Chapter 6

 

"Hello?" Angelina Carter typed the response to Joan Conway's IM message of 'Help! I'm trapped in a closet.'

She would not find out which closet the nuclear engineer was locked in right away. In fact, like Tara Bathory and Duke the videographer, it would be several hours before she was set free.

As Ang looked around the gooseneck lamp of the technical station, a horde of stupidity armed with lasers came charging up the stairs, off the lift and up the spiral staircase in Koenig's office. Ed Malcom huffed and puffed behind Peter Cernick.

"What is the meaning of THIS?!?" Morrow looked up and around from his desk. At the same moment, Sanderson grabbed Sandra, yanking her out of her chair. At first, she appeared to be genuinely afraid; then she scanned the membersof the errant group and her momentary look of fear was replaced with disgust.

"What do you think you're doing, Sanderson?" Morrow puffed up like a peacock, his cheeks turning red.

Bergman had made his way carefully to the middle of the pit in the lower level. "Greg," he began paternally. "This isn't the way. Come down here and let's talk for a minute, shall we?"

"CONSIDER US BOLSHEVIKS...." Sanderson forewarned. "ARMED, AND READY. WE ARE TAKING IT BACK."

"ARE YOU?" Morrow seemed unconvinced. In fact, he continued to work out the new rendezvous coordinates for Eagle 2-7, and the tanker. The appearance of Quenton, and Starns in the lower, MPSR Room did not go unnoticed. The security chief looked disshelved--full of blush, and bewilderment. Between the two, the ILC Investigator appeared to be nominally in charge--reinforced by a unit of armored, helmeted, canon packing blunt instruments of which harness bull Judge was in the lead. "WELL...THAT'S FANTASTIC." He downloaded more information for the ship's deep space guidance platform.

Lars Manroot was by his side--ready, willing and able.

He never did like Sanderson...seedy fellow...kind of looked at you sideways when you spoke.

*****************

"...no need to open the toy box...." Quenton whispered to Starns. He was flatly a treasonous, Lemming, co-conspirator, but someone had upped the schedule on this revolt, which left him in the position of being a Vichy, any-port-in-a-storm booster suck up.

I know how you are, Starns relayed in a glance.

"...here we go, Mr. Investigator...." Harness Bull Theyland communicated secretly. He opened the square, polyform chest to reveal a trio of gunmetal gray orbs--each about the size of a golf ball. "...independence day; pull the pin, and toss one of them; that's all you'll need; two will do irreparable damage to the anvil of their inner ears...."

Starns weighed one of the sonic grenades in the palm of his hand.

"...damage to the biosphere?"

"...no...." Theyland counseled. "...it muck them up...make them feel like they've been shagged by a railroad car...."

"...let's do it...." The detective initiated.

"...security chief, what are your orders?" The harness bull looked for collusion.

"...you frappin' heard the man...." Quenton said, when all the while he was thinking 'MOTHER OF MARY, HOW DID I END UP LEFT OF CENTER IN ALL OF THIS?'

Answer: because he was an asshole...that's why.

The shadow was still lurking behind him.

He knew it was there.

**********************

"...and you know, Greg--I truly wanted to solve that polydecimal." Bergman lamented, walking Sanderson in circles with a chumly arm around the insurgent's shoulder. "Do you realize what that could have done for the field of astrophysics, but one little thing had occurred: for the first time, Winston Churchill divided by Winston Churchill did not equal Winston Churchill; cat was spelled with a 'k' instead of a 'c.'

"I had to learn to accept that." The professor broke stride for emphasis. "Just as you have to."

"Victor," Sanderson gave him a toothy smile, "with all due respect...." He removed the fatherly hand from his shoulder. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about...and neither do I care." He stepped away and waved his laser at him. "I'm doing this for the good of Alpha. You have always been a good friend and I still have a high level of respect for you but you do need to have a seat." He motioned to the empty chair at the data analyst station. "Before you get hurt."

Sanderson glanced around his new domain. Sandra Benes, being held hostage by Cernik, looked completely inconvenienced instead of terrified. Sanderson didn't realize this but she could afford to be merely irritated because Cernik had a stun only laser in his grip. Still, a stun at close range could definitely ruin Benes' day so she figured it wasn't worth putting up a fight....yet. Angelina Carter just looked annoyed. Ed Malcom, standing behind her with his stun only laser aimed at her, slowly reached over at the half eaten muffin on her desk. Immediately, she slapped his fat fingers and he quickly pulled back.

"OUUUUCH," he whined, sucking his fingers, "you didn't have to do thaaaat....you could have just said 'no'...why do you have to be so mean to me?"

Even Sanderson realized that it was starting to be a circus but still, he didn't give up. "MORROW!" He bellowed.

Sighing, Paul Morrow stood up. "Cernik," he started calmly while attempting to stare down Sanderson. "Release Sandra. The rest of you, put down your weapons and put your hands up. Chief Quenton, arrest them."

Sanderson chuckled...then laughed with progressive loudness and idiocy.

It was during this exchange, Angelina caught a glimpse of Starns in the pit below and the object he was holding in his hand. 'Please don't use that,' she seemed to privately convey to him with a mutual exchange of eye contact. She knew, however, it was not completely in his hands whether or not the 'sick ball' was used...it was in Morrow's and how he handled the situation.

She was not optimistic.

"Want to play with the big dogs now." Manroot couldn't resist the odious temptation. Even if it made him a sacrificial goat, he would fun before being led to the alter stone. "Eh, Sanderson?"

"Blimey, SHUT THE HELL UP." Cernik meshuga'ed, and kicked the programmer in the unfairest place possible.

Completely empathetic, Bergman winced.

******************

"...so being the recreant coward that you are...." Morrow could be overheard lambasting.

"I'm not a coward." Sanderson vacillated.

"...you've decided to go against common sense, and decency to foment this insubordination." The deputy commander esteemed. "Perhaps we would have been better off if our race had become extinct."

"...stand by one...." Truman Starns continued to survey the situation from below. "They don't want any audio-technics thrown."

He didn't know why, but he did know that there was a big difference between the fat, Scaramouch likes of Ed Malcom, and Ang' Carter.

"...what then?" Harness Bull Judge looked deformed.

**************

It was fairly easy, almost too easy after the greeting appeared on the ceiling of the ship. Coordinates, vectors, trajectory; it was all there. The quantum trail of the moon became as obvious as a popcorn trail in a movie theater, into the point in space which was the entrance to the rapture corridor.

"Very obvious, if you're looking for muons," Koenig marveled. Both of them were in EVA suits with fully charged O2 packs. A stream of data lit up he ceiling then stopped. An acknowledgement appeared and a cursor blinked. The blinking mirrored the blinking of one button on the console in front of him.

"Well, this is it," Koenig motioned. "I think. Captain, would you care to do the honors?" Koenig snapped and locked down his visor. He knew this as a one in a billion, zillion chance but it was the only one they had left to live.

Neither of them noticed the shimmering shower flickering briefly in the starboard side ship monitor.

**********

 

No one, especially Malcom, saw Angelina Carter simultaneously push two buttons under her desk. Immediately, all bulkhead doors slammed shut sealing everyone in Main Mission.

"Uh, oh," Angelina mumbled loudly enough to echo through the room.

"What? WHAT?!?!?" Sanderson stormed toward her in a panic.

She grunted. "Colonel Petrov has sealed us in. In about 60 seconds, gas is going to start pouring in which will ultimately knock us all out but first make us sick."

"Sick?" Malcom looked stricken as did Cernik.

"Yeah," she went on. "Very sick. Puking your guts out and monumental headache and run over by a street car feeling sick."

"Not if I take hostages," Sanderson whirled and stormed toward Morrow.

"You've already got hostages, Greg...and sorry to say, that Colonel Petrov really doesn't care. He'll do what it takes to secure Main Mission, even if that means killing all of us. If you kill someone, you won't escape. None of us can."

"Sorry it had to come to this," she shrugged, sitting back. "I suggest taking deep breaths. Your lungs will hurt like hell, like they're being ripped out of your chest but you will pass quickly through the sick stage and become unconscious quicker."

"Whatever you do, don't fight it."

Sanderson was sweating as the seconds ticked by. In a moment of panic, first Cernik, then Malcom then the others broke ranks and bolted down the stairs. "Where are you going?" the mutineer shouted after them, turning toward the stairs.

