"One man's 'magic' is another man's engineering. Supernatural is a null word."
--Robert A. Heinlein
Once there were two trees which had been planted at the same time and were now laden with fruit. One tree had fruit beautiful to behold, sweet to the taste, and its shade was agreeable. Therefore many people hastened to it; but entering under its shade they grew diseased, and eating of its fruit, they died. Now the other [tree] was ill-formed, but its shade healed the sick and eating of its fruit bestowed immortality. Slowly learning this, many people hastened to it and rejoiced at the discovery.
--Mkhitar Gosh, A Fable
The heliotrope spun easily, and east of the lunar rim. Beneath it there was a thirsty, acarpous desert known as the Sea Of Serenity.
From where it came, there was only black terror.
In Main Mission control, Commander John Koenig was jape, his right elbow against the modular panels beneath the big screen. Across from him, Dr. Helena Russell reset the BIOMED feed beneath a monitor that was labeled TURNER.
There were also units available for scrutinizing CARTER, and BALFOUR.
"Eagle One to Moonbase Alpha." CMP Alec Turner responded to the hail. "Confirm, one atmosphere."
"Roger that...." Controller Paul Morrow said, his face losing color.
Koenig was beyond being over-amped. Now, he was just plain angry.
"Ang.'" He accosted the technical manager. "What's up with this Pascal elevation? I'm starting to regret giving Alan and Harry Balfour permission to go EVA. Can their hardsuits withstand the pressure?"
"They're not in trouble yet," Angelina Carter responded from the Technical Station, frowning at the data stream from Ouma's Central Computer. Ben Ouma clicked the mouse and forwarded the latest graph of pressure change to Ang's screen. Bergman leaned over her shoulder, adjusting his reading glasses and scrutinized the monitor.
A copy of the graph was already printing. She knew Bergman well enough that he preferred reading hard copies of data and graphs rather than decipher points in the glare of the monitor.
"Those suits are meant to withstand several atmospheres before failure," she added, noting Koenig's raised eyebrow at the word 'yet'. She tore the sheet off the printer and handed it to the professor.
"So far," he studied the trend, "the increase has been linear. They would be right on top of it and still be well within the safety limit. There should be no reason for concern."
"Right," Koenig marched toward Russell and glance at the biofeed monitors, "but my concern is the cause of the increase in the first place, slight as it may be."
Four hundred meters vacant, Eagle One--acquisition lights blinking--drifted thru dark dreams towards the multicolored vestiges of creation. The heavens were sempiternal, and resting high above. The underworld was below. In between, astronaut Balfour's orange helmet, and body armor exited the murk, and appeared in Carter's Maglite beam again.
"It's definitely no bank holiday." He complained over the Plantronics link. "We're practically bouncing off of each other. It's all elbows out here. Worse, it's a black hole. I can't see how we're going to get on. We at least have to be able to see our hands in front of our faces."
Carter, the mission commander, moved forward cautiously, his Manned Maneuvering Unit leaving behind a trail of Hydrogen Peroxide.
"There's not much we can do about that." Benjamin Ouma told them all, though the barb' was meant for Ang.' "We're in an area where no stars are visible. Incidentally, without support services they're going to have a whole lot of fun landing, too."
He knew he was smarter than she.
"Thank you for your concern, Ben," Ang retorted with slight condescension. She couldn't be bothered with the Computer Chief's smug moodiness. "But that matter is being addressed as I speak."
Bram Cedrix instant messaged her with the thumbs up icon, indicating the placement of the auxiliary floodlights on the pad was complete and the pad crew was ready to receive Eagle One.
Her own counter smugness was short lived as she scanned the latest data from the object.
"One point five atmosphere," she clicked the mouse rapidly. "One point seven five. Two atmospheres. Two point five. Increasing exponentially."
"Commander, I would advise them not to approach any closer," Angelina looked up, alarm breaking through her voice as she stood and stared at the big screen with the miniature, long distance version of Eagle One hanging against the murky backdrop.
Koenig whirled around to the controller's station and reached over Morrow's shoulder, slamming the white transmission button. "Carter! Balfour! Move away from that object! NOW!"
"Alpha, Eagle One." Turner struggled with his own, inconvenient, watermelon helmet inside the command module. "Ready to execute direct abort, and instrument landing."
Snails seemed like superluminal streaks.
"HARRY." Alan Carter lagged--loud...but sure...but petrified--while 10,000 meters below, the azure, barely viable, ghost of the Mare Imbrium revolved slowly in the shadows. "YOU HEARD THE WORD. THE CLOCK IS TICKING. WE'LL RUBBERNECK THIS IN THE LAB."
Where he assumed it would be safe.
Close by--perilously 'dear,' one might say--Balfour's unmoving, approximate boots dangled from the wonky bulk of his own jet pack. Carter could see spellbound fists, still clutching the thruster controls. From out of the twilit depths, archaic points, lines, curves, and surfaces began to radiate--blinding man, and machine in staves of painful cuneiform. Balfour was happy now. Bone dead, but happy. Carter felt wrapped in sudden, iron layers of gravity which, fortunately for him, tackled, but did not mash. Ambushed with nausea, he cried out inside his pressure suit as he was fastballed thru the null.
That there could be no sonics in space was now a joke. The racket, and semivowels that tortured, and maimed began to seem like a barbarically out-of-tune cover of Handel's Messiah. He collapsed into unconsciousness before he could critique the music further. He pinwheeled away as the light, and the reverb encompassed his ship, the Moon, and the assemblage of everything.
CMP Turner hated this beastly tune.
In Main Mission, Umberto Garzon grabbed his ears, and fell backwards, his fall broken by Lars Manroot's cart which was left unattended after the computer technician acquiesced to the agony of inflamed eardrums.
"REPORT." Koenig holla'ed, on one knee and fighting to remain sane.
"IT'S SOME SORT OF DISCHARGE." Paul Morrow riposted, wishing all the while that he could have been born deaf. "LOCATION, UNKNOWN."
Sandra Benes doubled over, her ears still throbbing painfully, as she unintentionally dropped her flimsey to the gray tile floor.
Despite her own extreme agony from tortured eardrums, the Technical Manager kept an eye on her monitor and the sudden appearance of red bars, indicating power phases becoming unphased, and Russell's biofeed monitors. She was gratified to first see wavy, though highly valley and peaked lines for 'CARTER' then less tumultuous but still not normal lines for 'TURNER'. However, the flat lines for 'BALFOUR' could only mean either a transmission/receiver malfunction or....
Ben Ouma clasped the sides of his head, sweating and cursing, as Helena Russell dropped to her knees, with tears streaming down her face. The indescribable pain increased in intensity, as Main Mission, all of Moonbase Alpha, filled with cries of agony.
When blackness began to edge their vision and the prospect of unconsciousness was mercifully within their grasp, the source of their distress began to subside then slowly cease.
For a moment, Angelina, face also wet with tears, thought she HAD gone deaf. Only a persistent ringing in the ears remained, along with a throbbing migraine, but then, slowly, the sounds of Main Mission, the constant closing and opening of circuits from computer filled her head, as did the moans and cries of the her other comrades in the floating prison.
Alan Carter--spinning boot treads, and all--was a new satellite--now three kilometers from the crippled fuselage of Eagle One, and gaining momentum.
"...primary equipment is disabled...." A worse-for-the-wear Turner reported through the black, and white snow of Monitor One. "...also...." He faded. "...also negative talkback from the forward, and aft thruster quads."
"Where, oh where can Carter be?" Ouma proposed, world weary, and inconsiderate of Angs' feelings.
"What's happened to grid?" Koenig asked the technical manager as he stared up at the dark imbroglio of overhead girders.
"According to computer, we're operating on deep cycle storage." The computer chief said, which was preferable to his meanderings about the eminent demise of Eagle One's captain.
"No shit, Sherlock," Ang blasted Ouma with vitriol, "Only morons depend on computer to tell us that," she finished her skewering, not caring how petty she sounded. Realistically, nobody else could really hear her with a dull and aching residual humming in their ears. "As to 'why' the reactors went offline, I can't say...not now anyway."
She rubbed her throbbing temple, squinting and trying to decipher the unending feedback of data from the main power generation area. She hit the communication stud.
"Joe? Are you alive down there?" The moans in the background affirmed they were alive, though probably not well.
"Yeah," the Power Generation Manager answered, out of breath, "I wish I wasn't."
Angelina winced and glanced back at Russell's monitors, BALFOUR was still flat lines but CARTER was not...still.
"What the fuck was that about?" Erhlich continued, weakness in his voice.
"Probably from that object out there," Ang continued, watching Russell, aided by Koenig, return to a standing position while she shook her head, hair flying from side to side like the head of an Old English sheepdog, in an attempt to stop the ringing and regain equilibrium. The physician immediately studied the biofeed monitors.
"There's a fault with Harry Balfour's monitor," she turned toward Angelina.
"According to computer, there is no fault with the receiver for Harry Balfour's biomonitor," Ouma cut in, glaring triumphantly at Ang, at the same time a disheveled Joyce Balfour staggered into the auditorium and fixated on the biofeeds.
"You're an idiot," Ang mumbled under her breath at the computer chief.
"John." Bergman came to the rescue...almost...grasping his afflicted, nuts, and bolts heart with one hand, and a new printout in the other. "It looks like something out there has been splitting atoms."
"Atoms?" The commander was fazed.
The professor nodded.
"But rather than give up their heat, they emitted sound."
"Waves of that sort cannot travel through space." CapCom Farendahl indoctrinated the ignorant. His receding, red bangs were split three ways as a result of the recent trauma. Now, he was more than a pilot. Now, he was Star Head.
"That's what I always thought." Bergman agreed. "But...they just did."
"Harry?!?!?" Joyce Balfour bounded toward Russell hysterically. "HARRY!!!! NO!!! DEAR GOD, NOOOOOOO!!!!!" The doctor tried to comfort then restrain. "No!!! NOOOOOOOO!!! He's DEAD!!!! Harry!!! HARRY!!!!!!" The bereaved widow threw herself against Koenig, attempting to pound on his chest. "HOW COULD YOU HAVE SENT HIM OUT THERE?!!? YOU KNEW IT WAS DANGEROUS!!! WHAT PURPOSE DID SERVE?!? WERE WE EVER IN ANY KIND OF DANGER?!?!? WHY?!?! WHYYYYYYYYYYY?!?!?!?" The woman sobbed hysterically until Russell found the jugular vein and injected the sedative. Koenig, his face an unreadable mask, supported her until she lost consciousness and Harness Bull Stryker became an impromptu orderly.
"Take her to Medical," Russell swallowed, regaining control of her emotions as Joyce Balfour was removed from the room. The physician returned to the monitors marked TURNER and CARTER.
"Nice going, Ben," Sandra blurted coldly from the Data Analyst Station.
"It's a fair question." Bergman posited from his top secret corner next to the commander. "Alan."
Still leaning hard on the controller's workstation, Koenig divined the wheel of fortune morbidity.
"Paul, what's Eagle One's status?"
"She's adrift over Murchison's Crater." Morrow answered comparatively. "Only the command module batteries are operational. Right now, we're looking at a combined landing using one of the freighters."
"How long before Turner interfaces with the Moon's gravity?"
"An hour." The controller double checked using his own calculator. "Or less."
"He could soft land." Pilot Farendahl said wisely. "Unless whatever happened 'happens' again."
From his impartial vantage point, Analyst Sandra Benes looked like a man.
"That's not the problem." Or maybe it was. Koenig drew a heavy breath, his mind filled with morose images of decompressed beta-suits, and ruptured 02 packs. "Ready the orbital response team. Tell them I want them to look for Carter, and retrieve Eagle One."
"Duration of search?" Farendahl, the ice man of protocol.
"No one comes back until those two things are accomplished. Does that sound like a plan?" The commander ruled, making certain that the order was loud enough for Morrow to hear, which was not difficult, considering that he was only two feet away.
The Technical Manager, unconsciously biting her lower lip, was visibly relieved...to a point. She glanced at Russell, watching her jot notes from the biofeed readings. Realizing she was being watched, her facial expression changed from heavy concern to poker face. Too late, though; Angelina Carter had already read the worry.
"Commander!" Sandra Benes announced with alarm as soon as Farendahl acknowledged Rescue Eagle 4 and Pierre Danielle's estimated ETA to Eagle One's position. "The object. It has changed course!"
All eyes turned toward the big screen, squinting, except Koenig, who was now behind the data analyst.
"Where!?!?" the Commander leaned over her shoulder as Benes' petite finger typed with experience and precision over the well worn keyboard.
"Moonbase Alpha," she answered with anxiety and anger.
Koenig, Bergman, Russell, Ang' et al looked up in time to see the feed, transmitted from one of the SATCOM units in the eastern hemisphere. The deadly, cochlea bashing majesty of the object, diamond shaped, had begun to descend, forty five degrees relative to Eagle One's handicapped position. The ship was repelled in the aftershock of impossible decibels. It was an enigma of alien science. Or maybe just a plain, old bomb, and CapCom Farendahl dare not look up.
"ALERT CONDITION ONE." The commander declared as he found his way back to the big screen thru the sudden onslaught, as the control tower loop filled with overlapping reports from the perimeter stations, and the tactical hub. Russell joined him. Farendahl resented him. Bergman was left to his bamboozled, wholly understandable chin scratching.
Propelled palms out, and face first in the backwash, a crescent Moon was reflected in the cracked visor of Balfour's helmet. In opposition to this image of the satellite, there was the split retina of a dead man. He scudded up, and down in the molasses of zero gravity--too far away for anyone to notice the ebon, bone haft of the dagger that was jutting from between his water connection hose, and the powerless life support assembly of his suit.
"It's penetrated the defense screens," Angelina Carter announced with horror but no suspense. She was not surprised in the least. "Thirty seconds to impact."
"Location?" Koenig turned as he was half way up the steps to the computer deck.
"The command tower," Sandra finished somberly.
"Engage the shutters!" Koenig rapid fired but Morrow was already on it, even though he knew it was probably a futile effort. Ouma had computer calculate the likelihood of survival in the event of a direct hit and at the re-entry speed of the object making a beeline at them, the statistical result was approximately 3%.
3.041% to be precise.
"Main Mission Operatives, move down to the lower levels...now!" Koenig continued, literally pushing Emma Black under the left archway. A crowd of operatives headed toward both archways and stairwell beyond in the corridor.
Their chances of survival could be as high as 50%.
The shutters blacked out the blackness of space as the countdown clock ticked past 20 seconds. The emergency bulkhead doors of the archways slammed shut as well as the door to Koenig's office, trapping about half dozen operatives, whose faces were blank, not quite comprehending that they had just fallen into the 3% survival likelihood group.
"Get down!" Koenig pulled Russell and Bergman to the floor as everyone else on the operations level sought refuge under a desk.
The countdown clock ticked past 10....9...8....
The room was silent, though silent prayers screamed loudly within tortured minds.
Morrow glance up at the clock then caught Sandra Benes' gaze, which was not frightened but utterly pissed off. Death was coming at a very inconvenient time and she was angry. He smiled slightly and touched her hand.
Angelina Carter was under the desk with Ben Ouma next to her. She thought it ironic that only a few minutes before, she had pushed the sick at heart feeling out of her head that Alan was once again close to making her a widow. Now it appeared he would be a widower. She prayed silently and thought of Nicky.
It seemed 10, 20 even 30 seconds went by. Time marched on and still....nothing.
"This one's cold, and cruel." Morrow whined--asinine to the end-from beneath the stainless steel stanchions of his own desk. He wiped the perspiration from his brow with a fist, and not a palm. "We should have opened fire on it." He charged Koenig. "After what happened to Balfour, I think it's safe to assume the target is hostile.
"We had time."
"Time to put our worst foot forward." Bergman accepted the challenge, propped on his elbows between Ang,' and Lars Manroot. "We don't know what happened to Balfour yet."
"No, we don't." The commander beamed proudly at his infuriated deputy.
From the world above, there came a familiar trill from the CapComm's station.
"WHO'S REQUESTING LAUNCH CLEARANCE?" Koenig carped.
"It's probably Donovan in the ORT Eagle." Farendahl took the blame. Sandra Benes was hunkered down beside him. She still had an attitude, still looked like a man. "The response crews, and the EMT vessels use blunt ascent."
"So much for competence." The commander said...of himself...smiling amicably...but with tainted long sufferance...and by way of apology. "Use your commlock. Tell the emergency ship to stand by one. Tell them 'sorry'...we neglected to mention that they might get their heads blown off."
Bergman offered a supportive, sympathetic look.
"Why is it taking so long?" Sandra Benes was the first to break into hard bitching. "If we're going to die on our stomachs I would just as soon do it now."
"As would I." Morrow assented.
Angelina, sweating but color returning to pale cheeks, shook her head quietly, interrupted only by her commlock chirping at her belt.
"What!" she answered in annoyance. Michelle Cranston was visible on the micromonitor.
"You're not going to believe this," the other woman responded, ignoring her supervisor's irritation.
"Try me," Ang rebuked.
"That weird object," she continued, glancing to her right, almost certainly out of a viewport. "It was headed toward the Main Mission tower and I could have sworn you guys were goners when it just landed."
"You mean crashed?" Ang frowned.
"No, I mean landed as in engaging thruster jets and setting down. Can't you see it? It's right next to you on the lunar surface."
"We can't see a thing," Ang responded, sitting up as did everyone else. Already, Sandra Benes was at her station, typing commands to train and focus the camera on the roof of the Technical hub on the object. "The shutters are still closed." She paused momentarily. "Is everything ok down there?"
When the Manufacturing Manager gave a positive response, the Chief of Technical Operations thanked Cranston and cut the link. Everyone was on their feet now and Bergman, at the unshuttered viewports with binoculars, was looking down several stories at the immobile object.
Koenig studied the object from the camera image on the Big Screen.
"No movement, no energy, nothing," Angelina announced, analyzing the initial sensor data.
"Scanners confirm," Benes agreed. "The object appears to be inert."
"Appearances can be deceiving," the Commander cautioned from his station and this time Morrow nodded in agreement.
"Commander," Ang asked from her station, "what about Alan...and Eagle 1?"
"We can't take the risk," Morrow objected.
"I DIDN'T ASK YOU," the Technical chief spewed venom at the Deputy. Morrow glared but she did not flinch and her rage at Paul remained; then her face assumed a softer, almost pleading mask as she returned her gaze at Koenig. "Commander?"
Koenig honestly didn't know.
"Victor?" He entrusted the professor.
"We don't know anything a'toll about that object." Bergman stressed. "They may fare well, or they may be destroyed before they exit Alpha space. It's your call, John."
The commander searched their faces.
"When have we ever been completely safe?" Koenig concluded. "Besides, it might be worth the risk to have them out there. Paul, launch the ORT mission."
The object remained inert, a black diamond contrasting the somber gray of the lunar surface. The surface was pitted, scarred from an indeterminate number of collisions with micrometeors. It had a destination, an address to hell.
This was a hell but it was the wrong one.
Chief of Computer Operations Ben Ouma would later discover the software error which caused the object to divert its course.
By then, it would be too late.
Angelina Carter's attention was 95% focused on eavesdropping the conversations between Farendahl at the Cap Com and Tim Donovan in Rescue Eagle 4. Koenig paced in front of his desk behind them, periodically stopping at the viewports to talk with Bergman, who was still glued to studying the object below.
Ang uttered an audible sigh of relief when Donovan announced "We've located Carter." Doctor Helena Russell nearly pushed Farendahl out of his chair to get to the communication stud, rapid firing instructions regarding patient handling, instructions the rescue team was knowledgeable and well practiced. If Russell was in the Eagle, she would have heard Donovan mumble 'pain in the ass' following his neutral "Yes, Doctor" before he cut the link.
"Barbie," Donovan stood up, grabbing his helmet. "Keep her steady. I'll get the Chief."
"Yep," pilot Barbara Conroy nodded, grabbing the yoke. "You can count on me."
Donovan waited patiently as atmospheric pressure waned inside the passenger module. "Opening the starboard doors."
Conroy did not answer but Donovan was not alarmed. He saw Carter and leapt off the platform, twin trails of expelled gas gushing behind him. With one arm, he caught the still pinwheeling pilot.
"Alan?" Donovan spoke but it was clear the Captain was still unconscious. "Alrighty then. Let's get you back. Barbie? I got him."
"Barb?!?" Donovan called again, frustrated. "Goddamn radios," he assumed, now at the door. Yul Ostrog was going to hear about this when he got back. The hatch to the passenger module of Eagle 4 slid open and Donovan, pulled Carter inside, positioning him on a back board and strapping him to a stretcher while still in zero gravity.
"Barb?" He tried again as he manually engaged atmosphere and gravity control. When earth gravity and atmosphere was restored, he strode toward the command module after removing Carter's helmet and taking some vital signs; no doubt Russell would be harping on him for those the minute he stepped inside the command module. "Alpha," he spoke into his commlock, "Carter is secure and we are going to dock with Eagle....."
He dropped his comlock as he stepped into the Command Module, gaping in horror.
Barb Conroy sat, in shock, dazed and bloodied. Her face was a gored, raw meat mess, flesh torn away in chunks, skin hanging in flaps. The cause, her hands, still in the shape of claws, were coated with scarlet and to Donovan's horror, he was able to distinguish the object still clutched in the left hand.
Her left eye.
"...CAN'T BE SURE...." Jim Haines--who could best be described as a theorist--verbalized in the overlapping, uncapped aftermath of trepidation, and self preservation.
"...OH, THE HELL WE CAN'T." John Koenig finished the combined, schizophrenic sentence, and slammed his three ring binder closed. "WHEN THE ORT WAS DEPLOYED, CONROY WAS ALIVE, AND KICKING. WHEN THEY RETURNED, IT LOOKED LIKE SHE LOST A FIGHT WITH AN IRON MAIDEN." They never were completely safe, he had maintained, and now he hated his own foresightedness. "I THINK THE THING THAT CRASHED BY THE OXIDIZER WELLS CAUSED IT. I WOULD ALSO SUGGEST THAT ANYONE WHO THINKS OTHERWISE IS A GODDAMN FOOL."
"I have that report ready." Victor Bergman convened warily--where angels feared to tread.
"WE DON'T NEED IT." The commander adjourned the conference.
"Good, because it's not long." The professor described. "Barely a paragraph."
"Could you share it with us?" Dr. Strand said meekly while a standing Koenig glared at him.
"Share." Bergman nodded, biting his lower lip apprehensively. "Well, why not? The heliotrope, as we've come to know it, is a propellantless vehicle, and not a sculpture, which was our initial thought."
"WE ALSO DIDN'T THINK IT WOULD KILL." The commander pontificated at Ang,' but not to her. The homily was intended for all.
"It may use plasma physics." Bergman strolled deeper onto the frozen bed of thin ice. "Tuned resonance frequency. Sonics."
"AND IT'S GRAVITY FED...AND IT WAS DESIGNED SOMEHOW UNDER THE FIBONACCI SEQUENCE...AND IT KILLS." Koenig could not believe that they were still talking about it.
"Barbara Conroy is not dead," Dr. Helena Russell spoke softly and subdued. True, she was in a deep coma and her face was going to give someone in Medical practice in plastic surgery. She also had one remaining eye and likely never to fly again. That fact would be the most crushing blow to her, to any pilot. "The wounds were self inflicted, John. When she wakes up," Russell thought 'if' but kept it to herself, "she should be able to tell us what happened."
"Yeah, she freaked out," Angelina theorized, "but what could have driven her to rip apart her own face?"
"It could be a result of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome." Russell took a sip from her tepid coffee.
"You mean she snapped?" Ang shook her head. "Uh, no. Not Barbie Conroy. Astronauts are regular Rocks of Gibraltar. They have to be. It's not only part of their training but it has to be part of their disposition as well and that goes for the women as well as the men. If Barbie was the type to freak out, she would have been flushed out of the program long before we left Earth orbit."
"I find it interesting that Carter survived." A strangely subdued, and analytical Morrow commented aloud.
"True." Dr. Strand said. "Only Balfour, and Conroy suffered the unfortunate after effects of the alien engine design.
"We don't really know what happened to Balfour." Sandra Benes reminded the physicist, pointing.
"And an alien engine would cause a woman to go nuts and try to rip off her own face?" Angelina joined, not pointing but fixed on Strand nevertheless. "Sorry, but that doesn't make any sense."
Koenig rubbed the rage, and humiliation from his eyes brutally. At least he still had both of them. His misinformation about Conroy--the apparent recipient of a miracle--in no way detracted from his feelings of wrath, which he believed to be ultimately justifiable. Survival was tough enough.
The box from outer space was one more headache that they did not need. He realized, of course, that Russell's revelation would unleash the monster of human curiosity. Since the Moon was blown away, this attribute had proven to be worse than having one's ocular pulled out by the stalk.
"Ang.'" He found a saner sentence. "Who pulled the plug on Alpha? Have you been able to determine why we still have no lights, or heat?"
"Most of the circuitry in 5 of the 6 main transformers was charred," Angelina reported diligently from her open laptop. She looked up. "It was almost like a sudden load was demanded and the breakers could not keep up. Fortunately, the damage is easily repaired and we should have full power within an hour."
The lights flickered on and the HVAC units began blowing warm air. "Or less," she continued. "The black out occurred during the sonic blast, which was heard throughout the base."
"Has anyone stopped to think that there may be a relationship between the arrival of that object, and our utility problems?"
"Possibly." Pete Garforth replied, stricken. "But I really don't see how-"
"I'm not sure either," Ang continued. "I suppose, theoretically it could, but the frequency of the sonic blast was entirely different than an operating frequency of an electromagnetic field which could potentially disrupt and EM power cycle.
"One that we could measure, anyway."
"You're totally dead set against this." Morrow finally figured it out, and made faces at the commander.
"Yes I am." Koenig realized, and seated himself again.
"John, look, I understand." Bergman said with empathy. "However, this may be a golden opportunity."
"To do what, Victor? To learn to see with one eye? No thanks."
"Sir, you minimize the potential uses of gravity intake." Jim Haines led them all back into the arms of reason.
"You want to bring that thing inside?" Ang turned incredulous toward Bergman. "Here. Inside Moonbase Alpha. Alan was injured. Harry Balfour was killed and something happened to Barbie." She stiffened, sitting back. "That's oh and 3 against that thing for safety, Professor."
"Yes it is." Koenig exalted in this breakout moment, returning from the table with a glass of water after sneak swallowing two aspirin. He polished the remainder off in two gulps, and set it on a low-rider, granite plastic table next to a huge, copper Gorski thinger' that had two heads, but only one mouth. Even if they knew, no one would believe it.
"I'm not saying that." The professor maintained. "I'm simply suggesting that it might be a good idea to go out, and have a look...take a few photographs...run a Geiger counter, and an x-ray spectrometer over it." He intended. "Those diethyl vaults are far enough away, it need not pose any risk to the safety of Alpha.
"The procedure can be handled electronically." He assured. "No human presence is needed. All we're interested in is elemental chemicals. It could give us ideas that would be intrinsic to our future survival."
"We have several instrument packs in orbit that can be manipulated telerobotically." Morrow postulated. "We're preparing to deorbit the Kopernik-500, in fact."
"Ah." Sandra Benes sounded arrogantly pleased. "There is the answer, and with sugar on it. Instead of having the satellite impact on the lunar surface, we can deploy it over the target area, and Farendahl can handle the operation via long range dish."
"I can?" The acting CapComm felt like an overestimated, retainer stooge.
"A mission like this would be child's play." Benjamin Ouma valiantly joined the expedition. "Computer can handle the necessary algorithms. Of course."
"Computer can't even handle the necessary dispensation of bleach for waste treatment." Pete Garforth just couldn't go there, even if it meant losing the chance of a lifetime.
Pierce Quenton, who was standing guard in the rear guffawed.
"That reminds me, the power books in the Security Cube are still shutting down involuntarily." He said. "You were supposed to have Manroot look into that--or at least that was the story I heard a month ago."
"I'll go along with any decision that's made." Bergman tanned, sounding as if he was speaking to the entire group, but mainly to John Koenig. "You all know that, but I also think we should weigh our alternatives carefully."
"If it can be done unmanned," Dr. Russell contributed her opinion, "and the orbiter was being taken out of commission anyway, then I don't oppose. We really need to determine what it is but without risking more lives."
No one would argue with that comment, even John Koenig, who just gazed from person to person around the table, including an almost pouting Ouma.
"...then it just landed, I mean 'landed'," Angelina Carter repeated with emphasis to Alan Carter, " a controlled landing on the lunar surface. I saw the recording and couldn't believe it." She hated the hard white plastic chairs, reminding her of lawn furniture and her back was beginning to protest. She leaned forward, still gently holding his hand with the IV line needle prominently protruding from his wrist. Carter's expression was nearly blank as he listened to her relay the events in Main Mission after his life threatening encounter with the mystery object which left him with a terrible case of the bends but slight changes in his grip on her hand was proportional to his mounting irritation.
He had just emerged from the hyperbolic chamber and still felt like crap. At least every joint in his body was no longer on fire and in constant agony.
"There's something else," she went on, now her grip was tightening with tension. "Tim Donovan and Barbie Conroy manned the ORT flight that brought you in but Barbie was....injured. The injuries were, well, self inflicted, so says Dot Sullivan."
"Self inflicted?" The astronaut balked, attempting to sit up, but having his pain make other arrangements. "Fuck what Dot' Sullivan says. That's the bee's knees, Apricot. You don't know.... Conroy is the most level headed aviator in section, and a military brat from way back. Hell, the old man worked for SAC-NORAD. If anything, she has no compassion, even for herself. I cannot--will not believe that she's one of those Sheilas that would cure her depression by sticking the barrel of a gun in her mouth. If she can put up with Coop' day after day, after miserable day, she can handle the prospect of being trapped inside this tin can.
"What was her supposed method of suicide?" He inquired skeptically. "Throw it at me: The Gospel According To Sullivan."
"I don't know. They think she flipped out, post traumatic stress syndrome or some such thing but I don't buy it. It doesn't make sense."
Carter thought it a twisted joke.
"She's not that old." He revealed. "Sure, she caught the tail end of the Atlantic Dust Bowl--and she was here when someone tossed a match at the nuclear waste dumps--but she got on as well as anyone, considering. She's made of stern enough stuff."
If this was a joke, it would end badly during the next lunar council meeting, he pledged with blood--there was certainly plenty for all on the inside of his pressure suit.
"Another thing, regarding the object." She continued. She had debated whether or not to give him the full update but decided he could take it. "We're taking a closer look at the object but unmanned, of course. We're deorbiting Kopernik-500 in about 20 minutes and getting a good look at the thing. The professor is all excited about it, as are Sandra, Ben and Paul. I haven't seen Professor Bergman this excited in a long time. He's been bounding around Main Mission, whistling and just in a general good mood, taking the lead on this project. The commander is going along with it but its not making his day or anything. Me, I feel the same as Commander Koenig. In fact, I wish the thing would just go away. I have a really bad feeling about it, Alan, and I..." She stopped, realizing she was rambling nervously at an increasing pace, her speech matching the scatteredness of her thoughts. "Well," she continued, softly, squeezing his hand carefully to not displace IV line, "I guess I'm afraid of it."
She felt herself breaking into a cold sweat, then decided it was only a reaction to fatigue and tension.
The awareness permeated the walls of the base before the corporate fact.
Moving away from the fair haired woman, and her best, brute protégé, it floated across the vitreous tile floor of the negative pressure isolation ward--over, and away from the autodoc control console; the 3D lifenet monitor; thru the decontamination exit. It was an odorless, invisible miasma on the unit proper, inspecting the rows of empty beds; the castored pharmacy carts; the power exam table; the dentist's cubicle, where nothing intelligent was going on; the doors to operating theaters A, and B. It revolved 360 degrees to face the halcyon of ceiling lights.
Then there were surgeons in masks, and three-ply latex gloves.
Raul Nunez, RN--his image vague, and filmed over--moved past it on his way to the small, oval Urology Lab.
Passing through the metallic aegis, and insulation, it poised itself--sight unseen--over Bob Mathias' head like an undulating butterfly as he rocked pensively in his high back, office chair. The file on Claude Murneau was a beaut.' He had hemorrhoids now, and this was deserved. The consciousness took time to examine from afar the commlock that rested on top of the desk blotter, and the model of the mushroom-like, human cortex that rested ninety percent unused atop the CARDEX cabinet.
It moved into the corridor, and an amused contemplation of the many characters with white sleeves that moved past the sequence of vision ports, and commstations--en route to and from the small occupancy atrium.
Already it had grubbed, this would be easy.
He had reached rock bottom, and had started to dig. Still, there were limits.
The rest of the rot-gut, pesticide free, nutrient solution tablets were his, and his alone.
"You don't understand. Pray you don't end up like me." Ed Malcom told his charge, young Nicholas Carter, as he gave up another piece of candy in exchange for ongoing council. "No offense, but any friend of theirs is a friend of theirs--especially the old man. Believe me, twould' have been more merciful for you to have been born an orphan, Big Nick. Don't worry. Ed's here for you. Every day I bust my hump to keep that section running smooth. My only meager request is to be transferred to internal systems. Does she grant that? Oh no. I know what she's going to say before she opens her mouth." He paused, setting aside Caesar the cat so that he could summon the Rich Little in his soul. "Ed, I am the director of this unit. I will decide. You won't decide. I will decide.
"And then she caps it off by saying: 'you're incompetent.'
"She hurt my feelings real bad.
"Of course I'm good enough to spend my valuable, off-duty time babysitting--raising you, as it were; giving of myself so that you won't know the horrors of being a latch-key child on a ruined moon.
"I don't know." He moaned, he groaned. "Maybe it's true what they say: "Those who throw dirt are bound to lose ground."
Caesar immediately gave himself a bath, frantically licking the exact places the fat man had touched his fur with those thick, greasy, soft (and uncalloused from no work) hands, after moving himself out of reaching distance.
Harness Bull Theyland, the real parent monitor in the care center, glanced at Malcom out of the corner of his eye while changing the diaper of one of his three remaining charges. All of the other children were either with parents or with parent's friends but in the case of the remaining children, his own daughter was in the room, as well as the Quenton and the Carter boys. Both parents and close friends were working or in the Captain's case, not able to care for the child. Theyland was tempted to throw Malcom out, not only because the thought of bullying the louse was cheery but he thought the guy might be a negative influence on the kids.
There was enough negativity working against Alpha's future.
Still, Malcom provided entertainment for the cop; he fancied his baby's laughter was in response to the obese technician's bellyaching, and that alone was worth letting the guy stay in the room for a few more minutes.
"Sorry you bad day, Mista Mahcon," Nicky mumbled in a small tired voice, while concentrating and twisting the rectangular sections of the rage of the 1980's toy, the Rubicks cube. Malcom was the only person Nicky addressed as "Mister" on Moonbase Alpha. There was Momma and Daddy, of course, as well as 'Bicta', 'Meweeta' and of course, 'Commanda'. All of the other adults on Moonbase Alpha were addressed by one of two titles, depending on the uniform sleeve color. Anyone with yellow, white or rust sleeves, like his Momma's, was called 'Doc' and anyone with purple or orange sleeves, like his Daddy's, were called "Lootinit".
It was that simple. His father, though, had taught him to address the fat man as "Mister Malcom". Ed Malcom loved it. He seemed to think that the boy was being extraordinarily polite, not like that nasty Profitt twin, who actually dumped his drink on his head the last time he was in the Center.
Nicky Carter was in a mental fog. The nightmares had come for the last several night modes but they would end abrupt and disjointed. He did not wake up screaming in terror but instead, he roused tired, cranky and in a daze, not remembering anything. His REM sleep was incomplete. The child felt uneasy and troubled but couldn't explain why. Nicky didn't speak much. He listened and comprehended but as Professor Bergman said, "maybe he doesn't have much to say." His friend, Gretchen Erhlich, chattered more than he did, often speaking for him. Raul Nunez assured his mother to enjoy the relative quiet now, that the day would come when he won't 'shut up'. That day, though, was not now.
"You know I tried to talk to him once." Ed said. "You know...bread winner. The only guy on the base who relished changing your diapers. I shared part of myself...my goals...my aspirations. You know what he said? Space is a dangerous place.
"Especially if it's between your ears."
Harness Bull Theyland said nothing, even though he agreed with what Carter said, and thought it to be an injunction.
He stuffed his mouth, and ground the green tablets to a pulp in seconds, appreciating the while the hour glass shape that sashayed' past him like a tempting Geisha from forbidden continents. Imagine. The face of a man, and the body of a cheerleader. Then he realized that the rictus was that of Lorna O'Brian, and he felt deep shame, superbity, and sex starved reverence.
"Hello, Ed." She smiled charmingly, all the while wondering if the technician had been the first in the Malcom family to be born without a tail.
