Into Thalarion

Episode 38


There were no more calendars.

The old axial-flow fan mounted in the aft synapse was not moving. It may as well have been a metal daffodil or a mind game for those who do not have one. Ned' Carpenter tested the terminals. After nearly electrocuting himself, he thought it might be relevant to turn off the main breaker.

High above him, the metal grating of the catwalk clanged like untuned bells in a churchyard.

"Where are ye?" Alban called from the fifth tier. He did not sound blissful, which came as no surprise. After two decades, Carpenter had yet to see him crack a smile, even in invective and traducement.


The five pointed neutron was the only visible monument in the transgalactic backwash of spacetime foam.

The bough of the spacecraft appeared through the columns of citrus chromatic, non-heat. The anserine, dove-like head of the CON Module coasted imperiously, unstoppably through the macerated, godforsaken wastes. Due north, there was the hub of the lesser Magellanic Cloud. Afore, beyond the baffles of the monster, GH Creator Drive, there was the arachnid hint of Antares.

In between, there was only sucking monotony.


The austere woman in impeccably pressed coveralls was traversing Xinhua Alley, only five hundred feet from the main hydrosphere when the call came through.

"DOCTOR WARD, COULD YOU PLEASE REPORT TO AUGER ROOM." The tin-man on the loud speakers quacked. "DOCTOR MARTHA WARD...."

With a tilt of the eyes and a snarl of the cheeks, the astrophysicist to a last, precious slurp of her intestine corroding caff' and turned towards the elevators on the wynding, stainless steele piazza.


"WHY DID YOU LET IT GET THAT BAD?" Alden upbraided him, and whipped around the node in viable paranoia.

"It just happened today." Carpenter explained.


There was no sun, no stars; no twilight, no dawn.


"This is a might bit absurd." The General said tonelessly--his shadow falling doubtfully over the golden age, Hasselblad exposure.

"You think so?" Evans challenged. All his life he had been an astronomer. True, for much of the time, he had nothing to view but gas halos, flatulent hydrogen and pixie dust but even a babe in swaddling clothes--even one who was not the brightest bulb in the refrigerator of life--could figure this one out--that is, if said babe paid any attention at all to milestones in human history. "This was taken in 1968 on the first orbit mission."

He handed Ward the yellowing spectrogram.

She shrugged.

"You have a point?" She supposed.

Evans activated the monitor. There appeared another, full color image.

"And?" She regarded him morosely.

"It's all there." The stargazer licked his lips. "The Mare Imbrium; Tranquilitatus; Nectaris, the whole smash; perfect except for one difference."

Ward shrugged.

"You're crazy." The General decreed. "And for the record, how did you obtain the reserve power you needed to create the little retrospective that you're inflicting on us?"

"LOOK AT VOLTERRA." Evans demanded, he did not ask.

"Yes...." The astrophysicist patronized, glomming the importance of the radioactive black, thermonuclear chasm that had hewn a one hundred kilometer stretch of the sixtieth parallel. "Very compelling." She humored him. "And hard to capture without the pomegranate. This is one of the better AB prints that I've seen.

"You have an amazing photo album. Thank you for sharing it with me." She yawned and started to turn away.


Ward halted in her traces.

"You can't be serious." The General bickered. "The holocaust occurred months before and we didn't even follow the same trajectory. What you're suggesting is physically impossible. Go back to your telescope, and this time take a closer look.

"You're jumping at every ink blot. It's probably just gravity assisted superfluid doing a loop-dee-loop' around that neutron star."

Swallowing, Evans stepped confidently forward to address his equapoised colleague.

"He's wrong. I would stake my reputation on it." He knew. "It's not trapped debris. That object is the Moon."

A decision point. This bit of information would surely interest her old man. However, Martha Ward also possessed a conscious and for half a second, she wanted to dismiss the information. On the other hand, the old man was the only individual on that ship who was ever good to her.

"So it is," she turned slowly, gazing at the picture again. " what? It's a hunk of rock. There is no way there could be life on Moonbase Alpha. I mean, think about it. Even if they survived Breakaway, which it's easily a billion to one they didn't, surely they wouldn't have made it very long in deep space."

She dismissed the image with a flourish. "If nothing else, perhaps there are some useful minerals we can exploit. Perhaps the remains of the base...nothing more."

Her intuition told her she was wrong.


"Kip, I got your screw, bub.'"

To the contrary, the 'screw' was already there.

Half-way down the steps, Ned' Carpenter could smell the surcharged atmosphere. The lung blistering herald of caustic Mayapples and standing hemoglobin torched his nostrils. Before leaving for the damage control unit, the companionway had been a metallic silver color. He was horrified to see that it was now painted a rheumy shade of scarlet.

As was the rail.

The technician stared disbelievingly at the disgorged, cloying membrane on his left palm.

Next to the blood-splayed fan blades, Albans' lifeless, necrose palm lay open next to the AC Adapter. The now transparent, jelly fingers were turned upwards in a desperate claw.


"We should at least do a sensor study." Evans importuned them.

"We lack the voltage." The General smiled, his usurpation almost complete.

"Really?" Another middle-aged researcher startled them as he entered the Auger through the rear hatch. He was straightening his neatly pressed, ILC tunic as he negotiated the narrow, submarine-like brain center. "That sounds imperative. Prey tell we lack the 'voltage' for what?"

Dr. Emmanuel Ward, chief scientist and elder statesman of the Feng Yun placed a devoted arm around Martha's shoulder.

"Extensive sensor study on an object Greg has discovered," Martha briskly took the 5 steps toward the monitor. "It has all the characteristics of Earth's moon. I know it is next to impossible but if it is the Moon, well, I think it would be worth our while to scavenge it for salvage...metals, perhaps even plutonium and uranium."

Worth their while. Realistically, they had all the time in the universe.

"Yes." The elder researcher approved.

"Dr. Ward," Jerry Hollowell, a young communication specialist, barged through the hatch, holding a CD-ROM which had been rewritten countless times. His address was nonspecific. It didn't matter which Dr. Ward he was addressing. "I've picked up a signal. Listen to this." He motioned them all to crowd around the main comm station.

The General and Dr. Emmanuel Ward exchanged amazed expressions. Ward's suddenly became elated. Martha Ward, Greg Evans and Jerry Hollowell wore confused faces, wrinkling their brows.


"Committing resources to fix a few broken security cameras so that you can spy on people does not take priority over expanding the gymnasium, Pierce," Sandra Benes leaned forward on her petite elbows, dark eyes blazing. "The gym is already overloaded and overbooked and has been the source of more than a few conflicts."

She sat back, and sipped her soy imitation coffee, bolstered by the fact that Dr. Russell was 100% behind her case.

"Recreation and adequate recreation facilities is especially important during uneventful and routine periods like we are experiencing now," Helena Russell added her two cents.

"Get right with it." The security chief responded sharply. "While you two are helping to facilitate Rugby teams, you might also want to take into account that the lower levels have seen one or two crack-ups in recent months."

The brouhaha was turning out to be more than he bargained for.

"I'm on his side." Starns mentioned predictably. "As you know, the last incident occurred with Giovanni D'Antoni."

"Of Services Section." Quentin reminded Sandra Benes. "It took three patrolmen and a domestic stun gun to get the rope from around his blooming neck. That basketball hoop made an admirable gallows. He got to thinking about his daughter in Sicily. He thought about it and thought about it. After a month of operating under low tide mode, with nothing else better to do, he decided to join her in the Great Beyond."

"Doctor Sullivan says he's stable now." Starns dealt a low blow. "The anti-psychotic medications have improved his disposition much. Who knows, next week they may be able to remove the nine point restraints."

"The point being--we don't want another incident like that." Quentin parlayed with honesty and concern.

"Giovanni was not discovered by patrolmen." Sandra added vociferously. "He was discovered by a couple of the gym patrons at 2:30 am. That was the only time they could schedule use of the facility."

Koenig raised an eyebrow and shook his head. It never occurred to him someone would use a basketball hoop as a lynching tree and try to do himself in. In a morbid way, it was quite creative.

"I understand your concern, Pierce," Helena Russell acknowledged, "but the fact is there isn't much on this base that somehow can't be fashioned into a suicide weapon. Unfortunately, someone who is determined to kill himself will attempt to do so and the presence of a camera would only encourage him to do it elsewhere."

Angelina Carter couldn't believe she was still in Koenig's office. Daily Command Conferences were now 20 minute section updates, after which, they could leave and get back to work. Not so today. Sandra Benes and Pierce Quinton were looking for resources, technical section resources.

Victor Bergman left. Ben Ouma left. Paul Morrow excused himself. Alan Carter stealthily slipped out. Koenig asked Ang to stay. Twenty minutes later, Pierce Quinton, along with his reinforcement, Truman Starns and Sandra Benes with Helena Russell were still presenting their cases while Koenig sat quietly considering both sides. They were at the circular table. Ang was leaning against the viewport, laptop resting on the sill. Her business looked "official".

It wasn't.

'Still having fun, pumpkin?' came the teasing, mixed with gloating, IM from 'A_CARTER'.

'I can't believe they are still arguing over this shit,' she typed in response, followed by a yawning smiley icon.

'LOL,' came the reply. Then, he challenged her to a game of online checkers.

That was what she was doing, playing checkers and only half paying attention to the arguments, when Koenig asked her the inevitable question, "So what do you think, Ang?"

"Oh, sorry," she looked up, a bit flustered, "a slight problem in Technical."

Problem? Ang walked straight into Carter's trap. He jumped two of her pieces, and 'kinged' himself. She offered a 'draw'. He declined.

"Expanding the gym would be nice," she began, "on the other hand, security is important too." She concluded and cemented her position as non-committal, middle of the road fence sitter.


The interstellar beam plunged towards them, loud enough to penetrate the launch pad turntables.


"...ZERO TWO ZERO GAMMA RAY DOMAIN...." The voice in space called to them.

Startled, Alan Carter was leaning on one knee at the CapComm station, with one foot propped on the chair when the clarion call arrived. He stood straight and leaned severely towards his translucent green sensor/scanner/radar uplink panel. On the mainframe deck, Emma Black whipped around so suddenly that she almost overturned her software cart. Benjamin Ouma dropped his clipboard immediately to his side and walked briskly to his workstation.

Paul Morrow's eyes widened at Carter. Also standing, he reached for the high gain knob and slowly increased the auditorium's speaker volume.



In the commander's office, Pierce Quentin forgot his liturgy on safety versus croquet.


Angelina closed the cover of her laptop, and followed Koenig and the others out to Main Mission. Joe Erhlich stood up from the Technical station as Ang snapped the laptop into the docking port. Erhlich nodded silently and moved toward the right archway, heading toward the Main Power Generation area. He knew the drill. Alien intrusion. Petrov would be paging him by the time he stepped through the great double doors of Power Generation, paging him for power to be rerouted, first to the defensive shields, then to the laser cannons.

Bergman stepped through the left archway as Erhlich departed under the right.

"All primary and secondary power circuits online," Angelina reported. It was as good as it could get and they had not been completely online in months. She gave a sidewise glance at Carter. He was ready to send out the 'welcome wagon' if necessary.

"John," Helena Russell, standing beside Koenig in the pit, behind Morrow, "what is a Feng Yun?" She didn't have a clue and her memory was not serving her either.

"Computer has no record of such a vessel ever being launched from earth, Commander," Ben Ouma swiveled his desk around while shaking his head.

Carter looked flabbergasted.

"Alan." The commander acknowledged in silent signal.

"ELSTER." The astronaut called to the pad three block house. "START UP THE INGRESS PREPS ON EAGLE ONE AND EAGLE FIVE. I'M ON MY WAY."

He left without bustle.

"It's probably not in the computer because the project was declassified years ago. It was considered inconsequential." The commander recalled in answerance to Helena Russell's question. "The Feng Yun was a weather satellite that was launched from the People's Republic of China. Translated, the name means 'wind and cloud.'"

The situation was confusing.

"Yes." Bergman understood, but still, he scratched his head. "But correct me if I'm wrong, that was very much an unmanned probe. They boosted it up to a six hundred mile, polar orbit. It was programmed for routine monitoring duties--radio data; ocean surface temperatures; marine color; ice and vegetation.

"Then the day came when it tumbled out of control and burned up on re-entry.

"Or so they said...."

"I don't like it," Morrow piped in from his station, somberly typing commands to section heads in his keyboard. "Obviously a weather satellite is not capable of interstellar travel, even if it didn't tumble out of orbit."

"Commander, audio link up in 5 seconds," Sandra Benes reported from the analyst station.

"Ready to bring up the defensive shields," Angelina reported. The defensive shields were a marvelous modification of the meteorite deflection screens, thanks mainly to the generosity of the Bereneceans. It would be their first opportunity to put them to use if necessary.

"On your word, Commander," Ang looked up as control was transferred to her console from Erhlich in power generation. "Once the Eagles have launched and cleared the perimeter, that is."

Koenig hit the oblong white communication stud beside Morrow's keyboard. "This is Commander John Koenig of Moonbase Alpha. We are also people from Earth. We are, however, unfamiliar with your craft. Please provide more details including your registration number."

The break in the action went for so long, Paul Morrow was starting to wonder if the link was broken.

"Sandra, check the circuit." He requested in the half-time. "The closeout crews have exited the launch pads...we're starting the countdown."

"What's taking them so long?" Helena Russell questioned. Pierre Danielle moved past her and took over the headset at the CapComm station.

Morrow glanced at Ang and she at him. Then she looked up toward Koenig who gave no indication of emotion with a mask of steel blue eyes and stern set jaw. He was absolutely unreadable.

"Laser Cannons power up initiated," Colonel Yuri Petrov broke the silence, reporting on the Dolby speakers.

"I don't understand why they aren't answering either," Ang, stomach now in a knot, acknowledged Russell.

"They don't appear to be in any rush, do they?" Victor Bergman chided briefly before inclining his ear back towards the speakers.


"Yes, I am John Koenig, Commander of Moonbase Alpha. Who am I speaking with?"

He put them back on hold, minus the canned music.

"Commander, Flight One is away." Pierre Danielle reported in the interim.


In the command module of Eagle One, Alan Carter rode out the launch. After ascent engine cut-off, he initiated an early throttle-up, rolling left for nearly perpendicular, ninety degree climb into orbit. Beside him, CMP Hawthorne was couched in the yellow floodlights, maintaining visual surveillance out of the forward rendezvous windows with the strap of a digipack camera around the neck dam of his spacesuit.


Ten nautical miles above the command tower, the lunar barrens and the outer ring of the base waned in the perspective as Eagle One and Eagle Five climbed into deep space.


Victor Bergman was resting his weary bones against Morrow's paper shredder when the transmission was picked up again.

"WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE DELAY." The person on the other end extolled, amicable, yet concerned. It was an attitude of necessary suspicion that seemed familiar to all of them. "THE DETAILS ARE A BIT HARD TO EXPLAIN...THIS IS NOT THE 'FENG YUN' THAT TRACKED HURRICANES IN THE PACIFIC BASIN...OBVIOUSLY."

Pierre Danielle chuckled. At the RETRO station, Kate Bullen offered a wry grin.


"UGHHH...." The representative stumbled. "TRY REFERENCING 'UMBRA-99999.' IT MIGHT WORK. POSSIBLY, VERY POSSIBLY...."

"No it doesn't." Benjamin Ouma determined quickly.

"WELL...THAT'S A BIT OF A SNAG...." Their conversant from deep space observed in all of a migraine headache.

"'UMBRA' is a DOD code." Ouma prompted Koenig. "Department of Defense. They weren't famous for their uploads and file sharing."

"Then its possible they could be telling the truth?" Helena Russell offered optimistically.

"OUR CIRCUMVEHICLE NUMBER IS 'HK-01A.'" The person on the other end chanced.

"Right." Pierre Danielle said, pissed and impressed. "That ship is a Heron-Kransikov spacecraft stack?"

"Eagle One and Eagle 5 have cleared the defensive perimeter, sir," Angelina reported from the Technical Station after cross referencing the Eagles' positions.

"That's a hard one, John." Victor Bergman remarked. "It's scientific 'futurism,' but not science per se. Those 'tubes' sound good in theory, but only after you've had a martini or two or three to open your mind to it."

"Even at that...." Pierre Danielle went on. "A Heron lifting vehicle with a Kransikov booster?"

"I know of only one person who was that deeply involved in translight research." Victor Bergman continued. "A good man, with a brilliant mind but his ideas were regarded as cack-handed--even by the Rendelsham school. I mean, Area-51 would not have employed this poor fellow."

The Commander took all variables into consideration. "Bring up defensive shields," Koenig motioned to Ang.


"What in the hell?" Martha Ward read the newest sensory data of Moonbase Alpha. It piqued the General's interest. "Very strange. It is a phased variant of a meteor screen but very powerful. There is no way this technology comes from Earth."

She glanced at Evans then back at Emmanuel Ward. "How do we know these 'people' are humans from Earth?"

"Eagle transporters approaching," the General continued reading the sensor data. "They are certainly 1999 technology. However, they are armed."

"What would you recommend, Dr. Ward?" he addressed the elder scientist.


"Moonbase Alpha," the voice came through the Dolby speakers again, though this time it was a different voice: gentler, wiser and paternal. "We understand your need to take a defensive posture. I assure you our intentions are not hostile. Therefore, as an act of good faith. We are holding our position and we invite you to come aboard our vessel."

This sudden turn of events, an extension of the olive branch, left everyone stunned into silence, including Carter and his pilots in Eagles one and five. In particular, Victor Bergman stood gaping, trying to connect the familiar voice to memory.

"Who are you?" Victor blurted uncharacteristically.

The person at the other end fell into silence then stammered with elation. "Victor?!? Victor Bergman, is that you?!? Why, it's Emmanuel. Emmanuel Ward!"

"Your friend Dr. Ward from graduate school?" Angelina stood up abruptly, interrupting the professor's creeping euphoria. "Commander, I don't mean to put a damper on the enthusiasm here but you do know how unlikely that is, right? You also are aware we've been through this before, when long lost friends and family suddenly appear at our doorstep."

Like the Ray Bradbury story, Mars was not Heaven.

"I realize that trust does not come easy." Ward replied without pretense or design.

"The ships that are approaching you do carry ordinances." John Koenig confessed. "But their mission is one of reconnaissance, and reconnaissance only. The last thing we would do is to threaten harm to either you or your people. We have the need to know, to understand."

"And I agree with your protocols." The researcher replied up front. "Incidentally...several of my technical people have pointed out that there appear to have been some structural changes to the base. I'm looking at schematics that were drawn up by engineers during the 1993 ILC survey. It does seem different. The last time I was on Alpha was for the international conference in 1997, so my remembrances may be false.

"However, you have used alloys that don't appear anywhere on the Periodic Table." Ward said unwarily.

"That's a long story." The commander responded briefly.

"One that bears no need for explanation." The astrophysicist assured them again. "I'm confident of who you are, Dr. Koenig. Besides, we are the ones who come begging for alms. As soon as our navigational computers fixed your position, it was all we could do to keep from sending out a distress signal.

"Victor, old friend. I wish I could boast of my good fortunes since we last met. As it is, our situation is grave."

"Admittedly, our situation is not the best either, Emmanuel," Bergman paused noticing the surprised glance from Koenig as the professor began to divulge too much information on their situation too soon. Bergman recognized his lack of caution and added, "as you could well imagine."

But it was too late. Koenig stared at Bergman icily

'WHAT IN THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THE PROFESSOR?!?!?' came the IM message in the pop up box on Ang's monitor from "A_CARTER_EAGLE_1"

Ang had the same sentiment as did Sandra, who wrinkled her brow and gave a cross-eyed look. Koenig cleared his throat.

"Would you like a medical or a damage control team to accompany us?" Koenig guesstimated.

"It may be too late." Ward told them loweringly. "No...if you have someone on your staff who is proficient in zero mass particulation. It could be helpful."

"Ang'?" Koenig queried the technical chief.

"Yeah, I have a good idea who we can send," She nodded to Koenig but did not divulge the name, since the channel to the Feng Yun was still open. She composed an email to Hans Rothchild and clicked "send" from the mouse.

"Give me some time to get my staff together and we will contact you," Koenig went on to Ward. "We look forward to meeting you."

"Likewise, I'm sure." The physicist in the big ship said, and signed off.

Koenig turned to Morrow as the link closed. "Paul, tell Eagle One and Eagle Five to return to base. I want Carter to take us to the Feng Yun." The commander turned toward Quentin. "Pierce, I want two from security to accompany us."

"Disable defensive shield," Ang instructed an always leery Petrov and Joe Erhlich in Main Power, as Koenig told Bergman and Russell they would accompany the team as well.

Angelina looked up to see Koenig standing in front of her. "You're coming too," he addressed her,"along with?"

"Hans Rothchild." She finished the sentence.

"Right. Good choice." He started up the steps to his office, after motioning Russell and Bergman to follow him. "Let's plan to leave in one hour." Koenig instructed Morrow before disappearing through the privacy door of his office.


In space, and maculation of violet clouds were crossed by the transverses of the largest vessel ever launched from Earth. Leading the way was Eagle Flight One. Both of the trailblazers were insignificant drafts in a universe of prime fabricators.

Chapter One

"I shall tell you a great secret my friend. Do not wait for the last judgement, it takes place every day.

--Albert Camus

"...gone a spot...the Moon's a spot...."

--General Calendar, AAC retired.

"He'll be alright," Victor Bergman gave Ang a fatherly pat on the knee as she sat down on an empty hard plastic chair. The travel tube began to accelerate down the tunnel toward the embarkation area of Launch Pad 3.

She glanced back at the doors as Nicky Carter's plaintive cries of objection and thuds from his pounding, mixed with Melita Kelly-Geist's attempts to soothe, subside with distance. John Koenig contemplated with a frown at the junior Carter's violent outburst and his futile attempt to stop his mother from leaving.

"He was very upset," Ang pulled out and began to redo the French braid in her hair, which Nicky had managed to dishevel into uneven strands. "I wonder if something is bothering him."

"You know how children of his age can be," Helena Russell attempted to apply normal child development psychology. "Separation anxiety is very common at this age."

John Koenig was still staring at the door.

"I bet that Melita already has him distracted and he is happily playing right now," Bergman offered.

"Of course he is," Dr Russell concurred reassuringly.

John Koenig was still staring at the door.


The telescopic platform containing the white room moved outwards from the pad three block house and bracketed the starboard hull of Eagle One with an unexpressed, metallic thud. Off the deep end, the bluffs of the Alpine Valley--gray and bleak--boast the only color to speak of, other than ironclad black.


"...I'm wrong, the Vitaseed is on me." A toothy, not-in-the-know Victor Bergman was promising Ang' when Specialist Veit opened the hatch for them. His mungo cheer was suddenly wiped clean. The instruments of his wiping were, from left to right, Harness Bull Duncan; Harness Bull Theylan; Harness Bull Pound; Chief Quentin and deputy director Starns--all in full garrison belt with lasers riding on their hips.

"Commander, the Feng Yun is moored over the Schrödinger crater." Marilys Singh briefed Koenig, and handed him the revised flight plan.

"Schrödinger?" The professor commented--as if it were tar to his taste buds. "That's rather remote, isn't it? Surely we could find them a better car park?"

Koenig raised an eyebrow. "What harm is there in being cautious, Victor. I know you're excited about the prospect of meeting up with an old friend again but we have been in this exact situation before...and it went badly. Also, don't forget that in our encounter with Ultima Thule, though they weren't aliens and indeed from earth, things were not as they seemed either."

"We have no record of this flight and only you are familiar with one person. I think in the present circumstance, I'm justified in being cautious, perhaps even not cautious enough."

"Commander, Eagle One is ready for the terminal count." Specialist Duquesne unsealed the temporary corridor. The vessel's brightly lit passenger module lay at the end of the expanse of red warning lights. "If you'd like to go ahead and board, we'll proceed with the cabin leak check."

Bergman hated it--guns with holes.

"Hey, John." He questioned Koenig privately as they walked. "We're showing an awful lot of muscle today, aren't we? Five security guards? If I didn't know better, I'd say you're getting paranoid in your old age."

"Paranoid?" Koenig shook his head. Bergman's euphoria and tossing prudence out the window was disturbing. "Like I said...cautious. If Ward is the man you say he is, he will understand."

Bergman appeared slightly wounded though common sense seemed to have made a return. "Of course, John, I understand. Emmanuel Ward and I go a long way back. We were best friends, nay, almost like brothers. I am eager to see him again...if he is indeed Emmanuel." He took a deep breath. "However, I am also curious about their situation, their ship, their...destination."

"So am I, Victor." The commander pointed out. "Especially if there's the slightest possibility of us leaving Alpha."


"It's good to see you again in one piece," Angelina smiled tenderly, as she stepped into the Command module of Eagle 1 while Carter's copilot Hawthorne left the module with a nod. Koenig would be co-piloting this mission.

"Funny, I was just thinking the same thing." The pilot replied as he closed the cover on his clipboard.

She kneeled down beside him and lowered her voice as Bergman and the others began filing into the passenger module.

"I find it really disturbing how nonchalant the Professor is about this whole thing. Maybe Ward is his long lost bud but how do we know it's Ward?"

"Stage switch selector, on." Umberto Garzon said over the link.

"Copy." Carter replied, and looked whimsically at Ang.' "I reckon we won't know until the time comes."

Ah ignorance--it was a bitch, to say the least.

"By the way, Nicky had one of his 'episodes' as I was leaving. He did not want me to go. Of course, he couldn't tell me why but...I think something is wrong with this whole thing, Alan."

"...elliptical orbit after 2,932 fps...." Kate Bullen joined the loop, but the prompt was more for Ouma's benefit.

"Keep your chin up, hot stuff." The astronaut tried to buoy her. "Yeah, we might be caught like a rat in a spigot. Then again, it might lead to something beautiful." He smiled nostalgically. "Among other things." He pointed out, touching her cheek. "Now, off with you. It's almost time to raise the main sail. Even a gorgeous landlubber' like yourself can expect to bounce around if you're not strapped in before G-Loading."

"Address?" John Koenig moved into the command module as the technical chief was standing. "Excuse me, Ang.'"

He dropped into the CDR's couch and rolled towards the panel.

"In the pipe." Carter replied, and released the safety on his yoke. From the rear of the spacecraft, the sounds of rapidly increasing, hypergolic thrust emanated from the service module. "It'll take some time, but at least we know where we're going. The end of the Moon."

"Right," Ang nodded, rising. "I best be grabbing a chair. Commander." She acknowledged Koenig then hastily moved out of the Command Module.

"What?" she addressed Bergman as she took the seat beside Rothchild, across the aisle from Bergman.

"Oh nothing," he replied gently. "It's just you're going to put yourself in an early grave from unnecessary worry and stress."

She gave him an almost cross-eyed look. She wanted to tell him they were all likely to end up in an early grave anyway, stress or no, but decided against it. "Well, I suppose that's something I need to work on," she replied with no expression whatsoever. Bergman's mood was unnerving. On the flip side, not all things in deep space were evil and out to wipe them out of existence. Most things, yes, but not ALL.

She decided she was envious of his optimism and could glean some off him. Her thoughts shifted from the possibilities of the morose and depressing to downing the generic motion sickness medication Dr. Russell passed to her with the paper cup of water as the 5 second lift off warning came from the Command Module.


Angelina awoke with a start as Eagle One docked, making contact with the Feng Yun. The Chief of Technical Operations had no idea when she drifted off or how long she had been sleeping.

All she knew was she was coming out of a deep slumber and for a split second unsure where she was and why.

Then she remembered.

However, all was not right in the Eagle. For one thing, Rothchild was not beside her. Victor Bergman was not across the aisle. As she looked around, still in a foggy haze, Helena Russell and the Harness Bull contingent were not around either. Angelina unstrapped her harness and stood up, looking down the aisle into the open doors of the service module and the Command module beyond.

"Alan? Commander?" She called out, walking up the aisle...and walking...and walking and walking along the impossibly long aisle. She broke into a run and finally, as if on a moving sidewalk, found herself catapulted into the Command Module.

It came as no surprise to her to find Alan and Koenig gone as well.

She turned, only to find herself looking up at a man. He had the face of an Adonis and the body of Hercules. Perfection of masculine attractiveness, the ideal, the image of manly heroism was mixed with gentleman demeanor. He said nothing but took her hand and helped her up then gently began tracing the line of her jaw with a strong but well manicured index finger. She was entranced, his gaze was an aphrodisiac, as she allowed him to trace her throat, his hand finally resting on her chest.

In one swift move, he grabbed the neckline of her tunic and ripped it down the front, along with her brassiere. She was disappointed in herself that she did not object, but the fact was, she was mesmerized and she stood, naked from the waist up before him, anticipating his next move.

With one hand on each breast, he cupped and caressed them as he drew his face closer to her breastbone. It was wrong and adulterous but her resolved to resist and stop him was completely gone.

It was only when she briefly opened her eyes and looked down, that she saw the angel face had turned into a pustulating, rotting mass and the perfect teeth had mutated into razor sharp grisly fangs. She screamed as his fingers became knives tearing into her chest and its maw chomped brutally into her heart, crunching through her sternum as easily as a pretzel.

She woke up with a loud gasp and cry, drenched in sweat as Eagle One docked with the Feng Yun.

Hans Rothchild gave her a strange look, as if he was inconvenienced. Helena Russell's expression had gone from complacent to alarm in an instant.

"Are you ok?" she asked Ang, unbuckling her safety harness and practically jumping over Bergman.

"Yeah, I guess," Ang answered, visibly shaken and nearly hyperventilating, "I guess it was a bad dream."

"Well, that is an unfortunate side effect of the motion sickness tablet." Russell went on, refreshing her paper cup with water. "We are still tweaking the dosage in the pharmacy. I'll let Bob know about your experience with it and we'll look at adjusting the proportions of the anti-enemic ingredient."

"Oh, isn't that bloody nice," Pierce Quentin commented from behind. "You blighters are using us as guinea pigs." He checked the setting on his weapon. "Thanks but no thanks, doc."

Ang, still shaken, made an effort to bring her breathing in control through the use of a paper bag, though the pounding of her heart was subsiding: at least she knew she still had a heart.

"I can't hack this." Gordon Cooper said, the monkey dancing on his back.

"What?" Harness Bull Pound asked.

"Every blower on this ship has gone out." The VAB manager explained, waving his hand before the AEB vent.

"What?" Ang removed the bag from her face, no longer feeling faint. "That's mechanically impossible."

"Maybe we blew a fuse?" Rothchild offered.

"No, it would be more than one and other systems would be affected," she shook her head. "That really is bizarre. EVERY fan?"

Gordon Cooper nodded with a puzzled, twisted grimace on his face. He was not a happy camper.

"Do we need it?" Pound required idiotically.

"No, not really." Coop' scratched his beard. "The cryo' tanks are working, alright, and the pressure is good. The fans just help to distribute the 02 more efficiently. It just needles me that some half-cut left this by the wayside during SM close-out.

"You never know...." He cautioned mysteriously. "It could lead to something even more hairy."

"Like the heinous smell of BO?" Harness Bull Theylan noticed, his nostrils twitching.

The aroma was all over the place. The fetor was not yet overpowering--but the day was young, and the pungent persistence was that of septic runoff from fecal disposal mills. Harness Bull Duncan was holding his breath as he exited the service module with Helena Russell's field kit slung over his shoulder.

"It's probably a bad LH canister." Coop' surmised. Every time he thought about it--the unadulterated, manifest incompetence of it made him flinch. He and Cedrix would have a talk about this, and it would be a beaut.' "Farendahl is out there in Eagle Five. It might be wise to trade vehicles with him. He can take Eagle One back to the yard and Ostrog can do an integrated systems check."

The odor was putrid. The bad LH canister was a possibility but the problem with the fans was still on Angelina's mind. True, Cedrix was in the process of cross training a couple of the power generation technicians but he was responsible for checking their work, which made these failures even more unlikely.

"This is disgusting," Rothchild complained nasally while plugging his nose. "It even tastes like shit." He continued as Koenig then Carter emerged out of the Command module.

Ang glanced at Rothchild in annoyance. He was another one of the technical elite; a brilliant man but highly eccentric with little social skills due to his preference to work alone in a tiny office of the experimental lab.

"It sure does." Koenig joined the ranks in body funk, with his utility case in one hand and a maglite in the other. "And there doesn't appear to be any reason for it. We'll have to use Eagle Five to complete the mission. They'll be instrument docking on our keel in about fifteen minutes. Ang,' since you're in charge of technical operations, I'd like you to stay here with Alan until the transfer is complete.

"Yes, Commander," she simply responded as she glanced down at her open laptop, docked into the Eagle's server and linked to Alpha's communication network. Her screen was lit up with the instant message window to 'B_Cedrix'. His responses, his near indignation, was apparent by his use of all caps shouting emphasis and cursing.

"Coop,' you and Rothchild sound the ship. Ward claims they're having problems. Handle the software, hardware, firmware D&C but don't feel obligated to overextend our resources beyond a certain point. In the end, we need equipment just as badly as they do so keep in mind that charity begins at home."

"I find that awfully-" Bergman started, but his larynx and his complaint were too slow in coming.

"Dr. Russell?" The commander brushed him off. "Did you have a chance to study the Feng Yun under the holographic microscope?"

"They appear to be human," Helena Russell acknowledged, delivering her report. "Brain activity, heart rate, respiration all within the normal range expected for our species. However, I say within normal range but the readings are at the extreme ends of normal and the majority are in this extreme range. In a population, I would expect a more bell shaped statistical distribution. The distribution is more lopsided."

She shrugged. "Of course, I'm not an expert statistician and I am making determinations from long range scans. I will know more when I make more extensive physical examinations of the crew."

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...." The professor basted. "That could also be due to some doppler shift in the Feng Yun's engines."

"You really think that old boat can travel faster than light?" Carter asked--amused, yes, but also interested.

"If Emmanuel Ward is aboard her, I'd say so." Bergman vouched. "He quite literally crushed classical physics as we know it. In those days, Kransikov theory and Quantum Tunneling were only speculation."

Bergman's synopsis was interrupted but the split second dimming of lights and the rerouting of voltage to the Eagle's atmosphere internal fans. The whirl of fans for the HVAC system commenced as the putrid odor quickly dissipated. Within seconds, it was gone.

"What?" Gordon Cooper scratched his head. His reaction was a mixture of anger and confusion. A quick glance at the printout computer generated added more to his puzzlement, as he handed it to Carter. "All systems functioning normally."

"That's ridiculous," Angelina blurted, equally confused, "Eagles don't just fix themselves."

It was absurd. But actually, in this case, it appeared to just happen.

It was a disgruntled, posed John Koenig who produced his commlock and punched SEND.

"Ouma." He said, throwing a gravel stare at the overhead lights. "Reel in the brain box on Eagle One. Reference all electrical activity over the past fifteen minutes, and let me know if an undervolt is present."

"Stand by one, commander." The mainframe chief replied back.

Koenig could relate to the empty, confounded beat that Helena Russell was sporting. These mirror, dumbstruck expressions were visible on everyone's face, save Victor Bergman. As much as it panged him to think it, his old colleague was behaving like a Grade-A 'suckah.'

"Eagle One, Alpha." Ouma returned moments later. "I looked at performance over the past hour. According to the server report, there's nothing wrong with your power grid. The levels are the same now as they were for launch and on-orbit checkout. No glitch, no hiccup."

Angelina made a soft but audible groan. "Then it has to be the fans," she assumed logically. The boom was about to be lowered on her, since the origin of the problem appeared to be within Technical, and consequently it would be further lowered on Michelle Cranston, who was in charge of Manufacturing.

"We won't know for sure until a diagnostic is completed, Commander, but everything seems to be pointed in that direction," she sighed. "What gets me is that all the fans failed at the same time. I can see one or perhaps even two but all five of them at once?"

"Defective lot code, perhaps?" Bergman offered with optimistic sympathy.

"We try to avoid putting same lot codes of key components in one place," she added.

"Try? What if you have no choice?" Helena Russell wondered from her place, leaning next to the passenger module blue and white monitor.

"Sometimes we don't and end up putting two of the same date codes in one Eagle." Ang acknowledged, standing up. "Once we had three. I have never seen four and never, ever seen five. If we had to use more than 3 same lot code fans, the ship would not be released to the block house...plain and simple."

"What about a defective LH container?" Koenig went on, irked and having the distinct feeling Technical's investigations would uncover no answers.

"That is Reconnaissance's responsibility, Commander," Gordon Cooper spoke up, offering his neck on the chopping block. "We are suppose to maintain them and check them for leaks before and after every mission. If it is found defective, technical replaces it with another one."

Oh, yeah. He and Cedrix would definitely be having a 'conversation' about this issue when he got back.

No one had the opportunity to continue when the commpost chirped at them. The Commander hesitated then turned toward the monitor, hitting the white link stud with his right thumb.

"Commander Koenig," Martha Ward's youthful face appeared on the monitor. She smiled warmly. "Welcome to the Feng Yun. We have a welcoming contingent just outside the docking port. We are ready to receive you whenever you feel ready to meet us."

"Everything checks out alright on the surveillance cameras." Truman Starns said simply.

Koenig still seemed debateful, but the hour was late and the swan dive needed to be taken.

"O'kay." He said decisively. "Open it up."

Chapter Two

"Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off."

--General Colin Powell

"The difference between man and animals is that we don't use our tongue to clean our genitals."

--Rimmer-Red Dwarf

"She's upstart...a venerable person."

--General Calendar, AAC Retired

"Welcome." Dr. Martha Ward spoke the words that made everyone view her with scorn and contempt. She was a snotty, aloof, viselike human being who smiled less than Ed Sullivan and a rigidity that rivaled the ungenerousness of her thermal flight suit. She sported more than one distinguished service patch. This was how Pierce Quentin knew that she was also a backbreaking cocotte. "I'm not sure why you're here or what you believe yourselves capable of."

She smoothed her free flowing salt and pepper hair back for vanity's sake.

"Looks like there is a goblin on this ship--Hagzilla." Carter retorted expertly.

"On Earth, I always said that if I got rich, I'd never be mean to poor people." Harness Bull Duncan testified. "This is the reason why."

"What are you supposed to be?" Ward with a capital "B" scrutinized the pilot. "The loggerheaded rocket jock?"

Clearly, there was more wrong with the communication than there was with the air handlers on Eagle One.

"Carter's the name." The pilot replied, not bleeding. "Captain, AEF, WSC, ILC and a proud graduate of the good old University Of New South Wales.

"Aeronautical engineering.

"And boozing." He divulged. "This is my evil minion, the head of Moonbase technical. Don't be impressed by her either."

The experience was surreal. This isn't happening, Angelina momentarily thought, then realized she was indeed awake. Was this the same woman who moments before, was so warm and inviting on the blue and white monitor in the passenger module of Eagle One?

"Oh, is this the 'little woman'?" Martha Ward sneered disparagingly, while inspecting Ang like she was an old piece of furniture. "Missing your pearls and apron, June Cleaver?"

