Back to main page

The Day After Tomorrow

Authors: Christopher Dalton
Episodes: Set before Catacombs of the Moon
Show Year: Y1
Rating: PG-13
Date: 2002
While exploring an Earth-like planet, the Alphans discover an alien pyramid and the secrets of a once advanced civilisation. But the secrets of Crom II could jeopardize them all.
Average Rating: 3.5/5 (based on 2 reviews)

In memory of Tim Dykema and Michael David Schulthies. We all love you and miss you. Rest in peace.
And finally, this story is dedicated to the memory of the seven astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, on February 1st, 2003 AD. Your commitment to the exploration of space is a tribute to your legacies. It is only through your courage, spirit, and dedication that the space program will continue without pause. We will not forget you...and we will always remember....

Author's Note - The beginning of the story is an excerpt from Homer Hickham. Jr's novel Back To The Moon, Copyright@1999 by Homer Hickham, Jr. All rights reserved. No infringement of copyright was intentional or on purpose. The author apologizes if such a violation, purely accidental, was made.

Apollo 17
Frau Mauro, the Moon, December 12, 1972

Gene Cernan was having the time of his life. He tried to restrain himself, but driving the Lunar Rover over the powdery regolith of the moon was simply too much fun not to bust loose now and then. When he hit a bump and the Rover's front wheels left the ground, he let out a whoop. Then he spotted a dune and, rather than steering away, headed straight for it. The Rover dug in, its wheels gaining traction. Cernan, grinning like a school kid, looked over at his partner, Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, who kept his eyes straight ahead, stoic as always. The Rover bounced as it went over the top of the dune, its wire wheels spinning.

Cernan spotted a large crater off to the left. He heard Schmitt's voice crackle in his helmet headset. "I want another reading on the traverse gravimeter." Schmitt pointed to the crater. "And I want to go over to Shorty."

Cernan marveled that Schmitt had memorized the name of every crater in the Taurus-Littrow region. "Okay, Jack. We're on our way."

He made a quick turn and pushed the joystick throttle forward.

"Be advised you are near red line on consumables, Gene," Houston Mission Control crackled in the headsets of both astronauts.

Cernan switched to crew-only comm. "You heard the man, Jack. We've got just enough oxygen to get back to the Lem."

Cernan heard Schmitt's exasperated sigh. "That's if we have to walk back, Gene, and you know that's not going to happen. The Rover's in good shape. I really need to take a look at Shorty. Make a bunch of geologists happy if I did. It's a bit of a mystery."

Cernan weighed the odds. If anything happened to the Rover, he and Schmitt would run out of oxygen before they would make it back to the Lem on foot. But Schmitt was the only scientist ever to walk on the moon. He needed every precious second he could get for his research. Cernan shrugged invisibly inside his thick environment suit. After this mission would come Apollo 18. Then Apollo 19. And then finally Apollo 20. After 20, it would be some time before men would be going back to the moon. Many years, as some predicted. Maybe it was time to play the odds. He stopped the lunar "dune buggy" at the base of the steep crater rim. "This do, Jack?"

Schmitt made no reply, not a second to waste. He hopped out and headed up the slope in as near a run as his suit would allow. Cernan detached the television camera from the Rover so he could show Houston the view. He trudged up the crumbling slope. The view up there was God beautiful! Undulating sand mountains lay like white porcelain sculptures in a vast gray ocean of dust. "Take a look at this, Houston!" Cernan called. After a pan he aimed the camera into the deep pit of the crater. "And this!"

While Cernan enjoyed the view and shared it with Earth, Schmitt kept up a one-sided commentary to the boys in the geologists' back room. "The crater named Shorty has a distinctly raised rim and a hummocky floor," he said. "Dark ejecta surrounds it."

Cernan pointed the video camera at Schmitt as he hustled over to a boulder that was coated with black dust. "I'm beside a boulder that has a knobbly surface and is covered with hairline cracks," Schmitt reported, and then laughed.

Schmitt's laugh was so unusual, Cernan switched to crew-only comm. "What's going on, Jack?"

Schmitt's voice was absolutely merry. "I've just solved in less than a minute an argument that's been raging in the geology world for years. Some of the boys saw that Shorty's volcanic others are meteor craters."

"Then tell the world, Jack." Cernan chuckled. He worked his way over to his partner and filled the television frame with him. "Hey, Houston, listen up - especially any geologists monitoring."

"Shorty is a fresh impact crater," Schmitt observed succinctly. He went to the crew-only mode. "Het, Gene - money's going to be changing hands in Houston on this one!"

"Wish I'd placed a bet myself!" Cernan answered, pleased that his partner was enjoying himself.

Schmitt went back to Earth comm. "There's an accumulation of basaltic spatter and cinders. Shorty's floor appears to be either impact-indurated soil breccia or the top of the subfloor basalt."

"Copy that," Houston intoned. But Mission Control seemingly had a one-track mind. "You should be heading back to the Lem now."

"I want a soil sample," Schmitt replied stubbornly.

"We got to go, Jack," Cernan told his crewmate as gently as he could, trying not to betray his own anxiety. Hypoxia was not an easy way to die. The Houston training people had been pretty graphic on what it would be like: First there would be a splitting headache, followed quickly by shortness of breath and air hunger. Being astronauts, they would probably gut it out and still trudge on but they would not get far. Convulsions would soon wrestle them to the ground and then they would gasp and twitch like a caught fish until the black shade of death enveloped them. Cernan guessed that would be a blessing.

Schmitt turned away, clumped down to the Rover, and popped the lid on the aluminum box that held drive tubes and tools. "This is important, Gene, and why we're here."

Cernan was the commander. He could order Schmitt back on the Rover, but there was something about Shorty Crater that made Cernan want to push the envelope. "Make it fast, Jack," he relented.

Schmitt puttered around the site, taking samples and gravity readings. Houston kept calling Cernan and reminding him that they were at the limit of their walk-back capability and Cernan kept replying that he knew it-just another minute more and they would be out of there.

"Oh, hey-wait a minute-there's orange soil here!" Schmitt's excited voice was an octave higher than usual.

Cernan shuffled through the gray dust to peer at the splotch of color in front of his partner. He briefly raised the shield on his helmet. There was no change in the hue. "He's not going out of his mind, Houston," he reported. "It is really orange!"

"I've got to see how big it is!" Schmitt said eagerly.

"I don't know, Jack," Cernan said worriedly.

Schmitt did not reply, bounded back to Rover to the storage bin and got out a rake. "Gene, if there ever was something that looked like fumarole alteration, this is it!" he exclaimed. He trudged back to the splotch. "Orange soil is consistent with oxidized iron. This indication of volcanic activity, but everything else about Shorty points to an impact crater. We haven't solved a mystery at all. We've just created one. We've got to get some samples back."

Cernan checked all his gauges and did not like what he saw. He waited a minute, then another, while Schmitt filled some sample bags. He looked at his gauges again. If the Rover conked out, they were dead men. "Let's go, Jack," he urged. "You got enough, right?"

"I still need a core sample." Schmitt puffed and picked up the drive tube he brought from the box.

Cernan watched Schmitt bobble the tube. He knew his partner was bone tired. Cernan was also feeling the fatigue of the long day. They had covered nearly two and a half miles of terrain, had made those stops, and gathered more than a hundred pounds of samples. Working on the moon in pressurized suits was not easy. Cernan's hands ached and his forearms felt as if somebody had tightened steel bands around them.

"I forgot the hammer," He heard Schmitt say apologetically.

Cernan ignored another call from Houston. "I'll get the hammer, Jack," he said. "Just stay where you are. Rest a little." Cernan moved and hopped to the Rover and opened the box, revealing a jumble of tools coated in sticky lunar dust. He was glad he would not have to clean them. Everything in the toolbox was scheduled to be left behind on the moon. as he searched, Houston made another call, this one a command to get back to the Rover NOW and head back to the lunar module named Challenger, their home on the moon and their ride up to Ron Evans in the Apollo Command Module America. Cernan had named the Lem after the old wooden sailing ship. Those old sailors had more time than he did. With both time and air running out, Cernan dug through the tools, still not finding the hammer. He grabbed the next best thing, a cylindrical canister capped on both ends. He had no idea it was or why it was in the toolbox but he did not care.

The soil was hard and Cernan had to use the canister to pound the drive tube with both hands. At two feet it refused to go any deeper. He gave it another tap, dropped the canister, and grabbed the sample tube with both hands and rocked it back and forth until it loosened enough to be pulled out. "Even the tube is orange!" Schmitt cried gleefully. It was something that even Dr. Werner von Braun and Professor Victor Bergman would have been amazed by, had then been here.

Cernan looked once more at the gauges on the front of his suit. All the needles were pointing south. "Come on!" he said, scuttling back to the Rover. He unlatched the sample box and stowed the precious orange-coated drive tube inside. If the Rover held together, if the oxygen gauges were correct, and if they did not get lost on the way back, they could make it. There were a lot of ifs in that equation, too many for Cernan's comfort. His fingers mentally crossed, he cranked up the juice as Schmitt climbed into his seat. Plumes of lunar dust from the Rover wheels erupted behind them as the two men on the moon made a desperate run against the clock.

The crew had made it back from Shorty Crater with their treasure of orange soil and geologists were licking their lips at the opportunity to see what they had actually found. There was a lick of flame at the base of the Challenger lunar module and then arcing debris flew away from it as it rose. The video camera attached to the Lunar Rover, abandoned by Cernan and Schmitt, tracked upward until the module and the men in it had disappeared into the black sky. Then it came slowly back to the abandoned lander and stared at the Challenger's truncated base.

While watching this on television, one person put her hands to her face and turned away. A terrible premonition had reached her, come down as if from heaven, and turned her soul to ice.

Moonbase Alpha
Plato, the Moon, September 13, 2000 AD

In the universe, suns are but mere grains of sand. A white dwarf was barely worthy of notice. Those who had come to Moonbase Alpha for a tour of duty were people of various fields and backgrounds. Some came to learn about the universe. Others to study certain scientific fields that the wheel-shaped, sprawling lunar colony had to offer. Some just for the fun. There had been those who were trying to find something. And there were others who were trying to get away from something. Little did the 311 men and women on Alpha know, that when they had stepped onto Earth's natural satellite, they were in for a tour of duty that would last for a lifetime.

When Nuclear Waste Disposal Area Two had detonated, due to high magnetic radiation levels, the Moon had been blasted out of Earth's orbit. The explosion had sent the moon out of the solar system and, quite surprisingly, the plane of the ecliptic. Southward and into the unknown.

Many of the Alphans wondered what would await them. Some wondered if they could ever return to Earth. Others just accepted the fact that it was scientifically impossible to return. What was once to have been an expedition to the planet Meta, turned out to be an odyssey for those who had come to Alpha. As to how they had survived, it was still a miracle. If not a mystery. One for which had no rational explanation.

That explanation did not matter to Matthew Prentis. He was just thankful that he was still alive and living safely within the sterile solitude of Moonbase Alpha. A place which he could call home. A place which the Kentucky native had found to be an Eden. A paradise for someone like him. The handsome, bearded man of twenty-eight had left Earth in a fit of disgust, hoping to never set eyes, or feet on the planet again. All because he had gotten disillusioned with the world. A disillusion that made him harsh and embittered. Having become sick of the state of humanity, he became a cynical and sarcastic misanthrope. Distressed and resentful, he came to the lunar colony to find something. When the waste dumps had detonated on September 13th, 1999, he actually felt that he got what he most wanted. A chance to exile himself from a place where man was capable of nothing but destruction.

Matt leaned over and rested his hands on the viewport's sill. Staring out at the desolate lunar surface. The outside was a direct contrast to the cold, antiseptic, and sterile environment of Alpha. But the naked, tall, and broad shouldered, young man did not mind it one iota.

Looking up at the black emptiness of space, the cold, eternal light of the stars shone dimly. To him, space was a wilderness, whose purity he accepted. A place he looked up at in his youth, having been a resident of New Louisville, Kentucky at the time. A place where it was peaceful and quiet. He often asked himself why the other Alphans wanted to find a new planet to colonize. Why they did not realize how wonderful they had a life here.

However, it was not his decision. It was the decision of Commander John Koenig and the rest of the colonists. People that he had sworn to protect and die for. People that, as much as he hated to admit it, were better than those on Earth. As far as he was concerned, they had to be better. The last thing he wanted was Earth and its savagery and venality poisoning a place he cherished.

Looking over at the sleeping form of a beautiful, nude, blond woman, covered up in the pale blue sheets of his bed, he smiled a little and walked over to his closet. Pulling out a fresh uniform, he began to dress. To him a security guard's job was never done. It was something he would not have any other way.

Pulling out his commlock, he pointed it at the door and pressed the button. The door slid open and he stepped out. Before leaving his quarters, he took one more look at the beautiful woman he had spent the evening before, in a passionate night of lovemaking, and closed the door. Walking down the spacious, pristine corridors of Moonbase Alpha, he headed toward the security office. Tony Verdeschi would be expecting those reports he filled out the night before. And it was something that he wanted to get out of his wavy, dark brown hair.

Security was one thing. Paperwork was just another.

John Koenig sat at the large conference room table in his spacious office, finishing the last of his lunch. He had gone over the latest reports with Paul Morrow and the other members of the command staff. The one from Alan Carter if Flight Control was most interesting. It had basically concerned the usage of dilanthium and Helium - 3 for more cleaner fuel on the Eagles. The other reports were just the usual. Nothing serious. Just some things that needed more attention to.

Koenig's office, adjacent to Main Mission, offered a wide, airy space, without the frantic activity and productivity of the center, seperated from it by a retractable wall. Windows offered glimpses of the Moon's surface, which provided vistas Koenig had nearly memorized in his year on Alpha. Beyond Koenig's desk, with its video monitor and regularly stacked reports, chairs and the dining table offered all of the amenities of a conference room.