As the insubordinate group reached the bottom of the stairs, Truman Starns and Harness Bull Theyland greeted them with a wide angle stun. At the same moment, Manroot, with gonads still aching but still incensed, expertly karate chopped Sanderson in the neck, rendering him unconscious.

"Tell Petrov to stand down!! Deactivate the gas!" Morrow shouted as he frantically typed at his console. Petrov wasn't answering his commlock.

"Paul, relax," Ang stood up and stretched. "There is no gas." Then, reaching under the desk, she pressed the double buttons and the bulkhead doors rolled open, revealing more patrols of harness bulls.

In that moment, you could hear a pin drop. What to make of these men--these Moriarties, this trio (a barber shop quartet, if you count the undiscovered duplicity of Quenton) of rat, fink Brutus;' one fallen, and two who just stood there looking categorically stupid, hands behind their heads.

"Our very survival is contingent upon discipline." A brazen Pierce Quenton laid the guilt trip on Ed Malcom. Interesting, that he was to discipline what a monk was to an adult motel. The fat technician puckered. "Now, you'll rot in the detention cube."

Stick that in your pipe, and smoke it.

"Commander?" Starns called from half way up the steps.

"No." Morrow's voice oozed down to them, disgusted. "There will be no quartering." He was still more interested in the mechanics of refueling the patrol ships than he was the letter of lunar law. "Take them to Medical Center. Have them put to death."

"Whuhhhhhhhhrrrrrr.'" Even Manroot was impressed with horror. "That's a dodgy business...executions occurred on Earth...after being tried in the international court system...not here on Alpha."

"There's no precedent for that." Truman Starns acknowledged. He didn't disagree with the now, black hooded deputy, but politics, and decorum demanded some arbitration, and extrapolation of extent policy.

"There is now." Morrow was heartless, and unmoved. "We've probably lost two people already. If we lose Alert One because of this, the method will be slow torture.

"That, I promise you."

"Off with them." Quenton didn't argue--he'd better not--as he hustled the condemned men away before they would have a chance to react, or talk.

"PAUL," Helena Russell objected loudly. Everyone froze, including the security squad and the shackled mutineers. "No one in Medical Center will do THAT. We do not put people to death." What little amount of hope for Morrow as a semblance of a leader that she had for him was completely vanished.

"Really, Paul," Angelina spoke up, just as urgently. "There should be a due process here. We don't just go around killing people."

"This is NOT earth, Dr. Carter," Quenton answered snidely from below. "We can't afford to 'rehabilitate'," he nearly spat the last word in disdain, " criminals."

"What are YOU talking about," Cernick, already a condemned man, blurted out with nothing to lose. "You were part of it. You were going to help us."

"Yeah," Ed Malcom, now openly sniveling and crying, "it's true. Pleeeease...Please believe us! Quenton is a rat fink." For his confession, Theyland slammed Malcom against the wall, breaking his nose. Malcom howled in a burst of pain and blood, splattering over the yellow lighted wall panel.

Another moment when you could hear a pin drop ensured, longer than a moment.

"Pierce?" June Akaiwa-Quenton uttered, shocked and disbelieving at her husband, from her station in the lower level.

Malcom's snorting and moaning was the only sound echoing through the auditorium.

At last, Paul Morrow's attention was minorly diverted from his keyboard.

"What if they are telling the truth?" Angelina asked, looked back and forth between Quenton, Malcom and Morrow.

No one would answer her question, least of all the controller. Quenton, grabbing the sonic cylinder from Starns loose grip, bolted out the doorway and tossed it back into Main Mission after pulling the pin.

**********

(...here we sit....)
 
At last, leaving Seven Dysonomia.  For a trifling period, both men had been callow enough to believe they would grow old, and die there.  The adjective, and the action verb would be true of them, but not here;  not on this world.  Back to the hated pathway they trudged.
 
(...always in line...(Alan Carter crooned, in a talented voice, remarkably similar to the latter Bobby Darren)....) 
 
The underside of the alien barge appeared to be adorned with representations from goliath Tarot Cards.  At once, it was the Lover, the Joker, Death.  This was not about real life exigencies;  it was Koenig, and Carter in Wonderland.   By contrast, the giant avatar on the ceiling of the vast, control dome was a single, phosphorescent line, terminating in arrows on both sides--the archetype for infinity.
 
"...there is no end."  Carter finished his solo, turning awkwardly in his environment suit to face instruments that he did not understand.  They were moving.  That was all that he was given to know.
 
"Sir...if we're wrong...?"  The pilot already knew the answer.
 
"Then we die," Koenig finished, watching the instruments light up in a fury of activity. "But we would have died anyway...eventually... in decaying orbit."
 
"I'll tip you what."  The astronaut continued.  "The race that built this ship may have visited Earth;  obviously, they're familiar with English Grammar, and Composition."
 
"From the first 'hello', I was thinking of the same thing," the commander agreed, as a nearly unreadable line of code moved across what was obviously a display. It was of particular interest though since the code was all in numbers...and letters of the alphabet.
 
"It's the gammon that we might be pulling on ourselves."  Carter fessed up.  "We scanned this same parallel aboard Eagle One.  There was nothing there--no hyperbolic energies, no sucking, goddamn black hole.
 
"If we're wrong about this, we may have just commenced our own burial at sea, if you know what I mean.
 
"Not the worst way to go...but not exactly our choice either."
 
John Koenig merely glanced at the pilot. How much of their lives since September 13, 1999 had really been their 'choice'? Statistically, they should have been dead, long part of the cosmic dust, if not by the hand of physical nature and hostile deep space then certainly by their own hands.
 
But they weren't. They had survived up until now. Somehow.
 
The astronaut was not amazed by the slight turbulence that he attributed to exit from the planet's ionosphere.  He had to admit, the dimming lights and the appearance of the eight foot tall, Victorian gentleman, bald of pate, and replete with mutton chops, black frock coat, and stately monocle.
 
(((Exotique)))  The hulking figure began its recitation.  (((We have entered Red Hall all burned to cinders.))  He craned over John Koenig, insistent on gaining  his attention.  ((Our lives are as black sockets;  nests of locusts, and a fount of Wormwood.))
 
Faeries rained down on them from everywhere.
 
"Commander?"  Carter turned, his perception of reality already going straight to Hell.
 
"I know."  Koenig acknowledged.  "We've entered the Rapture Corridor."
 
**********
 
The entrance to the embarkation area was one of festivity and joy. These times, the laughter and happiness of the adults, were some of the few best times for young Nicky Carter. His mother had told him his father was coming back, breaking the increasingly somber mood in his small corner of Moonbase Alpha and drying his mother's increasingly secret sobs. Her misery was no secret to him and he felt equally depressed and miserable.
 
Now, there was only jubilation as the hatch slid open.
 
First, Commander Koenig walked out, unshaven and weary but otherwise smiling broadly. He was immediately greeted by Doctor Russell and Professor Bergman. Then, his father stepped out, equally unshaven and weary. But when he saw them, Nicky and Angelina, his face lit up. A warm embrace then a quick playful toss up in the air followed by another group hug and Nicky Carter was once again smiling and laughing with everyone else.
 
He glanced at Commander Koenig, surrounded by relieved Alphans, shaking hands and slapping shoulders. The commander made eye contact with Nicky and winked at the child. He giggled in response and turned, in his father's arms, looking back over his shoulder. The blackness beyond the hatch made him hold his breath momentarily. 
 
Dark tentacles of swarming insects reached toward him from the darkness. The party continued and everyone else seemed oblivious to the creeping terror behind them.
 
"Daddy?" He asked his father, tentatively but as he looked up, from Carter's eyes, nose and gaping mouth, hordes of insects scattered out of now fleshless orifices.
 
"MOMMA!!!!" Nicky Carter cried out, drenched in sweat and shaking, as he rolled off the couch, landing painfully on the floor.
 
"Nicky, it's alright," Melita Kelly Geist brought up the lights in the Geist living room. She picked up the confused child, comforting him. "Momma will be back soon. It's just a bad dream. Everything is alright."
 
Nicky stared out the viewport into the blackness beyond. He continued shivering, despite the warmth of a blanket and Melita's body heat.

 

 

Chapter 7

 

Of all the wasted efforts. Of all the time that could be spent to really do human kind any sort of service but it was wasted with making weapons. Human ingenuity was pretty good at developing more effective and more cruel methods of hurting and killing each other. Truman, this oneís a good one.

