Testament of Arkadia: Extended Version
It was much better than what was depicted "On The Beach."
Earth, in the Year Of Our Lord 1999 AD was vastly different on September 14th, than it had been at the September 13th breakfast table. The honey that now dripped did not come from succulent combs. It was the toxic, nightmare secrete that oozed from trees, blackened by the firestorms as the Moon orbited out, and out, and out, and out, and out, and out. The farms, just as beauteous--in a sense--were riveting to behold; after all, who could resist the demonic allure, the nebulous plumes of smoke as they contaminated the atmosphere; the soot, and the ash rising high on their own heat to picaresque altitudes...just drifting there...crap in the sky...waiting in vain for precipitation to return the tarn to the ruined continents, where it rightfully belonged as a birthright.
And as the seconds, and the hours; the days and the weeks; the years on Moonbase Alpha teemed like dangerously unreliable, hot fusion rectors, you began to see certain patterns forming on the skin of the apple that does not fall far from the tree.
Earth. Four years after Breakaway, tons of radioactive fallout rafted across the sky, impelled by muscular west-to-east winds forming a uniform belt of particles that asphyxiated the Northern Hemisphere from 30 to 60 latitude.
On Moonbase Alpha, the guilty pleasures were more aesthetic, and internal. The joy of a starvation diet. The pleasure of water rationing to prevent god-fucking-awful hydrogen distillation units from flaming out. More dialysis. Please. The high of bad dreams, compliments of CO2 scrubbers, and Heppa filters that needed to be hosed out with Ed Malcom's pressure gun.
On Earth, the sun vanished for four weeks after the satellite departed, and when it finally returned from this bender, the blackest of all sabbaths was fully formed as the eyeless sockets of skulls stared upwards from the 200 below zero snow in the Kalahari desert in South Africa. Every now, and then some sunflower rays would make it through the subfreeze to the glaciers below, but the corpses were too dead to enjoy it.
On the Moon, humankind never vanished. Well, some of them did. A whole lot of them, really. Wholesale carnage, actually...over the years; in Bob Mathias' crematorium as the cost of survival rose to the comparative price of a Karmarbandh. Light did reach them through the Fridgidaire of deep space, but it provided no warmth--only a memory of a lost Valhalla that never was.
On Earth, the fraction of the population that managed to survive modeled their existence after the Flintstones--in Lascaux's, and caverns far beneath the surface. Before Breakaway, if those whom we loved passed away, it was accompanied by salty tears. After the Moon left orbit, if someone died, it meant that dinner was served.
On the first, permanent, lunar settlement, Alpha, the race survived by servicing the machines. In return, the machines kept them alive--like a cadaver's spleen, floating in a jar of formalthehyde. Cogito ergo sum. They thought, therefore they existed. How odd that they were so much like the falling star that streaked out of the Cassiopeia Aurora, and then plummeted past the western RADTEL assembly, and then impacted in the crater chain Dorsum Scilla, hundreds of kilometers from the base. They were out of control, but hoping that 'dirt' was not their destiny, even if it was.
"Dr. Carter." Pete Garforth's neutral face appeared on the commstation monitor in their quarters. "I'm sorry to trouble you."
Alan Carter looked pensively at Ang' from his desk, temporarily setting aside a detailed main stage schematic for Eagle 3-2. On the foam sofa, their son snoozed away his night mode with his face planted in an open, coffee table book titled "Aboriginals, And Cockatiels."
"A meteorite came down." The assistant director explained. "Thirty-two point eight degrees north, sixty point four degrees west."
"Now that's something that doesn't happen all the time." Carter commented mordaciously, returning to his blueprints. "Rocks hitting the Moon. Thrilling."
Angelina Carter, who had been relaxing on the pretzel chair in tank top and Alpha pajama bottoms, set aside the laptop on the coffee table. She had been engrossed in another reality far away from Moonbase Alpha; Ang had been devouring the latest chapter in Pete Garforth's fan fiction story of "Mission:Impossible".
She glanced at Alan, quizzically. "What did you say those coordinates were again, Pete?" She asked, now standing at the commstation. He repeated them. That got Alan's attention. Based on their present trajectory and position, it was highly unlikely they would be hit by a meteorite in that area.
"Another piece of info," Garforth went on. "Preliminary data scans of the object as it was coming in do not show a standard iron ore structure. 'Unknown' was the best computer could do to categorize it."
"And there's more," Pete continued. "The shape of the object was not irregular, like you'd expect with just any ole rock. It was...cylindrical."
"Like a missile?" Ang vocalized. Garforth remained impassive but did not object to her description. "I think as a precaution, it should be checked out," she continued, more for the Chief of Reconn's benefit than Pete Garforth. "Thank you, Pete. Stand by for further instructions."
She cut the link then initiated another call. "Commander Koenig."
"Ang,' it's Lorna O'Brian." The astrophysicist politely interrupted, replacing Garforth's image on the commstation. "The commander is en route to the ISOLAB Unit on the Montes Teneriffe."
"There's a keeper." Carter informed Ang' via his extrasensory perception. He was wide awake, and standing now. It was strange how a quiet Midnight cycle on the Moon could suddenly become an elbow-to-nostril, smorgasbord of frenetic activity. This, and usually after months of sitting on one's thumb, with no agenda, other than watching the too distant stars pass you by.
"The close-out crew has exited the white room on Launch Pad Four." O'Brian continued. "The countdown for cargo Eagle Five is on hold until Captain Carter gets there. The commander would like him to take Eagle One into a low, parking orbit so he can monitor the retrieval procedure. The object is easy enough to find. It's in a bed of shocked breccia." The scientist added, turning the pages of her blue flimsie, and conversing with Ang' at the same time. "He also wants to know if you can join us at the ISOLAB module. It's fully equipt, and nowhere near the network in the event that the thing blows up in our faces, or something equally unpleasant."
The astrophysicist's brow became runneled.
"Looks like the bells have chimed, cupcake." The pilot said as he was already heading out the door with his son in tow. He, to the Reconnaissance Hub; Nicholas to the care unit. Carter would mock the gods, taking his life into his own hands as he essayed the great mystic. Nicky would have to be babysat by Dr. Wiseacre, Bob Mathias, and probably Ed Malcom, who chose the strangest hours to undergo therapy for his corns.
Carter liked his mission better.
"Be careful out there," she called after her husband and smiled tenderly at her son. Nicky's head rested on his father's shoulder as one half opened eye glanced sleepily at her. Then he yawned and was off to dreamland again as the door slid shut behind them. Angelina quickly exchanged her loungewear for her tunic with the rust colored sleeve, belt and tan flares. She grabbed her cup of reheated imitation Moonbase coffee and headed for the travel tube destined for the ISOLAB module.
Her mental thoughts were translated into various instructions into her commlock to the pertinent Technical departs which would deal with the strange object. She alerted the department heads to the situation. The adrenaline flowed like white water rapids. After months of quiet and even tedious routine, the event was almost morbidly...exciting.
Commander John Koenig sat pensively at his desk with the white gooseneck lamp in his quarters. Once again, it was another quiet nightmode. In the background, Helena Russell had fallen asleep on the white foam couch while watching the Part 3 of the video series "The Ascent of Man".
"Helena," Koenig softly tried to rouse her. "Come to bed. You'll be more comfortable."
The doctor murmured something unintelligible and turned over. The commander covered her with a gray Moonbase issued fleece blanket and plopped wearily in the pretzel chair. He stared blankly at the television and was reaching for the remote on the white plastic endtable when his eye caught the burgundy leather journal.
He reached for it and opened it, intending to review his most recent entry concerning the alien cylinder. Instead, it opened to the events of nearly 4 years ago. It seemed like a lifetime.
The 'probe' (and calling it that took quite the exalted imagination, according to Bram Cedrix) was still out there on the Montes Teneriffe. They would have taken it to the Experimental Laboratory, but A) There were no bay doors for transferring the cargo; and B) Phil Geist felt that the copious amounts of loadstone, endemic to the plateau, would be a boon to them for effecting repairs on the capsule. The foreman asked Koenig when they should start? After towing it in, it only took two minutes to lift the security clearance (the amount of time it took Paul Morrow to return from the MCR Cantina with his cup of turgid coffee), and even less time for the endeavor to get on their nerves.
Oddly enough, unlike terran-made torpedoes, missiles, and the geometric solidarity of most complex satellites, this thing was shaped like a Valentine's Day box of Smartie's chocolate bon-bons with a crown-shaped engine bell feeding into an elementary solid fuel combustion system.
It did not represent a hazard to the base. If only it had been that romantic. The service system panel almost fell off the minute it was lowered onto the examination room dais, which made for embarrassingly easy access.
As he recalled, Ang' Carter asked him then what they were planning on doing with it, so betwixt she, and Cedrix, that made two.
"Our technology is more advanced." Victor Bergman determined assuredly, slapping Koenig victoriously on the shoulder.
"Ya' THINK?" The commander said sarcastically as he stooped to pick the thing off his boot. If someone had sneaked a kick right then, his feeling was that he would have deserved it.
The x-ray analysis of the Dorsum Scilla told them this was nothing as destructive as a 'Dark Energy Bomb,' or a Quark Scrambler, or even a good old, boring thermonuclear device. No stiff necks being reproved from godly lightening bolts. Geist made a shocking observation about the module inside. The compartment was covered with an application of Styrene, and Butadiene.
"Funny." Koenig groused. "I thought it was called 'rubber.' Thanks Phil."
The coating of Styrene-Butadiene provided cushioning for the sealed, transparent flasks inside, and this is where the commander's quandary truly began.
"Hello pal." Carter exclaimed, wanting to help, and pushing Lorna O'Brian politely aside as he reached into the capsule's brain case. "Here's the problem." He told them, swinging a metal (Geist called it 'nickel hydride') armature back, and forth on its hinges. "It's not making flush contact with that gyro." He deduced, pointing towards a black, static free globe, widget thing in the center of the block.
"A navigational failure?" Cedrix consulted the pilot.
"I'd say so." Carter answered. "It's no fun flying if you don't know where you're going."
Altogether, the foreman asked Koenig thrice if he intended the capsule to be repaired.
'Our struggle to survive in a hostile universe....' 'Koenig chewed at the edges of one particular journal entry hectically. He stopped once before reading on to see if Russell was sound asleep. His disgust, and his distraught probably wouldn't fill the room like smoke, but still, he felt a censuriousness building in him--one that threatened to pound a loud gavel at any moment.
'Our struggle to survive in a hostile universe had long erased the memory of the cataclysmic disaster that first hurled our Moon out of Earth's orbit.' He read on, this time more thoughtfully. The thoughts were 48 months old, but they still lived inside him, somewhere beneath the grief, and the failure.
'The recent events that occurred on the planet Arkadia have revived that painful memory, and forced us to reconsider our purpose in space.' More compulsively now, he turned the page on his own handwriting, temporarily exchanging one, contemporary predicament for a quietus that was very old.
'And when it started, it was to prove terrifying.'
"!!!KIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!" Koenig cried his unstoppable ambition to succeed which was ritual in the fine art of Kendo.
"!!!THE SEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDS!!!" His helmeted sparring partner replied, vociferous enough to rattle the 75 pound iron dead weights on a nearby Nautilus. The floor of the Gymnasium rumpled from the bulk of unbridled antagonism.
The seeds? Koenig foundered, embarrassed, but not saying anything. His eyebrow did it for him. Carter Jackson was supposed to be the victim de jour, as the commander's acumen at this type of swordplay was unequalled. Then, at the last minute, Jackson bowed out in favor of hip replacement surgery, so now he was stuck with this funky stellar cartographer. Little did he realize, Luke Farro's 'Ki Ken Tai Itchi'--his 'spirit, sword, and body'--as it were, were intent on massacring the commander using any means at his disposal, short of giving melvins.
He should have known, Koenig told himself as he prepared his bamboo 'shanai' in a graceful Shudan no Kamae posture. His shoulders were squarely facing Farro's. His left hand was expertly three, or four inches from his navel. His right hand rose to the tip of his shanai, projecting a line to the cartographer's padded throat. He prepared to thrust in a deceptively lean maneuver that won him the championship at MIT in 1982.
But he was about ten seconds too late.
"!!!THE SEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDS!!!" Farro bellowed loudly again, and brought his artifice down on Koenig's head guard.
Angelina Verdeschi, in the cardio room working up a sweat on the elliptical machine, gulped recycled water as she watched the match through the observation window. It was infinitely more interesting than watching another music video, one she had seen at least a thousand times.
Koenig ducked spritely sparing his head but the weapon landed squarely and hard on his shoulder. There was no time to stop and fret over the sting. The commander turned completely around and surprised Farro with the speed. Farro hesitated and Koenig's shanai whacked the cartographer, unshielded, in the side in the ribs.
"Good one," Farro grumbled behind his mask, taking the ready position again.
The commpost interrupted Koenig's thoughts while contemplating his next line of strategy. Paul Morrow's slightly tense face appeared on the blue and white monitor.
"Commander Koenig?" queried the Deputy Controller.
"Yes, Paul." The commander relaxed and removed his mask as he trotted to the commpost.
"We have an emergency. Could you come to Main Mission?"
"We're not taking the back passage to give you data collection time you don't need." Deputy Controller Zed Astrin informed his subordinate, Klaus Rotstein, who took his unbridled anger out on an innocent, machine dispensed FE Bar. He looked accusingly at overnight controller Mark Winters, who had gone to bat for him, but now the bat was broken. Next, he turned his half eaten FE Bar on Andy Dempsey as though it was a sword, but the STC refrained from making any comments.
At times like this, some people turned to drink; some turned to slavish obeisance to food; some wept. When under duress, Rotstein paraphrased Blake. He was proud to be the only person he knew who did this:
"There is a smile of love,
"And there is a smile of deceit,
"And there is a smile of smiles,
"In which you mutilate, and take revenge."
He knew the fools wouldn't understand.
They were in the Mission Control Room Cantina, and the only person who seemed to be enjoying his faux coffee, and nutrient sticks was Sloven, who finished his security patrol two hours ago. Pitting one person against another completed him.
"The fact that you were...not aware...when Eagle 1-5 did that propellant slosh last week?" Astrin enumerated, his unctuous, satisfied grin widening. "Well, that didn't help your case any--sorry to say."
"That's rather interesting." Sloven mused, pointing towards the caffeine swirl that had formed in the senior controller's coffee cup.
He didn't give a shit.
Specialist Samantha Storey of Hydrofarm Number Two was bringing a Cactus Of Peace to the geology building when she lost her balance. She had no idea why it was deemed a 'Cactus Of Peace,' but since she had spent over a 100 hours cultivating the stabbing, sadistic sucker with CO2 grow medias, and HID lights, she felt that it should serve some useful purpose. Having resolved herself to this end, she sat it atop Edward Nye's desk, where it would wither away from cold neglect.
"What's this?" The bespectacled Ph.D. inquired, lancing his finger the first time he tried touching it. The Cactus Of Peace quivered back at him defensively.
"Beautification." Storey explained. "Alpha needs a face lift. God knows, I-"
That was when her equanimity betrayed her. One minute she was standing beside a six foot, floor display of purple quartz, extracted from the Descartes Region. The next minute she was wildly grabbing for a pretzel chair in the waiting area. Fortunately, Sedimentary Specialist Trang arrived in time to scoop her up again. Nye bolted from his desk to assist.
"Hey." Trang espoused, making sure that Storey wouldn't fall off the face of the Moon. "You alright?"
"I don't know." The agro technician admitted, sheepish, and dishelved. "For a minute there, I thought I felt the floor move.
"Strange." He said, pulling a long, black bang away from her upset cheek.
True, the black haven was 975,000 nautical miles away, but it could not stand having an invitation thrown back in it's face. At first it was visible only as a crescent of orange light that engulfed the ruined eastern hemisphere. Gradually, the gracelessness of her continents became visible through the cumulous cinders. The seas were an unpotential, and blighted chloranemic that electrified, and expanded during the alignment with the planet's fusion fired main sequence star.
This was the other side of Death's epoch. As the former Moon of the planet Earth felt the initial impulsions to its axis--as it did a slow, but discernable about face to conclude the ouroboros, it was made to confront a dark eminence, and a disclosure as insipid as a warlock hiding behind a boulder.
Pure causality could not be evaded, or forestalled, even by an enthymatically high velocity.
"Well, what is it?" Koenig asked, urgent, and still wearing his black Hakama robe.
Sandra Benes arose from the Data Analyst station, passing the Commander a red flimsie report.
"Our course is altering, sir," Benes began, "Seventy five point three degrees relative," she continued as he thumbed through the report. "There is no mistake."
The report in Koenig's hand bore the data and calculations of cartographer Miranda Darvin: where they had been, where they were now and where they were going. Except, where they were going had changed drastically since yesterday. Before, they were on the way to nowhere in deep space for at least the next 4 months. Now, they were on their way to a planet, an earthlike planet, but one which was devoid of life due to an environmental holocaust.
"That is strange," he mumbled to Victor Bergman, who approached him on his right side, standing behind Paul Morrow. "We're nowhere near the gravitational pull of that planet."
"Whatever's directing us towards it, it's not gravitation, and it's not magnetism either." Victor Bergman said, leafing through a digest compiled with haste in astrophysics.
"Visual," Kate Bullen reported from her station.
"Put it up on the Big Screen," Koenig requested and behold, there it was!
The planet on the big screen was orphic. It was blue consume--a barren scratch of coral in the void of space. Near the equator, pigments of vegetation had attempted to escape the black, radioactive mists, but life had no place here. This was the world of the dead, and it heralded images of classic demise--it was Atlantis in space; it was Terra Australis, the great southern land, only with a burning band of sunlight that tried, and failed to illuminate the eastern rim; it was the lost City Of The Monkey God. It did not talk, but it did pull.
Further contemplation was interrupted by static as the image dissolved.
"Scanner malfunction?" Koenig queried to Kate.
"No, sir" she replied, typing queries and commands. "Power surges."
"Chief Kano," Angelina Verdeschi's perplexed image appeared on the right blue and white monitor under the big screen. "There is a problem with Generators 2 and 3. We are suffering a 5% power loss right across the board."
Her attention was diverted to someone off screen then she returned. "Generators 4 and 5 are now malfunctioning. Power loss is now 7%"
"Keep your hands to yourself." Anchor Tara Bathory fumed from her cubical in the Alpha News Service clamshell. We are deep in the heart of Ball's Crater now. A la lums. Her word processor document was blank--blank as her mind, some might argue, and she was agitated by the static that accompanied the fingers that taloned down the spine of her tunic.
"Man, you're nuts." Duke, the videographer replied truthfully. A juiceless Canon Optura lay before him like a pet awaiting brain surgery. After a quick check of the battery charger, he concluded that like everything else on Moonbase Alpha, this too was corny. From the neck up, he looked like an ape--rebelliously hirsute, and too sexy for his Hawaiian shorts which were pulled up over his flares. "I didn't lay a hand on you."
"Yes you did." The anchor argued, wiping away the derelict germs with her snotty hand.
"Man, go have yourself a Midol, lady." Duke suggested, reaching for his backup camera while attempting to put a sweat leaf on the topic of sexual harassment from invisible perverts.
"Don't start in on me today." Bathory warned, shaking her yellow highlight pen at him. "I'm not in the mood." She educated him, baring her fangs. "Were it not for my benevolence, and my good graces, you would have been shoveling sludge in the Alpine Valley a long time ago.
"Mea Culpa?" She thought he was a bum, and was prepared to tell him so. "What's wrong with you?" She stopped, noticing the videographer's sudden onset of sallow complexion. "You look like you swallowed a rat.
"YES A RAT. HA, THAT'S FUNNY. A RAT INSIDE A RAT."
"Man...." Duke wheezed. "I don't feel so good. I feel totally bogus...like someone dropped a brick on my head."
He also had been touched.
Too bad it was not a touch of class.
Truman Starns, Security Section's chief investigator was heading towards Travel Tube-B, en route to his quarters, and comparing chambers of boredom with Harness Bull Velma Hill. The patrolman was feeling philosophical today so for variety, she had taken to discussing Auschwitz survivor Victor Frankel, and man's search for meaning. The quest for relevance did not last long, though. The moonquake started the minute they entered the brightly lit departure area.
The first revelation was auditory.
"Do you hear that?" The detective queried, interrupting the harness bull just as she was getting to the part about the one thing that can never be coveted--human freedom.
Hill nodded uneasily, turning, and looking upwards at the gray ceiling panels.
The sound was unlike anything on Earth, or in the confinement of the Moon. It was the motif of a midnight storm. It was the frozen ambience of deep, infernal caverns. It was the wailing of the damned in the nursery schools of Hell's ninth circle. There was art nouveau desperation. There were the chilling sirens of metallurgical stress.
Starns headed towards the nearby commstation, but like the degression on Victor Frankel, it was a no-go. He, and Hill falling forward, eating tile, and remaining supine under centripetal acceleration--that was the quintessential meaning. As the Plato Crater began to grind against the foundations of Moonbase Alpha, Starns made a valiant attempt to brute force himself to his feet, but the roller coaster G-Forces promptly returned his nose to luna firma.
"We're slowing down." Paul Morrow blenched, defying the elephant with one hand on the tracking computer space bar, and the other on his unmoored gooseneck lamp. His face was a friction of high blood pressure, and crevasses. The laws of mass, and inertia were his botheration.
"AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!" Joan Conway shrieked as her flight over the mezzanine was abruptly end when her tailbone impacted the metal grated steps.
If anyone in Main Mission was still paying attention to the monitor bearing the image of Angelina Verdeschi, he would have seen her vacate the screen in a blur to the right. Not that anyone was paying attention. Everyone in Main Mission was attempting to spare themselves physical damage as the Moon came to a grinding halt.
In Medical Center, Dac Capano who had been drumming his fingers on the exam couch while awaiting the arrival of Dr. Mathias to perform his 6 month physical, suddenly found himself on the floor, sliding toward a medical supply cabinet. Mathias, though he was still standing, was holding onto the edge of the door after dropping the vials containing blood samples for Capano's general heath profile analysis.
"We've stopped dead," Koenig observed as he assisted Bergman from the ground.
"Commander," Angelina, shaken and disturbed, had managed to pull herself up to her desk again in front of the monitor. "Power loss at 8%."
'The unbelievable had happened.' John Koenig rode the wormhole back to the future. It was four Septembers later, and he was in his quarters, searching for answers, he supposed, in an ambivalent memoir that all too often seemed sappy, and naive to him. He remembered with chill denial that first, incredible scan--a laserscopic image that was bounced off the planet's atmosphere by one of the SATCOM orbiters, which rebounded in the void, and returned to leave a dismal, high resolution, Egyptian hieroglyphic of their fate. The planet; it's host star; and it's captivated satellite, all in necromantic conjunctivity.
'Our Moon was locked fast in space.'
With her laptop under her arm, the director of the Nuclear Power Generation section stepped into the Command tower elevator and pressed the button for Level B. Angelina Verdeschi's nervousness attending a Command Conference on invitation from the Commander was suppressed by her analytical thoughts and preoccupation with solving the power loss situation. Angelina was ready though and well organized. Her department was one of the few in Technical Section to consistently excel in performance. Her boss, David Kano, only seemed to be interested in computer operations. The rest of Technical section swam its own courses and with Ang's group being the notable exception, was in organizational shambles.
"Be patient, Ang," Professor Bergman told her with a strange twinkle in his eye just two days earlier. "Things are bound to be changing in that department soon."
Confidently walking through Main Mission, she smiled politely at Kate Bullen and June Akaiwa and returned Klaus Rotstein's lustful stare with a cold glare. She stepped through the privacy door, followed by Bergman, who put a paternal arm on her shoulder and motioned to a chair next to Alan.
Kano acknowledged her with a slight nod but otherwise said nothing, returning to his software diagnostic notes.
Carter winked amicably at Ang' from his scheme of things, third chair to the left of the white leather deck seat. Helena Russell compulsively rolled, and unrolled a red flimsie that was christened: MEDICAL FORECAST HR9999. It consisted of one paragraph that read like a Toffler discourse on knowledge; "You can use all the quantitative data you can get, but you still have to distrust it, and use your own intelligence, and judgement."
Or, to quote Arthur C. Clark: "It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value."
She supposed that the cover needed to be red for security reasons. Though, given what they actually knew, it could just as easily be azure, or brown, or pink, or neopolitan. Morrow caught a glimpse of her 'classified' information when she used it to scratch her back. The physician simply shrugged, and wiping the dust away, returned the document to the table.
"Sorry, I'm late." Commander John Koenig apologized, closing the hatch behind him, and hurrying into the sunken meeting room with an odd, and even stack of statistical information, and exposures of the planet, printed on Kodak stock. All courtesy of Stellar Cartography. Carroll Severence, the director of the department, was in tow.
"You look busy." Bergman remarked.
"Yeah? Ten hours from now when we've got frost hanging from our noses, you'll look busy too." The commander quipped. "Dr. Verdeschi, this one's for you." He said, politely setting one of the packets in front of Ang.'
Ang nodded appreciatively and mumbled a 'Thanks, Commander.' She remembered when she first met John Koenig. She was a freshman at university taking the General Physics with Calculus course. Associate Professor John Koenig, newly acquired of Ph.D. had been assigned to teach this course otherwise known as "the hacksaw". The intention was to cut the class of 500 Freshman to approximately half its size with unrelenting studying, homework and dreaded intense and time limit exams. To make matters worse, WWT had just begun and no doubt the need for young able bodies to fight against 'the enemy' and young men who flunked out after that first grueling semester were welcomed into the arms of the military via a draft notice.
Angelina had a very favorable impression of the young professor. An afternoon break in the student union one day, where she chatted with Koenig and his wife, the lovely and musically talented Jean, convinced her that he really did not belong in the ivory towers of academic elite but out in the real world, making a real difference in life.
Little did she know what was to come.
"How bad is the power loss?" Russell inquired.
"Bad." Kano said, demurring to Ang' for further negative prognoses.
The room temperature had already dropped to a crisp 55 degrees F. This fact alone gave credence to the statement 'We have a problem.' Sandra Benes rubbed her hands together and blew into them for emphasis.
"Power loss continues at a rate of 1.5% per hour, though that change is not linear, Commander, rather it will become exponential, likely within 12 hours." Angelina reported after closing the lid of her laptop. The grinding and whirling of a hard drive that was nearing end of its useful life underscored the downfall of technology. Kano curiously eyed it, his attention now diverted to his favorite subject, and made a note to have the hardware computer techs check it out.
"We have already implemented conservation measures which has actually bought us time up to 12 hours before the...precipitous drop in power." She stopped, taking a sip of distastefully coffee.
"However, that will only delay the inevitable, if we can't find what is causing the power loss. So far, we have eliminated anything mechanical as well as numeric controllers as possible causes. All systems check out and we should be operating at peak efficiency minus, of course, reactor #1 which was already down for routine maintenance."
"There is nothing explainable, nothing inside this base which is causing the power drain."
"An external force?" Helena Russell ventured.
Angelina winced slightly and nodded. She didn't care for that assessment but after all the technobabble, a layman summarized it the best: external force.
"Well...as for gravitational assists...most of you know the score." Koenig supposed, donning his physical science chapeau. "There are only a finite number of possibilities: V/OUT, or V/IN. Both are irrelevant in this case because we're nowhere near that body. A planetary orbit depends on the amount of pull, but we aren't making revolutions." The commander enunciated, leaning. "We're just sitting here motionless.
"I agree." The professor concurred, dogearing a long range, satellite photo of the planet that was taken six months ago. A speck of dust, but a demanding one all the same. "Whatever the force is that holds us, it doesn't appear to be relative to any type of magnetism we know about."
"Professor, there are many forms of magnetism." Paul Morrow argued hopefully.
Until his contentions were unceremoniously shot down.
"Computer has been unable to reference this effect with any known, scientific laws." David Kano decreed, arms folded smugly over his chest. "It's not ferromagnetism. It's not ferromagnetism. It's not antiferromagnetism, nor is it paramagnetism, or diamagnetism."
Once he was done listing, the mainframe chief wondered why Angelina Verdeschi's eyes crossed whenever she looked at him. Ang resisted the urge to shake her head. He was spouting off terms again without analysis. It was what the printout told him.
Angelina could not understand what was happening to Kano. He really wasn't that bad of a guy. But the reality was, he spent 98% of his time in the central computer complex, 1% at his desk in Main Mission and 1% managing the rest of technical section. The technicians referred to the Chief as "Robo-Kano" and that nickname was perhaps the kindest reference to the supervisor.
And through it all, David Kano was oblivious to the disintegration of his section, despite Ang dropping hints concerning the dissatisfaction of his people. A number of his own people went straight to Koenig to complain; not just Ed Malcom and Claude Murneau but competent and talented individuals such as Pete Garforth and Patrick Osgood. The Commander then invited Ang into a skip level one to one meeting and they discussed the situation.
"Now Captain." The commander segued, swiveling in his chair to face Carter. "We're all 'go' on the countdown for the reconnaissance flight? Have there been any changes?"
"No sir." The pilot replied.
"The minimum requirement will be a five minute, 500,000 fps burn." Paul Morrow explained. The Dream Team was there--Astrin was to his left. Winters was to his right, which isn't to say that Winters was ever really 'right,' but he was 'to' the right. Right. "We put together an Atmospheric Entry Assessment that seemed promising--at least until we had to take the designator off-line to save power. After two point five orbits, your velocity will have decreased enough to begin retrofire over the target area."
"If all goes well, landfall will occur at dawn, 15 hours EMT." The pilot rejoined non-committally.
"What if it does not go well?" Sandra Benes speculated dismally, but no one answered her.
"That's a fairly long bounce." Astrin pointed out. Like the rest of them, he was bogged in ignorance.
"A day, and a half." Truman Starns agreed from his position in the corner next to a Gorski rubber tree plant. He had already been chosen to head the security detachment to the planet's surface.
Ang glanced neutrally at the Chief of Reconn. She had told him his job didn't bother her, but that was a small lie. Any time he went out "there", even for a routine fly around the lunar poles she felt nervous and her stomach would be unsettled until he returned. So, she kept a bottle of antacid handy and she supposed she benefited from the extra calcium intake.
Right. Her beloved might die a horrible death but at least she had strong bones. Ha..ha..ha: she wasn't laughing.
"Based on the projected power loss rate," Ang continued on Starns line of thought, "in about 30 hours, the crops in the hydroponic farms will begin to freeze, with all crops succumbing at 36 hours. The water in the recycling plants will freeze at 44 hours. By 48 hours, the ambient temperature of this base will be below zero." She finished quietly then took another sip of tepid coffee.
"Enough of the slag." Winters suddenly ventured beyond the bounds of his know-nothingness to participate in these proceedings. "What can we count on between now, and the return of the reconnaissance Eagle?"
"You can count on being stone, cold dead." Carter told him belligerently."That's what."
"Phased economies will provide us with an additional day." Sandra analyzed. "Thirty hours roughly, but certainly no more than that."
"Right," Ang nodded in agreement, "though that still won't help the crops. Our ambient temperature will still be below zero at 48 hours though we could probably keep the oxygen exchange units going another 24-30 hours."
"Thirty hours roundtrip," Victor repeated gulping the last swallow of his Vitaseed then clasping his hands, already knowing the schedule. "I suggest then we'd better get going."
"Right," Koenig replied standing. "Victor, Helena, meet me at Launch Pad 2 in 15 minutes. Starns, you and Pound round up Luke Ferro and Anna Davis and escort them to Pad 2 in 20 minutes. They have already been notified so they should be expecting you. Now, with our long range systems not functioning we won't be able to rely on Main Computer down there, so we're taking along everything we'll need on the surface. Alan, you know what you need to do."
"Paul. Power economy starting right now. Coordinate it through Ang."
With the exception of Mr. Slag Overnight, everyone saw the downer-reminder that graced the commstation screen as they were leaving:
POWER LOSS RATE 11%
Adventures with Luke Farro.
"The what?" Gonzales repeated back to him, dropping instant Moonbase mashed potatoes onto the cartographer's plate. His eyes were a misandrous squint. The Dining Complex wasn't half empty. It was half full, and everyone loved the food.
"The Seeds." Farro ran it past him again, elevating the word to a proper noun, but impatiently this time. He pronounced 'seeds' as 'sids.'
"I don't have any seeds." The dietician told him. "I've got meatloaf."
After the Moon stopped on a dime, Farro intensified his efforts.
"Bloody Hell." Carroll Severance swore. "What in the name of God are you babbling about? What seeds?'"
"You've never stopped to consider the possibilities." The specialist criticized the senior researcher mystically while shaking an angry fist. "All of this equipment, and you still can't see." He remarked, waving his hand over the RADTEL panel disapprovingly. "That is why you, my friend, will live--and die--on Moonbase Alpha."
Farro's inner child lived by the sword. He said what he thought...and they would like it. He waited for the other cartographer's response, his equipoise unabashed.
"From the cold, you mean?" Severance spat back a comet of phlegm. He pitied the man's derangedness somewhat, but not a whole lot. "You're probably right, and you standing here preaching won't cause the temperature to go up.
He had no idea why Farro had been chosen for such an do-or-die mission. He had long accepted the fact that the man was an adnoid.
"Angelina Verdeschi." Luke Farro accosted the manager of nuclear generation while they waited for Pad Leader Tom Morningstar to pressurize the boarding tube to Launch Pad Two. "I'm not sure you understand the Seeds either."
Through the open door to the Ready Room, Alan Carter could be heard arguing with Pete Irving about the coming GNCS control maneuvers. But that was fifteen hours down the road.
"The seeds," she pondered half interested, checking the voltage on back up portable generator. Most of the supplies had been loaded but Bram Cedrix suggested maybe it was a good idea to have a back up, in case the solar powered generator proved to be inadequate due to..lack of sun. Ang agreed and so did Commander Koenig.
"The seeds of life?" she replied, nodding with satisfaction that the generator was fully charged.
"Have you found religion, Luke?" she joked, since he had let it known in the past that he was an atheist. Lately, though, he had been rather preachy, in a loony, 'John the Baptist' sort of way.
The stargazer did the drab, a moment of reflection causing him to shake in his Hush Puppies. An invisible cuff upside the head zipped the fly of his arrogance, but only for a moment. His nose seemed very long, and his eyes were polka dots in convergence. He looked like scribblings of a goon with his nose hanging over the wall. Once a dim, mouthy lad who lived in the ankle of the boot--otherwise known as the town of Abruzzo, Italy--time had taught him few things, but he did learn that true lightness must come from a place very deep; if you were lining up alphabetically, you had to do so by height. The Seeds could be found nowhere on the trackless Moon. Abruzzo was home to monks, and hermits, and thugs but also to Ovid.
So chill, he told himself, or find yourself 'metamorphosed' right off this mission. He prided himself on his knack. He did not rise to become the only Nobel Prize winner at the Scuola Normale Superiore by being a big dummy. He did it through excellent plagiarism and academic forgery, after all.
