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Authors: Heather Hammonds
Categories: Christmas
Characters: Maya
Show Year: Y2
Rating: PG
Date: 1999
Alpha is approaching a sun orbited by two identical gas giants. But while Maya observes this unusual phenomenon, she is unaware that the Alphans themselves are being observed. Meanwhile, preparations for the upcoming Christmas festivities continue...
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Sahn sat at her desk in Command Center, watching Maya with a certain amount of amusement. The lovely Psychon's attention was riveted on data that she had playing across her computer screen, her face a mask of concentration. The errant Moon and all those who lived on her were about to pass through a sparsely planeted solar system and at first there had been a small possibility that one of the two planets which orbited their way around their glowing main sequence star might offer a potential home for the Alphans. Hopes had been dashed fairly quickly when data began to stream in suggesting that they were both gas giants of the most inhospitable kind. Nevertheless, the undaunted Maya found them fascinating objects to study.

"How strange," the Psychon muttered.

Sahn left her seat and went to Maya's side.

"There is nothing strange about a couple of gas giants Maya; Earth's solar system contained two of them also," she commented.

"Oh-" replied Maya, looking up. "It's not the fact that they are gas giants, but that they resemble each other so exactly. Although one planet sits closer to its sun and has a shorter sidereal period, they are otherwise identical twins. Same basic makeup:- Hydrogen, Helium, small traces of Ammonia, Methane and Water vapour. And all in identical quantities. Do you realise the odds of such a phenomena?"

"I imagine they are astronomical," smiled Sahn, amused at the pun she had just made, although it passed right over the top of a preoccupied Maya's head. "But we have seen so many strange things travelling through space that it doesn't surprise me, really."

"Oh well," shrugged Maya. "Perhaps I can learn something valuable from these twin planets as we pass them by. Their surface temperatures will be so great, however, that anything but a remote examination with our instruments is out of the question. Let's hope the next solar system we approach offers something more promising."
"And in the meantime, we have got the upcoming celebrations to think about. They will keep everybody occupied for a time," added Sahn.

"Yes," agreed Maya, her mind finally distracted from the planets. "My first official Christmas; I am looking forward to it."

The innermost planet that Maya was observing had, in turn, its own observers.

Eyes looked with predatory curiosity at the piece of rock that had intruded into their system long before Maya began to study their home. And they wondered...

It was noted that there was life on this travelling moon; rudimentary in intelligence, but strong of constitution. Accordingly the planet was screened, so as not to draw undue attention to their existence. Unbeknownst to the Alphans, innocently busy with their upcoming festivities, plans concerning their future were being made.

Chapter One

Doctor Helena Russell stood at a table in her private quarters carefully applying the finishing touches to a small clay cherub she had sculpted. Once it was sufficiently dry, she intended to hang it in the middle of a Christmas wreath outside her door. Christmas - would it really be such a good idea to celebrate once again, the ancient custom of an Earth now lost to the Alphans forever? There usually was no time or resources to devote to such frivolities on the Moonbase and for many of the personnel, memories of past happy holidays spent with lost families had the potential to create much pain.

But this year, as the time which would have been December approached, Alpha had food and supplies enough to enjoy itself a little, thanks to the generous gifts of the lizard- like Sythians they had encountered. Requests had literally poured in to the senior staff for some sort of festivities to be held. Even those of other faiths who didn't celebrate Christmas back home on Earth were keen to have the opportunity to do so now. Eventually the Commander had reluctantly agreed, setting a date two weeks ahead, providing there were no situations at the time which would need to take priority. Throughout the base there was a mood of anticipation as parties were planned and decorations made. Everyone began to scrounge what they could to make little presents for their friends and loved ones.

Helena sincerely hoped such a celebration would have the desired effect on Alphan personnel and bring hope and good cheer as Yuletide was supposed to do. Thoughts of other Christmas times assailed her in quiet moments when she was working on her sculptures or making decorations, and at times she found tears in her eyes. As a doctor, she knew that it was important for every person on Alpha to remember their past; remember who they were and where they came from in order to go forward in life with a healthy outlook. Nevertheless, there was no getting away from the fact that it hurt sometimes to remember. They had all been traumatised. When asked initially by John what she thought of the idea, Helena had been all for a celebration, but using a different name. She was overruled, however, by popular demand. Christmas was what everybody wanted. The decorations, the lights, the presents- even Santa Claus!

With a sigh, Helena stood up from the small desk and wiped her hands. It was almost time for her to go back on duty and relieve Ben Vincent in Medical Center. Not that they had many patients at present. The Christmas cheer seemed to be keeping everybody healthy. Perhaps she would have time to go and have a cup of coffee with John. He had been awfully secretive the last time she had gone to his quarters, refusing to let her in while he put something away out of her sight. She smiled to herself, wondering what he was planning to give her.

Chief Security Officer Tony Verdeschi whistled to himself as he fiddled with the beer making apparatus that stood in the center of his quarters. This present brew promised to be his best ever and if there were hops ready in Hydroponics, he might even be able to produce something more spectacular in time for the upcoming festivities. Christmas- what a great idea it was! Tony had always loved Christmas back in Italy as a boy, when his whole family had come together to celebrate. What a feast his mother and his aunts used to prepare! His mouth watered at the memory. Tony was determined to show Maya just how wonderful the festive season could be. The food here might not be as good, but right now he had one of Alpha's chemists creating a handful of special ceramic crystals for her in a high temperature kiln. Joined together by a chain they would make a lovely necklace...

His mind returning to his beer, Tony decided to wander down to Hydroponics to check on the state of his hops. He never quite trusted the horticulturists with his plants, as they always gave them last priority, shifting them to darkened sections of the hydroponics area to make room for more essential foodstuffs. It was best to keep an eye on the precious plants himself.

Tony gave botanist Jack Whitehouse, a cheerful greeting when he arrived. He liked the grave young man, respecting his green fingers and quiet ways. He was mildly surprised to see Jack flinch at his hallo and slip something into his pocket, for a more straightforward fellow one could rarely hope to meet. Mentally shrugging, Tony guessed Whitehouse must be making some present or other for his girlfriend and he didn't want anyone to see what it was. Christmas was after all, a time of fun secrets.

Nobody else but the Whitehouse was about as Tony inspected his plants, enjoying the chance to spend time amongst the sweet smelling greenery of the Hydroponics section. He was pleased to see they were doing well under the benevolent light of their grow lamp. They would be ready to use in good time. He got chatting to the botanist, telling him about his present to Maya after swearing him to secrecy.

"Are you going over to the chemistry lab in Technical section after you've been here Tony?" Whitehouse suddenly asked.

"Well, I wasn't going to, but now that you mention it, it might be a good idea to see how Maya's crystals are progressing," replied Tony thoughtfully.

He wanted everything to be just perfect for Maya's first Christmas and a check over there wouldn't hurt.

"Would you be able to take a package over to Doug Johnson, one of the chemists who works there?" the botanist asked hesitantly.

"Of course," Tony replied with a smile. "I know the fellow you mean. He's the one who assists Dr Russell in the development of new drugs. Just make sure my plants stay in the light in return, will you?"

"Sure," said Whitehouse, and from his pocket he pulled the very same packet he had earlier hidden from Tony. "It's rather urgent that he gets this you see, and it will save me the journey across to the other side of the Moonbase."
Slightly curious, Tony nevertheless refrained from asking what was in the packet and he dropped it in his pocket. Ten minutes later he left it on Johnson's desk and thought no more about it, as a technician let him peek inside the viewing hole on the kiln in which Maya's ceramic crystals were forming. They resembled clear blue and white diamonds and he knew she would love them. They would sit perfectly against the creamy white skin of her long Psychon neck.

Jack Whitehouse had to sit down after Verdeschi left the hydroponics section, his knees were knocking together so badly. If the Chief Of Security only knew what he had in that package- But of course, even if he looked he would never guess. It would just be a small bunch of dirty brown leaves to him... Whitehouse knew he had been seen in the chemistry lab too much lately, giving Johnson little packages; it was better that Verdeschi delivered the latest one and Johnson would find that so amusing.

