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Coda: A Terra Alpha Story

Authors: Terry Shewmaker
Show Year: Y3
Rating: PG-13
Date: 2014
A scenario of possibility: a look into the world the runaway Moon left behind...and what happened when it returned…
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Coda: A Terra Alpha Story

A Novella of Space: 1999,

Suggested by the Television Series

by Terry Shewmaker

With special appreciation to The Catacombs (, Martin Willey's remarkable archive of all thing

s Alpha. Thank You!

Special thanks, as well, to Dave M (here's looking at you, mate...)

The Excerpts (all
From The Explorer by Rudyard Kip

ling (1865-1936; chapter headings)

From Old Australian Ways and Daylight is Dying by A B Paterson (1864-1941)

From Catullus 101 (Ave Atque Vale; adapted) by Gaius Valerius Catullus (ca 84? - ca 54? BC)

Suggested Music (see YouTube): Nights in the Gardens of Spain by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)

For Zienia Merton and Johnny Byrne

coda (ko'd?) n. Music

A passage at the end of a composition or movement

that brings it to a formal, complete close.


Helena Russell (Koenig)

Raul Nuñez

John Koenig

Victor Bergman

Alan Carter

Bob Mathias

Paul Morrow

Maya (Verdeschi)


Tanya Alexander/Aleksandr (Kano)

Sandra Benes (Morrow)

and others

I told them a ghost story,

and they couldn't resist looking at a living ghost...

ONE: What Happened Before

...'Thought to name it for the finder: but that night the Norther
found me -
Froze and killed the plains-bred ponies; so I called the camp

Helena Koenig had tried her best...

A weary hand clumsily fumbled to pull off the surgical cap, her pale disheveled hair spilling out from beneath it, as her body sagged against the doorframe. She took deep breaths, trying to somehow pull herself together. The hours were as a blur; patient after patient to be evaluated, continuous triage, even as the makeshift hospital was literally being pieced together around her and those of her doctors and nurses who by sheer force of will were still on their feet and able to function. She thought of them, and of the Eagle pilots and their support crews, loading and launching bird after bird, all brave faces and resolute action even as they - and everyone, really - were nearing, if not already past, the limits of their endurance.

And she thought yet again of her husband - whenever they'd managed even the most fleeting glimpses of each other - who bore the haggard and haunted look of a man bowed down from the burden of bearing the weight of an entire world on his shoulders.

The weight of the world...

Their world.

This world, Terra Alpha - its very name resounded, reverberated, a monument en perpetua to all that had happened before...

Framed by the doorway, it sprawled across her view, their as-yet-tenuous foothold upon it bearing all the roughshod, ramshackle birthmarks of the frontier, which indeed it was: a mismatched menagerie of building and bivouac, military-style tent colonies, temporary structures for people and supplies of all kinds.

The site was a mess: churned and trampled by the constant comings and goings of humans and their machines; the multicolored detritus of still-unknown grasslands, protecting such solid ground as there was beneath, wide swaths of freshly-broken dirt and the oozing mud-caked pools and streams of water from the recent rains that had washed the air - clear and cold it was, trembling in her lungs with each breath, creating crystalline puffs of vapor.

Now there came to her the raw, pungent smell of firewood; bonfires, piled high and set vigorously ablaze, here and there, about their encampment. She breathed deeply of it, allowing her eyes to close; the distinctive scent of the cuerca wood, heat and light, comforting somehow. Something ancient, anchoring, something to rally round, mysterious and powerful...

Out there, across this new valley, far off in the distance - through scattered breaks in the densely-clouded horizon - she could see them once more, glimpses of those distant icy peaks, and her mind and body alike shuddered.

Oh, those mountains...the first landfalls, their initial efforts to forge a settlement on this world, of which they yet knew so very little.

From Eagle pilots, technicians, doctors and nurses, to scientists, engineers, data analysts, miners and academics - everyone who was still alive - they were all there, in the thin and unfamiliar air, already plucking at their lungs, of Terra Alpha. At once together yet utterly alone, the runaway Moon left behind forever, not even visible in their new sky - cut off, bridges burned...

They all struggled with that air, with the altitude, and getting acclimated; and at first no one could really do much of anything quickly. But such had been the overarching need to get everyone away from the Moon and landed somewhere - anywhere - on this new world, as to override virtually all other concerns.

The medical staff closely monitored their rather pitiable little beachhead, and amongst these was Dr Raul Nuñez.

He'd appropriated one of the trapezoidal supply-hampers to sit upon, and as Helena came upon him she noted the mug of greenish-yellow mate he was sipping. Although a skilled physician and very much a man of the modern scientific age, one foot yet remained in the land of his birth, and the great South American empire his ancestors had created at the foot of the soaring volcanic Andes.

She pulled over another hamper for herself, clad as he was in blue-and-white insulated cold-weather gear.

"I wondered whether any of this reminded you of...well, of home," said she, "I'd meant to ask..."

His brown eyes looked up from the mate, swept in the enormity of the crystalline blue-green vault of the wide-open sky and the high glaciated peaks that vividly perforated it. His skin was the color of finely-milled nutmeg, his form lean and spare, even allowing for the blue snowsuit and the silvery thermal jacket; but it was wiry too, and strong.

"I climbed such mountains, in my young days," said he, "and I saw other climbers who struggled to adapt, even though they considered themselves otherwise quite fit."

"You told me once that it sparked your interest in becoming a doctor."

The thinning moustache stirred as the smile surfaced below it. "I knew about surúchi even as a child," nodding.


"Quechua was my first language, everyone in our household spoke it," the dialect of his Inca forebears. "We call it soroche now."

"Yes," said she. "Altitude sickness."

He set down the mate mug, and leaned forward.

"Doctor...Helena...we've sent so many landing parties aboard Eagles to as many possible new worlds, across all these years we've been adrift in space," said he, his tone at once quiet and yet earnest. "You were on many of them, and thus had the experience of setting foot there - of physically leaving the Moon - at least for a very little while. And in that, you're most fortunate.

"But most of these people - the great majority of them - have not...the last real world they ever truly knew, and lived on, was our own Earth," thus summarily dismissing the long-ago false lure of illusory worlds like Piri and Terra Nova, and even Psyche Elysium. "They've forgotten - we've forgotten - how to do that. Now we must learn, all of us, all over again," his brow furrowing with disapproval as he once more looked about him. "This is not a place for such learning."

She nodded. She knew he was not happy with this site, did not believe it to be ultimately sustainable for them.

"You know, as well as I," continuing, "that surúchi presents with as many different symptoms as those who come to suffer it. A complex and insidious malady, easily leading to others - far more debilitating - if left unchecked. And that's a virtual certainty, the longer we remain here. Only one cure: that we leave this altitude behind, and go lower."

She spoke slowly, measuredly. "Raul...what if there is no 'lower'? What if it's all like this? What then?"

He fixed her gaze with his own. "Then people will die."

A commlock's attention-tone pierced the uncomfortable silence that fell between them. Realizing it was his, Nuñez lifted the instrument, studied the message it carried. He stood, reaffixed it to his belt. And when he spoke to Helena again, his tone softened to that of a friend and not just a fellow physician.

"We should be searching right now, with Eagles in the air...while the weather-gauge is still ours," said he.

In the interim, she too had gotten to her feet; and her words were sincere. "I'm glad you're here, Raul. Truly, I am."

She watched him go. Now what were the odds, of having an expert in altitude sickness - of all things - on the Moon? While awaiting official word on extending his research grant at Alpha, the apocalyptic nuclear immolation of Areas One and Two summarily and cruelly resolved the issue of his remaining there.

Like all those around him on that September day in 1999, he most certainly would be...

She took a breath and addressed her own commlock, asking for the current location of Commander Koenig...

And so, amidst a slowly-coalescing mélange of bed-rest and cooking meals, water-testing and Security pickets, along with most everything else - ranging from exhilaration to exhaustion and back again - the basics of daily life tentatively, gradually, recommenced.

Marriages were sanctified, and consummated, up there in those mountains - it was as if those who'd had to wait, to defer for so very long already, simply could not wait one moment more.

Everything, at long last, seemed to be turning their way.

But then, the weather-gauge ominously turned, fell upon them, trapped all of them there, beneath those menacing cols that became the first land-feature to receive a name: the Wall of Death...

The human body can endure much, and the human spirit even more; ultimately, though, neither is inexhaustible.

A wave of illnesses fell upon them, against which they held little, if any, resistance; some could not remember being ill in years, many had no memory of it at all.

And babies were soon - so very soon - to be born...

There was no more talk of staying there, in that place. They had to leave; to escape was imperative - and quickly. A clutch of Eagles, with hand-picked crews, was hurriedly assembled and flung to those unfamiliar skies, wherein they frantically scattered, to all points of the compass - sent upon the most important sortie of all their lives.

Below them, a world of seemingly-unrelenting mountains rolled past, all as harsh and menacing as those they'd left behind, clutching their imperiled enclave in an ever-tightening fist...

There'd never been the time in which to conduct a thorough survey of this planet - and now, all of them stood to pay the cost.

Was there, indeed, only this - and nothing else?

Had they all struggled and sacrificed, for so very long, and now...?

Over the open Eagle radio net, someone gasped. Like enormous drapery, the mountains below were parting; and across those endless icefields, a frenetic rush of signals flashed...

Operation Exodus roused itself anew; they all of them once more crowding into command modules, huddling together round video monitors in hurriedly-packed cargo and passenger pods.

Everyone anxiously stared...

"Plato could fit in there at least twice," someone said.

"Try three," someone else countered.

Formed and shaped by the passage of time and the forces of nature, a rich alluvial plain fanned out below gentle rolling foothills - beyond the menacing summits of those snow-clad ranges fading from view behind them ...

"Doctor? - "

They'd not been left unscathed, from that sojourn in those mountains.

It had already taken David Kano, the amenable and whip-smart head of their Technical section; recently, too briefly, married, he died not knowing that he was going to be a father.

It had very nearly taken Tony Verdeschi, their voluble, intense chief of Security; the feisty Italian was yet full of fight, rallying against the viral contagion so determined to fell him - and in the process so alarming, so frightening his wife over his perilous condition, that she too had come under anxious medical care...

"Dr Russell? - "

Yes, they still call me that, some of them...

Summoned thusly forward, to the present, Helena followed the nurse back inside - the two of them threading their way through the cobbled-together clutch of prefabricated modules and Eagle pods made over into operating theatres and triage wards - towards the intensive-care units.

Her husband, summoned from his own overbearing workload, met her at the hatch of one of them. A posted advisory warned: CODE RED - RESTRICTED ADMITTANCE. Another, smaller, carried the name of the patient domiciled within: Prof. V. Bergman.

She, a physician, had always known she'd have to prepare herself, to steel herself somehow, for times such as these; such was the penultimate burden of her life's profession. She was also human; and, at least this once, she could not...

He'd been amongst the first to be airlifted by the Rescue Eagles, down from the mountains of peril to the safety and shelter of their new valley.

The scientist and academician had been so long an immutable fixture of their community, indeed their very lives, that no one could remember a time when he had not been there. He had never, ever, shirked from doing his share of anything.

Following the stroke they could do little more than to try to make him comfortable, as the nurses were doing now - gently lifting him, positioning the pillows to better support his back and shoulders - determined that he should receive his two visitors in dignity. One of them murmured a few words to Helena.

John Koenig asked for two chairs, and settled his wife into one. The hatch whispered shut, and the three of them were alone. Around them, the diagnostic platforms subtly pinged, hummed and pulsed.

As she had during her other visits, she tenderly cradled one of the older man's hands in both of hers and squeezed it warmly, pleased to feel the subtle pressure of his response.

He looked at the both of them kindly; saw the softness in her features, the quiet determination in those of her husband. Before the sky had fallen, up there in that cold thin mountain air, he had married them.

The stroke had stilled his speech, but not his eyes.

Don't be afraid, said those eyes. I'm not...

All around those three people, there in that little ward, time was slowed, dissolving away...

The walls blurred, swam before her, all senses gone numb, for it was that the hand that gently held hers was that of her husband, and not of the other; and that three had become two.

And so - finally - the wandering stopped.

Within this new and spectacular valley the émigrés from Earth's runaway Moon were safe, the nightmares of the Wall of Death behind them.

To be sure, they were still at altitude - for Terra Alpha was a mountainous world - but far lower than before; the elevation of the valley floor, averaging some six thousand feet - at least as of the initial measurements - already felt more amenable to them.

The very air itself felt softer, gentler here. And while the occasional rain flurries stirred muddy alluvial fans into being, they rarely lasted too very long, and snow no longer fell.

Wafted upon certain turns of the breeze, though, the snows announced themselves from elsewhere, far away...slamming into the distant high ranges instead.

In the sheltered valley, the land was already healing. And, through it, so were the people - wholly committed now to making new lives and a new future there. Everyone was looking forward to what was next; and all were looking for closure.

For once, Alan Carter didn't much care about the laws of gravity - that, or bloody much else; didn't feel the hard seat rushing upward to catch him, not even the small travel-tube car itself, as it took off with a jolt.

He ran weary fingers through thinning hair, sank leadenly back in the chair, let out a long deep breath of relief. His eyes closed, not that he could do much to keep them open. He was bone-tired; flight after flight, up and down, down and up again, over and over and over...

The car roughly clunked to a halt in the tube, this an unintended consequence of its hasty construction; the access doors being shoved aside by main force, a flurry of scurrying footsteps...

"You look all in," a woman's voice murmured into his ear, "don't worry, we'll take care of you..."

Gentle hands were grasping him, lifting him up, and then his back was sinking through the readily-yielding mass of an enormous, soft...

...another female voice, "Triage," fainter, farther away...

...I'll take him, let's go...

...and after that, everything fell away...a welcoming void of nothingness...

...Alan? Can you hear me?...

He blinked, winced...

"Alan, it's Bob you know where you are? - "

The sumptuous featherbed dissolved, became the cladded diagnostic couch in a triage ward, converted from the interior of a Rescue Eagle pod.

"Hey, doc," wearily.

"Travel tube brought you in, and they literally had to carry you out," as the physician leaned in close, to admonish him. "So, no more begging off - not this time. Now let me work."

Not that he had much choice but to acquiesce, either, and so he did. A downright blessed thing, at that; to be able to just lie still and not have to move...

"What's the news here?" he presently managed to say.

"No more new cases reported, and those already in here are expected to recover," said he, crisp, assertive. "We're finally starting to win..."

"About bloody time, for what it's cost us..." The Eagle fleet, like everyone else, had dropped everything and come running, when the news of Victor Bergman had come through. "John around?"

"The Commander went out with the last wave of Eagle freighters, back up to the Wall."

"Then he hasn't had time to get back yet..."


"You're not suggesting - ?" with some alarm, trying to rouse himself to sit up.

"We're all down here now, Alan," staying him, "all of us, we got everyone out. He asked for one final run up there, to make absolutely certain nothing's been left undone."

Carter settled back, placated if only for the moment. "Helena?"

"Some of the nurses ganged up on her, finally got her to bed. Ed's off taking a sleep period; Ben's around, somewhere...Raul and I have the duty." Pause. "All right, now you can sit up. Slowly. Let me get these off," deftly plucking the last of the electrodes away.

He breathed deeply. "I do feel better. Am I?"

"You're sound enough. And still bloody stubborn."

"Part of my charm..."

But the memory of that feminine whispering lingered, dreamlike...beckoning...that cool, soft featherbed...well...don't half mind if I do...!

Mathias, toweling dry freshly-washed hands, looked and shook his head a little.

No, not quite sound enough, not just yet. Best to get him into a bunk, somewhere...

He debated whether to call for assistance with moving him, decided it wasn't a priority. We're all tired, everybody's tired...

Better to leave him where he was, then. Just keep an eye that he's comfortable, doesn't manage to tumble right out of the chair. Patently clear that the sleep-center of the pilot's brain was in perfect working order.

The physician quietly prepped, reattached a sensor pad or two, studied the subtle rippling of brain waves on the monitor. His patient stirred not a whisper, quite insensible where he lay.

Likely a pretty girl in there somewhere, too. Wouldn't be surprised...

...he's awakening, doctor...


He started awake, found himself still recumbent on the examining couch in the care-unit pod. Good old Mathias, he was there too...

"That's better. Just what you needed."

"Mm, you can say that again," he murmured. "How long was I out?"

"Long enough," was the reply. Accepting the commlock as it was handed to him, Carter was puzzled when the handset answered his activation-prompt with inert silence. He looked to Mathias.

"Medical override," said the latter, "I do have that authority, you know." Taking up his own commlock, the physician tapped a certain sequence upon its keypad and then spoke into it: "Authorized for return to service..."

An audible hum ensued, and Carter's commlock lit up in reply:


"I'm due on rounds," said Mathias, clipping the device to his belt. "You could do with some limbering up. And I've more news to tell you. C'mon..."

As they walked, moving about the improvised prefecture of the hospital, Mathias unfolded the tale. He told of Sandra Morrow, who in the chaos of the hurried mass evacuations had gone into premature labor. Within the safety of their new hospital, she and her husband - and their new baby, a boy - had been reunited.

Verdeschi was another of the early-airlift evacuees; a so-called Code Red, he was in no condition to protest his going before so many others in need too. And that brought up the question of his wife...

"...Oh now, don't look at me like that. What happened to Sandra could still happen to some of the others; Tanya, for one - Toshiro's checking on her now. Same for Maya, she's a Code Red - she's very, very close to term - we're exercising heightened vigilance."

"Twins, I heard."

"Twin boys," as a grin briefly surfaced between them.

They came to a corridor junction. Mathias slowed, his demeanor changing.

"What? What is it?" God, what more can this bloody place do to us?...

"Something you probably haven't heard," quietly. "Security was called out to the Residency this morning - reports of a woman screaming, hysterical. Then they called us." He paused. "Peter King - you know him, I think? The geology fellow?"

Familiar, but he yet had to think a moment. "Not well, or recently. But, yeah...I know him."

The physician's gaze fell. "I ordered a rush on it, haven't even had time to read it yet - "

"Read what?" alerted now.

" - but I already know what I'm going to find," finally looking up. "I've good reason to remember someone who worked on the far side - the waste dumps. Area One, then Area Two - Professor Bergman's handpicked troubleshooter, who knew, or knew of, everybody out there - the workers, the astronauts who did their training flights - "

" - and they all died...including Eric and Frank, my Meta Probe crew," subdued, remembering.

"And he lived. Yes, he was recalled to base, before we blew out of orbit - I know. He got the same medical testing your pilots did - "

"Still do," he interjected, "routine physical, every month."

Mathias nodded. "Alan, you know what doctor-patient privilege is. Why do you think I've told you all this?"

A gust of breath escaped him, "Oh, bloody hell..."

"He was gone, when they got to him. Took him in his sleep. Unlikely that he suffered. Autopsy report'll have the rest..."

"You said there was a woman...what happened to her?"

Mathias looked at him, critically, up and down, considering.

"Come with me," at last.

Presently they stood at the hatch of yet another isolation unit - walked some ways, in fact, to reach it - with its posted CODE RED advisory. The patient-name space was blank.

They went in, Mathias leading. Soft blue light suffused the interior of the little pod, jammed with blinking medical instrument panels and monitor screens, one of which was flashing and undulating in a frantic, jumbled display...

In the midst of all this was the diagnostic couch, flanked by yet another battery of instruments. As his eyes adjusted to the low light, Carter was surprised to recognize the distinctive shape of the Ellendorf quadrographic brain complex, recalled its use in treating certain types of brain trauma - or worse. He drew nearer, looked closer, trying to divine who it was, connected to it...and whose motionless form was secured to the couch with sturdy restraints...

"Oh God," dropping to a stunned whisper.

It's HER!-

The comely face, older than he remembered - well, weren't they all? - its features so very still, as though set in a mask, her lengthy unpinned hair gathered off to one side and carefully draped over one shoulder...subtly-shaded mauve, it shimmered ever so softly in the subdued atmosphere of the pod.

His mind reached back, retrieving a name...

Not lost, are you? -

No...just looking...

A name, and memories of the whom he had been married, once. Or so he - and she - had believed...

He slowly, very slowly, shook his head, aware of the fingers of one hand closing into a fist. To see her again, after so very long; and like this...

Cold and hard, he rounded on Mathias: "What have you done?"

"Keeping her alive," meeting him with equal gaze. "All Ed and I could do, when they got her in here, was to use the Ellendorf machine - it's stopped her before - and she was still crashing. Extreme measures were required," as he looked at the motionless form before him, "based on elements of the Kaldorian model..."

Or so everyone had thanks to none other than the likes of Magus. Back for another try at using the Alphans to create his "ideal race," and with no small amount of subtlety, he'd tricked the pair of them into marriage. Even the lush, paradisiacal world wherein he'd exiled his "chosen pair" - in total isolation, away from the runaway Moon and all upon it - was no more than yet another of his elaborate illusions, and had vanished along with him.

The marriage lasted two days...

"...Alan, are you listening?"

It had taken their combined wits and cunning, his and hers, to escape the Edenic prison that deluded cosmic magician had designed for the two of them...

He looked down at her now, there upon that couch. Those restraints disturbed him.

Bloody universe, full of raging idealists...

Magus was a damned fool, at once ignorant and dangerous; he'd never really known either of them - not him, and certainly not her.

But I do...

He continued looking, remembering...a longtime member of Victor Bergman's science team, later seconded to the Moonbase observatory...those forty-eight hours, just the two of them close together, were a revelation. He knew her. Knew there was steel beneath the porcelain...

"What...?" still not quite back in the moment. "That - takes a lot of power, doesn't it? We didn't have that much power up on Alpha - "

" - much less down here. Agreed. We don't. But at this moment, the omnimorph does. That runaway energy's being channeled into powering the Kaldorian sleep-cycle. Her human form and more-than-human mind have lost synchronization. She's become resistant to the Rhonden drug. Without it, her condition is life-threatening..."

The flaw, he remembered, in her genetically-modified molecular structure; and the source of those unspeakably-painful seizures. "But, to resort to something like this..."

He'd instinctively stiffened, at the first mention of Kaldor. The crashed spaceship, its comatose inhabitants sealed in glass cases within, at first believed to be dead; later revealed as a highly-sophisticated method of suspended animation. Mathias was part of the Alphan medical team studying its possible compatibility with humans, for one of them could join the Kaldorians as they resumed their interrupted cosmic Earth...

"The Kaldorian process holds her human life suspended," the doctor was now saying, "every cell in absolute stillness, beyond the touch of time itself...and whatever the omnimorph may try to do."

"It needs a matrix," almost more to himself, than to the physician, "a complete matrix of its human subject, or it won't work..."

"That's what Captain Zantor told us, yes."

"A perfect copy - and you have one for her, don't you?" an accusing edge shading his question. "Of course you do. Spencer would've seen to that." And for how long? Then, relenting, "Did she ever know?"

"She cooperated," quietly...

Oh, he'd quite impulsively declared himself game to take his chances on the Kaldorian ship, if it could get him home to Earth again, whatever year it would be by then. But he looked, and realized yet again his foolishness.

This was no cure...more a living death, and that was wrong. No movement, no breath, no connection to reality, to any reality. Not even dreams, her traumatized brain immobilized, held fast, unresisting, by unknown sciences...

This is not who we are...this can NEVER be who we are...!

Again he shook his head, spoke slowly. "We can't live like this anymore..."

One of his hands carefully reached down to touch one of hers. He quietly steeled himself for the moment of contact, having no idea what might ensue. Palm and fingers settled gently upon the back of that motionless hand. A wan little spark or two, but that was all. Her skin held neither warmth nor coolness.

The spirit had not left the body, of that he was certain. If he could somehow reach it...

Some two dozen bones in a single human hand, Mathias reflected; thumb, fingers, each a functional marvel of muscles and tendons and masses of nerves. It was the hand that most personified - most embodied, as it were - the possibilities of the sense of touch...tactile, intimate...


Both men reacted. "She's still in there," from Carter.


