Episode #29: The Third Eye
Hell...the eternal fires...the ultimate destination of the damned. Hell...the place forgotten by God and the domain of his fallen angels. Ancient writers from earth described hell as a place of unquenchable and everlasting fire: a place of nightmare beyond imagination.
The ancients, however, never encountered the Orpheus Wastes.
The rogue moon with its Moonbase Alpha colony of approximately 150 people had been travelling through the region of space known as the Orpheus Wastes for several days. The area was thick with debris from micrometeors, creating a mysterious haze. Areas resembling earth type thunderheads loomed in the distance, discharging impressive lighting bolts in the reddish-orange glow of the Orpheus fog. Flashes of light emanated into the viewports periodically and unexpectedly. At times, the haze was so thick, one could barely see 100 yards onto the lunar surface. The vastness of space and the stars beyond had not been visible in days. The area was unsettling, depressing and frightening. Moonbase Alpha would be travelling through this area before re-emerging into "normal" space for another 7 days.
In the expanse that divided the exploding, sub-atomic particles, the spirit in the sky spiraled downward. Cascading past the updrafts of hydrogen, and helium vapors. Heat exploded, and disseminated all around, illuminating something that had no face. Comets streaked by like white missiles. Some exited into deep space. Others deteriorated--the unstable union of ice, and electrochemical leading to combustion. The waste was soon recycled back into the demonic vortex, and another witches' brew was fermented, and then discharged into the vociferous shadows.
Descending, through infinite space, bridging the lower worlds of E = MC2--eventually finding egress into the material realm. Kilometers below, a small blue reference point on the barren satellite hove into view. The downward revolutions continued until the reference point became an indistinct form.
A ruined metropolis, surrounded by rubble, and the unchanging face of the crater walls it was erected in. Cranes lumbered through the pumice, and ejecta carrying I-beams, and pipe extensions, and skids of metal shielding. Orange moonbuggies skidded back, and forth through the slowly forming interior, dragging rolls of insulation behind them. Several humanoid figures in orange environment suits negotiated the almost non-existent gravity, examining the new construction with maglites, and rivet guns.
Passage.... ...through the work area, beyond the lifeless bulkhead of the old section.
Emergence.... ...into a narrow corridor, lined with metal pillars at intervals of fifty feet. The yellow wall panels, and gray tile moved slowly past. Stopping, theorizing, acclimatizing. Then movement--through, and beyond the deadlights.
Marilys Sing was curled up on the plastic bench. In one hand, she held a much-thumbed copy of Boris Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago. The other hand danced across the ivory keys of her Novachord. Atop the cherrywood cabinet was a Victorian print that she had always favored. Father, and son holding Croquet Mallets. The boy's homely, b&w grin was superceded only by the backward, god-awfulness of his nickers. There was a vacuum in the father's eyes. Her slender hand moved back, and forth across the keyboard. The sheet music was opened to "The Brandenburg Concerto" by Johann Sebastion Bach, but she wasn't interested in doing a recital tonight. She preferred to read about the dissonant exploits of Uri Zhivago, while quietly tapping the D, and C notes.
The mindless synthesis reverberated through the soundproofed walls. She broke into gooseflesh as death passed by her, but she didn't know it.
In the adjacent quarters, Truman Starns sat in the oval light of the gooseneck lamp. Before him lay a bad Solitaire hand, and from a deck that he regretted shuffling. So far, he had three pair--four of spades, five of spades, and six of spades. His ego found the brick wall at the end of loser alley. He was considering cheating when he felt the icy sway move past his elbows.
He came so close to cashing in, it strangled the mind with a scream.
In the map room to Launch Pad Four, Yul Ostrog was sitting in the subdued light, drinking a cup of Vegetable-B. On Earth, he wouldn't have given it to his dog, but here he was thirsty, and here it was the only game in town. He caught himself dozing when suddenly, a cool wind ruffled the blueprints on the plotting table.
Beneath the map room, and just to the left of the wrought-iron maintenance ladder, there was an alcove lined with round, plastic tables, and low back chairs. Pipe chases, moved in, and out of view. Red valves, and needle calibrations blurred, tilting upward. A network of giant ceiling fans began to rotate, casting animate shadows against the hangar walls.
The woman sat alone at the table. Latent depression ruled over the pretty lines beneath her eyes, and chin. Dark arithmetic danced through her shock of blonde hair. From around the corner, another appeared--male--carrying plastic containers. The frozen gale withering his hands, and penetrating the sleeve of his tunic.
Angelina Verdeschi was expecting Senior Mechanic Bram Cedrix, to tell her when she could get her technicians, Hugo Willet and Ed Malcom, back in technical. She was restless, weary and anxious. Like everyone else on the base, since the Moon entered the Orpheus Wastes, the mood turned from an "oh, this is so cool" fascination of the region to the slowly creeping funk of doom and depression. Angelina just finished comforting Joan Conway, who for no apparent reason burst into tears and cried bitterly and inconsolably. Dr. Mathias was summoned and administered a mild tranquilizer to Joan. She was relieved of duty and sent to her quarters.
Instead of Mr. Cedrix, Angelina was pleasantly surprised to see a man she knew very well and loved more than her life. The pupils of her eyes expanded with delight as Captain Alan Carter approached her.
"Well," she motioned him to take a seat. "I was suppose to meet Bram but I think he stood me up. I guess you'll do just fine," she teased, smiling warmly. "How are you doing?"
"'Buddyroo, these are the days." Carter grinned, sliding 'Ang a cup of processed, recycled, retreated, whole soybean coffee. "She's a 'hottie, and she's alone. Maybe I'll get lucky." He rubbed his palms together for warmth as he settled into the opposite seat.
According to a nearby thermostat, it was sixty degrees within the underground garage. Carter, all shivering timbers, had no idea what was going on with the heat sensors, but he was inclined to disagree.
From where he sat it was cold as hell.
Alone in his office, Commander John Koenig stood by the viewport, gazing at the work crews outside. Koenig glanced at his clipboard, Technical's report on today's reconstruction activities.
Rebuilding the outer shell of Reactor 4...
Final Structural integrity check of Hydroponics Farm 1....
Welding of superstructure of Launch Pad 5...
I-Beam replacement of Residence Building B...
For the last two months, with the 158 people remaining on MBA, minus the two children, every person had given 110% in their various job capacities in the effort to rebuild the base.
As he considered the orange haze, creeping in once again as a fog, he also thought of Helena Russell's warning: "We are not machines, John. We are human beings and we have limits to our endurance."
Koenig was well aware of the exhaustion and now, inexplicably, her recent report in the exponential increase in the number of depression cases and the subsequent Prozac prescriptions. Therefore, he had decided to allow a social, a dance this evening, and to give the reconstruction crews, a good portion of the base, a day off, in an effort to improve morale.
Koenig glanced at the lunar clock. If he didn't get moving, he was going to be late. He had agreed to officiate at the wedding of Marcus Profitt and Clare Bradford and had to change into his "penguin" suit. A wedding at a time like this?!?? Of course, another morale booster. A tuxedo on Moonbase Alpha?!? Koenig chuckled. If it prevented another Prozac prescription from being written today, why not; he'd dress up as Bozo the clown if that would keep another person from sinking into the melancholy that was slowly claiming the people of this base.
Koenig opened the small side door to Main Mission and stepped through the opening when, simultaneously, the yellow alert alarm sounded and the floor rumble slightly below his feet.
"What the hell?!?" Koenig bounded to Winters, as Victor joined him from the bank of computers under the balcony.
"It got us." Ben Ouma affirmed, his face sallow as he gripped the register tape. "Impact area, twenty degrees, south, by forty feet southwest. The epicenter is in the boondocks, just short of Remote Unit-D."
On the big screen, the dust-covered lens of the surface cameras displayed a view from almost three kilometers away. Near Moonbase Alpha's southeastern frontier, a thirty ton bowling ball rolled to halt, just between one of the anti-gravity towers, and a circular, one story complex. The lights inside the barracks flickered, and then went out completely. A gossamer cloud of debris settled around the multi-faceted, reflective surface of the meteorite. Then the surrounding depot lights terminated in a row, and the projection was bathed in the bloody angel fire.
"It tore right through our screens." Bergman said in impending tones. "That's the fifth one today, and they've gotten closer each time. John, we'd better alert Technical Section. We've got to bring those ground crews back in immediately. "
His eyes moved in concise circles, from the big screen, to Winter's control panel, and back again.
"It came in over the eighty-ninth parallel." Winters explained mechanically; not even a scintilla of emotion in his voice. "Our scanners were blindsided."
Bergman looked askance at this, saying nothing.
Pierre Danielle looked on, blankly from the capcomm station. Klaus Rotstein decided that it was time to obtain the renewed NLO Forecast. He walked over to Kate Bullen's desk, and interred himself in a pile of blue, and green flimsies.
"Damn!" Koenig blurted as he climbed the steps behind the controller's desk. He began pacing back and forth, then realized his action was only adding to the tension in the room. "Winters, recall all surface crews. I want scanners at full power." Koenig ordered, then realized they probably were at full power. "Have Petrov prep the laser cannon just in case....and where they are ready, activate the shutters." They would be visually blind but they were blind anyway from the fog of the Orpheus Wastes
The "shutters" were actually plates of re-enforced steel that would move over the viewports. During times when it was likely the windows could be smashed, causing explosive decompression, they would afford a greater level of defense protection. Angelina Verdeschi conceived and implemented the idea after the terrible losses caused by the attack from the suicidal aliens on the purple planet two months ago. Angelina christened them "shutters" after their counterparts on earth, though the modern earth shutter was more decorative than practical.
Victor followed Koenig through the small door into his office. "Maybe I should postpone that wedding and social," Koenig murmured under his breath.
Victor shook his head. "No, John. What difference would it make in terms of the safety of the base? None. The difference is in the people..." Bergman drifted off pensively, watching the shutters for the Command Office rise into position, blocking out the fog beyond.
"You're right, Victor," Koenig sat, scratching the stubble on his chin. He realized he hadn't shaved that day either. "You're absolutely right."
Paul Morrow was a rather tall man, short in comparison to Commander Koenig with brown hair and eyes, and a nicely trimmed moustache. Fixing his tie he felt uncomfortable being out of uniform, but his best friend Marcus Profitt was going to be married today and he wanted to look his best as the best man. Hearing the alarm going off on his comlock, he went out the door to pick up Sandra Benes. Walking down the corridor he soon found himself in front of Sandra's quarters. Straightening his jacket he pushed the door chime, and was surprised to see her in a beautiful light pink dress. Her hair was nicely done, and she smelled wonderful to him as he held out his hand to escort her to the wedding. She smiled at him.
"You look lovely, Sandra" he replied his eyes twinkling at her .
"You look handsome Paul, and I like the suit" she replied to him as he took her arm.
Walking down the corridor they turned the corner and could hear the excitement coming from the room for the ceremony. Taking in a deep breath, Paul escorted her into the room that was a little crowded. Paul was thankful when he saw Commander Koenig also wearing a suit and the others in civilian clothing. Patting Sandra's arm he smiled and watched as she headed over to the group of women who had gathered in a circle near the punch bowl.
Paul went over to where the men were now standing, hands in their pants pockets. "Well Marcus are you ready to attach the so-called ball and chain?" Paul asked chuckling.
Marcus Profitt turned towards him for the day pulling him into a bear hug. "I'm glad the Commander let you off to be my best man today. Hope it did not cost you alot" Marcus replied jokingly.
John Koenig standing next to Marcus and Paul smiled widely. "Well in a way yes it did. He has to pull night shift duty for the next three nights" Koenig replied pointing his finger at Paul's chest.
"Yeah , that maybe true Commander, but I would not miss this for the world" replied Paul. They all tried to show as much normal behavior in their lives as possible considering their uncertain futures since Breakaway.
Koenig looked around the room. "Attention, everyone, I believe it is time to begin," as Clare Bradford excitedly grabbed Marcus Profitt's hand and moved into position in front of the Commander.
Angelina Vereschi's office was on the first floor of the Main Mission tower, adjacent to the broad, expansive, technical complex--the largest building on Moonbase Alpha. Michelle Cranston nodded to Jim Haines, and Claude Murneau as she entered the brightly lit reception area. And Murneau was unfriendly. She sat on one of the foam couches, between two prints. The first was an extreme close-up of the original, French made, internal combustion engine. The second was of an eighteenth-century diode being lit on a 2' X 4' cut from cedar wood.
She waited for about ten minutes, entranced by the salt-water tank in the center of the room. Two philipino tomato clowns battled for supremacy over a fake castle. Its dimensions were such that neither of the combatants could ever fit inside.
But so it goes.
"I'll just leave these on her desk." She told Carolyn Kennedy, leaning over the cubicle. Kennedy, who looked like she hadn't had a decent nights sleep in over a year, nodded over her dark circles. Cranston carried the bundle of supply projections through the open office door. She never noticed that the door closed quietly, and immediately behind her. She laid the sealed package on top of the desk blotter next to 'Ang's laptop computer.
She felt the iciness in her hands first. The moment she touched the desk, the permafrost edged its way up her forearms, and neck. Her heart began to beat stentoriously. Moments later, scales of anxiety crept up the back of her coveralls. She was about to walk away when the iron gauntlet gripped the back of her neck.
Michelle froze momentarily. Then...she was ticked off.
"Christ!!!" she yelled as she turned around quickly, elbows out to her side in a defensive position. "Who's the pervert?!"
She was certainly surprised when she saw who it was.....
"Oh." Pierre Danielle said, withdrawing his hand, and acting as though he had just been skewered. His head hung low as he dropped the yellow carbon copy to his waist. "I invaded your space."
He felt like an amoebae.
"I...uh...oh.." Michelle Cranston flushed. Her face was fire engine red. Uncharacteristically, she lowered her voice and spoke in a soft tone. She looked up at Pierre, apologetically. "I'm really, really, sorry, Pierre. You did scare me, but I shouldn't have reacted that way."
'Great,' she thought,'the one guy who I'm trying to impress on this rock and I act like a female Rambo.' "What can I do for you, Pierre?" Michelle felt lower than whale dung.
"Is it just me, or is it cold in here." Carter asked 'Ang, setting his coffee cup down. Occasionally, he would look up at the crow's nest. Ostrog was sitting in the darkened monitoring station, staring downward at the panels with a look of unmanageable boredom.
"Well, my sweet, that seems to be a common complaint today," Angelina answered, as she got up and went over to the thermostat. "None of the infrared units are malfunctioning and the thermostats seem to check out OK," she continued, as she pulled a hand held voltmeter off of her belt clip and opened the protective covering of the thermostat. "This one is working too," she affirmed.
Ang felt a chill, crawling up her spine. She shuddered, nearly dropping her voltmeter. Her hands were ice cold. Then, she felt suddenly flush, feeling an explosion of heat in her face as she started to perspire. Angelina had a terrible feeling of dread and fear. Carter had not noticed any of this as he warmed his hands with his coffee, his back to her. Regaining her composure, Angelina returned to her seat. She felt like she'd spontaneously combust at any minute. Then, just as suddenly, she began to feel cooler.
"I'm fine" she lied. The drastic temperature change left her with a headache and a turning stomach. She smiled, hiding her anxiety while sipping her coffee.
"Are you feeling OK? Maybe you're coming down with something."
Angelina Verdeschi never knew just how much Alan Carter did notice. He examined her calcimine features, palms placed carefully on either side of his coffee cup. A physician, he was not, but he could have sworn that her malady had gotten worse, just in the half-hour, or so that they had been sitting there. Her tear ducts were swollen, and red, as were her cheeks. Her beautiful coffee, and cream complexion, now suddenly as white as a ream of corrasible printer paper. Love, and respect forbade mentioning the obvious. The goddamn thermostat was obviously broken. Not only was it cold, it was downright frigid. Even stranger was the brisk, October gale coming from the immense hangar doors. There should have been only the unpressurized vacuum beyond. Stress was no doubt the ailing star of this infirm interpolation. Apparently, the breakroom was capacious enough to support a draft. The handwriting was on the wall--as broad, and as uncivil as any graffiti. The corps of engineers was attempting to build a new reactor, not refit an old one, and not remanufacture an old one. They were building a new powerhouse from the ground up, and it was taking its toll. The tool, and dye jocks in fabrication might be hell on sprockets, and gears, but if they were anything like yonder boss, they were sporting a good case of pneumonia to match the intellectual woody that the experience had afforded them. In the battle of Technical Section V. The Microbes, Carter had pretty fair idea who would win.
"Speak for yourself, cook." He said, extending his right palm to feel her forehead. "You're burning up."
He walked immediately to the bright orange faceplate of the wall mounted beverage dispenser. He depressed the button, and waited patiently for the cup to fill. He returned, and handed 'Ang a full cup of Extract.
"Here, drink this."
Her expression went blank then dropped as she took the Vitaseed extract and stared at it. Victor Bergman was the only person she knew on MBA who would drink the stuff; in fact, he relished it and it was his beverage of choice. However, being handed a cup of the Professor's favorite refreshment was not the reason for her sudden...perturbance.
"Why do refer to me as your wife?" Angelina asked, looking at him intently with her green eyes. "We were never married....officially, anyway."
She looked down at the noxious Vitaseed, her eyes were glazing over. She was feeling about 70%. Maybe she would pay Bob Mathias a visit at the end of her shift.
"Why don't you want to marry me?"
"Ahhhhhhh," Carter said without caprice. The noise emitted by his comlock reminded 'Ang of that incredibly undemanding, and simple-headed Magnavox video game, Pong. After checking the time, the pilot downed his coffee, and turned the empty cup face down on the table. "Drink up, tulip. I have to make a stopover in Main Mission. Afterwards, we can pick junior up, and go have a bite to eat.
"What do you say."
On the south wall of the hangar, Hugo Willet, and Ed Malcom climbed down the maintenance ladder. Willet saw 'Ang, and immediately reversed course--his boots broke the sound barrier, disappearing to the next level in a matter of seconds. Malcom was the wastrel, pausing for a long toothed moment to relish his boss' unhappiness. The moment they made eye contact, though, he too slogged back up the ladder. All the way, he could be heard cussing, and grunting, and wheezing like a stuck pig.
Angelina gave Ed Malcom a sidewise stare when they made eye contact. She could sense that he wanted to gripe at her, but she was in no mood for it.
She stared down at her Vitaseed again, mustering courage to consume it. Carter had uncharacteristically ignored her question. She should have been mad; she was hurt instead. She had no idea what was wrong with her. For the last few days, her emotional state was becoming more fragile.
"I suppose," she replied unenthusiastically. "I have to drop off a report anyway." She drank the Vitaseed in a few large gulps. Now she didn't know if she was going to cry because of his lack of response or from the taste of the horrible Vitaseed that lingered in her mouth, the smell wafting into her nose. Once again she somehow managed to hold back the dam of tears.
She did not say another word to him while they made their way to Main Mission.
On the tenth floor of the tower, John Koenig had committed himself to hosing down Klaus Rotstein with white lava, and adrenalized furor. The assistant clenched his fists, and jutted his snout forward like a jackanapes. Victor Bergman rolled his eyes, and--dismissing himself--made his way towards the computer deck.
"???Are you high???" Koenig inquired politely, pressing his full weight against the desk. It was all he could do to keep from jumping over it. The space between the assistant controller's ears was ex nilo. "!!!First you say ten!!! Then you say fifteen!!! Which is it???"
"It's difficult to say." Rotstein said, the martinet rationalization glided expertly from his tongue. "The contacts aren't stationary. There's moment, and inertia, and...."
His prodigious whining knew no end.
John Koenig grinned. There was a glazed, farewell gimlet in his eye.
"That's fine, Rotstein." He resolved. "When we get creamed by one of those fifty megaton comets, that'll be your epitaph.
"!!!The math was too hard!!!"
He approached the stairs, hands on blustering hips. Winter's cowered like a wildebeest--his shoulders, and groin melted into balls of goop. He could dig it, sensing the perfidious crucifixion that was about to be performed on him.
"!!!Launch unmanned probe ship!!!"
On Launch Pad Three, the ascent thrusters fired jets of blue plasma. The robot separated from its undercarriage. As the fallout settled on the platform, the twin solar cells distended like wings, and the command module moved up, and up, and up--beyond the cyclotron of warring ions, and into the theoretical eye of the hurricane.
Pierre Danielle was watching the big screen, and gimballing the probe with the remote pack when Carter, and 'Ang stepped through the threshold. Carter paused for a moment behind Kate Bullen's workstation to study the departure.
Perhaps the unmanned probe ship could gain them seconds, perhaps not. All Angelina could see as she glanced momentarily at the ship on the big screen was more parts to be fabricated; another smashed up Eagle to repair.
She turned her attention to Tanya Alexander, who was manning the technical station. Ang had stored her report on the main technical section server. She placed her comlock into the docking port and keying a code, downloaded the report to Tanya's desktop. Tanya printed and placed the two-page report in a red flimsy as Ang reviewed it on the screen.
Angelina went to the computer deck to confer with Professor Bergman momentarily before seeing the Commander. She notice Alan talking with Koenig at his desk. Her disappointment from the unanswered question had passed for now. She was too busy to pout. Commander Koenig, who had been brooding, was now smiling rather coyly and glanced over at Angelina. Ang seized the moment to give the Commander her report.
"Care to share the joke?" she inquired light-heatedly as she approached them. "I could use a good laugh right now." Carter and Koenig were grinning like a couple of Cheshire cats.
"Joke?" Koenig reflected like a faithful choirboy, leaning innocently back in his seat. "Why, whatever do you mean, 'Ang."
"OOooooooooo," Carter whistled, wagging a cautionary finger in the commander's direction.
"What?" Koenig asked, with sham confusion. "Is she into control, or something?
"Tanya, Victor, let computer handle it. I need you two in here. We've got some important business to take care of."
He closed the big doors on Klaus Rotstein, who was drifting away from his board again. His offal concentration was going to get them all killed. Koenig was self-instructive enough to realize that if he didn't seek some sort of diversion, the obtuse assistant controller was going to end up with a gainful bootprint in the crack of his smart ass.
He swiveled around, almost devouring his own face with the width, and sagaciousness of his own smile.
"'Ang," He said, fishing. "Why did you ever marry this guy. The only dance he knows how to do is the limbo, and he's not very good at it. Before he met you, he thought it was a sexy morsel for the ladies to watch him do the herky jerky under a bamboo rod.
"Personally, I found it embarrassing to watch. And frightening. How about you, Victor?"
"Oh, I agree one hundred percent." The professor testified. "If he fell on his head it was worse.
The whole limbo comedy was lost on Angelina. All she could think, as her expression became neutral, was the answer to the question 'why did you ever marry this guy?'
'As a matter of fact, sir' Angelina thought, 'we are not really married and with all due respect you have just dumped the contents of an entire salt shaker into the wound.' Angelina was marveling at herself how well she managed to fume on the inside yet maintain a blank expression outwardly when she noticed the commander pick up the ceremonial ledger.
The realization hit Dr. Angelina Verdeschi like a truck. She looked from the Commander, to Victor and Tanya, convenient 'witnesses', then to Alan.
"I...uh...Alan?" she stammered. "Are you going to make me a honest woman? Now?" It was now a monumental feat to contain the emotion.
Carter merely took her hand in response as Koenig stood up and opened the ceremonial ledger to page 45. The ceremony was quick, simple and just as meaningful as any cathedral style wedding.
Most of the personnel in Residence Building-D were either on duty, or dancing--elegantly, and inelegantly in the recreation room. Several people had voiced their lemming desire to have the newlyweds be the officiators, shaking hands, and smiling at people as they entered the hall. The groom laughed, and laughed, and said fuck a bunch of shaking hands, and smiling.
Clare Bradford-Profitt came out of the lavatory with a surly gleam in her soft baby blues. She was wearing an laundry issued, white towel, and nothing else. She floated like a nymph across the gray industrial tile, resting her left knee on one of the beige, futurama pretzel chairs.
"When I'm good, I'm very good." The data analyst evoked, beckoning him with her finger. "When I'm bad, I'm better."
"Oh." Profitt said, dropping his cup of Glucose-A.
Then she dropped the towel, and cupped her bare breasts beneath her palms.
What followed was a scrumptious, full thrust boinking. Most of the time, Profitt was salivating like Pavlov's dog. Clare moaned sweetly. After it was over, he dismounted, and held her while she snoozed beside him on the floor. Profitt hugged his bride, and stared up at the hail of fire, and ice beyond the vision ports. A tetrad of square lights reflected against the transparency. While he whispered beauteous promisories to his napping wife, the tetrad took the liberty of entering the room. It floated clandestinely across the floor, up his hairy leg, across the thermal quilt, and along his perspiring jaw line. To the neutral observer, it would have looked like an article of punk jewelry--a lip ring, or a piece of S&M chin art. Profitt relaxed while the Doric columns, and Grecian urns rose from the floor. A blue sun appeared in a noxious, green sky--an abandoned platitude, vomited up by an uncaring god.
His love for Clare was momentarily supplanted by the expression of the day:
~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~
~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~
~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~
~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~
~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~
~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~
~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~
~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~Sin=? opp/hyp~
The technician's eyelids fell like blocks of iron ore. In his dreams, he boarded the wooden stormbreaker, wearing his yellow, oil skin coat, and hat. The main sail was rigged, the mast turned towards an outcropping of rock shaped like a woman's breasts. His handling of the situation was club handed, and befuddled, and his crew was about to keel haul him.
Then the alarm went off....
Paul Morrow was walking back to his quarters to change into his uniform to go back on duty. Entering his quarters, however, he felt like it was not his quarters: his head began to swim and he felt himself falling down to his knees. With his right hand over his eyes, he soon became aware that there was a bright light that was shining through. Standing up he held his hands to where they would help protect him as if shielding him from the unknown. Slowly the brightness began to disappear and he was able to see a little more clearly. He was no longer in his room, but in Main Mission. Dust was everywhere and wires hung down from the ceiling.
'What happened', he wondered silently to himself as he turned around in a circle. Where was everyone, and why was he there when he remembered entering his quarters? Running up the steps he looked out the view port to see that it was still foggy and there was a strange haze.
'Why can't I remember what happened he thought to himself'. Looking back at the room he noticed more than he did earlier. All the furniture was gone; there was nothing absolutely nothing except rubbish and debris. Running back down the steps, feeling his heart beating faster, he headed for Medical. If there were a problem the answer would surely be there. On the way he found the corridors as empty as Main Mission. Standing in front of Medical he reached for his comlock and found it was missing. Punching in the code the door slid open allowing him entrance. Rushing inside he found it deserted as well, wires hanging down from the ceiling and dust and debris all over the floor.
'Something was terribly wrong,' he thought to himself. Wiping the sweat from his face he left medical sprinting back to his quarters. He was alone totally alone on Alpha. Panic began to rise up in his throat and his heart beat faster and faster.
Entering his quarters he found them to be bare also like Medical and Main Mission. He noticed the flashing light on the CommPost in the room. Walking at a slower rate he punched it up and suddenly there was Commander John Koenig's face on the screen. Pushing another button the screen began to play the recording.
"To those who find this barren place, know that this was once Moonbase Alpha. A home to 300 souls who were marooned here due to an accident from the nuclear waste dumps. It took us away from our home world known as Earth." Paul noticed how old Koenig looked and how tired his face appeared. "We the people of Earth finally found our new home just four days ago when we entered a new solar system. Sending down a reconnaissance team we thought it was what we wanted and needed." Again Paul noticed the look of grief now on Koenig's face. "Unfortunately, when the team came back to Alpha they brought with them an unknown disease, that immediately began killing my personnel,wiping everyone out within a day. Dr. Russell and I are the only ones left besides Paul Morrow who seems to be the only one who has immunity but lapsed into a coma 12 hours ago. My only fear is that when he wakes up and realizes he is the only one left on Alpha. Dr. Russell had us eject everything out into space in hopes it would slow the disease till she found a cure. Again no luck for us weary ones. So to you Paul, I am sorry, we hoped you would have come around before now. Each one of us have faced possibility of death since we broke away from Earth. Yet your death is the worse on imaginable as you will be faced in living a life on Alpha alone. For that I am truly sorry. My only hope is that you find a home and take Eagle 4 with the rations that were sterilized and you will find a new home and some type of companionship. Good Luck Paul." Suddenly the screen went blank, and Paul fell down on the floor to his knees and he began to scream and cry.
Shaking his head, Paul heard the beeping in the background. Raising his head back up he quickly noticed he was back in his room, only this time everything was there. Standing up he went to the door and opened it with his comlock, which was on his belt. People were walking back and forth in the corridor and the bustle of Alpha was alive and real again. Stepping back into his room, Paul leaned against the coolness of his door and found that was one nightmare he never wanted to see.
Velma Hill, Assistant Chief of Security, shut the water off; the bathtub was now 3/4 filled. She stepped into the warm bubble bath and slowly sank back. Velma closed her eyes as she wet her face and took in the imitation rose fragrance of the bubble bath.
Velma was weary like everyone else on Moonbase Alpha. The murder of Dave Reilly still was not solved and Pierce Quinton had "loaned" Velma to detective Truman Starns to assist him. Velma was doing a tremendous amount of research and background checks for Truman both on the psychology of the killer and potential suspects. However, anyone on Moonbase Alpha, except Jackie Crawford and Nicky Carter, was a suspect; Big Dave Reilly was obnoxious, obstinate and obtuse. His record possessed the highest number of complaints and reprimands for sexual harassment on Moonbase Alpha. He was even stupid enough to sexually harass Velma Hill; and act which caused him to end up in the brig for a week, Velma mused.
Truman had chosen Velma because of her experience on Earth dealing with violent crimes and working in the homicide division as a junior detective. She was in a special unit: she dealt with crimes committed specifically against children. The last case she had worked on involved the kidnap, rape and brutal murder of 6 year old Amanda Haggerty of Olathe, Kansas. Halfway through the investigation, Velma's assignment to Moonbase Alpha was approved and she had to quit the case. To her knowledge, the murder was never solved. At times, Velma felt guilty for not following the case to completion, though there were so few clues that it would likely have been filed in the drawer marked "Unsolved: Open".
Velma sank deeper into the tub, not realizing the air temperature had dropped at least 30 degrees. With eyes still closed, she also did not realize there was steam drifting into the air from the water. Velma Hill reached for the loofa sponge, turning her head and opening her eyes.
Little Amanda Haggerty of Olathe, Kansas stood less than a foot away, holding out the loofa for Velma, smiling sweetly at her. Little...dead...Amanda Haggerty, as she was when her body was found. Velma saw her in tunnel vision.
Velma once again saw the bruises and blood on the small legs and arms..... the pale yellow, blood stained shirt, ripped nearly in half through the "Daddy's Little Girl" embroidered writing across the chest. Her face was bruised and caked with dried blood as she smiled at her with bright blue eyes through swollen lips and missing teeth; her brown ponytails disheveled and matted with blood. The small, delicate neck still had the cable, that ultimately caused her death, wrapped around it with the bruises and lacerations prominent beneath it.
Velma could not scream. She could not cry out as the little girl leaned toward her with the loofa.
Velma Hill awoke with a start, sitting up and splashing cold water out of the tub. The bubbles were long gone. She was all alone.
The glitter ball bathed the room in techno-glitz. The four Dolby speakers boomed, and reverberated, causing the loud amp to ricochet from the tabletops. Bram Cedrix did an artsy two-step, and pulled his partner back in. The concrete cracked, and crumbled, and at long last, Carolyn Kennedy found something worthwhile about the act of smiling. Without warning, Cedrix butterflied. He dropped Kennedy to the waxed floor, and slid her over to Dac Capano, who scooped her up, and continued her erudition in the ways of Arthur Murray. Many others formed a circle, dancing around them. Many just stood by clapping.
Yul Ostrog released his saxophone, and approached the mic. His Isaac Hayes imitation was blindingly perfect.
Comin' to ya on a dusty road,
Precisely on queue, Victor Bergman opened up all three valves on his Conn Trumpet. Observing from a table to the side, Kate Bullen shrieked.
I'm a soul man ............I'm a soul man
Pierre Danielle wasted that bad boy base in 3/4 time. He winked to Michelle Cranston over his drumsticks. She was looking mighty fine. At the center table, Velma Hill dragged a reluctant Bob Mathias to his feet, and mixed the two inequalities together: Grouch, and dance floor.
I'm a soul man .............I'm a soul man....
Michelle clapped, and waved excitedly to Alan, and 'Ang as they entered the recreation room. 'Ang was carrying Nicky, who immediately became the inspirational center of the universe, and who loved every minute of it.
Good lovin' I got a truck load
And when you get it, you got something
So don't worry cause I'm coming....
Nicky Carter and Jackie Crawford were the most popular "men" in the room. Nicky reached for Tanya Alexander, surrounded by a couple of other women, and Angelina, handing him to her, mused that would not be the last time her son would choose another woman over his mother.
Nicky was not content sitting. At 10 months old, Nicky could "cruise": walk sideways as long as he could hold onto an object. He had yet to master real "walking" but was certainly working on it. Nicky cruised around the table, bouncing and boogying to the music, beguiling his audience with his laughter and charm. As he went around and around, grabbing female thighs and backsides for balance without a single reprimand from the women, Ed Malcom looked on enviously.
Alan and Angelina were not the best of dancers but that did not matter to Ang. She was having a grand time. The music and the ebullient and festive mood were infectious. It was obvious Alan was enjoying himself as well.
The door to the recreation room opened, and Helena Russell entered, covering her ears against the stereophonic cacophony. She strolled across the dance floor, clapping her hands, and waving to familiar faces. Andy Dempsey, and Ann Delline--the bliss having totally evaporated from their faces--were a pair of corner lurking killjoys. Dempsey stared turgidly into his Fruit Mix. Raul Nunez was attempting to do the Macarena with Dorothy Sullivan. Risque, yes; presumptive, yes; without talent, also yes. Russell tipped a duck-billed cap at them which bore the slogan ANATOMY IS MY BUSINESS.
The door to the recreation room opened, and in stepped the ghost. The bright fluorescence in the corridor became ashen. The glare returned just before the hatch closed again.
"How are things upstairs." Bergman asked Russell during the rift.
"So far, so good." The physician said, looking around. "John's keeping close watch over the scanner, and probe data. I just came down to say 'hi.' I'm supposed to meet with him in about twenty minutes."
Seeing Angelina Carter, she cast a congratulatory smile, and waved hello. Just below her knee, Nicky Carter was walking in dazed circles with his sipper cup. His eyes never leaving a 3' X 3' swatch of barren tile in the center of the room. Gooseflesh sprouted on the physician's neck.
"Can I get you anything."
Bergman shook his head, and on the next bar, returned to his sheet music.
Nicky's bottom lip quivered. He grabbed Bergman's flares to regain his equipoise, while tears suddenly welled in the corners of his eyes. Without warning, he threw his sipper cup at that sterile quadrant of the dance floor. It landed with an inaudible splat, leaving a trail of grape juice in the shape of a pitchfork.
"I've got an idea." Carter suggested from across the room. 'Ang was leaning against the beverage dispenser, and snapping her fingers. "Why don't you, and I go get up to dickens somewhere."
His salaciousness was unaffected by the sudden, drastic drop in temperature. From Comfort Zone 60, to 45 degrees in a matter of seconds. That was when everyone went cold turkey on the hard stuff, and switched back to coffee.
He had purposely accentuated his Australian accent when he propositioned her which, he had discovered a long time ago, she found very erotic. Angelina smiled seductively at Alan, his form and handsome features a visual feast for her.
"That's a good idea," she cooed, "Where do you want to go?"
As she glanced over his shoulder, looking for Nicky, she saw that Helena Russell had picked him up. Whatever had captivated Nicky's attention seemed to be gone now: Angelina, though, had missed the sipper cup tossing but had a feeling something was wrong. Nicky was resting his head on Helena's shoulder, rubbing his eyes with small, balled fists. The doctor was rubbing his back while she chatted with June Akaiwa and he seemed comforted by her.
"Uh, what about Nicky?" Angelina inquired, temporarily halting her display of lust. "We can't just leave him..."
Sue Crawford, and Joan Conway were standing next to the Japanese Maple. On stage, Pierre Danielle caught his drumsticks on the flip side as the quartet struck up "Sweet Home Chicago." Then the Profitts entered, holding hands, and to a stadium round of applause. Stellar Cartographers Miranda Darvin, and Carroll Severance trailing shortly behind. Severance was a Fabio clone. Generally regarded by the ladies as the greatest, to-die-for, drop-dead hunk on Moonbase Alpha, his overall appeal was estimable to that of the Greek god Zeus.