Feeling sick, Whitehouse reached inside his jacket and pulled out a small vial of brown powder. The fact that he was using the powder more and more frequently did not worry him unduly. The strange little plants that it came from were growing and multiplying at a terrific rate. He did not know where the plants had sprung from; they had suddenly appeared in the area of Hydroponics he tended a couple of weeks previously. As soon as he set eyes on them, a fierce pain had filled his brain, almost causing him to pass out. Whitehouse had fallen to his knees, one of his hands brushing against the little plants. Instantaneously the pain had ceased and the botanist had known they were something special. Then he'd blacked out for what could only have been a couple of minutes, but when he regained consciousness, he'd somehow known what could be done with the plants and who was just the right person to do it -Johnson, the chemist in Technical section.

Tipping some of the powder on to the end of his finger, Whitehouse carefully inserted it under his left eyelid and put the bottle away. Then he sat back and waited for the powder to take effect; waited to feel stronger again. At first, all the muscles in his body seemed to go rigid and his mouth became dry and sticky but in a short time, his eyes glazed over and he began to hear comforting voices inside his head. They told him how clever he was, how strong he was and what a good job of nurturing the plants he was doing. Pretty soon, he would be able to do anything he wished as long as he listened to the voices. Together, he and Johnson would rule Alpha. The time was drawing near...

John Koenig looked around at the happy faces of Alphans he passed on his way to Command Center and smiled to himself. The base was running smoothly, they were well stocked with supplies (there was enough tiranium to last them years, thanks to their lizard friends from Sythia) and everyone was in a festive mood. Now, at least, their search for a habitable planet was a slightly more comfortable one. Perhaps soon they would find a new home; that really would put the icing on the cake. His thoughts, as always, strayed to Helena. He had promised to meet her for a coffee in the nearest cafeteria to Command Center in half an hour. His present to her, he knew, would be beyond anything she could possibly have dreamed of. Koenig had noticed the chemists and metallurgists in Technical were working overtime since he had given Alpha the go-ahead for Christmas. They were the only people on Moonbase with access to high temperature kilns, which were perfect for melting down and creating jewellery. He wondered how many little gifts and persuasions they were receiving themselves in payment for their work. Helena would be thrilled with what he was having made for her and she would never guess what it was.

Doug Johnson did indeed laugh when he was told by one of the other chemists who had left the latest little package of leaves on his desk. If only Verdeshci had known. Why, between them, he and Whitehouse had found their own private pathway to Nirvana. Johnson was not quite sure how he had known what to do with the leaves when Whitehouse had brought them to him, but he certainly had. The minute he had touched them- Wow! Now he was positive that between them, he and Whitehouse would soon be running the Moonbase. Just as long as they had the powder and listened to the instructions of the voices.

Reverently Johnson carried the leaves to his own quiet area of the laboratory and began setting up the equipment he needed to process them. So far, no questions had been asked by his colleagues. It was his job on Alpha to analyse samples of plant life from Hydroponics anyway; to search for new compounds which might have a beneficial medicinal value. Doctor Russell had found his research invaluable on many occasions, where drugs from Earth were no longer available and alternatives had to be found.

"Hey Dougie, what's that you're working on there?" came a cheerful Australian voice from directly behind him, making him jump and knock the leaves to the floor.

Alan Carter, a man who he had regularly played squash with until the past couple of weeks and someone who used to be a good friend, was the owner of the voice.

"Watch what you're doing!" snapped Johnson, scuffling about the floor to retrieve the precious leaves.

Carter bent down to help him, but recoiled at the touch of the foul brown vegetation. To him the scattered leaves looked soft and gelatinous. They felt as he imagined a handful of fat slugs would feel.

"What the hell have you got here Dougie; did Hydroponics grow this stuff?" Alan asked.

"Yes- yes, it contains a new form of plant protein that has antibiotic properties. I'm working on it for Dr Russell," stammered Johnson in reply. "Don't you have work of your own to be getting on with Carter?"

"Oh, okay then," muttered Alan, feeling offended. "I only came down here to see if you were up to a game of squash when you've finished your shift. You've missed the past few games and I thought- Well, forget it, I don't want to interrupt important research."

Hands shoved in his pockets, Alan walked out of the laboratory and Technical section. It looked like he would have to find another squash opponent, which was a shame as Johnson was a good player and a nice bloke. It was so unlike him to be rude and Alan was puzzled.

Helena and John sat across the small cafeteria table from each other, sipping their hot drinks slowly and making idle, nonsensical chit chat in the way that lovers do. The cafeteria was quite busy and a low hum of voices pervaded the area as Alphans took a few minutes out of their busy shifts to have a break and catch up with their friends. Out of the corner of his eye, Koenig saw Alan Carter enter the cafeteria and take a few steps towards them, then change his mind and veer off towards another table, not wanting to interrupt their quiet time together.

"Alan," he hailed the pilot above the noise, giving him a wave.

The normally cheerful Carter pulled up a chair and sat himself down, a worried look on his face.

"Was there something you wanted to see me about?" asked Koenig.

"Well, not really John," replied Alan. "It was Helena I had a question for."

"In that case, I'll leave you two to it and get back to Command Center," said the Commander, dropping a kiss on Helena's blonde head as he stood up to leave.

"Go ahead Alan, what is it?" asked Helena with a smile, as she watched Koenig stride off.

"You know Doug Johnson, the chemist?" began Alan.

Helena nodded.

"Well, have you seen him about any research lately?" the pilot asked.

"He's always working on stuff for me Alan. Everyone knows that his studies of plant materials have proved invaluable at times but no, I haven't seen him for several days, now that you come to mention it. Why?"

Alan recounted his meeting with Johnson a short time earlier, adding that it was right out of character for his friend to be so rude to him.

"Also the leaves, Helena. They were unlike anything I've ever seen before. Revolting!"

"Doug doesn't come to me with every project he is working on Alan; he doesn't have to. Nevertheless, I agree that his behaviour does sound peculiar and I certainly haven't discussed obtaining antibiotics from any brown plants with him," said Helena thoughtfully. "In light of what you've said, I'll go and pay him a visit myself while I am on duty, just to see what he is up to. It's not healthy for Doug to be spending all his time on research and none on recreation anyway. If he doesn't seem himself to me, I will ask him to report to Medical Center for a check up."

"Thanks," said Alan gratefully.

"No problem, now are you going to get me another cup of our wonderful Alphan coffee before I go back to work, or do I have to get it myself?" Helena laughed.

Chapter Two

When Maya got off duty, she met up with Tony and the pair made their way to the Moonbase's main recreation room, where an eight foot high conifer in a large pot from hydroponics was being set up as a Christmas tree. The large room was already crowded with people when they arrived. The various chairs and low tables that were usually scattered about had been pushed back against the walls to make room for the tree and someone was inexpertly playing carols on a portable keyboard in one corner. Tinsel had been found from somewhere and it hung from the ceiling in large, cheerful loops.

A Christmas committee had been chosen after the Commander gave the celebration the go- ahead, and they had decided that every person on Moonbase should have the opportunity to contribute one decoration to the tree. In this way, Alpha's tree would have a good three hundred ornaments on it and everybody would have taken part in the decorating. In Tony's pocket sat two little stars that Maya had fashioned skilfully out of copper wire. She had given one to him, knowing that his beer making would have prevented him from organising something for himself. He held tightly to her hand as they watched a pair of electricians wind tiny coloured lights around and around the conifer, right up to its topmost branches.

There was a moment's anxious silence as the electricians plugged their lights in and then a spontaneous burst of applause broke out when a switch was pulled and the tree burst into a blaze of twinkling colour. The keyboard player struck up her carolling afresh and gradually people began to file past, hanging their decorations up.

"It's lovely Tony," laughed Maya. "Your custom of having a Christmas tree is a wonderful idea; just imagine what it will look like when everyone has had a chance to come and place a decoration amongst the branches."

Tony smiled at her, wishing there was some way he could give her a real Italian Christmas with his family. Regrettably, he knew that it would never be. The best they could hope for was Christmas on a new planet someday- a new home.

