Those who live long enough will eventually see themselves.... ...those who die, won't.
Every star has a nucleus, and every god has a firebolt.
"Sounds like a heartbeat to me." The Britisher said from the co-pilot's seat, feeling the currents of unconvexed air stir around him. They were still ten minutes away from the 55:13 warning light, and the service propulsion system was a lit Mauna Loa.
"You're daft." His Merseyside colleague irreverently, counting down the seconds before the burn would have to be trimmed.
"Tee minus five minutes, and counting." Umberto Garzon said over the loop, his Czech attenuated speech sounding casehardened from a plentitude of being fucked with.
"Mike Church, I'll sing you a song." The limey co-pilot said with dreadful Samaratanism. "'Ba-ba black sheep. Have you any wool?'" He recited then switched to an alternate, falsetto voice of a young boy. "'Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full....'"
Originally the tune was a complaint against the confinements caused by sheep herding in the days of King Edward VI. Today (at this minute), it was vexatious, and even annoying. To pilot Mike Church, it was the equivalent of a person chewing their food with their mouth open. He looked away from his upward tilting, gimbal angles to offer his co-pilot, Terrence Layton, an unapproving scowl.
"Any other time, I can't keep you from slipping out the viewport." He complained. "Now you wouldn't have a look-see if your blarney arse depended on it."
Layton, a saltier dog the Morton Company could not find, chuckled ebulliently, closing the cover on the flight plan attached to the left glove of his suit. He sobered, punching the OVERRIDE square that was situated on the sloping Neptune Panel. According to computer, they had fired the Concentric Rendezvous Sequence, but they had not. If they had, they would be lost, forever lost; they would be heading into the lousy weeds of BFE space, rather than enjoying a true approach course. The CRS was fine. Computer was a pillow biting fellow (Layton said "Duh!!!"). Following the shut down of the service module's Howitzer engines, they would proceed to coast. They never were on automatic, and had performed the last three maneuvers, successfully, on manual.
In the distance, the white constellate with red highlights grew more distinguished. Framed together with a bundle of green, fiber-optic clouds that crosshatched against it in the northeast quadrant.
"Alright you loud mouthed blokes, listen up." Captain Alan Carter said from fifteen nautical miles in front of them. "Get ready to make a fair go of it. Burnout, and deboost will occur in two minutes. You got that, Layton? It means it's time to go to work. You know--by the sweat of the brow you'll earn your bloomin' bread. You don't have to navigate optically, but I expect you to pull those cameras out, and get some good colors of this thing."
"Eagle One, Eagle Four." Pilot Farendahl said from across the waves. "Abort guidance system is armed.
"Flight One, Eagle Two." Church agreed, reaching just below his humming panel to flip pair of toggles into the ON position. "Understand, we are GO for initiate, and AGS."
The three spacecraft accelerated into the curtained, shadowy annul. Eventually, space needed a night light as the only portions of the ships that were visible were the angular, eagle eyes of the command modules, and the movements of the maudlin, singing pilot(s) therein. The satellite ahead, grew larger, coming to resemble nothing, so grandiose as a planet that looked like a perfect ping pong ball. It had been a ping-pong sort of day. Their rigid, made worse by Layton's observation which hailed the other two ships over the Interstellar-S communications complex.
"Terminal phase completed." The astronaut who would be sheepherder noted for the record. "Well, that's the bee's knees." He said for the mutual edification of all, including the personnel manning the trenches on Moonbase Alpha. "For a minute there, I thought I saw that thing move."
On Moonbase Alpha in the Plato Crater of the disinherited moon from Earth, Main Mission buzzed with activity. Commander John Koenig stood at the top of the stairs behind the controller's station. Behind him, standing at the side of the commander's desk, Victor Bergman poured through the mountain of calculations on the strange object. Dr. Helena Russell stood under the big screen with her clipboard, monitoring the life functions of the pilots in the three Eagles in space. Three split screen monitors bore the names Church/Layton, Farendahl/Baumer and Carter/Thompson.
"Downloading Eagle onboard computer data to technical servers now," Ben Ouma announced from this swivel computer desk.
"Visual in five minutes," Sandra Benes glanced at Paul, then Ang. Paul glanced back, his eyes as expressionless as his face-and for that moment, Sandra was relaxed and reassured-all was normal-as normal as could be in the uncharted void that the rogue moon traversed. All was well. For now.
Angelina Carter shook her head and frowned. "Composition, indeterminate. Power source, indeterminate. Life signs, indeterminate." She glanced at Koenig then at Paul. "Offensive and defensive capabilities, are indeterminate."
"That doesn't tell us much," the Technical Chief summarized the obvious.
Pierre Danielle frowned at the capcomm station. "Ang, can you check this out?" He requested as he sent the data from the main power levels of Eagle 2.
Ang studied the data and graphed it, imposing upper and lower control limits on the chart.
"Geez.." she mumbled. Then looked toward Danielle and Morrow. "Eagle 2's energy utilization is erratic. Too much out of control. Have them switch to auxiliary power and power down the main unit."
"Alpha to Eagle 2," Danielle dictated, "switch to auxiliary power. We are showing a problem with your mains."
"Eagle 2 to Alpha," Layton responded. "I just did a system check. Everything is a-okay. What's the problem?"
"The current flow from the main power unit is fluctuating out of control, Lt. Layton," Angelina tried to keep neutral. Angelina Carter's patience was always tested with the stubborn and arrogant pilot Layton. "You are advised to switch to auxiliary power."
"Did you verify it with a flight engineer? Osgood or Fujita, maybe?" Layton responded coolly. "I don't see a problem here."
The cackle that poured from the march of Dolby speakers sounded morose indeed; like multi-frequency madness.
"Flight leader to Eagle Two." Carter barged in. "Do as your told, or I'll be doing some brain surgery on you the minute we egress. You got that, skippy?"
"Terry, this is John Koenig." The commander added, stepping angrily, and without valentines towards the controller's desk. "WE'RE NOT RUNNING A SIMULATION. SWITCH OVER, OR CARTER, AND I ARE GOING TO TAG-TEAM ON THAT ONE. YOUR BUTT WON'T STAND A CHANCE."
Paul stepped into the conversation with a flat and quiet, "Lieutenant Layton, report to my office for debrief upon return to Alpha." Carter wouldn't care to have his own toes stepped on like this, but the Deputy Commander of Alpha was paid to be the bad guy. Or was paid, back when there was a monthly check to collect, and places on Earth to spend that money.
Bergman looked up from his data, bemused, but sympathetic.
"Bunch of blimey, old women." Layton, sexist pig that he was, answered serenely after a while.
Layton, Paul knew, was already running through both sides of the asschewing he would receive upon return.
Andy Dempsey grew taught as the Fuel Cell glyphs on Eagle Two's tab changed colors. Main-A went into red, TEST MODE while Main-B turned green, and juggled the concrete apples, supplying power to Church's ship. Umberto Garzon moved behind Dempsey's chair, and leaned forward. Reflections of electric blue mathematical waltzed across his concerned brow. He had a beard now, which Sloven never had, but it was a beard filled with anguish. His arms crossed, his elbows pointing unremittingly towards his left hip, and his commlock.
"No." Dempsey's alternate STC said with rising grief. "That's not right." He looked at Koenig, and Ang.' Now it's showing a problem with the stabilization, and control systems."
Layton belched laughter.
Ben Ouma turned in his chair, weirded out, and politely grimacing.
"Does it really?" His voice echoed across the auditorium. "Well, my good bloke, I'm here to tell you--our translation, and thrust vector is stable.
"Incidentally--and I say this only in passing--WE HAVEN'T EVEN LIT THE BLOODY ENGINES YET."
"I don't care for this a bit." Pierre Danielle said, throwing his headset down, and stood to address Koenig, and Morrow.
"Nor do I." Garzon said quietly. "I advise ABORT." He told Paul Morrow sincerely. "Carter, and Farendahl are GO, but I don't care much for what we're seeing from Eagle Two."
"Concur," Paul nodded. "Let's get that bird back-have them debrief Technical on flight performance while deHavilland and her team go over that Eagle."
Angelina watched the power levels climb into the upper levels of red.
"EAGLE 2. SHUT DOWN YOUR MAIN POWER UNITS," Ang reiterated with edgy emphasis. The nuclear fuel cells were getting into the act as another warning light lit up the capcomm station. Ang glanced at the data. "CRITICAL MASS?!?!? That's impossible." She blurted in disbelief.
"Commander," the Technical chief got up and sprinted to where Koenig was standing behind Morrow. "If these energy readings continue," she said loud enough for the Eagles to hear," that ship is going to blow up!"
"Eagle Two," Paul ordered, "Abort." HE beat the Commander to the punch by bare instants. Nodding at Flight, he continued, "Get Rescue-One in the sky now-they may have to pick up a command module if things get worse out there."
"...spacecraft 5-9-8, ninety degree plane change...." One of the perimeter station scouts said wearily.
"!!!CHURCH, YOU'VE GOT A FIRE IN THE HOLE!!!" Alan Carter cried out over the loop. "!!!SWITCH TO PYRO-ARM!!! BLAST YOURSELF OUT OF THERE!!!"
"Circularization completed." Pilot Farendahl reported, not realizing that for what it was. An old mission objective. This was a new mission. It was the one that no astronaut in hell would ever want. The alarm bells that began to shriek through Main Mission stole his thunder though, as every monitor in the complex uploaded the urgent warning:
CM NO GO
SM NO GO
John Koenig was grasping the edge of the controller's desk hard enough to break something. Victor Bergman merely stood back in awe, biting his upper lip as the vehicle on the big screen began its pitching, upward spiraling dead man's ascent--horrific, amber units of radioactive plutonium, and streamers vented from the hypercritical service module, sending out a gaseous, backwash of bad death in all directions.
The pale, ashen face in the co-pilot's seat had drooled black, and green bile onto the inner, liquid cooling garment of his space suit. The sheep ba'd, and baaaaaaaaaa'd as his knuckled, gloved hand struck the floor of the command module. The useless flight plan fell open like a disappointing, Betty Crocker cookbook. Arms of acrid, green exhaust filled Eagle Two's command module from the cracks, and creases, and the wide open vents between the 02 purge system, and the lithium hydroxide triangles. He gurgled on this venom, as the white tunnel of life irises closed around him.
"Alpha...." Church swallowed, strangling on fumes, and his centrifugal terror now complete with the sensation of riding on his back, which he was. "Eagle Two...."
He fumbled, one hand still holding the useless yoke as a matter of form. The other fumbled across the panel, attempting to Braille read the controls based on geometric shape. The ABORT implementation dial, he would never be able to reach. But he could eject. Yes. He could detonate the pyrotechnic bolts that held his couch to the floor. The roof of the command module would slide away, and he would be clear of the coming holocaust.
"...Commander...." He continued piteously, sliding his finger along the panel. The pogroms of dumb science danced all around him, and the World Without End was about to come to an end. He eventually ended up no where near the pilot EJECT actuation controls. Frustrated, he contorted against the fifteen G's that held him like engineering cement, his left knee brushing against the medical kit, and the box of consumables that contained the peach squares he was about to have for a snack. "...I can't see...."
The sounds of wretching, and gagging issued from the stereo speakers.
Helena Russell looked back and forth between the big screen and the life functions monitors. Layton's side was nearly flatline while Church was trying to fight the Grim Reaper to the last.
Kate Bullen braced herself at a workstation that could no more save lives than it could make ice cream. Ben Ouma's pallor was execution white. John Koenig became a sculpture of poisoned, hapless ice.
"I seem to be blind." Church said with remarkable calm, still mishandling the controls. His hand ended up on one of the helium release valves-the most useless tool in the cockpit.
The four bottles of compressed hydrogen--the life force of Eagle Two's propulsion system exploded in huge, metallic chunks. The tanks filled with hydrazine, dimethyl hydrazine, and nitrogen tetroxide soon followed, vaporizing the service module. There was a retina burning flash of light, and extinguished atmosphere, and out of the gutted, 7,000 degree Fahrenheit wreckage, a five rung, garbage section of the annihilated ship's connector unit could be seen as it fled the inferno, and vanished into the night. It was trailed by a snow of titanium confetti, and vycor shrapnel.
Then there was the command module--now a morgue. It was never jettisoned. At least not according to Hoyle. It was a powerless, cold spiracle that tumbled bow, over keel towards the Magellanic Clouds. The bodies in its crew compartment, eternal history.
"ASTRONAUT TERRENCE LAYTON, LIFE FUNCTIONS TERMINATED. ASTRONAUT MICHAEL CHURCH, LIFE FUNCTIONS TERMINATED." The computer broke the silence in Main Mission.
Kate Bullen wailed in anguish in reaction to her boyfriend Mike Church becoming her deceased boyfriend. June Akiawa moved to comfort.
"All contact with Eagle 2....lost," Sandra Benes mournfully stated the official bad news as she lowered her head.
Angelina though completely expressionless felt ill. There were too many questions. Two astronauts were dead and one ship was lost. There would be an extensive review of the data. All arrows seem to be pointing to a technical error. In this case, it would be a guilty until proven innocent routine.
"Eagle 1, Eagle 5," Commander Koenig reached over Paul's shoulder and punched the white communication stud, "report your status." Helena Russell had already been evaluating their life functions. They were alive but obviously under stress.
Koenig looked mournfully at the two, glaring white lines that now oscillated on two of the six medical scanners that Helena Russell was monitoring. He waited for the reacquisition of signal with enormous declaim.
"...board gyros hit.... ...repeat...." Carter broke in across the hail of white noise when the signal was finally regained. "Alpha, I'm not sure you can.... We've sustained collateral damage.... (static, incommunicative, frustrating ether)
"...o'kay, but outboard number two, and outboard number four have been disabled. (gravel, sifted fine around a freshly dug grave, recent petals cut, and wilting)
"...Church, and Layton..." The pilot managed to say before the transmission was lost again.
Ang strained to listen with attentiveness to such a degree that she momentarily stopped breathing. She glanced at Koenig who gave her a slightly reassuring though tentative nod.
"Alpha, Eagle Five." Pilot Farendahl interceded clearly, if numbly, over the open channel. It was the voice of a man who has just been run over by a train, who has stood in the buff, and faced the blades of an approaching combine. "Our situation is...nominal. Helm control sufficient to allow for a combined corrective maneuver that will enable us to dock with Eagle One."
"Sixty seconds to visual of the object," Sandra announced calmly. The seconds ticked slowly by on the lunar clock. Main Mission was still shocked, though everyone was silently and robotically going about his or her business. Angelina resumed normal breathing again as her attention became riveted to the big screen.
Everyone looked up at the big screen as Sandra brought up the image. Once again, everyone was speechless.
When the Satcom orbiters self-adjusted, the horizontal lines on the big screen cleared. There was a final static hiss, and the electronic curtain of surveillance was pulled back. The audience in Main Mission looked very small, and slightly crimson, down there in the trench, as the glaring pixels gave back to them an image from 300,000 nautical miles out. Victor Bergman, awash in the bars of pale light that glowed without contrast, flinched slightly, moving his forefinger as if to point something out, then the pyramid slid sideways in his throat.
He knew nothing.
Space was normal, to the north, and the northwest; to the south, and southwest. They appeared to be on a hybrid trajectory between two pulsars, red, and white--fellow travelers that the Moon would pass fifty centuries from now. There were rivers of nuclear exhaust from a collapsed star in the Crab Nebula. Beads of stardust, and neutrinos expended themselves gracefully on the dark side of the sphere. Charged amino acids provided temporary floodlights. Gamma rays corrupted the light with an eerie, quasi-erotic hue--enhanced the yawning canyons, and veins that established themselves on the quantum, white oceans--terminating near a deep blue cornea. The constellate was at least ten times the size of the long, lost Earth. It was ten, and one quarter (3,476 kilometers) larger than the pansy Moon. This was apparent, even in a blanketing fog of about 10^53 ergs. The gases rolled by a glossy, black pupil, reflective of the light of a billion stars. The constellate was red-rimmed, a tired observer, but cool, and instinctive. Flesh colored shields, large enough, and wide enough to crush the rings of Saturn closed on this giant, interstellar camera, and then opened again for perspective.
Over the plated rooftops of Moonbase Alpha, it grew larger. The silver-lined, flat-irons of Frigois gradually disappeared in the umbra of the coming eclipse--too infinitesimal, too willing to submit, and be subjugated to the heavenly body that now approached them. A conglomeration of cosmic material that looked, and acted like a human eye.
The eye in the sky loomed in the starboard viewport as Angelina Carter left Main Mission through the right archway and headed for the lift. She had paused momentarily to stare at it. It winked at her. She shuddered.
Livy DeHavilliand, Michelle Cranston and a horde of Technical staff were already on the "case" pouring through the maintenance, service and manufacturing records of Eagle 2. No doubt they were biased, utterly convinced it was not a technical error that caused the demise and loss of the crew and ship but the known arrogance of one pilot, the late Terrence Layton.
The Reconnaissance team was also on the "case", reviewing their own flight readiness records and status with their team of flight engineers. No one wanted to admit that the trenches were being dug and the battle lines were being drawn between technical and reconnaissance, but so be it. Angelina stepped off the elevator and briskly made the short jaunt down the corridor to Medical Center. The four pilots of the two surviving ships were being routinely examined and evaluated, though no one expected them to be injured.
"How are they, Bob?" Angelina intercepted Dr. Mathias. Rob Thompson griped in the background over Dr. Sullivan's desire to x-ray his aching neck to evaluate the extent of his whiplash.
"Peachy keen." Mathias smiled, and slapped Thompson on the back, hoping to aggravate his whiplash. He succeeded as Mr. West Point, Class of 92' went !!!HEYYYYYYYYYYYAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!," and sucked in his pain.
"Goddamn Mathias, you trying to kill me." The pilot carped, rubbing the back of his neck.
The physician shrugged.
The can of AM Gold ran from the overhead speakers like syrup on a plate of pancakes. Sooth your nerves it did not. They started out the morning with Barry Manilow ("!!!Her name was Lolaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa'!!!"), and before the disaster that claimed the lives of two Eagle pilots, they were living high indeed (!!!Hey-ho!!! Five in a row by the Stylistics!!! "Betcha' by golly wowwwwwwwwwww!!!"). The latest, ironic torture was brought to them, courtesy of the Alan Parson's Project:
"Don't say words your gonna' regret.
"Don't let the fire rush to your head.
("Right." Alan Carter criticized across the way.)
"I've heard the accusation before.
"And I ain't gonna' take it no more.
("Kiss off." Alan Carter criticized across the way, pushing Dot' Sullivans pen light away from his fucking eyes.)
"The sun in your Eyes
"Made some of the lies worth believing."
("I'm captain of my own probe, thank you." Carter criticized as Sullivan headed towards him with the tongue depressor.)
"I am the eye in the sky,
"Looking at you,
"I can read your mind."
Angelina nodded and stepped into the room where Carter was impatiently waiting for release. Usually, at times like this when his missions were less than routine and medical evaluations were necessary, in immense relief she would crack a joke. Today, it was far from appropriate. Instead, since they were alone in the room, she simply embraced him.
"Hey," she brushed a kiss on the cheek as she pulled back slightly, still holding him. "Are you alright?" She already knew the answer and gazed at him sincerely. "I'm sorry, Alan."
"I am the maker of rules...
"DEALING WITH FOOOOOOOOOOO-OOOO-OOLLLLLLLLS!!!"
Frappin' dentist office music, is what it was.
"!!!NUNEZ,' FOR CHRISSAKES WILL YOU TURN THAT CRAP OFF!!!" He roared, setting fire to his broken jaw.
Anne Delline jumped and changed the musak to "easy listening", elevator music. Helena Russell also jumped and stepped through the doorway with a loaded laser hypo containing a tranquilizer with the chief of reconnaissance's name written all over it. Angelina did not move out of her way.
"He doesn't need that...really," Ang stated firmly, gazing at him steadily with a clear non-verbal message: 'Keep your mouth shut, darling.'
Helena Russell walked around the couch to the other side, eyeing the recent and still elevated though slowly declining spike in Carter's blood pressure.
"What's the matter with him?" she continued studying the left side of his swollen and slightly bruised jaw.
"Hairline mandible fracture," Russell replied. "No setting necessary and as long as he doesn't aggravate it with excessive use..."
"Like shouting," Ang interrupted, her gaze never leaving the Captain and her expression remaining neutral..
"Like shouting," the doctor affirmed, "then it should heal on its own and ibuprofen should be sufficient to manage the discomfort." She paused then continued. "I was about to release him when he decided to become agitated."
"I'll make sure he behaves himself," Ang stated, still expressionless but this time glancing at Russell.
"Fine," Helena Russell stated, handing her Carter's commlock. "Alan, if you have any more problems, please let us know." Without waiting for him to answer, she smiled at Ang and left the ward to descend on the still complaining Thompson.
Ang looked back at Alan. "That's the last time I bail your ass out of Medical." She handed him his commlock. "Command Conference in 30 minutes, if you're up to it."
"You goddamn better believe I'm ready." Carter thrust, staring at the cheap pile of imitation Gorski moon rocks that adorned one of John Koenig's transparent shelves. "Someone is going to bail up for this one.
"!!!COUNT ON IT!!!
He looked away from the crummy tray of phony aluminum, and badly blown Fe cakes, and a stupidly realized glob of Halite (what kind of asshole would bring fake Moon rocks from Poland when, as far as the eye could see, they were enamored, fucking drowning practically in the real thing)--only long enough to incriminate everyone at the round table with the finger of dudgeon aspersion. Two pilots were dead, when they should have been off-duty where they could enjoy all of the non-existent luxuries, the long-term misery that Moonbase Alpha had to offer. At least they would still be breathing. As it was, there weren't even bodies to cremate. Technological, and industrial incompetence made hay in the morning.
Along with fried epidermis, and baked ganglia, and Creole au toasted arteries.
Ben Ouma's gaze was frankly unaverting. Sandra Benes merely shook her head while Victor Bergman stared at the cold tile from his position on the couch.
Angelina Carter sat at the conference table with laptop closed, her hands on either side of her rapidly cooling coffee. Her back was toward the viewport. She was tired of looking at the 'eye'. It had lost its intriguing appeal and was just annoying.
John Koenig stopped his pacing, and turned his head sidewise to hand the pilot a look of unremitting disbelief. Sonofabitch. He had expected it, and behold--here it was. Where seismic activity was concerned, and scorched earth diplomacy, Carter could always be counted on.
"No kidding, Alan?" Gordon Cooper fired back, bolting angrily to his feet, hard enough to turn his chair over. "You going to set the record straight, mate? I take it by that pissed-off, onya' look you're giving me that you think the problem started in the high bay?"
"!!!NO, NO, NO!!!" The commander interjected fiercely. "!!!NO ONE SAID THAT."
"???You think I'm too much a big-note oneself to figure out when the bottom of the freaking' ship has a hole in it???" He smiled, ignoring Koenig, and giving his canines time to salivate.
"Kiss my ass, buddyroo.'"
"!!!COOP,' PICK UP YOUR CHAIR, AND SIT DOWN!!!" The commander shouted only ten decibels softer than the frequency needed to melt skin tissue.
"You need to do as he asks." Bergman said, hands on hips, and with a whiff of terroristic threatening in his put upon voice. "Now."
Bram Cedrix pushed his spectacles back up onto his nose, and restrained, applying breakneck pressure to an innocent ink pen, rather than to Alan Carter. Angelina Carter merely looked back and forth between Alan Carter and Gordon Cooper. Beyond them, standing next to the privacy door to Main Mission, Tony Allen tensed as Pierce Quinton acknowledged the harness bull's readiness stance and communicated restraint with a glance. Inwardly she groaned; one good or even not so good blow to the left side of the Chief Pilot's mandible and he'd be sipping his dinner through a straw for awhile. No doubt some of the staff in the room probably thought that Alan Carter with his jaw wired shut wasn't a bad idea.
Sandra glanced at Paul then at Michelle Cranston and Livy DeHavilliand, two engineers who could pack a mean verbal punch despite their petite sizes, especially dangerous when paired together on the same side.
"As instructed by Ang, Livy and I have poured over every piece of record for Eagle 2, Captain," Michele Cranston spoke up, ready to join the battle. "As far as we are concerned every thing checks out in the manufacturing and testing of the components," she glance united with Livy, "as well as the integration and assembly of the ship."
"In summary, folks," Angelina stepped in before the reconn army had a chance to launch their counter volley," so far we have not found any sort of fault attributed to the initial assembly and periodic mechanical maintenance of the ship. The next step, of course, is to look at the systems level and possible software controls."
"Oh no," Ben Ouma shook his head emphatically, "don't start with that shit. Those routines are tried and true and the programmers are NOT responsible. Otherwise, every Eagle that has ever flown would have exploded!"
"I'm not talking about the programs themselves," Angelina hissed angrily at the unusually smug computer operations chief. He was beginning to remind her of the late David Kano and really getting on her nerves. "I'm talking about the modifications made by the applications people. Have you even BOTHERED to check that out?!?!"
"!!!Bravo, missy!!!" Carter said with hubris, marching towards the table with a greenbar sheet that he was shaking like a club. "While we're checking that out, would you mind telling me what the deal was in Firing Room Two???"
"What deal is that, Alan?" Coop' said tiredly. Over his shoulder, Koenig stood with his arms folded looking for all the world like Patton, brooding over the idiotic, unnecessary carnage at the Kasserine Pass.
"Before commit, there was a measurable, twenty gig' pulse."
"Now, wait a minute." Cedrix argued.
"!!!A twenty gig pulse--HERE IT IS, RIGHT ON PAPER, AND OUT OF A TRANSLATION CORE THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE STABLE!!!" The pilot raged on.
The foreman wanted to bust Alan Carter a good one, but instead he rubbed his eyes...comported his thoughts.
"I was in the firing room when that data came through." Cedrix admitted. "We measured the same increase on Eagle One, and Eagle Five." He shrugged, reasonably. "We have always--even in Earth orbit--had a delta like that appear during departure.
"It is," He said, very politely. "Ratty data."
"!!!WELL THIS FUCKING TIME, MAYBE IT WASN'T SO RATTY!!!" The pilot disgorged, throwing the greenbar onto the table. "!!!MAYBE THIS TIME IT WAS A BLOODY, BALLISTIC PROBLEM THAT WENT UNNOTICED!!!"
"!!!OR MAYBE WE HAVE FOR CHRISSAKES MIXING BOWLS IN THE DINING COMPLEX THAT GIVE OFF A TWENTY GIG' PULSE--ARE THEY GOING TO EXPLOAD TOO!!!" Coop' retorted absurdly, and with hoarse furor.
Helena Russell placed a comforting hand on the older astronaut's shoulder, partly to calm his fugue, partly to keep him from standing up again, for to do so would, at this point, result in brutal fisticuffs, and black eyes de jour.
"Arguing is not going to help determine the cause of the tragedy," Angelina stated firmly, as Koenig nodded from his standing position. "So far we have ruled out several possible technical causes but we are not yet finished the investigation." She sighed. "We won't stop until we rule out every single possible mechanical, electrical," Ang turned both barrels at Ouma, "AND computer factor that could have led to the destruction of Eagle 2."
"However," Angelina continued, shifting her firm though sympathetic gaze on Carter, "although there may have been a problem with the ship itself, it could also come out that the tragedy could have been avoided HAD Lt. Layton obeyed orders from Main Mission to shut down his main engines when he was told to do so."
She paused again. She was playing an unpopular role now, pointing out that the pilot screwing up may have led to his and Church's demise. "The computer records show he NEVER carried out those instructions."
"YOU'RE JOKING." Carter said, jocularity in his voice, resentment in his eyes.
John Koenig exhaled deeply, and rubbed his temple with a prediction of pain.
"YOU ARE, AREN'T YOU?" The pilot asked his wife, and waited for the punch line. He started walking backwards towards the commstation. Suddenly, each person in the room was someone he didn't know. Hypocritical Cotton Mathers; pogroms; an Einsatzgruppen genocide squad. When it came down to the wire, they covered their own butts. Space had taught them nothing, nothing at all. The death, the emasculation. "Layton was one of the finest astronauts to ever ride the rocket. I served with the guy during the war. He was air wing commander on the toughest bird farm in the south pacific. He risked his neck to help build space stations--all in the name of chunder, fucking science, and since Breakaway, he always tried to do right by this base.
"Alan, please," Angelina implored, her expression taking on more softness. "I'm only reporting what computer recorded and all arrows point to him NOT shutting down the mains."
But he did not acknowledge and continued.
"The guy was mouthy, I'll give you that. He'd been that way since he lost his wife, and daughter in the Manchester Fire Ball, but when push came to shove...." He scratched his chin nebulously. "You're saying he was a dero? An incompetent lout?"
Carter didn't know Ang' either; it occurred to him that this was Miss Hyde, fulfilling her etiquette, and protocol training as an operative of the WSC. If someone dies a million light years from home, what do you do? Smile, yes. Bury it all, deny all knowledge, bring on the patsies. Ang did not answer him but merely gazed at him, expressionless though her eyes conveying compassion but not compromise. All the apparent facts were in front of her.
"He did switch over." Umberto Garzon said neutrally from where he was sitting on the steps, not taking a side, but reporting what he had, in fact seen. "The erouting to the auxiliary fuel cell appeared on the EEC report. "I saw it with my own eyes." He said, looking to Andy Dempsey for verification, which was the STC's worst nightmare. He preferred to say little, or nothing--especially nothing.
Ang looked like a truck had hit her; the confusion on her face was apparent as she glanced toward Alan. The piece of evidence that removed the verdict from "Pilot Error: Proven beyond a reasonable doubt" may have just been introduced in the chamber. Everyone else in the room stared at Ben Ouma.
"You're a fucking liar, Garzon," Ouma spat with pent up prejudice and hatred as he stood up. "I just completed a system check 30 minutes ago and there are no errors, no crossed or lost signals. Computer is NOT in the habit of covering up for a pilot who screws up."
Ouma looked directly at Carter. "What the hell. What is it about Reconnaissance, about Eagle pilots, that make them infallible? Why should we assume you're gods because you're some fucking war heroes?"
"OUMA!" Koenig bellowed in disbelief, striding toward the computer chief.
"Computer says the arrogant bastard never switched off the mains!!! As far as I'm concerned, the cause of the explosion was PILOT ERROR." Ouma ignored Koenig and narrowed his eyes.
"Computer is wrong then." Garzon said, still neutral, and attempting to remain amicable, and professional. "The onboard systems are relayed directly to the system test unit via the flight recorder. In this way, the data remains decentralized. Theoretically, the mainframe should have picked this information up, but obviously it didn't.
"I know what I saw." The systems specialist said evenly. "Before she blew up, Eagle Two was operating on the number two fuel cell."
At last, Cooper, and Carter--both brimming. Chums again, though alas, the sentiment was destined to be short lived. This latest gem transformed the large group broke into impromptu smaller groups with a flurry of overlapping discussions. Angelina crouched between Livy and Michelle in a three-way huddle, as Koenig, Morrow and Bergman interrogated Umberto Garzon and Andy Dempsey, who finally summed up the courage to verify Garzon. Carter and Cooper, along with Bram Cedrix, relaxed as the blade of the guillotine seemed to be lifted from the flight crew staff.
Gordon Cooper's relief waned as he saw Michelle Cranston and Livy DeHavilliand gesturing toward him with increasing frequency. Michelle pulled a ream of sheets off the table and waved them in Ang's face as Livy pointed emphatically between the papers and Gordon Cooper.
Coop wandered over to the group without attracting attention, or so he thought, and asked Ang and the two technical department heads if he could be of any assistance. Ang stood up and pulled him aside.
"Coop," Ang began in a low voice, both completely unaware that their small group of two was becoming a group of three. "As we said at the beginning, we can find no component failure with the alternate power system. Livy just made a quick call to verify the flight recorder and yes, it was true Eagle Two was operating on the Number Two Fuel Cell. Why computer didn't catch it is another mystery, but, Coop, the integration tests that Livy's group performed were successful in the first pass."
The color drained from the dark Perth, Australian native as they were still unaware that they had another person in the group; one whose complexion was beginning to turn red with rage as a realization dawned on him.
Angelina sighed. Breaking the news to the group was going to be painful. "I'm sorry, Gordon, but although it was not recorded in the computer, we just verified that the final STC the high bay guys perform before clearing the Eagle for the crane failed."
The audible exhalation from the unknown person caused them both to turn around and face the party crasher. Once again, Alan Carter's anger was obvious as he focused on Cooper. No longer did Angelina have to worry about the task of breaking this news to the rest of the group.
"G'day?" Carter said after a while, putting his worst, most arrogant foot forward, and calculating the problem to its inevitable square root. "Looks like this little bingle did have a culprit. HOW BOUT' THAT COOP'? STILL FEELING INNOCENT? C'MON. THRILL EVERYONE WITH THE FUCKING TECHNICAL PROWESS THAT YOU, AND THAT HALF-PINT BLUDGER SITTING NEXT TO YOU SHOWED WHEN YOU HOOKED THAT DAG TO THE CRANE."
John Koenig relaxed. It was clear to him where this was all going. Try "no where."
"Well, it seems obvious that this meeting was a little too preemptive." He said stepping towards his desk. At panel two of the mainframe deck, Phil Geist waved "hello" to Umberto Garzon, but it slid right past the specialist, so lost was he in his unhappy ratiocination's.
Carter, of course, was close enough to breathe brimstone, and kerosene on the back of Gordon Cooper's neck, and the snick-snick of his needles, and jabs was becoming more profound.
Koenig turned, not realizing that he had selected the best elevation in the room in order to view the fireworks. "I recommend we adjourn this meeting until tempers have had a chance to-"
"I RIGHT EXPECTED DEMPSEY THERE TO CLAM UP, AND BURROW UNDER LIKE SOME OLD GROUND HOG." The pilot went on, his saber poised at running distance. "YOU ON THE OTHER HAND, MR. YARD MANAGER--I RATHER THOUGHT YOU WOULD PROFER BULLSHIT TO THE BITTER, FUCKING END...HOW YOU, AND THE MIDGET MECHANIC, AND THE REST OF THOSE LAGGERS PREVAILED--OH NO, YOU WEREN'T UP YOUR BUTTS WITH A COCONUT WERE YOU COOP'?
"CHURCH, AND LAYTON AREN'T SPREAD OUT ALL OVER SPACE BECAUSE YOU TWO DON'T KNOW JACK SHIT ABOUT NUCLEAR POWER.
"WELLADAY." Carter winked at DeHavilliand. "TEACH US DOLTS HOW TO PUT A SPACECRAFT TOGETHER." He hectored, his voice growing louder, and profoundly sadistic. "LET'S GO LAUNCH ANOTHER FUCKING EAGLE."
Angelina positioned herself between Carter and Livy, who sprinted up the stairs completely enraged. Sandra Benes exchanged concerned eye contact with Helena Russell before she shifted her gaze to Paul Morrow. Pierce Quinton also bounded up the stairs as Tony Allan intercepted, ready for whatever change in tone of the 'discussion'.
"Alan," Professor Bergman called paternally from his position near the couch, "the meeting is being adjourned 'til later, until we all can look at the problem more objectively."
Andy Dempsey sat quietly, staring at the eye through the viewport. It looked like it was ...squinting at them, squinting at him. It could see right through him. It was scrutinizing him. It microscopically dissected his secrets. Dempsey turned away and focused neutrally on the Cooper/Carter show on the stage.
"Alan...Alan, let's go," Angelina tugged desperately at the orange sleeved elbow of the immovable Captain. "Sweetheart, please, let's get some coffee, take a breather. We'll discuss this later."
John Koenig, and Pierce Quenton rapidly advanced. Truman Starns entered through the side door, grasping his commlock, and hyperventilating from a hurried jaunt up the stairs. Harness Bull Pound said he might want to drop by the office, that they might be on the brink of someone getting their head stomped. He was skeptical, but not for long.
"Heck no." Carter said, almost congenially. "Coop,' and I got man-sized crasts to talk about. Ain't that right, Edison? We're going to invent flame retardant skin. It'll be tough considering the Mighty Shrimp there is stupid enough to throw away all the W's in a fucking M & M's factory."
