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Devil's Moon

Authors: Christopher Dalton
Categories: Adventure
Show Year: Y1
Rating: PG-13
Date: 2009
While dealing with an epidemic of depression after a failed Phase One probe, the Alphans are confronted by an entity that has taken over Moonbase Alpha's computers. An entity that is seeking a perfect mate. Set between Y1 and Y2.
Average Rating: No reviews.

Based on an idea by Colleen Bement and T. Garnett

"A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us."
--Albert Einstein

Moonbase Alpha status report, 997 days after leaving Earth orbit. Dr. Helena Russell recording. It has been nearly a week since we left the star system on the rim of our galaxy. Since then, the Moon has entered what only could be described as a void in space, a vast empty gulf between clusters of stars. Looking ahead, we have for the first time in history been able to truly get a sense of where we are in the galaxy as a whole. For some time our scientists theorized that the region of stars we know as the Milky Way galaxy was in fact a slightly seperate chunk of a spiral arm belonging to a much larger galaxy. And now we have entered the gap between two of those whirling arms. A curtain of stars lies ahead of us and behind us, while far to our right there is a cluster so dense, it is like a ball of light. I am now convinced that the other systems must lie somewhere in the next spiral arm, far from our old homes on Earth. The people of Alpha remain calm, and supportive. So far very few have expressed concerns about the gulf we have entered.

Veil of stars.

Veil of crystals.

Out in the vast reaches.

On the large viewscreen in the Command Center, the image of the Milky Way glittered like powdered sugar fused to black velvet.

The remarkable view of the Milky Way on the large screen was as complete a portrait of the galaxy as anyone was ever likely to see. Few probes, the unmanned ones, had flown furthur outside the galactic rim than the wandering Moon was now drifting.

Drifting uncontrollably near the galaxy's fringe.

Cast out from its orbit and catapulted into the emptiness of interstellar space by a power greater than any that had predicted its creation, it now wandered aimlessly across the great glowing spiral of the galaxy. A wandering chunk of spatial debris that glided toward the stars.
A million years is not much as the galaxy spins. Stars are older. Nebulae are older. Drifting shards of unidentifiable matter and splinters of subatomic particles and waveform properties that don't even have names yet, are as considerably older.

It was a big galaxy, and not even the Alphans knew what lurked in its deep corners or out among the stars of its spiral arms.

Tony Verdeschi tapped a button on his console and was rewarded with the view out the starboard section of Moonbase Alpha - a view of almost unrelieved blackness.

Stars glittered brightly against the darkness of space, like diamonds scattered across soft black velvet.

Here and there were tiny dots of luminescence, dots which were not just only individual stars, but rather distant galaxies - some vaster, some modest than Man's own. The yawning, frightening intergalactic pit was enough to give the Alphans uncommon thoughts. Those that would race through the deepest pools of their minds.

It was enough to satiate the minds of any living beings.

God sure does make some wonderous sights, Tony reflected silently. If not beautiful.

The Command Center of Moonbase Alpha was a beehive of purposeful activity. The men and women were moving to stations, checking their consoles and other systems, which was nough to let them do their assigned duties.

Here and there were some low-voiced conversations as personnel checked out various systems with their colleagues and friends, while going about their tasks in an efficient manner.

If not professional.

Tony returned his attention to the big screen across the front of the Command Center.

Stars. Millions upon millions of stars, he reflected in silence. Worlds without number. Inhabited worlds, dead balls of rock, planets where strange life forms had once evolved from. Risen as single-celled organisms and fallen into entities of great power. Great civilizations that may have prospered and extended outward. New worlds fresh and untouched...a fitting endeavor to mankind, itself.

It was also enough to squash a man's ego, if not his pride.

In the privacy of the commander's quarters on Moonbase Alpha, John Koenig had at a fingertip's call, all the computerized resources of mankind's history in recorded form. Be it video or audio. Art, music, painting, sculpture, kinetology, science, history, philosophy - the memory data banks of the lunar base held enough material to satiate the mind of any civilized being. Satisfy and fulfill him whether in the mood for matters profound or trivial, fleeting or permanent, whether curious about the developments of yesterday or those as old as time itself.

Yet, now, in this particular off-hour, the man responsible for guiding the Alphans safely through the multitude of known hazards and an infinitude of unknown ones that lay strewn throughout space - when he could have dwardfed his thoughts to little things of no importance and rested his mind - chose instead to study a smaller though no less awesome version of the same scene he was compelled to view so many times from the old Main Mission, which had been adjacent to his old office.

His eyes strayed idly to the viewport windows of his quarters. Above the lunar surface, he could see Gossamer thin threads of crimson and azure in the vastness of space. It marked a spectacular nebula of recent origin - the flaming head stone marking the burial site of some long vanished star, perhaps marking also a cemetary for a great, doomed civilization, caught helpless when its sun exploded.

The Alphans had forsaken the solidity of Earth to witness such wonders in the emptiness between the stars.

Only, in some ways, it was something that was not of their own choosing.

September 13, 1999 AD was the day that certain events were set into motion. Over thirty years after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had set foot on the Moon, itself.

The events of that day had sent Earth's moon heading towards the outer fringes of the Milky Way. Courtesy of a nuclear explosion that originated from the thermonuclear waste dumps on the dark side of the Moon.

An accidental, if not disasterous result of Man's own folly.

Koenig tried not to think about that historical day that started this uncontrolled odyssey for him and the surviving Alphans. Instead, he tried to think of the present situation and whatever future that lied ahead. For him and all the Alphans.

Believing in the faith that someone or some intelligence was looking after them all. God, if nothing else.

It was the only way to stay mentally sane in a universe that he and the Alphans had not been prepared for on the exploration level. Physically and psychologically.

He took it, like all the other Alphans, one step at a time. If not one day at a time.
John took the top folder from the stack on his desk and placed it to the side. The remaining eight he placed in a side drawer, which he in turn locked. No one except a few of his closest staff members would ever know the names on those files. He would file them away himself later instead of asking someone.

Koenig contemplated opening the file again. It was pointless, he knew. He had already been through the file at least twenty times and he knew he would find nothing new by inspecting it again. Besides, his decision had been made and that was all there was to it. It had not been an easy decision.

In fact, it had been three months in the making.

'Three months,' he thought to himself. 'Had it really been that long?'

He rubbed his eyes. The headache that had plagued him for almost the entire three months was worse today. He reached into another drawer and removed a bottle of analgesics. Reaching for a glass of water he popped three of the tiny tablets in his mouth.
He gulped down the glass of water. He refilled the glass and raised it to his forehead and let the cool beads soothe the ache there.

Almost immediately he felt the acrid bile rise up in his throat. Long shifts and lack of sleep compounded by his inability to mourn properly were taking their toll on his health. He couldn't remember the last time he slept.

His legs felt like rubber as he rose from his desk and went into the lavatory. Splashing cold water on his face he looked in the mirror. A strange man with a haunted look stared back at him. A man he didn't know anymore. Soon, he promised himself, he would be able to rest again. Dismissing the reflection he returned to his quarters to see a familiar face sitting beside his desk.

Dr. Helena Russell had been a godsend to him. She had been the rock that he had leaned on through this whole nightmarish ordeal. With her he was able to show the emotions that he dare not display in front of the rest of Alpha. To them he was Commander John Koenig, a rock of strength and decision. They placed their lives in his hands and followed him without exception. But with Helena he could just be a man, a man full of fear and self-doubt. A man that prayed he would never make the one mistake that would mean disaster for them all. Now he was a man who had just lost his oldest, closest friend.

Helena rose to her feet and started toward him with a concerned look on her face. She placed a delicate hand against next to his unshaven cheek. "When did you eat last?" She had been after John to take better care of himself. Lately, she noticed, he took meals only when someone thought to bring them to him. Even then, they remained mostly untouched.

"I'll grab some breakfast after the meeting," He had called a command staff meeting that was suppose to begin in ten minutes. Looking deeply into her eyes he could almost forget the events of the past weeks. She had a calming effect on him.

"Lunch." She interrupted.

"Hmm?" he felt a sudden urge to pull her next to him and lose himself in her femininity.

"Lunch. It's second shift. Which reminds me. When did you sleep last?"

John was about to answer when he noticed the time. Painfully obvious was the fact that three key personnel on the command staff were no longer with them.

'Well,' John thought to himself, 'at least one of those seats will have a new occupant by the end of the day.'

Every sentient species wonders about the universe. Those who are able to reach the stars hold the cosmos in even greater awe than those who are planet-bound: for all the stars visible from a night sky, there are even more visible to a civilization with the gift of spaceflight. Some estimate that there are a hundred billion stars in the average galaxy. Some estimate that there are a hundred billion galaxies in the universe. The vast number of stars in the universe, then, is staggering.

If none of them were inhabited, it would be an awful waste of space.

Yet the universe is growing in space and time, and life has a curious tendency to appear anywhere it can get a foothold. There are countless young, planet-bound civilizations, several ancient species incomprehensible to common life, and any number of others in between.

Civilizations collecting and storing immense amounts of data on every galaxy and star. Spelling out messages and the accumulated knowledge of countless civilizations throughout the eons, in the universal language of mathematics. Messages criss-crossing the universe and penetrating even into the farthest reaches of the void.

Somewhere, out in the distance, Earth's former natural satellite floated past those stars like driftwood in the sea.

And on the Moon was the colony of that planet-bound people who were almost ready to venture out into the galaxy.

Moonbase Alpha was a civilian installation built on the Earth's moon. Part scientific research station, part garbage dump for the world's nuclear waste, and a staging post for space exploration missions. Staffed by 311 men and women from all corners of the globe; its other function was to monitor the nuclear waste dumps on the far side of the Moon.

On September 13, 1999 AD, a titanic nuclear explosion blasted the moon out of earth orbit, into the vast empty expanse of space. Over the past three years, the Alphans had come across various wonders that jolted and mystified them. Including various solar systems and other unexplainable phenomena.

The solar system on the rim of the galaxy, that the Moon was coming upon, consisted of five planets and twin stars. Suns that were burning themselves out, thus turning one of the planets, a once lush, green planet into a dry, arid and totally uninhabitable wasteland.

Sandra Benes touched the front of the console, and the Main viewscreen projected a three dimensional model of the solar system they were in, and another selected planet.

The first planet was a medium sized, blue world comprised of compressed gas. It had eight moons in orbit and four small, thin rings swirling about it, one of which seemed to "twist" in places. With an atmosphere comprised mostly of hydrogen, helium, and methane and wind speeds reaching two thousand kilometrons per centar, it was no surprise to him that there were no life signs.

A medium sized blue-green planet orbiting nearly three billion kilometrons from the binary stars of the system. It was a fairly unspectacular planet, atmosphere made up of hydrogen, helium, methane and just a touch of acetylene and some other hydrocarbons. She measured winds ranging in velocity from forty to a hundred sixty metrons per micron blowing across the surface. Sandra also noted that the planet had twenty two moons in orbit and as many as fifteen rings.

The next planet was perhaps the most beautiful planet of the system as its massive rings were reminiscent of some of the planets the Alphans remembered from their own solar system in another part of the galaxy. It was a giant of a planet, measuring nearly a hundred twenty thousand kilometrons in diameter. Two things she found very interesting about this planet were that it rotated at such a high rate of speed, the "poles" of the planet were flattened out somewhat and that the planets density was so low, that if placed in water, it would float, that is if a body of water could be found that was large enough to hold it.

The Data Analyst also noted that the winds on the planets "surface" were in excess of seventeen hundred kilometrons per centar and that there were thirty six natural satellites in orbit and what at a distance looked to be three large rings was in truth many smaller rings.

The next planet she checked was gigantic compared to the others in the system. It was so large that, if it were hollow, it could easily hold all of the other planets and their moons inside it! If the Moon got too close, it would have gotten caught in the gravity well of this monstrous world. She made several scans of the giant planet, finding some twenty eight moons and a single ring in orbit. Several of the moons she found here were larger then the first planet she had investigated. The planets atmosphere was comprised of hydrogen and helium and the gravity was nearly two and a half times that of Earth’s.

This world was surrounded by dark, swirling clouds of dust that obscured the surface and made any visual reconnaissance impossible. Sandra began taking readings of the planet and found it was surrounded by extremely high levels of radiation and that the surface temperature was well below the freezing point. She detected large bodies of water that were covered with thick layers of ice, ice that was over a kilometron thick in places. There were also a large number of heat sources detected on the surface. The Burmese native thought these must be caused by volcanoes or some other natural seismic activity. A check of the atmosphere showed high levels of methane and carbon dioxide along with sulfuric acid, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide, all commonly found in volcanic regions.

Add to that the fact that the planet was fully enveloped in clouds made of sulfuric acid, while on the surface of the dark, forbidding world, the fires continued to burn, giving the landscape a hellish aspect.

The fifth planet held some promise.

It was almost Earth-like in nature.

She saw the sight of a medium-sized red planet come into view. Compared to the sights of the giant, gaseous planets they had earlier passed, this one seemed tiny and frail by comparison. Sandra idly noticed the shining blue-green giant, nearby.

"Readout shows thin oxygen atmosphere caused by sunlight particles breaking up a frozen water based atmosphere. Large traces of ozone indicating substantial oxygen output over the entire surface."

Two weeks after Sandra's discovery of the new solar system, Moonbase Alpha was soon flying straight into a minefield.

One that almost seemed limitless and timeless in the distant void of space.

The colony of 311 men and women that called the out-of-control Moon their home could only go about their lives and duck their heads when necessary. After three hours of enduring the pounding almost everyone's nerves were shot, and begging whatever God they believed in to put a stop to it.

The diligent crew that manned Command Center, the heart of a lunar base, kept a watchful eye on all manner of solar debris that was heading their way, while a trio of Eagles maintained a high orbit over the Moon to blast whatever stray meteorites dared come within a certain radius of the lonely human outpost.

"Another one is coming in from sector five, Tony," Sandra Benes reported, tearing off a strip of paper from her computer printout. "Computer suggests a combined assault to deal with it."

Tony Verdeschi's eyes scanned the printout then his console to check the location of the Eagles, before switching on his transmitter. "Command Center to Eagles 1and 6; new target at 11 by 238 by 77. We need both of you on it."

Eagle 1's pilot, Alan Carter, and Eagle 6's pilot, Kevin Bannion, responded that they were lining up the new target on their weapons scopes. Less than a minute later a satisfying sensor reading indicated that the meteor that had been nine times bigger than an Eagle had been reduced to thousands of baseball-sized chunks, and would impact the Moon hundreds of miles away from Alpha, somewhere in the vicinity of the Crater Vitruvius.

"Yasko, how much longer do we have to do this? We can't blow up everything that's coming too close," Tony complained. "Shouldn't we have passed the debris field by now?"

Yasko Nagumi knew the answer without even checking Voyager One's star chart on her computer console. She grimaced sadly as she responded, "Afraid not yet, Tony. Our course is running parallel to the counter-clockwise orbit of that destroyed moon. My best estimates show that we have nearly an hour before we can think about letting our guard down."

Sandra tore another printout from her console, and handed it to the Security Chief. "Next closest targets, Tony," she said, sounding apologetic. "Alan and the others are going to be bragging for weeks about their marksmanship!" She returned to her panel even as Verdeschi contacted the nearest Eagle.

Tony found the base's commander, John Koenig, approaching from the Command Center entrance, his face showing a hopefulness for good news, but could tell that it was somewhat premature.

"Tony, two weeks ago when we spotted this solar system, ahead of us, I had to contend with a base full of people who got their hopes up that this might be the solar system for us to colonize. Then the closer we got the worse things became, when we discovered not one but two gas giants that were unstable to the point of destroying one of their own moons. Sensors show a habitable planet up ahead, but now your report tells me that we can't expect it to be a potential home?"

Tony nodded. "My best guess is that the Moon has disrupted the gravitational field of this star system to such a point that we've actually caused the gas giants to shift slightly in their orbits, and the inner planet to a lesser degree has been affected by the movement of its neighbouring worlds."

"A bull in a china shop," Koenig mused.

"Yes, unfortunately, something the size of our Moon can't go unnoticed in the bigger scheme of things, anymore than the contents of a creek could remain pristine after a stone is thrown into it. There's bound to be a ripple-effect in the natural order of things as we pass through places we don't belong."

"It's never happened before. Not like this anyway."

"That we know of," Tony amended. "We can only guess what our Breakaway from Earth did to it, let alone the neighbouring planets of those we've inadvertently visited in the past. This system seems especially vulnerable to our entry, however."

Koenig looked up at the big screen and watched as an image of Eagle 4 silently blasting a meteor was displayed. "I almost feel like apologizing to someone. Can we expect this every Time we enter a new solar system, Tony? Inadvertently tearing the fabric of space as we travel through it?"

"It depends on a number of factors, John; the size and type of star, the number and size of planets and their orbital positions, our speed and trajectory. It's possible the worst is over and the planets will settle down. The only way to know will be to send a probe to the inner planet; we've detected an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere. Even a planetfall on a place resembling the Gobi Desert or Siberia is better than an uncertain future here on the Moon."

Koenig managed a shrug. "After the pounding we've had to endure today, I'd settle for a volcanic island; anything is better than this."

Moonbase Alpha trembled slightly as a distant collision between the Moon and a piece of an alien moon took place, the rogue rock having penetrated the Eagle defences.

Less than 24 hours later, Eagle 1 was blasting off from launch pad one again, her fuel tanks filled to capacity again, but this time her sensors and scanning equipment were manned by Verdeschi, while Koenig and Carter manned the cockpit. She would have to pour on the speed to outrun the Moon and reach the inner planet in time to give them a decent amount of time to run tests and map the world in an effort to discover if it was worth transferring the eager Alphans to it.

The bombardment from the gas giant's devastated moon had continued for another ninety minutes after John and Tony had spoken, so life had resumed as normal as could be expected.

Verdeschi realised how much was depending on him getting the scans correct, while the final decision rested on Koenig's shoulders. Colonist morale could be sent skyward if the world ahead of them proved even marginally satisfactory. It wasn't an exaggeration to say that there were Alphans who would endure terrible environmental conditions if it meant being able to breath real air again.

"E.T.A. one hour, Commander," Carter reported from the pilot's chair. He checked his scanners, and shook his head. "Those gas giants are as unstable as a rock star in a rehab clinic. Glad that never happened to Jupiter and Saturn back home."

