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A Great Miracle Happened There

Authors: Em Wycedee
Categories: Christmas, John/Helena
Show Year: Y2
Rating: PG
Date: 2002
This tale was written on a dare to come up with an Alphan Chanukah story. Therefore it contains all the typical holiday story cliches, as well as many common fan fiction foibles.
Average Rating: 4.0/5 (based on 2 reviews)

"Go from your country, from your kindred, from the dwelling of your parents, to the land that I will show you. And I will shape from you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing."

-- Genesis 12: 1-2

"John, we have a serious problem." Tony Verdeschi's face was grim as he approached Commander Koenig, who had been summoned to the Command Center in the middle of the night. "There's been a massive rupture in the fuel tanks for the Nuclear Generating Area. Maya says it will take at least a week to repair."

"A week?" John Koenig stopped to calculate mentally the consequences of shutting down the reactors for that long. "Even if we run the base on minimal power, we're going to strain the backups past the breaking point."

"That's why I said we have a serious problem. Our reserves can't hold out for a week." Tony's dark eyes showed his concern. "We're checking into alternatives right now, but it doesn't look good. We've had to divert all power away from the generating area to avoid a core meltdown. Maya thinks we may be able to set up a temporary conversion center and burn some of the nuclear waste on the far side of the moon, but in order to maintain a controlled reaction, we'd only be able to use a minimal amount of radioactive material. No matter what we do, it might not be enough."

"Tony, it has to be enough!" Though he didn't mean to take out his tension on the mission specialist, John couldn't help raising his voice. "If we lose that much power, all the plants in the hydroponics bay will shrivel up and we'll lose our food stores. The people here might freeze, or they might starve to death in six months. There has to be something else we can try!"

Though his expression reflected his pessimism, Tony remained calm. "All I can tell you is that Maya is working on it with everyone she's got. Sandra is coordinating the teams, Alan is overseeing the evacuation of generators from the Eagles, and the engineering divisions are conducting tests to see whether there's a way to ignite more of the waste without risking an incident like the breakaway. But what we really need is a miracle."

Though the initial panic kept everyone on Alpha energized for several hours, many among the crew sought out excuses to be close to their friends and loved ones. Tony accompanied Maya on a reconnaissance flight over what had once been Waste Disposal Area Two, taking readings and analyzing the feasibility of igniting a controlled burn. Sahn took an hour off for yoga. Sue Crawford went on break early and headed to the Medical Center, where she found Helena Russell playing with Sue's toddler Jackie.

Even though the boy's development had been normal since the alien Jarak released him, Helena kept careful watch on the physical and psychological development of Alpha's only child. Neither the doctor nor the boy heard his mother enter, so engrossed were they in the game they were playing. "What are you two up to?" Sue asked, earning a wide smile from Jackie and a sheepish grin from Helena, who offered an explanation that made no sense to Sue:

"We're playing draydel."

"Draydel!" Jackie exclaimed agreeably, picking up a wooden top from the table and trying to spin it. Unfortunately his two-year-old fingers couldn't successfully make the toy twirl. Sue held out a hand.

"Let me try." Moments later the top was spinning, much to Jackie's delight. When it stopped, it fell onto one of its four sides, where someone had crudely marked a symbol. "What does this mean, Helena? It looks like an Earth language but I don't recognize it."

"It's my terrible attempt to write Hebrew letters. That one is a Shin. Sorry, Sue -- you have to put a piece of caramel in the pot."

"But I haven't got any caramel!" Sue opened her mouth and hands wide in the traditional "all-gone" gesture, bringing giggles from Jackie. "Couldn't I borrow one of yours?"

"I suppose just this once." Helena pushed a pile of sugar drops wrapped in plastic toward the technician. "The way the game works is this. You spin the draydel. If it lands on Nun, which looks like a backwards bracket" -- she showed Sue the letter, waving it around for Jackie's benefit -- "then you neither take any candy out nor put any in. If it lands on Gimel, which looks like Nun but with a little tail, you get all the candy in the pot. If it lands on Hay, which Jackie says looks like a table, then you only get half the candy. But if it lands on Shin, the one that looks like a 'W'...well, you already know what happens."

"Nun, Gimel, Hay, Shin. I think I can remember that. But Helena, what does it mean?"

A nostalgic look crossed Helena's face. "My Yiddish grandmother told me when I was about Jackie's age that the symbols are the first letters in 'nisht,' which means 'nothing,' 'gantz,' which means 'all,' 'halb,' which means 'half,' and 'shtel,' which means 'put in.' She said you could remember that nun sounded like 'none,' gimel sounded like 'gimme,' 'hay' sounded like 'half' and 'shin' sounded like..."