"I kid." He said with a lying snicker, and gave Ang' his very best teeth. "What I meant to say was that I would very much enjoy a discussion with you sometime about evil...and destiny."
"Bad choice of words." He said with flamboyant 'warrrrrrrrrrrds.' "Maybe the phrase 'philosophical discussion would be better?
"Uh, sure. I guess so," Ang eyed him tentatively as Truman Starns and Harness Bull Pound wheeled the generator toward the doors of the boarding tube.
Anna Davis stepped into the embarkation area with her laptop case, slung over her shoulder.
"Hi Ang," she began warmly, "I haven't seen much of you lately. I guess you've been spending time with...others." She snickered and nodded toward the Ready Room.
Anna completely ignored Luke Ferro. In fact, she couldn't stand the man.
"I suppose I'm ready to go," she continued, her back to the 'invisible man', i.e. Luke Ferro.
"Excuse me," Ang interrupted further discussion as Pete Irving left the Ready Room and Ang stepped toward it. Anna gave Angelina Verdeschi a look that said "please don't leave me alone with this nutjob" but Ang missed the nonverbal plea.
"Hey," she said to Carter after she stepped inside, nudging him against the wall out of anyone's line of sight and embraced him tightly. "Be careful out there. Don't take any chances, hot shot."
She kissed him for luck and was grateful for the love and warmth. Admittedly, the real body warmth was just as good as the love right now, considering the ambient temperature was barely 45 degrees. In the corridor, Harness Bull Duncan was multitasking as both cop and clothing distributor, passing out silver thermal jackets from a cart while checking off his list of names.
"Thirty hours of procedures." Carter shook his head with a wry grin. "Well, I hope we get more than sand for our troubles."
Dirt was a consequence, but hypothermia, and asphyxia were worse.
"I think you are completely insane, Luke Farro," Anna Davis blurted with disgust, crossing her arms over her chest. What a weirdo.
She looked toward the Ready Room, hoping Ang, or Captain Carter or both would emerge. She glanced down the corridor as Harness Bull Duncan grinned widely and rolled his eyes, laughing at her rather than with her predicament.
"I would appreciate if you would keep your distance from me and only speak to me in a professional capacity." She finished, haughtily.
"I'm just so full of bad taste today." Luke Farro laughed ironically, giving the pilot a high, testosterone slap on the shoulder when he emerged from the Ready Room. "How about that Carter? You know, I think it's because they find me desirous."
He gave Anna a XXX, unsparing, sadistic sneer that was the result of his very best attempt to be cordial.
"Yep." The captain said neutrally, and headed for the White Room. "CPN here." He called to the blockhouse using his commlock. "I'm ready to ingress."
"CARTER." Luke called cheerily as he watched him go. "Ciucciami il cazzo, my friend."
Which meant 'suck my dick,' but who would translate for him? Angelina Verdeschi was from the other side of the tracks, and not spoken in the ways of the Abruzzoids.
The countdown held at T-Minus three minutes.
"We'll have some time before we deorbit." Koenig told Carter busily over the command module loop before liftoff. "We can use that to our advantage...make some close scanner, and sensor passes over the topography...get a feel for how the land lays."
"Or discover something else sir?" Carter said, clearing the telemetry, and summary messages from his board while Eagle One's propellant tanks flooded.
"I hope so, Alan."
"According to the latest sensor scan," Berman leaned casually against the hatch of the command module, holding his register tape, "there is no life on that planet, not that our sensors can detect anyway,"
"It appears to be a dead world," the professor shook his head mournfully, hundreds of thousands of years too late. "We'll know more, of course as we get closer to the planet."
"Commander," Angelina Verdeschi's image appeared on the blue and white copilot's monitor. "Power loss now at 18%"
"Eighteen percent?!?" Koenig's brow furrowed. "Exponential increase? But I thought that wasn't suppose to occur until..."
"I know," Ang finished. "At least another 12 hours. I've done some quick recalculations. If we start rolling brown outs, we could regain another 6 hours but we would also have to cut out long range communications now." She sighed. "That means, of course, you'll be on your own shortly after you leave lunar orbit."
Koenig's immediate reaction was to return a palsied stare while dormant indicator lights suddenly became animate all around the CMP's couch that he was sitting in. Carter studied him for a reaction briefly before pressing a stud that revealed a barber pole on the reset communications panel.
"Path adaptive guidance is a 'go.'" The pilot informed Paul Morrow over the link. Decorum dictated that he not stare at the commander until the verdict had been rendered. "Sequential systems are 'go.'"
The cabin was filled with the usual loop noises--desperate all:
"...way behind on the checklist." Operative Dempsey's voice intruded over the updates, and the overall radio maelstrom. "How long will the lode be there?"
"...that's prior to the four hour cycle." Pete Garforth harmonized with Claude Murneau from the engineering cracker box in the MPSR Room. "Also, that CM Delta-P is less than, not...."
"We can't have the hardware crashing before they reach the planet." The commander to hear computer specialist Lars Manroot arguing with David Kano on another channel.
"Check." The controller replied over the speakers. "Eagle One, Main Mission--your engines are running; thrust build up is at eighty percent."
The spacecraft's quad-ascent engines fired, blowing clear the bygone, longevous lunar dust which billowed around the passenger module like garish shades from some antediluvian underworld. The ship's bowsprit searched for stars at a forty-five degree angle--graduating up, and up, and up until the launch complex's landing, and depot lights looked like organized atoms in a microscope. Koenig held the vehicle in a holding pattern over the command tower while Carter completed the primary guidance upload. After switching his scanner tab to FLIGHT, he took up the yoke again, and taxied away from the base towards the Plato highlands.
Belkovich was the last great sea they passed over before the Moon disappeared from beneath them. Beyond that, there was only conclusive, alienating space, and the long coast towards alien elevations.
'The planet had been under routine observation for some time.' John Koenig read quietly from his journal four years later, amazed by the intensity of his painful recollections. They had persevered. That did not mean it was fun. 'Every indication told us it was devoid of any form of life. As the power loss was affecting our long range systems we would shortly lose contact with Alpha.
'Upon landing, we would truly be on our own.' He scanned the page with only the downmoded sounds in nighttime corridors to accompany him on this new visit. 'With us went the future of our people. For if we failed, our existence, like the Moon, would come to a full stop.'
Anna Davis stirred at the pinging of the monitor. The first thing she noticed, through half closed lids, was the flashing notification: Eagle One In Orbit. The second thing she noticed was the Commander sitting up in the double passenger chair directly ahead of her, nodding to Dr. Russell and taking the offered orange cup of Moonbase brew. She dreamily watched the mutual smile as he mumbled thanks and the exchange of human touch as the cup passed from her to him, lingering a second longer than necessary. Anna Davis was a perceptive individual and long before it became general rumor, she had a "feeling" there was something going on between the Commander and the CMO on a personal level. The third thing she noticed was that she was resting her head against an unfamiliar broad chest and shoulder. The owner of said physique had his arm squarely wrapped around her.
She suddenly became fully conscious . and furious.
"Don't touch me!" Anna recoiled, incredulous, sitting up in disgust. Her twisted, angry though bewildered face was the complete opposite of Ferro's radiantly toothy grin.
It had been 6 hours and she remembered being completely exhausted as she succumbed to sleep. In a dream (so she thought), she relaxed against a man who she loved and lost after she found herself trapped on the moon on September 13, 1999.
But it was...him, instead: the crazed and bizarre Luke Ferro.
"You act like I'm crazed, and bizarre." The cartographer retaliated, spewing dumb vitriol at Anna Davis. It did not achieve the desired effect. "Last night, you let me take your picture." He said, looking for the digital Hasselblad, and discovering that he had slept on it--ergo, his achy breaky buns. "Today, you demean me. Tomorrow, you seduce me.
"You are a fickle woman Anna." He told her, throwing the quilt he stole from her on the floor, and storming towards the lavatory to gnaw at his fist, and other things.
She would miss him when he was gone.
Angelina Verdeschi's commlock beeped incessantly. She knew exactly who was calling her. She had been ignoring the call because only 30 minutes earlier she had transferred precious power to Medical Center. Doctor Bob Mathias was calling her again and she was mildly annoyed that he was bypassing the power generation number, now being answered by George Crato, in favor of her commlock code.
"I know what you want," Angelina finally answered. "Christ, Bob, I'm doing the best I can but you can't squeeze blood from a stone."
In fact, that is exactly what she was trying to do. Juggle and deprive to help give the sick and infirmed in Medical, though only 2 in number, an equal chance to survive.
"Really?" Mathias asked with smooth deprecation. The high definition image on Angs' commlock was a streak of silver, and gray as the physician tucked his own receiver under the crook of one arm. In the background, she could hear the wheels creaking across the tile as Mathias rushed a ventilator unit to ICU. "Then I guess you're okay with letting people die.
"Then again you would be." The physician railed, staring directly into the camera again. "You're not here. I don't give a damn about the Phase III power cuts. If we were going according to Hoyle, which we're not, by the way, this section would be considered critical until we downgrade to Phase VI.
"We're nowhere near that mark. TURN THE HEAT BACK UP."
"For your information, DR. MATHIAS," she retorted, emphasizing 'Dr. Mathias' with barely contained anger and coldness (figuratively, though she was literally 'cold'), "We are now AT Phase IV power cuts."
Her frustration and feeling of helplessness was diverted by the shouting match on the other end of the room. "Pardon me for a minute," she jumped up though not closing the link so that the equally frustrated Assistant CMO could hear everything.
"CRATO!!" Ed Malcom, dripping wet and miserably stuffed into his undersized wool uniform. "WHERE WAS THE GODDAMN HOT WATER FOR MY SHOWER?!?!?"
"You look like a BIG FAT Arctic WHALE to me, Malcom!" Crato bounded toward the obese Electronics Technician. "What's the matter? Your blubber not keeping you warm, lardass??!?!"
Marcus Profitt stepped inside the cavernous room with his tool cart and he assessed the situation.
"Aren't you a raz?" The welsh technician got his digs in. "You let me down, Ed. I knew you were a munting bleep-heel, but I never imagined you'd put your shower before the safety of this base."
Deadhead Ed wasn't hearing him, though. He was too busy being throttled, and pummeled under the cold-inspired, knee-jerk violence of George Crato.
Carter Jackson jumped into the melee of fists and peeled Crato away from Malcom. Profitt dragged Malcom backwards, pulling a major back muscle in the process, as Ang stepped in the middle.
"WHAT IN THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!?!?" Angelina yelled, furious, at the top of her lungs.
"ARE YOU STUPID OR SOMETHING?!?" Angelina got in Crato's face. "THIS IS NOT A GODDAMN BAR!!"
"What's going on in here?" Tony Verdeschi slurred as he sauntered in with Harness Bull Saukel. He reeked of beer and was drunk once again.
"Nice timing," Angelina answered him flippantly, still enraged.
"HE started it!!!" Crato yelled, pointing at Malcom with renewed energy.
"You shut up!" Ang cut Crato to the quick. "Get back to work."
"You!" She marched up to Malcom. "Stay the HELL out of my area!" She looked at Tony then motioned to Malcom. "Can you escort him out of here?"
An evil though delighted grin spread across his lips. "Anything you say, sis," he replied as he grabbed the fat technician by the thick wrist and twisted his arm behind his back as he pushed him out the door.
Malcom howled in pain.
"For God sake, don't HURT him!" she called after Tony Verdeschi, shaking her head.
Her charity was interrupted by the disturbing quartet of chords that comprised the update tone on the commstation. The monitor remained blank with no screen saver, but Tanya Alexander's voice could be heard echoing throughout the labs, and workshops of the Technical barracks. Marcus Profitt's jaw dropped. Specialist Julio Armando entered the room with numb hands, and an iced-over, goose-stepped artery. Chief Tony Verdeschi managed to remain standing long enough to hear the blurred message before fumbling back into brutal, excessive force.
"Attention all sections Alpha." The Main Mission operative spoke incontrovertibly. "Crews will assemble in the MCR conference room at 1400 hours to discuss possible Torsion field reductions, and modifications to the electrokinetic generators."
And that was all.
"Mother Mary, what's appnin?" Marcus Profitt strained. "She's talking about tampering with the spin reactors. THAT'S THE HEART OF OUR ARTIFICIAL GRAVITY SYSTEM. ARE WE SO DESPERATE THAT WE HAVE TO TROD AROUND LIKE WE'RE WALKING THROUGH MUSH?"
He looked to Ang' to ameliorate his panic.
"We will do everything we can to avoid that possibility," Ang admitted truthfully. "Fortunately, we are a long way from having to implement such drastic measures."
'Long', of course, was relative: Long in minutes but not as long in hours.
She returned to her desk to find Dr. Wiseass still on her micromonitor. There was no way in hell he was going to let her break the link until he got what he wanted.
"I can give you a bit more power for awhile," Ang informed the physician as she typed and rerouted the circuitry. "At the expense of computer."
She cut the link before hearing his short lived gratitude. Within 30 seconds, though, her commlock began chiming again. This time the caller ID flashed the name "Kano,David" on the micro-screen.
The sky became an eerie, contamination of pink outside of Alan Carter's etched rendezvous window. In the passenger module, Helena Russell grasped the sides of her couch, feeling something a bit more aggressive than the phony G's coming from the service compartment. Grasping one of the padded roll-bars, John Koenig stood beside Victor Bergman who remained seated at the workstation amidship. Both monitored the powered descent of Eagle One. Gradually, the ugly, mauve horizon turned orange, and then red, with a shower of microscopic, inflamed particles blocking the camera's view as the spacecraft's heat shield cleared the Ionosphere.
"How about it?" The commander asked the professor again as they leveled off at 50,000 feet.
"We've never been able to accomplish it." Bergman told him, scratching his forehead vaguely while consulting the useless data on his monitor. "Oh, we've done it using helical laser beams--with some success in manipulating cell structures, and microchips.
"But never anything of this caliber." He proffered, closing the cover on a superfluous red flimsie. "There's nothing coming from that planet, John."
Koenig released his hold on the bulkhead, still crestfallen, though he was standing easy now.
"Commander." Carter's voice broke in over the cabin speakers. "We've got contacts now. You'd better have a look at them."
Twenty-thousand feet below, and growing larger, more discernable--it was ruins; kilometer after kilometer of toppled kingdom.
Long before the first wave of primeval bacteria saturated the blasted, roiling beaches of prehistoric Earth; long, long before the settlement of the Indus Valleys, and the Muslim invasions; long, long, long before Nebuchednezzar; Socrates; Gautama; and Jesus, Of Nazareth, there was this. Like oxidizing coins beneath the cracks of the ancient, First Temple, it was almost visible. It was here; it was not. It was a wraith of collapsed, multi-tier superhighways that boasted of no rubberized asphalt--only sheets of dust, and decay. It was prosperity in world-free markets, arm-pitted out of existence by political dispute, annihilation, and ice wedging. The skyscrapers weren't even a footnote now, but the jungle of vines that rose from the conglomerate foundations were telling. It was pillars, and obelisks aged out of existence by technopolies with their hearts set on a nuclear nightmare. It was privatized businesses buried alive in an ice age, and communal areas made of hypertransparencies-too much so for their own good, one might argue, but why worry because it was wiped clean now. Nature, the everlasting apologist, had taken her mop to the race who once lived here. Nothing solves a problem quicker than a good, old fashioned dose of death. The acid rains had long ago cleaned up the obviate ravages of war. For this planet, the future was in the dust pan.
Only the pillars of the acropolis remained, the sculptures on the library roofs had no heads.
"Victor?" John Koenig said, turning away from monitor to dispose of his crushed coffee cup. The forward camera was briefly obfuscated as Eagle One instrument navigated through a stetson of black clouds. Upon emerging, there was still no sun to cheer them up. "I reviewed the early telemetry data on this planet two months ago. I don't recall seeing any chapters, or annotations dealing with archaeology, or extinct civilizations."
"That's because our early data was skewed by the meteorological conditions of this planet," Bergman nodded, closing the cover to his field sensor case after checking the charge of the unit. "There is also evidence of nuclear holocaust, particularly with the higher than natural levels of lead, which is the end degradation of uranium."
"After tens of thousands of years, of course," Bergman added.
"And, what you see is what you get for weather on this planet," he continued, scratching his sideburn. "A cloud cover of approximately 75% is the norm."
"That would certainly make growing crops tough," Helena Russell joined the conversation.
"Indeed," the professor nodded in agreement.
"Well...I don't think growing crops is what this planet does best." Koenig joined, thinking of the Moon out there at the LaGrangian Point. Like the rest of the passengers--experienced space travelers, but hating every minute of it--the commander never faltered as the camera image tilted to the left upon emerging from an offal, indigo rose bank. In the murkiness below, the scorched, kaput edifices of the republic sprawled before them again. In the passenger module, Carter toggled the camera effectively to port in order to obtain a better view of what looked like one hundred story editions of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia. Whole sections of the interior, and flooring were visible in the condemned rubble. "Over there." Koenig said, pointing towards a northwest trapezoid of bleached jungle, framed by a shattered transportation network. "That area is wide open.
"Most of the roads appear to be leading into it."
"Commander, those look like fairways." Truman Starns hypothesized, nodding his head at a growing reticulation of interlocking surface stones. "Each one must be well over a kilometer long.
"Almost like tarmacs." The investigator told Helena Russell.
"An airport?" Koenig concentrated, walking near the monitor for closer inspection. "Or maybe a spaceport."
"Judging from the complexity of the structures, it is certainly feasible that whoever they were, may have had the capability of flight." Bergman sat on the arm rest of the passenger chair. "Also, assuming that the increase in radiation was due to a self inflicted nuclear genocide," he winced then continued to philosophize, "achievement of space flight would not be out of the realm of possibility either."
"Self inflicted nuclear genocide?" Helena questioned. "Do you think you are jumping the gun a bit, Victor? Afterall, we know nothing of these people."
"Perhaps," Bergman leaned back, right ankle crossed over left knee, "but based on the condition of the structures and the presence of radioactive isotopes but natural and artificial..."
Helena Russell raised her eyebrow in surprise.
The professor nodded. "It would indicate the strong possibility of a nuclear war."
"On Earth, our space centers were located near huge bodies of water." Anna Davis reflected. "Most of the time they were nowhere near highly populated areas."
"Who are we to judge." Brother Luke Farro disrupted. "Obviously this race was technologically more advanced than us, even an millennia ago."
He could not resist looking at the bursting threads that contained Davis' fragile, bubbly glutes inside her flares.
"Must be." Koenig nodded appreciably, punching the black stud on a nearby communal. "Alan, have you seen anything yet?"
"No sir, not a thing." The pilot replied in frustrated tones. "We got zero feedback from the scanning, and sensing runs. Nothing visually, either. There's just desolation, and more desolation."
The commander gave Bergman, and Russell a long, pregnant glance of burgeoning intent.
"We won't know more until we can get a closer look, John," Bergman stood up, itching to learn more about the mysterious planet.
"Radiation level are well within safe limits for exposure, John." Russell added. "Even for long term exposure."
The last statement captured Luke Ferro's interest.
"Carter." Koenig resumed, punching the black stud again. "Bring us around 365 degrees. Head back into that urban area we just passed through. Try to find a place near the nucleus of the city, and set her down there."
"Right." The pilot replied without objection, and terminated the link.
"It's getting colder," George Crato whined while rubbing his gloved hands together.
Angelina Verdeschi was chilled to the bone despite the thermal underwear, wool uniform and funky silver thermal jacket and fleece gloves. Dr. Bob's image was on the blue and white monitor...again. In the background, she heard the frantic sounds of Jerry Parker, MSRN giving CPR to a critical Mustafa Vasil.
Bob Mathias was comfortably impertinent with his demands for more power.
"Increase power two units to Medical," Angelina Verdeschi once again acquiesced and nodded to Joan Conway.
"Thank you, Ang," Dr. Bob Mathias nodded somewhat gratified, though she knew it was temporary.
As the Assistant Chief Medical Officer cut the link, Angelina followed up with "Decrease power two units to Hydroponic Farm #2." Almost immediately, the face of her closest female friend appeared on the monitor.
"Angelina," Melita Kelly protested in moderate Italian accent, "I need more power."
Yes, that was the common complaint of the day: Need more power. Angelina listened sympathetically.
"I have green vegetables that are close to harvest. If the temperature goes down any more, there will be a frost in here and the crop will be destroyed. Please, I need more power."
In the background, yellow sleeved personnel from other various Service Section departments, including the chief, Sandra Benes, were frantically working in the cold to cover the delicate vegetation.
"I'm sorry, Melita," Angelina shook her head glumly. "I had to transfer the power to Medical Center." Melita said nothing as she moved aside and Sandra stepped into her place.
"Ang," Sandra protested," I understand Medical is priority but are there not other areas you can transfer power to us? If we lose this crop, it will be a major component of our food supply and it will take weeks to replenish."
Ang wanted to reply that they probably don't have weeks to live anyway. She did not. The monitor that flashed "Power Loss 31%" clearly portrayed her thoughts.
"I'll see what I can do," Ang answered, not making promises. She pondered as she cut the link. She turned to Joan Conway "Decrease power to this room two units. Transfer to Hydroponic Farm #2."
"What?!?" Crato blurted. "We won't have any..."
The lights went out in the Main Power Generation area, changing the wall panels to the haunting glow of the red emergency lights.
Eagle One hovered over the wasteland of crumbling buildings. A jetstream of propellant from the forward RCS quads caused an already crippled, tech noir lamp post to collapse against the porch of a private dwelling that was capped with a recognizable, but peculiar mosque roof. As for the damage, and the inclement insurance claim--our heroes worried not. Capable at the helm, Carter yawed right to avoid striking the none-too-stable sixth floor of what looked like a factory that had been hurled by vortex, or magic into the center of the town common, landing atop the gnarled angle iron of a once efficient light rail system. There were stone benches visible beneath the drift of orange leaves, but no one was sitting in them--they were nothing, but blackened calcium particles now, urged away by the blazing winds, and the warm season fescues, and carpet grass that broke through the promenade to reclaim a world.
A final burst of peroxide cleared away enough of the crap, and carious artifacts for the spacecraft to soft land in the center of the square. The shock absorbing pads in the vehicle's landing system were ample, and contact was historic.
Welcome to Planet Attic--after the bomb; where lanterns occupy space, but are never lit; where empty picture frames constitute an almost-memory of a community that was geologically turning to gravel as the foliage conquered it building, by building.
'Overpowering impressions crowded in on us as we stepped out onto the alien planet.' Commander John Koenig would recall years later, but not from looking at his journal, which he held now at his hip as he gazed beyond the vision ports of Residence Building-A on Moonbase Alpha.
(...very...Vedic...vanquished....) A canker with an eastern accent alliterated to him then, touching more than his ear, surpassing his soul. Too bad it had to be his imagination.
'A sense of timeless solitude.' He read, turning away from the ghost in his quarters, and consulting his memoirs again. 'The silent touch of an empty world.'
(...contingency for disaster...solar retinue....) The voice chanted back--in real time which caused Koenig to reel at the doorway, which was sensibly closed. Helena Russell slept securely, bathed in beams of rusted starlight. The digital clock on the commstation added one more, lunar minute to 24:00 hours. The commander felt the frigid jack of his spine.
(...the total absence of life....)
Experienced the hackles on his neck--the product of an obviously overworked, prodigiously cruel psyche.
'Death had visited this world.' The open slice of journal page read in the shadow of his commlock, which he ultimately did nothing with. The base was secure.
('Or so our data told us.')
(...Samskar harnessing stations destroyed...neutralization outposts....)
As John Koenig moved around his quarters, he could still feel it.
(...history, closing in around us like....)
"A shroud?" Manoj preempted the Sage's rodomontade by seizing the Wasp cap from the lackadaisical forehead of his wife Gita, who was already precipitous. "The Samskars level an unoccupied province, so the hour of our death is at hand?"
Her agitation, and her failure to trust in the wheel disappointed him.
"I see it," she boasted, her clairvoyance, a rare but often ignored gift by others. "The arrogance of our people will destroy us. Soon."
Gita lit the obelisk shaped candle in the center of the modified pentagram.
"It is unfortunate that only the Samskars have left leaving our people, the Vedas, to extermination." Her eyes narrowed as she studied the flame. "No....not quite, my husband. Extermination yes, but only physical extermination." She glanced at Manoj, confused. "I do not understand the choice but it is not my place to question those greater than ourselves."
"Come," she motioned to him. "I will prepare our final meal as we approach the last hours. Ah, a sumptuous feast it will be!"
"Feast?" Manoj wasn't even hungry. "Last hours? Pardon me beloved, but in accordance with the Tomal Culture which demands abject honesty between marital partners, I am now informing you of an issue that has developed in our relationship.
"Namely, your powers of reason. This has happened before.
"Would you like me to forward a copy to you, and your counselor in writing?" With a deft wave of the hand, he activated the Snoop cylinder so that they could have an audio transcript for future arbitration.
Gita laughed with apparent insanity. "HA! You know you won't have me committed in the land of the mentally deranged, my dear." She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him lusciously. Then she released him.
"It is my father's wealth which brought you to your position of power but where I go, the wealth goes. Send me away and your political future crumbles away, not even leaving the cornerstone."
"I also sense that your depth of feeling for me is sincere and perhaps you keep me out of endearing habit than monetary gain." She stared at her reflection in the crystal.
"Not that it really matters anymore." She whispered. "No. I tell you. The end is truly drawing near. I wish...I wish it was abstract rantings. I see it very clearly. I see the time. We do not have much time."
"Allow me to point out the flaws in your supposition that the end of the world is at hand." Manoj graciously offered, pulling a perfumed, black stick from the crystalline decanter, and sticking it in his mouth. Sometimes, he needed hallucinogens. "There are three: First, dear one-the only vessels to leave these happy shores have been prison barges filled with heathen Samskars, and Bengalese...recreants mostly who attempted to subvert the Aarjava.
"Banishment to the void is, at the very least, their just desserts. Arkadia has decided to take out its trash. The patient ones never leave the path of justice." Manoj knew these things intimately. Being the adjunct Adah to Mahesh Kyrem assured him a place in the battlefields of degradation, and indecency; a difficult task, but someone had to do it. "Secondly, Mahesh Darpa has assured us that the conference with the Dasen-Driyas was effective on seven, critical levels.
"Therefore, the more refined Samskars--the ones who actually bathe, and talk--bear us no enmity. They are happy with the land reserves being afforded to them, and their squat living units."
"Listen to yourself, Manoj," Gita remarked while gracefully seating herself in a papasian type chair with an overstuffed satin like cushion. "I am not the experienced political pundit like you but to blather on about the contentment of the Samskars in their cesspool neighborhoods is ludicrous while their discontent is obvious and growing. They are the ones we must embrace otherwise we are..."
"Third." Manoj hushed her with a prominent, upwards palm. "There is nothing to suggest that it was a Chakra Bomb that leveled our noble, noble city of Krishna--the land of the cowherds." He rasped tragically. "There are bureau reports which, just as credible, suggest that it was an atomic spill from one of our breeder reactors.
"It was wise of Mahesh Darpa to forbid our wretched journalists access the contaminated zone, even if it was to save their own, deplorable lives."
Manoj was proud of the egalitarian regime under which he served.
"DARPA," Gita spat venomously as if the very name was painful to utter. "Why do you worship that treacherous egoist? My father narrowly escaped an assassination attempt orchestrated by him."
"Yes, orchestrated by Darpa! He says that a 'prominent' Samskar leader tried to murder him and Darpa's men 'foiled' the attempt. Darpa the hero. Now my father has abandoned his senses and trusts the devious fiend."
"Even you, dear husband, are duped and refuse to see Darpa for what he is."
Manoj chomped his black stick. The floral patterns on Gita's robe were in green, and blue bas relief. The drugs were turning his skull to rubber just in time. The last time she critiqued his incisiveness it became necessary to bring in Yogis on a commitment stipend. The dwarfs chanted the Antah, politely superimposing Gita with guilt; lambasting her for her nagging ways with a pleasing tune, which was part of the Holy Rite. In the end, the blessed lotion of healing filled the bleeding crevasse of their marriage, and all was right with Nama who was God. Manoj tipped them, and sent their wide carcasses out the door. Now here they were, one sun cycle later, and she was hectoring him again with her treason, and her paranoid delusions.
He pitied her lack of control, and self-esteem.
"Have one." He insisted lovingly as he opened the decanter again. "Avoid the violet colored sticks. They're for advanced meditations-not recommended for a person who experiences chronic emptiness, depression, and flight of ideas. The cyan sticks are for acolytes."
"Your reliance on hallucinogenic drugs is merely a testament of your utter denial and blind following of the evil that is Darpa." She shook her head. She had no need of agents to numb her consciousness. Her vision was clear.
"Oh wife, I fear you are akin to those anatmon's in the tabloid press who claim that gentle Mahesh Darpa is an alien mad man, here to wreak havoc, and despond." He tipped his ash into a ceramic dish. "That is not Nirvana." He reminded her, plopping wearily onto the dining triad which stabbed his appendix. The rumors began years ago when Darpa was only a foreign affairs consultant attached to Mahesh Kyrem. Initially, hysteria broke out amongst the minority of taciturn, blockheaded Bengalis who questioned the way the politician's appearance metamorphosized--sometimes appearing young; sometimes appearing old; appealing to the ladies during one press conference, and butt ugly in the next--always knowing the precise thing to say caused a storm of controversy which propelled the lunatic fringe into accusations that he was a hypnotic intruder from another universe.
Possible, Manoj realized--afterall, the Anitya had been discovered centuries ago when the first Arkadian explorer set foot in another dimension (and immediately had said foot hacked off by the godless, wheeless, alternative cannibals in that slipstream).
Darpa was youthful; a revolutionary; a modernist; he was light skinned, whereas most Vedans were darker in hue. He was Samskar. In rational summation: He was an unknown quantity.
So the remarks were possible...but not likely.
"I will prove to you the justness of our leader." Manoj told Gita, emphasizing his promise with a tap of the black stick against the plant receptacle. He disappeared into the solarium, and returned with a small, goldleaf cage that was covered with a moth-eaten veil. When he removed the cover, Governor Bow Hunter squinted, and hissed at him over his water bowl.
"Now my dear Governor," Gita soothed. "Manoj is attempting to assuage his conscious." The odd canine type being nodded. If it had not been for Gita's protection, he would have been dead, tortured to death in cruel sport like most of his race under the conquest by Darpa. Some of his species had survived as 'pets'.
"It bothers you to assist me?" Manoj agitated him, winking with cruel bravura at Gita. The one pound, canine offworlder was the supreme ruler of the pestilential sub world of unAor. Toppled from his despotic throne when the forces of Darpa conquered his crummy little corner in the galactic feast, the dignitary had somehow landed atop Manoj's desk at the Paramapada with a note attached to his cage that said: FEED ME.
"I had thought so." Governor Bow Hunter said, grabbing bits of milkbone from his food dish, and chucking them at Manoj.
"I like myself." Manoj bolstered his own ego immediately while admiring his own, roughshod, masculine rictus in the wall pane. "This is my house, my food."
"You're a moron." Governor Bow Hunter diagnosed him. "You may even have some foundational disorder. I haven't decided yet."
Gita opened the cage door, and let him out.
"My dear husband shows a grain of belief concerning my latest prophesy that the world is indeed coming to an end. I believe he would like to disprove my prophesy. However, since you and your kind welcome death, I am certain that you would not tell him the truth anyway."
Governor Bow Hunter made a guttural sound that was the equivalent of a grunt as he hopped into her lap.
"My time is valuable." Governor Bow Hunter admonished him, and switched his tail. "What do you want?"
"The future." Manoj declared.
"It is not for us to know, only the present, and the past." Governor Bow Hunter argued, and hugged Gita with small arms, purring. "I prefer her to you. Could you please scratch me behind the ears, kind lady?"
Manoj pried the possum's mouth open, and began the ceremony with the customary invocation.
"BEHOLD, I SEEK TO KNOW OUR KHARMA." Manoj bellowed.
"Here, or in the hereafter?" The clairvoyant canine gagged, choking on his own tongue while his upper, and lower jaws were brute forced.
The deposed emperor twitched his rodent-like nose, and lapsing into a trance state, began to sing:
"IN THE YEAR 2525
"IF MAN IS STILL ALIVE
"IF WOMAN CAN SURVIVE THEY MAY FIND
"IN THE YEAR 3535
"AIN'T GONNA' NEED TO TELL THE TRUTH
"TELL NO LIES...."
Manoj released his unruly indenture, and beamed at Gita.
"There." He said, sated with confidence. "Did you not hear? That was the voice of our descendants, doubting wife. We obviously do survive. We are not happy, but if misery is good enough for the offspring of Arkadia, then it is good enough for us."
Gita laughed. "He has told you absolutely nothing." She chortled as she stroked the Governor from neck to tail. The creature purred loudly, lips upturned as if mocking her spouse.
She grew serious as the creature locked her in a gaze. "We will survive but Arkadia will surely perish."
"I think...." Manoj puffed impeccably, stabbing his poppy stick out on the floor of Bow Hunter's cage.
"Recreant." The governor responded while cleaning his paw.
"...that feminine biology has something to do with these platitudes you're evincing, honorable wife."
He strolled to the kitchen window for his favorite pastime on the Day Of Diva. It was a senior moment for him to observe the old folks take their daily constitutional, naked, and orbiting the statue of the impossible Mantis.
"Hey, look at that." Manoj blurted, excited, but confused by the yellow hull with black piping that shot high into the blue, Arkadian ether. "That looks like Mahesh Darpa's Flag Spider, moving at three times the normal escape velocity."
The vessel was powered by the Red Shift which propelled it to 150% of light speed.
"I wonder where he's going?" Manoj said unfathomably, just as the Chakra warheads began to fall from the sky, thereby decimating the planet.
"Not good." Victor Bergman said, and allowed biogenic stuff to fall through his fingers. Beside him, the open cooler contained two grams of ebon, indigenous, invariably useless dirt. Near the monitor atop the SWPG container, an oval gauge flashed red--on and off, and over, and over again like a stuck traffic light. "Not good a'toll." He repeated standing.
Half a city block down from the cataclysmic square, Harness Bull Pound emerged from the blasted, windowless two story I-house--blandishing in its day, perhaps, but ready for a demolition crew now. Anna Davis delayed her visual observations long enough to assist him across a pile of undone porch while he carried his laser rifle. Even if the glass didn't get him, he would surely get nailed.
Life on the galactic rim.
"Whatever type of weapon it was that they used, it appears to have damaged the ozone umbrella. Ultraviolet radiation has done its work.
"Very hard on grain acreage, or any other type of life sustaining agriculture." He exhaled deeply, straightening his flares. "A tree may grow, but an artichoke won't. So much for evacuating the base, eh?"