"You look troubled," Helena Russell observed, finishing the last piece of hydroponic tomato on her plate.

Koenig realized that he could not hide what he was thinking from the lovely, ice-blonde doctor. The Chief Medical Officer of Alpha was always observant when it came to the psychological and physical well-being of everyone on Alpha.

"Not so much as troubled," Koenig said, putting the red plastic sheet down on the table. "Just concerned. Some of our food crops are not doing too well. Whether it is the environment or something else, the agricultural department is a bit puzzled. At least hydroponics has not been affected."

"I did an analysis in the agricultural station earlier, John," said Victor Bergman, finishing a small glass of water next to his finished plate. "It does look a bit like the beginning of a small infection. It's more than likely that it was caused by some exposure to radiation. Possibly from one of the stars we had passed by."

That was a bit of disturbing news, indeed.

"Could it escalate into something we could not contain?" Koenig asked.

The English Professor shrugged. "Hard to say. The analysis I ran earlier did not reveal much. I'm keeping an eye on it just be certain."

"If we had a large supply of dimodium," Koenig stated. "It could prevent a spread of a possible botanical plague."

"Judging by the information in Voyager's memory banks," Bergman recalled. "We should be coming across one of the planets that has a source of dimodium."

"That would help," Koenig admitted. "It's still hard to believe that it's been a year since all this started."

"That's probably why you are troubled," Helena said, leaning back in her chair. "You did not expect for all of to be here on Alpha. Just on a habital planet."

"It would be nice if we were," Koenig sighed. "Or if what happened at Area Two did not occur. Victor, you were right in naming that area The Sea Of Folly. Man's folly got us into this predicament. Sometimes I wonder if man's folly could get us out."

"It's an interesting thought, John," Bergman chuckled. "But one that is not healthy."

"John," Helena began. "You've done everything that you could do, concerning the emotional stability and safety of everyone here on Alpha. We all have. You should not be too hard on yourself for us not having found a world."

"It's not easy, Helena," Koenig said, appreciating the reassurance from her and his friend. "When you're responsible for less than three hundred and eleven lives, as well as their safety, it can be trying."

Commanding Moonbase Alpha was a feather in any World Space Commission astronaut's cap. However, it had gone beyond that for John Koenig. Koenig was an efficient and strong leader. One that many in the space program and Alpha had looked up to. One example of this admiration had led Matthew Prentis to punch out Commissioner Dixon, after he used John, Victor, and Tony Cellini as scapegoats for the failure of the Ultra Probe. Both Koenig and Bergman recalled how the former U.S. Air Force military policeman had charged into Dixon's office and punched him square in the nose. Matt's career in the space program would have ended if both Bergman and Koenig did not come to his defense. Thankfully, with their help, and the help of Matt's uncle, who was a board member with the WSC, the foul-tempered young man's career did not take a serious decline.

It did however, get Matthew Prentis a reprimand. And a position as one of Alpha's security officers. A position that both Koenig and Bergman seriously requested him for. Both of them felt that Matt could channel his frustration and turn it into something positive on Alpha.

Koenig and his command capabilities had helped pull the Alphans chestnuts out of the fire on more than one occasion. He may have been iron-willed on some things, but when it came to the safety of everyone on Alpha, he took that position of responsibility seriously. It was those admirable qualities that made the Alphans want to follow him to hell and back. It was also something that made Koenig uncomfortable on more than one occasion. Especially with no superiors on Earth to fall back on. It was something that could lead to a detachment of some type.

Koenig rested his fork on the plate, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "I have to admit that there are times when I would gladly trade this for something else," he neatly folded his napkin and placed next to the plate. "Or have someone else take charge. The sooner we find a new home, the better."

"At least you're in command and not Gorski," Helena said, with a bit of humor. "I doubt he could have handled the situation better."

"Anton Gorski was many things," Bergman reflected, swirling the water in his glass. "But, a well liked leader..."

"That's another story," Koenig finished. He heard that his predecessor was not well liked or admired before he was relieved by Commissioner Simmonds. The thought of Simmonds did not help Koenig's train of thought, either. "He may have been flexible on some issues. However...."

Koenig's sentence was interrupted by the low rumbling of something. Something which felt like a low level moonquake. The rumbling became a deep sound which shook everything. Even the plates, glasses, and utensils rumbled.

"What the hell...?" Helena began.

Bergman also had a concerned look, despite his lack of emotional fear on his old features. Some envied him of that lack of panic. One of the advantages of having an artificial heart. Or as Bergman would say, "a clockwork heart."

"That does not feel like a moonquake," the thinning haired scientist pointed out.

The communications post near Koenig's desk beeped. The blue-white image of Paul Morrow in Main Mission appeared. The mustached young man looked surprised and worried all at once.

"Commander, we have a situation here," he began.

"We're on our way, Paul," Koenig replied as he, Helena, and Victor got up hurriedly from the table.

Koenig pointed his commlock at the retractable door, which slid opened. The vast area of Main Mission was a frenzy of activity. Various personnel were at their consoles, trying to figure out what was causing the Moon to shudder violently. Main Mission Controller Paul Morrow and Data Analyst Sandra Benes were hard at work at both of their respective stations, trying to locate the source. Koenig noticed Alan Carter rushing in. The stocky Australian pilot had obviously arrived from Flight Control or one of the launch pads.

"Sandra," Koenig barked. "Have all sensors and scanners up to full power!"

"Yes, sir," the short-haired woman replied, keying in Koenig's order.

"Kano," Koenig said, standing next to Morrow, who was busy typing in some order into his computer. "Computer report as fast as you can get it!"

"Working on it, Commander," the Jamaican computer technician said, frantically punching keys into his console's board. "It's being slow for some reason!"

Hell of a time for a bytelock! Koenig looked over at Paul. "Paul, activate the big screen. Let's find out what is happening."

"Right away, sir," the young man responded.

Paul punched in the command and the main viewing screen showed more than just an image of deep space and the Christmas-tree like panorama of stars that spotted it. It showed a a whirling mass of green energy. Something that reminded John of either an F5 tornado or something worse, weather related.

"Any idea what's happening, John?" Victor wondered.

Koenig shook his head. He was just as stunned as everyone else was at such a violent site. "I don't know, Victor. But the way the moon is shaking, we had better find out fast!"

"Commander, on the screen!" Paul Morrow yelped out.

Koenig immediately saw what Paul had reacted to. Pieces of some debris were being scattered in all directions. Almost like either a hurricane or a tornado were ripping apart something on the surface. Koenig had seen documentaries about such dangerous weather before. The documentary on the Louisville, Kentucky tornado of April 3, 1974 still rang fresh in the back of his computer-like mind. He wondered what Matthew Prentis found so fascinating about that historical subject.

"If I did not know better," Koenig stated, stunned at the sight. "I'd swear we were in the middle of a terrestrial hurricane!"

"All that debris out there," Helena said, gripping the console that Sandra was on. "It's like a celestial minefield!"

"Commander!" Sandra looked up from the blue-white readout on her console. "Computer reports radiation levels are at the danger point and rising!"

"Paul, activate radiation and meteorite defense screens!" Koenig ordered immediately. "Seal all bulkheads! Damage, rescue, and medical units stand by! Red Alert!"

Paul depressed a button and the base's klaxon immediately sounded. All personnel on Alpha immediately followed through with Koenig's orders. Computers began processing those orders as fast as Kano punched them in. The moon continued to shake and shudder, causing Moonbase Alpha to vibrate as though it were in the grip of a giant hand.

"All nonessential personnel to emergency shelters!" Koenig commanded. "Paul, have all emergency systems on standby status!"

As everyone continued to put emergency countermeasures into action, the storm began to build up to a ferocious climax. The sound levels reached a point beyond the limits of human endurance. One by one, everyone in Main Mission and all of Alpha began to fall unconscious and hit the cold, smoothness of the floor, oblivious to the raging fury outside and around the Moon.

Sharp pain clamped down on the Alphans like a vise as they passed out.

Darkness enclosed them.

Then the storm blew itself out, and died within a matter of minutes.

The Moon was drifting in a region of bright stars. Brighter than anyone had ever seen. Billions and billions of stars in a glowing curtain of them.

It was a spectacular sight to behold.

About an hour had passed by before the Moon had gone through the turbulence. One by one, the Alphans began to regain conciousness. The unconscious staff in Main Mission were scattered over the floor. Some were clutching their heads. Others were merely trying to get their equilibrium back. Koenig climbed to his feet and watched the others recovering and rising. He stumbled down to Paul, who was rising back up. The young man shaking his head, trying to clear his mind of what had transpired.

Koenig placed a hand on his arm to help support him."Paul, you alright?"

Paul managed to focus his eyes and nodded."Yes, sir."

Looking around him and watching the other personnel regain their momentum he returned his attention to Paul."Check all internal Moonbase systems." He looked over at Helena and helped her stand up. From the looks on her beautiful features, she was no worse for wear. Merely stunned. "Helena, you alright?"

"I think so," she said, still a bit dazed. She cleared her mind and looked about her to see if anyone had been injured. Her periphreal vision caught the unconcious form of Matthew Prentis, still lying on the floor. Both john and Helena knelt down next to the bearded young man. Helena did a check of his vital signs.

"Matt," she began, a bit shocked. "He's alive, but there could be some internal injuries."

Koenig pulled out his commlock immediately.

"Doctor Mathias?"

The image of Helena's assistant, Robert Mathias appeared. He too, looked a bit haggard from the phenomena that the Moon had just encountered.

"Yes, Commander?"

"How are things down there?" Koenig demanded.

"Nothing too serious," the African-American doctor responded. "Getting back to normal."

Koenig nodded."Get a Medical Crew to Main Mission." Clipping his commlock back on his belt he turned to Alan. "Alan. You alright?"

The blond pilot rubbed his left arm, and grimaced a little, like someone who had a minor case or arthritis. He nodded in reply."Yeah."

"Check with Reconnaissance, see if any of the Eagles were damaged."


Koenig looked over at Sandra, who reactivating her console computer, checking all internal systems within the lunar base."Sandra. Call Technical Section. I want an Emergency Repair Crew on standby. Get damage reports from all sections."

"Right away, Commander." she replied punching a few computer keys.

"Kano," Koenig began. "Check all sensors and scanners. Paul, do we have power?"

Morrow checked the diagnostic readouts on his consoles small screen.

"I think so, sir," he checked again, satisfied at the answer he received. "Yes, we do. All systems are on-line and normal."

"Good," Koenig said. "Activate the big screen."

The cold, empty image on the screen was replaced by the image of normal space and the unusual heavy curtain of stars. Something which did not set right with Victor Bergman, as he studied the starfield, with a close eye.

"Well, we're in the clear at last." Koenig stated.

"Commander," Sandra called from her station. "All sections report no major damage. Just a few minor injuries."

"That's a help," Koenig said, relieved at the news. He looked over at Victor, who was still studying the star display. Koenig could tell that his old instructor was troubled by the image he saw. Something which reminded him of the unsual space warp that the Moon had gone through about a year past. Something that resulted in the death of Technician Regina Kesslam and the Alphans discovering a future Earth and themselves.

"Victor," Koenig began, taking a breath."What the hell do you think that was all about? What hit us?"

Victor frowned, a bit puzzled by the events that transpired. He shook his head as he ran his right hand through his thinning hair. "I don't know, John. But, I might have a guess." He walked over to Alan's console and pressed a couple buttons on the keyboard. A small image of the navigation charts from Voyager One's database came on. "Not only have we changed position in space, the charts show something interesting. There should have been no stars, planets, or any other concentration of matter in the area we were in before. Nothing but empty space."

Koenig was just as disturbed as Victor was. "How do you explain all that debris we passed through?"

"Well, the only conclusion I can reach is that we have come through another black sun." Bergman guessed."One more powerful than that one we had passed through, before. The one that killed Michael Ryan."

Koenig recalled the incident all too clearly. Thankfully, Victor's idea of a forcefield had helped save the Alphans, when they had entered it. Touching the event horizon and being slingshoted through. To another part of the Milky Way galaxy, or another galaxy. It was still hard to determine where in the universe they were.

"A black sun?" Koenig was trying to absorb all the information in. "But, without the forcefield, wouldn't it have drawn us into a dying star and incinerated us?"

Bergman shook his head and looked back up at the screen. "Not if we passed through the outer fringes only and came upon within the gravitational field of another star. One which...."

"Commander," came Sandra's voice. "We've got a new contact!"

Koenig looked over at Paul. "Bring it up the screen."

Paul punched in Koenig's order, and the image of a binary system appeared. One red giant and one white dwarf star. Paul enhanced the image, which revealed some planetary bodies in polar orbit.

"Another solar system," Koenig determined. "Kano, have computer give a read out of the system directly ahead."

Kano typed in some commands, and a small spool of paper printed out of his console's small paper slot. He pulled out the small sheet and read it over.

"Computer has determined that the solar system is similar to Earth's," He reported. "At least ten planets. Some of which seem to support life. We're not in range yet to determine which ones."

Koenig found this interesting, but still erred on the side of caution. "Have computer do a cross reference of the data from Voyager One's databank. See if the probe had come through this system."

"Yes, sir," Kano turned back to his console and began setting up the translink.

"We may have come across a system that could be beneficial to us," Koenig stated. "Possibly for colonization."

"Possibly," Victor admitted, still studying the image on the screen. "We'll know soon enough. I'll check some of the data in the lab. See what I can turn up."

Koenig nodded as Victor exited Main Mission. He turned his attention back to the screen. Some of the others in Main Mission were just as curious as to what lie ahead in that system.