"My name is not June," Angelina smiled, her tone mixed with faux sweetness, superiority and pity for the weak minded. "Mrs. Angelina Verdeschi-Carter.

"PhD," she added with emphasis after a pause. "Times two. Nuclear Physics with a bonus in Astrophysics. And you are?"

"That's enough," Koenig interrupted, coming to the front. "Where is..."

The Commander stopped as a man with white hair with gentle demeanor joined the group and came to the front. Martha Ward's demeanor instantly changed from her royal bitchiness to gracious hostess.

"These are the people who have come to us from Moonbase Alpha," she turned to the elder Ward, smiling. "Isn't it wonderful they are here?"

Angelina and Helena Russell exchanged confounded looks.

"Commander Koenig," the white haired man offered his hand in friendship. "I am Dr. Emmanuel Ward. It is a pleasure to meet you." His face brightened even more when he saw Bergman approaching them. "VICTOR! Victor, it is wonderful to see you again my friend!"

Ward grasped his hand in a hearty shake while gripping his other arm, a move that was actually a restrained urge to bear hug the Professor.

"Yes, Victor, seeing you brings back such fond memories of our youth as grad students back in the day," Ward's smile was genuine and infectious. He winked. "Commander, I could tell you stories about our exploits as young men, the good times, the fun times, despite the endlessly long days and nights of studying and research. Eh, Victor?"

Homecoming couldn't be any better than this moment.

"Oh," he dropped Bergman's hand, "and who are these charming ladies?" He glanced at Angelina then refocused his attention on Helena Russell. He gazed at her with admiration.


"Doctor Helena Russell?" The Feng Yun's on-board GP, Doctor Amadore, gaped with a grizzled respect that went beyond worship. It exceeded horse sense, actually. "You were Chief of Staff at Anne Arundel...."

Carter looked at Ang' with a chagrin that bordered on smirk. Then he crossed the line and it became total smirk.

"Yes." The physician replied modestly. "For six years, until Annapolis was leveled...during the war...."

And until now she had been as boastful of the achievement as the creator of Port-O-Lets. It had seemed to her a duty, not a crown of the Trinity. The over-reaction did not go unnoticed by John Koenig.

"You'll need these." Amadore handed out the complimentary dosimeter badges--the type that Angelina Carter was acquainted with. "If the film turns black...there's a problem."

But for now, radiation or no, he would continue to gawk at Russell.

"The primary equipment is shut down." Elsa Structure, the Feng Yun's minister of nut and bolt assured them. "There was much greater activity about five months ago. Since then, we've been coasting with course corrections being made using the RCS backup.

"We can't continue to do that...." She explained to Ang' forthrightly. Depression bur roughed deep into the secretive canyons of her forty-something brow before being vanquished in the glare of old trophies. "For all of that, I can't wait to show you the GHC, Dr. Carter. I'm sure that a person of your credentials will find it completely tantalizing."

"Tantalizing, indeed," Angelina remarked, noting that this woman was the third person with the surname 'Structure' she had met in the span of 30 minutes. In fact, there seemed to be several people on the ship with the same last names. "Such a reactor was only in theory on Earth before Breakaway. I certainly have never seen one and in fact there were many who believed it could not be possible."

"Well, one would have never thought it possible that the moon could be blasted out of earth's orbit," Elsa Structure touche'ed. "But that did happen."

Angelina nodded sadly. "Yes, it did happen. Tell me, what was it like after Breakaway? It must have been devastating. According to Professor Bergman's calculations, there would have been a massive shift in the Earth's axis creating disastrous climatological changes. How did you manage to survive? More importantly, how did you manage to get this ship launched?"

"Yes," Elsa acknowledged, "it was terrible devastation unlike anything Earth has ever experienced."

To Ang, the response seemed oddly without feeling. A long silence followed as Angelina waited for Elsa to answer her second question. The woman remained mute.

"To maintain morale, we elected to name the ship's corridors after archetypes of mythological Earth." Emmanuel Ward told them as they negotiated the grated promenade towards the local lift. "This is the 'Janus Passage.' The Auger is one level up--think of it as a conning tower. A control center."

He motioned them with his finger.

"I suppose I can't help myself." Martha Ward--no tongue biter she--accosted them again after the doors closed. "How do you think you can help us?"

The older Ward looked stricken with heartburn.

"It is you who called us," Koenig parlayed with her. "Why did you call out for our help?"


Ten kilometers above the rusted, inner uplifts, Eagle Five moved carefully beneath the shadow of her docked sister ship--spitting Aerozine until the transfer tube made contact with the divot concealed beneath the piping of the passenger module's undercarriage. Schrödinger was the plug in the tub, the bottom of the Moon. There was no light in the impact basin, save a dilatory dot--a single star with newborn ultraviolet.


The Wards, agreeable and scurrile, led them through a series of multispectral conduits that connected to a central core in a fibonaci string. In Lethe Alley, they forgot where they were going. On Tartarus Avenue they felt uncomforted and discontent. Down the ladder, and onto an open lift, they were transported to Nyx Way where, magnafoozled,' Harness Bull Theylan tripped and fell flat on his face.

"How big is this ship?" Pierce Quentin blurted at one point.

"The Feng Yun is macroscopic in size." Emmanuel Ward said simply and inserted his key card into the lock box. "And yet, mass is no indicator. The metal in this companionway is a hundred times stronger than any steel but has only one-sixth the weight. The bulkheads are also self-sealing--a property which has saved our lives on numerous occasions."

"Herons were designed to be generation ships." Carter spoke with a wisp of the asinine, but his wry was wearing off.

"Intergalactic space travel, colonization." John Koenig summarized, embossed. "A city in the void. The voyage might take centuries, but it's a moot point. Even if the original crew doesn't live to reach the selected destination, their lineage would. The concept never rose above the level of an Amazing Story--occult theorem--because it was thought to be impractical.

"Dr. Ward, how did the commission manage to hide the construction of this vessel, and for what reason did they conceal it."

While they waited, the lights on the panel pas suel'ed.

"You know the game, Dr. Koenig." The older scientist said with filial respect. "The funds were siphoned from tax payers and allocated through black appropriations committees. I wasn't involved in that phase, but as I recall there were also a number of private investors. People are astounded at the many different types of ludicrous grants and endowments that are available--ten billion eurodollars to build a franchise of Sushi bars? The same applies here.

"As for construction, it was a joint effort--the propulsion system was fabricated at Watertown Strip; the modules were sent into orbit under the guise of being telecommunication and weather satellites. Obviously, there was more going on than thunder storms and subscription television. The assembly took place in regions of the Moon seldom observed by astronomers, and away from Alpha scanner and sensor detection."

Angelina glanced at Truman Starns, who along with Yuri Petrov, possessed Top Secret Security clearances with the WSC in the pre-Breakaway time. He gave no indication of whether or not he knew about the Feng Yun project. Of course, the detective was good at playing the poker face but why would he? It was out in the open now. Ward had her believing the project was plausible until the part about assembly in secret on the moon. It occurred to her the logistics of keeping such a monumental effort under wraps was mind-boggling.

Her expression, her puzzlement, did not go unnoticed and Commander Koenig would talk with her later about his same suspicions. "Even with black appropriations, Dr. Ward, there is always a goal in such undertakings. Considering the size of the ship and the efforts to build it and get it launched, there had to be a clear destination in mind.

"Where are you going?"

Pierce Quentin nearly lost his balance as his right boot made contact with something slick and slimy. Harness Bull Pund was there to catch him. "What the..." he blurted, grasping the railing.

He crotched down and shown his maglight on the offending object which nearly caused him to tumble down the stairs. Angelina gasped slightly, more grossed out than frightened.

The single severed digit of a human index finger, ashen and covered in dried blood and gore, lay partially crushed by Quentin's boot heel, marring the smooth gray floor.

Bergman and Koenig knelt beside the culled joint which marbled in the hardening gelatin of necrobiosis. Whomever it belonged to, this much could be said: they could not get a grip. Their only posterity--to be remembered as the flange that died in space. Pierce Quentin completed the triangle as he looked over Bergman's shoulder with poignancy. Harness Bull Pound managed to release the safety on his HEAT beam without anyone noticing.

Truman Starns looked hard, hoping for something more explanatory than the forensic planes of Helena Russell. The physician reacted immediately to the call for a mason jar autopsy by opening her EMT kit.

John Koenig looked critically on Dr. Emmanuel Ward.

Chapter Three

"We cannot banish dangers, but we can banish fears. We must not demean life by standing in awe of death."

--David Sarnoff

"...It playfully kills...."

--Abscess (From: Inborn Abomination)

"We're all's my birthright."

--General Calendar, AAC Retired

The vacuum was serene, but the headers of Moonbase Alpha were as chill and antiseptic as ever.

Rippling, volcanic tubes terminated against the ramparts of the roundabout connected. Beside it, the trapezoidal Medical Center complex imposed itself against the mandatory power reductions. Before there was a mono star.

Now there were none.


After they were all given the finger, Professor Victor Bergman was reborn. He had a new attitude and a different visage--his miserable, miserable face was entangled with worry, and self-doubt. He clubbed his open, left palm with his right fist compulsively while Pierce Quentin leaned against a diaphragm in the Nyx corridor.

Helena Russell closed her field kit, stood straight and exhaled.

Her unassuming shrug was enough to send John Koenig pacing again.

"This may seem improper-" Martha Ward started extraneously again, but was cut off by the electronic pip from the commander's commlock.

"What do you have?" He said. Book ending a commstation cul de sac, Angelina Carter perked while her other half stood adamantly and with arms folded--as if to declare his independence to think negatively.

"I have that BCA report ready for you, commander." Bob Mathias accounted on the other end. "Epidermal and DNA analysis revealed nothing. Gross physical trauma...mutilation, of course. Identification is quite impossible without access to the Feng Yun's records."

"We already know who the person was." Emmanuel Ward told them honestly. "The unfortunate fellow was one of our technicians, a man named Richard Albans. The accident occurred weeks ago."

"A ship that has everything." Alan Carter was incredulous. "Except for a broom and dustpan."

The comment was smirkable if the situation wasn't real, or so Angelina thought.

"How did it happen?" Helena Russell followed up with the query.

"Richard was up there," the elder Ward pointed to the gigantic circulation fan, "performing a routine maintenance on the blades when the breaker was thrown by accident."

"Ew," Angelina commented while craning her neck upwards. "An accident? No one bothered to check why the breaker was off? He just hit the switch and that was it?"

She was amazed at the shabbiness of it all, not that it hadn't happened on Moonbase Alpha. It had. Usually it was while a technician was changing a light fixture and he felt the bite of 110V. However, high voltage equipment, which she assumed was the circulator, usually had more than one breaker switch. Generally, there were a series of breakers, to dummy proof the process and avoid electrocutions.

"It does represent a mammoth disregard for safety, doctor." John Koenig admonished.

No one noticed the glint, the ever-so-slight pinch of the frown lines--Alan Carter, bathed in crimson emergency bulbs, seemed vaguely surprised by the commander's response, as if he had expected something else that wasn't worth the commentary.

"Had we the personnel...." A female voice cracked at them from behind. "On Alpha, you utilize hot fusion reactors. High energy nuclear reactions--the unstable and reckless abuse of deuterium to achieve abundant power, but if anything interrupts the cycle--if the scalding plasma is ever allowed to touch the walls of the containment barrier, your fate is sealed.

"Are your protocols as rigorous as they should be, Commander Koenig? I mean, considering?"

"In the event of an uncontrolled reaction," Angelina eyed the woman neutrally,"the core melts down, not up and out. The area is sealed off and the energy spent by the fuel burning out is spent long before the core rods even have the opportunity to 'melt' through the layers of containment of the reactor. The only possibility of explosion outward which would endanger the base is to purposely introduce a nuclear trigger...and even that requires extensive preparation and modification of the material to make it receptive to the trigger."

"As for electrical circuitry, "she went on, "accidents do happen but we endeavor to maintain as many failsafes as possible. The base was designed under stringent regulatory guidelines and we've actually improved on several of the safety features.

"No, something like this," she pointed up at the fan, "would not have 'accidentally' happen on Moonbase Alpha. The only possible cause would have been a willful and premeditated act."

"P'shaw." Nitrile lauded with sanctity and irritating mock horror. "I'm sure no Alphan could ever perpetrate deeds like that."

Angelina snapped back, clearly vexed with the woman. "Downshifting to a topic without complete relevance to the discussion in an attempt to cover up shoddy workmanship?"

"I'm terribly sorry." Emmanuel Ward arbitrated, rubbing his painful temples briefly. "One step forward, two steps back and I continue to forget my manners. Commander Koenig, Professor Bergman, this is Priscilla Nitrile."

"Dr. Nitrile presided over the core of engineers who constructed the Feng Yun." Martha told Ang' meaningfully--one specialist to another, even one sister to another.

There was something about, actually a lot about, Martha Ward which Angelina did not like. Her shifts from nasty, unwelcoming ogre to pleasant, friendly hostess where unnerving and unpredictable. The woman seemed like she was in a constant and intense state of PMS. Emmanuel Ward, on the other hand, seemed gregarious and friendly, going out of his way to be polite. Despite his pleasant demeanor, she felt uneasy about it. She could have sworn she met the man somewhere before but obviously, this was her first meeting.

"Shall we go in?" The other Ward suggested as the doors parted.


"So?" Pilot Farendahl said with heavy handed satire.

He and his CMP, Brad Bixby entered the command module of Eagle One, and found only the animated lights of the panels and the bobbing of secured hand controllers. Both couches were empty, and as far as Farendahl was concerned, so was this mission.

"There's nothing back here either." Harness Bull Judge entered the compartment via the aft equipment bay. Harness Bulls Allwyn and Mugabe guarded them from the ghost in the rear (or the 'pain' in the rear, depending upon each individual's selective perception).

"Well, some bounder thought it was a good idea for us to rendezvous." Bixby tensed. He hated having no frame of reference.

"There was a lot of radio interference on the I-O Bandwidth." Farendahl supposed, reaching for his commlock. "They may have instructed us to turn back, and the signal was lost in the ether.

"What can you say?

"Pierre, where art thou, oh back seat Willy?" The flight commander called.

Harness Bull Mugabe uttered something nasal and unintelligible.

"We copy you Eagle Five." The Deputy RS replied from several nautical miles back in Eagle 2-5. "Is Carter there? I'd like to speak with him."

"No." Farendahl replied in a thick, germanic libratto. "The ship is at stable one, but no one is here." He looked around, confirming that no one lay dead in the LEB; that there were no guts and entrails drying to red slime on the bulkhead. "Do you recall the commander ordering an abort to orbit?"

"I'll check with Astrin, but as far as I know, that's a negative." Danielle replied. "Then too, there's some sort of energy halo surrounding that fancy stack you're moored to. It could be making a hash of our CDA."

"That's what I think too." Farendahl agreed mild manneredly. "In either case, we're going to have a look around, maybe meet up with the commander and Professor Bergman."

"Roger, Eagle Five." Danielle came back. "But you and Judge stay with the ship. Let Bixby and the others handle the SETI. We're ranging on the south pole now. If you need us, that's where we'll be."

"Good." Farendahl guessed.


Brad Bixby, accompanied by Harness Bulls Allwyn and Mugabe, returned his commlock to his belt clip with a sigh.

"Well, no luck in raising the Commander or anyone for that manner," he stopped in the dim light and studied the cobwebs in the corners of the I-Beams of the corridor.

Either this corridor wasn't used often or the housekeeping skills of these people sucked.

"I told you we should have gone right rather than left," Harness Bull Allwyn griped, already half turned and ready to head back toward the Eagles.


"Try this," the elder Ward poured the hot beverage into the cup. To Angelina Carter, the smell was the nectar of the Gods.

"It can't be," Ang muttered, then smiled broadly as Emmanuel Ward mixed in the imitation sweetener and creamer.

"It is, my dear," Ward beamed broadly. "Real, 100% Columbia bean coffee, grown in our hydroponics section, of course. I know on Alpha they were experimenting with soy derivatives but they were never quite the same as the real thing. That's why we had plenty of coffee beans with us when we left and have cultivated it ever since."

"MMMMmmmmm," Ang moaned contently, almost orgasmically. "I never thought I would taste real coffee again."

She was in heaven. Then, Ward touched her shoulder in a fatherly gesture. Instantly, chills went down her spine and she broke out in a sweat. She stiffened and she gave the elder Dr. Ward a disturbed glance as he instantly released her.

"I never thought I would taste the real thing again either," Helena Russell said ebulliently as she sampled her java. Commander Koenig had been enjoying the cup Russell offered him when he noticed Ang's reaction to Ward and stopped in mid sip, staring at her over the rim of his cup.

"Excuse me," Ward suddenly became business-like. "I do have to attend to a matter. Enjoy your coffee and I'll be back in about 20 minutes. We have many things to discuss. Victor, try some freshly squeezed orange juice," he invited Bergman with a smile then quickly left the room.

"It's alright." Carter continued his jive assault on Martha Ward. "It's nice to know that your joe is better than your safety committee. Of course, it lacks the old amber sting."

"Not for much longer, it doesn't." Dr. Amadore said, approaching the table with his cure for sobriety. "Pure, one hundred proof Blue Agave." He explained as he topped off the pilot's cup with enough hard liquor to plaster a Tyrannosaurus.

"No fooling?" Carter ruminated as he took a gulp.

"Whiskey, commander?" The GP offered, extending the smoked glass bottle. "It's not orange juice, but I certainly feel fresh and squeezed after ingesting it."

"You seem like a man of character." Koenig offered his coffee cup for conversion. "I trust your judgement."

"No thanks," Russell declined. "I'm driving." She joked. Amadore gave her a momentarily puzzled look then smiled in almost faux comprehension then emitted a forced chuckle. The Chief Medical Officer wanted to keep her head perfectly clear.

"I'm not," Angelina Carter presented her empty coffee cup. Amadore cheerfully abided by filling up her mug with authentic Whiskey. She took a sip, nodded her approval and downed the rest.

"Feel the burn," Ang commented as indeed she felt her esophagus flame down to her stomach. Momentarily, she felt as if her head was detached from her body. She realized that she probably had too much to drink.

But she didn't care.

"Uisce Beatha." Chief Quentin savored his buzz. "The water of life."

"Even more potent since we started distilling it ourselves." Amadore noted proudly.

"Got any Kilbeggan?" Harness Bull Duncan probed.

"No we don't." Priscilla Nitrile answered judgmentally. "Sorry."

"They can't spend all of their time running a distillery, Mark," Angelina retorted, keeping her slur in control. "Otherwise there'd be 'accidents' every other day and mutilated digits all over the place. Isn't that right, Dr. Nitrile." She smiled sweetly at Nitrile.

Nitrile returned the smile through thin, stretched lips. She didn't vocalize but her expression said it all: bitch.

"Exactly what are those contraptions that you're carrying on your belts." Truman Starns asked convivially.

"You mean these?" Dr. Amadore put away his hooch, and produced the short, bladed utility that was clipped next to his commlock. "Just a blower. Small, and personal sized."

"Is there something wrong with the temperature controls?" Bergman inquired studiously.

"Not exactly." Martha Ward stated. "Like the detector badges, the fans are a preventative measure. We have a decaying reactor on board and for that reason, the danger of exposure to toxic fumes is ever-present, but not to worry--this area of the ship is completely safe.

"I want to be frank with you." She then clawed at Ang.' "I find you outside of your expertise; believing that you can repair something as complex as the GHC drive. Your competence is such that you may be able to keep your Eagles schlepping along, but there is a vast difference between those old service propulsion systems and the quantum intricacies of time dilation.

"Do you even know anything about superluminal theorem or Kransikov Physics?"

Angelina set her empty cup on the end table, which she noticed was a genuine maple, or at least a good laminate imitation of maple wood.

"Is that what you've been doing for the last 5 years? Chasing theories?" She turned to address the presumptuous woman. "Where do you find the time to embrace nonlocality and Bell's theorem? Superluminal loopholes, oh yes, the Qigong of Quantum Physics, assume a degree of Nonlinearity in Quantum Mechanics. It has never been proven with conventional experiments...and why is that?" Ang was almost in her face then backed off. "Conventional experiments used a few electonvolts of energy. If quantum mechanics does have non-linear properties, it would likely to appear only at a very high energy scale, the highest energy densities. That would require the highest energy particle accelerators."

She sat down in a generously overstuffed cushioned papazion chair. She needed to sit since her legs were beginning to feel like rubber.

"High energy particle accelerators," she snorted. "Besides actually lacking a high energy particle accelerator, unless you have it tucked in a closet somewhere, " Koenig, in a semi buzz, smirked in spite of Ang's near drunken tirade since he knew such a high energy particle accelerator would be at least the size of the Feng Yun, if not larger.

"You lacked the other component required in a high energy particle accelerator," Ang went on. "Energy, which you have very little left. GHC drive?" She smiled then leaned forward on her elbows. "It didn't come from Earth...and you couldn't have pioneered it in 5 years."

"I'm sorry if I appeared to insult you," Martha Ward answered, appearing genuinely apologetic. "I had to know for sure that you could help us. It appears you can." She smiled approvingly.

"I don't need to pass any of your tests for approval," Angelina responded with venom. She had enough of the woman's mercurial moods.

"I understand your anger," Martha continued to smile. "But you've made an erroneous assumption about us." She sat on the couch next to her. "I really hope that we can become friends, despite this rocky beginning. I thought Dad already told you." She looked down, appearing embarrassed.

It took a few seconds to sink in. Angelina exchanged a glance with Alan who was still trying to comprehend what the woman just said.

"Dad?" Helena Russell, sober and clear of head was the first speak. "You mean..."

"Yes, "the younger Ward cut her off. "I am Dr. Emmanuel Ward's daughter. I was born on this ship. Most of us were. This ship has been in space for nearly 50 years."


"It stinks." Harness Bull Allwyn complained. They should have been back at the ship by now. "Hey, Magellan," he sniped at Brad Bixby, "I think you got us lost. Worse, we must be right next to the sewage recycling plant."

"Stop carping." Bixby grumped. "I've a good fix." He showed them the flashing, white waypoint displayed on his commlock. "The worst that will happen is that we shall have to backtrack and you two will have to sit on your bums and play Euchre."

He knew they were slack.

"Very disturbing...." Harness Bull Mugabe maintained. "How we are unable to raise the others on audio."

It made his trigger finger itch.

"I think we ought to chip." Allwyn opined. "This is highly irregular--the way we're forging ahead with no thought of ops or tactical.

"We may end up in a very tight corner." He nodded. "Big time screwed."

"Might we go back?" Mugabe suggested. "And confer with Danielle and Astrin? Being proactive is a good thing--unless our ambition culminates in a particularly gruesome demise. I'm not afraid to die, unless it ends in my not breathing, then I take great exception to it as a rule."

Allwyn knew the feeling.

"You two choppers...." Brad Bixby shook his head wryly and blushed from the sheer Smurfdom,' the anti-Charles Bronsonism of it all; the unadulterated lack of macho. He felt embarrassment not only for himself, but for the totality of the male gender. "You sound like sissies'--and I think you are. Unfortunately for you, I'm the CMP on this flight, and I'm ordering you to join me on this journey of discovery.

"Look." He pointed his commlock at the Cha-Cha dance pattern on the dusty base. "Footprints. We're halfway there."

The motion sensitive airlock closed in Harness Bull Allwyn's face, separating him physically from his fellow explorers, one intrepid and ludicrous; the other just ludicrous.


"Fifty years?" Koenig searched the table for signs of yak, but found only veracious ignorance and honor. "Those satellites were launched in the 1980's." He moved slowly behind the chairs. For some reason, Priscilla Nitrile seemed to be the least exposed, but the most culpable. Amadore looked pedestrian. Martha Ward, callous.

Victor Bergman dropped his napkin and steepled his fingers sapiently.

"Time is not the same out here, John." He said memorially. "It's unbodied, amorphous, shapeless. We're trained to think in terms of minutes, seconds--wishing our lives away on tactile frame of reference. In space, there is no 'sequence.'" Bergman postulated. "It is as elastic as it needs to be and ever the ephemeral. There is no significance to thread of revelation."

Professor Bergman, her respected mentor, was becoming poetic again and in her present state of borderline intoxication, it was making Angelina Carter's head pound.

"They must have gone through a time variant rapture corridor rather than coordinate variant," Ang spoke quietly, still from the papasian chair. She was quite comfortable and had no intention of leaving it. She glanced at the others then gazed at Carter as she explained in layman terms. "Coordinate variant rapture corridors, like what we experience, literally move us from one place to another. The time variant, though statistically rare, can result in a change of time. It can stretch it, shrink it, skew it, anything is possible and any result is possible. Theoretically, you can spend years in it and come out at a time before you entered or even many generation in the future."

"That sounds pretty fucked up," Harness Bull Pound commented from behind her.

"'Yeah, I suppose it can be," Angelina nodded. "Then this really is a generation ship. But," she looked around, hoping to get a visual clue from pictures or even the presence of toys, "where are your children?"

"Not long ago, they were all over the ship." Priscilla Nitrile said blandly, towing left and right--as if her seat was too hot to handle. "Then the trouble started with the engines. The nursery was relocated to the center of the metroplex, where the shielding is the heaviest."

"Amadore, you're a sot." Martha Ward spat ignominiously.


"Hey!!" Harness Bull Allwyn yelled while pounding on the door, "Guys, open up!!"

He stood back when nothing happened and stared at the door for several minutes. A check on his commlock confirmed he still had a short range signal and could communicate with Bixby and Mugabe but they were not acknowledging him. Allwyn jumped from being startled when the silence was broken by a loud bass thump coming from the other side of the door.

He made an executive decision and unclipped his laser from the holster. A precisely aimed shot sent a cutting beam into the locking mechanism on the door frame, which immediately erupted into a shower of sparks. Using brute force, he sweated and grunted as he pulled the door open enough to peer and wedge himself inside.

Let us drink a toast--here's to journeys of discovery. The jejune in his mind raised a glass that was filled with blood clots. If the nightmares ever stopped--if he could ever look on Gonzales' Tofu quiche without fear of vomiting--he would look back on this with warped superbia. After all, how often did the opportunity come to witness a double execution. It was like Hell's answer to Mario Brothers. Snapped clean of the spinal cord, Harness Bull Mugabe's head was advancing towards the ceiling--his skull piked by black and pink livers that snaked minaciously from tumors on the ceiling. At the same time, heading down the carnage conveyor belt, a quarter leg of Brad Bixby--thigh and genitalia in poisonous sapropel--was being relegated to the septic drains of the floor grates.

All about him, there was marrow crushed to a salt. Cowardice was no longer an issue. Road pizza was his problem, and he could not cope. Allwyn realized that the burst bag of gelatin that lay atop Mugabe's commlock was not quick dessert, it was someone's aorta. He retched convulsively, and backed away from the sour, red milk that oozed towards him with gravity and adoration.

"NOT FUNNY." He screamed at the rancid, desexualized remains. He excreted as Bixby and Mugabe's combined proctology report floated towards him with an odor more powerful than anything Ed Malcom could produce. "NOT FUNNY, NOT FUNNY."

In the center of the slay en masse, there presided an outgrowth of ivory harrows that seemed to masticate over the human sewage--unwilling as it was to release any good wine before its time.

"AHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-EEEEE-AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" Harness Bull Allwyn emitted a yodeling, terrified Tarzan squall and fired his laser into the undulating madness.


"Well, I trust everyone is refreshed, " Emmanuel Ward stepped through the doors of the recreation area again. He was completely relaxed and content, looking rather Hugh Hefnerish in his red smoking jacket. "Dinner will be server shortly and I am sure you will enjoy it."

"Dad," Martha Ward interrupted, standing next to the rubber tree, "They know. They know we have been in space for 50 years."

There were traces of betrayal in Emmanuel Ward's sullen countenance.

But overall, he seemed relieved. Setting aside his cudgels, he walked distantly around the table, vying nothing other than his own, internal beacon which burned brightly on the shores of science and reason.

"I would have told you in time." He said. "However, such depositions seemed inappropriate to me for a first meeting."

"The unexplained doesn't bother us." John Koenig replied indistinctly. "But concealment does."

"Doctor Ward," Angelina finally got a grip on the explosion of questions which swam in her head amongst the buzz of mild drunkenness, "what I don't understand is, since you and Professor Bergman are about the same age, how is it that you and the professor still look approximately the same age? I mean, you should be around 100 now. You don't look a day over 59 1/2."

She nodded complimentary to Victor Bergman.

"COMMANDER." Pierce Quentin broke in, ruining the liquor and the confessions. "MY COMMLOCK IS PICKING UP A SECURITY ALARM FROM A LOCATION NEAR HERE."

"And mine as well." Truman Starns acceded.

"It's your ship, Dr. Ward." Koenig addressed the researcher confrontationally. "I expect you to lead us to the source of the signal."

He was done with decorum.


"For God sakes," Tom Nutrile sighed to Martin Armador as they surveyed the carnage on the other end of the ship. For stepping in the middle of blood and gore canyon, neither man reacted horrifically. "The intervals are getting shorter, Marty. What the hell. He's misstepped. He's already started on the fresh meat before they even get settled."

He grumbled as he opened the utility closet and pulled out a bucket and mop. "What a fucking mess. What's the story going to be this time?"

"The usual whitewash." The physician replied. "But if we don't hurry, we won't live to be ashamed of ourselves, so get cracking."

Both men had their pocket fans full on.

"What about him?" Tom pointed to Harness Bull Allwyn in the corner. The formerly rugged security guard was in the farthest corner on the floor, curled in a fetal position. His wide, frightened eyes darted back and forth as he furiously sucked his thumb.

"Not funny...not funny...not funny," he would mumble nearly incoherently every few minutes then return to his activity of thumb as pacifier.

"We leave the poor bastard alone, that's what." Amadore said, applying more elbow grease in the hopes that the frontage and the gaudy window dressing could be expedited.

On the floor of the chamber, the lamp in Harness Bull Mugabe's commlock continued to fluoresce through the flush corona of human sinew

Chapter 4

Should we shout, should we scream

"What happened to the post war dream?"

Oh Maggie, Maggie what have we done?

--Pink Floyd (from The Final Cut)

"Vision without execution is hallucination."

--Thomas A. Edison

"What is it? A 'thrump?"

--General Calendar, AAC Retired

Eagle Five docked on Eagle One's bilge--both vehicles were in chilldown; both were engulfed by the cold, azure blue of the Feng Yun's solar cells. Pilot Farendahl had no knowledge of the fantasque, incongruous events that were occurring aboard the spacer from Earth. For all he knew, an alternate universe had opened and consumed the entire reconnaissance team. He hoped for the best, but if this were the case, he would probably feel the same as Harness Bull Allwyn--that it was not funny.

For now, he was the only sentient human being in existence, revolving serendipitously around a moon that was shadow locked.



Pointing left, and right--tan and gaited to the aseptic floor of the Eutychia Corridor (which, according to the General, was nothing more than a bridge to the ship's waste treatment hub). Some treaded slowly--a few frenetically. Others meandered randomly, but all were careful to avoid stepping on Harness Bull Allwyn who sat sucking his 'binki.

"This is your alarm." The General said curtly, and passed the commlock to Starns.

"Don't look at me like that." Chief Quentin warned the stranger with the bad attitude.

"What happened here?" Koenig approached the most blameless people in the room.

"I'm not sure, commander." Harness Bull Mugabe, sheepish.

"He was mad." Pilot Bixby reflected. "The motion sensor closed the door, separating us." He told Angelina Carter. "While we were searching for the controls, we could hear him coming apart at the seams. When the hatch opened, we found him like this."

"Good grief." Emmanuel Ward spouted termagantly. "Dr. Koenig, I must insist that you allow us to escort you--at least until your people become more familiar with the layout of the ship. Several compartments had to be isolated. Someone could have been killed, sir."

Angelina only half heard Brad Bixby, instead, she was transfixed on the sight of Allwyn and the clinically evaluating with cool professionalism of Helena Russell. It was hard to believe Harness Bull Derek Allwyn had 'cracked.' This was a guy who contributed to the WWT effort in the US Army Special Forces. There were WWT horror stories and there were WWT horror stories. Ang remembered how he recalled the time his unit went in to rescue captive religious women but they were too late. They arrived and the Sisters of the Covenant were in pieces. Literally. After finding the terrorists who portrayed such a heinous crime hiding under the floor (and subsequently sending them to Allah courtesy of their semi automatics) all they could do was gather the remains into one body bag.

"Bag O' Nuns," he remembered with a chuckle. With experiences like that and living to tell them in graphic detail over Gonzalez's soybean casseroles, Ang couldn't imagine what would send the man over the edge.

"'Bix, what the Hell were you doing here anyway?" Carter pilloried--loud enough to startle Harness Bull Duncan. "You were supposed to be with Farendahl aboard Eagle Five."

"We didn't intend to get lost," Bixby began, in the hot seat. "We came looking for you because we weren't getting anything on our commlocks. Nothing but interference, so we set out to find you."

Carter's commlock chirped and he unclipped it from his belt, hitting the receive button.

"Farendahl, here, Captain," his face appeared crystal clear on the blue and white micro monitor. "Checking in and awaiting instructions."

"You got a capture, then?" Carter blurted back at the unknowing object of his wrath.

"Copy...." Farendahl treaded carefully. "We've been docked for about forty minutes now."


Curious as to what the excuse would be, Koenig looked up from the shattered remnants of Harness Bull Allywn.

"Negative on the abort maneuver." Farendahl replied carefully, but concretely. "Alan, we haven't received diddley'--not since second stage restart. Pierre Danielle and Zed Astrin o'kay'ed us for a guidance controlled dock.

"If you don't believe me, then ask them."


He hung up on him.

"But I tell you, we weren't getting any sort of communication from you," Bixby interjected again, attempting to defend his position. "Even the homing signals were not coming in." He straightened. "We lost contact and decided to find you. I take full responsibility." He finished with macho manliness.

"Right. You're accountable." Carter said, immediately pacified by honesty and stepping forward to slap the other astronaut on the shoulder. "I like that, mate. You're a pilot to be reckoned with. The rest of us think that penguins need snow, but not you. You think out of the box. No one will ever know how much it pains me to have to pull you and Farendahl from the rotation. My heart bleeds--just thinking about you making tedious, totally senseless laps around Dry Fork and Hicks Crater."

Brad Bixby's sudden conversion to the religion of admitting a bad decision was strange, in Angelina Carter's opinion. His ego and arrogance were large, like many of his astronaut peers in Reconn. Most of them would defend their positions to the end, to death itself. Many of them had done so.

Dr. Russell rose to her feet after draping a blanket around the still prenatal positioned Allwyn. "Deep psychosis brought on by extreme mental trauma."

"Mental trauma?" Ang questioned. "To what? The door shutting in his face?"

"I don't know," Russell sighed. "It could be a result of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. His experiences during the war; he may have repressed them and something triggered them to come to the surface."

"Repressed?" Ang wrinkled her brow. "Are you kidding? That guy reveals some of the most nightmarish stories...and he jokes about it."

"PTSS can manifest itself in many forms even years after an event," Russell defended her psychiatric training. "Of course, this is not my area of expertise." She turned toward Koenig. "We need to bring him back to Alpha."

Koenig nodded.

"Alan, you and Ang' remain here with the DC Team." He decided, step by perilous step. "Apparently, we're having communications problems. Put the wide-band satellite boost on every transmission you make. Report back hourly." He turned to the two Wards who seemed admirably flattened. "Security will stay behind and assist. Follow any and all physical directions given to you by Feng Yun personnel."

"Our road map to the stars." Carter told Martha Ward with sardonic hyperbola.

"Of course, Commander," Ang nodded as she glanced at Carter. It was going to be delightful, she thought sarcastically. Alan Carter would peck away at Martha Ward's cold as ice exterior until she had enough then would lash out at Ang. Ang would beat her back then Alan would start the persistent digs again.

"Dr. Ward." Koenig initiated. "I'd appreciate it if you would return with us to Alpha. There's several things that need to be discussed, and so far, it's not happening here."

"Pitiful, but accurate." Emmanuel Ward consented.

"I wish to come." The General superimposed.

On the floor, Harness Bull Allwyn 'blub-'blub-'blubbed his lower lip with a nutty forefinger.


The spacecraft dropped from the universe, landing softly, between depot lights, in the one-eight gravity, and on a gray thunderhead of unreal propellant.


"EAGLE FIVE ARRIVING." Marilys Singh's voice called over the white room intercom. "PAD FOUR RECOVERY CREWS STAND BY."


Koenig released the cabin pressure and unsealed the airlock.

Harness Bulls Judge and Mugabe bumped the gurney into the boarding tube. Harness Bull Allwyn lay tranquil beneath the overhead lights--at one with the carrot...the artichoke...the market fresh whole heads of lettuce. He was content...he was Zukini. Helena Russell followed briskly behind with her EMT kit slung securely over her shoulder.

"This way, Emmanuel." Victor Bergman told his colleague graciously, but redoubtably.

Persistent hound that he was, the General tagged along.

On the ingress, Yul Ostrog, SCM and Bram Cedrix met them in passing.

"Bixby, finish the high bay preparations and then report immediately to the debriefing." Koenig regulated as he recovered his own field kit from one of the couches.

"Very good, sir." The astronaut replied in the uneven, electronic insubstantialness.

The travel tube came to an abrupt halt and Helena Russell gave Koenig a tentative look as the doors parted, revealing the main corridor to Medical Center.

"Call me when you are done with your evaluation on Allwyn," Koenig nodded toward the mentally traumatized Allwyn as Jerry Parker and Anne Delline took over stretcher duty from the Harness Bulls and pulled the gurney out of the travel tube.

"It will take some time," Russell acknowledged, turning down the corridor. The double doors closed and Koenig sat down again as it began to move.

Dr. Ward sat comfortably in the uncomfortable plastic chair with a stack of documents and overhead transparencies perched on his knee.

"I'm sorry about the unfortunate incident with your security guard, Commander. If there is any way we can help, please don't hesitate to ask." Ward began, smiling warmly.

"We can handle it. Dr. Mathias has some expertise in the field of psychiatry. I assure you, he'll get to the bottom of the problem." Koenig observed Ward. He seemed momentarily uncomfortable then he was his friendly, charismatic self again.

"I also apologize for my daughter, Martha, and Pricilla's unfriendliness." Ward went on. "Unfortunately, social graces, particularly with strangers, have not been emphasized. I think you can understand that they have never encountered beings outside our own ship. Instead, we pushed our children to excel and absorb as much academically as they could. Encountering you, though, has shown me that we do need to place more emphasis on interpersonal interaction. Afterall, what good is exceptional academic knowledge if people can't stand to be around you."

"No apologies necessary, Emmanuel," Bergman spoke up, patting his friend on the shoulder. "I think we do understand. We have a community of children of our own and I too am concerned about how they will deal with those outside of the community."

Koenig wrinkled his brow and glanced at Bergman. This was news to the Commander. The professor has never expressed such concerns to him.

