas Carter ran to his table to play his latest favorite game. The late Sloven had given him several of his Hot Wheels cars collection and, cutting a length of PVC pipe in half, had fabricated a ramp to run the cars. Nicky picked a bright yellow late 1980's Thunderbird and released it from the top of the ramp. He studied it as the miniature toy car gathered speed down the ramp and rolled across the floor, hitting the wall at the opposite end of the room. Running to retrieve the miniature T-bird, he repeated the process; in an attempt to send the car into the hallway to the bedroom, he would occasionally try to adjust the position of the ramp.
"It is tragic, Alan," she semi-acknowledged his Sloven comment. She was not one for 'I told you so.'
"Every life is precious and especially since there are so few of us. I wish there could have been something done to help him." She had moved to the couch next to him and offered him a cup of 'tasty' Moonbase Alpha soybean derivative coffee. Food services had experimented with adding 'flavor' to the coffee. He scowled when he tasted it.
"French Vanilla," she laughed then became serious again. "Then again, maybe not." She finished in reference to both the possibility of rehabilitating the likes of Sloven and the possibility of Food Services ever successfully creating gourmet flavored coffees.
She focused on Nicky, possible future physicist. "I'm afraid for him, Alan," she admitted. "He can obviously do things that we can't understand, that he probably won't be able to understand."
She took another sip of the flavored coffee. Actually, it wasn't that bad. "We accept him and love him because he is our son. But what about others on this base? Unfortunately, I don't think Sloven was the last of the asshole kind. I mean, now everyone knows about Nicky and how special he really is. He's almost a celebrity. Do you know how many offers I've had from people who want to baby-sit him until Donna is released from Medical? I'm worried that someone may use him to further their own goals, their own agendas, which are not necessarily for the good of the people on this base."
"I've been through this with Victor Bergman." Carter recalled, approaching Ang' with a pint, 1998 Ferrari--the type of car he never would have been able to afford on Earth, given the penuriousness of the WSC, and the LSRO. Armstrong, Conrad, and those guys may have got rich, but Carter, here, didn't have a pot to piss in; the pay scale had changed a bit since the days of the Great Moonwalks. Everybody--right down to the duke who sold women's britches at Victoria's Secret--they all made more than yonder, struggling captain. Breakaway had done nothing to hurt his financial status. He was still working for beans (correction, 'soybeans,' but hand to mouth, irregardless). It wasn't so much Hendershot, and that rather useless infobabe,' Tara Bathory that annoyed him--and he was growing annoyed (it took a concerted effort of his outbacking, aussie' soul to keep from fomenting a killer work schedule for William Gregory Harms III, who he wanted to punish by viscious projection). It was his weariness of having to modify his principles, and how he chose to raise his son, as a birthright, that got his gizzard. "Love, I'll tell you the same thing I told him.
"I'm not changing a thing. I don't care if he was able to bend steel with his bare hands."
He handed her the Hot Wheels car. He didn't know why. Perhaps it was his powerlessness manifesting itself. He couldn't give her the universe, but he could give her a toy car.
She studied the mini Ferrari for a minute or two then closed her hand around it. Years later, she would find it in a small box in her drawer, something she chose not to give away or share with anyone else, and she would remember this conversation.
"I'm not asking you to change anything, Alan," she croaked in a low whisper. "I think you will be just what he needs; someone to ground him in reality. I'm just not sure how I can help him. What if I fail?"
She stopped and looked away, watching Nicky attempt to hold 5 cars on the top of the ramp and let them go. He giggled, as two of them were rammed off the edge of the "dragway" and careened to the floor. In Angelina's mind, if ever there was a need for a "SuperMom" for a "superkid" it was now. She, however, didn't think she could fit the perceived requirement.
Angelina Verdeschi Carter, PhD, Doctor of Philosophy in Nuclear and Astrophysics: whose own graduate thesis predicted the disaster which caused Breakaway. Fired from the ILC because she was dangerously close to proving that the containment method of the nuclear waste on the Far Side of the Moon was not only woefully inadequate but would lead to an "explosive" phenomenon called Magnetic Radiation. Rehired by the ILC on September 11, 1999 by new Commander John Koenig, who remembered the controversial theory and hoped there would be a fix to avoid disaster. Too late. On earth, if life on earth even existed, she would certainly be eligible for a Nobel Prize in Physics (post humously, of course)
Yet, despite all of the achievements, her confidence in raising one child was dashed, simply because his mind was, literally, extraordinary.