That was all it took.
Umberto Garzon was perfectly situated to witness the heated physicality, and fattened lips that followed. Tan, booted feet, and flares retreated with alarum as both men thundered to the floor, roaring, and grappling like rabid, Bengal Tigers; each attempting to usurp the other with pain, and plastic chairs, turned bludgeon, and scalps, slammed against the gray linoleum. The facts concerning the deaths of Eagle Two's prime crew, fluttered to the floor--the empty red flimsie covers flapping down on the assailants like roses in a pit bull fight.
"!!!CARTER, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING!!!" Koenig shouted, grabbing the pilot in a precarious, right-angled Tango step that sent them both reeling. "!!!HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND!!!"
"!!!YA' ROTTEN BUSH-SLIMED SONOFABITCH!!!" Coop' cried, his left eye formidably blackened. "!!!I'LL KILL YA'!!!"
Paul Morrow attempted a badly executed headlock, and got thumped for his troubles. Later, Mathias would apply Corn Husker's solution--his secret remedy. Angelina, disgusted, could only stand back, staying out of the criss-cross paths of the flying bodies while keeping a firm grip on Livy's arm to discourage her from entering the fray.
Coop' wasn't nearly as out of control as Carter 'thought' he was--so, when it came finishing time, the older pilot gave him a surprise chop to his bad jaw. The yard manager peaked with enormous happiness. The flight leader howled like a coyote, releasing fist, upon fist of punitive pummels to Coops' baldhead. Round two saw the inclusion of Harness Bull Duncan, and Truman Starns, moving to invade the land south of Koenig's desk as Coop' tumbled against three shelves full of Gorski rocks. He needed to rest, so Carter offered him the floor. Then they fought for who would control the steps, the globe overturning, and bounding against Carter's whipped noggin.' Coop' sealed the deal by punching him in the nose. Carter rebounded with a hand full of forged maintenance reports that bore Ed Malcom's signature.
He moved as if to shove them down Coops' throat.
"ALAN!!! STOP!!!" Helena Russell pleaded in vain from the sidelines. Ang knew there was no point in it. She continued to view the spectacle with a mixture of concern and anger, mentally drafting the ass chewing speech she would deliver to her husband when this was all over.
The command conference was now a convention for underworked Harness Bulls, with John Koenig attempting to coordinate operations with a broken tooth, and while continuing his tenuous hold on Carter's left hook. Then it was flaying time--the Omaha Beach; the final contretemps in this fierce, unequal combat that would determine a victor.
Or, a loser, and a loser, but the RED ALERT suddenly began to pulse, and all that was left to the opponents was to look up, and mutter 'huh?'
"COMMANDER!" Caroline Kennedy's harangued face appeared on the commstation monitor. "Explosive decompression in Tech Lab 3!!!"
"Oh my God," Angelina muttered as she bolted out the side door into the access corridor. Her distress was justified as the medical center computer boomed:
TECHNICIAN MICHAEL ALATHEUS, LIFE FUNCTIONS TERMINATED
TECHNICIAN LIJU MATHEW, LIFE FUNCTIONS TERMINATED
Private eyes! They're watching you!
They see your everrry moooove..
Private eyes! They're watching you!
Private eyeeeeeeeeeeeeesssssss...they're watching you, watching you, watching youuuuu
Angelina Carter scowled at the Hall and Oates Medical Center reception music filtering from the Dolby speakers. At one time, it was one of her favorite songs: not anymore. She was not in a good mood. In fact, she was in a horrible mood. Tech Lab 3 now had an open window to the lunar surface. Mike Alatheus and Liju Mathews remains were splattered all over the inside of Tech Lab 3, though the bulk of their unrecognizable bodies still remained on the lunar surface. The Chief of Technical section just returned from comforting girl friends and best friends of the deceased.
Ang passed by Gordon Cooper, in a treatment room, griping as Bob Mathias pumped more lidocaine into the open wound on the top of Coop's head which he was about to stitch. She stepped into Alan Carter's ward. Her expression was completely neutral. She was far, far beyond yelling and had long forgotten her prepared speech.
No. Instead, he would get much worse: the silent treatment. She dropped into the moduform plastic chair, utterly weary. After a hideously long 5 minutes, she finally regained a sense of inner control.
"How do you feel?" she asked, as she looked away toward Gordon Cooper's cursing. Evidently, the good Doctor Bob didn't give ole Coop enough lidocaine before he started sewing. Ang felt no sympathy for him; for either of them, actually.
Carter's response wasn't to throw invectives, call her 'Edison,' and then come over the table at her like one of Kitchener's commandos. His ire slowly receded back into the vile plasma--the creature's revenge, thus consummated, it turned out to be a cold dish after all. He still felt like shit, and he was getting shittier.
Through the middle viewport, the constellate, radical eyeball, thingamajig' was casting a pale light onto a winding trail that ran deep into the Alpine Valley--a forest with no trees; bankrupt, and divorced from nature, except for the name. He decided it would be politically incorrect, and unappropos, and hard on the Rite Of Marriage to call her Missy Hyde. Cleopatra, possibly, but then again, his evidence was so circumstantial, as to make a complete, and utter asshole out of himself.
In the end, the problem was much easier to define than the constituents of water. It was more visceral, and agonizing than Nunez's horrible can of crummy dentist office music. All around him, the facts settled to a crust, like the hardening remains of decompressed technicians. It was only ten feet away, an image staring back at him from the vision port, below, and just to the left of the considerately dilated eye world.
In a court of law, it would unfold like this:
So you see, your honor, and in closing, counsel for the defense would like to remind the jury that there was one--ONLY ONE--reason for the deaths of those two Eagle pilots. That reason has a name--Captain Alan Carter.
"What do you want from me, Ang?'" He exclaimed, clenching his fist. The eye in the sky returned an empathic gaze. "You want me to massage Coops' head, and apologize to that penguin with a wrench for something that never should have happened? Eh?
"Tell you what--tonight, after I finish my jailhouse meal in the security cube, I'll do some Hare Kiri. Maybe I'll eat Eagle Two's flight plan a page at a time until I gag to death on the safety procedures.
"Would that brighten your day, cupcake?"
He knew the truth though.
"Stop feeling sorry for yourself," her soft gaze hardened slightly as she sat forward. "You should know by now the pity party doesn't work with me."
She could feel the anger chipping away at the composure she worked so hard in 5 minutes to build. "Oh, and by the way, I really am not in the mood to listen to you vent your frustrations on me like some verbal punching bag. I just got the mental crap beaten out of me by distressed loved ones and frankly, I've had enough for one day. I still have to coordinate crews to fix the hole in Tech Lab 3 as well as scrape what remains of Mike Alatheus and Liju Mathew off the goddam walls, ceilings, floors and whatever else is nailed down." She spoke evenly and did not raise her voice.
"Incidentally, congratulations. You are not bound for the brig but you will be staying here in Medical overnight for observation." She sat back and glanced toward the noise of the whining Gordon Cooper in the other room. "Evidently, in your little school yard brawl, you managed to get your nose broken as well as secure a moderate concussion."
She sighed, looking at the lunar time on her commlock. "In case Helena hasn't told you, you're scheduled for a CATScan in 30 minutes."
"Ahhh." The pilot chortled gratuitously, and standing in defiance. "Fine. Really. Pumpkin,' you know me. Always did enjoy a good CAT Scan."
The Constellate was dead center of higher elevations now as the Moon drifted by it on a West, to East trajectory. It rode past one of the odd numbered anti-gravity towers, and the tiered craters; the sprays of ejecta, looking like a shotgun site on the largest Remington in the universe. Every ten minutes, it contracted, and then opened anew. Half the world, experiencing a nightfall that was only six hundred seconds long. He vied the satellite's reflection in the glossy black. A vague crescent, which equated to an irrational nothingness in the scheme of things. One half kilometer away, Launch Pad Four awaited at the end of the battleship gray travel tube. The depot lights, went from bright yellow to orange in the meandering eclipse. Helena Russell's six-inch tall, anatomical model--adorning the windowsill in a buff testament to medical aptitude--made the illusion complete.
They had entered the Twilight Zone...submitted for your approval. EVA vehicles, and the larger flat bed transports continued their crawl across the surface like fools trying to prove some paltry courage.
Carter looked on laconically. His mop-top relaxing. The collagen in his face, loosening to a stupor. Across his own retina, red balls of firelight danced intermittently, along with descending blues, and greens. Ang,' and the turgid absence of talent that characterized Hall & Oates fell into a blurred depth of field. There was a millisecond where he no longer found himself wanting to hang the guilty. His Nuremberg was emptied, and his mind's eye beheld starsong.
Mighty worlds devoured by ice...
...rents of lightning...the Others seethed through...
...children dying in their holes, buried alive by their screaming mothers...
...space turning white, and then black again...erasing all life...
...then silence again....
The color began to drain from his face and Ang immediately jumped up, wrapping an arm around Carter's waist to steady him as he appeared to sway.
"Yeah, I do know your stubborn ass too well," she commented while half guiding and half forcing him down to a sitting position on the edge of the bed. She sat with him, in an embrace with her arm around his waist, her forehead against his temple and her other hand gently cupping his bad jaw. "I know the odds are a million to one against you having actually suffered any real damage with that notoriously hard head of yours, but you will submit to the CATScan and you will remain a guest here tonight; if not for your sake then for my peace of mind."
She saw the fog in his eyes beginning to lift. "Don't worry. Caesar will be glad to take your side of the bed and keep me company tonight," She teased. She had gotten her message across that she was unhappy with his hand to hand combat shenanigans.
"Ang.'" Carter heard the voice say brusquely through the lowering parables, and the hypnotic fog. "Alan."
"Great." The pilot exclaimed, clearly meaning 'not great,' the minute he saw John Koenig.
Angelina released the battered pilot and stood to face Koenig. "Commander," Ang nodded. "He just had a bit of a dizzy spell while trying to prove to me that he thinks he's ready to go back to work." She glanced at Carter. "Eagle pilot does not equal medical doctor."
A shiver went down her spine. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the 'eye' focus on her, or so she thought. She was trying to ignore it. She really felt like activating the shutters but what good would that do? 'It' would still be 'looking' at them. In a split second, she imagined herself playing a game with the thing. Close shutter...open a crack and its looking at her....close again....open..
'Peek a boo..I see you.' She imagined it taunting her. The flash of paranoia left as Commander Koenig approached, Dr. Russell not far behind.
"Yeah, I see that." Koenig remarked. "Eagle pilot doesn't seem to equal 'smart' either."
"Hold on there." Carter said provocatively, and standing (Nope, the gelatinous bones in his lower jaw were generally inflamed, the pain propelling him back onto his keister in mean, short order.). Upon landing, he noticed that the red launch platform on pad four had eased into the shaft. This occurred whilst he dreamed, and argued. "What's going on?" He said unapprovingly as Eagle Five was hoisted to gantry level. "???You're sending another ship out???"
"You bet." Koenig said with cold satisfaction as he turned to leave. "Oh, by the way, Ang,' Garforth needs to see you in the mainframe center, ASAP."
He headed for the double doors, replaced with an unhappy, out-to-get-revenge Bob Mathias.
"???Well where are you going???" The pilot probed futilely.
"Out." Koenig said, and closed the doors on him.
"Duty calls," Angelina announced, as she covered the ornery pilot with the blanket. "Get some rest and don't be a pain in the ass around here, ok?"
She knew, naturally, he would be a difficult patient. She stood up and smiled warmly. "I'll be back a little later. Stay out of trouble while I'm gone." She nodded to Bob as she passed and the double doors closed behind her. The eye blinked.
It was a high traffic day in the Hypothalamus of the central computer. The network was located a hundred meters below the synthecrete foundation of the Main Mission tower. Technicians working for Ouma, the Boss, rode hectically between the rows of default, library circuits, in futuristic, unprodigious golf carts, so chincy' as to make the older LEV's look like Tucker's dream car. There was an occasional honk when someone had a need for speed that intersected the hermetically sealed double doors. The entire complex was bathed in a blue, fluorescent light from high ceiling projectors. This enabled them to detect grime, and contaminants within the large peripheral panels which opened, and closed all day, every day, giving specialists access to the crystalline brain matter. When Ang' entered, the walls literally vibrated from the vacuum force of uploaded, and downloaded intelligentsia from the core.
Through a wide, observation window, she could see PhD's bobbing, and floating in the zero gravity lobe that contained the isolinear neuroreceptors. Dr. Roberta Specter gave her a giddy wave, accidentally elbowing Dr. Streicher, who gritted his teeth, and looked ticked as he pulled his way along the rows of chips with a volt meter.
"Good, the cavalry is here." Garforth greeted with hesitant compose.
He was standing by a row of interbase FAX copiers holding two sheets of paper. Angelina Carter smiled thinly as she approached Garforth. The most positive aspect of being down here was to be away from the gaze of the eyeball in space.
"Well, your enthusiasm may be premature, Pete," she leaned against a workbench. "I'm not much of a computer expert especially concerning software." Though she did, however, have a good knowledge of hardware, not from formal schooling but more from on the job experience since September 13, 1999.
She shrugged. "What can I do for you?"
On the other side of the room, Chris Potter entered through double doors followed by a hotly angry Ed Malcom.
"Rubbish." Garforth said, closing the coffin-like lid to the FAX machine. "You can never be premature with a friend. Besides, I'd rather have you take a look at this instead of Ouma. Like a lot of people around here these days, he's not exactly thinking straight."
Actually, Ouma was behaving in a way that was patently stupid, but that was neither here, nor there. It was a bit of a tragedy, the technician mused. For a while there, old hard drive was beginning to act almost lifelike.
"First of all, I went in, and took a closer look at the records we had on that ship." He said, still relaxed, even jocose. "There was quite a history there. They dated back six years, so I had to look it up on CD. That baby was a fixer. Don't get me wrong, she was part of the original fleet that was manufactured on Earth; spacecraft 5-9-8, cleared for service as Eagle 2-9. Initially, the thing couldn't handle a Roll Cal Angle worth a shit, so we replaced the guidance platform with new software. After that, she performed magnificently--better than anyone in the AC&O would have ever dreamed--that is, until after Breakaway when she got creamed on the far side with the rest of the old fleet.
"The fuselage was later towed back to Alpha. We warehoused the remains until about a year ago when we reconditioned her with parts from Eagle Eight, and Eagle One." Garforth squinted, leaning against the desk, and allowing the lit panel to strobe across his knuckles. "According to the EST we obtained before the command conference, there was a voltage drop in one of the fuel cells before transposition, and elevation.
"Ang,' what time would you say that occurred." He prodded. "The mission clock wasn't even running. Say about 19:34 lunar time? Earlier?
"Well," He went on, handing her the first of two paradynamic sketches. "It could not have been five minutes later, 14:13 elapsed mission time, when the black box recorded 100% margins on all three fuel cells.
"Do you see what I'm getting at here?"
A hundred meters away, Roberta Specter exited the airlock, and swooned at the sight of Pete Garforth.
"She's in love." The technician confided while Ang' studied the sheet. "I'd like to do something special for her--like finding a way to keep her the hell out of my hair, but so far I haven't been very successful."
Angelina appeared too engrossed in the report to lend a sympathetic ear for Pete Garforth and his tactful attempts at communicating romantic disinterest toward the starry eyed Roberta Specter. One unfortunate night of excess using badly fermented wine with a very willing Specter combined with a lack of sex in the last 5 years blurred Pete's perspective on his opinion of attractiveness. When he took her to bed, horrendously smashed, she was attractive. When he woke up the next morning, horrendously hung over, she was not attractive.
"Better hope her Norplant is still working," Ang commented blandly while still perusing the report. "I understand she is due for a refresh implant."
She heard Garforth stop breathing and she cocked an eye in the direction of his stricken face. "I'm kidding." She replied. Garforth was not amused.
"So there was nothing wrong with the ship," Angelina lowered the paper. "That only means one thing: there's a problem with computer, some software glitch, somewhere."
"DAMMIT!" She slapped the now rolled up sheet into the palm of her hand. "Did you talk to Ben yet or do you think he's going to get all pissy and defensive and you want me to take the brunt of his tantrum?"
Chris Potter had spied Ang and made a beeline toward her with a cursing Malcom.
"!!!YOU took my Allen wrenches, asshole!! I know it was you!!" Ed Malcom screamed at Chris Potter with venom and abundant bile when they were about 50 feet from Ang and Pete.
"I did not, you fatass worthless piece of shit!" Potter turned, exploding in the rotund technician's face.
"Alright Potter," Malcom began forcing his too tight sleeves toward his elbows in an attempt to roll up his tunic sleeves, "I'm going to mop the floor with your face."
Harness Bull Pound motioned to Harness Bull LaBreque at the unfolding scene and both leaned casually against the wall with bemused smirks on their faces.
Potter was immediately overpowered with Ed Malcom's impassioned, bad breath; mollified by Ed Malcom's ability to make himself look like a bowling pin with ire. He turned his back to the tray of digital tapes. Fifty, blank rectangles sprayed his eyes, and the back of his neck. Dr. Streicher pressed his palms, and his nose against the transparency as the abdominous technician kicked Potter in the head, and moved in for a stomp-job. The smaller gladiator rolled right, with blood rushing from his left ear. His chin struck a stainless steel utility cart, which Ed Malcom tipped over onto his chest.
"!!!GET UP, AND FIGHT LIKE A MAN!!!" The mons technician railed, looking for things to throw, and using Potter's nuts for a soccer ball before he had a chance to stand. He was invertebrate. He cheated at every turn. When Pete Garforth attempted to intervene, he slid across a pool of loosed CD. From behind the iron curtain of sore feelings, Potter uttered congratulations about the other technician having a girlfriend.
Too bad that everyone thinks she's ugly. HA-HA!!! He brayed like a man who forgot his anti-psychotic meds', and twisted Ed Malcom's left Hush Puppy with such ferocity that the tip of his toe touched the front of his teeth. The superfatted one retaliated by shooting him with a receptacle of clear H20. Potter leered, his tunic soaked with blood, and water. Now that he was on his feet again, Deadhead Ed danced to a different tune--the Herky Jerky, backing away, and scanning frantically for exits.
All the things that combat had left him--his fear, and a good ass whipping. It was with great trepidation, and an amount of cowardice that was beneath contempt, Ed Malcom grabbed Emma Black, and attempted to use her for a human shield.
She bludgeoned his nose.
Malcom howled as he stumbled backwards, torrents of blood raging from his nostrils. Chris Potter took the opportunity to pounce again on the hapless Malcom.
"Chris!!! CHRIS!!!!!" Angelina approached the melee of flying fists and splattering blood but did not enter the fray. It was obvious they were out of control. She turned and glared at the harness bulls.
Pete Garforth, incensed about the 'girlfriend' comment, dogpiled on Potter and started to pound him. Potter ducked and rolled and Malcom received a jaw-dislocating swipe from Garforth. Not accepting insults either and misinterpreting Pete's ire as a heroic championing of her honor, Spectre jumped on Potter's back and began pulling, shaking his head by the handfuls of hair.
"GET OFF ME YOU FAT COW!!!" Potter shrieked at Specter, which wasn't the smartest thing to say since Roberta started slamming Chris' head against the tile.
"BOBBI!!! PETE!!! STOP!!!!" Angelina yelled ineffectively. By now, of course, Lars Manroot and Mohammed Singh had tried to break up the disarray but both were rewarded with black eyes for their efforts.
Angelina eyed the harness bulls, who were chucking and pointing with delight. She couldn't believe it. They appeared to be gambling, using their meal cards as collateral, on the wrestling/boxing match. Ang stormed up to them in disgust.
"WELL?!?!?!? What are you waiting for?!?! Stop them!!" She yelled in harness bull Pound's face. He gave her an innocent, smart ass 'who me?' grin.
Harness Bull LeBreque shrugged and unholstered his laser. Taking his time, he adjusted it to a wide-angle beam. Malcom, Potter, Garforth and Spectre dropped unconscious in a tangle heap. Ed Malcom, on the other hand, soon propped his wide load up with a pair of plunger elbows. It was something like Astarte, Queen of Heaven, pedaling to the surface of paradise, comforting the dumbos, and the ignoramouses. It was as though he was too overweight, too padded with exorbitant cellulite to acknowledge that he had been stunned.
"What are youse' doin' here?" He blared at Ang' disapprovingly-completely coherent, and comfortable in his social passim. He knew that she had been watching him. For months, perhaps even years. Looking for covert intelligence to ruin his already lousy reputation. Now, it appeared, his suspicions were at last bearing pineapples.
Malcom's sinuses ached from where Garforth had buffaloed' him. The others lay behind him like a pyre of Israelis following an Arab attack.
Lars Manroot sat with his back to the gooseneck lamp, methodically rubbing the orange, and black plasma burn that was caused from being too close to LeBreque's stun gun.
"You know." He said quietly, adding spittle to the stain. "I think-"
Then the RED ALERT claxon pulsed again, and he was tabula rasa, and without thought. A ghost of reduced G's passed across his chest, and the torque that he was placing on his forearms. When the atmospheric pressure was released, he, like the others, was left to founder like a baby in bathwater. Carts, cups, red flimsies, loose spanners--anything that wasn't anchored down, began to drift towards the ceiling panels. Manroot pinwheeled upwards like Charlie in the chocolate factory. Pound, and LeBreque formed a floating Circe Du Soliel, with Roberta Specter drifting serenely past them until her snoze was touching the ceiling. Away went Chris Potter, floating like a yacht, palms up, into the Noun antechamber.
Ed Malcom was raised only an inch off the floor, but even then, the laws of physics were pushing it. Ang' watched weightlessly as Garforth's analysis wafted away from her-a square flower on a round Moon.
"SYSTEM INTERRUPTION." Computer announced from all around them. "LINEAR MOMENTUM NEUTRALIZED. ZERO GRAVITY...."
"AWWWW...CHRIST!!! What's happened to the gravity control?!?!" Angelina blurted the question about two beats too late as she attempted a mid air roll to propel herself toward the commpost. "Grab onto something solid in case it comes back on!" She yelled ominously at the harness bulls and everyone else who was weightlessly adrift.
The floating and frantically flailing bodies reminded her of the 'last day' participants on carousel from the movie Logan's Run. With only holding onto a handle for the service panel under the analog clock of the compost, she pulled her commlock from her belt and keyed Main Mission.
"What the hell is going on down there?!!?" Mark Winter's face appeared on the monitor, as someone passed him computer register tape offscreen and Bergman's voice can be heard in the background.
"DUH! You tell me!!!" Angelina, holding on the handle while her feet drifted above her head, responded impolitely. "We don't even have LUNAR gravity down here. Would you kindly go through the steps of restoring it?"
Ang could hear 'Five seconds' coming from Andy Dempsey at his station.
"FIVE SECONDS?!?!" Ang blurted. "WAIT!! You just can't turn it on!! There are people at least 20 feet in the air against the ceiling in here."
"!!!YOU DAFT MORON!!!" Smitty flamed, joining in from one of the mid-tower broadcast huts. "!!!WHAT ARE YOU DOING??? WE DON'T HAVE THE ORIENTATION CONFIGURED YET!!!"
"No, we don't." Bergman agreed over Angs' commlock. "It has to be done in phases. First-"
"CORIOLIS ACCELLERATION...CROSS COUPLED ROTATIONAL BEAM...INDISTINCT." Computer announced with dreadful purpose.
"!!!I'M NOT CONTROLLING IT!!!" Dempsey crashed miserably.
"-a safewave." Bergman choked. "That's the procedure...get them...get them...."
Bobbi Specter screamed.
"...NO, NOT THE OFF-AXIS MOTION!!!" Smitty railed, with helpless rancor.
"...on one-eighth gravity...." The professor harmonized with the others--his advice meaning little more than the man in the Moon, you should pardon the pun. "Did you get that...I said-"
Harness Bull LeBreque saw what was coming, and scrambled like a drowning man for a position over one of the modules in order to break his fall. Pete Garforth attempted to swim to the safety of a nice, wide ceiling rafter with Specter in unassisting, frantic tow. Chris Potter was no where to be seen. He was away--floating on Cloud Nine. Harness Bull Pound, and Lars Manroot spat in the faces of Oberth, and Noordung--having achieved some success, using hand, over fist brute force to pull their way closer to the floor using a nearby 02 cylinder. Ed Malcom's weeping face turned to fearful, avaricious mush.
"CARTESIAN DEFAULT COORDINATES RETRIEVED." Computer pronounced sentence, sealing their fate. "GRAVITY RESTORED."
"!!!NOOOOOOOOOO!!!" Benjamin Ouma shouted over the open link.
His ululations were lost in the falling sky of the computer room, the cracking of broken bones, and ligaments. The sickly 'thuds,' and the malignant can openers that ripped skin, and shredded muscle, and disgorged ham.
So they fell from the sky, and were creamed in the land of metal, and glass, with their garbled wails, the only bagatelle left to them in the face of grim, body crushing defeat. LeBreque dove in like an Olympian--using his collarbone as a defense against the unflexing forces of linoleum. Garforth's forehead itched. The cure? Being bashed into unconsciousness, and with his tongue sticking out from the force of a head-on collision with a rack of armored voltage transducers. Roberta Specter landed atop one of the units, and escaped the Hindenberg disaster unscathed.
Just kidding. She slid like seal off the edge into the petty arms of the Moon, which took a meat hammer to her rib cage.
Beyond the vision port, the Constellate closed its lid--abhorred by a glimpse into human brilliance that it really didn't deserve, and too disconsolate to view more.
Medical Center was bustling with activity. For the third time in 24 hours, Angelina Carter walked through the double doors, though in a sense she was lucky because it was not in the capacity of a patient. The white board behind the nurse's station listed the current guests of the ward:
E. Malcom (discharged)
Dr. Bob Mathias plunked down at the computer terminal, taking a sip of his cold and sediment like coffee. Angelina leaned on the counter as he ignored her. At last, he acknowledged her with a single raised eyebrow and a scowl then returned his attention to the screen.
"What...it's not MY fault," Ang started with annoyance. "Don't get pissy with me, Bob. I'm not in the mood." She continued although he said nothing. She sighed. "How is Pete doing? I understand he is still in surgery....and what about the others? I haven't heard anything bad so can I assume they are OK?"
"Oh, and how is Alan?" She helped herself to her own crappy cup of MBA, if nothing else to shut up and give Mathias a chance to speak.
The eye in the sky appeared to be gazing compassionately at her. She ignored it otherwise she would lose it.
"Your assumptions are lousy." Mathias said curtly, wiping his bifocals against his tunic, and storing them in the pocket of his frock coat. "If we can find a way to evacuate the fluid on his temporal lobe, Garforth will live. He probably won't be the same person you knew before. The only algorithym he'll be inverting is a pictorial history of a Schmoo.'
"LeBreque hasn't regained consciousness, but when he does, he'll spend the next forty-eight hours screaming in pain. All the cocaine in Peru won't alleviate that one. In a way, he'd be better off if he didn't wake up a'toll.
"Manroot has a collapsed, right lung, and I kicked Ed Malcom out." He said, furiously capping his ink pen. "There's no cure for being a worthless asshole, and I told him so.
"Carter is in there." He allowed, nodding towards the ward.
Ang peered into the ward where the Chief Eagle pilot was sleeping soundly, then turned toward Mathias again. Professor Bergman came through the double doors as Helena Russell, still donned in surgical gown, approached the group. The Technical Chief was mentally numb and distressed. 'Why Pete Garforth? Why does one of my best engineers have to be reduced to a mental vegetable?
Why...why...WHY?!?!' she thought, becoming angry as well as remorseful.
"How's Bobbi and Chris?" she asked apprehensively, expecting more bad news.
"Potter has a knot the size Nebraska on his forehead." The physician said with enormous glum. "Fortunately, that's all. Specter will be discharged within the hour.
"Other than that, we've run out of sacrificial lambs." He said accusatorily, swiveling back towards his computer monitor. "I hope."
"Professor!" Angelina finally noticed Bergman. He casually leaned against the counter with cup of Vitaseed in hand as Russell poured herself a cup of reheated coffee.
"Did you wipe that smug grin off Mr. Ben 'I'm innocent' Ouma's face? Is he still even MAINTAINING that computer is okey-dokey with gravity control despite the evidence of mangled and banged up technicians?" She seethed then winced as Muhammad Singh let out an unsettling yell as Dr. Sullivan set his shoulder and collar bone in the other room. "Smitty says there's nothing wrong with the grav units." She downed the last of her coffee and contemplated a refill with the reheated pot next to Mathias.
"Well." The professor said, smiling gently. "At first glance it seemed that nothing was wrong."
He shook his head sadly, rubbing the ancient tension from his eyes with a single swipe.
"Now...." He said, watching Nunez close the shutters near Specter's bed. The bath of blue starlight was vanquished like a shade. "Now we aren't so sure." He paused, scratching his chin. Helena Russell set aside her blood pressure cuff, and listened neutrally. "Apparently there was a defective repulsor in Tall-D, one of the main broadcast towers. The experimental lab complex was also effected, though there were no injuries there."
"Thank God for low ceilings?" Helena Russell offered. She could see no good in the situation as long as one person got their bones crushed.
"Yes." Bergman said absently. "I'm having a hard time seeing how the problem made it past the Caution, And Warning system. There's more cable riding in those transmitters than AT&T in Manhattan. I'm no expert, but it seems obvious to me that having subsystems, within subsystems would create something of a stable environment."
He clapped his hands together with ungrudging finality.
"But, it didn't." He went on. "Incidentally, you're going to have your hands full with Smith." He told Ang. "He's convinced that it's another STC failure...like Alan."
"Maybe, maybe not," Angelina shrugged. "If there was a defective repulsor, whose to say there isn't something else mechanically or electrically wrong with ANY of our systems." She pounded her fist to the counter in morbid frustration. "Great. That's just great." She blurted as Gordon Cooper, clad in Alpha issued pajamas, shuffled his way to the lavatory in a tranquilized haze. His only interest in his state of mind was to get his 'business' done and get back to bed.
"Its bad enough failures like that escape routine maintenance surveys but now the systems we have in place to check and recheck can't even be trusted."
"Has Commander Koenig been reached yet." He asked Russell tentatively, beginning his segue into a new topic.
"No." The physician shook her head. "They crashed near La Condamine. It's difficult to transmit out there, though I'm sure the rescue team has informed him."
"The commander's Eagle crashed?!?" The Technical Chief's face became stricken with angst.
"That's another thing." Bergman told Ang,' without implication. Nevertheless, she had to know. "It happened about an hour ago. He, and Danielle were about 150 nautical miles out when the inertial guidance system began to malfunction. It couldn't identify any of the local constellations. Likewise our landing beacon. With no way to steer the ship, Danielle had no other recourse except to power down the command module, and allow it to soft land on the lunar surface.
"I'm sorry Angelina."
"Nothing for you to be sorry about, professor," she replied, deciding against the reheated coffee. "Things are falling apart and to make matters worse, our warning systems are not catching the faults."
Faults. They were not merely faults. Lives had been lost and people had been injured. The potential for more lives lost and more injuries loomed forebodingly but she did not voice it.
"We will start running manual diagnostics on all systems and computer analysis on the system test routines for all critical systems. I'm not trying to pass the blame, professor, but I still think computer is playing a major role in these problems. Afterall, why would system tests that have always worked, why would verification checks that have given us early warnings of failures just suddenly stop working? The only other possible cause would be that the STCs themselves, the operators conducting the tests, are not doing their jobs."
"As much as I hate to admit it, everyone makes a mistake and I can see it happening once as in the explosion of Eagle 5. However, then we have the problem with the gravity and now the Commander's Eagle crashing." She paused and thought but did not say, 'and whatever else may stop working.'
"Perhaps I'm biased but I just can't see three different STCs screwing up at the same time." Her statement was biased beyond a doubt. Koenig was not going to accept it as gospel either. The commander and Morrow were certainly going to hose her down when he returned. Angelina was in for a long night; she reconsidered the coffee and was instead offered a cup of Vitaseed from Bergman.
"You'll feel better." The professor assured her with infinite wisdom. "Even if it does taste like the base of a sod barrel."
"Maybe it wasn't." Helena Russell speculated, referencing the Hammer House, colossal creeping eye that was wending its way east on a sleepy, solarcentric orbit. As the Moon drifted into dark, beleaguered paracynthion, the more violent the waves of it's white deluge. She felt funky. Everyone had begun to feel funky, and to the tune of "Crystal Glass, And Voices"--the tension mounting, and draining them like tics. At some point--no doubt after breakfast--the universe had become insidious, and unreal. Not that it was particularly likeable to begin with. The question of 'Dragons: Myth, Or Reality' now seemed as apropos as yellow copy to a shit-head, avante guard like Orville Hendershot at Alpha News Service. Out there she could see more than an almighty big eye. She saw coelacanth, wrapping its tentacles around destabilized masts; she favored Megamouth sharks, and their regard for the dumb, intrepidity of men--dinner is served. Space was a fossil, and rotting bones littered the eaves.
"I doubt it." Bergman said flatly, sucking in priceless breath. "Possibly that phenomenon has something to do with our troubles- "-though frankly it seems to be more demoralizing than threatening. Then again, there's something to be said about the power of intimidation.
"Anxiety paralysis." He decided, giving Ang' an eccentric pat on the shoulder while tracing the Constellate's trajectory beyond Frigoris.
"How can we be sure?" Helena Russell said, unmoved. "We've sent four Eagles out there." She pointed out, turning her hypothesis towards Ang.' "According to a medical scans, it's identical to a human eye, but is that all that it is?"
"Beyond that, the data doesn't tell us anything, doctor," Ang replied, defeated. "Power source..indeterminate. It is completely unknown to us."
As if that statement was a news flash. Most of what they had encountered since leaving earth was "unknown" to them.
"Of course, maybe it's made of something we do understand but our sensor data could be faulty. I mean, if we can't trust computer monitoring of systems, how can we trust any computer analyzed data," she concluded, convinced of computer's contribution to their problems.
"On the other hand, why should we even be concerned about it? It hasn't actually DONE anything." She leaned against the window staring at the eye. "It just sits there and stares at us, blinking occasionally. It's one of the freakiest things I've seen out here, to be sure, but it doesn't seem to be harming us."
"I don't know about that," Helena Russell unsnapped her surgical gown and handed it to Maureen Tan, who gave the 'eye' an irritated look as she passed by the viewport. "As you have seen in your own area, there are increasing reports of fighting and general intolerance and impatience."
"And it seems to be escalating?" Bergman added.
Dr. Russell nodded.
"My mother always said that the most dangerous evils and threats come from within ourselves." Angelina swallowed a mouthful of the Vitaseed and scowled with disgust. "Of course, Mom was never in outerspace either."
"Yes, and was better off for it." The professor remarked.
These were the attitudes that puffed up Kitcheners, and MacArthurs carried with them on the fords of war; the innocent slain with the blood of good intentions covering their bared teeth. To ere was human, but to forgive, was too little, too late. What is unreasonable, though? Surgeons are reasonable when they are able to separate Siamese twins without having any spare parts left over. They are unreasonable when they remove the appendix, but leave the carcinogens. If they have enough acumen, such that they can cure ham, then they may be reasonable again. Human beings as paper dolls, waiting to be bleached out by thunderstorms, and trolloped upon by boot heels, and emulsified in splatters of coffee--oppressed by the rude, and the homicidally greedy, and the insoluble. Bergman had faith that the most intelligent human beings were noble idiots, drowning in their own self-made, philosophical slop.
For everyone, and everything, there is a breaking point. May those who consider otherwise be considered arrogant, and incontinent.
"Discipline is what holds us together here on Alpha." Bergman elocuted. "Discipline over ourselves. We can't possibly control what's out there...half the time, we don't even know where 'there' is. It wouldn't surprise me if everyone is becoming a bit unglued.
"Surely not to the point where we're on the brink of running around nude...and babbling...Ang,' you know what I mean...with poka-dots on our spines...that sort of thing...but we are--after all--human.
"By the way, we need not make matters worse by jumping to conclusions." This advisement was sent directly to Helena Russell.