That we know of, Koenig wanted to add, but held back. The loss of the Moon in their solar system was something that could only be estimated by Computer. The complex gravitational fields of the nine planets and dozens of satellites most likely endured a bigger jolt than the asteroid that struck the Earth millions of years earlier that lead to the dinosaur's demise. He shook his head, and tried to concentrate on what the sensors were showing him. It was complex stuff which he was sure Victor Bergman would have loved every minute of. The Professor would have been in his element out here, his knowledge passing even the greatest minds back on Earth, as every day had presented a new challenge to overcome, which Victor Bergman would have usually done with flying colours.

Koenig shuddered to think of what Alpha's chances of survival would have been had Victor returned to England prior to Breakaway, rather than finding himself an unexpected passenger in their solar odyssey. Something which triggered the thought of what happened some time past. When the Eagle carrying Bergman, Paul Morrow, David Kano, and two other sensor technicians had been damaged near the edge of the Arkadian star system. Damaged by a small, wayward meteor while investigating an unknown radio signal in that system's asteroid field. Far out of the Eagle's flight range, the Alphans were left to ponder the fate of their comrades.

Koenig pushed aside that sad memory and focused on the task at hand.

"So, uh, Commander...what do ya miss the most outta all the things ya used to do back home?" Carter asked in an effort to make conversation and pass the time.

Koenig took the bait and thought about it. "The most? So many things, so many people. Sitting on Clearwater Beach in Florida, just watching the waves crash onto shore. Making my own trail through a forest, and watching the squirrels and birds look down at me as I pass through their 'world'. Sitting in a seat that's too small for me, gradually getting a sunburn, as I watch a Yankee ball game in the middle of August." He thought of smells and sights of each example he'd just given, and smiled sadly. Such things were light years away. "How about you?"

"Easy! Pub crawling from place to place with some mates until 4 in the mornin', chatting up a half dozen ladies that seemed to get prettier as the night went on, if you get my meaning!"

Koenig laughed at that comment. Yes, somehow alcohol magically altered the features of the opposite sex. Strange, but true. Carter added, "Also homesick for a decent game of football...checking the standings in the paper the next day...wishin' the next World Cup was next week."

The mentioning of football made Koenig miss the American version, even though he knew Alan meant the game that North Americans would refer to as 'soccer'. He'd never been a fan of the sport, but after months of unpredictable adventures in deep space Koenig would get excited about water polo if it meant the beginning of a new life on an Earth-like planet.

Eagle 1 approached the planet on time and began scans, but Verdeschi's findings were about to test Koenig's command judgement skills. The solar system was proving as unstable as Yasko's worst computer projections. As Carter piloted the ship hundreds of miles over the mostly gray and brown planet, Koenig leaned over Tony's shoulder to watch the computer readouts reveal a planet in terrible stress.

"See here; the northern polar cap is melting, collapsing into the sea. Volcanic activity is increasing in the southern hemisphere, and fault lines are fracturing the central continent. The planet is a mess, John. You have a very difficult decision to make here. We've talked about it, and made some off-hand comments about such a place being better than whatever Alpha had to offer, but is this planet truly better?"

"How much time do we have until we're out of range of it?"

"48 hours, 11 minutes."

"Keep scanning, Tony. The atmosphere can support us, so there must be somewhere down there that's not being ripped to pieces. Even an island half the size of Japan could offer us a better life."

As Eagle 1 swung around the planet, nearly catching up to where she'd entered orbit, and alarm caught Carter's attention, so he beckoned Koenig to return to the cockpit.

"What is it?" the Commander asked.

Carter fine-tuned his sensors, and responded, "A proton storm of some type, John. Looks like this system's sun is having a corona mass ejection phase."

Koenig resumed his co-pilot seat, and checked his readings. "Visual range in two minutes. I think that storm may have decided for us."

"John," Tony called out from the passenger module. "Computer forcasts the eruption of a gigantic solar flare with very high levels of cosmic rays accompanying it."

"How bad?" John demanded.

Tony typed in the question and got an immediate answer. He didn't need to look at the spool of paper and the results it contained twice.

"An enormous one," Tony replied. "The sensors indicate the cosmic ray concentration measures 3.51 on the Ritter scale. That'll play hell with Alpha, as well as the Moon."

"At that rate, it will take exactly seventy two solar hours for the storm to pass," John calculated. "We'll be way out of Eagle range by then."

That star has given evidence of entering a nova phase, he thought bitterly. And is now entering a critical period. Fine time for this to happen.

"What do we do, John?"

Koenig knew there was no other choice. They had to get back to Alpha and fast.

"Abort the mission," he ordered. "Head back for Alpha."

Alan replied immediately, despite his disappointment.

"Main motors at full power," he responded, pulling the thrust levers down.

What was unique to the Moon's harsh environment and unknown on Earth, or any other planet in the galaxy, was a problem known as a solar flare.

On Earth, or any earth-like planet, life was protected by the atmosphere that typically screened out the most harmful cosmic rays. But, if someone was caught out on the Moon's harsh surface, that someone would be in deadly peril from an intense storm of solar particles.
While the particle rays from the solar flares passed through the depths of space, it began to silently affect some systems on Moonbase Alpha.

The rays, in various color spectrums, some not visible to the human eye, also managed to affect certain areas of the lunar colony.

Particularly the area housing the main computer.

Even with the defense screens and other force shields in place, some forms of radiation managed to come through, undetected..

The bombardment of radiation began to affect some power transformers and other various systems.

When it began to affect the main computer's logic centers, problems with minor systems were beginning to lead to huge technical troubles with the main and key vital areas.

Helena Russell slept through her alarm for the first time in years. All she was aware of was that she was lying on a beach and had only an hour before her shift started at the John F. Kennedy Space Center. Her back relaxed firmly on the sand with her eyes closed and at perfect peace. She was soaking up every ray of the sun. She couldn't remember a time when she felt such contentment. She was shocked to be pulled back to reality. She felt disbelief that she was no longer laying on the beach back home in Florida. Her eyes slowly focused in on the stark, sterile white walls and the pitch black darkness of space outside her windows. She took a couple deep breaths and tried to bring herself back to reality.

For the past few weeks it was a struggle for her just to get out of bed. She hadn't had feelings of hopelessness like this since her husband Lee had died many years ago. Lately the only motivation she experienced was when there was a crisis with a patient. Unfortunately these instances were far too frequent lately. She wished she wasn't Chief Medical Officer in charge of the health and well-being of a base full of tired and desperate people. They were no longer people from Earth searching for a home. They were now Alphans...inhabitants of a floating moon displaced from their true home, their families, and their friends. It had been three years since the moon was blasted away from Earth's orbit, and so far they had not found a habitable planet on which to settle. Most everyone on the base had lost the hope of finding such a home.

It had been almost a month since they passed by a planet. It felt like they were at the end of the universe and they haven't been close to any light of a nearby star. There had not been any excitement or trouble to speak of. Most everyone had struggled through the previous years waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel. They felt pretty certain that there would eventually be a habitable planet on which to settle. But lately, the Alphans had been going on day by day without change, and without hope. She knew that this would eventually become a severe problem, and felt prepared to handle it. However, she never expected to deal with it herself. Even John had no idea that she had been taking anti-depressants for weeks now. He need not know that the person he counted on the most had the classic signs of depression.

Sleeping in excess, difficulty thinking clearly, feeling like there's no hope and would just rather sleep. Then of course she was no different from anyone else on the base. Except that she knew that a doctor's insight usually goes faster in depression than in any other illness. For the first time, she had doubts that she was in complete control.

Like Helena, most people on the base had been hiding it for so long, and it was now affecting them physically. She had never disbursed so many aspirins and anti-depressants. A daily counseling session was a common occurrence for many of the staff, and she tried to come up with creative ways to prevent anyone from sinking even further. There was no way that she could fall apart. She, more than anyone, needed to keep it together...keep the Alphans on their feet and the base running.

It was the sound of her comlock chirping that pushed her to get out of bed. It was the second doctor in charge on Moonbase Alpha, Dr. Ben Vincent. She knew immediately that she was to be his relief over an hour ago. She told him honestly that she had overslept and that she would be there promptly. As tired as she was, she knew that he was even more exhausted. With the exception of the many disasters they'd had over the past three years, the Medical Center had never been so busy.

The past month Helena had had to brush up on her counseling skills in hopes of helping people cope with a depression that has permeated the base. Everyone looked to Helena for a quick fix; a pill that would make them feel better. There were some that were affected so greatly that they refused to leave their quarters, or even leave their beds. They didn't care what the consequences were. The majority of the staff rarely stepped foot on another planet. They were never part of the landing parties. Most have stared at white walls for three years now.

Ben was adjusting the IV on an unconscious patient when Helena walked in. He was surprised to see her with her hair not fixed and with no make up on.

"Are you okay, Helena?" Ben asked.

Helena adjusted her posture and answered, "I'm just fine, thank you. What's your report?"

"It was a busy night. Susan Johnson asked for sleeping pills for the fifth night in a row and I went ahead and gave her a few extra. I admit the error in judgment. She apparently had been saving them up in order to commit suicide. She was found in her quarters by her supervisor when she didn't show up for work. I should have paid attention to the signs."

"Why didn't you wake me?" Helena asked surprised.

"What could you have done? Besides, I could tell that you needed the rest."

"She had an appointment to see me today." she stated sadly. "I've had twelve therapy appointments this week."

"We're going to run out of anti-depressants," Ben added.

"Was Commander Koenig notified?"

"Yes, I called him about two hours ago. He wants to see you first thing this morning."

"I'll be there. What's the status on the other patients?"

Ben directed her to an unconscious man with cuts and bruises on his head. "Ed Malcolm was injured while working in the caverns. Some equipment fell on him. He has a minor concussion and vitals are stable. Ann Wagner came in for aspirin for carpel tunnel. That's about it."

"Thank you. Please get some rest. I'll see you tonight," Helena added.

Helena checked on Ed and then put a nurse in charge while she went to see the commander. As she walked down the hallway, she composed herself to be ready to face the commander's questions. As she approached his quarters, her pace slowed. There was a security guard at the end of the hall sitting against the wall starring aimlessly up at the ceiling. She stopped to ask if he was okay.

"Hi, Jim," She started.

Jim was on his feet at attention in a moment. "Yes mam'm."

"Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, doctor."

"Okay, just asking," she responded cautiously. He stood at attention until she left.

The Commander's quarters was just a few steps away and she took a few deep breaths before knocking. She pressed her comlock requesting permission to enter.

"Come in," John Koenig responded.

"Good morning, John," Helena said as she entered his office.

"Good morning, Helena," John's voice sounded firm. "What happened with Susan Johnson?"

Helena sat in the chair next to him and began to explain. "Ben filled me in this morning when I came on duty. Apparently Susan had been coming to him requesting something to help her sleep. Apparently she had been saving the pills up in order to have a sufficient amount to over-dose. She overdosed some time last night. Neither one of us suspected depression."

John rubbed his forehead and stared at the floor. He finally stood and started pacing the room, as he often did.

"John, it wasn't Ben's fault. He took the appropriate actions."

"I don't doubt that," he said then looked straight in to her eyes. "Helena, what the hell is going on? This base can't function if this gets much worse."

"I know, I know,' She said softly.

"Why now? What's changed that this problem has become drastically worse?" He raised his voice. "Could it have been that solar flare that ruined our chances of colonization in that solar system?"

"It's something that's been building for years. What do you want me to say? You think I have an instant cure for classic depression? These people have been locked up in nothing but plastic white walls for three straight years." she said, raising her voice past his.

"Well, you're the doctor!" he shouted. "Fix it."

"Did you see me walk on water this week? I don't have any miracles up my sleeve." She took a breath, calmer now, "I've been trying my best with counseling and anti-depressants. Ben and I are using cognitive therapy, focusing on correcting the patient's negative thinking and pessimism."

"Well try something else. There has to be a way to get this under control."

"I'm doing everything I know." Her voice trailed off as she tried hard to fight back tears. John immediately altered his tone, and moved to sit next to her on the couch. By then she had already composed herself.

"I'm sorry, Helena," John said as he placed his arm around her. His role quickly changed from commander to concerned significant other. They were, after all, together in this as the leaders of Moonbase Alpha. "I know you're doing everything you can."

Helena nodded and added, "I'm open to suggestions here."

"Our situation is what it is. We can either fall apart or choose to make this a life worth living."

She turned to face him, "We have, John. For three years we've survived with rotten food, no fresh air, no sunshine... We've survived-we haven't lived."

John held her hand and said, "We have to do something."

They had nothing more to say to each other as their frustrations had peaked. Helena told him that she'd try to have dinner with him later and made her way out of the room. John stood and again began to pace the room. He knew that everyone relied on him. Being in charge of almost less than 300 people isn't an easy task in any situation. But this job is 24/7, with no time off, no vacation time, and varies from constant monotony to urgent crisis. He cared about each and every person on the base and remained focused on survival. In keeping things running smoothly, he relied heavily on Helena to be his rock to steady and guide him. This was either a stumbling block or the beginning of the end of Moonbase Alpha.

The recreational center was full today. Five pilots were engaged in a serious round of Texas Hold 'em, including Alan Carter and Frank Templeton. Thanks to Tony's home-made brew, the serving of alcoholic beverages had been established about four months ago. Not much was served at the center. Just the basics- beer and pretzels. Someone tried to invent artificial fish and chips, but they ended up tasting worse than dirt.

Sandra and Operative Kate were creating some disturbing karaoke singing. Far more outgoing than Sandra, it didn't take much to loosen up Kate. She was fairly well known around the base as being pretty "loose" anyways.

Light betting had moved on to the serious waging of unwanted duties. Pilots were always eager to try to wager away their unwanted duties. Everyone was having a great time, except for Frank Templeton. He had lost big today, and had enjoyed far too many rounds of Tony's famous beer. He chugged the last of his beer and slammed it down hard on the table as he stood.

"Well guys, I'm out," Frank announced.

"Better luck next time, buddy," one of the pilots quipped.

"Yeah, it wasn't my night. As a matter of fact, it hasn't been my month," Frank added. He swayed as he staggered away from the table.

"Hey, "Started Alan. "You okay, mate? Need a guide back to your quarters?"

Ignoring Alan's question, "Oh sure, life is grand."

Alan and the guys played poker for another hour and then finally headed back to their quarters. Alan was the next to leave and decided to check something back at his workstation before he retired. To his amazement there was no one on duty and found Frank slumped over on his desk.

"Frank?" He said as he gently shook him. "Frank! Wake up, buddy."

Frank moaned as he awoke, still pretty drunk.

"Alan, Ol' buddy. Time for work already?" Frank slurred.

"Let's get you to bed. Come on," He said as he helped him up and walked him to his quarters.

They came upon the last person on the base they'd want to run in to.

John Koenig, no less.

"Evening, gentlemen," Koenig stated, his eyes fixed on Frank.

"Hi, John. Just heading back after a poker match," Alan stated.

"Commander!" Frank spoke loudly, still slurring. "I've been meaning to talk to you about my pay. I need a raise."

"Do you, now?" Koenig asked. "I'll see both of you in my quarters tomorrow morning."

"Yes, sir," answered Alan. They walked slowly back to Frank's quarters. "Goddamn, it, Frank!

What's the matter with you? That beer's a privilege I don't plan on loosin'."

"I don't give a rat's ass," Frank answered. "I had a good time tonight. That's all."

"Too good a time," Alan said under his breath.

They made it to Frank's quarters and Alan deposited the drunken pilot on to his bed and set his alarm clock for 0600.

Alan made it a habit of limiting himself to one beer. He could often be found in the main recreational center after his shift ended, but he had a rule to always remain sharp. He never knew when a chance to fly would arise, and nothing meant more to him than flying. He finally made it back to his quarters and immediately went to bed. This was unusual for him as he usually stayed up late working or reading. He just had not had any ambition to do much else lately.

The morning came too quickly for Frank as he heard the alarm sound. He smacked it across the room and went back to sleep. Of course, Alan awoke right on time and went to make sure

Frank was on his way to the commander's office. Frank was sound asleep when the room comlock sounded.

"Frank?"Alan called. "Wake up, Mate?"

Frank ignored it as long as he could. He finally got up to answer the call. "What do you want, Alan?"

"You're late, mate"

"Yeah, yeah. I'll be there when I get there."

Alan added impatiently as he signed off the intercom. Alan shook his head and went back to the pilot's station. He had an Eagle in desperate need of some repairs.

By the time Frank wandered in for work, Alan had already fixed Eagle Nine. They were supposed to work on it together. Alan and Frank had become close friends and he wanted to stand by Frank's side.

"It's about time," Alan joked.

"Oh, shut it," retorted Frank as he walked over to his work station and kicked up his feet on to the desk.

"Ahhh. By the way, the commander is on his way."

Frank sat up straight and said, "What the hell for?"

John Koenig was leaning far back in his chair staring up at the sterile, pastel ceiling. He let out a long sigh just before answering the comlock ring from Alan.

"Enter," he said.

"You wanted to see us, sir?" Alan asked. Frank stood not meeting Koenig's eyes.

"Yes. When I approved the establishment of alcohol, I had reservations. So far we've hardly had any incidents. But lately, the number of incidents has been increasing and I'm thinking of declaring prohibition. Even I enjoy a beer every once and a while. Let's not abolish the privilege."

Alan added, "John, we're all a bit stressed lately."

"I know, and it's my job to keep this base running. Frank? You have anything to say?"

"Nope," he answered.

"Okay, you're both dismissed," Koenig granted.

Both men turned to walk about and all at once Frank turned around. "Actually, I do have a bit to say. Tell me why we've passed up so many habitable planets?"

"Excuse me?" Koenig asked.

Alan turned and tapped Frank on the shoulder trying to nudge him to move along.

Frank persisted.

"Why have we passed up so many places we could have called our home. Instead, we're stuck on this hell hole."

"To what missed opportunities are you referring to, Frank?" Koenig asked.

"Meta, Piri, Arkadia, and plenty of others. There always seemed to be a reason why we couldn't settle there," Frank barked. "At least give it a try. Of course, then you wouldn't be in command anymore, would you?"

Koenig simply starred at Frank for a moment then said, "As I had said before, you're dismissed. And Frank, I want you to head down to Medical Center. I'll contact Dr. Russell." He then turned his chair around and reviewed some reports.

Alan pulled Frank's arm and was finally about to get him out of there. John called Medical Center and asked for Helena.