If Carter were a bearded, long-haired type, his response may have been:
Where did you get that pearly ear?
God spoke, and it came out to hear?
If he were a chauvinist:
Frailty, thy name is woman.
"You're okay." He said warmly, putting his arms around her. "I like you. Most of the time anyway, and Bugalugs thinks you're cool too. Don't you worry about him. That's vintage, Carter DNA he has running through him. He's bound to be some kind of genius-philanthropist. He'll probably put Haines out of a job one of these days.
"Even higher than that. He might be walking around with a black stripe on his sleeve one of these days.
"Hey, big guy...can you say 'Rotstein, you're relieved.'"
Nicky attempted to mouth the words.
"You're too good." The pilot said giving him a slick thumbs up. "Now." He indicated, reaching for a piece of paper, and a fiber marker. "Pretend this an assignment sheet." The proud father directed, sounding like Stanley Kubrick. "Put your old checkmark there. You're fed up, and you're tired of listening to him beef, so you're putting Ed Malcom on crapper patrol.
The toddler doodled on the paper, and handed it back for approval.
"That's my boy." Carter beamed. "See, he's born to greatness, and if he even thinks about entering an Eagle cockpit, I'll hang him up by his droors.'"
"I think its already too late for that," Angelina chuckled, as Nicky picked up one of the late Mike Baxter's die cast WW II vintage toy planes and ran back and forth in the room, with accompanying engine noise, attempting to 'fly" it.
She looked up at Carter, once again glum. "Thanks for the vote of confidence. I agree with everything you say but one: I don't want to see him wearing the black sleeve. I don't want to see him here at all. I have to believe that by then, by the time he grows up, we will have found a home and the biggest stress in his life will be a wife who nags him with his weekly list of Saturday "honey-do" chores. I have to believe that; I have to cling to that. Otherwise, what the hell is the use, if he is doomed to live out his life on this meandering piece of crap?"
"Sure." Carter said with a bittersweet, patronizing turn. New world. You bet. Uh-huh.... He grabbed his coffee cup, and made way for the java power that was brewing in the kitchenette. He fondest wish was to add Jim Beam, and make it a stiff one. A high octane belt to cure one's plundered dreams. It could happen. He wondered if it would happen while they were still alive. Further, he wondered if it would happen while Nicky's great, great, great, great grandkids were still alive. But he digressed--the hour waned, and the Moon was a tomb. "How about a cuppa.'"
"Why not," she nodded slightly as she got up, discreetly tucking the toy Ferrari into her pants pocket. She leaned next to her husband against the counter, sipping her imitation coffee while Nicky rummaged through his box of toys. Angelina found herself staring at a picture of the sunrise on the beach, blown up to 20X40 proportions. A sunrise.
Her gaze was broken as she felt Nicky's hand pulling on the bottom of her tunic. Ang smiled as she picked up the toddler then noticed the object in his hand, as he offered it to her.
It was a small blue and green bean bag ball. It was the Earth.
Dr. Helena Russell paused thoughtfully at her desk, after filling in the death certificate for Ivan Sloven. She clicked the mouse and emailed the attachment to Commander John Koenig for his final approval. Her next task was to assist reviewing the records of the 83 new Alphans and check for irregularities. She sipped her coffee, Alpha Food Service's attempt at Hazelnut.
On her desk was a 5x7 framed picture of John Koenig, taken 3 months prior during one of the string of monotonous days before their encounter with the Triumvirate. It was a rare image, to see John Koenig smile during a rare recreation moment when he was playing in a baseball game in the gym. Helena Russell captured the moment forever. Behind her, a bulletin board contained various pictures of Alpha's most precious resource, the children. Jackie Crawford, Nicholas Carter, Gretchen Erhlich, James and Jack Profitt. Even the latest sonogram photo of Irina Volkova's unborn little girl was proudly displayed on her board. Then, on her desk was a test result of yet another couple who would be expecting in about 7 months.
Her commlock chirped and Tanya Alexander's face appeared on the monitor.
