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Authors: IfThenElse
Categories: Adventure
Episodes: Set after Earthbound
Show Year: Y1
Rating: PG-13
Date: 2007
An accidental discovery. An unusual collaboration. Will Alpha's journey come to an end...or has it just begun?
Earthbound alternative set after Season One.
Average Rating: 4.8/5 (based on 72 reviews)


This piece of fan fiction is not for profit and is not intended to infringe on the rights of the current copyright holders of Space:1999 in any way. This story draws on some dialog, characters, and events from the episode Earthbound, whose screenplay was written by Anthony Terpiloff.


A tall figure stood observing the dawn for the last time. Although undetectable by his eye, the star that his world revolved around was slowly expanding its outer envelope as the increased energy flux continued to upset the hydrostatic equilibrium that had been maintained for so long. The process started long ago, and would not be complete for a long time to come, but one day far in the future, the planet he stood on would lie within the stellar atmosphere that right now seemed so distant and unchanged.

Yet, it had changed. He scanned his eyes along a horizon dotted with little vegetation. The future of the star was irrelevant, as all life would be extinct long before the fiery stellar gases ever made their way out to the orbit of the planet. He looked again at the dawn, noting that the beauty was quite deceptive. The characteristics of the radiation that had bathed the planet for so long had changed. The effect had taken generations to become noticeable and was poorly understood by the global scientific community, but the change in the frequency distribution of the energy emitted by the star offered the only explanation for the planet's dwindling population. The star that had previously offered life to the planet was now somehow responsible for its increasing sterility.

He looked over his shoulder at the line of spacecraft behind him. The pink dawn light that reflected off of the polished blue surfaces was also deceptively beautiful. Soon, those spacecraft would steal away any remaining hope for the planet. He had to remind himself that the spacecraft, in fact, represented hope. Scattering to various destinations about which they had little knowledge did not seem very hopeful, though. Even if a hospitable destination were reached successfully, six individuals would not be able to continue their race indefinitely. However, assimilating with a population was considered an acceptable means for maintaining the memory of this dying world.

Will the memory be enough? Will words in a history text noting the slow and agonizing demise of an alien world be sufficient justification for sentencing the current population to even faster extinction? He gazed toward a patchy field in the distance, not really seeing it, lost in thought. The greater legacy will be one that cannot be predicted. Even a few from this planet had the potential to contribute to a new planet: science, engineering, culture. But what if the new planet proves to be so advanced that it will not desire to know the uniqueness of his people? Or, what if xenophobia prohibits any alien presence? The contingency for the latter, as well as for other incompatibilities, was already established: voluntary reduction. If they were to die, however, then why not die here among friends than in a suicide plunge into an alien star?

The people of the planet had decided that the chance to continue something of their history and culture, even blended with an alien population, was worth the risk of sending out some of those who had not succumbed to sterility. Twenty-one ships would be sent in twenty-one directions toward twenty-one solar systems with the potential to support their form of life.

He sensed that he was no longer alone and looked to his right. There she stood, looking as beautiful as the day he fell in love with her. It always amazed him how she had seemed to change in appearance once he saw her as more than a colleague, yet he acknowledged that the change had been in him. She had trained to be his science specialist, and to one day be his wife. Marrying for love was not a luxury that those leaving the planet could afford, and everyone had accepted their betrothals like they would accept any other duty assignment. His attitude had been no different. But one day, he had stepped into her work area to ask her a question and had found himself at a loss for words. Like a blind man seeing for the first time, he had just stared at her until her quizzical look roused him from his stupor. He had come straight out and told her that he wanted to marry her. Her favorable reaction immediately made her all the more beautiful to him, beautiful inside and outside.

The smile she now wore could not hide the sadness that he knew she felt and was mirrored in his own soul. Cradled in her hands was a box. He reached over and took it from her. He opened it to find a number of shiny purple Libra bird eggs. He set the box on the ground, turned to her, and wrapped his arms around her. Her strong facade crumbled slightly as a few silent sobs escaped, causing her to tremble in his arms. She was not going to be his science specialist. She was not going to be his wife. She was sterile.

Her condition had been discovered part way through her training. They had accepted the situation, acutely aware that their duty to the mission and to their people had to transcend any feelings for each other. He had been assigned a new science specialist who would become his wife when, and if, they reached their destination. But what he wanted was in his arms, right now, here on his dying home world. He held her tighter and buried his face in her hair, inhaling deeply. He wanted to memorize the moment, to stop time, but he knew that was impossible. He pulled back and gazed down at the beautiful but sad face before him, and he was convinced that he would never know such a love again. He traced his fingers along the white and pink coloring around her eyes, and then smoothed back her long white hair behind her shoulder. She reached up and took his hand in hers, looked intently into his eyes, and said, "Do not deny yourself happiness in your new life."

He swallowed hard. As captain of one of the ships, he had trained for the journey with emotional detachment. That is, except when it came to her. "My happiness is here," he said hoarsely.

A tear ran down her cheek as she whispered, "Promise me." He looked at her for a long moment. A siren broke the silence. It was time to leave.

He took a deep breath, wanting to grant her the last request she would ever make of him, yet feeling like doing so would be a betrayal. "I promise." He forced the words out, almost choking on them because they seemed like a lie. She nodded and smiled, doing her best to give him the sort of image of her that she wanted him to remember. Then she turned and walked away, not once looking back. As he watched her depart, his soul ached on a level he never thought possible. Can this be right? Leaving like this? When we are all gone, then what of home? What of her? How could there be happiness when there is no future for her?

"Captain, it is time. Your presence is required on your ship." He turned and nodded to the ground crewman, and by the time he turned back, she was gone. He composed himself, picked up the box of Libra bird eggs, and walked to his ship. All preparations had been made. Goodbyes had already been said. There was no ceremony, no crowd. There was just a lonely walk to the entrance of his ship with occasional glances from ground crew, slightly tinged with jealousy. He took one last look at the oppressive sun now well above the horizon. He closed his eyes, seeing her smile again in his mind. With a deep breath, he turned and boarded his ship. All five of his comrades stood before him. The ground crew sealed the door behind him. After years of preparation, there was now only one last thing to be done.

He could see the pain in the eyes of his crew as they looked to him expectantly, and he was reminded that his own pain was not unique. In a way, their pain gave him the strength to step away from his own self-pity and behave as the captain that he had trained to be. Recognizing that additional words would only serve to compound the agony, he simply said, "Assume your travel positions." They all walked slowly to their stasis chamber platforms, sat on them, and swung their legs up. They lay themselves down as the glass of the animation-suspending coffins closed around each of them. As he drifted off into the deep, deathly sleep induced by the computer and the equipment, he again recalled her face and smiled to himself.

It seemed like he had hardly "slept", so he assumed that there was a problem with the suspended animation process. As he swung himself off of his platform to confer with the computer, he realized that they had already launched and were on their journey...and that his muscles felt rather stiff. Puzzled, he consulted the chronometer. One hundred eighty seven years had passed! It did indeed pass like a dream, in an instant, just as he had been told. He checked the computer and discovered that he had been awakened for a routine consultation about a change in trajectory due to the poor positioning of some Oort cloud objects associated with a nearby star. He approved the computer's new course and then walked back to his platform to resume his travel position and continue the journey in suspended animation.

Then, it struck him. She was dead. Long dead. The journey was to last for over four hundred years, so he should not have been shocked by the realization.

But he was.

He stood for a long time, staring blankly at the glowing center column housing the ship's computer core. After a while, he raised his arms according to the custom of mourning, his left palm laying on his right hand. It did not change the emptiness that he felt inside.

He looked around at his crew as they continued their deep sleep. Time had stopped for them. One day, time would start again, and they would remember loved ones as if it were yesterday, as if it were today. He would need to be strong for them. But at the moment, even in their presence, he could grieve without compromising his position and authority.

Now, almost two hundred years after her death, he wept for her.

Chapter 1 - September 13, 1999

"You know, if you really wanted to go to the Moon, you should have chosen another profession!" Dr. Daniel Kano smiled and shook his head as he leaned over the optical table and adjusted a mirror. The table was large and heavy, with a grid of tapped holes to screw down mirror mounts, lens mounts, laser mounts...anything required for an optics project. It was like an electronics breadboard, but for optical components and equipment rather than for resistors and capacitors, and its heavy weight provided a stable platform for precise alignment. Daniel frowned as he saw the system power drop on a nearby meter, and then nodded in approval as the needle rose in response to a turn in the opposite direction of an adjustment screw on the mirror mount. "I told you before that my brother David could have found a way to get you detailed to Moonbase Alpha to work on the new fiber optic interface for their main computer. But no, you had to follow some crazy scientist down a dead-end path!"

"Backdoor is not a dead-end path. If it is, then I'm as crazy as you are!" The muffled voice came from under the table where Dr. Sarah Andrew was on her hands and knees plugging a power cord into an outlet on the floor. She backed herself out from under the table and stood up, throwing her long hair back over her shoulders and silently scolding herself for leaving her hair clip at home yet again. She spied a large cable tie on the optical table and picked it up, wondering with a mixture of seriousness and amusement if it would serve the purpose. "I've just always had this romantic view of the Moon. I know it's just a big rock,'s like the frontier!" Her face lit up. "Yeah, like Star Trek!" Daniel rolled his eyes, but Sarah went on. "It's just like the Old West. Even though you have everything you need, you still want to go and explore something new, something...not here." Finally satisfied with her inarticulate response, she dropped the cable tie and powered up the amplifier that she had just plugged in.

"Alright, that just put the power back into the acceptable range." Daniel turned to Sarah. "What do you mean by 'not here'? I thought you liked Los Alamos."

Sarah replied, "Oh, I do. But Daniel..." She walked over to him, gesturing with her hands for emphasis. "It's the MOON!"

Daniel laughed, "I really don't see the attraction. Your parents must have let you watch too many Apollo broadcasts."

"Maybe so, and if they were alive today, they would be surprised that I have not made it there yet." Sarah turned to wag her finger at Daniel. "If Backdoor works, by the way, then you'll be spending plenty of time there yourself, because the Moon will be the prime place to apply the technology. No Eagles needed for supplies. No Eagles needed for nuclear waste." She paused and then said with a grin, "No airplanes needed on Earth, for that matter!" She turned her attention to a Bergman Sphere at the end of the room. The glass sphere measured about a foot in diameter and housed a conglomeration of electrical components. It had been invented by Professor Victor Bergman to be an instructional tool for demonstrating power conversion. Some had subsequently adopted Bergman Spheres for laboratory work because of their efficiency and ability to handle very high current loads for long periods of time, but most had abandoned them for smaller, albeit less robust, modern power converters. However, a few like Daniel Kano continued to use them when they proved useful to particular applications, such as the power requirements for Backdoor.

Daniel sighed and sat down in a chair, stretching his arms and legs in front of him for a moment. He looked out the window across the parking lot at the New Mexico plateau. "If Backdoor works, I'm going to retire." Getting no response, he said louder, "You can go to the Moon for all I care!"

Sarah laughed. "And you'll go to Jamaica? Oh please, Daniel, you wouldn't last five minutes on the beach. Elizabeth says you bore easily without a project."

Daniel became serious. "Anyway, you are getting way ahead of yourself with your Backdoor applications. If we do not impress our friend at the NSF holding the purse strings, this project will go from experimental to theoretical in a heartbeat." He shook his head. "Besides, we cannot keep this a secret for much longer, and when it gets out, someone else will probably beat us to the solution anyway." His eyes wandered back out the window. "Oh, for crying out loud!" Daniel stood up suddenly.

Sarah looked up. "What's wrong?"

"They're early!" Daniel growled as he stood up and rushed to the optical table. "They're never early! We haven't even cleaned up the tools yet!"

Sarah grabbed a bucket. "Just throw them in here! Keep what you need for the demonstration." She hid the now full bucket under a table and grabbed a broom to sweep up the bits of wire and scraps of paper that littered the floor. As she was preparing to empty the dustpan, she heard the knob turn on the door to the lab, so she dropped the dustpan into the wastebasket, smoothed her hair, and tried to go from frazzled to professional in a fraction of a second.

"Dr. Tokunaga, welcome!" Daniel had already made the transition, appearing calm and acting like he had been awaiting the arrival.

"Daniel." Dr. Tetsuo Tokunaga, director of Los Alamos, stepped into the room and shook Daniel's outstretched hand. Two other men followed Tokunaga into the room. "Of course you know Dr. Stanton of the National Science Foundation, but I do not think you have met Commissioner Dixon before."

"Ah, but no longer Commissioner," Dixon corrected, extending his hand to a puzzled-looking Daniel and then to Sarah, who had come to stand beside him. Dixon had dark, thinning hair and horn-rimmed glasses. He seemed friendly enough, Sarah thought to herself, yet his voice and expression were somewhat deadpan. "I find that serving on the Lunar Finance Committee is nowhere near as stressful. I prefer to allocate funds rather than fight for them. And you are?"

"Sarah Andrew. I'm pleased to meet you Dr. Dixon. I did not realize that the Lunar Finance Committee was...," she glanced at Daniel, "...aware of Backdoor."

"Well, from what Tokunaga here tells me, nobody is. You see, Tokunaga helped develop the nuclear propulsion for the Ultra Probe." Dixon's face fell somewhat at his own mention of the failed mission. "Yes, we go way back." Dixon quickly collected himself. "Tokunaga keeps me posted about technology that might have possible applications to the lunar programs. Cutting-edge." He turned to Tokunaga and smirked. "Although I do think some of your scientists here have gone over the edge." Tokunaga returned the smirk and maintained his composure, although Sarah was amused to see that he could not help but roll his eyes ever so slightly.

Tokunaga turned to Daniel. "I did not mean to surprise you. Dixon was in town and I thought that under the circumstances you could use some extra support."

Dixon continued, "The Lunar Finance Committee meeting on the 15th. That is the day after tomorrow. Too soon to present any of your work. However, if you impress me today, I suppose I could submit a proposal for you at the October meeting."

Daniel lit up. "Well, yes, we would appreciate that very much! I don't know how much longer Ian will let us worship at the altar of the NSF."

Dr. Ian Stanton laughed. He was tall and thin, with dark brown hair. His dark suit and expensive tie made him look more like a political candidate than a scientist. "Ah, Daniel, you take your chances with the competitive proposal process just like everyone else. However, a little groveling cannot hurt." Daniel bristled slightly at the almost serious remark by Stanton.

Tokunaga looked at his watch. "Daniel, Dixon has a plane to catch. Perhaps you should get started."

"Of course." Daniel switched into host mode. "Gentlemen, what we have here is technology that will revolutionize terrestrial and space travel, and it all started as an accident." Dixon leaned on a nearby stool, giving Daniel his full attention. Tokunaga had seen the demonstration before and stood out of the way, but watched closely. Stanton pulled out a notepad and pencil. "You understand the concept of heterodyning or mixing. Your radio mixes incoming frequencies with a frequency generated inside the radio, and you get a beating effect...the signal is transformed to the frequency of that beating and your radio ultimately transforms the signal into sound. There are similar applications at other wavelengths...infrared and microwave heterodyning providing high-resolution spectra of atmospheric and astronomical sources, for instance..."

"Yes, yes, I'm aware of the technique." Dixon nodded politely, but Daniel sensed that he was boring his audience already. He began to rush his story.

"Well, we were mixing different laser frequencies and studying the effects of a solid medium, like that glass slab doped with heavy metals, on the heterodyne effect...for instrumentation development, of course." He gestured toward the optical table where a foot-square thin piece of glass was propped. Around the perimeter, mirrors were positions that directed output from the multiple lasers on the table. "During one of our experiments, I sat a screwdriver down on the optical table without looking. When I went to pick it back up, I noticed that half of it had disappeared into the slab, but nothing was sticking out of the other side. As I picked it up, the rest of it suddenly reappeared. It just emerged from the slab, although it was terribly deformed." Daniel noticed he had regained Dixon's interest, so he relaxed a bit. "The slab was behaving like some sort of opening or doorway, but the other side was not...," he searched for words, "...on the other side of the slab. I decided to try something longer than the screwdriver, and when I passed a yardstick into the slab, I knocked over a can of compressed air that was sitting by that Bergman Sphere behind you. That took about ten years off my life!" Daniel laughed.

"You what? Back there?" Dixon was incredulous. "You mean the yardstick...came out over there?" he said, pointing in the direction of the Bergman Sphere. Then his eyes narrowed. "You actually use that antique?"

"Yes, yes, it's great for the lasers." Daniel said, impatient to refocus the discussion. "But it seems to attract Backdoor as well."

Dixon was intrigued by the story. "So you're saying that you can instantly move objects over any opening your so-called Backdoor?"

Daniel furrowed his brow. "Well, yes and no. At this point we can move objects across the room, but they are deformed and destroyed in the process and we don't know yet how to prevent that. Where the object reappears seems to have something to do with the Bergman Sphere...perhaps energy sources in general for all I know. We moved the Sphere elsewhere in the room, and we were able to tune the Backdoor destination back to it. But we do not understand that relationship, either. We are just beginning to study the physics behind Backdoor."

Stanton spoke up. "Daniel, you told me all of this on the phone, but I want to see this with my own eyes." Daniel nodded to Sarah who turned on a series of switches on a nearby control panel. A hum filled the room. Daniel picked up a meter-long aluminum rod and held it over the table. He moved it toward the glass slab, and it began to disappear into it.

"Look behind you," said Daniel with a sly look in his eyes. Stanton and Dixon turned around. The Bergman Sphere sat on a table at the end of the room, and suspended in mid-air next to it was the missing end of the aluminum rod. It was wavy, as if it had melted and re-solidified, but it was there.

Dixon stood up and looked over the edge of his glasses, mouth open. Stanton was busily writing on his notepad, sweat appearing on his forehead. Daniel pulled the rod back and laid its distorted form on the edge of the table. There was a long moment of silence as the guests pondered what they had just seen. Tokunaga nodded and smiled, evidently pleased with the reaction. Dixon finally spoke up. "I'm no fool, you see. I understand the potential here. It is absolutely extraordinary." Dixon looked squarely at Daniel. "You have not reported this in any way at all, have you?"

Daniel shook his head. "No, we were hoping to perfect the technique first. We are still operating on funding for the original project, and the original objective is now irrelevant, but our funding is running out. I had to tell Ian of our findings, and at first he didn't believe me, but I believe he does now." He glanced at Stanton who still had his nose in his notebook, writing furiously. "Tokunaga says that we will probably have to go public, and I understand that." Daniel sighed, "It's just that I was hoping to see this through. This may end up out of my hands if another institution can make a better case for finishing this work than my university."

Tokunaga stepped forward. "Daniel, I called Dixon here because I thought the Lunar Finance Committee would consider quietly funding continuation of the project. It would be in their best interest because their lunar programs would have quickest access to the technology once it is perfected. And, it would keep the project here, giving Los Alamos some very nice publicity once the results are reported."

Dixon turned to Tokunaga, "I think this will not stay quiet for long, regardless. For that reason, I am going to approach the Committee on the 15th, not in October." Dixon reached out a hand to Daniel, who shook it. "Dr. Kano, my friend, thank you for the demonstration. I will do my best to keep this project in your hands, and I expect Stanton will do the same, but you would be wise to find answers, and find them quickly. We will not be able to keep a lid on this for long." He turned to Sarah and shook her hand. "Dr. Andrew. Goodbye."

As Dixon and Tokunaga moved toward the door, Stanton nodded to Daniel as he pocketed his notepad. "Very intriguing. I hope you realize the can of worms that you've opened." Daniel gave him a questioning look. Stanton leaned forward and whispered, "Don't be naïve, Daniel. There is a real world outside your lab with real people who do not share your...good intentions. You had better watch your step."

Daniel and Sarah stepped out of their building. Both could not help but stop and admire the beautiful New Mexico sky. The sun had set not long ago, and the sky was a deep blue with a few scattered clouds. The Moon hung low in the eastern sky, and the brighter stars were starting to appear. The lights in the parking lot had just turned on and were still in the process of warming up and brightening.

Sarah started down the short stairway to the sidewalk and came down very hard on the first step. She thought at first that she was dizzy, but quickly discovered that was not the case. The ground was shaking. The next jolt took her by surprise and sent her tumbling down the last few steps. Daniel was holding onto the railing with both hands, trying to descend the stairway as the earthquake continued. Sarah landed on the sidewalk and rolled onto her side.

That was when she saw it. Her eyes squinted and then widened. The rumbling of the earthquake and the rattling of windows created a deafening sound, but she ceased to notice as she stared at the sky. "Daniel! The Moon! It's moving!" She continued to stare, her mind racing and trying to process what her eyes were seeing. "Look at the proper motion! It's moving! What's happening?"

Daniel managed to make it down the stairs without falling, but squatted low to the ground near Sarah because of the continued shaking. By now, others who had been working late were stumbling out of other exits around the building, some screaming. A few caught sight of the unusual display in the sky. Like them, Daniel could only stare in disbelief. The Moon was indeed moving, and there was a bright glow about it, as if it was shining through clouds, but the clouds were nowhere near. He shielded his eyes with his hand as the glow flared up as bright as the sun that had set not long before. When he was able to look again, the Moon was moving even faster.

Daniel and Sarah sat mesmerized and horrified, unable to tear their eyes away from what they were seeing, until the ground in the parking lot started to crack and separate, and the roof of their building collapsed. "Come on!" Daniel yelled. "We've got to get away from these buildings!" Daniel helped Sarah to her feet and led her around the widening crack in the parking lot and toward the end of the mesa. There were scrubby bushes and white cosmic ray detectors scattered about the end of the mesa, but no buildings or trees that could fall on them. As long as the ground did not open up beneath them, they could ride out the earthquake there.

By the time they settled down in what they hoped was a safe location, the Moon had moved considerably in the sky. The face that it had always shown to the Earth was now offset, showing part of the far side and giving it an unfamiliar appearance. It was still glowing with an unnatural glow.

And it looked smaller. Daniel stared with disbelief at the sight and silently mouthed, "David." Sarah awkwardly placed a hand on his shoulder, her eyes wide as she looked at the sky. The Moon really was shrinking in size. How in the world could the Moon move like that? It was impossible! Sarah realized that her heart was beating extremely fast, and she tried to take deep breaths to calm herself down. What of David Kano? What of Moonbase Alpha? She looked off in the distance at the smoke rising from Santa Fe. The earthquakes were starting to subside, but the damage had been done.

What of Earth?

Chapter 2 - Moonglow

Elizabeth Kano set 18-month-old Jacob down on the carpet of the den in front of his toy gym. As she stood up straight, she placed her hand on her lower back and stretched, paying the price for carrying one baby on the outside and another on the inside. She still had two months to go until the new baby was to arrive, and although she rather enjoyed pregnancy, she was growing a bit weary of it the second time around. As she headed to the kitchen, she could hear Daniel ranting in the living room and she knew that Sarah was the target. She rolled her eyes for no one's benefit but her own. Sarah had moved into the Kanos' home in White Rock after her 1950's Los Alamos apartment building had succumbed to the earthquakes induced by the disaster on the Moon. Sarah had been like a part of the family ever since she had begun working with Daniel, but living under the Kanos' roof meant that Daniel was comfortable with finding some way to get under Sarah's skin and draw her into heated discussions. It was something he used to do with his brother David, even over the commlink with Moonbase Alpha. Now, David was gone and Daniel had slipped into a similar routine with Sarah, perhaps to fill the void. It was a sport for him, and as amused as she was, Elizabeth worried that Sarah would become frustrated and move out one day. She enjoyed Sarah's company and her help, and she desperately wanted her to stay at least until after the new baby arrived. As she eavesdropped on the conversation, she reminded herself to reprimand Daniel once again.

"Well, you used to say that a large moon stabilizing Earth's obliquity was evidence of God. Now the Moon is gone, the tilt of the Earth's axis is going to change over time, and the change in climate will be disastrous!" Daniel waved his arms for impact as he sat in his recliner.

Sarah stretched her arms in front of her as she sat on the couch, gathering strength for the next onslaught. "Daniel, look around. Why aren't things worse than they are? Yes there were earthquakes and some tsunamis, and yes many people died, but it should have been far worse!" Now she was waving her arms. "We should have had mega-tsunamis and some serious volcanic eruptions, not to mention some totally major changes in the coastlines!" She shrugged her shoulders. "There's no other explanation. Besides, Earth's obliquity isn't going to change any time soon."

Daniel nodded with frustration, "Yes, yes, it will take a very long time, but take a look at Mars! Its obliquity has changed drastically over time, and look at what a lovely place it is! Nothing but the Second Coming is going to save our own particular piece of rock in the long run!" When he didn't get a response, he raised his hands. "Oh, for crying out loud..."

Sarah decided to interrupt Daniel's rant with a statement that would probably get him even more worked up. "Ian Stanton called me today."

Daniel's mouth dropped open, caught off guard. He took a deep breath and unexpectedly changed his tone. "I did not think he would go after you." He leaned back and looked at the ceiling while Sarah waited. He finally looked at her and asked, "Did he tell you that he called me last week?"

Sarah nodded. "Why didn't you tell me?" she asked.

Daniel rubbed his temples. "You know, if that God of yours is really running the show, then why was Ian the one to walk away from that accident?"

Sarah shook her head. "Daniel, there were earthquakes and people died. Tokunaga's car was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he and Dixon died. Ian walked away. There are many other Moonday stories like that." Moonday was the term that the media had applied to September 13, 1999. Phrases like 'The Disaster on the Moon' and 'The Lunar Nuclear Holocaust' became too cumbersome, and thanks to an offhand comment by a somewhat minor network anchor, 'Moonday' quickly became the shorthand term for referring to that awful day.

"Well, now the only person around who knows about Backdoor besides you and me is Ian, and I don't trust him anymore," said Daniel. After Moonday, everything had changed. Daniel and Sarah had moved to projects related to rebuilding the world's damaged computer networking infrastructure. The Backdoor laboratory had been destroyed when the roof caved in during the earthquakes, and any hopes of restarting the project had been dashed by the needs brought on by Moonday. Ian Stanton had left NSF to work for a private technology firm, and he had contacted Daniel in hopes of bringing him along. "I can't place a finger on it, but I feel like he isn't telling me everything. He wants to start a Backdoor project as part of the global recovery effort, but I can't shake this feeling that he has a different motive."

Sarah nodded, remembering what Daniel had shared with her about Stanton's statement as he had left the Backdoor lab just hours before it was destroyed. Maybe he did have a hidden motive. But so did she. "Daniel, I think we should do it."

"What?" Daniel yelled. From the next room, Jacob could be heard doing his best to imitate the exclamation. Daniel leaned forward and lowered his voice. "Sarah, I would love to continue with Backdoor, but I'm telling you, it is far too risky. We were idealistic. We talked of transportation and exploration." He stood and walked around the coffee table and sat down on the couch next to Sarah, looking at her steadily. "Have you ever considered that Backdoor would make the perfect delivery system for a bomb?"

Sarah glanced away and said, "Yes." She turned back to Daniel. "But, have you considered that Backdoor would be the perfect get to Alpha?"

Daniel opened his mouth to begin another tirade when Jacob toddled into the room. Daniel shut is mouth and took a deep breath. Sarah picked up Jacob and placed him on her lap. "Daniel, haven't you ever thought about trying to rescue David?"

Daniel's eyes defocused. "I have thought about it," he finally admitted after a pause. "But it is just foolish wishful thinking! There is no way Alpha survived the accident. David is gone."

"You really believe that?" asked Sarah.

Daniel pursed his lips. Lying did not come easily to him. He preferred to avoid sensitive subjects altogether, but now he was in a corner. He did not like talking about his brother's fate. Even Elizabeth did not push him in the matter. They reminisced about David very often, but Daniel always changed the subject if the discussion turned in the direction of the fate of Alpha. It was not that he was afraid to admit that David was dead. Daniel was afraid to admit to those around him that he thought that David was alive. He finally said, "No."

"Daniel, things on Earth are not as bad as they should have been," said Sarah. "I think the same holds for the Moon. If Alpha survived Moonday, they're self-sufficient enough that they could probably continue to survive." She handed Jacob a toy that had been sitting on the couch next to her, which he was delighted to take and examine. "I haven't told you this because I thought you would give me a hard time, but I think about Alpha every day...and I think about rescuing them every day."

"You were right," Daniel immediately replied, frustrated. "I would have given you a hard time, especially since we may never even figure out how to open a Backdoor to Alpha, let alone make it work here on Earth."

"Daniel, Bergman himself was on Alpha. There must be a Bergman Sphere there as well, and maybe we can find it with Backdoor..." She trailed off. Even if they found Alpha, no one could safely pass through Backdoor, at least in the state it was in prior to Moonday. "Come on, Daniel! We could bring them home!" Jacob finally decided that he had spent enough time in one place and crawled over to his father's lap. "I told Ian that I would come on-board."

With Jacob in his lap, Daniel could not say what he was really thinking. Sarah guessed as much, but was still impressed with his self-control. Elizabeth walked into the room and smiled. "Dinner's ready." She saw the look on Daniel's face. "What's wrong?"

Daniel set Jacob on the floor and watched him toddle across the room. "Sarah is going to work for Stanton." He turned to Sarah. "But I can't, and this is why," he said, gesturing to Jacob and to the very pregnant Elizabeth. "I can't put them at risk by getting involved in whatever Ian and his associates are cooking up. Something is just not right!"

"I'll be careful, Daniel," Sarah assured, but the conversation had left her feeling apprehensive inside. "Two can play at his game, if he really is playing a game with me. I'm in this to get to Alpha, and once I find Alpha, the whole thing will blow wide open anyway. Backdoor won't be as dangerous if everybody know about it."

"Alpha?" Elizabeth began to understand where the conversation was going. She walked over to Daniel and put a hand on his shoulder, which he immediately covered with his. "Come on, sweetheart," she said. "Let's take a dinner break and continue this later. You can't keep unloading on Sarah on an empty stomach." She gave Sarah a wink, trying to lighten the mood. Daniel nodded but did not smile. He stood up and walked out of the room.

Elizabeth smiled at Sarah and gestured with her head toward the kitchen. Sarah stood, but then hugged Elizabeth and let out a few silent sobs. Elizabeth held her tight. "Oh, sweetie, I always expected Daniel to be the one to go down this road, not you. You know I loved David dearly too, but I don't want to lose Daniel to some never-ending quest that would tear our family apart. I don't want to lose you either." She stood back and looked at Sarah. "For once, you should chase after a good man instead of physics!"

Sarah laughed. "At least physics won't hurt me!" With that, she picked up Jacob and walked to the kitchen.

Elizabeth smiled sadly to herself. Won't it?

Chapter 3 - The Enemy You Know

It had been three months since Sarah Andrew had seen or spoken to the Kanos. She had moved out of their White Rock home, much to Elizabeth's dismay, to be closer to her new laboratory housed at the Santa Fe campus of WhiteSunCorp. It did not take an entire day on the job, though, for her to question the true motives of WhiteSunCorp, as had Daniel Kano. After that first day, she broke all ties with the Kanos out of a need to feel like she was protecting them. She even went as far as hinting to Ian Stanton that she had had a serious falling out with Daniel. She did not want Stanton or WhiteSunCorp to go after him.

WhiteSunCorp was formed on September 16, 1999 by a group of politically-minded businesspeople and engineers who had quickly banded together in the wake of the disaster on the Moon. The outward mission of the company was to provide innovative support for the rebuilding of Earth's technical infrastructure and support new beginnings. The loss of the Moon represented Earth's darkest day, and since nothing was darker than a black sun event horizon, the name WhiteSunCorp was adopted. It was obvious to anyone that the true intention was to take advantage of and profit from the disaster. It was no secret. However, the view from the inside was far more sinister than Sarah had imagined. These people were not simply interested in profit. They were interested in power.

In addition to the network and recovery projects, which on their own were quite lucrative, WhiteSunCorp had been carefully pursuing and luring researchers in communications, transportation, and weapons. Sarah found herself to be a cog in a machine that was increasingly being relied upon by governments. In the end, who would really be in power?

Sarah found her employers frightening. She had lost track of the number of non-disclosure agreements and contracts that she had signed on her first day of employment and she figured that she had even signed over her future first-born to them. However, she was determined to use them the same way they were using her. She would never be able to convince another organization about Backdoor's potential, let alone obtain funding, and so this was her only choice.

It was now time to see if her persistence had paid off. After months of work, she was ready to begin her search for Moonbase Alpha. As far as WhiteSunCorp was concerned, she had brought Backdoor back to pre-Moonday status. She had even demonstrated the ability to move objects from one place to another within the room...with serious consequences to the objects. However, unknown to them, she had already solved the problem of object deformation. Countless hours of trial and error and a shot-in-the-dark effort with a new laser frequency stabilization system resulted in a Backdoor that not only transported objects unharmed, but a living creature as well: a mouse she snuck into the lab one day.

Sarah was careful. Every day, she returned the instrument settings back to those of pre-Moonday so that Backdoor would still appear to be a work in progress. She was determined to search for and find Alpha before Stanton and WhiteSunCorp found out how close their own dreams were to reality. Her many contracts bound her to secrecy, but if hundreds of Alphans came marching through Backdoor, that was not her problem. She smiled at that thought.

No one would march through at this point. However, someone could crawl through the current square-meter Backdoor. The size was useful for the laboratory work, and she knew that if she requested materials to build a larger Backdoor and the high power required to run it, she would arouse too much suspicion. The current one would have to do.

Sarah still did not understand why Backdoor worked, but she did not care. Her goal was to exploit its properties. She kept a small logbook, which she had on her person constantly. It was different from the "official" logbook, which she knew Stanton and others had gone through. She pulled out a strand of her long hair a few weeks before and placed it on the logbook. The next day, it was gone, confirming her suspicion. No matter, she thought, since the important notes went home with her everyday tucked under her shirt.

The issue of pointing Backdoor was partially solved. Sarah had two Bergman Spheres in her lab. She was only able to track one down, so she had to build the other from scratch. The two Spheres allowed her to launch another trial-and-error effort to move the Backdoor destination from one to the other. She finally discovered that changing the frequencies of the lasers by small amounts allowed her to choose between the two Spheres. She had also discovered that Backdoor would close if the system was detuned from the favorable frequencies, and that it would open from the center outward as the frequencies approached those favorable for a particular Sphere. She had hung a small energy meter at the center position and found she was able to see the energy rise as she approached a resonance frequency and detected radiation from a Sphere. That would be useful for the search, she thought.

A puzzling aspect was that the distance of a Bergman Sphere did not affect the ability to lock on to it, or cause the energy level through Backdoor to change. She expected that the energy signature that Backdoor was drawn to would fall off in intensity as the square of the distance, but that was not the case. She would move the Spheres further away in the room and found that slight changes in laser frequencies were required to lock onto them again, but the detected energy was always the same. Unable to explain it, she noted in her logbook that her "science fiction" explanation was that Backdoor was not detecting the Sphere through normal space. She laughed when she wrote it, but later considered that the objects transported through Backdoor were not moved through normal space either. One more detail to pass on to the theoreticians after Alpha was found, she concluded.

The time had come to search for Alpha. She desperately wished that Daniel Kano could be with her! Just like one would tune a radio, Sarah began to tune the laser frequencies away from those that worked for the Bergman Spheres. If slight changes were required to move the Backdoor destination within the room, she theorized that larger changes would move it outsize the room and beyond. She kept her eyes on the energy detector. It remained at zero. She continued adjusting the laser frequencies. The reading on the energy detector, and her breathing rate, began to rise. She stopped adjusting the frequency, figuring a small opening in Backdoor would be better to start with before she fine-tuned the frequencies to fully lock on to what she had found. She picked up a tiny telescope that lay nearby. It was the finderscope for her backyard telescope. She had been feeling guilty about owning such a nice instrument that she never found time to use, so using the finderscope for her work seemed to partially make up for the neglect.

Sarah slowly moved the finderscope toward the center of the Backdoor slab. There was indeed an opening because the end of the finderscope slowly began to disappear into the slab. Her heart rate quickened as she moved her head toward the finderscope, positioning her eye just behind the eyepiece. Her brow furrowed as she first noticed trees. As her brain took in what she was seeing, she realized that the trees were outside of a window in a room. Next to the window was an Asian man in a lab coat speaking to a group of younger looking Asians seated at tables. On the wall were posters and charts with Asian characters. The man in the lab coat started to turn her way, so she pulled the finderscope back, afraid that he would see it. She reached over and turned off the power to Backdoor. The reading on the energy detector dropped to zero.

Sarah covered her face with her hands and leaned back. She had opened a Backdoor to China! Or, to somewhere in Asia. It must have been a high school or university laboratory class with a Bergman Sphere running somewhere in the room. Her hands dropped from her face and she took a deep breath. She wanted to shout to the world that Backdoor works. She wanted to pick up the phone and call the Kanos. Sarah had arranged to work alone at WhiteSunCorp on purpose, but nothing felt lonelier than making accomplishments and having no one to share them with.

The ringing of the telephone made Sarah jump. She answered the phone, only to be greeted by the agitated voice of Ian Stanton. "Sarah, your still there. Good. The bean counters from corporate headquarters have made a surprise visit. They want to see first-hand where the money is going, and your lab is the next stop. You've got five minutes." He hung up.