It was a gift wrapped in an enigma.

In Matt's dream everything was in grainy, washed-out, desaturated colors adding to the atmosphere of wistful yet austere, dream-like strangeness. The modern London settings -- with their cobblestone streets, shabby, dilapidated buildings, desolate fields, rubble-strewn alleyways, and forbidding, blackened Gothic-Victorian faades and hints of minimalist fascist architecture -- resembled a Depression-era housing project after the Luftwaffe. Typical industrial architecture and grey landscapes.

He could even hear a musical score, with its martial clarion calls, bombastic church-organ blasts, and swelling choral leitmotiv of some anthem, which had a mixture of Wagnerian grandeur and Bach-like religiosity about it. The bizarre, mantra-like drones of a much-maligned soundtrack rose and fell, weaving in and out like so many subconscious banshee wails.

Walking through the area, he came upon an area that was firey and pockmarked, like an old Becton gasworks factory. Abandoned along the Thames in Great Britain. A place saturated with over a hundred years of toxic byproducts and pernicious dust. Enormous and derelict, the fine, black dust permeated everything. An environment of bizarely luminous, hard, symmetrical surfaces that demanded conformity from its inhabitants. Whoever they may have been.

From what Matt could tell, it was a rubble-strewn urban wasteland. One against a backdrop of squat, box-like buildings that laser gunfire had reduced to concrete shells. A gray, almost blank landscape of concrete, twisted iron, and rubble. A place where only the noticeable colors came from billowing clouds of blackened smoke, red-orange volcanoes of fire, and the like.

It was a jagged, concrete skyline nightmare in broad daylight. A firebombed Dresden on the day after. Greasy and crumbling.

It was also there that he saw a beautiful woman. One that was completely naked, and had semi-long dark black hair. Not only did she have the appearance of a lovelorn dairymaid, she had a serene, arresting presence -- and she appeared as mysteriously stirring and beguiling to him. She held a captivating freshness and warmth to her personality, much like young Harriet Andersson. Her pale, wiry, broad-hipped body had a simple, unaffected, almost archetypal beauty, quirky and gentle, she radiated all the tactile sensual grace of a Munch or Degas nude.

She also looked like a couple of women he had dated and made love with when he had been on Earth. Particularly when he had been in England at one time.

"Who are you?" he asked, feeling an erection.

The woman looked at him closely and spoke. "What you can't stand, you run from. Like you ran from Earth."

Matt was a bit taken aback by that remark. It had been the same remark said by a woman he once dated, before going to Moonbase Alpha. Who had it been? Blair Douglas? Stacy Martin? Suzanne Hamilton?

It had been Stacy Martin. Someone he had met at his uncle's mansion in Cambridge, on the famous university's campus.

He had also remembered what he had said in response to her accusation and the following remarks from both her and him in the end.

"That's right. To get away from people like you!"

Obviously, the relationship ended on a sour note. Matt just did not recall what had led to the falling out.

"To set up your own little universe?"

"To help feed yours!"

"You're no seeker, Matt. You're negative. You thought life on Earth was meaningless. You despised people. So what did you do? You ran out!"

Matt recalled the verbal exchange and accusations with sparkling clarity now. He also recalled his reply. One that would have pigeonholed him both as a smary-know-it-all type and a smartass teenager in a stolen vehicle.

"No, my dear," he had said, reciting a dialogue he once heard in a film. "I'm a seeker too. But I can't help thinking that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man. Has to be."

He looked over at the nude woman again, who was now on the ground, lying on her back, with a nude young man on top of her, making passionate love. Welcoming the young man inside of her, the woman moaned with pleasure and love....

Matt awakened in Medical Center, wondering what the hell had happened. He was still in uniform and he felt the need to urinate. He managed to rise up and swing his legs over, almost losing his balance. He noticed that Helena was next to him, trying to help him keep his balance.

"Are you alright, Matt?" she inquired.

Matt nodded. "I think so. What happened? I remember being in Main Mission..."

"You had a bit of a nasty fall," she explained. "Do you remember anything?'

"Just wondering where that tornado had come from," he said, half-jokingly. "I'm okay. I need to return to..." he almost slipped off the bed, but Helena managed to catch him.

"What you need to do is to lie down and keep still," Helena ordered. "You're lucky you did not suffer a concussion or suffer any other injury."

"I feel fine, doc," Matt protested.

"We'll see after you've rested," Helena stated. "That's a medical order."

Matt almost protested again, but decided against it. He nodded his understanding. "Can I at least use the restroom?"

Helena smiled at the young man's humor. "Of course."

Helping Matt up, the young man was standing on his own two feet. Informing her silently that he was fine, he walked over to the rest room and closed the door.

He felt better after relieving himself.

But he felt disturbed about the dream he had.

Walking down the corridor, Koenig entered Bergman's quarters. He found the professor staring intently at the transparent clearboard on the far side of the cluttered room near the computer terminal. Both the clearboard and the terminal's screen were covered with figures and mathematical equations. Marker in hand, Victor jotted down two more equations.

"Ah, John," Victor said, noticing Koenig in the open doorway. "I'm almost finished here." He added a line of symbols to the clearboard. The table beside him was littered with scripts of data printouts. Victor wrote furously, rubbing out some mistakes with the edge of his fist, humming tunelessly to himself. Koenig waited patiently, rather than speaking up. He recognized from experience that Victor was hot on the trail of an idea, and needed to run himself out of steam before he could answer any questions.

Without looking away from the board, he responded to Koenig's as-yet-unasked question. "I've given Paul some figures to look over. He is processing them now, seeing if what I am guessing is right."

"What are you guessing?" Koenig said, smiling at the Professor's characteristic humility.

"Well....I'm trying to figure out....if we had somehow....came near sun," Victor explained, with pauses to scribble a line or two on the board. "It looks more like something else. Judging by the data and other calculations, I'd say we passed through a wormhole. Or quite possibly...a subspace conduit. Somehow, the Moon passed through an phenomena that caused it to effectively vanish from the universe for one hour, and come back into existence here. Or, if you want to look at it from another perspective, the Moon was simply tunneled from its prior location to here. By something where physical laws have no application."

"A physical warp?" Koenig asked. "We've been studying that theory for years. Some scientists have defined such a phenomena as a 'rip in our universe'."

"A rip in the universe," Bergman rolled the term around in his mind. Like the definition described as a space warp, his face clearly expressed a dislike for it. "I suppose one could define it in those terms. However, it is not entirely accurate. Judging by the data provided by the computer and the calculations I made earlier, it seems as though this phenomenon was not a natural effect. Of course we won't know until Paul has the rest of the data analyzed."

"Not a natural effect," Despite the overwhelming information, Koenig allowed his astrophysicist side a brief moment of amazement. "It sounds like this phenomena was created purposely."

"Possibility does exist," Victor crossed over to a chart cabinet and pulled open a drawer. Hauling another starchart out, he placed it on the table next to Koenig. "This is a printout I made from Voyager's databank. Apparently, it had encountered something similar like this, around 1989. Around the location of a blue giant in the constellation of Orion."

"Bellatrix," Koenig said, recalling the star.

"Three hundred and twenty light years from Earth," Victor said, returning to the board. "And millions of light years from us. The readings Voyager had recorded are similar to the ones that Main Computer had taken after the storm. What is even more interesting is that Voyager recorded some of these phenomena near both the Orion Arm and the Sagittarius Arm."

Koenig looked over the charts and the information that the late Dr. Ernst Queller's project provided. "Disruption of magnetic and gravimetric fields. Impossible radiation variations. Some...time warp distortions. I'd say these are not natural phenomena."

A cime sounded from the communications post in the corner of the cluttered room, and Paul Morrow's face appeared on the display screens on each side of the pillar.

"Commander, could come to Main Mission? We have something."

Victor gave Koenig a rueful look. "Looks like we may have some answers."

Both headed out the door at a brisk pace.

Once it was confirmed that the Moon had entered the outer fringes of the solar system, detailed observations of the sector of space quickly and immediately got underway. First, the visual impression of the extreme density of the stellar population was confirmed. With stars generally seperated by less than one light year apart, an entire race, or group of races, would have fit into less than fifty cubic parsecs. There was also a certain uniformity that had not been encountered in any previously known sector of space, recorded by Voyager One. There were virtually no extremely old or young stars. The majority were also class G, not vastly different from Sol, and all were prime candidates, statistically speaking, for having families of planets.

There were no solidly based theories about how such a cluster, which appeared to extend several hundred parsecs in all directions, could have come about. What generated the most discussion during those first hours, however, was Professor Bergman's suggestions that there might be a link between the clusters and the spatial phenomena that Voyager One encountered near Bellatrix and the one the Moon had passed through. Assuming even a moderately dense mass of primordial nebular material, the gravitational turbulence of the gates would be more than enough to trigger the formation of far more stars than would come into existence otherwise.

Bergman's theory, however, raised more questions than it answered. For one thing, the phenomena would have to have been in existence billions of years ago, when these stars were formed, which meant that if they were indeed artificial as the Voyager One memory bank had suggested, their creators were almost certainly long gone. For another thing, despite the fact that the Moon had been deposited here by, what could have been best described as a gate, there was no evidence now either of that gate, or of any other subspace energy conduit. All of those apparently were back in a sector where star population was, if anything, sparser than average. There was also the arther obvious paradox that if the gravitational turbulence had indeed triggered the formation of stars, the stars would have formed around the phenomena, which, if still functioning, would have bled off the infalling matter, thereby preventing the formation of the stars the turbulence had triggered in the first place.

Still, the idea was intriguing, and it generated plenty of discussions.

With the Moon in range of some of the outer planets in the system, Koenig had immediately ordered a full sensor and scanner sweep. The results were not promising at first. In fact, it became quite depressing.

The red giant's diameter was a few thousand kilometers greater, with a surface temperature a few hundred degrees higher. It even had a scattering of sunspots, a phenomenon that had turned out to be relatively rare among suns with habitable planets, though no one had yet advanced an acceptable theory to account for that rarity.

One of the planets was roughly earth-sized, and well within the zone in which terrestrial life could exist. Another of the planets was the almost inevitable gas giant and a tiny ball of frozen methane.

On the fringe of the system, was the hulk of what had once been an observation satellite thousands or tens of thousands of years past, still orbiting the outermost planet. That, however, was the only indication of life the Alphans had found. As far as they could tell from that distance, there were no other artificial satellties anywhere in the system. No ships of any type, and no detectable communications activity in either the electromagnetic or subspace spectra. It appeared to be, despite the remains of the observation satellite, a dead system.

Four hours had passed as the Moon drifted near another earthlike planet. As expected, and surprised, the sensors still showed no evidence of life.

There was, however, ample evidence of death and destruction.

What remained of an atmosphere was a veritable sea of radioactivity, and the surface was like that of Mercury, pitted by thousands of craters. And yet, the craters were not caused by meteorites or volcanic activity. It had been caused by an almost inconceivable bombardment of fusion bombs. Even the oceans had been sterilized of life, boiled away by the heat of destruction and turned into a radioactive soup as they recondensed and settled into the old seabeds and the countless craters.

For several seconds no one in Main Mission made a sound. They could only watch as the long range scans composed of ghastly images flowed silently across the viewscreen. Sandra's teeth were clenched as she gripped the surface of her desk, and when she finally spoke, her voice was hushed with a terrible kind of awe.

"My, God! What kind of force could be capable of something like this? What intelligence..." Her voice trailed away as she shook her head and wiped briefly at her eyes.

"Victor, how long past could this have happened?" Koenig asked after another protracted silence.

Bergman, whose eyes, like everyone else's, had been riveted on the screen, turned to the readouts on Paul's console. Like Paul, he was a bit stunned at the sight they saw projected.

It's impossible to say precisely, John, without detailed information on the number and nature of the weapons used. Assuming, of course, if weapons had been used. Judging by what we've been able to scan of the system's outer planets, and the assumption that the usage of devices are similar to those once used in the third world war, I would estimate approximately eleven thousand years have passed since this bombardment took place. Possibly less than three thousand."

Victor's calculations and his matter-of-fact tone seemed to restore some measure of objectivity to the others, though Sandra still looked as grim-faced as before.

"Is there any chance the inhabitants of this system could have done this to themselves?" Koenig asked softly. "Two factions fighting each other for control of this system?"

"What if it were not a power struggle?" Alan guessed. "It could have been an invading force. Or even something else that had nothing to do with a war. Something like the Y2K virus causing a breakdown of defense systems, resulting in this mess."

"It's possible on both fronts," Victor accepted the three theories. "If it were what Alan had just suggested, it would have to have been a network system more powerful than Earth's and a virus stronger than Y2K. As far as a war between the inhabitants of this system and an invasion force, the probability is just the same as that of two opposing factions. Psychologically speaking, both combatants would have to have been totally irrational and suicidal. Less than one percent of the weapons used here would have been sufficient to effectively destroy all life outside the oceans, and anyone capable of launching such weapons would certainly have been aware of that fact. This amount of destruction and residual radiation are the results of either a breakdown of systems or an attack by a fleet of spacecraft. Whatever the cause of this was, it acheived precisely the same result - itdestroyed all life on these outer planets and ensured that neither one would be habitable by any life for hundreds of thousands of years."

"Based on an analysis of the elements that are producing most of the radioactivity," began Kano from his console. "It would, in fact, appear that most of the radioactivity is not the direct result of the fusion explosions themselves, but the result of the materials in which the weapons were housed."

"Clean fusion weapons can destroy a world but allow life forms to return safely in a relatively short time," Paul brought up. "If these were weapons that did this, they would appear to have been deliberately designed to be as dirty as it was possible to build them."

