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The Awakening

Authors: Philippa Sidle
Categories: John/Helena, Tony/Maya
Show Year: Y2
Rating: PG-13
Date: 1996
The Alphans have settled on a planet and started to have families, not realising that the planet has a life-threatening secret...
First published in the fanzine "Far Side of the Moon"
Average Rating: 3.0/5 (based on 8 reviews)

John Koenig stood back and looked over the little grave. It was neat and simple, but it wanted flowers. The land stretched desolately bare before him. Not a blade of grass on the naked hillside, not a leaf on the skeleton limbs of the nearby wood, not a glimmer of green behind him or ahead of him or around him. What had been a luxuriant abundant paradise was now a desert of rock and bare, wind-tossed soil. And gusting, choking dust.

The landscape seemed a lucid, nightmarish embodiment of his own inner world that cold morning. He felt numb and sick and helpless. Very early that morning, when the sky was only just greying to day, one of the babies had given up her three-day fight for life. The tiny starving child whom they had called Margaret would now never know her painfully-won inheritance. What had been the point of her three days spent on this world? Her twin brother Jamie would in all probability follow her. And then, it seemed all too likely, her mother...

He turned away from the grave and hurried back down into the village. Shying, hungry eyes stole glances at him as they passed, but no-one dared approach him.

The hospital was scrupulously white and clean, even now; particularly now, as Helena would have said. She had never allowed standards to fall. For the past seven months or so, when the famine had really begun to set in, she had been working herself to death, literally to death. Thanks to her efforts nobody had actually died from undernourishment, though three other babies born in recent months had been premature and succumbed to infection. And she had been as hungry as the rest of them, and pregnant too. He had managed to give her half his own food ration for nearly two months until she had found out, but it hadn't really been enough. Not when she was working like that, and carrying twins, and not as strong as many of the younger women. She was very ill now.

In fact Jamie's only chance of survival depended on Maya, who had a five-week-old baby of her own. He was doing reasonably well in the circumstances, and it was to be hoped that Maya had enough milk for both; she herself had resisted the effects of the famine far better than the Earth women. However, John had his doubts. Maya was very far from human, and it was reasonable to suppose that little Psychons thrived on a different type of nourishment than Earth babies needed. And Jamie was so weak anyway that he had little hope of his long surviving his sister.

On that account, he felt only sick resignation. On Helena's - the meteorologists, who had so disastrously failed to recognise the planet's seven-year shedding cycle, said that when the spring came the vegetation would re-emerge and their planet would be a lush paradise once more for the next seven years. But if Helena didn't make it, it would always be like this to him. An empty wasteland after all the years of searching. He would have led the Alphans to their promised land, but to him it would be a graveyard for all his hopes.

Margaret's death seemed to have tipped her over into apathy and depression. As he entered, she opened her eyes and looked slowly up at him. Though her look was full of expression, it was subdued and immobile. The fire and determination that had driven her on until the baby's death had collapsed. When the baby had died against all her urging and will, she had wept long and passionately, and fallen asleep in his arms, and when she had woken up she had been - like this.

He sat by the bedside and laid his hand over hers. Her fingers curled gently.

"We'll make little headstone for her later," he said. "She was a person, a human being. She won't be forgotten."

"She should never have been born," said Helena bitterly. "I knew we were in for a bad stretch. Nothing like this - but I thought things might get difficult. But I let it happen. I was so afraid of age, John. You've no idea how afraid. I didn't want to be childless."

"We're not," he said earnestly. "We've still got Lena. And Jamie," he added quickly, but not quickly enough.

Helena seemed past caring anyway. She closed her eyes. "Look after Lena. Tell her everything." She fell silent, and in a few moments, John heard a light, regular breathing. She was asleep and it was probably the best thing for her, but her stillness was too much like death.

Kissing her gently, he left her to Dr Vincent's care and made his way unseeingly through the village, to check on Jamie's progress. The houses they had built when they first arrived, when all the prospects seemed fair and unclouded, were solid stone structures with plenty of space and all the interior comforts they had been able to transport from Alpha. John knocked perfunctorily on the front door and passed through the entrance hall into the living room.

He was momentarily taken aback by the sight of his daughter Lena playing alone on the floor with building blocks hewn from wood, as if nothing had happened and was happening. She quietly ignored him as he smiled at her.

"Lena," he said coaxingly, crouching down.

She turned her head and looked at him for a moment, then smartly knocked down the tower of bricks and set up a piercing howl.

Maya ran in, her baby boy tucked on one arm, and stopped in confusion as she saw him. She looked disconcerted. "Commander."

"It's okay, I've got her." He cuddled Lena briefly, but she wriggled from his embrace and resumed her building game on the floor with uncharacteristic and unnatural concentration. The trouble was, he wasn't good enough for her at the moment; Daddy was a reminder that Mommy had disappeared.

"He's through in the kitchen," said Maya.

He followed her there.