Again, and yet again, the monitor kicked.

"Now we'll know," from Mathias. "Without the accelerated energy to maintain stasis, it should release her and she'll regain consciousness..." Or so Maya's Psychon science had affirmed, when she designed the protocols...

A shrill tone pierced the air; at the same moment, a deep, hollow sustained gasp issued from her throat.

Her body railed against the restraints, their materials stretching taut. Her head still held fast by the Ellendorf skull-clamps, her lips drew far back to reveal clenched teeth; from these there issued forth sharp bursts of hissing, and a deep ominous rumbling set neck muscles to twitching.

Her hand tried to wrench itself free of Carter's, which gripped it even more firmly.

"No, you don't - !"

The eyes snapped open, eyes like neither man had ever seen...all silver, ablaze with an almost-sinister glitter...

Yet again, limbs strained against the straps. Carter felt her fingernails digging deeply into his skin.

"Will you work that bloody thing! - "

The omnimorph could've snapped those heavy metal buckles asunder without a thought; but they held, and so did he. The eyes closed and after a beat edged open, barely, their silvery cast weaker, fainter...

Mathias' fingers moved swiftly, here, there, across the controls of the brain machine. Conceived as a unique medical tool to aid in healing a wounded mind, it could - in unscrupulous hands - become an instrument capable of inflicting unspeakable agonies...

Finally, as the unorthodox treatment regimen increasingly took hold, the body's struggling lessened and ceased altogether.

The shrill bleeping cut off, and it became very quiet. The soft light was no longer blue but a subtle, soothing emerald-green...gentle waves washing across the breath and depth of the care-pod.

The two men looked wonderingly about them. "What's happening?" from Carter.

"It's no doing of mine," from the equally-baffled Mathias...

With audible popping sounds the restraint shackles unbolted and fell, the headband clamps snapped back.

A singular pulse of bright light swallowed the pod and all within it...

...beep, beep, beep, beep...

Mathias checked the brain monitor, then other sensors tracking her vital signs. All were rhythmic, and regular. "Normal..."

Carter glanced about him. The illumination in the pod was normal, too. He looked down. Her hand still gripped his - and, it was warm!

He could hear her breathing, in, out. Sleeping...

Before either of them could speak, her eyes opened. Blue. Mathias, being nearer, could discern the minute specks of silver in the irises - also normal. Lashes framing them were still.

"You're safe," said Carter's measured voice, to those vacant eyes. "You're safe now. You're in hospital. Here's the doctor..."

"Alix, it's Doctor Mathias. Can you hear me?"

Pale lips scarcely stirred, struggling to purse, to shape themselves. No sound came forth from them, but he, keenly observant, interpreted their movements.

I hear you

Her eyes rolled back, lashes obscuring them as they fell.

"Alexandra," repeating her name, "Alexandra..." softer, reassuring, "Alan is here..."

After a beat they struggled open, this time remaining so. Some facial muscles twitched. He discerned confusion, watched as her mouth tried to form the two syllables. The man himself leaned forward to speak, or would have, but for the subtle motion of the physician's dark head and that hushed him.

"Why...can't I...move...?"

A whisper, just at the range of Mathias' hearing, but he caught it.

"It will pass," said he.

"Alan...?" her voice audible now.

"Like he said," smiling a little.

"What happened...?" slowly flexing the fingers of her free hand, watching them open and close, as Mathias leaned in with his field-issue scanning unit and studied the data it relayed.

"Very good," said he, "life signs are strengthening."

"You're going to be all right," Carter agreed.

"I must look dreadful," she murmured.

Not to me, he found himself thinking...

Her gaze redirected itself upward. "Oh, it's raining..." rivulets tracing watery paths along the glassy panes of the module's inset windows; their slanted frames imaging views of gusting gray-green storm cells.

"Report from outside says, intermittent showers," Mathias' voice concurred.

Carter, who'd been quiet for a time, spoke. "I have a job for you, once you're let out of here."

"A job?" repeating it.

"M'm," said he. "There are ranges of foothills all around this valley," motioning with a hand, "we've already begun charting them. You've a good eye for assessing new territory - why don't you come along, and help me run the survey? I'd like the company."

A moment's uncertainty clouding her features, she looked to Mathias. "When you're better," said he.

"All right," said she, "when I'm better..."

"Deal," said he.

"You need rest now," the physician counseled.

From the pillows Mathias had arranged, Alix was looking at the Eagle pilot; looking, and remembering.

He's changed, she thought. Well, hadn't they all? She pondered the softened, crinkled look that came to his face when he was grinning, as he was just now; the pale sandy hair. And those blue eyes, constant and unchanging, even as all the world heaved and convulsed...

Too, she saw the massings of exhaustion within those eyes; and concern was stirring within her...

"...I'll be looking in, when I can," he was saying, "you do what they tell you," and then he was gone. Behind him, Mathias gave a last look to the monitoring systems, making a very few minute adjustments. Satisfied that she was comfortable, he quietly took his leave.

Alix was alone, the many-voiced pulsings of the sensors reduced to soothing murmurings...and she felt so very tired, so very relaxed...and so little effort, to obey his orders...

"As long as your eyes are blue..." barely whispering it, and then drifting off to oblivion.

Beyond the inset windows, the rain continued to fall.

The small cuerca-wood stakes, methodically placed and linked by lengths of twine, described a broad and slender rectangle across the roughness of the turned and broken soil, marking off the intended site for a reflecting pool.

Carter noted them as he shuffled along. The air remained chilled, the wind still gusting cold, and he unconsciously huddled in the hooded red-zipped blue snowsuit. The ground was soft from the showers passing through, and produced crisp prints whenever his heavy boots made contact with it.

The marker stones approached, slipped soundlessly behind, their alignment neat and precise, one after another, after another...

The necessity had come far sooner than anyone had ever wanted. The shape of the plaques, what material to fashion them from, how the inscriptions would read; even their placement, flat and flush with the ground, rather than upright for strong winds to disturb...

Chaos had followed them, all over the universe. Here, there would be peace. The reflecting pool, when completed, would present a perfect mirror to the multihued sky and its racing clouds by day and the multicolored sprawl of stars by night, as they wheeled above the cemetery...

He sighted along the row of markers that stretched away from him, and something caught his attention. A small blur of white cloth, whipping in the stiff breeze.

His gloved hand cupped the little flag, as he stooped to examine it. Against the stark red backdrop of insulated cladding, the snowy field glowed. The hulking black-and-chocolate profile of Ursus californicus - the great grizzly bear - a red star looming out of reach of its snarling open jaws. Beneath its tensed rows of claws, underscored by a red stripe, neat block letters spelled out CALIFORNIA REPUBLIC.

His eyes moved beyond, to the marker.



Oblong, slender, the common shape and nomenclature agreed upon; the familiar trapezoidal cartouche of Moonbase Alpha set to one side, a simple map of Earth, marked with a single gold star at a certain place, on the other.

In the next plot over, another metallic rectangle recorded the name and inscription of James Nordstrom; another of the old Farside workers, amongst the Californian's closest friends - and one who had not lived to know all that had happened before...

His head bowed, the wind rushing past his ears, disrupting the silence. Then he swore yet again. Not the place for it, but he did it anyway.

Both of them knew the life, and had lost friends to it - the life the runaway Moon had imposed over all those entrapped upon it. That their lives had found common convergence in one woman - the same woman - only brought the most ancient of human conflicts forward, into a setting where time had long ago lost any and all meaning.

From so unlikely a crucible, was forged a quiet pact: so long as all three of them lived, if the worst befell one, the other man would see to it to look after her.

Aware that members of Bergman's team were immensely loyal to him, the two men had often, wordlessly, wondered: did he, or didn't he...?

But they both suspected the older man knew...

The attention signal of his commlock roused him from his thoughts. The launch area; they were ready for him. Again. He acknowledged, rang off. Then he stood.

Now they're both gone, looking down at the grave that left him as that tontine's last survivor.

The Moon was gone, too; but the inherent perils and dangers of their new world still surrounded those who were yet alive.

And even in the midst of the crowd, one could still feel very much alone...

"A deal's a deal, mate," said he to the marker, and then was moving away.

His eyes strayed over the incoming screed from the Reconnaissance section. The convoy of Eagles had never gotten remotely close to the lofty realm of the Wall of Death before a vast looming storm front, and the unstable winds of those high altitudes, forced them to turn back. Only a small weather station remained behind, whose last report - before its instrumentation failed - told of plummeting temperatures, whiteout conditions and fiercely blowing snow...

So they'd gotten out just in time, he mused. Down here in their new valley, only rain was falling. Behind him as he continued on, the frilly mosses were already growing back, nameless and multi-colored, softly re-carpeting the rain-dampened soil and smoothing out the new graves it contained.

So the days and nights passed: strange days of unfamiliar sunlight and sky-colors, and deep nights sparkling with a host of unknown distant stars twinkling, flashing, through the thick protective layers of atmosphere...

Its design was adapted from a standard Eagle pod; at first blush an exceedingly ill-considered mish-mash, crossing a tiny bare-walls bedsitter with a common clunky utility locker, and possessed of all the inherent charm of a cluttered broom-closet.

Carter's billeting, assigned to him in the Residency - and, at least for the time being, it was home.

He'd seen bloody little of it at first, barely taking time to drop off his belongings, or most of them; all that flying had kept him almost constantly busy.

But things were beginning to slack off some, the nights were becoming his own again. Mathias' doing, he'd had no doubt...

Still, there'd been some little while in which to fix the place up a bit; most of the myriad luggage and hampers and God-knew-what-else had managed to find their own places on the various shelves and storage bays and in the lockers. There was even an accommodation for spacesuits, helmets and such.

The pallet provided comfortable seating during the day, and bedding at night; still more storage was tucked in beneath it. A couple of duvets casually tossed across it, a plumped-up pillow or two.

From its perch on one of the near shelves, the lantern glowed; and the soft purr of fresh air, pumped in from outside, could be heard if one were to listen for it.

Well, perhaps not quite so spartan, at that. Other places he'd known, elsewhere, had afforded far less than this...

He'd fished out the Paterson book, after rummaging through several hampers (having forgotten precisely where he'd packed it); and, turning up the lantern just so, he lounged easily, browsing idly through its pages.

Now and again the pages stilled, his eyes alighting on a bit of verse:

...But all our roads are new and strange,
And through our blood there runs
The vagabonding love of change
That drove us westward of the range
And westward of the suns.

And there was another:

The daylight is dying
Away in the west,
The wild birds are flying
in silence to rest;
In leafage and frondage
Where shadows are deep,
They pass to its bondage -
The kingdom of sleep.

Outside, beyond his tiny redoubt of civilization, it was raining yet again; another squall line passing over, showers announcing themselves in subtle, rippling waves of soft drumming upon the module roof above him. He couldn't see any of it, the narrow inset windows were dark; but he knew it was there.

...And watched in their sleeping
By stars in the height,
They rest in your keeping,
O wonderful night.
When night doth her glories
Of starshine unfold,
'Tis then that the stories
Of bush-land are told...

And it was there, surrounded by another night upon another world, that the voice came to him again - as from a great distance - its every nuance remembered in full, its arrogance undimmed...

How little you have changed...I have been far more than generous in my hospitality, and see how you return it!...

You escaped the explosion of your planet New Earth...

I did, indeed...

I don't suppose I need ask how you managed it...

Nor am I inclined to volunteer that information...

From so little as a simple, and quite-unexpected, encounter at a corridor junction - touching off a fleeting "accidental spark" between them - there had evolved an exceedingly-slow-burning attraction of opposites.

He'd dated her, good-naturedly fussed over her, argued and fought with her, taught her how to fly his Eagles...

One a cheerful and outgoing extrovert, the other a quieter and more reserved introvert with an ancient soul...little wonder, then, they'd seemed, to all eyes, the two Alphans least likely to marry each other!

But not on that night -

His laser was in his waiting hands, unwaveringly aimed, and his finger on the button. He moved Alix further behind him, she startled at the sudden brusque tone he'd taken with her.

His was a cold and vengeful gaze; he already knew the Alphan sidearm, even at its highest setting, would probably have no effect whatever upon that self-styled Creator figure who stood before them - would, in fact, quite likely regenerate him, since he drew his strength from such energies - but he was mad.

Furious, that he'd been so thoroughly taken, with nary a struggle...and not just for his own sake...

...when I saw a certain tarnished bauble, floating through empty space, I could not believe how good fortune is...your companions forced me to begin my genetic research all over again...I again sought such a mix - an interplanetary mix - on your Moon, and only one couple fulfilled my needs...these two, between them, possessed all the attributes I desired...there even existed a certain modicum of mutual invaluable ally to call upon, in aid of my objective...

Far from his own sake...

So simple a matter, then, to arrange a marriage of convenience - my convenience -

The bloody bastard! -

The sound of impact was exaggerated by the confined space of the module, but no less startling; at once he swooped down to scoop up the commlock. Thank God they were built to be shock-proof, he'd thrown it far harder than he'd intended; and various boxes and containers, large and small, lay scattered across the module floor.

One, smaller than most of the others, drew his attention. Cautiously, he lifted the contents. From amongst the many-layered tissues protecting it, the apple appeared.

A crisp, firm, real red apple. Real fruit was all but unknown, up there on the Moon, but he had not - had never - eaten it.

Even now, his hand cradled it with special care. For this was an apple that did not grow old. It neither aged, nor withered; and never had - not from the very moment she had first put it into his hand...

For me? - Now, this wouldn't have anything to do with Adam and Eve, would it?'s an apple. In the hope that things will be - apples - between us again. You and me, I mean...

"And are they?" he heard himself ask, aloud...

The Paterson book had also tumbled to the floor; reaching to retrieve it, a folded piece of paper caught his notice, and he picked it up too.

Fingers tenderly touched the edges of the paper; it bore the patina of many foldings and unfoldings. The stern expression softened, as his eyes took in the hand-copied words and phrases. The faintest flicker of a smile.

Then he quietly searched through the book. At a certain page, a certain verse, he stopped. The folded paper was tucked in there; at the top appeared the words As Long As Your Eyes Are Blue.

He set the book, and the little box - its contents far beyond any and all price - upon the nearby shelf. Afterwards, he reached over and turned down the lantern.

He lay there in the darkness, listening to the rain, the occasional distant muffled thunder, for a very long time; his thoughts returning to scenarios of possibility, the future...of choices made, of opportunities missed...

Soundlessly, and with careful deliberation, he laid his plans.

He looked them over in his mind, when he was done; and, satisfied, then rolled over in the cladding and went to sleep...

It was very early when he awoke; beyond the viewports in the ceiling, just barely light outside.

Still bloody confusing, the dawns we get here...

No visions, no ghosts of things past, to haunt his rest. It was, he drowsily reflected, the first truly decent night's sleep he'd had since they'd all gotten here.

He thought again of the plans he had made, mentally reviewing them; and they were good.

Then it was, and only then, that he arose and dressed, idly wondering what might've been laid on for breakfast, before setting out for the hospital.

At the hospital, Mathias motioned the Eagle pilot into his office for conversation. Over steaming mugs of hot coffee, the physician spoke about Peter King's autopsy findings.

The Medical section's interest in the Stanford-educated lunar geologist went beyond those mandated pilot's checkups. Brain scans, repeatedly, came back negative; no indication of the radiation-caused cerebral cancer that had killed at least nine others before him - and in mercilessly-short order - was to be found. What was it about him, about his brain, that was different? No one knew.

Then came the frenetic forced-march pace of Operation Exodus, abruptly halting all routine work, everywhere. Cruelly ironic, then, that when the erstwhile-Californian could be tested again, it came in the context of a post-mortem on Terra Alpha. This time, the cancer was there - a white-hot nodule embedded in the thermographic scans of his brain.

The mysterious lethal unknown - reaching out of the past, from what had once been the far side of the Moon - thus claimed its final victim; for after King there were no more.

Mathias topped off their coffee mugs and then turned to the matter of his current patient, of whom the news was far better. Yes, there'd been some mental confusion, some mnemonics issues, said he, but this had not been unexpected. Reanimation from so deep a cycle of Kaldorian slumber was to be undertaken with delicacy. Time and rest allied themselves, positively, to the recuperation process...

"It occurs to me," said he, thoughtfully, "that in a different lifetime, perhaps, you would've made an excellent doctor."

Somewhat nonplussed, "Who, me?"

"You care about people, Alan," setting his mug down, "and about what happens to them - "

"Mates always do," quietly, between sips. "Always."

"It's a rare quality..." He paused, then, "You know the way by now, I should think..."

He observed the Australian as the latter rose, murmured his thanks for the coffee, and moved towards the hatch.

"Time you woke up," quietly, to himself.

"Hm - ?" turning from the threshold, poised to step across it.

Mathias looked up from his desk, "I've patients to see..." adding, with a certain canny little edge, "Now, off you go..." and, after the hatch slid closed again, "Time you both did..."

Alan pondered all of this, shaking his head a little, more amused than merely bothered, as he stood before the hatch of the isolation ward...

Mathias, you wily old bugger! -

Then he took a breath, squared himself and knocked.

"Come," said a voice. An attention tone briefly sounded, the door smoothly sliding aside, admitting him.

"And what's this?" as he beheld the sight of her; white sweater, blue-bibbed overalls. Her color was definitely better, he thought.

"It's - manageable," said she. Weren't those cheeks pinking, just a bit...?

"You're being discharged today, it's all arranged," said he, "Mathias says you're, I'll do that," motioning for the silver hairclip. She gathered it in her hand and passed it to him.

Her hair was simply arranged, gently-waved, and then swept back from her face; perhaps a habit acquired from her observatory duties, he decided. Choosing a certain place near the nape of her neck, he carefully positioned the hairclip she had worn for as long as he'd known her, and was rarely without. His fingertips slipped across the contours of its intricate workmanship. More than a simple clip; almost like jewelry...

"There," briefly inspecting the loosely-plaited mauve braid as it gracefully fell away, unhindered, towards the small of her back. He watched as she stood, prepared to assist if the moment required. That it did not, pleased him. "Sooner you're out of here, and in the fresh air, the better."

They didn't depart the hospital immediately, though, as both were keen to inquire after some mutual friends...

Maya, they were told, was sleeping; much as she had been since, at last, delivering her twins. Verdeschi, to everybody's great relief, was no longer at risk, though he yet remained within the seclusion of an isolation ward and was not being permitted visitors, aside from the medical staff.

He had, however, been allowed to briefly cradle each of his tiny new sons in his arms; and the elation that suffused his face and features accomplished far more than any medication in the pharmacopia...

Within the small Pediatrics ward that had been organized, the incubation units were in orderly arrangement, their priceless contents readily observable through a glass partition. And here it was that Mathias, on his morning rounds, met up with them.

"You're expecting more?" Alix asked him.

"We're prepared for it," said he, "because there will be!" with a wink. "Wait here..."

He left them. Presently he reappeared inside the ward, having donned a powdery-hued theatre gown over his white-sleeved duty tunic; along with regulation surgical cap and protective breathing mask.

Nearest the observation window two bassinets sat side by side, bearing identification cards with the surname VERDESCHI printed upon them. With glove-swaddled hands the physician carefully lifted the tiny, wriggling occupant of one of them and brought it close to the glass for the two visitors to see.

"This is Guido," a plump little face with a just-visible fringe of dark hair and half-open eyes.

"He's Tony's, all right," Alan couldn't help grinning, "can't you tell?"

Presently Mathias cradled another squirming little bundle.

"And this is Marek," said he, "named for Maya's brother, as Tony named Guido for his," who, having thusly been introduced, contentedly settled back into his nap; even the minute pink pinpricks above those closed eyelids scarcely twitched.

"He looks like Maya," wonderingly, from Alix.

"M'm. Fraternal twins - related, yes, but non-identical."

A third bassinet, its card reading MORROW - and, like the others, fitted with monitoring sensors - was unoccupied; another new mother was nursing her little son, elsewhere, and of course they were not about to disturb her! -

The pair of them blinked as they stepped outside, and into the sunlight. Bright, yellow-white and strong, it poured down from the heavens, suffusing their valley and still-nascent encampment in its life-giving glow.

"Two sons inside, two suns outside," as Carter, shading his eyes, attempted gazing upward. "Still takes getting used to..."

"It's really quite common in the universe," said she. "They move, and so do we - perhaps, as time passes, we might see only one or the other."

"Even the sky, almost every day it's different," today a pale bright aquamarine near the horizon, gradually changing, deepening to a brilliant turquoise hue overhead. "Look - there's Paul," and accordingly they were heading in his general direction.

Below the tautly-stretched tarp offering a rectangle of sheltering shade from the glare of the twin suns in the sky, stood the erstwhile-Main Mission Controller; the workbench before him was strewn with masses of blueprints and diagrams, their curling edges made smooth by a scattering of duck-weights...

The stark reality that they could never return to Earth had forced upon the small, Moon-stranded band of Earthmen, decisions that would govern both their newly-tenuous present and an utterly-unknown future.

While John Koenig, as Moonbase Commander, now had to assume responsibility for the very day-to-day survival of the some-300 people under his command, he also found himself facing the formidable task of finding somewhere where he and his people could begin again, to build their lives anew.

Either of these would've been more than daunting enough for one man to bear; but he knew he ultimately could not shoulder both.

And so, thereafter, while he carried forward the burden of dealing with the most immediate exigencies of the now-runaway Moon's errant wanderings, others would make at least a beginning on figuring out what starting over would require of all of them, come the day of what had already been code-named Operation Exodus. To lead it he tasked his science advisor and longtime mentor, Victor Bergman, whom he considered the finest mind on the base.

Not that Bergman wasn't to find himself saddled with his share of real-time emergencies, for he most assuredly would be; but he did recruit a handpicked clutch of smart and talented people to start with, to constitute the nucleus of what soon came to be nicknamed "the working group." What resources, what supplies, would they most need, in the initial stages of re-establishing themselves on a new world, and in what order of priority should the Moon's fleet of Eagle ships land them there? And so on. Ideas began to spark and flow, the entire base was encouraged to put forth their own notions on the matter, and over time broad concepts coalesced into firm plans.

And those plans were adhered to - no matter what else befell the Moon on its uncontrolled journey through the unknown and the deep - those measures of resources and supplies were maintained in safe storage, ready against the coming hour of ultimate need...which could always come upon them at almost any moment...

Morrow had been amongst the group's earliest recruits, in time becoming one of its top lieutenants; the sad elapse of recent events on Terra Alpha had conferred upon him the mantle of its leadership. A cool head with a sure knack for organization, he had - twice over - directed the execution of Operation Exodus.

He and Carter were both in colored jumpsuits with wooly white jumpers beneath, useful in countering the bracing bite that lingered in the morning air. Now a grin of welcome surfaced, behind the scruffy salt-and-pepper beard.

"Well, it's good to see you up at last," briefly embracing Alix, "you gave us quite a scare."

"Ahem," another voice piped up, "he is married, you know..."

Morrow's grin widened into a ready smile. "Have you seen him yet?"

"We hope to, once it's allowed," said she.

He let out a long breath, and his mood changed. "God knows, I wanted to be there, I - " was as far as he got; over her shoulder, he caught the warning look, the curt motion of the head, from the other man. "Well," recovering, moving on, "I will be there next time, count on it," adding, with an impish gleam in his eye, "Sandra wants a baby girl..."

Behind her, Carter looked relieved. "So," rounding on a new subject, "how're we doing?" inspecting the piles of plans on Morrow's drafting table.

"Take a look," sweeping a well-insulated arm before him as he talked, "We have the hospital, the Eagle pad, the travel tube connecting them. We're already expanding on it. There'll be four of them in all - your compass rose, Alan, you'll always know the cardinal directions - with our new command-and-control right there, in the center."

"About where those temporary structures are?"

