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The Moon and the Desert

Authors: Christopher Dalton
Show Year: Y1
Rating: PG-13
Date: 2008
The Alphans encounter ancient spirits, trapped inside a crystal under a crater on the darkside of the moon. Are they benevolent or hostile in nature?
Average Rating: 3.0/5 (based on 13 reviews)

Based on an idea by Steve McKinnon
In Memory Of Barry Morse, who brought Professor Victor Bergman to life.
(1918 - 2008)

"The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it's stranger than we can imagine."
- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

September 8th, 1999 AD

John Koenig sat in the antechamber, staring at the Lunar Commission logo etched into the glass above the doors to the conference room. He was not a patient man when dealing with politics. Still, he felt the meeting with the Lunar Commission was completed with the barest minimum of infighting possible.

Screw that, he thought viciously. This wasn't a meeting with the Commission. This was a meeting with Simmonds. The fact that the rest of the Commission members were present was, to Koenig, irrelevant.

"You will have one priority and one priority only, John," Simmonds had said. "Launch that damnable probe. Meta's reachable window is closing. If this project fails, Alpha fails."

The message was clear. Personnel were largely arbitrary; the Lunar Commission needed a high-profile success to keep their funding. It was no secret that Alpha was hemorrhaging money with no substantial product to show for it.

After the Third World War of the late 1980s had stopped as abruptly as they began, the existing moonbase had been decommissioned, and there were serious questions to answer. Questions about billions spent on impractical, single-task vehicles. Questions about the practicality of building a moonbase devoted to space exploration. Questions about who the hell paid to stock Anton Gorski's office bar.

The moonbase itself would have been scrapped had it not been for the Eagle project. The presence of man on the moon was made practical by the development of multi-use modular transports that could operate in vacuum and atmosphere alike. The vehicles produced almost no pollution and maintained per-unit costs well below anything Boeing or Airbus could build. Victor had scored a major coup with that design.

As Koenig thought about Victor Bergman, his gaze shifted to the framed photographs adorning the walls. The theme was almost the same in every photo: Victor receiving an award for the Eagle design. Victor receiving an award for the energy cell that made the stun gun practical. An award for the commlock. An award for the next generation of space suits. The very same environmental suit Victor was wearing when they broke ground for Alpha in the Plato Crater.

Koenig clearly remembered that first meeting to discuss the funding and development of Alpha. Victor had been passionate; a passion rarely displayed after his artificial heart had been implanted.

"Gentlemen," his speech began, "we already have a presence on the moon. The Eagle Transport Project gave man the ability to successfully cope with the dangerous amounts of nuclear waste being generated on this fragile planet."

Koenig had inwardly smirked at the expression so clear on Simmonds' face; Victor had simultaneously drawn attention to his enormous success and to Simmonds' major controversial policy of commandeering a large portion of the Eagle fleet to send all of Earth's radioactive waste to the moon.

Environmentalists had protested turning Earth's only satellite into nothing more than a giant dumping ground for garbage, to which Simmonds replied in his own caustic style: "It's already a dump."

Victor had continued his speech, deliberately oblivious to Simmonds' reaction. "Men must be on the Moon to monitor the massive amounts of waste stored under the lunar rock." More facial twitches from Simmonds. "A simple extension of that established presence would allow us an unprecedented platform for research and exploration."

The gathered delegates of the Lunar Commission had given Victor a standing ovation, leaving Simmonds seated and fuming. Koenig knew that asking for a permanent research station on the moon was going to irritate Simmonds; the fact that it infuriated him delighted Koenig no end. Simmonds repaid Koenig's loyalty to Victor by denying him command of Alpha, assigning Gorski to the post, and placing Koenig in the relatively do-nothing job of commanding Earth's Eagle operations.

So why do they need me now? Koenig asked himself. What the hell is going on up there? Why can't Gorski get that probe launched?

News from Alpha was scarce lately; there was an unusual air of secrecy when questions about daily operations were asked. No one seemed to know anything. The only thing Koenig knew for sure was that personnel transfers to and from Alpha had been suspended. The sealed order, for eyes of Eagle Command only, went out of its way to avoid the word "quarantine." But that's essentially what it was: no one goes, no one leaves. Indefinitely.

The doors to the conference room opened, snapping Koenig out of his thoughts. Simmons himself was at the door. A sure sign of trouble; for anything other than a dire emergency, Simmonds would have sent an underling to summon Koenig.

"We've discussed it, John," Simmonds stated in a tone that hid all emotion, "and the Commission feels that you're the best man to get the job done."

The Commission feels, though Koenig. I'm sure Simmonds' feelings are another matter altogether.

"You are to take command of Moonbase Alpha immediately and ensure the successful launch and completion of the Meta mission. An Eagle is waiting at the launch pad. You will depart in ten minutes."
Koenig was stunned into a brief silence, but recovered immediately. "Just like that?" he asked, standing. "What's really going on up there, Simmonds? A travel embargo that sounds suspiciously like a quarantine, questions that no one seems to be willing to answer, the sudden removal of Gorski from command..."

"It's all here," said Simmonds, interrupting. He handed Koenig a thick binder marked confidential. "You'll have time to read it on your flight, tomorrow. I'm issuing you priority clearance to allow you clearance from embargo." The pause was slight, but noticeable. "Get this sorted out and get the probe launched, John. You are personally responsible. If you fail, Alpha's days are numbered."

What information John read in that binder, following that conference, made the situation all too clear.

Too clear to his liking.

"September 9th, 1999. The big day at last"

John Koenig finished with the packing and sat heavily on the big rocking chair - the only remaining bond with the past - after he had taken one last look at the other rooms. This time though, he looked around the empty sitting room with an insatiable pain which lay deep in the core of his being. Soon he would have to abandon his minuscule chalet. He would have to leave back far more than that; his life, his memories, Earth itself as a matter of fact! For memories would only be a hindrance to his command of Moonbase Alpha, an obstacle to the tremendous task that awaited him and the rest of the three hundred and eleven men and women scientists on tour of duty in the multinational base up there on Earth's natural satellite. Despite that, the pain and nostalgia would accompany him across the void of space to his lunar destination, always intertwined with his destiny.

The sun was casting a red-gold glow as it rose above the horizon. John Koenig's dark hair took on some of the sunrise tint as he stood with arms folded, deep in thought before the lounge window. John had no illusions about the exploration and conquest of space. He had been amongst the first astronauts to return mankind to the moon early in the late twentieth century, after a painfully overlong restriction to Earth orbit-only missions. Several good men and women had been killed on one early mission. There had been strong and sometimes hysterical controversy about those deaths but ultimately manned spaceflight had continued. John's old supervisor had taken the rap for that ill-fated expedition.

Just before leaving office, the Lunar Exploration Director told all the nay-sayers and spaceflight critics to take a flying leap and damn-well grow up. "This is the dawn of the twenty-first century, for Godsakes! We're not on a world full of flat-earth sissies from the dark ages. At least we weren't last time I looked. This is a dangerous business we're in, in spite of all the precautions we take. The loss of those wonderful astronauts is not an excuse to stop! Its an opportunity to learn a lesson, albeit a terribly painful one, and for heavens sake to carry on."

And mankind had. Those words of frustration and sorrow were some of the truest and bravest John Koenig had ever heard. Those astronauts had been his friends and colleagues and their tragic deaths had contributed to John's determination to bring the Ultra Probe mission into existence. Sometimes John felt he would never purge that tragedy from his soul. Every time a mission was a success, he felt that little bit nearer to achieving closure for that part of his life.

He got up, stepped out into the balcony and looked around. The sun was burning fiercely now, its disk of a pale yellow color, filling the mid noon sky overhead. His mind raced back to the astronomical article he had read the day before on Scientific American by his friend and mentor, Professor Victor Bergman - still overseeing things on Moonbase Alpha - about the sun going nova in the far future.

Like a hungry hyena with a voracious appetite - Victor had a flair for similes - it would start engulfing the inner planets of the solar system, Mercury first then Venus and eventually Earth itself. Everything that humanity had achieved would be lost forever. The Parthenon, the great Pyramids, man's great works of art, his deeds as well as his embarrassing pitfalls would go down in the fierce solar maelstrom to come.

"Just like the maelstrom humanity barely survived; the world war of 1987 which came upon us with all the sneakiness of a predator and the devastation described in some ancient Sumerian epics" Koenig whispered as in a reverie.

The war amongst the nations of the Earth had come and gone. All the prejudices, vice and iniquities of mankind exploded with incomparable viciousness and plunged mankind into unprecedented terrors. Brother turned against brother in an attempt to rectify the wrongdoings of an infantile humanity. In a moment's time all the great cities of the planet were engulfed in manmade infernos. Earth itself was almost burnt to a cinder, a hair's breadth away from never again embracing the blackness of space.

There were no winners. Only losers. And as soon as the vanquished mankind realized it, it united under the aegis of the fledgling threat of the atomic waste disposal. Moonbase Alpha was built to solve the problem of the wastes and to help humanity take the first step into the colonization of space, united at last.

Little by little the world had started to pick up momentum again. But for John Koenig, it was too late. He had had enough of "Earth and its so-called civilization", another of Victor's favorite aphorisms. The war had claimed many things but one of them was the dearest to his heart. No longer would he be able to enjoy the sunrise and sunset from the shores of the lovely beaches, or be taken in by the beguiling beauty of the rainbows after the rains in the same way as before the war.

Soon, Eagle One, with its nuclear engines at bay, would take him to Moonbase Alpha and to the commencement of his extended second tour of duty away from painful reminiscences.

All this raced past his mind as he stepped inside once again and sat on the rocking chair. In the shade that the row fir trees cast through the open window, his eyes absorbed vehemently the details of the dusty room's layout. He had loved every inch of it. He had painstakingly built it to suit his dream of the ideal sitting room. There was not a corner that did not bring back long cherished memories. Including the house's meditation chamber, a circular room curtained with glass chimes.

In the corner over there, the fireplace lay orphaned of the lively people that used to gather round in the cold nights of winter. It seemed out of place now. It had been the favorite place of the family where they had warmed their bodies with its flames and their spirits with the fire of their love. Stories still reverberated on its now frigid walls; stories that had brought laughter, amazement and incredulity on the faces of their makers and listeners alike.

Pictures of him and his family had adorned the mantelpiece and given a touch of personality to the simplicity of the surroundings. He remembered a picture showing him hugging a woman, about thirty. Both of them looked happy, smiling at the camera that had frozen that moment in eternity. The woman had been his wife Jean. She had long blonde hair and blue eyes and had made him extremely happy.

Every single item in the chalet carried their signature. Once, the whitewashed walls had been full of pictures varying in themes from landscapes to their own portraits. The wooden parquet floor had been sparkling with radiance and the light-brown lacquered furniture matched the oak beams in the ceiling. The distinct rattle of the wooden shutters in the wind still echoed in his ears and the silky drapes of the open French windows, blowing in the soft breeze, let the smell of lilacs waft through the air inside the house.

How nice it had been here at springtime away from the worries and obligations of the World Space Commission! In the distance the forest of plane trees gave away to landscaped prairies full of flowers and trees of every kind and variety. Including a meadow where an enigmatic sail-like sculpture stood.
A deep-rooted memory surfaced all of a sudden. It had been on a picnic he and his wife had had on one of the innumerable prairies of the countryside. There, under the moonlight, next to a pond with the starlight shimmering in its still waters, he had sung his favorite Beatles oldies to the accompaniment of his wife.

"Imagine all the people..."

Strange! A long-forgotten poem emerged now from the vestiges of a past life. Perhaps it was triggered by his reverie.

It glides from the valleys of Leathe
And in a ripple of time
Undresses and blooms
An untouchable butterfly
Of unfulfilled dreams
Only to flap its wings away
In a hot summer's day.
In its flight of fancy
It gathers treasures
The ethereal stuff from which
Worlds are built and lost
On imaginative shores...

The remembrance of that day was still crystal clear. He got up leaving the chair rocking back and forth behind him. Its squeaking rattle brought him out of his trance. He had forgotten the ending of the poem but that was not important now. Soon he would be traveling once again to another world. He would be witnessing wonders out there beyond imagination amongst the stars but what could replace the dancing of the snowflakes on a winter day? Indeed, what could take the place of the dew dripping from the flowers on the first day of spring or the thunderous waves of the sea breaking on the rocky coasts? He would be missing his late wife terribly and he knew it.

Would he find happiness on Luna? Would the eternal sand dunes and quiet mountain cliffs bring peace and forgetfulness at long last to his tormented soul? Perhaps the smile would return to his lips and the much-needed joviality would once again knock at the door of his spirit while traversing the tranquil whispers of the lunar landscapes. Earth's follies would be thousands of miles away and under the cold light of Alpha he would start a new life. Only time would tell; only time would be the healer and perhaps work would be the crutch to lean on.

He stepped outside and walked a couple of steps carrying his white satchel. He took one last look at the chalet. Its red-thatched roof was buried under the fir trees and its small-unattended garden had grown weeds covering the one tombstone in the corner. He approached the burial place and at that moment he remembered the rest of the poem.

So unfair though
Is memory!
For it is like a chalice
In which joy, pain and fortitude
Are stirred together
And just like old wine
Its residue
A bittersweet intoxication.
"Farewell, Jean. I will be missing you!" He turned around and took the long winding path leading to the Eagle spacecraft.

The mighty motors of the grasshopper-like ship thundered in the tranquility of the noon and as it started to take off, a cloud of smoke and debris were scattered all over the place by the force of her engines. It would take some time before the nearby forest returned to its previous peace. Once it did though, the rustling of the tree leaves would continue in the soft breeze oblivious to the iron bird's ascending to the stars and to the man in its belly whose destiny would never allow to come back again.

Moonbase Alpha - Earth's Moon
September 30th, 2000 AD

Somewhere in dark reaches of space, Earth's former natural satellite was continuing its journey that it had unwillingly begun about a year earlier. Moonbase Alpha sat on the side of the Moon opposite the huge artificial crater and mare created by the detonation of stored nuclear waste. Alpha had been established to oversee the disposal of nuclear waste, as well as provide a training ground for deep space probe astronauts and a research environment for scientists and engineers from a wide range of backgrounds.

Those ceased to be the primary objectives on September 13, 1999 AD. Once the nuclear waste deposits exploded and the Moon broke the bonds of Earth orbit through a process whose physics was still poorly understood, the mission of Moonbase Alpha became one of survival. Damage had been sustained and some lives had been lost, but Alpha came out of the disaster surprisingly operational. The speed and trajectory of the Moon as well as a loss of some Eagles during an effort to avoid the catastrophe had prevented those left on Alpha from fleeing to Earth. They had turned their sights away from Earth and ahead into deep space, striving to survive on Alpha and, ultimately, to find a new home.

Victor Bergman blew a frustrated sigh out of his cheeks, and slumped back in his chair.
Without thinking, he felt his hand reach up and rub the lack of sleep and irritation out of his face, and allowed himself a little smirk. There was a time when he would have cursed aloud, and thrown his notes across the room. However, an operation that saw an artificial heart replace his own weak one, was enough to see an end to his youthful tantrums, and a realization that a few words with his friend and commanding officer would rectify this problem. After all, it would be for the benefit of all Moonbase Alpha, and it wasn't worth getting all huffy about now.

Resigning himself to the fact that his 'night owl tendencies', as Helena refered to them, would keep him awake a little longer, Victor shut off the small lamp over his undamaged notes, and made his way to the concession table in the lab to fix himself a cup of calming tea.

He grimaced at the prefabricated circular tea bag with the computer- programmed amount of tea in it, and dropped it in his brown mug, turning on the kettle. So far from home and any variety of fine English tea, save for the small amount he and a few others had stocked prior to the accident. Ten minutes to midnight just wasn't the time to bring out the 'good stuff' he told himself. Better to use up the base rations which may or may not have been stocked by the International Lunar Commission a decade ago.

As the kettle slowly reached its boiling point (which seemed slower out here in deep space, Victor reckoned) he cast a forlorn look at the telescope he'd just vacated, but knew it was pointless. The distant quasar he'd been observing was now out of range, hidden by the jagged surface of the runaway moon.

When John oversaw tomorrow morning's meeting he was sure he'd concur with Victor's recommendation, as well as Paul and Helena, and whoever else wanted to take part in the meeting.

Commander John Koenig sat at his desk in his large office. Putting pen to paper, he recounted the events of the past week. Although keeping a log in a digital format would certainly be the preferred method for preserving the divergent history of this part of the human race, he found comfort in the feel of the pen gliding on the paper and in the careful choice of words required to get it right the first time. He struggled to keep his mind on the task at hand. Letting the mind wander or be distracted by the beauty and enormity of space outside was hard enough. Especially when the Moon was free-floating in the darkness of space.