Koenig shuddered. "It makes me wonder if this civilization had a technology that had gotten out of hand. What kind of a madhouse have we fallen into?"

"John, there is a possibility that this catastrophe, whatever caused it, had happened a long time ago," Victor offered. "Judging by what we have discovered, there is nothing to indicate that who or what was responsible, is still around."

"Maybe so," Koenig said, his eyes flickering apprehensively at the sheer savagery of the destruction still visible on the viewscreen. "The bad thing is that there is nothing to indicate they aren't around. If there was a civilization capable of this a millennium past, I'm beginning to wonder what kind of weapons they would have developed and left behind. If any were left behind."

It was obvious that the system itself, all ten planets, were nothing more than charred, scorched, and lifeless worlds. The fourth and fifth planets, like the first three, were once habitable worlds. Now, like the first three, they had been destroyed in a very thorough fashion. The sensors could only indicate that the destruction had occured somewhere roughly in the same period of time as the others.

The sixth planet of the system had once been a habitable world. It, too, had all of its life scoured from the surface. Yet, it had been in a different, less permanent way. Here, it had appeared that spacebourne lasers had been used. There was no radiactivity, and life survived in the oceans. On the land, some plant life survived as well, and, except for the lack of any animal life larger than insects and except for deserts that had been turned to glass, certain areas looked pleasantly pastoral. The time of destruction, the computer estimated, was also different - in the twenty-to-thirty-thousand-year range.

The seventh and eighth planets did not look promising. After two weeks of drifting through the solar system, it was becoming of no surprise to the Alphans. The seventh planet apparently had missiles used on it less than five thousand years past. Even one of its moons had the residue of a deadly, corrosive chemical gas that had blanketed its entire surface.

Only the ninth and tenth planets had something that did not fit the pattern of total destruction.

Both planets themselves, dead for at least fifty thousand years, was no different from the remaining eight. The long range sensors detected that all plant and animal life was gone from the land, devoured by enough missiles to do the job a hundred times over.

Deep beneath the surface, however, of the tenth planet's second moon, apparently beyond even the reach of the radiation that still poisoned space for a thousand kilometers around, the sensors detected an operating power source. More than five kilometers below the surface, small amounts of power were being used and produced, and at the same point there were peculiar and extremely low-level readings. Low-level and faint.

"This is interesting," Victor said after nearly two minutes of steady concentration on the readouts from Kano's console. "The computer has never encountered anything quite like this before."

"Artificial life, perhaps?" Koenig suggested.

"Hard to say, John," Victor confessed, shrugging. "At least it is no type of artificial life I am familiar with."

"Don't forget, this is another part of the universe," Alan offered. "Who knows what could have been created here?"

"Something that may have been beyond our own science," Koenig stated. "An organic computer, perhaps? The World Space Commission looked into that before artificial inteligence came into existence."

"It's doubtful," Victor said, looking at the data readout on the spool of paper. "From what I recall of those studies, an organic computer would give off a different electromagnetic signature. This signature that the sensors are detecting are on a different wavelength."

Koenig stared at the image of the planet's second moon. A thought passed through his mind. "Kano, can you give us a computer readout on the second moon?"

Kano typed in Koenig's command and the computer processed the raw data. The response came out on another small spool of printout. He tore off the paper from the small slot and read it over.

"It's about the same size as the moon," Kano read off the sheet. "Atmosphere breathable. Cloud cover is H20. Oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere. Surface temperature is seventy-five and compatable with human existence. Apparently, whatever had devastated this system, left this small moon unscathed and unharmed."

Everyone in Main Mission found this information interesting, if not unusual.

"It sure looks promising for colonization," Koenig observed. "But there is something strange about it."

There was a small beep from Kano's console, and he immediately looked at the board. "Commander, the computer has detected a low level scanning beam. Emmiting from the surface of the planet's second moon!"

Koenig looked up at the big screen and then back at Kano's console.

"What is it doing?" Koenig demanded.

Kano looked over his board and then hurried up to the row of consoles under Main Mission's balcony. The young technician tapped a few requests into the computer keys. Another spool of paper emerged. He tore it off and read the answer.

"It's only scanning our system functions," Kano said, tearing off another spool of paper that emerged. He read the contents quickly. "Other essential and non-essential systems. It has scanned all of our memory banks and files. No damage was caused by the scanning."

Koenig found it unnerving.

"It could be that someone or some form of intelligence is trying to establish contact," Victor guessed. "They could be trying to find out who and what we are."

"Maybe," Koenig said, still uneasy at what had transpired. "It could be an invitation...or a warning. Paul, go to yellow alert status. Alan, have Eagle Five ready on Launch Pad One. We're going down to take a closer look."

"Right," Alan responded.

"Well, Victor," Koenig began. "If it's an invitation, let's accept it."

"They made the first step," Victor stated, following John to the exit. "It should be interesting."

"Paul, have Doctor Russell, Security Chief Verdeschi, and three others meet us at Pad One," Koenig ordered. "Alan, I'd like you to fly it."

"Right behind you, sir," Alan said, rising up from his station.

It was no secret to some Alphans as to why Matthew Prentis came to the lunar colony in the summer of 1999 AD. It was also no secret that he had punched out the former Commissioner of the WSC for reasons of loyalty and admiration. John Koenig knew, as did some of the command staff, that Matt's cynicism and lost faith in humanity were the key forces that had driven him from Earth. Forces which made him seek a better life, wherever it took him. The irony of someone so misanthropic, who welcomed the chance to be assigned to Moonbase Alpha, only to be trapped on the Moon when it was blasted out of Earth's orbit, was unique at best.

The six foot, four inch tall young man had often confessed that he had been tired of everything running in cycles. Fed up with the horseshit of institutions. And, eventually having doubts about his race. Helena had observed that he could have been a throwback to the mountain men of late 1880's America. Matt had rejected urban society, Earth's way of life and love, and a civilization that had gone decadent and corrupt. Judging by the young man's psychological profile, Helena had noted that he had accepted the assignment to Alpha for one main reason.

Matthew Prentis was hiding from life.

The profile stayed fresh in Helena's memory as she noticed Matt sitting next to Security Chief Tony Verdeschi, Geologist Heather Sullivan, Shermeen Williams from the hydroponics section, and Professor Bergman.

One thing about Matt that Helena did note in her file that was really of no importance. He was the biggest young man anyone had ever met. If genetic engineers were ever given a contract to design the ultimate, essential Englishman (his ancestory was British, something he was very nationalistic about, despite his Kentucky roots) they might have come up with something like him. Tall, broadly shouldered and built, brown-haired, bearded (neatly trimmed that is), with the blood of mighty Celtic kings in him. Fierce-looking, with the gentle appreciative soul of a poet. Gentle and appreciative, that is, unless he were confronted by something that would infuriate him. He had that unapproachable persona and intimidating height about him that would make newspaper reporters not go anywhere near him.

That was fine with him. He did not care much for the media on Earth.

"Carter, here," came Alan's voice over the intercom. "We'll be launching in five seconds."

John walked into the Eagle's command module and sat down on the port seat, next to the Australian astronaut. Strapping himself in, he went over the last few items on the checklist, and motioned Alan to fire the engines.

After pressing a few buttons on his panel, the Eagle lifted off from the launch pad and immediately headed toward the second moon of the planet that they were in range of.

Koenig checked the data readout on his panel's small screen.

"Judging by the computer's answer," Koenig deducted. "We'll be in range of this planet for at least four days. Plenty of time for a Phase One probe."

Alan stared at the mottle of white, green, and blue as it lazily orbited the large planet. It seemed peaceful enough. But like everyone else, appearances could be deceiving. The small moon that he could see in the Eagle's viewport could qualify for such a category.

"Looks like a forest moon," Alan noted. "I'm still surprised that this ball of dust was not affected by the destruction we have seen."

"Yeah, it does sound ominous," Koenig admitted, flicking a switch. "Helena, have there been any response to our signals?"

In the passenger module of the Eagle, Helena sat at one of the scientific consoles, checking other readouts and displays. "No, John. There's been nothing since we lifted off."

"It's possible that they wish to remain anonymous," Victor suggested, with some trace of humor. "Whoever it was that scanned our computer banks."

"Keep checking," Koenig ordered. "Try contacting by using the entire band spectrum. Maybe, we'll get a response."

"I'd prefer the responses to be straightforward and not clouded in mystery," came the sardonic response of Tony Verdeschi.

Koenig managed a bit of a smile at that reply. Verdeschi was normally as gregarious as Alan, if a trifle more serious. Tony had always seemed like a bright young man with a future, and Koenig had often thought he needed more responsibility. After the incident with the machine planet and its inhabitants last year, Verdeschi was given more responsibility. His heroic actions, along with Matt's, had cemented that point.

Not that he disliked Verdeschi, he just did not know him well. He had only become head of security following the death of the man who had commanded it when Koenig had come to Alpha. The security chief was never included in command staff meetings, and rarely accompanied Koenig on reconnaisance missions.

With the attrition in the security force over the last year, however, the chief was called on to be more active. Besides, Verdeschi, like Koenig, believed a leader belonged on the front lines, facing the same danger his subordinates did. He was truly superior to his predecessor anyway. Now that they were in space, security's function had changed.

Once they had protected the base against infiltration by possible terrorists, controlled members of the press, done little more than airport security could have been expected to do two decades ago. Now they were called upon to settle the internal disputes that came with the confinment of Alpha's new life. They observed and confined those who became violent from the strain and monotony and hopelessness of endless space travel. They faced any number of unexpected dangers from outside the walls of Alpha.

Tony was quick on his feet, adaptable, just suspicious enough, and relatively calm. He had a temper, yes, but not the unpredictable one Alan Carter often displayed. Or even Tony's second in command. The position that Matt held.

"The cloud cover is very heavy, John," Alan reported. "There is a break right over there at two o'clock," he pointed at the small image on his panel's screen. "Looks like there is a good landing area below it."

Koenig nodded. "It's time we got some answers. Set her down, Alan."

Landing on a hilltop of the forest moon's surface, the Alphan landing party stepped out of the Eagle and soon found themselves overlooking a veritable Garden of Eden. Green valleys and cool waters ringed in by a circle of mountains that seemed to shut out a hostile world outside of it. The mountain ranges were snow-capped a glistening white against a blue sky. Despite its jagged horizon, the clay-colored mountains looked as beautiful as a freshly painted picture.

Koenig took a breath of the cold, pristine oxygen. Not only was it tinged with evergreen, it also had the herbaccous smell of dried brush.

"You could almost swear that you were back on Earth," Helena observed.

"The only difference is that there are two moons," Matt pointed at the pale outlines of both their moon and the second moon in the sky. "Doesn't look like there is anyone here."

"Somebody has to be," Tony pointed out. "That scanning beam did not come from nowhere."

Koenig pulled out his commlock. "Koenig to Moonbase Alpha, come in."

Paul Morrow's image appeared on the commlock's small screen. "Yes, Commander."

"Paul, have you detected any other scans coming from here?"

Paul shook his head. "None at all, sir. We're still detecting that power source, though. It's about a mile away from your current location."

"Alright," Koenig replied. "We'll check back every half hour. Notify us if that energy source starts to act differently."

"Yes, sir."

Koenig reattached the commlock on his belt. Looking over the beautiful vista ahead of him, he searched the area with a glance. "It seems peaceful. But, unsettling. Let's go take a look," he activated his commlock again. "Alan, we'll check back with you every ten minutes. Keep an eye on things here."

"Understood, John," Alan replied from the Eagle's command module.

Victor held out his scanner, and pointed it eastward. It gave off a small beep.

"That's were we should look," he pointed out.

The Alphans descended into the beautiful valley beyond.

It seemed that man would be setting foot on the Moon and Mars very soon, building space stations, bases, and re-usable orbital transport spacecrafts. The engineers working in the United States of America could look forward to secure jobs, unlimited government project budgets, and raising children who would graduate from the college or university of their choice. Those who yearned for adventure would soon find outlets in the rapidly opening frontiers offered by space exploration. All American citizens could rest assured that, after a rocky start, their space program would surpass in capability and reliability any effort of the morally inferior Union Of The Soviet Socialistic Republic. This was the feeling of many and perhaps most of the professionals in the middle Sixties, and there truly seemed to be nothing to stop them, short of all-out war with the communist nation.

Though some in the youth culture were busy protesting a war in the Asian continent they could not condone, most people in the United States carried on their daily lives as if above "truths" were self-evident, with only an occassional pale nod to the fears of global thermonuclear war.

After the Third World War of 1987, the threat of communism had ended in Russia, but still existed in China, Korea, and Vietnam. The only threats to world peace were from both North Korea and the volatile Middle East. Thankfully, both of those threats did not put an end to space exploration. In fact, it unified the world, giving the World Space Commission and the International Lunar Commission a stronger boost. Every major aerospace contractor was pitching follow-on projects in the end. New spacecraft and ways to utilize mankind's occupation of space. Hypersonic atmospheric transports, orbital transports, space stations, lunar transports, lunar bases, and Mars bases were being worked on by teams at every company.

The result of those projects led to the completion of Moonbase Alpha.

How little did the people of Earth realize that Moonbase Alpha's potential would be expanded even furthur. It still amazed most of those on Alpha. Even Paul Morrow and the personnel in Main Mission.

Paul sat back in his chair as he studied the image of the planet's second moon on the large viewscreen. He looked over the pieces of data that David had given to him a moment ago. The power source on the surface of the forest moon had been generating at a magnitude of eighteen to the twelfth power decibles. Something which was powerful enough for a weapon on the sonic level. So far, the survey team had not run into any difficulty. Yet, it did not ease the young man any. The Main Mission Controller did not want to take any unecessary risks.

