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The Best Laid Plans

Authors: Krato
Categories: Tony/Maya
Characters: Maya, Tony Verdeschi
Show Year: Y2
Rating: PG-13
Date: 2002
When Maya goes missing and cannot be found, the Alphans conclude that her disappearance is due to her metamorphic abilities.
Average Rating: 4.0/5 (based on 2 reviews)

I can't tell you what your life will be,
Time will show you roads that I can't see,
And if they carry you away from me,
Then go with love, Tomorrow Child.

Tomorrow Child - David Soul

There was nothing in the barren landscape that was capable of detracting from the interminable bleakness. Grey shadows slid over hard, brown rock, gathering momentum as the weak sun drifted lower and the sky darkened, like a gently closing eye grown tired of it's monotonous view. There was little in the way of plant life save for the occasional deep green coating of moss and nestling clumps of various lichens in sheltered nooks and crevices. It was a greatly inhospitable environment which could offer very little other than existence to the few life forms which inhabited it and could, given time, shred the sanity of any being of even the lowliest intellect. Though the sun shined often and daytime temperatures were usually mild, sometimes it rained and at nighttime, after the sun had set, temperatures fell considerably. But these weather conditions would have been quite bearable if it wasn't for the constant winds that blew with god-like force across the rocky vistas. With numbing relentlessness, these winds surged forth, at times ferocious, others caressing - a big-cat at play, unmindful of the damage it may still be causing. The wind never stopped - never. It's varied cries carried around the planet, a living creature giving out a vocal account of every second of every minute of every hour, every day of it's existence, in moans of torment, agony, delight and desire. There was a lifetime of contentment heard in a moment, a gasp of shock that could echo for an eternity. It was a frightening power that could breath so deeply without knowing life and sigh so passionately without knowing humanity.

With the last rays of sunlight glinting off it's black fur, a great, shaggy beast, similar in proportion to the wild grizzly bear of Earth, ambled onwards, it's wide, flattish head held low, shoulders hunkered down as it walked against the wind. Although it was tired and it's thick, dense fur was no longer enough to combat the sharply penetrating wind, the beast continued, if only for the fact that, short of lying down to die, it had no other option. A few hours ago, instinct had told it that in order to survive; this was the direction it should be heading in. Air pressure, wind direction and the faintest scent of vegetation all indicated that somewhere over the horizon, it might be possible to find food and shelter. It was getting colder and the bear creature knew it was imperative that once darkness descended, it should be away from this open and dangerously rough terrain. Exhausted by the many miles it had travelled, it began to slow. It's tough leather paw pads were now sore and cracked and it wouldn't be long before they split and bled and if that should happen before shelter was reached ...

Raising it's head again, eyes closed against the wind's onslaught, the creature sniffed about it and this time smelt with relief the fresh aroma of flourishing greenery. And to confirm this, seconds later, it was presented with visible evidence when the land in the distance appeared to tip downwards. Spurred by this uplifting sight, the animal increased it's speed, managing to ignore the intense pain from it's paws and within a short time was looking down into a narrow valley, roughly a mile wide and four miles long. Bracing itself against the strengthening wind, the bear creature gazed gratefully upon the tangled mass of vegetation growing amongst the rocky outcroppings. This small oasis would provide a haven from the wind and surely food. When it had managed to stave off hunger, the thick undergrowth should provide some protection against the cold night. Now on the point of collapse, it stumbled down over the steep incline, slipping on the loose scree and panting with the effort. Missing it's footing, it fell and literally bounced several metres, jagged rocks and dry, sharp scrub raking at it's tired flesh, bruising deeply and tearing at the dusty fur. For a few minutes, it remained still, afraid and on the verge of loosing consciousness but aware more than anything else of the fact that the dreadful wind had lessened, the further down it went, the more protection there was. Slowly then, half-crawling, half-sliding backwards, it made it down to the valley bed and landed quite hard against the smooth trunk of a young sapling. The beast let out a low, guttural growl of pain mixed with bitter relief and continued to lay amid the calmly swaying grasses, half buried, so tall did it grow. The stars had just become visible in the twilight and despite this having a mildly tranquillising effect on the creature, it lumbered awkwardly to it's feet and nosed it's way heavily through the undergrowth.

"Quiet?" asked Carter, leaning alongside Tony Verdeschi's station.


"As the grave," Sandra sighed.

"So what've you guys been doing for fun around here?"

Verdeschi continued to tap disinterestedly at his keyboard. "Oh, you know, we shot a little pool, Sahn got drunk and started table dancing, the commander's got a card school going ... aaaaand," he swivelled round in his chair, "I almost forgot, you missed the First Annual Alpha Skateboarding Championships outside in corridor B."

Sandra rolled her eyes and tried to hide her smile.

Alan shook his head. "Hmph! Makes abseiling in the Eagle hangars look pretty tame, I've got to admit."

"We might give that a go later - if we get bored."

Commander Koenig strolled over, secretly glad of Carter's interruption. "Distracting my staff from their duties, Captain Carter?"

"Duties? I'd have thought the night shift would be able to run this place from their beds tonight," Tony joked.

A general rumble of laughter sounded around the Command Centre.

"What is the matter with you people?" Koenig feigned surprise. "You sound like you'd happily welcome a ship full of alien invaders with a penchant for the smell of human blood."

Alan brightened. "I don't know about a ship full but one or two might be good."

"You must admit, Commander," said Ann, a petite blonde who sat to the back of the room, "we have been lacking in - well, excitement for quite a long time."

"So come to my Canasta Club tomorrow night," Koenig said expansively and shot Verdeschi a stern look as he returned to his desk, amusing all and leaving those closest in no doubt that he had overheard the exchange between Tony and Alan.

The Italian ducked his head with a grin. "Well, would you believe it? Time for my lunch break."

"Doing anything special?" Alan asked lightly.

"I'm just meeting Maya," he slid out of his chair, "to go to the canteen." Turning back, he frowned at the ill-concealed smirks of delight. "What?"

"You are meeting Maya?" Sahn commented.

"Maya. Right, right." Alan coughed into his clenched fist.

"What?" Verdeschi repeated, seeing several other operators showing an interest.

"Is it true what they say, Tony" Ann asked.

Hands on his hips, he raised an eyebrow. "And what might that be?"

"About absence making the heart grow fonder."

Refusing to be drawn, he simply smiled and answered, "You can find out for yourself in about thirty seconds after I walk out of here."

Ann giggled.

"See you later, mate," said Alan, amiably, to his retreating back and Tony raised up his hand in acknowledgement.

Tony had been on the receiving end of this sort of ribbing for almost a month now. Had it really been that long? Twenty seven days he realised after a quick calculation, twenty seven days since he had done something that once upon a time would have seemed almost inconceivable. He smiled to himself and was still smiling when he got out of the Travel Tube at the residential sector.

The door slid shut behind him but something made him glance back; a flash of light, like a bulb was about to blow, maybe. But no, the door was already closed - a panel of light reflecting onto the metal then. Without another thought, he strolled down the two corridors that took him to his quarters.

"Honey, I'm home," he called out in a nasal American accent.