"M'm," said he. "Get everyone, everything, under shelter; get the essential infrastructure in...that's first. Get Hydroponics up and running again, set out some acreage for the test farm and get those crops back into production. Greenhouses, too. Storage and distribution for what crops we could either harvest or salvage. Then, I think, we can catch our breath for a bit," absently reaching for a basket sitting within easy reach on the table, lifting an egg-sized fruit - its surface ablush in rose and pink, gold and cream - and taking a generous bite of it.

Alix was watching him. "What do you have, there?"

"Try one," offering the basket to her, while shooting a knowing sideways glance at Alan. "Tested, and cleared," said he. "My 'mushrooming' days are over!"

"May I, then?" brightening.

"Please," and she did so, selecting a specimen for herself and thereupon sampling the flavors to be had from its multi-tinted interior.

"Mm...sweet, juicy...marvelous!" beaming. "What's it called?"

"Don't know," cheerfully, with a shrug of the shoulders. "It needs a name, like everything around here. We've already designated some of the most immediate surroundings, for navigation," and indeed, the foothill ranges on one of the charts had been marked Tenerife, while the lofty mountain palisades beyond them were labeled Taurus on the far side of their new valley, and Jura in the direction they had left behind. "And someone's busy setting up naming lists - Alibe, I think, she's taken charge of the records. Everyone can submit ideas." He gazed at the fruit, more thoughtfully this time. "If Mathias will clear it," softly, "and I hope he does...I'd like to bring some of this by, for Sandra. He said she liked the flowers..."

Her own expression pensive, Alix was browsing through several sheaves of diagrams. "Plans for the Residency, the accommodation units," said she. "I think I've seen some of these before, in the laboratory."

"On the small side, yes, but quite efficient," said Morrow, "for now. We're getting them linked in and assigned as quickly as Anderson's section can assemble them - it's all in the plans. You know Anderson," the chief engineer, "the man's a force of nature."

"Always said his boys could build anything," Carter mused, in concurrence.

The two men eyed Alix, still absorbed in her study of the construction plans.

"She doesn't know," sotto voce, "let's leave it that way, for now..."

Morrow nodded.

"Lower fungi beds in section eight, hm?" with a certain canny edge.

"That might be over, too..."

"Now we build for the future," aloud, gesturing towards the view that lay before the three of them, "Here is everything we need..."

"Think so?"

Morrow raised an eyebrow. Already he envisioned Alpha's new valley as the abode of providence and plenty, and for him that was enough. But he also found himself wondering just how long it would be able to hold his friend, to belay the Australian's longtime urge to explore, to see what lay across the next river and over the next hilltop...

...or, could it? He'd picked up on something in the other man's voice. And he understood...

Activity was everywhere, the pace busy and hectic. Scattered here and there - in whatsoever direction they chanced to look - men and women, all in colored jumpsuits (these more readily discernible out-of-doors) and many sporting white hardhats, were hard at work.

Across these new and open fields, knots of surveyors, clad in deep-green, stood at their tripods, squinting through the eyepieces of their charting instruments, dictating into their commlocks, every so often signaling by hand to their fellows farther away. More cuerca-wood stakes punctuated the new earth, still more twine stretched between, connecting them, marking out yet another site for building...

Behind them came the brown-jumpsuited engineers, consulting their gaggle of building plans, discussing amongst themselves; the apparent leader of one group - a woman, as it happened - lifted her commlock and spoke into it...

And the sky answered: here came a Cargo Eagle, from over the shoulders of Alan and Alix, and they halted to watch after it as it swooped past their position - keen upon where it was headed and what it might presently do.

At a certain predetermined place in that turquoise sky, the massive vessel slowed, steadied, hovered. It did not land. Instead, its reinforced deck of powerful winch-platforms whined into action and - directed by those far below it - masses of construction matériel slowly descended and were safely deposited upon the ground. The Cargo Eagle circled up and away, the workers below came at the run, swarming en masse about what had been left there for them.

A tableau akin to some futuristic redux of the barn-raising rituals of another age, playing out at a near-continuous pace - Eagle after Eagle, conveying load by precious load, utilizing every lifting and cargo-carrying capability in the fleet's formidable repertoire - and it was happening everywhere, in this area of the valley.

Already, the first tentative young shoots of a new Alpha were stirring, pushing upwards through the soil, to a new life - seeded, and nurtured, by the best of the old...

The sounds of active machinery were gradually dimming behind Alan and his companion, as they continued on their way. For sure, they'd all have to get used to real walking again. Not like up there, endless sterile-white corridors sealed off from the airless void beyond but, well, like this - real air, real sunshine, real earth firm beneath one's feet...

Alix was absorbed in quiet contemplation, thinking yet again of Bergman. So many other matters of acute necessity, crowding in upon her grief over his loss, had only dulled the pain.

The observatory proved a good fit, for her all-but-intuitive understanding of the nature of stars - of new suns, shining down upon any number of worlds that just might be that longed-for new home for all of them. Considered far more valuable on Moonbase, at their telescopes, staff members were not assigned to Eagle landing parties. Such were the rules; and the science advisor had to have known that, when he made the decision to send her there. Important work, too; included in the recommendations submitted in aid of every decision whether or not to risk sending forth a precious Reconnaissance Eagle...

She stole a brief sideways glance at him, walking easily beside her. Their different jobs and very different rank, his and hers, usually kept them apart most of the time at the base, except in the so-called "common areas" of the recreation and dining complex; and that was before Magus had forced his way into the picture. Nothing was the same afterwards...

It flustered, even embarrassed her not a little, realizing that over the course of her recuperation, there in that care-pod, she'd begun thinking about him again...

...after so very long? Oh, it's ridiculous...but...

It puzzled her that he hadn't married, as so many of the others had done. Perhaps there'd been someone he'd had in mind, who'd chosen another instead. And he shouldered all that responsibility - his Eagles, his pilots, had gotten all of them here - first the mountains, then to the valley - and away from a Moon still set upon its own hurried passage through the night -

But we're here now, and safe, she reasoned, he ought to have someone.

Shouldn't we all? At long last?...

The Eagles - some half-dozen or so, hereabouts - reposed in simple, orderly rank along the improvised flight-line that had been marked out for them. Some sported only their skeletal superstructures - their multi-functional service pods absent, sent elsewhere perhaps - while others remained intact, awaiting mission orders.

They and their sister-ships were all the Alphans had, after the Moon had lost the Earth forever. Every hazard, every hope, every challenge - from the deep-freeze of Ultima Thule to the volcanic furnace of Psychon, to the merciless vacuum of interstellar space itself - they had met, and surmounted, all; and that was bound to continue on here, in this new world and this new life. Just housing all of them, posed something of a challenge...

Still curious to behold, sitting out in the open air like that, beneath their new sky; each of them casting two shadows upon the ground... one firm, the other faint.

One Eagle sat just aways off from the others, and a gangway had been rolled up to the egress hatch of its service pod; and it was in this direction that Carter was proceeding.

"After you," said he, following her as she stepped into the module, its interior complement fitted out for survey work.

Soon after liftoff, a lamp flashed. "Navigation check," said he, pressing more keys. "Yana Volcano..."

"Confirmed, Alan," Morrow's voice answered, over the radio link; adding, after a beat, "good luck..."

It arose, solitary and majestic, from the surrounding semi-arid plains, so very far away... so massive, even from the Eagle's perspective, it quite visibly pierced the horizon.

A riverine netting of pearlescent glaciers draped across the slumped angular shoulders of the caldera. An otherworldly vision, even for Terra Alpha - generating not only its own weather conditions, but its own bluish-purple color palette of sky and earth - Yana's vast sloping ramparts loomed as an ominous barrier, guarding the way to the arid altiplano that lay beyond the enormous rain-shadow of the Jura's double-crest...

Carter looked up from the controls, noticed her there, looking back, across the throttle boxes.

"What?" with some surprise and a certain measure of amusement.

"You're always happy, when you're flying," said she, "I like seeing you happy..." She rose to her feet, turned towards the connecting hatchway, disappeared through it.

An updraft abruptly popped the Eagle from below its undercarriage, sending Alix sideways off her feet; grasping for something to hold onto, she instinctively cried out...

"Sorry!" came to her ear, from the command module.

Alix managed to reach her seat in the adjoining pod, "My Lady, I'm still not used to that," she breathed.

"Neither's everybody else!" cheerily. "You all right?"

"I think so...out of practice, that's all..."

Beneath his hands, the Eagle steadied. Flying through air, rather than space, every day still took some getting used to...

He tripped a certain few switches, and the monitor before him sprang to life; an internal video feed, focused on the lab module.

His eyes followed the movement of her hands, her fingers dancing across the keyboard, the set of her features, the turn of her head, her shoulders...

I can see you're going to be a lot of trouble...



Then, I'll - go muss some other man's hair...

Not bloody likely... I plan to keep you on a very short length of chain - and if you're thinking of popping off somewhere, don't bother. I know Alpha far better than you do...and I'll find you...

Her voice - the rubric of the observatory, ticking off items on her survey checklist - drifted through the open hatchway, and into his recollection of her.

Of that very first morning he and she had awakened, together...

"GO for proceed..." that voice now queried.

"Proceed," said he, and blanked the monitor.

"And, proceed," said she.

Presently she reappeared in the access corridor. "It's all automatic. Computer already had the basic search-area parameters."

"Sit up here, then, for a while. We can talk on the way."

As the Eagle continued to climb - its conical nose cleaving through the vast pillow of air, pushing against atmosphere - he told her more of what had followed in the wake of that handpicked clutch of Eagles, with himself in the lead, leaving the Wall of Death behind for the open sky...

It had been a very dangerous business. The search Eagles soon confronted an ethereal fleet of massive menacing thunderstorms over the ice-frosted mountains, billowing ever upwards toward the inky darkness of space, the sheer vastness of them reducing the sophisticated Earth-ships to an insignificant scattering of bothersome knats...

Eagle Leader to all ships - Break off, break off - Scatter!! -

And so they did, peeling off and away in all directions, each seeking out safer airspace. But Eagle Leader, meanwhile, had already ventured too close; cockpit alarms were sounding, and the helm would not answer...

"...Bloody careless," said he, of getting caught up in those clashing unstable winds. "Well, after I got back control, there was a river down there in a deep gorge. Rivers always go somewhere, so I took a chance and followed..."

That gorge proved very deep indeed, the river falling farther away from the erstwhile-Moonbase vehicle attempting to track its course from the air. "Rough-looking country, all rock and slab, hardly any vegetation. At first, but then more and more appeared. I could feel the altitude dropping. Every system that still worked, I got 'em going. Forest was closing in, harder to keep the river in sight down there. And there was smoke rising, above those forests - fire, I thought. Sensors said no - it was water."


"Water vapor - huge clouds of spray, I guess from waterfalls I couldn't see. Big ones. I mean, these things were topping the canopy. And I'm thinking, 'where's this bloody thing going?' Well, once we analyze your survey data, we'll know for sure..."

"That sounds as though you already suspect..."

"You'll see," his tone surprisingly noncommittal.

A meadow of scattered, puffy clouds had joined the Eagle as it traversed the sunny heavens, obscuring to some degree the multi-hued arboreal panorama far below...

After an indeterminate elapse of time, Alan indicated he was preparing to land; and the Eagle's four large spring-loaded landing pads were easing to the ground, so deftly and uneventfully that the two passengers aboard scarcely felt it...

Beyond the open hatchway lay a pleasant little clearing in the forest wherein the Eagle had settled itself, carpeted with tufted grasses and mosses softening rounded bald outcroppings of granite-like stone.

"So, what do you think?" as he assisted her down the gangway. The air was warm and carried a host of enticing, unknown scents...

"It's lovely," she beamed. "I'd best see to the survey equipment, and we can begin sampling and documenting this area..."

"We'll do that presently."

"Presently?" her gaze narrowing. "What are you up to?"

"Close your eyes."


"M'm. Close your eyes..."

She did so, and was vaguely aware of an odd sense of paralysis subtly washing over her, rooting her to that spot, and a little gasp escaped her throat. He was very close...

"Oh, you are still dangerous," barely a whisper.

"Me?" quietly, steadying her with one hand, "Wouldn't hurt a fly..." and gently settling the other over her eyes. "Here we go. Easy does it..."

What was he up to, she'd asked?...

You'll find out when we get there...

But I can't see! -

Then you'll just have to trust me, won't you?

I'm not sure that's safe! -

"Oh - " Her body jerked ungracefully as her hiking boots abruptly tangled beneath her, due to the uneven terrain.


"What's that sound?" a low, muted rumbling.

"What do you think it is?"

"It's coming from, it seems almost everywhere. Is another Eagle nearby, perhaps?"

"It does, at that," said he, "and there are no other Eagle operations in this area. I'd be the first to know..."

If I break anything, if I even so little as sprain anything, you are going to carry me up and down every corridor on Alpha - every one, do you hear?? -

"Eyes still closed?"

I still might like that, he thought...

"Is it truly necessary that they be?"

"So you can see it, just as I did," was the reply.

"How?" annoyed. "I can't see anything!"

He just chuckled a bit, and kept her moving.

"Watch your step," cautioning now.

"Honestly - "

"Right, we're here," and they stopped. "You can look now," said he.

As he carefully took his hand away, her eyes warily opened, blinking at first, wincing from the adjustment to daylight's return.

"This is the most ridiculous've ever done..." whispering away to a gasp...

From the small rocky ridge where they stood, the expanse of yet another valley rolled away towards the distant cloud-draped summitry of mountains, threaded by the bright gleam of a river, its banks awash with colorfully lush meadow country.

From the massive stony ramparts towering above it upon either side, came the source of that mysterious rumbling sound: waterfalls, plummeting over those heights in dizzying descents, enveloped in great crystalline swirls of mist, towards the valley floor far below. And so many...!

"I followed the river," said his voice, "just kept following it. Picks up some half-dozen-or-so tributaries, on the way - those waterfalls - clear on down to the main valley, the very one we're settling. It's all connected."

"All rivers lead somewhere," nodding, still somewhat dazed.

"M'm, and this one led here. Like it?"

"Beautiful," in an awed whisper, "exquisite..."

"And I'm going to live in it," quietly.


"Now look here," he was pointing, "pastures and grazing lands, tracts for cropping, strategic high ground...I saw it all. It's all good land." He paused. "We have to start getting to grips with this place, sooner the better. We're gonna need everything. There are life forms - animals - up in that country..."

"Is it possible they could be like - well - cattle, for instance?" Her words were clumsy, and she knew it, but...

"A source of food, you mean? Maybe. Have to start somewhere," arms folded. "I was brought up on that life, it's a job I can do - and I haven't forgotten how."

"Away from the town?" a note of worry creeping into her voice, "from the others?"

He shrugged. "Someone'll have to be the first. It's going to happen. We often had to leave Alpha, to find what we needed. You know that."

The canopy of sky, clear crisp air and brilliant sunshine, arched far above the yet-unnamed valley.

"See how it's changing, almost every moment...the light, the shadows..."

"Wind's blowing pretty good," nodding, glancing upward; then, "Here," producing the field-issue binoculars from the equipment satchel he carried, and passing them over.

She lifted them to her eyes. The view-field, carefully focused, presently yielded the spectacle of two immense waterfalls appearing over adjacent verdant hilltops and then plummeting straight downward, through empty and unobstructed air, in massive twin drops; she couldn't begin to guess how high they truly were...

Then the field subtly moved, and his hands were carefully, unhurriedly, reclaiming the instrument once more.

"Just...keep looking, out there. Just look."

She'd gone quite still, for looking out there.

"You should see what's up there," edging nearer, "that's somewhere to live!"

"It's perfection...!" all but whispering it.

"It could be..." softly, close to her ear.

He'd never spoken to her in that way before, not in many years. Not since...

"You asked me once, about being happy in a place like this," motioning towards the valley. "Now...I'm asking..."

With eyes quietly roving up and down her - and lacking so little as a scintilla of the proverbial "roving eye" men were said to have - he waited, wondering if it was yet sinking in on her...

What is it that makes one woman different from any other? He'd come across a certain passage once, long ago, and he was trying to remember it, for it covered this universal contingency...

He quietly murmured those very few, very carefully rehearsed, syllables to her.

Seconds ticked away. He'd learned it phonetically; had to, for he yet lacked any meaningful facility with that strange language of hers. Had he got it wrong?

The sudden change in body tension, her deeply-drawn gasp, told him he hadn't.

"What's past, is past," gently turning her towards him, "it's time."

The long-rusted key found purchase in the long-encrusted lock; and it was moving...

"It's time..." repeating it.

Still she did not, could not, raise her face to his; nor did he try. Her fingers moved, touched his hand, and then her hands, her arms were finding their way round to his back and holding him there...

The rust of so many lost years yielded at last, and the ancient lock fell away...and the file was open, wide open once more, never to be closed again.

All the promise Psyche Elysium had once held, lay rediscovered - here, in this new valley, on a new world; another synonym for paradise...

He gathered her to him; one hand slowly dropped down, the palm settling upon the curve of her hip - cautiously, tentatively at first, then with a reawakened assuredness, as though it had never lost the way.

With the other, he rested her mauve head comfortably on his shoulder; and his fingers began to idly tangle and untangle themselves in her hair.

And he'd even remembered the rest of that old proverb; of what it was, that set one woman apart from all others.

It was love.

TWO: The Mahtab Bagh Valley

...Till the snow ran out in flowers, and the flowers turned to aloes,
And the aloes sprung to thickets and a brimming stream ran by...

Twenty-five years later

The brombee was skittish, her milk-colored hooves - finely shaped, just barely cloven, rock-solid - scuffing small eddies of dust into the airy shade.

One of those saucer-shaped velveteen ears swiveled to the subtle whisper of sound, as Jon leaned forward in the saddle. He murmured a few syllables; the ear twitched briefly, tickled by the acute closeness of his breathing.

His riding boots shifted in the stirrups, as he sought out a possible cause for her skittishness. The set of four thick protective puttees, wrapped from her ankles almost to her belly, had only recently come off and he was still concerned that he'd removed them just a bit too early.

Now he looked yet again. No, her new seasonal coat was settling in nicely; the snowy white and vivid black stripes had reappeared, following the natural curvatures of those strong upper legs and deep-sculpted hindquarters, merging at last into the dark blue-violet of her body.

He noted that her mane hadn't fully grown in just yet, nor had the fulsome and frilly whisk-broom of her tail. That was all right, still plenty of time...

She stood tall and lean and powerful, even when relaxed, her lines graceful. Her rider had known her almost from the moment of her entry into the world, and trained her to accept the saddle custom-designed just for her. Each trusted the other absolutely.

Her ears swiveled, and framed Jon's view of the just-breaking dawn...the low-lying sun, its limbs hazy and ill-defined, shimmering like a sea of molten globules in the dense atmospheric instability of this still-young morning. He though he knew every one of those sky-colors, until the next morning arrived and surprised him anew.

Below, light and warmth were pouring into the valley.

Giants guarded its gates; vast ramparts of cleft and sculpted stone, soaring towards the heavens.

Waterfalls, massive and minute alike, by turns sparkling and enveloped in shadow, spilled and surged from those towering summits; in some places erupting in enormous clouds of spray, exploding over boulders; in others, plummeting in untouched, dizzying drops, to eventually vanish into the crystalline rapids of the river that nourished the lushness of the meadows flanking its banks on either side.

This was his world, the only world he'd ever known, the place he loved; the very incarnation of its name, the Paradise Garden, down to its most minute mote of dust.

The moment of first light, in the Mahtab Bagh Valley -


He was in his early twenties, fair-haired, with the open and laughing countenance of his father and the more pensive blue eyes of his mother; simple riding kit, comfortable for lengthy times spent in the saddle.

Zinga knew the trail as well as he - better, really, truth be told - and as he allowed her her head she responded, leaving him free to look around, to take in the panorama of the sky.

He still missed the sight of two suns in that sky, as there had been when he was a little boy; missed that tiny pinpoint of light, so blinding it made him squint, his eyes aching and watery - at least until his mother at last prevailed on him to stop. But it moved, and the world moved; it was in the night sky now, somewhere, as it cruised along the path of the ecliptic...

Zinga's ears subtly twitched. She came to a stop, her shapely head lifted. Her rider went quiet, went still...

"Good girl," said he, "I hear it, too..."

He reached for, lifted the commlock as it sounded, from its saddle clip.

"Yes - "

A man's voice issued from it: "Is your father home?"

"He's still upcountry, Mother's with him - they're with the herds."

"We received their message. I'll be there shortly," and the voice went away.

As light travelled more swiftly than sound, the Eagle Transporter came swooping into view just ahead of the distinctive roar of its four big nuclear-powered engines. It coasted in a wide arc above the panorama of the valley, past flinty cliff faces and plunging cataracts. Jon watched, fascinated, and urged Zinga in a different direction along the riding track.

By the time they'd reached the general area of the landing platform, the Eagle had already settled to a stop, the last whine of power fading into the morning air. Jon nimbly slipped from saddle to ground, holding Zinga's halter, speaking to her soothingly, she evincing a pronounced discomfort level when it came to being anywhere around these bewildering machines that periodically came and went from Mahtab Bagh.

When he determined that she had sufficiently calmed, he left her to seek out her own diversions. Ahead of him, the Eagle's module door was sliding aside and its lone occupant was just emerging into the sunlight.

Above the simple zippered deep-cerulean jumpsuit and hiking boots, the hair had gone mostly white, framing a face with a few more lines in it than the last time; the eyes were dark, somber, yet possessed of an uncanny clarity.

The least little nervous tick or two could render that face downright menacing...

But once that glowering countenance ruptured into a generous grin, all teeth and raw joy, raucous laughter shaking those bony shoulders and those eyes set to sparkling, to Jon it was like watching a third sun rising into the sky.

The force of life that was John Koenig, was still a force very much to be reckoned with in the world.

Jon still reacted to the inherent strength in the firm grip of that bony yet supple hand, even as the years and the life of Mahtab Bagh had toughened his own.

He held Jon out at arms' length, "You look fit, boy - are you?" critically looking him over.

His own smile equally wide, he nodded. "Yes, sir. Good to see you looking the same."

"Well, then - let's see to your manifest," a sweep of his arm indicating the way back inside the Eagle's service module. "I think you'll find it's all here..."

"Always is," following in after him.

Koenig regularly made the rounds of the various outstations, like Mahtab Bagh. He liked bringing up news from the town, along with whatever supplies were due for delivering; and in turn carrying their news back down to the valley far below...

"Nothing perishable, this trip," came Koenig's voice, from elsewhere in the module, "it should all keep down here, for a while..." letting it trail away.

Storage hampers - each numbered and catalogued - packed with the supplies Mahtab Bagh had requisitioned from the town, filled much of the module. Jon stood there, in the midst of several of them, his gaze seemingly fixated upon their trapezoidal design.

"Jon?" puzzled. The boy had seen cases like these before, countless times.

" will..."

By the time they'd finished offloading the hampers and storing them in the small outbuilding next to the landing platform, the moment seemed to have passed. Koenig - his faculty for observing, sizing up people and situations finely-honed over years and events - was studying Jon's demeanor, the way the boy carried himself. He was alerted now, this wasn't a usual visit...

Jon was coming back, having retrieved Zinga; and somewhat to Koenig's surprise, he was leading another brombee too, all as comely as the other.

"This is Zachee," said he. "She liked you, last time you came."

"Did she, now! You think she remembers me?"

Reaching out, Koenig slowly opened his hand. Zachee's nostrils twitched, sniffing something changed in the air. Her deep brown eyes focused upon the tomatls, green and blue and purple ones, nestling in his palm. Inedible for humans, raw tomatls were a brombee delicacy.

In the next instant the tomatls vanished, their fate described only by the fleeting bright-blue flash of Zachee's prehensile tongue - all sixteen inches of it.

Koenig smiled, and relaxed. "Aren't you lucky," watching her happily munching her newly-acquired treats, "you don't have to wait for them to ripen first!"

Jon was pleased, "I'll get her tacked up, then," and led her aside.

When he was out of hearing range, Koenig drew the commlock from his belt. He could no longer recall a time when it had not been there...

"Main Mission," said the voice. "Stand by..."