"Don't say it!" With a wink Sue cocked her head at Jackie. She spun the draydel, which obligingly landed on Gimel. Happily Sue took all the caramels in the center of the table, then pushed them toward Helena. "I guess I owe you these."

Helena put several back into the center so that they could continue to play, helping Jackie twirl the little top. "Shin, shin, shin," he chanted, laughing gleefully as the draydel stopped in front of him.

Sue smiled at her son's enjoyment of the game in the midst of all the stress they were under. "Where did you get this draydel? Was it your grandmother's?"

"Actually, we made it out of clay -- Jackie and me. It was supposed to be a surprise for Commander Koenig. But we got a little distracted playing with it." Helena handed the toy to the toddler. "I suppose I'll just have to make another one."

At that, Jackie began to sing. "A draydel, draydel, clay. I made a draydel play."

Helena explained, "It's an old song. 'Oh draydel, draydel, draydel, I made it out of clay, and when it's dry and ready, then draydel I shall play." Seeing Sue smirking at her, she covered her mouth with a hand. "All right, I'm a terrible singer. But you get the idea."

"It's nice that you have these traditions," sighed Sue. "My parents were devout atheists, even though I guess they were raised Anglican. We always went out for dinner on Christmas and then usually to the movies. I learned some of the carols from the radio and while Jack was alive we used to exchange presents, but I don't really have any holiday traditions of my own. Will you help me teach Jackie? He doesn't have godparents, and I can't think of anyone I'd rather have..."

Helena covered the younger woman's hand with her own. "Of course I will! But, Sue, I'm afraid I'm not really an expert. I don't even remember the origins of the draydel game. I think it was invented in Eastern Europe as a way for Jewish families to teach their children, in a time when Jews were being persecuted."

"So they were trying to teach those words for all, half, and none?"

"No -- now I remember! It's a history lesson. The four letters also stand for the phrase, 'Nes gadol hayah sham,' which translates as, 'A great miracle happened there.' The Greek Empire had taken over and tried to force the Jews to worship their gods. A small group called the Maccabees fought them off against almost insurmountable odds. But when the Jews took back their Temple, they discovered that they only had enough oil to keep the flame on the altar burning for one night. Yet the lamp burned for eight nights -- enough time to purify more oil." For Jackie's benefit, Helena spread her hands wide, a questioning look on her face. "Nes gadol hayah sham."

"Nes gadol hayah sham," repeated Sue. "It sounds like we may need a great miracle right now."

"I know." Seeing Jackie pout at their somber faces, Helena quickly put on a more cheerful expression. "But we've come through insurmountable odds before. We survived a planetary collision and passing through that giant space brain. We'll find a way through this."

She only wished she felt as certain as her words.

Though he was exhausted by the end of the day, Commander Koenig stopped by Dr. Russell's quarters on his way to grab a few hours' sleep. Maya had assured him that there was nothing more he could do from Command to help her and her team address the problem of their dwindling energy reserves, for they needed at least one more trip to the far side of the moon to collect radioactive waste.

As he buzzed Helena's door, John was surprised to hear a familiar melody wafting through the bulkhead. When she let him in, he asked, "That's 'Maoz Tzur,' isn't it?"

"In my house we sang it as 'Rock of Ages' -- I never learned much Hebrew," admitted Helena. "Earlier I was explaining Chanukah to Sue and Jackie Crawford, and I remembered that I had this." She held out a small ceramic music box in the shape of a Star of David for John to inspect.

"It's beautiful. Bat Mitzvah present?"

Wistfully Helena shook her head. "I was never a Bat Mitzvah. By the time I turned thirteen, my mother's mother had died and nobody else really encouraged me. She's the one who gave the music box to me, for my tenth birthday. She also gave me a chai pendant on a gold chain, but I lost that a long time ago."

"Your parents weren't very religious?"

"No. My father was raised Lutheran, but he stopped going to church before I was born. We used to have a menorah and a Christmas tree, and get presents on both holidays. But I don't remember attending services of any kind since I was very young."

"I got dragged to shul every Saturday morning for my whole childhood," John recalled.

"Your parents were Orthodox?"

"Conservative. The women sat with the men. Some of them even became rabbis, after more years of school than it takes to become an astronaut."

"You never thought about studying theology?"

"No! Nothing would have thrilled my mother more, but I've never been very religious, either. I had other goals in mind. I celebrated Chanukah, though, even after Jean and I got married."