He was greeted only with silence. He had obviously beaten Maya back so took off his utility belt, made a selection from the audio console and sat down to wait.

Ten minutes later, he looked at his watch. If she didn't turn up soon, they wouldn't have time to get a meal and he hated having to grab a snack and go racing back to work. Besides, (and it almost pained him to even think it) he was missing her. When things turned quiet after hitting a particularly bland quadrant of space, Maya had suggested that she might be put to better use working in the labs. She had discussed it with him first of course and it made good sense, they shouldn't be living in each other's pockets now they were married. But if he was honest, Tony wasn't entirely happy with her absence, Command Centre just wasn't the same without Maya. Still, it wouldn't be forever, sooner or later, they'd either sail into trouble or a new planetary system and either way, Maya would be a much-needed asset. Ann had hit the nail on the head earlier, absence had made the heart grow fonder and this enforced separation during the honeymoon period made their time together all the sweeter.

"Schmuck!" he said aloud and his shoulders hunched in silent laughter.

Sitting back, he blew out a soft sigh and allowed his eyes to wander the room. Obviously the main reason for getting married had been these spacious living quarters ... He grinned and imagined the clout to the back of the head Maya would have delivered at such a quip.

Tony stood up, checking his watch again. "Come on wench," he grumbled jocularly, going to the commpost. "Don't keep your husband waiting if you know what's good for you."

The screen lit up and was filled with the motherly face of Doctor Miriam Hale.

"Oh, hello Tony," she said with a hint of surprise.

"Afternoon. I don't suppose Maya's left yet has she? I know once she gets her nose over a microscope it's the devil's own job to tear her away but my stomach's rumbling here."

Doctor Hale shook her head slightly. "She isn't here."

"When did she leave?"

"She didn't. She gave a small, querulous laugh. "I haven't seen Maya today, I thought she must've been needed in Command Centre."

Tony frowned, digesting this unexpected information. "She's still working on that plezoelectrical project isn't she?"

"Yes, she's spent the last week on it."

"Maybe she needed to use the equipment in another lab," he tried.

Doctor Hale closed her eyes briefly, reinforcing her denial. "I would doubt that very much, none of her materials have been touched since yesterday. Besides, someone would have seen her about and mentioned it - we were all speculating this morning as to what it was that would take her back to Command Centre."

Tony was lost for words. Where the hell was she? Maya wouldn't just bunk off like that, something had to be wrong. "Okay, not a problem, I'll track her down. Thanks," he said, keeping it light.

"Have you tried her commlock?" she asked with the concern in her voice that Tony was feeling.

He smiled confidently. "My next line of attack. Thanks Miriam," he said again and signed off.

He strode back to the sofa and yanked his commlock from his belt. "What are you playing at, Maya?" Quickly, he skimmed over the events of the previous night, racking his brain for something that he might have said that could have upset her enough for her to take herself off like this, something he had inadvertently done. But there was nothing. They had watched a film together, cuddled up on the sofa, a thoroughly predictable thriller that they had both agreed was drivel and then gone to bed. She had even fallen asleep with a smile on her lips he remembered.

Tony gave up after the fourth attempt to raise her - she wasn't going to answer. Suddenly he felt both foolish and hopeful at the same time. What if she was in bed, never actually got as far as the labs because she felt ill or something and came back? He flung the door of their small bedchamber open and experienced an unpleasant tingling in the pit of his stomach at the sight of their bed, made up just as he had left it. Anyway, it wouldn't have made sense, she had already left when Tony woke up so where would she have been in the interim period?

After trying Maya's commlock once more, he slipped quite easily from worry into alarm. It was an offence to ignore your commlock, she knew that, she knew the rules. Now think about this logically, Verdeschi, where could she possibly have gone where she could be lying injured or unconscious, undetected since early this morning? It wasn't very likely, was it? He tapped out John Koenig's private access code which would indicate to John that it was a matter requiring discretion within the confines of Command Centre. Koenig's face appeared on the small screen and it was apparent he was on the move, most likely on his way to his office.

He nodded. "Yes."

"John, I think we might have a problem." What if he was missing something obvious, what if she had mentioned a change of plan last night and he just hadn't taken it in?

"Go ahead," said John, bobbing out of view for a moment as he sat down.

"I know this'll probably sound ridiculous but I can't find Maya, I think she's gone missing." He hurried on, knowing that Koenig was bound to be sceptical. "No one's seen her in the labs today and she's not answering her commlock. I was expecting her back here half an hour ago but she hasn't turned up."

"Okay. What time did you see her last?" he asked calmly.

"Not since last night, about 10:30pm I think, She'd already left when I woke up this morning."

Koenig picked up on the tightness in Tony's voice and knew how seriously he was taking it. "Alright Tony, just sit tight, I'm on my way over."

The instant the connection broke, Tony slung the commlock back on the sofa and began a systematic search across the base for Maya via the Commpost., starting with Hydroponics section.

By the time the Commander arrived, his frustration had reached boiling point. "No one's seen her, John, no one. I really think something's happened to her."

John came to the middle of the room. "Well, whatever it is, she can't have gone far. We'll find her." He glanced about him. "Is anything missing since last night? Did she take anything with her?"

Tony turned, exasperated. "I don't know, such as what?"

"Like something off the desk that maybe she was working on, did she take a jacket with her, was she wearing her Chronometer?"

Making a bolt for the bedroom, Tony mumbled, "Yeah, yeah, I didn't think ..."

As Verdeschi disappeared, John took up his own commlock and called out, "Are you still trying to contact her?"

"Ten minutes ago ... Damn! Her Chonometer's here, she's not wearing it."

Koenig keyed in Maya's commlock code and watched the message 'awaiting recipient' flash repeatedly along the bottom of the grey screen. He didn't doubt that Maya was actually missing, what he did doubt was that she was missing intentionally. A bright flash of light drew his eyes up and he caught a blurred and shimmering 'ghosting' effect quickly pass through the air. His jaw slackened.


The yell from the bedroom galvanised him into action and he bolted for the bedroom. Tony stood by the open closet, holding the softly beeping commlock. "Her uniform's in there too," he said quietly.

"What clothes has she taken?"

"Erm ..." His hands slipped through the small collection of civilian clothing Maya had acquired, stopping momentarily when his hands touched the sheer, black fabric of the dress she had worn the day she arrived on Alpha. Her treasured dress was still here but he didn't know whether that was good or bad. "No, everything is here, I'm sure of it."

Reaching down, John lifted up the utility belt from the bottom shelf of the closet and removed the stun gun. "It doesn't make sense, she's taken nothing."

Now riffling through their drawer units, Tony was apparently searching for something. "When I made the bed this morning, her pyjamas weren't there, I just thought she'd put them to the laundry but they're not there. Surely somebody would've seen her, no matter what time in the morning it was, someone would've questioned why she was walking the corridors in pyjamas!"

"And she was okay last night? You didn't argue or anything?"