Such were the thoughts of Angelina Carter, as she lie prone on the floor next to her station. The sonic blast had long reverberated away but the vertigo remained; and she had plenty of company. Not one person was up on his or her feet yet and when someone tried lifting his head, he emitted a groan of tortured dismay as the world turned upside down along with the stomach. In the lower level, Kate Bullen, who tried to ignore the warning signs of the carnival ride reality and attempted to sit up, was rewarded for her efforts with a round of vomiting. Weak stomachs brought more puking from others in response.

"KATE, Be still!!!" Sandra Benes yelled pointlessly.

Bullen's response to the Chief Data Analyst was flipping the bird but, of course, Benes could not have possibly seen it from her prone position on her stomach, eyes tightly shut.

"Tru," Angelina called down below, "how long is this suppose to last?"

'This' as in the inability to even sit up without feeling deathly ill. Her voice was uncharacteristically loud. After all, her ears were still ringing and she couldn't exactly hear herself very well.

"It depends." Harness Bull Robespierre educated them (like they didn't already know of the ill effects). "The therapy is designed to illicit a cortical response on a frequency of about 40HZ." He proposed, while all the other, standing personnel just tried to be good Samaritans. The EMT's arrived, and began tending to paralyzed, Main Mission operatives. At the helm was an outraged Bob Mathias who could think of better ways to be cruel, and unusual. "Whether you know it, or not, you're being lulled by an entrainment brainwave--as you lay prostrate, the rationale part of your psyche is being coaxed to surrender by subliminal messages."

"Give it another minute." A fundamental Starns helped Bergman, and then Angelina to their chairs. "It will wear off.

"All units, Kilo Bravo...." The inspector immediately crushed his commlock. "BOLO, Chief Quenton, and after you apprehend him, bring him to the detention centre."

"...weight is not on our side." The nearly empty tanker told Paul Morrow in the meantime.

"THEN SWITCH TO AUTO FUEL. IN ANY EVENT, YOU DON'T RETURN UNTIL YOU'RE RIDING ON FUMES." The controller gave them the low down. "UNTIL THEN, KEEP SEARCHING FOR EAGLE ONE."

"Where do we stand with the other suspects?" Harness Bull Pound voiced. He hoped that capital punishment would still stand.

"There will be no putting to death," Helena Russell proclaimed shakily from her chair. With eyes closed and massaging her forehead, her disheveled platinum blonde hair in her face gave her a strange resemblance to a sheepdog.

"Please, no," June Akaiwa-Quenton called up from the lower level. "Have compassion for him." She pleaded silently, "He hasn't been feeling well. He hasn't been himself."

'You have to do better than that,' Angelina thought with only a sliver of empathy. 'Everyone hasn't been feeling well or him/herself since September 13, 1999.'

"Tough break, June," The controller was back at his keyboard again, despite being as pale as Casper the ghost. "I'm sorry but we must have order. We must maintain order. We cannot have any tolerance for murdering mutineers."

"Don't be a prick, Paul," Angelina finally spoke up, aghast. "Murdering? Have they killed anyone from this whole debacle?"

"Specialist Bacon," Morrow stood up autocratically. "And I would appreciate if you could adhere to decorum. Or perhaps you would also like to be detained in a security cell."

"What?" Ang rolled her eyes. "For calling you a dickhead?" She waved off Mathias' attempt to give her an analgesic. She wanted her head to be perfectly clear and the throbbing, pounding headache would certainly keep her attentive and awake.

Harness Bull Pound suppressed a deep chuckle.

"No," he continued, flustered, "for conspiring against the commander. Insubordination."

"I'm not conspiring against you, Paul," Ang thought this would be a bad comedy if it wasn't real. "I would have to desire to be the commander first which I have none. But itís quite clear you are not able to handle the job. Not that it needs to be filled."

'Yet,' she thought but that time was soon coming, like it or not.

"There's no connection between Bacon's death and the mutineers," Russell objected. "That hasn't even been established yet."

"Eagle one-five to Alpha," the tanker pilot broke in. "We've made a contact. Something has emerged from the rapture corridor."

Morrow wasn't finished with her though.

"Do you have any idea...." He reeled Ang' back in. "Any notion, any predilection of how difficult it will be if you keep working against this." He was speaking to loudly--so vociferously that he could barely perceive his own shouting. "THERE WILL BE NO HOPE FOR THE COMMANDER, OR ALAN, A'TOLL IF WE'RE EMBROILED IN A RESISTANCE WITH MALCONTENTS LIKE SANDERSON.

"THEN TOO, PERHAPS YOU'RE MORE CONCERNED WITH EXTRANEOUS POLITICKING THAN YOU ARE THE WEIGHTIER THINGS OF SURVIVAL." She made him sick. "AND FOR THE RECORD...." Paul pointed rudely. "THE COMMANDER THAT I SPOKE OF IS NAMED 'KOENIG,' NOT MORROW."

"I'm glad you understand that, Paul," Ang retorted pointedly. "And no one on this base wants Alan back more than me. But I'm not the one suffering from tunnel vision."

"Main Mission, Specialist Enwright, here," a voice erupted from the controller's console, "I need a security unit to hydroponic unit 3. A fight's broken out and its getting ugly."

"The whole goddamn base is falling apart around you and rather than delegate the capcomm duties to Astrin and becoming a much needed, albeit temporary leader, you've just continued on as deputy controller. Just type a couple of keystrokes and your problems will magically go away. Maybe you can ask Technical to tie in the syringe release of the death IV to your enter key. Would that make it more convenient and automate the decision making as well as the 'process' of execution?!?" For a split second, she was almost afraid he would take her up on her offer.

"Paul," Helena Russell stepped in, "if this job is too much for you, there is no shame in admitting your limitations and asking Victor to help."

Ben Ouma chuckled from the computer deck. "In other words, we have a complete lack of confidence in your ability to lead this base. Can it be said any more clearly?"

********************

Pierce Quenton ran like a man with a new liver.

Too bad that it did nothing to help the leaden lodestar of his manhandles, and his ninety year old breathing capacity--diminished from years, and years of smoking like a freight train. You got nothing, but the 'pall' in the brand 'Pall Mall.' He was made reticent by the knowledge that there were only so many places to run on Moonbase Alpha.

Terrified by the noises made by the encroaching garrison, he slid into a utility closet, and mounted to the underground 02 silos. Air...for a man with an air head.

It would have done his beard no justice to realize that the squad of marauders was nothing more than Nicky Carter--a toddler in search of the other building blocks; the solution to the pictures in his head.

He knew they were somewhere.

*****************

Carter had taken to living a life of religiosity on nude, Caribbean beaches, and John Koenig was grateful, and bitter to be back on Earth. Well, not quite. This was an Almost-Earth. It was like a cologne that smelled of bulk, hand soap, no matter how exotic the label.

They had arrived forty years ago to a world filled with tragic, goofy unadmirers who knew nothing of their struggles in the deepest, darkest reaches of space. His roach infested, Medicaid apartment was located under the El in Queens Two. This New York was almost as much a crowded colon as the Big Apple that he remembered.

They had adapted well, and many, numerous visits to his podiatrist proved that he was going to live a ripe, old, nursing home, and beaten-about-the-neck-with-an-orderly's-rag age. They made up for in their Alexandrian years, what they lacked in good, old fashioned happiness.

...we never did find Alpha. Old, decrepit John Koenig wrote arthritically in his journal while the rats raced back, and forth, somewhere in the high, ceiling tiles. Tomorrow, he would use D-CON, providing that he had enough money left after paying the HMO. It was an incredible lesson, he went on scrivening: a rebirth, if you like. In losing everything, Captain Carter, and myself discovered what lurked inside.

On this wasted world, we began to live again.

We did have to settle for marrying alien wives with square heads.

SHE CAN'T COOK. He heard Carter cry.

********************

"Ehhhhhhhhhhhh?" The commander was hunkered over, and startled. They were in the passenger module of Eagle Anonymous now. Sitting atop Carter, an evil harridan cackled, and sucked air from the unconscious pilot with black, erotic, glee.

They were moving ten billion kilometers a second, and at one with light, and gravity, and the milligauss.

"BE WHAT YOU WOULD SEEM TO BE." The aberration in the Rapture Corridor orated. "OR IF YOU WOULD LIKE IT PUT MORE SIMPLY--NEVER IMAGINE YOURSELF TO BE OTHERWISE THAN WHAT IT MIGHT APPEAR TO OTHERS THAT WHAT YOU WERE, OR MIGHT HAVE BEEN, WAS NOT OTHERWISE THAN WHAT YOU HAD BEEN WOULD HAVE APPEARED TO THEM TO BE OTHERWISE."