"Not conclusions yet, Victor," Russell snapped uncharacteristically at Bergman. "But one must consider that the beginning of the psychological breakdown of our people occurring around the same time as the appearance of that thing," she pointed emphatically at the view port, "may very well be more than coincidence."
"We've already seen a couple dozen people who are near mental collapse, almost to the point of tears and frustration. We have been issuing tranquilizers but obviously we can't continue to sedate the ever growing number of people suffering from paranoia and depression."
She sighed, taking a sip of her black reheated coffee. "I'm sorry, Victor," she apologized for her unwarranted bitchiness," but from my perspective, responsible for the health of the people on Alpha, I am seeing rapid mental health deterioration."
"When are John, Pierre and the rescue team due back to base?"
Any time now, Bergman was about to say, but as they saw in the doorway, Carter was preparing to re-enter the Bantam rooster pit.
"That right, doc'?" The pilot smiled sarcastically, leaning against the yellow fluorescence with polite disrespect. "I try to find out the truth, so automatically I'm a few kangaroos short of the paddock."
He wasn't about to let the facts get in the way of his opinions.
Psychiatry, and medicine, Carter thought with vulgar epithets. In the county of opposable thumbs--next to 'A over T' politicking--they were the crappiest, the most overrated pieces of propaganda ever invented. He felt like shit, and had for quite some time. So much for mental hygiene. Completely forgetting that just yesterday, he and Helena Russell were friends, he balked, and sneered at her plain Jane attempt to compensate for her stupidity by pretending to be sublime. Immediately, she was a quack, trapped on the Moon because she was too dizzy to leave when the leaving was good. As for himself, he was left to a hollow, pitiful, and clumsy out house for hero wannabes.'
Eleanor Roosevelt. Now there was a Yankee of some consequence--her mirth, and her largesse, forever etched in the history books. Then you have Helena Russell, M.D.--stuck there on Moonbase Alpha like a chicken with its neck in a shakepole fence--spouting off bullshit like Madame Demento-fortune teller, and carnival rip-off artist, unpariel.
She unnerved him. Carter sought ways to depress her.
The five of them were nonchalantly missing out on the light show that was beginning to bluster against the vision ports like Saint Elmo's Fire. Grump Mathias was preparing to abrogate Parker for taking x-rays with the door open. Then he saw the conducive lightning that was embellishing the mounds of pumice two stories down, and moved past Garforth's bed to view the bright phasm.
"Now, you know better than that." Bergman reproved stridently. "Next time you really ought to join the conversation from the very beginning, Alan. Who knows, you might actually understand what's going on."
Maybe not. Probably not, but hope springs eternal.
"Alan," Ang interjected, "We've had a few more, uh, problems since you've been out of the game. One was an issue with the gravity control. The other was a problem with the Commander's eagle. We are still trying to find the cause of all these incidences."
She found that the steadying arm she put around him was not necessary and released him. Immensely relieved that he was up and about, she concluded the battered pilot did not have any serious head injury. At the same time, his irritation and vexation concerning the loss of Eagle 5 was more apparent than ever and the crash of Koenig's Eagle merely added fuel to the fire.
"The Commander and Big P only suffered minor injuries, though. They should be back in a matter of minutes." Of course, she purposely did not tell him that the ship was probably destined for scrap but he didn't need to know that now.
"Doctor Russell." Mathias said dumbly from the darkened ward. Hot photons warmed his forehead, cheeks, and the chest of his tunic. "Professor. You may want to see this."
"Professor Bergman." Controller Winters cut in on Bergman's commlock. Unable to comprehend, he was relegated to even deeper levels of his natural state--numbskulledness. "If you could check out the perimeter, and give us your opinion on this, it would be greatly appreciated."
The optical effect was unfamiliar and bizarre. Ang tried to consult her memory on optics and optical phenomena for an explanation. The lunar surface was...transparent.
"Whaaa..." Ang's mouth went dry. She swallowed hard in an attempt to lubricate her throat. The five of them were transfixed at the window. Carter looked to Ang for an explanation but the blank look on her face told him she did not have one.
"Professor?" Angelina looked to the older and more learned Bergman, at one time her graduate advisor. She felt like a graduate student again. She had no clue or explanation of what she was watching through the viewport.
"Opinion?" Bergman said, grasping his commlock, his astute dawning in, and out of the bright reflux. "It's strange. That's my opinion."
An oval foreground had formed, moving through the Plato sandbox like a spotlight. It evoked images of fugitives, fleeing from rough, well-deserved justice; nightclub improvs'; Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers--flying to Rio on winged shoes. Wherever it zigzagged over the unbroken mounds, and barbettes, the Imbrian aged topography, rife with FeO, became transparent; the old dream of surface desert, and craters becoming undetectable. Within the field, which gave off light the way a boiling teakettle will give off steam, there was an eerie, conspicuous, mobile glimpse at the Moon's lifeless core. Imponderable lines, shaped like careless Z's carved through hundreds, upon thousands, upon millions of tons of geological stratum, disappearing down a red ventilation shaft that it would have taken the WSC Core of Engineers eons to dig.
"How long has this been going on?" The professor inquired, keeping a tight clamp on his preconditioning.
"Not long." Winters replied optimistically.
Palms on the sill, Carter stood in his bare feet, and blue, karate pajamas betwixt Ang,' and Mathias, the corners of his mouth tightening in dumbfoundment, and dismay.
"Tell me that ain't a woop?"
Helena Russell was a mass of expressionless oak, her eyes being the only thing to betray her bedazzlement.
The hole in the Moon started towards the Vallis Alpes, stopping at the furrow, and then--as if recalling some forgotten task--started back towards the complex. It shortcutted through the cold, titanium roof of the security cube--the occupants, therein becoming horrificated Gumby figures. It paused by the exterior plumbing at the base of Medical Center, and then crawled up the wall, and entered the base through the bulkhead where Bergman was standing.
"Uh, Winters." The professor's jawbone clacked up, and down with bizarre equipoise. The rest of his body was completely discorporate. "Just my opinion, but I think this may be rather important. Exactly what are you reading now."
Mathias could see through his eye sockets to the burning sun that used to be Ward-C.
"Nothing." The deputy controller said with desperate paze, and freeze. "Absolutely nothing. The network went down about five minutes ago. We're without scanners, and sensors."
As nearly as John Koenig could tell--this was his complete report on the Eagle Five rendezvous mission:
A) Eagle Five Detailed Objectives, And Experiments (0).
B) Eagle Five Achievements (Double Zero).
C) Eagle Five Record Of Lunar Events (Wrecked Ship, and Zero).
D) Powered Flight Sequence Of Events (Head Against DPS Control Panel).
E) Mission Sequence Of Events (0)
F) Translunar, And Trans-Constellate Maneuver Summary (See The Above).
And so on, and so forth.
"Commander, we're all shut down out here." Pierre Danielle said from the darkened equipment bay between the ship's command, and service modules. "Rescue Eagle Three is standing by. Rescue Eagle Nine is with the salvage fleet over Aristarchus. They should be arriving any minute now to coordinate the removal.
"After that, she belongs to the metallurgy team.
"We can leave whenever you're ready." He said, turning to watch the other ship's operations team exit through the temporary corridor. Phil Inoshiro stopped to pick up an ink pen that he dropped. Otherwise, it was a clear, open-and-shut case of ineptitude, and vainglorious waste.
"Yeah." The commander said, handing Big-P the useless flight recorder, which would, no doubt, grow useless acres of wheat for the Lunar Council to deliberate upon. "I'm ready now."
He stooped over his couch to switch off the random, pointless navigational glyphs. It had been as helpful as a fifty-year-old road map. Deprived of the digital imaging provided by the screens, the module was nothing, but loose straps, and blinking emergency lights, pathetically calling for data retrieval that was no longer germane.
He heard the CMP's booted footfalls fade into the passenger module. John Koenig prayed--not for treasures, or imperial powers, or big chested women to sooth him--but rather, for common sense. The native intelligence to find their butts with both hands; to know what was going on.
"You must avoid them...please." An emotional voice vibrated behind him. "They don't know you're here yet."
"Avoid who, Big-P?" He said, shaking his head, but as he turned, he saw that he was standing alone, and in the dark.
"WHAT?!?" Angelina blurted in dismay despite the optical marvel outside. "FIVE MINUTES AGO?!? Why didn't someone call me?!?!"
"Because the most competent person is working on it!" Ben Ouma blustered in the background with arrows of fire. "ME!!"
Ang burst out in frustrated and sardonic laughter. "Right. We're dead."
"I DON'T FUCKING APPRECIATE YOUR ROYAL BITCHINESS, HOLIER THAN..."
"Screw you, Ouma," Ang cut him off and cut the link. She shook her head, dispelling some of the pent up energy. Two seconds ago, if she could reach through monitor-land and pull Benjamin Ouma through the cables to her, she would have done so.
"That dumb ass is going to get us all killed," she bitterly proclaimed as she turned away from the commpost and came face to face with Commander Koenig.
The pawnbrokers of ubiquity turned their camera on Pete Garforth next, turning him into a life-sized version of Helena Russell's anatomical man-statue. His heart, and lungs became panoptical while he doped off. The bio-med sensors on his chest emitted an additional ping with the heightened voltage. To the left, Bob Mathias' clenched fist was caught in the exposure of blood, and sinew. Bergman could see every bone, every carnal, every flanges. He was a physician, without secrets--all the way up the radius of his right arm. Truman Starns entered the ward in time to have his patella, and femur bones placed under spectroscopic analysis.
"It's puzzling." Bergman glossed, staring down at the arc of pant leg that was missing. In this light of all truth, he was nothing, but an annotated tarsal. Somewhere further up, a plastic defibrillator, with a microprocessing chip pumped the blood that plunged through his veins that made him frivolous as the room whirred like a grinder. "What do you make of it, John."
There was no response from the commander, whose bleak visage held Ang' in a narcoleptic stare. His face seemed too white; his demeanor slightly out of character. He behaved like a man who was walking a tightrope over eternity. His aura was one of caution, and paranoia, and suspicion. He looked at Ang' with scunner, seizing her lip, and forcing it up for inspection like a horse's mouth.
"Hey, what gives?" Carter objected, grabbing Koenig by his black stripe. "Commander?"
He landed against Helena Russell's bookshelf, completely unwinded. Dry medical tomes from Harvard, and Yale began to avalanche upon his thick, vertiginous mop.
"Ang.'" Bergman said secretly. "Better step away from him."
He was the first to notice what should have been a dead give away. Then again, how many people truly pay attention to the color of a person's eyes. John Koenig saw the world through circles of extreme blue. This being's eyes were blue, but they were more frozen, and deliberate--they spoke more of manufacture than birth.
What does that remind us of, the professor mused to himself as he viewed the giant, similar-eyed Constellate.
"JOHN!! Stop!!!" Helena Russell pulled at Koenig's arm. "John!! What are you doing?"
Helena Russell pull Koenig away while Angelina Carter backed away, removing her jaw from his grasp. She was a little stunned. It wasn't her jaw that was aching where he had his hold but her head felt like it would explode. She was seeing stars and pound signs and the room was a perplexing array of lights and distorted sounds, as if she was in another place.
She shook her head and the contours of Medical Center returned.
Helena Russell had maintained her hold of Koenig and she too seem to be in a different place. She did not appear to be distressed and Koenig locked eyes with her, keeping her in a staring contest with him, while holding onto her upper arms. She had returned the grasp on his biceps and remain transfixed in his gaze with a relaxed though odd expression.
For a moment, the Moon was binocular.
The Koenig facsimile gently took the field MED Scanner that Russell was holding, and studied it. After an ignorant attempt to remove one of the rotary switches for inspection, he handed it back to her.
Thank you. A quiver of his pallid lips communicated coarsely. You're inferior, but I'll treat you with respect, I guess.
"This is Rescue Eagle Three." John Koenig's hassled voice broke across the Medical Center link. "Be advised, we're now operating on the APS. We're ranging, and request coordinates for final approach.
"Tell Dr. Carter I'd like to see her in my office as soon as we land."
"Rescue Eagle Three, Alpha." Winters returned. "Pad one has developed a hydro-electrical problem. We're putting you on a star-angled, mid-course correction. On the next orbit, we'll try to set you down on pad two."
"???Try???" The commander blazed from 2,000 kilometers distant, and falling. "WINTERS, JUST LAND THE GODDAMN SHIP."
In the mean time, the intruder vanished, and took his light show with him.
Angelina and Carter assisted each other up and leaned against the sill. Ang was dreading the asschewing she was about to receive from the Commander and probably Morrow. The 'Koenig' that wasn't Koenig in Medical was far more benevolent than the Koenig approaching Launch Pad 2. The Koenig in the Eagle was pissed off and wanted answers; for the first time in her professional career, she had no answers and worse yet, no plan.
Ang and Carter stared out the viewport. The now sleepy, bloodshot 'eye' stared back at them. It blinked several times, as the prominent veins began to recede and disappear.
"We have acquisition of signal." Gordon Cooper said over the white room speakers. "Recovery crews standby."
Several people awaited the ship's arrival. Carter was there, lump on his head. He waited beside Ang,' maddened at Koenig's crude observation of his wife's upper lip. It was Koenig; it wasn't Koenig. He is Rock Quarry. Bergman was ombudsman. He waited patiently, trying to build a structure around these baffling conundrums. Helena Russell stood beside Ang.' Ang,' in turn, was standing beside Ben Ouma who refused to talk to her.
Carter smelled sunrise peaches.
Harness Bulls Dyronforth, and Pound were the gatekeepers. They stood in the margins like concrete caesars. The latter was recently emancipated from a broken down, travel tube car. The former swore solemn oaths, never again to eat Gonzales' crappy food in the dining complex. He hated the new rooster, which had flogged him, and gnarled his helmet. His cudgels were heard loud.
The red, striped rescue Eagle floated down onto the turntable in an exhaustive, 29 fps spray of plasmatics. Long shadows grew across her port side from the surrounding depot lights as the boarding tube telescoped towards the primary hatch. The water-glycol, coolant loops began to hum as the crew egressed at their leisure.
The pumps hissed. The rescue team was sterilized. The indicator light over the outer airlock went from a fiery red DANGER in countdown font, to the pressurized, admissible green for 'GO.'
The sealtite on the twin doors peeled away, and out stepped a pair of aliens, each seven feet tall, approximately. They stood at different poles, both long, and gaunt of face, improbable of eye, and wearing long, lavender robes, of European reminder. Their garb included long headdresses that wrapped about their chins, and looked almost papal in design.
Angelina Verdeschi Carter, Chief of Technical Section blinked at the illusions and it was gone. She considered that perhaps she only WISHED she saw aliens emerging from the doors. If the individuals had been alien, oh yes, at least Koenig's attention would be occupied by something other than all of the screw-ups and breakdowns across the base.
Commander John Koenig, followed by Pierre Danielle, who preferred to hide in the shadows, was incensed and stopped suddenly, looking back and forth between Angelina Carter and Benjamin Ouma. Ouma, who had a smug 'Now you're in for it' look on his face, shifted his stance, looking away and realizing that he would not escape the coming fire storm either.
Angelina had never seen Koenig like this before. His red face was set in stone with the exception of the bulging veins in his temple. His eyes, their natural color, pierced like icy daggers.
She cleared her throat, nervously. "I'm glad to see you are not injured, Commander," she offered. His silence was unnerving and dread spread to the pit of her stomach.
"OH NO." Koenig cut emphatic air between himself, and Benjamin Ouma. "I DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT."
He stormed down the accessway to the Ready Room, and tossed his EVA harness to Marilys Singh, and Ozro Covington. Pierre Danielle did likewise, only he was nicer about it. The petite Singh showed amazing physical prowess, catching the 02 tanks, and hitching them onto the table without sweat, or duress. Covington was working on the CMP's right seal ring. Singh was detaching the lanyard pocket. John Koenig climbed out of his own for chrissakes suit, ripping the slide fastener down, and dropping the orange beta cloth onto the floor.
With angry chagrin, he noticed that Bergman, Carter, and Dr. Carter were standing by the shield door.
"You haven't even heard what I have to say yet." The computer chief began to plead with dire inclemency.
"Before the engines were gimbaled." Koenig argued, leaning against the locker to zip his boots. "Before launch sequence initiate." He paused, thanking Ozro Covington for tossing his belt to him. "Before I even stepped off the damn travel tube, computer gave a high estimate on the capability, and duration of our PGS.
"I know these things, Ouma." He asserted. "I should. I was sitting right there when Dempsey ran the checks."
It burned John Koenig's soul to be presumed stupid.
Helena Russell ran the bioscanner over Koenig and aside from elevated blood pressure, which was both expected and explainable under the circumstance, the commander was physically okay. She nodded to him but also gave him the 'eye' (no pun intended) to take it easy, that she would be 'watching' him.
"There is nothing wrong with computer," Ouma launched his attack with both barrels. "My team and I have gone over and over the software routines and we can't find anything."
"Oh really?!?" Ang cocked an eyebrow, challenging. "You've gone through EVERY program? EVERY subroutine?!?! Right. Sure, Ben. What a crock. That sort of examination takes days, Ben, DAYS not HOURS!! What do you think I am, an idiot?!?!"
"Well...." Ouma eyed her coolly then turned to face her. "With the exception of Eagle 5, which is STILL unknown, the loss of gravity appears to be MECHANICALLY related, the malfunction of the Commander's Eagle appears to be MECHANICALLY related and the general breakdown of equipment and services all appear to be MECHANICALLY related...."
"NOW WAIT A MINUTE," Angelina angrily interrupted, "You're pulling theories out of your ass. Just because you ran some preliminary scan of a subroutine and didn't find anything software, you wash your hands of it and say 'Not me! Not computer' without any attempt to rip the fucking thing apart! While my technicians stumble all over themselves trying to figure out what is happening, your people are convinced computer is not the problem and taking off for yet ANOTHER coffee break!!!"
"ARE YOU ACCUSING ME OF NOT DOING MY JOB?!?!?!" Ouma fumed angrily, almost nose to nose with her, fist clenching.
Angelina merely stared at him, slightly smirking and not answering him.
'Go ahead,' Ouma imagined her taunting him with her eyes,'go ahead and belt me a good one.'
He wanted to bitch slap her a good one. He always liked working with her before; they had always been friends and cooperative allies. But now....Now he REALLY disliked her. He locked her into the stare. No, he would not smack her. He really didn't care that it wasn't decent to strike a woman but the fact that her husband with famous painful left hook was standing less than 5 feet from her would repay the slight, despite his battered condition, one hundred fold did not appeal to Ouma. He was not interested in getting a rearranged face.
In the viewport beyond the scene, the eye studied the confrontation, lids squinting.
"It's not good to put things on the never, never, Ouma." Carter speculated. "Especially with the way I'm feeling right now."
In space, the Constellate dimmed.
"???Do you mind???" Koenig hectored as Russell moved her MED Scanner over his liver, and kidneys. That was always her final check. He didn't know if this was true when she examined others, but it was in his case--as if he was a chronic alcoholic.
"You WILL let me do my job, John," Helena stated with icy firmness and resolve. She was beginning to get a headache and not in the mood for his argumentative nature.
"Oh." Bergman stumbled, looking for a way to disarm these cruise missiles. "I wanted to tell you--we had something EXTRAORDINARY happen." He brimmed over, rubbing his palms together fervently--as if having your upper lip pulled up by a phony commander, and being turned invisible were the equivalent of gold bullion.
"Really?" Koenig scowled. "That's great, Victor. I too had something EXTRAORDINARY happen. I crashed.
"Several people were injured during that debacle in the computer room, and as nearly as I can tell, we're in as dangerous a situation as we've ever been in." He turned, frowning deeply at the open doorway. Bergman watched the manner of this aside, and it was less of a turning away as it was a reaction. "No." Koenig said to the wall. "Thank you...I don't have time for that now."
His gaze softened--as if he felt guilty for being so terse to the lifeless, open doorway.
Carter looked at Ang' with dizzying uncertainty, his brow furrowing at the weirdness of what they were watching. It was odd. Koenig looked dumb. No person rapped to himself or herself at length like that. Ouma was too busy, helming the schooner of selfishness, and self-reproach to notice that the commander was talking to himself.
Helena stood transfixed, watching Koenig carry on a conversation with himself when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Victor begin to sway. The professor became flush and began to sweat profusely, raising a wizened hand to his forehead.
"Just FAX it to me later." He told the space between the two walls. The open air didn't take offense, fortunately, and he did a worthy job of forcing a smile until nobody, and nothing exited the room. "Strange. I've never seen her before." He told the others wistfully, and chuckled like Dwight Frye doing Rennfield.
As Koenig turned toward the group from his one-man world, Bergman collapsed backwards as Ang tried to lower him down and Carter grabbed his other arm to help support the weight
"Professor!!" Ang exclaimed, worry etching on her face as Russell raced to his side, once again retrieving the bioscanner from its case and began to run it over Bergman. "What's wrong with him?" Ang asked, before the first pieces of data were fed into the scanner.
I feel more like me now that I'm here, than I do now, or so the melody came to be written.
From far, and abroad; transcending the foaming waves of the blue Atlantic....
Professor Guntram Borkenville, PhD, MA, BA, BSIT, LSM, DVA, SMA; University of Phoenix, along with the practical MSCIS; Senior honcho, and creator of '98 PC Applications, which revolutionized disks, memory, and sent DOS to its final resting place; professional engineer, and exchange consultant for Johns Hopkins, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Prometheus of pneumonic circuitry, and holographic delivery systems; adjunct Lucasian professor of mathematics at Carnegie Melon, posthumously; author of twenty (not nineteen, or eighteen) books on hypothetical singularities, and not a one of them interesting; advisor to Neil Turok of Cambridge University, and contributor to the 'partial theory;' explorer in the further reaches of Tetpartite Computer Mechanics, and artificial intelligence; hailed by CGI dickheads all over the globe for his use of primitive software to display the properties of the number 'one,' followed by 24 zeros (as representative of the observable universe); quadruple winner of the NOBEL Prize.
Beneath the Champs Elysses....
Replicator of a functioning, multiempathic interface, but with precious little remuneration, or approbation from his fellow parisians who satirized him, and denounced him for his attempts to create an android ground hog. Revered by NATO for his creation of Borkenville's Yarn (and by this, not an authorized biography of his life, and times, but rather a logic bomb that could melt the hardware, operated by attaches of the Tricontinent).
Hater of women, murderer of love, and drinker of acorn sap.
"This bothers you doesn't it?" His tormentor said, floating next to him in the airless, confined maze of the crystal cerebellum. All around them, bursts of mineral knowledge gravity fed their way to rapid memory retrieval. The effect was what powered Moonbase Alpha's nervous system. "Having to shut down? It leaves you feeling alyo gazrazh, does it not?"
Had he not been wearing a pressure suit, the smug bastard would have blown his nose, the genius mused. He was still smarting from a too close shave with a straight razor, and now was not the time for Colonel Yuri Petrov's intimidation, and relentless assholery.
"No." Borkenville quivered, selecting the only vitreous node that contained black veins. "I don't feel ironic."
He understood the Russian transliterations. Skoal, comrade. He should. For the past ten years he had been cajoled, even threatened with them in an ongoing, perditious cycle.
"The commander requested that central computer be turned off." The colonel said, looking at a diamond shaped impurity in one of the many facets. "I have allowed you to assist because it is for the good of the base. Only you can shut down the higher functions, while allowing the purely autonomic functions to continue."
The professor sneered, tracing the artery to it's quantum core.
"The common good?" He repeated in unlikely tones. "To you, my friend, what constitutes 'goodness' is to keep me imprisoned in a cell, deep in the cortex of Evil Mushroom."
"Such pessimism." Petrov criticized. "Friends do not do such things."
Borkenville felt the tug on his 02 feed prominently.
"All I want." The colonel explained, pulling even harder against the tube which fed into the professor's life mix tank. "Is to ensure that you don't bring anything to the surface that we wouldn't allow down there in the bunker.
"After all, you, and I--we're but Vasya Pupkins? True?"
For a moment, Borkenville believed that he was about to die, but at the last minute the colonel relinquished his reaper's clutch on the professor's air hose.
"We're o'kay." The colonel smiled, with thunder, and probable gaze. "Finish your work here, and let us return to our duties."
He did, and they did.
The eye gazed sullenly at the group through the viewport of the Commander's office. Ang stood by the window as the rest of the Command staff filed into the pit area and took their seats. All except the Commander, who was still at his desk, receiving and reviewing the mounting number of mechanical and electrical failures around the base.
Ang took her seat next to Carter; on her other side was Sandra Benes, who actually sat between Ang and Ben Ouma, as a buffer or a wall. Dr. Russell rushed in and took the seat next to Ouma. The empty moduform chair on her other side would soon be Koenig's and next to him, Morrow was pulling up his chair with palm pilot in hand. Conspicuously absent was Professor Bergman, who was still in Medical under evaluation.
Koenig closed the privacy door to Main Mission and stepped into the pit to his chair. He was not a happy camper. He gazed sullenly at Angelina Carter then Ben Ouma then shifted his attention, temporarily to Dr. Russell.
"What is the situation with Victor, Helena?" He paused then added. "What is your report in general regarding the mental and physical health of the people on this base?"
"Awry." The physician responded flatly, the starlight giving her fair features a puffed, sardonic look. "One ward is full. No thanks to central computer. Everyone else is fairing as well as can be expected, considering they've been blown up; dropped on their heads; electrocuted; trapped in elevators.
"Professor Bergman's experienced an anomalous defibrillation. It's definitely a cardiac problem, and we have no idea why it happened." She glummed. "Go figure.
"Since medical implants aren't a computer domain, we're looking into the somatic possibilities. Exploratory surgery isn't exactly my first choice as far as solutions go, but if it continues, I'm afraid we'll have no choice."
"Yes, yes, yes." Ouma squawked. "Let's all blame it on computer."
He was pecked to death, and fresh out of superlatives.
"Well--I reckon I do blame it on computer." Carter retorted proudly. "Commander, it's like I was trying to say before--it's got us right behind the eight ball. It's amazing how many people can die when a piece of software goes this much bonkers."
He showed them an inch betwixt his two forefingers.
"Since when are you a computer expert, Captain?" Ouma launched the flaming arrow, seething. "Commander, I have my best people working on it now. I have none other than Dr. Borkenville working on the subroutines, looking for bugs. So far, he hasn't found any and in his professional opinion, there probably won't be any problems."
"Far be it from any of us to question the intellect of a 'genius' such as Borkenville." Ang sneered in response, narrowing her eyes.
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" Koenig shouted while slamming his fist to the table. Helena Russell merely blinked.
"EVERYONE KNOWS THAT TECHNICAL SECTION IS FUCKING UP, COMMANDER!!!! SHE," Ben pointed to Angelina vociferously," AND HER ARMY OF HALF WITS CAN'T SEEM TO KEEP THE FRIGGEN BASE TOGETHER BUT, OH NO, ITS EASIER TO BLAME COMPUTER!!!"
"You're so pathetic," Ang hissed. "Defending that goddamn machine to the last."
"I SAID ENOUGH!!!" Koenig beat the table again while standing, this time startling Ang and Sandra in their chairs.
Then Petrov arrived for the occlusion--as always, precisely on time, and with vetted report.
"Commander Koenig." The colonel--'spokesperson' for the Great Borkenville--said from the commstation screen. In the module below, the analogue lunar clock was an hour behind. "The Plugs-Out procedure is now completed. Per your request, 8192 375 crystal based processors, deactivated. Five terabytes of memory, unavailable; still capable of processing 5.6 teraflops."
"Upon reactivation, there may be a problem with LOGOS, and SYNCHO." The professor reminded him from somewhere, stage right, but Petrov beat him into submission again with thinning lips, and possible brows.
"Stand by for updates." The colonel told them all as his coolness was replaced with the moonbase test pattern.
"That guy's a weirdo." Carter commented, and the eye in space grew wider with trepidation. "Borkenville. Do we really need him working on this? Dr. Belgarion knows those systems.
"Hell, the good Dr. Carter there could throw the switch." He brimmed with orbiting pride. "Why do we need bread baskets from a psychopath?"
"Plugs-Out procedure?" Ouma ignored him, turning towards Koenig with cryptic disbelief. "What did he mean? The PO is a down-moding directive. You ordered computer to be turned off?
His head grew oblong with piteous, unacceptance, and his vocal cords were strained as he held back the canal of ridiculous schmaltz. To hear Ben Ouma talk, his childhood friend had just been eviscerated with a machete. Carter thought he was nuts. He wasn't acting like himself, to say the least, but at the same time, the lemonade optimism of Ouma remained intact on the surface. He continued to smile, but it was overwritten with maudlin self-indulgence, and a puny surrender to fate.
The pilot wanted to slap him.
"That's right, Ouma," Koenig swiveled slightly toward him with wrinkled and annoyed brow. "In order to eliminate computer as a possible culprit, we have to take it out of the equation as much as possible. Technicians have been reassigned to monitor critical systems and non-critical functions will be temporarily unavailable or under manual operation."
Ouma shook his head sourly in response but otherwise said nothing.
"That means that elevators and travel tubes have been disabled. We walk around the base now." Koenig looked around at the staff.
"Sir," Sandra offered, "have we even eliminated the possibility that...that thing," she pointed to the viewport at the eye, which turned a sleepy glance toward her, "that thing may be somehow responsible for all of this?"
"Although it is a little unnerving," Ang attempted to answer, "well, ok, actually A LOT unnerving, it's not showing any evidence of influencing us. It is not emitting energy, radioactivity or magnetic fields. It's just...well, its just sitting there, staring at us."
"Yes, but our sensor data is only measuring what is known to us," Sandra interjected.
"True," Ang nodded.
"And, the data is being analyzed by computer which is also in question..."
"Oh CHRIST! Here we go again!!!" Ouma interrupted, slamming down his red flimsie, his cheeks now flushed purple against his dark skin.
"Talk about a freeze-out." Carter observed, blocking out the computer's bleepity-bleep, histrionics. "No briefing; no bio-medical telemetry?" He said, giving Russell a consolatory nod. She replied with an affirmative blink. "No summary upon which we can develop a procedure, or a practical plan of action.
"A bit more choke, and we would have started." He said, relaxing in his moue. Out of number four, he saw the Constellate, undulating...it's lids mostly closed, as if sleeping, and dreaming. "If that's the source of our problem, we'd best be settling its hash, and fast. You know...." The pilot trailed. "If it's nosey enough to want to kill us, that's one thing....
"I prescribe a laser Eagle--give it a couple of hyper Dioxide bursts. Blind it, and be done with it."
"That may not be enough." Lorna O'Brian--Victor Bergman's subrogate hypothesized. "An effective solution may involve killing it."
She had never killed anyone in her life. Not even Klaus Rotstein, who probably deserved killing.
"'I am life, and I am death.'" The seemingly omnipresent Colonel Petrov extracted from the open door to Koenig's office. He shook his head sadly as he returned his commlock to his belt. "A glut of blood might change your mind." He said from experience, his flares deigning the steps as he moved into the meeting area. "Certainly, it changed mine. Pardon me for being late commander." He apologized, as he dropped into the open seat next to Paul Morrow. "I had urgent business to attend to."
M. Borkenville was stowed away now--back to manacles, and salt-water refreshments. It was the best thing. A kilometer below the surface of the Moon, Evil Mushroom was refulgent, and unified once more.
Then a chromatography of light pierced the big doors, and came to rest on Angelina Carter's forehead. No one seemed to notice as it spoke to her, and vituperated her. It insulted her style, and waited for an angry response to emerge.
No, the light laughed like Don Rickles, and in Angs' mind, she was already a hockey puck. No one else can hear, or see this. Why should they? The light asked her vengefully. I will be a helpmete, but on my own terms, no? Too many have dispensed with generosity in order to practice charity.
I'm sure you agree. Do you read Camus? The light asked arrogantly, not allowing her to get a thought in edgewise. You're drinking coffee. It said tragically. I need a cup. Caffe with cream, squeezed from healthy, bearded goats.
As Yuri Petrov spoke, everyone appeared to listen attentively, but Angelina could not hear a word he said. His lips moved in painful slow motion. She was deaf, except for the voice of the light. Even the background noise was muffled, and the voice echoed and grew louder. She wanted to speak but there was a disconnect between her brain and her vocal chords. All she could do was listen to the disembodied speaker, while watching Petrov's lips move. It was almost like she was watching a poorly dubbed movie and the colonel's mouth movements were definitely out of sync with the voice. It struck her as odd, even amusing.
Her amusement faded as her stomach started to turn and Petrov's lips seemed to grow to monstrous, funhouse proportions. She felt deathly ill and wanted desperately to get away by passing out but it would not let her go.
"Yes, the truth." Petrov pondered with considerable, bottomless pit meaning. "Alright, your plan is ridiculous." He confessed, twiddling his thumbs. "It has a few logistics problems, to say the least. A tactical disaster? Most certainly."
Honesty purged his soul.
"???Why???" Carter huffed. He could tell by Angs' purposeful silence, and Florence Nightingale manners that she agreed with him.
"The ships are small." The colonel explained simply. "The target is quite large." He added with a nod towards the vision port. "It would be the equivalent of using two gnats to launch an attack on the USS Missouri, to quote an Americanism." He chuckled at a joke that was beyond Ben Ouma. He also felt excusatory. It embarrassed him to have to be so elementary before John Koenig, and his brothers, and sisters of science. He considered offering a quote by Douglas MacArthur: "Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interest wrinkles the soul!" He didn't think they would understand the portend of that either.
He was always right, his Talbot-like curse.
Idiot. The light nudged Angs' shoulder to get her attention. Listen to him. To hear him talk he's the king of Tunisia, and just as memorable. He'll never change. Not in a million years. Not in a million, billion, trajillion years. The voice fried, and popped with vitriolic grease, but paused to return to positive thinking. He was worse when he was younger. The light conceded in all fairness.
Ma soeur, you seem ill? Photon digits stretched over a corner of her medulla oblongata. Swallow an aspirin with a glass of Absinthe. It works for me when I have the heaving belches.
"No." Carter rebuked, shaking his head. "Look here--we send a couple of battle wagons out. They're armed to the hilt. We follow coordinates provided by Dr. Russell, and we-"
"Perform Lasik on it?" Petrov surmised, and Sandra Benes snickered.
"Maybe." The pilot debated preposterously. "That would be better than just sitting on our cans while the base falls down around our ears."
"What if...." The colonel proposed. "You travel to the appointed killing zone, and discover--irrevocably--that they eye has been replaced by an anatomical part that is much more threatening...a foot...a set of teeth. Where will you be then, my impetuous friend?"
Mademoiselle. The light said rudely, but it needed her attention. Look, the carnival of Antwerp--famous throughout all of Europa. Then the Waffen SS arrived, and spoiled everything. Holographic ghosts carrouselled around Angs' reeling head. She saw Black Summatran Rhinoes, Orungutuns, miniature donkeys. She was vilified by the aroma of wild animal shit.
"Ang,' do you have anything you'd like to add to this." Koenig wondered, squeezing the horrific aggravation from his eyes.
With a rasping exhalation, she slumped backwards in her moduform chair. All she could see was blackness but she heard the insistent voices, the movement of chairs, a pair or two of arms around her, lowering her to the gray tile floor.
The voice of the light seemed to be lost in the shuffle though it was still there.
"Ang...Ang.." Dr. Russell's crisp voice snapped at her through the blended voices and sounds. Angelina's eyes were half open as she tried to bring the room back into focus out of the blackness, but her lids weighed 1000 tons and when she closed them, everything was black again; except for the ghostly image of the eye.
"When did you last eat?" Russell again persisted as she scanned her. Coffee with imitation cream in the morning for breakfast; otherwise, Ang did not remember eating that day.
"I doubt if it was today," the CMO said in veiled disgust. "I would say that this is a result of low blood sugar." Helena Russell stated her oversimplified diagnosis.
Dr. Russell never ceased to be amazed at the often simplistic stupidity of the Command Staff. They were all intelligent, hard working and dedicated people but when it came to taking care of themselves, they often overlooked themselves. Helena shook her head. She had enough patients in medical with injuries due to stupidity.