Winking at Nicky, she moved up the steps towards the wall mounted, touch and release CD case. She was hoping to find a disc on human growth, and development. It had nothing to do with her specialization, which was materials science, but unlike certain technicians on the base, she thirsted to grow a poetic mind. Or...to just be able to make a monkey out of someone like Malcom. Of course, in that enterprise she could not take all of the credit.
"Virginia." She called to the recently arrived RN as she held open the twin, granite plastic doors, and gazed blankly at the empty racks. "Where did Parker move the optical media?"
Virginia Burton passed Charlie Quenton his nutritional supplement formula. The almost one year old took the double handled sipper cup and chugged the drink, spilling a healthy amount down his chin.
"It should be in there," Virginia bent to clean up the child with a bib and decided to assist the boy in the art of drinking from a cup. "We were going to move it to the reference library but I know we haven't had time to do it yet. Why? What are you looking for?"
"My latest hobby," OBrien responded, while pulling out cases and checking the ends, on the off chance they were labeled incorrectly. "Human growth and development." She became keenly aware of Malcom, staring at her shapely rear end. The physicist with an interest in human anatomy regretted being polite to Malcom, inviting his unwanted attention.
"Is there something I can do for you, Ed?" She directed her next question without turning around, as Malcom was startled out of his stupor.
Caesar the cat suddenly froze in mid-lick. He slowly looked around the room, statuesque and not blinking. The feline's pupils widened until his green eyes were obscured by large black disks. This activity caught Nicky's attention. Caesar hissed then yowled loudly, arching his back and hair standing on end. Harness Bull Theyland, who was holding his daughter, could not explain to himself why he suddenly held her tighter.
The cat was making a fuss over thin air.
As it turned out, problems with the supernatural were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
"I DON'T KNOW WHAT IS WRONG WITH IT." Technician Camille Battaglia told Paul Morrow's visage on the monitor, unwarmed by the light of her gooseneck lamp. He appeared to be despising something on his desk as well as the useless conversation. "WE'VE LOST THE NETWORK. ALL OF THE WIRELESS ROUTERS ARE DOWN."
"You can add the translators to the list." Lars Manroot said from his standing position at station three of the mainframe center. "The problem appears to be in the frequency multiplexing." He diagnosed, moving his mouse over the utility shelf.
"The power surges don't exactly help in diagnosing the root cause either," Angelina contributed from her end of the monitor. She was pissed off. She just had the same conversation with Morrow 15 minutes before and here he was, harassing Technical Section once again.
"Estimated repair time?" Morrow asked corrodingly.
"WE CAN'T ANSWER THAT, MAIN MISSION." Battaglia whipped the long hair away from her irritated face. "NOT UNTIL WE LOCATE THE SOURCE OF THE PROBLEM."
Manroot took pity on her.
"Give us about an hour." He delayed like a knight in shining armor. "The units themselves are fine. We just don't have intranet capability. You'll live. As long as you don't need file sharing."
"We don't need file sharing," Ang jumped back in before Morrow could object. "Paul, we are doing the best we can. At the moment, most of my crew is still working to stabilize the power and eliminate the surges. I really don't want to put the servers back online until I am confident that we won't fry them with voltage spikes."
"So what do you want Paul? Power or the wireless link?"
"Try both," Morrow retorted without mercy.
Benjamin Ouma, Moonbase Alpha's expert at knotted speech said in any case, it was not computer's fault.
As if they expected him to say otherwise.
"Unreasonable," Ang shot back. "Estimated repair time six hours."
Even though the display was black and white, Ang could see Morrow's cheeks darkening into increasing ire. "SIX HOURS?!?!" His voice was raised but it was still annoyingly even and smooth. "You'll have to do better than that."
She hit the signal gain. "Sor...Paul...repeat..you....break...up." She broke the link to Main Mission with a loud crackling of snow. Camille and Lars on the other monitor were crystal clear. Camille was smirking. "Power surge, Ang?"
"Yeah, I guess so." She nodded. The image was clear and not a snap, crackle or pop emanated from the speakers. "That's another one for the 'to do' list."
Well, not really. After all, there was really nothing wrong with the Main Mission and Technical hub link at all.
She sighed, sitting back in her chair, gaze fixed on the picture of Carter holding Nicky and both smiling at her. "OK, Camille. Assuming we get the power surges under control in the next hour, how long do you think it will be until you can test the servers?"
Battaglia sought Manroot's competence with a glance.
He responded with two fingers, one for each hour. Of this he felt certain. Then Thomas Edison bowed out, and the complex was cast into darkness again.
"Commander, we're at step three." Pete Garforth maintained, looking squeezed to smithereens within the confines of Koenig's micro-circuited commlock monitor. "To do it proper will require an examination of each, and every fuel cell, and some of them are a mile underground."
"Then I suggest you get busy." The commander retorted abrasively. "We don't need lights for much, Pete--just so we can see, and work, and walk. What about the rest of the ESU? The other registers?"
"...that's a snag...." Victor Bergman mumbled eccentrically to himself as Gordon Cooper applied his T-Square to the fiftieth parallel on the chart.
"It's queer." The technician went on, seeming puzzled. "Except for certain computer protocols--and this--the rest of the system is performing very well. We fancy these figures."
"Oh?" Koenig strolled doubtfully towards the dimly lit map table, careful not to trip, and break his neck, and spinal cord.
"Yes, actually." The AD of Technical Section admitted. "Especially for the recycling matrix. Over time, the overall functioning has degraded somewhere between two, and three percent. We've been able to hold it there--it was either that, or face the prospect of dieing--but now, due somehow to this surge, we're seeing a pattern of growth."
"Growth." The commander heckled as he returned his commlock to his belt. "But no light bulbs? Tell me that doesn't take the cake?"
"Gerik?" CMP Donovan stuck his thoughtful head thru the darkened doorway of the debriefing room. The neck dam of his suit looked like an oversized donut. "We got the word."
Meaning that it was time to search for Harry Balfour, and return him to Alpha in a body bag for forensic analysis.
"I'll be right there." Astronaut Domin replied. Sitting opposite at the round table before an unplugged microphone, his loving wife Bry' had just finished telling him to go to rot in hell, and that their marriage was over.
"Don't worry." Bry' smarted off to Donovan. "I won't keep him."
The other astronaut nodded awkwardly, and disappeared into the corridor.
"Bank 57!" Angelina yelled up the mezzanine toward Carter Jackson, who was checking circuit breakers. Joe Erhlich, completely perplexed, was studying a long register tape of read outs and arguing with Joan Conway.
"57, check!" Jackson called back.
"Banks 58, 59 and 60!" Ang prompted again from the keyboard of the primary monitoring station.
It was dark but in the glow of the emergency batteries, she watched Jackson's shadow against the ceiling in spooky, jarring movements.
"58, 59, 60...check!" He affirmed.
"Station 16," Angelina shouted to verify if Carter Jackson was moving to the next transformer. Angelina made a glance at the main breaker for station 16. Of course it had been switched to the off position but she was never one to forgo double-checking.
"Station 16...Banks 1 through 5 on your word!" He answered.
"Hey, Carter!" Ang paused. "Do you want to trade places? You want to do keyboard duty? You want me to throw breakers?"
"Nope!" Jackson responded good-naturedly. He was one of the most cheerful guys on Moonbase Alpha. "You can keep your carpel tunnel all to yourself!"
She heard him chuckle. "Thanks!" She responded, smirking, "You're too kind. OK. Banks 1 through 5!"
Thirty seconds later, Jackson responded with affirmation and a little mirth.
"Banks 6 and 7!" The former Power Generation Manager called after typing in the traffic sensor prompt. She froze, noticing the main breaker for station 16.
It was up.
"CARTER!!!! STOP!!!!! NO!!!" She was on her feet as she screamed the warning but the arching, momentarily lighting up the mezzanine followed by Carter Jackson's agony from electrocution was the response. Erhlich threw the main breaker as Ang pulled herself to the top of the ladder. To her relief (sort of) she was greeted by the sight of Jackson's unconscious though violently twitching form.
"He's still alive! Get Medical down here now!!" She bellowed, positioning him for CPR.
Following the electronic dovetail, the corridor hatch opened, and Angelina Carter met a mangled Pete Garforth in passing.
"Your turn." He told the director as he passed the torch of martyrdom. "I'll tell you right now, expect nothing, but the bum. The commander is furious, and Belgarian has had an hour head start. According to him, we're responsible for everything except the destruction of the Earth. Bad hypertext transfer, and inevitable logic bomb. Ouma agrees." He handed her the maglite. "Enjoy your command conference.
"Cheerio.'" He wished cowardly, and made way for the far side of the Moon.
Angelina Carter gaped at the swiftly departing engineer. She couldn't blame him for no longer wanting to be around that area of the base. Usually, technical found strength in numbers in presenting and jousting the command council but this time, Garforth found himself by his lonesome. Unfortunately, other key people were involved in actually working on getting the power back on.
"Don't worry about me, Pete," Ang knew he wasn't and probably could care less at this point, "I can handle them. Take a break then go see of Joe needs a hand."
She already knew that he did.
"Zond Eight is unavailable." Emma Black said impartially. It may have been the bun in her hair that protected her from Controller Zed Astrin's radioactive glower. Three cups of coffee, and he was approaching melt-down.
"That can't be." Astrin boomed. "That's the third on the list."
"We're running out of archaic orbiters." Umberto Garzon stated matter of factly as he laid his report on the controller's desk.
"Haruka is still on-line." CapComm Farendahl promised. "I'm attempting to access it with the digibox now."
"No good," Emma responded, not surprised, as she surveyed the lines of nonsensical gobblegook lines on the screen.
"Michelle, for chrissakes, what is wrong with the orbiters," Astrin turned the tip of his verbal lance on Cranston, who occupied the Technical desk while Ang was getting skewered in the Commander's office. She would much rather be in Main Mission than in her boss's place. She could deal with Astrin.
"I don't know," she retorted, a smartass sharpness edging into her tone, while multitasking between several open screens on her monitor between her keyboard and her mouse. "And right now, Zed, it's bottom of the priority list." She didn't look up and continued the concurrent activities, stopping to jot a note on a scrap paper, eyes still glued to the monitor, then returned to mouse and keyboard. "In case you haven't noticed, the lights are off and the heat is not at full capacity....that problem is just a little bit more important than taking pretty pictures from orbit."
The nerve of these people, standing around or doing very little work while she worked like a madwoman.
"I'm attempting to access the cislunar fleet." Farendahl was frustrated for all of them, and it showed. "I'm starting up the recorders on Artemis-B."
"Is there enough fuel to crash the thing?" Astrin was fed up.
Was disaster too much to ask?
Angelina Carter was in the command conference hot seat. Fortunately, the shadows concealed the frustration, written all over her face.
"I thought there were safeties in place," Helena Russell sharpened her verbal sword and started swinging. "Jackson was very fortunate but his cardiac enzymes are a mess. He's going to be in Medical for quite some time, due to stupidity and irresponsibility."
If looks could kill, Ang had given Russell the death ray. The physician was sitting stiffly in her hard plastic chair, calmly with hands folded over the blue medical flimsie labeled as 'Jackson, Carter'.
"Stupidity and irresponsibility?!?" Ang was incredulous. "The breakers had been turned off."
"That is true," Ouma stepped in with his print off. "The breakers had been disengaged." Ang nodded smugly. "However," Ouma continued, "during the testing they had been turned back on."
"Nobody turned them on. " Ang lowered, challenging not the statement but the implication. "There were three of us on that level and Carter was on the mezzanine." She threw a glance at Truman Starns, having an inking of his thoughts, "and no one in there wants to see Carter Jackson dead. The guy is the most affable and cheerful character on the base; he doesn't HAVE any enemies."
"Look. Ang.' Don't you think-" John Koenig started, but no one wanted the facts to interfere with their opinions.
"Need a spot?" Mission Commander Donovan emerged from the LEB carrying a pair of plastic squeeze tubes.
"You don't mean Ozo do you?" Astronaut Gerik Domin baited from his squatting position at mid-console in the command module of ORT Eagle Eight. On either side, the yokes bobbed up, and down before the sunken acceleration couches. In every way, they were at the mercy of Ben Ouma, and his artificially intelligent bud.' He held the clipboard, and he still knew how to write, but there was nothing to transcribe. It was difficult to do a photonic sweep when the floodlights were devoured by the palpable, eternal night. Domin considered it a simile.
"Try coffee." Donovan gave him the bad news. "Caffeine concentrate."
Domin took the drink. He sucked the paste.
"Good." He lied.
"Any luck yet?" Donovan asked as he opened one of the starboard panels to check the optics assembly.
"Nada." Domin replied, capping his ink pen, and returning it to the utility pocket in the shoulder of his hard suit. "We've already passed Balfour's last reported position. Even accounting for drift, we should have seen something by now."
"Well." The other pilot thought fatefully as he slid back into his chair, and closed out the utterly useless docking target. "We'll keep going. Maybe with a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, we'll put it all together, and get lucky."
"Shrader is working the lab." Domin thought positively. "Maybe something will strike him as funny."
In fact something did strike them, but it wasn't funny.
"Victor, in light of all of this, do you still think we should go ahead with our probe?" John Koenig asked squarely.
"I don't see any harm in it," Bergman answered with his usual calm, lounging back in the chair with legs outstretched and fingers interlocked behind his balding and white head of hair.
When they started this unwilling trip into deep space years ago, Victor Bergman sported salt and pepper hair. Admittedly, most of the Alphan community had grown considerably grayer, if hair was left au naturale, but most held to the vanity of using hair dyes, despite the increase in wrinkles, to restore their color from youth. Bergman, though not appearing to have acquired many more wrinkles, opted to let nature and extreme stress take its course and his hair was completely white.
"It is not going anywhere or doesn't appear to be going anywhere," he paused. The last part of his statement struck Ang as quite peculiar. "But I think the question is not 'if' but 'when'."
Chief Dietician Gonzales cursed the lack of lights as he shined his flashlight in an area known as the 'chicken house.' In fact, the room was the chicken coop, one of two on the base where the growing poultry population was kept and raised by members of Sandra Benes' Service Section.
As usual, the cook was in a perpetual bad mood but this time, it was perhaps justified; Hugo Willet had been pulled away into Technical Section again by that blonde bimbo so Gonzalez was stuck with the egg gathering duty. Kenny, the rooster who attacked and pecked everyone else on the base, assumed his perch on Gonzalez shoulder, lapping up the coos and clucking from the only human he liked.
Gonzalez would bitch; Kenny would cluck in agreement. Gonzalez would gripe some more and Kenny would flap his wings and cluck louder, while the egg gathering continued.
When Gonzalez reached the last 5 cages, he stopped and squinted. All 5 hens were dead, apparently from a heart attack.
"Poultry is not my problem." Sandra Benes said emotionlessly over her shoulder, not even bothering to look at the commstation as she made a note to herself. DR. BELGARIAN. NOT IN SECTION. IDIOTIC STATEMENT ABOUT PM MAINTENANCE. She hated the avante gard. His face appeared on the monitor facing the hatch--and it was not his problem either, really--but Harness Bull Duncan found the response to be, well, lackadaisical, unhumanitarian. They needed food, he knew, and the SS Director was acting like a goddamn bitch. She was, in fact the equality of same.
"Right." He assented to the verdict, if for no other reason than he desired not to interrupt a command conference any further. The birds were probably better off, he felt, and then signed off.
"We must avoid the urge to interpret." The Methuselah' Belgarian told his children. He never came to the realization that no one was listening to him. "You think I'm accusing all of you of unskillful ness, and greenness." His weird, camp-survivor, bowling ball gut rested atop the table like a concealed, second head. "Dr. Carter, I would never point the finger, and say that over the past few months your team has grown lazy. Even if it is true." He turned his charisma on Sandra next. "Nor would I list the shortcomings of moonbase maintenance. I hate this situation--but I do not hate the people who visited it on us."
Belgarian was in trouble, Ang thought, except he didn't know it yet. On the surface, Sandra Benes was physically petite and appeared to be delicate of disposition, an ingénue. This was not the case with the Chief of Services Section. Whether it was due to years existing precariously in deep space or living with Paul Morrow (or both), Sandra Benes could be quite the hardass when provoked; and it did not take a great deal of baiting from this unfortunate 'individual contributor' of her section. Belgarian would be reassigned to the waste treatment facilities for 'further study' of acceleration of bacteria in breaking down waste products.
It would be a 'shitty' assignment which would last not weeks, but likely months.
"Good." John Koenig said. "I feel the same way. Really." He reclined easily in the highback chair. "We should all respect the office of our peers. Even if computer did choke up a combo forecast that killed one of our astronauts.
"I never, ever should have approved that." He grabbed his commlock, swung around, and took to the floor, angrily pacing the stygian surfaces.
"Commander Koenig." Zed Astrin booped' into existence on the nearby monitor. "Artemis is over Murchinson now. We've had reliable feedback for over ten minutes, and we're ready to begin the deorbit burn."
Bergman sat up with great interest and enthusiasm, then bounded up the stairs toward Koenig's desk. "Excellent news. We should get plenty of valuable information," he paused then added, "without risking further lives."
"Only as long as we can control the trajectory of the satellite," Angelina added, somewhat ominously. She wanted to ask Koenig if he would consider allowing Petrov to blast the mystery object near the Command Tower out of existence with one of the laser cannons. The Chief of Technical felt no curiosity and an unexplained feeling of dread.
"Is there a risk?" Helena Russell added to the doom and gloom feeling in the room.
Koenig's shrug was, at best, neutral, but Bergman was positive.
"Hardly." The professor teemed. "After all, those UDMH fuel stores are in the outlands. Should some sort of emergency arise, we'd have ample time to dispose of it. Since we're using remote execution, no one here will be in harm's way."
"Unless it's a bomb, powerful enough to destroy the Moon." Truman Starns formulated.
Bergman's tongue suddenly became tied.
"May our outcomes be pleasant." Koenig saluted his druthers, and opened the big doors."
"The countdown clock is running." Pierre Danielle told the commander.
"The software is downloaded." Zed Astrin told his relief, Paul Morrow. "Time of ignition is five minutes."
"What's the score?" Donovan made himself dutiable again after coming up from the lavatory. He noticed immediately that Domin had the con, and not computer.
"Not good." The other astronaut told him, and grimaced at the altimeter readings. "The command, and data subsystems have gone out, and we're experiencing a ten degree starboard roll."
"Hmmm," Donovan pondered as he hoisted himself into the pilot's couch and rolled forward on the track. A quick glance at the altimeter readings and the latest printout from the onboard computer confirmed the junior astronaut's assessment.
"Engage back up systems," Donovan instructed, though Domin was already in the process of bring them online. Donovan squinted at the troubleshoot data simulations but, not to his surprise, they were not yielding an answer.
"Back ups online," Domin gave an imperceptible sigh of relief. "Starboard roll has been corrected."''
"Good," Donovan assented but he was not relieved. He still did not have a root cause to the trouble and the need to switch to back up. "Main Mission, Eagle 4," the pilot spoke into his headset microphone, then continued after receiving Morrow's droll and neutral response. "Primary command and data subsystems have gone down. Back up systems engaged with no issues. We experienced a 10 degree starboard roll during primary black out but has since corrected. So far, we have been unsuccessful in locating orbital object."
'Orbital Object', Ang thought bitterly, 'in other words, Harry Balfour's body.'
"What's this, then?" Domin exacerbated over the loop.
Koenig blinked, and then made a comforting, albeit useless check of Paul Morrow's status panel.
"I thought we righted that." Donovan said, grasping both sides of the doorway as the ORT Eagle began to list. He could feel the approach of one-eighth gravity in his teetering stomach. The large, avian panel lights began to flicker on, and off, and from the service module, the struggling transients could be heard, alternating between on, and off.
"So did I." Domin shook his head, holding his headset tight with one hand, and the yoke with the other as they began their powerless glide over the Alpine Valley. "Better strap in. In about five minutes, it's going to get ugly."
"Did you choose our crash?" The mission commander asked busily as he made haste for the safety of his couch.
"Yes." The other astronaut told him. "It won't be so bad. At this velocity we'll probably just end up with a wrecked ship."
Infinitely better than two broken necks.
"Where will we put down?"
"Right next to that lampshade from space." Domin decided as he double checked his sextant.
Command Conference from hell for Technical Section; or so it seemed to Angelina Carter, or at least a continuation of the command conference from hell.
Between Helena Russell's blue flimsies detailing the conditions of Astronauts Domin and Donovan (critical, stable, respectively), the blazing orange flimsie listing the preliminary survey of the damage to the crashed Eagle (recommended course of action: scrap) and the results of the survey of the alien object (inconclusive), Ang sat with left side of her jaw resting in her left palm, staring at the screen of her laptop.
She was completely oblivious (or ignoring) the fact that she was sandwiched between two standing, point and shouting (at each other) Aussies. The one on her right was Gordon Cooper, vociferously defending his section against the man on her left; Alan Carter, her husband and also Chief of Recon, who was none too impressed by the Senior Flight Engineer's past and present efforts in Eagle maintenance.
It was her sincere belief that the only reason punches had not been thrown (yet) was that she was sitting in no man's land between the two highly agitated men.
"SEEMS TO ME, YOU'RE THE ONE WHO'S NOT ON HIS NELLIE.'" Carter drew back his bow, and aimed between the eyes. The wrapped bandage around his own, injured forehead made him look like the stereotypical, native American savage. He could walk just fine, and there was certainly nothing wrong with his mouth. "WE HAVE TO CRUSH ANOTHER SHIP, WHICH STRIKES ME AS FUNNY, CONSIDERING THAT THERE'S NOTHING IN THE LOG TO CORROBORATE A DOWNED REACTOR CORE."
"THANKS FOR DOING MY JOB FOR ME, ALAN." Coop' bit back. "YOU'RE TRUE BLUE. PERSONALLY, I FIND IT AMUSING THAT THE FLIGHT RECORDER DOES SHOW ANELECTRICAL BLACKOUT PRIOR TO THE WRECK. THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG WITH THE BLOODY, FUCKING BOOSTER; NEED I REMIND YOU, DOMIN DID TWO COURSECORRECTIONS OUT THERE USING THE SPS ENGINE.
"IT DID JUST FINE.
"SO, IF IT WALKS LIKE A DUCK THEN WHAT YOU HAVE IS A CASCADING SYSTEMS FAILURE."
"WELL...YOU KNOW HOW IT IS...OR MAYBE YOU DON'T." Carter disagreed. "TRY IT SOME TIME. THAT KIND OF ALTITUDE...NO ALIGNMENT...NO RETROFIRE. EAGLES DON'T DO ENERGY LANDINGS WELL. IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE ME, TAKE A LOOK OUT THE WINDOW AT THAT FREAKING HEAP OF METAL.
"NO MATTER HOW DESPICABLE A PERSON MIGHT BE, WE ALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO LAND."
"This is getting us nowhere," Koenig swiveled around his chair and stood, once again pacing the floor. "Technical section still does not have any answers,"
'Oh God,' Angelina thought, 'here it comes, another crucifixion of Technical Section.'
"...though not from a lack of resources and effort," Koenig continued while the Chief of Technical was somewhat relieved. At least someone saw they weren't being slackers.
"Ever since that object appeared," Koenig continued postulating and pacing, "unexplained mechanical and electrical failures have occurred within the base and within our Eagles." He stopped. "Victor, do you think it could be more than just coincidence?"
"I don't know, John," Bergman looked up pensively, relaxed as usual in his chair, "It did exhibit quite a large electromagnetic field and it did propel itself to a soft landing. However these seemed to be defensive type capabilities. It has done nothing to lead us to believe it is an aggressive object."
"A potent EM field as a defense screen," the Commander continued down the tangent.
"To keep it safe from outsiders?" Helena Russell offered.
"Or maybe to keep outsiders safe from it," Angelina speculated; anything to move the constant din and criticism away from the broken record of chastising Technical Section.
"Oh please." The never knowing when to shut up, Dr. Belgarian chanced. "Spare us those platitudes.
"It is terrible for my fing." He told John Koenig--as if the commander were dying to hear about the scientist's insides. "I beseech each, and every woman in the room to keep an open mind. Resist your natural tendencies."
Ten stories below, and one hundred meters away from the MMC Tower, hot energy forks dissipated into a discernible, milky view. The dish of one of the ground level microwave antennas gained reality as awareness returned to stranger from a stranger land than Earth. It was pure consciousness at first.
Then came cunning.
"Where did that come from?" Paul Morrow criticized Sandra Benes, though it would make her angrier than a bear with a sore head, or some such retaliatory state.
He was as radical as Lenin, but he still couldn't swallow that one. Suddenly, he didn't know her.
"Given our at best laughable success rate, it seems like a viable course of action." The data analyst contended in low, violent-nervous-breakdown mode. "The object is out there. Rather than waste our time, why not tow it into the base through the western garage. From there, we can ship it underground to the Experimental Laboratory."
Morrow loudly ahemmmmmed,' and caustically flipped his ink pen.
"You." He put Pierce Quenton on the spot. "If we did that, could you guarantee the safety of everyone on Alpha."
"Why not?" The security chief answered modestly.
Truman Starns wasn't so sure.
"No way." He reasoned definitively.
"I agree, Truman," Angelina was determined to state her mind. Sandra just proposed the ridiculous and now she would suggest the radical. "I disagree with Sandra. In fact, I suggest we tow the thing, if it will allow itself to be towed, to the other side of Plato, train a laser canon on it and blast it to pieces."
The suggestion sounded mad, crazy, but she was, in fact, calm in delivery and unwavering in demeanor.
"That is a mad idea." Belgarian adjudged as he waddled his pear shaped ass towards the bright, neon beverage dispenser. "The syllables of one who would look a gift horse in the tooth." Hungarian born, his mastery of western maxims, and analogues was uncontested.
"With all due respect due to an elder," Angelina smiled sweetly, lethally, then her face dropped into a scowl, "Shut up, Dr. Belgarian. No one here has asked for your opinion yet you continue to offer not constructive suggestions but veiled criticism and bitching that is just a waste of tympanic vibrations."
She turned her back on Belgarian, who had opened his mouth then promptly slammed it shut, after seeing that his boss, Sandra Benes, had absolutely no intention of standing up for him against Angelina Carter's verbal assault. In fact, as she looked down at her notes, ignoring Belgarian, a slightly bemused smirk crossed her face.
"Commander," she turned toward Koenig, "from the limited data we have of the thing, it is dangerous and does not attempt to prove otherwise. It is surrounded by an EM field that gets stronger, deadly, the closer you get to it. It has or had the capability of propelling itself and god only knows what effect it's protective field would have on our structural bulkheads if it landed closer than it did."
She sighed, then continued. "Curiosity is a cool thing, if we were still in Earth orbit, but since Breakaway, more often than not, curiosity has almost killed the cat. US." She paused after emphasis. "This is not the Starship Enterprise, Commander. This is not a 5 year mission. This is survival. Odds are, that thing is hostile. The only way I would waiver from my position is if that thing showed any sign of life; but it isn't even doing that.
"So, what's the point, Commander? What's the point of bringing that thing inside and endangering all of us when, so far, it has shown to be a hazardous object?"
"The point?" John Koenig thought aloud. "I'm not sure. From the very beginning, unlike Controller Morrow, you have all known where I stand. I consider this a few girders shy of an erector set, and ever shall proclaim it. If I had my way, we'd smelt the thing down--at the very least, we'd find a better place for it. The better place, of course, is in space.
"Away from Alpha."
"That judgment is not leavened with good science." Belgarian appealed as he twirled the Bromo-Seltzer in his mug of tomato juice. "Victor? Tell them."
Bergman bristled uncomfortably though not noticed by Belgarian. The professor believed association with Belgarian would be a distinct disadvantage to his position and he was probably right. He turned away slightly from Belgarian, though still relaxed in position.
"Well, caution should always be a prime factor in judgment and the Commander, Dr. Russell and Dr. Carter are certainly justified in voice concern." He stood up and stretched, moving slowly to the viewports and gazed at the object below. Bergman returned his attention to the lunar castaways gathered around the round table. "Survival is key but perhaps we are overlooking the fact that whatever that thing is, the mysterious power it has demonstrated for generating E&M fields could perhaps be studied, tapped or recreated, even, and used for our survival. We are always looking for a more efficient energy source or even," he paused, not liking the possibility but also aware that it was something that would appeal to the more practical and military minded in the room. "Or even a more efficient defensive weapon." He walked toward the table again. "You have to admit, John, if we could harness that field around the base, it would be a highly effective and almost impenetrable screen."
The sign read.
So, the intelligence concentrated again.
Better, but still total, scrambled nonsense.
Beneath its feet, the prehistoric sands of Plato crumbled slowly in mil after lifeless mil. On the opposite side of the squat, storage dome, a revolving, red light could be seen highlighting the terrain in strobing previews of perdition.
This was the eventual focus as the lexicon morphed into sensibility. Beneath the label, there was an arrow that pointed towards the high security fence. Opposite the portal, a row of brightly lit windows hove into view.
"Those symbols," Angelina Carter pointed with the laser pointer at the digital picture of the alien anomaly and the fuzzy shapes on the outside of the object. The hull of the mysterious object was covered with them. "Sandra, do you suppose it is a language, a communication of some sort?"
"Who knows." Benes responded, unflummoxed.
"Break the seal." Morrow put forward. "Then we'll know."
John Koenig thought that was so, so, so misadvised.
"We tried cross referencing the icons with our own philology." Emma Black said in a fragile voice, and handed out the shortest print out ever--computer at its worst. "There was nothing on Earth to compare it to."
"Ahhhhhhhhhh.'" Bergman felt the need to clarify as he poured more Vita seed from the tabletop urn. "That's because it's extraterrestrial." He tightened the lid of the thermal carafe. "Now, I'm as full of questions as the next person, but if we decide to continue our investigation we will need a new awareness, of things that are known--and a healthy respect for the things we don't know."
"Yes." Belgarian applauded with honeyed enthuse. "Precisely. Everything is within walking distance if you have time."
"Eh?" Pierce Quenton scratched his beard.
Angelina rolled her eyes, though Belgarian did not see the gesture. "But you can see that the symbols cover most of the object and they repeat themselves," she pulled them back from the land of bad metaphors. She laser pointed to the image on the wall. "It's the same communication? Message? Over and over again."
"Perhaps it is an introduction," Emma Black volunteered, studying the symbols with renewed interest.
"Repeating itself several times?"
"Or a warning," Emma answered mysteriously and thoughtfully.
"Warning." Ang tried on the word like it fit perfectly. "Against what?"
"Oh come, come, come," Belgarian objected. "There you go again presuming the worst." He leaned toward Ang, portly and smiling with a condescending demeanor. "It's obvious you have made up your mind that the object is hostile when the only evidence you have to that effect is circumstantial."
Angelina was readying to perform a verbal smack down on Belgarian when the privacy door slid open and Ouma rushed through, handing a long register tape printout to Doctor Russell. She took it, sliding it through long elegant fingers then stopped, at the same moment a look of surprise crossed her face.
"Are you sure?" she asked Ouma.
"Of course we're sure," the Computer Chief answered indignantly.
"What is it, Helena?" Koenig stopped pacing the floor.
"Something inside the object is showing signs of life." Russell reported with barely concealed amazement.
Even more epic, it was showing signs of life, and tearing down gates.
The intruder grabbed the charged, chain link, and brought it to the lunar surface with a shower of sparks. Alert, it spiraled in the darkness, looking fearfully for signs of detection. Stepping over the remains of a metal sign that warned DANGER HIGH VOLTAGE, the foil wrapped, bipedal mummy stepped under the high turret of the Main Mission tower. Seeing the inner brightness beyond the windows, it peered secretively at the dense, thick browed ectomorphs who were seated at a table inside. Behind them, a panel of oscillating squares were active in soundless signal.
"Have they decided what they're going to do yet?" Bruce Stanton Hodge, PhD conquistador of the superstring asked Jim Haines who was busy modifying a solid state receiver with a screwdriver.
"No." The senior researcher confessed. "Actually, I've given up on the idea of anyone making anything so bold as a decision. The way things are going, it will probably lay out there, and rot. You got that metric wrench?"
Hodge had the willies.
"Have you ever felt like you were being watched?" He allocated, and rubbed his elbows like a frozen sissy.
The spectator retreated before the other long hair could catch a glimpse of her.
As it moved with patient hugger mugger to the next transparency. Stooping to conquer, the being paused...horrified, and elated to see the dark, obsidian dagger that opportuned its way to her. Numb in the void, it retrieved the knife and in doing so, noticed the small, red, pen light that was only a hands breadth away.
The relic had no idea how to operate the manual override. In truth, it didn't even know that inset was a manual panel, but there were unfamiliar characters that bore further concentration.
There were six keys in total, and a circuit box.
Somewhat reluctantly, the visitor stowed the dagger beneath the metallic wrappings of its suit, and actuated the airlock pumps.
"I don't see anything," Bergman pronounced uneasily while gazing through the viewport down at the object below with Koenig's binoculars.
They were now in Main Mission and besides the brief indicator of life sign, there had been no other sensory data from the object.
"A fluke perhaps?" Sandra Benes evaluated and re-evaluated the sensors, shaking her head.
"I don't see how," Russell doubted from her position next to Bergman. The professor handed her the binoculars and she took a long hard look. Angelina remembered her open laptop on the conference table in the Commander's office and decided it would be more useful to her in Main Mission than in Koenig's empty office. She moved up the stairs, and through the open big doors past Koenig's desk and into the pit. The laptop screen was lit up like a Christmas tree with several small instant message windows 'pinging' her attention. She closed the laptop, temporarily shutting down the insistent calls of her people, placing it under her arm and turning toward Main Mission.
It was then that she noticed the figure of an obvious humanoid in an EVA suit which was totally alien. The face place obscured the being's face, if that really was a 'face'.
Instead of fright, Ang's first thought was 'Quenton's boys are slacking off.'
She stared at the stranger, locking or at least she was hoping it was locked, in her gaze as her hand slowly and inconspicuously reached the hazard button on her commlock. She depressed it with her ring finger.
Before opening a dialogue with the alien, Commander John Koenig had to forestall Quenton's urge to shoot on sight.
"Who are you?" He inquired, stepping into the dark, sunken floor of the office conference room.
The alien in silver suit and helmut with dark, frosted faceplate, stood immobile with hands slightly raised. Doing so had halted the aggressors, though, the stranger was confident they could be overcome despite the weapons of destruction. The intruder had assumed that the woman was the leader and was more than surprised that a male was not only permitted to be equal to the females but could actually dominate them.
It was this fact, more than anything else, which immobilized the alien.
The unknown being studied the female who now had a male beside her, in a protective stance by her side. The alien was amused and assessing her environment at the same time. All the females in the room appeared to be protected by the males. A female with strong features and platinum blonde hair stood behind the male who spoke to the alien.
The alien's hands raised ever so slowly to unlatch the helmut, then lifting away to revealing the rictus. It was the face of an angelic female. Her skin was a flawless peaches and cream complexion with angular yet soft bone structure. Her eyes were golden, sparkling under beautiful though plentiful cosmetics. Long jet black hair was sculpted into an elaborate array of braids intertwined with golden strands of ribbon. Her full, red lips pouted below a perfectly slender and feminine nose.
The only aspect of her beautiful face which was unnerving was the large, unblinking third eye painted on her forehead. Although it was apparently cosmetic, it sent a chill down Koenig's spine.
"My...naaaa," the woman paused thoughtfully, practicing the movement of her tongue inside her mouth, "name....I c-call....me...."
Her face, though clearly showing the struggle to comprehend and communicate, still remained beautiful and gentle.
"I call me," she continued, "Satet-Ta."
Then, before Koenig could react, she reached out and took the Commander's hand, smiling elegantly. "Peace."
"Peace." Bergman affirmed benevolently, but the commander still was not smiling though his grasp was confident.
The alien relinquished her handshake, and then took to smoothing her pallor, reinvigorating blood that had spent untold ages in cryogenic suspension. She was busy admiring the Gorski, dreck-filled shelves when Truman Starns arrived late, his lungs raging for air, and breaking his teeth like a Mongol.
Through it all, Paul Morrow stood unperturbed, arms folded over his chest.
"We have no need of your services, inspector Starns." Belgarian was cocky. "At this point you would serve only to transform this august, historic moment with acts of wanton cruelty."
"Stuff it." Starns retorted, reddened and humiliated by his overreaction.
"It's alright, Tru.'" Quenton arbitrated. "Tell your mates to stand down."
"How can we help you?" John Koenig asked the visitor, finally awkward. "Do you require medical attention?"
"Attention...." Satet-Ta veered narcotically away, drowsy and surreal.
"Perhaps you would like to rest." Helena Russell suggested, but the chief of staff was not being kind, accommodating, facilitating, or even pleasant. She was butch. Her voice sounded pinched, and the whole time she was waving the wand of the bio-scanner over the intruder's anatomical parts like she was searching for a second head, and hidden fangs.
