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Authors: Terry Shewmaker
Show Year: Y3
Rating: PG-13
Date: 2013
An oceanic world, scattered with chains of lush tropical islands, is the realm of the fireflies - one of which, accidentally, attaches itself to Helena.
Average Rating: No reviews.

For Rosie Badgett


John Koenig (Moonbase Commander; black/charcoal left sleeve)

Dr Helena Russell (Medical Section leader; white)

Maya (LSRO/Science Officer; flame)

Tony Verdeschi (Security Section leader/Operations Team leader; flame)


Dr Raul Nu(ez (Medical Section; white)


Chapter One

Dusk was falling on this unknown watery world, the dying day-sky washed over in a last riotous display of fantastic colors.

The stars would be out soon, stars the four Alphans had never seen before. Only the runaway Moon was familiar; and as darkness arrived in full force, its light touched Helena Russell's cavorting figure with silver.

"All work and no play," she'd told Koenig, that same afternoon; and so, along with Tony Verdeschi and Maya, the four of them had spent a delightful interval here, enjoying the roiling water and crashing waves - wading and splashing along the beach, gleefully like little girls and little boys once again...

But the others had since retreated to their campsite further inland, and now only she remained. And from the sound of her commlock buzzing, that likely wasn't destined to last too very long, either:

"I was afraid you'd be after me with a net, by now!" giggling, as she beheld John Koenig's tiny electronic image.

"Oh, I wouldn't go that far - but I do wish you'd start back to camp. We don't know what comes out after dark around here."

"Even though we've found nothing on these islands, so far?"

"Even though," said he. "For all we know, the only life forms here are strictly nocturnal..."

"I'll leave right now," said she.

"All right, then. We have a well-lit Security perimeter. And, Helena," his official tone softening, "try not to be long..."

She smiled, a smile that would give any man reassurance. He was being something of a spoilsport; but he was also trying to steer their little group back to business, to the reason their Reconnaissance Eagle had travelled here...

"All work again," sighing a little, and setting about making her way through the breakers towards land and the tangle of jungle just beyond.

At one point, a mental image of Botticelli's famous painting of the Roman goddess Venus emerging from the sea, came to her.

"Helena-on-the-Half-Shell," musing aloud. Then, with a chortle of laughter at her own expense, "Oh, that's terrible! - "

Presently the sand was seeping up between her bare toes as she trudged upshore to where she'd left her things. The lantern put out a cheerful blaze of light as she pulled her hiking boots back on, one at a time.

And, still, she didn't wish to go. The waves continued to wash ashore, discernible now only by the moonlight from somewhere far overhead, the rhythmical swiiishh of their comings and goings something of the welcome and familiar in this oh-so-unfamiliar place.

She pulled her khaki-clad knees up to her chin, and listened to it all for awhile.

Who of them could remember, when they'd last seen a real ocean?

And when - if ever - might they see another?...

Then, at last, she was turning up the lantern and rummaging through her equipment satchel.

Have Status Report, Will Travel, she thought. Yes, I'm relaxed, all right. Not like up there on Alpha, wound up like a spring...

Her notepad duly appeared, and she held it up to the lantern-light:

Moonbase Alpha Status Report; supplemental - Another planet we've come to, several million years too early!...for there's nothing but ocean and more ocean, as far as the eye can see. To be near a true watery ocean once more, after those empty "seas" of ash, on the Moon! - ocean dappled with islands, like great flocks of birds. More like raw young volcanoes pushing their way up from the sea-floor, I should imagine. We've been exploring several of them, and they're all beautiful, lushly overgrown with tropical foliage as they are and in colors beyond our imagining...and yet, they're all barren. No life forms, at least none that we can see or hear...nothing, of any size or shape, that climbs or flies, upon the land or over it. But everything else is so right, so very right...there really ought to be something...

She halted in her reading.

A subtle little noise, just at the very edge of the perceptible, like bees buzzing...

The sight was far more vivid, and had her scrambling for something to write with:

...and maybe, just maybe, there is something. The fireflies are back. So we call them, at any rate - we've heard them coming and going all day, on every island we've visited. Now that it's dark, we can see them better, like tiny whirring jewel-chips. Even our instruments don't quite know what to make of them...

