The Sidereal Hour
"The lunatic is on the grass....
"The lunatic is on the grass....
"Remembering games, and daisy chains, and laughs.
"Got to keep the loonies on the path...."
The cloud formation seemed to be getting larger to 50 year old Alan Carter--only recently retrieved from his status as castaway on an exiled moon. He drove a moonbuggy across a steep banks of Ur, capital farm village of planet number TR347 in the galaxy Triangulum. An incredible amount of moisture--the product of two of the most life threatening, Valley Forge-type winters he had ever known--oxidized the front end of the vehicle, giving it a carcinomic, besmudged look. He dropped his speed into rabbit mode to avoid capsizing. As he crossed the parted briars into his own homestead--the asshole, high grass informing him that neighbor Dempsey had once again decided to let things go on his side of the property line.
"The lunatics are in the hall....
"The lunatics are in my hall." Roger Waters, and David Gilmore insisted as he pulled up to the shed.
"!!!Hey, Dempsey!!!" The pilot flustered, removing a rake, and a shovel from the rear of the cart. "!!!Turn your bloody stereo down!!!"
He didn't care for Pink Floyd, but sometimes he could relate to brain damage.
"The paper holds thier folded faces to the floor,
"And every day the paperboy brings more...."
"!!!You loud, loutish bastard!!!" He yelled over the home improvement fence. "!!!Turn it down!!!"
Turning, he was startled to see that Ang' was floating through the window...settling down beside him. Her snow white fall of hair gravitated upwards in a sinister beehive, reaching for the throbbing, ebbing mass high above them in the sky. The swirling vapors of hydrogen which, perhaps, presided over ancient Rome; which, perhaps, cast a dreadful pall over Saxon England, and the drowning of Roanoake in the mythological pool.
"I need a decision from you." His wife said, easing into the eaves. "You see...I'm pregnant again."
Bile gurgled down the tubes in her throat as she giggled like a Catholic school girl in trouble.
Carter gasped in horror, like a character in a Bill Gaines comic book.
"And if the dam breaks open many years too soon.
"And if there is no room upon the hill."
The middle-aged pilot forgot all about Andy Dempsey's sub wolfer. Suddenly, he was surrounded by vile cherubs--a hundred of them at the very least. They were winged, with pot bellies, and sweet, odious faces. Their lips were poised on the corner of blasphemy. The last man on their adopted planet was a young man. His bleached hair was neatly combed, and parted. His gate was almost insectoid as he flattened the leaves, and twigs beneath him.
Carter felt his spine turn to Log Cabin Syrup. The young man was an eater of souls.
"And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too....
"I'll see you on the darkside of the Moon."
The young man had no face....
"Captain Alan Carter." The pleasant female voice called at the other end of the commlink. "This is your 4:30 AM wakeup call."
The pilot strangled to consume recycled air again. The sheets of the ergonomic bed were soaked with chill sweat. He thrashed momentarily. Gradually, his consciousness interfaced once more with the residence building. A single light burned from the energy cells in the lavatory as Moonbase Alpha came back into focus.
"Captain Alan Carter." Marilys Singh said again, eager to move onto the next name on the list. "Duty period will begin in thirty minutes."
He looked up from the fading horror to see that Ang' was standing in the doorway, drying her hair, and staring at him.
Nightmares were part of the reality of living on the former Earth moon to destinations unknown. Dropping the towel and turning up the dimmer switch Ang elina hurried to the bedside. Her mission was twofold. First and foremost to calm and to comfort and second to reduce the noise level to discourage an early awakening of 20 month Nicholas Carter in the next room.
"Heyyyyyyyyy," she gently grasped his shoulders as she sat on the edge of the bed. "It's OK. You're OK. It was only a nightmare," she soothed, pulling him toward her. She thought his heart would pound its way out of his chest and he was still hyperventilating. It had been quite awhile since he had a troubled sleep such as last night. In fact, his tossing and turning kept waking her during the night. She, however, said nothing.
"It must have been a good one," she whispered, barely audible as she heard Nicky stirring in his bed and hopefully settling back down for a few more hours.
"Yeah." The pilot exhaled. Then came the invidious visitation from a man who was dead, and in his grave these two years.
"You've gone down hill. What would Mamma Vee, and Guido think?" Antonio Dean Verdeschi, who failed to keep his head around a monster--one who sought to promulgate through force, and crack insults, said with epic disappoint. "What's your deal?"
Carter jumped from the bed, his mind reeling. There was no one there, of course; only the double entendre terror, and a coolness from the nearby vent. The pilot wiped sleepy seeds from his eyes, and examined a room where he, and his wife were the only living beings.
He chuckled spasmodically in an effort to breath easily.
"These things...they're hard to shake sometimes, right?" He stumbled towards the open door, and turned the bathroom faucet on.
"Sure," Ang nodded, eyeing him with concern. She slowly crept into Nicky's room and arranged the blankets, tucking the child securely in bed and kissed him lightly on his forehead. When she turned to leave, she noticed the crucifix above his bed had fallen to the floor; probably, she surmised, an accident from an encounter with an airborne toy. She placed it back on the wall and left the room.
The running water of the facet was replaced by the shower as Angelina, after getting dressed and quietly entered the living area, tapped the "Enter" key and the laptop whirled to life from sleep mode. A quick scan of the work order spread sheet once again showed that Ed Malcom had completed under 50% of his tasks this week.
"Sonafabitch," she mumbled slamming her fist down on the desk, disgusted and sleep deprived.
She was about to get up and fix Alan a cup of freshly brewed coffee when the screen went blank. The blood red words appeared to slowly burn themself on the screen. Confiteor Deo omnipotenti quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo et opere: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
Entranced, she spoke words she had not uttered in years.
Carter heard her, zipping the sleeve of his tunic. He found that a quick look in the mirror could tell him wether, or not the Old Brewmeister's spirit was still in the room with them. It wasn't.
The logical deduction then, was that it was hypnogogia; just the epilogue for one of one of the worst nightmares he had ever had.
"Dominum, deum nostrum. Amen." He added, reaching for his commlock. "Cupcake, it looks like we speak the same language."
Beyond the apetala bluffs, and the sprawling, cyber-vault of Moonbase Alpha, the Cirrus Cloud expanded it's nocturnal horns, like a Brahma Bull that was huffing, and stepping, and ready to strike. There were intermittent flares within the evolving span, like a flashlight in the mist. It's shadow grew to dominate the solitary roof-tops of the network buildings, creating a stark change in hue that was something like Andy Worhol. It was scintillant, and omnivorous. A mythical city of Ananova, perched within the coastal ruins of a Mamallapurum.
Or, just maybe, a bunch of gas, and light, glopped together by the complexities of gravity, and inertia.
Commander John Koenig grabbed his cup, and opened the big doors. The office flooded with light, and radio-jargon, and the bustling of a dozen bodies, manning the various workstations.
"Commander." The capcomm greeted, handing Kate Bullen the revised ETOD. The support screens in front of the mainframe desk, declined steadily from 00:59, lunar time.
"Coop.' We missed you last night." Koenig said with a toothy sneer. "I thought you were a big fan of 'Citizen Kane.'"
"Yeah." The pilot replied with an uninvigorated swirl of the pen. "Big, big fan."
He relieved Alan Carter with a shake of the hand after the other pilot emerged from the records room.
"Paul." Koenig said, stirring his coffee, and perousing the apocrypha of greenbar sheets that lay all over his desk. "Astrophysics is wanting a conventional spike on that cloud. Now, does that mean Eagle One is 'go' for an EVA, or has the lab changed thier minds on the rock hunting scenario."
Angelina Carter gazed out the viewport on the operations level of Main Mission, watching the immense cloud and occasionally sipping her tepid coffee.
Multihued blue thunderhead shapes swelled from the center and reached toward the baby blue tendrils on the edge. She fancied shapes with the clouds, like cumulous clouds floating in the sky on a warm summer day.
A fox, chasing the rabbit.
The face of a small boy, wearing a baseball cap, with the rim to the side.
A devil and his pitchfork.
She shook her head, breaking the trance and deciding to think positively when conjuring cloud caricatures.
Victor Bergman waved a friendly 'hello' in passing, but he wasn't sure that the technical chief received the greeting. His head was still turned when he narrowly avoided a head-on collision with Data Analyst Adisa Talic.
"Sorry." She said, executing a fast cha-cha side step.
"I'm not worried about it." Bergman said, rubbing his temple absently, and not quite knowing what to do with the blue flimsie he held in his hand. "John." He said, stepping up to the office level, and taking a deep breath. "I've got an update on our friend, the cloud." He elucidated, attempting to sound optimistic. "It looks like there's an alternative source of heat inside there. Meteosat confirms it to be anywhere between 50, and 100 CRI.
"Not bad, really."
The commander turned fallow, accepting the report with a Stercolin brow.
"I was told that light couldn't penetrate that cloud at all." He said, concerned. "That's why we're sending a manned probe in. What's generating the heat inside there?"
With only fifty-three minutes to go before launch, John Koenig came to dislike the Cirrus Cloud.
The Roman Empire.
They had their share of wars, now....
It all began in Ready Room-D of the reconnaisance hub.
Carter relaxed on the unrelaxing couch while flight technician Engwald added nitrogen to his environment tank. He drummed his fingers, and watched, for it was a meticulous, central operation, you see. Ask Engwald. He would tell you. If perchance, there was too much of the old N7 in an astronaut's lunchbox, the result would be a non-toxic asphyxia. The quandary of the unseen, invisible horse, trampling you down while you yet gag on your own tongue. Such is life in deep space.
"See, we're not all up in a gaff." The technician blustered, blowing on the pilot's helmut visor, and polishing it's surface. This was not inducive to hygiene, or a successful excursion into the unknown, but Engwald cherished the procedure, as though the helmut was, in reality, an auxilliary bladder.
Carter blinked, and stared at his funny, orange astronaut galoshes while another technician (whose last name was Cruise...no, not Tom) fastened the couplings.
In fact, back in the barbarous day--that time long ago, before pizza, and calzones--when Rome wasn't enjoying the entertainments wrought by feeding Christians to the lions, she was awash in any number of gorey bloodbaths. Let us observe the civil wars between 68-69 AD. When the nation was not at war, the doors to the temple of Janus were kept open. When the nation was not at war, the doors were kept closed. Humankind has seldom seen such powers of insight, and deduction as evinced by the Romans.
"I'm going to plug you now." Cruise said, aiming the air hose into the opening in Carter's tank.
"Oh," The pilot said graciously. "Please do."
"See that." Engwald explained, pointing suspiciously at the digital commstation clock. "Now is the hour. As soon as we put paid to you, I'm going to take a flippin' tea." He waited for Carter's response. "We're not in a ruck right now, and I'm tired of being rat-arsed overworked."
"You up for it, Captain." Cruise asked meekly, as he attached the pilot's commlock, with a thrust hard enough to rupture his appendix.
"Nope." The pilot said.
The resulting Janus coins were more of a political masseuse than anything else. The visit to Rome by the Armenian King Tiradates seemed ho-hum on the surface. Then again, when one considers the fact that a revolt was fomenting in Judea; one that would last long after the death of Nero, and far into the reign of Vespasian, it probably was time to kiss-up, and supplicate.
"Good luck." Engwald said, helping the pilot to his feet after the ceremony was concluded. "I hope it's a real snog out there."
Carter was sure it would be, and in more ways than one. That's why he didn't want to go, but forced himself to anyway.
The Chief of Technical Operations stared blankly at her 21" monitor with several 'windows' programs open. The monitor went into screen save mode and Angelina blinked then jumped as she heard the familiar wailing of her son.
Nicholas Carter squirmed out of his nurse's arms the moment they crossed into her office and he ran toward her.
"Momma, Momma, Momma!!!" the frantic child screamed repeatedly as he clambered into her lap.
"What's the matter??!?" Angelina called to the nurse over Nicky's sobs as she attempted to calm and comfort him.
"He woke up from his nap screaming," the dishevelled nurse replied wearily. "I couldn't get him to stop!"
"Take 5, Donna," she nodded and the grateful nurse made a beeline to the breakroom beverage dispenser.
"It's alright, baby, it was just a bad dream," Angelina soothed as she rocked the child. "Just a bad dream."
Nicky gazed at her, sniffing, through swollen blood shot eyes and tear stained angelic face.
"Bug," he whispered.
Angelina blinked. "Bugs look scary." Angelina affirmed as she stroked his hair. "But there are no bugs on Alpha. You are safe."
"Bug," the child reiterated, his expression terror-stricken.
She drew him closer to her and kissed her forehead, inhaling the baby lotion scent.
The slat door of the window slapped open with a 'crack' and Angelina was inside the dark confessional. Her eyes adjusted to the near darkness, except for the light of the candle on the other side of the box.
"SPEAK," ordered the figure on the other side, dressed as a priest. The white from the roman collar emitted a ghostly glow. "Begin with you Act of Contrition."
Angelina spoke from ingrained reflex "Deus meus, ex toto corde paenitet me omnium meorum peccatorum, eaque detestor, quia peccando, non solume poemas a Te..."
"If you detest sin, why do you nuture evil?!?!" The figure on the other side interrupted. "Reject sin. Repent."
She thought she saw the light reflect from the gleaming tips of his evenly sized teeth. Eyes of red corneas stared at the child against her bosom.
"No..He is my son," she retorted in horror. She held him tighter and tighter.
"He is your sin," it laughed maniacally.
"No!!!!" Angelina screamed and opened her eyes. Caroline Kennedy, with an armful of red and green flimsies, stood with mouth agape at the door.
Nicky Carter jolted awake and stared, dazed, into his mother's eyes momentarily before bursting into a torrent of tears.
Angelina Carter intercepted Captain Carter on his way out of the ready room. Call it woman's intuition. Call it Angelina Verdeschi Carter intuition. She had a bad feeling, a really bad feeling about this mission, although it was as mundane as cooking pasta on the stovetop.
"Be careful out there, hot shot." She greeted with veiled optimism, giving him a hug, and after seeing no one else in the corridor, a kiss for luck.
"You bet." The pilot replied warmly. "You'll be proud of me." He called, nodding, and waving as Coop' fired up the tractor driver, and Eagle One began to coast towards the crane. "I'll catalogue those occult gases so well--I'll be Dr. O'Brian's go-to bloke for sucking air." He shook his head, unimpressed. The ship passed beneath the depot lights, her metallic blue hull darkening under the huge electromagnet which transferred her to the launch pad.
"CLEAR THE HANGAR." Coops' voice boomed across the speakers. "MARK V EAGLE, ROLLING."
Ang' backed away from the orbiting domes of red light. Bram Cedrix honked as he raced by in a maintenance quad. The technical chief nodded--accidentally bumping into Yul Ostrog, and Umberto Garzon who was Eagle mechanic to some...the ghost of Sloven to others.
She tried to stall. Anything to delay him from going on that ship. "I feel badly for him," she indicated to Garzon. "He really seems like a friendly guy; unfortunately people haven't taken too well to him because of...you know...."
"I'm not acres about him either." Carter confessed proudly. "Of course, it's like water off a duck's back trying to explain that to Coop' during a section meeting. He's yard manager, so he picks who he wants to service the fleet. My guess is--that asshole there must have impressed him in some extrinsic way." He theorized, while smiling, and waving at Garzon from the other side of the hangar.
The mechanic turned from his conversation with pad leader Tom Morningstar, and waved back, half-hearted, and divested by complete, terminal insecurity.
"Then again," Carter amended. "Coop' didn't have that much experience with the real thing, much less that DAT copy we see standing before us."
His distrust was visceral.
She understood his detached neutrality and always had to keep the prejudgement gavel in check. She wasn't about to continue discussing the Sloven lookalike, not now.
"Um," she looked up at him. "Are you sure you have to go out there? Where you really next on the mission roster or where you just getting antsy and wanted to go flying?"
She never, ever asked him not to go on a mission. Afterall, it was his job. Love the man and accept his job; it was part of him. She recited this mantra over and over again, day in and day out. Besides, a chance breakdown in the structural integrity of the technical section outer wall and she would be out on the lunar surface without benefit of an EVA suit. Still, all rationalizations aside, she was frightened for his safety. She did not want him to go out there but she couldn't come out and say it...exactly.
"No, it's me, and Pearly." He said winningly. "We were up for a run. Well...I was up for a run. He hasn't logged any time here recently, so we thought we'd better lock the door to the simulator.
"You know--separate the men from the boys. That kind of thing."
He also neglected to mention that Big-P Danielle, and Gareth Hunt were the backup crew for this mission, and could just as easily have gone in their stead. Spiking a cloud didn't require the adept of a neurological surgeon, or a jack, CSM pilot. All that had to happen was a multifunction switch had to be thrown that was marked LOAD. After that, it was a matter of good record keeping; exhausting a roll of color to photograph the comparatively intriguing facets; monitoring the thermal output, and the radioactive malage at the epicenter. The entire mission plan was only a paragraph long. Would that they could afford to send out a Reesus monkey, that would have sufficed for this less than Sputnik probe.
Just outside the hangar, he could see Paul Morrow waiting on the gangway, his helmut held confidently against his hip as the remaining members of the pad crew reeled the fuel pump back in, and awaited transition procedure.
"TECHNICAL SUPPORT TO STANDBY." Coop' directed from five stories above. "FLIGHT ONE CREW, INGRESS."
"That's me." He said, brandishing his own helmut.
She stopped him by grabbing his left elbow. "The baby had a nightmare and an 'all hell breaks loose' screaming fit when he woke up. The nurse brought him to me, screaming. It took me awhile to get him calmed down."
She looked up as Coop impatiently motioned to her to beat it. "He said something about a 'bug.' Alan, he's never SEEN a bug. Don't you think that's weird?"
"Maybe." He said, squinting, and pinching out invisible quantities. "Just a little. Not nearly as weird as old Coop' is going to get if we don't get this bird launched."
Her hand slid down his arm. "I love you. Everything will be ok,"she squeezed his gloved hand and released him, stepping back into the elevator.
"Might be a good idea to wait up for me." Carter suggested lasciviously as the metal closed over his face.
'Silly... Ludicrous,' she berated herself. 'What the hell. All that accomplished was probably to upset him.' Through the murky pool of tears she glanced into the plexiglass to inspect her distraught features.
The blurry image of a long dead reconnaissance pilot stared at her. Angelina gasped and recoiled. She peered into the glass again, with tears shed and clearer vision. Her distressed mirror image stared back at her.
The Cirrus Cloud rafted its way over Carnot.
Emerging from the underground high bay, Eagle One rose to launch position. The outlining beacon lights flashed proudly at her noble endeavour. This enterprise required that her passenger module be removed. Mounted to the girders in its place was the five megaton spiking torpedo. The separatist factions inside its warhead casing awaited the union of that would allow, maybe, a theory to be born.
"Ohhhhh, the wool on this ram's belly, it grew to the ground." Carter sang as he brought up his navigational display. "Cut off, and sent to the Sydney sales, it fetched a thousand pound. The wool on this ram's back, boys, it grew so very high--the eagles came, and built thier nest, and made the young 'uns cry."
It was a gloomy tune. He cursed himself for being dumb enough to sing it.
Paul Morrow nodded at Alan from the co-pilot's seat. "Systems go," he reported, though the Chief Pilot was under the DCO's authority, this was Alan Carter's realm. With a slight smile manifesting beneath his mustache, Paul continued, "Thanks for letting me come along-I could really use the flight hours."
"Hey, don't mention it." Carter p'shawed, pulling the safety harness over his right shoulder. The Physics Lab's proposal to spike the cloud--even more mundane, more uninteresting now, than when it was first mentioned. "Somehow, I don't think we'll be sharpening our abilities any. Except maybe our ability to doze off.
"Harms is going on the next little voyage of discovery." His mind was made up. "Then they'll have the hot air from his big mouth to go with their nebular gas samples."
"Dozing off?" Paul questioned, a slight tone of amusement in his voice and little twinkle in his eye. "Just so long as we get a smooth and even flight out and back. He turned back to his console and examined the laminated checklist velcro'd to the leg of his suit. "LPS receivers green on Primary and Secondary," he announced, his voice once again business. There would be time enough to bullshit later.
They lifted off.
When she strode into Main Mission, Angelina went up to the computer deck where Professor Victor Bergman stood, perusing the incoming data from Eagle One's onboard sensors. Doctor Helena Russell kept on eye on the life functions, jotting notations on a clipboard periodically glancing at the monitors labelled CARTER and MORROW. Commander John Koenig stood next to her quietly talking with her. Main Mission operatives scurried between desks as the chatter of normal flight operations occured between Carter and Pierre Danielle, who was manning the Capcomm.
Ang glanced at the cloud on the big screen with Eagle One, miniature model size in comparison, approacing its southwest corner.
"So how's it look with the cloud, Professor? Anything exciting?" Ang asked, bored and tense at the same time.
"Interesting so far." Bergman replied, his inquiry moving from his makeshift chart table, and back to the big screen again."
"Eagle One/Alpha." Deputy Controller Winters said slow, but even, but altogether psychopathically. "We read you as 'go' for SRAM Camera on. Right. Null your rates...and stand by...injection phase in two minutes."
For reasons unknown--though it seemed to someone to be a good idea--the ship had coasted towards the gaseous enigma in a cautious, verticle, belly-up position. Victor Bergman was not involved in this particular planning stage, so he had no idea what its significance was. Possibly it was to facilitate an easier jettison of the instrument pack. In any event, the crew had to fly the ship while laying on their backs.
Behind Angelina Carter, John Koenig stood with his arms folded, and looking severe. The only person at the party who didn't like the band, who didn't like the cheese ball, or the taste of the dip.
"Check." Carter replied from the 5.0 auditorium, tin cans. "Cameras on. High gain, and laser on. Scimitar VHF on."
Then the bowells of the Cirrus Cloud became visible through the auspices of modern technology, and it was magic. The pilot could be heard whistling commendably as the big screen filled with an energized storm of red, and orange, and green, and violet--somehow translated through sub-molecular pigmentation into a pleasant sky blue.
"Nice." The pilot commented over the link. "And to think we're only scanning the outer layer. It's tempting to turn this baby right side up...do some exploring."
"Negative." Koenig warned. "That's not a mission parameter. Just spike the thing, and get back here."
Lorna O'Brian smiled like a politician in a supermarket. Elated by the data on the screen--but wound up as tight as wire mesh by the commander's fume, and dominion. Pierre Danielle beamed, but not too proudly, so as to avoid death by black sleeve.
"MAGNETISM?" John Koenig asked sternly.
Victor Bergman turned his head quizically as he finished the annotation to his charts. It was like a joke. A bad joke. What do a blonde, and a turtle have in common? I don't know, what do they have in common? The turtle doesn't have Leukemia. Ha-ha-ha. Such was the macabre, and seeming inappropriateness of the commander's concern.
"No." Winters said calmly. "Is there supposed to be?"
O'Brian shook her head, but otherwise said nothing.
Sandra Benes kept her eyes glued to the incoming data.
"Possible energy source readings," she announced to Angelina as she fed it to the Main Computer.
Angelina Carter studied the output on the monitor. "That's not energy; at least, that's not any kind of energy we are familiar with." She shook her head sternly.
"Electron movement confirmed, though," Sandra reiterated, pushing buttons and clicking her mouse. "I do not understand." Sandra's face was a mask of confusion.
Her instinct wanted to say 'Commander, get them out of there!' However, Ang had no reason to make that recommendation. "Electron movement confirmed, but so what? It doesn't appear to be random though." She went on, thinking out loud. "This is too weird."
She plotted the graph of the electron movement and extrapolated from the image on the monitor. "Magnetic field." She stated blankly. She did a quick recheck of the data. "Eagle One's onboard computer data only presents cosmic noise."
Commander Koenig heard her and bounded down the steps to Winter's station. He punched the white stud on the Controller's panel.
"Alpha to Eagle. Carter, recalibrate your magnetometer."
"Alpha/Eagle One." The pilot said curiously. "Please advise. Magnetometer?
"What's the situation with this cloud?"
"That's an affirmative." Pierre Danielle broke in over the CapCom link. "No situation, but it doesn't hurt to be cautious." He guessed. "Go ahead, and set your broadband to Omni. Stand by to initiate FGM sweep."
"Right." The pilot replied, condescending, and irritated. "The system is recalibrated, and I show us broadcasting at 10,000,000 kHz. Our panels are good."
It was the last they heard from him.
Commander John Koenig leaned forward on his elbows at the conference table. Helena Russell along with Bob Mathias sat on his right. Next to Mathias was cool and detached controller Winters. Pierre Danielle, Assistant Chief of Reconnaissance, thumbed through a mountain of flight data next to Mark Winters, impinging on the space of Sandra Benes. The Chief of Service Section looked distraught though she was determined to keep herself busy and keep her mind off of...Angelina Carter sat next to Sandra with laptop open and wearing a completely annoyed expression as Ben Ouma on her opposite side had a pile of register tape computer read outs which rivalled Pierre Danielle's stack of papers. Completing the circle and sitting on Koenig's immediate left was Professor Victor Bergman, relaxed in a semi reclining position, legs extended and hands clasped behind his head.
"What do you mean by 'life signs are indeterminate'? " Angelina interrupted Dr. Russell's computer generated medical report on the conditions of Captain Alan Carter and Controller Paul Morrow. "What the hell does THAT mean? Either they're alive or they...." She hesitated and swallowed, her hardened gaze switching methodically between Mathias and Russell, "aren't."