"No, we didn't," Tony answered hotly. "And even if we did, she'd hardly have walked out wearing her bloody night clothes would she?" Immediately, he regretted raising his voice and apologised. "Sorry," he flexed his hands behind his head. "I'm sorry, I just can't think of any other explanation." He sat down on the bed, covering his face with his hands. "If it's alright with you, I'm going to bring my men in on this."

"Of course, that's the next logical step, she must be on the base somewhere so a search party will find her."

Tony suddenly sat up straight, a look of alarm hardening his features. "What if she's done something stupid? What if she's transformed and had some sort of accident?"

"How likely is that? Transforming in the early hours of the morning? Why?"

"She's done it before ..." he hesitated, unsure whether he should be allowing John this kind of insight into Maya's psyche, friend or not. "It's like a release valve. She told me she used to transform quite often when she first came to Alpha. Anti-stress therapy, she called it," and he smiled, recalling Maya's analogy with fond humour. "She did it a couple of weeks after the Dorcons tried to take her, too. Got up in the middle of the night and took herself off as a winged insect. Says it clears her mind."

"I hadn't realised that." He half smiled, intrigued by yet another of the Psychon's foibles.

"Yeah, well, she doesn't shout about it."

Koenig understood his meaning and nodded. "So she felt under pressure about something?"

"No." The Italian got up and slammed shut the drawers, that in his haste, he had left open. "She was fine, as far as I know but it's literally the only thing I can think of. How else could she disappear like this?" For some reason, he had a mental image of her pyjama-clad body lying bruised and broken deep within the catacombs. "I'm going to organise that search party."

Within the hour, two teams of three men had been deployed to search Moonbase Alpha, making their enquiries within each sector they passed through. A third team was despatched to the catacombs, solely on Verdeschi's unfounded fears while Tony himself, with John, took a visit to the Medical Centre. After discharging the patient she was dealing with (a biochemist who had suffered a mild concussion after belting headlong into the wall during a game of squash), Helen Russell, Alpha's Chief Medical Officer threw herself into a detailed analysis of the data received from Maya's Chronometer in the previous 24 hours. Although for obvious reasons, Maya's vital signs read rather differently from the other Alphans, for her, everything appeared normal. Once this had been confirmed, Tony took off to join his security team in the catacombs, feeling that joining the search was now more constructive that rehashing the same information again and again as Helena seemed intent on doing.

Koenig paced up and down behind Helena as she sat at her computer, playing out a printed bar graph of Maya's blood pressure rate over a three-day period. Finally, he sat down on the line of sofa chairs against the side wall and hunched over, deep in thought.

"If you've got a theory, John, I'd like to hear it," coaxed the doctor.

He looked up suddenly, startled out of his reverie. "Don't read me like that," he admonished with a smile.

"So tell me, what's on your mind?"

"Well," he stood again, "it's just that since Tony told me about the possibility that she may have transformed, I've had this niggling thought at the back of my mind that I couldn't quite grasp until now."

"And it's not good."

"Whilst I was in their quarters, I thought I saw something."

Helena swivelled her chair, giving him her full attention. "Saw what, John?"

He remained silent, trying to put these ridiculous assumptions into some sort of logical scenario.

"Saw what?" Helena repeated.

"What if Maya transformed but then couldn't change herself back, what would happen to her?"

"But that doesn't happen, once the hour has elapsed, transformation becomes involuntary," she pointed out.

"What if for some reason, that didn't happen, what if she couldn't go all the way back into her body?"

"What did you see?" she whispered, mortified by the very idea.

"It was a flash of light and when I looked up, I thought I saw the outline of a human shape, or at least part of it."

"Did you say anything to Tony?"

"It was then that he found Maya's commlock and uniform - I let it go."

"So you think it was her, trapped in a metamorphic state?"

Koenig looked at her meaningfully. "It would make sense."

"You need to tell him. He might be able to confirm or deny that could happen. He has a right to know."

The Commander passed a damp hand over his face. "I wanted you to tell me it was my imagination, Helena. If that really was Maya I saw, God knows what she's going through, it's too horrendous to even contemplate."

"Tell Tony," said Helena, firmly. "Maybe we can help her."

The very idea of Maya being trapped in her disassembled state sent a chill of panic through Helena's backbone but now, two hours after Alpha had begun it's search for it's adopted daughter, she was ready to believe anything.

It was so bitingly cold. Bent over and teeth chattering, Maya foraged despairingly for something edible to quell her pangs of hunger. She had awoken to a grey dawn, freezing in the damp cave she had sought shelter in the previous night. Though far lighter down here, the wind still sliced through her flimsy blue pyjamas, already grubby from her night spent on the dusty cave floor, covered over with several layers of hastily gathered palm sized leaves. After a fitful few hours sleep, she was still exhausted to the point of feeling ill. Maya had totally lost track of how many transformations she had put herself through the previous day and now, despite the cold, she was just too weak to attempt another. Metamorphosis allowed her only one hour at a time and the few minutes she was obliged to spend in her Psychon form in between her transformations was nothing short of torture. She had cried, tears blurring her vision, out of sheer despair. The cold became irrelevant and she was in a dreamlike state while she inched forward, fighting the wind for each breath she took, unable to release the sobs that threatened to tear open her chest. But the worst part of this nightmare was not knowing when it would end. If it was a true nightmare and she was asleep in her bed, then sooner or later, she would wake up to find herself in Tony's arms, being soothed with his love but if she couldn't wake up, then she was in little doubt that her death was imminent. Several questions repeated themselves over and over: how had she got here? Where was here? If it was a planet, was the moon somewhere nearby? But if that were the case, why hadn't the long range scanner picked it up? Was she alone? Did anyone know where she was or even that she was missing? Why her? And above all, why was she here?

Maya found herself muttering these questions under her breath and hearing these rantings brought tears to her eyes. What if she went insane before she died? Pulling back a clump of heavy vines revealed a gangly bush bearing clusters of greenish yellow berries. Pulling a single one off it's stalk, she crushed it between trembling fingers and smeared the pulped flesh across the inside of her lower lip. If it killed her then so be it, she had to eat. It tasted sweet but with a cloying, perfumed aftertaste. No matter, it was food. Maya yanked several handfuls off the bush and deposited them in the pockets of her pyjama jacket before carrying on, chewing on a mouthful of the berries as she went. She knew if she was to have a hope of surviving, she must find a source of water before very long. Maybe soon, she would recover the strength for a transformation and she could fly low over this whole area, finding the resources that would at least provide her with a chance. For an instant, the wind dropped and when it came at her again, lifted her loose locks of hair up to fly angrily into her eyes and mouth. Maya crouched, her hands moulded tightly to her skull. "Stop it, STOP IT!" she cried out between gritted teeth. It was driving her crazy, the wind whipping her hair about her face, curling around her neck like the caressing hand of evil. If she had the means, she would gladly have shorn the auburn tresses from her head. But that brought fresh tears because it made her remember how much Tony adored her hair and how sometimes he would bury his face in the softness of it when he held her. With a flash of inspiration, she tore down one of the trailing vines and after stripping the leaves from it's length, stood into the wind and tied it all back as securely as she could. Her frustrated temper subsided and she carried on the search for sustenance. At one point, she came across a drooping, fleshy leaved plant in mottled shades of salmon pink. The green pods that hung from it were approximately five inches long and contained a single spear of pale green rubbery vegetation, coated in a thick, sweet sticky substance that was more than palatable. Taking as many of these pods as she could carry, Maya decided she should head back to the cave and eat her fill before attempting metamorphosis. Even if she couldn't manage it, maybe she would still stand a better chance of finding water in her humanoid form after she had eaten.