Yet again she stopped, looked up. Great trees, their crowns exploding with billowy exaggerated fronds,

loomed in silhouette against the brilliant backdrop of the stars. She could watch them and make her way back to the Eagle's landing site at the same time, she decided; and hence, with the satchel easily slung over a shoulder, she rose to her feet.

The fireflies' paths seemed to be paralleling her own, as she walked along the Moon-silvered sands.

"You probably know all the secrets of this world," regarding them wonderingly. "I do wish you could tell us, somehow..."

...the humming suddenly became louder, very loud indeed, as though coming right into her ear...

"Ouch! - "

The motion was instinctive as her hand flashed upward, trying to ward off the unseen annoyance -

Almost at once, a light-headed dizziness assailed her, and she could hardly hear the ocean anymore...

...or that curiously-distant voice...calling her name... must be John...oh, it has to be!...

"Helena! - "

Lantern held aloft in one hand, Koenig was stumbling down the sand to her. She still recognized his touch as he grasped her, trying to keep her on her feet...

"John...I don't...feel very well..."

The water rushed over their feet as she went limp in his arms. Taken thus by surprise, he almost lost his grip on her.

Her hair was dripping wet as he lifted her to himself. She seemed to be coming around...but her breathless whisperings were in a language he'd never heard before...

Two more lights danced in the jungle darkness. Now they burst out onto the beach; the sounds of running feet and labored breathing belied their true nature.

Maya and Verdeschi, each with a lantern, were plowing into the breakers after their comrades. By the time they were all struggling out towards land, the two men had Helena between them and Maya, like some ancient Psychon sun-goddess, was lighting the trail ahead of them...

Through a blur of semi-consciousness Helena was vaguely aware of all of this...and then she was being gently laid down upon something soft, and a man's hand was squeezing hers...


And when her eyes fluttered open she beheld him, gazing down at her; him and Maya too, their expressions etched with acute concern.

"John?..." weakly.

He smiled, and this time it was she who was reassured.

"You're safe now," said his voice, "you'll be all right," redirecting a gaze at Maya that clearly added, Won't she?

"It seems to have been a fainting spell," said she, the expedition's emergency medical kit open and at her elbow. "So far, I can't find anything else wrong..."

But Helena was waving her hand distractedly and shaking her golden head. Koenig moved to support her, as she tried to sit up.

At the same time, Verdeschi came bustling through the bush and back into the light of their campfire. "I checked out the area," said he, "nothing." He still held a sidearm in one hand; replacing it in the holster clip attached to his belt, he was crouching down to get a better look at Helena. "You all right?" sounding more the friend, than the Security man he was.

"I didn't just faint," still rambling.

"Helena, the doctor who operates on herself - "

" - has a fool for a patient, John, I know. But I didn't just faint - there was something. Like a - a sting, from an insect - "

"No signs of swelling, or discoloration, anywhere," from Maya.

"An insect?" Koenig had seized on the word; and so had Verdeschi.

"The fireflies..."

"Damn, I wish we knew what they were..."

"I've been trying, but my grasp of them isn't much better. They don't seem to be life forms, and yet - " with an elegant shrug of the shoulders, " - I just don't know." Maya's talent for molecular transformation likewise gifted her with uncanny insight into the nature of all living matter.

"Something else," from Koenig, "she was delirious for a few moments, out there in the water, babbling on in some - mysterious language, before she passed out..."


Her grip was tightening on his arm; her gazed seemingly fixed upon some point out there, beyond the range of their lantern-lit perimeter.

"Through the tree, there - I see them - "

Verdeschi needed no prompting; upon her first word, he soundlessly rose to investigate. Koenig and the women remained where they were. His free hand reached down to touch the safety catch of his own sidearm; elsewhere Maya tensed, her unique well-disciplined molecular structure already in flux, waiting...

"What do you see out there, Helena?" as he held her closer. "Tell us."

She squinted in the firelight, straining to see beyond it.

"I see...people..."

"Tony? - " calling.

"I still can't see anything," was the response.

"But they're there," extracting herself from Koenig's embrace, rising unsteadily to her feet, "you must see them..."

He would've pursued her, but Maya touched his arm to restrain him. "Whatever Helena is experiencing, lies outside the range of our perception," she cautioned. "Let her follow it, at least for now..."