"Ah," Ward nodded, knowingly, "which brings us to a launching point to begin our discussions. Children. Your children. Your future. How many children do you have on this base?"

"Twelve," Bergman announced with grandfatherly pride, "with two more currently on the way."

Koenig cast a dark look at the Professor. He wasn't sure he wanted Ward to know that information. In fact, he felt certain he didn't want Ward to know it.

"Fourteen. What a brood." Ward echoed the pride. He turned toward the Commander and gazed intently. "And...where will you and the children be in, say, 25 years?"


"I'm not sure I understand." Paul Morrow asserted, staring inattentively into his plastic coffee cup.

"Dr. Ward, you have stated that the Feng Yun departed from Earth using only a solid rocket, or chemical drive." Big-P Danielle took a shot--to the eternal abash of Victor Bergman who was seated beside him at the conference table. "At what point did you complete work on your GHC engine? From where did you acquire the tools and the specifications for such an overhaul?"

"You need delineation on this point?" Ward realized. "Quite so, I can do that for you. Even though I've already stated it five times before. My computations for a supralight ignition were completed three months into our voyage. I sound like a broken record." He indulged the stupidity of the group, speaking only to Helena Russell and Victor Bergman. "But I do believe that we've also discussed how the vessel was constructed with an eye towards faster-than-light travel. When Breakaway occurred, it was decided that we would complete the conversion in transit."

"And part of this construction involved perfecting a Tesla Coil?" Pete Garforth balked. He came to the command conference with no intention of grilling, but here he was, lava rocks and all. "You just put the finishing touches on some elementary physics, and BOOM--no more infinite mass?"

"The theory is sound." Victor Bergman wrangled in Ward's defense. "Just because we lacked the mathematical language then, I find it unfair to say that it didn't exist a'toll. Kransikov was convinced that the Broeck Metric was applicable, John. The tubes can be fashioned from exotic matter and classical, scalar fields.

"Not Quantum." He dismissed Pete Garforth with a gander.

"Ouma?" Koenig swiveled in his chair.

"There's nothing wrong with it in principal." The mainframe chief granted. "Tubes are created for destination, and for return. According to computer, it's not so much a problem of Delta-V, as it is bending space to suit your fancy. That's not easy to do."

"In theory, it can be done but as a practical implementation, it would not be impossible." Koenig acknowledged as he slowly glanced around the table. Bergman and Ward were relaxed as good friends. Ward nodded with approval at the taste of the Vitaseed and motioned Bergman to top off his orange mug. Helena Russell had already crossed the line from caution to optimism. Ward's persona, his friendly nature, had absorbed her into his influence. Paul Morrow sat cautiously sullen, trying to navigate the technical information in the hope it could all be true. Sandra Benes had also fallen under Ward's charm, ebullient at the thought of escaping the moon and able to go somewhere...anywhere.

Pete Garforth sat with crossed arms, not believing a word of it.

"That's why I asked Ang to say on the Feng Yun," Koenig continued. "To evaluate and verify the practical implementation of this means of travel."


Harness Bull Mugabe's mouth with dry with hot, amniotic phlegm as he walked the corridors of the Services Triad, eyeing little girls with bad intent.

So creeped out was Melitta Geist, she refused to say hello.


"That solution also states that it is also possible to reverse direction in a warped region." Paul Morrow divined. "Meaning, of course that it would be possible to return to Earth?"

This was not born of virulence, or sport, but of sincerity. It was the unspoken question that resided in all of them.

"It is." Emmanuel Ward answered. "But considering what conditions were like when we left, I seriously doubt whether the attempt is desirable. We left for a reason."

"I have made calculations in my spare time," Bergman stepped up to the plate to bolster Ward's position, "regarding how earth would have been affected at Breakaway."

This information was not new to Koenig or Russell. However, in the interest of morale, the three had chosen not to disclose the information...until now.

"What happened to Earth, professor?" Sandra Benes asked somewhat timidly. She wanted to know but then again, she didn't want to know. It was something she had suspected with intuition but she was never ready to acknowledge the truth with the facts.

"Perhaps you could give a more accurate description, Emmanuel." Bergman nodded.

Ward turned to the petite analysis and took her hand in his, ready to give fatherly comfort while divulging the news.


Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.

-- Albert Einstein

So far, Angelina Carter saw nothing mechanical that would allow the Feng Yun to travel rapture corridors like back alleys. Instead, she saw a ship in dire need of repair and a power generation room in dire need of some down time for preventive maintenance. Harness Bull Pound was bored out of his mind.

Priscilla Nitrile, now friendly hostess, escorted them to the main drive room of the Feng Yun where Gordon Cooper and Alan Carter were assessing the possibilities of greater than lightspeed travel.

Kevin and Kyle Calender, who they assumed were the General's sons, held engineering responsibility for maintenance on the drive. Ang was immediately struck by how young they were. The two men could not have been more than 25 years old and were in charge of this key piece of equipment?

Another completely unrelated observation: It seemed to Angelina there was an inordinate number of twins, identical twins and even triplets, on this ship. In fact, almost everyone she met, she would later discover, have an identical twin. The exception was Pricilla Nitrile, whose 'twin' brother was a fraternal twin...and Martha Ward, who had no twin at all.

"How's it going, guys?" Angelina put a smile on her face as she and Harness Bull Pound stepped into the main drive room with Nitrile and the double doors closing behind them.

Evans was there, looking up from his microscope and prepared to work an angle.

"Aphrodite, let your light shine on this lonesome psyche." He smoozed' Ang,' taking her hand and kissing it. "Welcome to the auger...Dr. Carter."

"Nice place you have here." Alan Carter publicized his gritting teeth, and shoved his hand between Ang' and the horny machinations of a smartass cartographer. "Carter's the name, pilot and part-time orthodontist."

"Oh...." Evans shrank, regally but identifiably.

"Is this your trade?" Carter moved in on the charts. "You sit right here--on this cushion--and stare at black space, day after day. That would make me feel like a real battler. You know." He intoned with threat. "Hum-drum. Kind of worthless. How frustrated you must be--knowing that most maps are derived from reconnaissance data, and not from bucktooth geeks with their eyeballs pressed against the glass."

Martha Ward stiffened with derision, and extended a much bitten tongue.

"Without Dr. Evans' stellar solar pictures, we never would have found you." Nitrile moderated. "Our journey here required a one hundred and eighty degree course correction, and a 300 fps burn that we could ill-afford."

The propulsion expert felt unappreciated.

"And we certainly appreciate your efforts," Angelina stated diplomatically with convincing politeness while giving Carter slightly disapproving glance. There would be no fist fights today. She hoped.

"Dr. Rothchild, I think you'll find this interesting." Martha Ward pulled the specialist towards the avionics panel. "This was the great breakthrough. This is the heart of our navigation system. With this computer we can calculate the whereabouts of local, cycloid curves."

"Interesting, indeed," Rothchild acknowledge from the mathematical equation side. "It is no small thing to be able to pinpoint the location of rapture corridors and such. Our own computer can give approximations that are more like picking up breadcrumbs on a trail. It tells us where the anomaly has been and makes a statistical projection where it could be next but even then, with its unpredictable nature, it is merely a guess."

"And one guess is as good as another, yes?" Rothchild smiled shyly at Pricilla Nitrille, who seemed to return the friendliness with a genuine smile of her own.

Carter blinked. Evans' was hiding behind his telescope once more, hence his butt was readily available for the kicking, but some incipient thing drew him away from thoughts of jealousy to a higher plane of argument.

"Who needs it?" He asked Ward. "If this ship can move like a comet, why keep track of the rabbit holes?"

The pilot also didn't like the closeup exposure of Tall-T, Moonbase Alpha's central antigravity tower which lay atop the pile of shit at Evans' workstation.

"It's just another means of travel," Martha Ward shrugged. "As you can guess, the drive would require an enormous amounts of energy, energy which we really can't afford to use."

Ang wrinkled her brow to such an extent that it made her look 5 years older. Her concentration was broken by the sudden presence of two more individuals.

"Hello, Mom," the women, another set of identical twins about 20 years old, addressed Martha Ward in unison. "We have the data you requested."

"Hello girls," Martha greeted with detachment, grabbing the file from one of them. She did not look up but instead, began perusing the file. "You can leave now."

The two women appeared momentarily hurt then left. Martha continued to read the data.

"They are your daughters?" Angelina asked. It was weird. She decided Martha Ward was the coldest woman she'd ever encountered.

"Yes," Martha looked up then returned to the report. "Dana...Grace."

Evans saw the perplexed look on Ang's face. "Those young ladies have been a handful lately for Dr. Ward. They're on their Mom's shit list. Right, Martha?"

"Yeah, I suppose so," Ward mumbled, completely not caring.

"Oh, I see," Angelina replied. But really, she didn't 'see.'


"ROLL TRACK." SPC Henri Clare called over the intercom from the VAB plotting room. "STAND BY FOR OFFLOADING. MAINTENANCE CREWS, PREPARE TO DETANK THE SPACECRAFT."

Astronaut Brad Bixby loved life.

He stepped off of the giant transient that carried Eagle Five into the underground processing facility. He gripped his headset with astonishment--with ocogotation and a thirst for knowledge that will never be known by the likes of Ed Malcom. The bay doors rolled upwards on a hangar that was ninety feet high--a lunar wonderland that made his pulse pound; that caused him to reel with adrenal ecstasy.

It was like seeing it for the first time.

And actually, it was.

"You are a scholar amongst men." Specialist Arafat worshipped the astronaut as they sped forward on the conveyor belt, past the fuel islands and the ever vigilant fire teams. High above, the landing pads of Eagle 2-9 waited on the crawler for transposition to the launch pad. "How did you know there was a problem with the Ku-band antennae." He stopped, chilled by an even more ominous realization. "More importantly." He showed Bixby his finger. "How were you able to repair it so deftly."

"Duct tape." The astronaut boasted proudly.

He felt free.

Willing to brave the damaging sonics, he removed his headset and tossed it to the floor. Next he removed his belt, and dropped it in the yellowbrick traces.

Free love.

Then he unzipped his tunic.

Then he dropped his flares.

He disposed of his briefs in mid stride.

"HEYYYYYYYYYYYYYY.'" Technician Southey objected loudly.


On the hot seat, Harness Bull Mugabe wasn't sure why he should feel dishonor and loathsome attaint, but apparently AD Welch did.


From every office and every corner of the security cube, they glared at him. Mugabe was humiliated.


"Why?" Mugabe uttered with poise.


He clouted the bull upside his head.


"No." Ward persisted as the participants of the command conference studied him with gelidity and pall. "Earth is not the answer--particularly if pole shifting did occur, and I find it likely that it did."

"That sounds...probable...." Bergman concurred with sapient belief.

"There is a substitution." The Feng Yun researcher segued, uncapping the plastic cylinder that he carried with him."

"Really?" Morrow asked hesitantly.

Ward chose this moment to unveil his final program--in this case, it came in the form of a large, 24" X 36" exposure, segmented in ghostly latitudes and longitudes. The impervious green and red disc was positioned in the center.

"The planet Thalarion." Ward presented with great await. "Rich and fertile--an undiscovered country for us, and for you." He presumed, but measured his next statement carefully. "This is no personal quest, you see; there is no grail to be had, Dr. me or anyone else in my crew. The lives of everyone on Moonbase Alpha depends on us finding it."

Chapter 6

"Hope waits for the waters

to still and the currents

to empty themselves of the


--Marjory Heath Wentworth

"In a crater of dust lay my dreams,

Spoiled by the sun and battered by the rain.

In a cradle of corrosion lay my womb

Splattered and splintered by the knife that cut it,

By the hands that tore it."


"Not even an apple? That's terribly cruel. What the Hell are you trying to do, starve me?"

--General Calendar, AAC retired

"The Garden of Eden," Angelina Carter commented from her position at the sill of the viewport in Koenig's office. "Sounds fantastic."

It had been a whirlwind of a day. Twelve hours ago, after Dr. Ward revealed their ultimate destination, the planet Thalarion, the Red Alert klaxon blared as Nuclear Plant #2 suffered a cooling crisis. Ang, along with most of the rest of the reconnaissance party plus Martha Ward and General Calender, was summoned to return to the base. Hours later, after the replacement of two recently refabbed cooling pumps, the crisis was over but Joe Erhlich remained in the Power Generation, nose to the grindstone, looking for root cause.

At least she could sip real, 100% coffee. The thought of abandoning Moonbase Alpha and not having to be prisoner on this shitty base was also energizing her.

"So when do we leave and how soon do we get there?" Sandra Benes beamed with renewed hope. She had long exhausted her patience with living on Moonbase Dungeon as well.

"Alright Dr. Ward, you have our attention." John Koenig capped his ink pen. "Even more so, since there's nothing but black space along our current trajectory. Victor, what about-"

"Oh that? Nothing but brown dwarfs, I suspect." Bergman advanced. "A complete wasteland, John; even T.S. Eliot could not have imagined such a void." He savored the final dreggs of his Vitaseed before pushing the mug aside. "I don't believe that our encounter with the Feng Yun is providential, but...I do appreciate the timing...."

The commander leaned back in his chair and cocked his right leg over his left knee in an air of examination and dissection.

"You appear to know the whereabouts of a habitable planet." Koenig subscribed to the large photograph at the center of the table. "No one here intends to look a gift horse in the mouth. We're prepared to act on that information, but we need to know the facts before making any kind of long-term investment--good or bad; right, wrong or indifferent--the effects of a total evacuation are irreversible."

"Dr. Ward, where does this data come from?" Benjamin Ouma kicked off the debate with his inimitable frost.

"What is it like?" A rapt Paul Morrow quietly abridged. "Thalarion?"

"Thalarion is the glory of all dappled things." The researcher said resoundingly. "Weaves rainbows o'er yon mountain river." He quoted his favorite Hymn in simile. "It is Earth anew, but it is also a world that has not fallen--that has never known the corrosive effects of man, and cursed civilization. Imagine, for once, a planet that does not require redemption.

"Thalarion is Xanadu in perfect symmetry."

"Where is it?" Truman Starns solicited, grateful that he had been sent back while Pierce Quentin and the TAC Squad remained aboard the Feng Yun."

"Out there." Ward replied charismatically. "Beyond Mensa and Dorado--in a constellation so remote, so obscure, no astronomer could hope to plot more than the most general latitudes and longitudes."

"How long will it take to get there?" Ang queried from her place by the window. She preferred to stand, as did Alan Carter.

"Twenty five years," Ward replied, pulling out another ream of computer paper. Angelina's face dropped, as did others in the room. "Oh, I realize that it would seem like a long time but," he chuckled, eyes twinkling at Victor, "think of where you were 25 years ago."

Bergman smirked at the nostalgic thoughts.

"And you realize it has gone quite fast," Ward continued. He stood up and began walking around the room, an air of excitement lightening his step. "Think about it. You...we...will be very busy, preparing our children for the future. In a way, 25 years might not seem enough time for preparation." He crouched down, putting his arms around Sandra Benes and Helena Russell. "When we land, our efforts will be rewarded by giving our children the gift of a new world. Then, we can sit back and spend our senior years enjoying the natural beauty that Thalarion has to offer us. Our grandchildren will be born there, never to know the sterility of a recycled atmosphere but take real air into their lungs and all of its wonderful scents."

"It sounds wonderful, Emmanuel," Dr. Russell smiled approvingly.

"You still haven't answered my question, sir," Ouma dourly interjected. "Where did you get this data?"

Many of those present thought Ben Ouma was being rather brusque with the scientist. John Koenig was not one of the many.


Over Schrödinger Crater, Eagle 2-9 was courting the Feng Yun now, making tandem revolutions on an apostrophe of gravity. The smaller ship appeared as a dingy, a launch that was adrift, even as the generation vessel was loosed, and the Moon itself was a castaway of flagitious fate.


"I'm genuinely sorry for what happened to your colleagues." Nitrile cantillated as she opened the containment hatch. "Much of the GHC is inaccessible. This is the part you can view without a pressure suit." She informed Hans Rothchild.

"Are we dealing with MF, or RF field density?" The astrophysicist cogitated.

"Both." Nitrile responded as she stepped over the open bulkhead with a flourish. "The combined excitation is what is limiting us from using the drive--it's also the reason why precautions had to be taken. Breach one of the carefully selected failsafes, and you'll come away as less than a babbling idiot."

"We're unprotected now, yes?" Rothchild checked his film badge.

"Colleagues?" Gordon Cooper thought of the plural. "Only one got bummed. We need to see your service block. Harms and Farendahl can do an EVA if they have to."

"Just how bad are those contaminants?" Pierce Quentin continued an interview that never really stopped.

"They're awful." Nitrile told him. "The effects on our people wrought dementia, hallucinations. A few subsumed to asphyxia but they were the happy few."

"Such a gift." Harness Bull Theylan epitomized.

It did not bring a tear to his eye.

"What a fabulous network." Rothchild forgot the risk to life and sanity, and twirled to the sound of music as Nitrile turned on the breakers and pointed her commlock at the most complex reticulation of supercomputers ever devised. The server room was easily four stories high, and over two thousand feet wide. As the floods came up, a series of diagonal catwalks, and meshed access ways were revealed, disappearing in the mechanized shadows above.

"That's keen." Coop' approved. "But about those engines?"


"Laser-optic telemetry from a thousand astronomical units away." Ben Ouma carried the vendetta. "Nothing reliable can come from studying targets that are that removed." He maintained, making enemies of almost everyone seated at the round table. "We can do that here on Alpha, but to what end?"

"It's not-" Victor Bergman parried, his face scrunched' with angst.

"Yes it is." Ouma contended. "And revelations of that sort simply aren't worth the wait. Get Carroll Severance in here, and he'll tell you. Given the choice, I'd rather have a concrete possibility in the near future as opposed to some glamorous, smoking mirror in the distant future.

"We could spend the next two decades travelling to this coordinate line, and find an asteroid belt instead of a planet.


Truman Starns scratched his lay-person's chin.

"Don't be such a biter, Ouma." Paul Morrow waged his war passionately. "Survival on Alpha is contingent on keeping an open mind. We can't just be cavaliers--picking and choosing our worlds like disappointed aristocrats. You're just angry because the information was derived through analogue and not digital sources."

"I AM NOT..." Ouma protested, jumping up but was interrupted by Angelina's commlock.

"What'd you find out, Joe?" Angelina instantly recognized the incoming number and bypassed the greeting.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing," Erhlich wearily sagged over the other end.

Ang was irked. "Reactor coolant systems don't crash because of nothing, Joe," Ang replied, keeping her lips in a thin line and attempting, but failing to hide her irritation.

"I KNOW that," Erhlich snapped back with a smartass edge. He wanted to say "Duh" but that would have been pushing it. His head pounded from the problem which did not want to be solved. "We'll run through the simulations again. Starting from the beginning." He resolved after a long pause and with mild contrition.

"You do that," Ang responded brusquely, not ready to forgive him and cut the link. "Nothing to report....yet, Commander." She glanced over at Koenig. He considered the conversation for a moment then refocused his attention to potential brighter days ahead.

"Dr. Ward, in the final analysis, this is just a frequency map." Koenig bespoke. "Hypothetically, Thalarion may exist."

"John." Bergman could no longer contain himself. He was aghast at the black comedy of these proceedings. "Look at the mass displacement, the chemical composition."

"Victor, you know as well as I do that mass displacement and chemical composition alone does not necessarily mean an earth type planet." The Commander turned neutrally toward the professor.

"But statistically, given those variables, it IS likely to be an Earth type planet," Bergman countered. Out of the corner of John Koenig's eye, he saw Alan Carter look questioningly at Angelina and she nodded slightly in agreement with her former mentor.

"Consider this," Helena Russell jumped back in. "Right now, we are on a moon whose course we cannot control. Now we have the opportunity to be on a ship. I know it is not much better than Moonbase Alpha, but at least we can control our course."

She looked around, realizing she was not the physics braintrust of the group. "Am I making sense?"

"Of course you are, my dear!" Dr. Ward beamed as if she was his prize pupil and patted her shoulder. "That makes perfect sense. You're a lucky man, John Koenig." He gave Koenig the 'attaboy' glance. "You have one remarkably intelligent woman."

Helena Russell couldn't stop herself from blushing.

"If only I could ever have such good fortune again." He smiled fondly. "I did once, you know. Martha's mother. Wonderful lady. I was the luckiest man in the universe." He nodded to Koenig. "It is good that you have found similar treasure."

It was so guppy--so diabetic ally, hypoglycemic ally sweet that it caused thoughtless, hard case Truman Starns to sour.

Koenig glowered disapprovingly at Russell and swallowed his revolt like rancid castor oil.

"Back to the subject at hand." He leaned forward on extreme elbows and he was not smiling. "I think I speak for everyone when I say that we want to leave Alpha so bad, we can taste it." He grew stern.

"Amen." Paul Morrow radiated, more from the gastric inferno in his stomach and nerves than from carrots, dangling from rods of emancipation.

"But trading one hazardous situation for another makes absolutely no sense to me." Koenig propounded. "We can pack up and leave any time, but what's the point if there's no home to go to? The Feng Yun has the resources to sustain us in the short term, but there's no way of knowing what the situation will be like ten years from now, or twenty years from now. You're resources are only slightly better than ours, and you're travelling in a vessel with a multi-engine block that's in need of repairs. We've waited a long time for this, and frankly I think our people deserve better than false hope." The commander relaxed, reclining again, but not comfortably.

Bergman stood, sucking in his gut severely.

"I don't know, John...." He said elliptically. "I think I'd listen carefully to what Dr. Ward has to say."

The commander regarded them with a cross brow.

"I should have emphasized this at the beginning." The other researcher apologized, staring meekly at the floor. "It may have helped to illustrate the urgency that we face. Dr. Koenig, understand, if you remain on Alpha there is even less hope."

"The Z-Burst phenomenon?" Bergman recalled.

Ward nodded.

"We took the liberty of deep field imaging the Moon's present course. A month from now, you will begin to encounter space debris and toxic levels of radiation so high that your electronic blisters can't protect you." He forwarded the good news, and then the bad. "A month after that, Moonbase Alpha will be consumed in a cosmic fireball, emanating from an unstable variable star.

"The breakdown is such that nothing can survive in this compass of space.

"By all means." He invited Ouma. "Consult your master computer. I've been over the data a dozen times myself."

"Rubbish," Ouma spat. "I looked over the astral projections two days ago and there is no such garbage minefield and eminent firebomb in our future. In fact, in two months, we'll be on the edge of another solar system with some promising possibilities."

"It's true," Ang backed up Ben Ouma, as she set her empty cup on the sill, "I saw the data myself and I can't see how such a bleak future could have escaped our cartographers or even central computer."

"Besides," the Technical Operations Director went on, "the Z-Burst phenomenon is purely theoretical in nature." She straightened her tunic. The more she thought about it the more pieces where missing from the puzzle. "Same with greater than lightspeed travel. With all due respect, I saw nothing on that ship which could allow you to travel such velocities. Nothing at all."

"Dr. Ward, I'm not trying to recreate an inquisition and I am not trying to be rude. But so far, we have not been able to corroborate what you are telling us."


Betcha by golly wowwwwwwwww...'re the one that I've been waiting for....


They brought Harness Bull Allwyn in--just in time to be trepanned with bad, Rhythm and Blues on the center's canned music server. Bob Mathias' skull pounded from an evening of CAT Scans and numerous, unsuccessful advances from Yasko Nugami--the butt ugliest woman on the Moon. He stepped through the double doors like a slug, and was immediately accosted by the dentist.

Anne Delline was there too, having a bad hair day, and pushing back her badly strung pony tail while trying to take a blood pressure reading from streaker extraordinaire, Brad Bixby. Call it a sign of the times--no longer was this a valorous, gamy medical unit. Now, it was the Funny Farm, with Bozos and bland, crazy folks who wore their misery well.

"I don't respect you for that." The physician told Giovanni D'Antoni, who was attempting to hide the noose burn with a suave, paisley Carey Grant scarf.

"IT WAS AN ACCIDENT." The services technician contended. "I WAS TRYING TO HANG A RUBBERTREE PLANT."

He showed him his catheter tube, expectant of pity.

"Really?" Mathias dry swallowed Tylenol. "Well, I hope you don't have a sex life because I'm putting you on Prozac...forever."

"GIVE ME MY H21." The dentist soon got in his face. "I NEED IT. MY NOVOCAINE."

"You need nerve blockers, do you?" Mathias baited.


"Then you will have them." The physician replied and dumped the cup of cold coffee on his antagonist's head.

"Don't fuck with Bob." Mathias murmured as he sought refuge behind the vycor of his office window. He halted, noticing that Allwyn was parked there in his wheelchair. "What seems to be your malfunction?" He quizzed.

The Harness Bull drooled over his beard stubble.

"That bad is it?" Mathias noted, and closed the door with his commlock.


"Commander, think of the risk." Paul Morrow railed in Ward's defense. "Computer has been wrong before."

"That's an understatement." Carter said to the aside. "Besides...this here deal...." For a moment, he seemed lost in contemplation, in tired words. "Let's face it--for years now, we've given it a go. And the result? What we're doing here doesn't seem to be working. It might not hurt to try a different angle."

"At the very least, I can guarantee you that no one will expire as a result of gross, vitamin deficiencies, and badly formulated pain medications." Ward snubbed. "From what I've heard, both situations have happened on Alpha, at least once.

"As to your other statement, you're quite mistaken. Our recycling system aboard the Feng Yun is state of the art, Dr. Koenig, for all its faults. None of you will ever hunger, nor will you thirst. We have provisions for a thousand people, to be consumed over a period of years--an ample amount to sustain us on this brief, brief voyage.

"By contrast, you have attempted to be self-supporting on a base that was too dependent on cargo transfers from Earth--not to impune your successes because I am sure they have been many."

She was truly straddling the fence. Angelina Carter wanted the prospect of a brighter tomorrow, the promise of a new world, at the end of this unwilling journey. However....there were too many questions, too many holes in the data.

Despite the holes, Alan, Paul and even Dr. Ward made very valid points.

"That is true," Ang acknowledged tentatively. "Dr. Russell also made a valid point. Even if our astral projections are correct and there is nothing at the end of the trip...."

"Which, I assure you, there is," Dr. Ward interrupted, though not rudely: more in the guise of a gentle, comforting parent.

"Wouldn't we be better off," Ang continued, rubbing exhausted eyes "in an artificial environment where we can control our travel rather than one where we could not control our travel?"

Koenig stared at Ang. Ouma's stance was mainly in defense of computer. Angelina, probably unwittingly, had presented some valid concerns regarding abandoning Moonbase Alpha. Now she seemed to give up.

"There have been many occasions in the past where we faced the possibility of leaving Alpha in the Eagles because the moon was headed toward potential destruction," Sandra Benes concurred, reminding them of this fact.

Koenig studied every person in the room. "There has been much discussion but before a decision is made, we should still review the report of the survey team." The Commander pronounced finally. "Any decision we make, should not be a rash one and we should consider the facts, pro and con. We do have time on our side at this point."

He stared evenly at Dr. Ward.

"Of course, Commander," Ward smiled warmly, though Koenig sensed he was merely making a PR gesture. "You are wise to take time to make an informed decision. We are eager to welcome you aboard, to become part of our community, so that we may begin our voyage together. Every day we wait is just another day longer until we reach Thalarion."

"And we aren't getting any younger," Sandra Benes added for emphasis. "Commander, I suggest after the facts are presented and if it still looks promising, we vote. Majority vote would rule and we would abide by the majority."

Koenig put on his black, bone-rimmed reading glasses and busily opened the huge red binder that sat before him, turning the pages in lumps to the section that had eluded them so many times before.

"I concur." He told the services manager. "Polling will begin as soon as we receive word from the DC party.

"Until then, this meeting is adjourned." He called, placing a final, yellow sticky note on one of the folder's beige partitions.

The room emptied then, with Victor Bergman favoring him with a sympathetic, unenvious eye as followed Ward into the access corridor. Koenig remained seated, regarding Helena Russell in a tableau of silent deliberation.

"Shall we begin Phase Three planning?" Morrow asked after everyone else was gone. "Just in case?"

The commander nodded.

Chapter 7

"He killed the noble Mudjokovis. Of the skin he made him mittens,

Made them with the fur side inside, Made them with the skin side outside. He, to get

the warm side inside, Put the inside skin side outside; He, to get the cold

side outside, Put the warm side fur side inside. That's why he put the fur

side inside, Why he put the skin side outside, Why he turned them inside


--Anonymous (From "Parody Anthology")

"Forgive me my nonsense as I also forgive the nonsense of those who think they talk sense."

--Robert Frost

"Illogic is a way of must understand that."

--General Calendar, AAC retired

Angelina Carter gasped and sat upright in bed, breathing heavily and drenched in sweat. Nightmares were common on Moonbase Alpha: no big deal. She glanced at Alan, in a deep slumber then through the open door at Nicky, sleeping, but not soundly, in his bed.

The digital clock on the commstation glowed 0412. Too early to get up but uncomfortably drenched in perspiration, she decided a shower would give her beneficial cleanliness and overdue relaxation. Shivering from the combination of being wet and the mandatory 60F temperature sleep mode, Angelina quietly walked into the lavatory and closed the door, activating the heat lamp. She frowned, noting the red glow of the room from the heat lamp, because it was normally an orange glow. Then she remembered the lamplight glow changed to red as the bulb reached its end of life.

The warm water beat down on her neck in torrents from the 'message' nozzle on the shower head. She closed her eyes, feeling the warmth and humidity envelop her. She opened her eyes, completely relaxed.

Only to find herself no longer in her shower. No longer in her quarters. No longer on Moonbase Alpha or the moon.

The blacklighted room stank of decay and resounded of death despite the Class 10,000 clean room environment. The cold room door opened, with the red LED display over it flashing '0412'. A single body lay on a gurney, covered with a white sheet. Slowly, dripping wet and naked, Angelina moved toward the figure on the stretcher. The form was familiar. She swallowed and pulled the sheet back.

She stared at herself and backed away. The scream stuck in her throat found its way past her lips as she turned to confront Dr. Ward, plunging the dagger into her throat.


"AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH," Angelina bolted upright, clutching her throat and drenching in sweat.

"HEYYYYYYYYYY.'" Carter, fully dressed now except for his belt, dropped to one knee and retrieved Ang' from the right side of the bed. The alarm had raised him at 0500 hours--upon awakening, he brought up the lights in the living room; started a pot of that unconscionable excuse that they called java; showered; yawned; stubbed his knee on the moduform table and heard his wife shriek like a bride in Bluebeard's castle. The usual regimen. "HEY, HEY, HEYYYYYYY.'" He comforted. "Take a deep breath, cook." He smoothed her helmeted hair gently away to reveal her eyes. "The witching hour is over. The Moon awaits.

"Not much consolation in that one, I guess."

She blinked as the reality of Moonbase Alpha refocused around her and she was not in some weird, hellish morgue. Caesar the cat jumped on the end of the bed and regally studied her as she gave Alan a hug. "Yeah," she answered groggily. "I missed the showcase on The Price Is Right so here I am."

"Where's Nicky?" She looked toward Nicky's room. Carter knew that usually these dreams involved something heinous happening to him or Nicky..or both.

"Audrey Isles picked the little roo' up about a half hour ago." He told her, and it was just as well. If Nicky had been here, it would have been a real, real bad morning. "That dream you had must have been a beaut--it even scared the Hell out of me, and after dealing with Harms all these years, I thought I was invincible."

Ang snickered and was just about to relate the events of the nightmare in the Carter quarters and the mad scientist lab effect of their shower when Caesar planted his well fed white and tabby furball body in her lap and began nudging her neck, purring and licking her chin.

" boy wants some lovin'," she cooed at the shorthair, releasing Alan, as she started caressing the feline. Caesar's purring became almost a dull roar.

The pilot scowled as mass numbers of white hairs began shedding and settling on his side of the bed.

"It was nothing," she went on. "It was just a bad dream. I'm ok now." She smiled reassuringly. "Thanks."


The real command conference.

It works this way:

"As I see it, the biggest obstacle will be in dealing with that Kransikov engine assembly." Koenig conveyed to Victor Bergman. As usual, Phase Three preparations had deprived him of any regenerative sleep, but there was adrenaline, and questions. "I don't know what happened, Victor. We may never know what happened, but we have to become experts fast.

"That drive has to function nominally, one hundred percent of the time." He said, lowering the translucent, altogether cheap--but purple--Gorski rock back onto the shelf. "Rothchild is competent, even brilliant, but still...." He placed a trusting hand on the professor's shoulder. "I'd feel better if you oversee the repairs."

"Of course, John," Bergman jovially patted Koenig's arm. "There is a list of 412 items but 90% of them are fairly minor and can easily be done within a week. They are mostly routine maintenance steps that are behind schedule. Ang and her team are reviewing them, the requirements and working a schedule now."

"Emma Black is working up a list of alternate destinations, just in case we have to downmode that trip to Thalarion." He mentioned honestly. "Hopefully, it won't come to that."

"Oh," Bergman beamed, "I think Emma is wasting her time but I understand your caution. No, Thalarion will be our destiny, John. I might even be around to see it," he nodded at Koenig. "Yes, John, Emmanuel and his team have discovered methods to increase our life spans such that living to 120 even 150 years would be commonplace. In that scenario, you're just a youngster yourself, John. Still, by then, I fancy myself becoming more agrarian by then anyway. I've always wanted to be more of a green thumb and I will certainly have enough time to develop that talent before we arrive at our new home."

Koenig wrinkled his brow slightly. "I think you're getting ahead of yourself, Victor." The Commander relaxed, despite his fatigue. "More than anyone else, I'd like to see the day when you're growing prized tomatoes. But we need to stay focused on the work of repairing the ship for the next few months, anyway." He smiled. "Then you can hang out with Melita and the other botanists and start your new hobby."

The privacy door chirped and Dr. Russell entered. She was early. The rest of the Command Staff would arrive in 15 minutes. She looked disturbed.

"Helena," Koenig greeted. "How are Derek Allwyn and Brad Bixby?"


"How's it going, Bob?" Angelina had asked, on her way to the Command Conference. Her schedule was tight; she needed to be in Koenig's office in 30 minutes but she had checked on the only person (miraculously) in her department who was in Medical Center. Caroline Kennedy, the admin who kept the Technical department red tape organized, had an emergency appendectomy two days ago. She was, though, in fact the only patient currently in medical with a physical problem.

Everyone else was a guest of medical due to 'mental' issues.

"How's Caroline? Yasko Nugami is pretty clueless and a poor substitute. I'm not cross training her. Sandra can have her back."



Down the long, gray hallway there was the nuthouse proper. Churning inside its intestines, MACS Specialist Cornelius Eisen deluded himself. He was now a Rhubarb pie. A shroud of medical center sheets created the illusion of frosting, and spilled energy drink, the filling. Unhappy because he could not contort his body into a perfect circle, he wailed like a tenor in an opera by Hector Berlioz.

"IT MIGHT HELP IF WE BUNG A FEW." The RN yelled over the cacophony and pointed to one of the leach-like patients who seemed to feel better now.

"YES, IT MIGHT." Mathias corroborated. He walked to the bed where Giovanni D'Antoni was reclined with a four year old copy of The Romulus Roman. He did the tablecloth trick with the service technician's bed sheet. D'Antoni cried out, and tumbled to the floor. "YOU'RE DISCHARGED. GET THE HELL OUT."

Believing that lightening could strike twice in the same place, the dentist carefully side-stepped him and disappeared into his box, eyeing Angelina with the resentment of the opposing team.


"GO FUCK YOURSELF, MATHIAS," the squat, beady eyed dentist, now enraged, flipped him the bird from the other side of the door. Beads of perspiration gathered on his forehead, glistening and competing with the glare of his bald head.

"Your root canal patient is ready," Jennifer Levine, RN and Dental Hygienist, shoved the blue flimsie in his hands, unwittingly breaking up a potential punching match. The dentist grunted and left the room.

"Wow," Ang commented. "Things are coming apart at the seams in here. Take a deep breath, Bob. Bring the ying and the yang back together."

He glared at her unappreciatively.

"So, you didn't answer my first question. How's Caroline?" she continued, unabashed.


"I admit that it hasn't been this bad since after Breakaway," Ang acknowledged. "The whole friggen place is coming apart. What's going on?"


The last sentence struck a nerve for her and she cringed slightly, remember her bizarre nightmare. At the same time, Brad Bixby flashed her through the observation window until Raul Nunez pulled the curtain and she heard his protests of being clothed in a strait jacket. Mathias darted from the room to assist subduing the flasher before Ang could respond.

It was really a loony bin, to be sure, she contemplated sadly as she turned to leave.

"Psst," Harness Bull Allwyn beckoned her from his ward. He was sitting up in his bed. "Dr. Carter. Please. I need to get a message to the Commander."

Besides needing a shave, Derek Allwyn looked pretty lucid to her.

"Sure," Ang responded, hiding her patronization quite well. "What would you like me to tell him?"''

"I'm not crazy. What I saw was real. Bixby....Mugabee...they're dead." he swallowed, looking up at her.

"Derek," Ang gently forayed into territory which was somewhat foreign to her. "We all have dreams, hallucination. I had a pretty good one myself last night."

"No," he interrupted firmly. "They are dead. I SAW it. The whole blood and guts and gory mess was REAL. You have to believe," he said after taking a deep breath and continuing." I am not crazy. Those two were massacred. Something is wrong with that ship."

Concerning the last statement, Ang would subconsciously agree. On a conscious level, though, she was still in denial.

"Derek," she tried again. "Bixby and Mugabee are alive. In fact, Bixby is in Medical right now."

"I know," he acknowledged. "But that's not him."

Ang had a headache. "'If that's not Brad Bixby, then who is it?" she gave him the benefit of the doubt, then decided against it. "No. Bixby is alive. Maybe not well but he is certainly alive. Mugabee is too. I can ask him to come see you if you like."

That did it.

"," he screamed, standing upright on his bed. "KEEP IT AWAY FROM ME!!! KEEP IT AWAY FROM ME!!!!"

Angelina was already backing away but apparently not fast enough. She suddenly found herself on the ground with the crazed Harness Bull straddling her, large hands closed around her throat and choking the life out of her.

"KEEP IT AWAY FROM ME!!! KEEP IT AWAY!!!!!!!!!WE'RE IN TERRIBLE DANGER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LISTEN TO ME!!!" he screeched maniacally as Ang fought to inhale but the airway was restricted. Images were beginning to turn black when, she discerned the outlines of Jerry Parker and Raul Nunez grabbing the howling Harness Bull and dragging him off of her. Bob Mathias moved in with a laser hypo, loaded with high powered sedative, as Angelina coughed and sputtered on the floor, hauling herself up on one elbow.


"You're late," Commander Koenig commented to Angelina Carter, as she stepped through the closed the privacy doors.

It was true. Everyone else was there, on time, including Dr. Ward, the General and Martha Ward.