Tony Verdeschi emerged from the catacombs after four hours of searching. He would have stayed longer if Koenig hadn't given up waiting and called him out with the promise of new information as bait. He sat in the Commander's office in the chair across from his desk and listened, staring down at his nervously twisting fingers that were still coated with chalky white moon dust.

"Does that sound possible to you?" Koenig probed gently.

When Verdeschi finally raised his head, his eyes were shot through red with suppressed tears. He shrugged his shoulders but couldn't speak.

"We have nothing else to go on," John added, almost by way of apology.

"I thought I saw something too, when I came out of the travel tube at lunchtime. Just a flash of light behind me - I didn't even think about it until now."

"Maya never mentioned anything like that before? Never relayed any stories of other Psychons having problems with metamorphosis?"

"No ... no, she didn't." He swung his body away and gnawed viciously at the skin around his thumbnail for a moment. "What sort of a hell would that be, existing in atoms, stuck in limbo?" he mumbled. A humourless smile touched his lips. "That's a fate worse than death if ever I heard one."

"I'm only guessing here, Tony. I'm guessing at what I thought I saw."

Tony narrowed his eyes. "You realise how patronising that sounds? There's no point pussyfooting around, it had to be her didn't it?"

"I think we should still keep the search going until we have proof."

As though he hadn't heard, Verdeschi continued, "Why couldn't she come back? What was stopping her? If we find out what went wrong, we can help her."

"Yes," was all he could say. They had never been able to fathom how the metamorphosis happened and Maya couldn't explain it herself, what chance did they have now? Verdeschi knew the score, he just didn't want to admit it.

"If she's there, John, in our quarters, wouldn't we pick up a reading of any extraneous energy levels? If she's trying to regroup into solid mass, surely there'd be a concentration, a saturation of energised molecules."

He was prepared to look at the problem from all angles and his anxiety was making him think fast.

"It's worth a shot and I think you could have something there," John enthused. "How about I get a team organised to meet you at your place. With the right equipment, they'll track any unnatural disturbances."

"Now?" It was more a demand than a question. "I think we both know the search ends here."

"Just give me half an hour to explain the situation and let them assemble their equipment."

"Okay, half an hour," agreed Tony impatiently as he made for the door.

At 11:00pm, Tony sat solemnly behind the desk in the corner. Their quarters looked like the inside of a computer terminal since the physicists had done their work, with over thirty sensors positioned on the walls and ceilings and grey cabling criss-crossing over the floors. A two tiered metal trolley stood near the sofa holding several unidentifiable pieces of equipment and beside that, a generator that was emitting a low buzz that set his teeth on edge. They had found nothing during the preliminary survey but were confident that the machinery installed would be more than capable of detecting the energy created by Maya's presence. There was a monitor and keyboard before him, the black screen fountaining up line after line of bright green text. Some of it made sense but the majority would mean little to any but the pure physics scholars of Alpha. Besides, he didn't have to understand it, anomalies in data were programmed to scroll in red and even then, he didn't need to be sitting here watching it, the information was being relayed to one of the labs. But it was hypnotic. Tony had gone beyond seeing any of the symbols and codes, it was merely patterns of black and green, drifting upwards like steam. All this paraphernalia, lights and sensors strung up like Christmas decorations, it was like they were ghost hunting, scouring the atmosphere for plasma or whatever substance it was that ghosts were meant to emit. But Maya wasn't a ghost, Maya wasn't dead ... she wasn't dead.

Tony stood abruptly, the rapidly flowing screen no longer enough. "Maya?" The word sounded hollow but it had suddenly occurred to him that maybe the sound of his voice would act as a guide, that it could somehow help her back from wherever it was she was trapped. "Can you hear me? You've got to try to come back, like you did before." He fell silent then, like he was waiting for a reply. Tentatively, he moved to the sofa and round to the stack of instrumentation where he traced a finger along the length of a backlit display panel. "If we can find you, we might be able to bring you back." He looked up quickly, afraid he might miss something. "You've worked with Ray Carmichael and Grant Bayliss haven't you? They've got this place looking like an explosion in a T.V factory! The minute you make an appearance, you'll be caught on camera and they'll be able to work out why this happened." Again he waited. "Maya?"

Midnight came and went. Tony drifted aimlessly, from the living area to the kitchenette (a much prized luxury, only available in married quarters) to the compact bedroom where he sat for some time on the edge of the bed. They should have talked, Tony would have found out what was troubling her and she might never have felt the need for escape into her own unique world. He should have known something was wrong, he should have picked up on her mood and got her to open up to him but he hadn't and this was the result. He simply refused to consider the possibility that he had lost Maya forever. Either she would find her own way back or Carmichael and Bayliss, along with the numerous other scientific staff would find a way because she was 'there', somewhere. He couldn't settle, the place felt unfamiliar and 'breakable', the sort of feeling you got upon walking into a hotel bedroom.

At 2:00am, pale and dispirited, Tony went to bed but left the door open so he could watch in the darkness for the flicker of light that would signify Maya's continuing existence, wherever that might be.

Taking a slug of his freshly vended coffee, Rich Dessa made a face before smacking his lips, both done in an exaggerated fashion, despite the lack of an audience. "Just what the doctor ordered - unfortunately," and he chuckled at his own joke. Pulling out his chair, he scooted his lean frame behind the table and sat, taking another quick sip of his coffee before plonking it down beside the keyboard.

"Ha! Funny," he murmured as the next track of the C.D started. Jamiriqui was singing 'Cosmic Girl' - how apt. He opened up a diagnostics programme and began running a pressure perception report.

"She's just a cos-mic gir-irl." he sang, his upper body thrusting backwards and forwards in time to the music and his eyebrows dancing to a tune of their own. Yeah, Maya was pretty cosmic aright, pretty freaky, too. He'd only seen her do her 'stuff' twice. The first time was when she was introduced to the lab staff a few weeks after Psychon blew. He'd heard what she could do and so came right out and asked her to show them all. He remembered one or two had been horrified that he'd dared to ask but she'd been okay about it, said she realised they were curious and then turned herself into a pygmy goat. Watching her just fizzle away like that, dwindle down to a column of pure white energy - my God, it had blown him away. And here he was, a scientist, desperate to understand how the laws of nature could account for such a miracle and she couldn't even tell him, she didn't understand herself how this biological process worked. He was mesmerised by her, her metamorphic abilities, her looks, her deportment, her very alieness but she frightened him too. That second time she had transformed, he hadn't actually seen her do it, he hadn't needed to, after all, Marilyn Monroe didn't usually drop in to entertain the troops. It had been part of Tony Verdeschi's birthday bash, she'd sung him 'Happy Birthday' in the shapely form of the blond bombshell. Wow, what a party piece! Now that had really freaked him out. It was then that he'd realised exactly what the relationship was between those two. He'd heard that they were an item but seeing them together had really made him think. Yeah, sure she was gorgeous but she was an alien for God's sake. Maybe the opportunity to 'dabble' would be cool but Verdeschi had married her, the guy had actually married an alien. Was that even legal? Doctor Rich Dessa was all for breaking the boundaries, ignoring limitations, that was part of what made him a first rate research scientist but marrying an alien wasn't exactly bungee jumping off Niagra - it was far scarier. Still, once you got past what she was, who she was, was quite an attractive package.