The physician took a couple of tentative steps.

"Turn down the lanterns," her voice instructed.

Verdeschi turned towards Koenig, awaiting orders. When the Moonbase Commander nodded, he went from light to light in the ring. The campsite's illumination dimmed noticeably.

The stars could again be seen, the night-heaven arching far overhead.

On the ground, crackling firelight created provocative interplays of light and shadow...

...and, from those shadows, she beheld the man as he moved slowly towards her.

Chapter Two

He approached her, his footfalls utterly silent. In appearance he was human, his facial features harmonious in their arrangement, as though chiseled thus by some master sculptor.

With some embarrassment she noted his well-proportioned physique, scarcely-concealed as it was by a garment composed of many, many billowing yards of a diaphanous material.

Beyond his shoulder she saw other men, and women, in and amongst the surrounding trees; all of them bearing that same extraordinary comeliness of face and form, and garbed in a similar manner. The women wore what seemed to be veils across their faces, and many of them also wore jewels that sparkled at their merest movement.

Helena's gaze turned back to the man she had seen first.

Their leader, perhaps?

He looked upon her, his expression benign and not in the least threatening, and raised both of his hands in a gesture of greeting.


His voice carried into her mind, a mind besieged with a thousand questions...


Telepathic, she surmised, for his lips never moved.

The Moon, in its wanderings, had felt the touch of other telepathic peoples...and within that realm, ethereal and unknown, no language was a barrier...

That is so. Wait...and for the nonce, trust to me...

"Tony..." and Maya's voice was a little unsteady, "...there are people, out there...I think I'm starting to see them now, too..."

He was returning to her side, his eyes remaining fixed upon Helena as he did so.

The latter stood by the fire; very still, taken, it seemed, by a sort of thrall.

Koenig rose and in a measured beat moved up behind her, his sidearm free of its safety catch but as yet undrawn.

And at last, he could see them as well.

They wavered as the firelight picked out their images; although whether this was due solely to the heat thermals wafting up to the night, no one could yet be sure...

For the moment, however, he had eyes only for this silent stranger, standing just about toe-to-toe with his chief medical officer.

"Who, or what, are you?" he presently inquired, trying to keep his tone even.

"I don't think he can hear you, John...let me try."

And she did, literally thinking out her question:

Is that true? Can't you hear them?


The people with me...didn't you know?

Ah! We see them, through you, and they may likewise see us. But we cannot hear them...

For herself, she had to know one thing:

Are you real?

For the first time he seemed to smile, and his grip was firm as his fingers wrapped themselves about hers.

"He said they...can't hear you," said she, "though I don't understand why..."

"I think I'm beginning to," Maya said, softly to herself.

" I guess I'll have to ask the questions," Helena concluded, somewhat sheepishly; and the other three Alphans assimilated this.

"All right, then" said Koenig, mulling over his words, "ask him - "

"Ask him why they haven't shown themselves to us before now," Verdeschi interjected.

Koenig took a breath. The man's impatience was familiar. Then, in a calmer tone," Helena...tell him that if there's something in - well - their ethical code, perhaps, that would prohibit such a contact, we'll understand. But - if there is some legitimate reason for their having avoided us, we would like to know what it is...if they've no objection to telling us about it..."

"I'll try," said she. Beats of silence followed. Then, "He says, 'We had neither knowledge nor conception of any outside our society - until she came.'" Her features clouded with some uncertainty. "He means me..."


"Ask him about the fireflies," said Maya.

Turning back to her guide, Helena complied:

Do you know about the fireflies? We've seen them about all day, and we've wondered what they are...

It was now his turn, to be baffled:


Flustered, she tried to explain:

Well - you see - in the place I come from, there was an insect -


A very, very small life form. With wings, that could fly. And able to make its own light. It glowed in the dark. And when we saw these, here, they reminded us of them. So we called them fireflies...

Ah! Now we come to understand...

"I wish we could hear what they're saying," Verdeschi muttered; not one bit did he like being left on the outside, unable to look in.

"The fireflies are the key to this," Maya mused. "They could still be life forms, after all - but on some different level than that which we define. These people could keep them as pets, perhaps."

"Or watchdogs," from Koenig.

"Not that, either..."

Helena was turning back to the three of them, and she looked stunned.