Then the corridor hatch slid hydraulically away, and Sam Thackeray of Tactical, and Defense entered.
"Dr. Carter." He handed the sealed communication to Angelina. "The colonel would like you to contact him ASAP. Every alarm in the tower has been tripped, and he would like to know why there has been no follow-up action from Main Mission."
The Chief of Technical Operation's attention had been fixed on the alien. Already, most of the males in the room seem....mesmerized by Satet-Ta, especially Belgarian, who nearly leered at her. She turned, smiling at him with the innocence commingled with barely restrained sensuality of a 17 year old. She was forbidden fruit which was begging to be plucked. Even Paul Morrow was beginning to relax, taking on the expression of a man admiring a piece of fine art.
The only men in the room not affected were Koenig, Carter and Starns. Starns studied first Belgarian, then the others in the room. Carter studied the alien, not dreamily, but with the wariness one regards a death adder. Koenig remained stern and unreadable.
Angelina took the sealed communication from Thackeray, who grinning like an idiot at Satet-Ta; the alien lowered her gaze in a shy, slightly flirtatious glance. "Thank you, Sam," Angelina nodded for him to leave. "I will contact him."
She was already instant messaging Petrov on her commlock and noticed Thackeray still standing beside her, staring and grinning. "You can return to your post, Sam." She continued. He did not move. She continued to tap on the commlock keypad then pushed the send key.
"Sam?" She nudged verbally. "Wake up."
The Defense Specialist's eyes unglazed and he glance around the room for a split second, only slightly disoriented. Koenig saw the whole thing.
"Yeah," Thackeray responded awkwardly, nearly embarrassed, "right. I need to get back." He was getting a headache. Instead of walking by the alien again through the side entrance he opted to exit through Main Mission.
"TYPE-Y?" Bob Mathias asked incredulously. "What kind of rot is that? I've never heard of TYPE-Y blood."
Unless it was 'Y' for 'Lost In Yonkers.'
That made sense.
He was afraid to ask Nunez about the RH Factor. His ignorant answers.
"Maybe he needs to get back too." Carter chided, leaning against the lab table. They asked him to join the fact finding expedition, and look at the revelations they had unearthed. Russell had corn flakes for nurses--spaced out in more ways than one.
"I didn't mean it that way...." Nunez reconsidered. "What I meant was, 'why' are we doing blood work at all if there has been no injury.
"Why?" Mathias grinned like a petulant loon.' "Maybe because we like it. Perhaps that's how we learn things."
The physician shared his sarcastic piety, and rictus of disgust with Ang.'
"Would you like me to run it through the IDENTI-SCAN again?" Nunez capitulated, seeing as how he was spiritually outnumbered.
"I'm afraid our hearts are set on it." Mathias rebuked, even as he opened the door to the adjoining facility for him with his commlock. "You'll make one hell of an RN some day, Nunez."
"What were the results of the IDENTI-SCAN the first time?" Angelina asked Mathias since it was probably a waste of time to ask Nunez. Raul Nunez seemed to be infatuated with Satet-Ta; she batted her eyelashes at him as he applied the tourniquet before drawing blood and he responded by flirting shamelessly with her. She giggled, remarking how he was such a handsome male; Nunez ate it all up.
"Many of the proteins appear to be similar to human hemoglobin but others are completely foreign." Helena Russell responded before Mathias could answer. "We were able to uncover some components which appear to be very complex amino acids."
"So?" Ang inquired with raised eyebrow. "Layman's terms, Helena. What that does that mean?"
"Well," the physician continued, brushing away a strand of wayward hair from her face, "more complex amino acids imply a greater evolutionary time. In other words," she continued, reading the not quite comprehending expression on Ang's face, "Satet-Ta's race has been around for quite some time, much, much longer than homo sapiens."
"Why would that be important?" Angelina continued to press.
"I'm not sure that it is," Russell answered, holding up a vial of the alien's urine to the light before placing it in the spectrometer." Although, it could mean that the alien is highly evolved. Our other examinations show not so much physically but possibly mentally."
"I can't speak to the mental aspect." Mathias collaborated. "But the information acquired by our triage team shows a kind of nucleic acid that we can't isolate. Not that this makes her a bad person. Just ask our head nurse." He supposed. "It is peculiar, though. Her DNA is an economy meat market; everything, but the kitchen sink, and not a single phosphate is identifiable, and none of it is bound by hydrogen."
"She's from another land." Bergman answered the riddle. "Another world. What do we expect? A genome for all intelligent life?"
"Yes." Mathias could not have disagreed more. "It's interesting how every other form of life we've encountered has been similar to us in that respect, except for Ed Malcom. Analysis on other so-called ET's has revealed Adenine; Thymine; Guanine; and Cytosine. What happened afterwards may have been dodgy, but the basic building blocks were the same. You can build something absolutely freakish on common, domestic foundations.
"Not so, Satet-Ta." Mathias said, and downed a Bufferin dry. "Besides being a bewitching, obviously, celestial Helen Of Troy, she is also the funkiest mixture of water, and chemicals that I've ever seen, in Earth orbit, and not in Earth orbit.
"For my money, I have a difficult time seeing how she appears humanoid a'toll." He stated. "From the list I've seen, instead of being a buxom beauty, you would think she'd appear as a rain cloud. I saw Parker weigh her on the scale, so I know she has mass. It's just not a relative mass."
"Are you suggesting that her appearance is some sort of rouse?" Koenig wondered.
"No." Mathias replied. "We have tissue samples. I looked at them myself. She's there. I just don't know how. There also appeared to be signs of Barotrauma."
"English, Mathias." The commander smiled.
"Sorry...indications of increased pressure on the body."
"Well...." Bergman smoothed his hairline into crazed, standing spikes. "That sarcophagus she was in somehow has the ability to modify gravitational fields."
"Which worked too well, and steam rolled her?" Mathias presented. "I doubt it. The cells were stressed inward, and outward. It was as much an internal process as an external."
"It sounds like she is more of a gaseous being than solid," Ang suggested then shrugged following the silence. "Well, anything is possible. Why not?"
"But she is solid," Helena Russell objected. "Her tissue samples bear out this fact."
"Sure," Angelina continued, "but so is water under the right temperature and pressure conditions. Almost any matter can assume a gaseous, liquid or solid form, under the right atmospheric conditions. When you think about it, that is a powerful ability, to change form, possibly at will."
"It's cellular Roller Derby if you ask me." Mathias opined. "What I saw under that lens was Biology's answer to Agincourt, or Hedgely Moor. It's not reproduction by division--not that I expected any such pedestrian thing--it's reproduction by slaughter; brute force. Whatever survives will constitute 'the host.'"
"This is not pleasant to my ears, nor should it be to yours." Koenig grimaced. "Bob, I know this might sound comic bookish, but let's put all of our cards on the table now. Answer me this: can Satet-Ta change form the way we might put on a clean uniform?"
"Yeah." Carter was bemused. "Or someone else's' uniform."
"No." The physician testified, but not in a court of law. "I don't think so. That would be too refined a process. That would require not only a 'rewritten' code, it would mean brand new, replicated genes. That's not what's happening here. That's like comparing post-modern man to spear shuckers, and head hunters.
"My hat is off to her, in a sense...." Mathias relayed. "Her complete lusciousness, and supple endowments belie a body that must be in horrific pain most of the time." He shrugged. "I don't know. Given the choice--sexy-in-agony, or look like Yasko, I'd probably take what's behind Curtain Number Two."
"Then there's a rainbow on the sky?" Carter prompted. "We've got nothing to worry about, then?"
"So far, nothing we have uncovered points to danger from a medical standpoint," Helena Russell replied matter-of-factly, though she found herself not completely confident of her statement. "We will still, though, have several tissue samples yet to analyze."
Mathias told them that even a caveman can be a con artist, and wear Gucci shoes.
"The electronics for the relays check out, Yuri," Angelina Carter was still perplexed, mired in a report which summarized the conclusion of the security alarm checks: NTF or 'No Trouble Found.' "But computer recorded the breaches and did not raise the alarm."
Alan Carter, standing with arms crossed, smirked, a distraction from watching Sam Thackeray obsessively tapping his pen on his desk. They were in the Tactical and Defense Department, Yuri Petrov's domain, and the Russian colonel was not smiling.
"For once, Ouma is admitting that there might be a software glitch and he's been flogging the Geek Squad to get it fixed. Personally, I find the scale of this glitch, missing every alarm in the command tower, to be very odd. It was almost like all the alarms were triggered at once but that is impossible." She glanced over at Thackeray then whispered. "What's wrong with him?"
"Wrong?" Petrov glared at the technician in annoyance. "Nothing is wrong with him. Nothing that has not afflicted almost every male on this base: Satet-Ta. I would not be among that contingent of silliness."
Ang believed him.
"The alien has no effect on me. I do not see her as anything other than an alien and likely a menace. Experience has borne this fact time and again and yet we have a sizable number of men who are acting like giddy women." He nodded to Ang. "No offense intended, of course."
"Of course," Angelina acknowledged his attempt to exclude her from his somewhat dim view of females. "Regarding Satet-Ta, though, nothing has really come up to conclude that she is some sort of bug eyed monster under all that beauty. Yet, anyway. Still, Carla Wellingham is working on trying to decipher the inscriptions that were all over her ship...or whatever you want to call the thing that brought her here."
The word "tomb" came to mind but Angelina Carter did not share her thought.
Astronaut Gerik Domin was in the hot seat, in every way.
At least he could say that he survived kiss of death when his ship cracked up.
"Didn't think I'd see you again." Payload Specialist Randall Flavia was pleasantly surprised. They were on the fifth floor of the medical complex. This was the visitor's floor. This level boasted comfy' clamshell chairs. There was coffee, instead of surgery. There were food automats, and not death. The wide, bay vision ports made the lunar surface look abnormally picaresque...at least more appealing than a coffin. Glass partitions spoke of architectural conquest. The blue ridge, deep pile carpeting, and red border was a welcome relief from the sealed airlocks, and the trapped in the submarine drummelousness of deep space survivalism. On the other hand, his size ten boots were too small, and crunched his feet. "I heard that last abort landed you on the sick list."
Domin waxed funny, and waited for an overhead page ("Dr. Albrizio report to the pulmonary care unit....") before answering.
"Donovan got lucky." He assured Flavia as he repositioned his gym bag over his shoulder. "It doesn't matter if we both walked to the rescue vehicle after the crash. If you lose your ship, you go to ICU. I think it's Coop's revenge. You know. Like Montezuma. Only without the water. Anyway, Donovan was the MC so he got out quicker.
"Just the usual." Flavia seemed critical today. "Morrow faxed a memo to the hub today. All flights are grounded until further notice. No explanation as to why. Just the usual, disrespectful nonsense that we've come to expect from the MCR."
"What about Balfour?" Domin's brow furrowed.
"We're packing it in." The payload specialist updated him. "The search has been called off. Too many disasters in space, and the arrival of Doris, the Amazon has stalled the rotation."
"Amazon?" Domin questioned.
"You don't know, and you've been here the entire time?" Flavia was shocked. "That capsule...the one that orbited the Sea Of Serenity, and then landed? Well, it opened and out walked a bonified extraterrestrial.
"And from the rumors I've heard, she'd make Monica Belluci look like Abe Lincoln."
The older astronaut was appalled, and unbelieving.
Until he ran into her five minutes later on the escalator.
She nearly ran into him, rounding the corner quickly. His sudden appearance surprised her but Satet-Ta smiled sensually while studying Domin.
Domin thought he saw (imagined?) the third painted eye actually gaze at him, a chilling, penetrating stare.
"I am Satet-Ta," she introduced herself, her command of the language growing with each word. Strangely, her intonation had taken on a deep Texas accent, thanks to listening to and speaking with Jerry Parker, Dallas, Texas native. Domin thought the Texan accent coming from the alien from deep space to be both amusing and disturbing.
"You are not well?" Satet-Ta asked, full lips pouting with compassion. "Would you like me to help you back to bed?"
Suddenly Lenny from Steinbeck's _Of Mice And Men_, Domin was unhinged of jaw, and with broken neck, and couth. The clothing that the brunette alien wore was reminiscent of a flight suit, but infinitely more risqué. There were utility pockets in all of the right places, and in a few that would be deemed worthy of tacky, gimcrack jokes.
"Well?" The astronaut twilled. "Yes, I'm quite well. I never was sick."
He stopped short of delivering a farcical, Hitchhiker's Guide To Moonbase Alpha. The hows, and the whys of the LSRO were classified, and encoded. Even if the information was ate-up-stupid, and risible, it was for his eyes only, and not for her eye, or her forehead eye.
"You must be the alien." He discovered like a natural idiot, and grinned back like Howdy Doody.
"Who's he talking to?" Harness Bull Duncan noted as he studied the picture on the monitor.
"I don't know." Harness Bull Theyland crimped towards him within the confines of the security junction. "I do know the commander said he didn't want any unauthorized surveillances to be conducted. He and Professor Bergman felt it was a little too Orwellian for our people."
"Who's Orwell?" Duncan kept on snooping all the while.
"Some guy who works in Services Section, I think." Theyland wasn't sure. "Who you got there? Gerik Domin?"
"Yeah." Duncan replied, and spun up the focus. "And he's talking a mile a minute to Harvey the Rabbit. The conversation is between him, and four walls. Kind of strange, if you ask me."
"What are you guys doing?" the boom from Velma Hill's sudden appearance behind them made both Theyland and Duncan flinch. They could both be written up by the female shift leader. "You know that unauthorized surveillance is not permitted," she reminded them as she reached over Duncan's shoulder and switched cameras to the escalator up/down corridor view.
"Who's he talking to?" Hill repeated, wrinkling her brows in bewilderment.
"Not a single, solitary person." Theyland informed as he pulled up a chair so the supervisor could join them in conspicuous, hunkered consumption.
"You'd better bring up the number two, track lens, or you're going to lose him." Duncan cautioned Hill.
"I don't know what's worse." Theyland was conflicted. "Domin acting like a nutter, or the fact that five people passed him, and did not notice."
"You want me to turn the speakers on?" Duncan asked with excited secrecy.
"Yeah, why not?" Hill, with her right leg crossed ladylike over her left knee, leaned forward, intently studying the monitor.
The low static crackle whenever Domin stopped speaking was annoying.
"Do we have a work order in for the audio on camera M12?" Hill asked but then realized it was probably not a technical problem. The reception was clear and crisp whenever Domin spoke to no one in particular.
She had gleaned all the information she wanted from this one.
"I find the males of your race very attractive," Satet-Ta batted her long eyelashes at Domin as they rode up the escalator. She had already impinged deeply into Domin's personal space and the astronaut did not seem to mind this fact at all. "Did you know that with many races, the males are quite repulsive and they must charm the females with their mental prowess in order to mate?" She licked her already wet lips after emphasizing the word 'mate'. "I find physical attractiveness in males to be much more interesting."
"Do you have a....mate?" She asked boldly and suggestively, yet her voice retained an innocent quality.
"I am buff." Domin boasted vocally, totally forgetting his wife, and the devolution of his marriage in favor of strange wine. "Why did I say that?" Racked with shame, and scriptural guilt. "I question your choice of topics." He purveyed sanctimoniously, and then rounded the bend on his way to the eastbound travel tube."
"Hello." Mathias said suspiciously as he entered the private room, and removed the clip-board from a molded recess at the foot of the bed. "How are we feeling today? Splendid?"
"Doctor Mathias," Satet-Ta looked up, smiling with homecoming queen charm. "I feel well." She was dressed in Alpha issued blue pajamas and had been comfortably relaxed in bed. The thermo blanket hugged her petite curves with sensuous emphasis. The magazine, an old copy of Cosmopolitan, displayed Angelina Jolie with pouting lips and prominent "BillyBob" tatoo in a skin tight, hourglass forming dress. The teaser "WHAT MEN REALLY WANT IN BED" above "How To Make The Most of Your G-Spot" jumped off the page beside the come hither gaze of Jolie.
"I would like to speak with Commander Koenig as soon as possible," she smiled endearingly. "I must thank him for saving me from eternal and unjust damnation. I am very grateful and owe my life to you."
"Don't give it a second thought." Mathias oh heyyyyyyyyy'ed, and placed the speakers of the stethoscope in his left, and right ears. "This will only take a moment."
Satet-Ta sat upright, and lifted her pajama top, more like Bambi, The Stripper than an extraterrestrial.
"I won't need to go there." Mathias explained anatomically, rolling his eyes. "Unless you're heart is located in your pelvis."
It could be said that he had much on his plate. The dining table of life need not include her jugs.
She lowered her top, frowning.
Not lustful, the distant doctor placed the stethoscope's diaphragm beneath her left shoulder blade.
"I admire your morality, and ethics." Satet-Ta pouted, her surreal, blue eye shadow narrowed in a squint. "The Barbers on my world are hacks, and butchers."
"Well...." Mathias trailed modestly away (two minutes, and still no heartbeat). "You have to light a candle for the Barbers. It doesn't take much to be called a 'quack,' or to have a malpractice suit slapped on you. There used to be a faraway country called New York, and trust me, it happened all the time there."
And by the way, you're stone, cold dead, he thought, but remained silent.
"Really? Tell me, Dr. Mathias, on the planet New York did they torture heretics to death." Satet-Ta gave up the brunette, Barbi facade. Now, she was authentically hurt. "Our 'healers' are agents of the state. I've seen furnaces, doctor; frozen corpses left adrift--a charnel, icy ring around Ninth Susperia.
"How does that compare to the quacks of New York?"
"How is it that you understand our language?" Mathias wondered, giving up the examination.
"I don't." Satet-Ta took to flipping the pages of her rag magazine again. "It's a form of thought transference. My mind does it for me. The whole of my race is like that."
"A planet of mind readers?" The physician chided acerbically.
The gig was up, then. She knew for a fact that he didn't like her.
"Where did that come from?" Gerik Domin knelt in worship. "A Bonsai tree. IN MEDICAL CENTER." It was uncontestable love. "I used to have one. My home...on Earth. The farms on Alpha...there aren't any...."
He mind was blank.
"Do you like it? Does it please you?" Satet-Ta, in sexy silver 'flight suit', crotched down beside him as he admired and adored the tree, touching it gently.
"This is just too fucking weird," Thelma Hill, staring at Domin on the monitor, sat back in her chair while her reports, Theyland and Duncan snickered. There it was in living color. Astronaut Gerik Domin was kneeling on the floor, serenading a mop and bucket. Theyland let out a roar of laughter as Domin began caressing the handle of the mop.
"God," Hill made a note. "That's all we need is to have another astronaut go nutter. Who's around Medical?" She hit an internal comm switch to the dispatcher.
"Farrow and Henreid," the monotoned Beverly Nagin responded disinterestedly.
"Send them into Medical, Section M20," Hill continued. "We have a possible psyche case. Subject: Domin, Gerik. Notify Dr. Russell and have them report to her."
"You look wane." Theyland said of Duncan.
"I am." The elder harness bull confessed. "It breaks me heart...to end such a fantastic love affair with a bucket."
Darla Lomax was assigned the task of inspecting and evaluating the instrumentation panel of Satet-Ta's small ship, now moved into Hanger 2. It was an easy task since she had no clue about the function of even one of the (apparent) touch panels and screens. After each digital picture, she typed in a note "Function unknown. Refer to experimental lab for further analysis."
Oh yes. Jim Haines was going to bitch and moan. He would assault her with email nasty grams and eventually she would respond with a simple 'FO, Jim'. There would be a long delay as he would try to escalate the matter to his boss, Angelina Carter, who not only happened to be the wife of Darla's boss but also Darla's good friend as well. Ang, though, would somehow convince Jim that the analysis was probably best done by experimental and he would respond with a snotty email that his 'team' would take responsibility and make some veiled reference to the superior intellect of the experimental group. Alan Carter would casually mention, while half smirking and rolling his eyes, to Darla how telling Haines to 'FO' would not get her the 'team player of the year' award to which she would respond "I understand, Captain." This action would not be documented and done only so that Alan Carter could tell his wife Angelina Carter that he 'spoke' to Darla Lomax about her 'inappropriate comment'.
She was playing the entire scenario out in her mind when her elbow accidentally bumped into a recessed panel. Immediately behind her, a door to a small closet slid open, a sculpture of some sort clattering out onto the floor.
Darla picked up the sculpture and was immediately struck by its horror. On a table or rather altar, lay some sort of being which had nothing recognizable to any person or animal she had ever seen. However, it was apparent that it was in agony as its entrails were clearly on the outside of its body rather than safely inside. Behind the wretched alien stood a woman with an expression of glee and delight with arms outstretched.
Darla gasped, dropping the statue when she realized she recognized the woman.
"You." The astronaut brimmed with territorial animus as a malefactor stepped from the shadows.
"Me." Satet-Ta agreed, and moved center field.
"I thought you were in hospital quarantine." She could think of nothing to throw, other than her ratchet set, or maybe a boot.
"I can't stand confinement." The alien divulged, pointing towards her sarcophagus. "Ten thousand years on my back, in there, was quite enough."
Lomax hissed. "My first impression of you was that you enjoy being on your back."
They waged war, the astronaut hulking her wrench set at the alien who was now, definitively hostile. If she was not before, being showered with sockets dissolved the unspoken treaty. Lomax punched her square in the nose. Satet-Ta grabbed her unbleeding nostrils, and kicked the pugilist square in the gut. The astronaut gave up oxygen, and stumbled back towards the tool rack, fumbling for an electric drill.
"I'LL USE IT." She was adamant.
"I WILL STICK IT SO VERY FAR UP THERE, IT SHALL IMPEL YOUR TEETH." Satet-Ta swore, and continued her advance.
Flashes suddenly blazed before Lomax and for a split second, she thought her dropped digital camera was going off, recording exposures in rapid fire. Perhaps that was the case but when she opened her eyes, she saw blackness. She realized now, while still fumbling for a weapon she was at a completely disadvantage.
"YOU BLINDED ME, YOU BITCH!!" Darla Lomax screamed as her adversary grabbed for her searching wrist.
"Don't insult me," Satet-Ta whispered and with little effort, snapped the bones in Lomax's wrist like dry twigs. The astronaut howled in pain but with her other hand, found the handle of the axe. Despite her blindness, she swung it with accuracy, cleanly decapitating the alien.
Satet-Ta's head rolled away, her vocal chords temporarily silenced but her mouth still moving, lip-synching newly learned obscenities. The alien's headless body released Lomax and turn to retrieve its head. Lomax stumbled to the floor, gasping loudly with relief. When she realized the alien was not dead, she began frantically searching for her dropped comlock.
Through the Safeplex, window panel, Controller Zed Astrin looked like a character in a silent movie--rushing down the metal steps of the balcony, holding the rail with both hands for balance, looking for the unseen, film grain of a black, and white caboose.
"...one-one-one point two kilometers lunar...." A voice from Perimeter Station Six observed from his too late posting at the opposite end of the network.
"Commander Koenig to Main Mission." Sandra Benes started down the emergency call tree.
"IT MADE IT RIGHT THROUGH, AND NEVER A NATTER?" The flight director exclaimed at Ang,' but not to her. The budding insult was projected for a man with a funny, rotating desk.
"They came in under the radar." Manroot knew his excuse was lame. "All of those upgrades to the orbital drones, and in the meantime we got blindsided."
He shook his head. At twenty million tons, the approaching spacecraft was huge.
"Material composition of the craft is unknown," Angelina Carter reported without surprise or enthusiasm. "No known weapons detected in the initial scan," she continued as data continued to scroll down her screen.
Behind her, Commander Koenig bolted through the left archway followed by Doctor Russell. Both were out of uniform. He was dressed in worn, forest green nylon athletic pants and white T shirt with matching and equally worn zipped windbreaker. Koenig's T-shirt sported a faded Nike Emblem with the words "Just Do It" screen printed across the chest. She wore khaki colored "Lee" corduroys with a dark blue sweatshirt. Mathias had one just like it, though one size larger, bearing the emblem "AMA Space Medicine Convention, San Diego, CA, 1998."
Bergman was 5 seconds behind Koenig and Russell, still wearing his uniform but no less startled out of what he had hoped would be a mindless DVD episode or two of "Gunsmoke" then an early night.
Paul Morrow, in gym shorts and t-shirt, was already gleaming with perspiration as he bound into Main Mission through Koenig's privacy door, out of breath and energy after getting his ass kicked in a racquetball game with Yul Ostrog.
Last under the right archway was Captain Alan Carter. He was in uniform but it was apparent he had quickly dressed and was still awakening out of a deep but never restful slumber. If he had not been required to wait the 3 minutes for a nurse to come child sit Nicky, he would have appeared in the control center in his pajamas.
Carter squeezed his eyeballs, and still the data on the CapComm's console was the stuff of advanced, bedtime stories.
"It's using some sort of hybrid rocket propulsion." He guessed like a rube. "At least for now."
"Computer says ditto." Lars Manroot--one martyred soul--said, but kept his back turned, and his head low--unable to face the scorn, and the condemnation that his last statement would unleash. "There's a definite exothermic reaction taking place."
"...10,000 fps...." From Perimeter Station Nine.
"It's slowing down." Paul Morrow set Astrin's clipboard beneath the gooseneck lamp.
"Communications?" Koenig checked.
"Nothing," Sandra Benes offered. "No response." She shook her head. "I think we are being ignored, sir."
"I would not disagree, Commander," Morrow affirmed the negative assessment. Negative but perhaps realistic, given their experience.
"Doctor Russell." Mathias approached severely, knowing, and oblivious--all simultaneously--with a coiled register tape in his hand. "BIO-SCAN ALERT. Darla Lomax."
Personally, he felt that Satet-Ta was to blame, as impossible as it was to perceive.
Angelina quickly turned away from her screen, jaw drop and expression alarmed, toward Mathias. Helena Russell took the register tape and scanned it impartially.
"WELL?!?" Ang blurted, standing, "what's wrong?!"
Koenig glanced at her with mild admonishment. She slowly sat down, returning to her station and never taking her eyes off Russell.
"I don't know," Russell reassured convincingly. "It could be nothing. A Security team has been dispatched to check on her. ETA approximately 2 minutes."
"John." Victor Bergman gently nudged Koenig. "Does it seem to you that we're not the target. Look at that trajectory. Wherever that ship is going, it's thousands of kilometers in the downrange, and moving further away from Alpha with each passing second."
Koenig's jar relaxed somewhat as he and Bergman moved toward the viewports. Koenig studied the departing ship with his digital binoculars.
"Do you think it's coincidental?" He spoke in a low volume only Bergman could hear. "Or do you think there is a connection? Satet-Ta appears then a ship appears." Koenig had already decided but wanted the voice of reason to balance (or validate) his creeping paranoia.
"Looks to me like it's in a bank." Relieved CapComm Pierre Danielle stood vigil behind the Reconnaissance chief.
The senior pilot looked into electric yellow glare of his digital tracking monitor. Carter then produced a large calculator from the top drawer of his desk, and started to project angles. "It's in a bank, and slowing." He ascertained, and stood. "Kate, what you got as far as momentum?"
"Not a whole lot." Operative Kate Bullen responded, clicking her mouse, and changing tabs compulsively. "Right now, right now it looks like they're going to come to a dead stop over the Sea Of Serenity."
"That sounds familiar." Morrow said as he pushed away from his own workstation.
"Right." Bergman half listened. "Close, and yet so far."
"Ang'?" Koenig grew austere. "What were the precise coordinates where we lost Harry Balfour."
"Above the Sea of Serenity," Angelina validated Morrow's guess. "Less than one kilometer from the present position of the alien ship."
"Ang," Joe Erhlich interrupted from the Technical Station monitor. His face was a mask of tension and stress. "HVAC units in all areas are registering negative feedback."
"Lovely," the Technical Manger responded. They had just restored the lights in most areas and now this development. "Root cause? Estimated downtime?"
As if she didn't know already.
"Unknown," Erlich replied, fulfilling her expectation of a response. "We've dispatched units." He pause. "We may need a couple of guys from Maintenance to help."
"Understood," she nodded. "I'll be down in a bit." She cut the link.
"What's wrong?" Russell asked apprehensively.
"It's going to get cold in here soon," she educated the physician. Koenig, Bergman, Morrow, Benes and Carter seemed to have already understood the conversation. She simplified even more. "No heat."
"Ang,' forget it." The commander superceded as he zipped a windbreaker that bore a patch for STS-598, the space shuttle Pulsar. He wasn't on the mission; never wrote a single mission rule. Someone gave him the jacket, and he took it, which was wise because Moonbase Alpha could be a cold, cold place. "Let Garforth handle the air handler. I want you to accompany Alan on the reconnaissance mission. You're head of technical operations, and that ship out there is as advanced as anything we've seen. Take whoever you need with you."
"Right, sir," she replied irked but hiding it very well. She preferred to help fix the problem with the heat exchangers but Koenig was right. She was in the Technical hot seat now and bigger (though not necessarily better) things demanded her attention. "Jim Haines and Nol Blair." She continued, text messaging both men and hitting 'send' with her mouse.
"Captain, watch my lips carefully." Koenig emphasized to the overeager, and the egregious. "I don't want you to go any closer than the Dorsa Smirnov. When you reach the end of that terminator, I want you to stop, and park. Let your instruments do the rest."
"Yes sir." Carter was irked, and did not try to hide it. "And if their instruments prove to be deadlier than our instruments?"
"That's why I want Paul to accompany you." The commander revealed. "He'll be there to coordinate with the tower in case something happens."
"John, I think I'd like to go along on this one." The professor volunteered.
"Sorry, Victor." Koenig apologized. "We need you here to help play host to our 'guest.'"
Because Morrow would be largely ineffectual, he thought, but did not say. He would piss everyone off, and relish it. It could be argued, there is a place for amorality, and rebellion, but it's not in the face of the unknown.
"Such a catastrophe." Pierce Quenton castigated with resentful verve.
"Why did Dr. Russell send us here?" Harness Bull Judge wondered dimly. The room where Astronaut Darla Lomax experienced her 'BIO-SCAN Incident' was empty.
"That's a thought." The security chief looked around the compartment. "Dunk,' what are you into, boy?"
"I thought I knew everything about this base." Harness Bull Duncan declared as he rejoined the team. "I must have missed the shelf where they keep the S-shaped commlocks."
He presented his find to the others.
Not only was the communicator warped, and twisted, it was also singed black.
"Lomax's commlock," Judge observed, noting the charred image of Darla Lomax's ID picture on the side of the burnt and twisted communication device. "But where is Lomax?"
He looked around, left, and right around. The three shown their maglites in a 360 degree direction in the x-y plane. Judge had an icy feeling of intuition gnawing in his stomach. He slowly looked up in the z direction.
"This compartment." Duncan seemed clouded. "It feels funny...can't be arsed.'"
Quenton kept busy, searching the closet now with his penlight.
"Show me a room on Alpha that can be." The chief was forthright.
"No." The harness bull objected. "This is different. I don't know it."
"This isn't your area." Partner Judge pointed out. "Neurologically speaking, there is nothing here to trigger the synapses...." Sticking a thumb to his forehead. "The old brain. You have no frame of reference since this section is not general to your schedule."
"It ain't that." Dunk' clutched at his garrison belt--not for the holstered laser, but for courage. "It's like death, and corporation."
Judge thought it a terrible time to talk about business, and commerce.
Bob Mathias thought the death part germaine.
"Been here all the while has she?" He asked Nurse Parker of Satet-Ta.
The alien was still relaxing, this time with a copy of _The Podium_.
"Yeah, happy as a clam," Parker replied, grinning like an idiot. Satet-Ta glanced up and smiled charmingly, casting a wink at the head nurse, then returned to her browsing. She completely ignored Dr. Mathias. "Nice girl," Jerry Parker went on. "She's been telling me about some of her past and the persecution she's endured just for being different." He stroked his beard, thoughtfully.
"The universe is a cruel place." He concluded, as the alien tossed back her long brunette locks, but still apparently captivated by her magazine.
"That's weird." Mathias recognized his fat headedness. "I never would have thought that."
"Jerry," Dot Sullivan, MD interrupted his gaze on the stranger, "Operating Theater A needs sanitization." She handed a ream of register paper to Mathias.
"NOW." Sullivan iterated and the chief nurse jumped, startled, mumbled at the physician then quickly left. "Still nothing on the biochemical reading on our guest," Sullivan continued. "Nothing that makes sense, anyway. Why is she still here? She could have been discharged hours ago. Why is the Commander keeping her here and since when are we a babysitting service for anyone other than our own babies?" She paused, glanced at the engrossed alien then back at Mathias. "I noticed she hasn't had the same effect on you as a lot of the guys on this base. What's the matter, Bob," she teased lightly, thinking of Yasko Nugami, "not your type? Too attractive for you?"
"Maybe it's because I've sawed more men in half than you have." The surgeon told her. "When you've seen what I've seen, the Pocahontas, and John Smith schtick starts to seem awfully naive. You know...all of the seven dwarfs rolled into one, but mostly Dopey." Actually, he would take his guilty, desperate measures bonking of Yasko over the alien, and all of the pleasures of the Kama Sutra, any time, any day. She wasn't that good--at least not as good as she thought she was. He thumbed through the charts again in rapid succession, hoping to find something more incriminating than Satet-Ta's bad taste in periodicals. "This aberrant protein bonding." He pointed his finger at the graph. "Anything new on that?"
"It's linked to the genome which determines eye color," Sullivan answered, not alarmed. "It is not stable, ie, her eye color changes. I don't see anything threatening in that, though. It is similar to melanin changes in hair, except we just go from color to gray; but we can't go back." She frowned, reminded of the fact that if it wasn't for the use of artificial colors, she would be mostly 'salt' of a salt and pepper hair style.
"Well, call it a bad first impression." Mathias acquiesced. "But I think she's a bitch." He said cheerfully while waving to Satet-Ta through the isolation glass. "I want Nunez to put her blood work through the BioStat for a complete DNA breakdown. I want detail. Actually, I want to be able to see the whole book of Genesis in those slides."
"Already done," she reported, still not alarmed. "There is nothing more than what you have in your hands. However, we are putting the samples through the electro microscope for further analysis but, of course, that will take time."
"Doctor." Anne Delline strolled towards them with a bun in her hair, and the grimace of an inferior product. "Controller Morrow is still wanting to know when he can interview the alien."
"What's up with that?" Mathias questioned, vexed. "He's never been so keen to shake someone down before."
Sullivan shrugged neutrally. "I don't thing he's influenced by the woman's charms. It's hard to say what is motivating Paul."
Well, she knew what motivated Paul Morrow but refused to vocalize her thoughts.
"Tell him as soon as the commander, and the professor are finished, then he can have the leftovers." Mathias deemed, disgusted.
Delline nodded as she stepped out of the office, bundling her lab coat tight around her neck.
"Have you noticed its getting a little brisk in here?" Sullivan slipped on her silver thermal jacket and glanced at the thermostat. The temperature reading was 58 degrees Fahrenheit. She repeatedly pressed the 'increase' button below the digital readout, only to result in the blower activating and gushing cold air.
"Technical is already aware of the problem," Helena Russell stepped into the office area. "No need to put in a work order; they're working on it." She pulled her commlock from her belt, frowning and looking old. "Chief Quenton, have you located Darla Lomax?"
She fully expected the report to be another false alarm. Ouma's group's recent software upgrade to the medical wristband software had proven to be premature with the computer techs working overtime to address the too many software bugs and glitches.
"I'd have to say 'no.'" The security director's face looked bloated, and carnival-like, crushed within the confines of the micromonitor. "We haven't even seen someone, who saw someone, who saw Darla Lomax. Are you sure about that alarm? I think we need to have Huang look at those detectors again. There have been several cases in the past few months where they were better at telling time than they were med-alerts.
"Your look cold." Quenton noted. "Funny, I'm not."
"I'm still concerned about Astronaut Lomax," Russell replied blandly and coolly, ignoring Quenton's not funny remark. "Every other time the person in question has been located. Don't you find it odd that she can't be found?"
"Well done. Again, the answer is 'no.' Alpha is over two kilometers long, front to back." The chief posited excuses. "Not counting the underground facilities, and that vast, parallel universe they call a Vehicle Assembly Building. It would be easy to lose someone in a compound this size, and my team is able to secure maybe two percent of it. Blimey, that little cottage you're in is five stories high. Maybe she doesn't want to be located. Maybe she's seeking a higher power, or she's fed up. I don't know. You'll just have to rest easy, comfortable in the knowledge that even though we're mindless, extraneous red shirts, every available unit is searching for her.
"And once we've been reunited, we're all going to ring her neck for pulling a stunt like this."
"Very well," the physician acknowledged without emotion, "please notify me when you find her. I am concerned. " She smiled woodenly then signed off.
"Another problem with the med-alerts?" Sullivan raised her eyebrows. "The last one that went off was for Ed Malcom. He was found sleeping behind one of the PCB CNC drill machines down in manufacturing. Nothing wrong with him other than a case of being a lazy ass and there's nothing we can do for that."