Mathias cleared his throat.
"We're getting heart defribrillations...but with no brain activity." He said, nudging Helena Russell out. It was just as well. At this point, she elected to be nudged out. "Remember though--we're dealing with equipment. At this point we're in no position to be rendering any kind of diagnosis. It could very well be a hardware problem. For all we know, their bioscanmonitors may not be making flush contact."
"Flush contact?" Ben Ouma mused with skeptical jocund. "Maybe that's the reason why they're not responding to our communications. And maybe it's also the reason why Carter hasn't fired the SPS on his service module to reach escape velocity. It's FLUSH CONTACT. "FLUSH CONTACT...obstructing our normally-"
Sandra and Angelina both glared at Benjamin Ouma coldly. Both of them thinking the same line of thought: 'Ben, shut the fuck up!' They glanced at each other and remained silent.
"It's because Eagle One is in the cloud now." Victor Bergman interrupted, dropping his pen, and defusing the argument before it could go off. Stopping the flush before it could become post-porcelain. "As I said before, the chamber is light insensitive."
"Yeah." Koenig pontificated. "So we thought. Victor, I'm sorry, but that little revelation about a heat source inside the Cirrus Cloud has left me-" He shrugged his shoulders. "Doubtful? The disappearance of Carter, and Morrow's ship does nothing to buttress our store of knowledge. "From here on out, it may be best for all concerned to admit that we know ziltch about that cloud. It works for me.
"Now, as to what we do know." He said, changing gears. "Ouma, are you sure--absolutely sure there's no magnetic field out there, particulated, or otherwise."
"None." The computer chief said emphatically. "We scanned it again using the Flux Array here on Alpha. There's nothing out there, but free floating H."
"Their on-board systems were functioning perfectly--up until the moment when Eagle One was absorbed." Pierre Danielle reported, wondering if his choice of words was accurate. "Whatever happened, it had nothing to do with their instrumentation."
"Absorbed?!?" Ang, standing and beginning to pace, turned her crossbow of fury and despair on 'Big P' Danielle, with a raised eyebrow. "Ok, whatever. Look, how come that robot Eagle is not ready yet? You have all the technicians you need for the retrofit. I've given you every available hardware guy and Ben has given you every available software guy. Why isn'tthat goddamn ship already up there?!?" Her voice had grown raspy as her eyes bored into Danielle's back.
Sandra concurred, tapping her pen impatiently. "What IS the delay, Pierre?"
At the viewport, Ang turned and took a deep breath, staring at the Cirrus cloud that appeared to be looming toward Moonbase Alpha.
Big-P looked as though he were about to bust. His eyes dialated. Presently, he began to perspire, and dread.
"Look," He said, jockeying for air. "Cedrix, Ostrog, Garzon--every mechanic in the bay working on it. As soon as we agree on something--anything--I'll also be working on it." He showed them his commlock. "Reverse engineering isn't as easy as breaking the lugs, and replacing a tire." He gave Bob Mathias an inestimable look. "These are complex systems. We have to pull the drive, and replace it with a hypergolic assembly. "Something that will burn without us having to worry about power interruptions, or automatic shut-downs due to a magnetic field that, theoretically, doesn't exist."
He sneered at Ben Ouma.
"Well, if those work crews don't pick up the pace, in three days we'll be 'theoretically' out of range, Pierre." Koenig said grudgingly. "People, you can make excuses to high Heaven. I don't care. Know this--I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO INTENTION OF JUST LEAVING CARTER, AND MORROW BEHIND. AU CONTRAIRE. MAKE THE NECESSARY ARRANGEMENTS; GET WHOEVER YOU NEED UP--OFF OF THEIR DEAD ASSES--AND INTO THE OUTFITTING QUAY."
"John...." Bergman appealed uselessly.
"NO. WE'VE BEEN SITTING HERE FOR FORTY-FIVE MINUTES, AND ALL I HAVE HEARD IS BULL!!!"
Big-P Danielle was mutilated.
"Well," The professor said elliptically. "Here's some more. So far, we have yet to brook the topic of that warhead that was attached to Eagle One. The one used to spike the Cirrus Cloud. It could very well be that Carter never had a chance to deploy the thing. We have to assume it's still anchored to the ship, and if we go in there, applying force, we could accidentally detonate it.
"We probably wouldn't detonate it, but still, the possibility remains."
Another wonderful piece of news, something more for Ang to ponder as she stood, motionless, and staring out the viewport. She did not turn back to the group yet. She did not blink. Blinking would spill the tears so she stood, gazing at the cloud, and clearing her mind as the arid room faciliated the drying of her eyes.
Mark Winters nodded. "Ship to base computer transmissions indicate that the executable file for the deployment was being initiated. However, we can't confirm whether the command was completed and the warhead was detached."
....detached...detached...detached.... Mark Winter's voice echoed inside Ang's head. She blinked. The cloud began to take on the shape of a face.
"Have you crossreferenced the signal from the mechanical release to the server?" Sandra jumped in, shuffling the report papers.
....server...server...server....Sandra sounded as though she was shouting across the Grand Canyon. The cloud transformed into a winged horror, a 5 billion year old vision of lewdness, ugliness, torment and terror. Angelina squinted, hyperventilating, as it mocked her with red corneas and a row of too many canines.
"No way. Not again," she murmered, the room was spinning. Then, she collapsed.
But it was behind the cabinet...underneath the stove of reality, where dust bunnies form shapes out of the crest of nothingness. Angelina slid past a 1,000 possible solutions to the vertex. She merged with Goldbach's Conjecture, and the Reimann Hypothesis. She was a creature of eternal physics, transpositioned, and viscerally united with the Hardamard Matrix.
She was a two headed hydra--one physicality, with any number of possible permutations, and abominations. Every number that is greater than two is the sum of three, but she was standing on a scratch of coral, sandwiched between two, warring Typhons. In seconds, she became Homo Inifinitus--sexually generalized human in a world of pure consciousness.
She was invigorated, whether she liked it, or not. She no longer had a stomach, ergo there was no release for her screams, and vomit. The sounds of the children chanting poured from the cold, amorality of the Annex.
The melody pricked her ears, as the insect's shadow grew closer, and more defined.
Goosie, goosie gander....
Where shall I wander....
Upstairs, downstairs, and in my lady's chamber.
There I met an old man, who wouldn't say his prayers.
I took him by the left leg, and threw him down the stairs....
The creature's exoskeleton was long, and splendiferous. It's mass displacement was easily five tons, with unmoulted green skin, a ribbed thorax, and graceful pods that trundled along with no care for space, or appetite. It turned it's triangular head, and considered Angelina Carter with acutality, and unimpeachable debate. The technical manager felt her mind outgrow her cranium. The real danger loomed of her going stark, raving, fucking bonkers, but the image of the spitfire was carried mercifully away by on the Holy clouds.
In it's place stood Professor Victor Bergman.
"Ang.'" He said benignly. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
He extended his hand as he approached. The aura of selflessness about him could have torched any number of Old Testament prophets in a heartbeat.
"You're confused, I know." He conceded, folding his arms over the chest of his tunic. "We've had a difficult time keeping the Annex secure, otherwise this never would have happened. Because of your own choices, you're partly responsible.
"Do you accept that?" He didn't wait for an answer.
Over the edge of the chasm, out of the torrential rains, a new star rose into the metaphysical sky, became ghostly, and then vanished completely.
"You've slipped sideways, Ang.'" Bergman explained, nodding for her when her expression obviously drew blank. "That's alright though." He said consolingly. "Remember always--there's only one face in the mirror."
With that, all tint, and hue drained from his hands, and cheeks. His outline dried to a statue of hard semen, and burst in the etheric satori, without resonation. The rolling gales were wreathed. The curve had a name, but it wasn't Mariah. It was...
"...ANG.'" Commander John Koenig said louder from his position directly beside her. "We're going to need a detailed schematic of that torpedo, from either you, or Petrov. Can you handle it? Do you need any help?"
Sandra Benes was stirring her coffee miserably while Ben Ouma quadruple checked his register tape, partly hoping for different answers, partly to hide his head. Victor Bergman was filing his right index finger with the cap of his ink pen. Dexterous flanges that would behold no answers any time soon.
Angelina Carter blinked at her own reflection in the viewport.
"Yes...uh, no sir. I mean, yes, I can handle it and no, I don't need help," she glanced upward at Koenig then away as she returned to her seat between Sandra and Ben.
"Winters," Koenig eyed Angelina then turned his ire on the overnight controller. "What is the problem with the sensors on the orbital satellites? 'Unknown At This Time'?!?"
He slapped the red flimsie report to the table. "And what the hell does 'ASAP' mean by estimated time for repair?!?!?"
"The problem is in the transponder on Meteosat One." Winters said demurely--too unemotional to care about having his ass skewered. "We were planning to deorbit them next month, and install upgrades."
"NEXT MONTH?" Koenig seared. "I DON'T THINK SO. YOU'VE GOT ONE HOUR TO UPGRADE THE NETWORK. ROTSTEIN IS GOING TO DO A SPACEWALK, AND INSTALL THE NEW OPERATING SYSTEMS, BY HAND, ON EACH, AND EVERY UNIT, AND HE'S NOT COMING BACK IN UNTIL HE DOES.
"SCREW UP ONCE, AND YOU'RE BOTH RELIEVED OF YOUR POSTS."
Victor Bergman winced.
"You can't do that." Winters jeered defiantly, looking to Big-P Danielle, who wasn't about to profer his support.
"WATCH ME." Koenig pledged, with venom.
"Are you OK?" Ben Ouma whispered to Angelina as Mark Winters tried to disappear into the moduform chair, without success. Ang looked at Ben as if he stepped off of Planet Idiot.
Angelina Carter's movement to the printer to retrieve hard copies of the torpedo schematic was enough of a distraction to grant Controller Winters a temporary reprieve. She distributed the copies. "I've also sent it via email," she added, sitting down. Her coffee was beyond tepid. She drank it anyway.
He was helicoidal....
Circumvoluted, and amassing the blue rivers of light within the command module. Morrow was gone. Dead, by virtue of non-consideration, and Alan Carter scudded down... ...down...
Farther into the ring of fire where his hypothalmus was stimulated to smell terror, and to drink horror, and gallivant with evil trolls that barred thier bridges well. He attempted to stand, his Zero-G harness falling backward like rejected pythons. The ship was listing ten degrees to stern. Inside Eagle One, it was cold, and dead. Outside, it was necromantic, and transcendental. His obstructed vision fixated on the co-pilot's chair. Just above the arm, a pair of valves marked FLOW CONTD were in the downward position. Two ferine, sickly yellow eyes glowed above the safety switches, ebbing in, and out of mind. It was about mirrors. And the good shepherd taketh care of his sheep.
That was how he came to be deposited somewhere in the tableau of the third, manned exploration of the Moon.
"???HEYYY???" Carter thought, as opposed to actually saying because his mouth, and throat were inexplicably full of cement. Someone dropped his head. No neck; no ears; no eyes, or mouth; just his unconnected ovaloid. He fell through the vaccum onto the barren, dog bone fringe of the Mare Insularum. Just before him were the tall crater walls of Fra Mauro.
"I have in my hand a golf ball." That goddamn Al Shephard declared to his audience on the cape--after the fact of dropping Carter on his head. "I have here a specially made golf club." He touched the club head to the pilot's earless skull plate. Standing near the Antares descent stage, Ed Mitchell chuckled supernally. He took a moment to hobble across the landing site in his bulky, outmoded, white agency suit.
As if watching a person be bludgeoned to death required festival seating. Carter had only met Shephard once, but apparently his best impression had been not too good. Good old, Mr. "Light-This-Candle" whacked him for miles, and miles. The force of the blow sent the pilot into incurvate space, leaving the Moon behind--an insignificant speck of dust on the lampshade of the universe.
His final thought, anvil banging, as the universe deformed behind him: You suck, Al Shepard.
"Launch in T minus 30 seconds," Pierre Danielle announced from the capcomm station. The digital clock on the left monitor below the big screen unemotionally displayed the countdown. "Eagle 1-3 liftoff," Danielle announced as he punched the red stud on the console and all eyes averted the the image of the robot Eagle slowly rising from Launch pad 3. Pilot Danielle's attention was diverted to the joystick control.
Angelina Carter turned silently toward the viewport watching Eagle 1-3 ascending the void toward the Cirrus cloud. She heard the chatter from Main Mission but nothing in particular held her attention.
"I'm picking up brain wave patterns!" Helena Russell announced, as Ang whirled around and Koenig strode toward her. "I..." Dr. Russell stopped."Dammit. They're gone again." She shook her head as the life functions monitors for Carter and Morrow once again displayed a flatline for the EEG reading. "It was perhaps 10 seconds worth of activity," Helena spoke to Koenig while nodding to Sandra, who had stood up suddenly at the data analyst station. "But it was there."
Ang turned toward the viewport again. She was obsessed with watching the cloud, gazing at it. There was something about that cloud....
It's been a long, long-
A long time coming.
A change gonna' come....
...brothers you knew for years is now mad pussy, and scared.
Back in the days, UFO's couldn't walk up in here.
It's time to motor, travel like a foul odor.
Clear my head- -stay sober.
The soul controller.
He was beginning to wonder if this was perchance, one of those situations that would require a STANDARD ALIEN PROCEDURE--also known as SAP.
The green room was shaped like a triangle, with a round window that had undergone a seriously inept cement job. Alan Carter was no longer Al Shephard's golf ball, so the promenade across the floor was even, save for the myriad, broken boards, and exposed pipes. His orange boots splashed through the slog of a broken water main as he trekked like a stoned man towards the open closet door. There was a white appendage protruding just behind hinges, rusted by a decade of condemned plumbing, and exposure to whatever lay outside.
Sitting at a small, round table that was lit by a banker's lamp, a 200 pound orangutun of the Galapagos Isles sat smoking a cigar, while studying the pilot with his beady, untrustworthy simian eyes. The scorn of every creationist, and Romantic Poet, except for Walter Savage Landor, who wrote corny ballads like "The Hay Of Love." Carter waved at the ape, and kept moving. The cigar was an ultra-cheap Havanna thing that he wouldn't stick in his mouth were he paid to do so.
His gloved hand reached for the crystal knob, and pulled open the closet door. Cobwebs separated, and a Norway Rat as big as a house scurried. His gigantic rat's ass made a B-Line for the local hole, and Carter saw no more of him.
Professor Victor Bergman stood pensively on the top of the stairs in front of the commander's desk, staring intently at the big screen. Right hand cupping his chin, he occasionally glance at John Koenig, pacing in front of him and interrupting his view of the screen.
"Eagle 1-3 contacting cloud periphery in 10 seconds," Pierre Danielle announced as the room hushed. "9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1...contact"
"Magnetic field increase," Ben Ouma swivelled the computer deck.
"On it!" Daneilled responded triumphantly, as the model size Eagle shook slightly, listing to the right then stabilized."Aft thrusters responding and equalizing."
Lorna O'Brien immediately studied the sensor data, analyzed by the main frame. "Nothing unusual about the cloud so far," she shook her head, perplexed."Hydrogen, Nitrogen, trace amounts of inerts. Magnetic field is insignificant. There is still no energy source reading." She turned toward Bergman and Koenig. "There is nothing out there that should be immobilizing that Eagle or jeopardizing the crew!" Angelina stared out the viewport, at the green triangular shaped room with the poorly constructed round window. She blinked and the roof of the maintenance hut and the walls of Plato crater returned into view. "Alan. Where are you?" She whispered, inaudibly.
I'm going too deep....
The world is spinnin' round.
Why don't you take me down?
The world is spinnin' round.
The Al Jolson patina victrola music seemed to emanate from his pores as he looked upon the ghastliness before him. The baby crib was tilted askew--the white flaps, and ruffles, disshelved, and pointing towards a dried pool of coagulating blood on the floor. What lay inside would be unmentionable--as nightmarish as the sinew that streaked the parasol in an expressionistic zig-zag.
"Is it as bad as I said it would be?" The giant mantis creature inquired with venality.
"Yeah." The pilot replied, capsized, and sickened.
"???Where???" The pilot exploded.
The change in tenor was half expected.
"In time." His companion replied cooly. Carter pushed his way past the trees, stabbing upward at the third quarter moon. The timothy grass was high, and wet. The leaves that were clinging to his environment suit were bitten with the frost of late Fall. The pastoral effect was replete with wolves, baying at the lunar halo. He pushed his way into the dark forrest cabin, closing the wooden door behind him. A figure was seated by the fire, watching the embers burn. A garish orange light illuminated the sihlouette of a large, bearded man--apparently deaf to the footfalls approaching behind him. The pilot blinked, cautiously side stepping a rotted board to obtain a better look.
"Big-P?" He said with terrifying clarity. Pierre Danielle--assistant chief of Reconnaisance, and eighty years old if he was a day. A curtain was pulled back on the canopied bed only meters away from him. A white, Arabian Stallion--it's scrofulous eyes sick, and demonic, looked on the ravishment of a woman's breasts by something so evil as to be beyond definition. It was debased, and heinous. A living, breathing, psychodramatic enacting of Henry Fuseli's best nightmare. The groping of it's talons was sporadic, almost pixeled--as if the universe had trouble tuning into this particular atrocity.
"Maybe...in time." The other voice said, and Carter whirled at the door.
"Contact with Eagle One in 30 seconds," Pierre Danielle announced from the capcom. Eagle 1-3's bow cameras plainly revealed that the torpedo had been released and was not longer attached to the spine of Eagle One. Big sigh of relief. Huge. Angelina Carter, pulling herself away from the viewport, had relieved Andy Dempsey at the Technical station, glancing anxiously at Pierre Danielle. Beads of sweat formed on the pilot's brow and upper lip as the silence enveloped Main Mission and all eyes and attention spans were diverted to the unassuming Assistance Chief of Reconnaissance. Danielle was completely engrossed in the docking manuever, moving the joystick in barely perceptible and incremental movements.
Wake up snowman, now--your dreaming....
The foundation of the fractal was thousands of kilometers long. It would have made Aleister Crowley proud, back there when he was writing _The Book Of Thoth_. Carter was squashed by the Brobdingnagian of the game board he was standing on. Non-Euclidian geometric shapes discharged from the floor outward, in a fussilade of bizarre angles, and bulging ballocks that warped his mind, and fogged his mathematical reason.
"We're not even half-way there." His companion abraded him, with a delicate twitch of its pods. The extraterrestrial sky was a strawberry field of soft strato-clouds, lined with flakeing crystals that floated gently in the one-fourth gravity. In the right hand, golden ratio, hung the Moon in third quarter.
"What did it mean?" Carter demanded, heaving, and pulling at the central frieze. He wheezed like a man on Plutonian drugs, or an astronaut who had breathed his last.
"The rules call for sixty-four squares-" His cohort recounted. The abyss was awe-inspiring.
"There's no black square in the lower left." Carter argued, feeling the amethyst give way, along with the rotary cup in his shoulder. "The rows are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5-" "-6, 7, 8." Carter acknowledged with a desultory pant, and shaking his head. The unlocking mechanism turned beneath him. Gears the size of Chicago, Illinois began to grind, and bifurcated dimensions rolled away like waves on the Pacific. Eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one--off. The pilot staggered from queasy vertigo. "I think you're a lying sucker."
The door quartered open beneath him. His tumble into darkness proved that the Mantis was a bullshitter, to rival the likes of William Gregory Harms, III.
"Look who's talking, mate." The bug replied offended as Alan Carter died, and rose again.
"5-4-3," Pierre Danielle counted the seconds down, hand poised on the board tube lever,"2-1..HUH?!?"
Bergman raised an eyebrow, as Koenig had made his way to the capcomm, standing behind Danielle.
"The robotic onboard computers reports no concrete object for contact," Ouma swivelled his computer desk around.
"What do you mean 'no concrete object for contact'?!?!?" Angelina blurted, rising from the technical station and gesturing at the big screen. "It's right there!!"
"No physical matter for Eagle 1-3 to clamp the boarding tube on Eagle One," Pierre Danielle murmured. "That is weird." Angelina looked helplessly and imploringly toward Koenig and Bergman. "Now what can we do?" The proximity alarm went off on the Data Analyst station and Sandra Benes moved small, slender fingers across the keyboard as she silenced it. She glance at Ben Ouma who merely nodded.
"Sir," Sandra began, the Commander, Bergman and everyone in Main Mission all ears,"the cloud has changed direction of drift." She glanced at all the faces. "We are heading straight towards it."
"I thought you were the only person in the universe who loved Vitaseed; that is, until we ran across Phil Geist." Angelina Carter chuckled slightly as Professor Bergman, sitting on the edge of the low rider couch in the Commander's office, stirred the dreadful beverage with gusto. Technically, Bergman was the only person in THIS universe who loved Vitaseed. Geist was from another universe...technically; not that it really mattered now anyway. "He calls it 'mother's milk'," Angelina Carter sat on the couch, clutching her flimsies and wrinkling her nose. The Commander would be arriving any minute. "With all due respect, professor, how can you drink that crap? Even my dog turned his nose up at it once." She laughed at the distant memory.
"Good man," Bergman smiled fondly. "No, I encourage you to give the drink another try some time." He commended, tapping his spoon smartly against the rim of the cup. "I confess, when I first tasted it, I thought I was going to regurgitate--but Ang' it's packed with all sorts of vitamins, and minerals, and nutrients. It's much healthier than coffee, or Glucose-A." He nodded with surety. "That's heart failure in a cup, is what that is." He sipped, looking for a way to break the contemptuous silence. "Oh," he exclaimed, setting his cup down. "How about this. I understand the Physics Lab has come up with a scenario for liberating Eagle One using gravitational fields, and high frequency transmitter dishes. Commander Koenig, and Dr. O'Brian are looking over the specs now. "Of course we haven't much development time." He conceded, biting his thumbnail. "On the other hand, our finest minds are working on it. You may not realize this, but before leaving Earth, we learned a great deal about opticution, and tweezers."
He neglected to mention that the process worked only on low, numerical objectives. The only subject that had ever been pushed successfully with a pressor beam was yeast on a petrie dish.
Angelina sat back and sighed.
"Professor, I know you are trying to be encouraging but I do know better. Afterall," she smirked, "it was you who taught me everything I know.
"The energy requirements alone to dissipate that cloud are way, way beyond our capabilities; unless we want to risk throwing the reactors in overload....and the cold fusion process is still in pilot stage but believe me, I wish it was set up so I could throw the switch and ..." she trailed off. "Well, its not ready and we are months away from being ready," she finalized then took a sip of her unhealthy coffee.
The privacy door to the office open and Commander Koenig, closing the door and clipping the comlock back on his belt, stepped down into the pit. He sat in the modulform chair across from the couch, leaning forward on elbows.
"Victor.." he began then glanced toward Angelina, who readied her report,"Don't worry, Ang. We'll bring him back."
She looked up then nodded. "Of course, sir." She cleared her throat and opened the flimsie to the middle of the report.
"Victor," Koenig returned his attention to Bergman," it looks like the energy requirements for the use of high frequency generation and gravitation fields to dissipate the cloud are beyond what we are currently capable of generating. Any other alternatives?"
"Alternatives." Bergman cerebrated, pacing the dark room in a short circle. "Perhaps, there is one." He decided, summoning the theory with dramatic perpend. "We can't physically push Carter's ship out of the Cirrus Cloud. We tried that, and failed. We also know that we can't push the woolpack apart with tow beams." He smacked his lips together succinctly. "What we may be able to do--and mind you, this is a long shot--is devise a more conservative way of accomplishing the same thing. "We can't move the cloud, but we may be able to move Eagle One. We focus the discharge on Carter's last reported position, and see if we can give him enough of a nudge to separate him from the damping field that's inside there." Ironic it would be if they managed to emancipate Eagle One, even as the Moon plunged into the apocalyptic core of the Cirrus Cloud. If they succeeded, Carter, and Morrow could well end up being the favored alphans; soul survivors from the rank, and file of the damned. "Now, we know from our attempt with the hypergolic Eagle that some sort of molecular transformation is going on in there." The professor postscripted. It was an attempt to forget his former, genocidal line of thought. "That may not matter, though, when it comes to opposing energies.
"It could work." He conjectured, and returned to his nutritious, but otherwise nauseating, and surfeit Vitaseed.
Angelina was not surprised in the least when she looked up and suddenly became transfixed on the side door to Koenig's office. It was open. Peering inside, cocking its head curiously, the mantis stared at her. If it had physical form, all it could do would be to poke its green head in the door. Obviously, it was not a solid thing since half of it was in the room and the other half was outside. It must be gaseous, she thought. She also assumed, that only she could see it.
"VENI, Sancte Spiritus, reple tuorum corda fidelium, et tui amoris in eis ignem accende." It spoke to her, monotone. In English "Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and kindle in them the fire of Thy love." Was this the Holy Spirit? She'd never imagine the Holy Spirit being a giant bug. Then again, God could take on any form He wished, she supposed...if this was "God".
"Help us," Angelina spoke in a low tone, somehow feeling that this presence, soothing, comforting, could help them.
"Specifically, what help are you asking for?" Koenig interjected into the scene and in an instant the surreal appearance of the office disappeared. The hum of the HVAC unit above buzzed in her ears before returning to the level of background noise. Koenig and Bergman were both staring at her inquisitively.