"Doctor, may I come in, please? I need to talk to you."
Dr. Russell nodded and opened the door as she cut the link. Tanya Alexander stepped inside.
"Please, Tanya," Russell invited warmly. "Have a seat. How can I help you?"
Can you stop up my ATP, unravel my sugar, and send me back into the pre-cortexical goop-in-the-womb. Life wasn't so easy for Tanya Alexander--formerly Tanya Alexandria, back home in mother Russia, which was probably desert terrain now. When she sat, it caused Sloven's parting gift to bilge, and ripple, sending feelers of polite, aching misery down her cheek bone. Her bankrupt status in the granary of life had disclosed marvelous things--things in her youthful, indiscreet arrogance she never would have dreamed possible. She had two things in common with Yuri Gagarian, the first man in space. Skoal, commarade. She too was born near Moscow. Also, like Yuri, her life had become old hat almost overnight. It was like a success story, read backwards by a dyslexic. During the war she had served as an air traffic controller under Colonel Sama, and the air wing attached to the carrier Kanjani. Somewhere between the arrested landings of automated F-15's, and Mosque Blaster T-49's, she used her intellect (and just as often, her finesse in the Hentai-porno arts) to giggle her way into the Balkinor Cosmodrome. Eagles, Condors--she landed them all, with uncommon aplomb. Shaking her groove thing ultimately landed her on Moonbase Alpha, where Controller Michele DuQuesne called the shots, and later Paul Morrow.
They were both righteous men, and the light on Tanya Alexander blazed, melting her foundation makeup; becoming more molten with each passing year. It was easier to face the Triumvirate than it was to face herself in the mirror.
To make short of a long, and twisted story, her subterfuge, and lack of innate ability landed her exactly where she deserved to be, in a state of anonymous, inconsequential subordinance. She was Tanya Ho-Tep, the mummy in a sarcophagus, wishing that her life had been as instructive as her death. She accepted it. Age had given her insight, if not a fertile womb. In the aftermath of Breakaway, she had spent her days in sincere penance.
Enter Sloven, stage left. A scum bag by any account. He was fatuous. He flat, fucking lied--ostentation was the game, telling her exactly what she wanted to hear. He introduced her to a couple of old friends--Codeine, and Demerol. They awakened the old appetites. They met when she was at her weakest, and before she knew it, she was the piece of plastic in the pocket of someone's flares.
She explained these things to Helena Russell, candidly, and with an amount of personal chutzpah she had never dreamed possible in herself. Afterwards, she fell silent, and awaited the physician's verdict.
In a sense, Helena Russell felt a twinge of responsibility for Tanya's predicament. She had ignored the subtle signs that Sloven was not the righteous man, not the role model that everyone seemed to believe. Dr. Russell was perhaps overly optimistic and believed that man, deep down, would rather strive to do good than evil. Her own father had worked tirelessly for years (though at the expense of never seeing his family) in research and found the cure to most causes of cancer. One for all and all for one: if not, then what was the point of going on, if we could not help each other.
Yet her idealism, yes, her coping mechanism of their predicament blinded her to the crash and burn of one woman and perhaps more individuals. It would take a considerable amount of rehabilitation and psychological counseling to help her recover, to help rebuild herself into a stronger, more confident person. One who was not trapped in a vicious physical and emotional dependency cycle.
"I wish you had come to me when this started, Tanya," Helena Russell gazed at the woman sadly. "I could have helped you to alleviate and avoid your suffering."
Despite the make up, Helena Russell now saw the bruises on Tanya Alexander's face, screaming 'HELP ME' loud and clear.
"My concern is with your recovery. However, your addiction could have very well affected your performance on the job. Dangerously so." Helena paused, then recalled an incident about 4 months ago. "Were you working when Tom Graham and Will Harms returned from a tranlunar mission to the far side and crash landed their Eagle, missing the launch pad?"
Tanya nodded, the sonic image of the unborn child looking too large to her.