"These people - are the fireflies - ! One of them - well - attached itself to me, quite by accident, out there, on the beach...that's why I see and hear them..."

Maya nodded. "They're projecting images of themselves to us, through Helena," said she.

"There's more to it than that, Maya..."

Fascination, and apprehension, touched her firelit face.

"He says that...that I belong to them now..."

An incredulous "What!?" burst out from Koenig.

"Oh now, that's all - "

"Tony, don't - !"

Maya, and Koenig too, moved virtually at the same instant; she got to him first, tried to stop him, to grab his arm, but he still got the shot off -

The laser-trail glowed, sizzled, in the dark -

And it simply passed right through the alien, standing by Helena...

...doing him no harm whatsoever.

Chapter Three

The moment was dangerous. Helena whirled, her horrified "NO! - " searing the air.


Maya, frantically working to unclench Verdeschi's locked fingers, saw his face contorted in soundless agonies. At last she had the gun, and decisively threw it away.

The stranger raised a restraining hand - aimed less at the Alphans, than at his own people. The sternness of his tone reverberated in all their minds.

She intercedes - and none must ever be penalized for ignorance... We see now the source of her confusion, as we did when she first came amongst us. We are mere receptacles, through which we grow and learn and do all things, and attain our perpetuity. What she calls 'the fireflies,' are our perpetuity. We die and yet we live on. We share all knowledge, all achievements. She has shared such things, and she is welcome amongst us - welcome to stay...

Verdeschi started to protest, but a look from Koenig silenced him.

"Helena said you couldn't hear me - us - before. Can you, now?"

Through her, we hear.

Maya put a question: "Helena is your focus, then?"

'Helena'? - Ah! She explains...

Koenig spoke quietly, yet earnestly.

"Can you understand that we cannot, and will not, give her up? This act of 'attachment' was, I'm sure, an honest and genuine mistake. We can appreciate that now - in general, we look very much like you. But Helena - but she belongs to us. Can you understand this?"

We understand this. But, ultimately, it cannot signify. She has become one of us...


The touch of her hand asked his forbearance. is true that we're alike now, in ways I'm coming to understand. But we're still so very different! - in ways I wish I could make you understand...there must be a solution, a path to be taken, that will serve us both - otherwise, neither of us will ever be happy or content. Will you help me find it?

The minutes ticked away, and Koenig could presently sense a change in the tension of her nerves; something strained was free to relent and relax at last.

He waited, then moved to support Helena as she faltered on her feet.

"Contact's broken," she whispered, "they've gone..."

"Come and sit down," tenderly, helping her away from the fire. Maya turned up the nearest lanterns again; the light of these caught the paleness in Helena's countenance as Koenig settled her where she could outstretch herself and recline.

One by one, the ring of glowing lanterns came to encircle their encampment anew. "They've gone, all right," as Maya reappeared from the gloom. "Not so much as the odd footprint to show they were ever here..."

Verdeschi brought a freshly-poured cup of hot coffee, which he carefully gave over to Helena. Maya presently took him quietly aside, her fingers covertly placing the sidearm into its holster clip once more and fastening it there. He considered the reproof duly delivered, and said no more.

Koenig cradled her golden head against his shoulder, as she carefully sipped her coffee. Her face was peaceful, her eyelids drooped.

She isn't one of them yet, he vowed to himself, not now, not ever!

"Where did they go, Helena?" he asked her, softly, "did they tell you?"

"Not far off," wearily. "He said - they'd be waiting for me..."

Maya had taken her seat again. Her Psychon eyes, deep and pensive, seemed to reflect some of the light from the campfire.

"Two planes of existence," said she, "coming together, here - this planet, these islands. It could be that these people, if such they are, can exist in this continuum only as the fireflies..."

"...and only someone 'plugged into' them, so to speak, can see and hear them for what they truly are," Verdeschi suggested, picking up the lead of her supposition.

"Someone like me," Helena finished, without enthusiasm.

"Some point of tangency must lie within this immediate area," as Koenig joined in the surmises.

Helena waved her hand for attention. "John, could this wait? I feel very tired, and I think I want to sleep...

"A very good idea," said Maya. "We've done a lot of work today - wouldn't you say it's catching up to us?"

"Not to me" said Koenig, firmly. "If they do come back, I want to be awake for it - "

"John, don' need to rest, too..."