"Are you sure?" Koenig asked, hoping beyond hope. Afterall, he reasoned to himself, Victor was not a botany expert. "What is the difference? If one plant can grow, why not another?" His fragile optimism was shattered by Helena Russell.
"It is not the plants but the bacteria in the soil, John," the physician explained gently. "The bacteria in the soil will not support growth of our plant life. We would have to introduce the bacteria and that would take two, possibly three growing seasons before it may successfully thrive enough to support our vegetation."
"Even then," she sighed, "I say 'may' successfully thrive. The bacteria could be introduced only to be irradiated and mutate, damaged to the extent that it would not support the growing cycle. Whoever once lived here, really did a job on the ecosystem of this planet." The doctor shook her head sadly, studying a sample of water.
"You can drink the water though it is definitely 'hard." She went on. "It has slightly higher than normal concentrations of metals but it won't hurt you."
Koenig sampled the water and frowned. It left a metallic aftertaste and was not pleasant. Fresh mountain spring it was not; Arkadian water tasted like the inside of an aluminum can.
Beyond a masonry salvage job of toppled, Zircon blocks, the open hatch was visible on Eagle One's passenger module. Carter stood atop the gangway, red of face, and herniated of disc as he strained to assist Truman Starns with the unloading of the portable, diesel generator.
Luke Farro was whirling like a dervish--his head ogled radically upwards at the alien star, and brimming with titillation, and psyche. The hills were alive with the sound of music.
"He's a strange bird, John." The professor stated bluntly, and tipping a bewildered nod at the gyrating cartographer. "Why did you pick him for this mission?"
"His graduate experience is atmospheric physics, Victor," Koenig explained. Naturally, without an atmosphere on the moon, the utilization of his experience was minimal; he spent his duty periods in the astronomy department since Breakaway. "I thought, perhaps, he would be able to give us a reliable assessment of the atmosphere of the planet."
Koenig did not offer further comment. Ferro's behavior was weird and the Commander quietly castigated himself for not taking Angelina Verdeschi's advice and not bringing Louis Picard instead.
In an area that was once a courtyard, Anna Davis studied the inscription on the murals. It looked familiar. She opened her laptop and queried the language database, looking back and forth between the mural and the alphabet on her screen.
"Commander," Anna pulled her commlock from her belt and spoke with barely contained excitement. "I think I have made a ...discovery."
"I don't expect an answer." Luke Farro conceded, taking the golden, fresh air into a pair of lungs that had long become attuned to gulping in the cold, aseptic, canned cryo-mix, piped into Moonbase Alpha from the Alpine Valley. Had it been two years? Three years? Calendars were trumpery.
He suddenly felt like a paramecium, a lepton. Something manky, and squashable. He exalted in not walking on sterile tile, or wall-to-wall carpeting. The ground was rock strewn. His boots were killing him. Deprived of the unfertile, artificial biosphere, this body was now at genuine risk of diseases again--the Flu; Smallpox; Botchelism; Marburg.
Luke Farro soared.
"You're watching me." The cartographer simpered. "Koenig ordered you to. Right? You think I'm a nut? Right?"
Would you like some salt for those cashews, buddy? Truman Starns felt like saying, but his expression remained casehardened, and stoic. Everything Farro said was true, of course, but the investigator was tranquil, and unintimidated--and he wouldn't allow the cartographer to throw a wrench in the spokes of his expertise. Bringing along Cardinal Luke may have been an inexact judgement call--a bad, totally human decision that was wrought under duress. On the other hand, Starns was no profiler. Farro's sins were white as snow, until such time that he proved himself to be a liability. He would not resort to name calling, even when baited.
You could be sure--this crackpot would not unsettle him.
"The commander asked us to divide into pairs." The investigator gesticulated. "You, and I are just like two peas in a real good pod."
Heads, I like you, tails I don't. Starns reckoned to himself.
"You insult me." The cartographer realized, his smirk growing even more impaired. "But I tell you, my presence here is vital to the success of this mission." He boasted, taking up his digital Hasselblad camera, and aiming it at a row of tall trees. "My experience is unsurpassed." He gasconaded, acquiring a subject in the crosshairs of his comp-lense. "These trees...." He noted, walleyed as he proceeded to snap pictures. "There's something odd about them. No?"
The investigator refused to answer that question on the grounds that might incriminate him.
Dr. Helena Russell stood back, staring at the mound of overgrowth in the ruined back yard of a once opulent house. She surveyed the area carefully and a memory was jogged, as Koenig studied the inscriptions on the wall, taking digital pictures. Koenig became the data gatherer while the professor had gone to fetch Anna Davis.
"What is it, Helena?" Koenig stood beside her, squinting in the direction of her gaze.
"It looks like," she started walking toward the area. She pulled the overgrowth aside and her hunch was correct, revealing a door.
"A storm cellar?" she surmised.
Koenig nodded and pulled his ax from his belt, attempting to pry open the door.
"Are you sure?" Professor Bergman sat next to the pretty archaeologist on an overturned and pitted column.
"It is very similar to Sanskrit." Anna Davis nodded enthusiastically. "Perhaps it is a branch of it. Sanskrit is accepted to be the root of all earth languages. However, it is possible that Sanskrit itself would have a 'root'. From such a root language Sanskrit and possibly this language would emerge. It is much like the romance languages of French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian all derived from the same Latin root."
"You know what this could mean," Bergman glanced at her with raised and barely contained excited eyebrow.
"Yes," she smiled. "I most certainly do."
"It's dry enough here." Carter said, releasing the grips on the generator, and blowing the rest of the air out of his lungs. "This is a nobhead kind of planet, isn't it?" He told Harness Bull Pound as he wiped sweat from his forehead using the sleeve of his tunic. "On the other side of that barrow it was almost freezing. Now it's like a desert."
"So...maybe it's some time of meteorological phenomenon?" Pound replied. He felt like a drummer was playing "Wipe Out" against his lower back, and shoulder blades. He was trying to keep his mind infinitely open, and as a result, ideas slipped right past him.
They were standing atop a gemstone chopine that was filled with spiderweb cracks. At one time it was possibly a podium for public addresses; maybe a bandstand; maybe a glorified sewer lid. Interlocking, black diamond shaped patterns covered it. Quality-wise, they ranged from the okay, to the worse-for-the-wear after 25,000 years. Beside this, a gentle brook eroded both banks as it fed its way into an undiscovered abysm.
"This is as good a place as any." The pilot said, resting his palm against a gnawed, wooden arch that had been sculpted in the form of twin daggers. "The professor wants to set up shop in a place that's centrally located, but close to the ship in case we wear out our welcome."
"How would we do that?" Pound solicited.
"I don't know." Carter replied, gazing intensely at the meandering stream. "But being as how you have a purple sleeve, jake, you'll be on the receiving end first. We'll find you laying dead as a doornail in some ditch, or possibly ingested as human fuel by some disagreeable, carnivorous behemoth.
"I'll light a candle for you." He offered, taking a few exploratory steps forward. "By now they're all over Alpha."
"Why do I not like the sound of this?" Pound questioned. Kilometers above, the Moon hung over his head like an innovation. All of the usual consequences awaited them. The Mare Imbrium, misty, and obscured by the native strato clouds, cast a cold, black eye at the foreordained harness bull.
"Kick me if I'm wrong." Carter changed the subject, leaving behind all predictions of Pound's untimely demise. "But is that creek running upstream?"
The kvetch in the ass was not necessary because he was exactly right.
She gazed out the viewport at the distant planet through the small circle she had cleared of the frost. If she was on Earth, she would have quit without notice, walked away from a job in which she had suffered more verbal abuse in the last 17 hours than Angelina Verdeschi had endured her entire career. A short two hour break was all she would allow herself. Somehow, she had managed to drift off for about 45 minutes, wrapped in two thermal blankets on the couch in the recreation room. The commstation monitor blinked the ominous warning 'Power Loss 44%'.
She was alone now with her thoughts. Pierre Danielle and Tom Morningstar had been playing pool on the opposite side of the room but it became difficult handling the cue sticks with frozen, gloved fingers. The door slid open silently. She glanced up and saw...nothing. She relaxed, glancing out the viewport again.
"Crazy Italian," the Pomeranian like creature admonished, as he sat on the arm of the couch.
Ang sat up startled, gasping and confused. Caesar the cat stopped momentarily in mid tail lick to glance curiously at her then continued his grooming.
The ancient air from the shelter was thick and rank, as tendrils seeped through the ever widening crack of the door. Commander Koenig grunted and strained with the ax handle. Helena Russell surmised that he was not going to succeed much more with his own physical strength.
"Stand back, John," she had already unholstered her laser and set it on the wide cutting beam. She aimed at the stubbornly rusted hinges and fired. The metal of the hinge disintegrated and the ajar door tettered and toppled to the ground.
"Nice shot," the Commander complimented as they stepped toward the entrance. The inside was pitch black as expected. They removed their maglight from their belts and stepped inside.
The spadix hallway was impossibly dark. A time ravaged, wine drapery merged with the floor in a thin line of decay, and detritus. Beyond the too short hyperbola of light against the scorched tessera, Helena Russell found herself in a gothic neverland. Her arms and legs were there by sensation only until Koenig found her with his maglight. Out of the battery powered illumination there were spores, and the airborne radicals of an eon. Dipoles fell from the unstable ceiling like sawdust as Koenig accidentally stumbled over the coat rack.
"Well, if worse comes to worse, and we're pressed into settling here, it's a relief to know the accommodations are already furnished." Victor Bergman mused, leaning against the bright entranceway with Anna Davis flanking him.
"You're a riot." Koenig affirmed--his hair almost gray from falling clay, and hacking away from the ten million allergy sources that had been sealed up in the house before it died. "Ordinarily, I'd recommend scanning the area geothermally, and with x-rays." He explained, studying the canted, non-sensical, uber alien artwork that adorned the crumbling walls in oval frames. A rendering of humanoid teeth revealed one characteristic of a race that bore a close, dental resemblance to the people of Earth. A bizarre study of an earlobe, laid down in brazen, pastel strokes told Koenig that they were alike in the auditory sense, and that they were queer. "But we're running out of time."
The fact that they had extirpated themselves in some ancient conflict told him other things entirely: They were aggressive, and warlike.
"There may be books available." The professor scrabbled. When in Rome, pretend you're empty handed, just like the rest of them. "They might provide us with some sort of lead."
They might also turn to powder the second Koenig breathed on them, but for want of a better course of action, it was time to explore.
"As a matter of fact," Helena Russell began, crouched down in front of a stand. She picked up the dust and grime covered tome and turned to the rest of the group.
Anna Davis immediately took it from her. She gingerly opened the fragile cover as the doctor shone her maglight into it.
"Yes," she nodded to the expectant Koenig. "It appears to be the same language I encountered outside." She carefully turned the pages. "I am still working on translating the text but this has more examples of the alphabet and phonics. It will still take time."
"Work on it," Koenig glanced at his commlock. They had two hours before they had to lift off.
"Victor, Dr. Russell, and I are going in." The commander said, watching the beam from his maglight disappear in the lightproof hallway like gravity in a black hole. "We'll report back via commlock every five minutes." He winced, hearing the aphotic creak from a roof that could turn to confetti at any moment.
"If you hear a loud crash, the continental shelf will probably be on top of us." He added, the jive totally unintended.
"Be careful," he warned paternally as he studied a bizarre, almost art deco type sculpture. "I'll call Alan and have him bring more lights."
Anna sat on a small stool, intently studying the text with the maglight and typing into her laptop. It was comparable to breaking a code and it required merely time and patience working with the macro before the formula, the language was completely revealed. She had all the patience in the world but naturally very little time.
"Professor," she asked curiously, "do you think they destroyed themselves? A nuclear holocaust?"
"It certainly looks that way," Bergman agreed, still studying the statue of the creature similar to a small dog.
"Before we broke away, Earth was headed down the same path. Weren't we." It was said as a statement than question.
The professor did not answer.
Carter flipped the ON switch, and all he got for his pains was fumes that left him featherbrained.
"We probably should have saved that." Harness Bull Pound spoke out in the name of survival. "You know? Just in case."
"The base is huge." Carter contravened, wiping a palm of oil from his left cheek with an absorbent towel. "What in Sam Hill makes you think this rusty can will save the day?
"It would make a fine gas chamber." He allowed, always looking for a silver lining.
Pound grunted, and returned to his examination of the antithetical stream without further rebuff.
"What do you think causes that?" He queried scientifically--watching the moss-filled current run up, and over a pair of boulders.
When the conversation started, it was day. Suddenly, the barely visible host star dipped below the mountains in the east, and unfamiliar constellations filled the sky. The interval transpired so quickly, the harness bull didn't have time to wonder why the algae had changed color. Sprouting weeds retreated into their pods.
"Probably the same thing that caused that little ripper." Carter exclaimed, anxious and irate. He was already gripping the palm of his laser.
"What happened to the light?" Luke Farro bleated, turning away from his next, intense photographic study--the weeping leaves of a tall tree that made him think of armadillos for some reason. Prying his eye away from the lense, he looked into the sky, and saw instantaneous nightfall all around him. Truman Starns was holding a plastic bag filled with wisteria, destined for analysis, as he searched the sky for a reason, but found only a refrigerated Moon.
"Oh." Farro loused up, surveying the land, and pleading no contest to the things that were beyond him, and they were many. Knowledge scorned him like a moody woman.
"Oh.." Anna Davis blurted in surprise at the sudden onset of nightfall. There was not even a sunset to herald the darkness.
The professor turned up the intensity of his maglight. "Planetary rotation was calculated at 19.7 lunar hours." He stated the results of the theoretical calculations as he stepped outside to witness the reality.
"STARNS ARE YOU SEEING THIS?" Carter blurted insensibly. His commlock keys glowed with a deep, backlighting blue in the blanket of nightfall.
Before the investigator had a chance to answer, the supercycle ended, and Carter was shielding his eyes against the birth of good morning sunshine.
"This door is lined with lead." John Koenig noticed as he ran his hand along the cool hinges that held it in place. The cellar had been like a haircut story--slightly interesting, but a slap in the face of pertinence. "Someone was making a last ditch effort to keep the radiation out."
Helena Russell invited herself in, pulling the door latch outward, and turning her maglight towards a wooden table that lay beyond the dreamweave of gossamer, translucent curtains.
Instead of horror, the doctor was overwhelmed with tragic sadness. "John..." She turned around as Koenig entered, stepping through the tiny Alice in Wonderland door and crouching down to avoid bashing his head.
When he looked up, he was not completely surprised at the sight.
The owners of the house were still there, and moreover, they were in the company of friends. For this party, dark, monk-like robes were the rave. The lord of boneyard manor sat prominently at the head of the table, and he had a courageous, fleshless clavichord, and exposed sternum. The mistress of the house could be identified only by her elegant, resourceful, but somewhat smaller, maxilla. Osseous rib cages protruded from their heavy garments-a sign that this gathering was for the purpose of work, and not lunch. One of the guests was obviously a debauch, having lost his head, and there it sat in the center of the table, bleached with dust, and dried mucor.
Had the entourage known that the sight of them made John Koenig's stomach churn up, they still would not have taken offense. Better than anyone, the dead know that their best years are behind them.
Harness Bull Pound, with a back that was already throbbing and sore, marveled at the fact he paid for college from funds he earned in the summer as a hired hand at 'Ray's Movers'. The fun part of the job was traveling up and down the east coast of the US from Maine to Florida and back. The part of the job that was not 'fun' was the actual 'moving' part: lifting furniture, lugging grandma's antiques carting box after box after box of items labeled 'kitchen'.
That however was 20 years ago when his back was only 20 years old and he was a virile, strapping youth. Had he known where he would be after September 13, 1999, he would have quit school and contently worked as a fry cook for McDonald's. Flipping burgers for the rest of his life would be paradise compared to Moonbase Alpha as living quarters and likely tomb.
Pound was not sure why they were still on the planet. Evacuation wasn't looking good according to the professor. All that kept them there at this point were a bunch of skeletons. He tuned the switch on the generator and the flood lights brilliantly illuminated the room.
It was still...creepy.
Koenig stood by one of the tall, cracked, urns that were stationed in each corner of the chamber. The light of the generators revealed in him undoable eyes, an unrealistic chin, and infeasible furrows beneath ashen cheek bones. His black command stripe was prominent, but unhelpful as he listened, and waited for Carter, and Pound to finish regaling him with their unlikely tale. Helena Russell moved with the grace of a curator in a museum, examining each of the macabre participants in the planet's last supper.
Anna Davis was sitting at a collapsible utility table with her transword calculator, dotting her 'I's,' and crossing her 'T's' (or if you like, slashing her aspirates, and wrenching her retroflex letters)--zooming to add the finishing touches on the memorial, but incomprehensible, alien inscriptions that were etched on the wall. She was getting better.
The cracked jug that Koenig was parked beside was engraved with the hypothetical, pre-Tibetan relative 'ghanta,' which might have meant 'bell,' or 'gong.' Then again, it may have meant 'pain,' or 'hysteria,' or 'cold,' or 'emergency power,' or 'spitoon.' The commander often hated that he had to be blasted billions of miles from Earth to learn such vital factoids.
Swami Farro was standing beneath an object that looked like a mangled lampshade, metallic, that depended from the ceiling like a robot brain sucker. He was grinning like an idiot, and running his hands up, and down the wasting surface as if he were trying to arouse the damn thing. He knew not the meaning of the word 'fear,' but then again he probably didn't know the meaning of any word.
"Do you realize how impossible that story is?" Koenig told the pilot, and the harness bull. "No orbit is that accelerated. It takes a certain amount of time for a planet to revolve. There's no such thing as an express lane in space."
Pound was not a scientist but he was particularly keen at observation and had a sharp memory. "It's true, sir," Pound affirmed. "The stream was actually flowing backwards and one minute it was day, then night then day again."
"It happened alright." Carter persevered. "I know Christmas from Bourke Street, commander. One minute that sun was blazing, and then it was dark as midnight."
"I saw it too, John." Bergman testified, rubbing his palms together, and staring into them as if hoping to find an equation that fit all of the random numbers they were encountering. "There is one thing that could cause it."
"That's a very remote possibility, Victor." The commander pointed out, but not securely.
Helena Russell studied the skeleton remains of a canine-like creature, curled up on the lap of what appeared to be the mistress of the house. She was intrigued by the enlarged area of the skull containing the frontal lobe.
"Interesting," Helena mumbled, more engrossed in the biological artifacts in the room than in the astrological anomaly, "John, there may have been another intelligent species on this planet besides the humanoid ones around the table."
She pointed to the seemingly contented remains of the dog creature. "This creature has evidence of extensive cerebrum development which is only found in highly evolved life forms."
"A smart dog?" Koenig glanced toward her, taking a mental break from his mental astrophysics and integrated equation calculations.
"A very smart dog," Helena responded neutrally.
"What about the others?" he motioned to the skeletons, silent and unmoving.
"They appear to be humanoid, alright," Russell nodded. "I would say they are remarkably similar to us. Almost too similar." She scraped a sample of bone from the male at the head of the table for DNA analysis. "Of course, I would like to run some more tests. It is not out of the realm of possibility that there are other species which have evolved similar to us."
Mahesh Darpa was a fink.
Conventional wisdom taught that the hominid we would call 'human' appeared a scant three million years ago. Screeching in the cradle of life, the hot goop spewed forth a marvel of creation. Australopithecus, who was smart because he could stand up. Then there was Homo Habilis--the father of all maintenance men, who made his own tools, lived in Africa, and never, ever embarrassed the rest of the community with his butt-crack plumbing jobs. There was Homo Erectus, they say.
A race that taught us how to hunt...and kill. Occasionally for thrills.
Then came Neanderthal, who was decent enough to bury his dead, but petulant enough to make spear-chucking a hobby, along with bear skins, and bone fish hooks. Cro-magnum sweetened his food with honey; constructed huts, and hearths; and made ivory statues that looked for all the world, like big ding-dongs.
Homo Sapiens stockpiled nuclear waste on the far side of the Moon, and blew the goddess out of orbit. From this we can conjecture that intelligence is a devolution--a backward swirl down the dialectic drain of the universe.
Perhaps there was a missing link in the bicycle of this noble, noble race--along with wheels, pedals, a kickstand, and a banana seat; an order which was frozen solid (in much the same way that the alphans were coming to terms with long johns, and toboggan caps) at the end of Earth's last ice age, 10,000 years ago.
On Earth, there were spineless caitiffs.
Even worse, it was not uncommon to find human crabs--a man, or a woman who was a flat, died-in-the wool-
"-coward." Manoj charged. It was a quarter of a million years before, and he could feel the open sores around his irradiated mouth as he helped himself to some last minute abuse. "You can't palate the taste of death, can you?"
He had figured as much from his long association with the canine diplomat.
"DULLARD. THAT'S NOT WHY I REQUESTED A SHIP." Governor Bow Hunter howled back insistently, chasing his tail beneath Isa Hemadri's chair. "WHAT KIND OF LOATHESOME PEOPLE ARE YOU TO ALLOW ONE OF YOUR WOMEN TO PERISH?"
He clamored for Gita to pick him up, but first he bit Manoj on the exposed ankle of his ceremonial robe.
The rival politician cried out, and stood--ready, willing, and able to put the boot to the hound with his good leg.
"You will not harm him," Gita, gaunt of face, glared at her dying husband as the Governor, skin and bone, found the strength to jump out of harm's way and into her lap. "Besides, you will be dead before the bite becomes infected." She laughed though it was not humorous. The canine diplomat joined her amusement emitting a bizarre hee-haw sound.
The open sores on her knuckles were in a terribly inconvenient place. Ever time she moved her fingers she was in pain. Yet, she was compelled to write with the last of her strength.
"I fail to see why you are amused," Gita's father, equally covered in sores, squinted at her. "He will come back. Mahesh will not forsake us. He promised me. We need to be patient."
Gita and the Governor stared at the dying old man then at each other. They resumed their laughter.
"You disrespect me, daughter," the frail parent stated icily.
"No, father," she chortled, wiping the tears from her eyes. The Governor was hacking from humor and fast onset pneumonia. "I respect you. You, however, place false hope and trust in that bastard." She grew serious. "I warned you. I warned you BOTH about the devious fiend."
"I believe I've translated the document," Anna Davis looked up from her laptop as the attached printer whirled and ejected the freshly inkjetted paper.
"Go on," Koenig stepped toward her, as the rest of the group did, with interest.
"To you who seek us out in the ages to come...." Anna Davis recited, her computer paper feeling more like vellum; her permanent marker more like a quill. "We salute you."
The felicitations ran contrary to the lachrymose, frosty departure that awaited high above as the dimmer lights ran bronze through the vision ports of Moonbase Alpha. The welcome was not warm beyond the tablet of translation. Luke Farro got his greeting from Headless, and the other Judges who legislated from the warped, wooden table. There was no fear of gophers, or termites.
His skull was on the probate, not theirs....
'I the Guardian....' Gita began, styling her characters against a melting, clay wall that survived centuries after her death. Isa Hamadri was gone--still seated at the table, but only barely. Manoj was history--a duck to the end, he had endured longer than his dearest enemy who remained loyally in her lap. Governor Bow Hunter shifted gently, and slowly expelled the remaining air in his fluid belabored lungs. He was absentia long, long before Gita's fevered mind could realize that he had passed on.
Baldev would go no more aroving, and Gita praised Bhanu that he was dead--even as the god burned, and purified her, at least she had been spared a maniac's final, once-and-for-all chance to violate her. He waited until Manoj, and Governor Bow Hunter were in Nirvana. The planet was deluged. There was no etheric, or visual communication. The Holes In The Sky were all closed. The crisis response services had fallen silent. With the onset of genocide, and decay, all that was left to Baldev was the opportunity to rape, and pillage.
Even if there were witnesses, they would not survive the post-holocaust winter. As Isa Hamadri's corrupt, sexually insane Minister of Justice, it was only right that he get what goody he could while he was yet breathing. But for poor, talented Baldev, the wheel had stopped spinning.
As he came around the table at her, he clutched at his airless throat with terminal hands, and watched in dismay as his gamma saturated liver barfed its way up, and over his tonsils. He fell backwards onto the table with a sickening thud, and spasmed once, or twice as the abattoirs of Cocytus came up to claim his flesh.
'...the Samskars have what they wanted...the production-rich outposts....'
"Why am I wasting time with that?" Gita asked Baldev, who was dead. She was Guardian by defacto. Isa Hamadri was an unencumbent mahesh, which disqualified him. He was dead too, which didn't help. Atul, her late father, was also unavailable to write the epitaph for their race, which was the only thing their meeting could have possibly accomplished. Manoj would not have written it. Then, or now. His spirit was probably out there somewhere, peering through the smoke, and disaster in the hopes of being the first one to see Darpa's fleet when it returned.
Her mind was half in bunker, half in the light of souls when she continued writing.
'This is...' Gita dizzied. 'Was the planet...."
"...Arkane, or Arkadia." Anna Davis battled to finish the theoretical log. "That's what they called themselves."
"Arkadians." Victor Bergman tried the phrase on for size.
"Arkadia," Koenig repeated, reflecting on the stupidity of the loss of what appeared to be a great civilization.
Dr. Helena Russell glanced up from her laptop, shocked though not altogether surprised. "John, the Arkadias are human. Their DNA matches 100% with ours." Everyone in the group was stunned into silence. Anna Davis swallowed and continued.
"'The desolation you find....'" The philologist fought the document, one word at a time. "'Distresses?' No 'grieves' us. 'Our world is poisoned...dying. We who happened...." Davis squeezed her ink pen, bristling with frustration. "Uh." She putted cluelessly. "Sorry." She told Koenig who, all things considered, thought she was batting a thousand. "'Caused.'" Davis amended. "Yes, that's the word, I think; 'caused' our own...something...."
"Destruction?" Victor Bergman assisted.
"Yes...destruction." The philologist smiled, regardless of the gruesome import. "'No need to say'...no 'tell' of the final 'event;' 'happening?'"
"Holocaust?" Helena Russell came forward to fill in the blank this time.
"Yes, that fits." Davis thanked her. "'The final holocaust when our world flamed in the inferno of a thousand exploding suns.'
"There's more, but the imagery is difficult." She explained.
"Keep trying." Koenig adjured her. This had nothing to do with a value great enough to stop the Moon in its transgalactic traces, but they had nothing else to go on.
"'Arkadia is finished, but she, Arkadia, lives on in the few who left before the end, taking with them...the life,' the something...."
"The SEEDS." Luke Farro proclaimed (and he was wrong, wrong, wrong), finally finding an eerie niche for his sublime, and his evangelism.
"'The seeds of a new beginning." Davis nodded ambiguously.
"That's it," Melita Kelly shook her head miserably, studying the wilted, frozen and brown spinach leaves. "The crop is gone."
She exhaled deeply and her breath engulfed Angelina Verdeschi in a nimbus cloud of condensation, rivaling the Power Generation Manager.
"I'm sorry," Angelina replied sadly. What else could she say.
"You did your best," Sandra Benes conceded, hugging the scarf draped around her neck and head. Her elfin face was red from the cold as she blew into her gloved hands. "Now we much keep the water in the recycling plants from freezing."
"It will be awhile before that happens," Ang admitted ambiguously.
"Do you think they will have any luck on the planet?" Melita asked, motioning to the frost glazed windows and the obscured planet beyond. "Perhaps we will be evacuating to a new home soon, then we can plant anew on REAL home, yes?"
"Maybe," Sandra did not want to dampen Melita's optimism. "We have not heard anything from the reconnaissance team." Sandra continued, more for Ang's benefit. "Because our long range communications are down, we won't hear from them until they return to lunar orbit. However, Paul has arranged to send an Eagle after them if they do not return within the next 17 hours."
Ang, of course, already had her sources and knew of the 'plan' already. Pierre Danielle was standing by in Eagle 4 on Launch Pad 3. She admired Melita's optimism, though she had a feeling it was seriously misplaced.
"'To seek out and....'" Anna Davis waned in her pre-indic illiteracy.
"Discover?" Victor Bergman tried yet again.
"NO." Luke Farro let out an impassioned burst from beneath the brain draining lampshade. "BEGIN."
"Yes, that's it." The philologist supposed. "'To seek out and begin again in the distant reaches of space. Heed now the teachings...testament? Yes, the Testament Of Arkadia.'
"There's a passage here that I can make no sense of. I'll need the Reference Library." She told Bergman. "Then it continues: 'You who are guided here, make us fertile.
"'Help us...live again.'"
She dropped her pen, and rubbed the apocalypse from her eyes. Breakaway had been enough. Now this. It tormented the nerves, and blew the emotional bus.
"Guided here." Koenig questioned. "To a planet with an Earth language, but how could the people of Earth be here twenty-five thousand years ago? The oldest recorded human history only goes back five thousand years."
And that did not speak to the problem of supralight travel, or charting the cosmos. It was more along the lines of Gilgamesh, and the Bull of Heaven, and slaughtering porkchop bones from Hades.
"NO." Farro again, mouthing hard, but with conviction. "Earth people didn't come here. The Arkadians. THEY FOUND EARTH. ASK STARNS. HE KNOWS.
"TELL THEM." The cartographer badgered the investigator. "THE TREES. TELL THEM."
"I'm no botanist." Starns stated moderately. "But I was there when he scanned the foliage. Seeing it was enough, though." He quipped. "I thought there was something familiar about this planet which seemed odd, considering I'm a canuck, and this planet isn't anywhere close to North America.
"I know there were oak trees." He affirmed, beyond remonstration. "There also appeared to be pine, willow, and beech trees...I think."
He scratched his tunic warily.
"YOU HEARD THE INSCRIPTION." Farro took over, embarrassed by Starns' mugwump. "THE ARKADIANS TOOK THE SEEDS WITH THEM. THEY FOUND A NEW ARKADIA. EARTH. OUR PEOPLE ORIGINATED ON THIS PLANET."
The night sky was not much different from the day. The howling dust raged continuously, effectively blotting out the sun.
Standing outside, looking up at a moonless sky, which had been deprived of Luna for almost 4 years was not only pointless but dangerous, due to the possibility of contracting contaminate pneumonia. The man, one of only a few, shook his head, wiping the single tear from his grime covered face and returned to the dank cave.
"Pappa," his daughter, weak and dying of a Staph infection which had ravaged her body, stretched her emaciated arms to him. He took the child, who should have been a robust 12 year old but due to malnutrition, was stunted in growth and no larger than she was as an 8 year old, into his arms.
"Theresa, be still," he soothed affectionately. She was his last surviving relative.
His parents had died instantly in the tsunami which swallowed their ocean side home. They were fortunate. His wife and older daughter had been brutalized and murdered by one of the lawless, roving bands of despicable humanity while he had left them to forage for food. His younger daughter had been hidden in the shadows and the bastards did not see her but she had seen them and witness the horrifying ends met by her mother and sister.
His sister and brother were on the moon on September 13, 1999. Those who cared said they were dead though Guido often wondered and felt that somehow...they had survived.
"I saved these for you," the little girl reached into her pocket with a shaking, delirious hand. "When spring comes, we can plant them?"
She gently placed the seeds in his outstretched palm.
"The discovery left us shaken." Commander John Koenig told Lars Manroot unassumingly as he consulted his hand, and regretted throwing away the four of spades. "You remember."
He leaned further over the mainframe desk to relinquish his Blackjack hand, lost to an overdrawn King of Hearts, which brought his thoughts full circle to the alien probe again. From the Moon, to the planet Arkadia, and now five years later he was still ensconced on Alpha, and up to his eyeballs in the 'sterile precautions' again.
"Yes I do." Manroot assented to having such a memory. Yea' verily. He remembered that it sucked. He did not come away from it feeling the least bit transformed--unless it was by the puss of a viral infection that had invaded both of his lungs during the frosty, Phase Five blackouts. The fact that the people of Earth were the esteemed offspring of transplanted Arkadians did nothing to restore the heat, or the lights, nor did it prevent Controller Paul Morrow from such dark considerations as issuing environment suits to those who were on-duty, while allowing off-duty personnel to walk around like snowmen in the twenty below zero biosphere. His hand was dead too. Drawing that Ace of Clubs had polished him off. At the rear of the trench, Winters was sitting atop his workstation with his back to the big screen, and chatting with his bud,' Klaus Rotstein who was sitting on the stairs, and looking anxious at the promise of work. "I recall it so well that I still have a hard time opening the refrigerator in my quarters."
Koenig waved casually to Claire Profitt as she dismounted balcony stairs, and began entering data at the services desk. He had given up on the idea of getting a good night's sleep, so he got dressed, and headed for the travel tube. His journal was sitting on his desk with a piece of yellow stick paper serving as a bookmark.
"You're doing good." The commander complimented, reshuffling the cards.
"Good with what, sir?" Manroot asked, his thoughts drifting vaguely out of the vision ports.
"You haven't asked me about the alien probe yet." Koenig explained, and then regretted it.
"Oh yeah." The computer chief exclaimed, temporarily jettisoned from his muse. "You think we'll get it going again? Professor Bergman is confident that we can-"
"-fortify the guidance system, and put it back on a hypothetical course based on it's angle of approach, and the impact marks that it left." Koenig finished for him by rote. So he had heard. A thousand times, in fact. "For chrissakes, Manroot. The cargo that thing carries is one pound of alien bacteria that subsists by feeding parasitically on the weaker strains.
"Here, you deal." He chucked the deck over the gooseneck lamp, unhappy again.
Blackjack was a cruel mistress.
"Commander, we're running out of time." Carter had once told him while a more termagent mistress evaporated the odds with each passing second.
Dusk was creeping up on the planet that they now knew as Arkane, or Arkadia, but probably Arkadia, according to Anna Davis. As far as Koenig knew, this was a normal nightfall, judging by the modest disappearance of the sun in the east, and not the deluxe, breakneck, NASCAR edition that Bergman, and the others claimed to witness.
Lift off absolutely, positively had to happen within 30 minutes. Starns and Pound had already loaded most of the equipment into the Eagle except for the generator and the lights adorning the last stand room of skeletons. Anna Davis and Luke Ferro were still in that crypt.
"Well, what do you think?" Koenig looked at the faces of his team: Bergman, Russell, Carter and Starns, Koenig wanted their input though the weight of decision was ultimately his alone.
"I don't know, John," Bergman answered first. "The soil does not look good. It lacks the necessary bacteria needed to grow edible vegetation."
"We could introduce the bacteria into the soil but it would take 2 perhaps 3 growing seasons for it to reproduce sufficiently to begin the cycle and produce enough food for nearly 300 people," Helena Russell added neutrally and without emotion.
"Yes, but what concerns me is the possibility of mutation of the bacteria by the irradiated soil." Bergman added sternly. "That of course would lead us to nothing..and a death sentence by starvation."
"What is the possibility of mutation? How do we know the bacteria won't take to the soil and be successful?" Koenig persisted. If there was any chance of revitalizing this dead world, it was infinitely preferable than being dead on Alpha.