Silently Helena absorbed this tidbit of information about John's late wife. "Lee and I celebrated Christmas, but we didn't go to church or anything. He was a confirmed agnostic. Did you believe in Chanukah? The miracle of the oil?"

"Not really. I knew there were more logical explanations for the holiday. The Syrians hadn't let the Maccabees celebrate Sukkot for the usual eight days in the fall, so when they took back the temple, the Jews held an eight-day festival to make up for it, and over time people concocted a miracle to go along with the celebration. Or they adapted it from some local pagan custom and came up with a Jewish story to go along with it, like some scholars think happened with Purim -- the Feast of Ishtar became the Feast of Esther, and the Babylonian god Marduk became Esther's brother Mordechai. Am I lecturing?"

"A little." With a shrug, Helena smiled at John. "I guess the origins don't really matter. I seem to remember hearing that Jesus Christ probably wasn't really born in December, either, but the early Christians in Rome timed the celebration of his birth to coincide with the Saturnalia."

"Anyway, I always thought Chanukah was a beautiful holiday. The Festival of Lights, right near the solstice."

Helena nodded. "This music box has been sitting in a drawer since I've been on Alpha. Every year I keep meaning to pull it out for the holidays, but I forget. Victor and I joked that we should make latkes, and have a Seder at Passover and dress up in costume on Purim, but I've done a pretty poor job keeping the traditions alive."

"That's because you had parents who married goyim, so you're only half-Jewish even if it was your mother's side." John grinned, but then his smile faded. "I can imagine what your parents' parents said. Probably the same thing mine did when I first brought Jean home."

"It was that big a deal? Even after the '60s?"

"I was an only child, and we were born when the Holocaust was still a recent memory. The State of Israel is only ten years older than I am. If it's still there." Suddenly John had a visceral understanding of his parents' feelings about their heritage. "Do you realize it's possible no Jews survived the disasters on Earth after the moon broke orbit? We might be the only ones left. Five thousand years of history coming down to us. And once we're gone..."

"Victor said that to me, too. You know his parents were refugees?"

"They fled Europe and settled in England."

"I got the sense that he grew up with survivor's guilt. The Jewish side of my family had been in the United States for three generations when I was born -- I don't think they were even in touch with the relatives in the old country."

"Mine were." John's eyes grew haunted. "I remember going to the Holocaust Museum in Washington when it first opened, right before the third world war. At the time I didn't think I'd ever see anything so horrible with my own eyes. I wish that were still true." Dragging a hand across his face, John sat wearily on Helena's bed. "I'm so tired. We have barely a day's power left, and there's absolutely nothing I can do. Helena, it doesn't seem fair for it to end like this. What else can we try?"

Helena looked at John's face, taut with frustration verging on despair. Suddenly she had an idea -- not a very practical one, but a morale-booster if nothing else.

"Do you think you can stay awake for another half-hour?" she asked him.

John raised an eyebrow. "What did you have in mind? I'm game, but I might not be much fun..."

She winked at him. "I need to dash over to the recreation center, then I want you to meet me in your office. Oh, and see if Sue Crawford's still awake, would you? Tell her to bring Jackie. And you might as well invite Maya, and if she wants to bring Tony..."

"Any more people and there won't be enough room in my office."

"You're right. Let's do it in the Command Center and broadcast to the rest of the base."

"Helena, what is this 'it' that you're planning for us to do?"

"Not that 'it.' At least, not yet." Though he gazed indulgently at her grin, he looked more tired than he had when he'd entered her quarters. On impulse she added, "John, keep the music box. I want you to have it. Think of it as a Chanukah present." Quickly she kissed him, but when he tried to hold on to her long enough to thank her, she stepped back. "Let me do this. Go find everyone and I'll see you in a little while."

Other than Joe Lustig and Kate Goldburg, Helena couldn't think of anyone else who had been on Alpha at the time of the breakaway whom she had been certain was Jewish. That information often wasn't contained in medical records, as it usually wasn't relevant unless someone requested Tay-Sachs screening or something else linked to the ethnic background. If John didn't have a menorah with him on that fateful September 13th, it was unlikely any of the others had, either. She was going to have to improvise.

Helena headed to the recreation center, which was deserted except for the library, where a handful of crewmembers pored over discs in the hope of finding a solution to Alpha's crisis. Everyone else on the base was working double shifts helping to transfer materials from the Eagles; several sections of the base were already dark, and the computer was operating at minimal levels.