"I know," Russell acknowledged. "But still, I am worried. Usually the person in question is found not to be in dire health. It's been more of an inconvenience than anything and believe me, Chief Quenton and I are both tracking our man hours of wasted resources pursuing dead ends; Ben Ouma will most certainly hear about it during the next general command conference.
"Darla Lomax, though, has not been found." Russell concluded, staring at Satet-Ta through the one way observation window. The alien appeared to be asleep, her old copy of "Glamour" dropped from her limp hand onto the floor.
"Carter, just follow the mission plan." John Koenig argued the rule from a blinking, unoccupied station in the lunar cartography backroom. They were on the first floor of the tower. Also in attendance was Victor Bergman, and Adi El Baz who knew the Moon better than his own upper lip. The room was a bicycle built for two, so elbow, to elbow was a luxurious way of putting it. "Put the pictures on the disc, and then make like a tree and leave."
"Very good." El Baz nodded approvingly.
"Copy." Carter responded vaguely over the link.
Eagle Four's box-like shadow moved over the quotable, magnificent desolation--a sequence of craters, and an artistically sensible rille that bordered the Sea Of Serenity .
"Check solar elevation for imaging experiment." Paul Morrow conferred with Ang' who was holding down the physics fort in the passenger module.
"Eighteen degrees north latitude." Carter announced through the open hatch of the command module. "Whoever they are, they've come to a dead stop."
"Imagining experiment already in progress," Angelina shouted back to the Deputy Controller from her swivel chair at the monitoring station. She concealed her annoyance. The Technical Manager had done this exercise hundreds, perhaps now over a thousand times.
She knew the correct solar elevation range for transmitting and receiving EM signals. She also knew how to read elevation. Ang was mildly ticked off with Koenig for sending Morrow out on Recon. Carter and she could have handled it without him, she thought with disgust, watching Paul trying to look important and productive in the co-pilot's couch in the command module.
"Well, they're not expending a lot of energy to maintain their position," she continued, acknowledging Alan's observation. "In fact," she eyed the data then compared it to a reference Excel table, "they should be crashing to the surface succumbing to gravity right now."
She glance out the command module viewport, a small piece of it from her angle. "Obviously, they aren't. No, I don't know why; not enough data." She added the last statement to hopefully circumvent an interrogation by Morrow. The controller's reflection in the rendezvous window was mean, lurid and denigrating. Framed by a metric etched triangle, he opened his mouth to cap on her.
"You're head of the applied tech' division, and you've never, ever heard of such a thing as 'negative mass.'" He acted like the Verdeschi clan was buck toothed, and inbred. "I suppose I will be equally disappointed when you don't verify cosmic inflation, or Wilkinson's Mircrowave Anisotropy?
"Pre-scientific literacy...that's what this is." He commiserated with Carter while unbuckling his harness. He rolled back in his couch, and made for the lab cubicle. "Maybe I should handle this procedure." He sealed his fate, hands on put-down hips, snotty and oblivious to the death that awaited him.
"Any tic of the clock." Carter remarked jovially as he remained seated.
"Negative mass?" Angelina shook her head though did not bother to look up at the approaching controller. "Just who are you trying to impress, Paul?" Her eyes continued to scan the incoming and the reference data between spreadsheets. "Negative mass is an antiquated term, used by geeks who think they know a thing or two about physics. There is no such thing as 'negative mass'. Even antimatter has true physical, POSITIVE mass," she lectured, still not visually acknowledging him. "And if you are trying to trump me with a relativity card and tell me about tachyons, technically tachyons are imaginary mass, not negative mass....which in itself has also been disregarded since imaginary mass does not have physical properties either."
"If I were you, I'd quit while ahead and concentrate on something that you do know about, rather than dashing obnoxiously with sword drawn into territory you know very little about," she concluded, smiling sweetly and finally glancing as she verbally castrated him.
"'K?" she finished in blonde bimbo Marilyn Monroe sex kitten voice.
She returned to her data just as she noticed the spike in the real time graph. The ensuing long silence, broken only by insistent and hurried tapping of keys on the keyboard and clicking of mouse resulted in a concerned query from the pilot section.
The surprise, electronic clarion that shrieked from the processor in front of him made the pilot eat his heart.
"MASTER ALARM OFF." He punched the glowing, orange tag on the panel to silence the noise.
"What of it?" A consterned Morrow returned to his couch.
"Alan. Something funky is going on with that ship," Ang called from the passenger module.
"I'm checking it out now." Carter responded with both eyes on sensor swipe. "We're passing through some sort of spray.
She generated another Excel sheet graph as Carter rolled back the pilot's couch and tore the register tape from the print out. "There was a huge spike of EMF reading and it is continuing to rise. Cause unknown but it correlates to an increase in power."
"Here's the downlink information." He handed Ang' the chit, already hating the fact that they had not worn environment suits on this little foray. Bad form, mate. Ill-conceived, you might say and a life jacket demonstration. "She's taking a bath in W and Z bosons." Meaning the ship itself.
"Queer." Morrow's brow tensed. "As a result of the alien vessel's neutral field projectors?"
"What is this? An episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation?" Ang, incredulous, smarted off at Morrow as she studied the print out. She figured he fancied himself as "Number One".
Then the ligature of Zeus wrapped itself around Eagle Four.
Someone did the table cloth trick, only instead of plates, it was Alan Carter, and Paul Morrow. Ang' was sensibly seated, and impervious to the toss against the bulkhead.
"WELL, BACK TO ANALOGUE CONTROL." The astronaut lifted his ironic, busted torso from the floor of the cabin, and made for the CDR's couch with hair in his red face.
"DID A METEOR HIT US?" Morrow cried out.
"Negative." Carter cinched his harness as Ang' disappeared behind the closing doors of the command module airlock.
She assumed both Carter and Morrow were okay after their sudden merging with the cabin floor and their subsequent fast track trip back to the command module. She briefly sighted the EVA suit stashed in the corner then her eyes bugged out and her jaw dropped as the EMF data spiked off the chart. She reached for the internal communication link to Carter and Morrow.
"What are the possibilities?" Morrow looked like Rodin's The Thinker.
"Well...." Carter scratched his chin, and held onto the yoke for dear life. "Judging by the hot emissions were getting now, I gander-"
The alien ship exploded.
Even the cat couldn't stand it.
"OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH,' lost on the Lady ElginnnnnnnnnnnnnnnNNNN.'" Ed Malcom cleared his larynx. He stood, peering out the window of his dump of a quarters at the fire flies that floated upwards in the distance. "Sleeping to wake no moRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRE.' Numbered with three hundred who failed to reach the shoooOOOOOORE.'"
His tongue was his treasure.
"I admit that he has an ear for song." Controller Zed Astrin tossed the D&C report. "But his comedy sincerely sucks. Put him in nut, and bolt until Ang' Carter can figure out what to do with him."
Pete Garforth nodded, and walked sprightly out of the dark, freezing right archway, just passing Koenig, and Bergman.
"Status report on Eagle Four?" The commander stood behind Adisa Talic, zippening his parka against Old Man Space Winter.
"They're not responding to the comm' check." Astrin replied with one hand on the upper keyboard.
"Computer reports Eagle Four's main power is offline and they are now on auxiliary power." Benjamin Ouma's desk swiveled around, faster than usual. His sense of urgency was barely palatable.
In the next instant, Pierre Danielle's capcomm station lit up like an overdecorated Christmas Tree.
"Status?!" Koenig turned to the Assistant Recon Chief, his intuition in overdrive and his stomach turning. He already knew.
"Nothing from Eagle Four." Danielle informed as he held his headset tightly. "It's Zemaitis aboard the LRV. She says they're over Taurus-Littrow now." Ruefulness escaped him. "There isn't much left of the alien spacecraft."
"Hopefully, Carter's ship fared better." Bergman wished.
Ouma dwelled on computer's negative gospel.
Angelina Carter woke up to the realization of two facts. First, she was laying on what she thought was the floor of the passenger cabin of Eagle 4, but in fact turned out to be the ceiling of Eagle 4. Second, her lower left arm hurt.. a lot. She surmised it was broken but infinitely grateful she was still in pieces inside the Eagle rather than in pieces outside the Eagle, all over the lunar surface.
"Nice flying, Alan." Morrow paused in his evacuation preparations to compliment Carter, who was about to administer smelling salt. "I especially enjoyed the crash."
The astronaut peered down at her over the neck dam of an environment suit. Around her there was a teeming jungle of bent copper; grapevines of high voltage wiring; and dangling floor grates.
"Anytime." The pilot winked at Ang,' relieved. "My fave' was watching you get hurled between two, adamantine bulkheads. Sort of like a pinball machine. If Sandra could have seen you scream....
"Blossom, are you done having that near death experience?" He directed his attention solely at her.
"Yeah," she sat up cautiously, picking up then tossing without closely inspecting a sloppy pile of flimsies with her right hand. "Ugh," she winced, sucking in a sharp breath, "my arm." Ang cradled her swollen and throbbing lower left arm. "It wouldn't surprise me if it was broken. Great, just great."
The instrument panel and analysis equipment were now scrap metal.
"It's a testament of your skill that we are in one piece and not in a dead heap of little pieces," she went on, looking around the lowered lights of the upside down cabin and negating Morrow's criticism. "That, and someone wants us around for awhile longer," she believed.
"Where are we? Were you able to contact Main Mission or are communications a piece of crap now as well?"
"Where is here." The astronaut bunched together the beta cloth suit, and handed it to her. "We'd better cobble together a cast for that arm." He looked old, and uncertain--rare, but not unheard of for him. Metal, and melamine plastic showered from unseen nozzles in the floor. "In Holman's breech, just west of Serenititus. That alien contact is gone. I mean, boom, literally, blown to pieces. Intentionally, or extraterrestrial engine building not at its finest."
Morrow stopped putting on gloves, and beamed considerate from the piles of wreckage. "Any returns from that optical series?" He asked Ang,' dusting off a helmut for Carter to give her.
"None," she answered, wincing since the endorphins were really beginning to wear off. "Other than the spike in EMF, I didn't see anything unusual, though, you can bet that we were able to send all information to Ouma's baby. Jimmy Haines and his boys will be all over it and if something is there, they'll find it."
"What about us? Would it be too much to assume that Main Mission knows what's happening and we're going to be rescued soon?"
"The tower was monitoring us." Carter wrapped her arm, and then trimmed the gauze with medical scissors from the kit. "They won't risk sending another Eagle--which would be a nice, fat target--so my guess is it will be Trish' Zemaitis in an LRV.
"Pretend you're hoisting a tankard." He coached Ang.' "We need that elbow to bend for the next stage in your rescue."
Morrow closed the safety ring, the interior light made his bruised, mustached face heavenly visible in the suit's visor.
"I hope you're just checking out the system." Carter said with unbelief, and orthodox intelligence.
"Just a walk on the porch." The controller explained as he unsealed the service module. "Don't worry. I left you an air pocket."
In his backpack, the 02 bottles were up, and running.
"I should of hung a sign." The astronaut reflected. "MENTALLY CHALLENGED? PLEASE STAY INSIDE. I can't believe you're going out there. After what happened to that other tub, I think we have more than enough evidence of a malevolent agency at work.
"They'll eat you for breakfast."
"Paul, did you suffer a bump on the head or what?" Angelina objected angrily. If only she had some morphine or even some ibuprofen. "You can't go out there. Alan's right. It would be akin to suicide!"
"We're capsized in a crevasse." Morrow contested. "You said so yourself. The lunar tracking system will skip right over us. Someone needs to go out, and waive a white sheet--or fashion the word 'HELP' out of a pile of rocks. Or scream bloody murder into the mic.'
"Either way, I don't think the recovery team will be offering curbside service.
"If we stay here, we expire." He opened the hatch, and stepped into it.
"Wrong," Ang yelled back. "Alpha already knows our situation and they are sending help. Don't you remember the basic rule of survival? When you are in a crash, you are suppose to stay put. Don't be a hero and don't..."
The hatch slid shut, cutting her off.
BREAKFAST WITH PAUL MORROW
"Males," the woman in the sexy and ultra-provocative silver flight suit, leaned casually on an outcropping of lunar ledge. "Why is it that in every race I have encountered, the males believe themselves to be superior and wise and yet each and every time their arrogance proves to be the complete opposite?
"Hmmm?" she smiled. The fact that she was there was startling enough. The fact that she was without an EVA suit on the lunar surface was even more unsettling to the controller.
"If you're here...." Morrow gesticulated with his right hand.
Then they were both here, and this was not a dream.
She did find the moustache bestial sexy.
"YOU THINK THERE WERE MANY MORE ON EARTH LIKE HIM?" Carter espoused as he prepared for his own moonwalk. "I SWEAR, IF I HAD THE BRAINS OF A CUT SNAKE, I'D LEAVE HIM TO THE DOGS. THIS AIN'T ABOUT RESCUE. DON'T BELIEVE THAT BALDERDASH FOR A MINUTE. THIS IS ABOUT SAVING FACE WITH ASTRIN, WINTERS, GRANTHAM, ET AL.
"DANIELLE HAD A POSITIVE FIX ON US, BUT THE KINGDOM OF MORROW WOULD BE ALL IN DISSENSION IF THEY WERE TO FIND OUT HIS BAD TRIG' GOT US INTO THIS MESS.
"NOW HE HAS TO DEMONSTRATE THE COURAGE OF HIS CONVICTION.
"AND WHAT BETTER WAY THAN TO 'SAVE' YOU, AND ME FROM THE PALL OF EVIL.
"PASS ME THE ROCKET GUN, PUMPKIN." He groaned, nodding towards the upside down laser rifle in the topsy turvey equipment bay.
"I won't tell you to be careful because you already know that," she handed him to weapon with her one good hand. Her other hand, along with the rest of her, was now in an environment suit. They would be taking no chances. She looked like an amputee with the armless sleeve swinging around but the weight of the chest pack on her splinted arm gave her continuous aching misery.
"It's guys like him who manage to get everyone killed," she griped. "Actually, it's because of guys like him, that we are out here in the first place....no longer in earth orbit. Here it is, the middle of December and the only major stress in my life should be planning my menu for invited and uninvited relatives alike for Christmas dinner. Instead, I'm HERE. Crashed and upside down on this ruined rock going God only knows where, IF I am 'fortunate' enough to survive another day to that destination.
"If there is a destination, that is."
It sucked. Another wave of pain from her fractured arm hit her, almost pushing her over the edge into tears. Almost.
"Cuff that jerk in the head when you find him," Angelina finished with disgust through the speaker in his suit, locking his faceplate into the down position.
"Well...." Morrow said, and he was cool. "I won't stop to wonder how this is possible." He was pompous, overbearing. A geek. "Suffice it to say, I'm taking you into custody, pending further questioning." He showed her his laser. "You will accompany me back to the ship where you will await transport back to detention.
"You will walk ahead of me so that I can protect myself from sneak attack.
"Under our laws, you are accorded rights, and privileges, but it is not loaden on me to explain these statutes while we are in a hostile--potentially life threatening--fox hole situation.
"Certainly, you can protest this action if you so choose, but I would ask you to do so while moving because defiance is born of stillness.
"Do you understand what I'm telling you?" He cocked a suspicious eye at her. "Is there any particular paragraph, or sentence you would like repeated?"
"You are boring." Satet-Ta decided, amused by his autocratic stance. "Tell me, is your female the self sacrificing type? Devoting her life to taking care of charity cases? Or is she too undesirable such that she cannot attract another man?" She studied Morrow. "No, I give the female the benefit of the doubt and assume it is the former."
"You are stupid as well," the alien continued. "Here I am, appearing out of nowhere without a space suit and you are not even interested in how it is possible. Instead, you attempt to project 'courage' by reciting your laws, which do not apply to me.
"You have no courage."
Maybe. Maybe not. Sticks, and stones. You can beat me, but you can't eat me, Morrow thought.
"We have no visual sighting as of yet." Astronaut Landrum told a swollen John Koenig, one phonetic at a time. He was transferred to Alpha late on the DAY OF THE BOMB. He wore Bordeaux worse than any other francophone on the Moon, and for all of his deep space struggles, he still murdered the king's English.
The lunar rescue vehicle sped low over the prehistoric swamps of rock like an overblown hockey puck.
"They should be staring Eagle Four right in the face." Controller Astrin told the commander.
"There's an inordinately high EMF pulse located in Eagle Four's projected crash position," Bergman studied the register tape printout, hastily ripped from Ouma's swivel desk console. "It is less than what would be expected for a fully functioning and fully powered Eagle but it certainly would coincide with a ship running on, say, emergency batteries."
"It is obviously not there," Sandra Benes spoke with worry and increased agitation. She wrung her hands stressfully and nervously together.
"Perhaps not visually," Bergman added with a mix of sympathy and mystery.
"Zemaitis...." Koenig broke in over the link. "How are we looking on that rendezvous with Carter's ship?"
No one noticed Satet-Ta--fluorescent in her space invader flight suit--as she walked down the balcony stairs with a clouded expression on her face. She was standing behind Harness Bull Judge for a full, five minutes before the brutal Adonis in a garrison belt realized she was there.
"THERE'S NOTHING FOR IT." Trish Zemaitis fumed. "Something is interfering with our antennae array. The target was there, but then it drifted off of the scope again."
Landrum scratched his beard approvingly.
"How is that possible?" Koenig criticized. "One minute Eagle Four is on the scope, and then it's not?"
"Video images are only are a result of EMF fluctuations in camera receptors," Bergman elaborated. "Just because our cameras are not picking it up does not mean the object is not out there. The area is highly magnetized with the large concentration of iron ores. It is completely possible that sensor light transmissions are being distorted by interference EMF."
"What are you doing here? You are not authorized to be here," Harness Bull Judge turned on Satet-Ta. She was either dazed or seem engrossed then became startled. She slowly smiled at the man.
"Me?" Satet-Ta's sexuality was mesmerizing. "I just wanted to help you, if I could. I'm so sorry about the crash. I feel absolutely terrible and would really, really like to help in any way I can."
Koenig was staring at her suspiciously when the voice of Zemaitis broke in over the Main Mission speakers.
"JESUS CHRIST, Mich, EVASIVE ACTION!!!" She yelled into the open link, followed by the harried whine of the rescue craft's engines.
"ZEMAITIS!" Koenig was over Astrin's shoulder, "Zemaitis! What happened?! Answer me!!"
"We're ok, Commander," Trish answered out of breath. She gave a sweating Landrum a glance of relief. "Eagle 4. We found it. It seemed to come out of nowhere and we almost crashed right into the passenger module."
"We're setting down beside it now."
"I'm so relieved." Satet-Ta vibed.
"This is carpe deum...I know...." Landrum was insecure. "We must seize the day."
"Go on." Zemaitis said, squeezing gently on the thruster control--not really wanting to know, but the other astronaut was going to tell her anyway.
"I don't expect you to abort the landing." Her co-pilot qualified. "However you should know, we're picking up another contact."
"We're so close to that debris field, I can't really see how our equipment can detect anything." Zemaitis answered.
"Neither can I." Landrum concurred.
"Bigger than a bread box." He judged. "Non-metallic."
"He's not out there." The astronaut was weary. "There's some sort of fog rolling around. Probably fallout from the explosion. I walked fifteen meters into it--far enough to know that I would be hopelessly lost if I continued, so I cancelled my errand of mercy.
"How's the arm?"
"It hurts but that's a good sign." She grimaced. The endorphins had long, long worn off. "It's a good sign that I still have it. I'll live."
"What's the good word? Have you heard anything, or are we still missing, and presumed dead?"
"Nothing from Alpha but I did manage to add some more juice to the emergency locator beacon," she shrugged. "I was able to reroute power from the cells for the forward and aft thrusters. You won't be needing those anymore."
"Commander." Pierre Danielle ripped away the copy, and rushed towards Koenig with it. "I've just received word from the LRV. They've discovered something on the outskirts of the blast wave. A body...a human body, floating in space."
"A body?" Koenig paused. "What about Eagle 4?"
"Zemaitis here," the astronaut broke in over the link. "We are attempting to dock with Eagle 4."
Carter waited with his hand on the handle.
"They're out there." He waited patiently.
Overhead, in the ceiling that was really a floor, the foundry, ironwork clangs could be heard. Beside Ang,' one of the powerless emergency lights came on as Eagle Four was hooked to the other ship's electrical support. Carter looked like a sailor in a downed submarine in the glow of the red bulbs. Footsteps...carefully ascending the chute, stepping over bent pipes, and the tangle of solid state relays.
"Hot stuff, I'll need your help with this." The astronaut said as he began loosening bolts in the floor grate, clockwise with a spanner. "Just use your good arm, and hold that other end up as best you can."
"Right." Carter acknowledged, and perspired inside his helmut as he returned the tool to the utility pouch in his sleeve. "Step away, now. Careful."
He released the panel which, in turn, came crashing to the floor.
A maglite beam was now visible through the ovate airlock window. Carter urged them on with a gloved thumb.
"HELP HAS ARRIVED." Landrum told them triumphantly as he descended the ladder with a medical kit over his shoulder.
"Are you both alright?" Trish' Zemaitis asked from her position on the LRV side of the airlock.
"Of course they're alright." Landrum assured. "We're here now. Problem solved."
"Not quite," Ang remarked dryly. Here was astronaut machismo and ego at its finest. "We still have one missing."
Landrum threw her a conflicted then confused glance.
"Sorry you feel that way, Mich.'" Carter poured them a hot cup of reality. "Truth is, it's not over. You, and me are taking a walk outside. You got data acquisition?" He yelled up to Zemaitis.
"In this marsh? Not really." The LRVC replied. "Maybe a little. Why?"
Landrum helped Ang' gently into the lowered, airlift basket.
"Morrow is MIA." Carter explained. "If we can isolate his commlock frequency, we can bring him back in. He could not have gotten far."
"Morrow?" Zemaitis' voice came ineffectually down the pipe. "What's a 'Morrow?'"
"PAUL MORROW." The reconnaissance chief blurted out, frustrated. "He went out to do mortal combat with those buggers who blew up the alien ship."
"Chief, I don't know what you're talking about, but be advised: the commander expects us to EVAC this wreck, pronto. We also have to pick up a John Doe that's floating around two kilometers above the terminator line."
"Allow me to offer a suggestion." Landrum told Carter, and then Ang,' and then Zemaitis. "We separate from Eagle Four, and scan the ground from orbit. In doing so, we can complete our mission while questing for the elusive 'Morrow?'"
He liked this compromise. It was almost Arthurian.
"What John Doe?" Carter raged. He didn't like it. "Let me talk to the commander."
"We're getting a lot of interference," Ang replied with headset already on and adjusting controls on the communications panel. "I've increased the gain but still too much interference." She switched on the speakers to emphasize her point. The cabin filled with the crackle and popping of static.
Communications were so awful as to be useless.
"Trish, any word on Darla?" Ang turned to Zemaitus, still concerned.
"Darla?" the female astronaut's brow wrinkled. Her face contorted in an effort. "Darla. Now why is that name familiar?"
"Darla Lomax," Ang retorted, now equally confused, then continued, incensed. "You've only known her for 10 years. You've only been in the same friggen department for years, since 1998, and last month you both suffered through night duty with Will Harms."
"Yeah, Darla," Trish rubbed her temples. "Yeah...how could I forget last month?" She smirked. It was hell at the time but the kind of experience one could 'laugh about' in the future. Again, she was confused. "What about her? She's off duty. Probably sound asleep, which I'd like to be."
"Who's Darla?" Landrum interrupted.
Angelina watched Carter's face instantly turn bright red, his brow furrowing and his eye's change to steel gray blue. She knew the expression too well. He was about to explode and Ang felt pity for Landrum, intervening and changing the subject quickly, "What about the John Doe? When did it appear and shouldn't we retrieve before returning?"
He had no idea.
"I take it you were asked to leave the debriefing." Bob Mathias educed. At times like this, he wished he had a pipe to smoke.
"YOU THINK I'M WHACKED." Carter pre-empted. "NUTTIER THAN A JAR OF PLANTERS PEANUTS. AM I ON IT?"
"Well...." The physician answered honestly. "Yes. Then again, I formed that opinion a long, long time ago. Sorry, Alan."
"DID YOU EVER STOP TO THINK THAT LOMAX, AND MORROW WERE REAL, AND THAT YOUR AWARENESS HAS BEEN SUPRESSED BY SOME CRAFTY, ALIEN DESIGN?"
"Yeah." Mathias admitted. "It has also occurred to me that you need to be on psycho-pharmaceuticals. Hey, who's to say which is right, or which is an illusion.
"Incidentally, you may want to wait before you cast me in the role of a Quisling." He was speaking to Ang' this time. "After all, we have an astronaut laying on the slab right now who none of us have ever heard of.
"Including you, my friend." He was adamant. "Neither of you seem to recall who Harrison Balfour was, but there he was, floating in space in one of our EVA suits."
"Computer does not have a record of him either," Angelina announced, flipping the green flimsie with one arm while balancing it on her metal casted arm. The sling was a pain in the neck, literally, as she adjusted the velcro.
"Chuck Farendahl and Barbie Conway don't remember him either, even though they searched for him," she went on. "But, whatever is going on, one detail was overlooked."
She turned as Koenig and Russell stepped inside.
"Ah, Commander, Doctor, you are just in time," Angelina inserted the CD into Mathias's CD ROM drive.
"What have you got?" Koenig stopped, crossing arms over chest, eager but not surprised.
Ang turned up the speakers. The recording of Carter and another male voice, the routine conversation of two astronauts in reconnaissance of a strange object emanated from the speakers.
"One is Alan," Russell stated the obvious. "The other is....Harry Balfour?" She scratched her head, trying to remember.
"Who else?" Ang shrugged. "Alan would never go out there alone. It is not standard procedure...and the audio, the conversation between them is in preparation of a space walk."
"The question is," Koenig leaned on the edge of the desk. "Why can't we remember Balfour?"
"Maybe I should keep my mouth shut." Mathias eyed Russell. "Then again, maybe I shouldn't. What if our guest is using this in an effort to somehow 'unhinge' us." He cocked his thumb at Carter. "If so, she's succeeding admirably."
"Mathias, you can throw away the hat, and cane." The commander said, irritated. "Are you suggesting that Satet-Ta is staging this somehow? By allowing us to find the body of an alphan who never existed? Sound bytes that were never recorded?"
Carter was vehement.
"Sir, twelve hours of elapsed mission time are missing. We've confirmed docking, and undocking on Eagle One." The astronaut insisted. "We hooked arms with something out there. Even if Balfour is a put-up job."
He didn't want to admit it, but he was starting to think that maybe Morrow, and Lomax had no substance. More, and more he was beginning to feel that he--Alan Carter of the FUBAR family Carters--really had always been the deputy commander, unsolicited. Everyone else was sure, including Ang.'
Mathias stood, and handed the folder to Koenig.
"His passing was sincere enough." The physician explained. "Whether he was alive, or a mental smoke screen."
"Cause of death?" Koenig thumbed through the report.
"Explosive decompression, for one." Mathias explained as he activated the office monitor with his commlock. "A knife wound to the heart, for another. One caused by this:"
On the screen, a photograph of a sharply cleaved dagger appeared.
"What the...." Angelina trailed off, gaping at the photograph. "Have you had a chance to check out it's origin?"
Mathias raised the lights.
"On my own, no, but Phil Geist was bang on. The material is the product of hydrogen fusion--maybe even matter from the inner parts of a star.
"Or possibly it was made in China." This was possible. "There's no way to be certain, but the geology lab was very interested in keeping the object. That's where it is now." He told Koenig. "One other thing: it's very close in composition to the stellar material that the Moon is floating through now, mostly Xenon."
"So...." Carter supposed. "Home is just around the bend."
The commander nodded.
"If it belongs to Satet-Ta." He stipulated. "That doesn't gel, though." Folding his arms, and gesticulating with his right index finger, and thumb. "She was sealed inside that gravity sarcophagus...in some sort of molecular hibernation. If so, then there's no way that she was in any condition to knife someone."
"There's just no end to the alibis for her." Mathias doubted. "Always innocent as snow, always people dieing, and/or disappearing from all kith, and ken...never to be recalled."
"There is another possibility, John." Russell deposited her coffee cup on the other physician's desk. "We may have another intruder on Alpha; one we don't know about."
What could be said of that?
"Commander," Ang interjected, retrieving the CD from the drive "those 'sound bytes' as you put it are authentic, produced by actual human voices. I had Dick Southey in audio check it out. One is Alan's voice. The other is unknown. The strange part is that Dick managed to find other recordings, LOTS of recordings, of this unknown person. There are even other voices which identify him as 'Harry' but no one, no one seems to remember who he is. There is even a Joyce Balfour but she doesn't have a clue who he is either.
"Before I came here, I talked to Joyce in her quarters." She frowned, succumbing to the fatigue and sitting in a moduform chair. "It was bizarre. Even though she is listed as the only resident, there was guy paraphernalia everywhere, including the bathroom."
"Maybe she has a boyfriend." Russell offered, though she wasn't confident of her suggestion.
"I thought so too," Ang went on. She could dig it. She remembered the time before she moved in with Alan Carter and the separate but interchangeable quarters. "But when I asked her about it, her face just dropped. She became very upset and started shrieking at me. I apologized and asked her if I could do anything for her and she told me to get out."
"I did leave but," she glanced at Mathias then Russell, "you might want to check on her."
"Commander, I hope you don't think me a cruel, bloke." Carter hoped. "But why don't we escort her highness to the nearest airlock?"
"Because it's unphilisophical, and immoral?" Koenig had often read. "On the other hand, I do believe it's time for an interview." He brandished his commlock. "Victor."
"Yes, John?" The professor looked crammed and bloated in the micromonitor.
"What have we been able to learn from our examination of that transport that Satet-Ta arrived in?"
"Absolutely nothing." Bergman revealed. "She claims that it has an interior, but to the layman, and the unknowing, it's just a glut of warping fields. Our tools, and our personnel just bounce right off it."
"So we are back to square one," Ang announced gloomily. Her headache, the one she woke up with after a brief but needed nap, was not letting up. Something on Mathias' desk caught her eye. It was a simple thing.
Nicky had fashioned a paper airplane after painting green, purple and red stripes on it. Mathias thought it was marvelous and claimed that it could go airborne. Darla Lomax had taught him the design when she babysat Nicky the week before.
"Darla!" Ang exclaimed, remembering a tidbit, picking up the paper airplane, "Darla taught Nicky how to make this, just last week! I saw her!"
Strange, though, she couldn't remember her face; just a vague figure of a woman and a female voice, but the image of the woman in her memory was blurred and ghostly. Angelina groaned, wincing, trying to remember and fighting an increasingly pounding headache.
Russell beamed maternally, wondering if it was time for Xanax, or maybe Haloperidol, or perchance a Boiler Maker.
For herself, not Ang.'
"Yes." Bergman was disingenuous. "Yes, I see it. It looks very esteemed on you."
"What's with the moustache?" Koenig asked the alien bluntly.
The decision was made to interrogate her in the MCR Cantina where they could scythe her secrets in the presence of numerous snack machines, half moon tables, and gawking harness bulls. Pierce Quenton was the least intrusive. The chief was leaning quietly against the door frame with a cup of café in his hand. His holstered laser hung prominently on his left hip. Truman Starns sat at one of the other tables, obscured by shadows. He looked like a sentinel from some forgotten limbo.
"It's part of the healing process." Satet-Ta explicated, and she did not like the house blend. "Part of our molecular makeup. An unfortunate side effect to pain is that we become hirsute."
Bodily functions as Abe Lincoln.
The commander was annoyed, and he sounded like it.
"We fancy a look at your ship." The professor was more egalitarian. "It's typical of us...as human beings, I mean. Homo sapiens are insatiably curious."
"No." Satet-Ta disagreed. "From what I've seen of you, homo sapiens are dubious, and untrusting."
Harness Bull Theyland wished he could grow handle bars like that.
"We apologize for being hesitant." Bergman said, but in his speech there was no trace of the word 'sorry.'
"What planet are you from?" Koenig unleashed his list. "How did you find us?"
"There are many forms of life that do not hail from this place." The alien was disorientating. "This dead sea that you refer to as 'space.' I come from the stratum of Ninth Susperia. A belt far beyond the ordinary, unprosaic realm of the physical."
"You're 'astral' beings." The professor found it hard to swallow. Her injuries were proof of a common fragility.
"Hardly." Satet-Ta seemed coldly amused. "Experience exists in different degrees, other angles. I come from a higher sphere."
"A higher sphere?" Helena Russell echoed from her place adjacent to Koenig. "Would that explain the absence of life readings according to our monitors? And the reason you did not trigger the alarms allowing you to walk through the Command tower straight into the commander's office?"
Satet-Ta smiled graciously yet condescendingly. "That is correct, doctor and quite astute." Despite the bearded lady look, Satet-Ta was still quite striking. "The molecular make up of my species is not carbon based but a near approximation of your element phosphorus. From the atomic level, your instruments are not able to register the EM activity of my body since it occurs at a different phase from carbon based organisms.
"Is that correct, professor?" She glanced at Bergman for edification.
Professor Bergman nodded. "That is a likely explanation."
Koenig glanced at Russell. He did not remember reading this information in Mathias' report.
"How did you find us?" Koenig repeated, returning his focus to the alien. "What were the circumstances pertaining to your," he paused, "escape? imprisonment?"
"Quite the vile premise you've constructed for me, commander." Satet-Ta sampled the cafe again to make sure it was as awful as she thought it was the first time. "So, you perceive me as an inmate, and an anarchist? Is that the term?"
"No." The professor shook his head, hands on hips.
Satet-Ta clicked one side of her tongue, and then the other.
"Cosmic disaster is what brought me here." She disclosed. "My culture was devoured by the Onid."
Clearly, she did not want Koenig to understand it.
"Ovid?" The reddening commander mispronounced. "Your civilization was eradicated with Greek, epic poetry?"
"How very amusing." The alien jeered. "Mine wasn't, but I'm sure that yours was. From your minds, I'm pulling images of a pompous little boulder called 'Earth.'"
"Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.'" Bergman relaxed his posture. "Tip you what--for the time being, maybe it would be best to refrain from using your pneumonic abilities."
"Here." She pointed at the vision port. "You have meteor showers; Quasars; and Rapture Corridors. Those are your instruments of cleansing."
"Where I come from, it is the Onid that achieves balance.
"A giant, Gila Monster ate your world?" Koenig asked with growing incredulity.
"A simpleton's view of it," Satet-Ta's nose wrinkled. At the same time, the whiskers from her 1970's sideburns began to drop in clumps. She rubbed her jaw, literally shredding her facial hair. "But if that is how you must understand it...."
She had enough of the coffee. Instead, she sampled the Vita seed which Bergman pushed toward her. She tasted, nodding approvingly. "Thank you, professor," she went on warmly. "You have been very kind and hospitable to an alien."
"You would have been welcome on my world," she continued gazing intently at the Professor, ignoring the others in the room. "My people would have respected your mentality, your propensity for extending the hand of friendship rather than open fire on the unarmed."
She raised her glass in a faux toast. "To your health, professor."
"We do not intend to be hostile or unfriendly," Doctor Russell mitigated.
"Of course you don't," the alien woman answered, unconvinced.
"Unfortunately, the reality is that our experience with other life forms has been such that most species we have encountered have not been friendly and quite deadly to us," Helena Russell sat back in her moduform chair, never breaking the stare with Satet-Ta.
"Assume the worst and hope for the best, then," the other woman summarized. "A wise stance."
"Well...." Koenig chuckled egotistically. "On that note, we were 'hoping' for a look at the interior of your ship.
"But first, can we offer you anything?" He was sweet. "A shave?"
He supposed that one had to come from a higher sphere, where devils eat whole civilizations--Godzilla genocides--in order to believe that someone was telling the truth because he, John Koenig, was so far unconvinced.
"I would be proud, and honored to show you my vessel." Satet-Ta said, the walrus style having vanished.
John Koenig entered his quarters, and closed the door behind him.
Passing the tall, Zapata mural that was stenciled to the east wall, he placed his commlock in the charger, and entered the bedroom. The rubber tree plants sat on false stands on the end tables, and in an unconvincing tableau on the dinette table. When he emerged five minutes later, he was wearing only a Haines tee-shirt, and carrying a portable, DVD player.
Placing it on the coffee table, he reviewed the footage. The record of a shipwreck that was a real as Harrison Balfour.
Which wasn't saying much.
Then a glint from beneath the sofa caught his eye.
"Victor." Alan Carter confided from the CDR's couch of Eagle Seven. "
"Been over all that...." A consumed Bergman made notes, and said quiet, agnostic prayers. "
"You know, I'm not against trying new things." The astronaut attested. They were doing good. At least this time, everyone was wearing a hard suit. "I think it must be a need I have--to actually see the blarney thing that we're docked to."
Every instrument on the ship said they had captured nothing.