"I can't tell you, John." Bergman shook his head. "There is no way of knowing. We would just have to try it."
"John," Russell finally showed her opinion, "is it worth the risk to 'try it' on the lives of nearly 300 people?"
"Helena, unless there is an improvement of the power situation, in 24 hours, everyone on Moonbase Alpha will die."
"We've got a launch window." Carter added morosely. "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if we're not out of here by 08:30 EMT, we might as well stay."
There was more to space travel than just aiming your tub at the Moon, and plunging towards it like a blind man throwing a dart. The satellite had to be in the proper position, or multitudinous power control burns, and course corrections (which would require Aerozine that they did not have) would be necessary to modify their trajectory. It took fifteen hours to reach the planet, but it might take fifteen days to get back if they ignored the countdown clock.
Starns followed him, and then some.
"There's also the amount of time it will take to organize an evacuation?" The investigator surmised. They had never been able to achieve Operation Exodus, so he had no standard upon which to base his assumptions. Drills, and simulations were not helpful because they only revealed the amount of time it would take to fill Eagles with warm bodies. Transferring essential Moonbase systems to the planet's surface was an entirely different matter. They would need more than a change of underwear if they were going to survive.
"How long could we make it on survival rations, commander?" Harness Bull Pound inquired hopelessly.
The question was too depressing to answer so Koenig deferred to Helena Russell on this one.
"Speaking strictly in terms of bread, and water...six months." The physician replied, and Pound's blood pressure pounded.
"I know it is a long shot," Koenig continued after pondering the facts for several minutes. "But its a shot. Its better than being dead in 24 hours." He looked around at the faces again. "Unless the power situation changes on Alpha, we have no choice but to plan to implement Operation Exodus."
Bergman patted the Commander supportively and confidently on the shoulder as he turned toward the Eagle.
"Such tragedy," Anna Davis murmured at her bench in the room of the dead. "It was such a wonderful civilization."
Luke Ferro was for once silent. Anna Davis looked up from her laptop as she closed the lid. He was transfixed.
"Luke? What is it?"
Then she could see clearly.
Last verse same as the first:
"Anna." Luke Farro cringed like a big woompus.' Stress showcased his cowardice, and the strap that held the Hasselblad around his shoulder suddenly felt like a noose. One by one the utility lights had been squelched. Darkness was again on the face of the deep, and he had no Teddy Bear to placate him. "Anna." He whispered again, choking on his own, well nourished fear. "You stay here, and keep watch." He commanded as he bumbled towards the door. "I will fetch the others."
"You are not leaving me alone in here," Anna countered, also stumbling toward the door. Equal rights was one thing but Ferro was exhibiting cowardice more than advocation of gender equity.
'No.' A voice called to them from fell limbo.
Davis heard something entirely different from the wraiths who were now front projecting themselves over the skeletal place-holders at the fossilized table. Instead of hearing an adverb pronounced in the King's English, she perceived a female voice with an entirely different abnegation:
'Gatha-prajna.' The hooded woman with the celestial eyes told Luke Farro.
'There are some who drink from the fountain of knowledge.' The ghost of Isa Hamadri, fully formed, told the cartographer from across the table. 'I'm starting to think that all you did was gargle.'
"Welcome, Mother Anna Davis" Gita greeted pleasantly.
Gita smiled serenely at Anna Davis while Governor Bow Hunter sat up, cocking a wary eyebrow at Luke Ferro. He bared his teeth and growled, though Ferro, engaged in another conversation did not hear him.
"Your choice of mate, mistress, is poor," Bow Hunter continued opinionated, while contently licking his paw. "Surely, there are better males."
"No race is perfect, governor," she patted the spectral being affectionately. "Perfection breeds arrogance which further breeds destruction."
"Yes, mistress," the canine chuckled, "but do you wish to doom them from the start?"
"You have a purpose, Anna Davis," Gita continued, ignoring her doubtful companion. "All that you see of a great society remains in here. You are the offspring of Arkadia. My fervent desire is for us, to live again. Come. Come and multiply and be the mother of our race. Make us live again."
"But.." Anna Davis stammered sadly. "I cannot have children. I have been told by my doctors that.."
"They are wrong," Gita interrupted, nonplussed.
"I don't get it." Isa Hamadri flat admitted to Farro. His essentialness was floating five feet above the cartographer's head on a wisp of ectoplasm. "You haven't even looked at me, and you're petrified."
He was in space alright. The once unencumbent, but now undead mahesh looked skeptically at Gita.
"Isa, it is not for wit or wisdom I select him. She possesses the intelligence. He, however, possesses the passion which will be required to survive."
"Passion?" the Governor barked, "he's crazy. Crazy Italian."
"I DON'T TRUST YOU." Farro struggled to overcome his primitive, flight-from-fear mind, and the urge to piss himself from sheer terror. "BUT IF IT HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH 'THE SEEDS,' I MIGHT LISTEN."
"Seeds?" The spirit of Isa Hamadri pondered. "Well yes, actually it does. From a metaphorical point of view."
He drifted closer to Farro, closing the gap over his right ear as if to impart eternal confidentialities. The conversation was man-to-man, and man-to-restless-disembodied-spirit.
"See." Isa Hamadri said in a low, clandestined voice. "What we have here is a dead planet kind of situation. The woman, Anna Davis, was selected to fulfill the role of birth mother to the new Arkadia. She just doesn't know it yet
"The course of history was dictated by the Elan Vitala, ages ago.
"For it is written: 'She will smite the dust, and the garden will prevail.'
"And not to get off the subject: why does your chin elongate when someone is telling you the truth? I've never seen that reaction before."
"And I'm to be her king?" Farro deduced, finding something in himself (and it was egoism) which allowed him to face the hooded canker. And he found Isa Hamadri to be homely, and ugly, but thought it rude to say so.
"Well...." The astral mahesh thought about it for a moment. "I wouldn't go that far."
"The leader of a new order of genetically perfect human beings?" Farro tried ambitiously again.
"Ruler?" Isa Hamadri looked at the extinguished, alphan lamps. "No, not really." He said truthfully. "Behind every great female, there has been a male with strong back muscles. It's the way of things, really. The female adjudicates the household, and the male lifts heavy stuff--even if it's beyond his constitution, and injurious to do so."
"The elegant, brutal craft of taming the land? Farming? Shaping the face of things to come with one's bare hands? Yes." Farro understood now. He could feel the excitement growing in the pit of his stomach. "And I shall be the father of men. What we lack in individual diversity, we shall make up for with fierce, endurance matches of procreation. Yes?"
"Is this some special time you've picked to humiliate yourself?" Isa Hamadri inquired.
If he'd had a head, he would have scratched it.
"By favoring the female with wisdom and intelligence, making her the true leader of our race, we will avoid the pitfalls of arrogance which destroyed Arkadia." Gita addressed Isa, then turned to Anna," and Earth."
"Earth?" Anna repeated. "Do you know what has happened to Earth?"
Gita ignored her. "We will not repeat the same mistakes."
"This can't be real," Anna shook her head. "No. This is a dream. I have fallen asleep while transcribing your document or.." She frantically walked back and forth in the faux light and noted the lights set up by Pound and Starns were completely...out.
Gita stood or rather drifted up as the ghost of Governor Bow Hunter scampered up her shoulder and wrapped himself around her neck like a mink stole. Anna stood her ground, fascinated more than frightened by the spectacle.
"It is not a dream, child," Gita took Anna's hands into hers. They were old, worn and tired hands but they were warm, pink and plump with flesh. "You have a destiny. Your entire life has been a journey to this point where you will take your place on the new Arkadia and raise a new generation of our people."
"Fulfill your destiny."
"I'll make a deal with you." Isa Hamadri promised Luke Farro. "I'll try being nicer, if you try being smarter."
"What's their problem?" Farro asked, pointing towards the sullen, fleshless skeletons of Manoj, and Baldev who remained in a socially unacceptable state of demise. "Their diet didn't agree with them?"
"I'll overlook that remark because I have to pity a man whose teeth are brighter than he is. The one on the left couldn't be here with us today." Isa Hamadri explained, gathering up the drifting slack of his cloak. "He has evolved far beyond our physical expectations, and exists now on a higher plain.
"The other can see, and hear what we are saying, but he is forbidden to talk. He must listen, and learn."
"You entice me, oh Mighty Spirit." The cartographer praised. All his life he had waited. The opportunity to plant 'The Seeds' was now on the bargaining table. Even better, the deal was already sealed, even if it was at his expense. "I recoil at the sight of your dreadful face. I will do your bidding."
"Whatever." Isa Hamadri told him.
"But what about the others?" Anna Davis asked Gita while scratching the Governor behind the ears. It was the strangest sensory touch she ever experienced. He was there but he was not there. The former leader of the intelligent dog-like race purred in a disembodied, echoing sound.
"My people on Alpha. They will die if power is not restored." She finished in earnest. "What is to become of them?"
"They have a purpose," Gita answered succinctly, after glancing at the figure of the still physically deceased Manoj. She nodded slightly then returned her attention to Davis. "You and Luke must come here using whatever means necessary. Bring life back to this world and help us to live again."
"Muscles that you didn't know you had will cry out for mercy, and hospitalization." Isa Hamadri set forth the deal. "You will plough, and till the soil. From a mug of cholera you shall drink, and the sustenance of weeds you will suck."
"Yes." Luke Farro understood with joyful tears in his eyes.
"You will bale hay, and you will hate it." The mahesh continued, euphemistically touching the points of the cartographer's new crown in succession. "But I want you to understand, not all of it will be pleasant. There will be blisters, and famine. Your skin will be scorched in the blazing, 110 degree Arkadian summer. You will not be able to apply sunblock for fear of spreading the dysentery to the rest of your body. There will be mud, and weasels in the corn. And rocks...huge sheets of blue granite.
"Spud bar, turn it over."
"Yes, yes, yes." Farro agreed intoxicatedly. He hoped Anna Davis was as blessed as he was. It was like a perfect symphony--the Apassionata of his existence. How many lives were touched by a Vivaldi such as this? A grace that bore, not one, but four seasons. When the flood lights returned-after the last horn was sounded; after the final woodwind had been uttered, and the bassoon unreverberated--the apparitions became just barebones clay again. The pager on their commlocks returned them to the tactile realm. Farro was limply holding the strap to his Hasselblad camera. Anna Davis was still touching the fossilized remains of a small mammal that had not existed for over 25,000,000 years.
"Get back to the ship." Koenig told them over the link. "We've decided to abandon Alpha."
Never did she believe before September 13, 1999 this would be how she would die: a human popsicle, frozen to death. At least she would be long dead from the cold before she could be tortured by asphyxiation. So Angelina would crash on her bed, and go to sleep, never to wake up again. Given the alternatives of other kinds of worse death, perhaps this die in sleep option wasn't so bad afterall.
Her morose thoughts were interrupted by the paging of the compost.
"Eagle One will be within communication range within 45 minutes," Paul Morrow's image replaced the 'Main Power Generation' monitor wallpaper screen. Morrow's dour face was in sharp contrast to the smiley 'stick' man with a body composed of lightening bolts, the power generation area's 'mascot'. "Prepare a report for the Commander to status the power loss and the latest projections."
"Yes, Paul," Angelina Verdeschi answered then the controller broke the link. Protocol dictated that David Kano should have been the one to call her but he was in the Central Computer Room, busily obsessing over his beloved computer.
Perhaps that was another reason for Morrow's curtness.
Doctor Helena Russell frowned at the computations on the monitor of the work station in the passenger module of Eagle One. Unlike Angelina Verdeschi or any other Alphan on the Moon, her hands were warm as she tapped the keyboard.
Bergman, making his way back from the Command Module, studied her expression as he began to distribute silver jackets.
"You'll be needing one of these soon," he stated paternally, draping the thermal coat around her shoulders as he peered at the monitor. He glanced over at Luke Ferro and Anna Davis. There was something strange about the pair. They sat side by side, quietly holding hands, looking indiscreetly lovingly at each other. The display made Starns and Pound uncomfortable enough to move to the other side of the Eagle.
"I thought you said it would take 2 or 3 growing seasons for the bacteria to acclimate to the Arkadian soil." Bergman whispered. "The agricultural model projects a higher probability of FIVE years now? Are you sure?"
"It's difficult to be sure of anything on a planet where the sun whips across the sky like a hardball in a World Series game." Helena Russell said emotionlessly as she continued to study the glyphs on the black, and white BAC tab. "Maybe exposure to the two second midnight gave me a case of the duh.'"
The physician shrugged, noting that the planet's red Agar seaweed was a possible source of C-Vitamins should the Manna from Heaven fail to arrive on time.
"Touché.'" John Koenig congratulated her, emerging from the aft equipment bay with a pile of meteorological specs' that served no reliable purpose, other than to coat his palms with inkjet smears. "I've been looking at our five day Doppler forecast." He said sarcastically, sidling up to Bergman. "It might be a good idea to settle further north. I don't think a hundred tornadoes a year would help our terraforming efforts any."
"We need all the help we can get, I'm afraid," the doctor slipped on the silver thermal jacket. "However, settling further north limits us because the soil quality, not that it is great to begin with, deteriorate dramatically."
"On Earth," Luke Ferro injected himself into the conversation, "the Great Plains of your United States, tornado alley would average 100 tornadoes a year." He pointed out defensively and with the first useful piece of data he offered since the Reconn mission began.
"And yet," he continued pontificating, "the area was blessed with the most fertile soil in the world." He smiled at Anna. "To plant the seeds."
Their teenage affection was almost nauseating and very weird since 24 hours earlier Anna Davis hated Luke Ferro. In fact, one would have been hard pressed to find any woman on Alpha who would be interested in the cartographer. He was a 'ladies man' in his own mind but no one else's.
"Well, ordinarily I'd agree, but on that planet...I think I'll just keep my mouth shut." Bergman declared, leaning against the workstation's bus cabinet.
"You're still holding to that observation?" Koenig asked curiously.
"I'm not about to swear by it, but it makes sense. Yes." The professor confessed moderately.
"What observation?" Russell horned in, still more entranced by the negative, hopeless ku-kuh' on the BAC tab.
"The impossible, instantaneous way the sun passed through the sky." The commander recounted. "The stream moving backwards. It may be evidence that the planet is a closed circuit in space, and time."
"I did a quick check of the time while we were there too, John." Bergman added earnestly. "My commlock moved backwards for maybe a minute...then it began to move chronologically again. Very strange. Very, very strange. If it wasn't a hallucination of some sort--a kind of folie a deux, then it may have been an optical distortion caused by gravitational fields."
"What he's trying to say is that the planet may be in the epicenter of a Rapture Corridor." Koenig extrapolated. "And if it is, then so are we."
Helena Russell blinked. "Oh my gosh." she blurted in a whisper, a wisp of panic filtering her tone.
"Wait a minute." She continued, composed again. "I don't understand. If we are IN the rapture corridor, how did we get in? Usually when we go through a rapture corridor, it is not exactly a mild event. It has been quite traumatic and definitely noticeable."
"I'm sorry, Victor, John" she crossed right leg over left, relaxing in the white plastic chair, "Astrophysics is not my forte. How did we get in unnoticed? Probably more importantly, how do we get out; and in one piece?"
"In the past we've experienced violent, and 'rapacious' G-Loading on the event horizon." Koenig acknowledged as he turned to pawn his weather report off on Pound, but then realized that it would be more useful to them if it was filed under SHRED. "In theory, it doesn't always have to be that way. There's no physical reason why it must be a cataclysmic entrance every single time."
"When the Moon broke away from Earth, we were hurled into uncharted space. This region of the galaxy may have experienced gravastar formation." The commander hypothesized. "According to Emil Mottola, a star can collapse without becoming a pinpoint of infinite gravity. It's matter could be transformed into a spherical void that's extremely durable."
"But flexible." Bergman told Russell. "If the Arkadians found a way to traverse this phenomenon, they wouldn't need faster than light space vessels to reach Earth."
"That's unlikely though." Koenig said rationally, and the professor nodded, but still...he felt stupid. "The core of a gravastar is like the core of a black sun. Any object that's introduced to it can look forward to being creamed in the time-space garbage disposal. Then again, if the Arkadians learned to adapt--if the planet is one of the states in a gravastar's entropy bin--they probably enjoyed an insight, and a technological prowess we could never fathom. They weren't bound by the normal laws of physics.
"By contrast, we know less than nothing Helena. An Arkadian infant could have drafted the blueprints for Moonbase Alpha.
"It's hard to believe we're descended from them."
"That's if my hunch is correct." Bergman conceded. "I don't know that it is, and I hope that it isn't because we're not accustomed to living under scientific statutes like this."
"It will mean greater reliance on computer." Koenig gestured. "And that's a death sentence, if you want my opinion. There's no way in Hell I'd ever want to be dependent on that thing in an environment where I can't trust anything that I see.
"Talk about a double dip."
"Computer has failed us before," Russell stated factually. "Frankly, though, we would not have the resources to support computer in the long term. It is apparent that everything we have would be needed to reverse the ecological damage of the area we would settle." She sighed, depressed and rubbing her temples. "Even then, the chance of success is a gamble. A huge gamble."
Koenig gazed evenly at her. "Yes, but as things stand now, we have no chance on Alpha in 24 hours. Zip. Nada." She nodded. "I understand your trepidation and I don't like the odds either."
"I know," she smiled in acknowledgement. "But we are backed into a corner and really have no choice."
"But at least we have a chance to survive," the professor encouraged, the right side of his mouth lifting upward to convey a half smile.
"As for exiting the paradox...." The professor returned to Russell's original question. "I don't think we have to worry about that. I get the feeling that whatever stopped us here plans to keep us around for a good, long while."
"Exiting?" Anna Davis spoke up as if her world was shattered into a million pieces. Her look of panic was shared by her new boyfriend. "Why would we want to exit? We are going to settle on Arkadia and we will thrive. You'll see. We'll make it!"
David Kano was still absent from Main Mission. Angelina Verdeschi sat at the Technical desk, directly across from Sandra Benes, shivering from the 0 degree cold. The Data Analyst managed a weary smile as she held a coffee mug with gloved hands, at this point likely imparting warmth to the coffee than the other way around.
The right blue and white monitor under the big screen flashed the root cause of the arctic chill.
POWER LOSS: 50%
Morrow glanced at the mission clock at the cap-commstation, manned by Gordon Cooper, who paced while rubbing his upper arms.
"Moonbase Alpha to Eagle One," Morrow began after clearing his throat. "Alpha to Eagle One. Are you receiving?"
"Eagle One, Alpha?" Sandra Benes plugged into the local bandwidth. It was an attempt to generate heat via impatience, and it often worked for her. "Commander Koenig? Professor Bergman?"
"I'd leave it out if I were you." Cooper advised, blowing away the frost in his palms. "The CAP will radio when he's in range."
"That should have already happened by now." STC Dempsey crowed beneath blue, and gibbous cheek bones. "By now they should be close enough for the high gain receivers. If they're further than five thousand nautical miles out then-"
"The satellites can take a running jump." Coop' dismissed Dempsey's audacious tallywhacking. "They may be busy."
"Or they may have experienced a similar power loss, and they're still on the planet." The STC rebuffed effectively. "They should be in apalune by now. I didn't like the looks of the DGS during that debacle we called a shakedown test. If something happened, and they're stuck with a computer that can't solve an equation, I call that a bad day."
It occurred to Dempsey that in the present situation, it was finer to argue than it was to be an Eskimo.
"Alpha, Eagle One." Koenig's voice finally broke through the interstellar ice. "Eagle One to Moonbase Alpha. Paul, do you read? We're transmitting at 29:57."
"We read you commander." Morrow replied immediately, punching the link on his keyboard.
"What's your situation?"
"Desperate." The controller reported fast, cold, and untuned. "We're operating under a fifty percent power loss."
"We've lost 80% of our crops in both hydroponic farms," Sandra Benes stated over the big chill. "In 12 hours the water in the recycling plants will freeze."
"Ambient temperature is now 0 degrees Fahrenheit," Kate Bullen reported with frosty sulleness.
Koenig's recrudescence was obvious, even though he was not physically present.
"Alright." He determined windlessly. "Listen carefully. Put Operation Exodus into effect immediately. We're evacuating. The ship is over Frigoris now. We'll discuss the details after we land."
Angelina Verdeschi had been wearily studying the power consumption numbers, refreshing every 10 seconds.
An upward tick mark caught her attention. She quickly typed a query and a spark of hope return, simultaneously as the monitor under the big screen displayed:
POWER LOSS 49%
"COMMANDER!" Ang interrupted Gordon Cooper as he was relaying landing instructions to Eagle 1. "Power loss at 49%! It appears to be stabilizing!"
"It can't be," Paul attempted to negate, but the change in the monitor, POWER LOSS 48%, gave him pause to question his pessimism.
"Do you have a confirmation on that?" The commander asked, gripping the yoke, and finding a fix on the few lights the remained visible in the dark umbra of the Plato Crater. The Main Mission tower was poorly aflare. From there it got worse. The rest of the base, from the outer ring on, was a stumbling, sensory depriving game of blind man's bluff.
The technicians from the various generation areas reported in almost unison. The news still wasn't roses but it wasn't gravestones either.
"Commander," Ang continued, "We can survive on 48%. It wouldn't be easy but it would be a chance."
"Do you still want us to evacuate?" Morrow asked. His cold ass was full of chagrin. On the one hand, the stabilization was a good thing; on the other it meant no surcease from the mountain of sherbet he was sitting on.
"No." Koenig said emphatically. The tower drifted by Carter's port like a sprite as the pilot gimbaled the spacecraft downwards on final approach. "Hold everything until we get there."
Commander Koenig, Doctor Russell and Professor Bergman emerged from the boarding tube.
"Be prepared to report your analysis in Command Conference in 30 minutes." Koenig nodded as he strode past her to the travel tube.
"Yes, Commander," Angelina Verdeschi acknowledged, having already anticipated the request.
Helena Russell smiled and quickly filed past her, simultaneously donning her Thinsulate gloves. Professor Bergman gave her a fatherly wink and stepped inside the travel tube bound for the Command Tower. The doors closed behind them. Angelina was interested in seeing the pilot of Eagle one when she found herself literally cornered by Anna Davis and Luke Ferro.
"Ang," Anna Davis greeted with a warm smile, though Ferro was sullen. He stared at her as if she was public enemy number one.
"Anna," Ang responded warily, throwing Ferro a leery glance. "So how did it go? What was the planet like?"
"Wonderful!!" Anna gushed, patting the power generation manager on the arm. "It is perfect for us. Ang, it is home. We are returning home."
"Huh?" Angelina was clearly perplexed.
"Yes," Ferro piped in, taking his cue from Anna and offering a toothy smile. "The people of Earth originated from Arkadia. We have been brought here to return home...to plant the seeds and grow again."
His excitement was disturbing. Ang decided he had truly gone off the deep end. "Arkadia?" she questioned.
"Yes. Arkadia." Anna repeated dreamily, gazing with smitten puppy love at Ferro. "It is true," Anna continued patiently. "There are writings from the last survivors of a great holocaust. But some of the people left Arkadia before the final days and came to Earth."
Ang was somewhat doubtful.
"I can show you but later, Ang, later." They stood in front of her, blocking her escape. "Listen, dear." She continued. "The planet is perfect for us and it is ready to be brought to life again. The commander was going to evacuate. However, your data has given him pause to reconsider. I assure you, that is a mistake."
"My data is merely data," Ang responded neutrally. "Besides, if the commander is reconsidering, there must be a damn good reason. Maybe the planet is not as perfect as you say."
"But it IS," Luke Ferro was suddenly in her face as she found her back against the wall. Anna Davis gently pulled him back by the elbow.
"Luke is excited and eager to settle," Anna grinned affectionately again at the zealot. She returned her attention to Ang. "Ang, you have known me for a long time. We have been through much together, yes?"
Angelina nodded, cocking a nervous brow at Ferro.
"And you trust me, yes?" Anna continued.
Angelina's nod was more tentative this time.
Anna leaned close to her and whispered. "The planet is perfect. It is our home. It is our destiny. Trust me....If you would, uh, modify your data, report that perhaps the power loss is merely temporary and that it will continue, then I know the Commander will reinstate the evacuation order."
"ANNA!" Angelina blurted indignantly, recoiling against the wall. "You know I can't do that! That is lying."
"DO YOU WANT TO DIE ON THIS BARREN ROCK?!?!?" Ferro was again inches from her face. "ARE YOU STUPID OR SOMETHING??!"
"Fuck you, Luke," Angelina angrily pushed Ferro back. The obsessed cartographer was about to press her further when he saw Alan Carter step out of the boarding tube.
"I've been waiting for you." The cartographer said fatalistically as he saw Harness Bulls Sloven, and Coldaryn emerge behind the pilot--buff from the extra padding of their thermal jackets, and their fully equipped garrison belts. There was no paradise without trial; no new worlds without the revelation of tribulation. Upon each martyrs neck, a blade must fall.
"Really?" Sloven smirked mordantly. "Well, I got here as quick as I could."
"Hiya' Luke." Alan Carter said mendaciously, strolling towards him with murder on his mind.
"Hi Luke." Coldaryn sang in unison, and proceeded to punk him down with his stare. His right palm was already resting on his BBP utility case as though it were a harmonica he was dying to play.
"We were just talking." Ferro defended himself, but he was infamous so it was Anna Davis he looked to for support, and not the person he almost assaulted.
"Talking?" Ang repeated icily then stopped a second to consider what she would say next. Her lover, tired and pissed off, was ready to engage Ferro in a pugilistic exchange while the two boys from security would sit back and watch the entertainment. Ferro may have been apt in Kendo but Carter definitely had the edge in the ring. Her rage at Ferro was tempting her to encourage the pilot to pound Luke to a pulp but the pleading in Anna's dark brown and strangely love sick eyes mitigated her ire.
"It was just a misunderstanding," Anna stammered, afraid for her boyfriend, as she tried to wedge herself in front of him. "They were just kidding around. Weren't you, Ang?"
How pathetic, Ang thought. She finds a new boy toy and turns on her friends. Ang was certain Ferro had physical violence in his plan had Alan and the eager harness bulls not stepped in and curtailed it. Angelina stared at Anna aghast, no longer knowing who she was.
"I have my rights." The cartographer said as they surrounded him.
Sloven was the most corrupt, and axiomatically, the most likely to inflict excessive force, and deplorable masochistic deeds.
"Of course you do." The darker of the two harness bulls replied dubiously. "You have the right to be placed in ICU." He unzipped his jacket, and sized him up hungrily with baton, and laser.
"This isn't necessary." Farro unfurled, and started pulling Davis along towards the stairwell. "We're leaving."
"Yeah." Coldaryn said obnoxiously after them. "Later."
"Come talk at me after hours, bloke." Carter invited. "I'll let you know what brand of deodorant I use. Avoid those pommy showers though."
Davis pulled Farro through the door before further unpleasantness could ensue.
"How nice," Angelina eyed Coldaryn's weaponry on his belt. "Beat the shit out of them first THEN ask questions."
"Well." Sloven the snake smiled and waxed innocent. "I can see how you have been under the most stress on the base with the power situation."
He was smooth. He was oily. Ang didn't like him.
"I will take that as a 'thank you' for stopping that disturbed individual from hurting you."
"You stopped him?!?!" She laughed sarcastically. "You didn't stop anyone!"
"It is our job to protect you," he continued, ignoring her retort, with the demeanor of a parish priest. "If he bothers you again, don't hesitate to call us." He gave her a gentlemanly half bow and hurried down the corridor with a snickering Coldaryn.
"What an ass," Ang eyed the departing cops. "What incredibly bad luck I have. How come I get stuck on a wandering moon for the rest of my days with a bunch of geeks, weirdoes and head cases?" She mused as Carter walked with her toward the travel tube.
"Well, except for you, of course." She hugged him after the door closed leaving them alone in the travel car. Her face was so cold, she could hardly feel the stubble of an overdue shave. "How was your trip and what is the real deal with that planet?"
"You were being kind of an ingrate back there, cupcake." Carter gently upbraided her. "The boys were trying to help. I agree with you about Puke, though." He said, instead of 'Luke.' "Puke's a sick fellow. He ought to have CANDIDATE BY COMPUTER stamped on his forehead. For the life of me, I'll never believe that the commander actually hand-picked him for that mission." He testified, shaking his head censuriously. "He may have been of some use if we had landed on Jim Jones World, or some fucked-up Planet Of The Crackpots. He could have canonized their sacred cows for them, and handed out a bunch of Holy Joe tracts while pounding a tambourine against his head.
"As it stands, he contributed nothing sane." The pilot finned.
"He's always been a little odd," she admitted, leaning against him and arms encircling out of affection and warmth. The travel tube accelerated and she stared at the moving row of rectangular lights. "But he was an atheist and now, suddenly, he's become more of, I don't know, some cheesy television evangelist. You remember those guys? The ones who told you to save your soul by sending money to the address on the screen...sort of like Jim Baker, and his weepy wife with too much mascara Tammy Fae."
"I don't understand how those two could become an item literally overnight, "she fumed, mourning the apparent loss of sanity, taste or both of her friend Anna. "But nevermind the tabloids. What about the planet?"
"The 'real deal' about that planet is that it's a back passage." Carter went on, more interested in reunion, and the miracle of freezing one's nuts off in 400 below zero space. "There's life there, but I doubt that a bunch of grass, and prehistoric tract houses could stop the Moon in its tracks. Victor agrees; so does Dr. Russell, and the commander. It would be fine if we didn't ever have to eat. I'd move there tomorrow." He told her, and then watched a plume of his own icy breath float towards the unoccupied security cubicle. "Well...I lied...actually, I'd move there right now. It's freezing in here.
"I hate living on Moonbase Alpha. This is not home. This is existing in a tomb with the hope that tomorrow we'll find at least a half way decent planet. But the longer I'm here, the foggier the pleasant dreams from memories of Earth become, almost as if they are literally fading away." She gazed up at him. "I'm afraid that the day I no longer have a memory of it will be the day I accept living on Moonbase Alpha as normal....talk about being crazy."
"You aren't giving up." Carter said somberly, almost grimly. "I'm not going to let you. The future isn't something that can be 'settled.' You weren't meant to be here, and you sure aren't going to die here. I know I have no intention of kicking the bucket on Alpha, but if I do, I'll go out fighting.
"As bad as that planet was, I hate this worse." He confessed with a flourish that cost him some precious, stationary body heat. "Even knowing what I know about the no-calorie plan that awaits us on the surface, I still kind of prefer that idea. At least we'd have six months of dignity before we got so hard up that the leaves on the ground start looking like combo pizzas.
"But that's a cop-out too." He realized, admonishing himself. "Sometimes, you just have to wait for the wind to stop--even if the cyclone has already blown you down. We'll ace this, but until then, we need to prove that our blood is worth bottling."
"The truth is, the power situation has stabilized. We are no longer losing power and in fact, we are stabilizing with a slow projected upward gain. It will take a few weeks but gradually, the temperature will likely return to comfortable. It's already almost 10 degrees F." Angelina aimed her commlock at the monitor, tapped a code and the wallpaper displayed the air temperature.
"One hour ago, it was zero. Those are the facts."
"Anna asked that I 'massage' the data and report that the stabilization is temporary and it will deteriorate again. As much as I'm tempted," she admitted, "and as much as I think this place sucks, I can't do that. It would be forcing a decision I have no authority to make. The commander needs the facts, not opinion."
"Now you're talking like a rip-snorter." The pilot complimented affectionately. "Make it all as clear, and as concise--and on the up-and-up--as you possibly can, and then let the professor worry about the rest. The commander isn't about to do anything to jeopardize anyone's safety." He reminded her. "He's wearing one of these bearskins too, but that's not going to affect any long term decisions. I can guarantee you that. If living with the AC' on will improve our chances, we'll be giving it a go. If that wowser Farro's idea of living on the planet is better, then we'll board the Eagles so fast, that idiot won't have time to feel stuffed."
Angelina nodded. "Anna was going on about Arkadia being 'home' and that we are from there. What did she mean by that? Or was she just delusional?"
Carter paused for a moment, gathering the last of what he laughingly called his wits before continuing.
"They found an artifact down there. A stone-carving. Victor, and Davis thought that it might be the dear old dad of modern Earth languages. Sanskrit. She seemed pretty convinced by it--as you probably noticed." He shrugged, and then postured for a cold-air admission. "I'm no so sure though. It doesn't really add up. It does, and it doesn't. Those people destroyed their civilization using the Big One. Right. If the theory holds true, then the survivors must have somehow migrated to Earth.
"All hunky dorey.'" He said. "But it does nothing to address the fossils, and relics that archaeologists discovered back home. If we were all sprogs, born of a bunch of carpetbagging Arkadians, then what about amino acids, and primitive nucleotides? What about all of those bones that we discovered on Earth that were supposed to be linked to an earlier form of man? Davis edged out Darwin, and the European Renaissance completely. To her, cavemen never existed. She poured the soup out, and handed us all a copy of 'Chariots Of The Gods' if you know what I mean?
"Forget the fact that we're nowhere near as advanced as we should be if we're Arkadians. Just read Dr. Luke's copy of the Good Book, and it will all fall into place.
"Our own archeological and anthropological evidence would suggest that we evolved without any help from outsiders," Angelina agreed. "But what if, instead of being the origin of earthmen they were simply absorbed into our species and became part of humanity? You know, it was never believed that Neanderthals and Cro-Magnum intermixed until archeologists found the skeleton of a 4 year old child which had characteristics of both humanoid species. What if that was the case with the," she smirked with amusement, "carpet bagger Arkadians, as you put it?"
"A great holocaust," she shook her head sadly. "At least we have one thing in common. What is it about humankind which is so hell bent on destroying itself?"
She sat up, putting a discreet distance between the Captain and herself as the travel tube stopped and the doors opened. Unlike Anna Davis and Luke Ferro, Angelina Verdeschi and Alan Carter did not publicly display their relationship as an 'in your face', dramatic show like a couple of puerile teenagers. They were acutely aware that not everyone on Alpha had 'someone' and like Commander Koenig and Doctor Russell, were maturely sensitive to others around them and went through extra efforts to remain discrete when not alone.
"Professor," Angelina greeted warmly as Bergman entered the travel tube and took the chair across from her. "Alan's been giving me the scoop on the planet. I bet you have the latest info." She remarked with excitement. "Any more good news about Arkadia? When are we moving?"
The travel tube began to move but her excitement waned again as she read the all too familiar less than enthusiastic expression on her mentor's face. She hoped it was fatigue but her intuition told her otherwise.
"I wouldn't pack your suitcase yet, Ang," Bergman stared down at his hands, expressionless. "I just spoke with the Commander and he has been going over a few numbers." The professor stretched, interlocking fingers and resting hands on the back of his neck. "He's convinced that Arkadia and its sun are situated in a rapture corridor."