A pause and then, "Yes, Commander?" a woman's voice this time.

Yet another voice, younger and exuberant, burst in: "So when's Jon going to get his head out of the clouds, and pay us a visit?"

"At ease, Guido," firmly. "What he meant - "

"Tanya, hold on one," said he. "Jon!"

Jon turned, from his task of saddling Zachee.

"Main Mission would like a word with you..."

He gestured towards himself, in a who-me? fashion. Koenig held out his commlock, cocked his head and looked faintly bemused, which only added to Jon's puzzlement as he approached.

"This is Jon..."

"Go ahead, Tanya."

"Hello, Jon," her tone warm and welcoming. "What Guido means - I think - is, we so rarely see you and we've wanted to hear more about your wonderful news..."

"It has been rather busy around here," he admitted, a bit more at ease now. "But I'll try to visit soon. That's a promise..."

Presently the two men led the broms behind the trees, well into the cool density of the shade...and from somewhere behind them, moving, overtopping them, came the muffled roar of multiple engines responding to the distant electronic had long been understood that the Eagles belonged to the community, and could be requisitioned by whoever might need them.

When the air had stilled once more, Jon easily lofted himself up aboard Zinga. He watched as Koenig cautiously settled himself into Zachee's saddle. "Easy," he counseled, "you're fine. Don't worry, it'll come back. Just watch me..."

Like his father, Jon was an expert horseman. The broms possessed an exceedingly peculiar strain of nervous temperament, one the rider did not seek to master, but to move in concert with instead. Their soft mouths could not hold the hard bit of a more conventional bridle, for it interfered with their breathing. Arms easy at his sides, using no more than the knees or the calves, along with various murmured verbal promptings, he put Zinga through her paces.

Koenig watched, clearly admiring what he saw.

"Ready to go? Then take the reins," said he, taking up Zinga's. "Gently now - gently," as Zachee jostled about, "a light touch. Let her get used to you again. Talk to her..."

Koenig did so, using that lowered voice, and presently Zachee was responding.

Jon was satisfied, and he slow-walked Zinga onto the track that led from the area of the landing platform. He looked over Koenig astride Zachee, as they came alongside, and they presently set off.

Mahtab Bagh possessed a number of pocketed microclimates, through which one traversed as the elevation advanced. At the landing platform, the surrounding vegetation was languid and subtropical; massive, moss-carpeted treetrunks, enormous umbrellas of heavily-ferned and frilly crowns, just brushing past the heads of the two riders as they and their broms passed below.

The track meandered, subtly weaved this way and that, the grade, the climb, so very gradual as to be scarcely noticed.

From Zachee's saddle, Koenig couldn't help but look up. The cloistering humidity of the subtropics was safely left behind, giving way to airy clouds of multi-colored foliage, arching ever higher overhead, through which the morning sky could be glimpsed and cooling breezes refreshed; the sun making its presence known in countless aureoles of hazy golden light...

Then they were taking a certain turn along the track, and the precinct of the Mahtab Bagh homestead was spreading itself before them. Gardens surrounded it; the paeoniaceae were blooming everywhere, lush and profuse as Koenig remembered them, fragrant and fluffy explosions in a rainbow of colors, set out along the lawns. Some varieties had done well in the test gardens of the town - "We call them 'popcorn flowers,'" he'd once told Jon - but they grew most beautifully of all at Mahtab Bagh.

Jon was headed to a small corner of the gardens, remote, secluded. And, his guest knew, very private. The trees arched, framing a sublime vista of the valley below, the site itself carpeted with paeoniaceae of a deep creamy white and the pearlescent "Mahtab Bagh pink."

The broms stopped, their riders dismounted. About them all lay still, and very peaceful.

Jon stood there, head bowed, his voice quiet.

"After me, she couldn't have any more...and the doctors said they'd better not try...then this happened, and...well...I wondered, when I was little, just why they were always coming out here. It was the only time I ever read either of them. That's why it reads the way it does."

Next to him, Koenig looked. Yes, there it was, down near his feet; the small plaque, almost hidden by the flowers: BELOVED SISTER AND DAUGHTER.

A gravestone, with no name. The failed surrogacy; the ominous deep clouds of loss and grief that still darkened the skies above this tiny quarter of the Paradise Garden.

Koenig put an arm over his shoulder and gathered him in, the pair of them remaining thus for a few moments. The sun shone and the air was clear.

Once astride their broms, they meandered their way in the general direction of the Mahtab Bagh homestead. Above them, the forest canopy softly closed in once more, and sunbeams streamed gently through it along the riding path. Trees of countless variety; some with names, like the distinctive blue-gray ahlairsay, and many others that didn't - at least not yet, for cataloging Mahtab Bagh's flora and fauna went on every day.

The homestead was not very far ahead now. Koenig fleetingly glimpsed the shimmering opalescent ribbon of the lap-pool where Jon's father liked to swim and the sunken garden he'd built just below it, for Jon's mother...

Just beyond was the homestead itself, nestled comfortably in a clearing where sunlight easily fell across the rooftop solar panels that mimicked its daily trek across the heavens. Like the other outstations, Mahtab Bagh was self-sufficient in its basic needs...

Jon was pulling Zinga to an abrupt halt; in a blur of motion he jumped down, grasped Zachee's reins in his other hand and motioned both broms aside, behind the trees.

"A jalandar..." Koenig, dismounted at last, was at Jon's shoulder.

"A young male," warily. "Wait here, and stay low...or he'll think you're attacking."

The brombee yard had acquired an extra occupant - the fidgety jalandar had perched itself on a railing along its perimeter.

Such was the reputation of these big, strong and powerful flyers - that spent endless daylight hours aloft, gliding on the air thermals far above the valley - that even the town's Eagles and crews had long ago been warned to avoid aerial confrontations of any kind with them.

Koenig recalled that when Jon was small, an injured male jalandar chick was an early household pet; perhaps the source of an intuitive, and respectfully cautious, rapport with the grown bird, here and now...

He spoke to it - slowly, softly - his eyes focused upon it, his steps cautious and measured as he approached, his arms low and loose at his sides...

Elsewhere, Koenig observed with a certain rapt fascination. Too, he was trying to remember what little was known of jalandar ways. Why did these sky-dwellers come to ground, at all?...

"...all right, you can come out now. Slowly. Say nothing. Leave the broms, they'll come in their own time..."

Emulating the boy's stance, the older man did so. He demurred from looking at the winged creature head-on...

Jon had drawn unnervingly near to it now. It had not moved from its perch on the fence. But a single swat of either of those massive wings, or even from that formidable spatula-like tail...

He was very, very still, his voice low, a soothing sing-song-like quality to it, his gaze seeming to hold the great bird there, somehow...

"He's searching for a mate," murmured that voice, "his inner wing-feathers bear the courtship markings. I've told him I'm not a rival, that I already have a mate. Yes, you can tell him..."

Trying to keep his own voice steady, "I have a mate..."

There was an audible "sighing" sound that hung in the air; and those wings relented, carefully folding themselves into a position of rest. That enormous tail, which aided the creature's balance in flight, relaxed and went still.

"He'll be good now," said Jon, "he's just catching his breath. He'll take a little nap and then after awhile he'll be off, and we shouldn't see him again." He took a few cautious steps to the side; those enormous glazed eyes did not follow him.

In the interim someone else had come wandering up: a young guinga, feline-like, ground-dwelling and most curious.

At first she eyed the jalandar, still as a statue it was, there upon the rail. Sensing it posed no imminent danger, her attention focused instead upon the other stranger in her territory. A warning glare, a defensive stance, a challenging growl. Koenig halted; a firm command from Jon silenced her.

Koenig bent down, to see those enormous eyes gazing back at him from that charming little face. He recognized the intelligence in them, and more.

"From Rani's line?" he asked.

"Her name's Koovah," grinning, "and you've a good memory."

"House guard?"

"M'm. Like Rani used to protect me." He spoke again to Koovah, his voice soothing yet with that subtle undertone of command; and, as he had to the broms and even to the young jalandar, in the exotic vernacular of his mother. "Give her a moment to imprint on you. You're new. She'll remember afterwards."

And, there was yet another; her hair ashen-blonde, a beguiling smile, and eyes that could catch and hold those of any man...

For the first time in some while, Koenig relaxed. "Hello, Annette," said he.

Before he could say more, Jon was at her side; and the pair of them disappeared into a rather emphatic, and most decidedly intimate, embrace.

Nor did either of them come up for air immediately, forgetting, at least momentarily - and quite understandably - that they had company.

Ah, so much the image of her mother! And such a lucky catch, too, for all those young beaus she'd attracted to her!

It much amused Koenig, to think back upon that. Still, he was a gentleman. Arms folding, he absently gazed upward, towards the sky...

Far above the homestead, the delicate filigree of waterfalls caught his eye. Some spring-fed, others by lingering snowmelt - they traced gossamer pathways down misty cliffs of pale amethyst, hues of jade and emerald, and even a whisper of purple. Most continued on their descent towards the valley and the river, while others had been deftly diverted for Mahtab Bagh's water supply...

"You want to take him in?" from Jon. "My turn for breakfast," with a fleeting wink at Koenig before he stepped across the porch and into the main house. It was a Mahtab Bagh house rule, that the morning's earliest riser was responsible for the first meal of the day.

"Won't the brombees need unsaddling?" Koenig wondered aloud.

Annette smiled, and he presently assisted her in doing so. Happy to be free of their accoutrements, Zachee and Zinga were wandering off, exploring the spacious enclosure built just for them and the other broms that were kept here for riding. A nearby low structure offered plenty of food and fresh water and commodious areas for bedding overnight, as the broms habitually slept upon the ground rather than standing. Nor did they care for getting wet, and they could always shelter in the stables whenever it chanced to rain...

There was a kitchen garden elsewhere too, Koenig recalled a modest clutch of greenhouses. All told, the Mahtab Bagh homestead was as a gentle mark amidst its oh-so-very exotic setting.

Jon had already disappeared inside. Seeing Annette still smiling at him, the older man offered her his arm, which she readily accepted. Who could turn down an invitation like that?

The living area was comfortable and welcoming; a scattering of sturdy furniture; couches, cabinets, shelves; all much as he remembered. A pair of sculptures, a housewarming gift from his artistic wife, displayed with a certain pride of place. A clutch of baby pictures of Jon: oversized bald head and wide-eyed amazement; frolicking on a fluffy picnic blanket, churning baby toes and determined little chubby fists; a tiny giddy shape, securely cradled between his father's hands, astride his very first brombee saddle...

And, he had to remind himself - even for all the various changes and additions, large or small, over the course of time - this was still essentially the selfsame, original prefabricated living-unit module that had been drawn up by Jon's parents. Constructed in the town, then lifted up from the valley in relays by Cargo Eagle, carefully positioned and reassembled on the site selected for it...

Annette was directing him to one particular area of the house, one of two single-room wings added to the main structure (Jon's parents had the other); originally Jon's nursery, he and Annette had since made it their own home...and now, a nursery once more...

Gently, very gently, he cradled the voluminous bundle as it was passed it to him. A tiny face - a girl - peeped out at him, from amongst the baby-blankets.

He was beaming, and in this moment the imprint of countless years slid from his face.

"Hello...!" softly, "I once held your father this way too, after he was born..."

Rendered inarticulate and humbled, all at once...

"Why, I forgot to ask if you have a name yet...! Me? Well, I guess I'm sort-of your great-grandpa...old great-grandpa Koenig...!"

Emotion all but overcame him; his lips thinned, his eyes blinked...

Dear God, this is worth everything...everything we ever went through...

Jon's buoyant call, "Breakfast!" from elsewhere in the house, roused him...

Yet another suite of wide-picture casement windows, shutters well open to show off the panorama of the countryside and the sky, framed the dining area.

Abundant natural light fell across the breakfast settings laid for three: glowing white dishes and diningware from the town, creamy table linens alongside.

Jon was at the adjacent sideboard, occupied with organizing the beverage of which, seemingly suspended in mid-air, was pouring out its contents into three empty glasses.

Here was yet another glimpse (a less overt one, certainly) of the psychic acuity that had missed his mother and settled, instead, upon him. He was usually rather quiet and unfussy about it, such was his way; perhaps mumbling something about it coming in handy now and then, with helping to run the station. It remained mostly untapped, undeveloped...

Opalescent pitchers of cold fresh milk from the Mahtab Bagh herds, and a pink-tinted beverage, ambrosia punch, were set in their places; here now came Jon with the pitcher of cold well-water and the three glasses he'd filled.

Koenig took his place at the chair he usually occupied. Annette was seated at the head of the table by her husband; another house rule, that the men waited for the ladies to be seated.

Jon brought the food platters from the sideboard, and took his place across from Koenig. Both men sat. Annette presided over the apportioning of servings to Jon and to their guest. Not for nothing had Mahtab Bagh acquired a reputation for its hospitality...

The aroma of the expertly-grilled meat, the scent of the seasonings, wafted invitingly into the air as Koenig lifted the first forkful to his lips. After a lengthy, and appreciative, silence he spoke. "Nothing like it..." He was already motioning for more.

To his hosts, the older man quite visibly, quantitatively, relaxed as he ate. He always did, whenever he came to visit; whatever was going on in the town or elsewhere, whatever might be troubling him deep inside, it all went away here...

Over many a meal on many a past occasion, the air above this table rang with lively conversation, and shook with hearty laughter. Later on, after the meal was over and Jon's mother had taken him off to tuck him in to bed before herself retiring, and leaving the men to their talk, the house would grow very quiet...

Sometimes, once he had got command of his chubby little legs, he would soundlessly creep out of bed and go to the door and peep through the tiny crack. Only the dancing shadows thrown by the flickering of the hearth, and the sound of the crackling of the cuerca wood piled within it, gave any hint that his father and their visitor were there, slumped easily in their deep-padded chairs, the light of a single lamp on a table, perhaps, illuminating the contours of their faces.

Their talk was of the old days, of strange names and unknown events, all of it quite mysterious to the little boy in the darkened house, listening with ever-widening eyes, from beyond that cracked bedroom door...

Every so often, as the tiredness of the day inexorably asserted its influence upon the two of them, one or the other might crack a joke, and even summoning so little as a smile became an effort. Or one of the glasses would be filled with yet another drink (that did not remain for long) before, rendered mute at last, the two men did little more than gaze into the slowly-waning scintillation of the fire...

Muffled baby cries could be heard, emanating from the nursery. Annette started to rise, but Jon bade her stay, he would go instead. He did so, leaving Koenig and Annette alone at the table.

"Something's gotten hold of him," said she, quietly, "something else," anticipating his question, "recently...he thinks I haven't noticed, but..."

"Here we are," announced the returning Jon - his new baby daughter with him - who resumed his seat with just a bit more care and caution than before. The little one was gurgling happily, infant eyes affixed upon Koenig. "Looks like you've spoiled her already," with a certain paternal sigh.

Nonplussed, "What did I do?"

Annette smiled. "You have a certain way with children, my mother's always believed that. They like you..."

This made for a pleasant interval, but at length Annette decided that enough was enough and it was time for a nap. The men stood, as mother and daughter sedately withdrew.

In the soothing quietude of the nursery, Annette settled the baby comfortably in the bassinet; and very soon thereafter the latter was dozing quite fitfully therein. Such excitement in a single day, and for one who yet possessed so very few of them!

Moving to another corner of the room, she placed a call on her commlock, waited...

"Yes, it's me...I need help...I think he knows..."

Back at the dining table, her husband and Koenig reacted as a commlock tone sounded.

Koenig rose, "I have to take this," excused himself and stepped into the next room. Behind him, Jon couldn't hear the other side of the conversation, only Koenig's brief responses.

"...with all deliberate speed..."

The words drifted, within the house; small shadows of letters, propelled by minute puffs of air into the dining area, fleetingly skiffing across the woodscape of the table, to the spot where Jon was seated...

He's ordering an Eagle. It was part-and-parcel of the Commander's duties that he was, had to be, available at virtually all hours. The nomenclature wasn't entirely unfamiliar; such a summons had on occasion turned out his father, and Annette's too...

Presently, Koenig reappeared. The vestige of the genial houseguest was slowly fading, already his mind was shifting to meet the demands of whatever situation was presently to call him away, however reluctantly, from Mahtab Bagh. His gaze fell, with visible regret, across the accoutrements of the meal that yet awaited the return of its diners. He sat back down, his tone when he spoke carefully measured.

"What is it you want from me, Jon?"

His host was uneasy.

"They named me for you, you know."

He nodded, "It's a long time since we called you Jon Alan," with a smile.

"It's just Jon now."

"Yes, I know."

"They always told me if there came a time...if there was something I couldn't confide in either of them, I was to come to you about it."

"At a time you knew they wouldn't be here."

"I can't go to them with this..."

"Annette's coming," said he. "Let's enjoy our meal, and then we'll have our talk..."

Jon regarded the older man, "How is it that you always seem to know?"

He felt again, from a great distance, the weight of other worlds pressing upon his shoulders.

"Long practice, I'm afraid..."

The men rose from their chairs, "Sleeping, at last," as Annette resumed hers. "Have I missed anything?"

"We missed you," said her husband. She pinked a little, and even Koenig looked a touch embarrassed.

"Jon has something, it seems, he'd like to show me, and I have to admit I'm more than just a little curious! But until breakfast is over, no one leaves - right?"

"House rule," Annette agreed, and she looked relieved. So the meal resumed, and nothing more save pleasantries and various gossip from the town were exchanged...

Finally, "Right, I'll clear," said Annette.

"Am I excused, then?" from Jon. Company or not, rules were rules...

"Yes," summarily, from Koenig, the senior man present. "I'll help you," to Annette. As one they rose, Koenig already reaching to assist Annette with clearing off the dishes. He didn't mind in the least, helping out in the kitchen. On occasion he might be gently rebuffed, yet he always offered; such was a gesture of being a good guest...

And when all tasks had been duly attended to, they were summoned to the living room. Jon had assembled some sort of technical apparatus on a table. Annette, apparently remembering something she'd forgotten to do, murmured her regrets and went out.

Koenig slowly circled the table, quite nonplussed by what he saw. "Good Lord," said he, "I don't think I've seen one of these things since...well, I just don't know!" But the old scientist in him was duly impressed, too: "A blink microscope, classic design..."

"Mother calls it a blink comparator. She's rather old-fashioned sometimes."

"Both are acceptable," with a little smile, gently fingering the antique-looking controls.

"She says computers are wonderful, but something like this truly trains the eye to see."

"Been doing some survey work?"

"I do like to look," he admitted.

"What's your current area of study?"

"Pintaurus region," said he.

"Quite a large place..."

Two photographic plates already were secured in their places on either side of the main viewing carriage, "representative of them all," said he, of the series of plates he'd taken within one particular quadrant. Both were brightly illuminated, as a light source was switched on.

He bent to the eyepiece, his fingertips scarcely touching the different knobs of varying sizes situated here and there about the greater apparatus, so exceedingly fine were the adjustments required. Then he straightened, and looked to Koenig.

"Take a look," said he.

The older man did so; and a beautiful deep field of sparkling stars greeted his gaze.

His too was a trained eye, noting the subtle "blinking" - from plate to plate and back again - that gave the device its unusual name. The star-fields, in response, showed only the most minute changes of position.

But something else did not. It was incredibly faint, yet its exaggerated "jump" between the plates was readily evident.

With but half an ear he heard Jon's voice, describing his frustration in drawing out anything further of the mystery object.

"Nothing in the catalogues," he was saying, "there's nothing there. Nothing should be there. Even its spectrum, what little I could gather of it, makes no sense. No match to anything I know of. But there is one thing. It's blue-shifting. Whatever it is, it's heading this way."

Education is not the learning of facts, Einstein once said, but the training of the mind to think. And the boy had been trained very well indeed...nevertheless, as he stood there at the eyepiece, something deep within him turned over.

So it's happened at last, he thought bleakly.

Jon seemed strangely subdued. "Your Eagle's here..."

Having been absent for a time, Annette was now reappearing. Someone was with her. Koenig provided an introduction.

"You remember Maya Verdeschi, I believe," said he.

"Guido's mother," said he. "Mahtab Bagh welcomes you," the phrase his parents had taught him as a child, when greeting guests to the homestead. Simple breeches and boots, blouse of soft pastel colors. Her beaming smile rendered her exotic beauty all the more arresting...

"You've put me in a difficult position, Jon," Koenig's voice, more serious now, was continuing. "To do as you've asked, means going against the express wishes of your father, for whom I have the highest respect..."

Maya looked from the one man to the other, "What do you mean?" puzzled, for she knew nothing of any of this.

"I gave my word, once," said he.

It was as well that Jon's nascent telepathic potential remained mostly untapped; for he could not resolve the confusion that arose within him now. He shook his head," I'm sorry..." passing them, headed outside.

Maya put out a hand to Annette, "Let me," said she, and followed him.

Koenig moved to the casement windows, and looked out. Annette appeared beside him, and he put an arm around her.

"You made the call, didn't you?" gently.

"I have obligations, too," said she.

How do you - or even can you - explain the unexplainable?

It's said that seeing is believing...but, will he believe?? -

People were going to be hurt, and he could see no way around that...

Maya sat with Jon in the sunken garden his father once built for his mother. He knew that her country, called Psychon, no longer existed; once another planet, elsewhere in Terra Alpha's solar system, a long-cold, blackened funeral pyre cast adrift in some distant anonymous backwater.

She spoke of her relationship with her own father, Mentor; and the trauma of their final parting...

"...'Understand, Maya,' he kept saying, 'try to understand...' And I've tried, all these years...then, later on, Tony and I married, and I had my boys...and I began at last to understand what my father had meant," said she, "of how parents can come to love their children so, that they'll do anything - anything - to protect them, and to keep them safe..."

She turned as she heard her name. Koenig, followed closely by Annette, was coming down into the garden.

"Did you bring what I asked for?"

"I've brought it," said she, "it's all prepared..."

"Good," said he. Then, "I gave my word. I intend to keep it. You're coming along on a little trip with me," to Jon.

"So am I," Annette's tone making it clear she would not be persuaded otherwise.

"You already know part of it. You should know all of it..."

"How much more is there? ..."

Beneath a sky of a bright milky-jade hue - beneath the distant mountain ranges of the cold and the snows - loomed the breeze-ruffled expanse of the great meadow.

The herds were loping, jostling, prancing in the course of their way, exulting in the warming, open air.

This was their world, and all life at Mahtab Bagh revolved around their encyclicals of life.

Such was the collective enormity of their numbers - including a sizable contingent of brombees, as well as a scattering of janatas - that entire swathes of the multi-hued carpet of blue and bright green and pale gray, with scattered tints of pink and white, could scarcely be discerned. Food, consumed at the walk; and many did so, taking little notice of the pair of humans, astride their own broms and observing them.

From beneath the hat and its floppy brim shading his eyes from the glare of the sun, Alan Carter looked out across the expanse of his holdings. No firm accounting of acreage, or even square miles, attached itself to the size of Mahtab Bagh; never the need. Even he had no idea how big it all was.

Old ways, re-imagined for a new world...

This was shaping up to be a good year, he told himself. He reckoned it would not be too many days longer, and then this massing of animals would be setting off for the great destination - their warm-weather feeding grounds, in the Mahtab Bagh high country; already, they were busily sniffing out the faint signs of the track long embedded into ancestral memory.

The janatas were one of the mysteries of the high country. Their silvery fur shimmered in the sunlight, riding over powerful muscles as they moved; the least little breeze ruffled the shaggy "collar" across their shoulder blades, and tickled the minute hairs fringing their oversized brombee-like ears. They seemed to prefer the "safety in numbers" of the others during the great up-country trek, but did not otherwise hedge or harass them. From time to time, one or more of them would disappear off into the bush and the boulders, preferring to do their own hunting...

Hunting of another, quite different sort presently claimed his attention, as he lifted the binoculars; for at least the moment, he'd lost sight of his wife. But when he rang her on his commlock, her signal answered immediately.

