Space:1999 The Classic Adventures
Season 2: Episode 34
"Firstly the power of invention, so rapidly intensified...by the rationalized collaboration of all the forces of research that it is already possible to speak of a human rebound of evolution."
--Janice B. Paulsen
The confluence of stars. It never varied. For months the quasar blinked in the forefront, growing somewhat larger, but insignificant to the desperate intellect. There was the usual web of blue argon with blinking volcanic asteroids--backstage observers in the grand scheme--byproducts, but hardly a Big Bang, in and of themselves. Ionic showers broke the monotony at irregular intervals, but nothing could surpass the brag, and flatulence of a stationary star that had begun to move. The question of what orbit, and what host was irrelevant in the face of slate-wiping death which was not destined to happen. Fortunately. The cool face of Hyakutake was a problem if one considers the larger piezo effects. On Earth, this was never any threat to a good night's snooze, but in deep space, the comet's tendency to bust AC/DC power grids must give us pause.
Far beneath the 1,000 kilometer, diaphanous tale of gaseous illumine, and substrate ice, another type of light poured from the secures, the bells, and the resets of Moonbase Alpha's master computer bank which fell dormant the minute Commander John Koenig exited the MPSR room at the end of panel six.
At the mainframe desk, Benjamin Ouma folded his arms over his chest patiently. A grudge was in the making, but since no one would listen, he seemed content to sit with his thumb up his butt.
"Hyakutake in ten minutes, commander." Controller Paul Morrow reported distantly, his over arching concern was on pulling the RCA jacks from the main rendezvous panel. "All secondary systems have been powered down. We're focusing on the primary now."
"Right," Koenig stood at the top of the landing, arms crossed, as Bergman and Russell joined him, one on either side. All eyes focused on the comet on the big screen. "Commence phased shut down on the primary circuitry. Implement 30 second test of solar batteries." He paused then continued, "Complete shut down in 8 minutes."
Everyone had expected those words 'complete shutdown', but it was still alarming to hear. For 10 minutes Alpha would be completely in the dark and until the grid powered up and stabilized, it would be another hour in the red glow of the solar batteries.
"We need to hurry." Professor Victor Bergman advised after his tonsils were free from a mammoth glob of concern. He was not smiling. "The comet may be 15 million nautical miles out, but there are enough orm particles in there to damage our systems irreparably.
"It will be far worse than a voltage drop." He commented, nodding towards Angelina Carter who was working diligently at her desk.
The bile crept into the back of her throat...again. She felt physically awful and she was so pale, it appeared she had not seen sun in months. Well, she hadn't seen sun in months: correction, not been to the solarium in months. She'd given up coffee in favor of the horrendous Vitaseed. She had tried to kick the caffeine habit before and she would certainly try it again.
"True," Ang nodded glumly. "If we don't completely power down we stand a very good chance of frying our circuitry, literally degrading the conductive properties of the copper to insulators. Not good." She took a sip of the Vitaseed and scowled. Crap. She was tempted to grab a cup of coffee from June Akaiwa's tray but decided against it.
Adisa Talic, 4 months pregnant, gingerly negotiated the steps down the balcony to the computer deck as she glanced curiously at the beautiful but deadly comet tail on the big screen.
Alan Carter was standing casually by the CapComm desk, his unjeopardized chin in his palm, and with one Hush Puppy propped in the futura plastic chair. The quiescent hardware of his workstation reminded him of his fifth wheel, dangerless, Eagleless status. After yawning with extreme torpor, he winked discretely at 'Ang, and returned his attention to the ball of frozen water in high resolution.
"Right." Morrow said, perspiration forming on his tentative upper lip, and closing out a pre-event dialogue box with security. "MAIN MISSION TO ALL SECTIONS ALPHA. THE HYAKUTAKE SWEEP WILL OCCUR IN T-MINUS SEVEN MINUTES."
Abruptly, the line power cells were terminated in a row, driving the green geometric wall panels to extinction. Before, there was radical progress, but that was bum rushed by the advancing harbinger. Now the auditorium was a dark cave, lit only by lamps that were powered by local stars. It was 1,000,000 BC, with demonic spirits dancing for sacrifices in the firelight.
"SHUT DOWN OF THE NETWORK SUPPLY IN T-MINUS TWO MINUTES." Morrow went on, hearing his own voice echo, and bound back to him from the sterile bulkhead walls, and the mounted Dolby speakers. After giving Sandra Benes an ambiguous, iffy glance, he broke the link.
"Prep closeout confirmed." The analyst noted in the mathematical light of a digital spreadsheet that was powered by good karma, and little goddamn else. "Central reactor closeout confirmed; auxiliary transfer to accept." She said, studying the data.
A quiet scowl tap danced across Victor Bergman's cheeks as the red backup blip began to blink, and morse across her wool tunic--a versatile caution, and warning light from what should have been a limited control panel.
"We have a fifteen minute hold." She stressed, looking at the commander, and the professor. "Bus activity from the Experimental Laboratory."
"John, we can't have it." Bergman said urgently. "One infiltrated system could cause a domino effect that could bring down our reference circuits for months, or even years."
This was assuming that they lived to tell. Everyone on the base--without exception, everyone, including the village idiot, and Ed Malcom knew that the electrical meshwork was inextricably woven with the biosphere. If they didn't breathe air, they died. End of story. They were in a bamboo, and straw hut looking at the eye of Hurricane Hyakutake.
Space was a cold place.
"Experimental Lab?!? I thought that was shut down with the secondary systems" Koenig's brow knotted. Extreme urgency flashed across Bergman's face. Russell looked toward Ang neutrally.
"It was suppose to be," Ang acknowledged as she pulled the online circuitry and attempted to trace the demand. "I'll shut it down from here."
She typed in a series of commands and was surprised when the following message answered her: ACCESS DENIED.
"Huh?!?" She tried again with the same result. "Commander, I'm not able to access the override protocol."
"Send it to me," Koenig whirled and dropped into his chair swiveling toward his screen. The email message came from "avcarter" and he studied the circuitry route. He typed in the same commands as Ang followed by his authorization code.
"Its not letting me in either," Koenig jumped up, followed by Russell and Bergman and he trotted down the step toward the Technical desk.
"We're running short on time," Bergman stated the obvious, clearly distressed.
"JIM!" Angelina punched the white comm stud to the Experimental Lab, calling the manager, Dr. Haines. "All systems for the lab are suppose to be powered down. There's one open and the Commander and I can't get in to shut it down. What's going on in there?!"
Carter was now positioned behind Morrow where he waited with a look of laconical leeriness on his face. The end was drawing nigh, but he took it well. Kate Bullen tried not to stare from her seat at the Procedures desk, though it was probably not 'inappropriate' to stare when one was on the verge of cashing in. Lars Manroot misremembered what he forgot to tell Umberto Garzon about the power domain association problem they would have once the Moon was liberated from the comet's sphere of influence. The anomaly was now his kiester, and his concern was extreme. Physicists, engineers, and astronomers poured from the crampt MPSR to pause by the trench. Among them was Dave Hyakutake, the stargazer who had discovered the instrument of their genocide. He cobbled up an informative cringe of dismay that was not lost on Victor Bergman.
The wait suddenly ended, Sandra Benes' brow relaxed as she inhaled deep, relieving air. Haines replied quickly, and with high octane; with action, not words.
"Blackout initiated." She announced with her eight other lives intact.
John Koenig, relieved but ticked, exchanged gratified glances with Bergman, and Russell. Paul Morrow shook his head ruefully which did nothing to evacuate the steam of umbrage that roiled, white hot, between his ears. He wanted to disembowel someone. Carter was mute, save for the satirical look that he passed on to 'Ang before returning to his useless workstation.
"Ouma!" Koenig honed the radar toward the Chief of Computer Operations. "Why weren't we able to override the circuit protocol and disable Experimental? What's going on with the command access codes?" The commander was incensed as he thundered toward the swivel desk.
"Doing a preliminary system scan now, Commander," Ouma replied tensely. Ole Faithful (ie computer) appeared to fail them again and he was determined to jump to its defense.
"You won't be able to complete it," Sandra announced, watching the shutdown countdown clock. "Primary circuits to central computer closing down....now.."
"DAMNIT!!!!" Ouma blurted as the lights went out on his computer station. Even the power was cut to his desk as he halted in mid swivel. "I need power to complete the diagnostics!"
"There's no time for that, Ben," Ang stood up as Bergman nodded his agreement.
"!!!WHAT THE HELL KIND OF BRILL WAS THAT???" Dr. Haines consulted with hardware specialist Ian Garvey. He nearly tripped in the dark on his way to the meeting--a congress without donuts, or even water. A symposium that was not announced, though Garvey must have seen it coming. No agenda, or Franklin planner was needed. A hatchet probably was. The senior researcher's bitonality alternated from the chords of "E" to "B" flat major, and the melody was on a key of fucking pissed off. "!!!I TOLD YOU TO SWITCH OFF!!!"
Specialist Gloria Eason stepped cautiously aside to avoid being coco butted by Haines, whose ripping, honked off wings fell over Garvey symbolically, though actual bone crushing was a real possibility. Behind her was Garvey's print of the Big Horn Medicine Wheel, it's rim measuring 245 feet, with five aboriginal spokes that connect to the central cairn. There were also 27 aboriginal spokes that supposedly symbolized the number of nights between the old Moon crescent, and the new Moon crescent. To some, this lunar visibility was thought to characterize forces of darkness, and evil.
To Gloria Eason it was a comparable, dionysian, paradise in Aruba. If the Uto-Aztecans could have seen how Haines yelled through bared teeth, they probably would have felt the same way.
"!!!ARE YOU A DIVVY, OR ARE YOU JUST PLAIN DAFT???" Dr. Haines went on, hectoring Garvey.
The specialist with the bright red hair, recently transferred from EOG Station #2, looked up meekly. "There's an experiment I thought we could perform. It involves the effect of orm particle infiltration into an electromagnetic field. If we can determine its effects on EM fields, we could find a way to protect our electrical systems without having to go through the shutdown routine every time."
"It really is an interesting experiment, Jim," Gloria jumped to Ian Garvey's defense. "We thought that the system was self contained...or at least we took steps to contain it without affecting the rest of the circuitry for Alpha."
Somewhere in Haines' mind, the wallet was found; a way of retrieving the car keys without calling the locksmith was achieved, and he acquiesced. The PhD was quick to anger, but in direct proportion to his ability to exude compassion. He groated in the dark, staring down at Garvey's contribution with unhinged, emotional hangover. Gloria Eason had picked up the ball before it could burst into flame.
"Any road." Haines said rationally. "I'll support, in principal, any effort that will improve our situation on this ball of crap." He explained, noting as how there were satcom uplink cables connected to Garvey's enigma machine (And oh how little did he realize--the phrase was beyond apropos.). "On the other hand, I don't think it's a good idea to reserve power for a systems integration test when we're about to be showered with a googol of orm particles.
"Try using the simulators next time." He instructed, his rage bypassed.
He exited into the Thermo-Separations observatory flapping red flimsies against his distraught flares. Eason looked neutrally at Garvey, neither agreeing, nor disagreeing with the outcome of the argle-bargle, and after sparing a last look at the specialist's alternator invention thing, she departed for her station in new ware development.
Ian Garvey was left alone, and in the dark.
"Complete shutdown in 5 seconds," Sandra announced. " Four....Three....Two....One...."
Moonbase Alpha was plunged in darkness without even the luxury of the solar batteries for lights. With stations now useless, everyone in Main Mission gravitated toward the viewports to watch the show as they passed through the tail of the comet. Angelina felt Carter's arm wrap inconspicuously around her waist as she gazed at the show.
"Cool, huh," she whispered, anxious beyond words but still trying to appreciate the beauty in something potentially deadly.
The photons that engulfed the Moon were a Mythraic mystery.
Specialist Garvey stared past the row of vision ports in the SIT chamber with a cold cup of coffee clenched in his forefinger. Following the power down, the science polygon was a dark cathedral. From the curtain of light that began to descend on them outside, images began to form against the laboratory bulkhead. Shades, and vestiges of the underworld; pagan gods in the act of killing bulls while accompanied by dogs, snakes, ravens, scorpions. At his workstation, the alternator--his apparatus for preserving the life of baked circuits--began to tick as the lambent light fell over the bluffs, and valley sides of Plato.
The smallest craters on the Moon are a mile in diameter. They were the last to be flooded by the apocalyptic ions. The largest crater was the Mare Imbrium--the Sea of Rains. It's ancient tiers, and consigned depths were made visible by the exotic wave. Extraterrestrial molecules saturated, and plumed, insidiously, the towers, and flatirons of aluminum, and calcium; rocks formed of magnesium, and oxygen. The satellite was neutered, and reborn into a hermaphrodite of ohms, and orms. Near the polar wastes, Moonbase Alpha shimmered, and defused somewhere in the aureole.
The alien was blunt, and Garvey fell under it's spell immediately. The image that appeared on a monitor without power appeared through waterfalls, arrangements, and set ups of red, green, and blue light. Needles of warm, mesmerizing energy breathed in, and out--stabbing at the thin paper of his subconscious with goofy, uncustomary hands. Within, between, and beyond the vowels, and consonants of communication, the alternator was profane, the message was superluminal. The pixilations on his monitor transcended the working hands of evolution, and Garvey was zonked backwards through the arch of archaic, old sock realities. He fell behind the refrigerator; he was lost in the rinse cycle. The laboratory behind him blurred. His other mind opened, and it was scintillating. Through the dank, cumulous mists he saw sublime chariots. He met Pleiades, the daughters of Atlas, harvesting, and hiding for forty days, and forty nights. The specialist vied beyond the Scorpion, the Archer, and the Sea Goat to the ancient history beyond Atlantis, with sunken barges of Lemon Citrine, and barnacle covered bronze fibula.
The alien on the monitor parted lips that were covered with a billion years of dirt, and Ian Garvey listened.
High above the barracks tops of Moonbase Alpha, the Hyakutake comet burned.
In the observation room of Hydroponics Farm #2, Melita Kelly-Geist doubled over, the stabbing abdominal pain spreading from her lower gut to her navel, to her back and down the backs of her thighs. She felt the blood gush between her legs. Her scream echoed through the room.
In corridor 16, Jeanine Farrow gasped and cried out, holding her barely third trimester pregnant belly as the daggerlike agony seared through her body. If there was light security guard Tony Allen would have seen the fluid was copious and clear. Her scream echoed through the corridor.
Adisa Talic shrieked and dropped to her knees, holding her abdomen. The pain was unbearable as she too felt her womb implode and blood and amniotic fluid gushed out of her body. Her scream echoed through the Main Mission.
Their screams echoed through Moonbase Alpha.
Dr. Helena Russell smiled as the Farrows left, carrying the tiny infant girl with the bright red hair. She returned to her PC and reopened her personal journal.
"December 24, 2006. Briana Farrow was discharged today and although all babies born on this base are unique, Briana holds a special place in the hearts of the Medical Center staff. It has been a long road for Briana in her struggle to survive and yet her journey has really just started, as we all continue to travel uncontrollably on this prison that we call Moonbase Alpha, in search of a home."
"The events surrounding Briana's premature birth as well as the other losses at the time however remain a mystery. Were they connected to the passing of the Hyakutake comet or was it caused by Ian Garvey's experiments?"
Fortunately, each woman was granted a private room. The loss was sudden and shocking for Melita Kelly-Geist and Adisa Talic. In Adisa's room, she lay sedated, still coming out of the D&C to remove the remnants of placenta. Her significant other sat quietly, in the moduform chair, gazing mournfully at her. In his hand, he held the photo of his unborn child, taken the day before during an ultrasound. In fact, only an hour earlier, he insisted on holding his perfectly formed 17 week deceased son, who did not even fit into his hand. At the time, Russell thought it might be a good idea to allow "closure" for the loss. Now, she was not so sure it was the right thing to do.
In Melita's room, she sobbed softly on Angelina Carter's shoulder. Phil Geist was at a loss of words as he leaned against the wall. Melita was only 9 weeks pregnant but her loss was just as profound as Adisa.
The scene in Ward A was not much better. Jeanine Farrow lay sleeping while in the opposite corner, her premature daughter, born 13 weeks before her due date, barely clung to life. The wires and tubes connected to the monitors and life support equipment overwhelmed the small form that was barely visible under all the technology.
Paula Johnson, MSRN spoke in a near whisper as she instructed Raul Nunez on the intricacies of inserting an IV into a vein only a few times larger than a human hair and how to handle a person whose skin was as fine and as easily torn as tissue paper.
Dr. Russell turned as Commander Koenig stepped into the room and up to the observation window.
"If we were on earth and she was in a Level 3 Nursery, her chances at 27 weeks would actually be fairly good." She shook her head. "But we aren't. We barely have adequate knowledge to care for full term infants. I have one person who has any useful experience with preemies." She motioned to Nurse Johnson. "Do you think passing through the comet tail could have caused all our pregnant women to miscarry or deliver?"
"Not according to Victor, and Dave Hyakutake." Koenig said funereally, staring through the open doorway to where Ratko Talic sat wringing tortured fists over his decimated eyes. The satellite technician's dark complexion had bled away to a sickly, demented spackle. "Helena, the nucleus of that comet wasn't radioactive--if that's where you're going with this. There was agglomerative rock, interstellar dust, nitrogen." He pondered his folded arms cluelessly. "Orms, of course. Astrophysics is poring over the data now, but to be honest with you, they really don't know any more than the rest of us."
"Sandra, what's the status on the power-up procedure?" He said, activating the direct connect on his commlock.
"All Moonbase systems have been restored." The analyst replied tepidly. "There appears to have been no damage caused by either the fly-by, or the shut down. 'Ang is working up a performance report, but so far the Data Core appears to be unaffected."
"Inform me if there's any change." The commander said, and speed dialed the physics MPSR. "Victor, have we learned anything else about that comet."
"I'm afraid not, John." The professor said regrettably. "We've evaluated the high bit information three times now." He qualified. "We don't really know any more now than we did before. Hyakutake was a fast moving iceberg in space."
"What about the orm saturation?" The commander interjected. "At its closest point, that comet reached a statute of only 975,000 kilometers."
"Doesn't mean anything." Bergman predisposed. "Orms have no radiating properties. The danger was to our electrical wiring. Nothing else. There may be a connection, but I'm afraid the possibility is remote."
"Damnit." Koenig swore, his cheeks contorted, and perplexed as he returned his commlock to his belt. "Helena, if the problem didn't originate from out there, then it's in here. If that comet had nothing to do with it then we're dealing with a contaminated biosphere."
"We've already been checking for that possibility, John," Helena answered as soon as he finished. "Bacterial and fungal analysis of the biosphere are within normal parameters. Although we have a few more tests to conduct, the tests for virus levels and content so far show nothing out of the ordinary."
She sighed, brushing back a strand of platinum blonde hair behind her ear. "Atmospheric analysis shows the gas mixture and components to be within normal spec and has been since our encounter with the Constellate."
"So, no, the biosphere does not appear to be contaminated," she shook her head, wishing for the easy answers. There were no easy answers.
"Besides," she continued, "what happened to these women was inexplicable and not likely the work of something organic." She crossed her arms and began to pace. "Sure, there are some bacteria or viruses which could cause a pregnant woman to miscarry but most that I know of would be proceeded by a period of illness in the woman. All of these women were healthy and the fetuses were all healthy as well. Then," she walked up to him. "the circumstances...the chances of all three miscarrying like that at the same time." She shook her head, unconvinced. "Like I said, not likely the result of any organic cause. The only occasion that I could think of miscarriage happening so quickly and so violently would be as a result of physical trauma. But this was not the case either."
Bob Mathias stepped into the pillbox unnoticed. His distraction had been such that he forgot to remove his thick spectacles after returning his lab coat to the hanger in his office. In the crook of his left arm, there was a black zippered pouch that he held closely, and confidentially. As he was removing his bunglesome glasses, it occurred to him that Talic might not be ready for the revelations, and potential causes that were contained in his report.
So, he closed the door.
"Doctor?" He said inexorably, approaching Russell while laying his bifocals on the bookshelf partition. "I have the post-mortem results. The document contains a detailed, forensic analysis as well as a visual record."
Helena Russell opened the file while Koenig looked on. Koenig was disheartened at the photo of the Talic fetus; a tiny human being who was thriving one day and laying dead in a specimen tray the next. The only reason why he was not in the ICU like the Farrow baby was the fact he was too young to survive outside the womb.
"Oh," Helena mumbled as she skimmed the report of the Talic delivery. The Talic baby had actually lived for 4 minutes after his birth. He fought the valiant fight, trying to breath but in the end, his lungs were just too immature, unable to be supported by ventilators.
Death was a cruel but undeniable fact of life.
The other photos showed pictures of placenta which to Koenig had no meaning and resembled slabs of cube steak.
"See," Helena pointed to the slab like placentas for Koenig's edification, "this placenta is worse than what we would see in a pregnancy which was two weeks overdue. It rapidly aged and deteriorated and was unable to support the pregnancy."
She switched her focus to the picture and the report of the tiny fetus. "And even though he looks normal, blood tests confirm rapid cellar breakdown."
"We didn't learn much." Mathias admitted gruesomely. "At least not enough to render a diagnosis. Most of the information comes from our analysis of Adisa Talic. The others showed a similar pattern. In each case there was a sudden, pressed incorporation of placental tissues caused by hyperactivity in the cells of the unborn fetus. The result was a kind of gross molecular depletion--almost like aging. The increased permeability led to numerous developmental failures.
"If I didn't know any better, I would swear they were bombarded with a lethal dose of x-rays." He told Koenig inexplicably. "All of the usual causes--TBP genes, physical, and emotional trauma--none of these were present at the time of the miscarriages."
Koenig cocked an eyebrow and otherwise said nothing. The door chimed and when Mathias determined who it was, he opened the door.
Angelina Carter stepped inside and the door slid shut again behind her. "Commander, the operations performance report is ready and I just forwarded it to the Command Staff alias. I apologize for taking extra time to get it out...I was distracted."
The large wet area on her left shoulder caused by Melita Kelly-Geist's tears was evidence of the distraction.
"Nothing unusual to report from power perspective. The orm saturation did not affect the plutonium or the beryllium rods as expected. The power up was uneventful and we did not record anything unusual," she sighed, another migraine had exploded in her head the minute she left Melita. She sighed. "It's all in the report."
"Can I get some Toradol?" she squinted toward Mathias, the light now increasing painful as characteristic of the migraine.
"Nothing?" Koenig said impossibly as he studied the table of contents. "You got that right."
"Is there an essential need?" The wry physician asked Ang' as he unlocked the medicine cart. He uncapped one of the child-proof, puke yellow bottles, and tapped two of the capsules into a two ounce plastic cup. "I think you just want to get wide. Every time I turn around you're coming in here with a headache. Next time try a twelve step recovery program."
There was no such animal on the Moon, so Mathias handed her the Toradol dosage along with a paper cold cup filled with water.
"Next time I won't let greed get the best of me and come to this shithole 30 days before my October 11, 1999 official start date for an extra 30% bonus," she replied flippantly as she downed both tablets in one swallow. She didn't need her buddy the curmudgeon on her case today.
"By the way, I don't want you to awaken me from my beauty sleep when you start to have night sweats, and hallucinations."
She shrugged neutrally, refusing to comment. It wasn't worth the time and effort. Mathias was in a mood and if she retorted he would just become more and more caustic. She knew his day had sucked. He just assisted with a D&C after delivering a premature baby who lived for only 4 minutes and just did an autopsy on same baby. He was also probably going to do another D&C, this time on Melita. After checking the latest entry on her chart, he saw her bleeding was not subsiding. It was the worst that gynecology had to offer, all served up in one huge gory platter.
John Koenig dimly heard the colophon from the damaged doctor. He held a perfect OPR report in wispy hands. It was flawless--a condition that did not occur even during the pre-breakaway drills in Earth orbit. It was immaculate, despite the half-assed rigging they had so desperately deployed over the years to save them being choked out, and mutilated beyond recognition. It was consummate which was as insurmountable as a tray full of stillborn placenta. A remembrance of horror caused him to quail as he watched the ground crews below the vision port stake their claim to forty acres of ormandized Moon rocks. There were at least five rovers out there, but he knew there were more. As predicted, the Geophysics lab had made hay in the morning--an atrocity of common sense considering all that had transpired in the last two hours.
The phrase "delegation of authority" befell him along with the phrase "I hate the fucking Moon."
"Wait a minute...what about Ian Garvey?" The commander perceived as he turned from these reflections. "He was willing to risk doing an SIT of his alternator during the Hyakutake pass. He has a PhD in electrical engineering. He must know a lot--I hope--about the nature of orms, and conglomerate energies. I wonder if he could tell us something we don't already know?"
"That's true," Angelina brightened, a ray of hope coming across her face. "Yes, Jim said he had an idea for an experiment which might eliminate the need for shutdowns in similar situations in the future."
Ang was all for that idea. With every complete shutdown, there was always a chance that power ups would not go smoothly; it had happened before. It was also a tremendous drain on resources since it almost always required fresh plutonium fuel rods; and that was a mineral was not exactly in abundance on the moon.
"Its worth chatting with him," Angelina acknowledged. "Should I bring him along to the Command Conference?"
"I don't have time for a command conference." Garvey said, removed and working diligently to convert his flat head into a Phillips. If only Ed Malcom could be so lucky. "I have a ton of work to do here, and on top of that I owe Gordon Cooper an SEQ for Eagle 3-7."
The alternator was deactivated to avoid death by electrocution. The specialist was laboring over one of the removed modular panels. Within was a brain box of solid state circuitry, and a capacitor that wouldn't not blow, even if it was to save Garvey's soul. Following the Hyakutake Event, as it was called, he had worked vehemently to discover why his prodigious innovation--an umbrella for orms--had flamed out the moment power was restored. In between intervals of speculation, and severe foul language, it had also occurred to him to wonder why he had been in an apparent coma for fifty minutes, and forty-three seconds.
Blair's jocose was no doubt part of the cause.
"No offense old chum, but I think your presence is 'required' on this one." Oliver Blair told his colleague while Gloria Eason gazed into the guts of the open hardware. His 'buds called him 'Nol.' "The invitation came from Dr. Carter. You could be shagging up a storm back there in your flat, and she would still expect you to show up on time. Black tie, and tails. You know the routine."
His role on Moonbase Alpha was that of ADV Electronics and Analysis. The title embraced preproduction, production, and implementation of all experimental systems, which meant that he was qualified to know everything about nothing.
The Chief Medical officer answered her commlock and smiled at the image on the micromonitor.
"There's to be a Christmas Court," John Koenig stated regally.
"Where?" Russell, identifying the line from the Oscar winning movie, replied in queenly sweetness.
"At Chinon." Koenig broke into a smile. "What's up? Movie starts in little over an hour."
The movie was a favorite for both of them. 'The Lion In Winter' featured the relationship between England's great King Henry II and his dynamic queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Ironically, when Eleanor received the messenger who bore the news of the Christmas court, she had been imprisoned ina castle by her own husband...for the last ten years. Helena Russell identified with the "prison" part and longed for "liberation" of a Christmas court: an earth type planet.
"I'm just typing in some notes and finishing up," she sat back, relaxing. "You?"
"Having a little discussion with Victor concerning theories of time space continuum." He paused and glanced as Bergman guffawed in the background. "He's not following my logic."
"Your argument lacks logic," Bergman chuckled in the background. Koenig scowled.
The Chief Medical officer laughed. "Give me another 45 minutes and your entourage can fetch me."
"As you wish.." Koenig nodded in mock servitude, cutting the link.
Helena Russell enjoyed the moment then returned her attention to her journal on her PC.
"Except for Medical, the rest of the base returned to apparent normality. Or so it seemed on the surface. In Experimental Labs, Ian Garvey began to spend an inordinate amount of time working in his area. At first, his efforts appeared to be as a result of enthusiasm and on Moonbase Alpha, enthusiasm for anything tends to be encouraged...except when it begins to become an obsession."
Garvey looked genuinely inconvenienced. The boss was the boss though and short of death, he could see no way out of it. In fact, he knew if he did not comply, he risked being sent back to EOG#2 where he would not be able to work on...
"Why does she want me to go?" he asked Oliver and Gloria, not looking up but mating a connector to a backplane. "I mean, you guys know as much as I do, maybe even more about..." He finally looked up. "What does she want me to talk about?"
Ian Garvey was getting nervous. He was normally shy, kept to his close group of friends and did his job diligently.
"You're the resident 'expert.' Critical knowledge of orm dynamics." He pew'ed. "The way blondie spoke, you'd think the rest of us were a bunch of dustmen. It looks like that comet dumped us a good one. I hear tell, they've sequestered a bunch of mums over in Medical Center, and there's another news blackout to go along with it. Jim has tried to wring the news from those pillocks in Main Mission, but they're not exactly forthcoming with the information." 'Nol relayed with mock gravitas. "Cheer up skip. How many opportunities have you had to feel needed. Since you'll probably live, and die here, you ought to go ahead, and grab your fifteen minutes of fame, me thinks."
After driving Garvey to despair, 'Nol slapped Garvey on the back cheerfully.
"Sure," Gloria agreed, "and look at it this way. You'll get all the dirt on what's happening and you can tell us!"
"I suppose," he answered, attempting to slice a shorter cable into a longer one with the soldering iron. "I guess as long as Hendershot and Bathory from Alpha News Service aren't hanging out here waiting for me to get back...I'll go." He sighed, resigned.
"That's a good man." Blair lauded, opening the hatch with his commlock. He noticed that Phil Inoshiro was still waiting for him outside. It caused his beard to itch. Stress did. "I'm sure you'll live to regret going." He predicted wrongly. "Now, if you'll both excuse me, I'm going to go hang with metal staff for a while. I'll solve their problems, and they won't thank me for it."
The door closed on some specialized naivete.
Eason ran her thumb along the high speed cable that Garvey had spliced, and fed into the output of his alternator. The thing drew so many amps, he had found it necessary to install a separate fuel cell. The backup power supply was married to the high voltage box on the east wall of the lab. She had no idea why it had gone "POOF" earlier, but the burnout had caused Garvey's surrogate to leak water prodigiously. Her black bootheels splashed moderately against the tile floor causing some of the river to funnel into the floor drain. A squeegee was what he needed. She hoped to God that was on the list before he added lightening, and Jacob's Ladders to his Frankenstein monstrosity.
Monstrosity? She cackled nervously to herself. Why did I think that?
"I'd better make a run for it too." Eason cracked, so unnerved by the open case that her long, brunette hair nearly throttled her in the attempt to get away. "Busy day, tons to do. Incidentally, if I were you, I'd dry this place out before you turn that thing on again. The results could be 'shocking,' if you know what I mean."
Garvey said nothing and was already completely engrossed in his own world. He did not notice Gloria's soft touch on his shoulder, which would have gained his complete interest two days ago over cables and wires and machinery. The reflection of the lunar clock in the Plexiglas told him he had to leave in another 15 minutes. He scowled and kept working.
So, she left him at the mercy of George Westinghouse, stopping at her cluttered cubicle briefly to fetch the notes she would need for her meeting with Physical Plant. The bewray of a new radiator-outlet temperature was lost, hopelessly lost, on Antoni Anka--the services deputy who preferred candles instead of lamps; who ate raw meat instead of cooking it; who walked sideways like a hyena rather than assuming the straight, progressive promenade of modern thinking. Her legal pad was under a mountain of files that begged to be converted to disc. Also, somewhere beneath this pile of shit on her desk, there was a black permanent marker. After stabbing herself with a paper clip that she had mangled during a blowzed, crimsoning commlock argument with Claude Murneau, she happened to notice that the white light over her pile had changed to a seasick blue.
She looked over her shoulder to the transparent door panel of the SIT Lab. The chamber beyond was dark except for the blinking lights of Garvey's alternator. He was alone with his cybernetic offspring, and somewhere in the digital embellish, she could see the specialist's tubercular jaws moving up, and down, his mouth gaping open--hearing something that froze his teeth like fossils, that caused language to depart from him.
Who is he talking to? Eason wondered, feeling alarmed, and surreal.
She wasted no time boarding the next travel tube, and got the Hell out of Technical Section.
It was not just a cup of coffee but a huge 32 oz cup of "iced" coffee, which sat in front of Angelina Carter's laptop. Time off caffeine? Approximately 46 hours. Caroline Kennedy, normally not anyone's waitress, happily jumped up from her desk to serve up the Technical Chief the mega sized iced coffee, before Ang left for the Command Conference.
"I'll work on getting off caffeine when this is all over," Angelina explained to Bergman, responding to his look of paternal disappointment, as he sipped on the noxious Vitaseed. She didn't care. Ang's headache was disappearing and the caffeine junkie was feeling better since she took her 'hit'.
It was too much too soon and she would try again next Monday.
Most of the staff had gathered in the room, milling around when the door on the corridor side chirped. Pierce Quentin opened it with his commlock.
"Ian!" Angelina gave a friendly nod. "Glad you could make it."
Well, really, he had no choice.
"Get yourself some coffee or whatever else you want to drink and grab a seat."
"I'm not sure how much help I can be." Garvey said awkwardly, and in otherwise, disinterested tones. He nearly stumbled over the landing as he approached the steps to the well.
Benjamin Ouma finished his plate of Soy Surprise, and dropped the napkin into his disguarded plate.
"Hello, Eagle Two Niner." The system test conductor greeted pleasantly over the commlink to CMP Belzec. At the same time, the red light began to wink over co-pilot Strom's pre-flight module as the Pad Four white room began to retract.
"Right." CMP Belzec told Umberto Garzon, tightening his couch harness. It was the usual circum-polar reconnaissance--the type that occurred three times a day whether anything occurred, or not. "Do you think we'll get lucky today?"
Boredom had wrought a loss of words, and witticisms.
"No." Garzon said honestly from the Main Mission tower, and proceeded with the checklist. "STC-V-CMP, stand by for cabin leak check."
"Understood." Belzec reported as he actuated the valve to drain the hydrogen, and pressurize the spacecraft. This was accompanied by a loud hissing, and the closing of metallic radiator vents. "Commencing cabin leak check now. Our seal indicators are positive."
"STC-V-COP." The conductor broke across co-pilot Strom's headset next. "Verify the following pitch positions: RPU, and RETRO to ON."
"Copy." Co-pilot Strom yawned, flipping toggles. "RPU, and RETRO to ON."
Call it a typical day on Moonbase Alpha. Most were not life threatening. They blighted the heart, and mind by virtue of the endless, impotent nothingness. It was future abstracted. An Eagle was about to lift off, and circle the rock, and they would see nothing, and endure another post-flight debriefing that did not further their knowledge of the cosmos. It was something like Sominex.
Consider it interesting--the tall, tenebrous shadow that fell over the floor, and workstation of the passenger module as the ship's main engines began the slow power up. Co-pilot Strom thought he saw something reflected in the sensor sweep, but then he forgot.
"No." Ian Garvey struggled to answer Victor Bergman's question. "I don't believe orms could have an organic effect. It is...an electrical phenomenon...."
He didn't know what to tell them.
"I don't pretend to be an expert in physics," Helena Russell spoke up weary but annoyed, "but from my premed college physics course, I remember that electrical phenomena certainly do have effects on organic matter, often with damaging results."
"In sufficient enough concentrations, yes, " Bergman concurred over the rim of his Vitaseed.
"Right, and since we were literally inundated with orm particles, wouldn't we at least rule out that as a cause for the..." Helena stopped, realizing that perhaps Garvey did not know what happened.
"Ian," Ang eyed the aggravated Russell then glanced at Garvey. "While we were experiencing the Hyakutake event, all three pregnant women on this base suddenly miscarried. Adisa Talic and Melita Kelly-Geist's children were too young to survive. Jeanine Farrow's baby is very premature and may not survived. Anyway, all other potential causes of these tragedies have been ruled out and the only common factor left is our passage through an orm shower."
She could sense his nervousness. He was not accustomed to being around Command staff, especially not accustomed to being examined under the microscope.
"Is it possible that exposure to orm particles could have caused these miscarriages?"
Garvey rubbed his anguished, intolerant skull with leaden fingers.
"STC-V-COP, the ABORT light is off." Strom said, dizzying. "Our O2 tanks are good."
"Roger, COP." Garzon radioed from the tower as Lars Manroot passed him a cup of black coffee. Controller Zed Astrin stood confidently at his workstation, studying the spacecraft on the big screen as it powered up for ascent. "CMP, verify propellant deluge in five seconds."
That's when crew of Eagle Two Niner stopped communicating.
Inside the command module, Belzec scratched his beard as the whine of the main motors became indistinct. Everything around him seemed vaguely unfamiliar. The yoke; the eight ball; the deep space tracking system; all closeout station, and ingress preps; the fecal containment system; his name. Warm, sentient limbo poured over him as he plummeted into a whipped cream of stupidity. In the co-pilot's couch, Strom looked over at a partner whose name he could almost remember. Behind them, the aft equipment bay was an onyx rectangle as the shadow grew closer. A chill draft ran across the back of Belzec, and Strom's necks as the throttled engines extinguished all other sounds.
"I repeat, CMP verify propellant tank pressurization." Garzon said again over the microphone.
Belzec was falling through diaphanous, white clouds sans parachute. His heart was empty. His mind was a vacant closet. He enjoyed the gift, and relished same. Suddenly, he was a dork, and a dipstick. The only thing dumber was his co-pilot.
"Eagle 2-9 this is your CapComm." Pierre Danielle intervened as Garzon's face maddened. "We need you to check your tanks, and see if they've flooded."
They waited without requite.
Gordon Cooper joined Zed Astrin at his workstation. Both grew irate as the cold silence persevered.
"These aren't Alpha, or Beta waves we're dealing with." Garvey argued--loudly now--with Dr. Helena Russell. "It's not a somatic relationship. These are quantum impulses. They have no known effect on the human brain, or the nervous system. Oh, and incidentally--HOW MANY FEMALES HAVE THEIR OVARIES HOOKED TO A DC POWER SUPPLY?"
He felt like he was surrounded by bovine folks who wanted to sell him plumbing fixtures.
"A female's ovaries have never been hooked to DC power supplies," Angelina answered neutrally as Helena Russell slammed her pen down in frustration.
"Dr. Garvey," Koenig jumped in. "This is not an inquisition. We are only interested in trying to find out what the hell happened with the women on this base during our passage through the comet tail."
He lean forward authoritatively. "If we can't prove that the orm saturation had nothing to do with the miscarriages, then we certainly cannot rule it out as a possible cause."
"Right," Bergman continued, "We are also concerned about other possible biological effects that may or may not be present."