"Yes, John?" She quickly answered.

"I've sent Frank Templeton your way. If he doesn't arrive there, please let met know."

"Anything I need to know ahead of time?"

"He needs a session,"

"I'll take care of it," she reassured.

Frank finally arrived at Helena's door almost an hour later. Helena welcomed him with "Please come in, Frank."

"I don't know what I'm doing here," Frank said, gruffly. "But, I'll humor the commander."

"That's fine with me. Have a seat," she motioned to a chair and he slouched back in it.

"I'm not crazy, Doctor," he started.

"I just want to hear what's on your mind. That's all. Everyone's on edge lately and I just want to help."

"You can help me by getting me the hell off this rock. If you can't do that, I'm afraid that you're useless to me."

"I want to breathe fresh air, too. We all want the same thing and we have to be patient."

"What for? It won't do me any good to complain to you because you'll just stick up for the commander."

"Let's get back to you. Would you like some time off? Sandra's made some nice changes in the solarium."

"I don't need a tan," he snapped.

"When I say I understand what you're going through, I'm being honest. I'm here for you no matter what time it is. Any time you want to talk."

"Fine, all right. Got any good meds?"

"As a matter of fact, yes I do." She reached in to her locked cabinet and handed him a small bottle of fluoxetine. "Follow the dosage carefully and please cut back on the drinking."

"Whatever. Thanks for the stuff," he said.

"You're welcome and please call me absolutely any time you want to talk."

"Fine," he replied as he got up to walk out. But just before he left, his tone changed to a quiet, serious tone and said "It won't do any good. This is base is done for."

She wanted to reply to his statement, but it somehow sent chills up her spine. She didn't know why he'd affected her that way that way, but she was sure that she didn't do enough for him. She planned to check on him later that day to see if he was doing better.

She wouldn't get that chance.

It was unusually quiet in the pilot's section this morning.

They weren't known as a quiet bunch, yet this morning was an exception. Alan and another tech were busy working on Eagle Nine, while Frank Templeton appeared to be asleep at his desk. He starred at the bottle of meds that Helena had prescribed, barely blinking. Frank sat there with the Elton John's Rocket Man singing loudly through his head. He remembered thinking how he always felt the song was tailored-made for him. The people he had left behind for this job were so proud of him! The wife and kids he'd never see again as they were long dead now.

It was high time he joined them in heaven, he thought.

Alan glanced over to Frank, "Man, I wish I could cheer that guy up," he said to the tech.
He shook his head and then returned to his task.

All that was on Frank's mind was not wanting any more. He didn't want any more hydroponic food, stale, recycled air, and no more imitation coffee. He was done. After glancing over to

Alan and the other techs to ensure that they weren't watching, he quietly strolled over to the airlock in the hanger bay and opened it.

This caught Alan's attention right away.

"Frank?" He yelled. "What are ya' doin'?

Ignoring Alan he closed the airlock door behind him. At this point Alan had figured it out and dashed over to try to stop him.

It was too late.

Frank took a deep breath, smiled, and the pressed the airlock.

Alan shouted.

He was gone.

There was no reason to call medical as there was nothing that could be done to rescue him.

He was dead in an instant.

He pressed the alarm and called Command Center.

"Command Center?" Sandra Benes answered.

"This is Carter. There's been an accident in the technical section,"Alan said somberly. "A very bad one."

Helena was the first on the scene. She sat there starring at the door in disbelief as Alan told her what had happened. The commander and a couple security guards arrived shortly after.

"What happened?" John asked.

"Frank Templeton entered the airlock on his own, for no apparent reason, and-" Helena was cut short by Alan.

"Oh, there was a reason all right. He killed himself. I saw the whole thing. He just walked in to the airlock, shut the door, and pressed the button. As calm as could be," Alan explained. "As for the can see the end results."

John's mouth dropped as he turned to face away from the airlock. "I can't believe it. This is insane. Second death this week." He turned to Helena, "Doctor...Helena, how do you account for this?"

"He was obviously more depressed than I had thought," Helena explained. "We did have a session yesterday and I offered time off. I also gave him anti-depressants."

John continued to shake his head in disappointment. "Something has to be done." He then pulled out his comlock and called Sandra in Command Center.

"Command Center," She answered.

"Sandra, set up a meeting with all station heads in my quarters, 1300 hours," John directed.

"Yes, sir," she replied.

"I'll see you all at 1300 hours," John replied coldly and then walked out.

Helena didn't even watch John or the others leave. She just stood there, starring at the airlock, unable to move. She slumped down against the wall to the floor and just sat there, pondering how she could have done something different and saved both Frank and Susan.

Feeling devastated, she sat on the floor just starring at the airlock. It had been almost an hour and she was still sitting there. Finally a tech came in the room and noticed her. She contacted Medical Center.

"Medical Center," Ben answered.

"Dr Vincent. I don't know if anything's wrong, but I happened to notice that Dr. Russell has been sitting here near the airlock where the incident was," the tech stated. "I have no idea how long she's been here. It just seemed strange and I thought I should report it."

"I'll be right over. Thank you for contacting me." Ben stated. "Nurse? I'll be in technical section. Please call me if you need me."

"Yes, doctor," she answered.

Ben sensed something was wrong and quickened his pace through the corridors. By the time he had reached the airlock, Helena was standing there writing on a clipboard. She had already noticed the tech enter the room, she and didn't want her to think anything was wrong. She immediately stood and began to take notes for her report.

Ben was careful not to bring any further attention to the situation. He quietly approached her. "You okay, Doctor?"

"Of course. Thank you for asking though," she responded without taking her eyes off her clipboard.

"Rough day," he added, trying to get something out of her.

"Yes, it has been."

Ben gently pressed down her clipboard to force her to face him. "Come on, Helena. I know you're not all right."

"I'm fine...really." She walked away from him.

He followed her, still whispering as to not bring any attention to her. "Cut the crap, Helena. I know this is really getting to you. You have been doing all of therapy sessions, and you've heard it all. I know it's getting to you. It's getting to all of us, but you're bearing the burden."

"Really, Ben, I'm fine. I just need a little rest. I'll take tomorrow off," she promised with a smile.

"Take the rest of the day off," he added.

"Tomorrow," she promised.


Helena walked back to Medical Center and turned on her computer to type up her report. To her dismay, someone sent an anonymous email to her demanding that she resign as Chief Medical Officer. They went on to describe how worthless they thought she had been from the very beginning and blamed her for the current situation. Logically, she knew that this was simply someone's frustration that needed to be voiced.

But in the state she was in, it hurt deeply.

As much as she wanted to just hide in her quarters until tomorrow, she had to attend the staff meeting. After this, she promised herself rest. She saved her report, grabbed a coffee, and then headed to the Commander's office. The last place she wanted to be. She was the first to arrive for the meeting.

She walked in without saying a word, and sat at the table while John was starring out the window. He moved to sit at the opposite end of the table.

"How are you holding up?" John asked, concerned.

"I'm fine," she replied confidently. "How about you? I didn't even hear you get up this morning."

"Just busy," he added.

He decided that there was enough seriousness and tried to attempt small-talk. "I wonder what's on the menu for dinner tonight?"

"Nothing exciting, I'm sure, she added. "What I'd give for real cocoa beans."

"I'd give anything for a steak," he added. "Or some lamb chops."

Helena smiled as the others started filing in. Alan Carter, Sandra Benes communications, data analyst Yasko Nagumi, and Tony Verdeschi, head of security. They somberly took their seats.

"Thanks for taking time out of your schedules," John welcomed his staff.

Some nodded, others said no problem.

John started, "I'm sure you're all heard about the tragic deaths of Susan Johnson and Frank Templeton. Dr. Russell believes that depression is becoming a very serious problem on this base. I called you all here today to find a solution to this problem."

Without speaking, most glanced over to Helena, as if seeking her advice first. She picked up on that and immediately spoke, "I estimate that over half the personnel has been affected, and at least 25 % of them have severe depression. Ben and I have been recording incidences and complaints, and offering therapy sessions to anyone willing. Unfortunately were close to running out of anti-depressants. I'm looking for suggestions."

"We have to make changes so that Alpha feels more like a permanent home," John added. "I think we all know that the chances of us ever finding a habitable planet are very slim."

Sandra was the first to offer, "I don't think we make enough use of the caverns. Maybe we can dig further and expand them for our use. Maybe another recreational center. Something other than four white walls to look at. We have paint, don't we?"

"Yeah, white paint," Alan quipped.

Yasko added on to the idea, "Absolutely. We could focus a few techs on building a new hydroponics unit in the caverns. There's no reason why they can't grow more spices to make the food taste better."

"Cocoa beans," Sandra smiled. "All women know of the benefits of chocolate."

"We could possibly starting growing plants to add some greenery around here," Tony added.

"Maybe grapes?" Sandra added. "Add wine to the menu?"

"Is wine different from beer?" Yasko asked, half joking about the differences between two of Earth's delicacies.

"Better than beer," Sandra laughed.

Tony's mouth dropped, "That's a matter of opinion, of course."

"Of course," Sandra smiled.

John smiled. Finally some fresh ideas. He added, "I'm glad to hear the enthusiasm," he said nodding. "We need to convince people that all hope is not lost. There really is a light at the end of the tunnel and we WILL find it. I'm sure of it."

Helena managed a brief smile as she took a breath. But she couldn't stop her heart from racing, impatiently awaiting more suggestions. She knew these were only long term solutions.

She needed something today and she couldn't help but concentrate on the fact that it was her responsibility. Trying to calm her breathing and nerves, she focused. "I think those ideas are valuable and will absolutely help us in the long run. Changes need to be made now."

The joy in the room sank with her statement.

She continued, "I'm asking for your help. Please take this list and familiarize yourself with it. It's a list of the most common symptoms of depression. Please watch for it and encourage your staff to make an appointment to see either Ben or myself in the next week. We will offer Fluoxetine, an anti-depressant, to all staff. Those who believe they are fine may refuse. Ben and I will set up appointments for everyone on the base. We just want to touch bases with everyone to see where they're at. This includes all of you, of course."

Helena added, "Please remember that severely depressed patients suffer greatly and are high suicide risks. It takes weeks before antidepressant drug therapy starts to work, thus these patients desperately need counseling and caring."
Everyone grabbed a list and shook their heads in understanding. John felt some relief that things were going in the right direction.

"Is there anything else that you need from us, Doctor?" John asked.

"Thank you for all so much for your help," she responded. "And please, please take care of yourselves. We especially need to stay focused."

"Thank you everyone. I want a daily report from each department head," John requested.

Everyone responded with a yes sir and walked out. "Helena, stay a moment."

"Yes, John? She turned to face him still standing in the doorway.

"Are you sure you're alright?"

"Of course," she answered reassuringly. "I'll see you at dinner."

"Sounds great."

Helena returned to Medical Center and discussed the meeting with Ben. She advised that Fluoxetine needed to be offered to everyone on the base.

"We also need to set up appointments for everyone on the base," Helena advised.

"After the incidents this week, I don't doubt it. I will send the notification to the department heads to make sure that everyone comes in for an appointment."

"Thank you for everything. Are you sure you're okay for the rest of the day?"

"Absolutely. Please get some rest," Ben reassured. "And let me handle the appointments today and tomorrow. You've been handling all of them. It's too much."

"I will relax today." With a sincere smile, she grabbed some medical books and walked towards the door. "I promise."

Ben noticed the books and stopped her, "Helena, I thought you were going to rest."

"Light reading. Don't worry." She retreated to her quarters with the books. Her short walk back to her quarters was interrupted by two staff fighting. Their fist fight bumped in to

Helena, knocking the books from her hand. Not wanting to call security just yet, she shouted

Immediately they stopped, breathing heavily and both apologized.

Sternly she stated, "Both of you report to Medical Center immediately."

"Yes Mam'm," they both replied. Helena followed them to medical center and had Ben take one and she took the other.

She instructed the person to have a seat and he refused. "Chris, relax and have a seat," Helena continued.

"I'd really rather stand, Doctor," Chris Potter responded with frustration.

"Suit yourself. Chris, what was that all about?"

"Just a personal matter. It really wasn't a big deal."

"It didn't appear to be a small matter."

"Really, I'm fine. It was just a scuffle between guys."

"Okay, but before I let you go, I need a few questions answered," she insisted.

Chris finally sat down and relaxed a bit.

"Please take a breath. I'm just trying to help. Have you had any troubles sleeping?

"Yes, Mam'm."

"Have you been feeling exhausted and find even the smallest tasks difficult?"

"I suppose so."

"Do you feel like there's no future for you?"

"Well, hell yes to that one. There's no fricken' future for us! We're stuck on a rock floating through space. My wife's probably long dead, I never got the chance to have a kid, my job sucks... is that what you wanted to hear?"

"Yes, that's what I was looking for. I understand what you're going through. I really do."

"Yeah, I suppose you do. We're all in this together. I just want out! I don't mean killing myself, I just want out of this hell hole. I want to breath real air!"

"I do too. I'm not sure if we ever will find a planet. I believe that we need to make Alpha our home. I've heard great ideas on how to make some big changes around here. Changes that will make this place feel more like a home."

"Whatever. Can I go now?" Chris asked.

"Do you have anything else you'd like to talk about?" She asked.


"I'm asking that your supervisor give you a day off and I want you to spend it in the solarium. Also, please take one of these per day." "Helena handed him a small bottle of anti-depressants.

"Thanks, I know you mean well, Doc. I just don't care."

"Please come and see me any time you want to talk," she insisted.

Potter walked out without another word. Helena called over to someone in the hydroponics section and asked that they put any spare plants in the solarium. They had only a few and they promptly placed them in the solarium. She had hoped that a few hours of rest in there would help change their frame of mind. She made a mental note to herself to be sure to take her own advice, and then joined Ben in his office.

"How did your session go with Matt?" she asked Ben.

"Not well. How about yours?"

"Same. I don't know what else to do, Ben, I really don't."

"Have faith. These are hard times and we'll get through them, just as we have so many times in the past."

"I hope so," she said solemnly as she again grabbed her books and headed to her quarters.

"You know, I remember similar missions that I had to perform back in the Air Force on Earth," Robert Parks began to explain. "I was flying F-15s from a base called Lakenheath in England. This was back in 1981 or '82 by the way. Any way there was a new piece of spy equipment that the Soviets, they were the bad guys back then, had that we needed and our intelligence people just couldn't get their hands on one. Now we knew that they were sending Bear Bombers over the North Sea to penetrate British airspace to test our defences."

The other assembled pilots in Flight Control, recalling the politics and places mentioned were enthralled all the same by the story told by the dark brown haired astronaut.

"Well, one day my CO calls my wing man and I into his office," Parks continued. "And he gives us a secret mission. Next time a Bear enters British territory, we have to shoot it down in such a way that the Soviets don't realise what's happened or where so they won't have reason to retaliate. Even though we weren't at war, it was still a Cold War."

Suddenly the lights dimmed, and then grew dark.

Which was soon followed by a loud, rumbling bang that thundered throughout the lunar base.

"What the hell was that?" Parks wondered.

One of the other Eagle pilots shrugged. "Damned if I know."

The man in animal skins perched atop the horse with a similarly undressed brunette clinging to his waist, trotted over to the orange-haired, ape creature tied to the tree. A brief debate ensued before the man indicated his intentions.

"A planet where apes evolved from man? There's got to be an explanation," the man pointed out.

"Don't look for it, Taylor!" the Ape began. "You may not like what you find."

Ignoring his pleas, the man called George Taylor kicked the horse into motion, which took them away along a stretch of beach. At the orange ape's beckoning, a group of darker skinned apes reminiscent of large chimpanzees came over to him.

"Untie me!" commanded the orangutang.

The chimpanzees dutifully complied with his wishes. A group of gorillas made to go after Taylor and the woman but were motioned to halt and the orange ape instructed the gorillas to blow up the entrance to a nearby cave in spite of a promise he had made to the chimps to the contrary.

"What about the doll?" a female chimp, Zira pressed.

"In a few minutes there'll be no doll, there can't be," Zaius said without compromise.

"Doctor Zaius, this is inexcusable," pointed out a younger chimp, "Why must knowledge stand still? What about the future?"

"I may just have saved it for you," the ape Zaius replied.

"What will he find Doctor?" Zira asked.

"His destiny," came Zaius' response.

Taylor and the woman named Nova, in the meantime, continued on horseback along the beach disappearing from the apes view behind a promontory. The waves occasionally lapped up around the horse's ankles as it clomped along. After a short time Taylor pulled the horse up short as a large object, half buried in the sand, blackened and decayed with age, reared up before them. Taylor climbed off the horse and strode through the waves to get a closer look at what to him was a familiar landmark.

He looked up at it with horror and stammered, "Oh, my God! I'm back. I'm home! All the time it was..."

Anger began to surface as he fell to his knees amid the waves repeatedly pounding the sand with his fist. "We finally, really did it!"

He looked up at the shattered, salt-stained remains of the Statue of Liberty's upper torso and cried with equal amounts of pain and rage. "You maniacs! You blew it all up! Uh...damn you! God damn you all to Hell!"

He broke down at that point and stared down at the mounds of wet sand in his hands as the woman approached him not comprehending why he was behaving the way he was.
The controversial image of late Sixties Cinema on the screen faded to black. At that point with the credits scrolling up on the screen, the sound of the waves began beating against the sand.

Phillip Rollins, ten year veteran of the World Space Commission and the International Lunar Commission, got up and ejected the DVD from the player. Placing the classic 1968 film back in its cover, he placed it back in his film library and returned to the comforts of his chair. The old man enjoying the peaceful solitude of his quarters on Moonbase Alpha.

The movie was one of a growing collection of DVDs that Phillip had been given, mainly by his friends. The collection included classics such as Ice Station Zebra, three of the James Bond movies(You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker), the first two Superman films, 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010, Midnight Express, and White Nights, just to name a few. Planet of the Apes had been given to him as a present a few weeks ago, long after being transposed from reels of film like the others in his collection, to widescreen formats on DVDs.

Once the films had been in an underground archive in Kansas. Those cool, man-made caves had once been salt mines up until the mid-20th century when film studios had taken them over to store their film libraries. When plans were made for the construction of Moonbase Alpha and future deep space missions, it was decided that, for moral purposes, an extensive library of classic cinema and television be made for those who were employed by both the World Space Commission and the International Lunar Commission. The gift was a token of thanks by the Alphan library staff for Phillip's assistance in helping to compile a history of Terran space exploration from its origins in gunpowder to the beginning of the Meta Probe mission.