"Just concerned a bit, that's all," said he.

"This grove of trees," said she from her saddle, in the cooling shade of the tree whose foliage she'd been sampling, "I think I may have happened on a new sub-species. We'll have to send these specimens down to Agricultural, perhaps Tony or Shermeen could confirm it..."

"Think there'll be time enough for that," said he. "A few days yet, before this mob's off; and we'll need to get packed up anyway. We'll camp here tonight. I want to see that new tree of yours," this very last with a subtle little inflection.

"You're quite impossible," she asserted, albeit with a certain knowledgeable sigh.

"Look who's talking..."

The fullness of day was yielding to the peace of evening, the sun a dying golden-white coal, striped by dozens of silhouetted trees; the sky far above them undergoing its own subtle transformations of color and character as the oncoming blanket of night advanced upon the up-country of Mahtab Bagh...

Within the gleaming necklace of lanterns that marked out its perimeter, the campsite was in good order. The broms, unsaddled and their needs attended to, were settling down for the evening.

Elsewhere... a lantern softly aglow, the table service laid for two, a small clutch of wild flowers in an improvised vase, the pair of simple campstools on either side for sitting upon...and, beyond the envelope of campfire-light, there drifted upon the air currents the soft indulgings of those immersed in some mutual admiration...

", now that's being bloody compromised...!"

"...oh, you are so very dreadful...and wicked, and..."

"...and you're thinking again..."

The crackling fire, over which dinner had earlier been cooked, was beginning to wane in its warmth and brightness.

Noting this from the corner of his eye, a breeze scarcely feathering his hair, he sat up for a better look and then rose to see about stoking it.

Clouds of sparks, charred ash, new wood for old, and healthy flames again blazed boldly and licked at the cool darkness. Temperatures always fell quickly, up here. On a night like this, as he surveyed his bit of pyrotechnic housekeeping, it was cheery and welcome and wonderfully warm.

Then he glanced across the way, through those shimmering curtains of heat thermals. She had dozed off, unpinned tresses streaming in disarray about the pillows, herself well bundled up in the downfill and blankets.

But a moment before, those eyes had edged open. A dreamy little smile came to her, thinking he looked rather studious and serious as light and shadows flickered across his face, his attention given to the fire...

He went over to her. Her expression was peaceful. He, being very careful and quiet, picked up the few stray strands of mauve and laid them aside. She stirred, drew in, let out a deep breath.

As he turned the lantern back down, she rested her head upon his shoulder and he settled the covers over them again.

"Enough wood on hand to last the night, I think," said he.

"Good," stealing an arm round him once more, as though trying to remember where they'd left off...

"Warm enough?"

"Quite nice and warm, thank you..."

Their words were as whispers...

"So...what's a nice omnimorph like you doing with a bloke like me, hm?"

"Such a sweet, silly know why..."

The night air grew quiet around them.

"...such a silly wife," murmuring it.

"Nonsense," firmly.

"Mm, there's something about your doing that," as his fingers began to idly tangle and untangle themselves in her hair. "I still don't quite know what it is...but how I do like it..."

"Shh...time for sleep..."

"Good night, husband..." and then no more...

The stars were huge and bright; a sign of how clear, how still, the air was.

Lying there, gazing upward, he still felt the pull of that sky...

Something was moving, out there; minute, to be sure, but his eye caught it. The tiny pinprick of light was likely a passing asteroid, captured by Terra Alpha's gravity well; one of at least three identified and noted in the catalogues.

He could land an Eagle on that asteroid, could still do it, he was certain; could put one down on the proverbial head of a pin, if he had to. It had taken time, necessary time, to get the station up and going, and it had all come out bloody well...

And yet...he could feel those control sticks materializing in his hands...even as he drifted off to sleep...

A slow, deep breath of air escaped her and a certain dreamy smile touched her lips. The cladded coverings rippled rhythmically as she rolled over and absently stretched out her hand...

Her eyes, just barely open, beholding the night-time and confusion, glanced to one side.


He was not there!

Only half-awake, her fingers fumbled for the laser; still and forever the lookout, the listener - and, if necessary, the protector - of those she loved...

Now there came a soft crunching in the underbrush, its cadence that of measured footsteps. By the lantern-light, he beheld his wife. She was sitting up now. He saw the laser in her hand, knew he would have done the same...

"We're going home," said he.


"We're going home," reaching to help her up. She, yet unsteady from sleep, drew him close, his touch bringing reassurance. Then he was carefully leading her through the darkness of their now-struck camp, towards where the stirring of the broms could already be heard...

Another night, another time...the two of them, entwined in one another's arms, consumed by the mindless insensibility of the lotus-eaters...and as yet still believing this world belonged to them alone.

Their whisperings were of children, and of their hopes for them when they came; their girls would look like her, she was certain, and their boys like him. Her unusual hair color owed itself to a genetic mutation amongst her people that was gender-specific; only in the women.

But it wouldn't be up there, up on the Moon, that would never be possible, and in that they were in solemn agreement. And while it haunted her that she, an orphan, had never known who her own father was, not so very little as a name...

My children will, when they come, they'll know who their father is...

I'd want them to have some of the things I sky and open country, the company of animals, the close home life...

They'd both been overjoyed, to hear Ed Spencer's news that the baby was coming. Over the ensuing months, he and Helena Koenig took turns visiting Mahtab Bagh and Next Valley Over too, where Annette Fraser was also expecting a child.

Alan hastened to get the last of the plantings in for the sunken garden he and Alix had planned and laid out together. He could watch her there, drowsing easily in the fresh air and the sunshine, from the lap-pool he'd created for himself and where he went swimming almost every day.

Their idyll came to an end one day when Spencer came, took one look at his patient and ordered her off her feet and to bed - immediately.

Helena arrived from the town. From Next Valley Over, concerned over their closest neighbors, the Frasers asked to be kept informed; there was little else practical they could do, for Annette wasn't far from her own time of delivery.

At Mahtab Bagh the nursery, so carefully prepared, was converted into an operating theatre.

Confined to bed as her time neared, Alix was tense, bewildered. Alan, protective of her over the many months, became more so, reluctant to leave her. He saw the fear in her eyes. Her own mother had expired in childbirth...

That long night taught all of them something new about fear. The still air fled at the sound of her screams, which never seemed to cease save for the necessary drawing of breath. "Scream your bloody head off," Alan told her, "no one will hear! - " gripping her hand. Not once, throughout that long night, did he let go.

Finally, as the very earliest of the dawn was gingerly fingering its way through the distant mountain passes, an ever-so-tiny flurry of faint and plaintive cries announced to the world that two had become three.

Still in his theatre gown, Alan held close the swaddled, squirming little bundle entrusted to him. He'd been sent out of the room while Spencer and Helena attended to the exhausted new mother.

With one gloved hand, he parted the curtain so that a bit of sunlight peeped in.

"There's your world," he murmured.

At last Helena came out. "She's all right," before he could even ask, "come and see! - "

But how very pale she was, as he approached.

"They told me...a boy..." She managed a weak little smile, as he drew closer and carefully sat down at her bedside. "And he looks like you..."

"He has your eyes...he looks like both of us..."

And that would've rounded off their happiness, then and there. News from Next Valley Over, too: Bill and Annette Fraser were the proud parents of a baby girl.

But there was other, more ominous news; having come to the same prognosis (and, alas, not for the first time), Spencer and Helena themselves told Alan and Alix that there could be no more children.

She would be all the more inconsolable later on, after the failed surrogacy attempt took away their last hope. "We have Jon," her husband told her, "and I've still got you," holding her to him.

He hadn't seemed the type to overly indulge in such endearments, never really had been; and she was grateful that he wasn't. Rarely more so, than in that moment. For it made the sparingly-few times he did seem like pure gold. And, she knew as well, his silence could be - and was - far more telling...

In the years that followed - beneath the twin suns and open skies of Terra Alpha, surrounded by the boundless open countryside of Mahtab Bagh and its diverse and often bewildering variety of living creatures - all of their hopes for their only surviving child came to be realized.

Now, however - as the night fled before them and the budding dawn behind them cast long shadows along the dew-sparkled lawns of the homestead - they breathlessly pulled up their broms in the paddock, lofted themselves from the saddles and were rushing for the house -

The house was quiet, in good order...and deserted. He caught his breath, his wife gripped his arm, and as one they rounded on the open door to the nursery.

Here too all quiet, the bassinet occupied, its tiny resident sleeping quite soundly...strange, how it was that babies could sleep through almost anything. A slumbering guinga nestled fitfully close by, much as another had once kept vigilance over her father...

Her grandparents cautiously drew nearer. Granted, all guingas looked much alike at first glance, but this one looked, for all the world, like Rani...uncannily so.

His gaze narrowed, the guinga reacted.

Rani wouldn't have flinched like that. Rani never flinched...


"Where are they, Maya? - " his tone a clear warning...

She tried to hush him, lest the baby be wakened, tried in vain; his household disturbed, even the very prospect of his long-standing edict having been disobeyed...he was thoroughly roused and would not be put off, not even by her...not this time...

"Where are they? -" The air itself shook with the force of his voice.

Too late. The baby was awake, loud, crying. And, from somewhere deep within the soulful gaze of the guinga...the distant, iridescent, shimmering form of Maya began to appear...

THREE: Something Lost...

...I remember lighting fires; I remember sitting by 'em;
I remember seeing faces, hearing voices, through the smoke;
I remember they were fancy - for I threw a stone to try 'em.
"Something lost behind the Ranges" was the only word they

Bones, Jon thought. They're bones...

He wore the unwieldy, rather cumbersome orange suit, its stiffly-ribbed fabric rough and unfamiliar to the touch, the weighted heavy boots secured in place by a small control-panel embedded in one of the thick fiberglass locking-rings enclosing each of his wrists.

Koenig was instructing him, things he'd have to know to help Annette in donning the suit designated for her. Satisfied at last with Jon's appearance, he excused himself and stepped out of the Eagle's passenger pod, the set of doors leading to the cockpit whooshing shut behind him.

Afterward, bulky and formidable in his own pressure-suit, he inspected his two passengers. He bade them move around in the module, take several steps, observing the suits' effect upon their mobility, making little adjustments here and there, asking if such-and-such felt more comfortable.

Then he was laying out three more sets of chockablock-looking gear, jarring colors and hard glossy surfaces, before them.

Three pairs of reinforced heavy gloves, white with black palms. And three bowl-like helmets, bright yellow like their boots. One bore the surname KOENIG, in neat black lettering, on its nameplate; the others, styled in a similar manner, included the initials J and A.

"Better you start getting used to these now," said he, carefully lifting one of those equipment packs over Jon's head, taking care to avoid the wide metal neck ring of the latter's suit. Then he was positioning, fitting, pulling taut and fastening the network of strong dark belts so that the pack's two main components - front and back - were in their correct positions.

He turned to Annette, repeated the process; tactfully leaving the fine adjustments to her husband.

"Faceplate," taking his own helmet, indicating its predominant feature, demonstrating how the bubble-like visor pivoted up and down, before lowering it over his head. There was a crisp, audible SNAP as he locked it in place to his suit's neck ring.

He waited patiently as she gathered, moved her hair back from her face. Gently he settled the helmet into position, and before her his stern demeanor softened; her own warmed briefly in response. He knew her father. She'd be all right.

Afterward he firmly grasped Jon's ribbed-and-padded shoulders, his gaze very much man-to-man. "You are your father's son. In every way."

Then he put them in their seats, checked their lap belts and shoulder harnesses. All that procedure was necessary, vital in fact. Yet he was, quite purposefully, not giving either of them time to think; rather, to observe and then obey his directives.

He disappeared, again, behind those sliding doors. Jon and Annette were alone. Red lamps flashed in the module, the sound of the Eagle's four big engines revving up. Because of their helmets, they could not turn their heads enough to see each other, not even with visors raised.

His hand, and hers, reached to touch, to grasp each other.

All around them the big vehicle shuddered...

Jon felt pinned to his seat, the pressure coming right through the suit, pushing; not enough air in his lungs...

He couldn't move, his ears were, not that...something else...

"Jon! Can you hear me? - "

Her voice; her hand gripping his...

"Listen to me...stay with me! - "

...I - can't...

The cabin's environs went gray, and then dark...

...Jon, wake up...


"You passed out - wake up! - "

Annette's voice, and that roused him at last. Surroundings struggled back to focus. He was still in the passenger cabin, still strapped into that seat, his hand still held fast in hers.

"So sorry," he murmured. He could actually hear his own voice, in the earphones of his helmet, "What have I gotten us into? - "

The lamps in the module flashed, green this time, and the monitors in the seatbacks in front of them came to life. It was Koenig: "That means you can get up now." His was neither the voice nor the mien of the stern taskmaster of before, of - how long ago?...

Annette reached to free the various latches of her harness, rising somewhat stiffly as they fell free. She breathed deeply, stretched as best she could and then reached to help her husband, who was a little unsteady as he stood up. Each tentatively touched the cheek of the other, albeit with some care due to the limitations imposed by their helmets.

"When I was a little girl, I used to ride in an Eagle down to the valley, with my father," said she, gently, "do you remember?"

He nodded. That was true, she knew far more about Eagles and their ways than he did; amidst the exigencies of the moment he'd forgotten, was even a little embarrassed about it.

"I wanted to be a pilot too, as he was," said she.

"How come you didn't?"

"Something better came along - someone, actually," with a knowing little smile.

"Annette - " his tone shifting, "look up..."

She followed his gaze, elsewhere in the module...

"Why is the sky dark?" the view through one of the ceiling's inset windows: no sky color, only darkness.

"Have we gone into orbit?"


Through the access corridor - this having reappeared as the connecting doors between modules flew aside - the enticing twinkling of colored lights from the cockpit accompanied the sound of John Koenig's voice.

There passed between husband and wife the realization that they were being allowed no choice of decisions. With Jon leading, they made their way forward; blinked at first upon coming into the subdued lighting of the cockpit.

Koenig's cordiality was genuine. "Welcome to the pilots' cabin," said he, in the command module's left-hand seat, gloved hands resting easy on the controls. "Have a seat," motioning to the empty one, across the monitors and the throttle boxes.

Moving carefully in his suit, Jon lowered himself into the cladded couch; felt it smoothly slide and lock into position beneath him. Puzzled hands instinctively sought the armrests on either side.

Never, ever, in his life had he been subjected to such utter - coercion, such confinement, as this; there had to be some way - any way - out...

"Where are you taking us?"

Well, he'd set all of this in motion. He resolved to take back control; had to do it now, right now...

Wordlessly Koenig studied the massed control display before him, pushed several buttons here, tripped several switches elsewhere.

The monitor before Jon came to life: a pad of velvety darkness; a faint iridescence - the band of the Milky Way - off to one side.

"That's not what I asked."

More buttons, more switches. An overlay appeared. A map, its contours familiar; the map of Pintaurus, of one particular region of it.

Centered there, within his own hand-drawn circle, lay a tiny sharp gleam of light...

"Something is there..."



"And I found it."

"Someone would have. Turned out to be you."

He could see his reflection, helmet and all, in the glass of the monitor. Another monitor, to his immediate left, displayed the familiar test card and the imprint Eagle 23 upon it. All around him, as he sat there, various groups and clusters of buttons and switches glowed and flickered in hues of green and orange, blue and yellow, red and even white.

Perhaps in spite of himself, his curiosity was roused, and perhaps, too, Koenig sensed this; for he now put to him a question:

"Want to fly her, for a while?" and, when no answer was forthcoming, "You taught me to ride. My turn to teach. Take the, and here" indicating the twin grips he held; and Jon did so, carefully grasping each of the set of two before him on his side of the cockpit.

"Easy, now...easy," said the soothing voice in his headphones, "just hold her steady..."

He fingered them cautiously, at first, as though attempting to "feel" his way through the myriad electronic intricacies of the complex machine beneath him, to sense out its pulses, its rhythms...and as understanding came and knowledge slowly amassed, his grip would adjust in response, tensing, relaxing.

Koenig, watching all the while, slowly let go of his own controls, allowing his hands to settle into his lap. His eyes scanned the status boards before him; all was well, their course steady. He briefly glanced back over to Jon. The latter's attention was completely given over to the Eagle. He was coming to understand that, unlike his father, Jon was not a natural flyer. The boy came from a different place. Even at this moment, his touch seemed guided more by some deep, empathic instinct, and that otherworldly intuition of his...

And so, with no heed or sense of either time or distance in the vast interstellar immensity that surrounded them and their tiny manmade ship, onward they flew...

Where are we going?

Again and again Jon found himself returning to that question, and it was coming to haunt him.


And, why?...

"Gloves, Annette," said Koenig.

She brought them, assisted fitting Jon's so that he could maintain his controls.


From its storage panel, set in the module floor just aft of the central communications console, she raised it to its full position - a design innovation of this Eagle he'd carefully selected - and, securing herself therein, likewise secured her own gloves in place.

"Visors down, until further notice," lowering his own with one hand and verifying it had locked into place.

Jon heard the click of his visor, the subtle whoosh of air in his padded headphones. If the suit had been uncomfortable before, it felt cloying, even stifling, now...


Had his helmet so allowed, Koenig would've shaken his head. Could the boy be claustrophobic? Was that possible? The very idea was utterly preposterous.

"I'm all right," presently, in a level voice.

The rest of the Eagle vanished behind the interlocking doors; and the three of them were effectively sealed inside the command module. Feeling the minute "tug" on his set of handgrips, Jon let go of them; Koenig was reassuming command of the vessel.

"Very good," said he, "well done." He hoped the boy knew he meant it, for he did...

Even as he dropped one hand to the throttles, the monitors went dark for a moment; then a new view appeared, transmitted from one of the Eagle's several onboard cameras.

Against the absolute darkness, a paper-thin crescent of light approached them...

Koenig spoke, without inflection or elaboration.

"We're here."

Sunlight flooded the view that lay before Eagle 23...

Jon and Annette heard the words "Orbital insertion" in their headphones. They both of them stared.

"A planet!" exclaimed she.

"Where none exists...nothing in the catalogues," said her husband. But, there it was...

He, and she, looked to the command seat. The bulky, suited figure was no longer the man they'd both known all their lives - or, until now, thought they knew.

This was a total stranger...

He knows this place, thought Jon, he knew exactly where to go. And all we can do, is to go with him...for only he knows the way back...

"Look at that," said Annette's radio-voice, as another onboard camera's view appeared on their screens. "It's like the Altiplano," the vast, wind-blasted volcanic plateau of Terra Alpha.

Jon was less sure. "It never looked like that..."

All white, fully-lit, like coarse and broken chalk, an enormous imperfect circle...mountainous terraces fallen away, others simply collapsed, into vast aggregates of otherworldly talus, at the foot of those raw-faced cliffs, far below. Not smooth-floored, rippling rolling masses of rough-hewn hills and hullocks, towards a lumbering range of mountains near its center...massive in themselves, to judge from the size and aspect of their shadows...

Then it was slipping below them, out of view but for the moment, as the monitor screens blipped and another onboard camera was recording its field. The brilliant wash of light and color faded to dull grayish tones as the great ringed plain drew away, ever farther away, dwindling until, ever so fleetingly, it teetered upon the curvature of the horizon and without a sound vanished below it.

The mountainous regions flanking it opened out onto a vast plateau. Thin ribbon-like rilles snaked and coiled sinuously across it, more craters vividly punch-marked it in their own varied shapes and sizes. In the low oblique sun angle, even the tiniest surface feature threw out a shadow.

And all of it was without color of any discernible tint or tincture; only striations of slate and iron and ash, of lead...and, of death. This was a dead place. Life had never touched those blanched and barren plains.

In the Eagle's cockpit, another onboard camera was reporting in. A bubble of the smooth-floored surface backed up against an enormous mountain range, a half-circular scimitar of diamond-chip summits that sparkled and shone in the sunlight. Beyond them, lay only darkness.

The Eagle subtly, very subtly, trembled, and the scimitar of diamonds was sliding off one side of the monitor.

They were turning, their course changing, altering.

Those rock-ragged fields were coming closer...

Yet another camera-view; very much closer. Searching the instrument displays before him, Jon presently located one labeled ALTITUDE, noted the size of the number; comparable to some of the country surrounding Mahtab Bagh, he thought. Rough-looking country, too; disorganized jumbles of boulder fields and even more mountains.

But there had never been a paradise here...

From the "jumpseat," between the two men, Annette quietly looked on.

East, she thought, he's heading east...

Hers was a more practiced eye than her husband's, in interpreting those instrument displays.

Not a word, in all this time, and he's scarcely moved; even his hand on the controls is still. He's become almost a machine himself...

All those mountains, pushing, shoving up against one another...and the Eagle was dropping lower, ever lower, towards them.

Then, with a breath-catching abruptness, those mountains were no longer there...

Now - to their left and to their right - there planed away into the distance vast walls of slumping irregular cols and massifs. Another enormous crater, clearly volcanic...and, again, so evocative of the blasted expanse of the Altiplano.

Its floor was smooth, almost unnervingly so, only subtly disturbed here and there by the faint billowy whisperings of lava ribbons, all in the color - such as it was - of cut steel.

After having dropped further still, the Eagle was now levelling.

Missing not a beat, its course continued, arrow-straight, and still pointing towards the mysterious east...

The monitor-views all faced forward; they could see out the direct viewports too. The sun had moved, and was very low upon a horizon pockmarked by more towering summits in the far distance. Across the great floor of the crater they threw enormous shadows.

The Eagle was presently engulfed, enfolded within those shadows, and remained so for a considerable while...

Then it was, as they coasted over a notch in the mountains' blocky walls - this revealing a small bowl-like depression - that the bones first appeared.

They're bones...

More and more of them, the nearer their ship approached - a skeleton, of some enormous, sprawling, desiccated animal.

Below them, below the encircling cols and escarpments it lay there, in the deep shadows, smothered in a grayish-black dust...seeming to slowly dissolve into the landscape, even as they watched.

A faint, gauzy glaze spilled across it, countless tiny eyes staring upward, glittering as search-beams from the Eagle swept over them.

John Koenig's voice pierced - at last - the extended silence:

"Stand by for powered descent."

Switches, buttons, throttles.

"Initiating powered descent..."

On the monitors, the view of the far mountains - their lumped and tumbled shoulders reducing the sunlight to an irregular scattering of blinding beads - stilled. Then it was all rising, the sky vanishing...and the crater approaching...closer...

"Landing lights on, stand by for contact light..."

Moments ticked away...

"And, contact light..."

...and the vessel briefly, jarringly, trembled.

"Engines full stop."

The last inkling of vibration presently ceased.

The Eagle was quiet. All around it - and its three passengers - lay the mysterious graveyard of bones.

Beneath red lamps flashing a mute warning once more in the Eagle's transporter pod, Koenig was occupied with studiously affixing commlocks to one side of Jon's and Annette's life-support packs. "Voice-activated," said he, "automatic," demonstrating.

Then he took them through the emergency procedures; how to handle an air-tank puncture: seal off the puncture site with a special plaster designed for that purpose, where and how to affix the receiver-port for the emergency-oxygen tube and then rapidly screwing the slender cylinder into position. He then had each of them demonstrate the process, on each other, until he was satisfied both had mastered it.

Then, it was time to go out...

The module door moved aside, only darkness beyond it.

Standing in the open hatchway, Jon and Annette watched as the older man carefully descended those few metal rungs...

...and, from the last of them, he stepped onto the surface of this strange world.

He checked himself, then took several more steps beyond.

"I'm beyond the local gravity field of the Eagle," said his radio-voice. "This is a low-gravity world, lower than Terra Alpha, about - oh, about one-sixth or so, I'd guess. Your center of mass is different, how you move is different. Watch me first, before you try..."

Surely he would topple over, the arms, the legs were all wrong...but he did not. Ungainly, even comical of a sort, part hop, part shuffle...and somehow it worked.

Still watching in Koenig's direction, Jon saw the other man signal.

My turn?