It was nonsense, all nonsense but at the same time, it made perfect sense to John Koenig. He saw his reflection in the monitor and regretted the glance instantly. He was shrub man. An unruly mop of vegetation grew from his head, his eyebrows, mustache and beard. Long thin vines grew out of his nostrils and ears but he felt no pain. He was that farmer dude played by Steven King in "Creepshow" who touched the meteor and became a plant. The farmer in the movie put a shotgun into what once was his mouth and ended the growth. Koenig felt no desire and strangely began to wonder if the leaves on his head would flower.

And what color? He fancied red roses, without the thorns.

"THERE CAN BE NO ROSES WITHOUT THORNS," the voice continued. "THERE WILL BE MANY THORNS AND FOR YOU, THE ROSES WILL BE RARE. IT TAKES YEARS FOR A ROSE BUSH, MANY GROWING CYCLES TO REACH MAXIMUM BLOOM.

"SO IT WILL BE WITH YOU."

**********

"Main Mission," Pilot Derek Johanson spoke into his headset, "it's Eagle one's locator beacon but..."

His pause induced an instant of stillness and breath holding in Main Mission.

"Well?" Paul Morrow prodded from his station. "What is it, Eagle 4?"

"It's not the mass of Eagle one," Johanson unfurled the register tape from the onboard computer printer. "It's much, much larger."

*********************

It caused them to yaw left, hypersonic fuel palate, and all.

It was beyond fantasy, and the capability of the stars to provide light.

Improbable, but still, Jacobsen could have sworn that he could hear the imminent oars--the deafening thrum, and backwash of the larger vessel s it eclipsed the command module of Eagle 1-5. His right palm cupped securely over the cup of his headset, he watched the creeping, excruciatingly patient kilometers of extraterrestrial alloy, and joists roll by his rendezvous window. The way things were going, it looked like they would be sitting in the dark for quite some time.

"I'm not impressed." CMP Devereaux falsified, and exaggerated. His neck was strained--as if he could see thru the CM's bulkhead to examine other aspects of the spacecraft. "Recorders on."

"Eagle One Five to Moonbase Alpha." A spitless Jacobsen did a comm-check. "Are you seeing any of this?"

"We are," Bergman acknowledged from his standing position, first at the computer deck with miles of register tape, then behind Morrow, who typed away at hypersonic speed at his keyboard. The image on the big screen stabilized and the monstrosity, beaten up and worn, revealed itself in all its unglory.

"That's the ship that was orbiting Seven Dysnomia," Angelina Carter slowly rose at her station while typing keystrokes and clicking her mouse. "Eagle one is inside of it."

"Eagle one's homing beacon is inside of it." Ben Ouma chirped from his computer station. "That does not mean the occupants of Eagle One are inside it."

Ang glared at Ouma darkly.

"But is doesn't mean they aren't," Helena Russell stepped toward Bergman, hopefully, trying to glimpse over his shoulder and attempt to understand the data in the professor's hands.

"I am receiving a signal," Sandra Benes busily announced. "This is the best I can do."

"Moonb... Alpha....th..s..Jo..Koenig. Do...u...read? Eag...One..to..Al...."

Helena Russell and Angelina Carter made eye contact and exchanged a subdued smile.

**************

"A hundred hits by Manfred Man." Carter was relieved of the CD. "I didn't think they had a hundred hits." He wasn't sure they had one hit.

You learned something new every day.

"Who was the last person to take Eagle One out?" Koenig inquired, embarrassed as he flung the CD towards the panel.

"Dunno.'" The astronaut replied as he rummaged thru the personal pack. It had been laying in the aft equipment bay since dinosaurs ruled the Earth, or so it had seemed.

"We have to have something that we can broadcast at 10,000 decibels." The commander reminded the lost-in-the-oldies pilot. Funniest thing (well, maybe not all that funny)--in the eleventh hour, they had discovered that firing the service propulsion system would not be enough to trip the motion sensors that would, in turn, release the hangar doors of the alien spacer. Talk, and even foul mouthed epithets from Carter had likewise failed.

"Sir, I'm not sure the outboard speakers can crank that loud." The astronaut relayed as he dug thru the knapsack. "If the pad crews can talk to one another from three meters away, we considered them a success."

Ten by Soft Cell. Carter scratched his whiskers at this new find. That could be interesting.

Not.

"Hmmm," Koenig continued rifling through the CDs. One in particular caught his attention. "I never thought I'd be grateful for finding a copy of this shit." He fed the CD into the drive of the passenger module of the Eagle's computer.

Carter glanced at the title on the case. Valentine's Day Massacre. Artist: 50 Cent featuring Olivea. Song: Candy Shop.

"Well...." The pilot made dubious, snorting sounds at the stolen arrangement; and the uninspired alliteration; and the NASCAR delivery by a performer, who was fabulous, only for their ability to talk for ten minutes without taking a breath. "Sir, we ought to just set that one aside. The only thing that tune will open is the lid to the waste can.

"Maybe if we just converse." The astronaut emphasized with his hands. "Y'know...chat about our dreadful misfortune; something we know about."

("Uh-huh....")

"Let's give art a chance." The commander prevailed, and cranked the outside speakers."

("Keep goin' til' you hit the spot....")

"So, we die slowly." Carter surmised. "Here. Of hunger, and the bends. But first we get busting headaches."

("I melt in your mouth, not in your hands...." 50 Cent contested benignly.)

"The things we do?" The astronaut noted one of the rotten rifts. "Boy, you got that right."

But the doors did open this time, and Eagle One was back in deep space--a void that was also occupied by a scarlet crescent Moon.

**********

 

Gingerly, Helena Russell balanced the tray and the clipboard as she pointed her commlock to her living quarters. The yellow light panels glowed in the living area while the bedroom panels emitted the soft dark blue glow of nightmode. She brought the lights up in the living room, not to full illumination but enough to cause the sleeping Commander in the bedroom to stir.

Five minutes later, he stumbled out, still half asleep, and squinted at the analog time (he preferred the analog timepiece over the digital read out). "Helena," he pulled up a chair at the dinette table, "I said 8 am." She lifted the lid over the plate: imitation eggs, imitation sausage, hydroponics grown orange, cut into quarters and of course, bad Moonbase coffee. "It's now 1:30pm."

"I'd say you were a little late, Commander," the physician pulled a chair as she poured him then herself a cup of coffee. "But, judging from the fact that you have just slept 35 hours straight, I would say your body needed it, after being sleep deprived for the last few days."

"Are you telling me that.." he trailed.

"Yes, it's the 18th not the 17th." She opened the clipboard. He thought he would want an update. When he and Carter returned, they were greeted by a brief reception at the embarkation area. Then, the group broke up. Carter went off with his family. The Commander returned to his quarters with Russell and Bergman. The doctor remembered Koenig excusing himself to take a shower and shave. After 30 minutes, Russell peered into the bedroom to find the Commander had crashed, sound asleep, lights out. She brought the lights down, covered him then left him to catch up on REM sleep. "OK, John, now, let me advise you that I am not, nor shall I be going forward, your personal admin," she smiled warmly, "I am no man's secretary but this one time, I did avail myself to note taking so I can bring you up to speed." She frowned. Her handwriting was atrocious. "Or try, anyway," she blushed, embarrassed that she could not even read her own penmanship.

"Ready?"

"I already heard it thru the grapevine." A clean, sleek-again Koenig imbibed his coffee. "We weren't even gone ten hours when Morrow condemned Ed Malcom to death by lethal injection." He took another draught without upset. "Frankly, I found it an intriguing idea." He set aside his mug when he saw the look of aghast on Russell's face. "Not to worry. That was heat of the moment stuff. Paul said he wasn't going to push it. It was his attempt to scare them straight.

"Had it been me, they would have been pushing up moonrocks right about now." It angered him even more that Quenton had proved to be a fair weathered, Lemming slob--and at a time when the Ayn Randian approach was the last thing they needed. "Let Bob torment them psychologically for a while longer; then we'll transfer them to the more morally apprehend able brig."

Lousy bastards. He wanted to finish, but instead got glad.

"They still haven't found Chief Quenton yet," the physician continued Koenig's line of thought. "He's still in the mining levels. Truman's got every available man looking for him but so far, no luck. We tried having June send him messages, even sending pictures of Charlie, but either he isn't receiving them or he is ignoring them. Truman won't give up until they find him.

