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The Breath Of Life

Authors: Christopher Dalton
Show Year: Y1
Rating: PG-13
Date: 2003
When the Moon is caught in the gravitational field of a mysterious planet, the Alphans are visited by visions of people they once knew.
Average Rating: 3.5/5 (based on 2 reviews)

Chapter One

Nearly everything had been imported to Moonbase Alpha, including the human emotion known to many as love.

It was a lunar colony that often inspired memories that could be classified in either the fond or not so fond categories. The three hundred and eleven men and women had been stationed to live and work on the ancient natural satellite's surface at first felt some to no attraction for their temporary home. That had been before the black day of September 13, 1999 A.D.

Merely to tolerate the Moon had required real effort because human emotions and attitudes underwent drastic changes so far from the warm Earth, and rarely for the better.

When the Area Two nuclear waste dumps had detonated on that black day in human history, the human emotions and attitudes changed drastically when human survival became the paramount issue. Some had managed to get acquainted and accustomed to their new situation immediately. There had been those who could not get used what had happened to them. Some had died, while others had gone quietly insane. Others tried not to think about being cut off from Earth by going about their normal duties. Of maintaining their sterile and pristine home.

Like John Koenig, the ninth and last commander of Moonbase Alpha, many still had no rational explanation as to how the Alphans survived. Scientifically, they should have all been killed when the waste dumps detonated. The Moon should have been obliterated. Not blasted out of Earth's orbit and the solar system.

It was still a mystery that plagued the minds of the Alphans, almost three years later. Including the command staff.

Surely it hasn't changed or bothered me that much, Matthew Prentis thought. Sure the past three years have been tough on us all. The bearded young man was used to places like Earth's moon. As used to them as any man or woman could get. Especially if they hated Earth to the core like he did.

The native of Kentucky was lying in the bed in the darkened room, hands behind his head as he gazed upward. Nearby, a digital clock set on lunar time glowed a soft, mocking green. The ceiling was as icy fluorescent as the rest of the sterile environment that made up the wheel-shaped metropolis of Moonbase Alpha. The only difference at this time, was that the lights were dimmed to simulate the times of night and day. It was as dark as that of space lying beyond, a dark veil mirroring the smaller domesticated shadows that populated his quarters' bedroom.

Usually Matt was able to concentrate fully on his job as a security guard, but tonight, the shadows had seeped into his head, to muddle and worry him. They buzzed his thoughts, little worries obscuring purpose, indecision, and uncertainty mottling the color of the future.

It was a future tied tightly to the continued survival of the Alphan population. Especially after the loss of Professor Victor Bergman, Main Mission Controller Paul Morrow, Computer Technician David Kano, Tanya Alexander, and two other sensor technicians. And the incidents on that one planet where they had been taken hostage by a race of machines who wanted to leave their world. He too, almost died, on that mission. Thankfully, John Koenig and the others had managed to convince the machines of that world that there was no shame in serving others.

It was also a future tied tightly to the supple, silhouetted form that slept next to him. Naked as he was. He rolled over and rested on an elbow as he stared at the familiar curves masked by the loose folds of a thin blanket.

You're one amazing woman, Yasko. How I got stuck with you, I'll never know, he wondered. What did I ever do to deserve you? Circumstances or something else?

It was cold outside, colder than most humans could imagine, let alone would ever experience. Inside: here, now, in this quiet bed it was warm and comfortable and reassuring. How nice it would be to have that feeling all the time instead of just for few hours each lunar or solar day and during the unconsciousness of night.

That wasn't possible, he reminded himself. His was a cold job, one that matched the nature of the Moon's environment. Some time in the future, he thought as he stared at the Asian woman sleeping alongside him. We'll find another world to live on. Try and do better than what our human ancestors did on Earth. Try and not have our new home fall into decadence like Earth did.

He reached out and ran a hand along the curve of her naked hip, down the gentle swell of her side, up to her shoulder, the tips of his fingers touching lightly her cascading black hair and then on to her sculpted cheek. At the touch she stirred lightly in her sleep.

So beautiful, he thought. Even when she is asleep, so beautiful.

He touched her again, his hand moving lower, the heat of her bare back communicating like a mild shock through his fingers. She stirred again, pulled the pale blue blanket higher around her neck.

Matt turned away, closing his eyes. Slowly the shadows haunting his thoughts broke up and went away, to merge with the shadows that filled the bedroom, and he dropped into the sound, frequent sleep that was a trademark.

Until he was awakened by an emergency that should arise.

Moonbase Alpha and the rest of the harsh, bleak surface of the Moon constituted an inescapable reminder of the precariousness of the Alphans position and of the enormous distance between them and warm homes on Earth. An Earth trillions of light years away in ecological and political turmoil.

September 13th and its initial impact on the Alphans, old and new, had a profound psychological, if not environmental and survival effect. The men and women who had made the lunar base a temporary home called the time they were compelled to spend there by another name. The fecundity of the human vocabulary when confronted with isolation, hard work, survival, and danger was truly astonishing.

On some levels.

Many things had happened to the Alphans since September 13th. A lot of unexplainable and mysterious things. Some bordering on the mystical and metaphysical.

And in the solar system that was about forty-eight hours Eagle travel time away from the cast out satellite, something else unexplainable was beginning to form.

Something alien in nature.

And just as mysterious.....

Chapter Two

The vision of a giant lunar colony was perhaps the most fascinating and imaginative concept in the World Space Commission's history. The political and financial commitment that was required to build such a place, at first, remained beyond the reach of terrestrial governments for some time. It was only before, and after the thermonuclear war of 1987, that a vast international effort and the common wisdom of the survivors made it possible.

The future years ahead was full of surprises. Eager dreamers of the Apollo era ('blue sky thinkers', the old NASA administrators used to call them) were happily surprised that a lunar community like Moonbase Alpha had made it off the drawing boards. The generation of that time were equally surprised by some of the new technology, as well as some of the urgent and unexpected financial and social motivation that boosted humanity back to the moon.

They were, however, more than surprised when the waste dumps on the far side of the moon detonated from an electromagnetic pulse, hurling Earth's great natural satellite out of orbit, the solar system, and the plane of the ecliptic itself.

As were the three hundred and eleven men and women within the sterile confines of Alpha. The Alphans had even been more surprised when the Moon had entered a black sun and emerged on the far side of the galaxy. Let alone the other space warps and wormholes they had encountered in that period of time.

The subspace conduit that they had encountered was a mixed blessing. From the data that had been programmed by the information provided by Victor Bergman and the Voyager One data recordings, Alpha's central computer had successfully predicted the occurrence nearly twenty four hours in advance.

The computer had theorized that the moon was traveling at a velocity that was ideal for encountering such phenomena and hazards in space. Until the Moon's velocity changed, the Alphans would encounter a number of these physical warps, wormholes, or subspace conduits. Since altering the velocity of something as large as the moon required a great deal of energy, the personnel of Moonbase Alpha resigned themselves to the disruptions. A day's warning allowed them to secure possessions and personnel, resulting in the damage being as close to minimal as possible. Of course, there were times when such phenomena could not predicted, resulting in some unexpected moments.

The solar system the Moon emerged into however, had its own dangers. There were at least seven planets of various sizes, including an asteroid belt and some comets. The Alphans barely had enough time to assess the damage from the subspace conduit when a small comet had been detected on a collision course with the moon. The impact had occured several hundred miles away from the base, and the shock waves hit them quickly.

Thankfully, the damage was minimal and much less than expected. It was sometime later that Sandra Benes was the first to realize why.

The Command Center was buzzing with some activity, as personnel were busy checking for any other damage and casualties. Unlike Main Mission, the underground control center was much smaller and a bit claustrophobic. However, the command personnel and other staff had grown accustomed to the new surroundings on Alpha. As much as they had grown used and accustomed to the new nomenclature for signage on various Alphan departments, the new field and duty jackets and the new uniforms that had replaced the old unisex style and design of the old uniforms.

Sandra showed up at John Koenig's elbow with a data disk and a smile on her elfin features.

"You look like the proverbial cat that ate the canary," Koenig observed, returning the smile as he took the data disk from her.

"Just take a look," the young short haired woman said. "I do not get a chance to give you good news very often."

The exchange had attracted the attention of everyone in Command Center. They all watched expectantly as John read the report. He grinned and leaned back in his chair. Noticing the curious stares of the others, he touched Sandra's elbow. "Well, you found it. You should tell them."

Sandra features blushed slightly, but smiled back at her commander. She disliked being the center of attention, but was excited over the news she had just found out about. "The comet had a much lower specific gravity, keeping the energy released on impact lower."

She paused and Koenig enjoyed watching the audience. Alibe picked up the significance first, as he had expected. Annette Fraser's eyes widened as she clasped her hands, almost as if in a silent prayer, as she too also picked up the significance.

"And..." Tony Verdeschi prompted with his usual impatience.

"The comet was mostly made of ice crystals, oxygen, and water ice."

There was a collective gasp from Sandra's audience, then everyone began talking at once. Koenig smiled at Sandra again, then began making preparations to send his best survey exploration team out to mine the essential minerals and elements.

The moon, if not Moonbase Alpha's abrupt and unplanned departure from Earth orbit had resulted in a number of shortages for the survivors who clung to life on and just below the surface of the ancient satellite. Heavy metals and certain alloys were needed to keep their systems and other essential machinery running. But another chronic shortage was water.

Despite finding the frozen vein of water and oxygen below the lunar surface almost several months past, the Alphans knew that it would not last the entire population indefinitely. Everything was recycled and nothing was wasted. However, a lack of a large water and oxygen supply was the biggest obstacle to expanding the lunar community. They could not grow additional food or add to their population for fear of ruining the delicate balance they had achieved within their sterile, artificial environment. It had been hoped that water and oxygen might be found in other veins of ice, somewhere on the Moon. Aside from the one that had been found, the survey teams had found little additional ice and oxygen, other than that which had initially been mined at the time Moonbase Alpha was constructed.

John was glad that Greg Sanderson's team was on the base. The team was the best geological personnel available, their work being an avocation as well as a vocation. Under Helena's medical guide lines, all surface teams, to avoid bouts of green sickness, were required to spend a minimum of two weeks on base between expeditions, mostly for rest and recreation, with light operational duties in the hydroponics section.

Sanderson and his team had been on base for over eight days, but Koenig knew that he could get Alpha's Chief Medical Officer to waive the rules under the circumstances. He sent a message for Sanderson to meet him in the Medical center, then took the data disk of information with him, leaving orders for Sandra to accumulate the more detailed report the selenologists and other geologists would need.

"How does your ankle feel now?" Bob Mathias asked Joe Ehrlich, who stretched and exercised the muscles in his ankle. The young astrophysicist had accidentally sprained his left ankle while practicing his golf swing. Thankfully, it had not been serious or swollen plump.

"A lot better after having stayed off of it," confessed Ehrlich. "I'd like to know who polished the floor in the recreation center before I came in."

Mathias chuckled a little as Helena ran her med scanner over the young man's ankle. The ice blonde woman smiled at the satisfactory results the med scanner displayed on its small screen.

"I don't think you need to club whoever was responsible with your seven iron," Helena said, with both a trace of humor and talking Ehrlich out of any unnecessary violence. "Besides, your ankle is a lot better and healed nicely. It should not interrupt your golf swing anytime soon."

"That's easy for you to say," Ehrlich said, smiling a little. "I was literally bored having to stay off my ankle. I got to stay in practice if we ever find a planet to colonize."

"You're thinking about opening a golf course?"

Ehrlich laughed at Mathias's question. "That and retiring."

"Well, you should be fine," Helena said, as Ehrlich was standing up. "Just don't overexert yourself while playing."

"You won't have any arguments from me on that subject," Ehrlich reassured her. "Thanks, Doc."

Helena watched Ehrlich's retreating form as she took a quick glance on her clipboard. Mathias shook his head. "Knowing Joe, he would use a nine iron."

Helena smirked a little. "Let's hope not. I'm glad he is nothing like Fuzzy Zoeller."

The doors parted to allow John access to the medical center. He motioned Helena over to the desk that the doctor normally sat at. John nodded his head toward the door that Ehrlich exited out of earlier.

"How's his ankle?'

"A lot better," Helena answered. "The ligaments were not torn up. Just strained a little."

"Let's hope it doesn't ruin his golf swing," John stated. "He enjoys that game as much as Tony enjoys fencing."

"And as much as you enjoy kendo," Helena said, playfully. "So, what brings you to this part of the woods?"

Koenig barely had a chance to explain the situation to Helena Russell when the big, burly, dark shaggy haired, and bearded form of Sanderson stomped into her office. From the looks of the exploration team leader, he was a bit exhausted.

"I hope you've called me here to tell me I'm off the work detail in hydroponics. You can't imagine how much I hate watering plants." Sanderson wiped sweat from his forehead with a pale blue handkerchief. His uniform was drenched from working in the high humidity of Alpha's greenhouse area. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were paying me back for playing that trump card the other night and giving the game to Helena and Eva."

Koenig smiled and leaned against the credenza behind Helena's desk. "I haven't forgotten that, but I do need your assistance on something. I've talked Helena into releasing you back to duty early."

"You're kidding," Sanderson looked suspiciously at the two smiling faces. "What's the drill?"

Helena slowly swung the desk monitor around so Sanderson could see the complex diagram glowing on the screen.

"You're not kidding!" Sanderson said as he scanned the data information being displayed. "This could be something big."

John laughed. "Get out and get to work will you? Alan has an Eagle waiting for you and your team on pad two. I've called in Eva, Cernik, Stevens, and the other two teams. I've told them to report to you. You'll be in charge."

"Sounds good to me," Sanderson called, already on his way out the door. "I hope you don't mind me taking a shower first."

"Eva and the others will probably appreciate that," John grinned. "Just bring back the water to replace it."

"I'll bring you a whole damn swimming pool!" was the reply as Sanderson left the medical center.

Koenig placed his right hand on Helena's left shoulder and she covered it with her own. "We'll need to begin working on where we'll put all that water," she said with a smile.

"I'll leave that up to you as head of Life Support and the Chief Engineer," John said. "You available for dinner this evening?"

She stood and put her arms around his waist. "After aerobics session, around 19:00 okay?"

"You bet," John nodded as he gave her a quick kiss and left for the Command Center. Helena was already calling Patrick and Michelle Osgood as Koenig left her office.

"Patrick, Michelle," Helena nodded as the couple sat down in the two chairs in front of her desk. "What can I do for you for two."

"Michelle has been having some burning sensations in her chest," the brown haired young man replied. "She said it was nothing serious, but I thought I'd better bring her over nonetheless."

"Patrick, you worry too much," the willowy blonde smiled. "I told you, it feels like indigestion."

"It still would not hurt to have it looked at," the engineer pointed out.

"Let me run some tests, Michelle," Helena said, motioning Bob to bring another med scanner over. "It's probably nothing but acid reflux. But all the same, it wouldn't hurt to be safe."

Chapter Three

At quarter past seven that evening, showered and changed and comfortably relaxed after their workout, both Sandra and Helena entered one of the recreational areas. Other people from first shift were occupied at various areas of the vast room, playing certain board, card, and computer games. Other Alphans were watching various entertainment videos. Joe Erhlich waved to Sandra and she smiled and waved back.

"Are you ready for dinner, Helena?" Sandra asked her friend.

"I'm supposed to meet John here shortly. You go on ahead."

