Back to main page

Daring To Hope

Authors: Heather Hammonds
Show Year: Y2
Rating: PG
Date: 1996
Just as the Alphans are pondering the necessity of a "gene bank", they are contacted by a handsome alien who offers them what they've always wanted -- a planet to live -- in exchange for a few cell samples. But is this offer too good to be true?
First published in the fanzine "S9 Fanzine"
Average Rating: No reviews.

"I think this is important everyone, and I don't understand why you're all looking so shocked!" Maya exclaimed, her high forehead creased in a perplexed frown as she stared at the people sitting around her. "Helena, you of all people know that I'm right. To be frank, I'm amazed that you haven't suggested it before."

"I have thought about it, but it's a complicated subject Maya," responded Helena softly. "People's personal feelings and religious beliefs enter into it, as well as simple science."

There was silence at the table, as each person thought about the implications of Maya's suggestion. A regular Command Conference had been called, to discuss matters such as the general morale of the moonbase, maintenance on some of outlying facilities and various other fairly mundane matters. None of the five other command personnel at the table had suspected that Maya, in her capacity as science officer, would bring up such a deep question as the perpetuation of their species. To the Psychon, what she was suggesting was simply a rational safeguard to their continuation. To some of the other members at the conference, her words probed their deepest subconscious thoughts and made them feel rather uncomfortable.

"Don't get me wrong; in part I agree with you," continued Helena. "But Maya, I think that there are many people on Moonbase who might object to the idea of us setting up an egg and sperm bank for use in implantation at a later date. Especially if they were told they had to contribute to it! Anyway, most of the crew are still young enough and healthy enough to bear their own children at some time in the future, without the assistance of in vitro fertilization. I do regular and thorough physical checks on everyone, as you know. We don't need to take such a drastic step just yet..."

"You may think you don't need to do it now, but that's just my point," interrupted Maya passionately. "Realistically, we don't know how much longer we will be traveling in space before we find a home, or how many more years we will have to wander. The constant exposure to higher levels of radiation for those working on the surface of the Moon, the risks to their health and safety that every Alphan sometimes has to take, illness, the natural aging process- When some of you want to have children, you might not find it as easy as you'd thought. And what harm would it do to provide ourselves with a little insurance?"

"She's right you know," piped up Alan Carter, who was at the meeting in his capacity as Chief Pilot. "I've never really thought deeply about the matter; surviving from week to week takes most of my time and energy. But if I ever get the chance, I would like kids. And I'd hate to discover that I was past it, or damaged somehow from being out in space so long."

"You've obviously been giving this alot of thought Maya," said John Koenig with a sigh.

Sometimes his job as Commander seemed to be harder than others. Now was one of those times. Having children, the perpetuation of the people of Alpha; it had always seemed a far off dream, to be fulfilled when they found their new home. Now, Maya had brought it close.

"So- if I understand you correctly, you are saying that I should let Dr Russell here harvest some of my eggs and store them cryogenically for a future time?" asked Sahn, nervously shuffling papers on the table in front of her.

"Exactly," nodded the Psychon.

The communications officer's eyes opened wide, but she said nothing further.

Throughout the discussion Tony Verdeschi had sat with his arms folded, staring at Maya in amazement.

"If you've been thinking about this so much, how come you've never mentioned it to me?" he asked her, sounding slightly indignant.

"Why? Should I have?" she grinned over at him.

"Look, Maya does have a point," interjected the Commander, not wanting the subject to drag on too long and eclipse other, more pressing matters. "Agreed, we are all hopeful that sometime, preferably in the not too distant future, we hope to find a habitable planet where we can make a new life and raise children of our own. The fact is that we don't know what happened to Earth when we left it. We may be the only representatives of that planet left alive and Maya, we know that you are the last living female Psychon. Perhaps we do have a responsibility to more than just ourselves to seriously take a look at doing what you suggest in one form or another. We all know that Alpha just doesn't have the means to support any more people than we already have, but preserving future generations- well, we might have to.

"Helena, I want you to talk about it with Ben Vincent and Ed Spencer. Perhaps the three of you can get together and come up with a plan. Then we can all discuss it again at the next conference."

The meeting then returned to more regular matters and concluded satisfactorily a short time later. Those who had attended returned to their posts in a thoughtful mood, each feeling their mortality a little more acutely than usual.

The craggy ball of Earth's orphaned Moon rolled on its way through never-ending space, oblivious to the thoughts and feelings of the small colony of humans who called the blemish of buildings on its crust home. Circling a far off star, too distant to be picked up by Moonbase Alpha's sensors, there existed a small, wizened planet. An impossibly old creature turned its attention to the celestial newcomer and felt a surge of hope. Here was a chance he and his kind could not afford to ignore...

"This is our field, why is Maya suddenly so interested in how we take care of any future generations we might be lucky enough to produce?" asked Doctor Ben Vincent scathingly, when Helena told him what had taken place at the meeting, a couple of hours later.

"I don't think it's a question of who's 'field' it is Ben," countered a weary Helena. "Maya has a valid point and the more I think about it, the more I feel it's one we can't ignore. We do have some older members of the crew, as you know."

"But we already have a complete genetic record of every Alphan in computer and samples of everyone's tissue and blood stored."

"Realistically Ben, what use are they? Shall we clone ourselves if we are too old to produce children naturally by the time we finally settle on a habitable planet?" Helena snapped, beginning to lose her temper.

Ben Vincent was a good man and an excellent physician, but sometimes he could be rather short sighted and more that a little arrogant. She suspected his main reason for scorning Maya's idea was that he hadn't suggested it himself.

"I don't see what all the fuss is about," said Ed Spencer, who had heard the conversation without contributing to it, while he quietly continued sorting some patient data. "Why don't we just set up a service and offer it to any member of Moonbase who wishes to take advantage of it? Then if the idea offends anyone's sensibilities or religious beliefs, they don't have to take part if they don't want to. Simple."

"You'll have a morale problem," warned Ben. "Offering such a service will remind the whole base that we have no way of knowing how long we'll be here. We could be stuck on this rock for many years to come and usually, we don't mention children. Makes too many of the personnel miserable when they think about the fact that they aren't permitted to have families right now."

"Not if you word the announcement of the service properly," replied Ed, becoming really enthusiastic about the idea. "It's like an insurance policy- you could say that, couldn't you?"

"I think Maya actually did," smiled Helena.

What I wouldn't give to be able to talk about our people having children of their own right now, she thought to herself wistfully.

"Okay Ed, I'm going to suggest to the Commander that we go ahead with this as soon as possible. In the meantime, can you please organize the storage facilities we'll need and equipment? Technical might have to provide us with that."

The younger man nodded and packed away the work he had been doing, obviously pleased to have a new challenge.

"Ben, I would really like you're support in this," Helena said. "Do I have it?"

"Of course," he answered, after a barely perceptible pause. "Always."

Helena knew that whatever Ben's private views on the validity of what they were going to do, he would carry his job out to the best of his ability. He always did.

John Koenig stood staring at a picture of Earth that he kept on the wall of his quarters, a cup of Alpha's substitute coffee in his hand. He didn't bother to turn as he heard his door slide open; only Helena would enter unannounced. The corners of his mouth twitched as she came up behind him and put a her arms around his waist. He'd been feeling unusually pensive since his shift ended and was glad she'd arrived.

"What's wrong?" she asked, whispering softly in his ear.

"Why should anything be wrong?" he returned, swinging around to face her.

"Because you always stare at that picture of Earth when something is bothering you."

"You know me too well," he chuckled.

"Well?" Helena persisted, walking away from him to pour herself a cup, from the urn on his table.

He noticed she looked tired and felt a pang of sympathy for her. She worked so hard- they all did. But the time they'd spent in space had been kind to Helena. She still looked as beautiful as she had the first time he'd set eyes on her.

"How long have we been traveling around on this moon looking for a new home?" he asked.

Helena raised her eyebrows at him and took a seat on the end of his bed.

"You know the answer to that as well as I do John. Next you're going to ask me how much longer we'll be out here before we find a new home."

"I was thinking on what Maya said at the meeting today," he sighed. "We all know she's right. We may have to live on Alpha for years yet, without being able to afford ourselves the luxury of starting families. There's no way of telling."

"I've found myself thinking about it too," admitted Helena. "In fact, I was going to bring the subject up with you. I've talked to Ben and Ed about it and if you agree, we can start organizing a bank right away. It was a good suggestion and I think most of our people will wish to take advantage of it, once they see the sense behind the idea."