Sarah leapt to her feet and ran to the rack holding the Backdoor support electronics. She quickly changed the settings, choosing frequencies that were back in the room. She then tried to tidy up the optical table when she realized that she had left the frequency stabilizer on. If she did a demonstration now, Backdoor would work perfectly, which would be a disaster for her. The door suddenly opened and Ian Stanton walked in, followed by two men and a woman, all in suits. She tried not to show how panicked she felt. She casually walked over to the frequency stabilizer and shut it off. "Welcome to the Backdoor laboratory," she said a bit shakily.

"We don't mean to make you uneasy, Dr. Andrew," the woman said a bit too sweetly. "I know it's already late in the evening, but we would appreciate it if you would just show us what you've been doing." She smiled and gestured to the instrumentation. Stanton, standing behind her, gave Sarah a look that said, 'Well, get on with it!' No introductions. Down to business.

Very well, thought Sarah. She launched into her standard explanation and demonstration. The eyes of the guests widened and there was a collective gasp when a distorted and slightly smoking yardstick appeared out of nowhere next to the nearby Bergman Sphere. As Sarah powered down the equipment, the woman spoke. "Dr. Andrew, WhiteSunCorp is very impressed by this project. Seeing it with my own eyes makes the implications all the more exciting." The woman pursed her lips. "However, our concern is that you do not appear to have made any progress beyond that which you accomplished in collaboration with Dr. Daniel Kano."

Sarah jumped in quickly. "Oh, but I have! I can tune Backdoor to choose either of the Bergman Spheres as a destination. I have made progress on the relationship between frequency and distance. There is so much..."

The woman interrupted, "Yes, I concede you have progressed a bit, but Backdoor is useless if the integrity of the objects you send through cannot be maintained." The woman glanced at Stanton, who shifted uncomfortably. "Perhaps you should consider renewing your collaboration with Dr. Kano."

"No!" Sarah said suddenly. "This is now my project! That was the agreement when I came on-board!" Sarah felt panicky. She had tried to keep Daniel from getting drawn into this, and she was failing.

One of the men finally spoke up. "Dr. Andrew, WhiteSunCorp does not exist to fund your ego. Backdoor would go a long way toward meeting our objectives, but under your leadership, it is not even close."

Sarah resented that statement, but before she could respond, the woman gave an ultimatum. "OK, Dr. Andrew, there is nothing like a deadline when it comes to producing results. You have until the end of the month to fix the integrity problem. Otherwise, you will take on collaborators of our own choosing. Is that clear?" She flashed another sickly-sweet smile.

Sarah nodded. "Yes ma'am," she said hoarsely to their backs as the three left the room. Stanton flashed her a glaring look and marched out of the room.

The end of the month was twelve days away. Sarah sat down wearily and placed her head in her hands. She had to find Alpha before the deadline. Otherwise she would have to go public...and go into hiding. She had this feeling that WhiteSunCorp would do more than sue her if she broke her many contracts. WhiteSunCorp could not have unilateral control over Backdoor. Going public would be the only way to keep them from running a secret Backdoor program, as well as to protect the Kanos.

But the month was not over yet.

Chapter 4 - Don't Talk To Strangers

Elizabeth Kano carefully laid the baby in the bassinet. She held her breath as the baby pouted and squirmed in her sleep, wondering if she would wake up and the whole bedtime process would start again. She was relieved to see her face relax. Elizabeth looked at the clock. It was a little before 8 pm. 'Perfect!' she thought to herself. The baby would wake for a feeding in a few hours, and then go back to sleep...she hoped. She tiptoed out of the room. She met Daniel in the hallway.

"I made a deal. Two stories, and then lights out!" Daniel whispered triumphantly.

"You mean Jacob is going to sleep on his own?" Elizabeth was surprised. "I usually have to sit there with him awhile."

"Perhaps you never really had to. You just don't want him to grow up," Daniel said as they made their way to the living room. "So, the baby went down on the first try?"

"I'm not going to question it. Let's enjoy it while it lasts!" Elizabeth sat down on the couch. Daniel joined her.

"So, Mama Kano, how do you want to 'enjoy it while it lasts'?" Daniel said smiling, inching toward her.

Elizabeth smiled broadly. "You know, darling, that's what got us into this situation!" Her smile turned to a mock pout when the doorbell rang.

"Oh, for crying out loud!" Daniel growled. "Let's pretend we're not home!" he whispered to Elizabeth.

"Daniel, just see who it is!" she whispered back, mocking his whisper. Daniel threw up his hands and stood. He shook his head as he walked to the door.

The doorbell rang again. "OK! OK!" Daniel reached for the doorknob ready to rebuke whatever magazine salesperson would dare to ring their doorbell at this hour, but when he opened the door, he was met with an unexpected sight.

"Hi, Daniel" Sarah Andrew said meekly. She immediately burst into tears.

"Sarah!" Daniel put an arm around her and brought her inside.

Elizabeth rushed over. "Sarah, why don't you return any of our calls? We've been...oh my goodness! Your head!"

Sarah just kept crying. Daniel led her to the couch and nodded to Elizabeth. She sat down next to Sarah and put an arm around her. Daniel moved around to the armchair opposite and sat down. He opened his mouth to speak, but Elizabeth caught his eye and shook her head. Daniel held his tongue. He reached over and grabbed a box of tissue and set it before Sarah, who helped herself between sobs. Elizabeth took a tissue and dabbed at the cut on Sarah's forehead. The area around the cut was swollen as well.

After Sarah collected herself and took a deep breath, she looked at both of them and said, "I'm so sorry!" She proceeded to tell the Kanos about WhiteSunCorp, about why she broke contact with them, and about the progress with Backdoor.

Daniel sat back, amazed. "It works! But how did you manage to fix it?"

"I want to tell you so bad, but I don't want to give WhiteSunCorp any reason to pressure you and your family." Sarah said, concerned.

Daniel was visibly frustrated. "You know, it's my job to protect my family, not yours!"

"Daniel, that company is freaky! You didn't want to be involved, but my involvement may cause your family problems anyway." Sarah suddenly looked at Elizabeth, wide-eyed. "Oh my goodness! I just realized you're not pregnant anymore!"

Elizabeth nodded. "Christina Elizabeth. She turned a month old a few days ago."

"I've missed so much. I'm so sorry!" Sarah took another tissue.

Daniel leaned forward. "You're very upset and you're hurt. What happened?"

"I've been through Backdoor." Sarah said it quickly and braced herself.

"You what!" Daniel yelled. Elizabeth held a finger to her lips and shook her head. Daniel softened. "You could have been hurt...or killed."

"I know, I know." Sarah said. "I had to test it on myself. Everything else came through OK, but I had to make sure it worked on a person. I was terrified the first time I crawled through. It was disorienting to come out at the other end of the room, but I felt fine." Sarah smiled. "I did lay awake all that night, worried that I had hurt myself, so I went to the doctor and lied about stomach pains just to get checked out." Her expression darkened. "But that's not why I'm here."

"You didn't go to that school in Asia that you just mentioned, did you?" Elizabeth asked.

"No...I went even further." Sarah took a breath. "I started to search for Alpha."

Daniel's mouth dropped open. "You went to Alpha?"

"No," Sarah answered quickly. "I mean, I thought it was Alpha...but it wasn't." She felt the tears coming again and paused to collect herself. The Kanos waited, glancing at each other with concerned expressions. Sarah began again. "I locked onto what appeared to be a room with some sort of instrumentation in it. It was pretty dark. There was a glow from some equipment, but I couldn't see much through the finderscope. Backdoor was tuned much further away than even the settings for Asia, so I was sure it was Alpha since it couldn't have been on the Earth."

Sarah looked at the floor. "I crawled through and stood up." She slowly shook her head from side to side. "It was so weird! There were these six glass coffins around a big glowing column in the middle of the room. Each coffin had a person in it." She looked at Daniel. "They weren't Alphans! They're going to think I'm crazy! They were aliens."

Daniel glanced at Elizabeth. "Aliens?"

"Oh please believe me! That's why I came! I was so scared, and you are the only ones I can talk to about it!" Sarah was close to tears again.

"I'm sorry," said Daniel. "It was shocking enough to hear that Backdoor even works. I promise to keep an open mind." He tried to choose his words carefully. "How did you know that they were...aliens?"

Sarah answered, "Well, I don't know for sure, but they looked really tall and had these strange markings on their faces, on their noses and around their eyes. They all had long, mostly white hair." Sarah closed her eyes. "I stood for while looking at one of the men. He had this long green robe on and a black vest over it, and his hair was long and white, but he didn't look old..." her voice trailed off, and then her eyes widened. "But then, the whole room got bright and that center column started to flash! I turned to look around the room, and then..." she swallowed "...I felt a hand on my shoulder."

The Kanos had been drawn into the story and were mesmerized. They said nothing. Sarah continued, her voice shaking. "He wasn't dead after all. He was awake and sitting up. The glass was gone from one side of the coffin. He was looking straight at me." Elizabeth held her tighter. "I was so startled that I tripped over my own feet trying to get away, and I hit my head on the way down on one of the other coffins." She reached up at touched the bump on her head, wincing slightly as she did so. "I stood up too quickly. I got dizzy and I felt like I was going to be sick. I could see him standing up. But then, I started to black out. I tried not to, because he was coming toward me, but I passed out anyway." Sarah paused. "It was almost a relief. I had been so terrified, and the blackness was so comforting." Sarah's voice became almost a whisper. "As I woke up, I found myself clinging to him. He was carrying me when I woke up."

Sarah looked at Daniel, her face distraught. "I couldn't move...I was so terrified! I looked up into his eyes. They were only inches from mine, and they had these black and white markings all around them," she looked at the floor, "but his eyes did not look angry. Actually, they looked sad." She shook her head, frustrated. "It's hard to describe."

Sarah took a deep breath and continued. "He set me down and just looked at me. I was so scared and groggy that I just stared back at him. He leaned down and tore a piece of fabric from the bottom of his robe, and then he started to dab my head with it." She pulled out a piece of shimmering green fabric stained with blood. Daniel's eyes narrowed as he looked at it. "I just stood there as he took my hand and brought it to my head to hold this in place." Sarah's eyes defocused. "I reached up with my other hand and ran my fingers along the stripes around his eyes. I don't know why I did it, or why he let me..."

Sarah broke her reverie. "As my head started to clear, I moved away from him. He just watched me. I backed up to where I thought I had entered the room. I felt around for the Backdoor opening and found it. He started to walk toward me, so I dove through the opening and I shut off the power to Backdoor before he could follow." Sarah voice was shaky. "I was so frightened! You were the only ones I could go to!"

Elizabeth held her close while Daniel came over and sat next to them. He took the green fabric from Sarah's hands. "You set out to find Alpha, and instead you contact aliens!" he whispered as he gazed at the strange fabric. Noticing the blood, he stood up. "Let me get you some aspirin and some ice."

"Thanks, my head is pounding," said Sarah as she dried the latest round of tears. Just then, faint cries were making their way down the hallway. "Oh, the baby! Can I see her?"

Elizabeth stood up. "Of course. Let me feed her and then I'll bring her out." She walked to the baby's room, troubled by all that Sarah had told them.

Sarah spent the night at the Kanos' home and drove back to Santa Fe early the next morning. Daniel had tried to talk her into immediately going public about Backdoor, saying that a search for Alpha could continue once WhiteSunCorp was exposed. She disagreed, wanting to use the last few days before the deadline to find Alpha, not trusting that a search would happen quickly enough if she went public. She felt much better after having shared her experiences with the Kanos, and she was anxious to continue the search.

Sarah made a request of Daniel before she left. "If Backdoor had shut off while I was with that alien, I would have been stuck and nobody would have ever known what had happened." She lowered her voice, not wanting to alarm Elizabeth. "If I ever go missing, would you leave the light on for me?"

Chapter 5 - Running With Scissors

Somewhere in dark reaches of space, Earth's former natural satellite was continuing its journey that it had unwillingly begun about a year earlier. Moonbase Alpha sat on the side of the Moon opposite the huge artificial crater created by the detonation of stored nuclear waste. Alpha had been established to oversee the disposal of nuclear waste, as well as provide a training ground for deep space probe astronauts and a research environment for scientists and engineers from a wide range of backgrounds.

Those ceased to be the primary objectives on September 13, 1999. Once the nuclear waste deposits exploded and the Moon broke the bonds of Earth orbit through a process whose physics was still poorly understood, the mission of Moonbase Alpha became one of survival. Damage had been sustained and some lives had been lost, but Alpha came out of the disaster surprisingly operational. The speed and trajectory of the Moon as well as a loss of some Eagles during an effort to avoid the catastrophe had prevented those left on Alpha from fleeing to Earth. They had turned their sights away from Earth and ahead into deep space, striving to survive on Alpha and, ultimately, to find a new home.

Commander John Koenig sat at his desk in his large office. Putting pen to paper, he recounted the events of the past week. Although keeping a log in a digital format would certainly be the preferred method for preserving the divergent history of this part of the human race, he found comfort in the feel of the pen gliding on the paper and in the careful choice of words required to get it right the first time.

Next door in Main Mission, colleagues who he increasingly looked upon as family began what amounted to an afternoon shift on Alpha. They had all worked tirelessly to see the base though the latest trial, and he respected and appreciated them deeply. With the large doors to his office open, he looked out over Main Mission, the nerve center of Alpha. Nothing but empty space was displayed on the large main viewer opposite him, for which he was grateful. Below him sat a U-shaped configuration of desks and terminals. Base Controller Paul Morrow sat with his back to him, taking status reports from around the base. Data Analyst Sandra Benes sat to Morrow's left, busily logging the reports as fast as Morrow could acknowledge them. Astronaut Alan Carter and Tanya Alexander sat at another terminal working out service priorities for the Eagle fleet. David Kano was attending to Main Computer. They were good, devoted people whose support Koenig and Alpha could not do without.

Doctor Helena Russell entered Main Mission to the left of the main viewer. As she walked up the steps to the Commander's desk, Koenig closed his journal and smiled inwardly. He and the blond doctor had grown quite close during the last year, and although he maintained a professional appearance, any excuse for her to visit was always welcomed. She leaned on his desk and took in his privileged view of Main Mission. "Things appear to be getting back to normal, John."

"Helena, I'm not sure what normal is anymore," said Koenig, rubbing his eyes.

"Actually, normal is something that I had in mind," Helena began as she turned to look at him. "I've been concerned about the toll that the stress of day-to-day operations is having on the mental health of our people, not to mention the effect of incidents like last week."

Koenig leaned forward. "What do you have in mind?"

"A greater emphasis on recreation and mandatory time off, for instance," Helena began. "Eva Zoref even proposed organizing a formal."

"A formal?" said Koenig skeptically. "Helena, most of our people were not big on dances and parties on Earth, let alone here. Many are..." he tried to choose his words carefully "...a bit socially challenged."

"I think you underestimate them, John. They have never had to rely on each other like they have had to this past year. I think they would welcome a chance to explore these relationships outside of their shift work." Koenig looked unconvinced so she added, "As Chief Medical Officer, I could order it."

That brought a smirk to his face. "Alright. If our situation remains stable for the time being, you can have your formal." He quickly added, "As long as it doesn't interfere with base operations."

"Are you going to ask me to go with you to the formal?" Helena asked with mock innocence as she gazed out the viewports that ran along the sunken area behind the Commander's desk.

"Oh, I suppose as Chief Medical Officer you could order me to..." Koenig was interrupted by the voice of Victor Bergman as the face of the professor appeared on the viewscreen built into his desk. Bergman's age showed in his lined face and his thinning, gray hair, but not in his ever-energetic voice.

"John, you'd better have a look at something," Bergman began. "Could you come to my quarters right away?"

Koenig and Russell exchanged glances. "I'm on my way, Victor." As the screen returned to the Alpha test pattern, Koenig started toward the door at the back of his office with Russell right behind him.

Sarah Andrew crawled through Backdoor and back into her laboratory at the Santa Fe campus of WhiteSunCorp. She was elated! With two days to spare she had not only found Alpha, she had been there. Her first view of it through the finderscope had left no doubt as with the experience with the alien. The layout of the room and the landscape beyond the viewports had been easily recognizable. Although Sarah had never been to Alpha before, she had familiarized herself with enough photos to be certain that she had succeeded. She had crawled through to find herself in what appeared to be both a laboratory and living quarters. She had stood up and turned around to find herself face to face with a Bergman Sphere.

Between the Sphere and the other items in the room, Sarah had been convinced that she was in Professor Victor Bergman's quarters. Then it had hit her that she was on the Moon! When she ran to the viewports to take in the landscape, it amazed her how desolate, yet beautiful it looked, but the lack of known constellations proved to be quite puzzling. She had expected to see the familiar patterns distorted due to the changed position of the Moon, but there had been nothing recognizable about that sky. "Where are you?" she had asked the empty room.

Getting back to the task at hand, she had looked around and found Bergman's desk. It was piled high with papers and equipment, so she had placed the data disk on his chair with a note that said, "View this immediately!"

As she had passed the commpost in the center of the room, she had wondered if she should just contact him in person. Too many questions, she had thought to herself. This would be quicker, and there were preparations to be made at WhiteSunCorp.

As she crawled through the Backdoor opening, she heard a door slide open behind her, so she crawled faster. The gray floor of Alpha gave way to the tan floor tiles of her lab.

"I must now agree that there is indeed nothing like a deadline to produce results." Sarah looked up in horror to see Stanton hovering over her.

She quickly stood up. "Ian! I got it working!" She flashed a fake smile.

"Oh please, Sarah, I was not born yesterday!" He paced back and forth in front of Sarah as she shifted uncomfortably. Suddenly, he whirled around and put his face directly in front of hers. "You made me look like a fool in front of the execs, and all the time you had Backdoor working!" he growled through clenched teeth. "Backdoor may have been your project, but as far as WhiteSunCorp was concerned, it was my find! Without me, none of this would have been possible!"

Sarah had had enough. She stepped back and glared at him. "You're giving yourself way too much credit, Ian. You're just a greedy suit. You never were much of a scientist."

"Is that so?" Stanton said, regaining his calm. He sauntered over to Backdoor. It was still running. Sarah held her breath as he noticed the finderscope and picked it up. "Hmmm. Is this how you look before you leap?" he said as he leaned down, placed the primary through Backdoor, and looked through the eyepiece. He whirled around, the look in his eyes sending chills through Sarah. "You found Alpha!"

Stanton walked over to Sarah, once again standing far closer to her than was comfortable. "Under different circumstances, this would be cause for celebration. However, I can tell by your behavior that you understand that our employers are very...jealous. They do not like to share." He quickly moved behind her and wrapped his arms around her, pinning her arms to her body. As she struggled, he said evenly, "Dr. Andrew was incompetent. Once I began to work with her I was quickly able solve the remaining problems with Backdoor. She left WhiteSunCorp out of embarrassment and I have not heard from her since."

"Take a look at this, John." Bergman pointed his commlock at the commpost and started the recording. The face of a woman appeared on the screen.

"Professor Bergman. You don't know how relieved I am to find that you and Alpha survived the disaster. You probably don't remember me, but I am Dr. Sarah Andrew. I was in an undergraduate E&M class of yours a number of years ago. Forgive the lack of explanation, but time is short and I must get to the point. In the year since you left, I have continued the work of Dr. Daniel Kano and have completed development on what we call Backdoor. It allows instantaneous transport through space. Don't ask me how it works...I'm hoping you can tell me one day. In any case, I was just in your quarters and am now back on Earth." The face on the screen looked uneasy. "I work for some really nasty people who don't know that Backdoor works. My goal is to bring you home before they find out. At 5 hours GMT, it will be late enough here. At that time, I will reopen Backdoor to Alpha, so please be ready to send everyone through. By the way, do not turn off your Bergman Sphere!" With that, the screen went dark.

Koenig was incredulous. "Victor, could this be a joke?"

"I don't see how, John. That recording was not made by anyone here on Alpha, and it was obviously made after we broke out of Earth's orbit." Victor stroked his chin. "I do vaguely remember that young lady."

"What is a Bergman Sphere?" asked Helena.

"Oh, it's that power converter over there," he said, pointing across the room to the glass sphere housing numerous electrical components and emitting a low hum. "I can't imagine why it is important. Hardly anyone uses them these days."

"Well, apparently you do. At least I finally know what to call it." Helena's smile faded. "John, do we take this seriously?" She pulled out her commlock and checked it. "We only have a few hours left until her deadline. There isn't much time."

"Time!" Koenig turned to Bergman. "Victor, you said that our journey through the black sun, as well as whatever is responsible for our fast motion through space, should cause time to be different here than on Earth. She indicated one year on that recording." Koenig held out his hands. "It's the same as here."

Bergman considered that. "Hmmm, very interesting. That is either proof of a hoax," he began to nod and smile as he looked at Koenig, "or evidence of a plan."

Koenig shook his head. He and Bergman had talked many times of the involvement of God or a cosmic intelligence in their survival, but this was not the time. "The whole thing sounds ridiculous, but we can't afford to ignore this." He paused for a few seconds. "Wait a minute. She mentioned a Daniel Kano. Let's find out if our own Kano knows anything about..." Koenig stopped suddenly, his eyes wide as he looked past Russell and Bergman. They turned to see Sarah Andrew from the video tumbling across the room.

Sarah came to a stop and quickly got up, looking visibly distraught. She glanced at the three Alphans, then immediately ran back in the direction she came from, dropping to her knees and sliding across the floor, coming to a stop as she slammed into the wall. She raised her fists and brought them down onto the wall and sobbed, "No!" She hung her head for a long moment and then turned to the other three in the room, who were now standing around her. One of them she recognized as Professor Bergman. "Oh Professor, I really messed this up!"

Ian Stanton was out of breath. He was not used to wrestling with aggressive, uncooperative women. He winced as he sat down, silently cursing Sarah Andrew for elbowing him in the ribs. Tasting blood, he reached for a package of lens paper on a nearby shelf and used one to dab at his lip. Finally throwing her through Backdoor and cutting the power had been so satisfying. Now, he was beginning to second-guess himself. Since Sarah had kept so much about Backdoor from him, could he really operate it on his own?

Stanton stood up and straightened his suit. He pulled out a comb and smoothed his hair back into place as he slowly walked around the lab, stopping when he saw the lab book. With relief, he opened it, but relief turned to rage when he found that the book still only reflected her reports to him. It said nothing of the capabilities that he had just discovered...and had taken advantage of.

Controlling the urge to throw the book across the room, he set it down and walked over to the Backdoor control computer. He smiled when he saw the menu displayed on the screen. She may have left information out of the lab book, but she could not leave it off of the control computer. He quickly figured out that options such as 'Lab 1' and 'Lab 2' referred to Backdoor settings for the two Bergman Sphere locations. The current setting was 'MA', which he assumed meant 'Moonbase Alpha'. Not cryptic enough, my dear, he thought to himself, although he did not know what 'Ch' stood for. No matter. It would be simple to determine the relationship between the Backdoor settings and the locations they corresponded to, which would give him the key to using it as he saw fit. He was pleased to see that Sarah was more careless than he had anticipated.

He reached down to the keyboard and typed, 'Lab 1'. His teeth barred and his hands became fists at the sight of the next prompt. It said, 'Password:'

Combining living quarters with a laboratory workspace went against almost every safety rule and regulation on Alpha, as well as on Earth, but Victor Bergman had never been a slave to rules. However, he had complied with laboratory safety regulations requiring items such as a first aid kit, so Dr. Russell found antiseptic and bandages within easy reach when she noticed the cuts on Sarah Andrew's hands and face. "This may sting slightly," she said as she pushed Sarah's hair over her shoulder and dabbed an antiseptic-soaked pad on a scrape that ran along her jaw. Sarah stared down at the bandage on her right hand, remembering how she tore her arm free from Stanton only to have her hand collide with the sharp edge of the large optical table. Not a war wound to be very proud of, she thought.

Sarah glanced over at the Professor and the Commander, who were talking low at the other end of the room. She wondered if they believed the long story she had just told them. At least they had to believe her about Backdoor. How else could she have appeared on Alpha?

As Russell closed the first aid kit, Bergman and Koenig walked over. "Well, Dr. Andrew, this is quite an achievement!" said Bergman with a smile, rubbing his hands together. "I must say that I cannot wait to explore the theory behind this Backdoor of yours."

Sarah smiled faintly. "Oh, please call me Sarah. I don't feel that getting myself marooned is much of an achievement, but I would love to get your opinions on why Backdoor works."

"There's an issue that is more pressing." All eyes turned to Koenig. "You said that you locked Backdoor to Alpha?" Sarah nodded. "They'll be coming for you," Koenig said grimly.

Sarah's eyes grew wide, her voice anxious. "Oh my goodness I hope so! Otherwise they'll try to go after Daniel!" She looked at Bergman. "Wait a minute. Backdoor might not even work with the same settings since we're constantly changing our relative position in space." She shook her head. "I just don't know how or why it even worked at all!" she said helplessly.

Koenig held up his hand. "Regardless, they might get lucky, so we need to make our own luck." He pulled out his commlock. "Paul, I want two Security personnel posted outside Professor Bergman's quarters and an emergency command conference convened in my office in five minutes." Paul Morrow could be heard acknowledging the Commander with some hesitation, obviously concerned about what triggered the strange orders. Koenig turned to the others. "Victor, you're going to have to move to other quarters for now. I'm going to have Kano set up a surveillance system in here."

Sarah spoke up. "You mean David Kano? So he's OK?"

Koenig softened. "Yes, he's fine. I assume he's related to this Daniel Kano?"

"Yes, Daniel is David's brother," she said, relieved at the news. "I've never met David."

"Well, you're about to. Let's continue this in my office." Koenig led the others out of Bergman's quarters and quickly briefed the purple-sleeved Security guards who had arrived outside.

"You what?" asked Ian Stanton's supervisor evenly, fighting to maintain her fraudulent smile. Stanton had never learned her name. It was part of the strange way that WhiteSunCorp operated. He squirmed in his seat, wondering if coming clean with the management had been a good idea. Of course he had embellished the story to make it look like he had no choice but to push Sarah Andrew through Backdoor. After all, she had threatened to go to the least that is what he had told Ms. Whatever-Her-Name-Is. He had enjoyed working for a corporation whose high ambitions matched his own, but even he was growing weary of the cloak-and-dagger operations.

"As I said, we can easily bring her back." Stanton replied.

"Easily?" the woman asked rhetorically. "It seems to me that a visit to Daniel Kano's home would be far easier than a visit to...the Moon."

"Kano and Andrew haven't spoken in months. He knows nothing of the current project. All we need is a password." Stanton thought for a moment and added, "And whatever else we can persuade her to provide for us."

"I am not thrilled at all with your action. And, I am disappointed that you cannot even hack past a simple password." The woman regarded Stanton for a long moment, increasing his discomfort. "Very well. I will give you the people. You will take them to get Andrew." The woman picked up her phone, but stopped to flash a stinging look at Stanton. "I want this taken care of quickly. WhiteSunCorp could use Backdoor, and you could use redemption. Do not screw this up!"

The door to Commander Koenig's office opened to reveal steps leading to a sunken area containing a round conference table and a sitting area, as well as a large viewscreen on the wall. To the left and back up the steps sat the Commander's desk. Beyond it, the large doors to Main Mission were closed.

Four people standing next to the conference table turned around as the group from Bergman's quarters entered the room. Their conversation ceased in mid-sentence and their expressions turned to puzzlement when they saw someone out of uniform. Paul Morrow leaned over and whispered to Sandra Benes. As Controller of the Moonbase Alpha, he was acquainted with everyone on the base, but this face was unfamiliar to him. The mystery woman looked back at the group with uncertainty, but recognition suddenly flashed across her face and she ran to David Kano. Kano was visibly surprised when the woman threw her arms around him. Alan Carter, although disturbed at the appearance of this woman, could not help but flash a helpless Kano a wink and a smile. Kano was not amused.

The woman finally pulled back and said with embarrassment, "Oh, I'm so sorry! It's just that you look so much like Daniel and he would be ecstatic to know that you're OK."

Kano appeared disoriented. "You know Daniel?"

"Well, I did a postdoc with him. I'm Sarah Andrew," she answered.

"Oh! I've heard all about you!" Concern suddenly flooded Kano's face. "How did you get here? Is Daniel here?"

Koenig stepped in. "Alright, Kano. Let's all take our seats and Dr. Andrew will give us the whole story." He glanced at Morrow. "We have some decisions to make."

Kano moved to a seat, still looking dazed. As they sat down, Sarah leaned over to him and whispered, "You now have both a nephew and a niece." Kano, not usually given to frivolous expressions of joy, smiled widely.

The reasoning was that a quick and immediate assault would prevent preparation on the part of Alpha. Ian Stanton listened as the leader of the four-man mercenary team laid out the plan. How his supervisor had provided this team almost instantly, Stanton did not know, but he found it unsettling. He did not know their names, either. He wondered why everyone was allowed to know his name. Stanton was feeling more and more like the low man, and that did not sit well with him.

As Stanton turned on the power to Backdoor, one of the mercenaries began to argue with his leader about the plan. He was not thrilled about crawling through some strange device that could have an ill effect on his body. Another sat shaking his head, obviously skeptical about Backdoor altogether. Once the leader had sufficiently reprimanded the dissenter, he passed out laser rifles to his men. Stanton spoke up. "Don't I get a weapon?"

The leader looked the suit-clad Stanton up and down and said, "No."

"Well, then how am I supposed to defend myself?" blurted Stanton.

The leader ignored Stanton, "Alright men. Line up."

Stanton was fuming. He reluctantly took his position, third in line. The leader pulled out a small riflescope and used it to look beyond the threshold of Backdoor. "All clear. Move out." With that, he and another mercenary quickly crawled through Backdoor.

"Man, that thing's for real!" the mercenary behind Stanton exclaimed. "Hey, get moving!" he said to Stanton, poking him in the back with his laser rifle. Stanton growled and then crawled through. When he came through the other side, the scientist in him could not help but feel respect for the Backdoor device, and he shook his head in amazement when he noticed the Bergman Sphere operating nearby.

The mercenary team and Stanton regrouped in Bergman's quarters by the door to the corridor. "Alright, Stanton, she's not here."

"She hasn't been on Alpha for long," said Stanton. "She must have been taken to the Commander. I suggest Main Mission or the Commander's office."

The mercenaries took positions on either side of the door. The leader nodded to the team and activated the door from the wall panel next to it. The two purple-sleeved security guards in the corridor whirled around and raised their lasers. The mercenaries quickly stunned the surprised guards with their rifles, but not before one of the guards stunned Ian Stanton. The leader rolled his eyes. "Stupid fool!" He glanced at a small diagram of Moonbase Alpha in his hand and he directed two of his men down the corridor once they had dragged Stanton and the Alphan security guards into Bergman's quarters. To the other mercenary, he gestured back toward the room and said, "That's our only way home. Guard it!"

"So we're going home!" exclaimed Carter.

"We're not home yet, Alan," said Koenig. "Kano, I want you to make it possible for Computer to monitor Professor Bergman's quarters and to raise the alarm if any motion is detected. Paul, assemble a security team to deal with whoever arrives from Earth."

"And a second team for Earth?" asked Morrow.

Koenig nodded. "Good thinking, Paul. I never would have dreamed we'd have to fight our way back to Earth. Sandra, try to plan a version of Operation Exodus that will quickly evacuate Alpha..." he shook his head "...through Professor Bergman's quarters. Helena, you and Bob..." The muffled sound of laser fire could be heard through the walls and the face of Tanya Alexander appeared on the commpost.

"Commander! We are under attack in here!" Tanya's heavily accented voice was filled with terror. Suddenly, she disappeared from the screen as the sound of laser fire continued.

"They're already here!" exclaimed Carter.

Koenig had one laser in his office, which he grabbed from his desk and tossed to Carter. "You've got our backs, Alan. Everyone into the corridor." The command staff and Sarah Andrew quickly made their way down the corridor with Alan Carter bringing up the rear. Koenig pulled out his commlock. "Attention all sections Alpha. Main Mission is under assault. Security, full deployment with focus on Main Mission and Professor Bergman's quarters. Shoot to stun. All other personnel are to secure in place."

As they came to the corridor to Launch Pad One, Koenig stopped them. "Alan, you take Dr. Andrew to the standby Eagle and retract the boarding tube."

"Right, Commander," said Carter as he tossed the laser to Paul.

"Wait a minute!" said Sarah. "I don't want anyone getting hurt because of me!"

"Dr. Andrew, you need to follow my orders." Koenig said flatly.

"Yes, Commander," Sarah said with uncertainty as Alan took her by the arm and led her down the corridor toward Launch Pad One.

Koenig turned to Paul. "Let's head to the old Command Center." Paul nodded and followed as Koenig led Helena, Sandra and Kano down another corridor to a stairwell.

Helena hesitated to go down the stairs. "Wait, John. I need to get to Medical Center."

"Sorry, Helena," Koenig said. "It's not safe. Let's go." The five made their way down the stairs.

Unconscious bodies littered the floor of Main Mission. Tanya Alexander sat rigid in her chair. One of the mercenaries stood behind her, pointing a laser rifle at the back of her head. The leader of the group paced back and forth in front of her. He ignored the Security personnel he knew were keeping them under surveillance, figuring they would not dare make a move with one of their own held hostage. "She's not in the Commander's office and she's not here." He leaned down and put his face right in front of Tanya's. "Where is she!" he hissed.

"I do not know who you are talking about!" Tanya shot back, voice shaking.

The leader straightened. He looked at the man behind Tanya and nodded. The man pushed the laser rifle against her back with one hand and grabbed her by the hair with the other. Tanya gasped as her head was yanked back. She growled, "I tell you I do not know! There was an emergency command conference! That is all I know!"

The leader nodded to the man, who released her hair. She swore in a foreign language and rubbed her neck, turning to glare at the man behind her.

The leader spoke up. "Very well. This base is too large for us to search, so it's time to talk. Activate your base-wide video communications."

Moonbase Alpha had been built in phases. The predecessor to the sprawling, above-ground multiplex had been a smaller, underground complex constructed to support the initial nuclear waste disposal operations at Area 1 on the far side. The success of that venture led to construction of the expanded above-ground base to make possible the opening of Area 2 to nuclear waste shipments, as well as to support other ventures such as interplanetary missions and space-based research. Command Center had been the nerve center of Alpha's earlier underground incarnation.

"Secure that door," Koenig said to Paul once everyone was inside. "Kano, can you interface to Main Computer from down here?"

"I don't know," said Kano as he eyed the dated equipment in the room with visible distaste. "Computer knows better than to talk to strangers."

"Come on, Kano" Koenig said with impatience. Kano shook his head and walked over to the computer wall. Koenig surveyed the room and filed away at the back of his mind the need to make Command Center operational in case Main Mission is ever compromised again. He did not like the current position that he found himself in.

"David, I think I can give you power," said Sandra Benes, already at work at one of the terminal stations.

"Benjamin Ouma transitioned operations from here to Main Computer," muttered Kano as his hands flew over the controls on the wall panels. "Now he's gone, and I have to deal with this...this relic!"

"I have faith in you, David," said Sandra sweetly, forcing a softening in Kano's expression. Sandra had a gift for dealing with the strong personalities on the command staff. Morrow glanced over to her and gave an approving nod.

Koenig moved to the large desk at the back of the room. The displays came to life as Sandra finished powering up Command Center. "John, I want to get a status report from Medical Center," said Helena as she joined him.

"Helena, I want to maintain communications silence until we have a better handle on what's happening. Matthias can handle it." Koenig turned to her. "Wait a minute. Could you use a terminal to access sensors and count life signs in Main Mission and Victor's quarters?"

Helena nodded, sensing Koenig's strategy. "I think so. Give me a minute." She sat down at one of the terminals in front of the large viewscreen, which suddenly sprang to life.

"Commander!" said Kano. "This is the view from one of the Main Mission surveillance cameras." The view was from the balcony above Computer looking down on the Main Mission terminals. Four operatives brought in to cover Main Mission during the command conference were seen sprawled on the floor. Tanya Alexander was seated, surrounded by three laser rifle-wielding strangers.

"John, I have a count for Victor's quarters. There are four life readings." Helena frowned at the numbers before her and then looked back at Koenig to comment. Seeing the look on his face, she turned back to look up at the viewscreen. "Oh no." She called on her detached physician personality and continued her report. "Three of the four readings in Victor's quarters are relatively weak. I think they may be unconscious."

"So are they ours or theirs?" Koenig asked himself.

Isolated in the standby Eagle on Launch Pad 1, Alan Carter was rummaging through the small on-board armory. He was also trying his best to distract Sarah Andrew from their current situation, but he could not help but steer the conversation toward news of Earth.

"Yeah, things were bad, but not nearly as bad as they could have been," said Sarah over her shoulder while snooping in the pilot module. "But many jerks like the ones out there have tried to take advantage of Moonday anyway."

"Moonday?" asked Alan.

"That's the term they used in the news for the accident." Sarah answered.

"That's the silliest name I've ever heard!" said Alan, amused. "Here on Alpha, we call it Breakaway."

Sarah came back into the passenger module and nodded. "Yeah, that sounds much more appropriate."

"All right. We have four lasers, a laser rifle, and six small charges." Alan saw the look of concern on Sarah's face. "Oh, now, don't you worry! These charges are just for excavating small amounts of rock to hold larger explosives for mining. They're very stable."