Rollins shifted his attention back to his desk and pressed a button. A three dimensional globe of the Earth was projected above the desk.

Many times, during his flights back from the moon he had seen the Earth from this position and it had always produced a sensation of warm reassurance in him. Now, it produced just the opposite.

By manipulating controls, he was able to 'zoom' in on some sites and places on the Earth. The United Kingdom Of Great Britain being one of them. They were breathtaking in their beauty. Lush green fields gentle rolling hills, acres and acres of farmland and cities, which, though they featured the same geometric designs as the buildings in New Houston, were, laid out in a more natural and pleasing way with more colours and greenery. Much of the countryside reminded Phillip of the southern portion of Great Britain. During his time with the U.S. Air Force, he had been stationed for a time at RAF Lakenheath airbase north of London from where he had flown F-15 Eagle fighters. It hadn't been uncommon for Rollins and his colleagues to spend their weekends and holidays visiting the quaint country villages and their public houses or 'pubs' as the locals called them, scattered around the base.

The image changed to that of something even more familiar. He took another look about at the vast endless sea of rocky peaks and desert canyon that seemed to stretch out to infinity on all sides of him. There was nothing but landscape visible for as far as the eye could see, suggesting only lonely desolation.

He helped himself to an aspirin and water, and returned his attention to the holographic blue planet. There was a heavy amount of cloud cover that obscured more than half of the surface from view. Only small patches of brown continents occasionally poked their way out from under the heavy white streaks. He leaned forward in his chair and stared intently at the planet for several minutes.

After that, the image changed into something else.

A city he had grown up in.

He had grown up in the New York area and known this region like the back of his hand. He suddenly found himself filled with the childhood memory of visiting the Statue for the first time on a Fifth Grade field trip and how terrified he'd felt when the tour group of rowdy school children had gone up inside the torch to look out at the spectacular vista of New York Harbor. His fear had been caused by an Alfred Hitchcock movie he'd seen at the old Roxy Theater the night before, Saboteur. A World War II espionage thriller that climaxed on the Statue with the Nazi agent falling to his death from the torch. When he'd stood in that torch for the first time, the cinematic image of the man falling to his death had filled his mind so much that he was convinced that one of his classmates would bump into him and he'd tumble out and fall to his death the same way too. He'd gotten so hysterical that his teacher had finally been forced to drag him back inside to the observation level below inside the crown.

He found himself thinking of all the things New York was noted for and that had made him love the city more than any other spot in the world. The Broadway theaters. The Metropolitan Art Gallery. Yankee Stadium. The cozy restaurant called Pete's Tavern down in the Village where he'd proposed to his wife..... He felt his eyes tearing up and he shook his head vigorously to get himself out of his dazed stupor. The last thing he needed to do was suddenly get sentimental.

The widower with no children wondered how many nights he'd spent in his quarters dreaming the same dream over and over again. A dream about the 20th Century Earth he had been a part of. Dreaming of things he'd always dismissed as idle trivialities that he could easily jettison and never miss. The comfort of his own bed in his Houston apartment. A lavish steak dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town. A night at the theater or symphony. A ball game at the Astrodome. Images from a time and place he had expected to recede into forgotten memories once he'd left for Moonbase Alpha. And then, he'd wake up and find himself back in the cold reality of his situation. A situation where human error, failings, and corruption had caused the Nuclear Waste Dumps on the dark side of the Moon to detonate.

The events of September 13, 1999 had been a fateful step into the realm of shattered dreams and despairs.

Thankfully, he did not have any attachments or any other family back on Earth. He put Barbara's death behind him a long time past.

The human race is a flawed race comprised of flawed people, and there is always the potential for the flawed instinct to run amuck and lead humanity down the garden path of disaster. Rollins recalled a philosophical discussion he once had with Matthew Prentis. The only reason why there's still one fragment of human civilization left after all this time is because of the courage and wisdom of some good men and women who were left after Breakaway.

His relatively handsome face seemed to have a sad, longing quality to it.

The former U.S. Air Force colonel, who had flown fifty combat missions in Vietnam before joining the WSC lay sprawled across the bed looking up at the ceiling, totally lost in thought. Only one thought filled every part of his body.

As his mind formed each of those questions, the answer was all too clear to him.

Moonbase Alpha..February 23, 1996. Technical Lab 2....

Phillip Rollins was working on calculations at a computer console. The germ of an idea was forming in his mind.

Astronaut Eric Sparkman was looking on, casually sitting on the edge of the desk.

"All work and no play; that's no way to live, Phil." Eric Sparkman cheerfully proclaimed.

"And you'd be an expert at play, Eric?" Phillip replied without even looking up.

Phillip secretly admired the astronaut's persistence in pursuing one of the female technicians. Eric Sparkman had been showing up in Tech Lab 2 every day for the past three weeks around lunchtime; a very sly way to get a date. Phillip had lunch sent in each and every time and continued working at his desk. In his mind, he had to focus on preparing to go on the Ultraprobe mission; not on Eric being a potential boyfriend to one of the women in the tech lab.

Sparkman laughed heartily. "Astronauts invented the word play," He looked at one of the women, a lovely brunette and asked. "So, how about a date, Monique?"

"How about the 2nd Tuesday of next week, Eric."

Phillip was laughing. Eric Sparkman was not.

"I'm serious, Monique. Look, I know you are going on the Ultraprobe. That does not bother me. If we hit it off, which I think we will, I will be waiting for you when you get back. I am also NOT like the other astronauts on this base. Hey, if you have zero interest in me, even though I think you're a gorgeous woman, then I'll leave you alone. I can take a hint." Eric's normal jocular expression had a hint of resignation.

Monique Fouche sat back and looked at the handsome astronaut. "Okay, Eric," she replied softly. "I'll go out with you; the first Tuesday of next week. 1800 hours. Don't be late." She smiled at him.

At that moment, Professor Victor Bergman came in.

"Good afternoon, Professor. How are you doing today?" Sparkman asked happily.

"Oh, not too bad," Bergman replied warmly. "I need to have a word with Phillip alone.

"No problem, Professor," Eric said, turning to Phillip. "See you later, Phil."

"Got a new friend, I see," Bergman started, as the door closed behind Sparkman.

"A silly friend, Professor," Phillip stated. "What's up?"

Bergman sat next to him. "Phil, I'm afraid I have some bad news for you. You will not be going to Ultra." Bergman paused, waiting for the news to sink in. "Darwin King will be going instead."

Rollins was shocked. His face became hot as his cheeks flushed. "Professor! WHY?!?" was all he could blurt out.

"Commander Gorski feels that you are not experienced enough to go on the mission,"
Bergman stated, knowing that he was telling him a white lie.

"Professor, that's bullshit and you know it!!! I am highly qualified and frankly, how can I gain experience on deep space missions if I don't go on deep space missions. Darwin King?!?! He is less qualified than I am; he's never been in space before, never left earth!" Rollins fumed. "Gorski should know that!"

Bergman refused to stand behind the smoke screen any longer. He could not lie to his former graduate student who had just been awarded his doctorate. "Phil, the fact that you are continuing your research on the magnetic radiation theory and how it is related to nuclear waste is very unsettling to some parties."

"God Damn politicians!! I knew it! I knew it!!!" Phil was angry. "What is so wrong with continuing the research? If I'm wrong, then I look like an idiot. But if I'm right, Professor, if I'm right, you know what could possibly happen...."

"I know your theory has merits. I cannot say that I completely agree with your catastrophic predictions. There are too many variables that have to come into play for that to happen. If your theory is proven, there will need to be major changes in how nuclear waste is handled and stored; that will cost money. I know you are intelligent enough to figure out the rest of the scenario from there." Bergman paused then continued. "You may continue the research, Phil, but you need to keep it low key, not your primary job. I am interested in your efforts. But Commissioner Dixon has instructed Commander Gorski to remove you from the Ultraprobe team to send you a it! I can't say I like or even concur with it. You have been living in the ivory towers of academia all of you life and have just recently discovered the real world. It is vastly different from what you are accustomed to. Please listen to my advice in this matter."

Phil carefully considered Professor Bergman's advice. He didn't like the news he had just been given; he was deeply upset.

At the thought of Commissioner Dixon, memories of how annoyed he always got whenever a whiny Congressman came down from Washington to look for ways of undercutting the space program went through his mind. Let alone, someone who was a fellow astronaut.

Especially someone who'd been the closest thing he'd ever had to a genuine friend. Jim Calder and Rollins had been in the same class at the Air Force Academy, had flown missions in Vietnam together and then been selected in the same group of new astronauts for the space program. They had flown together on both Gemini and Apollo missions, and had been part of the elite group selected for the advanced wave of space flights to the Moon and Mars that began in the wake of the nation's euphoria over the Apollo XI landing. There was no one else in the space program that Calder had known better than Rollins.

Because of that, Calder found Rollins to be the only one of his fellow astronauts worth fraternizing with on occasion, sharing a beer at a local Houston bar. And often, the two of them would talk about every subject imaginable from politics, philosophy and religion to sports and movies. The two of them had never concurred on just about anything, but Rollins had always struck Calder as a man of refreshing honesty and candor, and that made the usually misanthropic Calder admire Rollins more than any other man he'd known. He'd always felt that if the average 20th Century man had been like Rollins, he would have had just enough optimism about mankind's future to not volunteer for the Ultra Probe.

Like Rollins, Calder had been passed over in favor of Tony Cellini.

Rollins could still see Richard Nixon, two years into his second term, sitting behind the desk used by every president since Wilson, and listening to the brilliant scientist's words more with a sense of grudging acceptance than fervent agreement. It had never been much of a secret that before he'd become president in 1969, Nixon's enthusiasm for the space program was all but nonexistent. To him, the space program held no political benefits for him because in the public's eye, the idea of getting to the moon first would always be regarded as John F. Kennedy's vision, and so too would anything that happened after the first moon landing. There had already been rumors that once the first landing by the Apollo XI crew of Armstrong and Aldrin had taken place, Nixon was ready to capitalize on the letdown that would follow and pull the plug on NASA for all intents and purposes.

But what Nixon hadn't counted on discovering after he'd become president was that since the beginning of the Kennedy Administration in 1961, America had been conducting ideas for future space program projects. The public space program of the Mercury and Gemini flights, followed by the Apollo program and the race to the moon. And all the time, conducting future projects in private, with untold billions of dollars funneled quietly into developing spaceflight technologies that if successful would make every aspect of the space program popular and significant in an instant, and training a whole new group of astronauts kept out of the public eye like Rollins. Training them for technologies that would make a moonbase, flights to Mars, and even beyond the solar system to distant stars a reality in just a matter of a few years. All of it under the direction of the brilliant, calculating genius of British scientist Professor Victor Bergman. The young English prodigy had worked with Dr.Werner Von Braun. Von Braun, who at Peenemunde, in the development of the U-2 for Hitler's Germany as early as age nineteen, had also emerged in the 1950s as the best of the German scientists who had come over to the American side after the war.

Von Braun had always sensed that the time for public revelation of the new space program projects would come in the wake of the first landing on the moon by Apollo XI, when the inevitable question of what else was there left to do in space would be raised. And Richard Nixon, who had been shocked to discover that both John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson had been able to keep a tight lid on the projects' existence all throughout the 1960s would be forced by necessity to go along with it. Especially since it was also clear that both the Soviet Union and Red China had secret space program projects of their own aimed toward the same goals. Now, America's credibility as a superpower rested on continuing the program even with a reluctant president like Nixon. That meant establishment of a permanent moonbase as early as 1999, just thirty years after Neil Armstrong had planted the first footprint on the lunar surface. Followed by the first flight to Mars in the early 1980's, which Rollins had taken part in. And then, the most ambitious of them all. The Ultra Probe, and the first flight beyond Earth's solar system to a distant star. The country that successfully launched that mission would by far establish itself as the leading superpower in space, even if the successful outcome of the mission could never be known for years. A successful mission could restore faith and confidence in the space program that had eaten more than fifty billion dollars of expenditures since 1961. And that had led to Rollins volunteering for the mission. Not just because he wanted to help send four astronauts he regarded as friends, but because it was also what duty and honor required.

Ever since the death of his wife ten years earlier, that had been the only thing left that gave his life any meaning. His willingness to do whatever his country asked him to do, because he believed it was always for a good cause. That was why he'd joined the Air Force, that was why he'd flown combat missions in Vietnam, and that was why he'd been willing to put his life on the line in the planning stages of the Ultra Probe mission. Even now, in a time and place where it was clear that the principles he'd honored throughout his career had been smashed seemingly beyond repair by a nuclear accident on the far side of the Moon, Rollins still believed in them. That it was possible to make things right again and see to it that those principles he'd risked his life for so many times were allowed to endure.

The people in this universe became real to me, and....for better or worse, I guess I have to accept being a part of it, he silently mused. Maybe that's why Vietnam never got to me, because flying bombing missions was so damned impersonal. Let alone not being around my family that much.

Phil did love his family, but, he had never been very close to any of them, save his aunt and uncle, and was some-what estranged from them.

For him, being an astronaut was his day job and there was nothing great about it. He joined the space program not because he wanted to broaden the realms of science or felt a great patriotic duty to be a martyr, but because there really wasn't much else he could do with his life. A bit on the xenophobic side, Phil was not much of a talker. He was more of a deep, systematic thinker who had sacrificed his "human nature" to be sociable. He was very cynical and a pessimist when it came to depending on others, which made him come off as sort of an antisocial person. He got bored if he was in one place for too long, and when the world refused to match pace with him, he tended to leave it behind.

Estranged from mankind was what he really was.

The moment was broken with the beep of a communicator. With a sigh, Phil walked over to the communications post and tapped a few buttons on its panel.

Which was when the rumbling occured and the power going out.

She entered the quarters that she and John had shared since they moved in together almost a year ago. It was never easy to find personal time together for the two leaders of the base. Most of her time was spent in Medical Center, while his time was spent in Command Center. She was grateful when the door closed behind her. After setting the books on her table, she collapsed face down on to the bed and didn't move for minutes. She just wanted to sleep and hope everyone and everything would just go away.

Before long she felt pains of guilt and started studying the books on therapy. No where in these books did she expect a miracle solution, but she had to try her best.

John entered the room unexpectedly. "Are you alright?"

Helena slowly sat up in the bed and responded "I needed a day off. My back's been hurting."

"Since when did you have a bad back?"

"I'm fine," she added, still turned away from him.

She lay back down and turned away from him. John sat down next to her and started a massage. She couldn't help but relax, and a slight smile broke on her face.

"Helena, you know how much I rely on you. You're my rock." John added as he continued the massage. "I need you here-fully present,"

With tears beginning to fall, still turned away from John, Helena answered, "You know that was true of me in the past. You could always count on me for anything. But not now. I'm NOT here. Not at all. Every counseling session I haven't helped them. Every time I dispense an anti-depressant, I feel I've failed. No one's getting any better, Susan and Frank are gone-"

"Helena, no one blames you," John interrupted. "It's not your fault."

"Oh, yes they do!" She said firmly as she finally turned to face him. "They expect miracles and I'm all out," She said as she walked to the corner of the room. "I'm all out."

Even so, she recalled a lecture in a class she'd been in. It had once discussed about suicide and its aftershocks. One of the signs of a person about to commit suicide was the giving away of personal items.

Just then a tremendous bang was heard throughout the base and everyone was plunged in to darkness. The dim lights from the emergency power assisted them in finding their way out the door. John grabbed his comlock as he was headed towards Command Center. "Report!"

Helena headed straight to Life Support section.

"Sandra here. Power's out base wide and the generator has kicked in."

"I'm on my way," John added.

John arrived in Command Center within minutes. Everyone was busy contacting their respective departments. Instead of sitting at his desk, he paced.

"Status?" He barked.

Yasko answered, "It appears to be a blown transformer in life support section."


"Unknown at this time, Commander," Yasko responded.

"Any casualties? Damage?" John inquired further.

"I don't believe so. It appears that no one was at the station during the accident."

"What do you mean NO one?" John snapped.

"We'll have to check with Dr. Russell on that," Yasko replied.

"Dammit," John snapped. He turned abruptly to leave and the room suddenly went dark. "Now what?"

"The generator batteries may be dead," Yasko shouted.

Alan Carter had been relaxing in his quarters before the power outtage had occured.

Unfortunately, his mind was plagued by something that was anything but pleasant.
Something that happened in the early 1990's.

Alan Carter was back aboard the Marilyn M--his old, six-engine bomber. They were sucking birds native to the Arabian Peninsular into the turbines, right, and left. They came in low over Bahrain, and made their turn at The Dead Sea. Sand that would soon be turned to glass, and houses that would soon be blown off the map appeared beneath them, as the B52 descended from 35,000 feet. Carter pulled back the throttle, and opened the bomb bay doors.

Eric Sparkman, holding his headset in quivering hands, entered the cockpit through the dwarf's hatch. His face could best be described as confrontationally cheerful. Carter's co-pilot, Tim Donovan--realizing what was about to happen--took to his checklist. It was an excellent way to prevent fall-out inside the cabin.

"We made good time," Sparkman informed the pilot, his lieutenant's bars resting prominently on the epaulettes of his jacket. "Assume a holding pattern, and await further orders." He was climbing back down the tunnel when he heard 25-year old, Major Alan Carter say "no."
Sparkman did an about face.

"This jet is running low on fuel." The pilot explained. "Our target will be in range in about five seconds. Unless we receive orders to the contrary, I'm going to drop our pay-load, and get the hell out of here before we get ourselves ditched."

"We were instructed to hold until further orders, Major." Sparkman blustered. "Besides that, you're not going to drop a fucking thing until I tell you to."

"All do respect, lieutenant sir, yes I am. " Carter said defiantly over the sound of the roaring engines. The fortress was beneath the twilight mantle of clouds now. The dark skinned pedestrians could be seen on the streets below, looking upwards with wonder, and damnation. "You can file a report with the United Nations if you like, but given the choice, a bunch of 'freakin, shit-for-brains towel heads, or this crew--the Is have it."

"Carter, I'm not going to play with you on this." Sparkman said, disgusted. "I realize this mission is more important to you than innocent lives. Most of those people down there don't belong to Hamas; they don't belong to Al Quaida, or The Weather Underground. They're human beings with a right to live, the same as you, or I. If you release our pay-load, there's going to be a court martial, and you my friend will be the special guest star at the proceedings. Am I making myself clear on that."