"Oh my god," Martha Ward gasped with sisterly concern, eyes widening at the red marks and bruises around her throat. The pendulum had swung to the other side; once again, Martha Ward was acting like her best buddy and dearest friend. "What happened to you, hon?"

Angelina ignored her, without acknowledging the woman's concern. In fact, being addressed as 'hon' by this person made her want to barf.

"Dr. Russell is running a nuthouse and I'm not cut out to be a shrink," Angelina remarked hoarsely as she sat down. "I was just being polite and lending an ear to Derek Allwyn when he flipped out on me."

"I'm alright," she said in response to Carter, whose face was darkening with rage."Anyway, Jerry and Raul pulled him off before the Reaper got to me."

"What?" Helena Russell's face twisted in confusion. "How can that be? We used the VBAC on him last night and this morning he was fine. It brought him out of the psychosis and tests showed him to be normal."


Sandra Benes, all pulchritudinous knockers, was looking up.

Harness Bull Mugabe was looking down. His resolution to behave with grace and tact had given way to these new urges inside him, and it was working. It is amazing how little people notice--self-absorption and selective perception conceal a variety of sins. The high traffic through Main Mission was no exception.

What can you say?

Unawares to the prurient bull, Emma Black was watching him from the computer deck. How could she not see it? The socially unacceptable jerk made no attempt to hide his craving. She grew increasingly appalled and enkindled with each passing second.


Aboard the Feng Yun, they were all turned around and flimflammed by physics turned backwards.

Sdrawkcab denrut scisyhp yb demmalf-milf dna dnuora denrut lla erew yeht, nuY gneF eht draoba.

It was bilk to the core.

"It's a matter of engines." Coop' tried, unsuccessfully again to wrest the information from Priscilla Nitrile.

"Gentlemen, if our next task is successful," She hobnailed. "We will restore polarity to the neutronically volatile, cavorite generator. Some backflow is to be expected, but yes--that is the solution; the suspension of Ununium in the Arabitol259."

"Yes." Rothchild nodded, even though every word she spoke made no sense, and sounded like pretentious gimcrackery and technowhat.'

"Do you speak English?" Coop' grew belligerent. "We're supposed to be assisting in the repairs on your bloody drive, not containing the Rabbit69, or whatever it was you called it."

"Do you want hot isotopes to destroy us on our journey to Thalarion?" She retorted. "Would you have everyone on Alpha die of excruciating, parallel brain damage?"

"Of course not." The VAB manager said egregiously.

"Then follow." She told them, and opened the hatch leading to the Cerebus Chamber--a heavily armored alley that was named after a demon that resided in the pit of Hell. The passengers on the G-Ship were strange, admittedly.

Still, Harness Bull Judge liked the spellful engineer and the flattering, quicksilver winks and innuendos that she directed at him. He was no egghead. All he needed was love.

Love is all you need.




"Eisen didn't accompany us on that mission." Victor Bergman was quick to point out. "He was nowhere near the Feng Yun, John."

"No, but he did escort the crew of the Feng Yun to their quarters," Helena Russell reluctantly made the connection.

"And according to computer," Ouma reinforced, "Eisen did go to Dr. Ward's quarter's last night: two hours before he was found wandering around hydroponic in his underwear and a cape, doing his Batman impression."

"What?" Ang found herself defending Dr. Ward. "What are you saying? That Dr. Ward caused Eisen to go nuts?" She was incredulous, as was Ward and his daughter. The whole thing was ridiculous. "You forget that Eisen was a borderline fruitloop before."

Russell glared at her indignantly.

"Oh, give it a rest, Helena," Ang continued. "I don't care if I'm being politically incorrect. That guy is a loon."

"Bob, what do you think is causing it?" Koenig remained cool.


"How absurd." Martha Ward hissed like a cat, sprayed like a skunk. "Even without magnetic fields, Alpha is protected by the void."

"We're on the backside of the Moon." The General tiredly dismissed the charge. "You've obviously got issues here, but they're endemic to Alpha, not the Feng Yun. We didn't create this mess, something else did."

Martha turned on Russell.

"Whatever the loggerhead may be, it would appear that your staff lacks the education and the skills to appropriately deal with it. Perhaps Dr. Amadore should handle this?"



Sandra Benes downed her coffee cup and scowled at the lunar time at her station. She had bought herself some time, her presence not yet required in the Command conference. She had a great deal of data compilation, specifically the logistics of moving in the Phase 3 exodus to the Feng Yun.

"Alibe!" She snapped into the commstation. "What in the hell are you doing? Where are the section checklists?"

Sandra fumed silently as Alibe Parsons rattled on with yet another excuse for her inefficiency.

"Nevermind," she interrupted the woman. "I'll be right there."

The Director of Services lithely traversed under the right archway, so preoccupied, that she was unaware of Harness Bull Mugabe trailing her. Sandra felt a paranoid sense of danger, thinking she should take the stairs but she was in such a hurry, she ignored her intuition and stepped inside the elevator.

Harness Bull Mugabe stepped inside, just as the door closed behind him.


"I'm not telling you your medical staff is incompetent." Bergman told Russell. "You know that. Happenstance may very well be the culprit here."

The command office was darkly lit, and in every unseeable corner, a microscopic reason.

"At risk of jeopardizing my already precarious status." Emmanuel Ward said steadily, standing in the shadows of the bookcases. "Or the lack, thereof--if your team has been under this much psychological pressure, Dr. Koenig, then leaving Alpha becomes terribly important." He bracketed, stepping back into the mystical aura that emanated from the floor lamp. "You need a new situation. It will calm the mind, and revitalize the spirit.

"That we can offer you."

He shrugged.

"I don't know how you've made it this long." Martha Ward followed like a handmaiden. "Life on the Feng Yun has always been difficult, but at least we could find solace in knowing that our trials would eventually come to an end."

"A Rapture Corridor for us is like passing through an open doorway." The elder Ward buttressed his argument. "The Moon is different. The Moon plunges into these curvatures; catapulted like a bullet from a badly fired gun. You are aware of the effects of gravitational distortion on the electrochemicals in the human body?"

"Of course we're aware of the effects of rapture corridors on the human body, Doctor," Helena Russell replied, slightly insulted. "We've had plenty of first hand experiences with it. Are you saying that our recent increase in mental illness is attributed to passage through rapture corridors?" She straightened, entrenched. "Rapture corridor psychosis is generally a short term experience. Once the subject comes out of it, there have been no long term effects."

"None that we have discovered," Bergman interrupted on Ward's behalf. "But we have not been out here even for a decade. The Feng Yun has been in space for 50 years."

Russell stared at Bergman in disbelief.

"So they say," Koenig added neutrally and without accusation as he gave Bergman a sidewise glance.

"I'm not fab' about it or anything, but this place doesn't seem too bad to me." The General piped up, helping himself to a cashew from a bowl on the machined plastic end table.

Emmanuel Ward gave him the look of death.


Harness Bull Mugabe backed out of the elevator with Sandra Benes' formidable handprint on his right cheek.

The data analyst remained in the coach, teeth clenched, and with claws ready for the vivisection of her quarry.

"HOW RUDE." She declared, and left him to his shame.

"You think so?" Harness Bull Mugabe asked, speechless, as the doors closed after her.


"Commander Koenig." Coops' voice streamed expertly over the commstation link. "Request permission to participate in the closing down of the Umpqua Valve aboard the Feng Yun."

Severity wiped the commander's already concerned expression clean.

"The what valve?" He asked, dropping a red, Phase Three flimsie on the office coffee table.

"Don't ask me." Coop' replied. "I've never heard of it, but Dr. Nitrile swears that this is the cause of our problems."

"Your people are too modest." Martha Ward stroked Ang' again. "Apparently your Dr. Rothchild has found the cause of the malfunction."

"How bout' that?" The General brightened, and helped himself to a walnut this time. "All's well that ends well."

Koenig glanced at Ang. She was on it, with laptop already online and instant message window opened to all the Technical Department heads.

'Does anyone know what an Umpqua valve is and what it does?' she typed into the message window and hit the 'enter' key.

The incoming repartees to Angs' enquire were brief, not fried:



YOSTROG: Oompaloompas?


EMALCOM: I'm very disappointed that we have not discussed my sensible transfer to CM systems.

HRSMITH: Umpqua? I got some right next to my ACME Space Modulator. Whatever. Sometimes I think the section ran better when DuVall was running the show. You knew where you stood with him and he preferred jokes that were funny as opposed to strange. No offense ;)

AVCARTER: LOL...ACME Space Modulator....You crack me up, Smitty...Smartass...:P

LBARNES: Details?

JHAINES: You know, we actually have work to do down here. Maybe someday, you will have work to do.

AVCARTER: I'll take that as an ego preserving 'No', Jimmy...


EMALCOM: Are you prepared to discuss my proposal, or will I be forced to take steps and go over your head?

AVCARTER: Sure, Ed...we'll talk on the 2nd Tuesday of next week.

EMALCOM: ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????


JCONWAY: I'm not acquainted with the term, but Pete Garforth might know.


AVCARTER: Hmmm...I thought so. Thanks for imposing on you. :D

"He's a brilliant man, to be sure," Emmanuel Ward complimented cheerfully. "You see, my children," he went on, now lecturing to Calender and Martha,"not just anyone could be assigned to Moonbase Alpha. One had to be exceptionally talented and extremely well educated. Most of the people on this base possess PhDs and many have two doctorates. Those who don't are the best in their notch!"

"They are the creme de la creme of the scientific and technical community on earth." He beamed. "We should be honored to have them with us and help us complete our journey."

"We're beautiful, alright." Benjamin Ouma took the liberty of snooping over Angs' shoulder at the stream of hugger-mugger that was pouring in on her laptop. "Funny that all of these capital minds refute the existence of an 'Umpqua Valve.'"

Crème de la creme? There was no denying the number of well educated and talented people on Moonbase Alpha. However, there were also people, like Ed Malcom, who were assigned to the base through purely political connections.

"Maybe we should let our infallible, artificial intelligence server work it out." Paul Morrow humiliated the computer chief again.

"I doubt if it comes up with anything other than "No Data," Angelina added the 'zing' to Morrow's 'sting.'

"Smart men and women." Emmanuel Ward blushed from the seeming incomprehensibility of it all. "You all know that 'Umpqua' is merely an acronym for UM and QU."

"Solar bands." Victor Bergman realized, preserving his place in the Hall of Feng Yun Boosters.

"Precisely." The other physicist answered. "We do not have a great need for it, but occasionally we turn to area host stars for additional power."

Ang was still confused and preoccupied with the meaning of the mysterious umpqua valve. Unlike many in technical, she wasn't keen on preserving her ego and not afraid of asking what might appear to be a stupid question.

"Well, I've never heard of an Umpqua in the sense of a mechanical valve. If you are talking theoretical, then what is Rothchild doing to 'fix' it?" She asked, completely discombobulated but she pressed on. "Not only that, but Gordon Cooper reports that he never got the opportunity to examine much less evaluate for repair this drive of yours," she finished pointedly.

Her screen was open to Gordon Cooper's email which was loaded with Aussie Strine, some of which was unfamiliar but many expressions she was well acquainted. She turned the laptop toward Carter for his viewing pleasure.

What she did gather from Cooper's message was far from complimentary and didn't summarize much of anything. At the very least, his reconnaissance had turned out to be a complete waste of time.


"Not listening in, are you?" Olivia Wells spurred Dick Southey as he sat at the terminal, lackluster, with the headset against his ear.

"No." The operative replied, disinterested. "No espionage today, dear. I get to spend five precious minutes a day making sure this thing is spooled up. After it is, I honor my oath of confidentiality or be tested with pain."

At Paul Morrow's hands, to wit.

Most of the time, the surveillance could be so boring, so completely minutiae that he did not desire to stick his big honker where it did not belong. Except for a few occasions when Malcom was called into the office to be blown up as a result of some irresponsible and terrifying flub.'

He turned his disgruntled beard away from the sound board. They were in a vacant corner of the RTC that was reserved for sound recording. This was the audible memory bank that served the entire base. There was no real privacy on Moonbase Alpha--in quarters or out. For humanity's sake, the transcripts were only reviewed in times of emergency, and only under direct command order.

"Would you like some tea?" Wells batted her lashes, flirting and obviously asking if he would like something else.

"What?" Southey replied. "And miss all of this." He winked. "I'll be off duty in about thirty minutes."


Anne Delline, RN, was taking Pilot Brad Bixby's vitals when she noticed his skin begin to flush. His face twisted in agony as his blood rose to the top epidermal layer, first as beads of perspiration.

Then, the beads coalesced into a liquid film, oozing first then spurting in torrents of red as the cellular structure of his skin collapsed.

He struggled in his straight jack, gurgling as the inside of his mouth and throat became scarlet pools, and he coughed violently, projectile vomiting his own hemoglobin. Delline, splattered in Bixby's gore, hit the alarm, shouting for help, as Bixby thrashed, falling out of his bed into an epileptic pile of flesh turned inside out.

By the time Mathias arrived, there was clearly nothing he could do...not that there was anything he could do.

At the same time, Harness Bull Mugabee's lustful stares at Marilys Singh disintegrated as he did, suffering the same horrific fate as Bixby.

Commander Koenig's concentration was broken as the red alert klaxon sounded on the commstation.

"Emergency in Medical Center. Emergency at junction 4, corridor 12." Zed Astrin's voice alerted Koenig as he strode into Main Mission, along with most of his staff.

Chapter 8

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive."

--CS Lewis

"The only force that can overcome an idea and a faith is another and better idea and faith, positively and fearlessly upheld."

--Dorothy Thompson

"Every door you opened was opened for someone else."

--General Calendar, AAC retired.

"That was disgusting," Marilys Singh reported to Alan Carter, as she concluded her account of Harness Bull Mugabee literally disintegrating before her eyes. Angelina and Paul Morrow, along with Pierce Quinton and four of his Harness Bull, were there as well, along with Helena Russell and a Medical team.

The junction was cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape with Harness Bull pairs standing at either end to keep away gawkers and Alpha New Service hounds. The corpse lay in a sea of coagulating hemoglobin, unrecognizable as a formerly living, breathing person.

"I would have expected blood to disperse to a wider area before coagulating," Dr. Russell murmured to Jerry Parker while examining what was once a bicep with clothed hands. The muscle detached from the bone line a well tenderized steak.

It was true. For such a large loss of bodily fluid, it was fairly well contained near the body and now almost gel-like in consistency.

Harness Bull Pound released the yellow barrier tape as Commander Koenig, Professor Bergman and Dr. Ward, elder, joined the group.

"Dear God." Emmanuel Ward represented a man who was about to blow his lunch.

"Religious man, are you?" Pierce Quentin satirized him. "What luck."

John Koenig sighed--his sick hidden by the glare from the bright cells that emanated from the walls. With forceful hands on pissed-off, disinherited hips, he stared down at the undecayed rack of teeth that protruded at them from the evil milk on the corridor floor.


"Mugabee." Parker attuned. "Marilys Singh witnessed the entire thing."

"What caused it?" Koenig asked with a climactic austerity.

"Unknown." The RN related--horrified, but interested in the reflection that was cast back at him from the infectious slime. "Dr. Russell can give you the specifics. Believe it or not, I have seen this type of thing before. It looks very much like the kind of liquefaction that occurs in the final stages of hemorrhagic fever."

"Oh, impossible." Victor Bergman--being the good disciple that he was--branded the theory out of hand. "Not here; not on the Moon. Let's consider this for a moment. A virus like that sponsors time frame symptoms. It would take more than a few hours for the victim to bleed out like that.

"It would take days." The professor accented. "Weeks."

Koenig glanced at Paul, Alan and Ang as they instinctively backed away. The notion of a virus, a mass plague did not occur to them. "Yes, but the Bubonic Plague did not take weeks and from what I've read of Ebola, that isn't exactly a slow moving contagion either." Koenig played devil's advocate, not helping to ease the apprehensions of his staff.

"He's right." Parker said, unpartisan. "To a point. I have yet to see a contagion of this sort progress this quickly. On the other hand, death doesn't need an appointment." He stood, checking his four-ply latex examination gloves.

"If this is airborne, we're in serious trouble."

He stood beside Russell in morbid, diagnostic fraternity.

"We'll know soon enough. The same thing happened to Astronaut Brad Bixby in Medical at nearly the same time. Bob is performing an autopsy and ran a tissue sample in the computer." Russell stated, removing her gloves as her commlock chimed on her belt.

"Anne Delline here, doctor," reported the woman on the micromonitor. "Bixby's tissue samples are negative for bacteria and virus, both known and possible mutation: 99% certainty."

"Thank you, Anne," Russell nodded. "Notify me when Bob has completed the autopsy," she finished then signed off.

"So that means..." Ang stopped and allowed the physician to finish the sentence.

"Whatever caused this," the CMO pointed to the gelatinous gore of the corpse, "was not a virus or bacteria. None that we know of anyway or can predict the behavior."

"So what causes this, Helena?" Koenig stepped aside as Nunez positioned the body bag over the remains. He thought it would be easier, though not as respectful to use a shovel, when Nunez mumbled the idea to Parker.

"I don't know. Hopefully we'll know more after the autopsy. We'll be doing one on Mugabe as well."

"I'll keep you in my prayers." Ward encouraged them, vaguely. "And please let me know if I can be of any assistance...I think I speak for my crew when I say our resources are your resources."

"We'll need those answers." Bergman understood. "If the polls are to open tomorrow, we'll need informed decision making."


"Polls?" Koenig could scarcely believe the drivel, the intense, cloistered dumbass insensibility of that statement. He walked around the professor, analyzing, studying, dissecting. "Victor, as far as I'm concerned, we're through with the voting idea.

"Enough has happened to convince me that Thalarion is a lemon, and believe me, that's an understatement."

They were in Medical Center now; Ward-F which was reserved for stable conditions and recipients of same day surgery. Everywhere else, people seemed to be either untrustworthy or they were dying. The others were gone, and besides the commander and the professor, the only remaining committee members were Russell, Ang' and Carter.

"Bad in what way, John?" Bergman soured. "I would ask you to answer in a way that is relative to the facts."

"Alright then." Koenig rebuttaled. "You want facts? Here they are: since that ship arrived, three men have died. Our D&C team has been bamboozled with idiotic babble from the moment they stepped aboard. We're no closer to figuring out if there is anything wrong with the drive. For all we know, there never was a problem. On top of that, I don't like the psychological effects that this seems to be having on Alpha personnel. Have you seen Cornelius Eisen lately?

"He was an unpleasant person before. Now he's 'really' unpleasant because he's whacked out of his skull, and we have no idea what caused it except that it seemed to coincide with the arrival of the Feng Yun."

"So." Bergman clapped his hands together in expressed disapproval. "You've totally factored out coincidence. Science has been my entire life; equations; geometric calculations....

"And even I know better than that."

"John," Helena Russell spoke up, more than a little perplexed by Koenig's negativity, "Eisen's condition has nothing to do with the appearance of the Feng Yun. 'A', he was never in contact with the Feng Yun. 'B', he has been monitored over the past year and has gotten worse in that time period, not better. You know as well as I do that out here, mental health and the ability to heal is a decision almost completely belonging to the individual." She sighed, sipping her cold coffee. "We can give the person the tools and support but it is up to him to get well."

"In this case, Cornelius Eisen has chosen not to help himself."

"Commander, I don't think the D&C team was 'bamboozled', as you put it, by the Feng Yun." Ang bolstered Bergman. "They've never encountered a drive which utilizes nonlocality and Bell's theorem. I'm still trying to figure out how they do it myself. But just because I don't understand it, that doesn't make it any less valid."

"Commander, they offer us a future." Ang went on, abandoning her position of science entirely. "I don't care about myself, if I live and die in space. But personally, I can't stand the thought of Nicky living out his life here, on this death trap shit hole. At least they are in control of their course, unlike us, despite all of their flaws."

"Control?" Koenig questioned. "I don't see how they have any control. If we're to believe Ward's account, they limped their way to Schrödinger. Victims of a bad Umpqua Valve. Or could it be that their primary equipment functions when they need it to?"

"Why would they do that?" Bergman categorically disavowed. "John, these people are rather under the impression that they're doing us a favor. They didn't have to come here. Every piece of data that we have indicates that the repairs could have been effected aboard ship.

"We have no one--Rothchild included--who knows more about Kransikov Physics than Emmanuel Ward. Let's face it--the main reason for contacting us was to lend aid and support. They're a relief ship. Is that so impossible to see?"

"If they were running at full and overflowing resources, I could see it, Victor," Koenig appeared to concede, then retracted, entrenched in his position. "But they are just hanging on themselves. Why burden themselves even more? It was a gamble because the odds were against finding any life on the moon; Ward has already mentioned the astronomical odds of our survival. Why did they bother, especially at the high price of further depleting energy reserves? No. They need us, Victor. It was not a mission of mercy on their part."

"They do seem to lack the people necessary to run that ship," Angelina agreed.

"And what about Thalarion?" Koenig continued, arms across chest and contemplatively walking around the room. "We have not been able to verify its existence, neither cartography nor computer."

"Sir, you of all people know better than to trust that sod-off." Alan Carter responded, arms folded over his chest and gripping his orange Reconnaissance sleeve. "Let's face it, Severance could spend years trying to pinpoint the location of Thalarion, but the exact second we need confirmation, that rattle-trap computer blows a cog--Ouma starts making excuses--and we miss our chance to leave this boulder. It's happened more times than we can count."

"I won't disagree with you on that, Alan," the commander acknowledged, "but I think that our desire to get the hell off Alpha is causing us to be blinded to the facts." He sat down, slowly, at his desk, facing them all.

"I'll go you one better." Victor Bergman, calmer now, rationalized again. "Whether Thalarion exists or not, we have that Z-Burst effect to consider. Sixty days is no time a'toll. The Moon will pass through it, and Alpha will be obliterated.

"The ark is here." He concluded gravely. "The door is open, and it's time to or death."

"Um," Ang spoke up, "no one has verified if that Z-burst effect is valid either. In fact, Jim's got a few guys working on that right now."

There was an uncomfortable silence.

"You know," Ang spoke again, "there was something really odd about the children. There were none, I mean, there were no little kids. That was really strange. The other weird thing was that it seemed like there were a disproportionate number of identical twins. I mean, what are the chances of that?"

"No worse than the odds of us actually making it to Thalarion." Koenig posited. "Victor, in my opinion, this whole procedure is unorthodox. At the very least, we need to ascertain that a threat does exist. After that, we start gambling and believe me--all of you--that's exactly what this venture will entail. Ward's charisma is not lost on me." The commander professed. "That's why I'm going to upchuck if he calls me 'Dr. Koenig' one more time. He seems to enjoy buttering people up--telling them what he believes they want to hear.

"Rothchild is an unsurpassed genius who is capable of repairing an engine that he's never seen...without touching it...without even thinking about it." Koenig enumerated. "Alpha is a Valhalla for Newtons and Pythagoreans. He lauds our intellects, but apparently he doesn't trust them because as nearly as I can tell, he's trying to force this evacuation down our throats, and I for one am not falling for it."

"I don't think he is forcing this evacuation down everyone's throats," Helena Russell shook her head. "Unlike a planet, we are not moving away from them so we do have time. But, like he said, every day that we delay, it is one day longer until we reach our new home of Thalarion."

"I know you are anxious to leave Moonbase Alpha," Koenig addressed them all. "I am just as anxious as you."

"But?" Ang interrupted, anticipating the next part.

"But," he glanced at her,"I am not convinced that the Feng Yun is the place for our people. There are too many unanswered questions."

"John." Victor Bergman clued him. "Unless liberty and equality died when the Earth died--if it's more than just an opiate or a tease--then we have to allow everyone to share in this decision."

"I think you're wrong." Koenig replied.

But he knew he was right.

Chapter 9

"How prone to doubt, how cautious are the wise!"

--Alexander Pope

"Using the bomb would certainly disclose that the bomb existed."

--Leo Szilard

Dark shadows stretched toward Doctor Helena Russell like hands reaching toward her. It was creepy and not caring for the darkness, combined with the silence of nightmode in Medical Center, she brought up the lights slightly more.

Not to worry. Both of her psych patients were heavily sedated and would not be disturbed.

She smiled and nodded at Paula Johnstone, RN, who was making routine vitals check and noting the results on the chart. Nurse Johnstone returned the chart into the holding slot and quietly left the ward.

Helena Russell returned to studying the slides of tissue samples, taken from Bixby and Mugabee. She alternated from the eyepiece on the microscope to the video magnified image then back to the read out on the register tape bearing the results of the cellular analysis. She was not smiling and actually quite perplexed.

Commander John Koenig stepped through the open office door, not smiling either. In each hand, he carried a cup of genuine, 100% Feng Yun grown but nevertheless from Earth, Columbian originated coffee. He set one on the desk and slid it to her.

"You probably expected me to have already started packing our things," Helena Russell began after taking a contemplative sip. She glanced at the open door then decided to close it. "To tell you the truth, John, I was planning on doing just that. I knew you weren't comfortable with the idea of abandoning Alpha for the Feng Yun but I thought you'd come around."

"Instead," she sat back, depressed. "Maybe I've come around. There is something I need to show you."

"Helena, my brain woke up with the rest of my body this morning." Koenig looked woefully at the spread of messed up Medical Center. Trashed from an a Dionysian orgy of mental triage. On Moonbase Alpha they seemed to be living on borrowed sanity. "I haven't turned, so don't let the mug fool you. It's a peace offering, but I want it on the record that I am against this decision to migrate to the Feng Yun. I'll tell you the same thing I just told Victor. Democracy is wonderful; the genocide of the human race is not. This is reckless, haphazard and goddamn ill-conceived."

He drank his black caff' with confidence, the only person on the Moon to chuck his ballot into the paper shredder.

The polls closed only an hour before.

The decision, posthumous. Phase Three of Operation Exodus was now in effect.

"I have the results of the cellular analysis of the tissue samples taken from Bixby and Mugabee," she turned on the computer generated image. "Specifically, the DNA analysis. The proteins in the DNA strands are mirror images of each other."

Koenig wrinkled his brow, not understanding the implication but sensing it was not good. He remained silently attentive.

"There is only one other time which I have seen this happen," she went on, explaining. "Before we left earth, there had been several experiments with creating exact genetic duplicates of animals. They were not quite exact though." She took another sip. "The proteins in these genetic duplicates were mirror images, just like in these samples."

"Unless I am mistaken, John, those samples indicate Bixby and Mugabee were clones."

"Clones?" The commander said, exchanging his cup of indignation for Russell's HCCS report. He looked to the left side of the profile that was labeled 'Bixby.' The photo displayed the biological jigsaw puzzle of Mitochondrial and Vertebrate DNA. Minows, writhing in a molecular lake. He then vied the right side of the panel and saw doppelganger exacting replicas of the same sugars, the same protein bonds. Who suffered the most when the astronaut melted? Two people--Bixby and Bixby. "Helena, I'm not much on biological science, but is it possible that this may still be something characteristic of Bixby's chemical make-up; something that seems strange to us, but it's not for him?

"Mitotic reproduction? Maybe he has a brother, identical twins?"

"No, mitotic reproduction is primarily single celled organisms." Russell mulled over the possibilities. "In those cases, as in true identical twins, the DNAs are exact copies of each other. With clones of multi-cellular organisms, the most successful examples were replications with DNA strands of the same organic combinations but mirror images. The exception has been with females where, yes, it is possible to have a clone with the exact DNA as configuration as the original organism. We saw this in the case of Dolly, the sheep which was cloned. However, clones of male mice were attempted before we left earth and the most successful living results were obtained by mirror image of the DNA; same but different."

She changed the slide with her wireless pointer. "This is an electron microscopic scan of Bixby and Mugabe's DNA obtained from a blood sample from a routine physical approximately 1 week ago." With a click of the pointer, two more images appeared under the first two. "This is the EMS image of Bixby and Mugabe from samples obtained from the autopsy."

"It's not radiation, either, John," Helena continued, anticipating his next question. "Radiation tends to mutate DNA, degrade it, not make perfect mirror images of it."

Koenig blinked, consterned in the graduating bulb from the physicians projector. Life stuff reflected on his face and hair like parting images to a doomed existence.

"So much for egalitarianism." The commander said, his coffee break over and reaching for his commlock. "Paul?" He direct connected while looking cognizantly at Russell.

"Sir?" The controller replied in a cardinal voice.

Koenig split; couldn't help it. No doubt Morrow was in the act of clearing his desk out. The cradle of civilization needed paper clips, and 3M tape, after all. Visions of shucking pioneer corn in the light of his gooseneck lamp had already laid title to his deputy's common sense.

"I want you to report to Medical Center immediately. Find Professor Bergman and bring him with you."

"Very good, sir." Morrow came again, magnanimously but with absolutely no investment in the conversation per se. "Shall I bring Dr. Ward as well?"

"No." Koenig told him simply and signed off.

"Dr. Ward has been spending a great deal of time with Paul and Sandra," Helena Russell contributed her covertly gained information. "I think they have been highly influenced by his charisma and promises; promises which, admittedly I believed until I evaluated the results of the autopsies. It doesn't help that Victor completely trusts Emmanuel Ward as well."

She continued her opinion of the possible allies of the Command Staff. "I am almost certain we can count on Ben Ouma; it seems that computer cannot verify most of Ward's explanations and that alone makes him uncomfortable. Revealing my information will serve to solidify an alliance."

"I'm not sure about Ang. I sense that she is not entirely comfortable with Dr. Ward either," she paused thoughtfully then continued. "I have not had a chance to talk with her but I did notice in the meetings that she was very much back and forth, fickle in her position. I don't know about Alan either but I have the feeling he's conflicted about this exodus as well."

"Well, if he doesn't land on our side of the fence, he'll be hating our guts with the other ninety-nine point nine percent of the base who will be against this decision." Koenig said conversationally, and then made his second, unpopular call. "Quentin?"

"Sir, Chief Quentin is still aboard the Feng Yun." The familiar voice explained. "This is AD Starns."

"That's fine." Koenig decided. "Is Eagle 2-9 still docked to the G-Ship?"


"Then listen carefully--I want all Alpha personnel to return to base immediately." The commander apprised. "None of our people are allowed anywhere near that vessel."

"This will effect the Phase Three transfers." Starns advised, obviously, but as a matter of form. "Would you like me to notify the adjutant about the change of status."

"Negative." Koenig told him. "Controller Morrow has been relieved of all responsibilities in this matter." He just didn't know it yet. "You answer only to me. Dispatch a squad. Locate all of the visitors from the Feng Yun, and keep a close eye on them, especially Emmanuel Ward."

"It won't be hard to do." Starns informed him. "They're all at the departure celebration in the Soyuz Lounge."

"Good." The commander concurred. "Make sure they stay there."


Hans Rothchild scratched his head and sat back in his dimly lit cubicle. The coffee was cold, partly caused by the fact that it had not been refreshed in a few hours and partly due to a noticeable drop in air temperature.

"Damn HVAC system is on the fritz again," he mumbled as he pulled on his lab coat. He glanced back at his computer screen then frowned. With fingers beginning to become numb with cold, he scribbled the equation again and shook his head.

"That should be the 'square' of mass m, not the 'squareroot'," he mumbled, incredulous that the esteemed Dr. Ward could have made such an error. "That means," he chuckled as he doubled checked the work, "the end of the world is not nigh."

"I wouldn't bet my life on that." A glacial voice emanating from the corner lectured him.

Rothchild dropped his favorite ink pen--the only square roots left were those destined to be extracted brutally from his widening eyeballs.


"Still here?" Olivia Wells tempted him. "I thought you'd be at the party."

"Why?" Dick Southey responded without banter. "I have all of the funny hats I need here."

The light on the halted DVD-ROM batted at him with eminent, indispensable headache. He was preparing to leave the RTC when the alert had been triggered, so he remained and listened to his oft used, personally important copy of "Carmen" while waiting for the download to complete.

"It's greek to me." Wells divulged. "What's it all about? The light?"

"Measures like these are intended to be pre-emptive. It does that whenever sensitive dialogue appears." Southey revealed. "Questionable words or phrases like 'KILL,' and 'DEATH,' and 'BOMB' are enough to stop normal recording."

"It's nice to know those circumstances have arisen." Wells lied. "Who is the likeable chap who's using those words?"

"Don't know." Southey divulged. "I'm running a tracer right now to find the who, what, when, where and why."

"Good." Wells said.

She sounded relieved.


"Jeeeesus, Mary and Joseph," Nol Blair invoked as he stepped into the Experimental Labs cubical area of Technical Section. "What in the hell is that smell? It smells like shit!" He answered his question nasally as he plugged his nose.

Jim Haines also began mouth breathing, revolted by the pungent odor, only to realize the smell of shit became the taste of shit. "Goddamn facilities!" He blurted in disgust, making a beeline for the vent close lever. In the lowered light of the room, he slipped on a dark liquid, catching himself before landing on the floor.

"DAMMIT ROTHSCHILD!! YOUR MOMMY DOESN'T LIVE HERE! CLEAN UP YOUR OWN COFFEE SPI...!!" He stopped, his eyes widening in horror.


The drunkenness and the yokelness were getting on Alan Carter's nerves in equal measure.

They were sitting in one of the stylish, space age booths in the Soyuz Lounge. Bram Cedrix, pumped on happiness and vodka, was dancing in idiotic circles with Priscilla Nitrile. Apparently the Feng Yun's drive specialist needed no intoxicants. She was always goofy. At theneon-lit bar, Amadore was attempting to schmooze' a sullen, anti-social Bob Mathias with talk of the proletarian bliss that awaited them on Thalarion. An eminent fist fight, that one was. Blast off in tee minus two minutes. Phil Geist, born yesterday, was sucking down the drafts with his arm slogged around his sober, better half, Melitta.

It might have been better--easier to stomach--if Cedrix could dance. Instead, he stomped the fragile bones in the fundaments of his fellow boozers.

Ed Malcom was the most shameful of all, drinking rehydrated milk at the corner table.

No one spoke to him because he was obnoxious and because he had a big, damn ass and Carter would not be the exception to the rule.

"I don't know about this deal." The astronaut told Ang,' pushing his full glass of Just-Like-Baileys towards the light source at the center of the table. "Creampuff, did I tell you what I found when we returned to the ship--after that first rendezvous with the Feng Yun?"

Next to the music center, a computer which was stylistically housed in a replica of a jukebox, Pete Garforth flirted shamelessly with Martha Ward, who returned his innuendos and indiscreet caresses. They were watched by a pouting Roberta Specter, who reacted by downing another shot of faux tequila. Her face flamed into a crimson tide of red either as a reaction to the shot or a reaction to Garforth's tongue probing kissing, which Martha appeared to enjoy returning.

"Oh good God," Ang averted her eyes from the sophmoric scene. "We were never like that in public, were we? Please tell me we had more class." Her attention was completely on Carter and his last line. "Find?" She sipped her coffee. "No. You never said anything. What did you find?"

"Someone helped themselves to the aft equipment bay." Carter remembered. "Nothing was taken, but lockers were hanging open, along with a couple of storage crates. They were messing around the command module too, I do believe. The lock-out window was on both monitors and not the screen saver.

"The CMP's couch was rolled forward on its track.

"For the life of me, I'll never know why I just blithely ignored all of that."

"Maybe you ignored it because you wanted to leave Alpha so badly. I can understand that," she lowered her voice, as Tom Graham and Caroline Kennedy, in drunken camaraderie stumble by them, nearly falling together to the ground. Laughing heartily, they waved at Ang and Alan and weaved toward the bowl of alcoholic laden mystery 'punch'. "Still, are you sure someone was in there? I mean, there were quite a few of us leaving the ship and we were obviously in a hurry."

"No, someone turned the place upside down." Carter propounded. "They even took Hawthorn's squeeze tube of chocolate pudding, and whoever it was, I hope to God it blew their bowels out.

"I need to talk to the commander." He realized. "I've been a real mug about this Thalarion thing." He inhaled deeply. "Since then, I've had time to think about it. I see now that my needs were not my wants, and that my wants were not my needs, and that what I needed really is what I wanted. Or some such thing. Anyway, it's wrong, and I'm going to admit that it is."

"We got enough of Quentin's people at this shin-dig, don't we?" He added as a peculiar side note.

"Too many," Ang agreed, slowly nodding. "They aren't exactly party participants either. The ones by the doors are not drinking. Perhaps they were sent to keep things orderly?"

Elbow over the back of the booth, Carter stared directly at Harness Bull Dyrenforth whose unrivalled cool belied nothing.

"I admit that I've been putting on blinders too, even though there are red flags everywhere," Ang held the coffee mug between both hands. "Take the Feng Yun, for starters. No one ever really saw this supposed light speed drive and I can tell you there isn't enough energy on that ship to even come close to such a drive. Then, instead of a drive, Ward changes his story that its not the drive but a computer which moves around rapture corridors like a damn GPS system in a rental car. No one ever received any kind of verification about this super computer. Next we have the prediction of disaster, this Z burst encounter. No one has been able to verify that one either...yet, anyway. Hans Rothschild is working those numbers as we speak."

She was momentarily distracted by the appearance of Emmanuel Ward with Victor Bergman. The esteemed Doctor Ward was carrying 2 year old Gretchen Erhlich. What a guy. Grampie Ward babysat while Joe and Adele Erhlich found a storage closet to give in to their inebriated, carnal impulses. It was a lovely picture, as Ward bounced little Gretchen on his knee and the child giggled loudly. Joe and Adele, arm and arm, retrieved the child and thanked Bergman and Ward. Ward told them, in his customary syrupy style, how much he enjoyed looking after the little tyke and looked forward to babysitting again.

Angelina wanted to throw up.

"Then we have that whole weirdness on the ship," Ang continued. "I saw NO children, Alan. None. I would think a generation ship would be crawling with them. There were teens and early 20 somethings but no little ones. She sipped her coffee, noting another pair of Harness Bulls entering the room. "By the way. Nicky will have nothing to do with Emmanuel Ward. He is absolutely terrified of him."

"Fancy that." Carter commented as he studied Harness Bull Sorg in all of his laser packing competitiveness and belligerence. He counted three teams altogether, one stationed at each of the saloon's exits. "Angelina, I hate to ruin the party, but I got news for you. Those drongos aren't here for the free beer. This is some sort of op.'

"Nice of the commander to tell me about it."

"Maybe it was a quick decision," she mumbled while looking around the room. It was strange how no one else was even paying attention to the increased autocratic presence except for Emmanuel Ward; his eyes darted about the room almost frantically. "I saw him after he announced the results of the vote. Helena Russell wanted to see him in Medical urgently. It must have been something about Bixby's autopsy. Perhaps she found something," she continued to surmise. "What else could it be?"

"O'kay." Ed Malcom barged in, and parked his unlikable rear dangerously close to the astronaut. "You agreed to discuss reassignment with me."

He twirled the umbrella in his cup of bitter milk.

Carter regarded him.

"So...let the bargaining begin." Ed continued, striking them down with his bad breath.

Carter gaped at him.