John nodded, knowing she was right but wishing he could offer the crew of Alpha something better than a place to store the makings of their future children. More than ever, he longed to find a habitable planet for them all.

"We'll find a new home for ourselves in the end, I'm sure of it," said Helena, patting the space on the bed beside her.

Koenig put his coffee down and sat down next to her. She rested her head on his shoulder and sighed.

"We're lucky to be alive John, lucky to be able to be here together."

Usually, it was he who comforted Helena at the end of a long shift when she was feeling tired and down, but tonight the roles were to be reversed. Koenig had a bad feeling; a foreboding, almost, that he couldn't begin to explain. He pulled Helena close and ran a hand through her shiny mop of hair, telling himself to forget his worries for the time being.

The Commander woke several hours later to the insistent beeping of the monitor on his wall. He knew a moment of keen regret as he realized that Helena was gone and he was alone. Struggling out of bed, he pressed a button and asked sleepily,

"What is it?"

Tony Verdeschi's darkly handsome face appeared on the little screen.

"Sorry to disturb you John, but Sahn has picked up a contact."

"I'm on my way," barked Koenig. "Have Maya report to Command Center also."

"Already done," was the crisp reply.

An elongated space object was barely visible on the big screen as the Commander strode into Command Center, closely followed by Maya.

"It's a ship Sir," commented Sahn nervously.

"And traveling at an incredible speed, directly towards us," added Maya, who had taken a seat at her desk at once, her fingers flying over her console.

"Has there been any attempt to communicate with us?" asked the Commander quietly.

Verdeschi shook his head.

"Then open all channels and let them know who we are Sahn," he ordered. "And Tony, put the base on yellow alert."

The staff of Command Center moved about their tasks with expert speed, doing credit to themselves, as usual. But every now and then one of the other of them would glance fearfully at the big screen, watching as the alien ship drew closer and closer, became larger and more formidable.

"Commander," said Maya in a puzzled voice. "I'm detecting no life forms on board the vessel."

"Could it be a probe ship of some sort?" wondered Koenig out loud. "A reconnaissance mission?"

"It still doesn't change the fact that it's headed straight towards us," responded Verdeschi.

"You're right," replied the Commander.

Pressing a button on the console of his desk, he patched through to Alpha's weapons section.

"Petrov; arm all lasers," he ordered.

He was about to switch the base from yellow alert to red, when Sahn made a little noise and half stood up from her seat.

"Commander," was all she managed to say, before the image of the approaching ship on the big screen was replaced with a portrait of an incredibly handsome humanoid man. Curly blonde locks of hair cascaded about his youthful, almost angelic face, and his full lips were open in a tentative, half- smile.

For a moment, all in Command Center stopped in their tracks.

Koenig, however, was not impressed.

"I am the Commander of this base, please identify yourself," he said brusquely.

"I have no name that you could pronounce, but you may call me Cromptus, for that is the name of my home planet," responded the man, in perfect, clipped English.

"Still no life signs Commander," whispered Maya.

"Your ship is heading rapidly towards our base. We wish to know the nature of your interest in us," continued Koenig, his strong features drawn in a mask of concern.

"Do not fear," was the calm response. "I am not here to do you harm. Quite the opposite. With your permission, I would like to land. I believe that I may have something to offer you that you are in great need of."

"What do we do John?" murmured Tony. "I don't like this."

"Neither do I," replied Koenig.

"I detect no weapons Commander," piped up Maya.

"But you detect no life forms either," was the wry response.

Maya nodded her head in acknowledgement. Indeed, the oncoming ship, which was no longer visible due to the incursion on their sensors by the alien, still registered devoid of any living thing.

"Let me assure you, I am unarmed and alone," answered the alien named Cromptus. "If you would prefer, I will land one hundred of your kilometers away from your base. And I know that you will have weapons trained upon me..."

"As we've found before John, we probably can't stop him landing anyway," commented Helena softly from behind his shoulder.

She had entered Command Center a few moments earlier and found herself both attracted and frightened by the image of the man on the screen. He came offering gifts, and she found his physical beauty intensely disturbing.

Koenig nodded at the validity of her words and spoke to Cromptus at last.

"Permission to land granted- 100 kilometers away from the base, as you said. A small party will fly out to your ship. And yes, we do have our weapons trained on you."

"Perfectly understandable Commander," was the polite reply. "Perfectly understandable. I look forward to meeting with you."

A moment later their screens were returned to them and Alpha looked on as the smooth, worm shaped craft touched down in the base of a crater exactly one hundred kilometers from the most outlying point of the base. Its hull shimmered in the light of distant stars and it was almost as attractive as its enigmatic occupant. A buzz of excitement and nervousness began to radiate out from Command Center and throughout the moonbase, as word got around about the enigmatic alien's arrival and the fact that he had something as yet unspecified to offer them.

"I'm sorry Helena, but I don't want you out there," Koenig argued, as he faced her in her office at medical center. "There's no need for a medical officer on this flight and frankly, I want to keep the number of personnel down to a minimum on this trip. We know nothing about this alien, except that he looks too damned humanoid to be real, right down to his speech. We have no reason to trust him and I don't want to risk any more lives than are absolutely necessary."

"All the more reason for me to go," persisted Helena stubbornly. "If someone gets hurt-"

"If someone gets hurt, Moonbase is only a short flight away," he snapped. "What's got into you? I would have thought you had your hands full with other matters."

Helena kissed him and shook her head. John, Alan and Maya were going to meet the alien, with Stephen Pearce and one other security guard. That was enough, she knew, but somehow, she couldn't help wanting to go. What could the alien have to offer that they might be 'in desperate need of'?

"Nothing's got into me John, forget it," she sighed. "You'd better go."

She followed Koenig out of Medical Center and up the corridor, intent on seeing him off.

Alan Carter stood at the boarding gate for Eagle One in a helmetless space suit, waiting for his passengers. His heart beat slightly faster than usual and he kept his right hand close to his hip, where his laser rested. A sure sign that he was nervous. The alien Cromptus looked too good to be true, for his money. The sooner they found out what he was here for and sent him on his way, the better. An illuminated sign above the travel tube warned him that the rest of the crew were about to arrive and he stepped forward to help them and their gear aboard. As he did so, a strange thing happened. The connecting door to Eagle One slid quietly shut behind him. He pointed his commlock at it, but it refused to open.

"What the hell..." he muttered, drawing his weapon.

There was no way the door could have slid shut on its own and Alan knew it.

"What's going on?" asked the commander, as he stepped from the travel tube, followed closely by Helena, Maya and Stephen, one of the security guards.

Carter suddenly felt rather foolish. If the door had shut on its own and refused to open again, it was bound to be a simple malfunction of the electronics.

"It's probably nothing John," he said, shaking his head. "We'd better check in with Command Center though; we're locked out of our transport."

Koenig frowned and pointed his own commlock at the door. No respecter of rank, it wouldn't budge for him either. He strode over to it and pressed the panel at its side; still no joy.

"Dammit," he swore. "We haven't got time for this!"

At that moment, the door decided to open again, and when it did, it revealed that the alien Cromptus was now standing in their eagle.

"I am so sorry to have had to lock you out of your vehicle," he apologized. "But witnessing my act of transportation may have harmed you. I decided to save you all the trip across to my ship. Much better for us to meet this way."

Alan raised his weapon again, closely followed by Stephen. The alien turned to Koenig.

"Please Commander," Cromptus intoned softly. "I am unarmed, as you can see. I have not traveled all this way to your base to make war. As I stated earlier, I have something of great value to offer you. I am an emissary from my people; an explorer and a diplomat, if you will."

"Whatever, I gave you permission to land 100 kilometers away from our base, not transport yourself to it," growled Koenig.

"I have left my ship where you asked and there is nobody else aboard it. I have no weapons and come in peace. I give you my word, can you not accept it?" asked Cromptus, his voice sounding infinitely sad.

Koenig studied him at length for a minute of two and then nodded at his two men. Alan and Stephen lowered their weapons.

"Thank you," sighed the alien.

Up close, his perfect form was even more pleasing to the eye. Helena found herself reminded of ancient statues she had seen back on Earth of young Greek gods and wondered how this alien could resemble them so closely. Below a singlet of woven silver, he wore baggy white trousers, and brown leather thongs completed the antiquated picture. She turned her head slightly away, not wanting to stare, and drew a sharp breath. Cromptus' image faded alarmingly in her peripheral vision, to be replaced with an amorphous pink fog.