"I've answered that question." Garvey supervened. "There are no biological effects. We've been studying these phenomenon for over fifty years." He boasted empirically, clenching his fist, and projecting on Koenig, and Bergman. "Apparently, some people have forgotten that infamous, Harvard clinical study that was conducted in the eighties--those highly embarrassing control tests on the effects of hyperactive molecules, and charged cells in the human body." He was looking directly at Helena Russell now. "A hypothesis followed by a six year imposition of the scientific method on human subjects, and the only thing it taught us was that ormandized electrodes aren't worth a shit.
"In each, and every case, the human participant came away unscathed." The technician reminded the hacked-off physician caustically. "There were no residual effects, except for the millions of dollars worth of medical hardware that had to be scrapped. The only thing more ridiculous was the Rubles, and Pounds Sterling that were squandered on similar European studies.
"Now." He paused, collecting darts tipped with Cholera. "Let's suppose for a moment that you actually know what you're talking about." The technician proposed subjunctively to Russell. "If passage through the field led to molecular deterioration, then why hasn't everyone else suffered some horrifying side effect?"
He crunched his flimsie, and awaited her response.
"BECAUSE NOT EVERYONE ELSE ON THIS BASE WAS PREGNANT, THAT'S WHY!" Russell countervolleyed while Koenig glanced between the two of them. Sandra Benes sipped her cold coffee and watched from the sidelines. "I'm WELL aware of the study you cite, Dr. Garvey, and what you left out was the fact that the sample was both flawed in control and in adequate size. You also forget the Orm saturation levels were 37 times LESS than what we experienced in passing through the Hyakutake event." She took a swallow of coffee and a deep breath, then continued several decibels lower. " Ergo, there was NO valid conclusion that could be made from that study."
Angelina had gotten up to refill her coffee as the discourse continued. They seemed to be getting nowhere and she wasn't particularly enjoying watching one of her people displaying the stereotypical technical section sanctimonious ego while engaging the CMO. Many of the physicists had little regard for the "medical arts" degreed doctors, viewing them as mere libraries of memorized biology facts with a distinct lack of problem solving ability. If it wasn't in a textbook, it confounded them. As Ang was about to turn and put an end to it, she glanced out the viewport and noticed Eagle 2-9 in the distance.
Carter had also come up to the coffee table and gave her a look mixed with amusement and pride. Pride because her ability to manage the difficult personalities of technical section was admirable. Amusement, demonstrated by the slight upward twitch in the left side of his mouth, instantly returning to complacent, was a reminder not to let the stress of managing egomaniacs get on her nerves.
Ang saw his look out of the corner of her eye. She was still studying the flight path of Eagle 2-9. When Carter saw her frown and furrowed brow, he followed her gaze out the viewport.
Then, his jaw dropped to the floor, and stayed there.
The space vehicle was ascending parabolically at a berserk, 90 degree azimuth. Beneath the command, and service modules, the ACS mini-jets continued to burn long past the point when the inertial guidance system should have sent the ship on an easy, horizontal coast. Instead, it was racing upwards, higher, and higher, and with no respect for map, or sextant. It had long cleared the five mile, standard abort area as it rocketed upwards into the gulf of deep space, her hull, and transom spun wildly while the engine bells continued to spray nonsymmetrical crystals in delirious, incongruous, mental circles.
"WHAT THE HELL KIND OF TEE UP IS THIS?" The pilot blurted as soon as his voice returned.
"COMMANDER KOENIG. URGENT. REPORT TO MAIN MISSION IMMEDIATELY." Tanya Alexander boomed suddenly over the commstation speakers.
Koenig immediately bolted out of the pit, proceeded only by Carter's lightening speed into Main Mission. The Chief of Reconn was already at the cap-comm station as the others were still making their way out of Koenig's office.
"THEY WEREN'T CLEARED YET." Controller Astrin explained tumultuously to Koenig, and Carter. His eyes remained glued to the hassle of data that poured across the flight dynamics tab. "WE WERE HALF WAY THROUGH THE BODGEING CHECK LIST WHEN BELZEC THROTTLED UP HIS ASCENT STAGE."
"???WHAT HAPPENED???" Koenig blared, watching death unfurl on the big screen. "???IS THIS A HARDWARE MALFUNCTION???"
"???HOW CAN THAT 'FRIGGIN BE??? THEY'RE IN MANUAL MODE." Carter resounded unachievingly, almost tearfully before engaging Gordon Cooper. "RESCUE EAGLE NINE IS ON PAD ONE."
Cooper, who had been studying the erratic flight path from lift-off to five minutes EMT, was about to tell the pilot that he was crazy, but Koenig did it for him.
"ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND, CAPTAIN?" The commander asked with irrevocable finality. "THERE'S NO WAY TO DOCK WHEN THEY'RE IN A ROLL LIKE THAT. BOTH CREWS WOULD BE LOST."
The truth of the matter was obviate. Belzec, and Strom were already dead, in substance if not in fact.
Angelina Carter stood behind Michelle Cranston at the Technical Station, reading the Eagle status data streaming on the monitor. It appeared Eagle 2-9 was about to become salvage.
Ben Ouma, who gave Tanya Alexander the "beat it" look when he returned to his swivel desk, had typed a series of commands to query the projected flight path of Eagle 2-9. He turned the desk toward Koenig, a look of doom on his face.
"Commander...Eagle 2-9 is on a crash course to the lunar surface. Estimated impact 90 seconds. Estimated impact area...Main Mission tower."
"Activate the shutters," Angelina blurted automatically as she keyed in the codes and the reinforced steel began moving over the viewports. It was probably an ineffective gesture.
Everyone's attention turned to Commander Koenig and Captain Carter. 90 seconds. There was no way they could evacuate to safety in 90 seconds. Everyone in Main Mission was dead.
"John." Bergman said quietly, with ghastly, selfless logic. "The meteor screens. If we raise them we can save everyone else. They're calibrated to repel debris much larger than Belzec's Eagle."
Alan Carter was leaning on aggrieved elbows as Pierre Danielle looked dreamily away to the west wall of vision ports. Gordon Cooper turned away from Zed Astrin, and considered returning to the SPAN room. He bowed his head as it gently occurred to him that there would soon be no space vehicle to analyze. His exit through Koenig's office was a statement--a symbolism for the ages.
Repel was perchance too small a descriptor. The calefacting barrier could vaporize the core of a 300 ton boulder. Nickel iron, aluminum, magnesium, volcanic glass--the fuselage of an Eagle, and human flesh--none could survive the incinerating effect of the field. Belzec, and Strom's fate was sealed in scorched, coagulated blood.
"'Ang." Koenig whispered inexorably. "Raise the screens...highest possible calibration. Alert Condition Red."
She knew the reality of Koenig's command. Ang felt her cheeks flush from the stress and impending death as she glanced at Carter. His expression as unreadable as a black hooded executioner, he locked her in a painful gaze then....she perceived the color of his eyes turning to ice blue as he gave her a barely perceptible nod.
All of this happened in the span of 3 seconds.
"Yes, Commander," she acknowledged and began to initiate the death warrant.
"Meteor defensive screens to full power." Her voice echoed through evil mushroom as well as the power generation area.
"Acknowledged," Yuri Petrov's flooded through the Main Mission speakers 10 seconds later.
Another 10 seconds passed as chatted ensured in the background between Petrov and Carter Jackson in Power Generation .
"Full power in 10 seconds." Jackson reported, stoically, replacing Petrov's image and voice..
Paul Morrow appeared in the open MPSR couloir holding a copy of Eagle 2-9's expired flight plan. His stressed lips parted, but the gesture seemed sterile, so he forced them closed again following a deep, delusive breath. At the controller's workstation, Astrin glanced knowingly at the senior operative. A tag team would not suffice. Two brains were not better than one unless it was to double the flummox. There was an "I" in the word "team," and it stood for "insufficient." Tanya Alexander backed away towards the steps, bracing for a concussion that would never occur for her. Sandra Benes watched the Comsat telemetry as the spacecraft plummeted 4,000 feet per second, towards flaming squash, and unquestionable annihilation.
Ian Garvey was standing quietly by the balcony stairs, and if the look of censure, and slur--both coming from Helena Russell--could have killed, he would have been a goner.
Eagle Two Niner re-entered the prime recovery zone just short of Perimeter Station Five. Her swooping pads clipping the top of a three mile, microwave communications tower before the vehicle plunged into the charged, ion barricade. The actual impact occurred 100 meters above the dining complex where everyone was destined to have their meals interrupted. The command module vanished in the intense incalescense while the remaining scrap metal from the super structure was amalgamated into a fiery, unrecognizable crag that pelted the Plato basin sending up geysers, and plumes of fluxing regolith.
Afterwards, with crude, inconsiderate evil, the shield faded back to its perdu incandescence as the fire fly remainders fell to the ground like a snow storm in Hell.
Annoyance was written all over Michelle Cranston's face.
She glanced at the physical checklist then back at the spreadsheet on the monitor. The discrepancy in the numbers of certain types of printed card assemblies was plain and it was a disturbing mystery. Cranston did not want to report it..yet..for reporting would mean notifying Ang and bringing the Truman Starns group into the scene. However, it was imperative to find those boards soon not because it would trigger an order to refresh the inventory. The boards in question were power amplifier circuits and could be used for anything that required a huge drain of power. Anything included something as insidious as explosive construction, a bomb.
She nervously picked at her cuticles, wondering if she really should let Ang and Security know what was happening then rationalized that she was probably being overreactive. But still... Michelle sighed torn by indecision. She glanced at Pierre Danielle who had come to wait patiently for her to get off duty and promptly crashed on the couch. He was out cold: there was no way she would get any sort of coherent advice from him.
The icy dagger plunged into the back of her neck and her head exploded with pain. She couldn't see....she couldn't scream. Her whole body shook with chills and her skin turned blue.
Then....it was over. Stress, it has to be stress, she reasoned, a little weak and the headache lingering in the back of her skull. It's also freezing in here, she determined, though the large digital thermometer indicated a comfortable 68 degrees F.
Cranston arose from her desk and walked shakily over to the sleeping pilot, covering him with a blanket. She sat on the edge of the couch, her petite frame requiring very little room and gently ran her fingers through his hair. Two more pilots dead. She secretly thanked God Pierre wasn't on that ship then felt guilty for being so greedy, considering pilot Belzec's girlfriend had suffered a nervous breakdown and was now in Mathias' padded room.
When Michelle stood up again, determined to return to her inventory mystery, something caught her eye through the observation window. The view of one of the 5000 gallon plating bath tanks was usually unexciting but this time there was something unusual. She was out the door within half a second.
"Death Becomes You"
The writing across the giant tank was disturbing enough but upon closer inspection, it was not paint but oxidize metal. Oxidized metal of the plating tank. Small rivulet of blue plating solution began to ooze out of the oxidized areas turning the writing from dark orange to black.
The plating technician rounded the corner and stopped, wide eyed. "What the ???" He blurted when he found his voice. "We need to empty this tank...NOW!"
Michelle was already turning the main valve to the 'open' position.
The amber glow of the light panels only emphasized the man's depressed mood. The woman listened attentively as he lay back, unable to sleep, trying to release the anguish of losing yet more people.
Despite it happening several times before, despite his all too familiarity with death, it never got any easier.
The woman continued to listen, embracing him, providing him the comfort of physical touch. Comfort led to feelings of mutual sensuality and the woman imparted tender kisses to his mouth, his jaw; slowly down his throat then his chest. He drew in a sharp, anticipatory breath as she kissed and caressed him, working her way down to his abdomen when the small shadow in the doorway drew her eye and caused her to abruptly stop.
The child, rubbing his eyes, climbed up on the foot of the bed as Angelina moved to make room for him.
Nicky Carter positioned himself between his parents, looking intently at his father through dazed eyes.
"What's up, ace?" Alan Carter whispered.
Nicky cupped Carter's face with his small hands and his lower lip began to quiver.
"He's here, Daddy," He whispered. "Make him go away."
Then, the toddler threw his arms around the pilot's neck in a frightened embrace and began to weep.
Carter took a break from his pity pot, and comforted his son, hugging him closely, but somewhat absently. In his thoughts, the caissons kept rolling along--not that they were needed--what was left of Belzec, and Strom could have been poured into BlarneyTea Bags. According to 'Coop, there would bean inquiry. The remains of Eagle 2-9 would be pored over by every EPS guy on the base with uncompromising, acrimonious scrutiny. It didn't seem to matter that all that was left of the spacecraft was a single, half ton extension nozzle that was melted around the output like Fetta cheese. Plant specialist Horace Pick reportedly watched it fall to the ground from his almost underground, anti-social, concrete supply bunker near a busted lunar instrument pack. According to legend, it landed not fifty meters away from where he stood before his narrow, hermit's window, and opened for him like a butt.
Carter nodded, acknowledging the child's trepidation.
"Tell Mathias if he doesn't want any sprogs running around Medical Center, he needs to find some other way of getting rid of them." He told 'Ang, and then, standing, he carried Nicky with him into the living area, and looked sardonically at the preliminary report from Technical Section that had somehow landed on his funky, plastic desk. The verdict from those who were "in the know" was that the Eagle had encountered some special effect, or extraneous circumstance which led to an unfortunate progression which may have been systemic, and it may, or may not have led to the death of the prime crew.
It was Pete Garforth's exact words. There, for all to see, and scratch their heads at the ludicrous, vaguery of it all. The report was fluff, without ice cream. It was a desk without drawers. Even if you understood the full implications of this piece of paper--the fundamental indispensableness of this analysis--you would still be tempted to blow your nose with it.
"Does Garzon buy this crap?" He asked, and gave it an ornery left eyebrow.
"I doubt it," Angelina replied from behind him, not really caring for his blunt assessment of the Technical section report but not disagreeing with it either, "Pete tends to get wordy in his reports."
Pete Garforth was a creative writer in his spare time. His "Mission: Impossible" and "Hawaii-5-0" fan fiction stories were usually top notch and he had a strong reader following. However, he also had a tendency to blur the line between technical writing and creative writing styles when he just did not know what to say in his reports.
"Bottom line: We don't know what causes Eagle 2-9 to go haywire."
Of course, it all pointed to something the crew may have done but it was not the time to mention it. Carter knew they were in manual and pilot error was a likely conclusion that could not be ignored by anyone.
Her attention was focused primarily on Nicky. Wide eyed with tear stained face, he stared in the distance as he rested his chin on Carter's shoulder, left arm wrapped around his neck with right hand gripping the pilot's bicep. Alan had assumed he just had a bad dream, typical of any normal person. Initially, so had Angelina.
Ang's intuition and Nicky's reluctance to go back to sleep told her something was wrong.
'What's the matter, baby?" She soothed, caressing his cherubic cheek. "Who's here?"
He pointed his small index finger in the direction of the open door of the dimly lit lavatory, staring at it while tears filled his eyes. Angelina glanced in the direction he pointed.
"'Buddyroo, there's nothing here, but malarkey." Carter assuaged the boy, hugging him while feeling his attention drawn angrily back to Garforth's poetic, useless hypothesis. How 'bout those special effects? How 'bout those unfortunate progressions? How 'bout balls, my good fellow? "Belzec, and Strom were top flight." He informed 'Ang with unyielding certitude. "We've got a handful in the rotation who aren't stand-up guys--I'll grant you that--but those two? They were highly trained astronauts, and engineers. Both of them spent thousands of hours in the simulator, and their psyche profiles were 'frappin concrete. What happened up there was almost like suicide." He observed while trying to force the conclusion back into his temples with his left fist.
Residence Building-A was a four story domicile that was hooked to the web between the east ring, and the rear wall of the Technical Hub. Beyond the vision ports, there was a seldom traversed concave of lunar soil that he jokingly referred to as the 'courtyard.' Looking down, the pilot saw this uncorrupted, sanctified slice of bullshit dirt trodden upon by Bea Acton, and her boys in the geology room. Metallic pales sliced the one-sixth gravity as though it were quicksand. Underestimating the adamant nature of the rocks, a few of the shovels bowed, and bit them back. Carter watched humorlessly while one of the fools fell backwards--helmut down, lunar overshoes up--onto their can. Another looked like he was pounding off--slowly battening, to no avail, on an intransigent brass plate.
Whoever it was, they would probably be more successful using their head, the pilot knew.
"Now, that arse in the care unit is wanting new profiles on everyone." He went on, speaking through clenched teeth. "'Coop is wanting cancel all flights until further notice, and the commander isn't arguing with him. On top of that, they've scrubbed the pre-flight testing on the Mark XII Eagle.
"We've got to have that ship." He insisted, gaining a new interest by observing the rock hound who appeared to be squandering his, or her valuable time by doing shadow play against the bulkhead beneath Claude Murneau's office.
Nicky blinked and his face relaxed, though he still eyed the lavatory warily.
"You know its just temporary, Alan," Angelina's attention now drawn into the discussion. "It's better to be cautious, especially in test flying a new ship." And to ensure the pilot doesn't go nuts, she thought but did not add.
"Besides, the psychological profile request is also a precaution too. Bob told me you guys were long overdue for an update anyway; you know updating the psyche profiles are standard procedure just like the physical every 6 months." She sighed. "Besides, he didn't say they lost their minds."
Though later she would realize just how close to the truth she really was.
"Overdue?" Carter said fantastically, shaking the boiling pot between his ears. "'Well, that's a fine 'how you going' Angelina. Kind of funny, isn't it? Two of my men die questionable deaths at precisely the same time that good, old Dr. Bob decides to empty his hard drive. Hey you--'love 'ya, love your work. By the way you're bleeding bonkers.'"
He wished to be a Hindu reincarnation--a koala bear, stoned on eucalyptus, but he wasn't.
Ang said nothing but gazed at him sympathetically. It had taken her over an hour to bring the Chief Pilot's blood pressure back down to normal levels and in 10 minutes, Pete Garforth's report managed to undo all of her efforts. All arrows were pointing to 'pilot error' whether Alan Carter believed it or not.
Nicky turned curiously to study the activity outside the viewport. His eyelids slowly drooped as if attached to leaden weights, as he watched the orange suited figures lumber along the dusty lunar surface. It wasn't very exciting since he was accustomed to watching activity 'outside.'
His eyes abruptly widened and his jaw dropped, lower lip slowly beginning to quiver.
"!!!GO AWAY!!! !!GO AWAY!!!!" Nicky screamed angrily at the viewport, startling both of his parents out of their conversation.
All thoughts of Bob Mathias, and his Freudian overtures--his computer, yes, yes yes--were immediately slammed shut by this alarming wrinkle that barged into an already intolerable situation like a brute demanding a ham sandwich. Carter studied 'Ang, hoping for some maternal wisdom that would foster some semblance of sanity. He's been staying up too late. Always a good one. No more tube. That could almost be the case, were it not for the fact that on Moonbase Alpha, your only choices were classic, reference library DVD's like "Othello," and the fucked up dreck that Barbie Doll Bathory spewed out during the irregular Max Factor/Alpha News Service broadcasts. He supposed that the child may have seen how the bull was breaking the rest of them down, and as a result, was suffering a sympathy breakdown.
If 'Ang had a handle on things, she evinced no sign. She needed to lift the hood. This parental conflagration was not only out of control, it was urged on by the winds, and heading for sensible civilization.
"Heyyy, Bugalugs." The pilot sibilated comfortingly. "There's nothing dodgy out there."
He looked to make sure himself, but he didn't know why. Beyond the vycor plates there was eternity. The universe was nothing, if not bleak, and ill-boding. There were no tulips, or rainbows to be had. There was only magnificent, terrifying isolation. Well, that and the dead cert dumbbells that formed Bea Acton's geology team. He saw one jake sitting in the lunar rover with his feet propped up.
Heck of a team.
Since they were nearly nose, to nose with their petrified son shielding their view, neither he, nor 'Ang saw the transparent glint of the apparition which appeared somewhere between heart palpitations. It gained substance briefly, alternating between flesh, and bone, and a badly aimed projection image, and canted away from Pete Garforth's fluff report. Feeling his neck hairs prickle, Carter turned to look in the direction of his desk, but saw nothing except for the furniture, and the Melbourne Family crest that was anchored to the light panel.
Angelina suddenly felt a little sick to her stomach and weak.
Nicholas Carter writhed with rage so violently that Carter put him down, almost dropping him.
"GO AWAY!!! GO AWAY!!!" He angrily picked up his matchbox cars, his blocks and his balls, whatever he could grasp with one small hand and start throwing them in the direction of Carter's desk: hitting the desk, knocking Garforth's poetic technical report to the floor, hitting the chair, narrowly missing the laptop, hitting the Melbourne Family crest on the light panel.
His parents were stunned at the display of extreme ire until Angelina scooped the hysterical child up and gently but firmly held him, navigating backwards toward the rocker. The security of his mother's arms along with the rhymic rocking, gradually caused Nicky to succumb to the exhaustion and fall asleep.
Angelina's back ached. She wanted to put him to bed and get some sleep but judging from Nicky's twitching and grimacing, he was not in a deep enough state of sleep yet and if she moved, he would probably wake up screaming. She continued to rock him, holding him tightly.
"Do you think he actually saw... something?" she whispered to Carter, who was sitting silently and completely unreadable on the low rider couch.
No, cream puff, the man don't believe in ghosts. The pilot was about to say, but a gander at the hard linoleum floor, partially covered by an El Cheap-o Persian rug--a relic from his days as a wanton, tasteless bachelor--convinced him that he needed to keep his opinions, and his ire to himself. The oxidized pattern formed an incurable, haphazard S-shape that looped from the open closet, past the vision ports, and circled back around to his desk. Carter didn't notice it until 'Ang turned on the art deco floor lamp in passing. The most deteriorated portion was beneath a frameless shot of galaxy M33 that hung between their bedroom door, and the glue for a century. The tile was buckled, and flaking like particles of infected, yellow rust. The grains were as fine as sand. The decay appeared to reach its limits since the pellicles returned to the familiar, gunmetal gray color beyond a two foot radius. A closer browse revealed his own size ten boot prints all over the floor from where he had walked ponderously through the dust. 'Ang's heel prints crisscrossed his own big feet.
"What rhymes with 'snit?" He asked her, confounded, and stooping before the peels to acquire a sample on his left thumb, and forefinger.
The answer was 'shit.'
"Dr. Carter." Caroline Kennedy called asuddenly from the commstation. "I'm sorry to bother you, but could you report to the Dissembly Lab, and ask Captain Carter if he can come with you."
The pilot had to change his flares first. The foiling was all over him.
Garvey was heading away from Koenig's office, and down the accessway when his decapitation arrived in the form of a splitting, nauseating, almost vomitous damn headache. The synaptic pain massaged him with barbed wire, and blew sweet nothings in his ear, hard enough to burst his ear drum. He was so overcome that his green flimsie fell from scrutiny as he leaned against the commstation, and waited for the buoyant torture to subside. A hundred kilometers back, the door to the commander's office closed in dislocated slow motion while the wall panels dimmed briefly, and then erupted to va-voom both retinas. Then the Flu Pixie soft landed on his shoulder, and added abdominal cramps to the proceedings.
He wanted to croak.
His mouth tasted like bat guano.
Then...just as quickly, his mucous subsided, and the paroxysm was gone.
Sheened with a queasy sweat, and still feeling the after shock of the sledge hammer against his temple, he entered the MCR cantina, and found 'Nol Blair sitting at one of the round tables with a mug of Glucose-A. Umberto Garzon was there too. His break time having gone, he deposited his empty coffee cup on the dumbwaiter, and nodded his regards to both men before returning to Main Mission.
"Alright." The ADV-E specialist told Garvey. "Clue me in on what happened. Was the command conference a bang, or were they all brassed off, and in your face? I hear blondie is all cheeky over what happened to that Eagle. Doesn't matter that our section had nothing to do with it. The Evil Queen demands change, and all of our asses are on the line; mayhap Jim is lapping the whole thing up.
"By the way, what the hell is wrong with you? You look like you swallowed a box of tacks."
"I'm fine," Garvey lied, pouring himself another cup of cruddy Moonbase Alpha coffee; flavor of the month was "Breakfast Blend". It still tasted like cat turds. "The boss wasn't bad but that Dr. Russell...what a bitch. Typical 'medical arts' doctor," he sneered superiorly, "they spend years memorizing every comma in their anatomy books but never learn how to solve problems."
He gulped and scowled. "God! I can't stand that woman! All three preggers women lost their kids at the same time. The Farrow kid is premature and probably won't make it." He shook his head. "For some reason, Russell and her medical midgies think Orm saturation has something to do with it. Can you imagine?!?!?" He laughed loudly. "The dumbasses..."
"Well," 'Nol said considerately, sipping his soda. "I take it she's trying to hustle us along too. Hmmm. You know what they say. Anyone who does the job is a cock up. Anyone who doesn't have to do the job is an expert."
He mourned the sentiment, simultaneously noting the green discoloration of Garvey's cheek line in the harsh lights of the canteen. He found it odd. Most people didn't turn green when they sat near a bright light source. It made the ADV-E uneasy. He also didn't particularly care for the way the specialist had mixed humor with the concept of miscarriage. It seemed right strange. Then again 'Nol Blair didn't have Haines, and the commander handing him codswallop. Likewise, he did nothing to promote administrative action, so in that respect, he had no sympathy.
He was beginning to wish for some disaster to occur which might extricate him from this little social meeting. Every power line on the base has just come to life, has become ambulatory, and is in the process of goosing everyone in their hindquarters.
Right, I'll be there momentarily.
"Cheers." Gloria Eason interrupted, burned out, and chaffing as she entered the break room, and stepped up to the neon-lit beverage dispenser. She was fresh from her consultation with Antoni Ankah in Main Mission. The conference had taken place on the balcony--a relaxed enough locality, considering that the plant manager had no intention of listening to her ideas on radiating temperatures, and for that matter, refused to acknowledge her native IQ as a human being. So, she soon departed from him, urged on by his borderline, asshole sneer.
"Gloria!" Blair motioned her to a chair, "Meet Ian Garvey, Alpha's first serial baby-killer." He chuckled as Gloria's face dropped in dismay.
"Uh?!?!" Eason uttered, as she lowered herself into the moduform chair, crossing her right leg over her left knee in ladylike fashion.
"That's not funny, asshole," Garvey growled at his buddy, Nol.
"Aren't we tender?" Blair noted, setting his drink back on the table. "You started the cor with your 'baby-in-an-orm-wave' jokes. Now you want to get bloody serious on me again."
The specialist ignored the ADV-E as the Moon turned sideways on him again, and did the Hokey-Pokey. The brain melt-down had commenced afresh with clogged sinuses pounding away at the back of his eyeballs like cursed researchers digging into Tut's Tomb. There was a hot pulsating they threatened to turn his lunch into bulkhead paint, and he was having difficulty hearing too.
"Stay sharp." Garvey alienated them, and left the canteen enroute to the command tower lift. He was past Koenig's office, and heading for the elevator doors when all at once, every power cell on the base was extinguished again. He uttered expletives as he stumbled in the dark, groping for something to orientate himself with. The panels slowly came to life again, but it was with an unfamiliar, alien orange glow, mystical, and barely visible that he had never seen before. It reminded him of temples, and burnt offerings. There was no sound at all in the accessway. No commstation blips; no monotonous ring from the local life-support apparatus. It was as silent as a church yard.
"Blair?" He said, wending his way cautiously back towards the canteen with his green flimsey rolled into a ridiculous club.
The vending room was completely empty. The ADV-E, and Eason were gone. Jimmy Hoffa gone. Even their drink cups were no where to be seen. The lid to the dumbwaiter was closed, the machinery was off. The tables were wiped completely clean like silver casket lids.
Garvey turned around, confused. He stepped out into the corridor and punch in the commlock code.
"Haines, Are you there?" Garvey waited, listening to the popping and cracking of the static. "Haines?"
He tried another code. "Gloria? Gloria, are you there, babe?" He tried to sound cool but his body temperature was on broil, a raging hot furnace from the inside out.
Another code. "Nol?" No answer.
He stepped up to the commstation and hit one of the preprogrammed white studs. "Main Mission...Astrin...are you on? Helloooooooooo? Anyone home?"
He glanced up and down and realized corridor 15, a busy thoroughfare with almost continuous traffic was...empty. Even during the graveyard shift, he would not expect it to be...abandoned.
Ian Garvey walked around the technical hub utterly confounded. Caroline Kennedy was not at the reception desk. The vast technical cubicle land did not harbor a single soul. He glanced at the fishtank.
The filter no longer humm-hummm-hummmmmmmmmmmm'ed. Alternately, the appliance was dead, and without juice. The salt-water vat, along with its seaweed flora, and faux castles were inhabited by no exotic fish. Light from the dismal orange panels crept up the marble base to reveal a vacated interior. They had apparently evacuated the Moon along with everyone else, and now Ian Garvey was the last man on Moonbase Alpha. He would be the most dejected emperor in human history. On the plus side, there was no one there to complain about him being a tyrant.
He shook off the weird feeling and began walking toward Residence Building A, to his quarters. He had to pass the Carter quarters and was surprised to find the door open.
"Dr. Carter?" He called from the corridor, into the quarters. "Captain?" He smirked. "Nicky?!?"
He stepped inside and looked around. Everything appeared to be in place but no sign of the Carters. His eye was drawn to Nicky's corner of the living area. Bram Cedrix had constructed a flexible race track for the child's matchbox cars from crane lift belts. The track began at the edge of the table, angled down to the floor followed by two complete loops. Three small cars were curiously lined up neatly at the edge of the ramp.
Garvey sat on the floor next to the track, pushing the first miniature car onto the ramp, watching it cascade down the track and successfully navigate the loops. Instead of continuing off the track and across the floor as physics would ensure the proper expectation of momentum, it...stopped..as soon as it reached the end of the track.
Garvey furrowed his brow.
Then, a theoretical, and meteorological nodus. Wind was blowing on the Moon. He could feel the rush of the jet stream as it blew his bangs across his eyes. I need a jacket, he thought to himself. An article that had not been necessitated since leaving Earth orbit. He turned slowly on his ankles, and knees, looking past Carter's desk, and the black pillar of the commstation to where the east wall of the quarters had once been. The vision ports were gone now, along with the bulkhead itself. Beyond lay a wide, black hole into infinity. Where normally he should have been able to vie the outer cityscape (That is, if he managed to somehow survive screaming mutilation by explosive decompression.), now there was only a field of fathomless ebony.
A yawning cavern. A collapsed star, folded into the Carter quarters. A gale force ushered in, blowing papers across the room, while an invisible hand urged him back, and sideways towards the sofa.
As I was saying....
Garvey recoiled as the vortex turned the room upside down. The pagan lights died away, and were replaced by a blue spotlight that fell upon him, and drenched him with sweat, and appreciated his skeletons. The specialist tried to con, and barter his way towards the open door, realizing too late that the hatch was already closed, and his back was pressed against it by supermassive G-Forces. The voice that beckoned him from the darkness emanated from a pale outline somewhere in the bowels of the hollow.
Remember what I told you....
When time died. Garvey did remember it, and it took every rational defense mechanism in the box to keep him from the rubber room. He saw armies with a syllogism, but no weapons. Corpulent soldiers of fortune, and their hegemony on a billion worlds. It was a place outside this galaxy, a rift the human consciousness. A universe between thoughts. The cadavers marched forward with bees protruding endlessly from the blackened orbits of their skulls. They proceeded past the rows of pitted obelisks, with lapping cerebuses at their sides. Beyond the decaying coliseum, five moons were trapped in the polluted clouds. Beyond them, a brown dwarf baked the planet with solar flares that extracted the last of the star's precious hydrogen.
They killed their females, and their offspring. They killed one another, but somehow, Ian Garvey found that wise considering.
Garvey looked up and the contours of the Carter quarters returned once again. The first car was again moving off the ramp, gliding across the floor until its movement was abruptly halted by the collision against the far wall.
The second car was on the edge of the track, though he hadn't remembered moving it. He hesitated for an undetermined amount of time. Finally, with a push it was on its way. Down the ramp, up, over, down the first loop, it approached the second loop and up, over.......
It stopped. The matchbox car was completely upside down at the top of the loop. He crawled on all fours as he studied the car curiously, seemingly hanging in mid air.
The specialist jerked away, hyperventilating, and watching the matchbox oxymoron through glazed eyes. He was perspiring all the way down, and past the stark neckline of his tunic. The diecast 'Chev with flaming quarter panels rolled forward, and righted itself to the finish line. His leer was bracketed as he breathed a jejune sigh of relief. Then his red hair follicles began to stand, as if statically charged. He pivoted on his heels, and saw down the hallway, and through the open door of Carter's bedroom. On the modular dresser sat a dime store rip-off of the pulchritudinous Aphrodite of Melos, the Venus de Milo in all of her paraplegic beauty. Ten inches tall, and valued at a nickel ninety-five, she had come with a bullshit, fake marble base, and with a rough-hewn, untalented corrugated milkweed construction. Engineering cement held the robe in place which kept her innocent, a rig-job that mythology connoisseur Alan Carter had failed to notice when he purchased it.
As a mark of good taste, it was only a step above a water bong.
Garvey watched the dreadful aspect of this yard sale goddess as she came vivaciously to life, and began to thrust her spackled titties, and clothed pubis at him.
Then the wall behind the sofa faded to a cypher of addition signs, a million rows each. One, by one they were eclipsed as the cold storage cavern opened up for him again. The pale intruder was somewhere near the end, holding his cloaked arms up, praising the inferno, and its pandemonium. Ian Garvey, respectably garbed in his boots, tunic, belt, and commlock felt like a frozen caveman in the light that poured over him from the triad above the being's head.
What they did to us....
Yes, the specialist recalled that too. It came back to him like a yellow stick memo that had been injected into his skull. The worst part of the narrative was when the humanoid being, after being starved, and dehydrated for nine days, squinted at the creaking hinges which cast dirt upon the despoliation. Rodents crawled into the mire to escape the narrow beam of light that signaled the approach of the Minister from another world, the judgement of the conquerors.
Within the Carter quarters, Ian Garvey stood transfixed in the Doric, dungeon column that had been cast over him. Only his trembling hands, his eyes, and his open mouth were visible through the compound, ancient layers of nitre, and cement. In the demonic glare of the wall panels, his eyes were black coins.
Within the accessway outside of John Koenig's office, Ian Garvey stood transfixed, crushing his green flimsey in one hand, while gripping one of the commstation's panic handles with the other. Kate Bullen strolled by on the way to Main Mission, eyeing him curiously, but the surfeit grin misled her into believing that everything was just hum dinger.
Within the Carter quarters, Ian Garvey's teeth ripped maniacally into a human brain. Clarets, of plasma, and meaty sinew covered his demented face like jigsaw cracks.
Within the accessway, Phil Geist was towed along by Kate Bullen, who wasn't even half-way to the service workstation before she decided that the situation outside was all nuts.
"Hey, Garvey." Geist interceded, half-in, and half-out of the commander's office.
Within the dingy gaol of the Everyworld Conquerors, Ian Garvey knelt in the sacrificial position. Insects gorged themselves on the hirsute sores, and the dysentery that covered his face. As the corrupted vellum scrolled towards the floor, the Minister read his sentence while the Hatcher sharpened his blade with a carrion covered whetstone.
Within the Carter quarters, Ian Garvey was buried alive by an orgy of naked women--as calcimine as vampires--who tore away his eyes, and his genitals as an offering to the creatures from beyond the five moons.
Within the gaol, blood splattered from the open artery in his neck, and evenly soaked both hemispheres of the brain the rested in a wooden bucket of pestilence. The crevasses were flooded, the cerebellum, the cerebrum, the hypothalamus. The organ was saturated until all that remained was dry blitz, and old massacre. Between dead nerves, and impulses, the knowledge of a race wended its way towards the after extinction. It was the ultimate 'I don't like you.' The fate was incomparable to execution. It was eradication from the pool of consciousness.
Somewhere on the other side of dark experience, a sense of obligation began to trickle through the specialist's mammalian psyche like drops of water from a lime encrusted spout.
Garvey reluctantly studied the 3rd diecast car as it slowly...slowly edge to the starting line.
"No.." he whispered, nearly overcome. "Please...no..."
Gentlemen, start your engines! The miniature began its descent down the ramp...
The lights in the breakroom burned his eyes, as the lids slowly flickered open.
"Ian...Ian....Didn't they say they would be here right away!?!?"
Gloria Eason's voice. He realized he was horizontal, supine on the gray tile floor. It felt cold, ice cold to the touch. He shivered, probably because he was drenched in sweat, so much that he looked like he just took a shower, fully clothed.
He began to realize his head was propped in Gloria's lap, her soft hands cupping the sides of his face.
"Ian...just relax...Medical is coming," She assured softly.
He was beginning to focus. It was Gloria. She smiled slightly but the worry was etched in small lines on her pretty face.
"Nol," she glance up, "I think he's coming around."
Garvey heard Helena Russell, the medical midgy's voice ring in his ears, along with the amplified banging and creaking and clanging of the gurney. The loud voice of Jerry Parker in the background made his head throb.
"He was on break with us and he just...passed out," Eason explained to Russell as she relinquished her position as comforter while Garvey was lifted onto the gurney. "Doctor, will he be alright?" She asked apprehensively as the CMO passed the bioscan over him.
"Nothing is registering." The physician said coldly, running the scan over the specialist's abdominal region again. If the spike detected a broken bone, it would blip. If the spike detected extraneous H20, it would blip. If it detected a wart on Garvey's ass, it would blip. Sense it did nothing, she merely shook her head, and closed the unit out. "I can't find anything wrong." She reiterated, standing, and looking at the specialist like he absolutely deserved his misfortune. "How many hours have you put in on your orm research, Dr. Garvey?
"Maybe the problem is too much midnight oil." She remarked to Parker sarcastically. "In any event, we'll consult with Dr. Mathias as soon as we get him back to Medical."
Garvey swooned, the bodacious taste of cesspool was still rushing under his tongue. He honestly didn't know if he was eating brains, or being smothered by blood sucking, Karma Sutra women, or if he was still standing in the corridor. He did know one thing--the last time he was in Medical Center, Dr. Chess Pro had been a bitch to be around. He looked at the specialist sideways, and snickered something to the dentist--epithets that Garvey feared had to do with his subtle (Nay, or is it extreme?) Hypochondriasis. Everyone on Earth took fifty mega-complex vitamins per day, didn't they? Either way, he wasn't welcome on the table, and Doctor A-Hole ended up stabbing him with a hypo filled with 100% mineral squash; calories zero; additives zero; protein content, non-existent. Odd how this innocuous cocktail led to an outbreak of the shingles.
Dr. Bob said that was in his mind too before impaling Garvey again.
"No." He said lucidly as Parker pulled him past a nullified 'Nol. "That's not necessary. I don't require hospital care. I feel fine."
But away they went.