"That's it," Dr. Russell stood up, exasperated. "I want food sent in for everyone in this room right now. No one leaves until everyone has had dinner. Can anyone of you tell me you've taken time for nourishment today?!??!"
Her question was met with silence. Sandra Benes quietly pulled her commlock from her belt, contacting Gonzales, as Russell raged on.
"I don't get it," she paced between the conference table and the viewport. The eye appeared to awaken from its slumber, looking on curiously. "You are responsible for the people and processes of this base yet you know that if you don't take care of yourselves, you will not be able to effectively perform your jobs!!!"
"Helena.." Koenig interjected.
"NO, JOHN!" She moved away. "You all are ridiculous and irresponsible!! How many times must you be told, like children, that you must eat regular meals for optimal energy. HMMM???"
"It...it...won't hurt us. It just watches and learns. It won't hurt us," Angelina mumbled, barely coherently from the floor. In a half sitting position supported by Carter, she tried to fight her way back to full consciousness again, refocusing on the yellow wall panels of the room.
To teach is to know oneself. The sunbeam contradicted, warming her rankled forehead. It settled into an empty seat beside Petrol, and glowed livid with rage. The fact that he was held in such contempt appeared to be lost on the colonel, who continued to stare at a fix between the big doors.
"Maybe her problem isn't food." He suggested, but went no further.
Clever, isn't he? The ray imparted facetiously to Ang,' moving cautiously away from the colonel whose astute appeared to follow it across the room anyway. The beam stooped to whisper sweet nothings in Angs' ear. Three hours from now, we will reach the end of the lunar day. It confided. You must go the Alpine Valley--the EOG plant in Worden's Cavern. I'll leave something for you there. What's on the label WILL NOT be the true contents of the item.
When you find it, you shall know what to do with it. No?
Oh, it said, leaving hurriedly. Incidentally, let us keep this secret between the two of us. He's such a moron, isn't he? It said of Petrov, and then left her alone.
A complete meal from the four food groups (reprocessed and pasteurize to resemble the four food groups but nutrition nevertheless) and a 3 hour nap did not quell the burning anxiety in Angelina Carter's head. She stared up at the ceiling, in the near darkness, miserable and angst ridden.
Alan tossed and turned next to her though Nicky slumbered deeply, curled up between them. Apparently, the toddler was also unsettled by the presence of the 'eye' in the black sky and had crawled into bed with them. 'Its good one of us gets a goodnight's sleep,' she thought, as she pulled the child next to her into her arms. He sighed deeply.
The captain turned over and she noticed him gazing at her through heavy, half-closed lids.
"Are you awake?" Ang whispered as she brushed her cheek against the child's white hair and kissed his fragrant head.
"I'm doing Peter Pan right now." Carter mumbled through an oatmeal of exhaustion. He rolled over, holding his commlock over his head a full minute before summoning the energy to check the time. "Gorgeous, I'll say one thing for you, you keep some funny hours."
"I need to go to the EOG plant in the Alpine Valley. Today. This morning," she whispered business-like. "Something's...uh...come up. I noticed there is a run to Mining Station 3 this morning and EOG is on the way. If you're not feeling up to flying, I'd certainly understand but I'd rather you take me out there than Harms."
"They'll hate me in the block house if I send him back early." He grumbled thickly, rubbing his forehead. "What's happening that you need to go out there."
He was about to say: "Geez,' why don't you just take the travel tube, and let me have a snooze." Then he remembered the nature of yesterday's pain, and disconcertion. There were no travel tubes. No conveniences; no assists; Alpha had expedited her attempts to slaughter them.
"I have some unfinished business out there," Ang lightly rubbed the child's back. He draped his small arm around her neck and stirred again. She picked up the child and placed him in his bed. Nicholas hugged the soft, stuffed toy "bug", his security object, with both arms and rolled over contently.
She returned to bed and wrapped her arms around her husband's neck. "I need to go out there. I just need to go. Please. I have to go. This morning. It is important."
Despite his reluctance and disturbed by her vagueness, he agreed. Harms was reassigned to double overnight standby Eagle duty. Three hours later, Eagle 1-2 took off from Launch Pad 3 with the Chief of Reconn, the Chief of Technical Operations and a passenger module jammed packed with provisions and supplies for Mining Station 3, with a return stop in the Alpine Valley.
Velma Hill sat at the computer, finishing the report for her most recent case. The reported inventory of the narcotic painkiller Vicodin in the Medical stores was not matching the physical inventory, and the discrepancy was getting worse in recent weeks. Despite the numerous dead end leads, Velma had finally figured out who was the supplier and who was the user.
"Truman," Velma looked up as the senior detective entered the small investigators office in Security. "You'll be pleased to know I believe I have solved the case of the missing Vicodin. Have a chair." She motioned to the empty moduform chair next to her desk, as she turned the monitor toward him.
"Turn me on, baby." He chided, preoccupied to the max,' and scratching his left sideburn pensively while the office door closed behind him. In his hand, he held an open case that was ten pages long to date. Outside, Harness Bull Duncan was leaning against the sterile dispatch counter, and trading dry quips with Tony Allen. On the wall beside the striped hatch leading to the magazine, a placard hung which read DUTY, AND SERVICE 1989.
Tonight, he was Kilo Bravo, with his hindquarters holding vigil in his office. All units Romeo Alpha would be reporting in soon, and night turn would pick up the torch...or the club...or the laser...or maybe someone would go truly apeshit, and sabotage the gravity control again. Pierce Quenton was grousing in the record room.
"Our thief is Anne Delline," Velma stated with finality. "She's the one who's been taking the drug out of inventory. However, after a blood test, clandestinely obtained during a 'routine' physical, the results came back clean. She's not the user."
Velma stood up. "But, with her eliminated as the suspect user, it didn't take a Kojack to figure out who she's supplying. Just put two and two together. There's the relationship but there is also the initial accident that started him getting hooked on the drugs and then there's the work performance record which has been bad, bad, bad and getting worse."
"All we need at this point is to bring him in and get a blood sample."
"!!!AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!" Andy Dempsey, STC and resident Alphan dopehead cried out, repelled from his workstation by a hypnopompic vision worthy of Goya--of mouths, and scythes, and eyes that cried blood all over the Moon. Four of the main panels against the east wall were totally dark, lit only by the Italian lamps at the analyst, and EECOMM stations. Chief Caycen punched away from the mainframe desk, nearly choking on his coffee while second shift controller Zed Astrin slammed the empty traffic sheet to his desk.
"What the bloody hell is your problem?" The controller barked sternly. His graying, just-over-fifty temples were momentarily highlighted with red.
"Perhaps," Umberto Garzon stepped in heroically. "I should take over for a time. My duty period begins in ten minutes anyway."
He patted Dempsey warmly, and nearly had his hand froze off by the liquid nitrogen that was the STC's skin.
Dempsey sucked his pallid pinky which was streaked with slow, oozing hemoglobin. His violent reaction to seeing the universe eaten had caused him to smite his hand against one of the small cooling vents. In his own defense, he wasn't sleeping, but he had dozed off. Which is to say, he wasn't doing his job because he was too smashed on Vicodin to work.
No, that didn't sound right.
Mark Winters stepped down from the observatory with Rotstein trailing behind like a loyal mutt.
"Judging by what I see here, I gather that Eagle Ten has failed the EPS diagnostic." He said, snotty, and superior sounding.
"You'll find out soon." He said easily, looking over his shoulder to see if Dempsey would live. Garzon nodded an affirmative. "For right now, this is still my watch. I spoke to Morrow earlier, and he didn't mention any promotions for you two--though it would be hard to promote shit to a higher plane of shit.
"And for the record, Commander Koenig insisted on doing a second battery of tests before launch."
"Temper, temper." Rotstein waxed despicable. He eyed Adisa Talic and threw her a lascivious wink.
Adisa Talic scowled and shook her head in disgust. She remembered Oxnard Willingham from the 'other' Moonbase Alpha, which seemed like a lifetime ago. Oxnard had the disposition of Rotstein, overflowing with arrogance and a seemingly hidden agenda. Oxnard's remains were now part of Eta Carinae.
"I see that the departure time is the same." Winters commented, looking at the seconds blink by on the countdown clock. "What will you do if there is a system failure?"
"What will you do if there's a system failure, and it's your fault?" Rotstein reiterated, patting Emma Black's butt ruthlessly, and verily, causing her shame, and somnolent regret for having to live beside these people.
"Do that again, and I'll break your hand off." Chief Caycen thundered most certainly to the side.
"Then I suppose we'll have to delay." Controller Astrin told Rotstein unobligingly. "Not that it's any of your business."
"Eagle 1-2 just departed 10 minutes ago and all systems checks came out ok," Adisa reported, ignoring Rotstein's obviously horny stare. "Everything is normal. I don't get it."
"Telemetry data also appears to be normal," Tanya Alexander, newly rehabilitated and 12 step substance abuse program graduate, confirmed from the computer station, as she swiveled around to face the controller. She enjoyed working the 2nd shift. Controller Zed Astrin kept his eye on her, to be sure, but he mixed firmness with sympathy. She knew it would still be a long time before she would be allowed to take on her former duties of assistant controller and the fight to prove herself recovered would be persistent and an uphill battle. The overnight crew of Winters and Rotstein, however, took every opportunity to throw daggers at her and never let her forget her past mistakes with drugs.
"Confirmed," Umberto Garzon nodded and smiled. Tanya Alexander blushed slightly.
"OK, I'm outta here," Andy Dempsey mumbled then stumbled out of his chair. "I think I just need a good night's sleep or something." He looked terrible. He was ghostly pale and he glanced at the eye in the sky as he headed toward the right archway. It was watching him. He knew it.
"Not quite you're not." Astrin said, hard, but striving for professionality in a Main Mission turned abattoir by Winters, and Rotstein. "I'll have a word with you in my office, Dempsey.
"Take over here." He told Tanya Alexander, stepping away from the controller's desk, and heading towards the O-K Corridor with Cheech Marin in tow.
"We need to bring him in before he gets someone killed," Velma Hill continued. "Actually, it may have already happened. Dempsey was the STC for Layton and Church's Eagle. They are still going over other factors including computer," Velma snickered. For some reason, the sadistic side of Velma enjoyed seeing Ben Ouma and his army of computer geekheads in panic.
"That's true." Starns said, watching his image promulgate on the plates of pure amethyst that paperweighted her desk. "Then again, he was also STC when the commander's Eagle went down the first time. He was also in the trench when our G's were nulled out. There was a frayed thermostatic switch attached to that bad repulsor. It showed up on the C &W panel after the accident occurred. Apparently, not before though. As I understand it, Pete Garforth is up to drinking baby formula now." He winced at the thought. What would it be like? One minute you're smart...sort of...then you're reduced to your fundamental Id-self, and Depends. It was a malign joke that stopped being funny when it started being you. "In the end." He said. "If it is human error." He qualified. "Main Mission is no place to have it." He hated life. "That's my opinion."
The detective found tragedy in this--to work a machine, you have to be a machine, or some such existential quandary.
"Umberto Garzon is monitoring the next flight." He included, watching the eye in space as it looked forlornly at Velma Hill. "It will be interesting to see what happens.
"Have you got a 10-26 on him yet?"
If Astrin could have slammed the door, he would have. Pictures of his dead wife in historic postures of angelic kindness, and good looks rattled atop file cabinets, squeezed into the 4' X 5' workspace with lard, and shoehorn. There was another of he, seemingly having paroxysms of orgasm over his now, non-existent outdoor grill. He had a headache when the photo was taken, but if that headache were fragmented into a million drops of inflamed pus, which were in turn, injected with a trillion micro-pellets of nerve agitators--and if, along with that, someone took a hammer to his head, it still would not equal the pounding, bursting melon that throbbed within his skull right now. There were no windows to the surface, which meant that the paranoia was less, save for the staging fear, and discontent that was unleashed by the controller himself. He didn't need a planet eyeball to rattle the STC's timbers. He did just fine on his own--be it in Wales, at the Canberra Tracking station, or on the Moon. He was an asshole, and he was proud of it.
"I'm not even going to ask why." He told the STC, managing to be mild while shoving his power book to the edge. "I am going to ask 'why' you brought it to Main Mission with you.
"What's the friggin' mun, Dempsey?" He volleyed. "You got a death wish, or do you hate the rest of us, and you're looking for a way to settle the score?"
"I-I'm doing the best I can, sir," Dempsey, red rimmed eyes, whimpered slightly, then cleared his throat. "My back hasn't been the same since that thing that took over Trask wrecked the base. I flew off the balcony in Main Mission...I.." His voice trailed off then he returned the mask of neutrality.
"Its just something I have to put up with, I guess. It gets better over time and ibuprofen makes it...tolerable." Ibuprofen and Vicodin...mostly Vicodin in mammoth doses; revealing this information would surely be his undoing. The reality was that his back HAD sufficiently healed to manage the pain with Ibuprofen. His mind, however, would not acknowledge this fact.
He had tried the honesty approach. He wondered if Astrin would buy it.
"Well, I don't buy it." Astrin answered his question almost telepathically. "I used to take Ibuprofen to shrink my good bowling hand. It never worked. I had the lowest average ever, by the way. I don't recall it making me act like a man under water, psychopathic, really, or causing me to have daymares while I'm sitting at my post during critical maneuvers."
And on that note:
"Main Mission, Eagle Ten." Pilot Tom Graham's voice proceeded across the soup can in the controller's office. "Proper azimuth achieved for inclination to orbit."
"Eagle Ten, Main Mission." Tanya Alexander replied back over the crackle, and static pop. "Understand you are go for four step throttle back."
Astrin stood, looking at junior, there, as if he were unlikely sludge, and a liar at that.
"It's time for you to make a choice." He announced, clipping his commlock back onto his belt.
"One hundred kilometers down range." Chief Caycen reported.
"We don't have time for this." The controller told Dempsey gravely. "On Earth, it was different."
"Main Mission, Eagle Ten." John Koenig broke in. "Uphill climb in ninety seconds."
"Copy." Tanya Alexander said back.
"One hundred, and thirty kilometers down range." Caycen updated. "All systems normal."
"Live, or die." Zed Astrin told the STC finally. "It's your choice. As for myself, I've got work to do."
"Annie...please...I need more," Dempsey sat in the darkness in the bowels of Recycling Plant #2, speaking into the commpost. Earlier, his paranoid senses led him to believe that he was being followed, no pursued, by ravenous beasts with purple sleeves. He ditched his commlock outside of the recreation area.
"No, Andy," Anne Delline whispered in the communications post in the empty experimental medical lab. "This has gone too far. Please, baby...let me help you. I'll come to your quarters right away."
"Yes...NO!!..Yes...Bring more pills..." Dempsey shook and sweat. The humming of the agitators in the giant recycled water silo became louder and louder. "Looooser...Looooser...Loooser.."
"No more pills, Andy." Anne shook her head. "Please..tell me where you are..I'll come to you..Please..."
"BITCH!!!" Andy angrily cut the link and shrank into a fetal position on the floor. His head was a volcanic eruption of pain and he sobbed miserably.
Five, Ten...maybe Fifteen minutes later, he was lucid temporarily and summoned the strength to pull himself up the compost again. He knew he had to seek help. He knew it was the only way to overcome his problem. He punched in the commlock code for the Chief Medical Officer, this time without video.
He told her he needed to talk to someone, privately. He told her where he was. She told him she'd be right down.
"N'Dole, here." Patrolman Omar N'Dole's image appeared on Velma Hill's commlock micromonitor. "We just picked up Dempsey's commlock outside the Recreation area as well as his medical bracelet. No sign of Dempsey."
Starns exchanged concerned, but altogether unsurprised glances with Hill.
Somewhere in space, the tinted, metallic avian bowsprit of Eagle Ten emerged from a four quarter darkness--slowly coasting away from the crescent Moon, the garish, orange lights of her passenger, and command modules, disappearing to an omega point as it fell towards the gravity of the saturnine Constellate.
Diana, for you, and only you...Roman Goddess, keeper of the slender,
...Full Moon, Shining Bright (the incantation went)....
...Midnight on the water (transpose, and insert LOUSY HUNK OF ROCK)....
...On Aradia, Diana's silver daughter....
...Lady of the Moon....
...Puller of the seas, nymph of the nocturnal skies....
...We greet your celestial jewel at the waxing of its powers (and for the
record, its floor, and its 1999 Chrysler Viper, with opaque sunroof)....
All in time, Andy Dempsey will bow in obsolescence, and scratch his hirsute armpits, nutless craven that he is....
(And we choose to go to the Moon)
(With a rite in your honor)
(We choose to go to the Moon)
We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a special announcement....
(Aphrodite, Kerridwen, Diana, Isis)
(In this decade, and do the other things)
Because Andy Dempsey looks at his little, 2,000 kilometer, airless, lifeless, piece-of-shit world, and howls like a wolf. The aria goes something like this:
"Attention all sections Alpha, this is security operative Truman Starns...."
(???Piece??? Peace on Earth???)
(Not because they are EASY, but BECAUSE they are HARD)
"We are currently seeking the whereabouts of Systems Test Conductor, Andrew Dempsey. Any knowledge pertaining to this matter should be reported to the security cube immediately."
(???Piece of pie???)
(This nation doesn't intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space exploration)
(???Anne Delline pie--the solution to Pi...a fork???)
(We mean to be a part of it...we mean to lead it)
(A study by researchers at Cardiff University in England finds that children of mothers who were depressed before childbirth are more likely to experience violent symptoms later in life)
OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, can you hear that smell??? The smell of death's around youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!!!!!!
Andy Dempsey, sweating enough water to drown everyone on Moonbase Alpha, slithered through the Cimmerian corridor, feeling his way along the darkened panels with cool, reptilian fingers. His eyes were closed, but the furnace in his soul could read Braille. He needed a fixer, and he decided to take one. He was defeated to learn that Bob Mathias was burning the midnight oil, and carrying Lars Manroot's urine specimen to the lab.
So...he bludgeoned the physician across the left ear with a medical instrument that intimidated him with its sterile complexities. He preferred to think of it as The Beater, and Mathias was the Eggs Benedict. Problem solved.
'He's not here,' Helena Russell mumbled to herself, looking around the vast recycling room.
"Can I help you, doctor?" A weary woman in a grease stained 'recycling' jumpsuit called to Russell as she descended the stairs from the catwalk.
"Yes...maybe," the CMO smiled. "Have you seen Andy Dempsey in here?"
"Dempsey." She scratched her head. "Yeah, I saw him. I told him to beat it. You know, I thought he was meeting someone or something. Those in illicit unions like to meet down here in relative obscurity. Chief Benes told us we need to start cracking down and kicking the love birds out, start reporting them and such if they return."
"I see," Helena nodded. "Did you happen to see which way he went?"
"Sure, doc. He went that way," the sanitation technician pointed toward the corridor.
After a cordial exchange, Russell moved in the indicated direction. She looked down at the floor and noticed urine. He was already losing control of his physical functions. She followed the trail down corridors and up stairs until finally arriving at...Medical?!?!?
"BOB!" She dashed to the prone figure of Dr. Mathias, blood oozing at a respectable clip from a gash on the left side of his head. A quick exam revealed probably a moderate concussion and killer headache when he woke up but head injuries were never something to deal with lightly.
As she pulled her commlock from her belt and as she was about to summon for help, she noticed Andy Demsey, standing and shaking in the dark.
"Andy," she stood up to go to him. "Easy, Andy. Let me help you."
She approached him, trying to reach inconspicuously for a loaded laser hypo.
"I have issues with the healthcare here on Alpha." Dempsey announced proudly. His marbled visage did not speak of the proud, White Horse culture from which he had descended. It intimated the pissing of his pants, promises broken, and his office as Master Of Disaster. All told, it was not a good day for him. He floated ponderously--past the rows of multicolored, bulk medicines on the space age shelves. He ended up with his back facing the vision ports, and the Constellate, which widened in probable sympathy for Helena Russell. "Seventy-two hours." The STC rattled, trembling from the subzero slush that was coursing through his heart. "That's how long I've gone without." He looked at his tunic, seeing tears of Bob Mathias blood as it blended to the wool over his breast. "I never intended for anyone to get hurt. I thought you would be in Main Mission.
"I've always done my duty." He bawled, fingers tightening around the head cracking, surgical instrument. "You'll help me." He swore spasmodically. "You'll give me what I need, and then I'll go."
His muttering was post-rational, and moving deeper, and deeper into insanity.
With a quiet, undetectable twitch of the eyes, Mathias oozed back to consciousness like Marmalade on stale, green, and black bread.
"???Who is that???" Dempsey cried fearfully at the fiddle player who was standing beside Russell like a bemused, but otherwise unconcerned friend. The figure was approximately six feet tall, gray hair, and with a long, van dyke beard that was somewhat villainous. Behind him there was an door in the wall of Medical Center that did not exist five seconds ago. Rectangular, and admitting to a fluorescent gray horizon that extended into the canyons of anguish--a negative zone; a place of charged damnations, and rolling fog.
Eager, invisible palms were nudging him towards it.
Mathias didn't see anyone. He got quietly to his rump, holding the open hole in his head while motioning Russell to prepare for the coming ambush.
"Dr. Russell." Deputy Winters said, appearing on the commstation screen, as usual, at exactly the wrong time. "Eagle Ten is 530,000 nautical miles out, and approaching a contingency, orbital insertion. Would you please come to Main Mission at once."
Then the useless fuck signed off.
"So Doctor Russell was going to meet him here?!?!" Velma blurted in disbelief as she and Truman jogged out of the recycling center. "What in God's name was she thinking?!?! Why didn't she get some back up??!"
Truman Starns pulled the commlock from his belt and keyed Dr. Russell's commlock. There was no answer.
"LeBreque?" He said on another dial-up code.
Following a long, static exchange, he heard a voice emanate through the beehive.
The detective looked at Hill, shaking his head.
"Where are you?" He asked the Harness Bull.
"In the corridor."
Starns glanced at the desk to see if there was any Tylenol on hand.
"Well, grab your partner, and head over to Medical Center, stat.' I'll meet you there."
"O'kay." LeBreque said cheerfully.
"Andy," Helena Russell now less than two feet in front of him, gently reached for his shoulder. First, a consoling and sympathetic pat to perhaps put him off guard, then into the land of unconsciousness with the laser hypo.
Dempsey bludgeoned Russell on the side of the head but his shaky aim was off and merely grazed her. She stumbled backwards, knocking over a shelf of OTC medicines and analgesics. She tried to stand as the drug withdrawn deranged STC descended on her closing his hands around her neck and effectively cutting off her air supply.
She felt the veins bulge in her face as he pressed on her jugular and windpipe. She couldn't breath, she couldn't scream.
Dempsey's glazed eyes clearly conveyed he believed he was in a different place and she was not Helena Russell. She felt droplets of his sweat on her face. She felt her tongue protruding and her vision was beginning to turn. She was on the ground and he was on top of her, refusing to loosen his grip on her throat.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mathias try to get up but to no avail. He began crawling unsteadily toward the locked desk which held a charged laser; a last alternative but necessary for emergencies. She knew, however that by the time he got there, unlocked it (did he even have the key?!?!?) and retrieved it, it would be curtains for her.
It was the end for Mathias too, because the deranged, test conductor wasn't seeing through a lens of normalcy. Instead of vying the physician as he foundered (though he didn't have the key either) to try his own luck on the locked drawer, he glimpsed an enormous pod, rose colored veins in bas relief--turning black, and then crumbling concave to release a swarm of flies with human heads. At white heat, they blanketed every shelf, every commstation, every bulkhead, every bedpan, and shit can on the ward. The jade, panel lighting was blotted out as black, green-bottle mounds began ripple, and writhe in obscene, vomitous conjugation. Some were blonde, some where brunette, some carrot topped, male, and female. Their eyes were black pits. Their rotting, blue lips, wretched, and contorted. Dempsey's screams were obfuscated by the nightmare cathedral of prophylaxis, and flesh, turning to sugar water under the vitriolic venom.
Then the Queen, the ugliest femme he had ever seen, flew into his mouth, and gagged him. Her greased, filthy, long locks raved behind her as she flew into his mouth with about seventy drones. Arms, and hands that were now sickly, no-fly strips reached for the colonized holes, and crevasses that used to be Andy Dempsey's face. He moaned weakly as his ventricles clogged with larvae, and hybrid jiz.'
Bob Mathias made one last, Alamo of an attempt to reach the trophy drawer when suddenly a Neanderthal hammer of light punched the back of his aching head, and sent it busting into the linoleum. The agonizing, carnival TILT drowned his moon with encrusted bolts of pain. A thin rope of blood squirted from his mouth, and dehydrated immediately in the ionized air, leaving a copper stench of expiation. When he lifted his head, he caught a whiff of his own singed hair. His tunic, and flares sloshed as he rose to one knee--as if he had just swam the Olympic decathlon in his uniform.
Dempsey, comatose, was on the floor with both claws frozen against his bleeding, self-mutilated face.
Over him was Truman Starns with a discharged laser at his hip. Behind him was Harness Bull LeBreque, no longer in the corridor. Behind him was Harness Bull Coldaryn, and patrolman Tony Allen, who saw what remained of Dempsey's face, and choked, and nearly upchucked.
Perchance it came through the power lines, the melodious, fudge cake sound of a Stroh playing the opening punch to "La Malade Imaginaire."
Gagging and coughing as she attempted to sit up, Helena Russell inhaled painfully as recycled air rushed down her throat like a rusty cheese grater. She diverted Dr. Sullivan's attention from her to the prone Dempsey.
"I'll be OK, Dot," Russell rasped, rubbing her throat as Coldaryn helped her to a standing position. "See to Andy."
She turned her attention to Starns, watching Velma Hill assist Mathias and strong-arming him into a nearby bed as Nunez came to assess the damage to his battered noggin.
"Thank you," Helena Russell continued whispering gratefully to Starns. "The outbreaks of violence have escalating exponentially in the last few hours. It seems that..."
She was interrupted by Anne Delline, RN, who ran into the room to a dead stop. Her jaw dropped and her eyes glazed over with tears. She was motionless and speechless with shock at the scene.
"Eagle 1-2, you're over restricted space." Specialist Craft said into Carter's omni-directional antennae. He thought it was Harms. One might say, they were in "Harms' Way," all the time, or vice versa. "You need Level One Security Clearance for me to deactivate the Estrus Barrier."
On that, he was credulous, but vigorous. So their Two Stooges relationship went, without fail, and once a week for the past five years. The way the routine usually went, Harms would proceed to tell his life story, and Craft would be so deluged with boredom, and sated phlegm, he would off the field just to shut him up.
Beneath Eagle 1-2's forecastle, moving port, and starboard under the forward pods, the landing beacons gave off an aerated light that was barely visible through the protective umbrella that covered the station. The EOG barracks was on the opposite incline, constructed partly beneath the lunar surface in the northern face of the Alpine rille. Without the specialist's cooperation, they would get no where, Carter realized. Even the travel tube would konk' just short of the E-Field.
"Station, Eagle 1-2 here." The pilot returned with less than bated breath. "That's a bunch of bull. Harms has been coming out here since I don't know when, and he never gets turned away. I've got a load of supplies I have to get delivered. You ought not be holding us up--especially since your boss is sitting right next to me. With everything that's happened, and considering the terrible way you all have handled it, she's thinking about reorganizing, and retrenching.
"From top, to bottom. The less competent, to the least competent. If you fail the intelligence test, you'll end up talking to yourself in one of the perimeter stations."
"!!!Ha!!!" Craft haaa'ed mordaciously. "That's an empty threat. She never comes out here. Clearance denied.
"Denied, denied, denied."
He signed off on them.
Carter nodded for Ang' to join the loop. In the meantime, he readied the descent landing engines.
"Specialist Craft," Angelina relinked to the station. She sat back in the co-pilot's couch tapping her French manicured index finger on the arm of the seat. "This IS Dr. Angelina Carter and I am not in the mood for sand box power play games. You WILL deactivate the field or you shall find yourself in the bowels of Evil Mushroom, rubbing uglies next to Dr. Borkenville, with Colonel Petrov as your babysitter. Do I make myself clear?!"
She winked charmingly at Carter. Having played it cool on the outside despite the headache and anxiety within, Ang wasn't exactly sure why she was here. She decided to allow her instinct and intuition guide her way.
"Oh." Specialist Craft said.
Carter phased ice from his rear RCS quads, and banked starboard, 40 degrees, hovering over top the three-kilometer high, Mount Dormition. The flat, low-lying, dimly lit frontier of Moonbase Alpha was visible over the southern sinuous.
"Hold onto your hat, cream puff." The pilot said, bringing the yoke all the way down after tightening his harness. The plasma gauges for attitude control turned red as four feet of drive propellant burst from the ALS engines. The eight ball gimbaled northeast like a roulette wheel. Ang' watched her world turn completely upside down as Carter cartwheeled the ship 180 degrees. In the six o'clock position, she found herself glued to the ceiling, and staring downwards at the rubbly debris, and Imbrium impact material that littered the surface below.
Three feet of fuel nudged them forward towards a silo that was now without fences, or barriers.
There was a fairly aggressive jolt following the inboard cut-off and an even stronger one as the spacecraft's pads touched the hyperalloy center of the landing complex.
"Who's this Craft guy, anyway?" The pilot asked, nose wretched, and critically acute as he released himself from his couch. "Some mug who couldn't make hay in the technical hub?"
"Nice landing," she murmured neutrally while swallowing excessive saliva. "John Craft likes being emperor of the EOG. His ego is horrendous but he is one of the best O2 regen experts I have. Thank God." She shrugged. "He doesn't play well with others because of his superiority complex so he is stuck out here in isolation."
With the thud of the boarding tube on the starboard side, Angelina stepped into the small hallway before Carter could catch up to her. She stopped and looked around. Closing her eyes she tried to concentrate. Nothing. The Chief of Technical Operations was beginning to wonder if the voice she heard in the commander's office was all in her mind and the images just a hallucination caused by hunger and fatigue.
The debarkation area was octagonal. The words ELEKTRON OXYGEN GENERATOR #1 billboarded one complete wall. Red caution stripes were stenciled across the length of every door. A mass of copper pipes covered the ceiling, and the freshest air on the base emanated from a huge, circular exchange vent beside door number two.
"What are we looking for anyway." The pilot asked her garrulously. "You got some hidden treasure you aren't telling me about. Say, now, what's this got to do with the price of beans in-"
"Oh, hello." Joan Conway interrupted him, surprised, and stepping through the door directly in front of them. "I didn't know it was you." She told Ang' congenially. "I could tell by the look of torment on Craft's face that something was afoot. "I dropped by to check the CSS under the new configuration. I was sort of hoping it was Harms here to pick me up.
"But no such luck.
"Or, some such luck, depending on your point of view, I suppose."
"I'd say luck is on your side today, Joan," Ang answered. "Sorry about the travel tubes." Ang engaged in light conversation while looking around. "Bummer to have them go down after you got out here, stranding you."
"Ah, Specialist Craft," Ang eyed the distraught EOG technician as he stepped into the corridor. "I hope that your uncooperative behavior denying Captain Carter clearance to land in this area was the exception rather than the rule. Bad day perhaps?"
Joan Conway smirked.
"Either endeavor to keep your bad days to a minimum or make an appointment with Bob Mathias to get you on medication to assist your mood." Angelina finished. She was wondering if she was starting to burn out of her job. For the most part, technical was comprised of either brilliant minds but with nearly unmanageable egos and emotional maturities rivaling two year olds or complete idiot headcases, who repeatedly kept making the same mistakes but somehow, 'lucky' enough to avert disaster.
Angelina's thoughts were momentarily interrupted, as she became fixated on the door accessing the cryo storage tanks. She felt compelled to go into that room and found herself walking toward it.
"Come on," she motioned to Carter and anyone else who cared to follow along. "I need to check this area out." She punched the code to the lock and the double doors opened. She stepped inside.
John Koenig felt increasingly like Selenius, for all of that. Raking up the mess at the foot of Mount Aetna. It didn't take a Greek tragedian for them to realize, their butts were in the balance. The answer was growing metrically, and optically larger with each passing second.
They were two hours, and five minutes into the mission, systems nominal. The commander guessed.
"CDR." Umberto Garzon said over the onboard speakers. "Sixty seconds to POI-I."
In space, stars of frozen nitro' blew from 16 reaction control engines mounted to Eagle 10's landing assembly. The downward coast slowed until a gravitational interface was available, 10,000 nautical miles above the Constellate, whose lids had closed to a leery slit as the speck of metallic dust approached from space.
"STC, CDR." Koenig replied, scanning the feedback on his Neptune panel as the negative pitch engines were deployed. "Roger that. Retrograde propellant dump completed. We're preparing to exit free return trajectory, and enter into orbit."
Tom Graham still didn't like the sound of it. When push came to shove, he wondered if he was a coward--a black hearted, recreant. He was. Even worse, he was an invertebrate that was forced to fly through unfriendly space on manual.
"STC, CMP." The pilot said, holding onto the yoke for dear life. "Awaiting coordinates for MCC at two-one-zero."
John Koenig studied Graham in a sidewise glance. He appeared unusually nervous and not at all his talkative self. However, considering what they had gone through, it was no surprise he was anxious.
"Eagle Ten, Main Mission." Capcomm Pierre Danielle tapped in. "You're 'go' for turnabout, and deboost. Expect a 60 X 170 nautical mile orbit."
"Main Mission, Eagle 10," Koenig returned his attention to his instruments. "Receiving coordinates now."
At that moment, the spacecraft began swinging starboard on its theoretical axis. Eagle 10's launch escape conical, moving about to face the dime-sized Moon while one egress hatch on her passenger module was substituted for another. The four, glowing Howitzer engines were turned, and actuated manually from relays in the service module. The ship went in backwards, subtracting miles now, instead of adding them as a 1,000 foot jet of rocket calcedony was aimed at the wary eyeball, which flicked the saturated cells in its humongous lids with annoyance.
Sandra Benes watched from the Data Analyst station as Eagle 10 slowly rotated and began to descend toward the Constellate, ass end first. She returned the leery gaze of the eyeball out the viewport, her headache near explosion.
Sandra had just returned from breaking up a fight in the dining area between Gonzales and Severance. The Adonis-like Severance nearly killed the rooster after it had mercilessly attacked him. Gonzales flew into a rage and threatened the cartographer with a butcher knife. Both of them were now in the brig and the rooster was safely locked back in its cage.
"Eagle Ten, Main Mission." Pilot Danielle reminded Graham, who did not relish the thought of going deeper into the Minotaur's clutches. "You need to watch that centrifugal pressure, or you're going to catapult back towards us."
"Right." Graham said with clammy frisson, tilting the stern of the ship even further down into a 45-degree exchange.
"Defense screens activated," Koenig announced. He wasn't sure in defense against "what" since the thing had never made a move. It didn't do anything. It just sat there, staring at them. "Retros in 30 seconds, Graham."
"As you wish commander." Graham replied through colorless, hard-to-get-along-with, teeth. In the next chapter of this Robert Louis Stevenson novel--compiled with pain--there was the worsted: Ughhh!!! UGHHH!!! WHO STOLE ME YOKIE POKIE!!! UGHHH!!! UGHHH! Perhaps his thoughts lacked articulation. Like a weevil in the grool, that was the layer that Koenig didn't see, unfortunately. "For the record, we've got a near perfect AMG.
"Weapons armed." He added, depressing the stud next to the closed safety hatch. "BMAGS are good."
When the epidermal shield contracted again, a new space was born. Gone were the infinite diamonds, and holes. Beyond lay a dream of Dali.
"Koenig to Main Mission," the Commander fed the image of the onboard cameras to the computer. "Are you getting this?"
Yes, they were getting it alright. The image was clear and beyond imagination.
"Affirmative, sir," Sandra slowly rose from her chair. "An ocean?" She whispered incredulously.
There was no dayside, no night side. There was only lid open, and lid closed. Graham squeezed the approach control knobs like a hyperactive lunatic. He looked beyond the Eagle's vycor transparency--his side of the bird head--and saw a hemisphere of pure, rolling white waves, and breakers, compelled towards the gravity of the Moon. At CET: 2:24, they passed over a tempestuous, red efflorescence. A storm at sea, powerful enough to wash away the entire eastern seaboard on Earth, that was torn between faithfulness to the Constellate's equator, and the bum's rush of an alien satellite. At close range, a bright, floriated, gaseous H20 could be seen hugging the massive orb.