Sandra nodded and headed across the room. Helena sank down on a sofa and leaned back, happy for a chance to relax for a moment. Someone had programmed the video screen in front of her with music videos, the speakers on either side of the sofa first playing a Pink Floyd song, followed by one made by Queen. The next song that followed was one softly played by Don Henley. She closed her eyes, the steel drums and calypso beat reminding her of the only real vacation she and her late husband Lee had ever taken together.

It had been just before Lee had left on the Astro 7 mission to Jupiter. A mission that would prove to be his last. They had rented a cabin in Jamaica. It had also been wonderfully secluded and quiet. She thought about the hammock on the front porch where they would curl up together and listen to the rain on the tin roof every afternoon. She also remembered the way Lee had laughed when she had come back afternoon from a shopping trip with her hair corn-rowed and beaded. Then he had patiently helped her comb out the tangled mess it became by the next day.

The song ended and a more poignant song sung by the Beatles began. It matched her mood, as she thought about how nice it was to be able to remember the good times with Lee without the pain of loss. She knew that had a lot to do with the chance she had finally had to say goodbye to Lee as well as the beginning of a relationship she now had with John Koenig.

A light touch on her hand broke her reverie. Koenig was kneeling beside her, smiling. "Were you asleep?" he asked.

"No, just thinking. Ready for dinner?" She stood up.

Koenig took her elbow and guided her toward the door. "If we can make it a quick one." His tone was quiet. "Greg just called me. He has found something he thinks I should see. He did not want to say much about it, but that it was important enough for him to lift off and let me know about it. Want to come along?"

"When are we leaving?" she asked, quickly adjusting to the change of plans.

"Eagle Six is almost ready. We can grab a bite to eat and go as soon as we're finished."

Using the coordinates Sanderson had given him, John and Helena arrived at the new crater on the moon's surface three hours later. Rock had been splashed away from the crater, making the formerly smooth Sea Of Crises a hazardous place to land on. On Earth, whenever someone saw the full moon high in the south, they had to look carefully at its right-hand edge and let their eye travel upward along the curve of the disk. Round about two o'clock they would notice a small, dark oval : anyone with normal eyesight could find it easily. It was the great walled plain, one of the finest on the Moon, known as the Mare Crisium - the sea of Crises. Three hundred miles in diameter, most of it very flat, and almost completely surrounded by a ring of magnificent mountains, it had never been explored until late in the summer of 1996 AD. A very wonderful summer.

Sanderson's team had strung portable transponders to guide them in to a safe landing spot. Koenig touched down the Eagle spacecraft as gently as he could, while Helena suited up in the standard red orange environment suit, canary yellow helmet with the mustard colored visor, and both oxygen back pack and front life support chest pack. After landing, Koenig did the same process. After checking each others suit seals and decompressing the Eagle's passenger module, both the commander and chief medical officer made the short walk to Sanderson's survey Eagle.

Sanderson met them outside. Turning their suit comlocks to the local frequency he indicated, both of them listened to Sanderson's commentary as they followed him to a nearby outcropping of rocks. The footing was slippery as they crunched through a layer of fresh fallen "snow".

"At first we thought it was just debris from the blast area," he was saying. "A micro crater that was recently bombarded again. Then we noticed that there were some odd lines to it. Not natural fracture angles. It was certainly made to look like a small crater - less than a hundred meters across. But the debris from the comet's impact blew out some of the loose covering, leaving another structure uncovered."

"Is it alien in origin?" Koenig questioned.

"We thought so at first, but what we saw next quickly changed our minds. You'll see why in a second."

As they approached what looked like a splash zone for a small crater, they saw what Sanderson meant. the rock had been poled to look like a crater, but the more recent impact had revealed a more regular and substantial surface beneath. Reinforced concrete had taken a beating but held up against the blast. they rounded a pile of rocks to find an exposed wall with a standard looking airlock. Sanderson used the manual controls to open the outer door and stepped inside. Koenig and Russell followed noting the basic Terran design, but without any written identifications or electronic alternatives.

"Once inside, we found a power supply waiting," Sanderson answered their unspoken question. "Everything was sealed tight, as if someone had cleaned up and left with every intention of returning."

The inner door pressure equalized. Eva was standing just inside the entrance, environment suit on, but her helmet and white gloves removed. The air tasted slightly stale and metallic, as if it had not circulated through the air purifiers and filters in a long while. She held a clipboard and offered it to John as he entered and removed his helmet. Cernik and Stevens were running diagnostics on some of the computer equipment in the vast underground chamber.

"We've found a manifest," the lovely, short red haired woman explained. "It's in English and signed by someone, but I don't recognize the forms or the logo above."

Koenig removed his helmet and took the clipboard. He handed it to Helena after she had removed her helmet and gloves. He cast his eyes over what appeared to be a small, well supplied warehouse while Helena scanned the list. It was an amazing wish list of items that Moonbase Alpha was in need of : tools, equipment, fuel, lubricants. There were even personal items such as soap, clothing, shampoo, emergency food, medical supplies, medicine, and containers of water and oxygen that could last for quite some time.

Helena shook her head as she looked over the list. The logo at the top of each page was unfamiliar to her as well. An acronym was spelled out to the side of the symbol standing straight within a circle. A symbol that represented an arrow, somewhat similar to the astronaut's crest. An arrow pointing skyward among a field of stars. As to the letters that the arrow was pointing away from, there was nothing familiar about them to the Alphans. No explanation for the acronym.

"W.A.N.D.E.R. ," Helena read the letters. "John, have you ever heard of that organization?"

"No," John shook his head in puzzlement. "Greg, you've been in the space commission as long as I have. Does it mean anything to you?"

"And I've been on the Moon longer," Sanderson shook his head. The bearded young man had been with one of the first survey teams for the International Lunar Commission when the crater Plato was picked as a site for the building of Moonbase Alpha. "I've never heard of that one. Although the powers at be back on Earth came up with plenty of divisions. Each strange with their own bloody nickname."

"Could it have been some pre-war organization?" Eva suggested. "A military one perhaps?"

"It certainly was well organized, whatever it was," Helena commented. "John, I should be able to give you a date based on some of these medical supplies. They should have a shelf life date which would allow us to infer when they were manufactured and processed."

Koenig nodded for her to try and turned to Sanderson. "Any living quarters?"

"The atmosphere seems to be purely for storage purposes," the young man reported. "This was simply a supply dump and storage chamber. That desk is the only furniture here, and there isn't even a chair for it."

The desk indicated was where Eva had found the manifest. It was just above waist height, obviously meant to be used to check in supplies. "There's a computer terminal and a paper manifest," Eva added. "Judging by the computer's condition, it hasn't been used in some time. It might take a few hours to have it back on line and operational."

The three explored the shelves near the airlock while waiting for Helena's return from the medical area. It did not take her long. She returned with a small box containing vials of medication. "I'd like to confirm with computer, but I know the shelf date on a few of these. I'd say these were manufactured about fifteen years past."

"Around the time Alpha was built?" John asked.

Helena nodded.

"Could this have been some kind of reserve depot that was forgotten about?" Sanderson wondered.

"It's possible," John stated, analyzing the evidence before them. "However, I have a hard time believing that something as big as this chamber could just slip out of memory. But, we could certainly use these supplies. We'll have a complete computer search done on "W.A.N.D.E.R", but in the meantime we'll get the supplies back to Alpha. Greg, I know you want to get on with mining activities. I'll send a team out from supply to deal with this."

Sanderson nodded, looking forward to get on with his own work. "just wanted you two to see for yourself."

Koenig nodded and all of them began resealing their suits and helmets. "I'm glad you called us out here. Helena, are there any of the medical supplies that we need immediately?"

"That I'd want to take now?" she asked, checking his seals as he double checked hers. She shook her head. "I've got some samples here just to test, but the rest can wait."

Both Sanderson and Eva had double checked each others environment suits and all were ready to depart. Helena sealed her supplies in an airtight medical bag and the four Alphans crowded into the lock and left the well stocked depot of the unrecognized W.A.N.D.E.R. organization. Koenig contacted Tony and began to make arrangements for the head of the Supply department to send out a team to the depot, while Helena scanned the manifest and reviewed it. After John finished speaking to Tony, he saw one of the planets up above the lunar horizon that the Moon was traveling nearby. A purplish-blue sphere that radiated some luminescent light in the vastness of space.

He made a note to have that world scanned once they returned.

Jerry Travis was looking forward to the rest of the evening. His shift had gone well: no glitches, no problems of any type. No equipment breakdown requiring anything more than the usual amount of repair work. Even George Crato had managed an occasional kind word, despite his surly demeanor, and Mark Saunders had finally conquered his damnable cold.

The exchange in Flight Control had gone smoothly, as always. Around him in the section near the hanger at Launch Pad Four, his co-workers were likewise preparing themselves to go off duty or on, as their shift schedules dictated. He was looking forward to the usual three dimensional chess game, or any other form of recreational activity that the rec center provided.

Walking down the silent, pristine corridors of Moonbase Alpha, Jerry looked over the last item on his datapad before arriving at Travel Tube Three. He left a message for Alan about one of the supply Eagles flight computers needing a diagnostic.

As he walked past one of the communications posts near entrance to the travel tube, some form of movement was caught out of the corner of his eye. He turned around and saw something that was virtually out of place on the permanent lunar settlement.

"What the hell?" he muttered.

He saw a little girl, around the age of ten years with suntanned reddish skin, which indicated that she was Native American in origin, and short brown hair. She was wearing a short black T - shirt and short pants. She even wore sandals.

"How did you get here?" Jerry demanded, a bit surprised. There were no children on Alpha that he knew about. Not since Jackie Crawford had tragically died. Or Tanya Alexander disappearing with her unborn child after the incident on Arkadia some years past.

The little girl giggled and ran down the hall away from the surprised Eagle pilot.

"Hey!" Jerry called after the baby girl. "Hey, wait! Come back here!"

Jerry chased after the giggling child, who rounded the corner near the Technical Section. He almost ran into Ed Malcolm, who was walking out. The thinning brown haired young man almost surprised by the near collision.

"Jerry, look out!" Malcolm yelped, almost falling back into the closed door.

Jerry regained his balance and stopped in his tracks. "Sam, did you see where she went?"

"See who?" Malcolm inquired, a bit dazed by the near impact.

"That girl that ran down past here." Jerry said, catching his breath.

Malcolm looked aorund the corridor and saw nothing. Only two Alphan technicians walking past the two men. "What girl?"

"That little girl that just raced past here," Jerry said, catching his breath again.

Malcolm looked around again, wondering if Jerry was playing a prank. "Jerry, there are no children here on Alpha. At least none that I know of. Maybe someone was playing around with some holographic equipment again."

Jerry considered the thought for a moment.

"It could have been," he admitted.

But somehow, the situation that transpired did not seem to fit that pattern.

Chapter Four

One of the many duties that Tony Verdeschi was not fond of, when it became to being Chief Of Security on Moonbase Alpha, was the constant paperwork. There were reports to check, information to peruse, duty rosters to okay, lists of those who were on report for either insubordination or some minor offense, and a number of things he did not want to go over. When he first came to the primary lunar colony, he had to go over such menial items to familiarize himself with the physical layout of the base and the people who were assigned there. Often he studied the items in private, so he could simmer unobserved from whatever had infuriated him.

In the security office, the Italian security chief was running the regular morning roll call and check. The roll call really wasn't necessary. It was more of a formality than anything else. If someone was absent from duty, it was simple enough to check out their whereabouts as there were not other places to go.

Matt sat off by himself at the back of the security office, partially taking note of what was being said and mostly someplace else. When it came time for Tony to speak to him about security matters, his attention level rised up immediately. Like his superior, John Koenig, and the rest of the command staff, he did not take the safety of Alpha lightly. He took it very serious.

"Okay," Tony was saying briskly, "what do we have?" He studied his acrylic board, then looked up toward Matt. "Matthew, what's happened with the Storage Area? That was your assignment, wasn't it?"

The young man nodded. "I've had the entire section area monitored for thirty- six hours. It's been quiet as a church. Quinton and Asante haven't turned up anything either. No fingerprints when we went through and scanned. No skin oil residue around the doors, jimmy marks, laser burns, nothing. I checked the computer for anyone who had been in that area as of late. No one at all. I'd say it was a malfunction on one of the computer systems there."

"Sounds like it," was Tony's opinion. "I'll notify Maintenance and have someone run a systems diagnostic, just to be on the safe side. Keep the monitor scan on it for another two weeks. If it wasn't a systems malfunction, it could be someone playing a joke or something else."

"Right," Matt nodded once more, chewing on a stylus.

Tony focused his attention on a more serious item.

"Palmer, what about the detonators?"

"They were found," the security officer in question informed him.


"Level Five of the catacombs," He looked unconcerned. "Pat Osgood said they disappeared from that area and they were found sometime later. He was at a loss as much as I was."

"I'm glad they turned up," Tony said, a bit surprised himself. "But, somehow that's not enough. We're talking about nuclear detonators. You don't just lose them and then find them. Tell Pat I want to know where they were found, who found them, and if there were anyone else around when they were found."

"Yes, sir." Palmer's alertness level had abruptly risen fifty percent.

Tony's meaningful gaze went back to the board. "What about the Recreation Center, Skaggs?"

"Nothing unusual." the woman pushed at her dark hair, looked thoughtful. "The usual shit. Oh, yeah, Ryan asked us for a couple more people for the late shift. Just to keep those in line after a few belts. Seems some people have been getting a smidgen rowdier than usual and he thought a show of force would be enough to get some potential troublemakers to tone it down."

"I'll pass along Ryan's request to the commander," said Tony. "Tell him I don't think there will be any difficulties." His attention shifted to the next in line. "Slater, what about that incident that Jerry Travis reported yesterday?"

"There's nothing much to tell, Tony." The security guard made a face. "We did a scan of the area and a search for this little girl that Jerry described. We did not find this person or any sign of someone tampering with one of the rec center's holoprojectors."

Slater said it all matter-of-factly, without emotion. Something that would unnerve Matt from time to time. He focused his gaze fixedly on the security officer and the report he was giving.

"Any other details?" Tony wanted to know.

"I did do another scan of the area," Slater consulted his memory. "There was an unusual energy flux reading. I notified the Commander and the science officer on duty. Since then, no one else has reported anything unusual."

"Sahn or Alibe should have something to report within the hour," Tony nodded. "Even if it is nothing. What did Ed Malcolm have to say about what Jerry encountered? He was there at the time."

"Just what Jerry had told him," Slater said haltingly. "He did not see anything and he helped out with the scan of the area. He was just as surprised as we were when we found out that it was not a holoprojector or someone playing a prank."

"Very well," Tony looked back to his list. "Fanning, what do you have at the hydroponics station?"

"Just a fight. Two of the hydroponics workers apparently had a dispute over something. Hill and I brought them to detention so they could cool off. They were straightened out in about an hour, apologized, and went back to work arm-in-arm." Somebody made a rude joke, snickered, and got quiet real fast after a look from Tony.


"Pretty quiet elsewhere, Tony. There were a couple of calls from Level A about noise in the corridors. Somebody reported a few viewing discs missing from last night. Nothing else new from there."

"Probably somebody left them in a drawer somewhere."

Hudson nodded then smirked. "That was my thought also, but I took the report just the same."