One gloved hand gripping the rail for safety, he eased himself forward, step by step.

One of his heavy boots dropped onto solid ground, then the other. Strange, not hearing it...

Then he was reaching to help Annette and presently they stood together, there upon their tiny patch of this unknown bedrock.

Utter desolation lay all around, blanketing dust spreading itself in every direction; a strange powdery substance it was, and very black. Their boots sank into it, but only just enough to take note of, and did not otherwise impede them in any way; and left prints in it that were marvelously precise.

Beyond the four enormous engine bells of the Eagle and the spindly landing-leg structures that supported it, those distant hills loomed - swallowed by an absolute, and foreboding, darkness.

Harsh, and garish; a sepulchral stillness, insidiously seeping through the thick insulated cladding of their protective suits, enfolding them in its gloom.

A world without color, or sound, or movement. Or even air...

Koenig was again motioning to them. He watched them, guiding them as they sought to orient themselves in the low gravity. Soon both were able to emulate that slow and loping gait, bounding over the dust-choked surface.

When all this had elapsed, he then handed over to Jon a slender white case marked with a vivid red cross in the center. "Medical kit," said he.

Then he was indicating that he and Annette were to follow him.

Shapes, parts of shapes, of buildings - buildings? - flowed across their line of sight; a surreal kaleidoscope, vistas of stark brightness, deep shadow, abrupt angles, no logical pattern or arrangement...

Koenig, ahead of them, had brought himself to a stop; and presently Jon and Annette were doing the same.

The three explorers stood before a small domed structure; something affixed to it, in strange-looking, blocky lettering:


And what seemed to be a door - a door? - beyond it.

"There'll be no power inside, save what we've brought with us," briefly touching the portable generator, "and the gravity'll be little better than what's out here."

Carefully, very carefully, his heavily-gloved hands touched, gripped the just-visible free edge of that door. He shoved it open. Then he was switching on the generator.

"Stay close to me, and don't wander off," he ordered.

Then he stepped off the powdery surface, through that door - and disappeared into the gloom beyond it.

Jon was in behind him, grasping the medical kit in one hand and his wife's hand firmly in the other.

Before them light blazed eerily forth, eyes sent blinking as their sight readjusted.

"It's like being in a cave," said Annette.

A cave whose walls were smooth, the ceiling above their helmeted heads was smooth, beyond the baleful sphere of light surrounding them.

A corridor, elongating, telescoping, stretching off into an unseen infinity, slipping past them, to the left and to the right, and given a subtle undulating motion due to the slow shuffling of their heavy boots in the low gravity.

Jon felt something brush past his foot. He just got a glimpse of it - a shredded mass of cladding, languidly spinning off and away behind him, soon lost to view in the dark...

Something - a shape - large, vertical - loomed ahead. Within the auerole of their light it stood revealed to have been summarily stripped of the sum of whatever parts it had once possessed, rising to the ceiling from piles of debris, a hazy festering cloud about its base. Raw ends of ripped-out bunches of wiring floated aimlessly like tentacles in the negligent gravity.

The three paused.

"More corridors," as Annette looked around her.

A junction: from each direction the walls planed away in symmetric curvature, translucent, presenting no abrupt edges. Jon admired the clean lines of their design, even obscured as they were by the layers of the dusky charcoal they'd seen and experienced outside.

It was in here too, everywhere, clinging to virtually every surface, object, every structure, even the ceiling overhead.

One such appeared to contain some form of artwork, a sizable composition, sprawled across virtually the entire panel, radiating out from the center as though depicting an explosion of growth.

Annette was examining it, curious to find some mark of the artist's identity, leaning in closer, peering intently through the glass bubble of her helmet.

She put out her hand.

The grainy, grayish-black dust came away, affixing itself to her cladded white glovetips. A melange of colors, albeit subdued owing to the limited light, could be vaguely discerned.

"Here's something, I think," attempting to read it. "?Established one nine...'"

Koenig's voice, crackling through their headphones.


She repeated this, and then continued. "?International Space Commission...Operational nineteen-ninety-two...Capacity...'" pausing, puzzled, "?...three-hundred-twenty persons...'"

His voice, quiet and still, spoke to them again.

"Welcome to Moonbase Alpha..."

Jon came to his wife's side. A map, as the pair of them stood together before it. We're... somewhere... inside this map...

"Six days..."

His bulky shape stood backlit by the light from the generator, sitting on the corridor floor where he'd placed it, flaring out from behind him, rendering him something not human, not of the living world...

"Six days, to move everything...machinery, equipment, supplies, provisions, power sources...everything. Total, complete evacuation. Everything...and everyone."

There was a hollow, a haunted aspect in that voice and it chilled them who heard it.

Three-hundred-twenty persons...

"A difficult decision," when Jon recovered his own. "Who made it?"

"I did..."

Annette was watching his face.

It's still there, even've only to look in his eyes...

Near the far wall Koenig stooped, as much as his suit would allow him, to connect the generator. And he seemed to be searching for something; coming upon a certain small panel, and one particular control stud therein, he pressed it. The response was immediate...

"A signal!" said she. "A pulsed signal!"

"Aimed at Earth," said Koenig's voice in her ear.

Summoning all his senses - whatever degree of psychic acuity lay within him - Jon listened, very carefully...

Listen! -

"Two signals - I hear two of them," presently.

Koenig did not respond, at least not immediately. Then he pressed more panel keys.

In all their helmets, crackling electronic static erupted; presently clearing, resolving...into the distant sounds of human voices... Eagle launch countdown approaching prescribed hold...

A man's voice, calm, officious...

...main computer standing by for terminal directive...

A woman's, this time...

Coming up on three minutes...

Are you ready, Professor?...

Her voice was gentle, with a curious note of sadness.

I will be...

Another man, older, a soft cultured voice, it too limned with regret.

...and, HOLD. Professor, it's yours...

Recording begins...

The sounding of an attention tone.

We...are mankind. We call ourselves the human race...we first arose upon a small planet, circling a singular golden star...we called it the Earth, and this little world, which in turn circled it, we called the Moon.

It has ever held a fascination for us, this modest companion of ours, and we longed to know it better, to discover its secrets, to marvel at its wonders. Most of all - to touch it, to walk upon it, for ourselves.

And we came to stay. We built this base, and named it Alpha, from an ancient word meaning "first." And we went on learning, about the Moon and about space itself.

And then, one day, consummate calamity, well leavened with our own inherent mortal foolishness, fatally ruptured the orbit of the Moon, hurling it away from the Earth - with this base upon it, and all who abided within it.

Upon its self-sufficient capabilities - and our own collective tenacity and will to survive - have depended all of our lives.

Until this moment...

For now, as I speak these words, one more journey - only one - awaits us... and, as you hear them, you will know that we have gone.

Gone to a new world, that as yet may take the place of the world we lost... and that this little world, Alpha, can no longer provide.

Come look for us. Follow the light that leads to our campfires. Sit, and talk with us awhile. You'll find us to be great listeners...

Listening to the voice as it spoke, Annette was gazing at the map. One palm floated briefly above the dust-blurred surface, the colored shapes of the buildings.

It was not hers...

It pressed down firmly, and Jon's gloveprint joined that of his wife: a wordless testament of two visitors...

Through many countries and over many seas
I have come... to these melancholy rites...
to show this final honour to the dead,
and what purpose? your silent ashes,
since now fate takes you...even you...away...

Farewell, Alpha.

And yet again it paused, gathered itself, and softened.


The woman's voice:

Recording ends...

The attention tone.

Then, silence...

Behind her tinted faceplate Annette's eyes brimmed with tears. Jon stepped over to the wall, located the control stud and switched it off. He let his own eyes close.

Neither of them looked at Koenig.

Neither of them dared...

Then the tall orange-and-yellow figure moved, boots shuffling eddies of dust and detritus. The sphere of light from the generator followed him, flashed around the corridor junction, along the walls in their grayish-black shrouds, up and over the ceiling, ethereal ghosts fleeing the presence of the living.

A moment more, and then the mysterious signals were again heard - two echoes, aimed at the interstellar night beyond the empty Moon...

Jon wondered what else might lay off along those other, darkened corridors. But this junction was clearly as far as they would be going. Koenig was already leaving, the decision made. Unable, or unwilling? They did not know. Perhaps they never would...

Outside, the shadows had moved, the sun angle climbing. Jon managed to turn, to look back whence they had just come, at that door - and how scarred and pitted, they could now see, it was! - still rudely shoved ajar, and the blunt words still discernible upon it.


There arose within him the oddest feeling, almost a compulsion, that he really ought to go over there and close it once more...

And he might well have done so, or at least tried, but for the touch of Annette's heavy gauntlet upon his; this conveying that Koenig had not stopped or even slowed, still in retreat, bounce after bounce, towards the waiting Eagle.

"That poor man," she murmured. "What it must've cost him, to come back here..."

"Yes," flatly, that oh-so-fleeting sensation fading from him.

"Can you read him, at all?"


"Not even if he's - hiding his thoughts, somehow?"

"Oh, I know he is. Not from you or me - but from himself..."

As the Eagle lifted from the ancient regolith - this now churned with ribbed bootprints that would never change, never be disturbed - Koenig took it in a long low circling trajectory, the higher sun angle forcing the shadows, mountainous and manmade alike, to recede before it.

Behind them, revealed on the cockpit monitors, lay a plain of devastation.

Those many "eyes" were no more than illusion, vacant portals seeing nothing. And the omnipresent moondust was immediately, and gruesomely, explained - they'd been breached. No wonder, then, they hadn't landed on one of those seemingly-undamaged platforms - they were suspect, too, or worse; perhaps no longer able to withstand the weight of the Eagle, and they would've plunged straight through, to certain catastrophe, had they tried...

So, just what had happened? What manner of disaster? Were the last of the Eagles, with their all-precious cargo, frantically lifting to the black horizons, even as entire precincts of the base were giving way, exploding, behind them?

And all of that pulverized lunar rock and dust and debris - much of it blown out into space, easily escaping the weak gravitational pull of the Moon...but enough still remaining behind to slowly fall back towards the surface, raining down upon the shattered ruins, drawing softly, closely about its domes and walkways an ominous cloak of finality...

Over the radio circuit, Annette quite audibly gasped.

The men followed her gauntlet's pointing finger, saw on the monitors what she had seen.

If the other Eagles had escaped, one at least had not. It lay smashed, broken, half-smothered in the choking blanket of lunar dust, amidst what little remained of the launch pad it had never left.

Beyond this sobering eyrie of the dead, the Eagle of the living climbed for altitude, up and then away.

The grainy, pummeled lunar surface lay far below, dwindling ever smaller. Ahead the terminator loomed, ominous and absolute, dividing lunar day and night.

The accelerating Eagle glided soundlessly beyond, back towards the darkness of interstellar space.

Within the command module - save for the nominal murmurings of its instrumentation - all was quiet, its three occupants having retreated deep within themselves; no words spoken, none even remotely possible...

The relative course and speed of the Eagle were taking it away...only a vast curve of pockmarked grayish-black visible by now, a pale wash of sunlight spilling across it, relayed from another of the onboard cameras; and soon not even that...farther and still farther away...

Beneath his heavy gauntlets, Koenig's twin-controls stirred, rousing him from his own inner solitude. The boy wanted them! All right, then...and he acquiesced; while, at that selfsame moment, something elsewhere in the cabin caught his eye...

Long an indispensable asset of the Eagles' already-considerable multi-purpose equipage, was the battery of onboard cameras each vessel carried.

They were endlessly versatile, capable of being used individually or in any number of combinations, operable either by crew members or even Main Mission Control itself.

Most often, though, they operated automatically - usually independent of one another - and recorded everything, be it above or below, forward or astern. Their view-fields, stored or real-time, could be accessed with the proper code and displayed on any or all of the cockpit monitors.

Any one of them could also sound a warning...

...Koenig had heard the soft ping in his headphones. Now he looked, identified the small blinking red light and, reaching over, carefully punched in the access code he alone knew. The monitor nearest him answered at once, the video variously losing, gaining definition, blurring in and out of focus...

Presently the other monitors shifted. While most continued to follow the real-time retreat of the Moon, one showed a certain carefully-focused image.

A raw open wound, an enormous malignancy, ugly, menacing, a bottomless abyss.

A massive molten maw, reddish-orange, abrupt against the darkness surrounding it, deepening even further to an at-last-unfathomable red.

The color of inchoate terror.

The color of blood...

It's over, Jon thought, seized by a pang of deep intuition so visceral that he briefly - literally - couldn't breathe.

No one will even go there again...we really are the last...

Time continued to pass. Jon still held the controls of the Eagle. From across the way, Koenig was watching him, becoming aware of a sound; a quiet murmuring, in his padded headset.

A beat or two, and realization came. Of course. He's talking to her...speaking to the space-vehicle just as he would to any of his brombees...or the lithe little guinga, Koovah, or even that young, nervous male jalandar...back there at Mahtab Bagh.

The older and wiser man quietly marveled at the conduct, the composure of the boy...responding as he was, to the manifestly-unfamiliar that surrounded him, in the comfortable exotic vernacular of what - before today - was the only world he'd even known.

At the Mahtab Bagh landing platform, Jon disembarked, alone. Annette, wanting to be with her parents for a time, was going home to Next Valley Over, after which Koenig and Eagle 23 would return to the valley of the town. Both of them needed some time did he...

It was a relief to be in his own clothes again, shedding that restrictive spacesuit, much as a janata sloughed off the thick winter coat for which it had no more use in the springtime. Even so, a certain cloying sensation lingered, disturbingly, along his skin.

Koenig cautioned both of them to take care in moving around the Eagle module, transitioning back to the increased pull of Terra Alphan gravity...

He wanted to keep his suit glove, with its coating of grayish moondust. Koenig listened, the Eagle carried only temporary means, proper resources were available in the town. Annette asked for her glove also. The older man said that he would see to it personally...

He declined to linger, to watch the Eagle take to the sky again. When he came round beyond the storage structure, he halted.

Zinga was there.

Or, was it...?

No, she was already sidling over to him from the leafy shadows, her soft muzzle seeking his shoulder, the warm little bursts of air from her nostrils tickling his ear.

For a moment his lips thinned, eyes squeezed shut, facial muscles struggled. Between her and him there were things no one else knew.

And he felt he somehow understood now why it was that she was skittish, whenever an Eagle was anywhere around.

Then she was gently nudging his arm, taking the tomatls when they appeared, slowly, from his hand, munching them quietly. No, he couldn't fool her, he'd never been able to.

Almost without knowing, in that strange way of his, he could sense that his parents were home. He could not face either of them. Not yet. Zinga was company enough, softly clip-clopping along, upon the riding path.

The land rose and leveled before them, his steps presently turning him away from the direction of the homestead, leading him along another, different way.

Presently, Zinga wandered off into the shade to idly graze, as they came to the place...

Breeze-ruffled grasses surrounded him sitting there, knees pulled up to his chin, for a very long time; or so it seemed, at least.

He let his eyes close.

So many feelings, so many emotions were pulling him apart inside, he could feel none of them.

Then his hand was reaching for something he'd carried with him. Unfolding the wrappings with care, he drew forth the small and slender object and gently placed it upon the headstone that held no name... had simply appeared, from out of the anonymous darkness of those empty corridors, floating slowly, languidly, into the halo of light from their generator.

He hadn't any notion as to what it was, at least not initially; allowing his thickly-gloved hand to merely follow it, having no idea whether he could otherwise guide it to him...

...but here it was, safely stored and then retrieved from a zippered pocket of his spacesuit: a writing stylus of some form, he'd afterwards adjudged; brought back from the Moon, the wandering Moon...

Somewhere back there, amongst the masses of fragrant foliage, was the grave of Rani: he could think of no better guardian for the sister he loved, and never knew.

The wandering Moon...

Visions of that bleached and shattered skeleton swam before many bones...

He was part of that distant, heartsick mirage, and so too was she...

And there and then - at that very moment - the warm sunlit air, the scented breezes, the peace of Mahtab Bagh itself, failed him.

A haunting chill shook him, the chill of that endless lunar night that had entered his bones; the weight of it bent his back and slumped his shoulders, all sound in his throat strangled; and he buried his face in his hands.

FOUR: What Happened After

...They will find my sites of townships - not the cities that I set there.
They will rediscover rivers - not my rivers heard at night.
By my own old marks and bearings they will show me how to get there,
By the lonely cairns I builded they will guide my feet aright...

Below the Jura Mountains, the summits of its distinctive double-crest crowned with winter's deep snows - beyond the foothills of Tenerife, spilling in multi-hued and gentle folds down to the vast rippling grasslands of the valley - was the town.

Jon could see it, seated across the throttle boxes in the offsider's station of the Eagle's cockpit, hands composed across his lap; and although he'd been there with his parents, albeit infrequently, as a boy he nonetheless could not believe how much it had changed...

He listened to Alan Carter's voice as it spoke over the open Main Mission audio link, assured, confident; turned from the forward viewport to observe how much at ease his father was in the command seat, hands settled upon the controls as though they'd always been there.

Beyond those viewports, vast streamers of pearlescent snow and amethyst and magenta rushed past their Eagle, racing the winds aloft...

Elsewhere, settled in her seat in the passenger pod, Alix Carter was absorbed in her own thoughts. She had quietly fretted, these many days, over both of her men. They had disappeared for several nights at a time, the two of them, camping out in the woodlands surrounding the Mahtab Bagh homestead, much as they'd done when Jon was little and the bonds between father and son first sprouted and grew.

All of that looked to have ruptured, in the immediate wake of another Eagle's return from the darkness beyond Terra Alpha. She'd never been comfortable with Alan's edict, even while understanding what lay back of his reasoning for it; and now it loomed over all three of them.

Even as a child, she knew, Jon was sensitive. Always happy being outdoors, he refused to leave the house; able to sleep soundly, he shunned being in a dark room or even closing his eyes when it was clear he needed to sleep.

She'd tried to help him, to shelter him, make him feel safe again. The Moon had taken all of that away...

Soft noises nearby roused her back into the present. There, comfortably nested and carefully harnessed in her safety-seat, her tiny slumbering namesake was gurgling tiny bubbles of air. She was still getting her brain around the notion of being a new grandmother. Alix beamed with admiration, and no small measure of envy. My Lady, just look at that - ! Calm itself, on her very first flight in an Eagle...

Green lamps flashed yellow, then red; landing imminent...

The town spread itself out before the approaching, rapidly dropping Eagle. There was the landing platform and its familiar cross-shaped pattern of navigation lights, a shimmering seam of glitter marking the center-line.

A scarcely-discernable bump, and the Eagle was on the flight deck. Another bump announced the arrival of the boarding tube, snugly clamping itself to the passenger pod's exterior...

Years before, the pattern of the town was laid down along similar lines; four of them, each a travel tube connecting to the central command-and-control structure at one terminus and an Eagle launch pad at the other.

Positioned to denote the four cardinal directions, they were referenced as "portals."

This was North Portal - Launch Pad One - first to be built and the initial-entry venue to the town, connecting via travel tube to the Medical section. Terra Alpha brimmed with all manner of unknowns; and if anyone coming in from the backcountry was, however unknowingly, carrying something that could pose a danger to themselves or the town it would be found and stopped here, in the triage ward equipped for that very purpose.

Jon looked about as he and his family emerged into the reception area. He'd received the full brief; here, in secured venues like this one, the rules and discipline of the old Moonbase still prevailed. An operative from the Security section, her zippered left sleeve purple, rose from her desk and smiled as greetings were exchanged. Admiring, even cooing over baby Alix Annette, she went on smiling.

"They're expecting you in Pediatrics," said she, "you can go right on through. I'll need Jon for a few moments, though. His security profile needs updating..."

So Jon remained.

"Your commlock, please?" she asked pleasantly, accepting it as he took it from his belt. She sat, fitting the commlock into the desk port and then tapping rapidly on her computer keyboard. A lamp blinked from red to green. "There we are," handing the instrument back to him. "And this should take care of anything on your itinerary, while you're here," arranging the small photo-ID badge marked VISITOR. "Alexis Davidovich is on duty in Pediatrics now, you ask for him." She paused. "It's good to see you again. Welcome..."

The corridors were bright, airy and in good order. Jon stopped before a communications post. For the briefest instant he was back there again, on the Moon...then the brief catch of breath in his throat and there was his reflection in the video screen, its test card peering back at him. He steadied himself, and continued on his way.

Presently he arrived at the care-unit, its doorway open, someone within. He knocked, and the duty operative straightened, turned in response.

Skin the color of deep, warm honey, with eyes to match it; a certain delicacy to his features that now brightened to a relaxed and easy smile, as he took in the sight of his visitor.

"I was told to find Alexis Davidovich?"

"And so you have," beamed the medical technician, "Alexis Kano - most people just call me Alexis," and even his voice held a warm and soothing timbre.

"Then so will I - it's Jon," and they shook hands. "That name...?"

"It's a patronymic name," explaining, "for my father. Mother says it's - tradition. He died before I was born; I never knew him..."


"Your parents came by earlier," said Alexis, "and I believe I have someone you know here..." He carefully lifted the swathed little bundle into his arms. "She's enchanting," as the tiny face peeped out from the folds of her baby-blanket, "just the picture of health..."

Jon brightened at the sight of her. "Mahtab Bagh will be hers, some day. It's my job to take good care of it for her."

Softly, "Everything changes, doesn't it?"

"So much..." and they both fell silent, rendered mute in their admiration for the little Terra Alphan.

Alexis looked up from his tiny charge, and pondered the countenance of her father. "Now, what about you, Jon?" gently. "You seem just a bit off color to me. Let's have a look, while you're here."

He moved to settle the baby in her bassinet, his arm in its zippered white sleeve directing Jon to the nearby diagnostic couch.

"That's it, lean back. All the way, please. Just breathe easy. Relax. I'll not be long..."

As he worked Alexis spoke of how his instructors, including his mentor, Dr Nuñez, had expounded at considerable length about the mandates, and challenges, the Medical department had faced at Moonbase - mental and physical alike - during the course of the runaway Moon's uncontrolled journey through deep and unknown reaches of the universe.

"...being 'out on a limb,' they described it," said he.

"I guess we still are," wincing slightly, reacting to the subtle twitches of micro-currents from the sensors attached to him, "out on a limb..."

"It's a new world," said Alexis. "There. All done. Just a few little adjustments. You're going to be fine," smiling.

Jon rose from the couch, aware of a certain odd tingling along some of his nerves. "You've an excellent bedside manner, doctor," wryly.

"Medical technician, for now - but, in time, I hope," said he. "I think you'll find town life interesting - different, certainly, but interesting just the same. You'll drop in more often - to visit, of course?"

"Oh, of course!" half-mockingly. "Really, though, I'd like to. Seeing as how you've already won over my girl!"

They laughed briefly, shook hands again. Alexis was still smiling as he cautiously lifted the baby girl into his arms. "He's a good're lucky to have him!" A tiny rush of happy gurgling ensued. "And he's right, it still goes on," as the sounds of her father's footsteps faded away down the corridor...

The small travel-tube car whooshed along, its track carrying it away from the Medical section...and towards the inner precincts of the town, and the cluster of facilities anchored by North Portal.

An attention tone sounded and the car smoothly slid to a halt, depositing its lone passenger as its access doors moved aside for Jon to emerge.

Following the directions given him, he presently arrived at his next destination.

Beneath the signage saying RECORDS UNIT, the double doors were open and inviting admittance. In the center of the circular lobby area a large world-globe stood, of a size that one could easily walk up to. Jon did so, puzzled by its unfamiliar continents and seas even as he admired the care evidenced in its design and construction.

He stepped over to one of several displays. Professor Bergman accepts his Nobel Prize for Physics, from HM The King of Sweden, read the caption card of a framed photograph. A glass case held the award itself: nestled in a pad of a soft fabric, the heavy gold medallion gleamed, the profile of a man, one Alfred Nobel, graven upon it.

Are you ready, Professor?...

I will be...

"What was he like, the Professor? What sort of man?"