Because she didn't know how the storage lockers were organized, Helena approached the librarian. "Please, can I tear you away from the catalogue for a moment? I need help finding candles in the storage area."

Jane Tamblyn glanced at Helena dubiously. "Is Commander Koenig planning to cut power to the lights?"

"No -- not yet, at least. I just need two candles. But I need five sets of candlesticks. Everyone who works in the recreation center seems to be elsewhere -- I guess the emergency has caused a lot of temporary reassignments. Can you help me?"

"Let me make sure I understand. You need two candles, but ten candlesticks."

"Nine, actually." Helena smiled inscrutably.

Jane looked puzzled, but didn't ask any questions. "I'll see what I can do."

Five minutes later, Jane had procured the necessary items, and Helena was rummaging through the disks in the PJ5000 range of the catalogue, looking for the Hebrew words for the Chanukah blessing she vaguely remembered from her childhood. "Isn't it pretty much the same as the Shabbat blessing?" asked Jane, who was an astounding resource on a variety of topics. "It's right here. Only the end is different."

With the transliteration in hand, Helena stopped briefly by the medical center, then took the supplies to John's office in a container from her own. Inside, she found him looking very bleak. When she put down the candles on his desk, he cocked his head at her.

"What are you planning?"

"I thought we might light a menorah. Since we don't actually have a menorah, I improvised." She reached into the container and pulled out the draydel. "I made it out of clay," she added lightly. "Tomorrow I'll make a menorah, if you like."

"Helena, this's very nice of you, but it's terrible timing. I can't waste energy broadcasting all over the base when we're in the middle of a crisis..."

"John, how would you say morale on Alpha is doing at this moment?" When he didn't answer, she pressed, "How do you feel right now? How do you think Maya feels after working all day, and Sue Crawford who's worried sick about her son, and me, who's going to have to take care of any casualties? You've always let the crew take time off for a Christmas party. I think we're entitled to this."

"Helena..." But John followed her out of his office, to the Command Center where Sue, Jackie, Maya, Tony, Alan, Sahn, Kate and half a dozen other crewmembers waited expectantly. With the power at minimum, everyone had bundled into thermal suits, and Helena suddenly realized that in all her running around, she hadn't even noticed the temperature drop.

Turning a meaningful look in John's direction, Helena began to set the candles up as Maya approached them, speaking in a low voice. "Commander, we've ignited the fuel, but we're not even sure it will burn through the night. It's going to take at least a week to repair the tanks in the Nuclear Generating Area -- eight days before we can restore power. Even if we cut energy consumption by a quarter of our present usage, we can't last that long."

"I understand, Maya. I know you're doing all you can." John mustered a smile for the Psychon. "Well, Helena, it looks like it won't matter much whether we broadcast to the whole base. Go ahead."

"Thank you." She nodded at Sahn, who pressed a control that would put her on viewscreens in all active areas.

"Tonight, we would like to commemorate an ancient miracle. Thousands of years ago, a small band of Jews faced annihilation. Their lands had been conquered, their Temple was desecrated. But even though the odds were so much against them, the Maccabees pulled together and fought the implacable foe. And they won. They drove the Greeks out of their lands.

"But the struggle wasn't over. They entered the Temple only to discover that the altar had been defiled. They had only enough oil to light the Eternal Flame for a single night. It would take more than a week to purify more oil. Yet after the miraculous victory over their enemies, the Maccabees witnessed another miracle. That tiny amount of oil burned for eight days and nights, long enough for them to produce more."

Helena turned to gaze at John, who was watching at her with bright eyes. "Commander Koenig and I share a common Jewish background, so this story has special meaning for us," she continued. "But I think we can all draw strength from it now. We have no winter solstice in space, but this is surely our darkest hour. Let us kindle these lights and draw strength from our community, like our Maccabee brethren."

She turned to John. "Would you like to do the honors?"

Slowly he nodded, taking the portable laser Helena held out. He removed the candle from the center holder and lit the wick. "Baruch atah Adonai elohenu melech ha-olam asher kidshanu b'mitzvotah vitzivanu l'chad lech ner shel Chanukah," they recited together as he used the burning candle to light the other.

Just then the scream of a klaxon erupted throughout the base. "The fire alarm!" exclaimed Sahn. "We forgot to disable it! The candles must have set it off..."

But Tony had already rushed to his console, eyes wide with alarm. "The candles didn't cause it! It's the fuel! It's burning -- it's burning at twenty times the rate it was before. It's going to burn right through the containment we set up!"