"Cool chick." Ed Malcom proclaimed, suddenly appearing beside Sue Crawford. "Oh, melt in my mouth like Swiss cheese." He articulated his hands poetically. Slapped aghast, Sue's face was an introduction to nausea. Joan Conway grabbed the beach ball by his face, and pushed him away.
Oh baby, don't you wanna go
Oh baby, don't you wanna go
Back to that same old place....
"Helena's got him." Carter double checked. "That's the curse of beauty, babe. I can't keep my hands off of you. He'll sympathize when he gets old enough."
After another glance at Nicky, Angelina left quickly yet discreetly with the Captain, disappearing through a side door.
Commander John Koenig appeared through the Recreation room doors and Bergman immediately motioned to him, good naturedly chiding him for being "late". The quartet, Yul Ostrog on sax/voice, Carissa Englebert on sax, Pierre Danielle on drums and Victor Bergman on trumpet became a quintet as John Koenig picked his trumpet up from the case. The Professor was going to sing at this point as the crowd, laughing and talking waited for the next set.
The Commander took the opening notes and everyone burst into applause as soon as they recognized the tune.
Victor Bergman could have been a great Cab Calloway.
Hey folks, here's the story 'bout Minnie the Moocher She was a low down hoochie-coocher.
The crowd was ebullient...The phantom made its way around the crowd, leaving an iciness in its wake....it was looking for...someone...
Hi-dee, hi-dee, hi-dee, hi
"HI-DEE, HI-DEE, HI-DEE, HI!!!" responded the crowd
Ho-dee, ho-dee, hodee-ho
"HO-DEE, HO-DEE, HO-DEE,HO!!"
Tim O'Connor suddenly felt ill; then, just as suddenly he felt OK. He shook his head, smiling at Eva Zoref and cheered during Koenig's horn solo. Nicky Carter, in an uneasy sleep, shifted in Helena Russell's arms.
Then the wardrobe department entered. Helena Russell shook her head, and blushed as Von Carns approached the stage with a cardboard box. The resident optician handed out Raybans for each of the band members to wear. Victor Bergman looked like a vice admiral in the CIA. Ostrog, and Danielle looked like pistol packing, card holders with la cosa nostra. Koenig flipped his on, and gave an enthused thumbs up, never missing a beat.
Andy Dempsey's jackanapes blurt was half-heard over the uproar of R&B. Ann Delline walked miserably to the wall mounted waste disposal hatch, and deposited the rest of her drink there. He followed behind her, arguing as the doors closed behind them.
The universe toiled on its linear axis. Ed Malcom searched the Moon over, looking for sex, but found none.
Alan, and 'Ang Carter found a closet.
In Main Mission, Klaus Rotstein decided that he didn't really like people. No surprise, here. The feeling was mutual.
Marcus, and Clare Profitt were as happy as they had been in a good, long time.
Ghostface narrowed down his choices, and anxiety spread throughout the room like the Bubonic Plague.
Paul Morrow found a few moments to sneak away from Main Mission to go back to the party as so many others had done throughout the evening. Standing in the doorway he heard the band play and smiled when he noticed Commander Koenig was blowing on his trumpet. The Commander very seldom relaxed and Paul was glad that everyone seemed to be having a good time. It was a nice change of pace for everyone. Sensing someone he turned around to see Sandra Benes next to him also taking a break from Main Mission .
"Well I see the party is still in full swing Paul" she said smiling as she looked over the room.
"Yes it is. Would you care to dance with me before we have to go back on duty?" he asked her extending his hand to her. Grateful she took his hand and they eased out on the dance floor passing Helena Russell as she still held Nicky Carter. Winking at her Paul noticed the look of surprise in her eye to seeing him dancing with Sandra. As both of them twirled around the room Paul noticed the thumbs up the Commander gave him.
Bending down to whisper in her ear as the music stopped and the people clapped.
"Would you like a drink?" Paul asked her .
"Sure but make sure it is not alcoholic I have to get back to my station soon."
Nodding he left her standing next to Marcus and Clare Profitt. As Paul walked over to the punch bowl, a cold icy feeling in the air brushed against him. It was almost eerie, and it made Paul shiver as he stood there. Pulling his comlock from his belt he hit the temperature button and saw that the temperature had dropped significantly. Shivering slightly again he took the punch and went over to where Sandra wrapped her arms around her shoulders as if trying to stay warm. Thankful to see Paul come back she reached out touching his red sleeve.
"Paul, did you feel that coldness in the air as if death just passed by?" she asked frightened.
"Yes, I did and I checked the temperature and saw it had dropped a few degrees. Something weird is going on, I will be back soon" handing her the punch she watched as Paul went over to where Professor Victor Bergman and Commander John Koenig were standing in conversation.
"Commander, I am sorry to bother you but there is something wrong almost an eerie feeling in this room" Paul said to them both.
Nodding at Paul "Yes I felt it earlier while I was playing , are you heading back to Main Mission anytime soon?" John asked him.
"Yes in about twenty minutes Sandra and I both are on break right now. What do you want me to do?" he asked knowing the Commander had something in mind.
"Look I want you to monitor the temperature all over Alpha, if it drops again notify me immediately and send security to that section."
Snickering a little more to himself Paul downed the punch and looked at them both "Our ghost is back Commander?"
"I hope not Paul, I truly hope not, but I won't rule anything out again" John patted him on the back and Paul went back over to where Sandra was talking to Dr. Russell.
"Sandra, sorry Dr. Russell, I am going back to Main Mission you want to join me or stay a little while longer?" he asked her.
"I will join you now, see you later Helena" she said.
"Alright bye" Helena replied as Nicky Carter stirred in her arms ill at ease.
As Paul and Sandra went into the corridor she could tell by his step that something was wrong very wrong.
The Carters returned, smiling and holding hands. Ang retrieved her son, who whimpered slightly in his sleep as Helena handed him to her. Alan Carter was diverted by a group of men where Gordon Cooper was telling a bawdy joke. Ang studied Nicky's face with a little concern. He looked like he was having a bad dream or perhaps was in pain. Michelle Cranston suddenly appeared next to her.
"Where have you been?" Michelle asked coyly, with a wicked grin.
"None of your business, Michelle," Ang smiled and answered good-naturedly. Alan, grinning broadly, would glance at Ang occasionally and wink. "Are you having a good time?"
"Oh, the best!" Michelle answered. "We should do this every week!" Michelle hugged herself rubbing her upper arms. "Geez, it's cold in here, don't you think?"
Angelina wrapped her arms tighter around Nicky. His hands felt cold. "Yeah, it's really weird. We've had that same complaint all day, yet the heat systems check out fine. Maybe you need to warm up and get up and dance. Or some other activity, perhaps?"
She glanced briefly at Pierre then back to Michelle. Michelle Cranston blushed.
Before she could answer, Nicky whimpered followed by a series of moans before stopping and quieting again. She looked out on the dance floor and saw Marcus and Clare Profitt beautifully executing a fox trot, mesmerizing their audience. They were definitely the best dancers on Moonbase Alpha.
Ghostface stood by, glibly observing the mores of folks from the protozoic phlegm. Watching Carroll Severance hug Miranda Darvin was interesting enough to warrant experimentation. The elemental walked up, and parlously "hugged" Joan Conway. The technician's face turned dead white . Beads of sweat hot flashed down her forehead, and cheeks. Her stomach barbed, and constricted from the force of the dry heaves. Her vomit cometh up.
During the lead break, John Koenig honked out a Count Basie tune. Helena Russell stood up on a chair, turned her cap sideways, and pretended to be his USO Girl, hands on hips, and throwing her legs high into the air. Grinning mischievously, Koenig pulled the stir stick from his coffee cup, and nailed her with it. Helena removed her hat, and threw it over the bell of his horn.
He chased her around the room with his trumpet, threatening to goose her to the tune of "The Boys In Company C."
"You're good." Bergman remarked when they returned.
"Thanks, Victor." Koenig smiled, with his arm around Helena, who was getting her second wind.
"Oh, I don't know if I'd be thanking me. You aren't that good. You're better at nuclear physics."
"Your mama, Victor." Koenig rephrased it, and consulted the lunar time. "Listen, I'm due back in Main Mission. Your welcome to stay here, and blow your little horn."
"I've got your horn, John." Victor said dryly, preparing for the next set. Koenig hooped it up, then exited with Russell through the double doors. Carroll Severance removed his cherry wood, acoustical guitar from its case, and took Koenig's seat on stage. The lights dimmed as they struck up the refrain. Severance did his best Eric Clapton, applying careful fingers to the wooden fret board. An easy listening pop progression issued forth. Couples drifted hand, in hand, onto the low ebb floor.
Pierre Danielle handled the singing chores during the slow dance.
My sweet lord.
Hm, my lord.
Hm, my lord.
Severance's guitar pick was a magic guitar pick.
I really want to see you.
Really want to be with you.
Really want to see you lord,
But it takes so long, my lord.
My sweet lord.
Hm, my lord....
Watching the couple slow dance, Ghostface was entranced by the Dolce Vita of it all. Their warmth, and pulchritudinousness. Watching the almost mathematical evolution of their ballroom two steps brought a tear to his eye (or would have, had he possessed tear ducts). It was precisely the rara avis that he had been looking for.
The decision was incontrovertible.
Michelle Cranston, gazing at a sleeping Nicky, was feeling maternal.
"Hey," she motioned, noticing Alan Carter cross toward Ang. "I'll hold him while you guys dance."
Angelina handed the sleeping babe to Michelle. She was still concerned but she could still keep an eye on him from the dance floor.
The Commander's idea of a dance to boost the already low morale seemed to be working. After months of long hours and hard work by all the Alphans to repair their damaged base and their entrance into The Orpheus Wastes, the people of MBA needed some recreation.
Angelina Carter, gazed into the Captain's eyes. If they were on earth, the celebration would have been a reception of monumental proportions: an old fashioned, Italian, Catholic monstrosity of excess type of reception. This dance, not dedicated to anyone in particular but for all of the Alphans, was perfect; they had each other, today, and that is all that mattered. As Alan pulled her towards him, Angelina smiled and glanced at the other newly married couple on the base, gliding over the dance floor like professionals.
Profitt led Clare in the classic, two-step meringue they most familiar with. He twirled her elegantly, and swept her across the room towards a well trimmed island of Sweet Williams. He spoke the words in an honest way, and she responded. The glissade carried them past the bulky, DVD-ROM Cabinet. Ordinarily, it would have been a geanticline eye sore, but now it was part of the staging, and therefore, proforma. They pirouetted towards the row of vision ports, and the furnace of sacramental, rectolinear gases beyond. Clare reheard him.
Alan Carter abruptly stopped dancing, and rubbed his shoulder blades vigorously.
"'Friggin cold in here." He explained to 'Ang, who understood.
I really want to know you...
...really want to go with you...
...really want to show you...
...but it takes so long, My Lord....
It took real panache for Pierre Danielle to keep going. It felt as though some had dumped their Creamy Whip into his jock strap. Carissa Englebert's lips were numb. Yul Ostrog considered pouring the hot coffee over his head, or maybe having some one else pour the coffee over his head. Victor Bergman became disaware of his hands. Carroll Severance--the only other musician who was still performing--was cool as a moose. Nothing bothered him.
"'Ang, what the devil is going on with the heat situation?" Mark Winters bleated from the speakers of her comlock. His intonation was fast, smartass, and accusatory. "The temperature's down fifteen degrees all over the base."
In the background, Rotstein made unsavory snorting sounds.
Nicky Carter abruptly sat up, wide eyed with his lower lip quivering. He became transfixed on Marcus Profitt. Suddenly he let out a piercing shriek that could have shattered crystal, never taking his eyes off Profitt and screaming "Mama!!!" repeatedly. He wiggled out of Michelle Cranston's lap, arms outstretched, screaming with tears pouring down his cheeks. He attempted to step away from Michelle to meet his mother who rushed toward him: and he fell to the floor face first.
Profitt retrieved Clare for the sweetheart's hug. Taking her hands safely in his, he began to spin her around, and around, and around. The stage, and its players zoomed past them in a high speed blur. Kate Bullen, no longer having the slightest bit of fun--lost in the revolution. Alan Carter, mouthing unheard obscenities about some one's mother. He, and 'Ang now holding an inconsolable and shrieking child disappeared into the flash of self rising dementia. Faster, and faster, and faster, and faster. Past the vision ports, and the rows of tall bookcases, quacking voices who knew alot about very little.
Past the Hostas, and the Violets, and the Purple Pear Tree.
Past the library cubicles, and the yellow wall panels, and the crummy commstations.
Clare began to scream, as the dark ferris accelerated.
Past the reputing synapses; past the epidermis; past the pressurized portals.
Cash for the merchandise,
Cash for the buttonhooks.
Cash for the cotton goods,
Cash for the hard goods.
Cash for the noggins,
And the pickins,
And the frikins.
Cash for Marcus Profitt's soul, which was opened up like a can of Hormel Corn, and emptied into a bowl, only to be
replaced by the head with two mouths. His consciousness, smeared against the impossible gravitational forces, a roller
coaster into oblivion that turned his world gray, his world grayand (his world gray)
!!!WHAT THE HELL IS HE DOING!!!
But becausethe head had two mouths, it sounded like Bob Mathias saying
!!!DEMPSEY, GIVE ME A HAND!!!
But the piggins, and the friggins, and the melting pastiche, funneling into schizorama feeling because Clare's hand was gone,
and her number was SIN= alt !/ SIN= alt!/ SIN= alt!/ SIN= alt!/ SIN= alt!/ SIN= alt!/ SIN= alt!/ SIN= alt!/ SIN= alt!/ SIN= alt!/
I AM BEE, AND BEE KNOWS ALL....
Marcus Profitt's heart, and lungs convulsed like the flares of a resurgent sun. Everything about him shrank to a miniscule white dot, as he toppled forehead first into the vault of reliquary bones.
At seventy-five kilometers, perigee, the unmanned probe flotilla rode the rapids into the throbbing, pleural sack of Orpheus. The closer it moved towards the pulverized, compression of mesons, the more it was subject to the photoelectric exhaust, and the violent incorporation of atoms, whirling their dervish until a head on collision assimilated the sum of each part into the whole. At the remote pack, Marilys Sing listed the probe ten degrees starboard to avoid an exploding shaft of hot vapor. Fifteen degrees port to avoid a super heated outwork of rocks, and Ordovician flotsam. The probe's dust shields were now covered with oxidized sand. The stack antennae looked like a melting flag pole. The L/V Interface was barnacled with hot metal conglomerates that spread out from the main in an asterisk shape.
In the Tactical, and Defense Network, every day was a cancelled party. The shock canons near the perimeter stations were fully manned. Their barrels were filled with enough conventional firepower to level an entire mountain. The gunners manning the turrets peered through the 100 % cloud cover, allowing the smaller NLO's to pass by; waiting for the larger, Dinosaur crushing, extinction bombs to hove across the sensor wipe.
Above the Main Mission Tower, eruptions of heat, and cometary residue crisscrossed the boiling sky. Lars Manroot pulled the register tape, and considered the results in the cold light of his gooseneck lamp:
Not exactly a fortnight away, on the furthest reaches of space, these big, damn rocks.
"Generating Area, give me an update." John Koenig said, seated at the technical section workstation. 'Ang's arguable status report lay dog-eared atop the keyboard "What's up with that power loss?"
Helena Russell stood near the main beam on the computer deck. Somewhere along the line, she traded in her funny hat for a major frown.
"Proximity alert, commander." Manroot appended. "More debris is heading our way. Right from the business end of the Orpheus Effect."
"Sorry, sir, we're just not seeing it." Carter Jackson said over the comm speakers. "From where I'm sitting, the core is stable. Capable of full power. I'm not reading any heat loss."
"I thought we were supposed to be in the eye of the storm." Rotstein bitched to Lars Manroot.
"Electrons can only move in one direction." Manroot retorted wearily from the mainframe desk. "There are hundreds of billions of particles out there. Each one is charged with enough kinetic energy to blow the Moon back to Earth. It's not predictable, it's chaotic.
"Sorry, if that ruins your day off, Klaus."
The commstation at Winter's desk be-booped and Dr. Bob Mathias' face appeared on the monitor.
"Dr. Russell, please," a concerned looking Mathias requested. The cries of a child could be discerned in the background.
Helena Russell bolted toward the monitor. "Yes, Bob? What's going on?" The child's crying was getting louder.
"We had an emergency in the recreation room. Marcus Profitt has passed out," Mathias paused then raised his voice to be heard over Nicky Carter's wails. "Could you come to Medical right away?"
"I'm on my way," as Russell answered with a raised voice into the commstation. "Bob, what's wrong with the baby?" she asked with wrinkled brow. The wails had changed into full tilt screams and were reverberating through Main Mission.
"We're running tests now!! We haven't found anything yet!!!" Mathias immediately cut the link. Somehow, that answer did not surprise her.
"John," Helena Russell looked up.
Commander Koenig nodded as she left the room. He leaned back in the low-rider, plastic chair, shook his head--effectively rolling the migraine from one side of his skull to the other--and started examining the main power grid again. The inch high, jiveass gremlin perched atop his scalp with his pick axe. His lunch break being over, he proceeded to mine for gold again.
"Winters, locate Professor Bergman, and Joan Conway. Tell them I need them in here--STAT."
Dr. Helena Russell rushed through corridor 15 to access a side entrance to Medical Center, straight into the patient monitoring room. Dr. Mathias was standing at EEG and EKG monitors labeled "CARTER"; his face was a mask of studious curiosity. Beyond the observation window, Angelina Carter was holding and gently rocking an unconscious Nicky Carter; red and blue monitor leads from his temple and his chest draped over the sides of the chair connected to the medical computers in the wall behind her. The baby would grimace, twitch and whimper intermittently. Alan Carter, expressionless, was pacing nervously in front of her.
Helena immediately walked over to the monitors labeled "PROFITT". The EKG and the EEG readouts, both current and within the last 1/2 hour did not show anything abnormal. In the observation window beyond Profitt's monitors, Marcus Profitt, sitting up relaxing in bed, was holding the hand of his wife Clare.
"What's the diagnosis on Marcus Profitt, Bob? What happened to him?" Helena asked as she queried baseline brain waves and heart rhythms to overlay on the monitor graphs for a comparison study.
"Absolutely nothing." Mathias said, neatly tucking several sheets of notebook paper into a black, hardcover volume. "There's no record of any diabetic, or epileptic seizures in his medical history. If I didn't know his boss as well as I do, I'd say it was exhaustion. There was some decreased motor activity when he first woke up, but no worse than your average tech-head who's been pulling twenty hour shifts."
Mathias removed his glasses, and capped his ink pen.
"I can run a second neurological series on him if you like; maybe an arteriogram. I think we'll just be wasting our film. Drilling holes in his brain, and stomach is all well, and good, but I think we ought to try letting him have a good night's sleep first. If that doesn't work, then we can pull out the corkscrews, and do the medieval torture thing."
Mathias gripped the tome's glue binding with both hands. On the front cover, there was an illustration of a golden pyramid in the trackless desert. Beside the pyramid, there was a riderless camel, nodding off beneath a palm tree. The overlay showed three blue corneas, with Betty Boop eye lashes, angling to form a triangle. God save them, for the world it almost looked like one of those cheesy, sensationalistic, books on the occult that Time/Life had so shamelessly huckstered on Earth. The type with huge photo inserts, and a semiliterate, totally unsubstantiated text that was printed in sixteen point typeset.
The book's title was in raised, gold leaf letters. The Third Eye, by Robert Spotiswood.
"No," Helena agreed, reviewing the blood work results. "That will not be necessary. I would, however, like to keep him overnight and continued monitoring him." She finished, making a notation in his chart.
Helena did not like "mysteries" in medicine; all tests showed there was no reason for a 30 something man in excellent health to just collapse. Angelina had taken extra steps to ensure her people received adequate time off when they pulled extra long shifts. Dr. Russell did not believe the "exhaustion" theory; there had to be a cause for the effect. Right now, though, she could not even speculate on a reason.
Helena moved to the monitors designated for Nicholas Carter. Her eyes widened slightly when she read the EEG, though, in case Alan or Ang looked in her direction, for their sake, she kept her expression neutral. The human brain normally emitted primarily alpha waves and sometimes beta waves. Another wave type, lambda variant was seen very rarely. Lambda variant waves had been linked to individuals who claimed to possess extraordinary mental and psychic abilities. It was so rare to see lambda variant waves that most medical professionals were only familiar with the pattern in standard textbooks.
Nicky Carter was making medical history; at that moment the presence of the lambda variant wave patterns was nearly as predominate as the alpha wave patterns, despite his unconscious state.
"Good Lord," Helena murmured, perusing the results of the CATscan and, of course, finding no physical abnormality.
"Well, Bob, what do you make of this?" Then, motioning to Ang, who was still rocking the baby and stroking his hair, and Alan, who was still pacing, "Have you told them?"
Mathias was about to ratiocinate when Marcus Profitt took to rapping on the transparency. With his hung over mop, and blue karate pajamas, he looked like the loser in a kickboxing match with Sonny Chiba.
"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," The physician said adorably.
Marcus Profitt declared, his voice muffled by the Plexiglas.
"What's that?" Mathias asked, tilting his head. "I say--kind of hard to hear you, old chap."
("I said 'I'm leaving.' I feel okay. Thanks. For the celery sticks, and cheese.")
Profitt's eyebrow raised suspiciously, as if he couldn't decide whether he was being patronized, or not.
"Oh," Mathias p'shawed. "Don't mention it."
Afterwards, he promptly closed the privacy screen. The Welshman was due for an enema in about fifteen minutes. He'd love that. There was no urologist on Moonbase Alpha; at least not in the strictest sense of the word, so they all took turns performing the art. Parker lost the coin toss, so it was his imbroglio. Clare would desire to stay, but Mathias suspected she would find the inner chutzpah to pry herself away for that one.
"No, I haven't said anything, yet." The physician said, coming back around to Nicky Carter. "It's speculative, at best. I'd rather exhaust the somatic possibilities first."
"Agreed," Russell again nodded, now studying Nicky's chart. "I see that he is scheduled for an MRI in 30 minutes. You've also given him the maximum dose of Adavain for a sedative but that does not appear to be helping."
Russell flipped the page of the chart, reviewing the results of the tests so far.
Skull series x-ray....normal
Brain thermalgraphic plate .... normal
Abdominal series thermographic plate...normal
CBC ... normal
Electrolytes ... normal
"He'll have to be given electrically induced slumber to keep him perfectly still for the MRI." Helena paused. "It has never been done on a child so young but we really have no other choice, do we?"
At that point, Helena Russell turned toward the door leading to the ward. Alan Carter had step inside; he was not looking pleased and in fact, exuded anger and extreme annoyance.
"What's it all about?" He inquired, politely enough, though his unrequited rage chipped at the dam like a claw hammer. Illuminated only by the lights of the surrounding panels, his face looked wizened, and old beyond his tenure. The look of a man who had grown weary of word searches, and jigsaw puzzles. A sub rosa conversation passed between them, and Helena Russell was reminded not to hand him one. "Why is he in here?
"What's wrong with him, Helena? Why is he all doped up? What's up with those electrodes? Huh?" They reminded the pilot of an old B-Movie he once saw called Gorlak's Brain, only it wasn't for chrissake Gorlak in there. It was his boy. "Why is it that you, and Mathias have suddenly lost the power of speech? Under normal circumstances, that asshole never shuts up.
"Are my questions too hard for you? Is that it? No need to answer. That blank stare tells me everything. But there's more to the story. For the past couple of hours, you two have run around here like morticians. You act like I'm one of your psyche patients--too stoned to know the difference between honesty, and a put-up job.
"Well, doc, I regret to inform you, you're wrong. As a matter of fact, I'm not leaving here until I get some answers.
"Decent answers. Not Dr. Bob's smart-aleck bullshit; not Sullivan trying to decoy me by telling me how milk is nature's most perfect food. You're the physician attending my son, and at this time, I demand to know what your diagnosis is."
Carter folded his arms over his chest, and waited trenchantly.
'What the hell,' Helena thought. 'He won't believe it anyway; actually, I'm not sure I'm believing it either.'
"Alan," Helena replied in her most calm and professional demeanor. "I understand that you are upset. Nicky has been sedated because his crying and screaming was so strong, so forceful, that I was concerned he would permanently damage his vocal chords."
"The results of the tests we have run so far do not reveal a physical cause for his distress. An MRI is going to be done in about 25 minutes, but, frankly, I would not be at all surprised if it turns out to be normal."
She motioned him to the EEG monitor. "The problem is his brain wave patterns are not normal in the conventional sense. He is producing the normal alpha and beta type waves but he is also emanating a very rare waveform called lambda variant. These wave forms have been associated in individuals with mental or psychic abilities: paranormal powers."
She waited for his reaction, waiting for it all to sink in.
"Paranormal powers?" Carter enunciated, trying the phrase on for size. He looked up at the ceiling, and counted to ten. An ounce of sanity, teetering up, and down, in the back of his mind, assured him this was a joke. When he looked at the physician again, she would fess up; admit that she was pulling his chain; acknowledge his common sense by justifying her horrendously awful punch line. The pilot had a dreg of sympathy for the head of Moonbase medical. She had obviously become a cold freak in the scuttle for life. She was bereft of a sense of humor, and her attempt to master the art was pitiful, and unhilarious. Helena Russell was weird.
He thought Mathias was a patronizing SOB. In retrospect, Carter didn't know when he was well off.
"Paranormal?" He repeated, grinning fatuously. "Paranormal, as in Tarot Cards, and Oujia Boards, and crystal balls.
"What gives?" He said, waving to Pierre Danielle as he walked by in the corridor. "Are you saying that when he grows up he's going to have his own TV Show--'Crossing Over With Nick Carter.' I like it. Hey, maybe he can help bring peace to some huggermugger by letting him talk to his dead parakeet one last time. At the same time, he can lard the dole on the old man, eh?
"No offence, doc, but your sense of humor sucks."
While the Chief of Reconnaissance was expressing his disbelief in the supernatural and telling the Chief and Assistant Chief of Medical that their diagnosis was full of shit, the Chief of Technical Operations held her son tightly, her cheek against his, as he moaned and whimpered. Her eyelids were weighed down by stress and fatigue.
The mob emerged from the fog. The dark skinned man, hands bond behind his back, pleaded and begged as the beings covered in sheets pushed him toward the tall Cottonwood tree. The leader of the gang threw a rope over the strongest and tallest branch while another fit the noose over the man's head and pulled the knot against his neck.
The man with the noose dropped to his knees, crying, praying and begging for mercy. The gang pulled the rope from behind him.
The man wheezed for air and cried out as they pulled him up, then let him fall quickly, stopping just inches from the ground. He kicked and struggled, as his tongue protruded and his eyes bulged; a river of blood issued from his nose and ears. They pulled him up s-l-o-w-l-y...then let him drop to within one foot of the ground....the sickening "pop" as his neck broke was amplified 1000 times.
The man on the rope and the mob disappeared. A faceless thing in tails and top hat, motioned to her with a white gloved hand.....come...come to me.....
Angelina Carter flinched, wide eyed and disorientated, staring at Dr. Russell.
"Ang?" she shook her gently. "Are you OK?"
Angelina looked up. A nurse had taken the baby, prepping him for his MRI.
"I...uh..." Angelina was terrified. She closed her eyes and shook her head. "Just a bad dream...just a bad dream."
Tanya Alexander was drying her hair, and negotiating the open floor between the lavatory, and her living room. A gossamer cloud of cigarette smoke drifted between the lamp post, and her coffee table. She saw the outline against her print of the Grand Banks Of Nova Scotia. Too late, she realized as the claw seized a hank full of her sultry, Berliner brown hair. She wailed in pain as she was dragged backwards onto the couch.
"Sensitive tonight, aren't we?" Sloven said, taking another harsh drag from his Camel. It took a special occasion for him to light up. No gold, or silver jubilee had revived his addiction. He was in a good mood tonight. He just felt like a butt.
He blew it in the assistant controller's face.
"!!!Bastard!!!" Tanya cried. She half tempted to use her bath robe belt as a garrote. "???How did you get in here???"
"Sensitive, and disrespectful." Sloven decided, tapping an ash onto her floor. "You know the score, pie. I've got a purple sleeve. I can go anywhere I like."
In the throw-away, neglected tubes of artificial light, he looked like the millenium's answer to Adolph. The Rhineland, and Munich, both forthcoming. Tanya stood, backing away from the Orwell-loving security guard. He sat poised on the couch, smoking, and eyeing her like a Playboy Bunny. His concern for her concern was half of a half. She noticed disparagingly that it was her comlock he was holding.
"What do you want?"
"What planets are out there?" Sloven asked thoughtfully, all ears, and portentousness.
"Idiot. There are no planets." Tanya relaxed, brushing her hair back with a perfumed hand. "The Moon is in a slow zone. No planets, no stars, no nothing. Just that electrochemical vomit you see out the window."
She pointed towards the viewports.
"Even if there were, why can't you wait to find out? The same as everyone else?"
"Let's just say, I like to be ahead of the game. Would you like me to leave, and never come back." He proposed. The ash fell upon her couch, and broke apart into a billion, infinitesimal pieces. His glare ran quivers along her lonely mid-section. Later, after he was done enjoying himself on her, she would purge herself before the porcelain deity.
"Why?" She smiled.
"Why not?" Sloven said.
"I'll tell Commander Koenig."
"Fine." Sloven nodded, acceptance poured from his gizzard like sweat. "Do it...and I'll let him know one, or two things about his command staff that he also needs to be aware of."
"No. No, you wouldn't." Tanya said uncertainly. He saw her panting.
"Who's your puff daddy?"
The assistant controller crashed against the bench seat from the force of the blow. She slid across the table, and landed on her lower back. Her robe was stained with Vegetable-A, and a cracked cartridge of India ink. When she reported for duty the following morning, she would have a major hematoma on her left thigh, and trowels of foundation makeup to cover the shiner on her left cheek. Bob Mathias would be avoided like an outbreak of leprosy.
Eventually the stars, and the birds, and the pound signs dissipated. When she finally found the gumption to look over the table, the security guard was gone.
Angelina Carter sat at her desk in technical, staring at the 21" monitor as the graph plotted from the data she inputted into the spreadsheet. The power levels were steady. There was no indication that the problem with the intermittent perceived drop in temperature.
The results of the pareto chart for the primary cause was dismal and unsatisfactory: External Forces. This explanation was almost as bad as "Miscellaneous" or "Other" in the world of engineering problem solving. Ang shook her head; the Commander and the Professor would not be pleased and frankly, she wasn't pleased either.
Angelina was alone in the main technical section and it was late in the evening. After Marcus Profitt's fainting incident, she cut everyone's hours back to a reasonable limit of 50 hours per week. Her people, for the most part, were too gung ho in repairing the base, perhaps desiring a return to a sense of "normality." Angelina mused that if she didn't pull the reins of common sense, her people would be dead and never see the ribbon cutting ceremonies of re-opening Residence Building B and Launch Pad 3.
The Chief of Technical Operations rubbed the corners of her eyes. She was worried about Nicky and his diagnosis of "paranormal brain wave patterns." She was more concerned about Alan; he was not taking this diagnosis well at all. Actually, he refused to believe it, referring to Dr. Russell and Dr. Mathias as "those incompetent quacks". Oh yes, he used other descriptive expressions, that were not nearly as kind. She powered down her PC.
As she walked out of her office, the doors from the reception area to the main corridor spontaneously closed. Ang tried her comlock. They remained closed. She tried the key pad on the wall. They remained closed.
As Angelina approached the compost, the "Technical Section" wallpaper on the monitor disappeared and was immediately replaced by static and snow.
"Paul?" She hit a button on the commstation.
"Main Mission. This is technical. Do you read me?"
Angelina unclipped her comlock from her belt. "Paul?"
She started to become nervous. She speed dialed another code. "Alan?"
Suddenly, all of the lights went out in the room except for the snow and static on the CommPost monitor. The red emergency lights did not automatically activate. The solitary glow from the CommPost cast long shadows on the black wall panels. Angelina suddenly felt an arctic like blast of cold air as the temperature of the room plummeted at least 20 degrees. She began shaking uncontrollably and her teeth chattered as a million and one icy knives cut into her, through her clothing.
Then she heard the footsteps.
"Who's there?" Ang peered into the darkness, as she felt her way to the wall housing the emergency alarm button.
"!!!!Who's there?!?!" Suddenly she felt overwhelming anxiety....fear...TERROR!! "Who's there!?!?!?! DAMMIT! ANSWER ME!!!!"
The lines between reality and imagination suddenly became a blur. She fancied her soul beginning to detach itself, abandoning her physical body, as she felt she might black out. Angelina was certain that she was about to die. Rigorous training from long ago caused her to unconsciously recite The Hail Mary.
The footsteps came closer and closer.....Gasping, she squinted. The faceless thing in tails and top hat with white gloves...beckoning her...
"No," she whispered hoarsely, and turning, abruptly activated the emergency alarm.
As alert klaxon reverberated through the room, she felt a pair of hands slide about her waist. She screamed, as she defensively elbowed her assailant hard in the ribs with her elbow. Her attacker lost his balance, falling backwards and knocking over a cart with a microscope and a box of cross sections.
Angelina, stumbling in the dark, dashed to the door.
"Help me!!! Help!!! I'm trapped inside. For God's sakes, help me!!! There's someone in here trying to kill me!!!!"
"Don't expect me to explain it." Rotstein caterwauled proudly:yet another shovel full of earth onto his ever deepening grave. The deputy's self-involvement was audacious, to say the least. In praise of me, was Rotstein's crux. To the neutral observer, he was Edward, The Great, and Edward, The Black Prince--joined together at the DNA level. The fact that he was riding a wheelchair into Mount Vesuvius seemed a source of great distress to everyone, except himself.
John Koenig almost herniated himself with laughter. Only the temperature bursts from the ion sea beyond the vision ports could bring him out of it.
"Sweet, Rotstein." He replied, his gorge growing buoyant. "I don't expect diddley skunk from you.
The commander stood drumming his fingers against the technical workstation while Bergman studied the ancient reflection on the big screen. The image was upper blue, and black, fading to moss green in the center, framed in the familiar orange diadems. There was no accompanying audio byte. The blasphemed demigods of The Orpheus Wastes had fallen silent. There was only light, and sharp, dramatic peaks, followed by a sudden plunge into the forever chasm. Andy Dempsey watched, transfixed at the foot of the screen with his clip board. The linkage from spaced-out mind to pen had long since disengaged.
"Better get Helena up here." The professor demurred, carefully rubbing the back of his head. "It's a little out of my field," he explained. "But I can tell you this--it's a brain wave. A human brain wave."
"Coming from some one on Alpha." Koenig conjectured. His cogent waned.
"No...it's coming from our unmanned probe ship." The professor said, turning to face him. "That feedback is emanating from the outboard sensor array."
He nodded persuasively three times. The odd ball complexity was stultifying, but there it was.
At that point, Angelina Verdeschi's alert was given hearance.
"Security Alert in Technical Section." Winters reported over the flurry of warm bodies that betook to their heels in response.
"Get a unit in there now." Koenig said, moving around to the commstation. "Contact Technical Section. Find out what their status is.
"Andy, find Dr. Verdeschi, and tell her to meet us there."
On the big screen, the preternatural zigzag impulse blibbed, and blibbed, and blibbed. It crushed supposition in the same way that the exterior voltage melted down the raw matter, and fused it into comets. A Pliocene, prehistoric telegram, demanding an answer to a question that no one could hear, much less understand.
She felt herself swept up in a funnel cloud of horror, a frightening chasm of death. The pungent odor reminded Angelina of a slaughterhouse. The smell of death was so pervasive, she could taste the vomit in the back of her throat.
Angelina weakly pounded on the door but she could not longer speak; the cold and the odor caused her to have an asthma attack. As she gasped and wheezed, she dared to look behind her and the figure, the faceless thing in top hat and tails, shook its head as it retreated, floating backwards into the far wall. Everything around it appeared one dimensional, as if she was suddenly watching a television show.