He'd heard, from somewhere behind him, the soft footsteps. Alibe appeared beside him, her voice crisp and officious, with a certain engaging resonance; the town's archivist, her zippered left sleeve was yellow.

"Everyone admired him," said she, reflection softening her ebon features. "Losing him, broke all our hearts..."


"You've been admiring the Earth Globe, I see," said she, turning towards it. "We have one like it, of Terra Alpha, in Main Mission now. But this is the original, that once stood in the Commander's office..."

So this is the Earth, as the great sphere moved easily beneath his hand.

"There are a few topographic errors in it," she admitted, "here and here, for example," so indicating. "I've always believed its purpose to have been more symbolic, ceremonial - when Moonbase was first dedicated, perhaps - rather than practical." She knew the archives included many such maps far more accurate than this one, but it wasn't necessary to say so; at least, not at the moment. Better for some later time...

Alibe lingered by her desk, her gaze held by a small framed photograph. She lifted it gently.

"I like that face," said her visitor. A smiling man, holding a model of an antique bi-plane.

"So do I..." as the memory returned to her. "Oh, he was clowning around so, that day...wouldn't keep still for a moment...whenever I raised my camera, he came swooping in at me like that, with one of his planes. He built beautiful models, he had a sizable collection of them. We have it here. And all the while, neither of us could stop laughing...he was such fun to be with, Mike him, flying and life were two of a kind...he could always make me laugh! Before, and...after... You couldn't be unhappy around him..."

There, upon the desk, was the selfsame model plane - a deep glossy red in hue - as the one he held, in the photo.

There, too, reposed a neat stack of boxed videodiscs. Alibe reached over, gathered them unto herself; this was what her guest had come to see.

"I've arranged them in chronological order," said she. "They'll self-activate, once you've placed them into the viewer. It's quite straightforward. You may wish to make such adjustments as will suit you, after that," placing them in his hands.

"Is this all of it?"

"This will give you a good beginning," said she.

He briefly browsed through them, noting the subject-labeling for each; VIP/OBSERVATION EAGLE RECORD and MARS SATELLITE FEED RECORD being amongst the more provocative. What they all shared, though, was another label, clearly affixed at some later time.


"There's no more need," quietly, before he could even parse the query. "There never will be, ever again..."

"I don't want there to be any more secrets..."

She then directed him towards the viewing rooms, watching after him as he presently disappeared behind the sliding door of one of them.

She'd almost offered to sit in with him, and then remembered John Koenig's response when she'd asked him about that; he'd shaken his head, no. He needs to see them, alone...

Her eyes closed, as she sank back down into her chair. Those records, carefully preserved these many years, were definitely not for one in search of solace...

...the approaching footsteps alerted her, and she stood. Jon was returning to the lobby. How much time had passed...?

He was pale, all color drained from his face, eyes glazed, was as if he wasn't entirely there, in the room. She knew he wasn't, and why.

Without a word, he placed the video-discs in her hands. She gently settled him into the chair, and fetched another so that she could sit down with him. She poured, offered the glass of water. Her hand settled gently upon one of his. He did not speak, nor did she...

...Later on they were outside, in the fresh air and the sunlight and the cooling shade of the trees. Perhaps, Alibe thought, these could do more for him than she could. She'd managed to coax from him that he was headed to Main Mission Tower next, and she offered to accompany him there if he so wished, or to have someone go along with him. He knew she was trying to be kind, and said so, as he demurred; he'd be all right...

As her visitor moved off, something else caught Alibe's eye; something up in those trees...

There, amidst the cloudy canopy, was the bird. Snowy white plumage, tail and wings tipped with black, it was exquisitely beautiful. From beneath a crimson-bright tufted crown of feathers, two bright beady eyes peered about, presently coming to focus upon the human watching it from below.

She briefly nodded.

Follow him...!

As though understanding somehow, the bird leapt from the twisting chapada vine upon which it had perched, a blur of churning wings, and was lost to the sky.

The act of walking is, for the most part, an autonomic one, needing no overt prompting of the brain to initiate it.

Walking was popular in the town. Not merely as a means of getting from place to place, but something to be enjoyed purely for its own sake...outside, beneath the warm sunlight and the endless variety of colors in the sky, amidst the touch of the breezes and the surrounds of the open air...

All of it was peace to Jon, as he walked along the footpath. He needed it. His brain yet overflowed with images writ of disaster, and of darkness.

Once more he was gazing out through the forward viewport of an Eagle; listening, slowly coming to realize the voice calling out over the radio circuit - was that of his father...

...Moonbase Alpha, Eagle 1...Moonbase Alpha, Eagle 1...Alpha, Eagle 1, do you copy?... Alpha, Eagle 1, do you copy?... Eagle 1 calling on all channels... This is Eagle 1, declaring Red Alert emergency - total loss of signal...Alpha, are you there? Can you answer me, Alpha?

If you can't - if you can only hear me, then know this: huge explosion, direction NDA2...

...explosion, direction Area 2...enormous fireball, came right through the glare shields...

...Meta Probe destroyed, Space Dock's all gone...

...You've been pushed out of orbit...You're moving away from the Earth...

I'm tracking you, and am following you...

I say again: the Moon is no longer in Earth orbit! Is anyone there, Alpha? Are you still there??...

The trauma of those terrible moments enveloped him still; and, as a sitting bench came into view, the full force of it finally overtook him...and in the process, rendering him oblivious to the subtle rustlings of treetops and foliage some distance away...

The muted beep of a commlock, a hushed sotto voce...

"Get me Tanya Aleksandraevna - urgent..."


"He's here, in the park. He just dropped onto one of the benches, and - well - he's throwing up. Should assistance be called?"

"Negative. Continue to watch and observe. I've alerted Security, and he'll be met at the travel tube. We'll take over from there."

"Understood. Out..."

Main Mission Tower was the central structure of the town, and its tallest; as such it provided a useful landmark, visible from most any direction in the valley.

From its earliest days, the four travel tubes - each running in from the outer regions and their launch pads - met at its base. It had been built up in stages after that, over time.

The town's main power-plants and communications switchgear came to be located there; the roof above its topmost level bristled with the numerous antennae of sophisticated sensors, and the distinctive dish-shapes of revolving radars, tracing circles of endless vigilance in the valley air...all controlled by the town's primary command-and-control venue, designated Main Mission Terra Alpha.

It was also, as Jon discovered, a realm of the highest-level security; for a purple-sleeved guard met him almost at the very moment he stepped out of the travel tube, to escort him to the command complex.

The elevator ascended; presently it halted, the door sliding open.

"Will you wait here, please?"

"Thank you," said he.

The guard nodded courteously, and the door closed.

He looked around. He was in a small room, a gallery glassed in on one side, with several chairs provided for seating. And such a view, that glass provided: he found himself overlooking the work-floor of Main Mission Terra Alpha itself...

For so important a facility it seemed remarkably small. Why, the arrangement of work desks - similar in their computer keypads, video displays and such, yet not quite strictly identical (so too their mismatched chairs; some padded and upholstered, some not) - provided duty stations for only - six people?

That was all? One expected to see far more, and indeed there were more there present today; all were in duty uniform, most of them with zippered left sleeves of flame-red, with others in yellow and rust and orange - the color of his father's uniform, the one he'd found packed away in that small hidden storage cubby at Mahtab Bagh...

One uniform, however, had no color-code at all. But that head of dark, tousled hair looked more than a little familiar. It moved and, sure enough, the face - and a startled one, just now - of Guido Verdeschi came into view.

So did that of another, at the console next to his; its owner quickly arose, rushing to some unseen point beyond Jon's immediate line of sight...

...but not for long: the elevator doors flew aside and Tanya Kano swept into the gallery, the quickening energy of an amiable whirlwind close about her.

"Alexei said you'd be stopping by!" enveloping Jon in a joyous embrace, "Let's look at you," then holding him at arms' length, sighing appreciatively at the sight of him.

So much like Alan...but, those eyes? Oh, those belong to Alix, without a doubt! -

Below, on the control floor, Guido was briskly tapping away at his commlock. Jon answered the signal from his own call-set, and the former's cheerful voice emanated from it: "Down from the clouds, at last! Don't you have stairs, at Mahtab Bagh?" this alluding to the stairway that connected the viewers' gallery to Main Mission proper, and designated for emergency uses only.

"I don't think I'm allowed, just yet. Sorry."

Undeterred, "I'm off duty in awhile. You wait for me - "

"Until then you're on duty, Guido," Tanya reminded him, "so pay attention. Listen to what Kate is telling you. You'll need to, if you're going to make operations-team," ringing off.

"He hasn't changed much, then, has he?" said Jon, arms folded.

"He's like his father, too," smiling. "Come, sit," motioning, "let me show you what we have here..."

As she described the layout of the control center in more detail, she also told of its history; for in its very name, Main Mission Terra Alpha remembered the past, even as it looked to the future...

She spoke of the original Main Mission, strategically located in Moonbase Alpha's central tower and its most prominent landmark. After the Moon was roughly blown out of Earth orbit, a second control facility was established below the lunar surface - activated for emergencies, she said, when needed - and designated the Command Center. "Commander Koenig eventually made the decision to make this our new permanent control center," said she. "We were simply too vulnerable above ground, and adrift in space as we were. Not everyone was happy with that decision. But it had to be done."

"Were other such areas also moved in that way?"

Yes, she said, the most critical; medical, life support, living quarters, "places like that - and emergency shelters. We already had a considerable network of underground tunnels, below the base, many dating from the time of its construction; we overhauled the most viable, and then moved in."

Jon was silent for a moment, pondering how to put his question. There seemed no tactful way, short of actually saying it: "And, when the time came to - "

Tanya's attractive Slavic features softened. She had earlier heard from Alibe.

"To leave?" gently, grasping his hand. "It was all arranged, and always had been. Everyone knew what to do. So we did..."

She moved on, seeking perhaps to lighten the mood somewhat, describing the duty wardrobe with its distinctive zippered color-coded left sleeves and what each color signified; even to discussing minor differences between those worn by the men, which included tabbed color-coded collars ("They seemed to like them!"), and those of the women, which did not. "We thought it more comfortable," said she. All of them, though, included an ID photo worn upon the tunic ("Security insisted..."), not dissimilar to the visitor-badge Jon himself wore. "Simple, comfortable lines, easy to maintain," said she.

His gaze moved on, studying the clustered video-monitors facing the duty stations; these displayed various views of the different sectors of the town and the surrounding countryside; and, in turn, each of the four launch pads - some of which had Eagles poised in readiness upon their flight-decks.

"No one remembers anymore who first named it the Big Screen," with some amusement, from Tanya, "but we still do! It's wonderfully adaptive, and it sees near-constant use."

TIME OF DAY was counted in hours, minutes and seconds.

"The Solar Clock," as the Big Screen shifted from its test-card, to show the current progress of day and night across the world-map of Terra Alpha.

She rose and walked over to the glass, looking out. A tactful interval and Jon came over to stand there with her.

"One afternoon, someone opened a window," said she, quietly, noting the neat row of wide glassy panes set into the wall on the far side of the control-room floor, "and through it soft breezes blew, into the room. We were all too stunned to move, at first...until everyone realized this was real fresh air, coming in - not rushing out. We weren't on the Moon anymore - that part of our lives was over. That's the moment, I think, when we truly knew." She paused, then, "What was more disconcerting, were the birds..."

Surprised, "Birds?"

"M'm. Once they realized they could, they just invited themselves in, whenever even a single window was left open. And they seemed to like it here, so much so that some even began nesting! There were any number of secluded little corners that seemed to suit them. We just leave them be, to hatch their young. New life - an omen of good luck! You know something of that, I think..."

"She's already taken to Alexis," smiling. "I think I'm just a little jealous!"

"I'm planning to look in, before dinner," said she. "Alexei will be coming off duty around that time. I'm glad you came by,'re welcome to stay here as long as you'd like, and I'll send Guido up the moment he's free..."

Guido opted for a different travel tube, to carry him and Jon away from Main Mission Tower. They exited into bright sunshine and the rising afternoon breeze, this already putting to flight the clouds of the morning.

The pair ambled easily along one of the town's many paved footpaths, and conversation flowed easily between them.

"It looks like the Moonbase," said he.

"What does?"

"The town," said Jon. "We were approaching the landing area this morning, and it just up and came to me. It's different - much smaller, more open space and such - still..."

Guido shrugged. "Well, why not? They have the plans - all the old blueprints, diagrams, drawings and such. It makes a certain sense, doesn't it? That they'd start off with what they already knew?"

He even provided an example:

"There was this - sort of rotating computer station," in the lunar Main Mission, gesturing with his hands in aid of trying to describe it. "I've only seen pictures, but it looks to have been quite a contraption. They didn't have it in the old Command Center, though - didn't fit, someone said..."

"It seems strange, then, that it wasn't rebuilt here."

"Not so strange," quietly. "Tanya was her husband's duty station."

"Alexis' father?"

"M'm. She would've been sitting there, right there opposite the thing, staring at it all day. It would only have upset her. So they didn't do it..."

It was South Portal - Launch Pad Three - that served as anchor for the town's more private realms.

A variety of recreation facilities had been established; and whenever possible, they were situated outdoors. The swimming pool was immensely popular, along with groomed sports-fields, adaptable to a wide variety of games.

Here, also, was to be found the Residency.

It was a realm of pergolas, fashioned from various iterations of stone and wood and even smoothed shaped concrete pillars.

With various hedge-rows and other such plantings flanking them on either side, they offered shade from a hot afternoon, or respite from a sudden thunderstorm - amongst other pursuits...

Walkways connected them, leisurely meandering this way and that...wending their way all around the modest tracts of dwelling-places that long ago had been sited and first arose there...

It was a simple house; smooth, thick cement walls (and of a fine quality it was, too) insulating it against the extremes of heat and cold, as elsewhere in the town; clean lines and spacious uncluttered interiors; broad windows placed just so to admit the wondrous scenery and freshening breezes of their valley home.

In his office, stood the white Elda chair with its flared back and coiled padding, the pair of Pileo floor lamps flanking the desk, the stacks of neatly-bound handwritten journals and the nearby table, upon which sat a curved white platter brimming with a variety of the latest fresh produce from the town's test gardens.

In her office, were the collected first-edition encyclopædia volumes carefully grouped on the shelves, the pair of comfortable padded chairs, the elaborate pen-and-ink-sketched artwork custom-framed on the wall above the desk and its Sorella lamp, with the mounted antique microscope of the Donnelmyer Award sitting off to one side.

Through connecting panel doors was the glassed-in studio, where she did her sculpturing against a panoramic vista of the rolling Tenerife foothills and the distant looming cols of the Jura beyond, across which light and shadow and all manner of colors continually played in the course of the languid Terra Alphan days.

Intent as she was upon her latest project, Helena didn't hear the footfalls stealing quietly into the studio, didn't realize until the soft sensation of breathing subtly disturbing the simple upsweep of her hair...

"What's this one going to be?" asked her husband, as his arms carefully slid around her.

The bulky block of wood stood upon her worktable, revealing a sensuous deep grain and vivid heartwood color. A scattering of sculptor's chisels and other implements sat within her easy reach.

"I don't know," said she, the ghost of a smile touching her lips just before they turned to brush his. "It hasn't spoken to me yet. But it will. It's early yet, isn't it?"

"A few of the setup activities are underway, they finished digging out the pit for the barbeque a while ago. Some folks from the outstations have arrived, and more are due in later on."

"Did we come to a decision on what we're bringing?"

"Think we'd better have a little talk about that," his fingers already loosening the sash of her sculptor's smock. She giggled a little. There'd be no more work today, at least. Tomorrow would be soon enough...

West Portal - Launch Pad Four - was Eagle country.

It was conceded, early on in their planning, that the Alphans could not possibly hope to rebuild on the same grand scale that had produced Moonbase Alpha itself; and nowhere was this so readily obvious than in what to do about the Eagles. It was the subject of many discussions. Even the original "working group" had been unable to reach a satisfactory consensus.

They were far more than just a versatile, modular, workhorse; they were a virtual community treasure.

Two basic tenets, though, everyone was agreed upon; and these remained absolute: that they be kept under shelter, and kept up to date. A flexible footprint was accordingly laid out, one adaptable to changing needs and conditions, for the Terra Alpha facilities to house and maintain them.

The launch pads themselves were pushed farther out, into the greater surrounding open countryside, as an extra precaution against emergency and misadventure. From them, each individual Eagle was periodically taken up and its flight-readiness evaluated, according to the master schedule that had been devised.

One noteworthy facility - designated the White Room - meticulously prepared those Eagles specifically fitted to go out into space. These so-called White Room Eagles attended to the various satellites placed earlier in various orbits around their new homeworld, and also tested out new equipment that came off the high-tech design tables of the Engineering section, which also made its headquarters there.

John Koenig had selected a White Room Eagle - Eagle 23 - for transporting himself, Annette and Jon between Terra Alpha and the distant returning Moon...

The cairn seemed, at first reckoning, little more than a squat and unruly pile of rocks and stones, their surfaces exposed to the punishment of the elements, cracked and pitted, scraped and gouged. It stood higher than Jon or Annette, and they had to crane their necks somewhat to see its topmost summit.

They studied the inscription on the plaque cemented at its base. OPERATION EXODUS, a number, DAYS SINCE LEAVING EARTH ORBIT; and they marveled at the size of that number.

Beyond, lay the cemetery. Today there were a great many people wandering about, alone or in pairs or groups, admiring the beauty of the lotus reflecting pool, pausing to gaze down at their reflections in its azure waters; at one with the peacefulness of the smooth lawns and the soft canopies of the trees along the perimeter of the grounds.

They walked amongst those flat, inscribed gravestones; every plot had fresh flowers and various small, tangible remembrances of lives lived, and lost, long ago.

Beyond the pool, at the farthest point opposite the rocky lunar obelisk - for of the Moon itself was it made, rocks and boulders of varying shapes and sizes, carried in the Eagles as ballast - a small structure stood. The elaborate fretting of its arched entryway echoed the reflecting pool's multi-lobed lotus corners, Annette noted, as she and Jon walked beneath it.

The simple room was open on two sides, to admit fresh air, and was dominated by the large topographical map of the two hemispheres of the Moon.



In silence they absorbed those words and their meaning. And as one they turned, she in one direction and he in the other, to the walls opposite that framed the maps and the words.


And the names...

...Lowry, William. Maine, Blake. Picard, Lew. Ryan, Michael. Torens, Raymond. Zoref, Anton...

Names neither of them had heard before; and there were more.

Names upon walls, names without headstones. Realization dawned: this was a court of the missing, of those lost and never recovered. Here, banked with flowers, they too were remembered.

The couple wandered back out into the sunshine, and the rows of markers. They found themselves beside the grave of David Kano; two enormous bouquets of flowers had been laid there, a handwritten note - Batiushka, from your loving Alexei - attached to one of them.

Not so far away, Tanya Kano was visiting another gravesite.



The famous space-pioneer; her great-uncle and her inspiration, visiting her on the Moon when it had blown out from Earth.

A forceful personality, leavened with ebullient humor and a sheer zest for living; a voluble combination nonetheless infectious to all those about him - including the Eagle pilots of Reconnaissance, to whom he'd endeavored to pass on his knowledge and experience of the unknown...

Her eyes strayed to the inscription she had chosen for him; taken from a verse written by a brother-cosmonaut, he'd told her. "Remember it, my little Tasha," his pet name for her, "and you will not be so lonely..."

She lingered over the Cyrillic lettering, her mind translating:

All right this is isolation

From Earth no communication

But I have this to give

We are going to live

His memory lived on, in the great-niece who'd adored him from childhood; and his name, too, lived on, in her son...

Some while after, Jon and Annette came upon the gravesite of Professor Victor Bergman; many flowers had preceded those they had brought from Mahtab Bagh and Next Valley Over.

"I liked his words," said she, carefully arranging them. "I liked his voice, too."

"So did I," said he. "I wish we could've known him..."

Annette slid her arm into his, and they presently moved on.

There were, situated here and there across the lawns, a number of benches for sitting; and Jon was presently surprised to come upon, seated in one such, his mother. She smiled, rose to meet them.

"How are your parents?" embracing Annette.

"They're all right," said she.

"We're seeing them at dinner," said she. Then she turned to her son, enfolding him as only a mother ever could...

"Did you find what you were searching for?" whispering it.

"A start, at least," as they parted. "I don't know that I'll ever understand...but I am trying..."

She cupped his face in her hands. Then her gaze was aligning with his, for he was overlooking her shoulder. Something beyond seemed to have drawn his notice.

"He's visiting his mates," said she, quietly.

Some ways distant, near a corner of the reflecting pool, her husband stood, his thoughts elsewhere. There at his feet, where their marker-stones lay side by side, were Eric Sparkman and Frank Warren - the crew of the Meta Probe.

So very long ago had never flown, nor did either of them live long enough to fly it...yet in their own way they'd taken the first steps that would one day lead here, to Terra Alpha.

Annette asked if she could "borrow" Alix for a while, and so Jon accordingly excused himself. His eyes continued to follow his father; and at length, and a most discreet interval, so did he...

There, some ways off, was Alibe, carefully settling flowers upon a grave. The blooms and blossoms were mostly unfamiliar to him, town-grown perhaps, but those hues of deep glossy red were not. He as yet knew nothing of the gruesome death of Mike Baxter, yet another of his father's "mates;" only of a legacy of loss and grief, and of fond remembrance...

He himself had paused, beside yet another marker. From a corner of his eye he'd spied his father lingering earlier, alone, at this spot, for some little while; and he was curious as to why.

The flowers had been carefully laid by the stone. Still fresh, and familiar too; he knew their names - including the "Mahtab Bagh pink," that grew nowhere else.

Regina Kesslann, still mystified, reading the name inscribed on the stone. Who was she?...

Sometime after this, a distinctive, piercing whistle in the air announced the arrival of a rather winded Guido - "Had to help the folks," said he. A soft whirr of feathers presently materialized into the plump little songbird - snowy white plumage, tail and wings tipped with black - breathlessly alighting upon his shoulder.

Presently its bright beady eyes focused upon Jon and the returned Annette.

Inquisitive, and uncannily prescient, those eyes...

"I've just thought of something," said Guido. "You all know each other, don't you? - "

...and from deep within those red irises, a dim and distant image was flickering and a curious glow was emanating forth - swelling, intensifying -

"My brother, Marek..."

There stood before them a tall and slim young man, with a certain provocative resemblance to Guido. Beyond that, however, Marek Verdeschi was strikingly different: his russet hair was groomed straight back from his face, coming to a carefully-combed low ridge that ran vertically along the back of his skull. A peak of the same color deftly accented his high forehead, and pointed sideburns similarly limned his cheekbones.

Perhaps most striking of all, were the brows - delicate rows of small dark bubble-like features - that swept back and highlighted thoughtful, deep-blue eyes.

Not at all as human eyebrows were; but then again, neither was he.

"Hello," he spoke, for the first time; the faintest trace of an inflection. "I've so looked forward to seeing you both, I meant to be here to help welcome you..."

He put out his hand, which Jon accordingly shook in the customary gesture of greeting.

"That bird was you," said he, wonderingly.

"Molecular transformation," nodding. "Mother taught me - taught both of us, in fact," gesturing in Guido's direction; the latter shrugged noncommittally.

"Does it have a name?" Annette asked, "the bird?"

"It's called an - Araripe manakin," pronouncing it carefully.

"I've never seen its like before," said she.

"It's from Earth, really," said he, "and very, very rare."

"Like my brother," from the beaming Guido, re-entering the discussion. Both of them were in duty uniform; Marek's flame-colored left sleeve indicated he was attached to Main Mission.

"My apologies for being late," said Marek. "I was obligated elsewhere..."

"More time for tendering my admiration," cannily, from Guido as he deftly kissed Annette's hand, "to this lovely lady..."

"Guido," giggling, "you're quite incorrigible!" He and Jon had both been amongst her many admirers.