They both turned quickly as they saw the displays along the inside wall of the Eagle come to life. Sarah gasped. Alan's jaw dropped. Tanya Alexander's face was visible, along with the business end of a laser rifle pressed against her temple. Her expression was one of strength mixed with disgust, but her eyes betrayed her fear.

"No, I didn't change cameras. That feed is being directed to us." Kano turned around. "Commander, it's being directed to all of Alpha."

As Tanya's face stared back at them, a man's voice could be heard from off-screen.

"You will bring Dr. Sarah Andrew to Professor Bergman's quarters in fifteen minutes, or we will kill this woman. You will not interfere with our movement to that location, or we will kill this woman. As extra insurance, we have two of your security guards, who we will also kill, and we will go beyond that if necessary. Fifteen minutes." The screen went dark.

All eyes turned back to Koenig.

Sarah glanced back at Alan. His body language told her everything. "You're very close to her, aren't you?"

Alan ran his hand over his face. "Yeah. You could say that. Not as close as I'd like." He paced the length of the Eagle compartment. "It takes something like this to make a man realize how stupid he was not to act."

"You've got to take me back," Sarah said.

"Oh, come on!" said Alan with disgust. He pointed at the now dark viewscreens. "I don't think even Tanya would want that to happen!"

"Look, I came here to help, and I've made things worse. But the problem isn't just here." Sarah looked at Alan. "Coming after me was the first thing to try, but one way or another, those jerks are going to get control of Backdoor. I need to..."

The Eagle displays lit up again, this time with the face of Paul Morrow. "Alan, what's your status?"

"We're secure here, Paul." Alan glanced at Sarah. "We're just having a little disagreement about how to help Tanya."

The display changed to show Commander Koenig. "No Alan, you stay put. We're working on it."

Sarah broke in, "Commander, you've got to let them take me back."

"Dr. Andrew, your well-being is my responsibility just as much as Tanya's," responded Koenig.

"It's not just my well-being, Commander. It's Earth's." Sarah proceeded to quickly make her case.

Commander Koenig's voice resonated down the corridor outside Bergman's quarters as he spelled out the terms of the exchange over the communications system from his hidden location.

After a short pause, the door to Bergman's quarters opened and two of the mercenaries dragged the unconscious Security guards into the corridor, dumping them unceremoniously. Another mercenary appeared, leading Tanya by the arm. He shoved her forward. Tanya stumbled but managed not to fall. She stood up tall and defiant and looked down the corridor. At the other end were four purple sleeves and an orange sleeve. It was Alan! Tanya began to walk down the corridor. Walking toward her was an unfamiliar woman. As they passed in the corridor, Tanya gave the woman a puzzled look and then instinctively grabbed her hand and squeezed it. The woman nodded back and continued on. Tanya finally broke into a jog and rushed into the arms of Alan Carter, who quickly led her down another corridor.

The mercenary grabbed Sarah Andrew by the arm, led her into Bergman's quarters and shut the door. Sarah looked down to see Ian Stanton sitting on the floor and rubbing his head. "What happened?" he asked groggily.

"You got shot, you moron," said one of the mercenaries.

The leader spoke up. "All right, men, let's get moving."

Stanton tried to stand and fell back to the floor, still feeling the effects of the stun, "I can't get my legs to work!"

"Leave him," was the reply.

Stanton began to panic. "No! You can't leave me here!" The others continued to move toward the other end of the room. "WhiteSunCorp expects a report from me. You can't do this to me!" Stanton was on the verge of hysteria. "Wait! You can't leave me on the Moon! Please! Help me!"

Sarah stopped, gathering strength. Stanton deserved to be left behind after what he did to her. To leave him would be satisfying, but it would make her as bad as he was. Sarah pulled her arm free, glared at the mercenaries, and then walked over to Stanton and helped him to stand. As she supported him across the room, he just stared at her. Finally unable to hold her tongue any longer, Sarah said icily, "What is it, Ian? You forgot what kindness looks like?" She lowered him to the floor and helped him crawl through Backdoor after two of the mercenaries and followed by the other two.

Back on Earth, Sarah helped the still dumbfounded Stanton to a chair. The leader came up to her. "OK, Dr. Andrew. Shut it off." Sarah nodded and stepped to the terminal, but instead of typing, she pulled out a small object from under her shirt and pressed a button on it.

Five. Sarah reached around the terminal and placed the object on the optical table next to the equipment.

Four. "Hey, what is that?" yelled one of the mercenaries.

Three. Sarah pushed Stanton's chair, sending him rolling to the other end of the room.

Two. "Fire in the hole," said Sarah calmly. Everyone dove for cover.


Chapter 6 - Integration

Sarah Andrew stepped out of the travel tube and walked down the corridor toward her laboratory. It had been two months since she dove through Backdoor before the small explosive that Alan Carter had given her from the Eagle armory irreparably closed the door between Earth and Alpha. She was relieved that WhiteSunCorp no longer had such dangerous technology and hoped that they would give up on Backdoor altogether, as well as leave Daniel Kano alone, but she could not be sure. She made it her mission to bring the Alphans home and to expose WhiteSunCorp.

Sarah had been given an available laboratory in the Technical section to build a new Backdoor system. The laboratory had one of the standard Alpha layouts, which was repeated in many rooms ranging from the gymnasium to the Commander's office. There was plenty of room in the sunken area for the large optical table she had charmed from a spectroscopist down the corridor, and although most Alphans had grown weary of the bleak lunar surface, she was secretly pleased to have the viewports that ran along the room overlooking the lunar landscape. She was also proud to be wearing an Alpha uniform, and she glanced down at the brown sleeve of Technical that she now sported. Coming to the Moon had been a lifelong dream, but under the current circumstances, the price was quite high.

The Backdoor project generated cautious optimism around Alpha, but it did not factor into any of the planning of the command staff, either short-term or long-term. Sarah understood that Alpha could not afford to count on her success, but she was determined to come through. Her focus was entirely on Backdoor, and she even skipped social events such as a formal a few days previous in order to keep the momentum of her project going. Alpha had state-of-the-art equipment, but it still lacked many resources that used to be just an Eagle's flight away. She was forced to improvise and she still did not have even a poorly working Backdoor prototype.

Sarah was getting a late start. Her tendency to work into the night and wake early had caught up with her yet again, and that morning the bed had proven to be more compelling than the alarm. She was secretly grateful that the sofa in the Backdoor laboratory was too small to stretch out on. Otherwise, she would frequently be tempted to crash in the lab for the night rather than make the trek to her quarters.

She smiled to herself and rubbed her eyes as she pictured herself curled up on that wretched sofa. When she took her hand away from her eyes, she saw the back of another brown-sleeved Technical worker as he jogged by her down the corridor. Just then, there were more footsteps and excited conversation behind her. Two women walked by her very quickly, chatting animatedly. Hearing more footsteps approaching, Sarah stopped and turned around.

"Smitty!" she said. Sarah had met him previously during a visit to the power station. He had made it possible for extra power to be routed to the Backdoor laboratory. Eva Zoref was walking with him. They slowed when Sarah spoke up.

"Are you going to see them?" asked Smitty.

"See who?" Sarah asked. "What's going on?"

"We have visitors!" Eva said, resuming her quick pace.

"Do you mean alien visitors?" Sarah asked jokingly, struggling to keep up with them, hoping for some elaboration.

"Yes! You haven't heard?" asked Smitty as they turned down a corridor that led to Launch Pad Three.

"No!" Sarah said, incredulous. "Does this happen often around here?"

"Well, usually when we encounter aliens they are either extremely hostile," answered Smitty, "or extremely condescending!" He shook his head and laughed.

"Or," added Eva, "they take possession of your husband."

Sarah stopped suddenly. She had heard about Anton Zoref being taken over by an energy-hungry life force, but Eva's blunt statement was unexpected.

Eva turned around and sighed, "I'm sorry." She glanced at Smitty and back at Sarah. "If the Commander is letting these aliens inside Alpha, then they must be friendly," she assured.

Sarah was speechless. Was she really serious?

They rounded the corner and joined a crowd of people forming opposite the access door to Launch Pad Three. As they stood waiting, more Alphans came to stand behind them.

"Excuse me. That's right. Thank you, I need to get through." The voice of Commissioner Simmonds was easily recognizable, probably more so because of attitude than timbre. The crowd politely parted for him, causing many including Sarah to be temporarily but uncomfortably squeezed.

Commissioner Simmonds had headed up the World Space Commission that oversaw operations on Moonbase Alpha, among other things. He had not dealt well with being stranded on the Moon when it broke out of Earth's orbit. Finding himself with no function and unwilling to learn a new one, he had alternated between asserting his imagined authority and retreating to his quarters. The knowing glances between the gathered Alphans indicated they understood that today it was the former.

Footsteps could be heard down the hall that led from Launch Pad Three. Sarah strained to see around the commpost and personnel that blocked her view. She could hear the booming voice of Commissioner Simmonds. "Well, Koenig?" How obnoxious, she thought. He spoke again. "I think you should introduce us."

Now Commander Koenig's voice could be heard. "Captain Zantor, Commissioner Simmonds." Sarah had to stifle a giggle. She thought that Captain Zantor sounded like a name out of a bad '50's science fiction movie.

A low, unfamiliar voice rang out. "Your status, please?" Sarah tried to see the owner of that bass voice, but could only glimpse the Commander and the Commissioner around the commpost.

"I represent Earth authority here on Moonbase Alpha. And in that capacity, may I say welcome." Always the politician, even without a political system, thought Sarah to herself. She wondered how the visitor perceived this representative, and winced at the thought of what the Captain's first impression of Alpha must be like as a result.

"You represent Earth authority?" That low voice was heard again.

"Yes, and may I first assure you that those responsible for the regrettable loss of your crewmember will be brought to account." Sarah had no idea what that meant, but it sounded to her like Commissioner Simmonds was enjoying himself. This was probably the most fun he had had since Breakaway...a chance to recapture and flaunt his authority.

"Commissioner, I take the responsibility." Commander Koenig had class, she thought to herself. He was playing along with the Commissioner, rather than humiliating him in front of the guest.

"Yes, you must, as operational commander." Sarah rolled her eyes. The Commissioner's condescending tone was becoming unbearable, and she wished that the Commander would put a stop to this silly act. Frustrated, she stood on her toes and leaned around the commpost, straining to finally get a look at the visitor. The sight she saw was so unexpected that she gasped and instinctively took a step back, colliding with the people standing behind her.

"We realize that the mistake that destroyed our comrade was from ignorance, not malice," the visitor said, distracted by the commotion. He stepped forward to get a better look. Sarah did not notice Smitty and Eva steadying her because she was transfixed by the eyes that had haunted her for months, which had stopped to rest on her. His eyes registered recognition. He continued, preoccupied, "We do not require judicial revenge." With that, he turned his back to the Commissioner. Simmonds jaw dropped, thoroughly frustrated at suddenly being ignored by this visitor. He quickly regained his composure and crossed his arms over his chest, awaiting an explanation for the rude behavior. Koenig simply watched, secretly delighted by Simmonds shock and intrigued by Captain Zantor's actions.

An explanation was not forthcoming for the Commissioner. Zantor moved to the edge of the crowd, his long green robe rippling at the edges as he walked. His hair looked snow white under the harsh lights of the Alpha corridor, and contrasted sharply with the long black vest he wore over his green robe. Sarah, surrounded by onlookers, stood wide-eyed and frozen like a trapped animal, unable to tear her gaze away from Zantor's eyes. They were just as she had remembered them: rimmed by black and white, calm and sad. There was also a spark of anticipation that seemed to flare up as he raised his hand toward her. The crowd parted. Zantor's towering figure was now fully visible to her, his arm outstretched. She felt terrified, just like she felt the day she crawled into...wait a minute! Onto his spaceship! That's what it was! Realization flooded her mind. Of course! It must have been some sort of a spaceship, and that was why they were now at Launch Pad Three. That terrible day was finally starting to make sense!

The feelings of terror gave way to amazement, and then to shame as she saw herself through his eyes. She had been an intruder on his ship and had behaved quite poorly. Yet, the entire time, he had shown her nothing but kindness. A wave of embarrassment swept over her. She wished that she could run and hide, but he was still standing there, patiently waiting, arm outstretched. Cautiously and almost involuntarily, she stretched out her arm and slowly placed her hand in his. His palm was cool, and his fingers closed gently around her hand. He kept his eyes locked with hers as he led her forward, out of the crowd and over to Commander Koenig.

Without taking his eyes off of Sarah, Zantor said, "Commander Koenig, I would be very interested to understand the technology that allowed this member of your crew to board my ship while it was still in transit." Koenig's eyes widened involuntarily. He then took a slow, deep breath as he turned to regard Sarah. She could hear the unspoken question booming in her head. Why didn't you tell me? The experience months back had been so upsetting to her that she did not want to relive it by relating it to the Commander and the others, but now she deeply regretted that decision. She had caused the Commander to be caught off guard, which could be at best embarrassing and at worst dangerous. Zantor must have sensed her growing discomfort because he finally let go of her hand.

Koeing looked at Zantor. "Captain, as soon as you've refreshed yourselves, I suggest we meet to discuss our situation. Dr. Russell will see you to your quarters." Helena stepped forward, gave Sarah a questioning look, and then motioned to Captain Zantor to follow her. Four other tall, white-haired aliens who had exited Launch Pad Three fell in behind him. Koenig turned to Sarah, his voice hushed but carrying the weight of authority, "My office. Now."

She did not need to be told twice. "Yes, Commander," she said hoarsely. She started down the corridor, staring down at the floor.

Simmonds caught Koenig by the arm before he could follow. "I'm telling you, Koenig, that girl will get us all in trouble before she ever gets us back to Earth! And as for your new friends..." Simmonds leaned closer. "Be careful, Koenig. They may not be as friendly as they seem."

Sarah stood back behind the conference table near the viewports in the Commander's office, uncertain whether she should even be at the meeting at all. She had explained her earlier encounter with Captain Zantor to the Commander, and she was relieved to find that her story only confirmed his own first impression of these beings from the planet Kaldor. They did not seem to be threat. He did, however, order her to be up-front with him in the future. She reluctantly stayed for this meeting at the Commander's request, but she was so ashamed of her poor performance as Earth's first ambassador to the Kaldorians that now, as she stood in their presence, she regretted the decision to stay.

The five Kaldorians huddled at the top of the steps near the side door. Zantor handed something to each member of his crew and then turned around. "Please accept these gifts as peace tokens from the people of Kaldor," he said. The others walked down the steps to the conference area and handed to Koenig, Russell, Bergman and Simmonds each a shiny purple egg. They regarded their gifts as the four Kaldorians made their way back up the steps to wait.

Zantor had already descended the steps and was heading toward Sarah, carefully making his way around the conference table that she had tried to disappear behind. He held out a purple egg to her. She hesitated at first, but suddenly reached out and accepted the gift, realizing that to decline could be offensive. Zantor gave her a nod and then continued to speak while he made his way to the center of the room where the other Alphans were standing.

"The Libra bird was our symbol of peace and freedom," Zantor explained, "but like everything else on our planet it ultimately became sterile. When we left, there were only two surviving pairs, and their eggs, when filled with gold, were greatly prized as memorials to our fading life." His voice trailed off. Sarah glanced over at the other Kaldorions, and she realized that their neutral expressions were hiding an enormous amount of pain and sadness.

Koenig spoke up. "Thank you, Captain. We accept your gifts," he said respectfully. "May I ask how long you've been traveling?"

"Approximately three and a half of your centuries," replied Zantor. The Alphans moved closer, amazed at the number. He continued, "Our planet was dying. Our people sent out many ships, one to each planet we believed could sustain our form of life."

Koenig asked, "And your ship was programmed to land on this Moon?"

"Only to orbit this Moon," answered Zantor, "and then we would reanimate and prepare for the final stage of our journey, to your planet, Earth."

Sarah's eyes widened and she suddenly felt ill. She lowered herself into one of the chairs at the conference table. Simmonds took notice and seized the opportunity. "Well, isn't that nice? You had your little doorway open to Earth and you didn't even tell them!"

Sarah decided that leaving would be preferable to crying in front of everyone. "Excuse me," she whispered as she stood and quickly exited the Commander's office, almost dropping her commlock in the process. Zantor watched as she left.

"Simmonds!" growled Koenig, losing the patience that the Commissioner had already worn thin earlier that day. He exchanged glances with Bergman and then turned back to Zantor. "Are you aware this Moon is no longer in Earth's orbit?"

Zantor nodded. "Yes. I fear that random variations in your trajectory and velocity caused our computer to err, and so we have crashed."

Koenig responded, "Well, it's remarkable your computer was able to find us at all."

Zantor gave Koenig a puzzled look. "It was so programmed. How could it do otherwise?"

Simmonds decided to jump in. "Is your computer capable of calculating the present position of Earth?"

"Yes," answered Zantor.

Simmonds pressed further. "And it's programmed to reach Earth?"

"That is our prime directive," stated Zantor.

"Should be ours, too," said Simmonds in Koenig's direction. "Unfortunately, some of us seem to have lost the will to achieve it." The Commissioner had initially been enthusiastic about the arrival of Sarah Andrew and the prospect of going home, but he quickly grew impatient with her slow progress and with Koenig's unwillingness to risk pouring the full resources of the base into the effort. Koenig did not put an attempt to return to Earth above survival, but Simmonds equated it with survival.

"So your hope is to settle on Earth?" asked Koenig.

Zantor nodded. "If we are welcome, yes."

Koenig was curious as to what other alternative there could be. "But if you are not?"

"Then we would submit ourselves to voluntary reduction." Zantor said grimly, "In your terms, we would take our own lives."

After an uncomfortable silence, Helena offered a recommendation. "May I suggest that I run some tests to determine whether or not you and our people on Earth are medically compatible?"

Bergman added, "I'll help to assess the damage to your ship."

Zantor's face wore a puzzled expression. "We are grateful. However, I was under the impression that our ship will no longer be required for us to complete our journey to Earth."

"I see," said Koenig. "Captain, the truth is that the technology that brought about Dr. Andrew's accidental visit to your ship was developed by her on Earth." Koenig tried to choose his next words carefully. "However, a series of events involving some people of low reputation resulted in her being stranded here with us. We have not otherwise been in contact with Earth since nuclear waste deposits on the other side of the Moon exploded and sent us out of Earth's orbit."

Zantor paused as he considered what he had been told. "May I ask if you intend to reproduce the technology here?"

"It is our hope, but there is no guarantee that it can be done with the resources available on Alpha," said Koenig.

"Commander, with your permission, I would like to speak to your Dr. Andrew about the technology." Zantor glanced at Simmonds. "I would also like to reassure her that we feel no resentment toward her concerning her visit to our ship."

Koenig regarded Captain Zantor. Backdoor technology could be very dangerous in the wrong hands. Yet, the Kaldorians were already traveling to Earth as refugees, and they had given no indication that their intentions were anything other than honorable. The suspended animation technology that Koenig had observed on the Kaldorian ship was certainly something that would benefit Alpha should a return to Earth be impossible. Perhaps a dialog was worth the risk. "Captain, I think an exchange of knowledge would be beneficial to both our peoples. I will summon Security to take you to see Dr. Andrew, but if she does not wish to see you right now, please respect her privacy."

"Of course, Commander," said Zantor. "In the meantime, my crew will assist with the activities that your people have proposed. In fact, please allow me to introduce them individually."

Each of the Kaldorians stepped forward and bowed slightly as Captain Zantor introduced them. Ramar was the propulsion specialist, Trelm was the life support specialist, Niyla, was the medical specialist, and Kami was the computer specialist. The Alphans gave welcoming nods to each of them.

Koenig pulled out his commlock and opened the large doors that separated his office from Main Mission. He nodded to a Security guard who, after receiving instructions, escorted Captain Zantor back into the Commander's office and out the side door.

Russell and Bergman led the Kaldorian crew down the steps into Main Mission. Helena held out her shiny purple egg for all to see, and the Kaldorians nodded to the staff as they filed past. Simmonds watched from beside Koenig's desk, disrespectfully tossing his egg from hand to hand.

Koenig sat down at his desk and regarded his own egg. "A symbol of peace and freedom," he said to himself.

Simmonds turned around to face Koenig. "Perhaps the impossible doesn't take as long as we thought." Koenig looked up as Simmonds elaborated. "Their ship is bound for Earth. Their computer's programmed for going home. You just heard him say so."

Koenig gave Simmonds a wary look. "What are you suggesting?"

Simmonds lit up. "Come on, Koenig! That Andrew girl will probably never get us home, and we have a sure thing sitting in our Eagle hangar. All we need is the courage, the vision..." he gave Koenig an icy look "...and the leadership to seize their ship."

Koenig had no such intention, but he decided to plumb the depths of the ruthlessness of this politician. "And the Kaldorians?"

Simmonds tossed his egg to Koenig. "Expendable."

Sarah sat on the small sofa in her quarters, wiping away the last of her tears. It had been shocking enough to again come face to face with whom she now knew to be Captain Zantor. The discovery that she could have helped the Kaldorians to instantly complete their journey brought on more guilt than she could bear, and she certainly did not need Commissioner Simmonds to pour salt in the wound. She looked back at the past year and realized that she had been acting quite recklessly. She resolved to carefully consider the consequences of her actions in the future, but that did not make her feel much better in the present.

Her commlock beeped, indicating that someone was at her door. She picked it up and she felt her stomach drop like being on a rollercoaster when she saw Captain Zantor along with a Security guard on the small black-and-white display. She quickly stood up, smoothed her hair out of her face, and activated the commlock. The door slid aside. "Dr. Andrew, may I speak with you?" Sarah nodded dumbly to Zantor, not knowing what to say.

"I'll wait for you in the corridor, sir," said the Security guard. Zantor nodded and stepped inside the room. Sarah used her commlock to close the door, suddenly feeling awkward as the tall alien slowly walked across the room toward her.

"Please, have a seat." Sarah gestured to a chair in the small sitting area in front of the partition that separated the sleeping area from the living area. They sat down and Sarah gave Zantor an apologetic look when she realized that the white resin chair did not quite suit the proportions of his tall frame. He smiled back, which helped to put Sarah at ease, but the look on his face turned to one of concern.

"It troubles me to think that you feel in any way responsible for our present situation. Dr. Andrew, I do not wish for you to grieve," Zantor said, reassuringly. "You did not know that our destination was Earth."

"Please, Captain, call me Sarah," she said, suddenly conscious of her red eyes and tear-stained face.

"Then, Sarah, you must call me Zantor," he replied.

An awkward silence followed, and Sarah's eyes fell to the floor as she struggled for something to say. She was relieved when Zantor spoke up again. "I was quite concerned for your safety when you suddenly disappeared from my ship."

"I'm so sorry that I behaved the way I did!" Sarah blurted out. "It's just that I was searching for Alpha. I didn't know where I was."

"Your behavior was perfectly understandable under the circumstances," assured Zantor.

Silence followed again. Sarah reached down and opened a small box on the low table in front of her. She pulled out a shimmering green piece of fabric and gave Zantor a sheepish look. "I had this in my pocket when I came to Alpha." Zantor looked down at the bottom of his robe and smirked. Sarah giggled, for a moment feeling more at ease. "You must let me sew this back on."

"That is not necessary," Zantor said, but he watched in amusement as Sarah rushed across the room and came back with a tiny envelope in hand.

Sarah pulled out a needle and thread from the envelope. As she threaded the needle, she said, "Travel sewing kit. Someone gave it to me." She knelt down next to Zantor and began to stitch the piece of cloth back onto the edge of his robe. "I had nothing but the clothes on my back when I came to Alpha, and some of the women put together a little basket of items for me so that my quarters would not be entirely empty." She stopped and looked up at him. "Thanks to you, my quarters look much nicer!" she said, gesturing toward the shiny purple Libra bird egg at the center of the table.

Zantor watched as Sarah continued to sew, a bit taken aback at the actions of this human. At their first meeting, she ran from him. Now, she was repairing his robe and making conversation. Humans might take some getting used to, he decided. She did seem more at ease with a task to perform, so he just observed.

Sarah suddenly paused in her sewing and looked up at Zantor. "Why didn't you speak to me before?"

"Each of us who left Kaldor has an implanted device allowing us to discern and speak other languages." Zantor said, pointing to his head. "However, it requires initial input for reference and calibration. Your Commander and the others spoke to us after we were revived from our suspended animation. Since you never spoke to me, I was unable to communicate with you until now."

"How do you know that I don't have such a device?" Sarah asked.

"Then I was at fault!" Zantor said with surprise, but he relaxed once Sarah laughed and explained that she had no such device in her head. She continued with her sewing.

Talking with Zantor made Sarah feel so much better, but she still felt guilty that the Kaldorians had unknowingly come so close to their destination. She finished sewing the fabric back on the edge of Zantor's robe and stood up. "I'm so sorry that I could have brought you to Earth but didn't." Sarah sat back down on the sofa. "It may be just as well, though. The people I worked for were...not the best that Earth had to offer. I'm afraid they would have put you in danger."

Zantor considered her statement. "I assume that your world is no less perfect than mine. The unscrupulous were not uncommon on Kaldor. Sarah, my crew and I are accustomed to looking toward the future, so please do not concern yourself with what might have been." Zantor changed the subject. "Would you tell me something of the technology that you developed?"

Sarah hesitated. She did not want to be reckless anymore.

"The Commander indicated that an exchange of knowledge would be profitable," Zantor said.

"I'm sorry, I didn't realize he had approved of such a discussion." Sarah picked up her commlock. "Let me confirm that with him and I would be pleased to tell you about Backdoor."

"That Kaldorian ship is quite a piece of engineering, John. Of course that computer of theirs is a bit beyond me, but their propulsion and stasis technologies are simply amazing." Bergman leaned back in his chair in the sitting area of the Commander's office.

"I didn't think anything was beyond you, Victor." Koenig smiled as he sat down on the sofa.

Victor ignored the comment. "I must say, a little more time with their ship would be invaluable to the Backdoor project. I've not made much progress in my research into the physics, but I believe that ship could be key.

Koenig sat forward. "What do you mean?"

"Well, it's the only thing other than those blasted power converters of mine that has ever served as a Backdoor destination. It could have to do with the propulsion system or the energy source..." Bergman grew silent, pondering the possibilities.

"You're saying that if we find out what that ship and a Bergman Sphere have in common, we'll understand Backdoor?" Koenig asked.

"At least one aspect of it," answered Bergman.

Koenig considered that. "Would that information help in getting Alpha's Backdoor working?"

Bergman held out his hands. "I can't be sure, John. It may not be an issue anyway since the Kaldorians must continue their journey by tomorrow or risk corrupting their navigational data. Our Moon is continually taking them off-course."

Koenig thought for a moment. "Victor, our Moon offers us only one trajectory. It never gives us any options. The Kaldorians have also had only one option. Now..." Koenig trailed off. Bergman looked at him and slowly nodded. Koenig stood and walked across the room. A view of the Kaldorian ship was displayed on the large viewscreen at one end of his office. He looked at it for a long moment and then pulled out his commlock. "Sandra, could you generate a report for me before you go off-duty?"

The Security guard finally nodded off to sleep. He had accompanied his charge to the Technical section hours ago. After standing in the corridor for a half and hour, Sarah Andrew had poked her head out the door and invited him in. He had been relieved to take a seat on the sofa, and since his shift did not end until morning, he decided that his supervisor would not be checking up on him. Sleep beckoned and he responded, resting his head on the back of the sofa and allowing the darkness to envelop him.

Zantor stood next to an equipment rack, making adjustments. "What about this variation?" he asked.

Sarah responded from near the optical table. "Hmmm, no. Still no resonance." She stepped back and ran her hands over her face. If she had not appeared on Zantor's ship, she was sure that he would never have believed that Backdoor could work. She glanced over at him. The past few hours had been like working with Daniel, she thought, and it had been enjoyable. The frightening memories of her past experience on Zantor's ship still made her feel a bit uncomfortable around him, though.

Zantor slowly paced the room, thinking. "My ship depends not only on the amount of power available, but on the energy signature of that power as well." He turned to Sarah. "Perhaps a similar principle applies here. The energy is sufficient, but perhaps the signature is not compatible."

Sarah considered that for a moment, and then her eyes grew wide. "You know, the frequency of the power here on Alpha is a little different from what I was using in New Mexico." She looked all around her until she spotted what she was looking for. "Here! Let's use this other Bergman Sphere to convert the power before it enters the system. The one for the lasers might not be sufficient." She put her hands on the Sphere to lift it, but suddenly looked up to see Zantor standing opposite her.

"Let me assist you," he said, taking the burden from her. She watched as he carried it over to a cart next to the power supply rack. She had been working alone for so long now. She had forgotten what it was like to work with someone. What would the Kanos say if they found out that she had spent the day collaborating with the terrifying alien she had told them about?

Sarah walked over and helped Zantor to connect and activate the Bergman Sphere. It glowed and hummed as it came to life. Sarah went to an equipment rack and made some adjustments. "OK, now this is what worked on Earth."

Zantor glanced at a meter on the optical table and he tilted his head. "Sarah, I believe this is registering a resonance."

"Your kidding!" she said as she joined him.

"I assure you that I am not," said Zantor, a bit taken aback.

"I'm sorry," said Sarah. "It's just that I haven't seen that since I left Earth!" she said, her excitement building. "That means we're picking up one of the Bergman Spheres through Backdoor itself." She looked around the room for a scrap piece of metal. Finding one, she said to Zantor, "Time to live dangerously!"

Amused, Zantor watched Sarah animatedly cringe as she held the long piece of metal in front of the meter-square thin slab of doped glass that served as the Backdoor threshold. She moved it toward the slab, and it was stopped. "Oh," she said in disappointment. Then she lit up. "Wait a minute! Maybe the opening is too small. Fine tune the frequency until the resonance is maximized." Zantor complied, watching the needle on the meter rise and stabilize. Sarah tried again, and she laughed as the piece of metal began to disappear into Backdoor. She turned to look at the Bergman Sphere they had just hooked up. Nothing. Then she followed Zantor's gaze. The other end of the metal was hanging in the air next to the Sphere feeding power to the lasers. It was quite deformed, but it was there.

"Extraordinary," was all Zantor could say.

"It's far from perfect, but we're on our way!" said Sarah. She turned to share the news with the Security guard and for the first time noticed he was sound asleep. She looked at the commpost and saw the time. "Oh my goodness, it's the middle of the night! Zantor, I'm sorry! You must be exhausted."

Zantor just smiled and shook his head. "I have been asleep for hundreds of years. However, rest may be in order at this point," he said, gesturing toward the guard.

"I agree. I don't want to get him in trouble." Sarah turned to face Zantor but then lowered her eyes. "Uh, it was my own fault that I was scared of you initially. I'm so glad to know you now, and to know that I was wrong." She finally looked up at him and extended her hand. "Zantor, I can't tell you how much I appreciate how you've helped me tonight." Zantor took Sarah's hand. For a long moment, they looked at one another. She still felt somewhat uneasy around him because of that first experience, but those feelings were dissipating with each passing hour. Zantor's fresh perspective on Backdoor had proved invaluable, and if the Kaldorians were going to Earth anyway...

"That is an option that should be considered," said Zantor softly. Sarah's expression turned to one of confusion. "You just said that you wished for me to stay," he said.

"I did?" Sarah asked as she released his hand. She had been so lost in her thoughts that she did not know she had been verbalizing them. "Well, it makes sense! You want to go to Earth, and it could happen even faster if we collaborate."

Zantor considered the proposition. "I must say it is tempting. Our mission is to reach Earth. However, if we stay, we risk failure."

"You risk failure in space," Sarah countered, wondering if her encouragement was looking like desperation.

"That is true." Zantor walked over to the viewports and looked out at the lunar expanse. "The details of our prime directive dictate that we integrate into Earth culture, contribute our skills and technology, and preserve the historical record of Kaldor. If we stay, we can still fulfill those well as reach Earth."

Sarah walked up beside him. She was suddenly worried that she was getting herself into trouble with the Commander again. "You know, I spoke out of turn. Maybe you should talk to the Commander." She turned and leaned back on the viewport sill, taking in the Backdoor equipment. They had come so far tonight, but was it possible to make it the rest of the way? Would she let the Kaldorians down a second time, not to mention the Alphans? Sarah suddenly wished that she had not said anything. She shook off thoughts of regret and once again noticed the Security guard. "Let's wake him up."

Koenig was almost relieved to hear Zantor's proposal. He had been prepared to broach the subject, but Zantor had beaten him to it. Koenig looked at the other four Kaldorians sitting at the conference table. "Are you all in agreement?" They nodded. "Captain, can you assure me that none of them have been coerced into joining you in this request?"

"Commander, if even one of us insisted on continuing our journey, we would have done so without further comment." Zantor held out his hands. "We do not feel that staying would betray our prime directive, but we are content to continue our journey if you do not wish for us to stay."

The conference table was crowded, with the Kaldorians and the Alphan command staff sitting elbow-to-elbow. Quite appropriate, thought Koenig, since they stood at the crossroads of both of their futures. And, hopefully a sign of things to come, he thought. The more he got to know the Kaldorians, the more he respected them, and the demonstration in the Backdoor lab by Sarah Andrew that morning helped to seal his decision. Out-of-the-box thinking could help Alpha immensely. It had already done so for Backdoor, but that was not all he had in mind. An infusion of new ideas and new technology could mean their survival during the time needed to get Backdoor working, if indeed it ever works.

"Captain, I must say that a similar arrangement had occurred to me." Koenig glanced around the table as he spoke to Zantor. "In anticipation of the need to consider such a decision, I had Sandra Benes and David Kano run an environmental and infrastructure analysis. Because we lost some of our people at Breakaway and in incidents since then..." Koenig paused as faces flashed through his mind, "...we feel we can accommodate you and your crew and still support additional population growth in the future." He turned to Zantor. "You see, if we cannot secure a future back on Earth or on a new world soon, we'll have to do so here by allowing births on Alpha."

Zantor considered that. "I do see. Commander, we had hoped to be an asset, not a liability."

Koenig glanced a Sandra. She knew the numbers, but she also had a personal stake. He knew that she and Paul Morrow were growing quite close, and it was only a matter of time. She seemed to sense what the Commander was hoping she would say. "Please understand that the five of you would be an asset. Your presence would not jeopardize our ability to have children." She gave a reassuring smile.

Niyla hung her head, and Ramar put a hand on hers. The Alphans were rather surprised, as the Kaldorians had remained quite composed ever since their arrival. Alan Carter spoke up. "Hey, now, what's troubling that pretty head of yours?"

Niyla spoke softly, "I hope the others will be welcomed on their new worlds in the way you are welcoming us."

All were silent for a moment. Everyone in the room knew what it was like to be separated from friends and family. Koenig finally spoke up. "Niyla, I can't see anyone turning your people away." He looked around the table. "Now, we will provide permanent quarters for all of you, and we will need to assign duties to you according to your skills."

Alan Carter immediately chimed in, "I've got dibs on Ramar! I've been picking his brain while we've been repairing their ship, and he could teach us a thing or two about propulsion."

Koenig smiled, "Very well. Ramar, with your approval, and with yours, too, Captain," he looked at Zantor then back at Ramar, "I'll assign you to Carter."

Zantor spoke up. "We will all serve where you see fit."

"Thank you, Captain." Koenig turned to Russell. "Helena?"

"Niyla should be assigned to Medical Center. She can update our medical database with Kaldorian physiological information, and we can train her on our equipment and techniques." Helena looked at Trelm. "Now, you are the life support specialist, right?" Trelm nodded. "Does that include suspended animation?"

"Yes, Doctor Russell." Trelm spoke up for the first time. "I oversaw the construction of all life support components on our ship."

Helena nodded and turned to Koenig. "John, Trelm could work in Life Support, but he should also give Technical an introduction to the suspended animation techniques."

David Kano crossed his arms and spoke up. "You know, we would save ourselves considerable time in these projects if we interface with the Kaldorian computer."

"I thought you said that Computer knows better than to talk to strangers," teased Paul Morrow.

"Computer just needs to be properly introduced." Kano replied matter-of-factly. "Would you do the honors?" he asked Kami.

"If I understand what you are asking," Kami said, "I believe it is possible, but we will have to determine the proper physical interface between the two computers."

Koenig broke in. "OK, I can see that we are getting off to a good start, and these discussions can continue after our new friends settle in. Paul, please assign someone to each of the Kaldorians to orient them to the base, get them uniforms, et cetera. Sandra, do you think you could organize a reception tomorrow evening for our people to meet the Kaldorians? Is that enough time?"

"It would be a pleasure, Commander," said Sandra, smiling.

"Alright," said Koenig looking around the table, "you are dismissed. Captain Zantor, I'd like to speak with you a moment."

* * * *

One of the Bergman Spheres sat in a new location, allowing items to be slid through the Backdoor opening and end up at the other end of the optical table. What was formerly an aluminum cube sat next to the Sphere, crushed and emitting a burnt odor. Sarah Andrew smiled as she regarded it with satisfaction. It was a small victory masquerading as a failure. Earlier in the day, Commander Koenig had been very impressed with the demonstration in spite of the fate of the object, and he had been pleased that so much progress had been made after one brainstorming session with Zantor. Sarah had been at this point twice before on Earth. There was still a long way to go, and she expected the solution to be elusive since this Backdoor was far different from the ones on Earth because of the resources available. However, she was infused with new optimism and was anxious to continue the work.