Next door in Main Mission, colleagues who he increasingly looked upon as family began what amounted to an afternoon shift on Alpha. They had all worked tirelessly to see the base though the latest trial, and he respected and appreciated them deeply. With the large doors to his office open, he looked out over Main Mission, the nerve center of Alpha. Nothing but empty space was displayed on the large main viewer opposite him, for which he was grateful. Below him sat a U-shaped configuration of desks and terminals. Base Controller Paul Morrow sat with his back to him, taking status reports from around the base. Data Analyst Sandra Benes sat to Morrow's left, busily logging the reports as fast as Morrow could acknowledge them. Astronaut Alan Carter and Tanya Alexander sat at another terminal working out service priorities for the Eagle fleet. David Kano was attending to Main Computer. They were good, devoted people whose support Koenig and Alpha could not do without.

Doctor Helena Russell entered Main Mission to the left of the main viewer. As she walked up the steps to the Commander's desk, Koenig closed his journal and smiled inwardly. He and the blond doctor had grown quite close during the last year, and although he maintained a professional appearance, any excuse for her to visit was always welcomed. She leaned on his desk and took in his privileged view of Main Mission. "Things appear to be getting back to normal, John."

"Helena, I'm not sure what normal is anymore," said Koenig, rubbing his eyes.

"Actually, normal is something that I had in mind," Helena began as she turned to look at him. "I've been concerned about the toll that the stress of day-to-day operations is having on the mental health of our people, not to mention the effect of incidents like last week."

Koenig leaned forward. "What do you have in mind?"

"A greater emphasis on recreation and mandatory time off, for instance," Helena began. "Eva Zoref even proposed organizing a formal."

"A formal?" said Koenig skeptically. "Helena, most of our people were not big on dances and parties on Earth, let alone here. Many are..." he tried to choose his words carefully "...a bit socially challenged."

"I think you underestimate them, John. They have never had to rely on each other like they have had to this past year. I think they would welcome a chance to explore these relationships outside of their shift work." Koenig looked unconvinced so she added, "As Chief Medical Officer, I could order it."

That brought a smirk to his face. "Alright. If our situation remains stable for the time being, you can have your formal." He quickly added, "As long as it doesn't interfere with base operations."

"Are you going to ask me to go with you to the formal?" Helena asked with mock innocence as she gazed out the viewports that ran along the sunken area behind the Commander's desk.

"Oh, I suppose as Chief Medical Officer you could order me to..." Koenig was interrupted by the voice of Victor Bergman as the face of the professor appeared on the viewscreen built into his desk.

Bergman's age showed in his lined face and his thinning, gray hair, but not in his ever-energetic voice.

"John, you'd better have a look at something," Bergman began. "Could you come to my quarters right away?"

Koenig and Russell exchanged glances. "I'm on my way, Victor." As the screen returned to the Alpha test pattern, Koenig started toward the door at the back of his office with Russell right behind him.

Professor Victor Bergman stepped back from his chalkboard, not only to consider his calculations, but also to rest his weary arm. Once he'd accessed data that Computer had stored from the now-defunct internet of Earth, Victor had written and erased calculations and equations with the frenzy of a concert conductor approaching a crescendo. Combining living quarters with a laboratory workspace went against almost every safety rule and regulation on Alpha, as well as on Earth, but Bergman had never been a slave to rules. However, he had complied with laboratory safety regulations requiring items such as a first aid kit.

He could have used Computer to do the heavy work, but he preferred to use his mind, rather than take the laxy way out. Using Bodes Law and Kepler's Third Law, Victor ascertained that Zeta 2 Reticuli, a G1V star, possessed four planets, the fourth of which was approximately 1.12 astronomical units from its sun. The Earth was one a.u. from the Sun at about 93 million miles, while Mars was 1.524 a.u.s, which planet Reticulum 4 was well within the life-zone of a G-class star.

Victor wasn't sure if he should be pleased with this confirmation or not, thanks to the Moon's present trajectory. The nuclear explosions that had sent the Moon on its deep space odyssey had not sent it on a heading towards the solar system, but it still felt too close for Bergman's peace of mind.
23 light years had never seemed so short a distance in all of Victor's life.

Research also determined that the scientific community announced on September 20th, 1996 that a planet was thought to orbit Zeta 2 Reticuli. A ringed gas giant with two moons. Unnamed planetoids. Rocky and inhospitable, with denser, misty, overcast cloud cover. Located in an outlying, uninhabited system.

Victor's train of thought was interrupted by the beep on his comlock. The British scientist picked it up from his desk holder and pointed it at the door. The door slid open to allow both John and Helena entrance.

"What is it, Victor?" John inquired.

"You might want to have a look at this, John," Victor motioned them over to his worktable. "I made some calculations, earlier. I have the printout right next to what I call the Bergman Sphere."

"What is a Bergman Sphere?" asked Helena.

"Oh, it's that power converter over there," he said, pointing across the room to the glass sphere housing numerous electrical components and emitting a low hum. "I can't imagine why it is important. Hardly anyone uses them these days."

John looked over the computer printout on the small spool of paper, and frowned a little.

"I'd say that is definitely a little too close for comfort," Koenig concurred.

"Is something wrong?" Helena asked, a little concerned.

"Nothing, really," John answered. "However, we will be passing by a star system at a relatively far distance."

"How far?" Helena inquired.

"About twenty three light years to be precise," Victor answered for John. "It is the outer rim of that system that has me somewhat concerned."

"What do you mean?"

"On one of the databanks in Voyager One's flight recorder," Koenig explained. "The space probe had detected some form of an energy field. A type never before encountered."

"And," Victor began. "It appeared to be a generated powerfield that was recorded as greater than the radiation of Earth's sun. In the twelfth power range if I am not mistaken."

"Could it present a problem?" Helena wondered.

"I'm not certain," Koenig confessed, rubbing the back of his head with his left hand. "However, it is something that should be taken into consideration."

"Given the Moon's current trajectory," Victor calculated. "We will be passing near the outer rim of the system, itself. We should take every precaution."

"Right," Koenig concurred. "The last thing we need is to have Alpha's vital systems, let alone our people, affected."

"I'll get started on the safety countermeasures," Victor offered. "That way, we'll be better prepared."

Koenig nodded. "We'll go over them at the next command conference."

The door to Commander Koenig's office opened to reveal steps leading to a sunken area containing a round conference table and a sitting area, as well as a large viewscreen on the wall. To the left and back up the steps sat the Commander's desk. Beyond it, the large doors to Main Mission were closed.
Four people standing next to the conference table turned around as the group from Bergman's quarters entered the room. Their conversation ceased in mid-sentence and their expressions turned to puzzlement when they saw the computer printout that Bergman brought with him. Paul Morrow leaned over and whispered to Sandra Benes. As Controller of the Moonbase Alpha, he was acquainted with everyone on the base.

Victor's plan had been this; the moon's trajectory was not constant, and would not maintain the same side of the sphere as the 'front' and 'back'. So far, Moonbase Alpha, situated within the crater Plato, was facing the general direction of where the moon was heading. However, a strong enough gravitational pull could capture the moon, resulting in Alpha looking out the proverbial backseat window, blind to what was heading towards the moon on the other side.

Therefore, surveillance cameras and sensor packages would be strung across the entire lunar surface at regular geographical intervals, so they would have the ability to observe the entire 360 degrees of the night sky. The surface had been sprinkled with a few such units, such as the ones destroyed in the Waste Disposal Areas, but that was back when they were in a comfortable terran orbit. Now the far side of the moon had the potential of becoming the 'front' of the moon, and Moonbase Alpha trapped on the darkside should the moon slide into a planetary orbit or encounter any other phenomena somewhere down the road.

So it was that Main Mission was abuzz with voices and activity several days later. As Controller Paul Morrow shared data with Tanya Alexander, and Alan Carter's voice relayed his relative position to David Kano, Koenig sat back in his big leather chair and sighed with something similar to contentment. His arrival for a second term as base commander had been a whirlwind of activity leading to the inadvertent thermonuclear detonation of the Waste Disposal Areas and a runaway moon. This controlled, precise operation of his staff harkened back to the days during his first time as commander, which had rarely experienced a crisis. It was good to see his people busy and working towards a goal without a life-or-death deadline rearing its ugly head over the horizon. There was no need to push his people, because this task would keep them occupied and feeling like they were accomplishing something important. If Gerald Simmonds had still been on Alpha, he would have been too selfish to understand that.

As Koenig overheard his fleet of Eagles call in from locations he'd never visited, like the craters Stevinus, Byrgius, and Hypatia, and some he had, like Crater Aristotle and the Sea of Tranquility, a voice from beside him forced an involuntary jolt through him due to it's proximity.

"Sorry," Doctor Helena Russell apologized, with a smile.

Koenig grimaced from embarrassment and shuffled some papers. "Don't you knock on doors, Doctor?"

Her little smile threatened to turn into a much wider one as she waved a hand in the general direction of the wide open area.

"I would...if you had a door to knock on!"

Koenig grinned, and felt himself blush. He'd been so preoccupied with watching Main Mission operations through his open doorway that he hadn't realized that someone, such as Helena, could approach him from the far side of the big control room, and not the hallway door behind him in his office.

"Sorry. Just sitting here thinking about how everyone's helping out with Victor's plan, and yet there's still one guy somewhere on this base sulking about having nothing better to do than berate everyone.

I can assign Alphans only so many tasks like this before some of them turn into Simmonds clones."

Helena considered this, and shrugged. "I think your speech following breakaway about having a chance of surviving what's out there was enough to convince anyone that you truly care about your people. And this project proves further that you'll continue to look after them. Gerald Simmonds was disruptive, but John Koenig is constructive. I know who I'd place my faith in."

It was an unexpected vote of confidence, but one that Koenig fully appreciated. A year in space with these people had given him an idea of where he stood with most of them, but that bit of psychology placed Helena near the top of the list of people he felt he could rely on.

Doctor Matthias looked up from his desk as Jim Haines stepped through the doorway. "Jim! What can I do for you?"

Haines looked uncomfortable as he sat down in a chair. "Well...I'm not even sure why I came." He stood to leave.

"Wait a minute, Jim," said Matthias, holding up a hand. "Please, let's talk about it before you go."

Haines nodded reluctantly and sat back down. "Alright." Matthias could see that he obviously needed to talk, but waited patiently.

Haines finally spoke up. "You see, something happened in the lab a while back and I haven't been able to take my mind off of it. I lay awake at night reliving it."

"What happened in the lab, Jim?" asked Matthias.

"I had a close call." Haines pursed his lips, trying to find words. "I almost dropped a canister of atomic fuel or something dreadful like that, and the radiation would have killed some people."

Matthias raised his eyebrows at the troubling news, but kept his professional calm. "You're feeling guilt about that?"

"Well, I suppose," answered Haines, "although I know it wouldn't have been intentional." He rubbed a hand over his eyes as he continued. "I've been thinking about Ernst Queller."

Matthias nodded. Ernst Queller had taken a position in Technical under the name Ernst Linden prior to Breakaway. The Voyager 1 space probe launched a number of years before had utilized a propulsion drive that bore his name, and the Queller drive had prematurely engaged after launch and killed many people, including Jim Haines' parents. "Why do you suppose that Queller has come to mind?"

Haines face took on a look of frustration. "Doctor, I was so angry with him! He lied to me. He lied to everyone!"

Matthias began to see the connection, but he wanted Haines to discover it himself. "Queller died months ago, Jim."

"I know, Doctor. But in the lab..." Haines paused for a moment, and then looked directly at Matthias.

"I almost became like him."

"Jim, do you blame Queller for the death of your parents and the others?" Matthias asked.

"Oh, of course I do!" Haines answered quickly. "Or I did," he added with uncertainty. "But now I feel like I've become him, and I hate it!"

Matthias proceeded carefully. "Jim, you blame Queller for the loss of your parents. Also, in a sense you blame Queller for the loss of Linden. It was a double loss, doubling your anger. I think the event in the lab showed you that you are as human as Queller was, and that he was not as evil as you tried to make him out to be."

Haines remained silent. Matthias walked around his desk and sat in one of the chairs next to Haines.

"Jim, all of our actions have consequences, whether intentional or not. We can walk on eggshells around each other, or we can look inside ourselves, see our own shortcomings, and realize that we have to forgive others."

"Not everyone deserves forgiveness," said Haines.

"Perhaps. But Queller did give his life trying to make up for what he had done," answered Matthias, referring to Queller's suicide dash in Voyager 1 that destroyed three ships intent on the destruction of Alpha. "You are having a difficult time forgiving him, and as a result you cannot forgive yourself for what happened in your lab."

Haines sat for a long moment, then finally nodded. He looked at Matthias. "I really do miss working with Linden."

"Well, then remember Ernst Linden and not Ernst Queller. If you focus on Linden, then maybe you'll be able to cut yourself a little slack." Matthias patted Haines on the shoulder as he stood.

Haines stood up also. "Thanks, Doctor. I was afraid that if I sought out a psych session, I'd end up in padded quarters."

Matthias laughed, "Jim, we've all been through hell and back since we left Earth. If we don't talk about it, we'll all need padded quarters!"

Haines nodded to Doctor Russell as she passed him on the way into Medical Center. "Is everything alright, Bob?" she asked as the door closed behind Haines.

"I think everything will be just fine," answered Matthias, satisfied.

After the death of his mentor, Ernst Linden, previously known as Ernst Quellar, the creator of the infamous Quellar Drive some two decades before, Haines had started analyzing the enormous body of data contained in the Voyager records. Brushes with space phenomena and high technology, strange forces and strange languages; cold space, numerous star systems, alien worlds.

He had disseminated many volumes of information from that deceptively small box, collecting theories in return, while creating his own hypotheses in attempts to integrate explanations. It was an enormous task Koenig had assigned to him that first year--a task which could have been the work of ten experts. The commander couldn't spare the people; so it was up to Haines to analyze the data, calling on experts as needed, which was frequently--though perhaps not as often as in the past.

Physicists, sociologists, chemists, linguists, geologists, biologists, and more--the whole host of "ist"s, with engineers and others thrown in for good measure--had all been called upon. With his earlier training, the help of others, and an ability to learn quickly, he had become an excellent data analyst--now almost on par with Sandra Benes.

Jim's duties had soon taken him out of the "pure" sciences, however, and into data analysis, a still semi-vague and growing field whose main purpose was to integrate multi-departmental information. It was something Professor Bergman had done on many an occasion.

Eagle One flew low over the lunar surface of Mare Cognitum en route for Montes Riphaeus, having just unloaded their third camera/sensor package. Three more units to unload, and then Carter and his co-pilot, Peter Johnson, could continue their debate over a cup of moonbase coffee.

"I'm tellin' ya," Carter continued, his eyes flitting across his instruments every few seconds, "the best sci-fi movie out there will always be the first 'Back To The Future' flick."

"Are you kidding me?" Johnson laughed, showing small teeth under a small moustache.

"What's not to like?" Alan defended. "There's time travellin', time paradoxes, that bloke that plays the Doc Brown character, plenty of laughs about how different the '50's are from the '80's, all wrapped in that special Spielberg packaging!"

"Geez, you're nuts, you are, Alan! If you want one of the best science fiction movie ever made you can't beat--"

"'Silent Running'?"

Johnson made a sour face. "Ha ha. No. 'Back To The Future' isn't real sci-fi. For that you look no further than 'Planet Of The Apes'!"

"Awww, c'mon, you serious?!"

"What have you got against 'Planet Of The Apes'?" Johnson asked, as indignant as if Carter had insulted his sister.

"Other than Charlton Heston runnin' 'round in a loincloth complainin' about sticky ape paws and so-called apes that sound like they have a mouthful of cotton in their rubber mouths when they talk?"

"AH!" Johnson sneered good-naturedly, waving a hand. "You'll change your mind when you land this baby on a planet with real aliens, and they'll look really different from you, let me tell you."

Carter was about to enlighten Johnson about the finer points of the first two 'Alien' movies when he overheard interplay between another Eagle and Main Mission over his speakers. Carter and Johnson halted their debate to listen in as Eagle Five reported a problem with their surface operative,

Astronaut Yuri Salkov, who had left the ship to set up a sensor unit, but wasn't responding to any hails.

Carter retrieved his grid-pattern sheet from the floor, and tried to locate the areas that Eagle Five had been assigned. Montes Alpes, Crater Autolycus, Sinus Aestuum, followed by--

"--we've been in Sinus Medii for 10 minutes now," pilot Toshihiro relayed, even as Alan read that location on his listing. "It only took him 5 minutes to do the others, and now he's not responding. Request permission to go outside and locate Salkov."