Tanya Alexander handed Paul a cup of coffee from a tray she had carried in. Paul nodded his thanks as she carried another cup to Sandra and David. Paul knew that Tanya and Matthew Prentis once had a relationship. One that was surprisingly still going on. If both were happy, then so be it. Paul knew that Tanya had somewhat of an attraction to him at one time. When she wanted to share Paul's guitar playing that one time, it was clearly evident.

However, Paul's interest was directed toward Sandra. Something that was still growing and being nutured.

"Any change in those energy levels?" he asked her.

Sandra pressed a button and received the answer almost immediately.

"Still normal and and at the same level," Sandra stated. "I wish we knew what was going on down there."

"It can only get more mysterious than it already is," Kano said, realistically. He punched in a few commands into his console's keyboard. "Computer cannot even identify or localize that energy source."

"Well," Paul said, drinking some of the synthetic coffee from the white cup. "Even computers cannot solve every mystery."

Kano gave his friend a sour look and turned back to his console.

When will people ever learn? David thought, sardonically.

Victor scanned the area of land that they were in. After walking a mile, they entered an area that was in direct contrast to the forested area they had been in before. They were now in an area of yellow sand, spills of jagged rock, and low, reddish cliffs. Scattering of scrubby brush and dry, flat desert could be seen almost all around them. The outline of the distant mountains were etched sharp.

Koenig could tell that this moon was more than just a forest moon. It was rocky and hilly, with sparse forestation. If not vegetation. It reminded him of Death Valley and to certain point, the Mojave Desert.

"If we did colonize this moon," Victor began. "It would take some time to have the soil cultivated. There is a complex trace of carbohydrates within the soil. All the oxygen within it is locked into the nitrates."

"Any hazardous ionization?" Koenig asked.

Helena shook her head. "None that could be detected. Plant and food life could be grown here. It would just take time."

"At least we're not in any danger of starvation," Sullivan pointed out. The beautiful brunette pointed to a reading on her scanner. "I also detected some traces of dimodium, here. If we did not colonize here, at least we could take back a large supply to Alpha."

"Sometimes I wonder if any of you realize how good you have it on Alpha," Matt stated, looking over a huge rock. "It may be a barracks to some. But to me, it's home sweet home."

"Matt, you have to remember one thing," Koenig pointed out. "We can't live on Alpha indefinately. Somewhere down the road we will have to colonize a new world, and start over."

"Well, if we do," Matt said, stepping off of the stone. "Let's not make the same errors that our human forefathers did."

"I've heard that about you, Prentis," Sullivan said, giving him a curious look. "You think man has no understanding."

Matt recalled having a bit of a debate like this with the late Kerry Hunter. A worker in the reference library on Alpha, who had been killed when the Area II waste dumps had detonated. In some manner, Heather Sullivan reminded Matt of the young woman. Someone who had a personality that clashed with his own.

"Remember my dear," Matt pointed out. "The human race has a talent for ruining things. No matter how much you touch something, you will never be able to touch it completely. All that will do is just make you insane and you'll rip it apart. That's what happened with Earth."

"To be human is to be complex," Sullivan stated, seeming to enjoy the ideological debate on humanity. "Didn't anyone ever tell you that not all people were bad?"

"Yeah," Matt recalled. "Part of the reason why I came to Alpha last year. I knew there were good people there. Better than the people of Earth. Life on that shitball did not amount to much. People got more corrupted. Wars became much bigger. And finally, the whole goddamn planet blew off steam in the form of pink mushroom clouds. We were lucky those waste dumps blew their stacks. We don't have to answer to any ignorant son of a bitch in the administration any longer."

"You just don't give people a chance, do you?" Sullivan asked, in a question disguised like an accusation.

"The price I pay for taking people at face value," Matt stated, being serious as always.

As much as Koenig and the others enjoyed the ongoing debate, there was work to be done, and very little time to finish it in.

"Let's save the debate for a later time," Koenig pointed out. "Victor, have your detectors located anything?"

"None at all, John," Victor shook his head. "It's still detecting that energy source up ahead. We're almost close to it."

The Alphans walked a few more meters, until they found the location of the energy source. And the scanning beam that searched through Moonbase Alpha's computer systems. After walking past a mountain range, they had a clear view of what the source was.

The pyramid stood out in the open, much like the old pyramidal structures in the Egyptian desert. The only difference that set it apart from the ones that were light years away was the almost zig-zag like formation near its capstone. The bottom of the pyramid almost looked like it was buried under some sand. Overall, it looked old and worn. Like almost a thousand years. Maybe a billion. There were no markings or other symbols engraved and chiseled into its smooth surface.

"Is that what I think that is?" Tony said, a bit awed at the sight.

"I think it is," Koenig said, looking at the structure through his binoculars. "Almost the same length and dimensions as an Egyptian pyramid."

"And the same size and design," Victor pointed out, looking at his scanner. "That's the source of the scanner beam and the energy readings. In there."

"Could anyone be inside it?" Shermeen wondered.

"Someone had to send out that scanning beam," Matt stated. "Unless it was something automatic and computerized."

Koenig looked over the area once more with the binoculars. The computerized image showed no signs of activity or any other form of life.

"Life signs?"

Helena looked at her scanner. "None at all."

"Well, we're here," Koenig stated. "Let's have a look."

The walk down the small slope was a very short distance from the pyramid. Upon arriving, the Alphans noticed that the pyramid had a smooth, cool rock-like surface. Rocks and other minerals that had been chiseled out from the forest moon's surface. It almost looked as if it had been polished. Victor held his small scanner in front of him, and scanned the interior of the alien structure.

"It's hollow, John," Victor read off the scanner's information. "The material used to build this structure is somewhat dense, but the scanner has been able to penetrate part of the structure."

Victor's scanner also beeped softly, revealing a pattern of sounds that repeated itself. "Hello, what have we here?" he said, which prompted both John and Helena's attention. The British scientist began to mentally time the repeat of signals. It was just as he thought it was. It repeated itself every three minutes.

"Something inside that structure is repeating a signal," he observed. "The scanner has counted between intervals. It's still the same."

"Three minutes in between start and stop," Helena said. "That's almost like an acoustic beacon's function."

"It could very well be one," Victor nodded. "Judging by what the scanner has detected."

"Have Kano run a check on it," John ordered, looking over the structure again. "We'll need the computers on Eagle Five to process the information from our end."

John spoke into his commlock and notified Alan. "Alan, lock onto our source transmission and fly over here. We're going to need a link up with Main Computer and the Eagle's."

"Right away, John," came Alan. "I'll be there in five minutes."

John looked about the pyramid, and noticed that there was not much sign of aging or weather worn damage. Some of the stone that had been cut for building did fade in some color. What surprised him and the others was the fact that there were no markings or hieroglyphics chiseled into the pyramid's surface.

"I'd say no one bothered to decorate it," John observed, dryly. "Or leave some form of writing to identify it and its creators." He pulled out his commlock and activated it. David Kano's image appeared. "Kano, can you give the structure in our location a Spectro - X analysis?"

After five seconds, Kano reappeared on the screen.

"Spectro - X analysis confirms that there is an atmosphere inside the structure," the dark technician spoke. "Internal atmosphere is breathable, with a slightly higher oxygen content than our own. I'd say the air sample is safe."

"Probably even stale," Tony muttered under his breath, taking in all the visual information of the enormous structure.

"What did you expect?" Matt said, looking at the pyramid's capstone. "Fresh clean air?"

"Better that than stale and metallic," Tony finished.

"Computer was able to break down the transmission that eminated from the pyramid," Kano continued. "I'll have it transmitted to you, now."

The image of Kano was replaced by the image of a rotating double - helix like object. An object that rotated around its own axis and orbited in a helical pattern. John immediately recognized object in question.

"Is that what I think that is?" Koenig wondered.

"Yes, sir," Kano's voice broke in. "Judging by the information that was sent in the transmission, computer has identified the object as a comprehensive catalog of DNA. A single strand. We're still determining what nucleotide sequence it represents."

"Have computer continue to process the data," Koenig ordered. "And transmit it to us through Eagle Five's data bank."

"Yes, Commander."

As Kano's image went blank, John and the other Alphans heard the sound of the Eagle coming over the pyramid. Circling once around the structure, the spacecraft made a soft landing on the slope, kicking up a small cloud of dust and sand.

"We might want to feed this information into the computer," Helena suggested. "It will give us a head start on what this DNA is."

"Right," Koenig said, walking up toward the Eagle. "Tony, keep an eye on things while we're inside. Notify us if anything suspicious happens."

"Yes, sir."

Sitting at the computer console, Helena fed in the information from John Koenig's commlock, and then the newly arrived information from Alpha's main computer. Not only did the information match in some also provided something even more surprising. Helena keyed in a few more alphanumerical commands and came up with something that Victor noticed immediately. The first set of prime numbers.

"Two, three, five, seven," Victor read off the console's small screen. "The first sign of intelligence. A mathematical language if you will. When prime numbers are used in something as complex as this, it is the first sign of intelligent life. The scientists at the SETI Laboratory used to monitor for such signals."

"That's a bit of information I recall, clearly," Koenig remembered. When Koenig was on summer vaction from M.I.T. he had visited the site out in the western desert of the United States. He remembered how vast and large the radio dishes and there complexes were spread out. It was also at the time that he met the late Dr. Carl Sagan. John had always enjoyed the PBS series that Dr. Sagan had hosted. Cosmos had brought back wonderful memories. Particularly the stunning musical score by composer Vangelis. Like many in the science and astronautic field, he too, was saddened by Dr. Sagan's passing. How ironic that it was around the time of the Ultra Probe mission and its disasterous end.

"What I'm puzzled by is this," Koenig pointed at the small screen in Eagle Five's passenger module. "Why the DNA strand? Who...or what is sending this and for what purpose?"

"The question is," Helena began, looking at the image closely. "What form of DNA this is."

John recalled that DNA was built from a few types of proteins. Proteins which bonded and formed a double helix, which crumpled onto itself and formed a chromosome. One interesting analogy for how proteins determined what being to create, was how letters got put together to make a book.From a few letters or words, a person could not tell what book he or she was reading.

Even if you could, Koenig thought about what he had read. how do you know it was not a quote from another book, just throwing you off? As I recall, the only one thing all human DNA have in common is the number of chromosomes. Assuming if this is human DNA.

"This is a mathematical representation of a double - helix strand," Helena noted. "And it has been sequenced entirely. All three billion pairs of amino acids. Ninety percent plus. Something that the Medical Sciences department in the WSC tried to do for years."

She sat back in her chair, surprised as everyone else was. "It's incredible."

"And even more mysterious," Koenig mentioned.

Although the eons of bombardment and occassional vulcanism that had churned up the upper few hundred meters of the Moon's surface had long ago removed all traces of water - liquid, solid, or gaseous - there was still a hope that deep underground, near the poles, where the temperature was always far below freezing, there might have been still layers of fossil ice left over from the days when the Moon condensed out of the solar system's primordial debris. The selenologists had hoped to find such evidence in the South Polar Ice Mines. Before September 13, 1999, the scientists theorized that such a find would transform the economy of the Moon. Causing it to skyrocket.

After what happened on September 13th, they had hoped to find it for a different purpose. The continued functioning of Monnbase Alpha's main life support systems and other functions.

While finding some sources here and there on the shifting lunar soil, it still gave the Alphans some cause for concern.

The mining facility located in the South Pole - Aitken Crater location worked on the continuing problem at hand. Much like the Helium - 3 mining facility in the crater Alphonsus, the facility was domed shape, with low level observation ports at the surface. Its location gave personnel a slightly more than normal one-sixth gravity of the Moon. Something which the Alphan personnel were used to.

Technician Jim Calder looked over the readout on his console terminal, punching in various requests into the computer. Running a hand through his short brown hair, he awaited the response that would appear on the small screen. His shift was just about over, and he wanted to turn in as soon as possible. After working another dull shift, the only thing on his mind now, was lying in bed, sleeping.

The image on the screen that Calder awaited came up. Satisfied with the latest data on dilanthium production, he pressed another computer key to check something else.

The other request he asked for did not appear.

"What the hell?" he muttered to himself.

A couple of chirps and beeps sounded off softly as the computer consoles started to run through some diagnostics. A proceedure which only occured when the human controllers requested such a program.

"Yuri," Calder said, looking over at the Russian technician. "Take a look at this."

Yuri Salkov turned his attention from the wall monitor and looked over at Calder's small screen. He noticed the flash of alphanumerical programs flash across its blank features. The tall, stocky native of Russia looked over at what was being displayed. Like Calder, he was just as surprised.

"Someone is scanning all of our systems and data," Salkov said, in a heavy Russian accent. "Check the circuit."

Calder punched in a few commands. He knew what the answer would be before the computer replied. "All circuits are fine. It's not coming from us!"

Salkov hurried over to the communications post and tapped a button. Paul Morrow's image immediately appeared.

"Paul," said Salkov, a bit surprised at what had just transpired. "Some of our systems are being scanned. I don't know what is going on."

"Have you done a trace?" Morrow demanded.

"Jim has," Salkov answered. "And it's coming from someplace else."

"Yuri!" came Olga Vishenskya, who was at another terminal. The willowy brunette tapped a few commands on its keyboard. "Some of the facilities other functions are being scanned. Records, files, everything!"

"Paul, did you get that?" Salkov asked, worriedly.

"I heard," Paul said, immediately. "I'll notify the Commander."

"Something I've just noticed since we've broken down the transmission," Bergman said, pointing at the small image. "I think there might be something unsual about that form of DNA."

Koenig looked at the computerized image closely. After a couple of scans with his eyes, he noticed that three portions of the strand were blinking red and yellow.