"The others are already in the brig. Bob and I don't have the facilities to keep them locked up and since there is nothing wrong with them physically, there is no need to take up beds in Medical." She sipped her coffee.

"As far as the alien ship is concerned," Russell continued, flipping a page of notes. "We did bring it down in the area of Outpost 3. Victor was pretty excited about the prospect of exploring it. Unfortunately, though, whatever power source it had, it has been completely extinguished. Unless you can gain insight, we wouldn't know where to begin as far as accessing any kind of computer memory."

"Yes," Russell continued. "Victor aptly described it similarly: scrap metal. Evidently this last trip through the rapture corridor squeezed out whatever juice was left and conventional energy technology, our technology, will do nothing to power it up. He compared it to applying a triple "A" battery to a power grid."

She appreciated and liked his laymanization, nodding, "It makes sense, I suppose but it is really too bad."

She set the clipboard on her lap. The feeling of being watched had never quite left her, becoming stronger since his return. She was about to mention it but decided she didn't want to waste briefing time conveying her 'feelings' of perpetual heebie jeebies. The CMO sat back as she watched the Commander dive his fork into the imitation eggs and sausage, not with gusto or enthusiasm, but with the need to satisfy gnawing hunger. Perhaps though, he ate heartily because he knew the bad news was yet to come. John Koenig understood Helena Russell well enough that she would almost always present 'good' or 'less bad' news first. Then, she would deliver the 'bad' news. He gazed at her for a minute, then swallowed the last of the coffee.

"This time through the rapture corridor, the base suffered more damage than usual. It's not the worst it has been and we are lucky to be alive." She passed him the excel spreadsheet with several line item rows." A list of the damage and the current progress toward recovery."

Koenig winced. Ang had developed a reporting system which was easy to read on one page, with details on other spreadsheets. It was a color coded system. Many items had been 'red' but thankfully, most had gone to yellow. Many yellow items were still 'yellow' meaning the issues probably had not been through troubleshooting. However, this was the normal protocol. All red items had to be addressed before moving to yellow items.

Except for any life support related systems which had to be repaired to "green" status above and beyond anything else.

He did note that Captain Carter would wake up to a mess in the hangar bays.

"Casualties," Helena continued.

Here it comes, the worst news of all.

"Passing through the rapture corridor, two people suffered fractures. One person is still in rapture psychosis coma but he is beginning to show signs of waking up."''

Although he was relieved, he glanced at her quizzically. He was expecting worse news.

"However, John, we did have a death, after the rapture corridor." She continued, composed. "Specialist Bacon. It was no accident and not the result of passing through the rapture corridor. He was killed...by something."

She passed him a copy of the digital photo of the body at the crime scene.

Koenig kept his equipoise.
 
Really.
 
Specialist Bacon looked like one of those post-mortem sculptures--metrical in his release;  tagged;  mollified;  and lacerated.  He looked serene.  Sort of.  There was the sense of some higher, gothic mentality at work in this demise of sinew.
 
But mostly, he looked dead as a doornail, and for the commander it was like opening the hatch on an entire compartment filled with the alien corpus delectais.  It was as though they had never returned.  The Moon was still on the other side of the Rapture Corridor;  or space was straddling;  or maybe he needed some of that funky laser light--the kind that only Mathias could provide.  A pro-bono agreement for the madness that was still there.  
 
His reaction was somewhat a surprise to Russell, not because he was calm but because of the look of familiarity that crossed his features as he studied the gruesome photo. He's seen it before. That realization was disarming to the physician.
 
"Helena, you remember when we were back there in AB Space.  The planet.  Did the backroom guys get a chance to work up any kind of etymological report for Seven Dysonomia. 
 
"I know those Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky events tend to have a mild effect on our instruments."  He pushed the photograph back towards her.  Koenig actually wasn't trying to be ironic.  His attempt to remain cool produced sarcasm the way boiling water produces steam.  
 
"The only unusual aspect about Seven Dysonomia from an etymological perspective is that there did not appear to be ANY evidence of insects on that planet. It was very unusual and it led to quite a heated debate in hydroponics about pollination and proliferation of our fruit trees on the planet." She sighed. "Not that it matters now." She finished glumly, shaking her head.
 
"John? Why do you ask? Did you see any insects on the planet?" She paused, not really wanting to ask but her curiosity was overwhelming. "Or perhaps evidence on the derelict?" 

 

*************
 
"Insect life?"  Bergman was vague, and deep into bad hair mode.  "On the planet?"
 
"I thought so."  Carter chewed, and wadded the rest of his trans-fat, Ugghoo' nutrient-soy bar wrapper into an aluminum ball. 
 
"And the ship?"  Koenig prompted the pilot.
 
"Yeah, there too;  or at least I thought I did."  Carter maintained.  "Something was buzzing about."
 
They were in the astrophysics lab.  Revelations were small, but Pierce Quenton was still at large.
 
"It's not to say there wasn't insect life on the planet," Bergman interjected, willing to consider the possibility but still trying to objectively evaluate the data, "but there is not any evidence of it, not from the data we received before going into the rapture corridor."
 
"The etymology report doesn't support it either but on the other hand, it was not the result of an in-depth phase 2 type of information hunt." 
 
"There may have been nothing, but grass on Seven Dysonomia."  The commander revealed.  "That doesn't change the fact that we also encountered them--aboard Eagle One, even, and in a desiccated state aboard the alien ship
 
"Right next to the remains of the crew."
 
He hated the test tubes--the ones that reminded him so much of smoke in mirrors.
 
"Wait one, sir."  Carter needed essay.  "You think a bunch of glow bugs did the alien crew a hundred centuries ago, and Bacon today?"
 
"I can't say with any certainty."  Koenig knew.  "There is an uncanny resemblance between what we found on that spacecraft, and what's left of Specialist Bacon."
 
"I don't know."  Bergman looked steamed.  "John, you were on the other side of the gateway when that happened."
 
"True, but during the autopsy, there was a distinct lack of internal organs and soft tissue," Russell continued. "At the risk of sounding less professional and somewhat gory in my description, it appeared he was eaten alive...from the inside out. Further, I believe I experienced such an encounter with something," she slowed, being careful not to make direct comparisons with the same thing which might have devoured Bacon. She offered her cheek for inspection. "I awoke to something biting me, for a lack of a better description. They are not hives. They are insect bites."
 
Koenig gently moved her head to inspect the wounds in a better light. He noticed them when he returned but also knew Helena Russell had a formaldehyde allergy and had to be especially careful around the use of the chemical. He assumed she had been careless and accidently touched her cheek with the back of her glove while she was working in the medical lab.
 
The commander frowned. Bergman studied her cheek curiously.
 
"Commander," Paul Morrow's image appeared on the astrophysics comstation monitor. "Could you come down to Technical Section, to the main cubicle area? There's been an emergency."
 
No one had to ask him twice. He knew. He knew what he would find before he arrived in the area. In an almost run, Koenig was followed by Russell, Bergman and Carter, moving briskly the short distance to the Technical complex. When they arrived in the reception area, Caroline Kennedy was seated behind her desk, sobbing, being comforted by Adisa Talic. The group charged past her into the area known as the "bullpen": row upon row of cubicle desk areas, following the sight of the crowd at the far end.
 
Harness bulls had cordoned off the area and moved the tape to allow the group passage.
 
Bob Mathias was examining the body while Angelina Carter, peered over his shoulder, pointlessly distressed and shaking her head.
 
Morrow, from his crouched position on the other side of the dead technician, stood up and walked the three steps toward Koenig.
 
"What happened?" Koenig asked but he already knew. He just already knew.
 
"Caroline Kennedy found Technician Niles Fournier when she returned from her break." Morrow spoke without looking up while entering notes into his palm pilot. "According to Dr. Mathias, it appears he died the same way as Specialist Bacon." 
 
**************************
 
He was a videographer no longer.
 
Behold, The Duke.
 
"Man, we are so going to regret this--if power is suddenly restored, I mean."
 
He knew things too, even if 'she' thought otherwise.
 
Atop the travel tube coach, there was maybe ten inches of surpassable volume.  The latest, hairbrain idea (not his own) was to crawl from the car, and expedite a rapid, as-fast-as-you-can trip to the darkened junction terminal.  The maneuver was as dangerous as demise can be--why not wait patiently for extraction, and a rational, stepwise rescue?  This of course did not make sense to Tara Bathory who was giving him harridan, and PMS drama.
 