"This is Main Mission," Paul's voice replied. "Permission granted."

Alan pulled back on his thrusters, bringing the Eagle to a stop, then turned its nose around. He gave a cursory look at Johnson to see if his co-pilot had a problem with that, but was answered with a nod and thumbs-up sign.

"Hello, Alpha, this is Eagle One. We're not too far from Eagle Five's location, so we're backtracking to lend assistance if required."

There was a pause, which Alan took as Paul's moment to confirm with Koenig if this was okay, and was relieved to hear him reply, "Eagle One, you are clear to lend aid. I'm sending you Five's exact coordinates."

Carter gained altitude quickly to traverse the hundreds of miles between him and the other Eagle. He recalled that Salkov was a veteran of Alpha and probably wouldn't take unnecessary risks. He'd even joked once that he was immune to such actions, during a conversation in the Solarium. So where was the overly-cautious Russian now?

Koenig's enjoyment of the routine project was shattered by the alert Toshihiro had called in. He cursed himself for not assigning a pair of surface operatives per ship, but cut it short. Carter's remark about 20/20 hindsight came back to him, making him realize that all the second-guessing in the world couldn't prevent the unexpected.

While Tanya and Sandra continued to coordinate the other Eagles across the lunar landscape, Paul and Kano were able to concentrate on the problem with Eagle Five.

"Toshihiro is leaving the ship now, Commander," Morrow reported. "Main Mission to Toshihiro, come in."

"I'm here."

"Could you activate your commlock? Give us a picture here."

Through his thick gloves the astronaut pressed a pair of buttons and instantly a shaky picture of the lunar soil became a slightly wavy picture of Toshihiro's helmet, then the lunar horizon. Distant hills and craters were scattered across the big screen in Main Mission, but without any sign of life.

"Thanks, Toshihiro. We're receiving visual," Morrow relayed.

"I'm following Salkov's footprints. They're the only ones in the area, and are clear enough to track."

Between Koenig, Victor, Helena, and Paul nobody wanted to say a word. Their attention was locked on the big viewscreen, their eyes transfixed on the image in the belief that they just might be the one to see something a second or two before the Japanese astronaut did. Through the speakers they could hear his heavy breathing, as he left the vicinity of his ship, and ventured across the cold lunar landscape in search of his comrade.

"Regolith is thick here," Toshihiro commented between gasps. "It's like walking on a beach made of flour."

"Toshihiro, set your communications on wide-band to include us and Salkov. Start calling for him," Koenig ordered.

"Right, Commander." An adjustment later, and the astronaut could be heard calling out, "Yuri, this is Toshihiro, are you receiving me? Yuri, where are you?" No response. "Okay, if you can hear me but can't transmit, give me a signal. A laser up into the sky, or feedback-- something! Yuri, are you there?"

Salkov's status remained an unspoken mystery.

Only his footprints, which just kept getting further and further from the Eagle, gave any glue that Toshihiro wasn't on a wild goose chase. Why the Russian walked even fifty feet from Eagle Five was a mystery. The idea was to land at a prearranged location and set up the unit reasonably close to the ship.

Ten feet away could result in the unit smothered by lunar dust when the ship took off, but over 200 feet away was ridiculous, should a repair team come out to fix the unit sometime in the future, only to discover it wasn't where it should be. Salkov was threatening to set up the sensor unit at a completely different latitude and longitude if he kept this up.

Amongst the ancient soil of the moon an object came into view as Toshihiro followed bootprints around a jagged outcropping of rock. He stopped in his tracks and reported,

"Main Mission, do you see this?"

With his commlock pointed directly at the distant object the collection of officers and technicians couldn't help but see what he saw.

"Affirmative, Toshihiro," Morrow answered. "Do Salkov's footprints lead that way?"

The image shifted as the pilot looked down and around. "Affirmative. I'm checking it out."

Less than a minute later the big screen was showing a tangled mess of metal and tubing that might have been metallic legs. An American flag painted on one side was smeared somewhat by a burn mark and a hole in one of the metallic plates.

"Well, I'll be! It's one of ours. An old one, by the looks of it," Toshihiro said, waving the commlock across the wreckage. "Small, though. Some kinda satellite, I guess."

"Ahhh!" Victor said from behind everyone, a small printout paper from the computer in his hand.

Koenig and Helena looked towards him for the rest of Bergman's personal revelation. "It's coming back to me now! Sinus Medii; the Bay of the Center. That's the ill-fated American soft-lander, Surveyor 4, out there, John. Two and half minutes before it was supposed to land on the moon back in, uhh, July 14, 1967, contact was lost, and it was assumed to have crashed on the surface. Nobody ever went back to look for it, what with other probes sent elsewhere on the moon, and then the Apollo missions. Surveyor 6 would be rather close to where you are now, Toshihiro, but you've definitely found the wreckage of the failed number 4."

"Um, that's not all. Alpha, are you seeing what I'm seeing? This probe looks like it was taken down by a laser, rather than damage caused from an internal explosion."

"Understood, Toshihiro. Continue tracking Salkov for the time-being. That wreckage isn't going anywhere."

"Right, Commander. Hey, I've got a visual contact of something approaching from the horizon."

"Just the cavalry, Toshi," Carter's voice said over everyone's speakers. "Thought you could use a hand out here."

"Sure. Can you circle around and see if I'm even close to Salkov's position? His footprints lead towards you at about 8 o'clock, your perspective."

"Gotcha. Standby."

Eagle One altered course ever so slightly to the left, flying high enough so as not to disturb the delicate lunar dust and obscure the missing surface expert. Toshihiro paused in his walking to catch his breath, thankful for the airborne eyes of the Eagle, even though standing beside the destroyed American relic gave him the chills.

"Alpha! I've found something!" Carter gasped.

"Salkov?" Koenig asked, leaning forward beside Morrow.

Negative! It's one of the old Helium-3 mining facilities. Toshi, keep walking towards us for about thirty yards and you'll see it. I'm setting down nearby."

"Another 90 feet!" Toshihiro could be heard moaning. "Geez."

As he walked to where Alan had set down his Eagle, Toshihiro could tell that Yuri had come this way, too. In fact, his footprints led towards the structure, with only a minimum of distortion (someone pacing? backing up?) in the gray soil. He paused to await the arrival of Carter outside, all the time sending back an image of the artifact before him.

The big screen in Main Mission showed a collection of interconnected domes, equalling the size of a small house. There were no windows, just smooth walls.

Except one.

An open doorway, spewing out weak yellow light, beckoned all visitors to enter.

There were even dark streaks on its surface that appeared to be heat blisters.

Victor's excitement about finding the long-lost Surveyor 4 was mellowed now, as he checked Computer a second time, and came up with some data.

"One of the old Helium-3 mining stations is listed in that location."

"I barely remember that site facility, Victor," Koenig noted.

Bergman nodded, a twinkle in his eyes, as he said enigmatically, "I know. It might have been an oversight that someone in the space program neglected to note to anyone else."

Koenig's eyebrows went up in surprise, before he looked back at the screen to find that Carter had joined Toshihiro at the site.

"We're gonna check the mine complex's doorway, Commander," Carter said, already leading the way.
After a few steps, Toshihiro went off course slightly, and alerted his partner. "Alan! Look at this!"

Just short of the entrance, Carter turned around and saw his fellow pilot bent down, examining the footprint-laden surface. He was about to say 'so what?' when a thought struck him. He approached and bent down for a closer look, too.

"Holy shit," Carter whispered.

Toshihiro's commlock relayed what they saw. Salkov's regulation boot prints weren't alone in the soft surface. They mingled with other, smaller prints, basically the shape of a foot, but with a series of treads that didn't match any boot Carter was familiar with.

"Small," Toshihiro commented.

"Yeah. Probably no more than...size 4. Weird."

They rose and approached the open doorway, which was painted in a sickly yellow hue from several lights above their heads. A control panel at waist height blinked, awaiting a command.

The pilots looked at one another and shrugged. Carter touched a couple buttons, and found the entrance slammed shut a moment later behind him, while the interior blazed a blinding white.

Victor's excitement about finding the long-lost Surveyor 4 was mellowed now, as he checked Computer a second time, but came up with no data.

"Alan! Alan, come in! Toshihiro, are you receiving?" Morrow called out desperately to no avail.

The big screen was a jumble of squiggly, chaotic lines and sparkles of static. They had no way of knowing if the pilots were still alive or just having their communications interfered with, despite the fact that their life monitors had gone silent.

"Main Mission, this is Johnson on Eagle One. What's going on?"

"We've lost contact with Carter and Toshihiro, Johnson. What do your scanners show out there?" Koenig wanted to know.

The burly pilot looked over his panels and responded, "All quiet. I'm reading an energy pattern at the Helium-3 site, but nothing powerful. Shall I recon Alan?"

Koenig sighed, and replied, "Standby, Johnson." He turned to Victor and Helena for advice. "Three men missing, and an energy pattern that shouldn't be there. If I let Johnson go in by himself we might have four casualties and no answers."

"We could recall another Eagle from the operation. There are three more elsewhere across the moon," Victor offered.

Koenig gave that only a moment's thought before he shook his head. "At least two of them are on the other side of the moon, and the other down by the south pole. I think it makes more sense to continue your project of setting up sensors, Victor, while I take another Eagle out there myself."

"Then I'm coming with you," Helena said, stepping forward. "Alan and the others might need medical attention."

Koenig didn't argue. He ordered Paul to have a rescue Eagle on launch pad one with a co-pilot.

A veil of lunar dust swirled upwards from the plus-sign-shaped launch pad, and tried in vain to attach itself to the receding hull of the Eagle. The red stripes on its central utility pod gleamed red as the pad lights shone against them. Koenig found himself beside co-pilot Alex Thompson, while Helena sat in the aft section in a space suit, sans her life support equipment for the moment.

Positionally, Sinus Medii was nearly in a straight line directly south of Crater Plato where Alpha was situated, making it a very easy flight. Sinus Medii was known as the Bay of the Center, as it was almost dead center of the side that had faced Earth. Koenig considered that some day the designation might not make sense, due to the moon's unpredictable trajectory and gravitational forces still to be encountered.

"One minute to intercept," Thompson stated minutes later, checking his instruments.

"I'm going to circle a bit before setting down. Try to make contact, please, Thompson."

While Eagle Eight buzzed over her sister ships and the old space probe, Thompson's New England accent called out again and again for Carter, Toshihiro, or Salkov, receiving as little response as a man talking to a wall. Koenig saw that the energy readings were level and non-threatening. In fact, they were comparable to the energy output of an Earth-bound house in a field.

Setting down his ship within seventy feet of Eagle One, Koenig ordered Thompson to remain and added, "Doctor Russell, if you need help with your--" He stopped in mid-sentence as he saw Helena fully equipped with her life support unit and helmet on. He found himself smiling, which she returned, as she handed him his own support unit.

"Good luck, Commander, Doctor," Thompson nodded, before returning to the cockpit so the utility pod could be decompressed.

When Koenig and Russell were a few yards from their ship they noticed the same open area and the remains of Surveyor 4.

Morrow, Bergman, and the rest of the Main Mission crew noticed, too, as Koenig had activated his commlock to act as a camera, transmitting what he saw back to the base. As much as he wanted his project implemented, Victor was much too interested in locating the three missing Alphans to monitor Sandra and Tanya's activities. He wracked his brains, trying in vain to recall any explanation, or any known phenomena for that matter, that would be causing the emission of the energy pattern, virtually under their noses.

Of course, he told himself, that there was no reason to believe the pattern emission had been from one of the nuclear waste dumps erected around the same time as Moonbase Alpha. Let alone the old lunar beacons. Small lunar bases and installations had been created and abandoned prior to Alpha's foundation being excavated. This could have been one of them but for two major reasons; such lunar bases did not give off unusual energy signatures, and also the basic energy source wasn't like any predecessor of Alpha.

Koenig paused and pointed the commlock down at the tiny footprints, saying, "Here're the footprints Alan spotted." He placed his booted foot next to one, pushed down, and stepped away, leaving a comparison in the ancient soil. The result was like seeing a normal man's footprint beside one of Bigfoot, only in this case Koenig was Bigfoot. His foot was twice the size of the unknown visitor to this area.

"John," Helena's voice said over the speaker in his helmet. He looked up and saw that she was pointing at the doorway to what appeared to be one of the old Helium-3 mining facilities, which was once again open, awaiting their entry like a venus fly trap awaiting an unsuspecting bug.

"Paul, no word from Alan or the others?"

"No, sir. All quiet."

"Then it's possible this energy signature is composed of something that blocks our communications. I see no evidence of Alan or Toshihiro in either the doorway, or the inner doorway. We're going in."

Helena steeled herself for entry, her concern for the missing men overriding her concern for her own life. She wished this had simply been an unlisted American or Russian base, but her instincts told her differently. Koenig actually offered a hand, which she gladly accepted. He handed her his commlock, and then removed his laser.

He stopped a foot from the doorway. "I don't have any right to ask you to come along, Doctor."

"I'm going with you. I came this far to help our men. We don't know for certain that they're not injured."

He nodded once, and relayed to Main Mission that they were entering the airlock. Koenig touched the same buttons Alan had, but was still surprised when the door slid shut in an instant behind him, locking him and Helena in a space as small as an elevator. He gripped his weapon tighter, as well as Helena's hand as the tiny room flared up into an unbearable white void.

In Main Mission the personnel present either gasped or jumped from their seats as time repeated itself. As with the two pilots, the big screen was reduced to a chaotic series of squiggly lines and static, their connection to their commander abruptly terminated.

"Commander! Commander Koenig, come in! Doctor Russell, are you receiving?" Paul called out urgently, but he might as well have been trying to make contact with distant Earth. "It's no use, Professor. We're not even getting their lifesigns!"

The glare was short-lived, but the nausea it accompanied wasn't so easily forgotten. Koenig and Helena looked at one another, and acknowledged that they were unharmed, just a little disoriented.

The cleansing winds of the facility's decontamination chamber did have a way of affecting a human being's senses. The exit to the moon's surface remained closed, but the inner door slowly opened without either of them lifting a finger to do so.

They also discovered that the structure was simply an access point for an underground area. Inside the building dim lights shone exposing smooth walls, which possessed an single control panel to activate the airlock. Helena checked her sensors and reported.

"There's a breathable atmosphere in here, Commander. Not up to par with Alpha's, but close enough."

Both of them cautiously removed their helmets, and tasted the dust in the air. There was a vague rank smell that Koenig couldn't identify, but the doctor could.

"Decay. I think I smell something that's decomposing down there."

Koenig tried his commlock but it replied with static, unable to breach the walls to make contact with his moonbase. He switched channels and tried to contact Alan, but was welcomed with the same kind of interference.

The ILC engineers who built this made it impervious to their own technology, Koenig thought.

They approached the gangway that led downwards into an equally dimly-lit corridor. "Alan! Alan, are you down there?" When he received no reply, he instructed Helena to arm herself, as well, clipping the commlock back onto his spacesuit belt.

The metal stairs creaked under their weight, even as they noticed how steep they were. They found themselves in a corridor that was high-ceilinged, barely reaching 7 feet in height, and 5 feet wide.

Doors interspersed at irregular intervals down the forty-foot long corridor, which branched off to the left and right at its end. Each door possessed a small control panel about three feet off the ground, which Koenig knew was the locking/unlocking mechanism.

"Can you smell that?" Helena wondered.

Koenig nodded. "I have a feeling it's going to get stronger the deeper we explore." They crossed the length of the first corridor, and saw that the two others at the junction stretched out another forty or fifty feet, but had fewer doors. "Helena, could the--"

The Commander was cut short by a scream in the distance, which echoed weirdly off the smooth metal walls. He made a dash for it even as he realized that the WSC constructors who built this Helium-3 refinery had equipped it with nearly Earth-norm artificial gravity. The scream was cut short and replaced by a terrified gasp, and an impact with something big and orange. Koenig maintained enough of a grip on his weapon that as he fell to the floor, he aimmed it in the general direction of his attacker.

"C-Commander?!" gasped his 'attacker', also sprawled on the icy cold floor.


Helena helped her commander up to his feet, even as the Russian struggled to regain his own balance.

"How did you get here?" Salkov asked, embarrassed by his behaviour, not to mention his barely-controlled hyperventilating.

"I could ask you the same thing. Carter and Toshihiro entered this refinery looking for you, but when they disappeared Doctor Russell and I gained entry, too. Mind explaining what you're doing down here?"