"Helena," Koenig began. "Focus the image on those three objects. Let's have a look at that."

As Helena punched in Koenig's request, Paul Morrow's image on the other small screen appeared. "Commander, are you there?"

"Yes, Paul," Koenig said. He could tell that Paul was troubled by something.

"Sir, our dilanthium facility was scanned by another sensor probe," he reported. "The station's computer banks and other files were scanned over. Much like what happened earlier."

Koenig looked over at Victor, who had the same surprised look as he did. Even Helena's features were raw with surprise.

"Where did the signal originate?" Koenig demanded.

"From your location, sir," Paul reported. "Directly from the pyramidal structure."

"Okay, thanks," Koenig answered. "Go to yellow alert."

"Yes, sir."

As Paul's image shifted to blank, Koenig blew out a small breath.

"I'd say that someone is curious about us," he stated.

"Or our computer systems and base functions," Victor added.

"I think I've found out what is unsual about this image," Helena pointed out, drawing attention to the image. "Normally, it would take a very long period to determine what the difference was on this image. Someone.....whoever it was, that transmitted this diagram, made it easier for us. Or gave us a clue."

"What is it?" Koenig asked.

"This DNA strand is missing three percent of its terminal base pairs," she pointed a finger at the rotating image. "Which is eighteen proteins less. Either this was left out accidentally. Or..."

"Or someone left it out deliberately," Koenig finished. "If deliberately....the question is why? What's the puzzle?"

"Maybe they want us to key in the missing base pairs," Matt offered. "I'm not that good when it comes to the field of biology...but wouldn't that make sense in terms of this? If this is a puzzle..."

"Then, they have given us a clue as to how to solve it," Koenig said, making a couple of quick calculations in the dark recess of his mind. "However, that leads to another question. Why are they having us key in the missing three percent?"

"Could be an intelligence test," Victor determined. "To find out how intelligent and advanced we are. We should look at it from that point of view."

"Right," Koenig said, leaning over Helena's chair and staring at the image closely. "Let's give this a try. Maybe we'll come upon some answers."

Helena began pressing two computer keys, followed by three more alphanumerical fields. She pressed another set of keys.

The computer began processing and collating the information simultaneously.

Long ago, when the Earth was young, there were not many stars in the sky. In those days the people depended on corn for their food. Dried corn could be made into corn meal by placing it inside a large hollowed stump and pounding it with a long wooden pestle. The cornmeal was stored in large baskets. During the winter, the ground meal could be made into bread and mush.

One morning an old man and his wife went to their storage basket for some cornmeal. They discovered that someone or something had gotten into the cornmeal during the night. This upset them very much for no one in a Cherokee village stole from someone else.

Then they noticed that the cornmeal was scattered over the ground. In the middle of the split meal were giant dog prints. These dog prints werew so large that the elderly couple knew this was no ordinary dog.

They immediately alerted the people of the village. It was decided that this must be a spirit dog from another world. The people did not want the spirit dog coming to their village. They decided to get rid of the dog by frightening it so bad it would never return. They gathered their drums and turtle shell rattles and later that night they hid around the area where the cornmeal was kept.

Late into the night they heard a whirring sound like many bird wings. They looked up to see the form of a ginat dog swooping down from the sky. It landed near the basket and then began to eat great mouthfulls of cornmeal.

Suddenly the people jumped up beating and shaking their noise makers. The noise was so loud it sounded like thunder. The giant dog turned and began to run down the path. The people chased after him making the loudest noises they could. It ran to the top of a hill and leaped into the sky, the cornmeal spilling out the sides of its mouth.

The giant dog ran across the black night sky until it disappeared from sight. But the cornmeal that had spilled from its mouth made a path way across the sky. Each grain of cornmeal became a star.

The Cherokees called that pattern of stars, gi li' ut sun stan un' yi, "the place where the dog ran."

And that was how the Milky Way came to be.

Matt always found that Cherokee legend fascinating. Especially after reading that retelling of the lore by Barbara Shining Woman Warren. In some strange way, the forest moon reminded the security guard of that Native American story. Possibly due to the surroundings.

Helena tapped in a few commands into the computer system. The image of the DNA strand continued to rotate slowly, as the three missing base pairs began to appear into the blinking spaces.

"Using the same pattern of sounds that the transmission emitted earlier," Victor explained. "Helena should be able to key in the right sequence."

"What concerns me is what could happen if we don't," Koenig said, some concern showing on his features. "If we key in the sequence wrong. Or, if it is not the right base pairs."

Victor shrugged. "We'll know in a minute or two."

Tony Verdeschi watched the pyramid as a sentinel would watch for any unusual or threatening activity. The desert area reminded him of the film Lawrence Of Arabia. Especially of the scene where T.E. Lawrence charged head long into a battle shouting the two words, "No Prisoners!!!" He had once visited Cairo and other parts of the volatile Middle East. Particularly the remnants of what was once Israel and Palestine. The bloody war fought between the two countries ended after the Third World War. There had hardly been anything left of the two nations. Or the Middle East, period. Iraq and Iran wiped each other out, followed by the annihilation of Libya and Turkey. The Italian had to admit that he had no great fondness for Turkey. Especially after viewing the controversial film Midnight Express.

As Tony watched the clear blue sky, he noticed something on the pyramid's surface. A line of soft white light appeared, almost as if the suns of this solar system were reflecting off of its surface.

It turned out that it was an entrance opening up.

Tony pulled out his commlock. "Commander...."

John, Victor, Helena, Tony, and Matt stood near the entrance of the pyramid. Both Sullivan and Shermeen waited at the Eagle with Alan. John looked into the opened door, and found that the hallway was entirely white. White as a clean sheet of paper. No markings or any other signs of dirt and grime. It was all clean and pristine as the corridors of Alpha.

"The composition of this corridor is unknown," Victor read off from his scanner. "The structure is pretty dense in material. Hard to say what it is and how it was constructed."

"The keying in of those missing base pairs must have triggered a mechanism," Helena noted. "Possibly something to unlock this door."

"Maybe it was an authenticity check," Matt deducted. "Maybe it was a way of determining who we were, before letting us in."

"Determining if we were intelligent enough to solve a puzzle," Koenig said, peering into the whiteness of the room. "We've passed that part of the test. Now, they're inviting us in."

"Whoever they are," Tony stated, keeping his hand close by his laser. "Should we accept?"

Koenig nodded. "Matt, you stay here. We'll contact you every five minutes."

Matt understood, despite the fact that he wanted to be the one to go in with them. Koenig could tell the young man's disappointment by the glint in his brown eyes. However, someone had to be stand by in case of an emergency.

"Yes, Commander," Matt replied.

Koenig, Helena, Bergman, and Tony entered the white chamber of light.

Matt shook his head and muttered somethingunder his breath out of earshot.

"Why do they always get to have all the fun?"

Koenig ran his hand along the surface of the hallway. Not only was it smooth, it was also cool and metallic. If not shiny and polished. It seemed to bring a sense of ease and peacefulness. Almost like arriving at the gates of heaven, itself. Victor kept a close eye on his scanner, as he walked crisply toward the end of the hall, which was just as stark white as the hallway had been.

"Anything, Victor?"

The English scientist shook his head. "Nothing out of the ordinary, John." He looked about the whiteness of his surroundings. "It's all...tranquil."

Koenig looked ahead of him, wondering how far the corridor led. The temperature in the corridor was just as comfortable as it was outside. He noticed something rising upward in front of them all.

A rectangular entrance appeared into another chamber. From what Koenig could tell, it was pitch black. Almost like night time on Earth.

"Rolling out the red carpet," Tony said, sardonically.

Cautiously, the four Alphans stepped into the blackened room.

Matt watched as John, Helena, Victor, and Tony entered the dark black chamber at the end of the corridor. From what the young man could tell, it did not look threatening or show any other signs of danger. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a cyclone of dust swirl around on the horizon. One that was moving away from where they and the Eagle were. It made Matt think of what Moses had once said. A pillar of fire.

Having been in the U.S. Air Force from 1990 to 1996, he had his share of traveling around the world. The one place he did not like being stationed in at one point was the reamains of what was once Turkey. That country, known for its fight against the narcotics trade (which Matt admired) and its people being fierce fighters, had been dealt with a serious blow after the Third World War. Almost the entire population had been obliterated. He was glad to have been transfered out some point later.

He had mentioned what he had seen in Turkey to his uncle. It was not long after that he had met a ravishing blonde woman of 36 in Surrey, England. One he had spent a long night of sex with in one of the gothic cottages. She had been a law instructor at one of the colleges in that area.

Matt had returned to England after he had punched out Commissioner Dixon. As much as he hated to admit it, he did need his help in his defense. Dixon had suffered a bloody nose and two broken teeth after the young man had flattened him with one blow. Not only did Dixon have a black eye, but he had a broken pair of glasses. Both John and Victor leaped to Matt's defense after receiving word of the dispute, and began to pull some strings. Tony Cellini at the time, was under psychiatric observation, and unable to help. However, he did send a word of thanks to Matt for punching out "that ignorant fool" and making him suffer...

Cambridge University had not changed much over the millennium or so since it was founded. At least, that was Matt's understanding. Personally, he had been through the place only before - and that was when he had finished his tour of duty in the Air Force. Something that seemd a lifetime past.

His uncle's residence at the university was an old English manor house, built around the end of the sixteenth century. It had the smell of wood about it. As Matt approached the front door, he noticed the large brass knocker. It had been molded in the shape of a long-maned lion's head. The primitive had been preserved and venerated.

Reaching for the knocker, Matt banged it a couple of times on the heavy wooden door. After a moment, the door opened. A dour-looking, red-faced woman somewhere in her fifties peered out at him. She looked broad enough to put the average Russian bear to shame. If not sour the greeness of Great Britain, itself.

"State your business," said the woman, with a heavy English accent. Her small, deep-set eyes announced that the young man was anything but welcom here, and dared him to say otherwise.

The young man was not about to be intimidated. "I'm here to see Professor Bourne," the young astronaut explained. "My name is Matthew Prentis. I believe he is expecting my arrival."

The woman's eyes narrowed almost to slits. "I'm sure you are, sir. But the professor is busy right now and can't be disturbed y'see."

"What do you mean he can't be disturbed?"

"I'm sorry, sir."

As she began to close the door, Matt put his foot in the way. The woman glared at him and his boldness. Obviously, the young man was not going to take no for an answer, or put up with her.

"Look lady, it's important that I see my uncle immediately," he elaborated, glaring back. "I've come all the way from the EUROSEC site in Portugal."

The woman's expression indicated that she was not impressed. "Have you got wax in your ears?" she asked. "I told you he is busy, sir. If you wish to go to the main offices and make an appointment, that's fine. You'll have to go through the university - and let them decide how important it is."

"I don't have the time for that bureaucracy crap," Matt stated, his tone demanding. "I want to see my uncle. Now you either let me in, or I'll run right over you. Take your pic, lady!"

"Now don't make me call the constable on you, because I won't hesitate to-"

"Jessel? Who's at the door?"

Matt would have known that voice anywhere. The woman looked irritated. Obviously, she had no choice now but to announce his presence here.

"Just some relative of yours, sir," she called back into the house. "I told him to come back another time, when you're not so busy."

"Now, Jessel, I told you about frightening people away..."

As the sentence hung unfinished in the air, an inner door swung open - revealing none other than his uncle. A slim, blond man with his almostpretty face marred by a broken nose and innocent boy features.

Former European Union Chairman and British Parliament member Alexander Bourne was a natural born leader who had parlayed a small inheritance into the world's largest space program, the World Space Commission and its sub branch, the International Lunar Commission. Recently appointed as one of the Chairman of the space commission, he had risen to power on the global political scene by letting his considerable humanitarian actions and bold ventures into technology and other endeavors for the WSC speak for themselves.

His passion and vision for a peaceful, united world had made him beloved by people of all nations. An aficionado of fine wine and classical music, he seemed the ultimate "Renaissance Man". Yet, if one were able to withstand his considerable charms they might have sensed a more saddening air lurking beneath the benevolent exterior. Probably because of what happened during the Third World War and the reprocussions that followed with it.

Bourne wore a cranberry-colored, synthetic-silk smoking jacket - the perfect complemnt to his surroundings. As he peered out at his nephew, a smile broke out on his face.

"Matthew!" he exclaimed. Giving his nephew a huge embrace.

Matt returned the embrace. "It's good to see you, Unc."

Bourne turned to his housekeeper. "Jessel, this is my nephew. The one I told you about."

The woman harrumphed. "Oh. The astronaut. How delightful." And turning on her heel, she vanished into the house.

Unperturbed, Bourne ushered Matt in. "What a pleasant surprise this is." And then glancing back at the departing housekeeper. "Tea and biscuits for everyone, Jessel."

To Matt, his uncle's library looked like something out of a Sherlock Holmes story.....spacious, comfortable, the walls lined with a wide assortment of leather bound books. The subjects ranged from the works of the Bard himself, William Shakespeare and others written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Allistair MacLean, and various science fiction works. Titles such as The War Of The Generations, The Helper, The People Of Abrimes, Night Of Anubis, Send In The Clones, Survival Run, Mission Into Chaos, Dead Star, The Titan Find, Midnight Return, Bright Angel Falling, Silicon Avatar, Blood and Fire, In Essence Nothing, In Thy Image, and The Dark Side Of The Earth were all in neat, pristine rows. He could smell the oils that had been used to preserve them. A fire was roaring cheerfully in the hearth.

And there were a number of dogs wandering about or sleeping on the furniture. Like his uncle, Matt preferred dogs over people any time of the year.

Matt nodded appreciatively, looking at a copy of The Nari Of Sentinel resting on the bookshelf. "This is quite a house you have here, Unc. I see they treat professors well at Cambridge."