A quick glance and study of the monitor told Dr. Helena Russell that Dac Capano was recovering well from the mild heart attack he experienced yesterday while pruning banana trees. He would remain a 'guest' in Medical Center for a few days.
She closed the door to muffle his critique of his egg salad sandwich to Raul Nunez. A glance at the clock told her John Koenig would be picking her up in 35 minutes.
"The tragedy of the loss of Eagle 2-9 seemed to be an isolated and unfortunate incident," she continued typing. "Ian Garvey's mysterious fainting spell also seemed to be a separate incident. Then, however, something else happened that began to change our thinking and that perhaps, there was some sort of connection."
"Not good, not good at all," Structural Engineer Andrea Matthew stated in a voice deeper than 90% of the men on Moonbase Alpha, while glaring at the remnant of Eagle 2-9's engine bell.
Andrea Matthew was a dead ringer of Brigitte Neilson, a la mid 1980's, but more muscular; much more muscular. Andrea spent her free time in the gym body building on the Nautilus machines, sculpting, working out, following the "no pain, no gain" mantra until her body fat fell to an unnaturally lean 12% with an inordinate amount of testosterone coursing through her veins.
"Soft" and feminine, she was not.
"I can't explain it. Of course, metallurgy has taken samples and so far, they have no clues. Oh, yeah, they tell me the metal is "changing" on the atomic level," Andrea waved her prominently veined hand dismissively, "Duh...I could have figured that out."
Angelina and Alan Carter were looking over the remnant. The matter was urgent enough to bring Commander Koenig and Professor Bergman to the Dissembly Lab as well. Bergman studied the computer register tape printout with fascination.
Koenig, deep in thought and mildly dismayed, stood next to the structural engineer, cupping his chin.
"Oh, and guess what, Commander?" Andrea continued with more depressing news, "It appears the problem is not just confined to metals of an Eagle. We're beginning to see it elsewhere too."
"No kidding?" Carter crowed, remembering the new decor in his living room. Linoleum as rust. It was the latest thing.
Behind them, the double doors parted to allow Phil Inoshiro, who was still wearing his polarized safety goggles, access to the chamber. He carried with him a red flimsie that rested atop a cake plate piled high with black sand. He excused himself as he cut between the pilot, and 'Ang, and assumed his position behind the shield of an x-ray cubicle. Transients could be heard as he pulled the trigger, and flooded that corner with laser optics.
"I've seen some strange things." Yul Ostrog admitted, handing his introductory two sentence report to John Koenig. "During the war, I helped to retrieve a Condor that was hit by a Tri-Con fusion torpedo in high orbit. Except for the point of entry, the outside was completely unmarred." The mechanic recalled. "Inside, it was roasted like a duck. But this?" He said, shaking his head, and lacking confidence. "Commander, that engine was rated to sustain a minimum vacuum thrust level of 20,000 pounds. That's a thrust-to-weight ratio of zero point four for lunar lift-off weight. If it's a planetary ascent, the stats are larger." He pointed out, and behind him, Inoshiro was preparing another slide. "It's a wreck. There's just no way the meteor screens could have caused this. There's a reason why this unit survived.
"It's too damn big, and heavy to burn up." He extrapolated, scratching his eccentric head. "Especially the flange mountings, and the ablation chamber seals. They're cast from one hundred percent Hydronium. It would take a 'nuke to put a dent in them, but even then, the damage wouldn't be much. Now, they're nowhere to be seen.
"I could put my lousy fist through this thing."
Too true. More to the point, a ninety-nine year old geriatric could put his fist through the charred relic...or his thumb, or his nose, or a toothpick. The extension nozzle, propped on jack stands, was resting on the same dais that was used for 175 second static test firings of newly developed SPS blocks. It had begun to look less, and less like a technological portent, and more, and more like a begrimed, besprayed foam cup that had sat next to a campfire for too long. Freckles of orange dust marked the areas of greater, last bastion endurance on the titanium shielding.
"I've got your mountings, and seals." Phil Inoshiro apologized, removing his goggles as he approached the group. "Fifteen pounds of Cadmium Hydronium." He told Koenig, and handed him the specimen tray that was piled high with black sand.
"No way," Matthew blurted in disbelief, taking the proffered slide and held it up in the light. The color drained from Andrea's face as she studied the spectrometric wavelength graphic.
Angelina joined the group, glancing up at the slide, though besides the basic elemental wavelengths, she was not a metal expert and would not be able to identify specific metallic refractive study graphs.
"Cadmium Hydronium?" Ang asked the pale specialist.
"Yeah," Andrea answered without emotion. "Cadmium Hydronium."
"We use cadmium hydronium in the construction of our bulkhead structures, don't we" Koenig finally spoke, though more in fact that in question.
"Yes we do, Commander," Matthew nodded solemnly.
"What about corrosion and breakdown of other metals?" Koenig held up the slide to the overhead light. "Is your team verifying the structural integrity of our exterior walls and struts?"
"There's a group working on the surface now taking readings," Matthew nodded. "We are also taking sample of steel in inventory and doing electromagnetic scans as well. It will take some more time though."
"How much more time?" Angelina asked, unintentionally impatiently. She relaxed a little. "Do you need more help? Are you taking samples of whatever it is from my quarters?"
"Phil's coordinating that effort as well," Matthew glanced over at the specialist.
"What do you think it is?" Angelina asked Phil Inoshiro.
"Not sure yet," he answered, setting his cake plate of blackened cadmium hydronium on the table. Another tech took the sample away and left him with 5 steel blocks, displaying various date codes. "But your living room isn't the only place reported with the "problem".
"Oh?" Koenig set the slide down. "Where else?"
"Experimental labs," Inoshiro picked up one of the steel blocks and returned to the x-ray cubicle.
"John." Bergman said grimly. "I'm no expert--Rudolph Albert von Mohl, I'm not but I know a thing, or two about basic chemistry." The scientist qualified as he studied the figures on the multiple slips of register tape. "Every compound on the periodic table serves as a building block for other elements.
"You can't derive something from nothing." He laymanized for Carter who nodded appreciably. "Our Eagles are fueled with Aerozine 5.0--a rocket fuel that's formed from other agents, and oxidizers. The same is true of the bulkheads." He enlightened 'Ang. "The same is true of everything else on Alpha, right down to the food we eat.
"What we're looking at here is some sort of...." He clenched his fist, groping for articulation. "Degradation?" He pondered aloud, and then snapped his fingers, as he did a turnabout on a truer tangent. "Or retrogression? Look, what we have on these computer reports is basically a list." He told Koenig, as Ostrog, and Matthew stepped back to allow him room for erudition. "This engine bell was partly a Titanium construct, right? But that's not on the list--instead we have ilmenite, and rutile."
"Oh my god," Angelina blurted in amazement. "Do you mean the metals are going back to their basic elements? Some sort of reverse evolution for inorganic substances?"
"Exactly." Bergman congratulated her, smiling at nothing that was particularly pleasant. "Likewise all of the polymers. They're still here, but they're registering now as cellulose derivatives, caseins, and milk proteins. Whatever this effect is, it has the ability to deconstruct matter, and return it to its constituents, but it's not by destruction--it's by regression." He stipulated, and then grimaced as he realized that this was only a preface.
"John, look at your commlock." He advised while essaying his own.
The commander looked down, and admired the xanthous, unhealthy parchment that was once the registration tag on his multitasked communicator/door key. The mug shot was gone. All that remained was sticky, photochemical mess of faded, waterlogged paper, and melted lamination. All that remained of the supply sergeant's bookkeeping was an impossible month, and an impracticable year. In the DATE ISSUED block, the typeset read: 8/4/68.
Dr. Helena Russell, looking utterly exhausted, stepped into the Dissembly Lab.
"Ian Garvey apparently passed out in the MRC cantina," she informed Ang, as Koenig stared at his commlock.
"What's the matter with him?" Ang asked in alarm.
"Nothing..I can find nothing wrong with him," the CMO replied, slightly irritated, as Angelina raised a querying eyebrow. "I'm keeping him in Medical overnight until Dr. Mathias can do a psyche check in the morning but I think he is overdoing it with his research. Perhaps you should talk to...." Russell stopped, noting that Koenig was staring in amazement at his commlock for too long. "John? What's wrong?"
"That's impossible." Koenig said, totally sandbagged, and yet there it was. "Victor, you handed me this commlock yourself the day I took command. You know the date can't be right. Helena, what does yours say?" He solicited, helping himself to the device hooked to her belt. By all rights, the badge should have predated his own by eight months, in the year 1998.
The doctor glanced at her commlock then unhooked it to get a second look.
"1/3/68" Helena replied, totally bewildered.
"8/6/68," Angelina frowned at the date of issue on her commlock. "I did arrive on Alpha two days after you did, Commander." She chuckled from the stress. "Of course, I wasn't even born in 1968!" she shook her head as everyone else in the room curiously checked the date of issue on their commlocks.
A horrifying thought occurred to Ang. "Professor, you don't suppose that whatever is affecting the metals, polymers and perhaps everything inorganic could possibly affect organic material?" She swallowed. "Like us?"
"Ahhhhhhhhhh," Bergman enunciated, having no idea, in toto. Mad science caused his hair to spike in three different places "I could make an educated guess. On the other hand." He said, passing Koenig his own commlock for inspection. "Mine appears to be unaffected. The date is accurate.
"It could be two ways." He extemporalized as the photo on 'Ang's commlock began to bleed. "First, the effect is so subtle that this rollback takes time to establish itself. Then there's the remote possibility that this field has a limited range of influence. Anything beyond its borders remains uncontaminated."
As to whether, or not everyone on Moonbase Alpha would consign, backwards through the adult milieu, becoming deformative teens again, and then pre-adolescents, and then children, and then toddlers, and then infants, and then fetuses, and then zygotes, and then protoplasmic mush--that question remained unanswered.
A burke fell over the laboratory, interrupted only by Phil Inoshiro's antsy realignment of the spectrographic probe lens. For thirty seconds, there was nary a ripple. After half a minute passed by them, behold, there was a ripple.
"COMMANDER KOENIG." Umberto Garzon hailed from the commstation. Behind him, Clare Profitt nearly tripped in her rush to expedite the newest of red flimsies across the blue screen. "THERE'S A GIGANTIC SPACECRAFT APPROACHING ALPHA. IT'S 600,000 NAUTICLE MILES OUT, AND CLOSING."
The oldest extant satellite in lunar orbit was Hipparcos.
It was an ugly commodity, to be sure with its bowl-shaped antennae reflector being the only feature that was evenly remotely elegant. This wasn't saying much. It's gizzards--the apogee kick motor; the solar cell array; the control thrusters, and the travelling wave tube amplifier were encased in a huge drum that was insulated from top to bottom with mylar, and capton nickel foil. So it clunked, and clanged along in its geosynchronous orbit, passing over Moonbase Alpha to dump its telemetry once every nine hours. It occasioned to stall once over the fourth parallel, and high atop the Spitzenberg Mountains. Klaus Rotstein was dispatched to execute the repairs during an EVA, and he bitched, and caviled until his helmut visor was steamed white.
As it turned out, the repair could have been made just as easily using a realignment program transmitted from the Technical Hub, so his spacewalk was in vain. Too bad.
Hipparcos looked like a great, twirling hot water heater in space.
On the other hand, the satellite was also a prize winning snoop. Surveillance was the name of its game, and the digital camera array irised open immediately when the Polypheme dreadnought from another world lumbered past its sensors. It was the erector set from space. An ultra-modern building with engines. There were five, rectangular units--blocks of penitentiary perfection, and each one was detailed with twenty terraces worth of cellar green, glowing, transparent, crystal viewports. A pair of starburst, deep space tracking dishes revolved on turntables, to port, and starboard. They were in turn, linked to a massive network of rusted girders that pitched themselves on archaic astronautics, and used futures. The centraline, which basked in rays from galaxy M73, was an exposed, anaconda pit of frozen lubricant, and polluted pipes. The only distinguishable markings were on the bow of the spacecraft, and it could best be described as a fluorescent, alien, chic rendition of the Roman numeral "X."
Commander Koenig, Professor Bergman and Doctor Russell burst into Main Mission under the left archway, followed closely by Alan and Angelina Carter.
"Visual," Sandra reported on cue and the static and snow on the big screen yielded to the image of the alien ship.
The only aliens who were ever friendly to the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha were the Kaldorians. No one expected the statistics to change in their favor. The ship had appeared out of nowhere.
"Sandra, try to communicate with them on all frequencies." The commander now stood behind the data analyst.
"This is Moonbase Alpha. We are from the planet earth and we are peaceful." She began. "We are asking you to state your intentions and identify yourselves. We are from Earth and we are peaceful."
Static replied. Angelina wondered for a split second what her son was thinking or seeing, if anything, then returned her attention to the sensor data scanning the ship.
"DATA ON ALIEN SPACE VEHICLE...." Computer began to drone, adding a monotone soundtrack to the image of the slow moving barge that was galumphing across the silver capped, Chandler highlands. "...INCONCLUSIVE...."
"I HAVEN'T EVEN ASKED YOU YET." Benjamin Ouma scowled while angrily punching the vertical, red input keys at his terminal. Koenig acknowledged his hassle with a stern glance while continuing to lean over the analyst's workstation. Dr. Haines materialized somewhere in between. The scientist emerged from the MPSR room, and walked to the end of panel three to take up residence in the weird dusk that emanated from the overhead track lights. The diffusion made his graying sideburns seem mightier than they appeared on a subdued Tuesday. Truman Starns stood above his reverie, leaning quietly against the rail, and mesmerized by an image that the big screen was not big enough to hold.
"Who said that you did?" Victor Bergman elucidated. "It could be that someone else is asking the questions."
"Well, I've got their answer." Carter postured confidently at the CapComm station. "Right here. Commander, there's still time to send the welcome wagon out."
"I don't think that would accomplish much." Bergman opined. "Look at the size of it. I'd wager that they have weapons on that ship that could make junkyard scrap of our Eagles. In fact, they'd probably find our best defense to be insulting."
"So what should we do then?" Paul Morrow chimed in, crushing a firing room report into an unloved ball. "Let them crash through our screens, and annihilate us?"
"How do we know what their intention is?" The professor replied calmly, but argumentatively. "One thing you can be real sure of--aggression begets aggression."
Koenig raised an eyebrow but otherwise said nothing. On the one hand, the base was threatened and he was tempted to take up Carter's welcome wagon suggestion. He then considered Victor's advice. If they touted peace then send their armed Eagles after the aliens, the contradiction would certainly be deadly for Moonbase Alpha.
"Whoever they are, they appear to have stopped, and now they're taking up a parking position near Avagadro...on the far side." Ouma reported unassumingly while holding his register report with suspicious hands.
Except for the pinging and clicking and whirling of computer, there was not a sound in Main Mission.
Angelina started to breathe again. "Maybe they just want to observe us?" She offered, unsure.
"Yeah, but why? What for?" Paul questioned her. She had no answer.
"If they were peaceful," Sandra interjected. "Why don't they respond to our attempts to communicate."
"Maybe they can't or don't understand?" Angelina offered, this time unsure why she was playing devil's advocate.
"I don't buy that bunch of bullshit," Klaus Rotstein sneered condescendingly at Ang.
Koenig threw Rotstein an irritated glare then glanced around the room. He turned to Carter.
"Alan, prepare 5 laser eagles for lift off and stand by on the pads. Do NOT launch until I give the order." He paused, glanced at Russell then continued. "We won't be aggressive. However, let's show them that we will defend ourselves."
"Paul," he turned to the deputy controller, "evacuate all non-essential and off duty personnel to the underground bunkers."
The commander started up the balcony stairs, and was three steps away from the first landing when he realized that Bergman was tailing him.
"You're getting rather paranoid in your old age, aren't you John?" He said agreeably, but there was a recognizable, cautionary appeal--evident, but between words.
"Not paranoid, Victor," Koenig stopped and turned thoughtfully. "Just careful. We've only had one alien encounter where the intention was any warmer than indifference. We have to take a defensive posture to ensure our...."
"WE HAVE AN INCOMING TRANSMISSION." Sandra Benes declared, rattled from her anxiety by the red light that blipped before her on the UHF meter. She shifted her monitor from the Local to the Interstellar tabs, and then back again, hoping to pinpoint the exact frequency band. Multiple windows popped a little luck, she would have results, and soon.
Unfortunately, the result was that she was out of luck.
"Perhaps they are trying to tell us they are not aggressive," Angelina suggested.
"How bout you taking off those rose colored glasses and seeing things as they are, Dr. Carter," Rotstein smart mouthed to her.
"How bout you shut up, Rotstein," She retorted, having enough of the egomaniac. The growing look of disdain on Koenig's face did not have a chance to germinate into full blown ire.
"There is more. I don't know how we received this signal." The analyst admitted, clicking her mouse, and watching the screen scroll downward in a litany of endless, intelligenceless, empty-headed zeros. "It's unzipping from inside our own server. Somehow they were able to download it quickly, and without us knowing."
"It's that easy?" Truman Starns commented from above in a glacial draft of unbelief. "To invade computer?"
Benjamin Ouma abruptly turned and gave the detective the dagger glare but other than that said nothing.
Jim Haines relaxed his neck muscles, and studied the computer terminals, and the human operators that lined the sacred, trusted square of the Main Mission trench. Like everyone else who believed in Santa Claus, he hoped for a plausible explanation to this phenomenon, but he was not optimistic.
"Looks that way, doesn't it?" John Koenig answered sarcastically. He expected no more, no less, and all eyes were upon the incredible, shrinking Ouma. "Sandra, whatever it is, let's hear it."
"There is no sound." The analyst explained. "Transferring image to the big screen now."
What appeared was a high definition image that required more memory than the unit could provide. Consequently, the image was slightly blurred, and pixeled from right to left, and in diagonal variations as it verged on locking the system up. There were seven rows of rectangles, from top to bottom on the alien grid. Each row was ten parallelograms across. Every other box represented a black pigment. The remainders were clearly, incontestably white. At sixty second intervals, one foursquare would vanish from the mistime, and then the entire quantification would reconfigure itself.
"This is an attempt to communicate?" Helena Russell said strangely. "What does it mean?"
"It's impossible to say." Bergman said as a law. "This may be some sort of test broadcast. Maybe we've been put on hold...those both seem like reasonable enough assumptions, right John?"
Koenig looked over at Carter. "Put the laser Eagles on standby and keep them underground for now."
"So, given a choice, sir, you've decided that the thing to do is for us to have our asses shot off?" The pilot cranked as he followed Koenig to the rear of the auditorium. The fact that both 'Ang, and Big-P Danielle threw themselves in the way as human shields didn't seem to deter him much. "Is that a military strategy, or are we trying to build peaceful intergalactic relations by having them over for dinner, and we're the bloody main course?"
The cocky sneer. Koenig could see it all over Carter's puss, even with his back turned to him. The objections, and the fulminations from one who believed a bunch of white hot, CO2 photons--designed primarily for cutting defenseless moon rocks--could save them all from the horrors of alien technology. Witness Alan Carter, with his laseing medium, pitted against these extros, and their probable ability to filet the Moon with a massacre of uber ballistics, and exotic radiations. He could already feel the flesh oozing from his bones. Let the match be joined, with Alan Carter--his hideous, and inhumane weaponry; observe how they reduce him to a puddle of hemoglobin, and suspended proteins with the equivalent of a Martian death ray.
It was Bambi V. Godzilla all over again, but what the pilot lacked in soft, fluffy charm, he made up for with his big mouth.
"Prepare an unarmed reconnaissance Eagle. Victor, you, Helena and I are going out meet our visitors." The Commander climbed the three stairs to his desk.
"That's the only course of action you can think of, sir?" The pilot challenged, argy-bargy, and with fresh egotism.
"Yes captain, that's the only course of action I can think of." Koenig replied wearily, but autocratically. "Oh, and I suggest taking along hard suits." He grinned, turning. "It will put a protective film over your butt."
"???SO THAT'S IT???" Carter raged, the blood vessels in his forehead swelling, and turning crimson.
"No." The commander added leisurely. "There is one other thing. If we have to do an EVA out there, I'm going first, and you're going to assist me...unarmed."
He closed the big doors on him.
By the time Ian Garvey attached the high voltage cables, from his alternator to the gigantic KV-75 power cell, there were only fifty rectangles left.
Angelina sat on the table, strewn with equipment in the small cubicle area. Even though she was talking with Technician Garvey he was still intently working. He appeared to be...obsessed.
"Everyone needs a hobby, project or some kind of distraction, Ian," she spoke though she might as well have been talking to the wall. He was only half listening to her as he grunted his acknowledgement.
Off duty time on Moonbase Alpha was the toughest time to live and breathe. For sanity's sake, even those with significant others, discovered or rediscovered hobbies. Ian Garvey had an interest in creating computer games. Now, however, that interest was all but abandoned in favor of....what WAS this suppose to be?
"And I think that it is great you have a new interest," Ang continued, eyeing the battered copy of 'Investigating The Unexplained:Explanations Into Ancient Mysteries, the Paranormal & Strange Phenomenon'. "But there is that old saying...everything in moderation?"
Dr. Beatrice Acton, geologist by trade and "Bea" to her friends, trodden along the lunar surface in the 'courtyard' beside Residence Building A. The scans of the structural integrity of the bulkheads were taking more time than expected. It was her third trip out to the surface with her team in 6 hours, the other two trips requiring them to return inside to re-calibrate equipment.
Of course, the second time they were also called in because of a rumored alien space craft but since they were allowed to go outside again, she dismissed it as rumor. She looked up curiously as an Eagle launched from the distant pad 3 then returned to her readings.
"Alpha, Eagle One." Carter ate crow, but not humbly, from the CMP's couch. "We're at 18:30 EMT, and ready to roll pitch over the Sea Of Serenity."
John Koenig offered him a neutral glance before returning to his yoke, and an inertial guidance firmware that never talked back. Beyond the metrically notched rendezvous windows, a shroud of black faded into the glow of the space vehicles forward running lights. Taurus Littrow was not visible. No stars were visible. At this altitude, there seldom were any. The glare from neighboring NLO's created an electromagnetic camouflage that concealed everything that wasn't obviously, drastically, black or white. The environment, minus four hundred degrees even in the shade, didn't tick away like an alien telegram, but the metaphor was no less dramatic. The commander squeezed his left toggle with gloved hands, venting hydrogenperoxide crystals into the submissive void.
"You're a roger, Eagle One." Paul Morrow said busily across the Simitar digital link. "We have you as ten minutes out, and approaching parasynthion. Remember to switch over to the interstellar band before you head over the hill, or we'll lose contact with you."
"Paul, what's the status on the alien ship?" Koenig inquired while actuating their reserve power cells. Helena Russell appeared behind them, befuddled, in the aft equipment bay holding a strip of register tape that may as well have been a grocery store receipt.
"Nothing so far." The controller ascertained. "We're keeping a sharp watch though."
"Nice." Carter reflected. "It's always good to have a warning before you get creamed."
"You're too kind." Garvey said, annoyed by the technical manager as he closed the circuit on the KVA Main. "Actually, this is my only project, and I've been delinquent in fulfilling my objectives.
"Excuse me." He said, reaching past Ang'--another in a series of insurmountable, human obstacles; a wall of aggravation, with shitty opinions instead of bricks, for the silver ratchet wrench on the utility table. "Most people don't understand-
(Translation: 'YOU' do not understand, managing bimbette.)
-this problem with orms is nothing new. While we were in Earth orbit, we were shielded. Since we broke away from our own solar system, the problem has mounted, and mounted until now, we're at the mercy of just about every negatively charged molecule that floats our way." He tried to hide his look of disdain, coupled with serious doubts about Angelina Carter's intelligence as he carefully deposited a stack of unified field research on top of the book she was reading.
The effect was, she began to stick her big, privacy unrespecting nose into other closets, and Garvey's neck broke into nervous hives above the neckline of his tunic.
He chuckled unabashedly.
"There are, I would concede, certain individuals in this section who would agree with you-
(Translation: Mr. Assistant Director of experimental services is riding me like a pony. What rhymes with 'pains?' The answer is 'Haines.')
-and they would prefer that I devote my time to zeemanizing atoms so the LSRO-
(Translation: The Rocket Jocks.)
-will have a new type of propulsion system to abuse...and blow up."
Being blown continuously, it bothered Ian Garvey.
"Look," Ang countered, "the new propulsion system is critical to the next generation of Eagles and in beta testing the new Hawks. That project IS important and does have a great deal of experimental's resources devoted to it."
"There are several projects that need to be done in experimental but the question is one of prioritizing." She continued, stating the same argument Haines had given Garvey earlier. "Our priority is survival and in the grand scheme of things, this is not a number 1 project...or two or three."
'How about #20,' she thought but did not verbalize.
Construction Engineer Ahn Nguyen bounded gracefully in the Lunar gravity to Bea Acton.
"Uh oh," Nguyen mumbled, as she scratched at the oxidation on the metal, the base of the technical hub. "How can this be?" She turned perplexed. "There's no oxygen out here." She exclaimed in disbelief.
The lights on her sensor lit up like a Christmas tree.
"Is it getting any worse?" Bea asked.
"Doesn't appear to be," Nguyen. "But I can't tell for sure. I'm getting some interference on the sensors."
"Bea, Ahn," the voice of Reginald Bostwick broke through the speakers inside their helmets. "Come here. Look at this!"
They turned to see Bostwick frantically waving them back to him, as he stared at the bulkhead of the east wall of Residence Building A. Acton and Nguyen returned to Bostwick and turned in the direction he was pointing. A strange corrosion pattern was on the bulkhead.
"It looks like..." Ahn gulped, chills running down her spine despite the constant temperature of the suit, "a skull."
"Commander, we're coming up on Avagadro." Carter alerted as he used his index finger to open the safety covers over the retrofire system. "Our approach is good. Expect to reconnoiter with the alien spacer on its starboard side. Braking maneuvers in two minutes."
He still found the whole thing preposterous.
"Victor, anything new on the sensor readings?" Koenig called to Bergman through the internal comm link.
"Nothing," Bergman's face appeared on the co-pilot side monitor. "Nothing substantial, John, but we are picking up more EM interference. Not sure the source yet but still analyzing."
The professor sat at the terminal scratching his head. Something wasn't right about the readings and he sat pondering, parting the cobwebs of his memories in search of some answer. He relinked to the Main Server on Alpha, searching the archives.
The giant vessel appeared to be invisible--a Houdini byproduct of the magneto curtain that was draped over the evaporated edges of the crater; an optical illusion that had crashed many a ship in this region. Those who survived were just grateful to be alive, and the dead didn't have a problem with it. As Eagle One surfed past the ruined, soliton boulders, and the wasteland of impact craters that lay below, the blinking light on the sensor swipe--as large as a microwave light at this range--grew more lambent, and increasingly iridescent to the point where it appeared that Carter was staring into the filaments of a black light bulb. The neck dam of his suit grew fluorescent as he checked, and rechecked their approach vector.
"We'll see it eventually." He affirmed with wry mirth. "When we're right on top of it, that is."
Koenig threw Carter a sidewise glance but otherwise said nothing. He knew the pilot was not a happy camper. Too bad.
"Incredible," Helena Russell mused, crouched beside Koenig and gazing out the viewport over his shoulder. "I wonder who they are..." They exchanged mutually curious glances then returned to staring out the viewport.
Then they drudged through the ice as their velocity decreased suddenly, anomalously to 400 feet per second. Doctor Russell grasped onto the back of Koenig's pilot couch to restore her balance.
"That's a bit more choke than we would have started." Carter remarked again, and then his visage grew grave as he picked up on the dizzying wash that laved against his vision port. The atmosphere inside the command module began to feel infinitely compressed. The pilot felt the ghost of an anvil as it was lowered on top of his head, and strapped to his chin. "Paul, this is Carter." He said with fecund disquiet. "There's a shimmer out here. Is that ship causing some sort of ionization effect?"
They waited a long time before the response came. It was the last message they would receive in this universe.
"!!!JOHN!!!" Victor Bergman cried, frog throated, and electronically distorted by eons of history over a telecommunications network that was now as archaic as a Neanderthal waving its arms in the Pleistocene heat. "!!!YOUR KINETIC ENERGY VALUE IS ZERO!!! MASS EQUALS 'X!!!' MASS EQUALS 'X!!!'"
In a picosecond, everyone on Moonbase Alpha was dead, and Earth's former satellite disintegrated in the rings of a jovian planet that was a billion astronomical units, and 10,000 light years away from Earth. Only their mythology remained, there to educt generations of humanity who would call themselves Offspring Of The Moon. Their time reference, and the culture that had developed therein was gone. A few held out hope that Eagle One might some day return, but after seventy years of staring into the relativistic depths, they could no longer defy their own hopelessness. So, they turned out the porch light. Carter watched the elapsed mission time through a blinding, anti-gravity supernova as the counter climbed from a flight duration of 1,156 years to 5,000 years, to 100,945 years. As the milleniums passed like water through a faucet, John Koenig's Rip Van Winkle beard overflowed the 02 purge tank of his suit. The couch he sat upon was eroded to vinyl flakes as the keel of their Wooly Mammoth spacecraft exponentially decayed in the hydrochloric spacestream, and exploded from aerodynamic forces that were beyond theory.
Over his shoulder, Carter could still see the after image, a superluminal mirage that would hang there for all eternity. It was a phantom image of himself, and Koenig, only seconds before being caught in the Einstein-Rosen Bridge. Helena Russell, rest in piece for as much as she hath given pleasure, was one of the museum pieces, still standing in the aft equipment bay as she had ten billion years ago; still not apprehending the data on the register tape, and ignorance was bliss.
"!!!COMMANDER, WE'RE CAUGHT UP IN SOME SORT OF LOOPHOLE!!!" The pilot cried, his Methuselah, old man's lungs clogged with the dust of creation. "!!!THE RCS IS NOT RESPONDING!!!"
Koenig was enraptured by the moment of creation. It was the beginning of time and God said 'Let there be'...and the incomprehensibly large mass exploded into billions and billions of pieces, launching in all directions in the black void. He did not respond.
"JOHN!!! ALAN!!!! Cut power to the engines!!!" Bergman shouted from the passenger module. He saw the illusions intermixed with reality. "JOHN!!!! ALAN!!!!"
He would have to attempt to do it himself. But for what he retained in mental reality, he lacked in physical strength. He could not walk and fell to the floor, his legs refusing to work.
So he crawled his way, like the serpent, up the passenger aisle, gasping for breath as he reached the service module.
"John!!! JOHN!!!!" He looked up. "HELENA!!!"
No response from the catatonic doctor.
Bergman continued his torturous crawl and the command module seemed to be a 100 meters away. His mechanical heart pounded in his chest and sweat poured over the top of his eyebrows, stinging his eyes. His vision was blurry as he reached the Command Module.
"You would prefer if I abandoned this project?" Ian Garvey fumed, closing the maintenance plate over the alternator with a final ring of the rooster's neck. He secretly wished that it was AD Haines' head in the ratchet instead of the bolt. "It took me eight months alone just to complete the preliminary computations.
"No easy thing." He sulked. Why was it that he, Ian Garvey, could touch the face of future immensity, and no one else?
Whether he had intentionally done so or not, Ian Garvey had hit Angelina Carter's maternal nerve and she softened in her resolve. His face conveyed 'sad little boy'. She didn't want to dampen anyone's enthusiasm and she did recognize that the more they knew about anything unknown, orm saturation included, the better off they would be in the future.
"Listen," the Technical Manager answered, "I understand your enthusiasm. But right now, the propulsion system project is behind schedule and I am being pressured to bring it back on schedule. There are others working it but you're one of the best in the combustion process on the atomic level."
He appeared to be listening but she wasn't exactly sure.
"You are welcome to pursue this project," she waved to the cabinet, "in your free time for now. However, once the design phase of the propulsion system is complete, I promise we can make arrangements so you can go back to this project half time...at least."
"Is that a deal?" She smiled confidently.
"Why would it look like a skull?" Bostwick bollixed, noticing also that the regolith he was standing in was now blue, instead of rust. What did it all mean, man? He ascended to the Himalayas of Delphic wisdom. The Moon was not blue; it was not rust; it was crap colored. These were not the fardels that he had pondered before while his big feet were propped up in the lunar rover. This smacked of something else that was too much like hard labor. "I think we may need additional equipment for this."
He realized this conundrum was over his head.
"Dr. Acton?" He called, but the team leader was nowhere to be had.
Specialist Oliver "Nol'" Blair snapped his fingers, and clapped his hands enthusiastically as he headed for the atrium on the ground floor of Residence Building-A. The transparent lift doors closed behind him, and he pressed the pearl switch on the panel that was labeled Third Floor. As the coach was pulled upwards he passed the time by picking his nose, and examining it for his edification. After wiping the evidence onto the car, he exited down the brightly lit corridor, past the commstations, and the rows of foam couches that lined the bulkheads.
Noticing that an intense corona bobbed, and ebbed from somewhere on the opposite side of one of the vision ports, he stopped to have himself a look.
Victor Bergman struggled and crawled by Carter, who had an anxious and confused look on his face, his eyes glazed over.
"ALAN!!! CAPTAIN!!!! Shut off power to the main engines!!!" Victor rasped.
He painfully tried to lift himself up. It was like the G-forces of Breakaway all over again. He told himself it was an illusion, a hallucination.
Finally on his hands and knees, but feeling like a 1 ton weight was pressing down on his back, he heaved himself forward as his right index finger stabbed the white stud, cutting power to the Main Motors.
Eagle 1 shuttered as the engines died down with a descending whine.
Beatrice Acton--a stellar geologist of unmotivated skill--ran afoul of the teras from another dimension. Nol' Blair couldn't see it, though he was looking right at it.
Acton finally escaped Moonbase Alpha. It was the way most people over the years had escaped. She found her solution beyond the garden seats. She steamed along silently at this psychotropic intrusion upon her meaningless research, and climbed to the front porch of the four story, brownstone house. Looking around furtively, she used her gloved palm to push open the Victorian screen door. The home reminded her of her uncle's summer lodgings on the outskirts of Kent. The walls were done in an impeccable, Louis IVX decor. The sensible molding, and the chiseled, neoclassical sculptures mugged back at her from the fire place. The ornamental plaster composition of the ceiling eased back the irrational loudness of the 19th century, scarlet, fabric sofa, and the flames lapping easily at the cherry log warmed her to such a degree that it became necessary to switch off the thermal control on her spacesuit.
The coffee table book de jour was _On The Origin Of Species_ by Mr. Darwin. Perfect. The scheme was immaculate.
"I resent this intrusion." She bitched to the gentleman who was wearing a wide lapeled, pin stripe suit. He was sitting in the carved Roux Rosewood wing chair next to a snobby Pairpoint lamp.
"Do you?" The graying lord of the house quizzed without smoulder.
"I have a great deal of work to do." She lied through her teeth, admiring the freshly oiled dining chairs on the opposite end of the parlor. "Are those hepplewhites?"
She showed him an obscene gesture.
"What are you going to do? Eat me?" She laughed pugnaciously.
"Well." Garvey contemplated, leaning his elbow against the workstation monitor. "I have wanted to consult with Dr. Dvorak on a new electrolytic conductor for the block two assembly." He admitted, relaxing his stress roiled face muscles. "I drafted a new design for the coil, but I became so involved in this research, I let it fall to the bottom of my documents folder.
"If the unit works, it would allow for greater space vehicle maneuverability, and separation of attitude.
"I have been obsessed." He decided with guilt, and fresh perspective. "Maybe it's time to throw a tarpaulin over this project. I can beat my brains out just as easily a month, or two from now."
Ian Garvey's reasonableness appeared to come out of retirement. His dandelions were in full bloom again.
"Thank you," Ang replied, convinced of his sincerity. "I knew you would understand the situation. Not only was my interest schedule driven but your friends have been worried about you. Gloria has come to me several times expressing concern over the fact that you have been overdoing it. A fact borne out by your recent fainting spell."
She winced. They still had no idea what caused it and she felt Medical's easy dismissal of "stress and overwork" was too simplistic.
"We don't want you to kill yourself over work." She continued. "It's not worth it."
"Eagle one, come in Eagle One," Paul Morrow called anxiously over the base to ship link.
The sound of static popped and crackled, echoing throughout Main Mission.
Sandra calmly pushed buttons and modulated frequencies. "There is interference but we should be getting some sort of communication." Her pixie face was a mask of worry and distress.
"Still getting life signs," Dr. Dorothy Sullivan interjected from the Medical monitors under the big screen. "The professors vital signs are elevated." She squinted, looking down at her chart then up at the monitors again. "Commander Koenig, Doctor Russell and Captain Carter had depressed brain wave activity but it is returning to normal."
"Eagle one, this is Alpha. Report your situation, Eagle one." Paul continued, glancing around the room at the anxious faces.
"Paul, it's Koenig." The commander spoke into the link, still trying to block the percussion in his ears. If you overlooked the fact that they had experienced Genesis, and charring death a million times over, they were none the worse for the wear. In fact, the ship had made a perfect, soft
declination into Avagadro. They were at Stable One, and no one was standing on their head. However, all of them felt like their heads had been ripped off, you should note. Outside the command module, Koenig could see a placid trio of trackless hillocks with a rock strewn trail wynding up the terraced side of the starboard formation. The lagoon on the opposite side was totally eclipsed from the shadow of the alien dreadnought which was parked somewhere above them. "Everyone is alright, and the ship doesn't appear to be damaged. That spacecraft must be propelled by some sort of time expatiation. Whatever it was, we flew right into the middle of it."
"Right," Bergman nodded, propped against the doorway of the Command Module. Dr. Russell fussed with the blood pressure cuff that was fitted over his unzippered sleeve arm. "We were apparently caught right in the middle of the ship's plasma drive, I would guess."
Russell shushed him. Her own head was throbbing and it took tremendous concentration for her to listen to the pulsing of blood in the professor's artery.
"Yeah." Carter acceded, pressing the alcohol compress that Russell had given him against his nose. That's okay, he didn't need sinuses to know when something stank. "If we can't be pals, we can at least be the main course."
"We'll get as much data as we can from here." The commander went on, ignoring him. "But tell Danielle we're going to need a scrub/turnaround course to get back out of here. The spacewalk is cancelled, and we're sure not going to try, and dock with the thing."
"Understood." Morrow agreed, amazed by the miracle that no one had died.
The being from between dimensions was working on that.
"???Doctor???" Reginald Bostwick called into his helmut microphone. The multi-colored storm of diodes stopped him in his strobing tracks. The wire wheels of his moonbuggy ground to a halt at the base of the courtyard's main five transformer. If there was still a landfill against the bulkhead of the residence building, it was no longer visible. The bad day of Beatrice Acton was. Bostwick could see the geologist, blazing in a borealis of pure, wasting thought. Astral images of old pain, and vanquished hopes were ripped from her body by a reeling vortex that ravished the land of a nightmare. The thing that was raping her, from the inside of her suit, and out, was viewable only in vague glimpses during the interminable lulls in the flaring pulses, and cascading moondust. It's bruised, terrifying purple cheekbones, and depending eyes turned on Reginald Bostwick, weary of rictus, and seemingly bored with its current murder.