Helena looked up from her desk in Medical Center and realised that if she was going to pay a visit to Doug Johnson in the Chem labs before she went off duty, she had better do it soon. Hopefully, he would still be there. Telling Ed Spencer where she was going, she set off through the maze of corridors that was Alpha. On the composts that she passed, a view of the new Christmas tree in the recreation room had been patched in and Helena stopped for a moment to watch the lights being switched on. It brought back strong memories of her father doing the same thing for their family Christmas tree when she was a little girl. And then Lee doing it also, shortly after they had been married. She was mesmerised by the sight.

"So many good memories," she sighed to herself. "I mustn't feel sad."

To one side of the recreation room she could see Maya and Tony watching the proceedings. Maya looked so happy and almost childlike in her appreciation of the celebrations. All at once Helena was extremely pleased that they had decided to make the Moonbase festival into a Christmas time. There were many things here to be grateful for, despite their erratic and unwished for travels through inhospitable space.

The chemistry lab was almost empty as Alan walked into it. Throughout his shift he'd felt disturbed about his friend's strange behaviour and eventually, he had taken a break to come down and have a word with Dougie Johnson again. He was convinced that he must have said or done something during their last game of squash together that offended the man. There was no other explanation Alan could think of for the chemist's earlier attitude. The lab was so quiet because everybody who could was either gathered around a compost or actually in the recreation room. Johnson, however, was still working away diligently- or at least that's what it looked like at first. He did not appear to notice Alan as the pilot approached, his attention riveted on a small vial of brown powder that was standing on his bench. A measure of the substance was balanced on the tip of his index finger and as Alan watched, Johnson inserted the powder under one of his eyelids. Suddenly it dawned on Carter what the man was doing. Running forward, he angrily swept the vial off the bench and the brown powder puffed out of it, all over the floor in a fine dust around Johnson's feet. Without a word of warning, the chemist turned towards Carter and struck him hard in the solar plexus with his fist.

"Ooh," gasped a winded Alan as he fell backwards and hit the floor, holding a hand to his chest. "Dougie, what the hell are you doing to yourself?"

Johnson stood rigid with his fists clenched, his face a mask of anger. Then squatting down, he ran his finger across the spilt powder on the floor. It took the dazed Alan several seconds to comprehend what the man was about to do and by the time he did, it was too late. Johnson was on top of him with one hand over his mouth, the full weight of his body rendering the winded pilot temporarily helpless. Alan looked up into his face and saw not the contracted pupils of a person under the influence of drugs, but the vacant, soulless eyes of an automaton. Johnson rammed a finger into the corner of Alan's eye and inserted the powder. Within seconds, he ceased struggling and became still as stone .

"You can stand up now Carter," Johnson growled.

Stiffly, Alan lifted himself from the floor, one eye already beginning to blacken from where Johnson had forced his fingers into it. Behind him, Whitehouse silently appeared. The 'voices' had told him he would be needed.

"You are to go with Whitehouse and do as he says," said Johnson, a malicious grin contorting his normally jovial features. "You will do exactly as we tell you from now on. Don't worry, within a short time the whole of Alpha will be as you are and then we will all be happy."

Alan nodded woodenly in recognition of the words, looking more like a somewhat dishevelled shop dummy than the real, warm human being he actually was. Following Whitehouse obediently, he was led to a little used store room at the rear of the laboratory, where it was unlikely anyone would discover him for some time. He was instructed not to move, so he sat on the floor with his legs straight out in front of him, virtually catatonic.

The voices in Johnson's head told him exactly what to do, just as they had directed the botanist, Whitehouse. Their take-over plan would have to be moved forward now, as the precious powder they had given Alan Carter would only last a few hours before the effects wore off and he gave the alarm. Some of the powder would have to be placed in Alpha's air recycling system, in order to render the rest of the Moonbase's personnel... submissive. Therefore, someone who knew the system intimately would have to be persuaded to give the two renegades access. Then when their task was accomplished, their protectors and the suppliers of the brown plant would arrive.

Helena stayed to watch the first few Christmas decorations hung on Alpha's new tree, softly humming the carols that were being banged out on the recreation room keyboard. Then recalling where she was actually supposed to be going, she roused herself and hurried down to Johnson's laboratory. She passed a few excited Alphans on her way, nodding here and there but by and large, only a skeleton staff was holding the fort. Passing through Technical section to the door of the lab, she stopped short when she saw Alan at the chemist's desk, apparently involved in some sort of altercation with him. Before her disbelieving eyes, Alan knocked something off Johnson's desk and in turn, received a hefty punch in the chest. She was about to run forward when she heard a noise from behind and instead, she crouched down behind a nearby bench as Jack Whitehouse from Hydroponics walked past, the strangest look on his face.

In a flash, Johnson turned on Carter and roughly forced a substance he had wiped off the floor with his finger, into the pilot's eye. Helena winced as she watched the procedure, not daring to even use her commlock to summon help, in case the two accomplices heard her and gave her the same treatment. One of Helena's worst fears was apparently coming to pass. During the routine health evaluations that every member of the Moonbase must undergo, medical staff constantly kept an eye out for any sort of illicit drug abuse, for Helena knew that in the unnatural and tense life they were forced to live, it would be so easy for those under stress to turn to chemical release. So far, there had been no sign of any such thing. Everyone on Alpha, it appeared, was too smart to take that downhill road. But now-

The cornea, with its excellent network of tiny blood vessels, is a superior absorber of chemicals. On occasion, eye drops were as effective at administering treatments as an injection, such as in certain types of diabetes. When Helena saw Johnson insert powder under Alan Carter's eyelid, she knew at once what he was doing. But why? Why now, when everyone on Alpha was so excited about the upcoming festivities? And Johnson, who she knew quite well through her association with him on a professional level with the development of new treatments from plants, was a brilliant man with a normally stable and happy demeanour. Too intelligent by half for this kind of stupidity, she would have thought.

Helena silently watched from her hiding place as Alan was commanded to stand up and did so, obviously in a drugged state. She watched as he followed Whitehouse to the back of the lab and into a small storage room. Waiting until the two men were busy talking amongst themselves she then slipped quietly out of the laboratory, making her way to Command Center as fast as she could without arousing concern amongst the people she passed.

John Koenig knew something was wrong by the look on Helena's face when she walked up to his desk. Discreetly she moved close to him and whispered briefly what she had just witnessed.

"Where is Carter now?" murmured Koenig.

The cleft between his eyebrows deepened when Helena told him that Alan was still, as far as she knew in the storage room.

Both surmised that what Helena witnessed may have been only one small part of a bigger problem. How many Alphans had succumbed to Johnson's drug? And what was it, exactly? A meeting of some of the Moonbase's senior staff was hastily convened.

"I don't believe it!" fumed Tony Verdeschi.

In his capacity as Chief Security Officer, he somehow felt a fool, as neither he or his security staff had heard so much as a whisper about illicit drugs on Alpha. To make matters worse, he was pretty sure that he had acted as unwitting courier for Whitehouse and Johnson's little scheme and shamefacedly admitted as much to the other senior personnel.

"You weren't to know Tony, but think carefully about it now," said the worried Commander. "You spend a reasonable amount of time down in Hydroponics with your hops; have you ever noticed Whitehouse exhibiting odd behaviour before?"

"No, not that I can recall, he is normally a very quiet and industrious worker. I always liked him," admitted Tony, shaking his head.

"And the conversation I had with Alan this morning," piped up Helena. "He said that he hadn't played squash with Doug Johnson for a couple of weeks and apparently, that was right out of character."

"So if we are lucky, maybe this is a new problem," sighed Koenig. "And we had better hope that it is, because it has the potential to destroy the base just as surely as any other disaster we have confronted since we left Earth. It will slowly but surely rot Alpha from the inside."

"I tend to think you are right Commander," commented Maya softly. "Perhaps Whitehouse and Johnson have colluded on this and kept it to themselves for now. Whatever, Alan is obviously in grave danger. We don't know what the powder is and he is lying in a storage cupboard under its influence while those two decide what to do with him. We have to get him out."

"Well, what are we waiting for?" snapped Tony, his temper rising. "I will have Security arrest the two concerned and we'll soon find out the extent of their little venture!"