Salkov cast an agitated look over his shoulder, back the way he'd come, before replying, "Stupid idea, really. I vanted to see the old Surveyor lander that crashed nearby. Did you see it?"

"Carter did."

Salkov nodded, continuing. "I vas about to set up the probe unit vhen this place caught my eye. I know my history, Commander, and knew that this mine facility had been shut down for some time, so I checked it out. Stupid me, I vas locked inside and couldn't get out, so I decided to look around. Some doors vere locked, but others aren't, and access empty r-rooms," he said, unable to suppress a chill and a nervous look behind him. "I tripped over one of the old maintenance drones. Back there."

"Carter and Toshihiro?" Helena asked.

The Russian shook his head. "Vhat happened back there...was avile ago. I haven't seen Alan, yet. Vith your permission, sir, I vish to remain here."

Koenig raised a curious eyebrow, but concurred to it. The rank odour was suddenly in his nose, and as offensive as an unkempt barnyard. He led Russell down the corridor towards an open doorway. He stopped at the frame, revolted by the scene within, while Helena gasped at the sight, her brain assaulted by the poisonous air she had inhaled.

"Oh, my God," Koenig whispered.

"We do need more information, Paul," Bergman added, gently. "I should think a recon circuit around the structure would be in order. Perhaps a further analysis of what is causing that energy signature being emitted, so that we can find why our communications are being blocked."

Morrow took the advice and returned to his seat. "Main Mission to Eagle One."

"Johnson here. Any news?"

"Not yet, Peter. Care for a recky?"

"Better than sitting on my rear all alone. Gimme five minutes."

"Good. Just check the structure, but do not enter. I say again, do not enter. Check it out for radiation, energy signatures, composition, the works, and remain in constant communication with us."

"You got it."

Both paused at the doorway, but were drawn in nonetheless seconds later. It was like watching the remnants of a train wreck; you wanted to look away, but you had to know what happened. Koenig and Helena entered the cluttered room in different directions, curious about two different things.

The spoilage of the food supplies and the damaged computer equipment.

The food supplies in the facility's gallery had obviously gone bad. More than likely, one of the refrigeration units had burned out.

She tried her best to shut out the stench of rotten food she'd sensed above at the entrance, but the minimum life support system present had allowed the food to spoil and decompose. Had the small refinery facility been decompressed, the vacuum would have preserved the stored canisters of food.

Koenig was lured towards the recognizable equipment scattered everywhere, as well as a pair of, what appeared to be, small mechanical feet sticking out from behind a small desk. He crept up to whatever lay on the floor, but stopped in his tracks as he finally lay eyes on the owner.

"One of the old maintenance drones," he concluded. "That explains the unidentifiable footprints we saw on the lunar surface."

"Commander! Doctor! It's Carter!" called Salkov.

Koenig and Helena gladly left the room and met up with Salkov, while Carter and Toshihiro appeared a moment later from down the original corridor. They were glad to see the others, but displayed looks that reflected their own experiences. Carter revealed that they had been locked inside and explored the small refinery, but had gone in a different direction than either Koenig or Salkov had gone, so they never heard their names called, although they'd been just close enough to barely register Salkov's scream.

"This place is beginning to look as big as Alpha's maintenance building," Koenig mused. "What else did you find in your search, Alan?"

"Some rooms that were old quarters, others have storage. We were about to try an' open up a bigger door when we heard brave ol' Yuri, here, scream like a girl, so we came runnin'."

Salkov managed an embarrassed smile at Alan's joke, appreciating the tap Carter gave him on the shoulder.

"Sounds promising. We'll check it out, then get back to the upper level, and try to leave that way.

Paul and the others must be going crazy worrying about us, by now."

"I wonder what caused so much damage to the facility?" Toshihiro wondered.

"I have an idea about what caused it," Carter's companions awaited his theory, their complete attention focused on him. "One word, Commander; breakaway."

It was like a light appeared over his head. Koenig looked at Russell, who nodded with a slight smile.

"Makes sense. The stress of the g-force on all of us at first was tremendous. And it caused some structural damage to Alpha."

"Which would explain why the food here has been spoiled," Koenig concurred. "The refrigeration unit was damaged beyond all repair."

On the big screen, pilot Peter Johnson was walking around the refinery building. It was as quiet as before, threatening no one, but beckoning all to enter. Johnson ascertained that there was just one entrance, and no windows or radiation leaks.

"Why don't I just blast open the inner door?" Johnson wondered aloud.

"I wouldn't risk it. That's the main airlock. You'll kill anybody on the other side," Morrow admonished.

"Well, I sure as hell can't even knock on the inner door, or else I'll be locked in, too."

"Stand-by, Johnson," Morrow ordered. "Okay, we've done a recon, what?"

"Have him do another sensor scan," Bergman suggested. "There might be another way inside."

Carter and Toshihiro entered the inner chamber first through the big doors they'd located earlier.

Cold, bitter air greeted them, brushing past all of them as it cascaded out into the corridor. Inside was as still as a crypt. If any personnel had been inside the facility when breakaway occurred, their lives would have undoubtedly been snuffed out by the detonation of the nuclear waste disposal areas hundreds of miles away on the barren lunar surface.

It was then that they realized that they were booth standing at the far section of a vast storage bay that measured about 200 square feet. With various computer equipment and other supplies that they both figured could be cannibalized for Alpha's benefit.

"No windows, no vents, no electrical tubing, or external power source. Even the commlocks won't open it. Virtually a box on the moon."

"Professor? Any suggestions?" Morrow asked.

Bergman shook his head. "Not without knowing John's status inside. We can only hope that he can manage to get a message out to us."

"Actually...we might be able to contact him."

All eyes turned towards David Kano, who almost looked like he was surprised that it had been him that uttered those words. He sighed, and added,

"Try a different wave length. One that's so far to the edge of our spectrum that it would appear to be untransmittable, and set our transmitter to maximum. Overload it, if necessary."

Morrow wondered what was going on, but did as instructed.

Even in the still storage bay of old mining equipment, the bleep at his waist was almost ignored, until
Koenig realized that his commlock was active. He raised it to his face and was surprised to see the startled features of Paul Morrow on the other end, albeit through snowy interference.


"Paul! Glad you broke through the interference or shielding of the building."

"Thank David for the idea of trying an obscure wave length, sir. Are you all right? Did you find Alan and the others?"

"We are, and everyone's here. In fact, Paul, we're standing in an underground helium-3 mining complex, complete with equipment and various supplies."

"With what?"

"I'll fill you in later. But start assembling technical and medical teams. They're about to have a field day down here."

No sooner had Koenig ended the conversation when an alarm sounded around them, initiating a series of flashing lights and a build-up of energy and sound. The crew looked at one another, unsure of what to do, other than arm themselves with their lasers. The doorway they'd entered through slammed shut, while a hissing sound made their ears ache.

Koenig didn't care, as one final eerie wailing sound preceded the grinding of hidden gears, and a terrifying sight just a few hundred feet away from them; the storage bay doors were slowly parting, and with it the precious air they were breathing!

Suddenly the Alphans felt like they were in a raging vortex, a life-sucking maelstrom that threatened to thrust them out to the moon's surface, without their helmets on.

Carter and Toshihiro suspected what was about to happen a moment earlier than Salkov, but all three still managed to lock their helmets in place, even as the pressure threw them against a support pillar and mobile control panel. Helena and Koenig weren't so lucky. She was pulled backwards towards the parting bay doors, her arms outstretched, eyes wide with the horrible realization that she might have seconds to live.

"HELENA!!!" Koenig screamed, his cry a whisper within the raging wind.

He leapt towards her, uncaring of his own life, finding himself airborne for a second thanks to the weakening artificial gravity, before he practically tackled her. They fell to the ground, but slithered without effort as the atmosphere of the storage bay was evacuated. In the jumble of arms and legs,

Koenig let go of his own helmet, which skittered and rolled away like a crazy yellow bowling ball, so that he could use both hands to virtually ram Helena's helmet in place. He slammed the visor down, and her environmental system automatically kicked in.

He clung to her, feeling the icy cold touch of death on his face, the hangar virtually cleared of air.

The far wall was now open to show the moonscape beyond, an escape route for the other Alphans, but the last sight for John Koenig. His chest heaved and ached without oxygen, even as he saw his helmet laying on its side, twenty yards away from him, which might as well be twenty miles for all the strength he felt he had left.

His eyes beheld stars, but not the solar kind, as he began to pass out. He thought he felt something hit his face, but the cold of space had numbed him to all but the most miniscule of details. He didn't want to inhale, fearing the implosion of his lungs, but he finally did so, accepting in death that at least he had saved Helena.

That was when he felt oxygen fill his lungs, and his panic lessen. He looked up, and saw that Helena had placed her reserve oxygen mask on his face, allowing him to share her oxygen supply. Carter, Salkov, and Toshihiro approached and helped him up, which was necessary as his body was continuing to feel numb from the frigid environment. He could breath but for how long? He was draining Helena's supply, endangering her chances of making it back to an Eagle safely.

Seconds later he saw that one of his pilots had hopped to and from his stray helmet, and prepared to put it in place. Helena motioned Koenig to stand ready, then removed the mask from his face. He held his breath as Carter slammed the helmet and faceplate in place, but it was still a shock to his system.

With the opening to the storage bay, and the myriad stars above the lunar surface staring them in the face, Carter took the initiative and had Salkov assist him in ushering Koenig outside, while Toshihiro and Helena followed. They fought against the natural light gravity of the moon, mentally willing the door to remain open, which it did.

Seconds later, after walking a distance away from the Helium-3 refinery, Paul was trying to contact them again.

"We're okay, Paul," Carter replied for the group. "Well, the Commander's a little worse for wear, but he'll make it. We're back on the moon's surface, thanks to the refinery's storage bay doors."

"Paul," Helena chipped in. "Stand-by with a medical team to assist Commander Koenig; he was subjected to several seconds of decompression and freezing."

"Understood. I'll have Mathias there when you get back."

As Carter and Salkov helped Koenig back to the nearest Eagle, the Australian astronaut said, "I'm beginning to think that the energy signature at the facility was some kind of security system. One that was malfunctioning for some time. Maybe we should get Johnson to run a repair dianostic an--"

The night sky flared white-blue, then yellow, creating odd shadows for a moment amongst the people and rocks on the lunar surface. Followed by a small explosion that blew the small refinery apart. When it had subsided, Koenig and the others looked outward and saw a burning site that was once an old Helium-3 mining facility fizzle and disappear. Something which reminded them of the magnetic firestorm that burned out the Area One nuclear waste dump before September 13th, 1999 AD.

Paul's disappointed voice came back on line for all to hear. "It's gone. It just blew up, by itself."

No doubt from an unstable isotope reactor, Koenig mused to himself, very disappointed, as he'd hoped to repair the small refinery and have it on-line once again.

Or something else, he thought again. Something else that could have triggered the explosion.

The Commander of Moonbase Alpha was helped back to his ship, and Salkov set up his last sensor unit, before the three Eagles lifted off for each of their next destinations. The facility was gone, but the remains of it was still there. Koenig looked forward to hearing the reports about the refinery's parts being recycled and hopefully cannibalized for further use on Alpha and its resources.

Koenig stared at Bergman, feeling his face go white from the news. Had the decompression shock impaired his hearing?

"That's what was causing the unusual energy pattern?" he wondered. "And for the malfunctioning equipment in the refinery?"

Victor nodded, stepping away from Koenig to pick up a diagram of the moon. "Complex faster-than-light fields generated from that region that we will be passing by. I had David run an analysis on whether or not it would affect the remaining nuclear waste sites and other Helium-3 facilities."

Koenig quickly scanned it and felt uncomfortable seeing so many small facilities on what he'd come to feel was 'his' moon. The moon was peppered with small facilities, like a teenager with acne. They were present in Mare Nubium and Mare Undarum, but also in places considered nearly sacred to an astronaut like him.

"One of the Helium-3 sites is in the Sea of Tranquility, just 12 miles away from where Armstrong and Aldrin landed in 1969. They're also in the Mare Crisium where Russia's Luna 24 soft-landed in '76."

"Which returned with a worthless soil sample, I might add," Bergman said, sadly. "The robot probe malfunctioned and switched the true lunar soil with actual Earth soil, probably taken to the moon on one of the Russians own scouting and scientific experimental missions. The Russians, I understand, were confused as to what instigated the malfunction, and then furious."

"It's hard not to forget," Koenig confessed. "Nevertheless, those energy fields affecting the helium-3 sites can cause us some problems. What worries me the most is what they can do to the remaining nuclear waste dumps."

"I had the same thought myself," Bergman added. "In some ways, the energy pattern is similar to the magnetic energy field that caused Area One to burn out. And caused the detonation of Area Two. I checked the results with the computer and it could lead to one of three possibilities."

"Such as?"

"One," Bergman began recalling the results. "Those complex energy fields could be the result of massive solar flares being built up from Zeta II Reticuli. Two, those patterns could indicate the beginnings of a neutron particle storm. Three, it could be just what Voyager One had recorded. An unknown phenomena."

"Space is an unknown frontier," Koenig observed. "and that whatever exists out there could prove beyond ourselves and our technology."

"Precisely," Victor concurred. "I even had computer run another analysis of the patterns. It became overloaded with data."

"What do you mean?"

"The paradox of the patterns was that it was incredibly simple and also infinitely complex," Bergman explained the results. "There just wasn't enough computing power, even in main computer, to run through the entire cycle of possible changes."

"Either way we look at it, John," the British scientist finished. "We're faced with an enigma."

"Or a mystery," Koenig added.

Donald Fowler paced his spartan quarters like a caged tiger. Nothing present gave him any comfort nor calmed his edgy nerves. No amount of reading, watching pre-recorded videos or documentaries, or strolls in the botany section that maintained trees and grass and flowers from home. He was tired of being irritable, tired of being bored out of his mind, tired on inane conversation with people he didn't know, tired of the Alphan uniform he was forced to wear, and tired of the lack of real food and drink. He longed to be dressed in one of his Armani suits, or the bathrobe from Morocco that he'd worn every morning the past four years, until the breakaway accident. He was at the breaking point, appetite-wise, as real food had been rationed to an all-time low in an effort to conserve it, resulting in the stomach-churning glop and sawdust the Alphans had created with their protein stores.

But most of all, Fowler wanted an end to the everything-is-fine-and-we're-lucky attitude coming from Alpha's senior officers. It wasn't enough that they were still breathing; he wanted familiarity, sun on his face, rain in his hair, cars honking at his car, dogs barking at him and child crying when he was near them, anything! He longed for a fine wine, a quiet evening with a brandy and a newspaper, a filet mignon dinner with all the trimmings. Anything that resembled a normal Earth-bound life! Not this retched existence on a wandering, lost Moon! The thought that he, an astronaut and scientist, could be condemned to a life where he never saw Buckingham Palace, the ruins of Greece, or the matches at Wimbledon again was simply too much to bear. And every second that passed the Moon streaked farther and farther away from all that he knew.

His head ached from this daily drudgery and depression, while his stomach ached from the same. Or perhaps it was the Alphan food. He didn't know, and he didn't care.

Trapped in a crucible of creation and destruction, he mused silently. That's what the galaxy is. A tapestry of stars and gases. Life and death.

His door buzzer rang out, and he considered not answering it, but resigned himself. He picked up his commlock, preferring the refreshing change of an argument to the mind-numbing loneliness of his quarters. Without even checking who was at his door, Fowler activated the commlock with all the enthusiasm as a couch potato with a tv remote. He heard a few footsteps enter his quarters, followed by the door closing behind them. He sighed when he saw it was the raven-haired beauty he knew as his assistant in Alpha's Technical Section, and tossed the commlock onto a chair.

Nearly decimated by the explosions in the Nuclear Waste Disposal Areas, he thought bitterly. We were lucky. We barely survived the accident.

The woman handed him a clipboard, that he scanned over. Satisfied with whatever information had been printed off, he nodded and handed it back to her.

As the woman left, Fowler returned his attention to a book he had recently pulled out of the bookshelf.

It was something to help him take his mind off of what was troubling him.

It was 0825 hours, and the detour to his quarters kept him from where he felt the most comfortable, namely Main Mission. As he passed by his people he could see in their eyes a respect for his authority and pleasantness that was there before and after breakaway. He nodded a 'good morning' to the occasional Alphan, among them Anton Zoref and Bob Mathias. A good-looking security officer approached him and offered a friendly,

"Good morning, sir!"

Koenig's mind raced for the officer's name but couldn't quite latch onto it. Instead of pausing, which would prove he didn't know who the man was, Koenig replied with the closest approximation that his memory could offer.

"'Morning, Mister Verdilly."