Maya looked to Verdeschi. The message was received, and understood.

"Suppose I sit up with her for awhile?" he proposed. "I promise, I'll call you in a few hours. For once, don't be so stubborn - it'll only upset Helena, and you don't want that, do you?"

From most people, Koenig wouldn't have countenanced such remarks. Verdeschi's was a direct and forthright nature; it had to be, for the responsibilities in his charge. He knew the other man was all as stubborn as himself.

And besides, it had to be admitted, he was right...

Chapter Four

Now full stillness and utter quiet stole across the little encampment, come from Earth's runaway Moon.

Above, a warm breeze had arisen to send languid waves rippling across the leafy roof of the island forest. And beyond these lay the stars, huge and brilliant in the clear air, wheeling about the sky...

Far below, Helena was seeing through different eyes...seeing a world she'd never quite dreamed of. She even found herself bedecked for the occasion, her costume billowing about her as though she'd been wrapped in a shimmering cloud. Jewels sparkled in the warm hollow of her throat, and about her wrists.

It was all quite unlike what she'd had back on Alpha...and how estranged she already felt, from that place!

Her guide had returned, had materialized without a noise and quite independently of her bidding.

He gently took her hands in his, and looked very pleased. He spoke to her and, as before, his lips never moved.

Come, and see...

The city, whither he conducted her, was a wonder, fashioned from a material that caught the moonlight and lent a silvery sheathing to all its surfaces. And while it lacked any visible windows or doors, as Helena might've considered such things, it nonetheless allowed the pair of them to pass through, without the least hindrance...

She felt the presence of many minds, and she came to know many new and unusual things as their minds touched hers - and she theirs - as they moved on...

There was so very much to see! -

With her guide alongside her, she would pause to take in a vigorously-contested wrestling match between two of the men, both of them lithe and muscled and oiled; to listen to an energetic discussion amongst a group of both men and women, as they debated the concepts of Order and Chaos; to ponder the knowledge recorded in the many volumes of a great library...

Nor was this all.

To merely gape in awe and wonder at her surroundings, was not enough for her. With her guide lending a few expert pointers on the most desired technique, she attempted to loft a wickedly-sharp javelin-like contrivance - its surfaces polished to mirror-like brilliance - and received appreciative applause from many onlookers for her effort.

To her surprise, the library's splendidly-bound books withdrew themselves from their places, one after another, for her perusal - quite without her ever needing to touch them in any way - and, thereafter, reshelved themselves in an equally-deft manner.

For what seemed to be endless hours, she wandered through what had to be the most fantastically-appointed science laboratories she'd ever seen - outstripping, by far, anything the runaway Moon had to offer - wherein exciting discoveries could be made, awaiting only the scientist...the physician...willing to do so.

And she was...more, and more...

And, everywhere they went, she was looked upon by the ethereal inhabitants of this city...looked upon with amazement; too, with a certain welcoming smile in the eyes...

...and, amongst a number of the men, with more than a glint of open covetousness as she passed them.

One or two of the bolder ones attempted to assert themselves with her in a rather more direct fashion, but she managed to evade them. None of them was the one she wanted...

And thus it came to her that here was the lone flaw, the only omission, in this extraordinary place...for he was nowhere to be found there...

...the darkness startled her, and she sat up. No shimmering cloud, this, but a quite ordinary Alpha-issued sleeping bag, along with the dry clothes she'd donned after that dunking in the ocean.

Someone was stoking the dying campfire; and she, still on a razor's edge, started again.

This time Verdeschi heard the slight gasp, rose from his fire-tending crouch and came over to her.

"Helena?" softly, grasping her hands as to steady her. She still didn't speak, but he nonetheless got the message, "I'll go wake him up," and was thereupon up and away.

Chapter Five

For good measure, Verdeschi also had a sleepy-eyed Maya in tow when he returned to their campfire.

Helena moved closer to Koenig as the latter sat down next to her. She could not divine from his face whether he'd managed to get any rest this night, but she did know that he'd be jittery inside even if he did not allow it to show.

They all listened closely, as she breathlessly reeled off her idyllic travelogue.