Sarah frowned as she noticed the rats nest of cables that had developed during her hasty rearrangement of equipment for the demonstration. She unhooked some cables and crawled under the optical table, dragging the cables with her. As she was securing them along the underside of the table, she heard the door to the lab open and footsteps. "I'm here!" she called. "Just give me a minute." The owner of the footsteps did not answer, but continued to stroll around the room.

The last cable was secured, and Sarah reached a fistful of cable ends out from under the table. "Hey, could you grab these for me?" The mystery guest walked over and took the cables. "Thanks!" Sarah crawled out from under the table and began to stand up. "That was good timing. I need a third arm sometimes to..." she stopped suddenly as she turned around. Standing next to the optical table with cable ends in his hand was Commissioner Simmonds.

"You really want to stay on this rock, don't you?" Simmonds speech sounded a little slurred.

Sarah walked over to him and cautiously took the cables from him. "I don't know what you're talking about, Commissioner," she said as she quickly hooked up the other ends to pieces of equipment on the optical table.

Simmonds strolled up beside her. "Oh, come now! First, you destroy your own Backdoor on Earth. Then, you lure those aliens into staying here and dismantling their ship for study!"

Sarah's eyes widened. "They're staying?"

"Oh yes!" replied Simmonds. "Koenig told me all about it hours ago. Some nonsense about using their technology to help us." He leaned close to her. She could smell alcohol on his breath. "Do you realize that six of us could already be on our way to Earth right now?"

"Commissioner, they may be able to help make Backdoor work, and then we could all go to Earth." Sarah felt uneasy. Simmonds seemed quite under the influence of alcohol, and reasoning with him was probably futile.

Simmonds glared at Sarah. "I didn't become Commissioner by waiting for opportunities. I created them!" Suddenly, he grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her against the wall next to the viewscreen. Sarah was so frightened by his behavior that she just stared back at him in shock. "You have no intention of ever getting us back to Earth, and that doesn't seem to bother Koenig and the others one bit! I do intend to go back! That ship should be on its way to Earth, and I should be on it!"

Sarah quickly ducked out from under his hands and made for the stairs leading out of the sunken area and toward the door. As she started up the stairs, she reached for her commlock only to watch it fall out of her hand as Simmonds grabbed her arm. She whirled around and slapped his face hard, sending him stumbling backward into some equipment sitting on the edge of the optical table. As she did that, her weight-bearing foot slipped off the step and landed hard on the floor below. She cried out and crumpled to the floor as her ankle gave way.

Sarah looked up to see Simmonds trying to stand up after colliding with the optical table. He looked over to her and suddenly his eyes widened in horror. "I..., I...," was all he could stammer.

Sarah was not about to wait around to hear the rest. She stood and limped up the steps as quickly as she could. She fell on the door panel, and as soon as the door slid open, she hobbled into the corridor without looking back.

Doctor Russell sat at her desk reviewing the results of the Kaldorian blood tests. Whether the Kaldorians had chosen to continue their journey to Earth in their spaceship or to remain on Alpha, she wanted to know if their blood was in any way compatible with any of the human blood types. If a Kaldorian ever required surgery, blood donations from their own people may not be sufficient, as it appeared that Kaldorians also had multiple blood types, at least three among the crew.

The absence of Kaldorian medical technology made it all the more vital for Helena to learn all that she could about the Kaldorians that now fell under her medical care. She hoped that the addition of Niyla to the medical staff would broaden the knowledge base enough to adequately serve the Kaldorians.

"Dr. Russell?"

Helena looked up to see a disheveled Sarah Andrew standing in the doorway of her office. She was immediately out of her seat and helping the limping woman to an examining chair. "Alright, now, what happened?" Helena was expecting some trip-and-fall story, but when Sarah hesitated, her medical experience immediately revealed a possibility. As she was removing Sarah's left boot, she asked matter-of-factly, "So, who did this to you?" Sarah looked at her with surprise.

"I think he'd been drinking. I don't think he was himself," Sarah said.

The nurse on duty had now entered the room. She quickly donned surgical gloves and began examining Sarah for other injuries. Helena positioned a scanner attached to a pivoting arm down at the level of Sarah's ankle. She noted the readout on one of the wall screens. "Well, this is a pretty bad sprain, and it's starting to swell. I'm going to keep you here overnight, and we should be able to fit you with a splint in the morning. Nurse, would you please bring me two cold packs?"

Once the nurse left the room, Helena said, "You still haven't told me who did this."

Sarah frowned, but then finally spoke up. "Commissioner Simmonds."

Helena found it difficult to hide her surprise. The Commissioner had been an unhelpful annoyance since Breakaway, but certainly never a threat. When the nurse returned, she asked her to help Sarah change into pajamas and help her to a bed, and then to elevate her foot and place the ice packs around it. She returned to her office and contacted Commander Koenig. "John, Sarah Andrew just came here with injuries. She said that Commissioner Simmonds was responsible." Koenig's face on the monitor showed the same surprise that Helena had felt at the news. "She said that he might have been drinking, John."

Koenig's lips became a thin line as he considered what he had just been told. "Simmonds found out earlier today that the Kaldorians were staying on Alpha. He came to me asking to be a passenger on their ship." Koenig shook his head. "When he found out that their ship was staying on Alpha as well, he was...displeased." Koenig suddenly looked very angry. "Simmonds has worn out his welcome here! I'm going to have Security detain him."

"Alright, John, but perhaps you should confine him to his quarters until he sobers up," Helena said. Before Koenig could respond, she added, "I know intoxication is no excuse, but dealing with him now will be a waste of time."

"Alright, Helena," Koenig agreed. "Is Sarah in any shape to be interviewed by me and by Verdeschi?"

Helena glanced through the door into the other room. The nurse had removed the privacy screen that Sarah had changed behind, and she was settled into the bed. "I think so, but please tell Tony that if Sarah becomes upset, the Security interview will have to wait until tomorrow."

A few minutes later, Commander Koenig and Captain Zantor entered Medical Center. "Is Verdeschi here yet?" asked Koenig.

"No, not yet," said Helena as she gave Zantor a quizzical look.

Koenig glanced at Zantor and said, "Captain Zantor and I were having a meeting when your call came in. He requested to come along."

"May I see Sarah?" Zantor asked.

Helena thought for a moment. Normally she would have said no, but she had heard how the two had worked all night together on Backdoor. Sarah had worked almost reclusively since her arrival on Alpha, which concerned Helena. She wanted to see Sarah develop a social life for her own psychological good...even if it was with an alien. Helena marveled at the thought. "Alright, Captain. She is over there."

"Thank you, Doctor," said Zantor as he walked toward the recovery area. Just then, Security Chief Tony Verdeschi entered Medical Center.

"Simmonds was already in his quarters, and I have two men stationed outside. Now, what is this all about?" asked Verdeschi.

Koenig and Russell brought him up to speed on the situation. Meanwhile, Zantor had made his way to Sarah's bedside. "Am I intruding?"

Sarah looked up, surprised. "Not at all!"

Zantor pulled a chair over to the side of the bed and sat down. "I was very concerned about you when I heard what had happened," he said, looking at her sheet-draped, elevated foot.

Sarah face fell. "Oh, I feel pretty embarrassed."

"Whatever for?" asked Zantor.

Sarah looked over at him. "I heard that you were staying. I'm really glad, but you probably regret that decision now that you've seen how humans behave."

Zantor reached out and took her hand in his. "As I told you yesterday, Kaldor was not immune from such incidents, either. For better or for worse, our peoples do not seem all that different."

"For better or for worse," she repeated. "Zantor, are all of your people really content to stay?"

"Oh yes," he replied, letting go of her hand as the Commander and the others made their way toward them. "Part of our prime directive is to contribute to our host society, and we feel that our contribution would benefit Alpha even more so than Earth. My crew are enthusiastic about their assigned am I. That is, if you do not object to me joining in your Backdoor effort."

Sarah lit up. "Are you kidding? After last night? I'd be honored to work with you!"

Commander Koenig smiled and crossed his arms as he stood at the foot of the bed. "Well, I'm glad to see that you're not disputing my latest personnel assignments."

"Not at all, Commander!" Sarah laughed. She then turned somber, glancing at Verdeschi and back to Koenig. "I guess you want to hear what happened." Verdeschi pulled out a digital recorder and nodded. Sarah nodded back, took a deep breath, and recounted the story about Simmonds. She added, "I really don't think he even knew what he was doing."

"He knew enough," said Koenig. "I know people have alcohol stashes that they brought from Earth. I also know some are trying to make their own." Verdeschi suddenly coughed, realizing that his secret efforts were not so secret. Helena put her hand to her mouth to hide a smirk. Koenig ignored them. "The strain of living on Alpha has been difficult, but everyone knows there is a line that must not be crossed. He should have stayed in his quarters if he wanted to get drunk."

Koenig moved around and sat on the edge of the bed. "Sarah, we don't have a government here on Alpha. There is no court of law. We have a command structure, and as the head of that structure, my decision is the final one." Koenig glanced at Helena and Verdeschi. "I need to let Simmonds have his say, and based on that and what you've told us, I will consult with Mr. Verdeschi and determine an appropriate punishment." He turned to Sarah. "I'd like to know that you trust us to make that decision."

"Of course I do, Commander. But if he feels bad about it all, don't be too hard on him." Sarah looked down. "Up until recently, I found him to be really obnoxious, but now I just feel sorry for him."

"Don't worry," assured Koenig. "Although I have my own issues with Simmonds..."

"As does everyone!" interrupted Verdeschi.

Koenig glared at Verdeschi. He patted Sarah on the shoulder as he stood. "I'll be objective."

Chapter 7 - Collaboration

The door to the Backdoor laboratory opened. Sarah looked up from where she was working and greeted Zantor as he walked in. She felt a bit of regret that the Kaldorians had to wear Alphan uniforms. Even though their travel garments were more ceremonial than practical, they suited their heights and frames much better than the synthetic Alphan uniforms. Each Kaldorian had elected to pull their long white hair back into a low ponytail once Commander Koenig had assured them that there was no need to cut off their hair. He wanted the Kaldorians to integrate into Alphan society, but he also did not want them to abandon their identity and culture.

Koenig had also insisted that Zantor retain his rank and act as the Kaldorian representative, as would have been the case on Earth anyway. Zantor's uniform had the black sleeve of Command, but lacked the black stripe on the other sleeve and the black collar, which remained unique to the Commander's own uniform. Zantor had tried to refuse the visible display of rank, but the Commander had explained that even though the Kaldorians had placed themselves under Alphan command authority, their own command structure was still important for coordinating their integration into Alphan society, as well as their eventual introduction to Earth society. Koenig had conceded that if Backdoor failed or if Earth could not be found, Koenig might find himself coordinating the integration of the humans on Alpha...into the society of another habitable world.

The past few weeks since the Kaldorians arrived had been productive. Sarah and Zantor had repaired the damage to the Backdoor equipment that resulted from the altercation with Commissioner Simmonds. The Commissioner had been surprisingly regretful of his behavior, the incident serving as some sort of turning point for him, as he did not fight his sentence. Koenig had decided that it was time for the Commissioner to pull his own weight on Alpha, and Simmonds was actually using the month of confinement to quarters recommended by Verdeschi to begin training for his new position as Deputy Personnel Coordinator of the Services Section. Although Koenig would have liked to have permanently confined Simmonds to his quarters, he recognized that Alpha needed to make use of all resources, including Simmonds. Even his administrative skills could be an asset...if Simmonds could finally learn to channel them for Alpha's benefit. Only time would tell.

Zantor and Sarah spent the morning trying to interface a power component from the Kaldorian ship to the Backdoor electronics, so far unsuccessfully. Zantor glanced at the clock on the commpost. "Perhaps we should begin again after lunch. We are both growing fatigued."

Sarah ran a hand over her face. "You're right. The day is only half over and this already has me thinking in circles. Let's take a break."

The two rode the travel tube toward the closest cafeteria. They silently ate together, lost in their own thoughts. As they walked back toward the travel tube, Sarah said, "Hey, isn't your weekly meeting with the Commander this afternoon?"

"Yes, it is," said Zantor as they boarded the travel tube and took their seats. "The meetings will not interfere for much longer. I will continue the work on the power module after today's meeting."

"That's OK," said Sarah. "I've got plenty to keep me busy with the lasers." She turned to Zantor. "Wait a minute. What did you mean about the meetings not interfering?"

Zantor did not say anything as the travel tube stopped and three other Alphans boarded. Sarah nodded to them but cast a confused glance at Zantor. He remained silent. Once they reached the Technical Section, her curiosity could no longer be contained. As they disembarked the travel tube, she pulled him into the nearby entrance to Hydroponics.

She gestured toward a bench near some small citrus trees. "OK, what's going on?" she asked as they sat down.

Zantor drew a deep breath. "I will be stepping down from my position and allowing Ramar to assume the role of Kaldorian leader and liaison to Alpha."

Sarah looked incredulous. "You what?"

Zantor held up a hand. "Please, let me explain and the reasoning will become clear." Sarah nodded dumbly, still reeling from the news. Zantor began, "On Kaldor, leaders were required to marry. It was believed that a head of household would better understand how to selflessly lead others."

Sarah began to follow. "You were to marry the crewmember who we killed."

"That incident was entirely accidental and unintentional." Zantor assured. "Our computer failed to wake us after the crash, and your people were simply trying to investigate our abrupt arrival on your Moon. They had no way of knowing that we were still alive, or that opening a suspended animation unit improperly would result in death." Zantor looked off through the potted trees. "She was a dear friend and colleague, but I did not love her," he whispered.

"I'm sorry?" Sarah asked cautiously.

Zantor returned from his reverie. "She was not originally a part of my crew. Her predecessor...was found to be sterile three months before the journey." His voice fell to a whisper again. "She was the one I loved more than life."

Zantor fell silent, lost in his memories. Sarah's eyes welled up slightly. "I've never been in love," she said more to herself than to him. "How could you bring yourself to leave?" she finally asked, not knowing what else to say.

"There was too much at stake." Zantor turned to Sarah. "Besides, she would not have allowed me to remove myself from my mission, even though I was tempted."

"But isn't that what you're doing now?" asked Sarah. "Couldn't you marry one of the others?"

"No," Zantor smiled, "They are already betrothed. Ramar will marry Niyla and he will assume command. He possesses the skills more so than Trelm."

"Is that what Ramar wants?" Sarah pressed.

"Oh, he wants to marry Niyla, and Trelm wants to marry Kami, but none of them want to do so right away. Although they do not show it, they are still grieving for those they left behind, and they had hoped for more time to adjust before moving to the next stage of their lives," Zantor explained. "As for command, Ramar does not want that, but he will do his duty."

"This is not Kaldor," said Sarah, growing frustrated.

"No, it is not," conceded Zantor. "However, our customs and traditions are all that we have left."

Sarah sighed, resigned. How could she find fault with such reasoning? At least life still existed on her planet, even though she was separated from it. Those who left Kaldor knew that if they did not continue their traditions, no one would. "Well, Commander Koenig will not be pleased. Trust me, he does not like surprises." she shook her head, remembering her own experiences.

Sarah stood up to leave, but then suddenly whirled around. "Marry me!" she exclaimed. A Hydroponics technician at the other end of the room poked his head around a bush and gave her a quizzical look. Sarah's face turned pink and she quickly sat back down. Zantor, looking astonished, began to speak but Sarah interrupted him. "I mean, think about it. You've already lost the love of your life. I gave up on love a long time ago. You have your mission, Backdoor is mine, and keeping you in command would serve both far better." Zantor eyed her with uncertainty, and Sarah suddenly felt self-conscious. "I didn't mean we would move in together. Everything would remain the same...except we would be married. Would it be that bad?"

"I did not intend to imply that," said Zantor, stunned. He paused for a moment, searching for words. "You seem be giving up on your own kind," he slowly explained, "and resorting to a platonic marriage with an alien."

Sarah laughed. What would the Kanos think now? "You're over 350 years old! I'm certainly young compared to that number!"

Zantor remained serious. "I believe you understood the true meaning of what I said."

"Of course," conceded Sarah. "But Zantor, nobody likes me!"

"I find that difficult to believe," said Zantor.

Sarah ignored his statement. "I dated a few guys on Earth, but the non-technical ones thought I was too technical and the technical ones thought I was too...technical!" She sighed, "I'm a scientist. That's what I do, and I decided that's enough."

Zantor stood and paced the room. Sarah watched him, wondering if she had managed to chase off yet another guy...and this one she had not even dated! She just did not want to see him lose his command. Zantor finally stopped and turned to her. "I am quite honored that you would suggest such an arrangement for my sake," he said with effort, obviously still doubtful. "I would not even consider this if Ramar was more willing. It does not seem right to lock you into a marriage that you may regret."

"Zantor, I just don't want things to change, and this seems to be the only way," Sarah replied.

Zantor regarded her for a long moment. "Very well. Let us go and speak with the Commander. He may not be pleased with this surprise, either."

"Twenty percent? That is significant," agreed Koenig.

Carter nodded. "And we think this can be implemented almost immediately. An increase in fuel efficiency of twenty percent means we can extend our reconnaissance missions."

"A look further ahead. I like it." Koenig set the report down. "Ramar really thinks we can do this with our resources?"

"Yeah," said Carter. "We're simply going to rebalance the fuel mix and coat some components, but it makes sense. I just wish we'd thought of it a long time ago."

"Better late than never," said Koenig, handing the report back to Carter. "Send Ramar my compliments and keep up the good work."

"Sure thing, Commander," said Alan as he held up the report. As he turned to go, one of the side doors to the Commander's office slid open and Helena Russell walked in. Alan gave her a slight bow. "Hi ya, Doc!"

"Hi, Alan," smiled Helena. "He's happy," she commented.

"Good news from the Eagle hangar." Koenig motioned her toward the sitting area behind his desk, but before they could sit down, Zantor and Sarah came up the steps to his office from Main Mission.

"You are occupied," said Zantor. "We will come back later."

"No, Captain, it's all right," said Koenig. "It's almost time for our meeting anyway. What can I do for you?"

Helena turned to leave, but stopped at Zantor's next words. "Commander, this is about what Sarah wants to do for me." Koenig gave him a questioning look and nodded, leading them to the sitting area and gesturing toward Helena to stay. After they all sat down, Zantor relayed the situation and the conversation that had just taken place in Hydroponics. Helena shifted uncomfortably and Koenig's faced remained a mask.

"Sarah, are you sure this is what you want?" Koenig finally asked.

Helena interrupted, "John, you're not going along with this, are you?" She had been pleased to see a friendship grow between Sarah and Zantor, but consenting to a marriage of convenience did not seem healthy.

"What? Do we now need permission to marry on Alpha?" asked Sarah, feeling both embarrassed and frustrated at the scrutiny.

"No, that's not what she meant," assured Koenig. "I appreciate what you both are trying to do. Believe me, I do not want a command shake-up at this point." Although the Kaldorians had been warmly welcomed on Alpha, there were still some who were not pleased with the new arrivals. The appearance of instability would just place fuel on those fires. He glanced at Helena who looked back apprehensively. "This seems like a rather extreme measure just to preserve the status quo."

"Commander, I assure you that I would not even consider this route if it were not in the best interest of my crew and of our working relationship." Zantor looked at Sarah. "However, everything can still proceed normally if I am not Captain. You do not have to do this."

"Please, everyone, for once let me make a difference!" Sarah held her hands out. "I want to do this."

Koenig looked at both of them. He respected the fact that both placed duty above themselves, but this was more than he would ask of anyone on Alpha. However, they seemed determined. He had not outlawed marriage on Alpha, and he was not about to do so. "Alright."

"Wait a minute, John," said Helena. She turned to Sarah and Zantor. "Overall, Kaldorians and humans seem physically compatible, but we're still learning, and we don't even know about reproductive prospects."

"Dr. Russell, we're just getting married on paper!" Sarah exclaimed, now feeling thoroughly embarrassed. Why was this all such a big deal?

"Sarah, as Chief Medical Officer and as your friend, I have to make sure you are well-informed before you make this choice," Helena said, trying to assure Sarah of her intentions. Sarah remained silent. Helena softened her tone. "You're determined to do this?"

Sarah nodded. "How about right now?"

Koenig sighed, resigned. "Captain?" he asked, looking to Zantor.

"Prompt resolution would reassure both my people and yours," Zantor replied.

Helena did not look satisfied, but Koenig had no further arguments. He would not order them to not marry. "Alright, we need two witnesses, and we have Helena." Koenig said. "Zantor, perhaps you would want to ask one of your crew?"

Zantor took out his commlock and summoned Ramar to the Commander's office. Upon his arrival, Zantor brought him up to speed on the situation. Ramar looked genuinely surprised and very pleased. He obviously did not want the responsibility, thought Sarah. Ramar walked over to her and said, "That you would make such a sacrifice means a great deal to me and to all of us. Thank you." Sarah nodded, and they all lined up before Commander Koenig.

The vows were very simple. Koenig chose the most stripped-down version that he could summon on Computer, nothing about love, nothing about honor, only commitment. As he recited the words and as they were recited back to him, he felt slightly sick to his stomach. This was not like the other three marriages that had taken place on Alpha since Breakaway. He glanced at Helena. They had become very close in their relationship. When her husband showed up during their encounter with the antimatter planet, Koenig had immediately tried to stifle those feelings. But, since Lee Russell himself could no longer exist in the world of matter, Helena felt that once again she was a widow, and John Koenig was the one that she turned to. If their relationship ever progressed to the point of marriage, he decided that the ceremony would be far more meaningful than the pathetic one he was now performing.

Koenig pronounced the two married pending the marriage certificate. There was no kiss, not even a handshake. He pulled out his commlock and asked David Kano to print out a marriage certificate and bring it to his office. A few minutes later, Kano showed up with the certificate in hand and a smile on his face, obviously curious to learn the identity of the latest lucky couple. His face fell when he realized what was happening, and he crossed his arms in disapproval as he watched the five sign the appropriate lines on the document. When Zantor turned to speak to Ramar, Kano grabbed Sarah by the arm and led her to the other side of the room.

"What have you done?" hissed Kano. "You and Captain Zantor are married?" he asked incredulously.

Sarah quickly explained the situation, but Kano was not pleased. "I still don't know you that well myself, but I do know that Daniel and Elizabeth thought of you as family!" He shook his head. "If Daniel was here right now, he would be pacing this office and shouting, 'For crying out loud!'"

Sarah smirked, able to picture exactly what Kano meant. "David, it's OK! I know what I'm doing." Kano looked unconvinced. "We work great together and we're good friends. He's like my brother." Kano glanced at Zantor and then back at Sarah, disbelievingly. "OK, so he's like my long lost alien fourth cousin twice removed!" She was growing frustrated.

"Sarah, you just married an alien!" Kano said, waving his hands. "That might not sit well with some people, especially on Earth if you ever get us back there!"

"David, a few decades ago, blacks weren't supposed to marry whites!" she countered, thinking that would strike a chord. "Most people are now beyond that!"

"That's different," Kano said, crossing his arms. "We're talking about different species here!"

"Please, David," Sarah said, running out of things to say.

Kano snorted, then shook his head and stalked back into Main Mission. Sarah sighed, the conversation leaving her feeling uncertain. She looked over at Zantor and she suddenly felt uneasy, like when she first met him. "I just married an alien," she whispered to herself. "If I ever get back to Earth, the tabloids will have a field day with me!"

Chapter 8 - Revelation

The months passed rather uneventfully, to the relief of all on Alpha. Their previous experiences with space phenomena and hostile aliens had been trying. Some were starting to think that the Kaldorians were the only friendly non-humans in the universe, and even some of the skeptics were finally starting to warm up to their presence. Although some held out hope for a new uninhabited world, most wished that Backdoor would just take them to Earth, but with little progress to encourage them, that hope had been resigned to the back of the minds of the exiles.

Progress had been made, though. Zantor and Sarah had been uncomfortable with the stares and whispers after their strange and sudden marriage ceremony, so they both had poured themselves into the work. Combining power units from the Kaldorian ship with Bergman Spheres resulted in a more stable system, but objects sent through were still crushed in the process, although not nearly as much. Sarah had been feeling very frustrated since she could not accomplish on the Moon what she had accomplished on Earth. Zantor always proved to be the calm in the storm, reassuring her that if it had been done before, it would be done again.

Zantor and Sarah sat across from each other in the cafeteria as they ate breakfast. "Are you aware of the formal dance that will take place in two days?" asked Zantor.

"Yeah," answered Sarah as she took another bite.

"Would you consider accompanying me?" Zantor pursued.

"Oh, I don't go to those," Sarah said flippantly. She suddenly looked up at him and smiled. "Wait a minute! Dr. Russell put you up to this, didn't she?" she laughed.

Zantor was not laughing. "Dr. Russell did suggest that you and I should participate in social events. However, I would not have asked you if it was not my own desire for you to accompany me."

Sarah's face fell and she felt ill as she realized her mistake. "Oh, Zantor, I'm really sorry. You're the best friend I've ever had and I didn't mean to offend you." Would it really be so horrible to stop work for a few hours and go to the dance? She looked at Zantor. "I would be pleased to accompany you to the dance." She smiled cautiously and was relieved that he smiled back. Her eyes grew wide. "That's the day after tomorrow! I have nothing to wear!"

"We can fix that," said Sandra Benes from the next table. "We've been eavesdropping," she said without guilt as Tanya Alexander smiled mischievously and waved. "Since the Commander started allowing these events, we have been developing a sort of exchange program. We will find you a dress."

"Thanks...I think!" joked Sarah. "What do you think they'll dress me up in?" she asked Zantor, looking a bit worried. Just then, Zantor's commlock beeped.

"Morrow here, Captain Zantor. Could you and Dr. Andrew spare some time to help with a satellite refit?"

"Would you please elaborate?" asked Zantor as he looked at the face of the moonbase Controller on the black-and-white display.

"We simultaneously install new power packs into each satellite in our orbiting network to avoid downtime," Morrow replied. "With the upgrade going on at Reactor Two, we are short one team at the moment and could use some help."

Sarah raised her eyebrows as Zantor glanced at her. "Well, OK, if we can figure it out," she said.

"This will be peanuts compared to that power mess in your lab!" chided Morrow. "Meet Alan Carter at Launch Pad Four."

"Peanuts?" asked Zantor, standing.

"Easy," answered Sarah as she picked up her tray.

High above the lunar surface eight Eagles broke formation and headed toward their assigned satellites. Eight of twelve satellites had managed to stay in orbit after Breakaway, although their orbits had to be corrected once the Moon reached a steady velocity. They had all been refit with additional sensors in order give Alpha earlier warning of potential contacts, as well as global monitoring of the Moon itself. The original solar panels had been dismantled since there was no longer sunlight to power them. The power packs that the panels used to recharge were instead periodically swapped out for charging on Alpha and replaced with freshly charged ones.

Alan Carter nosed his Eagle toward his assigned satellite. Zantor and Sarah stood in the doorway of the pilot module, mesmerized. Although Zantor was no stranger to space travel, neither he nor Sarah had ever flown in an Eagle, and the view through the windows of the pilot module made the trip all the more exciting. "You see," began Carter, "we have a special adapter installed outside the door of the passenger module. We just dock, open the doors, and you two do your magic!"

"So, we won't get sucked into space?" asked Sarah warily.

"Come on now! Do you think I'd let that happen to you?" asked Carter, feigning hurt feelings. "We test the seal each and every time before we open the doors. If it's not good, we head for home."

"Sounds good to me. Wow!" Sarah exclaimed. "That thing is bigger than I expected!"

The satellite now filled the window. Alan pointed toward one side. "There's where we will dock. See that door there? Behind it is the power module. You just have to replace it with the one in the back and run your diagnostics. It's not a big deal, but the Commander likes the entire network to be serviced at once." He turned to look at them over his shoulder. "He thinks coordinated operations are good ways to practice for evacuating Alpha, but we're all hoping you'll come through and let us walk home."

"We are working on it," assured Zantor.

"That's what I like to hear!" said Carter, his Aussie accent coming through strong. He checked his instruments and said, "Excuse me a minute." Zantor and Sarah remained quiet as Carter gave his full attention to the docking process, and soon a dull thud rang out. "We're here," Carter announced. He punched some buttons on the wall panel next to him and watched a scrolling readout on the screen in front of him. "Uh huh, uh huh. Yep! Everything checks out." Carter looked back over his shoulder, and with a smile and a nod said, "Go to it."

"Thanks, Alan," said Sarah as she followed Zantor back into the passenger module.

They stood in front of the door, and when it slid open, Sarah instinctively grabbed Zantor's arm. He looked down at her in amusement. "Sorry," she said sheepishly. "I still wasn't convinced that I wouldn't be sucked into space." Zantor just smiled back.

The open doorway now left a panel exposed, and the two picked up socket wrenches and began loosening the bolts. Once all of the bolts were removed, they took the panel off and leaned it against the wall of the Eagle. The black power module was now clearly visible. An LED was blinking yellow, indicating the need for recharging. Zantor reached up and pulled out a heavy connector wire, nodded to Sarah, and they began to slide the module out of its alcove. It was cubicle, measuring about a meter on a side. It slid along rails inside the satellite, but once it was free of the rails, Sarah's eyes grew wide as she began to feel the weight of the module. Zantor sensed her distress and quickly took on more of the weight. She did her best to help lower it to the floor.

"Thanks," she said gratefully. "Maybe I should have asked Alan to turn down the gravity in here. I'm not that strong."

"You did fine," assured Zantor. "I believe that I can lift the other one myself." He picked up the new module with no problem.

Sarah mockingly flexed her bicep and then made her way to the computer wall next to the doorway. She began to type at one of the terminals, navigating her way through a maze of menus. "I thought that Paul said this would be a piece of cake. There's got to be a diagnostic program in here somewhere."

As Sarah continued to type, she saw a flash out of the corner of her eye. She looked up in time to see Zantor crumple to the floor, unconscious. "Zantor!" she cried.

Carter rushed into the passenger module as Sarah rolled Zantor onto his back. "What happened?"

"I don't know!" Sarah said, distraught. "There was a flash...I think he was electrocuted!" She looked up at the black module and its connector cable swinging freely. "Don't touch anything!" She turned her attention to Zantor. He looked far paler than his normal Kaldorian coloring. "Alan..." she began, panic rising in her voice.

"I'm no doctor, but I know where to find one!" Carter said, making his was to the pilot's chair. "Stay clear of that door!" he called back. "I'm going to close it!"

"OK!" Sarah answered. She put her ear down to Zantor's mouth. She did not hear or feel any air, and she did not see his chest rise, either. "Oh no," she whispered. "Alan! Connect me with Dr. Russell!" she yelled. She began searching for a pulse, hoping that it could be found in the same place as on humans.

Dr. Russell's face soon appeared on the displays on the computer wall of the Eagle. "Sarah, Alan told me what happened. Is Zantor breathing?"

"No!" Sarah sobbed. "And I can't find a pulse!"

"Alright, now stay calm. Do you know CPR?" asked Helena.

"Yes! Yes!" she cried. She tipped his head back, held his nose, placed her mouth over his and gave him two breaths. She then ripped at Zantor's uniform to expose his chest.

"Sarah, his heart is a little higher than ours," Helena said. "Use a four-finger width from the bottom of the sternum rather than two. We'll meet you at the launch pad. Stay calm. I am keeping my commlock tuned to you."

Sarah positioned her hands and began pumping Zantor's chest. After fifteen compressions, she leaned down gave him another two breaths. She knew from when she had touched him before that his skin tended to be cooler than that of humans, but right now his cool skin caused her to panic. "Zantor!" she cried as she pumped his chest. "You can't leave me! There's so much to do! Please!" She gave him another breath and resumed pumping. "Don't go!"

Doctors Russell and Matthias and two nurses made their way down the corridor toward Launch Pad Four with a gurney and equipment. They could all hear Sarah's cries over Helena's commlock. As they arrived at the launch pad reception area, Helena pulled out her commlock. "Alan, what is your ETA?"

"ETA twelve minutes," came the tinny reply. Helena looked at Bob Matthias, her face tortured. Matthias swallowed hard and shook his head. Too long. Niyla appeared around the corner, and one of the nurses brought her up to speed on the situation. Her hand went to her mouth as she heard the monologue coming from Helena's commlock.

"Zantor! Come back! I don't want to lose you!" Sarah cried as she continued to pump his chest. As she leaned down and gave him another breath, she watched his chest fall only to see it rise again. Was he breathing? She quickly placed her fingers on his neck where she hoped to find a pulse. She felt something! There it was again! "Dr. Russell!" she called to the bank of monitors next to her. "I think I feel a pulse!"

Just then, she felt something on her hand. She gasped as she looked down to see Zantor looking up at her. His hand closed around hers and she squeezed it hard. "I thought I'd lost you!" she sobbed.

"How could I go anywhere?" he whispered slowly, his voice raspy. "You kept calling me back."

Sarah laughed and cried at the same time. In the background, she heard Helena tell her not to move him. She had no such intention. Sarah held his hand in her hands and continued to sob.

Nine minutes later, the doors to the Eagle opened. Sarah had calmed down and was looking down at Zantor. "What happened?" he asked hoarsely.

"Later," said Sarah, wiping her eyes. "They're going to take care of you."

She stood up to get out of the way of the medical team that was boarding the Eagle, but suddenly the room began to spin and her vision darkened. The next thing she knew, she was sitting in one of the passenger seats with Alan Carter hovering over her. "It's a good thing I caught you," he said, concerned. "Hey, Matthias! Take a look at her, would you?"

As Bob Matthias leaned down and looked into Sarah's eyes, she began to protest. "I'm OK. I just stood up too quickly. You should help Zantor."

"Well, what a nice surprise!" said Matthias with mock pride. "Someone finally recognizes that I am the superior doctor!" Helena chuckled as she took Zantor's blood pressure. "Now, I think Dr. Russell can manage fine on her own," chided Matthias, but then he became serious. "CPR is physically demanding. You need to be checked out as well." He pulled out his commlock and said, "Wheelchair to Launch Pad Four."

"Dr. Matthias!" complained Sarah. "I can walk just fine!"

"Horrible patient," said Matthias to the others, prompting some giggles and further lightening of the mood. When the wheelchair arrived, he helped Sarah into it and began to wheel her out of the Eagle. Her eyes stayed on Zantor until they were in the boarding tube. "Don't worry," assured Matthias. "He'll be along soon."

Satisfied that Zantor was stable, Russell motioned Carter over. "Alan, could you lend us a hand?" Carter, Russell, Niyla, and the two nurses positioned themselves around Zantor and lifted his tall frame onto the gurney.

"Whoa!" groaned Alan. "You Kaldorians are heavy!"

"Maybe you need to spend more time in the gym," smiled one of the nurses, unwilling to admit that she felt strained as well.

Helena walked next to the gurney as the nurses rolled it into the docking tube. "Dr. Russell?" Zantor's voice was still a whisper. "Can you tell me..."

Helena held up her hand. "We think that you received an electric shock. Your heart stopped," Helena answered.

Zantor looked confused. "Then why am I still alive?"

"Sarah performed CPR on you. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation." Zantor still appeared puzzled, so she continued. "It involves breathing into a person's mouth to get oxygen into the blood and compressing the chest repeatedly to pump the blood through the body."

"Many lives could have been saved had we such training on Kaldor," said Niyla, who was walking on the other side of the gurney.

Zantor remained silent. By the time they arrived at Medical Center, Sarah had been examined by Dr. Matthias and released. She rushed to Zantor's side. "How are you doing?" she asked.

"I have done better," answered Zantor weakly, smirking.

They stopped the gurney next to a bed. Matthias and Sarah helped the others to lift Zantor and lower him onto the bed. Helena began attaching monitor wires to his chest while Niyla cut what remained of his uniform away and inserted an I.V. Zantor soon fell asleep. Sarah pulled a chair up to the side of the bed and sat down. "Sarah, you can't stay," said Helena.

"Why not?" protested Sarah.

Helena sighed. "Alright, but let him rest."

Alan Carter walked into Medical Center and said something to Dr. Russell. She pointed toward Sarah and nodded. He came up behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder. "How's he doing?"

"Dr. Russell said he will be fine," Sarah said looking up at Carter. "He just needs rest."

"You know, Pete Johnson just took some guys from Technical up to that satellite. There was a serious short circuit in that power module." He looked down at Zantor. "Those Kaldorians are built tough." Sarah nodded. "You saved his life. Nice work." Alan patted her shoulder and left the room.

Sarah watched Zantor sleep, absent-mindedly stroking the back of his hand. As she sat there, she began to review the events of the day and she shuddered. She had become so used to working with Zantor that she could not imagine working on Backdoor without him. After about an hour of reliving the experience on the Eagle over and over again in her mind, it slowly dawned on her that it was not just working with him that appealed to her. She suddenly stood up. "Dr. Russell, I'll be back later." Helena nodded as Sarah, perplexed, made her way out of Medical Center.

Sarah walked quickly back to her quarters, oblivious to the greetings from Alphans walking in the other direction. She stepped through the door to her quarters and rushed to the mirror as the door closed behind her. She looked at her messy hair, her red eyes, and her tear-stained face. The wide eyes in the mirror looked back in disbelief. "I'm in love with an alien," she whispered.