"Stand back!!" Pierce Quinton yelled on the other side of the door. Having tried his comlock unsuccessfully, he unholstered his laser and aimed for the door lock.
Quinton deftly fired on the key panel, which arced and exploded. Pierce Quinton and Truman Starns threw themselves against the door, sliding it open. Angelina, who was clinging to the door, emerged and dropped to her knees. She wheezed, crying hysterically between gasps, unsure what was real and what was not; her eyes were tightly closed and her face was wet with tears. She shook uncontrollably all over her body.
"Medical! This is Security. I need a team in the Main Technical complex now!" Quinton called in his commlock. He motioned to Velma Hill, "Stay with her."
Quinton motioned Starns toward the door. The minute Quinton stepped inside the totally disarrayed room, he felt the sub-Arctic chill and sniffed at the lingering smell of death and decomposition.
LaBeque, and Pound arrived for reinforcement. They entered the room like Garret'sRaiders, immediately having their breath sucked away from them by the forty below zero air. The mercury froze to a white, cauliflower, and cracked. Quinton turned slowly on his heels, and scanned the waiting room, his laser extended. His tunic was streaked with a Zorro of melted sealtite. To his referential right, the hatch leading to the office compartments was still sealed. To the left, the radiation doors leading into the garage, and lab areas was open, with a flicker bulb coruscating against the frosted glass, and molding.
"You, and you." Quentin said to the two harness bulls. "Jump."
LaBeque took the high road into experimental levels. Pound drug his feet into the Olympic obstacle course of paper jock cubicles. He muttered something analogous about some one's mother.
"Echo Leader to Section." Quentin said into his comlock. His ears, and cheeks were turning blue from the cold.
"Copy." The dispatcher droned dolorously.
"Commence pneumonic grab. Present location. Five hundred meters. Punch it."
Quentin retreated from the building just as the x-ray filaments began to glow, showering the complex from stem to stern with an advancing wall of EKG metaforms.
Dr. Helena Russell instantly recognized the characteristic wheezing of an asthma attack. Velma Hill had put a blanket around Angelina's shoulders and an oxygen mask on her face from the nearby first aid station. Ang was sitting upright, leaning against the wall panel with knees slightly raised, rasping loudly.
"Epinephrine," she instructed Jerry Parker, who immediately handed the physician the laser hypo as he took the pulse.
Angelina felt the pressure of the laser hypo against her neck. Within 10 seconds, she felt her lungs expand like a balloon as the smooth muscles of the bronchi relaxed.
"Deep breaths, take it easy, you're going to be OK," Russell calmly assured. Ang was moving air but her sobbing, her hysteria did not improve.
The instant headache and the nausea from the sudden rush of the adrenaline-like medication did not help stem the tide of tears; if anything, they became worse. Without being prompted, Jerry Parker handed Dr. Russell another laser hypo loaded with Seconal.
In less than 30 seconds after the second injection, Ang was washed over with a sense of apathy. Her tear stained expression became blank as her eyes took on the glazed quality of a sedated person. It was at this time, as she rejoined reality, that she noticed and heard the Commander talking with Pierce Quinton. How long he had been there, she had no clue; in actuality, he had arrived less than 2 minutes before, but for Angelina, time had been distorted until this point.
The Commander crouched down beside her. Dr. Russell gave him a disapproving look. "Not now." She simply stated.
The Commander ignored her. "Ang," he said gently,"are you OK?"
"I think so, Commander," Angelina replied after she pulled off the mask, staring straight ahead at nothing in particular.
"Can you tell me what happened?" He asked.
Angelina looked up at him. She began to remember the horror. Through the Seconal fog she remembered the image of the faceless thing in tails and top hat. A look of torment flashed in her eyes as they filled with tears.
"No, sir, I can't," she whispered, as she drew her knees to her chest and lowered her head. Above her sobs, Angelina heard Helena angrily rebuke the Commander, "I told you NO, John."
Koenig's back straightened just as Carter rounded the bend. The jokes were becoming more elaborate, and more verbose, but they still weren't funny. It struck him like a meat cleaver to the brain that maybe this wasn't a joke. The commander grabbed Russell by the elbow, and pulled her to the side as Bergman entered the complex, followed by Quentin, and Starns. The detective uttered a freeze dried, but audible 'brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr as they stepped into the surveillance sweep. Quentin blew his nose, and kept going.
"Helena, it's crucial that we find out what's going on here." He said, annoyed with her. "We've been having problems with the temperature. You know the situation. That reactor was jury rigged. If it gets any worse, we're in some major, major trouble. All the duct tape in the universe won't bail our butts out.
"It'll be celest la vie for everyone."
He modulated his tone to a whisper as the medical team arrived. Helena Russell looked at him straight in the eyes.
"Do you honestly believe that the "cause" of everything that has happened around here since we've entered the Orpheus Wastes is due to Reactor 2 going haywire? It was working fine until we entered this area of space. Don't you find THAT odd? Remember, other strange events have happened that have nothing to do with nuclear reactors and power. Besides," she fumed impatiently," I have been paying attention during Command Conferences and I know Reactor #3 is scheduled to be online next week." Helena mentioned this fact because even if Reactor #2 went down at that minute, they would still have sufficient solar batteries until Reactor #3 came up in 5 days.
One of the irritating characteristic Helena Russell determined about John Koenig was his tendency to exaggerate and become melodramatic, particularly in an argument. She was not sure if it was innate or if it was a result of his command position. In any event, she would protect the welfare of her patients first: John Koenig would just have to wait until later. She knew, however, he would not go down without a fight.
Helena glance at Angelina, who had taken to grasping Carter's neck instead of her legs. Although she was shakily attempting to stand, the blank expression with a hint of fear never left her face.
"So, in your estimation, I just fell from the turnip truck." Koenig said, his left eyebrow raising askance. "Fine. Doctor, I'd like to remind you that if we don't find a way to reinvent the wheel, if that second reactor doesn't power up--we'll eventually overload the extant grid.
"Maybe my nostrils are clogged, but it occurs to me that there's a guilt-edged priority to investigate anything, and everything that might have a bearing on what happens in the generation area. If I trollop all over your bedside manner in the process, so be it."
"John." Victor Bergman motioned with his finger from the entranceway. Quentin, Pound, and LeBeque--polar bears all--gradually began to regain their normal complexion. "Better have a look at this."
The professor led him inside. They moved past the commstation, and the receptionist's desk. Acheronian shadows played across the floor from the dying power cell. Bergman shivered, folding his arms across his chest for warmth as he nodded towards the salt water tank. 'Ang's Tomato Clown had retreated to the castle for warmth. Ed Malcom's starfish had attached its acicular suction cups to a solitary strip of coral, totally unbothered by the fact that it was freezing to death.
Koenig made a half circle around the transparency, examining the acme that was imprinted on the frosted glass. The image was identifiably a human face. A pair of dark, ovate circles, three inches apart, and diminishing to beveled edges. There was the impression of a nose, and an oblique pair of lips, cracked, and runneled. They framed a yawning mouth that had, perhaps, died shrieking. Acidulous blurs marked the spots, two feet apart, where the person's shoulders had pressed against the tank.
Angelina yawned and slowly sat up on the edge of the bed. She disliked drug induced slumbers because there was always a residual feeling of sleepiness hours later. She glanced at the lunar clock. It had been 5 hours since her "problem" in technical.
Angelina looked at herself in the mirror. In her estimation, she was a wreck. Her bloodshot eyes protruded from her sallow face, cheekbones prominent. Her hair was uncombed and she wasn't exactly wearing a ballgown. Normally preferring the Alpha Karate pajama pants with a tank top for bedtime attire, this time she had donned a sweatshirt and sweat pants ensemble to warm up from her earlier freeze. On the front of her very oversized sweatshirt was a faded screen print of Garfield the Cat, justifying his excess bulk with the statement, "I'm not overweight: I'm undertall!"
Overweight was not an adjective which could be applied to Angelina Verdeschi Carter. Once upon a time, before breakaway as a graduate student, Angelina had been about 25 pounds overweight. Getting to and maintaining her "ideal" weight of 140 lbs on her 5'8" frame was an effort and a struggle. The bottom line was Angelina like to eat; Earth offered endless possibilities to tantalize the taste buds! Of course, they were now far, far away from the bounty of Earth and stuck with the bland stuff that passed for "food" on MBA. One month ago Angelina weighed 115 lbs; 25 lbs underweight. Bob Mathias had a fit and prescribed "supplemental nutrition drinks" after subjecting her to a long and drawn out lecture on the dangers of being too thin. If she didn't get to 130lbs in three months, he threatened her with a feeding tube.
Angelina went to the kitchenette area and pulled out a "delicious" imitation chocolate flavored nutrition drink from the refrigerator as Alan Carter entered their quarters.
"Hey," she smiled groggily. Then, in a half-assed attempt at putting on the 'everything's OK' demeanor, she continued, "Medusa would be a better sight than me right now. If you were a man of taste, like my late brother, you would turn around and leave. I'd understand."
Carter smiled lovingly, and walked across the floor.
"How are you doing." He said.
His day was good. Especially now that he was with Angelina. He dreamed of the day when they would have a huge family. The risks involved in being an Eagle pilot suited his need for adventure, but he also wanted to settle down. A lovely, six room cottage with a garage. That would be nice. No more evil aliens wanting to conquer them.
He took Angelina in his arms, and never wanted to separate from her. Even if Nicky was gifted with powers he could never understand, he would always love him forever, too, and never question his good luck.
His love and caring touched her deeply. She kissed him tenderly.
"I'm so blessed," she whispered breathlessly. She kissed him ardently again but this time past the point of no return.
Forty five minutes later, Garfield the Cat was staring smugly at the ceiling from the sweatshirt and the rest of their clothing, crumpled in a pile on the floor.
"There's something heinous on this base, Alan," she began from the security of his strong embrace. "I saw it twice. Once when I was holding the baby in medical and then when I freaked out in technical."
She looked up at him. "Let me guess. I suppose security came up with nothing searching technical, hmm?
"No, but they're good men." Carter said, wanting to crush the enemy with his bare hands. His love for Angelina gave him a strength times ten. "Don't you worry you're pretty head though, sweetheart. Anything that approaches you has to go through me first. My caring is stronger than any heinous power."
He was torn between knowing he should be in an Eagle right now, and staying by Angelina's side. To the devil with the Eagle, and any one who got in the way of their love.
She held onto him tightly and closed her eyes. Alan Carter was not a great believer of things not of the physical world. He was a pragmatist and there was a logical explanation to everything. Granted, there were some things out here that defied logic, but he had a preference for the concrete. However, there was not another person whom she felt closer to anywhere.
She related her terrifying experience in technical, starting with being trapped and not being able to call for help. She told him about the blackness of the room and the sub-Arctic chill. She trembled slightly while telling him about the horror of being grabbed by someone and fighting him/her/it. Her voice cracked when she told him she felt certain she was going to die and described the sight of the faceless Fred Astair with white gloves, the 'heinous' presence.
"I know this is difficult for you to believe," she concluded while massaging his neck. "I wish it was just a nightmare. I have to tell the Commander what happened. I swear, this is the truth and nothing but the truth."
Carter winced, turning slowly away from her, and placing his left fist in his right palm. He was trying to be egalitarian, but his empathy was running out of gas. Mathias' diagnosis concerning Nicky, and Russell, and Sullivan's hidalgo medical defense made him want to 'yak. The buffalo pie of mumbo jumbo went beyond the need for boots. So, that was round filed. . Nomenclated to the nearest paper shredder. He refused to give that any more thought, inquiry, analysis, and ratiocination--you supply the term.
However, if 'Ang was being menaced by an Alphan who had grown to be several cans short of a six pack--that was another thing entirely.
"What do you mean he had no face. You mean his face was in the shadows."
"No," Angelina shook her head resolutely, on her stomach and looking down at her hands. "I mean it had no face."
"Someone grabbed me and whoever it was fell backwards when I fought back. When I turned around, whatever it was had no face...blank. It floated backward into the back wall and disappeared. It was like a..a ghost."
Angelina groaned inwardly as she lowered her head into her hands. Maybe "ghost" was a poor choice of words. Actually, "ghost" was a poor choice because she knew Alan didn't believe it. She also knew that there was no way he would let her go to the Commander with that story.
"Don't tell me you don't believe in ghosts. It is possible." Angelina look up. "You haven't forgotten meeting Dan Mateo's spirit, have you? Afterall, you were there..."
Carter made a peculiar groaning sound, and turned away shaking his head."No, you didn't see a ghost." The pilot uh-uhhhh'ed, the needle dipping further, and further towards "E" with each implausible, unrealistic explanation. "Come on, baby, I need you to think straight. What did the guy look like.
"Hair dark? Eyes? What color were they? Tell me what you know, but I don't want to hear about any fucking ghosts. We've got a son who has problems to baffle every single medical urchin on this base. I don't know about you, but to me--that's enough.
"Fire up the brain cell, and tell me something."
'Ang's side of the pancake was minced with a single stroke of the sword. Angelina stared at him, blankly and silently for at least 60 seconds. She sat up.
"I know you're upset about Nicky and perhaps you blame me for his 'problems'," she retorted with a slightly raised voice.
Angelina had been racked with guilt about her son, thinking perhaps that her professional fondness for nuclear power and radiation had somehow contributed to her child's condition. Mathias and all had assured her this was not the case but she felt guilty nevertheless.
"But I don't have to take this shit from you, Alan," she finished angrily.
Ang turned without another word and went into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. She took a shower and despite the soothing warm water on her tense neck and shoulders, she began to sob quietly. She was completely disgusted with herself for being unable to control the tears.
According to the encyclopedia Britannica, Orpheus played the lyre so well that flowers, birds, and trees danced around him. No, it is not known whether, or not they did The Wild, Wild West, or The Electric Slide. History is remembered, after all, and not created. According to mythos, his aptitude with strings is what saved his better half, Eurodyce from the kerosene, horndog pits of Hades. It was his punky mouth, and his propensity to gloat that lost her again. It was his indiscretion that led to his decapitation at the hands of maenads. The legend, handed down from generation, to generation, is that his head bobbed, and floated across the high seas. When it came in with the evening tide, at the Isle Of Lesbos, it was still singing.
A shrine was cast, in Orpheus' image, and using his head as a rubric. The monument is dust now, but his cocksure carillons, and his libretto lived on in the stellar discombobulation that was named after him. His overtures blinded the Viking landers of Earth in the late seventies, and early eighties. They blurred the Hubble Space Telescope, and at a time when deep pocket politicians, and various appropriations committees expected to see the sucker spin on a dime, and do the hambone for the yellow press. Out of his gullet came Comet JV79873459800. It was thumbnail sized, and upon inception, weighed less than .000,000,000,1 of a gram. Accelerated to hyperluminal speeds by the Orpheus Effect, it became a little bit heavier. It careened out of the lightning, and fog, and crowned the 164 diameter, Mons Pyreneus on the Moon. The impact blew it's stack, like Bluto in a Popeye cartoon. Big enough to rend mountain tops.
Small enough to shake Yul Ostrog's coffee cup. He pinched both cups in one hand, while using his comlock to open the door to the fueling station. The smells of Nitrosine, and Tetroxide pryed his nostrils wide. The metier, extreme cold sent moles up his spine.
"Break time." He said to the pumps, and gauges in the otherwise empty facility. "Bayledon, where are you at. Front, and center, or I'll drink it all myself."
No answer. The hose commando was no where to be seen. Ostrog crossed over to the open office door. With only the gooseneck lamp to light the engulfed room, he failed to notice that the high impact, observation glass was shattered. The Eagle mechanic entered, and immediately dropped his coffee cups.
The mid plate of Edgar Bayledon's skull was covered with an ichor of red petroleum. The blood hue faded somewhere around his temples. His body hugged the plastic chair, where it had landed, presumably, after he was hurled through the window. The floor, and desk were strewn with plastic pie wedges. Rose curlicues drizzled down his cheeks, and forehead from the open ablation to his scalp. A grisly, pink stalk dangled over one eye. Slit, vacuous retinas beheld the floor where his own hemo dripped into a broadening figure eight pool.
Yul Ostrog lacked brinkmanship, lacked a definitive course of action. His mouth contained not a single molecule of spit, so he ran. He ran for his life, out the door of the pumping station, and up the maintenance ladder to the map room. Yul Ostrog ran, away, away, away. He exited the launch pad area as if all of the dogs of hell were at his heels. Down Corridor-C, cross connecting to Corridor-J. Past the hydroponics complex, past the experimental labs, past the physics labs.
Twenty minutes later, his flesh was still screaming.
Marcus Profitt collapsed in the pretzel chair, with the hot bulb warming the back of his neck from the floor lamp. Mathias had been kind enough to parole him from Medical Center, with a prescription for Adivan in tow. While he fastened the Velcro belt to his waist, Clare offered her regards to 'Ang Carter, who sat in the isolation ward, her child snoozing uneasily in her lap. Profitt waved, but otherwise, he was emotiveless, and speechless. He boarded the travel tube with his wife, feeling a dull, throbbing at his temples. His mouth tasted like a copper. They made a pit stop at the commissary, where Gonzales had slopped their palates with miser soybeans. The technician ate half of them, and offered the rest to Big-P Danielle.
Now he was alone in their quarters. Clare had resisted returning to duty, but Profitt finagled her into leaving. With cheerful--but not altogether ignorant--promises of intimacy, and succor, she left the Residence Building, and headed for the tower. Beyond the fiery transoms lay The Orpheus Wastes. The living room occasionally, and suddenly lit up in the after glow of minor comets impacting against the ancient lunar monuments.
"No...." Profitt whispered to the shadow in the open closet. Beads of perspiration filled the wide open creases of his forehead, and upper lip. At first he had assumed that the elongated spire was from Clare's tennis racket. He looked away for a moment to finish reading Blake. The poem was "The Hammer Of Los." He was up to the point where the dark, satanic mills were erected by Urizen. Your horizon. You reason. No, it was Urizen, who chuckled, and farted over the loss of mankind's romantic mind.
Profitt looked up, and saw that a second black appendage had joined the first. The silhouette was black--black as hell. It's configuration was precisely defined. There was no gentle tapering as it advanced towards the tap light inside the closet door. It was a darkness that no dawn could ever expiate.
The technician froze. Enthralled by the death of stars, and reason. As a boy, in Monmouthshire, South Wales. He remembered Castle Usk. Erected in the blood, and sinew-strewn soil by 12th century Normans.
By day, the sheep grazed in the field, but the shadows from the Garrison blocks never withdrew. At high noon, they became even more pronounced. Slowly, one, by one, by one, the sheep were sacrificed to the shadows. Hurled through the portal to a place of treacle, and damnation. Something awaited them on the other side. An entity outside of this universe who waited with hideous elan for an opportunity to get back in. It waited, patient as ether. The evil umbra of an eclipse, waiting to cancel out the sun. Like a pizza delivery-boy who just knows that some one will eventual answer his beckon. An inmate in Miskatonic Sanitarium, who knows that the bonnet-clad warders will eventually make their great, and penultimate mistake.
"Noooooooooooo...." Profitt quaked uncontrollably, the veins in his neck turning blue. A third formation united with the other two.
It was unspeakable.
It was blasphemy.
Koenig walked through the burst of flash bulbs, and forensic technicians, his boot heels gritting through the splay of broken glass. The only one with a colorless sleeve was Lieutenant Truman Starns, whose profundity of crime scene notes threatened to exhaust his legal pad. The lights were up in the fueling station again.
Yul Ostrog gave Pierce Quentin a general statement of what he knew. The summation of what he knew ended in a negative integer. So, Quentin harangued him. He didn't know crap was what it came down to. He had stepped over to the beverage dispenser for coffee. He heard the echo of circuits clicking on, and off from the power junction, and the augury of pouring lava from the nearby metallurgy plant. He returned maybe three minutes later in an upbeat mood, and found the technician's head ripped open. The security chief pointed an unprevaricating ink pen in the mechanic's face, but to no avail. The river of knowledge had seized up with Edgar Bayledon.
"Victor." Koenig regarded the professor with an informationless stare.
Helena Russell pulled the zipper over Bayledon's face as MHT Parker struggled to contain his ripped victim nausea.
Professor Victor Bergman stood up and approached Koenig, after briefly looking over the body and talking with Truman Starns. Although the professor's mechanical heart shielded him somewhat from the anxiety inducing effects of adrenaline, he was not immune to the smells of death which caused his stomach to somersault. As a reflex at death, Bayledon's bowels and bladder spontaneously emptied. Combined with the overpowering odor of blood and the spectacle of the gory body, even those with the strongest stomach were mouth breathing to avoid passing the putrid odor through their nostrils; and risk tossing their lunches.
"Of course we won't know until the autopsy is completed." Victor nodded to the body bag being loaded by Parker and another orderly onto the gurney. "But Truman Starns thinks the one who killed Dave Reilly may have committed this homicide too. The MOs appear to be the same."
Koenig watched as Parker bumped the gurney containing Bayledon's remains from the room. Helena Russell returned her comlock to her belt and waited until the hatch was completely closed before approaching them. The commander paced alongside a solid state panel that featured four wall monitors. Each one was nearing OFF MODE. Snub Cube screen savers revolved like brain ingrams awaiting a connection.
"He might think that," Koenig conceded. "But if you ask me, it makes no sense whatsoever. First we have 'Ang Carter--attacked right in the middle of the Technical Section Reception Area. Whoever the attacker was retreated towards what should have been a dead end.
"We turned the place upside down. I mean guards on top of guards, but whoever it was managed to get away.
"Five minutes later--on the other side of the base--Yul Ostrog goes out for coffee. He's gone no time, and then comes back to find this." He said, pointing towards the fragmented vision port. Sloven was on the other side, using a whisk broom to remove tissue samples from the blood caked desk.
"Now, assuming that the killer is human, and not some gas monster that can pass through solid steel, where does that leave us."
The answer was as obvious as it was ghastly.
"Obviously," Bergman began, cupping his chin with his right hand, "because of the time constraint, these incidents were done by two different people...or things." Bergman raised his eyebrow.
Velma Hill was dusting for fingerprints on areas of the desk that were not blood stained. She loaded another memory card into the digital camera, putting the full memory card containing 20 images in the side pouch of the camera case.
"Dave Reilly and Edgar Bayledon appear to be murdered in the same gory manner. Unlike the attack in Angelina's case, there was not a precipitous drop in air temperature in the murders, though. Computer has confirmed it." Bergman scratched his sideburns. "Did you get a chance to talk to Angelina yet about what happened to her?"
Bergman glanced at Pierce Quinton, who was still in Yul Ostrog's face continuing the interrogation. It was quite clear the interrogator and interrogated were become frustrated with each other and the lack of answers to the questions.
"No," He replied, impendingly at Helena Russell. "But it's about time we did. Not good. If we have a killing zone between technical, and the launch pad areas. That's my considered opinion."
Helena Russell nodded tentatively. "She was sufficiently recovered from her asthma attack to be released from Medical but she is asleep in her quarters. She was very agitated and I had to give her the maximum dose of Seconal to calm her." Helena shrugged. "She needs a few hours to sleep it off. She knows she will need to give you a report."
"Commander," Sloven said, zip locking his freezer storage bag. "We've finished collecting evidence. Ready to proceed with the security scan."
Koenig nodded. The security guard conferred briefly with Quentin, who had ruffled Ostrog's feathers bald. Truman Starns made three as they exited to the pump room where Eagle 14 was birthed.
"Victor, what did you make of that image we saw in the glass."
Victor shook his head slightly as the trio made their way down the hall to the travel tube.
"Another oddity in a long list of oddities. The image itself is not of a human face. It is not animal either; nothing that we are familiar with. I had computer attempt to match the image with known earth images in the memory banks and it came up with nothing."
Bergman allowed Helena and John to step into the travel tube before he stepped inside. Victor sat in one of the hard plastic chairs, legs outstretched and crossed at the ankles. Russell and Koenig took seats side by side opposite of the professor, sitting on the edge of their chairs.
"Consider all of the odd and/or unexplainable events that have happened since we entered the Orpheus Wastes. An exponential increase in the number of cases of depression throughout the base."
Helena nodded in affirmation.
"Apparently unexplainable drops in temperature. As far as we can determine, there is nothing inside Alpha that is causing the sudden temperature drops. That reactor is humming along like clockwork as well as the HVAC system." Bergman paused momentarily.
"A perfectly healthy technician, with no previous medical history as such, suddenly has a violent seizure. A perfectly healthy child is so aggravated and distressed that he must be sedated to avoid inflicting physical injury to himself. Two attacks on Alphans, one deadly. The bizarre and unknown image on the fishtank..."
"And all since we entered this region of space called the Orpheus Wastes. Yet, sensors do not indicate there is anything known to us that would be causing such incidents."
Bergman prepared to stand as the travel tube slowed to come to a stop.
Koenig shook his head "Victor, astronomers have been researching this area since the early seventies." He said, folding his arms over his chest, and gesticulating with his right index finger.
"In over thirty years, there's never been anything to indicate that it's anything other than a cometary nebula--a high pressure zone in space "Suddenly, the Moon rolls through, and everything goes south." He exhaled deeply, still holding his comlock. "Maybe it's time we started considering what isn't known to us."
The twin doors slid closed as they exited into a dark, disconsolate corridor. It was Ghostface's favorite
Caesar lived a charmed life on Moonbase Alpha as the only resident cat. The Domestic American shorthair was a neutered male, white with tabby patches on his body. Formerly Dan Mateo's cat, he had a sweet facial expression and had successfully endeared himself to both cat loving and non cat loving Alphans alike.
Caesar was allowed access everywhere on Alpha but preferred the Hydroponics section, where he could nap under the plants and more importantly, under the solar lights, all day and every day.
"Buon Giorno, Caesar," Melita Kelly greeted the lounging cat, who immediately began purring as soon as she started stroking his back. Caesar sat up and raised his tail, the motor in his throat becoming louder. Melita began speaking to him in Italian, the language which he really understood and started nudging and rubbing against her. The love fest was in full session now.
"Il gatto e bene," she cooed.
The strange fur covered four legged creature attracted the attention of Ghostface. The temperature dropped in Hydroponics, enough for Melita to shiver.
The pupil's in Caesar's eyes enlarged suddenly so that the animal's green eyes became black as something behind Melita caught his attention.
Caesar's ears flattened to his head and he arched his back, raising the fur off his body to make him look larger. His tail instantly dropped and curled around his body.
He growled and let out a very loud and long HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. Melita abruptly withdrew her hand. Caesar reared back and yowled loudly; the animal turned and ran, scampering into a glade of apple trees.
Melita turned around, puzzled, as the icy coldness disappeared. Nothing.
As the meeting in technical broke up, Angelina was acutely aware of the anxiety and trepidation in her group. News of her attack had spread like wildfire but the news of the horrible demise of Edgar Bayledon spread as a raging infernal. Ang had mandated that all personnel, when not in the security of their quarters or in public areas, were to implement the "buddy system." Work efforts would come to a near standstill but their safety was of prime importance.
Angelina was on her way to Main Mission and, unfortunately, her "buddy" was Ed Malcom. He was en route to repair a problem with the computer mainframe desk. She was on her way to speak to the Commander and relay her account of her terrifying ordeal in technical. Rather than take the elevator up to level B and Main Mission, Angelina opted for the stairs. Ed Malcom wheezed and grumbled, staggering up the stairs behind her.
They entered through the left, where Ed Malcom lumber toward Ben Ouma. Ang noticed the big doors to the Commander's office were open and the Commander was at his desk, talking to Victor who was casually leaning against it. Angelina took a deep breath: this was not going to be easy.
She smiled slightly as she walked past Carter, gave him a gentle pat on the right shoulder and proceeded up the stairs. Her last discussion with him had ended badly and when she came out of the shower, he was gone. Ang couldn't blame him for his reaction to her story and was not angry at him; she was beginning to doubt the tale herself.
She approached the Commander and nodded toward the Professor.
"I suppose I have some explaining to do for all the commotion I cause earlier." It was difficult to keep her waning confidence inside.
"Liar." Koenig said angrily. "Demented liar."
Angelina froze, taken aback by his comment.
He turned to face the big screen, disgusted. Damned disgusted. Only ten feet away at the capcomm desk, Alan Carter was holding his clipboard, and eyeing 'Ang pensively. Only Morrow's passage from Dempsey's workstation, to the computer deck, broke his concentration.
"'Ang." Bergman said munificently. "There's nothing you can tell us that we don't already know. If it will make you feel better, go ahead, and monopolize our time.
"You've heard about Ed Bayledon, we presume."
Angelina stiffened. 'No, as a matter of fact, I will not feel better monopolizing your time,' she thought, more than a little miffed.
"Yes, I just had a meeting with my people. It seems whoever is perpetuating the attacks seems to have a preference for technical staff. I've invoked the buddy system." Angelina nodded and became quiet. She returned Carter's gaze. "Will that be all, sir?"
"No, not quite." Bergman said, approaching her. The glee he displayed was so atypical to lunar living--like the presence of broccoli in a bucket of kiwi. He clapped his enthusiastic hands together, and grinned devilishly. His queries--after an eternity in the realm of speculation, at last seemed to be finding suffrage. Koenig loosed an iniquitous laugh, and pressed the white stud on the desk panel. The big doors rolled forward. On the other side, Carter was left in the triple blind.
"She's paranoid, and she's incompetent." Koenig inveighed. The sight of her. It was worse than looking upon one's own syphilis.
The darkened office was filled with soft, methodical impact sounds. It was like a rubber ball, striking the tile...rebounding from the ceiling.
"You know we've lost the unmanned probe." Bergman informed her. His cold attentiveness, and his insistence on making eye contact was singularly unnerving. "Tell me...'Ang."
He took her left hand.
"How does it feel to be a total fuck-up? That is the phrase, isn't it?" He clucked his tongue, and flexed his cheek muscles spasmodically--as if lubricating his jaw bone would help his enunciation.
Ang was stunned; why were they turning on her? Bergman had never, ever treated her this way and Koenig certainly never had either. Her confidence was dipping lower and lower. She had the uncharacteristic and overpowering urge to leave the office and run to Alan. He was only a few feet away. He would protect her. It was fight or flight time.
She yanked her hand out of Bergman's grasp.
"Why are you asking me?" Angelina hissed angrily at him. "I studied under you. You're the expert. You should know."
She turned to Koenig. "You appointed me. If you think I'm incompetent, well, I guess that says volumes about your leadership skills," Angelina spat venomously.
"SIR." She added with sarcasm.
Angelina began to feel strange; as if the commander's office became elongated and she was suddenly at the far end, a mile away from the mocking Bergman and Koenig. Her head was spinning and she felt dizzy and sick to her stomach. She thought she saw a shadow of someone or something behind the Commander and the Professor. It was beginning to take on a definite form.
"'Ang." Victor winked.
"'Ang." Koenig echoed standing.
Their shoulders met flush, and they walked down the steps towards her, conjoined like Siamese twins. They formed a perfect tandem. Tweedle Dum, and Tweedle Dee. Fric, and Frac. Bergman scratched his nose, and Koenig sneezed.
"Tell us what you know, 'Ang." Koenig said in a far away voice.
"Yes, tell us what you know." Bergman pointed his finger distinctly at her.
"Teach us about sex/ Teach us about sex." They harmonized in perfect unison.
The morbidly obese, blueberry boy hop-scotched his whale-ass tale merrily into the office. A miserable four hundred pounder, wearing high waters, a brown tweed jacket, and with clashing ruffles. His red rubber ball left his fatboy hand, ricocheted from the floor, recoiled from the ceiling, and landed on the commander's desk where it sat motionless.
Blueberry boy waved 'hello' to 'Ang, and covered his girlish laugh with an embarrassed hand.
"Do you also make sounds?" Koenig asked secretly. "Hissssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss?"
"Why do you fear death?" Bergman inquired self-consciously. As if his question was the more trivial of the two.
Behind them, the amplitude of light, and energy was becoming more tactile.
The commander's and the professor's face and bodies began to resemble an image in a fun house mirror. Koenig's lower body was impossibly short and stubby while his face and upper torso became rail thin, as if he was a piece of pulled taffy. The professor, on the other hand, became hideously wide, his face taking on the contours of a pear. They slowly made their way toward her, panting and lewdly licking their lips.
"NO!" Angelina shouted, drawing her laser." STAY BACK!" She estimated how far she was from the side door to Main Mission, slowly backing toward it.
She fired a warning shot between them, hitting the compost. The circuits in the compost exploded, issuing fire and smoke. The hideous duo stopped and grinned at each other.
"We'll save you...." Koenig said through the cloud of black smoke emanating from the blasted module. He held his palms outward in mock surrender. He was unaffected by the fumes because he wasn't really breathing.
"...whether you want us to, or not." Bergman decreed. A tear welled in his left eye, and trickled down his cheek. "There are things we desperately need to know."
The vile, congenial, synchronous laughter.
Damnation Of A Quadrillion Souls was the fourth horseman to appear. It appeared out of no where, and seized 'Ang by the neck, folding the fingers of it's gauntlet brutally around her slender, gagging throat. She found herself pulled backwards against its chain mail breast bone. It was many things to many people. Her nostrils were vilified with the aromas of vinegar, and honeysuckle, and ossified dinosaur shit. It groped the back of her tunic--finding the soft marrow, it attempted to amputate her spine, sans wrench, or anesthesia.
Damnation Of A Quadrillion Souls crooned lovingly, resting its warthog stubbles against her shoulder as it ripped, and strangled her with it's forearm. It communicated using perverted lullabyes; ebullient promises of salt mines, and massed death, and omnisexual violations; chandeliers, and mantle pieces, realized from rended flesh, and broken bones.
There were so many faces she had yet to envisage. He would staple every one of them to her steaming, screaming skull.
Then, the circle of transmigration completed itself. Top Hat, and Tails shook off the etheric filaments. He walked center stage, in his smart, white spats, and clicking his diamond cane against the garish tiles. He straightened one glove, and then the other.
Damnation Of A Quadrillion Souls wanted her body so badly, he could taste it. The gauntlet smothered her trigger finger, crushing the bones in her digits, and wrist. Before she could shoot the master of ceremonies, her elbow was pulled violently upward. She felt the grinding glass in her rotary cup as her shoulder was sadistically dislodged. Then the cathode ray blitz ensued. Top Hat, and Tails walked towards her--all of fifteen feet tall, and in cinemascope.
He poised, as if he wanted to bracket her feelings against the inconsiderateness of a revelation. He was in vistavision now, looking alot like a South Park cartoon character.
His absentia face was a cesspool of spiraling comets.
"!!!What the hell are you doing!!!"
The gauntlet continued to apply vice pressure to her wrist. The laser whipped up, and down, and during the melee, 'Ang found purchase. A sun exploded in the room. She saw spots. She saw blocks. Her hair was suddenly soaked with sweat, and matted against her cheeks. The air smelled of ignited ozone. The right front leg of the plastic chair that Ben Ouma normally sat in during command conferences. It melted to a resin, and then keeled over like a glue factory mule.
Through it all--even as the RED ALERT claxon began to pulse, her orange sleeved executioner persevered. He was soon joined by a black sleeve that gripped her forearm.
"!!!Baby, put the laser down!!!" Carter strained, dancing an awkward, bumbling, Arthur Murray two-step backwards with her. "!!!Put it down!!!"
"!!!Quentin, get Dr. Russell up here--MOVE!!!" Koenig wrestled with her upward turned gun paw; wincing as the laser moved closer to one of the unshielded vision ports.
"!!!Angelina, put the laser down!!!" Sandra Benes cried from the privacy door.
"'Ang, please listen to me." Victor Bergman said cautiously, reasonably. In the proximity of madness, he was third closest to her. "Everything is going to be all right. Give us the laser. Nothing is going to happen to you."
Ghostface was the only one there who was not thoroughly miserable.
Angelina screamed in terror as the funhouse clown Bergman floated toward her. It stopped, bobbing in the air, mocking her, tormenting her. From its mouth, the thing emitted a fog, which was also coming from the orange and black sleeved assailants.
The room temperature had dropped to -10 degrees and the viewports were completely frosted over with ice.
The pressure on her wrist became excruciating pain.
"!!!Alan!!!! !!!Help me!!!" She cried out, half screaming and half sobbing, as she dropped the laser. She tried to escape her tormentor who instantly drew her back toward him, squeezing her about the waist.