The alien focused on her and smiled. Ah- I see your lovely doctor here has discovered my secret.

"I don't think he's real John," Helena said in a strangled voice. "I can't see him properly at all out of the corner of my eye.

Strangely, the idea of Cromptus' insubstantiality did little to detract from the odd attraction she felt for the alien. She found herself responding to the guileless smile he sent in her direction.

"I am real enough, but I have taken this form so as not to alarm you. My true person would be offensive and even harmful to your eyes, but the optical illusion I have created for your benefit is complete, as long as you look straight at me."

"We don't like illusions here Cromptus," replied Koenig, not knowing what to make of this alien.

As they'd been talking, Maya had been surreptitiously pointing a scanning device in the alien's direction. It registered nothing but a source of energy; certainly not a life form that the scanner could detect. She frowned and glanced across at Alan, who'd been watching what she was doing. He shrugged his shoulders imperceptibly, confused and suspicious.

"We have a great deal to discuss Commander, and time is not infinite," Cromptus urged. "May we begin talks?"

"Certainly," was the guarded reply.

A short time later the Commander, Helena, Tony Verdeschi and Maya were seated at a round table in the conference room, along with their guest.

"You said you had something to offer us," prompted Koenig. "We must therefore assume that we have something you wish for in return. What is it?"

"Very astute of you Commander, but then, I would expect nothing less," was the response.

"How do you change form and travel through areas without atmosphere, such as that between your ship and the base?" interrupted Maya, hoping to catch him off guard.

Her own powers of metamorphosis she did not mention, as she, unlike Helena, felt nothing but distrust for the alien chameleon in front of her.

"Too difficult to explain, even to your advanced brain my dear Psychon. Your simple abilities bear no resemblance to mine," chuckled Cromptus amiably, revealing he knew more about the members of Moonbase than anyone at the table had previously thought. "To get back to your original question Commander, yes, I wish for something from you. A small exchange that will not at all inconvenience you and your people, but will mean the continuation of my whole species."

"And what would that be?" asked Koenig, wishing Cromptus would get to the point.

"A small sample of tissue from every person on board Moonbase Alpha. Nothing more."

"What!" interjected Verdeschi, but Koenig sent him a quieting look and he said no more.

The alien continued.

"I am representative of an ancient race of beings- perhaps one of the oldest races in this universe. Throughout the millennia, my people gained vast amounts of knowledge and became as gods, dispensing benign rule over a host of planets in this small galaxy, caring for their peoples who in turn grew old and unfortunately, became extinct. In the end, only we were left, to ponder on the infinite amounts of wisdom we had collected over time and marvel at the ways of the cosmos. We thought we were immortal, indestructible.

"Throughout our existence we have never contemplated death as you know it, but now, we face a crisis. In the natural order of things, it seems we have come to the end of our life cycle. It is the fate of our species to also become extinct, unless we are able to find away of rejuvenating ourselves. And we think we have."

"Our tissue," said Helena softly, understanding right away what Cromptus was asking.

The alien nodded at her and smiled.

"Yes, I see you are with me Dr Russell," he said. "If you Alphans are generous enough to provide us with a small sample of tissue from each of you, my people will be able to use the robust genetic structure of your youthful race to rejuvenate ourselves."

"Clone us?" asked Maya, repelled by the idea.

"No," Cromptus shook his head. "Not clone; merely borrow some of the strands of you DNA and combine it with ours. The result will simply be stronger, more fertile versions of my people."

"You don't know that our races are even compatible," said Helena.

"Forgive me, but I wouldn't be here if they were not," the alien smiled. "I scanned you whilst still out in space."

"You're asking a great deal," said the Commander in a doubtful voice. "And you said you had something to offer us-"

"Indeed I do," replied Cromptus. "In return for enabling the continuation of my species, I am empowered to grant you what you desire most for your people; a habitable planet of your own."

There was a stunned silence around the table.

"How?" asked Koenig at length, trying to keep his voice steady.

They'd had false hopes before and this could so easily be another one.

"It is rather ironic that in spite of the fact that we have mastered interstellar flight to the point where we can travel anywhere we wish to in a matter of minutes and are lords of a galaxy, we are still unable to save our species without the aid of a more primitive one. Nevertheless, it is true. There are many empty but eminently suitable planets for your people that are known to me. You are at liberty to colonize one if you will accede to my small request."

"John," whispered Helena under her breath.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her cheeks were slightly flushed with excitement.

"We'll have to think on it," he said abruptly. "If you will give us a few hours..."

"Of course," agreed Cromptus, inclining his head regally. "I will return to my ship and await contact by you. Take all the time you wish."

He then stood up from the table and left the room. Maya noticed that the alien had a strange way of moving; the steps he took were far too small for the speed at which he walked. Another illusion, she thought. This creature was full of them and the promise of a habitable planet was more than likely just another one.

"I find it a strange coincidence that we are confronted with an alien asking for our help in the continuation of his race, just when we are questioning our own futures," she commented thoughtfully.

"He's too good to be true," added Tony, his voice filled with the doubt he felt as to the alien's veracity.

"Why?" asked Helena. "Why should you doubt what he says? If his race is facing extinction, he must be desperate. It seems remarkable to me that a being of that power and knowledge is only asking for tissue samples from us, when he could so easily take..."

"I don't know; it doesn't add up," said the Commander slowly. "If Cromptus' people are so god- like in their abilities, it seems unbelievable that they can't alter their own genetic structure to ensure the continuation of themselves without the help of others. And something else- he said that all the other races in this galaxy have become extinct except theirs. I would have thought that in itself was against the natural order of things."

"How are we to know John?" argued Helena. "He's asking so little. We already have blood and tissue samples of everyone on Alpha safely stored. He doesn't want anything from us that we can't afford to give."

"I suppose that's true," agreed Maya grudgingly. "And if he can offer us all a new home, I can't imagine any person on Moonbase objecting to giving him a sample from themselves. It would be small payment indeed."

"Well, I still don't like it," said Koenig.

Tony Verdeschi nodded in agreement.

"We need to know more; it might be a trap."

"A trap for what purpose?" asked Helena. "None of us will suffer for losing a small sample of tissue, if that's really all he wants."

"Let's take a couple of hours to mull this over," were John Koenig's last words to his staff before they dissembled and went about their business. "We all know what is riding on this offer and how important the decisions made will be."

Helena proposed discussing it with some of her staff to see if they could see any reason against the donation of tissue samples. She doubted there would be any objections though. A new home for a small scraping of skin? What a bargain!

The alien Cromptus had returned to his craft as he said he would. Once on board, he'd dissembled his molecules and returned them to their original form, expounding large amounts of energy that he could ill afford to use. He settled into a rounded chair in front of a control panel and began the laborious process of feeding his ancient, necrotic body, using a small tube connected to a catheter. He hurt all over from the effort of metamorphosing into a presentable being for the Alphans. Pustulous sores ravaged his wizened, pale pink form, which held none of the beauty of the illusion he'd previously created. He thought of his people, back on their home planet several parsecs away.

"Soon," he muttered to himself. "This matter must be settled soon, or we will all die."

Hopefully, the slight mind control he'd found he was able to exert on the alien named Helena Russell would speed matters up. She was eager to agree, eager to claim the prize of a new planet that he offered. He sighed and the sound was awful, even to his own ears. He settled back to rest and conserve what little energy he had. Until they acceded to his request, there was nothing more Cromptus could do. He was too weak.

Helena Russell sat at her desk in Medical Center and studied the figures on her computer screen in front of her. As expected, Ben, Ed and Kristie had been thrilled when she gave them the news about the alien's request. They could see no problems with the taking of samples from all Alphans and were keen to make the exchange. Especially Ed and Kristie.

Ed Spencer and her head nurse, Kristie Peters, had been an item for some time now. In fact, there were rumors around Medical that there would soon be a marriage. The rapturous looks on their faces when she'd mentioned what Cromptus' side of the bargain offered had been almost embarrassing to watch. Helena was sure that the two lovers only saw the business in the context of what it would mean to them. It mattered little though, for she had a good feeling about the plan herself.

Even Ben Vincent was all for removing the samples belonging to Moonbase personnel there and then from cryogenic storage, and handing them over right away. She'd had to tell them all to slow down. After all, Cromptus might require fresh, living tissue.