The officer stopped in his tracks, his face scrunched up into a 'What-did-he-just-call-me?' look, but the Commander had already entered the travel tube, and was gone. The man shook his head, mumbling,

"That's 'Verdeschi', sir. Tony...Verd...whatever."

Main Mission was bustling with activity, and thankfully it wasn't because of an emergency. Still, news of the detected energy fields had either unnerved, intrigued, or pissed off his Alphans, depending on who John spoke to. He entered the huge room to find his senior staff at their posts, with second-in-command Paul Morrow ready with a status report.

"All of Professor Bergman's sensor/camera units are functioning perfectly, sir. We're able to access any view from any location on the Moon now. Readings show normal radiation, and no activity or life near them."

Koenig nodded. "That's good to know, Paul, but I think you know I'd rather have a report about any energy fields detected."

Morrow returned the smile, and handed his commander a five-page print-out. "Updated ten minutes ago, sir. The first energy source discovered, the one in Sinus Medii, has Team 3 at it, and they're exploring the areas. The second energy source in the Sea of Tranquility has Team 4 at it, and they've got more sophisticated electronic and scientific equipment analyzing it. Team 1 is a few minutes from the Helium-3 facility in Mare Undarum."

The mentioning of Team 1, which consisted of Nigel Stevens, Greg Sanderson, Kyle Cernik, and Eva Stein caught Koenig's attention. Morrow continued, "They traded places with Team 5. Seems they couldn't wait to do some more exploring."

"Well, I can't blame them for that, but I don't want those sources treated lightly. They could hold any number of dangers that we don't know about. As much as I want to analyze all of them at once and know what's causing all of them, I don't want my people climbing over each other for first crack at them. Coordinating three teams is enough of a logistical problem, anyway."

Morrow nodded, knowingly. Main Mission was capable of overseeing multiple operations, but sooner or later they were going to overlap, and more than one crisis might have to be addressed at the same time. Koenig made his way up to his office, using his commlock to part the big doors all the way.

Pushing aside other thoughts out of his memory, he read his report.

Eagle Four landed with a thump in Mare Umdarum, a cloud of lunar dust swept up and away from it.

Carter powered down the engines, and joined the surface team in the module, helmet in hand.

"In a hurry to go for a jog, Carter?" the bearded Sanderson joked, locking his helmet into place.

"Why do you say that, Sandy?"

"Hell, you set us down so hard I thought you were in a hurry to check out the Helium-3 mining facility?"

Alan chuckled, and attached his own helmet. "Yeah, I'm itchin' for a walkabout. Been to the other one, and now this one, so I'm real curious.

"You fly-boys," Sanderson laughed, ending it with that and making Alan wonder if that was supposed to be an insult or a throwaway comment. He checked that his team was ready, and decompressed the passenger module.

Carter felt a moment of déjà vu as the small refinery came into view just forty yards from where he'd landed the ship. It was the same design as the first, with interconnected dome structures that equalled the size of a house, a lone doorway illuminated to show them the way inside. He'd think it was the same depot at Sinus Medii were it not for the different landscape around him.

After trial and error at the first two refinery depots, the Technical Section had devised a way to depressurize the airlock without the sudden decontamination procedure that always followed entry past the outer door. It was a good thing, too, as the blinding white light and nausea was something he could do without.

Sanderson led the way like he was bringing home the boys for a round of beer and darts, fiddling with the unlocking mechanism as he went. The airlock was cramped for four people of human size, Alan reckoned.

"Stand-by. Overriding the decon," Sanderson's voice was heard to say over three sets of headphones. A couple of lights shorted out on the small control panel. "Done. Alan? Wanna do the honours and do your breaking-and-entering act?"

Carter wasn't sure he liked Sanderson's humour, but now was not the time to tell the big bearded man that he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Carter leaned forward and touched the buttons that he'd randomly pressed at Refinery 1, but was now sure of as the ones that would simply close the door and pressurize the airlock. Less than a minute later, the inner doorway opened.

"Pressurized," Eva reported, somewhat needlessly.

The group entered the hollow structure, which once again possessed a single small control panel to activate the airlock systems, and a steep stairway that led down into the subterranean areas of the depot. The first depot had been quite large, possessing a storage bay for supplies, equipment, storage, quarters, and most importantly, the containment of Helium-3 isotopes. Carter was interested in seeing what this detected energy source had to offer.

The second facility had held none of the terrible computer problems of Facility 1. Located in the Sea of Tranquility, a mere 12 miles from where Neil Armstrong had landed his lunar module, ironically christened 'Eagle', Facility 2 had been more of a supply depot and solar observation outpost than anything else. It was not damaged by the powerful g-forces created when the nuclear waste detonated and catapulted the Moon out of Earth orbit.

Now it was up to Team 1 to discover the unknown energy signature of Facility 3. Not one of them hoped to reveal another series of malfunctions, as word of that had spread across the Alpha in a matter of hours. Supplies and valuable data were sought after more than anything else. As with the other facilities, the ceilings were high for humans, so the three men did not have to hunch slightly to avoid the sensation of claustrophobia, while Eva Stein could walk as she pleased, as the shortest one present.

"Breathable atmosphere. More or less," she reported, checking her sensor unit.

Each of them began to unlatch their helmets, but kept them handy should the air suddenly give out.

It was deathly still in the facility, illuminated by weak lighting only at the doors that lined a single corridor, the soft humming of power as silent as the softest exhale of breath.

"Forgot to pack a map of this place," Sanderson joked lamely, feeling no humour, despite his quip.

"Might as well check the first door and just keep going from there."

Sanderson wasn't in charge, but nobody was in a position to argue. Somehow it was a comfort to have a bear of a man on their side, so the team kept close to him more on instinct than any earned respect. Each door had a small credit card-sized panel outside of it that would lock or unlock it. Other base doors had been found to be security locked, and those were the ones that were noted and catalogued, usually dealt with later.

The first door swished open revealing a swirl of dust in a dimly lit room stacked with containers. Typical WSC and ILC lettering labelled them, but might as well have been spatters on mud on the floor for all the sense of familiarity they made to the Alphans. Cernik stepped forward, aiming a device at the containers. He ran his sensor check a second time.

"Water! Great! We can definitely use that!"

"Maybe. It might need to be decontaminated. God knows what kind of crud might be in the water supplies. But it's a good start, huh," Sanderson said.

The team made their way down the corridor, locating two more locked doors, and one of which was used as storage for electronics parts, then they came to a door that was like any other used by any exploration team.

"Sanderson! Guys! Here!" he beckoned.

The others left the open storage doorway and joined Carter, their faces reflecting the Eagle pilot's surprise.

"Commander! We have a fire alert!" Sandra Benes shouted in alarm from her station in Main Mission.

John Koenig quickly walked to her desk. Fire was a major danger to any space facility, especially one cut off from all sources of outside aid like Moonbase Alpha. "Location, Sandra?"

"In kitchen area A5," she replied, looking at the emergency system display.

"Fire crew is already on its way, Commander," called out Paul Morrow from his position.

"Good," said Koenig. "Sandra, alert Medical to be ready to receive casualties. Paul, with me." With Morrow right behind him Koenig ran out of Main Mission.

They quickly arrived at the scene of the fire. Although thin smoke clouded the air it was obvious the fire crew already had the blaze delt with. Morrow and Koenig watched as they finished dousing an industrial frying unit with chemical fire retardant. The chief of Fire Control Team 3, a beefy, red haired man named Henderson, walked over to them. "We've got it under control, Commander," he reported.

"Any injuries?" asked Morrow.

"Negative, Mr. Morrow," Henderson replied. "The cook might have a bit of a cough for the next few days though."

"I'm okay, sir," said Bill Miller, the cook in question, as he walked over. "I'm just glad I spotted the fire before it could spread," he added as he pulled off the chef's hat he was wearing and wiped his bald forehead.

"Any idea what caused the fire, Bill?" asked Koenig.

"I have no idea," confessed Miller, coughing a little. "I was working on the microwave, when I noticed one of the cooking grills starting to smoke. And I know that there was nothing cooking on or in the oven units."

Koenig looked over at Paul, silently asking for his opinion.

"It could be a malfunction with the unit," Paul offered. "Possibly an internal one."

"I had the same thought, myself," Koenig admitted. "Have Kano run a scan diagnostic of the system.

If it is a malfunction, the sooner we repair it, the better."

"Yes, sir," Paul responded, walking over to the communications post in the kitchen.

"Bill," Koenig began. "Did you notice anything else unusual?"

Miller shook his head. "Nothing that I could find," he replied, placing the chef's hat back on his smooth, bald head. "That's never happened before with the cooking units. I don't know what caused it to spark like that. There were no gas or heat units activated."

"Thankfully, they were not," Koenig stated, fearing what such an outcome would have been if they had. "Have kitchen maintenance run a level diagnostic and assist in any repairs that the Maintenance Section might have."

"Yes, Commander," Miller replied, turning his attention back to the kitchen area.

As Miller went about his duties, Koenig stood by the kitchen area's entrance, wondering what could have caused that minor problem.

He couldn't come up with a straight answer.

The body lay dormant and lifeless in the lounge of Launch Pad 1 to prevent possible contamination.

Frozen in time and death, the human body awaited what would be considered from its perspective medical specialists. The dead body of a young man lay on a sterile silver gurney, bathed in a morbid blue light, unseeing ice blue eyes remaining open underneath a silver sheet that covered him from his head to his feet.

As Doctor Helena Russell scrubbed in preparation of the autopsy, her assistant, Doctor Robert Mathias, caught a look that was only familiar to him on the faces of others. He could tell the difference between Helena's controlled, cool reserve, and a look that was pensive and distracted. He tried to relieve the tension with a light,

"Wonder if he had any life insurance policy that we can bill?"
"Pardon?" Helena mumbled, obviously caught daydreaming. "Oh. Yes, that would make it...easier." Her reply came with a forced smile, but ended with a frown filled with angst.

"Helena, if I didn't know better I'd swear that you didn't want to do this," Mathias finally admitted, grinding his soapy nails with a brush under flowing water.

She sighed, and nodded. "You've guessed right, Bob."

He showed the sympathy he felt at guessing her emotional state correctly. "With all of our science and technology, we can still cure some ailments and other illnesses. Prolong life, if possible. And yet, we still can't prevent the inevitable outcome of death, itself.

She shook her head. "No, we can't."

Mathias shrugged. "Well, in this case, it wasn't painful. Benjamin Ensor didn't suffer in the end. You haven't told me what's on your mind, though?"

Helena hesitated as she turned off the water and dried her hands. "It's one thing to see people die from known illnesses on television or in the movies, but in this case from something as simple as a nervous disorder, it does make one wonder. Especially when it comes down to the alien life forms and other contagions we have discovered since this entire journey started. I'm not an overly religious person, Bob, but it's disconcerting to know that Earth really wasn't alone in developing intelligent life and complex health problems, and that God may have simply made Earth and moved on, then made the other planets, and moved on."

"That's probably why the authorities didn't reveal the existence of such unknown conditions to the general population, Helena. If someone like yourself questions their place in the universe because of something alien in origin is revealed, imagine what more spiritual people would go through?"

"What are your feelings about that, then, Bob?"

"Me?" he asked, and thought about it with a casual smile. "We've alays been told that God is everywhere. Who's to say that He can't watch over more than one of his creations at a time? We've been taught that He can take care of more than one person at a time, so why not more than one planet at a time? He's not a man, He's God; as infinite as the universe. I couldn't do His job; that's why He's God. We're simply discovering another of his creations. I'm sure oceanographers were overwhelmed the deeper they travelled under the sea where they discovered what might as well be alien life. But they took it in stride and did their job. Somebody else poked inside one of those mysteries? Okay. Now it's our turn, and we should relish this opportunity that's been given us, Helena. We have state of the art technology on our side, so we might discover things the alleged other doctors never did. Maybe even find a possible vaccination or cure. You're never supposed to stop learning once you earn that medical degree."

Helena offered him a bright smile. "I see the Lunar Commission knew what they were doing when they sent you up here, Bob. That positive attitude is exactly what all of us will need while we're out here. Something to take an interest in."

Bob replied, "C'mon. We've got some history of our own to make out there."

They entered the cool room where their subject awaited them.

Koenig decided to stretch his legs at the same time that Victor came by Main Mission, some papers in his hand. Morrow and Tanya Alexander were coordinating Team 4 which had taken off from the Helium - 3 refinery at Tranquility, and Team 2 which had an E.T.A. of fifteen minutes to refinery 4 in the crater, Kepler. The energy patterns emanating from fourth facility was still a mystery, so this first visit would now reveal its secrets.

"Just think, Tanya; just five more facilities to go after that," Morrow commented.

"Hopefully they are not entirely affected and have supplies that we could use."

Morrow nodded, and greeted Bergman before returning to his duties, while the Professor approached Koenig, and handed him his papers, showing how close they'd be coming to the neutron storm.

"If you consider 23 light years 'close'," Victor quipped.

"At that rate of speed, that storm could make the 39-light year trip to earth in a month, Victor,"

Koenig reminded him.

"And quite rigid in its travelling, with no deviation in course from its objective, if it had one. However, we can't be sure it is heading out to any number of planets within its capabilities."

Bergman paused to allow that thought to click inside Koenig's mind. The Commander spotted the inference immediately.

"You're saying that we could be crossing a path this energy field is using for travel to another system?"

Bergman nodded gravely. "We've been so caught up without own experiences, that it never occurred to me until this morning that this energy field the neutron storm is emanating might not be no ordinary phenomena that we are familiar with. Those energy patterns that have been detected at our Helium - 3 facilities may be more than just that. In which case that 23 light years between us and that storm might be the halfway point between Zeta Reticuli and another star. Here, this is what I've come up with so far..."

"Carter to Moonbase Alpha, come in! Urgent! Carter to Alpha, come in!" the pilot's voice practically yelled, somewhat out of breath and demanding everyone's full attention.

"Morrow here, Alan. Something wrong?"

"Ya could say that! Big news! Is the Commander there with ya?"

Koenig and Bergman appeared behind Morrow. "Right here, Alan. Report."

"Hold onto yer horses, Commander; my team has found something of interest. And you won't believe it!"

"...and the dog says, 'I would, but only on Wednesday! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
Matthews rolled his eyes at dumb joke number 581 uttered by Pastarelli, his co-worker in the SETI section of the communications division. They'd known each other for years, and still Matthews had a hard time understanding how virtually everything out of the the Italian's mouth made him crack up into fits of laughter. Matthews was pretty sure that the most recent attempt at humour would have been just as lousy even if Jerry Seinfeld, himself, had told it.

"Why does it have to be Wednesday? What's wrong with Thursday or Sunday?" Matthews wanted to know.

Pastarelli stopped chuckling, and became as serious as a man at a job interview. "Well...nothing. The punch-line is that he's a talking dog and he knows what 'Wednesday' means! Get it?"

Matthews shrugged his shoulders. "Not really. How does the dog know the difference between Wednesday and Thursday?"

"He doesn't need to know!"

"Then he's not really that smart, is he?"

"But he's a talking dog, for God's sake!" Pastarelli cried, waving his hands and getting annoyed. "Isn't that enough?!"

"I dunno. What about that part with the DVD player? Does he-"

"Never mind, never mind!" Pastarelli sighed, slumping in his chair, while fiddling with his control panel.

"Geez, try and lighten up somebody's day with a funny story and it becomes the Spanish Inquisition!"

"Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" Matthews laughed.

"Aw, shaddup! Next you'll be comparing my talking dog joke with that parrot sketch!"

For the chance at a little peace and quiet while he did his job, Matthews decided against the unfair comparison, and adjusted his own controls, savouring the sudden silence between he and his partner.

Less than five minutes later the Italian SETI specialist was talking again, but this time he was all business.

"Look at that. I saw that yesterday, too. Does that look like a signal to you?"

Matthews left his console to examine the squiggles and lines that were shifting across Pastarelli's small view screen. The two of them were experts in their field of study and employed by the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence organization, which had maintained a small department on Moonbase Alpha until breakaway. The two of them shared scanning and analysis duties with three others, but were usually teamed with each other.

Matthews figured it was because none of the others could stomach Pastarelli's weird sense of humour, which overwhelmed a keen intellect at times.

"Mm. You've seen this once before?"

Pastarelli shook his head, not a black hair on his perfectly-coiffured head moving a centimetre. "This is the third time, actually. It happens every time we scan sector 61. Is it a signal?"

Matthews adjusted the gain but the lines continued to jump and fidget. "Let's find out by scanning the adjacent sectors. Maybe we're catching the edge of a quasar emanation."