"Good thinking." Tony pressed a small stud set in the side of the data board. Words rushed past through the acrylic surface, eventually slowing to a halt at the preset point.

"Duty roster for today is posted on the board," Tony announced. "That will be all."

One by one, the guards designated rose, and started for the door. All of them acknowledged their duties on the board and filed out. Tony watched them go as Matt returned to the small confines of the security office.

As Tony returned his attention to the board, something else nagged and pestered a part of his mind. The report that Jerry Travis had filed about the little child and the energy flux reading that had been detected. The thought would not go away, no matter what kinds of theories or arguments he threw at it.

He made himself a promise to look into it further when he returned to the Command Center.

Chapter Five

It was night on Moonbase Alpha, by lunar time that is. It was also quiet and not as busy. Unless some were listed in the insomniac category, or just working third shift. Some people enjoyed the night, and considered it a familiar old friend. It was also something that never surprised Matt, no matter where he had been stationed, or before he came to lunar colony. The quiet was different, and to some it would have been considered a reflection. To those who missed Earth, it was a reflection of the hole in their hearts.

Matt was tired. It was amazing to this day, how exhausting ensuring the security of a large isolated community like Alpha could make one.

Sometimes keeping a place like Alpha running smoothly was like riding a rollercoaster carrying a thermos full of nitro. You had to be able to anticipate the bumps and dips and react to them before you reached them. If you didn't they could swing you the wrong way and blow you right off the track.

After September 13, 1999, it was almost twice as difficult. Especially since there was no longer an Earth to resort to help to.

So he apologized to no one including himself for feeling tired. He expected that. But at least the day's work was done and he could go off shift.

Pointing his commlock at the plated door panel, the door slid open, admitting him. Yasko was still on duty and would not be back for at least another hour. He glanced around in the subdued light-everything appeared undisturbed. It was quiet, peaceful in the quarters. His haven in his second haven. He welcomed it.

"Shit," he cursed to no one, stretching his legs and arms. It had been busy. Especially when he had to help out in quelling one disturbance. Brian Richter and his survey exploration team were beginning to show signs of green sickness. Today's incident resulted in Helena having Brian and his team confined to the base and working in hydroponics. Something that Sanderson and his team had been doing earlier, until they got called back to duty when that comet impacted that area on the lunar surface.

Matt had read the report about the abandoned supply depot being found. And the organization that had a part in it. Unlike the containment shaft in the crater Pico, the supply depot was well stocked and supplied. It was a mystery. Something that did not seem as sinister as some of the others they had encountered before.

Matt pushed the thought aside as he changed into his powder blue pajamas and carpet slippers. He pulled out an old fashioned smoking pipe and stuck it in his mouth. He may have smoked cigars, but he never could smoke a regular tobacco pipe. Especially with Captain Black tobacco put into it. He just enjoyed having it in his mouth.

Sitting back in his chair, he savored the moment of sitting in the dark in peaceful silence. Normally, he would play something on his compact disc player and let the moods of the music wash over him. However, he preferred silence for the evening. In some ways, he kept silence for a moment or two. Just to help him relax and not think too much.

His commlock beeped and he held it up, pointing it to the door. He did not bother looking at the commlock's small screen. It might have been Yasko or one of his friends from the Technical Section returning one of his DVD's that they had borrowed.

When the door opened, it was someone that was shrouded in the dark. Something that put Matt in an uneasy mode. he kept his hand close to his laser as the figure walked in. When the figure was in the dim light, Matt immediately saw the figure's features and went white.

"Oh, my God!"

"Hey, guy," the figure said in a pleasant, deep voice. "Busy day at work?"

Matt shook the cobwebs out of his head, trying to fathom the image of the kind old man standing before him. An old man that had the smile of actor Dennis Quaid and the features and voice of Donald Sutherland.

"Unc?" Matt tried to force the words out.

"What's the matter, guy?" his uncle Michael said, a bit surprised at his nephew's reaction. "You look like you've just seen a ghost?"

"I think I have." Matt said.

Even all his years of training in the space program and the security division did not prepare Matthew Prentis for a shock such as this. The room suddenly spun around him and he found himself on the cold, polished floor. That was soon followed by the blackness of unconsciousness coming in with a roar.

Helena crouched over the unconscious form of Matt in the Medical Center, with John and Tony standing nearby. John had his arms folded, his features having the same look of concern as both Helena and Tony. When John heard from Helena that the computer sent off an alarm about Matt passing out, he immediately rushed from the Command Center to Medical Center. Tony was notified five minutes later.

"Is he going to be okay?" John inquired.

"He should be fine," Helena reported. "It looks like minor shock of some kind."

"What kind of shock?" Tony asked, wondering what struck his second in command down.

"Judging by the medscanner's analysis," Helena stated. "The kind that would be described as something frightening. Or...something too terrible that he blocked it out of his conscious memory. Almost like hysterical amnesia."

The communications post near Helena's desk gave off a beep and John walked over, pressing a button. Alibe's image appeared on the small screen.

"John," Alibe began. "Computer just ran a check on the time Matt passed out and it sounding the alarm. There was another minor energy flux reading detected. Around the time the door to Matt's quarters opened."

"Source?" John asked.

"Hard to determine," the African American communications officer reported. "It happened so fast that the computer could not localize it. It does however, match the same wavelengths of the energy flux that was detected yesterday. The same day that Jerry saw that young child."

John nodded, trying to put two and two together. "Very well. Notify me if another flux reading is detected."

"Yes, sir."

As Alibe's image went blank on the screen, John had a suspicious look on his features. Something both Tony and Helena immediately put together themselves. They had the same thoughts as the commander did. Suspicious and concerned all at once.

"What Jerry saw and what happened to Matt could not be a coincidence," Tony stated the obvious conclusion.

"No, it couldn't," John admitted, running the two incidents through his mind. "All of this started when we entered that solar system and discovered that supply depot."

"Think there is a connection?" Helena asked.

"I don't know," John said, analyzing the latest evidence. "This phenomenon has happened twice with no explanation. I'd like to find out why."

The communications post beeped again, and Koenig punched a button. Alan Carter's image came on. And from the look of the Australian pilot's face, it was something major that had just erupted.

"John, can you come to the Command Center?" Alan said, worriedly. "Something unusual has just cropped up."

"Be right there," John replied.

As both John and Tony rushed out, Helena nodded over to Ben Vincent, who immediately took up where Helena left off. Helena followed both John and Tony out at the same fast pace.

In the back of John's mind, as were those of both Helena and Tony, the questions that had been asking earlier seemed to be coming to an answer. One that they were preparing themselves for.

Chapter Six

The last time that Yasko Nagumi felt such a wave of fear was when she had been a young child. A child that had once lived on the island of Ganjitsu, not far from the countries of North and South Korea. A major sphere of Communist influence in the middle of the decade known as the 1980's.

Young Yasko had spent her early childhood scaling the alarmingly steep sidewalks and other major spots of New Tokyo, Japan. By the time she turned eleven, her family had moved to the frontier island of Ganjitsu.

Unlike home, Ganjitsu was flat-at least comparatively-but lovely in its own way. The small village of Ishikawa where Yasko and her family lived was surrounded by cool, lush forests and running streams. Evergreens transplanted from the United States flourished in the dry, temperate climate. Of all the places the Nagumi family lived, Yasko loved Ganjitsu the best. The island was originally settled by conservationists who passed strict laws restricting the number of settlers and guaranteeing that Ganjitsu was a lot like camping out; the homes were makeshift, spread out, separated from one another by dense forest. People traveled in skimmers from village to village-on Ganjitsu, there were no real cities-but to get around twon, everyone walked.

Yasko and her friend, Kumiko walked six kilometers home from school every day. The local grocery lay between, surrounded on either side by thick forest. Yasko's earliest memories of Ganjitsu were happy ones...very happy, until the terrorists came.

Ganjitsu was a sparsely populated border island in an area of the Pacific whose territorial ownership was disputed by the United Nations and Union Of Progressive Peoples of North Korea. At first the terrorist attacks were rare, and too remote from the tiny settlement of Ishikawa to be a real concern. When they first began occurring, Yasko loved to listen to stories of the attacks; she thought it all very exciting.

And then the attacks moved closer. Settlers in Ishikawa, including Yasko's family, constructed what makeshift shelters they could, or did their best to fortify their flimsy homes. Even then, the terrorists held no reality for Yasko. They were exiting, dangerous, and a bit romantic...but not real. Those tales of people dying, including of those of Bill Noltemeyer, Rae Shepherd, Matthew Fisher, and Ramona Leitner-they were just stories.

Most of the stories she heard from Mr. McDowell. Other than the Nagazumi family, the McDowell's were the only bona-fide American family in Ishikawa. There were third - and - fourth generation Scottish families from the states, a sprinkling of Canadians, and a fairly large settlement of British scientists whose mission was to catalog the wealth of flora and fauna unique to Ganjitsu. But Mr. McDowell and his wife Marcie were the only other natives from the states. The silver-haired man and his redheaded wife owned the largest business in the town: McDowell's Grocery stocked all the servitors for kilometers around.

But Yasko did not like Mr. McDowell. He was eagle-eyed and crotchety, with wide gray eyebrows, which Yasko assured Kumiko were ten centimeters long. Mr. McDowell was always complaining about everything - about the weather, about how long it took to get supplies for the Canadians (an enduring breed that McDowell slandered from time to time), about the damn North Koreans and Middle Easterners that he hated.

Goddamn Koreans, they're behind all of these terrorist attacks! Let them try and deny about this one! Twenty-six killed the day before yesterday down in Tamaka....

Goddamn United Nations. The terrorists can kill us all, but will the U.N. lift a finger to help us? Not entirely! They'll still try to work it out diplomatically. Christ! In the meantime, people like us are getting killed for damn reason.....

Mr. McDowell always stared at Yasko and Kumiko when they came in every Friday afternoon, as if he expected them to steal something. Yasko was a bit afraid of the old man. Her friend and neighbor, Kumiko Takeshima teased her mercilessly about it...but Kumiko had been born fearless. Every Friday when Yasko and Kumiko went to the store -Yasko to buy a chocolate bar, Kumiko to pick up her family's servitor order - Kumiko smiled and boldly said hello to Mr. McDowell, who bared his great white teeth and snorted. Yasko merely gulped and nearly trembled at the sight; to her, Mr. McDowell was far more terrifying than any other stories about terrorists from the Middle East.

However, all the other children loved Marcie McDowell. Everything about her was soft: voice, hair, eyes. She smiled and gave Kumiko and Yasko chocolate when her husband was not looking.

"Hullo, Marcie," Kumiko said.

Yasko swiveled her head to look at her friend standing in front of the counter's cold metal surface. Kumiko was precisely fourteen. A skinny dark eyed girl with a neatly trimmed cap of shiny black hair. She wore the faded khaki work suit of an agricultural worker and challenged the old man behind the counter with a smile. yasko had admired her freind because she was everything she was not: decisive, courageous, and outspoken.

Behind the counter, Mr. McDowell grunted unpleasantly in response to Kumiko's insistent smile; Yasko shifted her weight from leg to leg and tried to fade into invisibility.

"Marcie!" McDowell called to his wife.

Marcie emerged from the back of the store with Yasko's order neatly packed into a box-and with two pieces of stick chocolate hidden in her left hand. Her cheeks were flushed with pink skin tones.

"Yasko, Kumiko, how are you both today?"

Yasko smiled shyly and mumbled an unintelligible reply.

"We're all just fine, Marcie," Kumiko said. "How is business?"

"Just the same," Marcie answered. She gave the same answer every Friday. And just as she always did, she handed Kumiko the box...and slipped Yasko the small stick of chocolate.

As Yasko was about to chocolate bar from Marcie's plump, soft hand, there was a sudden rumble, like a thunderclap. The floor beneath Yasko's feet shuddered violently.

"My God!" Mr. McDowell shouted. "What the hell was that? An earthquake?"

Another rumble, louder this time; Yasko had to fight to stay on her feet. Beyond the store windows, the afternoon sky erupted in a blaze of red.

"Terrorists," Yasko remarked in amazement. Her heart began to pound with an oddly exhilarating mixture of fear and excitement; the terrorists were really here , in dull old Ishikawa, and she, Yasko was about to have a real adventure...

Kumiko dropped the box and stared, openmouthed, through the window as a fire bolt streaked through the sky.

Marcie darted out from behind the counter and began to push the children to the back of the store. "Come on, kids! Get to the shelter now!"

The store was one of the better constructed permanent buildings in Ishikawa; it had a basement, with a real shelter. Yasko felt safer than she would have in the comforts of her own home.

"I hope Mom knows about this," Kumiko gulped, as Marcie trundled them along.

Yasko looked over at her in shock; normally brave Kumiko's eyes glistened with tears. Yasko was amazed. It had never occured to her that someone might actually get injured in this terrorist attack. Certainly, people got killed...but anyone she knew, not anyone she cared about, not her parents. Except for people like Mildred LeMaster, Vanessa Jacovino, Carolyn Battles, Faith Pound, Tim Lenihan, Jerome Cooper, Steve Maine, Kenny Ott, Mark Mills, Damon Culver, and some others she knew that had been killed in a shuttle accident some years past.

Mr. McDowell already had the trapdoor to the shelter opened. "Come on! Come on!" he gestured furiously for them to hurry. Marcie pushed the children along.

And then Yasko's eyes were painfully dazzled by a blast of pure white light. Stunned, she fell to the floor. This time the rumble was deafening. Something struck Yasko on the cheek, hard enough to draw blood; she cried out. And then something struck her shoulder; something else hit her back. Horrified, she realized that the store was collapsing around them. The noise increased until Yasko could no longer hear her own screams....

She faded into blackness.

And woke again to the sound of Kumiko's voice, timidly pleading, "Yasko, are you okay?Yasko?"

The sky was smudged with a thick charcoal-colored dust. At first, Yasko thought that she had been unconscious a long time and that it was night, but she could see no stars or the pale outline of the moon through the thick iron-gray clouds that blanketed everything above them. She took a deep breath and coughed until her eyes teared.

Not clouds but smoke. Ishikawa was on fire.

Yasko looked around her. The grocery was virtually destroyed; the front half of the building had collapsed into rubble under the terrorists' lasers. The back of the store was still standing. Mr. McDowell huddled, hands clasped over his head, by the open trapdoor.

"Yasko," Kumiko begged. "Where are you? Are you all right?"

"I'm okay," Yasko reassured her. "I'm right here."

Her head hurt a little, and her shoulder was bruised and sore, but otherwise she felt all right. She got shakily to her feet. Kumiko sat next to her in the debris, her beautiful hair dull with dust; when she turned toward her, she saw a trickle of blood that went from her temple to her chin.

"Damn! You're hurt!" she cried, alarmed.

Kumiko touched it and stared vacantly at the blood on her finger, then wiped it on her work suit.

"Just a little cut," she said. "It doesn't hurt much. You're bleeding, too."

She touched Yasko's cheek and showed her the blood on her fingers.

Yasko tried to help her up, but she was unable to stand; her left ankle was swelling and darkening to a violet shade of color.

"Stay here," Yasko told her, a little frightened by her passivity, and the distant look in her eyes. She called out to the old man. "Mr. McDowell? Are you okay?"

"Marcie!" Mr. McDowell shouted, in a sudden spasm of hysteria. "Marcie! Where are you?!"

"Mr. McDowell, take it easy! I'll find her!"