Angelina Verdeschi opened her mouth then closed it. They were literally living in a new experience which was fascinating but she was also aware of the possible extreme danger. It was like getting off the ski lift and instead of going the easiest way down the mountain on the green circle trail, one finds herself on a double black diamond expert slope with no choice other than to go down.
"Wow," she uttered quietly and monotonically. She did not envy Koenig's position and the decision before him.
Bergman made a dry, throat-clearing noise.
"Ah--that's just a footnote." He said, and then fixated himself on gloom, and doom again. "In every sense of the word, I'm afraid. Operation Exodus is as good as cancelled. All we need now is a confirmation from Medical."
Carter sat on the couch across from them, listening while the wall track behind him remained dark, though they had already traversed several of the main depots. This was, after all, an energy crisis that would vindicate even the likes of Richard Nixon, but now was not the time for remorse. Now was the time for taking a shower with your pants on. This was the era when a flashlight had to become part of you. Space was now inside, and outside.
"We haven't many alternatives." The professor asserted.
Alan Carter agreed. They were down to bedrock; hard up; overextended; overexposed. You know your life sucks when your dog runs and hides after seeing you naked.
The continual evidence of low power from the red glow of the wall panels may have been easy on the eyes but was depressing to the soul.
Dr. Helena Russell was completely indoctrinated in the 12 degree Fahrenheit chill. It was cold, damn cold as she dropped off an extra Albuteral vial for asthma sufferer Lars Manroot. He nodded gratefully, taking an aerosol hit to gain relief from the annoying wheezing. She climbed the Main Mission stairs and let herself in the Commander's office.
John Koenig sat alone, stoic in his orange EVA suit on the white imitation leather couch. She sat silently beside him as he poured the now tepid carafe of Moonbase coffee into a burnt orange mug and handed it to her. Cool imitation coffee tasted worse than hot.
"I know what you hope I will say, John," she began, cradling the mug to her lips and not looking at him. "But the more we examine Arkadia under the microscope, the worse it looks. Still....its not completely out of the question but we would need a ton of luck in order for it to have even slightest chance of working."
The rest of the invitees to the Command Staff would be there any minute.
Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. The commander cerebrated. Set him on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.
"Is that your report?" Koenig said, with turgid coffee trapped between his neck, and lower esophagus. "I thought Mathias and Sullivan were studying this too, or has the brain trust adjourned?"
Russell glanced at him sideways and scowled. "The largest gamble that we face is the introduction of bacteria into the soil. If that does not happen at all, we will have limited sources of nutrition to the extent that we will lack key vitamin sources. If some of the bacteria 'take', our chances will be better. There is no way to tell which will survive and which will not. The only evidence we have is that at one time the useful micro-organisms for agriculture did exist but the radiation from the Arkadian holocaust obliterated them.
"Has enough time passed in which the plutonium has broken down enough so that the soil is no longer radioactive? Maybe...maybe not. We need more time to study the planet."
"What is the consequence of lacking 'certain' key vitamins?" Koenig pressed on.
She glanced at him, incredulous and mildly irritated. "John, I think you know better from your basic high school biology. We'd survive for awhile but long term survival without certain vitamins and minerals is not good. We would be open to disease and debilitating physical conditions." She paused then continued. "The forecast would be even bleaker for our children and grandchildren.
"John, I don't have a clear cut answer for you. Do I WANT to leave Alpha and take a chance on Arkadia? Yes. I say 'yes' because I hate it here so badly. Do I RECOMMEND leaving Alpha for Arkadia given the chances of long term survival there?" She took a sip from her mug and responded with a quiet, "No."
"Helena, I'm not trying to push in any one direction." The commander alleged, standing--and walking--but maddeningly without purpose. "It would have been nice for once to not have the exodus blow up disastrously in our faces, but at the same time, I'm not a fool for Arkadia. Despite that little agricultural problem, and the unification quandary that Victor proposed, I don't think the climate is conducive to a long, happy life--unless you really don't mind being bashed in the head until you faint from the rocks, and the branches that those gale force winds probably carry.
"It's not as easy as bulldozing a bunch of trees, and then naming streets after them.
"At the same time, I don't give a damn about the Moon." He said with mold, and violent meaning. "My concern is with the people who have to exist here. Crap situations are difficult to get used to, even the ones that get your seal of approval."
"Life on Arkadia would not be easy. It would be extreme hardship, the type we are not accustomed to. Face it. On Alpha, we have a uniform environment, a comfortable temperature under normal circumstances. There is very little illness. On Arkadia, that would change and I would gladly endure the hardships and strenuous physical demands of a harsh climate and less than ideal world in a heartbeat....IF...I knew that things would become easier for the next generation and the next generation after that.
"As it is, I can't even guarantee there will be a next generation."
"I see your point." Koenig agreed, catching as much of a glimpse of the murky, banausic world as the snow-covered vision ports would allow. "Although I'd advise you to consider the fact that Alpha won't be breaking any census records either.
"Could you spend your days fighting for this?" He said, teeth chattering in acknowledgement of the ice cube tray they now called home. "Can we pull it off? Do we even care to pull it off?"
The chime on the Main Mission privacy door pinged and Koenig motioned his commlock in its direction opening the door. Professor Bergman stepped through followed by Paul Morrow, Sandra Benes, David Kano (irritated at being torn away from the Central Computer Room), Alan Carter, Angelina Verdeschi and Tony Verdeschi. Truman Starns, a beaming Anna Davis and Luke Ferro, holding her hand rounded out the group as the door closed behind them.
"I see I'm late again." Victor Bergman noticed with chagrin. "I'm getting old. Old and cold."
His thermal covered arms bear hugged a chest that was rapidly becoming congested. Like most of the others, Starns felt more comfortable standing. The only person to sit was Tony Verdeschi--fancying himself as assertive for snatching Carter's chair. To him, courage was merely a metonym for bile...and bad beer. The greatest unfairness of all rose from the fact that alcoholic deterioration caused his heart to palpitate faster with a consequential, Machiavellian increase in body temperature.
"Knock yourself out." The pilot said as he quartered himself by one of the vents.
"Well, you're half right." Koenig concluded supportively, giving the professor a favorable slap on the shoulder. "It's still not as cold as it could get since technically, we're not even in orbit. Doctor Russell and I were putting the finishing touches on our speeches so don't worry about taking an extra minute to put your false teeth in."
"Well, if it took that long then you must have something inspirational to say." Bergman opined.
"Inspirational?" Koenig said mirthlessly. "O'kay. Don't cry over spilled milk. Does that do it for you?"
"Commander, if I may be so bold." Luke blurted obnoxiously, evoking one of the Six Habits Of Highly Effective Fanatics. "Everyone is awaiting a decision."
Paul Morrow nodded in agreement.
"We most certainly can't go on like this. Go or stay--the low morale is killing us." The controller sounded off, irked and afire all over again by the look of overdrive Duh' on David Kano's emotionless face. Turning towards Helena Russell, he refused to look at it again until either the temperature warmed them, or they were boarding the Eagles.
"We're dead in space." Carter extrapolated and Truman Starns concurred that far. "Something took a hand to us, but instead of just finishing us off, it's just leaving us to rot in orbit around that hole."
"That part doesn't bother me." Morrow marginalized him, and then turned his address back to Koenig. "The insanity of this is being stopped--and then having the power plummet to dangerously low levels--and then to stabilize again without any sign of an incremental increase."
Angelina Verdeschi cleared her throat for both lubrication and to gain the attention of the group. "As a matter of fact," she began to divulge the unpopular fact, "power loss level is now at 47%, down from the high of 50%. Ambient temperature has increased from 0 Fahrenheit to 15 Fahrenheit. With rolling brown outs, we can begin to raise the temperature of the base, incrementally until we achieve a more comfortable temperature, even with a 47% loss. It will take up to a week or so but it could be done."
Comfortable was defined as in 55 degrees Fahrenheit. It was still cool but 55 was better than 15.
"We are, though, experiencing a measurable reduction in power loss rate. If that trend continues, expect us achieving 55 Fahrenheit sooner, within say 2 or 3 days. We would have to still maintain reduced lighting and power to essential services only," she noted Anna Davis' look of consternation and Luke Ferro's squinty malicious stare directed toward her, "but it can be done."
"So the worst has passed?" David Kano chimed in.
"It appears that way," Angelina nodded. "The bottom line is even if we stay at 47% power loss, we can deal with that. It won't be fun but at the very least we don't have to be forced off of Alpha tomorrow."
"What about computer?" Kano continued critically.
"Well, computer would have to remain on minimal power," Ang asserted with an edge of annoyance. It was ridiculous. They were literally faced with another life or death situation and all Chief Kano could think about was computer.
"No, computer controls everything," Kano cut her down. "We cannot survive without computer."
In the shadows, Angelina bit her lip. Not in rage but in an effort to prevent herself from bursting out laughing. Ha ha. Very funny. What would David Kano do if they moved to Arkadia? There would be no computer. None. In that sense, Arkadia would be a blessing. She glanced at Alan and saw the expression of amusement in his face and his discreet wink, which made it all the more difficult for her to contain the levity.
"I'd be willing to give it a go." Bergman agreed totally with Ang' while rubbing his palms together like two sticks.
"I'll second that motion." Koenig announced provocatively, and with immense disgust. "Computer told us that there was no life on that planet. Now we're stuck. A Magic Eight Ball could have delivered a more accurate prediction."
"Are you sure, Ang?" Anna Davis asked, almost pleading. "Can you guarantee that things won't get worse again?"
"No," Angelina sighed wearily, "I can't guarantee anything, just present the data." She linked her laptop to the projector. "Here is where we were a few hours ago." She pointed to the graph. "Here is where we are now." She pointed to the other side to illustrate the steady though slow decrease in power loss rate.
"No promises. Just projections based on data." She stopped and noted the commstation monitor display change.
POWER LOSS: 46%
"Confirmed data." Bergman distinguished while giving David Kano a tip from his cup of Vitaseed slush.
"Yes it is." Koenig intensified. The need for parameters arose from the feeling he had that Farro and Davis had both parted with objectivity as though it were an empty milk carton. "The latest overview comes from measuring our chances of surviving the wilderness on Arkadia against a permanent, fifty percent power loss here on Alpha." He was speaking directly to Farro now. As commander, he would be dilatory in his duties if he didn't smack down those who so richly needed it. It also seemed apropos since he appeared to be carrying the placard for both of them. "It comes down to two choices. We can remain here and rely on a consistent, albeit inhospitable biosphere or we can evacuate to a planet where we'd have six months to live.
"In other words, a hospice in space.
"This power situation is no picnic. Food would have to rationed even more drastically than it has been since Breakaway. In addition, we all have a major case of pneumonia coming at some time in the near future. Just ask Lars Manroot. He'll tell you what it's like to sleep sitting up with a catheter on one end, and a bed pan on the other. We'd have to learn to work--and sleep--in bitter coldness. Ang,' I don't quibble with those projections, but frankly, I'm not banking on a sustained half level either.
"So." The commander said, eyes widening with irritation at longsuffering Anna, and the Power Of Positive Farro. "We stay here, and struggle, or we die a horrible, pathetic death of starvation down on the planet.
"That choice is easy.
"Paul you wanted an answer for the good of morale. Alright then--here it is:
"We are NO-GO on Operation Exodus."
Luke watched his own metier turn on him like an angry bull. His cocky-ass attitude was shoved down his Omar Shariff-impersonating throat with extreme prejudice. He felt as though he had been run over by a truck.
"You sure about that?" Carter arbitrated with red ears--he was unable to emote the appropriate protest since his jawbones that were hinged on ice.
"Yes, Captain I'm sure about that." Koenig replied ultimately while grasping his mug of iced soybean derivative.
"At least we would be able to re-establish the essential nutrients in the Hydroponics Farms," Sandra Benes spoke up, concurring, after comparing Melita Kelly's report to Doctor Russell's basic nutritional requirement synopsis. "The variety certainly would not be there as many of the green plants would struggle in a 55 Fahrenheit climate but at least we have them. According to Dr. Russell's report, we would be severely lacking in key vitamins and minerals if we went to Arkadia."
"Lacking these nutrients would not become apparent immediately but we would eventually come down with several possible muscular and digestion disorders," Russell continued with her medical lecture.
"But if a few of us go," Anna Davis continued, "with enough supplies to last for a few cycles, it is possible our chances of survival would be greater."
"No," Russell shook her head. "You don't understand that the amount of provisions you would need would be such that it would not be enough to sustain the needs of the people left on Alpha."
"Right," Ang jumped in with irritation, "and with the power levels we have now, we will only be able to maintain our supplies and ourselves. We won't be able to have bountiful harvests to make it up."
"Dr. Davis." Koenig said wearily. "Maybe too many of my brain cells have succumbed to the cold, but I fail to see why you and Farro are beating the drum for that planet. There's nothing down there but Poison Oak and prehistoric dog bones. Even with supplements from Alpha, any group that goes down would eventually share the same fate that we're trying to avoid now. If your initial crops fail--and let's face it...they will--you'll end up in a situation that would make the most ascetic vegetarian look like a junk food junkie. Try frying up some whole tree bark for supper.
"Then there's the staffing problem. The idea of rejoicing over your first ear of corn may complete you. But everyone here knows why we can't toss a coin, or draw lots in situations like this. The base is not equipt for full-scale automation. Those workstations out there have to be manned. If you break apart one community to form a new one, both will die.
"We could maybe afford to lose an old scientist or two." The commander conceded.
"Not me." Bergman sat up, hoping that his mechanical heart could deal with the suspended blueberry juice that was circulating inside him. "I'm here for the duration."
"Fuzzy data," Ferro commented to Koenig, glaring at Ang. "You let one woman's information decide our fate."
"FUZZY DATA?!?!" Ang blurted angrily. "The data is not fuzzy. It is what it is. Are you stupid, Luke or just a raging fanatic?"
"Computer has corroborated the data," Kano replied. "There is nothing 'fuzzy' about it." His defense was more on the order of defending computer rather than backing up one of his people.
"I will tell you the truth." Farro said with thunder. Suddenly he was Othello, in the grievous dock while Brabantio swore charges against him. "Then you will have to believe me. Believe us." He smiled thinly, haplessly, at Anna Davis. "While we were on the planet. I did more than commune with a mystery, and take pictures of kindred elms. Investigator Starns was watching me. Scrutinizing me. All day. I know he was."
Bergman exchanged incredulous glances with Ang.'
"But he did go for coffee once." Farro said precipitously. "That was when Anna, and I returned to the excavation. At first, it was like darkness. The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death." He equivocated to Helena Russell who was lost, totally lost, without a shred as to what he was talking about. "Then I began to see double."
"You saw double?" Sandra Benes noted. Her family had raised her to show compassion towards the mentally handicapped.
"Yes." Luke said with a faraway gimlet. "Then the skeletons...they began to speak."
"???WHAT???" Morrow exclaimed, enraged, popeyed, and astonished that he had been duped into listening this far.
"There was one for each of us." Farro preached, grasping Davis' hand tighter. "One for her; one for me. One, and one makes three. I forgot the talking dog because I didn't see him myself. I was in another district of space."
"Commander, he's mad as a hatter." Morrow animadverted.
"What the fuck are you talking about?" Carter echoed, mouthing bluntly.
"I knew you would understand." Farro confessed, relieved.
"He's pazzo!" Tony Verdeschi blurted as he finally rose from his chair. He was ready for action, excessive force, the type he preferred other than the 'action' of casually bedding the ladies.
Anna moved herself in front of Ferro, acting as a human shield. Sandra looked down shaking her head, quickly scribbling the page under her flimsie. Another one of her people had gone off the deep end. 'Psyche eval?' were the words on the note she discreetly passed to Helena Russell. Russell glanced at her in acknowledgement.
"Luke," Ang sighed deeply, "do you realize how crazy that sounds?"
She felt sadly compelled to help him see the light of reason. Perhaps it was a desire not to see her brother inflict unnecessary physical harm and she took pity on the lunatic. Later, she would realize that she should have said nothing and let Tony and Starns lock him up in the Psyche Ward of Medical Center.
"Skeletons speaking? Talking dogs? Another district of space?" She repeated calmly. She glanced at Carter who had long, long ago decided that Ferro was a hopeless mental case. She knew him well enough that rambling about talking bones, real life Scooby Doos and other dimensions only solidified his opinion. "I won't doubt it was a creepy place. I can see how a tired mind would also...well, let the imagination run wild."
"It was a long trip," Bergman reiterated compassionately. "I'm feeling the need for a long nap myself. No doubt, everyone is feeling disappointed Operation Exodus is cancelled. But we have to face facts. Given the two situations and given the chances of long term survival, the commander is correct in his decision."
"And I think we need to support him," Bergman took an empty seat, his legs and back thanking him for the relief. He sipped at his sno-cone consistency Vitaseed, staring thoughtfully over the rim of the mug at Anna and Luke.
"THE ANSWER IS 'NO.'" John Koenig blared at the two angrily, but the frost of vengeance melted in the milk of good will. Ferro realized now the extremity of the commander's misdirection.
Anna Davis firmly but gently placed her hand on Ferro's forearm. "I'm sorry, Commander," she looked at him with downcast, doe-like eyes. "We were wrong to come here and bother you. We should have accepted your decision without question but...but we so hate it here."
Koenig continued to stare. There was no room for whining teenagers on Moonbase Alpha and the Commander, exhausted and with ample desire to wring some necks, had zero patience with these particular two people.
"We will leave now. Have a good night," Anna finished contritely while pulling Ferro through the door.
Of course, it was not over. Of course, they had a backup plan. The trip in the travel tube was not long and they stepped into the corridor which led them to the main dining complex. It was 0145 Lunar time meaning that 3/4 of the Alphans were freezing in their beds, in thermal sleeping bags, like an autumn night camping out in the mountains. The other 1/4 of the Alphan population working night mode had just finished their lunch break. Marcus Profitt, followed by Clare Bradford, nearly ran into Luke Ferro, though it was Ferro who was not paying attention to where he was going.
"Appnin.'" Marcus Profitt said casually, and then froze and pivoted on his Welshman's heels for a longer, better gander at the walking, March Of Dimes telethon that Luke Ferro had become. His disshelved hair twisted upwardly into a nastafied' cowlick. This was contrasted by Anna Davis, grooving on to a ubiquitous something that defied reality, and almost caused her to trip over her own feet. "He's in another world." Profitt noticed. "And she's only scheduling zombie processes."
"I heard that." Ferro said while marching stoutheartedly into the light of necessary evil.
Paul Morrow and Sandra Benes occupied a secluded booth. Benes sat with head back and eyes closed and attempting to put a dent in the fatigue, clutching the thermal blanket around her petite shoulders. Morrow sat with elbows on the table, holding a once steaming cup of coffee between his hands, deep in thought. Otherwise, the dining complex was empty. Anna and Luke, hand in hand, quickly walked across to them and slid into the seats across them.
Sandra jerked her head forward, awake from the intrusion.
"We want to talk to you," Anna Davis began. "Of all the command staff, both of you are the most reasonable."
"No." Morrow said evenly, living down to her expectations--and proud of it. He then shook his fumigating head at Sandra Benes while clenching a neo-violent fist against his chin. His response was a suicidal birthday cake of self pity for his half empty cup on Moonbase Alpha; it was universal wrath at the cancellation of an eminent evacuation; it was genuine dislike for men who don't comb their hair.
"How can you say 'no.' I haven't even said anything." Ferro promulgated.
"You were at the meeting." Morrow turned, and gazed at them sullenly. In his mind, he was breaking their necks...crushing them to a powder...grinding them into smeghead stew...but that was inappropriate. "It takes an odd fish not to have heard the resolution to the problem. We're not leaving. We're staying here.
"Consider the situation adjusted, and get back to your post." He said, totally narked and then winked at the cartographer's companion--Joan Of Arkadia. "Both of you."
"Why are you here?" Sandra Benes blurted, totally steamed and pissed off at her two yellow sleeved department heads.
"You," she pointed to Anna Davis with vitriol, "what has happened to you? You WERE one of my most dependable and mature people in the Service Section."
In fact, Sandra had been considering making Anna Davis an Assistant Chief of Services; that is, until their encounter with Arkadia.
"Now," she went on, "you leave your post and you carry on disgustingly like some juvenile, love sick adolescent."
Anna Davis merely stared at her as she sat too deeply into Ferro's personal space, holding his hand with interlocking fingers. She looked briefly to Morrow for mercy and intervention. He gave her none. He continued staring into his half empty mug.
"And you," Sandra went on, turning her ire on Ferro, "Are you completely insane? Do you realize what I had to do to convince Dr. Russell NOT to have you committed into the mental ward today? What in the hell is wrong with you, Luke?"
Her dark eyes became nearly black with rage and impatience.
"I realize that a person who has hallucinations may impress others as being crazy." Ferro allowed. "But think of the long-term potential for settling that world. We would be the progenitors of a new race of humans--a second coming, if you like, and we could educate our society in the ways of peace, and art. Pacifism, and diplomacy would prevail. It's an opportunity to rewrite the book from page one."
"Really?" Morrow said, masking his nausea with sardonic jocoseness. "Tell me more."
He inclined his ear, and uncorked his heart.
"The countless wars we fought on Earth." Ferro enumerated unhistorically. "We could have a culture that would never know Roman Emperors like Hitler, and Spanish despots like Napoleon. Look at the wholesale insanity of nuclear weapons testing during World War One--that was where it all began, you see, at Yukon Flats."
"Yukon Flats." Morrow said sympathetically. "I remember it well...."
"How many millions of graves had to be dug in our century alone." The cartographer continued, building his case with prolix, and unblushed subnormality. "Then there's Breakaway."
"Right." Morrow agreed. "You forgot Swanson, though. Have we forgot the vital lesson he taught us when he took the jawbone of a philistine and whipped a thousand asses?"
"Sorry." Ferro apologized sincerely for missing such a central allegory.
"Yes, well, that's all very well and good." The controller avowed. "But the answer is still 'no.'"
Sandra let out a long sigh. Paul was just playing with them and Ferro did not see it. She was both amused and irritated at the controller for doing so. She was not amused in the very least with Ferro or Davis.
"I REALLY suggest you return to your posts," Sandra stated unclimatically.
"But Sandra," Anna appealed, "Paul...you don't understand. It is our destiny to be on Arkadia. To bring life back to that world. Perhaps..." she glanced at Ferro then back to them again. "Perhaps it is your destiny too. You and Paul. Wouldn't you rather be living on a planet...together? Wouldn't you rather start a family there as opposed to this...this prison? Do you really want to raise your children here?"
Davis was almost frothing at the mouth.
"Do you feel better?" Morrow said, dropping his bunched paper napkin on the table; he was there, but remotely facing the stars. Like his trust, the quantities were few in number in the cthonian realm that surrounded Arkadia, and her newly acquired Moon. "I hope that you do, because you're going to need that tapped off feeling to help you through the next few weeks.
"I'm pulling both of you from active duty."
He didn't ask for Sandra Benes' permission. The measure was simply an established, dictatorial fact. Then again, the controller was a Duvalier, oppressive kind of person. He was not especially likeable--no one bellowed 'HEY PAUL' down the corridors at him. He was the only person on Moonbase Alpha who could brighten a room by leaving it, as STC Andy Dempsey would readily attest. Overnight deputy Mark Winters considered him a mofo.'
But of his dedication to principle--his own, unique doctrines--and the survival of this mazed, apostate base, there could be no question.
A rumpling of the forehead was the only indication of even a bastard's sensitivity towards the service manager's office, but in an instant it was gone.
"While you're lounging around, eating food you haven't worked for, and drinking water rations that someone else deserves more--imparting nothing towards the future of this colony, I would suggest you remember one thing: no matter how badly we may hate our life here, it will never be worth sacrificing the people who depend on us to save them, just so a handful of opportunists like yourselves can run, and gallivant through the woods on some mingy, backwater world."
"You seem rather upset." Ferro detected.
Sandra Benes glanced angrily between Ferro, Davis and Morrow. Then Morrow, Davis and Ferro. She repeated the sequence several times during the exchange.
"On second thought," Sandra amended, "Luke, report to Medical for a Psyche evaluation. Anna, you are confined to your quarter until I have the opportunity AND inclination to speak with you."
"That's fine." Ferro replied accommodatingly. "We can chat later."
"LEAVE." She stood up, presenting an intimidating figure despite her 5'2", petite frame. "Leave before I regrettably involve Security to ensure your exit."
Davis looked downcast and thoroughly disappointed. Her eyes filled will tears, like a child who is being sent to the woodshed. Sandra watched them go though she knew intuitively that she had not heard the end of it. Her gut told her they would be making trouble.
She should have listened to her gut.
"Paul," she turned to gather her pile of flimsies with gloved hands, as she threw the scarf around her neck with a flick of her delicate wrist.
"My next course of action was to relieve them both but you did not give me the opportunity." She huffed, billowing great flumes of condensation with her surpressed anger. "You may be the deputy commander, second in command but Service Section is MY area and those are MY people."
"I trust and seek out your advice but at least show me the respect you profess in me as Chief of Services by giving me a chance to deal with my people before stepping in. When I need your help, believe me, I will ask."
"Sorry." Morrow responded pitilessly while patting his own, brooding, gloved hands together. "It's difficult not to slip--especially when you're standing on a precipice of snow."
Her voice soften but her face was still neutral. "According to Gonzales, the choice at the 0700 meal is limited. Soy derivative oatmeal or imitation farina. Which would you prefer?"
He told her wearily that he would probably settle for a drink instead-the usual ice water, shaken; not stirred.
There were no travel tubes but physical exertion would generate warmth, right?
Despite the almost 20 degree Fahrenheit temperature, Angelina Verdeschi had been chilled to the bone for so long, that the slight increase was negligible as far as her hands, feet and face were concerned. After having the "luxury" of a mere 3 hours sleep, she was on duty for only 5 minutes and the complaints, the whining started in an unrelenting deluge. Everyone wanted more power and what was available had to be rationed in timed phases. Once again, David Kano had disappeared into the bowels of the Central Computer Room, ignoring the rest of Technical and once again, an agitated Morrow had summoned Ang to recommend a plan of power allotment to the Command Staff.
The walk to the Command Tower and up the stairs to Main Mission did nothing to thaw Angelina Verdeschi. The temperature was still even colder as she reached Level B, her exhalations making great plumes of condensation. As she approached the auditorium, she had heard the commotion but she was so single minded in her task, she ignored the instinctual red flags.
It happened so fast.
Paul cursed himself-he should have seen it coming. Again, he'd failed Alpha-and this time, in the worst way possible. He was definitely slipping: he'd even watched the careful setup and paid no heed. Had he been back in The Zone, he'd be dead now.
He glanced at Sandra's eyes, his hands instinctively open and palms-forward, several inches away from where his laser on the right and commlock on the left would've been, had they not been sitting on the floor against the base of the trio of stairs that led up to the Commander's office...along with everyone else's communications and weapons, a rough tumble of equipment slid across the floor.
The two locked eyes for a moment, and deep in that gaze, he saw her forgiveness, her understanding-and it warmed his heart. No one had seen this coming...then her eyes jumped...and she stood...and his heart sank again.
Briefly, Ang saw Commander Koenig, Doctor Russell, the Professor, Paul Morrow and Alan congregated around the CAPCOMM station, staring slightly to the left of the entrance, as she crossed over the threshold of the archway. Sandra Benes jumped up from her chair and attempted to warn her with a desperate wave but it was too late.
Angelina felt the icy claw close around her neck and pull her violently backwards. Something hard and cold pressed against her right ear and she quickly realized it was a laser.
"Now, Koenig," her kidnapper challenged, "you will do as I say. Get those supplies or I will kill her."
"LUKE!!" Angelina spat, "what in the hell are you doing?!?!?" Then a glance at the woman beside him, his cohort. She could not believe it; the ultimate betrayal. "Anna?!?!"
"You'll want to be real, goddamn careful when considering that option, Jack." Alan Carter guaranteed from the CAPCOMM station. And yet, he was not tense, or unnerved. One of his palms rested atop the ordinance display on his panel; the other was braced--in true O. Henry style--against the ingress prep' report for Eagle 3-7.
"Luke," Paul heard his voice say, "give it up. There's no where to go." His old reactions were coming back online, that primitive forebrain providing a solution actually without telling him about it.
"Alright." Koenig said tempestuously after glimpsing at the green flimsy beneath Carter's fist which threatened to blossom into a fisticuffs. "An Eagle, fueled and ready for launch. Now release Dr. Verdeschi."
"We'll need at least an hour." The pilot said poisonously. "Minimum. From countdown kickoff to S-4D ignition command. If you expect to land on that Freckle anytime soon it will take longer."
"Commander." The assistant director of security, Pierce Quenton, burst through the opposite, unterrorized archway with Truman Starns in tow. The investigator, being who he was, and what his title portended, was the first to notice the laser that was trained on Angelina Verdeschi's right ear. It didn't require years and years of experience in UN, and NATO service to realize that her fate was in someone else's hands. "There's been an attack on the Protein Store.
Starns nudged the AD cautiously while remaining in a relaxed, non-defensive posture.
"Bloody hell." Quenton exclaimed, realizing that the suspect was now, officially a perpetrator.
"Call off the security sweep." Koenig instructed while taking probationary steps away from the trench to face Luke Ferro. "An Eagle...what else?" The cartographer who now would be known as Donald DeFreeze of the Stars tilted his head to the side so as to include Harness Bull Duncan in his range assessment.
"A moonbuggy." He said with climbing, mortal baritone. "Stores and supplies to last us three years."
"Do you have any idea what that will do to us?" The commander replied calmly--his subject, verb and direct object turning to plumes of cold and then dissipating on the countenance of madness. He was only five feet away now. "No matter how you cut it, Ferro--THAT PLANET IS DEAD, LIFELESS, AND IF YOU TAKE A PROVISION ORDER LIKE THAT, YOU MIGHT AS WELL SAY THAT ALPHA IS DEAD TOO."
Victor Bergman stepped forward from the silence of stagnant, glacial air and attempted to argue a case for sanity.
"Luke, what you ask for comes with a price and it will be a terrible one. Is that really what you want?"
"Anna," Angelina began with amazing calm, "think about what you're doing. Of course you're desperate. I understand how you feel but.."
"SHUT UP!!!" Ferro shouted with rage, cutting her off with his hand clamping around her throat. "Do as I say, Koenig, or this woman's blood will be on YOUR hands."
"Make my day, Ferro," everyone looked around as Tony Verdeschi, on the top of the steps in front of Koenig's desk, slurred with laser rifle aimed at the fanatic and his hostage. Verdeschi took aim, fancying himself a heroic sharpshooter in his inebriated mind. Afterall, it worked for Dirty Harry.
"Go ahead," the Chief of Security taunted. "Shoot my little sister and give me the pleasure of splattering your worthless ass and the carcass of your bitch all over Main Mission."
Paul's face didn't shift but for a small tic at the corner of his right eye. A quote of truth from Emerson popped into mind: *A hero is no braver than any ordinary man-but he is braver for five minutes longer.* In this case, however, the phrase might have been 'drunker for five minutes longer.' His eye, professionally trained, noted a minor detail that only the drunkest would've missed: the powerpack was improperly installed-there was no way the weapon would fire.
Angelina's jaw dropped. She knew (hoped) Tony was bluffing but she trembled slightly not so much from her predicament but from the fact that directly behind his target were the viewports to the lunar surface. The Chief of Security had been tapping into his home brew again and a misfire would shatter the windows, making a disastrous end for everyone in the auditorium.
"Luke, Anna," Sandra Benes had approached from under the big screen, ignoring the Italian Last Action Hero. "Put down the weapon and let Angelina go. It is not too late. I understand and I want to help you both."
"NO!!!" Ferro recoiled, his grip tightening. Ang felt the momentary horrific sensation of not being able to breath. He relaxed his grip enough for her to involuntarily gasp for air. "Call off your dog!!" He motioned to Verdeschi. "AND GET ME THOSE SUPPLIES!!"
"Do it, Commander," Anna Davis affirmed with calm determination.
"Quenton." Koenig's face crunched with stymie, and excessive annoyance. He briefly considered apologizing to Ferro for bottlenecking his hostage negotiation but felt neither of them deserved it. "Duncan. Get him out of my face."
The harness bull carefully pulled the rocket laser away from Verdeschi who was too schtupped' in the head to realize that he was cocking an air rifle now. Quenton hustled up the steps and pushed the boozer towards open hatch of the RTC. On the opposite side, there was a loud thud as he collapsed on the floor face first. The AD closed out the room and left the coordinator to his narcotized dreams of Beer Margaritas; and Beer Cheese; and Cajun Fried Fish with Beer; and Danish Beer Soup; and good, old Italian Castello Beer.
He was a goat amongst men and his courage was 190% pure grain. Paul mentally shook his head again. That had been the last straw-Tony Verdeschi now topped his very short list of expendable personnel that were classed as a liability to Alpha. Victor Bergman regarded this expulsion from crisis indifferently. He gesticulated at Ferro and Ang' without opine.
"It's not as bad as it seems." Ferro insisted but he was loosing his grip on Ang' out of pure sympathy. "I must admit that I am having a sudden attack of conscience for leaving you under these conditions but this I will ameliorate."
"Our task is to return the Seeds to their place of origin. If Alpha is to be the sacrificial lamb, then so be it. You are in God's hands my friends...and judging by some of the morons on this base, you will need every, single ounce of that Heavenly justice."
"You say you are the true Prophet of the One God, then," Paul asked, playing for time. "That requires a bit more than faith on our part." Human life was cheap-or had been. In this case, the relative value of Luke Ferro was rising quickly-and was approaching parity with the price of a single bullet. When it exceeded that value, the bullet would be cheaper. With the cost effectiveness rising...his finger itched.
"Well...." Bergman said and compared his own, burgeoning awareness with the look on John Koenig's face.
"Ferro, you do realize this planet may be located smack in the middle of hyperspace don't you?" The commander said, frustrated. "Have you already forgotten what happened on the surface?"
"And if it is..." Bergman added. "all of your beliefs may be nothing more than delusion and daemonic reality."
"No." The cartographer NONONONONONONO'ed only with grace and tact. "Our destiny is clear. It has been since the moment the first Arkadians came to Earth."
Parity was achieved; Paul glanced at his wrist, checking time. There was no way that they could possibly stall these negotiations until Alpha was past the launch window.
Carter shook his head slowly and affirmed the controller's sink by turning the liftoff clock where he could see it. The box had four expiring faces:
WIN LO EMT GMT
01:30 00:00 00:00 31:47
Kate Bullen, the range officer a la mode also dashed Morrow's hopes of conquest by garrulousness by mouthing a silent, undefeatable 'NO' from her position by the open MPSR Room.