"It's mass is 4.869e." He said, fancying himself a clever fellow. "It's similar to Venus, wouldn't you say, sir?"
Koenig gave him an annoyed glance. Graham was acting weird, damn weird. Once again, Koenig dismissed it as part of the situation but he needed the pilot to be stable.
He continued to look on...at his bad face in the vision port. From beyond the number two radiator vent connecting the passenger, and service modules, an acrid black plume of smog wafted into the air following cryogenic ignition. Then, like a mugger, it overpowered the other atmosphere molecules, and stole their underwear--not before it permeated the entire compartment with the smell of wild orchids, though.
Graham wanted to pick his nose, but knew it was wrong.
"Sir," Tanya interjected into the Command Module, "update on the sensor scan data. There is still no emission of known energy, no known radiation, nothing from the known electromagnetic spectrum for emissions from the...eye."
In other words, no new information from 5 minutes ago or 5 hours ago.
"Main Mission." Graham said, enjoying the floral bouquet. "Maneuver completed. Eagle Ten is now in orbit."
OH, WHO STOLE...WHO STOLE....
...this is my love, Diana....
The Constellate seemed to ignore them as the lid closed completely. In a way, this was even more unsettling to Koenig. Instantly, he imagined the validation of Petrov's musings and suddenly he saw a pair of large, white set of teeth in the viewport.
Koenig closed his eyes, hard then slowly opened them again. The Constellate had 'awaken', its mildly interested lid half open.
"Moonbase Alpha to Eagle Ten." Capcomm Danielle picked up the thread-not comprehending the Mombas, and the Scorpions that feasted with Titan gods in Tom Graham's frame of things. Instead, he sounded weary, and in need of some awful, lunar coffee. "Commander, the stellar cartography back room has just handed me the information you wanted." He said wearily, as if in trepidation of a mouthful of glass. "Garzon's happy...I hope.... It looks like you may have passed the GNC, SPS Maximum Impulse, and Performance tests.
"I think it's good." Danielle stumbled.
Graham wiped a raw, upper lip that was beaded with sweat.
"If you still want to execute Alternate-B in the mission plan, now is the time to decide." The Capcomm went on, breaking wind, and horse sense at a single bound. "The lens...if you want to call it that...is opening in intervals of three minutes...roughly...wouldn't count on it, though. If we go with a contingency plan, there will be a window along the 70th parallel in about ten minutes. The area they looked at appears to be comparatively shallow, and downwind of that storm front that's moved in."
"What's he talking about?" Graham asked Koenig, his mind temporarily diverted from the constellation Donald Duck Minor.
"It's your decision." Danielle informed him. "If we abort POI-II, it will require an SCS COI burn of forty-five seconds in revolution five to place you in that corridor."
The commander lowered his head in unencouraging, gloomy silence.
"I don't get it." Graham snorted.
Then every audio, and visual system on the ship went straight to hell. By the time they returned, Koenig's mind was made.
Again, the baby had been up all night crying. They told her it would get better. They told Irina Volkova that her baby's colic was a condition which 3-month-old Katrina would outgrow.
Disheveled and wearing the clothes of the previous day, Irina stared up at the ceiling through red and bloodshot eyes. She was alone in the game of motherhood, since her boyfriend broke up with her and started shacking up with that bimbo Tara Bathory in Alpha News Service. He was the asshole but she berated herself as the bigger dummy for being attracted to him in the first place.
The eye gazed at her sullenly through the viewport. Irina sighed deeply and stared at it, tears streaming down her face. Her post-partum depression was only intensified by her lousy personal situation. She had dreams of heaven and desires to be reunited with the departed souls of those she lost on Earth and the few friends she had made on Alpha since Breakaway. She and her baby would be so happy: forever.
Katrina began stirring in her crib.
"Such pain," the handsome male apparition sat next to Irina, gently caressing her face. "Such a beautiful woman should not suffer so."
Irina sat up, coming face to face with...whatever it was. It looked human. "Help me." She whispered piteously. She perceived herself being embraced.
The baby's cries were getting louder as she clutched the pillow.
"There, there, now, my precious," Irina cooed above the baby's crib, with an expressionless stare on her face.
The child's crying crescendoed then stopped. Mother had the magical touch. Irina studied the child's face after she removed the pillow. Katrina had the same beautiful contours but at peace and not contorted and twisted with colic. Her lips were blue and her skin was losing its pink but other than that she was perfect.
Irina sat on the edge of the bathtub as she drew the bath. The water was steaming hot, just how she liked it.
'Calgon, take me away.'
She sank in the tub and gazed at the cold steel on the edge. The initial pain in her wrist was more than she expected and she cried out but once she was deep enough, past the nerve endings, it hurt no more.
The warmth of her own blood quickly filled the tub and she sank away from the pain, into oblivion.
Nobody followed her into the cryo room, at least not immediately. Specialist Craft had whined about his back and the rigors of unloading the supplies from the Eagle by himself. To shut him up, Joan Conway and Alan Carter assisted him.
Angelina Carter walked around, between, up and down catwalks, checking every dark corner of the cryo storage area. None of the nook and crannies contained anything but equipment that was typical to the area. The cool, crisp vast room echoed to the hum of the machinery. Ang inhaled deeply. The air was as close to spring air as they would ever come on Alpha.
She was walking around one of the storage tanks on the catwalk when she heard a sound.
"Joanie? Is that you?" Ang peered over the rail. The echo in the room made it difficult to pinpoint the footsteps.
Someone grabbed her around the waist.
"AHHH!!" Ang blurted nearly jumping out of her skin as she turned around, relaxing when she recognized her 'attacker.'
"Shithead," she smirked with teasing affection, though her heart was still racing from the shock. "Its not nice to sneak up on a poor defenseless woman."
The shithead, formerly known as Alan Carter, shook his head ruefully, while placing a cautious hand between himself, Ang,' and the flimsey aluminum rail. Twenty meters below, the regularly scheduled upload of supercritical intermixes commenced. Valves opened, and life support rushed through the plumbing towards Plato. Specialist Craft--forever at a loss--stood one tier below--monitoring the delivery while Joan Conway squeezed in a 500 volt, Hi-pot electrical test.
"You need to be a bit more careful in here." Carter opined earnestly. "Daydreaming while you're walking a tightrope is not a good idea, sweet cheeks. One step further--that's all it would have took, and it would have been the craggy rocks for you." He said, looking over the edge at the coffin-sized, oblongs of mylar insulated electrodes, and aluminum-safe substitute. "I've tried to be a good jackeroo' about all of this, but don't you think its high time you told me what the fuck we're doing here?"
"Honestly," she turned toward the rail and leaned on it (Carter winced, but stayed well within retrieval range), looking out into the room. "I don't know why I'm here. I keep waiting for the day when I will be finally committed to Mathias' nuthouse, patient numero uno." She looked at the Captain earnestly. "I came here because I was told to come here, while in the Command Conference before I suffered my own personal brown out."
"I felt strongly compelled to come here to find...something. I don't know what the hell it is. I've been looking around, trying to trust my intuition but it has evidently failed me."
The pilot uttered a long, tired groan.
"You can't be serious." He said, looking for divine help, and pronouncing 'can't' as 'cahnt.' "Let me get this straight: Eagle Ten is on a Z-Series mission; I'm here when I should be there; I tortured those poor blokes in the block house by sending Harms back early; and we came all the way out here because a crystal ball told you where to find a pot of gold.
"Give me a break."
His disappointment was diaphanous. He looked to see if she even cared.
She looked hurt. She looked crushed. However, she was also a mask of self-doubt and regret.
"I know you're tired. I know your nerves are fried." She said quietly, barely audible above the background noise. "You know I don't play games and this is not a joke. I'm sorry I've inconvenienced you." She looked away, staring at the cryo tank at the far end of the room, though tear filled eyes. If she blinked, she would have spilled them so she didn't.
"But I can't believe after all we've been through since leaving earth, you still insist on a logical and pragmatic explanation for everything. If that's the case, then you must really think I've become a mental case or something." Inside, she was beginning to believe that perhaps that was the issue.
"Pragmatic." He retaliated, smiling. Just above his head, a placard hung which declared: DANGER, COMBUSTION SUPPORTIVE AREA, AVOID SPARKS.
Hughhhhhh.... Too late.... Too late.... "I came all the way out here on faith, and you tell me I'm a block head anyway."
"A block head with no imagination." He indicated, snarling at Specialist Craft to take the glare out of his stare. "Whatever, Ang.' It may be a lifestyle thing. Especially when you're living on a frozen meat grinder that's floating through God knows where. We practically got to step over the dead bodies piling up in the corridor, and you still have time to do a pity party.
"Good thing you weren't in the war." He argued censoriously, pointing at her, and evincing that HIS way was right. He completely forgot the times he retreated; the times he accidentally-on-purpose forgot a directive in order to spare his own kiester. Sometimes, hiding in the bathroom was the noblest strategy. In combat, court martials are a joke. Also, in those days, he had Dirk Kilpack, el primo sophist, and used car salesman to rationalize every act of cowardice, and insubordination. "You know, I gave up my water rations yesterday because Marilys Sing was having trouble with her vision. The day before, she gave up her water to Coop' because his tract infection was flaring up again. Koenig never gets any, and it's a miracle that he can even talk seeing as how there's always one more grunt to succor. Church, and Layton got their retirement--piecemeal--oh, but that's still not bad enough.
"You need a reality check, love." He went on, digging his hole all the way to the iron core of the Moon.
While he hectored her, she refused to look at him and continued staring in the distance. The cool air had dried her watering eyes but she still did not blink. She was a little perturbed at herself for getting weepy. Alan Carter never did like weak and weepy women. In crisis situations, he expected a woman to be strong if she really belonged in space. Angelina's self pity and air of defeat was unusual and maddening. Usually at this point, she would launch a counter assault in her defense. She did not. She refused to even acknowledge him. The Chief of Technical Operation was almost...catatonic.
To add insult to injury, as he was about to walk away (not the grand exeunt he wanted; what he wanted was the brink, but he ended up having to take a short-cut through the fertilizer factory instead), his boot met the metallic cylinder that was laying for him against the grate, which sent him on a one way trip down. On the worst part of his anatomy possible.
His fall jolted her out of her trance and she attempted to assist him. "Are you ok? Did you hurt yourself?" she asked, concerned.
All he could do was laugh. Ha-ha. He should not have been surprise.
"Obviously, maybe the only thing that's hurt is your pride." She could not contain her smile. "Watch YOUR step or it'll be the craggy rocks for you, cobber." She winked and the impression was forgiveness but truthfully she did not clearly remember the words from his beratement merely 30 seconds ago.
"By the way." He said charmingly, pulling the cylinder out of his anus where it had become imbedded. "You might want to tell that barmy idiot over there that he needs to keep track of his fucking EVA cylinders."
He had said it loud enough so that Specialist Craft scowled at the Captain from the level below. Angelina waved him off, and watched him mumbling as he turned away and climbed down the metal stairs.
The canister was an emergency cocktail, providing supplemental 02 for suits that had been damaged. Carter didn't read the label, but Ang' looked at it, and it said:
CONGRADULATIONS, MA FIL. PLUG ME IN. UNIT TWO, PULEEZZZZZZZZE. VOYONS!!!!!!!!!!!!
Angelina's face became pale and she swallowed hard. She decided to ignore it. She realized, she must have been crazy to even consider messing with the EOG units. Afterall, she rationalized, when was she going to get the opportunity to do it anyway.
"Hey, ANG! I'm almost done here then I'm ready to go when you guys are." Joan Conway yelled from two levels down. "But I really got to go to the can. Can you check the energy input into Unit 2 for me? It'll just take 5 minutes but I forgot my Depends this morning."
She snickered as she set down the voltmeter, not waiting for an answer and dashed to the uni-sex lavatory in the facility.
"You ought to say something." Carter prodded Specialist Craft, who recoiled on the parapet down below. Not much of a man, that guy. Kind of fey, and silly-looking. Homely, for lack of a better descriptor. Like an old dog. Yeah. "Even if it is 'A,' over 'T.'"
He tightened his glove ring with macho resound.
"I think." Craft said, quivering like a goose in grape Kool-Aid. "I think we'd better seal this area off." He suggested casually. "Maybe prepare for a major hardware failure...possibly even explosive decompression. In the two decades I've been on this job, I've never seen a containment failure like we're about to experience now.
"I'm amazed." He said frankly.
He held his ammeter for Ang' to explore from afar, walking away from the superheated pipes like cracks of doom. Every bulb was flickering a lethal, bright red. It was pretty cut, and dried. The reserve tanks were constructed to withstand a finite amount of electrical catalysis. Specialist Craft found it awfully special that the silver insulating material was melting to the floor, compliments of the 1,000 V DC current that was eviscerating the system. All of the thermostatic switches were kaput.' The emergency shut-off valves were welded open.
"Any tick of the clock?" Carter said with numb disbelief.
Craft nodded, grabbing Joan Conway by the elbow as she emerged from the lavatory.
"CUT THE POWER!! !!!CUT THE POWER!!!" Angelina barked as she ran, reaching the main shut off switch first. The service panel opened easily but when she tried to pull down the breaker, it was almost as if it was rusted or welded into place. She strained and strained as she tried to pull it down. Carter joined her and pushed her aside, in a vain attempt to switch the breaker.
With all of his strength, he tried and could not get the breaker switch to budge into 'off' position.
"!!!C'MON!!! MOVE OUT!!!" The pilot cried, as he jerked Angs' torn tunic. Blood issued from his ears from the deafening sonics as the armored tanks gave way. The new fire was chasing them towards the shield doors, coating every rail; every grate; every panel with orange, blasting gelatin. The ceiling glowed white as the confabulated air was sucked out of existence; a sea of flame deluged the area, incinerating everything in its path. Specialist Craft's field surveillance satchel vanished. So did the right leg of his flares as he hurled Conway, and himself through the nearest 5' X 5' escape hatch. She had to close the door. He was too busy screaming, and rolling.
SAFETY FIRST, the sign above him read as his knee, and thigh boiled to third degree blisters.
"CODE RED." Sandra Benes' voice bounded over the all-too-familiar sound of alarm claxons. "ZONE-09. LOCATION: OXYGEN PRODUCTION FACILITY."
Then the BANGS commenced, which caved part of the ceiling, and dropped huge filtering apparatuses, and sensor stalactites from above which nearly trapped/crushed them.
A million hands of hot concoction reached for Carter's heels as he ushered Ang' back through the double doors. At once, catching the olfactory of his scorching, blonde hair, and fancying that a head on fire didn't smell as bad as he thought it would. Outside, they both tumbled--not seeing, but feeling the severe trial; the wall of hellish discharge, and metallic flack that rumbled towards them as Ang' aimed the electromagnet of her commlock like a magic wand.
"CODE RED-" Sandra Benes repeated, with courage, and gumption, especially considering that this was the worst area of the base to drop a match. "ZONE-O9...."
Specialist Craft no longer wore pants. They were flaked, along with his boxers, around his legs in smoldering embers as Conway showered him with aerosol seal-plast.
Angelina grabbed an emergency blanket and patted out the remaining flames on the screaming Specialist Craft.
Fortunately, the double doors held firm from the embarkation and the small adjacent office area to the now consumed EOG facility. Instead, the steel of the roof buckled and the fireball exploded through the top of the structure. immediately snuffing once it encountered the void of space.
It was another mystery for technical to solve. Angelina had no clue what just caused the explosion and she wasn't sure John Craft knew either, not that he was going to be any useful source of information given his current condition.
"He's got 3rd degree burns on the lower part of his body," Ang reported as she carefully attempted to slide the IV needle into Craft's vein. "We need to get him back to Medical now."
"Right." Carter said. He still couldn't get a straight answer from her.
Foo-foo-foo-foo-foo.......human beings, in cholinesterase baths, fearing the expungement....
...I'm so young, and you're so old...
...this my darling, I've been told...
...I don't care just what they say...
...Cause forever [EYE] will pray...
"...over 20,000 sorties over southeast Asia today. Allied forces are cheerful, eating their Christmas Turkeys amidst the moldering ruins with a benediction unknown since that great, moral charge up Pork Chop Hill...."
(???WHO STOLE MY GODDAMN PAPER CLIPS???)
...oh please stay by me, Diana....
"Descent prop' is 4,978 over 1,000, commander." Graham announced, his tongue protruding over his teeth as the bucolic blue sky poured through the windows of the command module. It was like flora. A nature poem by Rupert Brooks, or Anne Bronte. Eagle Ten descended towards the sea. Pilot Tom Graham had the flowers--Dandelions, and Merrigolds, and Sweet
Williams--all inside his spaced-out, Grateful Dead head. An ocean-faring group of dual necked gulls swung low over the aft heat shield. Water splashed onto the windows of the command module as he readied his hand over the main engine cut-off. "Six hundred meters, sir. My, we certainly are kicking up quite a bit of spray now."
"Eagle Ten, Main Mission." Pierre Danielle came back at him like a Timothy Leary voice in LSD space. The robots were eating his brain. "Graham, watch that twenty degree plane shift, or you're going to sink by the bow."
His remonstrances were getting to be old hat.
"CDR, STC." Umberto Garzon said, entering the loop, and addressing John Koenig. "Your inflatable gear is down. Your inflatable gear looks good."
"Koenig to Alpha," the commander responded rigidly, "confirm inflation on all pods. Pressure nominal. Touch down in T-10 seconds."
Koenig grabbed the yokes and slowly the craft settled on the liquid. They knew that the Eagle had converted from spacecraft to watercraft when the ship began swaying and rocking...like a ship.
The spray of the white ocean appeared clear on the viewports.
"This is weird," a distraught Graham mumbled, wishing he was not there.
"How many things have you seen since leaving earth that were not weird, Graham?" Koenig retorted. 'You're acting weird,' Koenig wanted to say to him but he kept his mouth closed.
"Activating robotic arm to collect a sample of the liquid," Koenig reported to Garzon.
Under the belly of the Eagle, the monstrosity equivalent of T-cells began to gather and cluster together.
"CMP, this is Eagle Ten Capcomm." Big-P Danielle said acerbically (again) to Graham. "Procedures has just handed me a bulletin. Your number two oxidizer tank is open, and you're taking on ballast. Close the thing out, or you'll end up in Davy Jones' locker."
Koenig couldn't see, but a 100,000 kilometers away, Danielle was throwing his arms, and the cold print of the flight plan, up in the air for all to see. Deputy Winters ignored the gesture. Incompetent? Yes. He preferred to handle one thing at a time, imperfectly, and then he would move on to the next course. Right now, damage control manifests from the Alpine Valley were irritating his mind, and destroying his personal happiness. Assistant Controller Rotstein was on break.
June Akaiwa hoped to prove she was innocent.
"This is not good." Umberto Garzon informed him from the workstation on Danielle's right. With his wise bundle of black beard, he looked like a martyr for the technological age.
"Page Dr. Russell." Big-P agreed miserably. Over, and above the terraced craters, and rilles, the Constellate closed its lid again, squinting against the dust, and drang. The capcomm opened one of the direct lines on the panel next to a square of Emergency Detection Lights. "Coop,' we have a situation here. If you have an Eagle on standby, you'd better go ahead, and put her in space."
"Easy on." The flight manager, battened earlier by Alan Carter replied immediately. "Internal guidance, and data transfer uploaded. Raising Eagle 2-9 to launch position."
"I don't recognize that." Winters said, walking ominously towards him now that his power, and his ego were threatened. His flares widened in direct proportion to his ire, giving him the appearance of a demonic John Travolta. "Eagle Ten is functioning perfectly, and even if it weren't...I'm in command here."
Over his gooseneck lamp fell the shadow of the bully. Winters tried to dominate him with his sneer. He was close enough to butt Big-P in the chest.
"Don't be such a gadge." Tom Graham cracked, narcotized, and inebriated over the link. "The commander has every confidence in me."
"Graham, did you get that?!?" Koenig interjected his ego. "Check oxidizer number two!" Suddenly, Koenig was aware that he was piloting the 'ship' solo, trying to stabilize it and at least keep it afloat and from capsizing from the waves.
HOOOOOOOOOOOOO-oooooooooooo. There came the titillating sensation again. It reminded him of Trafalgar Square--seen as Bangladesh through his horny, sailor [EYES]. The tarts got to walking in their short skirts, and he often drank Pickel Juice, while eating Pickle Sandwiches, which made sense, don't you think? HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-ooooooooooooooooo.
By the aft reciprocating vent in Eagle Ten's service module, stronger reflates of smog issued from the overheated system. All the ghosts from some midsummer night's dream took to the air of the passenger module--Oberon, and Titania, and Puck, and there was Tom Graham, the vomiting midshipman. Outside the command module, the density of wild orchids was nauseating.
Graham closed the open port with the pinky of his sloshed, gloved hand. Eagle Ten, bobbing starboard through the billow, and brandish, ceased it's gradual, downward descent into the clear, two kilometer darkness. With the closing of the Constellate's lid there came an impromptu nightfall. The maritime whirl of open waves was replaced by a frozen, pitch-black expanse of nothingness. There were no stars; no auroras; no Saint Elmo's Fire. There was only zilch, and plenty of it. There was seasickness, for which Tom Graham needed a barf bag.
In the floodlit waters outside, John Koenig caught a glimpse of the rising tide. Regardless of the floatation equipment, and despite the fact that the flooding had only been minimal, the ocean white appeared to be chopping, and swelling for them. A wavelet struck the camera mounted to the hydraulic arm, and buried it in a tidal bore that plunged their quarterdeck into a violent backwash.
Eagle 10 rode the wave, tipping up on its side, like an SUV taking on a sharp curve. Luck caused it to fall back on its belly than upside down on its spine. Another wave was in the distance as the Constellate opened its lid slightly and light poured onto the white ocean. A tidal wave.
"DAMN!" Koenig blurted, fighting with the yoke at an attempt to keep Eagle 10 level. "Forward and aft thrusters now! We have to take off..NOW! Graham! GRAHAM!!! Snap out of it!"
Tom Graham was no longer in Eagle 10. Koenig had no idea where he was; he really didn't care.
"Eagle 10 to Alpha," Koenig yelled into the loop with urgency while unbuckling his harness. "Switching to automatic."
"Danielle!! Take us up, NOW!" He activated the forward and rear thrusters.
Big-P phoned the slave control signal across the telecommunications band. The results were tantamount. There was electrostatic impetus; there were volts, and amperes; there was energy storage, and dissipation, responding in unit step. They privyed the natural behavior of RCL circuits, and Kirchoff's Law.
They had no lift-off, however.
"WE HAVE NO START." Danielle whirled, attempting a one-minute diagnostic that Koenig, and Graham would never here the results of.
Koenig was not surprised to expect no lift off; which was why he bolted back into his chair and attempted the maneuver himself. He was not quick enough. Murphy's law struck again.
In the white sea, fifty thousand gallons of water struck Eagle Ten athwartship, drowning it in foam--a ten-second wavelength, which pelted them at 150 miles per hour. That was the love tap. Some bizarre, undersea plankton, and crustal deformations globbed against the command module windows, but was vaporized in the sunlight as the ship attempted to right itself, back into a stable one position above water. The aroma of burning wires, and defunct ventilation brought the wild orchid nausea to John Koenig as subduction threatened to drag them deeper into the well.
"!!!WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!!!" Carter burst in through the left archway. Ang,' and Helena Russell almost toppling over him. In that instant, they were like the Ritz Brothers, humorous, but not funny; being chased around a fake coal furnace by some clown in a fake, gorilla suit. "!!!HAVEN'T YOU GOT A BURL!!!"
"!!!NO SIR!!! NO START!!!" Danielle reported, sweating salt as the lights on the digital autopilot remained dark.
"Switching to auxiliary!!" Koenig reported as he stabbed white and black stud and hit switches. Main Power was clearly out, short-circuited by the deluge of liquid. Eagles could sit atop water like a ship; they were never designed to be submarines.
"!!!LET ME SEE IT!!!" The captain intervened, throwing human bodies away to both sides, and moving up to the empty space at the controller's desk.
His hand isn't around my throat. Deputy Winters denied as Carter's fist closed over his Adam's apple, and spinal cord, shoving him backwards hard into the stairs.
The Moon looked back at the Constellate, another ancient eye which watched the gravity, volcanism, and vertical movement coalesce into a 1,000 foot high, Irwin Allen column of water which raced towards Eagle Ten's barely visible freeboard in a pacific-wide tsunami. Graham held his ears, and chanted some unintelligible thing that had to do with a crusty, old boson's love for a bank teller, but not her pimp.
"Auxiliary nuke cells at 60%...." his voice trailed off as he caught a glimpse of the megawave coming at him in the distance.
"!!!SHE'S WET SOAKED!!!" Carter realized, punching the dead initiator switch. "!!!COMMANDER, YOU GOT HEAPS!!! RESET YOUR ONBOARD SYSTEMS FOR THE DAP!!!"
Koenig needed the jog to the memory from the more seasoned and experienced pilot. He flipped more switches, quickly and methodically, completely absorbed in his objective. Lift off.
"Acknowledged," he replied, grabbing the yokes. Auxiliary power coursed limply through the electrical circuits but it was enough to activated the thrusters. The engines whined.
"I HAVE LIFTOFF!!" Koenig yelled as he sweated bullets.
Eagle 10 cleared the top of the tsunami wave by mere inches.
"Eagle Ten, Alpha." Controller Winters snorted, and in the backdrop, Klaus Rotstein could be heard making prospect with June Akaiwa. "It looks like you've cleared the zone of maximum pressure." He hailed as the spacecraft grappled, and heaved to escape the gravity of the Constellate. They gained precious few kilometers with a dead engine rattling like junk against the transom. Fortunately, the remaining three were enough to achieve Translunar Coast, with the Moon awaiting them at the butt end of a high orbit-glowing red in the afterlight, like Bozo's nose.
On Moonbase Alpha, Ed Malcom attempted to fix their position using the lens of the Fourteen Parabola, but instead, got a close-up of the grisly, stuffed peppers that Carroll Severance had intended to eat yesterday.
The rooster 'bokked' in its cage.
Somewhere astern, the flesh-colored diadem began to recede as the ship groped its way into a trajectory that was cislunar. The Constellate didn't know if it appreciated the visit, or not.
The plumbing in the service module gave John Koenig cause for concern. It began with the six, or seven master alarms that blared from the left side of his console. Black, lethal CO2, and Argon zombies steamed into the command module like some mortal fog. Transfer conduits, normally smooth, and easy Teflon, were now clogged with unrefined resin, and decaying cryo slush; not exactly poppies, but hippie fields of wild orchids, with a peace sign, instead of a sun, stifled them with invasive, Jurassic vitriol.
"Again, we've conquered the elements." The deputy said arrogantly, while John Koenig strangled on the tenebrous, garden fumes. "We needed a successful mission." Winters criticized, bombastic, but not furtive as John Koenig's lungs were seized by the mustard swash as he fought for his life to reach the emergency gas muzzle beneath his couch.
Angelina's headache had returned. Funny, when they left the base and she walked around the now burned out EOG facility, the fog in her head lifted and she felt invigorated. It was a good thing really. If she was TOO sluggish she might not have made it out of the escape hatch alive before the EOG lost its roof.
Winters annoyed her. He always had annoyed her but she griped about him only to Carter and Bergman. Ever since his flippant attitude manifested itself when they encountered Gwent, Angelina was not impressed with Mark Winters as an overnight controller or as a human being.
"We conquered the elements?!? You call THAT a successful mission?" Ang blurted from the Technical Station desk with sardonic disbelief. "I suppose since the Commander and Tommy Graham made it out alive you can call it successful. But I don't suppose you look at it that way, do you, Mark?"
Rotstein dropped his nauseating attempts at sweet talking June Akaiwa, more interested in the possibility of the overnight controller and the Chief of Technical having it out.
To the right of him in the CMP's couch, Tom Graham sat smiling, and breathing, and appreciating the shit like it was a sampler of the William Owen, Palm Beach fragrance collection.
Koenig found the emergency oxygen mask and glanced at Graham. Grinning like an idiot, Graham inhaled deeply.
"Graham! GRAHAM!!! Put your mask on, goddamit!!" Koenig felt the strength return from his oxygen deprived rubber legs and pushed back the pilots couch. He tripped on the "manual/automatic" level and landed on top of the pilot.
The panel lights dimmed, from puke yellow, to nothing at all. Only the display, and keyboard lights, along with Graham's optical alignment sight, lit the violently shaking cabin as the service propulsion system commenced an unwanted thrust vectoring. As the spacecraft went into a dead man's roll, falling out of Delta-R, with the forward rendezvous windows ploughing 50,000 feet per second--blowing the tops of their heads off in uncharted, lost soul space, Graham could only admire his hunk tush, and the good taste that normal women exhibited by agreeing with him. As Eagle Ten's beam dissolved into the approaching eclipse, his manhood grew taught at the sight of the Polynesian beauty that teased him with her lips, and the sensuous curl of her ankles.
For he was no longer an astronaut, lost in hostile, disharmonious space. He was aboard the HMS Plod, a double masted schooner on maneuvers in southeastern Bermuda. He had the muscles of a Greek god, and it excited his whiskers to see the animal fondness in the damsel's eye. She came to him, for him. But the captain of the ship was envious, and before they could conjugate their happiness, the skipper picked up a barrel of aloe, and hulked it at him.
"EAGLE TEN, EAGLE TEN." Carter demanded, his voice filling the cabin. "I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT'S HAPPENING THERE, BUT BE ADVISED--YOU HAVE NO G&C. COMMANDER, YOU'RE ALSO FALLING INTO THE SHADOW OF THAT THING OUT THERE, AND WE'RE NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOU. YOU'VE GOT TO TRANSFER TO AUTOMATIC IMMEDIATELY."
The 200 plus pounds of animus knocked the wind out of able seaman Graham. He knelt on the rocking deck, squeezing the oxygen back into his gut as the degenerate skipper groped the maiden, and dragged her--all unwillingly of course--below decks for a revenge-blow job. The mates swabbing the deck began to ridicule him, when suddenly, his history, and his integrity welled up like a Bengal Tiger on a rusted chain. He bolted from the deck, and seized a belaying pin from the gunwale. The drooling, reprobate skipper was handed over to rough judgement. Graham threw his tricornered hat into the sea, and thumped his baldhead with the splintering club. Once, with his entire endeavor. A second time in the center of his pate, and blood mixed with salt water. He bashed the captain again, and watched him fall backward into the pile of defeated sheets.
Scalp bleeding, and delirious from the pistol whipping from Graham's laser, John Koenig fell backwards against the roof of the sloping command module as the ship accelerated to a Null-G velocity.
TRANSFER TO AUTOMATIC IMMEDIATELY......AUTOMATIC IMMEDIATELY.....IMMEDIATELY...IMMEDIATELY.....IMMEDIATELY
The echo of Carter's voice bounced around and around Koenig's skull. Ironically, when he tripped over the automatic/manual level, it had moved halfway. Heaving himself up despite the ship rolling, he shoved the lever into the "automatic" position with his left foot as he barreled at Graham in a frenzied rage.
Right cut over left hook he pummeled the pilot who, despite the noxious fumes still attempted to deflect the blows and fight back. Oxygen deprivation finally took its toll and Koenig found himself beating the pilot to a pulp.
He stopped as the ship stabilized, no longer rolling, panting; the damn of his eyebrows could not contain the deluge of sweat and his eyes burned from the salt. He groped for the emergency oxygen mask and fit it on the unconscious Graham before dropping back into the pilot's seat.
"Eagle 10 to Alpha," Koenig squinted at the panel and saw Danielle was controlling the ship from Main Mission. "Recommend capcomm retain control of ship including landing."
In Main Mission, reaching over Winter's shoulder, Dr. Helena Russell responded to the communication.
"John? Are you OK?" She fought to keep her emotion and personal feelings in control.
"I feel super." Koenig said sarcastically while black blood flowed from his crown on the number one EIDPHOR beneath the big screen. "Nothing like wrangling with a mad astronaut.
"Just ask Carter. He'll tell you."
The pilot gave the jab a non-committal sneer as he relinquished his capcomm status to Pierre Danielle. He nodded to Ang,' and Emma Black as he strolled up the steps with his commlock in hand. He exited through a hatch at the end of panel seven, seeking refuge in the G&C Control Station.
"I made some headway." He conceded. Headway. That was funny. "I managed to extract a sample of the fluid--Graham beat my brains out afterwards-but
I've got a sample for the biochemical lab to analyze as soon as we land--providing that we 'do' land."
"Eagle Ten, Capcomm." Pierre Danielle interjected.
"Go ahead." Koenig said, non-plussed, and loosening his muzzle.
"It looks like you've got a jammed C-4 thruster valve, but otherwise you're right on course. If Isaac Newton can get you here, we'll do the rest."
"How is everything there?" The commander asked Russell. "Bad?"
"Medical." Maureen Tan's stressed out face appeared on Helena Russell's commlock micromonitor.
"We need a triage team sent to.." Russell paused, glancing toward Danielle.
"Launch Pad 3," he replied then returned to the business of flying Eagle 10.
"Launch Pad 3," the chief medical officer continued. "One pilot is unconscious. Conditions of both pilots unknown."
"Right away, doctor," the nurse responded and cut the link.
"The condition of one of them is known." Koenig argued, bellicose in his muzzle. "I feel fine. Minus the dent."
"There was an accident at the EOG facility in the Alpine." She continued to Koenig, answering his question. "The facility was destroyed. No deaths but Specialist John Craft was critically injured.
Koenig looked starboard, the snout of the gas mask pointing towards two rows of cold, answerless tile that served no purpose, other than faux ornamentation.
"What's kind of condition is the recycling plant in. Can we maintain the current delta that we have on our life support system?"
"Fortunately, the other storage facility of EOG #1 will be back online in 3 days," Helena Russell paused. "At this point, we are down 50% in excess but we should recover fairly rapidly, probably within a week."
That is, she thought, unless the technicians working on the other facility decided to beat each other's heads in, as was happening all over the base, and further delay the activation. Before he could react, the doctor's commlock chimed again.
"Doctor Russell," the blue and white mini image of Jerry Parker appeared on the screen. "Serious...accident," he said the word 'accident' as if unsure that it was the correct word. Actually, he knew it was the incorrect word but was at a loss for the correct word.
"...in Irina Volkova's quarters. You are needed immediately."
"I'll be right there, Jerry." She cut the link as she frowned. "John, I'll see you later."
She walked out of Main Mission through the Commander's office.
"Commander, you'll be heading over the hill in about five minutes." Pierre Danielle did a time check while working the toggles on the DAP. "Go ahead, and bring up your onboard MLS. I'm going to deorbit the ship at three five three. For descent, we'd like Omni Charlie."
"Control to Commander Koenig." Winters nudged him away, and seized the loop. "Do you have any orders?"
"Yes." Koenig said. "Find Ouma. Tell him I want Delogs of what transpired while we were on the surface; also tell him to run off more copies of contingency plan Exodus. If this specimen proves unrevealing, we may be out of options."
"Yes sir." Winters replied smugly.
As the ship coasted further, and further away, there was more to see than the Constellate could stand.
Doctor Helena Russell stood up and removed her latex gloves.
In the bathtub, lie the body of Irina Volkova, MSRN, whitish in appearance since the red of the pool, was in fact most of her blood. Rigor mortis had already set in. In the background, Detective Starns and an overworked security contingent gathered evidence and took pictures of the scene.
"OK, Jerry, go ahead and bag her when Detective Starns is finished and gives you the word," she choked back the tears but the glassy, wet eyes clearly conveyed her feelings.
Jerry nodded solemnly. The normally detached Med Tech's face was etched with sadness. It was especially tough to lose a person who he worked with every day.
Dr. Russell made her way to the crib where the head bandaged Mathias had been examining baby Katrina. The dead baby's distraught father sat in a corner, staring into space.
"It wasn't SIDS, was it?" Russell surmised, glancing at the vomit-strewn pillow and the unruly bedcovers in the crib.