You had to admit, after a while, a walk down the subway tunnel started to sound pretty good.
 
"Bogus."  Duke proclaimed as he inched carefully along like an invertebrate.  "This could cash our tickets for good.
 
"Not to mention, we have no way of opening the doors once we get there."
 
Ah, at last there was uncertainty on her mug.
 
Bathory bit her lip. She hadn't thought of that. She was standing on a chair, inside the car, peering out of the top of the access hatch as Duke contorted and twisted along the top of the travel tube. Then, she smiled. "It's obvious," she tossed her hair back like the privileged Barbie doll she was, in her own mind. Even after reconstructive facial surgery, she was considered to be a beautiful woman on the exterior. A thin, barely visible white line along her jaw line was her only souvenir of her violent encounter with the cloned Bergman. That experience did not impart any kind of depth into her soul or any appreciation for human life. Instead, she was still stuck in a high school mentality, reliving her life as prom queen, teasing her band of sex starved, partnerless males with promises of physical pleasure, never, ever to deliver. 
 
"It's obvious, Duke, you're thinking with the head between your legs and not on your shoulders. Yes, I'm sure it is hard to concentrate when you are in my presence," she laughed. "So I'll think for you, my dear, as I always do."
 
"All you have to do is bang on the door and shout for help."
 
It was obvious.
 
However, less obvious was the cluster of lights at the far end of the darkened tunnel. But the sound was a faint, buzzing sound.
 
"Do you hear that?" Tara squinted, crow's feet spearing out into her temples. 
 


**********
 
An ear.
 
Filled with scandals, and backbiting multi-fiends.  It was like an endless wagon wheel of foes.  This, supplemented by innate insanity;  lack of native intelligence (bend over, and accept the deed...the sexual deed);  and the paranoia of transmitted cholinesterase.  There were two, on his nose, and one breaking down his left hand with shit, and acid. 
 
Quenton didn't like the chips, and the bugs had the dip.
 
***********************
 
"Thysonopter?"  Morrow edged everyone out.  He thought they were dense, and he expressed it.
 
"Well...."  Bergman relinquished, almost agreeably, as Koenig exited the side hatch to the command office.  "It may be useful to just think of them as hexapods."
 
"Paul there have been at least two deaths so far."  Helena Russell fumed.  "Can the attitude."
 
"Ditto."  The commander said as he leaned over Adisa Talic's shoulder to verify the BIO-Tab.  "And for the record, what Alan, and I saw was more closely related to a bluebottle."
 
"Right."  Bergman was no help;  was, in truth, an accessory before the fact.  "A bluebottle that behaves like a hornet.  John, that's just not possible.  Especially not here...."
 
"Uh-uh."  Carter shook his head, and evinced dissent.
 
"...Alpha is nearly inimical in that way...sterile...."  The professor teamed.
 
"Don't care, it looked the same to me."  The pilot corroborated with Russell.  "Go look at the piles of mummies on that alien ship, and then tell me there's no similarity."
 
"Captain Carter."  Umberto Garzon called capably from the STC workstation.  "Someone has just entered Firing Room Three, and whoever it is, they aren't answering our queries."
 
"Quenton."  The commander knew.
 
No response, and don't hold your breath.
 
******************
 
"I don't know what he intends to do in there," Angelina Carter greeted the group of Koenig, Morrow, Russell, Bergman and Carter as they rounded the junction to the short corridor to Firing Room 3. The area was next to the embarkation area of Launch Pad 3. Truman Starns directed Harness Bulls with full riot gear to tactical stations outside the Firing Room.
 
Ang eyed Starns. She thought it was a bit much, a bit or rather a lot, over the top but said nothing. He was the supervisor of the section now, the new Chief of Security, and this was his party.
 
"The power's been cut to that room and Tru's sealed it off," the Chief of Technical Operations continued, speaking to the Commander and Alan specifically. "He could trash a bunch of equipment, which would be a pain but thankfully, we have replacements."
 
Harness Bull Pound, looking mighty steroidal, and Cro-Magnon in his padded helmut, shield down;  his inflated, puncture resistant/ bullet stopping/ laser deflecting to a point, chest plate;  and his infantry boots, stood guard beside submarine hatch that allowed access to the crampt BFR.  Truman Starns paraded past him, and Harness Bull Duncan with clenched fists, extolling the garrison in pique, and frustration, not to massacre the first person who walked down the corridor.  He was the only person in the strike team, not to arrive in a garb suited for Tiananmen, or Kent State
 
Paul Morrow knew of the plan, hated it, and was vocal.
 
"YOU."  The new AD accosted Harness Bull Theyland, pointing an accusatory finger at the pug face on the other side of the football helmut.  "QUENTON WALKS OUT WITH A HOSTAGE.  WHAT DO YOU BLOODY DO?"
 
"WHATEVER YOU SAY, SIR."  This Hun of a security guard replied, but he sounded like a brainwashed meathead, and Starns didn't like the rocket gun that was slung over his shoulder.
 
He used to be a investigator, you know...a sleuth...private, occasionally, and for the RCMP...Interpol...the UN...the WSC....
 
Depressing.
 
This was the ultimate ending to the one act play that was born of Quenton's own derelictions;  Quenton's boozing.  They sat on their dead asses, for months at a time--increasingly loony with delusions of cannibalism, and nihilistic war stories (the operative word, here, is 'stories').  Starns recognized that they needed to throw in the towel now--if for no other reason than to keep one of these Keystone Cops from blowing out a vision port.
 
Which is why he had no other choice than to walk up to Victor Bergman, and say:
 
"We're ready, professor."
 
"Ready?" Bergman scratched his sideburn in mild irritation but with otherwise blank expression. "For what? A war?"
 
"Commander?"  An ornamented Bob Mathias called to attention the squander of electric sparks that was spitting from beneath the manual release panel.
 
Koenig stood before the switch, and grimaced.
 
"Ouma."  He said seethingly into his commlock.  "I thought he was sitting in the dark?  The BFR still has power."
 
"He's in pitch black, alright."  Ouma replied back, unphased.  "According to computer, everything has been powered down except for the atmospheric controls.  Those can't be shut down."
 
"And they won't be shut down," Angelina eyed the too eager for carnage Harness Bull Theyland. "It's possible he could have a portable generator," she surmised. "But unlikely. I can't imagine in his flight he had time to stop by a supply shed to grab one."
 
"What?"  Carter had a bad, bad thought.  "Is he fusing it shut?"
 
"ALRIGHT, STEP BACK EVERYONE."  The commander grew more urgent, and furious from seeing the smoking circuits.  Taking Starns' laser, he set the beam to ATOMIZE, and blasted the open/close switch.
 
Inside, Pierce Quenton was nowhere to be found, but there was power, and on every screen, there was photographs, and telemetry from the alien spacecraft.

 

Chapter 8

 

'It's nonsense.'  Benjamin Ouma swiveled to face the contingent.  The larger print out was actually less ascertainable than the pocket buddy, register version.  For all of his meticulous scanning, the only thing that was obviate was that his bio-scan bracelet needed a new lithium-cadmium.  'I'm not even sure we can interpret this as data.'
 
'Quenton interpreted it as data.'  Morrow bounded the excuse back.  'As did his contact on that alien spacecraft.'
 
'It does seem like INTEL, commander.'  Truman Starns verified--his attempts at risk management, miserable failures all. 
 
'How would you know that?'  The computer chief argued with the nouveau, Dick, The Butcher security chief.  'Is it common in control to have officers that are interplanetary/multi-lingual.'
 
Quite, quite the Rosetta Stone.
 
'What else could it be and why would they care if it wasn't?' Angelina interjected the common sense factor into the discussion. Ouma had targeted the new Security Chief in his quest to mask his own managerial incompetence by attempting to divert attention to the weakness of others. Starns had yet to tell the Computer Chief to 'fuck off' but it was coming soon. Koenig rarely intervened in these matters because he felt his staff had to work it out among themselves. If they couldn't handle dealing with each other, how could they possibly manage their groups in the post-Breakaway world?
 
Koenig, black bone rimmed reading glasses perched on the end of his nose, studied the print out, ignoring the exchange, while sharing it with Bergman.
 
'And yet,' Sandra spoke up from her station. 'When the ship was checked again, there was no one aboard.' She switched the image of the big screen from the lunar surface to the interior of the alien vessel. Inside the ship, there was no life or light, save from the robotic camera and the sweep of the floodlight. Occasionally, a glimpse of the desiccated body of a long dead alien would appear in the shadows.
 