"Well...." The professor was leery too. "Maybe you should embrace science." Wise words, but ultimately, do as I say, not as I do.
"Yeah." Carter still lacked something. "Say, Buttercup." He called to Ang.' "In all of physical science, has there ever been a Tesla, or an Einstein, or a Hawking who proposed the theory of an invisible spacecraft?"
"Not that I'm aware of," Angelina replied neutrally. She had been observing the alien, who sat comfortably in the seat in front of her. Angelina remained seated with her laptop perched on her thighs. She would not be getting up and moving about the cabin until all motion ceased. Her experience in being thrown about the passenger module the last time she was aboard an Eagle was still fresh in her mind.
So far, she was not finding anything either based on the EM field data from the Eagle's receivers.
"Invisibility suggests some sort of cloak." The professor did know. "That's not what we're dealing with. According to Satet-Ta, the vessel was constructed from gravitational fields. It's there...we're just not seeing it."
Ang peeled back the safety harness once the landing gear on the ship touched luna firma. She smiled as she passed at the alien who was casually flipping through yet another fashion magazine; this one was an old version of Vogue with a missing cover.
"I'm still not detecting anything." She announced as she stepped into the Command module. "How do we know we are 'docked' to anything, much less connected correctly to any sort of hatch?"
Carter grinned ruefully.
"Is everyone ready." The voluptuous alien entered the command module. "Why are you waiting? Are you afraid?"
"No," Ang turned toward the alien, a bit surprised at her sudden appearance. "Fear is not the word. Unsure. According to our instrumentation, we are docked to nothing. So what happens next, Satet-Ta?
"What do you recommend?" The Technical Manager smiled sweetly. Like every other female on Alpha, she did not like Satet-Ta. However, her reason for dislike was not the reason of jealousy held by the majority of females. Angelina Carter's intuition told her the alien had evil designs; doubting her intuition had rarely served her in the past.
Beneath the sofa, there was clean tile.
On his elbows now, Koenig craned his head--his appraisal becoming more terse as he noticed the object that lay near the left, rear leg. Reaching carefully into the rectangular shadows, he removed the razored, black flint. It was as perfect a knife as tools never carved.
"I recommend closing our visors." Carter demonstrated with his own, tinted faceplate. "Double check your gauges. Knowledge is gonzo,' but having your heart, and lungs sucked into space is a real downer."
"You're so clever." Satet-Ta patronized with her to-die-for bod.' "Is he always this versatile?" She asked Ang.'
"Extremely," Ang replied. "That's why I married him."
"Marriage?" Satet-Ta paused. "An exclusive mate? Very primitive concept."
"It works for us," the Technical Manager retorted. "Exclusive for life."
"Until either he," the alien continued, "or you.... die."
Angelina did not care for her tone and narrowed her eyes. "That's the way it works," she answered stonily.
"You won't need life support." The alien told them all. "The Dolmen has a breathable atmosphere. It was designed to be impenetrable so it could serve as a shelter against the Onid."
"It worked real fine." Carter commented. "I mean, being as how everyone was eaten except for you."
The sarcasm was intentional.
"Without a doubt, it must have been quite a traumatic experience," Bergman mediated, though he was not fully convinced of her story. He did not, though, wish to see an escalation of the tension between the two Carters and Satet-Ta possibly causing the ire of the alien and her refusal to show them anything. Knowledge was the ultimate power and in this case, so far, they had very little knowledge.
"Yes, it was," Satet-Ta lowered her eyes, soothed by the Professor's display of compassion. "Billions of people consumed by such a terrible force and only a handful surviving. It was, still is, my desire to encounter another of my people but I know of course the odds are monumentally against that ever happening.
"I apologize if it seems I act superior and overly critical of your people," she went on. "I am...upset...that I will never see my people again. Seeing your people and how they are so cohesive with each other reminds me that I will never have that again."
Bergman gave the woman a paternal pat on the shoulder. Angelina Carter suppressed her very strong desire to start clapping over the performance.
The pilot opened the door, and they stepped into the light.
The Main Mission Control tower stood as a bulwark in the ice of space. Twin vision ports glowed red on the final two floors.
In the end, it was a half baked ultimatum. Some equations could not be solved. Some equations you would not want to solve.
Helena Russell walked routinely down the wynding, beaucolic hallway of Residence Building-A. Mightily disappointed, and not knowing why, she paused to acknowledge that the name plate on the mail box was gone. A blank white adhesive glared back at her, and she could taste her own gall. Embarrassed, she looked around to make sure that no one had apprehended her in the act of dumb, and busy. Put them together, and you have 'dizzy.' The other apartments were right as law, and the surrounding names of Severance, Judge, and Belicec found no fault.
Opening the door, she stepped inside.
The quarters were dark; the kitchenette unused; the bedroom, unmastered.
Bringing up the mood sensor lights, she saw nothing, but unalive real estate. Resting on the coffee table next to the unrumpled, foam sofa, there was an enigmatic, portable DVD player.
Like misplacing an automobile, it was difficult to grasp this situation, and she didn't know why.
Bergman was the last to enter Satet-Ta's diaphanous spacecraft.
Before exiting the passenger module of Eagle Seven, he glanced at the round, magnifying lens that sat on the shelf of the support station. Startled, and confused, the eyes behind his visor blinked, and turned to verify that John Koenig was indeed standing behind him.
"I'm gone, Victor." The commander communicated morbidly. "Remember. The Phaedra."
"John?" The professor whispered, seeing but not believing. Behind Koenig, life-sized stone statues of Greek goddesses Artemis and Aphrodite appeared then disappeared. "I don't understand. What is the connection?"
He was interlocuting with two rows of Zero-G couches. Koenig faded as quickly, insensibly.
A daymare on the threshold of progress.
"Professor!" Angelina's voice cut through Bergman's mental fog. He turned and squinted at the brilliant light from the door of the passenger module. "Come here, professor! You won't believe it!"
The light was blinding and he squinted, trying to adjust to the whiteness. It was Angelina but her voice was somehow different. He felt her take his hand, but...
They stepped through the portal and the light subsided.
"Isn't it incredible, professor?" Angelina exclaimed in excitement. Beside her, Alan Carter assented mildly but Bergman noticed the vocal change immediately.
His eyes adjusted to the interior, still feeling Ang's small hand and hearing Alan's and her small chattering voices. He swallowed instinctively when he looked down. Angelina and Alan Carter were beside him; as they were about 30 years ago.
"It never requires disinfecting." Satet-Ta entered the Dolmen like vodka chugging harridan in a Beverly Hills mansion. "Not to mention, the total absence of physical control...which is good.
"Even if they were tangible, you would never comprehend them." She told Ang' specifically. "Being the apes that you truly are. Tree swinging. I can see it in you. It's reflected in your cerebellums."
"You can pucker up, and kiss this ape's ass." Carter retorted, not sounding angry at all, but bizarre considering the adult voice, and surly attitude that was emanating from a child's body. "And his cerebellum too."
"Something the matter, professor?" The alien inquired benignly.
Bergman had gone pale.
"Things are not as they should be," Bergman explained, trying to comprehend the weirdness of the Carters as children, now with adult voices. It might have been less disconcerting if the vocals matched the bodies. "For example, right now, I see Captain and Doctor Carter as children, though, I know it is not real. It must be some sort of psychic hallucination."
He did not mention his earlier vision of Koenig. Somehow, he felt it was not connected and it was information he should not share with the alien.
"A very astute observation." Satet-Ta put on her didactic hat. "Allow me to explain...or try to. The Dolmen is a psychokinetic projection that emanates from my own mind. Your 'Rene Descartes' said it aptly enough: ergo ego sum. The ship is here because I desire it, quite factually, and ultimately. It is a partnership that began with the rhythmic, tonical, typically firing neurons of my brain. Continuity exists because...I am. It is materialism, and spirituality in intimate, inseparable collusion."
"Dig that." Carter praised, removing his helmut because he was cocky enough to believe he didn't need it, and irreverent enough to express bile for the mistress of the house. "What happens if, for some inexplicable reason, you 'uncollude.''"
The alien smiled.
"Then you would find yourselves unclothed, and unprotected in the near vacuum of space, and you would die a barren, meaningless death on the lunar terrain. You would expire...amongst the stars...."
Unexcited, the pilot simply rolled his eyes at Ang.'
"But back to the initial topic." Satet-Ta smoothed her long, billowing, babealicious' locks. "Because you are limited, you can glom nothing finer than ignorance itself. Therefore, the concentration of psychic energy that you are now experiencing will inevitably effect the primitive fluids--the unrefined petroleum mush that coagulates in your insufficient heads.
"Then, your receivers become impaired...logic becomes phenomenon, and you begin to hallucinate."
"I am not hallucinating," Ang retorted neutrally. "I am not seeing things."
"Your higher concentration of estrogen gives you a certain latitude of resistance," Satet-Ta replied, as if she was missing the obvious answer. "From my observations, the females of your species are superior, stronger against psychic aberrations."
Ang was convinced her explanation was a lie but changed the subject. "But what may be a hallucination is my perception of you," she went on. "One moment, you are pleasant, accommodating and even grateful. The next, you appear to be an extraterrestrial bitch suffering from extreme PMS, hateful and nasty."
She smiled. "What gives, Satet-Ta? What's the problem?"
I've got stress, the alien said, and asked if they would like to see the garden.
"Loathsome animal." Ed Malcom's guest spat, and gave Caesar the boot.
The odor was getting better.
"I get this...." The glazed, carbo-loaded technician had been promised.
"And I'm the man." His visitor concurred, opening the tin of Black Pearl, Chocolate Chips. Beneath the soon-to-be empty wrappers, on the second tier, he could expect Vosges Haut. Nummy.'
For a solid hour, he ate. All around him were the criminal vestiges of his consumption. Every table, every counter, every square inch of tiled floor was home to tri-level, silver banquet trays; descending. The darkened light panels were home to such adages of gross aggrandizement as: INGEST, NOW. Then there was: SWALLOW, AND FORGET IT. The best was the post-Aesop: SCARF IT DOWN, HINDENBERG, YOU DESERVE IT.
In every corner there were the five gallon rewards of brainwashing. Huge drums filled with Neapolitan Ice Cream; and butterscotch syrup; and chopped nuts for the man who obviously had none. Three foot Oompaloompas' marched up, and down his quarters, singing their denigrating jig in deep base vibe.
"But...." Malcom questioned before noticing that his desire for the hypoglycemic ally sweet soft drink 'Mountain Dew'--which was dialysis in a two liter bottle--had been quaffed. "My independence as a right...."
"I'm the man." His guest reiterated, and then produced enough potato chips to bury Ireland.
From his own cronies.'
Velma Hill was the last, calling him 'honey,' and saying 'it will be alright' like he was some melon head, and dammit,' he knew he was right. People don't just part, and divide, and dissipate like steam over an open fire.
"Professor Bergman?" Pierce Quenton chimed in on the astro-physicist's commlock. "Can I have a word with you, please."
"Yes, Chief Quenton?" Bergman responded from a seated position along a perfectly constructed rock wall in Satet-Ta's garden. The babbling brook running beside it gave no indication that it was artificial; no humming of a pump or telltale plumbing. It all seemed quite real, too real, as if it was a hallucination.
Maybe it was, which would come as no surprise to the professor. Angelina and Alan Carter still appeared to be children with adult voices. In this garden area, an observer would note the quaintness of two children consumed by nature. In reality, they were trying to determine the source of the power for this ship of illusion. Satet-Ta, now on the cheerful side of her mood pendulum, had expressed concern about his continued hallucination and told him she would be 'right back' and had 'just the fix' for his problem.
He fancied she'd bring back a Martini, with a green olive or two.
The chief paused, his graying beard sizzled in the sauce of embarrassment.
"Sir...." Quenton continued to recognize military authority, even as he collapsed from the roof down. "I know this will come off as an aggro...there's a supporter, or two to substantiate it. Mostly not...."
Here was sense, completely deconstructed.
"What's the problem, Pierce?" He wondered why the Chief of Security was calling him at Koenig's number.
"I know...." Quenton acted like he couldn't face his own commlock. "I sound like I've had too much bank holiday, but I have to report...this...." His features turned to concrete. "The commander of Moonbase Alpha has been assassinated. Or maybe he's just missing. Either way, I'm having a devil of a time finding people who remember that he ever existed.
"I wanted to alert you...before Colonel Petrov...." He trailed into dark, shark infested waters of speculation. "Times like this can be very...decisive...in all the wrong ways...if you know what I mean?"
Bergman frowned, glancing at Ang and Alan Carter. They were no longer children and the Garden of Eve imagery of Satet-Ta's garden seemed less natural and more artificial. Then he remembered Paul Morrow, Darla Lomax and Harry Balfour.
"Lieutenant Quenton," Bergman went on calmly, "you are correct. Commander John Koenig did exist, as did Paul Morrow, Darla Lomax and Harry Balfour." He scratched his sideburn. "Who does everyone believe to be the current Commander of Moonbase Alpha?"
"Everyone believes that you, sir, are the principal." Quenton responded humbugably. "Most agree that Captain Carter is second."
"I've got a bad feeling," Angelina confided, whispering to Carter, while glancing at Bergman. Her head was pounding. It was as if something, a thought, a feeling, a memory, that's it; a memory was bubbling beneath the surface of her brain. "We need to get back to the base. Something is about to go down. Something isn't right."
He couldn't argue with the last sentence. Something wasn't right since the alien waltz in unannounced and uninvited into the Commander's office.
"You're a programmer." Colonel Yuri Petrov broke the news. "What business could this possibly be of yours?"
Belton was a self-lenient, vile, slut of a technician. Most of the time, he spared everyone his bourgeois, antichrist, Mickey Mouse prescence by hiding in the gullet of the mainframe with Borkenville, but the rumor mill had apparently sent him downstream to spread his old socks, and his low living impurity to the rest of the base. To Petrov, he was slime in a chair.
Worse, he was an interruption of normal, surveillance duties.
On the forward monitor, the needle-cam was aimed at the shampooed hair of one waif, Michelle Cranston. She was mouthy, and they often watched her around the clock, in the shower, and in the Soyuz Lounge. Her body was not in question, but rather her loyalty. This is not to say that she did not have a figure not want of sexual desire. That wasn't Petrov's agenda, though.
"Did the alliance train you in that?" Belton kibitzed, pointing at the screen. "Voyeurism?"
"Perversity." Petrov concurred. "As a matter of duty."
"You watch everyone like that?" The programmer was sally.
"Only the ones who are considered high risk." The colonel was unrumpled.
"But if I told?"
"Then you would die a tragic, lightening death." Petrov was persuasive, but the evil smile was even more quieting.
He wondered what all of this had to do with John Koenig's trip into the disappearing cabinet.
"You know what bugs me the most, angel?" Carter proposed to Ang.' She looked normal to him, and he to her. He had no idea what Bergman was talking about. "That grand dame of the cosmos has yet to explain what happened with that other alien ship.
"So far, she has no idea who they were; where they were from; or why the vehicle exploded. We've gotten nothing, but doubletalk, and she's bloody proud of it.
"For some reason, I just can't accept that she was as surprised as we were."
"Oh..." she paused, remembering, "that ship." She watched Satet-Ta glide under the alabaster archway of the garden entrance. She was clad in an Ava Gabor, sheer dressing gown with a boa fringed with feathers, carrying an ornate flask and equally ornate bejeweled goblet.
"Commander," she smiled affectionately at Bergman, "Victor, dear, take this." She poured like the doting wife and hostess. In fact, that was exactly who she remembered the alien to be. "It will make you feel better."
No, Ang shook her head. This alien was not Bergman's spouse. The professor did not have a spouse and she realized the alien had not been around long enough to be married to him.
Other bizarre memories and images flashed in her mind. She glanced at Alan Carter, who was still her husband; check, memory was accurate. She thought of their son Nicky and their daughter, Gretchen. Daughter? What daughter? She had one child and as she rubbed the side of her head, frowning, she recalled that the girl was actually the daughter of...
Who were her parents?
Then there was the bizarre images of her past, or rather, lack of images. As far as she was concerned, she was born on Moonbase Alpha. Earth was a place of her ancestors and yet, why were the images so vivid and personal? She could not remember her mother and concluded that she had died when Angelina was a toddler. It made sense and somehow, logic made the thought more cohesive and....accurate. She thought of her mother in-law, Emma Black.
Emma Black was Alan's mother? She shook her head. It didn't seem likely
Ang's thoughts drifted to her father but the image of a tall, man with piercing blue eyes, at one time the commander of the base, did not seem to fit into the scheme of time because she remembered speaking to him hours ago. He was much too young to be her parent and besides, her premarriage name of Angelina Koenig was never a part of her conscious memory.
"She's fucking with out heads," Ang whispered to Carter as she watched Bergman politely refuse the potion in the goblet. Satet-Ta pouted like a spoiled child, then smiled charmingly at the professor. "I'm remembering things which never were and forgetting people and situations which were crystal clear a few hours ago. What is happening?"
"Dunno.'" Carter removed, fist in palm. "I think the commander was wise to something. He didn't accompany the survey--you know, to Satet-Ta's garden of good, and evil. I found that really peculiar, considering. I've known him a fair amount of time, and I can tell you right now that was uncharacteristic behavior." He nodded to the disharmonious professor. "I think Victor found it odd too. I keep wondering--beating my head in. Did he have some sort of intel' on that ship that he didn't want us to know about.
"Something he wasn't ready to commit to yet.
"Did you know there wasn't a single, solitary fragment left after that cruiser exploded? There should have been a scrap, or two laying about. It was a conventional blast. Garzon verified that. He wasn't sure what went wrong, but it sure was clean; no fission; no pressure; no total energy, or ionization. It was gone in a flash, and it left behind nothing to prove that it ever existed.
"Well...." He looked at the surrounding Rhododendrons with derision. "I'm going to ask him when we get back. The worst that can happen is that he, and I will lock horns. Like that's never happened before.
"Anyway, this little orchard sure is drab." He looked around furtively. "She's got no taste in plants.
"What's up, cook? You look like you swallowed Malcom's underwear."
"I don't know," she shook her head. " Maybe just another migraine coming on, but this one is different.
"Instead of auras, though, I think I'm hallucinating, I guess; memories of things that I know have never happened. It's very strange." Angelina concluded, lowering her voice as Bergman approached followed by Satet-Ta. His expression told her there was something on his mind.
"It's time to return to the base," the professor nodded to the alien.
"Of course, Victor," the alien took his arm, "I can bring you home safely." She led them through the doorway.
On the other side was the embarkation area of Launch Pad 2, with the boarding tube hatch sealed behind them. They were not home but in fact they were on Moonbase Alpha.
"No way," Ang mumbled.
All thru her head, the violas of organized crime, and rough pugs in baggy pants, and wide brimmed hats--ready to make trunk music. Shape up, Goldilocks. No dame is going to screw this up. You'll find yourself floating downstream. You got that? Yeah. Angelina Verdeschi Carter sleeps with the fishes.
The cap-cap-cap of Tommy guns to the tune of Tommy Dorsey.
"I do like you." Satet-Ta allowed. "You're so...fundamental."
Ang shook the cobwebs of imagery away then stared at Satet-Ta. Her eyes narrowed, as she decided to ignore the insult. "I think you're pretty cool as well," the Technical Manager responded cheerily, though 'cool' was not used in the context of likeable.
"Same to you." Carter told the alien, knowing delightfully what it implied.
"That was a pretty neat trick you just performed," Ang continued, glancing up the corridor and nodding at a stunned Marilys Singh. She immediately flipped through her flimsies then hit her comm station switch, speaking quickly into the microphone. "Of course, I'm sure Marilys over there," she smiled and waved to the 30 meters distant Recon Flight Coordinator, "has alerted Security since this is a first time a crew has returned like Samantha Stevens."
"Security? How should I process this?" Satet-Ta's mental circuits closed--her hypothetical crimes instantly buried in snow, and blank waif.
"We can't go on together with suspicious minds." Carter worried. He pushed her rough shod down the way with tremendous satisfaction. He had no idea when, and no idea why, but somehow the conversation had taken a dramatic turn from discussion of advanced avionics to a substrate of justice, blame, and shame.
True to form, a squad of four harness bulls, led by Pierce Quenton, round the junction to the corridor and approached the group. Their weapons were not drawn but clearly, the sense of urgency was written all over Quenton's face.
"Lieutenant Pound," Bergman began jovially, "would you and Lt. Stryker escort Satet-Ta to our quarters?"
Pound's face twisted in puzzlement. Bergman was relieved.
"My quarters, of course," Bergman clarified, clearing his throat. Then he turned to the alien. "You must be tired, my dear. I have some business to attend to but I shall return to you shortly."
The alien woman gazed at him warily then she feigned a yawn. "You are correct, Victor." She smiled a plastic, Barbie doll grin. "I could use a little nap." She turned with her escort. "I will see you soon."
They waited for her to leave.
"This way, Captain, Doctor and, uh, Commander," Quenton led them in the opposite direction and toward the elevator. They arrived in the manufacturing level, and enter the PCB drill room which had a significant level of background noise.
"He can't hear us in this area, professor," Pierce finally spoke. "And I think I found all of his spy cameras but even if he can see us, he can't hear us."
"Spy?" Carter was ambiguous. "Who's rubbernecking us? Another ET?"
Bergman was darkly bemused.
"Yes." He said busily. "From the distant empire of Petrov." He burned slowly, but with little reservation, the professor spilled his guts. "This is what I know. When I finish, we'll compare notes. I have no idea how you're perceiving things, but Commander Koenig has vanished. Alpha's history has been completely rewritten. Apparently some transfer of power has occurred, and there can be no doubt as to who fired this hallucinatory bullet. There's no grassy knoll to block the view. Only Satet-Ta, and her brazen, overplayed performance as Bo Peep."
"When did this happen?" Carter looked ill.
"While we were gone," Ang responded neutrally. Her headache was extreme. In her thoughts were two streams of images and memories, separated by a narrow mental medium. One set of images clearly conveyed life on Alpha with Commander John Koenig as mentor, friend and current Moonbase Commander. The other set of mental visuals cast Koenig in the role of father, literally her father, and Commander of the past with Victor Bergman as present commander.
"He had to have disappeared while we were gone; just like Darla."
"IS HE DEAD?" The pilot grew louder. In the emotional skies, a front of inclement vengeance hove in. "DID SHE FINISH HIM?"
"I don't know." Bergman was veracious. "If her 'skills' are as powerful as she says they are, then anything is possible. The commander may be keeping Harrison Balfour company. Or...he may be right in front of us, but her memory block is preventing us from seeing him.
"As terrible as that is--I don't consider it our main problem." The professor prioritized. "Here is the rub: if Tactical & Defense reacts the way I think they will, then Petrov will declare an emergency, and lock down the entire base. John's own wishes won't matter a fig to him. He'll spout some rubbish about The Greater Good, and militarize the Moon."
"What's so awful about that?" Carter wondered. "It would take care of that damn bitch. Probably. Maybe...."
"Think of the guns...." Bergman advised torrentially. "All of the weaponry, floating around with two opposing armies--those who believed in the commander, and those who did not.
"For all we know, that was Satet-Ta's sole purpose."
He hoped that Ang' would have a better revelation.
"A civil war," she nodded in agreement. "One which she can control and thereby control...us. Is that what is happening? Some sort of alien lust for conquering but not with direct physical subjugation?"
"Weird." To Pierce Quenton, it didn't parse. "Why all of the rigmarole'? A grain of Hemlock at a time when she could just as easily expunge us from the gene pool."
It was like some, sadistic, fantasy role-play.
A diaper on an iron maiden.
"I have to tell you, I think I am seeing what she is trying to project," Ang went on. She described the conflicting imagery. "It's like watching a movie on one channel and another on picture in picture. I'll tell you one thing. It's giving me one hell of a headache."
"I'm woolgathering...." Chief Quenton entertained. "Sir, if Petrov, Belton, and the other strong arms have no recollection of the commander...then we may be aces. Right?"
"A four leaf clover?" Bergman suffered the underprivileged. "The way our luck is going, I wouldn't count on that. These are stoic times, I fear. The cup is half empty, and a rolling stone gathers much moss. We need to embrace our horror, and not truck to ludicrous, false hope. She had a reason for doing this, and whatever it might be, Satet-Ta appears to be the type who would consider murder, and bloodshed to be bonuses."
"That...." Carter thought. "Or an exchange. An investment...."
"How so?" Bergman was scientifically, and philosophically intrigued.
"Like the man said." The pilot clouded again. "She must want us for something. If she can make the commander disappear into thin air then she can mow the rest of us down."
"'Professor, how is it that Satet-Ta seems to think that you are duped by her version of reality? If she is such a mental genius, why can't she see through your ruse?" Ang continued, cringing at the constant roar of the drill machine compressors. "More importantly, how do we stop her?"
"I'm not sure." Bergman answered quietly as he started to patrol the room, suddenly paranoid. They had disabled the shower cam,' and the kitchen cam,' and the living room cam,' the garbage disposal cam,' and the bad, Rembrandt knock-off cam,' but on the edge of his confidence, there was always one more lens. "As we spoke, I found myself concentrating on the image of a candle burning. In doing so, I may have quelled Satet-Ta's mental dominance.
"Then again, it may be because I shaved my beard right-to-left today instead of vice versa.
"To stop her, we need to find a way to emancipate those of us who are still blindfolded."
Alpha did not feel right.
Cardboard was the word.
"He's acting a little strange," Donna Caron, head teacher in the Alpha Care Center, observed to parent June Akaiwa. "Perhaps I should call his mother or father."
Nicky Carter sat on the floor, back turned with a deck of cards laid out in rows in front of him. Once in awhile they would hear him laugh or chuckle.
"I don't know," June replied, cutting cooked carrots into baby bite sized pieces for her son Charles, "at least he's being quiet." She was drowned out by the cries of three hungry babies rousing from naps.
Caron shrugged and immediately attended to one of the screaming charges. Nicky continued to sit Indian style in front of the rows of cards, moving cards expertly into place in his game of Solitaire. He would pause before each action then make his move. Nicky Carter was very knowledgeable for a 3 year old and had already been taught many skills, including reading.
No one had ever taught Nicky how to play Solitaire.
"How about something to drink, professor?" Angelina was playing the cheerful hostess to Bergman. The sudden change in tone surprised Alan Carter, who was still holding Nicky. Angelina nodded slightly but imperceptibly toward Bergman. Carter took on a neutral expression.
"Uh," the professor responded, "you know my drink of choice, Ang; vita seed."
"Ick," she groaned with faux distress, as she headed for the refrigerator in the kitchenette. "I only have it because Nicky seems to have acquired a liking for it."
"Good man," Bergman nodded tentatively, smiling at Nicky, who found a spot on the floor and unpacked the deck of cards. Bergman had the sense of deja vu with the dialogue.
"Wait a second," Ang continued, stopping at her laptop, "let me check my messages. A couple of them look urgent." She clicked her mouse and the plastic smile dropped from her face. "There." She sank into the chair. "That will be good for about 30 minutes. We'll have a lot more time during night mode but we'll have to coordinate who comes here and I'll have to figure out which cameras to black out or roll the phony tape when our guests come along."
"You know, Alan," she continued, "I always knew that it would be Yuri Petrov but somehow I guess I had hoped that he would, you know, change."
She was genuinely disappointed.
"Hmmm." Bergman emitted, losing his thirst, but gaining sagaciousness. "One person's Mongol is another person's martyr. The crusades were born of Christian idealism. Forget how evil, and degenerate they became later. Petrov believes he's doing his job. The procedure was there for a reason. He's defending Alpha. His duty.
"Problem is." Setting his cup down, he looked to Carter who was in firm, nodding concurrence. "He'd kill everyone in this room to see that his goal is achieved."
"It was the Commander's idea," Ang continued. "He always had a talent for reading people." She didn't like how she made her last statement in the past tense.
Less, and less. His craving for Vita seed.
"We can't do this alone." Bergman took a seat on the couch. "To ameliorate this situation, we're going to need data. As 'commander.'" His grimace was ridiculous. "I would be too obvious."
"Why are you looking at me that way?" Carter rebutted. "Too obvious for what?"
The unexpected door chime startled Angelina and silenced all of their tongues, save for Nicky, who continued to lay out his spades and aces in neat rows, chortling and giggling.
"Who is it?" Ang reverted to her happy homemaker tone. If it was Petrov or if Petrov happen to be watching, the gig was up because the tape was still rolling.
"Helena Russell." The quiet, dignified yet lined with distress voice came through the intercom. Carter, Bergman and Ang exchanged glances, taking a consensus. Bergman gave a single nod and Carter narrowed his eyes then shook his head slightly. She was the tie breaker.
Nicky let out a roar of laughter.
The Technical Manager aimed her commlock at the lock and the door slid open. The Chief Medical Officer quickly stepped inside and the door slid firmly shut.
Doctor Russell stood straight and confident. "John, the Commander," she began, trying to read the others, "is missing."
"We know," Ang reassured. They were all relieved.
Gonzales was on the Jimmy Hoffa list. Who knows why? The new chef was Hugo Willet who could produce nothing more scintillating than the atomized Quiche that was now a splatter on his face, and apron. Beyond the flapping, kitchen door, the rooster ka-ka-kooOOOO'ed in vengeful, war tocsin.
"Follow me around all day." Engineer Smith declaimed. "Talking your nonsense about phantom commanders, and witches from space. Any bloke would find it unnerving." He looked on the cook with disparagement, and bad scent. "You deserve to have Quiche in your face."
"Maniac." Willet said, though he was the one who was grasping a butcher knife.
In the dining complex, other fights had started.
"I AM TELLING THE TRUTH." Koenig supporter Carroll Severance roared.
"Really?" Dac Capano stood firm. "So...have some dessert...."
Strangulation with a mouthful of napkins.
"DAC! Stop it!!" Sandra Benes, red of face and eyes, bellowed across the room from the doorway. She wasn't sure the people who believed there was such as person as Commander Koenig were altogether crazy. Anything was possible. She was empathetic to them because no one seemed to remember Paul Morrow except for her.
After violently coughing and spitting out his dry and tasteless paper appetizer, Carroll Severance launched at the elder Capano across the table, knocking himself and Capano to the floor and capsizing the table. Capano surprised the younger man with the strength of his defense and Severance almost immediately found himself on the receiving end of Capano's punches to the nose. Severance dodged a particularly fierce blow and countered with a hefty pummel to Dac's chest, knocking the wind out of him.
"Stop it. STOP IT!!!!" Yasko Nugami screeched ineffectively. Benes rolled her eyes in annoyance as she made her way to the commstation to summon security.
"Stay out of it, P," Michelle Cranston warned her beau, Pierre Danielle but alas, he jumped into the fray pulling Capano off of Severance, only to be tackled by now another 40 pounds heavier Ed Malcom, another one who believed that Koenig never existed. The seams in the underarms of his shirt split under the strain of excess flesh and motion, but this didn't stop his attack on Pierre Danielle.
"GET OFF HIM YOU FAT ASS!!!!" Michelle Cranston literally jumped on Malcom's back. It was like riding a whale and he howled like a pansy as she delivered punches to the undulating rolls of blubber on his back.
In Causeway-13, technician Althea Rain, and her partner in crime, Lara Tetzlaff were commiserating in the dark. The panels were red--gothic in the fearscape that now categorized a homeless, non-stop, comet of a Moon. Their job was not power origination, but somehow, they both seemed to know more about the topic--and the extrinsic reasons that now underlied its current failure--than the combined resources of every dynamo on Alpha. They both named names in ranking order--from dumb, and dumber. Human error was the solution, and there was nary a person on the base who was not a branch in the incompetent tree of failure.
All except for these two crones.
"They could use spray on cells if they had to." Rain razed, looking cross-eyed, dizzy, and unthoughtful. "Don't you know."
"Ya.'" Tetzlaff agreed in her broken, Siberianized slaying of the vernacular, tossing her pot, and her derriere in a way that suggested the overmastering of brains by body. It would not have pleased Plato, but it was to the liking of Bob Mathias. "Poor, poor, poor, poooooooor' Commander Kaynig.' If only he were hare.'" She slurred. "He vould' set things straight."
What's a 'Commander Koenig,' Rain needed to know.
Tetzlaff saw a gap in her teeth, and in her logic.
This was how their camaraderie came to an end--with fisticuffs, and clipboards to the skull.
Petrov saw it all on his Big Brother TV monitor, and all the while, Belton goaded him.
"...there's that...." Controller Zed Astrin reported to Bergman over his secret, encoded commlock message which was easily broken by Evil Mushroom in the T&D mainframe. "A number of fights have broken out.... Starns says were running out of democracy. If it keeps up much longer, we're going to have to add an expansion wing to the detention center."
The professor had no sentences.
"Oh...." Astrin almost forgot. "That problem with computer. Ouma said he has no idea why it crashed. Did we expect anything else?" He waited for someone to laugh, but no one did. "The problem seems to have started with the thin clients...the boundless units...and from there it spread back to the memory core...like a frog...get it?"
"Virus, perhaps?" Ang shrugged but if Ouma didn't know she would not consider herself an expert. Maybe she'd have Lars Manroot check it out, provided he believe Commander Koenig was more than a figment of imagination.
"Yeah, in the form of an alien who passes for a supermodel," Quenton responded, not needing any further proof. Actually, his educated guess was quite good.
"Anyhow." The controller continued. "The only thing we have is an arrow--pointing towards someone who was looking for a glut of information on neurogistics before the system went down."
"Neurogistics?" Carter modeled the term. "Information on the mind?"
"That would make sense. She's obviously trying to learn of new and exciting ways of messing with us." Angelina nodded in agreement. Nicky was in her lap, carefully laying out the cards on the table in front of him after sporadic pauses. He glanced into space then focuses back on the cards, tentatively moving a 4 of spades into one row, pausing, then placing in another row.
"Aren't you a smart boy," Angelina smiled at him smoothing his white hair. "Who taught you how to play Solitaire, baby?"
"Commanda," he replied, looking up but not at her. "Where? Here?" He spoke to nobody, giggled then moved the next card in place.
It was a little unnerving. No, it was a lot unnerving. Nicky seemed to be conversing with empty space.
"Nicky," Ang's voice did not waver despite the stone dropping in her stomach, "who are you talking to?"
"Commanda, Momma," he pointed to nothing. "See?"
Carter took a momentary gander, but the results of the experiment were stifled by the arrival of four blast troopers in full body armor, and football helmets. The astronaut took it as a matter of course that their lasers were set to kill. Petrov's horde preferred lethal force. A bad habit they picked up from the planet Earth. Look at the progenitors of all romance languages. The Kurgens. Spawned by the Dead Sea. Then they moved, and the entire world became a dead sea. Carter accepted it as a Darwinian metaphor.
"Professor." Blast Trooper Odem was as friendly as he could be--pointing his heat beam at Bergman's mechanical heart. "I'm here to deliver compliments from Colonel Petrov, and to escort the three of you to the T&D dome."
"Where's Quenton?" The astrophysicist thought to ask.
"In Medical Center." Blast Trooper Sine regretted to inform them. "Bit of a gastric problem, I think."
Blast Trooper Duren emitted an obnoxious, power hungry chuckle. It would have sounded nefarious, and portentious, were it not for the similarity between his voice, and singer Rosemary Clooney.
"Really?" Carter was not amused. "Yeah, I guess being flamed down could stir up a good case of heartburn."
"I think our question has been answered." Bergman told Ang on the not-so-sly. "And I see that Evil Mushroom is still operating at full capacity, even if the X5 server is not."
Angelina glared at the security contingent with Nicky holding onto her thigh. "I want to see Colonel Petrov," the Technical Manager retorted. "Now." On the Powerpoint organization layout, Petrov reported to Angelina Carter with a dotted line to the deputy controller.
The blast trooper brigade stifled snickered in response with Odem responding, "According to Colonel Petrov, he is concerned that you are medically incompetent to carry out your duties."
Translation: mentally incompetent.
"I wasn't aware that medical doctor was among the Colonel's advanced degrees," Ang replied coldly.
The discussion was halted by the four times firing of lasers at point blank range. The room filled with stars, as Ang blinked to adjust her vision, followed by the distinct odor of ionization. All she could hear besides Nicky's cries of dismay and fear were four thuds in quick succession.
When their vision finally adjusted, the four blast troopers were unconscious in heaps on the floor. Michelle Cranston, Pierre Danielle and Truman Starns surveyed their handiwork. Cranston eyed the camera, flipped the bird and grinned, aiming and firing another shot and reducing the surveillance eye to scrap.
"Thanks," Ang said simply, as Starns passed weapons to Bergman and Carter.
"No problem," Cranston smiled, pretty proud with her covert mission. "We had a little help, though, from a friend."
Satet-Ta rounded the corner. "Oh, Victor," she rushed toward him. "What is happening? Your own people are turning against you." She straightened. "Well, this is unacceptable and quite barbaric." She smiled at him charmingly. "I can, how do you say, 'take care of' your problem with Petrov if you like?"