Mathias shook his head, and pulled the pink covers all the way up, his stethoscope dangling over the small, lifeless shell like a divining rod searching for water. There were no designs; no age-oriented aesthetics like Bert, and Ernie from Sesame Street. All of the amenities had to be hand crafted, right down to the multi-colored, plastic blocks that dangled from the fishing pole. It was never intended that children be born on Moonbase Alpha, a multinational, government research facility that probably deserved what it got on September 13, 1999. But they were adults, and already damned, in a sense. The child should have been born on Earth. The physician was aggrieved, and frustrated over the puzzle pieces that slip beneath the table. Infants should be making faces, and dreaming about small animals, shifting slightly in their sleep. They should be riding in car seats on the way to the park, and smearing ketchup all over their booster seats at McDonald's. Infancy was too dear a time to have to contend with ten million-megaton, thermonuclear blasts, and Breakaway; weird science, and curved space, or the loss of their mother's sanity, and hope. Even the meat factory day care centers on Earth would have been preferable to being dead on the Moon.
The horror was too much. Russell closed her eyes tightly. The doctor felt completely numb from the shock. She should have seen this coming. She blamed herself.
Dr. Russell swallowed and turned around in time to see Commander John Koenig storm angrily into the room.
"???WHAT HAPPENED HERE???" Koenig blurted in the language of anger. He stormed into the room like a tuba player who had forgotten his sheet music. Sometimes it was all he had left. Graham was sobering up in Medical Center. There was an appreciable knot on his forehead that was the size of Mount Atlas. It would take two weeks for him to recover from the lung damage he sustained during the Mutiny On The HMS Plod. Eagle Ten was being back-engineered in the vehicle assembly complex. Cedrix, and Ostrog were hard up for wrenches. Klaus Rotstein was made to assist, perforce--evacuating the nasty, pestilential cryo-suspension tubes by hand, and with Ed Malcom as his best compadre.
The assistant controller threatened to quit. Koenig lambasted him. Again. He would not live off the fat of the Moon. Moreover, he threatened to move Rotstein's quarters out into the wastes of Frigoris. Afterwards, everyone looked at him like some dictator, jaws agape, and with uneasiness, and disbelief.
"Commander, Dr. Sullivan will handle the lab work." Truman Starns said from the bowels of porcelain, and hemoglobin. His voice was barely audible over the six, or seven rapid-fire conversations that could be heard over the squawk of the security commlocks. Harness Bulls Dyronforth, Pound, and Cook were spared the nauseating pleasure of assisting in "the removal." They exited the lavatory, having been returned to normal duty. Whatever the shit that was. Duncan, LeBreque, and Thorpe remained, using Hasselblads to record images that would show nothing; dusting bootlessly, hoping to discover an apocryphal fingerprint--evidence of a third Alphan who was in the quarters with them, and who committed these atrocities while chuckling in the dark. Unfortunately, this was not the case. They scraped the grout for epidermal specimens that--even if they existed--would explain nothing. "Otherwise, I have nothing to report at this time."
Sol Arabian arrived from the security cube, and wheeled a block, and tackle into the lavatory. Starns, and the others made room.
"Postpartum depression that became postpartum psychosis, John," Helena calmly turned away, brushing an askew blonde strand from her aristocratic face. A 16x20-poster picture of a verdant and fertile valley of the Volga River hung in the low light; home to Irina. "It appears she was so distraught that she killed the baby then killed herself. It can happen."
Every Alphan woman who had given birth had suffered from some degree of postpartum depression. To say the situation of wandering uncontrollably through space on a rock did not contribute to it would be naive. Perhaps it was an exaggeration of normal hormonal changes. Perhaps it was the realization, after holding the precious life in her arms, that her baby may never breathe real air or experience the warmth of a sun. Sue Crawford had a severe case, not helped with her and Jackie's possession by Rena and Jarak. Angelina Carter would break down into hard, inconsolable tears every evening at 5:30 PM Lunar time like clockwork for 2 weeks after the birth of Nicholas. Adele Erhlich became despondent and teary after Gretchen's birth. Claire Profitt, widow and mother of twins, also suffered the hell of roller coaster hormonal, emotional and physiological change.
Irina, though, never cried and never shed tears. She seemed to be ok. She acted normal. She "acted" : that was the problem and Helena Russell never saw it.
"John," she said earnestly, "none of the medical staff are experts in Obstetrics. The most training any of us had including me was, as students in Medical school and the 6-month required obstetrical rotation. Still..." she stopped then started. "Irina worked in Medical. She was a nurse. I should have seen what was happening."
The automatic thoughts, negative, rolled over the anti-tank ditches like smoking Mark I's on the western front. The chill, and convulsions awoke John Koenig to the real world like a ruined Heroin junkie, all pallid, and iced flesh. He looked at the deceased child, and then to the restroom where Pierce Quenton, and Starns were deep into their newest fracas, this time via commlock. The quarters seemed to be too bright. He saw rosewater that rippled like a contemptible tarn. An oozing, purple lava lamp transformed, and revised itself into knots of kidney goop while an empty father bawled his guts up. Typically, he relied on instinct, sort of, sureness--to be sure, and physical courage fou. He would inject his body into the situation, and most problems retreated. This time, he barreled into the room like a trog, and the catastrophe not only remained, it stood above his 6,' 7" altitude, looking down, and defying him with shoves to the chest, and threats of tripping, and beating him.
He realized, only too late, that his confidence was nothing more than license; a stack of defaulted credit cards that he could never pay. Now, the balance was due, with interest.
Sol Arabian approached the crib with a morbid, black vinyl bag.
Bob Mathias turned loose the Xanax Fairy.
Egg-shaped, Russian Matryoshkas weebled, but did not wobble on the display case across from the bassinet.
"Orders, commander?" Harness Bull Thorpe inquired, closing his notebook.
"Get good at obstetrics?" The commander croaked, knowing nothing else to say, and feeling the pressure compound them into blocks with eyes, but not "The Eye." "!!!OH GODDAMIT!!!" John Koenig vroomed violently, and hurled one of the Matryoshka dolls against the commstation.
The intruder looked to his lawless left.
He opened the hatch, and propelled his unqualifiable gut into the foyer.
He darkened in the doorway of the Carter quarters with plunder in his heart.
"Anyone home?" Ed Malcom called, and that was the insidiousness of his febrile deceit...to behave as if nothing was afoul. Caesar, the cat followed him into the quarters like a conscience, nearly tripping him, but the risk of being crushed was such that he settled for piling up on the sofa, and observing, and monitoring the misdeeds of the stupid, and the reprobate.
"Anyone here?" The bloated technician queried, sticking his head in the bedroom. "Hellooooooooooo-oooooooooooooo."
As expected, the nurse, and the kid were elsewhere.
"More for Ed." He said coldly, reaching into the refrigerator for a Tupperware filled with chocolate chip cookies that Gonzales had given Nicky Carter. Since he had denied Malcom, that left him in the state of being a double, rat fink. His opponent sat watching him, bathing with his paws while studying him with wary, cat's eyes. "Geesh, they make one, butt-ugly couple, don't they?"
He devoured carbohydrates from the mouth of a babe, and pointed out the warm tableau of a portrait that the pilot, and Ang,' had posed for.
Lardass, Carter seemed to say--almost prophetically while he hugged Ang' in the chemical immortality of the photograph.
"She just doesn't seem to have any taste at all." Ed Malcom criticized, helping himself to another cookie (number four, and in as many seconds) while observing the 10' X 14' study of Trajan's Market in Rome. He was about to delineate the pilot for lacking the manhood, for failing to present any cajunas when it came to his spouse, who was a "B." Apparently, he had been cajoled into removing all of that prized, admittedly hokey, and worthless, Aussie battle armor to make way for Astro Boy.
The plus-sized invader was about to ravish the milk supply when the plague fell upon him.
Alarmed, Caesar, the cat rankled, and hissed.
The disembodied voice called to him. The personality was awful as a duet. Evil + Evil = 2. Two monsters for the price of one, and the velvet-lined coffin opened to receive all four hundred pounds of Ed Malcom who suddenly lost interest in his cookies.
You're quite entertaining. The aura communicated with him from the dark recesses of the bedroom. However, in my kingdom, we dine on rats, and unborn entrails de jour. Here...I will show you....
The invisible man pronounced 'will' as 'vill.''
Ed Malcom ran from the quarters screaming.
"Professor?" Angelina Carter blurted upon entering the Commander's office and descending into the pit. "Are you OK?"
A dumb question considering the tubes dangling down Bergman's chest from the oxygen feed through his nostrils. All the Command Staff had gathered solemnly in the room under the watchful gaze of the 'eye'; the Commander and Dr. Russell had yet to join them.
"Yes, I feel just fine, Ang," Bergman answered, slightly nasal. "I do need to drag around my friend here," he chuckled, patting the oxygen tank," but as long as it is with me, I feel great."
"I see," she eyed him, not completely convinced, as she took the empty seat between Bergman and Carter. Her laptop came to life as it whirled out of sleep mode. Koenig would want answers, to everything. She had organized the disasters and the current status of root cause investigations and repairs in a spreadsheet for easy and less confusing access.
The access door to the corridor hissed open and an agitated Koenig followed by a depressed Russell step into the room.
"Alright." Koenig said marching towards the table like he had a board.
"Exodus isn't an option." Yul Ostrog said flatly as the black sleeve moved past him like a pall. Umberto Garzon kneaded his fingers without comment.
"Oh, really." Koenig said, uncapping his ink pen, and swiveling to face the majority. "Our heads are on the block. Care to explain why we can't even use it as an alternate."
"Well, I won't speak for anyone else, but it's crystal clear to me." Carter wised off. "Commander, think about it. True, we don't have to depend on the rote core technology, but even sexton flying is dangerous under the present circumstances."
"There's more to computer than artificial intelligence." Ouma reminded them. "The hardware aboard the Eagles was built to conform to the technology here on Alpha which is dominated by miles, of fiber optic cable, and pneumonic circuitry. You can shut down the automated systems, but we're still relying on computer, to a degree.
"There's no way around it." He said, and grinned like a vindictive goon at Ang.'
Benjamin Ouma reminded Angelina of the little bully who tormented her in the 3rd Grade. Ang took the taunts and even the physical smacks to her back and shoulders when the teacher wasn't looking in their direction. She tried to ignore him. She tried to hide. He always found her. One day, Angelina Verdeschi had enough. With her resolve and all her strength, when he punched her in the arm, she punched him in the nose. Hard. Hard enough to break his nose. The bully never bothered her again.
Unlike her husband, that was the only time in her life when she used violence to make a point. She was tempted to do it again. The scenario ran through her mind. She would stand up, walk to Ouma who would sneer at her with his shit-eating grin, then she would clobber him, right to the nose. She imagined everyone in the room being momentarily frozen in shock before someone, probably Koenig would pull her away before Ouma could retaliate. She imagined Alan giving her a thumbs up, no longer pissed off at her for the unexplained adventure to the EOG facility, as she was led out the door by a couple of purple sleeves. The harness bulls would be suppressing snickers as they led the "criminal" to Medical Center for a psyche evaluation, where Mathias would give her a curious glance over the black rimmed reading glasses as they led her in the room. Ouma would still be screaming with blood spurting out of his shattered nose.
Angelina Verdeschi Carter was tempted....REALLY tempted to act.
"We should find some way around it," Angelina commented in an even tone. "Metallurgical, chemical, structural, and physical analysis of all the incidents so far do not show any anomalies that could lead to causing these disasters. With the exception of the explosion of Eagle 5, all the maintenance logs show that regular preventive maintenance has been done on schedule and all service calls have been completed within 3 days; urgent priority repairs are done in less than 6 hours."
She hit the send button and emailed the report to the entire Command staff.
"It's in black and white," she slowly turned her head and stared at Ouma.
"Rather than uselessly flap my jaw about the perfection of Technical Section, my team has gathered the data and so far, we have come to the conclusion that there isn't anything awry about Technical, out of the ordinary, that is." She winced inwardly, thinking of Ed Malcom then the hapless Andy Dempsey.
"Any news on the analysis on the programs and subroutines for 'bugs' and other software glitches, Benjamin?" She asked with a bemused smirk in a slightly elevated tone, right leg crossed over left knee.
Sandra Benes looked up and away, attempting to appear neutral.
"Well-" Koenig began--preparing to indicate yet another, life threatening, neglected consequence, but was interrupted by the sound of the corridor hatch sliding open. He and Bergman turned to see an Alphan female of Asian descent step into the dimly lit room. Her flares negotiated the steps with professional form. Her ponytail bounced smartly as she approached the table and politely set a green flimsie on the table for Koenig's edification.
"I'm sorry it's late, commander." The recon operative apologized, looking askance at Yul Ostrog. Ang' noticed her askew commlock was assigned to one R.L. BABACAR. "I would have delivered it earlier, but I was in Travel Tube-A when the system went down. Technical Section had to tow the car back in before I could get out."
She winced, suffering the curse of the late pizza, delivery person. Her tardiness, and intrusiveness seemed to make her self-conscious.
"Understood." Koenig said, and applied his signature, and initials to a consumables report for a ship he had lost. One of two ships, but who's counting?
"G'day, Ruthie." Yul Ostrog hounded, but the jet propulsion expert remained stoic, looking to Ang' for reinforcement until she could exit as gracefully as she came in.
As the doors closed, the Eagle mechanic rolled his eyes at Carter, who was too busy looking ill to appreciate the failed overture. The captain looked at Ang' with reddening cheeks that nearly bore the imprints of the invisible hand that had just slapped them. The metaphorical coffee had been poured down his nostrils, and for a moment, he believed in Bigfoot. For a moment, he believed that there may, really have been an Atlantis; that there may have been some verity to the witch closing the oven door on Hansel, and Gretel, pressing her weight against the wrought iron, long enough to confine them until the burners were lit. He could see why a wasted trip to the Alpine Valley might be advantageous.
But more than this, he felt like a lunatic. The Moon was the perfect place for him.
Angelina exchanged a curious glance with the oxygenated Bergman, who stared at Ostrog with raised eyebrow. Maybe "Ruthie" was some weird Norwegian slang term for a male buddy. She had never heard it before.
It occurred to Ang that perhaps the HVAC units needed adjusting because everyone in the room had flushed faces. Yet, she did not feel hot or uncomfortable temperature-wise. The damn headache and the stomachache did not want to go away though.
"Sandra?!?" Dr. Russell jumped out of her chair as the petite Chief of Services slouched in her chair, on the edge of unconsciousness, as Paul assisted to hold her up.
"Alan?!? Are you alright?!?!" Ang turned toward Carter, alarmed.
"Could be..." The pilot started, staring at the row of black squares, in the center of which there was perturbed eye. "I might be o'kay...if I can catch me breath...but it's hard.... Yeah, way hard. I'm in the rough." He admitted, finally. "I better just sit here for a minute, or I'll end up flat on me phiz.'" He predicted, patting Ang' on the hand, as if to assure her that if he did get sick, it would be no where in her direction. Actually, sick was too mild a descriptor. It reminded him of his green horn days at the cape; of the centrifuge, and that darling KC-135 weightlessness unit (Remembered by all as "The Vomit Comet."). After twenty revolutions, he felt like there was a pack of spoiled pastrami fermenting in his stomach. His fellow astronaut trainees, Burlingame, and Sparkman, added to his woes by suggesting rank portions, by asking him if a greasy porkchop, covered with cigarette butts, and ashes was what he desired. By the time they landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, porcelain--with a hole to put his face through--was what he desired.
She grasped his hand tightly, not only to reassure him but also to steady herself. The room was beginning to move but she sat perfectly still.
At that moment, Umberto Garzon put his head down on the table, trying to fight away the blackness. Victor assisted to help, with surprising speed.
"Just like him." Carter added the exemplary.
"What the hell is happening?" Koenig blurted, attempting to stand then promptly sat back down as he too experienced a blackening room.
Angelina looked at Victor then back at everyone else. Bergman's cheeks were not flushed. She pulled the commlock from her belt, calling the Environmental Engineer, Greg Lane.
"Greg, analyze the gaseous content of the air," she asked the lethargic engineer. "Do NOT use computer." She glanced at Ouma coolly. "Use the handheld sensor."
"Do you think.." Koenig began but stopped as he steadied a weaving Yul Ostrog.
"Maybe.." she replied, the pounding in her head getting worse. Bergman had opened the cabinet to the emergency oxygen and began to distribute them, while dragging around his own tank.
"Commander," Tanya's image appeared on the commstation. "People are passing out all over the base."
"I don't get it," Lane's perplexed image came on again," carbon dioxide levels are near the danger zone and carbon monoxide levels are in the unhealthy range." He reported as he fit his mask. "Computer isn't sounding the alarm!!!!"
!!!Bonjour, ma sere!!! The happy voice blossomed from inside, but like weeds between the melons of Angs' brain. It was just like before, blinding, but the light was purplesque instead of the intense white. Her knowledge was like shishkabob,' stuck to the wooden stick as the words poured across her ignorant, unenlightened mind like Dom Perignon over ice. The carnival tent collapsed as cloddish musicians with percussion instruments paraded across the knit. You would like the Bruparck. This Aquarius of concomitant turmoil said with resolve. The longer I'm here...on this base...the longer I have to look at friend Petrov--all the while imagining what it would be like to murder friend Petrov...so, the more I have come to appreciate beach heads, and waves. A simulated, tropical paradise, and all in Heysel. Ouiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii.
There it was again! That damn voice which coaxed her to take a pointless and nearly life threatening trip to the Alpine Valley.
"WHO ARE YOU?!?!?" Angelina shouted but no one really paid attention, each person either assisting another (barely) or struggling to maintain consciousness. Only Bergman looked up from tending to Garzon and frowned. However, helping Helena to the floor before she injured herself in her collapse took precedence over the bizarre outburst.
"???Is it the partial pressure of CO2???" Koenig asked, wondering where his next breath was coming from.
"No...." Lane choked, surrendering his last ounce of strength. "Yes." He corrected. "It is, but it isn't. It can't be the PP if it's coming from inside the casing, and according to the master alarm, that's where the problem is.
"But oddly," He managed, seeing his life pass before his eyes in explicit near death experience. "We're also reading a major N2 flow high in the main reservoir."
Lane was intrigued, and then he passed out.
"Commander." Morrow wheezed, managing to stand, but with his face growing redder with each passing exhalation. "We ought to start distributing portable life support." He chugged, and panted. "Unless you have a better idea." He told Carter.
"Nope." The pilot said, managing a warm, confident smile in the face of certain asphyxiation.
Within 30 seconds of donning the mask of the portable life support device, Angelina's head began to clear though the nausea remained. At least her legs were slowly becoming solid from rubber.
"Attention All Sections Alpha," Koenig stood at the desk while the rest of the Command Staff, all wearing their portable life support devices, stumbled into Main Mission to assist the operatives who needed assistance with their masks. "Emergency situation with life support, code orange. All personnel must were portable life support units, type 2, until further notice. EVA suits are not required."
"I think we are going to have to manually monitor the gas component levels," Angelina shouted in the mask. "Obviously, we can't count on computer to monitor it and keep it at a safe level."
!!!Mon epouse!!! The sidling communicator drudged its way back into Angs' daydream. !!!Wasn't she beautiful!!! Ang' could see an almost tolerable face connected to the woman's 400 plus pound physique. Her hair was bundled in a sweat net. Her preference for old nightgowns was complimented by her affinity for loud, pink mules. She posed beside le maison, lacking only a rolling pin, and a battery of nag, which the magenta photographic image failed to impart. You were very foolish in throwing away the cylinder I left you, cheri. The voice declaimed. If you had installed it, the problem would have been solved. NOW, you are made to snort in funny-looking masks while the atmosphere deteriorates around you. Very disconsoling. !!!Very deceptionnate!!!
!!!Mon ami!!! The voice said, hugging the towering, bulwark of evil that also intruded upon Angs' like poison ivy onto healthy skin. !!!This is Em.'!!! The chatterbox explained. EM IS MY FRIEND. She knew better than to speak to Em, or to acknowledge him. The ice, the decomposed blue hue; Em was death.
"HAVE YOU TRIED THE NUMBER TWO REPRESS VALVE." Koenig blared into the loop.
"No." Bergman shook his head. "No...John, a purge is what we need. The system has to be detanked. Problem is, that could take hours."
"IT WON'T HELP." Specialist England disagreed with the commander, and the professor over the link, being careful not to step on Specialist Lane's head.
"GO TO ACTIVATION ELEVEN ON THE CHECKLIST." Koenig instructed, moving on to Contingency-B.
Bergman looked at Ang,' and nodded urgently.
"Does Technical Section have a simulation scenario for this." He asked. "If you do, it might be best to dig it out.
"There we go again." Bergman observed as Harness Bull Pound collapsed before the entrance to the MPSR. His clumsily adjusted breathing gear, donned with amateur hands, hung lopsided on his left cheek.
"ANG,' WHAT WAS THE DAMAGE ASSESSMENT TO THE REFINERY?" Koenig queried, attempting to follow twenty conversations at the same time. "DID THAT CAUSE THIS?"
"The primary EOG facility has been destroyed and needs to be rebuilt," Ang puffed loudly from behind the mask. "The secondary facility however is more than adequately prepared to supplement the O2 supply. No, sir, the EOG facility disaster has nothing to do with this."
She glanced up at Sandra Benes who was on the balcony assisting Klaus Rotstein, who was naturally on his coffee break when the atmosphere crisis began, with his mask. It was a messy affair since Rotstein had vomited everywhere.
"Computer analysis shows that the ratio of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other inert gases are normal," Emma Black reported from the computer bank. Her expression was blank and disbelieving. She did not need to be convinced, as she began to sweat around her nose and mouth where the life support mask hugged her face tightly, that computer's assessment of the situation was incorrect.
"Of course computer shows that everything is normal...okay...hunky-dory!!" Angelina Carter responded with ire, staring down at Ouma at his swivel desk. "Nothing, NONE, of this has ANYTHING to do with computer," she became increasingly shrill. "AFTERALL, WE'RE STILL RELYING ON COMPUTER TO A DEGREE. AS IF LIFE ITSELF ISN'T GODDAMN POSSIBLE WITHOUT COMPUTER!!!"
She wheezed with anger through the inhalations and exhalations.
"Fuck off, Ang," Ouma stood up with eyes narrowing to slits, condensation appearing then disappearing on his mask with each breath.
"Whatever." Carter observed, leaning against panel six, and exhaling with disdain through his big, black muzzle. In the MPSR, Specialist Petrone was slumped over his microscope while the video camera displayed red, green, and blue bar lines where a giant eyeball should have been. Harness Bull Coldaryn entered the crampt space to assist. "Anyway, she's got you dead to rights, junior."
"England." Koenig honked through his respirator. "I'm looking at the schematics, now." He said with remarkable patience, and endurance. "Try giving that hex a quarter turn. That might put us above 19 psi.
"Victor, what do you think?"
"It's worth a try." The professor conceded.
"Roger that, Main Mission." The specialist said through a face full of rubber.
Go to the Cassini rise. The voice explained to Ang'--it appeared to be her role in this unfolding, fantasy drama. It could easily be both the voice of wisdom, and of annihilation. There will be another opportunity for you to appear...somewhat smart. !!!Look, mademoiselle!!! It is Cheese, mon pet!!! In Angs' hallucination, a black and gray Rhesus monkey dropped into her hair, a biological wig, with mischievous hands that pulled at her ears, and gnawed at her neck. Her muse was dominated by Kodak, gold thoughts of Plato's neighboring crater, and of those pain-in-the-ass little monstrosities from Nepal, like the one that was now climbing down her back. Rhesus monkeys should be ground up, and made into Reese's Pieces, one could argue.
"Well, I did it." Specialist England reported glumly. "It didn't work...but I did it."
"No, no," Angelina Carter murmured while rubbing her temples. There was no way she would listen to some disembodied voice, accentuated with disturbing images. She decided it was all a result of oxygen deprivation. When she listened to ghostly voices before, she nearly got Joan Conway, her husband and herself killed. She felt acutely responsible for Specialist Craft's injuries, as he lay writhing in Medical; maximum morphine merely took the edge off the pain and his recovery would be long and painful.
Worse, life support was not Ang's specialty. She was not an expert in the workings of the unit. She knew how to supply it power but she was not familiar with the settings and calibrations which would restore and maintain the delicate mixture of gases which was their precious atmosphere; until now.
Everyone within earshot turned to Ang as she repeated "No, no." They thought she was objecting to the useless act of turning the hexnut. They could not have known she was rebuking the voice in her head.
"No," she looked up, suddenly full of knowledge, just as Koenig and Bergman were about to bolt out of Main Mission to Life Support for some hands on troubleshooting,
"Reduce N2 flow rate 2000 cubic liters. Increase O2 rate 800 cubic liters. Reduce outflow of CO2 by 200 cubic liters only then gradually increase to nominal level of 500 at a rate of 10 cubic liters per minute." Angelina dictated though she had no clue of what she was saying as Specialist England moved levers and flipped switches.
"Hmmmm," England vocalized after about 60 seconds while holding the portable sensor unit. "It seems to be working. O2 content approaching 20%. N2 content dropping from 84%."
"Where did you get that data from?" Koenig asked Ang' bluntly--the useless systems manual was open before him like a Bible that was good for nothing, but a rose. Beside him, Bergman assumed a posture of inquisitive neutrality. It wasn't that he was grateful for the opportunity to live out his days, sans gas mask, but the turnaround was so sudden, as to be suspect. As the saying goes, if it's too good to be true, then you're still in deep crapola.
Paul Morrow turned from where he was standing at the flight desk. He alternated between sizing Ang,' and testing the newfound, breathable atmosphere which seemed to be not quite ready for the olfactory. Above him, leaning against the rail near window two, Petrov watched intently with what could best be described as fashionable circumspection. He made eye contact with Ang,' but otherwise made no movement towards joining the debate.
"I'm surprised as well." Bergman said gently. "I didn't know that environmental, and electrical commands were your forte, Ang.' You rattled off that procedure like someone who wrote it. Did you speak to your SIMSU? Was that where the information came from?"
"I'm am the SIMSUP." Sandra Benes reminded them. It was her other hat. On Alpha, you may not have peace of mind, but you have plenty of hats. "To my knowledge, we've never experimented with a scene like that."
"The formula appears to be working." She said doubtfully, her cheeks deeply shadowed in the light of the gooseneck lamp. "But it is radical." She said, reverting her monitor back to the fluctuating EOG2 tab. "The biosphere is leveling, though the intermix is far from normal."
Carter uttered an odd, guttural sound of disapprobation.
"I think every one of you is a few kangaroos short of the paddock." He said, moving close to reinforce Ang.' "She just saved our lives, and you want to put her on trial for witchcraft, it sounds like."
"No one said that." Morrow observed defensively while giving Ang' the evil eye again. "And for that matter, I wouldn't consider a reservoir temperature of 25 psi as life saving."
Petrov continued to stare her out, moving down the steps with a mixture of concern, cunning, suspicions unrevealed. He nodded to her sympathetically, and then moved off into the commander's office.
"Alan, we're just curious." Koenig mollified. He was frustrated to the point of fulmination. "Ang,' if you have any other information on this, we'd appreciate it if you would share it with us. We're still glitching. How can we bring the 02 levels back up again?"
!!!YOU MUST GO TO CASSINI!!! The voice reiterated, and then left her.
The Alpha News Service shack stood at a higher elevation than the command tower. This was not a tribute to the Fourth Estate. The accommodations (three offices, and a studio that was almost large enough to seat one person, if you chopped them in half) gave bold new meaning to John Lennon's phrase, "Nowhere Man." At fourteen, by thirty-two degrees south, it was barely a crumb, blown far, and away from the needle, and lead of an engineer's compass. The terrace that it rested on was referred to as Salt Lick. Beneath it was an interlocking catena that was christened 'Ball's Crater' by some halfwit astronomer. What this nom de guerre lacked in glamour, it made up for in snotty debasement, and reprove. The transmitter sprouted seventy meters up, the microwave dish keeping surveillance just beneath the lurching, anti-gravity units. Beneath this, there was the DSN Cosmoblaster antennae which was once used to transmit vital factoids (yeah...vital) of great consequence (yeah, that's a consequence...got any more Tang, and bacon chunks) to the cultmasses on Earth, and Mars, and in the claustrophobic consortium of orbital space stations. Today, it was a hunk of junk--a Doberman in a kennel filled with Poodles; a Gold Cup Winner on a Moon filled with hicks, and quitters.
Orville Hendershot, the beating heart of ANS found these arrants to be generally specious, and afraid of the truth.
"Now that you know...." He said acutely--sternly--to infobabe Tara Bathory. "What's your decision. Will you do the right thing--will you do what your conscience tells you to do, or will you report our friend's to Heinrich Morrow, and the Schutzstaffel in the security cube." He twiddled his thumbs, studying her. "If you choose the latter, you must bear the inevitable, and theoretical responsibility for the death of every man, woman, and child on Moonbase Alpha."
He refused to wait for her, turning back to the Unix document he was typing which contained the late-breaking story.
The three-foot aliens with gray skin, and eyes as big as footballs--imprisoned by Commander John Koenig in the iron core of the Moon--looked up at her beseechingly. Their silver robes tensed as they awaited her verdict. There were fifty of them, and only they seemed to be unaffected by the fetid, horsy air that was coming out of the local vents.
"No one has ever appreciated my intelligence except you, Orvy," Tara Bathory sat cross-legged, in the highback swivel chair, as she filed her nails.
"Isn't that right, sweetie pie," she intoned in a baby voice as she patted the little alien on the head. To a sane person, she would appear to be talking to the desk but what's the definition of sanity?
She giggled nefariously as the 'alien' climbed into her lap and began to caress her long blonde hair with multijointed fingers ending in suction cups.
"Even Blake didn't appreciate me," Tara announced sadly. Blake, of course, was her boyfriend or rather her former boyfriend and the father of the dead child Katrina. "He dumped me, you know." She sighed. "He was so upset over the kid's death. The crazy bitch killed her own baby."
"Then, she did herself in." She stood up and looked in the mirror, straightening her hair into place. "I told Blake maybe I'd make him another one some day to replace her and he just got all emotional on me. Humpf...the loser. They're all losers...every single one of them." She stared at her image silently.
"So when do we act?" She finally spoke up, turning and grinning to her audience of 3 foot, gray skinned admirers.
"First, we must address the problem of unity." Hendershot hastened to add, staring over his spectacles at the aberration to responsibility, and classlessness that was sitting on the opposite side of the desk. "What do you say, my friend? Will you accept peace, or will you fight for freedom?"
Hendershot was uncertain how to conclude the first paragraph of his bulletin, so he selected a quote from Socrates to invite comparison from the viewer: "I come to you as a sort of gadfly attached to the state...."
"Man, rank me to the dogs if you want, but in my opinion, you two are flat-out psycho." The ANS videographer declared, his underworked, tanned behind was parked in the white, futura chair with a half-eaten vegetable burrito in his lap. His name was Duke, and he preferred long hair, and sleeping until noon. He bathed once a week whether he needed it, or not, and his veteran, used boxer shorts made the ladies pant not with inconceivable lust. His used, and abused Sony camcorder lay at his feet like a sleeping pet. The donning of the life-support mask had ruined his supper, but seeing the consequences first hand, he was grateful, even if he did look like a poster child for nuclear holocaust. "I have no idea what you two assholes are talking about. Unify what, Rogaine? The only thing I see being 'unified' is the crap between your ears."
Hendershot scranched the Hawaiian shorts that this tasteless Duke had pulled over his flares.
"You are part of the problem." He told the videographer flatly, and selected a topic sentence for his second paragraph. The revelation of the murder; the slavery; the crimes against space that were, and still are, being prosecuted by the fascist regime on Moonbase Alpha warranted only the highest sensibility, and sixth sense. Toppling a government required stoutheartedness, and fortitude--Koenig, Morrow, Russell, Carter, Pierce Quenton--they would have to impeach them all with tongue, or laser. "Do you deny the subterfuge that has been perpetrated by Main Mission, which hereafter shall be referred to as the Bath Party? Do you deny that we were told lies, that there was, indeed, a spacecraft that crash landed in the Sea of Storms? Do you rebuke the evidence of your senses, and look away from the dire that you see before you?"
He nodded to the alien leader, whose name was Vorhoostechsvatzonamiopoly. The general from another world was perched atop his monitor, weak from starvation, and the various beatings, and tortures inflicted on him by cold security ops. Tara Bathory petted his shoulder comfortingly, and the alien said: "!!!MEP!!!"
"Man, I don't see nothing except you, and her, talking to yourselves, and the walls like a couple of fruitcakes." Duke superannuated. "I think you'd better put these on while you still have a brain cell left between you."
He dropped two environment masks on top of Hendershot's hard copy.
"You talk to him." The producer told Tara Bathory. "Tell him exactly what those masks do. All he thinks about is sex...maybe you'll succeed where I've failed."
He considered adding a quote from Thomas Paine at the end of paragraph two, but felt that it might be over-the-top.
Tara Bathory turned to face Duke, grinning broadly. Duke's expression of shock was temporary as the news anchor fired the laser, stunning the Haight & Ashbury semblance of a videographer.
"That's not very original." Hendershot criticized, but went on typing.
The bad air worsened with the aroma of stunned hippie.
The doors parted to ANS revealing 4 individuals, all with disgruntled glints in their eyes.
Ed Malcom, in deeper mental absentia than ever before. Gas, or no gas, the difference in IQ was virtually unnoticeable.
Claude Murneau, his big honker sinuses suffering under hypnotic duress.
Hugo Willet with eyes that washed away into the subterranean vortex, dishrag in apron pocket.
Bob Mathias...who gave up his right to end this affair sanely, and intelligently, having sacrificed his mask to Tom Graham. He now believed that he was on foreign duty, providing social medicine in Belize to a select species of Keel-Billed Motmans. Sweat poured from his brow, and gelid gun hand.
"Life support. The heartbeat of Alpha," Bathory giggled.
"Increase amperage to circuit 1-2-6 by 1.2%," Sandra Benes, from the central monitor station of Life Support, instructed Angelina Carter 15 feet away around a corner at the power regulation unit.
Ang nodded and complied. Afterall, Sandra was the expert in this area.
"Decrease voltage to circuit 3-5-2 by .5%, incrementally for the next 60 seconds at my mark," Sandra paused watching the fluctuating lines of the graph. "Now."
The Technical Chief complied by adjusting manually. Under normal circumstances, a computer macro could be used for the task but Ang trusted computer about as far as she could toss it out the window.
"So, Ang," Benes pressed, "I didn't know life support was a hobby for you. Where did you come up with that unique formulation?"
Angelina still did not know the source of her inspiration. Worse, she had to convince Alan to take her to Cassini Rise next, which was not going to be easy. She was about to fashion an answer when her thoughts were interrupted by laser fire and the 'thuds' of the two Life Support Security Guards, dropping unconscious to the gray floor.
"OK, Sandra," Tara Bathory's voice echoed through the small room. "Hands up cutie pie and away from any alarms. We wouldn't want to alert anyone, especially your man, Herr Morrow." Bathory giggled at her clever 'wit' and imitation of Hendershot's comparisons of Command Staff to Nazi generals. The army of gray skinned, midget aliens burst out in a resounding giggle; they had decided she would be her queen. Tara always had envisioned herself a princess and was accustomed to such treatment.
Sandra glanced sidewise to Angelina as she activated the silent alarm to Main Mission on her commlock then stepped out. "What are you doing?" Ang glanced at Bathory, who was blowing kisses and smiling radiantly at...nothing. Besides crazy Bathory, Angelina saw it was Hendershot plus four others, heavily armed.
"BOB?!?!" Angelina blurted in amazement. "What are you doing?" It was no surprise to her that Murneau and Malcom were in this crowd with Hendershot and Bathory: but Bob Mathias and Hugo Willet? A closer study of their expressions revealed that perhaps this was physically related rather than mentally related (except in Malcom and Murneau's case).
"There's no story here, Hendershot." Angelina attempted negotiation. "We've all been under a lot of stress. However, Sandra and I have a lot of work to do to stabilize the biosphere. Leave now and we will forget you were here."