So now she studied the files she had on each Alphan's genetic makeup. The people of Moonbase came from many different places on Earth and there was a wide genetic pool to choose from. Cromptus would be pleased.

Helena knew a moment of rationality at this point and wondered why it was so important to her to please the alien. Was it merely the chance of a new life he offered them all? Or was it something else? His physical beauty was attractive, but it wasn't real. What was it Maya had called him as they'd left the conference table? An alien chameleon. She chuckled to herself at this- Maya, who had never even seen a real life chameleon, calling Cromptus one. But it was an apt description. Her musings were interrupted when John entered her office.

"I've just been talking to Ben Vincent," he said, sitting on the corner of her desk and bending his head to kiss her. "Like you, he seems keen on the alien's offer."

"Well John, you've got to admit, it is a good one," she smiled. "A new planet in exchange for a few tissue samples. And we would be helping Cromptus' people too; helping to save a whole race of beings!"

Koenig shook his head.

"I know, I know," he sighed. "But it all seems too easy somehow."

"Then let's ask him for more details," said Helena. "Ask him to actually show us the new home he has to offer; let us make studies of it. He's seen us, scanned our people from what he says, and knows we are what his people need. Well, we need to see our end of the bargain."

"Excellent idea," said Cromptus from the big screen when Helena's suggestion was put to him a short time later. "Of course you are entitled to see what you are getting. I suggest that you assemble a team of four to travel to my ship and I will take you on a short tour of the planet I have in mind. My studies of your physiology have led me to single out one in particular in our galaxy. It is a beautiful place and empty of any intelligent life. However, if it is not to your liking, you may take your pick of several others I know of."

A murmur of excitement went around Command Center. A choice of several planets! It was beyond anybody's wildest expectations.

"All right Cromptus, we'll assemble a team. Prepare to receive us in one hour," Koenig agreed.

The old problem- who to take with him? Helena was one logical choice as environmental officer, but he hesitated. She seemed so keen on Cromptus' plans for them that he feared she might be biased. But no, that wasn't being fair to her. First and foremost, she would have the well-being of everyone on Alpha in mind, as she always did. Maya, with her special skills of metamorphosis would be invaluable in quick ground surveys. Tony, or Alan, which would he take? He opted for Tony, as his cautious nature would keep matters in perspective.

And so, a nervous team of four left Alpha in an eagle for the short trip to Cromptus' ship, taking the wishes and hopes of every member of Moonbase with them.

John and Tony docked their eagle against the side of the alien craft with ease; the connecting tube that snaked out from it fitting their docking equipment perfectly. Cromptus had informed them on the flight over that the atmosphere within his ship would be suitable for them, but nevertheless, there was a brief moment of tension as the doors of both craft slid back and all four Alphans held their breath.

"It is quite safe," beckoned the alien from the other side. "Please come aboard, you are most welcome."

Slowly they walked across the connecting tube which seemed to shimmer under their feet, and into Cromptus' ship. It's interior appeared somewhat like a larger version of their own eagles, but with comfortable looking couches where the seats would normally have been and a tray overflowing with fruits and breads at it's rear, where the storage section was normally situated.

"This looks too good to be true," whispered Tony to Maya.

"Look at it all out of the corner of your eye then," she murmured back. "It's an illusion."

"Please my friends, I merely wished to make you feel at home. You are my guests," protested Cromptus, hearing their every word.

"Illusions are all very well," snapped the Commander. "But our people desperately need realities. Isn't that what you offered?"

"Of course," replied the alien, looking hurt. "But that does not stop me wishing to be a good host."

Helena smiled at him and put a restraining hand on John's arm.

"You must understand how much this means to us," she said quietly.

"The survival of my entire species depends on this bargain being completed successfully," Cromptus nodded. "You in turn must understand that."

Without further preamble he handed the Commander a sheaf of papers that looked real enough.

"These are some statistics on the planet we will visit," he said. "I think that you will prefer this one over others I know of by far, as it has the most agreeable climate for your people and the most arable lands. If you would seat yourselves, we will now lift off and arrive at our destination in a matter of minutes."

The Alphans did as they were asked while Cromptus disappeared up front of his craft. John handed Maya the sheaf of papers, as of the four of them, she would be able to assimilate the information they contained the fastest.

"Very interesting," she murmured, while Tony craned his neck to see what she was reading. "Almost the same size as your Earth, with an atmosphere identical. Four major land masses, all situated around the equator. Twenty degree axial tilt, so there will be seasons there. If this is for real, it is better than anything we could ever have hoped to find. A planet like this exists very infrequently indeed."

There was a slight rocking motion in the cabin and Cromptus' ship lifted off. The four Alphans looked at each other, each desperately hoping that the information they were being given was the truth.

Back on Alpha, Alan Carter, Sahn Benes and the rest of the Command Center crew looked on in trepidation as the alien craft left their moon's surface, praying that Cromptus was a creature of his word. Once well clear of the moon, it rapidly became nothing more than a pinpoint of light, fading into space until it was no longer visible. They had been told that their team would be returned within a maximum of two hours and the idea of traveling across the galaxy in such a short time was almost inconceivable.

"What propulsion system could move a ship that fast?" Bill Fraser wondered out loud to Alan. "Imagine if we could adapt it to our eagles!"

"I wouldn't know mate, but there goes arguably the four most important members of Alpha. I'll not be happy until we see that thing return again," the Australian replied.

He'd been left in command of Alpha in the Commanders absence and the responsibility weighed heavily upon his shoulders.

"Let's hope they come back with news of a new world," Sahn whispered.

Alan gave her what he hoped was a confident smile. He admired the communications officer immensely; had at one point entertained a vague hope that she might feel the same way about him. Nothing had ever come of it, however and sometimes he found himself regretting this fact.

True to his word, Cromptus landed his ship in a matter of minutes, returning aft to the four Alphans. The journey was so fast that they were unaware that they'd arrived and looked at him in surprise.

"We are here," he beamed. "I have landed at the edge of one of this planet's oceans. As you can see by the information I have given you, land masses only cover 25 percent of the world, but that should be more than ample for you. There are some wild animals, but none big enough or aggressive enough to harm you. A large comet strike some ten thousand of your years ago obliterated many of the species here, including the dominant intelligent one. Now it awaits a new beginning."

He waved a hand at the door of his ship and it opened to reveal a panorama none of the four Alphans had expected to see. The ship rested on the top of a grassy knoll and below it lay a wide sandy beach that stretched for many kilometers in both directions. It was lapped by a blue green tropical sea on one side and palm trees on the other. Behind the trees rolling green hills were visible for as far as the eye could see.

"My God," breathed Helena, stepping outside first.

"Go," smiled Cromptus, waving at the others. "I'll seal my craft and take it up into orbit to leave you in peace while make your studies. I shall place a communications beacon on the ground as I leave and if you wish to contact me, simply activate it. Our methods of travel mean that you may spend twenty hours here quite comfortably without losing more than twenty minutes back on your base. Enjoy yourselves, take your readings, get the feel of the planet. If you are satisfied with what you see, then before we leave, we will make a low fly over so that you can briefly examine the rest of it. If it is not to your liking, we can try one of the others."

They gathered up the packs of instruments and survival gear they'd brought with them and walked away from the ship, hardly believing the sight before their eyes.

The four covered their faces with their hands as the ship took off once more, stirring up a sandy whirlwind that almost blinded them and set them choking. Only a round metal object rested on the ground where the craft had once stood.

"Hope we can figure out how to work that thing," croaked Tony, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth.

Maya took a quick look at it and nodded.

"No problem, it's simple enough."

After so long spent in the confines of Alpha, the open stretch of sand and ocean surrounding them was slightly intimidating. They stood huddled together after Cromptus departed for a while, unsure of where to go. However the wonder of their surroundings soon overcame any fears and it wasn't long before the four were walking along the edge of the water with their boots off, smiles of disbelief on their faces at the beauty surrounding them.

"The water's so warm," marvelled Tony.

He reached down and scooped up a handful of it, taking a sip.

"God, it's just as salty as Earth's seas," he spluttered.

"You shouldn't have done that until we tested it Tony," Helena laughed. "That's what you get for not doing the right thing!"

"I hate to spoil the party, but this isn't a holiday," John said at length. "We've got several hours of work ahead of us, and the future of all on Moonbase depends on what we find.

Soon they were hard at work, taking sand and soil samples, setting up and running sophisticated instruments which they had brought with them to determine such things as the depth of the planet's atmosphere, intensity of the radiation emanating from it's sun, direction of it's magnetic field.