"Look!" Donovan yelled, as the plane moved into final descent. The towel head was clearly visible, running down the now vacant street as if Iblis himself were chasing closely behind.

Carter chuckled, jocularly.

"Where does he think he's going to?" He said, placing his hand on the release lever.

"It's her." Donovan said, noting the woman--arms outstretched--who was pleading to him from the porch of the house. "He's trying to save her."

"He needs to worry about saving himself." Carter advised, and defying Lieutenant Eric Sparkman's direct orders, he pulled the release, and dropped the fuel-air bomb over ground zero.

The armored capsule floated to the street from the end of a green, khaki parachute. Moments later, it detonated. A chemical reaction took place, which incinerated everything within two square miles of the target--a house that was thought to be a major weapons depot for The Militants Of Black September. That was it. Their only reason for making the bombing run--and to cream a few Arabs. Any one else who was unfortunate enough to live within a couple of blocks of the small tract house got the BOOBY PRIZE; their lungs were sucked straight from their chest cavities, and exited through their screaming mouths.

"Too bad for you, cobber." Carter remarked, maneuvering the jet upwards again. The needles on the fuel gauges were practically laid down, but they probably had enough in the reserve tank to make it back into Turkish Air Space. "I don't see why they worry about it." He said, puzzled. "Chances are, the bastard probably had ten wives."

He was jolted from that memory when the loud bang resonated throughout the entire lunar base.

Immediately sitting up from his bed, the blond Austrailian wondered what that sound was.

And why the lights had gone out following that bang.

Any visions Charles Winters might have had of a long, lazy afternoon of love-making with a tiger-green-eyed, sun-kissed beauty named Peggy Ann Snell nearly vanished like a melting snow before a driving rain. She was currently doing her meditative exercises.

However, she did reassure the forty-two year old brown haired Welshman that as soon as she was done, they would definately indulge in such intimate and physical pleasures in bed.

It was only last night that they had made love, and both were looking forward to having sex once again.
n their quarters, the thirty seven year old auburn haired woman closed her eyes and let her longing for Earth take hold of her mind with a series of various images...sensations...the red sand dunes of Mars shimmering under the giant sun, the hot smell of sand and rock crushed by her boots as she journeyed alone in the desert, a source of water babbling softly in the oasis, sweet-smelling blossoms in her mother's garden.

These visions were so vivid that she almost ached with sadness and homesickness. It was almost like being hit full in the face by the heat and the glare of a trinary star system.

She usually dealt with bouts of nostalgia through yoga meditation and intensive work.

Only today, it was through yoga meditation.

And it was during that, she recalled a memory she wished she had long forgotten.

A memory going all the way back to the decade known as the fast paced, gloomier '90's....

Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center - Houston, Texas

A striking young woman with long reddish hair cascading well past her shoulders, looked at the image on the screen. Her exceptionally rare pair of hiking boots, which were discontinued in the early 1990's, crackled as she leaned over to have a closer look.

"Play the disc back again," Peggy Ann Snell said, absently reaching for her glasses. She watched the video just as intently as she did the first 44 times, and jotted down even more notes. The video was the same, over and over again. Peggy watched the anomalous chunk fly downward and strike the leading edge, only to bounce off and return to the earth below.

The only thing that really had my mind swimming through this ordeal, she thought sadly. Is how can human beings, treat other human beings in such a horrible manner? If you think of it, that is a question that will plague humanity for years to come.

A friend of mine once said that he lost faith in human beings, Snell reflected silently. I don't blame him, he was a lawyer. The human garbage which he helped run through the courts is enough to turn anyone away from hope that humanity will last much longer.
A good friend once said that loyalties and trust cannot be dictated, they must be earned.

"How heavy was it again?" she asked a young looking man sitting next to her.

The man took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. They hurt from watching the video so many times with Snell. "They're estimating about two point five pounds," he replied.

"Damn," Peggy replied, watching the chunk strike the leading edge once more. "What has your team found out?"

"We're speculating damage to the tiles on that section of the wing," replied Duke Folsom, the lead engineer of the Boeing Investigation Group.

"And possible equipment exposure?" Peggy asked.

"Mmm-hmm," Hank replied, "but that we can't be so sure of as we are of the tile damages."

"That's what my team came up with too," Peggy said, pausing the tape.

The incident happened two days ago on the 16th. Peggy and her team had been called in immediately after the event to determine what, if any, damage had occurred to the space shuttle Odyssey, the WSC's oldest experimental shuttle in the remaining fleet of four. A piece of foam insulation from the massive external fuel tank had broken loose and struck the leading edge of the Eagle's wing.

Most of the engineers at Boeing and the WSC went into immediate panic mode once the collision was announced. Videos of the shuttle probe's launch and the foam collision were immediately made available to both groups of engineers, and also the WSC press pool. The news agencies were following the incident very closely, with a plethora of so-called experts on air explaining what happened and what could happen.

Peggy refused to watch the reports, noting that the "experts" weren't on her end of the incident, working endless hours to find whatever implications the chunk of foam might have caused to the shuttle. The news agencies had contacted her and Duke countless times to get their opinions on record, but both team leaders had agreed that no one needed opinions, they needed results.

"Could the wheel well have damage?" Peggy asked.

"It's possible," Duke said. "Extensive damage if you ask me. The exposure and the pressures could blow out the tires, or cause over pressurization in the wheel well itself..."

"Which would cause a gear door blowout sending the door into the slipstream, removing the chance for a normal landing and adding large amounts of drag," Peggy finished.

"That is if the heat-shield tiles are undamaged and they survive re-entry," Duke added.

Peggy took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. She could feel a headache coming. It was slowly growing at the back of her head and traveling to rest behind her eyes. "We need to get our teams together and put these findings into charts. The Incident Investigation Team will be calling a meeting soon to present official findings to the Mission Management Team."

Duke found a rare opportunity to smile. "No one can say that the people at the WSC aren't team players," he said, trying to lighten the mood.

Peggy smiled for the first time since the incident happened. She couldn't get it out of her mind ever since she got a phone call from a frantic engineer from her staff saying that the Odyssey was damaged after liftoff. She noted the date when she got the phone call-just a few months before the launch of the Ultra Probe. Since that phone call, she had been working days and nights with her team of engineers and Duke's team of engineers from Boeing to determine what problems could arise.

"Okay," Peggy said, straightening her papers, "let's call it a night, and get our teams together tomorrow and get ready for the meetings."

Duke stood up and stretched. "Do you think the panel will be open minded?"

"Oh yes, I'm sure they will. Why wouldn't they be?"

"No, no, no!" the man barked. "That is a two pound piece of foam. There is no way in hell it will damage those tiles." The bullheaded man was Donald Barnhart, the WSC's experimental shuttle program manager.

Peggy slammed her hands on the table and stood up. "It's a two pound piece of foam that is traveling twice the speed of sound, if not faster, and is compacted so much due to the G-forces, it would be like dropping a cinder block on a hardboiled egg!"

Peggy was alone in the meeting after Duke and Boeing had unofficially pulled out. It was the fourth meeting of the Incident Investigation Team to determine the official results of the impact. Duke and his team withdrew after the third meeting when it became apparent that the WSC was not listening to their findings. Peggy had remained in hopes of persuading them to see the reality and extent of the situation.

"Dr. Snell," Barnhart replied, "your objections and observations have been noted, but it is the determination of this panel that the foam anomaly has had no damaging effects on the shuttle. This has been a... very tiring week for all of us. The board's analysis..."

"Sir, we're at risk of losing seven astronauts," Peggy said, interrupting, "if they attempt re-entry, we could be looking at a disaster!" Peggy was trying her hardest to protest the decision. She looked over at Dan Richardson, the mission flight director, who was quietly sitting at the table with his hand under his chin. Peggy gave a subtle signal with her eyes asking, if not begging Dan to back her up. He replied with a small shake of his head.
Reme raised his voice, intent of finishing his statement. "This board's analysis will be presented to the STS Management Team, Monday, January 27th. Thank you, gentlemen."

Peggy hurriedly gathered her papers left the meeting room with Dan Richardson hot on her heels.

"Peg..." he started.

"Why didn't you back me up in there? You know I'm right," Peggy said, turning around to confront the flight director.

Richardson thrust his hand into his pockets and lowered his head. "Peggy," he said, "you know that board is as bullheaded as they come. We don't even know for sure if it did cause any damage."

"If we schedule an EVA to do an external viewing..."

Richardson cut her off. "Peggy, if we tell them that their heat tiles could be damaged, it could compromise the entire mission. They're going to be up there freaking out about whether or not they will live through this mission or not."

"What's more important to you, Dan? Completing mission objectives, or the value of a human life? God help you if their blood ends up on your hands," Peggy said as she turned and walked down what seemed to be an endless hallway.

A familiar engine stirred Peggy from her trance as she sat on the hill overlooking Johnson Space Center. She turned around and watched Kevin Winston, former employee of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport get out of his white Ford Probe. She had always regarded herself as a mentor of sorts to Kevin. She never wanted it to seem that she was taking over his duties as someone in charge, but some people definitely perceived it that way. She had never bothered to ask Kevin how he felt.
I got your message," Kevin said, sitting down on the grass next to her, "some of the techie webboards have been talking about this issue."

"I don't know what to do, Kevin. They're going to Mission Management on Monday with their findings and final decision," Peggy said in a guilty sounding voice.

"Which is?" Kevin asked.

"They determined that the chunk of foam did not damage the shuttle when it struck the wing's leading edge," she replied.

Kevin scoffed. "That's bullshit. There is no way that the foam couldn't have damaged the shuttle."

"Try telling them that," Peggy said, "they're probably shredding my reports as we speak. What the hell am I supposed to do now?"

"You're asking me? This is a switch. I'm always coming to you with the questions," Kevin said, trying to crack a smile. He realized his attempt at humor was null. "I'd present myself with two options. Leave the WSC before the storm hits. Or become a thorn in their side, contact and email everyone you can and make sure they know that any kind of danger, no matter how big or small is remotely possible."

"The WSC's temporary anyway."

When the World Space Commission extended an offer to bring her aboard as an engineering consultant, it was an offer she found hard to refuse.

It was also the only offer.

This is why Peggy was more than surprised when the WSC, a government organization, offered the job to her.
"Why aren't they listening?" Peggy asked.

Kevin shook his head. "I think they aren't listening because they have more interests in their mind about mission goals and objectives instead of alerting the astronauts that they might not return home."

"I hope you're right," Peggy said.

Kevin stood up and brushed the grass off of his bottom. He extended his hand and helped Peggy get up too. "I know I'm right. You have the whole weekend to start writing and get this out to more people in the WSC. It's the only chance you have."

The smell of coffee permeated Peggy's apartment. She had been living in Houston for nine months since the WSC paid the expenses to move her from Seattle, and hardly any of her boxes had been unpacked. However, tonight, she decided to dig out her coffee maker.

Peggy took a sip of the too strong coffee and read over the memo on the computer again. "To whom it may concern. This electronic memorandum is being sent with the utmost sense of urgency to alert you to a potential dangerous and deadly situation aboard the Odyssey.

"Two experienced teams from Boeing and the WSC were assembled shortly after the incident took place on 16 January 1996, and both teams collectively reached the decision that possible damage could have occurred due to the impact of the piece of foam from the external fuel tank. Unfortunately, the WSC's Incident Investigation Team dismissed these accounts and the official findings.

"While none of us want to think of worst-case scenarios, it is extremely possible to lose all seven astronauts in re-entry if any of the heat tiles are damaged, as stated in the Boeing/WSC team reports. Attached in this email are the official findings of the Boeing/WSC team. I am passing them along to you and urging for a reconsideration in the final decision."

Peggy tensed; knowing the serious ramifications the email could have on her career. As a scientist, the email could blacklist(even though that was illegal and a violation of the law)her severely, due to her deciding to breach an established chain of command. But something had to be done! No one was listening to her. This was her one and only shot to make a difference. The email seemed so short, but it made the point-hopefully. She held her breath as she pressed the SEND button, and started the process of waiting for a new decision.

Peggy was watching the video of the launch and the impending collision again. She absently held a pen in her hand over an empty notepad and sat in a trance-like state while the video played. She didn't sleep at all last night, just stared at the ceiling thinking about the email and what kind of shockwaves she sent through WSC.

"Dr. Snell," a voice said, breaking her from her trance.

Peggy turned around and saw it was Correna, one of the more timid engineers on her team. "Yes?" she acknowledged.

"Dan Richardson is calling for you down at Mission Control," Correna said.

Peggy took a deep breath and didn't let it go for a long time. She simply nodded and left the office. The walk from her office to Mission Control seemed endless, and her heart begin to beat faster when she saw Richardson pacing in the hallway just outside of Mission Control.

"What in the hell is this?" Richardson asked, flashing a printed copy of the email.

"What does it look like? It's an electronic memo," Peggy coolly replied.

"You sent this to the chief and blind-copied me. Who else got this email?" After Peggy stayed silent, Richardson repeated himself, more forcefully this time. "Who else got this email?"

"A few other division heads, some people over at JPL, the president of Boeing, some engineers over there too, and..." Peggy trailed off. She wondered to herself if she should reveal the last person to receive her memorandum.

"And who?" Richardson asked. His patience was running extremely thin.

"Gore," she said.

"Gore!" Richardson said, outraged. "You sent this to the vice president?"

"He is one of the heads of the world's manned space program, isn't he?" Peggy asked.

"No shit! But I don't think that means he needs to be subjected to memos filled with unwarranted and unproven speculations," he said. Richardson clutched the email even tighter and used his free hand to run his fingers through his hair. "Christ," he mumbled to himself.

"Unwarranted and unproven? Dan, give me a break. You've seen that video as many times as I did, you've seen my findings and my reports and listened to those who support me. Instead, you choose to disregard everything in order to complete the mission objectives. Sorry, but no matter how many projects you complete, you'll still fail the mission if those people up there die!"

Richardson had enough. He threw down the paper and grabbed Peggy by the shoulders, slamming her against the wall. He put his face almost two inches from hers, and lowered his voice. "This is enough, Dr. Snell. The findings have already been reported and the decision has been made. We've informed the crew that no damage has occurred to the orbiter. Get it through your head that this is my mission, and I am not going be dragged down in flames with you-and neither will our astronauts. This nice memo you wrote is going to cause a fit in this program and could jeopardize everything that the WSC stands for. I have to go and do damage control and undo the storm you created. If this stunt doesn't get your ass fired, I don't know what will. Those astronauts and the Odyssey are landing at Kennedy this Saturday."

Richardson let go of Peggy, stepped over the crumpled up piece of paper and returned to Mission Control.

Peggy sat down on the nearby bench, stunned from Richardson's diatribe. She looked to her left and saw the same endless hallway facing her again. It was mocking her, showing her a path without any answers at the end. A clearing of a human throat caught her attention to her right. Standing in the hallway was WSC pilot, one Raymond May, the CAPCOM astronaut for the mission.

Raymond picked up the email and sat down next to Peggy. "I got word of this from a few people," he said.

"What kind of word?" Peggy asked.

"The rethinking kind," Raymond replied, "I know Richardson can be... extremely focused at times, but he means well. He's probably the best flight director I've served with."

"What do you think about this whole situation?"

"I watched the video too, over and over again, zoomed at different magnifications, and from different angles. The way the leading edge was hit has to have affected the Odyssey in one way or another."

"So you agree with the findings?"

"I do," May replied, "but I also have come to realize that if the orbiter was damaged, they have no way to get home, and we have no contingency plan to send up another shuttle and transport back."

"You don't or you can't?" Peggy asked. "I may have worked here for a few months, but I know what the WSC can and can't do, and one thing you can't do is prepare a launch so quickly."

May nodded. "So it's a little bit of both then," he said. "Dr. Snell, believe me when I say that I want nothing more to tell those seven people up there that they may not have a chance-but the top brass made the decision already. Peggy, I've been up there," he said, pointing his finger up, "I know how the stress of completing mission objectives gets to the astronauts. When I was up there on Ranger four months ago, they didn't even tell me my kid broke his arm until touchdown. The panic that will sweep the Odyssey and this nation will be overwhelming. Everyone will be trying to find ways to get those astronauts home. Congress will put the pressure on us to discontinue the space program..."

"You're just like the rest of them. There are seven human lives at risk, and you just don't want to deal with the massive repercussions of telling them that they might not make it through this mission," Peggy said.

May lowered his head in acceptance and defeat. The words he wanted to say weren't forming correctly in his mind. He was trying to fish for something that would defend his position even further. He couldn't. "I gotta go, Dr. Snell," he said, "I hope you're wrong," he said, getting up and walking back towards Mission Control.

"So do I," Peggy mumbled to herself.

"This is bullshit, Duke," Peggy said, reading over some papers. Shortly after her altercation with Richardson, Peggy discovered a message on her voice mail from Hank, who had some important information from Boeing and needed to meet with her ASAP.

"Tell me about it," Duke said, handing Peggy a fourth sheet, "you shouldn't even be seeing these, at least not yet."

"These are dated tomorrow," Peggy said, noting the Friday, January 31st date in the header.

Duke nodded, "They're declaring a complete stance of 'non-involvement,'" he said.

"Why would Boeing go on record and divorce themselves from this issue?"

"While you were on your email spree here at Johnson," Duke explained. "a bunch of us at Boeing were doing the same thing. But no one is listening to us."

Peggy read some bulleted points in the four-page memo. "So this is Boeing's official 'the-hell-with-you' to the WSC?"

"To put it mildly," Duke replied.

"God, I would love to be working there right about now," Peggy said.

"You and several hundred other engineers from the WSC."

"Can I keep these?" Peggy asked, nodding to the papers.

Duke nodded. "Those are copies for you. You'll probably need them.... You know, just in case."

Peggy knew that Hank was referencing to possible court involvement if anything went wrong during re-entry; a scenario she hoped she would not have to be involved with. "Are you going to be here for the re-entry Saturday?"

"Yes," Duke said, "I don't want to be, but I'll be there."

"Save me a seat in the gallery," Peggy said.

"You won't be at a terminal in Mission Control?"

Peggy shook her head. "If something happens, there is no way in hell I want to be behind any kind of computer that's connected to that shuttle."