Helena and Mathias had ascertained the problem of Hydroponics worker Benjamin Ensor when the urgent call came for them to halt the autopsy and get suited up for an emergency at refinery facility 3. At first the two doctors thought one or more of the team had been hurt, since for all they knew those energy patterns were laden with something that might even cause problems. It was with speechless shock that they were told that Alan and his party had found several life support systems damaged in the same way that one of the cooking units in Kitchen Area 3 had been.

Eagle Six blasted off from launch Pad 1, and climbed rapidly, Ray Torens at the pilot seat, Koenig at the co-pilot position. As the ship traversed the hundreds of miles between Alpha and Mare Undarum, Helena, Mathias, and Bergman made final adjustments to their spacesuits and equipment.

Torens would have to test his piloting skills somewhat as he had to manoeuvre his Eagle between Eagle Four and the base hatch. Docking would be impossible, so he would have to land the ship in a way that would give the rescue party the shortest distance possible to bring survivors aboard.

Blasting lunar dist every which way, the retro rockets on the belly of Eagle Six brought the rescue ship to a gentle halt just 18 feet from the dust-swept opening. Koenig thanked Torens for his speed and efficiency, then joined the others as they prepared to disembark.

The rescue team would find Carter waiting below, eager for Russell's medical expertise. He was so excited and uptight that he practically reported everything he had to say with one breath.

"When we came upon that storage locker," he explained. "We found this crystal-like rock. Sanderson wanted to fart around with it, but I told him not to until you guys came."

The team found Sanderson, Stein, and Cernik hovering over the rows of damaged equipment like protective watch dogs, visibly relieved at the sight of two doctors and their commander. The room was rectangular with equipment arranged beside each console, the scanning function of each button and display screen was no longer in full effect. Bergman examined the glowing rock sitting on the counter top of an equipment table, his mind racing to ascertain the cause of its soft glowing pulse of light..

"We checked out a couple corridors after Carter called you, sir," Sanderson reported, "So far, we've only detected an energy source in this section."

Koenig looked at it while Victor scanned it with a hand held sensor device, which gave off a loud beep that startled everyone. Including Sanderson.

"Goddamn, that scared the bejeezez outta me," Sanderson gasped, his own face looking as pale as a man in a cemetery at midnight.

"Any idea what it is, Victor?" Koenig asked.

Fowler had ascertained, after some discreet research, that Koenig and his command staff rarely, if ever, are at Cafeteria 3, located on level three of the building housing the solarium. No, they preferred number 1, which was nearest to Main Mission. He just wasn't up for their looks, their attempts at socializing, or their stares. He knew he'd feel more comfortable here, amongst the 'little people', the ones that hardly mattered, but still did their part to keep the base up and running.

Half of the ten tables present were filled, while a small line of humanity examined the food that was as appetizing as day-old tea and cardboard with cheese smeared on it. Still, he had to eat and this was the closest to food that he was going to get without being aggravated.

"Hello, Dr. Fowler," a cheerful, heavily-accented voice said behind him.

He'd hoped for some semblance of anonymity amongst the crowd, but he supposed a unique personage such as himself couldn't go unnoticed for long. He sighed inwardly, and turned around to face the woman who had broken his 'cover', only to misjudge her height. He looked down and be held a short Chinese or Japanese or Korean woman (he didn't particularly care which nationality she was), who was grinning up at him toothily, her elfin features bunched up.

"Er...good morning," he replied, wondering what this young lady had to be so happy about.

"What are YOU having this mornen?"

"Excuse me?"

"I'm having bran frakes!"

"Oh, really?" Fowler grunted, not impressed by her choice or her heavy accent that was butchering the English language.

"Sure, you wanna try some? I was talking to Trevor in the FOOD prep section and he told ME that we were allowed rations of real mirk this today!"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Mirk! For your bran frakes!" she grinned, convincing Fowler that she was the type to get excited about a coupon for a Wendy's Baconator.

"I believe you're trying to say 'milk'?"

"Yes! What did I say?" she asked, her face bunching up in confusion.


"Nothing wrong with that, Donald! I thought I said 'mark', and THAT would not make sense, huh?"

"Indeed," Fowler sighed, turning away from her and silently wondering how such a child could have been assigned by the International Lunar Commission. What was she a specialist in, anyway, finger painting? He pretended to search the items behind the glass window for a breakfast entre.

"I'm not having EGGS!" the girl announced out of the blue.


"No, way!"

"Well...bully for you."

"Want to know why?" she asked.

I'd rather know why you talk the way you do, placing emphasis on the wrong words in any given sentence, he thought to himself. He frowned, and gestured for her to continue, even though his stomach was demanding nourishment.

"Because I heard those are duck eggs, and not chicken eggs, and that's just weird, right?"

"Er...if you say so."

Donald Fowler shook his head, wishing he was standing somewhere else in the line up. God, she wouldn't actually want to sit down with him, would she? He didn't even know her name and preferred to keep it that way.

"Don't believe everything you hear, young lady," he gruffly advised, turning his nose up at a kitchen staff member who offered him a plate of sausages.

"Alan Carter says they're duck eggs, so I guess I should believe WHAT he says. Just like I heard about an unusual form of crystal from Tanya Alexander, and she should know the TRUUUTH!"

Fowler rolled his eyes, his patience near its breaking point. "'A crystal'?"

"Sure! The one that was located at one of the helium - 3 facilities."

"WHAT?!" Fowler exclaimed, unable to believe what he'd just heard from this confusing young lady. His voice carried so far that everyone looked his way.

"Sure? You didn't hear about IT!? It's really, really big news, and news travels very FAST on Alpha. Commander Koenig is at a base right now examining it. Isn't that great news?"

"Excuse me!" Fowler yelped, tossing his tray to her and dashing out of the cafeteria.

"Hey, Donald, what about the real MILK for your cereal?! Oh, well. More for me!" she grinned ear to ear, then noticed someone else she recognized joining the line. "Oh, hi, Matt!"

"Morning, Yasko!" said Matthew Prentis. "How are you today?"

Fowler paced in his travel tube, gaining uncomfortable looks from the others he shared the vehicle with, while it traversed the tunnels en route for Main Mission. He'd spoken to Koenig only a short time ago, and in that time he'd either discovered the crystal or he'd come to his quarters to tell him about them, but their discussion had cut short that revelation. Either way, this was too important to ignore. He had to get to the control room and advise Koenig's staff on the best possible procedure.

The big screen was displaying an image of pad one, where Eagle Six was touching down. Fowler found Morrow barking out orders and generally getting high on power while the real commander of Moonbase Alpha was absent for the second time this week. Fowler hadn't bothered to memorize but a few faces, of which Morrow and Kano were two that he noticed were at their stations. He'd found Tanya Alexander attractive in a way, but never realized that she was the type to gossip and tell underlings like that talkative Chinese girl about sensitive matters like an unknown crystal being found on the lunar surface.

"Science teams are standing by the hangar, Commander," Morrow was reporting over the open comm. Line. "Eagle Four is touching down on pad three now."


"David, could you relay to Team 4 the news that humans have been found at Base 3, and that they should move on to Base 7, in Crater Stevinus. They're close enough to it for a short visit."


"Mister Morrow-"

"Morrow to Eagle Nine."

"Eagle Nine, Irving here."

"Prepare to launch in one minute. I'm just coordinating two return flights."

"Just say the word. Standing-by."

"Mister Morrow!"

Paul let out an indignant click of his tongue and stared incredulously at the young man who'd been pestering him like a child in a toy store.

"Doctor Fowler, I am rather busy, as you can see. Whatever it is that you want, can't it wait?"

"I should think not! It's come to my attention that the commander has found some unusual mineral ore in one of the Helium - 3 refineries, and is bringing it here?"

Morrow looked at him with a sour expression, wondering who had the big mouth and had already spread the news, just a short while after he, himself, had learned of the abductees. There was no sense lying to the scientist, as he had the authority and the scientific right to confront Koenig about the rumour, anyway.

"Yes. The Eagle with the crystal has...or rather, will land in five minutes."


"Pad one."

Fowler didn't offer so much as a 'thank you', which suited Paul just fine; the Eagle had already touched down, and the personnel were probably en route for Medical centre at this moment. Watching the safe return of the staff brought a small smile to Paul's moustached face.

"Paul, Eagle Four has touched down," Sandra reported.

"Morrow to Eagle Nine; you're clear to launch. Say hello to Crater Kepler for me."

"Excuse me, Mister Morrow?" a voice beckoned him that he didn't recognize.
What now? The exasperated Controller moaned inwardly. He was going to lose his voice if he didn't give it a rest soon! He turned and faced an Alphan he didn't recognize.


"I'm Scott Matthews, SETI Division," the blue-eyed technician said, seemingly uncomfortable around the lone authority in the control room. "My partner and I have been scanning various sectors, and usually don't find anything other than background solar winds, but we've latched onto what we think might be an artificial signal." He handed Morrow a long printout.

Paul looked it over and decided it was important enough to investigate, so he had Kano download the readings into Computer for an analysis. Knowing it would take some time to process, Matthews left, hoping he'd be informed later of the results.

Professor Angela Robinson exited the travel tube she's shared with the fidgeting Donald Fowler, sure that she'd heard him mutter something rude under his breath as the doors closed behind her. She'd heard correctly. Fowler stood up from his seat, now alone in the travel car that had stopped four times to let on more Alphans, or drop others off. And he used to feel that the three to six interruptions per ride in the elevator at the Commission building had been unbearable! He'd never experienced such laziness as the other Alphans displayed, who seemed to enjoy riding the travel tubes just for the hell of it, or the opportunity to socialize while on duty! That silly girl with the bulging eyes, Annette Fraser had twice tried to be overtly friendly, but he rebuffed her. She simply wore too much eye shadow to be taken seriously.

Finally the vehicle came to a stop. And the doors opened automatically nearest the main entrance door to Launch Pad 1, where a female Alphan manned a secretarial-like desk. He'd have preferred to just run into the hangar, but some times called for his charms to be employed.

"Good morning," he said with a half-hearted smile that he didn't mean.

"Good morning, Doctor Fowler. How may I help you?" she asked, sounding cordial enough.

"Yes, could you tell me if Commander Koenig's ship has touched down yet?"

She blinked uncomprehendingly, until she realized that her visitor wasn't fully informed. "Yes, sir. Over ten minutes ago."

"Ten--?! But Morrow said-" Fowler stuttered, until realization dawned on him. "Probably too busy with other duties!" he mumbled, and turned to leave, but hesitated. He looked back at the receptionist, who had the look of someone hopeful of a bonus from their boss. He forced himself to calm down, just as he had during that ridiculous meeting with President Yeltsin's science advisor some years back, and said, "Thank you, my dear. You've been most helpful."

"You're welcome, Doctor. Have a nice day."

He entered the travel tube, empathizing with the young lady, who was probably stuck back there all alone, as he was stuck on the Moon by himself. He thought where Koenig could have gone, and immediately dismissed the notion that he'd return to Main Mission. No, the stalwart moonbase commander would stick like glue to his chief medical officer, and go to the science section with her and the recent discovery. He keyed in his destination request, and paced in anxious anticipation for his next destination.

But first he'd have his ride interrupted three times, one of which by the dreaded cereal-eating Yasko Nagumi and her lover Matthew Prentis.

The comm-post in Medical Centre bleeped just before Paul Morrow's face appeared on each of the four screens. Doctor Ben Vincent approached the unit.

"All set here, Paul.."

"No problem, Ben. The Commander wants to begin analyzing the crystal as soon as every precaution is implemented."

"Works for me. Talk to you later. Medical out."

Fowler pointed his commlock at the entrance to the science laboratory, and walked in as soon as the doors parted. He saw Koenig, Russell, and the others looking through the laboratory's decontamination chamber viewport. The crystal was placed on top of a worktable as the automatic sensors began to scan the unknown mineral's composition.

It's just like what my nephew said, Fowler recalled from his memory. The same type of rock that Paul Andrews and Phil Knowles discovered during the Apollo 19 mission. Incredible!

Fowler stood next to the Commander and watched as the crystal was further examined by the scanners and sensors. It was then that Koenig and Russell noticed his presence.

"Doctor Fowler," Koenig acknowledged. "What brings you here?"

"I heard about the crystal being brought in for study and analysis," Fowler admitted. "Word travels around Alpha very fast. I thought I could be of some assistance."

Koenig nodded. He knew the field of study that Fowler was well versed in was geology. The study of time and pressure on various geological finds and processes.

"Good," Koenig said. "We could use your help. I want a detailed analysis as soon as possible. We'll bring you up to date."

Fowler nodded and leaned forward, looking at the glowing crystal.

"It's incredible," Fowler said, a bit astonished. "If not beautiful."

As Fowler continued to look at the crystalline object, Koenig walked over to the communications post.

David Kano's image appeared on the small blue and white colored screen.

"Kano," John ordered. "Have computer assist Dr. Fowler in the analysis of the crystal. Biochemical, composition, everything."

"Right away, sir," Kano replied.

As soon as Kano carried out Koenig's order, he stumbled across something else that the main computer had presented him.

And it was something far from pleasant.

"Son of a--!" Kano gasped, checking the printout that Computer had given him. He looked at it a second time to be sure that he wasn't making a mistake with the coding, but the answer was crystal clear. "Paul! You're not going to believe this!"

Morrow stopped in mid-sentence, his conversation with Petrov abruptly ended. He watched as his friend bounded down the stairs from the rows of computer panels, a printout held out before him in an unspoken urging for the Controller to check it out himself.

"Those SETI specialists locked onto a systemized transmission, and it's not one of ours! Computer has estimated the general direction it was aimed and I'll give you one guess which way it was pointed!"

Bergman appeared at Morrow's side, looking over the same sequence of figures and results. It was a race between the two men who could turn whiter.

"Zeta 2 Reticuli," Bergman whispered. "Or at least in it's general vicinity. Breakaway sent us on a course that skewed the transmission several degress away from the star, but it's definitely aimed at the area where that neutron storm is forming."

"Obviously, that signal came from somewhere on the Moon." Morrow told him. "We've got to locate its exact source!"

The Professor nodded, gravely. "Immediately, Paul. We've also got to find out if the signal is being sent by someone or if it's an automated signal."

"Sandra, we need sensor scans out there on the double!"

"Yes, Paul," she said, her fingers flying across her keyboard.

"Main Mission to all launch pads; prepare to launch a laser-equipped Eagle in the next five minutes. Top priority. Flight plan will be relayed momentarily," Morrow said into his intercom mic. "Professor, any idea what phenomena could be sending it?"

Victor examined the readings and the directional coordinates, and grimaced. "I don't know. It would seem to be scanning the Moon's western sectors. There are four refinery facilities on that side of the Moon; Valis Schroteri, Crater Gassendi, Mare Nubium, and Crater Kepler."

"I sent Team 6 to Kepler just a while ago!" Morrow replied, concerned for Iriving and his complement.

"Then let them know ahead of time that they might need to exercise caution upon arrival," Victor said.

Alan wasn't about to let his men and women out into the field on a mission that he, himself, wouldn't fly, so for the third time in 24 hours, Carter was piloting an Eagle over the lunar landscape, his tracking system locked onto the alien signal. As co-pilot Torens adjusted his controls, Alan's Eagle 4, refuelled and certified flight-ready, traversed the barren surface, craters and hills of all shapes and sizes coming into view and seconds later streaking behind them. All five Eagles sent out had their communications systems locked onto the signal, but eventually four of them would lose it as they approached the wrong site. The fifth Eagle would hit the jackpot, and Alan wanted that ship to be his.

He was about to be rewarded.

"Signal is getting stronger, sir," Torens reported.

"Then it's a race, lad. Eagle 10 and my buddy Pete Johnson are headin' for Crater Gassendi, which ain't too far from Mare Nubium."

Carter was an optimist, and didn't note out loud that they were nearing the equator of the Moon; Helium - 3 mining facilities to the west of them at Kepler and to the east at Medii could just as easily be the signal's origin point. They couldn't know for sure until they continued flying south of either small mine complex. Even then, Alan mused, there could be a remote communications unit sending out that transmission.

Six minutes later Carter was sending his own transmission.

"Eagle 4 to Alpha; confirmation of signal at Mare Nubium. Repeat; signal originates at Mare Nubium. We're going in to scan it."

Shortly thereafter, Eagle 4 was circling the area that had been dubbed Mare Nubium by the scientists who first discovered it in years past, and the location of the resting spot of the unmanned Ranger 5 lunar probe, launched in 1964. Only from a certain angle did it stand out that something didn't belong out there.

"So what do we do now?" Torens wondered.