Zantor opened his eyes to see Niyla changing the I.V. bag hanging near him. The lights were turned low in Medical Center, indicating to him that it was the middle of the night. Niyla looked down and noticed he was awake. "How do you feel, Captain?" she whispered.

"Much better, thank you," replied Zantor. He glanced from side to side and saw that the other beds were unoccupied. "Why are you whispering?" Niyla smiled and gestured toward the center of his bed. He raised his head slightly. Sarah was sitting in a chair with her head resting on folded arms on the edge of his bed.

"She came back a few hours ago," Niyla whispered. "Dr. Russell tried to make her go to her quarters, but she refused. She just fell asleep."

Zantor laid his head back as Niyla left the room. He raised his hand and gently laid it on Sarah's head. He stroked her hair, lost in thought. As he considered what Dr. Russell had told him, of how he had been resuscitated, his hand wandered to her face. He gently ran the back of his hand along her cheek and lightly traced her lips with his fingers. "You breathed for me," he whispered as he fell back to sleep.

"I don't know," said Sarah. "Where's the rest of it?"

"Just try it on!" encouraged Sandra. "Melita Kelly sent it over. You wouldn't want to disappoint her, now, would you?"

Helena and Tanya were at the other end of Sandra's quarters admiring their dresses in the mirror. There were only so many dresses on Alpha. Some new ones had been made, but only so much could be done with the synthetic material available on Alpha. So, the women on Alpha had grown accustomed to pooling their party resources. Sarah took the black cocktail dress into the bathroom and put it on. It had a plain, knee-length skirt and a halter top. "I've never worn a backless dress before," she said hesitantly as she came out of the bathroom. "I feel half-naked."

Tanya turned around a smiled. "Oh, it looks beautiful on you! How elegant!"

"Try these shoes with it," said Helena, handing her a pair of strappy high heels.

"I know I'll twist my ankle again," Sarah said warily as she put on the shoes.

"Perfect!" exclaimed Sandra. "Tanya, why don't you do her hair the way you told me?"

Tanya sat Sarah down in a chair and began to brush her hair. "I think a French braid would be lovely! You should show your face off for once!"

Soon after, Sarah found herself walking back to her quarters to wait for Zantor. The three ladies had finally declared her ready and had sent her on her way. There was still an hour left before Zantor was to pick her up. Heads turned in the corridor as she passed by, making her feel very awkward. She was certain that they were staring at her bare back! As she passed a travel tube entrance, she changed her mind about going to her quarters and ducked into the travel tube instead. There would be far fewer people in the corridors that ran through the Technical Section with the dance fast approaching, and she could hide in the lab and work for the next hour.

Sarah felt embarrassed to ask Zantor to pick her up at the lab instead of her quarters, so she decided to just type up a text message for him at the terminal in the travel tube and have it sent to his quarters. He had been released from Medical Center the day before with strict orders to rest in his quarters until the dance, so Sarah was sure that he would get the message. She wondered if Dr. Russell would have released him were it not for the dance. She shook her head as she concluded that Dr. Russell would do just about anything to finally make her attend one of these events.

An hour later, Zantor pressed a button on the panel at the entrance to the Backdoor laboratory. As the door slid open, he drew a long breath. Sarah was kneeling next to the electronics rack, her head turned to look at a numeric display as she adjusted a knob. Zantor's eyes traveled from her braided hair, down her bare back, and along her black dress. As she stood up, the skirt rose to reveal her long legs and the impractical yet flattering high heels. She turned her head and looked over her shoulder, catching sight of him. She smiled and turned around, and then her eyes grew wide.

"You look just like you did the day I met you!" she gasped, indicating his native Kaldorian garb and his loosed hair. Her smile faded as she noticed his blank expression. "What's wrong?"

Zantor did not say anything at first, and Sarah hugged her arms around herself, suddenly feeling uncomfortable under his gaze. He finally realized that he was staring and blinked. "You look beautiful," was all he could force from his lips.

Sarah smiled, relieved. So this is the rollercoaster I missed out on in school, she thought to herself.

Zantor had regained his composure. "I did some reading about customs of Earth during my recovery," he said as he offered his arm to her.

"How thoughtful!" Sarah exclaimed as she took his arm. "Are you sure that you're up to this?" she asked with concern.

"I have fully recovered," he assured her.

The ride in the travel tube was long, as the Recreation room was on the opposite side of the base from the Technical Section. Zantor noticed that Sarah seemed preoccupied. "Is there something the matter?"

Sarah smiled and said, "Of course not." Zantor did not look convinced. Sarah's brow furrowed. "Well, I've been wanting to tell you something and I'm trying to figure out how."

"We are friends," he said. "I am sure that however you say it, I will understand the meaning."

"OK." Sarah took a deep breath and spoke very slowly to the floor, searching for words. "When you almost died...I realized that I never...told you how much this..." Sarah forced herself to look up into Zantor's eyes. "...this...collaboration...has meant to me." She looked back down at the floor and exhaled as if she had been holding her breath. "I'm not very articulate. I'm sorry," she said nervously.

Before he could respond, the travel tube doors opened and a chatty group of people boarded. Sarah and Zantor rode the rest of the way in silence. The sound of music and laughter poured inside the travel tube as the doors opened at their destination. They stood and made their way down the corridor toward the Recreation room. The large room was dimly lit by strings of lights and paper lanterns. How Alpha had such items in deep space, Sarah could only guess. They were probably smuggled to Alpha while still in Earth orbit, she concluded. Back then, such items were probably not allowed outside of personal quarters.

Zantor gestured toward a line of people by the buffet table. Sarah nodded. One thing she did not like about social events was that she usually ended up standing around and not knowing what to do with herself. She figured that eating was a good cover. At least she was not alone this time, she thought, as Zantor motioned her ahead of him. They each put some items on plates and sat down at an empty table. They were soon joined by Alan Carter and Tanya Alexander.

"See, Alan, I told you that her hair turned out beautiful," Tanya said as she sat in the chair that Carter politely pulled out for her.

"I'll say!" said Carter. "You clean up nicely, Sarah." Tanya gave him a nasty glance and looked at Sarah apologetically. Carter just smiled.

"Thanks, Alan. So do you," Sarah shot back, laughing.

Paul Morrow and Sandra Benes also joined their table. "Would you believe Verdeschi agreed to take my shift tonight?" Morrow asked Carter. "We need to find someone for that poor Italian. If we can't find anyone on Alpha, we may have to interview aliens!" That coaxed some giggles from around the table.

"How about a babe from Betha?" asked Carter.

"Alan, don't make fun of Tony!" scolded Sandra. "I, for one, am grateful that he covered for Paul," she said, smiling at Morrow.

As they ate and conversed, Sarah was surprised to find that she was genuinely enjoying herself. Something nagged at the back of her mind, though. She never did get a response from Zantor, and she began to wonder if she had been a bit too transparent when she spoke to him in the travel tube...or not transparent enough. More of the rollercoaster, she thought.

The dinner drew to an end and couples began to make their way to the dance floor. Eventually, Sarah and Zantor were left alone at the table. Sarah noticed David Kano standing to one side of the room, watching the dancers and busily typing on his commlock. She figured that he and Computer must be serving as DJs. She enjoyed watching the dancing, but after a while, she tired of looking over her shoulder. Zantor noticed and suggested they turn their chairs around. They did so and sat side by side, watching the couples move around the dance floor. The song was upbeat and many were swing dancing. Sarah smiled as she noticed Zantor watching in amazement. "Did they dance like that on Kaldor?" she asked.

"They danced, but not like that," he said with a smirk. "It looks like an excellent form of exercise." Zantor turned to Sarah, suddenly serious. "I never thanked you for saving my life."

The comment caught Sarah off guard, and her face took on an anxious look. "I didn't know you had heard."

"Did you not wish for me to know?" he asked, surprised at her reaction.

"Well, it's just that I didn't know if that kind of contact would be considered...inappropriate," she answered.

"How could saving a life ever be considered inappropriate?" Zantor asked rhetorically. "Nevertheless, there was no taboo on Kaldor concerning such contact. On the contrary, it was not uncommon. In fact..." He half-turned in his seat to look squarely at her and slowly said, "I wish that I could remember what it felt like."

Sarah felt dizzy with emotion as she stared back at Zantor, wide-eyed. She opened her mouth to speak, and she cringed inwardly at the words that tumbled out. "CPR on a healthy person could be dangerous."

Zantor leaned in closer. "That is not what I meant," he said, his voice low and his gaze steady and serious.

Sarah swallowed hard, her eyes locked to his. Her response was a whisper. "I know."

Just then, the music changed to a slow ballad. Sarah was still reeling from Zantor's comment. She hardly noticed when Helena Russell took each of them by the hand and led them to the dance floor. She stood dumbly as Helena placed Sarah's left hand on Zantor's shoulder and her right hand in his. She snapped out of her shock and her eyes widened when Helena placed Zantor's right hand in the middle of her bare back. "Now just step left and right to the rhythm of the music, and you'll be dancing," Helena said as she left them and made her way toward John Koenig.

Zantor looked down at Sarah. "I am sorry," he said as he lowered his right hand until it lay on the fabric of the dress rather than on her skin. "I do not mean to make you feel uncomfortable."

Sarah did not know if he was referring to his hand on her back or his earlier comment, but she quickly replied, "You don't make me uncomfortable." She thought for a moment. "Now Dr. Russell, she makes me uncomfortable!" They both laughed and continued to dance.

As their laughter died away, an awkward silence followed, so both busied themselves with studying the other dancers. Zantor's gaze traveled the room, and he noticed Ramar and Niyla dancing. Trelm and Kami were sitting together at a nearby table, lost in conversation. He was pleased to see that his crew were content on Alpha. They had spent much of their adult lives preparing for their mission. Although their journey was to be in suspended animation, they had to be prepared for any contingency. Their training had been extremely intensive. Working on Alpha helped all of them to feel that their training still had a function, a purpose.

Some dancers were dancing as he was with Sarah. Others had their arms draped around each other, slowly swaying. Zantor found his mind wandering back to the feel of Sarah's skin under his hand. It had been exhilarating, and he scolded himself for wishing that he had not moved his hand. He thought of his love on Kaldor, momentarily feeling guilty. She had begged him to find happiness, though. After hundreds of years, perhaps now he could finally allow himself to be happy?

Zantor did not realize that he had been slowly pulling Sarah closer as they danced until he glanced down and saw that her face was very near his chest. He was about to step back and apologize when she suddenly turned her head to one side and laid her cheek on his chest. Electricity flowed through him, and it was nothing like the electricity that stopped his heart two days before. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, inhaling deeply. For once, he was living not in the past, not for the future, but squarely in the present. The pain of the centuries was melting away.

Zantor turned his head and watched as Sarah unclasped her hand and interlaced her fingers with his. As they continued to dance, they kept opening their hands and interlacing their fingers once again. Finally, Zantor let go of her hand altogether and wrapped his arm around her, his hand landing unashamedly on her bare back, and she brought her now free arm around him. They continued to sway back and forth to the music.

Sarah felt even dizzier than before, and it felt wonderful. She tightened her hold on Zantor to steady herself and was thrilled to feel him hold her tighter as well. She sighed deeply. Meeting Zantor for the first time had been terrifying. The second time had been embarrassing. Working with him had been enjoyable, but watching him almost die had been well as revealing. But once she knew how she felt, she worried about how he felt. At this moment, though, wrapped in his arms, she was glad to have bypassed the rollercoaster on Earth. The spacecoaster was worth the wait. The two swayed back and forth, eyes closed, oblivious to the universe.

David Kano caught sight of the scene. He shook his head. Platonic marriage my foot! "He's like my brother," David said to himself in a whiny, high-pitched voice, mocking the statement that Sarah had made to him months ago. That marriage of convenience looked to be becoming all the more convenient. Resigned, he began to type on his commlock. He deleted the previous request for an upbeat song and expertly transitioned the music to another ballad. He nodded in satisfaction as all the dancers, including Zantor and Sarah, continued dancing as if nothing had changed.

John Koenig and Helena Russell were dancing nearby. "You know, John, after what I saw in Medical Center the other day, I think Sarah and Zantor's feelings for each other are changing. They just don't know it yet. With a little help, I'm sure they'll figure it out."

"I don't know how much more you can help," Koenig said as he turned Helena around so she could see the swaying couple. Helena's mouth dropped open. "Isn't that the result you were hoping for?" he asked.

"Yes," she said, astonished. "I just didn't think it would happen so quickly." She smiled up at Koenig. "Would you care to dance with your Chief Medical Officer like that, Commander? I could order you..."

"You know how strict I am when it comes to orders, Doctor," Koenig said, wrapping his arms around her.

David Kano noticed the time. The Commander had been willing to try out these large-scale social events, but he insisted that they stay within their time limits so as to not interfere with duty schedules. He queued up one more ballad using his commlock and spoke into it, saying, "Last dance of the evening." Other couples made their way to the dance floor as his low voice reverberated softly around the room.

When the song ended and the lights brightened slightly, Sarah finally pulled away and cautiously looked up at Zantor. He looked down with his typical calm gaze, but she noticed that something was different. The subtle sadness that always seemed to be present in his eyes was gone. He reached down and ran the back of his hand along her cheek. He looked around the room and then back down at her. "May I walk you back to your quarters?" She nodded and put her arm through his.

The ride to the Residential area in the travel tube was crowded. Zantor and Sarah found themselves standing, and when the tube lurched slightly on a turn, Zantor placed his arm around Sarah's waist to steady her, sending wonderful waves of dizziness through her.

The doors to the travel tube opened and everyone emptied into the corridors. Sarah's quarters were only a short distance down one of the corridors. When they reached her door, she turned around and awkwardly said, "I had a wonderful time." It sounded like such a cliché, she thought, but it was true.

"As did I," Zantor said. He looked down at her for a long moment.

Sarah held his gaze. She felt her heart beating faster. Is he going to kiss me goodnight? I think he's going to kiss me goodnight. What do I do if he kisses me goodnight? Just as Zantor began to lower his head toward hers, the doors to the travel tube opened again, and more people poured into the corridors nearby. Zantor glanced down the corridor at the approaching crowd as Sarah cast her eyes downward. Impulsively, he took her hand and brought it to his lips. The suddenness of the contact caused Sarah's eyelids to drop closed. When she opened them again, Zantor was walking down the corridor toward his quarters, his height keeping him clearly visible above the crowd. She smiled and opened the door to her quarters.

Sarah took off the high heels and groaned as her calves stretched out. She was about to take off the dress when she caught sight of herself in the mirror. She stopped for a moment. She did indeed clean up nicely, she joked to herself. Suddenly serious, she looked at herself as she ran her hand along her cheek, reliving the feeling when the hand was Zantor's. She shook her head, concluding that she was acting like a teenager.

Sarah carefully hung up the black dress and changed into her standard silver-blue Alpha pajamas. As she flopped onto the bed, she thought of her image in the mirror, trying to flip it in her mind to see herself the way that Zantor saw her. She absent-mindedly reached over to the lighting control as she continued her visualizing, but as soon as the lights went dark, she immediately switched them back on. "Oh, for crying out loud!" Her mentor's exclamation phrase poured from her lips as she sat bolt upright. "That's got to be it!" she said to the mirror as she grabbed her commlock and started for the door.

Zantor breathed a heavy sigh as the door to his quarters closed behind him. He walked to a chair and lowered his tall frame into it. He wondered to himself if it would have been so inappropriate to kiss Sarah in front of all those people in the corridor.

He had spent the earlier part of the day resting as per Dr. Russell's order, and even though it was late, he did not feel tired. After a while, he picked up a book that had been loaned to him by Paul Morrow. Reading Earth literature was a good way to learn about the culture, but his mind was not in it tonight. He eventually abandoned the book and paced the room, lost in thought. He was surprised and pleased to see Sarah Andrew's face appear on the commpost. "Zantor, did I wake you?"

"No, I am not tired. Dr. Russell prescribed far too much rest" he smirked. "Why are you not asleep?"

"I had an idea and I'm in the lab, but I want you to check me first. Would you mind?" she asked excitedly.

"Of course not," he said, pleased for an excuse to see her again that night.

When he entered the Backdoor lab, they both looked at each other with surprise. He was still in his Kaldorian garb and she was in her pajamas, barefoot. She looked down at herself, suddenly embarrassed, but she forgot about that when he asked what she had found.

"Zantor, it hit me all of a sudden that we may have a phase problem. We've been so concerned about power frequency and level that we forgot about phase. I changed the phase of the system and...well, just watch this." Sarah used a stick to push one of their aluminum test blocks through the Backdoor opening. It appeared at the other end of the table unscathed.

Zantor's eyes widened as he glanced from the block to Sarah and back again. "Extraordinary," he mused as he walked around the table to examine the block. Satisfied that it had been transported undamaged, he looked up and asked, "You made this determination after I left you earlier?"

"Well, I was looking in the mirror, and I tried to flip the image in my head to see what I really looked like..." Sarah trailed off, feeling like she was sounding ridiculous.

"That was excellent thinking," Zantor said sincerely. "I do not think that you need me to check anything," he said as he eyed the block again.

Sarah moved to a terminal. "Well, I almost sent a hamster through, but I'm terrified that I'll kill it." She punched some buttons and brought up some formulas on the display. "Please, just confirm this for me before we try something living."

Zantor sat down and began to slowly look through each line of text. Sarah was watching over his shoulder, and after she yawned a few times, he turned to her. "Perhaps you should go sit down. This may take some time," he said.

Sarah nodded, walked up the steps at one end of the lab, and lowered herself gratefully onto the sofa in the small seating area.

Twenty minutes later, Zantor said, "I concur with your reasoning." Hearing no response, he looked over toward the sofa. Sarah had fallen asleep, her head resting on the back of the sofa. He stood and slowly strode over to where she was. Her right arm lay along the back of the sofa and her hand hung limp over the side. He sat down in a chair next to the sofa and took her hand in his. "Sarah," he said softly. He knew she would want him to wake her, but he felt somewhat guilty for wanting to wake her for selfish reasons. He repeated her name louder. Her fingers began to tighten around his and her eyes fluttered open. She turned her head toward him and smiled lazily. He smiled back. Her eyes focused and she suddenly sat up. "I almost forgot!"

"Your reasoning is sound. We can try the experiment," Zantor said. Sarah looked at him and nodded, her expression serious. As they stood, she continued to hold on to his hand. After they descended the steps, she stopped, her eyes to the floor and her hand still gripping Zantor's tightly. She finally looked up at him and nodded once again, finally letting go of his hand. She picked up a small cage and took it to a nearby larger cage housing four hamsters. She took one out and placed it in the small cage.

Sarah set the cage in front of the Backdoor opening and then looked up at Zantor, who had moved to the other side of the table. "Are you sure?" she asked, her voice shaking.

"I concur with your reasoning," Zantor said again. "Do not be afraid."

That gave Sarah the strength to pick up a rod and push the cage through Backdoor, cringing as she did so. After the cage appeared on the other side of the table, Sarah held her breath as Zantor opened it and took out the hamster. As he turned it to face her, she could see it busily trying to escape Zantor's grasp. It was fine! She finally exhaled and put her hand to her mouth to suppress a sob. This is what she had been working so hard for! She had been the one to put the pressure on herself, and the months of little progress would have been unbearable were it not for...Zantor. She looked over at him as he handled the distressed hamster. Before him lay the Backdoor system. The goal that was supposed to fulfill her life was to get Backdoor working and to bring the Alphans home, but that goal was no longer enough. She wanted more.

Sarah watched Zantor put the hamster back in the cage. She took a breath and said slowly and evenly, "I wish that I could remember what it felt like, too." Zantor looked up, surprised. Sarah rounded the corner of the optical table and stopped.

Zantor walked around the corner of the optical table on his side, his Kaldorian robe flowing. Sarah trembled slightly from fatigue and from anticipation. Zantor stopped, concerned that his approach had frightened her. Sarah spoke up, "What I meant was...I was so scared of losing you that the whole experience was a blur. So, I wish that I could remember," she said, taking a step forward, "...what it felt like."

"I wish that I could remember what it felt like," Zantor repeated, taking another step toward Sarah.

"It could be dangerous," said Sarah, reliving their earlier conversation. She stepped forward again.

"That is not what I meant," he said softly, playing his part. One more step brought him right in front of her.

"I know." Sarah's words were a whisper. Her eyes dropped and she stared blankly at his chest as she tried to slow her breathing, which had quickened along with her heart rate. As she felt his hand on her face, she finally forced herself to raise her eyes back to meet his. She tried to keep herself from trembling as he cautiously leaned down toward her. When his lips were millimeters from hers, they both closed their eyes and closed the distance. It was awkward and clumsy...and completely wonderful. An eternity passed.

Zantor finally pulled away, fearing he would strain Sarah's neck since he was so much taller. He took her by the hands and led her to the stairs where they sat down. "Do you know how much I have longed to do that?" he asked.

"I didn't know until the other day how much I wanted you to do that," she replied, still reeling. They regarded each other for a long moment. She reached up as she did the day she appeared on his ship. He closed his eyes as she ran her fingers along the white and black markings around his eyes, transporting him back to that first meeting. He reached up and took her hand in his and brought it to his lips. Sarah's voice wavered as she began, "Zantor, when I said our collaboration was important to me, I was really trying to say..."

Zantor did not wait for Sarah to finish. He wrapped his arms around her and brought his lips to hers once again. The kiss grew more passionate as he became aware of how thin the Alphan pajamas were that covered her body. He could feel every curve, and he suddenly realized that he was allowing his hands to wander far too freely. "I am sorry," he said, breathing heavily as he pulled away.

"That's OK," Sarah said, pushing some stray hairs away from her face and pulling the pajama top tighter around her. The two sat for a moment, looking at the floor and catching their breath.

"Perhaps I should walk you back to your quarters," Zantor said. Sarah nodded.

They walked to the travel tube and rode in silence. Sarah was relieved that the corridors of the Residential section were empty. She felt silly, remembering how she had run barefoot through the base in her pajamas earlier that night.

They reached the door to Sarah's quarters and stood looking at one another. Unlike a few hours earlier, the corridor was empty. Zantor leaned down and softly kissed her, careful not to linger. When he pulled away, she was staring back at him with an odd look on her face. He took her commlock, opened the door, and handed it back to her. She was still staring.

Zantor smiled and turned to leave. "Zantor?" Sarah said hesitantly.

He turned back to her. "Yes?"

Still looking dazed, she simply said, "We're married."

Zantor just looked back at her, expressionless. She wondered if he had heard. "We're married," she said again, a smile starting to form on her lips. In the next instant, Zantor reached down and swept her off her feet. She shrieked with surprise and threw her arms around him as he carried her through the door. Sarah used her commlock to close the door and then tossed it on the sofa as Zantor carried her to the bed. She laughed as he set her down, but as he sat down on edge of the bed, her laughter died away and her face took on a look of embarrassment.

"I'm acting over-confident," Sarah said with uncertainty. "I've never done this before."

"You mean consummate a marriage?" Zantor asked.

He could be so blunt! Sarah was sure that her face was turning all shades of purple. She sat up and tucked her legs underneath her. "Well, yeah," She lowered her eyes, embarrassed. "I guess that's weird. On Earth, most don't wait for the marriage part anymore."

Zantor considered that. "Not all Kaldorians do, either." He raised her chin to capture her gaze, "But I did."

Sarah smiled sheepishly. "We're scientists. We'll figure it out."

"We can develop a hypothesis," he said, leaning toward her.

"Design a procedure," she added as she ran her fingers along his face.

"Run the experiment," he said, brushing her cheek with his lips.

"Analyze the data," she breathed, her eyes dropping closed.

"Form a conclusion," he whispered in her ear.

Sarah pulled back. "Publish the results?" she asked with a mischievous smile.

He smiled back at her and said, "No."

Chapter 9 - Resolution

"Hi, David," said Sarah.

"Hi yourself!" answered David Kano as he ripped off a printout from Computer and handed it to Kami. "Quite a dance last night."

Sarah did not take the bait. "David, can Computer analyze this algorithm?" she asked, holding up a piece of paper.

Kano snorted, "Computer can analyze any algorithm." He squinted at the paper for a moment. "Except this one. I can't read half of this."

Sarah looked at the paper herself. "Oh, I'm sorry. It was late." Kano rolled his eyes. So much for his efforts at a romantic evening for her. Obviously, she had spent the night in the lab once again. Sarah sensed some of what he must be thinking and smiled to herself. "Look, give me a pencil and I'll clean this up."

He handed her a pencil, and she proceeded to lay the paper against one of Computer's panels and scribble away. She may as well have defiled an ancient burial site. Kano gasped with disgust and grabbed a clipboard. "Why don't you go upstairs and finish there!" he pleaded, shoving the clipboard into her hands.

"OK, sorry David!" Sarah stole a glance at Sandra as she made her way to the stairs that led to the observation deck above Main Computer. Sandra winked at her, always amused to see David Kano's buttons pushed. Commander Koenig caught the tail end of the exchange as he entered Main Mission.

"Business as usual, eh Paul?" he asked as he strode toward his office.

"Yes, Commander," smiled Morrow. "Captain Zantor is waiting for you in your office."

"Thanks, Paul," said Koenig as he climbed the stairs and used his commlock to open the small single door that led to his office. He found Zantor standing by the viewports. "Captain?"

Zantor turned around. "Commander, may I ask your advice concerning a matter?"

"Of course," said Koenig as he sat down at his desk.

"I wish to ask Sarah Andrew to marry me," said Zantor as he walked toward Koenig's desk.

Koenig stifled a laugh. "Aren't you already married?" he asked, amused.

"I have been doing some research into Terran wedding ceremonies," Zantor explained. "I have concluded that the text of our previous ceremony was...inadequate."

"I couldn't agree more," nodded Koenig, smiling. "What about Kaldorian customs?"

"The ceremonies on Earth do not differ greatly from those on Kaldor," said Zantor. "Both contain vows of commitment. However, the vows should reflect the nature of the relationship, and the nature of my relationship with Sarah has changed."

"So I noticed," Koenig nodded. Zantor tilted his head slightly at that statement. "I think that a renewal of vows is an excellent idea. You said that you wanted to ask her, though. She doesn't know?"

"She does not know of my intention to ask her to participate in a more appropriate ceremony," Zantor answered, "but I believe she will accept."

"I don't think that will be a problem," Koenig smiled. "She's on the Observation Deck. Why don't you ask her right now?"

"Do you think that now would be appropriate?" Zantor asked.

"Yes I do," said Koenig, planting his hands on his desk and standing up. He gave Zantor a few quick tips about human proposals, and then pressed a button on his desk that opened the large double doors to Main Mission. He gestured toward the figure seated on the Observation Deck above Main Computer and said, "Good luck." As Zantor left his office, Koenig quickly called Medical Center. "Doctor Russell to Main Mission."

"Is there an emergency, John?" came Helena's voice.

"No, but you won't want to miss this!" he whispered and broke the connection. As Zantor ascended the stairs to the Observation Deck, Koenig caught Sandra's eye, put his finger to his lips, and pointed to Zantor. Sandra got up and walked around behind Tanya to get a better look, whispering in her ear and gesturing. Soon, everyone was looking at the balcony above Main Computer.

Helena entered Main Mission. "John?" she asked. Koenig put his finger to his lips and motioned her over. They all watched as Zantor approached Sarah, who looked up from where she was sitting and smiled. They could not hear what was being said, but there was a collective gasp when Zantor dropped to one knee and took her hands in his. Koenig smiled at Helena, satisfied with his coaching. Helena smiled back at him as she began to understand what was happening. Sarah looked surprised and confused, but when she began to nod vigorously, a cheer rose in Main Mission.

Sarah looked down to see the Main Mission staff waving up at them. She hesitantly waved back, feeling thoroughly embarrassed. Then she felt impulsive and threw her arms around the kneeling Zantor. The cheers rose once again, and after descending the stairs, the two were surrounded and met with handshakes and kisses of congratulations.

"So, when is the big day?" asked Alan, his arm draped around Tanya.

Sarah looked at Zantor. "Now?" He nodded.

"Now, wait a minute!" Sandra said. "You may have gotten away with that the first time, but you must give us time to plan a decent wedding!"

Sarah looked at Zantor again. "Tonight?" He nodded.

"Commander!" complained Sandra.

Koenig threw up his hands. "Fine, Sandra! Take the day off! Plan the wedding!" Tanya opened her mouth to speak, but Koenig interrupted her. "And Tanya, before you say anything, you take they day off, too! Just get someone to cover your duties. Helena, keep an eye on them!" He turned and headed toward his office. "Is this Main Mission or a wedding chapel?" he asked as he closed the large doors, causing another round of laughter to ring out.

Tanya took Sarah by the arm and said to Zantor, "You won't see her until tonight, so you may as well find something to do with yourself until then!"

Zantor raised his eyebrows as the women left Main Mission. Carter slapped Zantor on the back. "So, mate, maybe we could throw you a last-minute bachelor party?"

"I have been reading about Terran culture," Zantor said with a twinkle in his eye, "and I believe the appropriate answer is 'No'."

David Kano wore the biggest smile that any Alphan could ever recall seeing on the normally rather stern face of the guardian of Main Computer. Many found it so intriguing that they did not even notice the lady on his arm at first. Sarah Andrew seemed to sense the nature of the reaction and just smiled. Kano leaned over and whispered, "Now you have to get us back to Earth. I cannot wait to see Daniel turn green with envy once he finds out!"

Since her father was no longer living and since she had not even expected to ever marry, Sarah had never really considered whom she would have asked to walk her down the aisle. When Helena Russell had brought it up, Sarah realized that Daniel Kano would have been her first choice, and it seemed appropriate for David Kano to fill in for him. Sarah had contacted David on her commlock and, having overheard their exchange, Helena had concluded that the airlocks of Moonbase Alpha would no longer be able to contain David Kano's pride.

The Recreation room was still decorated from the previous night, and it had been Sandra Benes' idea to use that room for the ceremony rather than Alpha's small chapel. She had drafted some off-duty astronauts to break down the tables and to rearrange the chairs into rows. There was still enough room at the back for people to gather afterward and enjoy the cake that the workers in Cafeteria #2 had insisted they be given the privilege to bake.

Although Moonbase Alpha had retained the regimented routine that had existed before Breakaway, a closeness had developed that did not interfere with the formality of operations, but served to fill the void left by the loss of contact with friends and family on Earth. Such closeness strengthened those on Alpha as they continued their journey away from Earth. It also created one of the most efficient gossip networks in the universe. News of the ceremony had spread like wildfire and the fact that there had been a social event just the night before in no way dampened the enthusiasm. In deep space, any excuse to gather was welcome. The Recreation room was full for the second night in a row.

Sarah did not know how a tuxedo had made its way to Moonbase Alpha, but she did not question it. David had looked so dashing as he had offered his arm and complimented her on the way she looked in the peach gown that she had borrowed from Tanya. Even though she was technically already married, Sarah still felt nervous as the door to the Recreation room slid open. She found the number of Alphans in the room to be overwhelming, but the fact that the initial gasps were meant for David helped to put her at ease. She looked to the front of the room and saw Zantor standing next to Commander Koenig. Focusing on Zantor served to calm her, and it was by no means difficult to focus on him. He once again wore his Kaldorian robe and captain's vest, which Sarah had been so pleased to see the night before, but the look he wore on his face is what held her attention. So this is love, she thought happily, hoping that the look on her face was conveying the same message.

Kano handed Sarah off to Zantor and took a seat next to Ramar. Sarah had glanced at Ramar and the other Kaldorians on the way down the aisle. She really did not know them very well since she usually spent most of her time with Zantor in the Backdoor lab. Remembering David's initial reaction to the first wedding ceremony, she wondered if the other Kaldorians viewed her relationship with Zantor with distaste even though Ramar had embraced it, albeit for selfish reasons. Sarah had been relieved to see that there was nothing in their expressions that would indicate that they were displeased.

Helena Russell listened with satisfaction to the ceremony, so pleased to hear them repeat vows of love rather than the stale vows from the earlier ceremony. She noticed with pleasure that John Koenig seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself, as with the other three weddings that he had officiated since Breakaway. The burden of command was heavy, but this was a responsibility that was obviously a pleasure for him to bear. Helena found herself wondering with amusement as to who would officiate a wedding in which John Koenig was the groom.

The ceremony reached its conclusion. "You may kiss the bride," said Koenig. Everyone held their breath as Zantor slowly leaned down and kissed Sarah, and then the room erupted in applause. The pair turned to eye the crowd with a bit of embarrassment, but the two latecomers to Moonbase Alpha finally realized that they were truly a part of the family.

The enthusiasm continued through the cake reception. Zantor stood by Sarah watching the crowd composed of both of human Alphans and Kaldorian Alphans and he felt that if his journey were to end here, he would be home. He knew, though, that he owed his people and his new friends more. He leaned down and whispered something in Sarah's ear. She nodded as he spoke, finally breaking in to a big smile.

Zantor spoke up. "May I have your attention everyone?" His bass voice ringing through the room caused the loud conversations to quickly die down as everyone turned his way. Zantor smiled. "Thank you. Since my crew and I joined the personnel of Moonbase Alpha, we have been treated with camaraderie and respect, and for that we are grateful. Today, as I have solidified a relationship with one of yours, you have shown great support by sharing in the experience with us. Sarah and I would like to thank you by giving you a gift of hope." He paused for an instant and looked at Sarah, who nodded for him to go on. "Although there is still a long way to go, a key hurdle in the development of Backdoor was cleared last night. A live animal was successfully transported across the laboratory."

Applause broke out once again. Sarah glanced at the Commander. Although she knew that he did not like surprises, this one seemed to sit well with him. As the applause died down, Koenig raised his glass and said, "To Zantor, Sarah, and Backdoor." The rest of the room joined in agreement.

Sarah spoke up. "We'll get back to work on Backdoor right away."

"No you won't," said Alan Cater.

Sarah was taken off-guard. "I'm sorry?" she blinked.

Tanya smiled and leaned toward Carter, "Alan, they don't know yet."

"Is there something that we should have been made aware of?" asked Zantor, puzzled.

"Oh, no," said Carter. "You see, there's an astronomical observatory on the far side that we use as a honeymoon sweet."

"We knew you would try to go right back to work without a honeymoon, so we made the arrangements without telling you," said Sandra.

Sarah looked incredulous. "But there's so much to do and we haven't met with Professor Bergman yet. Even with Backdoor finally working, you're sending us away?"

"That's all the more reason," said Koenig. "There's nothing like a break to give you a fresh perspective." Koenig suddenly looked stern. "Besides, it's also an order, Captain Zantor and Dr. Andrew."

The crowd broke out laughing at the shocked looks on the faces of the couple. Tanya said, "Your bags are already on the Eagle. Alan will take you." As the crowd began to say their goodbyes to the dazed couple, Tanya whispered to Alan, "So, when will it be our turn to go?"

"Patience, my dear," Alan said slyly, planting a kiss on her cheek. To the astonished pair, he said, "Shall we?"

The astronomical observatory on the far side had been built in the early days of Moonbase Alpha. The telescope was rather modest by Earth standards, with a primary mirror measuring only three meters in diameter, but with the extinction and aberration of the Earth's atmosphere absent, the image quality was superior to the largest of Earth's telescopes. The observatory had an Eagle landing pad and modest living quarters along with a few workshops for telescope maintenance, but the operation had become largely automated by the time the Moon left Earth's orbit.

Operation of the observatory had been put on hold during the chaos that followed Breakaway, but it was soon put back to work surveying star systems along the trajectory of the Moon when the spin induced by Breakaway brought them into view. Such activities were run from Moonbase Alpha, and the only visitors were maintenance crews...along with the occasional newlyweds.

Zantor stood looking out the viewport and watched the boarding tube retract. Kicking up soundless plumes of dust, Eagle One lifted off and turned to make its way back to Alpha. He turned around to see Sarah come out of the small kitchen area. "Well, at least they gave us food so we won't starve!"

Zantor smirked, "Are you really displeased to be stranded here with me?"

Sarah jumped onto the bed and said, "Of course not! It's just hard to get my mind off of Backdoor after we made so much progress."

"I can sympathize," said Zantor. "I must confess that I am already mulling over design possibilities for a larger threshold." He walked over and sat on the bed. Sarah positioned herself behind him and began to rub his shoulders. Zantor sighed with pleasure. "You never cease to surprise me," he said as he closed his eyes.

"That could be good or bad," joked Sarah. "I don't know why this is so comfortable, especially since you used to scare the living daylights out of me." Zantor glanced over his shoulder at that statement, but Sarah continued. "I've always heard that your spouse should also be your best friend. I think I like the round-about path that we took." Stopping, she leaned around and said, "Hey! We don't have Backdoor but we could play with the telescope!"

Zantor wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him. "Would we not be better scientists if we repeated last night's experiment?"

Sarah smiled warmly. "Ah, yes. A good scientist always conducts multiple trials in order to confirm the results."

Chapter 10 - Salvage

Zantor and Sarah decided to give themselves a self-guided tour of the observatory while waiting for their ride back to Moonbase Alpha. Alan Carter was overdue, so the two had wandered into the telescope control room. A window allowed them to see the telescope as it sat in its stowed position, pointing toward the zenith in the vacuum of the dome.

"Wow, they must have to rewrite the tracking programs every time the Moon interacts with another body." Sarah reached down and powered up the control panel.