Dessa let out a short burst of jerky humming and grabbed up a pen to drum on a free area of table whilst he waited for the printout. It was totally bizarre. She'd just disappeared into the ether and no one had a clue how. Hell, what were they going to do if they got a trace on her? Suck her up like dust into a vacuum cleaner? The stupid thing was that in all the time she'd been on Alpha, she'd never been studied in any great detail and he knew that for a fact because Sally from Medical had let it slip when they'd sat next to each other at an inter-departmental discussion meeting. With a bit of gentle persuasion, he'd got her to admit that blood tests and body scans was the sum total of Medical Centre's investigative analysis of an alien species. So they knew what she looked like on the inside - big deal. What he wanted to know was everything about the metamorphosis. Apparently, the big cheese, Helena Russell who was extremely buddy-buddy with Maya anyway, had deemed anything other than the usual human physiological analysis as invasive and a prejudiced intrusion. Could you believe it? He might not be sitting here now at 3:00am in the morning if it hadn't been for her political correctness and they'd all be better off.

Dessa picked up his beaker of coffee and took it over to the CD player on the bench behind him as 'Cosmic Girl' faded out. He started flipping through his treasured personal collection of CDs in their rubberised 'Buffy' wallet and slid out a 'Garbage' disc. Time for something with a bit more bite.

For a split second, he thought a piece of equipment had gone haywire but the flash of light intensified and he found himself staring at a blue white outline of a female figure practically inches away. The CD hit the ground with force as he backed away, scrabbling at the bench behind. "Ohhh shit ... Maya?" He'd barely got the words out before she was gone again, a wake of ripped air disappearing moments later.

Dessa flew to a nearby storage cupboard and pulled a hard plastic grey case down off a shelf. Taking the hand held device from it's moulded foam surround, he aimed the particle receptor at the area in which Maya had been standing. Nothing. With great effort, he held his hand steady, working the instrument up and down very slowly, his left hand playing over an array of buttons as he attempted to get a reading. But she was gone, he wasn't even picking up any residue. Dessa realised he was shaking and he made himself take deep breaths as he carefully fitted the receptor back into its box. That was the last thing he'd expected, for her to show up here after the effort he and Bayliss and Carmichael had put into wiring the Verdeschi's quarters. She obviously had no control over where she was materialising. Or maybe she did. Wasn't it too much of a coincidence that given the whole of Alpha, she turned up in the very lab that was trying to monitor her movements? Wasting no more time, Dessa crossed hurriedly to the commpost to contact the Command Centre staff. Unfortunately, there was really no new information he could provide but at least another sighting meant she was still with them.

The sun was setting when Maya emerged from the cave. She had spent three hours, near enough, gathering together the materials necessary in constructing herself a warm bed for the coming night. Most of the day had been spent alternating between gathering a stockpile of fruit from the various trees and bushes surrounding the cave (never going further than fifty metres in any direction) and resting in a highly sheltered enclave tucked into the south side of the rock. This formed a wonderfully comfortable 'nest'. Maya felt incredibly weak still but assumed her debilitated state was due to the long journey she had made the day before and the many hours spent in a metamorphic form. Now, as she headed to her 'nest' to absorb the last of the sunshine out of the wind, a wave of nausea fanned out through her belly and she stopped to take a few restorative breaths. Slowly sinking down into the warm and grassy suntrap, Maya leaned back and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, the sky had taken on a pinky gold hue and dark clouds were scudding quickly in from the east. With eyes half closed, she continued to watch the melding colours intensify, swirling and eddying, funnelling upwards and spewing out like molten lava. It was almost like some wondrous, cosmic event that she was witnessing, quite beautiful but strange and mystical. Her eyes grew wide as the clouds appeared to take shape, bending and folding into themselves, growing more solid against a reddening backdrop. Eyes. She could surely see a pair of angry, burning eyes leeching out of the black, alive with malevolence. Suddenly, the skies swelled violently and began to pulsate like living tissue, throbbing heatedly all around her. Maya could barely breathe, the air had become heavy, viscous, threatening to choke her with each gasp she took. She got to her feet, fingers clawing at the suddenly cold, rough rock at her back and terror held her rigid even as the air about her shook and heaved. Something was going to happen, something was about to give. The last sliver of sun had dropped from view at the top of the valley and the skies were darkening to purple and vermilion. The howl of the wind up above was of a thing possessed, or maybe 'things' possessed for the to-ing and fro-ing of the wind's direction filled the air with the cries of a hundred different beasts, all of them brutal and savage. Not bearing to listen, Maya covered her ears, unaware that she had begun a thin mewling evoked by her fearful dread but she couldn't look away from the blackened veins of cloud that continued to coalesce into the eyes of a devil. There was a moment in which it all seemed to recede. The skies shrank away and the oxygen was returned to the air in sufficient quantities again ... and then the world split open. It seemed that hell itself poured forth from those volcanic skies, twisting, spitting, billowing sheets of vaporous malice solidifying into a half hidden mass within. Then, with incredible force, the head of a gargantuan creature burst outwards, filling the sky and it's hideously proportioned mouth ripped open to expel a gaseous concoction of red, fiery smoke. Instead of screaming, Maya found her vocal chords had frozen totally but instinct forced her to apply herself to metamorphosis instead. It was hopeless. Not only was she incapable of summoning up any lucid mental picture, she still just didn't have the physical strength for such a task.

"MAYA!" the monstrosity bellowed through gnashing, jagged teeth as it thrust it's head around wildly. The dark, bubbled clouds formed a blistered coating of skin over it's grotesquely humanoid skull and when it's glinting amber eyes narrowed to fasten again on the quaking form of Maya, it began to chuckle deeply, rising to a kind of malevolent joy. Unable to comprehend the horrors around her, Maya's overwrought mind gave in and she collapsed mercifully to the dusty grass.

"Tony! How are you feeling?" Sahn asked warmly.

Verdeschi had entered the room quietly and taken up his place in the middle of Command Centre. "Tired," he managed to smile. "You heard what went off last night?"

She nodded. "I heard."

"Sahn was here all night," Ann informed him from her station behind them.

"All night?" Verdeschi repeated in surprise.

"It has been so quiet anyway, I thought that I may as well stay around here in case there was anything I could do ... if there was any news."

Her look of apology brought a small smile to Verdeschi's face. "I really appreciate that."

"I want her back too, Tony."

"Sorry, I didn't mean to sound territorial," he answered, misunderstanding her comment.

"You did not but you should know that everybody is concerned - for both of you."