"Each of the larger islands has a city just like this one," said she. "The sense of community, of a - a sort of psychic community - is very strong. They asked questions of me, and I of them...and we were all one," musingly. "They have no conception of war, and no need for it. I found that very appealing...

"They knew I was a physician - I could feel, quite literally, that they knew - and they showed me one of their hospitals. John, I saw fireflies - well - migrating, if you will...changing bodies, changing 'vessels,' as my guide put it, from mother to infant, from old to young - "

Maya pondered this. "Then these fireflies would seem to embody some - quintessential entity, a pure state of being, perhaps..."

"A soul," said Koenig, very slowly.

Amidst all the strangeness that surrounded them, here was something each of them knew.

"'We die, and yet we live on,' your guide said. That's basic to many of the religions we had back on Earth: the body may die, but belief says the soul still lives and continues."

"Instinct seems to guide the fireflies to 'migrate' under the most conducive conditions for this 'perpetuity' - birth, and death," from Maya.

"Reincarnation, of a sort," Verdeschi suggested. "This species could be in the process of evolving towards full humanity."

"Or away from it," tellingly, from Maya.

Remembering, Helena considered this.

"That would be my inclination," when she presently spoke. "They explained to me about themselves, and the way they live. Nothing prevents them from speaking aloud, for example; but they simply choose not to. Their human forms - human-like - seem more the means to an end...perhaps that 'pure state of being' Maya spoke of." She paused. "It could also be their only apparent flaw."

"How?" from Koenig. "In what way?"

"As humans they live very long lives, but finite lives nonetheless. They still need to, well, procreate. To provide 'hosts' for the fireflies. And they will, until they can truly solve how to achieve that 'pure state.' And yet...even though they give much time and attention to keeping their bodies in superb condition, they present as extremely vulnerable during their procreation cycles - irrespective of gender. Why, exactly, I don't understand yet. Some form of inherent weakness, inbreeding, a plague of some sort..." shrugging, and letting it trail away, "I just don't know, there's too much that I don't know..."

She put her golden head in her hands, trying to think, to find clarity.

I will keep them from harm and injustice...

Words she had sworn, long ago.

In every house where I come I will enter only for their good...

She knew their meaning well. They guided her, even here! -

"That's the answer," she whispered, her blue eyes catching the firelight, "I've found the path, they've shown it to me - !" and she was springing up, past the campfire Verdeschi had been tending.

And there, she waited...

Behind her, Koenig was momentarily baffled, "The path?" then alarmed, "Path to where?" and he too was on his feet. "Helena!" calling after her.

She calls!! -

They all of them heard it, two words with the vibrancy of a tocsin; and almost at once the mysterious inhabitants of the island-city were shimmering into view.

Koenig warily beheld them - and the woman, standing before them, once more utterly still, all but transfixed.

Was she going back to them...forever?

Chapter Six

Helena's guide was at their head; and with an easy, an almost languid grace he moved forward towards her. Her anxiety of the moment abated as she beheld his smile. He didn't seem at all upset, or angry, with her.

She must speak, then, and in perfect freedom, of what she has divined. All are turned to hear...

He accompanied his words with an encompassing sweep of a draperied arm.

Verdeschi's impatience, damped down for much of the night, was bubbling to the surface.

"They're back on their private party-line again," he muttered. "Why couldn't she tell us first?"

"Perhaps not to raise our hopes unfairly," Maya thought, "at least not before getting their consent for whatever plan she may have."

Koenig was silent. Not once did his eyes leave the woman's fire-silhouetted figure...

"They said yes - they agreed!" breathlessly rushing through the particulars, "They'll take me back to their city - to one of their females, attempting to give birth a second time - they told me such a thing was impossible - but I said no, it isn't. Not if I stay with her, help to deliver the baby - and keep her alive afterward. Don't you see? If she lives, the firefly within her will stay there - "

" - while the firefly within you should 'migrate' to the child," from Maya, with some measure of excitement. "The moment of ought naturally to seek out, to follow, its own!"

"Where it will be the happiest," Helena gaily summed up. "And I'll be free to go home!"

"It doesn't end there," said Koenig. "It only begins...what is known to one, is known to all. All are one. They'll retain your medical knowledge...and they'll use it, to save lives."

He was proud of her, for the solution she had devised - but concerned, as it wasn't yet a fait accompli.

"I'll be coming with you - tell them."