"Are you trying to interfere with Main Mission operations?" Zantor said with a smirk as he sat down in one the chairs.

"Well, they're not using the telescope right now," Sarah shrugged. "Why shouldn't we?" She began to type at a terminal. The building shook slightly as the dome shutter began to open, revealing a slit of dark, starry sky. "So, what direction do you think Alan will be coming from?" she asked as she sent the command to open the mirror cover on the telescope.

Zantor rolled his chair over to another terminal. "I do not know if this instrument can point to an altitude so close to the horizon." He navigated through a few menus. The dome began to rotate and the telescope began to slew.

"Mmmm," said Sarah as she watched the graceful movement of the impressive instrument.

"The high magnification and the small field-of-view will make pointing difficult. I suggest we implement a scanning algorithm." Zantor continued to type. Sarah looked over at him and began to laugh. He sat back and folded his arms with a smirk. "Would you please share with me the reason that you find me so amusing?"

Sarah laughed even harder. "Oh, Zantor! It's both of us! Do you realize that we can't help but turn what should be a recreational activity into a research project?"

Zantor considered that. "I suppose it is true that our relationship has been primarily a working one."

"If work is this much fun, what will play be like?" asked Sarah mischievously.

"Well, if you are secure in your own definition of recreation," said Zantor, smiling, "there is no reason not to proceed."

"I agree!" said Sarah as she turned back to the console and rubbed her hands together. "So, this search algorithm will stop when it detects something?"

"It should be unmistakable," said Zantor. "This telescope is not suited to local targets, so the Eagle should overfill the field-of-view." They sat silently for a few minutes and watched the display change from one star field to another. Zantor finally spoke up. "We could just contact Alpha."

"That would be too easy!" laughed Sarah. She pointed at the display. "Anyway, there's Alan."

"His Eagle is making a strange approach." Zantor leaned toward the display, his brow furrowed. After a few more seconds, he said, "That is not an Eagle configuration." The tracking program continued to follow the growing image on the display. The ship was long, like an Eagle, but it had a strange, asymmetric shape.

"Zantor..." Sarah's voice was shaking as she looked at the strange ship that now filled the display. She fumbled for her commlock. "You're right. We should contact Alpha."

"No, wait!" said Zantor, holding up his hand. His hands began to fly over the control panel. The ship disappeared from the display and the observatory rumbled as the telescope and the dome moved back to their stowed positions.

Sarah watched him. "What are you doing?"

"Since we do not know their intentions, we should create the illusion of a deserted facility, if it is not already too late," said Zantor calmly. "This may be why Alpha has not contacted us, and any attempt to contact Alpha will only alert the strangers to our presence." He finished stowing the telescope and stood up. "We must shut down the power to this facility."

"But what about life support?" asked Sarah warily.

Zantor was already heading to the power room. "We can survive for hours with the residual oxygen and heat," he said over his shoulder. "We must hope that the heat goes unnoticed." He entered the power room, inspected the controls, and began pulling levers. The lights went out. The hum of the power units had not been noticeable before, but its absence left a frightening silence in its place, especially in combination with the absence of light.

"Zantor!" Sarah was terrified by the sudden blackness and she instinctively reached her hands out. She was calmed by the feeling of Zantor's hands closing around hers.

"I am here," came his low, reassuring voice as he took her in his arms.

"Can't we go to a room with viewports?" Sarah asked, trying to steady her voice. She held on to him tightly.

"This room is the most interior," Zantor replied. "We do not know what sort of scanning technology that ship might have, but this room will shield our life signatures more than any other." With one arm around Sarah, Zantor used his other arm to feel his way over to a wall. He sat down on the floor with his back to the wall. Sarah snuggled close, under his arm.

"Now what?" she whispered.

Zantor thought for a moment. "We can only wait for them to pass. I do not think they will try to enter. By deactivating the power, we have left them no means for accessing the boarding tube."

Sarah shuddered as a thought came to mind. "What if they blast their way in?"

Zantor stroked her hair. "We must address what is in our abilities to address. To worry about what we have no control over is a waste of our energy. We will allow Alpha to act first."

"I'm glad that we're finally acting married," Sarah said as she laid her head on his shoulder.

David Kano shook his head at the latest printout. "All base systems are normal. Whatever they are doing is crippling communication and scanner systems only."

"Well, how are we supposed to talk to them if they jam our communications?" asked Paul Morrow, crossing his arms over his chest in frustration.

"Maybe they don't want to talk." Commander Koenig's comment sent a chill through Main Mission. He leaned on the console in front of him and squinted slightly at the main viewscreen. There was a great deal of interference on the video signal, but the shapes of the ships were still discernible. "Kano, have Computer see if any of those configurations correlate with anything we've encountered before." Kano and Kami turned to the keypads on Main Computer and began to busily type.

"Commander!" Sandra Benes spoke up from her console. "Even with the interference, sensors are indicating another ship approaching from the far side."

"Direction?" asked Koenig as he moved behind her.

"It has come from the west," answered Sandra.

Koenig glanced at Professor Bergman, who was standing nearby. "That's one from each direction," said Bergman, stroking his chin. "It would seem that those four ships wanted to survey the Moon on their way here."

"Professor," said Sandra as she frowned at the numbers in front of her. "This is interesting. If I extrapolate the available data on the four trajectories backwards, they converge at the Nuclear Waste Disposal Area 2 site." She looked up at Bergman.

"Well, John, it seems they took notice of our radioactive crater before they took notice of Alpha," said Bergman.

"But Victor, what about the communications?" Koenig held his hands out. "It doesn't make any sense."

"Commander!" David Kano hurried down the steps from Main Computer with a printout in hand. He handed it to Koenig.

Koenig scanned the printout and then looked up in surprise. "Oh, come on, Kano! This must be a joke!"

"Computer does not joke," said Kano indignantly. "She has determined with 84% certainty that part of that one ship matches the configuration of the Ultra Probe."

Zantor and Sarah made their way into the living quarters of the observatory. The now powered-down facility was growing colder. They had sat in the dark for half an hour, which they conceded was not long enough, but they were overcome with curiosity.

"I don't see anything," said Sarah as she scanned the sky outside the viewports.

"Unfortunately, we do not have a 360 degree view," said Zantor warily. "And Alpha still has not contacted us."

Sarah turned around and rubbed her eyes. "Is there some way we can contact them?" She took her hand away and looked at Zantor. "I mean, either they are unable or unwilling to use normal communications. Is there an alternative?"

Zantor paced the room. "If Alpha currently has visitors of unknown intentions, then we must be careful not to alert them to our presence or to complicate matters for the Commander."

"If those visitors still don't know we are here," said Sarah slowly, "and if they do not have good intentions, then maybe we could help."

"How?" asked Zantor, intrigued.

Sarah gestured toward the wall behind Zantor. He turned around. On it was a map of the local lunar surface. The location of the observatory was noted by a dome symbol. He moved closer to the map for a better look. Near the observatory symbol was a triangle. "Now what is that?" he mused.

"I did some browsing on the computer yesterday about this facility." Sarah walked up beside Zantor. "I found out that this facility was not built purely for research. It was built to search for and monitor near-Earth objects...NEOs," she said, pointing to the triangle, "and over here is the contingency plan for a collision course."

All those in Main Mission were now staring at David Kano. Bergman spoke up. "David, did you say that part of that ship matches the Ultra Probe?"

"Yes, Professor," answered Kano. "It is as if they took part of the Ultra Probe and attached it to another vessel."

Morrow looked up at Koenig. "There were many other ships besides the Ultra Probe in that graveyard."

Koenig nodded, remembering the bizarre grouping of derelict spaceships adrift in space. His colleague and friend Tony Cellini had served on the Ultra Probe mission, encountering those ships and the dragon that inhabited them. He had been the only survivor of the mission, and those on Alpha doubted his sanity when he went to face his monster again, just as his sanity had been doubted upon his return to Earth years before. He died fighting the dragon, which Koenig had later killed, finding its one vulnerable spot. However, sensors never did register life from that creature, so the ships were quickly abandoned since it was not known if the dragon really was dead. They had their answer now, thought Koenig. It appeared that someone had successfully salvaged the Ultra Probe. "Paul, do your best to clean up that video signal. Kano, call up the sensor logs from our encounter with the ship graveyard. See if any of those ships are represented."

"That is not necessary, Commander Koenig." The voice rang through Main Mission, the communication system now receiving perfectly.

Koenig had his back to the main viewer. He rolled his eyes. "Must they always address me by name?" he whispered in frustration before he turned around. Kano smirked and then looked up at the face on the screen. The face looked somewhat human.

"And may I ask with whom I am speaking?" asked Koenig evenly as he turned to face the main viewer.

"I read the Alpha logs," said Zantor, "and that facility was never mentioned at the time the Moon was on a collision course with an asteroid."

Sarah shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe it was too big for a single shot."

Just then, their commlocks sprung to life. "That is not necessary, Commander Koenig." Sarah jumped at the sound of the voice and almost dropped her commlock as she fumbled for it. "I am Gablan. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

Zantor looked at the face on his commlock. "I believe that we are hearing one side of a conversation between this being and Commander Koenig."

The face on the commlock nodded a few times and then spoke again. "Oh, yes, we are sorry for the...misunderstanding. We preferred to make our assessment before allowing contact. My associates and I noticed that a great tragedy has taken place here." Gablan's eyes narrowed as he spoke. "We therefore claim the salvage rights."

Sarah closed her eyes and imagined the response of Commander Koenig that she could not hear. Gablan spoke again. "Commander, to interfere with our operation would be a violation of salvage protocols."

Sarah grew frustrated. "Oh please! He's making that up!" She began to pace the room. "This is crazy! I can't believe were stuck here listening to some lunatic scavenger!"

Gablan's voice was now harsh. "Commander, I trust that was a sufficient demonstration of our resolve. Do not try to launch any more Eagles." The face on the commlocks grew smug. "Destroying your Eagles will limit the return from our salvage operation."

"They're shooting at Alpha!" Sarah exclaimed. "We've got to get to the missile facility!"

"Can a launch not be controlled remotely?" asked Zantor.

"I read that launches can only take place from the control room," answered Sarah. "They wanted to keep the facility low profile and they also didn't want to risk an accidental launch."

"I wonder if the facility is even operational," said Zantor.

Sarah shook her head, "I don't know, but we have to find out." She looked up at Zantor and stood on her toes, reaching up with her hand and pretending to measure his height. "Do you think you can cram yourself into a spacesuit?"

Koenig was livid. "Gablan! You have no rights here! Stop firing at my ships!"

Morrow leaned over to Koenig. "Commander," he said, his voice low, "they took out Launch Pad Four as well as the Eagle. They've got the high ground. We can't put any more at risk or we'll lose our launch capability as well as our people."

Koenig pursed his lips and turned his back to the main viewer. He whispered, "Paul, I'm going to buy us some time. Now that the scanners are working, you and Kano look for vulnerabilities we can exploit. Anything!" He turned around and looked up at the smug face on the main viewer. "Alright, Gablan. You have me at a disadvantage. Destroying hurts us both." Koenig strolled closer to the main viewer. "I propose a dialog for resolving this situation peacefully."

"Not long ago you were terrified as we hid in the observatory. Now you are running on the surface of the Moon." The largest spacesuit in the observatory was still rather tight, but Zantor was still able to take long strides in the low lunar gravity. "This reversal of emotional polarity appears to be a common occurrence for you."

"OK, I admit I don't handle alien contact very well." Sarah said, breathing heavily as she tried to keep up with Zantor. "I'd like to think that I behaved a bit better once I got to know you." She paused to take a breath. "As for this Gablan, I don't think I want to get to know him."

Zantor looked down at his commlock. "We need to alter our course slightly to the left." He looked up. "The missile facility should be beyond that hill."

Sarah had settled into a skipping rhythm that seemed to give better results, but she was still having difficulty catching her breath "I've always wanted to do this," Sarah exhaled and inhaled. "But I didn't know that objects on the Moon are not closer than they appear," she added morosely.

"Excuse me?" said Zantor.

"Just a joke. It didn't seem so far on the map." Sarah was wheezing slightly.

Zantor stopped and turned around. "I am going to adjust your air mixture."

Sarah was grateful for a chance to stop. "I'm probably out of shape." She took a breath and coughed, momentarily fogging her faceplate. "I haven't exercised much since I came to Alpha. I've been too busy."

Zantor finished adjusting the settings of Sarah's spacesuit and put his faceplate to hers. "We are well over half way there, so we should continue to the missile site. I am concerned about your condition."

Sarah tried to smile, although her heart was still beating hard. "I'll be fine. Let's keep going."

Astronauts Alan Carter and Pete Johnson ran down the corridor to Launch Pad Four. Their Eagle had been in the process of being raised at Launch Pad One at the time of the attack. All Eagles were immediately lowered, and the two were quickly trying to make their way to Launch Pad Four to check on their colleagues.

They rounded a corner and were stopped by rubble and by Doctor Matthias.

"Bob, we've got to help them!" Carter said, trying to pass.

"Alan," Matthias put a hand on his arm. "The Eagle was completely destroyed." Carter's expression became tortured. Johnson squeezed his eyes shut and slowly exhaled. Each colleague lost since Breakaway was one too many. Matthias quickly continued, "We don't know how many were caught when this ceiling collapsed. You can help them but we have to proceed carefully."

"We're on it," chimed in Johnson as he began to move fallen ceiling panels, relieved to be able to do something.

Carter moved in to help as he noticed Doctor Russell nearby treating the Launch Pad coordinator who had blood streaming from a head wound. He shook his head in frustration, wishing he had been able to launch and deal with the killers himself.

Sarah sat doubled over. "So, it was the suit and not me?" she groaned.

"Apparently," said Zantor as he finished his inspection of the suit and tossed it to the floor. "These observatory suits most likely have not been actively maintained since the Moon broke away from Earth." He moved over to Sarah and ran his hand up and down her back. "How are you doing?"

She looked up and gave a half-hearted smile. "Like someone once said, I have done better." She hung her head. "Don't worry about me," she said, her voice muffled. "See if we can do anything to help Alpha."

The control room for the missile facility was quite small, as was the entire facility. Unlike the observatory, it had no living quarters or Eagle landing pad. Access was through an airlock. Zantor had activated the environmental system and had been relieved to find that the small reactor powering the facility was still in working order, especially since Sarah's suit had appeared to be failing. He moved to the control computer and began to type. A series of numbers were displayed on the terminal before him. "According to the control computer, there are seven missiles." He turned toward Sarah. "If these missiles have been maintained at the same level as your spacesuit, we may as well have zero."

Sarah looked up and took a deep breath. "We have no choice." She wearily stood up and moved to a chair next to Zantor. "We need coordinates and the Commander's permission before we try anything. I have an idea for contacting Alpha without arousing suspicion."

David Kano's fingers flew over the orange keys on one of the panels of Main Computer. A paper tape appeared from a nearby slot. He tore it off and frowned when he read it. Computer was not giving him a solution. He ran his hands over his face as he pondered which algorithm to try next. Computer then made its characteristic tones, indicating that it needed attention. Kano's hands fell away from his face. "Now, what's this?" he asked himself as he noticed another strip of paper emerging from the slot. He tore it off and squinted at it for a moment. Then his eyes grew wide. He caught Morrow's attention.

The Commander was still keeping Gablan busy. He sensed that this scavenger liked the sound of his own voice and managed to give him the opportunity to launch into time-consuming monologues in order to buy time. Distracting Gablan meant that he had to rely on the rest of the Main Mission staff to come up with a solution.

Morrow quickly made his way up the steps to Main Computer. "Paul," said Kano softly, "Computer has picked up something on the SETI frequencies."

Morrow was visibly surprised. "You mean that blasted search program is still running?" He shook his head in distaste. "The search for extraterrestrial intelligence...a lot of good it did us! It would have helped to have been prepared for something like this before Breakaway!"

"I know, Paul, but listen," Kano pleaded impatiently. "Pulses in the SETI band were bounced off one of our own satellites. They probably just look like noise to that Gablan." He showed the printout to Morrow. "They're coming from the far side."

Another printout appeared and Kano ripped it off. "Computer has analyzed the pulses." He smiled as he looked at the printout. "It's old Morse Code, and it's from Sarah Andrew."

Morrow shook his head. "We can't help them right now because we can't help ourselves."

"No, no, they want to help us," Kano said as he scanned the printout. "They're no longer at the observatory." He looked at Morrow. "They're at the NEO facility."

Morrow began to nod slowly as Kano relayed the remainder of the message. "Prepare to respond," he said as he descended the steps and moved behind Commander Koenig.

"Excuse me a minute, Gablan," said Koenig, trying to feign an apologetic look. "What have you got, Paul," he whispered as he turned his back to the main viewer.

"Sarah Andrew and Zantor are waiting for coordinates and authorization to fire an NEO missile at one of the ships," whispered Morrow. "The scavengers have an advantage over our Eagles since they are directly above us, but they don't know about the NEO facility."

Koenig nodded grimly and turned around. "Gablan, we do not recognize your salvage claim. It is only fair to warn you that any attempt to act on that claim will be met with force."

Gablan laughed, "Commander, I believe we are far beyond that!"

Koenig shook his head in frustration, "Gablan, I am giving you a chance to leave. Please take it before we have to destroy your ships."

"Enough, Commander," said Gablan, determined. "We are coming down. Prepare to assist us."

"Then it's on your head." Koenig nodded across the room to Kano.

Sarah had rested her head in her hands and had begun to doze from exhaustion when a series of beeps roused her. She looked over at Zantor. "What is it?"

Zantor looked at his display. "It worked. Alpha is responding in the same manner." He fell silent as he read the text that was being displayed before him. He sat back.

"What did they say," asked Sarah as she sat up straight.

Zantor looked over at her. "We have been authorized to destroy one of the spacecraft." He folded his hands on the console before him. "I do not like the idea of taking life without understanding the complete situation."

Sarah considered that. "Well, we have to trust that Alpha does understand it."

Zantor paused for a moment. "Very well," he finally agreed. He input the coordinates sent by Alpha. "Commencing launch sequence. Missile one." Nothing happened. He looked at Sarah. "This situation may be worse than that of your spacesuit."

"Try another," said Sarah, worried.

"Commencing launch sequence. Missile two." Zantor pressed the launch key. The building shuddered slightly. "Missile away."

Sarah gave a sigh of relief. "I hope that the tracking system works."

Gablan's voice rang out through Main Mission. "What? From where?" He turned his back, apparently forgetting to break the connection. "Fire on it!" He moved out of view, but his voice could still be heard. "Move the ships! Move the ships!"

Koenig and Morrow moved back around to Morrow's station. "Paul, bring up those ships on the main viewer." The image on the main viewer changed to a view of the four spaceships. This was their first look at the ships without the interference that had been experienced earlier. The ships were indeed strange in appearance. They looked like spacecraft versions of Frankenstein's monster, lacking any symmetry or elegance since they were simply parts of other ships spliced together. The familiar appearance of the Ultra Probe made the scene seem all the more grotesque. Suddenly, one of the ships flared up into a bright ball of light, causing all in Main Mission to look down until the viewer could compensate.

As the light died away, three ships were seen moving away from the expanding shell of debris that had been the fourth ship. They fell into a formation and began to move away from their position over Alpha. "Alien vessels are moving toward orbital reference 249," said Sandra. She looked up at Koenig. "They're leaving." There was a collective sigh of relief throughout Main mission.

Koenig nodded. "Kano, signal Captain Zantor and Dr. Andrew that they can stand down. Paul, wait until those ships are out of range and then send Alan to the NEO facility." He looked at the retreating ships on the main viewer and shook his head. "What a waste!" He started toward the door next to the viewer. "Paul, I'm going to get a casualty update from Dr. Russell and assess the damage to Launch Pad Four myself."

"Very good, sir," said Morrow as he began to field reports from around Alpha.

"Alan, I don't have a suit to go from the airlock to the Eagle," said Sarah to the face displayed before her.

"No problem," smiled Carter. "I'll bring a new one. They sure made things difficult by leaving off an access tube."

"Well, now that we're no longer in Earth orbit, maybe it's time to forget the security protocols and remotely operate this place." Sarah sat back as Alan acknowledged and cut the connection. "Do you think we did the right thing?" she asked Zantor.

"By launching only one missile, casualties were minimized." He turned to her. "Alan said that the Commander did gave fair warning."

Sarah's expression became grim. "He also said that those lunatics killed four of our people."

Zantor watched as Sarah leaned on the console and placed her face in her hands. "Did you know the people that he mentioned?" he asked gently.

"No, that's the problem!" she answered in frustration, her voice breaking. She sat back and looked at Zantor. "Is it right that we don't even take the time to get to know the people that we're trying to help?"

Zantor moved closer and placed an arm around Sarah. "They understand," he assured, "that we are working to bring them home."

Sarah shook her head. "Not hard enough." She wiped her eyes and gave Zantor a weary smile. "Well, then, let's get back to it."

Chapter 11 - Reflection

Sarah Andrew handed Victor Bergman a data disk. "Here are the latest statistics, Professor." She put her hand to her mouth and mockingly whispered, "Don't tell David, but I think you stand a better chance of finding a pattern than Computer does!"

Bergman chuckled at the comment. "Well, I daresay Computer has a difficult time dealing with new physics." He held the disk up and said, "Thank you for producing this so quickly. I'll get to work on it straight away."

"No problem, Professor," smiled Sarah. "I'm anxious to learn about this new physics that we're exploiting!"

Bergman smiled and turned to leave. He noticed Zantor working on the new, larger Backdoor entrance and Jim Haines sitting at a terminal next to the original entrance on the optical table. "Jim, I see you're working on Backdoor now?"

Jim looked up and nodded. "Yes, Professor. I finally finished the download and archival of the Voyager 1 black box data. Everyone in Astrophysics acted as if I had presented them with the Grand Unification Theory!"

Bergman smiled. "Ah, I would imagine."

"I asked Dr. Andrew if this could be my next assignment. With Ernst Linden gone..." Haines paused a moment. "I mean, with Ernst Queller gone and with the Voyager 1 tasks complete, I wanted to move on to something different."

"I understand," said Bergman, patting him on the shoulder.

Haines turned back to his terminal. "Oh, now this is interesting." He called over his shoulder, "Dr. Andrew, here is that energy pattern you said to look for, but there is a great deal of noise superimposed on it."

As Sarah moved over to take a look, Bergman decided to leave them to their work and move on to his. Something nagged at the back of his mind as he left the lab and started down the corridor. He stopped for a moment and tapped his pen against his chin. His expression became grim as he turned around and bolted back toward the Backdoor lab.

"Shut it down! Shut it down!" Sarah and Jim looked up with surprise as Bergman burst back into the lab.

"Do it quickly!" Sarah told Jim, knowing better than to second-guess the professor. As Bergman breathed a sigh of relief Sarah asked, "So, what was that all about?"

"You are searching for Earth, aren't you?" asked Bergman. Zantor had now moved closer to learn the cause of the commotion.

"Yes," Sarah answered. "We figured that the small Backdoor could be put to that task while Zantor is building the larger entrance. Why?"

Bergman ran a hand over his balding scalp. "Well, this is simply a theory, but after studying the similarities between the energy signatures of my power converters and the Kaldorian generator, I believe it is possible that some astrophysical sources may present comparable energy signatures as well."

Sarah's eyes grew wide. "You mean we might open Backdoor to something like a black sun?"

"Oh, not a black sun." Bergman shook his head and Sarah relaxed. "More like a neutron star or a pulsar."

Sarah's jaw dropped. Haines stood up. "Are you telling me you ran in here to stop me from opening Backdoor to a neutron star?"

Bergman held up a hand. "Now, Jim, I don't know for sure. I am only theorizing that areas around such objects might resonate with Backdoor."

"And Alpha would be flooded with deadly radiation," finished Zantor.

Sarah ran her hand over her face. "Oh my goodness." She turned to Bergman. "The noise on the signal. You think that indicated a natural source?"

"Well, it certainly brought the theory back to my mind," said Bergman. "I think it's time to test it. Jim, hook up a radiation sensor right in front of where Backdoor first opens." He looked to Zantor. "If we open the doorway a few microns, we can check the radiation first."

"It would seem to be a sufficient precaution," mused Zantor. Sarah and Haines exchanged glances, silently communicating misgivings.

"Wait a minute," said Sarah. "Are you sure that will be safe enough?"

"We will proceed with caution," assured Bergman.

The four huddled around Haines' terminal, which now displayed the output of the hastily placed radiation detector. "OK, Jim, power up at your previous setting," said Sarah. The radiation reading immediately became nonzero. It was not anything dangerous, but they all looked at each other with concern. "Wait a second," said Sarah as she sat at the terminal next to Jim and quickly altered a subroutine. A new number appeared on Jim's display. "OK, that should be a good estimate of the diameter of the opening based on the resonance with whatever we locked onto. The more we maximize the resonance, the more we open Backdoor."

"The current opening is point zero zero two microns," said Zantor. "I will make a very slight adjustment to see how the radiation changes." Sarah nodded and watched the number on Haines' display. The radiation number began to rise.

"Alright, Zantor. That's enough," said Bergman. He stroked his chin. "We're at two microns and the radiation level has already risen considerably"

Haines let out his breath slowly as the full realization hit him. "I almost killed everyone," he said hoarsely.

"Oh, Jim, Backdoor would have been destroyed first." Sarah was feeling the full force of the 'what ifs' as well. "Professor..." she began with uncertainty.

"My dear, it will all be fine," assured Bergman. "You now know how to safely search, and I need to figure out how to map these resonances to three dimensional space." Bergman smiled and walked out of the room as if nothing had happened. The others just stared.

"Dr. Andrew, would you mind if I took a break?" asked Haines, still reeling.

"No. Take your time." Sarah watched him leave and turned to Zantor. "How in the world did I not kill myself or anyone else after all this time?" She put her hands over her mouth and closed her eyes.

Zantor wrapped his arms around her and she buried her face in his chest. She could feel his chest resonate at the low frequencies of his voice as he spoke. "You and many others here believe in a superior being that has been watching over Alpha." He considered that statement. "It would explain a lot."

Chapter 12 - Crossroad

Niyla stood up and stretched when Sarah entered the lab. She had volunteered to help with the search for Earth when she was not on duty in Medical Center, but she was looking forward to taking a break from the monotonous activity. "Nothing again...only astrophysical sources. I am almost finished with Jim's latest frequency range." She sat back down and began adjusting the frequency dial again.

Sarah walked to the optical table. Jim Haines looked up from his computer maps and asked, "How did you find Alpha, anyway?"

Sarah shrugged and said, "I just got lucky. I searched like we're searching now, with absolutely no understanding of how the resonance frequencies relate to spatial coordinates." She laughed a humorless laugh. "Just like now!"

As Niyla turned the dial, the nearby oscilloscope began to register the type of signal she was searching for. She did not think anything of it. So many sources seemed to have the ability to generate the same energy signature as the Bergman Spheres that she had ceased to feel any excitement about new possibilities. She opened Backdoor a few microns, allowing it to send through a just a little more radiation into the detector. Previously, the level would spike, indicating a source too strong to be the generator they were seeking, and once again it would be attributed to an astrophysical source. For the first time, though, there was no spike. Only a small increase registered on the meter. She raised her eyebrows and looked over at Sarah. Sarah walked over, looked at the reading on the meter and said, "Open Backdoor to 10 microns." Niyla complied and the needle on the meter moved up only slightly. Sarah gave an excited look to Niyla and said, "Maybe we'll get lucky again! Open Backdoor to six centimeters and use the viewer. Go slowly just in case." Haines abandoned his computer and moved closer.

Niyla slowly dialed up an increase in the size of the Backdoor opening, keeping her eyes on the energy meter. Satisfied that the level was still safe and low, she moved the detector away from Backdoor and placed a hooded viewer in front of it, allowing the small lens to extend just beyond the threshold, where it disappeared. Sarah noticed her surprised reaction and commented, "Pretty wild, isn't it?" Niyla nodded and then looked up at her. "Go ahead," encouraged Sarah, "You put in all of the work, so you should get the first look at whatever is on the other side."

"How will I know if it is Earth?" Niyla said as she lowered her face to the viewer. Suddenly, she pulled back and stood up, wide-eyed.

"What is it?" asked Haines excitedly.

When Niyla didn't reply, Sarah looked at Haines and tilted her head toward Niyla. Picking up on the cue, Haines put an arm around Niyla and guided her out of the way and over to one of the resin chairs. Remembering her own initial terror when she did not find what she was expecting, Sarah silently scolded herself for putting Niyla at risk as she leaned down to look through the viewer and see for herself what shocked Niyla so thoroughly. She stared for a long moment.

Haines was beside himself. "Come on, what is it?"

Sarah looked over at Haines with a puzzled look. "I'm not sure..." She stood still for a moment, frowning and lost in thought. She then pulled out her commlock, punched a button and said, "Alan Carter, please."

Commander Koenig leaned on the edge of his desk. "We will need to revise Operation Exodus."

Zantor looked up from the sofa in the Commander's sitting area. "Operation Exodus? Ah, yes. I have read about that in your records."

Koenig walked down the stairs and sat in the chair opposite Zantor. "Yes, it's the plan for total evacuation of Moonbase Alpha. Originally, it was a contingency plan to evacuate to Earth in an emergency...such as a problem with the nuclear waste disposal areas." Koenig shook his head. "We thought we were far beyond that version when we developed a three-phase plan to handle reconnaissance of and evacuation to a habitable world. Now, we need to plan how to quickly send all Alpha personnel and critical equipment through a narrow doorway...on a moment's notice!"

Zantor nodded, "If Earth is found, it would be wise to take quick advantage of the opportunity. Our understanding of the physics behind Backdoor is still so poor that we simply do not know what to expect when opening it over such a large distance. It might not stay open for long, or it might stay open indefinitely."

Koenig stood up and walked to the viewports along his office. "I don't know if we'll ever find Earth, but if we do, I want us to be ready." He rested an elbow on the viewport sill and turned toward Zantor. "I am going to set up a task force to plan a version of Operation Exodus for a Backdoor contingency. We will need to assemble and move personnel efficiently. Kano can arm an Operation Exodus alarm button in your lab for when the time comes, and we will run drills." Koenig's face became grim. "Captain, I do have to say that I am reluctant to raise false hope."

"I understand completely," said Zantor. "However, although there were many plans to cure the sterility that was overtaking Kaldor before the final plan was chosen," he said thoughtfully, "we always did have a plan."

Koenig considered that. "You're saying that we must always have something to hope for."

"And I do not believe that Backdoor has yet been identified as a false hope," finished Zantor.

"Yes, Captain," agreed Koenig. He turned back to the Operation Exodus topic. "If we do evacuate to Earth through Backdoor, we will not need supplies, but we will need to bring some equipment. A backup of Main Computer, for instance. What we've learned about other planets, the black sun, space phenomena, as well as the Voyager 1 database...the knowledge would be invaluable to Earth. And, it would give meaning to all that we've been through." Koenig thought of the Alphans who had died during Breakaway and after. He wanted to honor their memories by doing more than just surviving. He looked over at Zantor. "The computer from your ship is also invaluable. Would it fit through Backdoor, or would a data backup have to be performed?"

Zantor was about to respond when his commlock beeped. He activated it to find Sarah's face on the display. She looked like she had been crying, but she was smiling. "Zantor, you've got to come to the lab right away!"

Zantor glanced at Koenig and then back at his commlock. "Can it wait a few more minutes? The Commander and I are having our weekly meeting."

Sarah looked like she was practically jumping up and down when she responded, "No, it can't wait! And bring the Commander. He's going to have to tell us what to do."

Koenig walked over to the commpost and tapped a button, producing an image of Sarah on the black-and-white display. "Is it Earth?" he asked.

Sarah shook her head but was still smiling. She looked like a child impatient for presents on Christmas day. "No, no, it's not Earth. Please, both of you...just come here right away!"

Koenig raised his eyebrows and joked to Zantor, "I thought I was in command here. This must be important if she's giving the orders now."

Zantor smiled and stood up. "We're on our way," he said.

Sarah replied, "Good! Hurry!" and cut the connection.

Zantor looked at Koenig with amusement. Koenig shrugged his shoulders and said as he headed toward the door, "She's your wife."

As the door to the Backdoor laboratory opened, Koenig and Zantor were met with a bizarre sight. The lights were off, and the room was illuminated only by the light from the large viewscreen at the end of the room. Niyla was sitting on the steps with her face in her hands, quietly sobbing. Jim Haines, with his back to the door, was busily working on something at the optical table. Sarah was standing before the large viewscreen smiling and wiping away tears. She looked to the door as Koenig and Zantor entered. She motioned them over excitedly. Zantor came over to stand by her, while Koenig hung back to observe.

Sarah smiled at Zantor and motioned to the viewscreen. "Look," she said, so Zantor obliged.

On the viewscreen he saw an image of his ship with he and his crew at their travel positions. No doubt it was taken during the boarding of his ship by the Alphans months ago. "I do not understand," he said, turning to her.

She gazed up into his eyes for a moment and gave him a mischievous smile. "Look again," she said softly, her voice wavering. Zantor looked at her, incredulous. She was bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet with a big smile, yet she looked like she was going to burst into tears at any moment. Zantor wanted to press her for the information, but decided to play along and walked toward the viewscreen for a closer look.

Koenig watched Zantor squint at the viewscreen, trying to see what Sarah would not simply tell him about directly. Suddenly, Zantor gasped and his eyes opened wide. He looked back at Sarah, who nodded and smiled widely, and then let out a sob. He turned back to the screen, his mouth hanging open. Sarah walked up behind him and put her hand on his shoulder as he stared again at the viewscreen. A moment later, Zantor spun around, picked her up and whirled her around, laughing. Setting her down, he took her face in his hands and kissed her deeply. Koenig raised his eyebrows. Zantor was normally quite reserved in public, so this type of display from him was all the more intriguing. Koenig ruled out imminent danger to Alpha as the reason they were summoned here so quickly, but his patience was beginning to wear thin. He descended the steps to get a closer look for himself.

Koenig examined the scene on the screen, ignoring the emotional display behind him. The ship looked just like it did the day he first stepped onto it. There was nothing unusual. Then, he saw it, and his jaw dropped. The Kaldorian in the captiain's garb was not Zantor. The ship on the screen was not the one that he had boarded. It was not the one sitting in the Eagle hangar bay. He whirled around to face the others. "This is live?" It was more a statement than a question.

Sarah nodded and opened her mouth to say something, and then caught herself, overcome with emotion. Zantor pulled her close as she hid her face his chest, and he said to Koenig, "Commander, I..." He paused for a moment, and then continued, his voice hoarse and shaky. "This find is a great encouragement to me and to my crew. We submit to your authority in terms of how to proceed beyond this point." Koenig could read between the lines of Zantor's carefully chosen words, and had he been in the same position, he would have had the same desire. Zantor desperately wanted to contact his people.

"She asked if the generator on the Kaldorian ship was running. I told her we removed it for study weeks ago. Then she screamed and disconnected me!" Alan gestured to the viewscreen, looking incredulous. "You're telling me there's another Kaldorian ship?"

"There were twenty ships other than ours that launched from Kaldor," Zantor said calmly. "We simply were not expecting to ever encounter any of them."

The emergency command conference had been hastily convened in the Backdoor laboratory. Sandra Benes sat in one of the resin chairs with Paul Morrow leaning on one of the arms. Victor Bergman and Helena Russell shared a sofa. David Kano stood near the viewscreen, punching buttons and greatly improving the quality of the image being sent by the Backdoor camera. Alan Carter paced back and forth in front of Zantor near the steps. Sarah Andrew and Jim Haines sat at the terminals trying to monitor both the status of Backdoor and the impromptu meeting. The four Kaldorian crewmembers stood at the back of the room, keeping quiet yet hanging on every word of the discussion.

Koenig stepped in front of the viewscreen. "We have encountered another Kaldorian ship, and I want options."

"Options? Paul replied with a look of concern. "Why the rush, Commander? They've been traveling for hundreds of years. What difference will a little more time make?"

Zantor stepped forward. "We cannot maintain Backdoor indefinitely, and if we break the connection to this ship, we may not be able to establish it again."

Carter stopped pacing and asked, "Why not?"

Sarah chimed in from her terminal. "Because although Backdoor works, we still don't understand why it works, and we don't know how to relate the way we tune it to any sort of spatial coordinate system." She caught herself. Even though she was speaking to a very technically-minded group of people, she realized that hiding the bottom line in technical jargon was unproductive. "Stanton and his goons reopened Backdoor quick enough to be successful. If we lose this ship, we don't know if we'll be able to ever find it again."

Bergman spoke up from the sofa. "Now, I've been giving that issue some thought and I need to access your data records from your recent searches for Earth. However, the current situation is far too pressing to warrant any theoretical study right now."

Koenig brought focus back to the meeting. "All that being said, we are still left with the current situation. We have a Backdoor connection to a Kaldorian ship and I want all options on the table now. We could do nothing and move on with the knowledge that the Kaldorians are still on their journey, but I know that's not good enough for our Kaldorian Alphans, nor should it be for the rest of us."

Kano turned around from where he was adjusting the viewer settings. "Well, at the very least we should leave them a note," he said dryly.

Koenig nodded and responded, "Yes, a message would at least let them know how Zantor's crew have fared. More options."