Marek, by contrast, had a certain startled look on his face - as did Jon, although for not quite the same reason...

"You can tell me more, while I'm showing you around," as he took her arm.

"Don't forget what Papa said," calling after the two of them.

"I know, I know," exultantly, "a mound of pasta the size of Vesuvius! - "

"Who, or what, is 'Vesuvius'?" from the puzzled Jon.

"You explain it to him - Ciao!" his voice retreating into the distance.

"Ciao," warily, from Marek, briefly waving after the pair of them. "There's my brother for you. He simply can't settle anywhere for too long, before he's off to somewhere else. Mother just shakes her head, even now. But Papa understands..."

Jon absorbed all of this, and in so doing came to realize - these were Maya Verdeschi's sons, "my boys," she'd called them; different and the same, all at once! And there was something else...

"The Morrows' girl?" genuinely curious. "Really?"

It was Marek's turn to be surprised, and his jaw dropped. "How did you - ?"

"I wasn't prying," quickly. "It's just that - well - I was so close, I couldn't help..." trailing off, feeling as discomfited as Marek also appeared to be.

He shifted to one foot, then the other. "I do like her," he pshawed, those extraordinary eyes downcast. "And no, I - I haven't - that is..."

Jon was sympathetic. "You'll know, when it's time," said he. "I did."

"Did you?" hopefully.


They walked, chatting more easily now.

"Oh, Mother can do far more than I can," Marek was saying. "That'll always be so. I'm only one-half Psychon, of course. What I aim for, with what ability I do possess, is to bring a more precise degree of control - of craftsmanship, if you will - to my transformations. I haven't many - but I am exceedingly good at them."

"And Guido, is he the same?"

Marek stopped, visibly ill at ease. "He's - one-half Psychon, like me - "


"I think I've overstepped again," said Jon.

"No, it isn't you. There's no one in this world, Jon, whom I'm closer to, than my brother. And I don't know what to do..." He took a breath. "Could I talk to you some more, while you're here? About Guido?"

A dull glaze briefly settled over Jon's eyes...

"Because I'm half-Australian, and half-omnimorph," the words falling dully, almost trance-like, from him. Then, recovering somewhat, "and I have got to learn to be more circumspect..."

"This once, I'm glad you're not...and you are correct. I can't really ask anyone else..."

Jon wasn't so sure. "I don't know anything about molecular transformation," shrugging. "Mother has her wishful thinking, but I don't. I didn't inherit it..."

East Portal - Launch Pad Two - anchored the Agricultural Section and, like North Portal (and for much the same reason), had its own specialized quarantine facilities.

Its design grew and evolved from the original Hydroponics facilities of Moonbase Alpha. An ever-evolving complex of cultivated fields and greenhouses - colloquially known as the test farm - it provided most of the food and produce that fed the population of the town. A number of its gardens, and climate-controlled greenhouses, were dedicated to such specific needs as for various medicinal purposes. Others were lifted via Cargo Eagles down to the valley from the various upcountry outstations, Mahtab Bagh and Next Valley Over amongst them.

Tony Verdeschi was amongst its leading lights - and to those who'd known him mostly for his endless efforts to successfully home-brew beer, this was something of a surprise; at least, back at the beginnings of things...

He'd picked up this somewhat peculiar avocation at some juncture or other, during the time he and his older brother Guido were going through astronaut training in the space program. Not so peculiar, really, he much later admitted; it even held a certain appeal for someone like him or his various siblings, growing up as they did, playing in the farm-fields tilled by generations of their family.

He'd even worked up some degree of expertise, by the time Moonbase Alpha came calling; and saw nothing wrong with bringing it along with him during his posting there. No different than any other hobby, he asserted; and to be sure, there were hobbies aplenty amongst the population of the base.

Then the Moon blew out of Earth's orbit; and a thousand other, far more vital, things clamored for his time and attention, as head of Moonbase security. But as the uncontrolled drift through space drew out longer...ever longer...he'd found himself drifting back towards his old beer-brewing pastime and in due course elected to take it up again. It was therapy, of a sort, and gave him something to do, to help quell the restlessness during those quiet hours.

However, everything - from ingredients to equipment - now had to be improvised, sourced from whatever happened to lay close to hand, pushing his knowledge and ingenuity to the limit. The results, predictably, suffered. Even Maya wasn't quite above just a bit of good-natured ribbing...promptly transforming herself into Dr Jekyll's alter-ego - the ominous Mr Hyde - after a very cautious sip of his latest "concoction." Evidently she'd been reading some Robert Louis Stevenson, in the base library...

Yet, for all of that needling he endured over the questionable quality of many such "concoctions," it turned out that he knew quite a bit about food... a subspecies of tomatl carried his family name, as did a local grain variety that proved ideal for making pasta, "the size of Vesuvius" or any other. There was even a small seeded native fruit that testing revealed to be near enough to possessing many properties of the olive to receive its proper name...

Alexis, finally off duty and having collected his dinner, paused to take in the sight of John Koenig - a giddy gaggle of youngsters scampering after him; children with last names like Haines and Ouma, Winters and Carson, N'Dole and Fujita.

Still and forever dedicated to the success of their Terra Alpha colony, along the way he was also learning to enjoy life again, and interacting with the children was a part of that.

To them, the older man was something of a Pied Piper. Nobody was better, they all agreed, when it came to telling campfire stories. The girls, and (it must be admitted) even some of the boys, screamed and crowded around him. Those lanky arms gathered them in, and they felt safe as safe could be...

Presently, Alexis joined Jon and Annette, along with Guido and Marek; they all laughed and raved over the opuntia jam dessert, tasting however sweet or tart one desired, made from ameythst cactus and in shades ranging from blue-purple to mauve-pink.

But they all grew quiet, as Annette told of the journey to and from the Moon in the White Room Eagle. Her husband sat mutely as she described, or tried to, the ruined and abandoned Moonbase...

"I'm still a bit puzzled," said Alexis. "Two signals, you said, going out from the Moonbase," Annette nodding, "yet you spoke of only one. What of the other?"

"He didn't say, and I didn't ask," from Jon. "The signal was aimed at Earth...I thought perhaps there might've been private messages in it..."

Sunset, and twilight time...the very last of the day pausing ever so briefly, poised upon the far mountaintops, before slipping away beyond them.

For those watching from the town on this particular evening, it was a time for taking stock, for seeing where they were. No, they hadn't solved everything, but for a colony that had long been self-sufficient for its basic needs - and making its own luck, when and wherever the universe had so allowed - they'd made a good beginning here...

After the harsh environment and unnatural confinement of the Moon, the endless false hopes, the chaos of a necessarily-rushed Operation Exodus - and the trauma of the Wall of Death - Terra Alpha had been nothing so much as a revelation to its new inhabitants; with its strange skies and stranger terrains, ablaze with colors such as they had never imagined possible...

In the enormous rain-shadow of the sprawling Jura Mountains, where water was a rarity, canyons and washes flashed in an array of fantastic hues and deeply-gouged surfaces as the sunlight streamed down upon them from far above.

Beyond the sheer drop of the Jura Crest, loomed the tortuous enormity of the Altiplano, its scarred and blasted surface stretching away in all directions...and its horizon ominous with distant ice-capped volcanoes.

Guarding the way was the most ominous of all of them, the solitary, jaw-dropping Yana - cloaked in heavy snows the year round, its ghostly glowing aura floated against the backdrop of the sky, belying how very far away it truly was. Eagle flights used it as a navigation check, but otherwise gave it a very wide berth and did not approach any closer...

Below the cloud-misted Jura summits, where rain was plentiful, forested hillsides overlooked the lush meadows of the high-country ranges, favorite warm-weather grazing country for many species including the Mahtab Bagh herds that were soon to become an important food source for the new young colony.

Over on the other side of their valley - from craggy ridgelines crowned by crackling thunderstorms - other mighty rivers thundered down through the passes of the Taurus Mountains, leaping gorges and rumbling through fields of boulders...later gentling, widening their courses through the foothill country of Tenerife; brimming with colors, a thriving district of forests and flowers, with vegetation of all types and textures...

Oddly enough, though, the valley itself yet wanted for a proper name of its own. More by default than designation, it was spoken of as Alpha, the call sign of Main Mission; and while numerous suggestions had been brought forth over time, none ever quite seemed the perfect fit.

Perhaps, in the end, it didn't really matter. First and foremost, this valley was home - and, taken on the whole, it had been good to all of them...

Further computations had established its median elevation to be in the low six-thousand-foot range; so the air always had a certain brisk little bite to it, and temperatures fell fairly quickly after nightfall.

They had mapped and could forecast weather trends with a reasonable accuracy, based on extensive data gathered from reporting stations in the town itself, others established at the various Outstation locales, and from instrument-packed satellites, parked in orbits above the planet by the White Room Eagle fleet.

The seasons rolled past, each following another and yet another over the course of the year; bearing names and recollections of long-vanished times and places.

Spring-times were pleasantly warm, summers were hot (occasionally very hot), while autumn was fairly temperate and winter brought cold air and chilly rains and just enough snow to cloak every rooftop and blanket the ground in a crystalline white - sometimes, even more than that. Most everyone would bundle up and spend much of the day outside playfully pelting each other with snowballs, the adults showing the youngsters the finer points of the art of building a viable snowman!

Yet of all the sky-colors that animated their celestial canopy from dawn to dusk, it was the deep, luminous, jade-bottle green - that which the Alphans first saw from space as they approached their new world - that fastened to all their hearts...

Hearts full, hearts aching, aboard those hurrying echelons of Eagles, hurtling through space...

The distant blue-green dot, ever so slowly resolving into a disc, that held all of them spellbound...lit only by a balefully-pale shimmering of illumination from - of all things - the Moon, itself in full retreat, farther and farther away...

...revealing dark areas of deep, tightly-wound whorls of atmosphere, lazily churning, plowing wide and sinuous channels in their wake across that disc; rousing some comparisons to the mysterious canali of Schiaparelli, the Italian, and the canals of Lowell, the American, espying the distant surface of Mars through their telescopes, long, long ago...

Fainter...ever fainter...and the last - the very last - of the moonlight expired, whispering away...fading from their view, and from their lives...

Darkness...very dark, everywhere. Where was the world? Where had it gone?

And then...there was light, a paper-thin crescent, limning one quarter of the curvature of the unknown. Airglow...gathering, swelling...


Sunrise: a brilliant amber hue, hurting their eyes, making everyone squint to glimpse it on the monitors, even with all the protective viewing filters engaged.

Airglow circled the dark globe in its entirety...

And another sun appeared - huge, yellow-white, powerful. Two suns! No one had thought to look beyond the first one, for surely one was more than enough?...

Night came, descending in its slow and gentle waves. The situation of their valley near the planet's equator, along with its relative elevation, conferred not only exceptional air clarity but also the ability to view virtually the entire nighttime sky, horizon to horizon.

Like the world below it, it too was a work in progress...still acquiring names and threading together patterns of stars, fashioning a mythology of sorts, one uniquely its own.

No individual star marked the celestial pole, north or south. A necklace of stars rippled, writhed and coiled about one of them, and was visible all the year; its brightest star was called Thuban, the name of a famous polar star of Earth's antiquity.

Sometimes there appeared, radiating outwards from either of the polar regions, the aurora polaris - the polar lights - shimmering and shuddering in the darkness.

Elsewhere, a diaphanous, shimmering net leisurely spilled itself across a considerable area of the equatorial regions, informally referenced as the Triangles; one could construe, from its members, any number of triangular asterisms that in their turn served to navigate almost any direction in the heavens.

Nary a one of those twinkling pinpricks were stars. They were galaxies...

Through all of this, there meandered the sparkly glitter of the Milky Way. To be sure, it was not the real Milky Way, not the galaxy that once was home to them; but it was something in their new heavens that was familiar.

Familiar, and ancient, anchoring; something to rally round, mysterious and powerful...and accordingly it was the first night-sky feature to be named.

Its relative brightness variously rose and fell, as it revealed itself over the course of the year; and on certain rare occasions, such was the intensity of its light that mountain peaks and Eagle launch pads alike could, and did, cast palpable shadows! -

Dr Ed Spencer settled himself in the pleasant little spot he'd located. Earlier he'd enjoyed dinner with a few close friends, but he wished solitude for awaiting what the oncoming evening would bring. He briefly glanced down at the lantern he'd set upon the grass, noting that his tea would soon be ready. He would consume it in comfort, and contemplation.

He was quietly pleased with how lush and vibrant the cemetery was, and for good reason. The plans for the gardens that flanked it were primarily of his design, he basing them on the fabled exquisitely-symmetrical "paradise gardens" whose history, in his part of the world, reached back many centuries even as the ancient and exotic civilizations that first created them rose and fell.

Amongst the most legendary gardens, or baghs (as they were properly known), were those of the Taj Mahal in his own native India - including one that had been all but lost to neglect and the ravages of time and the broad shambling river tides slowly rotting away what little yet remained of its stone foundations. During what would be his last leave-time spent on Earth - before returning to resume his duties on the soon-to-be-runaway Moon - a new effort had been organized to restore this garden, and he'd gone himself to see what could be seen of it.

When completed, it would balance the layout of the fabled mausoleum and its existing gardens in perfect symmetry.

Perhaps it was the romance of the thing that caught his interest; for he was still compiling what news items and other such information as came through to Alpha, when the Moon blew out of Earth orbit...

All such gardens, he knew, however modest or grand, shared a number of common design features, and with them in mind he'd started sketching out his ideas: a broad reflecting pool as the traditional central element, rows of trees on either side to provide shade, various shrubbery and colorful fragrant flowers too. Further, he plotted where the trees should be planted, so to afford maximum shade at the heat of the day, and the direction of the prevailing breezes; and these were used to determine the orientation of the cemetery.

Now, he and his fellow colonists could take pleasure in the sight of all those trees, arching gracefully overhead in their maturity, the ever-blooming varieties of the flowers, and the smooth carpeting of the native grasses. For those who had found their last rest here, and for those who came thither to visit them, it was a place of serene simplicity, a realm of beauty and of peace.

He it was who'd suggested the name of that once-lost garden, beyond the Taj Mahal - the Mahtab Bagh - when Alan and Alix Carter were trying to decide upon a name for their new upcountry station. They both liked it, especially the inherent symbolism, bridging the ancient to the now...

Spencer pondered all of this, as he gazed expectantly into the evening darkness. In his native Hindi dialect, the word mahtab meant "moonlight"...

Along the distant ridgelines, and well off the celestial ecliptic, a halo was shimmering into existence. Time-discs were consulted. It wouldn't be long now...

Its movement was ever so subtle, its brightness increasing every moment...

It rose into full view at last, with the effortlessness of a huge soap bubble, its mountains and highlands glowing in vivid clarity, its impact dazzling...

Murmurings, and some quite-audible gasps, rippled through the hushed multitude:

"Look at that! It's all heeled over! - "

"No telling what happened to it, out there..."

Pairs of binoculars began to pass from hand to hand. Small groupings of people clustered around several modest telescopes that had been set up here and there.

We need a proper observatory, Marek Verdeschi thought, having taken his turn observing through one of them...

He sat once more, took out his sketchbook, ready to set down such verses as might come to him this night. His subject matter was not confined to the Moon alone. Not so far away, he saw where the Morrows were sitting; saw their son, who worked for his father in the Agricultural section.

Too, he glimpsed his younger sister...who, while she resembled her father, also possessed the easy grace of her mother. She worked at Main Mission, as he did, and was training to be an Eagle pilot. Her name, he knew, was Michelle...

"How very lonely you must have been," said her voice, whose gentle quality was also her mother's.

"Not so lonely," Sandra Morrow's voice answered. "We had each other..."

Alexis Kano looked up wonderingly at the "Man in the Moon," the semblance of a human face created by light falling across the lunar landscape.

"Batiushka?" softly, "it's's your I am!"

Others couldn't watch. Shermeen Collins buried her head into husband Eddie's shoulder; she'd lived while others died that terrible day, never meant to be on the Moon at all...

Its baleful light touched Angela Robinson, who cradled Tanya in her arms; the latter being in a state of near-collapse. The two of them were more akin to sisters than in-laws; they were that close.

She'd promised her cousin David that she would look after Tanya, and she had kept that promise. Both were taking this night hard. Tanya especially; they'd agreed to marry as soon as practicable after Operation Exodus, but he took ill below the Wall of Death and died before he knew his child was coming.

Bob Mathias, with Toshiro Fujita assisting, had delivered Alexis; he'd reached out to Tanya as a friend, to call on him ("Anytime, for anything..."). He deferred to her about teaching him to play chess, at which his father had excelled. And Raul Nuñez had come into the picture later, when the boy evinced an interest in medicine...

Elsewhere, there stood a somber and serious young man, older than many around him yet not so much so as others.

Jack, to his friends - or Jackie, to their parents - Jack Crawford Jr was gazing at the world that held his childhood.

He was born on the Moon, which came about far less by design than by happenstance - and tragedy. His father and namesake, a nuclear-generator technician, had died following an explosion; and his widow's early pregnancy had only just been discovered. There was nothing to be done; by then, the Moon had already blown out of Earth orbit...

On Terra Alpha, near the lotus pool, Cynthia Crawford lay beside her husband.

Isn't it strange, thought her son just now, to be commemorating something like this.

And yet, somehow, fitting...for the Moon was the world that rocked the cradle, from which all of them had come...

And, a lifeboat...

Jon continued to think it all over.

Earth gave up on them...

That last newscast: the last direct words they would ever hear from their homeworld; their own countrymen, telling them that they could not be rescued...even to the extreme of all but formally declaring all of them to be dead...

...but my father DIDN'T! -

He was quietly proud, so very proud, of him for that.

Into his randomly-wandering thoughts there presently appeared Maya Verdeschi and her lost world of Psychon; that long-extinguished cosmic cinder, having ceased forever its circling in and out about the twin stars of Terra Alpha...

...or, no, not Terra Alpha. Not here. He no longer believed that to be true...

No, he would never take this night sky for granted, not ever again. And, in that selfsame breath, he realized he'd come to some decisions.

He would take the basic Eagle pilot's course, it could be a bridge of sorts to his father, whom he hoped would be pleased; keep his flight training updated as mission rules warranted; and make himself available for on-call emergencies, where his knowledge of the high country in general and Mahtab Bagh in particular could well prove valuable.

But there'd be no more space travel. This he was certain of; his heart simply wasn't in it. No, his place, and his heart, was up there in that valley, and in the life his parents had hoped for him. Mahtab Bagh was home - he had a station to help run, and a community to help feed. And a new little life, depending on him. Wherever the Eagles of the Terra Alpha fleet might venture on their missions of discovery, those peculiar trapezoidal supply hampers would be packed with provisions from Mahtab Bagh and cold fresh water from its wells...

Elsewhere, his parents had found a comfortable spot where they could spread their picnic blanket and draw close together, the two of them, gazing skyward. Alix nestled comfortably against her husband's shoulder, his arms enfolding her; the Moon held them still.

"So," said Alan, "have I been so bloody difficult to live with?"

He'd warned her, long ago, he would be sometimes.

"You're quite impossible," she murmured, "to ever live without..." There was, for her, no safer place in all the universe...

Koenig stretched, then settled. "I swear, I can't manage another thing. God only knows who'll be even marginally functional in the morning..."

Helena was more wistful. "I almost wouldn't mind. The day's been lovely."

"Tired?" he asked. He knew she was.

"A little," she had to concede. "I think I'll go on and turn in. Are you coming?"

"In a little while..."

In their own small space, surrounded by that silvery, other-worldly darkness, they drew close. And whispered...

"I'll always come..."

"I'll be waiting..."

He watched after her as the light of her lantern dwindled and winked out, and then realized their picnic hamper had gone too...

Standing alone, surrounded by tall grasses gently rustling in the nighttime breeze, Sandra Morrow gazed up at the Moon.

Whenever that breeze shifted in a certain direction, distant murmurs of the still-ongoing partying wafted through the air to her ear.

Her delicate features were pale, and not from the moonlight alone. For memory was approaching...the faint whisperings of other voices, of distant places and haunted times...

...we've cleared a safe route out to the Eagle, and we've managed to secure this room. Once the Psychon encoding device is activated, Computer will redirect all remaining power to the interstellar transmitter...


Professor? It's time to go...

I'll send you a warning signal...

I'll be ready...

Don't be too long...

Recording...Calling Earth...calling Earth...Moonbase Alpha calling...this is Moonbase Alpha calling Earth...can you hear us?...

She drew in a breath. Against the oncoming evening chilliness, Paul had gently draped the cloak of janata fur over her shoulders; even drawing it more closely about her, as she did now, she felt cold. Her gaze fell, and her eyes closed.

...and it came to her once more, all of it...all the joys, the discoveries, the heartbreak and loss, of the universe at large and of the universe within...

Perhaps memory had receded, to some measure, over these many years. But it would never truly fade...

And with that, her countenance rose to meet the starry night - her features set, resolute and unafraid.

Remember...oh, remember!

The last of the visitors had thinned out, and the soft quietude of night wafted over the necropolis. Deep blue shadows moved in slow retreat before the climbing Moon, and the lawns shimmered and swam in its baleful light.

John Koenig moved slowly amongst the markers, every one of them so much more than a mere name, but a face and a voice and a history.

A scarcely-audible sigh nudged the sheltering canopy of trees.

He set the lantern down and by its radiant glow unfolded the campstool, and settled himself upon it.

No one was around within the range of his purview. No one...

He took the battered black case, heard the subtle metallic click as each latch disengaged, and then reached down inside of it.

The weight of the heavy glass asserted itself as his fingers grasped, carefully lifted the bottle. It was very old, label peeling away, lettering faded.

The case also held a pair of drinking glasses, and he poured one of them.

The brandy settled into a miniature lake in the bowl of the glass, a mirror to catch the passing Moon...

"Beautiful, isn't it, John?"

His eyes held by the brandy, he did not stir.

Beyond the lantern's glow, another hand appeared out of the darkness and claimed the glass.

He poured the other, his gaze lifting.

"Yes, it is," softly, "a sea-pearl, adrift in the infinite ocean of space..."

"I thought we'd drunk that off, a long time ago."

"There was a little left. I saved it."

"For the proper occasion?"

"If you will."

Silence passed...

"So, will they go back, do you think?"

Suddenly uncomfortable, disconcerted, he didn't speak at once.

Was it the brandy?...

"If you mean the Moon...they don't know yet."

"Would you go?"


"Once, I couldn't imagine being anywhere else - belonging, anywhere else..."

The Moon held him, still; it hadn't gone away after all; he still felt its pull, heard as from a great distance its faint siren-song...

"And now?"

...but then the pull wavered, and his gaze turned from it.

"I don't know...maybe the Moon will stay, and maybe it won't. And just maybe, some may try. But I'll never know about it," draining his glass.

"All things are connected - seen and unseen, known and unknown. All things. You should know that, John."

And, he realized, he did indeed know.

All his wanderings, seen and unseen, known and unknown, found their source in her...and in that soft moment of discovery, the spell was broken forever.

"Here, and now...I'm content," he said at last; and he reached for the bottle, wondering if any of the brandy remained. There was.

"Then this is an occasion to celebrate," as they raised their glasses. "Here's to us, John. All of us."

"All of us," and the two glasses clinked...

A movement of air shivered across the length of the reflecting pool, subtly ruffling the waters, dissolving the calm surface into a scattering of diamonds.

The night stilled.

The Moon ascended.

It had endured much, and suffered much.

It was pummeled, fragile and as old as time itself.

The cosmos through which it had passed had been both beneficent and cruel.

Whether it would continue along on its inward plunge toward the heart of Terra Alpha's solar system or be brusquely flung, slingshot-fashion, back out beyond it - hurled, once more, into outer space - no one yet knew.

But here, and now, warming itself before new fires, ablaze with light, it beheld its reflection in the perfect mirror of the lotus pool...and looked down upon the world, and the people, it had left behind.

What was lost, had been found.

Copyright (c) 2014. 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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