That cannot be permitted...

He stepped closer. For the first time, he sensed a certain resistance in the air...something prohibiting him from approaching her, and them, too closely...

"You're hearing me, then?"

She asks that we do so...

"If what she proposes comes to pass, there's no telling what will happen to Helena once she's released. I have to be there, to - to take care of her. And I will be, with or without your consent - I'd far rather it was with your consent."

For a beat, the entire plan appeared in jeopardy.

Helena's guide, meanwhile, searched her face, cupping it with his hands, searching her eyes...

"What's he doing to her?" from the still-uneasy Verdeschi. Maya hushed him.

Very well. She insists upon your presence. But we must depart at once...

"What about us, John?"

"Stay here, and wait for us," said he, clearly impatient to be away.

"And Alpha?" more cautiously, from Maya. "What do we tell them? They'll want to know..."


"Tell them nothing. Just wait for us," and this Verdeschi and Maya did - watching, each with an arm about the other, after their companions until the latter were lost to the darkness beyond the fire.

"The Moon will be out of range soon," said she.

"I know," wearily. Then, with more conviction, "John won't leave her here, but until she's free of that - firefly - he can't take her away from here, either..."

And, by way of explanation, he related to her the events of Alpha's encounter with the malevolent probe from the rogue planet Triton - that had fashioned Helena into its spy on the Moon, as it had another Alphan named Ted Clifford...who had then been destroyed after serving the Tritonians' purposes.

He told her, too, of one Dr Cabot Rowland, so acclimated to 800 years of living in the immortal thrall of the ice-planet Ultima Thule that, once away from it, he'd simply dissolved into bits of flesh and skeletal dust - right out of Helena's hands, and in full view of Koenig.

"That's why he can't take her away. Do you think he'll run the risk of her coming to an end like that?"

"No," unhappily. "But time is against him, Tony - I saw him hesitate, didn't you? Why? Because he couldn't reach her? I have molecular rapport with Helena, I transformed into her once. The bond between her and them is strengthening, every moment that firefly remains within her...and weakening her bond with us. We must hope that Helena succeeds - because the Commander will have a terrible decision to make, if this isn't straightened out..."


Verdeschi's commlock, when its attention signal sounded, startled the two of them; and he immediately snatched it up: "John?"

"Helena says we've reached their city," said his voice, "but I still can't see anything. They wouldn't let me go any further - then they took her, and the night - just swallowed them. But I'm not moving again until I see her, not so much as an inch..."

The time passed - was it moments? Hours?

He never knew, but the noise in the night-darkened bush jerked him back to awareness, as he was about to nod off.

A faint voice...he knew it to be hers, and he caught her even as she fell...

Chapter Seven

She surrendered as his arms lifted her to him; and thereafter knew no more... more until she heard a distant voice, ordering some unseen person to fetch Commander Koenig immediately...

...her eyes opened, to see one of her own doctors, Raul Nuñez, with Verdeschi at his shoulder.

"You gave us a scare," the physician smiled," but you're better now - and all signs indicate you'll stay that way." His Andean features contrasted vividly with the white zippered left sleeve of his uniform.

As Nuñez straightened up, the Security chief moved in.

"Mind if I stay, until John comes?" taking a seat at her bedside, as she nodded. He watched her gaze wander off elsewhere, in the intensive-care unit of the Medical section.

She was on the Moon, in the very department she herself headed, clad in the blue silken garb of a patient under care; and, it turned out, she wasn't alone there. Another bed in the ward contained a convalescing Bill Fraser, one of the Eagle pilots from the Reconnaissance section. Nor was he alone either; Annette Fraser was redirecting her husband's attention, and they both smiled in Helena's direction.

"You look confused," said Verdeschi.

"I am confused," said she. "What's happening?..."

"Well, let's see now. The Ireet landing party - do you remember that? Where you were?"

"Landing party," she murmured. "There were three groups of us - Victor led one of them, to the grasslands, and John and I - to the ocean - "

"And Bill Fraser and Maya to the ice fields," he nodded. "But a missle-hit from Senclodis brought an avalanche down on them - do you remember that?"

"Yes...we all regrouped there, after Maya dug him out of the ice...and John and I flew him back to the Moon..."