Another figure approached her and she tried to get away but the orange sleeved terrorist was firm in its hold and too strong for her. The white sleeved witch stabbed her in the neck.
'I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!!!' The gruesome witch cackled hideously in her face.
Suddenly, the spinning house plunged to the earth as the twister spontaneously pulled up into the clouds. The contours of the commander's office became distinct and defined.
Angelina had such an excessive amount of adrenaline in her bloodstream that the sedative did not render her unconscious. Her arms and legs felt weak as she sank backwards, falling into a tender embrace. She began to tremble violently, partly from the terror and partly from the cold. The remnants of sweat from her brow trickled down her face and the chest, back and underarms of her tunic were soaked with perspiration. She gazed into the face of the man she loved.
"Alan?" she ventured cautiously, tasting the salt of the sweat from her upper lip. "What happened?"
Her mind, refusing to acknowledge what had just transpired, scrambled into the safety of amnesia.
John Koenig's galvanic relief was lucid to him. He was so, so, so, so, so glad that 'Ang hadn't opened the can with the laser. Oh, was he happy to see six viewports in the office, instead of five. He sighed for 58, and one half seconds. It was a pleasure to return the heat beam to its SAFETY setting.
"Sandra, tell Paul to cancel the Red Alert."
Victor Bergman--more than satisfied with this denouement, to be sure--still wasn't smiling.
"That's not your problem." Carter redirected her, ignoring the flames, the catastrophe. "We've got things in hand. What you need right now is some rest."
Angelina slowly rose to her feet with the help of Carter. She squinted at the damage on the compost and Ben Ouma's chair, which now resembled a piece of modern art. Either her head or the room was spinning and she nearly fell over again, had it not been for the convenient presence of Sandra on the other side of her. She nodded to Sandra and straightened her back.
"I'll get someone on the compost right away, Commander," Angelina stated businesslike. Her cool demeanor was such that aside from her physical appearance, one could swear she did not just journey to the depths of hell and back.
"Wait a minute," Helena Russell shook her head and grabbed her elbow. "No way. You're not going anywhere. You are coming with me. I want to know what happened to you."
"Nothing happened to me," Ang bristled. The smoke wafting from the compost was the undeniable evidence to the contrary...and she knew it. "Doctor, I'm not crazy."
"Something startled me, that is all, and I overreacted." She lied. She had no clue, no recollection of what just happened. "I apologize for the commotion I caused." She looked at each of the aghast faces.
"Geez, it's cold in here," she shivered, rubbing her upper arms.
"It's warm in Medical Center." Helena suggested.
"'Coop will mind the store." Koenig assured, nodding, and pushing Carter along; holding the uncocked laser at bay in the direction of the floor. "Helena, I want to talk to you--sooner, and not later."
Then they were gone, and a new foul stench hit the proverbial fan.
"Commander," Morrow called from the hectic confines of his desk. "We've just lost the unmanned probeship."
On the big screen, the Great Inestimable, Post-Existential 'WHY' appeared before them--unstative, but constant. It was the last of the probe's streaming information before plummeting from the edge of the universe. The oscillating, repeating, electronic mind of The Orpheus Wastes.
Anne Delline, R.N., glanced up from the chart and gazed at the family through the observation window. It was not a happy sight. For the 2nd time within 24 hours, the mother was back in medical center but this time her affliction was not clear cut and as mundane as an asthma attack. The father looked anxious and worried as he held the baby who was sleeping; the baby had been sedated, going on his 14th hour of forced repose. The scene was not one conducive to a family portrait.
Anne's comlock toned and she unclipped it from her belt. "Yes?"
"I need some more, Anne," the voice at the other end whispered. "The pain...my back...it's..it's returning. You've gotta help me."
"Not now," Anne replied. "You need to come in and see a doctor. Let me arrange it, hon. It will be confidential."
"No..no..please. You can help me. I'm not hooked. I just need a little more. You know, some really strange shit has been going on and I'm right in the middle of it."
"I know, I know," Anne paused. "Meet me at the usual place in 15 minutes." Anne cut the link as the person at the other end nodded with relief.
Anne returned to the chart labeled "Angelina Carter". All of the physical tests, the blood work, the scans, the EKG and EEG came back normal. Dr. Russell had checked the results and made the recommendation for the next exam; the words "Psyche consult" were scribbled at the bottom.
Something caught Anne's attention, as she glanced sideways; an image in the desk mirror. Anne held her breath.
The mirror became a swirling mass and in the center was a figure. A faceless figure in tails and top hat with a diamond tipped cane, beckoning her.
Anne shivered from the cold and felt lightheaded. She closed her eyes tight. 'Fatigue' she thought, 'its just fatigue.'
She spent at least 60 seconds debating whether or not to open her eyes again. When she did the image was gone. Her hands were icy but the air temperature seemed to be warming again. She stared at the word at the bottom of Angelina Carter's chart: Psyche Consult, and shook her head.
"Doctor Mathias," Nurse Delline spoke into her comlock. "Could you please come to Exam Area B?"
The Orpheus Wastes occupied an area of space where--eons, upon eons ago, in the age of Chronos, and Jupiter, and Haphaestus--the star Halcyon gave up the last of it's nuclear fuel, and set the 'boonies ablaze. Nebular gravitational fields spiraled outward from the infernal core. Quarks, and Mesons, and Tachyons, and Neutrinos expanded to the badlands. One million years before the birth of Socrates, enough stellar material was available to begin the process of explosion welding. Comets, and asteroids--famous, not famous, and anonymous to the lay person--most of them were produced somewhere in the receding flames.
Halley's Comet, Shoemaker-Levy 9, LINEAR, Hyakutake, Hale-Bopp--each, and every one, was created in, or motivated by The Orpheus Wastes. There were two heavenly bodies within the zone, both dead. These 'talismans' of Orpheus were, per mythological reference, Prometheus, and Ceres.
It took nine minutes for the host sun to devour its solar system. It took billions of years for a paltry glimpse of the fifteenth shock wave to reach the parabolic lens at the Cambridge Institute. The Orpheus Wastes was given a theoretical nod in the year 1973. British Astronomer Clough Nigel Dean imparted the nod over a glazed donut, and a cup of Typhoo Tea, so strong, it could knock a bull over. He glimpsed the marvel of creation.
He was privy to the wonders of the invisible world.
Afterwards, he drove to the nearest pub, and got utterly shitfaced. He dropped words like 'Nobel,' here, and there. They seemed out of place amongst the working class canards, and metaphors. So, excusing himself from the stool, he headed back to Cornwall in his '67 Pontiac Bonneville. Three times he questioned his impaired judgement, hogging the A-20 with scary, suicidal abandon along the way, and almost sending the right lane milk truck into a ditch.
* Halley's Comet has been passing Earth in 74-79 year cycles since 240 BC. The most famous photograph was taken by the Mount Wilson Observatory.
* Ed Malcom thought he saw a flying saucer once.
* Clough Nigel Dean was found dead the morning after his famous discovery. His eye balls were enunculated, and taken away by his malefactor.
* The Heaven's Gate Cult didn't have a clue what constituted a supernova; didn't have the nuts to care.
The erstwhile Moon drifted onward...a small speck of coral in a sea of enigma.
The doors parted to the grove. Melita Kelly found it candidly bizarre that the overhead lights did not immediately spark. The dome was black as the Sargasso, though the junction was motion sensitive. She rubbed her shoulders together for warmth as she peered inside.
Somewhere in the tangle of tangerine vines, she heard the sweet sounds of a babe, crying in the hydroponics wilderness.
Alan Carter's anger was unctuous. As effective as trussing Godzilla with a ball of string, the beast threatened to burst its bonds at any moment. Truman Starns, and Velma Hill gave him peripheral repute, focusing mainly on the situation unfolding on the opposite side of the observation window. The dimmer switch was turned almost all the way down. 'Ang was sitting in one of the leather padded exam chairs. Saline deposits were attached to both sides of her forehead, and her right wrist. White, and red telephone cords extended from her temples to the EKG Monitor. A sharp red laser pointed touched the area just above her eyebrows from a light source on the table. Anne Delline adjusted it insignificantly before beginning.
"'I want you to just relax." Mathias said soothingly, almost in a whisper. Movement was verboten--any, even though his nose was itching like a mother. "Relax, and listen only to the sound of my voice."
He swallowed covertly.
"I want you to imagine you're back on Earth, and that you're pedaling a bicycle uphill. Up, and up, and up. Concentrate on the bicycle, and listen only to the sound of my voice.
"Listen only to the sound of my voice...."
The domestic relative of the proud feline predators was suddenly the prey. The attack was unexpected..and invisible.
Caesar's body had stiffened and the fur stood up on end. He issued a menacing warning growl...ggggggrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrr
Ears flattened against his head and pupils enlarged making his eyes resemble the black pools of hell, he reared backward, slightly.
Baring his fangs, he swatted at the air with his left paw, claws fully extended and ready to inflict damage on the unseen threat.
The sun was hot and the heat rose from the pavement. Ang stopped and took a swig from her water bottle, mounted on the mountain bike. She was 3/4 of the way up the hill and the grade seemed to increase.
"Come on, come on...don't stop," the other woman chided good-naturedly turning her bike around. "Don't be a slow poke." Her beautiful blue eyes beamed at her as the sun danced off the highlights in her short blonde hair.
Angelina smiled at Regina Kesslann. Regina was her best friend. She was the one who listened to her patiently and lovingly day after day when she was mourning the loss of Eric Sparkman. Without Regina, Angelina probably would have walked out an airlock without an EVA suit in those early days after breakaway. Regina also took a liking to Alan Carter long before Angelina Verdeschi gave him a second glance. It was Alan Carter, though, who told Regina he would never have feelings other than friendship for her. Regina seemed to take it in stride; then she died a week later. Ironically, Regina's death left Angelina with an appreciation for life.
"Slow poke?" Ang laughed. "I don't think so, woman."
With a burst of speed, Angelina pedaled hard up the rest of the hill, leaving the other woman in the dust. When she reached the crest, she stopped, staring into the distance. Regina caught up to her.
"We have to turn back," Angelina stated. The ominous thunderhead in the distance was formed from black swirling clouds. The clouds nearly touched the ground. The thunder and lightning in the distance struck terror in her heart.
"No," Regina answered. "You must go on. You know you must go on." Regina smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry. I'm here to help you. Come on." She started pedaling.
"No," Angelina shook her head. She was back in Medical Center on Moonbase Alpha.
"No. I can't," Angelina said to Bob Mathias. "I don't want to do this..I don't need to do this...I'm OK". She wasn't. She had an Excedrin strength headache.
Ghostface was unperturbable. He saw the female with the raven hair as she negotiated her way through a field, lit only by emergency lights. Her heart erased the questions. Her mind continued to lobby for the answers; too adult--too mature for the primal, bloated mushroom beneath the walls of her cranium. The shocking, infuriating chutzpah of these people: she did not want the truth. She would not recognize it if she heard it, and she would not appreciate Ghostface for telling it to her.
Such folly. He could almost laugh. Ha-ha. He did.
Like the uncivil cat, they breathed air, and masticated sustenance. Maintenance became the objective, in and of itself. Two thirds of their day was spent languishing in a low voltage, half death. The remaining third was a slow--or fast--egocentric propulsion towards the grave. Somewhere in between, the bolstered one another with cliches, and prioris, and false hope born of Great Books. In this way, they masturbated themselves into accepting conclusions, quite contrary to the facts.
As far as they were concerned, they were a race of savants. Like the cat, they were only squatting on their tails. Their crowning delusion was this hard-to-swallow belief that the end of life was life.
Untrue. The end of life was another matter entirely.
It was beneficent to have the female around. Ghostface decided to perform a little hands-on research, and the cat would help him do it.
"Right." Mathias cudgeled, returning to one. "Just relax. I want you to imagine your body is becoming heavy, and warm."
In the Peanut Gallery, he glimpsed Carter muttering some incredulous bilge. Truman Starns nodded in agreement. The physician had been on duty for fourteen hours now. First Marcus Profitt crashed, and burned during his Tango. Then Nicky Carter--hours, upon useless hours spent trying to put it together; to figure it out--to no avail, or thanks, and with damn little approbation. Then for supper, he assisted Dot Sullivan with the gruesome, detailed, multi-phase autopsy of Ed Bayledon who looked like a combine victim. He was tempted to go out there, and headbutt Carter. To throw him against the wall, and scream 'SHIT-FOR-BREAKFAST!!! DO YOU THINK YOU CAN DO ANY BETTER??? HERE'S THE CATHETER TUBE!!!'
He realized that if he did that, 'Ang would never acquiesce. So he smiled, and did the 'aw shucks,' and asked her to stare at the little red light again.
In hydroponics, Melita Kelly continued her search for the wayward cat.
"Caesar? Dov`e?" Melita called out, parting the branches to the Golden Delicious Apple trees. "Caesar?!?"
Melita gasped, startled, as she heard a "THUMP" followed by a rolling sound. She walked around the apple trees toward the peaches. One of the apples from the Macintosh trees had fallen off the branched and rolled down the aisle. For a split second, she was tempted to call Dac Capano for help; she felt nervous and frightened but she shook her head. There was no reason to be nervous and frightened.
Melita picked up the bruised apple. As she stood up and turned around, she found Caesar.
Caesar leapt through the air and onto Melita's shoulder.
"AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!" Melita cried out as Caesar's claws dug into her neck and scratched the left side of her face. She swatted at the animal in one motion, sending him to the floor. Caesar hissed at her direction and ran off, to hide among the strawberry plants.
"Damn!!" Melita cursed, as she looked at her face in the glass partitioning the fruit trees from the root vegetable room. Blood trickled from 3 distinct rivers from her cheek, dripping onto the yellow sleeve of her tunic.
Angelina closed her eyes again. She heard the wind and the surf, feeling the warmth of the afternoon sun as she lay on the float, riding the gentle current on the ocean. Water splashed over her, keeping her cool in the persistent July sun.
"Open you eyes and tell me what you see." The voice instructed her.
Angelina opened her eyes. The black clouds of the thunderstorm were directly overhead. She gasped as the waterspout reached for her. She looked up, inside the water twister and saw the Commander's office in the distance. As if ejected, she fast forwarded and landed in the Commander's office.
To the observer, Angelina's eyes were glazed; she was deeply hypnotized.
"I'm in the Commander's office." She replied methodically.
"Are you alone?" The voice asked.
"No." Angelina saw Koenig and Bergman.
"Who is there with you?"
"The Commander, Professor Bergman...." Angelina winced. Her heart rate and blood pressure were increasing.
"What are they doing?"
"NO!!!! Stay away!!!!!!!!!!!!STAY AWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
"What are they doing?!?!" The voice was insistent.
"They're going to kill me!!!!!!!!!!! Get back!!!!!!!!! LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Angelina cried out miserably.
"Is that all you see?!?!"
She started trembling all over her body. "There's something behind them," she whispered, the tears now rolling down her cheeks.
'Ang, what's behind them." Mathias persevered. "I promise you, you're safe. Remember, you're only an observer this time. Not a participant. Relax, and tell me--was there someone else in the room with you."
Truman Starns' mouth was moving again, and so was Carter's. Obviously, 'something else' was in the room with her, if only the submerged ice berg of her own subconscious. The consensus of the on-duty, Main Mission Operatives was that 'Ang entered an empty office, and proceeded to carry on a deep, emotional conversation.
It began pleasantly enough, but then 'Ang surprised everyone with a new critical attitude that waxed rat puke. 'Ang was hardly the sort to accept this type of heavy handed inveigh, so she fired back a volley of her own. 'Ang defended her competence, and professionalism. 'Ang told 'Ang that if she thought she do a better job of making the trains run on time, by all means do so. But 'Ang was inattentive to 'Ang, and that can never bode well for interpersonal communication. 'Ang, being the cold monster that she is--one who is always right, who can never lose--only made things worse by playing a series of practical jokes on 'Ang that no one in Main Mission was privy too. It was perhaps for the best. It is always wretched, and disheartening to see another human being preyed upon, and humiliated. 'Ang could be a real bitch when it served her petty purposes.
Koenig, and Bergman interrupted this contest of wills--entering the office just after the first heat beam was discharged.
There was not another living soul in the room with her. Kate Bullen watched her close the big doors when the nuclear, self-parlay became too heated to remain public. Carter was stunned into immobility. It probably lasted all of three seconds, but by then, 'Ang was turning chairs, and commstations into puddles of molten, metal Alfredo.
"It...It..." Her eyes grew wide and filled with terror. "Top hat...tails...n-n-no face..blank...no face..."
Ang blinked. In a flash, she saw an Alphan, then Ghostface, and then the Alphan. The images switched back and forth quickly. The Alphan had his back to her and was slowly turning around.
"No....someone.." she continued, trying to discern the image of the Alphan. "Rust colored sleeve...."
"Who?" the voice asked her.
Angelina stared straight ahead, shaking her head. The image of the Alphan disappeared, replaced with the form of Ghostface. Angelina slowly looked up as the image of Ghostface grew to 15 feet. Suddenly, she bucked backwards hard in her chair.
"LET GO OF ME!!!!! LET GO OF ME!!! LEAVE ME ALONE!!!! GOD, HELP ME!!" She screamed, her back arching as she strained against imaginary restraints. Mathias was grabbing a laser hypo when she abruptly stopped, the tears streaming down her face.
"It went through me," she whispered. "It touched me," she finished sadly.
"Melita....NO!!.. Melita!!!! Run!!!!!!!!!!" Angelina yelled out in warning. "GET AWAY MELITA!! GET AWAY!!! Melita!!!!!!!!! NOOOOOO!!!!"
The horror movie beyond imagination ran out of film. She cried out in emotional agony. "No more!! Please!! No more!!! Get me out of here!!!!"
She dropped her head in her hands, weeping bitter tears from the images seen and the image that was about to be seen.
A victim of constipation via information, Starns looked to Carter for an opine of 'Ang's latest, macabre testimony. He was five minutes too late. Though Carter was in the room, he unfortunately gave the impression of not being in the room. Hill was the same way. She had an dolorous look about her--like she had just read a Microsoft computer manual, from cover to cover, and still had no idea what it all meant.
The third eye.
Sometimes it blinks at you.
"Marts." The detective said into his comlock with shaken sensibility. "Put together a patrol, and meet me in Hydroponics Section. STAT."
"Copy--squad Alpha-Niner...yeah...to Hootersville." Marts cracked...cautiously...but unsympathetically.
Her face was a bleeding urn. Conformity of flesh, and bone was now gone. She now looked like God had assembled her from a jigsaw puzzle. Red virulence poured from the paper slices, and rents, and pussed abrasions, matting her hair, and her crushed, pulped cheeks, and turning her yellow sleeve corpse orange. Her neck was almost ebony black, but her assailant still wasn't happy. Two things occurred to her as he dragged her by the ankle, back into the slaughter house.
First, he wasn't going to stop until he killed her.
Second, his wish would no doubt be granted within the next minute, or so. Melita Kelly had no idea why she had to die. There was no motive, no meaning, no 'why,' no 'wherefore.' No explanation had been offered, and she had not been given the opportunity to ask. She had tried to hike uphill, with a spring in her step, a song in her heart. She had tried the narrow, lonely--oh so lonely--path of righteousness. She had tried to love, and care amidst the Big Top, Carnival Of Life. Her muscular assailant rolled her over violently, and straddled her victoriously--applying gouging pressure again with both thumbnails.
Through the scarlet tears, there was the vaguest ghost of a face.
The floating oil slick bubbled, and oozed above them; contorting itself into reprobate shapes too perverted to conscience. Dwarf Rhinoceros guarded the double doors to the farm, holding his lancet like a hungry diner holds a fork. Dwarf Hog snorted, and drooled some disgusting, viral emulsion onto the floor. As she cried out in grief, a bright, blinding matt consumed the world. She clearly made out the roman character with her terminal perceptiveness. It was the letter 'W,' spreading pestilential through every single limb of her body. In her, through her, and outside of her. Printed indelibly on her aorta, and her corpus collosum, and on her eyes. She tried one last time to wonder, but the wind carried the answers away
Angelina cried bitterly. Carter tried to console her but she felt miserable. Ghostface had touched her very essence, her soul. She was angry at Mathias for bringing the memory to the surface. She had been violated by the thing and felt that no one could possibly understand the indescribable horror of the experience. She was wrong.
"MEDICAL! This is Dac Capano in Hydroponics," Capano shouted. He breath in the -20 degree room formed a fog then a condensation on the monitor giving Capano a dull and fuzzy appearance on the blue and white monitor.
"Go ahead, Dac," Anne Delline answered.
"Melita Kelly has been brutally attacked. She is alive but just barely. We need a team down here!!" Capano looked away for a moment. "Forget it...Eddie and I are bringing her in now!" He cut the link.
In less than 10 minutes, the double doors of the main reception area of medical slid open. Eddie Collins, covered with blood was carrying the mutilated and dying Melita Kelly. Alan Carter caught a glimpse of the gruesome sight and pulled Ang toward him as he turned to spare her the horror of seeing her friend so badly mangled, as they passed by the observation window into a trauma room.
Across the base at Launch Pad 4, an unhappy Hugo Willet sighed and checked the lunar time on the comlock.
"Keeping me waiting....All I want to do is work in the kitchen..I get stuck with geeks in this death trap department," Willet muttered to himself.
Hugo Willet continued murmuring as he kept waiting...and waiting.. and waiting.
Marcus Profitt had a geriatric uncle from Bwlch Nant Y Arian, West Wales. Old Uncle Belcher had shared his love of the visual arts with his young nephew. Profitt completed his first fruit bowl analysis when he was five years old, using only a number two brush, and India ink. Belcher moved him rapidly along into the wider arena of cows grazing, chickens laying eggs, and the traditional, pastoral barn yard scene. Belcher's grass was his specialty, and before long, Marcus bettered the old man's opera, with images worthy of Grant Wood. As the calendars grew smaller, and as his tastes matured--the Moon leaving Earth's orbit had some incidental impact--he moved on to images more abstract, and classical.
Two days before stepping on a rake, during his Cha-cha with Clare, he had been working on an intense mood piece. The charcoal sketch, intended to become a painting, was an anthropomorphic rendering titled "The New Amor, And Psyche." It featured a self-portrait of himself, tacked onto Cupid's winged body. Clare played the role of the bashful, mortal maiden, perched upon a rock, a-gah-gah. But he attacked it badly from ten different directions. Clare's face kept turning out like Madonna's (Ciccone, not Mary). He erased, and eradicated until the canvass had a pinky hole worn into it.
So, the project was discarded.
One hour before leaving for the dance, Profitt completed this sketch in his notebook. A more modest, but no less viable study of his bride-to-be, overlaid onto the wan, desolate scene beyond their vision ports.
This elegant, pen, and ink was titled "Clare-Orpheus."
Then Left Foot Profitt bit the dust. Then he rose again. In the days since being discharged from Medical Center, there had come a blackout, or two. There were moments (plural) when the Moon came crashing violently down on him. He would find himself holding an object that he did not remember picking up. He would become lucid again, but in an area of the base where he was not supposed to be. He would feel the warm blood running from his nose, and ears. His head throbbed, and swelled like a rotten tomato.
"Ha-ha--it's nothing." He would say to gaping passersby, unconvinced. "'Gee whiz, I'm thirty-three, and already senile." He would rationalize, even when he was alone. "Good grief, this sure is embarrassing. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha."
He missed his meeting with Hugo Willet at Launch Pad One. This was the day of Edgar Bayledon's passage, and the murderous assault on Melita Kelly. He was so obsessed with completing his most recent decomposition that he lost all track of time.
This he visaged, returning to reality with an empty tube of red acrylic in one hand, and Clare's underwear in the other.
Profitt stole his way from the residence building with the canvass wrapped in a white sheet. He titled the portrait "Fruit, Without The Bowl." Moonbase Alpha was in its evening cycle. As soon as he arrived at the metal-forming facility, he tossed the package into the bubbling melt. He committed himself to telling Angelina Carter that he was done for now...that he was going on immediate furlough. He would work no more on the cranes, in the macularly degenerating zero gravity outside. He would work no more, beyond the expected fifty hours a week.
No amount of coercion on billets-doux would change that. He was done driving himself bonkers.
And then he blacked out again....
In Accessway-41, nothing was intrinsic, or extrinsic. No rats; no roaches; no typhus, or dyptheria. No saints, and no devils with putrid motives. It was the most bastardized place on Moonbase Alpha. Quad storage crates lined the walls, filled with artifices that might be important some day, but probably not. Dust, and plaster, and severed cable trunkings littered the floor, forming haphazard representations of the letter "L." The lumina panels on the wall were a lifeless, gun metal gray. Pools of light marched into limbo from emergency light sources in the ceiling. Next to Corridor-M, which it ran concomitant to--it was the single largest, promenade on the base, running almost a kilometer from end, to end. From the command tower, to Residence Building-A. The uniqueness of this claustrophobic strip of no-time, lay in the fact that no one who walked there took breathing for granted.
It was the road less traveled, unless you were Ghostface, who appreciated the glum, and the torturous dispel of the place.
Marcus Profitt exited the hatch, panting. He was covered with dirt, and black coagulation. From where he stood, everything to the immediate right, and left was in a blind spot. The now defunct, AT&T Phone Cassock was on the wall straight ahead--it's monitors as blank as a moonstruck mind. He peered through the stalwarts to the lobby of the residence building, and found it vacant.
He avoided the atrium, and stalked the fringes to the nearest maintenance elevator. He almost dropped his comlock, he opened the door so quickly. Clare (she was supposed to be gone), who was in the kitchen listening to an Alpha News Service Thread--missed the whole show as he booked for the lavatory, locking the door behind him. Clare (she was obtruding in damnable waters) whirled in her chair, shocked by the sudden rush of blood through her own ventricles.
"Marcus?" Clare called to the closed lavatory door. Clare stood up and shivered. It felt like a draft had just blown through their quarters. When she checked the thermostat, she saw the temperature was 60 degrees; she turned up the heat, waving her hands in front of the vents as warm air rushed into the room. Clare approached the bathroom door and knocked gently. "Marcus? Sweetie, are you OK?"
"Marcus? Is everything alright? I thought you were still on your tour of duty. Marcus?"
"I'm in the bog," Profitt said plaintively from the other side of the door. "You skavvy, worrisome woman. Do me a favor. That munt Ed Malcom--mercy me what a dip, he shot me up with a grease gun. I look bad. Help me to regain my normal, handsome, smiling disposition. "Fetch some clothes for me." He added. "Don't peak when I open the door. I don't want you seeing my virtues...at least not until later."
Clare, of course, ignored his "no peaking" request. She walked to the closet and removed a freshly laundered uniform with a rust colored sleeve from the hangar. When she opened the lavatory door and stepped inside, she nearly dropped the uniform in response to Marcus' reflection staring back at her from the mirror. He was pale and drawn; his eyes were sunken and the dark circles contrasted against the color of his eyes. His eyes, normally a dark blue were almost a gray. Clare gasped inwardly but remained expressionless on the outside.
She went to him and put her hand on his shoulder while removing her comlock from her belt.
"You look like hell, baby," she stated, unable to hide the concern in her voice. "That's it. I'm calling your boss. You're taking a little vacation. She can find someone else to do your job for awhile."
"I already tried." Profitt said sincerely. He realized with great chagrin that he was standing on one foot, in his underwear, while trying to pull his flares over his Hush Puppies. "She's not answering her comlock. "I wish she would."
He unlaced his shoes, presiding over the best seat in the house. He darted noticeably, punctuating each line of hard copy that was uttered by the nearby Alpha News Service Anchor. He found it amusing that--regardless of time, or the proximity of human culture--our finest mouth pieces were still those bright eyed, infobabes. Viscerally in contact with their subject matter, they were not. They did inspire hankering attentions, and covetousness from their male audience. Belcher used to call them 'tusspots.' Apparently nothing was newsworthy tonight, and for that he was grateful. He didn't know why he was grateful, but he was grateful sucker, nonetheless.
But news wasn't his problem. The black outs. They were his problem.
Then hope appeared in his eyes, for perhaps the first time in two days. He could go see Dr. Russell. He had read some where that even Cancer could be cured if it was detected early on. No more hurling, or flaming joints. No more farting. They could nail it with radiation, or chemotherapy, and after that, it was off with him--to the land of Tier Na Nog, or to be up to his ears in Ed Malcom's jet stream of carp, while they stripped asbestos from the ruins of Launch Pad One. If modern medicine could cure the Big "C," then surely they could cure this. Right? Having several brain cells demolished under a giant's foot print, that wasn't nearly as bad; his mysterious rote amnesia was no contest for the ultimate human agony, was it? He was feeling more strident, and assured with each passing moment. Reason giveth, and Reason taketh away. Blessed be the name of Reason.
As he zipped his sleeve, he noticed that during his last debacle, he had done his Andy Warhol impersonation again. Paint was smeared all over his comlock. Except that, upon closer scrutiny, it was easy to see that it wasn't paint.
He buried the evidence with a towel when Clare wasn't looking.
Clare Profitt keyed Angelina Carter's code into her comlock.
"Pete Garforth," came the response at the other end.
"HUH? I'm looking for Angelina Carter. I need to speak to her. It is urgent," Clare insisted.
"All of her business calls are being routed to me. She should be back in the office in about an hour. She had an, uh, emergency. Is there something I can do for you?" Peter Garforth looked weary and depressed.
Clare stiffened. "Did you talk to Marcus earlier?" Clare eyed Marcus.
"No, he hasn't called me. Why, what's up?"
"Well, for one thing, he's not well and should go to Medical. But I'll let him tell you himself...here," Clare muted the comlock while passing it to Marcus. "You called her, huh?" She shook her head disapprovingly. "Marcus, honey, tell him you need some time off." Thus spoke the "ball and chain."
Profitt sighed, shaking his weary head whilst sitting on the crapper.
"Pete." He said into the microphone.
"Yeah." Garforth came back.
"How long have you been on duty."
"I came on about ten minutes ago."
"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," The technician said triumphantly. "Haven't had a chance to check 'Ang's voice mail, have 'ye?"
He tapped his brilliant, deductive temple while winking at Clare.
"Oh yeah." Garforth perked, as if remembering something. "Hey there, delicious." He said, lewd and crude, and no doubt to Caroline Kennedy. Profitt looked at Clare, and shrugged routinely.
"Have we had a chance to upload 'Ang's messages yet. No? That's okay. Sit right here on Uncle Pete's lap, and we'll take care of that. MMMMMMMM--mmmmmm--mmmmm....."
Clare could hear Kennedy's embarrassed laugh, accompanied by hog calls from Bram Cedrix, who was Garforth's accomplice, after-the-fact.
"No, no messages yet." Garforth reiterated when he was sober again.
"Listen, Pete." Profitt said, rubbing the aching thunder in his forehead. "I was supposed to help Hugo Willet, and dingus on asbestos detail, but I'm feeling a little under the weather--to say the least."
"No problem." Garforth said, without prosecution. "We've got you covered."
"If you see 'Ang, tell her I need to talk to her...and Pete." The technician addended, licking his lips nervously. "I could use another comlock. I was replacing wall panels, and I think I buried my old one in seal-tite."
"For shame." Garforth said, not giving a shit. "What time is Ouma coming in today?" He said to the side. Bram Cedrix muttered something wiseacre, and the assistant told him to take a hike. "No," Garforth revised. "First pick up your work orders, then take a hike."
And Bram Cedrix left, singing his loud, post-talented rendition of "To Dream."
On the commlock's micro monitor, it was Garforth's turn to blush. Unless you were Jim Neighbors, that was no one's favorite song. He wondered if the foreman was trying to make his skin crawl.
Ridiculous question. Of course he was.
"That's cool, moustache...yeah...go beat your unbeatable foe." He said, and then to Profitt: "Buddy, don't worry about it. We've got you covered. I hope you're feeling better."
"Aye." Profitt said, and broke the link. He hoped it wasn't the impossible dream.
Clare sat on the edge of the bathtub with a towel on her lap and leaning elbow on top of knees, gazing pensively at Marcus. She smiled genuinely. "You deserve a day off. You're the best in technical and you should be rewarded for being the best," she said proudly. Suddenly, she became serious. "Is there something else wrong? Something other than fatigue? I mean, I know Dr. Bob gave you a complete physical, but I thought maybe, well," she hesitated then took a deep breath. "Maybe it was something I did or did not do?"
"Come to think of it, you are a real albatross around me neck." He said, putting his arm around her, and hugging her. "No." He said, barely audible.
She nodded with a blank expression. It was at this point she produced Profitt's sketch book that she had hid discreetly under the towel. She began thumbing through the pages.
"Marcus, I was admiring your work, like I always do, and I came across your most recent drawing." She stopped at the horrific painting of the cross, skull and foaming red blood background. "It is, uh, interesting. Frankly, though, I was a little shocked. This is something I'd expect that jackass Klaus Rotstein to do. I mean, it is different but it doesn't seem at all like your style. What 'inspired' you to draw such a picture, honey?"
The crops of shock were harvesting on Profitt's face as well. He thought he had settled this little matter in the metal shop. His predicament afore was not memories, but the lack thereof. Here was a new conundrum. He distinctly recalled throwing the canvass, sheet, and all, into the smelt. Well, that may have been a very cognizant act, performed in a whiff of sanity, but here we have this sketch in his book. No doubt about it--he recognized his own pencil strokes. He had even attached his moniker to this encore performance. The initials MP/AB were discernable in the lower right hand corner of the sheet.
Oddly enough, the lead, and paper rendition was--if anything--even more ghastly than the four color version that he had destroyed.
"Stress?" He replied uncertainly. In any case, it sounded about right. The sketch was not an expression of a tranquil intellect. "Well," he capitulated, standing. "I give. Time to make a trip to Medical Center; let Dr. Bob rip my head open."
He laughed, but Clare was not amused.
Clare looked at him blankly. "Well, I'm coming with you and making sure you get there."
The excuse of stress was inadequate in her mind. She glanced at the drawing again. It was perhaps the most horrendous image she had ever seen put on paper. Even Rotstein couldn't be as shockingly "creative". Stress? No.
Clare's comlock toned at her. "Yes?" she answered.
"Clare, Sandra here," the Chief of Services replied at the other end of the monitor. In the background were the distinct sounds of a woman sobbing loudly and inconsolably.
"Yasko need to be relieved of duty. Could you come fill in for her?" The ever increasing wailing coming from Data Analyst Nugami needed no explanation of "why".
"Right away, Sandra," Clare affirmed as she broke the link. Clare sighed. "Another person in Services going mental. It seems like a way of life lately." She clipped her comlock back onto her belt, hugged Marcus and kissed him lightly. "Can I trust you to go find Ang Carter then get yourself to Medical Center?"
Can't we just say 'pooh, Profitt thought morosely. He agreed, and asked Clare if she could please close the closet door on the way out.
"So what does this mean?" Angelina asked Michelle, her patience growing thin.
Angelina rocked slightly in her chair as she reviewed Michelle's graph on the 21" monitor. With Ang in her office were Michelle Cranston, who was currently under the microscope, Peter Garforth and Joe Erhlich. Pete Garforth was standing, arms folded and trying not to capture Ang's attention. Joe Erhlich, having already been raked over the coals by his boss, sat in his chair with a look of utter disgust on his face.
"Well, I..." Michelle answered but not quick enough.
"C'mon Michelle! Are you saying that we are running out of iron ore? What about the scrap metal?"
"Well, that's what I'm trying to tell you, Ang," Michelle answered after a deep breath. She did not need this, although the saying "shit rolls downhill" would certainly apply today. Michelle was prepared to give a few warning notices to a couple of the manufacturing operators after she left this meeting. "We are nearly out of recyclable scrap metal."
"I see," Ang sat back. She had quite a migraine, sighing as she rubbed her temples. "I suppose I should tell the Commander to stop sending Eagles into that interstellar septic field out there." She paused and looked up. "Yeah, right, like that will happen."
"We are, however, adding a second shift to the mining crews. Steve Gardner thinks we may have found another iron ore vein at Mining Station #2." Michelle added, perhaps this glimmer of hope would remove her from the hotseat.
"Right," Ang murmured. Her headache was getting worse. "Guys, I hate to cut this short but," she said, looking at Pete, " is there anything else?"
"Oh, no," Pete immediately responded, "I have nothing significant to report. No problems in electronics." He was, of course, lying.