"We'll bring some heavy weapons with us, but I wanna take a look first."

"We're not exactly cut out for a recon, sir," Torens reminded him. "I thought we were supposed to let experienced surface teams check out-"

"No time for that, lad. Grab your helmet; we're going for a walk."

The entire lunar surface was still a place of magnificent desolation, as far as Alan was concerned. He carried with him a sensor unit to home in on the signal, which led him straight to the area like some kind of electronic bloodhound. No unusual energy readings were detected by either of them, which made the task that much easier.

"We'll do it the easy way first," Carter said over the helmet comm.-line.

"I'm getting no readings anywhere. I wonder what type of signal it was?" Torens asked.

"Probably an automatic system," Alan surmised. "It could have been set off when we started puttering too close to the other mine complexes, or when we located this signal. I dunno."

Carter took a couple steps towards the barren area of the lunar plain, but was slammed back onto his rear end as he walked into an invisible force field.

"Aawww, buggers!" he cursed.

Koenig knew that he'd be the most useful in Main Mission, and would also be on top of any new developments. Morrow told him that Alan had been the one to locate the area that was transmitting the weak signal, but they hadn't heard from him since he'd entered the area almost ten minutes ago. The other Eagles had been recalled, with the exception of Team 6 at Kepler, whose assignment had been entry into facility 4, anyway. Bergman had no answers as to who or what sent and would receive the emission signal aimed at Zeta II Reticuli. Which made him wonder if there was a connection between that crystal or the spatial phenomena that could be a neutron storm.

Morrow approached Koenig's desk, his face a mixture of relief and concern. He handed his commander a report, summarising it.

"Team 6 has reported no energy signature echoes. Analysis so far suggests that the refinery station containers of food and water were not affected."


Morrow shook his head. "Silent for 20 minutes, now. Commander, I don't like this. Alan hasn't offered so much as a stand-by signal."

"I don't like it either, Paul, but we'll just have to trust Alan to put his best foot forward."

Alan Carter brushed himself off and slowly rose to his feet. The Moon's one sixth gravity helping a little bit in his momentum. Checking his orange environment suit for any damage, he was relieved to find it was still intact. Not one single scratch or tear was found.

"Alan, are you okay?" Torens's concerned voice came through Alan's com-line.

"Yeah," Alan reassured the young man. "I'm fine. Just a little bit surprised by what happened."

Looking ahead of him, Alan unhooked the hand held scanner from his suit's belt. Pointing it in the direction where he bounced off of the forcefield, he shook his head in amazement.

"Whatever it is," Alan stated. "It is definitely not some outcrop of magnetic rock. Nothing could produce a magnetic field as large as this."

Torens took out his scanner and also pointed it in the same direction.

He got the same results.

"Whatever it is," Torens said, a bit nervously. "It's unlike anything I've ever seen before."

Alan began pointing his scanner from left to right. Torens followed the same motion.

It was then that they both saw a speck of light on the horizon, not far from their current location.

"Ray," Alan began. "You see that?"

Torens nodded. "I see it," he looked down at his scanner readings. "And it appears to be the source of the signal. I've got a positive lock on its location."

"Let's have a look," Alan said, as he began walking toward it.
Thankfully, there were no forcefields blocking their path.

"Whatever it is," Alan noted. "It must have lowered that forcefield."

The two spacesuited Alphans walked up ahead and looked over at a small crater. Coming up very close to its edge, Alan looked over it and saw something that was definitely not of the Moon's particular nature.

"Well, what do you know," Alan said, a bit surprised.

Torens stood next to him and was also a bit surprised.

"The geology department is going to like this," Torens finished.

Lying in front of them, in the crater was a bed of crystal. Almost quartz-like in appearance and giving off a soft glow of pure bluish-white.

And emitting a soft hum of a pulsating sound.

"Alan," John began to speak, as he watched the image being transmitted from that location. "Is there any sign of radioactivity coming from that crystal bed?"

"None at all, Commander," Alan replied over the com-line. "There is an unusual energy source being detected from within it."

"A repeated occurrence of registrations," Torens reported in. "A regular pulsating pattern of radiated energy."

Victor looked over the printout analysis of the crystal bed. "Unquestionably, an immensely powerful field of energy is being generated within it, John."

"We're just having difficulty focusing on it," Kano broke in, as he tapped another button on his console. "It resembles a conventional force field but on unusual wave lengths. Computer was able to pinpoint its origin."

"A field of energy?" Koenig guessed.

"It would seem most likely," Victor concurred. "What is even more interesting is the same connection it has with that other phenomena."
Victor handed John the printout, which the commander looked over.

"There seems to be a radiated energy pulsation coming from the phenomena," Koenig read over the data. "A transmission of energy."

"John," came Carter's voice. "Can you hear this from your end?"

The attention of every Alphan in Main Mission was directed to the large viewscreen as Alan Carter pointed his comlock at the bed of crystals.

The sounds reminded both John and Victor of the fascinating recording of Jupiter sounds (electromagnetic "voices") by Voyager One. The complex interactions of charged electromagnetic particles from the solar wind, planetary magnetosphere, etc. created vibration "soundscapes". It sounded very interesting, even scary.

Jupiter was mostly composed of hydrogen and helium. The entire planet was made of gas, with no solid surface under the atmosphere. The pressures and temperatures deep in Jupiter were so high that gases formed a gradual transition into liquids which were gradually compressed into a metallic "plasma" in which the molecules had been stripped of their outer electrons. The winds of Jupiter were a thousand metres per second relative to the rotating interior. Jupiter's magnetic field was four thousand times stronger than Earth's, and was tipped by 11° degrees of axis spin. This caused the magnetic field to wobble, which had a profound effect on trapped electronically charged particles. The plasma of charged particles was accelerated beyond the magnetosphere of Jupiter to speeds of tens of thousands of kilometres per second. It was those magnetic particle vibrations which generated some of the sounds they would have heard on the recording.

It also reminded John of the transmission beacon used in the 1979 science fiction/horror classic, 'Alien.'

"Incredible," was all that John could say.

"It certainly sounds weird, Alpha," Carter spoke again.

"More than that," Paul broke in. "Disquieting."

"Literally," John admitted. "Kano, have computer run another analysis of that transmission. And that of what we have just heard."

"Right away, sir," Kano replied, tapping the order into his console.
"Alan," John called out. "I want you and Torens to continue monitoring those crystals. If the situation becomes risky, clear out of that area immediately."

"Understood, Commander," Carter replied.

Sandra was handed a clipboard from Tanya Alexander, who just arrived in Main Mission. The young woman looked it over and then handed it to Koenig.

"Results of the fire accident in Kitchen Area 3, sir," she said.

John took a look at it as both he and Victor walked back to his office.

In Main Mission, David Kano tore off a printout and returned to his revolving desk at the front of Main Mission. With a flick of a switch David Reilly's face reappeared on his monitor.

"Yes, David?"

"I have that information on the crystal's composition for Doctor Fowler," Kano reported. "I'm sending it to you, now."

"Very well," Reilly replied. "Thanks, Kano."

As the screen went blank, David returned his attention to the printout. He then tapped two more buttons and another spool of paper rolled out.

Looking over the printed data, he rose up and walked over to Paul's console.

"Paul," he said, with a trace of worry in his voice. "You better have a look at this."

Paul looked at the paper printout and frowned.

"So that's what those energy signatures were," he said, a bit surprised.

"Apparently," Kano concurred. "Computer was able to analyze those energy patterns. Not only were they able to disrupt delicate computer systems in the Helium-3 refineries, they could also be powerful enough to disrupt other vital systems. If nothing else, burn out large sections of a computer core."

Paul looked over the information once more. "I'd better notify the Commander."

"And right now," Kano stated.

Koenig looked over the report of the fire nearly caused in Kitchen Area 3. Plus, the latest information that was handed to him by Paul and David. Apparently, a power spike had been the cause, judging by the information on the data readout. An internal one, no less. One that had burned out a couple of the main cooking systems' components. Both Bill Miller and Fire Chief Henderson were at a loss as to what caused the small accident to happen.

Koenig looked over the printout once more and frowned.

The damage control teams could not find the cause of it, Koenig mused silently. Let alone, what could have started it in the first place.
What was more disturbing to John about the accidental fire was the fact that it had an unusual energy signature. The same type of energy signatures that had been detected at all of the Helium-3 mining facilities. He also looked over the last bit of data that concerned the analysis of those energy patterns.

That is definately no coincidence, he thought. There is a connection, somewhere. We just have to find the cause of it. And the source.

Koenig handed the printouts to Victor, who was standing nearby. The British scientist looked them over thoroughly.

"There is no mistake about it, John," Victor said, placing the printouts back on the commander's desk. "Both of those signatures are an exact match."

"Could they have been some form of sensor beams?" Koenig wondered.

Bergman shrugged. "More than likely. Possibly some form of scanner that is unknown to our instruments. Hard to say at this point."

"But," Paul broke into the discussion. "Why the helium-3 facilities instead of scanning Alpha or the remaining waste disposal sites?"
"Judging by the stages of those detections," Victor deducted. "It's possible that someone or something is trying to study us. Possibly by doing these 'scans' one step at a time. I would say that, assuming if it is an intelligence we are dealing with, it's thought processes are along the methodical stage."

"Trying to know more about us," Kano suggested. "Before it reveals itself."

"Something to that effect, yes," Victor concurred.

"Thinking in three dimensional terms," Koenig stated, leaning back in his desk chair. "So far, it hasn't made any hostile forms of action."

"Not yet," Morrow said, with a trace of caution in his voice. "But that small fire in Kicthen Area 3 would dispute that idea."

Another thought came to John's mind. Something he hadn't considered earlier. It was the past memory of Anton Zoref's death at the hands of that heat-consuming entity that triggered such a theoretical possibility.

Especially by the results on the printout, that indicated a form of a broad elliptical sweep of the helium-3 extraction sites.

"Victor," John began. "Is it possible that those energy patterns could have been something more than just an unknown form of sensor probe? What if this energy field consumes elements of Helium - 3, itself?"

Victor nodded, having considered the idea, himself, earlier. "I had looked into that hypothesis, earlier. Computer did not detect any forms of Helium - 3 being consumed by any energy signature."

"Assuming if such a consumption can be detected," Paul pointed out. "Some of our equipment are only designed to detect what can be detected."

"It would have been detected, Paul," Victor said, reassuringly. "The disappearance of Helium - 3 can easily appear on any sensor or scanner."

"So, then it was some form of a sensor probe," Kano said. "The question is, what was it looking for? Could it be that crystal that was found?"

Before anyone could say anything else, or vocally guess, the communications post in John Koenig's office beeped. The three Alphans turned their attention to the worried image of Sandra Benes on the four small screens, which were on each side of the post.

"Commander Koenig!" Sandra said, worriedly. "Main Mission, urgent!"

"Commander! Distant contact on sensor/camera unit 42," Sandra reported.

Koenig jumped out of his desk, opened the office doors with his commlock, and approached the center of Main Mission.

"I was running a search and scan routine amongst all of the new units that we set up, when Computer noted activity on that one," she explained.
Now that Alpha had cameras set up all over the Moon they could look in any direction, making it impossible for anyone or anything to sneak up on them.

"What sector is 42 set up to monitor?"

Sandra checked her instruments for the appropriate star charts, and responded, "Northeast sector three."

"That's the general direction of Zeta 2 Reticuli, John!" Victor announced.

"How far away is that energy field?" the Commander asked. "Or neutron storm?"

Sandra checked. "Five point two billion miles and closing fast. It is on an interception course for us. It will reach us in twenty-five minutes!"

"Paul, sound condition red. Get laser-equipped Eagles out there now," Koenig ordered. "Tell Alan to clear the area!"

"Yes, sir. Attention all launch pads..."

Both Alan and Torens continued to scan the bed of crystals, when their commlocks beeped. After hearing the order to clear out of the area, they began moving rather quickly.

"Alan," came Torens. "You hear that rumble in the distance?"

Carter looked behind him at the area where the crystal bed was. He pointed his sensor at it and then read the results, while still running.

He didn't like the results of the scan.

Moonbase Alpha was primarily a research outpost while in Earth orbit, but weaponry had been stored within her for unforeseen emergencies. However, with very little outside hostile contacts at this point in their journey, laser tanks were only blueprint drawings in the Technical Section.

Therefore, to defend against the approaching squarish patterns of light, Koenig sent out security officers to strategic locations, armed with laser rifles. If they had to use these against something unknown and possibly threatening, then so be it. Alpha wasn't exactly defended by laser cannons and guided nuclear missiles..

"Parris herel I'm in place."

"Long here; I'm in place, too."

"This is Verdeschi; I'm ready."

Verdeschi! That's the guy I saw earlier, Koenig thought. Did I really call him 'Verdilly'?

"Torpilov here; I'm set."

"O'Neill reporting in; I'm in place."

Koenig held his breath as his launch crews prepared to send out more Eagles, and his brave security force stood guard on the surface.

"Here it comes!" Sandra reported.

"Can we survive a direct hit, Victor?" the Commander asked.

Bergman shrugged, but managed a smile. "She was built to last, but...those life units may have more of a kick than simple meteorites."

Morrow reported tensely, "Sensor/camera unit number 8 has recorded the approach of the energy field due south of in the Mare Imbrium; range 100 miles."

"Koenig to all security operatives; wait until the powerfield is directly above us before you open fire. Let's hit them by surprise at point-blank range. Good luck."

"Range...75 miles and closing..."

A jagged pointed peak that had rose towards the starry sky for uncounted millennia suddenly exploded into a billion pebbles, then was scattered across the lunar floor in a cloud of debris.

The former nuclear waste disposal area now formed the most gigantic mare and crater it had ever seen, seemingly the size of the state of New Jersey. The explosion that had ripped the Moon from her Earthly orbit had been more massive than anything in human history, and had gouged out an incredibly immense new crater out of Luna, quite poissibly taking a sizeable chunk out of the outer crust and then billions of tonnes of underground soil and rock with it.

The collective mind surmised that the mare had been ground zero for the force that had sent the Moon on its unlikely odyssey into space

Even the panoramic view of the lunar surface, outside their windows did not help in easing the tension he felt.

At least we're not stuck on a polluted planet, Fowler thought bitterly. With people that couldn't stop killing one another for more than a day at a time.

At first all he saw were a multitude of stars above a vast lunar wasteland. Then he saw the light approaching the base. It was too far to identify, but it almost seemed to glow like...oh, hell!

"Is that what I think it is?" Fowler wondered.

The split up of the lights before him seemed to indicate something.

An energy force with a flight pattern, perhaps? he mused silently.

He stared hard at it, and slowly shook his head.

Some years earlier on Paul Andrews's last mission to the moon; he stumbled upon something alien buried within a crater. And as he was attempting to uncover the ancient relic a heavy cloud of radiation caught up with him, taking a piece of his life as it passed by. Paul knew that he was poisoned and that it was too late to escape the wrath of the deadly cloud; So he ordered his fellow astronaut, Phil Knowles, to safely lock the hatch to the lunat module. Phil had to set helplessly, knowing that through the passage of many years the radiation would eventually take the rest of Paul's life. Paul decided in the dark of the lunar surface that the relic would be his and that no one would ever find out - that is, until he passed along the secret to Fowler's nephew, Eric.

And now, it appeared that the same cloud, or something close to it, was coming back.

The glow outside the windows rose like a car's headlights through a porch window, then seemed to pierce the very walls of the apartment. The scientist gasped as the room became extremely warm, while the plastic furniture and sterile white walls glared brightly in the unnatural spotlight.

The life force was circling around the base, emanating an eerie orange beam from beneath. Seconds later, it was struck by a number of laser beams from different points outside the base. They impacted the gaseous cloud again and again, but it simply circled the base, sweeping Alpha with the orange ray, while returning intermittent fire, blowing up a cascade of lunar soil as it did so.

Tony Verdeschi brushed off sticky lunar soil that had washed over him from the near hit, then lined the nonconporeal entity up in his rifle sights.

The gaseous-like phenomenon was hovering above the base, taking whatever they could dish out. He called out to his partners, and was relieved when all four reported in, although he and Long had taken the closest hits.

Nuclear Generator Area 3 was a busy area. Bustling with major activity by those who were assigned to the section. A huge room, laden with control panels, and manned by a pair of technicians at their respective desks, one of which was behind a transparent glass wall. One that the late Anton Zoref had been in charge of. And before him, the late Jack Crawford. Now, it was under the charge of Technician Joan Conway.

The beautiful auburn haired woman was busy running a system diagnostic on one of the reactors, when she noticed the same unusual glow coming from outside. Putting down her clipboard, she looked at the observation windows above the monitor room. One of the other technicians on the balcony, near the rail, also noticed what was happening. Including the one technician that was sitting behind the desk in front of the monitor room window.