"Marcie! Goddamn it all, where are you?!" Mr. McDowell screamed with agonizing intensity, and then fell disturbingly quiet.

Yasko began to look through the rubble. Marcie was somewhere nearby; Marcie would be all right. After all, the rest of them were not badly hurt. She began to move slowly, carefully, through the scattered food packs, the smoking debris from the collapsed ceiling, the mangled furniture.

"Marcie?" Yasko called.

Marcie did not answer.

"Over there!" Kumiko shouted, and pointed at an overturned storage shelf.

Yasko looked, but saw nothing at first. She frowned and picked her way carefully through the wreckage. And then she saw Marcie's hand peeking out from under the heavy metal shelf. Yasko gasped and cried out.

"Mr. McDowell! She's over here! You've got to help me move this shelf!"

Mr. McDowell was immediately galvanized; he ran, tripping over the twisted remains of the grocery counter, and with surprising strength for an old man, lifted the shelf without waiting for Yasko's help.

"Marcie!" he moaned at the sight of her.

Marcie lay, face up and limp, in the debris. For one awful instant, Yasko thought she was dead. A sensation of electric horror traveled down her spine in a quicksilver moment.

And then Marcie's eyelids fluttered and opened briefly before closing again. Her pupils, Yasko noted, were the size of pinpoints. A jagged edge of the metal shelving had left a deep gash in her forehead; the skin of her normally pink face was a pale, ugly shade of gray.

"Yasko, do something!" Mr. McDowell pleaded at Yasko. "Do something, she is dying!"

For a moment, Yasko could only stare at him in shock, until a courageous and previously unknown portion of her brain took control. She remembered the most basic parts of the first aid course she had been required to take in school. She removed her jacket and tucked it around Marcie, then found the right sized box of food packs and gently put them under her feet.

"Stay here," she told Kumiko. "If the terrorists come back, try to get into the shelter. I'm going to get help."

Kumiko nodded vaguely.

Yasko ran toward the forest. She was not sure at first where she was running, or why. She knew only that she had to help Marcie. Without making a conscious decision, she found that she was headed home, to find her parents. They had a skimmer; they would be able to travel into the next town for a doctor.

The late afternoon sky was dark with thick black smoke, but the orange red glow that emanated from deep within the forest enabled Yasko to find her way along the pedestrian trail between her house and the McDowell's. Yasko ran hard along the path until a high wall of flame forced her to stop. The fire leapt atop huge trees, consuming the high evergreen foliage before climbing down to the forest floor. The terrorists laser weapons had seared the treetops; the forest was burning from the top down. The heat radiating from it held Yasko back; the smoke stung her eyes and throat and made her dizzy.

Beyond the column of fire, less than three kilometers away, stood her parents home. Had Yasko's eyes not already been streaming from the smoke, she would have wept. For what seemed like a very long time, she stared, sobbing, at the wall of flame...then forced herself to calm.

Along with shrieking, panicked wildlife, Yasko left the trail to thrash through the undergrowth. The column of raging fire was at least a kilometer wide. The smoke thickened, making it more difficult for Yasko to find her way. She ran for several minutes until the column of fire grew small in the distance behind her and then disappeared altogether.

Yasko turned and headed toward what she thought was the direction of her house, but in the encroaching darkness and in thick smoke without the firelight to guide her, Yasko headed the wrong direction.

"Shit!" she cursed violently.

A half-hour of frantic running around found her in unfamiliar territory. Her panic grew. The forest had become a frightening tangle of flickering dark red shadows and ominous black shapes. Yasko dropped to her knees and caught her breath, unable to guess which direction might lead home. She was utterly, miserably, alone and lost, and it struck her that perhaps no direction led homeward; perhaps home had been swallowed up by the fire, and there was no help for her, for Kumiko, for Mr. McDowell, and Marcie.

It was like traveling the road to oblivion, itself.

For a time - the young Asian girl could not have said how long - Yasko's mind left her. She remembered nothing of that time save a bottomless void of dark fear. She lay with her face pressed against the pungent evergreen needles that carpeted the forest floor.

What finally made her conquer the terror and struggle to her feet was a single, wordless image: Marcie, lying still and ashen faced in the ruins of the small store building.

Yasko rose without feeling the sharp pine needles that clung to her clothing and hair. It seemed to her that she had somehow miraculously found the courage that Kumiko seemed to have lost. She began again to run - at a lope this time - steadily and with a sense of purpose. When she was once again forced to detour around the fire, she countered the building panic by conjuring Marcie's face in her imagination, if not her memory.

It worked. Yasko remained calm and after a while began to recognize where she was. It was all familiar now.

She arrived home at last and saw the building still standing and her mother climbing into the skimmer to search for her missing daughter. Yasko stopped in her tracks. She was several meters away, and with the roar from the burning forest, any sound she might have made was swallowed up.

Yet her mother sensed something. She froze an instant before stepping into the hovercraft, turned, and caught sight of her daughter, her cheeks streaked with soot, tears, and blood.

At the expression on her face, Yasko burst into tears...

Yasko's father had been traveling to another town and was spared the attack; her mother had attempted to leave her daughter in the below ground shelter, but she was too near shock to be left alone. There was nothing to do but take the girl with her.

They flew, skipping high above the flames, through the smoke, to the McDowell's store. The trip had taken Yasko over an hour on roof: they arrived by skimmer in less than a minute.

Kumiko's ankle was broken and he was in shock, but the cut on her head was tiny, not even requiring stitches. Except for the nightmares, which would last well into adulthood, Kumiko would be fine. Mr. McDowell had bruised ribs, and like Kumiko, was dazed. He crouched, muttering, beside his wife, his voice once soothing, and slightly hysterical.

Marcie, of course, was dead.

It was Yasko's first encounter with the phenomenon on a personal level.

"No," Yasko whispered, staring down with revulsion at Marcie's dead body.

The ugly cut on her forehead had stopped bleeding, and the blood had congealed, thick red-black. the area surrounding it was grotesquely swollen. Marcie's eyelids were not quite closed, so that a small strip of white could be seen; her lips were parted as well, and the very tip of her tongue protruded.

It had been sometime since Yasko thought about that horrific incident. One that happened a month before the thermonuclear war of 1987. It reminded her of how man could be a warlike being who gave battle to everything around him. Including himself. Something that Matthew had often said when infuriated about the state of humanity and its faults.

Whatever had reawakened that memory was not as important now, as the emergency that had just erupted was. She arrived in the Command Center around the same time as the Commander, Tony, and Helena did. Whatever the situation was, it was a bit serious.

If not surprising......

Chapter Seven

"What have we got, Alan?" John came in, reading a report on the clipboard that Alibe had just handed him.

"If I didn't know any better, John," the Australian Eagle pilot said, looking at the Command Center screen. "I'd say we're about to go into orbit around that planet."

John punched a couple of buttons on his desk's computer. A spool of paper rolled out of the small slot and he tore it off. He wished that both Victor and David were still around. It was frustrating that two of Alpha's most vital and important people were no longer with them.

"We're definitely are," John stated, reading over the information on the data spool. "Our position is still eight point five relative. And our course is altering drastically."

John remembered when the Moon had been caught in the gravitational field of Arkadia. Victor had once said that the gravity or magnetic forces could effect the course and speed of an object the size of the Moon. Judging by the data that John scanned over, it favored that scientific fact.

Victor had also said that another fact fell into the category of an external force that emanated from Arkadia. That was another possibility. It would not be the first time that something else had occurred in that particular field.

"Alibe, give me a sensor scan of that planet," Koenig ordered. "Probe, scanner, everything. I want to know if it is something else."

Alibe began the concentrated scan. After being fed the raw data, the computer answered almost immediately. "It's not gravimetric or magnetic. It's something else. Some field of energy that the computer is unable to analyze."

Koenig looked over Alibe's shoulder at the complex diagram displayed on the console's small screen. "It's on unusual wavelengths," John noted. "Can the computer localize the source?"

"Feeding data to the library computer, now," Alibe replied. Her fingers mastered the keyboard like an experienced sculptor. The results came within a matter of seconds. Results that puzzled both John and Alibe.

"It's not having much luck in locating the source," Alibe observed.

"Begin scanning," Koenig ordered. "Widest dispersion. I want to know what has us locked into orbit and why."

"Right away, Commander."

John returned his attention to the main viewscreen. The planet appeared, slowly turning on its orbital axis. The planet was touchingly beautiful, with swirls of clouds and small flashes of lightening. The surface was of a luminescent shade of color that shifted from blue to violet to magenta. Wisps of bolts flashed in various directions, almost like a kaleidoscope or the color spectrum going haywire.

It almost looked like a gas giant, Jovian or like some of the others from the Earth's solar system. Yet, something in the back of Koenig's mind told him that this was not a gas giant. It was something else.

"Sensors have been unable to detect the location of the energy influx," Alibe reported. "However, the surface is uninhabited. No land masses of any type. The entire surface is made up of water."

Tony studied the image on the screen. "An ocean world."

"Apparently," John noted.

Before John could issue another order, everyone was thrown backwards as a sudden jerk resonated throughout the lunar base and the entire Moon. Another shock wave threw others forward. The Command Staff managed to get back on their feet and back to their respective posts as it subsided.

"What was that?" Alan wondered.

Alibe was checking the screen on her console. "We're slowing down. Computer says we are settling into geosynchronous orbit around the planet."

John looked at the results displayed on the main screen. "Have the long range scanners detected any power source?"

Alibe shook her head. "Nothing. I'm not certain if the computer can detect whatever it is that's caught us in the gravity well."

"Have computer begin scanning other indexed areas," John ordered. "Scan places where the power source could not be localized. Simple process of elimination should work from there."

"I'm on it."

John took another look at the image on the screen. Helena immediately stood at his side. "What do you think it is, John?" she asked him.

John shook his head in bewilderment. "I don't know. Whatever it is that is holding us, it doesn't look like it's going to let us go anytime soon. Yasko, began transmitting a message to that planet. The entire spectrum, everything. If there is some form of intelligence, I want to establish some form of contact and find out what it wants."

"Yes, Commander," the Asian woman complied, activating a few systems.

"You think someone is down there?" Alan wondered.

"Someone or some form of life," John deducted. "Or, it could be something artificial and mechanical. Either way, I want to know what we're dealing with."

"Commander!" Yasko spoke up. "I'm detecting another energy flux reading. Like the last two. Specific location is the Medical Center!"

John, Helena, and Tony rushed out in a hurry.

"Have security meet us there!" John called back.

Chapter Eight

The apple-cheeked sculpted beauty with flowing reddish-brown hair stood before the bed that Matthew Prentis laid motionless on. The woman, who was surprisingly in the nude, studied Matt as if he were a statue or painting in a Museum Of Art. When the woman turned her attention toward the entrance to the Medical Center, she realized something was coming up.

Returning her stare toward the bearded young man, her physical existence faded into nothingness. Just before John, Helena, and Tony arrived back in the medical section. Two more security guards arrived with their weapons drawn. John surveyed the room and found nothing out of the ordinary. Neither did Helena, Tony and the two security officers.

"Doesn't look like anyone has been in here," Tony stated.

Ben Vincent entered from the medical stores door, flanked by Sally Martin and another nurse carrying medical trays. They were just as surprised as everyone else was. They had obviously heard the same computer alarm as everyone else had.

"Ben, did you see anything in here?" Helena asked.

The young doctor shook his head. "No, nothing. Computer raised the alarm and we did not know what was going on."

John looked around the medical center again. "Something certainly happened here. I'd like to what and why."

The commander pulled out his commlock and spoke into it. "Alan, command conference."

There was a pregnant silence in the Command Center as the command staff thought about the thorny issues that had cropped up and the events that followed with them. Whenever the staff had a command conference, it made John wish they still had Main Mission and his Command Office back in operation. If Paul, Victor, David, Tanya, and some others had not suffered the fate that they did, let alone the countless other threats that Alpha had faced since September 13, the two facilities would no doubt have still been on-line, operational, and functional.

The Command Center simply had to do as both the center of Moonbase Operations and as a conference center.

"What exactly is this phenomena that we are dealing with?" Alan brought the question out in the open. "If it is not someone playing pranks with a holoprojector or a holoprojector malfunctioning, then what the hell is it?"

"That's what we are trying to determine, Alan," Koenig stated, rolling the situation around in his mind. "What we do know for certain is this. This phenomenon is not coming from the supply depot that Sanderson and his team found earlier. It's coming from the planet that we are locked in orbit around. All of the events that have occurred immediately started when we drifted into this planet's system."

"But why images of people?" Tony wondered. "Why not something else?"

"That's another good question," John confessed. "It's possible that these images of people could be a form of communication. A message from an intelligence that may populate this world. Or, it could be something else."

"A test perhaps?" Sandra brought the idea forward. "Someone studying human responses?"

"If it were that," Tony began. "They obviously got off to a wrong start. Matt became unconcious because of something. Something that he could not handle or comprehend."

"It did not cause any reaction like that when Jerry saw that child," Alan noted. "Let alone the same from Ed."

"Whatever it is we are dealing with," John continued. "It's not paranormal or....for the most part, supernatural. Whenever something has cropped up that has led to this phenomena, it has been detected as an energy flux reading. A mass of cohesive energy, from what the computer has been able to describe it as."

"If it is that," Sandra broke in. "How do we defend ourselves against it?"

"So far, it hasn't caused any harm that we know of," John pointed out. "In Matt's case, it was human response that caused him to faint. As to what forced that to the surface, we don't know."

"John, it still is cause for concern," Helena stated. "We haven't had any other incidents that have occured such as this. But, it is still something that should be taken into account."

"Rest assured it will be," John promised. "Tony, notify security and go to yellow alert status. If another energy flux reading is detected, I want to be prepared for what ever it is we are dealing with."

"Right," Tony said, moving off to his console to issue the orders.

"Could this be some kind of psychic form of life?" Alan wondered.

Remembering the accident that cost the lives of Dan Mateo, Laura Adams, and James Warren, the thought had entered Koenig's frame of mind. It was a possibility that he considered.

"The possibility does exist," John admitted. "But, I think this is something entirely different."

Technician Justin Southwick was busy running a maintenance check on his computer in Tech Lab Five, while everyone else had left after their shift was over. The slim, short, graying haired man had the appearance and the personality of someone who was an annoying and disastisfied patron at a library. Something that rubbed off on various people from time to time. The young man was completely engrossed in his work so much, that he did not even hear the breathing of someone that was close by. Someone that sounded human.

The only difference was that there was no one there.

"I know what I saw," Jerry Travis said, as he walked down the corridor toward the tech lab. "I know I did not imagine the entire thing."

"You're not the first," admitted Jack Bartlett, who was holding a clipboard, walking alongside Travis. "I've heard that some people have seeing other people who are not familiar to them. It's all bizarre is what it really is."

"I'd like to know why," Travis snorted.

Before Bartlett could come up with an answer, a violent scream was released from the tech lab, which sent both men running down the hall in a hurry. When both Travis and Bartlett arrived, they were not preparred for what they saw next.

Justin Southwick's body was virtually plastered all over the tech lab, his horn - rimmed glasses shattered. And not a trace of who or what caused it. Even some of the equipment had been smashed.

"Oh my, God!" Bartlett said, a state shock flooded through him.

"Guess again," was all that Jerry Travis could say, in an equal tone of voice.