"When will I be given the opportunity to improve the jet propulsion laboratory?"

Carter drooled, and outfaced Angs' adversary with a look of comprehensive dedication to Ed Malcom's worthlessness.

"Ed," Angelina glared at him. His presence was unwelcome. "Perhaps this is news to you but we are leaving Alpha to evacuate to the Feng Yun. Where you work will no longer be my responsibility. Take it up with Pricilla Nitrile."

"Ed?" The pilot relaxed, accepting the assurance of anyone with an IQ over thirty. He was about to follow this up with numerous untoward remarks, foul preachments and accusations of white sugar overindulgence.

Then he saw Pierce Quentin pointing at him.

At them.

Under them.

Harness Bull Stryker and Harness Bull Dyrenforth waxed pale as time slowed to molasses milliseconds, and bantam midget moments. The astronaut followed the chief's accusing finger to the spot where the lights were blinked like a bugaboo beneath the table.

"!!!GET FLAT!!!" Carter roared over the blaring techno music--throwing Ang' clear just before the fusion grenade exploded.

Chapter 10

"Lack of loyalty is one of the major causes of failure in every walk of life."

--Napoleon Hill


--General Calendar, AAC retired.

"What a plonker. You make Elton John look like Rambo."

--Dyrenforth, Sgt ILC Security and manifest bone crusher.

"So someone put a contract out on us," Angelina summarized the grave news bitterly. "Gee, I wonder who that could be." She finished with dripping sarcasm, her glare directed at Professor Bergman.

Bergman shook his head in disbelief, standing next to Commander Koenig, and motioning to Truman Starns to pass him the details of the report in the red flimsie. Ang gaped at Bergman's reaction as she sat on the stool on wheels next to the couch, where Alan Carter was semi reclined.

He was shirtless with white sheets draped over him except his battered left shoulder, from which Dr. Helena Russell had extracted 3 sharp and jagged pieces of formica. She was preparing to stitch two of the opening closed; a butterfly closure would be adequate for the third wound.

"This might sting a little," she spoke evenly and calmly, checking the hypo loaded with Novocain.

Ang looked away as needle met raw flesh. She had escaped relatively unscathed, thanks to Alan's quick reaction, except for a few bruises and sore muscles from being violently flung to the floor.

"I have a hard time believing Emmanuel was responsible." Bergman shook his head. "I don't know when he would have the opportunity. I was with him most of the time and when I was not with him, he was watching Gretchen Erhlich. You aren't saying he planted a bomb while he was carrying the tot around, are you?"

Before anyone could respond, Dr. Dorothy Sullivan appeared at the open ward door. "Helena, preliminary report on Hans Rothschild. CAT scan reveals a massive aneurism of the cerebral cortex. It might have been a congenital defect that just now manifested itself. I'll know more after the autopsy."

"Thank you, Dot," Helena acknowledged the other physician then returned her attention to sewing up the Chief of Reconnaissance.

Carter flexed his blasted biceps, his face rumpling with moles of pain.

"Professor." He said before Nunez could stick yet another lighted probe in his mouth, or somewhere else. "Your friend may be Hell at a tea party, but he's got a homicidal streak that's wider than the Moon."

Ed Malcom was the only person in the epicenter who needed no medical treatment. Black of face, and body, he survived the explosion, intact.

Well...there was the problem of the shrapnel in his tush.

"I've known Emmanuel for years, John," Bergman, still in denial, attempted to ignore Carter, "I daresay he is like a brother to me. He would never do anything to betray my trust and confidence. In fact," Bergman checked his commlock, scrolling through several pages from 'EWARD'," he is extremely upset over what happened and has offered to assist several times."

He looked to Ang for support, but she turned away, completely disgusted. She would rather watch Helena Russell sew Alan's arm than Victor Bergman consumed in puppy dog admiration.

"He is not a malicious person," Bergman went on. "He is offering us a chance to find a home!"



"Right." Pierce Quentin intervened, and handed Koenig the ballistic report. "We're not sure how the device was planted, but it was definitely anti-personnel type; the kind that we don't have on Alpha." He included to run the accusation home. "There was only one other place this could have come from."

"Yeah." Carter sneered. "From a magazine on that mongrel's ship, that's where."

"That has not been proven," Bergman rebuked.

"Professor!" Angelina could no longer contain herself. "With all due respect, sir, why are you closing your eyes to the facts? Pierce just said there was only one place where this device could come from, ie, NOT on Moonbase Alpha. Is your loyalty to this man so strong, blinding you to the obvious?"

She abruptly stopped and looked away, red of face with anger. It was difficult for her to speak to Bergman, someone who was and still had been regarded by her as a mentor, in such a manner. The professor regarded her like a disappointed parent.

"The charge sprays negative particles." TAC Specialist St. John told them. "Like a miniature nuke.' Commander, if this had detonated two compartments closer, the entire section would have decompressed. Everyone would have been killed."

"I wonder if the device was purposely planted in the Soyuz lounge so it would NOT kill too many people," Koenig pondered, arms across chest. "Perhaps it was targeted for certain individuals."

"Who'd want to kill us and why?" Ang continued the disturbing line of thought.

"Exactly," Bergman jumped in again, "Why would someone want to kill you or Alan?"

"Maybe because we were never 100% onboard with this evacuation plan," Ang looked up at him. "In fact, when the device went off, we were discussing just that and how we overlooked several red flags, never questioning or just plain ignoring." Her gaze moved to Koenig. "We were about to leave and find you, to talk with you, when the bomb went off."

Welcome aboard, Koenig thought with pliers of guilt.

Bergman uttered a macabre laugh.

"My, my, my." He wept for the sons of ignorance. "Alright." He convened, seating himself on the foam couch. "Emmanuel Ward is a scrote? Evil. Conniving--a threat to our existence. That's what you're saying. Isn't it? John? Alan? Has it every occurred to anyone that we really don't know what sort of militant balderdash we have on Alpha? Think of the left-overs from Earth we must have. Do any of you really believe that Petrov would talk about the contents of his arsenal? We may have buckets of those grenades laying about; treasures from the European front that he and Borkenville horde like dragons.

"The willing accept direction." The professor went on, speaking directly--incriminatingly to John "Stalin" Koenig, now vile, but a friend and ally only days before. "The rest do as they please. In many ways, we know less about our own horizons than we do deep space, and with that we're still seconds out."

"Colonel Petrov and Dr. Borkenville, despite their backgrounds, have never given cause to be suspicious of sabotage and murder," Koenig firmly but disappointedly addressed Bergman. "You make that accusation because of their involvement in WWT but then by that logic half the base would be suspect."

"You're grasping at straws, Victor," the Commander shook his head.

"Bonzo.' Try this one on for size--the bastard's a shade." Carter declared, forthright. "Professor, I hope you screw your brain on straight because it's highly, highly unlikely that he sees you as anything more than a bellhop, and a shag-bag. If what I'm thinking is right, your bud' would love nothing more than to see you taking a dirt nap in the Alpine Valley. There's something going on here; something in parenthesis, but you'll be reading it loud, and clear, and a whole lot sooner than you think."

The door to the ward slid open; an incensed Morrow stormed through followed by Sandra Benes, who was equally livid.

"Commander," Paul addressed with an edge as cold as a block of ice. "Sandra and I have just spent the last hour overseeing the clean up of the Soyuz Lounge." He paused, glancing around the room and those in attendance. Ang gave Sandra and quizzical glance but the Chief of Services ignored her, spreading no warm glances of friendship.

"Security Officer Pound told me that phase 3 of Operation Exodus has been put on hold," Morrow continued, then glanced around the room. "Did you know about this, Helena? Pierce? Alan? Ang?"

"What about you, professor?"

"I wasn't consulted before the decision was made," Bergman pointed out angrily,"but I found out about it after the explosion."

Morrow straightened, bolstered by a hardened Benes. "Why wasn't I consulted, much less being told about it and the last to find out?"

The commander was a hot windbreak, holding firm.


"I'VE DONE MY DUTY." Morrow excited sulphurously.





"PERHAPS THE LUNAR COUNCIL CAN REMEDY THAT." The controller stormed, exiting the ward with a mad commlock swinging at his hip.

"Idiot," huffed Pierce Quentin as the doors closed again behind Morrow and Benes, "the majority of the Lunar Council was right here; everyone except Ouma and the only reason he's on our side, Commander," he completely ignored and excluded Bergman with his group glance,"is because computer hasn't confirmed any of Ward's stories."

He nodded subtly to Truman Starns.

"Perhaps we should keep an eye on Morrow and Benes," Pierce added.

"Oh, come on," Angelina replied slightly aghast. "Do you really think that's necessary? I can understand their anger but I can't believe Paul and Sandra would act out on it."

"I don't believe it either," Helena Russell added, still preoccupied with tying the few stitches on the larger wound on Carter's shoulder. Then to the pilot. "I'm almost done with the worst one."

"Let me know when you're ready to start work on my skull." The pilot extolled.

"Commander, we do have a lead." Quentin gleefully changed topics. "Of sorts."

"Go ahead." The commander slowed.

"That peanut snatching skeeve." TAC Specialist St. John announced. "Calendar. Supposedly, he was in the lounge early, and left before the celebration started."

"Well, now you're talking," Bergman nodded. "That Calendar. He seems to be at odds with Emmanuel, doesn't he? I know why: he is threatened by our presence on that ship." He glanced at Koenig. "Your presence, John. Emmanuel told me that he was going to relieve Calender and ask you to become operational commander of the Feng Yun."

"I can see why Calender would want to disrupt the Phase 3 exodus."

"Then why wasn't the bomb planted under the commander's desk if Calender wanted him killed, professor," Angelina blew a hole in Bergman's answer. "Why would he try to get rid of Alan and me? It doesn't make sense."

"He wants to be thorough." The professor answered.

Koenig thought Bergman was licking his lips too much. He was also having trouble maintaining eye contact.

"Where is Ward?" He asked the chief.

"According to Dyrenforth, he's mulling around the hydroponic unit." Quentin told him.

"Not surprising." Carter said acerbically. "The party was a real bomb."

"Maintain surveillance on him." Koenig instructed. "Also, I want you to round up Calendar. He's probably stuffing his face in the dining complex. Detain him in security section until we get there. Oh, and don't feel like you have to be particularly nice about it. Be spartan. The next time he opens that big mouth I want to hear some answers.

"Oh, and if Martha Ward or Priscilla Nitrile have a problem with it, tell them to pound salt."

Quentin nodded.

"Ang,' Alan." Koenig motioned towards the empty waiting room. "I'd like a word with you before you go."

Chapter 11

"Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names."

--John F. Kennedy

"Last guys don't finish nice."

--Saul Alinsky

"!!!NOT MY HEAD!!!"

--General Calendar, AAC retired.

Forget the wool, zipper sleeved uniform tunic.

Alan Carter gingerly eased his battered shoulder through the dark blue cotton polo shirt with the NASA emblem on the left side of the chest. The polo had shown its age, through numerous wearings and laundry cycles but then again, there was no such thing as a fashion show on Moonbase Alpha. They were too busy surviving to engage in such nonsense.

Angelina and Alan stepped into the waiting room as Medical Technician Gabe Farenkoff poured himself a large mug of fresh, hot, 100% real coffee. With the addition of imitation cream and artificial sweetener, Farenkoff took in the aroma deeply through his nostrils and smiled.

"Better let it cool a bit, Commander," he advised as Koenig helped himself.

Koenig merely nodded as Farenkoff left the room. The Commander stood silently, holding his mug, while watching Farenkoff take a seat at the reception desk and focus on the computer screen. Taking a cue, Angelina aimed her commlock at the wall lock and the door closed, granting the three of them privacy.

Like many of the modules on Moonbase Alpha, the room was very pleasant (until your post-Breakaway mind realized that it was virtually inescapable, unevolving and germicidal; that in thirty years, it would still look the same through the gossamer cataracts of your geriatric eyes). A red, and blue lava lamp adorned one of the translucent tables. A chrome, multi-colored mood sphere hung before the row of vision ports--beyond, the Plato terrain was not too bad...if you liked geology. The can was superior here too--with recorded, soul-examining New Age strings to soothe the nerves, which was a welcome respite from the schmuck' of the ward.

Very dejour.


John Koenig despised it.

"Here's honesty." The commander proclaimed to Carter and Ang.' "I think we all know where we stand with the evacuation, or at least I hope we do."

"Yeah." The astronaut admitted through coagulating pipes that force fed his pounding mushroom. "It's nixed." Clue number one: having the Soyuz Lounge explode in his face--somehow, this single event took all of the fun out of Operation Exodus. "I want to leave. Bad." He told Koenig. "But on my own terms. I mean, I've dreamt about the day when we'd leave this hole forever. Not a single one of those daydreams included being stuffed in the rear of an RX Eagle in a body bag...."

The commander raised the white mug to his lips. Around him were white walls--and in this compartment--Caucasoid, vitreous linoleum. The commstation was mostly dilute, and the reflections in the monitors were achromatic. A boring, stick would be gratified with lunar living.

"I know." Koenig said quietly--with tremendous echt, and lowered the cup without sipping. "Morrow isn't finished with this." He changed subjects, closing his fist around the container as if it were Benedict Arnold's neck.

"He doesn't need the council to get what he wants. Paul is very adept in the Halls Of Public Opinion. Right now he's probably talking to Alpha News Service. He's feeding partisan, pro-Ward editorials into the fax machines, and jamming the server with emails and commlock blogs.

"We've been closed up here for a long time--some longer than others." The commander factored in. "Most of the personnel on Alpha were ready to go yesterday. So, where does this leave us?" He set the coffee on the table. "The visiting team is ahead, and anyone who supports cancellation gets the guillotine."

"I should have seen it before now," Angelina spoke quietly as she watched Farenkoff type on the keyboard then click on his mouse. He checked his coffee and found it was still a little too hot, setting the mug down before tasting, and resuming his typing. "What's more, even though Dr. Sullivan says Hans Rothchild may have had an aneurysm, I have a feeling Ward or someone on the Feng Yun was connected to his death." She turned to face Carter and Koenig. "Yuri Petrov suspects foul play though he can't prove it, yet. Hans was a good friend of his. Petrov said that Hans was obsessed with verifying the equation predicting our encounter with the Z-burst. In fact, before he died, Hans told him there was something wrong with the math."

"I wonder if Hans discovered something," Ang continued gloomily.

"I'm not wondering." Carter said, scratching his left shoulder. The SKYLON mission patch was really his. He flew the orbiter twice before being bumped to an XRV simulator. "He found the pearls, and got the coupe de grace for his troubles. Floor funk."

He shook his head pathetically.

"Ouma says there was nothing in his desktop's history to warrant an investigation." Koenig relayed. "Manroot is searching the deleted files now, but he might spend hours in the dump before finding anything, and considering what just happened in the recreation dome, that may be too late. Ward will have no opposition left, and the base will be abandoned."

And then: endgame. It would be over, man. All over.

"Commander," Angelina continued, "if I may be so bold, why do you want me to take over for Paul?"

Prepared to drink, Koenig suddenly set aside his coffee cup again.

He noticed that Carter was using his own mug to warm his forehead.

"Paul's been had." The commander realized confidentially. "He never has been able to see past his own ambitions, and this Thalarion thing has not improved that situation. He's still the deputy director of operations, but I don't want him involved in anything that has to do with SETI, and especially not Operation Exodus. He's too much a gull. If Ward told him to walk out the airlock, Morrow would do it. If Ward told him to eat crap, and like it, Morrow would wonder what's for dessert."

Truth hurt, but it was veracious all the same. The deepest cut of all was the fact that the names 'Morrow,' and 'Bergman' could be transposed easily, and effortlessly.

Ang nodded. "You know, this would be a lot easier if we could get the professor on board with us. There are many people on this base who trust him and will listen to him. Get him to seeing the light is key."

Gabe Farenkoff sat back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. He drank in the aroma of the coffee then took a long, satisfying sip.

Carter took an almost gulp from his coffee, but the drink was interrupted by his own whacked laughter.

"Sorry, cutie." He told Ang.' "I think the professor has found the one, true cross. In his eyes, Ward does no wrong."

"Maybe." Koenig conceded, staring down into his cup of black java. "Maybe not. Anyway, the reason why I asked the two of you here." He set aside the mug, and walked contemplatively towards the commstation. "I'm under the microscope." He said, turning. "But you two might be able to pull it off."

"Pull what off?" The astronaut wondered, raising his cup.

"Alan, the remote lab still has a moonbus available in Frigoris?" Koenig checked.

"Sure." The pilot replied. "It's never used, but we've still got one there."

"Good." The commander approved. "Because we'd never get an Eagle launched. Not right now. What I'd like the two of you to do is to travel to the south pole. Dock with the Feng Yun."

"How will we avoid detection from the Auger, sir?" The pilot inquired, onboard and interested.

"I'll have Garzon broadcast a damping signal." Koenig explained. "If their technology is still as susceptible as ours, it will mask your approach. Go in low, and hook up to one of the maintenance piers. I noticed several of them when we were ranging in Eagle One. Take Starns with you. Once you're aboard, I want you to penetrate those radiation 'affected' areas that Ward and Calendar are ostensibly concerned about. I am especially interested in knowing what's behind the door where Bixby and Mugabee disappeared.

"Ang,' it would also be nice to have someone else take a look at the GHC drive." The commander summated. "Do you have anyone else? Someone with Rothchild's credentials?"

"Jim Haines comes pretty close but I'm not sure about his position regarding the evacuation." Angelina replied somberly. "He's a tough one to read. Let me try to talk with him first. If he doesn't work out, I have a few more people in mind."

"I know it's a dangerous proposition." Koenig said, sans naiveté. "But the future of everyone on Alpha might depend on what you find there. While you're gone, I'm going to turn Calendar upside down...shake him up...see what falls out of his pockets."

"Shouldn't someone try to talk to Professor Bergman?" Ang started beating the dead horse again, as Farenkoff downed the last of his coffee. He frowned at the strong aftertaste.

"Helena is taking a coffee break with him now," Koenig answered, blowing over the top of his mug, then lowering it. "I'm hoping she can convince him to see through the smoke screen but if I was a gambling man, I wouldn't bet my paycheck."

Angelina watched as Farenkoff's pallor changed from healthy tan glow to ashen white. His lips turned blue and twin streams of blood rushed from both nostrils. He stood up, stumbled, clutching his throat as his blue, five times normal sized tongue protruded between his lips.

"GABE!" Ang was at the door as it slid open but Anne Delline and Bob Mathias had gotten to the stricken Med Tech first.


Tag, John Koenig thought.

Standing in the glum of the autopsy gallery window could do that.

Cause one to think.

Bergman stood with him, but the commander could not attest to his thought processes. If any.

"Runny nose." Mathias said, from behind his surgical mask, probing the mortified ashen rictus of the late, Gabriel Farenkoff. Helena Russell assisted with the post mortem, gazing intently over the rim of her own PPE. "Watery eyes; small pinpoint pupils." He said into the recorder, prying back the technician's lids with toothed forceps.

"There was no sign of drowsiness before he collapsed." Helena Russell commented. In fact, he was wired on Ward's coffee. Shazam.

"We're doing a chemical analysis on the contents of the cup." Mathias told the chief of staff telepathically as Anne Delline handed him the stainless steele bone saw. "I'm going to have to open him up, and see what's in there.

"But I shan't be surprised if he has the same bartender as Carter and the commander."

"Touché,' doctor." Russell said busily.

The professor gazed blankly through the observation window, chewing on the side of his right thumbnail. His brow was wrinkled in conflicted thoughts.

He said nothing to Koenig.


"Sarin?" Koenig remarked sternly.

Russell nodded--back at her desk, with a thick, red flimsie sitting atop her keyboard. Since everyone was either dying, or in the process of being murdered, they could talk privately without fear of rubbernecking, or espionage.

"There was a soluble ounce of it in each of your coffee cups." The physician said. "None in the automatic coffee maker. The pot was clean, which would seem to indicate that the compound was introduced and allowed to dry inside each of the containers. The chemical is odorless, thereby rendering it undetectable."

"John." Bergman appealed. "Sarin is an organophosphate. A nerve agent. There is no reason for having it unless you're about to launch a chemical weapons assault.

"Yeah," the commander squinted at him, "or looking to target specific individuals swiftly and effectively. That poison was only present in the mugs in that waiting room, Victor; so far, it hasn't been found anywhere else on the base. Circumstantial evidence points to another possible assassination attempt by someone aboard the Feng Yun." He was careful not to directly implicate Ward so Bergman would not automatically jumped on the defensive and completely close his mind as he had done earlier.

"I'm afraid that this time I agree with Victor." Russell said, self-incriminatingly. "I don't know that the agent was brought to Alpha from the Feng Yun because we stock Sarin in our own laboratory. In miniscule amounts it can be used for formulating generic tranquilizers. Only in bulk form does it become lethal.

"Then again, Gabe' Farenkoff has never been in the level one containment area. There is no way he could have been exposed to it."

"Except in his coffee cup," Koenig concluded.


"So here's the deal," Angelina Carter addressed the department heads and key lead technicians in her office. "Phase 3 of Operation Exodus is temporarily put on hold."

"On hold," Michelle Cranston expelled, depressed. "I thought it all checked out. What happened?"

"I'll tell you what happened," Joan Conway hissed. "The commander is on a power trip, that's what happened. He can't stand the thought of giving up his throne so he's making up some excuse to keep us here."

"I've just presented you with some hard facts, Joan." Angelina replied calmly, but nevertheless in shock. She did not expect such a reaction from Conway. "Consider them rather than regurgitate whatever Paul Morrow has fed you."

"Oh, please," Joan grunted. "Paul hasn't fed me anything. He has, though, pointed out a few "facts" that you may not be aware of," she stopped then continued "or choose not to reveal."

"Such as?" Ang challenged.

"The methods used to attempt assassination may not have necessarily come from the Feng Yun. They could have been remnant horrors of WWT." She turned to Petrov, accusingly. "Something that you might have tucked away in your closet, Colonel Petrov."

"Joan, that's enough!" Angelina snapped angrily.

"No. Noooooo," she continued, chuckling wickedly, "that's not enough. Tell us, Yuri, what sort of array of goodies, hidden treasure, do you have, saved for a rainy day?"

"All of our 'goodies' are common knowledge." The colonel told her, in-situ, with stern, Slavic consonation. "Any numbskull can tell you what is couched beneath the perimeter stations. Do we replace the ones we use? Most certainly. Will we use them again? Could be. Probably. If you're accusing TACDEF Operations of concealing some supersecret arsenal, my response would be that you are a paranoid banAa.'"

This was not the Russian adjective for 'smart.'

"Why all the ding dong?" Engineer Smith said abrasively. He was enjoying Conway's fluster, but disagreeable, chauvinist pig man that he was, he could not bring himself to listen, and learn. "This isn't the first time we've had to wait for the train." He scratched his beard, knowing that his pauses, and stresses annoyed anyone and everyone without exception. One of his very few friends described it once as The Look That Makes People Want To Choke You. "If we leave we leave, if we stay, so what? The universe if chock full of opportunities."

"You think so?" A whimsical Jim Haines regarded the hirsute technician as though he were a gorilla in Hush Puppies. "I fear that I'm not quite so optimistic. This could very well be our last chance to leave Alpha."

"Uplifting." Smith told his adoring audience. "Isn't he?"

"Let me finish." Haines admonished. "I was about to add that I've never known the commander and Professor Bergman to go off, half-cocked. Where there's smoke, there's fire. If they end up shelving the evacuation, you can count on there being a good reason for it."

"You're half right." Specialist Craft committed to the disputation. "But in a world where our survival depends on total accuracy. Bergman has jumped ship. He's not supporting the commander on this decision. Except for Dr. Russell--and you--I don't believe anyone is."

"Are you doing everyone's thinking for them, Craft?" Michelle Cranston bit into him, and chewed. "I've never been a cheerleader for John Koenig. Everyone in this room knows that. I would even go so far as to say that, ultimately, Paul Morrow would be a better OC. Koenig was sent here by the WSC like a rat on a stick--roll out your tongue, and get it done. Personally, I don't enjoy having the 'smooth' put to me for political reasons, which is what he does best. That doesn't mean that I think he's wrong in this instance."

"Marry me?" Smith complimented.

"Sorry, Smitty," Cranston sat back, depressed but still with enough fight left in her to deal with geek wisecracks. "I'm way too much woman for you. I'm saving you from an early grave by rejecting you.

"I agree with Joan and Craft," Mining Engineer Steve Gardner spoke up, staring into the bottom of his mug of glucose A. "Not because I think either of you are exceptionally brilliant," he insulted, " but only because Professor Bergman is convinced that evacuating is the right path, especially considering what we are going to be running into a month from now."

"The Z-burst theory has not been verified," Angelina interrupted.

"But Bergman thinks it's valid," Gardner continued, hearing but not listening.

"Is Doctor Russell really sure about Bixby and Mugabee being...clones?" Cranston asked, wrinkling her brow slightly. "I mean, I'm no doc but that is really weird. If those guys were clones, then where are Bixby and Mugabee?"

She looked around at the neutral stares in the room. No one made eye contact and the silence of 5, 10, 15 seconds was becoming uncomfortable, as if a curtain was rising in revelation.

"I don't believe they were clones," Joan Conway spoke up again, entrenched in her position. "In fact, Tara Bathory is saying that Dr. Russell is distorting the results of the autopsy. Given the fact she has a personal interest in this, I can believe it."

"Personal interest?" Angelina queried then wished she didn't.

"Of course," Joan went on, "everyone knows they're an item. Helena Russell is making up the clone story to back up the Commander. In a way, I can see that. He is the Commander, the ruler of Alpha." She laughed. "King John and by his side, Queen Helena. It probably bugs her that she will have to fight her way up the social and political ladder again on the Fen Yung."

"Oh my god," Angelina shook her head. "Joan, I think you should stop talking before you make yourself look stupid."

"Too late!" Michelle Cranston blurted, on the edge of laughter.


To be, or not to be.

That was Victor Bergman's crux; his node; his impasse on the double bind that gave him a splitting, railroad-tie-to-the-central-sulcus headache.

The professor was vacantly scratching deadlocked cheeks when he entered the crampt dispensary of Residence Building-A. He walked through the fog of indecision, barely seeing the automats that hummed, and vibrated around him. It was difficult to grasp John Koenig's lack of gratitude, and foresight. Bergman yearned for the bromides that would help him to understand, that would set matters straight, but all of his Hawksian logic, and parables failed him. The commander was riding the schiz, with no trust in the goodness of his fellow Earthmen...apparently. He was seeing danger, and dismemberment in every corner; clones that were not there, and delusions of peril that might well represent some incipient thought disorder.

"Basket professor?" Carroll Severance asked as the two drifted by like barges.

"Yes." Bergman accepted, smoothing his hair back with excruciating palms. "Thank you."

The stellar cartographer exited through the revolving, transparent door--leaving the professor's mechanical heart to chunder and break.

"John." He said aloud, punching in the code for inclement, chalky moonbase toothpaste. "I don't know how to help you...."

His own vulnerability and powerlessness was killing him.

The green light came on, the circuit squawked and a fresh tube of mint shot out from the open tray at the bottom. Bergman placed it in his basket, and then moved on to the recycled shampoo.

Do you think it's time? Morrow asked him earlier from the cold, impersonal shadows.

Time for what? He had replied.

The controller languished in pain, and aggravation--the ignorance of having to explicate what was so perfectly, crystal clear.

You know what I mean. Morrow informed him.

"No." Bergman said aloud now. "It won't come to that." He denied. "It can't. There must be another way."

But as far as he could see, there was only Ed Malcom's skank, Grand Canyonous' butt crack, exposed as he bent over to retrieve a bar of hand soap from one of the other machines.

"Oh dear." Bergman flinched, and bit into his fist--distracted just long enough for the black gloved hand in the closet to reach out, and laser him in the back.


"I just climbed that ladder, too, and the rungs were fine," Environmental Technician Sam Atkins revealed as he sat up against the wall. The 6th wrung clearly had the remains of a machine oil slick, glistening in the glare of the overhead light. "Then when I came down, I slipped and fell."

Atkins winced as Dr. Helena Russell probed at his ankle. "I think you've broken it, Sam, but I'll know better if and to what extent after an x-ray." She walked over to the ladder as Parker assisted the injured tech into the gurney while moving the head section into the upright position. The physician examined the slime on the wrung, suspicious, but unaware of the puddle of water, originating from a pump housing unit slowly creeping toward her.

"This is Doctor Russell," she spoke into her commlock as the security dispatcher answered unenthusiastically. "I need to speak with Detective Starns."

"Detective Starns is not here. Lt Hill is on duty. Would you like to speak with her?" The dispatcher's voice was predictably monotone.

The puddle drew closer.

Russell paused a moment. "Yes, that would be fine." Helena glanced at Parker, who was strapping Atkins in the gurney.

"Hill, here," the overworked junior detective appeared. She glanced in annoyance at the revelry in the background, security unit's own "bon voyage" party.

"Velma, I'm on the scene of an accident in the water recycling unit. Sam Atkins fell while climbing down a ladder but one of the rungs is coated in some sort of grease or oil."

"Not an accident, perhaps?" Hill finished the thought, raising her eyebrows.

The water edged toward her, branching in liquid fingers reaching out to the physician.

"That's my thought," the CMO responded.

"Right," Hill nodded. "We'll be right down." She cut the link.

Jerry Parker heard a 'POP' as he glanced up at the ceiling, 40 feet above and saw the business end of a sparking, live electrical wire fall toward the floor, toward the puddle which now contacted Helena Russell's boots.

"Look out!!!!" Jerry Parker yelled as he sprung through the air, pushing Russell out of the way. The momentum carried them both across the floor to the other side of the room, as the live wire made contact with the puddle, dancing and sparking violently.

Chapter 12

"Men are like the earth and we are the moon; we turn always one side to them, and they think there is no other, because they don't see it but there is."

--Oliver Shreiner

"I used to have an open mind, but my brains kept falling out."


"Aspirin? You got any?"

--General Calendar, AAC retired.

The Feng Yun left a black spot on the Moon.

A shadow, definitely.

Malign, and dark? Maybe.


Specialist Craft still felt that Angelina Carter was missing the point, and he told her so.

"What if?" He proposed. "The Z-Burst is a reality. Ward and his team depart, and we're left behind to fry like eggs. On a griddle. I should think that clone-phobia would be the last thing on your mind."

To him, the observation was beyond arraignment.

"What if?" Ang questioned incredulously. "Since when does technical act on 'what ifs'?" She looked around. "Everyone in this department must be data driven. In God we trust, all others require data. That is the motto hanging in your office, Kevin. We have not verified the Z-burst prediction and it will not take a month to do so. Why are you in such a hurry to leave right now?"

"Because we have a once in a lifetime opportunity, that's why," Steve Gardner answered for Craft, though Kevin Craft nodded silently in assent. "Look, a planet, now, would have been better but chances are we'll wait an entire lifetime and not find one that's even halfway decent for us. Ward is offering us not just a decent planet but a virtual unspoiled paradise." He paused. "I, for one, don't look forward to spending my 'golden years' on this dustball, IF I even make it that long. I'd rather be playing golf on a 'real' green, not some manufactured astro turf in a cave under the lunar surface."

Angelina laughed, incredulous. "Right, Steve. When we get to Thalarion, all you'll have to do is pay your country club fee and you'll be swinging your irons and woods."

She stopped laughing, leaning forward and scowling. "Do you know how ridiculous that sounds? I can't believe you just said that."

Gardner shot her a look of anger.

"Why are you NOT in such a hurry, Ang?"' Joan Conway accosted her with daggers. "What about Nicky?"

"What about him?" Ang replied curtly.

"Don't you care that for each day you delay, you're depriving him of another day on a real world?"

"You're assuming Thalarion exists," Michelle Cranston interjected coolly. "That too has not been proven, has it?" She looked to Jim Haines.

"Dr. Carter." Paul Morrow's face appeared on the commstation monitor, looking over his workstation keyboard in temporary armistice. "Dr. Russell would like you to report to the ER. Immediately."

Angelina swallowed, complete attention on Morrow. "Who's hurt?"

Morrow paused then continued. "Professor Bergman."

"Alright Paul, I'll be right down." Ang cut the link.

"Another assassination attempt?" Smitty raised his eyebrow.

"I don't know. That's what I'll find out." Ang stood up. "As for now, Phase 3 is still on hold. We'll meet again in 8 hours, sooner if I find out more information." Craft and Conway's silent disappointment was almost deafening.

"Jim, come with me," she motioned to Haines before he could leave.

Conway, Gardiner and Craft left in anger, storming past Caroline Kennedy at the reception desk.

"Yuri, Michelle, Smitty" Ang stopped Cranston, Petrov and Smith," keep an eye on Joan, Steve and Kevin. Let me know if they are doing anything that appears....uh...unorthodox. Instant message me." She hated to do this, asking them to spy on their coworkers. Ang knew Petrov would have no problem with it as would Smith, who would delight in it; Cranston, though, would be uncomfortable.

"What do I look like?" Smith said with a wry grin, but mostly his mind was on Cranston's body. "Some sort of Danger Man?"

"007, you ain't, Smitty, not by a long shot," Michelle insulted then glanced at Ang. "Is that really necessary? Do you think they'll do something stupid?"

"Contention does not necessary spell derision, or sedition." Petrov assumed from a head filled with undusted allegories. "I've been in one, or two wars."

"Is that all?" Smith remarked. "Come to think of it, I always did see you as the last bastion of mercy, and human kindness. Or did you mean one, or two wars that were nuclear, and one, or two that were conventional--where all you did was massacre the opposition with Rabbit Fever, and Daisy Cutters.

"Hey, Petrov. How many folks did you burn down during the riots in Dublin, and that was just an hoursderve. A humble repast before the big, main course."

He thought the colonel was some vampirific, comic book terminator--a genocidal cypher--and he treated him like one.

"Yes--exactly as you say." The colonel consented, even though he had paid no attention whatsoever to the engineer's flip, and smartass commentary. "And in every case, I came away knowing one thing."

"Which was?" Cranston ventured.

"You have to trust the person standing next to you." The colonel said, and headed towards the door.


"I'M TELLING YOU I'M ALRIGHT." Bergman warned Mathias as John Koenig entered through the double doors.

Ang' was there--unarmored, but courageous in the face of adversity, which the professor was firing like missiles in every direction. Helena Russell gave up on the hypodermic pain killer.


"WE'LL IT'S MY BLISTER." Bergman retaliated with spittle. "AND I'D KINDLY THANK YOU TO LEAVE IT ALOOONE.'"

The statement was not a polite request.

"Professor," Angelina spoke quietly such that it caused both Mathias and Bergman to stop shouting. "Bob is only trying to do his job. It may be your blister but if it misbehaves and becomes infected, you know you'll be in a lot worse shape than you are now."

She nodded at Jim Haines on the other side of the observation window, who was sitting in the waiting room with laptop perched on a rearranged side table. He look up, annoyed at the sudden loud interruption from Bergman then returned to his calculations. Angelina had already briefed him about the covert mission on the way to Medical.

Bergman opened then closed his mouth. He relented and sat on the examining table, back toward Mathias, as he lifted up his shirt.

As she nodded toward Koenig and Carter and the door closed behind them, she realized Helena Russell was quite disheveled, with a prominent grease stain smearing the right side of her pants and torn tunic. "What happened to you?" she asked the physician.

"It must be a new game." Carter decided. "Kind of a cross between Ultimate Combat, and first degree murder. The winner gets to keep his secret, and the loser lays outside under a pile of moonrocks."

"SPARE US THE COMEDY, ALAN." Bergman snapped in pain.

"Helena?" Koenig questioned.

"He was shot at point blank range by a laser," Russell replied, arms crossed over chest. "I'm surprised he isn't dead."

"Well, thanks to Jerry Parker, you would have been dead," Bergman educated them. "It appears there was an 'accident'," he spoke the word sarcastically, "in the water recycling plant. Sam Atkins took a tumble down a ladder which had some 'misplaced' grease on one of the rungs. When Helena was there, one of the power cables to one of the pumps 'mysteriously' became dislodged. She was nearly electrocuted and would have been if it wasn't for Jerry's quick reflexes and shoving her out of the way." He winced at Mathias's application of topical antibiotic cream.

"I'm ok," Russell nodded, "understandably shaken up a little but alive."

"Any idea what happened over there?" Koenig turned to Ang.

"I don't have anything yet," Angelina answered. "I have a crew over there right now."

"I get the distinct impression that we're all on someone's list." Carter professed.

"Yeah, me too." The commander said, pushing his thumb through the blackened wool of the tunic Bergman was wearing before receiving a heat job.

It was then that the privacy door emitted an electronic blip.

"Come." Mathias invited Truman Starns in.

"Commander, we searched the dispensary." The investigator announced blandly. "We even had a look at the rest of the complex. None of the dormers saw anything. Ed Malcom was with the professor when it happened, but he claims that he didn't see anything--that he was busy cutting a deodorant stick."

"PUT HIM IN THE BOX." Koenig grated with threadbare suspicion, and disgust.

"No." Bergman interrupted, but calmly. "I don't think Ed had anything to do with it."

The daybreak of pleasant surprise appeared on the commander's face.

"The only other suspect we have is, you know...." The investigator trudged. "Calendar. We have him in detention now. Chief Quentin is conducting the interview, but so far he hasn't divulged anything. The weapon used was one of ours." Starns revealed. "Or at least we believe that it is. All lasers are accounted for except for one that turned up missing from Eagle One's supply inventory."

"I'm shocked." Carter lied sarcastically through his teeth. "Commander, they helped themselves to our equipment lockers. There's no other explanation."

"Calendar!" Bergman exclaimed from his perch on the gurney, "of course its him. He doesn't want to see this exodus. Its a threat to his position."

"Not THAT again," Angelina almost rolled her eyes. "Professor, if may be so bold, General Calendar doesn't strike me as the type who is interested in climbing the corporate ladder."

"You don't know the man," Bergman replied calmly.

"NEITHER do you," Angelina quickly retorted. "Why are you stuck on that argument? Because Ward told you?" She huffed. "Think about it, sir, what kind of a leader would spread malicious gossip like that about one of his own people? I'll tell you what kind: one who is either weak or has got something to hide. I can't believe Ward is weak otherwise the Feng Yun would have been space dust years ago. The only other reason is the latter...he has something to hide."

Angelina's commlock chirped. "Yes?" She stared in the micromonitor at Technician Chris Potter.

"Power is restored to the main water recycling pump," he answered before she could ask. "It appears that the cable was cut, based on the clean break of the individual wires and insulation."

"Cut, huh," she answered, more in statement than in question.

"Yeah, and there's more. The grease on the ladder is used primarily on the Eagles. It's not the same type used on the pumps in the recycling areas. There's no reason for it to be in this area. "

"Why does that not surprise me?" she nodded. "Anything else?"

He said no. She thanked him and cut the link.

"Victor." Koenig cheered. "I'm glad to hear you're feeling so fit."