"Medical Rescue met you out there on the launch pad," said he, "and you weren't doing so well yourself, by the time they got you all in here. Raul had the duty - he diagnosed you'd been poisoned..."

"Poisoned?" in disbelief.

"He couldn't imagine how - until John remembered you'd complained earlier of being stung by some sort of insect," said he. "Well, after that they flushed it from your system and analyzed it - seems the hallucinogen in it had a stronger kick than they thought. Because you did give us quite a scare for awhile there, until your fever broke."

He saw the rush of entangled emotions dancing across her tired face. Confusion, amazement, realization; and - he could've sworn - a touch of sadness, of regret...

"Senclodis...did the shooting ever stop?"

"Yes, but all that can wait til later."

"What about Ireet? Are we still in range?" trying to sit up.

"That can wait, too," as kahki- and flame-clad arms gently restrained her. "Have a look over there," with mock furtiveness, "at that tall, rather somberly-handsome fellow. Word is, he's been pretty worried about you..."

He smiled and stood, happily relinquishing the chair as Koenig approached.

He said nothing, and she said nothing.

But their embrace, born of relief and gratitude, bespoke volumes...

"Tony won't tell me," when they parted, "you must...if Senclodis isn't shooting at us anymore, can't we go back to Ireet again?"

"It's been too long," shaking his dark-haired head. "By the time we could put Phase One of Operation Exodus together, both planets will be out of range."

With a muffled whine of disappointment, she buried her head on his black-sleeved shoulder.

They'd lost out, again...

"That city must've been quite a place," he told her softly, "I'd have liked to have seen it," adding, when she raised surprised eyes to his, "You did a lot of talking," with a smile.

He wasn't mocking her - was he? No, he of all people wouldn't do that...still, she hated to think it had all been little more than some sort of drug-induced dream.

How was it possible, that a mere dream could leave her in such despondency - such emptiness?

"Ever the undesirable," crushed by two sorts of grief. "John, sometimes I just can''s as though we're not wanted anywhere!..."

Her golden hair spilled over his fingers as he cupped her face in his hands.

"Never undesirable," he told her, and you'll always be wanted here, right here..."

Yes, that made her smile.

It should, he thought. Because it's true...

"Now," aloud, "I'm not to take up too very much of your time," getting up, "otherwise, Raul will be after me with a brick. He wants you to rest, until your strength comes back," and as he talked he aided her in lying down once more.

He even indulged himself in the small pleasure of tucking her in.

"John," gazing up at him from her pillow, "I never got a chance to tell you...about the baby..."

Baby - !?

That stopped Koenig cold, but just long enough for him to recall another excerpt from her earlier delirium.

"Yes, the baby," empathetically, as he sat back down, this time on the edge of her bed. "I had wondered how it all turned out..."

She smiled dreamily. "It was a girl...bright-eyed and know, I asked my guide - that's how I think of him - if he would think it terribly vain of me to name her Helena, since a little of me would dwell within her. Because of the firefly. They've never had names before, you see, they've never had the need for them. That's the last thing I remember of them...all those voices saying 'Helena,' over and over, like echoes. They'd just discovered a new toy, like - delighted little children! - "

He had to smile a little, too; and muse over the possibilities...

Perhaps one day that will be our child...

I hope so...

"You try to sleep," squeezing her hand. "I'll stay til you do, if you like."

"You must have a dozen more important things to do."

"Funny, I can't think of even one," and he was quietly serious.

"Then, I'd like...very much," cannily sizing him up, as he sat there.

After she was better, taking her time in wheedling all the details of the aborted Ireet reconnaissance out of him would make for a most pleasant evening's diversion...

For starters, anyway...

For now, dozing off did sound like a rather nice idea, for she yet felt rather dopey...

They could still be real...

Drowsy, too...what about the sort of sympathetic contact that had for a time existed between the agitated miner Patrick Osgood and that curious deep-space cloud - or whatever it was - so long ago?

Couldn't that have happened to me, too?...

Koenig was still sitting there, looking at her. She felt safe, knowing that...he would chase off those "things that went bump in the night," the endless stellar night. How very comforting that was!

And so, she snuggled cozily beneath the duvet; and, with a ghost of a smile still on her lips, she closed her eyes...

...and waited for her guide...

Copyright (c) 2013. 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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