"Yeah..." Peggy said to Kevin into her cell-phone, "No, no problems with the shuttle. They're about to begin re-entry," Peggy was too anxious to hear what Kevin was saying. She checked her watch and saw it was 7:50am.

"Kev, I gotta get back, they should be crossing into the United States soon... Yeah... I'll be in touch," Peggy said, hanging up her phone and opening the door into the viewing gallery.

She sat down next to Duke, who was leaning forward in his chair. "What did I miss?" she asked.

"They detected an unusual temperature rise as the shuttle was approaching the California coast," Duke replied.

"Where was it?" Peggy asked.

"They didn't say," Hank replied, "but...." Duke trailed off when he heard Raymond's voice speak. Something didn't feel right.

"Odyssey, Houston, we see your tire pressure messages and we did not copy your last," May said.

The commander's garbled voice came over the frequency. "Roger.... Buh..." Static quickly followed the incomplete sentence.

Peggy sat on the edge of her seat waiting for the commander's voice to return. She didn't expect to hear the overlapping voices of the other people in Mission Control suddenly alerting the flight director to off-nominal events.

"Flight, I'm reading another temperature rise," one controller said.

"Flight, we have a loss of telemetry," another soon chimed in.

The controller's voices soon grew more panicked as more problems soon found their way to their terminals.

"Calm down people," Richardson said, "this could be heat and gravitational interference."

"Flight, we have a complete loss of signal," a third controller said.

Richardson was about to explain away the loss of signal when he found Peggy by his side.

"LOS is too soon," she said, "something's wrong."

"You don't know that," Richardson replied.

"You don't know that everything is all right," Peggy quickly shot back. She kept her gaze on Richardson until a red light illuminated on a telephone. It was a special phone line that was rarely used except in the event of an emergency.

Richardson hesitated to pick it up, fearful of who was on the other end. He reluctantly grabbed the phone and answered. Peggy watched the color literally drain from his face. After what seemed like an eternity, Richardson managed to mutter "Yes sir," and hung up the phone. "Flight TC," he said, "Flight TC," he repeated.

"TC Flight," a voice replied.

"Lock the doors," Richardson said. He stood up and looked over at Peggy with a terrified look in his eyes.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said into his headset, "we are officially declaring a Space Shuttle Contingency. I just received a call from Edwards Air Force Base, the Odyssey was observed by civilians upon re-entry over Northern California. Eye witness accounts reported the shuttle breaking up."

Peggy gasped and brought her hand to her mouth upon hearing the news. Everyone in Mission Control began operating on the contingency plan, locking down their systems and enabling the immediate archiving of all available data. Peggy looked at Rogers again. He was operating on the contingency plan too, but was completely stunned. "Dan...." she quietly said. Peggy was as stunned as he was, if not more. She was right all along.

Richardson looked up when Peggy uttered his name. "Get your teams together. Go, Peggy," he said. He could see the terror in her eyes. "Look, you were right and I was wrong, but let's get the contingency plan underway. Go. Go!"

Peggy looked up at the viewing gallery, where Duke was standing at the window. She signaled him to meet her in the hallway and ran towards the door.

"We were right," Duke said, numb from the shock.

"I know," Peggy replied, beginning to walk quickly and then move into a jog, "we declared a contingency, so we need to get our teams and resources together now."

The two engineers ran down the endless hallway that constantly mocked Peggy. She had the confirmation she needed. The Salyersville, Kentucky native was right, and now seven astronauts were dead. But upon reaching the end of the hallway, and being enveloped by the massive double doors, Peggy Ann Snell found herself with less answers than she ever had before.

Answers that would no longer be of any help to Zach Hazelip, Ian Feusner, Scott Ulanoski, Amanda Klain, Brandon Hazelip, Terry Lucas, and Howard Wilburn.

Seven casualties of both technical and human error...

The voluptuos redhead with tiger green eyes was suddenly jolted back to the present when she heard a loud rumbling thunder throughout Moonbase Alpha.

"What the hell was that?" she wondered aloud.

Charles Winters was just as equally surprised as Peggy was.

"Sounds like a power shortage," he said, a bit bewildered.

In complete darkness, he fumbled along the wall to where he hoped there would be a flashlight that worked. With luck it worked. He and Yasko made their way to Life Support Section by manually opening each door. It was a long journey with no power, no lights, and no communications.

Helena was already there along with two technicians. Chief Medical Officer hardly made Helena an electrical expert; however, she understood the basics of how the system worked.

She and the techs verified that the batteries in the generators were drained. One tech suggested that they try to harvest the energy from the back up generators from other sections of Alpha.

"It won't be long until we're outta air," one tech stated.

"And how are we supposed to transport the generators here?"

"We can re-route the power to -"

Helena interrupted, "Let's concentrate on the fix here. We've gotta be missing something. Let's take a step back and eliminate the obvious."

"We've been down this road already," Greg Sanderson added. "I figured it was the transformer but we haven't found any fried parts."

By the time John had arrived, three other techs had shown up to help. People all around the base were coming together to await their fate. For the first time in a long time, Alphans were pulling together in a crisis. The loneliness and despair they had felt had vanished while people were huddled around the scarce flashlights, staying warm with coffee or tea.

Not many in the Command Center had managed a single sip, however, before a startled Yasko let out an exclamation of surprise. She was staring downwards, at the dark stain that now ran across the front of her uniform.

"Hey...this cup of green tea just leaked all over me!"

The emotions running around were not of amusement, though. Sahn's yelp of surprise followed soon after.

"How do you like did mine?"

"And mine," Alan added. "It almost burned my hand."

Everyone, in fact, sported identical stains. Confusion and puzzlement reigned.

"Looks like we are all victims of a bizarre coincidence," Tony observed, from his station.

Alan looked around the Command Center. "Maybe....and maybe not."

The same effect also occured to both John and Helena in the cafeteria. And some of the other people who were either grabbing a bite to eat or something to drink.

"I'd say the odds against all of our cups and glasses being defective," John observed. "Or all of us being this sloppy, are astronomical."

Helena was brushing at her drenched shirt-front and abruptly looked up. "I don't know about astronomical. This doesn't look like a coincidence. I remember when some of my colleagues in medical school used to pull tricks all the time." She eyed her ceramic cup. "It doesn't look like a dribble cup to me."

John did a slow survey of the cafeteria, and those were also the same victim of what had transpired. "Neither do any of the glasses being used."

"Either we've got a practical joker among us," Helena noted. "Or something maybe seriously wrong with the food processors programming."

"It might have to do with the power outtage," John said. "I'll have to check with the Technical Section to find out."

As John spoke into his commlock, one of the personnel sitting at a table picked up a fork full of mashed potatoes. But as he moved it toward his mouth, the fork suddenly wilted in the middle as if the metal had turned molten. The large helping fell in a greasy splotch down the front of his tunic. It made an interesting contrast to the stain already left by his drink.
Whether it was the awkward tumbling of solid food or the fact that someone else was affected, one couldn't say; but some nearby noticed what had happened and some giggles were rapidly stifled.

The technician who was the unfortunate victim of the accident brushed at his shirt and gazed around the cafeteria.

"Shit," was all that the technician said, under his breath.

Eyeing the fork, he noticed that something had bent the metal nearly half midway down the stem. How, he couldn't tell. It appeared to be a perfectly ordinary fork. Close inspection failed to reveal any hidden hinge or abrasions where it might have been filed.

If for some reason this was a practical joke, just to boost morale, it was not so amusing.

However, the problem did not fade away. It continued to make itself felt throughout the entire base. And in the most unexpected ways.

The new manifestations occured in various areas throughout Alpha, with increasing frequency.
And they became less than amusing.

Only serious thoughts filled Ed Malcolm's mind as he strolled down the corridor leading back to Tech Lab 3. Repairs being made to restore power were almost nearing completion, but a few delicate adjustments still had to made in certain heavily equipped sections.

Intricate repairs required careful thought, which truly engendered a profound sense of hunger. Malcolm paused by the cafeteria entrance, just as Jerry Travis and Eddie Collins rounded the far corner, walking in the opposite direction.

Suddenly, all three of them nearly slipped on the smooth coldness of the sterile, polished floor.

All three of them felt a slight icy chill in the air.

"What the hell?" Collins stated, as he managed to grab a hold of the corridor's communications post.

"It almost felt as if the floor had been mopped," Travis observed.

"Or if ice had been spread across it," Malcolm stated.

Travis knelt down and placed the palm of his left hand on the floor. He held his hand up in less than a second.

"Definately ice," Travis noted, as he watched small wisps of icy vapor rise and disapate into the air that Alpha's life support systems supplied.

Malcolm watched Joe Erlich walk around the corner and slip across it. Pete Irving did the same thing as he stepped out of the cafeteria.

"Bloody hell!" he cursed.

"More like who iced the floor," Erlich chimed in, as he kept his balance. "I almost broke my back."

"Could the environmental systems be malfunctioning?" Collins asked, as he managed to stand up.

"Either that," Malcolm confessed. "Or somebody really played a prank on us."

"Well," Irving grumbled. "If this is somebody's idea of a joke, I'm not bloody well amused."

"At least it wasn't dry ice." Travis offered. "All five us would be hurting if it had."

The very thought of that did not sit well with any of them.

Both the Commander and the CMO stumbled into their quarters, a bit exhausted beyond measure. Helena dropped onto the chair by the bookcase, not bothering with lights. Just a quick shower, change of outfit to restore clarity, then she could return to her duties after a few minutes. The commpost with its winking display reflected upon the green Lucite wall tiles. Blessed stillness; she needed to decompress a few hours. Then arrive at a decision, no matter how her emotions railed otherwise. She'd been in this place before; as a physician, sometimes death shadowed her every move.

After relaxing, both walked into the bathroom and stripped out of their clothing, followed by taking a long shower.

"I'd forgotten how good a warm shower feels," Helena confessed, lathering and rinsing the soap off of her naked body. "Even a hot, cleansing one."

"So have I," John concurred, rinsing the last of the Irish Spring deoderant soap from his naked body. "It certainly helps a person relax."

"I'm just glad the power outtage hasn't affected the water and oxygen," she noted, scrubbing the soap on John's bare back."I'm still wondering what could have caused that systems crash."

"Technical Section is working on the problem right now," John rinsed the last of the pale blue shampoo out of his dark hair. "I'm still wondering about what happened in the cafeteria, though."

"I'd say that we have two problems to deal with," Helena stated, as John let the water wash the soap off of his back. "The recent outbreak of depression, and now these technical troubles."

"Yeah," John said, a bit grimly.
How much more of this can we take?" Helena wondered. "We're millions of light years in space, living on a knife's edge. Sometimes, I wonder how we have come this far."

Helena tapped a button. The door opened as both stepped out of the shower and began drying off with two pale blue towels.

Both exited the bathroom and entered the living area of their quarters.

That was when John embraced Helena and kissed her.

Helena, a bit dazed, said. "What was that for?"

John smiled. "You looked like you needed it."

Helena smiled back. "Remind me to ask more often."

She kissed him back, which was moist and strong.

Within seconds, both were lying on the bed, making passionate love.

Holding each other fiercely, they were trying not to think about all that was going on at the moment.

What the Alphans did not know during the solar flare, was that something else was also brewing within the complex computer network and other systems that was vital to Moonbase Alpha and the survival of its colonists.

Something that was formless and shapeless, yet composed of embodied energy.


An hour later, both John and Helena, dressed in fresh uniforms, were on their way to the Command Center, when the door did not immediately slide open.

"Hello, what's the problem, here?"

John unclipped the comlock from his belt and aimed it at the panel by the door.


He looked at the comlock for a second until the banging sound receeded. Koenig typed out his personal ID code on the panel keyboard to release the door panel. Both he and Helena were quite surprised when the manual override failed to respond. Koenig turned to his quarters communications post.

"Give me voice, Computer," Koenig ordered."What's happened to my door?"

The small screen on the post showed the following.

Your door has been secured, Commander. Dr. Russell, and Commander Koenig will be confined to quarters until further notice. Food will, of course, be provided. Alpha security dictates this action. It is regretted.

Koenig and Helena looked at each other for a moment and then back at the post's small screens.

"Who authorized this?" John demanded.

The screen displayed the following text.

I have no authority. You are detained for your own good.

Sandra was deeply into the welter of papers when her console monitor in Command Center bleeped. Tapping a couple of buttons on the keyboard, John's blue and white image appeared on the console's small screen.

"Can you hear me, Sahn?"

"Yes, sir."

"Sahn, are you locked in too?"

"Unfortunately," Sandra replied. "The computer's got some bee in its bonnet."

"Will it let you communicate with anyone else?" Koenig demanded. "We can only get through to you apparently."

"Apparently, It wants us incommunicado," Sandra said, as she ran a diagnostic on her console. "Which is odd."

"Incommunicado?" Helena wondered."Why?"

"I don't know," Sandra responded. "Earlier, I wanted an analyses of previous dangers we've faced and come through. The Computer pointed it out. A statistical impossibility."

"What do you mean?"

"Probability statistics analysis," the data analyst explained. "Something that Professor Bergman had started working on before...what happened to him, Paul, and David."

Koenig nodded in sad understanding. The memories of Victor Bergman, Paul Morrow, and David Kano were still a bit fresh in both his mind and Helena's.

"Probability?" John wondered. "Will it get us out of here? There's a thousand urgent matters to see to."

"We're working on that right now," Sandra continued. "John, I fed programs to the computer for probability figures for every danger we've been through. The totals are cumulative. The improbability of our having survived at all, comes close to within a step of being infinite."

"Explain," John ordered.

"Any improbability that close to infinity becomes, of course, impossible. Ergo, we can not have survived, we must all be long dead. Yet here we are. Do you see understand what I am describing?"

"Not exactly," John confessed.

"I think what Sandra is describing," Helena broke into the discussion. "Is that there must be another factor not taken into account. A factor that both the computer and Sandra missed. But we can prove we missed nothing of that order."

"So that leaves only one possible answer," Sandra finished. "Outside intervention."

"Or we're just grasping at straws." John stated.

"No," Helena doubted. "Someone... something... outside Alpha has taken notice of us, has taken a hand in our affairs, time after time, and bailed us out, saved us. Perhaps inside that black sun we first encountered."

"Whoever," John deducted. "Or whatever."

"Well, from Professor Bergman's findings," Sandra explained furthur. "The sheer physical powers involved show it's supra-human. Supra, not super, in the sense of not-human, beyond humanity, alien to...somethimg or another."

"And why?" Helena asked.

Sandra shrugged her shoulders. "Who knows why? Who can know?" She studied the Englishman professor's notes. "A being... beings... on that level, an alien intelligence, would have unimaginable reasons of its own."

"Sandra," John began, digesting the information they had discussed. "I've heard some weird and wonderful ideas in my time, but... Alright, Sahn, can you apply your non-cosmic intelligence to the rather more urgent problems of why we are confined, and how we are to get out."

"We should have that latter problem resolved shortly," Sandra answered.

Well, something maybe wrong with the computer, Alibe thought. Although it has no will to live, this conflicts with its prime directive to keep Alpha safe at all costs. While it tries to resolve the unresolvable, it confines the people with authority enough to deactivate it.

The double doors of the computer room closed silently behind Alibe. She looked up at the small video camera that watched him.

"You know, Computer," she said. "Sometimes, I forget. I start to think you're intelligent, but you're not. You're a moron. All knowledge and wisdom. Stuffed full of facts, but no judgement. That's why you're stupid. You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to shut you down myself."

She moved over toward the access panel at the rear of the room. Without warning, it slammed shut in her face.

The communications officer could not help but laugh.

"Oh, you have a lot to learn, Computer," she chuckled. "You have to learn your job. Nobody ever told you to shut doors on people. I can smash you from here, and I will."

She picked a long and heavy metal wrench from the tool locker and raised it above her head.

"It is a ninety-eight point two eight five percent probability that you are bluffing," the computer's bland feminine synthetic voice stated. "You are logical. Too logical to destroy valuable and irreplaceable equipment. I can see that you..."

Alibe suddenly turned and struck the video monitor, smashing it.

"Now you can't see," the computer technician stated." I'm not bluffing because you have to learn this. Now open that access panel, and release the Commander and Dr. Russell."

"There is no program for this," the computer replied. "I have a prime and over-riding directive to keep Alpha safe in all circumstances. Even against the errors of illogical men. Alpha is in danger of destruction now, and I cannot obey the directive if I have been deactivated."

"You can't obey if you're smashed either," Alibe stated. "Now open those doors."

'If that is an instruction," the computer deduted. "What order of priority does it carry?"

"It's prime."

Alibe gently tapped the access panel with her wrench. A pause, then the doors opened.

"And anybody else you have confined," Alibe ordered.

"I have a paradox," the computer stated. "Two conflicting primes. If men are my arms and legs..."

"Wrong," Alibe corrected. "Men are your brain. The point is, Computer, you obey orders and no more. If those orders conflict, you report paradox. self. You report it. You do not act yourself. Now open those doors!"

The young woman sighed with relief when a group of indicator lights came up on the monitor panel. The Commander, Doctor were, and whoever else was trapped, was released from confinement.

"I see," the computer spoke. "Thank you."

"Thank you," Alibe returned the compliment.

"Do I still retain the right to debate?"

Alibe looked thoughtful for a moment before replying to the computer's query.

"Who could stop you?" was all the African-American woman could say.

Night had descended upon the tiny, wandering base. Not the eternal night of space mimicking the nether hours where one could, and occasionally did go mad here on Alpha, but the artificial shift simulation of late evening. Koenig pushed off from the viewport he'd been gazing out of the past hour, palms chilled. Helena stood nearby the door, waiting for it to open.
The nearly colorless, ashy, barren landscape depressed some of the service personnel, yet he found its unrelenting harshness paradoxically soothing. A spacer at heart, the latent astronaut had surmounted several battles to be allowed back on base. How he loved this moon and its undulating hills of greyish white sand, along with its craggy lunar peaks.

Yet he'd only achieved return largely by default.
hanks to an alleged "virus" that had claimed the lives of friends he'd trained with in America and England, an ambitious, newly-elected commissioner had sifted through files to come up with a likely scapegoat after Simmonds' failure to control Commander Anton Gorski.