Before Tony had finished speaking, John had begun to stride across the Command Center. "We've got to get it away from Alpha. Alan, prepare an Eagle."

As the commander brushed past, Alan grabbed his arm. "We can't, sir! We removed all the generators from the Eagles to power the base. There's got to be a way to control it from here."

"Maya..." Even before John said her name, she had slipped into her seat, fingers moving frantically over her console. Yet her expression, though stunned, showed no fear.

"Commander, I don't know how, but the reaction is perfectly controlled. The waste isn't burning through containment -- it's holding at exactly the rate necessary to power the station normally." She looked up. "I don't understand it. We set the ratio at a much lower threshold. This shouldn't even be possible."

But John was smiling, even though Tony and Alan both stared at him as if he might have gone insane. "Neither was surviving a black sun," he said. "Neither was escaping from Psychon. Victor once told me that it was impossible for us to have survived breakaway in the first place. He thought some kind of cosmic intelligence must be at work."

"But that's absurd!" insisted Alan.

"Is it? Is it any more absurd than anything else that's happened to us out here, Carter? You were on that survival Eagle that found its way back to Alpha halfway across the universe. Do you want to explain it?"

Helena had walked over to Sue Crawford and extended her arms to take Jackie. "I just remembered something," she said. "In Israel, the draydels are a bit different. Instead of the letter Shin, there's a Pay -- it changes the phrase from 'Nes gadol hayah sham,' 'A great miracle happened there,' to 'Nes gadol hayah po,' 'A great miracle happened here.' I think we need to make a new draydel for Alpha, too."

Tony shook his head. "Well, I don't pretend to believe it, but Helena, I think lighting those candles tonight was a brilliant idea. Do people drink beer on Chanukah?"

"Sorry, Tony, Purim's the big drinking holiday," replied John with a laugh.

"Pity. Well, when's that one?"

"Early spring. And fortunately we drink wine, not beer."

As the Command Center staff relaxed, sharing jokes and ration packets while they watched the impossible stable energy readings of the burning waste, John put an arm around Helena and led her out. In the deserted corridor he kissed her and nudged her in the direction of his quarters. "I have a small Chanukah present for you. Want to see it?"

Teased Helena, "I don't know. How small?"

"Not too small." Winking conspiratorially, John pulled her closer. "It's a mezuzah -- a wooden case with a prayer scroll in it. It was my mother's. My father gave it to her."

"How come you never hung it in your doorway?"

"You know, I packed it when I brought my things to Alpha, then when I got here I put it in a drawer and forgot all about it." As they arrived at his quarters, John reached up to touch the traditional spot for the mezuzah to hang. "We had one on my front door when I was growing up, but I never hung one of my own."

Inside, he gave Helena the case, which was engraved with fancy Hebrew letters. "It says 'Ani l'dodi v'dodi li.'"

"Which means...?"

"'I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine.'"

"Song of Solomon?"

"Mmm-hmm. They had that written on their ketubah too, the marriage contract. It's not clear in the Bible whether it refers to a relationship between two lovers or a person and God. But it's still a beautiful idea."

He paused, glancing at Helena to see if she thought he was being too sentimental, but she nodded and smiled at him.

"I suppose that after tonight, the least I can do is remember the commandment to celebrate the Almighty on my doorposts," John added.

"But how can you do that if you give this to me?"

"Helena, I've been thinking. It seems like an awful waste of resources for us to have separate quarters." When she turned away from the mezuzah to stare at him, he gave her his most charming smile. "On a night like tonight when the base is so cold and we can't afford to waste any power, don't you think it makes sense to share?"

"Sure, John." For a moment she indulged his flirtatious mood, then turned serious. "But are you sure the rest of the crew will see it that way? Unfortunately we're in a position where we have to set an example. If I move in with you, they might think we're just indulging ourselves..."

"I don't want you to move in with me." At that, Helena looked confused. John smiled again. "I want you to marry me."

Before she could say anything, he held up a hand. "Don't answer now. I've asked for enough miracles for one night. I know there are a lot of things that aren't settled with the crew. And we've never even talked about children or what kind of a home we want..."

Helena interrupted him. "Yes."


"Yes, I'll marry you." As he gazed at her joyously, she picked up the mezuzah case and pressed it into his palm, linking her fingers around it with his. "If we made it this far, we can survive anything."

John slid his arms around her waist, nudging her towards the bed. "Happy Chanukah, my love," he whispered.

"L'chaim," replied Helena. "To life."

Copyright (c) 2002. 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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