"Preliminary environmental studies confirm Cromptus' data John," said Helena, as she scanned the immediate area of the beach. "So far, it checks out."

Koenig began to feel distinctly optimistic.

Maya was also in a unique position to take her studies further afield.

"Kilometer after kilometer of lush green pasture, with tracts of dense forest dotted here and there," reported the Psychon, after a reconnaissance mission by wing, in the form of a falcon. Very few signs of life, as Cromptus said. A few small herbivores, a couple of other birdlike creatures; nothing more."

"So our data matches his then," Koenig said. "But to come down here would still be one hell of a risk. To commit our people on his word..."

"We may never get a chance like this again John," said Helena, thinking of their plans of a few days ago, of the depression they had all felt to some degree, at not knowing how long they would be traveling in space.

He nodded his head and put an arm around her, as a puff of cool evening wind had blown up. The sun was sinking in the east, turning the sky a lurid orange.

"Look, the planet must rotate in the opposite direction to the way Earth used to," commented Tony. "If we settle here, that will be something to get used to."

As darkness crept in, they built a fire and unpacked some rations, finding themselves unusually hungry after all the fresh air.

"I could sure use some of that fruit and bread Cromptus had on his ship right now," grinned Tony, biting into the high protein biscuit he was holding.

"I told you, it was all an illusion silly," laughed Maya from across the fire at him. "It certainly wouldn't have been very satisfying to eat."

Her red hair glowed in it's warmth and he suddenly wished they were alone together. She was so attractive. If they did come to live on this planet, would she consent to spending the rest of her life with him? She was very fond of him, he knew, but sometimes he had doubts.

John picked up a handful of sand and let it trickle through his fingers.

Cromptus is very good at illusions he thought to himself. Is all of this beauty just another trick to get us to do what he wants? Can we really trust him?

"Do we dare to hope?" Helena asked him softly, scanning over the data they had collected for the umpteenth time, as she sat close by his side.

"We've always had hope Helena," he answered, staring up into space, at a brilliant but unfamiliar star map. "Maybe we've found what we've been dreaming about at last- I don't know."

Helena put the papers away in one of their bags and sat back down again, taking his hand.

"Here there would no longer be any need to worry about future children. We could start again, all of us. Have homes of our own, start families."

John watched her and found himself immensely touched by the childlike happiness in her eyes. Helena was a brilliant doctor and an intelligent, beautiful woman. She deserved the chance at a decent life away from Alpha. They all did. Maybe he was being too cautious, too suspicious of this alien's offer. The beach they were sitting on, the world they were on; it was most definitely real. They'd only been on the planet ten hours, but there was really no need to stay any longer. Best to get back to Alpha and find out if their alien benefactor really did want nothing more than a few of their cells. If that was the case, then operation exodus could finally be carried out.

"I think we've been here long enough to know this place is right for us, does everybody agree?" he asked, looking around at the three other happy faces.

They nodded at him in unison.

"Okay then; contact Cromptus with that thing he left behind Maya, we're heading back to Alpha."

"Yes Sir!" was the enthusiastic response, as the Psychon jumped to her feet and ran up the hillside, closely followed by Tony.

"I think he would like the opportunity to be alone with her," chuckled Helena.

"Let's hope we all get a chance to spend more time alone with each other on this beach," replied John, touching her cheek affectionately.

They stood up and followed the other two.

Maya activated the alien beacon at the push of a button and Cromptus' angelic face appeared after a minute's wait.

"Is everything to your satisfaction?" the alien asked.

"Cromptus, we'd like to be given a low flight over the planet and then return to Alpha immediately," said the commander.

"Are you unhappy with the planet, would you like to see others?"

"Quite the contrary; we want to return now so that we can check we are able to keep our part of the bargain. Then if that is so- you have a deal. We love the place."

"Excellent, excellent!" beamed Cromptus' image from a screen on the side of the beacon. "Stand back now and prepare yourselves for my arrival."

As the Alphans awaited his return, the alien agonizingly transformed himself into full human form; whilst communicating with them he had only altered his head, as the effort of transformation was becoming altogether too much for him. He realized that he would not be able to wait much longer for the Alphans to make their decision. He would have to have one of them volunteer within a matter of hours, so that he could treat himself. Otherwise, he would cease to exist, and that would be unthinkable...

The touchdown of the alien ship a mere 18 minutes after it took off brought cheers from all over Alpha, as every member of the moonbase was anxiously awaiting the mission's outcome. For Alan Carter, it brought a feeling of tremendous relief. Those 18 minutes had been interminably long for him, as he sat at his desk in Command Center, wondering what would happen if his commander and the others didn't return.

Moments after, the welcome sight of John Koenig appeared on the big screen, as he patched in to Command Center from Eagle One.

"Make ready for us Alan, we're heading back to base and we're bringing Cromptus with us."

"Received Commander," was all he replied, but like everyone else who heard Koenig's voice, he could tell that matters had gone well.

"I'll be first to line up and donate down at Medical if John brings back the news I think he's going to," he said to Sahn, who was beaming at him from her desk.

"Not if I get there first Alan," she laughed back.

A small group had gathered at the eagle boarding lounge to greet the party on their return and Koenig had to order them sternly back to their posts. He couldn't blame them for their enthusiasm though; he was feeling it himself.

"Perhaps you would come down to Medical Center with me, where you can discuss with my staff the best way of handling the donor tissue you require," said Helena, as she stepped out of the eagle last with the alien.

Cromptus nodded and so, the Commander left the alien in her charge.

"Keep in touch," he called after Helena as she walked away with the handsome alien.

As they turned a corner in the corridor, Cromptus image faded slightly and Koenig knew a moment of intense unease. Why couldn't he simply stay in his normal form? He knew enough by now to realize that they wouldn't be frightened of him, so would his true image really harm their eyes?

"Tony, have a guard put on discreet surveillance of Medical Center," he ordered his Chief Of Security.

"We need to discuss the collection of your tissue samples," said Helena, as she ushered Cromptus through the door to Medical Center. "We actually have a tissue and blood sample from every member of Moonbase stored cryogenically here. I am quite happy to give all of them to you, if that's what you will need."

As they had entered, they'd attracted the curious stares of the few medical staff who were on duty. Ed and Kristie were treating an engineering assistant with a particularly nasty cut on his arm, but they broke off what they were doing and approached, beaming.

"Pleased to meet you at last," said Ed. "We've heard so much about your plan and are very excited about it all."

Cromptus inclined his head at the young doctor.

"Ed, perhaps you'd better finish what you were doing," Helena snapped, shocked that he would walk off in the middle of treating a patient. It was so unlike him.

Cromptus turned his eyes to Helena as she spoke and she said no more. A thrill of excitement coursed through her and Ed's indiscretion no longer mattered. They were all going to a new planet! A beautiful, magical place. And all thanks to Cromptus. They could never do enough for him in return.

"I am sorry, the samples you have stored are of no use to me," he said. "I require fresh, living tissue, and I must take them myself with my own medical equipment. I have the technology I need to take and store the samples in satisfactory condition. Your cryogenics are of no use to me."

Helena looked doubtful at these words, wondering why the samples couldn't be taken with her own equipment here in Medical Center, but the subtle mind control Cromptus was exercising over her prevented her from objecting.

"I promise you Doctor, my methods are completely harmless and will cause your people no discomfort whatsoever. If you will permit me, I will take the first sample from a test subject and if you are satisfied, then we shall continue on."

Helena knew that she should speak to John before beginning the collections, but her judgment was impaired. After all, she reasoned, she was Chief Medical Officer, wasn't she? It should be her decision, not his.

"Let me volunteer to be first donor Dr. Russell," asked Kristie, from nearby.

She'd been avidly listening to the conversation.

"All right," said Helena, after a moment's consideration.

She thought it was really her responsibility to be the test subject, but since Kristie offered and seemed so keen.

"Excellent!" Cromptus cried, in a voice that resonated with triumph.

None of the medical staff seemed to notice his manner, but a guard who was standing unobtrusively just outside the door of the complex, and viewing the events inside via his commlock, which was activating the communications monitor within, did.

Quietly, so as not to cause alarm to anyone passing, he contacted Tony Verdeschi.

Kristie was helped on to an examination chair and while she was doing this, the alien produced a couple of black tubes, a small scalpel and an object similar to an old fashioned hypodermic syringe, from the folds of his trousers.