"Ang, are you alright?" Bergman rested a paternal hand on her shoulder.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she nodded, brushing away the mental cobwebs.
"I spoke to Dr. Chandra today." Bergman said with sympathetic futility. Koenig froze in half turn. "He's been on the loop since this whole thing started." He acknowledged Ang,' but his regard did not extend to lies, more lies, and obfuscation of the truth. "Everyone at the Hague, the ILC, the JSC; they're all wanting to know what's going to be done about this threat. I have friends in the back room of mission control. So far they've kept their theories to themselves, but I fear the political ramifications are going to outweigh the human element.
"Again." He said repugnantly. "They're just breathing down our necks, John. We can't keep putting off DC Breck, and once he knows, Simmonds won't be far behind. You know they're going to instruct us to use any means necessary to neutralize the Cirrus Cloud before it reaches Earth. "Up to, and including the use of Cobalt Mixers, and Meson Rippers."
Bad news for Carter, and Morrow. And darnit all, he was fresh out of Vitaseed.
Angelina sat through the conversation utterly confused. Hague? the ILC? the JSC? Neutralize the Cirrus Cloud before it reaches Earth?
"Dr. Chandra??" Angelina queried. "He's probably not even alive." She looked puzzled. Bergman and Koenig glanced at each other, in bewilderment. Why won't they. Dr. Chandra was the Chief Scientist of the ILC, stationed in Boston...Massachusetts...United States...Planet Earth.
Bergman regarded her kindly. He remembered the long nights when she was under his tutelage as a graduate student. The glazed look of fatigue and the slow mental connections of a mind over exhausted.
"Yeah," Koenig smirked, trying to make sense of her nonsensical response,"and that guy would have been of little use now anyway.
"Look, Ang," the Commander stood up." Go get some rest. Go see Helena or your chess buddy Bob for something to relax you."
"But, I'm not..."
"That's an order," he interupted and climbed the steps to his desk.
"Do as he says," Bergman patted her gently, "and we'll tackle this one later."
Koenig gandered cooly as she exited through the privacy door. Beyond the expanse of vision ports, there was a summiting view of a breathtaking Earth. The shadows deepened below the platonic rise. There was always one more door. One might say, after closing one door you immediately open another.
"She'll be alright." Bergman presumed, hardly looking up from his inappropriate, red flimsie.
"The Historical Tragedy Of Alan Carter, Astronaut, And Not Hamlet"
not written by William Shakespeare
These Our Actors:
Captain Alan Carter, Dazed, And Confused
Tubbs, A Drunkard
Jack Crawford, Jr. (a foe)
Nicholas, The Conqueror (a foe)
Ghost of Angelina Carter
(Chorus, various minstrels, TAC Squads, Main Mission Personnel, Forces of Darkness & c.)
Act One, Scene One:
Spiralling through the plumbing Of the Universe, this--STARCROSSED ASTRONAUT; Landing he knew not where, nor did he care, his Backside a torrent on the lunar topography. No hostlery.
(Entrance: Captain Alan Carter, regaining his senses as an odious, besotted Tubbs offers him suspicious liquids. The cavern they are in is covered with aluminum, and lye.)
Carter: That stuff stinks. Where am I, and who the hell are you?
Tubbs: Take your cockney load, your governorship. !!!TOOL!!! Have you er'swig. I done the deed what to build up the alcohol content.
Carter as Tool: Who is Tool? Answer my question, you barmy bastard? Where am I?
Tubbs: The Moon, I reckon. Always the Moon. !!!O' wretched excess!!!
"Perhaps it would be a good idea to find ways to neutralize its affects," Kurt Rotstein suggested from the balcony in Main Mission,"rather than neutralize the cloud itself."
"Neutralize its affects?!?!" Sandra Benes blurted in disbelief. "How can we neutralize its affects if we do not know what its affects are?!?!" She was disgusted and incredulous. How dense could that guy be?!? Angelina Carter wearily shook her head as she left Main Mission through the left archway. On her right, through the viewport, she glance at the Earth rising above the horizon. Finger like cirrus clouds caressed the coast of Connecticut from the encroaching storm. It was going to be one hell of a Nor'easter.
Act One, Scene Two
(as the plot doeth thicken)
(Entrance: Of a TAC (see 'death' squad) patrol, roving the catacombs, while illuminating the almost total darkness with Roman Candle bursts from their NHB Guns.)
Tubbs: !!!HO'!!! Harry's men!!! We are disclosed!!!
Carter as Tool: What are you talking about?
Tubbs: You forget old knight, the circumstances that conspired us to this life of iron, and woe. O' poor, Commander Harrison; his stripe defiled by that albino Millibyte, and his false profit. Pity this scorched satellite--security, reduced to Harness Bulls roaming the caverns, reducing the population for survival, and sport. They homer down innocents like ourselves whose only misfortune was to be borned dumb.
Carter as Tool: I have no idea what you're talking about. Speak fucking English.
(Our traveller turns as a bright flashlight blinds the corneas of his eyes with sinister, befogged rays of blue.)
Angelina Carter paused at the door to Doctor Bob Mathias office. He was not at his desk. Had she taken a walk around his desk, she would have been amazed to see the framed 5x7 of a very familiar woman with him, arms entwined, sipping champagne from glasses labelled "bride" and "groom" respectively. But she did not see it, so it was not there. Instead she found the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Helena Russell. There was something different about Helena, who sat at her desk munching a quick bite of a sandwich. A well manicured hand brushed back the feathered hair from her face.
"Ang," Helena smiled and nodded toward her.
"Helena," Angelina looked around the office. It seemed out of proportion. "I need to talk with you. I think I'm finally cracking up." She sat down and looked around. The proportions of the room, the walls, the door frames, the molding, all seemed normal again.
Act One, Scene Three
(The lower levels of Moonbase Alpha; the security loop where our hero is ensconced, enduring cold tortures, and the brilliantine pomposity of Mssr. Chief Of Security. His interrogator on the right side was Harness Bull Duncan--but not the Duncan he remembered. His interrogator on the left was Harness Bull Starns, but the patriarch he remembered could never have conceived a hellspawn like the the Adolpho Miguel Donda Tigel that stood before him now.)
HB Starns: You know, I don't really like it when someone ignores me. You don't think you're better than me, do you Tool? Good old, useless, smells like a relief tube Tool?
Carter as Tool: The name's Carter, and yeah--I do sort of think I'm better than you (wide, Mickey Mouse Smile).
(Starns punches him in the groin, and the pilot collapses to the floor.)
HB Duncan: Mr. Carter you need to learn our patois, me thinks.
Carter as Tool: Where's the commander?
HB Starns (plucking rose petals): Chicken brain. What the hell makes you think the commander has enough time, or disinfectant to entertain company like you. The Squares on this base don't fancy having a Yorkshire hog for a pet. Just thank your lucky stars you didn't get waxed on Ninevah Ridge. We have a terrible overpopulation problem, you know.
Carter as Tool: Yeah, and most of them are bloody assholes like yourself (laughs). Couldn't help, but notice.
(Starns moves in to strike again--this time with a smelt-hot needle to the ear drum, but he stops as a greater, malignancy enters the room.)
"What makes you say that, Ang?" The glare from Helena's lip gloss was blinding. Her manner was irritating as well. Helena reminded Angelina of a high school cheerleader: that ever present pretentious cheerfulness.
"I was having a discussion with the professor and the commander about ways to free Alan from that cloud and Professor Bergman mentioned that Dr. Chandra knows about it as well as the Hague, and the ILC and...well, he was talking as if we were still in earth orbit or something."
Angelina stopped to judge the doctor's reaction.
"That is odd," Helena acknowledged, "but are you sure you weren't hearing things? You are, Ang, under a significant amount of stress." Angelina stared back at her blankly. She heard what she heard. "Look," Helena removed a few pills from a bottle she took from the desk drawer. "You need to gets some rest." She came around to Ang with a glass of water. "Take these and get some sleep."
Funny...Angelina thought. When was a slit skirt part of the regular duty uniform? She took the pills, gulped them down then stood to leave.
"If you want to talk later, I'll be here," Helena called to her warmly.
"Sure," Angelina nodded then left.
The travel tube ride to her quarters was bizarre. Nothing ethereal or dreamlike but her fellow travellers who shared the car, Michelle Cranston and Pierre Danielle were acting very inappropriate and strange. They acknowledged Ang as she embarked into the car but made no attempt to hide and in fact resumed their previous activity. Michelle Cranston and Pilot Pierre Danielle were engaged in some rather erotic making out and foreplay. Ang sat uncomfortably trying to ignore their indiscretion but Michelle's heavy breathing and soft moaning made it difficult.
"You two should get a room," Angelina commented with a plastic smile, while blushing slightly. The last time she encountered a scene like this was on a bus ride in middle school.
"That's where we are going. Isn't it obvious?" Michelle retorted bitchily before Pierre interfered with her speech by sticking his tongue in her mouth again. The travel tube stopped and Ang jumped up.
"I'm off here."
They ignored her and the doors whooshed shut. 'It must be the sedative,' Angelina thought, walking on rubbery legs. She stopped at the quarters with the sign "Captain Alan Carter, Dr. Angelina Verdeschi Carter, Nicholas Carter", squinting to be sure she was in the right place. The lock responded to her comlock signal and she staggered in, collapsing on the lowrider couch.
Act One, Scene Three
(Security Chief James Profitt remains standing. His flares are too tight, and a gopher bulges at his groin--proclaiming to all female alphans that he is indeed chief.)
Profitt: I don't love my wife.
Carter as Tool: I'm not going to think.
Profitt: The twin prime conjecture?
Carter as Tool: No solution.
Carter as Tool: No solution.
Profitt (pointing rudely): Proof that ten is a solitary number.
Carter as Tool: Go to hell chief.
Profitt: Do you love your wife?
Carter as Tool: What's it all about?
(James Profitt transforms into a nine foot long praying mantis.)
The Mantis, formerly James Profitt: Death is best. That's what I want you to accept.
In a dreamlike state, Angelina remembered the nurse telling her that Nicky was in his room and she was off duty. Ang murmured her gratitude but drifted back into a light sleep. Her son's laughter brought her to consciousness. Still dazed and in a drug induced fog, Angelina walked into Nicky's room on unsteady legs.
"Nicky?" She whispered, seeing no evidence of the child. The yellow light panels cast an amber glow on the upside down crucifix above the head of his bed. Perplexed, she righted it and stood back. Her attention was snagged by the picture on the adjacent wall of the Blessed Mother...a single tear of blood easing out of the corner of her eye. She blinked...no more bleeding image. Nicky's raucous laughter came from his closet. Angelina Carter stepped inside the closet; and out into another dimension. Surrounded by white and light and no substance yet all substance, she saw her child playing on what appeared to be a gigantic jungle gym.
As she drew closer, though, it was clear that it was not an object. Nicky swung on the super sized antenae of a giant mantis. Seeing his mother, he released, jumped and rolled, enthusiastically running to her and taking her hand. Angelina looked up at the image she was sure she had seen before.
"Who are you? What do you want with my son?"
"???Who are you???" Carter shouted as he started to choke the Mantis. His hands barely fit around the most fragile part of the bug's thorax. "???What the blazes???"
This didn't go unobserved. Harness Bulls Duncan, and Starns took to walking in circles, high fiving each other after each repitition. Then he saw the others--beings he seemed to sense were alphans, but who were not on the base out of design, but rather galactic conquest. Then his concierge left him, and he was back to being violent again. They appeared to be neither human, nor humanoid, with internal organs that vented gaseous trace elements from dark, unevolved sockets. He knew they were there. They knew they were there. They were the Lords Of The Periphery--something from a corner in his deranged mind.
"???Where's my boy???" He demanded, torturing the bug's trachea with his thumbs. Then he realized that nightmares seem real--up until the last ten seconds before waking. He realized his opponent was slipping away. He felt the rotten floor buckle beneath his funky, orange EVA shoes.
The person he was strangling was Ang.'
"Ang,'" The graying commander said, standing. "Glad you could join us." Her gladness was forced; more relative to the situation than any ill gotten mendacity for the Technical Section Manager.
Victor Bergman also pushed back his plastic, butt torturing dining complex chair, and greeted her cheerfully. On the other side of the line, Hugo Willet saw her coming. He carefully ducked back into the service area before he could be targeted for extracurricular duty. Somewhere in the back, whole grain muffins torched, and burned.
"We saved you one." Kathleen O'Leary said laconically, her black stripe moving across the gray formica as she pushed the cup of Caffeine-A in Angs' direction. "True, it's not as good as Vitaseed, but I thought you could endure--just this one time."
"Now, now." Bergman said, waving a cautionary finger. "Keep in mind, you only had her for one introductory class. She was with me at MIT for how long? "Enough time for me to recognize her good taste." The commander grunted.
Angelina stared, utterly confused. She had every right to be confused. You see, Kathleen O'Leary, one time former commander of Moonbase Alpha was at the wrong place at the wrong time on December 12, 1997. While taking her early morning jog, as she always did, navigating the ice and 3 foot high snow banks of that early surburban Bostonian winter, a frat boy from UMass Lowell plowed into her after a night and dawn of hearty partying, killing her instantly.
Ang blinked. The white and light environment where she felt secure and carefree re-emerged and engulfed her.
"Come Nicky, let's go!" She shouted to her son running and playing between the legs and pods of the great Mantis.
"He should stay with me," the insect communicated without speaking. "He will be safe here until you passed through the other side of it." Angelina merely nodded in unexplainable yet complete trust and blinked again.
She stared at the cup of coffee and looked around the Commander's office. Commander John Koenig sat next to her, leaning toward Professor Bergman, intently studying the Eagle schematics. Pierre Danielle, sitting next to Bergman, had a look of relief and hope in his face.
"This could work," Koenig nodded toward Danielle. He shrugged. "What have we got to lose?"
"You say that so easily." Deputy Commissioner Breck said coldly. He looked sideways at Ang'--checking to see if she were still alive, one would presume--and then bore a hole through John Koenig's forehead. "There are three billion people down there. I'd say we have a tremendous amount to lose. Even worse, the future of our programs is at stake." He turned his laser eyes on each, and every command conference attendee. "Europe could be decimated. Indochina. The Mediterranean.
"Koenig, you act as though that doesn't trouble you in the least; as if you really wouldn't mind if the world--as we know it--ended; back to life of a satellite repairman while thirty years of glorious progress goes down the swill.
"Unfortunately, I do care. Moreover, my superiors demand that immediate action be taken."
"Mr. Deputy Commissioner." Victor Bergman said, fatigued. "We're already confident that the dish network can minimalize the dangerous elements. Dr. Murneau, and our highly skilled, Technical Manager there solved that problem. As soon as the dish network is deployed, we'll link the system, and fire off a counterbalancing charge of Orgone Energy--enough to bust the Cirrus Cloud."
"Oui.'" Murneau said modestly from his seat across the table. "Dat' is true."
"Breck, we have a 100% margins on this." Koenig argued vehemently. "I see no reason why we can't consider the human element for once. We have a trapped pilot out there. I intend to bring him back."
"Do you know what the hell you're doing?" The DC assailed Ang, his ascott smoking beneath his dragon nostrils.' "Can you look me in the eye, and say that Earth is in no danger?" His impatience was thermal, raising the office temperature to intolerable, and beyond.
Another dead person sitting at the conference table. The 'good' Deputy Commissioner Breck died of a severe myocardio infarction (heat attack to the layman) on July 21, 1999.
"Commissioner," Angelina answered without looking up, for if she looked up she was not sure who she'd be answering,"this method has a statistical confidence level of 99.99%"
"Zee precize pwobabiwity is 99.9943%," Murneau clarified, glancing at Ang over his thick bone rimmed glasses.
Angelina was slightly amused, despite the situation. She could not believe Murneau was sitting here. She knew this situation was not real because Breck thought Murneau was the biggest fool in the LSRO. However, the fact that Murneau's sister was the wife of the Prime Minister of France may have been a factor in his assignment to Moonbase Alpha.
"And yes, I do know what the hell I am doing, commissioner," Ang looked up, ready to stare down the departed deputy commander. It was not Breck, and Ang flushed slightly, looking away.
"Whatever the confidence level, we're not going to evaporate the Cirrus Cloud until the last possible minute." Koenig announced. This was followed by pop-up disgruntlement amongst team members. This feedback was ignored. "If we start bombarding the cloud while Carter is still in there, he'll die for sure. We're going to give him every possible chance.
"Ouma, what's the time factor on this." He said, swivelling in the direction of the now pastey, ever depressed computer chief.
"The cloud will envelope the Moon in less than one day." Ouma declared, with no mitigation. "Computer estimates a time factor of approximately 19 hours. To neutralize the cloud, we'll need a burst of no less than 180 seconds. We have to be accurate within three-tenths of a second. If the shut-down is premature, the operation will be ineffectual. If we shut down too late, the overdose of Bions will seed the other vesicles; the cloud will become stronger, and on top of that, Alpha will be contaminated with orgonomic fallout."
"We've heard nothing from Eagle One." The departed deputy commander, Paul Morrow, reported while returning Angs' humorless stare. "About 30 minutes ago, we received telemetry from 15,000 nautical miles out; in the core of the Cirrus Cloud. Astrophysics believes that the data probably escaped during a contraction phase in the cloud's cycle. "We have a Delta-F on the onboard tab." He said, looking away from Ang.' "Eagle One has lost RCS."
"Has he detanked?" The commander queried.
"No." The controller said. "It's well within limits."
"What bothers us." Bergman said, taking the wheel. "Is the fact that we have this data, but no noticeable changes in the Cirrus Cloud. Any thruster movement from Carter's ship should, by all rights, cause changes in the cloud's composition. There would be molecular movement; vibrations on the subatomic level. There isn't any.
"He's moved, but he hasn't moved." The professor said, completely baffled. "The RCS is only used for landing. Where did he go?"
Angelina glanced out the blue and violet filled viewports. Where did the stars go? Returning her attention to the table, Commissioner Simmonds sat across from her scowling at the Commander. Another dead person was attending the meeting. Angelina shook her head. She was either dreaming or hallucinating or both.
"Excuse me, but I need to get something for this headache," Angelina murmured as she stood, rubbing her temple. She did not look back. She didn't dare look back since she had no desire to see who, dead and alive, might be discussing the current situation.
She closed the door behind her as she left the room.
"But of course." Commander O'Leary said, gracious in the traces.
"Really, it'll be alright." Bergman opined, and offered her an optimistic pat on her single, black sleeve.
In the lost city of the Cirrus Cloud, Alan Carter's shoulder blades, and pectorals grew taught. His face twisted, and contorted in red rilles of inflamed blood pressure. The jigsaw sky was resonated a bizarre magenta. His helmuted head expanded to ten times its normal size. He now looked like one of the better bears on "The Outer Limits," but not nearly as blessed, for there was no death. Beyond the fifth quarter Moon, Draconis, and Corvus, and 93 Ceti pelted him with arc seconds of razor blade light, and he shrieked, and shrieked.
The 10 year old boy sat at the desk, carefully sketching the flower. It was a complicated Sunflower and he stared pensively at the color pallet, trying to decide which color to match on his canvas.
Jackie Crawford sat back and rubbed his eyes. The blue light from the viewport was not helping his perception of the yellow on the sunflower petal, so he stood up and activated the switch for the shutters. Upon returning to his student desk, he found himself tired and folding his arms on the desk, leaned his chin on his hands, staring at the flower.
His eyes flew open at the sound of a soft rustle but he did not move. Nestled on the flower, Jackie stared in awe at something he had never seen before, a creature that he only saw in pictures.
The Monach butterfly slowly moved its wings as it fed on the nectar of the sunflower. Jackie's eyes widened with delight. Such a remarkable creature! He wanted to touch it. The butterfly sensed the movement and lifted off gracefully from the flower.
Jackie jumped out of the chair and chased it about the room. It flew out the open door to the corridor. Jackie paused at the door. His mother told him to stay where he was until she returned.....but then the butterfly would be gone! He was sure that if he caught it, she would be pleased, so he took off down the corridor after the monarch.
Soon, Jackie found himself in the upper levels of Hangar 2. The enticing insect flew out an open door to the catwalk and settled on the arm of one of the great lifting cranes. The dark haired boy looked around and down...it was a long way down. He knew he was not allowed in this area. However, the butterfly was beautiful and he could not let it get away.
Jackie sat on the crane arm and slowly inched his way across it. He looked down and thought he would cry. It was at least 50 feet down and he felt a bit dizzy. Glancing back at the butterfly, he found the strength to move on, inching his way across his precarious perch.
Young Crawford slowly reached forward, within inches of grabbing the creature.
"JACKIE!!!!" The stern yell came from...somewhere.
Jackie sat up, startled and lost his balance. With one hand holding on to a cable, he dangled from the arm of the crane.
"Help!!! HELP!!!!!" He screamed in fear and anguish.
The cable let go with a snap......he shrieked as he fell.
Jackie cried out, sitting up on the hangar floor. He looked around, a bit dazed. He looked up at the crane....no dangling cables.
"What are you doing here, lad? You know you are not suppose to be in this area." Bram Cedrix approached the boy and pulled him to a standing position.
"I...I ...don't know," Jackie stammered, still in a daze.
Bram Cedrix nodded paternally, patting him on the shoulder. "Another blackout, Jackie?"
Everyone knew that possibly due to his possession by Jarak, Jackie Crawford was an occasional sufferer of epileptic seizures and blackouts.
"Yes, sir...I guess," He squinted at the crane above.
"Well, son...Let's call your mum and get you over to Medical to get you checked out. That's what you're suppose to do when you have one of these spells, eh?"
"Yeah..." Jackie took Cedrix's offered hand. "Let's go."
Jackie glance over his shoulder, looking around again then stepped into the travel tube with Technician Bram Cedrix.
From the ever changing cast of characters at the meeting in the Commander's office, Angelina thought she was stepping into the corridor adjacent to Koenig's office. Instead, she stepped into the clutches of an unrecognizable mad man. She could not make a sound as the air flow was cut off to her trachea. The world was already going black and the sound of her own gurgling and rapidly beating heart amplified in her ears. Suddenly, whoever it was, let her go. Gasping, she fumbled for her comlock in an attempt to hit the emergency button though in the back of her mind, she doubt that it would do any good. The muscles in her arms were too oxygen deprived to hold the device and she dropped it to the floor, still wheezing and gasping.
"I can explain that." Carter proclaimed, releasing his wife's fragile neck. Oh, lucky for him, the corridor was empty. No James Profitt, the mad security chief; no TAC squads, armed with sciatic nerve blasters. He had no idea where he was on Moonbase Alpha now, since there was no such thing as a road map to alternate destinies. The only thing that looked even remotely familiar was the greek animated comstatations, which disappeared in a row to the end of the anywhere/ anytime corridor. The next time he spoke to Shai, the egyptian god of fate, he had every intention of climbing his grill for this. As circumstances decreed, he was having a bad day--made worse by this near strangulation. Then there was this thing with the beard, and of him smelling like wild animal shit.
Angs' anile gaze floated towards the gadget that was quartered on his hip. The commlock that had blue, red, and green bands; and a blue dot on the side; and an XSM model number; and a displeasing, morally revolting photo of himself with the label FRED TOOL, R 01-485.
"That's not who I am." He said, his mouth hanging wide open.
She looked up at the stranger. He did not look like Alan Carter, yet he sounded like Alan Carter, complete with Alan Carter's unique intonations and Aussie accent.
"Alan?" she rasped while shaking her head. Perhaps she had finally crossed the narrow threshold between sanity and madness.
"I have two arms, two legs, two eyes, and an indentation for a tale." The pilot said gravely. You might say he was 'retooling.' "The cloud." He said forcefully, holding her by her fiftyish, peanut brittle shoulders. "How long has it been here."
He pointed towards the ice blown aurora that filled the rectangular viewports. Then he looked away, with dismay, as he realized he was standing in oxidized pool of dry blood.
"Am I in the future, or am I dead. Eh?" This led to the classic, epistomological dilemma of infinite regress. Without justification, could he truly justify that he was seeing his wife as an old chook, or was this a vision born from his lack of foundational beliefs. He only thought that he thought that he was thinking of Angelina in this fashion. In reality, he was battling his own straight jacket somewhere while listening to Slim Whitman.
Then, the flying habadashers showed up, swooping through the corridor in tight formation. Their undersides appeared to be hollowed out, rendering visible a crystalline geode of pink guts, and fiery red veins. He pulled Ang' towards a nearby closet, and despaired again when he realized that his commlock was useless. He opened the door with her's, and locked the terror out.
"What are those things." He said, frowning in the dark.
"What things?" She looked around, up and down the empty corridor. Except for the two of them, it was empty and there was an eery silence and Ang noticed the constant background hum of the HVAC units was absent. A barely perceptible haze dulled the lighting such that the white walls appeared gray. Despite his physical appearance, his voice and now his scent, mixed with his aftershave, convinced her that this strange guy really was Alan Carter. "It IS you," she pulled him into an embrace.
She stood back and studied him. "But you look different." She hugged him again. "Things are not as they seem. If you are seeing the future, I have been seeing the past. I don't know what reality I'm in.
"I've just been in a meeting with, among others, Commander O'Leary and Commissioner Breck," she shook her head. "I don't think we're dead...maybe insane?"