Ang nodded and smiled slightly at the three of them. "OK....go get 'em."
The trio left in silence which was unusual. Usually, the group came out of the office ebullient and laughing loudly after the daily briefing. Lately, though, the daily briefings became the daily "beatings".
Ang sat miserably for several minutes, nodding to Caroline Kennedy as she came in and quickly exited after dropping a report in her inbox. Ang was hurting. She was distraught about Nicky, distraught about Ed Bayledon's murder, distraught about Melita's attack and still upset over her own attack. The people in her department were becoming hostile and argumentative toward each other. She had to call Pierce Quinton's group twice to break up fights between technicians. She could not talk to Alan and they seemed out of sync with each other. He was understandably distracted as well. However, when she tried to relate her encounters with the "ghost", he responded with rolling eyes and adamant disbelief. She decided if she kept trying to talk to him about it, he would have her committed to the Alpha equivalent of a loony bin. She decided to keep to herself about that subject.
Ang was about to leave her office when she was cornered by Ed Malcom.
"Not now, Ed," Ang put her hand up,"I really am not receptive to listening right now."
Ed Malcom balked. "I thought you had an open door policy. I need to talk to you right now. I'm having a problem with Hugo Willet. That guy is a pain in the ass. He doesn't want to be a tech. He wants to go back to the kitchen. Why are you keeping him in technical? Send he back to Gonzales....Gonzales...You gotta speak to Sandra Benes about him. He only gave me half a portion of mashed potatoes. I love potatoes. That guy told me I didn't need more than half a portion. Who does he think he is? He's not a doc, that dumb ass....."
On and on and on and on...
To Ang, all of the words started blurring together. She was drawing on the last few drops in the oilpan of her patience. She started deep breathing and staring at the ceiling. During this eloquent opine, Marcus Profitt silently stepped inside the office behind Ed.
Angelina's headache was getting worse. She thought a blood vessel would blow in her head. Actually, at that point, she was hoping it would and end it all right there. Finally, unable to contain the lava, the volcano blew.
"Get out!" Ang stated, pointing toward the door.
"But..but" Malcom appealed.
"But..you can't do this..I need.."
"!!!! I DON'T GIVE A FUCK WHAT YOU NEED, MR. MALCOM!!!! GET OUT BEFORE I CALL QUINTON AND HIS BOYS!!!!!"
"You can't do this to me! I-I-"
"GET OUT!!!! BOTH OF YOU!!!!!
Malcom sniffed. He looked like he was about to cry. "Fine...but..but if I walk out an airlock tonight, it will be on your head."
"PLEASE...PLEASE...PLEASE...MAKE MY DAY....Go to the nearest airlock.. Do not pass "Go" and do not collect $200!! Just GET OUT!!!!"
Ang glared at both of them as they meekly turned and walked out of the office. Angelina sighed.
"Computer, Chief Engineer Angelina Verdeschi" she activated her commstation.
"Acknowledged," computer unenthusiastically responded.
"Deactivate airlock access to Ed Malcom until further notice."
"Airlock Access for Technician Malcom, Edward Homer, temporarily suspended until reactivation from Command Staff."
Ang sat wearily....gazing at her Tomato Clown in the reception fish tank, battling it out with an enormous gold fish. Funny, she had never seen that gold fish before....
You can't put your hand in the space of tomorrow. Or, so it has been elocuted.
The Year: 1977 AD
Location: The Moon, at first quarter; the southern highlands, 43 degrees south latitude, and 11 degrees west, longitude.
Deep within the depression, 15,000 nautical feet down lay Alpha--humankind's first, permanent lunar settlement. Three interconnecting grain silos, with a square launch spring, and gantry. The area was surrounded by strobing depot lights to direct incoming traffic. At two hour intervals, garbage truck drones passed overhead--out of fuel, and in decaying orbits that would bring them smack down in the center of the nuclear disposal area on the far side. The view of Earth from the crater Tycho. A blue tear, in opposition to the Venus' vainglorious reflection, the life giving rays from Sol, liking, but not loving the murky green shit, as well as the methane, and ammonia atmosphere.
Cornfeld's odious Havana Cigar smoke filled the radio shack as he trudged, a step at a time towards the centrifuge. The oval corridors were more padded than the most secure rubber room. Half way there, he encountered Sergei Keryov, floating horizontal to the ceiling with his pate bobbing back, and forth against the open access panel. He pulled his phillips out of the way to allow Cornfeld passage--all the while, muttering Russian metaphors about the spuriousness, and the rudeness of cheap cigar smokers.
The analyst asked him if he could read between the lines. He spoke Russian quite fluently.
When he reached the casing, Cornfeld pulled his Velcro shoes loose from the matted floor. He executed a slow, expert somersault in mid air which placed him inside the revolving drum. Square egress hatches rolled by the partial plate. When number three arrived, he quickly evacuated to the HAB portion of the installation. This module was lined with mausoleum-like doors--two rows up on either side, and twenty in all.
The first freezer hatch he came to had a hot calendar haphazardly taped to it. Linda Ronstadt, in all of her paces. All alluring eyes, and thumbs hooked through her to-fit-and-plus-some jeans. There were several games of tic-tac-toe etched into the fiber glass, as well as a yellow stick pad note with the numbers 14:30 LT recorded with a fiber tipped marker. This was the arrival time of the next transatmospheric vehicle (nicknamed 'Eagle') from Earth. They didn't come often, although this would probably change, now that the new facility was nearing completion up near Plato.
Cornfeld pounded on the hatch that still had Kovovich stenciled to it.
The analyst stepped back to avoid being walloped in the head when the hatch was propped up.
"You rang?" Art Strange said, his nose still deeply into the copy of Kafka's "The Metamorphosis." Gregor Samsa had awakened to discover that he was a cockroach. Then along came Cornfeld to interrupt him.
"Chang just reported in. He's found that-that-whatever it is that Houston wanted us to check out." Cornfeld could tell by the look of nasal discomfort, and knee-jerk homicide that it was time to lose the cigar. He stubbed it out against a nearby metal tray, and stowed the remainder in one of the pockets of his flight suit.
"Okay, then. Let's check 'er out." Strange said--utterly bored, but nonchalant enough to make it sound pleasant.
They trudged their way down the connector to the research module. On the opposite side of the foam padding, Gretchen Kohl was watering her hydroponics oranges using a trigger sprayer filled with H20, and Miracle Gro.
"Hello." The commander said coldly. Kohl ignored him, and plied herself to her experiment. She was still ticked because Strange had handed down the decree that no onions would be cultivated on Alpha as long as he was commander. She was an eccentric, and a dunce--she loved those projects which were the most punitive to the olfactory senses. Not good--particularly when there were waffle irons all along the walls, and even in several sections of the flooring. Apparently, she had filed a grievance with the ILC Subcommittee. Strange had a week to deliver his response. He didn't give a hang. He thought it was sam weird for someone to crave a stinking onion. Women, and brewskies--certainly that was another animal. Her next experiment would probably entail churning Limburger Cheese in zero gravity.
'Bubba, you had better believe, he intended to scrap that little control test as well.
"So, that's Halcyon-Dean 485738." He whistled, gazing through Chang's periscope at the little white dab of crap.
"Yes." The astronomer said blandly. Even back home, the thrill was lost on the upper, intellectual crust of Pe King. "The Orpheus Wastes."
"Incredible." Strange said, and stifled a yawn. He fumbled for a squeeze tube of Beef Stroganoff before gazing again. "Why is it so important for us to check this out?"
"I don't know." Chang said honestly. "But I have the video cameras running."
Then from behind them, and below them, and above them. Through the transdimensional doorway, they heard the female whisper...'Melita'....
Strange jerked upward suddenly, and bumped his head against the oiled, metal cylinder.
"Did you say something?" He groused, but Chang, and Cornfeld shook their ambiguous heads. "Who the hell is Melita?"
Then more forceful, almost a scream: !!!Melita!!!
Alpha's commander grew deathly sallow. Chang's palms became blocks of ice. Cornfeld swore off cigars--as well as several other articles of illegal contraband--forever. On this occasion, the three men found comity. They agreed to disagree, and deny all knowledge of this otherworldly event.
Chang wondered aloud if it might be a good idea to shut the telescope down for a while?
"Yeah." Art Strange said, tipping his chin in a plastered nod. "Good idea."
Yet another attempt to revive Nicky ended in failure. The child screamed and writhed fitfully until Dr. Sullivan electronically sedated him again and he returned to a peaceful repose. Carter left in silence, the anger toward the medical center physician barely kept inside the boiling kettle. Angelina rocked him, hugging him tightly, until her arms ached.
After she returned him to his crib, with wires and monitors attached to his small body, Angelina walked past the observation window to the intensive care area and peered at Melita Kelly. A nurse was changing the bloodied bandages to her head, face, chest and stomach. Beautiful Melita was bruised, bloated and scarred from the assault; but she was also lucky to be alive. One IV tube carried fluids and morphine; the other IV tube carried blood from the 3rd unit of blood she was being given. Melita Kelly was in a coma.
Angelina was feeling depressed, weary and alone...yes, alone.
Ang spotted Helena Russell at her desk. Angelina poked her head through the door.
"Helena? Do you have a minute? Can I talk to you?" Angelina stepped inside. Ang was a little nervous. Only since she had become part of the Command Staff nearly two years ago did she interact with Dr. Russell on a daily basis. Still, though, she did not know Helena Russell very well and was not particularly close to her.
Helena Russell looked up seeing Ang in the doorway, and motioned her into the office. Helena Russell had been very busy since all the commotion had started. Taking a seat carefully across from Helena, Angelina sat and waited for her to finish. Signing the final paper Helena let out a sigh and leaned back in her chair wiping the sleep from her eyes. Focusing back on Ang she poured a fresh cup of coffee and took a sip.
"So what can I do for you Ang? You look like you need to get some sleep." Ang knew she needed sleep, but did not know when that would happen.
Angelina glanced at the mountain of charts and other paperwork on Helena's desk. "How is Melita," she asked, starting with genuine small talk.
"As well as can be expected for now, I am hoping her recovery will be quick. Unfortunately I think she has a hard time yet to come" with that Dr. Russell took another sip of her coffee.
Angelina nodded solemnly. Melita was always so optimistic and cheerful, even after the death of her husband "Kelly". She was a strong woman, one of the few Alphans left with whom Ang could chat privately with in their native Italian.
"What do you think did this? Has Truman said anything yet?" Ang realized she asked "what" rather than "who". She was convinced it was a "what" that perpetrated this crime.
Dr. Russell sat looking at Angelina knowing that something was on her mind. Just watching her Helena could tell that she was physically and mentally exhausted. Hearing what she just said she had also pondered the same thought but had been reluctant to bring it up to John yet.
"Yes I have thought about who or what yet I am not sure how to bring this up to John yet. Sometimes he is reluctant to open his mind up to all possibilities. How is Alan?" she asked as she sat hands crossed on her desk.
She looked down. Helena had ripped off the cookie and gone right to the heart of the creme filling on the Oreo.
"Oh, well, he doesn't believe in ghosts. He doesn't believe me. He probably thinks I have a mental problem or something." Angelina snorted. "Right, I wouldn't believe me either so really I can't blame him."
Angelina returned her gaze to Helena. "Do you believe in ghosts?"
Do I believe in ghosts? Helena thought to herself, silently as she was open to all possibilities. "I would have to say yes, to that question basing it on the experience with Dan Mateo"
Smiling slightly she knew Angelina was right about Alan Carter. Alan had always been one not to believe in something he could not see. Taking another Oreo from the package on her desk she pushed it over to wards Angelina offering her one. Even though the two women had not been close Helena was beginning to think the ice was melting.
Hector Gonzales made an excellent imitation Oreo cookie, almost as good as the ones on Earth. It was a rare treat though. Usually Gonzales would dish them out one at a time, usually to Nicky. Angelina was wondering how the doctor managed to secure a package from the mean head chef Gonzales. She reached for one of the luxury foods.
"Thanks," she replied. "I know he's very upset about Nicky's diagnosis. He doesn't believe that either and now has less than zero faith in the abilities of this medical staff. He thinks you guys are missing something. It seems plausible to me but the fact that I think it is possible just irritates him further. We're not communicating very well."
Angelina crossed her legs and took a slow bite into the cookie, savoring every crumb before swallowing.
Helena smiled as she saw Angelina relaxing just a little. "I could have John talk to him if you would like me too. Sometimes John has better luck talking with Alan than anyone else."
Realizing that Oreo cookies were a rare treat she imagined what Angelina must be thinking on how she got the privilege to have a whole package. Holding back a laugh she thought she would save that for another time. "You have to realize Alan has always been bull headed and that is just the way he is. Give him time and be patient he will come out of this" she replied knowing how hard Alan could be to get along with at times.
"Alan is a pragmatist; he always has been and not overly talkative. I have been talking his ear off but he does not respond and isn't telling me what's on his mind. He just wants to 'fix' the problem for me...typical guy."
Angelina smiled. "And as for John Koenig, well, if Alan Carter is the most stubborn guy on the base, isn't the Commander the 2nd most stubborn?"
Ang laughed. "Now that would be the pot calling the kettle black."
Helena laughed aloud for the first time in days. "Yes, your right that kettle is definitely black" and she laughed a little more at the thought."Why don't you go and get some rest? You look very tired."
Ang was exhausted but so was the rest of technical section.
"Like you, I have a job to do. I am very concerned about how this area of space is affecting my people," Ang stated, attempting to remove the subject of the discussion from herself. "There is nothing I can do for Nicky. Alan is not emotionally available. Work keeps me focused, sane...well, as sane as I can be or appear to be right now. Provided that the faceless Fred Astair doesn't make another appearance, my job is the best therapy for me."
Helena Russell could agree with her on that fact as she herself has done that before as well. "I understand your feelings about this Angelina, however if you keep up the pace you have set for yourself you will eventually collapse and then be no good to anyone"
"You need to rest either here in Medical or in your own quarters. I am not saying you have to sleep for a long period of time. A two hour nap would help, but you are leaving me no choice in that either the nap is here or in your quarters. Its your choice Angelina." She stood up and walked to the files and pulled out Ang's chart and sat back down in the chair looking as she flipped through it.
The doctor was right as usual. Of course, Ang wasn't being a very effective leader right now either. Her impatience with Michelle, Joe and Pete were barely, just barely contained. Then, she blew up at Ed and...Marcus...what did Marcus want? She didn't even have the chance to ask him and just threw him out of the office along with hapless Ed Malcom.
"What about Ed Malcom?" Ang asked, feeling guilty and personally responsible now that he was on a suicide watch.
Dr. Russell knew that the situation with Ed Malcom was a given problem for everyone.
"Well, what can I say about Ed other than he is still under suicide watch. The only thing that has changed is that he is a little more quiet than usual. Now don't blame yourself Ang you know the problem with Ed is not your fault. We choose to do what we do and well time will tell" she replied doubtful from everything that was going on with Alpha and her personnel right now.
Angelina nodded.."Sure," she replied distantly.
Ang stood up. "Well, no offense but I don't know of anyone who likes medical center. Besides, if I stay here, I'll only end up holding my son, " She stretched, wincing. "He's getting big."
"Two hours," she chuckled. "That's all I can fit into my schedule without prior notice."
"Prior notice?? " she laughed aloud. "You sound like John Koenig now!!" Helena's laughing caught Angelina off guard a little bit, but she somehow felt the quietness between them had diminished away somehow.
"Yes your son is getting big, but he is a beautiful boy. I am sure you are right though and you getting rest in your quarters would probably work better for you and him" Standing up Helena went over to her and helped her stand up from the chair in which she had been sitting in for the past hour.
"Now go and get some rest on your own before I have to make it an order, and we both know I hate to give orders" and with that she waited for the reaction from Ang.
"Right, and thank you for listening to me ramble," she turned to leave then stopped. "By the way, how did you manage to get a whole package of Oreos from Gonzales?" She asked slyly.
Helena tried hard to bite back the laugh, but she knew that Angelina could keep a secret. "I will tell you but this is between us girls" she said"When I had to give the approval for him to have an extended leave when he had the bought of flu two weeks ago, I told him on one condition. That condition was a package of the special Oreo's for the next month." she replied grinning like the cat that got the canary.
"Very good," Angelina grinned. "You got your Oreos and we got an extended break from Gonzales. I suppose everyone benefited from that."
"Thanks again and take care of yourself, capiche?" Angelina turned and left. She felt a little better but she wished everything was OK again. She wished everything was "normal"; then she remembered sadly that normality disappeared on September 13, 1999, never to return.
Ed Malcom whistled "Killing Me Softly." The lyrics were too intricate for him to retain in the long term, but he remembered the melody by rote. Somewhere on the cluttered floor of his cube lay Caesar the cat. Piled up in a carked, distressed non-sleep. He reacted occasionally to the horrific smells, and the technician's clattering, and big footed peruse in the kitchen. The floor of the apartment was littered with meat books, and old plates, and towers of disposable paper cups. There were tools--torque wrenches, and metric wrenches, and c-clamps, and bat' rechargers--the packs, long since overcharged into the green, and weeping corrosive. There were overturned cans of grease, and a deceased extrapedaled from Planet Zatox, and jarred anatomical specimens that he promised to deliver to Dr. Smartass, but never did ("Don't mess with Ed", was Deadhead Ed's curse). The crowning feature was his free floating library the TAV Engine Assembly, and modular components.
The egg timer began to ring, and vibrate. The technician donned his mittens, and removed the tray of chocolate oatmeal cookies from the oven. He gave them a final shake as he dumped them onto the Formica counter. The sheet was relegated to the swill indefinitely. He was starved enough to eat them all in a single sitting, and as a matter of record, he would do just that. He liked his stuff better than Gonzales.' Try to tell a couple of dumb women that their master chef had kept those Oreos frozen for almost thirty-nine months. Ever since the Big Boom that sent the Moon hop-scotching away from Terra Firma.
Oh no, they would cry. That's preposterous. These aren't salvaged, stale Keebler left overs. Gonzales has reinvented the Oreo, they would blather. Including, Malcom supposed, the Oreo punch press label on the upper, and lower chocolate cookie.
A VERY OLD ANDREW DYCE CLAY JOKE: "What do blondes, and turtles have in common? Eh?"
Malcom grinned ingeniously, searching the cube from stem, to stern for a clean plate. Mission: Impossible had been accomplished. He played his ditsy boss like the emptiest banjo in the universe. He knew that she would cave when he poured on the little-ol'-lonely-inadequate-me fiction. Today he was on suicide watch, he doubted not. Tomorrow, he would be promoted to Eagle Flight Systems. He could tell by the look in her guilty, unfascile, unknowledgeable eyes--a feeling that Dr. Dumbo probably reinforced, that it was time for a celebration.
He slapped Marcus Profitt on the back on the way out, and invited him to take part in the pageantry. The other technician didn't say much though. He just looked at Malcom with chill warmth. Muttering something, he headed for the elevator. Profitt was a weird guy. It was just as well, he supposed. His next trip was to his source advocate in hydroponics section. The source advocate didn't like alot of light being cast on their--and Malcom's--nocturnal activities with sugar, and white flour. The lunar council, and certain individuals with black stripes would get their staplers all in an uproar.
"Cheer up." Malcom told Caesar the cat.
He rotated, and did the 'one for me, one for thee,' dividing the cookies into two separate bowls, with the balance being shadily stilted towards his own, plastic Power Puff Girls container. While his back was turned, the letter "L" appeared, black matt, white letter. On his digital tube screen; on his wall monitor; on his holo-porn block.
On his comlock viewer.
The image remained there, unnoticed as he devoured his chocolate chip oatmeal, traitor's booty. By the time he was ready for a nap, the Latin had disappeared. Everything about Homer Edward Malcom was blank once more.
Dr. Helena Russell entered Main Mission through the left archway; she was barely noticed as the bustle of a shift change was taking place. The night crew of Main Mission was usually a more relaxed group. You would never know it looking at them now. Mark Winters, who was most tolerant of his assistant controller Klaus Rotstein, snapped impatiently at him. Rotstein snapped back. Both men eyed Security Guard LeBreque as he mouthed "cool it". Garrett Logan looked miserable as he periodically glanced with irritation at the controller and the assistant, or in his mind, dumb and dumber. Danny Chan, at the computer station, looked like he hadn't slept in weeks.
The privacy door to the commander's office was open and Helena entered to find Koenig at his desk.
"Hello, John," Helena smiled but did not stop. She walked down the stairs and sunk into the white, low rider couch. It felt good to sit down comfortably and relax. She leaned back, resting her head against the top of the couch and put her feet up on the table, closing her eyes.
"You wanted to talk. Sorry it is later, not sooner, as you had asked. I've been a little busy," Helena replied. "How are you holding up through all of this?" She asked with genuine concern.
From all around came the CB Techno-chatter from the perimeter stations, and the interior, Moonbase network. The reports were chaotic, for the most part. One overlapped the next, and the next overlapped the next. Clare Profitt stumbled down the balcony stairs carrying a folderol mountain of flimsies--most of them red. Sandra Benes met her half way, and assisted in the sampsonic heave, and tow towards the workstation.
"...copy, all lights are green...."
"Control/ Launch Pad Two; we have a maintenance hatch open. No sign of forced entry...area secure...."
"...gantry is retracted; fuel pumps are retracted; static charge has been capped; probe is at normal level...."
"Right." Koenig said, ignoring her. "Winters, where do we stand with the countdown?"
On the big screen, the second probeship steeped atop the circular stage. The telescopic boarding tube retracted slowly, back towards the ready room. Compressed steam, and nitrogen overflow poured outward into space from divots on the Taurus Lite Booster. Neon bolts of lightning, like cracks in the universe, exploded over the service module's nose cone.
"The seals have been packed." Winters said robotically in the light of his gooseneck lamp. "Countdown resuming at T-30 minutes."
He pondered his keyboard. Then he remembered something that might be central to the proceedings.
"We're go for launch...."
June Akaiwa entered carrying a tray of coffee cups. She offered a hot cup of hydroponics joe to Rotstein, who returned the kindness with a look of murder, and mayhem.
"Alright, Helena." Koenig said, turning away from his desk. On the 1-4 monitor circuit, a Mississippi of dreck, lies, and videotape poisoned the recycled air, courtesy of Alpha News Service. So overwrought was he at these impetuous impertinences, he cussed, and turned the monitor off. So pissed was he at the ignoble, amorality of it all, it was all he could do to keep from putting his fist through the glass. "What's the word on Melita Kelly."
Helena slowly opened her eyes and stared at the charred remains of the demolished comm post. Obviously Technical had not had the chance to fix it.
"Melita was brutally attack, stabbed with a sharp object to her face, chest and abdomen; she was nearly strangled to death. Among other injuries, she suffers from a fractured larynx and she is in intensive care on a ventilator. She is lucky to be alive. Her physical but probably more so her mental recovery from the ordeal will be over an extensive amount of time."
She leaned her head back against the couch again, staring up, as orange and reddish shadows danced across the ceiling.
"In the past hour, there have been 15 reported cases of people needing to be relieved of duty for 'mental breakdowns'" she continued, shaking her head. "It seems like the latest trend is to have a good cry then hide under the covers."
Actually, to Helena, she could forgo the cry but hiding under the covers sounded like a wonderful idea to her.
"I am very concerned about the emotional and mental instability of the people on this base, John. The attack on Ang, the attack on Melita and the murder of Edgar Bayledon are certainly a contributing factor to the anxiety."
Koenig stood beside the stylus globe, arms folded intractably over his chest. He stared at the floor, and paused. The photonic bursts, from darkness, to daylight, seemingly mimicking his thought processes. A surviving capacitor on the burned out, trashed commstation ticked, and settled, as a kingdom of red vapors moved in low over the northeast quadrant. The scaffolds surrounding Launch Pad One moved in, and out of the Devonian chowder like Old Hamlet's Ghost. This was the area of the city that housed stellar cartography, various Technical Section warehouses, and--at one time--the Chinese Embassy. This, before certain UN Resolutions were passed that made Moonbase Alpha a neutral zone. The only requirement being that participating continents help schviz the several thousands of tons of undecayed nuclear kipple.
Yes, he--John Koenig--was the ninth commander of Moonbase Alpha. He was the second American to call the shots. The first American commander was a political science, wunderkind, laureate named Arthur Strange (the urge to leap to symbolism was inappropos in this case; he was actually, one of the most normal people Koenig had ever met; did his laundry four times a week, didn't drink, didn't smoke butts). His tour of duty was requisite. One year on, and then the ILC cleaned house. The two met at the conference in Orlando Florida in nineteen hundred, and ninety-six. Carter introduced them. He had a friend, who had a friend, who had a friend. Koenig--ever the teacher--allowed as to how it must be rewarding to be Head In-Charge Honcho over such an ambitious, destiny shaping endeavor.
No, Strange said. It's not worth a pitcher of warm piss.
Koenig returned to the present--black sleeve, and all--and used his comlock to close the shutters. As the screens lowered, the sensor was triggered, bringing several of the dimmer lights to life in the office.
"Okay, there's nothing out there that could be causing this." He declared, stepping into the pit. It was like playing cheater's Monopoly, and somehow he had ended up with zero property, and in jail for most of the game, sans card. And it was angry chocolate for him. And, he didn't like it. "The answer has to be in here--with us.
"You've spoken to 'Ang?"
"Oh certainly," Russell affirmed. "We tried to interview her extensively but she was suffering from short term amnesia, induced by shock. The human mind is a peculiar thing, John. It will go to great lengths to protect itself from further harm when confronted with mental trauma."
Helena leaned forward on her elbows, wincing at the remains of Ben Ouma's chair. Another two inches and Ang would have destroyed the leg on the conference table.
"Anyway, Bob Mathias recognized that this type of amnesia is self destructive and he put her under hypnosis to help her recall the events so that she can begin to deal with the memories. He put her in such a state that all she could do was tell the truth. It was all rather bizarre."
"First, she saw you and Victor or rather the images of you and Victor, mocking her, threatening her. Then saw something else; an image of a faceless figure in, of all things, a top hat and tails. The odd thing about this image is that she has seen it twice before: once when she was holding Nicky in Medical then later when she was attacked in Technical. She is utterly convinced she saw these apparitions although, admittedly, sometimes the mind will create such an illusion so that it seems real to the person, a psychosis, if you will. However, Angelina Carter does not have a history of mental illness or psychosis. We could debate all day whether she saw the image of the faceless specter or not. But...."
Helena stood up and went to the viewport, though with the shutters in place there was nothing to see anyway. She turned around to face Koenig again.
"During the hypnosis, she spontaneously shouted a warning: 'No, Melita! Run Away!' over and over, becoming highly distressed. Within a few minutes, Dac Capano reported to Medical that Melita was badly injured. Minutes after that, they brought her in savagely stabbed and near death"
"In other words, John, Angelina Carter knew that Melita was being attacked and actually saw it happening to her before anyone else discovered it."
Helena sat in the white pretzel chair, stopping, letting what she just told John a chance to make an impression.
Koenig rumpled. He rubbed his eyes, and did a frustrated about face, approaching the blackened, weeping, insolvent mess of a commstation. He ran his finger along a yard of broiled, fiber optic cable. He turned abruptly, pointing a salient finger at the physician.
"Why now?" He insisted, allowing his hand to drop limply to his side. "Helena, that woman has never--ever--shown the slightest tendencies towards precognition. Have you tested her out? What about Mathias? Was there a prior history of this?
Then he was in her face, leaning against the conference table, and unleashing barge wave, after volcanic eruption of infuriated inquisition.
"Have you performed an EKG on her? How about a CAT Scan? Look, when Victor, and I were in here earlier, she acted as though she was out of her mind.
"She had absolutely no sense of time." He pointed out, gesticulating with his right thumb, and forefinger. "She had no sense of place. She acted as though she was in another world entirely. Is it possible that all of this may tie in to some deep seated emotional problem?
"Is it possible that something external might have caused it--not only in 'Ang, but in the others as well?
"And by external, I don't mean the crummy penthouse view. We've all been forced to cope with conditions in here.
"However, not all of us are coming apart like biscuits that have had too much butter. I've been on duty for fifteen hours now, and I still haven't found it an appealing idea to gut someone, and then throw him through the window.
"I need answers, Helena. From a medical, and psychiatric point of view--WHAT IS THE COMMON DENOMINATOR?"
Dr. Russell was unaffected by John Koenig's verbal onslaught. She knew the Commander well enough that he was frustrated and she did not view it as a personal attack.
"Of course, all of the standard tests for a physical cause were performed and they all turned out to be normal. Angelina Carter does not exhibit any other signs that the problem is emotional or psychological. I will reiterated that she has no history of mental illness. Oh sure, there was the nervous breakdown she suffer 6 months after Breakaway when she was coming to terms with Eric Sparkman's death and Breakaway, which, you'll remember for her, happened within the span of 24 hours. But who on this base, John, has not experienced grief? No, in my opinion, it is highly unlikely she is suffering from mental or emotional illness."
"It is not just because of the tests I have come to this conclusion." Helena took a deep breath.
"After the hypnosis session, Anne Delline came to me, very distraught. She told me that before they started, she was updating charts when she thought she saw an image in the mirror, standing behind her. She also noticed the temperature dropped in the room. She described it as a faceless figure with top hat and tails." She paused and looked at Koenig.
"John, there has got to be something on this base causing all of this. Yes, something external....but now, it's here....among us."
Koenig's shoulders slumped. Again the folie eau deax with the dark figure in top hat, and tails. He'd gotten the fundaments on that little jewel from Mathias over an hour ago. A ghostly alumni of the Shrine Circus. The apparition that apparently everyone had seen--excepting himself, and probably Alan Carter. He relaxed his palm against the table again, constipated with disgust, and discord. Doubt wasn't the issue here. Clarification. That was his quandary. Koenig had been around the block a few times. Up to his knees in pragmatism--that was his preference, but at the same time, he wasn't a 'diz. Rationalism was good, as far as it went, but it was like a bus that could only take you just so far--after that, you had to hike through some pretty shady, totally inhospitable terrain. Enough data existed to affirm the existence of the paranormal--so much so that the skeptic laughed at his own expense.
Yeah, he'd even gone so far as to ask Pierce Quenton to deploy his men in a sweeping, generalized search. No stone, or closet was to be left unturned in their search for Mr. Top Hat, and Tails. Quenton's response was one of polite ill repute; as if he were discovering for the first time that his commander was a bumbler, a village idiot. How shocking.
Why do you want that? Quenton's non-sequitor body language communicated.
I want it because I want it. Koenig's glare, and his off-putting posture asserted.
Okeydoke. Quenton replied without replying. The "search," as it were, was on, and still in progress, but so far the effort was an inefficacy, to say the least. It made Koenig a laughing stock--it was effective that way. Now he was redoubtable. A man of two skins. Schizophrenic, and lump headed, and in the meantime, Melita Kelly was mauled to within an inch of her life.
He could almost feel the steam, purging from his ears like a tea kettle.
"Oh, whatever it is, it's definitely here among us." Koenig remarked curtly. "That's about as helpful as telling me that grass is green.
"One man dead, one woman was frightened out of her wits, and another looks like she's been run through a Mixmaster.
"Then we have Marcus Profitt, who collapses, but then rises again. Why? Who knows. The bogeyman did it. Thanks for giving me an aggressive, detailed report, Dr. Russell.
"I want you to know, this has been very pleasant, and instructive."
He wanted to bellow, to crush someone's balls.
Once again she ignored Koenig's "attitude." She was well aware of the security sweep and did not believe it would turn up squat. Afterall, they were looking for Casper the unfriendly ghost: it would be found only if it wanted to be found. "We have done our best to play devil's advocate and assign a logical explanation to what has happened to Ang and Melita Kelly. We keep coming up empty handed and are left with the unknown, the "other" option. I don't like it either but there we are."
She was about to point out that Edgar Bayledon's murder had no similarity with Melita's attack. She decided, however, she would let Truman Starns present that evidence, unless he already knew it; John Koenig was already aggravated enough. She had moved within arm's length of the commander but did not make contact.
"John, the one piece of physical that seems to be connected to the apparent sightings of this specter, if we can call it that, has been a drastic drop in temperature....arctic chill. I realize the sensors and computer are engaged in scanning for trouble on the outside of Alpha, in the form of falling rocks. Are we having computer alert us at even the slightest drop in temperature out of the normal range? That would give us a possible early warning if this thing is about to make another appearance."
The door chimed. It was Victor Bergman and Truman Starns.
Koenig shook his head furiously.
"Been there. Done that. Not early warning enough." And then, positioning the two new targets within his crosshairs. "???WHAT???"
Behind Truman Starns and Victor Bergman, four heavily armed security guards stepped into the office. "I'm sorry, John," Victor began unregretfully, "but I am here to relieve you of your command."
"Commander Koenig," Starns finished, "you are under arrest for the murder of Edgar Bayledon and the assaults on Melita Kelly and Angelina Carter."
That was a new wrinkle. Koenig was bowled over by the martinet, audaciousness of it all. Meat heads with bad timing, yes they were. That was the match that touched the gas that sent his nervous system to hell. Before blowing them all to kingdom come, he thought it might be fun to look back, and see from what direction the tracks in the sand led. Victor seldom joked. It was a matter of public record. Let us face the facts. When he did joke, it was cornier than Kansas City on the Fourth Of July. Victor's altruism vivisected any chance he would ever have of being funny. He lacked the bottomless denial, and the abysmal hatred for all humankind that makes for good humor. Victor was an "us" kind of guy. The current malignant improv seemed weirdly off base--like "Appassionata," or "Peer Ghent" being honked out on a kazoo.
He looked to Russell to see if she got it. He paced the floor five times in succession, trying to think of an alternative to screaming. Harness Bull Pound--mindful that errant boys, and girls must sometimes be brought to reality with a nightstick against their craniums--stood vigil by the corridor exit from the office.
"You've got to be joking me." Koenig crashed, and with no trace of true 'ha-ha-good-one' in his broken down smile.
"I'm afraid it is not a joke, John," Bergman step forward with a condescending smirk. "The evidence is quite clear."
Velma Hill stepped forward, laser drawn. All of the security guards had the same neutral expressions on their stone faces..unfeeling, condemning.
"YOU," Starns approached, stabbing an accusatory finger on Koenig's chest, "you are a guilty. I knew it from the beginning. The evidence is irrefutable... futable... futable...... futable"
Starns voice echoed through the room.
"How many people have you killed under your command, Koenig? How many people have died because of you since September 13, 1999?"
"Kiss my ass." Koenig withdrew, calmly. Then the mouse--the one that dwelled in the cavity between his ear drum, and sinuses. It had begun to burrow. His popsickle lips began to quiver. He turned away, deluged, and unprovided. He took a tentative step forward on his rubber galoshes. That was the way it felt, knee bones becoming oscillate, and dipsy. The scanner wipe on the compost orbited like the crushing, omnivorous, reality eradicating core of a black sun. The leaves of the homely rubber tree plant danced across Helena Russell's off-white sleeve. They had begun to glow in a solarized orange color. He noticed that the physician's complexion was a watery pink. Suddenly, the room was a density of red light panels, and flashfire graphics.
Starns, and Victor--their invidious words, reverberating through his mind like the cries of the impure from the crumbling, cathedral halls of a gothic monastery.
"The head." Koenig muttered. "The head that lives in your mind."
Blood burst from the commander's right nostril. He fumbled for a tissue to dam the flow. Harness Bull Pound rolled, and pinged his gleeful tongue. From some, damned-where--the sound of a rubber ball bouncing.
From floor, to ceiling.
"I," He said carefully, enunciating the pronoun with crystalline clarity. "I have done...the best...that I could." He wanted to sleep. Lay his comlock on the stand, and set the alarm to go off in a year, or twenty, or thirty, or forty. "Everyone who died...." Koenig trailed off, rubbing the sucker parasites of grief from his leaden eyes. Tombstones, as far as the eye could see. "Almost...it didn't have to happen...." He moved forward, cutting between his accusers to face his black desk.
"But it did happen." Starns asserted, appearing suddenly like Satan at his shoulder. "How did that effect you--you were given this almost god-like mantle. Sanctioned by situation; bestowed upon you by the ignorant, and the craven...."
"What is survival?" Harness Bull Pound asked innocently, and Victor Bergman nodded.