"I didn't exactly say that." Bergman argued.

"No, no, no." The commander insisted. "You don't need hospitalization. I think what you need is to return to the active duty schedule." He woolgathered, exchanging improbable looks with Truman Starns. "And I believe I have just the assignment for you."

"What would that be?"

"Well...." Koenig faded, rubbing his left cheek. "You seem to have this uncanny ability to gaze right into the abyss of Calendar's soul. God knows, it eludes me, but I want you to know that I respect that. In fact, I want you to join Quentin, and Dyrenforth in Security Section. I want you to help them complete the interview, learn what you can, and report back."

Easy as pie, the commander's demeanor suggested.

"Right," Bergman picked up the gauntlet of challenge. "I'll get to the bottom of this. It's the end of the road for Calender and his murderous, political ambitions."

"Oh boy," Ang mumbled neutrally. It felt like she was back in technical, listening to Conway, Craft and Gardner's raving again.


One thick, reinforced trunk of greenbar sheets was laid upon his head.

This was followed by another.

Then another.

"WHAT'S THE DEAL?" Quentin's menacing whiskers parted.

"!!!!AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!" Calendar shrieked, feeling the impact through the stack of paper--blows that would not injure, but hurt like mothers regardless--as Dyrenforth brought the club down on him repeatedly.

"That's no a way to treat a guest, Pierce," Bergman shook his head, from his leaning position against the door frame. "I'd like to ask the General a few questions."

"A few, or two, or three." Chief Quentin promised.

The professor offered Calender one of two cups of Vitaseed then pulled up a white plastic chair. He sat down comfortably (or as comfortably as he could get sitting in knock off patio furniture) right knee cocked over left leg.

"So here is the situation, General," Bergman began. "There have been a total of 4 assassination attempts on Command staff members. It was clear who might be responsible until the attempt was made on my life."

"That individual, the person of highest suspicion at this time, who was witnessed and found in the area when it occurred happens to be you."

"Care to enlighten me a bit concerning why you would want to kill me? Or Commander Koenig? Or Doctor Russell? Or Captain Carter? Or Doctor Carter?"

"I HAVEN'T TRIED TO KILL ANYONE." Calendar cried, and oh his aching head.

"WHAT'S UP WITH IT?" Quentin continued in his classic style.

Behind him, Dyrenforth tightened his grip on his truncheon.

"WHERE'S WARD?" The general demanded. "LET ME SPEAK TO WARD. MARTHA." He specified.


"We need order." Bergman thought wearily.

He expected too much.

Chapter 13

"Unchanged within, to see all changed without,

Is a blank lot and hard to bear, no doubt."

--Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"So many times we do not see,that all of life is a memory...."

--Harry Conte

"If you mess up my brain I cannot talk."

--General Calendar, AAC retired (on the eve of having his scalp lowered to meet his ears)

In the Alpha News Service shack, the light of righteousness burned like lava--from the keys of every laptop; from every IPOD; from every mixing board; every boom; from every blunderheaded producer, and bungling writer; from every editing suite, and every fingers all thumbs, dryasdust, not-a-good-person anchor. Tonight's broadcast was special.

For it was being helmed by Duke, videographer/director/Hawaiian stoner' beatnik, incommensurate.

"Of course I want you to keep the focus on our 'guest.'" Chief correspondent, and talk show host Orville Hendershot briefed. "At the beginning, and at the end of the transmission. The rest of the time, I want you to focus the camera on me."

Good help was so hard to find. He'd seen better hands on a clock.

"Man, we can do it your way." Duke yielded, looking like Cousin It behind his bangs, which revealed only a nose and a mouth. "But what's the sense in having a 'guest' if you're going to do all of the talking?"

It was all too bogus.

Hendershot expressed his mirth--patting Paul Morrow affably.

"Don't worry." He guaranteed the controller. "He's not bright." Hendershot related. "I have no intention of stealing the limelight from you. Your story needs to be told, and tell it you will."

Anchor Tara Bathory stood offstage, behind unit one, arms folded and chewing her nutrient gum like a cow with its cud. Beside her, Sandra Benes watched the journalistic process unfold like a hatful of assholes.


"After you, Cinderella." Carter said, and opened the door to the moonbus with his commlock. Almost twenty minutes in travel tube transit had carried them north through the walled plain to the remote laboratory. "Don't expect a smooth ride. Whoever said 'form follows function' probably had these jalopies in mind."

"Thanks for the warning," she stepped aboard. Truman Starns and Jim Haines quickly followed, with Haines, who had not even closed the cover of his laptop and still intently absorbed in complex calculations, immediately taking a seat. Starns, equally absorbed in thought, took the seat next to the scientist, not caring whether or not he spoke to him.

"How's it going, Jim?" Ang intruded into his world as Carter passed by her to the cockpit.

"There is something wrong, very wrong with Ward's prediction regarding our eventual encounter with the Z-burst phenomenon." He did not look up and sounded somewhat annoyed. "The integral equations are not adding up but I haven't pinpointed the error."

"One thing's for sure," Jim continued. "Bergman's got his head up his ass. The equations are not even equivalent: it's obvious. He should have at least caught it."

"I doubt that he checked," Ang answered neutrally.

Haines cocked an eye at her then returned his stare at the laptop screen. He was about to speak then shook his head.

Angelina turned and slid into the copilot's chair. Ang was not a flier. On earth, she needed Bonine or similar medication to minimize motion sickness. Space flight was not much better for her. On Eagles, she experienced more sudden stops and starts which was worse than gradual descents and take off of 737s. Like on earth, though, she found the forward section of the ship to be the best in terms of mitigating motion sickness.

"Jim says the Z burst prediction model isn't correct," Ang told Carter, who was studying the moonbus flight manual. "The math is incorrect but he hasn't found the mistake...yet."

"Too bad." Carter committed the panel to memory, placing his palm upon a manual . He was unacquainted with the elaborateness of the 'moonbus.' He was an astronaut--a bulb of the Canaveral school, not a cab driver. These interstellar mules had come along late in the game as a convenient way for gumshoe researchers, and quality control inspectors to go from point-A to point-B without being run down by the non-civilian traffic. "Fred Flintstone's got nothing on me. Check out this piece of high tech.'" He told Ang,' pointing to two of the transparent switch covers, one labeled ASC FUEL, and the other ASC OXID.

"I assume this is the pitch motor control." He scratched his head before turning back to the manual thruster yoke. It made Mercury look like an experiment in interdimensional travel.

Behind them, Truman Starns was sitting with his right knee cocked over his left leg, talking casually to Jim Haines about nothing in particular. Then--grossly offended--the detective found other seating arrangements.

"I don't understand." Haines started early with his immature presumptuousness, and sovereign tyranny. "Why don't we send a squad over there, and 'demand' to have another look at those engines. It's not cracking a'toll to play these little, covert games of espionage."

"Jim, it's not polite to 'demand' anything," Ang commented. "Didn't your mother teach you that?" She didn't wait for him to comment. "Social graces aside, we've already been down the route of formal dog and pony show, the grand tour, of the ship. 'Demanding' would not get us anything more; except for more hostile tour guides. The Commander is convinced there is more to that ship than we're being shown."

"And we agree with him," she finished. "Your job is to get a look at their supposed GHC drive and assess its capability to make a 25 year voyage."

"It's going to be a long trip." Carter prophesied, and took up the reins of his brontosaurus.



"Well...." Paul Morrow swiveled in his dumb-struck seat. "I-"




"Beat me." Koenig toasted his coffee cup while he, and Mathias watched the broadcast in the darkened office. "And I will like it."


"...perhaps...." Morrow wobbled, and spluttered--all run-on, incomplete sentences while he looked cross-eyed at Duke, who seemed to be evolving, physically, into a Marijuana leaf.



"Maybe...." The controller tried, but was bedogged yet again.

"Radical." Tara Bathory approved, and sauntered back towards her office, leaving Sandra Benes alone to receive her next, fantasmo commlock message.

"What is it, Dac," Sandra was only half paying attention. She had seen enough of the Alpha News Service 'broadcast' and had started to regret even being associated with it. She sensed Paul was beginning to dislike it as well. This was not the way to get out their position.

For a few seconds, she had reconsidered the Commander's argument but her desire to leave Alpha was overpowering. He HAD to be wrong about Ward, she surmised. There had to be a reasonable explanation. The clone thing bothered her, though. If it was true about Bixby and Mugabe, she could not find a suitable explanation or that cloning being done on the Feng Yun.

But why? That was assuming the autopsy results were correct, though. One of the medical technicians told her there were no such findings. On the other hand, she had never known Doctor Russell or Doctor Mathias to perpetuate a lie in order to bolster Koenig's or anyone's position.


Both physicians were highly ethical professionals.

"Sorry to disturb you." Dac Capano told her, his face bloated in the monitor. "We're having trouble with the irrigation pumps on the north forty again. I think the traps are jammed, but I thought I'd consult with you before writing up a work order."

Sandra had been presented with the opportunity to leave. She had also become acquainted with the operation and maintenance of the pumps since she became Chief of Services over 3 years ago.

"No bother, Dac," Sandra smiled pleasantly at the senior Hydroponics Tech. "I'll go check them out myself."

She motioned to Morrow.

"Excuse me," Morrow interrupted Hendershot's monologue and rose from the stool, exiting the sound booth. Hendershot didn't seem to notice.


Carter uncovered the crosshairs, and extended the docking probe even though Schrodinger's crater was still kilometers away in the icy downrange. Behind them, Haines, and Starns still weren't talking. The cabin of the moonbus was a dispirited telephone booth of a ship. Soon, the astronaut would have to power down to avoid visual detection from the Feng Yun.

"Did you ever find those sprogs you were looking for?" The pilot asked Ang' while turning to page three of his flight plan. "Are there any kids on that ship?"

"None," Ang shook her head, while gazing at the lunar surface below. It was gray on black, or black on gray; a sad world. "There were older kids, maybe late teens but no little ones. No evidence of little ones. I did get a glimpses of a few toys but they weren't on the floor or tucked in a corner."

Even on Moonbase Alpha, which had children inhabiting the base for less than 1/10th the time of the Feng Yun, there was evidence of the under 12 crowd all over the base. Aside from pictures on desks or work stations, items of children could be found in virtually all the common areas: toys for babies and toddlers, misplaced pint sized clothing and nearly empty bottles, forgotten by sleep deprived parents of infants.

"Not only that, but I didn't hear any kids in passing. No laughing, no crying and no small voices. It was very weird."

Carter's expression remained blank, and undeliverable as he squeezed the thruster yoke. Apparitions, and overshadows from the high, Cynthian topography outside grew slowly over his tunic, and face.

"Funny thing, I noticed...." He apportioned as he reached for the overhead to enable the LGC. "Even on Alpha, they all still carried those fans on their belts. Doll, over the years, I've chanced a whiff of some real bad gases. Burning wire insulation. Rocket exhaust. You name it. According to Martha Ward, and her buddy Nitrile, there are some serious toxicants floating around in there, but if there were, I sure couldn't smell them."

Ang stared blankly as they approached the ship. "I couldn't smell anything either."

"I don't know." Carter intermitted as he maneuvered the vehicle towards the rim of the impact basin. "It seems to me that there are better ways to contain hazardous chemicals. Why not seal off the compartment, and then vent the atmosphere into space? If they needed to re-enter, they could always wear their suits, and hard packs. Mind you, it's not the most convenient way to fix the problem, but it would be a better procedure than locking the doors, and turning up the air."

"Unless, of course, the odor was permanently around and the problem was not a one time thing." Angelina acknowledge, shuddering a little and remembering. "We did exactly that after we defeated the spider aliens, remember? The smell was so bad, we had to evacuate the entire base and blow that shit out the airlocks. Honestly, regarding the Feng Yun the only odor I smelled was..." she trailed, glancing at him. "Shit...a septic system in major failure."

"That's what we smelled the first time we came here," Truman Starns chimed in from behind.

"Funny you mention that," Jim Haines decided to be quasi social, "when we found Rothchild, the area was inundated the odor of raw sewage. I thought maybe it was a problem with waste recycling but when I went back later, it was completely gone. Not even a trace."

"Yeah, but it was there when we found Allwyn on the Feng Yun as well," Angelina's memory becoming clearer.

"That fellow that got ground up in the blowhole." The astronaut conceived. "Whatshisname'? Albans? The equipment he was working around didn't seem to be that dangerous. Assuming that he was a seasoned pro,' how did he get to be such a slacker that it cost him his life? What happened would have been the equivalent of me sawing logs while laying on an engine mount during a static ignition test." He equated, scratching his chin with his right, free hand. "You know, it might not be a bad idea to see what his mate is up to. That guy Carpenter. He seemed like a square peg--kind of out of place with Ward, and his nose-up-the-butt apple polishers."

The conversation terminated as an ovoid stud appeared in the vacuum outside.

"Here we go." Carter mustered, reaching over Angs' head for the flood controls. "Lights out, and get ready for final approach."

Haines closed the cover of his laptop but not before he revealed, "Got it. I found the mistake. There is no Z-burst phenomenon. We are not going to be turned into shish kabob. Ward is wrong." Haines finished almost smugly.

"Good job," Ang replied neutrally but not overly enthusiastic. Haine's ego was already bloated. She did not want to make it any worse.


"We're wasting some good recycling on you." Harness Bull Dyrenforth complained before applying another layer of concussion-absorbent computer paper to the general's head. Pierce Quentin had the look of the steely eyed, cutthroat flogger. He sat like a block of granite, moving only his elbow to drink repeatedly from a cup of water that Calendar could not partake. The low hanging sealbeam was a fiery saber, and the closest thing to hospitality was ill treatment. The shadow of his oppressor, Dyrenforth, fell over the table in the evil spirit of beatings; violent shaking; forced narcotics; whipping, dunking, and thrashing.

He could not bluff his way out of it. His rump was poised over Judah's Cradle, his body belonged to the closing daggers that were welded to the Virgin of Nuremberg. His gonads were given over to the saw.

"I can't stop them." Bergman reasoned. "Not unless you give me something which will conciliate them."

The professor didn't know why, but Calendar's yellow-bellied perspiration had started to seem vitally important to him--that or he was a masochist, and never knew it.

"IT WAS BEFORE MY TIME." The general blurted, the weight of the paper growing heavy on his pate.

"What was before your time?" Bergman stirred his Vitaseed.

Calendar's eyes receded into catamount slits.


"So...." Quentin boomed. "A thought has crossed your mind. It must have had a long, and lonely journey."

"Seven centuries?!?!?" Bergman leaned toward him, menacingly. "We were told you've in space for 50 years! Now its 700...well, which is it anyway?!?!?!"


"Really?" Quentin commented, unstirred by the ludicrous, incomparable, incalculableness of the latter statement.

"What's trigonometry for farmers?" Dyrenforth comprehended. "Swine, and coswine. Just the other day I found myself arguing as to how fifty years is the same as a millennium. After seven hundred years, you must have a pretty hard head, Calendar." The harness bull hoped.

Bergman sat back again, reverting to the good cop. "Tell me more about what happened seven centuries ago, General. What would it take to refresh your memory?

"I recommend wood." Dyrenforth proposed, and brandished his club again. "Ask me, it works better than St. John's Wart."


"Alright," Haines whispered, stepping out of the airlock into the shadows, after Ang, Carter and Starns. "Now what do we do?"

"You need to go check out this supposed magical drive," Ang whispered back. It was strange there was no one around. "Truman, go with him and keep him company."

"Keep him company?" The investigator said doubtfully. This statement alone proved that it was the Technical manager's duty to take advantage of him in his present state.

"Buck up." Carter bolstered. "It won't be so bad. Turn lemons into lemonade. Jimmy isn't a recalcitrant loser. He's just intolerable, and pathetic."

"Instant message me every 15 minutes," Angelina continued, still in a whisper. "We'll meet back here in 90 minutes. Is that enough time for you, Jim?"

"Should be," Haines nodded, looping the strap of his laptop case over his shoulder. "What do I say if we're caught?"

"I don't know. Be creative. Tell them you were making a fuel compatibility study between the drive and our fuel sources on Moonbase Alpha. Lie and act indignant that they didn't "know" you were coming and ask them to help you. Anything."

"You're good at being indignant, Jim. Play it up."

Haines thought for a moment. "You should have been a mystery writer."

"I wish I was," his supervisor acknowledged quietly.

"Well, Starns, lead the way."

An absent minded Haines turned on his heel with Starns, who eyed every corner and every door they passed as well as frequently glancing behind them. Angelina watched them go until they turned a corner at a junction.

"He can be grating on the nerves. I hope Truman doesn't kill him." She sighed with arms crossed. She turned to Carter. "Now where? Behind the mystery door where we found Allwyn? Where he said Bixby and Mugabe disappeared?"

"That's a couple of levels up." Carter studied the tubular access way which rounded the bend in a ringworld of infinity. "It was adjacent to the Nyx Corridor, I believe." He reviewed while checking the output on his laser. "We'll probably end up having to give one of these bums a suntan." He informed her. "If that doesn't work, and they decide to take it to the next level, then do what you have to."

He opened the next hatch.

Low, and behold, there stood technician Ned Carpenter in a posture of sudden, and preordained greeting. He had not waited long, but he had waited.


"When did you first discover this?" John Koenig asked carefully.

They were in the RTC Room now. Specialist Dick Southey led him through the Babel of discs to the horror that had passed through the commander's vigilant ear drums, unnoticed.

Sidekick Olivia Welles was there, but the coquettishness was at an end. To be honest, after hearing the transcript, she needed a drink. A Manhattan, preferably, but one that was 99.9% bourbon, and 1% soda.

"It took time to retrieve the information." Southey explained. "Mind you, it could be something physically wrong with the equipment."

"But you don't think so." Koenig said as a matter of course.

"No." The technician admitted. "The interval is too long, for one thing. Also, the harmonics are impossibly high."

"Inhumanly high?" The commander speculated, and Southey nodded. "Where did this first appear?"

"During the command conference." Southey revealed, played the disc again, and then pushed stop when he saw Welles turning pale. "All of the participants are accounted for. Everyone, except for Dr. Emmanuel Ward. At the intervals when he should be speaking, we hear only this."

He pointed to the console again, pushing PLAY on a language that was completely, and incoherently alien.

Chapter 14

"Reality leaves a lot to the imagination."

--John Lennon

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."

--Marcel Proust

"When he came back from Nyarlathotep--yes, I don't care if you like the name--he was changed."

--General Calendar, AAC retired.

Carter had pulled Ang toward him while simultaneously leveling his laser arm at Carpenter. When Angelina saw the other man was not armed but just sitting on the top of a 3 foot high stepladder, she touched the top of the pilot's forearm to stop him from firing. For a few uncomfortable seconds, nobody spoke. The whirl of the HVAC system was quite loud.

The Chief of Technical Operations never noticed how unnecessarily audible it was until now.

"We want answers," Angelina began. "We don't want the dog and pony show. We got that from Ward and Calender. Their presentation, despite Ward's charisma, led to more questions rather than less. Perhaps you can help us.."

Carpenter responded in late brevity, nothing sophisticated.

"Struggling, and faint, and fainter didst thou wane, O Moon, and round thee all thy starry train." He scratched his cheek, and shifted on the wrung. "On Earth, I heard he was a president, or something. Walter Savage Landor? Seems to me he was a man of great insight.

"Yes, and to answer your next question, Captain, I've never been to Earth--have never seen Earth--and from what I've heard, have no desire to ever go there. If it still exists, and I'm sure it doesn't."

Carter whistled at the emblematic weirdness of that last statement.

"Sounds like you're making a confession?" The astronaut deciphered.

"Does it?" Carpenter checked the zipper on his own tunic sleeve. "Nothing personal, mind you. My standard was from Earth. That was many generations ago, and he and I never met. There has been no fraternization between evolutions."

"Evolutions." The pilot pieced it together as the conversation went from tangram to child's building block.


"Incredible," Helena Russell uttered after listening to the tape of Ward with ultrasonic vocals. She cocked her head slightly to the right as she leaned on both elbow from a standing position at Koenig's desk. "Obviously he used some sort of telepathic influence on us so that we did not hear the actual sounds of his...voice...or whatever that is."

She glanced at Mathias and Koenig, who was checking an incoming message.

"What's wrong, John?"

"A message from Haines," the Commander sat back, shaking his head. "He found a hole in Ward's prediction concerning this moon heading into devastation from a Z burst. There is no Z burst."

"Does that surprise you?" Russell stood up straight.

"Twelve hours ago it would have." Koenig flopped the thin stack of acetates onto the table. He leaned against the commstation--intent on somehow interpreting the extremist source of the shrieking vocals that were recorded by the moonbase network. Then, pausing the disc, he reached for his commlock. "Southey?"

"Nothing new, commander." The technician replied. "The signal is a frequency swept pulse that's somewhere between five hundred, and one thousand kilohertz. Hypersonic distribution."

"That would have blown our ears off." Koenig told Russell, more so than Southey.

"Yes it would have." The technician answered. "But there appears to be some sort of built-in compression. An intentional equalization."

"Intentional?" The commander replied absurdly.

"Yes. The emitter appears to be holding back." Southey stated. "The way we might calm ourselves to keep from tearing someone up. If my analysis is right, it's rather the same principal here."


Paul Morrow lowered himself into the pit, one bootheel at a time.

"We ought to be getting back." He told the Data Analyst fretfully. "There's trouble. I can feel it in my bones."

"Just a minute, Paul," Sandra Benes heaved her petite frame against the T socket connected to the valve bolt. "There was a sediment blockage at the main valve on the outside of the tank. I have never seen anything like it before and have no idea what could have caused it. It was very strange."

Water began to trickle from the industrial sized 5" diameter spicket, slowly at first, then at about 25%.

"That should do it," she nodded, water lapping up against her bootheels. She grabbed the first wrung, passing the T socket back to Morrow when she heard the crash of the cover followed by total darkness.


"Evolutions," Angelina repeated the word again. "Just how long has the Feng Yun been in space?" She hadn't really noticed before the sallowness of Carpenter's skin and the fact that he did not have a mark or blemish on him.

"There's some weird shit going on here," she continued. Carpenter did not disagree. "Our people, Bixby and Mugabe, had changed from when they entered this ship to when they returned to Alpha. Then they died. An autopsy revealed that they were clones, copies of the real thing. That means that Bixby and Mugabe are still on this ship.

"Where are they?"


"He's dead." Calendar effused in fine.

"He's here." Bergman corrected, and yet--he had no doubts.

"That." The general brushed it off. "What you're seeing there is the Paija. According to our mythology, he did much to help keep us alive after the doctor passed."

"Paija?" Quentin tried the word on for size, not knowing if was a name, or a title.

"Are you saying Emmanuel Ward is dead?" Bergman looked as if he was hit by a truck. But of course he was dead. Afterall, it had been hundreds of years not decades. The professor became quiet from sudden realization.

"The Paija restored the doctor." Calendar told them esoterically. "I've always thought that trust would have been terribly difficult--I mean, I don't know. I wasn't there. Our standards must have sensed something was wrong. The Paija retrieved the doctor from oblivion--absorbed him; reconstituted him.

"The story has been handed down to every generation. The Feng Yun was in space for a year after Breakaway. Mostly drifting. Our standards--our ancestors' lived lives comparable to yours. They struggled, they died. Originally, the goal was to colonize a planet--any planet that would provide harborage from the pandemonium of space.."

"What a diddle." Quentin decided. "Maybe I'm daft, but I thought your 'goal' was to reach that dead cert Thalarion."

"It was." Calendar upheld.


Morrow slid frantically in the dark, unable to gain a foothold on the caliginous ladder.

"IF I FEEL SOMETHING IN MY BONES, DON'T QUESTION IT." He cursed Sandra Benes, and then busted his head against one of the metal supports.

In the nowness, water dripped a bead at a time onto the rapidly accumulating puddle on the concrete floor.

"There is no way to turn off the water in here," Sandra explained frantically. "And that cover is too heavy to lift or push up by one person." She checked her belt, only to remember that she left her commlock outside of the tank. She glanced at Morrow's belt, who was also missing his commlock. "Wonderful," she mumbled.

Scrambling to escape, they stepped on each other's feet.


"I'm not sure how long we've been out here." Carpenter told Ang.' "Albans was better about keeping track of time. In fact, he died for it."

The technician's guilt was authentic, not cloned.

"So, they're goners.'" Carter realized. "Mugabee? Bixby?"

Carpenter drowsed.

"The source material need not be alive for melioration to occur." He formulated. "A few of us met our parents--quite by accident, of course. Destruction of the host is best, mentally...emotionally. Also, it eases the burden on our life support, which, despite the immense size of this vessel, isn't much. A sample is all that is needed to commence the replication process."

"Good Lord," Angelina was taking it all in. "Is many people on this ship are clones?" She paused. "More importantly...why? What is the purpose? Aren't you able to reproduce naturally?"

"Naturally?" Carpenter chuckled. "You assume copulating is a better method of reproduction. Yet, how often did the randomness of genetics lead to deformities and imperfections of the race.."

"But it does lead to variety and diversity," Angelina argued. "It's that variation which leads to growth." She stared at him unflinching. "Look at yourselves. You've been drifting in space for generations but you haven't changed. In fact, when I was aboard this ship the last time, I saw a power plant using pre-Breakaway technology which was in dire need of repair."

"Where is the growth? What is the purpose of cloning? Why is this society literally just limping along, barely surviving?"

Carpenter stared back at her then looked away.

"Follow the corridor." He sat rigidly, arms crossed. "You came for answers? On a mission of discovery? Explore away. I won't stop you."


"THE EARTH WAS TOO SMALL A BASKET." Calendar raved on.

"YOU'RE THINKING ONLY OF HISTORY." Bergman tired of the illogic, as well of the cat, and mouse. "YOUR HISTORY. IT IS HUMAN BEINGS, REAL, AND LIVING WHO FIGHT THE WAR."

His point, philosophically arguable, did not come out right.

"I LIVE." The general fractured.


"YOU'RE A MANIFOLD ILLUSION." Calendar decided--as if this wasn't the pot calling the kettle black.


"Professor, if you'd like, I'll pound his head to mush." Harness Bull Dyrenforth joined the alphabet soup, representing the letter 'm' for mordant.


Carter stopped when he saw Elsa Structure, mastermind second only to Priscilla Nitrile, standing outside the bronze vault door. The pilot placed a shussssshHH'ing finger against his lips for Ang' to see.

Hearing the echo of the pilot's step, the technician turned her severe, old-clone-maid's bun towards the southern fork in the corridor, her fan on, and ready to dispel the stench of decay, and rejuvenation.

"What do you know? Chainmail mamma.'" He whispered to Ang,' checking the setting on his laser. "That hatch is different from the others on the ship, and I bet she has a key."

"I remember that doorway from before...I think," she whispered, then remembered that she had not physically seen the hatch. It was only in her dreams.

"She looks so rattled." Carter quietly placed his right palm on Angs' left shoulder. "Let's do her a favor, and smooth things out."

Waiting for her to bungle into range, he opened fire. The gaseous oxygen-nitrogen ignited in a fiery, horizontal sword that exploded in zigzagging patterns of palpable pain all over Structures body; the engulf dissipated only after the technician collapsed in a soaking pool of heat blistered skin, and tunic.. The portable fan landed next to her ear, drying the hairs of her prostrated head.

"Oh my god," Angelina rushed to a deathly white Structure. "She didn't take that stun very well at all."

Not that many people took a stun "well" but Structure looked particularly bad. Small streams of blood oozed from her nostrils as she gasped for breath through cyanotic swollen lips. Angelina felt for a pulse and was relieved to find it in the carotid. It was weak but the ebb was still present.

"I want to see what's in the refrigerator." The astronaut told Ang' while he frisked one of Ward's homelier canines.

Angelina flipped the badge hooked to her chest and noticed the magnetic stripe. She removed it and passed it to Carter. "Try this."

She moved her hand to check the woman's pulse again when she was immediately horrified as her fingers pressed into her throat: through the gelatinous skin, through the liquid fat and viscous muscle tissue into the brittle trachea below.

"AAHH!!!" She pulled her gore covered hand out of the corpse's neck as the rest of the torso, head and limb became a discombobulated and undifferentiated pool of slime and blood. The stench was overpowering, causing their eyes to burn and tear. "Jesus Christ!" she blurted as he pulled her to a shaky standing position.

Any place was better than that corridor and Carter slide the badge into the key card reader. The door opened.


"WELL." Bergman leaned angrily over the table. "IS IT ONE PROCESS, OR IS IT TWO? SAY WHAT YOU MEAN, AND BE CLEAR ABOUT IT." He had no idea where this journey would carry him, excepting perhaps the docks of insanity.

"WARD TOOK THE MANDARIN TO THE SURFACE.." Calendar tried, dehumidified--and Pierce Quentin knew it.

"OF THE PLANETOID?" The chief organized.


"WHY DID HE PICK A NAME LIKE THAT?" Quentin criticized.


His teeth cried out for floss.


"I've got something he can put in his mouth." Harness Bull Dyrenforth said.

It was probably too much information.


The water was up to Sandra Benes' flares.

"DAMN, THIS WATER." Paul Morrow wailed from the throat like an Olive Oil pansy, and thrust his body against the valve in an attempt to form a human shield.

"THAT WILL DO NO GOOD!" She yelled, purposely. She began pounding the walls of the tank.. "HELP!!!" Of course, she realized the futility of that solution and began to climb the ladder, feeling her way up rung by rung. The pitch darkness was unnerving.

What Paul had failed to realize was if they could not get the cover open and they did not get out....She pushed the thought from her mind.

"PAUL! Come up here and help me lift this cover."


"Pandora's box." Ned' Carpenter stepped up behind Ang..'

The chamber was filled with utilities--so old that they appeared to be fused to the rusted, algae covered tables. There was everything, all fashioned from ruined Manganese. There were clinical centrifuges; PDI gel scanners; Molecular Dynamics Phosphoimagers; Betagan Blot Analyzers; Electroporators; UV-cross linkers; the redolence of death; Thermocyclers; Spectrophotometers; Flurometers; Speed-vacs; Hybridization chambers, and all that remained of Harness Bull Mugabee's original security uniform, striped with donated blood, and grue.

Angelina merely glanced at Carpenter as Carter picked up the remnant's of Mugabee's uniform by the purple sleeve. She found a sink and slowly washed the remains of Structure off of her dried gore encrusted hand.

"Nongs." Carter said poisonously. "You can build a man, but you can't take care of your biohazardous waste."

Which brought the conversation back to Richard Albans, who was always willing to give someone a hand.

"You're dealing with a very basic life form." Carpenter tried to tell him. "More elementary than the organisms it gives birth to. Propagation is it's function, not manners, and propriety."

"That's easy for you to say." The astronaut said insultingly as he gazed upon the orange, oxidized table where the excremental, chunky soup remains of Mugabee, and Bixby were analyzed, and recapitulated. "Why does he do it?"

"We don't know." Carpenter came clean, though there was blood hardening everywhere. "On Earth you had species of animals, and insects that reproduce in ways that seem scurrilous, and foul. The word 'natural' is little more than a measuring stick, devised by limited, subjective beings. The Black Widow spider comes to mind. Death, and vigor. Both are intertwined."

"Is that right?" Carter said with haughty disdain. "Coffins, and cribs? They go together like beer, and pretzels. Incidentally, I couldn't help, but notice your fans."

In his mind, the deliberation was his.

Carpenter quickly checked his hip to make sure the unit was still attached.

"It's to control the intensity of the mating chemicals." He said with neither shame nor integrity. "If the odor is diffused...."

"Then you chumps get to live another day." The pilot surmised, and was not the least bit impressed.

"We tried lotteries as a way of regulating the cycle." Carpenter justified..

"Wasn't good enough was it?" Carter already knew. "Ward couldn't wait that long between snacks. Sorry, cobber--what I meant to say was 'between gestations.'"

She said nothing throughout the exchange, looking around the room as she dried her hands. Carpenter continued staring at her smugly, almost triumphantly.

"Why would you care about keeping museum pieces under tight security?" she asked, making her way to a shower stall. "You people have already shown your contempt of your "standards" as you called them from Earth.. Why would you care what happens to antiquated memorabilia?"

She opened the glass door and stepped inside, knocking on the panels. The one on the opposite side of the shower head was distinctly hollow.

"What's behind here?" She turned to Carpenter again, who has lost his smirk. He refused to answer.

"Alrighty then." Carter relaxed, and grabbed the Feng Yun technician by the elbow, and hyper extended his arm behind his back. Ned Carpenter emitted a cry of astonishment, and bad surprise as he was marched towards the antiquated stall. "You talk a good game, but somehow I think you'd be as pleased as punch to show us what's behind this here panel."

How she knew, she would later not be able to answer. Angelina glanced at the showerhead and rotated it. There was the distinct sound of a click as an access door open, where the hollow sounding shower panel had been just moments before.

"Congratulations." A voice in the diseased cold lauded the Technical manager's discovery. It was Ronald Evans, the suave cartographer and regardless of his immense hatred for all living things, he seemed schizophrenically glad to see them. "You've unlocked the door, discovered the secret."

"KEEP IT EASY, GALILEO." Carter warned, censoriously, shoving Carpenter forward--his kill laser aimed deftly at the technician's spine. "I WANT TO SEE YOUR HANDS. IN THE AIR."

"Of course." The star charter sneered.


"It's not what I want. It's what you want." Evans baited. "And here's how."

Opening his mouth, a batrachian forked tongue shot out, and speared the astronaut's throat.

Grasping his jetting Adam's Apple, Carter dropped his laser, and fell gurgling into a pool of exsanguinations on the floor.

Within seconds, he was dead.

Chapter 15

"Choices are the hinges of destiny."

--Edwin Markham

"When one bases his life on principal, 99 percent of his decisions are already made."

--Author Unknown

"Let us see...shall I consume the security guard on the left, or will I unequivocally slaughter the lovely, buxom software research compiler on the right?"

--Author Known

"John, I have something important to show you." Helena Russell did not even wait for Koenig's acknowledgement. "Please meet me in our quarters." She cut the link.

Russell dimmed the lights and sat demurely, ladylike, with right leg crossed over left knee in the dark shadow of the bedroom. She checked the laser, setting it to 'kill', aiming it at the door.

The door to the living area chirped and slid open. There was a slight pause, then Koenig stepped inside.

"Helena?" He called out casually while flattened against the wall and inching his way into the living area, laser drawn. "Helena. What's up?" He called out again as he picked up and orange throw pillow from the sofa, tossing it into the open bedroom door.

A burst of light came from the corner and the pillow was incinerated in a burst of flames. Koenig fired his own weapon, set on stun, striking the figure in the corner. Russell landed with a hideous thud on the tile after shrieking in agony.


Kneeling on one leg with total lack of emotion next to Carter's body, Angelina quickly looked up as Truman Starns and Jim Haines burst through the door.

It appeared to Starns that Evans was intent on making Ang his next victim, his razor sharp tongue protruding obscenely as he studied the ungrieving Technical manager.

Starns fired his laser, and Evans, emitting a hideous scream, melted into a charbroiled and putrefying mound. Seeing his opportunity, Carpenter escaped through the shower stall.

"GODDAMIT! WHAT DID YOU DO THAT FOR?" Ang, with extreme rage, jumped over Carter's body.

"So sorry." The assistant director of security replied flippantly. "Didn't mean to bust up the party. I thought you might take exception to your old man being murdered. See what I get for assuming?"

Haines could take it as an object lesson, Starns thought.

Before Angelina could reply, her commlock chirped. "Commander," she answered looking down into the micromonitor attached to her hip.

"He's dead, or rather it's dead." she continued, glancing at Starns and Haines distrustingly.

"According to Mathias, Professor Bergman, Doctor Russell and Alan are still alive," he answered, as he stared into the autopsy room at Helena Russell's putrefying, disintegrating remains. "Have you located any off limits areas yet?"

"I found a doorway into an area leading from a shower stall, of all things," she answered, glancing at Starns again.

"Wait until Starns and Haines get there. Do not go at it alone."

"Of course not, commander," she replied, unclipping her commlock. "They just arrived. Would you like to speak to them?"

With a nod from Koenig, Angelina handed Starns her commlock.

"Sir?" The inspector greeted, eyebrows raised.

"Starns, I want that hatch opened." The commander directed. "I don't care what it takes. Lob M25's at it, sub-microscopic particles. Whatever."

"I fancy turning the knob." The investigator said, pushing his droll plain sleeve against the threshold. The panel opened. The chamber beyond was dark. "For the record, commander." He continued. "I find it heedless, and unprofessional of you to freeze me out of mission planning, which you so obviously have."

"Yeah? Take a number." Came Koenig's smart retort. "The Main Mission Controller is in front of you. After he's done, you can file your complaint."

"I'm sorry I snapped at you, Truman," Angelina glanced at the now featureless, blood and gore mass which was once a physical imitation of Alan Carter. "I was really hoping to use Evans and Carpenter to get inside the vault, and find the others. But if you didn't know, well, then I understand your reaction."

"Before we go, though, I must ask you both to submit to a simple blood test," she pulled out a lancet a small test tube and a small bottle filled with a dark blue chemical. "It will verify that you are really Truman Starns and Jim Haines...and not an imitation." She pulled out an alcohol swab.

"Give me your finger. This shouldn't hurt...too much."

Both men glanced at each other.

"I will, of course, submit myself to the same test, so you know that I am who I am," she nodded as she took Haines' offered left index finger.

"I hope you don't think I'm prying." Starns apologized. "I would like to know what's going on?"

"When the Feng Yun arrived, Dr. Russell probed for bioforms.'" The commander answered from the assistant director's clenched fist. "The data came back normal...but antic. Something wasn't quite right, but she couldn't determine what it was. A precise count was made. When Eagle Five returned to Alpha, the number increased, and Dr. Mathias detected similar activity coming from inside the base."

"Who's the clone?" Starns asserted, offering his finger to Ang,' but not the finger she deserved.

"Inspector, you're about to find out." The commander conciliated. "If we're right about this, there will be traces left of the hosts inside that compartment.

"Hopefully, living."

"They're alive," Angelina asserted. She dare not think of the opposite possibility, as she nodded at Haines. The blue liquid mixed with the drop of blood had already become clear. "You're the real deal, Jim." She wondered if a clone of Haines would be less egotistical and more socialable.

Probably not.

"Commander, I have an update for you on the condition of the GHC Drive." Haines preambled as he smoothed out the bandage on his forefinger.

"You've accessed the propulsion system?"

"It isn't necessary." The researcher replied. "I don't need Rothchild's credentials to tell you that this ship is finished. The gauge boson RP's are off the scale. The entire vessel is bedraggled with them. That's indicative of a total breakdown in the reactor."

"What's the estimated repair time?" Koenig went on blithely.

"It will take more time than we have." Haines replied easily. "I recommend abandoning the core, and salvaging the crew section for parts. If we take that route, we have to hurry. Before long, the energy sluice will build to deadly proportions.

"Either way, the Feng Yun will have to be destroyed."