Anna Davis' attention had been diverted to the balcony. At the railing, Lars Manroot stood, wishing he had a laser. He could have gotten a clear shot at Ferro the Fanatic but instead, he was only able to watch the scene. However, next to him, but not visible to him, a hooded and robed, though distinctly feminine figure stood with the canine creature sitting regally beside her on the floor. Both inanimates appeared to be watching the situation.
"Luke," she touched Ferro gently on the elbow and motioned toward the balcony. "See? She guides us."
"Yes," Ferro smiled in elation. "The woman who spoke to you. The talking dog."
"They give us strength, courage." Anna continued transfixed. "Our purpose is clear."
Ang, like the rest of the Main Mission staff-in varying degrees, of course-glanced up. She-and the rest-only saw Lars Manroot give the empty space beside him a sidewise glance.
"Who's giving you strength?" Carter said with contempt. "Are you having a burning bush moment? Go bite your bum."
"Alan." Koenig said mutely. For the sake of erratic normalcy, he decided to inspect the balcony level and saw nothing except a perplexed Lars Manroot and a view of the Arkadian sequencer which poured light through the observation windows like the reddened surreal of a gothic painting. He had no doubt that the epiphany was authentic to Ferro and Davis but that knowledge did nothing to place Ang' Verdeschi on the non-laser side of the trench. The barrel was pointing dead center of her jugular vein now and any attempt to mug the Pope and Mother Teresa would end in a knee-jerk act of homicide.
Ferro's grip loosened even more and a momentary wave of acknowledgement with his laser hand gave Angelina her chance. With a quick backward thrust she elbowed Ferro in the ribs. Luke howled and Anna produced her laser and fired on Main Mission Operative Peter Grant.
The laser was set on kill. Burning wool and flesh instantaneously filled the room along with the echoes of his agonized howls. Sandra, true to form, screamed; she was not alone: the only two of the non-possessed that did not seem to react were Koenig and Morrow.
Unfortunately, although Luke released Ang, she slipped on her own red flimsied power consumption report which she had dropped when she was first grabbed by Ferro. This thwarted her escape and though Carter attempted to round the desk when she broke free, Ferro managed to get to her first. She cried out in pain as he grabbed her by the hair and pulled her to a standing position, the laser once again pressed against her ear.
"Commander," Anna Davis remarked coldly. "Get those supplies. I don't want to kill Ang but I will if you force me to do so. Nothing will stop us from fulfilling our destiny." She glanced at the blackened remains of the unfortunate Grant. "Nothing."
Koenig turned slowly and studied the bamboozled, jaw dropping vigilance of the operatives in the front and back rows. Then there was the macabre, one plus ultra of having to avoid the carbonized, blackened debris field that had once been Pete Grant and his uniform. Somewhere in the fooforaw, Dot' Sullivan bolted from the MPSR Room and started a frenzied triage to save Grant's burned torso. He didn't need to look at Saint Ferro and Arkadia's sanctified Madonna to know where they stood.
They were fucked up. That's where they stood.
"Paul." He said, glancing downward at the gnarled oblong that used to be Grant's commlock. "Order up the supplies and have them stored on the Eagle. Alan, begin pre-launch procedures."
When he looked up from his analysis of Grant's molten, left boot, he saw that no one was moving.
Morrow stared, a slight pulsing of a vein at his right temple pounding a martial beat. "Commander..." he growled, clearly in disagreement.
"!!!DO IT!!!" The commander skreighed angrily with veins emerging like pipes on his terminal forehead.
Ferro was mollified and he displayed this with a long exhale.
"Be warned, Koenig." The cartographer said while retreating through the archway with a handful of Ang' Verdeschi's hair. "Man is a chimera. Betray us and contradiction and disaster will prevail. A depository of truth is preferable to anarchy." He went on, rewriting Aesop's Fables while making good his escape. "My advice to you is--be an earthworm.
"They're more flexible."
And then they were gone with Ang' as a pawn in a game of lethal, mental illness.
Morrow reacted. "God damn them."
The third, least inhibited person on the base was Victor Bergman. In matters of verbal expostulation, the scientist with a mechanical heart was surgically mean and ferine. Therefore: "No...we need those supplies, John." He said coarsely.
They anointed Koenig's already aching head with Homeric lumps...his incompetence runneth over.
The champion two years running was, of course, Alan Carter--consider this analysis, simple but acidic:
"I can't believe you just let them walk." He remarked with incredible disdain and festoon. "We'll pay for that wonky, you'd better believe it. SHE HASN'T GOT A DEVIL OF A CHANCE NOW."
"THEY'RE NOT GOING TO KILL HER." The commander argued an exacerbating rhetorical question that they clearly had no time for. "IF ANGELINA DIES, THE GAME IS OVER. FERRO AND DAVIS KNOW THAT."
Their rods and their staffs, they discomforted him.
"IF WE HAD HANDLED IT HERE, COMMANDER, WE MIGHT HAVE CONTAINED THE SITUATION." Dot' Sullivan spouted off, castigating him while she and Helena Russell labored to resurrect Pete Grant from the barbecue rotisserie, but Death had no interest in the miracles of medicine. "NOW WE'RE GOING TO GET A DOUBLE DOSE.
"THAT MANIAC HAS LEARNED HOW TO GET WHAT HE WANTS. YOU TAUGHT HIM.
"THERE WILL BE NO END TO THE KILLING."
The second, hot iron on the base--Koenig knew--was Morrow. On his best day, Morrow was proof that an anger management case could go far in the World Space Commission. The exec' loved nothing better than to electrocauterize a command conference, and usually for reasons much less salient. He hoped to be saved by the bell but didn't count on it.
Yea,' they led him into the Valley Of The Shadow Of The Riot Act.
Paul reacted, moving immediately from his position towards his normal Operations station. "Goddamn it," he snarled again, his fury focused towards anyone, everyone everywhere with a black sleeve or a laser set to kill. "We give them what they want, we don't recover-we die in place." He stared at the Commander. "You've just killed us all."
Any second now, spitwads and cold tomatoes.
Sandra Benes stared at the empty doorway, shaking her head. "Commander, let me talk to them. Perhaps," she bit her lip, hoping but not really believing," perhaps I can talk with Anna. Perhaps I can talk some sense into her."
She already knew talking sense into Luke Ferro would be mission: impossible. "NO, CAN'T YOU SEE?" The commander saw, with appalling realization. "WE HAVE TO FOLLOW THIS THING THROUGH TO THE END."
"Commander," Sandra went on. "If we give them what they want..." Out of the corner of her eye, Alan Carter appraised her with a hint of hostility. She began again. "If we give them what they want, we will never be able to recover."
"You will doom us to die."
Pete Grant was the only Main Mission operative without a quip.
"She's right." Victor Bergman bunted with horrible virtue. "There are three hundred other people on this base. We just can't do it, John--not for Angelina, not for anyone."
"FINE." Koenig blew up. "LET'S SEND A GARRISON TO 'ASSIST' THEM TO SECURITY SECTION. WANT TO KNOW HOW THAT WILL TURN OUT?" He glared. "Dr. Verdeschi will die--AND FERRO WILL DECOMPRESS AN ENTIRE COMPARTMENT WHEN HE VAPORIZES ONE OF THE VYCOR SEALS WITH HIS LASER. HOW MANY MORE WILL DIE THEN? HOW MANY HEADS ARE WE GOING TO HAVE TO MOUNT ON STICKS IN THE NAME OF COMMUNAL SURVIVAL?
"AND WHEN DOES IT STOP BEING WORTH IT?"
"He's right," Helena Russell stood up, defending Koenig's position. She was perhaps the only one in the room to do so. Dr. Sullivan noted the time of death in her palm pilot as the medical team coming under the right archway slowed its pace. There was no need to hurry now.
"Every person on this base is priceless," Russell went on. 'Even Tony Verdeschi,' she thought reluctantly. "The day we assign value to an individual human life is the day we devalue ourselves....all of us." She stated looking around.
Paul glared at the Commander, his mouth prepared to speak and spew volcanic vehemence at Koenig, then he just...stopped. "Goddamn," he said softly, and hit the comm switch on his desk.
"There must be a way to do this." The physician turned to Koenig. "To save Angelina and those supplies."
"You have thirty minutes, no more." Ferro told Carter over the map room photocopier, causing the pilot to symbolically snap his Number Two pencil (while fondly fantasizing that it was something else). What they needed was toner, but instead, they got 'tone.' Superbly, the outlaw cartographer's repining beefs and his Edward G. Robinson imitation. Farro didn't take offense to having lead broken for his name's sake. The background on the monitor was blue, but his moustache, and chiseled slur continued to rail their capitol demands.
Beyond the frost-framed observation window, Eagle 3-7 sat on the exit end of the conveyor belt while the pad crews maintained constant pressure on the Aerozine feed lines. Carter caught a glimpse of Coop,' hands turned blue now, ratcheting shut panel number three on the spacecraft's service module. Bram Cedrix was walking the centraline of the bird, inspecting the results of the preliminary checklist from on high.
Some would no doubt die to ensure the vehicle's safe departure, which made the cartographer's hallowed ultimatums all the more worthy of gory manslaughter.
"Gotcha.'" The pilot responded coolly. How could he respond otherwise? "Remember one thing, Ferro. Fifteen hours is a long time, mate. This had better be a beaut, or I'll plant you right alongside those motherfucking seeds."
This is chaos, the cartographer inwardly fretted. Chaos. Instantly, his boots were too tight for him.
He was beginning to have second thoughts, but then the astral, Moral Majority of Arkadia teamed up on him, and extended their tongues as far as they needed to go in order to dupe him, and placate him. Before it was over, his beeswax was clear to him again.
And who cares if a couple, two, three hundred hornets were stinging him to death?
"You need to relax," Anna Davis motioned to Angelina Verdeschi with her free hand. The other hand held the laser, all four horizontal barrels directly aimed at her. Angelina, hands bound behind her back, was wedged uncomfortably between five high octagon shaped boxes of Luke Ferro's favorite items: seeds.
Above, Bram Cedrix footsteps echoed through the cabin as he completed his exterior inspection.
"How can I relax when you have that thing pointed at me?" Ang answered wryly.
"I'm sorry," Anna Davis looked truly apologetic. "But you pulled that stunt in Main Mission, trying to escape."
"You KILLED Peter Grant," Ang accused icily. "Have you no remorse for that?"
"NO!" Davis rebuttalled angrily jumping up toward her. The laser was no more than two inches from her face. "YOUR action caused Peter's death."
"But it was Koenig who is ultimately responsible." She smiled, sitting closer to her. "Hush now. Yes, it was Koenig who killed Grant. Not you...and certainly not me." Davis caressed Angelina's cheek with the butt of the laser. Angelina repulsed, showed no emotion and did not flinch. She expected a blow but it did not come. Instead, Davis put the laser down and cupped Ang's face with both hands. She had tried to work at the bonds that confined her wrists from a matched set into a single entity but they were still too tight and she could not get her hands free.
"Maybe..."Anna began looking into her eyes. "Maybe it is your destiny to be on Arkadia too."
"How so?" Angelina whispered, containing her revulsion, as Davis was nearly nose to nose with the Power Generation Manager.
A sudden rush of adrenaline seared through all-and Ang' realized that her life had come a hearts-breadth away from ending when Anna's hand swooped, bringing the laser back up as though it were a bird-of-prey snatching a mouse as the diminutive Eagle Tech, Olivia deHavilland made her appearance from the cockpit. "Gotta downcheck the bird," she said, her hands out and open wide, her tiny right hand holding a circuit board. "Put the gun down," she continued, holding the circuitry out for inspection.
"Your flight stabilization system main coupling," the brunette explained, "I have to replace the board-takes about ten minutes, plus rechecks of the system to make sure it wasn't a cascade failure-or your trip will be into...well," she admits, "I dunno, but it'd probably be pretty damned short."
Seemingly non-plussed by the obvious threat of immediate death by hand or by laser, she put her hands on her coverall-covered hips, still holding the circuitboard. "I told you once," Livy bitched at Ang,"I told you a dozen times, Mike over in Fabrication ain't checking the absolute crap that comes off their lines." She crossed her arms almost petulantly. Continuing on as if nothing was wrong, "You need to sort out that damned section 'fore they kill someone."
"What are you doing, Carter?" Ferro analyzed the plastic case distrustfully. He pronounced the pilot's name as 'car-teer' and used the business end of his laser as a dilatory pointer.
Gordon Cooper looked up from the chart table long enough to bare his teeth, and then returned to plotting geodetic altitudes with a compass and an eraser. Harness Bull Judge inhaled several times--as if testing the tang, and the balm to see if Ferro was passing gas. The crow's nest was down to a skeleton crew on this. As few personnel as possible were assigned to meet the cartographer's capitol demands.
As inexplicable as it seemed to him, he was beginning to think that Alan Carter bore him some humongous, mungo grudge.
"This?" The pilot said non-threateningly, holding the container in clear view. "It's your reentry coordinates, Sport-o. We retrieved them from Eagle One's computer. It'd be terrible, just terrible if you came all this way only to get cooked the minute you hit the atmosphere."
He opened the plastic lid, and showed the cartographer the software.
"Thank you...." Ferro said.
Carter tossed him the disc. "No problem." He replied cheerfully and then leaned over Coops' shoulder to see how the return voyage was progressing, in theory.
"Look." The cartographer stammered, stepping apologetically forward. "I want you to know that I really appreciate your practical approach to all of this. None of this has been a personal affront towards you.
"I hope you haven't taken it that way." His cheeks were redolent with shame.
"Who me?" The pilot said innocently, and then passed the cartographer a blinding grin. "Never. By the way, remember to activate your ILS landing system after you enter the atmosphere and not before."
"Because." Carter described. "I want you two to barf your guts out on Hydrazine fumes. I get a barbie every time I think about that."
Davis watched DeHavilliand exit the passenger module of the Eagle, down the steps, closing the door on her as she glanced back at Angelina. She felt the ship shake as the giant overhead crane locked into the centraline of the ship.
"Here," Davis sat in front of her again, with a mug of water. "You must be thirsty. Poor dear."
Angelina hesitated. She felt terrified and didn't trust her. She was also weary. The tension of constant and real threat of being killed by these fanatics was wearing her down. Davis was teetering on the lunatic edge but aggravating the woman would have been disadvantageous in her present situation.
"Let me help you." Davis lifted the mug to Ang's lips. Despite the perpetual coldness of the air, the ice cold water relieved her parched throat. "Better?" Anna cooed maternally.
Angelina nodded tentatively.
"Yes," Davis had the far away look in her eye. "Our chances would be better." She focused on Ang again, tracing the power manager's lips with her index finger. "I invite you to share in our destiny. Angelina, we would be the mothers of the race of New Arkadia."
Her gentle tracing continued along Ang's jaw then down her throat, to the neck of her tunic.
"Think of it," Anna continued. "Your children and mine. The next generation would combine to create the beginnings of a super race."
Davis' finger found its way across her shoulder, moving smoothly down her breast.
"From our genes, we would create a bold society; a brave new world which, one day, would be the envy of the universe." Davis finished seductively as she grazed Angelina's left nipple. "What do you say?"
Angelina's face instantly changed from neutral to disgust. She spat in the other woman's face.
"DON'T TOUCH ME, YOU DEMENTED BITCH!" Angelina delivered her 'answer' to the offer. "I would rather die on Alpha."
Davis' fury from rejection was unleashed in the backhand that sent Angelina reeling, knocking her head hard into an octagon container labeled "NUTS". Ang thought her cheek would explode, as light gradually crept back into her sudden world of dark shadows.
"So be it," Davis condemned with a hint of disappointment. Then, she turned and joined Ferro in the Command module.
"How's our going-away present?" Carter asked pad leader Tom Morningstar, who was in cahoots with Bram Cedrix, who had aligned himself in the tryst-axis that had been wakened by Yul Ostrog, and Morgan Lestrade and Daphne Carnac--the latter and the former being guileful representatives of the jet propulsion dome.
They were standing by the open hatch of the rogue, Eagle 3-7 which was almost ready for departure.
"Oh, it's a dandy." Morningstar expressed, but then abstained at the sight of a caliginous, grumbler Ferro exiting the aft equipment bay.
"Nice." Carter approved and then saw John Koenig, Victor Bergman, and Paul Morrow approaching ten meters below the bilge.
The spacecraft was already hooked to the crawler. Her landing pads were suspended in mid-air as the block house awaited the final close-out call which would open the hangar doors, and begin the process of moving the vessel onto the conveyor, and then the transient, and after that, the final transposition to Launch Pad Four. Boot heels echoed against the wet concrete as the commander gripped the rail and began to climb the athwartship gangway. He was followed by Morrow and then Bergman-still gripping his ferociously freezing shoulders with both numb hands--who still managed a polite nod of the head towards Ostrog who was whistling a jig and carrying his tool chest towards the tram.
"RP-FIVE ADJUST COMPLETE." Coops' voice reacted and rebounded over the intercom. "THE SPACECRAFT IS ON INTERNAL POWER."
There was a gentle, slightly dizzying leeway as Eagle 3-7 shifted against the sudden grind of the powered-up tractor driver.
"Alright Ferro." Koenig said without liturgy as he pushed past the others and entered the passenger module. "You've got what you want. Hand over Dr. Verdeschi."
Towards the bow, pad technician Oz Beechcroft slammed the hatch on the forepeak tank and gave Carter a professional thumbs up as he descended on the mobile lift.
"No." Ferro replied ponderously, scratching his nose with the kill aperture of his laser. "No, I don't think so."
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN 'NO?'" Carter attitudinized. He was no longer cold. He was galled.
"Are you stupid or something, mate?" Anna Davis mocked from behind Ferro while hustling Ang with her. The laser was clearly set on 'kill' and jammed into the back of her neck. The nuclear physicist was becoming weary of the situation and rather than fear, she was more angry than anything.
"Such a lovely race of misfits you'll breed," Angelina remarked hatefully at the woman who was once a friend, "if you survive beyond the first year."
"Shut the fuck up!" Davis retorted then focused on Koenig. "Commander, did you really think we would believe you'd just let us go after releasing Ang?"
In her own mind, Anna Davis was beginning to wonder how they survived the last few years under John Koenig's so called leadership.
"I give you my WORD," Koenig interrupted, "You will have safe passage to the planet."
"No," Anna shook her head. " Not good enough." Davis reflected a split second before continuing. "You will send an UNARMED ship and when we get to the halfway point, we will dock and return her to you."
"Don't hold your breath." He advised.
"Look." Bergman mediated along different lines. Frostbite was a powerful motivator, and the high bay's ceiling fans were helping tremendously. "Luke, Anna...it's still not too late. Forget about all of this and there's still a place for you here."
Ferro dragged deep on a local gust, emanating from an overflow on the tanks of supercritical on Morningstar's maintenance truck. There was a terrifying moment of imbalance when he realized just how high he had climbed. After all, one did not need to fly, like Icarus, to have one's wings melted. Arkadia's sun was too close, and yet, so was the deluge that surrounded Noah for forty days and forty nights. He could hardly allow a moment of sense and sensibility to block the Eightfold Path to precious, personal Nirvana.
The professor was under the influence of a demiurge--like the others. Imperfect...and a little dense. The slime bucket cartographer's face swelled with compassion.
"Our choice is made." He said with considerable mush.
It seemed to Carter that Ferro had the kind of face that made you want to choke him.
"C," Professor Bergman pronounced the 'C' as a 'K', "-at."
He slid the two cards together, one with the letter 'c' and one with the letters 'at'. "Cat," he repeated while his student, 2 year old Nicky Carter, studied then repeated the word. As if on cue, Caesar the cat jumped up onto the desk and sat statuesque in front of the flashcards.
"See?" Bergman pointed enthusiastically at the feline. "Cat. Just like Caesar." Caesar blinked but otherwise did not react.
"Cat," Nicky repeated then shook his head. "No 'cat'."
"Gatto." Nicky corrected as Koenig stepped into Bergman's quarters. "Il Gatto." Nicky giggled as Caesar gave him a glance and an apparent wink.
"Ahh," Bergman chuckled. "Momma has been speaking in Italian." He turned and acknowledge Koenig with a nod. "Nicky, the Commander would like to talk with me before we watch our show on television, but you can go ahead and start it."
"GILLIGAN!" The child jumped out of his chair. "Skipper," he grinned at Koenig attempting a salute.
"Carry on," the Commander with an equally wide grin returned the gesture. He watched as Nicky activated the television, powered on the DVD, carefully place the disk in the player then pushed the 'play' button on the remote.
The music played about another crew of castaways, another fateful trip, as Nicky sat Indian style on the floor in front of the TV.
"Well, John," Bergman sat back comfortably. "What brings you here?"
"Not the millionaire and his wife." Koenig absterged, scratching his whiskers. Arkadia was only a memory from the past. It was three years later and the Moon had moved on. And on. Black and white superimpositions of the Professor and Mary Ann beamed ludicrously at him over the jive wreckage of the SS Minnow. "We've got over 10,000 volumes in the Reference Library, Victor--and that's not counting the downloads available on the Basenet server.
"Show some compassion."
Bergman chuckled and glanced at his charge who was now comfortably reclining in the gray, mod imitation beanbag chair. Nicky chortled to the canned laughter of a long ago studio audience not because he understood the humor but because of the laughing in itself. It was contagious.
"Aww, John, there's nothing wrong with Gilligan's Island. It's clean and wholesome and his mother approves." Bergman shrugged. "Of course, I never would have dreamed when I watched it in its first run, that I would be watching it as a 'castaway' in an entirely different setting. Rather ironic."
Koenig wafted towards the professor's bulletin board, and examined the meticulous, plastic-type, publicity photographs that were plugged to the cork using red thumb tacks. There were three from Bergman's personal manifest of the Top Ten composers in music: Stravinsky, Bernstein, and an engraving of Bach. The maestros looked more or less severe. The formidable conductor of "West Side Story" wielded his wand like a club over the cello player's head.
Bach wouldn't budge.
Koenig woolgathered over the photograph of Stravinsky, tapping the savant's old, grey head with his right index finger.
"Did you ever wonder what you would do if you were in that situation?" He remarked absently. "Trapped on an island with a knucklehead like Gilligan?" The commander proposed, turning and pulling his tunic straight. "He was more trouble than he was worth. If it were me, I'd banish him to the other side of the island and if he returned I'd torture him with bamboo sticks and coconut milk."
Then again, he had the cardinal virtuoso, Klaus Rotstein. Why couldn't it have been a three hour trip?
"The problem with the Minnow crew's situation though was that numbers were so few even Gilligan was a valuable member. Seven people; that's all. Lose Gilligan and their population is down 15%. That is pretty significant," Bergman nodded. "Speaking of population, I guess we are in for a bit of a baby boom. Helena's report at the staff meeting of 8 pregnant women on the base is some good news." He chortled. "Helena is going to be busy but she said labor and delivery is an overtime which she has had a renewed appreciation and she won't mind a'toll."
They were interrupted by Nicky's squeals of hysterical laughter in the other room. Red of face which contrasted with his white hair, he nearly rolled off the retro-mod bean bag at the sight of a man in a gorilla suit chasing the hapless Gilligan through the soundstage jungle.
"On the same line of discussion about population increases," the professor returned from TV Land to the dreary reality, "for some strange reason her report got me thinking about Luke and Anna on Arkadia. I haven't thought about them in nearly 3 years since they left. Most people on the base would likely still think 'good riddance' as a sentiment but I've been wondering today whether or not they survived; and if their population has increased."
"Rum-" The commander started but was interrupted by the chirping of Bergman's commlock. The professor became abstracted, and reached over his desktop PC to activate the device in its cradle. What appeared on the micromonitor was a tilt-up shot of Lorna O'Brian, no doubt sitting at her own desk in the Astrophysics Building.
"I know, I'm early." She apologized pre-emptively. "Victor, I was wondering if you were able to complete those Beta Decay, and Electron Capture equations. The jet propulsion laboratory keeps hammering us for more data. Erich Stoyan thinks he has the fuel formula for that probe ship interpreted. He hopes that we can have it back in space by 14:30 hours. I too hope that he can get it back in space because I don't think my nerves could take another day of Ostrog camping out in my office.
"Oh, and Phil Geist wanted me to tell you that he's working up an alternative insulator for the capsule. He refers to it as a new type of memory foam that corresponds to the weight of the cargo."
"You don't say?" Koenig elicited, budding in. "So, he's reinvented mattress stuffing. How about that."
Bergman glanced at Koenig with slight amusement. "Oh yes," he continued to O'Brian,"I was finished with the calculation a few hours ago but became sidetracked."
He perused his files on the PC until he came to the correct spreadsheet.
"Alright, my dear," Victor opened the email software and selected the name 'L_OBrian' from his contact list. Then, he added the attachment and clicked 'Send' with his well worn mouse. "I've just sent it to you. My apologies for not getting it out when it was finished."
"No problem," OBrian nodded as the 'you've got mail' box popped up on her PC monitor. She smirked. "I've been putting up with Yul long enough. Another few hours isn't going to kill me....I don't think anyway." She smiled pleasantly and Bergman's commlock monitor went blank.
"Victor." The commander admitted finally, and exactingly. His migraine demanded it. "I'm not so sure we should repair that probe."
Bergman sat back, relaxing in his moduform chair as Caesar the cat decided to join him in zen-like calm by landing his overfed furry self on the Professor's lap. He purred contently, closing his eyes, as Victor stroked him.
"I see," the chief scientist and confidante stated tentatively. "Care to share your opinion of why you don't think we should? And..perhaps more importantly, what we should do with it?"
Bergman had plenty of time to listen and discuss the matter with Koenig, as Nicholas Carter, in a semi daze on the bean bag watching the comedy of the shipwrecked sitcom seven, was slowly being claimed by the sandman.
"What we should do with it?" Koenig analyzed. "I don't know." He replied earnestly, thumbing through the DVD cases, and pausing to study Bergman's copy of the Bresson masterpiece, "Diary Of A Country Priest." In this French, comedy of suffering, a camusian holy man finds himself an outsider; at odds with the banal, apathetic, rural congregation that falls into his lap like a plague-ridden hog's head. Immensely funny stuff. "Let me borrow this sometime." He said, snapping the case shut.
"You're welcome any time, John," Bergman replied warmly, scratching Caesar behind the ears. The feline's tail began to swing back and forth, warning the world not to disturb either the professor or him.
"I realize that the alien cargo is not a threat--to Alpha or anyone else." The commander reacquired his previous, ugly meanderings. "Mathias and Dr. Russell have been particularly scientific about the whole thing."
Scientific was not the word. Koenig's disgust was lost, totally lost on Mathias who vied the process of molecular cannibalism as natural and necessary and part of some greater order of buttkissing evolution. There are parasites. There are saprophytes. There are bacteriophages. Each of these seemingly putrid processes ultimately rise from the massacres occurring on their petrie dishes and contribute something refulgent and sunny to someone, somewhere.
It made Koenig bilious.
"Someone thought those vials were important." He went on. "They launched them into deep space, either to protect them or to share them. Why? No one knows. Sullivan reported that they have no medicinal value that we know of. They don't smell good and they're sure as Hell not pretty.
"About the only notable quality they have is the ability to spawn using Mitosis. Call it a Biological Tragedy that the offspring don't live long because shortly after that, the rest of the throng feast on them. This process is cyclical.
"The bacteria breeds and then it kills.
"Thus nourished, it divides again...and then it kills again. Twenty-four hours a day; seven days a week. This is 'A Day In The Life Of An Alien Germ Cell.' The only hope a particle has in a gruesome, exploitative relationship like that is to be born a breeder, which it can never be.
"Does the universe really need that?" Koenig asked laconically.
"It may not prove useful to us and our environment," Bergman agreed, tentatively. "But that does not mean it would not be useful in some other type of atmosphere. The characteristics of the microbes are only observed in an oxygen dominant, chlorine dominant and carbon dioxide dominant atmosphere. Those are three very basic atmospheres. It would take us years to experiment and evaluate the organisms in different gaseous mixes."
"If it is not useful to us, perhaps it will be useful to someone else." He concluded. He glanced over at a snoozing Nicky Carter and grinned as he returned his attention to the semi-conscious Caesar, comfortably relaxed in his lap.
"So, you believe these microbes may have a higher purpose?" Koenig asked the burning, Moon vexing question. "They may be more than what we're seeing on the surface. I mean--from where I'm standing, there's not much there--just the opportunity to be the main course for some dominant strain."
On the high definition monitor, the other Professor (not Bergman) arrived in his blue deck shoes, and announced to the other castaways at the table-with bedazzling, flame-thrower aptitude--that the reason the gorilla kidnapped Mrs. Howell must surely be the intoxicating scent of her perfume. Yeah. And before it was over, chump Gilligan would find himself on a slippery peel too, courtesy of the gorilla and for the same, body odor malfunction. Koenig had seen this one fifty or sixty times.
"But since we have been out here, many things have happened to us that is beyond our understanding, even beyond our comprehension. What happened with Atheria flew directly in the face of conventional knowledge. We had no explanation of motive for the unknown force which consumed one of our reactors then left. The whole situation with Arkadia left a slew of unanswerable whys and hows. Our encounter with the being who took over Dave Trask should have destroyed us as well had it not been for the intervention of the being who took on the guise of a beautiful young woman.
"You see, John, our very survival has defied logic. We should have been dead on September 13, 1999. But we aren't." He paused, enjoying the softness of Caesar's fur, the purring barely audible. "Yes, perhaps like us, there is a reason for that seemingly useless bunch of microbes to exist and to go on. If we can help, then we should do so."
The commander listened, but his indecisiveness caused him to plough the rabbit track deeper. Likewise his brain pain. He supposed that he could follow Mathias' example and invite Bergman to join him in the creation of an intellectual, reverse pinback that would affirm or deny his worst fears. Let the philosophers handle it, in other words. And what do you get when you cross a Godfather with a philosopher? An offer you can't understand.
And have you heard the one about Descartes, sitting in a tavern? The bartender asks him if he would like another.
"I think not." He says and then vanishes in a puff of smoke.
Koenig folded his arms over his chest, and gazed beyond the vision ports to confer with the blue sierra of Frigoris. By the time he finished counting inwardly to ten, the pager sounded on his commlock.
"Hello Geist." He answered narcoleptically.
"How did you know it was me?" The mining supervisor wondered hesitantly.
"I guess I'm psychic." Koenig replied while rubbing the hassle from his put upon forehead.
Alan Carter had nothing to say to Luke Ferro. From here on out, it was uncivil aviation.
"Collision control is armed." Andy Dempsey informed Capcomm Pete Irving. It was one of a dozen, individual loops that Carter monitored, clipboard in hand, as Eagle 2-S drifted upwards on the launch platform, passing the hydraulic feeds, and the network of haunted girders on its way to the surface. Crimson safety lights strobed over him, chopping time and about half of the pilot's face into on-again, off again obscurity. One minute he was angry, the next minute he was sitting in the dark. One minute he was furiously perturbed, the next minute he was sitting in the dark. "Coordination notice is in effect for synchronized countdown."
Ashen starlight poured through the command module's rendezvous windows as the spacecraft topped Launch Pad One.
"Launch escape system pyro buses--check." The pilot reported over the high pitched, plasma keen of the ship's drive. Damn, he hated Luke Ferro. There were varying degrees of despite, but he amazed even himself with the outright, epic detestation that he felt for a man who would be Christ. "Awaiting feedback for circularization burn and perform."
"Understand, all systems are go at this time." Paul Morrow replied from his workstation in Main Mission. "Lift-off in T-Minus one minute."
"Koenig." Luke Ferro interrupted the checklist from his puerile, pre-kindergarten theocracy in the pilot's couch of Eagle 3-7. "Remember my warning. I can't stand deceit, and I hate it even worse when someone tries to hoodwink me.
"Take care, or Dr. Verdeschi will be handed over to the direst chicanery she has ever known."
"Ferro, if you harm her in any way, the game is over," Koenig assured over the loop. "You know it and I know it."
"That will depend entirely on you, old amico." Ferro said incriminatingly while accidentally stabbing his own head with a buckle from the Zero-G harness attached to his seat. His painful utterances were not heard over the command tower's speakers, unfortunately.
"You will rendezvous with the unarmed Eagle 2-S at 1500 hours and hand her over," Koenig reiterated the 'deal' Ferro had made with Koenig. "That is what you agreed and that is what we will do."
Angelina Verdeschi had drifted off into an uneasy sleep during the preflight checks, alone in the passenger module.
"You know," the canine like creature sat atop one of the octagon, stackable boxes in front of her, "personally, I think my dear mistress's choices are a bit off kilter. Well, she has been dead for tens of thousands of your years and that would be more than enough reason for impairment of judgement."
The strange apparition snorted with laughter. Angelina decided she was hallucinating.
"I'm not an illusion," the creature continued, almost as if he was reading her mind. "I'm real. Well, sort of real. Not real in your sense but nevertheless.."
"What do you want?" Angelina heard herself asking. "If you can't help me, go away."
"I can't really help you but perhaps help you to help yourself." He went on, scratching his side with his hind leg.
"How so?" Ang scoffed. It was a dream and she might as well play along. She was convinced of it.
"All these supplies," the creature sniffed at the box. "A new beginning on Arkadia. Too bad to waste it on nutjobs like Ferro and Davis." The being jumped down into her lap.
"What if, and this is only hypothetical," the ghost of Governor Bow Hunter began, " what if you put your captors at ease, gain their trust. Let them know that you are considering their offer to bring you along. Then..." he leaned toward her and whispered. "Then, when your boyfriend gets here..."
He stopped and with a lift of a three toed paw made the classic cutting gesture against the throat.
"A little accident," he went on. "Its dangerous out here in deep space. Lots of things can happen."
Angelina stared at him, mute but neutral.
"Then, you and your mate can take the supplies and settle the planet yourselves."
"What about the others? What about Alpha?" Dr. Verdeschi was surprised she even asked the question. She should have said 'no'. She fancied her spirit detached from her body and observing the behavior of another human being. A more corrupt human being. It was not her. Or..was it?
"Oh, don't worry about the others," he replied nonchalantly. "They will survive. They will go on. For now anyway."
"Even if Alpha survives, you are suggesting Luke and Anna be killed."
"Well," he went on, "you have to take the bad with the good."
Angelina Verdeschi blinked and realized the lights had come up in the passenger module of the Eagle. The main motors were powering up. The countdown on the screen flashed at T minus one minute.
"Eagle 3-7, this is Carter." She heard the familiar pilot's voice, coming across the link, from another ship on the opposite side of the tower. "Ferro, you with me chum?"
"What do you want?" The mutineer/cartographer answered from inside Eagle 3-7's command module in snotty, disagreeable tones.
"I guess I just wanted to give you as warm a send-off as a rat like you deserves." The pilot replied jovially while pulling his headset over his ears. The survey vessel would launch ten seconds after Dr. Luke's Freighter Of Love. "I also wanted to remind you to let computer handle your retrofire sequence before you enter the atmosphere. I know all of those controls must simply baffle you."