"What in God's name is that?" said one of the technicians.

Conway tapped a button on the communications post. "Generating Area to Main Mission," she spoke quickly. "Something is happening outside of the observation windows!"

The small explosion in the crater nearly knocked Alan and Pete off of their booted feet. Managing to regian their balance in the one-sixth lunar gravity, both witnessed a brilliant flare of light. With dazzling white hot force, the crystal bed blew apart, sending small shards up into the stars, itself.

"What the hell?" Carter wondered aloud.

"Would you look at that!" Johnson exclaimed.

Emitting from the blown apart crystal bed were whisps of pale pink vapors. Gaseous in its chemical and molecule compositions. It varied in size and fluctuated as it moved. It was like a gaseous cloud. Parts of it they could see through. Other parts of it were more dense.

One thing was for certain to the two environment suited Alphans. What they had both witnessed was not a strange cloud of chemical elements.
The phenomena before them seemed to come out of nowhere, hovered for a moment, and then moved.

And, it was incredibly fast.

Johnson pointed his sensor at it and ran a full scanner probe

He noticed the molecular shift that had been detected.

"I'd say it measures from ten to sixty cubic meters, sir." Johnson replied.

Alan took out his sensor and also ran the same probe. The readings it gave off were just the same.

He also noticed something else on the hand held scanner.

"Conflicting data," the Austrailian astronaut said, somewhat surprised. "It seems to be in a border line state between matter and energy, elements of both.

It could possibly use gravitational fields for propulsion, judging by the way it is moving off."

"It's almost like it knows we're scanning it," Johnson noted. "It's kind of....wait a keeps changing itself into something different."

Carter noticed the same readings that Johnson did. He could not believe it, either.

"That isn't possible," Carter observed, a bit surprised. "Nothing we know of can do that."

"Unless it is trying to camouflage, itself," Johnson suggested. "If it's intelligent, and it knows we're looking for it. It would have to be able to change its molecular structure in order to hide from a sensor scan."

"Something like that can't possibly exist," Carter stated. "And, yet it does."

"Kano, what are the sensors showing on the phenomena?"

Watching the gaseous phenomena on the main viewing screen, Kano punched in the order that Koenig had given. A spool of paper was immediately printed out and torn from the small slot.

"Sensors are receiving an increasing magnitude of energy," he reported. "There are ten distinct life units within it, all powerfully alive and vital."

This was an interesting, but disturbing revelation of information.

"Any idea what it is?" Koenig inquired.

"It's impossible to determine without programming for analysis," Kano answered. "Whatever it is, it is almost in the form of brain circuitry patterns."

"John," came Victor, who also tapped in a request from the row of computer panels under the observation windows. "I think I have something."

He took out the other printed spool and showed it to John.

"Computer thinks that we are dealing with a community of life units," he explained. "Their pattern of movement is in the form of brain waves. If they were to act in a hostile manner, it could be directed against the brain. Which is most compatible."

"So that phenomena is not a storm," Koenig observed. "Let alone, a phenomenon of nature."

"Apparently not," Victor determined. "No known conditions in space would support that type of natural phenomenon."

"Commander," called out Morrow. "I'm having difficulty with the sensors. They seem to be under selective attack by the phenomenon."

"Some equipment is temporarily out of order," Kano reported. "The sensors are nearly inoperative."

"They are able to detect a high concentration of energy," Morrow stated. "And it is coming from the phenomena."

Koenig and Bergman walked over and tapped a few buttons on Paul's console. Victor rushed over and repeated the same sequence on Kano's computer board.

Both got the same results.

"I've never seen a phenomena of such great intensity," Bergman confessed. "Or of such strange confirmation."

"Damn," Koenig muttered.

"Commander!" Sandra replied, a bit surprised. "Another contact has been detected!"

John rushed over and looked at the readout.

"It's heading right for us," he said, grimly.

During the disturbance, Donald Fowler wanted to respond, but he could not make his hands move. His eyes were paralyzed as he forced them to look down. His speech was affected. He could not utter a sound as he tried to speak.

His voluntary nerve functions were under some form of pressure.

Or attack.

Attack might have been a more precise formulation.

It neutralized his brain waves and relaxed his mind. It did him no harm at first, as the effects were only temporary.

It made pressure his nerves and his blood vessels.

It opened his mind.

The desires, the hopes, the mind and the will of the last hundred of its kind.

You'll begin to feel a strange euphoria, it spoke to him. Your body...floats.

He was floating in time and space.

Yes, he thought. I begin to feel it.

Open your mind, it said. Open your mind...

They moved together. Their minds sharing the same thoughts.

It could reshape any mind it chose.

It erased Fowler's memories and put its own thoughts there.

Their minds so a sponge, needing thoughts, begging. Empty. Loneliness.

So lonely to be standing there empty...

Their minds so open...that any thought it placed there became their thoughts.

It searched the heavens with its mind.


And then one day its mind touched others.

One day our minds became so powerful, it spoke to him. we dared think of ourselves as gods.

Pure energy...pure thought...

Totally incorporeal...

Not life as humanity knew it at all.

Energy, but no substance.

Sealed in the crystal receptacle is the essence of my mind, it explained to him. Pure energy. Matter without form. Our minds infinitely greater.

Generating insufficient energy....

While the thoughts of the race were the most sublime in the galaxy, their physical appearance was exactly the opposite. They had evolved into a race of beings who were formless, if not shapeless.

They were once a culture of sentient machines called the Kalium. that have a programmed imperative to expand among the stars. They had once visited the Sol System and merged into a form of crystal rock on the Moon.

Now, they were merging with another of their own, who had been searching for them for an entire millennium.

Merging with them before departing for oblivion, itself.

The force of our life could not be wiped out, it explained to him. Our planet was dying. We were determined to live on. At the peak of our plans to go, a sudden, final disaster struck us down. But the force of our lives survived.

What he saw could have been an alien ship that experienced a major power loss during an eclipse of a sun. It fell not from the sun, but from space. And it plunged into the Moon, where it has been buried for all these years. But somehow, through technology that far exceeds man's own, the inhabitants have managed to remain alive. And periodically they send out satellite probes to secure power, from say the helium-3 plants.

Why hadn't they left yet? Fowler wondered. Were they unable to fix their main power supply? They couldn't get enough thrust to overcome the gravitational fields of the galaxy?

Even advanced technologies had limits.

It is you we seek, it spoke to him. We are beyond the depths of darkness, where the light springs from the consciousness of your mind and bends upon itself to become the truth. We have waited for you, over thousands of years.

You must choose between two time spans: yours or ours, the life force continued to speak. Give us the power to return, and your time will be at an end. Nothing will be left. You will die. Only a memory in the mind of your friends will remain. If you refuse, all will end within your lifetime anyway. Your world will crumble. Already your mind purifies itself of the memory, transforming the imagination into our needed energy.

The portentous sound of a beating heart filled his mind.

As did the images of colored geometric shapes and blotches. Which were almost laser-light show in appearance and pattern.

In the evolution of your race, only three have been chosen before you. You are the fourth to ascend.

As the mindlink began to dissolve and come to an end, Donald Fowler collapsed to the floor, suffering from neuro-synapse damage. As if his brain were short-circuited.

"It's no wonder I was having delusions," he said, taking his last breath.

As Donald Fowler died, his memory was flooded with final thoughts.

A series of bizarre and exotic images bursting on his mind and consciousness. Colors... shapes... mathematical equations fused and blurred.

He attempted to isolate them, but was able to recall clearly only one.

The isolated glimpses of things he saw when he touched the life force's mind began to coalesce in his consciousness.

The wonders of the universe and all of its mysteries unfolded before him.

He moved through complex planes of multi-colored grids and rectangles, and digital readouts. Patterns and plasmas of color flashed before him.

There were explosions of nebula, swirling gases, bursting constellations, bright stars, blazing skies, and giant reproductive images of expressionistic, wildly colorful and desolate landscapes with seven diamond-shaped objects floating above.

It was all cold, yet weirdly sensous.

Smooth sheets of color followed in awashed hues of light blue, light green, and glacially white.

His substance had become dispersed. An atom of his to a nine world system. A molecule of his to a local cluster of stars. A tiny diffuse sction of his spread thin over a dozen galaxies.

Thought did not respect the trifling limitations of time and space.

It only spanned infinity and eternity.

It looked down into his mind and turned it outward to them.

How compact your bodies are, the life force spoke to him. And what a variety of senses you have. This thing you call... language, though... most remarkable. You depend on it...for so very much. But is any one of you really its master? But most of all...the aloneness. You are so alone. You live out your of flesh, self-contained...separate. How lonely you are. How terribly lonely....

And it was at that moment that his wrist monitor began beeping.

While Helena and Mathias were checking on casualties, they immediately noticed the screen on the communications post. It gave off a loud beep as the computer spoke in its usual bland, synthetic feminine voice. The words on the small screen were clear as crystal.


Helena looked over at Mathias and both immediately ran out of the Medical Center, while Ben Vincent and other medical personnel continued checking on casualties.

The pink wisps of vapor merged, flowed, and melded with the life force above. It began to blossom in a cascade of billowing bluish-white light.

Followed by a whitish-blue hue of color.

Tony Verdeschi and the others watched as the dazzling panorama of color unfolded. The intense, searing glow almost resembled a bright red sun.

Piercing, blinding firebolts and shafts of light merged into a wonderous, brilliant light. An intense, searing glow.

After another burst of brilliant light, it streaked away from Moonbase Alpha, leaving behind it, a rainbow streaked vapor trail.

Tony and the other environment suited Alphans watched in surprise as the light and vapor trail faded into nothingness.

"What the hell was that?" O'Neill broke the silence over the commlock.

"Damned if I know," Parris confessed. "It was almost like watching a psychedelic kaleidoscope."

Whatever it was, or had been, it was an image that Tony Verdeschi was not about to forget any time soon.

The others in Main Mission had also witnessed the event on the main viewscreen. And like Tony and the other security guards, who were just arriving at airlock four, they too were just as stunned and surprised by the unfolding of events.

It was only the sound of the comline beeping that broke the pregnant silence.

John tapped a button on Paul's console, and Helena's image appeared on the main viewscreen.

"John," Helena spoke. "Can you come to Donald Fowler's quarters please. There's been an accident."

"On my way," John replied. "Paul, have Tony and the others return to base. Stand down from red alert."

"Right away, sir," Paul replied, carrying out Koenig's orders. "Main Mission to all sections, stand down from red alert. All personnel, resume normal duties. Tony, you and your team are cleared for entrance."

By the time John and Victor arrived, two of the medical technicians were already carting out Fowler's body on a wheeled stretcher. The scientist's body already covered by a white sheet. The death of any Alphan sickened John Koenig to no end. As he once said to Helena after the deaths of James Warren, Laura Adams, and Dan Mateo, every death on Moonbase Alpha was personal to him.

"What happened?" John demanded.

"Severe brain hemorrhaging," Mathias reported, going over the results from his medical scanner. "due to distortion of all neural systems, dissolution of autonomic nervous system. An area of the brain was burned out."

"All basic personality factors, John," Helena stated. "A different area of the brain was affected. Cause unknown."

"Obviously, it was from the phenomenon that attacked us," Victor noted. "Computer sounded the alarm at the time it arrived here."

"Whatever killed Fowler," Mathias finished his analysis. "The results were thorough."

"A different center of the brain, you say?" Koenig asked.

Helena nodded. "Only of the result, not of the cause."

"Whatever that force was," Mathias observed. "It was capable of such a violent exertion of power over his mind. There was even damage to the body's neural circuit."

John watched as the two technicians rounded the corner of the hallway.

"I wonder what they were," John said, scratching the back of his head. "And where it was they really came from."

"I don't know, John," Victor confessed. "Whatever they were, they were unlike anything we have encountered."

"We may never know the reason," Helena said, sadly. "Maybe, there are some things we are just not meant to know."

Carter and Torens returned to their Eagle to report the disappearance of the crystals, which Paul confirmed, noting that no other energy signatures had been detected. Koenig told them that as Alan was already there that he could perform as thorough a search of refinery facility 5 as he could manage. Torens hated the idea. Force fields, alien crystals, multi-community life forces, what next? He preferred to leave these kinds of jobs to the professionals. What did Koenig expect them to do? Put on some hiking shoes and draw a map? He watched as Carter closed the channel, then started rummaging through a supply cabinet.

"What are you looking for?"

"A pen and a notepad. Hope you're good at drawin' maps."

Torens groaned inwardly, missing the good ol' days of routine Eagle flights between ILC bases on Earth and Moonbase Alpha.

Ben Vincent and Bob Mathias unbuckled their seat belts and seconds later were joined by their Eagle pilot, Pete Johnson. He'd been a little miffed that ol' Carter had hit pay dirt again, and was the one that found the bed of alien crystals in the crater. He'd been on his way to Crater Gassendi, but was recalled. He'd been itching for a go at the alien crystals, so he volunteered to bring the doctors back to Mare Undarum and refinery 3 to retrieve more supplies and components for canniblization. It was all so mind boggling to Johnson; a bed of alien crystals on the Moon, then the non-coporeal life force that was mistaken for a neutron storm, and then an alien intelligence in the form of pink gaseous clouds of vapor. Boy, were these moments going to go down in Alphan history for certain!

Also accompanying them were Sanderson and Cernik once more, who would help carry the burned out equipment from the refinery to the Eagle.

Sanderson was looking forward to the task, loving the feel of Moon walking and seeing the lunar landscape up close. It was a relief to get outside the confining walls and sterile environment of the base, even if he had to pack on a forty-pound environment suit. What he hoped for this time was an easy trip with none of the problems they had experienced before hand. That had been almost too much for even his nerves to take.

Sanderson sighed, and wiped sweat from his red face, before placing his canary-yellow helmet on his head. "I need a vacation."

For all of his cheating at poker games, rude belching, flatulence, and other loud and obnoxious habits, Sanderson was efficient as a surface expert and could be forgiven for such personality traits.

Once the module was decompressed, they followed Sanderson out onto the surface, Mathias, Cernik, and Johnson following close by.

"Life has risks, both on Alpha and on Earth," said Sandra. "We have to take some chances, or we are not really living."

Koenig nodded.

"You're right," John conceded as they entered the travel tube. "I did always want to come to the Moon, but I never dreamed I'd be able to explore the universe at the same time."

Sandra stood and headed toward the door. "Well, since the universe is infinite, I need to take advantage of the opportunity to get some work done!"

"And I have a moonbase to run," added Koenig, following Sandra.

David Kano handed Koenig a printout as he and Sandra entered Main Mission. Sandra greeted Tanya Alexander and then took her station near Paul Morrow.

Koenig continued up the steps to his desk and took in his privileged view of Main Mission. Part of him was still amazed at the number of his people who had decided to accept their new life on Moonbase Alpha. As difficult as the separation from Earth had been, it had been life-changing, and many had come to terms with their new situation. He was pleased to see Helena appear to the left of the main viewer. She smiled and made her way to his desk.

"Here's the report on the latest annual physicals, John," said Helena. "All good news." Koenig took the report and then took her hand. Helena beat him to the punch. "Lunch in my quarters today? We have them all to ourselves," she smiled.

"You read my mind, doctor," Koenig replied. He thought back on the past year as he watched Helena Russell leave. They were continuing on an adventure that had not begun by choice but was now proceeding in a way that was more on their own terms than had ever been possible while separated from Earth. Maybe there really was someone watching out for Moonbase Alpha. He looked up as Victor Bergman entered Main Mission and walked up the steps to Main Computer. "How is the universe today, Victor?" Koenig called over to him.

Bergman glanced around the room at his busy friends and colleagues and then smiled over at Koenig. "I'd say all is well, John." he answered cheerfully as he turned his attention to a nearby keypad.

Commander John Koenig opened his logbook and began to put pen to paper.

Most of us were just plain scared, Koenig dictated silently. Space contains so many unknowns out there and we have a real possibility of encountering another hostile force. For that reason I think we should prepare and place an emphasis on weapons to defend ourselves. We got out of this by the skin of our teeth, and I'd hate like hell to lose any more people, all Alphans notwithstanding. Those men that stood on the surface armed only with inferior laser rifles makes me cringe. I think we need to build some form of ground defences, armoured vehicles of some type to compliment the Eagles. Something.

John nodded with a sad smile. Moonbase Alpha had started out as a researcher's dream, but the harsh reality of space travel may have changed that to something he'd thought had been left light years away, back on Earth.

Copyright (c) 2008. 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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