"I would like to take the sample from the back of your neck my dear, if that is agreeable to your doctor," Cromptus said.

Helena nodded and Kristie obediently bent her head forward, Ed pushing her thick brown hair away from the nape of her neck, exposing the skin beneath. The alien reached forward and with a deft movement, removed a small 'v' of tissue from above the girl's lowest cervical vertebrae.

"Are you finished yet?" she asked, as the others looked on.

"Not quite," was the reply.

In a second quick movement, Cromptus lifted his syringe and plunged it into the gap between Kristie's vertebrae, appearing to take some spinal fluid. In actual fact, he was introducing a substance into the area. He was done in a second, and made a show of placing material into his second tube.

Helena was shocked out of her complacency. The mind control Cromptus was exerting over her was not sufficient to completely overrule her better judgment.

"I thought it would be blood- what you just did, probing between her vertebrae, could be extremely dangerous to us!"

"It didn't hurt a bit Dr Russell," laughed Kristie, shaking her hair back into place. "A small price to pay for a new home!"

"What is this?" the Commander snapped, as he entered the room closely followed by Tony Verdeschi. "Helena, when did I give the go- ahead for donor samples to be taken?"

"It was a test John, and I'm well within my juristiction to approve it!" Helena bridled, feeling slightly guilty. "Kristie was a volunteer."

Koenig glared at the alien, for as he and Tony had entered the room, he'd had a better view of what Cromptus was doing to Kristie. He could have sworn he saw the alien inject something into the nurse, rather that take a sample...

"Well, no more tests for at least 12 hours, until we are sure Kristie is okay," he said, in a voice that brooked no argument.

He shook his head, telling himself that Helena's lack of caution under the circumstances was due to her keenness regarding the new planet. But still...

"You will find that the girl experiences no ill effects Commander," said the alien with a long suffering smile. "I suggest that you begin to make evacuation arrangements for your people. It occurs to me that large as my ship is, it will require several trips to ferry them all to your new planet. Also, I imagine you will want to take some of your eagles and equipment. I can arrange this, as my people will be more than grateful for the gift of life you give us."

With a mighty effort, Koenig held his temper in check. He wondered if he was being churlish; after all, Cromptus was offering the people of Alpha a new world, a new life. And here he was, losing his temper over a premature donation.

"Thank you Cromptus. We need 24 hours to put our exodus plan into operation and be ready to leave. If Kristie here is fine after twelve of those hours, you may begin taking donations from the rest of our people. Is that satisfactory?"

The alien nodded his graceful head.

"In that case, I will return to my ship and make ready to receive your people," he said.

He then walked out of Medical Center and was gone.

"John, what is the matter with you?" raged Helena, once she'd got him alone in her office. "Cromptus has offered us a fantastic new home and a new chance in life, and he wants very little in return. You seem determined to stop him from taking it and ruin everything!"

"Don't you think I want to believe that the alien is everything he seems?" groaned Koenig, taking her by the shoulders and forcing her to face him. "Don't you think I want to be able to have a normal life with you on that planet, instead of this moon?"

"Then why don't you let him get on with it!" shouted Helena, pulling away from him.

"Because I don't trust him," Koenig replied, his voice flat. "Think about it Helena; he's full of illusions. He presents himself as this attractive male figure, but we know that's not what he really looks like. Our instruments don't even scan him as a life form! And not only that, when he was taking the samples from Kristie's neck just now, I could have sworn he actually injected something into her, not the other way around. Tony thought so too."

"Nonsense, I would have seen that right away," Helena sighed, sitting down at her desk.

"Not necessarily," was the reply. "I don't think your seeing too well at the moment; I think Cromptus has got you bedazzled."

Helena didn't bother to reply, but her face went white with anger, telling John Koenig all he needed to know.

"No more samples are to be taken until I say so, understand?" he said.

A barely perceptible nod was his answer.

With a sigh, he left Helena's office.

Doctor Helena Russell was a woman not easily fooled. Sitting at her desk, her temper gradually cooled and she began to see the sense in John's words. Perhaps she should have exercised more caution, but around Cromptus, it was so easy to believe wholeheartedly in everything he said. Why was that? Could he indeed have injected something into Kristie and if so, what for? It was tissue samples he required, wasn't it? A tiny doubt wriggled it's way into her mind. A beautiful empty planet, a ready made colony of human beings, willing to donate tissue and blood in order to be transported to it. Could they, would they... be used as laboratory rats? Was Cromptus' race really on the verge of becoming extinct? Shaking her head, Helena stepped outside and went in search of Kristie Peters. Perhaps she ought to do a quick test or two herself, just to be on the safe side. It wouldn't take long.

Maya sat at her desk in Command Center and listened with wide eyes as Tony recounted in a low voice, what he and the commander had seen taking place, down in Medical.

"Tony," she whispered. "I don't like the sound of that. Why take a sample from the girl's neck? And if he did inject something..."

"Do we trust him?" asked Tony.

Maya shook her head.

"No- he hasn't earned our trust, in spite of all his promises and his tour of that beautiful planet. Look, I've augmented the program on our biological scanners in the hope that they will now detect any unusual forms of life that they couldn't before. It has bothered me all along that we don't seem to be able to detect Cromptus as a form of life, even though he says he wants our tissue to ensure the survival of his people. How can that be if he isn't a carbon based life form like ourselves? Something is wrong Tony, I'm sure of it."

Tony reached out and clasped Maya's hand in his. Romantic fantasies about a life with his beautiful Psychon beside a tropical beach were all very well, but not if it put their lives in danger.

"Scan the alien ship again Maya," he said.

She set to work pressing the buttons on her console and a series of confusing figures flashed across her small computer screen at alarming speed. A frown crossed her face and she ran the same figures by a second time.

I think the reason our scanners missed the alien before is- because he is not registering here as a complete life form! It's weird- they must have filtered his readings out as artifacts. How can he be an incomplete life form? I can't understand what I'm reading here!

"What's that Maya?" came a voice from behind them.

It was a tired looking Commander. Tony ran through what Maya had just been saying while she continued to work. At length, she looked up again and shook her head.

"Sorry, I can't do any better than that. At least he's registering I suppose. It makes him less of an enigma to us."

Others in Command Center were looking at the three curiously, wondering what was being said and if any of it might jeopardize their chances of going to the new planet everyone on the base was so excited about. With a view to this, Koenig shook his head at Tony and Maya, indicating that for the present they should say no more.

"We'll discuss this later," he muttered.

Then in a louder voice,

"I'm going off duty for a while now, I almost can't remember when I last took a break, so I'll be in my quarters resting."

Kristie Peters was also in her quarters. Dr Vincent had sent her off duty after Cromptus had taken the sample from her. At the time, she couldn't see why the Commander, or Dr Russell had made such a fuss about where the alien had taken the sample from. It hadn't hurt a bit and later, it felt only a little itchy. A good sign that the small wound was healing quickly, she would have thought. Glad to get off her shift early, she'd decided to catch up on a little sleep, as Ed was still working and there was nothing much else to do. She lay down on her bed and tried to relax.

Eventually Kristie's eyes closed. She tossed and turned as she dozed, raising her hand and scratching the back of her neck now and again. Strange visions invaded her unconscious mind; worm- like creatures floated through her dreams, molesting her brain...

Kristie gave a little cry as the communications monitor on her wall began to beep incessantly, jerking her out of her slumber. She stood up unsteadily to answer it and noticed fresh blood on the fingers of one hand. Instinctively she reached around the back of her neck and gasped as she touched more sticky wet blood. Not bothering to answer the call on her monitor, she threw on a gown and rushed back to Medical Center.

Helena Russell was just in the act of trying to raise her head nurse on the communications network a second time, when Kristie herself came running into the main ward of Medical Center.

"Somebody heeelp me!" she cried hysterically.

The blood, which had been pouring from the sample site on her neck, had now reduced to a trickle. Nevertheless, Helena noticed the telltale red spots of blood staining the floor behind the girl.

"Lie her down on her stomach," she shouted at two orderlies who had wheeled a stretcher over. "Quick!"

Ed Spencer, who was working in an anteroom, heard all the commotion and rushed out.

"What's going on?" he asked.

Helena did not know quite how to answer him. As Kristie was placed upon her stomach, her hair had slipped away from the wound on her neck, revealing a horribly diseased area of skin that writhed and twisted of it's own accord, whilst increasing in size as they watched.