His uncle shrugged. "Holding the Lucasian Chair does have its perquisites. This house originally belonged to Sir Issac Newton when he held the position. It has since become the traditional residence." He paused. "Of course, being a creature of habit, I tend to use only three of the forty-seven rooms in the manor."

Just then, Jessel entered the room with a silver tea service, which gleamed in the firelight. Judging by her expression, she had been keeping track of their conversation.

"Might as well board up the rest of the house, for all the use it gets...." her voice trailed off, but she had made her point.

Wiping her hands on her apron, she leaned closer to Matt and spoke quietly though not so quietly that his uncle could make out what she was saying. "You're his nephew, eh?"

Bourne saw his nephew nod. "That's right. And I have been for quite some time."

"Well then," said the housekeeper, "as his nephew, see if you can get him out of the house every now and then. People will start to think that he is a hermit."

Bourne, who had obviously overheard, cast a remonstrative look at Jessel. "Thank you," he told her. "That will be all."

Without another word, she made her exit. Matt's uncle had a wry look on his face.

"She can be trying at times," he admitted. "But she does make me laugh now and then."

Sounds like Aunt Sarah and her two cats need their throats slit and their hides skinned, but aloud Matt said. "How come you haven't replaced her?"

Bourne shrugged. "I'm still looking for one. Help can be hard to come by these days." Indicating a pair of chairs, he glanced at his nephew. "Please, make yourself comfortable."

Crossing to the tea set, his uncle began to pour. When he was done, he brought Matt his cup. Then sitting down himself, he eyed his nephew. "Since you don't have a predilection for sudden visits, I assume you are not here for afternoon tea."

Matt nodded, grateful for the opening. "That's correct, Unc. I need your help."

It took a while for him to explain what had happened with John Koenig, Victor Bergman, Tony Cellini, the Ultra Probe inquiry, himself, Dixon getting punched by him after using his fellow astronauts as scapegoats, everything. In the end, he managed to get all the information out in the open.

At that point, Jessel entered to reclaim the tea service. By then, whatever they had not finished had gone cold - as a number of dogs could bear witness, having peeked inside the cups themselevs. While the housekeeper gathered up the cups and saucers, his uncle stated that he would be happy to help out. Bourne was just as furious at Dixon as his nephew was. He made plans to speak with the board and Sir Lawrence at Lloyds of London. Sir Lawrence was a member of the International Lunar Commission's Finance Committee. He did not care much for Dixon, and would be glad to have him removed from the program, permanently.

Bourne was still a bit disappointed that Matt had resorted to such brutality. He understood and respected his reason for such an act. He just wished that Matt had not resorted to such primitive fury...

"What would Uncle Alexander say right now?" Matt wondered to himself, as he watched the dust cyclone spin by. He turned his attention back to his friends inside the pyramid. So far they were still in the room, looking about their surroundings.

Matt kept a close hand on his laser, just in case trouble were to erupt.

He was ready for anything.

The entire chamber looked as black as an ampitheater, from John's point of view. The floor reflected some light from the white corridor behind him and the others, which gave it a soft, polished gleam. Almost as if the floor had been recently mopped and waxed. It was also giving off the impression that no amount of dust had ever developed in the chamber.

It was right after Koenig looked around his surroundings that an image of the system's two suns appeared, which startled him and the others. Tony's right hand made an immediate reflex action toward his sidearm. He kept it close by, in case something else were to erupt.

Other images appeared before them. Of all the planets in the solar system they were now in. Images of stars, moons, and other celestial bodies materialized before them, and moved about in slow elliptical, geosynchronous, or polar orbits. It was not only startling, it was also fascinating.

Only Victor seemed to be unaffected by the surprise of the event.

"I'd say this is a planetarium," Victor pointed out. "A holographic one at that."

Tony stood near one of the planets that rotated slowly, as it orbited the twin suns of the system. He placed his hand near the image, and the planet sailed through, undisturbed. "Three dimensional and digitized for your entertainment," he half-joked. "It's very sharp."

"I wonder why it was activated so suddenly?" Helena asked, looking at the image of a comet speed past the sixth planet of the system.

The images suddenly changed to that of the planets coming into alignment with one another. One orbital shift after another. The images of all the planets suddenly showed small eruptions of fire spreading out all over the surfaces of each world. Some of the planets' moons were shattered or unaffected by the cataclysimic events around them. Small eruptions that extended into major explosions, charring and scorching their surfaces. Setting nuclear fire, it would seem, to the wind, and causing chain reactions in their atmospheres.

The images showed all of the planets burning into cinders. Burning bright until they were no more than charred husks of planets.

Koenig watched the mind searing event with curiosity.

"Incredible," Koenig stated, a bit stunned at the images he witnessed. "Obviously, it was not a war that caused all of this destruction."

The image of the planets faded. All but one. It was the planet that the forest moon orbited. The image of the planet changed, as it burned into a lifeless world. The entire planetarium vanished and was replaced with something else.

The vast room was now showing a holographic image of the planet's surface. A world that at once seemed earth-like, but utterly alien. Its surface much like a valley, with grassy meadows and rolling hills.

The image of the planet faded and the room became dark again, like the surface of polished onyx. It was a few seconds later when the room displayed the holographic image of the forest moon's surface. What surprised the Alphans was the lack of wild life on the surface. There had been none when they had first landed.

"It could be that the entire history of this world is being shown," Helena said to John, who was standing next to her. "In case anyone were to find this place."

"What I am still puzzled by is this," John confessed. "What could have caused those explosions on all of the planets? What spared this planet's moon?"

The image of the forest moon's surface changed back to that of the solar system. All of the planets were charred and burned. Koenig payed close attention to the planet and its two moons. Nebulas, comets, asteroids, and other celestial objects decorated the entire spatial image. All of it made it look like a Robert McCall painting from one of his books.

The planets were no longer in alignment. They continued to orbit the twin suns at a slow pace, nourished by the crimson and white rays.

What seemed like a vortex twisted inside the vast chamber. The black of space swirling with stark light, flushing away various celestial bodies that were wrapped in the blanket of the universe, itself.

Bombarded by sights and sounds, and experiences that fused all senses, the Alphans absorbed entire libraries of knowledge.

Finally, the image of the solar system faded and was replaced by something else. Something that was not a celestial body.

While the chamber became darker than the blackest night ever seen, a white light shot up from the center of the chamber. In a disk of light that faded, until the image in the center became clear for the four colonists of Moonbase Alpha to see.

At first, they thought it was a brightly colored three dimensional hexagon.

However, when the light dimmed a bit more, the image was now clear.

It was a holographic image of a diamond symbol. One that rotated slowly.

"What is that?" Tony said, his faded irises full of surprise and awe.

"That's what I would like to know," John confessed in an honest tone.

The image of the symbol looked as if it were made out of some white crystal, with hues of bluish green giving of a pale wash of color. The Alphans eyes drank in the hauntingly beautiful and geometrical image.

"It looks Egyptian in appearance!" Tony exclaimed.

"Close," Victor studied the image, almost in complete agreement with Tony's observation. "But not quite."

"I agree with that assessment," Helena stated. "It looks Egyptian...and yet it is not."

Koenig stepped forward toward the disk of light. "It's a symbol. The question is what its meaning is. And what it stands for."

"Could it be a marker?" Tony guessed. "Something that was left behind?"

Koenig nodded. "Maybe. It could also be something else. A message perhaps."

"Without furthur analysis," Victor broke in. "We don't have much to go on."

"Right," Koenig agreed, taking out his commlock. "We'll have to start looking for some. In what time table we have."

The Alphans stood before the rotating image. Wondering if they had made a discovery worth recording.

Or something that was not meant to be disturbed...

Life was rare in the universe. The right fluids had to swirl through the right gases while exposed to the perfect light in precise heat. Most planets never knew the chemistry. They were too far from the sun or too close. Too much of one element, not enough of another. In some cases, if the swamps were only a few degrees warmer, something would be born. Instead wet rocks just rolled in space around useless sparks.

Yet as rare as life was, scattered through the galaxies like a handful of sand strewn over a desert, it came in great variety. Some life stayed as amoebas, content to divide from one another, becoming millions and millions strong, without ever joining forces. Other times they merged and became larger organisms that sloshed about in rivers and lakes and oceans. Sometimes they stopped there, evolving no further, but if the atmosphere were suitable, the creatures may crawl, capturing the land in search of new nourishment. They may crawl through the soil and the grass, or they may grow big and strong, climbing the trees or galloping over the plains. Other life rose up, looked around, and asked "What am I?" More questions would follow, as it pondered its place: "Who am I?" and "Why am I?" It realized its superiority to the groveling beasts. It binded with its like and together they would build a civilization. If wisdom ensued, they continued to ask questions, becoming more and more aware that the questions and their answers were without end.

These beings were humanity.

Matt remembered that lecture during his days at M.I.T., when he had attended a seminar about humanity and its origins. Something that was fairly new to the campus at the time. As to why it was held at the main hall instead of another university, remained beyond Matt's train of thought.

As for the rest about the lecture staying in his memory, it had pretty much faded. When it came to the origin and state of humanity, the lonely misanthrope could care less about either subject. Man's arrogance, pomposity, and capacity, if not necessity for self-destruction was just more than a moral reminder to him. It was a thorn in his backside that he would have liked to have had removed.

He remembered having such a debate with a professor at M.I.T., one who was massive, beefy, bearded, and three hundred pounds plus. Professor Namidou Aslan Ziat was a former citizen of Israel, before that country had been wiped clean from the Earth's surface. He was also a philosopher in some respect, who moved lightly, like a fighter on his feet. His skull had been bullet-shaped, his nose a big beak of skin, and his neck broad. His bull like features were marked by a mouth that had a small crescent and pale blue eyes (suggesting a trace of Indo-European stock in his ancestry) set deep in his head. It reminded Matt of turtle eyes, which gave nothing away.

Professor Ziat had accused Matt of being wrong about people. The fifty-eight year old man had pointed out that not all people were so rotten. And that Islam was a religion not to be discriminated. He even told Matt as to how he had suffered at the hands of the Shitte prisoners in Israel, during one particular riot.

Matt dropped out of Ziat's class after that lecture, much to Ziat's disappointment. It still amazed the young man that the Israeli native thought he had such promise.

Casting that now faded memory aside, he continued to watch John and the others in the large chamber. He had witnessed some of the holographic displays that they had just seen. It was more spectacular than the old planetarium he used to visit, many years past. If not sharper in images.

His train of thought was interrupted by the beeping on his commlock.

"Prentis, here."

"Everything okay in there, Matt?" came Carter's concerned voice.

Matt was glad that it was Carter instead of Sullivan. He would have just been equally as happy if Shermeen had also contacted him. It was not that he had anything personal against Sullivan, he just did not care much for her personality or what she had tried to debate with him earlier. At least, if they chose to not colonize the planet, he could avoid the dark-haired beauty like the plague.

"It's fine so far, Alan," Matt reported, peering into the white corridor. "There's been no trouble. You missed a hell of a light show, though."

"What do you mean?"

"It looks like the commander and the others have stumbled across a planetarium," Matt explained in detail. "From what I can explains this solar system's history."

"That's pretty wild," came Sullivan's voice in the background.

Matt tried to ignore her last analysis. "I'm still keeping a watch, just in case."

"Right," Alan said. "Let us know if anything interesting erupts."

Matt placed his commlock onto his belt and continued to watch the activity inside.

"If anything interesting happens," he said to no one in particular.

Heather Sullivan sat back in the chair of the Eagle's passenger module, looking over the data she had analyzed of the forest moon's surface. The amounts of the mineral dimodium that she had collected a few minutes past would prove to be useful on Alpha, if by some chance they did not colonize this peaceful world. She could not think of any particular reason as to why, unless the world presented danger.

Somehow, she doubted it would.

While the Commander, Dr. Russell, Professor Bergman, and Security Chief Verdeschi were exploring the pyramid, she got permission from Alan to collect samples of the diamond-like powder. While she was scouting nearby, she noticed Matthew Prentis standing watch on the entranceway, like a sentinel. She had to give the young man credit in some things. Not only was he an efficient security guard, he was very protective of those on Alpha.

If only he were not such a misanthrope, Sullivan thought, ruefully.

By God, Matthew Prentis had the biggest chip on his shoulder of any man she had ever met. Always a surly, brooding loner who never liked to fraternize with any of his colleagues away from the rigors of both astronaut work and maintaining the security of Moonbase Alpha. Forever complaining about the miseries of war, society, environmental disaster and starvation afflicting Earth. Forever looking to the stars and wondering if somehow, somewhere, another race or intelligence existed that had been able to do things far better than man had.

She had heard from some of the Alphans that Matt came off as so unlikable, that Heather always made a point of avoiding the young man like the plague when they were not working together on Operation Exodus or mission-related matters. She had also heard some rumors about why Matt came to Alpha in the first place. For him, a lifelong misanthrope with little regard for his own people, it was a unique opportunity to start afresh, and escape the problems of a time he had long ago come to loathe. To search for something better than man, as he had boasted to one of his fellow colonists on Alpha.

Ahead of the Alphans was an unknown path. A path that was sure to be fraught with all kinds of perils and dangers if they were to survive. And yet, Heather could not help but sense that somewhere along that path lay an ultimate answer to why the Alphans, and Matt, a lonely misanthrope from 20th Century Earth, had been thrust into this incredible position they all found themselves in. Blasted light years beyond Earth and their solar system, only to plant a new human civilization on a distant world. An alternative place to live and start society anew under John Koenig's better leadership. A society that was not restrictive, narrow-minded, and violent as that of their fellow humans. A perverse shadow of everything Matt hated about the Earth he had left behind.