"!!!DOCTOR ACTON!!!" Bostwick screamed into her disposable past.
"Dr. Carter." Umberto Garzon's noble, fretting face appeared on the commpanel. "Eagle One's flight has been aborted. We need you in Main Mission as soon as possible."
"What happened?!?" Angelina asked in alarm. Ian Garvey's curricular and extracurricular activities suddenly took a nose dive on her priority list.
"They were evidently caught up in the alien ship's drive," Garzon continued, "but they are alright." He finished quickly, seeing the anxiety flash across the Technical Manager's face.
"Right," she nodded. "I'm coming now." She turned to Garvey. "Please listen to my advice and take care of yourself. Otherwise, Dr. Russell will be up my ass and none of us need that," she smiled wearily at the technician.
Ian Garvey looked up sheepishly from his King Kong fuel cell, and imparted a curious eyebrow to Angelina. Closing up the bus was the last duty he would perform in behest of the alternator. He gave his word, promised to do better in the future.
Angelina believed his word and turned into the corridor, headed for the Command tower.
Both he, and the Technical Director had missed the audience that was forming in the CAD design room. Gloria Eason, and the others in the experimental task force were demur, and agape at the strange, neon light that emanated from the inner ring, akimbo to Residence Building-A.
It was fulgid.
It was like sparklers.
Garvey pulled the ultra-light, waterproof covering over his darling, the machine that everyone in the lab cadre had kvetched. Now orms could inveigh their circuitry, fuck up their life net. No one cared--especially Ian Garvey, not now. They could yammer, and yawp all they wanted--he wouldn't save them now. They could behoove him. The door to the ark was officially closed, and as usual, the clouds over Moonbase Alpha looked threatening. Enemies of God, and all haters could land on top of Ang' Carter's office, and torture them to death with boiling water, the Blood Eagle. They could rip their hearts away from their arteries, and do the Electric Slide through the crosscurrent, scat entrails.
The specialist would reply: "Oh...I have a coil to dispatch. Sorry old man."
Alarmed, Ian Garvey whirled 180 degrees, pulse palpitating. He looked upwards in the direction the phonation had emanated from. The voice may have been like he (but there was no way it was ever human). There was nothing above except for a six panel skylight that looked outward onto a nebulous reach of space.
Commander Koenig walked briskly under the right archway, looking as pale as a sheet, followed by Dr. Russell, Professor Bergman and Captain Carter. In fact, they all appeared to have experience hell and returned; they did.
"Ang, Paul, Sandra," Koenig spoke louder with each name and motioned to his office. "Right now." He finished as he climbed the steps to his office, aiming the commlock at the lock. The privacy door opened. "Find Quentin and Ouma and have them join us," he instructed Tanya Alexander.
"What happened to you guys," Ang, concerned, intercepted Carter as he passed her and she arose to catch up to the group. "You look terrible."
For some reason, Ian Garvey remembered the wake of his Uncle Peter. Ian was a boy and Uncle Peter was 39 years old, just one day before turning 40, when he died in a freak accident. Peter Garvey, with the same flame red hair as Ian, was on Grandmother Garvey's pond in a row boat, fishing, when he was struck by lightening. He died instantly. Lightning strikes were a rare occurrence in Ireland. Being struck and killed by lightning in Ireland was against all odds. One had a better chance of winning the lottery.
Ian Garvey had an odd feeling at the wake as he stared down at Uncle Peter in the gasket. Peter Garvey never made it to his 40th birthday. Neither would Ian. Ian Garvey's 40th birthday was merely a few days away.
"We remember...." Uncle Pete said, wrenching the mortician's black stitches away from his blue lips at the seam. "You...we are like you...Berenecea."
(...'Earth' our home...)
"I fail to see how that was anything other than an attack." Carter held forth, melting the adhesive glue that held the square gauze to his forehead. "Commander, you were there. You saw what they did. I can't--not in any way, shape, or form--I can't let that just roll off like Adam's Ale. For chrissakes, just take a look at the big screen.
"Paul, Sandra, you know what it is...it's a countdown."
"I agree totally." Morrow steamed, turning his high coffee mug in a half moon shape. "And I'm not the only one. Commander, everyone on the base is wondering why we aren't at Defense Condition Three, given the present circumstances."
"That is true, Commander," Sandra sat in the white moduform chair, arms crossed over her chest. "I do not understand why we are leaving ourselves completely defenseless."
"BECAUSE," Koenig blared demonstratively. "THERE IS NOTHING TO INDICATE THAT AGRESSIVE ACTION WAS TAKEN AGAINST US."
Angry, and with hassled palms uplifted, he scanned the faces at the table, and saw nothing, other than hanging jurors.
Susa...capital of the Elarnite empire.... Then it passed into Babylonian hands, treacherous, brutal. Then came the decimation wrought by the Archaernenid Persians under Cyrus, The Great. Susa lost her proverbial shorts, and was sacked by Alexander, The Great. Thousands of conquerors, and all of them 'great.' Wagons rolled across hills; centurion death squads lit fire to homes, and created pyres from the bones of infants, their brain matter oozing down the limestone boulders, and that was also great. Even before it was 'Earth,' it was our 'Earth,' and we were the greatest of races...the most anonymous...the most ingenious. We were Berenecea. Five thousand years before recorded history, we were not there. Five million years before the reign of saurian beasts, and tar pits, our epitaph had long ago been written. Call us 'ancient history.' Five billion years before that, we were there, and fighting to survive pogroms, sent to destroy us by the Ordinance. They executed us with fire; infected us with hydra, strained from green, pandemic boar's heads; drowned us in the saltwater seas; ostracized us to other dimensions. The Ordinance didn't like us, you figure it out.
"Like you...I'm human." Uncle Pete told Garvey while the ghoulish funeral director shook his hand.
"Commander," Angelina offered calmly after placing a discreet hand on Carter's leg, trying to keep him from standing up. "Any reasonable race would expect us to at least take up a defensive position, even if they have difficulty communicating their intentions. I don't see how taking steps to protect ourselves can be interpreted as aggressive. At least we should be prepared in case they..."
She tried to sound sage like her mentor Professor Bergman. She looked to Bergman for edification.
"I don't know that I'd say that a'toll." The professor expounded, leaning against the stiff plastic of his chair. "We don't know what their values are like...their morals, or their mores. How do we know what constitutes an act of war in their culture?"
He addressed not Ang,' but Carter whose cannons were loaded.
"Oh yeah?" The pilot grinched superlatively. "How can we be so sure the first strike hasn't already been made. How about every sprog on this base suddenly dying? And how about the fact that the walls are falling down around our ears?"
"Well said." Paul Morrow burned with predatory urgency.
"On the other hand," Helena Russell supported Koenig, "I doubt if a defensive posture would do us any good. Alan," she turned to the pissed off pilot, "you experienced what its technology could do to us. Don't you think if they really wanted to, they could have destroyed us by now? Do you really think putting a few Eagles on alert is going to protect us?"
Dr. Russell made brief eye contact with Koenig. The commander gave her a barely perceptible but appreciative nod.
"GODDAMNIT." Carter blared, making coffee cups airborne with a blow of his fist against the table.
"No," Garvey shook his head. "I don't believe you. You are not my uncle. My uncle is dead. You are not human."
He paused, sweat pouring from his face and hyperventilating. "What...what do you want? What do you want with me?"
"Save...the beloved...(...meaning 'Earth'...)." Uncle Pete replied as his only surviving, magpie sister, Belle, gossiped about him as he lay in state.
Garvey was there for the interphase. Every creature on the planet, hominids, and reptiles absorbing the ectoplasm of the old teachers. The alphans were not humans. They were neophytes. Humanity was expunged in some horrible, final solution before the dawn of time. Berenecea, reduced to groundwater that vanished into the pores of the gene pool. The lathe of tears eventually went dry. Total genocide. Their buildings were reduced to clay; their science became superstition; the Ordinance raked it all over, and sowed the planet with salt, so said Uncle Pete, otherwise known as the Coffin Zombie.
"We exist in your memory." Uncle Pete excreted literally, barely palliating the words over his mortified, mud hardened tongue. "We retreated into the subconscious of lower beings.
"It was our refuge." He admitted to his slandering sister who then moved onto to expose dirty laundry to the Unitarian-Universalist minister who was to perform the sermon. "You liberated me this far...." He told Ian Garvey, but the minister did not love Aunt Belle.
"Any word on the structural analysis from metallurgical?" Koenig swiveled around to Angelina, who had glanced with irritation at Carter as she cleaned cold coffee off her pants.
"It's reverse atomic degradation alright," she nodded, glancing back at her laptop screen. "But it is not a continuous phenomenon." She paused as everyone took it in. "It comes in 'bursts' at varying time intervals. Then it appears to stop."
"Have you been able to determine a pattern or trend?" Professor Bergman relaxed, Vitaseed in hand, having escaped Carter's upending.
"No," she replied. "I've run a few statistical models but can't correlate anything yet. Nol Blair is working on the numbers now, running a few more models. He doesn't think it will yield anything though."
"What about the intensity of the degradation with each..event?" Koenig asked, choosing 'event' for lack of a better word.
"Yeah, that's the part I was coming to next," she replied. "It appears at random and each time it is getting worse. If it happens on interior wall, well, no big deal. But if it happens more and more on exterior bulkheads and gets worse..well..."
She didn't need to complete the thought. Her meaning was crystal clear.
"NO." Ian Garvey said emphatically, and stepped aside so Grandmum' Esther Garvey could fit both her walker, and her colostomy bag into the grieving space between herself, and the casket. The aroma of fresh cut roses turned to floral putrification.
"...responsibility to...us...." Uncle Pete condemned his nephew's character--his words issued in small puffs of soot, and dirt that rose into the air, and dissipated against the drop ceiling.
Berenecea died so that 'Earth' could live was his line of argument, a guilt trip really, bullshit, actually, but it occurred to dead Uncle Pete that guilt trips worked rather well on Ian Garvey. He had hoped that he would be stronger; hardier; more resolute, and not a mamma's boy. Surviving in deep space had done nothing to strengthen the boy's spine.
"Impossible." The specialist said finally. "How do I know you're telling the truth? How do I know that you weren't driven back for a reason? Answer me that?"
You make a good point, Pete said, scratching his bald, liver spotted pate. This bending of ethical principal, together with a lack of Yehemsa...it was disconsoling, to say the least.
"...condition...of the psyche...." His undead uncle postulated, using time against him, and moreover. "...two cannot exist in a space...intended for one.... Nature...abhors...both will be...destroyed...."
(...'Earth' you owe us...)
"???HOW???" Garvey seceded miserably.
Don't worry, I'll show you, Uncle Pete said.
The door chimed and Koenig aimed his commlock. Security Chief Pierce Quentin and Computer Chief Benjamin Ouma step into the viper pit as the privacy door closed behind them. Helena Russell gave them a partial smile as they sat down.
"All bulkheads sealed and airlocks secure, Commander," Quentin reported while pouring himself a cup of coffee. "Patrols are doubled and there are armed squads at every entrance."
"Good," Koenig nodded. The commander had, in fact, done something to defend the base. It wasn't much, admittedly, but it wasn't an overt display of aggression either.
Morrow managed an approving nod, and inflicted his puffed-up egoism on Sandra Benes, and Ang' Carter--A Man With A Plan--which was gracious of him when one considers that he had done nothing, but gripe since the meeting started. His cohort, Alan Carter, muttered something about buns in the oven that were removed 'after' they were burned; or was it about fixing the barn door 'after' the horse has relieved himself all over the gazebo; or was it about a rolling stone gathering no alien casualties.
Bergman was pensively sipping on his Vitaseed. He gazed at Ang. "You said there appeared to be no trend in the occurrence of the degradation."
"None that I can see," she answered, puzzled.
"What about the locations?"
"I'm not sure I'm following you," she replied, still perplexed, feeling like a graduate student again.
"The degradation so far has been found in the MCR cantina, Experimental lab, and the Carter quarters," Koenig summarized.
"There's another location, Commander," Sandra spoke up. "About a 30 minutes ago, Brittany Spears in housekeeping reported the same degradation."
"Where?" Koenig swiveled toward the Data Analyst.
"In the living quarters shared by Ian Garvey and Nol Blair." She answered succinctly. "I called Andrea Matthew and her team is taking a sample now."
The room fell silent as everyone processed the information and made the connection.
Angelina laughed defensively. "Wait a minute. Those two don't have anything to do with the degradation. No human being could cause it. Besides, yes, Nol and Ian work in Experimental, sleep in their quarters and have lunch every day at the MCR Cantina. But they don't hang out in my quarters so how can that be explained?"
"It can't be." Koenig accepted. "Not as random occurrences."
"Is it possible?" Bergman shrived almost telepathically.
"Whatever this phenomenon is, it's apparently picking, and choosing its locations, and we can't count on it leaving a visible trail." The commander avouched.
"But that's atypical of most bacterial growth." Helena Russell divined. "A molecule just can't spawn, or mestasticize wherever it likes, John. There has to be a nucleus of breakdown from which the contagion spreads. It's not autonomous...it's not intelligent."
"Who says?" Koenig said with exigency.
The implication was delayed, but sincerely horrifying. There was a new dawn around the conference table, and its rays alternately sobered, and fried them. For the first time since the beginning of this forum--incredibly--Paul Morrow had no opinion. He had no suggestions for quality improvement. He had nada.' He was left gravelling. Alan Carter, somewhere out in macho space, was suddenly reeled back with a razor sharp fish hook through his lip, and eyeball. It was like finding a corpse with a bullet hole in its back, then rolling it over, and discovering that the victim had been disinfinestrated as well.
"Ouma." The commander spoke gravely, and over-the-shoulder at the computer chief. "Alert all Alpha sections. Upgrade our status to defense number three."
"Ian, stop fidgeting," the familiar voice of his mother rebuked him as he stood by the grave in the cemetery.
He saw his mother's youthful face. She was dressed in black, her strawberry blonde hair pulled back into a bun, looking up at him. Looking up at him? No. That wasn't right. He was only 5 years old when Uncle Peter passed away. He looked up at her when she scolded him.
His memory was distorted. He realized that perhaps this being was distorting his memory.
"No." He stated flatly, trying to find the last of his courage. "I don't want you to show me. I won't help you. Why should I? How will it benefit us? How will it benefit....me?"
"...you...your race...." The cadaver gagged on concrete. "...you face eminent...destruction...restore us...." He bobbed his skull-like, corpse of a head on the coffin pillow. "...or share our annihilation.... The work of...the Ordinance.... One race was relegated...to extinction.... Two races will be destroyed...do...something...."
"The circle is drawing to a close." Uncle Pete said finally.
(...closed as in 'Earth'....)
Commander Koenig paced around the room, arms crossed while cupping his chin with his right thumb and index finger. He started from the beginning.
"Ever since we passed through the comet, unexplainable things have happened," he walked around the table, thinking aloud. "All three pregnant women on this base suffer miscarriages. Cause unknown. The crew of Eagle 2-9 suddenly stops talking to Alpha and the ship must be destroyed to protect the base. Technical finds no fault with the ship yet the pilots who died were some of the best we have in Reconn. Our bulkheads randomly begin to disintegrate due to atomic degradation of unknown cause. An alien ship appears out of nowhere and parks itself on the other side of the moon away from the base for reason unknown."
Koenig paused and continued. "Ian Garvey has a fainting spell and that too is not explained. Except for the Carter quarters, the areas of degradation are all areas where he frequents. When we were about to pass through the comet, it was Garvey's project which had almost shut down and..."
"WHAT?!?!" Angelina stood up quickly incensed, glaring at Koenig who stopped abruptly at the opposite side of the table behind Helena Russell. "Commander, what are you trying to get at? Are you grasping for straws? Are you trying to somehow link one of my people to all of these tragedies?!? Are you trying to say that Ian Garvey is causing all of this to happen??!?!"
Angelina finally stopped herself but her anger was only half spent.
Bergman twiddled the handle of his Vitaseed, a champion, and a drink, but not the drink of champions.
"Well," He said deeply. "If the shoe fits the right way. There does appear to be some sort of relationship between Ian Garvey, and the incidents we've encountered thus far." He temporalized, setting his half-empty cup back onto the table. "They say all roads lead to Rome. Right now there's an entire system of motorways heading straight towards him."
"Yes there is." Koenig concurred. "Ouma, what do we have on him that's reliable?"
"Garvey is an electro-chemical research specialist." The computer chief reported. "He's Canadian by birth. He holds two doctorates; one in chemistry, the other in nuclear fusion. By all accounts, he was one of the brightest lights at MIT, and Harvard. He was recruited by the United States government in 1989, and assigned to the Marshall Space Center. He apparently had a high-level clearance, and his research was in the fields of phasing, and resonance."
"Hmmm." Victor Bergman said cryptically over the rim of his Vitaseed.
"After that turned into a money pit, he was transferred to a team that was working to develop a muon catalyzed propulsion system." Ouma went on, tracing each line of the register tape as he continued his oral history. "But, that turned into a watershed as well. After that, little is known about him up until the time when the International Lunar Commission acquired his contract, and placed him in the experimental division.
"In 1998, he was transferred to Alpha." Ouma shrugged unremarkably. "It's all here."
Angelina steamed silently while standing next to the viewports, looking out on the lunar surface and Bea Acton's team in the distance.
It was a senseless witch hunt, she decided. Salem, Massachusetts all over again. She was about to object when it occurred to her that the lunar surface team was actually carrying someone.
As if on cue, Tanya Alexander's unreadable face appeared on the commpost.
"Commander, there has been an emergency with the geology team on the surface. Dr. Acton is a...casualty. They are bringing her into the west airlock now and Medical is on the way."
The prime time news block had arrived on Moonbase Alpha, taste the fear.
The edifice was constructed next to a transmitter tower that did not work now, nor did it ever. High atop the adamantine bluffs of Salt Lick, and surrounded by God's own protection, the walls of Ball's Crater, the Alpha News Service half shell was where fact made its final stand on an autocratic Moon. It was information, without white washing, and sans chainsaws.
Don't ask. You can't handle the truth.
The anchor woman, and her crew sweated, and wheezed through most of the taping. Their blue pallor, the direct result of their guest inadvertently shutting down the lithium-hydroxide scrubbers after squeezing his enormous love handles past the intake valves. He ate them out of house, and home during the briefing. He looked at the bare cupboard with grief, his Jupiter-sized stomach informing him that he was still hungry. Duke--the ANS videographer with a penchant for Hawaiian shorts--was cautious to stand clear.
He might be eaten too.
"So...." Infobabe Tara Bathory parlayed with all-consuming heroism. "One final question...and I want a 'yes,' or a 'no' answer. You've said that in the two decades you've spent as Senior Eagle Electronics Specialist, you have fought to have these super-secret, radical spacecraft technologies disclosed to the public. You've done this, regardless of the threat of injury, and death to your person.
"But tell me this." She twirled her glasses speculatively on her finger. "The so-called 'alien' spacecraft that's operating in the vicinity of the Avagadro range...
"...is it there because Commander John Koenig ordered it to be built, and for the purpose of ferrying a master race of alphans away from the Moon while leaving the rest of us to perish?"
Her emboldened chin never wavered.
"Yes." Ed Malcom said, feeling the nuts in his pretzel chair crack from the weight of his humongous gut.
'The answer to the mysteries was ironically within our grasp,' Dr. Helena Russell continued typing after a thoughtful pause, 'when Dr. Beatrice Acton tragically died on the lunar surface. At first, her death appeared to have no connection to Ian Garvey or his experiments. Looking back, though, we realize that what happened to her was just another piece in the puzzle of escalating violence...and obsession."
Dr. Russell stepped out of the autopsy room, removing her sinew and blood splattered surgical gown and disgarding her latex gloves into the recycle bin. Command Koenig and Professor Bergman were predictably waiting for her.
"Well, Helena?" Koenig stopped pacing. "What was the cause of her death?"
"Complete breakdown of specific areas of the brain," she began. "There was extensive damage to cerebellum and the medulla which controls basic life functions. However, there was also something very peculiar."
She sat at her desk as Bergman pushed a full cup of Vitaseed in her direction. She took a sip and scowled. Koenig leaned quizzically at the edge of her desk, waiting for her to continue.
"For lack of a better word, areas of the brain associated with memory, particularly the entorhinal cortex, which is associated with long term memory, and the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain connected to short term memory were...gone." Helena took another sip of the Vitaseed. It wasn't any better.
"Well, it's a lead." Bergman said reasonably, placing his fist in the palm of his left hand. "Whatever happened it must have been associated with some severe head trauma. I mean, with those two areas so severely damaged. The question is-"
"I mean gone, as if it was never there." Russell answered stoically, sitting back in her chair. "As far as the 'cause' of the brain tissue damage, I don't know."
"Ooooooooooooo.'" The professor demurred, wincing.
"Gone?!?" Koenig stood up, alarmed. "How can that be?"
At that point, Bob Mathias--despiser of hypochondriacs--entered the office with another manila file folder under his arm. This one was labeled ACTON, BEATRICE. Another disturbing rectangle. More disturbing geometry. With a smart flick of the wrist, he used his commlock to close the door behind him, and proceeded to the utility table that rested on castors in front of the observation room's main examination plate.
"Commander, professor." He greeted, removing one of several plastic exposures from the file. "Doctor, these are the CT Scans you ordered." He explained, flipping the toggle that activated the lights behind the viewer, and pinning a computerized topographic photo of the geologist's brain to the lit board. "These were taken with the highest possible beam." He qualified, stepping aside so that the others could bear closer scrutiny.
The brain was a blood red milkball in a black emulsion, or so it had reflected under hot ionization. This digitized, unnumeric Brodmann accounted for all of the intrinsic regions. The frontal, parietal, and occipital lobes. There was Helena Russell's amazing, magical temporal lobe, where matter vanished, and recognition would never be processed again. There was the central sulchus which used to connect two of the lobes before slow, unmerciful death maligned both of them. There was once motor, and tertiary functions, but then the scythe fell, hacking both to ribbons. There were dreams, and ambitions squelched in a single, fell deed.
For Beatrice Acton there was in death, no work. She would have wanted it that way.
"This spot here." Bergman convened in the harsh fluorescent bulbs, tapping a drained, rose colored stalk with his right index finger. "What did you make of that? Bob?"
"It's her spinal cord." The assistant chief of staff interpreted somberly. "And it's been completely inundated with orm particles, but of a variety unlike anything we've ever encountered before. This new culture attacks organic, human brainwaves."
Commander Koenig raised an eyebrow and exchanged a glance with Bergman.
"Orm Particles," the commander muttered, shaking his head. "I wonder if this has anything to do with Ian Garvey's project."
"Ahhh, John," Bergman objected. "Creation of a new subatomic particle is far beyond the realm of human technology."
The professor was, of course, correct. Developing a new type of Orm particle fell into the realm of science fiction fantasy.
"Garvey's project involves measurement of orm particles, primarily, in an effort to quantify a method to prevent this subatomic matter from adversely affecting our electronic equipment. Up until now..."
"Up until now," Koenig finished the sentence, "there has been no organic connection." He paused. "Is it possible he could be creating this new particle by accident?"
"Not with our equipment, John," Bergman shook his head.
Koenig pulled his commlock from his belt. "Ang."
Angelina Carter's weary face appeared on the micromonitor. "Yes, Commander?"
"Is Ian Garvey still working on the Orm Saturation project?"
"Why, no, Commander. He is back to working on the propulsion system for the next generation Eagle. I spoke with him this morning. After his fainting spell, I thought it would be a good change of pace for him to work on something different. He was logging an excessive amount of hours on the orm project and we were very concerned about him."
"I understand it was almost an obsession," Bergman offered in the background. Angelina heard him.
"I wouldn't say 'obsession'....more like 'dedication'," she corrected though she was beginning to believe Garvey had been at least borderline obsessed. Technical problems, though, generally stayed in Technical and were worked out in Technical. Koenig knew the group was somewhat tightknit and Angelina was the first to defend her people, especially individuals.
"How is Dr. Acton?" she asked, attempting to change the subject.
Koenig's face dropped and softened slightly as he shook his head. "I'm sorry, Ang. She's dead."
"Dead?!?! Of what?" she asked, astounded.
"Let's talk in 30 minutes," Koenig finished and cut the link as she nodded. He turned to the rest of the group. John Koenig really did believe he was grasping for straws. "Opinions, anyone?"
"Nothing concrete." The professor declined, and there was a prolonged hesitancy before he spoke again. "Now, there were two people there who saw Bea Acton collapse--mind you from different vantage points." He speculated while pointing his thumb. "Their reports may give us some clue as to how this could happen.
"Either way, John. I hold to the fact that there's no way for Ian Garvey, or anyone else to accelerate particles like that here on Alpha.
"The device that Garvey was working on; in theory it could electronically depolarize an orm particle. Then too, he has yet to be able to perform a complete, Systems Integration Test. And in no case could it modify the particle's molecular structure."
"Then we've reached the limits of known science." Koenig recognized. "We've also run out of clues. The accounts given by Bostwick, and Blair diverge wildly. According to Starns, neither one of them saw the same thing. We may as well have had two victims."
He grimaced at the thought, though. Moonbase Alpha didn't need one more corpse. More blood in the corridors. More memorial plaques on the road to human extinction.
"Well." Bergman allowed, relaxing his elbow, and hip against the observation room's sealed, bio-hazard receptacle. "What then? If our own knowledge is working against us."
"I don't know, Victor." Koenig replied, discomfited. "One thing we can do is to have that machine dismantled. If our current situation is in any way related to Garvey's alternator then it's a liability we can't afford. I'm going to have 'Ang speak to Haines. I don't want it on this base; not even in this crater. We'll let one of the cargo Eagles EVAC the damn thing, and be done with it."
"Well, that's doing something, anyway," Helena Russell commented from behind the empty cup of Vitaseed. "Perhaps removing it from the base will remove the danger."
"I-I-I-I don't know about that," Bergman commented gravely. "Unsolved mysterious like this one tend to rear their ugly heads again."
"What about the alien ship?" Koenig suggested. "Is there any evidence of this new type of Orm particle being emitted from it."
"No," Bergman shook his head again. "This is the first time we have encountered this phenomenon. Unless the ship is shielded enough from our sensors, we have not seen any indication the particles are coming from the ship."
Koenig became thoughtful again. "Let's step back and look at the broader picture." He gazed briefly into the empty intensive care unit, chest monitors neatly place on freshly made beds, before turning to the group. "Again...women miscarry, pilots crashing a ship, the degradation of our bulkheads and steel, the death of Bea Acton and evidence of new Orm particles with an ORGANIC component."
The group stared at him curiously.
"Maybe Carter is right. Maybe we are being invaded. Maybe we HAVE been invaded, not by someone...but some thing."
"A new life form?" Bergman paraphrased with consequence. "Created artificially, perhaps? Pulsed into existence by the alternator? No, there's just no physical way that could happen. On the other hand--what troubles me the most--is the background information we have on Ian Garvey. According to his record he spent time applying unified field electronics, and diffusion at the subatomic level. If he applied any part of that to his alternator research then relativity may have been effected.
"The possibilities are frightening." He confessed while massaging the stress from his palms. "I comprehend that between the two scenarios, that is the least likely to occur, but...."He trailed off. "I do find the idea disturbing."
"An old life form?" Koenig recalculated the sum of his previous argument, quid pro quo. He turned away then, collecting his thoughts as he stood by the bookshelf with his palm resting on a gold achievement globe that had been awarded to Bob Mathias by the Society Of Behavioral Medicine.
"But if it was a life form of some sort, wouldn't our sensors have picked it up?" Helena Russell offered, but then considered their past experiences. "Well....maybe not," she mentioned the unmentionable.
"In any event we've reached an impasse here." Bergman refreshed, inhaling deeply. "There's no way we can possibly know for sure."
"There is one person who may know for sure." Koenig suggested, turning.
The commander nodded.
Jim Haines, PhD, rounded the corridor junction and activated his commlock to the door marked with the overhead rectangle sign "Experimental Lab". His status as director of the area, directly under Angelina Carter, allowed him to pass through the doors.
Experimental was one of the more sensitive section of Moonbase Alpha and not everyone was granted access to the area. Thus led to the inflated egos and attitudes of snobbish superiority among the technicians who worked in Experimental Labs. Haines had listened to Dr. Carter vent about the discussion in the Command Conference. Certainly, it was a witch hunt and Garvey was going to be a scapegoat. He agreed with her: until he came upon Ian Garvey's work area.
"Hey!" Haines shouted as Garvey, engrossed in his work, jumped from being startled. "I thought Ang told you to stop working on the Orm Accelerator project!!"
Garvey piqued as he looked sheepishly over the black, high voltage snake that he was holding. Then his guilt was replaced by an unconscionable turn of the lips, and something else--the gimlet of outright defiance.
"I completed my goals for the day on the new reduction coil." He countered superbly.
"???REALLY???" Haines confronted the lie with cables sprouting from the neckline of his tunic. He tilted his head with suspicion, and scorn. "WELL, I FIND THAT GREM, CONSIDERING THAT I JUST CHECKED THE EM LOGS, ANDTHERE WAS NOT A SINGLE ENTRY FROM YOU ON WORK COMPLETED FOR RECONNAISSANCE SECTION." He favored the alternator with an evil look, the laminated, touch-tone keys; the blackened monitor which translated perdition itself in respect to lunar position, and latitude. Then betrayal walked right up; slapped him in his face; made all of the compromises seem like angles-a naive transfer of self-respect to one who found him estimable, who thought he was a shit-for-brains. "!!!AND WHAT KIND OF KNOB IS THIS!!!" The senior researcher screamed violently, jerking the black rattler from Garvey's hands with such furor that it became dislodged from the chase connecting it to the fuel cell.
Fortunately, the supply was not hot.
With tocsin, Gloria Eason flinched, and stepped away from the Yucca Flats of Haines' rage. Her countenance, draped in miles of long, blonde hair, looked wretchedly upon the floor.
Angelina Carter had heard the rumor concerning Ian Garvey's blase attitude toward work assignments. Ed Malcom lumbered and wheezed into her office with high glee. She supposed that Ed would find it exciting when someone else was in trouble other than him. She pushed past him as he spewed righteousness about work ethic and insubordination when Koenig met her in the Technical Hub reception area. After Koenig told Ed to leave, they talked briefly in front of the fish tank.
Ang was going to Experimental Lab with two of Pierce Quinten's security guards in tow. Their mission was to assist in the dismantling of Garvey's project and make sure it got to the cargo hold of Eagle 1-5, waiting with Harms as pilot on Launch Pad 4.
Harness Bull Pound strutted to the door like a peacock displaying his feathers and aimed his commlock at the restricted area lock, prominently illustrating his power. The door slid open.
"I TOLD YOU." The managing director advanced, stabbing his right index finger at Ian Garvey's fluttering, hardly affright eyeball. "!!!I GODDAMN TOLD YOU. YOU ARE DONE WITH THIS SHITE!!!" He roared, even louder than before. "!!!PROPULSION IS WHERE I ASSIGNED YOU, AND PROPULSION IS WHERE YOU'RE GOING TO STAY!!! YOU GOT THAT YOU DEAF, AND DUMB TODGER!!!"
"I thought you were going to take a break from this project, Ian," Angelina stated calmly and softly while appraising the cabinet. Obviously more work had been done to it: a LOT more work. "You gave your word. What has changed that would cause you to break your promise?"
Ang glanced at a sullen Gloria Eason, then at Haines then focused again on Garvey.
"ALRIGHT." Garvey alrighted,' angry, but smoothly though there was a loose sphincter muscle inside. Where was the hole in his head when he needed it? "I WENT AHEAD, AND WORKED ON IT AGAIN, YES." This piece of defiance spat in the direction of Dr. Haines, experimental supervisor, and errant, discriminatory persecutor. "I DON'T THINK ANY OF YOU REALIZE HOW VALUABLE THIS RESEARCH IS."
He beamed with holiness as he surveyed the others with prophetic zeal.
"WHEN YOU LOOK AT THIS MACHINE, ALL YOU SEE IS SOME PERCEIVED DANGER."
"NO." Haines informed him. "WHEN I LOOK AT THIS MACHINE, I SEE FUCKING MURDER, AND MAYHEM. THAT'S WHAT I SEE. I GOT A FRONT ROW SEAT THE LAST TIME THIS BEASTLY CONTRAPTION WAS TURNED ON. THREE PEOPLE ARE DEAD BECAUSE OF THIS BOTCH JOB YOU PUT TOGETHER."
He motioned for Harness Bulls Pound, and Coldaryn to join the party.
"TEAR THIS THING TO CLOBBERS, AND GET IT THE HELL OUT OF MY LAB." He roared.
Industrious, Coldaryn already had his torque wrench ready. Pound scouted out the main.
"Jim, please, calm down," Ang assuaged the overheated director. She glanced at the harness bulls, signaling to wait..a minute. She focused on Garvey. "Ian, again, I would like to know what compelled you to disregard your new work assignment." Her face was serene but firm. She would listen but was ready to separate the truth from fiction. In the end, she would back up Haines; she'd have to otherwise her director would lose face and his authority would be undermined.
"For years we've been scanning deep space on the interstellar band, omni frequency." Garvey segued mysteriously, even idiotically into a new topic--all the while he was politely blocking the way between the security guards, and the alternator. "Our probes have availed us nothing." He went on, perspiring. His dross wanted to achieve something. "All we've gotten back was a gush of photons. If we turned every reflector on Alpha in the direction of some neighboring star, and then measure how much light arrives in a very short interval--a billionth of a second, for example--we would still be counting only one photon.
"One, pitiful photon." He exclaimed to Ang.' "What if I told you that the lowest frequency on the alternator--a broadcast band that seems virtually filled with static--is able to receive dozens of photon transmissions that can be translated using magnetic resonance imaging?"
"That's never been done before." Gloria Eason said skeptically, rubbing her pale white cheek with her slender right hand. "We've never had any success with that. Not even on Earth."
"AND WE'RE NOT CRACKING NOW." Haines coarsed with umbrage. "HE'S TRYING TO STALL FOR TIME."
"No." Garvey assured them as he recovered his crown from the figurative weeds. "The alternator has an additional function that I discovered quite by accident. "Besides negating orm molecules, it can also intercept optical, and radio signals, at the beacon source, from targets light years away."
"YOU'RE FREAKING DIM." Haines ignited.
"I have it on disc." Garvey argued, defending his strong hold.
"Where? Where is the disc?" Angelina pointed to the desktop PC. "I'd like to see the data." The thought of possibly receiving THEN sending signals to far away places (like Earth) excited Angelina.
Garvey obliged victoriously, sneering at Haines while the Technical Section Director's back was turned. Angelina studied the data quietly for several minutes, while one of the harness bulls sighed in boredom. The boys from Security wanted demolition derby action and they were getting impatient.
"Well," Angelina stood up. "It is quite intriguing but, there are several theoretical components here. First, do you realize how much power it would take to capture these particles? It is beyond what we are currently able to produce on Alpha. Then of course we are talking about developing an optical receiver that could be strong enough to even sense the presence of these particles."
In the evolutionary timeline of capturing alien signals or even EARTH signals light years away, Garvey was basically where Leonardo DaVinci helicopter sketches were compared to functioning and efficient Eagles.
"No, Ian," Ang shook her head sympathetically as a triumphant look crossed over Haines' face, "we can't dedicate resources to this project. If we were still in Earth's orbit, this would be a great project. But now, our primary objective is survival. You're talents are needed elsewhere to that end. Not only that, but Commander Koenig has ordered that this machine be dismantled and removed from the base."
She nodded to the harness bulls to do their job.
"I disagree." Garvey said earnestly. It was ghastly, ghastly. Pound grabbed himself a ham handful of multi-colored cables, and ripped them from the jacks in the exposed circuit board. Coldaryn took his own torque wrench, and commenced to removing the panel by busting the polyurethane seal that held it at desk level. The gooseneck lamp fell to the floor, insignificant to gods, and primates. They did not 'reverse engineer' the modulation pack, they broke it. Pound handed the trophy to Haines, who disguarded the battered block atop a nearby work bench.
"I want that fuel cell left intact." Garvey heard him tell the clods as they began to atomize the exposed library of data subsystem relays. Grunting, and out-of-shape, Pound threw them apishly over his shoulder, and into a mobile dumpster like cracked bricks from an unadored patio. By the time Harness Bull Sauckel arrived with a tall pitcher of Glucose-B, the alternator had alternated' into a gutted ram--a sacrifice to whichever deity it is that presides over dumbasses.
"And Jesus wept." Garvey decried with a sinister glare of hatred for Jim Haines who was considering reclaiming the processor chip as a new paperweight for his desk. The specialist said one other thing that Ang' could hear only peripherally--some such thing about alien water torture--before she heard his bootheels grind against the shattered plastic into First Containment.
"He's a maniac." Haines told Ang' sincerely. "In my opinion he shouldn't be working in project development at all."
"He's upset," Angelina countered. "He's spent a great deal of time on this project and now, like a Federal grant, it was abruptly cancelled."
She sighed. "I'm still not convinced that this project has anything to do with the bizarre happenings on this base and I think connecting the deaths to it is a stretch at best. I suppose, though," she paused in thought, "that even if there is the remotest chance of it killing people, it needs to go."
She patted Jim's shoulder. "Let him take the afternoon off to work it out and stew a little. If he's still sulking about it tomorrow, let me know."
"Commander, the transmission is reaching the end of its cycle." STC Nast reported while studying the big screen with one finger poised over the DELETE button on his keyboard.
"The moment of truth?" Controller Zed Astrin mused wryly while pre-alarms blinked on, and off at his own workstation.
John Koenig capped his ink pen, and walked around the desk, stepping into the trench with one hand over his commlock. He looked at the elapsing alien matrix carefully, looking acutely at Adisa Talic who still had nothing new, or unusual to report, except for the unspoken hypothesis that they were all about to die a cruel, unbelievably gruesome death. She was at her post; staring at the ceiling in her quarters crying over her loss was not helping her or anyone else. Sandra Benes had worked 28 hours straight and desperately needed sleep. Although Mathias lied and told Adisa she'd be on her own if she felt ill, he understood the need for mental healing in her case; so he let her return to work with restrictions on physical activity.
Pete Garforth sat nebulously at the Technical desk; 'technically' speaking (for want of wit), he was there to complete damage control projections, in the event that their guests turned out to be mean, and uncharitable. Spiritually, and emotionally he felt like he was sitting in a plastaform chair that wouldn't be there one minute from now.