"Really?" Ferro responded sarcastically.
"Yep.'" Carter assented. "Got to take care of my boy, you know. We all must heed the words of Confucius: a man who goes through the turnstile sideways is heading straight for Bangkok."
"Eagle 3-7, lift off." Paul Morrow snarled contentiously.
The mainstage boosters blew dust and Moon dreams all across the firing table. The pulsing, beacon lights faded into the celestial bog as the combined command, passenger and service modules began to rise upwards, showering the vacant white room with crystalline gemstones of propellant. Ferro was all thumbs. He expelled auto fuel where none was required. The inertial guidance system beleaguered him. The Tactical Space Navigation Aid might as well have been written in Punjab. He remained in hover mode for so long, Colonel Yuri Petrov wondered if he was planning on taking pot-shots at the base with his laser before departing. Carter's Eagle rose into position over the desolate Alpine Valley. He waited, along with the bloated, paragesic, planet Arkadia for Bozo The Clown to make his decision. Finally, it was Anna Davis who actuated the throttle-up which sent the renegade ship on an interplanetary coast towards the smazed, polluted atmosphere.
Eagle 3-7 lurched forward under the guidance of inexperience hands. Angelina Verdeschi, no longer bound, grabbed the bulkhead of the ship to prevent herself from following the forward momentum into a stack of wheat crates. She wondered if Ferro's lack of flight skills rather than his tendency toward physical violence would be her undoing.
"Have either of you guys flown before?" Angelina blurted, feeling her stomach turning. Had they been in atmosphere, it would have been one bumpy, turbulence laden ride.
"No," Ferro answered, irritated. "And unless you have, I suggest you keep your mouth shut."
She decided that was probably a good idea. Angelina probably could have at least kept the ship level but if they knew that, they would probably press her into flying it all the way to the planet. She had spent some time in the flight simulators, Alan Carter's idea of a few "dates". At first, she was eager to learn, entertaining grandiose fantasies of becoming an astronaut.
The beginning programs were easy to master. She was beginning to wonder why learning to fly was considered complicated when he introduced her to the program known as 'rock and roll', with the emphasis on 'roll'. The result was...bad. She tossed her lunch and breakfast. Her head and stomach didn't stop spinning for hours. Though she forgave the chief pilot for subjecting her to the ultimate carnival ride, she never stepped in the simulators again.
"I wouldn't be much use," she shrugged. "I'm not an Eagle pilot."
"Coop," Koenig, in his office with the big doors closed on Main Mission, hit the comm stud on his desk as Bergman and Russell stood by the viewport, staring at the two departing Eagles. "Is Eagle 3-7 leaving a trail of crumbs?"
"That's an affirm, commander." The VAB manager confirmed, turning away from Bram Cedrix's system integrity report to face the monitor. "The instrument pack is activated but we're waiting for Dr. Verdeschi to egress the spacecraft before we make a try for the relays. The bastard is so stupid, we could probably go ahead and punch on now but if he has even half a brain, that move could cost us.
"Oh, and incidentally, Carter has started his 13:50, mid course correction. Ferro should have done a burn too, but he's sitting on his thumb. I s'pect that he doesn't know visual flight rules from a bonkin' hole in the ground. Just looking out the window won't cut it. His suntan will be scarce as a hen's teeth if he hits the planet's gravity doing 6,000 nautical miles per hour."
"John." Bergman said quietly as he stood by the window sill. "We'd better let Carter know."
"Coop, contact Carter. Tell Ferro he's not a goddamn astronaut and to let computer handle it," Koenig slammed his fist furiously on his desk.
Helena Russell amended. "Gordon, emphasize to Captain Carter the continued need to remain calm while communicating with Eagle 3-7."
'As calmly as the Chief of Reconn could be,' the doctor considered thoughtfully.
"Eagle 3-7, squawk 3-2-0." Carter said over the ether with deprecating big-headedness. "How's it going over there, Sigmund? You and the wife all peaches and cream?"
They were fourteen hours into the flight. Presently, the cosmic horizon was dominated by the bleak, moiled gases and the serpentine continents of the planet Arkadia. The last visual scan that Carter took of the Moon--now in first quarter--was over an hour ago. Using cameras mounted to Eagle 2-S's stern, he caught a last, drastic glimpse of a satellite that no longer belonged anywhere in the universe, and with a human contingent on Moonbase Alpha that was currently enjoying a state of deep freeze.
He couldn't see the cartographer's ungainly face, but he knew he was getting to him.
"We're not ready to dock yet." Ferro responded over the comm' with bunched annoyance.
"No, we're not." Carter agreed, talking and adjusting his Neptune Panel controls to initiate yet another plane change. "And if you don't get back on course, you never will be. Sport-o, you and the missus' better let computer handle it from here on out. I think you're out of your element with this.
"Hey, you want to know the secret of success in a relationship?" The pilot asked, changing the subject on a whim. "Tell her she's beautiful every, single day. Especially if it's woman like you've got--one who has a face like a mack truck."
Anna Davis scowled from the co-pilot's couch, looking toward Ferro. She expected him to volley an insult back at the pilot, to defend her honor. Ferro did...nothing.
"Dr. Verdeschi?" Ferro brooked as he exited the aft equipment bay and entered the passenger module. The ship was under computer control now which was good. "On behalf of both of us, I just wanted to tell you that we regret the actions that we were compelled to take this day. Like citizens of that great, mythical city of Jericho, we feel real bad about everyone being massacred and having the ground sowed with salt.
"Or so to speak." He ameliorated.
So, they stood before her--glittering like Saint Peter and Agnes Of God, but out of their mouth cometh a Stooge Report.
"Luke, Anna," Angelina stood, leaning against the empty laser rack. She felt the mechanical thud of the docking tube from Eagle 2-S. "It is not too late. Please reconsider what you are doing. You are condemning an entire community of nearly 300 people to death...a painful, and brutally slow death of starvation and for what?"
"So that you two can push the odds and attempt to bring life back to a dead world?"
She straightened, glancing up at the rectangular grid Atmosphere light indicator moving steadily from 'vacuum' to 'normal'.
"Forget about your selfish act of murdering everyone on Alpha. Consider your next to nothing chances on Arkadia and the high probability that in a few years, you will both be dead too."
"If you must die," Davis told her coldly, "then so be it. In fact, we appreciate the sacrifice you will be making for our future."
"A sacrifice is something willingly done, NOT forced. Our future? Your future.." Angelina scoffed.
"NO. OUR future. The future of the human race." Anna pontificated. "We are the seeds of the future of the human race. Everything that has happened to us, since Breakaway, is because we, Luke and I, were meant to be on Arkadia, to begin our race again."
"It is survival of the fittest," Anna Davis finished as the door opened to the boarding tube, revealing Alan Carter standing at the open door of Eagle 2-S. "It has always been that way."
"No..." Angelina shook her head. "It is HOW you survive that really matters. Not the fact."
Davis stared at her threateningly. "You'd better go now....while you can."
Angelina turned and traversed the short distance across the docking tube to Eagle 2-S, where Carter immediately pulled her inside.
"We will remember you fondly," Davis called to her.
"Fuck you," Angelina replied as she hit the button to close the passenger door. She stared in dismay at the door for two seconds then embraced and warmly kissed Alan. She trembled as the stress, the anxiety and the fear of her situation over the last 17 hours came bubbling to the surface.
"I'm alright, I'm alright," she said repeatedly, still shaking and holding on to him. She wasn't about to dissolve into tears. She couldn't. She had to stay strong.
"It was nice of you to come get me," she finally spoke with a calmer disposition. "But my life is not worth the price of those supplies. Without them and with the present power situation, we are all going to die anyway."
"No." Carter said mutedly. "No, we're not."
"COMMANDER KOENIG." Klaus Rotstein discovered a manhood that no one ever knew he had, and in the face of dramatic, starvation, meal-planning. "I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT I OBJECT TO THIS IS THE STRONGEST POSSIBLE WAY."
"Ferro isn't top shelf but he is canny." Morrow agreed conditionally. "We'll have one chance. If he makes prats of us, we're all dead."
And he would blame John Koenig for that.
"Technical Section?" The commander ignored them and depressed the stud on the controller's extension panel. "Is everything ready?"
"Yes sir." Carter Jackson replied optimistically as the auditorium speakers suddenly began broadcasting the whalesong of boomeranged, interstellar radiation. "We're getting feedback now on the 4.5 0GHZ bandwidth. We've also got a bistatic radar image coming in. Eagle 3-7 is following a northeastern coordinate line, past the original landing site."
"Pursuit Eagle Three." Koenig's voice filled the command module as pilot Pierre Danielle's spacecraft was raised to position on Launch Pad Four. The astronaut closed the flight plan attached to the right arm of his space suit and gripped the yoke.
In the passenger module sat the ship's bellicose security contingent, consisting of Quenton and Coldaryn; N'Dole and Duncan; Trang and Hill; Pound and Judge. Not that the latter or the former were any kind of metaphor pertaining to Luke Ferro's future.
"Pursuit Eagle Five." The commander alerted the second ship in the squad. Pilot Mike Church attuned his receiver after breaking nose to complete his contingency checklist. "You're on I-Band Omni, frequency 4.5 0GHZ."
"Copy." Church answered distractedly.
In the passenger module, Harness Bulls Sloven and Kopf; Cameron and Thelan; Cross and Lebrech; Hitori and Zane sat in their stiff, ungiving seats. Their muscles would not relax. Nothing would crack, except for maybe the bones in Ferro's head.
"Alpha to Eagle 2-S," Koenig hit another button, switching to another frequency. "Captain, do you have Dr. Verdeschi?"
Helena Russell hovered anxiously next to Bergman at the top of the step in front of the balcony stairs.
"Roger." Carter replied busily. "She's aboard, three hundred and eighty degree turn executed. We're en route back to the base."
Koenig nodded neutrally to Morrow, as Russell visibly sighed with relief, exchanging a slight smile with the Professor.
"Eagle 3, launch in T-minus 60 seconds," Morrow typed a series of commands. "Eagle 5, launch in T-minus 90 seconds."
June Akaiwa, her tray loaded with 6 cups of tepid coffee, paused to glance out the viewports and watched the boarding tubes retracting from Eagle 3 and Eagle 5.
"Tracking signal will activate on the moonbuggy as soon as it is powered and switched to drive, Commander." Sandra Benes handed Koenig the red flimsey marked 'confidential'. "The web will close on them. There will be nowhere for them to hide."
"I really appreciate you giving me a second chance." Baldev said, forbidding his right palm to cringe against the weight of the satellite. He politely turned to see what direction Gita was coming from before turning (and looking like a pizza chef in the process...he had been worse things...).
In a way, his thumb was in the eye of destiny.
They were in an uberdimensional annexation, founded eons ago by Who Knows What. The region went by many names: Eternal Happiness; the Celestial; Cloud Nine; Empyrean; Heaven of Heaven; Nirvana; the Throne Of God. The pie sky overhead was meaningless. The earth was relative. It was balance, but at too high a price. It was sacrifice for good, and evil. It was dramatic suffering. It was life. It was the other side of death.
"Don't thank me." Isa Hamadri replied modestly. "She's the one you should thank. Were it not for her genteel forgiveness, you'd still be mute and shoveling dingus from the sulfur pits on Zwicky's Triplet."
He praised the Essentialness for his compassion. When he was an imperfect, flesh and blood being, he would have told this, once serial killer and political attaché to smooch his rump, that he should roast like a pig with an apple in his mouth--the unending anguish of Naraka-gati--for his crimes against intelligent races--but like his physical form, that trope was no longer a part of him.
"The woman has been deemed acceptable," Gita conversed warmly with her companion, the Governor Bow Hunter, as she approached Baldev and Hamadri. "You were quite charming and though I admit to a certain bias, you made the situation rather enticing."
"Of course, some members of our race would have yielded to temptation," She continued, staring at Baldev. "But the reality is not everyone possesses superior moral character."
The Governor snickered.
"I am not amused," Gita's father, Atul, spoke with supreme objection. "Your choice was poor, daughter. I have doubts about the success of our endeavor to reinvigorate our planet, to return life to it."
"The woman is evil and the man," he scoffed. "He is not a 'man'. He is a coward who is easily dominated by the female."
"Strong females have always made you feel insecure, father," Gita commented neutrally.
"She is not strong." He negated. "She is wicked, corrupt."
"You should not impune my spouse because you, yourself, lack faith." Manoj leveled him. Twenty million years worth of being dead meat had given him time to reflect. He was a bleep-heel, and now he knew it. "What is done, is done. And it's fortunate for you that I'm not a creature of clay again, or I'd perceive you the way I did when you were my father-in-law." He smirked. "Involving yourself in every aspect--from my sobriety to our financial accountability. How many times did you deliver me into the treacherous hands of my creditors--and garrulous merchants?
"You'll never how often I fantasized about punching you in the nose, Atul."
"I will not stand for this!" Atul thundered with an authority that was only in his perception.
"In physical life you may have been father and father in-law," Gita countered, "but your status is not such in this plane. Your pursuit of political ambition and financial gain may have reaped rewards for you in the physical world but your lack of investment in the less tangible has gained you little now."
"Relax." Isa Hamadri intervened benignly, while Baldev's back ached from the strain. "This is no time for quarreling. After all, how often is it that someone we know is inaugurated into the ranks of the Infinite."
He extended his palm and gave Manoj an agreeable handshake. He could do that. He didn't have to hold the satellite up.
"I'm alright." Manoj inhaled deeply. It was the fresh, mountain snow of godliness. Reconsidering his position brought him to a realization of bemused, self-efface. "And I thank you whole-heartedly for the compliment, my friend." He told Isa Hamadri. "Even though I'm not one of the Infinite--and can never be.... I am, however, changed.
"I'm one small part in an extraordinary whole. A facet, but not the symbol. And honestly--I didn't know I had it in me."
It still flummoxed him. Even now, it seemed too surreal. He couldn't get a grip.
"I didn't know you had it in you either." Isa Hamadri said sincerely. "Gita, perhaps your husband needs to boast more. I can teach him that." He knew, and looking down, he saw to his extreme, immortal annoyance that Governor Bow Hunter was still gnawing on his non-ankle. "Funny how some species work out their stress differently from others."
"You had a genius for it." Manoj concurred nostalgically on the topic of the nobleman's imperial ego. "Well, I must go. I have tons to do. There are protozoans to cultivate, and an essence to harvest.
"Until we meet again, dear wife." He bade farewell, kissing Gita.
As he walked away, his ethereal form was reimagined into the lumbering thorax of a giant, praying Mantis.
"I do not understand why he was chosen, mistress" Governor Bow Hunter shook his canine head.
"Who are we to decipher the intentions of those higher than us," Gita philosophized. "Before your people were enslaved, before he was enticed by the evil one, he was a very good man with a compassionate heart and soul."
"Perhaps he is chosen for redemption? Atonement?" The governor could only hope this was the case.
"Perhaps," Gita shrugged her nonexistent shoulders. "Or perhaps there was another reason which we do not know...and do not need to know."
"I have a question." Baldev appealed meekly. "How much longer do I have to hold this? It's breaking me down, actually."
Good thing his herniated disc did not join him in the groves of everlasting joy.
The satellite was barely the size of his fist, fluorescent, mostly lifeless--but it felt like it was 2,000 kilometers in diameter. It was the only rock that Baldev could recall holding that had a mass which equaled 73,500,000,000,000,000,000,000. The far side of the orb was fragmented, obliterated to radioactive flinders. It was miraculous how it had managed to remain imperforate and entire of itself. It was killing Baldev just looking at it, and he could never die.
Isa Hamadri acquitted, pulling a consummate grape from the vine of horoscope and happenstance.
"Do you think it's time to release it?" He challenged.
"Yes...?" Baldev answered with manifest uncertainty.
"Then let it go."
On a once, and future Moon, time stands still for no one. It's karma was to drift to the end of the universe and beyond. Ground truth data points were shaken along with bowls of lunar meteorites and crystallizing igneous rocks in the magma ocean. It all started in the northern hemisphere with an infinitesimal, microscopic pressure point against the floor of Michelson's Crater. This started an avalanching effect, which begat a waveform, which begat momentum which rocked, and rolled everything, from Malapert to the Byrd Ascension.
Anyone who was working the trench on Moonbase Alpha suddenly found themselves seated face first on the stairs to John Koenig's office.
"WE'RE MOVING." Paul Morrow exclaimed over the loud, electronic pulse of the Red Alert Klaxon.
Helena Russell did a 180 degree turn, holding onto the bottom post of the stairs leading to the balcony, while Emma Black was thrown backward into panel C on the computer deck, sparks flaring. David Kano's chair tipped backward with David Kano as the occupant. The absentee Technical Manager cried out and blurted profanity as his elbow clipped the edge of Kate Bullen's station.
The doctor made a mental tally of who to triage first but fighting the sudden G-forces and retrieving balance was the first priority.
Commander Koenig saw stars and pound signs thanks to the back of his head impacting the corner of his desk. Then he remembered.
"CARTER!!! Alpha to Eagle 2-S!!" Koenig shouted into the link. In Eagle 2-S, Angelina Verdeschi looked quizzically at the Captain. "We're on the move again!" Koenig continued, loosely concealed panic in his voice. "Full Throttle or you'll never catch us!"
In the lower equipment bay of Eagle 2-S, Carter banged his head on one of the battleship gray storage cabinets after hearing Koenig's message. He sprung away from the telescope, and pulled himself back up into the crew compartment, grabbing his headset as he jumped--literally, painfully hauling ass--back into the pilot's couch.
"DID HE JUST SAY WHAT I THOUGHT HE SAID?" He asked Ang,' with one pale, ashen hand on a yoke handle, and with the other on the LOX storage tank release valve. One look out of the rendezvous window was enough to answer his question. Before taking a hiatus to obtain an accurate star fix, the Moon had been barely visible; about the size of a one cent piece. The situation had not improved since descending into the LEB. Now, there appeared to be nothing out there except for darkness, and hopeless, trackless limbo. Luke Farro--The Duke Of Arkadia--was still sensor visible, but the signal strength weakened as Eagle 3-7's flaming stern began to slice into the atmosphere.
"Yeah, the moon is on the go again," Angelina brought the back up power online, figuring they would need it. For a split second, she was tempted to tell him to forget it..' 'Alan, we'll never catch them. Let's go to Arkadia She hated Alpha. It was life in a sarcophagus. Unfortunately, IF Eagle 3-7 didn't burn up upon entry into the atmosphere, taking the precious supplies with them, they would be in for a fight. In the end, they would be forced to kill Ferro and Davis in order to survive themselves.
It is how one survives that is important, not the fact.
"Our chances are better if we go back to Alpha," Ang stated neutrally. She knew he was thinking the exact same thing and had an even stronger inclination to go to Arkadia. "If they burn up before landing, so do the supplies. If they don't and we have to fight them, I think we will end up doing something we will regret in the long run."
"LOOK AT THAT DRONGO." Carter remarked as he hurriedly reset the eight ball on his panel. He skin was pallid. "FERRO. IF HE DOESN'T SET HER DOWN BY THE TIME THE SATCOM NETWORK IS OUT OF RANGE, HIS FROG IS COOKED." But after searching his feelings, he decided that would be cool with him if Davis and Flake bit the dust. As long as they didn't get creamed with them in the process. "O'KAY ANGIE,' WE'RE FLYING ON A PRAYER.
"ALPHA THIS IS EAGLE 2-S. I'M INITIATING A POWER CONTROL BURN PLUS TWO.
In the soundless sea of night, the quad engine bells on the service module of the reconnaissance Eagle showered Arkadia's upper atmosphere with an inferno of emergency propellant. After too long a time in comparisonless space, there was a brief nudge, which was followed by head flattening G-Forces. The angled, yellow ceiling panels flickered, and dimmed briefly as the system tapped the reserve batteries. There was a terrifying crash that emanated from the passenger module. Carter was sure that they had ruptured a pressure feed. Ha. It was just a cargo octagon filled with dehydrated rations. Hilarious. The realization came too late to restore the gray hairs in his head. The spacecraft did not just move--it raced away hysterically as the ship filled with seeds and a couple of losers mosied on into the planet's ionosphere. Carter squinted, and clutching the yokes like a drowning man, quietly petitioned whatever deity it was that looked over half-baked astronauts like himself to give them a hand, since they were now, officially, at Death's Door.
They never saw Luke Ferro, and Anna Davis again, and Carter didn't care too. As long as he lived (three more weeks, probably, adrift in space...floating on his head) he hoped never to see a frappin' seed again.
"You can run but you can't hide, Bob," Angelina Carter fumed into the physician's voicemail.
"CALL ME BACK OR I'LL COME FIND YOU MYSELF!" She hit the "send" button on her commlock, as Alan Carter, Commander Koenig and Doctor Russell step into Tech Lab 6, otherwise known as the main electronics laboratory. "The jerk."
It was one of 5 messages and 4 emails she had already sent to the Assistant Chief Medical Officer. He had received them. She KNEW he had received them. She also knew he was ignoring her and all the messages were moved to the "trash" folder of the server.
Koenig looked wryly down at his commlock and saw no new messages in his voicemail box. On the table in front of him, the Commander picked up a printed circuit card, one of five, with areas that were clearly charred, and destined for the scrap and recycle pile. "What happened, Ang?"
"What happened indeed." She picked up another one of the five boards and realized not even the valuable BGA part could be salvaged. "Bob Mathias is at it again. He thinks that just because he's competent at repairing biological systems that he's qualified to repair complex electronic equipment."
"It's YOUR fault," Ang eyed Helena accusingly.
"My fault?" the physician's demeanor was as cool as a cucumber. "How is it my fault? I didn't do this." She waved at the garbage heap of laminate, copper and ceramic components.
"One time you ask Dr. Smartass to repair a blown monitor and he just happens to be successful with the diags...and he fixes it. Then his ego is inflated enough so he thinks he's some sort of Bill Nye the Science guy electronics whiz."
There was no sympathy. Russell shrugged neutrally. Koenig and Carter smirked.
"It's not funny," Ang countered. "He's out of control."
"You've had this section for nearly 3 years, Ang," Koenig smiled, relaxed in the moment, folding arms over chest. "And you still haven't been able to get a handle on the Mathias factor."
He tisk-tisked her mockingly. Carter laughed and discreetly winked at her. The Technical Manager scowled.
"Why don't you try funneling his enthusiasm into another similar interest?" Russell suggested, compassion setting in.
"Yeah," she glanced at Alan, "like the hangar bays?"
Carter stopped laughing.
"You guys didn't come here to help me with my Mr. Fix-it problem," Angelina diverted the subject. She set down the last charred circuit board. It was almost the end of shift and she was more than ready to call it a day. "You want to know about the alien probe."
"Latest update was that it is still an intact bunch of nothing and almost ready to go to...wherever. All we have to do is launch it if and when you give the word, Commander."
Koenig's jaw receded as he tasted the crunch of the imaginary aluminum foil against his teeth again. That had not been the reason for his visit, but he could see the agenda on Carter's face. The commander was undecided, and he loathed that condition. It was a simple enough matter. He wished that he could see things the way Mathias apparently did. If you see a tank full of bacteria--you boost it back into space. If you see a scorched piece of hardware--you fix it, even if you couldn't find your ass with both hands.
Russell was in on it too. They all wanted a decision from him because some fallacious wit had spread the good word that John Koenig never makes a mistake. Never mind the fact that he was the operational commander of the base when the disposal areas went poof. Alpha had experienced leadership from eight other sources--some were bureaucrats...some wastrels and mental amoebas--but at least they had managed to remain in orbit around Earth. He, however, was standing right smack in the Main Mission trench on that EVIL DAY.
All that was left now was Gorski kipple and raw humanity.
He understood all too well how his role had changed. One part Oracle Of Delphi, one part Ward Cleaver. The gravity of these extremes was enough to tear a person's head off.
"I'm the culprit." The pilot stood up as he strolled past the bloodthirsty, coliseum audience to take his rightful place in the lion's den. He was a stand up kind of guy--too much so for his own good, actually. "Hang me from the yardarm. We need to know if we're going to get a new voltage regulator for that heap, or if we're going to have to duct tape the old hardware. If that's the case--Doctor Verdeschi-Carter--then you are going to tell Yul Ostrog.
He always felt better when he got it off his chest, when he transferred the resentment.
"That is an hour job, tops," Angelina went on. "Otherwise, the thing is ready to go."
She wasn't about to launch into a discussion regarding the disposition of the thing. She had heard enough discussion the day before: a 3 hour command conference which broke down the options concerning how to deal with the thing under a microscope and through many iterations. Victor Bergman and Sandra Benes were keen on keeping it and running more tests on it, hoping to find some sort of benefit to the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha, and Helena Russell was also leaning on their side as well. Ben Ouma, Paul Morrow and Alan Carter with the backing of Bob Mathias, on the other hand, took the position of extreme caution: "If it is not beneficial, why keep it? Let's just get rid of it, get it out of here."
Through the entire course of the meeting, Angelina Carter refused to voice an opinion, despite being considered a 'tie breaker' in the impasse of the discussions. She firmly abstained.
"You never voiced your position about how to handle this, Ang," Koenig continued.
"I don't have one."
"I don't believe that."
"Well..ok....Of course I do." The Technical Manager gazed at Koenig impassively.
"Alright then, let's have it."
Ang slowly shook her head. "It does not matter what my position is on this issue. You have more than enough viewpoints to consider. Commander, with all due respect, I am keenly aware that 3 of your staff want to keep it and 3 of your staff want to fling it back into space. I will not be the catalyst in a 'majority rules' type of decision because I don't believe the decision should be based on a simple matter of numbers."
"You are the Commander of this base." Angelina postured affirmatively, "and ensuring the safety and survival of this community is your prime responsibility. We all know that. So far, by evidence of our continued survival you've done a good job. It's obvious and frankly, as long as you're focused on your primary task, you will know what to do."
To the junkyard with it, then. Koenig thought to himself but said nothing.
"I thought this was a done deal?" Alan Carter--who had just spent the last seventy-two hours of his life laying underneath the thing with Ostrog and Cedrix--searched the commander's face for whispers of futility. "Why did we glue that trap back together if we're planning to deep six it?"
"I didn't say that." Koenig reminded him tersely. "It could be that I'm not done looking at the options yet. Does that bother you, Carter?"
He didn't care if it did, truthfully.
"Yeah...a bit." The pilot replied, heatedly. "Talk about a bloody waste of time, and resources. I thought the whole purpose was to set things straight. Now, you're telling us to stand by one--and after I busted my knuckles against the floor of outfitting quay ten times with a rusty spanner."
His coax, it seemed, was all for naught.
"Requisition a new toolbox." The commander recommended with umber. "Also, you need to pick and choose your work orders more wisely because it seems to me that we have an obligation to be careful about what we send out of here. I shot an arrow into the air, and it landed I know not where.
"That's a dangerous attitude to have out here because it could come down right on our heads.
"Oh, you didn't think of that?" Koenig mocked Carter, and watched as the ire deflated from the pilot's ears. "Well, I sure did. One of these days--when you're not breaking your own bones with bad wrenches--you may want to consider what tomorrow might bring. For every force or action, there's an equal but opposite reaction."
Momentarily speechless, the pilot angrily paced towards the salt water tank that adorned the waiting room. The commander wanted him to stay gone, but he didn't. A thought occurred to the Carter which reenergize his claim, and in an instant he was back in the tech' lab. First he confronted Helena Russell hoping to salvage his dispute with her cooperation. Then he realized she didn't know sod about engineering, or the burden of drive mechanics. Her hand wasn't busted against the concrete.
The astronaut was prepared to continue the debate--just for the sake of arguing--when suddenly Mark Winter's condescending mug appeared on the local commstation.
"Commander Koenig?" He called, blinking once to prove that he was still alive.
"The built-in hold has elapsed. We've got an opening at 0900 hours, and a close at 1300 hours." He qualified, saying: "Lunar time."
As if they could be somewhere else besides the Moon.
"Alright." The commander said. "Set countdown to launch at T-Minus two hours, thirty minutes. That should give the support crews time to complete repairs to the alien probe."
Carter felt like shrieking.
"Should I alert pad two that the mobile gantry will be needed?" The overnight controller said with smug apathy.
"Unless you're planning on holding the damn thing up all through the launch, then yes, I'd say that's a good idea, Winters."
Unseen by Winters as he signed off, Angelina bit her lip to stifle the amusement. She had Ed Malcom, Koenig had Mark Winters.
"It might be a good idea to put a new voltage regulator on it," Angelina Carter addressed her other half. "Afterall, we wouldn't want to chance the thing blowing up as its blasting off the pad now would we?"
Actually, that was another option. An "oops" which could be beneficial.
"Hello Yul," Ang punched in the code to the electronics specialist. "We need to change out the voltage regulator for the alien probe before we send it back out again. I hate to do this to you but it has to be done by 0900 launch. Should I send Ed Malcom over to help you?"
"...snork." Yul Ostrog replied to some other intrinsic conversation in the high pressure backdrop. "Yeah. I'll put one in. Whatever. Someone almost tripped over the old one about an hour ago so I don't think it will be tough to remove. Our team of experts is standing by.
"As for Ed Malcom--let's don't and say that we did. We don't need him around to infect our common sense. We've already got 'issues.' One of them shouldn't be a guy who thinks you're asking for a drink when you tell him to hand you a screw driver.
"Corny." Ostrog declared of the whole situation and then signed off.
"I don't know why you didn't want to tell Yul to do it," Ang grinned at Carter, teasingly. "That wasn't hard."
"You say that now." The astronaut kibitzed with grum earnestness. "Just for the principal of it, tell Ostrog to pound salt. Just to see what happens. By all means, send that big, bush gator down there too, and have him chip in." Carter blenched. "Back home we got the Port Arthur massacre, and Waterloo Creek.
"In the hangar bay? Who knows what they'll do?"
"Commander, it will be ready at 0900," Angelina nodded, as Koenig and Russell turned to leave leaving Ang and Alan in the Tech Lab.
"John," Russell began as they waited for the travel tube. "You must feel relieved that you have made the final decision. But, I don't understand. Why was this decision so difficult and a cause of so much internal conflict? You have made other decisions in the past which were far more difficult. What is it about this situation that caused you so much introspection?"
The commander grinned, slightly untuned, but hard visaged.
"I never did make a decision." He confessed while train sitting with the doctor.
Sometimes the solution to 'Pi' was 'a fork.' The rest was a lottery, all trial and error. If you find yourself walking in a circle, then reverse direction and get lost another way. He assumed that some day there would be closure--the puzzle would be completed, but for now, all he could do was take actions--some well considered, some clownish and disastrous. God didn't play Canasta with the universe, but all human beings could do was their maladroit, graceless best.
After the car arrived, the doors slid open and Koenig silently took his place on one of the couches next to a running, ANS Report.
Hendershot had a big mouth and a low IQ. The commander couldn't dig that either. It was one Arkadia after another. Too many to count.
He chastised himself for acting like a fool. But he could not help it.
Night was falling and the wind had curiously died down to a brisk storm rather than the near hurricane strength gales, which allowed a somewhat clearer view of the moonless sky. His attention was not focused on the stars but face down, as he lie on top of the freshly dug grave.
Once fertile soil but now only able to sustain roots and tuber type vegetables, he clutched and released the cool dirt, refusing to release his last reason to live. He had been there mourning too long, long enough so that the cannibals would know the location of his daughter's grave.
He would not allow them to get his little girl.
He sat up and sighed, empty of heart and numb of mind. He could not even mark her grave and the landmarks, due to the constant wind, would change within weeks. Like his wife and other daughter, they would be lost forever. For him, he decided that this was the end. He carefully removed the knife from the makeshift sheath and considered how it was too dull.
He did not reach for the sharpening stone in his ragged coat.
The man looked up again at the night sky, able to tolerate the wind and the dust. He stared up for a long time.
In a place thousands of light years away, the former Earth moon was almost as barren, save for a 2.5 mile area on one of its smaller craters. A two year old boy, clean and well fed, sat comfortably on a white, imitation leather couch, leafing through a picture album. The images were of a place he had never been and of people he had never met.
He stopped and stared at one photo in particular then looked out the viewport, into the dark beyond.
"What are you looking at, Nicky?" Angelina Carter sat next to her son, wrapping an arm around him.
"Who's that?" He pointed to a picture of a smiling man, on skis next to his sister, Angelina, also on skis in front of a crowded mountain resort.
She told him and told him the story behind the picture: about another time and another place he had never known and, in the back of Angelina's mind, sadly a place he would never know.
The child stared at the picture and listened to another story of a long lost uncle. Angelina pointed to other pictures in the photo album, but Nicky was not paying attention.
His gaze was fixated out the viewport.
"We're going to have trouble with that." Ferro told the only other living soul on the planet, Anna Davis, while parking a heavy cratey' poo' filled with micronutrient rationed fertilizer into the rear of the lunar rover. The application stuff was measured out in parts per million--basically the weight of the fertilizer in relation to the competition sources, and the ionic balances of all sixteen essential elements. It was iron to Ferro whose tender frame was unaccustomed to that which is onerous. This body was not made for hard labor. "When I pulled it out of the storage bay, I noticed there's a wheel wobbling.
"Bad spring." He said of the orange moonbuggy. "I'm sure Carter did it to us." He deduced, pronouncing the pilot's name as 'car-teer' again. "He hates me. Anna, you look fatigued. Sex?"
They had yet to notice anything different about the sky.
Ferro unsealed one of the octagons, and dug deep, helping himself to the building blocks of backup man, for a planet's lifespan; the fortitude of it's populace; and it's place in the universal epitome all depended on the power of the land. The grain was golden, and diffident, the Dutch Uncle of the grass family. It borrowed air and water, and in return, produced fat for the hiney--an infinitely fair mercantilism. It was the all, the consume, and the one--it's seedlike fruits bearing gifts that decorate the ground, and carbohydrates to sate the empty gut. It was the DNA of nutritional virtue. The barley was bravado. The rice was nice. The oats were offensive when they had to be. The wheat was wonderful, and the millet was disgusting. In his grasp was the electrum of Poaceae. The true source of the pyramids--the pharoah's secret.
After spilling a brief libation to the Earth Mother, Ferro looked fondly upon his handful of grain and then stuffed it into his mouth.
"Kind of hard." He described, chewing. "It sticks to my teeth. This will take some getting used to."
Anna Davis was beginning to have second thoughts about this entire expedition. In fact, to her, it seemed she was under some sort of, for lack of a better word, influence. She had moved about in almost a dreamlike state and after the rough landing of the Eagle, she stepped outside and realized what happened.
"Put that back," she snapped. "Every seed is precious and every grain you eat lessens our chances of survival."