A confused Ang glanced at Carter.
"I wonder what we did to deserve that generosity." Carter quipped after they were away from the smoking blast troopers.
The black blob was still behind the transparency in the astrophysics lab.
"Oh...." Satet-Ta p'shawed it away. "That's just me."
"Aren't you kind." The astronaut declared, meaning 'not.'
"We're indebted to you." Bergman said, meaning 'not.' "However, I do think the time has come for explanation, and clarification?"
"Right," Ang agreed, shifting Nicky to Carter. Her arms were aching but they had no choice other than keeping him with them. Colonel Petrov would have no qualms whatsoever using the boy to convert them to his way of thinking. "Satet-Ta, forgive me for sounding irritable but since your arrival, weird and unexplained things have happened including the disappearance of some members of Alpha. Worse, many people don't seem to be able to remember these people ever existed! What is going on?"
"The keepers of the Odem have found me," Satet-Ta appeared saddened. "I am sorry that I have brought them to you. It seems they are using their psychic abilities to divide and confuse you before conquering you." She gazed at Bergman with puppy dog eyes. "Victor, I am so very sorry this is happening and I will do everything in my power to help defeat them."
"The keepers of the Odem?" Ang was incredulous. "The giant Gila monster thingy, the creature which single handedly wiped out your people has a keeper?" Ang, on the edge of laughter, glanced at Carter then Russell and Mathias, who had joined them after cleverly sedating the blast troopers who had been sent to retrieve the physicians. If it wasn't a real and threateningly serious situation, the whole story would be comical. She cleared her throat. "Oh, you mean that ship that appeared hours ago and mysteriously blew up. The same ship that you didn't, at the time, have a clue about who or where it came from."
Carter's mind was firmly wrapped around it. His champion cynicism swelled to athletic proportions.
Then the voices came to him from the hole in Hell, and he grew sallow again.
("Odem.... I thought she called the things an Onid...or an Ovid...or some such, bloody thing. Quite the confusing yarn she can spin.")
("You know what they say? It takes an exquisite intellect, and wonderful senses to produce a few stupid ideas.")
"Bob?" Carter looked ill.
("We've got no time for sticks, and stones. Once she's dead, then you can make character judgments.")
The astronaut was angry too. It was all Quantum Physics. A momentary lapse of reason.
"You're being pursued?" Bergman tried to understand it. "A refugee?"
"From the darkest dungeon in the super realm." Satet-Ta batted her eyelashes.
"What?" Mathias was drained, and blunt.
"You're a head shrinker." Carter rubbed his own chapped lips. "A jake would get some warning before going over the deep end? Right? Like a sneeze? Some hiccups?"
("I've rerouted the RF on number three." But it sounded less than unfortunate. "I don't know what it's going to accomplish. She's just going to turn around split the box in two again. Just like Shrodinger's cat.")
"Don't worry your head." Mathias said coldly--the words of one who was now 72 hours away from his last, bad night's sleep. "It's nothing that a good suicide wouldn't cure."
It was psychopathic.
Impossible fruit, and all ample cornflakes compared to the experience that Ang' was now having as the hatchet bearing trolls--twins, with the faces of boars--materialized, walked across the access way, and then dematerialized again.
She knew it was all an illusion but the Chief of Technical Operations had to admit it was pretty convincing. Satet-Ta was quite the con artist. Or the con. Or both. The only thing she couldn't figure out was what the alien wanted with them. Her motives were not yet clear despite her methods.
Ang was impatient. The Tinkerbell look-alike whizzing from one corner to the next, looking angry and sporting a pout as the boar face trolls taunted her, was no longer entertaining. Angelina watched, gaping at the silliness of it all. The small fairy waved her wand and sent flashes of light at the trolls, turning them instantly into purple lobsters, minus their claws.
"I need air." Carter conceded without noticing the cross-eyed look on Angelina's face.
Helena Russell had air; plenty of air. All around her was a familiar scent, the unique scent of body chemistry intermingled with cologne. The scent was different with a different male but she knew this aroma quite well. She looked around doggedly, trying to determine the exact source while attempting to sniff without overworking the olfactory to the point of neutralization.
"Daddy," Nicky whispered, grasping Carter around his neck. The child did not like Satet-Ta and refused to look at her. "Daddy," he whispered into the pilot's left ear. "Commanda, there." He pointed his small index finger at the transparency.
Carter only saw the blob, but passing the infant to his mother, he decided that Satet-Ta was a negative force, and that the archaic AT&T booth was as good a place as any to unsinge his hair.
"Be right back." He couldn't resist giving the alien his denigrating look of askance.
"Dr. Carter." Petrov finally removed the block on Angs' commlock. Actually, the encryption wasn't the difficult part; deciding when, and how to pounce was what required stratagem. The fact that diplomacy had emerged, and that there was no second brigade of blast troopers was uncomforting.
Bergman froze--as if hooded, bone fingered, scything death had arrived, and said: "Yo.' Need a lift?"
"Oh my." Satet-Ta empathized. "Victor, I should think you would want to take charge of this situation. As commander, it may be time to brandish the breastplate of tyranny, and the epaulettes of dictatorship. On Ninth Suspiria we didn't take that flack.
"Have him executed on live video."
"Dr. Carter." The colonel complained again. He sounded uncommonly fatigued, and irritated. "I don't know why you're not responding to my calls...all fifteen of them...but on the off chance that you might some day listen to your voice mail, it is urgent that I speak with you."
Ang ignored him. Responding would definitely pinpoint their position and she had no idea if there were any more security forces who sided with the colonel. Besides, even if she wanted to answer she could not as she balanced her child on her hip while flashing an unknowingly annoyed glance at Carter. Her biceps had just stopped twitching when he passed their son back to her. Tinkerbelle and the lobsters had disappeared but Satet-Ta was still there and seemed quite enamored by Bergman. Helena Russell resembled a bloodhound with her nose actively twitching. Michelle Cranston and Pierre Danielle were lost in sometime enticing down the apparent empty hallway.
Bob Mathias looked exhausted and highly inconvenience.
"That will solve nothing." The professor was entrenched, but also lost in the dark, energy depriving cloud. The base was freezing. He was famished, and it was difficult to see.
Carter was now deathly white.
(John Koenig glanced, but not seriously as he stood tall with his arms folded over his chest. Then he looked again. Three was a charm as his eyebrows raised in recognition of his own discovery.
("Alan?" He whispered experimentally.)
The pilot swallowed. He compared, and contrasted. There stood Ang,' Bergman, courtesans, and the devil in tight blue jeans. Not ten feet away from her was the man whom they suspected she had murdered, or at the very least made persona non grata. He blustered, but Koenig depressed him again with a covert SsssHHHHHHHHH'ing.
("You can see me?" The commander interviewed. "If you can, just nod.")
("How is this possible?" Paul Morrow was there too, standing behind Carter, but talking to the wall instead of Koenig.)
"Dr. Russell?" A brazenly, unidentified RN barged in. "Oh, there you are." She pinpointed Carter.
"What is this intrusion?" Satet-Ta looked miffed.
"Sorry, but we have a bioscan' alert." The mystery nurse propounded. "On you, Captain. The feedback indicates a massive arterial clog with potential, cardiogenic effects."
("Do whatever she says." The commander advised with Morrow nodding in agreement.)
"What?" Russell instantly snapped to attention, dropping the scent investigation but the aroma still remained.
"Cardiogenic effects?" Ang forgot her irritation and noticed how deathly pale Carter looked despite the amber lighting. Still, he wasn't gasping for breath and he didn't appear to be in physical pain but she was not a medical doctor. "What does that mean?!?!?"
Then to Carter, who still did not look like a man in cardiac crisis, "Are you feeling sick? When did this come one? Granted, you look a little pale like you've seen a ghost but...."
("If that isn't strong denial then my name is 'Sam Hill." Paul Morrow bragged from the afterlife.)
"He looks alright to me." Satet-Ta spoke admiringly. "Maybe he ate some of that horrible repast that your dining room serves. What's your chef's name? Willet? I tried something called chipped beef, and gravy, and it was not delicious. He probably served the deputy commander something undone, and now he's suffering from Salmonella.
"It is unforgivable."
At that moment, Hugo Willet joined the ranks of the unliving, and Engineer Smith became the retroactively transferred dietician.
("I'd love to suffer having my hands around her neck." John Koenig said basically.)
"No, he's bad off." Bob Mathias found the strength, and renew. "I've been expecting this." He told Ang' lamely. "He works too hard--poor Alan. He's also malnourished; high blood pressure; the works. It's a classic case of carry-out Thrombosis."
"I need to go to the hospital." Carter concurred as he lay on the gurney that suddenly arrived.
No one, but Ang' seemed to notice that it was being pushed by Heckyl, and Jekyl. Nameless, unfamiliar 312, and 313th alphans.
Three hundred, and fourteen, if you count the nurse without a past.
Mathias glared--not 'looked'--but 'glared' at Ang' from the opposite side of the stretcher as if to silence her remonstrance.
"Big-P, watch my back." Carter said in parting. "Pray for me."
"Bless you boss." The other astronaut rendered in tearful sonnet.
Ang wrinkled her brow after giving Mathias a counter glare. Everyone was acting bizarre and...who was that nurse and the orderlies?!?! She pretty much knew everyone on the base, and yet, these three were not familiar at all.
Helena Russell had become wooden, staring into empty space. Then, she looked momentarily relieved and cracked the slightest smile. Nicky stared at the physician, also smiling.
To Ang, Helena Russell was gazing at thin air.
The moment passed and Russell's professional yet aristocratic demeanor returned. "Yes," she concurred with Mathias. "We need to get him to Medical immediately to avoid a major cardiac event."
"Of course," Ang murmured, still not completely convinced there was anything really wrong with Carter. She had lived with him for 3 years. She had seen him sick before and even then, he would never willingly drop himself into a gurney if he could still walk on his own two feet. It was that Aussie machoism which she has come to love and hate but which made his actions seem all the more strange. "Do you need me, professor....er, Commander?" She turned to Bergman.
"No," Victor Bergman scratched his chin, deep in thought. Whenever the mental fog tried to burn off, it would close back in. "Go with him until he is stable." He didn't believe there was anything wrong with Carter either but his intuition told him to play along.
She nodded and turned, still holding Nicky, darting into the travel tube with Carter, Russell, Mathias and the three other (forgotten) medical personnel at the end of the corridor. The door was being held open by one of the mystery orderlies.
The coach hyperaccellerated with the energy of crisis itself.
Life inside the hollow bullet:
"Don't believe we've met." Carter questioned the long haired, heavily sideburned male orderly whose birthday was apparently this day, this minute. "Which is impossible--unless Breakaway made a shoddy recluse of you."
"I'm sure the pleasure is mine." The Byronic MT replied as he popped the cap from a laser hypo with his teeth, and inserted a plastic vial. "Captain, I'd trouble you to roll up your sleeve."
"What are you going to give him?" Angelina asked with growing skepticism. She'd never seen these people before and now she was questioning herself if it was really wise to trust Mathias and the other Alphans.
"The Commander," she continued, looking around. "Everyone here sees John Koenig except me?"
Either she was crazy or the rest of them had lost it.
"You know he still exists," Helena Russell continued, starting an IV on the pilot's other arm. "If this works with Alan, we'll give it to you...and everyone else."
"What are you giving him," she repeated, "and what's with the IV?!"
"It's a variant of Norepinephrine." Mathias informed them. "Not poison. The worst that will happen is that he'll have Strawberry Fields with his afternoon tea. The 'absolute worst' that can happen is that this plan won't work, and we'll be back to square one."
The physician looked like death warmed over.
"You're going to experience vertigo." One of the new nurses told him. "There will be a slight sensation of falling. There may be shock. We're really not sure how you will react to the transition. You've been gone for a very long time."
"Gone?" Carter unzipped his tunic. "From where?"
Warm psychotropic photons saturated the artery in his forearm.
"Oh, you're a sharp fellow." The descriptionless doc' chatted while carefully monitoring the injection. "On Earth there were tall buildings. Does it follow that the first floor was the only floor?"
The travel tube car was afflicted with huge, greenbottle flies. They had begun to appear two days ago. No one knew why. Before his lateral move to the serving line, Engineer Smith theorized that it had something to do with impurities in the waste treatment plant.
Ang was drawn to Nicky, who had moved from her lap to the white plastic chair beside her. He giggled, gazing up at nothing, or so she thought it was nothing. He reached both of this small hand into the air, in a grasping motion. The Chief of Technical blinked and in the split second a commlock had materialized in his hands. The child held it with both hands, looking attentively upward into thin air. He turned and passed the communication device to his mother.
She turned it carefully over and studied the picture of the owner, holding her breath momentarily.
Carter was less awed, and more indignant.
"Bad place to be giving me a Mickey." He said of the zooming tube. "If the car stops, and those doors open, we're had."
"You won't be here much longer." The Wagnerian MT solemnized as he stepped away. "Well...you will, and you won't. Outside of the Dolmen's psychoactive field, you'll begin to revert."
("Paul." Koenig was alert. "Get ready. Willet, we can use you too.")
"Revert to what?" The astronaut asked as the impulses in his brain began free firing.
Actually, to the keep of all destruction, where the torches, and the granite stairwell went down, and the sinew ripping buzzards licked their chops overhead. It wasn't exactly what he expected. The sky became a photographic negative, and the ground turned to blood. On decayed shelves, the sidewise bottles all said DRINK ME and lucidity was a lie. Water flowed uphill, and trees made noise as they fell unwitnessed. Welcome to the Dutch Oven, Bishop Barkley.
And while we're on the topic, what does it mean to steal? To ravage, and rape one's way into dangerous, tensor-experience? Let us attach the DC current of the polar star to the open, gelatinous brain. What would we have for all our pains?
The unclear, and the incomprehensible.
Also, one hellacious shock.
Turn the page.
Away we go--to the electrode Oz, where there's a Dorothy; a Tin Man; and a cowardly Malcom. Through the complex bonding of atoms, and a molecule we set sail with covalent hiccups. Through plasmas, and alloys, and actinides, and wiseguys, and fruit pies. It's a serious screamer--to fall backwards into the canyon of stark, raving consciousness. Grasping at the brittle grapevines of horse puckey, and willful subterfuge, and hocus pocus.
At length, one must face the conclusion that the final, unstoppable destination must be:
"You're in Main Mission." John Koenig said provisionally in the burst of pure power. On the south wall, orange circuits opened, and closed around the big screen, and the guaranteed abuse of warm air from the local HIVAC units assured Carter a solid case of the flu.
Life was not a dream though.
On the stairs leading to the balcony, and all around the trench, there stood rare, sun scorched aliens with cracked skin, huge masticating teeth, and pink gums. Their berets were corny.
"Alan?" Morrow tried, but it was too late.
Harness Bull Judge didn't have a problem with it.
The OFF position of the forty kilowatt, rocket laser's safety was like a pacifier, or a binky' to him. When confronted with these facts, there was a lot that didn't bother him. The blast troopers were no longer worried about...you know...'blending in.' Freely, and as a matter of operations, they had interrupted the progress of the travel tube, stopping it at the junction that was, humiliatingly, just outside the concourse that led to the technical complex.
"What happened?" Commander Bergman looked sicker than ever. The green of his skin, and the gray of his hair clashed, and he looked like a ghoul from a George Romero movie.
"We don't know." Mathias bartered for time. "We tried to freeze, and restart the Captain's heart.
"Then...he was gone.
"Vanished...without a trace."
The more vanquished the professor looked, the more invigorated, and hyper Satet-Ta became.
"Finally. Only in the bitter, denouement...." She declaimed. "You've come to believe me. From beyond the wall of time, this creature has pursued me, whipping its tail thru galaxies, and solar systems--all countless, and defenseless. It eradicated all of Ninth Susperia, and unless you cooperate, the same thing will happen to everyone on Moonbase Alpha, but it won't stop there." She told Ang,' whom she perceived as the eternal skeptic. "The Onid will devour the stars itself."
"It must be really hungry...all the time,"Ang replied with an unmistakable edge of smart-ass sarcasm. She didn't believe one word of her story, not that she really ever did think it was true. Conflicting images were flowing in her mind, two streams of events. Nicky was no longer on her lap but in Main Mission, with his father who looked like he just pulled a month of all nighters.The other mental stream was the here and now and this time, she could see the persistent Colonel would soon be a part of it again.
"I want inquiries made." Bergman rubbed the agonized liver spots on his temple. "Review the surveillance data...keep it under wraps."
He wanted to fall down, but first he wanted to vomit.
"I'm afraid it's already unwrapped." Colonel Petrov said as he peered into the car, cheeks red from the cold, and followed by a garrison of weapon's specialists.
"AUTOMATED SYSTEMS REPORT NOW AVAILABLE." Computer droned as the monitor on the vacant mainframe desk exploded with columns of data. "TRANSFER OF POWER FROM SECONDARY CELLS COMPLETED. CAPACITY ONE HUNDRED PERCENT."
"How are you feeling?" Morrow mothered him, and came with Frankincense, Mir, and strong, noxious coffee.
"Square." Hung over from the booze of nightmares, Carter told him, and accepted the cup. "How long have I been out?"
The deputy commander looked reticent to answer.
"Alan." Koenig approached from the area of the controller's desk. One of the burn victim, extraterrestrials was accompanying him. "I'd like to introduce you to Onid. He's the commander of the vessel that came in over the Sea of Serenity."
"Onid?" A befogged Carter glanced up from his palms. "THE LIZARD THAT ATE THE WORLD? THAT'S WHO YOU ARE?"
"Not precisely." The alien leader explained. From certain angles, his body still had hair, but mostly it was mercifully shadowed by the beret he wore.
"Alan, take it easy," Helena Russell while balancing a surprising calm Nicky on one hip with one hand, placed a firm but sympathetic hand on the pilot's shoulder. "You are still recovering. Please, relax." A glimpse at his medical bracelet conveyed another spike in heart rate and dangerous peak in blood pressure.
"Commander Onid, John," the physician continued, "we are preparing more medication to bring the others back. However, I am worried that others may not come through it as well as Alan." She bit her lip, apprehensively. "I am concerned about permanent mental damage, derangement, if you will."
"You mean everyone will be freaking out at once?" Darla Lomax spoke from under the right archway. She was glad the chief was back. Until he returned, she was the only astronaut in Recon except for Will Harms, who didn't really count.
"Can someone--anyone--clue me in as to what's going on?" Carter wouldn't rule out tears. "How did you get the power back on?"
Koenig looked at Onid who seemed just as parched now as he had from the moment he arrived.
"There never was anything wrong with the reactors." He divulged. "No power interruption; no malfunctioning circuitry. We had to boost the main grid because over the past few weeks, the automats have pushed us into the red."
"All quite necessary." Onid said peacefully.
"Weeks?" Carter sounded hoarse. He found himself wishing for a blackout. The cold, and the dark made the base like a gulag--like a 're-education camp,' but at least malnutrition, pneumonia, and hymenoptera made sense.
"You disappeared almost a month ago." Koenig tried to be as concise as craziness would allow.
Carter tried to grasp it.
It was all feeble fingers, and no luck.
"It's true." Morrow corroborated. "I was there when it happened. When I returned to the Eagle, you, Ang,' and the entire orbital response team were gone along with that demonic 'thing' that caused the crash.
"I should have killed her when I had the chance."
Was there a more deserving target than 'Satet-Ta?'
"The alien ship wasn't destroyed, Alan." Koenig illumined. "The Hydrac cruiser is in a holding position over Launch Pad Four. There couldn't have been any debris because there was no explosion. That was simply the moment when Satet-Ta decided to teleport everyone--yourself included, to Ninth Susperia."
"But you...." Carter was coming around. It was like snails, molasses. "Lomax, and Paul.... She left you behind?
"And how do you fit into this, doc?" His loquacity was getting better as he spoke to Russell. He almost sounded sober.
"I honestly don't know," the physician shrugged, depositing Nicky in Carter's lap. "I would have dreams of an alternate Moonbase Alpha, the real Alpha, as it turns out. Then, like you, I suddenly saw everyone who had disappeared." A small subtle smile passed between the Chief Medical Officer and the Commander, then it was gone. "I don't know how I got here." She nodded. "But I'm glad I am here and the priority is to get back as many as we can, as quickly as possible."
Onid placed a beneficent hand on the astronaut's shoulder, and then withdrew it as he sensed that it might be ripped off.
"We took the liberty of recalling the commander along with several of the others." The extraterrestrial revealed. "Our only regret is that the process is long, and that we lacked the power, and the facility to save everyone."
"Ang, Sandra and Professor Bergman are next," Russell continued. "I also recommended we bring Colonel Petrov back as quickly as possible. You were there. You saw what was going down."
"Will we need the lamp?" An alien named 'Shemp' asked Onid. As far as they knew, none of the Hydracs were named Larry, Curly, or Moe.
The baked commissar from another collusion looked impertinent. Gumption was there, but so was wisdom, and even mercy. This bothered Carter more than the prospect of his family being stranded in another domain. He also felt suspiciously like the sole survivor of some wartime massacre--Myall Creek; Little Big Horn; Kaserine. There he sat, the unwilling, unknowing bonus boy with the only truth being that he had gotten the bone. His return now seemed like a closed vault. He loved to despise; hated the Moon; and disliked ET's who wore red berets.
"We could bring them across." Onid spoke. "But if we do, all could die."
Again, John Koenig felt the providence as the bleary, capital punishment destiny of human civilization was dropped into his lap by yokels he could not see.
"This alien woman has too much influence on the Professor," Colonel Petrov concluded over his cup of bad coffee. They were not in the brig. Instead, he sat in one of the pretzel chairs in the Carter living quarters. Ang was on the couch, head pounding and feet up on the white coffee table. Just outside the open door to the corridor, two harness bull stood in full battle uniform.
"And that's why you're keep me under house arrest?" Ang sat forward despite the bass drum beatings inside her skull. "
"No," Petrov looked her straight in the eye. "Your protection against the witch."
"Oh please," she p'shawed. "Do you think they can protect me against her? The question is, would they want to?" She glanced at them as they gave her a quick sidewise glance then reverted their eyes forward. She sat back, seemingly comfortable. "The base is on the brink of civil war. Chaos. What's your plan, Yuri, and how do I figure into it? If I wasn't an important player in your game, I'd be dead already; victim of some unfortunate accident." She couldn't help but chuckle despite the brain pain.
"I see you have a penchant for hearsay, and lurid stories." The colonel criticized her--showing the boss who was boss. "So, you see me as a sort of Richard Helms in space. I shred paper on Monday, and liquidate security threats on Tuesday? Or do you visualize me as being more of an Eichmann sort of a guy--a graduate of the University Of Mass Murder?
"One who kills every, damn day because I love it, and it makes my penis hard." Petrov was sincerely disgusted. He didn't know which was worse--his fear that Ang' Carter might be like Roberta Specter, ding dong PhD, or finding out that she was 'precisely' like Roberta Specter. He could see Victor Bergman's handiwork all over this conversation, and his concern for the safety of the base was offset by his annoyance for lowbred topics.
Scientists would never understand the military, nor would they try.
"How is my opinion of you relevant to this conversation? "Ang pressed on, equally disgusted. "Let's get back to the facts, shall we." It was not a question but how things would proceed. "You have managed to stage a coup against Commander Bergman,"(that still sounded weird to her),"in the interest of the 'safety of the base." She tried to say it without sarcasm.
"Assuming your sincerity to ensure the common good," (which she didn't believe entirely), " using your secret network of eavesdropping devices, which it turns out were not so secret since I knew about them anyway, you determined that the base is in chaos."
"Which, without your unauthorized spying, I could have told you was the case."
"Chief Quenton experiences an unfortunate accident and ends up in Medical." She couldn't contain her sarcasm with the last statement, then, took a sip of dreadfully cold coffee.
"Rather than coming to me or if you think I'm an idiot even going to Commander Bergman and offering assistance, you decide to impose martial law, which you really have no authority to do." She set the cup on the coffee table and leaned forward, elbows perched on knees. "What other conclusion should I make of your actions other than being that of a terrorist thug?"
Petrov was disinfenestrated. All he needed was a window, and a wagon full of natural, horse fertilizer.
He felt that Doctor Carter could supply the latter.
Almost bigger than her mouth.
"So...the plot thickens." He evinced PD James while sitting a file down on the coffee table. "You think you've found the blood on the candlestick, as it were. This is the part of your narrative where the deviant, Machiavellian colonel finds himself responsible for Herb Quenton's liver." Opening the file, he looked bottlenecked, and untuned. "As if it's my fault that he spends every bit of his off time in the Soyuz Lounge, pounding back forty ounce jugs of hydroponic hooch.'
"I should have stopped him, seeing as how I watch every person on this base--sitting in the dark--night, and day, with my secret cameras.
"Does he smoke? Is that also my responsibility? How is his regimen? Too much fast food?" He tossed an ultrasound scan her way for conspicuous consumption. He was starting to wonder if Belton was right. It bothered him to think that way. "After you finish reviewing that plate, you may want to ask Robert Mathias, MD what his diagnosis is.
"If it's a strain of lethal Marburg, then I'm the culprit.
"If his insides are pickled then you can assign the blame to one hundred percent, Alpha pure grain.
"In the meantime--subordinate to supervisor--what do you make of that?" He consulted, and referred her to the exposure on the table."
Out of curiosity, she picked up the image. She was no physician but she vaguely knew what a CT scan of a liver looked like on film. This was not a liver. A thousand and one blurry, overlapping images of the alien stared back at her. It was creepy.
"A bad exposure from a machine in need of maintenance," she concluded, not really wanting to acknowledge what she saw. "So what? You still have avoided explaining your actions to impose martial law, mutinously against the Commander."
"Bergman's facilities are impaired by the alien." Petrov retorted with annoying conviction. "I have serious doubts about yours as well."
"Since when did you become an MD?" She challenged.
He did not answer.
"How do you know it's not you who is impaired rather than Bergman?" She went on.
He did not answer.
"Consider more facts and dare to ask questions," she went on. "What is it that is making people suddenly misbehave with civil disobedience the result? When did things change?" She answered for him. "Shortly after the arrival of Satet-Ta. That much, we can agree on."
"After she came, though, half the base started to believe the professor was and always had been the Commander of Moonbase Alpha. The other half believed a man named Commander Koenig had been the commander and disappeared; along other individuals, most recently Alan."
"Which version of reality do you believe, colonel? Or perhaps you have a different version altogether?"
"No." Petrov decreased. "I'll accept the copywrited version. It may also surprise you to know that I agree with your views...to a point. Maybe I'm more 'result' oriented. I want to find out what's become of the commander. Soon. On the off chance that maybe I can save his life, and achieve homeostasis."
She sat back for a long moment and considered his last statement. If he was telling the truth, it would be worthwhile to share what see knew and what she was seeing. On the other hand, he was a military man, pragmatic to the core. It was black or white with him. If she told him what she knew, he would surely think she was crazy.
The Chief of Technical Operations was moving her right hand to rub an exasperated forehead while she shook her head when she felt a force, gripping her wrist in mid movement. The invisible hand turned her arms stopping when her palm pointed upward. A stinging jab to the inside of her wrist quickly followed.
"AAHH!" Angelina jumped up in alarm, shaking off the restraint of her arm and moving away from the couch. She rubbed her wrist frantically. "Something just...it felt like I was getting laser hypo'ed but...." she trailed off, the stinging subsiding, "must have been a muscle spasm or something."
"Colonel?" Angelina slowly turned around the empty room. "Yuri?"
She stepped toward the empty doorway. "Mike? Khalid?" She glanced down the empty corridor, searching for the harness bulls who were at her door only seconds before. The wallpanels stretched, then bubbled out in convex and concave alternation as in respiration. The corridor became pitch black except for the light of the undulating blood red wall panels.
It was cold. Her exhalations emerged from cold parched lips in great plumes of smoke and despite vigorously hugging herself and rubbing her upper arms, her fingers remained painfully numb in the sudden -40 degree temperatures.
The walls moved in toward her, the undulating scarlet red panels crowded her, and suddenly she felt something grip her by the elbows. Terror overrode logic and Angelina struggled mightily but could not get away. She cried out in anguish and anger, violently thrusting her elbow backwards.
The unseen force transformed into a multilimbed beast that roared in rage as it's grip loosened temporarily. She attempted to run but the freedom from the restraint was temporary as more limbs encircled and shackled her, smothering her against it.
Mathias was only visible in the light of the lamp, which was peculiarly impractical, and intolerable to John Koenig who, at this point, demanded pragmatism, even in the face of superscience, and the unexplained. It was a stance to rile, and chafe, but he had long since tired of reinventing the universe in his own mind. It was past time for this improvisational drama to conform to right headedness, and common sense.
Quite the pipe dream, he had.
"Well....?" Carter got pushy as he stood beside the Medical Center gurney.
Mathias riffled, and undulated like a movie screen projection. He really didn't know why he, literally, had one foot in both worlds. He assumed that one day he would become a permanent resident of one, or the other.
"Helena." Koenig's prompt had more shock value. "What happened?"
"Cardiac distress, possibly due t psychological trauma" Russell continued to assess then reached for the high powered adrenaline derivative laser hypo. "She's not holding sinus rhythm."
Ang' still wasn't moving, and her lips were raw, and refrigerated.
"It was a terrible mistake." Shemp, the alien detractor deemed. "Onid, we should never have attempted this."
"You speak as if we had an avalanche of options." The Hydrac commander smote in return. "We have to try to save as many as we can while the doorway is open."
"Your doctrine is unappreciated." A belligerent John Koenig informed him. "I want everyone back--mobile...alive...the way they were before they were taken."
"If we don't revive her within the next few minutes...." The etheric Mathias set limits.
Onid looked away from the Earth commander, and concentrated.
His ontological pizza cutter was useless.
To be or not to be ..
This was the condition that Ang' faced, with a strong inclination towards 'not to be.'
"The bottom number keeps dropping." Helena Russell tried to hold it together, hair afright, and stethoscope slinging desperately.
"EASY." Koenig barked, more Doberman than authoritarian.
Onid didn't know how to tell them.
"This never should have been tried." Russell spat.
In the struggle between alphans, and the universe, all bets were now on the universe.
"All would be well...." Shemp reflected. "Had you listened. I see our astronomers were correct in their prognosticate. There was no intelligent life on the planet Earth."
"SHUT YOUR HOLE." Carter threatened disembowelment.
"Every time I come here, you think you already know the outcome," Angelina Carter leaned forward on the mahogany desk. The giant insect in front of her looked bizarre in the high back leather chair, yet, the creature appeared quite comfortable.
"I think that is quite arrogant of you," she sat back in her equally plush highback.
"Is it?" her host inquired. The end of one of his forelegs was wrapped around a quill pen. He dipped it in ink and wrote on parchment. "Not at all, Ang. I just know you. You can't leave. You have too much vested on the other side."
"Really?" She was tired, sick and tired of it all. "What if I surprise you? What if I tell you I don't care? That I'm too tired of the fight; too weary, too overwhelmed and I've reached my break point."
The rainbow flickering lights were starting to become too soothing. An angel drifted in front of her, touching her cheek, then blowing a kiss to the oversized bug. The green mantis appeared to blush.
"If you were going to break, you would have done so long ago," he nodded to the old woman who passed by the gilded doorway which appeared suddenly out of the fog. He continued to write then look up. "Is that all?"
She ignored him, looking around the featureless room.
"I have other things to do and I'm running out of time," he said gently, consulting his pocket watch. "As you are too. You need to make a choice. The decision is yours but I do believe you already know what you must do."
He stood up. "Later then. I have a two o'clock. You know the way and I'll let you see yourself out." The creature smiled benevolently. "You are not alone."
Then he was gone.
She relaxed as the fog lifted and the light faded to blackness. The gilded doorway disappeared and instead, she found herself back into a tunnel. Her body felt cold and she shivered violently, hugging herself and curled up on the leatherback chair with an attempted to conserve her warmth. Urgent and familiar voices streamed into her consciousness and she made an effort to keep herself from blinking. Maybe she was not in charge of her destiny. Maybe he lied and it was not her decision but his or God's or some other higher power's all along. Maybe she was just a pawn in some giant chess game.
"MAYBE..." Angelina sat bolt upright, gasping and freezing cold. Her head hurt, her eyes burned, her throat was on fire from projectile vomiting. She had not eaten in hours which only made the bile more acrid and agonizing.
"Alan," she finally spoke after looking around blankly for a moment, "which version of Alpha is this?"
"The one that's half baked." Carter told the almost there Mathias as he smoothed her hair out. "Still...it's better than where you were."
Helena Russell stood beside the IV Drip, engrossed in a mile of unfurled computer report.
"She's okay...." The physician told Koenig suspiciously. "Not many people can boast about having gone to Hell, and then escaped."
"What else?" The commander knew it was coming.
Russell was circumspect.
"Some sort of cellular damage has occurred." She stipulated. "It seems to be located at the base of the spinal cord." Russell tilted her head questioningly at Onid. "And it looks very much like the type of compression that we viewed in the epidermal samples that we took from Satet-Ta."
"Left to their own devices, your foundationally handicapped friends would have killed you with incompetence." Shemp told Ang' regally, with more than a whiff of romantic interest. "On Hydra, we are all smart."
"That's right." Carter testified. "Smart, and burned to a crisp. I'm envious. Hey, Baywatch, have you ever heard of a thing called 'Sunblock?'"
"Interesting." Mathias diagnosed. "She's even showing signs of frostbite."
"It was cold where I was before but not THAT cold," Angelina disagreed while she shivered and her teeth chattered despite the third blanket being draped around her. Still, her feet were ice cold and her toes felt numb.
"Ninth Susperia is perfect in its 'neutrality." Onid revealed. "There is no climate; no ecosystem; no continents."
"How does anyone live there?" Carter was incredulous.
"There are no people." The alien leader replied, moreover.
"No people or other humanoid life forms?" Koenig stopped pacing and turned abruptly on his heel. "Of course. Ninth Susperia is not a 'place' a physical place as we know it."
"You mean to say its all in our minds?" Angelina sniffed then sneezed.
"No, not precisely," Koenig went on. He gazed off in space, thinking.
"Another plane of existence?" Ang tried again. "I can see that...I think." She was genuinely unsure.
"No, no." Onid politely disagreed. "It does not exist; not if you believe that existence is dependent upon matter. Ninth Susperia is a creation of the great, omnipotent Oversoul which has courted Hydra since the beginning of time."
"Your planet is alive?" Carter was impressed, but not too much.
"No more so than any other." The alien commander was modest. "The difference may be our awareness of this sentience...this consciousness. All worlds have a high degree of recognition."
"You're talking about Earth Power." The astronaut recollected the beatnik in himself.
Onid was blasé.
"As lesser beings we enjoy a primitive form of 'acquaintanceship,' but the vast, ancient universe has enjoyed community since eons uninterrupted. It has its own religion; it's own politics; it's own art...."
"It's own condemnations." Helena Russell did not intend to be a backup singer. Her motive was to insult.
The alien clinched it with a smile.
"The quantity that calls itself 'Satet-Ta' fulfills the natural law of conservation. It ingests that which is inorganic, and unconstructive."
Carter grabbed his tunic to make sure he was still organic, and constructive.
"Pardon me...." He objected in the most strenuous way possible. "But the last time I saw her she didn't seem too interested in gobbling up the refuse."
"I'm not sure what she...it...whatever it is wanted or wants from us," Angelina was still very, very cold and suddenly very tired...and hungry.
Helena Russell grew impatient listening to the conversation. "The main problem still remains. How do we get our people back, certainly alive and preferably in good health? We can't do it the way we brought Alan back due to potential psychological consequences and we can't do it the way we brought Ang back due to the very real possibility of physical damage. Also," she paused, scanning Angelina's stabilizing life functions, "we are running out of time."
As if they did not already know this fact.
"We obviously can't bring everyone back one person at a time," Koenig leaned against the viewport sill while watching Ang ravenously rip apart a large slab of Hugo Willet's cornbread and scrambled eggs. It didn't matter that the beverage was Vita seed. At last, after days (weeks?) she had something substantial to eat. "It will take too long even if we were prepared to deal with physically and mentally sick people."
"It is her energy which keeps your people in Ninth Susperia," Shemp informed them, as if they were missing the obvious. "If she is neutralized, then your people will, presumably, revert back to where they should be.....here."
"That doesn't make sense at all," Helena Russell shook her head in disgust. Angelina shook her head in agreement while gobbling down the last of the cornbread.
"Helena...." Koenig suggested without rancor. "Tell me what 'does' make sense about this, and we'll proceed with logic as our guide." He moved over to Onid. "Do your people reside there? Do you dwell in Ninth Susperia?"