"Alan, how are we looking?" The commander quizzed as he turned to the CapComm's desk.
"Eagle Five, Eagle Eight, and Eagle 1-4--on the pad, and ready for launch as soon as you give the word, sir." The pilot reported back, his gaze shifting from the greenbar mission reports to the expiring clock on the big screen.
"I'm getting another signal," Adisa announced from the data analyst station. "Same type as before."
The image on the big screen changed again. The grid of black and white rectangles slowly rolled down the screen, blinking on and off as Bergman, followed by an unreadable Ang walked under the right archway.
"Garvey's project has been completely dismantled and on its way to Eagle 1-5," she reported to Koenig glumly. Koenig only half heard her. She looked up at the big screen.
"Victor," he asked the scientist beside him who was also curiously watching the screen. "What do you make of that?"
Professor Bergman paused then glanced at Adisa. "Adisa, capture the image and allow it to refresh at 5 second intervals."
She nodded and for several minutes everyone stared at the big screen.
"If I didn't know any better," Angelina offered, "it looks like a radiation hazard symbol."
Bergman glanced at her. "Adisa, refresh at 10 second intervals." He squinted as she complied.
"Hold!" Koenig blurted and screen froze. He cocked an eyebrow at Ang. "It most certainly does look like a rad haz symbol."
Bergman took him by the shoulder, and directed him to the first step, rubbing his tempestuous temple while he was subjected to white, and black fluorescence in profile.
"Well?" Koenig verged.
"It could be a warning of some kind." Bergman said, but his vagary finked him out. "It might be a good idea to hold on launching the Eagles."
Koenig shook his head easily while wrapping his fingers around the balcony main beam. He had nothing other than his gut, and some experience. The support was his support. He waited for Lars Manroot to finish rolling his utility cart by before continuing.
"Victor, I'm no anthropologist, but what are the chances of two cultures creating symbols that are that similar? Do you really think that has anything to do with radiation? I don't." He confessed. When he glanced back at the screen he noticed that the others were staring at them.
"Then I guess it comes down to a decision." The professor said unassumingly. "Right, or wrong, though, granted, given the size of that spacecraft, it shan't really matter whether we move left, or right. We have arrived." He told the commander proverbially, smiling warmly at Adisa Talic. "And to prove it, we're here."
Koenig kept his affirmations considerately to himself, and turned silently away. Percolating orders were beginning to whistle. The kettle was hot. It was time to drink tea.
"Alan." He began, stepping towards the CapComm's station. "I want you to-"
Carter caught half of the message, and was hurled backwards onto the stairs; not by the import of the commander's orders. The flaming Hyades of light that used to be his workstation may have had something to do with it. His keyboard assembly; the override controls; the mission timer; and every attitude, and altitude indicator burst into absolute magnitude. The blinding limestone consumed his entire desk before moving on to decoagulate every single unit in the trench--then it moved onwards, vaporizing the big screen, and the stairwell, and Rotstein's coffee pot. As the pilot looked frantically around, he could detect only the black, stick man shadows of the other operatives, all shimmering in tableaus of fiery horror, as the begone, and magma turned the entire tower into a candent pyre.
Before the light decimated them, Emma Black was preparing to scan a slip of register tape that computer had spewed from her gullet. Then the passion obliterated computer, and the tape, and her hand, for that matter. Even with eyes wide shut, she cried out against the agony of starlight before toppling into a pool of roiling coolness.
Adisa Talic disintegrated. Only her wails, and a faint, dreadful after-image remained visible.
Zed Astrin was flopped over the remote pack when Mount Vesuvius unleashed its deluge, and buried them all in fire.
Commander Koenig and Professor Bergman instinctively shielded their eyes with black sleeved and neutral sleeved forearms respectively. Koenig was helpless as his people screamed in pain around him, while he dealt with the lancets of agony in his eyeballs.
It was damnation by sunlight, and the entire base was blown away by the winged sparkles.
Carter decided to open his eyes one last time, possibly to see if there would really be a skeleton, dressed like a monk, and carrying scythe. Then to his extreme astonishment, he saw that the cauldron had turned to ice. His desk was still there. So was his mojo. The after-effects of holocaust were evident all around him. Adisa Talic was reduced to a wrack, and a whimper beneath her desk. Zed Astrin, bathed in the cologne of his own perspiration, was wearing his abort control software for a hat. Emma Black had started at the mainframe desk, and was now crumpled under the right archway.
STC Nast was standing directly beside him. While engulfed, he had managed to navigate the auditorium to where Carter had stood, and was now poised before the CapComm's station, covering both eyes with Pierre Danielle's simulation report card.
Since Angelina was close to the Capcomm flare and her eyes were opened a split second longer, she awakened to flaring and spots. She closed them against, rubbing away the residual pain, hoping and almost praying she wasn't blind while containing the rising panic.
She opened her eyes again and the shapes of moaning and crying Main Mission Operatives slowly came into focus. First in black and white, then colors returned from matte to sharper. She blinked several times, encouraging tear production. She was not alone. Everyone experienced the same after effects. Every person had red and swollen eyes and looked like he had been crying for a week.
"Is everyone alright?!!" Koenig looked around, still squinting, as he helped Bergman, who nodded, up on his feet.
Muffled "yes, commander" comments echoed through Main Mission.
"Astrin!" Koenig gingerly negotiated the steps to the controller's desk, "check out the rest of the base."
"Adisa," he turned toward the teary-eyed Data Analyst, "anything from the sensor?"
She squinted, reading the data. "Nothing, sir. Nothing unusual in the past 5 minutes. It's like...like it never happened."
"Emma," Koenig crossed into the swivel desk area. "What does computer have to say about it?"
Emma Black had anticipated Koenig and already queried computer.
"No information, sir" she reported with obvious disbelief as she read the conclusion from the register tape, held with still shaking hands.
"Well, SOMETHING just happened," Angelina offered with impatience. "We didn't all just imagine getting blinded." She was still trying working on focusing; it would come and go.
"Sir," Astrin reported, "all section report all is normal." He pause then continued. "It appears we were the only ones to get hit."
"Get hit?!?!" Klaus Rotstein wailed from the balcony, "That means we were just attacked!"
Angelina shook her head and squinted up at Rotstein. There he goes again, she thought. Rotstein opens his mouth and gets the testosterone flowing in the room. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Alan and Zed nodding in assent as other Main Mission Operative began nodding in agreement. Rotstein irritated Angelina to no end.
"How do we know it was an attack? How do we even know it was from the alien ship?" She appealed to Koenig and Bergman's sensibilities. "If it was, what if it was an attempt to communicate? Or perhaps even find out more about us?"
Rotstein sneered at her like she was a stereotypical dumb blonde.
Ang ignored him and continued. "What about the symbol?" She pointed to the rad haz label image on the Big Screen. "We put that on containers to warn of a hazard...a danger. Perhaps the aliens are warning us of some sort of danger!"
"COMMANDER, PROFESSOR BERGMAN." STC Nast piped urgently while refreshing his monitor. "WE'VE LOST CONTACT WITH THE CARGO EAGLE."
"LOST CONTACT? WHAT ARE YOU JAWING ABOUT NAST?" Alan Carter exclaimed, clearing the Moonbase screen saver on his own panel. He studied the remaining sensor blips. There were satellites, and meteorites, and one BIG, doggone spacecraft, oh my. Of Harms' Eagle there was no trace though. "COMMANDER THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE." Carter decried. "I FIXED HIS POSITION ONLY A MINUTE AGO. HE COULD NOT HAVE GOT OVER THE HILL THIS QUICKLY."
"The communication link has been broken." Adisa Talic chimed in, pushing a wet bang back from her forehead with the palm of her right hand. "We're not reading anything, other than the encryption being sent out by the alien ship."
"Commander." Emma Black interjected, short on breath, and computers. "The mainframe power source is overloaded. The chips are in deep freeze."
"WE'LL WE WERE WAITING FOR A REASON." Carter accused, ignoring Angs' remonstrances, and glaring at Koenig. "IT SEEMS TO ME SIR THAT WE HAVE ONE. THEY'RE EATING OUR SHORTS OFF. I RECOMMEND WE LAUNCH ALL EAGLES IMMEDIATELY."
"That...." The towering alien, black of cloak, blue of face, said from the eastern edge of the balcony. "...would not be in anyone's best interest, I fear.
"Besides." He went on, heroic of jaw, and ruthless of purpose. Epic locks of long, black hair reached for the humanoid base of his spine. "Your spacecraft have been neutralized. You have been grounded by order of the Salvation of Coma Berenecea, and the New Science.
"Paxia, John Koenig." The intruder concluded, offering a palm with fingers spread inoffensively wide. The dialect was a crammed Celtic; learned jargon that had been larded in with interplanetary inflections.
Ironically, the phrase meant peace.
"Detained?" Carter said with flip disbelief, and invaded the alien's space. He called himself 'Shivo.' He marched into Koenig's office with an agenda. He was not belligerent, but he was an elitist; he behaved as though he owned the Moon. The pilot didn't like him. "What kind of waffle is that? They haven't done anything.
"BY WHAT RIGHT ARE YOU KEEPING THEM CAPTIVE?"
Benjamin Ouma, on duty again, waited patiently for the visitor from another world to respond--like Paul Morrow, and Sandra Benes, and Angelina Carter. Helena Russell was in the bewildering middle ground between Koenig, and Bergman. Truman Starns, arms folded over his chest, and Harness Bull Duncan kept silent watch in the rear of the conference room. Duncan's head was lopped off by the long shadows which grew tenebrously against the red emergency lights.
"It is not a question of rights." Shivo replied calmly, staring down at Carter from his empire height. "It is a question of survival, for countless worlds. As Prime Philosopher of Coma Berencea, I give you my word, they will not be permanently damaged." He assured Helena Russell. "However, they will be interrogated. We must also have a chance to examine the cargo their space vessel was carrying.
"I regret not being able to warn you of this earlier." The dignitary said earnestly. "It took a great deal of time for us to learn your languages. We attempted to send you a remonstrance, via universal code. Obviously it was beyond your comprehension."
"So you were trying to warn us," Angelina mused but not surprised. Call it a gut feeling, intuition, which she had since the alien ship made its appearance. "So the first image was the universal warning. Then, since we didn't understand, you tried to use a symbol which we could identify as a hazard in an effort to communicate your warning."
"Yes." The alien replied, feeling the raw meat throb between his black, offworld eyes. "Our study of your culture revealed several icons that were used repeatedly to connote danger. We chose the one that seemed most prevalent. Judging by the results it would appear that we were in error. Again."
The Prime Philosopher of Coma Berenecea was living proof that thanatopsis, and wellschmertz were not conditions that were solely Earth's domain.
"Why are you interested in the Eagle?" Ang verbalized her thoughts unintentionally.
It didn't matter. Koenig glanced at her as he was going to ask the same question. "Yes," he reiterated, "why are you interested in the contents of one of our ships?"
Koenig paused thoughtfully, then continued calmly in a lowered tone. "Surely, our technology is so primitive in contrast to yours that other than an archeological interest, I don't understand what you would want or learn from us."
The door chimed before Shivo could answer him and Tanya Alexander stepped into the Commander's office, carrying a red flimsey.
"The damage to computer is not permanent, Commander," she summarized, as she glanced at the alien. His gaze was fixed on her. She continued glancing captivated at the alien. "There is no effect to power generation cores and life support computer controls. It is primarily sensor and defensive systems."
"Thank you, Tanya," Koenig studied the report and handed it to Ang.
Tanya was about to make her exit when she stopped and turned to the alien. "Is there something I can get you to refresh yourself? Something to drink or eat perhaps?" She asked boldly yet politely. She suddenly felt foolish as she wasn't sure if their sustenance was even compatible with the alien's physiology.
"Drink?" Shivo examined the word curiously, forging connections. Also intriguing was the hope that crested across his ancient brow line at the sight of Tanya Alexander, a coveted jewel in a sea of bitterness; a cool, northerly at the base of an engulfed precipice. "Yes." He decided, the corners of his lips turning fondly upwards. "Yes, I would very much like a drink.
"On Coma Berenecea," He told Bergman confidentially. "We have a beverage--a particularly unhealthy whole bean derivative that is most notable for its quick energy value."
"Coffee." Bergman deduced, shaking his head sadly.
Angelina could not help but smirk teasingly at the Professor as Tanya dispensed a regular coffee, sugar and artificial cream.
"Unfortunately, the coffee bean found on Earth was never cropped in the Moonbase Alpha hydroponics section. A similar alternative bean was, though, but it is not the same," Tanya offered to the alien with cool, aristocratic confidence.
There was no hint of prejudice from this being toward her. In fact, it was a clean slate. He did not know about her past and was the first individual in a very long time who did not look upon her, shaking the head with pity.
"I hope it does not offend your taste," she finished, noticing his hand covering hers as he took the cup for a split second longer than necessary. She looked briefly into his eyes before withdrawing. "We have become accustomed to its taste."
"Thank you," he replied initially unsure of the civility then realizing it was correct. His gazed followed her until she disappeared through the privacy door.
"But in response to your question, commander." The alien went on, the stress of office lowering itself upon him again. "Not long ago, this Moon encountered one of our sentinels. An advanced probe, designed by our elders for the purpose of harrowing any trace of the Old Science. This area of space is teeming with them, remnants of a galactic war that lasted over a 1,000 centuries. The probe was manned by remote telepaths who, in turn, relayed the information back to us that an ultimate weapon was being developed here using processes that have been outlawed by the people of our conglomerated worlds."
"Probe?" Bergman said, his inner eye opening. "Do you mean the Hyakutake Comet?"
"You mean to tell us that was some sort of spacecraft?" Alan Carter said ridiculously. Even the bright lights, and activity beyond the open doors could not contain his doubt, and distrust.
"Not a spacecraft as you understand the term." The Prime Philosopher said, looking over his shoulder at the pilot. "Like my own...'spacecraft'...that vehicle was more of a conveyance. A means to an end, nothing more. You must understand, my race was forced to abandon technology that was inextricably woven with corruption, and death. We turned to other resources. Our minds. Our 'spacecraft' go where we will them to go, and perform as we need them to perform without industrial contrivance."
"You haven't got an engine?" Carter remarked incredibly.
"The Cadre motivates our space voyages." Shivo answered directly. "Using psionic energies, focused in conscience, and benevolence. We are a race of telepaths.
"That was the force your Eagle encountered when you attempted to reconnoiter us." He explained to Koenig. "We had so hoped that you would be wise enough to avoid crossing the temporal current." Shivo climaxed in disappointment. "But I digress."
"Interesting," Russell exclaimed, excited. "It is literally mind over matter. A vast majority of the potential of our own minds is unknown and believed to be greatly underutilized. Obviously, this race, humanoid in appearance, has harnessed the power of their minds."
"We were not aware there was any sort of temporal current until we were actually in it," Koenig informed, not taken in by the doctor's euphoria. "Our sensors are obviously too primitive to detect it."
The commander paused thoughtfully. "I don't understand what you mean when you say 'Old Science'. You say that this area of space is teeming with it. Our sensors show nothing here. We are at least 3 months from the next solar system."
"Forgive me." The alien responded courteously. "When I refer to the 'Old Science,' I speak of the instrumentality that dominated our people for eons. We were once like you." He compared, tipping a nod at the table, strewn with commlocks, and micro-cassette recorders, and Koenig's desk, where a Hausdorff metric pattern cascaded, and refreshed it's way across the Ultra CGI monitor. Seeing the laser mouse, his nostrils flared against the techno' stench. "Coma Berenecea...Earth...there was no difference. We were obsessed with improving our lives through the use of machinery; we looked to industry to provide us with comfort, and security, rather than altering our minds, and our spirits. We were a divided people--separated by race, and by creed; each nation fighting the other for political, and economic supremacy."
"It does sound familiar," Sandra Benes remarked with arms crossed over chest while shaking her head. Unfortunately, the people of Earth were still hating each other and despite WWT, the rekindling of terrorism before the Moon broke away may very well would have led to Armageddon
We learned nothing from WWT. Nothing." She concluded sadly.
"This created a climate where hatred, and arrogance overruled our sense of reason; our wish to aspire to the divine level of our Creator. The result was war. A galactic war--too long-running to remember the cause, but recent enough in the minds of those of us who were willing to sacrifice our souls for technological brinkmanship. Then came the great tumult.
"On your world, you mistakenly put your faith in the depraved liar's promise of nuclear fission. As a result, your Moon was blown out of Earth's orbit." Shivo contrasted, recalling the inarguable. "On my world, we forged a similar pact. Rather than vivisecting atoms, we turned our resources--all of our 'high' scientific, mindlessly mechanical resources towards the problems of parabola, and phase shifting, and thermal dynamics.
"Unlike you, we never 'split' the atom, though it would be fair to say that we did learn how to 'open' them. The universe is infinite, it's levels are multitudinous. You've encountered Rapture Corridors, and other aberrations of time, and space, and for that reason, you deem yourselves worthy of understanding. I assure you, we attained the ability to step into realities that you never envisioned in glory, or nightmare, and we used that to launch new, and deadlier assaults against our opponents."
"Are you referring to Extra-dimensional travel?" Bergman inquired.
"For lack of a more suitable term." Shivo nodded. "Despite the warnings from pacifists, we used these equations to slaughter untold billions of our own kind. Eventually, an oligarchy of tyrants used their charisma, and their disingenuousness to gain total control of my people. The device was called The Expanded Moment, and they used it to impose a dark age of totalitarianism. An age of evil so dark, and bloody, we nearly extinguished ourselves. Our understanding of the New Science--the refinement of our minds, and our spirits--allowed us to defeat these butchers; we were given another opportunity to thrive, to contribute.
"The Expanded Moment had been their means for ascending to power; ironically, The Expanded Moment was also their damnation, for we used this 'tool;' this remnant of 'Old Science,' to imprison them extradimensionally.
"Imagine." The alien appealed to them. "Our horror, our utter disbelief when we discovered that someone here has been building a gateway to that prison, John Koenig."
"There must be a mistake," Angelina compassionately though firmly replied. "It is obvious your technology was far more advanced than ours when you were still practicing the...the 'Old Science'. Though I have every reason to believe in the existence of Between Space phenomena, we have yet to confirm its existence, much less build some sort of instrument to manipulate it."
"We just don't have the technology here to do that," she finished simply.
"What about Ian Garvey's experiment?" Bergman offered with raised eyebrow.
"What about it?" Angelina turned toward her mentor, perturbed. "Orm particle saturation measurements. That was his project. He was measuring the effect of orm particle saturation in an effort to determine an approach to protect our electronic equipment." She sighed. "I don't see how you can correlate his research to opening some kind of 'hellmouth'. Beside, its been dismantled and it WAS on its way to being dumped on the farside of the Moon."
"And yes, I am aware of his past work in applying unified field electronics and diffusion at the subatomic level as well as its implications. However, in order to have a relativistic impact, he would need use of a particle accelerator. We had one but HAD is the key word here. It was destroyed during our encounter with the purple planet and we haven't been able to rebuild it yet."
"I can't see how it could be him, Commander," Ang concluded.
"The orm molecules are bait." Shivo allowed. "Those who have been exiled to between-space dine on the charge produced. Our probes scatter them across the galaxy in the hopes of detecting, and sealing any interface that may have occurred between their reality, and ours."
"That's a good screw." Carter miffed, still smarting over the predicament that Harms, and Danielle were in. "Always careful to oil the bars in your jail cells, aren't you?"
"Alan, please." Bergman lamented, shaking his head slowly.
"Normally," Shivo continued, ignoring the remark. "When we discover a breach, we seal it immediately with an opposing countercharge of thermal energy. This time, however, our surveyors detected extensive use of sonic displacement here on Alpha. This is not a force of nature. Someone on this base has deliberately, or out of ignorance, constructed a portal into that realm. Your pilots are being questioned now. The results of the inquiry will be transmitted to me shortly. Consequently, I should also like to speak to this Ian Garvey.
"Commander Koenig, I can not leave until these vestiges of Old Science have been eradicated, and the perpetrator, punished under Berenecean law.
"The penalty is eternal banishment to The Expanded Moment. There can be no exceptions."
Commander Koenig did not speak for a perceived eternity, deep in thought.
"You may speak to Ian Garvey, but only in our presence," Koenig finally agreed. The commander was about to tell the alien that they would likely not be as compliant regarding administering any sort of 'penalty' on one of his people. However, he chose to keep his thought to himself for the moment. He also wondered if they could even stop them from enforcing such 'banishment.'
"Tanya," he keyed her code on his commlock and her cool, Slavic features appeared on the monitor. "Find Ian Garvey. Have him report to my office...Immediately."
After Tanya's acknowledgement, he broke the link to only to face the Technical Manager.
"Sir," Angelina addressed him icily with barely contained rage, "may I have a word with you? IN PRIVATE?!?" Her face was a volcano ready to explode.
"Not now, Ang," he replied coolly, eyeing the alien.
"Not now, Ang?!?!" she blurted in amazement and dismay. Office protocol was about to go out the window. "What are you doing?!??! What in the hell is going on?!?!? I just told you that whatever our guest thinks we might be doing is way, WAY beyond our capabilities."
She was so angry, she was on the verge of shaking from the effort to contain her rage.
"Is Ian Garvey suppose to be a scapegoat? A sacrificial lamb that is suppose to 'save' the rest of us?!??" She stiffened, then lowered her voice. "I thought that wasn't our way."
"This injunction is absolute." Shivo said regrettably, staring at his innocuous palms as they rested on the table. "I wish it were not so. I know--it probably seems as cold, and 'theoretical' as it does to many of my people. Myself included. Condemning someone for a transgression committed blindly, and with no malicious intent. Commander, I can speak to my superiors if you like.
"No, I will speak to them." He amended emphatically. "Perhaps an exception can be made, but I caution you not to hold out any hope of change. This law was not created to provide comfort, and solace to the individual. Understand, please, the galaxy was nearly laid waste by these Black Lords when they were in power. If even one of them has escaped, the repercussions will be farther reaching than you could ever conceive. Your base is in danger.
"Indeed, your world is in danger. With The Expanded Moment, they could demolish the Earth itself. It may take a million years, but eventually your race would suffer the same fate as mine." He intromitted in a voice that caused even Alan Carter to fall mute. "I have lived with this my entire life. I was born on that ship.
"And I will die on that ship. My replacement is in the nursery now, being nurtured, and ultimately groomed to accept the sacrifices that freedom entails. The Philosophers are beholden to maintain reason throughout the cosmos. I will never see Coma Berenecea again." He told Ang,' not really expecting pity, so much as perception.
"I have also been instructed to tell you this." He proceeded, facing Victor Bergman, but speaking to them all. "Keep in mind, this order was given to me before we made contact with you. I'm sorry if this seems an inappropriate time for convening on this topic, but my hours here are limited. Commander, we are aware that you are marooned on Moonbase Alpha. We are also aware that your chances of survival are not good. Your plight does concern us. Whatever happens during the course of our investigation, we would like you to know that you are welcome to settle with us on Coma Berenecea, or one of our Earth-type satellites.
"You are not bethroved to this offer, of course." Shivo explained. "Judging by what I've seen, I do believe you should at least consider it."
The hum of air exchangers not withstanding, one could have heard the proverbial pin drop in the room.
"Thank you very much for your offer, Shivo," the Commander answered graciously, containing his natural excitement. This offer was the World Series, folks. This time, it really looked like they may have hit a home run and won the Pennant. "We will certainly give it serious consideration."
Carter turned to Ang' with latent optimism. So far, it was the one thing that the alien had done for which he could find no fault. Truman Starns was about to object, but the image of himself triumphantly boarding one of the Eagles with his duffel bag for the last time; watching the light turn red as the boarding tube retracted forever more; hearing the transients as they throttled up the ascent engines--his dicker was replaced with the upmost sensitivity.
Angelina gazed warmly at Carter. Moonbase Alpha sucked; that was the ultimate summation. It was a wandering rock where life could only exist in a 2.5 mile artificial confinement. To make the situation worse and more difficult, they had a child who, if they didn't find a real home soon, would grow up, perhaps spend all of his days on the desolation of the moon. It was the ultimate scenario invoking parental guilt. However, they had been in this same situation before. They had found other places that appeared to make a good home. Then, it fell through, brutally, like a body crashing through a glass ceiling. Maybe this time it was different.
She was caught up in the euphoria of the moment.
Harness Bull Duncan brimmed over with a warm smile that rivaled the one on Victor Bergman's face.
"If you don't object, Shivo," Doctor Russell turned to the visitor, "I would like to perform some tests on you, run some evaluations to determine if our people are physiologically compatible with your people." She smiled warmly, also bubbling with anticipation over the generosity of the alien.
"Of course." The philosopher agreed. "Our own physicians would want to examine you as well." He concurred, turning to Koenig. "Commander, do not let this business today hinder your decision. You would not miss the Old Science. I can vouchsafe for that. Our ultimate destiny--and I believe your ultimate destiny, if I may be so bold--is to develop your higher self.
"We are not a militant people. What you have seen here today is our most rigorously enforced law. To quote one of your own euphemisms: You would not have 'Big Brother' looking over your shoulder the entire time you are with us.
"Coma Berenecea is paradise." He said earnestly, remembering the cool, tropical dusks on his homeworld.
Carter regained control, and was about to subject the ambassador to harsh canards for the crimes of kidnapping, and diabolical torture when suddenly the commstation lit up with the image of Controller Zed Astrin appearing against a blue backdrop.
"Commander, we just received word from the cargo Eagle. They're on final approach now. Harms, and Danielle are in control of the ship.
"Quad-retrofire in two minutes."
"They are clear." Shivo said, relieved, and examining some outland data that had been projected against his closed eyelids. "Their cargo was suspicious though." He went on, nodding his head at the holographic impulses that appeared inside his cerebral cortex. "We have kept it for further analysis."
"Commander," Tanya's face once again appeared on the monitor. "Ian Garvey is not responding to his pages. He is not in his quarters, in the MCR cantina or in experimental lab. No one seems to know where he is."
Angelina frowned as she cued the instant messaging window on her laptop. Garvey was online. 'Ian, where are you?' she typed. 'Commander wants u in office NOW. Don't worry. Everything will be cool.'
The cursor blinked back at her with an otherwise empty screen.
Koenig's face turned grave. "Quentin," he turned to the Chief of Security, "find him."
Angelina typed again. 'Ian, where r u? Q & boys r coming to get you!!!'
The response flashed at her in what seemed like an infinite moment in time. The image was indescribably perverse; a face which was a combination of Jack The Ripper, Charles Manson, Osama Bin Laden, any twisted, murderous maniac both real and ever imagined.
The horror was a visual millisecond but imprinted on her subconscious. She felt terrified suddenly but she did not know the reason.
'Tech Lab 2.' was the writing on the screen. 'I'll be right over. Garvey' He signed out of instant messaging.
"He's in Tech Lab 2," Angelina reported, her voice shaking slightly. She cleared her throat. Her voice became stronger but the terror inside remained. "He said he would be right over." Despite being in a room filled with people and despite the fact Alan was sitting beside her, she was frightened out of her wits.
"Quentin to Bravo team," the Security chief immediately snapped his commlock from his belt. "Garvey is in Tech Lab 2. Escort him to the Commander's office."
Less than 60 seconds passed when Quinton's commlock chirped again from Bravo team. "Go ahead, Bravo."
"Alpha-Bravo, to team leader." Harness Bull Wisher relayed. "There's no one here except for AD Haines, and he's wearing his ass for a hat. Looks like someone bonked him upside the head, and then took off. There's a trail of blood leading to the maintenance lift. Whoever it was is in the lower levels now."
"Find Garvey," Quentin responded. "Subdue as necessary." He signed off the link.
"How do you know it was him?" the Technical Manager objected. "Circumstantial evidence." She hhmphed. "Commander, tell Chief Quentin to call off his dogs. I'll find Ian myself." She couldn't believe it. She almost refused to believe it. Up until the last few days, there were few better technicians in both performance and attitude besides Ian Garvey. She wanted to try to reach him but she wasn't sure how to do it.
"Oh yeah?!" Quentin challenged her. "Why don't you open your goddamn eyes? It looks like your prize pupil isn't such a stellar ace. We'll see what Haines has to say about it when he comes around..."
"That's enough," Koenig intervened, cutting through the iciness of Ang's glare at Pierce. "Under the circumstance, Ang, I don't think that is a good idea." He ignored the look of objection on her face. "Find him, Quentin."
"The cargo of the Eagle is 'suspicious'," Victor Bergman reiterated, appearing to change the direction of the conversation but not really. "What do you mean it is suspicious?" He asked the alien, who still sat serenely with eyes closed, evidently receiving telepathic transmissions.
Angelina closed her eyes and swallowed as the attention focused back on the visitor. The terror had returned, though it never really left. Her expression was blank but her soul was stricken. She discreetly grasped Carter's hand under the table. She felt overwhelmed with an unknown threat.
"The materials themselves are suspect." Shivo availed, leaning uncomfortably against the low-back, futura plastic. "All of the elements are there for generating an electronic field of great immensity. All that is lacking is a power source. Our engineers also found it odd that the cargo had been destroyed expeditiously.
"Or so it appeared."
Koenig refused to comment on this order. He simply sat there with his gaze locked unflinchingly on the alien's.
"What were the remains?" Shivo asked him. "Where were you taking them? Why did you destroy this mechanism?"
The last query was meant for Angelina Carter.
Koenig glanced at Ang, who was beginning to become visibly pale. Based on his non verbal instruction with his steel blue eyes, she remained timorously mute.
"She had it destroyed on my order, Shivo," he slowly replied, still debating whether or no to reveal the odd occurrences on Alpha.
"Commander, I could scan your mind, and the minds of your operatives--extracting what I want by force, but it would be a violation of your liberty as a right." The philosopher understood. "Before leaving here, I hope to impress upon you the need for keeping that portal between dimensions closed. If what I fear has come to pass, then your colleague has already been extinguished. In all of Berenecean history, only one person survived a brutally imposed synthesis with an oligarch, and this required a mammoth effort on behalf of the entire community to emancipate the subconscious mind from the ghastly seeds that had been sown.
"In the end, this person continued to be so mesmerized that they committed murder regardless. That is their way. That is why consignment is mandatory. Failure to assist me will result in countless deaths. Moonbase Alpha will be reduced to a glut of blood, and ruination."
"That sounds like a threat." Carter interpreted loudly.
"We do not threaten." Shivo disagreed sagely. "You have nothing to fear from my people. Conversely, if you fail to take action, you have everything to fear from your own people. I have persuasive arguments for you, but the final decision is yours. No attack will be launched against your base--I promise you that--but we will not depart until balance has been achieved. These are the horns of your dilemma."
"It still sounds like a threat." Carter postured, even more loudly.
Koenig motioned Carter to back down.
"Alright, Shivo," the Command sat back, still apprehensive but his intuition told him to trust the alien. "A few days ago, we began to experience some odd and even tragic events around the base." He sipped his cold coffee. "As what we thought at the time was a comet tail crossed our path, the three pregnant women on this base suddenly miscarried. Two fetuses were too premature to survive. One is in intensive care, barely viable. Next, two of our most competent pilots on this base were on a routine mission when they suddenly stopped responding and in fact, sent the Eagle on a suicide dive toward the base. In order to protect the base, the ship was destroyed. Then, degradation of our bulkheads and steel began from an unknown cause. The latest tragedy has been the death of a geologist while she was on the lunar surface. It was not a routine or explainable death. The eye witness accounts were dramatically different and perhaps most significant is that the victim was saturated with orm particles, an organic nature which we have never encountered."
Koenig took another drink and paused momentarily, staring at the cup. He looked up at the alien. "Then of course, we have the appearance of your ship. It was just a hunch but the common thread appeared to be Garvey's project. I told Dr. Carter to have Garvey's experiment and equipment dismantled then we would dump it on the far side of the moon, getting it as far away from Alpha as possible."
"The expanded realm contra-indicates this world." Shivo closed his eyes again, nauseatingly surfeit. His question had been answered. "Your children died because the oligarch drained them of their life force. Your men died because it attacked their minds. There may, or may not have been a reason. It is something more than the instinct for survival.
"It is sadism. It is absolute power." The ambassador defined, not caring if he sounded authentic, or not. "Without a differential to cross, these beings are dependent upon the vitality of others to maintain their foothold. They must be anchored in the Old Science. Think of it as a slope, covered with ice, but if the ice is melted, the long journey to the world above becomes possible.
"We've got a monster walking around here." Carter hyperbolized. "That's what you're saying?" Sometimes rainy days, and bullshit got him down. It prodded him to snicker.
"Would you prefer that I called it something else?" Shivo responded with experience, and annoyance. "Is your naiveté more valuable than life itself? If this Ian Garvey has released one of these creatures--intentionally, or no." He specified to Ang.' "Then he too is a victim. His death is coming somewhat slower, perhaps, but his demise is inevitable. A candle can not burn without wax."
Angelina felt the walls closing in on her. Carter glanced at her puzzled as her grip was gradually tighter and her palm was sweating.
"What frightens you?" Shivo's gaze had slowly turned toward Ang. It was obvious he could sense the terror.
"Nothing," she lied unconvincingly. She wanted to leave the room. In fact, she just wanted to get the hell away. She abruptly stood but the alien grabbed her free hand.
"You have seen it," he stated. "It IS here and has been unleashed by someone on this base." He saw the horror flashed on the laptop screen, his eyes closed while relaying the information to his ship.
"The image is buried in your subconscious mind," Shivo continued. "It was not a direct encounter, however. It was much like viewing it in a mirror. Still," he inhaled deeply, "if it is left in your subconscious, insanity will surely be your end. It will destroy you. You must allow me to bring it into your consciousness where you can confront it."
Shaking from fright and sweating profusely, Angelina nodded her consent with lingering uncertainty, slowly reseating herself.
The alien stood, and approached Ang' from the rear. Carter tried to play defense, but Bergman held taught to the right sleeve of his tunic. Helena Russell looked at Koenig with panic, and consternation. Another chair too hot to sit in. The commander merely shook his head, pointed his marker at the seat she should have been sitting in.
"You seem a sensible woman." Shivo complimented Ang,' steepling both thumbs, and forefingers, and placing the diamond squarely in the center of her scalp. Runnels of warm, soothing water cascaded down her cheeks. The collagen in her skin replaced the dry bed of fear, and obstinance. There was no ambition in his voice; no subterfuge; no untruths; no pestilence from the kennel of a dirty dog. If anything, he was...unassuming. "There is evidence of deterioration in your quarters." He observed, eyes closed again, and seeing the devolution that was at work in the residence building. "Does this trouble you?"
"Yes...NO..." she relaxed. "Yes." The last 'yes' was slurred, almost hypnotic.
"Why?" Shivo said, looking around the phantasmagorical Carter quarters. In her imagination, the upper bulkhead consisted of phosphorescent diagonal patterns rather than steel plating. Walk through the door, he did not, but he was nonetheless there. "You encounter the unexplained every day. Would you not say that your reaction is somewhat exaggerated? You live with the Old Science. Correct?"
"But there is always a reason. There is always an...explanation. There has to be one." She paused. "There is no explanation. We need to find one. If our walls crumble, we will not survive." Her voice was completely monotone, without emotion. She was trapped in the physical realm; that was where the answer would be found. She was convinced of it.
The visitor was a vanishing point, kilometers away in the horizon beyond the commstation.
"Would it be presumptive of me to assume that something else may be troubling you?" The alien asked, seated beside her son on the foam sofa, and she was there again. The conference room receded into her imagination. Fantasy was the only thing that was real. The sterile moonglow was pouring through the vision ports. Carter was stooping beside a trample of oxidizing footprints, cursing Pete Garforth for his inability to distinguish the difference between death, and a best selling novel. In her mind, Nicky reached across Shivo's lap, and grabbed for a red crayon on the end table.
Angelina closed her eyes. She felt Nicky stand up, grabbing her leg in a tight grip. He was frightened but she refused to open her eyes.
"GO AWAY!!! GO AWAY!!!" Nicky angrily screeched over and over, throwing the red crayon, the blue crayon, the green crayon, the entire box, which opened and rained the contents of against the viewport. She refused to look at the object of her son's distress.
"Open your eyes!" The alien ordered brusquely. "Your child needs your help! Will you neglect him?!?!" He brutally imposed maternal guilt.
It worked. Angelina opened her eyes.
Only to see Carter pointing his finger at the alien as he sat on the sofa, plucking crayons from his robe.
"What do you know about raising kids?" He exclaimed inhospitably to their guest--little realizing that the conference room seemed like more of a subjunction; a rumination of what may happen in the future as opposed to where his butt was parked in the here, and now. "We don't need no jake from the outback of space telling us how to raise our son."
Shivo nodded, appreciating the Melbourne coat of arms that was anchored to the light panel above the pilot's desk.
"You comply, but you don't concede." The philosopher examined Carter's demeanor. "I wish our race had been more like you. Progress would have been non-existent, but there would have been far less bloodshed.
"You do realize that your environment has changed, do you not?"
"Sure do. We had some peace, and quiet, and now we've got you taking up space on our couch. By the way, spare me the mental mombo.'" The pilot replied, reaching for his son who was tugging at his pant leg. The fact that he was perousing in a memory had occurred to him, but his pragmatic was greater than his belief in the Bermuda Triangle, and the face on Mars, and corridors of light leading to the pearly gates. Alan Carter didn't believe in reincarnation, and he didn't believe in no hairy Bigfoot either. "Ang,' maybe next time we can coordinate a little, creampuff, on the people we invite over for dinner.
"Ang'?" He said again, realizing that she was no longer facing the outer ring of Moonbase Alpha, as vied from the windows in their quarters. She was surveying a row of picture frames, all gold leaf stylus with faux chrysanthemums ornamenting the corners.
"What do you see in them?" The philosopher prompted Ang' while trying to make sense of the giant, yellow-feathered creature that was on Nicky's sweat shirt.
"Please, Alan, don't be rude," Angelina mumbled, reacted to his inhospitality. The dinner party had gone so well but she didn't remember dining with the tall gentleman with the long black hair and blue face. She decided it was a costume party but could not remember why she, or Alan or Nicky or anyone sitting around the grand dining room table was not dressed for the occasion.
She glanced at her other guests. They were frozen. Commander Koenig was in mid sentence while speaking to Professor Bergman. The coffee cup remained touched to Paul Morrow's lips. Doctor Russell had a look of consternation on her face. Sandra Benes was statuesque, petite hands stopped in mid air while reaching for her flimsie.
It was admittedly unusual. She ignored it.