"My God," muttered Ben Vincent, who had also joined them.

"What is it?" asked Kristie. "What's happening to me?"

Helena did not reply, but took a syringe full of sedative from a nearby trolley and promptly injected the girl with it.

"Better she remains unconscious for the moment," she said gravely.

"I take full responsibility for this John," said Helena, after the Commander had returned once again to her office. "You were right, I should have been more cautious. Now Kristie Peters is dying and there seems to be nothing we can do to help her. This- infection, or whatever it is, is moving too fast."

Koenig looked at the tears in Helena's eyes and turned away, beginning to pace the room.

"Helena, you can't blame yourself. If the truth is known, I would have given the donation the go- ahead anyway. And you must remember that Kristie was a willing volunteer. Do you have any idea at all of what that thing on her neck is?"

Helena shook her head.

"We can't identify it beyond the fact that it is some sort of virus- like disease. It's eating away at her cells, genetically altering them into something we can't begin to understand. We can see what it's doing, but don't know how to treat it. It's completely unknown to us. "

"Unknown to us maybe, but not to Cromptus, I'll bet," growled Koenig. "He's got some explaining to do."

He moved to Helena's side and activated the monitor on her desk. Tony Verdeschi's face appeared on the screen.

"Yes John?"

"Tony, see if you can contact Cromptus and arrange a meeting here on Moonbase with him right away. Tell him we are ready to make further donations and need to see him in person."

Verdeschi raised his eyebrows.

"Want me to, er, have security attend this meeting?"

"Have them stand by. Ask Cromptus to meet me in Medical Center," was the reply.

"What are you planning John?" asked Helena.

"I'm not sure yet, but that alien may be Kristie's only chance. He holds the key to what is happening to her."

Helena looked out of the glass windows that separated her office from Medical Center's main ward. Over in one corner, she could see the isolation tent that Kristie was housed in. Ed Spencer was standing on the outside of it, quietly crying. She blinked tears away herself and prepared for the alien's return.

Cromptus rested in the treatment chair on his ship, waiting for the signal from his home planet that would indicate more ships were on the way. A study of the tissue he'd taken from the Alphan woman showed promise. Once these people had all 'donated', once they had been taken to the quarantine planet, his task would be complete. He would be hailed by his people as a hero. He would take a leave of absence to allow his body to rejuvenate and then enjoy the fruits of his success.

Rejuvenation- he would be the first to use the vaccine developed from the antibodies these people should develop to the disease he'd inject into them all. Then he would be whole again; continue to be so for the duration of the Alphans' life span. After their eventual deaths- well, the search would begin again for a race of beings suitable to act as vaccine incubators. Cromptus musings were rudely interrupted by a signal from the moon people. They wished to speak with him in person.

Tony and Maya arrived in Medical Center, closely followed by two guards.

"He'll be here any minute," said Tony to his commander, who was waiting with Helena at his side.

Moments later, the alien entered the ward.

"My friends, it is so good of you to hasten matters along," he said affably.

"Cromptus, we'd like you to take a look at this," said Koenig coldly.

He indicated in the direction of Kristie's isolation tent and the alien did as he was asked. Cromptus said nothing as he gazed upon the girl's ravaged body, merely shaking his head. He realized immediately that all his happy musings back on his ship would now come to nothing.

"Tell us how to save her," came a menacing voice from behind them.

Ed Spencer was pointing a laser gun straight at the alien.

"And then tell us what the hell you really want to do with us."

In spite of his insubstantial illusory image, Cromptus looked concerned. Maya was rapidly forming some opinions of her own. It seemed that the alien's molecular rearrangements were not so very different from her own then. If Ed fired, Cromptus would probably die.

"You would have had a good life on the planet I showed you," he sighed. "It was perfectly suited to your needs. Such a pity."

Spencer's hand shook dangerously as he pointed the laser.

"Wait Ed, let him speak," said the Commander.

"It is true that my race is dying," continued Cromptus. "And we have been doing so for many centuries. Through our own probing into genetics, we accidentally caused a previously harmless virus to mutate into something capable of destroying us. It slowly invaded every cell in the bodies of my people altering their genetic code in order to replicate itself, destroying our ability to reproduce, causing our tissue to dissolve away in a pink mist. We named it the Pestilence, for that is what it was to us. Fortunately we found a way to forestall it, if not totally annihilate it.

"I mentioned our advanced state, our benevolent care of other races in our galaxy. We exploited these races to our own advantage by injecting them with the virus. Their blood produced antibodies to it where ours could not. The result was a kind of vaccine, which arrested the spread of the virus and actually allowed a reversal of symptoms in my people. Unfortunately, although we were able to prolong our own lives by using this method, it destroyed all the other species of compatible, intelligent life known to us. In every single case the virus interfered with their ability to reproduce themselves; thus, they died out. I have been searching for more for a very long time. In you, I thought I had found another useful group. You could have lived on that planet, donating blood at various intervals to keep my people alive. We would have seen that you lacked for nothing. Sadly, I can see by the test subject that you would not have been suitable after all."

"Laboratory rats," whispered a horrified Helena. "Sterile laboratory rats. And that planet would have been our cage."

"Cure her!" yelled Ed Spencer hysterically. "Cure her, damn you!"

Cromptus shook his head.

"I'm sorry, there is no cure," he said. "She will die quickly, although you may rest assure that there is no risk of infection to the rest of you. The Pestilence is usually very species specific and can only be transmitted to your people by injection into the spinal canal."

With a strangled cry Spencer began to depress his finger on the laser's trigger. At the same moment, a beam of light shot out of the commander's own weapon. The young doctor fell to the floor, stunned.

"You sold us a pack of lies Cromptus," he snapped. "And in the process, killed one of our people with your disgusting meddling. Your time is over; go back to your own people and die with dignity. Get off this base and this moon; you're nothing more than a parasite."

The alien bowed his head.

"I regret that matters had to end this way. I shall go, but first let me perform one small service for you and dispose of your dying patient."

Helena lost her temper.

"Dispose of her! She may be just a test subject to you, but she is much more than that to all of us. We take care of our own, thank you. Even when there is no hope for them!"

"You should have let Ed kill him John," added Tony, his hand on his laser. "As you said, he's nothing more than a parasite."

"Harm me and you will bring the wrath of my planet upon you," the alien interjected with menace. "You and your base will be summarily destroyed."

"You value yourself too highly Cromptus. Now as I said before, get off this base, we wouldn't waste our time killing you. After all, your illness will do it for us," growled the Commander.

Seconds later the alien was gone, walking straight through the Medical Center doors and disappearing.

Koenig ran a hand over his face and looked around at his people. Two orderlies quietly loaded Ed Spencer onto a stretcher and took him to a side ward. It would take him some time yet to recover from the stun, and by the time he did, it looked as though Kristie would be dead.

"I want every weapon we have trained on that ship until it's well and truly gone Tony," said the Commander. "Keep security on alert all over the base for the time being; it's too easy for Cromptus to walk in and out of here whenever he pleases. Oh- and cancel operation exodus."

Verdeschi nodded his agreement and left, making his way back to Command Center. Canceling operation exodus was not going to be a pleasant job. Once again, the people of Alpha had gotten their hopes up, only to have them dashed.

Helena went to stand next to her dying patient's isolation tent. The disease had spread all the way down Kristie's back and the tissue there writhed, as if an incubus had gleefully attached itself to her. As they watched, a puff of pink mist wafted up inside the tent.

"I'm not going to give up John," she said. "Conventional treatments aren't working, but there must be a way to stop this thing. Perhaps you could spare Maya for me; she might be able to help."

"All right," agreed Koenig. "But Helena, I don't want you taking any risks. We can't be sure Cromptus was telling the truth when he said this disease wouldn't spread."

Helena gave a quick nod, but her mind was already far away, searching desperately for a way of destroying the virus that was killing her patient. He left her to it.

"What's happening Commander?" Alan Carter asked, catching up to Koenig as he strode up the corridor towards Command Center. "People are wondering why operation exodus was canceled."

"Alan, we were all about to become laboratory subjects for Cromptus' people. Everyone on Alpha to be infected with a virus and then kept for antibody production, in much the same way as horses and cattle were kept for that purpose back in the old days on earth."

"Bloody hell," gasped Alan, his Australian accent broadening markedly, as it always did when he was shocked or surprised at something. "And we all thought we were off to some kind of utopia."

"Well not this week," replied Koenig grimly.