"Yeah. Thanks." He kept his head down to hide his surfacing emotions.

"We weren't expecting to see you today," said Ann.

Tony shrugged. "I may as well be here as anywhere. It looks like Maya could turn up anywhere so there's no sense in moping around in our quarters." He said that because he thought he should, not because it was what he felt. What he really wanted to do was walk the length and breadth of Moonbase Alpha, shouting her name, demanding that she find a way back to him, break through whatever barrier was holding her just out of reach. He had barely slept at all last night. Rich Dessa had woken him at 3:30am to offer him his account of events and after that, he had only managed sleep in small snatches. Dessa's description had been encouraging. He had seen more than either he or John, a complete outline, a whole figure, like she was almost there. For the thousandth time, he wondered how long she could carry on like this. Would she eventually loose control altogether and just disperse into the atmosphere? Was she in pain? Was she hungry? Was she even subject to those sorts of limitations? If he allowed himself to think too deeply, he could imagine the unimaginable, terrors beyond comprehension, so he didn't dwell on where she was, only the fact that she wasn't with him. But it was killing him. He would never have believed that loosing someone this way could hurt quite so badly. Inside, a constant, ferocious scream was searing a rent across his heart. How could it be right for love to bring so much pain?

Giving Ann a brief smile, he put his head down and started work. The two women exchanged a knowing look. Nice try, Verdeschi.

Half way through the morning, Helena made an appearance, as she often did around the time the Commander was due to go on a break.

"Coffee?" she asked him quietly.

John sat back in his chair, regarding her slowly. What if something like this had happened to Helena? What if she had been taken from him without warning, just vanishing as Maya had done? It would be easier for Tony, he tried to fool himself; he was used to Maya's strange ability and this 'accident' was a consequence not so wholly unbelievable. Hs eyes drifted involuntarily towards his first officer, noticing the way he was sitting so upright, working so diligently as he transferred material from a printout into the computer. His concentration was absolute, as it had been for most of the morning, only occasionally breaking off to lapse into vacant melancholy. As far as he was aware, Tony had not instigated a conversation, only speaking when spoken to, when the other staff had made their wary attempts at including him in the informal chat.

"How's he doing?" Helena asked.

Still watching the back of Verdeschi's dark head, he answered, "I guess he's had better days," and then, seeing she had come empty handed, added, "Still nothing?"

Helena shook her head, running her hand over the already smooth fall of blonde hair. "We've analysed the chronometer data as far back as three months. Nothing whatsoever has shown up as abnormal. We have nothing else to work with."

"I think I should pay a visit to the labs later, see if the guys have any ideas."

"John ..."

The sudden rise in Helena's voice and the look of shock on her face had him on his feet and following her eyes. One by one, everyone in Command Centre turned to stare in awe at the brilliant white, laser sharp outline that had appeared to the right of the big screen.

Tony half rose, gripping the monitor on his desk for support as he felt the colour drain from his cheeks and a momentary dizziness taking over. "She's back!" he choked out.

But when the outline filled in with solid matter, the figure materialising clearly wasn't Maya. The woman before them looked about her as though getting her bearings. She didn't however, seem surprised to find herself in Command Centre.

"I'm sorry," she apologised, "I know I'm not who you were hoping for."

Ironically, her voice was deep and lilting, not unlike Maya's but there the similarity ended. This woman was, or at least looked around forty years of age with ash blonde hair that skimmed her shoulders and curved under sleekly. Her face was tanned but the rest of her body was covered up by her charcoal grey suit, in some serge type fabric that fitted almost as snugly as a cat suit. Plain black, high heeled boots completed the ensemble which gave her nearly a professional air.

"No, you're not," Tony answered unsteadily. Where is she?" His heart was beating fast with expectancy and faded hope.

She turned to him with a sympathetic smile. "I'm afraid I can only partly explain, Mister Verdeschi."

Koenig began walking to the front of the room. "I think we would appreciate any information you have," he said sternly.

Their visitor bowed her head in acquiescence before holding a manicured hand out to him. "Of course, Commander Koenig."

"And you are?" he interrupted, pressure lending arrogance to his tone as he grasped her proffered hand firmly in his own.

"I'm Dee Featherstone. It's me you've been seeing around your base, not Maya. I've been sent to track her temporal threads from this end."

Verdeschi had moved away from his station and was approaching her rapidly. "What the hell is that s'pposed to mean, eh? Temporal threads?"

A little unnerved by his angry response, Dee Featherstone took a hasty step back. "Please, Mister Verdeschi. There was a mistake made by one of our Temporal Regulators. Maya should have been removed to a safe house but something went wrong and she was ... well, she's been misplaced."

Laughing out loud, Tony turned incredulous eyes upon John Koenig. "Right, it all makes perfect sense now."

"Okay, you obviously have some sort of explanation to give us and we have a lot of questions for you, Ms. Featherstone, so shall we go to my office to discuss this? Koenig asked.

"Of course, whatever you wish."

"What we wish," said Tony, venomously, "is that you'd get Maya back here."

The woman laid a gentle hand on the Italian's arm. "I'm trying. I'm trying very hard."

Maya opened her eyes to darkness and maybe it was the numbing cold that prevented her from remembering where she was but within seconds, her memory returned with a vengeance. She tried to sit up and a griping pain lifted her stomach. Leaning over on her elbow, Maya vomited weakly into the grass and tasted the vile acid of half digested berries. She shuddered and squinted up at the black skies. Save for a scattering of blurry stars, it was empty. She couldn't think straight. Had she just dreamt all that? But no, she could remember the feeling she had when her knees started to give way, she had felt herself starting to black out, she hadn't simply fallen asleep. She struggled up onto all fours and hunched her shoulders as her stomach spasmed again and she brought up another mouthful of the thin, sticky bile. Oh, she wanted to be home, she just wanted to be home.

"Tony!" she cried as she wretched again and hot tears began to course down her dirty cheeks. Getting up onto her feet, she berated herself for her feebleness and then promptly burst into gulping sobs, hugging her arms about her shivering body. This was ridiculous, what was the matter with her? There had been worse situations than this - when the Dorcons took her, she had faced certain death then, until the Commander had saved her at the last moment. But that would at least have been a civilised end, amidst a civilised people. Here, she was totally alone. If she was going to die, she at least deserved to know why her life was destined to end this way.