"You've got a strange imagination, cream puff." Carter decided, in a very real sense, hugging himself. That was all the time they could afford for pleasantries, and mutual affection. "Maybe we really are the center of all things. Maybe that blue motherfucker outside has inspired you." The end was, after all, determined by the prime author, or mover. They were, but witnesses. An audience locked in a theater for the viewing of experimental films, and film art. Watch the fly zing down the barrell of a revolver au stethescope camera. Watch the Hindu's head split open to expel a ghostly supermodel. Witness Spot--500 pound, pet Tic of a boy who looks, and acts like young Bill Mumy.
It's a good life.
"Why?" The pilot harrangued thanklessly, and then rotated his ear towards palates that seemed to be emanating from the floor.
"...now is the time to forge alliances." A disgruntled male voice said from the other side of the vent. "He believes the cloud is augury; some omen from the divine. We can use that." The speaker said politically.
"Who is that?" she reeled toward the vent. "The voice is familiar. Who?
"You're in the cloud, Alan." Angelina turned and gazed out the blue viewport. "We are trying to get you back....back.....back..." Her words echoed but there was no physical reason for the echo. "Did you see the mantis?" Angelina asked, squinting through the prism colors of the strobe lit wall panels. "Nicky is safe with it. I trust it. It will help us."
Carter sssSSHHH'd her.
"...you could say." The icy, Voice Of Reckoning said on the other side of the grate. "I had an unusual childhood." His laughter was cement, hardening on someone's tombstone.
"Yes." The other person replied slowly. It was an erratic, brain damaged 'yes.' One that was barely uttered, and only half understood.
"The protocols aren't like they used to be a decade ago. Every step he took; every bad decision he made led up to this."
"A Paul Von Hindenberg?" The schizoid second party asked, by way of comparison. "Who?"
"Never mind. Your simile is appropos. In an illiterate sort of way."
"Yes." Brain Damage said humbly.
"You know, in my father's day--even after Breakaway, no one ever would have visualized a situtation like the one that now drives us to such extreme patriotism." The guttural, but somehow youthful, respondent said zealously.
"They were from Earth." Brain damage extrapolated. "Trask isn't."
"Trask was." The strident one argued, and then the floor turned upside down. Experience, and the fount of myths suddenly became carnival rides. The Electric Rainbow. The Sombreros. The Scrambler, and The Mouse Trap. The north pole was now the south pole, leaving Carter, and Ang' to look silly, hanging from the ceiling while castles of mist extirpated in the vaccum. The pilot felt sick. How sick did he feel, you may wonder. If someone filled an ash tray with cigarette butt, and then deposited upteen cigarette butt onto a greasy pork chop; and then--dousing the pork chop with chocolate syrup; and if he ate it, it still would not equate, by one tenth of a percentile, the total need to yak' that he enjoyed now. He felt like the aussie schoolmaster, meaning to console the prepubescent with the broken shinn bone, but deep throating her instead. Shame was the word.
Carter may have been successfully rapid swallowing his excess saliva, keeping the inside contents of his stomach from going outside but Angelina failed in the task. Sinking to her knees the bile edged the back of her throat and forcefully exploded out of her mouth. With barely enough time to draw in a breath she continued to dry heave, gasping and sobbing. Her physical misery was being fed by the mental images. The torture, the cruelty, the agony of a future Moonbase Alpha flased before her in digital, 3D images.
"No...no..." she cried on her hands and knees, still dry heaving the burning acids from her stomach. "It can't be...it mustn't be...no..." The source of it all was her...and Alan. "We can't let this happened," she looked up at Carter as Tool,"we must change it."
The mole at the end of the corridor was an omnivore. It's mushroom was a red-lit beacon, protruding through hellion eye sockets as the cold promontory of the SNB held true in cave man's hands. It debouched thorugh a quarter of a century of dust-covered decadence, easing behind a commstation to await the final departure of one of the flying derbys which lingered in the bend. The creatures were blind which meant that the point of his hiding was to prevent his rotten stench from reaching the monster's clairsentience. It could smell the lack of bath water, which was worse than being targeted visually.
"You started it." Carter said nodularly. "Don't think about the cloud. Think about the light at the end."
"My father died before I could see what kind of socks he wore." Brain Damage confessed through the rectangular gaps of grating.
"You know, you're almost too low functioning." His partner criticized. "Maybe I should do away with you now. You know. You're a high security risk. What's about to happen is nothing short of-"
"Evolution?" Brain Damage faltered.
"Why yes, actually it is."
He had to admit, he didn't think the dork had it in him.
"In my own defence, at least I haven't sold my own people out, in exchange for beneficent rewards, and a pot of extradimensional, alien intelligence."
"Beneficent?" Voice number two disagreed.
"Yes. Beneficent. I know how to spell it." Brain Damage said defensively. "You've spent too much time at the organ exchange. 150 years is far too long for you I think."
"I prefer to think of it as a 'treaty.'"
"If this ain't the black stump beyond." The pilot said, braceing his beard against the cold. It came to them through dolby speakers, set in a boom box from hell. The Fifth Dimension, reminding everyone that this was the dawning of the Age Of Aquarius, the Age Of AquariuuuUUUUUSSSS. !!!AQUARIUSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!
And then the mole thew open the door with it's artiforg hands. Carter's throat was stricken with the pale, blue light of the Cirrus Cloud as it filled the closet. He was blinded temporarily as the miscreation fired the SNB. A supernova of receptor block knocked him to the dirt. Sinew, and unrefined hemoglobin rained down on him as Angs' heart muscle exploded.
Commander John Koenig stepped out of the travel tube into the primary corridor to Medical Center. Harness Bulls Pound and Duncan nodded to him as they stepped into the travel tube, looking irritated and exhausted. They had every reason to be exhausted. The first shift harnass bulls were now 5 hours past the end of their scheduled duty period. Their reliefs, Harnass Bulls Breck and Dubois never showed up; they were sound asleep. Koenig walked through the double doors of Medical Center and waited patiently as Doctor Russell finished up a consultation with Jerry Parker. The commander brewed a pot of fresh coffee, extra strong and prepared three mugs as Parker stepped wearily out of her office. Koenig handed one mug to Nurse Maureen Tan, who also had the overtime glazed expression on her face, as she thanked him gratefully and left to the nurse's lounge. Sitting down in front of Helena Russell's desk, he stifled a yawn as he slid the cup of java toward the doctor.
"What's going on, Helena?" Koenig sat forward in the modulform chair, holding his mug in one hand and his forehead in the other. "The entire second shift crew on this base is asleep...and most of the overnight crew is out cold."
He didn't have to tell her that...she already knew from several "housecalls" to living quarters from distraught significant others and roommates unable to rouse their loved ones and friends.
Sitting on the desk next to a chart labeled EPIDEMIC STAT, there stood the model of the fifteen inch, visible man. Palms open, and glaring at Koenig from his pedestal. His skull mouth wincing against the gastric tube that crawled from his mouth like a corn dog covered with Super Glue. Ubiquitous were its eyes, ears, nose, brain, small intestines, removable vital organs. It's heart refracted the blue Monday that was being emitted from the Cirrus Cloud. This undear, ten buck purchase originally came with a twelve page booklet, which Helena Russell had ignored. The pith of it all was that the 25 year old resident was forced to snap the thing together using smarts alone. It took 30 hours to complete, and to this day, the visible man had adnoids where his anus should have been.
"I know." Helena Russell acknowledged with an inestimable brush of the hair. There was a full-blown case of Samsonite briefcase beneath her eyes. She looked old, and appalling. The last time she had a good night's sleep seemed to have been in August of 1988, and one of her back teeth cried out for a bicuspid root canal like a mother. "It started about an hour ago, and it's getting worse. "Bram Cedrix is the latest. Gordon Cooper saw him sit down on the map room settee. He was reading an Alpha News Service digi-pack, and eating a vegetable calzone. When Coop' looked around again, he was laying face down with his nose in one of Yul Ostrog's work boots. Since it hit the ground, Marilys Sing decided to throw the calzone away.
"As nearly as I can tell, the outbreak started at one of the perimeter stations, and worked its way to the hub.
"Here, look at these." She said, passing him a stack of EEG traces. "We started recording them when Mike Oldfield collapsed at station seven. It's not a complete study. There are no EMG's, or EOG's. These reflect only the early cases. I wanted Nunez to do a followup, but..." She elucidated. "He got tired, and went to sleep."
Koenig scanned the anterior plate, which showed a representation of the hibernating, left hemisphere of Tom Graham's brain. The gross activity was measured in red, desynchronous spindles that peaked up, and down with an occasional increase in frequency.
"So there is no known cause and therefore, as of now, no known solution to the problem." Koenig set the plate back on the desk, glancing at the others. He was not a physician but he deduced from the scans that they were all pretty much the same with no evident conclusions. "Damn," the commander stood up and gazed out the blue viewport. "I would like to tell you that the cause is from the cloud. But I can't; there are no emissions, no energy readings reaching Alpha. All of our instruments show that it is not affecting us." He turned toward the doctor again, gulping down a few mouthfuls of coffee. "Helena, you're not going to like this but the people who are still conscious must be KEPT conscious. Obviously, we can't have everyone on the base asleep."
In the nurse's lounge, Koenig's extra strong brew was unsuccessful as Maureen Tan, RN lost the battle with the sandman and nodded off in the pretzel chair.
As did Carroll Severance--the most blindingly handsome man on Moonbase Alpha--nodding into a cool relaxing kip in Farm-A while the water canon hosed the Pear Trees to the point of consumption. Another one bites the dust; and another one bites, and another one bites--another one bites the dust....
"I can issue Dexedrine to all personell." The physician cracked, yawning. "That's not a permanent fix, though." She turned away, and excogitated on the swirling mass of blue gas outside. It was only 10,000 kilometers out now, and closing. The Cirrus Cloud wasn't particularly fast. Its constituents were urged on via pressure from the solar winds. It was established though, with a mindless determination that vanquished logic, and expelled all oomph. It would eat anything as exemplified by the disappearance of Eagle One. "What do you think is inside it."
Koenig had moved next to her, also gazing out the viewport. He could hardly see the lunar surface with the swirling masses of blue obsuring his vision. The yellow landing lights on Launch Pad 3 in the distance now glowed a sickly green. "It is suppose to be just a bunch of inert gases," Koenig shook his head, stifling a yawn. "Whatever else is in there, I guess we'll find out soon enough." He turned, leaning his right elbow on the viewport sill. "What's the word on Carter's and Morrow's conditions?"
"No change." Russell said with weary shellac. "Their brain wave patterns are normal. Cardiac, and phrenology are all good." She reconsidered the slopes of Ozymandius. Impurities in the Cirrus Cloud--the sizes of Chicago, and Lawrence, Kansas roughly--meandered by like the eyes of a Polypheme. It was an opitical illusion of course, but it confided to her, a symetry of cowardice. She beat, looking to a cold cup of coffee for warmth. "Strange." She remarked. "They're actually in the cloud, but there's not a thing wrong with them. Why is Alan just sitting there. And another thing too." She looked up, while Koenig sipped his own coffee. "We're getting other readings. It's biofeedback, but not from Eagle One. There are eight other sources out there. Victor, and Professor O'Brian felt confident that it was the product of polarized dust.
"John, I don't think it is." She shook her head, her eyelids growing heavy under the mesmerizing red lights. "I'm picking up an inordinate amount of Belarubin from one of them. It plays out as a glyph on the electrochemical analysis. It's not what you would call bizarre. I've seen it before here on Alpha. You have a person who may have suffered serious illness at one point in their lives, and this stain is the bi-product.
"The content I'm referring to matches Pierre Danielle's. I mean to a tee. He experienced viral Encephalitis when he was a child, but he can't be out there. He's here." She recovered her cup, and sipped disconsolately. "I don't get it."
Koenig stared at her momentarily with a blank look on his face.
"Sandra?" The commander removed his comlock and punched in the communication code to the Main Mission Data Analyst Station.
"Adisa Talic, here, sir." Her face appeared on the micromonitor. "Sandra stepped out for a minute. What can I do for you?"
"What were the results of the sensor array recalibrations?"
"No anomalies, Commander. The scanners were within .1% tolerance, which was expected and normal."
"Thank you, Adisa," She nodded as he cut the link. Koenig paused momentarily, holding his comlock in mid air. He punched in another code. No response. He hesitated then punched in another code. The disquietingly familiar image of the late Ivan Sloven appeared in the form of Umberto Garzon.
"Flight control," the unfortunate twin responded with a slight smile.
"Lieutenant Danielle. Is he around?"
"Haven't seen him, sir. He is on the duty roster though." Garzon stifled a yawn. "I thought he was in Main Mission. Maybe he fell asleep too?"
"Perhaps. Find him and have him call me, or if he is asleep, you call me."
"Right away, sir," Garzon nodded as Koenig cut the link.
"How long can we keep out people awake on Dexedrine? What's the maximum time factor and maximum dosage?" Koenig set his empty coffee cup down on the sill, while contemplating brewing another pot.
The hand that released the coffee cup was augustly feminine. The well manicured nails were pistillate, but also strong, and on the exigent pulse of hard living. There was only the most nebulous quiver as her body was divided into thirds by blocks of unperceived disestablishment. The transposition was to a situation that was similar in kind.
She was still speaking to a commander, only it was Arthur Strange instead of John Koenig. Koenig was there, sitting in one of the foam couches beside Lorna O'Brian. The black mantle of command was gone. He wore a plain, civilian sleeve in its place. She was still drinking coffee, and she was still uncrowned with a migraine headache. Then the memories that never should have been floated down like goose feathers, and made the Moon seem alright again. It made sense.
She was not Dr. Helena Russell. She was Dr. Angelina Verdeschi.
"According to Dr. Russell, we can only dope ourselves up for ex-amount of time." The commander said, scratching his chin. "If we go beyond that, we may do the cloud a favor, and kill ourselves."
Lorna O'Brian shifted impatiently on the couch. Behind her, Harness Bull Pound let out a lazy, unenergetic yawn.
"Sorry." Strange shrugged. "But you need to know the facts." He paced the floor of the Technical Hub, offering Ang' a heart felt--if somewhat stooged look of concern.
"Well, the Compton Dish network is already in geosynchronous orbit." Dr. Koenig said in summation. "Once the transponders are on-line we can smother it with orgone. It won't take 72 hours to transmit the code. We only need three minutes."
"That's assuming that Alpha will still have the power to transmit." He admonished, and answered his page. He was tired. He wanted to turn his commlock off. And do nothing. Except maybe eat.
"Pierre Danielle here, sir." The voice said on the other end of the link. "I'm on the loop. Still no word from Eagle One."
He paused, as if curious to know why he was summoned.
"That's a good place for you. The loop is where you belong." Strange said, pointing towards Heaven; cutting him off curtly, while offering Ang' a warm smile of reassurance.
"I take it Pierre is still with us." Koenig winked, patting Ang' convivially on the arm.
"I'm glad someone is." Lorna O'Brian said dismally. "I'm totally lost."
Angelina closed her eyes, shaking away the cobwebs. She could have sworn she was in an Alpha-like corridor with some dude who sounded and acted like Alan. Now..she was somewhere else, in a group of people which included another dead man. Former Moonbase Alpha Commander Arthur Strange had succumbed to the ravages of prostate cancer on October 20, 1998. She caught a glimpse of her image in the viewport reflection. She was as she was in 1995/1996 timeframe, a graduate student who was struggling through her final two years working on her PhD; no fine lines around the eyes, longer, darker hair worn in a simple pony tail and about 10 pounds overweight rather than 10 pounds underweight.
She glanced at John Koenig, who had a fuller head of black hair, not salt and pepper, and who was enviously lanky combined with his tall height; a much younger Koenig with far fewer lines and who smiled a great deal more too. If only he knew what was in store for him, for all of them. Lorna O'Brien? Well, Ang saw no difference but since Lorna O'Brien didn't even exist in 1996, she had no reference for comparison.
When she opened her eyes again, Arthur Strange was, not surprisingly gone. Instead, Commissioner Dixon stood in his place; Angelina burst out into a tearful, hearty laughter. His glare was as icy as ever.
"I'm sorry, Commissioner," she attempted apologetic damage control but still chortled. "I'm a little stressed out." She burst out laughing again.
"I'm glad you find it so amusing." Dixon, whose name reminded everyone of something else, said with flatulence as he handed Koenig a red flimsie that he had no intention of reviewing. Lorna O'Brian was fairly unsuccessful at hiding her contempt. He stood, pressing his palms against someone else's desk, and peered at Ang' over his black, bone rim glasses. Deep within the pop bottles, she could see a crazed, conical image of herself. "Perhaps you'll find this amusing too. We've decided not to go with this idiotic plan for dispersing the cloud with occult-form radiation.
"Unfortunately for you--and for Carter, I might add--we've decided to atomize it using cobalt aspersion.
"What do you think about that?"
He folded his arms over his chest, and waited.
"Fellow citizens." Ro-commander Harrison Gento-Alatheus bellowed with great instability from the podium. His first name was unknown. Call it an embarassing security procedure, considering that there were only 3,000 people living on the Moon. Even more chagrinned, when one considers that half of this demograph was mentally, and spiritually retarded. A matter of form. "It has been five centuries since the catastrophe that cast our Moon into the chthonian void."
His wizened hands--real, and artiforg--began to tremble, and corrupt against a preprepared speech that he could barely read. The implants had begun 150 years ago, when he was still Destiny's tike. The proliferation of the nano purge had left him 25% human, with no cerebrum, or memory capacity whatsoever. His cortex consisted of a DAT dump, and barium chambers de jour kept him in the land of the continent.
"As you know, my own father, the honorable Michael Alatheus was there, and he fought until his death to maintain these execrable systems that would now--so very easily--sell us into cannibalism, and slavery."
Murmurs of discontent puffed, and blurted from the half-interested crowd of scuttlefish. The blinding, psychic, white-lit auditorium was completely full today--mostly with chicken brains, and tertiary artiforgs like himself. The awashed of Moonbase Alpha, AD 2583 had better things to do.
"Corrupt, hypocritical words." Nicholas with the white hair contested from his platform. "Such speeches would have inspired votes on Earth." He conceded. "However we're not on Earth. We have never been on Earth. We are creatures of space, and our stars are exalted."
A depressingly enthusiastic round of applause from John Q. Alphan. Ro-commander Harrison Gento-Alatheus hated it that the mutant was smarter than he.
"This bloody conflict with the Goar has lasted over a hundred years now." Nicholas argued. "Like the rest of you, I have been fortunate, and unfortunate to have had my days overextended through the use of technology. I have seen the death tolls, mounting, and surmounting. One million alphans, reduced to an indegent few. For that reason, I say to you that this alliance with the Goar will ensure our future. No longer will we fear what might come out of that dimensional rift on the far side. No longer will we live in fear of death, or what may be worse than death."
"Agreed." Alatheus acquiesced sardonically. "WE'LL BE TOO BUSY WATCHING OUR LOVED ONES BE SHREDDED TO A PULP IN THE MEAT GRINDERS OF GOAR'S IRON FARMS."
He sipped his water confidently.
"Shut up, you worthless, old fuck." Fifteen year old, Teresa Morrow spat, and chucked the remainder of her water at Alatheus' podium.
The scuttlefish chanted in assent.
"Out of the mouths of babes." Nicholas said, leaching power from the ro-commander's darkest misadventure. "Citizens, that blue cloud that we're heading into is more than nebulized gas, and vapor. I would suggest to you that it is an abeyance, and a portent of things to come. To paraphrase Thoreau: WHY TRUST OUR FLAWED, CONCEITED SELVES WHEN THERE IS MUCH GREATER WISDOM IN NATURE."
Alatheus found himself clapping with the rest of the cloud. He had to hand it to whitey's speech writer. The ro-commander's own scrivener's didn't give him fancy quotes like that. His whole campaign for freedom, and humanity, and individuality was a bust.
He also didn't like the way Nicholas' red eyed companion was lamping at him.
Angelina looked down, quietly and suddenly felt enraged. How dare Commissioner Dixon take on the role of a god and decide who lived and who died. He was NOT God.
"I think...." Ang began still gazing down. "I think it sucks, Commissioner."
She looked up again and despite her best effort, a gasp escaped her. She was surprised to find she was both alone and with yet another dead person, wearing a black sleeve and sitting at the Commander's desk. However, this was one departed soul she preferred never to see again.
"You..." Angelina Carter seethed defiantly. "I thought she got rid of you and we had seen the last of you. What in the hell is going on? NOW what do you want?"
Dave Trask's grin was maddening and nauseating at the same time.
"I see you haven't changed a bit." The profane pilot ogled, turning slightly in the white leather swivel chair. "Same old canards. Admittedly, it's not the way to treat someone who wants only to help you." He exulted, his nose, and eyes obfuscated by shadows, except for the scarlett beams that puddled on his cheek bones. "Incidentally, you really should give up those mortal notions of cause, and effect. You see something as pestilent as certain parties--namely me--being eaten, and you think that's the end.
"Roll credits." He imitated the reknowned thespian, Porky Pig. "!!!Bleep-a-bleep-a-bleep--that's all folks!!!
"I don't think so, Ang.'" He chuckled condescendingly.
Ang' may, or may not have realized her place in the universe. She was spectroscopic. A lost kernel in the tides of time. A dumb huckster in the increasing, atmospheric pressure of the cereluean cavern that used to be the commander's office. There was no awareness of doors, or windows. There was no way to do a star check, or a sun check. She was in Trask's Corner, and that, dear friends, was all she was permitted to know. The galaxy was made by history. The being before her was history.
"You know." The alien said, looking fondly at the Cirrus Cloud. "It hurts me that you would lay all of this at my feet. It's all your fault, you know--including my return."
Angelina laughed maniacallly. "Hurt you?!?! Ha Ha Ha...Oh...that's a good one. You demons from hell are a riot. What a sense of humor."
She leaned casually on the corner of Koenig's desk. She decided that if she was dreaming, it was only a dream and it could not hurt her. If she was dead and in some interdimensional hell, there was nothing she could do about it anyway.
"Oh. Please...I beg for your forgiveness, calling you a demon," Ang quipped sarcastically. "I am a stupid lesser mortal. I don't know any better and any entity bent on destroying mankind to me, anyway, is a demon in my puny frame of reference."
She made direct "eye" contact and despite the red floaters appearing before her eyes, she did not break the stare. "Tell me. What sort of mind game are you trying to play? How is all of this "my fault" including your unfortunate return?"
Angelina sat on the desk, crossing her legs. The images she saw in the quasi corridor with the Alan Carter as Fred Tool person were still fresh in her mind."It interests me to know how my presence.. actions..my very existence... would bring about such a future brave new world of Moonbase Alpha."
"Your actions...your very existence?" The alien mocked, pointing a rude flangey in her face. "Bringing about a future, brave new Moonbase Alpha.
"Don't flatter yourself." He said standing. The swivel chair spun around completely once--anthropomorphic gratitude that the master of this house was gone. "Actually, you did very little."
He negotitated the stairs to the conference room level. At first glance, he appeared to be holding a pair of crystal balls. Somewhere in the blur, Ang' could see a pair of black holes in each one. The alien took to juggling them, while outside, flares erupted from the compressed chamber of the Cirrus Cloud.
"Losing an illusion." He recited, the red panel lights turning his blonde mane crimson. "It makes one wiser than knowing the truth."
He hurled one of the semitransparent balls at Angelina. Within the milky, quartz depths, she could see her brothers face--Tony Verdeschi, tortured, and screaming.
"Your fear brought me back, Ang.'" He explained while she handled the sphere like ultrahot smelt. "The last time I was here, we were having such a good time, I neglected to mention that as long as there's fear, I can never be gotten rid of."
Angelina dropped the sphere and it bounced down the steps, one, two, three, rolling to a stop at the alien's foot.
"Presumptuous," she retorted,"taking credit for a human emotion; that which is a part of humanity. Not the most desirable part of humanity but humanity nonetheless. Fear, in proper proportions, drives us...helps us survive and, yes, ultimately thrive."
She wasn't sure where she was receiving the courage to be so defiantly eloquent. She gazed at the cloud again.
"It was you," she blurted, jumping off the desk and standing at the top of the steps to the conference area, squarely facing him. She ignored the images on the conference table: images of the faces of each of the command staff, including hers, in their usual places around the table twisted in torment and unspeakable agony.
"Why did you create the cloud? What do you want with my husband? Why do you want my son?!?" She crossed her arms, standing her ground. "Surely you realize that by showing us a possible future, we will strive to change it."
She turned around and returned to the Commander's desk, sitting casually in the white leather chair. "You can't win." Her confidence was wavering. She was getting tired of it, weary of everything.
"We'll see about that, won't we." Trask said, reaching for his crystals. "You're a real bitch. I could kick myself for proposing to join with the likes of you. On the other hand, you are remarkably astute. Creative fear. Our greatest gift to the physical realm. Terror, horror, anxiety--applied rigorously for the betterment of your race. A boon from a universe that no longer exists. I'm glad to see there still exists a semblance of art in a dumb blonde like you. Your judgement of us is impeccable.
"Ang,' face it. Without us, you would have died many times over." He boasted, polishing the right sphere with the black sleeve of his tunic. "I didn't create the Cirrus Cloud." He explained, blowing the dust away. "I do find it amusing that the estimable Dr. O'Brian chose to name it after a weather front on Earth. Good astronomers are so hard to find these days. In layman's terms, the cloud is an offspring of the Kuiper Belt.