Helena joined the discussion. "Can we awaken them somehow in order to make direct contact?"

Zantor addressed the question. "I cannot wake them remotely. I would need to access their computer directly." He furrowed his brow. "The current Backdoor is far too small to walk through, but I could just fit though it head first..."

"Well if that's the case, let's see if they want to join us." All eyes turned to Carter. "Well, why not?" he asked, and then gestured toward the silent Kaldorians. "Ramar over there has already helped to improve Eagle fuel efficiency, and with his other project we may be looking at faster top speeds within months. He has been working very hard, and I know the same can be said for the rest of the Kaldorians. If their friends are anything like them, then I say lets put out the welcome mat."

"But then what about the next time?" asked Morrow in frustration. "You heard Captain Zantor. There are nineteen more of these Kaldorian ships out there. What if we keep finding them while we search for Earth? Do we put out the welcome mat for all of them? Our life support system and infrastructure can't handle that!"

Koenig put his hands up, sensing the growing discomfort in the room and wanting to keep the discussion from turning emotional. "Alright, Paul."

Morrow stopped, suddenly feeling embarrassed as a sideways glance reminded him of the presence of the Kaldorians. "I'm sorry," he said, turning his attention out the viewport across the room. "I only have the best interests of Alpha in mind." Then he looked squarely at the Kaldorians. "All of Alpha."

Koenig nodded in approval. The Kaldorians had been integrated into Alpha and had more than pulled their own weight when it came to contributing to base operations as well as innovation. They were Alphans now, as Morrow had underscored.

"Commander, Paul is correct." Trelm spoke up from the end of the room where the Kaldorians had been observing the command conference. "Having worked directly with the life support system, I understand the delicate balance that is maintained on Alpha. Alpha can support only so many personnel. You are not at full capacity, but you will jeopardize your ability to procreate if you continue to integrate new members into your population."

"Wait a minute," interjected Carter. "What about the search for Earth?" He looked over at Sarah.

Sarah glanced at Zantor. "We are searching for Earth, but there is no guarantee that we will find it." She bowed her head for a second and then looked at Carter. "We could find Earth tomorrow, in a year, or never."

Koenig added, "Any plans we make must be made with the assumption that we will continue on Alpha indefinitely. A return to Earth via the Backdoor or colonization of a habitable world cannot be considered until one or the other is a reality. Sandra, how many more people can Alpha support, within the limits of safety?"

Sandra pulled out a paper report, having been notified of the need when the command conference was hastily assembled. "David and I used Computer to reevaluate the capacity of Alpha when the Kaldorians first arrived. Based on a combination of factors, such as life support capacity, hydroponics productivity, Alpha infrastructure...and the number of deaths since Breakaway..." Sandra paused for a moment and continued, "The current population can be safely exceeded by approximately 30 adults. The number rises for children, but it assumes a mortality rate for adults in order to balance demand on Alpha resources as the children grow."

Everyone in the room considered the number. The six new Kaldorians could easily be accommodated, but that would mean that more than six additional children would have to be taken out of the equation. Koenig walked to the viewscreen and looked once again at the sleeping Kaldorians. Ignoring them would mean that Kaldorian children might be taken out of the equation. The Alphan Kaldorians would not be able to survive beyond a few generations without difficulty, and it was not certain yet whether humans and Kaldorians could reproduce. He glanced at Sarah and then at Zantor. That question may be answered soon enough, he thought to himself. In any case, it was time for a decision.

"All right." Koenig began. "This discussion has highlighted advantages and disadvantages of the different options before us. I propose a balance." He looked around the room at the expectant faces. "We contact the Kaldorian vessel and offer an invitation. They may very well decide to continue their journey, but at least they will learn about our own Kaldorian colleagues. Any additional Kaldorian vessels that are encountered," Koenig looked around the room, noting tension, "will be catalogued as thoroughly as possible for contact in the future. This means that learning how to find objects in space with Backdoor will have to become a high priority. I find this shot-in-the-dark search for Earth unacceptable anyway. Captain Zantor, how do you propose to proceed?"

"I don't know about this. If something goes wrong with Backdoor, we could lose you," Sarah said, distraught. "Maybe you could wake them, hand them a commlock, and come right back?"

"I will be as brief as possible," Zantor assured her. He took her hands in his and looked intently at her. "I have no wish to be separated from you."

Sarah nodded and squeezed his hands. He turned toward the optical table as the command staff, still present, looked on. Jim Haines had quickly built a platform in front of the Backdoor opening. He had managed to find a board on wheels in another lab in the Technical section, and Zantor stretched out on his stomach on top of it. He looked at the Commander, who gave him a nod. Sarah and Haines slowly began to roll Zantor through Backdoor. Once he disappeared, Sarah quickly moved to the large viewscreen. The command staff moved closer as well. Helena Russell put a comforting arm around Sarah. The Kaldorians were huddled close together as they watched the viewscreen.

Zantor could be seen standing up and moving to the suspended animation control station. As he picked up a strange stylus and began touching it to the colored glass cylinders, the lights on the ship brightened and the center column began to pulse with a white light. David Kano quickly compensated for the new level of light on the viewscreen.

Suddenly the six figures in the six suspended animation chambers began to sit up. Alan Carter noticed that Kami had grabbed Trelm's hand, and he realized how overwhelming this moment must be for the Kaldorians.

Zantor's counterpart had gotten to his feet and was eyeing him with an obvious mix of joy and confusion. Zantor could be seen talking quickly and gesturing. Eventually, the face of the other captain took on a serious expression. The other Kaldorians had gathered around, and it caused Sarah some anxiety to no longer have a clear view of Zantor.

Sarah was relieved to finally see Zantor walk around the other Kaldorians and toward the camera. He held up a finger, indicating that more time was needed. Sarah wrung her hands nervously. Behind Zantor, the other Kaldorian crew was obviously conferring. After a few minutes, they turned around to face Zantor. Sarah saw the other captain nod, and she quickly left Helena's side and headed to the Backdoor entrance.

After another agonizingly long minute, a white-haired head appeared through the opening, followed by a pink-clad body on the roller board. Sarah and Jim helped to pull the bewildered Kaldorian through the rest of the way as Niyla and Ramar rushed over. They helped her to her feet and led her over to Kami and Trelm as Sarah quickly sent the roller board back through Backdoor.

The process repeated itself, and the command staff could not help but feel moved as they watched the Kaldorian Alphans tearfully embrace each newcomer. They moved in to help welcome the crew, any misgivings overwhelmed by the excitement of the moment.

Zantor soon appeared to Sarah's relief. She threw her arms around him, thankful that he had made it back. "What about the captain?" she asked.

"He will follow," Zantor said as he watched Haines send the roller board through again. "He must be the last to leave his ship." Sarah nodded in understanding.

Once the captain had come through, Sarah stepped to the terminal and glanced at Zantor. "Any second thoughts?" she asked.

Zantor glanced at the happy group of Kaldorians and shook his head, smiling. "I think not. Shut it down."

Chapter 13 - Correlation

Commander Koenig looked from his desk toward Main Computer with amusement. David Kano was gesturing wildly in a heated discussion with Kami and her counterpart from the second Kaldorian ship. The Kaldorains were nodding calmly as Kano went through his rant, and Koenig knew him well enough to know that he was having the time of his life. The three like-minded computer experts had been creating highly compressed archives of Main Computer and the computer from the Kaldorian ship in the Eagle hangar bay. If and when Operation Exodus commenced, the collective knowledge would be ready to move.

If and when, Koenig thought to himself. The Backdoor team was working hard, but he had recently made the decision to allow births on Alpha by application. There were already many couples on Alpha. The reunion of the Kaldorians seemed to energize their people, because they had all chosen to wed their betrothed in an avalanche of ceremonies. Surprisingly, neither human nor Kaldorian had yet come forward to apply to have a baby. Koenig figured that many were still weighing the pros and cons of having a child on Alpha. He had heard that many were talking to Sue Crawford about her son Jackie, so Koenig assumed that requests would not be far in the future.

If they were to indeed remain on Alpha for an extended period, they were doing well. Over the past month, the second Kaldorian crew had transitioned surprisingly smoothly to life on Alpha. The meeting of human and Kaldorian minds had produced some important achievements. Eagle propulsion efficiency had been increased, in addition to the earlier fuel efficiency improvement. Upgrades to Life Support meant that the arrival of the new Kaldorians would not result in as much of a reduction of possible new births. Two suspended animation chambers had been moved to Medical Center, and one had already been put to use to suspend animation for an Alphan experiencing kidney failure until a donor was found. Things were indeed going well, but it would not take much to upset the delicate balance on Moonbase Alpha. Yet, they had to go on.

Koenig was about to turn back to the reports on his desk when Victor Bergman entered Main Mission. He gave Koenig a smile and held up some papers as he walked up the steps. "Ah, John! Something quite extraordinary!"

Koenig stood and led Bergman to the sitting area behind his desk. "Extraordinary in a good way, I trust?" he asked.

Victor lowered himself onto the sofa and leafed through the papers in his hand, smiling. "John, the universe keeps many secrets from us, but when we are persistent, we can occasionally catch it off guard."

Koenig considered the statement. "Victor, we've seen some things that would have been better left undiscovered."

"Perhaps you're right, John," Bergman conceded. "But sometimes it is worth the risk." He sat forward. "I believe I am close to a breakthrough."

"Backdoor?" asked Koenig, quickly leaving the philosophical discussion behind.

Bergman nodded. "You see, we have been doing experiments with Eagles. We send an Eagle out with one my power converters, " he said while gesturing in the air, "open a door from Alpha, note the Backdoor settings and the Eagle's been very useful. And, we have the settings from that Kaldorian contact."

"What have you found," Koenig asked.

"Well, anything that travels through Backdoor obviously leaves this space and enters another. Think of that other space as two-dimensional, like a piece of fabric stretched out." Berman moved his hands, palms down, like he was smoothing a tablecloth. "Certain energy sources have properties that resonate with that fabric, creating standing waves. Those waves connect the sources over great distances. You see, John, Backdoor opens up a doorway to that space when it can find a complimentary energy source to resonate with, connecting back to this space."

Koenig mulled his friend's comments over in his mind. He appreciated the beauty of the physics, but it was not the breakthrough that he would have preferred to hear about. "Victor, that truly is fascinating, but it doesn't do us much good if we can't find Earth."

"I know, John," smiled Bergman as he stood. "It is only a stepping stone along the path to a solution. I'm on my way to meet with Sarah, Zantor, and Jim right now."

Doctor Matthias looked up from his desk as Jim Haines stepped through the doorway. "Jim! What can I do for you?"

Haines looked uncomfortable as he sat down in a chair. "Well...I'm not even sure why I came." He stood to leave.

"Wait a minute, Jim," said Matthias, holding up a hand. "Please, let's talk about it before you go."

Haines nodded reluctantly and sat back down. "Alright." Matthias could see that he obviously needed to talk, but waited patiently. Haines finally spoke up. "You see, something happened in the lab a while back and I haven't been able to take my mind off of it. I lay awake at night reliving it."

"What happened in the lab, Jim?" asked Matthias.

"I had a close call." Haines pursed his lips, trying to find words. "I almost opened Backdoor to a neutron star or something dreadful like that, and the radiation would have killed us all."

Matthias raised his eyebrows at the troubling news, but kept his professional calm. "You're feeling guilt about that?"

"Well, I suppose," answered Haines, "although I know it wouldn't have been intentional." He rubbed a hand over his eyes as he continued. "I've been thinking about Ernst Queller."

Matthias nodded. Ernst Queller had taken a position in Technical under the name Ernst Linden prior to Breakaway. The Voyager 1 space probe launched a number of years before had utilized a propulsion drive that bore his name, and the Queller drive had prematurely engaged after launch and killed many people, including Jim Haines' parents. "Why do you suppose that Queller has come to mind?"

Haines face took on a look of frustration. "Doctor, I was so angry with him! He lied to me. He lied to everyone!"

Matthias began to see the connection, but he wanted Haines to discover it himself. "Queller died months ago, Jim."

"I know, Doctor. But in the lab..." Haines paused for a moment, and then looked directly at Matthias. "I almost became like him."

"Jim, do you blame Queller for the death of your parents and the others?" Matthias asked.

"Oh, of course I do!" Haines answered quickly. "Or I did," he added with uncertainty. "But now I feel like I've become him, and I hate it!"

Matthias proceeded carefully. "Jim, you blame Queller for the loss of your parents. Also, in a sense you blame Queller for the loss of Linden. It was a double loss, doubling your anger. I think the event in the lab showed you that you are as human as Queller was, and that he was not as evil as you tried to make him out to be." Haines remained silent. Matthias walked around his desk and sat in one of the chairs next to Haines. "Jim, all of our actions have consequences, whether intentional or not. We can walk on eggshells around each other, or we can look inside ourselves, see our own shortcomings, and realize that we have to forgive others."

"Not everyone deserves forgiveness," said Haines.

"Perhaps. But Queller did give his life trying to make up for what he had done," answered Matthias, referring to Queller's suicide dash in Voyager 1 that destroyed three ships intent on the destruction of Alpha. "You are having a difficult time forgiving him, and as a result you cannot forgive yourself for what happened in your lab."

Haines sat for a long moment, then finally nodded. He looked at Matthias. "I really do miss working with Linden."

"Well, then remember Ernst Linden and not Ernst Queller. If you focus on Linden, then maybe you'll be able to cut yourself a little slack." Matthias patted Haines on the shoulder as he stood.

Haines stood up also. "Thanks, Doctor. I was afraid that if I sought out a psych session, I'd end up in padded quarters."

Matthias laughed, "Jim, we've all been through hell and back since we left Earth. If we don't talk about it, we'll all need padded quarters!"

Haines nodded to Doctor Russell as she passed him on the way into Medical Center. "Is everything alright, Bob?" she asked as the door closed behind Haines.

"I think everything will be just fine," answered Matthias, satisfied.

Jim Haines walked into the Backdoor laboratory to find Professor Bergman writing furiously on a clearboard near the viewports. Zantor and Sarah were looking over his shoulder.

"And see..." Bergman said as he continued to write, "the relative three dimensional coordinates...relate to the inverse square...of the laser frequencies...added in quadrature." He stepped back a moment, checking his work. He nodded in satisfaction and turned around. "Ah, Jim! You'll be interested in this."

Haines walked up to the clearboard and eyed it with Sarah and Zantor. "You mean you've solved the spatial coordinate issue?"

Bergman gave a wistful look. "The universe is still keeping secrets." He turned to Sarah. "Those Eagle tests helped to determine this relationship, but it only appears to hold for short distances."

Sarah stared at the board. "Maybe the equation is correct, but perhaps there are additional terms that are not significant over small distances?" she asked.

"Oh, that's probably the case," conceded Bergman.

"As the distance increases," said Zantor as he looked at the equations, "the frequencies become zero." He glanced at Sarah. "That is not reasonable. There must be additional terms." Sarah nodded, still frowning at the clearboard. Zantor crossed his arms. "Our only distant data points come from the other Kaldorian ship and your journey from Earth. Only, the data from the ship is inadequate and the data point from Earth is no longer valid."

"I thought of something last night," Haines said as he recalled his latest restless night. The others turned to him. "What if we start an automated scan of the entire frequency range of the lasers?"

Bergman began to nod, "Ah, yes. We could try to map all contacts to our star charts."

"Extreme caution is warranted," said Zantor gravely.

"Oh yes," agreed Haines. "A search algorithm will have to include input from the radiation detector."

Sarah nodded. "I suppose we could calculate how to skip around frequencies that resonate with astrophysical sources." She brightened and looked at Haines. "We could record the energy signatures! We may be able to distinguish the sources as well as determine the spatial relationship."

"It may take a few days to complete the scan. May I go ahead and construct an algorithm Dr. Andrew?" Haines asked.

"Absolutely!" Sarah answered. "I can work on how to deal with the astrophysical sources." She turned to Zantor. "Hey, maybe we should get David to allocate some extra memory."

"A broad search could yield a great deal of data," Zantor agreed. "We also need to be prepared to analyze the data once we receive it."

"You have plenty to do, so I will leave you to it," said Bergman, turning to leave.

"Thanks, Professor," said Sarah. "We'll keep you posted."

Zantor and Jim Haines aligned the lasers with the new large Backdoor. It was the size of a short, narrow doorway. Alan Carter had told them they were lucky to find the material to dope the glass slab with. He and three geologists had scoured the Moon for weeks looking for usable ore to refine. Since then, the rest of the larger entrance had been slowly coming together. The automated scan by the smaller Backdoor was continuing, and Sarah was working on the data analysis software, so Zantor and Haines were determined to finally complete the larger Backdoor.

Zantor made a final adjustment and stood back. "We can proceed no further until we apply laser power."

"Yes, Captain," said Haines. "I checked with the Power Station yesterday. They just want to be notified before we start."

"Very well," said Zantor. "Please contact them. I will input settings for the Bergman Sphere at the end of the lab. We will use that location for our tests."

About an hour later, Sarah entered the lab. "David's ready to crunch the numbers once they start pouring in," she announced. Zantor and Haines just looked back at her smugly. "What?" she asked suspiciously.

Zantor strolled toward the large Backdoor and promptly disappeared. Sarah gasped and spun around, looking for him. She found him standing at the other end of the lab.

"I love being married to an alien!" she said as she ran to him and hugged him. She let go and turned to Haines. "I can't believe you guys are finished with this already. This is great!"

Haines smiled and then was distracted by what he saw on a nearby terminal. He walked over for a closer look. "Speaking of finished, the search program appears to be done."

"Really?" asked Sarah as she came up beside Haines. She leaned down and typed on the terminal. "Oh my goodness. It really is finished. There was no error." She looked at Zantor. "We overestimated the time."

"There was no way to make an accurate calculation since we did not know how many sources would be detected," said Zantor.

No one said anything for a moment. Finally, Haines spoke up. "What are we waiting for?"

Sarah came out of her reverie and grinned. "Let's call David. We're about to hog Computer!"

Professor Bergman looked at the viewscreen in the Backdoor lab. The astronomical map on the screen still did not seem to match the Backdoor contacts at all. Numerous adjustments had not produced a correlation. Zantor was sitting on the sofa with an arm draped around Sarah. Haines was sitting on the steps with his head in his hands. "We've been over this again and again," he complained. "What have we missed?"

Bergman yawned as he turned away from the terminal he had been typing at for hours. "I just don't know, Jim," he said, shaking his head. He stood up and stretched. "Things always look different in the morning. I say we get some rest and try again tomorrow."

Haines stood up, relieved. "Sounds good to me, Professor." The earlier excitement had given way to excruciating disappointment, and he was anxious for a break. "Goodnight everyone."

Bergman followed him out. "Get some rest, you two," he said to Zantor and Sarah as he left.

Sarah leaned back on Zantor's arm and looked lazily up at him. "I don't care what Jim thinks. It's been a good day. I still can't believe you two have the big Backdoor working."

"We just had to copy the smaller one," he said, stroking her cheek with the back of his hand. "It was quite pleasing to surprise you." He leaned down and put his lips to hers, lingering as he drew his arms around her. Sarah responded, reveling in the feeling.

"We could continue this in our quarters," she said, sliding her cheek across his.

"The secrets of the universe will still be there tomorrow," Zantor replied, imitating the Professor's terminology. Sarah smiled mischievously and climbed on top of Zantor, facing him and taking his face in her hands. She lost herself in another kiss when her eyes suddenly flew open.

"The universe," she whispered.

"What about the universe?" Zantor whispered back.

"The universe," she repeated, looking incredulous. "The universe is expanding."

Zantor's eyes widened. "The additional term! Doppler shift! How could we have overlooked that?"

Sarah climbed off of him and began pacing back and forth. "We've only been at this for a day. We may have missed quite a bit. The expansion of the universe may account for one missing term, and additional relative motion for another term..." She trailed off and turned to Zantor. "But can it be that simple?"

"Let us find out," Zantor said as he stood and moved to the terminal. As he began to type, Sarah leaned her body against his back and put her arms around his neck. "Mmmm, you do not want the answer, do you?" he said.

"Of course I do," Sarah said, brushing her lips along his cheek. "I'm just trying to help."

"If you give me any more help, I may forget why we have delayed in retiring to our quarters," Zantor said as he continued to type. He glanced over his code and then gave the execute command. "Computer is recalculating."

Sarah released her arms from him as he stood and they quickly turned to the viewscreen. The uncorrelated overlays of star charts and Backdoor contacts disappeared for a few seconds. When the display refreshed, Sarah's hands went to her mouth. "Oh my goodness!"

They moved closer to the screen. There were still some lone Backdoor contacts, but many now appeared on top of or close to known astronomical sources displayed on the screen. "The correlations are not exact," Zantor mused. "Our information on relative motion may not be entirely accurate."

Sarah rushed back to the terminal and began to type. "Let's not worry about the accuracy right now. It looks like we're close enough." After a minute, she turned back to the screen. The map disappeared and was replaced by a table of numbers. "OK, here are the statistics," she said as she walked back over to the viewscreen. "Forty three percent of the contacts correlate or closely correlate with neutron stars, if our calculations are correct. Thirty eight percent seem to be associated with other stellar sources, but their nature is not known." More work for the astronomers, she thought.

"Nineteen percent do not correlate with anything at all," added Zantor. "We should analyze their energy signatures to determine if they are natural."

"I'm on it," Sarah said, moving back to the terminal. Zantor put his hands on her shoulders and watched as she typed. "OK, most of them are pretty clean, so they might be artificial."

"Our only references are the Bergman Sphere and Kaldorian generator signatures," said Zantor, moving to the next terminal. "We can do a correlative analysis." Zantor called up the energy signatures and sent them to Sarah's terminal.

"Thanks," Sarah said as she incorporated the signatures. Suddenly, she stopped everything.

"What is it?" Zantor asked, leaning over to look at the screen.

Sarah looked at him, and then pointed at the screen. "These are the statistics for the Kaldorian signature," Sarah said slowly. Zantor looked at the screen. Different numbers of Backdoor contacts showed different levels of correlation, but the number that showed over ninety five percent correlation his eye. Twenty.

Sarah looked at him. "Are you OK?" Zantor nodded but did not say anything. Sarah typed a few more lines and gestured to the viewscreen. "I've displayed only those contacts on the map." Zantor stood and walked over to the viewscreen. Sarah left him to his thoughts and continued with her analysis.

Zantor stared at the viewscreen. The two-dimensional representation of three-dimensional space was sufficient to show that the contacts were distributed in an almost cylindrical pattern. At the center of that pattern lay a region of space that he knew well. The charts had been added to those of Alpha from his own navigational computer. In the center of that region lay what he knew to be the slowly expanding star that he had gazed at on his last day on Kaldor.

He knew where all of his people were. The thought was staggering. With the flip of a switch and a turn of a dial, he could instantly contact any of the ships he saw displayed as flashing points on the viewscreen before him. He allowed himself to enjoy the thought briefly, but he knew that now was not the time.

He had discussed the possibilities with Sarah not long ago. Once they found Earth or settled on another world, the search for the Kaldorians could continue. They could be brought together rather than scattered throughout space. They would be assured of survival rather than having to take their chances with their target worlds or perhaps not completing their journeys at all. They could meet and exceed the expectations of their Prime Directive. He never dreamed that the task could be accomplished all at once.

Zantor walked back to the terminals and sat next to Sarah. She looked up and was pleased to see him smiling. He leaned over and enveloped her in his arms, burying his face in her hair. He pulled back and looked at her. "If you had not invaded my ship, this never would have happened."

Sarah laughed, "Well, thank you for not throwing me in the brig!" She became serious. "We will go get them, you know."

"I know we will," Zantor said. "But we cannot do that until we prepare a place for them."

Sarah nodded. "Hey, I just ran an analysis using the Bergman Sphere as the reference. I only got one exact match, and that was with the Sphere over there that provided the reference signature."

"It would have been troubling had that not been the case," said Zantor. "From what I understand about the Bergman Spheres, they are not constructed to the tolerances used in Kaldorian generators."

"That's an understatement," laughed Sarah.

Zantor looked over Sarah's shoulder at the display. "There are twelve sources that show over eighty percent correlation. Perhaps you should display only those on the map."

"Right." Sarah typed a few commands and then followed Zantor back over to the viewscreen. Five were scattered randomly on the display chart. The others were concentrated in two separate groups. Sarah's heart began to beat faster and she reached out and took Zantor's hand without taking her eyes off the screen. She swallowed hard and forced herself to speak. "Where are we on this chart?"

"This position," said Zantor, equally captivated by the display. Where he pointed were four of the signatures. Sarah turned around and noted the three glowing Bergman Spheres in the lab. She knew that the fourth was in the quarters of its namesake.

"What about the other position?" she asked cautiously.

"Information in that region has been extrapolated from the navigational data from my ship and combined with the Alpha charts," Zantor said slowly. "It is where we think Earth should be."

They both stood staring at the viewscreen. Sarah squeezed Zantor's hand. There were three dots on the screen near that position. She only needed one Bergman Sphere, and there were three running on planet Earth. It was more than she could have hoped for....if it really was Earth. She tore her eyes away from the screen and glanced at Zantor.

Zantor looked down at her and smiled. "Test the hypothesis."

Sarah headed over to the Backdoor table with Zantor following. She set the small camera on a tripod in front of the large Backdoor. Zantor began to power up and tune the system. "We are close to the first of the three frequency combinations."

"OK, let me check the radiation just in case," said Sarah. She held the detector in front of the opening and watched the reading.

"No increase?" asked Zantor. Sarah shook her head. "We are at ten microns," he said. "I shall increase the aperture to six centimeters for the camera."

Sarah adjusted the tripod and then moved it toward the Backdoor threshold. The small lens disappeared. She stepped aside to look at the display sitting on the optical table. Zantor moved to join her.

The display was mostly dark, but there was a small amount of light in one corner, as if it was coming from somewhere outside the field-of-view of the camera. Sarah frowned, trying to make sense of the image. "I don't know," she mused. "Maybe we should try one of the other contacts."

Sarah was startled as the screen was suddenly flooded with light. The camera quickly adjusted to the new light level. Sarah gasped and grabbed Zantor's arm. He looked at her and then at the screen. A wood-paneled wall and a sofa were now illuminated by an overhead light source. "That is not an astrophysical source," he said dryly.

"That's the Kanos' den!" Sarah said excitedly. Her eyes widened and her hands went to her mouth at what she saw next. Walking into view and seating himself on the sofa was Daniel Kano. Sarah threw her arms around Zantor as Daniel Kano picked up a newspaper and began to read, oblivious to the emotional display that was taking place in deep space.

Zantor held Sarah tightly as she quickly collected herself. He reached down to wipe her face and said, "The time has come."

Sarah nodded and walked over to the commpost. The Operation Exodus alarm button was behind a panel that she opened. She turned around. "Zantor, once we get settled on Earth, our next goal will be to reunite the Kaldorians. Do you regret that you settled for a human?" She cringed slightly as if bracing herself for the answer.

The sudden question shocked Zantor. He walked over to her and took her face in his hands. "I care very deeply for my people, but they would never fill the void that would be present if I did not have you." He kissed her and then asked, "Do you believe me?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"Do you regret that you settled for a Kaldorian?" he asked.

"I've never been happier in my life," she answered. "It's just that we've worked like crazy to find Earth, and now I am worried that things will change."

"That which is important will not change if we do not allow it to," said Zantor confidently.

Sarah gazed up at him. Without taking her eyes from his, she reached out and pushed the Operation Exodus alarm button. A blaring sound rang out through all of Alpha. "I love you Captain Zantor of Kaldor," Sarah said.

John Koenig sat on the sofa in his office. The low lighting and the unfamiliar star patterns outside the viewports should have made for a depressing setting, but he could not have felt more content. He looked down at the blond doctor asleep on his shoulder and he pulled his arm around her tighter.

They had spent the evening talking about the future. Their future. It was something that they both had avoided even as they grew closer, but that reluctance had ended this night. Both were weary of keeping their feelings on hold, of keeping their lives on hold. The risk was worth it. They were going to marry.

Helena Russell had rested her head on Koenig's shoulder as they talked like they had never talked before. Eventually, she had fallen asleep, content. Koenig was pleased that she felt that comfortable. He gazed out the viewports as he contemplated whether to wake her or to join her in sleep when the alarm jolted him from his thoughts. Russell immediately awoke and they both stood to their feet.

Koenig looked at the compost. The words, "Operation Exodus: Backdoor" were flashing on the screen. "John, we just had a drill the other day. Did you authorize another one?"

"Helena, this wasn't my idea," said Koenig as he grabbed his commlock. "Koenig to Zantor!"

Jim Haines sat up in his bed, confused, when the alarm went off. He rubbed his eyes and did a double take when he saw the words on the commpost screen. Jumping out of bed, he quickly dressed. As he was pulling on a boot, the Commander's voice rang out from the commpost.

"Attention all sections Alpha. Report to your designated location outside the Backdoor laboratory for Operation Exodus. This is not a drill. I repeat. This is not a drill." Haines began to jump on one foot toward the door as he pulled on his other boot.

When Haines arrived at the Backdoor lab, people were already lining up in the corridor, talking excitedly to each other. This version of Operation Exodus dictated that those not responsible for bringing through equipment were to line up and start evacuating through Backdoor first. The rest of the Alphans would follow as they brought their assigned crates to the Backdoor lab. The equipment included complete downloads of Main Computer, the Voyager 1 black box, and the Kaldorian computer. It also included geologic samples from other planets, and the equipment necessary to quickly build another Backdoor.

It was decided that if Backdoor was successful in transporting them to Earth or to another habitable world, leaving it operational on Alpha could pose a risk. They had met enough unfriendly aliens to know that they did not want to be followed. Backdoor would be destroyed, but a new Backdoor would eventually be built at their destination, allowing them to find Alpha again and control access. It would also allow Alpha to once again serve as a base rather than a lifeboat. In the meantime, Alpha systems would be powered down as much as possible and automated.

Since the destination was Earth, it was not necessary to bring the Eagle reactor that would have provided power for the new Backdoor. It was also not necessary to bring equipment needed for survival on an alien world. People were gathering quickly, and Haines ignored their inquiries as he rushed into the lab.

"Did you really find Earth?" he asked as he rushed to the optical table.

"We really did!" said Sarah. "Jim, would you monitor the power levels? We don't want the door to hit us in the back."

"Yes, Dr. Andrew," said Haines, moving to a terminal.

"Are you ready?" Zantor asked Sarah.

Sarah looked at the large viewscreen which now held the image of Daniel Kano relaxing with his newspaper. "I'm ready," she said. "Let the people in. We want the line to move quickly as soon as I'm done." Zantor used his commlock to open the door to the lab, and he motioned to the head of the line to move inside. Sarah adjusted the frequencies on Backdoor, maximizing the resonance and opening the entrance all the way. She moved the camera to one side so that it still showed the image of Daniel Kano, but was no longer in the way. She punched a few buttons on the commpost, and the image was transmitted to all of the commposts in Alpha. Murmuring could be heard from the corridor, and those in the lab were staring at the viewscreen.

Sarah turned to Zantor who put his hands on her shoulders and leaned down to kiss her. When he pulled away, she smiled and said, "I'll be right back." She moved in front of the Backdoor entrance, took a deep breath, and stepped through.

Daniel Kano chuckled softly to himself as he sat on the sofa. He was grateful for the opportunity to read his newspaper, and he was not above reading the comics. His young son and daughter were both napping at the same time, the house was peaceful, and he was enjoying a quiet moment to himself. He flipped the paper over to the other half of the comics.

"I knew you'd leave the light on for me."

Daniel looked up. Then he jumped to his feet. His eyes grew wide as his breathing grew heavy. "You're here!" he exclaimed. His paper dropped out of his hand and fell to the floor.

Sarah Andrew smiled at him and glanced around the room. Not finding what she was looking for, she opened the closet door next to her. There, in the closet, sat an active Bergman Sphere.

Daniel was staring at Sarah in shock, his mouth hanging open. She went up to him and put her hands on his shoulders. "Daniel. In a few seconds, you're going to be hosting Moonbase Alpha. Please keep everyone moving." With that, she turned toward the wall, took a few steps, and disappeared.

Daniel stared at the wall, stunned. "Elizabeth," he whispered. He blinked and gathered himself. "Elizabeth!" he called excitedly as he moved across the room. "E-LIZ-A-BETH!"

Elizabeth Kano rushed down the hallway into the den. "Daniel! What is it! You're going to wake the children!"

Daniel took her by the shoulders and faced her toward the other end of the room. "Just look!" he said excitedly.

"What on Earth is it?" she asked.

"Not on Earth yet! Watch!" he said. After a long pause, he hesitantly added, "Any second now..."

Elizabeth watched. Nothing happened. She turned to Daniel and gave him a wary look. "Oh, honey..."

"I'm not crazy!" he insisted. "Just watch!" For a moment, Daniel wondered if he had dreamt the whole experience.

Elizabeth looked across the room once again. Suddenly, a young woman in an Alpha uniform appeared out of nowhere, looking completely disoriented. Elizabeth gasped and her eyes widened. "O God in heaven..." Her hands went to her mouth and she began to sob as another person in Alpha uniform appeared. Then another. And another.

Daniel left Elizabeth's side and rushed to the patio door that led to the backyard. Sliding it open, he said, "Here! Go outside so the others will have room!" The stunned Alphans quickly obeyed as others began to appear in the Kanos' den. It was late afternoon in New Mexico. They turned their faces to the sky as they went into the backyard, enjoying the warm sunlight for the first time in a long time.

Elizabeth was laughing and sobbing, and the Alphans kept coming. Daniel was motioning to them to keep moving, and he wore a huge smile as he welcomed the newcomers. Every so often, a familiar face would pass by, and he would enthusiastically pump their hand before sending them outside. The Kanos' backyard was quickly becoming crowded, but nobody seemed to mind. Many were hugging each other. Some were squatting on the ground and feeling the grass. Some raised their hands and twirled around, breathing in their native air.

Daniel was taking in the surreal sight when he heard Elizabeth scream. He whirled around to see her run into the arms of a brown-sleeved Alphan. Daniel was suddenly overcome by a wave of emotion. Walking toward him with an arm draped around his wife was David Kano. The two brothers regarded each other. David put his hand out and Daniel grasped it tightly. No words passed between them. None were necessary. David eventually looked away, glancing back over his shoulder at the carts with crates that were being rolled into the room from out of nowhere. "Daniel, those are data archives. The living room?"

"Of course! Of course!" Daniel rushed into the living room, followed by David. They began moving tables and chairs out of the way to make space for the carts that David was motioning into the room. Daniel had finished sliding the sofa sideways when he looked up to see Elizabeth in the other room with a shocked look on her face. Tall, white haired people with strange markings on their faces and wearing Alpha uniforms were walking by her. David followed his gaze. "Don't worry," he said to Daniel. "They're friends." He noticed Elizabeth. "Go to her, Daniel. I'll take care of things in here."

Daniel went to Elizabeth and whispered in her ear. She nodded, an uncertain smile forming on her lips. Daniel smiled and nodded to the tall figures as they made their way to the door and into the backyard. "Welcome to Earth!" he said.

Elizabeth looked up at him, incredulous. Daniel just shrugged his shoulders. She looked back at the figures that were filing by and smiled. "Welcome to Earth!" she said.

Sarah hugged Jim Haines. "You knocked months off of this project with your mapping idea, Jim." He just smiled, still trying to comprehend that he was about to go home. Sarah gave him another hug and then watched him disappear through Backdoor. She turned around. Alpha was empty except for those in the Backdoor lab. The viewscreen on the wall showed a crowd of people in the Kanos' den, and Sarah could imagine what their backyard looked like. "Commander?" she asked.

Koenig looked up from his conversation with Paul Morrow and nodded. "OK, Paul, set the base to power down in ten minutes." Paul nodded solemnly and began to punch buttons on his commlock.

Koenig walked over to Carter. "Captain Carter, it's your turn."

Carter took a look around the room. "So long Alpha," he said. Tanya Alexander stood nearby. He offered her his arm. "Shall we?" She smiled and took his arm. The two walked toward Backdoor.

"Alan, you should have married me while you had the chance," Tanya said slyly. "Now, if you still are interested, you will have to ask my father for permission!" Alan looked back at the others with his lips pursed mockingly and his eyebrows raised. The last remaining Alphans laughed as they watched the two squeeze through Backdoor.

"Your turn, Victor." Koenig smiled at his colleague and friend.

Bergman smiled back and nodded. "Right, John. I'll see you back on Earth." He went up to Helena Russell and kissed her on the cheek. "See you soon, my dear." Helena smiled and wiped away a tear as she watched him go through Backdoor.

"Paul. Sandra. It's time to go." Koenig and Morrow shook hands.

Sandra took one last look out the viewports and turned to Koenig. "It's been a privilege, Commander," she said. Paul took her arm and led her through Backdoor.

Koenig turned to Zantor. "Is the trigger ready?"

"You will have one minute to complete your journey before Backdoor is disabled," replied Zantor.

Koenig nodded. "Captain," he said, holding out his hand, "It is my pleasure to order you to Earth ahead of your original schedule."

Zantor shook Koenig's outstretched hand. "Commander, I go to Earth with far more than an extra seventy four years."