"Why, these are pictures of my family, of course," Angelina exclaimed cheerfully. "You already know Alan and Nicky but this is my mother," she pointed to the picture frame with the most ornate floral etching. "I miss her," she paused sadly. "This is my father and my older brother Guido," she continued brightly. "I miss them as well." She choked back a tear. "I'll never see them again." She whispered.
"That's what you would prefer to see." The alien counseled gently. His black kid boots skirted gracefully across the east wall of the quarters, horizontal to dining table. It caused Carter, no technician, to wonder ludicrously about the efficiency of a tube mounted the wall. "I see other images."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Carter said glibly, disrespectfully. He saw no picture frames, but in the splinter of his mind's eye, there were visions of raw Jurassic material, decompressed from the chests of bomb victims at Allied Space Station One; he saw Beirut, reduced to black twigs by nuclear source material; he saw black Heweys strafing senior citizens in Pakistan. Finally, he saw the Earth leveled by volcanoes, and deluge as the Moon drifted past the jovian belts, past the Plutonic wastes--far, far away into a curved, backwater space that Galileo, and Carl Sagan never dreamt of. There be dragons there. "Your philosophizing stinks, bud.'"
"What is this?" Shivo said, his timbre sinking like talons into Angs' denial. He was pointing towards an open closet door that was behind, and to the left of brother Guido. There were no tennis rackets, or broken mirrors inside--only pitch black, and the blessed absence of a bulb. There was dust; it was time for home improvement.
"It's just an empty closet," she responded dismissively with the wave of her hand. Still, she was captivated, and continued to gaze inside.
"No." The alien said benevolently to the negative. "Look closer."
He said this from atop an Arabian stallion that nipped at Helena Russell's suspended bang.
"Unusual prop," she commented under her breath, seeing the horse out of the corner of her eye. The fact that she was not in a physical reality was never more apparent, as Shivo sat regally atop the animal. Moonbase Alpha had no horses, no livestock. She was compelled to gaze into the closet as Nicky, who suddenly became a robust 12 year old, took her hand.
It began as a white comma--barely a speck of dirt on yellowing portrait. Gradually, a tryst of evil white corneas became obvious. The cardioid skull hove into view next, as Ang' kicked herself for failing to notice the diminishing clumps of hair, so frail as to be pubic. The cheeks were a thyroidal, misshapen nightmare of deformity, as well as the cracked, antidiluvian lips that were pursed in a mischievous child's grin. It clamored for a billion executions, when a trillion would not have sufficed. The Quasimodo of a man was forced to stoop to avoid banging his head on the high ceiling. His knuckles drug the ground stupidly; the demonic aspect communicated an acumen for disease, torture, and annihilation. It was the product of untold milleniums of greed, and loneliness in a black void. Tenebrousness had found its appropriate shape.
I see you, but I dare you to see me. This was the Morse code that had been tapped into Angelina Carter's subconscious as the thing peered from Guido's open closet.
The scream was caught in her throat as she suddenly found herself alone in the cavernous black room with 'it'. She tried to back away but was stopped by an unseen wall. She moved left; she encountered wall. She moved right and was stopped by the invisible barrier.
Angelina was trapped and the creature from hell steadily approached her, grubby fingers stretched toward her. Maggots slithered in and out of the sores on its festering cuticles.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" she screamed with terror. "NOOOOOOOO!!!!" came the second cry, this time more resolved. She found courage, somewhere. She stood straight, ready to accept her death. The netherworld being sneered as it was inches away from touching her when the surreal world became black.
"One of them has been released." Shivo announced, satisfied, and releasing his hold on Angs' scalp.
Angelina slumped backward against the moduform chair, struggling to return to the conscious realm. The lights of the conference room faded in and out as the sounds of familiar voices oscillated from gibberish to comprehendible and back again.
Victor Bergman dropped back into his bad chair while John Koenig folded resigned arms over his chest. Helena Russell stood next to Ang,' working hard to escort her back from a world where closets contained vipers. Suddenly, there was the air of a people who had failed to realize that their last supper was yesterday; the realization that the house was cooler only because they were in the center of a cyclone. The Yellow Brick road was now officially red.
The being from between dimensions liked it like that.
None of the transfers were first run. There would be no Academy Awards this year; likewise no Emmy's; no Golden Globe Awards; no MTV Awards; no Ace Awards; no house; no home; no luck, only space, and processed chicken wings with Mephistopheles. Anywhere was better than here, and 'here' was loathsome. The cinema on Moonbase Alpha occupied a hot, tolerably funky shell theater in the Vycor enclosed recreation pavilion. It was jammed between the one lane bowling alley to the right, and the ubiquitous Soyuz Lounge on the left.
Inside the club, astronauts Bill Bex, and Harriet Collins grew drowsy, and ill on the generic Moonbase, alcohol alternative. No one stayed with Ed Malcom to witness his throwing one bathetic gutter ball after the next. Welcome to my world.
The auditorium was large enough to seat twenty persons, but fewer than this turned out for the 90th encore performance of Dr. Zhivago--a love caught in the fire of revolution. This was one of the lost treasures--a film so seldom seen (comparatively speaking) as to be the epitome of ad-lib. There were eight people there, and half of them didn't give a shit about the film the first time they saw it. Perhaps repetition was preferable to death's eggregiousness. They had no consideration; they had no verve; there was only the breadth of weighty years, and the prospect of seeing Jean De Floret for the 9,000th time next week.
Ian Garvey peered down the huge accessway leading to the astral dome. He was a golon of mud, with his white lab coat ripped to shards in various places from his bonding with mother nature in the caverns below. He ducked back into the plant maintenance closet, his eyes drawing to a feral squint as Michelle Cranston strolled obliviously towards the travel tube. He was preparing to act, when suddenly, he watched her cross paths with Harness Bulls Pound, and Coldaryn. Their heat beams rode high on their belts. The doors closed behind her as she exchanged places with Dac Capano, and Gareth Lock of hydroponics resources.
The specialist feared disclosure, but exhaled petunias when he saw the two men drift towards the sounds of the low ebb Techno' music emanating from the Soyuz.
The alien guest relaxed in the Medical couch. The background noise of pinging and beeping from the monitors had long grown monotonous. His attention, however, was not directed toward the instrumentation.
Tanya Alexander had brought him a tray of processed Alphan food, mainly regarded as barely edible body fuel, but in the alien's mind, it was the company that was far more appealing than the sustenance.
For her part, Tanya had intended to merely deliver the tray and return to her quarters: that was over two hours ago. Instead, she found herself talking to Shivo, as he listened to her life story. He did not judge her. Instead, he seemed to be impressed with her strength and her ability to conquer adversity. Her calm, Slavic demeanor was especially appealing. Thus far, most of the Earth beings he had encountered were highly emotional. He found this characteristic personally distasteful.
"Well, enough about me," Tanya sat back in the moduform chair. "I apologize for monopolizing the conversation. What about you? You must miss Coma Berenecea."
"Are all of your people...balmy?" He uttered aloud, but considered it bad breeding, considering that he was supposed to be a federal emissary. "I apologize." He abided. "my unfamiliarity with your method of communication makes me more blunt than I wish to appear. My people rarely verbalize our conversations unless we are giving testimony.
"Yes, I miss my home greatly. Don't we all?"
"Yes," Tanya acknowledged, a hint of sadness in her voice. She continued. "I will never see Earth again. Unlike you though, I do not know what has become of Earth and how my family has coped." She paused thoughtfully. "All of us on Alpha, approximately 300 of us mourned for the loss of our friends and family. However, on Earth perhaps thousands of our family and friends mourned for our loss. Thinking of their emotional pain is worse than my own...feelings," she stammered over the word. "But here I go taking over the conversation again," she smiled endearingly. "Please, tell me about yourself."
Sometimes bright lights, and machine blabber befooled him into having a false sense of security. He was intensely aware of Tanya's proximity to him, and liked it.
"I was born in the city state of Nasir, near the sea of Belog." He commented, pronouncing 'Belog' with a long, reverent 'Beloggggggggggguhhhh.' "My father was a builder. It was my grandfather who was a counselor of the New Science." He determined, sitting up on the couch. "We discovered that government is best when it is egalitarian--representing the desires of the people; protecting, and upholding the values of the people." He shrugged detectably, realizing that his argument was somewhat less than convincing, considering the irony of revelations he had made during the meeting with John Koenig, and his agents. "I must admit, our efforts were poor--until recently."
"Recently," she repeated with interest. "What happened 'recently' to change the premise of your government to the common good?"
Harriet Collins turned to the noise in the corridor. The barren Russian landscape on the screen was a depressing reminder of the lunar landscaped. Remarkably, Harriet had never seen Dr. Zhivago, the movie, though she had read it several times.
"Go see what that is," she motioned to Bill Bex. He glanced at her with irritation, comfortable in his stadium seat with his popcorn and imitation butter. "Go on," she shoved him good naturedly, "you've seen it before. I haven't. I don't want to miss anything."
Bex grunted and stood up, heading to the door in the back of the theatre.
"WHAT WE'RE DOING IS OFFERING OUR BAHOOKIES UP TO GET KICKED." Pierce Quentin argued on the lower plane of inflame. "WE CAN'T DO IT, COMMANDER. WHATEVER HAPPENS, WE CAN'T OFFER ONE OF OUR OWN OVER TO THOSE BLAG ARTISTS--EVEN IF THE PERSON IN QUESTION IS BATS."
Truman Starns was leaning on his elbows near the left corner of Koenig's desk near the Exec Authorization panel. Behind him, Klaus Rotstein stood atop the steps pretending to leaf through an upside down copy of a ship's position table for Eagle One. In the trench, STC Nast occasionally looked up to see Ang' Carter--hooked on rage, and pacing the crevass line with her arms folded, and her commlock careening on her belt like a saber.
Victor Bergman was sitting on the right corner of the desk, staring at no viable solutions outside the vision ports.
"DO YOU HONESTLY THINK I HAVEN'T CONSIDERED THAT? WE'D BE HANDING GARVEY OVER TO A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH." The commander pilloried back.
"I agree with Chief Quentin completely, Commander," Angelina's voice echoed from the balcony throughout the auditorium. "Since when do we not fight for one of our own? Wasn't it you who once said that if we sacrifice one of our own for the rest to survive, that we were not worthy of survival?" She challenged, using Koenig's very words against him.
"Yes, but Shivo's offer." Bergman segued calmly, scratching his sideburn. "I don't relish the thought, but we're forced to consider the greater good here too.
"Sorry, John. I really don't know what to say."
"I DON'T CARE HOW MUCH OF A BANG ON PLANET THAT BLIGHTER IS OFFERING." Quentin preserved. Loudly. "IT GOES AGAINST EVERY GRAIN, EVERY SCRUPLE, EVERYTHING THAT'S HOLY, AND DEACENT."
Travel Tube-D ground to an oily halt. When the doors opened, Michelle Cranston exited the car, and collided head-on with Harness Bull Coldaryn. Pound stood to the side, eyes widening with sham dread as the annoyed technician stooped to pick up her metric tool chest, one widget at a time. A commiserative Coldaryn beat her to the punch though, and stooped immediately to retrieve the case.
"Pardon me." He said seriously.
"Dumbkoff." Harness Bull Pound said, still staring straight ahead.
From somewhere in the Soyuz Lounge, Clio Costa had been inveigled into standing on stage to do Puccini in coloratura soprano.
"I thought you were gone for the day." Coldaryn said, handing her chest back to her with unctuous guilt, and indictability.
"I forgot an ammeter to replace the one Malcom toasted in the chassis test area," Michelle mumbled, ticked off at the rotund technician's ineptness and further ticked off at the fact that it wasted her time.
She walked quickly away rounding the corridor. As soon as she replaced the ammeter, she could get off her already over extended shift and go collapse in her quarters. Pound and Coldaryn had left when she heard the noise, coming from the access shaft.
Michelle looked around nervously, her stomach tying in knots. She berated herself for being scared like a child.
"Hello?!?" she called. "Who's there?" She walked slowly toward the entrance to the dark access way, gripping her metric tool chest tighter and tighter against her. "I hear someone in there. Game's over," she continued, annoyed with her heart racing in her throat.
She felt the hands grab around her petite waist.
Michelle let out a scream and dropped her tool chest again, metric sockets bits spraying the floor like half dollar sized hail. She turned terrified to face her 'attacker.'
"You asshole," she blurted at Bill Bex, startled but immensely relieved, punching him in the orange sleeve. "Scaring a helpless, defenseless woman! What are you doing slinking around here?"
"We discovered that we were at fault." Shivo humbled, looking away to stare critically at the contraption of Old Science that was monitoring his coronary activity. The visualization on the meter was that of a vortex of amber-colored water, rushing downwards into an unattractive absorption. The throng of his pulse appeared to be steadying at 80 beats per minute. There was a ping from the medical monitor, alerting everyone in the Care Unit that the drumming had diminished to 79 beats per minute.
Helena Russell meandered by the open doorway, lost in a register tape printout that was long enough to mummify Tutankhamen.
"If we are not culpable, then who is to blame?" The alien informed Tanya, gently enough to engross while still zapping her self-advertence.
Bob Mathias climbed the tile stairwell to the moon city connector--a transparent corridor that gave the illusion of strolling through the void, and (in this case) belated criminalness. He waved to Michelle Cranston while still staring down at his quack feet. The well of diagnoses had gone dry, and even if it had flowed like a fount, there weren't enough paper cups on Alpha to hold it.
"Ma voi che seite, all'altra sponda
"Sulla riva immensa ove fioresce." The diva, Clio Costa--Technical Section's Micro-engineer par excellence--sang from the libretto for Morire. She was a bird flying freely over stillborn humanity, a survivor of Warsaw bringing hope to tired eyes, and parched, futureless mouths. Her voice was the reincarnation of Ileana Cotrubus; Constance Mozart; Joan Sutherland.She had no white gloves, but she did have an audience in the Soyuz Lounge.
"Ill fiore della vita
"Son certo, lo saprete."
Bob Mathias took a seat next to Bram Cedrix at the neon bar. Electric blue receptacles dazzled them from the server side. Cedrix missed the hulking darkness as it floated past the wall panel, conniving it's way east of the travel tube. Work was his beverage of choice, and presently, he was stoned on the LOX he huffed, in overabundance, in Eagle Seven's lower equiptment bay. Mathias watched Costa hug her microphone, suddenly becoming downtrodden as he recalled what an asinine failure he had been recently, in toto.
He noticed not that the overhead lights terminated in an arrow pointing towards the Arcade.
"Maybe we can stall for time." John Koenig said lamely, rubbing his temples, but finding no epiphany. "He said that he needed to contact his people. Maybe they'll make an exception."
"And if they don't?" Quentin advocated. "We'll be in the same bab that we're in right now."
"Commander, at risk of sounding insensitive," Truman Starns said insensitively. "We may never get this opportunity again. What if what the alien said is true? What if Garvey is already lost?"
It was just a thought.
"That's assuming that the culprit here is Ian Garvey." Bergman stressed. "We don't know that yet. How could we?"
"No we do not," Ang affirmed, glancing angrily at Truman Starns. Otherwise her demeanor was calm though icy. It was still incomprehensible that Ian Garvey had become the gatekeeper of Hell. She would not have been surprised if it was anyone else; Rotstein, for example.
"So far, "Angelina continued, dropping the emotion and taking on the demeanor of a defense attorney, "all we know is that Ian Garvey was involved in a project which was linked to Orm Particle research. If we assume Shivo is correct, it may have had the potential to create the opening to another dimension." She paused then continued. "Allowing a being of immense evil to escape into our reality."
"That's conjecture," Sandra interrupted.
"No, its not," Ang shook her head.
"Yes, it is."
"I SAW it," she shot back, ire creeping into her voice.
"How do you know?" the Data Analyst countered. "What if it was illusion? What if the alien somehow planted the image in your mind?"
"It was there before."
"How do you know?!?"
"Because I FELT it," Angelina yelled back. Sandra fell silent, glaring at her."Look, we can argue this all day. The fact is though there has been nothing to directly link Ian Garvey to opening hellmouths. Even Jim Haines bump on the head can't be linked to Ian. Jim didn't see who hit him."
"But the Instant Message software does have his message to you time stamped around the time Haines was assaulted." Ben Ouma spoke up from his swivel desk.
"Circumstantial," Ang dismissed the fact. "You admitted last week that there has been minor problems with the time stamping records of the Alpha GAB messaging. Has it been repaired?"
Ouma did not answer her.
"Right," Angelina continued as she climbed down the balcony stairs. "So then he has a pack of cops hunting him down and he's running scared. Hell, I'd be scared if the marines were being sent after me for NO REASON."
Emotion replaced logic in her analysis once again.
"Harry heard a noise." Bex told Cranston with gender-specific censuriousness. "Can't imagine why." He picked, pointing towards the noise emanating from the Soyuz. Bob Mathias was facing Costa now as she did two in a row from Carmen. He looked briefly at the technician, and the astronaut before returning his attention to art, and culture. Glasses, and chandeliers responded with a tinkle as the men of Seville gathered around the female workers of the factory. The gypsy woman, Carmen was there, and her alter ego Clio Costa depressed them all, preaching of a love that obeys no laws. "Gahhhhhh.' Definitely not to my taste." The astronaut said unappreciatively, pushing his spectacles up. "Anyhoo,' I'm looking to keep her from getting ballsed-up.
"If you ask me, Coop' needs to take her off those R-Prime missions. Har-har. Flying alone at the south-pole with a bamstick ground like Winters--that would make anyone paranoid. Har-har.
"I can honestly say we never had anyone like that on Terra." He sermonized self-righteously.
Well, he thought to himself, there may have been a couple, two, three, or four.
Terra was not the land of milk, and honey.
"Oh really?!?" Michelle cocked an eyebrow in annoyance. "Terra was perfect." She stated in mock superiority. "What about Ian Garvey? He's one weird guy."
"Your people resent the conundrum that I have brought you." Shivo confessed impeachably to Tanya. "Life on my world, and the destruction of one of your comrades; it is a detestable combination." He understood, wondering why he was ripping open his soul, and divulging its intestines to someone he barely knew. He supposed it was because Tanya Alexander had an honorable face. "Commander Koenig has been placed in the worst position of all. In the tradition of Old Science, he must confront the use of negative power."
He placed his hand gently on Tanya's shoulder.
"You see, I can't leave until this situation has been resolved. No militancy was intended, but nevertheless, there is...stress?"
His touch was warm and comforting. It was soothing and...sensual.
"Commander Koenig is a fine leader," Tanya explained, taking Shivo's free hand while captivated by his amber colored eyes. The star burst shape of his pupil grew larger in response to her soft, feminine yet strong hands. "He maintains his position as leader of this colony not through politics but by results, our continued survival. His caring and concern for this community is genuine."
They shifted position such that they now sat facing each other. "He does not believe in the ideology of the 'needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few', which was an inherent belief in my culture when my country was controlled by the Communists and my Russia was part of the Soviet Union. He believes that if we sacrifice one individual for the survival of all, we are not worthy of survival." Her demeanor was calm and she spoke strongly, even as he traced the line of her jaw with his index finger.
Cranston was heading for the maintenance culvert at the end of the corridor when Bill Bex rounded the bend, and heard the sound of crashing metal hit the floor. His mind palliated him to within an inch of his life. Intrusive thoughts began to encircle him like cannibalistic head hunters. Spear tips appeared in the darkened brush of his imagination. He could almost hear the breathing, and the crunch of twigs as they encroached on him.
There were any number of possibilities--especially since he had entered an area of Moonbase Alpha known as the Zero Node. In the blueprints it was slated to be a backup ISP for trans-Earth communications, but the hardware never arrived. So, there was only chalk, and smutch now, collecting in the corners which held powerless, Ethernet conduits. There was a dormant commstation, and aluminum shelving that contained nothing, but fallout from renovations made to the Reference Library on the third tier.
Bex whirled as someone's quiet exhale drifted to him like snow from the open stairwell. In his peripheral vision, he could see the open hatch leading into dark, empty space. Worlds away, Clio Costa harmonized murder, and bullfighting--for we were now in Act IV of Bizet's masterpiece where Jose brutally murders the title character, even as he is been praised for being such a wonderful guy.
"Hello?" Bex called upwards, placing his palm on the rail, and placing one tentative boot on the bottom step.
"We really don't know anything about Shivo." Bergman theorized. "We take him at his word, but we may be in for it, no matter what happens with Ian Garvey."
"That may be, Victor." Koenig ascertained, leaning back in the white leather commodore. "But loopholes are short on demand these days. Whatever happens, there's no way I could ever condone, or assist with him being delivered into the hands of an alien race.
"Especially not with what we know about Coma Berenecea, and their idea of justice.
"That's my decision." He said, pushing back his chair, and standing.
"Commander?" Truman Starns grappled futilely, but Koenig was impregnable.
"Thank you, Commander," Angelina nodded in relief and assent as she shot a look of irritation at Starns. She glanced victoriously at Alan, who leaned casually against the cap com station.
Victory, however, was fleeting.
"Commander!" Sandra Benes alerted from the sensor array. "Incoming signal!"
She needed no prompting as she encoded and put it up on the big screen.
The signal was similar to the two others from Shivo's ship; a continuously changing grid of white and black rectangles flashing an image at unreadable speed.
"Is it coming from the ship?" Koenig asked, now behind Sandra.
"I am not sure," she responded as she busily modulated the frequency. The image, though, continued to change as break neck speed.
"No," she answered finally. "It is not coming from the ship. It is coming from somewhere inside Alpha!"
One weird guy....
The magnificent William Bex thought there were several as he accompanied the gray linoleum stairs, eventually achieving the landing, but with several pitiful looks at the floor below. It was the look of a man whose head had been shaved; who had eaten his last communion wafer, and all that was left was the strap-down team at the electric chair. Before him, and around the bend, he could hear someone mumbling underbreath. It was dire, and melodic. TURN OFF THOSE BEASTLY GREGORIAN CHANTS he wanted to cry, but kept his panic in hand. It never occurred to him to turn back. The vibrations from the nearby commstation noctambulated with him as he took a deep breath, and summoned the courage to take the last step.
Qu'un oeil noir te regarde, Clio Costa minstraled amidst the haunted cacaphony in the Soyuz Lounge. Toreador!!! Love awaits you!!!
Bex took the plunge.
"Even if the individual is a pall, attaching himself to your history?" Shivo said with great unlikeliness. "All willing arises from want, therefore from deficiency, and therefore from suffering." He quoted, leaning so far back into his memory that he almost toppled. "The satisfaction of a wish ends it; yet for one wish that is satisfied, there remain ten which are denied.
"I have not studied your culture as thoroughly as I ought, but that insight impressed me." He told Tanya after seeing that he had thoroughly gammoned her with existential nonsense. "One of the great men of Earth, I take it?"
"Arthur Schopenhauer." Dr. Dorothy Sullivan identified the sourpuss epigram as she stepped into the examination room with Raul Nunez in tow. "And to answer your question, if you don't mind suffering from suicidal ideation, he's not half bad.
"Excuse me." She pushed past Tanya, and went for another blood pressure reading. "Have you read the part that deals with the extinction of all desire being our only hope of salvation?" She inquired of the ambassador, pumping up the cuff, and then releasing it.
The alien shook his head politely.
"Good." She said through a mouth full of cottage cheese, spoiled-ass milk. "I won't ruin it for you."
"Your intonation toward our guest is both impolite and unnecessary," Tanya retorted neutrally to Dr. Sullivan. "It does nothing other than add to yet more negative impressions of us as a people."
Tanya actually felt embarrassed, though she remained outwardly impassive.
Harriet Collins was zonked by the saturated color from 1965. The epic rolled on, seducing the audience with tragedy, compassion, and Omar Shariff's gap tooth. She ground her comely jaws anxiously, watching Pasha leave the family house in the Urals, making way towards his appointment with an inflexible bullet.
Where is he? She thought irritably, looking towards the rear of the theater for Bex. A silly thought occurred to her--that they had parted ways, never to meet again in this world. Then, just as quickly, she decided it was just another one of 'those' kind of thoughts, harboring little, or no substance.
It was a comforting thought, but it was also totally the wrong answer.
"TRIANGULATE THAT SIGNAL PAUL." Koenig blared gripping his desk.
Ben Ouma rotated his desk in a crescent, raising his variable eyebrows at Ang.' Carter was leaning as close to the controller's desk as obstruction would allow. His own tabs were clear.
"I'm trying to." Morrow boled back from a panel filled with clogged resistors. "It keeps fading out. It's like something is trying to deliberately jam us."
Angelina Carter's intuition was working overtime yet she refused to acknowledge it. She had a passing thought telling her exactly who might be jamming the signal.
Kate Bullen's console be-booped from the internal communications. "Main Mission," she answered, only half paying attention as her eyes were riveted to the big screen.
"Hydroponics Technician Duc Chan here," the thickly accented former Taiwanese citizen reported. "Kate, I found unknown machine in Ariel mushroom farm. Can you send someone from Technical to identify and remove?"
"What kind of strange machine?" Angelina asked from behind Kate.
"I do not know. It very large. It make strange humming noise. I never see before. It do not belong in here. Please have it removed. Thank you very much." Chan explained, more irritated that it was taking up space in his hydroponics area than curious about identifying the machine.
Professor Bergman glanced at Ang with a raised eyebrow.
"Thanks for the April in Paris." Bex insulted Harness Bull Sauckel, greatly relieved to not have a myocardial infarction. The two had pounced upon one another head on atop the stairs of the Zero Node.
"Sorry." Sauckel said dubiously. "Commander's orders, though. We're supposed to search every section--even if it's one where you're on holiday."
He shrugged unassumingly.
"Right." Bex said, furiously. "If you're supposed to be securing the place, then why are you wasting time talking to me?"
Sauckel said that he didn't know, but since he could no longer think of anything to say, he would probably just return to duty.
"Good." The astronaut said, watching the bull trundle down the stairs.
Once he was alone, he was able to see the open hatch of an Eagle that could not have been there. Talent, and ambition suddenly beckoned to him.
The end credits began to roll--on Dr. Zhivago, and on Bill Bex too.
"A ROOM." Shivo roared from another universe. The 100 mph wind force knocked Dot' Sullivan backwards against the EKG hardware. A plastic container that was filled with cotton swabs crashed to the floor, and splayed out like arrows indicating never-ending, paradoxical directions, and this was the puzzle for dummies.' "THERE IS A ROOM ON THIS BASE WITH...." He paused, his grossly exaggerated facial features, and red veins growing taught in Sullivan's presence. "EMPTY SHELVING...NOTHING...FEATURES OF OLD SCIENCE." He spat vehemently, knocking the physician even further from her axis.
"???WHERE IS IT???" He screamed at Tanya, jumping from the couch with his eyes receding into their sockets as he continued to intercept extrasensory communiqués from intelligence forces on his ship. "!!!ANSWER ME!!! WHERE IS IT!!!" He shook Sullivan violently before darting from the room, using a GPS that no one could see to navigate the corridors of Moonbase Alpha.
Sullivan, head spinning, staggered to the security alarm and activated the klaxon. Tanya Alexander, after glancing at the doctor and surmising she was ok, dashed out of the room after Shivo. She caught up with him as he frantically found himself at the access point for Travel Tube C, impatiently studying the controls. His sense of urgency was evident.
"I'll follow you," Tanya hit the button on her commlock to open the door. Both stepped inside and the doors swished closed.
"John, he just ran out of here, and we have no idea why." Helena Russell reported from the high resolution micro-monitor on his desk. Her face was flushed.
"THAT'S GODDAMN GREAT." The commander hallooed, punching the screen control, and then dashed around his desk en route to the access corridor. "VICTOR, ANG' COME WITH ME. PAUL, SEND A DETACHMENT DOWN TO HYDROPONIC. FIND OUT WHAT'S DOWN THERE.
"FIND A WAY TO BLOCK THAT SIGNAL."
"Shelves? It doesn't tell us much." Bergman traded notes with Ang' as they hustled past the MCR Cantina while heading for the elevator. "Unless you're thinking the same thing I'm thinking?"
"Zero Node, maybe?" She guessed aloud. It was only a guess. No, not really. Once again, her intuition screamed 'zero node' loud and clear.
Bergman nodded as he hit the elevator button and the doors slid shut.
Bex reduced his forward inertia, and prepared Eagle No Number for reentry. There was a barely detectable vibration as the RCS quads fired, and a slight tilt to starboard as he eased into the corridor. During his low, sub-orbital, always the professional, he took numerous detailed, magnetic field readings in terms of payload. The gabled house below could hence be viewed in terms of this formula:
Bpl = [HGA] BS + [T] Bo + Ba + Bc+ [T] Bod + Bcd
Where Bpl is the field of Cartesian coordinates, and Bs is BS.
The landing struts hit the grass of the dooryard with an unstabilized thud. Through the rendezvous window, he could see an ornate glider easing gently on the latticed porch. The greatest mission he would ever know had been inaugurated with a perfect landing. He was now a trillion light years from Moonbase Alpha in the Kingdom Of Enenkio, and miraculously, he had done it all with zero auto fuel, and zero manual fuel. Exiting the aft equiptment bay, Bex selected a laser, and opened the hatch.
Good morning sunshine.
"Might I be of some assistance to you?" The regal voice asked him.
The astronaut spun around from his examination of panel number four of the service module. The spacecraft's aft section had landed atop a smoke house erected of sod. Inside, the chef with the runneled hog's face cursed the ruptured pressure feed that blew Aerozine fumes in his face, subjected Bex to canards for the gush of water that quelled his grill, and soaked the scintillating, and inviting 18 rib, Crown Roast of lamb.
The Zero Node was Heaven he realized half consciously, and berated himself for not wrecking his ship here earlier. His host handed him a bulb filled with port ambrosia--totally rancorless that his dinner had been ruined.
"I have no way of getting off." Bex explained, relaxing more, and more each minute while angling his finger at the stars.
"Come inside." The gentleman in the red smoking jacket said. "I have something that will get you off."
"You're very generous." The pilot complimented the old colonel appreciably.
"The pleasure is mine, I'm sure." The senior admitted, closing the stained glass, mahogany door behind them.
Harness Bull Saukel whirled as John Koenig, Victor Bergman and Angelina Carter charged out of the elevator as soon as it opened. Ang nearly knocked over his partner Harness Bull N'Dole, who dropped a freshly dispensed cup of recycled water from the automatic beverage dispenser.
"Come with us," Koenig ordered, as both security men broke into a jog. "We're going to Zero Node. We might need enforcements."
"There's nobody in there but Astronaut Bex, sir," Saukel puffed, perplexed.
Koenig pulled his commlock from his belt, as the travel tube doors closed behind him. "Bex. Lieutenant Bex. This is Koenig. Answer me!!!"
One of the finest minds on Earth once said: "You're so stupid that you climbed over a glass wall to see what was on the other side."
Everyone knew more than Bill Bex at this point.
The gala turned a corner in the Soyuz Lounge. Mathias was moping over a platter of Rainbow Trout when Ryan Blathmac took over the mic.' The initial rush to view the unseen talents of Moonbase Alpha could hardly have filled the Maracana football stadium. After Clio Costa finished punishing everyone's ears with her bad auria there were even less. Once she maccarana'ed her way offstage, by popular demand, the few who remained sat quietly, talking amongst themselves, and privately. A few stared at the ceiling, as if waiting for the Sublime to begin the next topic of discourse.
Blathmac pinned the phantom powered microphone to his belt, and consulted briefly with the synthesizer player before tapping his way into a gentle, considerate 4/4 beat.
The metabolic expert's tune was not better, but at least the overhead crystals weren't in danger of falling, and impaling someone like stalagmites.
"Amazing Grace," Blathmac warbled.
"How sweet the sound
"That saved a wretch like me." The specialist winked at Carolyn Kennedy, believing that he impressed her with his touch of Cork County. "I once was lost,
"But now am found;
"Was blind, but now I see."
Bobbing heads awoke from their semidoze as John Koenig, Victor Bergman, Angelina Carter, and their support team of Harness Bulls sprinted past the transparent walls of the Soyuz, and charged up the steps, taking them two at a time.
"'T'was grace that taught my heart to fear,
"And grace my fears relieved;
"How precious did that grace appear
"The hour I first believed."
"???WHAT'S GOING ON???" Mathias yelled after Sauckel, and rilled at white heat to catch up.
Truman Starns was the first to discover the fate of Astronaut Bill Bex. What he found was an ear of corn. A 200 pound ear of corn. He arrived on the scene, laser drawn, through Entryway-B, and stared at the empty hull that lay on the debris covered floor. The nostrils continued to recycle oxygen, but otherwise the person was dead. Never again would he have to sit through repeated viewings of Doctor Zhivago.
Blind guess--it was probably for the best.
Shivo arrived next. Long before entering the entryway, his amalgam had informed him that he was already too late. Incredibly tall, he drifted past Starns, and stooped over the body of the technically deceased pilot, touching the brainless hand with a look of compassion, and frustration.
He was soon joined by Commander John Koenig who was slapped by failure 311 times the minute he walked in the room. He knelt beside the body, and watched while Bob Mathias turned the pilot's chin in a predisposed range of motion. No one considered it applicable that the pilot was still inhaling, and exhaling. The indisputable piquance of Bill Bex--his mind--had been countervailed, neutralized.
The philosopher stood, and parked himself between Victor Bergman, and Angelina Carter.
Koenig's verdict required no audio. It was clear to everyone except for Bill Bex.
"He's still alive, isn't he?" Angelina asked futilely. 'Living' was a relative team. In this case, 'alive' meant that William Bex was nothing more than an organ donor.
Dr. Mathias gave her a sidewise glance. He noted that Bex's respiration was beginning to fade and his heart rate was becoming irregular. Helena Russell charged through the door and confirmed the ominous diagnosis.
"We'll do an MRI to be sure otherwise," she stated in a low voice, then swallowed hard. "Otherwise, he will be put on life support until we are ready to....harvest." She stumbled over the word.
The loss of Alan Carter's pilot was Helena Russell's gain. It was not often that she was able to retrieve body parts from an unfortunate soul who could give someone else a chance to survive; on the former Earth moon, 'survive' was also a relative term.
Doctor Helena Russell studied the MRI of Pilot William Bex's brain on the computer monitor. It was a carbon copy of the scan for the deceased geologist Bea Acton.
Helena Russell sighed and pulled up the life function monitor on Bex. A machine was keeping the heart pumping and the lungs inflating and deflating. The EEG brain activity was flat line. Raul Nunez was in the lab preparing the canisters which would place the vital organs in deep freeze: heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, ligaments, corneas, etc. Bob Mathias was readying the operating theater.
In one sense, they had hit the jackpot; with the life of Bill Bex as the ante.
Commander John Koenig stepped into the office. Behind him, Melita Kelly was being discharged to her quarters, on the arm of a somber Phil Geist. Koenig closed the CMO's office door.
"Bill Bex died the same way as Bea Acton," Russell began without being asked. She turned the monitor for Koenig to see. "Same cause. Same result."
He looked at the monitor in frank disbelief. This was an enhanced image to horrify even the lay-fool. There was a black outline of a vacuum which used to contain Bill Bex's cerebral cortex. Now it was empty, straggling pumpkin tissue, save for the red, irradiated spinal cord which fed into a molested, but somewhat functional vagus nerve, which had maintained Bex's respiration beyond the point of actual death.
"His mind was digested." Koenig recounted while unsuccessfully rubbing the stress from between his eyes. "By an alien being that hasn't existed in this universe for thousands of years."
The thought was unfathomable.
"Do you like irony, Helena?" He asked, diverting his attention to a Mid-Sagittal diagram of the human brain that the physician kept projected on the unit's library monitor. "Because if Shivo is telling us the truth, we have one more casualty. A man who doesn't even know he's dead yet." He transuded, stepping into the superimposed Occipital Lobe.
She nodded in agreement. Ian Garvey. Try telling that to Angelina Carter, though.
"There is more, John," Helena Russell continued. The mask of professionalism had been replaced with a look of personal disappointment. Koenig knew she was about to give him some bad news. He glazed at her somberly, clearly asking but not asking 'what's wrong, Helena.'
"We've found what appears to be a major difference in the physiology of the alien compared to ours," she explained. "The alien's blood and lymphatic fluid contains a protein which was initially unknown to us. Upon further breaking down the protein into basic organic molecules, it appears that the protein is some sort of, for lack of a better word, protection from micro-organisms."
Her shop talk was getting too deep for him. She rephrased in layman terms. "In other words, Shivo and his people have a substance in their body which is likely providing immunity against some sort of virus or bacteria."
She let the implication sink in. "I have already talked to Shivo. Although he is not a medical expert, he did not disagree with the assessment. He has sent the information to his people in the medical field for confirmation."
Koenig folded his arms over his tunic, and soughed morbidly.
"So much for Operation Exodus." He summarized slowly, and bitterly. The bars of their cage became visible again--like a three time loser who goes to sleep in Hawaii, and awakens to discover that the palm trees, and coconuts were all a fell dream, that he is, in reality, in prison, and on Death Row. "I don't suppose there is anything we can do to inoculate ourselves against it, is there?"
"Inoculation implies asking for human volunteers as a 'host' as a guinea pig to inject a weakened or dead micro-organism and observe for a reaction," Helena responded glumly. "Besides the fact that this kind of activity can take months or years of trial and error to determine the most effective amount of weakened or dead micro-organisms to elicit a defensive response from our immune systems, in our present environment, we could not possibly control or contain it. If it got out in the general population.."
She stopped. He understood her point.
"Do you have any other good news, Helena?"
"The other option is to just go and expose ourselves to the micro-organism to allow our bodies to build a natural immunity. The problem is, though, that we don't know the extent of the effect the microorganism could have on our systems. On the one hand, it could be like the common cold. Everyone would become mildly ill but then the body would build immunity. On the other hand, though, it could be something like Ebola, where 98% of infected persons die while the other two percent barely survive and build immunity." She sighed, sitting back in her chair. "Perhaps Shivo's people can give us a better idea of which spectrum we would fall under."
Dr. Russell, however, was not hopeful. From her experience, and if she was a gambler, the odds would have been better to place the bet on the Ebola hand.
"Right now, though," she continued, "we have a more serious problem." She pointed to Acton's and Bex's MRIs.
"I suppose, in a sense we're lucky to be alive." The commander carried on, pacing towards the physician's bookshelf. "Again, if Shivo is telling us the truth--and I believe he is--everything is at stake, and there's not a single, solitary thing we can do about it. Even if we stop Garvey, there's no guaranteeing that someone else won't become a host."
He gripped the back of the pretzel chair hard enough to bend the frame.
"Commander Koenig." Pete Garforth called from his commlock at the moment of impasse.
"We've examined the mechanism found near the grain tower. It's about 40 meters from the aquaduct, and the H2 conversion unit." The technician reported. "I'll let you speak to Dr. Carter. She can detail the rest."