Kate Bullen looked away and shuddered.  
 
Koenig removed his specs, and dug his right temple wretchedly.
 
'Vic....?'  He started.
 
'No, I shant' have a clue.'  The professor headed off this galloping faith, right at the pass.  'Not until we've had more time to review our findings.'
 
'Respectfully, professor....'  Gordon Cooper trolloped Bergman's credentials with grace, and aplomb.  'The survey team could spend a million years studying, and back engineering that vessel, and at the end of it, we still couldn't find our butts with both hands.  It's existence represents a quantum leap in intradimensional space travel.
 
'And we know what?'
 
'They' knew how to wallow in despair on the wayward Moon--that, and the art of gluing the solid rocket booster back together.
 
'That's an understatement.'  Paul Morrow discarded his napkin.  'Whoever designed that ship knew how to circumnavigate collapsars...black holes.
 
'When all we can do is hail Mary that we've never run smack into the middle of a closed singularity.'
 
'Well....'  Bergman seemed certainly uncertain.  Poignantly, visibly optimistic.  'It can't be as dodgy as all that.
 
'After all.'  The professor smoothed out his tunic.  'Quenton certainly knew what he was looking for.'
 
'Or....'  Starns ratiocinated.  'Was someone looking for him?'
 
'But he is NOT there!' Sandra Benes spoke up with irritation. For once she agreed with Ben Ouma: nonsense, it was all nonsense.
 
'Not according to the data so far but the cameras inside the ship are limited to the visible spectrum,' Angelina stared at the darkness and apparent emptiness of the ship.
 
The Commander, cupping his chin with right thumb and index finger, pondered her statement for a few seconds. 'Innerspace?' He turned to the Technical Chief. 'The robotic cameras aren't multispectrum?'
 
'No, there was no indication that we had to leave a multispectrum, digital robotic camera on the ship. All of the readings showed no energy, a dead ship.' Ang stated a fact. Multispectrum robotic cameras were not plentiful and due to the high loss rate of robotic cameras, it was never prudent to put them in a disposable situation without good reason.
 
'Well, we may have a good reason to put one on the ship,' Koenig nodded, and turned to Bergman, while Ang instant messaged Chris Potter in Electronics. 'Victor....innerspace. We've run into it before. Possibilities?'
 
********************
 
The MER-III (which was techno-twaddle for 'Mars Experimental Rover' before the Earth became extinct) rolled across the concrete, and thru the dank, gloomy, reflective puddles of the high bay beneath Launch Pad Four.  The ion-powered, block one version of Eagle 5-1 was there;  beneath a cutty sark of high voltage cables that could execute Moby Dick, and with spent cryo cylinders, shortly awaiting recharge. 
 
The ship would never fly, but they kept up the plugs out testing--all the while hoping that no one would get killed in the process.  Pete Garforth had faith.  Gordon Cooper didn't.
 
What was left for Bram Cedrix was to sally, and rue, and say 'sho.  Whether he thought it was ineffectual, or not;  whether he thought it was parlous, and perilous to human life, or not.  He did like the MER-III, which was better than your typical moon buggy.  It would never make the trip to Mars, though he doubted that the designers at Vandenberg Air force Base would ever complain.
 
Cedrix recalled that the Red Planet did look too cool in passing...as had Jupiter;  and Saturn;  Neptune, with its hierarchy of satellites;  and Pluto, and then...
 
...blackness forever.
 
Heavy, my friend.
 
Heavy.
 
Parking by one of the fire safety pumper trucks, the foreman unsaddled from the MER-III, and lumbered towards the high aluminum fence.  On the other side of the gate, there was the triangular extend that was home to the number four break room.  No one else was there.  All was quiet.  On Moonbase Alpha you could expect not even a mouse.  High above, there appeared to be no one manning the crows nest, and even the map, and firing rooms were foxed, and vacant.
 
Cedrix went to the splash blue, neon-lit beverage dispenser, and selected good, old H20.  He was on a diet, and he intended to stick to it.  Mathias was suspect, and had told him so.  He probably also told Helena Russell so, and Chief Cooper so.
 
'Like water in a glass.'  Cedrix administered to his cup in a thick, Scandinavian accent.  'These are the days of our lives.'
 
Philosophy made him thirsty.
 
'Bloody fucking right.'  Pierce Quenton obliged as he came up from behind with the laser in hand, causing the foreman to spew water all over one of the round, granite plastic tables.  'And since your such a howler, maybe you won't mind giving me the codes.'
 
His begrimed hand was shaking.  Likewise his trigger finger.
 
'Codes?'  Cedrix replied like a true, inevitable victim.
 
'To that alien, Horatio you blathering dolt.'  The former security director needed to trim his beard.  He now looked like a crazed Moses.  'The one they got docked out in freaking Frigoris.'
 
He needed a drink himself.
 
'I GOT YOUR CODES.'  Yul Ostrog suddenly charged to the rescue like Tex Ritter in an American, singing cowboy saga.  He plunged his scrawny body, head on into the muscled bulk of Pierce Quenton, but for all of his heroism, and courage, the best he could do was to receive a good ass beating. 
 
He did distract him long enough for Alan Carter to arrive--amazed at first, but sprite in his retrieval of the laser from the grated floor.  As soon as Ostrog's punished skeleton was tossed aside, the head of moonbase reconnaissance opened fire.
 
Bram Cedrix shrieked amidst the storm of blood that fell on his cheeks, and chin. 
 
After losing his left hip, Quenton became more reasonable.
 
*********************
 

'I still think it's a waste of valuable electronic equipment,' Chris Potter in EVA suit, quipped over the link, from the apparently deserted alien ship. 
 
Ed Malcom, barely fitting into his suit, could be heard grumbling in the background of the 3 way conversation. His cooling unit had died on him and he was beginning to fog up the inside of his amber visor.  'Let's get out of here,' he complained. 'My suit crapped out on me and I'm dyyyyyyyyyyying in here.'
 
'Shut up, Ed,' Potter chastised, kneeling next to the robotic camera. 'OK, Main Mission. I'm flipping the switch. Get ready to receive nothing.'
 
'We'll be the judge of that,' Koenig answered from his desk. 
 
'Ready whenever you are, Chris,' Sandra Benes acknowledged from the Data Analyst station.
 
'Commander,' Kate Bullen called up from the pit, ''trouble in Hangar 4.'
 

'Controller Morrow has instructed us to secure the area.'  Truman Starns informed Bram Cedrix, who, in his horror, had totally lost it.  Not too bad, though, considering.  'You can be sure that our quest for truth will do nothing to permanently damage this facility.'  He watched as the EMT's drifted by, carrying the splattered, groaning, still alive Pierce Quenton.  'Get a whiff of that.  Once great, but now a criminal element.'  The director lamented.
 
'Decomposed corpses smell better.'  Harness Bull Pound educed.  He never did care for Chief Quenton;  didn't like him better now that he was one legged, and apt to walk like Festus for the rest of his life.
 
'I gave it my best shot.'  Carter apologized, leaning against one of the unloved soy-bar dispensers.
 
Best shot.  Get it?  Pound thought that was funny.
 
Yul Ostrog warned away nurse Eileen Griffith as she cha-cha'ed past the gore on the floor.
 
'I don't need no help.'  He complained as he went to the sink, and washed the battle from his hands, and reached for the motion sensitive towel dispenser. 
 
'You were a mighty opponent.'  Starns laughed in his heart.  There was not a single, solitary thing in this vicinity that would explain the reason for the assault--other than Quenton's need for blood?  'Unless he's a vampire, I'm having a difficult time seeing why this happened.'
 
'The commander will want to question him.'  Carter advised.  'Cedrix, what did he say before he tore into you?'
 
'He said he wanted the 'codes.''  The foreman lashed out, irritably.  The ice pack was a poor remedy for the pain, and suffering that he had experienced this day. 
 
'The codes to what?'  Harness Bull Pound prompted.
 
Starns looked at Carter knowingly.  He was out of his league, and was aware of that too.
 
'Section isn't handling that.'  He told the astronaut.  'Tactical, and Defense is monitoring the research out there.  Colonel Petrov has the 'codes.'' 
 
And Angelina Carter.
 