Her muscles ached. She had unloaded the bulk of the crates and now, all she wanted was a shower and a nap. Of course, she could not take a shower. There were no showers, just the cold water of the Arkadian stream, where they would have to build some sort of retaining pond if they wished to take a bath. As far as a nap, it was too uncomfortably hot as the temperature had soared to 98 degrees Fahrenheit. She had stripped down to her support bra and flares.
And, no, she was not in the mood for 'sex'. She barely knew the man. What happened to the courtship? What happened to the romance? The guy was a clueless, classless dud.
For a moment, she thought about returning to Alpha but the problem was that Carter had ensured they only had enough fuel to get to and land on Arkadia....not come back.
"We need to figure out how to power down the Eagle," Anna continued, while examining the moonbuggy. Not that she would know what to do: she was not mechanically inclined. "It is running on full nuke cells now and we will be completely out of power soon."
She was not an Eagle mechanic either. In fact, she was trying to remember the basics of survival training she learned as a Girl Scout many years ago. Wallowing in irritation and stress, she happened to look up at the sky.
"LUKE!!!! THE MOON!!!"
Ferro turned, looked up, and dropped the kit of perturbing, stainless steel lawn pruning tools to the ground where it landed with an anticlimactic shatter. He staggered through the remains of the broken module and extended his cowardly neck like a vulture, staring hard at the miasma of empty, green sky. He had caught the satellite from the corner of his eye before they started unloading. Then it had disappeared behind a contamination of dungy, cumuliform clouds. Now the sky was clear again, but the Moon had absconded.
It was truant, and absentia. Gone. It had been 'moonraked,' for lack of a better term.
"Where is it?" He pleaded, fungent with self-pity, and condolences for himself.
He ran, leaving true love in the hot dust as his own beguile, and consciousness expanding terror ensnared him. He tore through the toxic, blackberry brambles, and the corridor of glute shredding, inedible locust trees with violins shrieking in his head. He splashed through pools of mudwater that would never quench. He stabbed at the corporations of sand, and rock with unfortunate, berserk, knife fingers and wrangled for a higher elevation.
"???Where is it???"
He was king of the hill.
Standing atop a seventy-five meter embankment that overlooked a humongous, prehistoric Arkadian sphinx that bore a convex, masonry face, and a wiseacre smirk. Fractured, macerated, and bleeding, Ferro surveyed the charnel pot of an atmosphere again. His threaded heart switched gears with a halt, and a grind as he remained on a frantic turnspit and tried to convince himself, over and over again, that he was not screwed. The view from the ground was of a small, finite swot. The statue of a nerd.
He was now, and for all time, the biggest schmuck' on the planet.
"!!!WHERE IS IT!!!"
So the Moon moved on and on and on. Two days after returning to Alpha, Angelina Verdeschi came upon a rare sight: David Kano smiling broadly as he departed Main Mission to (where else) Central Computer as she was summoned to the Commander's office.
Her new position as Chief of Technical Operations kept her on the fast track of overtime for days then weeks to come. She was already aware that Claude Murneau was a complete and utter baffoon. She became even more keenly aware of Ed Malcom's incompetence, Michelle Cranston's heated outbursts, Pete Garforth's artistic inclination with the written word, Roberta Specter's ditziness, rivaling Alpha Newscast Infobabe Tara Bathory and the value of Marcus Profitt. She became intuned with the fact that Chris Potter and Pat Osgood detested each other but they did share a common hatred of Ed Malcom. She discovered that Steve Gardner lived to play golf and he had aspirations to build a driving range in the catacombs, one of his design, of course.
Arkadia should have been a distant, bad memory. But it wasn't. She was haunted by a choice she was now having second thoughts.
"Alan, I can't stop thinking about it," Angelina finally revealed the nagging thoughts. The reprocessed soybean Moonbase coffee was particularly strong but at least it was hot. "We have full power. We are recovering from the loss of supplies, slowly, but nevertheless recovering, what Luke and Anna robbed us to set up shop on Arkadia."
"We could have gone to Arkadia instead of coming back here. Alpha would have recovered. I should have realized that. Without the influence of whatever it was that was holding us in space, the influence of the power drain would be gone as well. We would have had to fight, maybe even kill Anna and Luke. OK. So maybe that would not have been good."
"I always thought that how we survived was more important than the fact. But, what's the point of being virtuous and dead?" She sighed deeply in exhaustion, burying forehead in hands. "I don't know. I don't know what I'm saying or thinking anymore. It's just that this place really sucks and it seems the gruesome twosome got away with being less than virtuous and they are rewarded with getting out of this shithole."
"Well," Carter distinguished. "I guess that was a real good deal for Ferro and Davis. If you like the great outdoors, and corncobs. Like you say, buttercup. However, I do feel the need to mention that it was not a good deal for everyone else. If we're going to make a fair go of it, we have to stick together. We will leave Alpha some day. It's a big universe out there. The time will come, and we'll put this whole, wonky thing behind us, but we'll do it as a colony. Personally, I don't envy some jackeroo' who was willing to let everyone else hang so he could live out his fantasy of being Paul Bunyon. If you ask me, all he got was enough rope to hang himself.
"Davis too." He added to the just desserts casualty list. "They'll be lucky to make it through the first winter. Good thing that blyguard Ferro is so full of hot air. They're going to need it."
And on that note, he found himself grateful again that the power had returned after the Moon had been mysteriously, and quite unexpectedly released.
Angelina glanced from the viewport to the picture adorning the breakroom wall. Someone had been a fan of the Western television series "Wagon Train" and framed a poster size picture of a replica of an old promo advertisement. Most pioneers did not travel alone but in large groups, large wagon trains trekking across the vast unknown prairie in search of a home. The chances of success and survival were much better in larger numbers.
However, the primary difference between the wagon trains of the old American west and the wagon train of Moonbase Alpha though was the pioneers of the 1800s were eager and willing to travel the unknown; the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha never volunteered for the deep space version of such an expedition.
"You're right, of course," Ang acknowledged. "Given the conditions of that planet, the commander made the correct decision to cancel Operation Exodus. There will be more opportunities." She stated, mirroring his optimism. "There was no sense in jumping from the frying pan into the fire and that is exactly..."
She stopped, her attention diverted to the electronic cuckoo clock. It had emerged from its home but the pendulum stopped in mid swing and the plastic bird, with beak half open was about to make the electronic "cuckoo" chirp but did not.
She felt her hair on the back of her neck stand up on end followed by the odor of ionization, as if someone just fired a laser but no weapon had been fired. She looked at Carter and his expression told her he was evidently having the same experience.
"Alan, I think.." The red alert klaxon cut her off.
"It looks like the professor was onto something." Carter agreed, deeply disturbed and just when life was beginning to seem, at best, hopeless again. Now--suddenly--things had gotten worse. The door to the MCR Cantina closed on its own as the emergency shutdown of all primary, and secondary bulkheads went into effect. The electric blue, and green lighting that trimmed the dispensing machines shut down abruptly, as did the overhead beams. "Gorgeous, don't ask me how I know, but I think we've reached the end of that gravastar phenomenon he was talking about."
This particular journey was finis.
Now they got the boot.
"ATTENTION ALL SECTIONS ALPHA, THIS IS CONTROLLER ASTRIN." The deputy MMC spoke across every commlock, and commstation on the base. Marilys Sing, and Tom Morningstar skidded to a halt before one of the panels in Causeway Number Eight long enough to hear what they should be fleeing from. In the background, technicians and specialists scrambled towards the stairwells as the elevators, and travel tubes were automatically powered down.
"OSCILLATIONS ARE POSITIVE. PREPARE TO EXIT RAPTURE CORRIDOR. SINGULARITY AND EVENT TIME IN FIVE MINUTES. ALL LAUNCH PADS ARE CLOSED. ALL PERSONNEL WORKING ON THE SURFACE ARE INSTRUCTED TO RETURN TO BASE IMMEDIATELY.
"THIS IS NOT A DRILL." Astrin informed them with sedate manner. "MEDICAL TEAMS STAND BY. DAMAGE CONTROL CREWS, YOU'RE ON HIGH ALERT."
"THERE IT IS." Sandra Benes blurted out, standing and pointing at the split graphics on the big screen as the floor beneath her faded in the dark riptide. The real-time image was one of collapsing ten dimensional space-a jiffyland filled with a billion, billion, billionth subatomic particles--each as powerful as a thermonuclear warhead. Whether it was a dead universe, or one in chrysalis form was but fodder for cocktail physics. The cusp-like edges of the disc--from whose born no traveler could ever return--was paradoxically impelled away from the Moon, even as the satellite started to gain velocity. Layer upon layer of compacted realities began to dissolve the physical laws of Moonbase Alpha. When they finally emerged-if they survived--it was certain that they would be in a domain of new probabilities, new properties, alternate creations, and all without doors or windows. Ferro and Davis had sealed their fates in every sense of the word.
They were trapped on their hyperplanet for all time.
John Koenig studied the toroidal on the big screen, looking for clues in the degree of curvature. As usual, they could discern nothing about the consequences of this encounter. And there could be no sneak previews. The four-dimensional, superspace on the opposite side would not be visible until the satellite reentered the time stream.
"Retal ro won ezigolopa I dluohs." The commander said, and then frowned sternly at his incomprehensibility as the whirlpool lapped, and frothed at the walls of sonics.
"I think the answer to that would be 'no.'" Victor Bergman said wanly, his speech still unaffected.
"KANO." Koenig said, more forcefully, and was disgusted again--this time by his vociferous display. Lars Manroot, and Tanya Alexander were both staring at him.
At least the message came across loud, and infinitely clear on the quantum level.
"Computer says there's no way of determining what type of arc we're heading into." The mainframe chief said icily. "The donut diagram was generated from a previous encounter." He qualified, while consulting his handful of register tape again. "If it's a mobius, we'll be trapped."
"Yes." Bergman concurred but with perhaps, a bit more passion and feeling than your typical two door refrigerator.
The funky distortion of reality and perceived reality was beginning to make Helena Russell's stomach turn upside down. She felt as if she just rode the Tilt-A-Whirl (Tilt-A-Hurl, she called it) for the 100th time. Her stomach was made more of cast iron than Tanya Alexander, Sandra Benes and Andy Dempsey, who simultaneously vomited their last meal. Kate Bullen and June Akaiwa soon followed suit as Zed Astrin, the monumental effort of keeping his stomach contents in his belly, turned several shades of distorted green.
"John, Victor, everyone, lay down, on your stomachs," a sweating Russell blurted, deducing that middle ear distortion was contributing to the Upper GI turbulence.
She was right. The cool tile was a godsend of relief next to her cheek as she felt abatement of the vomit urge.
In the MCR Cantina, Angelina Verdeschi had found her way to the floor by accidentally tripping over her own feet. Alan Carter attempted to help her up but in the process discovered that remaining horizontal as oppose to vertical might be a good idea from the point of quelling nausea.
"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," she mumbled, fighting the queasiness, with eyes closed. She did not really want to see what was happening. She felt Carter beside her with an arm across her back but other than that, she had no other prominent sensory inputs. A part of her preferred it that way. Rapture Corridor encounters frightened the hell out of her. Of all the horrible aspects of existing in deep space, rapture corridors were the worst experiences, mostly due to the continuing feeling of death breathing down her neck through the entire experience and the utter loss of control over the situation.
'Just fucking take me and get it over with,' came the rebellious thought to the mind numbing fear. Then, the silent prayers would begin, the last bastion of peace for the doomed soul.
Carter's face was a crushed, torque-inspired, mask of red death. He savored not the sensation of movement as the lunar surface beneath the command tower began to accelerate into the Rapture Corridor's departure gate. There was an outré second where all movement seemed to stop--the eye of the storm, or maybe a pause in the action while they waited for some occult loch to open, and given them entrance. He grunted beneath the mounting PSI. His spine felt like Ed Malcom was walking on it. Clenching his fists, he forced his concrete neck muscles to turn.
"YOU'VE GOT TO BE JOKING ME." He uttered with trenchant denial as scarlet blood began to trail from his right nostril.
Angelina Verdeschi was no longer laying beside him. Instead, there was a huge basilica organ, with harmonic pipes that rose high into the thunderheads of another world. Black, and white, player piano keys, fashioned from alien bones, began to play a horrifying, phatasmogorical Tango.
The fun had started.
The big screen was a discotheque that would have made Donna Summer proud. The physical realm had, literally, turned to a spiraling heat shimmer of celestial sawdust, and moraines that were at least a 1,000 times larger than the weak, pussified' Moon. The image directly in the center was one of violent, electromagnetic amorphism. A trio of crimson vortices converged at an epicenter of pure entropy.
And the best part was that there was no last part. Only the rapids of relativity, and Claude ("...'clode, 'Clode, 'CLODE--you pronounced his name ''CLODE,' vous miscreant.) Murneau pinned by the gravitational glove to the utilities in his quarters.
So, in this way, 'Clode' was scrunched against the 'commode.'
What else might the elastic future hold?
The I-Band Omni Radio Dish stopped revolving just before a continent-wide hurricane of rocks and residuum struck the outer frontier of Moonbase Alpha. The remote instrument packs were the first to be buried, followed by the perimeter stations. The high, chain link fencing that surrounded the Alpine Valley refineries was blown away totally, as was the maintenance dome that was situated near the Lox storage facility.
Then the Rapture Corridor huffed, and puffed, and blew down one of the artificial gravity assemblies. The superstructure collapsed like silver toothpicks beneath the heel of a thermodynamic Anubis.
"!!!VELOCITY 300,000!!!" Sandra Benes cried, feeling the tendons in her shovel hands began to ossify, and break.
They were moving faster than the speed of light now.
Controller Zed Astrin felt like he was having a heart attack--and he may have been, but he had nothing to worry about. If this lasted another thirty seconds, he would have no ventricles to lock up. His myocardial thrombosis would be cured.
For John Koenig, the worst part of these tohubohus was the mob law of irrationality, and the psychotic breaks. Travelling through these temporal rabbit holes caused him to hallucinate. Several others had reported similar symptoms. He placed an arm over Helena Russell's brawling locks just as the remote pack from the controller's workstation tumbled on top of her. The noise was obliterative. It was like being a hundred miles below sea level, a seashell by a furious seashore.
"Pu sneercs eht evah ew od doG ym." The professor cried, consternated by the raging nepenthe.
The commander managed a glimpse to his right, and all he could see--eternally into the sunset, was Victor Bergman, and Victor Bergman. Beside Victor Bergman, there was Victor Bergman. It was Victor Bergman to the Nth Power, and each member of the Bergman multiplicity was trying in vain to assist Andy Dempsey whose neck was dangerously hyperextended against one leg of his workstation.
"Now what's all the fuss about, govna'?" The female child with light parsecs of golden hair stooped beside Koenig. She had materialized out of nowhere--it was like Louis Carroll, until her sweet smile revealed them ichor, and infected mausoleum of her black, decaying teeth. "I think it's a real 'lollygag 'meself." The darling little hellspawn cackled with iced hilarity. "Georgie, Georgie, 'puddin pie."
Someone--perhaps Kate Bullen--began to shriek from the opposite side of the auditorium for reasons unknown.
Helena Russell felt Koenig's arm about her head as a vice, pushing her skull into the floor. With eyes wide open, she began to discern the molecular layers of the tile as her face sank into the floor as if it was water. Smoothly, she went down, through the tile, the concrete and steel, down to level C, then D, then E...all the way to Auditorium B, the storage area with the second big screen. Further down she sank until she was one with the grey lunar ground, moving down through rocks and boulders.
She knew it was a hallucination; or was it? The heat of the magma was intensely hot and the illusion was too real as her porcelain face moved closer and closer to the inferno of lava. She screamed and attempted to move away.
In the heart of the Rapture Corridor, oxymorons abounded.
The explosive unmoveableness, and the dawdling, deadly momentum of the distortion reached an alveolus--an acme where Reality and a trillion zeros converged. Then, just as the fiery ball threatened to reel out of tangible existence, the merry-go-round began to decelerate. The fierce glow, evanesced.
The Moon exited the jetstream, careening back into the galactic rim of another universe.
She sat up, sweating, looking around Main Mission. The lights were on and the only sounds in the room was the normal chattering of computer. The people were semi-conscious on the floor, in trancelike states. She had seen this before and needed to act quickly. If the psychosis was violent, they would awaken themselves. If, however, the illusion was pleasant, the person would need external stimuli to be awaken; afterall, in an altered reality, even a fabricated hallucination, why would one want to be awaken?
Time was the enemy. The longer they remained in the pleasant hypnotized state, the harder it would be to jolt them back to reality.
Kate Bullen screamed and suddenly began to sob. Obviously, her altered reality was horrific and the dismal universe of Moonbase Alpha was preferable to the fabrication of her mind.
"Kate!" Helena Russell arose on wobbly legs, making her way to the miserable woman. "Kate. Its OK. It was an illusion."
The woman was hysterical.
"KATE!" Russell grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her. "KATE! Pull yourself together. You're OK. We made it!"
Kate stopped crying and looked around the room. "Yes, Doctor," she blubbered, still unsure.
"It's alright," the doctor relaxed and put a maternal arm around her. She helped the woman up.
"I know," she sniffed, straightening her tunic. She glanced at her instruments. "It's over. We made it."
Lars Manroot suddenly yelled out violently, punching at an invisible enemy. He abruptly righted himself on all fours, shaking his head like a dog as Helena Russell came to his side. "Lars?"
"I'm alright, Doctor," Manroot grabbed a utility cart to assist himself to a standing position. Funny. He didn't look 'alright' considering he was covered in the regurgitated remnants of Gonzale's version of Shepard's Pie "Surprise", and his eyes were bloodshot to match the inconsistent ruddiness of his face.
"Astrin, are you alright?" Koenig asked, assisting the controller to his feet. "Sandra?"
"I'm well." The data analyst supposed, with convincing dark circles beneath her eyes, and bedeviled with bruises as she hauled herself back into the chair.
On the steps leading to the starboard vision ports, Emma Black stooped to recover a stack of green flimsies that belonged to a broken down, Dr. Ashton Emery who came to Main Mission to acquire CGI footage to use during simulations in the planetarium. Instead, he got pitched by the Rapture Corridor, and his tale bone was killing him.
Victor Bergman stood by the Capcomm Station--his hair a spastic shambles, and discomfited by the onslaught of a ruthless muscle spasm in his neck.
"The backdoor was definitely uglier than the front door." The commander told the professor ironically. "If you ever want to talk about gravastar formation again, you'll definitely have an audience of one.
"It's been another on the job type of learning experience, hasn't it?" Bergman grasped the back of the chair, while the lingering vertigo slowly ebbed away. He noticed several others still in a trance. "Helena? Rapture Psychosis?"
"White noise," the doctor, who was now the person most recovered of her senses, nodded then instructed still shaky Bullen. A quick glance around the room revealed that several of the Alphans evidently preferred their alternate, mental reality. "Send it to every commpost and every commlock."
"Attention all sections Alpha," Kate announced over the intercom. "White noise in 60 seconds. For those who are conscious, ear protection is recommended."
She punched in the program then donned her ear plugs, nodding to the physician.
Angelina Verdeschi knew she had died and gone to heaven, or perhaps the whole Moonbase Alpha experience was all a bad dream. All she knew was that she was riding the chairlift, half way up the mountain. What a great day! The trail beside her, Hurricane Alley, had just been groomed and she couldn't wait to be the first one down it.
Her new, freshly sharpened and waxed skis, glistened in the sun.
Alan Carter was beside her but he was a snowboarder, not a skier. The fact that she never socialized with him before her final assignment to Moonbase Alpha was completely ignored.
"You'd better let me go first," she commented. "Last time, you went ahead of me and plowed up all the snow, leaving me with a sheet of ice. I almost fell and broke my face. I like my nose the way it is, thank you very much," she smiled spritely.
"Hey!" She pointed below, while falling deeper into the illusion. "There's Pierre Danielle!"
Big P threw her a wave then whisked down the mountain, slicing over the moguls with ease.
"I didn't know he could ski," she looked back at Carter. Again, the fact that she had not even met Pilot Danielle prior to her last fateful trip from Earth was completely ignored. "What's the matter? You don't look very happy. You aren't SCARED are you?" she teased. The look on his face was totally serious.
"Nope." Carter said gently, but seriously, with a riled bang falling over his left eye. Pierre Danielle handed him an alcohol swab from the first aid kit so that he could do cleanup work on his busted nose. "Ang,' it's over. Time to wake up."
He handed her commlock to her. That was all, but it was enough. It was the equivalent of a suicide capsule; a black orchid; a serpent; an ill-omened moth that preached the gospel of sinister space.
The whiteness of the snow laden trails was replaced with the stark whiteness of the Alphan walls. The very unfortunate presence of the commlock brought her back to real life.
Instead of holding poles and barreling down moguls, Pilot Danielle held a first aid kit in one hand a gauze pad applying pressure to a cut on Bram Cedrix's forehead with the other. Ben Vincent stumbled in with Raul Nunez pulling the gurney.
Ang blinked and said nothing, listening to Cedrix tell Vincent the wound was 'nothing', but a quick check by Dr. Vincent illustrated the need for 8-10 double stitches.
"Get on the gurney, Cedrix, or we'll put you on it," Vincent insisted, taking no crap from the yard manager.
Cedrix mumbled something unintelligible about Vincent's mother but otherwise willingly complied.
"Are you alright, Ang?" The physician diverted his attention as Nunez unnecessarily strapped in Cedrix.
"Yeah..I'm fine," she stood up. "That was quite a trip." This time, she thanked the Blessed Mother she was not left with a migraine....just numb.
"What about you, Captain?" Vincent inspected the pilot's nose.
"Yeah." Carter said, but he didn't want his nostrils probed. Not even with his own finger. "Right as rain."
It was an out, and out lie.
There was no rain on the Moon.
(Excerpt from the unused copy of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (1992 Edition), the property of one Klaus Rotstein, who gives nothing, but a reference work, that provides little, though Commander John Koenig pretended to lose it for the fun of it--and to disgruntle the junior controller-and who has no intention of ever giving it back.)
Memory: mem*o*ry, n pl mem*o*ries
1) The mental faculty of retaining and recalling past experiences.
2) Persistent modification of an animal's behavior through stored knowledge.
They exited the Arkadian gopher hole three years ago. There had been other Rapture Corridors in the intervening years--many of them far worse. That was their last encounter with a gravastar. The planet was gone, and the drama had undergone drastic changes, including the bulk deaths of many of the key players. The late David Kano was a dire exemplary. For all they knew, Farro and Davis also lay sprawled, in open or closed graves, on the surface of Eden.
"One minute to lift-off." Lorna O'Brian briefed Victor Bergman as he vacated the record room, and joined the others in the Main Mission trench. John Koenig acknowledged his arrival with a nod. Phil Geist emerged from the commander's office and stood on the platform, waiting avidly with a symbolic globe of the Earth standing behind him.
Paul Morrow rapidly typed out encoded commands into the upper keyboard of his workstation. He then hit ALT/CTRL/DELETE to reset his tabs.
"Final download from Technical Section completed." Benjamin Ouma reported from atop his turntable.
"And the pad crews have reached the checkpoint." Alan Carter said, and then, radiating towards Angelina: "I hear that jalopy has got a brand new voltage regulator."
"New voltage regulator. The ship is all spit cleaned and shiny and ready to go," Angelina acknowledged neutrally. She still did not reveal her position on the matter to anyone, not even to Alan.
Silence overtook Main Mission, all eyes staring at the big screen and Dr. Helena Russell strode in, giving everyone she passed an acknowledging nod and smile as she took up a standing position beside Koenig.
"T minus 10-9-8-7-6," Ben Ouma spoke formally, "5-4-3-2-1- Launch."
With a sudden burst of atomized fuel and scattering lunar dust, the alien probe took off, course set in the same direction it was programmed prior to its encounter with the wandering former earth moon. The ship departed, becoming smaller and smaller. The image feed switched to the orbital satellites but within minutes, the ship became a miniscule model size. Soon, it was merely a dot and then it became indistinguishable from the background of stars. By then, almost everyone had lost interest, gradually returning to their mundane duties.
Commander Koenig returned to his desk and sat pensively, gazing at the big screen, while Dr. Russell and Professor Bergman chatted on the computer deck. His eyes met Angelina Carter's.
'Who me?' the Technical Manager glanced with faux innocence as the Commander waved her to his desk. He nodded, relaxed and swiveled as she climbed the 3 steps out of the trench.
"Why do you care?" she started casually. "It certainly doesn't matter now."
"I'm curious," Koenig answered.
"Human beings have never done a great job playing 'god' in matters of life and death," Angelina explained. "It seems that when we learn how to manipulate life and death, the technique and mechanics of it are easy but the question of when to use it, the morality, is a problem which we have rarely been successful."
"Do you remember Simon, my beloved Siamese?" Angelina continued. It made her choke up a bit, still after all these years.
He did. Of course, he was only a physicist at the time, but destiny would have its way, and at the time of Simon's passing, he was only a short, handbreadth away from yet another (his third), enriching, enlightening tour of duty in the AP lab on Moonbase Alpha. Later, he would be excused from this meaningful sabbatical because of his involvement in an extrasolar mission that was so badly botched, it made Apollo One look like Yaeger breaking the sound barrier.
"The cancer was overwhelming and as an objective observer, you saw what it had done to him, how he had deteriorated." She paused, swallowing. 'Anyway, you went with me to the vet and you stayed in the room with me as he was euthanized. I signed the forms. I played 'god' with Simon's life. In that case, it was an act of mercy and compassion."
Mercy indeed. He could not grip (but might some day be given the opportunity to partake) the mortal, anguished, disfiguring ramifications of the brain dissolving from the inside out. The Siamese had fought the good fight, but this time, there were no flags to raise at Iwo Jima. The carcinomic area appeared as a disease riddled, hirsute patch of infectious pus, and pink--like a bullet, right between the cat's eyes.
Since Breakaway, all of their minds had been beneath the radar, but when the thought barged in that the alien probe may have contained a cure for Cancer (or some such kissing cousin of a malignancy), he felt better about his decision. Even if he was rewriting the Laws Of Horse Sense. If not rewriting, he was at least producing a bad, television adaptation of same-a script that nary resembles the original work; one that is compressed, and standardized.
Thus, conscience had made fearful couch potatoes of them all.
"Yes it was." The commander agreed quietly, the corners of his mouth gently turning.
"However, that same technique, that same procedure of using medicine to gently stop a heart to allow my pet a dignified death was used in American nursing homes to kill the disabled, people who were considered useless in society." She shuddered. It still disgusted her to this day.
"It seems that whenever we are able to manipulate life and death, our intentions become sour, even evil. Perhaps we are not advanced enough to act responsibly with this power."
"Ours is not to question why." Koenig expressed--it was an admission, not a paraphrase.
He already knew that 'Ang Carter had been the key ingredient in sending the probe on its way. Not Geist; not Osgood; not Cooper; or Carter Number Two, or any of the wizards in the Experimental Lab. They were but levers. Her determination had been every bit as propulsive as the crude, rocket mix that had sent that extraterrestrial canoe back to the stars.
"True," she paused, "on the other hand, we know we are human. Human beings are not perfect, especially when it comes to making choices which could have dire moral and ethical circumstances. Actually," she paced to the globe and gently spun it on its axis, "I think it's possible for anyone, under the wrong set of circumstances, to take the step from decent person to depraved monster. God knows, there have been times I've been tempted."
"Take Luke Ferro and Anna Davis as an example," she continued, not caring that Bergman and Russell had joined Koenig at his desk. "Now, yeah, it takes no stretch of the imagination to see Ferro doing what he did. The guy was a weirdo and a self serving jerk. But Anna? Anna Davis? Until our encounter with Arkadia, she was one of the sweetest women I've ever known. At times, I still can't believe that she not only hijacked critical supplies, but she actually killed a man in cold blood and didn't flinch."
"Its still upsetting."
"The lessons of yesteryear." Bergman elocuted. "They don't come with labels, do they?"
"No, they don't." Ang replied with a sad smile, her voice almost a low whisper. "When the moon began moving away again, there was a moment when I was tempted to urge Alan to turn around and go to Arkadia rather than return...here. It would not have taken much convincing on my part." She knew this to be true. He admitted it, remembering his fateful decision on September 13, 1999: and having regrets a thousand times over since then.
"In fact, if I had a crystal ball, and could see that everyone on Alpha would be alright, we probably wouldn't be here speaking right now."
The conversation had been joined by Alan Carter and Truman Starns.
"But you aren't there because you put the needs of others before your own," Helena Russell gently intoned.
Angelina was not so sure. Were they still on Moonbase Alpha because of an overriding, self sacrificing concern for others? Or was it a greater fear of not surviving on Arkadia, of failure, that kept her mouth closed in the command module of Eagle 2-S?
"I reckoned this was another one of 'those' conversations." The pilot underscored with a slight wink, leaning his zippered, orange sleeve between 'Ang, and the undulating Belziers pattern on the commander's desk monitor. "The probe is moving out of epicycle. We're standing down the mobile gantry. Everything is plumb." He chronicled routinely. "Continuing maneuvers near the Hyginus Rill."
"Good." Koenig said, exhaling a distinct, and audible sigh of relief. But then, on the caprice: "Victor, am I detecting a note of regret?" He said, casually--half heartedly attempting to keep the conversation on the beach, but the image of terminally ill friends, and Ferro and Davis paying the final price for their evil non-plussed him.
"Could be." The professor replied. "There are times when I wish I was clairvoyant. I've devoted my entire life to the pursuit of science--a noble endeavor, sure--but answers...." He drifted far away, scratching his cheek. "The whole thing is like some grandiloquent, mysterious odyssey. We learn, we grow...."
"Knowing is one thing." Helena Russell shaped, and defined the rhetoric that, leaning against the desk on her elbows next to a Gorski mobile, metal-art widget.' "What we do with that knowledge is another."
"We could have kept the probe here." Koenig agreed. "We could have dismantled, and disposed of it." He supposed, leaning back in his white leather deck chair. "But like Ang' said--that would have been playing God. It's depressing to think that ignorance defines our mortality, but...." He trailed off with a flourish of his palm.
"Despite our terrible, almost hopeless circumstance, not everyone on this base acts out of the common good for our community," Angelina reinforced. Her eyes momentarily locked with the prying stare of Klaus Rotstein on his coffee break on the balcony. He looked away, caught in his spying, and smoothly pretended to be engrossed in conversation with a bored Andy Dempsey.
A chill darted down the Technical Manager's spine.
"Ignorance may be too harsh of a word, John." Bergman reconsidered. "Maybe it's more like humility. Luke Ferro wasn't famous for having that quality."
"It's strange how people keep bringing those two up." The commander said, genuinely surprised, and intrigued. Earlier, he returned his journal to the unswept regions of his desk drawer, thinking it was unhealthy to have a greater interest in the events of three years ago than the vicissitudes of today. Milk did not keep if it wasn't in a refrigerator.
"You got that right." Carter said with hauteur, and despisal. "For me, it's a bonzer day when I don't think about that." He professed. "Ferro had a head on him like a sucked mango. Why dredge it up now when I was so happy forgetting him?"
"As unpleasant as it may be," Angelina replied gently, "if we forget the past we are bound to repeat it." She paused then continued, "especially the wicked events."
It was depressing to think about but it was at the same time, utterly true.
Helena Russell shrugged.
"Like the probe, maybe they were important in their own way." The physician talked game. "There was no permanent damage here, and the idea that they may have been able to return life to that planet does seem...poetic."
"C'mon doc.'" The pilot unctuated. "Truth sits upon the lips of dying men." He retorted. "That's poetry. As for Ferro, and Davis, they make me want to pull my lip over my head and swallow."
"Maybe the process isn't always what it appears to be." Victor Bergman interceded. "Over time we have--more or less--bought into the idea that they played a key, evolutionary role in the development of that planet. The gods casting one hand over the other." He paradigmed. "That may have had absolutely nothing to do with it.
"In some way, it may have had more to do with our destiny. In a very real sense, we're like the alien probe. Seemingly insignificant, but not really."
"You're joking." Carter waxed. To is way of thinking, the alien spacer had been as integral as shit on a stick. It was all galvanized steel, and cheap, composite propellants. If you breathed too heavy you could alter its course. The batteries were probably less than a 1,000.0 Ah. That failed to amaze him. It brought to mind the crampt, parsimonious rudiments of a Soyuz space capsule only not as luxurious. He only helped repair the thing because Ang' found it important.
Helena Russell shook her head. "No, I understand what you are saying, Victor. It makes sense. Not everything that happens to us can be explained. In fact, we don't even know how or why we survived Breakaway...but we did. Everything we do has an impact on everything else yet we don't always know the reason."
Angelina gave Carter an amused sidewise glance, pursing her lips to contain an outright though inappropriate grin. Helena Russell was moving into the arena of bull droppings and it was getting deep for him.
"So perhaps by not having the probe here, by sending it away, we don't give ourselves the chance to screw up?" Koenig pried again for a straight answer on the Technical Manager's position.
Angelina Carter shrugged neutrally.
"Alan." Paul Morrow called, standing between the first and second step with a short register print out in one hand. "Transmission coming in from Silver Spur. Newbury is at the forty mile marker in Eagle 5-0."
"I'm on it." The pilot replied, and gave the conflux around the desk a parting, bananas look. His cudgels had not changed in the intervening years. As far as he was concerned, Ferro was born stupid, knew nothing, and he forgot even that.
Pete Garforth, under the right archway, waved and caught Ang's attention. Without saying another word, she smiled at the remaining group and took the opportunity to bow out of the conversation, never satisfying Koenig's curiosity.
Chagrined, Victor Bergman watched him go as an unpleasant look of inept inscribed itself on Helena Russell's face.
"John." She said, totally off the stove now and bothered by an implication that had managed to escape from the trunk of another day. "How much of a choice did Luke and Anna have?" She wondered, feeling the thud of sarcophagus's lid. "How much of a choice did we have in regards to the probe?
"Was there a wrong answer?"
For interminable seconds, it seemed as though the neutrality would never move along, that the commander was about to do a Sweet Fanny Adams, and provide no response. He creaked slightly back in his chair, clearing a network channel to the left of his blotter. Instead of gathering, Koenig's brow tensed again as he closed a green flimsied, PM report and handed it to Truman Starns.
His reply was a whiffet.
"Paul." He bade, heading back into the trench. "Let me know when Newbury reaches the kymograph."
Ahead of them was an incessant Van Gogh as the Moon rolled, and paradiddled through the waves of interstellar dust, and hydrogen--a substance that rivaled not stupidity in its sheer volume. There were variables, and sempieternal reflections, and novas detonating in the void. But it was for humankind to realize that in the imperial acrostic of it all, the coffers were empty.
"A man is wise with the wisdom of his time only...."
--Henry David Thoreau
"A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us."
"If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he can not be my disciple."
--Luke 14:26 NAB
BASED ON CHARACTERS AND SITUATIONS CREATED BY GERRY AND SYLVIA ANDERSON.