Maya picked her way unsteadily over stones and rough grass and stumbled into the black depths of the cave where she had constructed her new bed. She felt terribly ill. Her head was aching badly and her limbs were leaden. Since finding herself on this planet, she had acquired a whole series of scratches and cuts and her left hip was sporting a particularly vivid contusion, picked up after falling heavily when her ankle got caught in a creeping vine. Working her way along the cold, dry cave wall, her stinging feet finally nudged against the carefully positioned parcels of leaves. One of her main priorities that morning had been to find water but the narrow trickle of a stream she had managed to find was located a good distance away from the cave. A flash of inspiration had prompted Maya to collect up a number of the large, shiny leaves growing in patches around about. With practice, she had developed a technique for scooping up a small quantity of water in the vegetation and tying the tapering ends up together tightly. By doing this, she was able to transport water back to the cave with her for future use. Picking up two of these parcels, Maya shuffled another few steps forward and squatted down by the side of her bed. It was all very well spending time making these perfect little packages in daylight hours but now, in the pitch darkness, and feeling as she did, reopening one without spilling the contents was likely to be a considerable challenge. She tried in vain for a few minutes, her lacerated fingers working blindly, feeling the leaf degenerating into wet, stringy pulp. She grunted with frustration when the thing suddenly caved in and a small gush of water ran over her wrist. Quickly, she brought it up to her mouth and got the last few drops before tossing it away from her in disgust. What was she messing about at? The second one, she picked up in both hands, lifted above her head and bit down delicately into the underside. Greedily, she closed her lips around the little tear and sucked the water out. She shuffled back to the water parcels on her bottom and repeated the process twice more until her thirst had been slaked. She would sleep now and maybe she would feel more normal in the morning. Her belly groaned audibly with hunger but it probably wasn't a good idea to eat again so soon after being sick. The bed was an alluring prospect and so Maya crept over to bury herself within the hundreds of cotton-like seed heads she had collected earlier in the day. After forming a rectangular shape with piles of rocks and stones placed in four lines, she had lined it with the thick, purpley red rubber laves she had found before filling the cot with the fluffy seed heads. By adding several more layers of the palm leaves she had used the night before, she hoped to preserve her body heat whilst holding back any unwelcome drafts. Although she lay shivering under the heavy mound of leaves for quite some time, eventually, her body heat was absorbed into the seed heads and she became cocooned, if not in warmth, then at least in relative comfort. It wasn't going to end like this, she thought to herself as she drifted somewhere between wake and unconsciousness. Tomorrow, she would find the strength from somewhere and take to the air, if only for a few minutes. For all she knew, beyond this valley stood a great nation, encapsulated in shimmering glass and living as kings and queens, a society of heros, noble thinkers and gentle artisans. Tomorrow, she would find them ... tomorrow.

"No, not for me, thank you." Dee Featherstone declined the cup of coffee Alan Carter was offering to her.

"I can get you a water instead if you'd like," he suggested and heard a small sigh of annoyance coming from Verdeschi.

That didn't go unnoticed by the visitor who looked rather uncomfortable. "No, really, nothing. I'm not permitted to ingest any foreign substances whilst I'm away."

"Away from where?" Verdeschi wanted to know. "Is that where Maya is?"

They all looked to her expectantly.

"I come from what you would term 'the future'." She crossed her legs and laced both hands over her knee. "Although that doesn't mean 'your' future. We cross over dimensions and utilise existing portals as well as creating our own."

"Well, you're a regular time lord," Verdeschi said sarcastically. "Now tell us what you've done with her."

"Tony!" Koenig warned.

Dee Featherstone sat a little straighter. "That's quite alright, Commander. Mister Verdeschi has every right to be angry. This was our mistake, one that we hope to rectify as soon as possible."

Carter leaned forward, his coffee cup dangling from his fingers. "But what were you trying to do? Why were you on Alpha in the first place?"

"We're Temporal Regulators, that's to say, we make amendments in time. Obviously, every action has a consequence, no matter how seemingly insignificant that action might be. Occasionally, an adjustment is deemed necessary, as was the case on Alpha."

Koenig frowned. "Necessary by whom? Pardon me but what gives to the right to interfere in our lives?"

Dee Featherstone met his eyes steadfastly. "The lives of thousands upon thousands of people were involved here. Believe me, and I know how callous this sounds, even if Maya is never found, her loss would be nothing compared with what will be saved."

As she had expected, there followed a silence whilst they took in the enormity of what she had told them.

Helena was the first to find her voice. "What people are you talking about? There are less than three hundred of us on Moonbase Alpha."

"You may think you're alone now but in the future, you will touch the lives of others whether you like it or not."

Tony tipped back the last of his coffee without even tasting it and placed the cup on John's desk. "You've told us nothing," he said quietly. "I personally am not interested in the big picture. I want to know what you've done with Maya and what you intend doing to get her back."

"I understand, I'm just trying to give you an idea of the importance of Maya's place in this situation. I'm sorry to say she wasn't the ideal subject ..."

Tony shot to his feet. "MY WIFE! She's not your subject, she's my wife!" His flair of anger had brought a rush of colour to his face but the suddenly appeared stunned and he blinked twice, surprised at what he'd heard himself say.

"It is alright, Tony." Sandra was in the seat next to his and she reached up to gently guide him back down beside her. His words had registered deeply with each one of them and they realised then the torment he was in. Since their marriage, Tony had never had cause to use the term 'wife' when referring to Maya. Everyone knew her, knew they had married, there were no strangers in their insular habitat who needed to be made aware of his marital status. Of course, it had provided ample occasion for humour. Maya had soon learnt that 'the missus, the wife and 'er indoors' were all derogatory phrases which could be used an infinite amount of times and still produce a tide of mirth amongst their peers. Maybe it was funny, that implication of possession, that by taking part in a ceremony of marriage, you somehow became your spouses owner because here on Alpha, possessions were few and far between. Whether it be a photograph or a pair of running shoes, any possession was treasured far beyond its reasonable worth. Everything meant so much more when it was irreplaceable and that was exactly what Maya was - irreplaceable.

"Please, Ms. Featherstone," the Commander coaxed, "just tell us what's happened to her."

She eyed him pensively, as though listening to some inner conscience and then her grey blue gaze fell upon Verdeschi with compassion. "It isn't - usual to provide details of an interjection but I suppose this isn't usual. It should've been so simple, too." She sat back and her hair swung back from her face as she briefly looked up to the ceiling, her decision made. "Alright, I'll tell you. You might not like it but I hope you'll see how necessary it was."

Nobody spoke so she carried on. "Maya was removed from her quarters at four thirty-seven this morning. Had we not intervened, she would have conceived a child at five thirty-seven."

"She'd have what?" balked Tony.

"A son, Mister Verdeschi. You would've named him Tomas, after your grandfather, I believe."

Verdeschi's jaw fell. "No, she couldn't. She's a Psychon, we couldn't ... we couldn't have children together."

"That's only what you've assumed," she insisted.

Everyone was evidently shocked by this revelation, none more so than Helena. "You took away their chance to have a child," she exploded, "because ... because it didn't fit in with your grand scheme."

"Not without good reason. No interjection is undertaken lightly. In your year two thousand and thirty eight, Tomas Verdeschi would have taken on the role of Commander and three years later, an error of judgement would have resulted in the destruction of an alien vessel. Aboard that vessel, an important emissary was to die and the blame placed on the shoulders of a notoriously volatile race who consistently refused to comply with seventh quadrant law. And so would begin a war that escalated out of all proportion, claiming the lives of fifteen thousand."

"Because of my son?" Verdeschi breathed, deep emotion reflected in his voice.

"I know it's a lot to take in."

"But why could he not be born?" asked Sandra. "Surely it would have been simpler to interject, or whatever it is you do, just before he made this error in judgement."