"I'm not a god." John Koenig croaked on a floor that was filled with loose marbles. Reds, and blues, and greens, and purples. He exhaled a plume of smoke as he mitigated himself in the forty below zero court room.
The lovely nymph with golden hair floated towards him.
"John?" The siren sang in her melodic voice. Oddly, she resembled a Mermaid, the fins for her feet were barely touching the floor.
"JOHN?!?!" The gentle voice was more insistent. Behind the maiden, a swirl of colors...blues, greens, aquamarines. Stepping into the stage appeared faceless top hat and tails. His diamond tipped cane in one hand, a diamond encrusted cigarette holder in the other. The cigarette was lit, emitting perfectly formed smoke rings. Ghostface moved closer and closer to the lovely nymph.
Koenig took the petrarchan angel by her glitter covered shoulders. At the moment of contact, he felt a numbing vibration--holding a spliced electrical cord with wet hands; shooting a spit wad at a cyclone fence. The fairy mistress looked at his groping hands, confused. Behind them, Blueberry Boy was sitting on the desk eating a cake,committied with many doomed, and screaming faces. He giggled secretly as he continued to gourmand the vanilla, and white icing flakes down his fat ass throat. Koenig looked on, but his eyes were not limpet pools.
We almost had a son, Koenig communicated to the nymph in celestial curls. But the c-section would have killed her. She would have died with a six inch corpse, already decaying inside her. He looked at Ghostface with disgust. Unsavory comparisons barged in--of Caligula, Robespierre, the rum dumb roman who skewered Christ.
I didn't know if there were any other options, and I didn't care if there were any other options. It was a trade I wasn't prepared to make. So, when she was asleep, I brought in the D & C Patrol to clean her out. Against her wishes. Against the doctor's wishes. I arranged the whole thing myself, and Dixon was my accomplice. Why? Koenig had no idea. They weren't even on amicable terms when it happened. Bethesda Naval Hospital's bastion of rectitude, the one doctor who swore allegiance to the truth--who threatened to expose what had been done--was conveniently reassigned to Johnson Island in the South Pacific.
He waited for another blast from the shrieking, red psychostream to pass before releasing the nymph, and presenting himself with an agonized flourish. The son mimics the father, Moonbase Alpha, look upon your messiah, and despair.
"And if I had it to do over again," He added aloud. "I'd do it, and in less time than it would take to lock a desk drawer. I didn't learn a damn thing."
Top Hat, and Tails Ghostface was speechless. He never knew.
"Yes, of course." The commander said drunkenly, and approached Victor Bergman. He fumbled for his comlock, and pressed PAGE. He squared up (be-boop), never breaking the hazel storm eye contact.
"Yeah, John." The professor replied over the link.
"Where are you at."
Beside him, Victor Bergman scratched his nose. He seemed to be getting a cold.
"I'm in the O-K Corridor with Truman Starns. Is everything alright."
The rubber ball ascended, and then negotiated the steps one, by one. It rolled to a stop beside his left flare. The nymph rose into space,palms held outward for balance as she suspended gravity. She drifted towards the big doors, the hem of her pyrite colored, pleather gown, draping itself momentarily across the commander's black sleeve. Harness Bull Pound was playing Peekaboo' behind a fully functional compost that 'Ang Carter had burned out only two hours before.
"There is something in The Orpheus Wastes." Koenig said with certainty. "Alpha has been invaded."
Helena shook her head. She was about to say something but she had a moment where time seemed to stop. It was the same feeling she had on earth whenever she misplaced her car keys; a moment of blankness that, for all she knew, could one day turn into full blown Alzheimer's.
"John, I..." She noted Koenig's appearance. His face was ashen, eyes gaunt. "John?!?" Helena grabbed him by the arm, instinctively trying to steady him. "John, are you alright?"
"Victor, stand by." Koenig said, and changed settings. It was amazing how diaphanous his voice became, now that the office was empty again. Gently then, he removed Helena Russell's comlock from her belt.
Her Lunar Time: 14:45
His Lunar Time: 14:58
Almost fifteen minutes difference. Maybe they should have checked 'Ang Carter's comlock. Looking around, he noticed that the commstation was back to needing repaired again. So. There were three projections possible here. The first: he had been left behind, while everyone else had been removed from Alpha in a state of metabolic hibernation, to a time zone that was fifteen minutes ahead of the Moon. This was the least salient. He had seen Helena Russell in the office with him. No transporter beams had arrived to disassemble her molecularly; no aliens had arrived to carry her away to waiting frigate, of outro design. Second, he was the one who had left the base, but this leaked water as badly as the other theory did. Scenario Number Three was the most plausible--a combination of the first two.
Oh, and then there's Scenario Number Four. Somewhere on the docks of complete madness, and derangement, he had blacked out, only to return once his tour of crayons, and diapers had been completed. He had awakened then, to the light of a new day. All bliss, and tangerine trees, and there were no such things as monsters.
The red rubber ball--rough, and solid, like a pogo stick ball. It rolled objectively against his left bootheel. He stooped to pick it up; studied its surface methodically.
Helena Russell received her comlock as Koenig handed it back to her. She keyed a code.
"Ang," she started,"what do you have for a lunar time on your comlock?"
"Huh?!?" Angelina's expression on the blue and white micromonitor was complete bewilderment.
"What time do you have?" Russell persisted.
"15:03," Ang answered. "Why? What time do you have?" She smirked. At the same time she looked away at the compost. Her smirk returned to bewilderment.
"14:48," Russell replied. "I'm sure the Commander will be calling a Command conference soon." Russell cut the link.
Koenig's face was white and he was sweating, despite the fact that the room had to be around 20 degrees; their breath was visible as on a January morning. She gently touched his cheek, concern and underlying affection breaking to the surface.
"John, you didn't answer my first question. Are you alright?"
Koenig's chin dipped with cautious asperity beneath his black collar. Helena nodded, assured momentarily, and returned to her professional demeanor.
"It looks like we finally have some physical evidence to support the notion of a presence here on Alpha."
"Physical evidence," the commander agreed. "For something that can't possibly be explained in physical terms." His apprised the rubber ball with enormous pith, and apprehension. "I gather that we're not very intimidating to it. It had no problem at all taking the first step." He said, eyebrows raising. "If step two is more of the same--or worse--we're in big, big trouble."
The Tomato Clown gave up its squatter's rights. After several wake up calls, and a skirmish that ended badly, it's status as the inferior amphibian was now patina. It cowered beneath the phony, purple seaweed, whilst the oversized Goldfish took up shop. Beyond this bubbling underworld, and the hollow eyes of the emblazoned death's head, there was a row of moduform chairs. Thirty steps away from the waiting room--past Carolyn Kennedy's cubicle, and a row of digital copiers, Angelina Carter sat quietly at her desk. The glow from the gooseneck lamp created a vacuum of pastels against the cold blue sterility.
She was looking at the work order she had signed off on for the renovation (a.k.a. salvaging from the heaps of hopeless; the yards, and yards of metal that had been turned to rigatoni in the extreme heat) of Launch Pad One.
Her lap top computer was in DPMS OFF MODE.
She turned to reach for her coffee, and vied her new screen saver:
WHY DO YOU CARE?
This was accompanied by a sound byte that was broadcast across the component speakers. The voice was not that of Alpha's main computer. The wave, and the synth cycled at levels previously unheard--insectoid, inhuman.
HELLO, ANGELINA CARTER.
She was startled enough to drop her coffee, one imitation sweetener plus extra imitation cream. Her mug with the writing "51% Angel, 49% Bitch..Don't Push It!" shattered into four pieces, splashing the liquid in all directions.
Angelina had a choice. She could either run in fright or confront the thing. No one would believe her anyway if she ran in fright so she decided to confront the thing. Ang keyed a few codes on her comlock. In exactly, 5 minutes, the compost in the reception area would sound the Emergency alarm. She did not trust the time keeping ability of her own comlock in the presence of whatever it was that kept "visiting" her. She typed a few keys on her laptop and closed the door to her office.
Angelina sat back, shivering slightly as the temperature began to drop in the room.
"Who are you?" She queried the air. "What do you want? I think it is time you and I had a little chat, don't you?"
YOU WANTED TO DIVERT THE MOON'S COURSE.
The dialogue was preceded by white noise from a bad modem connection. The image on the monitor degaussed, briefly. As if neither the lap top, nor its main frame host contained enough gigaflops of memory to accommodate this exchange.
YOU DIDN'T WANT TO ENTER HERE. WHY. WHY DO YOU CARE. LET ME KNOW HOW MUCH TIME I HAVE BEFORE YOU SOUND THE ALARM. I'M NOT VERY GOOD WITH TIME.
When she blinked and looked over the monitor, Alan Carter was standing in front of her desk; only, it was not Alan Carter and she knew it. Angelina pulled her comlock from her belt and queried the location of Carter's comlock. The response: Main Mission.
Right, of course he was.
"We cannot control the course of our moon," Angelina answered the question, avoiding the 'why do you care' portion.
"What do you want from us? Why have you come here?" she asked, expecting to see the phony Carter answer. Instead, she was a little shocked to see Eric Sparkman, her former and dead fiancée.
Ang shook her head. "Whatever you are trying to do to me, it is not working and I'm not amused."
In fact, she was actually becoming annoyed and impatient.
Pop. Fire ants, chomping through the Ethernet port . There was a long pause, as if party number two was attempting to put together sentences, courtesy of some almanac, or thesaurus.
YOU'VE CHANGED COURSE BEFORE. "Yewwwwwwwwwwwwww'...wanted to...ach...son...this time...." The maudlin baritone prompted her. WHY WERE YOU IGNORED. ARE YOU THE CRETIN. A SPECIAL PERSON. DOES YOUR OPINION NOT MATTER. IS THAT WHAT YOU MEAN BY TET A TET. VERY INTERESTING.
Reclined on the beige, pretzel low back, the hologram of Alan Carter looked about the room with a bemused smirk. Physically, he was a ringer. His attitude was the first shoe to be thrown. Though incorporated to perfection, physically, the image was emotionally dystonic--as if 'Ang was viewing camcorder footage of him. An historic record of Alan Carter from months past.
YOUR COMMANDER HAS NOTICED ME. ALSO INTERESTING. I DIDN'T THINK HE WAS BRIGHT ENOUGH. I'M GAINING MORE, AND MORE RESPECT FOR YOUR SPECIES EVERY SINGLE DAY. SO MUCH TO LEARN. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HEAR A NEW SYNONYM FOR THE WORD CRETIN.
Then a pause, followed by the sounds of colonial bees, in deadly dispute over the rights to the nearest honeycomb. Also surreal, and nightmarish, the Doppler of Eric Sparkman had returned to grin, and gloat, and utter soundless follies with his gonzo, unnerving, bullshit tongue.
DON'T ASK ME TO REMEMBER WHERE I LEARNED IT. I DISTURB YOU, DON'T I. I DISTURBED YOU BEFORE, BUT I'M REALLY DISTURBING YOU NOW. DOES THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY, ANGELINA.
Angelina wished she had her silver thermal jacket. She was freezing and could certainly see her breath. Ang rocked back and forth in her chair. She was not frightened. She was annoyed; this thing was annoying her more than Ed Malcom.
"Changing course can be an extremely dangerous action," Angelina leaned forward on her desk, challenging the Eric Sparkman image. "Of course, if you were as all knowing as you believe yourself to be, you would not have to ask me that question."
She looked up at the ceiling, wondering if she had gone off the deep end.
"No, you are not making me happy." Angelina looked across the desk again to find an image of her late brother, Antonio Verdeschi, with a glass of his home brew in hand, staring at her.
"I am freezing cold, for one thing." Angelina snorted. "Why is it that every time you show up the friggin room turns ice cold?"
Angelina stopped, momentarily frightened; detailed images of Melita's attack were displayed in her mind. "Why did you attack Melita?" Ang shook her head, closing her eyes. An image of Ghostface, an image of an Alphan with a rust colored sleeve, an image of Ghostface, the Alphan turning toward her.
"You didn't attack her," She paused. "Yes, you did."
'LICERA.' THAT IS THE WORD. CRETIN. AN INDIVIDUAL WITH NO ARDOR. A SIMPLETON. I RECALL. THE DARKLIGHTS.
Then, an argot, hyper-synch explosion of dog whistle feedback that caused the technical manager to appulse with a nearby floor lamp.
Angelina would not be intimidated; she would not be deterred.
"I ask you again...What do you want?!?! Why are you doing this to us?!?! We are here by accident. We mean you no harm and we will be out of this area of space in a matter of days."
ATTACK. Then, an unapprobatory hee-haw of laughter, not entirely unexpected. Inside her desk speakers, ubiquitous bees massacred one another. The very mention of cold caused the thermometer to dip sadistically lower. The vision ports in 'Ang's office were frosted sheets, almost uniform in color with the pale bulkhead. On the nearby commstation, seconds ticked by, irretrievably.
I HAVEN'T ATTACKED ANY ONE. HOW AM I DOING ON TIME, ANGELINA. DO YOU LOVE YOUR OFFSPRING. HE'S AWARE OF ME TOO. THOSE WHO CAN SEE DO. A COMPLIMENT TO YOU. NOT MANY ARE. MOST ARE LICERA. LOW MINDED CHICKEN BRAINED SPECIAL PEOPLE.
Angelina stood and came around to the front of her desk, as top hat and tails materialized in front of her. Seated next to her was the image of her late brother Antonio, studying the color of his latest brew, looking up occasionally and leering at her.
The emergency alarm sounded in the distant background.
"He is frightened because he does not understand what you are." Angelina pointed at the faceless Fred Astaire. "I know what you are and I have confronted worse than you. I am not afraid of you."
Someone was trying to open the door. The door remained locked; but Angelina did not lock it in the first place.
"We will fight you," Angelina stated with certainty. "We will prevail against you."
Images flashed in her mind.....Crusaders and Moors hacking each other to bits on horseback....An Alphan with a rust colored sleeve with a stainless steel blood stained knife...Britons and Germans screaming in agony from mutually exchanged mustard gas cylinders, gasping for air, on a French battlefield...An Alphan with a rust colored sleeve wielding a garrote...A young Palestinian blasting himself apart and taking two Jewish girls with him in a busy mall...An Alphan with a rust colored sleeve..
Angelina closed her eyes and shook her head. "No," she stated calmly.
"GET OUT!" She demanded, pointing to the door, scarcely able to feel her fingers, which were numb from the extreme cold.
DO YOU ENJOY YOUR ANGER.
The interior of her office was like an arctic cavern in the Queen Elizabeth Sea. Motes of precipitous water blew through the nearby HI-VAC Unit. Following contact with the essentialness of Ghostface, the dissembling spray was immediately transformed into flakes of ice. Snow fell from the air of the office, onto the floor, and the desk, and in Ang's hair--they melted almost immediately. A reaction signatory to her coefficient of rage. Tiaras of pin prick light accumulated on the forgotten floor. A permafrost plate had already formed over the edge of her lap top's casing.
WHATEVER. Ghostface concluded, realizing that this conversation with the technical manager had grown tiresome, and unbootful. The cat was more emotive, and stimulating.
ONE BELONGED TO THE OTHER. I HAVE A GREAT DEAL OF WORK TO DO. TIME IS UNREDEEMED TO THE CRAFTSMAN WHO HAS YET TO DEMONSTRATE HIS CRAFT. ANGELINA CARTER, ADIEU.
The letter "O" appeared on her computer monitor, and then reality swiped, and lap dissolved again, leaving in its wake the familiar dialogue box: DPMS OFF MODE.
Then, obtruding upon this bottomless pit of shit, Sloven stole into the office with his atomizer drawn.
"Did you trigger an alarm in this area?" He asked pointedly. "What's your emergency?"
The two harness bulls, Pound, and LeBeque pulled up behind him with brandished Brain Banger Prisms. Behind them, operatives began to flood Technical Section. Their entire arsenal, drawn, and pointing at her sweet, little self.
Angelina rolled her eyes and walked around to her cold laptop, shaking her head.
Forget the fact that the room was about zero degrees and their exhaling was creating a condensation fog as thick as California's I-5 corridor. Forget the fact that they had to force the door open to get into the room. Forget the fact that the Chief of Technical Operations was responsible enough not to engage in practical jokes that would have an entire squadron of harness bulls dashing to her office, only to be greeted by a cheery "April Fools"; sheesh..it wasn't even April 1st!
Ang wondered momentarily what Tanya Alexander saw in guys like Ivan Sloven.
Angelina had recorded the conversation between Ghostface and herself on her laptop. She played it back for them. The insectoid voice spoke...she spoke..the insectoid voice spoke...she spoke...back and forth. Sloven and Pound stood with mouth agape. LeBreque had a flicker of light go off in his eyes, as if he may have realized there had indeed been a problem. Angelina burned a CD and returned to the front of the desk.
"Obviously," she replied through chattering teeth,"it is gone. But it was here. Please make sure the Commander..."
She was about to give Sloven the CD when Koenig, Bergman and Carter pushed their way to the front of the security crowd, stepping into the polar cave; the frost was still thick on the windows.
"Oh, hello, Commander," Angelina greeted as though she was socializing at a church supper. "Nice to see you."
She nodded pleasantly to Bergman and smiled broadly at Carter.
"This is for you," she handed Koenig the CD. "Do you mind if we get out of here? I really need to warm up." She briskly rubbed her arms.
Angelina entered the Commander's office through the side door, avoiding Main Mission. As usual, she was the last to arrive, though by her commlock, she was not late.
Ang was still feeling chilled after her last meeting with Ghostface. She was wearing a rust colored, polar fleece jacket over her uniform, the color almost perfectly matching her sleeve. One would have believed that it was Moonbase Alpha issued, if it wasn't for the tiny logo of the snow capped mountain peak with the words "Sugarloaf USA" embroidered above her left breast.
Helena Russell, Victor Bergman, Paul Morrow and Sandra Benes were already seated, conversing quietly. Chief of Security Pierce Quinton had been invited to this meeting and he sat in what was normally Ang's chair next to Paul. Angelina walked around the table and took the empty seat next to Alan. She opened her laptop and it revived itself out of "sleep mode" as the Commander descended into the pit and sat in his chair.
"Alright." Koenig said, aiming his comlock at the big doors. "Everyone knows why we're here. While 'Ang is setting up, let's review what we know so far. Some sort of alien intelligence appears to be with us here on Alpha. There have been numerous sightings--myself included. It's egocentric, through, and through. There's been nothing to indicate that it had anything to do with the death of Ed Bayledon, or the attack on Melita Kelly. Then again, there's a guilt by proximity that has to be considered.
"We've lost one unmanned probeship. An hour ago, we launched another probe." The commander said, and passed a neat stack of red flimsied status reports around the table. "Our purpose here is to examine our options, if any.
"Victor, have you had a chance to look at the telemetry yet from the second unmanned probe. What are the chances of an early exit from The Orpheus Wastes."
Koenig kneaded his fingers together on the table, and waited for the brain trustees to chew the situation over.
"Well, we're past the half-way point now." The professor said, optimistically. "The higher rates of gravity, and expansion are behind us--we shan't' be pummeled with the same huge amounts of stellar debris that we've been seeing." He explained, clenching his right fist together. "The Orpheus Effect is like a giant degausser, or magnet--pulling us forward at incredible speeds. You can liken the origin to a lull, or the eye of a hurricane. It's at that point that the fields reverse themselves, and the Moon is ejected with the other masses in transit; asteroids, comets." Bergman drug his heels in pregnant pause, noticeably aware that the others were staring at him. "As to an early egress...." He postulated, stirring the curds, and waves in his cup of Extract. "No, I don't see it happening. We're committed. It has to run it's course."
Ang nodded to the Commander and clicked on the "play" tab on her screen. The recording of the conversation between Ghostface with the insectoid voice and Angelina played over the speakers, echoing through the room. She sat back, staring at the metal shuttered viewports.
"ONE BELONGED TO THE OTHER. I HAVE A GREAT DEAL OF WORK TO DO. TIME IS UNREDEEMED TO THE CRAFTSMAN WHO HAS YET TO DEMONSTRATE HIS CRAFT."
"Comments...observations." Koenig said, unsettled.
Dr. Helena Russell shuddered slightly. "I don't have a good feeling about what this thing's 'craft' might be."
Angelina nodded. "I agree, though I believe we've already seen a 'sample' of its work." Angelina looked up. "Commander, whatever this thing is, it is responsible for what happened to Melita. Why it is doing this...I don't know."
"Let's not be too hasty." Bergman said, gulping the nutragraine formula. "At this point we can't really be sure of anything. We lack the empirical data. It would be ill-advised to ascribe motives to this being--likewise, we can't be really sure that it was responsible for the attack on Melita Kelly. Everyone who has actually seen this entity described something discorporate--without any real physical form.
"Now, I find it hard to accept that something insubstantial was able to inflict those kinds of injuries. And what about Edgar Bayledon. That was no gaseous, or etheric creature that attacked him."
"The professor's right." Quenton agreed. "Detective Starns, and myself are together on this one issue: whoever murdered Bayledon was human; whoever attacked Melita Kelly was human. Skin samples extracted at both crime scenes corroborate that.
"The problem is--the epidermal specimens don't match." He explained, and then, turning to Ang.' "I would like to know what makes you think that Kelly was the canonical victim here? Why do you think the alien attacked her? How do you know that Bayledon wasn't its preferred target?"
Angelina looked across the table at Quinton, crossing her arms across her chest defensively. "I have seen this thing five times. The fourth time, toward the end of the hypnosis, I saw Melita being attacked by it."
She shook her head slightly, trying to remember. "I saw it, then I saw an Alphan with a rust colored sleeve. It was like that, back and forth between top hat and tails and the Alphan. No, I didn't see the face of the Alphan." She paused then continued. "Come to think of it, I saw that same flip-flopping image of that thing and an Alphan every time except the first time."
Pierce Quinton scoffed and chuckled slightly. "Yeah, sure you did, Ang."
"Well for Chrissakes, Pierce!!" Ang angrily ejected the CD from her laptop and waved it at him. "Why would you just blow me off when you have THIS to perhaps lend some credibility of my account?!?!?"
"I don't know," Angelina sat back disgusted, slamming the CD to the table. "Maybe it changes into human form or something when it does its 'craft'". Excedrin headache #10,345 was coming on.
"Now, by way of refuting my previous admonition," Victor began, rubbing his palm with his right thumbnail. "It is possible that one, or more of us is being manipulated in some way, consciously, or otherwise. Puppets on a string, being made to carry out these acts of violence for reasons beyond our understanding.
"Not that I believe the reason behind it is of any importance, because I don't. I don't see the question 'why' as being an issue here."
"Yes, but who, Professor...who? Other than possibly someone from technical. Then again, anyone can get hold of a duty uniform for a different section. It's not like we've had a big theft problem with them in the past," Angelina postulated.
"Maybe we should have shifted gears." A briefed, with a Capital "B," Alan Carter ruminated. "The past ten days have been nothing, but a bloody blowfly, and a brothel. Now this. I would have preferred taking my chances by setting off the nukes.' We might have blown the Moon straight to Hell, but at least it's a danger we could see."
Ang look at Carter with appreciation; she wanted to hug him right there. She interpreted the comment as an acknowledgement that what she was seeing was not a figment of her imagination or the product of a fatigued mind.
She, like Alan, did not want to enter the Orpheus Wastes and proposed a plan to divert the moon from its course and avoid their journey into this cosmic cesspool. He was a staunch supporter of her plan; no one else really was though, especially after Ben Ouma somehow calculated that they had a higher probability of survival travelling through the region than diverting the moon's course. Despite the fact that his statistical model was somewhat flawed, the command staff opted to not attempt a course change. Ang was not comfortable enough with the commander to unleash an "I told you so" type of comment; but Alan was not shy and did...not that it really mattered now in the grand scheme of things.
"Alan, that was my decision." Koenig effaced. "I, and I alone am responsible. The Tangential Rate Of Spin--in this case--would have involved placing charges in an area where the mantle is highly unstable. By the same token, we couldn't roll out Operation Shockwave because there's no way to moor charges in The Orpheus Influx. Ang' offered the alternate plan, but I was reluctant to take it." The commander slowed.
"Believe me, that's one decision I'll regret to my dying day."
The eyes on the ceiling were privy as Miranda Darvin said good night to her apollonian colleague, Carroll Severance. The latter had an amoral sense of humor, and made conjugal porcupine jokes before exiting, stage right, to the commissary. The doors rolled closed on their tracks, and the lights were born, and gained strength, and equipoise, as she crossed the acoustically loud, tile floor of the Solar Mag' Dome. Hundreds of digital screens pixeled on the upper walls, all running the same scan. Outside, The Orpheus Wastes huffed, and puffed, and blew the universe down. Her high boot heels stepped onto the platform. The gears began to turn. The aperture lowered into position as the hydraulic calipers carried her upwards.
She referred to page 237 of the PM Log Book, and squinted into the rubber baffled lens.
Beyond the narrow walls of the base, she saw the Doom Of All Sinners; the Slough Of Despond; the Circle Of The Uncommitted. Amidst this Homeric, Virgilian backdrop, the sky was falling in the form of comets--inestimable white, red, and blue streaks negotiating the umbilicus of galactic history. Somewhere in the wrath, and the sloth, she caught sight of a beguiling ink-blot shape, tenebrous, and accelerating.
It swallowed the lens, and then the darkness became tangible. She gripped the rails, and whimpered slightly as the black vapor moved down the barrel, and began to invade the dome from the opposite side of the glass. She grabbed her comlock, and initiated her escape from this slow, tortoise of a threat. The platform dropped easily to ground level, but she was feeling luckier than Lot's too-damn-nosy-for-her-own-good wife. This inquisitorial, loaded for bear glimpse led to the realization that she was about to die. Atop the platform, the black Magellan prepared to pounce. Blacker than the deepest fathoms, and voids. It had a 1,000 faces, and no faces. It assumed feral forms based on economy, and necessity. This is what the primitive Christians must have seen before having their purple sausage intestines cast over their shoulders.
It was descending, with animal charge.
The cartographer wailed. Instantly, she was at the hatch. She aimed the magnet end at the door. They slid open, and in the arctic corridor, she saw something blacker than the deepest fathoms, and voids. It assumed feral forms based on economy, and necessity. It's cable appendages took form, and stabbed at Miranda Darvin's chest, and private areas.
The cartographer shrieked as the wool on her forearm, and breasts was rent with burgeoning blood. She ran in the opposite direction this time, making for the adjacent Hydroponics Soy Croft. Carroll Severance had a hot idea concerning that. He promised to tell her about it some time. Her fleur-de-lis was in making it to the hatch. She left behind over two pints of blood, and out of the puddles arose serendip images of from her childhood. She was three quarts low, and south of the commstation when she recalled her adoptive father. A kindly butcher from Paris, Idaho who worked 75 hours a week in the shop to care for his family, and on his off-time, taught her to look at the stars.
"!!!Main Mission!!!" She cried hysterically, punching the black square. "!!!This is stellar cartography!!! Something is in here!!!"
Then there was her mother, who was sent to an early oblivion, with a bottle of Smirnov in one hand, and a nine millimeter Bereta in the other. Oddly enough, her suicide had not gone according to cure. An unexpected desideratum occurred when she stumbled against an ancient hotel ashtray stand. She plummeted from the window, hopelessly shitfaced, to the traffic five stories below. Upon the Chicago streets, human anatomy rained.
"!!!Main Mission!!! Security!!! Oh, God, will someone please help me!!!"
The heraldry of the inkblot consumed her. Out of the smog, magenta tentacles appeared. They whipped at her, and razzed her across the lower left cheek, the bridge of her nose--blinding her right eye. Miranda Darvin japed with fresh horror, and pounded on the barn door with small, bloody fists, her knees becoming unsustainable columns of water.
Blueberry Boy bounced his flagitious ball. Mermaid hovered nearby in her devilry; golden vestures dangled just above the ice covered linoleum.
The cartographer's anemic right palm was sliced open as she attempted to thwart the tentacles that assailed her. Out of the mists, the horizontal crucifix moved towards her like a yacht on a gentle wave. Protoplasm, and cosmic dust spewed forth in it's wake. Upon its afterworld surface, there were etched hieroglyphs, and cuneiform.
Then the grege to the hydroponics loft parted, and hands embraced her Adam's apple. She was already clinically dead when her eyes began to bulge from her sockets. The Orpheus Wastes was a jealous god, and Miranda Darvin was spirited to a place worse than Hell.
Victor smiled slightly. "What's done is done. We could have tried to alter our course but the results could have been the same or worse. We need to leave the past behind us and focus on what we can do to deal with the present danger."
Ang looked in Koenig's direction and nodded in agreement.
"So what are we going to do about it?" Pierce Quniton shifted in his seat. "We can't see it and we have no warning it's coming..."
"Yes," Paul Morrow advised. "And even if you did, what are you going to do, Pierce? Arrest it?" His stress level was worse than usual. Hence, he bitched like a Pollyanna who had used up her last Midol. Perspiration was visible on his tormented upper lip, and in a tree shape running up his back. His brow line was imminently stern, and declinating. His moustache twitched with nerves. To the neutral participant, his head looked like a mop covered gourd that was about to explode.
"Not entirely, Pierce," Ang interrupted, ignoring Morrow. "We do have the very precipitous drop in temperature in the area before it appears." Ang buried her hands in her pockets. She was still feeling cold.
Koenig mea culpaed.
"That brings us to our next topic." He said, and circulated more handouts around the table. "This is the revised security schedule. Take a good, long look at it because it's probably unwise to post it. A year ago, monitoring random drops in temperature would have been useful. Even six months ago, it would have been a plus. However that situation has now changed." He said, standing, and pacing in the direction of the closed vision ports. "There are too many variables now. We have temperature drops on Alpha due to reactor tests. We have temperature drops due to ongoing problems in the heat exchange system. There are temperature drops when we're repressurizing one of the construction zones."
He stopped just short of Quenton's chair.
"Factor in our greatly diminished population here on Alpha." He grimaced. "There just aren't that many of us. The thermometer is not our friend. By the time help arrives--judging by what we've seen so far--it's already too late."
"What about the time discrepancy that occurs on the commlocks when someone encounters this thing?" Angelina offered. "Isn't there a way to track that?" Angelina looked around the table. "Sir, we can't just sit back and wait for that thing to make its first move. I think it is pretty obvious that its 'craft' is murder. The last time it was nearly successful. I don't see how a revised security schedule is going to make any difference in deterring it."
"Measure the lunar time differential?" The glazed Main Mission Controller criticized. Morrow offered Ang' a look of absurd disbelief. His bangs were pasted severely to his cheeks like the paws of a sweaty gopher. "I guess I had it all wrong. I thought that anomaly occurred after the person was attacked, or killed."
Carter rubbed his claws together like a hungry panther. He wanted to bonk Morrow on the head, you see. Then his guardian angel appeared on his right shoulder; this had a tranquilizing effect on him. Do note, the calming effect was brief, and in a split second, the halo booked, and he wanted to clout Morrow upside his head again. This line of reasoning was self-perpetuating. An endless, paradigm strip of a thought. Mercy/Bonk; Mercy/Bonk; Mercy/Even More Barbaric Bonk. On, and on--he could not purge himself of the obsession. He excitedly measured the pros,' and for the sake of mathematical fairness, he divided the expression by the sensate cons.' Then there was the question of what level of Bonk the deputy commander was most deserving. An introductory bonk on the head, or a jack slap with extreme prejudice. Ladies, and gentlemen of the Academy, we're pleased to announce the winner of the coveted, Fat Lip Award. Congratulations, Mr. Paul Morrow, for excellence in the category of Annoying, Contemptible, Smartass Beetle Clones.
Ang stared at Paul momentarily. Then she glanced at Carter, giving him a crystal clear non-verbal 'Don't do it' message. She looked down at the Virtual Cats screen saver on her laptop and took a deep breath.
"The time differential was noticed on the commlocks after the attacks. It is highly likely that the differential occurs during the attack itself," Ang spoke quietly and glanced at the ceiling. She was in no mood to get into it with Paul today. "The professor concurs."
Bergman merely nodded and glanced between them, staying a healthy metaphorical distance away from both of them.
The new schedule covers a smaller perimeter." Pierce Quenton said, returning to the table with a coffee cup, and spoon. "There will be patrolmen, and volunteers in each of the designated complexes. One harness bull, per quadrant."
"I'd like to see the frontier declared off-limits." Koenig added. It wasn't an unreasonable request. Many of the buildings in the outer ring no longer existed. "We need to have everyone pulled back into the network area. No one goes out alone, and authorized personnel only until this crisis has ended. Ang,' Technical Section covers the most ground. Decide what you need, and what you don't need, and evacuate all of your people to the section services hub. In my opinion, it's dangerous to have anyone strolling around--alone--in No Person's Land."
"Amen to that." Carter joined in, ebullient for the first time in days. "Let that highly over rated, barnacle of a computer do something for once."
"We'll make that thermometer work." Quenton assured his panel of listeners. He looked to Ang,' for spiritual, philosophical, and mechanical support. Angelina perused the report and nodded to Quinton.
"The construction has already been halted. We have attempted to institute the buddy system but it has, up to this point, been pretty impractical to carry out and enforce. I can shut down the manufacturing complex until we get out of this area of space. That should help. However, I cannot shut down the test area." As everyone knew, the test area was a maze of mainframe computers and testing equipment, used to put the new parts though their trial runs.
"I have 3 Eagle navigation control units in the final burn in test chambers now with 300 hours completed, 75% done. If I shut those down now, the test will have to be restarted again. Those units were designated for Eagles 7, 10 and 12." Ang looked to Alan. "I suppose if you can tolerate an additional 4 week delay before those Eagles are in service again, I guess I can shut them down."
Carter shook his head emphatically.
"We don't need three more ships--they're all grounded right now anyway." The pilot said, exacerbated. Koenig moved behind Carter, and measured the situation carefully, his left forefinger pressed astutely against his lower lip. "And any one who is boofheaded enough to risk going at that plant alone, while all of this is going on--if they went to a mind reader, they'd be getting themselves a refund, 'Ang. That's all I have to say. They're asking to be creamed."
"The other outlying area is Reactor 3. We are scheduled to start up Reactor 3 in two days. I don't know about the rest of you, but I will certainly get better quality sleep at night once we get that 2nd reactor up and running. Frankly, Reactor #2 needs to be taken down for preventive maintenance soon anyway. I don't recommend suspending work in this area."
Sandra looked up from her copy of the report.
"Commander, I need to keep cartographer's working with the telescopes in the observatory. Right now, we really don't know what we will encounter once we leave the Orpheus Wastes." Sandra tapped her pen, thoughtfully. "They have determined that it will not likely be a sun or anything that ominous, in our path when we exit. However, they haven't ruled out any solid bodies such as a planet."
Sandra took a sip of her coffee. "All we really need right now is to be faced with the possibility of a collision course when we leave this area of space," she shook her head sarcastically.
"Alright," Koenig reluctantly agreed, folding his arms over his tunic. "Here's the deal. Two go in, two go out, and under no circumstances is anyone to be left in an area alone by themselves. They're to be monitored constantly, and the minute they feel the least little draft, or chill, the game's over. No matter what they're involved in, they're to leave immediately.
"Ang,' I'd feel better if you were the one who kept surveillance on all Alpha sections, east to west."
"Not a problem, sir," Ang began typing on her lap top, sending pages to her managers and foremen.
"Sandra, keep an eye on the north/south perimeter. Quenton, and Starns will help to coordinate the vigil. Whatever you do, don't leave your stations, even to stretch your legs. Someone's life will probably depend on it."
Sandra nodded and began scribing notes as they broke up into smaller groups.
Angelina finished typing in the last page and turned to Carter before he stood up. "Thanks," she said in a soft voice, smiling with abundant gratitude.
When Angelina returned to her laptop screen, she was mesmerized by the new and unpleasant screen saver. She grabbed Carter by the arm. "Alan! Look at this," she continued in a low whisper.
Ghostface in top hat and tails appeared first as a long shot then a gradual close up until the swirling comets of its faceless face engulfed the entire screen. The colors seemed to burst forth from the image, reaching out as in fireworks.