"I BEG TO DIFFER WITH YOU." Hendershot rejoiced from the tank turret of his ultimate expose--the Mother of all reports. "ACTUALLY, WE HAVE QUITE A STORY, DR. CARTER. IN MY HAND I HOLD THE KEY TO THE FUTURE OF THIS BASE, WHICH UNFORTUNATELY WILL NOT INCLUDE YOU, OR YOUR TREASON, AND INHUMANITY."
He relaxed his aim on the rocket laser to show her his unreadable copy.
"THERE'S GOING TO BE A BROADCAST--A LIVE FEED, DIRECTLY FROM THIS ROOM; A GLORIOUS REVELATION CONCERNING THE CORRUPT POWERS THAT HAVE DOMINATED THIS BASE SINCE THE MOON BROKE AWAY. HOW IRONIC THAT YOU, A VILE, TREASONOUS COLLABORATER, ARE GOING TO HELP US DO IT."
Mathias used his laser to nudge Ang' towards the video camera that Hugo Willet laid at her feet.
"Read this." The producer handed Tara Bathory her ultimate bulletin. The aliens were nodding in rapid succession, and offering her applause as she stepped before the camera.
"If they fire on any of the critical circuitry in that room, we're done for." Paul Morrow essayed, watching the drama unfold on the big screen. "The only support we have left is EOG number two. If we lose that routing junction, we'll eventually suffocate no matter how much oxygen we have stored."
"True," Koenig nodded, wrinkling his brow. "Along with the primary EOG facility went the primary routing junction. Damn!"
Bathory stared pensively into the camera, staring at the print out intermittently...studying key lines, and determining points of emphasis.
"We can try reasoning with them." Bergman suggested. "They're too far gone to listen, but we can try."
"Clearly, they are showing signs of oxygen deprivation and excess carbon dioxide, John." Dr. Russell interjected. "Hallucination, disorientation...they are not themselves."
"???YEAH???" Carter snapped angrily. "WELL, LET'S SEE HOW FAR GONE THAT FLAKEY BIMBO WILL BE AFTER I HIT HER WITH A POINT BLANK STUN. COMMANDER, I CAN CRAWL THROUGH ONE OF THE AIR VENTS...TAKE THEM BY SURPRISE...."
"Right, and THEN what Alan? Hendershot repays the favor by taking pot shots around the room including Sandra and Ang!" The commander shook his head vigorously. "No, no, I don't think so."
"Special ops is en route to the core, commander." Truman Starns told Koenig, approaching the trench with a slip of register tape from panel two. "It's no easy task, sir. It's a no-win scenario. If we try to take the facility, we're going to end up with no biosphere, and a base full of dead people."
Morrow exhaled brutally, and gnawed down on his upper lip, unattended master alarms flashing on his security relay.
Kate Bullen activated an incoming internal communication. A shaking, weak and recently awoken from a stun Duke Pendergrass appeared on the monitor. "Kate...this is Duke. Hey, baby, I think Hendershot and Bathory are on some real bad stuff. They were like talking to themselves and some imaginary friends and started rapping about overthrowing the Command Staff. When I told them they were nuts, the bitch stunned me. I think there's somethin' about to go down, man. I hate being a snitch but these assholes are stoned!"
Bullen glared momentarily and was tempted to say "DUH" but did not and instead answered. "Understood. Do you need help down there?"
No, man," Duke shook his head. "I'm OK." He cut the link.
Koenig glanced around the room. The options were few. Like so many times before, all personnel in Main Mission stood or sat quietly, looking to him for his leadership and decision.
"Victor, Helena, Alan, Truman," Koenig started toward the left archway," come with me. Paul, stay here and monitor the activity in Life Support. We're going over there."
Instead of speaking into the camera, Tara Bathory babbled nonsensically, talking to some sort of audience. Hendershot seemed momentarily distracted as well by the same audience. Malcom and Murneau stood with blank and dazed expressions. Willet appeared to be on the verge of collapsing as Mathias, sweating and blinking with great effort, strained to stay conscious.
"Are you people crazy? DO YOU REALIZE THAT IF YOU START SHOOTING IN HERE, YOU WILL KILL US ALL, INCLUDING YOURSELVES??!?!" Sandra stood up quickly and angrily.
Claude Murneau fired his laser, sending the Chief of Services crumbling to the floor. Angelina immediately went to Sandra, hoping and then relieved to discover she was stunned. The charged particles made her hair prickle on her skin, standing up on end. A circuit in the console crackled from the static discharge. A secondary control panel, the damage was minor this time.
Angelina slowly stood up, trying to make sense of Bathory's nonsense. "Hey.. I see them too." Ang glanced in the same location as Bathory. "They seem very nice. Where did they come from?"
"You do?!?" Bathory became excited and lowered her weapon. "Did you know about what Koenig has done to them?"
"No," Angelina pretended to be aghast, "tell me. What happened?"
Her answer came in the form of a backhand across the right eye from Hendershot. The explosion of pain caused her to reel backwards, losing her balance. She grabbed a lally column to steady herself and pull herself up.
"WHAT'D YOU DO THAT FOR, ORVY?!?" Tara Bathory exploded in Hendershot's face, "She sees them too." Bathory patted the general on the head. "Now you've upset them!"
The Y-2 corridor to the translator was difficult to traverse. Ed Malcom thought he was plugging Duke's battlefield camera into the outlet. Ed Malcom was also so dumb he thought 'manual labor' was someone who lived in Mexico. He did not facilitate the activation of a camera. What he did was to open secondary pressurization valves from the core control panel. Ten hours of precious oxygen, heated to liquid form, rushed through the massive plumbing on the Cassini Rise, down to Moonbase Alpha, where it poured through the open escutcheons, flooding corridors in Technical Section, Residence Building-A, and the Command Tower--top, to bottom. Kate Bullen, and Ben Ouma saw it coming through both archways, and backed towards the steps. The volume of water threatened to encompass the entire base. Paul Morrow gaped at an inch of water, rippling towards management row from the O-K Corridor. Simultaneously, Umberto Garzon saw--and appreciated, with great trepidation--the amount of water pouring from the balcony onto Emma Black's head.
"WHERE IS THAT COMING FROM?" The controller fumed at Claire Profitt. "!!!SERVICES SECTION, REPORT!!!"
In the Y-2 corridor, John Koenig ushered the team back with an uneasy hand. As the unsuspended liquid rushed past their bootheels, he peered around the bend to where the gray shield doors were closed over the translator. The floor was a burbling, silver wavelet of reflective cryo-formula, deep, and getting deeper with each passing minute.
"That's not good at all." Bergman observed, stooping near the floor, and sampling the compound with his thumb, and forefinger. "It's our life support." He told Helena Russell as he stood. "Looks like Hendershot is heating the reservoirs. If he keeps it up, John, there won't be any reserves left, not to the mention the damage it will cause to uninsulated systems."
"If the reserves are used up," Russell stopped to catch her breath against a commstation," we will be extremely limited in our operations. Non-essential and off duty personnel will have to be put into a forced sleep to conserve O2. It could be like that for weeks until the reserves are built up again."
"Commander Koenig." Paul Morrow trilled over the commlock frequency. "Be advised, we have negative feedback from all N2/02 storage tanks. The Dilutatorium is being aspersed at a rate of 100 liters per hour. Zero suspension."
"Paul," Koenig responded to the deputy commander on the mini-monitor. "Cut power to the life support area and all of section D. Let's try to pull the plug on Hendershot."
Morrow pounded the desk in frustration. "It's no good, Commander. He's overidden the Main Mission control circuitry to the area."
Koenig shook his head, as more of Quinton's team met up with them. "Let's move!"
"MY DEAR, YOU'RE A BRILLIANT REPORTER." Hendershot imparted to his anchorwoman, statesmanlike. "IN EVERY OTHER RESPECT, YOU'RE ABOUT THE DUMBEST THING SINCE NEW COKE."
It was evidentiary by the fact that the alien emissaries had left her side, and moved towards where he was standing at the routing desk, the rocket gun trained on Angelina Verdeschi's appendix. The fact that their toddler feet failed to disturb the encroaching water was lost on him, except for him to rationalize it all as a divine miracle. Just over Angs' shoulder, Ed Malcom, and Claude Murneau were setting up the sound system for this empyrean, ANS broadcast. Or so they thought. If they had been smart, and coherent, they would have realized that Ed Malcom was standing on one of the plastic chairs, crushing it as buckler mustard, while detaching one of the dormant, high voltage snakelines from the primary bus. At the same time, Claude Murneau was using a Phillips to open the input on one of the load sharing, emergency batteries--shocking values in excess of 10,000 amperes.
His nose looked big, and almighty snockered on the rapidly thinning, begrimed air.
Nothing seemed to perturb the odd foli aux deux between he, and Big Butt.
"???CAN'T YOU SEE SHE'S TRYING TO DUPE YOU???" Hendershot tried her. "I CAN. MAYBE THAT'S WHY I WAS PAID TO THINK, AND YOU WERE PAID TO BE COVERED IN FOUNDATION MAKEUP AS THICK AS CONCRETE, AND TO SMILE LIKE A MANNEQUIN DURING THE 7:00 TO 8:30 PM NEWS BLOCK."
The general turned his disloyal back on Tara Bathory, and strolled across the line to the other side.
"I SHALL NOW APOLOGIZE TO OUR GUESTS." The producer explained to Ang' as he was clearing his throat. It was a difficult language address. It began with a keynote flex of the clapper, backwards in one's mouth until it greeted the esophagus. Hendershot raised the gorge in his chest, and did the hambone gag,' nearly choking to death in his attempt to be contrite. The alien contingent began to applaud as he staggered along with a cold blue face. Hugo Willet was there for an impromptu Heimlich Maneuver which freed the producer's tongue from the confines of his stomach. "Thank you." A humble Hendershot told his soldier as his complexion returned to normal.
The room was still spinning for Angelina Carter from the vicious punch to the head. Hendershot was babbling and Tara Bathory was enraged.
"WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE CALLING ME STUPID, YOU BASTARD!" Bathory lunged at Hendershot, both knocked to the floor which was becoming a wading pool. For some reason, Mathias was compelled to join the melee, attempting to pull Bathory off a weak and surprised Hendershot.
During the scuffle, it did not take long for Angelina to realize what Malcom and Murneau were doing, as the water continued to pour into the room and the 'electrifying' consequences that would follow. She fed the numerical instruction to computer from her commlock to shut down the power on the base. She hoped it was still functioning. Angelina was surprised to see the word 'Password' appear on her commlock monitor.
She typed in the password. As soon as 'ACKNOWLEDGED' appeared on the mini-monitor, she switched off her commlock as Moonbase Alpha was plunged in complete and total darkness.
Gordon Cooper, and Bram Cedrix were debriefing Yul Ostrog on the performance of Eagle Ten on her last Z-Prime Mission. The mechanic was making paper airplanes, and uttering a plethora of excuses--each one, completely ungermaine--when suddenly the lights vanished from the high bay, and then the map room. Cedrix continued to argue in the dark for several seconds before realizing what had happened.
Harness Bull Wen Marx was on a lark, helping security assistant Elva Love tighten her muzzle against the cascading waters, and foulness of air. Then Wen Marx, on a lark, and wishing he was in a park, got hurled into the total dark while Elva Love insinuated derogatory statements along the way. Oy-vay.
Dac Capano was in a quad, speeding across the huge, and brilliantine-now mudded--north forty of Hydroponics Farm Number Two. He was expelling tomato seeds into contoured rows when suddenly the overhead cell beams were pulled out from under him. Forced to drive as Yuri Gellar, blindfolded down Mulholland Drive with only his intuition between him, and sudden carnage. He prayed that it would be enough, as he stabbed madly at the brake. It was not enough, and the proof of this was seen when he rolled the vehicle sideways. He was jettisoned into the mud as the vehicle slid sideways, and crashed into a cherry tree.
He could not tell a lie: Angelina Carter did it to him.
"!!!AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!" Claude Murneau cried as Ed Malcom stepped on him in the dark. Ang' could hear the sounds of bones being stomped to powder, and brittle calcium turned to mortar--a frenetic elephant, pounding, and squashing with Orville Hendershot nearly missing the encroach. Tara Bathory stumbled backwards in the atmosphere bath, and took a ninety degree drop in the soup. Ang' caught a bespotted, humming bird, pound sign glimpse of the translator room--all in glaring orange, but with floodwaters abeying--as the anchorwoman's laser discharged against one of the ceiling panels.
Then a rough cane in the darkness wrapped around her arm, and jerked her away. In the absence of light, there's no sense of time, or direction. She may have been falling for a century. Then reality crashed down on her again when the emergency beam lit in the dank accessway that connected the translator to its SPAN room.
"I need to know where you obtained that information in Main Mission." Colonel Petrov said, urgent amidst the raucous.
"!!!GO!!!" Truman Starns queued, pushing Carter along the crawl space between radiator hatches. The crampt box couloir was an erratic, haywire dream of cascading mag lights, and boots echoing against the aluminum sheathing. "!!!GO!!! GO!!!"
The detective followed, and somewhere up ahead, making maniacal progress, John Koenig was in the lead, crawling along with laser, and scrunched back. Koenig almost crashed headfirst into the ventilation shaft grate, despite the fact he could determine his distance from the room based on the shouts and the splashing. He squinted but it was pitch black.
"Ang!!" He whispered under the noise levels, hoping the Technical Chief was nearby. He heard a groan and recognized it to be Sandra, on the floor and splashing to consciousness.
The Commander dislodged the grate quietly and pushed it out, though no one heard him.
Hendershot came to the realization that by firing his laser, he would have light. He began to fire around the room randomly, though mostly at the ceiling.
"WHERE ARE YOU, YOU BITCH?!?! TURN THE FUCKING LIGHTS BACK ON OR I'LL WASTE EVERYONE HERE!!!"
He could not see them but he knew the little gray aliens were nodding at him in approval.
Angelina Carter blinked and could barely discern Petrov's features. She was relieved it was him but taken aback by his question. Why would he care?
"I don't know," Ang replied honestly and curtly, grabbing the maglite from his belt. "Yuri, there's no time for this," she fumed, annoyed. "If those jackasses fire at and ruin any of that instrumentation in there, we'll be in deep shit."
She shone the maglite around the room, fixing on the access panel. "They need to be subdued. Do you have your laser?"
The colonel emitted, unzipping the silver, Teflon coated jacket that he used to ward off the cold in the tank armory. From the side pocket, he produced one of the charged, staple gun lasers (there was another holstered visibly to his hip), and handed it to her, safety off. He remained stoical amidst the fortemente outbursts, and the trashy cries of cowardice that were coming from the translator. His eyes somehow communicated that this was not the worst of it, that this was not even a problem. Ang' glommed in him, a certain understanding of just about everything--present catastrophe included. She traced an outline of the events of Breakaway, the Eyeball in space, and a cure for the common cold.
Even more mystically, forbiddingly, she sensed more than recognition of these events. In the final rub, it was something more akin to administration.
"You realize that the fate of everyone on this base may rely on what you do, or do not tell me." He said patiently, folding his arms over his chest.
She gazed at him momentarily. It sounded like arrogance, typical of what she heard from many in her male dominated section. However, she did not believe he was being arrogant and actually he appeared to truly believe his role in their 'fate.'
"I'd tell you if I knew. But I don't," she replied sincerely. "Cassini Rise. The next piece of information comes from Cassini Rise. Now. Let's go."
She peered out the access door into the chaos in the dark.
Truman Starns was working on detaching his radiator cover. Alan Carter wasn't even close.
They parted company at the connexion, with four paths to destiny, he chose number two which took him on a crampt, knee-busting quesal around the air handling gizmo. He could hear the roar of machinery. He could feel the incursive chill, and the rumble of thin, metal sheathing as he progressed. His mag-lite danced across the top of the vent, and the bottom creating shadows, and ghouls. Rushing, and panting, he slid sideways against the grate, eyes narrowing to slits, and with his gun trained on anything. The hatch that John Koenig should have emerged from was across the room, in the darkness behind a narrow reach of pipes. The outlet for Starns was shielded from view. He had no idea if they were in the room, or not. Nor did he know, or see, or care, that the alien general was only two feet away from him, choking phonyms of praise for Orville Hendershot, whose weapon was aimed precariously in the direction of the main bus unit.
Then a flashbulb exploded from the register hatch that was visible momentarily. It went unnoticed by Bathory, and Murneau, and the unevidenced alien horde (with Malcom in the middle, panicking, and crushing the good tile flooring). In any event, the evaporating discharge from Koenig's laser dropped Hendershot at once, putting an end to his holy quest, and gimcracking. Now, the only breaking story that was afforded him was what happened to his nose when he landed in the water face first.
Carter steadied, and aimed. He felt the intense, dry heat against him palm as he squeezed the trigger. Claude Murneau stopped, dropped, and impacted like a sack of corn in the pool of slurry. A clipboard fell from the nearby console. That landed on his face too.
The discharge from Koenig's laser gave Ang a bullseye in the form of Tara Bathory. She dropped backward in a splash.
Ed Malcom's face streaked in panic when he saw her taking aim at him in the light of Carter's laser discharge. Malcom made a rather larger target area so despite the bright flashes from the lasers obscuring her vision somewhat, she still managed to take him down as Truman Starns struggled out from behind the radiator cover.
Angelina shone the maglite up at the ceiling and the array of coiled electrical and network cables hung down to the floor, within inches of the water, like snakes hanging out of jungle trees. Helena Russell assisted a groggy, returning to reality Sandra to a chair, then quickly examined the hapless mutineers.
"See, Commander," she motioned up and down with the maglite as Koenig, Carter and Starns approached. "I had to cut the power completely. Hendershot was out of his mind."
She pointed to the pool of water on the floor. "We came dangerously close to being electrocuted." She winced slightly. The shiner on her swollen right eye was throbbing; the positive side was that at least she was still alive to feel the pain.
Ed Malcom thrashed in his untuned sleep of disgrace. Fat, titanic hands made hand to mouth gestures; dreaming his dreams of eating Pizza Hut into certain bankruptcy. His reverie was an extract of pain.
John Koenig grimaced.
"I guess we'll have to do something with him." He told Ang' with disrelish, looking to see if perhaps she would embrace the duty. Carter nodded in leery assent. "Get him to medical. I guess." He told Harness Bull Dyronforth finally. "Tell them they'll need a block, and tackle so they don't wreck their backs."
He supposed he would have to help. He considered the prospect with no mean nolition.
"Macarena, Macarena--ooooooooooOOOOHHHHHHHHHH, Macarena." Bob Mathias babbled, and cantillated from the depths of his narcosis. Exposure to the polluted biosphere took away his breath, and atrophied his muscles. His laser was on the floor somewhere. His hallucination had switched to Tahiti where he was receiving a handy back massage by some Polynesian honeypot. His search for herbaceous Panax was all, but forgotten.
Truman Starns placed a gentle hand on the smashed physician's shoulder, and led him to a nearby plastic chair. After placing an 02 mask on Mathias' face, the detective turned the feed tank on high, and left it there.
"Mutiny." John Koenig pondered as Helena Russell, and Victor Bergman entered the now secure translator. "I wonder if someone is trying to tell me something when those things start to happen."
"No, John, it has nothing to do with you at all," Bergman voiced assuringly as he inspected the dangling cables Patrolman Tony Allan's maglite.
"Of course not." Russell seconded the motion as she turned over Herdershot, evaluating his fractured nose. "These people were suffering from oxygen deprivation and neurosis. Very similar to what happened when we lost all the reactors last year."
Tara Bathory whimpered and shivered in a puddle of water.
Harness Bull Duncan was kneeling beside the neuronically concussed physicist. Alas, poor Claude Murneau. !!!I knew him Horatio!!! The clipboard was resting against his salt, and pepper moustache, whispering its secrets.
"This belongs to you." Duncan told Ang,' amazed by coincidence again.
The top sheet on the clipboard was a printed email message which, oddly enough, appeared to generate from Angs' electronic address. It contained three words:
GO TO CASSINI.
They had worked through most of the night to restore power, first to the critical sections then the secondary areas including residential building. Then, the crews worked on removing the water from the tile floors with mops and wet vacs.
Angelina Carter stepped into the Carter quarters, her back nearly breaking from wielding the mop, giving up the wet vacs to those who already had back problems. The sound of the shop vac dominated the quarters, where Alan Carter was sucking up the remnants of the former, impromptu wading pool.
Nicky Carter, who had initially been amused splashing about in his birthday suit in the indoor pond, lost interest and naked, wrapped in towels and blankets, had fallen asleep in their bed. The noise of the vacuum did not seem to disturb the slumbering child. Next to him, Caesar the cat, who had jumped onto the bed at the start of the deluge and had remained on that spot, curled up in a sound sleep next to the little boy.
The eye watched with mild interest.
"Do you do windows too?" Angelina smirked as Carter flipped the shop vac switch to the 'off' position. "How's everything in the hangar bays?"
"Hangar bays?" The pilot repeated whimsically. "Those were easy. Those big giant floor drains come in handy. All we had to do was open the sluice gates, and its back to the recycling system. The firing rooms and the FCR were a mess from Adam's ale. Cedrix is making a quid in the map room too. What a bloody mess. Water, water everywhere, and destroying charts that took years to configure. Good thing we saved them on computer...even if we can't use computer.
"Well, no great loss, probably."
Alpha was pretty much the end of everything. It was like trying to prepare for an armpit. Everyday.
"At least we're moving out of range of that thing." He said, pointing the wand of his wet vac at the omnipotent eyeball that seemed to say "Ditto." "Another three hours, and all we have to worry about is when our cryo-mix is going to crash again. You know, they even got Craft back in there. Burned backside, and all. I hear he didn't sound too optimistic."
He dropped the wand, and listened to Frank Sinatra croon the strains of "Fly Me To The Moon." Carter didn't care to see any more stars, but he was interested in seeing what spring was like again. Not that it would ever happen, mind you.
"I thought by now you would be up to your eyeballs with this ratbag." He commented, pointing towards the CD player. "Why songs about the Moon. Are you starting to like it here? I'm not."
He figured she had an incurable jones for any song by Frank Sinatra. Carter liked Frank Sinatra too. How did the old joke go? Frank Sinatra saved my life. He told his goons to stop working me over. What a hoot!
"I only like it here because you're here," she spoke softly as she sat next to him on the low rider couch, handing him a cup of Moonbase Alpha java. She sipped and decided the unpleasantly strong imitation coffee was the result of another bad crop of soybeans.
"Of course, I'd like it a whole lot better if we were on Earth or on an Earth type planet," she gazed pensively at him. "But I have to take what I can get," ergo, being alive, she thought, "for now."
He studied her shiner with a mixture of distress, concern and anger at the crazed perpetrator, softly caressing her cheek. "We're a perfectly matched set now," she relaxed, referring to their battered faces.
Caesar the cat sauntered out of the bedroom, rubbed his face once against Angelina's outstretched hand then jumped into the pretzel chair adjacent to the couch, settling into a cat lotus position, front paws wrapped against his chest.
Angelina gently stroked the back of Carter's neck to the crooning of Ole Blue Eyes. She needed him. He knew her well enough to recognize her need. With their son in their ergonomic bed, their only option was the white futuristic couch with the Eye and the cat looking on. She didn't care. She ignored the audience and so did he.
"I'm not a life support expert," she whispered afterwards, entangled in his embrace. "But I do know a thing or two or three about power," she chuckled.
"EOG#2 is our only O2 generation facility. I need to check the stability of the power matrix first thing tomorrow morning." She looked up, very businesslike. "Could you have someone take me out there? The travel tubes are still down and God only knows when they will be functional again."
Ang didn't ask for him specifically to fly her to Cassini Rise. In one respect, she wanted him to take her. In another though, IF something happened at that facility like at the Alpine Valley and IF something fatal happened to Alan.....she shivered slightly and held him tightly.
Carter savored his bad coffee, setting the cup on the translucent table.
"There's a flight scheduled for 14:00 hours." He essayed. "It's more of Craft's people. Scott Taylor is the CMP. Sandra Benes is supposed to be commanding the mission, but Craft--and his people--are so anal, I don't see them taking orders from anyone.
"I could be coerced into swapping missions with Taylor if you tell me why you want to go out there."
Untrue. He knew that he would end up taking her out there, even if it was to deliver granola bars to cockatiels.
She could discuss the matter until she was blue in the face why she was the best person to go out to Cassini. She was highly qualified, which was a fact, but it was also a fact that she was Chief of all Technical Operations, not just Power. She was responsible for getting the travel tubes back online, the grav controls monitored and surveyed and organizing the construction crew to draft plans to rebuild EOG#1. Any one of her power engineers could have gone to EOG#2 to calibrate the power matrix.
And Alan Carter knew it.
"14:00 hours is not early enough," Ang rolled on top of him and rested her chin on his chest. All the struggle, the pain, the losses, the two words which best summarized her opinion of living on a wandering moon far from home (THIS SUCKS!) were allowed to be revealed in the emerald pools of her eyes. "Craft's boys can get their asses out of bed before noon and Craft himself, well, his burns weren't as bad as it was initially thought. He's not in tip top shape but none of us are. Besides, he wants to go back to his outpost. Petrov kept going up to him and saying 'Your ass is mine, Craft.' He's terrified at the thought of being reassigned to Evil Mushroom."
They both shared a laugh, careful not to be too loud and wake the sleeping little boy in the other room.
She became serious again. "As far as Sandra, she has decided to stay here and asked me to go instead." (That really was convenient, Ang thought.) "She's having disciplinary problems with her people and she is having a big "Come To Jesus" meeting with them today. Besides, whatever adjustments need to be done on the biosphere formula can be done in life support."
She sighed. "Frankly, after all the shit her own people have given her, she really doesn't want to put up with mine in the form of Craft and his egotistical mental giants." She shrugged. "I don't blame her."
She opted for the practical but no less truthful approach of explaining her insistence to go the Cassini Rise. No voodoo, no hidden messages and no voices in her mind.
Carter nodded, and then did a silent, but no less philosophical standoff with the eyeball.
"Well, Taylor's ship is already fueled, and on the pad." He admitted, having seen Eagle 1-7 on the launch pad through the windows of the Ready Room (it was not the initial reason for his fainéant; the main purpose was to catch a glimpse of the steam which was still pouring from the Alpine Valley, forming a gaseous, diagonal colander of lines that crosshatched their fate without breathable air. "She's probably ready for the plugs-out.
"You know, Coop' never did much care to have some legend hop a ship like it was a go-cart." He reminded her with a gentle pat to the shoulder. "Especially if it's not cleared for launch. We've got space vehicle preparation to think about, y'know. On the other hand, it probably wouldn't hurt for me to give Scotty a ring...find out how he'd feel about trading galoshes.... He can take Eagle One into equatorial orbit, and do the guard dog thing this evening, and I'll do the supply thing again.
"Harms can relieve him instead of me.
"Angelina, if we're going out there for the same reason that we went to the AP, I'd advise against it, love." He finished suddenly, but assuredly.
"Let's move the baby back to his own bed so we can get a good night's sleep," she sat up, avoiding the advice.
It was like he read Ang's mind and her refusal to acknowledge his statement was a response in itself. She wondered if she was losing her mind, becoming part of the landscape: a lunatic. Her reasons for going to Cassini were sound and honest but it wasn't the whole story. If she told him that she was hearing a rude and insistent voice again, she could accurately predict his reaction and it wouldn't be pretty. However, she was beginning to doubt the voice; when she listened the first time, disaster was the result.
Angelina pondered these things as she listened to Alan coax their groggy son to use the facilities then helped the child into nightclothes. Caesar had followed them and hopped on the bed, purring loudly as he settled against her in the crux of her elbow under the covers. She decided she should give her husband the added information about the third party with questionable motives but struggled on the presentation.
She did not get the opportunity to talk with him. She was sound asleep when he came to bed.
Low orbital flight over Moonbase Alpha was like flying a chopper over a waterfront warehouse at night. There was light, but mostly it was dark, and the moonbeams did not drive Alan Carter to bet the horses. He was flying by sextant now, aided by a second magnitude Barlow lens, and an incredibly lousy mechanical TV picture of the lunar surface below. Jets of hydrogen peroxide pushed Eagle 1-7's command module away from the marchland of travel tube tunnels as the countdown to retrofire began to wynd down, second, by second. Sun checks were a plus. Fortunately the journey wasn't long. Even on the Moon, four times the size of the continent of Africa, they would be lost. Dead lost.
Space was a wilderness, and inertial guidance was a crutch that the lazy astronaut could ill afford.
"Try this." The pilot said, handing Ang' a squeeze tube of coffee from his personal pack. "It's about what you would expect as far as taste, but you look like you need some."
Angelina eyed the disgusting concoction and silently declined. On such a short trip, there was no service for real coffee. It was like the airplane trips of old earth. Long flights, one received meals. Short flights, the beverage and snack service was limited or nonexistent.
She should have taken the coffee, though. She needed the boost of caffeine. Not long after he came to bed, he began loud, congested mouth breathing. The dry air did that to him and she had neglected to fill the humidifier. As a result, she was able to obtain very little sleep.
"!!!I DON'T CARE!!!" Craft, who was Commandante Klink of the EOG bellowed stentoriously from the passenger module. The argument concerned a boiling point for nitrogen that could--theoretically--flush the invading particles from the matrix. Dr. Von Koors, a chemist who was loyal to Angelina Carter, argued that it could. Craft, still chaffing with a burned butt-hole believed that it wouldn't, and said so. "!!!AND SINCE IT WILL NEVER WORK, WE'LL DO THIS MYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY WAYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!"
Carter shook his head, pitching over for a better look at the promontory below.
"He's about the humblest jake I've ever met." The pilot said sweetly. "He sure thinks more of his abilities than I do."
"Or the rest of us," Angelina muttered in response as she pushed back the co-pilot's couch and strolled out of the Command Module.
"This is not a goddamn playground, Dr. Craft," Angelina leaned on against the bulkhead connection the service module to the passenger module. "The idea here is cooperative teamwork between ADULTS...not pre-schoolers."
"There's no room for ego stroking either," she continued, addressing both Craft and Von Koors, though clearly her ire was still directed primarily at Craft. "I don't need to remind you that we are a good 8 weeks from completion of reconstruction of EOG#1 and Cassini is our only primary oxygen generation facility."
Of course, there were smaller ones for "emergencies" though they were never designed to be used long term and continuously.
"So," she approached the engineers, leaning on the back of one of the passenger module seats. "What seems to be the problem?" She finished charmingly, flashing an interested smile.
"You're a tough person to work for." Carter chided when she returned, and cleared the silent, 32:07 alarm which would abort the firing of the sixteen propellant jets that were necessary for braking. "For a minute, I almost felt sorry for him. Then again, I'm pretty cold hearted."
Ang laughed and looked down the access corridor and, noting no eyes were turned in her direction, pecked the pilot on the cheek.
"And that's one of your positive traits," she teased, dropping tiredly in the couch and pulling the safety harness over her shoulder. "I'm determined to keep my reputation as the 'queen of mean," she grinned proudly. Actually, she had no such reputation except among a small minority of her people; such as losers like Ed Malcom and egomaniacs like John Craft.
A very short distance away, beyond the coastland of breccia, and a pair of decapitated peaks lay Cassini. On the eastern edge of the Mare Imbrium, it was worn out, desolated. Eons ago, it took two major hits of interstellar debris, which went a long way towards explaining the number of child craters, and its homely face in general. Rising high above one of the antenatal formations was a familiar looking silo, along with a handful of blockhouses. Some were actually false fronts for parts of an installation that was erected beneath the lunar surface. In most ways, Electron Oxygen Generator Number Two was identical to the facility that was fried in the Alpine Valley.
"Eagle 1-7." An officious, somewhat youthful voice said agreeably over the wide band. "According to our tracking system, you're closing at 2.5 nautical miles downrange of the base. Maintain your current heading, and hold at three-two, seven-six, zero-niner. This is a secure area. We'll need verbal confirmation from Dr. Benes, or Dr. Carter before deactivating the estrus barrier."
"Well, that's an improvement." Carter remarked, giving the comm over to Ang.' "This is Carter." He went on to tell the standing passengers in a module that was about to become a ferris wheel. "Start settling in. I think we're about to land."
"Technician Samskar," Angelina began smoothly, "this is Dr. Angelina Carter. You are authorized to deactivate the estrus barrier."
"Yes, ma'am, right away!" the young Samskar replied enthusiastically. Enrique Samskar had been a member of the other Moonbase Alpha from the alternate universe and as many of the alternate universe Alphans, had proven to be an intelligent and hard worker.
The masquerade of ultra-hot, charged force-field particles faded, and Cassini had color again. Carter flew by wire in the direction of the landing pad. Faces became visible in the windows, some were harness bulls while others were scientists, consulting with resident cryologists (in vain, by the looks of it). All told, the environment at EOG #2 was one of unmitigated, suicidal hopelessness. On top of that, most of them were sporting headaches from the bad air.
"Dr. Carter." Specialist Samskar greeted them in the boarding tube. "Ohhhhhhhhh." He said, non-plussed, and suddenly resentful. "I see that Specialist Craft is joining us too. I didn't know that we needed him here."
"You can thank us later." Carter said generously. Standing beside him was a glum, but no less observant Yuri Petrov.
"We're here to clean up the mess, Samskar." Craft insulted. He was the provable "Y" in Yuppie. "You spill the milk, and I have to clean it up. The lesson here is that you are no good with milk."
He thought it an apropos metaphor, considering.
"And another lesson we are learning is after we stabilize the environmental and power matrix, perhaps there is not enough room for two oxygenation specialists." Angelina regarded Craft mercilessly. "Since this area is already assigned to Dr. Samskar, perhaps Dr. Craft's expertise could better be temporarily utilized in Evil Mushroom."
Samskar smirked triumphantly as Craft looked stricken. 'Temporary' assignments on Moonbase Alpha often turned into long term arrangements. Ask Hugo Willet, unwilling technical section draftee for nearly 2 years and still only returned to Gonzales' kitchen part-time.
"What say you, Colonel Petrov? Could you use another hand?" Angelina glanced toward the door. She wanted to go in and find whatever 'it' was that she was suppose to be looking for: whatever the voice in her head had told her she would find. Voice in her head. She shook her head slightly to clear the cobwebs.
"Dolboj'eb." The colonel snorted compliantly, but with an impatient eye glued to his commlock, and the forever lost lunar time that was displayed there.
"Dr. Carter, I'm not sure why you're here, but any ideas you might have on how to improve this situation would be greatly appreciated." Specialist Samskar said, leading them back towards the airlock. "The assumption is that we're going to die...I guess...if we can't find a way to purge the biomix.
"There's a relationship between the N2 flow high, and the anomalous gases that are contaminating our air supply." He extended lamely. "Of course that doesn't tell us much."
Samskar paused at the red shield doors, his commlock at his hip.
"We have PhD's working on this. The finest minds on the base. Enough refined intellect to turn the Moon into a supernova." He opened the doors, and stepped into an elevator that was lined with panels made of red foam. Carter, and Ang' followed. Craft, Von Koors, and Petrov brought up the rear. "People who were trained at MIT, Cambridge, Bogazici University." Samskar boasted proudly as the car descended. "So far, this combination has proved unbeneficial. I'm beginning to think we're in a tight corner."
"Have you tried roiling the inert gases." Dr. Von Koors oppungned.
"There you go again." Craft burst arrogantly forth. "I see you learned nothing from the seminar I gave you aboard the Eagle. The gases can't be seethed without causing a major loss of pure product. We may as well burn the place down again."
He knew he was right.
"!!!FOOL!!!" Dr. Von Koors retaliated.
"We considered trying to boil the impurities out." Samskar admitted. "As much as it pains me to admit it, Specialist Craft is exactly right. The problem is the same, be it a liquid, a solid, or a slush. We can't rid ourselves of the invading particles without a major loss of life support. It's like throwing the baby out with the bath water."
He looked at Craft with fleeting admiration, and professional awe.