**********
 
'So far, nothing,' Angelina Carter, in the alien ship with Chris Potter, Bob Mathias and his team of Med Techs and Petrov and two other technicians from Tactical, frowned at the lack of imaging data. She was grateful for the restored atmosphere and gravity but the place was still unsettlingly creepy. The alien remains were in body bags, rows of body bags, resembling above ground slab markers. No one had decided what to do with all of the remains. Only one or two specimens were taken to the outpost labs for further study. 
 
'The cameras are functioning, right,' She went on, more as a statement than a question.
 
'No evidence of any mechanical or software problem,' Potter responded from about 5 meters behind her, examining the robotic camera.
 
His voice had come from behind her so it was not surprising that she gasped when she looked up and saw the technician 10 meters directly in front of her.
 
'No evidence of any mechanical or software problem,' Potter seemingly repeated with the precise tone, volume and speech inflection.
 
She already knew something was amiss. Her intuition began screaming red alert. It was only confirmed when she notice Mathias was perfectly statuesque, pen perched in the same position over his clipboard that it was 5 or even 10 minutes ago. Angelina glanced at her wrist monitor. It was obviously malfunctioning because according to her medical bracelet, she was stone cold dead.
 
Then she was alive.
 
Then she was dead.
 
Then she was alive.
 
'Hey,' Potter appeared now beside her, 'are you ok?'
 
'Yeah....fine,' she was sweating. 'You were saying?'
 
Potter blanched.  The industrial disease was getting to him--the technological turmoil, and the devolution of science.  Call it an alien space vehicle that more resembled a blasted keep in the Carpathian Mountains, of which he wanted no part.  The subtraction of dead bodies was not the ray of light that they were looking for on this ship.
 
He would have preferred to be in Manchester.
 
At the very least, he had to settle for Moonbase Alpha.
 
'Some like it hot.'  He had heard.  'Some like it when they don't have to cobble together DC, and TM on the SS Bastille.
 
'At least that's how I feel about it.'  He minced no descriptors.
 
His supervisor's attention was once again diverted. This time, she was observing Ed Malcom repeatedly slapping the back of his neck.
 
'Something's biting me, something's biting me!!!' He flailed stubby fingers against the base of his skull. Disinterested in listening to the hypochondriac's drama any further, Mathias set aside his clipboard to take a look at the source of Malcom's distress.
 
'A mosquito?' the physician twisted his expression in surprise.
 
This insect continued to drink on the obese technician's blood despite the fact that it should have been squashed dead after even just one good slap. Malcolm shrieked and screamed.
 
'Hold still!!' Mathias commanded while grabbing the tweezers from the medical kit. In spite of a solid grip, the super insect was neither crushed nor lost it's bite on the back of Ed Malcolm's neck.
 
'Try these,' Potter passed the heavy duty needle nose pliers to the physician.
 
Already, Malcom was beginning to appear anemic.
 
***********************
 
'Quenton's not even lucid yet.'  Bergman told both of them.
 
'Professor, that's missing the point.'  Carter was emphatic.  'There's a bum who was as thick as two short planks, even before I aired his shin out. 
 
'No, my question is this:'  The pilot insisted.  'Why are we mucking about...doing practicals on that ship when all the while, it's more desirable to nuke' the fucking thing.'
 
The progress, or lack thereof, of Malcom's redemption was temporarily waylaid.
 
'I'm inclined to agree, commander.'  Paul Morrow was leaning severely over Koenig's desk.  'To a point....'  He amended.  'But to suss this out, we have to face the fact that problems started even before then.  Something followed us thru that rapture corridor.'
 
'That's reasonable,' Koenig agreed. 'Especially since Bacon's injuries were consistent with whatever it was that killed the crew on the alien ship. Insects. The circumstantial evidence points to insects.'
 
'Well....'  Bergman transmitted ironically.  'That's wicked-good reasoning.'  Then, more sincerely.  'But we have no indication of any life forms here, other than ourselves.  John, that ship is a golden opportunity; more than that, it may somehow be central to our ongoing survival.
 
'Weigh that against the never present insects that we discussed.  We have not a single specimen.
 
'Alan heard some sounds.'  He minimized.  'Is that enough for us send the whole kit, and kaboodle into the dustbin?
 
'If you can keep your head....'  The astrophysicist quoted Matthew Arnold to Paul Morrow.
 
'Commander,' Kate Bullen appeared on the commstation monitor. 'There is a problem on board the alien ship.'
 
Koenig swiveled in his chair and hit the control to activate the double doors. Almost instantly Bullen put the image from the interior of the alien vessel onto the big screen.
 
'I don't know what it is,' Angelina Carter continued her conversation with Helena Russell, 'it looks like a mosquito!'
 
The buzzing in the background was increasing, rivaling Malcolm's cries of panic as the video became laced with interference and snow. 
 

"...survey team...."  Paul Morrow monaurally conveyed over Specialist Munch's commlock.  "Evacuate the perimeter, and return to base."
 
"COME ALONG!"  Dr. Hazen ushered everyone from the platform.  In a very brief period of time, he had become Moonbase Alpha's resident specialist in offworld avionics, and engineering. 
 
Both Bergman, and Cooper had joint confidence in him, which was unheard of.   
 
In short:  he knew where the door was, and how to get there fast.  The cloud of black drosophila was even faster, though, and as it turned out, he gave himself over as a human sacrifice--juice;  soup;  meat;  and after dinner tart--but his passing did allow the others time to think of a plan.
 
"...dohhhhhhhhhhhhhh' comm' alonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng...."  He entered a time warp as the insect hurricane enveloped his body, and began to rip, and tear at his skin with piercing, sucking mouthparts. 
 
"EEEEEEEEEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!"  He wailed impressively--until the squadron filled his trachea with greedy, bug intruders.  His tongue was eviscerated in seconds.
 
"GORE!"  Harness Bull Duncan observed.  "DISGUSTING!"
 
As if it were an aesthetic choice, or the act of bad breeding.
 
"ONTO THE LIFT!"  Harness Bull Andropolos ferried the team away from the disaster, all the while hoping that he would not play after dinner snack to Dr. Hazen's main course.
 
"MAIN MISSION!"  Technician Coolidge paused in half-way fright.  "SOMETHING IS STARTING TO FORM...THE INSECTS HAVE BEGUN TO CONSOLIDATE!"
 
"PLLLLLLLLLLLEEEEAAASSEEE!!!! HELP MEEEEEEEEEE!!!!" Ed Malcom sobbed, grappling on to Angelina and Chris Potter. The body of the mosquito had been torn off, leaving an engorged stinger protruding from his neck. The fat man stumbled toward the lift, screeching in terror and trying to get away from the eviscerated remains of the late Hazen.
 
"NO!!!" Andropolos objected, pushing the obese technician away and onto the floor "he's contaminated!!"
 
Angelina was about to object, though all the while, keeping fixated on the object materializing in front of them.
 
In Main Mission, it was all on the big screen. Technician Pam Rose, pale and sickened, drop from behind Kate Bullen in a dead faint. 
 
The gore and the goo of Dr. Hazen, insects taking final repast before joining the consolidation of something. 
 
*********************
 
"DR. CARTER!"  John Koenig's aghast eyes were hardly supported by the black, striped sleeve that gripped Paul Morrow's workstation.  The controller looked like a block of ice with a moustache.  "GET YOUR TEAM OUT OF THERE."
 
Simultaneously, he was giving the other Carter the go ahead.
 
"Commander."  Sandra Benes seemed uncharacteristically mild.  Fright could do that to one.  "The profile has expanded.  There's another life form on the ship."
 
"OUMA!"  Koenig demanded, but the chief had no knowledge, and no sweat.
 
**************************
 
The helmeted (or so the transformation made the crown of overreaching, fighting, fucking insects seem) homunculus scanned the room to, and fro.  It seemed satisfied that the exits were sealed, and that its audience was there for the duration of death, and disgorgement.  It would have looked comical, were it not so murderous.  It was the stuff of Gustav Meyrink.  Mulisch.  The only difference was that it hailed from an alien derelict instead of the Vlatva River.  There were no eyes--only the quaking of face, and torso that was comprised of filth, and bug pestilence. 
 
Harness Bull Modoc fired his laser at the creature, all the while retreating towards an appellate moonbase that he would never see again. 
 
The wail of anguish, and amusement that the creature emitted was like whale song;  like mathematical probabilities in deep space.  The shot did nothing to alter the advancement, and intent.

 

 

Continue to Part 3

 

The Rapture Corridor Part 3