"Not so fast Tony," cautioned Koenig. "To ensure that there are no other accomplices, I don't want to go charging in there and arrest them. If others are involved and go unpunished- well, as I said, this has the potential to destroy Alpha. Here is what I propose we do..."

Carefully, Koenig outlined the plan of action he wanted them to follow. Maya was to keep watch on Johnson and Whitehouse. Using her powers of metamorphosis, this would be easy for her. First, however, she would visit the store room where Alan was sequestered and assess his condition. As soon as Johnson left the laboratory, which he would surely have to for a few minutes, even just to go to the bathroom, Verdeschi and his men from Security would rush in and remove the drugged pilot. If they were lucky, Maya would be able to ascertain whether anyone else was involved with a minimum of fuss.

Chapter Three

The two planets of the solar system hung like Christmas baubles themselves around the golden ball of their sun, as the errant Moon spun its way closer towards them and through their area of space. On the innermost planet, beings continued to watch and wait, hoping the train of events that they had set in motion would end with success.

Beneath the elaborate and sophisticated screening device that hid it so well, lay a lush green and blue terrestrial planet, not dissimilar to Earth. Those who lived on its surface, though, were quite different from Earth's inhabitants. An ancient race; weak and spindly creatures who had reached a dead end in their evolutionary chain, they had little physical strength to match their massive brains. The appearance of the moon and its more robust occupants was seen as a blessing. Here was a source of dull witted, easily manipulated slaves. All that was necessary was to retrieve them from their wandering hunk of rock by influencing them with mind altering chemicals. Then the beings would have an endless supply of manual labour, far better than any machine they could create. The seeds of their plan had been transported to the moon and now they must sit back and wait while the seeds grew and bore fruit...

Chapter Four

Johnson smiled and nodded to various people as he strolled through the corridors of Alpha, making his way to the air recycling plant. Until recently he had been a gregarious and cheerful character; a popular member of the Moonbase staff who had many friends and acquaintances. Alan Carter had not been the only one to notice a sudden change in his personality. Johnson's girlfriend Jessie Etheridge, who just happened to be a technician in the air recycling plant, also had cause to feel hurt. In fact, she had told him that because of his suddenly offhand attitude to her, she didn't want to see him again.

The voices had instructed Johnson that now was the time to go and have a chat with her; to make amends with some of the brown powder. For through Jessie was a way to Alpha's air recycling systems and once he had access to them, the whole of Alpha would be powerless. Why even now, Whitehouse would be busy collecting as many of the leaves from his little brown plants as he could and Johnson had been told the way to process them into gas cylinders. It would simply spray out through the air ducts into everyone's eyes and lungs. Shouldn't take more than a minute to work and then- then he would have his reward when the voices arrived in person!

Jessie looked up from the bank of computers she was checking and was surprised to see Doug Johnson standing a few metres away from her. Her heart knocked nervously in her chest at the sight of him and she noted with pity that he looked positively haggard since the last time they had met, several days previously. Perhaps Doug was having a nervous breakdown; that would explain his weird attitude to her. Jessie wondered if she should go and have a chat to Dr Russell about him. He had been so wonderful to her until a couple of weeks ago; she had been eagerly anticipating their spending the Christmas celebrations with together. Then Jessie remembered how Doug had stood her up three times in a row and began to feel angry.

"What are you doing here? I told you to stay away from me. We're finished," she said flatly.

Johnson shuffled from foot to foot and then quick as a flash, pulled a paper rose from behind his ear, flourishing it before her eyes.

"It's not real, of course, but it's the best I could do under the circumstances. The florist wasn't open," he joked, in a beguiling manner. "Actually, it's a peace offering. I have been behaving like a pig lately and I was hoping you would give me the opportunity to explain why."

A number of other technicians were in the area and overheard his words. Jessie flushed with embarrassment.

"I- I don't know whether I should," she muttered, undecided.

"Please, don't break my heart!" Johnson said in a loud, theatrical voice, causing several heads to turn.

To shut him up more than anything, Jessie gave a quick nod.

"Not here, I'm on duty and you will get me into trouble. I'll meet you in my quarters in two hours, after my shift finishes. But don't take our meeting as a sign that all is forgiven; I'm just giving you a chance to explain. Nothing more."

With a winning smile Johnson left the plant. Two hours were not long to wait. Just enough time to process the next batch of leaves and compress it into some oxygen cylinders he had collected. He staggered as he walked, not having slept for over 48 hours. Stepping into a side room, Johnson took another dose of brown powder and felt his muscles stiffen. It was all that was keeping his overtaxed body going and somewhere deep inside he knew this fact. Still, soon it would be over and he would get his just reward.

A tiny moth flew into the laboratory and alighted on its roof. Two men were working at a little high temperature kiln and the moth watched with interest as they withdrew some sparkling gems from the inferno. The red glow from the kiln was attractive but the moth resisted its primal urge to fly towards the light, recognising it for what it was. Instead it made a short flight to store room at the back of the laboratory. Carefully, it crawled under the door.

In a ball of light, Maya rematerialised inside the dimly lit store room, bending down at once to Alan Carter, who sat unmoving, as he had the whole time he had been in there.

"Alan," she whispered. "Can you hear me?"

She received no answer; not even the flicker of an eyelid in response. Removing her commlock from her belt, Maya put in a call to Helena, John and Tony, who were waiting anxiously in the Commander's quarters.

"I'm in the storeroom with Alan now," she whispered. "He is alive but completely unresponsive. His whole body is rigid."

"Check his pulse Maya and his pupils," said Helena

Maya did as she was asked.

"His heartbeat is about 40 beats per minute- that's slow, isn't it? And his pupils are fixed and dilated. To use one of his own expressions, the lights are on but nobody appears to be home," hissed Maya.

In spite of the gravity of the situation, Tony could not suppress a smile at the Psychon's words. Maya had a mind like a sponge and thrived on every little idiosyncrasy of the English language.

"We've got to get him out of there," said Helena.

"Johnson is nowhere around at the moment but there are two other chemists working in here," replied Maya. "What shall I do now?"

"Do you think it will do Alan any harm to leave him in the storeroom for a little longer?" the Commander asked Helena.

"I can't say John," she said, frowning at him. "But who knows what damage has been done to him while he has been in there. I won't be responsible for leaving him in that storage cupboard any longer. In my opinion, we should get Alan out whether it alerts Johnson and Whitehouse to the fact that someone is on to them or not!"

"Okay, okay," agreed Koenig, raising his hands. "Maya, the best thing to do would be for you to distract those two chemists. Get them out of the lab somehow- I'll leave that to you. Tony, be ready to send Security in the moment the coast is clear."

Helena left Koenig's quarters at once to wait for Alan in Medical Center and Verdeschi departed to supervise the pilot's rescue. The Commander stood alone in the room for a few moments, trying to figure out what he was going to do if Alpha was under the influence of a thriving drug trade. He just couldn't believe it! There had to be more to this than two previously intelligent, dependable personnel suddenly manufacturing illicit substances. But what? With a hefty sigh, he shook his head and returned to Command Center to await further developments. There was nothing he could do himself for now.

"Hey you two," called Maya from the entrance to the laboratory. "There is something hilarious going on just up the end of the corridor- you must come out for a minute and look. Our head chef is dressed up as Santa Claus and he is going around distributing cakes to everyone he meets! Hurry up or you'll miss out!"

"Sorry, we're on duty," said one of the chemists, who suffered from a rather dour disposition and was one of the few Alphans disinterested in the forthcoming celebrations. "We've got too much work to do to stop for frivolities."

"Oh come on Charles," scolded the other fellow in the room. "Lighten up for once. It's not everyday that we get extra cakes on the menu, so we'd better go and grab our share."

To Maya's relief, the two chemists eventually wandered up the corridor, arguing between themselves over whether they should be going at all or not. A word in her commlock brought Tony and two guards running.