Heather tried not to fathom the enigma that Matt represented. Psychology was not her field of study. She had to admit, the rugged young man did have an aura of mystery about him. The bad thing was this. That aura was shielded by the permanent look of cynicism that Matt wore like a jacket.

It's a wonder how he got to be that way, she thought.

What a piece of work is a man," Hamlet said, in the Bard's classic tale of vengeance just before expressing his own distaste for the world and the loathsome humanity infesting it. The reluctant prince, had he had the chance, would surely have taken the next space probe out of Earth's solar system in hopes of finding something better. Bereft of this technology, his only choice was to kill as many people around him as possible, including, of course, himself. In contrast, the equally judgmental and disdainful Matthew Prentis had the means to venture beyond the stars, in the hopes of finding a world worth inhabiting, and did so without hesitation.

September 13th, 1999 AD was a blessing, if not an ironic one, in disguise.

Matt continued to keep a close eye on the others inside the pyramid, while keeping alert of other things outside. He looked up and saw the sky in a ragged blaze of red and pink and orange, with just a hint of magenta. Obviously, night was coming upon the forest moon.

That was when he felt the ground shudder a bit.

It was soon followed by a rumble that started off low, then became loud.

"What the hell.....?" he said, falling on his back.

The weather seemed perfect at first.

Now it was starting to become severe as clouds began to form and roll in.

John Koenig heard the rumbling outside of the pyramid while Victor scanned the holographic image of the diamond shape that rotated before them. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that Matt had fallen on his back, and was now starting to get up. The young man looked down the corridor at Koenig, with a look of surprise glittering in his brown irises.

"What's that rumble?" Tony turned and sharply inquired.

Koenig pulled out his commlock. "Alan, give me a seismographic reading."

Alan Carter's image reappeared on the small screen. From the look of the Eagle pilot, one could have sworn that he saw something dead on his lunch plate. "John, the seismograph indicates a deep subterranian turbulence about one thousand miles from this location. It has a reading of nine point nine on the Richter scale."

Alan looked over at the next data readout. This time, the look of incredulous disbelief and fear etched his features. "John...the barometer is falling faster than I've ever seen it before."

"Commander," Matt's voice broke in the conversation. "The sky is also beginning to darken. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear there was some atmospheric disturbance forming in this area!"

Koenig took Matt's observation seriously, as did Alan's analysis. "Alan, run the figures thru the computer and give me a readout."

"What's happening, John?" Victor came to both John and Helena's side.

"From the look of things," John said, developing a cold fear of something unknown threatening them. "Something hostile."

"Okay, here it comes," Alan returned. "Earthquake potential at maximum. Tidal wave probability is at ninety-nine percent;cloud cover beginning to encompass the forest moon. It will close in on this area in about twenty minutes."

"Commander," Matt re-entered the conversation. "I just ran the same figures that Alan just did. There's something else. That energy source that's in that pyramid has now gone to ten to the sixteenth power plus. Something is not right, here."

"Any idea as to the cause?" Koenig demanded.

"None at all," Matt confessed. "It started when those tremors and storm clouds began to form!"

"John, " Alan quickly interjected with a note of fear. "The computer has come up with these results."

"Go ahead."

"Computer has detected that cataclysmic earthquake activity combined with cloud burst and tidal wave conditions," the Austrailian finished. "will create flood and storm conditions engulfing the entire moon. Commander, we got to get out of here!"

"We're way ahead of you, Alan," John replied immediately. "Get ready for lift off!"

"Looks like we've come across another dead end!" Tony said, on the verge of seething. "I mean...what a frustrating feeling knowing we may have come across a world to call home...and only be driven out by something as natural as this!"

"For all we know, Tony," Bergman said, calmly. "What's happening now may not be natural."

"We'll never know," Koenig said, looking back at the rotating holographic image. "Let's get back to the Eagle!"

As John, Helena, Victor, and Tony rushed out of the pyramid's entrance, they saw the dark ominous clouds rolling in. Matt looked over at a dark wall of boiling grey clouds on the horizon. An image that reminded him of the F5 tornado that ravaged a small town in Kentucky named Brandenburg. A sheet of rain, followed by winds of destruction that literally annihilated that small town on April 3, 1974. He had been two years old when all of that chaos erupted in a massive outbreak.

"Holy shit, shove me in it!!!" Matt's eyes glazed down at the approaching storm.

The five Alphans reached the Eagle as they looked back one last time at the pyramid and the wonderous vistas. All of them climbed in as the tremendous rumbling shook the surface.

"Hurry, Commander!" Alan shouted as they sealed the passenger module door.

Koenig slid into the pilot's seat quickly. In unison with Alan's movements, Koenig flipped switches and activated the Eagle's engines.

"Take her up, Alan!" Koenig barked.

Alan gripped the Eagle controls as the spacecraft lifted off from the barren surface. From the viewport, Alan gave an uncomfortable glance out of the corner of his left eye. Looking pale and tense, raw fear etched into his face as he saw the weather rolling in like an armada of exploding missiles.

The storm finally billowed over the surface with lightening flashing above the clouds, flickering like Christmas lights covered in angel hair. A drizzle, thrashed by a cold wave of wind and building steadily, sent everything into an inferno. Clouds rolled in thicker and thicker, expelling their weight in crashing torrents and discharging their fury in flashing, jagged arcs. The grumbling and crowning of restless thunder smothered sounds of all types.

Puncturing the cover of the clouds, the Eagle rose high above the tempest and into the blackness of space.

"That was close," Alan expelled a held breath. "A couple of minutes more and we would have never made it off the ground, Commander!"

"Don't remind me," John said, trying to push the memory out of his mind. He punched one of the com buttons. "Eagle Five to Moonbase Alpha. Eagle Five to Moonbase Alpha. Are you receiving?"

Paul Morrow's worried image appeared next to Koenig on the small viewscreen. "Main Mission receiving you, Commander. You had us worried."

"Paul, what readings do you have on the second moon?" Koenig got to the point.

"Visual sightings are zero," Paul reported, as he read off the data information. "Seismograph and barometric readings indicate extreme turbulence. Unable to detect any life signs. Could any survive all that?"

"From personal observation," Koenig began. "We can't answer that. Assuming if life still existed there."

"Commander, we won't be in range of that moon for much longer," Kano broke in. "Estimated time left will be three days, twelve hours, and forty three minutes. Shall we implement Operation Exodus?"

Koenig shook his head as he felt an air of disappointment fill him. "Negative, Kano. Given the Moon's trajectory, we'll be far beyond Eagle range at the end of that storm. Judging by how powerful it manifested itself, it will be some time."

Victor Bergman stepped into the Eagle command module with a printout. Judging by what he had read, it confirmed what Koenig had just said. "Computer did a scan of the weather front that enveloped the moon. It estimates that the storm will blow itself out within four days."

Koenig's eyes gazed down at his console and a grave aura of a disappointed expression increased on his handsome features.

"Paul, cancel Operation Exodus."

"You'll never change one bit," Sullivan's tone was livid, if not accusing. "You're someone who is unwilling to work within the system and do something that will fix it. With you, it's always running away and looking for something that is not there and never will be. Some perfect little spot in the universe where you alone can be Lord and Master and make all the rules and create the world in your own image."

Matt sat back in his chair, trying not to listen to the geologist's unlikable tone of voice. She may have been beautiful to him. But, her personality was beginning to be quite exasperating. It was the price he paid for having debates about humanity with his fellow Alphans. She aroused the usually misanthropic and cynical side of him. The side of him that wanted to say the hell with humanity and just go off someplace where he could be alone and live out his life in peace. The side of him that made him a misanthrope on Earth and made him unwilling to be part of any society where corruption and decadence seemed the norm.

All the reason why he came to Moonbase Alpha. To get away and drop out.

"If you don't like my personality," Matt countered, tired and trying to keep the exasperating edge out of his voice. "Then keep your distance. I told you before...I don't owe the Earth or the twentieth century anything."

A hater of his own race, Matt was the first man who could be classified as a misanthrope. A hard liner whose cynicism and perpetual misanthropy made an impact on Heather Sullivan's life. And made him a very unpleasant person.

Not that he really gave a goddamn to begin with....

On the elevated console in the Helium - 3 mining facility, a clear picture had emerged on the video scanner. The picture of a dark, crater-filled landscape looming closer and closer. And with it, the clear sound of voices. Calm, collected, clear, and thoroughly professional sounding voices.

"Two hundred feet, down three and a half. Forty seven forward. Fifteen, down two and half. Nineteen forward. A hundred feet, three and a half down, nine forward. Forty feet, down two and a half. Picking up some dust."

"Thirty seconds."

"Brake shadow. Contact light."

A brief hush. And then, the picture shifting to an image of a spidery-like shaped spacecraft standing proudly on the surface of the crater-filled landscape.

"We copy you down, Eagle."

Finally, the voice of Commander Neil Armstrong filled the small chamber.

"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

"Roger, Tranquility," the voice from Mission Control in Houston, Texas answered. "We've got a bunch of guys about to turn blue here."

The picture shifted again. To the sight of Walter Cronkite removing his glasses, rubbing his hands eagerly and letting out anexcited, "Oh, boy!" To the sight of his broadcast colleague, astronaut Wally Schirra wiping away a tear from his eyes over the realization that his friends Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had made it.

All over the planet called Earth, the words that had just been spoken had brought crowds of millions in all nations to a standstill, as they listened in with excitement to something that from their perspective, had never before been accomplished in human history.

Phillip Rollins looked over and grinned when he saw that the plastic encased exhibit marking the exact spot where the Apollo XI lunar module Eagle had landed in July 1969 was still there. The discarded lower stage of the NASA lunar module sprouted from a section of lunar soil where the first footprints of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin still lay preserved for eternity. In front of the exhibit stood the giant photo of John F. Kennedy and his famous quote from his 1961 address to Congress about getting to the moon by the end of the decade.

"Little memento of the first time mankind set foot here," he said, to no one in particular.

The words and pictures would have been regarded as more meaningful than to any of the four billion people on Earth, over three decades past.

Technician Rollins was so preoccupied, watching the history disc on his small monitor, that he did not notice the memory banks being scanned again from the forest moon, for one last time.

The Sea Of Tranquility and its fifty-level mining facility had an unseen visit.

Over three weeks had passed since the Moon had drifted away from the small solar system. Many on Alpha were more relieved than disappointed when they had passed the outer rim of the system. It was obvious that the memory of the charred and lifeless worlds of that region of space remained fresh in their memories.

A memory which John Koenig hoped would fade in time.

Both Koenig and Helena watched the display of information that appeared on the small screen in Victor's lab. The scans that he had recorded of the pyramid were sharp and scintillating. Particularly the image of the diamond shape symbol. Victor had the computer run the images through its data systems. Particularly those that seemed Egyptian. The response they received was a bit surprising.

"Those images that we discovered there," Victor explained. "Somehow explained the history of that world. The inhabitants of Crom II, the name of that world, had once been visited. By a race that, to their own frame of mind, was god-like. And that symbol that appeared before us was described as a sign of.. danger; they called it, a...'Flammon, the Death Glow'. Something to warn people of the places where their lives might be in danger."

"What about those other holographic images we had seen?" Koenig demanded. "Did the computer notice anything else about them?"

"It only managed to determine that we had witnessed some elements of that system's past," Victor examined the spool of paper. "What their worlds had been like and who had once inhabited them. Judging by some of the other hieroglyphics that were shown, it even gave a list of the planet's names."

Koenig looked at the paper that Victor handed him. All of the planets' names.

Sarpeidon Mantilles

Deneva Bezaride

Argelius Alondra

Ardana Yonada

Neuterra Verikan

"The computer was not able to ascertain as to what caused the destruction of that system," Victor finished. "Or the annihilation of those who populated it. I'd say that is a mystery that will never be solved."

Koenig handed Helena the spool of paper and he leaned back on the small table. "That's one thing about the universe that makes it so complex. Mysteries that cannot be explained."

"There is an answer to one mystery," Victor offered, handing John a sheet of paper with equations printed on its thin surface. "Or, more like a theory actually. I think that explosion in Area II made the Moon's core into some kind of resonant 'key', which unlocks gravitational doors in space. These "conduits" may be connected in some way to gravitational sources, like stars and planets, which is why we wound up here, near that solar system. Which could account for those phenomena that Queller's Voyager One discovered near Orion and Sagittarius."

"It's also likely," he concluded. "when we pass beyond any system, we will likely encounter another point at which we will enter a conduit, gate, or space warp, and enter another system. Perhaps the next one intersected by our original path. It's possible that these warp entrances represent balance points between stellar systems or places where the fabric of space itself is equipotential." He smiled. "Or maybe I just don't understand what is really going on. We must always allow that possibility."

"So, it's a crap shoot either way," Koenig observed. "If we don't find anything in one system, we just pull in the oars and wait until we've drifted into the next one."

"Something like that," Victor chuckled.

"There is one thing I'm still curious about," Helena interjected. "When those planets aligned themselves in that planetarium...and the destruction erupted. Could those orbital shifts have been connected to it?"

"It seems likely," John admitted. "Almost as if the destruction of the forest moon were caused by something as....phenomenal as that. The only difference is this. There were no orbital shifts. That symbol may have been a warning to us or anyone who traveled by. To keep away."

It was one of many questions that John knew he and the others would be asking for some time. Many that would remain unanswered.

"I'm still wondering if all of us were just the victims of a mass hallucination," Helena said, looking out at the battered lunar surface. "brought on by the twisting forces released in the pressures of a neutron storm."

"We may never know, Helena," John said, placing the sheet of paper down on Victor's desk. "But, whatever it was good to have been out of the house. Even if it were just for a few days."

Copyright (c) 2002. 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