"No." Onid replied. "As I said, for a time, Ninth Susperia was appurtenant to Hydra. It was to be a perfect union--between physicality...the mental...the spiritual. Then the one you call Satet-Ta became omnivorous. It not only wanted diplomatic relations, and joint acculturation. It wanted to absorb us...subsume us."
"Eat you...." Carter finished for him eloquently.
"Right." Shemp approved.
"We're at the end of the rail." Koenig felt the wash of undispatched desperation. "Almost. We have another ally over there."
"You're not serious." A pious Shemp quibbled. "Commander, what you proposed earlier is immoderate. To even make the attempt...."
But they would make the attempt.
"Disappeared?" Bergman was incredulous. Satet-Ta was conveniently not around physically, though the Professor was not sure for long. "She just vanished into thin air....like the others."
He was standing in the Carter quarters in front of a apparently bewildered Petrov.
"I suppose it's possible, colonel, but," he paced, arms crossed and chewing his right thumb nail, "based on your recent actions, how do I know your version is not a...fabrication? That the Chief of Technical Operations may have vanished, alright, but at the hands of you and your men."
Now Colonel Petrov was outnumbered and his men were in the brig. Bergman had come with a garrison, sympathetic to him, and out arming Petrov's contingent.
"Not again." Petrov dropped onto the sofa dolefully. The walls of the room were now convex, and wild with intrusive, igneous formations. A cross between a Zebra, and a Parrot (a 'Zarrot') gnawed away at the low hanging nuts. The colonel sympathized with the acorns. Moonbase Alpha was turning into a cave, and he still could not put to rest the issues of 'CameraGate,' and the Saint Quenton's Day Massacre. Of course, no one bothered to verify their facts. Suddenly, everyone believed in the Loch Ness Monster. It was all about supposition, and feeling--therefore you are. The truth was like a Pontiac Bonneville...something that people hadn't driven in over thirty years, so they would syllogize, and argue, and re-argue until inhuman dragoons overwhelmed the Moon. "I hope Herb's transplant is very successful." He fibbed. "Let me begin by saying that I do not regret the actions I have taken this day." Too much like Herman Goering? Well.... The shadow of the noose inched lower. "But you, and I have known each other since the early fifties, Victor. Since before Sputnik...before Mercury. Who was the shark out of water aboard the Nevsky?
"There are no palm trees in Siberia, old friend. Who danced like Carmen Miranda to explain that itty-bitty' camera, and to avoid having you fall into the clutches of the KGB?
"That would be me." The colonel blustered. "I believe you know when I'm being a sandbag, and when I am intent on castrating choir boys.
"I am cognizant of these implications." He acknowledged. "So, before I face the firing squad, and/or the halitosis of these two, fine gentlemen." Harness Bull Judge, and Harness Bull Pound were the bad breath brutes in question. "I would like for you to answer something for me: why are you aiding, and abetting a hostile force in the takeover of this colony?"
Petrov hated excuses.
"What makes you think I'm aiding and abetting the hostile force?" Bergman glanced, hopeful, at Petrov. He and the Colonel went way back, to be sure. However, even after so many years, Bergman found Petrov one of the most difficult human beings to read. He was a master of the poker face, of disguising his true intent and emotion. The professor's gray eyes penetrated the gaze of the brown eyed Petrov, but still could not reach the mirror of the soul.
Bergman felt uneasy again with the nearness of Satet-Ta. It would be time to return the false, yet for some reason convincing to her, persona of friend and (he wanted to gag) consort. It was then that he noticed the colonel had looked away but was staring at something behind him. Bergman turned slowly and wrinkled his brow at the empty space but he also had a strong intuition that it was not really empty.
("Colonel," Angelina Carter was at last hopeful. No one in the room including Bergman had made any response to her, yet when she saw the color in the Russian's face drain and realized he was staring at her as opposed to through her she felt somewhat encouraged. "I think he sees us." Angelina nodded to a materializing Helena Russell, John Koenig, Alan Carter and Paul Morrow.)
"Yuri," Bergman turned back to the colonel, who had regained a semblance of composure, instinctually from many years of training, but still stared in the general direction of apparent emptiness behind Bergman "who do you see?"
"How rude." Satet-Ta flared. "We don't want to see that. Close your mouth after you drink."
Petrov gulped the sugar-shock remains of his Saccharine-B, the beverage that won't get you stoned.
"No wonder my bangs are gray." The alien complained. "This is an edgy situation...always being gawked, and leered at by males from another planet. Do you know I think the one you call 'Ed' followed me back to my quarters last night."
There they went again--Petrov chasing rabbits.
"You know...." He was Ooozy.'
"It's hard to believe there can be an alphan who is too portly for his pants." Satet-Ta was livid. "The rulers of Ninth Susperia were despotic, but at least they believed in low calories, and nutrition. Not so on the former, Earth moon."
"This has been enchanting." The colonel stood--trying hard to ignore this dose of doom, and Angs' wraithlike beckoning. Many a man he had vied in state, but it took a ghost to reduce him to his carbon elements. "But unless I'm being charged by a military tribunal, I think I would prefer to return to my quarters, and relax with a stack of pornography."
"Foul." Satet-Ta sibilated jealously. "Such perfect 'Y' chromosomes."
"Lieutenant Pound, Judge," Bergman motioned to the harness bulls, while never breaking his gaze at Petrov, "Escort the Colonel to his quarters. I will speak with you later," he finished, still glancing back at the Russian as he was led away.
"Here is wisdom." The colonel tapped a didactic finger at the professor. "Once a woman has given you her heart, you can never get rid of the rest of her body."
"ANIMAL." Satet-Ta shrilled.
Petov was happy--in spite of his death sentence.
("You're probably being watched on spy vision," Angelina commented, finding it ironic, as Petrov step through the door of his quarters. The door slid shut followed by the electronic lock from the outside. )
Petrov was not pale but only slightly perspiring. She was there but she wasn't. He could see right through her and she looked like...a ghost.
("So don't talk to us directly," Angelina continued. "I don't know. Pick up a magazine and make utterances in agreement and disagreement, like you're reading something controversial.")
("Oh, very good, James Bond," Paul Morrow smarted off, who had mysteriously reappeared beside her. "You wouldn't have made a good spy and would have gotten yourself shot. This is why I feel Petrov's section should be under my direction, not yours.")
("Oh good God," Angelina mumbled. She wanted to say 'You're an idiot, Paul' but knew the deputy controller would take exception to such a remark in front of a 'subordinate' (not that she hadn't called him one a few times in Command Conference. "I really don't think this is the time or place for you to make any case for expanding your corporate empire, Paul.")
("As weak as that case may be," the Chief of Technical Operations finished. She returned her attention to the Colonel. "Do you see us?")
Petrov nodded imperceptibly but enough for her to take his response as affirmative.
("Hmmm," she thought a second. "On second thought, it is not an advantage for us to communicate if you can't communicate back. "Turn on some music. Then, see that corner lamp? Turn it off. There's a camera in there. However, no one ever got around to upgrading it to a lower lux level. Besides, you always keep that light on anyway.")
("Ah, Alan," she turned as the Captain quasi-materialized, "does Commander Onid need me right now?")
Carter (Petrov thought of him as the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come) dropped into view, looking like a refugee from a photo editing suite. His neck was as long as a storks, and his gullet bore what could politely be called 'The Malcom Trademark.' The furniture in the colonel's quarters had seen better days. He could agree with his own memory on the meaning of the word 'chair,' but the poisonous, green formation that sprouted from the floor looked more like a giant mushroom. His military mind--his sense for good 'business,' if you like--informed him that this was yet another mind game. Like the cavernous appearance of Moonbase Alpha, it was an attempt to fox, and befuddle them. It was a demoralization tactic--like keeping a person awake for days at a time.
Not that Petrov would know anything about such pain, and strappado.
"Why is she doing this?" He disregarded Angs' prohibitions. Cameras, smameras.' Anyone who tried to turn them on would trigger charges that would destroy both the equipment, and the voyeur's kiester. The colonel held coolly to the code. "What is her purpose?"
("She's rounding everyone up." A sprite John Koenig communicated through the rays of a device that Shemp referred to as 'The Lamp.' "Satet-Ta is a kind of vampire, but her appetite doesn't stop with blood. First, she drains the will from her victims--the power of rational decision making.)
("Then...." The commander dared go forward. "Even physicality itself will liquefy, and be absorbed by the dominant host. Welcome to the paramecium. She will be the Moon...and everyone on it.")
("Her intentions were once upright." Shemp stumbled onstage with such bad burlesque, Petrov craved a head of lettuce to throw. "With the exception of bookless, pitiless, self-centered Earth men, all beings crave unification."
("You should join her for dinner." Carter suggested to the alien.)
Shemp was silenced, not by Carter's insult but by an enticing mental quandary. It was the largest befuddlement, improbability, he had ever encountered.
And it was as follows: How could a creature as brilliant, charming and hospitable as Angelina Verdeschi Carter have ever mated herself with the incorrigible, hostile and goading Captain Alan Carter? Shemp gaped in complete bewilderment. It was an incomprehensible scenario and the greatest mystery of all time, as far as he was concerned. He was smitten by the earth woman but the male Carter made it utterly clear Shemp's affections would not be tolerated. At first he thought she was being bound against her will but it became quite clear she was with him of her own choosing and right.
Perhaps she wasn't as brilliant as he thought but he would not acknowledge this possibility.
("We need to act fast," Helena Russell accentuated the variably modulated voice of Koenig. She sounded very nasally and sing songy. "Everyone on Ninth Susperia is already showing signs of extreme physical stress and illness, including you, Colonel.")
("The degradation accelerates exponentially once it begins," Commander Onid affirmed ominously. "That is why we need your help, Colonel. The processes which we have attempted up to this point to rescue individuals is both slow and dangerous." )
Petrov paced the floor doing the brain strain.
"I'm not sure what I can do to help rectify this situation." His weather report called for dark skies, and mass extinction. "She won't allow us anywhere near the Bio-Room, so no death by transmission. I suspect that she would frown on the contents of our underground silos." He looked to Carter for disambiguation. "I could put together a cabal of secret assassins.
"Whatever I do...." He looked honked. "I must have Dr. Carter's word that she will not have me hung for high treason."
("You can coordinate with me." Paul Morrow proposed.)
("As long as none of our people are killed, I don't care what you do," Ang glared sideways at Morrow. She winced internally. She was all too aware that she did not say 'hurt or killed' but only objected to 'killed.' She could see the military man picked up on her statement as well.)
("No." John Koenig resided. "None of those scenarios will be necessary. Actually, there's already a plan in the works. There has been for a long time, but we'll need the colonel's intelligence network to bring it to fruition.")
("Right. What's the deal then?" Carter piqued.)
The commander didn't want to tell them because there was every possibility it would destroy the Moon.
"I'm from Tokyo." Technician Bob Williams ran the point of the knife straight at him. "I don't lie."
Ed Malcom, terrified to the point of Cheyenne Stokes, was given a tip--all at the end of one of the black daggers from another place. They had seized him from his usual, crushed chair in the MCR Cantina, and had dragged him here in the night. The purpose: vigilante justice. It all had to do with his resemblance to Robert De Niro, and that he, and the alien were paramours.
Only Hypatia, and Harry Rom had the right to stand on their heads.
It was their religion--the new, protestant-gnostic-muslimism-yoga of pre-Breakaway Earth. The belief never did quite catch on.
But the blood did rush to their heads.
"I'M INNOCENT." A fat man cried, but his plight was unacknowledged.
"BECAUSE OF YOU, WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE." An upside down Hypatia judged from the corner. She looked better inverted. "BUT FIRST, WE'RE GOING TO BE INGESTED."
Former friends--they existed only in her scrap book now.
"SSSSSHHHHHHH," Michelle Cranston shushed with a manicured index finger. "You'll disrupt the party." Sandra Benes nodded in agreement.
They were surrounded by life sized Barbie dolls: Malibu Barbie, Ski Bunny Barbie and WNBA Barbie. No, they were not Barbies in flesh but dolls come to life. Their expressions all bore the same plastic smile with painted eyelashes. Sandra Benes thanked WNBA Barbie for pouring the tepid Earl Grey tea.
Benes added the honey with the teaspoon, stirred, then licked the spoon with her impossibly long and snakelike tongued.
"Would you like a sweet, Ed?" Cranston stood up demurely in her maryjanes and knee socks, which were the only articles of clothing she wore. She offered a plate of jelly filled cookies coated in powdered sugar.
"Oh, Shelly," Sandra Benes, dressed like June Cleaver, tittered. "I really think Ed has already had enough to eat." She shook her index finger critically at the oversized technician, the seams on his tunic and pants straining from excess volume.
Cranston shrugged and giggled, taking one of the cookies and sampling it herself. Powdered sugar rained off the biscuit, landing on her breasts and coating her nipple like the tips of Mount Rainer.
"I despise a woman who can't give me a decent roll." Recon' second, Pierre Danielle nullified the relationship with Freudian encryption; he was not out of his head, but he was out of his Oedipus. Outside the row of transparencies, the entire fleet of Eagles looped, and dived, ejecting contrails that spelled the word 'Hoboken.' The city...or maybe an insult, directed by a customer with a lisp. Risking certain collision, the backup Condors; versatile Falcons; and experimental Hawks jetted in, and out of harms way. No, not that Harms.
Him who was left behind for being a garrulous goof.
Here...a moonbus crashed against the barren, Platonic slopes, and Engineer Smith belched.
Every now, and then, Danielle recalled that his life was once an A-B-C chart--symmetrical, and derisive, and ground zero of logic. Now, it was a free for all, and rain on the roof.
"Dead by midnight." The yellowing Mr. Quenton told them all, joining the party in blue, karate pajamas, and sporting a new liver. "Whiskey for my men, and beer for their horses."
The Arabian stallion that Harness Bull Judge saddled preferred gin.
"AHHHHHHHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" A coronary Dac Capano blared, drunkenly, as the windows began to crack.
"I never did much care for parties." Victor Bergman finished dusting off the spanner. "Make sure the coast is clear." He told the magic chipmunk.
"You're safe." The beast replied, antsy.
And all the while, the professor had thought Ed Malcom mad. Before he was blind. Now he could see.
"The witch isn't anywhere near," Alice in Wonderland affirmed. Funny, a minute ago it was Emma Black but standing before the professor was not the 50 something woman with gray/blonde hair usually worn in a bun but a girl with blonde hair, about the age of 10 with hair in two neat braids with a black ribbon at the ends. It occurred to Bergman this little girl was in fact Emma Black; during the mid 1960's. "I don't know why but I can feel her presence when she is around. It's like an outbreak of hives. I'd rather not but somehow, I guess, it works as a defense mechanism."
Emma Black looked quizzically at Bergman. "Victor? Is there something wrong?" To her, the professor looked 'normal' except for the two foot long Santa Clause beard which had sprouted on his face.
For a long, long, looooooooooooooooooooooooooooong' time, it seemed that the astrophysicist was too torpid, and spaced to answer. Then the chronoflow' kicked in, and he was back in the minute. The lab reminded Black of the interior of an igloo--blocks of ice instead of walls, and bonus pneumonia. She was informed that the area appeared that way because it was under magnetic containment...with home, and garden decorating ideas from Satet-Ta, of course.
"You know....?" Bergman beget. "This all seems very 'out there'--which isn't to say that we're lacking in sagaciousness...because it is wrong...it is bizarre...but yet the quote still comes to me." He released the hatch handle. "'Art is a lie which makes us realize the truth.'" The professor addressed, and with a nod of satisfaction, he took the grip again. "If it's good enough for Pablo Picasso, it's good enough for all of us."
"Who am I to disagree with the great Picasso," she shrugged, now appearing her age. The blonde braids were gone, replaced with the perfectly turned bun. She flipped switches, up in the "on" position, or at least assumed she was engaging the device. Then, she nodded to the Professor. "All systems go."
She snickered. She had always wanted to say that. She remember it as a line from "Lost in Space".
They were and the irony did not escape her.
Then, the safety was removed, and Bergman unsealed the judgment of God. Sunbeams, and sparkles were broadcast upwards at them from the subterranean aurora below. It made all of the alien brain games, and break down seem almost forgivable, and the funny thing was, Black still had no idea what the thing was, or what they were doing.
"I would never seek to take my own life." Bergman extemporated. "I've always considered it a selfish, severe act of quantifiable cowardice." In the heat, both had begun to sweat. "But my involvement in developing this device...let's just say it was the one occasion when the thought did briefly cross my mind."
"I can't say I blame you," Black nodded without hesitation. "You're taking more than yourself. But, consider the alternative. We're already in one kind of hell. If we end up in another, what difference does it make?"
She wished briefly she had been a philosopher instead of a software specialist.
"We've got to do it soon, John," Helena Russell's furrowed brow made her look old and haggard. "I'm getting erratic brainwave readings from most of the population now, comparable to mental breakdown."
Her features became relaxed, making her appear a little more her age. "John, if we don't act now, there will be irreparable brain damage."
"No there won't." Koenig reproved as he consulted his commlock clock.
"Have you told her?" Shemp went on. "What you intend to do in lieu of drugs, and the Ulul?"
"This is the reason why we would never, ever assist you in finding a habitable world." Onid informed Russell quietly.
"NO ONE CAN GET CLOSE ENOUGH TO SKEWER SATET-TA." The commander erupted. "WHAT MAKES YOU THINK THAT YOUR CEREMONIAL, VOODOO DAGGERS WILL SUCCEED WHERE PSYCHOPHARMACEUTICALS FAIL?"
"Some might survive." Shemp maintained.
"YES, AND THE OTHER HALF WILL BE LOST IN TRANSITION." Koenig disagreed. "THAT BEING THE CASE, WE HAVE ONLY ONE OTHER OPTION. YOU SAID IT YOURSELVES: THAT CONTINUIM IS NEUTRAL."
"JUST HOW DO YOU DEFINE CIVILIZATION?" Shemp was ticked now.
Russell's mouth dropped, gaping with a terrible realization. "John, isn't there another way? We can try a different formulation...." she trailed off, knowing it was hopeless.
"HELENA, YOU CAN SAVE YOUR HYPOS." The commander teetered on the brink. "THEY WON'T BE NEEDED BECAUSE WE'RE GOING TO DESTROY NINTH SUSPERIA."
"Everything is ready, Commander," Angelina Carter reported as she strode quickly into Main Mission under the left archway. "Evil Mushroom is programmed and power will be diverted to tactical within 30 seconds of instruction. You will only have 10 seconds to abort then...well, it will be the point of no return."
She ignored the critical gaze of Commander Onid and Shemp.
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Morrow questioned from his station, hand in mid keystroke. He did not even look up at her.
"I can take notes," Angelina hissed, irritated. It was quite true that Evil Mushroom was completely Tactical's responsibility and Petrov's domain. Hence, it was necessary for her to appear as a corporeal entity to him. Then to Russell, standing next to Koenig, "but even Petrov is starting to buckle under the strain. While going over the process step by step, he would occasionally become distracted and tell me about his experiences during the war. It became increasingly difficult to bring him back to the subject."
"I left him sitting quietly on his sofa," she went on quietly. "I asked him not to take his life, not yet." She paused but had to tell him. "Three people have already successfully committed suicide."
"Pray not that Petrov might join the ranks of these unfortunate few." Morrow mumbled some sarcastic crap while typing on his upper keyboard. He couldn't find his mouse which delighted Helena Russell to no end.
"If you can keep your head." Bergman evoked Arnold. "When all about you are losing theirs, eh?"
"I don't understand." Emma Black admitted in the LSD dimension.
She was careful not to step on the Arthur Murray splay of protocol packages which interrupted her step like shiny, 45rpm records.
"It goes back to the war." Bergman told her wearily with blue light shining in his face. Three RCA jacks...three conductors...take a Phillips screwdriver to the failsafe mechanism, and the Moon would get much hotter. "Not the one you're thinking about. In the forties, I was involved in some work that could be deemed controversial."
"The Manhattan Project?" Black beamed.
"No." The professor corrected. "That was Oppenheimer. I was much too bright, and talented for that team." He announced with self-loathing, and intrinsic abomination. "My miniscule niche had nothing to do with Hiroshima--except for maybe the 'BOOM' part." He drifted. "We were near the end, mind you. Hitler had not eaten his Luger--not yet anyway. Upteen' Jews were losing weight at Belsen, and despite the positive press, Churchill was quickly running out of cigars.
"Then, totally inexplicably out of the blue, someone decided that it was time to deploy an ultimate strategy. If we could surprise Hirohito with dividing atoms, then we could amaze the rest of the axis with colliding mesons."
"Mesons?" Black looked confused. "That's the foundational stuff of everything...right? I thought that was antiquated knowledge. They say they don't exist."
"Right." Bergman winked. "They don't exist. That's a good girl. Splendid, even. You keep right on believing that, and there might be a future for you as an astrophysicist who works for the International Lunar Commission. Anyhoo....'" The professor kept on unscrewing symbolically. "Plans were made to drop a European bomb. Mussolini, and Deutschland would be decimated with such superluminal horror--so hard, and with such cruel rapidity, they would pull the instrument of surrender out of their asses.
"The Soviets loved the idea, by the way."
"What happened?" Emma Black wondered with temerity.
"Well...the whole thing sort of went south on us." The professor sounded like he was talking about a trip to Kansas. "Late in the game, we discovered that this new warhead would do far more than wipe out Berlin...."
"It would incinerate the atmosphere." Black deduced, quivering. "The planet?"
"No." Bergman blew away the dust on the release hatch. "More like the 'universe.'"
"Oh," Emma Black emitted. It was all she could say as she studied the device. She glanced at Bergman. It occurred to her something was wrong.
Victor Bergman was born in 1940. He was still a preschooler when Nagasaki and Hiroshima made victory a sure thing for the Allies. In her increasingly distracted thoughts she remembered the name of Bergman's mentor, who had been involved in advanced weaponry research: Jacob Braunstein.
"I'm surprised a discovery like this was kept under wraps for so long. After all, since when have mad despots ever heeded the warnings of scientists when such a powerful weapon could be unleashed to conquer and destroy." Emma Black leaned against the table. "Isn't that right, Professor Braunstein?"
"I've been dead for over 20 years," Braunstein/Bergman scoffed.
"Yes, but you're here now," Bergman/Braunstein continued to himself, "and I need your help now, professor."
"Victor, you must consider the consequence," Braunstein/Bergman lectured.
"We have no other choice," Bergman/Braunstein rebuttaled.
"This is just too weird," Black gaped.
"That doesn't even begin to describe it." Morrow was horrified.
Koenig kept on working, office dimly lit, despite the opening of the big doors. Around the blotter, there lay gnawed upon ink pens, and enough paper wads to rebuild Khufu. He had disimagined the consequences which was good since none of them were under his control. It was in the hands of time, and humankind. Oh how it made him shiver. The worst part was listening to the Hydrac, and the controller--bloated with blood pressure, and unshaven face fungus--as they bleated, and recanted, again, and again, the DO NO HARM schtick. Koenig did not rise to the ethical challenge. He wanted Satet-Ta to die, and he found it anecdotally amusing that not a single person thought the cosmos in jeopardy should she live.
This was not a matter for poets, and philosophers. It was about action, or non-action. Sink, or swim. This was existence at its middlemost. The most centrical of primal reactions. Us, or her? Their collective rear ends were in the balance, and neither argument in this syllogism was morally compelling. If they abandoned the others, which was what John Lennon, here, and his ET buddies seemed to be suggesting, then they would be guilty. Moreover, they would be guilty with a built-in condemnation because Koenig doubted their long term ability to subsist on a base where nine out of ten stations were unmanned.
"YOU'RE STANDING IN MY LIGHT." The commander carped at Morrow.
"THAT IT HAS COME TO THIS...." The controller had no control. He desired expatriation. If it were a marriage, he would be well on his way to divorcing Moonbase Alpha. Suffice to say, he felt dirty--like an unwilling supplicant who could do nothing but stoop, mangled, with a face full of jizz.'
Russell turned almost woodenly on her heel and slightly shrugged. She had witnessed Morrow's tantrums before. With a partial assembly of the Command staff, it was four against one supporting Koenig's plan.
Angelina Carter, THE only member of Technical section on the real Moon, stormed impatiently through the Commander's office, covered in grime, grease and having one of the worst hair day of her life. She was completely and utterly exhausted and pissed off.
"Commander," she began calmly, "why is HE," she pointed to Morrow, "still sitting up here in Main Mission when everyone else who is here is working their fucking asses off to keep this shithole operational?!?!"
Her husband, the other Carter and Darla Lomax would have assented if it wasn't for the fact one was welding a busted pipe and the other was determining the source of a major electrical short with Ed Malcom's rarely used voltmeter. Even Bob Mathias, the mysterious now you see him, now you don't physician was attempting rudimentary HVAC troubleshooting, which made Ang extremely nervous but without any choice in the matter.
"I'VE HAD ENOUGH OF YOUR CONTINUED DISRESPECT," Morrow, face aflame, rose to his feet.
"RESPECT IS EARNED, ASSHOLE," Angelina retorted with venom, practically nose to nose with the not controlling controller.
"Onid...?" Shemp' shrank.
Robes in ebon flow, the alien commander moved towards the vision port.
"Oh no." He pronounced idiotically.
High above, the sea monster's wings eclipsed the stars.
"What's up?" Ed Malcom asked his new bonk buddy.
He ignored the illustrated obvious.
Satet-Ta told the truth not too often, and did what she must. If coitus with a moron would achieve her sorcery then wine, and soixante neuf with Buddha was not outside the realm of possibility. This shocked no one on Moonbase Alpha. The alien supermodel was real gray now--her holidays red, with sunken cheekbones. She sat up in the bed, eyes closed. Presently, she began putting together a dolorous, out of key hum that transcended the spiritual oscillations.
"That's annoying." The technician expressed as he returned to the hay of love with donuts.
"Quiet fool." Satet-Ta decided what shape his demise would take. "I'm chanting. It's my mantra." She wheezed. "It helps my peace of mind."
Ed Malcom had no idea what it would be like to have a piece of mind. A hunk of brain.
He also didn't know that he had aged twenty years in the space of seconds.
As far as anyone knew, the vampirific drain did not effect his appetite.
"IF ANYONE HAS ANY IDEAS." John Koenig humbly invited his specialists. "NOW WOULD BE THE TIME TO VOICE THEM."
The creature wrapped its wings around the command tower, and commenced to bear hugging Main Mission.
"IT'S OPENING US UP LIKE A CAN OF CORN." An incredibly contained Paul Morrow reported amidst the showering sparks.
"PETROV, KILL THAT THING." The commander urged.
He sat up from his slumped position, dropping the empty faux, moonbase brew vodka bottle to the crimson floor. It bounced like a rubber ball rather than shattering. His chair wasn't a chair but some bizarre root formation with black, oily sap oozing from the bark.
Was it a hallucination or was it real? He thought he was in his quarters and wished he was in Tactical Control.
He was in Tactical Control.
Groggily, Petrov stumbled to the main lunar laser control and fumbled his key into the switch. The camera's on the surface aimed at the command tower produced a crisp and clear image of the unbelievably giant gila monster with wings that only could come from a fairy tale with a dark and terrifying lesson.
He moved the joystick until the crosshairs lined up perfectly on the head of the beast.
"NO, NO, NO...." John Koenig disapproved as the beam passed through Puff, The Magic Dragon. He stumbled back as the bird's beak started down on the vision ports. Ablated metal, and burst insulation gave way to round rosaceous, and shingles--zits on the inner bulkhead.
"YOU CAN'T DEFEAT THE CONSORT." Shemp angled proudly--also a targeted victim, but not caring.
Onid looked queerly at his shipmate while the elusive, transdimensional Bob Mathias appeared in the doorway of the Multi-Purpose Support Room. From beneath his pleather cloak, he carefully produced one of the obsidian daggers.
"MORROW, WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON THIS?" The commander went down the tree. Pipes fell behind him like bad ideas.
"IF GAS LASERS DON'T WORK THEN CRUISE MISSILES MIGHT." The controller advised with new angst as his panel began to short circuit.
Above the tierce of the command tower, Satet-Ta's projection of self brought its wings down, and smacked both sides of the complex. The transparency in Victor Bergman's office exploded. Oxygen, green bar stacks, and an old, wooden desk chair were expelled onto the lunar surface. Amidst the flashing emergency lights, and the automated RED ALERT pulse, Carter pulled Helena Russell inward as the archway doors closed on the OK Corridor just before cold faithful poured thru the windows. The pilot thought he heard a dragging screamer out there, but hoped he was wrong.
"WE CAN'T LOBB SHELLS AT THE BLOODY THING." The astronaut reminded them. "CHANCES ARE, WE'D MISS, AND BLOW OURSELVES TO KINGDOM COME."
"Not only that but even if we hit the thing the blast would be way too close and structurally damage the command tower anyway," Angelina grabbed the gooseneck lamp on the technical station to regain her balance.
"I won't do it." Shemp told his comrade on principle.
"You must." Onid pressured in deep basso profundo. "Do it for the galaxy."
Carter held hands with Ang' as they did the moonquake. Both fell backwards on the steps. Koenig, and Russell Rumba'ed across the trench, dodging splatters of freon, and nitrogen as the commander looked for a safe place to toss the physician. Morrow sat on his butt with a concussion--he saw pound signs, and birds. He wanted to get motivated, but somehow death seemed more cheerful.
"ALRIGHT, EVERYONE CLEAR OUT OF HERE." Koenig ordered. "ANG,' NETWORK COMPUTER TO TACTICAL, AND DEFENSE.
"WE'LL SEAL THE AREA OFF AS WE LEAVE."
The Chief of Technical Operations, aided by the balance kiltering rumbles, stumbled to Ouma's empty swivel desk and typed a few commands. The split second she hit the "enter" key a structural I-beam came crashing down, smashing Ouma's desk. It only missed Angelina because Carter had grabbed her by the back of the belt and pulled her out of the path of certain death. Sparks jumped madly on Ouma's destroyed station, and an electrical fire erupted on his station.
"C'MON! C'MON!!!" Koenig yelled from the stairway access door as Carter practically dragged her out of Main Mission.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of the creature's eye, staring into the viewport. The pupils were a chasm of black, unlike anything she had ever seen or imagine. It was cold. It was evil. It instantly made her weak and sickened, she vomited the moment she was shoved in the stairway and the commander latched the door.
"Quickly!! Quickly!!" Morrow yelled from further down the stairs. Helena Russell, half way down the second flight of stairs, made her way up again, as Ang, kneeling and bent over, was still not able to find the strength to continue.
Carter whiplashed at the violent, industrial blowout of hope, and saga that accompanied the intermittent loss of power in the postern. They were suspended--each person hanging precariously to what remained of structure, the coolness of the rail, the blinking wall panels. Russell was fixed with her stethoscope, sitting ladylike on one, catastrophic step beside Ang.'
Mournful glances upwards, and the awareness of a denouement was all they needed to complete the yarn. No longer in a hurry, Koenig, and Morrow shared a prosaic recognition as the high, suction sounds ceased.
It was withdrawal from ignorance.
It was the end of the world's culmination.
"Paul." Koenig crashed, mentally. "What's the quickest way to the TAD?"
"There's an HE-3 dragline facility on the bottom level." The controller plotted. "From there we can take a tram somewhere, anywhere, I should think." He exhaled. "Unless the rest of the base has been given a sun roof, we can re-enter the core from down here. Petrov will have to deactivate the cyclone field." He pulled his tunic straight. "We can enter tactical thru the magazine."
"There's also a 5 digit code to deactivate the field from the outside," Angelina offered. The strobe lighting of the stairwell was better than the imagery which played in her mind, the chilling blackness of the pupil of the unreal but real space dragon. It was giving her the beginnings of another migraine but at least her stomach wasn't bucking like a tilt-a-whirl ride.
"Zero-three-zero-three-eight," she continued, slowly rising and griping the wobbly rail.
"John." Helena Russell stood in the strobing darkness of the landing. "Was there anyone else in the tower before...." She failed.
The commander didn't answer.
Though Carter was staring, he didn't expect one.
"Yeah...." He did think to say, though frankly, my dear, he did not give a damn. "What about whatshisface'? Onid? And Shep."
"Shemp." Morrow improved with even less compassion.
"Let's get going." Koenig led the way.
"Over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house we go."
They weren't going to grandmother's house. They were light years far away both distance and time from any of their grandmother's houses. They weren't going over the river and through the woods either.
Instead, they were navigating narrow passages, avoiding live electrical wires, cables hanging askew like nooses. They squeezed through hatches that Ed Malcom could never manipulate his wider than ever ass. The last obstacle involved moving down a ladder with two broken rungs to a hatch in the ceiling of the corridor.
Koenig checked the pressure on the other side and found it to be balanced. He opened it to reveal Darla Lomax, holding Nicky, and both staring up at them.
"Thank God you made it," Lomax was visibly relieved. "I knew you guys would come out this way." If you made it, came the next unspoken thought.
Paul Morrow knew they would make it too.
After all, it was his plan.
"Why interface with everything?" Braunstein--free of the Bergman vessel--asked particularly. He was gaseous ectoplasm that floated near the cave's ceiling.
Anything, and everything was in transit. A one way voyage to great noodle, Satet-Ta. She was unaware of the hopes, and the consciousnesses, and the tangibleness that turned to steam, and entered her skull through the ears, and nose. She had no time for the destructive force that had obliterated the Main Mission tower. It's emergence was based on a whim that was rooted in remote irritation.
"You, and I have nothing to say." The All told the professor. "You've never called...over the years...never a word about how I was doing.
"No wine, or roses."
She was neglected--an essence scorned.
"That's the best you can do? Self-reproach. Pity for yourself, but not for others? You realize that can end in cyclic depression?" Braunstein tried again. Actually, he wasn't sure why he was here. Somehow, the balance had been laid at his feet, and he intuitively knew that it was up to him to park this creature in the bad seats. Submitted, to you, as a metaphor. "Well, perhaps I can tell you why." He rebelled, watching grotesquely as the alien's nostrils widened to stadium size to accept the fattest alphan he had ever seen in all of his everlasting days. "Ever since you were a girl, you wanted to merge with God.
"Wrong." Satet Ta answered. "It is more about community, and less about religion. Your syllogism is completely erroneous. Dumbass."
Braunstein had no faith in the bomb.
Something had to work--even if the solution was to dialogue her to death.
Her faux insides began to ache and Satet-Ta began to suffer, what in a physical human, would have been termed gastric upset: heartburn. She let out a small belch and, reciting the behavior learned from the earth human, excused herself while covering her mouth.
The alien's intuition told her to stop and leave but she continued the consumption.
Bloated. Overstuffed...and still, she devoured the essences of humanity.
"Ah, but religion is often a community affair," Braunstein continued to pontificate. "Consider the domination of the Catholic Church in Medieval times across Europe and it's influence, it's shape on community. It seems you are trying to accomplish the same objective: bring the masses under the control of one authority...you."
"Yes, but the difference in my case," Satet-Ta was feeling nauseous for the first time since entrapping the Alphans,"they do not openly worship me." She smile, despite the taste of bile in her throat and another small burp. "I have deceived them into choosing me. It is not of their own choice."
"Neither had Christianity, in the form of Catholicism or Protestantism, always been chosen of free will by people." Braunstein continued, the stench of the belch was overpowering and attempting to disperse his gaseous essence.
"Really?" Satet-Ta appeared mildly interested.
Bergman alone appeared in the mirror, sinking into the silvery depths, only to be replaced by John Koenig's reflection, and the Taste Of Moscow, obsolete 1999 calendar that hung on the door of the lavatory in Petrov's office. Ah, the good old days. So...the horrific lighting of Disposal Area Two was not the biggest explosive that man had ever made. Satet-Ta's arrival, and general disposition had brought to mind the 'other' pyrotechnic.
("What other choice is there." Paul Morrow contended on the opposite side of the door. "If we don't try something, then they're damned anyway. I don't relish the idea--and it would not have been my first choice.")
("I'm with Paul on this one." Carter was the supporting player.)
("An entire universe?" Lorna O'Brian could scarcely conceive. "Along with all of the nebulae; and the meteors on the rim; large planets, and small planets; doubled bowed stars; Rapture Corridors; and red rings of ice, and comets--OH, AND HAS ANYONE CONSIDERED THE UPTEEN MILLIONS, AND BILLIONS, AND ZILLIONS WHO WILL DIE IN THE PROCESS?")
(Carter dared her to say they weren't worth it. After all of these years--beginning with nothing, but a passport to certain death.
("There's only a couple of hundred." He recalculated. "As for the rest, who gives a crap?")
("It's more than a 'couple of hundred," Lorna disagreed vehemently, shaking her head. She was, however, overruled and besides, could she honest say she would sacrifice her life for the preservation of unknown things, both living and not, when the end came?)
("Professor, I can't tell you how pleased we are...." Petrov injected. "That you were left behind...that you survived the collapse of the tower.")
(He liked her.)
"It's time." The commander informed them as he re-entered the core.