"Paul was having a cyst removed." She recalled quietly. "I wanted to call-off, but there is no such thing as a no-call/ no-show on Alpha. He didn't trust Rotstein to handle the traffic board, and Mark Winters was on night-turn. So I-
"-flew solo for a week." She mused, rubbing her cheek. "Final approach coordinates are predetermined as long as the ship is on a true course. Eagle 2-4 was on-
(ludes,' Bennies, uppers)
"-manual." The Assistant Controller swallowed. "I had to calculate the descent." She laughed bitterly. "I could barely hold my hands still. I was jittery. No dexterity whatsoever, and Computer doesn't handle broad generalizations very well.
"I made it through." She said, without pride. "Lars Manroot was working the data terminal. I asked him if the figures appeared to be in the black. He looked at me like I was mad, and scratched his head. He's a software man; avionics isn't his thing, but he did the best he could to help me. He said 'yes,' but in a very reserved sort of way.
"I should have transferred Harms to the server, but I thought it would-
"-I'm not crazy, but I...went ahead, and processed the bogus approach." Tanya Alexander admitted, burying her face in her hands. It wasn't for the first time, nor would it be the last. "Harms, and Graham had an IFE, and never knew it. They missed the pad by over forty meters, and ended up ditching their Eagle."
"Fortunately," Dr. Russell began, as she arose from her chair behind her desk and took a seat next to Tanya,"neither pilot was injured. However, the structural integrity of the ship suffered extensive damage and had to be scrapped: not to mention Will Harms was erroneously accused of pilot error and causing the crash."
"But it could have been worse," Helena Russell concluded, taking the assistant controller's hand. "I will do everything I can to help you recover from your addiction and become a strong person once again. You've been a survivor these last 5 years, Tanya. I know you have it in you to overcome."
She paused and continued. "However, you know the Commander must be told about your situation. I will try to plead leniency on your behalf but I will give you a heads up that retribution will likely be severe. The fact that your error could have easily cost the life of two pilots and salvaged a ship will only emphasize the lack of judgement in failing to seek help for an addiction."
Russell knew for a fact that John Koenig had little sympathy for drug abusers. He viewed it as irresponsible, selfish and even hateful, considering his experience with a family member. Young John Koenig lived through the downward spiral into self destruction and the emotional demolition that a junkie could heap onto people who cared and loved him. Death claimed the abuser and an aggrieved Koenig was left with a hardened and tainted with rage regard toward drug addicts.
Tanya acquiesced, with a tip from her emaciating, scarecrow chin. Sloven was dead. His ashen remains were drifting through the gas, and ice of another universe. A universe where three suns dominated the void, and did the Macarena on the laws of gravity, and time. The sonogram of the unborn baby convicted her; it beat her at her own game, noose lowering, and casting aside any rationalization of her being a worthwhile producer. On the number line of humanity, she--Tanya Alexander--was a negative integer. She should have perished beside the animal who seemed to understand her; who read her like a recipe on a Campbell's soup label, where no moral person ever could, or should.
"I like...your pictures." She said with devolving grief, and melancholy.
Dr. Helena Russell nodded as she picked up her comlock.
"John," she began after the familiar face appeared on the micromonitor,"Tanya Alexander and I need a few moments of your time."
The clocks were moving again.
The video bulletin in the O-K Corridor held one image. If you were assigned to Moonbase Alpha; and if you had the highest security clearance; and if you were assigned to Main Mission, in any capacity greater than janitor (or as Harold Milkdale preferred, Environmental Section), you would see the image all the time. Same thing. All day. Every day. An inspiring image it was. No one knows who titled the photograph. Perhaps it was Lyndon Baines Johnson. It could have been Richard Nixon. It may have been Richard Helms (stranger things have happened...no, on second thought, that deduction takes the cake, and borders on criminally bizarre), or someone in his corrupt PR Force, seeking diversion from the daily regimen of slime, and slander. The digital photo was ID'd AS08-14-2383, 68-HC870. It nibbled at 21K of memory from the master computer banks, and it's beauty was more organic than the latinated, numerical nonsense that was used to describe it. A simple view of the lunar surface, as seen by astronauts Lovell, Boreman, and Anders on the Apollo 8 fly-by.
Ben Ouma tried to ignore the other part of the photo, which was an amazingly fertile, and effervescent image of Earthrise, the Big Blue Marble was at her most appealing, with a gorgeous, sunset terminator crossing Africa.
It was shotgun depressing.