"Ang,' you don't pronounce that 'kipper;' you pronounce that KYEEEE-PER, just so your befuddled brain will know." The alien grinned, condescendingly, sarcastically. "It was wrenched away from the central mass by gravitational fields from the Earth's sun. As I said, you have only yourselves to blame. It's rather ununique, except for the tendency it has to damp electrical fields.
"I'm here because you wanted me here." He shrugged, admiring his own craftsmanship. "The power of your own mind brought me back. You're confused, and looking for reasons. You made a decision, and--through no initiative of my own--I find myself back on the very same Moonbase Alpha where I was treated so rough shod before."
He handed her the rejuvenated crystal. Inside, Alan Carter's ghostly image was screaming.
Angelina's face twisted in horror.
"NO!!!!!!" She cried out in anguish while hurling the crystal across the room. "You fucking bastard!!! What are you doing to him?!?!?!"
She was standing, in his face, trying to stop the stomach acids from regurgitating. His hot, putrid breath enshrouded her jaw and neck.
The crystal shattered against the far wall in a blinding light and explosion. The outline of a woman, a beautiful woman in white with strawberry blonde hair and the deepest blue eyes appeared, taking physical form. Her sheer white gown skimmed her perfectly toned, trim waist, her high breasts and curvaceous hips. Ang's memory was jogged but she could not remember her.
She walked, no, glided toward Angelina and gently put her hand on her shoulder. Ang instantly felt a sense of calm, peace and strength.
"You know that cursing at him and becoming enraged will do you no good. In fact, he feeds off of your anger." The woman in white said soothingly, lovingly.
She stared intently at the Conceit. "We meet again. Obviously..you are a slow learner. I have come to you, bearing the same message. Again." She spoke as if she was dealing with a toddler. "Why the great one tries, why the queen believes in your possible reformation is something I do not understand."
"Who cares what you think." Trask smiled. "Your days of dining out are over too. The scales of power are shifting, princess. Don't get on my bad side. You better suck up while you still have the chance. I made an acquistion recently that will ensure my supremacy. And you can tell that big, green motherfucker that he's at the top of my list.
"While you're here though, you may want to explain to this dummy why I am not the one who is responsible for all of this. Incidentally, Carter is fine. You're the problem."
"Wrong," the beautiful woman retorted in response to Trask, in a tongue which Angelina had never heard, a long forgotten language. "It was the arrogance of your race which caused its eventual destruction. It was his mercy which spared you; you are the last of your kind. You have your power because only he allows it."
Her blue eyes turned to ice. "Your complete and utter disregard of the Elan Vitala, your exploitation of lesser evolved races will eventually lead to your destruction as a race rather than evolution."
Angelina looked back and forth between the two entities, completely befuddlled.
The woman stopped and smiled tenderly at Angelina, taking her hand. 'Do not release my hand. I will protect you.' She paused her thoughts then continued politely. 'Please forgive me for speaking in a language you do not understand.'
She continued speaking to Trask in the ancient language. "You know he has chosen the child. You must not interfere with his evolution."
"No, you've been warned, princess." The alien reiterated in blunt English. "And for the record, the reason why I'm still here is because HE did a half-assed job of creating this swirling cesspool. Everything seems to pin on fear. HE--of course--realized that too late. HE--of course--made a boneheaded decision when he elected to collapse the Megaverse all at once. Now there's only me. Me, me, me. If you eliminate me, trillions will die.
"So you see, Ang,' I'm an important fellow." He grinned. "You should have married me when you had the chance. Now you're a loser, and on top of that, at the first opportunity I'm going to kill you." He announced, moving elegantly towards the big doors. A pair of fangs could be seen extruding from the shadows as he jammed his fingers into separation, and pulled the right door open. The giant shield rolled backwards on its track, revealing the procedures side of the Main Mission auditorium; Data Analysis, Technical, and the TELMU workstations. The areas were lit by a thin, flourescent veil, and an array of red, green, and yellow lights from the computer deck. There was a third of the big screen visible, and a fourth of the stationary, alpha test pattern. Low rider, Futura chairs were pushed haphazardly away in the hurried exodus. "I say with some pride that this is my Moonbase Alpha--not yours. This Moon has travelled beyond the confines of its universe. It now inhabits a relativistic portion of space. It's held up pretty well, considering that I killed the last of its human occupants a millennia ago.
"And you helped me to do it, Ang.'" He chuckled arrogantly.
Angelina watched him begin to descend the steps into Main Mission then...disappear. Her defiance had collapsed as her encounter with him drained her will and drive. His latest threat terrified her and she felt sick to her stomach.
"I can't do this anymore," she whispered hoarsely to the woman in white as she stared out the blue filled viewport. She felt defeated and deflated. Despite the woman's soothing presence, she felt completely weak and alone.
She turned and gazed at the woman. "What does he mean by 'you helped me do it'? How am I going to help him? How can I stop it?" She asked in quiet desperation.
But by then, the woman was gone too, and she was left with nothing, but a paper Moon.
Hundreds of miles down....
...through the 23 degree centigrade cold...
...through the permanent darkness, and the million plus gallons of reserve ice...
...amidst the radiant impact debris, and the dark ejecta; over the wreckage of the spacecraft Clementine; within the echoing walls of Shackleton's crater...
...there existed a travesty.
"Shameful waste." Rosencrantz said--Dr. Julius Rosencrantz, and not the Rosencrantz who betrayed Hamlet. The flex plates, and bogus metacarpels in his right forearm were hurting like hell. "All those years spent working on the Genome project."
"The molecular machine." Dr. Butkus agreed. He could think of no Guildenstern jokes. "From DNA to life. They hoped to complete it in 2003."
They did--but not in the manner specified in the Powerpoint demonstrations of 1990.
The language they were speaking was Lojban--the regional choice for this hemisphere of metropolitan Moonbase Alpha. Over the centuries, crosspollinating with ET, and the ever increasing life spans, but with a diminished attention faculty, created a clarity gap in the alphan society. Hence, the need for a universal tongue for both humanoids, and robots. Carter understood the cognates, and he had no idea why.
Butkus opened the protective blister, and both men entered the cloning theater. Just behind them, Alan Carter popped into existence like a wraith in a cursed box. Neither researcher seemed to be aware of his presence.
Behind him he heard a familiar voice and the familiar place was the office of the Chief of Technical Operations.
"Nick, I don't have time for this," the woman, his wife but at least ten years older, barely looked up from her PC.
"Mom," the boy, rather adolescent with the white hair, persisted. Alan Carter recognized the young man as well. "I need to talk to you. Really."
"What is it, Nick?" Angelina Carter, with blonde hair mixed with gray and lines of sadness and weariness etched around her eyes and brow, did not even look up.
Nicholas Carter began telling her about his teenage angst: how his peers thought he was a freak, how James Profitt bullied him, how he hated himself, etc. Angelina, out of politeness, had stopped typing but her eyes were glued to the stream of technical data streaming across the monitor. Slowly, though, her eyes shifted to the picture on her desk. She heard the teenager but she was not listening.
"So can I?" Nicholas stopped, imploring.
"Can you what?" Angelina looked up at him suddenly.
"Can I dye my hair blonde?" Nick reiterated. His expression fell. "You haven't heard a fucking word I've said, have you?"
"NICHOLAS CARTER!" Angelina yelled, standing up. "Watch your language!"
"WHY?!?!" Nick stormed around the desk and got in her face. "Why the 'FUCK' should I? HUH? You certainly don't give a 'fuck' about me! What the 'fuck', mother?!?"
He picked up the picture, the one she stared at; the one she always stared at mournfully and tearfully. "Why do you pay more attention to the DEAD than the living? Christ!! You act like you can't stand me!! I wasn't even two years old when he died! You act like I killed the lousy prick!!"
He hurled the picture against the wall, thru the unseen Alan Carter.
Nicholas Carter found himself reeling backwards from the unexpected open handed slap to his face.
"You did," Angelina spit venom and anger. Her expression did not change when he looked up at her, a single tear trickling down his cheek. Suddenly, he stood up and ran out of the office, giving her a middle finger wave goodbye.
She walked toward the picture and held it lovingly to her chest. "I miss you. I'm failing. I knew I couldn't do this alone." The tears could not be stopped and she sobbed,silently, kneeling on the floor.
Her comlock chirped as she placed the photo back on her desk, calling her away from the scene. Carter turned to glance at the photo. It was him.
"Ahhhhhhhh," Rosencrantz swooned proudly while applying more perfume to his neck, and silicone breasts. "Le nan mu poi ke a prami me."
His nickname was double "D."
"I hope so." Butkus replied skeptically.
Rosencrantz had no doubt of it. This version of computer occupied an entire ten story complex in the crater Tycho. It was the most advanced, and the most loyal logic system ever created by interbred kind. The interface dominated an entire wall of the center. Carter whirled at the zonk rays being emitted from a 1,000 terminals.
"Crystal memory." Rosencrantz said, aroused. "For connecting the nerve endings, the synapses."
"For grafting the fibers, and the corpusles." Butkus agreed. "Just like Meissner, only better."
"Much better." His colleague asserted.
"What the hell kind of sick natter is this." Carter exclaimed as an orderly rolled a gurney right through him. Suddenly, he absorbed everything about the assistant with the bullet shaped head, including the five murders he had committed in the 175 years he had been alive.
"Share, and share alike." Rosencrantz winked obscenely. On the gurney lay a headless clone. A six foot tall male, generic, and bereft from the neck up. It was also a eunich, the diagram for genitalia having been deleted from the protein baths for reasons of propriety. The decapitated zombie respirated mindlessly as the mad genetics wizard reached across his chest for a stainless steel scalpel. "You try it this time."
"You're the only one who can get close enough to him," the aged physician whispered to a 50 something Angelina Carter. "You MUST do it." He stood straight, face rigid and resigned. "I will distract the other, his 'companion' who led him astray."
"He is still my son, Bob," she replied miserably to the former Assistant Chief Medical Officer. "Despite everything he has done..."
"Despite the fact he has already taken over this base by force and killed 5 people..." Mathias hissed at her, interrupting.
"Despite what he has done," she retorted evenly and wearily, "there must be another way to stop him; to stop them! I will not murder my own child!"
"Then you condemn us all," Mathias sighed. "I will try then...I am a dead man either way."
Invisible Alan Carter turned as the door slid open and two figures, surrounded by cosa nosta type goons entered.
"Well, well, well.." the white haired adult male, clearly the offspring of Captain Alan Carter, "What do we have here?"
The security boys grabbed Bob Mathias and Angelina Carter, securing their arms tightly behind their backs.
"Nick...please," Angelina implored.
"Shut up, bitch!" Nick Carter snapped then turned his attention to the unfortunate doctor.
"What's this?" The now Commander Carter examined the contents of the laser hypo. He nodded and two of the Gestapo guards twisted Mathias' head, exposing his neck.
"Nick...Stop! No!" His mother cried out in desperation. Her pleading was put to an abrupt end as Commander Carter's "advisor" with the red eyes emerged from the shadows and delivered a nose breaking blow to the woman.
"Nasty stuff, eh, mate?" Carter winked as he emptied the contents of the laser hypo into Mathias' jugular.
Mathias spasmed violently as he dropped to his knees, then exhaled for the last time.
Nick Carter turned to the woman whose face was awash with tears and blood. "Well, Momma, here I am."
Following several, abysmal attempts to convince Anna that he was erotically compelling, our dejected hero, Don Giovanni, found a new misery when the girl's irate father, Don Pedro, sought to ventillate his throat with the tip of his sword. After running his guts through with a mighty, libertine thrust, Don Giovanni--highly skilled with a blade--left Don Pedro in the mulch. Proving once, and for all that he was ghastly, above, and beyond the bouyancy of all gorges, both he, and his servant Leporello promptly escaped over the palace wall.
How proud Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would have been--to hear his musings, as resurrected from the artless ruins by baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. The wit so rapier; the libretto by da Pont so urgent. As it was, Wolf was dead--long dead--in a pauper's cemetary, so fuck him.
"Your music tortures my ears." Butkus confessed, holding a handful of raw chicken heart, and purple gizzard in his twice, latex gloved hands.
"Does it cause you to question my taste?" Rosencrantz asked, lowering the volume on his MOX.
"Frankly, yes." His associate said, dropping the aorta into a sanitary pan. "Why this affinity for old, boring operas. Especially one as superbland as this of. You should be more like me. Can your MOX play 'Stairway To Bullshit' by Harold Malcom?"
He released the syrupy gall stones into a plate, one by one with a pair of tweezers. They made a grotesque clink as they struck the surface.
"Pediatrics has their eye on that." Rosencrantz reminded him with efete, streaking his forehead with a bloodied palm. "According to last years statistics, one out of every ten children can expect to be placed on dialysis at an early age."
"Your point is?" Butkus challenged, hugging the dead clone's kidney.
Carter tested his grip, found it to be tactile. With a renewed physicality, he hoisted the gun mounted, titanium distraction screw into the air, and forced his way into the blister.
His wife was on the other side, standing over the crib, gazing at their sleeping 20 month old child.
"He was beautiful," the apparent Ang whispered," and I had such high hopes for him too, Alan. Who would have known that he would turn into a monster. He'll make Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Sadam Hussein look like humanitarian missionary workers. Won't you, baby?" She cooed softly.
The toddler stirred, rolling on his back, but otherwise remained asleep. Angelina turned to face Carter. "There is only one way to prevent the horror. One way to change the things yet to come."
She unsheathed the ruby jeweled hunting knife and presented it to him. "Kill him. You gave him life. You take it."
Lt (jg) Barbara Conroy yawned and rolled back the co-pilot's chair of Eagle 8. She eyed the flight checklist clipboard for the 100th time then put it down beside her.
Outside the right viewport, she saw Eagle 1, a tiny, model size version, in the distance. Behind Eagle 8 was Eagle 3 and Eagle 5 was beyond Eagle 1, a barely visible dot in the viewport.
"Look at that blue fucker," Barb blurted in disgust to the silent Pierre Danielle in the pilot's chair. "I hope everything is OK."
Barbara could hardly contain her worry and frustration. She could barely decipher the lunar topography.
"Don't worry, Dulcinea. Your Don Quixote will protect you." Said William Gregory Harms, III in Eagle Three. He pronounced 'Quixote' as 'coyote.' "When you get to a red light, slowwwwwww' down."
"Christ, Harms," Conroy retorted in complete grossed out disgust,"if you're Don QUIXOTE," emphasizing the correct pronunciation,"then I'll stay Aldonza and service the rest of the boys in the fleet."
"Flight One, be advised." Tom Graham said over the loop. "I've reset the system, but I'm still losing ALS. Barb,' are you tracking us by any chance. How are your scanners operating...in this kukkah, I mean."
"Flight One to Flight Two," Barb answered smoothly eyeing the sensor array."Scanners are at nominal. I have to recallibrate every couple of minutes or so but I'm still reading a slight power loss on you, Tommy." She frowned, plotting the graph on the display. "According to Ouma's statistical model, you're power consumption is still within 6 sigma but your are glitching near the upper limit. I'd keep an eye on it."
"We've got it on DAT." Pilot Erich Baumer informed him on the other side of the high gain, in the command module of Eagle Five. "I'll look your ship over when we get back...if we ever do get back.... You've probably got an orgone byte from being too close to the antennae cluster."
"Flight leader to Flight One." A cockney voice expounded from ten kilometers across the blue, sepharic void. "Maintain holding pattern. Remember we've got a burn coming up. Lunar orbital rendezvous will occur when the Moon is visible again.
"While we're at it, Conroy, tell that battler sitting next to you that I'm getting too much Albedo-A on you. Cut back on all of that clacking thruster activity, and get your butts back into the corridor."
"Roger, flight leader," Conroy nodded, checking their position, and pulling her couch forward. "Hey, Big P, the chief says you're leaning on the stick too much. You need a break and want to me fly for while?" She glanced over at Pierre Danielle, who was staring blankly out the viewport.
"Big P? Are you OK?" Barb lifted an eyebrow with curiousity and concern.
"Yeah." Pierre said, morbidly depressed, and switched the TTT toggel into the ON position. "Roger, the Albedo-A."
It was ex nilo, the whole thing. Hopeless, hopeless.
Using his thumbs, he depressed the dual heads atop the yoke. A shallow hiss emanated from the inboard feed springs. The Cirrus Cloud turned acqua, losing its stain as the ship moved two kilometers starboard. Danielle continued to vent pulsed plasma. The bow of Eagle 8 veered away from the vapor coils until space was black once more.
"How are we looking now." Pierre asked propitiously. What he really wanted was to cut his own throat.
"Barb,' about that glitch." Tom Graham cut in again. "Without ALS, I'm won't be able to light the Main Motors. What's the contingency plan if I get a Code Black on my service module."
Aboard Eagle Three, Harms' co-pilot, Edmund Hightower snorted egotistically in the lacuna expanse.
"It wouldn't be the first bloody thing to go wrong on this mission." He beefed.
"Come again, Eagle 5?" Conroy stabbed at the console microphone switch, leaning into the speaker in an effort to decipher him over the static. "Eagle 8 to Eagle 5, repeat your message. Tommy, increase your gain, I'm not receiving you."
All she received was snow and more snow; a blizzard of white static. The scanner blipth of Eagle 5 blinked intermittently. Barb ran a 10 second diagnostic on her system and found her receivers were functioning. She exchanged a troubled glance with Pierre.
"Eagle 8 to Eagle 1. Sir, I've lost contact with Eagle 5. No comms and intermittent reception of his locator beam. Are we just getting noise from our proximity to that cloud or are you losing him too?" Conroy glanced out the viewport again but in their retreat the wispy blue tendrils of the cirrus cloud made visual contact fuzzy at best.
"Eagle 8, Eagle 1." The mission commander replied. "Graham's got himself a bingle. He's turned on his emergency lights, and I've got a visual sighting of him from the number five CM. He's pissed. Barbie,' it looks like your readings were a Clayton."
"Eagle Three here." Hightower cut in with storming bluster, and snottiness. "I'm showing a complete shut down on the number five SM. He's probably running on E-Bats.
"You do great, bad work Conroy. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. It probably took out his UHF high gain, as well."
Elitist, snotty wit was his metier. To Edmund Hightower, she had no acumen; no competence; a strain of protozoan.
"Don't talk to my girl like that." Harms objected viscerally. Hightower grunted. Conroy rolled her eyes.
"Eagle 8 to Eagle 3. Up yours, Hightower," Conroy growled, double checking her readings. "His UHF antennae and sensors are just fine." Hightower was a 'man' of a bygone era. He believed a woman's place was in the kitchen. It didn't help that Carter had rated Conroy a better pilot than Hightower. Hightower wasn't stupid enough to make overtly sexist remarks but he pushed the limit in attitude. Barbara had learned to ignore him, for the most part.
She couldn't figure it out. One moment he was there and the next he wasn't..or maybe they weren't. It was stange and so was Pierre Danielle's broody depression.
"Goddamn, Victor." Eagle One's pilot blurted, without realizing that he had done so. "How long did it tak you to think this plan up. Three minutes?"
Being as how their favorite scientist was still cloud-locked on the Moon, they might never know.
Carter considered: "We've always thought there was something more out there...something better than what we got now." He squinted. "A sav--one that's up on that Trough lolly of a Moonbase."
His hair, and skull cap had been amputated. The insides were disinfected, and anesthestized topically. As he spoke, the throbbing, gray mushroom was visible, from the Frontal Lobe of the Cerebrum, down to the Pituitary Gland. He flipped a distracted Holey Dollar, and Dump into the air. On one side of the coin, there was the engraving Elizabeth II. The other read Austrailia 1999. On the first toss he lost. On the second toss, he lost. A light source on the floor gradually revealed his mad eyes, and unglued cheek bones. Half a decade of fighting nature, and everything in it, left him feeling old, and bald.
"What is the maxim?" His chum said wearily, facing away from the pilot; gazing beyond a wall in the eidolic darkness.
"No." Carter insisted.
Again, they disagreed.
"The gospel?" The unseen chum said, and it would be his last attempt. He had better things to do than play Scrabble with Alan Carter; to pump, and hose him for irrelevancies, and banal stupidities.
Then six month old, Nicholas Carter crawled towards the unseen box that his father was sitting on.
"Cute kid." The pilot's confrere said amicably.
"Yeah, he was at that age."
The child stood and transformed into a pre-schooler. Bright and shining blue eyes with blindingly white hair, he wore a mischievous grin. Goodness and love overflowed from him.
"Be careful with him," the shadow warned. "He has been chosen. Ultimately, he will decide his fate. However, do not underestimate your influence, Alan Carter. There are many temptations particularly the cunning and deceit of one."
A shadow appeared and the child became frightened. He jumped into Carter's lap and held him tightly. The shadow loomed closer toward them. The throne was backlit and the dark, heavily veiled figure spoke gently.
"Have you ever considered why you were saved from the blast?"
"No." He said, honestly. "Well, in a way I did. For a time. After a while though, you kind of go back to thinking you were crazy."
True. At times, he felt like an Anzac Day survivor, marching down Collins Street in Melbourne, with confetti floating down upon their Grandpa Brigade heads. How much of the war against the turks was real, and what quantities were hallucinated. Were the Gallipoli amphibious craft up to their keels with water, or with LSD. Didn't MacArthur tell West Point graduates that war is Hell. Along these syllogisms, how much more so the life of a castaway? Who on Moonbase Alpha cherished the thought of exploring, deeper, and deeper into the stratums of space, and relativity.
Try this: Not a single, fucking one of them. It postponed your common sense; turned the dance into an awkward thing where you looked positively goofy. He had trained for two extrasolar missions, and one of them ended in chaos, and carnage. After that, he'd looked forward to being an anonymous taxi driver, heavy lifting equipment, and personell from the Earth to the Moon. But the party balloons burst at Area Two, ending that divine routine in a fell swoop.
Alpha could make you babble. Alpha could make you crazy.
"I think every bloke likes to believe he's got his nitch. His place in the scheme of things."
"You doubt that though?" The voice in the shadows said with choleric. "I don't blame you." The personality admitted. "On Earth you had the Existentialists. How many times can you listen to a Sartre, or a Nietzche, postulating on how the end of life is dirt--and they did this in 600 pages when it only required one."
The thought of it caused Carter to doze.
He blinked and he was inside a house. He had never actually been inside this house but he recognized it from the pictures she had shared with him. Italian opera music was playing in the backgroud and the smells of baking were pleasantly overpowering. A huge crucifix huge on the wall. On the left was a 16x20 family portrait: mother, father, three sons and one daughter. He recognized two of the sons and of course, the daughter. On the right of the crucifix was a portrait of Pope John Paul II. Above the end table beside him, a reproduction of Raphael's Madonna and Child stared down at him, above the St. Francis of Assisi statue.
His now 10 year old son left his lap and ventured toward the knocking coming from the door. The ominous shadow had followed them to the house. Nicky stood at the foyer, staring out. The shadow would not, could not, come in. Nicky would have to go outside. He stood at the door as the figure spoke to him, attempting to befriend him and put him at ease.
The heavyset, older woman sat beside him, bearing cappuchino and biscotti. "It is your destiny. It is your purpose. All is interconnected," Angelina's mother stated gently. "You can do it but realize you are not alone. Guidance is close."
The woman stood up and went to Nicholas, taking him by the hand. She cupped his face tenderly and made the sign of the cross on his forehead.
"Et hoc signum sanctae Crucis, quod nos fronti eius damus, tu, maledicte diabole, numquam audeas violare. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen." She blessed him confidently.
"Amen," Nicholas repeated and slammed the door on the presence on the other side.
"Abalieno." The estranged figure said on the opposite side of the door. "Arbitratus." He continued, shaking his head in awe. "Fatuus."
"Be nice." The gate crasher with the white hair said sullenly. "You should pardon my friend. He obviously doesn't know that he's in the presence of a legend.
"A living legend."
Carter thought he had too many teeth. He also didn't seem to notice that there was a jumbo mantis trundling up beside him. It's bulbous eyes communicated a sleepy appetence. The stage began to slowly rotate now, as if on a turntable. The young man leaned casually against the door with his hand remaining fixed on the knob. Through the stained glass, Carter couldsee the outsider's shadow. Black, and blacker, and tall enough to see overtop of the passenger module of an Eagle. It plungered the window with a foul, absorbing cup. He could hear wings flapping in the brummagen eaves.
The pilot shied away in horror as its talons scratched the parquet flooring.
"All my ideas." The albino male proclaimed, waving his hand across the lunar sea. Space was a dark blue perigee. Carter grimaced as giant meat hammers--direct from the abbatoir of the gods--pounded the Sea of Serenity, and Taurus Littrow to an anti-matter pulp. "Not to worry though. By the time we're finished, there won't be anyone left to enter the cloud."
"Evil." The pilot swallowed censoriously.
"That's a subjective statement." Whitey said, bruising. "It's also alot like the pot calling the kettle black."
His eyes glowed red as the fangs edged over his lips.
"The sins of the father need not condemn the son," the woman on the throne from the shadows rebuked, the monstrosity insect moreso than the snow haired male. "You're logic is flawed."
"You will not be permitted to disrupt the elan vitala," the unknown female voice echoed through the void.