"What the Hell kind of squiz is that?" Carter exclaimed in a rocketship of horror. The crimson glare from the dervishing pixels cast a fishbowl glare on his forehead, and chin. He had seen alot of dead folks. Steaming piles, and ketchup covered carcasses. Toxic
Dandelions sprouting from the filthy moss, and nitre of bulldozed, mass graves. He spent three years in the cockpit of a B-52; one year flying the termagant skies aboard a Hawk, with the sickest, most overarchingly perverse, unsympathetic motherfucker ever born as his gunner. Seventy non-consecutive missions. Tact missiles, Hellfire Missiles, Daisy Cutters, Tomahawk Cruise Missiles, Smart Bombs, Fuel Air Bombs, Fragmentation Grenades, Fusion Cannons,Cobalt Splitters, Barbecue Defoliation; Lady Mars hitched up her skirt, and Alan Carter saw a new view. He could say without hesitation, without compunction that he had never seen a single war time atrocity as malodorous, or diseased as the real time images on Ang's laptop.
Angelina studied the image in horror. The words stuck in her throat.
Suddenly, she gasped and instinctively back away, nearly tipping her chair over, as the image changed to the bloodied, unrecognizable remains of a body...an Alphan with a yellow sleeve.
"!!!Don't look at it!!!" Koenig shouted, slamming the lid to the power book closed. Victor Bergman reached over Ang's shoulder, and removed the serial port connector. "Look, we already know what has to be done." The commander said, livid, and pressing both hands atop the circular table.
"It's calculated, premeditated...methodical." Bergman nodded uneasily. "Unredeemed time. The craftsman who has yet to demonstrate his craft. Whatever it is, I think it's running out of time."
"Exactly." Koenig said. "It knows that the Moon is moving out of range, so it's going to make the best of it. We can't allow ourselves to be divided like that."
"Yellow sleeve," Angelina whispered hoarsely. "Was it showing us its last victim or its next victim?" Melita Kelly wore a yellow sleeve.
Helena looked up, blankly. Her peaches and cream complexion was pasty white. "Do we really have the power to stop this thing?"
Bergman looked hesitantly at Koenig before rubbing his chin, and bowing his head in relative ignorance. The commander looked away to a sunken row of shelves filled with Anton Gorski incunabula that he was tired of looking at. Sandra Benes pursed her lips, as if to respond, but then spasmed with uncontrollable contempt, and rage. She uttered a violent groan of frustration before slamming her notebook closed. Ang's eyes lowered to slits.
Carter gulped the last of his badly brewed hydroponics coffee. Despising the crunchies, he flattened the plastic cup to a puck with the palm of his hand.
It was then that the comm station on the Commander's desk chimed. Koenig quickly walked up the stairs to his desk, sat in the chair and swiveled around to answer the call.
"Serious emergency in the observatory, Commander!" Tanya Alexander's frightened voice echoed though the room.
The travel tube ride to the observatory was the longest on the base and Angelina stared blankly ahead, watching the square travel lights blink on and off, running the length of the car. Sandra nervously wrung her hands as Paul paced back and forth in the travel tube.
Pierce Quinton, John Koenig, Helena Russell and Alan Carter had already gone ahead to the scene of the crime, while the others had ensured the rest of the base was secured from Main Mission.
Helena Russell entered the room and the horror was obvious on her face. Being the Chief Medical officer on Alpha she had seen many horrors in her time. Yet the sight of this was even a lot for her to bear, let alone anyone else. Walking over to her colleague, Dr. Bob Mathias was already bent down to the body. She quickly composed herself also checking the obvious things out with the body of a new victim. The smell was enough to make her feel ill, but the degree of torture to the victim was more than she wanted to see.
When the car stopped and the doors slid open, they were greeted with mass pandemonium. Security guards were scouring the area under the direction of Truman Starns. The medical team waited outside the room, until they were cleared to remove the body, as Trevor Carson took digital pictures of the body. Cartographer Carroll Severance, crouched in a corner, held his head despondently in his hands.
Sandra let out an audible gasp as she stepped into the room.
Carter intercepted Angelina, physically blocking her view. "You don't need to go in there," he stated. Ang paused briefly until he was overruled.
"Ang," Quinton called from the room. "Could you come in here? I need an opinion on something we've found."
The first thing she saw as she stepped inside was the horribly mutilated remains of Miranda Darvin. Her eyes had literally popped out of their sockets; the left eye still attached to its nerve endings was resting next to her mouth on the floor. Her right breast had been completely cut away from her body. At first, Angelina thought that Miranda Darvin has been strangled with a large rope; when she realized the rope by her side was the woman's small intestines; she had not been strangled but, in fact, disemboweled. The sight of the body was horrible enough but the entire room could be aptly described as a blood bath. Frozen pools of blood were scattered on the floor and rivulets of hemoglobin were beginning to flow on the walls again as the temperature in the room reached liquidus.
Then Harness Bulls, Pound, and LeBeque charged into the room like conquering heroes. They were followed by purple-sleeved patrolmen with blather on their faces. They, the unwilling, led by the unknowing. LeBeque peaked at the dismembered cartographer from beneath his padded football helmet. He went immediately for the barf, rushing away, faster than the speed of blight, to the nearest lavatory. Bergman shook his head ruefully, and Koenig raised an annoyed eyebrow. Pound turned deathly pale, but forced himself to stand at attention over the steaming repast. His rocket gun, slung over his right shoulder gear. His hands fiddled, and filched at the implements on his garrison belt--Sheep Dip Grenades, the Brain Banger Prism--like a man confused.
Truman Starns emerged from the DAT Library, with Harness Bull Duncan, and patrolman Allen. He met Velma Hill halfway, and exchanged preliminary methodologies.
Harness Bull Duncan calmly lowered his helmet microphone over his mouth, thereby activating the public address pack.
"ATTENTION, ALL NON-ESSENTIAL PERSONNEL, CLEAR THE AREA." He instructed. Only the barest whiff of a Galloway brogue filtered back to him from the dome, and the surrounding corridors. "LOCKDOWN IN FIVE MINUTES. CONTROL, PREPARE TO DOWNLOAD SYNAPTIC SWEEP ON THESE COORDINATES. RADIUS...THREE HUNDRED YARDS."
Too little, much too late, was his expert opinion.
As Paul Morrow entered the room the smell and stench of blood overtook him. After taking a quick glance around the room it took all he had not to bring his previous meals of the day back up. 'My God' he thought, 'what in the hell is tormenting and killing the people of Alpha???'
He knew now that by the looks of the room and of the victim that this was only going to get worse and they had bettered figure out a way of restraining this thing soon!! Turning his attention to Sandra who had just entered the room her distress became obvious rather quickly. Walking over to her, Paul pulled her into his arms. Hearing his rapid heart beat as well she knew he was just as terrified as well. Bending down he whispered gently in her ear.
"It will be alright Sandra"
Yet the look on everyone's faces in the room at the horror laying before them sent chills down their spines, a chill that would not soon be forgotten. Sandra gratefully accepted Paul's hold on her and her shaking was finally slowing down, but not gone and probably not gone for a long time.
"Bob, take her back to the autopsy room and I will join you in an hour." Helena sighed as she pulled the sheet over the body and disposed of the blood stained gloves. How much more blood had to spill before they found the maniac that was terrorizing the base??
Watching Bob Mathias lay the bags that held the small intestines, and eyes of the victim caused her shudder down to her soul. Turning around she nearly ran into Commander Koenig. Horror was in his eyes as well, and she knew the weight of fear of the entire base was now resting on his shoulders alone. John Koenig stood looking at her as he helped her regain balance. Looking over her shoulders he saw the body wheeled out of the room. Bringing his attention back to Dr. Russell he noticed that Professor Victor Bergman was now standing with them.
"So now what the hell do we do? " he whispered to them, arms folded in front of his chest.
"I don't know John, but if we do not locate who or what is doing this soon we are going to have a panic here on Alpha." Dr. Russell said knowing that the panic was already starting on the base. The number of sedatives prescribed this week was staggering.
Professor Bergman bent down and eyed the floor hoping to find a clue of some sort. Frustration was whelming them all, but the highest level was that of Commander Koenig. Victor diverted his attention back to John who was now letting his frustration out on a security guard who slipped in the pool of blood on the floor. Walking over Victor placed his hand on John's shoulder.
"What????" Koenig snapped angrily.
"John, I know this is overwhelming but yelling out your frustrations is not going to do any one any good." Victor smiled at him and was happy to see the look of relief on Koenig's face.
John Koenig helped the security guard back up to his feet.
"Go and get cleaned up, " he replied a sigh of relief on his face. Walking back over to Helena, he wiped the sweat and frustration from his face.
Angelina nodded sympathetically at Sandra, who decided her supervisory role would be best suited for the moment by comforting Carroll Severance; obviously there was nothing more she could do for Miranda Darvin. Ang stepped over a semi-frozen pool of blood, swallowing the vomit that had edged its way to the top of her throat, and noticed the paper in Pierce's hand.
"What do you make of this? " He asked, handing the torn, crumbled and blood smeared pink paper in the plastic bad toward her. "Don't open it. We haven't dusted it for fingerprints yet," he admonished.
Angelina let out a sigh. "Yeah, its a technical section work order alright. Unfortunately, the work order number is only partially present. Otherwise, we could easily track down who belonged to this work order.
She turned to bag sideways to read the work order number. "Work order number...53789...and the last two digits are missing." She read aloud as Quinton took notes."It looks like it was for the area of Launch Pad 3 and servicing the HVAC units."
"That doesn't really help us," she shook her head just as Koenig and Bergman came into the group. "Lots of technicians service HVAC units. Its a pretty elementary job."
???Commander, Professor Bergman???" Starns called, hunkered down over one of the more dire tarns of blood. He was wearing a pair of vinyl gloves that Velma Hill had handed him. Pound looked out of his element, rattling in his armor while using a squeegee to rake the slush back. Tony Allen prepped a plastic zip-lock bag from the utility case at his side. As the commander, and the professor approached, Starns stood, and offered Exhibit-B for their emolument.
Pressed between his right thumb, and forefinger, there was a metallic, fetid, execrable"+" sign. In the infinite math of terror, it was symbolically perfect.
"It's a drill chuck key." Starns said, capering it back, and forth.
Angelina rushed to Starn's right side.
"Let me see that," she asked as Velma handed her a pair of vinyl gloves. Ang recited a number stamped on the side of the drill chuck key as Pierce jotted it down on his pad. She returned the key to Starns and, removing the blood stained gloves, she went to the nearest computer console and queried the technical server as the others followed her.
"Every drill chuck key has the serial number of the drill it belongs to etched on it. Every drill must be checked out to a technician before it can be used." Angelina paused momentarily as the hour glass symbol on the computer screen tumbled. "The technician who checks it out is responsible for the equipment, even if they let others borrow it."
Angelina's expression froze in disbelief as the serial number and the matching borrower appeared on the screen.
"No...no way...uh uh..." Angelina shook her head."It can't be him...it just can't be..He may have problems but he's not capable of murder."
The name "ED MALCOM" flashed on the screen in 12 point red Arial font.
In the background where no one could see ghost face laughed silently to himself and relished in the horror he caused the Alphans
"I'll raise you 20," Christopher Potter with blank, poker face spoke to Hugo Willet.
"You're bluffing," Hugo Willet eyed him coolly. "No way...." He mumbled, looking down at his hand.
At least 20 technicians were congregated in the technical section reception area, which had become an impromptu recreation area. Several of them were gathered around the poker table. Others were involved in game playing on the PCs; still others were in quiet, though not secluded corners, reading books and old magazines.
"So," Peter Garforth motioned to the reception area from Angelina's office, "we have a bunch of techs playing cards."
"Yeah," Michelle pipe in, sitting next to Pete on the low rider couch, "I just hope it doesn't come back later to bite us in the ass." Her voice became high pitch and whiney. "How come those boards aren't ready? How come that unit is fixed?" "Yeah, right," her voice returned to its normal, strong tone, "they'll conveniently forget."
"Well, Michelle, you know how it is in technical," Joe responded, swiveling in his pretzel chair, "we don't get the glory. Just the guts. Everyone takes it for granted when things are going well. But when something goes wrong, all hell breaks loose." Joe chuckled.
Angelina Carter was sitting slouched in her chair, feet up on her desk. On her laptop, the Virtual Cats screen saver appeared with the yellow tabby jumping off the top of a pop up window.
"Speaking of breaking loose, " Michelle continued, "when is Adele going to let loose of that baby girl?"
"Any day now," Joe answered, fidgeting, "any day now. Not the best time, I guess."
On the laptop screen, the tabby cat had been joined with a Siamese. They were pursuing the "mouse" icon, as Ang absent mindedly moved it around.
"You got a name picked out?" Michelle continued.
"A few," Joe nodded. "I guess we'll know what to call her once she arrives."
Ang noticed something unusual on the screen saver. Both cats had expressions she had never seen before. She slowly sat up.
"So when are you going to have a kid, Michelle," Pete Garforth teased. "You and Pierre," Garforth pronounced 'Pierre' in a French accent.
"Oh...uh... we're just friends, " Michelle's cheeks turned fire engine red. She smacked Pete on the shoulder. "Cut it out, will you?"
"Cut it out! Cut it out!" Garforth returned her whining. "Be an adult, Michelle. Stop messing around and go for ...'it'. Heh, heh, heh."
Joe Erhlich guffawed.
The background of the screen saver abruptly changed into a swirling mass of color. The cats and the mouse scampered away for their virtual lives.
"You guys are pigs," Michelle turned her head in mock disgust.
In virtual 3D, Ghostface appeared, strolling across the screen in top hat and tails, swinging his diamond tipped cane.
"FUCK OFF!!" Angelina slammed the cover of her laptop down in disgust and anger. She glance at each of her three managers with a glazed look in her eyes.
"Sorry," she murmured as she got up, "It's not you. I need to take a walk." The managers were still speechless as she left the office into the recreation area.
John Koenig walked down to the cafeteria not really hungry, but definitely needed a coffee boost to continue through the rest of his shift. As he glanced around the nearly deserted room he sighed heavily then poured his coffee. As he walked over to sit down he saw a figure sitting in a booth in the corner of the room. Walking over to the individual, he was surprised to see Marcus Profit. An eerie feeling of dread ran down Koenig's back
"Do you mind if I sit with you, Marcus?" the Commander asked.
Marcus looked up at Koenig and pointed to the seat across from him.
"No, Commander I don't mind although I don't think I am much company right now." He replied. Koenig noticed the dark circles around his eyes. Many of the Alphans had become sleep deprived since the murders had started on the base. Yet as John sipped the hot liquid he could not put his finger on it, but something was in the air in the cafeteria.
"You know I have ordered everyone to stay in pairs Marcus just for their own safety. At least until we find the individual responsible for these heinous crimes." Sitting the coffee cup down he looked back at Marcus, watching him staring down at the table. Marcus was suspiciously too quiet, but then again lately everyone had gone quiet.
"So how is married life treating you?" John asked him as he finished off his coffee.
"If we have to stay in pairs Commander where is your companion?" Marcus asked in a tone that sent a chill down John Koenig's spine.
"Well, I am waiting for Captain Carter. We have a meeting in ten minutes, I thought it would be safe for that short period of time." Still watching Marcus he felt the eerie coldness that seemed to come into the room.
Rising up from the seat he picked up his empty cup and laid his hand on Marcus Profit's shoulder.
"Don't stay here alone too long alright." Koenig stated in a concerned tone.
"We are all alone in a sense, are we not Commander?" he asked then looked back down at the table.
John Koenig stood for a moment longer than spoke in a stern voice.
"Marcus, go and find your wife or someone to keep company. My order still stands and no one is to be alone on this base for now."
With that John Koenig waited for Marcus to get up and walked out of the cafeteria with him. Once again he felt the chill of death run down his spine, a chill he experienced before. This entity or what ever it is was watching them. They left the cafeteria and
Koenig took Marcus to the recreation center. In the background like a whisper ghost face laughed knowing that the chill John Koenig felt was only the beginning of the end.
Velma Hill was overwhelmed by the data in the PC. There were many, many clues and pieces of evidence, catalogued and recorded in the spreadsheet. Running a sort for commonality led to nothing.
Unsettling fact # 1: The murder of Ed Bayledon was not likely to be connected to the attack on Melita Kelly or to the murder of Miranda Darvin. The evidence collected at the scene proved this fact. DNA evidence, though inconclusive for positive identification, could guarantee a 99% probably that the samples came from two different individuals.
Unsettling fact # 2: The selection of victims was completely random. It reeked of serial killer but serial killers usually had a motive. The motivation behind these acts of violence was unknown, if it existed at all.
Velma looked up briefly from the microscope and peered through the observation window of the interrogation room. In the hot seat, Ed Malcom was sweating under the intense glare of the overhead light. Pierce Quinton was questioning him mercilessly and appeared to be enjoying himself. Security officers Ivan Sloven and Nick Long stood behind him with the hint of amusement on their faces. Across the room was Malcom's immediate supervisor, Pete Garforth, and Angelina Carter, seated in the white moduform chairs, with blank and exhausted expressions on their faces.
Velma turned toward Truman's open office door as he emerged into the crime lab area and approached her.
"If you like dead ends, you'll love this." The detective said, handing her a file filled with glossy photos of crytographic DNA strands. "Turns out, the only positive match was for the victim. Apparently, she didn't put up much of a fight. Our perp' turned her into chopped ham before she knew what hit her.
"There's a kind of mercy in that...I guess. If it's the Spanish Inquisition, and your name happens to be Torquemada."
Over the intercom, came the complete audio record of Malcom's anguish. The overplus technician gripped the sides of the pretzel chair, athirst. He repeatedly threw himself upon the leaden mercy of his interrogators, claiming that his conscience was unlicked of any wrongdoing. He sweated productively beneath the hot bulb, and asked that character witnesses be rounded up from Technical Section, that they might testify to his pureheartedness.
"If we do that you're finished." Sloven repined.
"I am innocent." Malcom bawled.
"Right." Pierce Quenton entoiled him. "Let's take it from the top then, and I want a straight answer this time, you lousy barmpot. You say you were in the commissary, stuffing your face with vegetarian lasagna when Dr. Darvin got topped. We questioned the dietary staff. Gonzales said he hadn't seen your jiggery arse all day.
"Therefore," The security chief summarized. "That makes you a full of shit sort of person, doesn't it?"
"I think you're onto something." Nick Long said with admiration, and approval.
"Hey, what can I say?" Truman Starns commented to Velma Hill outside. "I don't think he's our man though. Whatever he was up to, I doubt that he was anywhere near the Solar Mag' Dome when Darvin was killed. He doesn't fit the profile of someone capable of committing a crime like this.
"He is a jerk though." The detective discerned, returning to the two-way glass.
The corners of Pete Garforth's mouth slowly lifted upwards into the slightest smile. He seemed to be getting pleasure from Malcom's pain. Angelina Carter shot him an annoyed look and his mug returned to neutral. She sighed and looked away as Quinton continued his Gestapo style interrogation.
On the opposite side of the glass, Velma Hill shook her head. "Great, just great!" she fumed in frustration.
"The fiber samples aren't telling us crap either." She rubbed the weary corners of her eyes. "Like I really expected them to anyway since we all basically wear the same thing. I thought, though, that since many technicians have a preference for the jumpsuits, we might find some on the victim. Not to mention the fact that Miranda Darvin wore a yellow sleeve and the suspected technician wore a rust sleeve. That would have at least pointed to a probably, most likely 'someone' in technical, along with the drill chuck key...." She paused. "Maybe."
The amount of unsure and inconclusive evidence was mindboggling and depressing. She turned back toward Malcom.
"Yeah, he's an ass, alright. Before Dave Reilly was killed, I was working on a provisions hoarding case against him. How do you suppose he stays so fat?!? He claims that he has a "hormone" imbalance. Uh uh, not according to Bob. So he has a connection in hydroponics providing him with extra sugar and flour. I was so close to discovering it; then of course, my priorities changed around and I had to table the case."
"But I agree with you. I don't think he's our man. The perpetrator of these crimes has to have some intelligence. That guy has zero brains."
In the gallery, Pete Garforth snapped hockey again. It was enravishing to watch doughboy hyperventilate, but even obstinence, and absurdity grew old after a while. It was like reading "A Clockwork Orange" every day. Checking the time on his comlock, he told Ang' that the mildew was getting to him. He waved a solemn, perishable goodbye to Ed Malcom, his hand falling through the air like the Sickle Of Death, and stepped into the corridor.
He moved into the median beside the Corridor-R Commstation, to avoid an occlusion with anyone in the hectic Moonbase traffic. He tipped a wink, and fell melancholically in love with Samantha Storey as she headed for the stairwell with a clip board full of mining reclamation sheets. He nodded at Yul Ostrog, and Stack Feldman as they plowed by him, still wearing their blue mechanic's coveralls. Both cleared the way for Orville Hendershot of Alpha News Service, who footslogged into Security Section like Coriolanus. The doors opened. The doors slid closed.
The doors opened again, almost immediately, and out came Hendershot, and his cameraman with frowns of displeasure on their lickerish mugs. Harness Bull Duncan also emerged to make sure the door didn't hit them where the good Lord split them. He offered only a polite, proforma cop's nod to Hendershot's insults, and accusations regarding this totalitarian suppression of the truth.
"Gwialens everywhere these days." Marcus Profitt lamented as he stepped, seemingly out of nowhere. "It can make you think a dark thought, or two. That's for certain."
"Indeed it can." Pete Garforth replied, and did a fair job of camouflaging his fuddledness. He had no idea that the technician was even standing there.
The Welshman nodded approvingly, and vacated to one of the claustrophobic maintenance elevators.
Back in the interrogation room, Quenton & Company continued burning Ed Malcom at the stake; dishing out heaps, and gobs of ignominy, and abasement, though not necessarily in that order. The technician's love handles imposed on the pretzel chair furniture, which was never intended to withstand such torque. He alternated between a sulk, and puckering lips. He wanted to go home to his mountain of dejection. He had to use the can, but he was afraid to ask.
"What the flock were you doing in stellar cartography?" Sloven sneered. "Don't tell us it's because you have a knack for fixing telescopes, you flimflam motherfucker."
"You sound funny, Ed." Nick Long observed. "Why are you so nervous? You said you were innocent. A guy who sounds as nervous as you do looks guilty as sin to me."
"This is futile." Truman Starns told Velma Hill as they stood by the intercom. "Wherever he was, he isn't going to talk. Even if he did, I doubt he would have anything interesting to say. The fact of the matter is, that key may have been lying there for months. Chances are, he misplaced the thing. What luck, we managed to find it again, only five feet away from the corpus delectai, in one of the most violent homicides I've ever seen."
Angelina was gradually growing impatient. The spectacle of haranguing Ed Malcom caused even her to feel pity for him, despite her current state of mind. She'd had enough of the security goons getting their jollies at the expense of one of her people...even if it was Ed Malcom.
"Is this REALLY necessary?!?" Ang jumped up and glared at the three security guards. She turned her attention to Pierce. "Afterall, it doesn't take friggin Kojak to see you are getting absolutely NOWHERE." She turned to the profusely sweating Ed Malcom. His deodorant was beginning to fail him.
"Oh for God's sake, Ed, just tell them where you were. Nobody in this room really thinks you were capable of this crime anyway. But if you think I'm going to waste my time sitting her watching you get skewered by Alpha's answer to the Cosa Nosta because you are trying to cover up your flour and sugar connection in hydroponics, you're on your own!!"
"So," Ang straightened her back and realized she had been wagging her finger. "What's it going to be? The truth or do I let you swim by yourself with the sharks?"
She felt another headache coming on. Actually, Excedrin headache number 10,345 never left.
"Ask me, he's a bad bloke. Very uncooperative. Some time in the slimy hole will bring on beauteous remembrances." Quenton speculated, turning to Long, and Sloven. "Stick his ass in the box. I'm holding him as a material witness."
"You see?" He said, angrily pointing at Ang.' "This is what happens when we have shared areas. I told you this would happen, but oh no--what do I know? I'm just another greaser who keeps her highness smelling like potpourri. You think I'm stupid. Well here this you blonde, battle axe--I'd rather use my gut than my mind any day."
Pete Garforth didn't doubt that a teensy bit.
"It's about instinct." Malcom perorated. "I knew that if guys like Profitt continued borrowing my tools, I'd eventually get the wrong end of the stick. They borrow the tools. I go on report. Now everybody's happy. That's what you think, isn't it?"
Angelina crossed her arms and tapped her right foot, looking up at the ceiling and counting to 10. She wanted to ring Ed's fat neck. His paranoia was overflowing, flooding the room. Ang's patience was reaching the rim of the tank, the meniscus bulging precipitously over the edge.
"Shut up and cooperate," Ang snapped, shaking her head. Malcom, however, did not listen.
"Well, it's not fair. So you go ahead, and have your power trip while this King Shit Cop locks me away. I'll go knowing that--while you may have authority--I've got a good gut."
Then, he turned away--having nothing, but guileless disgust, and contempt for Angelina Carter.
"Profitt?" Sloven asked cunningly. "Marcus Profitt?"
"He borrowed your drill key?" Quenton rephrased the phrase. "Not a screw driver; not a friggin' pair of vice grips? It was a drill key, and it was in your toolbox, and he took it out? That's what you're saying?"
Ang and Pete locked eyes, both with looks of disbelief. On the other side of midnight, Truman Starns' raised eyebrow reflected back to him from the two-way transparency.
By 1988, the world was at war again. He was in the foxhole, surrounded by sandbags, and eating chicken soup from his helmet. Grunts were eating, talking, and relieving themselves when the Happy Grenade was lobbed from one of the white oak trees. The shell shattered darkness was vanquished in the deluge of blood, and sinew. The core of the grenade only glowed for fifteen seconds--long enough to dismember half of his platoon. On the other side of the mountainous, Easter Island terrain lay the Tri-Continent air strip, which was integral to something, according to the CIA, and the KGB, and MASAD.
The goon paid a heavy price for his gloating. The survivors crossed the demarcation of raw meat, and assailed the base of the tree. Uzi nine millimeter assault weapons spat death at him a billion times before his remains toppled to the wet grass below. Allied choppers circled the field in a 365 degree axis of annihilation. The blue flood lights lit the way for a company of Green Berets from Fort Bragg. A mission in which he had no involvement.
"Faith," The limey commando in the top hat, and tails elucidated as the artillery barrage commenced. "The substance of things unknown; the evidence of things unseen. That's correct isn't it?"
It pissed him off in extremis that the Welshman still wasn't listening. Next time, he was going to say something about it--it was rankling, and inconsiderate. What an ego.
"I wouldn't know anything about that." Corporal Marcus Profitt said bitterly. Amidst this evening's uncounted atrocities, and hecatomb, he'd lost all interest in his chicken soup.
On Moonbase Alpha, the doors to the maintenance hatch opened, and he stepped into the cavern. She was at least five minutes ahead of him, but he'd make up for lost time once he had her 'isolated.' In the interim, he encountered the miners shuttling back, and forth from the Alpine Valley. He knew all of them, and they all knew him.
Samantha Storey was a tall, thin woman of Native American descent. Her long black hair was always worn in a single braid that nearly reached her buttocks. She was proud that she had not cut it in nearly 20 years. Life was going well for Samantha, despite the area of space they were in now. She had been a technician in the Electronics Engineering section but she had recently transferred to Manufacturing and Mining. It was sort of a promotion as she was now a group leader.
Samantha dropped a few of the flimsies from her huge pile onto Senior Mining Engineer Steve Gardner's desk. She snickered at The Three Stooges poster with the title "Golf With Your Friends" and turned to leave the office, passing assorted golf paraphernalia on his book shelf.
She noticed Marcus Profitt still seemed to be heading in the same direction. 'Funny,' she thought, 'I'm not aware of any work orders in this area.' Samantha stopped to talk to Mining Technician Ahn Nguyen. She glanced behind her but no one was there. Samantha kept the conversation going with Ahn as they were an area that was somewhat more isolated from the rest of the mining complex. There was no explanation for her increasing anxiety.
"Aye," Profitt said, annoyed as he caromboled with Gardner. He watched, frustrated, as Storey rounded the suspicious bend into the operations cavern.
"Marcus," The miner salutated, opportunistically going through the work orders on his clipboard.
"Ayuh,'" The technician reeled. "Look, I don't have alot of-"
"It'll just take a second." Gardner promised. "Got it." He said, producing one of the three carbon maintenance requests. "We've got a mag' runner that's in dire need of a new control panel. We can't stop it on a dime any more, which could be a real problem if you're cruising at 75 kilometers per hour towards a terminal wall."
Profitt was himself seventy-five kilometers away, and suddenly, rounding the corner, he caught sight of Velma Hill. Her arms were folded over her tunic.
Ahn Nguyen ended the conversation with Samantha; afterall, her hydroponics blend amaretto flavored java was beckoning her and she only had 20 minutes in which to savor it. Samantha walked on into the desolate equipment storage area. The cavernous warehouse contained the largest cranes, backhoes, mega augers that where used in the mining operation. Some of this equipment would be moved to Mining Station 2 where the geologists had recently discovered a significant iron ore vein. The warehouse was normally cool but suddenly, the temperature felt downright cold; frigid, actually.
Angelina returned to the technical station in Main Mission while a search commenced for Marcus Profitt. She was sure the subsequent interrogation would turn up nothing. In her mind, Marcus was her best technician, the only technician who earned an "E" rating consistently in his reviews. "E" was reserved for those who had performances close to God.
Ang glanced over at Clare Profitt who was in the middle of a shift change, updating June Akaiwa on life in Data Analyst land. Clare was looking a little pale and Ang dismissed it as fatigue. Andy Dempsey came over to fill her in on the power consumption report and when Angelina turned to talk to Clare, it was too late. She had already left Main Mission.
The temperature change alert sounded from the console. She typed in a few commands as she noticed the temperature read out showing a significant downward trend.
"Temperature decrease in Mining Warehouse C," Ang stated, glancing up at Carter then Morrow. "No!"
She jumped up from the console and bolted out of Main Mission under the right archway.
"Look," Profitt said, noticeably taxed. "I hate to get all cocoen with you, Stevie, but I'm unmercifully busy right now."
Gardner shook his frazzled head.
"I've had this request in for a month." He said with exhaustion, and trepody, and not taking 'no' for an answer. "How long would it really take you to pull that panel. Ten minutes? Fifteen? I mean, bull fucking shit. It's probably a sending unit gone bad."
"Oh, you think so, do you?" Profitt said with enough acrimony, and indignation that he temporarily forgot his murderous intent. "My, aren't you the mouthy one. If you're such a goddamn esgob, why do you need my help in the first place?
"And for the record, Stevie. What if it's not the sending unit. What if the gears on that car need to be milled? I've got news for you--if that's the case, it will be a week in the shop.
"Nunya' will be accomplished in the meantime." He clarified, shaking the work order at Gardner angrily. "You tick me off, bro.' I don't care for your cocksurety, and I don't care to be responsible for a work order that had Ed Malcom's name on it in the first place. I'll take a look at your mag,' but it will be a few hours. You'll just have to-"
The technician broke away, and the beads of perspiration, trickling down his face froze to cublets. The amber light over the elevator flickered, accompanied by the tone. The door sighed open, and out stepped Harness Bull Duncan. His left, business finger, resting easily on the trigger of the rocket gun that was slung over his shoulder. Tony Allen was the along-for-the-ride, purple sleeved backup. Velma Hill hailed both of them, still holding her comlock.
She referred them to the office, but they found only Gardner--pissed to the hilt, and crunching Ed Malcom's work order like an unobliging test score. Of Marcus Profitt, there was no sign.
Captain Carter, Commander Koenig and Truman Starns had caught up to Ang as she waited for the elevator to the mining complex. After an infinitely long downward trip in the elevator, they emerge and joined Velma Hill's party in Steve Gardner's office.
"We were just about to round up Profitt when we lost him," Velma reported. "Dammit!" She cursed as Tony Allen brought in Profitt's comlock.
"It was about 5 feet from this office. It looks like he just ditched it," Allen stated the obvious.
"He could have gone in any direction in this place," Gardner shook his head.
"No...Warehouse C. There was a temperature drop in that area." Ang turned on a dime. Starns, Hill and contingent bulldozed their way to the front.
Warehouse C was an icebox....and dark. Starns, Hill and Duncan unclipped their maglites from their belts and shone them in the blackness, lasers drawn. Koenig unholstered his laser. Carter drew his laser. Ang was unarmed and instinctively edged closer to Carter. The shadows from the backhoes, the giant augers and the heavy equipment cast eerie shadows on the high ceilings, sliced by the I-beams.
"Marcus?" Ang shouted. "Marcus! It's going to be alright. Please come out. We want to talk to you."
This broke no bones. The stillness was uncorrugated. Lights from the operations cavern darted, and played across the buckets, and treads of the heavy mining equipment. From a nearby slop sink came the barely audible sound of water dripping from a faucet. High above, oblong crates adhered to the storage racks like encroaching bats.
The Draconian, multi-jointed fist around Samantha Storey's throat quelled her scream. With beseeching eyes, she looked upon the dark circumference of her attacker. His diamond tipped cane tapped her forehead thrice.
"Mary had a little lamb." He whispered to her with his charnel breath. "Her father shot it dead. Now it goes to school with her, between two chunks of bread."
"!!!Marcus, it's John Koenig!!!" The commander called out, positioning Carter, and Starns towards the aft warehouse. "!!!We don't want to hurt you!!! We're here to help!!!"
Tony Allen almost made it to the tool shed. Then fifty gallons of joint compound barreled down on him. His maglite was vanquished. His laser gyrated across the floor. He knew no more.
Ang heard the C-R-A-S-H and the scream from Tony Allen's direction. She rushed into the semi-darkness and knelt by his prone form. A low ebb of a pulse was felt on his neck but he was not breathing. She positioned him on his back and opened up the airway.
"Come on, Tony, come on!" She whispered impatiently as she gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation.
Tony Allen groaned as he sucked in a breath on his own. Realizing their somewhat precarious situation, she was relieved to see the glint of the metal from the laser. She reached over Allen for it on the floor, crying out as one of two bloody boots stomped on her hand.
"Cach," Marcus Profitt leered, his mouth, and chin were the only things visible in the amoral blackwash of cable trunkings, and derricks. "It's Dr. Verdeschi." His yellowing teeth dulled sickly behind ruby red lips. "No, that's not right. How dilatory of me. You should pardon me manners--comes from having a real ast for a boss. But I digress. It's Dr. Carter now, isn't it?
"Holy Matrimony suits you." The cockeyed technician said, denigrating her. "Didn't much care for it meself. Neither the word 'holy,' nor the word 'matrimony.' Too much like the words 'slow,' and torture.' Alot of responsibility; alot of pressure.
"Ain't that right, cream puff?"
The blue veins curled, forcing a psuedolanimous nod from Samantha Storey. The mining technician's face was achromatic. Soft, tearful, terror stricken brown eyes looked to Ang' for aid, and extrication.
"!!!Profitt!!! Marcus Profitt!!!" It was the commander's voice again, echoing through the vast wassail of heavy equipment. The echo wasn't so remote this time.
The Welshman ground his mod bootheel into the bone, and silver of Ang's hand, and added spin to it.
"It's a little different from having a disembodied voice query you on your computer, isn't it you plucky little pustule?" He said, grinning ear, to ear. "Get rid of the dogs."
The pain in her right hand was tortuous, sending bolts of agony up her arm. As she felt and heard the cracking and popping of the delicate bones in her hand, feeling the tears wells in her eyes and the nausea peaking in her stomach, she still had a decision to make that literally meant life or death.
To not cry out was certain death; their only chance to survive was to bring in the "dogs"
"!!!C-COMMANDER!!!!!!!!" Angelina screamed in exquisite agony as he ground his heel into her hand and she felt blackness closing in on her.
"Bitch," Profitt responded.
What Angelina heard next would haunt her for the rest of her days. In one deft move, Marcus Profitt snapped Samantha Storey's neck. The crack amplified and echoed through the cavernous room.
"NO!" she cried out, as Profitt tossed Samantha's body aside and dragged Ang brutally to her feet. Koenig, Carter, Hill, Starns and Duncan charged into the area. Tony Allen, moaned and stirred, barely aware of his situation.