"Commander." He called up to the balcony rail to where Koenig, Russell, and Bergman looked upon the birth of a universe. "All sections have reported in. The power is still out in the Experimental Laboratory, except for Level Three containment, which is on emergency batteries. Clara also seems to have buried our mining station in the Tsiokovsky Crater.
"Otherwise, no damage." He shrugged.
"Once again, we've been granted a miracle and we have survived," Helena Russell turned to face a standing John Koenig and a seated Victor Bergman.
The professor sat easily back in the white moduform chair, legs stretched and clasped hands behind his head, musing thoughtfully. "I wish I could have gotten a glimpse at those ships; those ships of light." Bergman shook his head sadly, as if he was a kid that missed his chance to go to the ice cream parlor. "Preliminary data analysis from Eagle 7's onboard computers show these ships of light to not be composed of photons. They appear to be quarks and none of the six types we have identified. Actually, it appears to be something new with a much larger negative charge and smaller mass than was previously believed possible. Of course, the data is crude at best but it is something for the theoretical physics department to work on in their spare time now."
"I wonder if they found what they were looking for." Koenig reflected, turning Rotstein's coffee pot off, with no small amount of gratification that the empty bottom had been brewed black. "What caused them to retreat. We were outnumbered ten billion to one."
He deeply regretted the loss of The Artifact--if that was proper nomenclature for the thing that devoured Sloven in a grisly, interspacial brouhaha. Part of him felt that it was for the best. Part of him could only wonder at the amount of relief, and clarification the object could have provided, under controlled circumstances. Returning to Earth was a moot point. A return to Earth was scientifically impossible. Speaking strictly as a physicist, Koenig couldn't think of a single principle that would negate the fission reaction of a dividing atom. On the other hand, feeding hungry mouths would have been nice. Likewise, new approaches to medicine, and humane methods for caring for the sick, and injured. Alternative sources of power would have been helpful too. The late Dr. Gaunt, and his tumultuous ego--the consumptive arrogance which forbade him seeing the forest for the trees. The rest of them weren't quite as prospecting.
It was an anti-climax which was disappointing, to say the least.
"Perhaps, it was a message," Helena Russell leaned against the balcony. "And the message might have been: you're meddling in something beyond your understanding is serious business. Don't ever do it again...or else."
Caesar the cat sauntered through the left archway on the heels of Emma Black. He promptly jump on Paul Morrow's desk....then promptly reclined himself on Morrow's keyboard.
Morrow looked at him blankly then made some comment to the effect of 'how do you expect me to work?' Caesar did not move and blinked at him. Morrow picked him up and deposited him on the floor. Caesar immediately sprang up again, this time on Carter's Capcomm station. The feline sat statuesque, back to Carter, except for the intermittently swishing tail; right over the report the Captain was trying to finish. When he didn't think anyone was paying attention, he gave the cat a few quick pats to the back.
Caesar stretched then walked across the desks to the Data Analyst's station, which was being manned by Sandra and Adisa Talic. Caesar sat on the top level of the station and stared at Adisa Talic.
Professor Bergman leaned forward and lowered his voice.
"We should not have detonated those charges, John. We should have left in the Eagles. Stellar Cartography data gathered before we entered Clara showed there was a habitable, earth type planet, about 2 weeks Eagle travel time. I have no idea how they were able to get such detailed data."
Koenig rubbed his temples reflexively, emitting a clearly audible groan of headache, and fatigue. Beneath his wasting elbow, Orville Hendershot of Alpha News Service fame, attempted to breach the left archway. His pen was his cabal, and the fine looking cubby reporter beside him, was carrier of the Holy Camcorder. Main Mission was suddenly besieged by the Fourth Estate. The commander looked down at Harness Bull Pound, and made an aggravated throat cutting gesture. The specialist chest butted the cruddy gumshoe to safe distance, intermittently raising the blast shield on his helmet, so he could ingratiate without obstruction.
Hendershot exited stage left, muttering anon about human rights, and the Need To Know.
"Why am I not surprised." The commander said, shaking his head. "That's just wonderful." He said, patronizingly. "Victor, we scanned that area of space. I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but it seems to me that all the reports I was handed, indicated that sector was nothing, but black space."
The professor stood up and activated the monitor, calling up a series of graphs.