The kitchen, a wide living and eating area, had once had a pretty view over a little stream. The stream was still out there, but now it hissed over stone and mud and spewed up dead fish. There was a fire roaring in the heart - one thing they weren't short of was dead wood to burn - and the warmth made the fireside a safe place to leave the baby. With a look of wistful tenderness Maya lifted him out of the cradle and snuggled him on her other arm. "I shouldn't really put him down, Helena said. Take Guido, put him back in his cot."

Delicately, and a little fearfully, John relieved her of the other baby. He could feel wiry movement through the shawl, and there was no question that he was thriving, but he was still entirely bald and there was a look about him - somehow - that wasn't right. Not what John would have called a pretty child by any means. Surely the milk this half-cub needed was different.

He watched in distraction, without remembering that he ought not to, as Maya released the front of her tunic and coaxed the tiny mouth to fasten round her breast. Had he been right to let her do this? He though about the tense meeting six weeks ago, just before Guido's birth, when the two women had announced their plan that Maya would nurse one of the twins as she was obviously the stronger. They had sprung this on the men and Tony had walked out into the night, to avoid expressing his immediate anger and fear. When Maya brought him back, a good twenty minutes later, both men were subdued and somehow put to shame by the cool practical attitude of the women. They were each driven by a desperate desire to protect their own wife, their own children, which almost overrode the past legacy of duty; but the women had already decided what was most expedient, and John had found himself obliged to consent to an arrangement which clearly terrified Tony. They hadn't known that it would come into effect six weeks before t hey expected, and that Maya would be holding the baby from the edge of death.

"Commander," said Maya gently.

He started. He had been sitting with his face sunk in one hand.

"Please don't be so upset. Everything else will be fine. Jamie's not going to give up, not if I have anything to do with it. And you know Helena. She'll come fighting back, she always does."

"This time I don't think she will."

"You mustn't say that," Maya retaliated quite fiercely. "If you believe something will happen, it will."

"I believe - now - that I was never meant to be happy. Something has always happened to destroy my peace of mind - always. Jean was killed. I was never really happy again until I met Helena. And I really thought there would be some permanency and contentment here. Then the famine, and now -" He could not complete the thought in words. The tiny limp ragdoll of a corpse he had laid in the dust was only a foreshadow.

For a long fervent moment he wished them all back on Alpha, living as they had done; confined, dangerous, thrilling, affluent. There would not be the children and there would not be the hope of a brighter future they had here, but there would be food and there would be Helena, safe and strong and full of vitality and determination.

Foolish, dangerous thoughts.


Tony erupted into the kitchen clutching a tiny something between finger and thumb. "Look!" he said exuberantly. "A flower!"

Maya hastily put the baby back into his cradle before she was swept into a firm embrace. "A flower," she repeated, in a delighted whisper. "Is it edible?"

"No, it's for you." It was a brilliant violet and he pushed its fragile stalk into her hair. Then he kissed her. When they parted he added, in case she had missed the point, "Spring's coming."

It was good news, but it would note help John. Helena need proper food now. She could not live on love, hope and flowers. Reassured that Jamie was no worse, he turned silently out.

At night the wind blew.

John awoke in a fever of terror. He grasped for the reassurance of Helena's smooth, swollen body and met an empty flatness with a heart-stopping thump. It wasn't right. Where was she? If he didn't find her, she would be lost.

He wandered, searching, with an ever-growing dread of the inevitable following him along the dark Alphan corridor. A step behind him and he turned and saw her.

She was really with him. He gathered her up in his arms and ran back with her along the corridors, pursued by the wailing of a Red Alert. The walls and ceilings were closing in on them - collapsing behind them, burying everything but leaving them both unscathed. Her hair was silky against his cheek and her arms were warm and firm around his neck.

The danger was past. They were safely in bed, where the foul terrors of the dark room couldn't get at anyone.

With her cheek against his, he could sleep at last.

In the morning there was a fresh, simple breeze.

John woke up suddenly with a shaft of sunlight warmly lying across his face. Gradually he let his senses come back to him. The awareness that Helena was beside him, when she ought to be in the hospital, could hardly alarm him. He felt only a sweet and fatalistic pleasure. He turned to her and touched her cheek.

Her eyes opened full of surprise and joy. "John. I had a dream."

"It was the same dream, I think. How do you feel?"


"You look it." He kissed her, softly. A little still echo of hope was bounding back and forth inside him, and he hardly wanted to disturb it until it grew a little. There was growth even in the kiss. His body was glowing with the night-long warmth of hers.

Carefully he eased himself out of bed and opened the curtains to improve the light in the room, so that he could judge her condition properly. Outside -

He remembered the childhood miracle of opening the curtains to find the world a sudden glistening wonderland of snow. Outside, everything was green. The fields, the trees, the garden, the world was clothed in the fresh pastel green of spring.

The wonder was too overwhelming to explain. He simply lifted Helena out of bed and carried her to the window, where he stood with her in his arms while they experienced the reawakening together.

Copyright (c) 1996. Reprinted with permission.
Space:1999 is (c) 1976 by Carlton International Media.
All stories are the property of their respective authors.

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