Koenig looked up from his commlock with quiet premonition.
Angelina Carter's image replaced Garforth's as she moved into the commpost.
"Its the same type of machine used in Ian's project, Commander," she reported sadly and an air of resignation. "Except it is much larger. It is tapped into the hydrogen conversion unit and the aqueduct and appears to be drawing from them for its source of power."
"It is not fission. It is not fusion." She continued, perplexed. "It is something I have never seen or encountered before. The professor is on his way down here now."
"Mass is basically an electromagnetic field." Bergman related. He had to admire the craftsmanship on Garvey's kiosk-sized alternator. Right down to the metal frame that he cannibalized, probably, from the remnants of Eagle 2-9. There wasn't much left to work with, but Garvey, no mendicant, was nothing, if not economical. "And with the dimensions of mass being length cubed." He said, passing what he hoped was the olivine control chip over to Dr. Haines who was tempted to throw it in the reservoir. "According to theory, charges are the sources of these 'sinks' in space--like a Rapture Corridor, only formed artificially; it's the length of cube divided by time."
Harness Bull Duncan, who was too old to believe in leprechauns, wondered if the professor intended on speaking some gobdaw English today. Koenig, Angelina Carter, and Starns seemed more content to listen.
"Protons would be the sink." Haines remarked.
"Yes, and neutrons are the source." The professor recalled. "Now, each proton, and neutron, or other aggregate carries on as an observer with the speed of light, respective to it. It's standard superstring theory."
"This is a time portal?" Koenig questioned.
"No, not time John." Bergman replied uneagerly, tapping Garvey's solid state control panel, which was jury rigged from a cabin pressurization panel that he copped from the Block II Eagle prototype. "As far as we know, time travel isn't possible. This machine opens doors in space. If what I'm guessing is accurate, it's some sort of Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky Bridge that connects to other lineaments; realities that co-exist with our own, but on some other wavelength.
"What we've always believed to be the beginning, and the end of the cosmos, we defined in terms The Red Shift." The professor lectured, dusting off his palms. "It appears that the alien taught Garvey a way around that.
"Don't ask me how."
"Like you, his faith was in Old Science." Shivo snapped, standing moodily beside the cabinet with the image of Bill Bex's corpus delectai still mortifying in his subconscious. "It appears our assessment of Earth men was in error. You are even less advanced than our earliest prognosticates."
This, and not kindly, was aimed at Victor Bergman.
"Is that a fact?" Quentin snapped disgusted. "Do more advanced beings indiscriminately condemn without considering individual being? Is consideration of individual rights considered 'primitive' and 'inferior'?" He sneered with disrespect.
Koenig shot him a look of disapproval then resumed studying the chamber.
Angelina listened sadly. The fact was Ian Garvey, the man she thought was innocent of wrongdoing until the bitter end, had created this machine. Video surveillance cameras had filmed him and Truman Starns' forensic team came up with a match: Ian Garvey's hands had been all over it.
Instead of betrayal, she felt depressed. Shivo stood almost regally to the side, listening gravely. She fancied him as an executioner, imagining him with a black hood and gripping his freshly sharpened ax. Tanya Alexander stood next to him, completely impassive as usual.
"You mentioned that 'one of them' has already escaped," Angelina turned to the alien guest, though she knew it to be true. "How do we find it and return it to wherever it belongs?"
She paused and continued, not letting him answer yet. "Or do we have to find Ian Garvey and we will find it?"
"It is to our mutual benefit that this pathway has been discovered." The philosopher conceded to this, but to very little else, save compunction. "If this was the only route, then the only remaining foothold the oligarch has is its host. There's no way it can egress as a single, combined being so it will now attempt to survive by moving from person, to person, thereby killing each individual in the process.
"Ultimately, it will dissolve, but not before it has destroyed Moonbase Alpha."
"It all points to Garvey," Angelina stated, Judas-like as Quentin gaped at her. She had gone to the other side. "We can't deal with this ourselves and need the help of Shivo's people. There is no other choice. He must be found and..."
"THAT IS DOWNRIGHT BARKING." Pierce Quentin cried dolorously, but the ball had already been dropped. "I'VE HEARD OF PREMATURE, BUT-"
"Starns." Koenig turned quietly to the detective. "Find Ian Garvey." He said walking away from the pathway, and looking at the grain silo in bitter fugue. "Instruct your patrols that he's to be apprehended...
"...dead, or alive. Quentin, I want you to coordinate the operation from section. There's nothing else we can do."
The being from between dimensions didn't care for the blasé demeanor. Then again, he didn't intend to take Helena Russell to the Homecoming Dance. He intended to ingurgitate her mind.
The physician had completed packing Bill Bex into jars filled with amniotic fluid when suddenly it occurred to her that she was 'too' alone. Through the window of the butcher shop, she could see the rows of empty offices--all of them lining a corridor that was lit only by crimson emergency lights.
Her olfactory senses attacked her first. The dandelions were sprouting early on the Moon.
Harness Bulls Coldaryn and Pound stood guard at the entrance of the aptly named "Romper Room"; the common daycare room on the base adjacent to Medical Center. Normally, a patrol was not necessary but the Commander ordered the team to protect the area.
The noise from the 7 children, mostly toddlers and infants, was giving Harness Bull Pound a migraine. Adele Erhlich was startled out of the drudgery of a diaper change on baby Julia Manroot by Nicholas Carter.
"Go Away!! Go Away!!!" he angrily screamed while pounding on the far wall. Her daughter Gretchen sat perplexed then felt it was the right moment to dissolve into tears.
On the other side, Helena Russell was experiencing springtime in the Rockies.
In Main Mission Control, Paul Morrow was sitting with a clipboard filled with Hybrid Trajectory Data resting upon one knee while his right leg was propped up on the desk. The metaphorical storm appeared to be moving out to sea, but then the storm returned again. Klaus Rotstein was standing on the balcony, overlooking the trench like an omnipotent monarch when the sudden, unexpected security alert overawed every other conversation on the loop.
"SECURITY PATROL ABLE BAKER." Harness Bull Theylan broke in over the speakers. "SECTION-C, NEAR THE RANGE SAFETY COMPLEX. WE NEED AN ERT UNIT DOWN HERE IMMEDIATELY. TECHNICIAN DON METCALF APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN ATTACKED."
Morrow bucked, throwing his clipboard aside, and turning the dial up on the speakers. All around him, the duty tocsin began to sound.
"Sandra, locate the commander, and Professor Bergman." He flashed.
Helena Russell stretched, walked right past where Ian Garvey sat hunkered, and froth in the Universal Precautions alcove. She wended her way gravely towards the scorched carafe for another cup of coffee. The physician knew that she was forgetting something, but the answer eluded her.
"ZULU TEAM, NETWORK CONFIGURATION CENTER." Emergency Medical Technician Terrence Moore clamored into the commstation, his thumb punching the black stud hard enough to implode the panel. "ANALYST RONALD WELLES HAS BEEN FOUND UNCONSCIOUS, AND IN SERIOUS CONDITION...."
"...WE NEED A TRAUMA UNIT DOWN HERE IMMEDIATELY."
"UNDERSTOOD." Paul Morrow replied, giving Benjamin Ouma a crunched look. "WE'LL HAVE SOMEONE DOWN THERE IMMEDIATELY."
"Paul!!" Sandra Benes with distressed brow blurted from the Data Analyst station, "incoming signal again! It is the same pattern as before!"
The moment Koenig and Bergman charged under the right archway the undulating black and white rectangular grid pattern appeared on every screen on Moonbase Alpha: from the Big Screen, to the commposts to the commlocks.
"Cut that signal! Cut it!" Koenig bolted behind Sandra.
"I am trying, Sir," Sandra replied evenly, fingers expertly navigating her keyboard. "I cannot."
Alan Carter had arrive first to find his son in the corridor outside the 'romper room', hysterically pounding on the door accessing the Universal Precautions alcove. He tried to restrain and comfort but Nicky squirmed violently out of his arms and he charged, repeatedly ramming the door while screaming "Stop!! Go Away!! Stop!!"
On the other side of the door, Ian Garvey, disheveled, tattered and borderline dehydrated gazed coolly at Helena Russell, completely unaware of the chaos behind him.
Angelina Carter rounded the corner with speed and purpose and lifted her struggling son holding him firmly. Exhaustion and futility took its toll and he burst into mournful and defeated sobs.
"What's going on?!?!" Ang yelled over the child's loud crying. "Why is he so upset?!?!"
No one had a chance to respond as the strange signal filled the commpost. Everyone's commlocks chirped and the micromonitors were filled with blue and white, oscillating grid patterns.
"Not this rubbish again." Nurse Parker groused in the corridor while Carter, operating only on a hunch, and a bad stomach, headed towards the double doors of the Care Unit. The chaos of toddlers blotted out the EM tone of his commlock, so much so that he wasn't sure it had been triggered at all. When the doors failed to part, he reasoned that he was a klutz.
Then he tried it again, experienced the chirp, but still not seeing the hatches open.
"YOU." He turned on Harness Bull Pound with frenetic hair falling in his eyes. "GET OVER HERE."
"IF WE CAN SHUT DOWN THE CCATS WE MIGHT BE ABLE TO STAGGER IT." Koenig advised Sandra Benes hurriedly while practically sitting on her desk.
"I am trying." The data analyst dittoed coolly, referencing her MCC tab. "It will require a full two minutes to shut down the fixed stations, and even longer for the mobile stations."
"JOHN." Bergman called from the computer deck. Near the door leading into the MPSR room, there was a green glowing, quarter panel that was encrypted according to a mounted placard of alphanumeric blocks. "WE BEST BE PULLING THE PLUG." The scientist incited rigidly. "WHOEVER IT IS THIS TIME, THEY MAY NOT HAVE TWO MINUTES."
"NOTHING." Carter reviled Pound's commlock. The Care Unit doors were ceraceous steel.
"Let me try," Harness Bull Coldaryn step toward the immovable door. Like Pound's and Carter's his commlock was useless.
Angelina's stomach began to turn as she continued to sway rhymically and gently pat the back of the distressed child in her arms. Then she notice the discoloration of the door. "What the.."
She stepped back and studied the increasingly apparent oxidation.
Travel Tube-A braked at the egress to the infirmary building quick enough, and sudden enough to break necks. Before the doors could slide all the way open, Shivo--Prime Philosopher of Coma Berenecea, and defender of the New Science, rushed down the corridor on the heels of blight, knocking hapless alphans to the side, leaving them, and their utility carts, and their paperwork on the unwashed floor as he pursued the quest. He arrived at the sealed, triage entrance to the Care Unit.
He couldn't help, but marvel at the decomposing metals, holding hard, but glossed a bronchitic green, and marbled with a white, oxidized powder that branched out from the floor in a pitchfork shape.
The brick wall was the end of the universe. Above it there was no roof, no clouds, no light. Helena Russell tried to close her eyes against the tartarean red blocks, and the tiers of gruesome guts that constituted the mortar. The inverted black chairs, and white collegiate tomes that she never owned were gone now. She was in a heat shimmer of unexpiated sin. Like matter itself, it never died. Ever. There were birds. Sparrows, with filthy black wings, and tortured beaks. One sat perched in the window sill; another opened its wings in a degenerate, angelic pose; another was rooted to a rotting tree branch while poisonous sap dripped perfunctorily to the ground. She grabbed her scalding brain, ripping away blonde hairs that prevented her cool palms from assuaging her infernal scalp.
Through the sinister, Victorian lathe, she could see the face peering at her through the window. A glutted visage with a deceptively antique, pagan gimlet.
(...three sparrows, but no more...)
It's height was that of a six year old child, but the razor stubble, high blood pressure cheeks, and nose; and the eager, perverted, sodomistic eyes did not speak of Romper Room.
(...two sparrows, but no more...no more...)
Chubby, molesting hands reached for her from the open window. It's mangled digits were covered with gore.
(...one sparrow, but no more, and my name is...)
The explosion of sparks knifed the back of John Koenig's right hand with daggers of fire as he manually emptied the relay box, tearing away the sending, and receiving units both. His palm blackened, and raw from high voltage, he then turned on the circuit card, and rived it from its slot.
All video screens, large, small and micro went blank.
"Commander," Angelina Carter's distressed voice crackled on the audio over Kate Bullen's station. "We have a situation in Medical, Main Entrance. The doors are sealed and they are..."she paused then continued, "oxidizing."
Bergman and Koenig exchanged glances before both bolted out under the right archway to the Command tower elevator.
"What's happening to the metal?" Coldaryn remarked, stricken. He failed to notice that his commlock keypad, his TTT device, and this HEAT beam had also begun to lose color, and solidity. A displume of melted laser battery succumbed, and plopped eerily to the tile.
"GIVE ME YOUR GUN." Carter said, already unsnapping Pound's holster, and usurping the weapon. "!!!ALRIGHT!!!" The pilot pivoted towards the crowd, his frown lines deepening over his distended jaw. "!!!ALL OF YOU STAND BACK!!!"
Coldaryn, and Pritchard made a retreating wall of law, and order--flapping their purple sleeves, and pushing the rabble towards the MRI Lab as Carter straightened, and took aim.
Jerry Parker was talking to Ann Delline, so he flinched when heard the discharge, and saw the dart of superheated ions. A seven foot rectangle of yellow light hit the phantom power control case, and in turn, the unit belched flames.
Helena Russell let out a deteriorating wail, and crumbled away into the ruins of annihilated consciousness. The death of her brain was excruciating; the method, diabolical.
Her passing was merciful compared to the rack of agony that the Garvey-oligarch experienced when it's impulses were drowned out of existence. The inhabited technician dug deep, bleeding runnels, and talon marks in his own face. His eyes were red rimmed, his retina split like those of a dead man. He collapsed to his knees beside his victim--the direct result of John Koenig's disembowellment of the command, and telemetry system.
During his March Of The Damned towards the rear hatch, he had visions of Earth again; and Coma Berenecea--an island amongst the stars; but there were brochures thrown in for another world--one where there was no sun, no sea. Only ice, and the endless termination of minutes into Hell's infinity.
The Garvey-oligarch felt it's heart burn.
Shivo was waiting for him when he came out. The Garvey-oligarch, and the Prime Philosopher grappled. The alien emissary was temporarily disabled by strangulation, but duty, and purpose brought him to the floor again as he chased the scientist-sycophant towards the stairwell. In a last ditch effort, the counselor dove on top of the technician-monster from between space, and groped for the back of his tunic.
Egesting blue blood, and devoid of wind, Shivo watched as his adversary tumbled down the sempiternal flight of stairs.
'The link between Ian Garvey and the being from between space was established. It was then that all of us realized it was too late for Technician Garvey. He was lost.' Helena Russell typed on, eyeing the clock. She smiled. The Commander would arrive in about 15 minutes. The soothing light of the blue wall panels and the darkened, night mode of the adjacent Medical ward relaxed her.
Helena, though, looked forward to seeing Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole once again reprise their roles as the sparing Queen Eleanor and King Henry. It was a story of power and the struggle for dominion in the form of their sons. She continued typing.
'Shivo had nearly apprehended that which possessed our technician. The being from between space proved, however, to be clever and elusive. We would have to take a different approach.'
Koenig was in the darkened OK Corridor. Make a right, and the light from the double archways would be visible. For now, there were no rays. There were stars.
"The Seers aboard my ship." Shivo said inconsolingly, the reflection from his cheeks, and eyes appearing over the frigid Frigorian peaks beyond the viewport. "They say the greatest death tolls have yet to come." He mentioned, staring at the barred shadows, watching them oscillate neutrally in the grim pools. "I offered a solution when I came. The offer remains." The alien ambassador said, his mouth barely visible in the night. "I can remove the oligarch, but it will require using the New Science.
"We are not an aggressive people. I will need your consent to do that."
John Koenig stared hard out the viewport. Frigoris had not changed in over 5 years; in fact, it had been crafted over eons and without intervention from "old science", it would be eons before it would change, gradually and long, long after he was gone.
In the background, the sounds of old science, computer and sensors, hummed and whirled. The noise actually appeared to be an annoyance to Shivo. The commander turned toward the alien guest, leaning left elbow on the sill. "What will removal entail and will there be a risk to the rest of my people?"
He was fully aware of the risk to one of his people. Actually, he already knew the outcome.
"You will need to evacuate your people to a safe location." Shivo explained solemnly, stepping forward. "Then...Alpha will be bombarded with a massive countercharge of psi particles. The wave will be powerful enough to expunge the oligarch.
"And Ian Garvey, since the two are now inseparable." The Prime Philosopher said, still undelighted even after everything that had transpired. "If you spare Garvey, you spare the oligarch." He reminded the commander, pragmatically, but not without compassion.
"If you kill Ian Garvey, the oligarch will flee that body shell, and enthrall a new one.
"No science exists for extricating Garvey from the oligarch.
"Like us, your options are limited." The ambassador admitted, despising it. "We are more developed telepathically than we are precognatively." He went on. "Even so, our techniques work well enough for us to determine that the next death will occur within the hour.
"I would prefer not to see someone else suffer the same fate as Dr. Russell, and astronaut Bex."
The lament was genuine, and from the lips of one who had seen too many homicides, too many executions.
Koenig looked up at him mournfully. He conveyed for a split second that what happened to Dr. Russell also affected him on a deeper, more personal level. His commlock chirped and his hardened visage returned to answer the micro image of Dr. Sullivan.
"Commander," Dorothy Sullivan began, "we have evaluated Dr. Russell and it appears her condition is not as grave as was Acton and Bex. Damage seems to be confined to the short term memory areas of the brain with some damage to long term memory. Neurological functions seem to be unaffected."
The commander allowed himself to appear visibly relieved.
"However," Sullivan continued, "she remains in a deep coma and we are unable to determine if she suffered damage to the areas of the brain which affect emotions and mood. The tests are unclear."
There was always a 'however' or a 'but' to every situation. WHY was that the case?
"If she awakes, we are not sure if she will be," Sullivan paused, "well, if she will be 'herself."
Koenig nodded reservedly. "Thank you, doctor." He signed off.
Koenig paused thoughtfully. He wanted to ask the alien what he thought Helena's chances were of a) waking up and b) being the woman she was and he had known, not a hollow, wooden shell of a human being. He did not. There was another urgent problem and his personal anxiety would have to be put aside.
"If we were to evacuate all personnel except for Garvey in the Eagles to the far side of the moon, would that be a 'safe place'?"
Shivo nodded contemplatively.
"Our psyches have been honed, and refined over generations. All of that force will be brought to bear on the oligarch. Your community will be cleansed.
"There will be no lingering after effects." He vouched. "It will be safe to return as soon as the process has been completed. There is no place he can hide, no chance of failure. His form retains a conspicuous imprint. When I touched him I was able to apprehend enough of his spirit to know when he changes form.
"The assaults on your other people prove that the oligarch has already vied his demise. Survival is what he seeks, but he also knows that his return to interdimensional imprisonment is at hand. There will be no way for him to seek refuge in one of your Eagles.
"It will end now...this hour." The emissary said with estimable ability. "I know what it means to give such an order. We were at war a very long time. Much longer than your people would ever know, or ever want to know. My own brother succumbed to one of these beings. I've seen countless oligarchs, on countless worlds banished, thereby suffocating their host. I prevail, only because the thought of massed death is more ghastly to me than the random unfairness of life. If there were any other way...." Shivo said with oath. "Any way possible--any other method of remedying this situation, I would do it. But there is not.
"We tried for years to find another way--the result was bloodshed, for parsecs in every region of space. Victims of the Oligarchy total in the hundreds of billions. Entire planetary systems predeceased. Commander Koenig, I implore you to accept the course of action I proscribe."
The ambassador's eyes were wide, and entreating.
Commander John Koenig understood and agreed; it would be futile to try to save Garvey. Garvey was already lost, already, in a sense dead. However, he knew some of his own people would fight him, even some of his staff. He knew Quentin was one of them, perhaps Sandra another person who would object to leaving him behind.
But, dealing with his people was his problem. It was yet another test of his command. He remembered Arra and her words just a few short years ago. Already, he had been subjected to several tests of command.
"I agree," he answered firmly yet sadly. He was a man backed against the wall with no other choice. "I will gather my staff and we will begin evacuating as soon as possible."
Shivo stood politely, privately away as he heard the incoming tone on Koenig's commlock again. He didn't like the mechanism; he abhorred the speakers; the transponder; the frequency; and the modulation. Actually, he was none too fond of Moonbase Alpha--the lives of the people were precious, which was Berenecean ecumenism, but the structure itself was an unfertile, antiseptic, crazed god supercomputer that could never reciprocate a depth of feeling, which could only ere, and lead others, like Garvey, to gravest denunciation, and everlasting hecatomb.
He wanted to spit, but the dignity of his time-honored office gagged him.
"Commander, here are the results of the latest security sweep." Paul Morrow related robotlike from Koenig's commlock. "The network remains on high security alert. No sign of Ian Garvey."
"Call the command staff together right now. Meeting in 15 minutes." Koenig replied and signed off on Morrow's nod. He punched another code.
"Alan, prepare Eagles for temporary evacuation of all personnel from Moonbase Alpha," he paused. "Except for Ian Garvey. Do it as quietly and unobtrusively as you can and give me your best estimate when we can leave."
"Well it depends on the time of first hook-up." Carter said, puzzled. "If we're just taking a ride around the Moon we can have everyone in space in less than one hour.
"If you don't mind my asking, sir, why are we doing it?"
To the pilot, it seemed an appropos question.
"I'll explain at the Command Conference in 15 minutes," Koenig answered, sidestepping the Chief of Reconn's question.
Koenig turned to Shivo. "Based on your telepathic ability, can you tell us Garvey's approximate location? Is there a way to track him?" He sighed. "We can't chance him covertly getting on an Eagle."
"Yes." Shivo said, closing his eyes. He concentrated, seeing first the gabled manor, and then...seeing lines beyond that. On the other side of the hill, there was another house, barely visible in the psychic fog. It was erected from interlocking, battleship gray plates instead of brownstone brick. It's windows were uniformly square in the uneven in the maleficent dusk. Microwave dish receivers lined the port side of the upper bulkhead, clashing greatly with the embellished gazebo in the house's dooryard; here there were octagonal benches where the dead would never rest. "It has familiarized itself with Garvey's memories." The philosopher noted with strabismus. "I do see him." He announced, giving John Koenig a faraway nod.
Temporarily forgetting that it was he who stepped outside of time, he wondered why the commander wasn't more concerned about the black pile of eviscerated flesh, and gored tunic that was opening, and closing it's rheumy, yellowing eyes in the high voltage power grid of-
"Technical Section." The ambassador said vaguely. The photorealism with descriptors all came from the oligarch's charnel mind. Shivo had never visited that building. "He's there...using his intimate knowledge of this base against you. The husk he inhabits is dying." He informed Koenig, politely moving the commander aside so he could get a better view of the exsanguinating stick man who ground his teeth to dust against the noise of the turbines, and the condensers, and the feed pumps. A puddle of rancid, treated water lay beneath a check valve--opened by the Garvey-oligarch so that it could quench its thirst.
All the commander could see was the elevator doors at the far end of the OK Corridor.
The creature bewailed the precipice that it now stood over. Oh the beloved. Over, and over again, there was the horrid wail of pain, and rage. The lost power; the lost palaces--at one time, it held sway over a thousand of them. It remembered the Adjudicators of the New Science--how it had killed one of them after watching his wife defenestrated by the dark winds. Madness was now a Dionysiac need for revenge. It would survive, the oligarch would govern again, and its principal of position would mean the destruction of this colony, and all of the people in it. The oligarch would torture them to the brink of insanity, and then watch while their last breaths turned to snow in the vacuum of space. Then it would leave this morgue, and assert itself against the gods, and pedants of space. They too would fall prostrate. It would ascend, but first-
"It is looking for a new host." Shivo said, rubbing his bandaged forehead methodically.
"Quentin," Koenig began as soon as the Chief of Security's face appeared on his commlock monitor. "Evacuate and secure Technical section. Garvey is somewhere in there."
"How do you know that?" Quentin challenged. "I have 8 teams making continuous sweeps in that area and so far they haven't reported anything. Why would he be there anyway? That is the last place I'd hide if I was him."
Koenig bristled. "Our guest believes he is in there." The commander continued, ignoring Quinton's scowl. "Send the order through the commlocks. We don't want to alert him or let him slip out of the area."
"Very good, sir." The chief resigned himself. It was with extreme doubt, and belief that this directive was the ronson that he signed off.
Gloria Eason looked down and noted the tattered remnants of the lab coat, next to the base of the recycling turbine. She lifted the blood stained garment to the light and read the embroidered name on the left side of the chest.
'Ian Garvey, PhD'
She felt he was close but she knew better. "Nol," she whispered into her commlock after keying Oliver Blair's code, "I think I have found Ian or I'm pretty close."
The carousel moved into full throttle the minute her commlock was appropriated from her hand. The DC Control panel blurred into high zoom traffic lights, and whirlwind streaks as the claw fell upon the left shoulder of her tunic. At first it was like being spun for a strike at a piñata; the dazed, pointless pacing of the befuddled; a cyclone from Dis that sent her around, and around in a slanted game of blind person's bluff. One of Eason's beige boot heels struck the grooved metal stanchion of the L&M Radiator, causing a belly buster against the concrete floor so massive, as to be like a rock chucked from atop the Sears Tower. She could hear the electronic bleep of the disconnect as her communication with Nol' Blair was terminated for her.
Panicking, she pushed upwards on grimy palms while her now flattened lungs wondered whether, or not they would ever enjoy air again.
"I'm not dead yet." Ian Garvey beget, throwing her commlock to the side, and stepping forward. His expedition to the lunar caverns had been somewhat less than Ponce de Leon. His face was an unrecognizable curd of bruises, and knotted blood vessels. A mole of water bulged from his right temple, and migrated down his cheek, en route to the inner ear. "Please...."
"Control 32." Truman Starns said into his commlock while Harness Bull Sauckel opened the radiation doors that led to Technical Section's huge, automated Thermodynamics sub chamber. "Sixty-three Bravo. Area secure."
Harness Bull Bauman preceded him, waving the barrel of his rocket gun in a perfect arc. Rooms like this intimidated him. It was like something out of William Blake--the Hammer Of Los; the dark, satanic mills that stood poised between life, and a cold, cold grave. He sometimes wondered what would happen if one of these power rooms malfunctioned. He could see the digital gauges as they stacked on the calibrations until the glass burst, and the needles vanished below the red line of hot fusion eradication.
He relaxed, though, knowing that he had already donated this middle-aged body of his to science--to ensure the continued survival of humanity in space. If such enucleation were ever to occur, they could help themselves to whatever was left of him--the entire thimble full.
"What's that?" Harness Bull Sauckel whispered, alarmed, and turning his scope in the direction of the echoing footfalls.
"Ian," Gloria Eason said gently, unafraid despite his frightening appearance. "You're hurt. Please. Please let us help you. 'Nol is coming too. I will not let them hurt you."
"We care for you and want to see you get better," she invited him to come closer. "Perhaps the alien can help you," she suggested unknowing that Shivo could do nothing for Ian Garvey.
"!!Christ!!" Sauckel blurted, lowering his weapon. He straightened autocratically. "What in the hell are you doing here?!?" He questioned Angelina Carter. "You're suppose to be out of this area. All of Technical is to be evacuated."
"One of my people was not seen leaving the area," Angelina retorted, glancing coolly at Truman Starns. "Of course, if you were on the ball," she refocused her ire on Saukel, "you would already know that Gloria Eason was not accounted for and you would be looking for her."
She glanced at the laser rifle. "What? Do your people always shoot first and question the smoking body second?" The Chief of Technical operations directed this round at Detective Starns.
"I was lied to." Garvey croaked, and Eason watched as his ruined lips flaked away to dry flinders with each passing syllable. "Gloria." He appealed, running his bruised, fractured palm along the 580 degree feed pipe as he moved closer, and closer. He occasionally flinched at the circuits opening, and closing behind him. "I was told...I was told that I would be helping to rebuild a race.
"I would be saving a planet." He cried, his tears turning to acid, and roiling his skin as it streaked his mummified cheek. His face was a bag of filthy spice. Fun with the creature from between dimensions had led to numerous ablations, and more than one, almost mortal laceration during his jaunt in the caves below where there was no light. "Now, they're trying to kill me." He said accurately, and a straight jacket would have completed the picture. As he brushed past the high pressure coolant tank, he left a smear of blood on the casing that resembled unwilling claw marks; an inappropriate pitchfork. "I don't want to die." Garvey implored with horrific eclat.
Malaria, Anorexia, Leprosy. He had them all.
"LIFTOFF." Pierre Danielle yelled into the loop as he felt himself sink into the pilot's couch as Eagle One's mainstage engines were fired. In the passenger module, seven alphans, and Claude Murneau experienced the moderate G-Loading as the spacecraft's keel disappeared in a fibril cloud of moondust, as it slowly ascended from Launch Pad Three. On the opposite side of the Main Mission Tower, Eagle Four had cleared pad two, and was climbing into orbit southeast of Eagle One's position.
"THE CLOCK IS RUNNING." Danielle's CP, Richard Zaniello reported from the egg beater command module as he released his own yoke, and readied the ship for the crucial, three-step throttle-up.
"Abort Guidance System is GO." Pilot William Gregory Harms reported over the jet whine of Eagle Six's main engines as the vehicle rose to position on Launch Pad One. He was uncharacteristically concise, but this would not last long once they were in space. With dismay, his contingent of passenger's knew this to be so. "Tracking is Go; APS is GO.
"ORDEAL is GO."
No truer words were ever writ, or spake.
"Paul." Koenig said, approaching the Trench from the left archway with Victor Bergman, and the Prime Philosopher of Coma Berenecea trailing him. "Anything from Dr. Carter yet?"
"Nothing so far." The controller said, passing June Akaiwa a flight manifest for Eagle Seven which was already on the crawler. "She's supposed to evacuate with the rest of us after we automate, and secure the tower."
"Then why isn't she here?" Koenig quipped, and his sarcasm, and concern were symbiotic with the feelings at the Capcomm station.
"Gloria Eason missed the train." Alan Carter explained, flipping his range-safety controls into the ON position as Eagle Four disappeared over the hill. "She went down there to look for her."
Acid indigestion informed him that he should have gone with her.
"Tell her I want her back up here." The commander told Morrow. "Now."
"That wasn't her footsteps." Truman Starns discerned, ignoring Angelina Carter's brow-beating ballyrag, and nodding his head towards "THE" footsteps which were falling hard, and opposite the wall of gas induction conduits.
"Then WHERE is she?" Ang persisted. She paused then looked toward the direction of the footsteps, trying to discern them from the whirl of the giant turbines.
Her commlock chirped. Angelina angrily unclipped it from her belt.
"Commander wants you to report to Main Mission immediately," Paul's image spoke placidly from the micromonitor.
"But Gloria is still missing," Angelina protested.
"Leave it to Starns and his men," Koenig's irate image replaced Morrow. "You are needed to verify the automation sequence on base systems...NOW."
"Yes, sir," she responded obediently, containing her desire to object. She cut the link.
"You need to wait until I can get you an escort," Starns objected, keying his commlock as she turned to leave.
"You heard the man," Angelina replied angrily, still steaming and suffering from self imposed guilt from leaving one of her people. "Now means 'now', not until I get a babysitter. Besides, I'm armed and I got down here by myself." She patted the class 2 laser unclipped at her side. I can find my way back myself."
"No," Gloria shook her head. "From what I was told, you have been misled, Ian. That being, that thing is evil." She stepped closer. His thick, bright red hair had thinned like a chemo patient and was streaked with gray.
"But I know you are strong. You can beat this thing. Please let me help you. You won't die. You CAN'T die," she choked the tears. "The alien...he can help you."
She wanted to believe in the promise that could not be kept.
Carter watched the alien's preoccupied brow furrow. He was typing, and snooping--simultaneously acknowledging that Eagle One had armed her Launch Escape System while keeping an eye on a politician from another Vesper; one who might yet earn the label 'intruder.' He was staying on his toes, and prideful of his intelligence technique, though Shivo was well aware that he was being watched as he stared out the number two vision port.
On Coma Berenecea, the use of New Science to push back the drapery on a person's mind was considered a major social evil. When he pried into Alan Carter's trunk of secrets, he knew why. Flattering it was not. The blurred image that came back to him was something like the Slob Beast--a canine domestic that was common in the northern hemisphere of his world. The Slob Beast was territorial; Earth men would know it as 'mutt.' Fiercely loyal to its community, the creature lived with one paranoid eye open at all times, even when you thought it was sleeping. It was not smart. What it lacked in precocity, it made up for with three inch fangs, and glands that secreted a nauseating, garment destroying spray, and a beveled tail that could rip you to tacks even as its target wailed, and retreated.
"Eagle Four, Main Mission." The pilot said over the loop after making one last check to make sure that the Prime Philosopher still peace-loving. "I'm reading that last mid-course correction as having a nominal velocity of zero fps. Copy?"
He drummed his fingers against a red, final status flimsie on Eagle seven, and waited for the response.
"Main Mission, Eagle Four." Pilot Prinz replied over the link. "At 00:15 EMT."
"Right." Carter agreed, and switched over. He was about to confirm Eagle One's ten degree starboard yaw when he discovered that the object of his surveillance was gone--thin air 'gone.' Lars Manroot now stood atop the steps, mustering software from a polymer case which sat atop the window sill. "Where did he go?" The pilot questioned, standing.
Paul Morrow turned away from his conferee, Umberto Garzon, and followed the pilot's gaze.
Manroot looked up from his handful of DAT tapes, and wondered why everyone was staring at him.
Ang' Carter was near the exit when the wrongness of the huge, Renewable Return pipe puzzled her out. The tube at the end of the TD chamber looked somewhat older than the other features on Moonbase Alpha--it was turning to a dripping, flaking, Mississippian fall of rust actually. Black, unrefined purulence dripped to the floor from compromises near the chase. Whoever walked into the turbine assembly would need an umbrella for sure, or die horribly from toxic waste contamination.
Starns observed the same thing, and immediately ushered Harness Bulls Sauckel, and Bauman towards the TA Hatch.
"No." Shivo said earnestly, materializing from a globe of light to stand beside Gloria Eason who, already frightened witless, nearly went through the upper bulkhead. "You have to help yourself." He told Garvey.
The technician-black lord hissed, literally--the tendons in his hands turned to steel that reinforced his hatred, and rage to the point of black talons.
"LISTEN TO ME." The ambassador proposed with dire imperative. "CONSIDER YOUR FREE WILL CHOICE, IAN GARVEY. YOU ARE AN INDIVIDUAL. TRY TO REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO THINK LIKE ONE. EMBRACE YOUR HUMANITY." He insisted angrily.
"!!!YOU MURDERED THE BELOVED!!!" The Garvey-oligarch charged emotionally, and with detestation. "!!!A KINGDOM TURNED TO ROT, AND DESSICATION WITH EVERYONE IN IT!!!"
"No." Shivo replied with equipoise. "I DID NOT, AND NEITHER DID YOU. THOSE ARE NOT YOUR MEMORIES GARVEY; THOSE ARE LIES THAT HAVE BEEN FOISTERED UPON YOU BY A NEMESIS THAT SEEKS TO ANNIHILATE YOU." He continued gravely. "THINK...USE YOUR MIND." The philosopher invoked.
The being from between dimensions was at large again.
It was omnivorous now.
The light of clarity slapped Harness Bull Bauman with an orbit burning immediacy. Starns didn't have to administrate the next step for them. The look on Ang' Carter's face, and the time scourged renewable return suggested a definite course of action. His hand couldn't reach his commlock fast enough as he leapt down the factory steps at breakneck speed, pressing, and locking the red alert button as he went.
Sparks ignited through the wireless ether of Moonbase Alpha.
In the almost vacant security cube, Harness Bull Arpad nearly ripped his console from its port when the message came in. He was preparing to retreat along with the others when the revelation was dumped upon him.
"A SITUATION FOR A BORKOGURO." He determined frantically, with esprit decor, and then squawked the skeleton team that continued to patrol the core to the bitter end. "ALPHA-NOVEMBER ONE, YOU'RE NEEDED AS BACKUP IN TECHNICAL SECTION IMMEDIATELY."
He sometimes wondered if his Hungarian patois slowed him up.
"!!!LIAR!!!" The Garvey-oligarch gaitered at Shivo as though he were guano.
"NO!!!!" Gloria Eason shouted at Shivo, becoming a human shield stepped in front of Garvey, arms lifted slightly in a gesture of protection.
"PLEASE!! PLEASE DON'T HURT HIM!!! I WON'T LET YOU!" Her desperation and her feelings, now plainly on her sleeve, evident in her voice. "Ian would never hurt or kill anything. How do we know it isn't YOU who are doing the killing?!?! No one started dying before you and your ship showed up."
To Gloria, it was a reasonable argument; the Garvey-oligarch nodded at her approvingly.
The security contingent, led by Starns, came to an abrupt halt as they rounded the corner. Angelina nearly collided with Harness Bull Pound as she too rounded the corner.
"Gloria! Stop! What are you doing?!?!" Angelina yelled, sufficiently confused as she broke to the front of the group.
"Get away from him!" She continued apprehensively as Truman Starns grabbed her by the bicep and yanked her back into the harness bull fray.
The Prime Philosopher knew what was coming. How fortunate, his lack of surprise when the invisible hammer swung from on high, and pounded him against a five foot Multigon silo--hard enough to cause one of its 135 degree corners to bend. The alien ambassador bellowed angrily as he landed with his shoulders propped against the bulkhead. The Garvey-oligarch set Shivo up for the killing thought as he ambled forward through a mound of bulk solids, concentrated on the weakest link in an overhead girder, and caused its half-ton weight to fall like a chandelier over his opponent's position.
The Berenecean dignitary learned from his mistakes though, which is how he survived, rolling aside at just the right moment while launching his own telepathic attack on the marauder. This was not the meek technician who wanted to bargain for life--his conjoined twin had emerged to do what it did best, massacre. Shivo's blue forehead turned green, with locust-like veins pulsing, and circulating at lethal high blood pressure.
Before the being from between dimensions could gloat, he had to first come to terms with the 800 degree blast of catalytic fuel from the pipe that Shivo loosed with a single glance.
His target howled in agony as the spray of lava burned away the back of his tunic.
At the last second before Garvey launched his attach, Harness Bull Saukel leapt forward and pulled an unwilling Gloria Eason toward him.
On the floor, Gloria was now grateful of his life saving act. Not that it would matter, though. They were probably all dead anyway.
John Koenig's arms were folded, and his lips were downturned as he paced the computer deck while Alan Carter kicked himself, again, and again, and again.