Whitehouse crouched in a corner of the hydroponics unit methodically picking as many of the slimy brown leaves as he dared to without actually killing the plants. Like Johnson, he knew that the time for his reward was near and then he could have all the brown powder he wanted without the worry of caring for the plants it came from. Some other Alphan would have to do that. He did not see the same little moth fly in and land on a nearby wall, its beady red eyes watching his every move. With infinite care Jack Whitehouse folded the leaves up in a small bag and carried them over to his desk. None of the other staff in hydroponics took any notice of his behaviour, as gathering leaves and taking plant samples were of course, part of his everyday job. He sat at his desk and with shaking hands began tapping away at the keyboard of his computer, waiting for Doug Johnson to come and collect the bag. This time, his accomplice would pick the leaves up himself. He didn't have long to wait.

Johnson stepped up behind Whitehouse and leaned over his shoulder, whispering to him in a low voice. The moth had to move in dangerously close to hear what was said.

"The time is almost here, so stop shaking or you will give us away. " he whispered to Whitehouse.

"I can't help it," was the nervy reply.

"Well, just take another dose of the powder. Look, soon we will have everything we could ever want," said Johnson. "You know that as well as I do. I will have processed this lot into cylinders within the hour and then after we have paid a little visit to Jessie, my girlfriend who works down in the air recycling plant, the way will be clear for those with the voices to move in. Once they are here on Moonbase, we will be safe. It won't take long for the powder to circulate through the Alpha's air ducts, once it is introduced to the system."

The moth took flight just as Johnson picked up the bundle and turned to leave. It caught his eye as it fluttered away and he stopped in his tracks, a frown creasing his clammy brow.

"Whitehouse, do you have moths here in hydroponics?" he asked.

The other man shook his head.

"Of course not."

"Then it's that girl Maya- you know, the Metamorph that Verdeschi is sweet on. She must have heard everything we said!"

Running from the room with the singlemindedness of a fanatic, Johnson headed back to his laboratory. The plan would have to be speeded up. They must not fail or there was no telling how the voices would react. A hunger for all that had been promised him burned deep within Johnson's heart. He would stop at nothing. He would even kill his accomplice Jack Whitehouse if he had to. But he must succeed.

Chapter Five

Alan Carter lay in Medical Center connected to a bank of sophisticated life support monitors, whilst Drs Vincent and Russell stood over his recumbent body and anxiously waited for him to respond to the treatment they had administered.

"So you're telling me that whatever Alan was dosed with, it contained a powerful poison which has virtually paralysed him," said John Koenig, from where he was standing a few feet behind them. Sometimes, it was hard for him to comprehend their medical jargon.

"Exactly," agreed Helena. "The chemical we've isolated in his bloodstream closely resembles that found in certain species of fish back on Earth. Surely you remember the old Haitian tales of zombies. The state of those poor folk was induced with a similar toxin. It was also found in a species of Japanese puffer fish and until recent years, there was no antidote for it. In this case, from traces of Johnson's powder that we found on the laboratory floor, I am almost positive the poison comes from those brown plant leaves Alan told me about."

"If he was dosed with a type of neurological poison, how was he able to stand up and carry out the orders of Johnson and Whitehouse?" asked Koenig.

"I don't know; toxicology is an infinite area of study," sighed Helena. "There is so much we don't know about how the brain reacts to this sort of neurotoxin."

"Let's hope that when he comes 'round, he hasn't suffered any lasting effects," added Vincent. "At least we were able to manufacture an antidote of sorts."

The nearest compost beeped and Tony's worried face appeared on the screen.

"John, we have real trouble," he said. "Maya has discovered that Whitehouse and Johnson are plotting to gas the whole of Alpha with the stuff they have been manufacturing, using Johnson's girlfriend who works in the air recycling plant to enable them to do it."

"Well, have you arrested them?" barked Koenig.

"Not yet," was the reply. " Although I have placed extra security about the air recycling plant."

Koenig banged his fist against the compost in frustration.

"Why haven't you arrested them Tony?" he growled.

"Because of something else Maya overheard them talking about," was the grave reply. "It's possible they are not alone in this venture. Not only are they manufacturing this powder, but they are taking it themselves. Maya believes they are being interfered with from outside of Alpha."

"Interfered with? How?" asked Helena, mystified.

"She has a theory about alien interference from one of those twin planets we are about to pass," continued Tony gravely. "You really need to speak to her about it, but she is still following Johnson, who she believes to be the worst threat to our safety at this time."

Koenig thought for a moment, a pensive look on his face.

"Perhaps you're right not to detain them yet in that case Tony," he eventually said. "Let Maya continue her surveillance of Johnson and perhaps you could keep an eye on Whitehouse. Pay a visit to Hydroponics and spend some time with your hops. Just make sure that there is no way that either of the pair can get anywhere near the air recycling plant first."

With a brisk nod, their Chief of Security was gone and the screen on the compost went blank.

"It's too dangerous John!" exclaimed Helena. "I think Johnson and Whitehouse should be placed under guard immediately; look what's happened to Alan. We can't risk wholesale poison of Alpha's atmosphere!"

In the background, Ben Vincent nodded his head, totally in agreement with Helena for once.

"I think we have to let them run with their plans for a little longer," replied Koenig shortly. "It may be the only way to test whether Maya's theory about alien interference from outside holds any credence. To stop the pair before we have further evidence could be even more dangerous. Supposing Johnson and Whitehouse are being manipulated; what will whoever is manipulating them try next if they fail? We need to try and find out more, if we can."

With those words the Commander strode from Medical Center, heading for Alpha's air recycling plant. He wanted to see for himself that there was no way the vital facility could be tampered with.

Doug Johnson arrived at his laboratory with the leaves, surreptitiously keeping an eye out for the interfering metamorph. In the minutes since the tiny moth had flown off, his heart rate had almost doubled under the pressure to succeed in their plan; his chest felt like it would burst. Johnson guessed Maya may have gone to report in on his activities and he desperately wondered to himself how much longer he would have to complete what the voices demanded of him. Other chemists on duty in the laboratory glanced at him in surprise as he charged up to his workspace, depositing the leaves on a bench and organising the equipment he would need to process them into the six small gas cylinders he had earlier acquired.

As he worked, out of the corner of his eye Johnson saw a mouse scuttle under some nearby boxes. He smiled grimly to himself. Let the metamorph stay where she was for a while. In a few moments he would give her a taste of the powder and at least that might buy him some more time. Nobody had been sent to arrest him yet, so perhaps she was waiting to gather more evidence. Studiously he worked on, first drying the leaves, then crushing them to a fine powder, then using a machine to pump them into the highly pressurised oxygen cylinders. The whole process took not more than fifteen minutes, as Johnson had been well instructed and he worked with the speed of a machine. When he finished, he casually he picked one of the cylinders up and pretended to examine the top of it, pointing it in the direction of the boxes. Without warning, he released the valve and a fine spray escaped, bathing the area where Maya was hidden in fine brown powder.

Maya realised too late that she had been spotted and her last conscious thought was of how stupid she had been to leave herself in a position to be exposed to the gas. Then she knew no more. Her prone body spontaneously returned to its original form and the boxes she had been hiding under made a clatter as they tipped over. Johnson looked around to see if anyone had noticed but fortunately, the others who were nearby were too absorbed in their own work. Carefully he restacked the boxes so that Maya's body was not readily visible, then he stashed the cylinders in a bag and was on his way. The Psychon would only have to remain hidden for a short while. Even if the alarm was raised, it was unlikely that they would have time to stop him now, because they wouldn't know where he was going.

"Dr Russell," called Ed Spencer, from Alan's bedside.

Helena hurried over to her patient, anxious to see whether the drug Alan was exposed to had caused any permanent damage. A smile slowly spread across her tired face when she saw the look of recognition and cognisance in Carter's eyes.

"W-what happened to me?" asked Alan. "Johnson- I remember- Dougie Johnson's gone mad!"

"Take it easy Alan, we know all about Johnson," replied Helena, putting a hand on the pilot's shoulder to stop him from trying to sit up. "The main thing now is that you're awake."

"He shoved something in my eye," remembered Alan, gingerly touching the bruised area around his cheek and eyelid. "Then I blacked out."

"You don't remember any more after that?" asked Helena. "You don't remember following Jack Whitehouse into a store room?"

Alan sighed and shook his head.