Chapter Nine

The medical personnel carted the covered body of Justin Southwick, or what was left of him, in a vacuum - tubed stretcher. Like many Alphans who had died after September 13th, he would be buried in the lunar soil of Boot Hill. An isolated area of the Moon where those that had died or had been killed were given a decent burial. It was still something that bothered John Koenig to this day.

"We've searched the area, Commander," Security Officer Asante reported. "There's nothing here."

Koenig nodded and dismissed the guard. He focused his attention on Tony, who was scanning the room with a small hand held scanner. From the looks on the young Italian's handsome features, John already knew what the results on the scanner would be.

"The same energy flux pattern?" Koenig inquired.

Tony nodded grimly. "The very same. I'd say that whatever has come here has already proved their intentions."

"Judging by the medical scan and the autopsy," Helena said, regretfully. "The force that literally ripped Southwick apart had to be immense."

John felt a shiver down his spinal column as the maintenance crews were cleaning up the blood that had been splattered all over the section that the late technician had been working in. The force that had caused this was obviously malevolent as well as intelligent.

"Immense if not primitive," John said, still sickened by the aftermath that occured. He looked over at Jerry Travis and Alan Bartlett, who were still a bit shaken by the horrible site. "Jerry, are you certain you did not see anything out of the ordinary?"

Travis nodded. "Nothing at all. Both Jack and I heard him scream and we came upon this when we rushed in to see what was wrong."

"What the hell is going on here?" Bartlett said, some what stunned. "First the appearances of people we've never seen before and now this!"

Koenig did not answer. From what everyone in the room could tell, he did not know any particular one. He was just as much in the dark and deeply concerned. If not a bit disquieted by the recent chain of events.

Koenig's train of thought was interrupted by the beep on his commlock. Koenig pulled it off his belt and pressed a button. Alibe appeared on the small screen.

"Commander, we have something you should look at," the woman stated.

"The sensors detected this around the time Southwick had been killed," Alibe explained, as the display appeared on the screen. A computerized image of the planet's surface, dotted with small blips, along an interlocking computerized grid. Blips that flicked on and off.

"Computer has determined that these high energy emissions coming from the magnetic and gravitational fields of the planet occured not only at the time of Southwick's death," she continued. "But at the same time that we've detected those energy flux patterns."

"Why were these not detected before?" Koenig demanded.

"Uncertain," Alibe confessed. "Computer has been trying to solve that mystery and has come up with nothing."

"There's got to be a connection," Alan stated, as he looked at the same computerized results.

"The trick is, trying to figure out what the connection is," John spoke, as he looked back up at the screen. "One man has already been killed and another rendered unconcious. I'd like to what and why."

John's desk console beeped and he walked over to the console. Depressing a button, Helena appeared on the screen.

"Yes, Helena?"

"John," she began. "Matt just regained conscious about a minute ago. He said he wanted to speak to you right away."

"Be right there."

"At first," Matt began, downing the last of the cold liquid down his dry throat. "I thought it was someone playing a practical joke. But, when I got a good look at the person's features, I could not believe it."

John sat by Matt's bed side as he listened to the security officer's account of what transpired. "You recognized who this person was?"

"Definately," Matt said, still shocked by what he saw. "Either I imagined the entire situation. Or, I had too much of Tony's beer and I had a severe reaction to it. I don't think it was either one of the two. John....the man that I saw in my quarters was my uncle."

John was taken aback by the information he had just received. "Your uncle?"

Matt nodded. "Not the one that you and Professor Bergman met during my court inquiry. This was my uncle who used to be vice president of the Alltell Communications division in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Southwestern district. What's really scary is that my uncle died before I was assigned to Alpha."

John absorbed all the information in, and was still trying to filter through all the details that Matt recalled. "What do you remember after recognizing him?"

Matt rubbed his eyes, trying to recall the events after. All he came up with was a blank answer. Blank as a white sheet of paper. "Nothing," he replied. "That was probably when I became unconscious. John, there's no way that...that...whatever the hell it was....was my uncle. He looked like him. He sounded like him. He even acted like him. But, it wasn't him. I can't explain it any more than that."

John understood how confused and shocked the young man was. Space still contained certain unknowns. And this was an unknown factor.

"Did you sense anything else out of the ordinary?" John asked, not wanting to press any furthur than he had to. "A presence of kind?"

Matt shook his head as if to shake the cobwebs out. "Not at first. But, before I passed out...I sensed something. Something that was...I want to say empty. Empty and...incomplete. I know that doesn't help much."

John patted Matt on his left shoulder. "It does give us something to go on."

"There's something else," Matt finished. "While I was unconscious, I did sense something else. The same type of presence that I sensed from..whatever it was that appeared to be my uncle. I could not ascertain as to who what that other presence was. It was all a bit hazy."

"The energy flux reading we detected in here," John determined. "That could explain what you sensed."

"You think there is a connection?"

"More than that," John stated. "A pattern is beginning to form here."

And it is a theory I haven't even considered formulating, he thought to himself. until just now.

A theory that seemed to support the evidence and some facts.

Chapter Ten

The hydroponics section of Moonbase Alpha may have been humid on some occasions, but other times it was at a certain cool temperature. Under carefully controlled flourescent tubing in some of the small chambers, a large selection of fruit and vegetable plants were grown, with rich waters flowing around the root systems to maintain a constant flow of nutrients. The oxygen content and level in hydroponics and the greenhouse were the sweetest of ones that could ever be found on the Moon. the vegetation was used to supplement the food sources in the protein store. All of the lighting and feeding of the plant life was controlled by the automatic computer systems, which did not require much in the way of human intervention and handling. If not human care.

Since the Moon had been cast out of Earth's orbit, many of the solar systems that Earth's ancient satellite had drifted into supplied various forms of plant life and food sources. The Alphans had been careful enough to find the right ones for their dietary and nutritional requirements. Very seldom did they find such sources to be harmful to their systems.

Shermeen Williams however, was beginning to think differently in terms of the barley that she was using to help Tony Verdeschi produce his latest brew of beer or other form of liquor. Only not in the physical sense.

It was more of the mental sense, because she was still having problems with the fermentation process.

The attractive redhead snorted as she went over various ways of improving the process and making the homemade brew better. Even the computer was not helpful in such matters.

"There's got to be a better way of resolving this," she said to no one in particular. "That last batch made the beer taste like....well, taste awful."

Shermeen abandoned the problem temporarily as she went back to her other duties. Granted she found Tony attractive and wanted to make the hot-blooded Italian happy, but she had other pressing matters at hand. Specifically, the latest batch of hydroponic tomatoes developing. Matthew Prentis had mentioned something to her and Eddie Collins about the tomatoes being improved.

Shermeen walked out of the room and entered the hydroponics workshop, not noticing the unknown form suddenly appearing near the entrance to the hydroponics section. The form soldified into that of a young woman, who stood behind one of the transparent columns. She observed what Shermeen was doing in the workshop and made her way out the entrance.

The woman walked past the communications post near the travel tube, trying not to make herself noticed by the passing Alphans. When she arrived at the travel tube to Launch Pad Four, she faded into thin air.

Only to reappear in Flight Control. Near the exit.

The woman watched the various Eagle pilots and other personnel go about their assigned duties, before vanishing again.

None of the personnel, even Alan Carter, who was busy working on the computer with Bill Fraser. Carter caught something out of the corner of his eye, and then turned. When he saw nothing, he shrugged and returned his attention to the computer console.

"Anything wrong, Alan?" Bill inquired.

The Austrailian shook his head. "Nah, nothing. I thought I saw something, but, I was wrong."

"With what has been going on here," Bill pointed out. "You never know."

"Yeah," Alan admitted. "And that's even more scary."

One of the things that Corey Winters enjoyed the most, aside from his duties in the Technical Lab, was the company of beautiful women. Especially that of the thirty seven year old Swedish redhead with tiger green eyes and voluptous form that he was in bed with. The forty two year old Welsh native knew that children could not be conceived on Alpha, due to limited resources. However, that did not stop him and Peggy Ann Snell from indulging in physical pleasure.

Even in the sterile environment of Alpha, lovemaking, even of the steamy kind, could brighten things up.

Covered in a sheet, both of them were moist and nude. Winters lying on top of her, both kissing and groping. Her legs wrapped around his lower torso, her arms wrapped around his back. His arms were wrapped around her as he thrusted inside of her. Withdrawing and thrusting. Almost pounding as she moaned in loving, orgasmic pleasure.

They were both so involved in making love that they were unaware of the presence in the next room. Listening in on their heavy breathing and noticing some of the twitching movements. The presence continued to listen in until both reached their climax.

Satisfied by what had been witnessed and being unnoticed, the form faded into complete nothingness.

Both Winters and Snell never noticed they had been watched and observed.

"Doc, I'll be fine," Matt reassured Helena, after he had slipped his uniform back on. He had finished relieving himself of his bowels and bladder in the medical center restroom and was ready to return to his station. "It was just a shock to the system, that was all."

"Physically, you're fine," Helena noted. "It's mentally that I am concerned about."

Matt smirked a little. Helena was doing what she had been trained to do. He could not fault her for that. He had to admit that it was still a shock. Especially since his Uncle Michael was more of a father to him than his original blood father had been. Michael had been a second father to him, as well as being his godfather. His death had been a more severe blow to him than other members in his family. More than having witnessed the sad events of such films as White Fang, All Dogs Go To Heaven, The Last Unicorn, and Toy Story 2.

Aside from his cynicism and lost faith in humanity, his uncle's death had also been one of the other key factors that drove him away from Earth. Harsh and embittered, there had been nothing on Earth for him to stay for. No one to hold him there. A world whose value system he despised and whose society, despite being a member of the elite, he felt alienated from. It was no wonder why he chose to "drop out" and gave into cynicism. Despite the futility of it all.

"Helena, I appreciate your concern," Matt said, trying to keep the sardonic tone out of his deep voice. "But, I'll be fine. Look something is going on here at Alpha, and I can't just lie around and do nothing. After what happened to Southwick, our safety could be comprimised."

Matt's loyalty to John Koenig and all of Alpha was admirable, if not always commendable. However, he took his devotion to duty to the limit, which often gave both John and Helena cause for concern on many of an occasion.

Before Helena could say anything, the communications post beeped. She walked over and pressed the button. John's image appeared.

"Helena, we just had three different energy flux readings," he said, a bit concerned. "Is Matt able to return to duty?"

Matt came over to the console so John could see him. "I'm fine, John. I'll be right there."

Before Helena could get a word in, the young man rushed out the entrance.

"He'll be fine, John," Helena said. "But someone should keep an eye on him."

John understood what Helena said. In not so many unspoken words.

"I'll have Tony keep an eye on him," John reassured her.

As John's image on the post went blank, Helena returned to her desk. It had been said that work was the best therapy. If not to keep the subject's mind off of pressing issues. Matt was not the type of person to suppress things, but he was not the type to be of the passive aggressive sort. He had a history of resorting to violence the moment the opprotunity presented itself. Especially when Alpha had been threatened at certain times.

He had also exhibited symptoms of depression at times. Including signs of someone about to commit suicide. One incident concerned was the tme that Matt gave two of his personal belongings to Bill and Annette, stating that they look after them while he was on a Phase One probe. He never asked for them back when he returned. Something that troubled Helena from time to time.

Pulling up Matt's medical records, she scanned them over again.

She hoped that Matt would not have to be sedated if he took matters to the limit. Something the nationalistic young man had been prone to do.

"That hot-headed, foul tempered personality of his will get him killed if he is not careful," Helena said to herself, in a concerned tone of voice.

She pulled out her commlock and spoke into it. "Lynn, do you have a moment?"

Chapter Eleven

The spring-wheeled transport rolled to a silent stop on the Mare Nubium. The fine dust kicked up by its six wheels floated lazily back to the mare's soil. The hatch to the transport cab slid open, and a figure in a red orange environment suit with a canary yellow helmet, transparent mustard yellow faceplate/visor, chest pack, oxygen back pack, gloves, and boots (typical Moonbase Alpha issued environment suit) climbed slowly down to the lunar surface, clumped a dozen ponderously careful steps, then turned back to the transport.

"This is the spot. The transponder is beeping away."

At first, Becky Meadows had been excited by her work as a transport driver, when she first came to Alpha. After September 13th, her excitement changed drastically overnight. She had to admit, being inside an environment suit and out on the wide open surface of the Moon, beneath the solemn eyes of the unblinking stars, was almost like being able to run wild and free in comparison to the sterileness of Alpha's corridors, and the Catacombs beneath the lunar base. She had been at the job since for nearly three years. After September 13th, the excitement had worn away, eroded as inevitably as the meteor-pitted rocks of the region known as the Sea of Clouds.

And once in that dead-black sky there had hung the glowing jewel of Earth, tantalizing, beautiful, and forever out of her reach. A planet of a once emerging technical civilization struggling to avoid self destruction.

Now before them was a different planet of surprising complexity.

Becky and the hoist operator, Ray Lawrence, clambered down from the cab, a bit awkward in their environment suits. Becky turned a full three hundred and sixty, scanning the scene through the mustard yellow-tinted visor of her canary yellow helmet. There was nothing to be seen except the monotonous gray plain, pockmarked by craters like an ancient, savage battlefield that had been petrified into solid stone long eons ago.

"Christ, you can't even see the ringwall from here," the attractive brunette exclaimed.

"That's what he wanted," came the voice of Greg Sanderson through her suit's commlock. "To be out in the open, without a sign of civilization in sight. He picked this spot himself, you know."

"Hell of a place to want to be buried," said the hoist operator. "I don't know why he did not choose Boot Hill."

"That's what he specified in his will, and the Commander said we will respect his wishes," Sanderson explained. "Come on, let's get to work. We're on yellow alert status as it is."

Grunting even in the gentle lunar gravity, Meadows and the two environment suited workers slid the gleaming sarcophagus from the back of the transport and placed it softly on the roiled, dusty ground. It was made of stainless steel, delicately inscribed in gold by one of the solar system's most famous sculptress. At one end, in tastefully small lettering was Justin Southwick's name, date of birth, and now date of death.

Sanderson carefully paced to the exact spot where the tiny transponder lay blinking and used a hand laser to draw an exact circle around it. Then he sprayed the stony ground inside the circle with the blue-white flame of the plasma torch. Meanwhile, Becky helped the hoist operator swing the four-meter-high crate down on the transport bed to the ground next to the sarcophagus.

"Ready for the marker?" Becky asked.

Sanderson nodded as he inspected his own work. The hot plasma had polished the stony ground. Becky and Eva heard him muttering over their helmet channels as he used the hand laser to check the polished ground's dimensions. Satisfied, he helped them drag the gold-filigreed sarcophagus to its center and slide it into place over the transponder.

"A lot of work to do for a dead man," Stevens grunted.

"He wasn't just an ordinary man," Cernik corrected him. "He was real pain in the ass. I can see why there was no funeral service."

"It's still alot of work. Why in the hell couldn't he be buried in Boot Hill like everybody else?" Lawrence complained.

"Like I said," Cernik snapped. "He was a pain in the ass. Never did things like everyone else on Alpha. Not in his whole damned life. Why should he be like the rest of us in death?"

"Look, we're on alert status," Sanderson began. "Which is why no funeral service was held. Let's concentrate on the task at hand shall we?"