"How could you possibly know?" Helena Russell asked fairly. "Are you in communication with Ninth Susperia?"
"Could be." Koenig waxed sarcastic.
"What about those two sunburned aliens?" Carter lived to traduce. "Don't we need them?"
"No." The commander replied as he leaned on one corner of the colonel's desk. "In fact, we don't need to do anything."
"What?" Angelina turned in the swivel chair. "Nothing? Nothing at all?" She sat back, amazed. "You can't be serious."
Koenig threw his hands up--the right one finding the iced java that sat on Petrov's desk blotter.
"The instrument of liberation is in Ninth Susperia." He explained, and expressed gastric misery at the taste of his coffee. He saw Russell looking at him suspiciously. Really, none of them believed him--or maybe, more appropriately--none of them felt secure in their conviction. Like that was new to Moonbase Alpha. What, or who can you trust? In the face of deep space. He didn't blame them. There was something real wrong about seeing the faces of entities in the lavatory mirror. He wagered that Petrov, and his cronies had been in there a billion times--you know...your typical work day with too much pop; copious water cooler; and none of them had yet to 'touch' the other side.
There was something to be said about the porcelain god, he presumed.
Following the timpani, Carter was the first to walk on stage. Smartass. Even after his emotional pledge of allegiance, the astronaut was too much a refutationist to keep his mouth shut, and wait.
"How did they pull that one off?" He doubted.
"Commander Koenig, who has the bomb?" Petrov buddied up to the pilot. "What power enabled them to take a doomsday device into another dimension?"
What power enables you to watch naked women in the shower with cameras, the executive thought censoriously.
"Them?" Ang objected, tapping her pen impatiently, "you're assuming it's someone human." The conversation seemed to be going nowhere. Koenig was holding back and she didn't like it.
"When that jape came along, it hit me like a ton of bricks." Carter gave testimony. "I had no idea what happened. Fastidious fellow. I didn't know there was a single person on the base who was that aware.
"What did he, or she do it? Did they stick it in their pocket?"
Once again, the Technical Manager stared at the Commander. 'Well??' she seemed to say with a cocked eyebrow.
"Do you believe in life after death?" Koenig wanted to reveal everything, but couldn't. It was already insane enough. The sundae needed no more topping.
"Onid, we should leave." Hagar, the mole-wit stretched limber--the greatest pollyana. "This appointment is not ours. Leave them to the Dolman. It has seen fit to spare our people. These rodents from the third planet are the one's it wants."
"Let us join." Ho Phat, the undeceived deceiver, lauded his fellow alien. "We will swear to be true to one another."
He embraced Hagar.
"No." Onid decided. "One of us must attempt the ritual."
He handed Shemp the dagger.
"Me?" Shemp was aghast but did not retreat. "Why chose me?"
Onid refused to answer.
"Very well, then," Shemp took the oversized, neon laced weapon. He caressed it gently as he mumbled incoherently in what could have been mistaken as prayer.Then, without ceremony, he plunged it into his own equivalent of a heart.
The opera of flesh, violated.
Given the right mood, it was not a difficult song to sing.
Satet-Ta grabbed for her pumps, both palms clutching the invisible razor that hacked, and slashed its way into her right ventricle. For a moment, the dark underworld (formerly known as Moonbase Alpha) was exposed for the static, negative zone that it truly was. The drowning voices in the lake were fixed. The roundup of eyeless sockets confronted her from the grave as she fell to her knees, seeming to float in space itself.
The yellow line opened into a rectangle. The black Gumby on the opposite side stepped into focus.
"What's wrong?" Victor Bergman charged to the rescue. He sounded authentically, treasonously concerned. Sometimes, his paternity could be a real pain, but not worse than the one in the alien's chest.
Her eyes were backslashed, tormented vile slits.
They were cracks. From them a poisonous effluvium spewed forth.
"DAMN YOU." Satet-Ta conjured.
Instantly, the professor's identity was wiped clean as he became a staggering, mindless torso without benefit of eyes, or mouth, or ears. Now a panicking drone, he used his hands in desperate pantomime, but his pleas for mercy fell on dry, arid soil. Eventually, the undefined Bergman found its way back into the thinning portal, and vanished before the single, teardrop of blood fell.
Braunstein directed his guilt-ridden fusion towards the great, golden warhead that rested on its side in the lab...the last bastion of normalism, civility.
That was how long Ninth Susperia had to live. If successful, no one would ever criticize, or rebuke his work again. Not in this world, not in the next. There would be nothing left; no melt down; no ashes; no bones.
In the universe's darkest chapter, heroes often arise.
"I AM SHEMP OF HYDRAC." The alien said with incredible braggadocio, considering there was a dagger sticking out of his chest. "DOLMAN, I DO BIND YOU. DO YOU HEAR? I CONSOLIDATE MY FAITH, AND CAST YOU OUT OF THE POOL OF MYTH WITH THE MIGHTYEST STATUTE.
"DO NOT ENVY ME BECAUSE I AM A EUNICH." He warned. "OUR CRUMBS YOU WILL EAT, AND RANCID SHALL BE YOUR FEAST. GO ELSEWHERE TO SEEK ENVELOPMENT, OR YOU WILL BE PUNISHED." He assured as his precious, life force gushed onto the floor. a whole lot of gore. "FORGET THIS INTERCOURSE...YOU SHALL KNOW NO PEACE."
'Piss on your peace,' Satet-Ta's thought blazed around Shemp, lighting a ring of inferno around the dying, staggering alien. Shemp wheezed and weaved; the fact that his robe was now on fire was the least of his problems as his life continued to gush out of his chest...and mouth.
Satet-Ta conjured the dragon with failing strength but last ditch determination.
The monster which crushed the Main Mission tower swooped toward the flaming Shemp, plucking the dagger from his heart. Then, with one sweep of batlike wing, it crushed Shemp, literally flat as a pancake.
Satet-Ta sighed, rubbing her chest, and closed her eyes. The wrinkles, the sagging underarms, the jowls and the gray, straw hair disappeared and her previously lost beauty returned.
"You're a fool, Onid," she giggled giddily. "Nothing can stop me," she purred wickedly. "Nothing."
"Something can." Onid denied, chuckling, and embarrassed. He had to tell Hagar because his big, Hydrac ego was too bruised to look at the metaphoric reptile that was half the circumference of the base. Turning away from the window, and the extinguished flenders of his 'plan,' the alien commander led the way down the brightly lit corridor to the Travel Tube. John Koenig, and the others were close by, he knew (actually, he had no idea where they were...or where he was...or where the Moon was progressing to; it was all about wages, and the reaping of life, and death, but mostly death).
"We should leave now." Ho Phat winked.
"Yes." The alien called Soylent Organ commended. "We should go. Just get in our universe traversing spacecraft, and go! The noble attempt was made...and botched. Badly. Our priest, Shemp, is now enjoying virgins, and the Kingdom of the Overpulver. We owe them no addendums, or considerations beyond the loss of this superior, ethical being. Besides, I did not like how there was nothing left but his carbonized bones, scattered across the ashen floor like burned hose fittings."
"Onid, I am afraid." Swinger Enda, the mono female, confided to the commander.
"We at least owe them one, final bit of intrinsic foresight." Onid reprimanded as he opened the door to the travel tube with the manual plate. "Then, we will depart, and let nature take its course."
They entered, and the doors closed.
But it was not a travel tube, it was a closet.
"COMMANDER, BLOOMIN' DUN-" Carter cracked.
"SHUT UP." Koenig hacked their sentences, and set them all straight, staring down Petrov, Ang,' and the others in the quest for control. He stopped his contemplate as he halted to study the hands of the tall, Seville grandfather clock in the colonel's office--his office, now, technically, since Main Mission no longer existed. And he was going to make changes. The hour, and the second hand were fifty-five minutes into the zone of hopelessness.
Something had gone wrong.
The bomb had not detonated.
Then the hyperetherical doorway opened, and the duality that was Bob Mathias returned from his last spy mission to Ninth Susperia.
"Commander...." He trailed, examining the faces, and wondering why they all looked so depressed. "I'm sorry to inform you of this, but Professor Bergman is dead."
Angelina's face fell into a mask of misery and defeat. There could be no tears, though, since it appeared they were heading for the same fate. "We've lost a great man," she mumbled.
"I won't accept that," Helena Russell shook her head. "No. There is no way I will accept that." She turned toward the doorway from which Mathias had entered.
"SATET-TA!!" She shouted through the open door. Beyond it was blackness where there should have been just a lavatory. "Satet-Ta!!!! I WANT TO TALK TO YOU!!" The Chief Medical Officer was angry. Very angry.
A blast of hot air answered in response and Russell momentarily recoiled then stood her ground again, staring stonily into the void.
"YOU COME OUT HERE RIGHT NOW!!" Russell continued.
"Are you mad?!?!?" Angelina jumped up, reacting, but was motioned back by Koenig.
"Alright, then!" Helena continued. "If you don't come here, I'll just have to go there!!"
She stepped forward and became dissolved then reassembled in the void. The place had not form but it was still a place. She felt disembodied, yet, her body was intact. She was momentarily nauseous and dizzy but then she recovered.
"SATET-TA!!!" Russell continued. Behind her were the muffled voices of those inside Petrov's office. She glanced back and saw them as if they were on the other side of a mirror. "Come out, Satet-Ta!! ARE YOU AFRAID OF ME?"
"Who me? Afraid of you?" The luscious alien beauty with the soul of a demon relaxed casually on the hot pink faux fur chaise lounge. "Never. What do you want? You earth creatures bore me but I thought I'd humor myself with torturing you until I finally extinguish your pitiful lives."
Without the MCR tower, Moonbase Alpha looked uncrowned, blasted, and decapitated. It hung low, and unmajestic in the space that is defined as philosophically real, with all that remained of the human race, piled into the underground bunker. The satellite itself might plunge deeper, and deeper with a heart of courage--its eyes opening some day in the light of a new world. As for its human contingent, they were in a hole, and in a hole they would remain until the electronic feedback flooded their tombs like whale song.
Satet-Ta grinned like a Kabuki.
"Where is professor Bergman?" Commander John Koenig was declamatory...too dangerous to be angry. In his mind, she was already finished. Now, if reality would only see fit to cooperate.
"Oh, him?" she snickered. "Let's just say I'm a grieving widow." She looked anything but grieving. "He's in the underworld among the faceless and featureless...literally." She threw her head back in conceited laughter as she caressed her long, silken locks with a white, smooth hand.
"Oh..." Carter blushed. In a way he felt sorry for suicidal people. "I CAN GO YOU ONE BETTER THAN THAT."
Koenig was the lucky one. He tried to strangle the alien too, but the pilot was closer, and the next contestant on a game show called "The Price Is Too High." The telepathic hand was on Koenig faster than you can say: "I REMEMBER HARRY BALFOUR." By the time the commander finished bouncing off of the walls, and the floor, he turned to see the source of ice age that had mysteriously flooded the compartment. Alan Carter now stood translated as a solid, below zero sculpture of ice. His dead, unanimated lips were purple. Snow flakes drifted from his hair. This new man made Petrov think morbid thoughts. Of beatitude, there was no spark.
"I AM THE ONE WHO IS IN CONTROL." Satet-Ta was livid with carnage, and rodomontade.
"What's going on in there?" Angelina peered anxiously through the murky doorway, feeling the ice cold draft. She was about to step through the portal.
"Stay where you are," Morrow barked without turning. "You heard the commander. We are to wait 15 minutes and then..."
Despite her desire to the contrary, she acquiesced, rubbing her upper arms vigorously.
"Make sure we are ready," the controller continued, somewhat gentler but still firm.
"Are you?" Helena Russell stepped toward the extraterrestrial witch, sidestepping the ice block Carter. "On the contrary, you seem to have a need to demonstrate your power. Insecure, Satet-Ta?" The physician looked flabbergasted. "Frankly, I'm disappointed. I would have thought that a being such as yourself would be too advanced for such displays."
Carter looked beyond hypothermic. Koenig thought he was dead, but could not say with any degree of diagnostic certainty. Russell's reactions were indicative, though.
"That's what it's all about, isn't it?" The commander took to his feet again. "All of this talk of interfacing, and assembling.
"You can't get enough bodies to fill the gap." He was brazen, hocking, stepping up to join the physician with a bum shin, and a bad view. "You just suck it all in...like an unplugged drain...hoping to compensate for your own shortcomings--mainly, that you're loathsome."
We don't like you very much is what he, and Russell, postured to say.
He may as well have cocked a BB Gun at God, but he was all out of didactic speeches. Genocide aside, the fact that she would play Skip Bo with a Vischy, bottom-dwelling, lap dog race like the Hydrac was proof of evil. Koenig was earnest, and Carter was frosty. Not that either of them had a choice.
"Well...you must grant me this...." Satet-Ta's gimlet was engorged galaxies. "I am discriminating in my strong aversion to foundationally handicapped Earthers like yourselves. I was simply too close to resist; my need to culminate overwhelmed my integrity, but I'll eventually process you out. The formula is divine, even if the ingredients are not."
Koenig thought she was in Grand Mal, that the ultimate metamorphosis had begun. Then Morrow pinged his commlock, and he realized that it was the ground that was shaking.
The Carter statue fell forward instantly.
"COMMANDER." Paul Morrow looked black, and white, and squeezed on the communicator's monitor. "WE'RE EXPERIENCING MASSIVE SEIZIMIC ACTIVITY WITH TWIN EPICENTERS; FROM HERMITE TO MALAPERT--CATASTROPHIC."
"It's unlike anything we have ever recorded before," Angelina effectively shoved the controller aside and now it was her squashed monochrome image which stared back at Koenig. "Richter readings are way, way off the scale."
"It could be enough to break apart the moon," she deduced calmly, despite the apparent fact that death was quickly inevitable.
Helena Russell looked impassively at Koenig then seemed to have an inspiration, though she was not sure if it was borne of logic...or desperation. Slowly, carefully, despite the increased shaking, she took the dagger which Shemp had fatally impaired himself. She studied the symbols, familiar yet not remembered. Then she turned the dagger, blade toward her and immediately recognized the symbol.
A circle linked to a cross.
"It will do you no good," Satet-Ta broke her moonshaking trance momentarily. "Futility."
But the alien could not mask the fear, the flash of anxiety in her eyes. The physician read her like a book and with one quick thrust, Russell plunged the dagger into herself, piercing her abdomen. After the initial sharp agony, she was surprised how quickly the pain ebbed away while the warmed of her own blood flowed and soothed her hands, still grasping the dagger.
Satet-Ta shrieked loudly and with rage. She stumbled forward in a vain attempt to get to Russell but she was surrounded by Koenig and Petrov. The alien's strength faded exponentially and she collapsed to the floor, wailing and screaming loudly. She closed her eyes and gasping, concentrated, the lunar quaking began a new and with increased intensity.
While her strength was focused on breaking the moon to its very core, the Carter block of ice, which had been teetering back and forth, reanimated in an instant thaw, all his senses returning just as he landed face first on the ground.
The dawn of uncreation raced across the plains of Fontenelle, and Archytas in a flourishing S-Wave of exploding foundational rock. The crevasse raped its way through the hills, and plundered Plato in an instant. An insignificant, defenseless Moonbase Alpha lost all power, and life capability as a mole the size of the Kilomanjaro tunneled into the frontier, and sent the outer ring of barracks' crashing into the core, which was, in turn, gutted into the opening fissure. Amidst the havoc, certain death came to the Tactical, and Defense unit as the underground depot was exposed in faeries, and fiery cross section.
Fingernails breaking, Petrov clung feebly, deplorably, squalidly to one of the commstations as the energy of a Vesuvius ripped for him. Into this new, bottomless pit, ice traps, gnarled girders, and live power cables joined the landslide of hydrocarbons, and hydrated materials as they rushed into the Moon's iron core.
Lorna O'Brian went to her automatic oblivion--the perdition of once dead, now erupting, lunar geology. Through the opening in the wall, she joined all of the unanchored furniture, and computer hardware that exited the dugout in the Hellfire of blowback.
The view from a million kilometers away.
Not good, for man, woman, Hydrac, or rooster.
The full Moon lost its reflective glow, and succumbed to darkness as its east, and west crescents began to divide, and separate.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO." Satet-Ta cried in the everlasting dynamite.
Koenig pulled a shaken Carter to his feet. Long hair disshelved, and in his eyes, the astronaut had no time to wonder why they had not been sucked into space. He did have time to consider what would happen if the floor continued to tilt. The RMS Titanic versus the conflagration of the Crab Nebula.
But at least Ang' was still on his side, literally.
The commander had to watch as Russell, and the others drifted away on the three thousand mile, Egyptian barge that constituted the far side of the Moon. They physician's undaunted, courageous back of braw moved further, and further away. He elbows poignant, and accepting of both of the hands that held the haft of the dagger in her chest.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO." Satet-Ta was sheer white, and supplicating.
The satellite was Romulus, and Remus--a Janus.
It's two hemispheres fell perilously out of range of one another like fraternal asteroids, orphaned in the scads, and superabundant tides of deep space.
"NooooooooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO." The extraterrestrial allowed her face to drop to the shattered wreckage as a grave of dust, and honeycombed insulation poured over her like the sands of an exhausted hour glass.
The tornadic winds and whirling dervishes blasted through matter, the jigsaw puzzle of boulders, walls, tile floors, light panels and commstations reassembled in a deafening roar. Human beings, men, women and children and Caesar the cat, those from Ninth Susperia and those on the former and present moon appeared, unconscious and motionless.
Dust and gases rose above the battered base, now without a Main Mission tower. Unfortunately, some Alphans reappeared in the space that was the Main Mission tower but fortunately, in their unconscious state, they were blissfully and permanently unaware of the effect of lunar atmosphere on their bodies.
High above the base, the Hydrac ship hung motionlessly, dark and seemingly lifeless.
"Momma...Momma...Momma, wake up," Nicky's small hands cupped Angelina's face, shaking her head. She did not wake up.
He sat between the prone forms of his parents and studied Ang then turned to his father. In the Defense and Tactical room, he glanced at an unconscious Koenig, Morrow and Petrov along with a prone Bergman slumped against a white plastic chair. Under the threshold to the corridor, Dr. Helena Russell lay prone. He returned his focus on wakening the pilot.
"Daddy...Daddy...get up," the toddler pushed with the full force of his strength against the astronaut's chest. "Daddy, get up!"
Ever belated, and being firm believers in the maxim that you are never too late to not be on time, Onid of Hydrac footraced into the unstable bunker. He was followed by Swinger Enda, and the homeopath, Qua-Dinkus--who kept his eyes crossed in flagellative memory of their fallen comrade, Shemp. The others had long returned to the ship, and prepared for an every-alien-for-himself departure with sweating exigency, knuckles white on the controls.
They made Alan Carter want to puke.
Lenses, and couplings blowing behind him, John Koenig ignored the gritting glass, the carbon monoxide cloud, and the electrical bullets as he pushed the ceiling panel off of his chest. With torn tunic, and encrusted from head to boot, he stood with a bloodied mouth, and looked for his fellow castaways.
Here was Carter, thawed, and ready for traction, but mobile with Angs' assistance.
There was Petrov--knocked to the floor, and captured in an odd moment of temerity. There would be no more shower intelligence gathering. Well, at least not until he had time to recompose himself.
Then there was Mathias with a medical bag--no longer omnidimensional, and the only person who looked mean, and perfectly clean. They would talk, but not now.
"Victor." The commander extended a grateful hand, and helped the professor to his feet.
"I'm alive," the professor took the hand and the pull to a standing position as he brushed a pale hand through his wild, Albert Einstein strands of white hair. He was alive but he looked far from 'well.' "It was quite a bad dream," he frowned, trying to describe his surreal experience. "I think. I don't know." He smiled, scratching his nose which, in his dream was non existent.
"Helena?" Koenig caught sight of her as the smoke parted like demonic spirits.
The physician did not fall. She stood, still holding the black obelisk, but there were no mortal wounds on her. Her amazonian bravery held forth, even if the rest of her was in shambles.
"I'm ok," Helena Russell held the obelisk up for examination then looked down at her chest and abdomen. She felt no pain and not a scratch on her. Sure, her hair was wildly disheveled and the white sleeve from her tunic was completely missing, along with an assortment of rips and tears in her tunic and flares but she was physically unscathed.
She immediately knelt beside Petrov, whose left leg was bent at a completely unnatural angle due to a compound fracture and fortunately, he was unconscious.
"John," she looked up after quickly assessing the Colonel was not in danger of immediately dying, "what happened? How did we survive this time?"
Koenig scanned the room. Already, Bergman was attempting to configure and compile the data slips the tactical and defense printer, now the interim control center's printer, spit out in reams and volumes. Sandra Benes had returned through the single door and, after helping up a shaken Morrow, attempted to re-establish the internal Moonbase communications. Angelina Carter was standing on a chair, peering above the ceiling tiles with a maglight and yelled 'I found it' down to Benes as she found the disconnect on the ethernet panel.
"John," Russell stood up again, now next to the Commander, still surveying the scene. "It was completely against all reasoning. We were dead. All of us. How?" She mumbled, glancing around. "Maybe more importantly," she looked up as he finally made eye contact. "Why?"
Carter looked for an answer, his cannibalized (not in the imperative, amoral, Dinner Is Served sense, fortunately) lamp-cane held him steady, but provided no chalk for the blackboard. Even Morrow--normally a full tank, and sealed, bombastic ass--seemed to thirst for suffice. Petrov also missed the Blackbird singing in the dead of night. He was looking at the commander as though he were the Swami Rama--with mutton, and psychedelic dope, with metaphysical awareness. Helena, not surprisingly, given her recent visit to the end of everything. Bergman just seemed satisfied to have a face again, but with a certain exposure.
The vultures were denied.
More pathos from a fate that was hard hearted enough to erase Harry Balfour, but enigmatic in its preservation of the mass of human remains.
Sandra Benes appeared to be wishing it all away. Uncharacteristically, she was propped against a leaning, tower of Pisa commstation, fist in her mouth, and eyes vacant.
Koenig was bulimic for an answer.
Instead, all they had was their shipwrecked selves.
"IT DOESN'T FIT!!! WHY DOESN'T IT FUCKING FIT?!??!" Engineer Harrington "Smitty" Smith grunted and sweated as he and two other construction engineers attempted to fit the new preconstructed picture viewing window, dividing the Commander's office from the upper control level of the new Main Mission.
Ang had put the ornery, ill tempered yet exceptionally smart engineer in charge of the reconstruction project of Main Mission, in the hopes of cultivating more project management skill: and hopefully, some more people skill development for Smitty.
Smitty heaved a sigh of relief as the window was set gently on the floor and pulled out his manual, well used tape measure. He measured the opening and grunted in disgust as the tape returned with a hearty 'snap'.
"Ang," he began, with a smart ass tone, to the Technical Manager, technically his boss but on this project, she worked for him." I guess MIT never taught 'measure twice, cut once', did they?"
"What?" Ang called up from the lower level, who was feeding meters and meters of multicolored network cables to Emma Black, under the new computer desk on the upper level. "I thought I recommended to have that wall section pre-fabricated so that we'd just bolt them together and voila...the opening would already be there, perfectly constructed and without any cutting."
"But, noooooooooooooo," she continued higher pitched in the middle and low on the ends. "The male's primal need to use power tools clouds reason. 'It's not big deal to cut the opening, Ang,' he says,' no big deal at all."
"It wouldn't be a big deal if SOMEONE could read a friggen tape measure," Smitty shouted down, retorting smugly. "The opening is a quarter inch too small!!!"
"Oh..." came the Technical Manager's response from below, after an embarrassed silence. "Sorry, Smitty, I guess I just mismeasured."
'You bet you did,' Smitty thought, blood pressure rising and face turning red. 'Blondie' He opted to say nothing to her because, at the end of the day, she was still his boss: committing political suicide was not something he wished to check off on his task list but his extreme irritation still remained. The engineer's nostrils flared looking for an outlet for his ire. He spied the wiring running to the control panel which would allow Koenig to open and close the window.
He found his outlet.
"Hey, DUMMY," Smitty yelled to Ed Malcom, who was on the floor attempting to wire a light panel. The technician was more obese than ever and Smith was convinced that the mezzanine upper level of Main Mission was structurally sound, just by Malcom's 350 pound body pressure on the floor joists. "There's no grounding wire to this control panel. It's the green one. You're suppose to connect it so the circuit can be 'grounded'." His tone was patronizing, like he was talking to a 2 year old. "Get it, stupid? Ground? Grounding wire? Get over here and fix it before we put the window in...while I cut this opening another QUARTER INCH wider." He added for Ang's benefit.
She ignored him, shrugging at Koenig, Russell and Bergman, sitting in what was once the Commander's office and the Command Conference area but was now the Conference area plus an area which functioned as a semi lounge, next to a set of spiral steps, which would lead up to Koenig's office. Ang did cringe slightly, though, as she heard the volley of insults from Smith and the protests from Malcom but did not intervene; Smith was in charge. Later, Malcom would be in her office, complaining of harassment and 'humiliation'.
Petals of flashback in the wary ramparts of the commander's brain--all from two weeks ago...fourteen, bad days...after the play...but never forgotten:
(...pacing intensely...nervous, could be.
(The Hydrac were preparing to vamoose,' and he could not have loaned them the gas fast enough. The remorse at hand had to do with appropriating Petrov's desk; his thin client; his clearance; and his best protégé, Dr. Roberta Specter, a Yeti of a silly broad.
(Once joined, Ed Malcom entered the rude circle.
("Commander Koenig, sir, I need light duty." He moaned anemically, calcimine, and affixed the privacy door with covert arcanum.
(Koenig's crest furrowed.
("Command module main displays." The technician pledged. "My destiny is there."
("The alien did terrible things to me." The larger, Goodyear man admitted cathartically, sexually. "This body can no longer abide the fiendish baths that Dr. Carter refers to as methane impulsors."
("What?" Koenig knew dread.
("Look." Malcom surrendered the envelope. "Doctor Sullivan told me to give you this."
(It was his full-series Proctology Report.)
This was how John Koenig came to need therapy.
"Victor, what happened with the Corpus Instrument?" In a way, he wanted to know, and in a way, he didn't. "You never said if you had a chance to complete it."
Strange--beyond the big doors there was a new realm of risk, and achievement. He considered it perseverance, beyond Earth orbit, and it was invigorating--even if it might some day be wrapped around their heads like iron towels.
"I don't know," Bergman replied slowly and relaxed on the white foam couch, left leg cocked over right knee. "The device was armed and ready and I do remember activating the 30 second timer...I think. It was very odd. Then, I don't remember anything except waking up in Tactical."
He mused for a second, trying to separate the cobwebs of fuzzy memory, as Malcom stomped across the upper level of the mezzanine. The floor vibrated slightly but it was either from the force of the morbidly obese technician's extreme weight or possibly from Smitty's thundering bellow. By the time Ang had bounded up the stairs from the lower to the upper level, Smitty was holding up his saws-all menacingly while Malcom shrank back, screeching girlishly and leaning against the railing.
Harness bulls Judge and Pound were standing casually watching the scene, unalarmed and with smirks plastered on their autocratic faces.
Ang glanced at the harness bull duo in annoyance then directed her attention to the squabbling Smith and Malcom.
"HE'S A PSYCHOPATH!!!!" Malcom screamed, pointing. "SEE?!? SEE?!??! He was going to cut me!!!"
"Just trim off some of that FAT a little bit. Carve you up like a Christmas goose," Smitty chuckled maniacally while revving the motor of the saws-all. Malcom cowered behind Ang, fearfully griping her arm.
"Would you just stop?" She asked Smith, trying to be serious, biting her lip to suppress a chuckle. Her eyes were laughing hysterically but she strained to keep her facial muscles in a look of disappointment. "Let go of me," she shook off Malcom, pushing him away. "He's not going to hurt you."
"Wanna bet on it?" the construction engineer step forward with a gleam. Malcom shrieked and started a performance of excess shaking.
"No, I don't, because you'll lose," Ang wanted to burst out laughing but instead turned serenely to Malcom. "Ed, you're done for the day. I want you to report to Dr. Mathias in Medical."
"I need something to calm my nerves. I'm under so much stressssssss," he backed away, never taking his eyes off of Smitty.
The construction engineer grinned, raising his eyebrows satanically. "I'll see you tomorrow...ED." He revved the saws-all again.
The huge technician turned and lumbered down the stairs as quickly as his tree trunk legs could carry him.
"Hey," Emma Black called out from under the computer desk," Ang, I need some more RJ45 cable. Can you please go down and feed it up to me?"
Angelina nodded then tried out the new lift down to the lower level. Smitty would be happy since she got rid of Malcom but Mathias would be irritated that she sent him to Medical. Oh yes, she would hear about it later.
"I keep remembering my mentor, Professor Braunstein," Bergman continued his conversation with Koenig and Russell. "It's been years but I've been thinking about him quite a bit these last few weeks. I'm not sure why."
"Getting back to normal." Koenig gave libations from his mug of Glucose-A to the powdery, metal-strewn, pulverant floor. Poor Angelina Carter--host of ceremonies for the Ringling Brothers that was Technical Section. The commander was actually working too...his first five minute abscond in twenty hours. They were living in an age when the executive team wore coveralls more than their ILC-issue uniforms, it seemed. And exactly what did anyone mean by the phrase 'executive team?' They were all defrocked partiers, bobbing atop insignificant crates. It was preferable to death, and being deposited in an armored bullet in Memory Crater--at peace, with rocks on your face--he wanted to believe. The professor's answer quickened a two headed monster that was unnoticeable at a 180 degree angle. For better, or worse, John Koenig chose an intentional slant on stupid. Really, it was better that none of them knew, so he clammed up, let go of the branch. He hoped it would not twang,' and thwap' them. "Garforth says this will be a singular achievement." He offered of the reconfigured Main Mission. "If we ever complete it that is."
In through the left archway of the lower level, Alan Carter came bearing gifts of more cable and wiring, over shoulder and on push cart. Like everyone else, he and his group were pitching in on the rebuilding effort. High above him on scaffolding, Darla Lomax, wearing safety harness, was holding one end of a metal panel in place while Pete Garforth was welding it to another section.
"Head's UP!!" Lomax yelled below as she missed her pocket replacing her adjustable wrench.
It hit the new tile floor of the lower level with an audible *CLANG*; fortunately, there was no thud followed by a shriek of pain.
"JESUS CHRIST, LOMAX!!" Smitty upbraided. "Watch what the hell you're doing and get your head out of your..." but the rest of his censure was drowned out by Lar Manroot's vacuum.
Alan Carter cocked an eyebrow at Ang. He wasn't completely enthusiastic about her selection of Smith as project manager but, on the other hand, the captain was almost on the receiving end of the dropped wrench so he did not intervene on Lomax' behalf.
"Such a shame." Bergman yielded.
Koenig looked at Russell dryly.
"I don't know." He disagreed. "I kind of like it." He loved the undone ceiling rafters. "It's better than camping out in Petrov's fulcrum."
Mighty crampt, those fulcrums. The colonel was done with cameras, though, he was happy to announce.
"No, no." Bergman restated. "I mean...Satet-Ta."
"Who cares?" The commander was inconsiderate. "Mathias, and Sullivan are still working up a death toll." He was unthinking. "And we owe it all to her. Charity begins at home, Victor, and for my part, I have to believe that there's a stand-on-your-head Hell for demigods with eastern characteristics.
"The kindest thing I can say is that she knocked out our computer indefinitely."
It did look like Ouma, and Black were making progress faster than expected.
"No, I'm not defending her actions," Bergman continued, as he rolled the large globe of the earth and its stand from beside the spiral staircase, back to the spot where it had originally rested before the alien destroyed Main Mission tower. He stood back and nodded in satisfaction: the earth did not look right any other place than next to the viewports with a background of space.
He returned to the comfort of his chair, stretching his limbs and taking a sip of Vita seed.
"I just view it as a waste that such a being which is so advanced would use its power to engorge itself and destroy. What is it about evil that refuses to acknowledge that by obliterating everything around it, it eventually obliterates itself?"
Koenig's expression was relaxed with a slight smile, contemplating. There was no simple answer. He glanced at Russell. "Helena, you've been quiet. You did the same action as Shemp the Hydrac; without the ridiculous incantations." He couldn't help but smirk. When he thought about it, when he did a "Monday Morning Quarterback" analysis, it was pretty silly. Then, his expression turned grave. "But it was your action that destroyed her. You saved us. What are your thoughts on being the hero, Doctor?" He asked with a hint of fondness.
His Glucose-A was downright tumescent. Koenig was trying to swear off coffee. It was a strange brew--with crunchies--and it undermined his nerves. Three pots a day, and numerous trips to the automat meant a one way ticket to hypertension (like that was something new, and unusual...when the Moon is blown out of Earth orbit, how do you 'not' become hypertensive). He would drink water, but the stagnant chlorine spoke to him more than his neglected kidneys.
Some days...most even...the commander just wanted to say piss on this--Moonbase Alpha, and the caffeine. He could go to the Soyuz Lounge with Quenton, and ask for a bottle of hooch--one after another, and in series, but then some oddment of hope would come along, and he'd go a bit further.
"Don't be modest, doc.'" Carter cranked his oily ratchet clockwise on one of the commstation anchor bolts. "You've got a right to blow your own tuba."
This was a privilege reserved for those with grit, and stamina.
The Hydrac had neither.
We regret our decision. Onid had told them before leaving. However you must understand that as a superior species, we have a duty to protect other, emended worlds. We can't possibly take any of you with us, so please, please don't beg.
Because we pity your people, and your bromides, the alien Hagar taught the rudiments. We shall perform our ancient mass of Fruit/renunciation. For your edification, even....
To you, we will appear to walk backwards. Swinger Enda stammered as their entire troop stumbled retral towards the travel tube.
Bram Cedrix told them that they were just afraid someone would throw something.
They got a cabbage anyway.
"It wasn't bravery at all." Helena Russell revealed. "It was sacrifice."
"Lunch break, people!" Smitty announced from the upper level even as Alphans in coveralls began to file out of the new Main Mission.
"Gonzalez' special today is 'Shepard's Pie'," Angelina announced as she wound down the spiral staircase. "Care to join us?" She asked Bergman, Koenig and Russell.
"I'm in an adventurous culinary mood," Bergman stood up, and joined Angelina and Alan as they headed out into the lower level.
John Koenig had enough 'adventure' to last a lifetime, many lifetimes. At one time, he enjoyed experimenting with his palate, but that was before the moon left earth. "I'll join you in a bit," he waved them off, leaning against the sill of the viewport in the conference/lounge area. Helena Russell joined him. They were alone in the vast auditorium. It was still a bit eerie with the lack of chatter from computer, but that would return soon enough. Actually, it was quite nice to enjoy the complete silence.
"Sacrifice," the Commander repeated. "True sacrifice requires bravery, doctor, and in light of the act you carried out, it was bravery." He shifted from his staring out into space position, turning toward her, but still leaning elbow against the sill. "But sacrifice, unlike bravery, means that one knows exactly what she is doing." He swallowed the last ounce of the Glucose A, scowling at the taste. "How did you know what to do?"
Russell was indifferent as three billion years of Plato Crater became uninteresting again. The pronounced rectangles of overhead lighting reached a vanishing point reflection in the impassable vision port.
"Maybe I've read too much Wordsworth, and Claire." She decided. From somewhere in the rebuilt lower level, she could hear electronic feedback. Easy, Controller Zed Astrin cautioned. "The Hydrac could never be so simplistic." Many were rushed. They could attend Harry Balfour's funeral only once. There would be no encore performances. This was the way of it. Caskets, dirt, moving on. Theologically speaking, they had failed to love God with all of their hearts, all of their souls, and all of their minds so away they went. They weren't opening circuits--they were the bus. Humanity as conduits, and on Moonbase Alpha they had to be experts at it. There was no place for either 'morning,' or 'mourning.' Downcast was a form of dangerous boozing, and here's to you, Johannes Wolfgang Von Goethe. "Satet-Ta believed that wholeness was about fusion"
A previously unbridled John Koenig set aside his much humbled cup of Glucose-A. Soft drinks, and coffee, and hatred. This was not the way.
"It's about giving." Russell was undemonstrative.
Before long, space would run out of stars for them, and the uncontrollable Moon would spree into darkness once more. In this forest they would find artificial bulbs; sham warmth; and a burning.
"as it's wrong to shut
one's eyes to dream it's
raining while it is in fact raining"
--Keith Waldrop, and Rosemarie Waldrop
"At last you're tired of this elderly world
Sherperdess O Eiffel Tower the bridges are bleating
You're fed up living with antiquity...."
"...so taught it taunts the song,
it resists the touch. It grows dark
to draw down the lover's hand
from its lightness to what's underground."
BASED ON CHARACTERS, AND SITUATIONS CREATED BY GERRY, AND SYLVIA ANDERSON.
Written by tgarnett25 & moonbasealpha_s1