"Specialist Craft, before you disappear for all time into the pit of Hell--in the bowels of Evil Mushroom-- defrocked, and humiliated, I want you to know that it has been a pleasure working with a person who has such acute powers of deduction."
The elevator came to a halt ten stories below the lunar surface. Beneath the stratified layers of anagalactic rock there was a processing chamber, dominated by four, huge vats. One for Alpha North; one for Alpha South; two for Alpha East, and West respectively. Each one was a hundred meters across, and resembled swimming pools that had been capped with iron. Welded into the containment alloy, there were portholes for examining the oxygenated requirements as they interacted in synthesis. From the ceiling, the massive, telescoping feed pipe dropped down ninety degrees, and then branched out into quadriceps that plugged into the reservoirs like vacuum cleaner hoses. Four workstations with gooseneck lamps formed the brain trust that monitored, and rarified the base's supply of priceless atmosphere. Alan Carter watched as technicians, and weary specialists stood guard over the untrustworthy computer panels which, in turn, delivered false conclusions regarding the treacherous, disloyal life support system.
It heightened his sense of security to know that failure was all around them.
"What is the current composition readings?" Angelina queried, looking upward at a tall, thin Technician with a most severe widow's peak in his bright red hair. The group accompanying her didn't know she was an expert in biospheric dynamics; neither did she.
Ian Garvey leaned over the rail with hand held free radical sensor. "This is weird," he replied, answering her query but not really answering her. "I'm getting an anomalous molecular reading."
Angelina walked briskly up the narrow steps to Garvey's catwalk. She glanced at the monitor of the sensor. If anyone else viewed the black and white mini monitor, it would have illuminated a string of numbers and formulas decipherable to PhDs of chemistry.
When Ang looked at the monitor, she saw two words.
"Orphan molecules?" she repeated with surprise.
Dr. Von Koors peered over her shoulder, adjusting his reading glasses on his nose. He wrinkled his brow while searching his own long-term memory of biochemistry.
"Yes..." Von Koors scratched his chin. "I would say that appears to be a formula for orphan molecules." He closed his eyes in deep thought and 'hmmmm'ed.
Carter leaned against the rail, allowing his yellow EVA helmet to swing back, and forth in a pensive movement. The thrum, and haw of compressed atmosphere, and atoms united, if only in chain reaction, impressed him as being very much like the Jolly Green Giant giving a low belch. He would never admit that to anyone, of course. Having a naval background, and a test pilot's minimum BS degree in engineering, he was expected to be more articulate than that. Then again, he didn't recognize anything smart in the bravura gapes that were conspicuous on Craft, Von Koors, Garvey, and Samskar. Ang' seemed dauntless, but neutral. Petrov was lost somewhere, his eyes gliding along the pipe chases, and ventilation ducts. He seemed to be looking for something though the pilot knew not what.
"Orphan molecules?" Samskar said, scratching his fuddled beard.
"What are you a parrot?" Craft abused him. "Yes, Mr. Potato Head, the man said Orphan Molecules, and by the unit count, I'd say the pool is inundated with them."
"THAT'S ENOUGH," Angelina Carter snapped angrily at Craft. Specialist Craft opened his mouth then, thinking the better, closed it. "Focus on the problem at hand," his boss reminded him sternly yet wearily. Clearly, she had enough of the sandbox antics. Craft backed off temporarily.
"An exponential increase?" Garvey consulted aloud.
"Possibly." Craft said, taking charge of the monitor like Caesar over the Celts. His muse lasted only two-fifths of a second, proving why he was good for one thing at least--oxygenation. "I have no idea how it got there, but if we're flooded with base protein, we definitely don't want to crank the temperature up."
"If they're viral proteins we can combat them with designer antibodies." Von Koors suggested.
"Sure." Craft vituperated. "Let's substitute one horrible death for another. Let's see a show of hands. Instead of suffocating, how many people would rather die of Swine Fever?" He said sagely, and Carter-no expert in this field--could nevertheless see that he was speaking with a sincere tongue. Craft turned to Ang,' and then spake as one professional to another. "Our only chance is to extract a sample, isolate it, and see if medical can devise an immunodiffusive DNA.
"If they can, we can introduce it to the matrix manually. If they can't...."
He trailed off to avoid the redundant, and the obvious.
"Right," Angelina did not finish the sentence either. "Helena," she speed dialed the Chief Medical Officer's code on her commlock," I'm over in EOG2. We've found what looks like a formulation for Orphan molecules, protein molecules. I'm not a biochemist so I'm sending the molecular configuration formulas over to you now."
The words "Message Sent" appeared on the micromonitor after she fed the hand held sensor data into her commlock and emailed the message to Russell.
"It's in the air and probably is the root cause of the havoc wreaked on our biosphere." Craft and Von Koors nodded in almost perfect unison. "Specialist Craft," she eyed him neutrally over her commlock, has suggested that you guys can devise an imunodiffusive DNA to bind with it and neutralize it."
She paused thoughtfully. "Purging our systems isn't really an option at this point. What do you think?" Actually, purging was an option but not a good one. It would involve evacuating to the Eagles and expunging the atmosphere through the airlocks. They had done it before after the encounter with the horrid aliens masquerading as Earthman died and left their rank and stinking carcasses all over the base. However, with only EOG#2 on line, the restabilization of the atmosphere would take not hours but days. With everyone's state of mind, she did not want to imagine living in close quarters of an Eagle for 5-7 days.
"Bring a sample in." Helena Russell said, following the next intonation. On the commlock's monitor, her face looked as non-committal as the blue panel behind her. "I'm no expert when it comes to these recombinant DNA's, and RNA's. Dr. Thane will have to examine it. Maybe he, and Von Koors can put together a code that will accomplish that much. I'm not even sure if it's possible to join DNA to a gaseous element. Sugar is the preferred bonding element."
"It's possible." Von Koors said. "We need to act quickly."
Craft grinned, giving his boss a look of sublime self-importance.
"Well, then that's that." Carter said, somewhat relieved, and turning towards Petrov, but the colonel was gone.
Later, he would wonder how he managed to leave the EOG facility without Eagle, or travel tube.
Yes, cyberterror, and Umberto Garzon hoped to God it was the pits for Tanya Alexander. She was insulting, desultory; a bitch, and if he had his rathers (which he didn't), he would have chosen not to collaborate with her at close quarters. For the hundredth time since they entered the Hypothalmus of central computer he caught her giving him that holy, uncontainable, Joan Of Arc look. The brave damsel squaring off with the hideous STC from Hades. She handed him the black hat the minute they met in the Verb subchamber this morning, and she had been trying to nail it to his fucking head ever since then. The experience was ego obliterating. He was tired of feeling like a fiend; he was sick of feeling tired; he was sick, and tired, and on top of that, it was getting monotonous as sawdust looking at the little dialogue box in the system tray which said: FILE IS NOT AN APPLICATION.
He wanted to bundle his rage, and hulk it at her like a lead boulder. His skull filled with invectives as sharp as glass, and everyone on the base seemed superior to him, including, fat slob, Ed Malcom. He wanted to scream at her, and evince: "!!!I'M NOT YOUR GODDAMN BUDDY!!!"
The problem was, after he finished contemplating these nuggets, the guilt came in like a polar wind, causing him to draw his feathers in against the unloving chill. He longed for Antalya, and the view from the Adonis as the bright, blue Mediterranean waves broke symbolically against the shore. What he got instead was space, and vacuum--the perfect place to be hosed.
He turned, and pointed an initial ink pen at Tanya Alexander. He examined his internal arsenal, looking for grenades. Adisa Talic didn't like her--but she did like Garzon--and he was about to parlay an unpleasant reminder of that. See, she's on my side. You be-otch. This brought into question his own maturity so he forgot it. Moments later, he picked it up again, and stood to face her.
His mouth opened, then he turned away, unable to face her. He thought about it, and decided that an insult was the thing to do. Then he lost his gumption, and considered burying his humiliation in work.
"Say, Tanya." He began, amazed at his own level of self-respect, assertiveness, and propriety. "You know, you can leave if you want to. Or I can leave, and you can stay. Believe me, it won't hurt my feelings."
Tanya looked blankly at Umberto Garzon. She was the mistress of stoicism, rarely betraying her emotions. Cold fish, frozen, ice queen: all names that were in reference to Tanya Alexander.
It was just not true.
Her feelings for Umberto Garzon were mixed and she felt confused. She never let any evidence of confusion be revealed, especially to him. On the one hand, he was the kindest, most patient and tolerant man with whom she had been acquainted. On the other hand, whenever she looked at him, despite the beard, he reminded her of the most abusive monster she had ever known. The ghost of Sloven haunted her of the physical and mental battery she had allowed herself to tolerate.
"I--" Tanya Alexander stopped before her feelings could surface. She regained her cool Slavic composure. "I don't understand."
Wrong. She did understand.
"What have I done to cause your reluctance to work with me?" Her exterior Medusian gaze should have turned him to stone. Her interior screamed 'I'm sorry. I'm confused. You're not Sloven...you are Sloven...Yes!! NO!!! YES!!! NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!'
She imagined sinking to her knees, screaming in mental anguish as the camera angle pulled away from her at rapid pace toward the black lunar 'sky'.
"We need to put our personal intolerance aside and concentrate on the present issue," she replied robotically.
"Well," He shook his head, using the station mouse to pull down a list of menu options. He decided to go into the Eff Drive, not because it looked improbable, but rather his mind was empty of knowledge. On the other side of the aisle, John Koenig gave them both a sourpuss look born of work, unequated. It was his twelfth hour in the server room, and all he had gotten for his pains was a torn pair of jeans from an unrecalcitrant panel, and a tee shirt slimed with Ben Ouma's coffee. The computer chief stood beside him, his head barely visible over a pair of component speakers. He continued to refute anything, and everything. Even when computer was wrong, she was right. He even looked at ON/OFF switches with denial, and confusion. Emma Black tried to relieve him, but he was not to be moved. Ben Ouma obviously had a death wish. "I can see the logic behind that." Garzon told Tanya coolly.
He hoped that he at least sounded snotty.
"Flame throwers anyone?" Adisa Talic greeted, coming up the lift with a box of CD-ROM's that contained the most hostile anti-virus software known to human kind.
Tanya Alexander briefly regarded Adisa Talic with dry ice frigidity but otherwise said nothing.
"The initial diagnostics on all of the drives are not yielding anything substantial," Tanya offered miserably to Garzon. She knew this because she had performed the preliminary scans herself. "I suggested deeper scans but Ouma told me it was a waste of time. I didn't know how to initiate the deep scan routines," she looked on as Garzon typed a series of commands to initiate the deep scans. "Otherwise, I would have done it earlier."
She shrugged non-committals as Patrolman Tony Allen stepped into the room. Unlike Adisa Talic, he did not like Garzon because he was convinced he was the reincarnation of an asshole.
"Babysitting, Tanya?" Tony Allen scowled. "Or rather, zoo keeping?" Allen snickered as he stared at Umberto Garzon.
"!!!Hey!!!" Benjamin Ouma barked from his position on the dais, opposite the alley side of the five-story server. Call him silly, and gynecoid. Call him naive, a nerd, and a computer geek who was ridiculously loyal to his hardware. Whatever the epithets, no one doubted his authority in this room. He was Head In Charge Honcho of all he surveyed. "Allen, if you're here to make rounds, you'd best start making them."
"Knock off the shit, Tony," Tanya blurted with surprising forcefulness and even more surprising defensiveness of Umberto Garzon.
Patrolman Tony Allen recoiled like a slapped mongrel. His red Supercop cape coiled around his neck like a python, and turned his face purple with shame, and obligation. After nodding his head politely, he retreated towards the airlock with his tale between his legs, discountenanced.
Umberto Garzon gave Tanya Alexander a pro tanto squint before returning to his keyboard disgust.
"O'kay." Adisa Talic said unassumingly, laying the kit of CD-ROM's on top of the processor for easy access. "Anyway, I thought you might need these."
"I don't know." Garzon said, watching the animated, CGI building blocks explode, reconfigure, and then scatter again while the blue download thermometer approached 75%. Circuits opened, and closed with screaky, vain disquiet. "This deep scan thing...it doesn't appear to be-"
In retrospect, no one is certain what command was given. The scripted D-Logs later revealed that it was Tanya Alexander who shifted, and then pressed ENTER. As to what function she was initiating, and whether it had anything to do with the scan is uncertain. For want of a better root, she may have just been pushing the lousy buttons. What is known is that the entire base--every compartment, every laboratory, every equipment bay was filled with the Gregorian distortion of bad sonics. Ears were barbecued as the wailing screech reached MACH 9 before booming outward, and beyond. Tinctures of red, green, and blue glowed along the consoles, and monitors. Garzon grabbed for the stabbing pain in his head as his cheeks turned fluorescent red, while his forehead turned a radioactive green. Tanya Alexander crumbled to a barely able, squatting position as the tractor wheels thundered over her skull, trouncing her over, and over again.
Ben Ouma's entire body was a corona of blue light as he screamed against the subterranean loud noise.
Tony Allen wailed like a puss, his fanfaronade, and his courageous attack on Sloven's twin brother were totally forgotten as he bawled his brains out, holding his acid-filled head, and sliding down the side of a commstation where the monitor appeared to be going crazy with platonic orange dice moving counter clockwise on a background that was an unearthly, inhuman black.
The geometric countdown continued on the big screen of Main Mission, as controller Paul Morrow pulled his hair out, attempting to reach the ripper needles that were snicking away at his brain. Alan Carter fell forward, almost prostrate against Angs' console as the agony of music drained his muscle tone, and very nearly his will to survive. Pierre Danielle bit the Formica, knocking over the gooseneck lamp at the Capcomm station in the process.
"!!!WHAT DID YOU HIT!!!" John Koenig shouted at Tanya over the rhoncous, dungeon squall, and emerging fireflies.
In the common nursery, Nicky Carter's wailing was eclipsed by Gretchen Erhlich's hysteric screams of tortured agony and the red faced, tear strewn gasping cries of the Profitt twins. A third trimester pregnant Lynette Grant, sinking to her knees, grasped her head with one hand and her belly with the other as her unborn child kicked and elbowed her violently against the inside of her womb.
"Oh my GOD!!!!" Joan Conway cried through the tears. "My ears!!! MY EARS!!!!"
"SHUT OFF THE SWITCH TO CENTRAL COMPUTER!!!" Angelina Carter barely croaked to Carter Jackson, who gripped the wall panel, moaning.
Jackson nodded weakly at he pulled the breaker into the down position. The cacophony instantly stopped but so did all life to computer.
Emma Black uncovered her ears and realized all was lifeless on the swivel desk. "Complete shut down of Central Computer," she reported to Paul as Ben Ouma's image from the Server room appeared on the Big Screen.
"It will take several hours to restart and reinitialize," Black continued, replacing a stand of hair that had fallen out of her French twist. The Big Screen went into split image mode as Angelina Carter's stressed out face appeared on one side while Ben Ouma appeared on the other.
"Paul," Ang began to speak despite the ringing in her ears, unaware Ouma was listening in," I cut all the power to Central Computer."
"WHAT?!?!" Ouma's shrieking voice replaced the inhuman noise of seconds before. "How ignorant can you be?!?! Don't you realize it is going to take hours to restart and it won't be a 'clean' start?!?!"
"What's the matter, Benjamin? Afraid you're going to have work a bit of OT today?!!?" Angelina hissed back.
"You little bit-....."
"THAT'S ENOUGH!!!!" Koenig's voice interrupted powerfully in the background.
"Commander," Tanya's voice filtered through the speakers in the background. "All I did was initiate a virus scan subroutine. Just before the noise and just after I began the routine, the monitor streamed some peculiar symbols."
She paused, pursing her lips. "Sir, I think we may have a virus."
"You think," Ouma trained his cannons from Ang to Tanya. "You're not a software expert. We have the latest and most refined routines and we constantly scan for viruses. There's no way we have a virus in our system.
Angelina rolled her eyes in disgust on the split screen but otherwise said nothing. She broke the link, deciding to personally 'speak' with Ben Ouma and trotted decisively in the direction of the giant server room.
Well, Ouma was right. There would be no clean start. They were all dead wrong that it would take hours for the system to come on line again. Bereft of any human initiative, a password dialogue box opened magically before Umberto Garzon's very eyes.
"No.'" He said defiantly, and unbelievingly as ten asterisks typed themselves in, giving the command for an impromptu restart.
The pain...it wore their ears out. The alien hieroglyphics returned, moving counter-clockwise again, as the entire base was immersed in an electrical cloud of particles emanating from the mainframe. The searing soprano caused wall panels to explode. It made test tubes congeal. It drove Klaus Rotstein to madness, dropping his coffee on the floor of the balcony while he bounded against the dysfunctional elevator doors. The caffeine, and non-dairy cream dripped slowly from a pool onto the back of Sandra Benes' anguished neck.
John Koenig was hurting in the Hypothalmus, with a CD-ROM pressed against one ear, and his right hand groping one of the console's panic handles. The stir of echoes melted them as the foundations of the base began to quake, and buckle against a noise powerful enough to bring geysers to the barren lunar surface.
"HUERISTIC ANALYSIS COMPLETED." Computer spoke for the first time in days while the world fell apart. "SYSTEM RESET IN T-MINUS ONE MINUTE."
Palms upward, and frothing at the mouth, Ouma's eyes rolled back in his head as Koenig attempted to crawl to his aid. From his peripheral vision, he noticed a dark, solitary figure standing at what appeared to be an inconsequential SPAN panel. Angelina Carter, brought to one knee beside Colonel Petrov whose tortured eyes, watering, but no less stoic, watched as the figure removed from its Nubian apparel what appeared to be a hard disc with a metal clip. It was shaped like a pentagram, and it blurred against the cacophony in arcs of red, and orange.
"!!!WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!!" Koenig bellowed. Through the sea of radio death, only "!!!WHAT...DOING!!!" was able to reach them, though his lips kept moving.
The motherlode of migraines drilled a 4" size hole from Angelina's forehead to the back of her head. The agony was beyond screaming but she only managed strained whimpering, as she dropped to the ground on all fours.
She instantly knew the figure. "Please," she croaked, sweat as blood trickled down her temple,"Stop...stop...."
She collapsed, mercifully into unconsciousness.
Petrov managed to stand, barely able to aim his convulsing laser hand.
The figure turned to face them, their vision contorting, and warped into a Panavision blur, it appeared to be a black, Gumby stick figure that considered them briefly before inserting the disc. Pink spots, and supernovas blinded Petrov for a millisecond. By the time the rippling, ovulating universe returned, the intruder was gone.
"SYSTEM RESET IN T-MINUS TEN SECONDS." Computer updated them, and by then the swarm of fireflies had begun to unite on the molecular level. They truncated, and joined in a web of symbiotic solidarity. The end result was that gossamer tree branches began to sprout from every commstation, and server unit on the base. In Main Mission, Controller Zed Astrin had his right shoulder impaled by a vine of glittering breccia as it grew with horrific, time-lapse rapidity from Panel Number Two. Harness Bull Dyronforth was imprisoned in Corridor-M as criss-crossing, diagonal branches blocked his way back to the security cube. The VAB map room looked like the interior of a white beehive, with Gordon Cooper as the queen with bleeding ears.
The Hypothalmus of central computer was a jungle of interlocking branches.
Then the noise began to ebb, and there was the redux.
Then total blackness.
There were the sounds of moaning, and panting, and cries of clemency from the corridors. When the lights came back up, the floor of Main Mission was covered with trembling souls. Led by Paul Morrow, they attempted to stand, avoiding the gorge of diamond faceted cones, and embryonic extensions. The ramifications stretched from one corner of Moonbase Alpha to the other. Frozen Travel Tube cars began to move again. Dormant Medical Center equipment began to pulse, and ping again. Ed Malcom's blender finished a chocolate milk shake--a randy ferment that had been left for dead days ago.
The silver doors on the balcony level opened, and the brightly lit interior touched the face of Klaus Rotstein who was too busy being unconscious to take his elevator ride.
All of the normal data returned to the flensed monitors in every section of the inner, and outer rings.
"SYSTEM UPDATE COMPLETE." Computer announced, printing the data across the big screen. "OPERATIONAL CAPACITY 100%."
The smaller eye in the sky, smaller only because the moon was exiting its space, cocked a slightly wistful glance but otherwise appeared to be bored and somewhat disinterested. The jumble of phrases had no distinct time though they really happened sequentially and over the span of hours, not seconds. Angelina Carter could identify voices, though distorted. She was there but she was not there.
"Comatose...No one else...Everyone else came out OK..." (Russell)
"Pulse, blood pressure, respiration, still no change" (Nurse Delline)
"She didn't respond to the anti-inflammatory medication" (Mathias)
"Keep me posted. Come on Victor." (Koenig)
"I'm right here...I love you...Nicky needs you...Ang, I need you."(Alan)
"Doctor Russell, Will she make it?" (Melita Kelly)
Make it...make it....make it...........
At the end of the fall down the deep and dark well she softlanded, not breaking a bone. Complete and utter darkness surrounded Angelina as she groped blindly along the wall. Her breathing was the only sound in the area when she heard the rustle of what could be described as vegetation.
The being or thing in front of her was strangely backlighted, the same individual who was in the server room before she collapsed.
It appeared to be neither malevolent nor benevolent. It was just there; an overly tall, faceless being enshrouded with ivy and thickets.
"Who...are you?" Angelina tried to decipher a face in the blank blackness.
The being did not answer. Instead, she understood but could not put her comprehension into words. She knew without being able to articulate. Articulation was too primitive and could not possibly encompass the knowledge.
"Send us back to Earth, then" she responded though she knew she did not need to speak it.
The imposing figure seemed to shake its no face head.
"Please...please..we belong there. We will die out here.." She stopped. "No...I don't believe you."
She closed her eyes tightly, shaking her head. "NO!"
She opened her eyes to the hostile world. The sunlight barely visible as the howling, dust storm raged around her. The empty shells of what appeared to be buildings in the distance and the corpses of tree were obscured in the near zero visibility. The tideless and lifeless vast ocean lapped at her feet. In time lapse, the sun set but the stars were hardly visible in the moonless sky.
"No...no...no...no!!!!!!!!!" Tears streamed down her face as the dusted caked and clogged her tear ducts. She coughed violently. "WHY?!?!?!??!? WHY, GOD, WHYYYYYYYYYYY???!!!!!!!!!"
She sat up, drenched in sweat, nearly hyperventilating in the Medical Center bed.
"ANG!" Alan Carter, immensely relieved and instantly beside her held her gently by the shoulders. "It's OK..Its alright."
"Alan, I-" she felt a sense of loss but she remembered nothing. She couldn't understand it. All she wanted to do was cry. She did.
Kilometers beneath the chiseled, crater face of the Moon lay a shielded blister that was vertexical in shape. From its 500-yard expansive base to its impassable head, anchored in basaltic lava, this was the place. To the cherubs looking down from high Heaven, it looked like a pentagon with radiating lines. To the slobs, trundling miserably along in environment suits through the rocky outer containment regions, for all of its circle, center, and radii, it looked like the Eiffel Tower. However, this was also the land where there was no "We" in "Oui." This was where stamp lickers were caught, and crucified. This was the zone where the Tooth Fairy was given a coin, where multiphasic digital input was interpreted in ways to kill you.
The cortex of Evil Mushroom--be afraid, be very afraid.
Elite crews worked most of the day, and night to cut down the surreal forest of piezoelectrics, and crystalmancy that sprouted during the mysterious repair job done on Moonbase Alpha's master computer. After toiling away at the snowflake branches, using hacksaws, and saber saws, most of the damage control detail became incommoded with exhaustion, and dolor. Then Belton arrived to further blight their lives in his own unctuous, maleficent ways.
Belton was the Prince Of Hell, master programmer, and flagitious task master here.
His existence was unknown to almost everyone on Earth, and on the Moon. Death followed Belton like flies on excrement.
"I find it funny." He told Yuri Petrov, mouth yawning as if uttering his commentary in a hiss. "Every sector of this facility is covered with those strange, extraterrestrial veins. As I understand it, it took four hours to clear them out of Main Mission.
"Yet his area remains untouched." He noted, stepping through piles of diamond dust, and ginger to face the lobe where Guntram Borkenville, doctor of everything was working diligently. "Very odd." He expostulated, smoothing his hair back with fey, frozen flanges. "Heyethbin?"
"I think you're speculating." Petrov replied, sickened by the man's presence, and weary of the melodrama. With Belton, everything had to be a subtitle; a pencil to bar the phone from the KGB.
"Then he lives?" The programmer laughed hideously. "I suppose the Eye In The Sky was truly looking out for him then."
The scar over his furrowed, twisted brow turned reverentially rose colored.
"For him, yes." Petrov conceded. "For you--perhaps not." He suggested, smiling fatefully. "The obvious man never knows when he's purchased too much property. Nor does he realize that the dirt he's walking on will some day be his own grave.
He headed towards the tunnels with a spring in his step, and an unpenitent resolve in his heart.
Normality had returned to Moonbase Alpha, within the greatly expanded definition of 'normal' for their situation.
The eye in the sky was no longer visible to the human naked eye as the moon ambled deeper into the unknown, though cartographer Carroll Severance managed to take a few more shots of it, blinking lazily at him, through his highest powered telescope. Someday, someone would be interested in reviewing the photos. Maybe.
The command conference seemed almost routine as the usual attendees, took their seats after preparing their morning coffees. Koenig, Russell, Bergman, Carter, Verdeschi-Carter, Benes, Morrow,Quinten and Ouma pulled up their chairs around the table in the pit. Caesar the cat settled into Professor Bergman's lap.
Angelina Carter, unusually reserved without her typical cheerfulness, sat quietly, glancing at Ouma's report but not really reading it. She already knew what it said; instead, she watched Victor Bergman pat a contented Caesar from tip of pink nose to end of calico tail. At least someone is happy, she thought depressed.
"We induced Platform Logic into every component in the system." Ouma beamed illustriously. "Even in the commlocks. Whatever it was, there's no sign of it now. We've got high margins on computer all the way."
"Right-o chief." Carter smirked. "Read you loud, and clear. I bet we do got 'high margins,' until it decides to hang us up by our ears again. It's a jacky if there ever was one. I still think we'd be better off pulling the plug for good. Give me human ingenuity any day."
The Technical Operations Chief's eyes lit up with amusement as Ang gave Carter a sidewise glance, suppressing her own smirk. She could have pointed out that the root source of their problem HAD been computer but she remained quiet.
"I won't disagree." Koenig told Carter with complexity. "And in the end, it is up to us, whether we live, or die." He chuckled absurdly. "I don't think space has much respect for our fancy hardware. Sorry Ouma."
Ben Ouma's expression dropped as his heroic presentation became minimized. "Perhaps, Commander," he replied with reservation. "Still," he persisted, "at least we are protected against this particular virus along with the thousands of known viruses."
"How did we get the virus in the first place, Ben?" Helena Russell perused the report but finding no definitive answer to the question. "And what steps are being taken to prevent alien introduction into our systems again?"
Victor Bergman listened pensively, as Caesar crouched on front legs with back legs raised, began to purr loudly in response to the professor's attention.
"It's inexplicable." He began, leaning back in his chair. Seated on the low steps next the commstation, Security Chief Pierce Quenton grew attentive. "Black uncovered it after the reboot. It was the first thing to pop up on the maintenance tab. There was a file marked MIM SYSTEM."
"It's Greek to me." Carter said unknowledgeably, and a single look at Ang' told him that she wasn't having any more luck interpreting it's significance than he.
"It was Greek to the rest of us too." The computer chief admitted. "I spent five years working on ILC-RTC Hyper Ring. I've seen every type of computer known to human kind, from desktop operating systems to defense servers that can level an entire city with phased logic. I'm talking bomb factories--impossibly advanced. In all that time, I never once saw a "MIM" designated file."
"What was in it?" Quenton asked curiously.
"That's the interesting part." Ouma reflected. "Nothing was in it. Just a dark screen with what appeared to be an old DOS Shell prompt to our M-Drive."
"Back to rudimentary commands...pre-Windows," Bergman murmured more to himself than to anyone in the group.
"Where did it come from?" Koenig asked with budding austerity.
"I don't know that I can honestly answer that." The chief answered honestly. "I can attest that there was no such software available here on Alpha. I do know that we had to delete it immediately. Four PhD's examined it after we became aware of its presence.
"Sane men." He qualified. "I had to send each, and every one of them away. They claimed...they claimed that they couldn't stand the dark city."
"Dark city?" Morrow repeated dubiously.
"All four men suddenly lost emotional control," Dr. Russell concurred from her notes in her blue flimsie. "They showed signs of distress as if in...mourning or having suffered a terrible loss. But when questioned they could not tell us what was wrong."
"They were afraid of the dark city." Ouma reiterated. "But they're fine now. About an hour later, none of them remembered looking at the file."
"That is true," the doctor added. "Except they still report feelings of loss and I will be monitoring them for depression. They also suffer from short term amnesia." She sipped her coffee. "I wish I could tell you more, John, only that I don't want anyone to examine that file again. I can't predict what additional or possible long term effects it may have on anyone."
Angelina Carter could identify. She felt completely down in the dumps. A visit to Mathias and a Zoloft prescription would be on her agenda in the afternoon.
"O'kay." Koenig said, sighing deeply, after tossing his ink pen atop a green flimsie. "That's enough for me. I can't speak for the rest of you, but I don't like that a bit. Ouma, Ang,' would it be possible to separate the autonomous Moonbase systems from the computer core. What are our chances of surviving a long term power down."
Angelina stared at Koenig momentary then shook her head. "No...no," she answered emphatically. "Life would be uncomfortable with power down long term. The problem is in start up. The longer we are down, the more complications we encounter with start up. I do not favor complete and broad-based shutdown. One reactor at a time for maintenance is expected but remember, we still have only two of our original reactors up again....and another 2 months until the 3rd one gets up again."
"I won't advise it, Commander. If we had 5 reactors and months of solar battery reserves, that would be one thing. At this point, its just too much risk."
"The problem is-" Paul Morrow interjected. "So many of our systems are inextricably woven into the mainframe that an indefinite shut-down procedure is out of the question."
"This fact is true," Sandra sat back casually, left leg crossed over right knee and hands folded in lap. "After we lost so many of our people, we were force to automate systems, including automate the checks and counterchecks."
She took a sip of her coffee from her mug, which prominently read 'Earth Day, 1997' with a child's sketch of Mother Earth under the printing written by your average 3rd grader.
"Of course, we were beginning to revisit the soundness of automating such critical functions once we gained more people after the Eta Carinae encounter." She continued. "This problem just illustrated the importance of returning monitoring operations of many of these functions into human hands."
Angelina stared at the giant globe of the Earth over her coffee mug, glum and depressed.
"So I assume once the EOG#1 is rebuilt we will be returning to full staffing levels?" Angelina cleared her throat. "It's obviously not wise to leave areas such as the oxygenation facilities understaffed."
Ang had, in fact, already shuffled people around into the EOG#2 and deactivated the secondary computer monitoring routines of the facility. Computer could not be trusted to monitor such an important function exclusively, ever again.
"What you're saying is: 'We're stuck.'" The commander said ruefully.
"Not completely, John," Bergman contemplated his coffee. "We can begin to convert some of the less critical functions from the computer core, however, it will take time. Then, as we approach the point where we could consider removing critical functions from computer core control which require power shutdown, we can reassess our power situation at that time."
He took a drink as Caesar, resting comfortably in his lap, winked at him. "In other words, take it in small pieces rather than all at once."
"If that's a luxury we can afford." Paul Morrow said humorlessly, but no one debated him.
"Oh, about the Alphan you saw in the UCS." Pierce Quenton broke in, speaking directly to Ang.' "We're looking into it, but unless we get a more positive ID, other than referring to the person as a 'mysterious stranger,' I doubt that we'll have any luck at all tracking them down. I still have to interview Colonel Petrov about that, but without au fait suspects, we're digging a hole to nowhere."
"We need to snap hockey on that." Koenig said urgently. "We need to know who it was, and what they downloaded to erase that virus."
"Understood, commander, but realize, it's tough to do if the individual doesn't want to be found. We're biting our arms off looking, but they're in no hurry to reciprocate."
"There's no confirmation for age; hair color; eye color; height." He explained. "It wasn't a figment of everyone's imagination. I know that, but we need leads, and right now, we don't have any."
The security chief sipped his coffee, and pondered a tile floor that was beyond his glean.
"There's also no trace of the type of software the person used." Ouma added, relegating the entire affair to a big, headachy question mark.
"Or 'thing' used," Angelina remarked with disturbing confidence. "How do we know it is 'human'?"
"If there was an additional...being," Sandra stated hesitantly," it did not show up on our sensors. If we are to trust computer medical records at the time," and her expression illustrated that maybe they shouldn't trust computer records, "there was never an increase in the number of life forms on the base at the time the software fix was added to central computer."
"That does not mean that the suggestion of another life form is completely out of the question," Professor Bergman added from his relaxed and cat perch position. "It's possible some sort of entity which can't be detected by our sensors was on the base. It's happened before.." He shrugged.
"You saw it." Quenton said to Harness Bull Pound who was standing by the corridor hatch. "Did you sense anything out of the ordinary...anti-clockwise?"
"Well...." The Harness Bull declined with extreme dread, and putrification. "I saw it...sort of like, you know...." He rambled vaguely. "But yeahhhhh...it's pretty scary."
"'Scary' isn't exactly the word I would have chose." Morrow groused. "'Lethal,' perhaps. Together with that oversized bugger that we encountered...it could have killed us all."
"I disagree." Helena Russell contravened. "What little information we have on the Constellate is not enough to build a case for it being antagonistic. The deaths, the injuries that resulted--even the virus--that was our fault."
Sandra Benes became distracted by the enormity of her flimsie while Pierce Quenton's jaw dropped open in incessant unbelief. For a moment, it looked like he was going to object to what he considered to be dangerous empty headedness, but the words were beyond him. Alan Carter had no point of view. For now they were breathing, and there was nothing ahead of them that would require coffins. That was good enough for him. For the first time in a good, long while, stars were visible beyond the office bulkhead. Cool bars from the local EM Spectrum shone down on the charabancs of the Vehicle Assembly Building, and the Experimental Laboratory. It was where science met the nirvana of blue, the ne plus ultra.
"Dr. Russell is right." Koenig concurred. "Everything that happened to us--through inaction, or by taking exactly the wrong actions--we did to ourselves."
"That's true," Angelina sighed. "It seemed like a domino effect. Starting with Eagle 5, the problems and foul ups just escalated from there and things got worse and worse. Yeah, it seems like we screwed ourselves up and look stupid in the process." She shook her head sadly.
It was amazing that anyone had survived for so long. If space didn't kill them, which it had tried many times, it was a complete surprise that they did not manage to kill themselves with their own arrogance and stupidity.
Perhaps then there was a reason for their existence and even, for lack of a better term, a guardian angel was guiding them. The idea of assistance from a greater intelligence, though never an alien thought to her, was comforting and almost justified at this point in their unwilling journey. If nothing else, this thought elevated her mood.
"Speaking of 'looking', Professor, I hear you have the report back on the sample taken from the 'eye in the sky'. What was that thing anyway?"
"What it was?" Bergman winced from the uncertain, hyperbolic possibilities. On his lap, Caesar the cat continued to purr contentedly. "We're really not sure." He adjudged. "A form of sight, obviously, for a being that desperately needed to see. An advanced intelligence, probably. The soul survivor of a race that may have existed throughout the galaxy in some other era. What it was still remains unknown.
"We do have a pretty good idea of what was in that specimen you retrieved John."
The commander nodded for him to proceed. The room was small in a universe that had no beginning, and no end. The air grew gravid from the expectations of muzzy, bewildered seekers who wanted an answer, if only for a little while.
"Tears." The professor replied with affecting device.
"Words should be weighed, not counted."
"The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance--it is the illusion of knowledge."
--Daniel J. Boorstin
"Behind the eyes
"Takes the breath away."
--From the poem "Insight" by Adrian Mauriks
BASED ON CHARACTERS, AND SITUATIONS CREATED BY GERRY, AND SYLVIA ANDERSON.
WRITTEN by the writers of Space:1999 The Classic Adventures.