"PAUL?" The commander gave up, frustrated, and loud, and unable to contain his ire. "I thought-"
"SECURITY CUBE TO MAIN MISSION." Harness Bull Arpad intervened over the loop. "IAN GARVEY HAS BEEN LOCATED. A BACKUP TEAM HAS BEEN SENT TO THE THERMODYNAMICS CHAMBER IN TECHNICAL SECTION. THE OTHER ALIEN IS THERE.
"THEY'RE TEARING THE PLACE APART."
"THAT'S A LOUSY ACE." Carter said belligerently. He transferred control of his panel to the MPSR room without even thinking about it, and prepared to do battle.
"NO." Koenig quelled him. "YOU'RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE. THERE'S NO WAY IN HELL TO STOP THAT THING, AND WE MAY AS WELL NOT EVEN TRY.
"PAUL, TELL DR. CARTER, AND THE SECURITY TEAM THAT I WANT THEM TO RETREAT IMMEDIATELY. THEY'RE NOT TO ENGAGE THE CREATURE."
"An exponential increase in Orm particle saturation," Bergman reported from behind Benjamin Ouma at the computer swivel desk.
"There is a breach in the main waste recycling conduit in that area," Kate Bullen continued from the internal systems monitoring station. "A breach just occurred in the secondary catalytic fuel line of the Thermodynamics chamber."
She frowned then reported the next disaster. "Live electrical wire down in the area."
"Cut the power," Koenig commanded.
Angelina Carter was in complete agreement with the 'retreat' order.
"We would if we could!!" Ang shouted angrily into the commlock but unfortunately the safety bulkhead automatically sealed shut when the catalytic converter line blew. "Override and open the goddamn main door!"
She continued impatiently to Morrow as the battle between Shivo and the oligarch continued to demolish the area. A transformer had been dislodged and crashed to the floor as electrically hot wires took a life of their own and danced haphazardly along the floor and wall.
"Oh Christ!!" Angelina blurted into the still open link to Main Mission. "How do you expect the door to open without any power?!?!"
The November squad charged past the WSC emblem, and the jade bulwarks into the echoing, nearly vacant ramparts of Technical Section where a victory of the mind was underway for somebody. Had they been in Main Mission, they would have seen Alan Carter pound his fist against his desk, hard enough to rattle the bulb in his gooseneck lamp.
"Commander." Kate Bullen watched monitors one through four on her panel. "The alien spacecraft has begun to move. IT'S LEAVING THE AVAGADRO CRATER."
"IT'S HEADING THIS WAY." Carter extolled angrily. "IT'LL REACH THE SETTLEMENT LIMIT IN LESS THAN NINETY MINUTES."
He stared at Koenig, expected the commander to have an idea.
The oligarch thirsted for blood, so Shivo imported heavy fuel by cracking open a vacuum cast tank with his muse, and directed the blast into Ian Garvey's mouth. The creature gagged, and staggered backwards through the flames, and sparks, blinded, and launching foul epithets like cruise missiles. Grabbing, and clawing at his sightless eyes, the oligarch trundled against a three-story scaffold that was not too well reinforced. The unplanned benefit was that it came crashing down on the Prime Philosopher--philanthropic enough in his pain to deflect the upper platform from its collision course with Angelina Carter.
"!!!EASON, STAND THE HELL BACK!!!"
Truman Starns caught the launch of the monocrystal blade-frisbee that the oligarch freewheeled at the ambassador, and seeing that it had missed its target, used his laser to atomize the metal before it could decapitate Harness Bull Bauman. A consequential hot fragment reflected mordantly in Harness Bull Sauckel's right eye before putting it out for good.
"Here." Pete Garforth said calmly while Koenig, Bergman, and Carter breathed down his back in the cold, blue light of the MPSR room. His left index finger was pointing towards a line that was an eighth of an inch long on the Moonbase blueprint. "This crawlspace connects to a maintenance lift that we use to transfer equiptment, in and out of the chamber.
"They won't need their commlock to open it." The good news. "It's a gas hatch that can be operated manually. They can't depressurize it from there, though. It has to be done from the other side. After that, it's about fifty meters to the egress hatch, and the lift to the upper levels."
Assuming, of course, that they could get past the dedicated, certain death that was being flung back, and forth between Shivo, and the Garvey-oligarch.
There were three Eagles left on three different launch pads.
"Paul," Koenig called into his commlock, "evacuate the rest of Main Mission, including yourself to Eagle 1-2." Morrow nodded and Koenig cut the link.
Koenig turned to Bergman and Carter. "Come with me."
As they proceeded to the crawlspace, Koenig continued. "Carter, when we get to the other side, you take Ang, Gloria, Starns and the security team in Eagle 6. Victor, you go with Carter as well."
"But John.." the professor objected.
"No 'buts', Victor. Do as I say," Koenig finalized and broke into a run, Bergman and Carter matching his pace.
Koenig had a plan in mind which he was not going to share. A plan which he felt there was no other alternative to save Ian Garvey.
"We can't open it from this side!!!" Angelina fumed at the egress hatch, as the others crowded around their only exit out of the room. Chaos and destruction reigned around them, as Harness Bull Sauckel wailed in agony and clutching area where his right eye had been, barely supported by Harness Bull Bauman.
"GLORIA!!!" Angelina yelled at the stunned and mournful Eason. "Isn't there a way to override it?!?!?"
"No," she shook her head with tears in her eyes, "it has to be depressurized from the other side."
"Commander!!!" Angelina pulled her commlock in frustration. "We can't open the service hatch from our side. Someone has to do it from the other side."
She ducked, avoiding a discus shaped piece of shrapnel as it narrowly missed scalping her and slammed into the metal of the egress hatch.
Standing on the grated floor of the wide, octagonal maintenance lift, Specialist Blau heard the thunderclap, even from seventy meters away, and between two closed hatches. His first impression was duplex. It sort of sounded like a manifold rumbling/it sort of sounded like the blasted walls of Sodom, and Gomorrah falling on the heads of sinners, and everyone on Moonbase Alpha would be turned to salt.
Specialist Achille hit the gate running. He left Blau in the dust as slid half-way across the embossed tile, nearly dropping his spanner, and slamming to a halt in front of the vault-like ingress hatch. Roman hands, and an experienced finger flipped the breaker which red lighted the door.
"TDR, THIS IS GARFORTH." The Technical exec' put fire under them over their commlocks. "HAVE YOU GOT THAT TUNNEL READY?"
"WE'RE BUILDING ATMOSPHERES NOW." Specialist Blau retorted, though it was Achille who was doing all the work. He also had Betty Swollox, but was not about to offer the information to Garforth. "I HOPE IT'S BETTER THAN A SLAP IN THE FACE WITH A WET KIPPER."
Achille looked at him with annoyance, and frangible nerves as they waited for the light to turn green, for the digital gauge to climb to one kilogram per square centimeter. Two minutes passed, and the slow pumps meandered on at .5 kilograms per square centimeter. One hundred, and twenty, time-warped, fulsomely slow seconds later, the partial pressure was still not too good.
In the meantime, the Prime Philosopher of Coma Berenecea endured his ass busting, while Ang' Carter, and Truman Starns awaited theirs like pieces of meat.
His robe ripped to pine tar rags, Shivo's face, and his mesh under shirt were covered with oddly attractive globs, and streamlets of alien hemoglobin. The oligarch yawned with easy conceit--no longer needing to use his psychic arsenal, he had now taken to pounding the ambassador's head against the pipe like a dusty rug. A clearly defined trail of ugly watercourse marked the spots where Shivo had been bludgeoned against the machinery of Old Science--another reason he now had for despairing of it.
Truman Starns was bathed in an oil of perspiration, and soot as he waited impatiently to lead the others through the crawlspace ingress. Harness Bull Pound pulled his cockeyed partner away from the extremities of flame as this clash of titans drew to a disappointing, horrifying close.
Angelina eyed the atmospheric indicator. "They're filling the chamber. They're equalizing the pressure now!" She shouted though she was beginning to wonder if it would be too late.
"C'mon." Specialist Achille badgered, gnawing at his dactyl while Blau hung around to accept false praise. "C'mon, c'mon, C'MON."
Just short of biting his hand off, compression was reached, and the green light came on.
Shivo was on his way out when the freezer door flew open, almost knocking Truman Starns into an undone pile of jagged, mortal reactive coils--the wiring continued to arc with enough amperage to knock a Stegosaurus back to Earth. Blau was clutching the squeeze-grip handle while Achille remained inside, fumbling for the light switch on the eastern wall. The detective forced Ang' Carter to abscond first, holding his laser on Romulus, and Remus as they reinvented the Moon by using each others faces as shovels.
Ang and Gloria supported a moaning Sauckel, who somehow found the strength to half walk/ half crawl through the accessway. Bergman took the weight of Sauckel as Gloria glanced back in defeated sadness.
"He needs Medical attention," Angelina stated the obvious to Carter, who assisted the wounded security man on the other side. As usual, when death cozied up to her then departed from her company, she was immensely relieved and grateful to see Alan again.
Ang returned her attention to Gloria, leading her by the arm along the accessway. If Eason contemplated returning, she would have to escape the grip of her boss.
"!!!THAT'S FUCKING BIZARRE!!!" Blau funked as the crawlspace was engulfed with an orange light, powerful enough to light the Technical manager's hunkered way. "???WHERE DID HE GO???"
"!!!DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT!!!" Starns reproved loudly, shoving both Blau, and Harness Bull Bauman into the crampt exchange corridor. Harness Bull Pound withdrew next, caring not if a low hanging pipe conked him a good one. He ran well. The chamber was empty now, except for fire, and brimstone, a lone alien who was visibly confused as the detective slammed the hatch closed, behind him.
Koenig moved passed the exiting party. Starns was occupied with hustling the group out of harm's way and did not notice the Commander reopen the hatch and enter the battle area. Bergman assisted until they reached the embarkation area of Eagle 6. In the confusion, noise, and chaos of the group clambering about the Eagle, Bergman decided the Commander, his one time former student, would need his help. He slipped out of the passenger module, unnoticed, and returned to the access hatch.
The Main Motors of Eagle 6 rumbled to life and Angelina Carter grabbed the edge of one of the passenger couches to steady herself as Carter made a skilled, though hasty liftoff. With her other hand, the Chief of Technical Operations passed the contents of the First Aid kit, as Raul Nunez rattled off a string of requests as he tended to Harness Bull Sauckel. Nunez bandaged the hole that was once housed Sauckel's right eye.
It was while Ang was wearing her nursing cap that she noticed the missing passenger. She motioned to Truman Starns to take over and she hurried to the Commander Module.
"Alan, the Professor is not aboard."
Commander Koenig stepped through the hatch, anticipating Armageddon. Instead, it was quiet. Deathly quiet.
Koenig stooped to one knee, helping to prop up Shivo. On the other side of the room, Ian Garvey-oligarch lay on the floor, on his side. He stared and smiled an alarmingly calm yet maniacal grin at them but otherwise did nothing.
"What dreams may come." Shivo, narcotized on pain, mouthed the surreal, Hamlet, parting words to Koenig through bloodied lips.
Water dripped vivaciously into the rain barrel from a sensibly aligned spout. The New England sky over the gazebo, deepgoing, but not threatening, promised April showers. Along the flagstone promenade, edged thistle, and berries sprouted in the cedar mulch. Dusk was approaching, or so the commander thought, but then he saw the dayglow orb that reflected back at him from the stained glass window of the library. There was no sun in the Garvey-oligarch edition of Earth, pulled from their collective consciousness like a pick-pocketed knife. There was only the Moon, increasing high above a sequence of maple trees so gorgeous as to defy the pristine, and pure light itself.
"I'm on sabbatical." Dead Bill Bex apprised him sarcastically from where he stood by the cherubim fountain. The hostility, and the general lack of courtesy were rivaled only by Bea Acton--as much a lazy lump in death as she was in life, sad to say--who was curled up on the porch swing, leering at Koenig, and gawking at him. Her exposed pubic hairs were as red as the old colonel's smoking jacket.
"Ride the see-saw commander?" She purred hideously, scooting her buff zombie ass closer to the rail to allow him room. If her intent had been, not to excite, but to sicken--in extremis--then she succeeded with laurels.
Koenig blinked and he was back in the vast waste disposal area. The Prime Philosopher of Coma Berenecea sat upright with back to the wall, elbows propped on knees and head in hands. The Commander had moved closer to Ian Garvey and found himself kneeling beside the battered and bloodied technician. For all intent and purposes, he should have already been dead, his physical body should have already succumb to the terrible and fatal wounds.
Koenig turned and saw a column of multi-faceted prism-like light engulfing Shivo. He appeared to be in a trance but at the same time, the commander noticed the alien's wounds healing before his eyes. The light and colors grew with increasing intensity, such that Koenig had to shield his eyes with his left black sleeve. When he perceived the intensity declining, he lowed his sleeve again and opened his eyes.
"Not now." Their host in this alternate reality called from the sitting room. "Come in, commander. Come in. Join me in a small refreshment."
On the opposite side of the kitchen screen, the kettle called to him with the sweet bouquet of Raspberry leaves.
As Koenig moved past the cherrywood door, he was surprised to hear, and feel how his bootheels reacted to the stained floorboards of the foyer. There was no creak. There was no secret settling of the beams. It was the same echoing noise that he had learned to ignore in the far, and bleak corridors of Moonbase Alpha.
"TERMINAL TRANSFER TO MAINFRAME." Computer droned, seemingly from Heaven. "AUTOMATION CODON IN FIVE MINUTES."
"I won't lie to you--I am disappointed." The silver-haired retiree ignored the voice-over intrusion. "I take it you're here to kill me, and in so doing, save your community from fate worse than death.
"Quite so." He applauded , looking up to Koenig. "Do have a seat."
Koenig sat uncomfortably on the Victorian settee. The remarkable aspect of this chair was how the fabric felt like hard plastic, rather than soft textile material. The ornate carving of the armrest felt smooth and rounded. His sense of sight and sense of touch sent contradictory and confounding messages but John Koenig knew this was an illusion.
To the Commander's surprise, Helena Russell burst into the room, dressed like a late 19th century Gibson girl.
"Agree to nothing, John," she ordered Koenig.
"You would like that, wouldn't you?" Russell chastised the old squire in a southern drawl. "He will never agree to join you. Ever. There is nothing you can offer to sway him." She sat next to Koenig, taking his hand. "He is strong and he will resist you, as I have."
Angelina's pleas to Carter to turn around and fetch the Professor fell on sympathetic but practical ears. She stormed out of the Command Module of Eagle 6. She brought up the internal sensor and communications array. Truman Starns looked curiously over her shoulder.
Three Alphan life signal blips plus one alien registered in the Waste Recycle area of Technical Section, in the same chaotic room they had just barely left with their lives.
"He's gone back to Technical," she pointed to the screen. She wasn't sure whether she should be relieved or not.
The elbow shied away from the bank that overlooked the Alpine Valley. It was encrusted with 14,600 days worth of powdered aluminum, sifted fine by gravitational fields. It had the distinction of being the first pipe ever laid on Moonbase Alpha. Not a drop of LOX, or monopropellant had ever flowed through it, but the community did have a pipe, should they ever decide to extract space vehicle fuels from the lunar surface.
The pipe was a closed system--the feed, and the output formed a perfect, useless ouroboros, an "O" that someone had placed in the ground on synthecrete mounts. Why? No one knew, but they did have a pipe, and Ed Malcom would sometimes stare at it with a pair of binoculars, believing it to be a precursor to the bad plumbing in his quarters.
The Berenecean spacer overshadowed it while John Koenig awaited his tea. The keel of the spacecraft was uniformly, dead black except for the contrast of berth lines, between plates, and visibly rust in the floods that surrounded Remote Launch Pad Niner. Even these became inviable as computer proceeded with the automatic powering down of non-essential services.
The ship coasted onwards towards the outer ring while Ian Garvey wept in the dark.
"I'm not going to deal." Koenig admitted to Russell, and he did not sound like John Wayne. The phrase was not a cocky, kissing-cousin to 'that'll be the day,' or one of the Duke's more profound think-exists: Life is hard. It's even harder if you're stupid.
"I can't change what's happened." The commander updated the old colonel while the plush sofa faded to a wash. A sign that Ian Garvey was bleeding out in the Thermodynamics Room, but as yet, he was not dead. Koenig realized that they were not alone. Besides the erstwhile alphans, others loitered on the property, elbow-to-elbow--alien beings crowded the barns; the smoke house; the hemp; the grain; and the tobacco fields. They dominated the dooryard like a glut of conventioneers. They filled the stairwell; they sucked away the oxygen in the kitchen, and the parlor. The Pompeiian walls, and gilt cornice vanished in the sudden conflagrance of warm bodies. The formal garden was crushed from the weight of being. The east, west, north, and south wings bulged from the despair of the inmates--all victims of the oligarch--who were interred there. "The people I've lost are never coming back." Koenig realized with grim espousal. It's a fact we've all had to accept."
"I'm not finished." The oligarch proposed while he stirred his leaves.
"???John???" Victor Bergman said coarsely, his voice too low to hear over the rush of escaping steam, and the encyclopedia of dimensions.
"Yes you are." Koenig said with finality, setting his cup down. The tea was as rancid as neutralizer.
"Commander." Ian Garvey's burned, and blistered fingers reached for the admonishment of Koenig's flares. "I never intended for any of this to happen."
Torture, and unexpiable regret pored from his inflamed crevasses:
"IthoughtIwassavingarace...didn'tmeanforanyonetoDIE." The technician wailed, and puled as the hot hinges of Hell turned the gates open for him. "!!!I'M SCARED!!!"
Misfortunate tears smeared Koenig's boot as the chandelier dimmed. The commander grimaced, suddenly stooping to the floor of the psychic mansion, and extending a compassionate hand to someone the oligarch could not see.
"It's not your fault, Garvey." He said earnestly, with lenity. "The decision was someone else's."
And John Koenig hated it. It was with an oblivious, disillusioned hand that he unbuckled his holster.
"No." The oligarch gagged. The bad taste in his mouth was something like brimstone now. "That's not the thing to do." He, of course, advised while trying to bury his panic with a lame, analytic demeanor
"Oh, but it is," Helena Russell giggled at the old man, as she noticed perspiration on his upper lip. A knock at the cherrywood door sent the doctor scurrying to answer it. An alien, similar in appearance to Shivo, but not Shivo greeted her. Russell understood. The old man glanced anxiously at her, shaking his head and beckoning her to stay inside the house. There was too much going on, too much simultaneous activity and he had to make a choice.
Helena Russell waved then step outside with the alien, closing the door behind her.
"!!!HELPMEPLEASE!!!" Ian Garvey petitioned in terror, and rheumy pain.
Shivo was almost completely healed now. His eyes closed as he could feel the matrimony of Berenecean minds, joining in sum as the ship came to a halt over Technical Section.
"You can't." The oligarch chuckled hysterically. He did not need Old Science, or New Science, or any science to see what was coming. His mind made a desperate attempt to rationalize damnation by telling itself that the weapon was for him. Ridiculous.
How inferior, and unintelligent. What a fuckup.
"John?!?!" Bergman called, emerging from the hatch. "John!! What are you doing??!?!? Stop!!!" Bergman began moving hastily toward the Commander.
"He's not going to get you." The commander promised the violated, afflicted technician. The prisoners of the oligarch's dominion cleared the floor of the parlor as John Koenig drew his laser, and fired on the oriental rug.
"Goodbye, Helena." The commander uttered the quiet, shaky requiem as Ian Garvey passed peacefully away on the floor of the Thermodynamics Sub Chamber.
Bergman gasped then in an instant understood what Koenig had done and more importantly why. The Waste Disposal Area rematerialized around Koenig. The house, the barn, the garden, the faux smells were gone.
"LEAVE!!! NOW!!!" the revitalized Shivo, standing tall once again in healthy physique and tattered robes shouted. "I have cast its disembodied presence to the furthest corner of this base but it is hunting you. GO to your ship and get off this base. NOW!!!"
"What about you?!?" Bergman objected as he jogged by the alien.
"You are in GREAT danger!" Shivo ignored the question. "GO!!!"
Koenig and Bergman made the dash through the hatch, across corridors, up stairs and to the embarkation area, literally to save their souls. The commander bounded into the command module. Forget the preflight checks. The Berenecean ship was now directly above the command tower.
"Hang on, Victor," Koenig ignited the main motors and grabbed the flight yokes as Bergman landed in the co-pilot's couch, steadying himself with the left safety harness. Though not the smoothest take off, it was Koenig's fastest in record personal time.
The being from between dimensions was slick too--his resourcefulness, and evil vengeance was evident in the ignition of the tower's reserve 02 tanks. From Koenig's vantage point, staring from the metrically etched rendezvous window of Eagle Seven, he could not see the admirable storm of nitrogen, paper, and vycor shards that exploded from the windows of Main Mission--the contents floating down to litter the Plato basin as the space vehicle's landing pads turned in an eighty degree bank.
Likewise, he did not see, nor would he ever know, what science the oligarch used to uproot the gantry that held the I-Band Omni radio dish to the roof of the complex. He 'did' see the result as the cracked transmitter bowl reeled by his viewport, and disappeared on the opposite side of Bergman's.
"THERE GOES OUR COMMUNICATIONS." The professor announced, staring down at the lifeless, sparkless, plasmaless meters. This, however, was not as interesting as another factoid that appeared before him in the light if the long, yellow, avian panels. "WE'VE GOT TO HURRY. THE ORM MOLECULES HAVE INCREASED LOGOMETRICALLY."
"THE BERENECEANS." Koenig reckoned, sweating, and realizing that if they lost power now, a crash against the refinery stacks in the Alpine Valley was assured. They had yet to clear the roof of the Facilities, And Modification barracks when hassle turned to desperation. "ALRIGHT, HERE WE GO."
"WE HAVEN'T GOT TIME TO PLOT A COURSE." The professor observed, looking at the sextant switches on one of the rectangular panels to his right.
The commander didn't much care where they ended up, as long as it wasn't here. He reached across his own console, and emptied the contents of the storage tanks into the combustion chamber. The result was a five minute burn that catapulted them like a rock from a slingshot.
The Eagle's SPS quad spat helium, and then burned. It blazed up. It scalded the darkness, uniting in a single, gaseous plume of nonsymmetrical fuels which steeped the spacecraft in a 50,000 fps flash which, in the comparison defying void of space, still did not seem fast enough.
Kilometers behind them, Moonbase Alpha was engorged in the light of the New Science. A hundred telepaths widened their field, and saturated the entire 2.5 mile perimeter. The psionic energy was as viscous as syrup as it slowly immersed the entire network in the fires of egestion. The dark, empty corridors turned a macabre, photonegative orange. In the depressurized Main Mission auditorium, abandoned workstations turned white, the nearby computer casings turned a tenebrous black.
And the being from between dimensions howled like a tyrannosaurus, and ran.
In the vehicle assembly building--the heart of the reconnaissance hub, the deafening sonics rattled picture frames, caused commstation transceivers to burst, and flame out. Gordon Cooper's office, the last stop in this section, was incinerated, turning optically invisible in the blinding bantamweight. The other empty offices, and unmoving chairs paid no credence to the cries of disembodied terror. The capped ink pens, and the inconsoling gooseneck lamps did their part, and were drowned in orms as perdition yawned open to retrieve one of its own.
And the being from between dimensions retreated, bellowing gutturally like a brontosaurus in a tar pit.
As remote as the LaCondamine highlands, Mining Station Number Three which was the base's equivalent to Bum Effin' Egypt, the friable sunstrikes penetrated, and spoiliated every control room, store room, and equiptment room; every tram, every payloader, and every conveyor belt. Since leaving Earth's orbit, the team had tunneled as far as an outcropping of plagioclase feldspar.
It was here that the oligarch ran out of Moonbase, and the minds of a people bit him, and vaporized him, and excommunicated him to realms of darkness beyond canon.
Tanya Alexander sat stoically at the desk, gazing at scenic pictures of the Russian countryside. At one time, she could not look at them, lest the tears form and flow. Today, however, she savored every frame, imprinting them in her memory. The door chirped and Shivo, Prime Philosopher of Coma Berenecea stepped over the threshold. He pointed his guest issued commlock at the lock and the door slid closed.
She swiveled in her chair, a slight smile across her face. Her honey brown hair complimented her alabaster complexion and her light brown eyes.
"I'll be taking my leave of you soon." The ambassador said, still dazed and holding a friendly palm up to Umberto Garzon, only half-realizing that the STC was on the opposite side of the hatch now. On his homeworld there was a phrase commonly used to describe a solar cycle filled with unruly quantities, and numerous appeals to pity, and variable, low intellects (verbose, and not verbose, but mostly verbose). The Berenecean term was 'Aieeeeeeeee' (as extrapolated from the hard palate, EieeeeeeeeeeGH lexicon). Little did he equate, on Earth there was a phrase that was a similar statement form, 'a rotten-ass, bad day.' "Before departing, I wanted to express my hope that you spend your mortal days reasonably, and in tolerable head toil." His black beard suddenly brimmed with excitement, and enthuse. New Science was better than any beach, any pineapple.
"Paxia." He bade, showing her the customary palm.
"You have come to say 'goodbye'." Tanya began, to the point. "However, I do not believe it must be goodbye."
"I know you have a mission, a purpose. Even if you could stay, I would surmise that you would be...unhappy here because of our reliance on the Old Science." She stood up. "From my perspective, I have no one on Moonbase Alpha. My past will prevent me, in the minds of those more prejudiced, to redeem myself as a worthy person."
She approached him. It was beginning to become awkward but she did not reveal her apprehension.
The dignitary lowered his palm.
"You told me about those who make a conscious pairing for life. I believe the word is 'soul mate.' I never believed in the existence of soul mates," she swallowed, "until I met you."
"Our definition is somewhat different." The emissary explained, swallowing. "Our 'soul mates' are individuals who achieve the scientific nadir through a rare, unique ability to merge telepathically. This is the 'see-all,' or 'sole.'" He interpreted, conjugating words with the paltry little he had learned of the Indo-European, romance languages. He did not add that in those terms, everyone on his ship was a 'soul mate,' and that the oligarch had been eradicated by the act of consolidation. Tanya Alexander was pleasant company, and only a fool boasted to know everything.
"You understand me like no other. You think as I do. I cannot offer you exceptional powers in telepathy or other mental abilities. Although I am eager to learn, I know nothing of the New Science, and cannot further your knowledge. However, I can offer my companionship and become your confidante." She paused thoughtfully then continued. "All beings need love and to be able to trust at least one other being with their thoughts, hopes, dreams. I would imagine that is something even more imperative when a race is so highly advanced."
"Lack of 'talent,' and a shrunken cranium are no barriers to New Science." The prime philosopher told her proudly, placing his palms gently on her shoulders. "Your argument is partially correct--some of my people are slow...very, very slow...there are several aboard my spacecraft that fit that description...trust me...I would know--though I would challenge you to consider one's ability to perceptually realize, and the damage inherent in such philosophical reductionism.
"As for love." He addressed fondly. "Yes, we do have some need of it."
"The atmospheric incompatibility of your planet is not an issue since you will never return to your world. I will never return to earth. I will likely die on Moonbase Alpha. It would be far better to be on a ship, rather than on a wandering moon. It would be far better to be with someone I...."she stammered.."could love and spend the remainder of my days than to be lonely and die here."
"We connect psychically at many levels. There is no reason why I should not go with you."
Shivo had been in space a long time. The New Science did not smooth away the light days, and years of solitude, nor did it promise to. It was a design for living that oft overlooked the island of a person's being. It was as inapplicable to loneliness as curing a toothache with a pacemaker.
As he stood before her, touching her cheek warmly, he realized that there could be only one reply. It was a 'yes' answer, minus the other option.
The corollary was as clear as the chartreuse, fresh water seas of home.
'Unfortunately,' Helena Russell typed on after glancing at the lunar time, 'the biological compatibility outlook of settling on Coma Berenecea was bleak. The likelihood of a large percentage of Alphans dying from bacterial exposure was extremely high. Therefore, the decision had been make by the commander not to implement operation exodus.'
'The circumstance surrounding Ian Garvey's death remain sealed due to the nature of his demise. Dr. Helena Russell, CMO, Moonbase Alpha.'
The doctor sat back and clicked on the 'save' button to store the file. The door to her office slid open. Two men stepped toward her desk.
"John!" She smiled enthusiastically. Then, nodded and grinned at the Professor. "Ah, have you brought your trusty squire?" She asked sprightly, teasingly.
"Damn, Mathias, are you trying to kill us?" Koenig grumbled, bellicose, and setting his glass of fruit, cough expectorant to the side where it could ferment, and grow toxic. In his esophagus, and nasal passages, the promise of vomit as his stomach sought to defend itself, via elimination. There were three bowls of the crap, overflowing and stationed for final disposition at the Christmas Court in Recreation Room-B, and so far the commander had been the only Alphan stupid enough to drink it.
"You get what you pay for." Mathias shrugged, passing a green flimsie prenatal report on pad technician Vera Lines beneath Russell's gooseneck lamp.
And he did not feel guilty.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself." Koenig couldn't believe it; he could only redden. The gall, the hubris of the man. Rather than seeing it as a blunder of bad taste, he acted as though the punch had poured itself down his throat. "Next time you might want to add some flavoring to it.
CHUGGING PEROXIDE IS NOT ON MY LIST OF FAVORITE THINGS."
Bergman patted his black sleeve sympathetically, and sipped from a cup of faithful, nutritious Vitaseed, which compared to Dr. Bob's brandy, now tasted like Chevis Regal.
Helena Russell relaxed, enjoying John's tribulation with bad home brew. She chuckled softly. The commander had made the same mistake last year, eager to be the first to try Bob's questionable alcoholic concoctions. It was another small joy she appreciated considering she was lucky to be alive.
"I shall continue to refine the process." Mathias lied insultingly. He liked his punch just the way it was--after all, he didn't actually drink that ordure--and he made a mental note to deliver a bottle of the most recent vintage to Main Mission. Ed Malcom would be his Guy Friday, of course.
"That's what you said the last time." Koenig double pushed while watching Mathias exit to the ward. Smartass. "THIS STUFF MAKES ME SICK."
"I've got a question." Bergman said pointedly, leaning forward with his elbows on Russell's desk. "Now...I don't want you to take this the wrong way, Helena, but.... Why are you still here? I understand that the Bereneceans were able to retrieve the damaged areas of your memory, but the 'how' part still eludes me considering what happened to Bea Acton, and the others."
"Not taken the wrong way at all, Victor," the doctor responded pleasantly as she shut down her PC. She glanced at the prenatal report and smiled; the two unique children who were lost could never be replaced and were still mourned, but the green flimsie report gave testament that life continued and healing would come with time.
"To be honest with you," she continued, "I don't know." She poured herself and Koenig the last of the imitation java in the pot and switched off the coffee maker. "I woke up and I was OK. I do though remember having strange dreams while I was in the coma."
"I remember brick walls, cherry wood doors, dreary November like New England skies intertwined with voices both strange and familiar." She shrugged. "It was very odd and there was no consistency. No rhyme and reason from the nonsense...if you understand what I mean."
"I do completely." Koenig said, stepping away from the cup of unsavory, punch motor oil. "But vaguely." His brow furrowed as the memory, not entirely his own, faded from his slate like invisible ink. "The oligarch wasn't a single entity. Apparently, it had not been for quite some time. Imagine, a being who is a forced centralization--not one personality, but thousands of different ones; all confined to the same prison cell as their murderer.
"Not a pleasant thought."
Which was fine because he really didn't want to know.
"Right," Helena snapped her fingers. "I remember different faces. I don't mean human but different species of presumably intelligent beings. I remember seeing Bea Acton and Bill Bex as well." She took a drink of the hot but cruddy Moonbase coffee. The flavor was "cinnamon stick" and it wasn't that bad. The thought occurred to her that perhaps since it was so long since she had REAL coffee, she was getting use to the imitation stuff and 'accepting' it. No...never.
"It's an awful fate." The professor agreed. "Everyone the oligarch killed, knitted together like a patchwork quilt of grue. It's unfair. All of those unwilling people."
He knew better.
"I wouldn't go that far." Koenig came right out and said, ruining everyone's Christmas Court. "I didn't sense reluctance in all of them. A few were accomplices who probably united with that creature in the hopes of becoming a more powerful, combined force. During the experience, I sensed the anxiety; the terror; the hope; the artists; the dreamers; the glory that was never had, and never will be; the loss.
"Yes, and even the love.
"The winners write history, Victor, and we know very little about the Bereneceans. They left us in peace. We have no idea what type of socio-political climate precipitated those wars. At one time, the oligarchy may have been a solution, but their aspirations outlived their usefulness."
Russell sighed. "It's too bad it did not work out for us to settle with them." The disappointment still pervaded the base like a lingering fog. The best Christmas gift in the Universe was taken away from them because of incompatibility at the microscopic level.
She knew Commander Koenig was especially disappointed but moving to Coma Berenecea would certainly result in a plague which would eradicate the population. One of Shivo's peers with a medical background had revealed the history of another humanoid like race from another galaxy attempting to colonize Coma Berenecea and completely perishing. Evidently, Coma Berenecea was only appropriate to life forms who had originated from Coma Berenecea.
"Yes," Victor continued, "of course, I have to wonder how it would have worked out with the two species, one relying on old science and the other embracing their new science." He sipped his Vitaseed contently. "I can't see how we would be able to stay away from the old science for long. Perhaps we could have avoided it but not our children and grandchildren. No, homo sapien is a curious and precocious creature and eventually, we would be toying with it again."
He set the empty cup on the desk. "It's in our blood."
Koenig stared gloomily at Mathias' horrible cough syrup Kool Aid. Without realizing it, he had placed the plastic cup beside a trio of Helena Russell's hard cover tomes, each one dealing with the many faces of Gastrointestinal Cancer. The punch appeared to complete the display as it fomented into God know's what.
"Commander Koenig." He heard Controller Zed Astrin's voice speaking to him from his commlock. "I just thought I'd let you know, Belinda Baptiste is on duty tonight at the PROCEDURES desk. No problems so far."
"Tanya's replacement?" Bergman queried, looking at Russell.
"Good." The commander told Astrin, and nodded an affirm to the professor.
"She's spending a lot of time with Ordinance." The controller went on, uncharacteristically talkative, but there was no harm in this (or 'Harms' in this). "And she'll probably round out her duty period going over the Full-Up scenario for the Mark XII Eagle with Garzon. We're only three weeks from launch...there's a lot to do."
"Glad to hear it." Koenig said sincerely, if somewhat absently. "Tell her to say sharp. Let me know if there are any problems."
Off hand he could think of two. Problem number one was named Winters. Problem number two was named Rotstein, but on the whole, the base had managed to creep back into survival mode. On Moonbase Alpha, you might never hum a tune, or dance a merry jig...but you could creep. Nature, an undeniable, undebateable, carnivorous sonofabitch had shown pity on the Moon. All of the abhorred vacuums had been filled. Tanya Alexander had been replaced; Bill Bex was bumped from the flight rotation by reason of death; no one gave enough of a hoot about Bea Acton to mourn her shuffling; the crew of Eagle 2-9 was scattered across the lunar desert in pieces no larger than Chex Mix, and no one was talking about Ian Garvey--a lonely scientist who preferred question marks to caution.
As it had transpired so often in the past, all of the loose ends had been tied neatly about their necks.
"I suppose, then," Helena Russell stood up, stretching, "the sociological incompatibility between the two species may have been just as deadly for us as the physiological incompatibility." She frowned. "Still, though, I disagree, Victor. If we did not have the physiological incompatibility, I for one, would have opted to take a chance and attempt to decrease the odds of the social incompatibility."
"You assume those structures do not change, Victor. They can and do. If our children and grandchildren grew up around the influences of the Coma Bereneceans, they would certainly be more accepting of the New Science and less likely to seek out the Old Science." She stopped and shook her head, looking away. She could feel the moisture seeping into her eyes and her face beginning to flush. The doctor regained her composure, not blinking as her eyes began to dry. "Of course, none of this discussion really means anything since we won't be going there." She finished hoarsely, then cleared her throat.
"I don't know." Koenig said quietly, unwilling to relinquish the topic, but not entirely sure where the thread was leading as he sat on the low, spaceage plastic bookshelf with his arms folded. "Inquiry is a basic facet of human nature. There's a quest in all of us."
"True." Bergman complied, somewhat bitterly. "But humanity represents a very small minority in the cosmic scheme of things. One man's trash is another man's treasure, John. Reality is subjectivized to the individual." He indicated, scratching the ambiguity from his chin. "There may be a type of knowledge that can't be searched for."
Koenig dragged deeply, trying to hold back the brainsick laughter. No one wanted to attend a Christmas Court with a frothing psycho. That was one good reason. A straight jacket wouldn't look very fashionable with a black, command sleeve--also a plausible argument for restraint. When he closed his eyes, the only 'prime philosophy' that he could see was a scorched, anorexic, diminished Ian Garvey, dissipating on the floor of the Thermodynamics Sub Chamber. On Earth, the consequences of a failed experiment would be financial hardship, and critical excoriation by one's peers. In deep space, though, it seemed to Koenig that the price you paid for personal growth, and exploration was a coffin--for yourself, for anyone close to you. The wages of improvement was a furnace, and pandemonium.
Beware, the Hyakutake Comet is watching you.
"I don't understand that." The commander said audibly, and not caring if that was yet another question. So...they were in a self-enclosed Devil's Island, travelling on, and on through the furthest reaches of space. Don't dare ask about the weevil in your gruel. Here's to you, Ralph Waldo Emerson: Believe in fate. Believe in it, if only for your own good.
Bergman beamed paternally, and conspicuously, but tactfully, removed his commlock from his belt.
"Hey," Helena Russell, in the middle, hooked elbows with the Commander on the right and the Professor on the left, "the movie starts in 5 minutes. Let's get over to the cinema and grab some good seats. Shall we?"
She smiled brightly. All they had now was hope. They always had hope. Right now, though, she wanted to escape the moon and return to 1183, becoming immersed with Eleanor of Aquitaine's life and her troubles with her king and her precocious and wicked sons.
It was a flawless design.
As long as you avoid asking 'why?'
"For whatever deserves to exist deserves also to be known, for knowledge is the image of existence; and things mean and splendid exist alike."
"If 'everybody knows' such-and-such, then it ain't so by at least ten thousand to one."
"I am a mistake of nature, a mad beast."
"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
WRITTEN BY TGARNETT25 & MOONBASALPH_S1 OF SPACE:1999 THE CLASSIC ADVENTURES & BASED ON CHARACTERS, AND SITUATIONS CREATED BY GERRY, AND SYLVIA ANDERSON.