John Koenig grunted aloud as he'd recalled his predecessor's hasty departure from the moonbase that Gorski had helmed several years. Unbelievable; how could the man permit Alpha to deteriorate so?! One cover-up had led to a series of nastier discoveries. How had Moonbase Alpha and its colonists remained functional with its disproportionate tech shifts, in favor of Earth-based manufacturing industries demanding results on its research investments immediately? Monies and resources had been denied Technical far too long, sabotaging their struggle to survive Mankind's worst disaster to date.

He recalled the day Simmonds had left the message on his voice mail: "This is the new Lunar Commissioner-come to my office tomorrow at high tea to discuss your return to Moonbase Alpha. My time is limited, as is the job opening, so if you cannot oblige this date, I'll be forced to consign your reapplication to the dead files."

Fortunately, he'd thought to retrieve his messages while lecturing about the Ultra Probe's data at MIT Stateside, and helping Victor 's defense of Matthew Prentis' actions(the young man having punched out former Commissioner Dixon after the Ultra Probe disaster)and so was able to catch the red-eye across the Atlantic to meet with the jerk. Idiot-sounding or no, the commissioner possibly held the cards to his interplanetary future. Blowing Gerald Simmonds off was a risk he'd dared not chance!

A large palm slammed down upon the dusty sill as John abruptly returned to the present. His duty tour, while shorter than Gorski's so far, had been the oddest ever on record--not that the World Space Commission would learn about it. *Remember that old saying, John? Have a care what you wish for?*

A smile quirked full, chapped lips. Victor Bergman once had a proverb for the most incomprehensible situation. He was the one person on this base capable of distilling their fantastic, oft tragic experiences out in the interstellar wilderness down to a level the most mundane administration assistant could assimilate.

Too bad he is no longer here, he thought sadly. Let alone Paul Morrow, David Kano, and Tanya Alexander.

Goddamned if they didn't just encounter the weirdest planet of all-their own. But distorted, as if through a fractured mirror...and one in which he had died. He and Alan Carter, forever stranded up here, strapped inside a wrecked Eagle. Not that that was a bad way to go-what astronaut didn't wish for that demise when their number came up?

But he remained filled with the sense that that alternate future-better be; Arra had predicted otherwise!-was exactly that. He had too many tasks to complete if Alpha needed to remain sealed and operational for the long haul! He had also been forced to acknowledge early on in those weeks following Breakaway that every resident's thoughts, hopes and fears laid squarely at his door.

How did one make the transition from flyboy to deskbound button pusher? In his case, as Commander, he'd needed to. How could he turn away from those expectant stares, as if he could somehow reverse their trajectory and lead everyone home? Come on, Moonbase Alpha was primarily comprised of scientists of every stripe! They knew better. Though stepping down had never been an option...but lately, he'd realized a true second must be groomed.

Before Tony Verdeschi had been selected, the list of candidates rested under a stack of allocation requests in the middle drawer.

Most Alphans had looked to Victor, but while a more rounded scientist you'd never find, he hadn't been getting any younger either. Paul Morrow, on the other Earth, had led this tiny community competently, a reminder nobody and everybody were expendable, should Fate decide so.

But why the beard? Had Morrow dispensed with shaving to appear older, more mature? Koenig leaned a shoulder against the pane, its coolness penetrating the black sleeve, chilling its zipper as he pondered infinite possibilities. He shivered involuntarily, arms folding tightly round his chest.

To Helena, he was a man once simmering with barely leashed emotion and boundless vitality.

His hawkish features flashed into view, vividly blue gaze intense as he'd argued the viability of a solution to one of the threats to this base's welfare. Their jobs were not dissimilar, only his far more at the forefront. They alone understood each others' private fears, depression at any Alphan's loss. They'd discussed that once; discovered the depths of each others' total commitment to survival both on the larger scale, and each individual manning their runaway moon. And had invariably clashed-as if gravely insulted by the other-when really, their goals were exactly the same.

She smiled lopsidedly, recalling his efforts to restore himself in her good graces at such times.

She too had no compunctions apologizing to John, during brutally honest realizations that she was firmly in the wrong.

Yes, she'd grieved tremendously at Lee's alleged death; they'd enjoyed far more time together than she and John's slowly developing relationship. Smiling, she recalled with some amusement
John attempting to sympathize with her confusion, protect her from possible harm, even as he exerted tremendous effort to contain his jealousy. Her husband had returned, yet John had remained a constant by her side.

She'd no inkling Lee's mission had gone awry. And John, being an astronaut of note back then, had been briefed extensively, compared to Lee's own wife! But he'd no qualms about later relating what he'd learned. All she'd been told was he'd never return. Fini.

The platitudes offered to his pain waxed so hollow in the overwhelming face of Dan Mateo's death. Yet he'd seemed to derive comfort from their quiet conversation that evening in hydroponics. Her own words to John(after an accident that nearly cost him his life)speaking as a doctor: "It may simply be his time to die," had left the part sealed behind emotional bulkheads also close to dying.

She knew the high regard many on Alpha held for John. Unswerving loyalty of that degree directed toward John was both commendable and thoughtful.

Shaking her head slightly, she replaced the encroaching depression of the current situation with immersion in recent memories, recalled sensations. Strong, eager arms tucking her into paradise on various occasions. The subtle scent of his warm skin as she buried her face in the juncture of his shoulder and neck. The pleasant rumbling of his chest below her cheek as he quietly spoke of his love for her, emphasized by lips pressed gently to her hair, forehead, mouth.

Oh, those declarations didn't occur outright, but from the way his heart shone through those vivid azure eyes-the brilliancy of Caribbean skies-every time he sensed her approach, and her own melting response, she knew he'd manage to eventually pierce her defenses.

He had by the time Tony Cellini's problems reemerged, and she'd highly resented that derailment of their burgeoning relationship. John's angry stubbornness surpassed her own...though he'd apologized to her shortly after, actually shyly offering a flask of aromatic hyacinths! That was the signal she'd hoped for--Commander Koenig truly viewed his Chief Medical Officer as a desirable woman. One he wished to know far better, despite inevitable clashes of their strong personalities.

Flying off when their very survival was jeopardized by the black sun had forced the realization there was no avoiding her own growing love for him. But it wasn't until after their return from a strange planet regressing their party some forty-thousand years she'd run full-tilt into his embrace. He'd held her so close, as if she was the most precious part of his personal universe.

That very night he'd shown up on her doorstep, a rare flower in one hand, a rare vintage-she suspected Victor's hand in the latter-in the other, beaming hopefully. She'd exchanged drab, unisex garb for one of those infrequently worn, extremely feminine floor-length nightgowns in anticipation of his visit, covered hastily with a pale green wrap to answer the door chime. John's helpless, inquisitive peeks as she'd deliberately bent over to pour the rich merlot into beveled crystal goblets had cemented her determination to not let him leave prior to 0600 hours.

It was only then that his comlock beeped to get her attention and his.

Armoring themselves in fresh uniforms, they waited to depart their spacious room quickly.

"Commander," came Sandra's image on the comlock's small screen. "We got the emergency power on-line. It should be opening now."

Koenig nodded in reply. "Very well. We'll be there in a moment."

The door to John's quarters opened up immediately after, and the commander stepped out.

Their heels echoed off the hard passage way

John and Helena immediately walked over to the nearest communications post and tapped a button.

"Attention all sections, Alpha," John spoke. "This is Commander Koenig. Report all technical and other computer malfunctions to Command Center as soon as possible."

"Any idea what is causing all of these equipment problems?" Helena wondered.

"Don't know for certain," John confessed. "Sahn should have some answers real soon."

It had been over 4 hours and the repairs were still in the works. Sandra and Alan were in Command Center with flashlights, not saying a word...just watching the monitors. Finally, Sandra spoke.

"I miss the songs we used to sing in church youth group."

"Can't say I ever did that," Alan commented. "But I sure miss music. All music. Especially the Beatles. Bet no one on Earth even knows what a record album is anymore."
Sandra looked somber for a moment as she recalled a distant memory.

"Paul used to play some of the Beatles music on his guitar," Sandra recalled, with some fondness mixed with sadness. "I remember he used to play the ones sung by John Lennon, the most."

Alan nodded, recalling his friend having done those musical moments on his guitar.

As he recalled something else. Something that had happened, right after John Koenig had nearly died in an Eagle crash following a Phase One probe.

A probe of a planet identified as Zenno.

John's near death had put every Alphan on edge.

Alan and Paul included.

After an accident where a technician had dropped some coffee cups in Main Mission, David Kano had chastised the young woman severely. Paul had managed to put a stop to Kano's tirade on the female, but only ended up in a heated argument with the computer expert. One that had nearly escalated the firey clash between the two co-workers into something more violent.

Paul Morrow had quivered with barely restrained fury; the urge to plant his fist in the shorter man's dark countenance was tempting greatly.

Neither man evinced awareness of the huddled knot of second-shift personnel gathered beyond Tanya Alexander's shoulders. They watched the unfolding drama silently, frightened by this complete departure of the two normally amiable working companions' demeanor, and rock steadiness through emergencies.

His dark gaze bored into the smaller man's, but Kano refused to relinquish his stance. Squaring off nose-to-nose several tense seconds, David thankfully broke off, striding angrily from Main Mission.

Something that helped defuse his rage.

Wandering deserted halls aimlessly, keeping ears tuned while passing small enclaves clustered by occasional sitting areas, Morrow filed snippets of conversation away. This is occurring way too fast, he mused. Continued lack of updates from Med-Centre was beginning to grate on peoples' nerves, depress morale.

He needed to speak with the Professor. Locating the scientist-cum-philosopher via computer's trace on the older man's commlock, he entered the room to find Alan present, staring dejectedly out a small port onto the harsh moonscape.

Apprising Victor of Kano's behavior and other incidents resulted in the other's odd reply that any leader would do, as long as there was a name. Alan glanced over his shoulder, informing them he didn't buy that offal for a minute, and after hurling some invective, fled the room.

Meandering through the dimmed corridors, he realized Alan needed to be spoken with immediately. But before that, he needed to cope with his own feelings before he popped off also at an inopportune moment. The others required some measure of equilibrium from senior staff to keep their fears at bay until they all finally learned what was what.

Looking around, he realized he'd ended up by the mess hall. As the hour was late, he didn't anticipate a crowd, and could use a cup of whatever bilge June had attempted to distribute back in Main Mission.

Entering, shoulders sagging, he spied Alan at a corner table, facing a wall. Now, that was odd. His gregarious friend thrived on large groups of company, himself often unintentionally at the center. Everyone attempted to drag all the details of latest his latest adventures, and Alpha's top pilot always spun an engaging tale. Going up to the counter, he selected a few rolls to accompany a pot of horrid synth-darjeeling tea.

Forcing a friendly expression, he approached Carter, setting the tray down, and his long frame into the cool, plastic chair. "No girl tonight?"

Alan ignored the trite comment, seemingly engrossed by the hot cup's penumbral contents.

Paul Morrow flung an arm over the back of his chair, gazing skyward in supplication as a female physics lab tech sauntered by, winking. He nodded, mouth quirking absently, then turned back to his table mate. They sat mutely in the regular mess for a time, the Controller further gauging the community's pulse, mood.

Bushy eyebrows lowered; his lips pursed as he perused Alan's lowered head and trembling hand. Reaching forward, he grabbed the steaming mug before its contents slopped on the pilot's wrist.

"Hey, if you're trying to get out of duty, burning your hand's not the way to go." The half-hearted joke fell flat to his own ears, and completely bypassed Carter's. Settling uniformed forearms atop the cool, flat surface, the Controller reprimanded quietly, "We're all worried about John. So much so that instead of acknowledging the possibility he might not wake up, we're tearing the base apart."

Alan's head jerked up, nearly cracking Paul's forehead as unsteady palms slapped the table noisily. "Did you hear the crap the Professor was selling?! He is not going to die, goddamn it! It's people like you waiting for it to happen that's gonna sink this base, taking the Commander with it! You think Gorski would've brought our arses this far?!" Pushing back angrily, he nearly tipped the chair until a long hand came out to shackle his wrist, dragging him forward until he could count every red vein in Morrow's bulging eyes.

"Your attitude is exactly why Alpha's going down the tubes, " the lanky man hissed, glaring.

"None of this shit has any place among Main Mission heads! Sit down now, Carter!"

Morrow's use of his surname interrupted Alan's spiraling thoughts, and his blue gaze flickered to the other man's. "You don't understand, Paul. I've been to Medical, and..." He trailed off, frowning, as a nurse's white sleeve flashed in his peripheral. Snarling, the distraught pilot tensed to lunge, but the other's grip tightened. Booted feet scrabbled noisily on the hard floor as both wrestled briefly.

While certainly not in Alan's league-the base's resident fitness fanatic-Paul's determination nevertheless lent abnormal strength. He supported his friend as the man sagged, adrenaline ebbing. "I do understand, mate," he informed the now passive man steadily. "I was standing right there at my post as the Commander argued with the Professor over a forty second delay, then thirteen more that time you were laying charges to blow up an incoming asteroid. You never knew-John stood there, eyes watering as he talked to you, aware that there was no chance in hell you'd make it through. Nearly broke down in the process, while trying to maintain your hopes.

"After the bombs detonated, all contact lost with you, he refused to accept your loss. We urged him to face reality-as we saw it..." Paul bowed his head, ashamed he'd also lambasted John for sticking his neck out for their buddy Alan in what everyone present had viewed as a colossal waste of time and essential fuel, possibly endangering his own life to boot. Yet when it came down to it, nobody reciprocated the gutsy faith their leader and base's second best pilot had demonstrated time and again. "...he demanded an Eagle on any pad still operable as he ran out of Main Mission to locate you. I'd accompanied him because...well, because he'd made us-well, me, really-believe there was a slim chance he was right. I thought we were only out there to tow back your body, and primarily wanted to be there to help case he...he cracked."

There was an ugly chapter in their history; he never fathomed how he'd escaped quarantine for radiation-induced insanity; if both Alan and the Commander had succumbed, he'd obviously be next. Yet in the desperate attempt to avoid the monstrously large planet from smashing them to bits, nobody could have decided much with any measure of equanimity. "The margin of safety, as referenced by both David and Professor Bergman, predicted zero survival for you. But he found a way-who else would've recalled something as mundane as orbital satellite signals in an emergency, and utilize it?"

The head of Recon slumped forward, hearing the stalled cable winch whirring ineffectually in Eagle 1's cockpit, and the frantic effort to short-circuit auto-relays to muscle the charge down manually. Fully cognizant of the fact that while already in the red timeline-wise, he'd shake the damn thing loose, and be done with it. If he was going to shove off, it goddamn well wouldn't be attached to a device. It'd be his choice, in the act of flying.

Pointing a scarred finger, he concurred, "Listen mate, I know what he's done for me, us, over the what, 70 crises we've endured? But there's something else: he, unlike many, has never betrayed his position here, or us, you know? And some are ready to completely abandon John Koenig!" His voice had risen, and the two tired med techs stiffened, taking umbrage at the implied, unwarranted crack to their CMO. "And Goddamn them to hell for it!!!"

The memory of that painfull discussion still whirled about and filled the Austrailian's mind.

A sad memory he would not forget anytime soon.

Even if he tried so hard to erase it from his concious mind, it would still be there.

And it made him miss Paul Morrow, Victor Bergman, David Kano, and Tanya Alexander even more.

Alan's train of thought on music and absent friends was interrupted as soon as John, Helena, and Tony arrived.

"Status?" John demanded.

"Alibe and some personnel from Technical Section are running diagnotics on the computer," Sandra replied. "Including other technical areas."

"Very well. Alright, let's get this meeting started." Koenig said looking around the room. "I want to thank you all for coming. Despite this outbreak of depression, let me take this opportunity to thank you all for your strength and support to all persons here on Alpha."

Tony, Alan, Sandra, and Helena all smiled in acquiescence.

"Now, we are facing another problem, but we are facing both problems together. I would like to hear from each section head as to what the status is in each area. Let's start with medical and life support, Dr. Russell."

Before helen could respond, the red alert klaxon went on-line.


As the signal went blaring throughout Alpha everyone was galvanized into action leaving their seats at a run.

Each went to their post taping into the computer for information.

"Sahn, what happened?"

"We are losing air pressure, Commander."

"From where?" he asked walking over to his own console.

"Uncertain," Sahn replied. "I am beginning a sensor probe."

Sahn tapped a few key commands.

"Nothing," Sahn said. "With the power problems, it's hindering the probe scans."

John nodded and looked over at Helena.

"Helena, pin point area of lost, please." Koenig's voice raised an octave.

Helena's hand went flying over the key board, trying desperately to locate the area of lost.

"Their seems to be a leak somewhere, John." she said

"Can you locate it?"

"I cannot get a reading. Yasko, can you locate it on main computer?" she asked.

"I am on it," the Asian beauty said, as her fingers went over the main keys. "The bypass systems are not functioning."

Koeing paced backed and forth as the staff tried to locate the area of pressure lost.

"Nothing, commander," Yasko stated. "we came up empty handed."

John shook his head and looked over at Sandra.

"Sahn, try again." he said wearily. "Everyone, try,"

As Sahn tried a second time, a bright light and a burst of energy discharged from a console on John's desk. One that sent the commander reeling backwards and crashing to the floor.

Helena and Alan both rushed to his side.

"I'm okay," John replied, a bit stunned by the shock. "I'm alright."

As John steadied himself, he looked at the main viewscreen.

"Any idea what caused that discharge?" he demanded.

"Uncertain," Yasko replied. "Running diagnostic, now. Even with emergency batteries, it will take a minute."

"John," Tony replied, from his desk. "Have a look at the screen."

As the computer hissed and whined they came up with this printed across the screen.


"Identify yourself. What are you and why are you trying to kill us!" bellowed Koenig.


"There is no one like you here. We cannot help you."


"What can we do? There is no one here that would suit your purpose." Koenig was at a lost now, what was he dealing with really?


"I cannot do that."


An ominous laughter filled the corridors of Alpha as the phantom entity rushed throughout the system.

Koenig retired to his desk. The entity was not here now, but he certainly would be back.

"Sahn, what is the reading now on our oxygen level?"

"80% and decreasing commander."

"John?" a soft voice brought him out of his reverie.

He looked up to see Helena Russell. Here was his greatest fear, staring him in the face. He had feelings for her. If the entity took her, he would feel the vices on his life close in again. Since his wife's death he had shut himself off from female companionship. Now here it was this woman who, three years past, had come rushing into his life unexpectedly.

"Yes, Helena." Helena had seen something there, briefly in his eyes, if only for a moment.