Seeing the body, John Koenig knelt in mourning. Two seconds was about all that he had. Two seconds in the chronal winds of eternity. Her only crime--for which she was executed--was being on the active duty roster on September 13, 1999. She had prevailed, plus four years, only to become a broken, burned, and macerated martyr in the heartsick Hell of Moonbase Alpha. He shone his beam on Samantha Storey. The cause of death was obvious. Even a blunderer like Ed Malcom could have grasped the mechanics of her demise. There was a certain serenity in her jokul, ex post facto, custard face. Her hyperextended, left cheek bone seemed to rest comfortably on the damp cement. The glow from his maglite played against the prim hair of her scalp, disappearing into an illimited, reflected puddle on the floor.
"!!!You...lousy...motherfucker!!!" Carter exclaimed. Seeing Ang' in Death's Lobby excised all unbelief from his stockpile of rationality. They were here, and it was this. He was moving in for the murderous, sledgehammer blow when Koenig scoured his ventricles, and shoved him backwards against Starns.
"!!!Why!!!" Koenig demanded--his face an exploding, red nova. His glare was venomous. Before he knew it he had barged into Profitt's space, and was close enough to touch Ang.' "!!!WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE!!! WHAT IN THE NAME OF GOD DO YOU WANT!!!"
Profitt maintained the ultimate poker face. We're it not for the fact that Ang' was his royal flush, his five card draw, and his two of a kind, all combined, he would have killed the technician himself.
"Quite the bwchio we have here, isn't it?" The technician said, trainspotting the language ever so much better than he was before. A Technicolor corona had begun to ripple, and asterisk on his shoulders, and in the cowlick of his hair. "I have a difficult time conversing with you on this level. I'm afraid I'm not accustomed to it." His hand fit perfectly around Ang's vitreous throat. "Suffice it to say, my motives are not motives you could easily...identify with. I am myself, and I have always been here.
"Take the entire history of your race, multiply it by the power of infinity, and you still will not have existed a tenth as long as I have.
"But you understand now, don't you?" He inquired of Ang,' his howler grip never loosening. "At least you understand better than you did in our previous discussions, I would think?"
He had his doubts, but good manners forbade showing them.
The agony of her right hand was gradually supplanted by the increasing pain in her throat. He was slowly choking the life out of her but with one move, he could have broken her neck, ending it on the spot. The room had gone completely black for Angelina and the voices were amplified. She realized the only reason she was still alive was that she was a hostage. Yet, if he got away with her, she would surely be dead. Ang suddenly felt Profitt's grip relax around her neck and she took the opportunity to gasp for air.
Emerging from the shadows, Victor Bergman calmly spoke in a fatherly tone. "Marcus, there is someone here who wants to talk with you."
Beautiful Clare Profitt stepped into the minimal phosphorus emergency light. Her eyes conveyed love...and tragedy.
"Marcus," she began calmly, approaching him and stopping next to Koenig. "Marcus, please...let her go. If you need to kill someone, take me instead. I'll go with you. I will stay by your side." Her eyes turned glassy as they filled with tears. "Always," she whispered, looking at him intently.
Somewhere, back in 1988, Marcus Profitt grew weary of the foxhole conversation. Trapped with a warped, nutcake behind enemy lines, he was willing to challenge the goons lurking in the trees, as long as he didn't have to entertain GI Top Hat one second longer. He was about to hurl his chicken soup into the smug volition of his partner's face. Then, amidst the shell shocked slay en masse, he heard Clare's voice. Ghostface grunted. He was still Head In Charge Honcho, but his aplomb was weakening.
"Clare?" The technician said, unverifiably. Blood, and bewilderment ran rampant from the pores in his face.
Koenig, and Bergman exchanged glances. One filled with rage--the other, quietly prognosticate.
"Yes, Marcus, it's me." Clare gently placed her left hand along the side of his face, wet with his blood. With her right hand, she caressed the top of his left hand, which still enveloped Ang's neck. Angelina did not move a muscle.
"Please, let her go. I know you don't want to do it. I know it's not you doing it. I believe you are innocent. Let me help you fight whatever it is that's inside you." Her soft blue eyes gazed at him tenderly. "I love you, Marcus. We can beat this thing."
Angelina Carter was surprised to find herself thrown to the ground: alive. Marcus Profitt turned and raced into the darkness, as Carter came to her aid.
"No!," Angelina stood up, rejecting any implication of going to Medical Center. Her right hand was useless and a swollen, mangled mess of broken bones and she was fueled on the power of endorphins. The feeling of dread for Marcus Profitt, however, was too overpowering to ignore."Not now...we have to go after him and help him."
"Marcus!!!! Wait!!!" Clare cried out in distressed and chased after him deeper into the warehouse.
Outside the insular confines of the base, The Orpheus Wastes unselfishly deteriorated the fabric of space like a plague of silverfish. The Moon revolved on its axis, obdurate highlands, and placid mares--the undisturbed sands of a eon gone by. "The power of the Moon can hold a spell," a poet once writ. "The ebbing tides, the waves that swell," quote this unsullied verse. "The power of the Moon, both full, and new." The writer of these lines forgot one addition: "The Moon shall run when kicked in the buns." This was from the original, unedited version, of course. The vibration started near Endymion. Morbid Echoes from the afterspace grew symphonic, deafening. Lava, and basalt oscillated into dust. The rift was only .00000,5 millimeters in width when it was born. It was a giant's footprint by the time it reached the first of the anti-gravity towers.
John Koenig, and Victor Bergman; Alan Carter, and Ang' Carter were hurled like clay pigeons--against the eastern wall of the cavern, and then sliding down the coarse surface towards a pool of CAT Bulldozers. Silt, rocks, and sparks fell from the Main Bus Panel overhead. Main Mission took the brunt of the fusillade. Paul Morrow was thrown over his workstation, and landed on his head, still holding his innocuous space traffic control report. Dac Capano ended up somewhere in the OK Corridor. Gooseneck lamps, and cups of randy hydroponics coffee toppled in a row. Sandra Benes, and Tanya Alexander tumbled towards the big screen. Ben Ouma was standing near panel two on the computer deck. When the eruption came, he grabbed the handle of the alternator grid like a straw. The effects were shocking, to say the least. Klaus Rotstein fell from the steps of the observatory. He groped for purchase on the landing, grateful that he had survived the plunge. Then the second wave hit, and he was tossed--over the rail, down the side, and onto the steps.
"!!!PAUL!!!" Koenig shouted into his comlock, barely retrieving it from the slippery, sloping floor.
"!!!IT'S THE ORPHEUS WAVE!!!" Morrow replied, his face large, and chaotic in the commlock's micro-monitor. "!!!WE'VE HIT AN UPDRAFT!!! VELOCITY TWO MILLION KPH, AND CLIMBING!!!"
Across the room, her face plastered against one of the bulldozer treads, lay Samantha Storey. The only person in the warehouse who didn't seem to mind.
Carter held onto Ang who had somehow managed to shield her mangled hand from further damage. The G-Forces holding them down made inhalation difficult; it was a horrific as Breakaway.
A disembodied male singing voice echoed through the room.
"Good night sweetheart, well its time to go...bah..bah..bah...bah-boom..goodnight sweetheart...gooood niiiiiigght.."
As the G-forces eased, Ang saw a jumble of images in the plow blade of bulldozer number 3. Marcus Profitt was in a warm bath...slowly sinking below the surface of the water and making not attempt to save himself. Koenig, Victor, Carter and Ang returned shakily to their feet.
"Marcus!!!!" Ang shouted, "We've got to stop him!!!"
Marcus Profitt would never run out of red. Red was the most abundant of the primary colors on his palette. It wept onto his brush from lacerations on his face, and hands like liquid intelligence. It oozed onto the canvass, and assumed a sentient life of it's own. It was not a bottomless fount, however. His best work was usually done in the ashen light of the spacious closet/studio. A place where he was alive, and thrived, and all else was just so much dead plastic. Anyone trusted enough to coze there (they were few in number; Clare was one of the few to penetrate this Sanctum Sanctorum, and occasionally Weasel Ed) could testify to the technician's double skinned, minimalist perception. There was room enough for the artist, one easel--perhaps two if his inspiration was boundless, and incapable of being realized in a single, unified expression--and a Formica counter, where he kept his tubes of acrylic paint.
On the eve of his extinguishment, he had also made room for Belcher. His deceased uncle had decided to make a surprise visit. For reasons undecodable, the technician had rather been expecting him.
"It just flowens' out a' ya' like purest aur." Belcher complimented, his heart full of love, his head full of unassailable pride. "I must admit, you'a gone way further than this ol' man ever could. God bless her, if your ol' em' could see ya' now."
He was a static amassment--not really Belcher in the earthly sense, but a benevolent being of which Belcher was a revered part. An art critic from higher realms, which floated several feet above the stool like a Dresden Figurine, his fishing cap almost touching the ceiling.
"I'm a bloody, butchering bastard." Marcus Profitt denied vehemently, carrying a blue, detailed brush to the sink with trembling hands.
"Me boy, you ought know better." Belcher reflected solemnly, waving an almost visible finger at his nephew. "You can't trust anythin' ya' hear, and only bout' half what ya' see. There ain't no death. Only the Great Tides. They run on, forever, and ever. You can't leave one port without heading towards another.
"It's a normal condition of the universe. You, and me--we're only barge mates...you've done a remarkable job. A decent, upright fella' liken' you ain't got nary to worry about. Trust me on that."
Outside the locked studio, Profitt heard the door to their quarters sigh open. "That would be your missus.'" Belcher said amiably.
Clare Bradford Profitt, sweating and panting, stumbled to the pretzel chair as she closed and locked the door to their quarters. When the Orpheus Wave hit, she was climbing a maintenance ladder, up shaft L. She almost lost her balance and nearly fell to her death but somehow found the strength to cling to the steel rungs. She knew precisely where she could find Marcus Profitt. Clare strode to the door of the studio.
"Marcus? Marcus. I know you are in there."
"Marcus?!?" She pounded on the door two times. "Marcus! Open the door! It's me, baby! I want to talk to you. Everything is going to be alright. Marcus?!?!"
Profitt's eyes burned, and blurred with salty tears. His talent evaded him. The promise of the envisage on the first canvass was his only resource. He almost tripped on his own damn stool, as he again approached the graffiti stained sink. He could feel Belcher's warm, other eyes, yearning to translate compassion, and understanding into a material world that was not well acquainted with either.
"What do I tell her?" The technician sobbed, pulling an x-acto knife from his tool drawer.
"You've got nothing to explain." His unformed uncle said firmly.
"Marcus, these things--just because something can't be explained logically, or rationally--it don't mean it's evil. Try not to judge what is right, or wrong. Let things be as they are. Change is the most powerful force of nature there is. We're all obliged to it. We're part of it."
"???Clare???" Profitt cried, crumbling to his knees, but Belcher was there for him.
"She'll understand." His uncle whispered. "Trust me. No one knows ya' better than the fella' who changed yoren' crappy droors, and bounced ya' on his knee from the time ya' was a babe. She sees the same man that I see. Nothin' will ever change that."
"Will we...." Profitt trailed off.
"Aye, ya' will." Belcher said with assuredness. "And much sooner than ya' think."
Clare Profitt was standing at the commstation--her right index finger poised on the ALERT block. The bewildering cold started at her elbows, and gradually moved up her forearms, freezing her upper torso like a plaster of ice. Ten feet away, she heard the door to the studio slide open. The room was as dark as the void beyond. An open outer airlock, that somehow kept it's peace. One white spatted boot gracefully emerged, followed by another. The figure was so grand of height that he had to duck to avoid losing his top hat from a brush against the door facing.
The faceless harbinger stopped midway across the hall, setting his diamond tipped cane against the tile like a lodestone. The hatch leading to her husband's studio closed again, audibly locked. There were only circumambulating spirals where his cheeks, eyes, nose, and mouth should have been. These hyperevolved features turned towards her, tilting curiously as if to say something. All time, and all speech had fled however. The unface beneath the top hat nodded slightly. The figure turned left, and exited principally into the corridor. His footfalls, vetted of all sound, or feeling.
Koenig, Bergman, Starns, Carter, Ang and Truman Starns along with Harness Bull Pound, flattened themselves against the wall as Ghostface, traversing the corridor stopped in front of them.
It turned with its faceless face and reached out with its gloved right "hand", caressing Ang on her left cheek.
In that split second, she saw every horror, every atrocity mankind has ever committed on each other. The gore..the blood ..the terror...the horror which man inflicts on man. Millions of souls were screaming in agony in an abysmal fire pit, grappling onto the infinitely high wall to escape the jaws of damnation.
A man standing next to her, in simple garb, shook his head sternly at Ghostface and pointed to his left. Ghostface shrugged. It tipped its hat and bowed graciously to Ang, continuing on its way down the corridor, fading out of sight.
When the group stormed through the open door of the Profitt quarters, Clare was in shock. She still had her hand poised over the alert button as she stood by the commstation, staring down the corridor after the now invisible Ghostface.
"Where's Marcus?!?" Koenig grabbed Clare by the shoulders and gently but firmly shook her.
Tears streamed down Clare's face as she glanced toward the locked studio door.
Koenig turned his comlock on the menu plate, using the All Access Key. He felt the degausser vibrate in his palm, heard the shrill activator tone, but the hatch remained maddeningly closed. To the left stood Victor Bergman, beside himself, and scratching his head, perplexed. Truman Starns unclipped his laser. Clare Bradford, baptized with tears, and unmitigated trauma, attempted to move between Carter, and Ang,' who predicted the nastiest, most undesirable calumniatory imaginable, and who forestalled her by placing a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"That comlock should open any door on this base." The professor exclaimed, feeling the pother grow inside him, like the rotting roots of an ancient, moss covered tree.
"We have to get in there." The commander said calmly, returning his comlock to his belt. "Starns, open that door."
Koenig, Bergman, and Pound stood an appreciable distance back, as the detective took aim. He paused. He squinted coolly. Afterimages of phosphorescent lightning intaglioed themselves on the retinas of anyone who was close enough to witness the discharge. Sparks flew as far back as Carter's right elbow. The Profitt home now smelled like burning rubber. Superlative amounts of black smoke poured from the remains of the alternator. Clare Profitt shook her head with, dread, denial, and a prescience of things to come. Ashes wafted downwards onto her wet forehead, and cheeks.
The door retracted only millimeters. Truman Starns slid his left palm through the rift, until his plain sleeved forearm disappeared into the embalmed shadows of the studio. Eventually his fingertips found the partial bulkhead, opposite the living room. Gradually, a new aroma began to suffuse itself with the bouquet emanating from the smoking panel. The pungent, grisly aroma of copper. Taking the miserable, hyperalloy weight onto his rotary cup, he attempted to Samson the door open while Koenig pried with both hands near the foot plate. Pound joined in, and with a clean, and a jerk, the hatch gave way. Starns--purple of face--heaved with such force that when the door finally did start down the track, he almost landed flat on his ass inside the workshop.
Koenig's complexion drained, grew sallow, and grave. His shoulders slumped. Victor Bergman's palms floated to his sides with grim resignation. Starns was statuesque. Pound effused a pale, defunct look of stuffed horror. Seconds passed before the professor found his center of gravity again, and slowly stepped back into the living room.
"Alan...Ang'...." He said quietly. "Please take Clare out of here."
Clare snapped out of her trance.
"!!!MARCUS!!!" she shrieked, bolting past Carter too quickly for him to stop her. The horror unfolded before her as she stopped at the entrance of the studio. Alan and Angelina were behind her in an instant as Clare turned away, crying in anguish. She buried her head on Ang's shoulder.
Angelina Carter glimpsed inside the studio. Marcus Profitt had made a lengthwise cut with an Exacto knife down his lower forearm. He had effectively emptied most of the blood from his body, which was now white from anemia. His clothes were blood-soaked, as the hemoglobin pool slowly continued to spread to the studio door. Marcus Profitt's face was hideously contorted as death claimed its prize.
The gruesome scene was perhaps typical of a suicide. Marcus Profitt's final painting on the easel was atypically chilling.
Against a backdrop of red, the dapper Ghostface in tails tipped his top hat with one hand. The diamonds on the cane reflected the screaming faces of his victims. The face.....Instead of the swirling mass of nothing, the face on the canvas possessed the exact contortions and expression as the face of the deceased Marcus Profitt.
Koenig turned away, taking an uncertain half-step towards the doorway where Bergman waited, his head bowed. Starns left Pound to his spritz, and knelt before the corpse, his palm resting on his comlock, scanning for evidence by rote. Carter was around. He gazed past Ang,' and the widow Profitt to a pleasingly blank, unaccusing section of bulkhead. The light in room was perceivably different. The commander emerged, and froze near the art deco coffee table. His back grew stiff: his eyes, intense.
Beyond the vision port closest to the couch, he saw transmitter parabolas orbiting atop the Lunar Sciences Main Building. Beyond that, the glistening, blue, and gray shell plating of the recently restored tunnel to Travel Tube-B. The arrow terminated three kilometers away, well beyond the hub, at Perimeter Station Six. Beyond the perilous walls of La Condamine Crater, there was not much. A Sea Of No Destiny, perhaps. A void, a veldt--all black--lit by two incandescent, rhyming beacons, one red, the other white.
"Commander Koenig." Paul Morrow called from the crampt dimensions of the commstation monitor. "We've exited The Orpheus Wastes; we're back in normal space."
Bergman joined Alan, and Ang.' Ang' was holding Clare, whose fragile, agonized sobs testified to nothing, and everything. They verified only Shakespeare, whom no dunderhead could hope to trow. Love that well which thou must leave, ere long. It was as true a statement as a craggy, blood tainted Buttercup.
Koenig looked neutrally at the effete, incongruous black stripe on his right shoulder. His pep, and homilies had deserted him. As more stars appeared, more pulsars, and quasars, and nebulas strung between moments of greatness, and awe, he found that the only comfort he could offer was the sound of peace.
Angelina Carter sighed, studying the cast on her right arm, which effectively mobilized her hand and fingers. With a mixture of excitement and sadness, she listened to Adele Ehrlich, in the next ward, trying to cope with the later stages of labor.
Just 3 hours before, Ang had awakened from the micro-surgery performed by Dr. Kendra Omari, orthopedic specialist, on her damaged right hand. She had one heck of a time coming out of the mind-altering affects of the sodium pentathol. The experience was nightmarish although with Carter's help, she was able to punch through unconsciousness back into reality. Ang was counting her blessings when Clare Profitt, red face and swollen eyes, stepped through the door.
"How are you feeling?" Clare asked with genuine concern. She was pale and clearly exhausted. Her blue eyes cast a tragic tale of heartbreak.
"I'm OK," Ang nodded, making room on the bed and motioning Clare to sit beside her. "Physical injury and pain heal relatively quickly. Emotional hurt takes longer and can be deeper." She paused a beat. "How are you doing?"
"I exist." Clare stated blandly. "What can I say? The love of my life is dead. Not only is he dead, but his memory....his memory is a bad one for nearly everyone on this base. They are saying he was a murder.."
"He was NOT a murder," Ang blurted. The effects of the morphine were perhaps making her impatient. "He was used by that...that...whatever that was."
"I know," Clare replied,"but a lot of people aren't buying it. They can't believe it, I suppose."
Adele Erhlich let out a particularly loud wail.
"Who cares what they think?" Ang retorted. "It is not important."
"It is," Clare disagreed."I was about to tell Marcus this, try to stop him from killing himself."
Angelina gazed at her quizzically. In the other ward, Dr. Russell was giving Adele Erhlich finally words of encouragement.
"I'm pregnant," Clare announced. "I'm carrying the child of a murderer...that's what they will say." Clare's eyes filled with tears. "What happened to Marcus will overshadow this child. I can't do this by myself. I am alone."
"No," Angelina shook her head, taking her hand. "If anyone feels like that, they are the ones with the problem." She smiled slightly. "You are fortunate to be so blessed. Please, look at it as a blessing. Remember, too, you are not alone."
They both looked up as they heard the loud cries of baby girl Erhlich. Clare Profitt smiled.
"Gee, I didn't know newborns could be so loud," Clare wiped away a tear.
Angelina chuckled. "Oh yeah, and its just the beginning." She squeezed her hand and looked at Clare intently. "Its the instinctive lust for life..."
Neither woman said anything more as they listened to the joyful chatter, amidst the cries of the newborn baby, in the other ward.
Professor Victor Bergman sat Indian style on the floor in his quarters. In front of him, Nicky Carter, recently awaken from his medically induced slumber, sat wide-eyed and staring at a group of blocks of various colors and shapes. Nicky Carter had suffered no ill effects from his experience in the Orpheus Wastes. If anything, the child seemed to be full of energy after such a long repose.
Bergman wrote the words "Red Triangle" on the note pad. He flipped the page over and gazed at Nicky. Clearing his mind he thought only of the image of the red triangle block.
Nicky paused, looked down...and picked up the red triangle block. So far, the child was 9 out of 10 correct with the game.
"Very good, Nicky!" The professor praised while Nicky bounced excitedly up and down. "Now, let's try another one, shall we?"
Alas, the little boy's attention was distracted by the "swooshing" sound of the door. He recognized the footsteps and throwing the block down, he crawled to the very familiar person.
"Dada," the baby sighed breathlessly as he grabbed onto Carter's flares and pulled himself to a standing position. "Dada," he demanded again, one arm reaching up and one hand still holding on for balance.
"Alan!" the professor stood up enthusiastically. "You're just in time. You should see what he can do! By the way, how's Ang?"
"Hey there, bugalugs." Carter said proudly, scooping Nicky off the floor, and swinging him. True, the latest news was a beaut, and he'd done his block resisting it. Even so, he didn't give a shit what the boy could, or could not do. If all he could "do" was drool, he'd still be his son. "She's having a bex." He explained to Bergman, concerning Ang.'
"Mathias has got her at the chess board. For the next month, or so, she'll have to learn to wallop' him while wearing a cast, but otherwise, she's fine."
At his feet lay THE RANDOM TEST STUDY--otherwise known as a deck of Zener Cards. In Bergman's hand, there was a legal pad, no doubt containing Nicky's RANDOM TEST SCORE. Carter sniffed, gazing at the unshuffled mess. Ang' would never buy it, given his quintessential bad attitude about this chunder, and piss, but he recognized the symbols quite, quite well. Plus Sign, Asterisk, Square, Circle, Three Wavy Lines. During the war, amidst the sundry, senseless massacres in Eastern Europe, he'd hold over in Brisbane between bombing missions. The boys in the barracks had a drinking game that involved this self same apparatus. He supposed that he must have been good at it. A lion share of the time, he was the only one at the table, unbagged by the effects of pure grain alcohol. And that was cool. He did an apt job of getting himself plastered.
"I take it you're happy with the results?" Carter said, unclanged' by it all.
Nicholas Alan Carter didn't care about any test results. He had managed to get himself upside down and now his father was gently swinging him like a pendulum. No doubt, if his mother was present, she would have a fit and make Carter senior cease and desist from the activity. Nicky giggled heartily and shrieked with laughter as his face turned red, contrasting against his snow white hair.
"Oh, yes!" Bergman replied, as ebullient as Nicky. "Your son has enormous potential for higher mental abilities. I've never seen or read anything like it. I mean, the documented accounts we have of individuals with paranormal powers are nothing compared to the skills Nicky seems to possess at such an early age. Who knows what he will be able to do as he gets older. You know, it fits with him, though, because since he was born he has been achieving mental developmental milestones much earlier than normal. Quite remarkable. For example, a 10 month old should not be talking or have the attention span as much as he does...."
Bergman abruptly stopped, seeing that the pilot was unimpressed. "Is there something wrong?"
Carter righted Nicky's position, and held him closely. The absence of cloud bursts, and gasconades felt right; it felt symbolic. The Moon was hopelessly asunder, which meant they were hopelessly marooned (what else was new), but they were wending through an area of space that was rife with cosmogony gases. Overflow from The Orpheus Wastes, it was supposed. While it was especially dark, it also meant that the stars were especially bright, and inside Victor Bergman's quarters, the pilot discovered that normality had not abandoned them. It had just taken a mental health day. Carter looked wistfully at the geometric expansion of the universe outside. The myriad comets they were encountering now did not threaten to pulverize Moonbase Alpha. They were phenomena again. Space was black, and all was right with creation.
"Victor, this is all well, and good." He said earnestly. "I want you to know that if these abilities are the Duck's gut--if they make him happy--I'm for it. One hundred, and ten percent. At the same time, he can't live his life in a glass case. I want him to have as normal a childhood as he can have on this cruddy rock. He deserves that, and that's how I intend to raise him.
"When he's old enough, he'll know what's important, and what came special delivery from the Funny Farm."
Victor Bergman marveled at the man in front of him, with the child in his arms. Not too long ago, well within the last decade, Alan Carter was perhaps one of the most egotistical, self-serving assholes he had ever met. Bergman never ceased to wonder how the effects of time and experience could so profoundly transform a man.
"You are absolutely right," Bergman conceded,"and 'normality', or as close to normal as we can come out here, will be key in his upbringing." Bergman made his way to the windows, staring at the lunar surface and the blackness beyond.
"You see, these abilities could be a blessing but," he turned around to face Carter and Carter,"they could also be a curse...dangerous. One day, as hard as it is to believe, he will be a man. He will either be a highly beneficial asset to this community or a threat. You and Angelina have a tremendous responsibility in raising Nicky so that he does not grow up to be a threat to us; because he may very well be able to destroy us. He is still your son and nothing can change that but, like it or not, he is not a normal child."
Bergman handed Nicky a 'koosh' ball. He took it and delighted in the texture and tickling on his hand.
"It will be your job to steer him in the right direction," Bergman gave Carter a patronly nod.
"You can count on it." The pilot said, and by then Nicky was reaching for his nose again.
At 20:55:46 Hours, Lunar Time, which was 00:55:16, Greenwich Meantime, which was 09:55:14 in prehistoric Tokyo, Moonbase Alpha's primary sensor assembly turned itself on something, other than an artifice of The Orpheus Wastes. The bygone, fallen satellite was drifting from one enigma, towards the gravity of another. Only the crazy multiplication of new impact craters remained to witness the afterlight. The debris was eventually sucked back, and before long, even the blue, and white host stars lost their significance again--two more, conflagrating pebbles in the immedicable void of space.
John Koenig turned away from the gallery vision ports, and descended the stairs into the operations level of Main Mission. He walked past Sandra Benes at her station. He was half way up the steps when Paul Morrow offered a beggarly report. It wasn't much, but it was as optimistic as he was apt to be for a while.
"Commander, all sections have reported in." He said dryly, standing. "All quiet."
Koenig nodded. His smile was experimental plastic.
He removed his comlock, and sat at the desk, holding a red flimsy. Polygon, and Isoceles Triangle screen savers orbiting on the small, A-G Desk Monitors, illuminating the cold print of Marcus Profitt's Death Certificate. Koenig uncapped his black, fiber marker, and signed the initials JRK at the bottom. He dropped this grim finality on top of Samantha Storey's grim finality. Already signed, and beneath her's, were the grim finalities for Miranda Darvin, and Ed Bayledon, who died before Yul Ostrog could bring him his last cup of coffee. Reclining in his chair, the commander noticed another document. White leather bound, and to the side, it rested just beneath the Master Control Keyboard.
It was The Rite Of Marriage, distilled for use by Non-Denominational, Unorthodox Captains at Sea, and most recently, Moonbase Commanders.
Dr. Helena Russell balanced the tray on her hip as she opened the side door to the Commander's locked office, punching in a code known only to her and Victor.
"Hydroponics latest coffee crop," she announced as the door slid silently shut behind her. "It's just been freshly ground and we are the first ones to appraise it."
As Helena poured and prepared the java to Koenig's liking, she gave him her report. "Angelina Carter's hand surgery went well. She is resting comfortably but she will be in a cast for about 6 weeks. She'll have to learn how to use a left handed mouse. Oh well, she claims to be ambidextrous; we'll see."
"Melita Kelly has come out of her coma. She recognized Jerry Parker, which was a good sign. I anticipate, however, that she has many weeks, if not months of recovery and therapy."
"Adele and Joe Erhlich had a baby girl," Helena handed him the coffee and the birth certificate for signature. She took a precautionary sip, nodded and smiled with approval.
Koenig looked ruefully at the birth certificate. He added his 'JRK' moniker again, the upbeat flourish of his pen failing him.
"Signed, sealed, and approved." He told the physician, sliding the flimsie back towards her. In operations, Morrow, and Sandra Benes were engaged in serious conversation atop the steps. The leverage eased as the shutters rolled back over the lower vision ports. Digital feedback commenced to flood the auditorium from workers operating cranes in the vicinity of Launch Pad One.
"At last." Ben Ouma carped irritably from his workstation.
June Akaiwa cut between Sloven, and Tony Allen who were standing in front of the big screen. She moved from desk, to desk with robotic zeal; dispensing cups of coffee from an oval tray.
"I wish her the best of luck." Koenig commented, in regards to Baby Ehrlich. "The way things are going around here, she's sure going to need it."
Dr. Russell stopped in mid sip, gazing at the Commander through the steam rising from her cup.
"I see. The way things are going around here." she reiterated then continued. "Well, let's see. Without considering our entire history since breakaway and only looking at the events of the past year, first, we encounter a super psycho from another dimension and we overcome. Next, our hopes are dashed yet again when it turns out our dream home is a ghetto. Then, we are nearly annihilated to the point of extinction but we managed to survive and we are slowly, but surely rebuilding Alpha. Last, we have just passed through an area of space which was menacing to us both on a physical and psychological level and here I am sharing the latest brew from hydroponics with you."
Helena reached over Koenig's shoulder and pushed the white button on his desk, closing the doors to Main Mission.
"I'd say we have a lot more going for us than just luck, John. Even professional gamblers don't survive on luck alone."
Koenig nodded agreeably.
"A decant man driven to do heinous things--diabolical things that transcend horror, and the imagination." He said speculatively. "Yet enough of him remained to realize what he was doing, and bring it to an end.
"I suppose it was the only way he knew how. I wonder, did Marcus Profitt have a moment of clarity; a period where he was able to reclaim his power of choice, or was he in control all along." He said with a incomprehensible eclat. "In control, and waiting to finish the job so he could self-destruct.
"Did it happen to anyone else.
"Could it happen to anyone else.
"Could it have been prevented.
"And what's up with that painting."
A few feet away, the electric blue surface of the conference table was surrounded by empty chairs. Blank notepads, a shroud of a meeting. No answers, only abated nongratification, capped ink pens, and the sterile chorea of life support. If Plato was correct; if everyone, and everything was forged from a single, perfect, irreproachable form, removed to the evergreen, then the mold for this schism was a nilo tablet with cherub's wings.
Helena picked up the covered painting. She had already seen it once and viewing it a second time did not mitigate the hideousness of the portrait. The screaming, terror stricken faces of Melita Kelly, Miranda Darvin and Samantha Storey were illustrated in detail in a vertical row down the cane.
Two brilliant diamonds...Melita Kelly...two more brilliant diamonds...Miranda Darvin...two sparkling diamonds...Samantha Storey. Helena shuddered; this pattern could have continued one for another two victims.
In the center stood the dapper Ghostface, the faceless face a mass of swirling colors.
"I don't know, John," Helena sighed, covering the painting again."I do think, though, Marcus Profitt was a victim and I think this possession or whatever you want to call it could happen to anybody. I think there is something in all of us that could cause a human being to commit heinous, unspeakable evil, if it is tapped, so to speak."
"At any rate, I think this painting needs to be destroyed."
Helena laid the covered painting on the desk, portrait side down.
"Marcus Profitt was almost devoured by his dark half." Koenig said numbly. "But he turned. Is that good, triumphing over evil, or was it just...luck...." He rotated the coffee cup in his palms. Outside the vision ports, a cargo Eagle hovered between Medical Center, and one of the capped, oblong reservoirs while it's pilot awaited coordinates for the drop. Orange moonbuggies rolled back, and forth across the surface like fire ants. A thousand tons of sheet plating was attached to the magnet. Slowly, the ship, and it's payload moved out of range like a filigree of truth. "I never should have approved passage through The Orpheus Wastes." He nodded with hangman certainty. "The minute that was proposed, I should have told them to go straight to Hell. We should have gone with Ang' on this; we should have set charges for a direct abort. Helena, you know that, and I know that.
"Alpha didn't need one more death."
"Monday morning quarterbacking," Helena shrugged. "Who's to say that by setting those charges we wouldn't have lost more?"
Helena took his hand into her soft, gentle hand.
"A decision is a decision. You're human, John, whether you like it or not. No one faults you for the decision to proceed through the Orpheus Wastes, so why are you beating yourself up? Focus on today with one eye cocked cautiously toward the future. Leave yesterday behind."
"If we don't wise up soon--there won't be a today. There won't be a today. There won't be a tomorrow!!! There won't be anything!!!" Koenig ranted suddenly, crushing his coffee cup. Hydroponics joe splattered across the blotter area of his desk, and on the silver mobile next to the Uplink Bus Controls. "And every plaque in Memory Crater may as well have 'MURDERED BY JOHN KOENIG' engraved on it. Every time some one dies here, Helena, a part of me dies with them. It won't make sense, so don't even try to figure it out.
"Samantha Storey, Miranda Darvin, Ed Bayledon, Marcus Profitt. When they needed my help the most, I wasn't there. I'm sorry, Helena. Forgive my pessimism, but it occurs to me that death is more imminent than some vision of a perfectly gorgeous today, or tomorrow."
Helena stared at Koenig for approximately 10 seconds then downed the rest of her coffee.
"Prior to September 13, 1999 you were given the authority as Commander of Moonbase Alpha by the International Lunar Commission. Since September 13, 1999, you have been able to retain that authority only from the respect and the leadership you have repeatedly demonstrated to the people of this community."
She set her coffee cup on the tray and picked up the squashed remains of his cup, placing them on the tray.
"In no time were you ever given the ultimate power of life and death over any of us; you have never been granted the title of 'God' because you can't handle it. You are a man. If you attempt to take on the responsibilities and burdens of 'God', you, John Koenig, will end up destroying yourself."
She picked up the tray, turned to leave but stopped as she reached the side door.
"Perhaps you don't give a damn if you destroy yourself but I do." Her voice shook slightly then she swallowed to regain its firm resonance. "I will be in my quarters. When you are ready to leave the pity party, you are more than welcome to join me."
Helena keyed a code on her comlock and left, as the door swooshed shut behind her.
His funk lifted, even as he heard the hatch sigh closed behind him, and John Koenig remembered the 1975 Maverick that he gave up for dead. Jean advised him to throw in the towel, numerous times. She conceded that the car was historic, pleasing to the eye, in an antiquary sort of way, and never in need of renewed insurance tags. But the struts were rusted toothpicks, and they really didn't have the money, and it wouldn't pass the local Shell Station, if it's life depended on it. Why not take it to the crush yard, and drive the Buick? Oh, no. He defended his automotive wizardry, and then attempted to find drum brakes (available by avaricious special order) which was a cruel nightmare.
Kershner's Auto Salvage Yard in New Jersey--that was where Maverick bit the dust. He wasn't capable of salvation in those days either. For forty-four years now, he had been inhaling, and taking steps on credit, while attempting to collaterally raise the ceiling on the accounts of others. The interest was a mighty bitch. Total responsibility was a disingenuous comrade. Your friend spared no opportunity in body slamming you, and giving your Haines a wedgie, and traducing your before your peers. It's what we learn, John. The woman dying of high fever in the hospital bed told him before departing for the next world. It was the last thing she ever said to him. A woman who was a fierce individual, an R&D Expertrex among NASA's core of engineers; long brunette hair, but in more ways than most, the mirror image of Helena Russell. How long the road is, isn't as important. It's who we are, and who we've loved.
He was reaching for the cold pack in the sanitary, blue, hospital pan, when the pressure fell from his hand.
The commander looked past his office, and the all thumbs attempt to recreate Launch Pad One. A blue star, and a white star, but they were larger than anything else in the heavens. Beyond their gravitational pulls, there were other stars, other misalliances. The final answer was larger, more pulse proud, and maturescent than them all. Mowed daisies. Relationships. Human life. Sacrifice, and hope were the things that were interminate. He turned an endeavoring hand to the white touch sensor, and the big doors rolled open on their tracks.
He considered the white ceremonial ledger with neoteric hands before moving it gently to the side. There were two suns. John Koenig chose the largest.
"The moment I choose, I can be rid of Mr. Hyde."
--Robert Louis Stevenson
"To hope means to be ready at every moment for that which is not yet born...."
An original story written by tgarnett25, moonbasealpha_s1 and koenigs sidekick.