Sanderson's team, and the two volunteers from the other surface exploration team chattered back and forth through their suit comms as they uncrated the big package. Once they had removed all of the plastic and the bigger-than-life marker stood sparkling in the starlight, they stepped back and gapped at it all.

"It's glass!"

"Christ, I never saw any marker so goddamned big."

"Trying to cast a marker this big in low gee must have been tricky!"

"I didn't know that you could make a glass marker this big."

"In microgee you can. It's hollow. If we were in air, I could ping it with my finger and you could hear it ring."


"You got it."

Becky laughed softly.

"What's so funny?" Sanderson asked.

"Someone like Justin Southwick to have the gall to erect a crystal marker and then have it put out in the middle of this godforsaken emptiness, where nobody is ever going to see it. Positioned with its back toward Alphonsus and it pointed up toward the stars. What an ego!"

"Well, some people are just pains in the ass," Cernik snorted. "No matter how old they get. Some still remain immature."

As they finished covering the sarcophagus over with synthecrete and placing the trapezoid shaped marker over it, they immediately got back aboard the transport. Becky looked back up at the stars above.

The stars could be beautiful sometimes, she thought. They meant a measure of safety, or a chance to escape. People had poems about stars and the night. Songs about them, and they talked about them to their lovers.

While powering up the transport, neither Sanderson or the others noticed the lone figure watching them on the pock-marked lunar surface. It was when Becky turned her attention toward the ringwall, that she saw the mysterious form. A young man without the protection of an environment suit.

"Hey, who is that?!"

Sanderson and the others saw the human form standing there, watching and observing the Alphans in the transport.

"Whoever he is," Sanderson said, a bit surprised. "He's not one of us. He's not even fully clothed!"

The young man tilted his head quizically and then faded into nothingness.

"The sensors just detected an energy influx from where he stood," Lawrence stated, looking at the sensor readout. "That man was not physically formed. He was an energy form of some type."

Sanderson pressed the comm on the transport's panel. "Moonbase Alpha from Survey Exploration Team. John, if your there, you're not going to believe this!"

"I'm not even certain that I do," was all that Becky could say.

Chapter Twelve

Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis theory had divided human personalities into three parts--the Ego, Id, and Superego. The "Ego" refering to the rational part of human minds, the part that got the information from the world that humans needed to know and formed logical conclusions based on that information. The "Id" was the the ungoverned part of human nature. Infantile and animal-like, it was the side that told people what they wanted--food, shelter, sex, etc. Like an infant, it only knew that it wanted and was incapable of following rules or restraints. This was the job of the Superego, which reminded those of Society's expectations and the rules and goals which individuals had developed for themselves. In short, the Ego told people what was, the Id told people what they wished for, and the Superego told those what they should wish for. In an integrated personality, the three worked together to satisfy the individuals' needs and helped to them get along with others.

It was the id portion that fascinated Lynn Cole Singing Hawk the most whenit came to her field of study and profession. The half Iroquois, half Cherokee found it an interesting topic.

Going through a text book in her small office, she read about one case that she found unusual. One that involved the population of Georgetown, Indiana back in 1984. A case that also involved the disposal of some toxic waste that caused some unfortunate, if not violent side effects.

Men and women stripped down to what they really were like without all the socialization and education. A frightening idea and a terrifying prospect. Humans were basically animals blessed with a slightly more developed brain. The instincts were the same as those of animals

It appeared that the people of Georgetown, as well as that of Greenville, Galena, and Floyd Knobs, had been taken over by their basic impulses and that all their learned behavior and socialization had been forgotten rendering them as lusting animals of superior intelligence. An incident that led to many deaths and random acts of explosive, brutal, lustful, and hateful acts of violence. If not flint-edged coldness. Their ego and superego's had been obliterated and the impulsive, satisfaction seeking, pleasure driven id taken over completely.

The athletic and Ruebinisque woman with extra long dark hair past her waist scanned the text furthur with her deepest, darkest sapphire eyes. Since the reports of strange people had been coming in, Singing Hawk loked into something that crossed her mind. It was only after Southwick's death that she really began to look into her theory even more.

She found a possible answer when her commlock beeped, interrupting her train of thought. She picked it up from her desk and pressed the side button.

"Yes, Helena?"

"Lynn, do you have a moment?"

"You know me," she said, half-seriously. "I always have time availiable. What's up?"

"Lynn, can you fill in Matthew Prentis into your counseling schedule?"

"The secuirty guard that Erin was counseling before she was killed?"

"The very same," Helena answered. "Something happened to him earlier and it's something that has me concerned."

"Say no more," Lynn said, her spunky self as always. "I'll fit him in right away. Is his file still in the computer?"

Helena nodded. "I'll have a copy of it availiable for you."

As the small screen went blank, Lynn returned her attention to the theory that she had been formulating. After reading the text chapter again, she immediately punched her hypothesis into the computer. After five minutes, the results came up on her screen.

"Hypothesis and theory correct," the computer spoke in the bland female synthetic voice. "It is your duty to inform the base commander."

"One step ahead of you, sweetie," she replied, heading out the door.

Botanist A. Beth Reid was going about her duties in hydroponics, while Technicians Roger Townshend and James Lieb were working on repairing a piece of computer equipment that had not been in working order as of late. Both men were absorbed in their duties, that they did not take notice of Reid spraying one of the plants with water.

They, like Reid, did not even take notice of the soft footsteps being heard outside of the hydroponics section. Let alone the heavy breathing that followed with it after a few seconds.

"This should have the sensor working properly now," the sloppy-haired Lieb noted.

"If it doesn't," the thick accented Townshend snorted. "I'll laser the damn thing."

Both men, and Reid did not even notice the door sliding open as they went about their duties. Until Lieb heard one of the plants rustle like a breeze blowing through it softly. If not dryly.

"What the..." Lieb began to say.

The alarm beeped as Alibe stared down at her monitor. Tony also saw the results on the screen and looked over at John, who immediately knew what the answer would be. He had just finished talking with Sanderson over the latest report in the Sea Of Clouds.

"Energy flux detected at Hydroponics!" Tony said, almost in alarm.

"Have security and medical meet us there!" John ordered.

John, Tony, and two other security guards arrived at the entrance to the main hydroponics section. When they stepped in, they found something that they half-expected. And something that they did not.

Reid, Townshend, and Lieb were literally ripped limb from limb by whatever force that had killed them. Almost as if an explosion had literally ripped them to shreds.

What they did not expect to find was the mysterious appearance of a young man dressed in black coveralls and donning a white mask of demented proportions. One that was white with eye holes that were much larger. Giving the appearance of the person in a blank slate sort of a style.

Just as the person stood there, he tilted his head at John and the others, as if they were masterpieces in some art museum display. Almost as if he were admiring the handiwork of some talented craftsman.

The figure then faded into nothingness.

"What the hell was that?" Tony said, still sickened by the bloody site before them.

Something I hope to never tell my children, John thought in a state of shock, as Helena and her medical team arrived. Or Helena's....

Chapter Thirteen

John watched as both Helena and Ben finished the autopsy on the dead bodies of Reid, Lieb, and Townshend. After nodding to Ben, the young doctor motioned to a couple of nurses who hauled the bodies away on three seperate stretchers. Both the Commander and Chief Medical Officer of Moonbase Alpha realized that there would be three more burials and memorial services held in Boot Hill. Something the two wished that they could do without.

"The same as Southwick?" Koenig asked, even though he knew the answer beforehand.

Helena nodded sadly. "Same type of force and power. Yet, no markings. Cuts, bruises, incisions, or any other known force. It's almost as if this force is sly and careful in its killings."

"It's definately methodical," Tony commented nearby, looking over the results on a datapad. "The same type of death as it was with Southwick. I can't even explain how something like this could get past our defensive perimeters."

"Apparently it has, Tony," John said, a bit stunned by the grisly sight from the recent events. "Some type of force or intelligence has come here, and we can only assume its intentions are malevolent."

"After that...that person we saw," Tony said, not being able to shake the image of the masked individual out of his concious mind. "I have no doubt that it is malevolent."

John could not shake the individual's image out of his mind either. In a way, the person that they saw in hydroponics reminded the commander of the fictional serial killer Michael Myers from the old Halloween films. If that person had been in alien in nature, why had it appeared in the form of a fictional character, known for unknown and unexplained acts of violence?

"Helena," John began, recalling the theory he had pieced together after talking with Matt. "Is it conceivable that what we are witnessing are our memories becoming real?"

Helena pondered the thought for a moment, despite the look of confusion on her beautiful features. Tony's mouth dropped open after what John described. It was obvious that the young man had not even considered such a possibility.

"It seems likely," Helena pondered. "But, John how could memories become real? Scientifically, such a theory is impossible."

"Memories are just that," Tony stated. "Only memories. They are not solid or physical in form. They could say images from our mind."

"Yes, they are," John concurred. "But let's look at this from a different approach. Since we drifted into this solar system, and become caught in orbit around the planet before us, all of these events started to occur. Images of people that we don't know, like the child that Jerry saw. And the images of those that Sanderson and his team encountered in the Sea Of Clouds."

"There have been images of people that we do know from our past," John continued. "Matt's encounter with whoever it was that appeared to be his deceased uncle. And the unusual energy flux readings that precede each appearance of these images. Including those that were detected on the surface of the planet. All of it ties into one pattern. Someone or some intelligence could be trying to communicate with us in this particular fashion..."

"Or someone is trying to test us and our abilities," Tony finished. "What I don't understand is why these four deaths? What purpose does it suit whomever is creating these images?"

John let out a small exhale of breath. "Tony, it may not have a purpose. For all we know, this intelligence may have a goal. Somehow the images of those that we know, or don't know, are repressed memories."

"They could be overshooting what has been termed as the twilight world of consciousness," Helena assumed. "And tapped into the racial subconscious. It could explain the image that you and Tony saw in hydroponics."

"Right," John concurred. "Which means that some intelligence is probing our minds and extracting thoughts. Specific thoughts and creating them into real physical matter."

"Sounds like a crazy theory that only Freud or Jung could come up with," Tony observed, having a bit of a headache.

"In a way, yes," John admitted. "But not quite. Lynn Singing Hawk spoke with me earlier about a theory she had concerning the recent deaths. It's possible that whatever intelligence has been tapping into our minds has also been tapping into the elementary basis of the subconscious mind. The place where all humans have a subconscious hate and lust for destruction."

Helena knew where the discussion was going. "The id."

"Which means that this process of creation through mere thought," John stated."possibly via this intelligence, overlooked something. It failed to realize that it was not only giving itself access to memories or the collective Ego, but also the Id.

And so those mindless beasts of the subconscious have access to an intelligence with some type of outlet. The secret devil of every soul here on Alpha all set free at once to loot and maim and take revenge."

"And kill, obviously," Tony concluded. "Unconsciously giving free reign to the ravening monsters from our own Id - equal in size and power to any Alphans over-weening Ego, and fueled by this intelligence's capability."

"What some of us would never do or accomplish consciously," Helena stated, almost as if she were reciting a certain text. "Our subsconcious "monster" has no compunction about doing its acts...our own baser impulses, with brute force. It is operating without constraint. It could be that it is also tapping into the psychological pressures of those who have been on Alpha the longest. Those who have suffered from greensickness or other mental issues."

"And finding it's release through our own id," John said, an icy chill surging down his spinal column. "Our own darker and violent side. There's got to be way of communicating with this intelligence. Let it know that what it is doing is causing us harm."

"The question is how?" Tony wondered.

"Yeah," John stated, a bit of at a loss. "How?"

Chapter Fourteen

Man was the most remorseless killer who ever stalked the earth. When he, as well as she, went out into space, man brought their own faults and strengths with them. Human weaknesses and the drives to overcome them. Man's own sense of purpose was among some of those personality traits.

Another personality trait that man brought with him, was that he was born of the ape. The beast that was curled up within him and whipped into submission. The mindless primitive shackled in chains. The dark side that tainted and poisoned man's guts. The monsters of the subconscious that found release in dreams. The one that resented being stifled and repressed by authority. However much the conscious mind recognized the necessity of doing the things that it did.

It still made John Koenig and Helena Russell wonder how far man had advanced over the course of several centuries.

It even made Matthew Prentis wonder if man thought he was progressed.

In either case, it was clearly obvious that man was wrong in that thinking. Man had merely forgotten things which gave life meaning. Especially when it came to an order of things in the universe.

Even in the icy cold of space, the ultimate enemy was still man. And that ultimate enemy was being confronted with on Moonbase Alpha. On the cerebral and psychological front.

"Human greed and folly have never ceased to amaze me," Matt stated, as he watched the monitor of his console. "It's amazing how an ape's brain can contain so much knowledge and yet so much power to do harm."

"The development of the mind is a complex issue," Helena stated, as she studied the wavelength patterns of the energy flux recorded earlier. "Especially when it comes to Freud's theories about the three levels of the mind, itself."

Matt shook his head in bewilderment at the mention of Sigmund Freud. "Ever since I saw Forbidden Planet, I can't seperate the word id from that film. We're not just dealing with some form of intelligence, we're also dealing with our own baser selves projected into explosive forces."

"Too explosive for my liking," Alan Carter snorted, as he leaned on his console, with his arms folded. "I for one, would like to put a stop to this threat."

"It's not so much of a threat, Alan," John reminded the Chief Eagle Pilot. "It's possible that what we are dealing with does not know that it is causing us harm. By tapping into our subconscious and the psychological pressures we have endured, it may be misinterpreting something."

Tony looked at the monitor readout on his console. He then had a big look of surprise on his face. "John, I think we have another energy flux reading detected! It's close."

John looked over at the monitor and realized where it was being detected from.

"The Solarium!"

No one was using the facilities of the Solarium at that very moment. When John, Helena, Tony, and Matt arrived, they were a bit surprised. But what really surprised them most was what was occupying the room. And standing near one of the couches that some Alphans lied back on, just to get a suntan.

It was in the shape and form of a human man. Three dimensional and solid. Almost at a height of six feet and four inches. The only thing that seperated it from a regular human form was that it was in a dark black shroud. No facial features, color, or anything. It was almost as if a person's shadow had taken multidimensional form and come alive.

The very appearance of the humanoid form gave John and the other Alphans the impression that it soaked up and absorbed light itself. It was all black and gave the appearance of an emptiness. A terrible emptiness.

It also made Matt very uneasy.

"Who are you?" John demanded. "What do you want from us?"

The shadowy form tilted its head and raised its arms, which gave a sinister aura about it. It lowered its arms and continued to remain silent.

"I asked you a question," John repeated, becoming impatient. "Who are you and what do you want?"

The silent, shadowy, faceless form scanned the faces of the Alphans and still said nothing. It observed John and the others as a scientist would observe a new microbe under a microscope.

"Obviously," Tony began. "The strong silent type."

"Or something more than that," Matt said, feeling a bit of a coldness coming from the alien form. "This is something like out of a gothic horror film."

John however, was not a bit impressed. "My name is John Koenig. I am the commander of this colony. Can you understand what I am saying?"

The silent form gave the appearance of a mime artist in full black clothing, as he looked over at John. The shape spoke in a human voice. But of a human voice that was soft and low. Something that made both Tony and Matt keep their hands close to their sidearms.

"Yes," the alien form spoke. "I understand what you are saying."

A bit caught off guard, John spoke again. "What do you want from us? Are you an inhabitant of the planet that this moon is trapped in orbit of?"