The young man with the glowing red eyes glanced at the mantis and the figure on the throne.
"Nicholas, do what is right," Angelina Carter stood on the other side of Alan Carter.
The fangs retreated; his eyes returned to their unique shade of blue. The mantis lumbered toward him and Nicholas, now an old man, outstretched his arms. A flash of light, brighter than the glare of the explosion of NWDA2, blinded Carter. When he was able to focus again, the young man, recognizable as his son, stood in their place. His powerful benevolence inundated the area.
The young man opened the door. This time the insectoid nightmare recoiled in horror, the scream was ear piercing and deafening.
"Cyccix lux exilio abomino," he commanded. The gigantic insect burst into flames. It screeched and protested, wildly thrashing and flapping its wings. It's own shadow consumed it, as its screams echoed until there was silence.
The fairy tale worked fine until he plunged three levels down, and landed on his imagination with a sharp 'thud.' Carter rose, reeling against the Las Vegas ambience, and the strobing neon lights. Overhead, there was a marquee which read "Who's In Jeopardy." This was accompanied by that terrible Henry Mancini instrumental--the one that reminded him of the preposterous cartoon hound that went around saying "Which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?"
"That's right." Alex Trebeck explained as he emerged from behind the black curtain. He was holding an omni-directional microphone in one hand, and a stack of queue cards in the other. "The only game show that dares accuse its participants of being fools, and dumbasses."
The enfilade from the studio audience, the epileptic lights, the objurgation between his ears--the pilot teetered in the province of the mad.
Trebeck mounted to his rostrum, tweaking his tie pin primly. The pilot noticed that the game had two other contestants--the herculean mantis, and a blonde nymph in white robes.
"Alright, Carter--or whoever it is you 'think' you are." The host revealed. "Pick a category. This is the bonus round; 'bonus,' as in you get 'boned' for failing to provide the correct answer."
There was only one choice--a one foot, by one foot square block with white letters that said IRRITATING MORTALS WHO GET IN MY WAY. A pair of fine figured femmes--large of breast, and curl of ankle, pulled at the pilot's hair, and probed the pilot's ding dong.
"You're freakin' crazy." Carter concluded demonstratively.
"Wrong." Trebeck said with a sigh. Admonishing bells of failure rang across the sound stage. "Your response must be in the form of a question. The correct answer is 'Who Is Crazy?' Sorry, Carter. I'm afraid that will cost you your soul."
With tenebrous speed, the master of ceremonies leaped across the floor like a besetment, and brutally sank his teeth into the Woman In White's right cheekbone. The fairer alien shrieked like an eidolon, crumbling to the floor after her assailant removed a significant hunk of epidermis.
"You must not fight too often with one enemy." Trebeck said, accepting a bunch of white towell from one of the leggy, blonde pixies. His mouth, and cheeks were covered with gore. "You will teach him all your tricks of war.
"Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou. Dear, ugly lady--you're cowardice has brought me back."
Angelina passed the sleeping Caroline Kennedy in the technical reception area on the way to her office. Laying back in her chair, mouth open, Caroline had a long line of drool from the corner of her lip to her tunic. Angelina checked her, sidestepping the puddle from the coffee cup Caroline had dropped to the floor.
"Caroline?" Angelina shook her gently. Caroline Kennedy's head flopped forward in reponse. Ang set her back and yawned. "You have the right idea." She commented while covering her with a blanket from the nearby first aid kit. She glanced at the seating area of the reception area. All the chairs were occupied with rust colored sleeve technicians in uncomfortable positions; they would all certainly have neck cramps when they awoke...if they awoke. The exception was Ed Malcom. Malcom had probably claimed the entire couch and he stretched out on his back. His loud snoring echoedthrough the giant room.
Ang walked into her office to find Michelle Cranston and Livy DeHavilliand on her couch, one curled up at each end, both sound asleep. Malcom's snoring was so loud, it could be heard clearly in her office.
"Don't tell me," Angelina looked back and forth at the two women before glancing at Joe Erhlich and handing him another cup of coffee. "How long have they been out?"
She went to her desk and glanced at her 21" monitor.
"Not long." Ehrlich said. He looked like death warmed over. Like shit. A microwaved corpse, still ambulatory under the influence of Herbert West's reanimation formula. The mistral from Ed Malcom's snoring parted the hairs on his fatigued head. "Maybe they're better off. We penetrate the cloud in one hour, and we still haven't tested Professor Bergman's deflection screen.
"I heard that Deputy Commissioner Breck has decided to return to Earth." The technician bemoaned this precious peach. "You can imagine how surprised I was to hear that. It couldn't have anything to do with the Moon entering the cloud first, of course."
It gave them the opportunity to further appreciate what an invertebrate the deputy commissioner was.
On Angs' screen were three columns of glyphs, and data inscribed with numerical codes.
The transmission marked 04:01 was the odd file out. Beneath it, a dialog box was blinking with a prompt labeled 'PROCEED?'
"There's not much to hear." Ehrlich said, daring to close his eyes only briefly. "A bunch of static; whale song, really."
She hit the "Y" key for 'yes' then the enter key. She wasn't sure why she did it though she felt it was the correct response.
"Deputy Commissioner Breck," Angelina mused sipping her tepid coffee. "Yeah, what an asshole. No, Joe, you've got it right. He's leaving to save his own skin. He's probably got a press conference scheduled with CNN and he'll tell those media pinheads how 'they' are doing 'everything' to disperse the cloud and save Alan and Paul."
"What a guy! What a hero. Gorski didn't have the balls to stand up to him, as usual."
Another instant message was coming through on the monitor.
"So who is left standing to activate the deflection sheild? Did Mark Dominix ever report in or is Anton Zoref still hanging in there?"
Ehrlich's shoulders were terminally sagging.
"What weighs heavier on our conscience?" He pontificated. "The corpse of a dead man in his coffin, or a Grizzly dragging his load."
The technician chomped the head off his celery stick.
"Sorry." He apologized. "When I'm tired I get extremely morbid. The 'sane' answer to your question is neither. Mike Alatheus has put the system on a timer to make it idiot proof...or slumber proof. The network will start broadcasting in one hour, wether anyone is still standing, or not.
"Enchanting, isn't it."
He pointed towards Angs' desktop speakers where the MP3 labeled 04:01 played out. Magnificent, beautiful, pompous, bizarre music for limbo's connosseurs. The auditory longings bid forlorn tidings to the engulfed darkness of space.
"I used to hear that every day. Back in Texas, when I was helping to calibrate the Chandra Array. Occasionally, we'd get a blast of that attached to Hubbel images." Ehrlich recalled fondly. "I never got used to it. It's amazing, really. Mathematical expressions, translated into audile impulses.
"It's Cygnus-A." He nodded. "The quasar. We're only two AU's away from its emission line."
The stellar symphony petered out after 30 seconds. After the screen refreshed itself, the next screwball was in line.
"POWER @ 65%. ETA FOR 80% THRESHOLD=30 MIN. ANG" was the message she typed in the instant message window. It was labeled "Eagle 1" but Angelina was a little confused; she thought it was from the Main Power Generation Room. Another software glitch in MBA GAB (Moonbase Alpha's instant message software) that should be reported to Ben Ouma's group, the brainchilds behind the software.
"I love Houston," she nodded to Erhlich, trying to change the subject in an effort to keep him awake. "Last year, when I was coming back from Keyes in Australia, I hitched a ride with an Eagle which just happened to be going back to Houston. Saved me that long ride on Quantas. Then I had to wait a day before I could get a flight back to Boston. I had a blast in downtown Houston. Great city." She smirked. "Of course, to get there I had to ride with Harms. It was the first time I ever met that idiot. That flight from Sydney to Houston was the longest 3 hours of my life!"
The 'Proceed' dialog box still flashed at her impatiently. She typed "Y" then "Enter."
"Back in my rank, know-nothing college days, I used to know some guys in Firing Room Three at the cape." Ehrlich chatted while rapidly losing his taste for celery. "I almost did a tour in the Neutral Bouyancy Lab--until I decided that watching 200 pound rocket jocks in simulated weightlessness was no way to live my life. That was in the dying days of the shuttle orbiter. The first Eagles were just then rolling out of the high bays, but it was considered suicide to fly one." He laughed, though harshly unamused. "In space it was a darling, but that design presented one, or two problems when it came time for re-entry."
"You know, they used to have a bar that was just south of NASA Road One." He reflected, disposing of his vegetable before it disposed of him. "The Outpost Tavern. Did you ever eat there? That place had the best homemade burgers. It's where I first met Adele, actually. I was drunk as a lord...made a horrible first impression."
...O-9 SHUT DOWN, ALL UNITS OMNI-BRAVO...
...EAGLE THREE, MAIN-A, MAIN-B TO AUX....
INSTRUMENT DOCKING AT 14:13....
The text message read, and it was tagged with a barely noticeable 'AC' in ten-point type.
Angelina laughed out loud, loud enough to rival Malcom's annoying snoring. "I bet she told you where to go too. Oh well, I'd say you recovered nicely from that first meeting. Yeah, I went to The Outpost Tavern; Eric caught up to me and took me to lunch. It was one of the few times he was actually on Earth when I went out with him."
She paused for a moment. She was having one of those moments in the REM state where events and people did not mesh. Eric Sparkman was dead, dying exactly 6 hours before the Earth blasted out of orbit. Blasted out of orbit? Of course they had been blasted out of orbit. They had not been in terra firma's grasp for 5 years. This realization came to her as she stared out the blue hued viewport at the big blue marble, aka Earth.
"Ooooookay," she shook her head. "Well, when I'm done here, I'm suppose to head to Main Mission."
She typed almost robotically, absentmindedly. "TRANSMISSION RECEIVED. E&M FIELDS STABLE. BE SAFE. CATCH U LATER. ANG"
Then Joe Ehrlich, and his unloved celery stick were gone. Her office--gone. Talk of amore, and flame broiled burgers--gone, all gone. Ed Malcom sawed logs no more. In his stead, she found herself gazing about an amphitheater that was at least twice the size of the Moon. To the east, vanishing 10,000 miles in the distance, there were rows of interlocking desks, like those you might see at a meeting of a Senate Appropriations committee. To the south, 10,000 miles. To the east, and west, quantum conference room as far as the eye could see. On each desk, a gold laurel dangled above a circle divided into five sectors, red, black, yellow, white, and green.
Light years above her, a gray mantle of clouds thundered as bizarre extros fell into formation--intelligent, crustaceous fouls that made strange clacking sounds from oiled, divulged gizzards.
???Why did you do it??? One of the beings exclaimed, censoriously pointing its hammer at Ang' while the hypoteneuse of its star shaped head began to wilt.
???DO YOU REALIZE WHAT THIS MEANS??? Another member of the audience accused--its white, alabastrite tiger's head sampled rashers, and hunks of ropey intestines from a reptilian humanoid's throat.
!!!ORDER!!! The Mantis cried, bringing down a mallet large enough to expunge the universe.
!!!NO WHERE MAN, PLEASE LISTEN!!! A singleton with no eyes sang from the wide orifice of its mouth. But John Lennon was better. "!!!YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE MISSING!!!"
From where Ang' stood, within the molecule of the unending council, there was a hundred more conferences, followed by a hundred more, and then a century more, all spiralling quintessence.
Angelina turned around slowly, 360 degrees. It was a bureaucratic inordinateness in phantasmagoric proportions. The sidereal hour was at hand. She became restless, wondering when the nightmare would end; when she would wake in her husband's embrace with their son nuzzled between them.
"I am NOT afraid!" she announced boldly to the odd, infinite assembly. "Do you hear me?!?! I AM NOT AFRAID!!! I HAVE DONE NOTHING TO CAUSE ANY OF THIS!!!!"
"Now," she said in calm and normal tones, "go back to wherever it is that you came from." She stood squarely in front of the hideous, razor blade rowed, wing flapping gigantic insect. "You are NOT wanted here."
Then capital "D," Death appeared, and it was like having someone's atlas shoved down her throat. She was on Earth, the Long March of 1934; the path of escape for Mao Zedong, and the Chinese Communists from the Jianxi Soviet. She was starving, in the ranks of 100,000 in Biafra, but not one of them complained of wanting a Big Mac. Ang' whirled, as if impaled on a fulcrum.
On the edge of The City, she saw the triangle, with its three perfect sums of perspicacity, and its blinding knives of magnetic energy. Spiralling in the Cirrus Cloud, there was John F. Kennedy's face--his soon to be assasinated face, while below, a million Towell Heads glowed in the dark--heroes to some...motherfuckers to others. Else where, the southern oil fields disgorged the good stuff.
The star-faced creature was laughing, and the Mantis went on pounding.
Soon, the cosmological, astronomical extensions splattered her sense. Her universe was liberated from the laws of gravity, but this was no escape. It did, in fact, make her trip down the pipe even easier. She accellerated away; up, up in the air--at the speed of light, crashing out-of-control into infernal histories, as minutes expired into seconds, and seconds came to a complete halt.
Directly in front of slow, dumb Jack Crawford, Jr. There was a certain patience, if not whiz, to his bloated, misshapen head.
"He's waiting." He said politely.
Sandra Benes stepped into her quarters and closed the door behind her. Wearily, absentmindedly, she began to put away Paul's clean laundry which housekeeping had left at the door.
'There is no reason for his disappearance,' she thought, hanging a uniform on his side of the closet. 'None. That cloud has nothing other than slight electromagnet activity which would, at worst, cause static and some snow in ship to base communications.
She sat in the low rider couch after she poured herself a cup of coffee. As usual, it tasted like crap and she winced, setting it down on the coffee table in front of her. She was overwhelmed with sadness.
'What if,' she began the thought then shook her head, resting against the cushion. She sighed as a single tear trickled down her cheek. 'Think positively.'
When she opened her eyes, Sandra was no longer on the sofa. She was no longer in her quarters. In fact, she was no longer on Alpha.
She was in a battlefield.
The battlefield, this battlefield, that battlefield, any battlefield-it didn't really matter; not with the angry red lines that ripped through the forested underbrush and the zip-zip-zip of the invisible non-tracer bullets that *thunked* into the barely visible tree by which she stood.
With a gasp that stifled her involuntary shriek of teror, she ran, knowing only that she was on Earth and somewhere-probably Europe-that was knee-deep in the horror that World War Terminus had been.
Had been. Was. Is.
The thunder of impacting artillery shook the forest; trees toppled as man-made earthquakes rolled unceasingly through this realm of the damned.
Sandra ran, terrified by the hum and buzz of the deadly rain of iron that seemed to come from every direction-from teh skies, from the ground, from every point on the compass-beautiful lines of red and green that heralded the presence of human destruction.
She ran-but she did not get far.
Two steps, perhaps-and then she was falling face first, her feet stumbling over a log, a felled limb from days past, already covered over by grass and mud and muck. Covered with mud from head to toe herself, Sandra tried to climb back to her feet and was immediately drive back again against the log as the shock wave from a too-close explosion drove the air from her petite body. Sandra tried to scream, the terrified sound completely muffled when her mouth was covered with a dirty hand that reeked of sweat, fear, blood, and gun oil. Her eyes opened wide in shock as the log whispered, almost conversationally, "You shouldn't be here, Sandra."
The front of the log twisted to look at her and, her shock complete, she realized the face beneat the war paint-not quite illuminated by the miniscule green glow from the sight mounted upon the god-awful big rifle safely nestled before him on a tripod...
...was Paul Morrow.
A Paul she'd never met; a Paul she knew only on those rare occasions that she would be woken up at night by half-heard murmers or unfelt twitches as Paul-her Paul-slept beside her.
Paul removed his hand from her mouth and nestled snugly back against the buttstock of the big rifle, retaking his sights and again, "Sandra, it isn't safe here-you should leave."
By all accounts, this person should not have known her. It was Paul Morrow but a younger version of Paul. Sandra Benes was in Budapest attending secondary school during WWT. Her brother, Jacques, however, was 19 and had chosen to fight for the Free French army; the Tri-Continental forces. From Paul's perspective, she was the "enemy". His reaction toward her, however, made it clear that he did not regard her as an enemy and knew her from the present.
"Paul," her intuition told her to whisper as she looked around,"where are we? What am I doing here? What are YOU doing here?"
The log-Paul, camoflaged as the log-never moved from his relaxed but attentive prone position. "We are somewhere in Europe." A gloved little finger twitched in an unseen direction. "Luxembourg is maybe a hundred kilometers in that direction. I think."
A sudden silence descended upon the countryside as hostilities suddenly stopped-off in the distance, the incoherent screaming of a wounded soldier crossed the battlefield-then Mars once again lowered his iron-gauntleted fist and pummeled the very Earth with impenetrable machine gun and artillery fire.
In the same almost conversational half-whisper, Paul continued, "You're not here-well, you are, but in a way, you're still on Alpha." He half-cocked his head back to look at her. "You should be more careful what you wish for."
As he lowered his head back to the electronic rifle sight, Sandra realized she was not longer wearing her static -free Alphan uniform, but rather a sadly worn forest camoflauge outfit with far too many pockets and uncomfortable, lace-up boots. "And to answer your last question," Paul continued, "I'm here. I always have been here, every time I close my eyes, every time I dream, every time I make a life-or-death decision on Alpha." His voice was tired, the voice of a man who has done-and continues to do-his duty for king and country as best he can against odds that are so high that he has written off any hope of continued existence-life is not a concern. Sandra had heard Paul use this tone of voice-quiet, sure-and now she knows why she has always involuntarily shuddered when he sounded this way.
It was all very bizarre to Sandra as if she was living a nightmare. It was not, however, her nightmare because she had never experienced war in the trenches behind the rifle. Of course, she spent a good deal of her teens in fallout shelters or sleeping in the basement of her home; not so much to avoid the bombs but the stray bullets through the windows. Underground was much, much safer.
Above her, the Moon was veiled in veiled in the azure blue of the Cirrus Cloud.
"This is not real, Paul." Sandra shook her head, a little unnerved by the silence. "You are not here. This is the past. You are in Eagle One in the cloud and we are trying to get you back. We will get you back, Paul."
Paul smiled, the barest flash of teeth in the darkness. "I never said it was real-because it is real," he said.
Sandra found herself settling behind the stock of the rifle, the big weapon rock solid against her small frame and she had to stretch to reach the trigger while taking careful aim.
"Reality is defined," Paul continued, "by what we choose to perceive, not by what actually exists." he knlet beside her, the orange of his spacesuit fading oddly into the background of the dark forest. His lips almost touched her ear-she could feel his breath on the sensitive flesh and cursed softly at him for disturbing her concentration on the sight and on the unlit form of the Peugeot staff car that carefully picked its way into view through the continued rain of steel from the heavens along an unmarked track that wound its way through the forest.
"Sandra," Paul's voice was more distant now, as though he was fading into an oblivion. "Do not squeeze the trigger-if you do, you'll stay here, in the Cloud-Alan and I are trying to call you, to call Alpha."
Sandra nodded absently-this would be the Command Car that she'd been sent to find, the occupants, those she'd been sent to eliminate.
"We're picking a path around it," the fading voice continued, "we're safe-you're not-give in and we lose you, we lose Alpha." The voice became stridently firm over the distance. "Don't lose yourself in my nightmare, my past, my reality..."
Sandra could identify the driver-a fresh-faced boy in his late teens and her finger tightened upon the trigger.
The sudden identification of the driver made her blink-and to question, even as her mind started laying out exfiltration routes, the reality of what lay before her, around her. Had this been Paul's world? Had he been the one responsible for her brother's death?
The immediacy of the environment forced itself back upon her consciousness. She took aim...
...her finger tightened on the trigger...
...and the decision was made.
A blinding explosion caused Sandra to shield her eyes and drop her weapon. She found herself surrounded by gunfire. Paul was gone. She was alone but she was not frightened. She looked up and beside her was the face of her dead brother.
Dark eyes, like hers, stared lifelessly at her, the only expression on his face. His jaw no longer existed and therefore he had no mouth.
"JACQUES!!!!" She screamed in anguish. No wonder the wake and funeral had been closed casket.
The voice of the enemy behind her in the twilight caused her to panic and she stood up and ran. She felt the aim of the sniper on her back.
She went down.
When she opened her eyes, she was on the floor in Main Mission. Covered with mud and her uniform torn and dishevelled, she supported herself on her elbows, looking around the room.
Every person was unconscious. She pulled herself to the Data Analyst station and cued the comm system, sending out a distress signal to security. No one answered. Cueing the cameras, she saw the fleet of 4 Eagles on its final approach course, blue cloud tendrils dispersing in the void.
Sandra tried to stand, to go to the controller's desk, but she could not. She collapsed on all fours then succumbed to darkness, after weeping piteously for what she had lost.
"I am thy father's spirit." Nicholas said eloquently. "Doomed for a certain term to walk the night."
On the Moon, there was enough night for everyone.
"Now that the deed is done." Kaplan said. "How do you feel about having betrayed your own people."
It was an earnest question, which left Deacon--a plant geneticist--feeling annoyed, despite the clear view of the Goar meat hammers that were pounding the lunar surface in quaking, doomsday upheavals of mantle, and volcanic breccia. He resented the clouds for hiding the immortality that he so aspired to.
"I'm not the one who turned the current off." He said defensively. "Remember, I gave up my fundamentalist leanings over a century ago. However--if it's loyalty that you choose to question...."
"Hast thou slain the Jabberwock?" Kaplan mourned, looking for the Cirrus Cloud which was everywhere now.
"...you must realize that it is Technical Section--of which you are an integral part--which could access, and close, the Umbrella." Deacon conjectured, turning his head askance. "You've left us open to conquest at the hands of a cruel, undying foe, and you didn't even have the manners to wipe the ketchup from your tunic before you did it."
The little girl stood at the edge of the river, hesistant to go on the one lane wide steel bridge. The river was rushing underneath; the spring currents were strong sweeping away everything in its path.
"Scaredy cat!" Her brother yelled at her from the middle of the bridge, sitting on the railing.
She decided to be brave and ventured on the bridge. She trembled from fear as she looked down through the steel grates and saw the ominous dark green river below.
"Let's go. I came out here. Now I want to go back," she called to her other brother over the wind.
"Oh no you don't" brother Tony retorted. "Before we let you join the secret club, you have to do whatever we do." He stood up holding the Ibeam with one hand, precariously balancing on the rail.
The girl approached the rail. "No...I don't want to." She looked nervously at the river. "You told me I could join if I came on the bridge!"
"What's the matter, Ang? Are you AFRAID?!?!" he sneered.
"You aren't helping me much, Kaplan." Deacon whined as he was led into the abbatoir against his will. Something seized his thoughts, like a thumb on a video game controller. He was no longer Lurch Deacon, viceroy of Moonbase Alpha. He was Kaplan's boy, and it was off to Tycho City to feed the monster. "I resent these actions."
Outside the window, the lights from the oblong launch pad hove into view.
"Why?" Kaplan said, while correcting a negative pitch in his Raven spacecraft. "Perhaps it's because I've awakened a purpose in you that was dormant? Could that be it? You never seemed this aware before."
The technician patted Deacon on the back.
"You're the one who is afraid." The politician blustered. "With me out of the way, there will be no one to prevent you from assassinating Ro-commander Alatheus."
He accepted Kaplan's cigarette, and lit it with his own lighter.
"It hurts my feelings that you could view me in such a pessimistic light. Let history judge the actions of a revolutionary government. I was pitying you, but on second thought, I'm glad I decided to kill you."
He handed him the cup of D-Totex, and Deacon took it, believing it to be a fine, synthetic Lager beer.
Her head had bobbed forward but Angelina Carter forced herself to wake up. Joe Erhlich was asleep in his chair, the half eaten celery stick had fallen from his limp hand.
She walked out of the reception area into techie cubical land and found her staff asleep: slumped in chairs, sprawled on desks and lying on the floor next to discarded flimsies. Into the corridor she emerged and the short walk to Nuclear Power Generating Area 2 yielded Harness Bull Pound slumped against the wall, snoozing and drooling.
"Main Mission," Angelina pulled the comlock from her belt.
"Commander?" She keyed his code. "Professor?" She keyed another familiar code. Nothing.
When she stepped into the travel tube bound for the Command tower she gasped as she looked down into the raging torrent of the river. She found herself standing on the metal railing, clutching the IBeam and shaking uncontrollably.
"DO IT ANG!!!! NO Hands..." the voice of her brother echoed in her ears. It was beginning to mist and the railing was getting slippery. She felt her grasp loosen on the IBeam.
"You're a big baby!! You're scared!!!" the voice taunted.
"Leave me alone!!!" she shrieked, "I'm not scared!! I'm not afraid!!"
"You're a coward. You're fear will pervert your race to extinction and cause untold misery to millions. End it. Now"
She looked down again and closed her eyes. The riptides and whirlpools yawned, waiting to receive her.
The cloud interpolated the Moon; devouring a plate at a time, gobbling it up as highland after highland, mare after mare, disappeared behind the miniscule beam, the ungovernable wall of mist that crept forward like a bad news bear. Bright blue filaments crept over the domes, and rills, and catenas of Hadley-Appenine. Through gothic cracks, and crevasses, it flooded the underground lava tubes, and channels. Ultimately, it reached the Alpine Valley, and contaminated the abandoned reservoirs with its terrible, blanketing tumultuousness. The outer reach of Moon Kingdom disappeared into the astral fog, leaving row after row of black, and empty vision ports as the anomally progressed towards the urban core.