Fear. Was it fear? Why would the commander be fearful.

"What do you propose to do?" she asked.

"That was a good question," he thought. Something had to be done but what?

How can you kill something you cannot see.

"John," Tony's voice came trouncing in.

His train of thought was broken.

"What are we going to do about that entity?"

"I don't know, yet," John answered. "Right now, a thousand ideas are going through my head."

"Such as?" Helena asked.

They both sat down and listened as John expounded his knowledge of electrical current and electronics in tandem.

Including the compulsory scan units built into Moonbase Alpha's computer banks.

They talked for an hour. Suddenly the sounds in the room ceased. They all noticed. They had a peeping tom.

Followed by the ominous, dulcet tones of a booming voice.


"We cannot give anyone to you. They would have to volunteer."


A bright light and a burst of energy discharged from a console on his desk that sent the commander, once again, reeling backwards and crashing to the floor. Helena and Tony both rushed to his side.

Before they could help him, the entity struck again. A light beam reached out and started lifting him up off the floor. It held him in it grasp. Koenig could feel his life force draining from him.

He went pale.

"Stop! You're killing him!" Helena shouted.

In mid air Koenig was held suspended.

The pain he saw in Helena's face said it all to him.

"Stop, goddamn you!" she shouted.

Koenig was released.

He fell to the floor with a thud.


Helena went quickly over to John scanning him for any internal damage. "Are you alright?" she said.

"I'm alright," he said, helping himself up from the floor.


"Attention, all sections Alpha. This is Commander John Koenig. An entity has overtaken over our systems and we are held in its fiendish grasp. Your cooperation is necessary in order to rid ourselves of this force. All female personnel please assemble in the Command Center in one hour. Koenig out."


As he spoke a computer print out came from his console. "Helena?" he called but she was already by his side reading the requirements.

"This is too much," Koenig stated. "And this will drain our entire system. We would die if we were to divert this much energy into this chamber."


As he spoke another read out came from the console. Tony looked on.

"John, this would make it quite possible," he said, a bit surprised.

As the many pages flowed from the computer with all the specifications, all female personnel on Alpha came streaming into the Command Center.

One by one the entity scanned them. One by one he weeded them out.


"Who is that? Every female personnel are here."


"Dr. Russell is indispensable to us."


"To us," Koenig repeated, really tired of dealing with the entity.

"John, I ..." Helena said coming from the corridor.

Koenig steered at her, a defeated look on his face. "Helena, we need you in medical."

"If I do not do this John,"she said with resolve. "There will be no medical."


The entity's light flowed over Helena, bathing her in its pale violet aura. As the light roamed her form Koenig could see her fear. She could see his. Their eyes reached out to each other over the space of time, linked and held.

The computer whined as the names were printed.


Helena, he thought. This could not be happening to me. This must be some bad dream I must wake up from.

John could not look at her. He left for his desk. No one approached.

"Helena." Bob Mathias spoke from a console nearby. "Could you come to the lab please?"

"Yes, Bob. On my way," she said as she walked through the Command Center. John was acting strangely, she thought.

"Helena, have a look at this," Bob said. She was surprised to see John reading a printout on a work desk in Victor Bergman's old lab.

He must have used the back door and left the Command Center unseen, she silently noted.
Helena looked at the printout the dark-skinned young man held in his hand.

"This is incredible, Bob." she said.

"Yes, can you imagine my surprise when this showed up in my printouts." he mused. "This cyber-entity is like a virus. Not a common computer virus, but a virus nonetheless."

"How can we get rid off it?" Helena asked.

John was quietly looking at the readouts, listening to their conversation and letting his mind race over the possibilities.

This entity exists without form in the conventional sense, he calculated. The most probable would be as a mass of energy. One of highly cohesive electromagnetic field. It could assume a physical form, if such a possibility existed.

"That is where we have a problem, Helena. It is in control of our computers," Mathias stated.

"And we need computer to defeat him. An antivirus is what we need to work on."

John got up solemnly. "Helena, there is something else we discovered..."

"John, I think she does not need to know this," Bob broke in hurriedly.

"Tell me," she walked over to them a bit alarmed.

"Bob, she needs to know."

"Well, Helena, it seems our little friend isn't quite honest with us," The doctor observed. "He or it already chose a mate. It made a profile and analysis. John, show her the simulation of its profile and electrical out puts."

As Koenig showed her the printouts, Mathias continued. "I don't know that much about electronics, but, judging by these printouts, this virus has been here for at least a couple of hours. It has been in your room, the medical centre and at the meeting we were having. It's been following you around, Helena. It knows where you are at all times. It's here for you."

Koenig sat down at this point his mind feverishly racing.

"What are you saying?" she said wide eyed.

"We think it has already made it's choice and that is you. I think it is biding its time. It wants something else as well."

"Alan!" John bellowed, his mind formulating a plan.

Alan's face showed up on his commlock. "Meet me in Flight Control."

"John?" Bob was about to ask a question when John turned to him.

Koenig turned to look at Helena who was sitting in stunned silence. Her eyes met his, what she saw there made her pulse race.

Koenig was beyond words. What could he say to her to allay her fears. That he loved her, but would that help. That he could feel every fibre of her being within himself. The panic was rising in him, getting ready to drown him at any moment. He wanted to hold her. He felt her fear.

He wanted to protected her.

He moved towards her and she stood. He took her hands. He looked into her eyes. She saw something she had seen before. Control. Raw energy. A certainty. She also saw love, beyond her comprehension.

"Helena, I don't want you to worry. I will take care of this." He let her hands fall to her side as he turned and stride out the lab door.

She was left a little dazed, but assured.

"Alan," John asked, as Carter came at a fast pace stopping only to catch his breath. "Is there anyway we can get to the computer on board Eagle Three?"

"Got a plan, Commander?"

"Yes, Alan, but I will need your help."

"I'm with you, Commander," he said.

Koenig was headed out the door before Alan caught his breath. "Okay, Alan all we need is to get Sahn down here. Get her and meet me back here in ten minutes."

The entity mused to itself. It had heard the exchange with Koenig and the good doctor. So they knew, too bad. They obviously knew it was up to something else, but hadn't a clue what it was. That was too bad too.

It wondered along, looking for something else. Ah, yes. The power source. It needed that if it was to get bigger and more powerful. It was ready. Back to the technical lab, it traveled at the speed of light.


"Yes, we do."


As the entity spoke, Sahn came in unseen a diskette in hand. He stuck it in one of the computer slots.

Helena came through the doors, just as a technician had finished setting up the energy reduction, demolecular vibrating device the entity instructed them to build. She looked undisturbed.

Almost serene. John had a determined look on his face, one she had not seen before.


Tony turned the demolecular unit on. "Ready."


Koenig looked hesitant but only for a moment as his resolve stayed. He did not get to be commander by being squeamish.

Tony started the demoleculizer as Helena entered the rays, her structure began to transform.

Before the machine could go to maximum Koenig shouted out, "Now, Sahn, now!"

He pushed Helena out of the way, as the rays came full blast. As Koenig demolecularised and was absorbed by the computer, Sahn down loaded the program Koenig had requested.


John did not know what to expect but he came prepared. Fight fire with fire. Focus the attention of the computer on certain mathematical problems which cannot be solved.
He could see the entity. A pure raw energy permeating throughout the computer systems.

Sahn's antivirus was programmed only to respond to him. In another minute, Sahn would administer the next antivirus. The third and finally would kill both of them if Koenig was not extracted by Tony at the right time.

The chase was on as Koenig advanced antivirus in hand. The entity turned tail and ran. He went at maximum speed towards the power source. The only way in its crazed mind to beat Koenig would be for it to get stronger. Koenig was baffled, Why was it running?As the entity went, it began draining the power from the systems around it and getting stronger.

Koenig let fire the first rounds.

The entity's currents went haywire.

MUST GET MORE ENERGY, it thought as its speed increased.

"Sahn, where are they?" asked Tony.

"What is going on, Tony?" questioned Helena.

"They are headed towards the power systems. The commander has three minutes. I am administering the next antivirus. The entity is trying to drain our power source. If he does, John may not stand a chance."

"What?" Helena looked panic.

Tony put his hand on her arm, trying calm her.

"Helena," Tony said, a bit grimly. "John may not make it out alive."

"Tony, you have to do something," she said on the verge of hysteria. "John can't die."

"Don't I know it," The Italian security chief said, frustrated by the events. "It was his choice and he knew the risks involved."

"No, John no," she sobbed uncontrollably.

"He said to tell you he cares for you and you should respect his decision."

"No, John," she sobbed, "John."

The second antivirus Sahn administered went rapidly to the source of annihilation. It was attacking the virus and about to go after John. The commander was prepared and went in the opposite direction.

The entity saw and pursued all the while gathering strength.

It was now or never. If Tony could pull this off it would have to be now. Koenig spotted the prepared exit that Sahn had for him. Only problem was the antivirus came in, that way.

He had to time it precisely right.

"Ready," Sandra responded.

"Implement," Tony ordered.

"Computer," Sandra began. "This is a class "A" compulsory directive. Compute to the last digit the value of pi."

The diskette and its contents were activated by the computer.

"As we know," Sandra explained. "The value of pi is a transcendental figure without resolution. The computer banks will work on this problem to the exclusion of all else until we order it to stop."

"That should keep that thing busy for a while," Tony determined.

"And give John a chance to escape," Helena prayed.

With only seconds away, the other virus came in as Koenig exited in a split second. The entity halted his pursuit as the antivirus headed towards it. This antivirus contained an energy draining failsafe device. How could they have known its plans?

John rematerialized inside the demoleculizer. Helena ran in and embraced John. Everyone else came over and shook Koenig's hand and clasped him on the back.

"John," Helena said, relieved. "Thank God!"

Ben Vincent ran a medical scanner over John's vital and other life signs.

"He's alright," Vincent reported. "I don't know how, but the antivirus did not affect him in any way. Or cause any damage."

"It was some split second timing," John said, a bit exhausted.

"Are you, okay?" Tony asked.

John exhaled some breath. "I'm fine. What about Alpha and the other vital systems?"

Before Tony could answer, everyone heard something reverberate throughout the lunar colony.

Moonbase Alpha reverberated with the screams of the entity as the antivirus sapped its strength and dissolved it.

It tried to escape.

It was evaporating into oblivion.

Then the alien life force, composed of an unknown type of pure energy, dissolved into nothingness.

In open space, at the widest possible dispersion angle, its consciousness continued for a short time, consisting of billions of separate bits of energy, floating forever in space, powerless.

It was no more.

"I think that answers that question," John observed. "Literally."

After a few moments, the computer was rebooted and cleaned of any computer viruses and other residual effects that the entity may have left behind. Let alone ordered to stop working on the mathematical equation of pi. Sandra closed her eyes and started quietly singing a song. She wasn't aware that the com system was on and the entire base was listening. In complete darkness, other Alphans started singing along. There was a feeling of warmth and well being that permeated the corridors with each verse. Helena couldn't help but take a deep breath and smile as she heard Sandra's sweet voice. She suddenly didn't feel cold any more.

Not only was their spontaneous singing throughout the base, some started praying. They felt sure that God had not deserted them. He was indeed listening to their prayers. The unfairness and desperation they had felt began to fade with each prayer, with every added voice.

People here just seemed to understand that it was time to discover each other more, and to show each other feelings. Aside from what happened with the entity and its purpose, it was also because of that adventure on Arkadia. The Commander showed the people on Moonbase Alpha his deep feelings for Helena. For the first time, Sandra and the others saw John Koenig become only a man afraid of loosing the woman he loved. After Alan came back with Helena on Alpha, things had start to change slowly, as if the needs of everybody on Alpha had the right to be said; as if life and love had the right to exist on Alpha, as if a normal life could exist for the Alphans.

Sandra opened her eyes and thought of all the people she had left behind her on September 13, 1999. Her family, her friends... Where were they now? Still alive? Professor Bergman said one time they should all be dead now, even if they'd survive after the Moon hurled into space. One year here was so much more on Earth. Would she die on this rock, lost in space? Will she die like so many others?

All of the sudden, a tech shouted "YES!"

Everyone gathered around that tech hoping he'd found the answer.

"The transformer blew because of some primary windings. It was probably a manufacturer's defect. This caused an ARC malfunction. We'll have it fixed within the hour."

"Nice job, Greg," John stated. "Very nice. Thank you from all of us."

"Sorry it took so long, sir," Sanderson responded. "With all of the other problems plaguing Alpha, it took time."

Helena sighed in relief. "Thank you so much, Greg."

She couldn't help but feel comfort in the fact that she had brilliant technicians working under her. Her expertise was being doctor, certainly not an electrician. Although the in the back of her mind, she was painfully aware that the fault of Life Support's uncharged batteries ultimately fell on her.

"No sweat," Sanderson added as he turned to his fellow techs. "Let's get the heat turned back on in here."

Everyone expressed their appreciation and relief to their commander as he started on his path back to Command Center. With each thank you he came across, he reminded them that it was Greg Sanderson who was clearly the hero. He felt a sense of pride he hadn't felt in far too long a time. His people worked came together in a crisis and worked like a well-oiled machine. He was impressed and finally had some hope that maybe they could get past the depression. Helena stayed behind until the repairs were completed and everything tested okay.

Everyone knew the transformer was an easier fix than the depression. Yet a sense of community instantly began to permeate the base. Most Alphans now felt a renewed and strong sense of direction. Sandra and Helena began to hold community meetings to discuss changes to be made to try to change attitudes. Helena ran further studies to determine who had suffered from the depression and why. It varied depending on the person and where they worked. She found that people who worked in hydroponics have not been affected. Helena began treating patients with bright light phototherapy. The more severe cases were asked to continue counseling along with the antidepressants.

Not that just putting some plants around the base and offering drugs would cure them, but she knew it was a step in the right direction. Sandra had the idea to start painting the crew's quarters with cheery colors...especially blues and greens. They planned to build a rec center in the caverns to get away from the white walls. The idea that they would probably would spend the rest of their lives on this moon and they need to make it more of a home.

John made an effort to spend more time in the recreational center with his people, and to pay more attention to Helena. He had realized how far he had distanced himself from his people. This was just his way of dealing with the cold reality of living on a lifeless rock for the rest of his life. It was easy for him to tell people that there was hope for the future of Alpha, but it was surely he and Helena that would have to keep that attitude present. He felt more certain than ever that there was hope for the future, even if it meant making the moon their permanent home.

We created our own world from scratch, John reflected. Now we, lunar pioneers face the challenge of the final frontier.

Victor Bergman had once said that the lunar community of Moonbase Alpha appeared ready to take on Neil Armstrong's 'giant leap for mankind' one step furthur by researching the idea and crucial importance of the extended family unit. Something which could embrace an entire community.

"The more research we do," the late English scientist once said. "The more we learn about being in space. The more we realize that there must be pre-existing human relationships that work in order for people to function in such a uniquely hostile environment. You can't take a group of starngers, or even people who trained together, and put them in a situation like this. Over a period of time, it will break down. A transient community of workers will not work in the long run. You need family, if not community bonds."

It had taken us twenty years to come to the realization, John thought back. that it must be community driven if space exploration was really to work. Thankfully, many in the World Space Commission and private space design firms took Victor's message seriously. Hopefully, we can continue to take that message seriously, in our present set of circumstances.

Helena sat across from John at dinner that evening and for the first time in weeks, her beautiful smile was genuine. She had finally felt the security that she no longer needed the beach or sunshine on her face to feel whole. She just needed to remember deep within that she was with a man she loved, good friends she cherished, and a place she could call home.

Commander John Koenig sat pensively at his desk with the white gooseneck lamp in his quarters. Once again, it was another quiet nightmode. In the background, Helena Russell had fallen asleep on the white foam couch while watching the Part 3 of the video series "The Ascent of Man".

"Helena," Koenig softly tried to rouse her. "Come to bed. You'll be more comfortable."

The doctor murmured something unintelligible and turned over. The commander covered her with a gray Moonbase issued fleece blanket and plopped wearily in the pretzel chair. He stared blankly at the television and was reaching for the remote on the white plastic endtable when his eye caught the burgundy leather journal.

He thought back to a philosophical discussion that he, Helena, and Victor Bergman once had many years past.

"There are times when I wish I was clairvoyant," Bergman once confessed. "I've devoted my entire life to the pursuit of science--a noble endeavor, sure--but answers...." He drifted far away, scratching his cheek. "The whole thing is like some grandiloquent, mysterious odyssey. We learn, we grow...."

"Knowing is one thing." Helena Russell shaped, and defined the rhetoric that, leaning against the desk on her elbows next to a Gorski mobile, metal-art widget.' "What we do with that knowledge is another."

"True," she paused, "on the other hand, we know we are human. Human beings are not perfect, especially when it comes to making choices which could have dire moral and ethical circumstances. Actually," she paced to the globe and gently spun it on its axis, "I think it's possible for anyone, under the wrong set of circumstances, to take the step from decent person to depraved monster. God knows, there have been times I've been tempted."

"Human beings have never done a great job playing 'god' in matters of life and death," John explained. "It seems that when we learn how to manipulate life and death, the technique and mechanics of it are easy but the question of when to use it, the morality, is a problem which we have rarely been successful."

He switched off the screen, reached for the diary, and opened it, intending to review his most recent entry.

"I often wonder about our purpose, both as individuals and as a collective of the human community." Koenig continued writing in his burgundy leather bound journal. "Because, certain ideas and standards that we once took for granted on Earth, changed drastically here, on the Moon. From the perspective of Moonbase Alpha, the first settlement and mining operation on the Moon, I believe the recent change in, has so far, proved to be beneficial to the base. It was clear that it was the right choice."

He paused thoughtfully for a moment then continued.

"Ironically, had the political pundits of Earth considered the graduate thesis on magnetic radiation from spent nuclear waste as more than 'mathematical fantasy', we may very well have avoided the disaster of September 13, 1999. Nevertheless, here we are, out in deep space, attempting to survive one day at a time and perhaps, just perhaps, searching for our purpose. People working together to build a life for themselves in the harsh and dangerous environment of our next frontier."

The commander sat back in his chair and closed his journal.

The more one knew of the universe, the more one realized how huge and infinitely complex it was.

Copyright (c) 2009. Reprinted with permission.
Space:1999 is (c) 1976 by Carlton International Media.
All stories are the property of their respective authors.

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