Maya pored over an electron microscope in one of Alpha's tech labs, staring at the strangely shaped virus which had invaded Kristie Peters' body. Helena stood next to her, waiting for an opinion.

"I don't know Helena, I'm not a doctor," the Psychon sighed at length. "And Cromptus seemed so much more advanced than us. If his people couldn't find a way to eradicate this virus..."

Helena put a hand on her young friend's arm.

"Thanks anyway," she replied. "I just can't let it go; I can't let her die without trying everything I can think of, but I'm running out of ideas."

At that moment, her commlock beeped. It was Ben Vincent.

"Dr Russell, can you come back to Medical Center? I have something here I think you should see."

Helena collected her slide from Maya's microscope and together, they sought out Ben.

"I think I might at least have a temporary answer," Vincent said, his voice betraying the excitement he felt. "Heat."

Helena raised her eyebrows at him and took a look at the computer screen he was pointing to. Upon it were the results of a series of tests he'd been conducting on Kristie Peters' blood.

"It can't be that simple," she breathed. "Otherwise, Cromptus' people would have used this method long ago."

"Not necessarily," Maya butted in. "The human body can withstand quite high temperatures, as long as the brain is kept cool. We don't know if his species would be able to."

"We've got to try it," said Vincent. "We can pack her head in ice and turn infra- red lamps on the rest of her body."

"Okay," Helena nodded. "Let's do it."

The three rushed over to the patient's bedside, Helena rapidly firing instructions at nurses and orderlies as she went.

"We'll need four infra- red lamps, a separate tent for the patient's head and-"

She stopped in mid- voice, stunned by the sight before her. Kristie's isolation tent was empty. Maya regained her presence of mind first and pushed the emergency button on a nearby commpost. Throughout the base, klaxons began to ring.

All eyes in Command Center had been on the big screen, where they were soberly watching the alien ship as it lifted off and began to make it's way back out into space.

"I knew it was too good to be true," said Tony in the silence. "Even when we were sitting on that beach on the planet, I couldn't believe finding a new home would be so easy."

"Well, we're no worse off than we were before, anyway," Alan added stoically.

"Some of us are," Sahn whispered, thinking of Kristie Peters lying in her isolation tent, and kind, gentle Ed Spencer's distress.

Alan patted her shoulder in sympathy, ashamed that he'd momentarily forgotten those two.

Then the emergency klaxons began to wail, making every person in Command Center jump.

"Medical!" the Commander exclaimed, wondering what could be happening down there now.

Cromptus was gone, wasn't he?

Maya's face appeared on the screen on his desk.

"Commander, Kristie is gone!"

"What do you mean, gone?" he asked in disbelief.

"We don't know exactly. Helena doesn't know how it would be possible for her to get up and walk, but she's not in her bed."

"Dammit," Koenig swore. "Tony, alert security. Tell them that under no circumstances are they to go near her when they locate her."

His Chief Of Security nodded and issued the orders, but his brain was ticking over.

"John, I don't think we'll find her," he said. "Do you remember Cromptus offering to 'dispose' of her for us?"

"My God, yes," was the reply. "Sahn, is that alien ship still within reach of our communications?"

"Yes Sir, it is moving away from us much slower than when it arrived."

"Then try to make contact," he ordered in a grim voice.

After a moment's fiddling, Sahn was successful.

Cromptus had been desperate. He realized that time was running out for him; there would be no chance of finding a compatible species for his people now. He was on the edge of death. He'd decided that there was nothing for it but to take the dying woman who'd been his test subject and try to extract some sort of antibody vaccine from her, if at all possible. When the Commander had refused his offer to dispose of the woman, he knew he would have to take her by stealth.

Dissembling his molecules, he waited impatiently in a wall cavity of the moonbase until his quarry was left alone. Then he had returned and removed her from her isolation tent, enfolding what was left of his diseased form around her as he made his escape back to his ship. Unfortunately, the journey across the moon proved almost too much for her. He lifted off and feverishly commenced work on extracting the few miserable antibodies that the woman had tried to produce, before he was beyond saving himself. It was at this point that the moonbase made further contact.

There was a collective gasp from the Alphan personnel present when Sahn made contact with Cromptus. He'd not bothered to change into his pleasing form and the sight that graced the big screen was revolting. Putrescent pink and red material dripped from a being that resembled a large slug, or at least it would have, if half of it's body had not been eaten away by the virus that ravaged it.

"What do you want now; I have no further time for you," it gurgled.

"You took something that doesn't belong to you Cromptus," shouted Koenig.

"What, the woman? I am sorry, but I cannot return her to you. She may prove useful to me in a small way, yet."

"I'm warning you, we will destroy your ship if you don't bring her back," the Commander continued.

"And I told you what will happen if you do that," was the reply. "She is of no further value to you anyway. Do not act foolishly on her account."

With that the alien pointed his communications equipment at what remained of poor Kristie. Two of the Command Center personnel promptly fainted.

The big screen then went mercifully blank.

"She's beyond help," grated Koenig.

"Commander, let's blow his ship up while we have the chance," said Carter. "It would be the kindest thing for Kristie and it will ensure that parasite can never harm anyone else again."

"Agreed; if there are any consequences, we can deal with them later," Verdeschi added, his face a mask of fury.

Koenig paused, wasting precious seconds while the alien ship moved farther away. At last, he gave the word.

Long range laser beams snaked out from guns situated on the moon's surface. Seconds later Cromptus' beautiful ship became a furious ball of light; a sun in miniature as whatever powered it exploded with the force of a mighty nuclear bomb...

In the days and weeks that followed, it seemed the whole of Moonbase Alpha was in mourning. They were minus a valuable member of their personnel, a new home, and temporarily, one doctor, while he grappled with the crushing blow of losing his fiancee in the most hideous of ways.

At first the base remained on alert, half expecting retaliation from Cromptus' home planet for their destruction of both he and his ship. But none came. Koenig privately wondered if they had become so ill that seeking revenge was beyond them.

Helena Russell did her best to pick up the pieces after the affair, tried to raise morale, particularly amongst the staff of Medical Center, who had lost one of their own. But it was hard going as she was so deeply affected by it herself, although she struggled not to show it. Only when she and John Koenig were alone, did she feel able to truly express her feelings of sorrow and guilt.

"You've got to stop shouldering so much of the blame for Kristie's loss yourself Helena," John said to her one evening, seriously worried to find her sitting in her office staring at nothing, long after she should have finished her shift. "You were a victim of Cromptus' lies, just as surely as the rest of us."

Helena shook her head.

"No; I gave permission for her to be the first donor," she said. "It really should have been me that went first. That's something I'm going to have to come to terms with, just as everyone on Alpha has to get over the fact that we lost yet another chance at a new home."

Koenig pondered the idea of what would have happened if Helena had been the test donor and inwardly shivered. He took her firmly by the hands and pulled her up from her desk.

"I seem to remember not so long ago, you telling me that we were all right here," he said gently. "As you said, we're lucky to be alive. And we do have each other, which is something we might never have had if we hadn't both ended up on this runaway moon."

Helena gave a watery smile and nodded.

"I know, but whenever I close my eyes, or have a moment to myself, I see that planet and that beach, and it brings it home to me all the more forcefully what we don't have. Then I think of Cromptus and his people; a race of beings in their death throes, struggling for survival. Willing to do anything they had to to keep themselves alive. Is that our future John?"

"No!" he said firmly. "We have time, Helena. Time to find a new home, have children, start to live again off this base. I'm convinced that we will find a place of our own; we couldn't have come this far if we weren't somehow meant to. But we must stay positive."

Helena knew he was right, saw the sense in what he said. She looked into his eyes and saw the genuine concern and love there.

"Do you remember Maya's idea for the egg bank she wanted us to set up?" she asked.

It seemed such a long time ago since that meeting.

Koenig nodded.

"I'm going to re-start work on it tomorrow, first thing. After seeing what happened to Cromptus, I don't think there is one person left on this base who wouldn't be anxious to take part in that project. And I think it will help Ed Spencer get back on his feet, too; give him something to occupy his mind."

"Great idea," he smiled, glad to hear her say something truly positive. "Let's get out of here; I want some time to myself with you before you become involved in any new projects that will take you away from me."

Still holding firmly to one of her hands he led her out of Medical Center and away up the corridor, towards his quarters.

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

Database last modified in 2018.

If this page does not display correctly, switch to the Plain Text layout