The remains of the long abandoned, original Moonbase Alpha, deep sixed, and abdicated, vanished as the wave consumed the Plato basin. In the dining complex, Homer Malcom-Zon, lineal descendent of Homer Edward Malcom, capitulated--his factitious face landing in a salad bowl filled with fraudulent chocolate pudding. On the magesterial surface, Ro-commander Alatheus brought his yellow, six-wheeled LEV to a halt, and jumped from the car like a retardo Speed Racer. He staved off fear as he padded through the one-eigth gravity to the center of the sea. Aptly enough, he was in the Lacus Somniorum. The Lake of Sleep. The Cirrus Cloud bundled over his helmuted head as he removed his his Baroque Violin from its case. He inclined the neck of the instrument against the dam of his spacesuit, and challenged the gut strings. He punished the universe with his rendition of Brahmes D Major Concerto. As he fiddled away, the question arose, just because sonics did not travel through a void, did that mean his music did not exist? Even more so, would the malevolent armies of Goar punish him with death, rather than slavery if they did not like his harmony?
That's an affirm,' good buddy.
Over hill, and dale--in the gettos of Tycho City, Kaplan thought there was something odd about the cloud that was swallowing the world, but he was too polite to say anything.
"Don't mention it." He said modestly after Lurch Deacon thanked him for the delicious mug of D-Totex.
The poison was a fast-acting neuro-toxin. He would soon be taking a dirt nap before he knew what hit him.
"You don't trust me anymore." Kaplan said, insulted.
"No, not really." Deacon said, yawning.
Then the door to the module opened, and a tenebrous shadow overswept them both.
"I trust both of you." Nicholas said, with buoy. "In my own way, I even love you."
"WHAT ARE YOU KIDS DOING?!?!" the stern Aussie accented voice rebuked.
In slow motion, the boys fell backwards off the railing onto the steel grate of the road surface to safety. In slower motion, young Angelina Verdeschi was startled and released the IBeam. She tettered. She tottered. She grasped the steel structure of the bridge and the drizzle made a firm grasp impossible. She cried out in terror as the frantic cries of her brothers echoed at reduced rpm.
As her center of gravity shifted toward the direction of the roaring waters below and she began to fall forward, she felt an arm around her waist, pull her backwards.
She landed painfully on her back and looked up into the stranger's face. She knew him or rather would know him. In an instant, he was gone.
The elevator lurched to a stop and Angelina Carter stepped into the vestibule then sprinted under the right archway into Main Mission. She skidded to a stop.
Outside the azure cirrus cloud thinned and the stars were visible and flickering. Only tendrils of blue remained as the black void returned slowly to the landscape.
Inside, every person in Main Mission lie unconscious...or dead. A quick check revealed it to be the former rather than the latter. She ran up to the Commander's desk to find Koenig in his white leather high back chair, mouth agape and asleep. Professor Bergman lay on his side on the floor next to the desk; a puddle of Vita-seed from the dropped cup slowly spread toward the neutral colored sleeve of his tunic.
"Commander!" Angelina grabbed Koenig by the shoulders and shook him. "COMMANDER!! Wake up! PLEASE!!! What is going on!??!" She shrieked as the commander's head flopped to and fro. She released him and he slumped back into his chair, unaffected.
Angelina slowly looked around the room in despair.
"It's almost time." Nicholas said, motioning towards the blue tendrils that were escaping into the laboratory through the air vents--looking for all the moon like a beserk Prospero. His two tone epidermis, white, and black, belied his even more insidious two skinned nature. The man in the mirror, was not the man beneath. From down under, a pandemic grew that would eventually destroy them all.
"You're of course referring to the arrival of the First Fleet from Goar." Deacon inferred.
Kaplan admired his ability to reckon. He looked at the empty bulb of B-Totex with a modicum of regret--ashamed to have poisoned such a quick wit.
The one hundred story tall, alien shafts, and trunions ceased pounding the lunar surface. The wall of dirt that voluted about the 500 kilometer expanse of Moon Kingdom was replaced by a ravenous, all-eating cloud of perdition. Lurch Deacon was relieved to see that reinforcements had arrived. James Profitt, ro-chieftain of the moonbase constabulary clanked his way onto the third level with the zombie alien trailing behind. Profitt's fist was closed around the hilt of his node-blasting, Bad Day revolver.
"There are ships approaching." Nicholas said, the trach' implant in his throat, quartered open to add more oxygen to his boast. "It's a crucial time. All around us, Deacon, the past, the present, the future--I can hear the voices of the accused crying out to us.
"And they will not be ignored." He said with vomitous hypocrisy.
"Swear." The alien said, extending the glass case towards the diplomat. "On his mother's grave."
The chamber contained Angelina Verdeschi Carter's head--five centuries old, and floating in formathehyde preservatives.
"You're going to kill me, then." Deacon succombed. The contents of his green sneakers had begun to go numb.
"Not at all." Kaplan said, confused. "We're here to warn you."
Then, the french kiss.
That was when Alan Carter materialized from layer, upon layer of mylar sheathing. He floated above this fucked-up clambake, like a gnome in a horrible, impossible-to-accept moral.
Angelina Verdeschi Carter looked around Main Mission but it was not Main Mission. It was only vaguely familiar; it had long been abandoned. The shattered viewports were a testament to the incredible fact that she was hallucinating. Disgarded cables, wires, broken furniture, computer components crackled under her feet as she walked toward the steps leading down to the operations level.
She squinted. Huge piles of refuse lay in the operations area where once the controllers, capcomm, technical, data analyst stations and the rotating computer desk occupied, a time long ago. Her boot nudged against something in the dim light and she bent down to pick up the maglite.
Angelina fought with the rusted switched until finally the light came on. She turned the light one the piles.
Stacks of corpses, headless clones, were piled 5 or 6 high, and 4 or 5 rows deep. Many were deformed, the failures of earlier experiments. Many had limbs missing or were disembowelled, obviously for organ harvest. Only the vacuum preserved the bodies and would preserve them...forever.
Angelina was speechless, her scream of horror stuck in her throat.
"What is this." Deacon said, cross eyed, and staring up at the transparent nodule that had been placed against his forehead. No doubt, it was hooked to some reptilian cable, which in turn, fed--yes 'fed,' as in animal instincts, and inhumanity--into a sinister bio-sucking mainframe. "Are you draining me of my higher functions, reducing me to the level of imbecile?"
He tapped his foot, waiting for his spinal fluids to begin draining into the receptacle.
"No." Kaplan admitted. "It's a glass. I'm trying to get on your nerves because I don't like you."
"And who shall be first?" Nicholas projected--his voice echoing across the antiseptic tile to the rear of the laboratory, ignoring the ships that were approaching on the valentine-shaped screen. He cast an imperious eye at Marvin, The Martian who was standing behind Deacon with hungry contumely. Behind him, blue dactyls began to crawl overtop the microscopes, and the Bunson burners, and the petrie dishes, filled with life prolonging abominations.
"Maybe the real question is...." The alien embarked. "Who is worthy of the gift we have to offer."
Kaplan was speechless. He couldn't have managed words that spellbinding, and glib if his life depended on it. He checked his watch. Deacon had about 50 seconds to live.
"I-" The consul said, feeling the deadening of his groin, and throttled with unholy dread, as the alien placed his long, black hands upon Kaplan's shoulders, and then, finding a red goldmine in his pulsing jugular vein, drained the life out of him.
The technician fell to the floor like Tut's mummified remains.
"Any questions?" Nicholas asked the poisoned politician, twirling a white rose in his gloved hand. The petals turned an otherworldly pink in the glare of his demonic eyes.
"Yeah." Carter intruded, though not a single person in the room could hear him. His hair was standing on end. His eyes sank to the back of his head. "Where can I find a coffin because before this is over, I'm going to kill you."
He was pointing towards the alien, who had settled his gaze upon Deacon like a melting ice cream cone.
Her cry of anguish finally escaped from her throat but not before her worst nightmare flashed in hideous detail. No longer in the morbid mortuary of the former Main Mission, she peered over the edge of the crib to see her newborn son.
The single gunshot to the head marred his otherwise cherubic face. On the other side of the bassinette, her husband lay dead, also suffering the same fate though this was obviously self inflicted.
She shook her head.
"This isn't real. He would never do this. NEVER!!!!!!"
She turned to run away but found herself falling down the steps leading to the operations level of Main Mission, landing on the supine form of Mark Winters. She sobbed miserably, her head throbbing, not knowing what was real and what was hallucination.
"Eagle One to Alpha, do you read me?" The familiar voice crackled over the comm system. "Alpha, this is Eagle One. Are you receiving?"
Variations of this call echoed over and over as Angelina rolled over onto her side and stared at the blackness beyond the viewports. It finally occured to her, as the voice became more agitated and impatient, to answer the call. She pulled herself up to the communication console, fighting back the encroaching blackness, as she pressed the microphone stud.
"Alan? Is that you?" Her voice was shaky and hoarse. She could barely hold onto the desk. "Where are you?" She finished in a whisper.
Almost instantly, Kaplan's remains began to reek.
"Why not me?" Deacon mourned, looking at his friends exsanguinated corpse. "He was a good friend, a trustworthy alphan."
It made no spiritual, or material sense. Gore Vidal was right. It was all silly. There was no god.
The alien wiped his smeared lips, holding the politician at bay with his poise, and his considerable fangs. Carter was near the door to the fourth level, laboring in vain to pry open the hydraulic doors with a convenient pry bar. His cheeks were the color of fried green tomatoes. His spine rankled, like beast fit for murder. His eyes were redder, and less kindly than those of the creature that ended Kaplan's didn't-have-none/didn't-want-none existence.
"It won't affect me?" Nicholas shined, with paternal love for the off-world bloodsucker.
"I don't deserve to be spared." Deacon said with acrimony, while moving in slow egocentric circles so that both of the martinets remained in view.
"Where is the Ro-commander?" Nicholas inquired, scratching his nose with a serrated, black nail.
"I won't tell you." The litigator pronounced defiantly. "So...kiss ass...."
"It won't be YOUR ass." The alien replied, and watched as the politician succombed to the poison, and keeled--stone, cold dead, and perpendicular to Deacon's empty shell. The end result was an body art crucifix.
"Those who need religion are terrified of death." Nicholas announced, knowing there was no pelucidar at the center of the Moon.
"I'll drink to that." The alien said, and helped himself to some corpuscles, courtesy of Lurch Deacon.
Carter was about to abandon restraint, and attack. Wether he could, or not; wether he was successful enough. Attack. Then a pry bar that he should not have been able to feel caused the hydraulic hatch to break apart, and he was sucked into the great Otherwhen. He plunged downward into the canyon of indeterminancy--to a place where the wars were unknown in the annals of human history; to a zone where the space program crawled along like a paraplegic, sans wheelchair; to an epoch where lizards wore tuxedoes, and Bill Clinton was coronated King Of The Earth.
Then, fun time was over, and he was spat back out again. Where, he knew not.
The Cirrus Cloud was able to bring home the bacon, and fry the Moon in a pan. Ro-commander Harrison Alatheus broke two strings on his violin, and then returned to his penthouse--one hundred, and eighty stories above the surface of Moon Kingdom. As his lift past by floor, after floor of undulating, unconscious bodies, he smiled like a sally. All of the bouquets he would never sense; the Penzoil that would never pass his lips; all of the Judas Iscariots, all of the ingrates--never would he see them get what was truly coming to them. Their just desserts, he would never gloat over. He strolled across the quarry tiled floor of his kitchen, and the rows of throne-like chairs surrounding the transparent dining/diplomatic/nuke-them-all table. High above, a crystal chandelier dangled down at him--it's cherubs leering like annoying commediennes at a geology improv.'
"Time to die." He said aloud, popping open his caraffe of 5,000 Octane.
"You're taking it very well." Nicholas said, pushing back the drapes like a patient custodian--one who is willing to wait forever as long as things were eventually set straight. Behind him, the alien was gnawing on the fat-saturated chambers of someone's heart.
In the mysterious fog swirl of the amphitheater, Angelina turned away from the gigantic six story movie screen as the "scene" halted; where the remote was to put the horror flick on "pause" she did not know but she suspected the giant green mantis beside her did not require one.
"I was sort of hoping when I passed out in Main Mission, or what I thought was Main Mission, that I would wake up in my bed and all would be right again," Angelina thought to the mantis. "I was obviously wrong." Perhaps she was already dead. Perhaps she was still dreaming. Perhaps reality was about to be redefined and/or rewritten; the future was not set in stone and time was still a blank slate. "Why are you showing me these horrendous images?" she looked up, craning her neck. "I get it. My son could turn out to be a monster. What can I do to stop it??!" She shook her head, looking back toward the 'screen'. "No, murdering him is not an option."
"You're not hurting my feelings." Alatheus said defiantly, and came to rest on his Thinker. "Traitors."
The alien whinnied like a horse, while Nicholas blew a spit wad from a plastic tube. It landed on the ro-commander's nose with a vicious 'phhhht.' The high vision ports were tapestries of blue, with an occasional glimpse at what used to be the last, great frontier of human/cyborg endeavour. Occasionally someone would die while traversing it.
Well...actually, it was more often than occasionally, but eminently safer than the bad, after-Breakaway days. The ro-commander equivocated the gothic life on Moonbase Alpha with survival of the fittest, Frued, and Pork Chop Hill.
"Childish." Alatheus told Nicholas, wiping the crud from his syntheform snoze.' "I'd wager that you had an overly long teething period when you were a toddler."
The ro-commander was hatched in one of the birthing facilities so he didn't know diddle about teething.
On the whole, though, it had been a fair existence. He only had nine, or ten complaints. In that respect, he was doing much better than Alan Carter--Man Out Of Time.
The pilot was floating uncontrollably--rolling from ceiling tile, to ceiling tile while mouthing ubiquitous charges, and feral obscenities. Ahead of him was a row of pikes, wrought iron, and set three inches apart. They comprised the south wall of the ro-commander's guest room where he entertained political prisoners with high voltage, and weevils, but mostly he starved them with rationed calories that made the Warsaw Ghetto look like a gurgitator's feast. Carter was repelled by these skeletal remains, but if he concentrated, he believed he could touch one of the spikes.
"You were our greatest king." The alien guilt-tripped Alatheus. He was eating a chop filled with vericose, blood vessicles.
"Yes." Nicholas chimed in. "But now it's time to rebuild."
"A condemned deserves a last request?" The ro-commander suggested. His ATP was running low today. Live, or die, he probably wouldn't be able to stand up again unless a fresh cannister was inserted into the cavity outside his anus.
"Behold." The alien said, pointing at the murky blackness above the parting, blue tassles. "That is the approach of the 21st Century."
"They should be hamburger cruisers from Goar." Alatheus commented, squinting. "As it is, it looks like four Eagles approaching."
"We're running out of time." Nicholas said, but he was speaking directly to Alan Carter now.
Angelina turned away from the megascreen, as the feature length flick was 'paused' again.
"Why won't you answer me?!!?" she cried out in frustration. "How can I stop this from happening?!?!" She stopped in mid thought. "Or has it already happened?" Her heart sank. Maybe she was dead, long dead. In an apparent answer to her last question, the prism lighted mist parted and her innocent 20 month old son, Nicholas, ebullient to see her, ran and jumped into her waiting arms. It was then that she notice on the big screen, Alan Carter was visible in the 'movie'. "HUH?!?" she gaped in amazment.
"That's a fair suck of the sav.'" Carter exclaimed bitterly, closing his agile, quaking fingers around the javelin, which appeared to be not too well anchored into the floor of Alatheus' castle-keep quarters. A death's head that belonged to some statistical partisan looked askance at him. The voices emanated from paramnesia, and echoed around the chamber. Mocking spirits that showed concern, but not for this predicament.
"...Guidance software downloaded." A disgruntled nymph that sounded like Barb' Conroy, redoubled through the stonecraft, and the rubbertree elms. "I've ironed out the procedure, and I'll be transmitting it to all Eagles in about five minutes...."
"...Inbound trajectory." Big-P Danielle said with cruel domesticity. "We're 9,000 nautical miles out, but we'd better have those coordinates ready by the time we reach LOI." He appeared to be talking to William Gregory Bullshit Harms, III who replied:
"I still can't see anything. Dulcinea, fairest of the market goddesses--hast thou forsaken us?"
Nicholas presented his carnival with ballyhoo, and banal flower. The alien turned snow white--no longer absorbed by his coronary repast, he looked at Carter as though he were a floating brunch.
"!!!???HOW ARE YOU DOING THAT???!!!" The pilot demanded, but neither the beast, nor his false prophet, nor spectral voices alike wouild answer him.
"Good God." Ro-commander Harrison Alatheus repulsed, and feeling beneath his chair cushion for a spare can of ATP.
"It is time." Nicholas announced, a Moses for the Dark Ages, offering manna from Hell, and turning candy canes into vipers.
"...I don't like going in without an azimuth, but we've got no choice." The aussie leader said to his invisible coterie. "Conroy--I don't need no more liquid laugh out of you. Give me the goddamn numbers for the speed-up burn."
"!!!THAT AIN'T ME!!!" Alan Carter cried, feeling a poltergeist of gravity reach out, and pull him towards the blanketing puffs of blue. The downward motion caused the spike to break free ever-so-slightly from the mortar that held it.
"...It's useless." Tom Graham bitched. "I'm dead in the water."
"...You know the rules." The aussie captain reminded him with angst. "You get a Code Black, you drop the load. COUNT TO TEN, AND JETTISON THE LOUSY SERVICE MODULE. Danielle, and Conroy will have to tow you back in.
"I'll land first." He finished without apprehension.
"Right." Graham replied sullenly. "I'll punch off at 30:14."
"They're using your memories against you." Ro-commander Alatheus said sagely, repressing the vicious acid indigestion that had plagued him for most of his tenure as absolute ruler of Moon Kingdom. "It begins in your synapses."
He used his own, brainless metal head as an example.
The child in her arms hugged her firmly, his breathing increasing. His bottom lip quivered and tears started to flow from his eyes. A look of terror crossed his face.
"No, Daddy, No!!" He cried out miserably and buried his face in Angelina's shoulder.
"Eagle 8 to Eagle 1. Here come the numbers now," Barb Conroy's voice crackled and echoed out of nowhere. There was immense relief since the spotlight of the flight leader's anxiety was now off her.
"Still nothing from Alpha," Erich Baumer added the footnote with utter depression. "What the hell is going on down there?!?!?"
"Wait!" Conroy's voice interrupted,"I'm getting a signal. I'm patching it through, chief."
"Alan? Is that you?" Her voice was shaky and hoarse. "Where are you?" Angelina shook her head as she held Nicky close to her. It was her voice. She had just called him and it was the last thing she said in Main Mission before she found herself...here. Wherever here was. "Please...help us," she implored to the mantis.
"!!!Ang'!!!" The pilot whirled, which is to say he spun about on heels that were no longer weightless paws, but increasingly out of synch. His javelin peaked at about 75 pounds as he became encumbered. "!!!Angelina!!! It's not me!!!"
Nicholas looked at him with pity. The same pity that a master will often have for his dippy dog, which spends five minutes licking its ass when the deed only required five seconds attention.
"...Conroy, good show." The aussie flight leader barged in, ruining the miracle of reunion with his accolades, and his audible sigh of relief.
"...One hundred, and eighty degree turn completed." The flight leader's stern, but focused Brit companion said. "Powering up the descent cluster."
"No." The alien confessed, looking like Vlad Tepish as he wrapped his long, black cape around his armored chest. "You got that right. It's not you, my dear."
Nicholas rode one of the Aztec pie wedges, plucking at the D-chord on a Steinway Grand Piano as the sanctuary grew around Carter's feet. Then, he toppled forward as the huge icebergs, and pillars of osmium thrust upwards at a thousand satellites, floating through a cold, blue jet stream. Moon Kingdom, luna firma, and the Goar genocide fleet that so reminded Ro-commander Alatheus of Eagles, receded back into the mind of its creator. Carter was homo sapien--without cerebral cortex, or an opposable thumb, and unable to reason, but the weapon he held remained loyal to the rudiments of his intent. He was now spinning on a turntable that equaled the circumference of a Roman colliseum. In the pit, which served as the fulcrum, there were Iguanodon bones, and Mundus Subterraneous, annihilating mortals with its flame, and Giganteus, and Megalosaurus--his jaws filled with the broken, and the condemned.
"What would it be like?" The alien said, rafting towards him. "To change the universe, but sacrifice your soul? What price would you pay to be liberated from that gulag of mud; a reprieve from a death sentence--slow torture, and death while you roam the universe--buried alive in a freezing, metal tomb?"
"The Moon." Ro-commander Alatheus rhymed, pointing upwards with disgust.
"I have the power." Nicholas said, using his keyboard to perform the most macabre version of "As estralos estao longe e nos aqui" ever heard.
"The stars are so far, and we are here." The alien agreed, his eyes burning Carter at the stake with sonnets of evil.
"It sounded like your voice to me." Ro-commander Alatheus commented, still reaching for an instrument cannister that he would never find.
"God so loved the world that He gave His only son," the image of Dave Trask reminded Angelina. "Do you think you are better than God to not give up yours?" He whispered in her ear, vile and acid fumes brushed her cheek.
Angelina, still holding Nicholas, sank to her her knees, blinded with tears. She would not go on if she murdered her own child. Trasked presented the dagger. Encrusted in ruby jewels was the image of a mother and child. She focused on the screen, at the image of her 500 year old son.
"A face only a mother could love," Trask taunted.
She looked back at her son's cherubic face. Back at the screen. Back at her son, gazing into his imploring eyes.
"NO!!!" she screamed, throwing away the ornate dagger into the mist. "It won't be like that!!! Do you hear?!?!" Her voice cracked as she turned toward the mantis. "IT WILL NOT BE LIKE THAT!!!"
"!!!IGNITION!!!" The aussie flight leader yelled out over the invisible loop.
"You're running out of options." The alien said, breaking the still, parting vapors with a wave of his gloved hand. Through a corridor of light, there appeared an infinite number of Alan Carters, on a illimitable number of Moons, in a universe, tethered to eternity. The pilot was now being micro-managed on the inside turntable, while all around him, the icebergs turned from ice, to gold. The constituents of clay, and water solidified to form hyper-geometric dunes, and mesas, which, in turn, vaulted even futher into the growing, cityscape. He became dwarfed by the untheoretical basilicas--a thousand floors high, world without end, vaguely resembling the most brilliant of Michelangelo, and Bramante. The hand of God, reaching through the antidiluvian clouds to touch the mind of humanity. There were obelisks, and shrines of electrum. There were Pantheon domes, and monuments to Mars, the Bringer of War. Carter fumbled across the composite capitals, and bases. He watched as a black glint in the sky floated down to him, growing more, and more omnipresent. It was a mindless spirit, whose moved as his moved. It was Ang,' only she was the size of Goliath--a parable that his mind was creating from moment to moment. Her gestures of defiance mimicked his.
"...Maneuver completed." His doppleganger said through the bloodied willows.
"...Chief, this is Danielle...." The other voice starcrossed him. "That's a beautiful, geosynchronous orbit you've got there. Good job."
"I can change all of that." The alien promised, but in his insane eyes, desperation mediated.
"...Thanks." The aussie leader replied. "It's not over with yet, though. Visibility is for shit. Barbie,' you're the best. Now I need to know when I can begin deorbiting procedure. How close can you bring me to Launch Pad Four."
"Can you?" Carter said, rebellious, but intoxicated by his glom of the alien's sincerity. Anything to be free of Alpha, of the struggle; to be able to send Old Scratch, and his boney buddyroo' packing. He, and Ang,' and Nicky, every inmate on Moonbase Alpha, forever safe.
"...Flight leader, this is Baumer." Another asshole soundalike said. "You're right on the 59th parallell, just over the Volterra Crater."
"...Eagle One here. We concur." The aussie leader's British accomplice said astutely. "We should reach Plato in about ten minutes."
"Of course I can." The alien said with the brinkmanship, and the arrogant self-assurance of a devil.
"Dulcinea!!," Harms boomed out of tune, echoing through the theater,"Now I found thee and the world shall know thy gloreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeyy!"
"Shut the fuck up, Harms," Barb Conroy interrupted the wannabe singing pilot."Eagle 8 to Eagle 1. Yeah, I got the coordinates for you, sir. Vector 2-9-1 for 18720 kilometers then veer 60 degrees to Vector 2-3-1 for 15,935 kilometers. That will get you right over Pad 4."
Angelina turned again toward the screen and saw Alan mesmerized by the alien. On shaking limbs, she stood while Nicholas clung to her neck.
"DON'T LISTEN TO IT, ALAN!!! IT CAN'T CHANGE ANYTHING!! Only WE have the power to change the future!" She yelled to him and prayed at the same time. She turned to the Mantis again. "Please..please...help us. I know you can help us..."
"Girlie,' you help yourselves." The great, green bug diety spake at last, and the proclamation spilled over into the temporal rift, so vociferous, and so esteemed as to awaken Alan Carter from his hypnotic drunk.
The statement was neither helpful, nor unbountiful. Like space itself, it just was. There were no tablets accompanying it; no laws, or burning bushes; no request for a child's head to be dashed against an egyptian rock. And it was after-the-fact. A reminder of some static state, rather than an admonition for a perceived shiftlessness.