Zantor took Sarah's hand and led her toward Backdoor. She looked over her shoulder at the Commander and Dr. Russell, uncertain about leaving Alpha before everyone had been evacuated. But, she did understand. This was Koenig's desire and it was his duty.

Once the two had disappeared, Koenig turned to Russell. "Helena, this doesn't change what we talked about last night."

Helena smiled. "I'll hold you to that." She became somber as she looked around. "John, all we've ever wanted to do was to leave this barren rock. Why does it seem so difficult to do so now?"

He put an arm around her as he indulged in one last look out the viewports at the lunar landscape. "As difficult as this whole experience has been, Helena, this was home."

"I think our people made it that way. But, now they truly are home," she said thoughtfully as she looked at the scene on the viewscreen.

"And it's time for us to join them." He walked over and pressed the button that would trigger multiple small charges that would disable Backdoor, assuring that they could not be followed.

Helena looked at him and thought she saw tears in his eyes. As they walked toward Backdoor she asked, "John, if another Backdoor finds Alpha, would you come back?"

Koenig thought about it. "Not without my Chief Medical Officer," he smiled as they passed through Backdoor.

The viewscreen on the wall showed Sarah Andrew hugging Elizabeth and Daniel Kano. She gestured to Zantor, and Daniel began to pump his hand enthusiastically while Elizabeth hugged Sarah once again. Daniel then made his way through the crowded den and shook hands with Commander Koenig.

The viewscreen went dark. The small charges had gone off and the link to Earth had been severed. Soon after that, Main Computer began to power down Moonbase Alpha to minimum levels that could be maintained indefinitely as long as the nuclear reactor remained stable. The lights and monitors in the Backdoor lab all went dark. The room was bathed only in the light of the stars outside the viewports and the gentle glow of the softly humming Bergman Spheres.

Chapter 14 - Acclimation

John Koenig smiled as he looked at the scene in Daniel Kano's backyard. Close to three hundred people were crowed into the yard, and not one person was complaining. The heads of a few children could be seen looking over the fence from the yard next door, and the Alphans nearby were waving and making faces at the curious kids.

Koenig slipped his arm around Helena, who had come to stand near him. "It's like a dream," she said softly. "We really are home."

"Almost," Koenig replied, suddenly serious. Helena gave him a questioning look and walked with him over to Daniel Kano. "Dr. Kano, we're sorry to have dropped in unannounced."

"Please, Commander, I would not have missed this for the world!" David Kano appeared next to Daniel. "You brought my brother back to me. Stay as long as you like!"

"We certainly appreciate your hospitality," Koenig said gratefully, "and I'm hoping that you can help us further." Daniel drew closer as Koenig continued. "From what I hear of this WhiteSunCorp, they will not be pleased to hear of our return."

Daniel became serious. "I honestly don't know why they never approached me again, and I have no idea what's happening on the inside. The last thing I heard was from Sarah." He looked across the room at her, glad to see her so happy. "Elizabeth and I were so worried about her. She had told us a story about aliens, so after she was declared missing by the police, I truly hoped that she had made it to Alpha. Elizabeth thought I was crazy, though, for keeping that Bergman Sphere running. You should see our electric bill!"

Koenig laughed, but then became serious. "Dr. Kano, I don't know what sort of danger my people might be in from WhiteSunCorp, or even from the World Space Commission. I have an idea that would announce our presence to both as well as assure our safety and freedom." He shared his idea with Daniel.

A few minutes later, Daniel found himself yelling at his videophone. "Look, I am telling you the truth! I don't have a portable vidphone so I can't show you, but they're here!" He looked around in frustration and then motioned to Koenig. "Commander, would you mind?"

Koenig stepped over to the videophone. The face of the young man on the screen remained unimpressed. "Nice costume," he said blandly.

Koenig could not fault the man. It was an unbelievable story. "Look," he said, "I know you have a file on John Koenig. Before you hang up, please do us a favor and look it up."

The man on the screen sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "Why not? I haven't had calls like this since Moonday." Koenig rolled his eyes at the poor name for Breakaway. The young man began to type on a terminal out of view. The bored look on his face fell away as he looked back and forth between Koenig and whatever he had displayed on his own terminal. His eyes grew wide. "Oh, man, if this is true..."

"Just send a crew! OK?" Daniel was out of patience. "Otherwise, we'll call another station. Do you want to tell your boss that you let the story of the century pass you by?"

"Alright! Alright! At least if it's not true, it will be novel!" With that, he cut the connection.

Daniel turned to Koenig. "So, we wait."

"Hopefully not for long," said Koenig. "I told my people ahead of time not to expect to return to their families and friends right away. I'm sure the WSC will want to debrief us, and if our plan works they certainly won't be able to silence us. In any case, the shock of a news broadcast may be easier on the families than a videophone call out of the blue."

"John," said Helena who had been listening nearby, "You realize that there is someone who could be very helpful in dealing with the WSC, don't you?"

Koenig nodded slowly, a smile forming on his lips. He moved to the door and motioned to someone in the yard.

"Yes, John!" said the very happy Commissioner Simmonds. Koenig could never be sure if he was speaking to the politician or to the man, but he had to admit that the change in Simmonds had been quite genuine. He had fulfilled his duties as deputy director of personnel in the Services section, and most of Alpha had welcomed the prodigal back into the community that he had avoided joining in the first place. Now, it was obvious that the man was ecstatic to be home, but at the moment Koenig needed the politician.

"Excuse me."

Jim Haines had been enjoying breathing the air of Earth with the other Alphans. He heard the voice and turned around. A middle-aged woman was looking over the fence at the scene in the Kanos' backyard. "Yes ma'am?" he asked, walking over to her.

She looked back at him, obviously stunned. " it really...uh..."

"Yes, we're from Moonbase Alpha," Jim told the confused woman. He decided to spare her additional confusion and come straight to the point. "We used new technology to get back to Earth."

The woman was still reeling from what she saw and heard. She began to look at the faces beyond Jim. "I can't believe it! All of you?" She continued in her heavily accented voice before Haines could answer, and the question took him entirely off guard. "May I ask about the welfare of Ernst Linden?"

Jim froze. With the excitement of the Backdoor progress and the unexpected sudden return to Earth, he had completely forgotten about his struggle over the memory of Queller. He looked around the yard. He was home. They were all home. His parents would not have died were it not for Queller, but these happy people taking in the New Mexico sun might all be dead as well were it not for Queller. Queller himself was dead. It was time for Haines to live.

"I'm so sorry," he said to the woman with genuine sympathy. "Dr. Linden did not make it."

The woman's face fell. "It was too much to hope for."

"Are you a relative?" Jim asked.

The woman bit her lip. "He was my brother," said the woman.

Haines decided that there had been enough pain for everyone. It was time to put an end to it. "Ma'am, you should know that Ernst Queller gave his life to save all of us. He died a hero."

The woman's eyes widened briefly. Haines was not sure if it was because of the circumstances of Queller's death or because he had used his mentor's real name. She gave Haines a sad smile and nodded. "I see. Thank you. You must tell me more about it one day."

"I promise," said Haines with sincerity.

The current commissioner of the World Space Commission sat down to dinner in his Houston apartment. He pulled back the plastic from the plate that sat on the table before him. Most evenings were spent like this, alone with a microwave meal and the evening news. He used the remote control sitting on the table to activate the monitor in the wall of the kitchen.

Having replaced the remote with his fork, he skewered a piece of what the box claimed to be chicken and brought it to his mouth. A glance at the monitor caused him to stop the meat of questionable origin in its journey. It hung suspended in front of his open mouth as his eyes slowly widened. Commander John Koenig was being interviewed on the evening news.

The fork with the meat still attached fell to the plate with a loud clatter that the Commissioner did not hear. His eyes quickly darted to the text in the top left corner of the screen.

The text said, "LIVE."

* * * *

John Koenig watched as the news crew began interviewing Alphans in Daniel Kano's backyard. After they had finished interviewing him, they wanted to get some footage of the celebrating Alphans, who were more than happy to oblige. The reporter was currently speaking with Paul Morrow, but other Alphans were waving behind the pair or darting in front of them, trying to get their faces on camera. Koenig could understand. They all wanted to get the word out to their families.

Koenig had a complete personnel list that had been used for Operation Exodus, and he had passed that along to the reporter at the end of his interview. He did not want the families to suffer for the next day, wondering if their loved ones were a part of the returning group, and the reporter assured him that the list would be made publicly available within the hour. Very soon, he would have to contact the families of those who did not return. It was a duty that he did not look forward to.

Commissioner Simmonds came up beside him, satisfied. "Well, John. The first story is usually what sticks, and your statements about Backdoor, WhiteSunCorp, and the Kaldorians should serve to protect us all. Otherwise, the WSC would have released its own version of the story. Believe me, I know!"

Koenig smirked at the comment. He was about the respond when Elizabeth Kano came and whispered something in his ear. His eyes widened as he looked over at Simmonds, incredulous.

"What is it, John?" asked Simmonds, concerned.

Koenig regained his composure and found himself laughing. "Commissioner Anton Gorski is on the videophone."

It was Simmonds turn to look surprised. "I don't believe it! Gorski?" He shook his head, a look of distaste on his face. "Gorski has my job?"

The two men fell silent, each pondering the implications. Elizabeth looked back and forth between them. "So...what do I tell him?"

Simmonds stroked his beard for a moment and then smiled. "Ah, John, you must let me take the call. Would you mind?"

Koening laughed again, "Commissioner, I can't think of anyone better suited to the task!"

Ian Stanton pressed the button on his desk that opened the door of his office. He continued to type at his computer without looking up. "Yes, what is it?" he said with pronounced disinterest.

"Ian Stanton, you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right..." Stanton was in complete shock. He did not come to his senses until he found himself walking in the hallway with his hands cuffed behind him and a police officer leading him by the arm.

"Wait a minute!" Stanton stammered. "What is this all about?"

An older officer walking ahead of him turned around. "Sir, you were already told. You are under arrest for the kidnapping of Dr. Sarah Andrew and conspiracy to endanger the lives of the crew of Moonbase Alpha." The officer eyed Stanton. "Don't you watch the news?" Stanton just looked back with his mouth hanging open. The officer rolled his eyes. He walked up to Stanton and simply said, "They're back."

The officers continued down the hallway with the dazed Stanton in tow. As they emerged into the sunlight, Stanton looked around. "Hey, what about the others? They were the ones who didn't want the Alphans to come back!"

"Others?" said the older officer, turning around. "You are the highest ranking WhiteSunCorp official listed at this campus."

"But there were others!" Stanton insisted.

"Like who?" said the officer with obvious skepticism.

A sick feeling came over Stanton as he slowly realized what his real role was in WhiteSunCorp. He was the fall guy. He was the only one with a name on record. "Officer..."

"Ryan," the officer finished for him, his arms crossed over his chest.

"Yes," said Stanton, regaining his composure. "Officer Ryan, my superiors have kept their identities secret, and if you would just..."

"Mr. Stanton, I really don't care. All I know is that you have been charged with crimes and my job is to bring you in." Officer Ryan leaned in closer. "My son, Michael, was an Eagle pilot on Alpha. He is not on the list of those who returned." His voice became like ice. "You're lucky that I haven't found out yet whether your crimes had anything to do with that."

Stanton's eyes widened. There were implications to his earlier actions that he had not even begun to ponder. He began to feel dizzy as he pictured Ryan and other Alphan family members testifying against him at some future trial. There were no more arguments as Officer Michael Ryan, Sr. led the dazed and silent Stanton to the patrol car.

Commissioner Anton Gorski began to sweat as he waited to speak to Commander Koenig. He would understand, he thought. The burden of command: it would connect them on a level that they had not previously shared.

The former Commander of Moonbase Alpha had managed to come out of the blame game following the disaster on the Moon relatively unscathed. With all of the witnesses to the pre-disaster events gone, it had been fairly easy to make himself out be the voice of reason silenced by his former boss, Commissioner Simmonds.

The majority of those involved with implementing the programs of the World Space Commission were assigned to Moonbase Alpha or the Space Dock, and the remaining administrators in the WSC had little practical experience. As a former commander of Moonbase Alpha, Gorski had credentials that managed to eclipse his performance record, allowing him to step into the void left by his former boss and rebuild Earth's space program.

Progress had been slow. He had become far more cautious in his actions than he had been on Moonbase Alpha. That caution had given him a good safety record during the construction of the new orbiting space station, but the whole project had fallen way behind schedule. That did not concern Gorski, who still had nightmares about the fate of those on Earth's former satellite, a fate that he came within days of sharing.

Gorski and Simmonds had kept the illnesses of the Meta probe astronauts and the Area 2 workers to themselves in order to avoid bad publicity and the possible cancellation of funding for the Meta probe. Simmonds had soon after removed Gorski from command, and although he did not know the details of what had occurred in the few days between his ouster and the disaster, he was smart enough figure it out. He was literally the only man on Earth who knew that there had been warning signs before the disaster, warning signs that he did not heed. It was a difficult burden to bear. However, he cared more about preserving his reputation than his conscience. He had told no one.

Now, as he waited to speak to Koenig, he was still pondering how best to deflect any bad publicity concerning himself that might result from the return of the Alphans.

A face appeared on the videophone, and Gorski quickly put on a welcoming smile. The smile only lasted a fraction of a second and the carefully chosen words of welcome flew out his mind, along with any hopes of preserving his reputation.

"Ah, Gorski! Keeping my seat warm?" Commissioner Simmonds made no effort to hide the pleasure he felt at confronting Gorski.

Chapter 15 - Reunion

People stood along Daniel Kano's street in White Rock, waiting to get a glimpse of those previously given up for dead. Word of the arrival of the Alphans had spread quickly. After the first news organization had taken the risk of covering the unbelievable story, stations around the world were carrying footage of happy Alphans.

As the buses began to pull away from the Kanos' home, people along the street cheered to see windows sliding open and uniformed Alphans waving. Some were hanging out of the windows and yelling wildly.

John Koenig sat in the front of the lead bus with an arm draped around Helena Russell. He was pleased at how things had progressed thus far.

Commissioner Simmonds had expertly dealt with Commissioner Gorski. He had assured Gorski that he would downplay the former commander's role in Breakaway. In exchange, Gorski would quickly implement the debriefing that Simmonds and Koenig were expecting, and would then provide the Alphans with the means to go home. Koenig had also told Simmonds to require that a Backdoor program be established whose initial goals would be to gather any willing Kaldorians to their brethren on Earth and to reestablish contact with Moonbase Alpha.

Gorski may have been a poor administrator, but he knew a fair deal when he saw one. Smooth debriefing and reintegration of the Alphans would only make him look good, and the establishment of Moonbase Alpha as an interstellar research outpost would smooth over the problems with his own efforts in low Earth orbit. As for the Kaldorians, Gorski was not sure if he had the authority to approve a project that would bring aliens to Earth, but if it would keep Simmonds and Koenig quiet, he was going to do his best.

Simmonds had enjoyed watching Gorski squirm. The experience on Alpha had, in the end, strengthened and changed him, but he found it exhilarating to be back in his element. He secretly figured that he would have Gorski's job within the month.

The WSC had quickly sprung to action. Those working the late shift at the WSC had not seen the breaking news, but they had suddenly been inundated with phone calls from family members of Alphans and had quickly checked the news reports for themselves. Gorski had made his way to his office soon after, barking out orders that had been fed to him by Simmonds. A Santa Fe hotel with a conference center had been reserved and the WSC was quickly assembling administrators and counselors for the debriefing, as well as videophones for the Alphans to begin contacting their families.

Koenig had demanded a two-day limit for the debriefing. He knew that would create an administrative nightmare, but it was not his problem. His people had served the longest continuous tour of duty ever on Alpha. He was not going to keep them from their families a minute longer than necessary.

He did understand that the information they had to share would be important, and that his own debriefing would last far longer. As he looked down at Helena, he realized that he did not mind as long as she was with him.

Helena and Bob Matthias had met a few times to discuss how to handle a return to Earth. They knew that counselors would be sent to help everyone reintegrate, but having served as the personal physicians for the Alphans for so long, they felt responsible for personally following up with the Alphans in the weeks to come. Like Koenig, they would still be on the job for a while to come. They did not mind. It was enough for them to be back on Earth, and they did not want to see one single Alphan fall through the cracks.

Matthias was concerned about difficulties with reintegrating. Family members could have passed on during the exile on Alpha, and those returning might find it devastating to make it back to Earth only to find they had lost those they loved. Their jobs on Alpha had involved survival, and switching back to normal life could prove to be difficult. Their experiences with harsh conditions and hostile aliens could made it difficult for them to relate to those on Earth who could not even imagine those situations. The two doctors wanted to keep in touch with the Alphans as they dispersed, as well as keep them in touch with each other, in order to smooth the transition.

Koenig and Zantor had discussed how to integrate the Kaldorians, including the ones that they intended to bring straight to Earth. Koenig did not want to see them exploited in any way, and by revealing their presence to the world during his news interview, he had hoped to assure that would not happen. Koenig would continue to work closely with Zantor until the Kaldorians were settled on Earth.

Koenig glanced across the aisle. Zantor and Sarah had both fallen asleep, her head resting on his shoulder. They had done a good job, thought Koenig. They deserved a rest. Some of the other Kaldorians were on this bus as well. Koenig glanced back to see them glued to the windows. He felt bad that their first view of Earth was of desert, but apparently even the New Mexico desert was lush compared to the dying landscape of Kaldor.

"Hey, I'm going to lose my license if they keep that up!" Koenig came out of his thoughts as the bus driver spoke up. He looked behind him. Alan Carter and Pete Johnson had managed to open the panel in the ceiling and were now standing on the arms of the seats with their heads out the roof, calling out to pedestrians along the Santa Fe streets. He looked back at the nervous look on the bus driver's face. Apparently shuttling people from the across the galaxy was not much of a novelty to this man. He stood and picked up the driver's microphone.

"Attention all sections Alpha!" All eyes went to the front and the enthusiastic Alphans began to laugh at the mockingly serious tone of the Commander. Carter and Johnson ducked their heads out of the roof, looking guilty. Koenig smiled. "I know you're all happy to be home, but let's continue to conduct ourselves professionally." Carter and Johnson climbed down and mockingly cowered in their seats as the rest of the bus booed the Commander's order. He replaced the microphone and sat back down next to Helena.

"They don't mean it, John," smiled Helena.

"Oh yes they do," Koenig smiled back. "This will be a long two days for them."

Jim Haines took a shower and then changed back into his uniform. It had been night on Alpha when Operation Exodus occurred. The Alphans had been running on adrenaline all that day back on Earth, and soon after their dinner at the hotel and briefing by Commander Koenig, many had gone to bed. He had encouraged them to get some rest before contacting loved ones, but many had stayed up to use the videophones anyway, caring little for their own local time or that of their loved ones.

The WSC had given everyone debit cards to use at the shopping center across the street to buy temporary clothes and personal items, but Haines did not want to take the time to go shopping. He looked at the time on his commlock. He still had over an hour before his first appointment with a WSC administrator, and right after that he was to meet with a counselor, so he decided to take the opportunity to make a call. The hotel was an older facility and only had telephones in the rooms, but videophones had been hastily set up in one of the hotel meeting rooms downstairs.

Haines walked in and looked around. Most of the videophones were occupied by happy Alphans chatting animatedly with loved ones. Some were crying as they made contact with family members, and a thoughtful woman from housekeeping was quietly making her way through the room, placing boxes of tissue next to the videophones.

Haines saw Melita Kelly heading toward the door. She saw Haines and smiled sadly at him. "Hello, Jim. I just broke the news to Kelly's parents."

"How did they take it?" asked Haines.

"Oh, pretty well." Melita conceded. "They had grieved for us after Breakaway, so I suppose they were already prepared. They just kept telling me that they were so glad that I am alright, but I know they were hoping to have their son back."

"Did they ask how he died?" asked Haines cautiously.

Melita nodded and sighed. "I told them he died when Alpha encountered a space phenomenon, but I could not bring myself to tell them about his link with the Space Brain. It would be too much for them all at once." She pushed her dark hair away from her face. "I think I am going to go rest before my debriefing."

"Good idea," he said to her. "Take care, Melita."

Haines sat down at the videophone that Melita had just vacated. He stared at the blank screen for a long moment. His parents were gone even before he left for Alpha. His older sister had finished raising him, which had created friction between them, but he knew that he should call her first.

He used the on-screen menus to make a connection. A few seconds later and to Haines' surprise, a toddler appeared on the screen. "Hello!" Haines said, wondering if he had the right number. The boy could not be much over a year old, and he gave Haines a wide, drooly smile.

A voice could be heard from off-screen. "James, sweetie, don't play with the vidphone." The woman came into view and gasped, "Jim!" She could not say any more because she burst into tears. Haines could not speak, either, for fear he would follow suit.

Haines' sister, Jeanette, finally gathered herself. "Jim, we've been glued to the news and we found your name online, but I was afraid to believe it until I saw your face!"

"It's good to see you," Jim said, his voice shaking. "What do you mean 'we'?"

Jeanette smiled, the tears still falling. "This is your nephew, James," she said as she put the toddler on her knee so that his face was next to hers.

Jim was speechless for a moment, but finally nodded in understanding. "You married Ben?"

"Yes, soon after I lost you," she said. "Can you come to us soon? Or should we come to get you?"

"I'll come to you," said Haines. "The WSC and the shrinks want us for the next two days, and then they'll send us wherever we like. I'll make arrangements and let you know."

"We can't wait," said Jeanette, smiling. "I love you, Jim."

That was not something he had heard from her much before, but he liked it. "I love you too, Jeanette."

The call ended and Haines sat back, happy. It felt good. He no longer felt like he was betraying his parents by being happy. He glanced at his commlock. There was still plenty of time before his first appointment with the WSC. He thought of his mentor's sister, who did not have a brother to welcome home. He decided it was not too soon to keep his promise to her.

"No! That is completely unacceptable! I cannot and will not under any circumstances allow them to agree to those terms!" John Koenig was livid. He knew that this aspect of the return would prove to be very complicated, but had hoped to be wrong. The Ultra Probe incident had been a low point in his dealings with the WSC. This was even more frustrating.

He was grateful that things had gone pretty smoothly up to this point. The debriefings of most Alphans had been completed, and many had been reunited with their families. The WSC wanted to keep track of the Alphans as they dispersed in case further information was needed. Koenig did not object to that, as he wanted to keep track of them as well. Doctors Russell and Matthias had managed to secure positions in the WSC group responsible for seeing to the Alphans' physical and mental well being as they settled in to life on Earth. The rest of his command staff had been asked to stay for further debriefing and to assist with additional planning, and they had agreed. The Kaldorians were still left as well, and they were the subjects the current discussion.

Commander Koenig sat at a table in one of the hotel conference rooms. Also at the table were Paul Morrow, Sandra Benes, Victor Bergman, Sarah Andrew, and Captain Zantor, all of whom still wore their Alpha uniforms. Commissioner Simmonds had exchanged his uniform for a white turtleneck and a dark blazer, the power outfit he preferred before Breakaway.

Commissioner Anton Gorski sat at the conference table next to three other administrators from the World Space Commission. All wore suits and ties, and Gorski's only served to contrast with his disheveled personal appearance. He glanced nervously at his colleagues on either side and continued in his thick Russian accent, "Commander Koenig. We agree that the Kaldorians should be allowed to settle on Earth." Gorski held out his pudgy hands, palms up. "We are only requesting that they participate in studies to ensure that integration will be safe for both Kaldorians and for humans." Gorski was walking a thin line. He wanted to keep Koenig and Simmonds satisfied to assure their silence about events pre-Breakaway, but he also wanted to show them that he would not be walked all over, not in front of his WSC colleagues.

"You want them to be lab rats, and I won't allow it!" Koenig fumed. "Dr. Russell can give you all the physiological data you need. I trusted her to see to their needs without exploiting them, and I don't trust you!"

Gorski fell silent, fearing he had pushed Koenig too far. So far, Koenig and Simmonds had not played the wild card that they held over him. He was relieved when one of the other administrators spoke up. "Commander Koenig, you cannot bring aliens to Earth and expect them to immediately get jobs and buy houses in the suburbs."

"And why not?" asked Captain Zantor. The WSC contingent was shocked into silence. Koenig had served as the spokesperson thus far, and this was the first time they had heard the deep voice of the Kaldorian leader. Their expressions told Koenig that they had obviously not read enough of his report to know that Zantor spoke their language perfectly, nor did they realize that he had understood all of the ridiculous arguments. Zantor continued, "Our goals in coming here are to find a place to live, to use our skills to serve Earth to the best of our abilities, and to preserve the history of Kaldor. If we must secure employment and purchase living accommodations outside of urban centers in order to accomplish that, we will be pleased to do so."

Gorski and his stunned associates could find no response to that. Sarah Andrew, who had fought the urge to comment until then, could not help but add, "I'm sure that plenty of technology firms would be eager to hire them."

Gorski decided to try to find his way out of his dilemma before Koenig began to think that their deal was off altogether. "Uh, well Mister, I mean Captain Zantor, perhaps if your people would simply stay in contact with the Commission, they could go ahead and settle here." He cast nervous glances at his associates, but they did not add anything. They were finding themselves with few options since the Kaldorian presence had already been announced on the news.

Simmonds chose this moment to enter the conversation. "Well, as their leader, Captain Zantor has always intended to serve as their representative, so he will be your contact with the Kaldorians. Now, there is the issue of the Kaldorians in space."

Koenig smiled inwardly as he noticed Gorski sink into a deeper state of stupor. Simmonds had expertly managed to settle the argument in favor of the Kaldorian Alphans and make a seamless transition to the next agenda item. Backtracking would only make Gorski appear even more out of control than he already was. The other WSC officials were obviously weighing similar consequences in their own minds.

Simmonds did not wait for them to collect themselves. "Now, the first priority, obviously, is to build a Backdoor system. Once operational, the remaining Kaldorians can be found and invited to Earth, and contact can be reestablished with Moonbase Alpha." Simmonds folded his hands and sat back in his seat, completely confident in himself. "That WhiteSunCorp facility is now vacant, what with the bad press and all," Simmonds said, shaking his head sadly. Sarah had to stifle a giggle. Her earlier confrontation with Simmonds had long been consigned to fading memory. When his skills were put to the right purpose, she had to admit that Simmonds was masterful. "The campus would provide a perfect immediate launching ground for the project."

"Now just a minute," said one of the other WSC administrators. "Bringing the surviving Kaldorians here is an option, but it is certainly not the first priority."

"Commander?" asked Paul Morrow. "May I?" Koenig nodded. Morrow looked at the uncomfortable faces across from him. "When we find Moonbase Alpha, and it will be found, you will need help to quickly make it operational again."

"You will need our help," specified Sandra Benes.

Morrow nodded in agreement. "Serving as Controller of Moonbase Alpha was the pinnacle of my career. Being away from Earth all this time made it far less attractive, but if I could still have access to Earth, I would go back." Paul sat back and put his hands behind his head, turning slightly to look out the window. "However, I would be equally happy to stay on Earth permanently. The fresh air and the green trees...they may prove to be too tempting to resist." He continued to gaze out the window.

"Unless," Gorski said dryly.

Morrow sat forward and folded his hands on the table, looking directly at his former commander. "Unless you first invite the other Kaldorians to Earth. Our Kaldorian colleagues worked tirelessly for the survival of Alpha. We will do no less for the survival of their race."

Morrow sat back and took Sandra's hand under the table. She gave it an approving squeeze while maintaining a flawless poker face.

"You will also need our help to start a Backdoor program," added Sarah.

"We have the data archives from Main Computer," said Gorski, finally finding a foothold. "You will be consulted as needed."

Sarah was dumbfounded. The argument had been going so well that she was unprepared for such a statement. She was struggling to come up with a response when Professor Bergman began to chuckle softly. "Anton, Anton," he said, shaking his head, smiling. "This technology is still so new! You couldn't possibly be considering proceeding without its discoverers?"

One of the WSC administrators leaned over to whisper in the ear of another. Koenig noticed beads of sweat forming on Gorski's forehead. "The archived data on Backdoor is also encrypted," said Koenig. "We would not want such dangerous technology falling into...the wrong hands."

Gorski was spent. He had tried to get the upper hand and had fallen into a trap. "I propose a ten minute recess to allow all of you to cool down. You are taking this meeting far too seriously." Simmonds shook his head and picked up his coffee cup. He headed out of the room in search of more of the real coffee that he had lived without on Alpha for so long.

"Gorski, we have dealt with hostile aliens, dangerous planets, and space phenomena that we cannot begin to understand," said Koenig, his expression serious and determined. "We take everything seriously, and we will not be taken advantage of on our own world."

"Ten minutes, Commander," smiled Gorski condescendingly. He made his way out the door and to the men's restroom. Leaning on the counter, he looked in the mirror to see a haggard face looking back at him. "When did I lose control?" he asked the man in the mirror.

"Oh, long before you left Alpha," said Simmonds as he exited the stall. Gorski whirled around, his face quickly turning a bright shade of red. Simmonds calmly washed his hands, picked up his coffee cup from the counter, and left.

Gorski suddenly felt ill and ran to the nearest stall. Nothing happened. He wished something would happen. He thought that perhaps he would feel better. The nausea began to pass and he moved to a sink and splashed some water on his face. He dried his face, smoothed what was left of his thinning hair, and exited the restroom.

Gorski made his way back down the hallway toward the conference room. As he rounded the corner, he saw Simmonds chatting with the other WSC officials. One of them reached out and shook Simmonds' hand. Anton Gorski, eighth commander of Moonbase Alpha and Commissioner of the World Space Commission, stood watching with his mouth hanging open. He knew exactly what had happened. Simmonds had ended his career once again.


The corridor stretched ahead for what seemed like light years, the door to safety almost at the very end. She gathered the last of her strength and began to sprint as fast as her legs would carry her. "Almost there..." she thought to herself, pushing herself to maintain the pace. She began to believe that she would actually make it when she felt the hands grab her from behind.

"Let go of me!" She struggled against his grip. "I don't want to go!" She looked up defiantly at her tall captor.

"You are required to go," said Zantor softly, "and last night you could not wait to go." He reached down and gently wiped away the tear that rolled down his four-year-old daughter's face. He glanced at the chronometer on the nearby commpost. "There is still time before your class departs. Let us go and discuss this."

Zantor took his daughter's hand in his as they walked to a door toward the end of the corridor. The commlock signal caused the door to their quarters to slide open. Sarah looked up from the terminal she was seated at, one hand suspended over the keyboard and the other arm holding a baby. "That was a quick field trip," she said.

"I don't want to go anymore," said Mira despondently.

"But, you were so excited last night!" Sarah stood and laid the baby in a bassinet and sat down on the bed. "Come over here, honey," she said, patting the bed next to her. Mira stomped over to the bed and sat down next to her mother. Zantor sat down on the other side of Mira. Sarah took Mira's hand in hers. "So, what happened this morning to change everything?" Mira did not say anything. Sarah tried again. "Did Mrs. Kano see what happened?"

"No, she was too busy saying goodbye to Mr. Kano," said Mira. David Kano, whom everyone had assumed only had eyes for Main Computer, had fallen in love with and married Moonbase Alpha's new schoolteacher.

"Please, Mira, just tell us what happened," said Zantor.

Mira pouted for a moment. "Ryan Morrow said I was the only Kaldorian human," she finally blurted out.

Sarah glanced at Zantor and then down at Mira. "Oh, sweetie, he didn't mean anything by that. And actually, it's not entirely true. Your baby brother is also both Kaldorian and human." Sarah smoothed Mira's hair. It was white, like her father's, and had pink streaks like those of Kaldorian women, but her skin was tan like that of her mother and the white and pink markings around her eyes were not as extensive as those of Kaldorians. "We've talked about this before. You and your brother are miracles, and your friends here like you the way you are."

"What if the people on Earth laugh at me?" Mira asked.

Zantor spoke up. "I know that we do not go to Earth very often and that you do not remember much about our last visit, but most of the Kaldorians live on Earth. People on Earth are used to Kaldorians."

"Then what am I?" asked Mira.

The door chime sounded and Sarah pulled out her commlock. Sandra Morrow's face looked back at her. "Ryan has something to say to Mira." Sarah smiled and pointed her commlock at the door. Sandra walked in with her son Ryan in tow. She brought him over to Mira, who was busily studying the floor. "Ryan!" she whispered.

"I'm sorry," the young boy said morosely.

Sandra shook her head, not completely satisfied, but Sarah spoke up. "Mira, what do you say when someone apologizes to you?"

Mira did not look up. "I forgive you," she said just as morosely.

Julia Koenig ran through the open door, soon followed by Alan Carter with his son Alex in tow. Julia ran up to Sandra. "Mrs. Kano says it's time for the field trip. Is Mira coming?"

Carter answered for Sandra. "Of course she is, love! She wouldn't miss a field trip that I would chaperone." He squatted down in front of Mira. "If she didn't come, then my feelings would be hurt beyond repair." He squeezed his face into a sour look as the mock sobs flowed forth. Alex and Julia began to giggle. Sandra brought her hand to her mouth as she started to laugh as well. Zantor glanced at Sarah in amusement, noting that she also could not keep from laughing. He put his arm around Mira and leaned down to look at her when he felt her shudder. He was relieved to find that she was laughing and not crying.

"OK, Mr. Alan, I'll go," giggled Mira.

Carter immediately shut off the water works and scooped Mira up in one arm. "Oh, I'm so relieved! Let's go!" He picked up Alex in his other arm and groaned. "Whoa, it's tough to chaperone a field trip!" He winked at Sarah. "They don't prepare you for this in astronaut school!"

Sarah smiled and silently mouthed, "Thanks, Alan." To Mira she said, "Have fun, sweetie. Make sure everyone is nice to Mr. Alan."

Mira waved at her parents as Carter carried his two burdens from the room. Sandra kissed Ryan on the cheek and sent him along. Julia looked around the room, satisfied that her work was finished. She headed toward the door and waved at the figure walking in from the corridor. "Bye, Daddy," she said as she ran out the door to catch up with the others.

John Koenig smiled and shook his head as he crossed his arms and watched his daughter and the others heading down the corridor. "Cancel red alert," he said jokingly.

"Disaster averted," agreed Sarah.

"I'm so sorry about that!" said Sandra.

"Oh, Sandra, Ryan did nothing wrong," assured Sarah. "Mira will have to learn that being recognized as different is not persecution."

"We're all facing new experiences," said Koenig. "We raise our children in space and take them to Earth for a field trip," he said, shaking his head. "It's not how I originally pictured life on Alpha." He turned to Sandra. "Do you suppose we're doing the right thing?"

Sandra smiled, "I don't think the children mind. They don't know any different. We're the only ones who worry."

Sarah had walked over to check the baby and looked over her shoulder at the others. "Well, after last year I almost decided it wasn't worth it." The others nodded as they remembered the encounter with an alien vessel. They were never able to establish contact with the inhabitants of the vessel. It simply hovered over Alpha and siphoned power from throughout the base. Alpha had been able to implement phased economies to keep life support functioning, but there was not enough power to evacuate the base through Backdoor or to even raise and launch the Eagle fleet. After three cold, frightening days, the ship simply left, apparently having parasitically refueled sufficiently for the rest of its journey. Everyone came through the ordeal unscathed, but all were reminded that instant access to Earth might not be always guaranteed.

"Life has risks, both on Alpha and on Earth," said Sandra. "We have to take some chances, or we are not really living."

"You're right," Sarah conceded as she rejoined the group. "I did always want to come to the Moon, but I never dreamed I'd be able to explore the universe at the same time." She looked over at Zantor and smiled. "Not to mention marry an alien!" She laughed at Zantor's smirk and concluded, "OK, I suppose that journey was worth the risk."

Sandra stood and headed toward the door. "Well, now that Ryan is on his journey, I need to take advantage of the opportunity to get some work done!"

"And I have a moonbase to run," added Koenig, following Sandra. They said goodbye to Zantor and Sarah and made their way to the travel tube.

David Kano handed Koenig a printout as he and Sandra entered Main Mission. Sandra greeted Tanya Carter and then took her station near her husband, Paul Morrow.

Koenig continued up the steps to his desk and took in his privileged view of Main Mission. Part of him was still amazed at the number of his people who had decided to return to duty on Moonbase Alpha. As difficult as the separation from Earth had been, it had been life-changing, and many had been drawn back to Alpha once it had been rediscovered and made operational again. He was pleased to see his wife appear to the left of the main viewer. She smiled and made her way to his desk.

"Here's the report on the latest annual physicals, John," said Helena. "All good news." Koenig took the report and then took her hand. Helena beat him to the punch. "Lunch in our quarters today? We have them all to ourselves," she smiled.

"You read my mind, doctor," Koenig replied. He thought back on the past few years as he watched his wife leave. They were continuing on an adventure that had not begun by choice but was now proceeding in a way that was more on their own terms than had ever been possible while separated from Earth. Maybe there really was someone watching out for Moonbase Alpha. He looked up as Victor Bergman entered Main Mission and walked up the steps to Main Computer. "How is the universe today, Victor?" Koenig called over to him.

Bergman glanced around the room at his busy friends and colleagues and then smiled over at Koenig. "I'd say all is well, John" he answered cheerfully as he turned his attention to a nearby keypad.

Commander John Koenig opened his logbook and began to put pen to paper.

Copyright (c) 2007. 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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