"No, I only remember Dougie going wild and turning on me. He hit me in the stomach and then shoved this brown stuff he had spilt right in my eye. What was it?"

"Some sort of neurotoxin. A chemical compound made out of the leaves of a plant," said Spencer.

"You do believe me that he attacked me don't you?" asked Carter anxiously.

Helena nodded.

"Of course we do. Besides, I saw it all Alan. I was on my way to visit him myself. It could have just as easily been me that he assaulted."

"God, I feel so stiff and sore," muttered Alan, closing his eyes again.

It would be several hours before he was well enough to get out of bed and walk around.

When Tony Verdeschi saw Whitehouse leave hydroponics in a hurry, he knew it was time to head for the air recycling plant. He was mildly concerned at the fact that Maya had not reported in to him again as yet and hoped that she had learned more about the reasons for Johnson and Whitehouse's actions. They couldn't afford to wait much longer before arresting the pair.

"This is a restricted message to all security personnel. Suspects are on their way- nobody is to move in or out of the air recycling plant from now," he instructed the group of guards strategically placed at all entrances to the plant. "Remember, these two are extremely dangerous and they may coerce others into helping them." Hearing Verdeschi's words on his commlock the Commander, who had been strolling around central area of the plant, took up a position behind machinery which controlled the flow of air to the main ducts and withdrew his laser. If these men were being manipulated by an outside alien force, then he was sure they would stop at nothing to get through and complete their set task. They would logically make for this part of the plant, where it would be quickest and easiest to introduce a foreign substance to the air supply. If they managed to evade the security guards that Tony had in position, Koenig would be ready for them...

Johnson stood at the door to his girlfriend's quarters and waited for her to answer his call. Whitehouse lurked behind him, a little way further up the corridor. The latter paced about with an air of guilt emanating from him.

"Act normal," hissed Johnson angrily.

It was gradually becoming more obvious to him that without Whitehouse, he would be in line to receive all of the rewards that the voices had to offer, once they arrived on Alpha. Whitehouse had served his purpose and was no longer necessary in the scheme of things. In future, others could grow the plants.

The door to Jessie's quarters slid back and she stood on the threshold with a tentative smile on her face.

"Jessie, I've brought you another present," whispered Johnson, stepping inside and pushing past the girl. "Where is the Christmas mistletoe? I wanted to give you a kiss. I guess I'll just have to give you your present straight away, instead."

Before she could protest, Johnson had opened the valve on one of his cylinders again, blasting her full in the face with a small portion of its contents. Jessie stood riveted to the spot, as if in the middle of a party game of statues.

"I like you much better like this," giggled Johnson in a high pitched, insane voice. "Now you are going to do exactly as I tell you."

A few minutes later the door to Jessie's quarters opened once again. Johnson poked his head out and signalled to Whitehouse. The botanist scuttled inside, the door closing softly behind him.

"This is where you and I end our partnership Jack," said Johnson darkly.

"Whaaat-" was all the startled Whitehouse managed to utter, before he was hit forcefully over the head with one of the cylinders by a marionette- like Jessie.

He crumpled to the floor without another word.

Together, Johnson and his girlfriend left her quarters with the cylinders, both walking away from the air recycling plant.

Chapter Six

Something wasn't right. Something had been nagging away at the back of Helena's mind as she sat in Medical Center waiting anxiously to hear from either Tony, Maya or John. What was it? Memory came back on line for her with a shock.

Of course! Doug Johnson's girlfriend was not simply a technician in the air recycling plant. Shortly after the Moon had been blown away from Earth, it was Jessie Etheridge who assisted Helena in the design and placement of a series of emergency air distribution generators, set at strategic points around the Moonbase. The installation of these generators provided Alpha with a backup life support system in case of an emergency shut down of the main air recycling plants, due to accident, attack, or whatever reason. Helena remembered how impressed she'd been with the girl's knowledge of the air duct layout. If Johnson, through Jessie, gained access to these emergency points, he would have no need of ever going anywhere near the main plant. Helena pulled out her commlock and put a call through to the Commander.

Koenig answered Helena's call with a certain amount of impatience. He was expecting Johnson or Whitehouse to appear at any moment and he could do without any distractions.

"Is this important Helena?" he whispered.

"I'm sure it is John and before you say anything else, no- it couldn't wait," replied Helena, before proceeding to succinctly inform Koenig of Johnson's girlfriend's intimate knowledge of their emergency air recycling generators."

"Dammit, why didn't we think of the emergency points before?" swore John when she had finished. "Do you have Maya with you there?"

"No," replied Helena. "I haven't seen her for some time; I assumed she was still following Johnson and Whitehouse."

"She should have contacted Tony or myself by now," said Koenig. "Look, we can't wait any longer for her to report in. I think there is a very real possibility that they will distribute the gas through the emergency points; there is certainly no sign of them here yet."

"There are six points that they could use John, and I know where they all are," said Helena.

"No- you stay put Helena. I can get Sahn to patch the points through from computer to security and myself on our commlocks." Koenig replied firmly.

He had enough to worry about with Maya's failure to report in and the possible poisoning of Alpha's air supply without Helena's safety intruding upon his thoughts.

Helena sat with her chin in her hands at her desk in Medical Center and worried. What could have happened to Maya? If Johnson and Whitehouse were going to circumvent the main air recycling plant by using the emergency points, surely Maya would have found out by now- and she had not reported in one way or the other. Something must have happened to her. Visions of Maya lying injured or dead somewhere plagued Helena. From her desk drawer she removed a hand laser and tucked it into her belt with nervous fingers. She couldn't just sit around and wait. As an afterthought she also grabbed a vial of the neurotoxin antidote she and Vincent had created, together with a small needle gun. If Maya had been discovered, she too might have been dosed with the drug. Helena set off for the chemistry lab at a brisk pace. It was the most obvious place to begin looking for the Psychon.

Doug Johnson was experiencing brief moments of confusion as he and his girlfriend made their way towards the emergency air recycling generator he had decided to use. Situated on one of the lowest levels of Alpha, the brown gas would take a little longer to filter through the system. Nevertheless, it would do its job quite efficiently, and with less risk of them being discovered before the task was complete.

Johnson's overtaxed, overtired body was on the point of collapse and his heart was beating erratically. Jessie stood by in her trance-like state as he fell heavily against a wall, experiencing severe muscle spasms that contorted his body, giving the temporary appearance that he was being electrocuted. Once the spasms had passed sufficiently, Johnson turned the valve on one of his cylinders with weak fingers and sprayed himself full in the face with a dose of brown gas. Seconds later he was able to continue. The voices in his mind were stronger now. He could make out individual speakers as they directed him in his task. He smiled vacuously at their praise, as he staggered on.

Tony Verdeschi was mad with worry. Where was Maya? As the minutes went by and she did not report in, he was certain something must have happened to her. The worst thing about the situation was that he didn't have time or spare security guards to go and search for her. He knew Johnson was working only with his girlfriend now. Whitehouse's body had been found in Jessie Etheridge's room when security was despatched to put her under guard. If Johnson was capable of crushing the skull of his accomplice, what might he do to Maya?

When the Commander gave him the word about Johnson's girlfriend's knowledge of Alpha's emergency air recycling points, Tony could have kicked himself for not thinking of them sooner. To someone with the right knowledge, they were eminently sabotagable. And Jessie certainly had that. Attacking the main recycling plant was too obvious; why bother when there were other alternatives which would be just as effective! He quickly directed several of his men to five of the six points of reference that Sahn provided him with, taking the sixth, most remote one himself. He had a hunch that if Johnson was going to sabotage the system, he would do it where he were the least likely to be disturbed. And Tony wanted to be the one to bring Johnson in. If that bastard had harmed Maya in any way, he would throttle him. Tony's footsteps rang out as he pounded his way through Alpha, drawing curious stares from the personnel he ran past.

Helena was not surprised to find the Chemistry lab deserted. Hours had passed and it was now the Alphan 'graveyard' shift; most people would either be taking some form of recreation, or sleeping. Only skeleton staff kept the base running at such an hour.

Cautiously, with her laser in her hand, she stepped through the laboratory looking from right to left, searching for any trace of the Psychon. On approaching Johnson's workbench, she saw a sudden movement behind a pile of storage containers.