"Yes, I am," the shadowy form spoke in the same dulcet tones.

"What is it you want from us?" Koenig demanded. "Four of our people have died from something you have caused. And we have witnessed other manifestations that cannot be explained. Are you responsible for these events in question?"

The shadowy form tilted its head again. "Yes, to some. We did not cause the deaths of the four that you speak of. They were the cause of their own demise. Their own imperfections killed them."


"Yes," the shadowy figure replied. "Their own subconscious imperfections that you have already theorized. We regret what had happened to them. Yet, we were not entirely the cause of those mishaps."

"What is it you want from us?" John demanded once more. "Why have you locked our moon in orbit around your world? That is your world is it not?"

The form nodded slightly. "Yes, it is our world. We find you a fascinating species. One we have not ever encountered."

"Is there something that you require of us?" John asked, trying to be peaceful as he could. He was a bit surprised at the colorful description of humanity that the alien life force just described them as. "Why are you here?"

The form said nothing. It meerely stood there as if it were keeping vigil of something sacred and holy. If not religious.

And as it appeared, it soon disappeared, like a nightmare fading into nothing.

"I don't think it is ready to tell us," Tony observed.

"Or anyone else here," John noted. "I think the situation has gotten a bit more complicated. And mysterious."

Chapter Fifteen

Morning, at least by lunar time, arrived weak but welcome. Distant starlight seemed to outline the surface of the moon, throwing the wheel-shaped framework of Moonbase Alpha into sharp relief. Photons fell on the high-efficiency solar collectors. Generators continued to hum and draw and store power.

As before, the planet that the Moon was trapped in orbit around, still could be seen. In a way, it almost filled the night sky. Bright and yet forbidding.

Since the encounter in the Solarium, Koenig ordered that the base would be on full alert status. He and the command staff were in conference, planning and striving to effect countermeasures and alternatives to ensure the safety of Alpha and all personnel.

Since Matt would not be on duty until later, he took advantage of his off-duty time in the white of the tennis court. He was alone and bounced the ball against the floor. The sound of it ricocheting off the hard, smooth wall accentuated his isolation. He slammed it back, held up his racket to backhand the return, and managed to miss the pale green, fuzzy ball. His swing, listless and indifferent, allowed the ball to bounce past him.

It rolled to the back end of the court, dribbled off into a corner. He watched it, making no attempt to retrieve it even after it came to a stop. After a moment, he picked it up and threw it. The ball slammed off the court's smooth wall and rocketed toward the back of it. It was larger and heavier than the normal tennis ball, and the racket Matt attacked it with was latticed with extra-strength nylon cable.

The ball flew toward the rear of the twenty-foot high court. Gray sweat shirt and sweat pants flapping, he lunged at the ball just in time to undercut a return. Matt played in old track shoes and moved as though slightly possessed, assaulting the ball as if it were a live enemy he could only kill.

Matt was perspiring freely, his jittery figure nearly lost within the comparative immensity of the scuffed, yet sterile white court. Despite the expanse and heavier ball, the low artificial gravity still made the ball relatively easy to chase down.

He may not have exhibited much skill, let alone not rely on spins and position, but he managed to hold his own. Not just by slicing the ball. But by simply mugging it and attempting to overpower it like an opponent in some match.

Breathless, he bent over and put his hands on his knees, fighting to get his wind back. Breathing hard and ambled over, he managed to regain his momentum. He readied the ball and smacked it solidly toward the wall. He pounced on it furiously and did not miss the return. He turned and poised himself impatiently for the next delivery. He whacked the ball toward the distant wall and used a kick off the side wall to gain leverage. He chopped the ball upward, putting topspin on it this time, trying to richochet it off the ceiling.

He held his position close to the front wall, waiting for the ball to descend and slamming it floorward. he lunged and hit it to the far side. He then dove for the dying ball and sliced it wickedly into a corner, cutting the velocity sharply. Standing on his line, he dove and missed it. He rolled over on the floor, panting hard and not in any hurry to get up.

"Shit," he muttered, his face paled slightly. HIs gray sweats stained dark with salty, sour sweat.

"That's pretty good," observed a sharp voice. "Playing by yourself and losing. That takes a considerable amount of concentration."

Lynn Singing Hawk closed the court entryway behind her with her commlock and strolled out onto the polished floor. Matt did not acknowledge her presence or looked at her. The same way he did the late Debra Oberhoussen, before she had been killed on September 13th in the Refrence Library.

The beautiful Native American female stopped and studied him. "Looks like you could benefit by a partner." She smiled hesitantly and gestured toward the ball. "I'd join you in this game, if I could play sitting down."

Whereupon she chose a spot in the relatively clean floor and sat down, crossing her legs as she did so. Matt walked past her to retrieve the ball. She watched him return to the serve mark and stand there, considering his next move.

"I've been well, thank you," she said in a response to the unasked question. "Pretty busy, too. With all that has happened in this canned atmosphere, it's been insane. Four deaths in a row. And not by any impurities that we know of." She paused a moment. Still Matthew Prentis did not speak, but he did not serve the ball, either.

"You have no idea how many people are scared shitless by all of this," she continued in mock amazement. "Extraordinary symptoms that I looked up in the reference library." She shifted her backside on the hard floor. "Pretty scary shit if you ask me."

Matt used one shoe to rub at a scuff mark disgracing the highly polished and pristine floor. The scuff mark would not come out but he kept at it as he spoke. Finally it did come off after some work.

"I don't know who was worse at psychoanalyzing me. You or Erin Stroheim. I guess you read my psych profile."

Lynn sucked in a deep breath, let the air out in a single woosh. When she resumed talking the words came out in a flood. It was as if Matt had somehow turned a key inside of her.

"Better than beating the hell out of a rubber ball," she observed, her gaze rose to the ceiling and staring at the white enameled sky. "Or living on the edge of civilization. I must say, your background is quite colorful. Lot of fireworks. And your ability to sleep with almost every woman on Alpha, despite some umemotional ties. Or connections."

"We all deal with our situation here in our own way," Matt said, finding the discussion somewhat interesting. He never cared to be in the limelight or discuss his privacy with anyone, unless they were qualified in the mental health field.

"Does all of this have a point?" Matt eventually inquired gently.

"Sure it does. You think I am wasting air? After what Helena told me, you had quite a shock to your system. I'm surprised you never mentioned anything about your uncle in your sessions with Stroheim." She tried to peer beyond the quiet, enigmatic mask, past the beard and the dark eyes. But she could not find it, let alone could not see what was driving him.

"Never got that far," Matt said softly. "If she had not been killed on that one planet, the subject might have come up."

Lynn shook her head and leaned forward, speaking earnestly. Her voice full of disappointment. "I was afraid you would respond like that. You really think that by coming here, you could have escaped from your problems on Earth?"

He shrugged, bounced the ball a couple of times and considered the wall.

"Then what made you run from Earth?"

Matt hesitated, then looked over at her. His whole manner was solemn, despite his misanthropic demeanor. "Because, I got sick of man's inhumanity towards man. Of everything running in cycles. It's no secret that I did not care much for people. Or of his peculiar habit of murdering one another. One of the things I have learned about the human condition is that the human way is that of violence and death." He stopped bouncing the ball. When he spoke again there was more emotion in his face than she thought possible.

"Counselor, when my uncle passed away, I felt like I was short-changed. That people that I liked, however few there were, were the ones that died first instead of those that I could not stand to no end. I found out in the end that most people could not be trusted. It was those kind of people that put us all into this situation. Human error at its worst. People like Commissioner Simmonds or Dixon. Everything was the same. People were still the same. I didn't like it that much then, and I still don't." He caught his breath.

"When my uncle passed away, I realized that was the final straw. I was born into a world that did not want me in the first place. So I left, beacuse there was no one, or nothing to hold me there. Life there did not amount to much. Even after World War Three, man still had no understanding. He was and still is a war like being who gives battle to everything around him. Including himself. I did not like being part of that. That's why I left. By my own choice. What do you think of that?"

She stared appraisingly back at him. "I think you still need some counseling."

Matt tried to smile but only made it half way. It was a triumph of sorts.

"And I need a shower," he said, starting to leave for the shower area.

"Don't forget," Lynn said, as she left the opposite direction of the court. "You have a session with me next week."

"I'm trying not to," he said, a bit sardonically.

Chapter Sixteen

The room was large and somewhat bright, mellow with recessed lighting that enhanced the richness of the sterile paneling on the walls. Comfortable furniture was tastefully deployed on the polished floor. There were pictures on the walls and one isolated sculpture set on its own illuminated lucite pedestal.

At the moment the heavy metal desk was nearly bare. Even the computer terminal that was built in were sheathed in cold metal tones.

Joe Ehrlich stood in the middle of his quarters, putting the golf ball into an automatic return. With each successful putt the machine announced his score, the distance traveled by the ball, and the speed of the putt. Then it gently blew the ball back to him.

When Erhlich missed, one of the two long arms would swing out in a wide arc until it contacted with the errant ball. With a hook and twist, it would guide the ball back into the returner which would then plonk it back to its owner.

The twin arms did not have to work very hard. Erhlich was quite good. The result of much practice.

He studied the undulating floor as he lined up another putt from a fresh angle. He stroked the putter, watching as the ball hooked into a waiting cup. The machine hummed and announced the result.

"I can hit a seven iron five hundred yards on this place," he said to no one in particlular. "And an environment suit does not give me much mobility. My swing suffers. Even in Fra Mauro where Sheppard hit his golf ball."

He looked toward the gleaming, well-stocked bar, alive with crystal decanters and glasses. He decided to have a drink after he practiced on his golf swing some more. He walked over and activated the large wall-screen that he installed some time past. Pointing his commlock at the screen, the image he requested for came up.

The fairway was bright green and recently groomed. Closely bunched cypress guarded the right side. Tufts of cloud floated in a sky of adamantine blue. Off to the left were several cleverly laid out traps and a serpentine stream filled with lily pads. Additional bunkers were visible off in the distance, guarding the approaches to the Green. the distant flag marking the cup fluttered loosely in a warm breeze.

Thank God Helena came up with this program to cure green sickness, he thought. It sure is useful.

A loud crash sounded as the polished mahogany driver struck the ball. The ball flew a short distance before contacting the wall, at which point it fell to the floor. Its computerized image, however, flew onward from the exact spot where the ball had made contact on the wall-screen, the sensitive screen taking note only of the angle of contact but also the ball's velocity. Both had been transfered to the computerized ball-image now fading toward the Green.

The image landed some two hundred forty yards from the tee, off in the right rough. Ehrlich pursed his lips as he studied the results of his drive. he was still slightly twisted around in follow-through posture. In a moment he would touch the control that would advance the scene toward him, automatically matching up the real ball sitting on the fake grass by his feet with the lie of the computerized image.

He stood alone on the false turf at one end of the room. The rest of his quarters became dark, lit solely by the projected image of the championship Gulf course glowing brightly on the wall-screen.

Concentrating on the set up of his approach shot, his fingers tightened on the shaft of the iron. He lined up and swung. The ball sliced low and to the left, hooking badly. He watched in silence as the ball-image landed in the near trap. Erhlich's hand was shaking ever so slightly as he turned to make the screen image go forward to the next one.

Ehrlich adjusted the system, brought the image tto close, backed it slowly until a red light beeped at him from the tiny wall-screen console, signifying that the real ball lying on the false grass by his feet matched up with the image that had been on the screen. He tapped the ball gently with the end of the nine iron.

That was when a shuddering sounded through Moonbase Alpha as the Moon became subjected to an orbital shift of some type.

"What the hell?" he said, as he fell off his balance.

The rumbling increased as if some force were grasping, or clamping the ancient satellite of Earth down like a vise.

And it was something that got the attention of the Alphans and raised their awareness another fifty percent.

If not one hundred and ten....

Chapter Seventeen

Ed Malcolm remembered that day in July 1969. During the thirtieth anniversary of the historical lunar landing, he had paid a visit to the Smithsonian Museum in the District of Columbia. Washington D.C. had certainly changed over time. Especially in the Virginia suburbs. He had walked past the flimsy and improbable hardware of the early Space Age, and had taken his seat with several hundred other visitors in the Apollo Rotunda just before the beginning of the half-hourly show. It was something that would prepare him for his tour of duty on Moonbase Alpha.

There was nothing that he had not seen many times before, yet the old drama still gripped him. Here were faces of the first men to ride these crazy contraptions into space, and the sound of their actual voices - sometimes emotionless, sometimes full of excitement - as they spoke to their colleagues on the receding Earth. Now the air shook with the crackling roar of a Saturn launch, magically re-created exactly as it had taken place that bright Florida morning, thirty years ago - and still, in many ways, the most impressive spectacle ever staged by man.

The Moon drew closer - not the busy home of three hundred and eleven men and women on Moonbase Alpha that he knew, but the virgin Moon of the late twentieth century. The late sixties. It was hard to imagine what it must have meant to the people of that time, to whom the Earth was not the center of the Universe, but - even to the most sophisticated - still the whole of creation....

Now Man's first contact with another world was barely minutes ahead. It seemed to Ed that he was floating in space, only meters away from the spidery Lunar Module, bristling with antennas and wrapped in multicolored metal foil. The simulation was so perfect that he had an involuntary urge to hold his breath, and found himself clutching the handrail, seeking reassurance that he was still on the azure Earth.

"Two minutes, twenty seconds, everything looking good. We show altitude about 47,000 feet..." said Houston to the waiting world of 1969, and to the three decades to come. And then, cutting across the voice of Mission Control, making a montage of conflicting accents, was a speaker whom for a moment Ed could not identify, though he knew the voice...

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

Even back in 1969, that was already a voice from the grave; the President who had launched Apollo in that speech to Congress had never lived to see the achievement of his dream.

"We're now in the approach phase, everything looking good. Altitude 5,200 feet."

And once again John F. Kennedy's voice, silenced six years earlier in Dallas:

"We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people...."

"Roger. Go for landing, 3,000 feet. We're go. hang tight. We're go. 2,000 feet. 2,000 feet..."

"And why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this our goal...? Why, thirty-five years ago, fly the Atlantic? WE CHOOSE TO GO TO THE MOON!"

"200 feet, 4 1/2 down, 5 1/2 down, 160, 6 1/2 down, 5 1/2 down, 9 forward, 120 feet, 100 feet, 3 1/2 down, 9 forward, 75 feet, things still looking good...."

"We choose to go to the Moon in this decade because that challenge is one that we're willing to accept, one that we are unwilling to postpone, and one that we intend to win!"

"Forward, forward 40 feet, down 2 1/2, kicking up some dust, 30 feet, 2 1/2 down, faint shadow, 4 forward, drifting to the right a little....Contact light. O.K. engine stopped, descent engine command override off....Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

The music rose to a crescendo. There before his eyes, on the dusty lunar plain, history had lived again. And presently he saw the clumsy, environment suited figure climb down the ladder, cautiously test the alien soil, and utter the famous words:

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

As always, Ed Malcolm listened for that missing "a" before the word "man," and as always, he was unable to detect it. A whole book had been written about that odd slip of the tongue, using as its starting point Neil Armstrong's slightly exasperated "That's what I intended to say, and that's what I thought I said."

Returning from that old memory, he made his way through the corridors of Moonbase Alpha to Level D. The lower he went to that area, the fewer people he ran into. Machinery and computerized systems lived in the depths of the lunar complex, systems that ran itself and often repaired itself. Only rarely was the attention of its human builders required. Maintenance was routine, performed at predetermined intervals.