"How much time will we have?" Ang asked as she nodded to an authentic Starns then submitted her own index finger to a stab by Haines.

"Probably not more than 6 hours," Haines estimated, as he squeezed the deep scarlet drops from the Technical Manager into the small vial, passing her a band aid. He nodded as the blue color dispersed to clear. "Crude but efficient," he commented, observing the mixture in the vial.

"Commander, when we evacuate, what do we do about the clones? We can't just leave them here. They're still people no matter how they were created."

"But you see what happens when they come to Alpha, like Bixby and Mugabe." Haines answered.

"But it didn't happen to this Alan," she pointed to the blob on the floor, "this one was killed by another clone." She shivered. "A clone with a forked tongue."

"Maybe it was killed before it could disintegrate." Jim offered.

Angelina peered into the blackness beyond the shower stall panel. Shining her maglite revealed a narrow corridor, no more than 10 feet long, leading to another hatch. The hatch had both a key card reader as well as a pin pad combination lock.

"I'm guessing this is our ticket inside," Ang presented Structure's key card to Starns.


Controller Zed Astrin wanted to know too, as did analyst Adisa Talic. Umberto Garzon, and Emma Black's eyes were also on the commander.

"Severance." Koenig approached the cartographer as he exited the mysterious glow of the MPSR room. "Have you seen Sandra Benes anywhere?"

"The last time I saw her, she was with the controller." The stargazer replied over his stack of green flimsies.

"Time is of the essence." Astrophysicist Lorna O'Brian applied pressure.

"Shall we begin the transfer, commander?" Astrin forged another, unwanted connexion, and he did not sound elated by the idea.

Koenig paused on the second step, directly behind Garforth who fumed at the technical workstation.


"To think, we almost had the recycling system right where we wanted it." The assistant director quetched. "Yes, we can modify the life net to accommodate the Feng Yun's crew."

"Their 'clone' crew." Astrin made known his bigoted conditions.

"Haines, and the R&D team have made some headway with those algae-based, gas exchangers." Garforth postulated. "Geist has done wonders with fresh water, mining operations in Frigoris." He also believed. "The problem, same as always, is the CO2 flow high. I don't know what to tell you about that.

"If we absorb them into our population, we'll need a procedure for handling that."

O'Brian tried hard to not intentionally eavesdrop.

And failed.

Commander Koenig slowly made eye contact with nearly every person in the room.


"I find it quite ironic that you accuse me of being a 'desexualized, disinfected photocopy', professor," General Calender smiled weirdly, eerily, despite the non stop intimidation of the Harness Bulls.

"How does the saying go? A case of the kettle calling the pot black?" Calender broke out into laughter.

Dyrenforth and Quentin exchanged wrinkled browed looks.


The cavernous room on the other side of the hatch was a cold as a morgue. Beyond the condensation clouds of their exhalations, Truman Starns, Jim Haines and Angelina Carter stared at a dark grey wall, marked off in 2' by 2' grids. Upon closer inspection, the grids were actually drawers with recessed handles. Ang refused to confront what her instinct was telling her as she pulled out the biosensor.

"They're close," she adjusted the gain. "The professor, Dr. Russell and Alan." She went on, as Haines reached from a drawer. "Do we really want to open that?"

"Not really." The researcher replied, and then--inhaling deeply--he rolled out the slab.


"The one person who wasn't seriously injured made a positive, visual identification." Mathias said as he felt for Pierce Quentin's waning pulse.

Calendar would bum no more.

His peregrinations were all broken--snapped like the spinal cord in his neck. The AAC was now, most definitely, and ultimately retired--from life, and the act of breathing.

He lay dead between Koenig, and Harness Bull Dyrenforth.

"It was Professor Bergman." Harness Bull Duncan admitted. Having forty percent of his body wrapped in bandages suited him. "He went mad. We were about to subdue Ward. He just gallivanted right in--talking bobbins, as usual, and said that he was 'disappointed' that we chose to detain the colonel without telling him first.

"We've had a dragnet searching for him in pairs." Dunk knew. "Having a manhunt organized for you is not the same as a surprise party, but he didn't seem to understand that."

"What then?" Koenig told him to go on.

"I arrested him." The harness bull recalled. "Pound, and Stryker backed me up. We were about to administer the clink when suddenly this foul odor filled the room."

"Foul odor?" The commander's curiosity peaked. "Can you elaborate on that."

"Sure. It was like sod...and rancid jam...and used up boxers."

"That's not what I'm asking." Koenig sickened. "What I want to know is why you see a connection between stinking, charnel stuff, and Dr. Ward's assault."

"It was part of it, alright." Dyrenforth supported the senior officer's testimony. "Commander, it seeped in the minute Ward appeared. Like an underground sewer. From there, it just got worse."

"Commander, my right hand is broken." Harness Bull Stryker announced, and showed Koenig the shattered stump. "But my left is still keen--good enough to carry a gun. I'd rather finish them, mind you, but if you like I can still sweat them to the floor."

"You better believe your weapon will be set to stun." Harness Bull Pound--who had found himself sitting in the section director's chair with the sudden admission of Pierce Quentin to the emergency room--admonished. "You're not going to charge in like Kitchener on the Boars--not while the professor is with them."

"Maybe...." Stryker pondered the scenario. "I can grind Ward to a pulp with my bare hands. Hand. And then assist the professor back here with the help of a carefully timed Judo chop."

Then the arsenal could be avoided altogether. Pound scratched his pate, but nodded approvingly.

"Set your weapons to kill." Koenig instructed. "Don't waste any time talking either. Especially to Ward. The minute you see him, I want you to blaze him down.

"Is that understood?"


"Help me?" The remnants of Alan Carter squinted against the supernova of Haines' maglite.

What was left of him made Otzi, the 8,000 year old Iceman look like Yanni.

"Ohmygod, Alan!" Angelina shoved Haines out of the way. The adrenaline rush multiplied her strength such that she almost single-handedly pull Carter out of the meat box. Haines had grabbed a fire blanket from the wall while at the same time grabbing the pilot's left index finger.

Haines stabbed him with the lancet.

"Yessssssssssssssss'...." The pilot's eyes crossed.

"What are you doing?!?!" Ang gave the researcher the evil eye as she draped the blanket around the somewhat groggy Chief of Reconnaissance, as Haines milked hemoglobin from his finger into the vial.

"We have to know for sure," Jim answered, unaffected by his supervisor's tone, as he added the dark blue liquid and capped the vial. "How do we know he's not another copy?"

Angelina didn't respond. She knew he was right.

"He's the original," Haines announced after studying the liquid color change. "Sorry, Captain," he went on, "but we didn't really have a choice."

"The others..." Angelina pointed to the other drawers, still steadying Carter. "They must be in there as well." Haines and Starns were already quickly opening metal doors, the room echoing in crashing and clanging.

"Tell me what happened," Angelina returned her attention to Carter, offering him her full water bottle. "How did you get here?" She gently brushed a wayward bang out of his eyes. "God, I'm so happy to have found you...alive."

The jury was out whether or not he was 'well'.

"It's a long story." The astronaut sniffed, and then smiled, straightening his back.

"Ang!! I've found Doctor Russell," Haines announced, as he pulled open a bottom drawer. Angelina, assured Carter wasn't going to collapse, sprang over to help assist lifting the CMO while Starns continued hunting for Bergman.

The jolt of movement brought the physician to consciousness. "I....who..."she mumbled in gravel voice, eyes still closed.

"Helena, it's ok," Ang shook her lightly while Haines speared her index finger with the lancet. The physician cried out, opening her eyes in terror.

"I'm glad you found us." Carter brimmed.

"Happy families again, eh?" Was the response that came from his identical twin, who appeared out of the darkness of a nearby storage alcove. Unlike Slab Carter, the other astronaut was armed, and the laser was pointed directly at his brother in divided chromosomes.

"This again?" Slab Carter quipped. "You know, I never thought I'd say this, but I'm getting tired of looking at myself."

He sounded as if he had a cold.

"Step away from him, Angelina." The doppler warned away the technical manager. The resemblance was perfect in every way, save for the fact that this Alan Carter was not as dishelved. He did have a bright red scar on his left cheek, and animus in his eyes. "Jimbo, I want you to back away from that drawer."

"Is your trigger finger itching?" Haines replied with umbrage.

"WISE UP." The angrier Carter exclaimed, stepping forward. "YOU'RE ABOUT TO RELEASE ANOTHER RINGER FROM THE TEST TUBE."

He looked at the ailing Helena Russell with salt, and spite.

"Impossible." Haines blew him off.

"They've passed the test." Truman Starns reminded. "Something tells me that you wouldn't."


And to cap it off:

"It's true." A double for Helena Russell joined Attitude Carter in the falling darkness. "The only reliable way of finding out who is human, and who isn't is the scan that I performed on Alpha. Ang,' Truman. Listen to us. We were prisoners here."


"It's a fair question." Slab Carter winked at Ang,' and then folded his arms patiently over his chest.


"I'm afraid you'll have to." Truman Starns advised.

"I can see his point." Slab Carter assented. "Sort of."

"SHUT YOUR FUCKING HOLE." Attitude Carter leveled the barrel of the laser at him.

"Ang.'" Accomplice Russell behooved, but forcefully. "He's telling the truth. Stand clear."

Angelina blinked but otherwise said nothing as she looked back and forth between the two Carters. The laser on her holster at her hip was set on a heavy stun.

She drew it and quickly shot Attitude Carter, his laser clanging and sliding on the floor as he dropped and his accomplice, boorish Russell. She turned to slab Carter, smiling.

"Babe," he said, "I knew you'd make the right choice, after all we've been through and everything that we've shared." Angelina froze.

"I wish you said that 30 seconds ago," she said, distressed and looking down at unconscious attitude Carter. "I'm sorry."

She looked up and shot slab Carter and fired on the ailing slab Russell. Both creatures emitted a hideous screech, as they burst into flames. The clones landed with a stomach wrenching 'thud' and immediately began to liquefy.

"God," Haines complained. "I wonder if he is right about the test not being effective. I mean, besides the bioform scan, the only way we can tell the difference now is to stun them, and the copies will have very unpleasant results." He was breathing through his mouth now, as he checked Russell's pulse.

"He's out cold," Angelina likewise checked Carter, then unclipped her commlock. "Commander. I think we found the real Helena and Alan but I had to stun them to be sure."

On the other side of the link, Bob Mathias nodded to Koenig, reading the results of the bioform scan.

"That's affirmative," John Koenig nodded in the micromonitor. "What about the blood test?"

"It doesn't work anymore. We found more clones, of Helena and Alan and used the test on them. They checked out ok...but they weren't." She glanced over at Haines, still mouth breathing and complaining. "Ward must have found a way around it."

Koenig sighed. "Did you find Professor Bergman? The bioform readings show him to be quite close to your location." He paused then continued. "His vital signs are not good, though. You need to find him quickly."

"We'll find him," Ang replied confidently, though inwardly she was uncertain. If Bergman was already weak, a stun might kill him. He cut the link.

"We have to wake them up," Starns pulled a laser hypo with a stimulant out of the medical kit, checking the dosage.

"I know," Ang said regrettably. "We have to stick together....and the professor doesn't have much time." She glanced over at Haines then explained further. "It's some concoction security has to get their guys roused out of unconsciousness quickly. The stimulant will certainly revive them from the heavy stun but they'll be puking their guts out and have a killer migraine."

"Great," Haines grumbled, "more stench."

Ang shook her head. Forget stunning him. There was no doubt in her mind this Haines was the original Jim Haines. No copy could possibly beat the original in the 'asshole' department.


Well...sometimes, some people spoke too soon about some things.

"You're an obstacle." Cartographer Evans told a phony Ed Malcom. Not that Malcom needed to be a clone to be phony. In this case, it just worked out that way. "I'm putting you on the front line."

"O'kay." The technician said--all good--while he helped himself to another vegetable burger, his fifth in as many minutes--his face growing balloon like as his urge to eat almost overwhelmed the fattening bodies urge to survive. "May I ask what the overall plan might be?"

His blood was grabbed during some indiscriminate, low expectation pilferage in Medical Center. Apparently his standard went there quite often. Amadore's profile of the assistant medical director found a high probability that he had drawn blood from the parent organism just to make him tipsy, and to exact revenge.

Evans watched him swallow. A shameful sight it was.

"You're dropping crumbs everywhere." He scolded. "Dr. Ward likes to have things just so."

"Check." The double-team Ed got the point.

"The scheme." Evans went on. "Is for you to distract them--at least long enough for us to eliminate the pilot, and the technical manager. They're unbending, and we can't afford to waste time cultivating them. The doctor prefers candidates with long-term possibilities."

"Possibilities for what?" The bogus Malcom inquired, exposing see-food. The effect was rude, and crude for most normal people, and clones. "Because I have inherited a strong dislike for Carter, though we have not met in fact."

The cartographer thought him to have the only commlock on the Feng Yun with stretch marks.

"You'll find out." He said as he rubbed away the bad memories from his jaw. "As soon as we're underway, the lotteries will begin again--in earnest."

"I hope I'm a winner." The Malcom duplicate remarked bodaciously.

"I hope you are too." Evans prayed. As to the rest, he kept quiet.

The cartographer was not one to speak with a forked tongue.


"Why did you drop me, hot stuff?" Attitude Carter, who had landed on his nose--proving his authenticity beyond any doubt. He looked like he had dived off the board, straight into a pool of vinegar, and he smelled like it. The stun left behind the scintillant fragrance of scorched carbon--much of it emanating from his singed hair. Oh his aching, concussed neurons. Staring at his peeling palms, he could not bosom, or venerate the bad tan that the experience provided him. "Someone has to keel like Frosty, the Snowman for you to trust me?

"I think we have issues to discuss." He related. "Still, better him than me."

The exuding, egesting Slab Carter, well into the final stages of decay, looked so appalling, he could enter an ugly contest, and they would say: Sorry, no professionals.

"I'm sorry," she said again, genuinely. "I had a gut feeling you were you but I had to be sure. Stunning both of you was the only way to be scientific about it and take out the emotion. Of course, something it said afterward had me immediately regret firing on you first, but remember, you were the one with the laser so I had to disable you first. Make sense?"

She offered the last of her imitation Excedrin she kept in her pocket. He dry swallowed it.

"From a scientific standpoint, I can understand why it was necessary to separate the experimental, and control groups." Helena Russell--all matted disaster--spoke up. "In every other way, it's not appreciated."

From out of her lips, there cometh condescending, aristocratic snot.

"I said I was sorry," Ang responded neutrally to the physician. Though she understood the doctor's tone, admittedly Ang was less sure about the authenticity of Russell compared to Carter.

"Are you sufficiently recovered, yet?" Haines barged in, disregarding Carter and Russell's physical states of misery. "There's nothing else in here and we need to get moving if we want to find Bergman in time."


Hand in hand, the second Bergman, and the one, and only Emmanuel Ward marched down Corridor-D to claim their own.

"I know what I am now." The mock-professor eased in.

"I know you do." His confrere noted with pride.

"What shall we do?"

"What we do best." Ward said.

They tore the base apart hunting for fresh victims. No clones, consubstantials, or counterparts.

This was about groceries, nothing else.

Chapter 16

"The secret of success is constancy to purpose."

--Benjamin Disraeli

"Whoever said anybody has a right to give up?"

--Marian Wright Edelman

"Let your hook always be cast; in the pool, where you least expect it, there will be a fish."


No one knew where the music came from.

But then, do we ever know where the heavenly Sprechstimme, and the audibly awesome whole tones originate? Was it even for the vocalist Bjork to ascertain the familiar fear, and the virtuoso pitch? The moondrunkeness of the protagonist, coming apart at the seams in every, single hypotenuse of the command tower--frothing, gagging, ranting, raving--blinded by the psychotronic rays as the goddess touched the clock, and by rebound the persona.

It was "Pierrot Lunaire." No one had the commedia dell'arte going through their bullet-shaped heads as they fled the area to escape imminent death. Certainly, the garrison of security guards had no such tune in their cortexes as they stormed, single file, and in rows of two, past the Geological Sciences Office to the Astrophysics headquarters. With laser canons at hand, and pistols at the ready, an ocean of purple sleeves moved in like a sloth of bear, ready to neutralize any and all hostile targets.

They rounded the icy corner, and caught their first whiff.

They didn't make it much further before the dream team of Ward, and clone Bergman made mince-meat of them.


"Paul Morrow and Sandra Benes are not answering their commlocks, sir," Kate Bullen reported to a completely irked Commander Koenig. "They are somewhere in the recycling complex or thereabouts but it is difficult to pinpoint them; too much EMF interference." She shook her head then bit her lip before continuing. "Last known sighting was 45 minutes ago, when they left the Alpha News Service area."

No doubt in Kate's mind, Koenig saw the ridiculous broadcast. 'Don't shoot the messenger,' she thought, a Koenig's jaw set rigid and his eyes turned an ice blue.

"Maybe they're busy signing autographs." Lars Manroot propounded.

"Search party?" Garzon tried.

"Not a priority." The commander deemed. "Alpha is being torn down around our ears. That's our problem."

'They're in deep shit,' Kate thought neutrally.

Actually, they were deep in something else and it was getting deeper.

No longer able to stand on the bottom of the tank, since it was filled 8 feet with cold water, Morrow and Benes clung to the ladder. The cover was immovably closed, trapping them in the dark.

"What are we going to do, Paul?" Sandra, soaked to the skin, shivered from her perch. "If someone does not come here soon, we will die." Then, regretting her prediction of doom and gloom. "Our commlocks are just outside so they should be able to locate us."

Little did she know.

"This is intolerable." Morrow, wet of moustache, decided, finally, uh-huh,' and then used his head as a hammer in an attempt to assault the hatch. For this he was rewarded with an astronomical headache.


"What are we going to do?" Michelle Cranston, substituting for Angelina Carter as the Command conference rep for Technical Section, sounded almost hopeless from her seated position on the stairs leading into the pit. "Those things are unstoppable."

Pierre Danielle, Alan Carter's substitute, and Bob Mathias, Helena Russell's stand in, did not disagree.

"There may be nothing we can do." The physician realized. "If that is the case, we have no reason not to act."

His muse was leaden.

"Act? Aren't you profound?" Danielle balked. "Act towards what? Anyone who goes near them gets their neck broke."

"I'm not talking about Ward, and Bergman." Mathias corrected, and then regarded Koenig--just knowing that he knew.

"Martha Ward?" The commander completed the puzzle.

The physician nodded.


The genuine version of Alan Carter led Angelina Carter, Truman Starns, Jim Haines and the actual Helena Russell into another room. Except for Russell, all had lasers drawn, vigilant and looking over their own and each other's shoulder.

Ten gurneys, each bearing one sheet draped body, filled the space of an otherwise empty room. They quickly removed the sheets, to reveal the faces.

Or rather...face.

Ten copies of Professor Victor Bergman lay prone on the gurneys.

"You think Bergman is Ward's favorite?" Haines quipped, cutting the silence.

"Keep your jealousy to yourself, Jimmy." Carter antagonized. "I'm sure that mountbanker' Ward had every intention of sharing the happiness." He did not have high hopes for finding the authentic Bergman here. It was like an acid trip, but not your own. Each of the likenesses was derived from a different type of paper, metaphorically--it mattered little how one got there, via blotter, powder or droplet. The image was like something out of Windowpane, Orange Sunshine lividity. "They got the makes." He noticed, his nostrils flaring against the sinister aroma. "Like me." He said, observing the preponderance of rust-colored acid that had dyed his tunic."

The pilot stopped then--the wheels in his mind slipping on the ice, spiraling in the void. Then the gears came to a complete stop.

"Wait a minute." He said, ripping away another sheet. "Anyone who is around Ward gets the stench. Am I right?"

The dots seem to connect. "Well, whenever there has been a stench, something terrible has happened, including a clone's accelerated rate of decay." Angelina realized. "Ward has most certainly been connected to the clones. It would certainly be reasonable that he is connected to the putrid odors."

"What about people who are inherently, and categorically putrid?" Haines debated.

"Give the jaws a rest, Haines." Carter enunciated. "We don't want you to have delusions of adequacy. How long do you reckon the real professor was exposed to Ward? More than the gingerbread men? Less?"


"HOOLIGANS." Paul Morrow's voice could not be heard as it was suppressed by the sound of falling water inside the pit. He cried himself a river--no one heard him the first 1,000 times, and he probably would not be detected the next 10,000 times either. All around him there was slosh--totally out of decorum.

"It cannot end like this!" Sandra Benes cried out as the tank water level reached 1/3 full. With the wrench from her tool belt, she began pounding on the side of the silo. Morrow grabbed the hammer and began to do the same.

Unfortunately, there was no one outside the tank to hear them.


"Ward!!" Commander Koenig's visage appeared on every monitor, every commpost on Moonbase Alpha.

Dr. Ward turned away from his repast in corridor 16, breaking bread, or in this case muscle and sinew of an unfortunate technician with his clone best friend Bergman.

"We've got something that might be of value to you," Koenig continued, intuitively realizing without seeing that he had the scientist's attention. The Commander roughly pulled Martha Ward into the picture.

"Father, help me," the daughter appealed pathetically.

Somewhere in the ancient synapses of the alien's mind, the impressions of the real, long dead Emmanuel Ward created havoc in its conscious. It never could understand the need to preserve that particular female, to slow her aging process and keep the original intact. It never could understand why it hadn't killed the standard and replicated it long ago.

It did it to every other original creature on the Feng Yun but never to this one.

"So what?!?" clone Bergman looked up, face smeared in fresh blood and working the nail of its left pinky finger like a toothpick to remove a piece of sinew from its front teeth. It sensed Ward's hesitation. "You can always create another one...."

"I don't think so, Victor." The commander heard the remark, and used his palm to push away the mildewing Martha Ward. "If he does that, he'll round file his own validity."

He was convinced.

"You make no sense." The concurrent Bergman reached for another drumstick with Paleolithic delight. The meeting of Moonbase Alpha's caveman club was in full swing.

"At least my nonsense is for-real nonsense." Koenig quibbled back, flinging sand from the sandbox. "What you have is a bogus, knock-off and you still don't use it."

Outside of monitor range, Zed Astrin's unchristian laughter.


"He won't harm you." The monster/clone/researcher swanned, insensate. "If he does, he knows what the consequence will be. Don't you Koenig?"

Martha's sniveling head was cast away yet again--a bowling ball to fate.

"Do I?" The commander challenged. "No matter what, you're going to turn Alpha into a gurgitator's banquet. If the only future we have to look forward to is medium, rare, and well done, why shouldn't I carry out my threat?"

"What do you want, then?" Ward inquired, his curiosity peaked. "Because you are exactly right. My race is driven to consume, and I probably won't stop until I've had everyone on this base over for dinner."

Bergman passed him the entree.

Muscles de security guard.

"One thing." Koenig stipulated, his face large on the digital screen. "Meet me in the emergency, standby Eagle in one half hour."

"That is most definitely, undeniably a rouse." The Bergman equivocation warned. "Don't you see? He's going to move your quarters. Outside. On the lawn."

"If you're that cowardly." The commander said. "Then we can meet in the boarding tube."

"Why?" Ward asked.

"What does it matter?" The commander told him. "I'll have your daughter with me. Be there in thirty minutes, or she will take a spacewalk without a suit. Think about it."

The screen went black.

Chapter 17

"There is not enough darkness in the world to put out the light of even one small candle."

--Robert Alden

"Love is not consolation. It is light."

--Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

"Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day. Give him a religion, and he'll starve to death while praying for a fish."

--Timothy Jones

Carter was right.

None of the 10 Victor Bergman's was the genuine, original Victor Bergman.

"Strange," Dr. Russell pronounced, receiving the data through her commlock link with the Alpha Medical server.

"What?" Angelina glanced toward her, temporarily diverted from her inspection of the subzero refrigeration motor. The assembly appeared antiquated and well used; and, like the rest of the ship, it appeared to be destined for the scrap heap.

"None of these clones are alive," Russell stated the obvious. "However, the genetic makeup of each one is slightly different. These are not exact copies of each other."

"Huh?" The Technical manager frowned in confusion. "Then they wouldn't be clones."

"Precisely," the physician nodded.

"Ooohhh..." Ang moaned in distress. "Are you saying that Ward was trying to take his creature creation to the next level? Playing god?!?!"

"Whatever would make you think something like that?" Truman Starns came back, fast and smartass.

A noise distracted them from further discussion as they readied their lasers and drew into a tighter group.

It was Ed Malcom, or a copy of Ed Malcom. Though both hands were raised in a gesture of surrender, in one hand, he had a bottle of liquid, from which he took generous gulps, not caring that a good amount also splashed on his tunic. In the other hand, his swollen fat fingers held two large biscuits, with obvious bites taken from both and a trail of crumbs behind him.

"Please," he smiled with food particle laden teeth, "I surrender. I hate it here and I think it's wrong what they are doing to you. I will help you if you take me back with you."

One Ed Malcolm was bad enough. Angelina couldn't fathom two of them...unless she was in hell. For a split second, she thought perhaps she had died and gone to Hades.


"Now that we're committed...." Zed Astrin spoke up in the astrophysics backroom. "To this...quietus...what's the plan? What's the coup de grace?"

John Koenig was interested in knowing that one too.

"Damage report, commander." Technician Isles turned in his chair. "This time they tore out fifty feet of pipe in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Liquid nitrogen flooded the chamber, so oxygen levels are down nineteen-point-five percent."

"Close the area off, and superheat the spill." Koenig recommended.

"We already have." Isles told him, and then turned his attention back towards his station.

"There is one way." Lorna O'Brian hypothesized. "The chances of it succeeding are miniscule, but we won't know until we try.

Koenig nodded, arms folded.

"When Dr. Russell surveyed the Feng Yun with the Roentgen satellite, there was an increase in vital readings."

"How so?" The commander investigated.

"Well...put simply, the molecular structure of these people appeared to recoil from the probe. This was how we knew something was not quite right." Who would have thought--not aliens, really, but kissing clone cousins. "Professor Bergman knows more about UV-Rays than I do, but it may be possible to create a reaction that is more dramatic. More malignant."

"You're suggesting that we blow them up like balloons, and then bust them?" Astrin struggled to compete.

"Maybe." O'Brian replied guardedly. "It may not work a'toll. If it does, we'll have to be careful not to have any of our people in the standby Eagle when we start the projectors. Artificially created beings aren't the only organisms that will desiccate in such an energy field."

"But Commander," Michelle Cranston, caught up in the moment, interrupted, "what about the party on the Feng Yun?"

'Oh shit,' the interim Technical Manager thought, as a few non-privy Main Mission Operatives couldn't help but look up in surprise. Cranston's face turned bright red. She screwed up.

Koenig immediately shot her an intimidating, highly irked glare. He looked around the room, only the humming and pinging of the computers slicing through the silence.

"I'm sorry, Commander," Cranston quietly stammered, head bowed in humiliation.

"That's right," he informed O'Brien, though Astrin already knew about the covert mission. "There is a party about the Feng Yun." He made eye contact with every person in the room, including Lars Manroot who was gaping from the balcony. "Only individuals in this room know about this covert mission."

Kate Bullen suddenly felt a sense of pride for being 'in the know', even if it was by accident. Gail Westheimer did not and silently text messaged her love interest, Orville Hendershot in Alpha News Service.

"Well, then." O'Brian recomposed.


Professor Victor Bergman, THE Professor Victor Bergman, raised himself on shaky elbows and squinted through swollen, bloodshot and myopic grey eyes around the room. The first sense to be assaulted was his olfactory but it wasn't the last odor he remembered before he lost consciousness while examining the Feng Yun's dilapidated drive.

His short term memory recalled his last thought before the explosion of pain on the back of his skull.

'The drive's core is about to go supercritical and unrepairable. Emmanuel Ward is not telling the truth.'

Then.....the slamming pain reverberated from the back to the front of his skull and blackness followed.

Now, he was here; unable to see clearly and in a place reeking of garbage rather than septic. Bringing items closer to his face for inspection, he realized that this was really trash. He stood up on rubber legs and with pounding headache and began feeling around with extreme nearsightedness on the walls of the dumpster.

For some reason, he remembered the ship schematic and gut wrenching horror overcame him. The ship dumpsters had an inlet but the outlet?


He also remembered reading the dumpsters automatically emptied on 48 hour cycles.

He wondered how long he had been in this trash can.


"What in the hell is with THIS room?" Angelina mumbled with extreme annoyance. The hatch from the morgue lead to a funhouse style hall of mirrors, branching to three different directions. Multiple images of themselves stared back at them, some normal mirror images, some grotesquely distorted through convex and concave reflections.

"Another trick." Haines guesstimated.' "This ship is one pub game after the next."

"Sure." Truman Starns reacted dismally. "Just like darts--except the part where we die like dogs."

"You're ILC Security." The researcher frowned on him. "We expect more fortitude from you than that."

"Sorry." The investigator told them all. "I must have been too busy studying sub-regional bureaus, and cybercrime strategies. I missed the chapter on clones completely."

On Earth it was different. Political, and religious factions didn't worry about replicating the likes of Alan Greenspan; not enough living tissue. Then there was the Prince Of Wales. Would he be cloned; should he be cloned; or should the skin be grafted from his butt?

"Yes, I forgot." Haines was contrite. "In your neck of the woods, there were man-sized ambitions to perform. Assassinating a foreign diplomat is no problem, but high tech,' global domination gives you gas."

"Do you smell something?" Carter caught wind of the wild, greenbottle, septic aroma. "Not Ward. Something else."

"Someone forgot to empty the waste can." Haines concorded.

"Not a problem," faux Ed Malcom announced like the jolly fat man he was becoming. He was somewhat more pleasant than the original Malcom. Perhaps being around them was producing a positive effect on it.

The ole nature versus nurture debate came to Angelina's mind. If Malcom had all the right influences, could the resulting clone individual truly be better than the original? They'd never know.

"I can empty it," he lumbered over to a panel. "See? This here button locks the chute door then this one empties the can into space."

The faint pounding sound beyond and below the wall distracted Angelina.

"Do you hear that?" She pointed to the chute, then taking a deep breath, pushed open the trap door.

"PROFESSOR!!!" She yelled down at the nearsighted Bergman, stumbling around in waist high refuse.


Lorna O'Brian sat at Koenig's desk, turning the cap on her fiber marker like a key in a keyhole. Her red flimsie stared back at her like a skull, and crossbones. The commander paced at office level while Lars Manroot leaned against the mainframe desk and whispered arcanum ideas to Emma Black who was seated at the turntable. Adisa Talic wanted to say something--anything, but in her mind, there were no ideas.

Zed Astrin just wanted an aspirin.

"They're heading back towards the deuterium vaults." Umberto Garzon accounted, and then clicked his mouse on the pull-down menu that would activate the next camera.


"Ward." John Koenig appeared again on the local commstation. "I just wanted to say, I never did have any respect for you...and you...and you."

"That's not funny, commander." The physicist told him, without interruption to his current blood meal. "You will surrender my daughter immediately, or my colleague, and I will do something about this wall problem you seem to have."

"I'm shaking in my boots." Koenig said ignobly. "Do as I asked--come to the standby Eagle, and you'll be able to pay your last respects. I always open a door for a lady."


"How fascile." Ward gaped at everyone in Main Mission from the big screen. "You don't impress me as being that kind of man. I'm still not convinced you're telling the truth."

"What does a clone know about truth?" The commander incited him. "Double the Wards, double the lies. You binge, and she purges."

With that, Koenig motioned for the connection to be cut.

"He'll be there now." Zed Astrin admired the commander's handiwork. "I don't think he'd miss it for the world."

Martha Ward looked miserable from her place, between two harness bulls on the computer deck under the balcony stairs. With hands bound behind her back and shackles at her ankles, she cursed bitterly.

"You'll pay for this," she threatened. "ALL OF YOU!!"

Koenig ignored her while the harness bulls tightened their grip on the younger Ward.

"Dr. O'Brian." The commander confirmed. "On my signal, begin the transmission."

"What about the party on the Feng Yun?" O'Brien objected humanitarianly. "I've tried isolating the pulses away from them but they appear to have a clone with them." She stared perplexed at the screen. "Why, I don't know."

"They'll realize what's happening, and take cover." Koenig replied as he indicated for Harness Bulls Theylan, and Judge to escort Martha Ward. Paling with ire, and black hair ransacked, she looked like a giant Panda. "Try to contact them." He told Astrin as he, and the rest of the necro-squad headed towards the left archway. "They'll either make it, or they won't. If they don't, they'll die."


If Emmanuel Ward were God, he would never embrace a simpleton like John Koenig. The last days of Moonbase Alpha were at hand, and all that clot could think to do was to heckle him. The physicist had his own reasons for heading for Launch Pad One. Seizing Martha was not what slew the moose. Ward desired an epistemological reason--a trope that would make his goals seem more considered than they really were. But when push came to shove, he had to acknowledge that he was attending the showdown because he wanted to rip away the commander's heart, and feel the hot, amputated plasma in his fist as it dripped onto the floor in a pool of red, coagulating grume.

"My deeds seem perversive to you?"

The Bergman simulacrum revolted him. Even as they supped, he somehow managed to maintain a look of pure, snow, and sugar exoneration.

The two went together like mass, and murder, but the phony professor still feigned those crackers of rectitude that made his standard seem like such a skunk.

"Why must we consume?" Bergman-B asked.

His cowardly mouth.

"To live." Ward said, taking more adventurous strides.

"Why must we live?"

"To eat." Ward said, hoping for another rack of ribs like the ones provided for by Analyst Bolton.

At the end of Causeway Four, they started up the steps to the Reconnaissance Hub.

"Is there no finer purpose?" The yellow bellied Bergman continued to bore him. "Zen." He suggested. "Reason is a failure of the spirit? Is there nothing more?"

"Yes." The other physicist told him.

Mock Apple Pie Bergman waited expectantly.

"To drink." Ward added, and wondered if it was time for Mr. Bergman here to win the lottery.


Carter, Starns and Haines used their sheer brawn, pulling the rope which was attached to Victor Bergman on the other side of the garbage shoot. Try as he might to help by stepping and grasping at anything that resembled footholds, he could never get a solid hold as his feet slipped off the walls covered in eons of slime.

Angelina was reading the text message warning from Emma Black regarding the impending opportunity for extreme sunburn and did not see the Ed Malcom clone quietly removed the fire ax from the wall then attempted to creep behind her, lifesaving device now destined for lethal weapon as he raised it above his head, ready to strike.

Malcom stopped. He belched uncontrollably and Ang turned as he was bringing the ax down. She blocked the death blow with her left forearm, which did not, though, escape the sharp business end of the ax. Surprise and sudden agony caused her to stumble backwards and fall to the ground.

Alan Carter immediately released the rope, sending Starns and Haines flying forward and Bergman in a sudden freefall. Fortunately for the professor, Starns had tied the other end of the rope around his waist but unfortunately for Truman, the forces of Bergman's fall did not stop him from crashing painfully into the steel wall. The Chief of Reconnaissance fired his laser on the fake Malcom as he launched into the air toward Ang like a crazed Sumo Ninja.

The Chief of Technical Operations rolled away, avoiding the ax and the excess, now liquefying, fat and flesh of what was once a copy of Ed Malcom. Still, she did not completely escape the rain of grue, and found herself showered in chunks of clone remains. Disgusted, she ripped the colorless sleeve from her right arm to staunch the flow of blood from the deep cut in her forearm.

"Hello?!? Truman? Jim? Alan?!?! What's going on up there?!?!?" Bergman shouted up from the other side of the garbage shaft.

"Nothing that surgery won't cure." Haines found fault with the astronaut's decisive action while mourning his lower back. "Thanks for the busted disc Alan."

Carter returned with a great, aussie salute, which looked for all the world like he was brushing flies from his face.

"Anything for a friend." The pilot said retiringly. "I feel a little guilty. That one was actually an improvement. He's been laser pizza for two minutes now, and already he's done more work than the real Ed Malcom has since Breakaway. It's just that--to me--wielding an axe on someone, unawares, is inappropriate behavior. Dumpling, as head of Technical Section, I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.

"I know Mathias won't."

"That's Bob's problem; but I forgive you," she responded while Russell examined her arm. The doctor looked around the room for a first aid kit but could find none.

"You're going to need stitches," Dr. Russell informed her. Blood from the backslash shaped wound was already soaking through the makeshift bandage.

"That would have been my diagnosis too," Ang quipped, returning to a horizontal position on the floor to mitigate the dizziness.

"Are we on holiday?" Truman Starns asked, bootheels sliding in the fungus--his neck muscles bulging into stressed, beef sides as he cleaned, and jerked. Under the bank, slowly ascending thru the shallows of filth, Victor Bergman viewed the world through McGoo glasses as dead weight supported by a midshipman's taughtline. Somewhere below, a dreadful clock ticked away the last remaining seconds inevasibly.

"I think I know what happened." Bergman decided as he inched his way out of the stinking, smell from Hell. "Maybe you ought to just leave me down there. It would appear that even when I can 'see,' I still can't 'see,' if you know what I mean." This was his attaint. "If I can't make better character judgments than that, then I probably ought to hop off the tram now."

"It's not your fault, Professor," Ang remarked sympathetically. She held her arm straight up in the air above her heart to stem the red tide. She knew what a close friend Emmanuel Ward had been to Victor Bergman at one time. Bergman had recounted fondly many such stories of friendship from his youth. "If a good friend of mine showed up at our doorstep, I'd be inclined to believe it was a genuine reunion. I think any of us would."

"I wouldn't," Haines retorted superiorly.

"How would you know?" Starns shot back, smiling sadistically. "You don't have any friends."

"Boys," Russell reprimanded like Mother Superior, "that's enough." She turned her attention to Bergman, checking him over. "What did they do to you? How did you become so myopic?"

"I...don't know," he rubbed the back of his head, squinting. "I suppose I could be left with worse effects."

Like being dead.

"If you can't fix it," he shrugged, "I'll just wear glasses. But in the meantime, I really can't see much a'toll. For all practical purposes, I'm blind."

He could distinguish Carter by the blurry orange blob on his left side. That would be his zippered sleeve. Through the fog, he ascertained Haines position from the rust colored sleeve and Starnes, like the professor, had a neutral sleeve. Ang was on the floor, though attempting to sit up.

"Oh!" Ang remembered. "According to Emma, they are about to blast this ship with UV rays. I'll explain later. We need to take cover but where?"


The ray of light finally appeared, not at the end of the rainbow, or the Moon, but at the end of the metallic ceiling grate that looked over the cold concrete of the pad one access ramp. Intrepid, fertive voices grew louder, and louder as they stole their way down the shaft--crawling elbow, over ass down the tube. They walked softly, but they carried big sticks.

"Man, this is totally not cool." The vanguard of the strike force said with bravery, and betise.

"You're a videographer." The fearless leader of the group replied with spartan unpermissiveness. "No one expects you to think. Nay, we deplore the thought."