"Maya, is that you?" she called softly.

Her only answer was a small moan.

Behind the storage containers, Maya was regaining consciousness. Her robust Psychon constitution made it possible for her to fight off the effects of the drug far quicker than anyone else on the base could have and she opened blurred eyes at the sound of Helena's voice.

"Don't try to move yet," said Helena, running a bioscan over Maya's body. "Did you get a dose of the drug?"

"Yes," whispered Maya. "Helena, he's got it compressed into oxygen cylinders, he's going to gas the whole of Alpha."

"I know, Tony already told us," said Helena, as she speedily worked at giving the girl a hefty dose of antidote. "But where is the alien connection Maya? I thought the planets we are passing were no more than inhospitable, uninhabitable gas giants. Surely there can be no influence coming from that direction."

Maya weakly shook her head and struggled to sit up. At this moment a passing technician caught sight of them and rushed over to assist.

"What happened; is there anything I can do to help Dr Russell?" she asked.

"Not at the moment," replied Helena. "But I would ask you not to mention to anyone that you have seen Maya and myself here for the moment."

"But-" began the puzzled technician.

"Please just do as I say, there is a security alert" repeated Helena in her firmest voice.

The technician shrugged her shoulders wandered off, puzzled at the Doctor's strange behaviour.

"I have to get to Command Center," said Maya, her senses returning.

"You need checked out properly first," admonished Helena. "The drug has obviously affected you less severely than Alan, but he is still hospitalised and you are looking decidedly under the weather."

"There's no time," replied Maya, a note of desperation in her voice. "There was something odd in the calculations I did on those two planets we are passing. I couldn't believe that they were so alike and now I'm sure they are not. One of them must contain an alien presence that has control of Whitehouse and Johnson. I must go back to computer and check!"

"Okay, okay," sighed Helena, helping the Psychon to her feet. "If you think it's that important, let's go."

With Helena's help, Maya slowly made her way back to Command Center. The tinsel decorating some of the corridors swam in and out of her vision as they walked and her normally quick mind refused to function at its usual speed. Nevertheless, she forced herself to concentrate on the problem at hand as they walked. Maya remembered from her previous observations that one of the two planets was very much closer to its sun. As close as the Earth would have been to the Sun in the Alphan's home star system. This would obviously be the ideal candidate to support life. But how had its occupants managed to disguise the planet so that it looked like a gas giant. And why? And what did they want with the Moonbase?

As they walked, Helena used her commlock to alert all concerned that Maya had been found and was all right, although she had been gassed by Johnson. In the lower levels, heading towards the emergency air recycling plant, Tony felt his anger increasing. Johnson would not get away with this, whether he was controlled by an alien presence or not! His solitary footsteps echoed along the dimly lit, little used corridors that led towards the deep shelters. Noting the noise his feet were making, Tony stopped and listened intently. If Johnson and his girlfriend were down here, their footsteps would be audible also. At first he heard nothing, but then faintly, he could just make out the sound of two people walking along briskly some way ahead of him.

Desperately, Tony took off his boots and began to run, with his laser drawn at the ready. He prayed that he would not be too late.

Chapter Seven

Johnson reverently placed all his cylinders on the floor of the little alcove where Jessie had taken him and looked at the sealed door in the wall.

"How do we get access to the generator and ducts?" he rasped with vocal cords that were beginning to seize up.

Woodenly, Jessie reached up to series of switches and pulled the one nearest to her. The door slid back, revealing a glowing control panel and a series of inlets that would fit with the valves on Johnson's cylinders. With numb and shaking hands he screwed them one by one into the six inlets, each of which would direct a flow of gas through into the different sections of Moonbase once the generator was started.

"Oh, at last we have succeeded," slurred Johnson, his mind failing. "Come on voices- come on, my job is almost completed!"

Jessie began to sway and rubbed a hand across her eyes. The burst of spray she had been dosed with was wearing off slightly and subconsciously, she was fighting against participating in such a horrendous act of sabotage.

"Go on, start the generator!" shouted Johnson.

The voices were excited, chattering away inside his mind at a great rate. He knew they were coming. They were on their way at last and there was praise for him in their babble.

"Step away from there you two," puffed Tony, as he raced into view, brandishing his laser.

"No! Start the generator Jessie!" screamed Johnson, his voice cracking as he staggered towards Tony, clutching his head as the babble of voices increased.

All at once, the voices fell silent. Then clearly, piercingly, Johnson heard one cry out in disappointment. It was the last sound he heard before Tony's laser stunned him and he fell senseless to the ground. Unnoticed by anyone on Alpha, the little brown plants in a corner of hydroponics shrivelled up and disintegrated, their noxious leaves decomposing instantaneously.

Jessie stood like a deprogrammed robot, her hand hovering dangerously close to the control panel of the generator. Tony didn't want to fire at the girl, as he was unsure of what would happen to her mind if she received neuronic concussion together with the toxin she was influenced by. Carefully he walked forward in his bare feet and drew her away from the generator. She was unresisting. Comander Koenig and three members of security ran up just as Tony was unscrewing the last of the cylinders from the inlet points.

"Good work Tony, that was too close for comfort," Koenig congratulated him. "But you shouldn't have followed Johnson down here on your own."

"I'm sure he would have heard us coming in the silence down here if several of us had pursued him. The element of surprise was important," replied Tony, shaking his head.

Up in Command Center, Maya ran a series of computations across her monitor, whilst at her request, Sahn pulled up an image on the big screen of the planet nearest to its sun.

"We are at our closest point to the inner planet about now," commented Sahn.

"Right; send a probing pulse down to it now," replied Maya, rubbing a tired hand across her eyes. "Give it all the strength we have and use one of the higher, more penetrating frequencies."

With a nod, Sahn carried out the procedure. In seconds the computer began to churn out new data.

"I knew it," cried Maya. "It's an elaborate screen! That planet is no more a gas giant than this moon is. In fact, preliminary data shows it to be an eminently habitable planet."

"Look at the big screen," said Sahn in a shocked voice. "There's all the proof of your theory that you need."

From behind the planet had appeared a small, streamlined space craft, and it was heading towards the Moon at a rapid pace.

"Christ, that's all we need," said Bill Fraser from his desk, where he was filling in as Chief Pilot whilst Alan was laid up in Medical Center.

"We have to alert the Commander," said Sahn.

But as she began to contact him, the craft on the screen suddenly did a 180 degree turn and began to speed back the way it had come!

"What the- What's going on?" Fraser blurted out, staring at the screen, his eyes wide with surprise..

At that moment, the Commander reported in to give them the news that the potential threat to their air supply had been removed.

"It has to be more than coincidence that the alien ship turned around at the same time as Johnson was stopped ," said Helena. "I'm sure you were right Maya. In some way, those beings down there were going to seek to control us through the use of that gas. Why they simply didn't come and take us over themselves, we may never know, but let's hope that because they failed this time, they will have given up. "

A short time later, Koenig and Verdeschi returned to Command Center. The Chief of Security could not contain his relief at seeing Maya sitting at her desk and rushed to her to reassure himself that she was all right, much to the secret amusement of most of the personnel who were around at the time.

"Helena, you had better get down to Medical. Security have taken Johnson there and he looks to be in a pretty serious condition," said John with a sigh. "Let's face it, he is just about the only person on this base who can tell us exactly what has been going on; what he tried to do was unforgivable but for that reason alone, it would be nice if he survives."

"Before all this happened, Johnson was a well liked and respected member of Alpha," retorted Helena. "It's hardly his fault if he has been brainwashed in some way by an alien intelligence. There are other reasons for him to live besides the information he might be able to give us."

Before Koenig could say anything further, she was on her way to her patient. He shook his head. For him, although Johnson's life was important, as was every person's under his command, his primary concern had to be for the base as a whole. Right now, Koenig's main worry was whether the aliens would make any further attempts to take them over.

Together, Maya and Sahn informed him of the advance and subsequent retreat of the alien craft from the inner planet their moon was passing.