Occasionally unscheduled adjustments had to be made to certain pieces of equipment. Malcolm stepped out of the lift elevator, turned to his left after briefly consulting his clipboard. He hoped to make one small adjustment.

The doorway he soon encountered was marked ELECTRICAL CENTER. He opened it with his commlock and hefted a small black repair case in his left hand, and walked in, careful to close the door behind him. The power station had been having some system problems, and Malcolm was sent down to correct whatever had caused the difficulty.

The area resembled a museum, a low-ceiling endless chamber filled with row upon row of vertical islands. Each island contained the wiring and relays for a separate section of the base.

A soft hum of power distributed the air, flowed through the room. It was energy drawn from a distant sun used now to serve the needs of humans and other mechanized and computerized systems.

Malcolm made his way past several islands, constantly refering to his clipboard. As expected, he was alone in the bay. The islands varied considerably in size. Some were quite massive, such as those for the colonists quarters, and the travel tubes. Others were smaller, such as the one marked MEDICAL CENTER. Eventually he found the one labeled GENERAL AUTOMATED SYSTEMS.

Rows of metal panels lined the islands like the scales of a fish. Regular and Communications fibers ran from island to island, thin strands of glass wrapped in opaque plastic. There was a small slit atop each panel. Malcolm located the one he needed to repair, and pointed his commlock at it.

A row of multi-colored lights blinked once, then stayed on. The panel snapped open, exposing an intricate nexus of wires, glass fibers, power lines, and the familiar colored geometry of printed circuits.

He studied them carefully, his gaze traveling from one to the next. The power leads he ignored.

Eventually he located a thick cluster of shiny glass fibers. the spider's nest marked the confluence of multiple communications lines, private lines, interspatial, and computer linkups. Working by number and code he painstakingly traced several of the lines until he found the one that had had been not working properly. Then he opened the small repair case he had been carrying.

The interior was a sloppy mass of wires and chip boards; tools rested somewhat more neatly in a side compartment. Malcolm selected a thin piece of insulated glass fiber with transparent end links. Carefully he placed one end across the fiber leading to the other end. The other end he set against an empty terminal inside the other panel.

As soon as they made contact, both blunt ends of the short cable annealed to the terminal and cross fiber, forming smooth, unbroken joints. Their special chemical composition would not interfere with the laser-boosted messages flowing through the communications fiber.

Since there was no disruption of electrical flow, only a slight lessening of light intensity which would be compensated for at the next laser booster up the line, no one could tell that the communications fiber had been repaired.

He closed the panel, the snaps clicking into place. As soon as the final snap locked home the lights glaring above the panel went out. As shadows slumped down around Malcolm, he closed the case, turned and made his way back out of the small area. Only to stop when he heard the rumbling.

"What the hell is that?" he wondered aloud.

He almost lost his step as he walked into the lift elevator and closed the door behind him.

"That's no moonquake!" he said, tapping his commlock.

Chapter Eighteen

Command Center was bustling with major activity as the orbital shift of the Moon was heard and felt all over the lunar surface, the catacombs, and that of Moonbase Alpha. The resounding shockwave was almost like a stone splashing in a small pond, with ripples going in all directions.

John managed to grab the chair behind his desk before falling over. Tony had fallen backwards, almost as if his seat were pulled out from under him. Everyone else in the center managed to get their momentum back as the shift occurred almost instantly. If not abruptly.

"What have we got?" John demanded.

Yasko punched a button on her console as a computerized image of the Moon's orbit around the enigmatic planet appeared on the main viewscreen. The display was nearly complex and sharp as a knife's edge.

"The Moon has simply shifted its orbit," Yasko said, almost nervously. "Only it's not in the type of shift I would have wanted."

John looked at the display and knew exactly what Yasko meant with that last statement.

The Moon was definitely out of orbit with the planet by no more than twelve degrees. And that was no computer error that just appeared. The Moon was not heading away from the planet.

It was literally heading toward the planet's surface.

"Yasko," John spoke abruptly. "Compute our course trajectory and give us an estimate as to how long we will crash down on the planet's surface."

The Asian beauty typed in the request in a hurry. The response she had gotten was just as immediate and succinct.

"Computer estimates that we have eleven days," she reported. "Unless something else should erupt."

"Should we evacuate?" Tony inquired.

Before John could answer, Yasko broke in. "Commander, another energy flux reading has been detected."

"Location and source," John demanded.

Yasko stared at the screen for a moment and then at something right behind Koenig's back. "Right behind you, sir."

Koenig spun around and saw another shape form right behind him. Almost like someone making a statue out of blown glass. The form solidified into a solid shape of a human form.

It was a woman with flowing long auburn hair and apple-sculpted cheeks.

She was also fully in the nude, which raised some hormone levels up a notch.

"You need not worry, Commander," the woman spoke in a British accent. "No harm will come to your people or this Moon."

Koenig managed to clear his head of the pheromones radiating from the woman and got to the point immediately. Something that was a bit difficult. Helena arrived in the Command Center and that literally got Koenig back into focus.

"That's reassuring to know," Koenig said, not entirely satisfied. "But, I'd still like to know why our Moon has shifted orbit. I want to know who you are, and what has been happening on this base."

The woman managed a smile and leaned back on the console behind her. "It would take some time to explain."

"Well, we do have eleven days," Tony pointed out sarcastically.

The woman paid Tony no mind and kept her attention focused on John. "We are inhabitants of the world that your Moon is in orbit of as we speak. The inhabitants of Solius, like myself, have no physical form that you know of."

"If you have no physical form," John began, pointing at her nude form. "What do you call that?"

"A reflection of intelligence," the woman replied. "An image from one of of your people's subconscious mind. Perhaps, I should begin at the beginning."

"The inhabitants of Solius are a peaceful people," the woman continued. "A race that shares an identical consciousness. What one can see, all can see. What one knows, all of our people know. This form that I am in, is what we call a facet. There are hundreds like us scattered all over our world. We are self-sufficient in many of our ways. If not yours."

"You're a group mind, then," Tony observed.

The woman nodded, with a bit of a depressed expression. "In a matter of speaking. There is one consciousness of my people. Something that has proven very lonely and very dull. We believe that your people have a phrase for such matters. being bored to death."

"That still doesn't explain the four deaths of our people," Koenig stated, a bit harshly in his tone.

"My people regret the deaths of your comrades," the woman said, sadly. "As one of our representatives stated earlier. Their own imperfections killed them. Their own id as you described earlier. We accidentally tapped into that realm of your mind and unleashed something that should not have been unleashed. It was not our intention to cause any harm to your people. It was an accident."

"Why were you tapping into our memories and appearing as those we knew?"

"When your Moon came into our system," the woman explained. "We scanned your minds. We learned many fascinating, if not tragic issues about humanity. One of the things we found worthy of our interest were your memories. Your imagination. Your darker side. Your abilities to be at your best when you are at your worst."

"In many ways," the woman continued. "You are an interesting, if not complex species. We felt that the forms we appeared in would help us understand your species better. In a sense, it was not the right thing to do. We learned that the subconscious mind and the memories stored within it can be a tricky problem. If not a painful one for the person, itself."

"If anything," the woman finished. "We are explorers as you are. We constantly explore possibilities and search for other intelligences. Physical, if not metaphysical in nature. And yet, we often come across those that are primitive. If not savage."

"Sounds like you already have us categorized," John stated.

The woman shook her head. "Not really. From our observations, we have come to the conclusion that there is still hope for you and those on your base. You are not like the ones that you left behind on your world all those years past. Your destiny lies along a much different path. If anything, you have the capacity for not taking the wrong path that your fellow species did on your home world."

"That's reassuring," Alan Carter stated, as he stood next to the Command Center entrance. "If not refreshing."

"Is there another reason why you are observing us?" John demanded.

"Let me just say this, Commander," the woman said, softly. "What we once were at one point. You and your people might become. After you have prospered and seeded a new civilization. One that will be for the betterment of the human condition. In whatever complex of fields that it shall be formed in."

"And now," the woman said, looking over at the main viewscreen. "It is time to depart. May you find your way of life as pleasant and benevolent than others."

The woman faded into nothingness.

Another orbital shift occurred, which sent shockwaves throughout the Moon and the artificial and sterile community built in one of its craters.

As everyone managed to grab a hold of something, the image of the planet on the viewscreen faded.

What appeared before them was the vastness of space and the stars, however cold and eternal they were, that dotted the eternal void.

"Yasko, what is our location?" John asked.

Yasko studied the monitor closely, then looked up. "We're no longer in that system, Commander. Or locked and descending in orbit around that planet. We're nearly eight point seven light years distant from it."

"How could that have happened?" Tony wondered.

John studied the viewscreen and pondered the same question.

"We may never know," John said. "But, I think it's safe to say that we passed whatever tests they may have had for us. If it were that."

"Or," Helena broke in. "We satisfied their curiosity."

"If curious is the right description." John said, bewildered a little bit.

Chapter Nineteen

Sometimes the food supply on Moonbase Alpha could be classified as edible. Other times, in some less than colorful moments, it would be classified, or described as something that someone stepped in back on Earth. Even the hydroponics soy that had been produced and processed on Alpha could sometimes look less appealing and edible. If not inconsumable.

Matt was just as happy just to eat some soyburgers and other protein nutrients. If not cups of fruit and what passed as soymilk ice cream. After nodding his thanks to Jonathan Ryan, one of Alpha's food service workers for fixing his tray of lunch, Matt sat alone at the table and polished off his share of food.

It was later in what passed for a day, that Matt entered his quarters, and found the entity that appeared as his uncle before, standing near his chair. Matt was a little surprised at first, and then managed to regain calm. After what happened and what John had later explained during a command conference, he knew that the alien intelligence was not a threat.

"Sorry I scared you, guy," the image of his uncle said, regretfully. "It was never my intention."

"So I had been informed," Matt said, leaning against the communications post.

"You and your uncle obviously had a special relationship," the entity noted. "In a way, after looking into your mind, it was easily noticed."

"He was a good man," Matt stated, some emotion in him welling up. "He was a second father to me. If not more of a father than the one I had."

The entity nodded. "In a way, I can imagine what he was like. I can remember some moments in your childhood with him."

You know the forms but not the substance, Matt rubbed his eyes. "We had some good times. His death was part of the reason why I left Earth."

The entity nodded. "I fail to understand cynicism."

"You're better off not understanding it," Matt snorted. "It's hard to describe sometimes."

"Maybe in time you'll be able to overcome it," the entity stated. "From observing human nature, there is more to your life than cynicism. Or giving into it."

"Maybe," Matt reflected on a past memory. "If we ever find another world to colonize."

"You just may," the entity stated. "It's not the end of your odyssey, Matthew. Or that of your friends. In time, you'll find another world. Another home. Always remember this. You Alphans can take a different and better path than your fellow humans did. You were fortunate once. You may not be fortunate again."

"Thanks for foretelling the future," Matt said, a bit sardonically.

"It's not a foretelling, Matthew," the entity said, almost angelically. "Consider it, spiritual wisdom."

The entity faded into nothingness. Leaving Matt alone in the dark.

The bearded young man walked over and leaned over at the viewport. Memories of his uncle flooded through his mind for a small period. He focused his attention on the desolate lunar landscape and that of the planet dwindling in size as the Moon drifted further out into space.

"Cast out into the celestial winds of fate," he said poetically to no one.

Looking at his chronometer, he realized that Yasko would be returning soon.

Her company was always something he looked forward to.

Especially when it came to putting memories and other issues behind him.

And in bed.

Chapter Twenty

The chip entered a transmitter. the transmitter broke down the contents of the chip into a regularized pattern of electrical impulses which filtered and metamorphosed into a stream of photons and shipped out across the main computer system.

Relay systems picked up the data stream, powerful lasers at each, regenerating the message and casting it onward through the void of cyberspace. Eventually the data stream arrived at a receiver, and was drawn in and rearranged as electrical impulses.

The impulses were automatically fed into one of the computer monitors, which decoded them. It was quite a long message, very explicit, and detailed. John Koenig arrived to study the re-integrated patterns. he and the command staff began to move in response, slower than the impulses but quickly nonetheless.

Circuitry flashed. New patterns were shunted to and fro around the cyber systems. many people in the Command Center became aware of them. Those so reacted excitedly, but for very different reasons, as a succession of tight-beam transmissions jumped from one booster relay to the next.

Eventually the fresh stream of information arrived at the central computer system, the center for all operations on Moonbase Alpha.

The receiver there performed the task of turning light into electric pulses which activated another system, which activated a screen, which informed the personnel gazing at it of certain interesting facts.

"W.A.N.D.E.R.," said John, as he stared at the screen. " An organization known as the World Association of Nations Defending Earth Rights. So they were the ones that established that supply depot."

"Looks that way," stated Sanderson, as he downloaded the rest of the data information. "Apparently, they had a hand in some of the lunar operations that the Space Commission and the ILC were putting together. Including the operations of the Deep Space Reconnaissance Probe C-42."

"General Heineman, an old U.S. Air Force officer was the Head Of Operations," Tony finished reading off of the screen. "Along with a Dr. Gordon Caron and Science Officer Marc Miller. They had that bunker on the Moon built in case war were to break out on Earth again. Apparently, they felt that they could not take the risk of another thermonuclear war occurring."

"An escape route for various people," Helena observed. "Should a war occur. At least the supplies they had left behind will come in use. I had Bob look them over again. They're safe for the uses they were made for."

We have learned to use energy through machines and we have found that the greatest source of energy is through the human body and mind, John reflected silently. In the Universe there is a wealth of power and resources to draw from. Power and resources that we do not yet know exists. But nothing is without sacrifice, energy cannot be destroyed, only converted. At least the people who left those supplies converted them for good use amongst us.

"They could not have come at a better time," John noted, as he sat back behind his desk. "At least we know that there had not been a connection between that and the inhabitants of Solius."

"I still don't understand why they did the things that they did." Alan spoke, still a bit bewildered.

"Some races have their own forms of communication," Helena broke into the conversation. "Different from ours. There is a lot about the universe that we still don't know about."

"I know one thing," Sanderson spoke as he drank from his coffee mug. "I wouldn't want to encounter something like that life force out on the surface of the Moon again," he shuddered a little at the memory. "That was something that made me wary as hell."

"Space will always contain certain unknowns," John pointed out to Greg. "We just have to keep trying to understand and make some sense out of them. Many things have happened since 1999. We've come across a lot of unexplainable phenomena and other mysteries. I have a hunch that we will continue to encounter unknowns such as this."

"Hopefully not as scary," Sanderson grunted.

"I did not know that a big fella like you could be scared so easily," Alan joked.

"You'd be surprised," Sanderson chuckled. "Some days are easier to overcome than others. This one will take some time."

"Helena, is Matt doing well?" Tony inquired.

"I've got him back to his counseling sessions," she replied. "With Lynn handling everything, it should work out fine."

"Knowing Matt," John spoke. "He'll be back to normal in no time."

But inside John's mind, he knew that Matt, being the movie fan that he was, would not be watching two certain movies for awhile. One dealing with monsters of the subconscious mind, and the other involving repressed memories taking physical form. Two classics that he, himself, had watched in his youth.

Then again, he thought. I may not watch them for awhile, either...

Copyright (c) 2003. 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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