"...Check." The limey co-pilot said on the aside. "Uplink completed. Commencing deorbit procedure now, and on my mark, our velocity will be 16 feet per second. "That's fast. It would be nice to see where we're going." He added, tense, and concerted.
"...We'll make it." The Carter wannabe' said. "We've got to. Get ready to open the fuel valves. We'll break over the white room...then...we go down...."
"Take my cup." The alien told the "real" Alan Carter, who wasn't feeling especially "real" right now.
The springing, canker began to look like a more benevolent Ang.' Its coefficient of expansion reversed, causing the customary lines to assume a smaller shape, a more recognizable veritas. Her white lines overlapped Carter's solid form like onion skin paper that awaited a tracing. The changing pilot looked upon the instrument of surrender that swirled inside the cup.
"I have a spring in the back of my throat." Ro-commander Alatheus said, stepping forward.
Angelina gazed into the cup then back at the ornate mirror with the mantis and her toddler son in the mist staring back at her.
"Drink," the alien lifted his ornate chalice in a toast. "Drink and bow down in worship. Salvation is at hand. See, I drive the moon home."
What was a 10' by 20' picture window to the void of space was now filled with a virgin, earth type planet. The choice should have been obvious. It should have been simple. A no brainer. She eyed the alien again, who, despite a paternal countenance had the blood and sinew chunks of human being adorning his lips and chin.
"Go to hell," Angelina stated calmly. Then, she hurled the goblet across the room, shattering the picture window. Billions of shards of glass exploded outward and sucked her out into space. For an instant, she thought the cold would be shocking to her system but it was actually the pain in her lungs pressing outward against her rib cage and the agony of her veins and arteries rising to the surface of her skin as atmospheric pressure was lost. Actually, she did not feel cold at all before she fell into blackness.
The alien of course, doing a slow burn.
"...One hundred nautical miles, and closing."
"Slowly through the mists half parted." Nicholas read to Steinway accompaniment. "Slower as the light grows dim. Feel the pressure build around you, hear the raindrops steady hymn."
"...Eighty miles, and closing."
"I also have a plug." Ro-commander Alatheus said, trying to sound tactful about his bio-waste functions.
If a cyborg could blush, he would have.
"Watch the darkness growing lighter, hear the silence growing loud. Taste the senses all around you...walk the path of the ethereal cloud." The child of Carter's devotion serenaded over his book of sheet music. Beneath them, the ground had begun to vibrate again. The alien was whiter than the finest sheet of copying paper. On its surface were the erasable remains of his plan. On the first line, nothing; on the second line, more white; on the third, cold, inkless failure. On the fourth, and fifth lines....
"...Fifty miles." The Brit attache said, brimming. "!!!LOOK!!! THERE'S THE ALPINE REFINERY COMPLEX!!!"
"...Paul, get ready to open those valves." The aussie pilot said, willing his ship forward with intractable resolve.
"Senseless feeling, taste the light. Feel the embraces of the night. See the faces growing old."
"YOU WILL ALL DIE." The alien guaranteed. "!!!HORRIBLY!!!"
"The spring in my throat is right here." Ro-commander Alatheus explained, moving alongside the creature's shoulder, and jabbing the back of it's neck to indicate the approximate location of his pain.
He got his plug pulled good for this piece of insolence. The alien dropped him in his steps, dropping the plug on the blue, mist enshrouded, cemetary floor while a black volume of spinal fluid leaked out onto the surface of the pie-wedge matrix, seeping between the cracks, shorting out the dam as the wheels of time ground to a halt.
"!!!GET READY!!!" The aussie leader cried.
"It will mean death for us all." Kathleen O'Leary, and Arthur Strange gurgled as they lay dieing. The alien retreated from physical form to a reflective one. An obscene, Lovecraftian nightmare on the plate of an iceberg.
"!!!NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" The pilot bellowed defiantly, his left cheek smeared with blood, and entrails, and uncapped, jetting spinal fluid. He heaved the metallic spire back with his good arm, and any scintilla of rationality had been expunged from Alan Carter. He hurled his pike at the image in the glacier, which laughed gruesomely, even as it was exorcised into a million shards.
(It will mean death for us all....)
He was Alan Carter, and he, and Paul Morrow were on a routine mission to lance the Cirrus Cloud with an instrument pack. As it turned out, the duty would have been cheap, even at half the price, and he was obliterated.
(...death for us all...death....)
The brooding sky was no longer blue; it's stain yielded to an unfair, but platonic green. The death throes of a powerless, uncaring bitch god. Ang' was dead, and moldering in her lunar grave. Paul Morrow had been eliminated. Moonbase Alpha was gone, could never have been saved. He was Alan Carter, and all that remained was his excruciating hatred...the need to devour, and destroy.
First the monster, and then himself. Especially himself.
(...death for us all...)
So, he slew the iceberg image--realizing with agonizing grief that the man in the mirror, the image, had been his son's.
"Return again." The alien chanted, sitting at the ivory piano keys. "Unto your dwelling, go back home...go back home, where you belong. This world of dreams is for someone more strong. Go away, I beg, and plead you (...pluck...). This will be your endless doom."
"!!!NOW PAUL!!!" The aussie pilot cried over the loop.
There was a black dawn, and a little smoke. There was death...there was...
Barbara Conroy stepped into the travel tube behind Pierre Danielle. She barely sat down when he activated it and the tube whisked them away from Launch Pad 1. The double doors opened and at the end of the corridor was the elevator to the Command tower. Barb crouched down next to the prone figures of Carroll Severance and Melita Kelly as Alan Carter and Paul Morrow stepped into the corridor junction from the right. Like Danielle and Conroy, Carter and Morrow were still in EVA suits minus gloves and helmet.
"At least they aren't dead." Conroy stated as the Fabio lookalike Severance began to stir. "Thank God." She watched as Morrow and Carter bolted into the open elevator to Main Mission.
"We got lucky." Carter decided--or at least he hoped--with buffet stress serving itself up across his otherwise unblemished forehead. "Whatever it was, it didn't interrupt the core reserves. How's Graham's Eagle?"
"Salvageable as is," she responded, helping patrolman N'Dole to his feet. "But she will be in drydock for awhile." Conroy finished as the lift doors closed.
No doubt, STC Dempsey would moan, and groan--providing he was still on the Moon, and not in Heaven giving straight count to the Almighty.
The lift started. Five stories up, the dormant energy cells began to glow red, and then orange, and finally, the rectangular wall panels began to fill with light from the fusion reactors.
The view from outside the west wall of Main Mission was dark, and dreary. Amber colored emergency lights from computer panels two, four, and six topped the gooseneck lamp over the Data Analysts station (it looked like a head in Bluebeard's Divorce Court; a saurian-necked abomination with a mysterious, monolithic, central orifice, it gave Eric Baumer the heebeejeebees'). Gradually, the red-lit archways were diffused with the baleful gleam of monitors in the OK Corridor. Key computer modules that were labeled SEQUENTIAL LOGIC I-X, and PHASE, and LUNAR EVENTS popped on like lit Mardi Gras signs. In the spray of returning light, and harmonic keyboards, a lone individual stumbled to his feet from the cold floor of the commander's office. He was followed by another resucitated corpse with a civilian sleeve who rediscovered the stairs to the level two mainframe deck just before falling again.
"Victor?" John Koenig said, advancing, but still pale, and befogged. "You alright?"
"Uh...I got a bit of a headache, but yeah...." The professor said, wiping the sleep out with the heels of his hands. "I'll make it."
"!!!Commander!!!" Carter said, jetting across the operations level. He, and Danielle arrived just in time to assist Angelina, and Kate Bullen to thier feet.
"Uh..I..." Angelina looked around blankly for a moment, her eyes focusing on the mission clock. Time elapse since Carter and the fleet left? 1 hour, 43 minutes. After helping Kate, who thought the room was still spinning, to her chair, Ang moved over to the Technical station.
"Power levels at 67% and increasing," Joe Erhlich's image appeared on the monitor. He looked hung over. He felt like he was in his old college days, after a night of having just one too many shots of tequila. "I'm not sure what happened. I'll try to figure it out when we get things squared away down here," he said, cutting the link but not before Ang could hear Joan Conway rousing to consciousness in the background.
Helena Russell, dishelved, and looking like an advert for Encephalitis Research, leaned against the black panel of the Capcomm desk, just as Gordon Cooper's Pearl Harbored, tired-as-a-dog hand crawled up to the station's Triple-T, and Mission Summary keys.
Angelina was robotically beginning to run through a systems check with Sandra who had pulled herself back into her chair at the Data Analyst station, when movement under the balcony stairs caught her eye.
"Nicky!" she jumped up, her chair falling backward in a crash, and she bolted up the steps. The child was covered in a viscous, burgundy tinged opaque slime from head to toe. He awoke slowly and began crying in his confusion. Without any regard to her safety, she pick up her son to comfort him. The unappealing slime was now all over Ang but it had no odor.
She had no idea how he got to Main Mission.
"Attention, all sections Alpha. This is Controller Paul Morrow." The deputy commander's voice boomed across the digital, interbase frequency. "I want medical, and damage control reports. Security Cube to high alert."
Andy Dempsey's most comprehensive report, shakey fellow that he was, came in the form of a blank stare from his side of the room. For this, and the other things, Morrow forwarded back lividity, and the look of death.
Seconds later, blood (not syntheform ATP from a ro-commander's anal cavity) began to flow through Moonbase Alpha. The network opened its eyes, and the dry-mouthed confusion poured through from security control, and several of the Perimeter Stations.
"...atmospheric pressure stabilizing in the lower equiptment bay." Harness Bull Coldaryn huffed, and puffed over the loop. "We've got a report of an Aim Angle Brackett broken on one of the LRRR assemblies...technicians have been dispatched...."
"Perimeter Station Five here--services suspended on the SNAP-400 radio telescope." Came another. "I think we had a micro-meteor strike on the unit's exterior. We're checking it out now."
Bergman gazed over Sandra Benes' left shoulder as she tried to acquire a signal from the orbitting surveyor cameras. Ben Ouma plopped down in the Futura plastic chair at his station, trying vainly to unlimber the bucket of hardening steel that had once been his neck. He rotated towards the big screen an began an immediate computer diagnostic.
"Several injuries to Care Unit staff." Bob Mathias plugged in. "Mostly bruises, and contusions from the act of falling on their faces--otherwise, no damage."
"Paul," Koenig said, rubbing his temple as he stepped up to the flight controller's desk. "Tell the core engineers that I also want a complete analysis, and projections on the condition of the biosphere. If we've been hit with any kind of fallout, we need to know now."
"Very good sir." Morrow replied officiously, and began typing again.
Andy Dempsey did not dare, not look busy. Or perhaps a better way of saying it was he dared not look lazy for it was better for his ass to look busy. Either way, he refrained from exchangeing any over-the-desk glances with the flight controller.
Koenig turned, and Moonbase Alpha's resident scientist was there, scratching his pate dubiously.
"You can ask." The professor said, cutting him off at the pass. "Just don't expect an intelligent response. We fired off enough Orgone energy to dissipate that cloud five times over."
"He seems to be alright," Dr. Russell poked and prodded Nicky despite his impatience and irritation at being poked and prodded. "Except for this, whatever it is, all over him and now you." She glanced at Ang, who had the jello-like ooze all over her shoulders, neck, arms and chest.
"What the hell is it?" Ang peeled off clumps of it from the child and let it drop to the floor.
"We'll get a sample," Russell motioned. "However, at the moment, you should both go to decontamination."
"Orbital satellites reporting that the cloud has dissipated," Sandra Bene reported. "Visual from departing angle on screen now." All eyes turned to the big screen. On the backdrop curtain of black and white dotted stars, all that remained of the cirrus clouds were barely distinguishable blue tendrils, fading as the image refreshed itself every 10 second.
"We made it through." Bergman nodded, giving Koenig an optimistic pat on the shoulder. He was glad to be alive. Oh was he ever glad to be alive. "My plan." He told Carter, and Ang,' gathering his breath, along with his humble pie. "It seems to have been a total failure."
Not a single person argued that.
Helena Russell closed her MEDSCANNER, and stood, following the curious look that Koenig was imparting to the vision ports as he strolled towards them.
"It's a good thing we sent your team out there to monitor the satellites." The professor added, and Carter acknowledged this with an albeit stiff commity, and a decidedly drained nod of the head. "Whatever was in there could have killed us all. My judgement was atrocious. Very, very dangerous."
"Funny." The pilot mused while dropping the dam of his space suit. "In a way, it's like I was somewhere else." He chuckled nervously. "Strange, isn't it." He looked away, drawn, and indecisive, clenching his fist over the incomprehensible. "I can't quite put my finger on it...."
He fell silent. Conroy, and Baumer added, and subtracted nothing. Ben Ouma looked away, becoming transfixed by the long, splendiferous, green, and red fibers that lay ahead of the Moon on the big screen. As far as the eye could see, there was no blue.
"Ang.'" Koenig called from one of the windows to the lunar surface. "Victor."
Angelina peered out the window at the dissipating Cirrus cloud. She was drawing a blank and mentally exhausted, yet she also felt something significant just happened. Ridiculous. They just passed through a bizarre cloud and they all passed out for reasons unknown. The unknown was common and most of the time unexplainable. Still... Nicky's small left index finger pointed to the cloud and he turned to gaze at Koenig.
"Bug," he spoke softly and smiled, nodding his head. Bergman eyed Nicky curiously.
"That's right, Nicky," the professor spoke gently as he took a sample of the slime from the child's shoulder and studied it with interest. "It certainly does look like a bug."
John Koenig relaxed, leaning comfortably against the metal frame, and looking somewhere beyond Moonbase Alpha, and the .75 inch thick Vycor seal. The light from nearby stars illuminated the floor of the Plato region where there was no light, or warmth; only the dreamt of beach head, shared by a group of lost souls looking for a home. In the ultimate zero, Fridgidaire, iced Hell of space, it was as close to natural warmth as anyone could hope to get. He was joined by Helena Russell, and Carter, and the rest of Paul Morrow's mission specialists. From a clock's imaginary ability to terminate, and a human being's dolt-conception, the Radiatus form--which resembled a great, agile mantis--was there for only one minute. Sixty seconds of curved tempus. Its Helium, shaped like pods, and it's broad, parallell bands forming an astral tail without alteration, or convexion. To the left, and from an adjacent vision port, a trioch of controllers looked ignorantly upon the mantis, and the mantis looked back.
Only one minute in the extraordinary, endless, often malignant scheme of things. Yet not a single person returned to their duty station--to operating the machines that enabled them to live...hateing, and despising the price of machine existence--until the visitatation grew dim, and transparent, and faded, but not completely.
The Moon was in first quarter, and it would remain there for a month. Tranquil, yet geologically agitated. A magic aggregate, bearing the ellipsoidal configuration of its home world. Where most natural satellites tended to look like Pluto's moon, Charon--worthless hunks of crappy, useless rock, the Moon that was late of planet Earth appeared to be a planet itself. A dead, waterless, airless planet--barrelling thousands of nautical miles per hour through the universe. As frenetic, and as cowardly as a hyperactive missionary in a banquet filled with cannibals, the Moon's status as holocaust victim would yield no in a universe that wanted to obliterate it. It was a bull, grunting, and galloping, and shitting piles, and placing indubitable faith in the Tao of Physics.
The universe would get even some day. Don't think that it won't.
It was a Dylan Thomas evening on Moonbase Alpha. No one went gentle into that good night. Indeed, they raged at the dying of the light, and had been since September 13, 1999. The command tower stood against the ejecta, and the spiralling anorthosites, and oxygen-isotopic boulders, stoic, and keeping an abstruse eye on its terrestrial neighbors. On the east side, the lights dimmed to a clandestined coral in the multi-level technical hub. On the west side, down-moding was already underway in Medical Center, and had been for over an hour. Overnight security patrols did the long doldrums in corridors lit by emergency lighting.
Dr. Helena Russell was in the Descartes Room, enjoying a delicious cup of hydrogenated soybean, rot-gut coffee. The cantina was just twelve steps down from the commander's office, and the stairwell leading to the ninth floor, Area-D office complex. It was called the Descartes Room, but not to honor the astronomer, of the first expedition to land in his crater. Once upon a time, there had been a deputy commander on Alpha (his name was Descartes, although many called him other things), and it was here, in this three table, four snack machines, and a comstation room, he made his most exacting, operose--but emancipating--judgements. Which were, usually, to have a second, and third cup of this lousy coffee.
"Make sure Dr. Carter gets those reports." She overheard John Koenig say to a spry technician in the sterile corridor as the office door closed behind him. "Goodnight Jim."
"Goodnight Commander." The technician said, drifting past the open doorway of the cantina with his blue flimsies tucked beneath his right arm for safe-keeping.
"You're keeping late hours." The commander told Helena Russell, surprised, but rather brimming at the sight of her, as he entered the break room. He squared up to one of the neon-lit wall dispensers, and ordered up his own cup of ghastliness. Situated between a now useless, Bell Telephone kiosk, and the Vitapak unit, there was a sedentary photo of John F. Kennedy, poised at the podium while giving his famous Moon Speech to attendants at Rice University in Texas.
"Oh, there's too much excitement, too much going on in Medical to quit early," Helena Russell smiled lovingly but wearily. In reality, there was always something to do in Medical, always too much going on. Even if the wards were not filled to capacity with patients, there was always the constant physical and psychological monitoring of the residents of Prison Moonbase Alpha. The psychological monitoring of the Alphans from the alternate universe integrating with the Alphans from this universe proved to be a recent challenge, from both sides and in fact was still ongoing. Nevertheless, once in awhile, Dr. Russell was able to engage in a favorite activity: experimental medicine. She took a sip of Moonbase coffee and scowled. She never could get accustomed to it. She longed for a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. "Do you remember that viscous substance which was covering Nicholas Carter when we came out of that cloud last week?"
She set the cup down carefully, grinning broadly like a kid in a candy store.
"It turns out to be beneficial to us...very beneficial." She paused reading his 'go on' expression. "Remember how Carissa Englebert was nearly blind last week?"
"20/20 vision in both eyes today and going back to the flight simulators to begin refreshing her pilot skills tomorrow." Dr. Russell sat back in satisfaction, her eyes sparkling.
Koenig lost interest in his coffee.
"Twenty-twenty vision?" He said, giving the physician a slow, blown away, sidelong glance. He placed his comlock, and his coffee cup on the table, and leaned back in the chair, and looked from left, to right with his elbows firmly on the table ("Confusion, come, and get me." His body language communicated."). "How is that possible?"
It wasn't that he disbelieved her. It was more about the bowling ball jammed in the drain pipe. The agonizing birth of improbable new knowledge. Now, we want you to believe that a man can spin on his head, and rub his stomache while singing "New York, New York."
Now, we want you to believe that we've superglued an elephant to the tip of a flag pole, atop the Sears building in Chicago.
Behind Helena Russell there was a portrait of cosmonaut Alexie Leonov, performing his historic, first spacewalk with the hatch to his Voshkod spacecraft open in the right hand corner, braving the hostile unknown with uncanny aplomb. Maybe Leonov was also steam-rolled by Helena Russell's statement. If so, he didn't show it.
"Analysis showed that the substance is organic in nature and based on preliminary tests, it turns out it has regenerative properties. It is much like the nature of umbilical cord blood which even when we were still in Earth orbit, we were just beginning to understand some of the treatment possibilities. We were beginning to experiment with neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease. The cells of the material that we found on Nicky, however, areloaded with replicating nuclei that are very similar in nature to human neurons." She waved at Anne Delline who passed by with a sullen looking Andy Dempsey. Anne returned a thin smile to the physician then kept on going with her companion. "As you know, neurons have little or no capability of regenerating themselves. Once these cells are damaged, that's it. We discovered however, that when cells of this material are introduced into an area of damaged nerve cells, somehow, they begin to replicate that exact neuron and repair the area."
She handed him the blue flimsy report.
"We had done a few known surgical measures which gave Carissa a bit more time but the root cause was deterioration of the optic nerve. With her consent, we extracted a few of the neurons of her optic nerve and in the lab, mixing them with the substance. We noticed almost instantly the regeneration of the cells in the petrie dish. Normal optic nerve neurons. We then went ahead and introduced it into the optic nerve.
"The results are in front of you," Dr. Russell sat back, still smiling. "Think of the possibilities, John." She grew serious. "We would like to try this procedure on Carl Davis." Carl Davis, a mechanical engineer, was working on an Eagle lift hoist when he fell 30 feet, breaking his back and severing his spinal cord. A parapelegic, he could be productive but only from the confines of a wheelchair. "Of course, there is still much to understand concerning how the substance actually works. We have a rudimentary idea but admittedly, in the chemical breakdown, there were a few substances which were previously unknown to us. However, we've run every test we know to run on that stuff and we are at the point, obviously, where the next step is to actually try it out. What do you think, John?"
Arms folded severely again, the commander looked at yet another photo that adorned Descartes' Choc' Full A No Decisions, loafer's paradise/coffee nook. It was an attractive conceptual photo of the British made, BAC Mustard spaceplane. The spacecraft was illustrated in attractive, metallic grays, and blues (a color he thought they were done with, but they weren't, apparently). More than any other design--including the American orbiters--this one was the technical precursor to the original, Block I Eagles. A gift. The bad thing was, it was shaped like a boomergang, and it maneuvered like one too. One minute you're alright--your vessell has enough lift--but before long you realize you're pirouetting towards your own, sudden death. A big, humongous "???WHY???" creased upon your bargaining lips, just before you're flattened against the tarmac.
"Commander Koenig." Controller Morrow's voice suddenly broke the waves of ratiocination from the commstation. His face appeared on the color monitor, leaning heavily into the camera.
"Yes, Paul." The commander said, alert and standing.
"We're picking up ultra high energy readings. The nomenclature isn't consistent with anything we know about." He fumbled, for all of his expertise, realizing that the potatoe was hot, and growing hotter. "It's being transmitted in WAV format at ten billion cycles per second."
"Location?'" Koenig inquired suspiciously, while sharing a phlegmatic look with Helena Russell.
"It seems to be coming from somewhere in space, 10 AU's relative to our own position." The controller said heavily. "It's reached Alpha's inner circuit, and the modulation is growing stronger."
"Deep space tracking?" Koenig essayed, clipping his comlock to his belt.
"We tried." Emma Black broke in, her medium shot suddenly replacing Morrow's extreme close-up. "But the signal is gone now."
"We will have a report for you and Professor Bergman within 30 minutes, sir," Sandra Benes chimed in from the Data Analyst station while giving her relief, Adisa Talic a sidewise glance. She sighed. "Not that there is much to report but we can summarize the facts. We are also recalibrating the sensor array."
"Very good, Sandra," Koenig commented as he cut the link.
"Gone?" Russell stared into the now empty coffee cup. "Something has literally touched us, maybe, and now it is gone." She looked up at him. "You don't think there is an error with the sensors."
The last comment was spoken as a statement, not a question.
Sue Crawford aimed her comlock at the wallpanel lock. She quietly stepped inside and saw her son, Jackie, diligently engrossed in his drawing.
It had not been an easily road travelled for Sue since Jarak and Rena vacated their bodies over 4 years ago. Sue was on medication to keep the perpetual migraines at bay but the worst part of it was the gradual acceptance of her child. She was left with a newborn in a 5 year old body.
It was not love at first sight. Despite her preference to have nothing to do with the child, moral obligation forced her to takecare of him. Over time though, she had come to love and accept Jackie as her son again.
"Hello, sweetie," Sue greeted Jackie as she stepped toward his desk area.
Jackie was startled and jumped, slamming his sketch book closed. Adorned on the walls were samples of Jackie's drawing and artistic ability.
"I'm sorry to scare you," Sue wrapped her arm around his shoulder, as she pulled up a chair.
"Oh. I'm okay, Mommy. I'm...busy." He said distantly.
"That must be some drawing," Sue caressed his neck lovingly. "Can I see it?"
Jackie turned to her with an endearing smile. "Yes, Mommy." He opened his sketchbook. "Its a surprise for the professor."
On the page in front of her, a brilliantly colored Monarch perched on a sunflower dominated the canvas. It was half finished.
"Oh..Jackie," Sue was in awe. "This is beautiful." She hugged him proudly. The detail of the butterfly was amazing, despite the fact that Jackie has never seen the real version.
"Thank you, Mommy." He began to turn back to his sketchbook. "I want to work on it some more before supper. Is that okay?"
Sue stood up and yawned, kissing her child sweetly on the head. "Of course you can. Tell you what. I've had a long day. You be a good boy and let me take a nap for a while before supper." She kissed him again. "I love you."
"I love you too, Mommy." He said softly as she stepped into the bedroom.
Jackie turned toward his desk again and opened his sketchbook. He smiled, humming to himself as he continued to work on his drawing.
"Character is destiny."
"You can't step twice into the same river because other waters are ever flowing on to you."
"God in his infinite mercy who,
"If He really does exist,
"Why did he desert me in my hour of need.
"I truly am-
"-alone again, naturally."
BASED ON CHARACTERS, AND SITUATIONS CREATED BY GERRY, AND SYLVIA ANDERSON. Written by tgarnett25, moonbasealpha_s1 & John of Space:1999 The Classic Adventures.