"I suggest we broadcast a message Commander," said Maya, leaning back in her chair. "A warning to keep away, stressing our firepower and the physical strength of the personnel on this base."

"Why refer to our individual strengths?" asked Koenig.

"Because, why would they bother to subvert two members of the base and drug us all into compliance with them? Why didn't they simply come and overwhelm us themselves?" replied Maya. "I can only think that perhaps they are an extremely weak and ineffectual species physically, or their firepower is not equal to ours."

"It's possible," nodded Koenig, tapping at the computer on his desk. "Sahn, broadcast a message on all channels directly towards that planet. Let's hope it penetrates their screen and keeps them away. Meanwhile, I want the base on yellow alert for the next ten hours. At the end of that time we will be almost out of reach with the planet, according to computer."

Ten hours had never passed so slowly for the staff of Command Center. Sahn, who had been at her desk for almost 24 hours straight, rubbed her almond eyes and concentrated hard on scanning the space between Alpha and the fast receding planet. Nothing appeared on visual. Nothing bothered them. The planet continued to hang quiescent in space like the gas giant it masqueraded as. Maya was forced to go and rest, the remnants of the toxin in her system making her feel ill. Koenig sat tense and unmoving, waiting for the aliens' next move and hoping there wouldn't be one.

In Medical Center, Helena, Ben and Ed were collectively fighting for the life of Doug Johnson- and slowly winning. The neurotoxin his system had absorbed combined with the effects of Tony's laser stun should have been enough to kill him, yet somehow, he clung to life. He lay in a deep coma, connected to numerous pieces of life support equipment, his weakened heart beating erratically. As the Moon rolled further away from the aliens' planet, so Johnson's condition began to improve. Almost at the same time Alpha was stood down from yellow alert, the chemist opened his eyes. And his eyes were clear and free of any influence, chemical or otherwise.

"Have I been ill?" he asked Helena in a husky voice.

"You might say that," she replied with a nod. "Don't you remember?"

Johnson slowly shook his head, confused.

"I'll tell you one thing Doctor, I've been having some damned strange dreams. I must have been running a fever."

"Rest now and we can discuss them later," ordered Helena with a kind smile.

She was frankly amazed that Johnson could speak at all after the amount of poison he had absorbed.


Twelve days later, the small solar system was far behind Moonbase Alpha and all in Command Center were once again absorbed in the fun of Christmas, their brush with the mind controlling aliens fast disappearing into a past filled with such incidents. The Moon was traversing an empty area of space and for once, everyone was glad of this fact. 'Christmas Eve' had arrived at last, along with several jokes that were circulating the base about the difficulty of Santa crossing interstellar space to deliver a few presents.

Helena Russell was once again sitting alone in her quarters. She was waiting for John to come by, as they were going to attend a party around the tree in the main recreation room. She fingered the silver foil wrapping of a package she had in front of her; John's present. It was a small unicorn that Helena had painstakingly carved from a piece of driftwood she's picked up on a California beach long ago and brought with her to Alpha. A sculptor of clay, she had found the task difficult, but was pleased with the end result. Two tiny crystals glinted from the statuette's eyes, where she had glued them in place. Wood from Earth was an irreplaceable treasure to the Alphan's now. It was a link with their past.

John's face appeared on her monitor, preceded by a beep.

"Merry Christmas," he laughed when he stepped through the door, pulling her close to him and kissing her.

"How dare you, I didn't hang any mistletoe!" she teased.

"No, but I hear Alan Carter's got his own that he made, and he's going around the base holding it over any female he can catch" chuckled John. "I think it's safe to say he made a full recovery after his dose of plant toxin."

"Yes," Helena nodded. "It's a shame the same can't be said about Doug Johnson. Fortunately, his mind is still in tact, but he will never play squash with Alan again. The neurotoxin has damaged his nervous system so severely that he will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair."

"And all through no fault of his own," sighed John.

As Johnson slowly began to recover, Helena had extracted the story of his 'dreams' from the man and had been able to piece together the full story of exactly what had happened. A search of the base for any remaining brown plants had been instituted but thankfully, none had been found.

"Here, I want to give you your present," said Helena, taking John by the arm and leading him to a chair.

"It's not Christmas until tomorrow," he replied, raising his eyebrows.

"I can't wait until then for you to have it," smiled Helena.

"Well, I felt the same," said John, pulling a small box from his jacket pocket. "Ladies first."

Helena took the box from him and rested it in the palm of her hand a moment before opening it, savouring the moment.

"Go on, take a look inside," urged John.

She gingerly lifted the lid and her mouth formed an 'o' in surprise. Resting on a piece of black cloth was a small cameo, mounted on a gold stick pin.

"Where did you get this from?" she gasped, sitting down on the arm of his chair.

"The cameo was my Grandmother's," was the quiet reply. "It was given to me on her death a few years ago and I had its heavy mounting remodelled for you."

"It's beautiful John," Helena whispered. "But how come you've never shown it to me before?"

"I was keeping it for an occasion such as this," he said.

She carefully pinned the cameo to the peach silk party dress she was wearing.

"Open yours," said Helena.

Koenig was equally thrilled when he saw what she had fashioned for him.

"I know this piece of wood; it was special to you," was all he could say, for there was a constriction in his throat as he looked at the shiny little unicorn sitting in his hand. Its crystal eyes winked at him in the light. "As a child, I always loved unicorns."

"I know," replied Helena, putting her arms around him.

For a time, they forgot they were supposed to be attending the party in Alpha's recreation room.

Christmas music echoed down the corridors of the Moonbase as with the exception of a few skeleton staff, most of the personnel had crammed into the recreation room. Those unfortunates who had to stay at their posts would be relieved so that they too could join in the festivities before the party was over. For once, it seemed, the people of Alpha forgot that they were marooned in space, rolling along on an uncharted, unalterable course to who knew where. Everyone was dedicating themselves to the enjoyment of Christmas time.

When Helena and John finally arrived, the party was in full swing. Free dress was permitted and several people had chosen to dress as Santa Claus. Alpha's catering department had done their best to create artificial fruit mince pies and little puddings, and the general consensus was that they came very close to the real thing. Helena spotted Maya, hanging on to Tony Verdeschi's arm as she talked to Annette Fraser. Around the lovely Psychon's throat was a string of unusual gemstones- her present from Tony. Helena wondered what she had given the Chief of Security in return, until she noticed he was wearing a new jumper, in spite of the fact that in the crowded recreation room it was really rather stuffy.

"How about a Christmas kiss Doc?" shouted a rowdy Australian voice above the noise.

Helena spun around to face Alan Carter, who was holding a bedraggled bit of paper 'mistletoe' above her head.

"Hey, wait a minute Carter!" laughed John, as the pilot planted a kiss firmly on Helena's cheek.

"Seriously, I wanted to thank you and Ben Vincent, Helena," said Alan. " If it wasn't for your antidote, I probably would be still laid up in Medical Center with Dougie Johnson, instead of being here, enjoying myself."

"No problem Alan," replied Helena, some of her carefree mood evaporating. "I just wish we could have got Doug fit and well in time for the party."

"Yeah, well I'm going down to see him again in a few minutes; I promised I'd take him some of this food. At least he has returned to his old self mentally," said the pilot, adding "You did your best."

As Alan wandered off, she felt John's hand rest on her shoulder.

"You did do your best Helena; we all did. Doug Johnson still has a brilliant mind and he will cope with his new disability. Try not to dwell on it."

"We lost a good man in Jack Whitehouse and another was severely injured. All because of an insidious assault by creatures we can't begin to understand," sighed Helena. "It makes me feel so vulnerable."

"We contained the problem; it could have been much worse. Now as your Commander, I insist that you shelve your worries until later and enjoy the party. That's an order!" joked Koenig.

"Okay, okay," Helena wearily agreed.

She briefly touched his hand as it slipped from her shoulder and went to speak to Sahn, who was wearing a stunning new outfit that she must have made herself. John was right, there would always be problems. The course their lives had taken meant that they would always have to struggle against the odds. Some of the people of Alpha had lost their lives along the way and she knew that more would do the same. For now, until the party was over, she would do as everyone else was and live for the moment.

Copyright (c) 1999. 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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