"Solar flares from the Triumvirate created high strength electromagnetic fields which interfered with our sensors." He zoomed in on a subset of the data and the graphical depiction. "As you can see, the flares had subsided shortly before we entered Clara and therefore we were able to get the 'true picture' as it were." He tapped at the screen before cutting the link to the server.
"Perhaps whatever it was which was, uh, influencing Angelina Carter in Main Mission, when she tried to abort the discharge of the nukes, was trying to help us," Helena Russell surmised.
"That would be my guess," Bergman nodded, taking a sip of 'Amaretto Delight' flavored coffee. He frown. "A bit too sweet, I think." He didn't mention that a nice shot of real Amaretto would be good about now.
The professor, who had opted to collate the sensor data rather than attend the command conference earlier, set the first Alpha Food Service attempt at Amaretto flavored coffee on the futurama white plastic table and turned to Koenig.
"How did you decided to deal with Tanya Alexandra, John?"
"She's been placed on extended leave." The commander said, non-plussed, and relaxing against the rail. Bad day was written all over his face, and there wasn't a single star visible in the Euxine darkness. Beyond the glare of the internal Main Mission lights, there were spackling, violet, and green compounds. Wherefrom, the potentiality of something that was once there, but was no longer. "The rest is pretty much up to her. I hope she's able to return to duty, eventually, but in my opinion, the odds aren't good.
"I wish it hadn't come to this." He ruminated. "We haven't the foggiest notion of what's out there." He disesteemed, pointing at the malignant void. "Most of the time I think we're way out of our league.
"No. Actually, most of the time I know we're way out of our league. Consider those ships we saw, and then talk to me about human intelligence. We're strangers in a strange land, and if we're to survive, we can't afford to lose our senses like that. We can hope for miracles, but reality is determined by what choices we make. It will take a combined effort from each, and every one of us, or we're finished."
There was a clear view of the right archway to the left of Koenig's commlock. Harness Bull Duncan entered the auditorium with the most unwelcome human being on Moonbase Alpha. Adisa Talic smiled, and waved at Sloven's twin brother. Sloven's twin brother, Umberto Garzon, waved back, attempting to part the oceans of begrudge; the sea of unpopularity, and the superfluity of people who considered him a monstrous asshole de jour.
Strange thing was, for the most part, he didn't even know their names. Carter shook his hand with all the enthusiasm of one who has been granted the opportunity to meet John Wayne Gacy.
"Hopefully," Koenig speculated. "We won't have to do it alone."
A long minute of silence passed between the three of them, excluding the chatter of the computers and the human below on the operations level.
"I don't believe we have ever really been alone," Helena Russell responded in a low voice.
"Nor do I." Koenig confessed, making eye contact, though, in a sense, it harrowed horse sense to the bone. "Maybe they feel the same way; maybe they don't." He commented, observing the gross disharmony on Umberto Garzon's face. "Still...in the end, we'll always have one thing in common.
"We're all looking for a new home."
Victor Bergman gave him an kindly slap on the back, and proceeded to talk to Helena Russell about a million different futures. Occasionally he would pause to collect his thoughts, realizing as he did that the beginning of wisdom was to admit that you didn't even know the questions, much less the answers.
John Koenig gazed out of the long vision port, searching for a bright spot in the ceaseless spray of electric blue clouds. His feet were eleven stories above a formless, lifeless copper plate, but his mind was nowhere near Moonbase Alpha. Connections were, not made, but almost made. Out there, beyond the rim, there was hope. It was something like Eden.
Below, Caesar's whiskers twitched as he craned his neck toward Adisa Talic's outstretched hand. He sniffed and emitted a soft "meow"; Caesar was not a 'talker' and rarely vocalized. He jumped into Adisa's lap as she pat him.
He purred loudly as he closed his eyes in a comfortable ball on the new Alphan's lap.
"I remember, I remember, the house where I was born. The window where the sun came peeping at morn."
"I shall hear in Heaven."
--Ludwig Von Beethoven
"From the secret, magic source,
"Tomorrow everyone will draw water again
"From the spotless, gleaming well."
Written by Tgarnett25, MoonbaseAlpha_s1and John of Space:1999 The Classic Adventures.
BASED ON CHARACTERS, AND SITUATIONS CREATED BY GERRY, AND SYLVIA ANDERSON.