"My hair is caught." A dauntless, pioneering female said from her station aft. "On one of these dumb bolts. The next time we do this, let's make sure we have a ladder."

"Man, I was just wondering about that." The tireless soldier responded severely. "That's cement down there. How are we going to break our fall once this register comes off."

"Never fear." The admiral--a high seas, space commando in a war against the universe, and the corrupt, governmental structure of Moonbase Alpha avowed. "I've already thought of a way for us to soft land."

His smirk was audible.

"How now, brown cow-dude?" The warrior in front asked.

That was when the grate gave way. Orville Hendershot, and Tara Bathory plummeted to the floor, and Duke provided the padding.

"When you think about it," a blood stained Bergman B stood over the broken bone and bruised trio, "the media creates more havoc and misery if left alive."

"You're reading my mind--if I didn't know better, I'd say you were a clone." Ward crept up to the killing jar, his beard all rotted iron red strands of spleen, and resin. His tunic was resmudged, and finger marked with someone's innards. "One morning show was enough for me. Can you believe they were barefaced enough to accuse me of some Downy plot--Koenig goes back to Earth, but first he hands over every warm body on Moonbase Alpha to me for my lumpen experiments.

"With each passing day, I grow in my disdain for the human race."

He kicked Hendershot in the can three times.

The executive producer cried out--desperate to protect his derriere.

"Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmm...." The Feng Yun Bergman scratched his sideburns. "Exactly who was it that wrote that expose.' I found it unkindly that I was referred to as the Moon's answer to Dr. Faustus. And the way you said it...." He fleered at Tara Bathory. "So uncharitable. As if perverting science was my release from a lifetime of forced abstinence."

"Journalists often use oxymorons." Bathory explained, nervously smoothing out her not-long-for-this-moon hair follicles. "Besides, you can be unvirtuous and still be a good person."

"Lord, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change." Ward bowed his head. "The courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to hide the bodies of the people we had to kill because they ticked us off."

"Man, I never knew a couple of duplicated geezers could be so completely nutless." Duke challenged. He had the only spine in the room, even if it was broken. "Go ahead, and finish me. Given the choice, I would rather be road kill than to hang out with either of you two. You're like extra photographs in one seriously boring-ass album."

"Open your mouth, Duke." The Bergman repeat towered forward. "Time to pull your tongue out."

But the screams that emanated from the boarding tube interrupted the process.

"Martha?" Ward stood straight, and gazed at the short stairwell that led to the pad one boarding tube.

Chapter 18

"The eye is on fire."

--Gautama Siddharta

"The more walls between us and the pulses, the better off we'll be," Professor Bergman explained as he was guided by Helena Russell on one side and Angelina Carter on the other.

"Like in the Medical area?" the physician suggested.

"Since its in the heart of the ship, that would be the best place," Bergman nodded, carefully but quickly treading the dim and blurry corridor. Carter and Haines were ahead of them and Starns was bringing up the rear.

They didn't get far when, rounding the corner, Bergman saw more fuzzy figures.

"Not so fast," Dr. Amadore stood as a barricade with at least 10 other 'people', all standing with weapons drawn. "How do you say? Its the 'end of the road.'" He chuckled.

"Oh my god," Angelina whispered in genuine disbelief and shock.

From behind him, six figures stepped out of the shadows: clones of Alan Carter, Helena Russell, Victor Bergman, and for the first time Truman Starns, Jim Haines and Angelina Carter.


The LLO satellite was in the thousand kilometer summit between Schrodinger's Crater, and Plato.

The immensity between was a ten thousand below zero, blood drenched, one point eight battlefield.

The probe's electrostatic cameras were turned due east, and rotated on their bearings towards Launch Pad One--even as the surging, sin wiping solar platforms plunged the Feng Yun into a lifeless, thought free, people free white out. The neutral titanium girders, and bounding angles of Rescue Eagle Ten stood vigil in the blue; uncaring against the absentia, black, and white horizon of lunar highlands.

The ditz was shrieking her head off. Koenig was apparently made of stern stuff, and Ward supposed that he would have to save her.


"You rang?" The other Carter told the standard Angelina.

"What the fuck are you talking about?" The authentic pilot asked with lackluster indisposition.

"She said my name. Don't wear it out." His clone smiled peevishly. "God. Right, dinkie-di?"

"Shut up!" Angelina genuine spat, leveling her laser at the fake Carter. Clearly, they were outnumbered. "You know what they say," she smiled. "Once you kill the first clone, it just gets easier each time thereafter."

"I don't appreciate having a laser pointed at me." Haines told his successor.

"Starns was right." His clone replied. "No one likes you. I don't even like you, and I'm precisely you, right down to the wart on your border."

"What's with the guns." The one, true Alan Carter asked Amadore. "Rumor has it that when it comes time to off someone, you blokes prefer to use your tongues."

The ship was canting a few degrees starboard. He wasn't sure why, but he felt that the Auger was experiencing the clone cure.

"Funny, because that's what I heard about you." The physician related with ice. "No need for the lightstorm. If we wait long enough, your enamor will finish us. Fortunately for us, but not for you, there isn't that much time."

"The amp blasting." Haines, the first surmised. "Of course. It's powerful enough to destroy you, but the energy requirements are dangerous to us as well.

"Yes." His mirror image explained. "The differences in organic chemistry would enable you to enjoy a nicer death. Instead of exploding, the pulses would simply stop your hearts--like having an EMT's tens unit placed against your chest."

You're right. Uno Haines thought quietly. I don't like myself.

"I wonder how right you really are," Angelina retorted to the fake Haines. "You're a theoretical physicist, not a biophysics specialist. We could very well walk away from your disgusting remains with only bad sunburns."

"Either way, you won't live to see it," threatened faux Bergman with 20/20 vision.

"Let's cut through the ear-bashing." A birthed, but not cloned, Alan Carter grew curious. "Since we're about to die, you may as well give us the straight count you grot. Let's start with that thing you've got in your mouth."

He gave him a Rolling Stones lick of the glossa.

"That?" Amadore acknowledged. "Space is not empty. That is simply the result of centuries of crossbreeding with other races. An attempt to build a better human by bettering the gene pool. I can't say specifically what species were used. Over the years, there have been dozens. Tens of dozens."

"I don't need to see it." Starns told his clone with disgust.

"I see." Carter's voice grew lyrical. "You aren't just copies of a copy. You're alien. An alien who has fed on other aliens."

"I'm human." Amadore argued.

"No." The astronaut broke into remorse. "No. How long has it been since there were Earth people aboard the Feng Yun?"

"The entire crew." Starns realized totally, and philosophically. "Massacred."

"Men,women and children," Angelina finished the sentence.

"Not the children immediately," Amadore went on. "Dr. Ward found their uncorrupted DNA to be quite useful in our early experimentation. The only part he found offensive dealing with the young was the high pitched squeals. They disrupted his work. Once they were made mute, he was able to make faster progress."

Angelina instantly felt sick to her stomach. Ward made Josef Mengele look like a loving parent.

"Your base has fresh DNA," Amador went on. "It is a perfect opportunity for the doctor to continue his work."

"No way," Angelina fired on her copy. Her clone had already begun to decay before it even hit the ground. Carter fired on his replica as well as Amador as did Starns, who blasted himself and two other clones. Russell pulled Bergman to the floor. Haines missed.

It was clear they were outnumbered when the entire clone group dropped to the floor in one wide beam laser hit. The area reeked of instant, putrid decay and Angelina and Russell could help themselves from gagging. Out of the shadows step Commander Koenig.

"John!!" Russell shouted with relief, as Koenig jumped over the steaming, rancid masses on the floor, followed, surprisingly by Martha Ward.

"Helena! Victor," he helped them both up. He looked around at the others. "Let's go. We need to get to a safer area. The pulses will be starting in 60 seconds."

"What is SHE doing with you?" Angelina, trying not to breath through her nose, asked by pointing to Ward.

"My father is wrong," Martha continued. "I want to do what is right and stop him."

Carter was leaning against one of the metallic voids, between I-beams--staring at the floor, and shaking his head. It was like a factory, but it had nothing to do with Willy Wonka. Cells; corpuscles; nerve endings; ganglia--the ABC's existence were all cobbled together within minutes. Apparently, Ward had acquired more than a morgue filled with extraterrestrial victims. He seized their technology as well. The astronaut was not a genetics expert, but nothing on Earth could produce a just-add-water, instant human.

"Fifteen minutes between cabin check, and mainstage firing." He recounted with a bitter taste in his mouth.

"What?" Koenig regarded him absurdly.

"Add on another fifteen minutes to achieve a geosynchronous orbit." The pilot went on without looking up. "Throw in the transit time along the fiftieth parallel, and the course correction over the Mare Nubium."

"And?" Haines wondered sardonically.

"It can't be done in less than an hour." Carter turned, and looked devoutly at Angelina. "Not even if you're riding on all four at full thrust."

"I think I need to stop thinking." Starns decided.

"Before you do." The astronaut continued to weave his maze of bamboozlement. "Answer me this? How long have you been here, and was the commander supposed to rendezvous with you?"


Angelina stared at Koenig. "You never said you were coming here. We've been here at least 2 hours. It took us almost two hours to get here. That means, you had to leave at the same time as us.

"You didn't." She continued pointedly. "Further, I spoke with the Commander an hour ago and he was on Alpha."

"John?" Helena Russell mugged confused, even as she covertly brought up her commlock link to scan the version of Koenig in front of her.

He grabbed Bergman, pulling him violently back by the tunic and pressed his laser against the professor's temple. Haines raised his laser.

"Don't," Angelina warned. "You'll kill that thing impersonating the Commander but the professor could be killed in the process."

"Fire, Jim, for God's sake, fire," Bergman croaked even as the phony Koenig's hand tightened its grip on his neck and the laser.

"Well done." Carter applauded the con of a commander. "But he doesn't need to, Victor."

The astronaut pointed towards the sudden aspect that had taken over the tank top, and a pair of manholes on the port side. The effect was like emerging sunlight. Mote, by mote--slowly, gracefully, implacably--the energy wave began to solidify, building in amperes, and intensity. Gradually, the various maintenance panels, and brackets became visible in the blackness of the crawlspace.

"He won't do it." Martha Ward held the same opine as Amadore. "Koenig. He's not serious."

"What?" The pilot questioned. "Serious about killing you? Well, he's making a damn, fair go of it, if you ask me. Look around, sister. Those beams are coming from one of the orbiting satellites. I'm not a technician, but I can tell you now, they're saturating every compartment on this ship. You got your Z-Burst. The commander is making sure of it. Pretty soon, you won't be able to see, the light will be so bright.

"And then Jack will fall down, break his crown, and Jill will come tumbling after."

"FUCK YOU." Martha Ward--the second Martha Ward--spat violently.

"No, fuck you." Carter told her.

"So this is mercy, not strained?" The unauthorized Koenig ridiculed, and made it a point to choke Bergman even harder.

"No, this is a bunch of blags getting what's coming to them." The astronaut grasped. "Besides, how much pity did you have on the crew of the Feng Yun."

He found it hard to believe they were gone. All gone. Every last man, woman, and child. Only a hybrid, diseased Ward remained. Alan Carter had killed his share of human beings. Justly, and unjustly. He still could not comprehend why a person should be dispatched, simply because they were the prototype. It was worse than Aryanism; fouler than ethnic cleansing; more putrid than any fascist political polemic.

"There was no pity," Angelina concluded, almost choking up. "Ward exploited them, creating a better and heartier meal for himself. They became worse than beef cattle."

"Alright." Bad Koenig could dig it. "Since we're going to die, then we have no reason to waste time bargaining."

His trigger tightened.

Bergman's face was fire engine red.

It was then that the ship turned completely sidewise at a forty five degree angle, and everyone took a slide.


"WE HAVE NO GYRO CONTROL." The fourth generation of Pricisilla Nitrile's wailed amidst the shower of overloaded bus panels in the Auger. Outside the avian rendezvous windows, the Moon began to slope, and slue. Cloned technician's fell away from their stations, and rolled away into the flames, and vulnerable, exposed impasses.


"I have no remorse...none," Martha Ward proclaimed in the boarding tube. "You have to understand. He's my father. He became my father." Martha, the only genuine human being of the Feng Yun, ancient though she was, went on. "I did what I did as a child who loves her parent."

"What about your own child? " Koenig reminded her. "You sacrificed your own child for THAT?"

"No," Martha went on. "It was an accident. He told me so. He apologized to me and tried to remedy it but it wasn't the same."

"He 'accidentally' consumed his own grandchild?" Koenig ruffled the feathers more.


Hanging two storied up on the metal ladder inside the water storage tank, Morrow and Benes literally clung to their lives. The water level was nearly 2/3 high and rising.

"Paul!" Sandra had an idea. "There is one thing we could try. We could try to stop the flow, even for a few minutes, by plugging the inlet with our clothing. It would not last and the force of the water pressure would blow it out but the change in pressure would be noticed by computer and would sound an alarm. Per procedure, someone would come down to investigate."

There was a glimmer of hope in Morrow's defiantly angry expression.

"I think it is our only option," Sandra added as she unzipped her yellow sleeve.


"FATHER!!!" Martha Ward cried out with joy. "I knew you would come." She turned to Koenig. "You're a dead man now." She laughed, tossing back salt and pepper hair.

"This is a fruitless venture, Commander," Ward stood at the other end of the boarding tube with his companion in cannibalism, clone Victor Bergman. Between them was Tara Bathory, the blonde, Barbie doll like Alpha News Anchor, shaking and crying.

Clone Bergman ran wizened fingers through her long blonde hair. He began to kiss her softly on the neck.

"Now, Koenig," Ward continued. "You will shut down the UV bombardment and release my daughter or.... my friend Victor here will make a meal out of this nice young lady."

Ward nodded for the demonstration and with razor sharp fangs, Bergman bit into Bathory's neck, narrowly missing her carotid artery but nevertheless removing a one inch chunk of flesh. The woman shrieked in agony and fear, as well manicured nails grappled at the gaping, torrentially bleeding hole.


The Feng Yun lisped 45 degrees as Angelina Carter felt her skin crawling from the excess UV ray bursts. All around her, clones exploded, raining putrid and slimy flesh on seemingly every square inch of floor. Bergman, squinting, thought he was back in the garbage shoot again, given the slippery, almost vertical floor.

"The moonbus!" Angelina remembered their ride to the Feng Yun. She looked around the corridor. "It's not very far!"

"RUN FOR IT." Carter advised while helping to steady himself, and Angelina. "C'MON. MAKE WAY."

While Bergman sat crumpled awaiting help, Haines pulled Starns up into the conduit, just as a pipeful of compressed 02 tore away from a chase in the wall. A white, cumulous cloud filled the capsizing chamber. There was fire; there was water; there was lethal electricity. The clones of Koenig, and Amadore were so unhappy, they could burst--and burst they did--all over the merry-go-round constellations. The chamber was amazingly serene, though. Almost churchlike. The penetrating beams from the satellite fell in revealing, high noon bars on the inhuman corpses that were left behind. Flesh instantly smoldered, and burst in flame.

The astronaut had to reconfigure which way was down, because now down was up. Straining both rotary cups, he grasped the hatch cover, and pulled it away, thereby exposing the crampt tunnel where Ned Carpenter had spilled his guts only an hour before.

He would spill more.


Ang' was helping Bergman. Haines, and Starns fumbled shortly behind, hopping in, and out of the transverses since the ceiling was now the floor.


The radiant heat touched the liver spots of his palm.

Koenig was a bent fink.

"STOP THE PROCESS." Ward cried--the Manchester libratto that he had stolen from his host, cracking in a cowardly, redneck curl. "DID YOU HEAR WHAT I SAID?" He demanded, and gored Tara Bathory's neck. This was news. Too bad the anchor was too unconscious to report it. She lay broken, and limp in the alien's steaming forearms.

"DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA?" Bologna Bergman shrieked in justification. "THE EONS OF EXPERIENCE YOU ARE ABOUT TO DESTROY?"

"WE CAN HELP YOU FIND A NEW WORLD." Ward dealt a new hand--lightening strike him dead if his chicken-ass was lying. The passenger module of the rescue Eagle now seemed framed in reflective bronze. It was glory. It was Heavenly ascension, and damnable fall.

"And for what price?" Koenig responded, unimpressed. "Our souls. No thanks, Ward."

In the pulsating, sunburn rays, the Commander noted Ward's pallor, sweating and labored breathing. He aimed his laser.

"NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" Martha Ward screamed, her face suddenly becoming more and more wrinkled with each passing second. Her hair turned completely white and she became stooped with a dowager's hump within the course of 10 seconds. Arthritic, boney knuckles covered by leather like skin extended outward, as the handcuffs fell off of the arms of an octogenarian.

"NOOOOO!!!" Martha Ward screamed gutturally, scratchy and grainy became her voice as her larynx began to wither.

The centuries old, now mummified remains collapsed under their own weight, but not before turning the skeleton legs to dust.

Koenig, watching the alien's cries of mourning and pain as it knelt and scooped the dust of Martha Ward into its hand, saw his opportunity and fired his laser.


Orange, black, and red hellfire blew outwards in a plume on the opposite side of the maintenance port. The squat, rectangular moonbus--belly up--was showered with comets, rapidly extinguished in the freezing, unending night.


Carter had to pull himself into the passenger cabin with the safety rails. Four rows of unusable seats hung from the ceiling.

"THAT'S IT, HEAVE JIMMY." He told Haines frantically. Angelina held onto his waste to provide a counterbalance as they pulled Bergman aboard. Once inside, Starns--who pushed the professor from the rear, had no trouble making it inside. Fear for his life was all the motivation, and propulsion he needed.

"THAT'S IT, DECOMPRESS." Carter cried out as he raced towards the inverted, control cabin. Outside the viewport, flaming fragments of the Feng Yun were falling towards the lunar surface on vapors that were kilometers long.

Helena Russell clinging to the top of a seat, hit the button, then pulled herself into a chair as Ang helped the myopic Bergman strap in. Angelina rolled into her seat as Carter rolled the ship.

Haines turned white as he stared out the porthole.


On the other side of the transparency, Technician Ned' Carpenter waved farewell.


"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress

depends on the unreasonable man."

--George Bernard Shaw

Between the shadowed moutainsides, and seamounts, Moonbase Alpha sprawled like a soundless, unreal Olympus.


"UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN, DEAREST SANDRA...." Paul Morrow's mouth, and eyes--the only parts of his body that were still visible in the oversupply of reservoir water bade. Symphonic in his underpants, he counted down the terminal inches until the cistern was completely flooded. He was floating on his back; savoring his last, precious gulps of air before descending to Davie Jones' locker, once and forever.

Usually a phallus, he now seemed metrically sweet.

"No, no, no, NO!" Sandra Benes spat water violently, though futilely. She was numb with cold but her soul raged in anger. "It will not end this way. Do you hear me?!?!" She screamed between gulps at an invisible god. "IT WILL NOT END THIS WAY!!!"

Then...abruptly...the pumps fell silent.

The irrigate stopped flowing.

Several meters below them, four spectral bulbs began to candent.

Morrow drifted along, his heart palpitating, his eyes batting nervously left, and right as he blew water from his mouth, and nose. He eventually entered the same shipping lanes as Sandra Benes, their shoulders bumping unromantically in the untrustworthy calm.

Not far from the controller's big, floppy feet, a sphere of dry, lightsome moonbase appeared as the heavy submarine hatch creaked open.

"How are those repairs coming?" Dac Capano asked the Data Analyst as she corked, and bobbed across the exposed space. "I won't rush you. If you need more time, just say so."

"I do not believe this," Sandra blurted caustically as Capano stared down at her floating, bra and underwear only clad form. "The answer is 'no'. We do not need more time. We do not want to 'kill ourselves' on this job. Understand?" She sputtered, grasping on the edge of the hatch and pulling herself up over the opening. Shivering at the sudden cold, she looked back and offered a helping hand to Morrow.

She sighed and gathered her composure, despite a near death experience. "What I want," she started patiently, "is you to drain the tank, get a crew in there, with someone outside, and find out why in the hell that valve became stuck in the open position."

Capano hurried along, then. He was never one to hurl bathroom tissue at the bear.


On a neighboring rise, a trio of cargo Eagles rested at relative angles to one another.

In the residual steam of a bomb blasted, Schrodinger's Crater, the remote units bumped along like Tonka toys. Orange helmeted pairs navigated through the tracks, and scanned the remains of Earth's first, and last generation ship. Like Victor Bergman's last nerve, the Feng Yun was gone.

Umpqua valve, and all.


Ninety-nine clones of Russell on the wall; ninety-nine clones of Russell; if one of those clones should happen to fall, ninety-eight clones of Russell on the wall. Why do hyenas laugh (vials or arachnid venom, overturned, and blotting the last of the Calendars)? Because they know (but fallen, unredeemed man does not) what is coming next. The planet Thalarion had three suns--red, and trapped in a violet smog. The arrival was not ironic, unless you believe in Santa Claus. Moonbase Alpha was evacuated...

(but the figure on the hill was a pale horse stampeding)

...and all was right in a cosmos where, if six turned out to be nine, no one would mind...

(no responsibility)

...the birds were a lot like Ravens...

(but the colony had no doors)

...a rustling in the valley of the dead...

(because thou hast succeeded)

...supernovas launching, and tearful commiseration...always....

(thou must surely die)

John Koenig awakened suddenly on the foam couch in his office. Unlike Morrow, and Benes, his commlock was the only part of his body that was not soaked. Reality came for him. The vycor transparencies on the east wall came into focus--the only compensation he could ever expect to receive on the street of murdered dreams.

"Commander." Umberto Garzon called from the commstation. "The salvage teams have reported back. There doesn't appear to be much left."

"Thank you, Garzon," Koenig sat on the foam couch with elbows resting on knees and bloodshot, weary eyed face resting in hands. "You know the drill. Have them gather whatever might be useful to technical to recycle and return to base."

The other acknowledged him and the commander cut the link. He sat a minute, not wanting to get up but rather, just sit. Finally, he arose, the bones in his weak knee cracking and he winced as he worked the kinks out of the joint and leaned against the sill, staring out over the lunar surface.

He didn't expect to see Thalarion or anything else for that matter other than black. He was hoping for once, he was wrong.

He was right.

The commander turned and left the office through the auxiliary entrance, headed for Medical Center.


"Really, professor, its not that bad at all," Angelina Carter reassured, providing moral support as Victor Bergman was lead to the machine which would perform LASIK on his eyes, thus restoring his sight to 20/20. "You won't have to wear reading glasses anymore either," she brimmed, continuing. "Isn't that right, Bob?"

"Indubitably." The physician replied. "But on the off-chance that the LASIK failed--and it does seventy percent of the time--you'll quickly adjust to wearing soda pop spectacles, and the cruel stigma that is attached to them."

"How do you intended to keep me from blinking?" Bergman asked, as Helena Russell mobilized his head between padded but firm supports.

"These," the doctor showed him the lid mobilization brackets. "You'll still have the urge to blink and you'll think that you are blinking but, rest assured, you won't." She patted him on the shoulder. "Try to relax, Victor. It will be over in a few minutes." She paused then offered, "Perhaps you'd like a valium?"

"If he doesn't want it, can I have it?" Angelina joked before Bergman could answer.

"No," Russell ignored her.

"Valium?" The professor winced. "No." He smoothed his decisive palms. "On the other hand, I could use Brain In A Bottle, if you happen to have any laying around."

He was cajoled by Ward so easily.

"Hey, Commander," Ang greeted, but now fixated by the monitor which would display Bergman's LASIK in full color, close circuit detail, "you're just in time. The blind is about to see again."

"Oh the humanities." A grinning Koenig rebuked the forces of nature that kept driving him back to the black, bone rims in the top drawer of his desk. "Victor, I hope you're grateful for the gift that's been bestowed upon you. I can't tell you what a thrill it is to read a PM Report from Technical while looking like a door-to-door Hoover salesman from the early sixties."

"Well." Mathias feigned reproof. "Let us not be too eager. He may yet know the true meaning of the word 'suction.'

"My good fellow?" He instructed Raul Nunez, who complied by pulling down a Snellen Eye Test Chart from a rig on the ceiling. "It's more fun if you stand about twenty feet away. You don't get any points for the giant 'E' in the left-hand corner. The sixth row down is much more interesting."

"A giant letter 'E.'" Bergman appended, squinting not at the letters on the chart, but at the dumbkoff way he had lived his life. "I see 'E,' 'F,' and 'G.' The 'E' because I'm too eager; 'F' because I'm feebleminded, and 'G' for gooselike."

"There was no way you could have known." Koenig tried to reassure his friend. "Ward had centuries to perfect his craft. Ward, or whatever it was he became; not that I'm clear on that. Calendar was deliberately vague on that issue."

"I thought we had already gone over this," Russell commented, mildly irritated as the LASIK unit lowered into position over Bergman's right eye. "You obsess too much, Victor and your guilty conscience is unwarranted."

Numbing, anesthetic eye drops resulted only in a mild pressure sensation as a "c" shape cut was made in the cornea and Russell gently flipped it to one side. Immediately, the clicking of the laser could be heard and just as immediately, Bergman's focus on the blurry red laser light became clearer as Russell irrigated the area. The corneal flap was returned to its position and the physician smoothed it down.

"On to the other eye," Helena smiled as the machine shimeyed to the left.

"Amazing," Bergman mumbled, noting the clarity in the right eye.

After a repeat performance on the left eye, the unit was moved aside.

"I can almost see the 5th line again," Bergman squinted, as Russell put the clear plastic lenses over his eyes, taping the edges in place with medical tape.

"These need to stay on for 24 hours," she smiled. "Except when you apply antibiotic drops. They're added insurance against you rubbing your eyes." She nodded to Mathias. "Another successful LASIK correction, doctor."

Bergman sat up, now once again able to not only see that the commpost had a digital clock but able to read the time. The professor emerged from the optical procedure room, then took Russell's advise and relaxed on the foam white couch.

"Very attractive," Angelina teased at his plastic bug eyed look. "I remember making that same fashion statement. You get lots of stares. Just stare back. It will unnerve them."

"I think most people around here are already unnerved by my presence right now after what I did...or rather, after what my clone did while I was gone," he fidgeted uncomfortably, not liking being in his own skin.

The technical chief groaned inwardly and glanced at Koenig for help.

"I don't think it's that." The commander stated, placing his palm on the professor's shoulder as he made a round. "It probably has more to do with Thalarion, and the fact that we're still here, and not there. Ouma, and Severance are working up an extreme exposure using the Fourteen Parabola. All of the pictures taken before were too obfuscated by stellar gases. According to Carroll, this one will be the final chapter. If there's a planet there, we'll see it."

"The question is...." Mathias observed while returning the Snellen Chart to its eye mount. "Do we really want to see it?"

He, for one, would consider it the final shake of the salt container in the open, festering, tortured flesh of a wound.

"You can run but you can't hide from the truth, even if it hurts," Ang stated philosophically while checking the time on her commlock. Alan Carter's cargo Eagle had landed 10 minutes prior with a load of Feng Yun scrap, destined for the recycle plant.

"I would also want to know," Helena Russell nodded, removing her sterile surgical cap. "Even if it meant Thalarion was a paradise lost to us, at least we would no longer live with that uncertainty."

"No, instead we learn to live with disappointment...again," Ang added gloomily. Maybe she didn't want to know.

"Bad news is better than no news," Helena replied, scanning the notes of Cameraman Duke's back surgery.

"Coop,' and the crew in the map room have already gone over the hypothetical coordinates." Koenig went on. "The master computer confirmed their accuracy...sort of. In any case, everyone will be excited to know that--short of an act of God--we're not heading anywhere near that vicinity."

Mathias knew a little, and even that priori was too much.

"What difference would it make?" The physician waned Kafkaesque. "Even if a giant hand did come down, and give us a little top English, it would take eons for us to get there. I'm not an astronaut, but you don't have to be one to know that there's a difference between drifting hopelessly, and controlled flight."

"Don't rely too much on that divine spin." Bergman blinked through his Robot Monster temporary lenses. "We're in bundled space. It wouldn't surprise me at a'toll if we stumble into a Rapture Corridor sometime soon." He firmed the appliance over his head with careful hands. "And that." He added the morbid, piece de resistance. "That would send us right into the corner pocket."

"Corner pocket? If we hadn't used the pulse burst on those things and Ward, we all would have been sunk." Angelina went on. "That thing was almost unstoppable. Talk about living to eat rather than eating to the worst way. What I don't understand is why the clones didn't try to get rid of it. I mean, the solution was simple enough. And what about Martha Ward? That was THE original Martha Ward and she protected that thing, nurtured really, for centuries."

"A child's love for her parent?" Russell offered.

"But that wasn't her father," Ang countered.

"That was the society they created." Koenig elucidated with unwanted jurisprudence. "No matter how they appeared, the crew of the Feng Yun was not like us. They had knowledge of Earth, and Earth culture, but that's all it was. Everything else was translated over into the herd instinct. For Martha Ward, it may have been holding onto what was left of a common denominator. Her father was her anchor; her light switch. Even after the alien savagely maligned her chromosomes, all she could see were her memories."

"We may be holding Ward on a higher dais than he deserves." It occurred to Bergman from his place on the couch. "Besides the obvious problem--his irrationality, and his insane appetite for barbarism--what we may have been dealing with was a very primitive form of life; one that's new to the galaxy, relatively speaking. His life span was far greater than ours, I'll grant you that, but eight hundred years is but a drop of rainwater in the grand scheme of things. Human history--recorded, human history--goes back five thousand years, and that's not counting the unwritten, blank slated dark ages before that.

"To be spacefaring, and to have the capacity to clone other organisms does not make one a wunderkind of advanced civilization. Ward may have been nothing more than a Kurgen of the cosmos; or a Visigoth of the stars. It's no excuse for the many crimes of the planet Earth. Dark; chaotic; totalitarian.

"Thoughtless, and without feeling." The professor finished off the history books in a fell swoop. "At least Ward is partially absolved by the fact that he was basic. What was our excuse?"

"We have none," Angelina crossed her arms and looked down. "We're only human."

What followed next was a brief silence. No one could argue with their humanity and its imperfections.

"That's an interesting thought, Victor," Helena Russell finally spoke up. "Ward as a lower, primitive alien than what we assumed as a higher intelligence." She paused, biting her lip and nodding. "That does make some sense."

"Then again, higher beings do not necessarily preclude barbarism and brutality," Koenig remembered, scratching his chin. "I'm not sure I'm in complete agreement."

The door slid open and Alan Carter, still clad in orange environmental suit minus helmet and life pack stepped into the room.

"Ah," Ang greeted, smiling, "you're back. Did you find anything good or mostly junk metal that my foundry will be expected to leech out impurities to create pure steel?"

"We got very little to show for being out there." The astronaut said tiredly, loosing the neck dam on his suit. "That wombat, Ward took the good stuff with him when he went. We picked up some copper; an amazing amount of honeycomb insulation, considering. We also extracted some thermal stuff, and about fifty pounds of titanium."

He looked disgruntled, and disenfranchised.

"Fifty?" Mathias carped. "Well, it might make an impressive percolator. Maybe a flower pot?"

So every cloud did have a silver lining.

"What about the ship's systems?" Koenig confabed. "Electronics? The GHC Drive?"

"If anything remains of the Auger, it's unrecognizable." Carter reputed. "Ask me, it will be buckley's of us ever finding it. The propulsion system must have been pretty bad off, or Schrödinger would have been widened when that thing blew."

"Commander," Ben Ouma had stepped into the reception area as well, holding a blue flimsie. "Report on Thalarion."

Koenig took the folder and flipped it open, scanning to the last page.

"Well?" Angelina finally coaxed, guardedly depressed. "Another paradise lost?"

The commander closed the folder, and slid it beneath his black-sleeved forearm.

"It looks like we have a 'negative' position report on the planet Thalarion." He ended the suspense, once and for all. "There's nothing out there, but sunspots, which is probably what caused the confusion in the first place.

"Severance has compiled some time-coded images for anyone who cares to see them." Koenig shrugged.

Angelina unconsciously released a hefty sigh. There would be no exodus. There would not even be an imaginary what if scenario because there was no planet as a destination.

No Thalarion, at any rate.

In a way, she hoped, despite the real physical and psychological dangers, they would find a rapture corridor soon. In the present space, it was empty with no hope of encountering any sort of planet or planetoid for at least 500 years. Without even uninhabitable planets or heavenly bodies which could be mined crossing their path, they would run out of resources long, long before that time. A depressing silence engulfed them as every person in that room shared the same realization.

John Koenig...what could he say? The commander seated himself on the shelf of a nearby RX cabinet. An opportunity had been lost, but frown lines had been gained.

An unfair trade, if ever there was one.


Nicky Carter sat eagerly at the head of the table. Donning a colorful paper hat secured to his head with an elastic under his chin, he smiled broadly as a large cake with three bright candles was being brought to him by his mother. The room was filled with the other children of Alpha even small infants in arms.

A birthday, especially a birthday of their future was a big event.

On one side of Nicky, Alan Carter beamed with pride while on the other side, Victor Bergman, minus robot glasses but plus goofy paper hat (the only adult in the room wearing one), pointed eagerly at the approaching pastry. Idle chatter and laughter filled the room until everyone began singing "Happy Birthday."

"Wait!" Angelina Carter abruptly stopped, as she placed the gigantic cake with blazing candles at the other end of the table. "Truman," she called to the detective, standing casually next to Dot Sullivan, "would you get the digital camera out of the closet? Yeah, that one," she motioned. "I know there's a spare one in there."

"I'm on it." The security AD announced. The thought that he might be a clone, and not know it had picked his guts clean. It ate his lunch. Upon returning to base, he found himself flayed with secret fear, but the toddler's birthday party evoked an innocence, and a simplicity that cauterized his cowardice. He couldn't help, but think of someone else. Setting his punch on top of the vacuuform locker, he flipped the commlock on his belt, and opened the door.

No one liked Angs' camera.

Or so it seemed, judging from the terrified chorus of revulsion, and nasale that emanated from those unlucky enough to be watching at the wrong time, and the wrong place. Starns reacted in goat time--too preoccupied to realize at first what had fallen from the open stall. Hearing a formidable splash of grue, and feeling the cold, red collateral fluids on his cheek, the detective looked angrily at the pile of disbanding, creeping flesh that had sploshed across his flares in a guitar shape.


Ward is the cement. That was how the late General Calendar described it during Quentin's interview. He was the fulcrum, the trunion without which they all lived, or died.

It still didn't make sense, but this much was true: Truman Starns had passed the litmus test. He was not a clone.


Michelle Cranston sat back in her chair in the manufacturing office. Updating her massive spread sheet, she cut and paste product ids and times into the planner. It was a tedious task but Caroline Kennedy told her she was too busy to do it; and Ang listened to the admin. It was just as well as Michelle had actually become quite proficient at line balancing, down to the minute.

She noticed an alarm go off on the plating tank.

Cranston step out the door and saw, with mild irritation, that the two loads of plated panels had not been offloaded from the racks.

"Hey, Mikey," she yelled to the tech. "What gives? You've got a back up!"

No answer.

"Mikey?! Are you alright?" she shouted again, walking toward the unload area.


Main Mission was quiet. Paul Morrow sat stoically, quietly at his station. He had opted to review Severance's exposures of the area that should have been Thalarion and became even more depressed by it.

Sandra Benes did not have time to become depressed. She was becoming exasperated, showing Sally Martin how to interpret long range scan data for anything other than empty space. Benes marveled at the empty space between Martin's ears but the operator's ditziness was beginning to get on the Chief of Services last nerve. If she failed this time, she would be transferred to the janitorial sector permanently.

"Let me go over this one more time," Sandra announced with finality and extreme patience.

"Okey, dokey, Sandra," Martin giggled.

"It might help if you took notes," Sandra went on.

Morrow rolled his eyes. If it was up to him, Martin would have been cleaning toilets a long time ago.

The controller returned to his severe depression, selecting images from the CD that 'might' look like a planet to someone taking a Rohrshack Test. He sought the domestic cup of coffee that was resting just below the gooseneck lamp at his workstation. Tasting the soy-powered dregs, he reacted to a labored breathing that was coming from the right side of the auditorium.

Sandra Benes was staring at him--her ashen, horror-riven eyes as big as radiotelescopes.

"Paul." Koenig's voice said carefully. "Step away from there."

Morrow did, and felt for the first time the ganglia slime that had saturated the back of his tunic.

Sally Martin, or rather the clone of Sally Martin, had exploded before she could dot her "i" or cross her "t" in her note taking. Sandra Benes, covered in gore, now sported a rust colored sleeve tunic to match the tie-dyed look of the formerly neutral color of her torso. Her hair was matted, drenched with clone blood and bodily fluid.

Kate Bullen let out a scream which echoed through the auditorium.


Michelle Cranston reeled backwards in terror, the scream stuck in her throat. What she assumed to be Michael Aldano lay in an unrecognizable pile of grue and coagulated blood. All that remained were ribs, or at least they resembled ribs but before her eyes, those too were decaying into glop.

She fumbled at her commlock and speed dialed Ang.

Ang, for some reason, was not answering.

She speed dialed Pierre Danielle who was blissfully unaware of the excitement in the roar of his shower stall, his commlock chiming wildly in the next room.

She finally speed dialed Main Mission. It took longer than normal for an answer and when Koenig finally did, she could only utter "I...I....I....", struggling to synchronize her racing thoughts with her speech.

"What is it Cranston?!?" But Koeing already knew.

Michelle screamed.


The corpse in the closet was recognized as Technician Georgia Roberts. Except Georgia Roberts was standing 4 feet away from Nicky. Or rather, a version of Georgia Roberts was standing near the child.

For the body on the floor, bloated and decayed, was truly the body of Georgia Roberts.

"NO!!" Angelina shouted, realizing what was about to come next as the clone of Ms. Roberts took on a bloated and red appearance as blood vessels dilated and forced excessive amounts of hemo to the surface.

"NO!!" Angelina bolted around the table with only one purpose in mind; to shield her baby from the horror which was about to unfold.


"There have been eight so far." Paul Morrow offered, in digest, as he waited with his left hand poised over the upper keyboard of his desk. "Three of them were Feng Yun survivors."

"Were you expecting this?" Koenig demanded of Bergman petulantly.

"Remotely." The professor confronted him. "At best. The alien seems to have acted as a safety valve. Now that it's gone, there's nothing to prevent the demise of those who were inextricably linked to it."

From high above, the wings of death darkened the promenade of the observation level.

Hearing the unextended, hyperphysical moans, Koenig, Bergman, and Morrow looked upon the Vetruvian tableau as an artificial harness bull swelled a billion times before exploding.

"People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality...."

--Jim Morrison

"When one burns one's bridges, what a very nice fire it makes."

--Dylan Thomas

The diploid number of man is 46......Emmanuel Ward tried to assign a diploid number to created beings...but he blew it.

"I am an unpredictable journey."

--Claire Forlani


Written by Tgarnett25 & Moonbasealpha_s1 of Space:1999 The Classic Adventures