"We couldn't take the risk, too many lives were at stake. It was safer to take him out of the equation altogether. The more momentous the event, the more difficult it is to amend the history successfully. It will find a way to happen at some other time or even rebound to create more, far reaching consequences."

Alan was shaking his head. "I don't get it. You're saying that Tomas Verdeschi was born in two thousand four and then, at the age of thirty-seven, you totally wiped him out of the history books and he never even existed."


"But what if he had a family of his own? Did you wipe them out too?"

"That wouldn't be necessary if Tomas Verdeschi never existed."

"Is that what you've done to Maya?" Tony asked suddenly. "Was that the mistake? Did she get wiped out of the history books as well?"

Dee Featherstone had known from the start that this meeting wasn't going to be easy. Scepticism had turned inevitably to reproach. It was usually the case that these less enlightened races, even after they had accepted her presence, were disinclined to take her explanation at face value. It was assumed that she was either lying or covering up the truth. Yes, she more often than not held things back, that was part of her job, to sift through the given information and decide upon the most appropriate way to utilise it. In her more cynical moments she was apt to think of herself as a glorified cleaner - a mopper up of other people's messes. Although she wasn't privy to the more complex planning stages of the initial interjections, she sometimes felt that the hands-on visits required when a flaw occurred could be just as interesting, sometimes even rewarding. Right now though, she was wondering if she had supplied them with too much information. Not that there was any danger of anyone ripping a hole in the continuum, it was just that Maya's husband was clearly finding the whole package hard to deal with.

"If Maya had been erased by mistake, we wouldn't be here talking about her because she'd never have existed."

Tony didn't look convinced. "It's your guarantee," she smiled.

Koenig, too, was in need of some convincing. "A guarantee that she's alive?"

She hesitated just a fraction too long. "A guarantee that she hasn't been erased is all I can offer."

Verdeschi looked like he was about to come out with a particularly volatile statement when Helena jumped in quickly. "You said something about a safe house that Maya should've gone to?"

"For some reason, she never made it. When we remove someone from their timeline, they have to be placed somewhere totally neutral, they don't belong anywhere else so we create a temporal gap for them to wait in."

"Do they know what's going on?" Alan asked in wonderment.

"They have no conscious state."

"And does that still apply to Maya?" Tony wanted to know. "Even though she missed this temporal gap, will she still be unaware of what's happening to her?"

"Wherever she went, she'll be as aware there as she was on Alpha. I do know that atmospheric conditions will be compatible. I doubt very much she could've gone that far from her threads ... her lines throughout history," Dee filled in.

"Do you have any idea where she is?" Koenig questioned. "You make it sound as though she could be almost anywhere, in any time."

"That's perfectly true, she could."

Tony fidgeted in his seat. "And presumably you could've dropped her to the middle of an arctic ocean and she's already dead." He spoke calmly but the accusation was clear.

"I'm here to help, Mister Verdeschi. If I can reach her then I will - it's my job and I happen to be very good at it. I know you're upset, that's why I took the decision to come through. I thought you should be made aware of the situation before you took an action that could have further consequences for your wife, compounding the problem."

It was a reprimand but Tony still felt justified in his attitude. They, these Temporal Regulators had come and torn his life to pieces and she was running through the 'procedure' as though he was expected to understand and accept. He could do neither.

"You've taken my wife and if I'm to believe what I've been told, my son. It's starting to sound like you've stolen a pretty major part of my life. I just want to know what you plan to do to get it back."

Dee sat forward, tucking her hair behind her ear. "For the past two days, I've been tracking her temporal threads. Every life form has an essence that shows up like veins or 'threads'. The essence is carried forward in a diluted form by future generations but because Tomas had already been erased, I can't track Maya back through him. Normally, I could trace her essence through a living descendant and backtrack to where the break occurs. When I find the break, I'll find Maya. Of course, the fact that she's a Psychon makes it harder. Metamorphic life forms have notoriously unstable threads, they can be quite hard to pin down sometimes."

"But you will find her eventually?" Sandra asked worriedly.


That was true. Maya would be found eventually but under what circumstances was anybody's guess. Dee had been required only four times to track a missing subject (her work usually involved known timeline miss-placements) and on three of those occasions, they had turned up dead. The first had been murdered only minutes after his arrival by a small band of stunned and frightened Sybrians. One she had located after searching for over a month. Her satisfaction in fulfilling her task had been short lived after she had dusted the desert sand from the face of the man's mummified corpse. The last body, chillingly enough, considering Tony Verdeschi's earlier words, she had tracked to a tranquil, deep lagoon where the subject had apparently drowned after re-materialising under the waters. Her last missing subject had been found alive and returned to her timeline but with miner infractions in its continuity. The woman was never quite able to come to terms with what had happened to her and subtle changes in her personality occurred. Fortunately, the woman was already two thirds through her lifespan with offspring already in place and so these changes were of little consequence in general. With Maya, however, Dee knew she could be in an awful lot of trouble if she failed. Not only was she still young but she was newly married to a man who would almost certainly be devastated by her death to the point of damaging his own timeline. She also played a big role here on Alpha where her interactions with fellow crew members had and were yet to play a large part in their collective histories. Phil Stott, the Regulator assigned to this interjection must be quaking in his boots right now. This could turn out to be a very costly mistake - for everyone.

"I should go now," she said suddenly, standing up. These last thoughts had made her acutely aware of just how important it was that Maya be found quickly.

"Where are you going?" Tony wanted to know, feeling an illogical need to hang on to this tenuous link with Maya.

"There are a couple of leads I can start following up on - tracers that might start showing some results."

Like Tony, Helena was reluctant to see her go. "Is there anything you need from us? Is there anything we can do to help?"

"I wish there was," said Dee, regretfully.

They all rose and watched as the woman took a smooth, silver disk, about the size of a pocket watch, from her jacket pocket.

The Commander stepped forward. "You'll keep us informed?"

"If I can, yes. I'm going to be busy so I have no idea when." She looked at the circle of faces around her, sorrow etched painfully in their eyes.

"Soon," she said before giving the disk a small squeeze.

The Command Team watched her fade to a bright outline before disappearing.

"I'll bring the security teams back in," Tony said solemnly.

"A lot to take in." Carter looked towards Koenig, wondering if he was to be given orders, hoping to be given something constructive to do.

Sandra retrieved her empty cup from the desk and looked disconsolately into the bottom of it. "At least we know that Maya is not all alone now. She has someone who knows how to help her back."

"Yeah," said Tony, quietly. He was out of the office and heading back to his station moments later.

Helena dropped her half full beaker into Sandra's, sighing. "There's a distinct possibility that Maya isn't going to make it back alive, isn't there. This Dee Featherstone, she sounded convincing but I got the impression she's working blind."

"I'm afraid she's her only hope," said John. "What chance have we got by ourselves of finding her?" He gazed at the place where the visitor had stood. "No, we'll just have to trust Dee Featherstone."

The air was so much fresher now or maybe it was just that her headache had gone and her lungs were working better. She felt strong again and knew without doubt that she would manage a transformation. Stepping out of the shadows of the cave, Maya braced herself against the strident gusts of wind that rushed to meet her. It didn't matter quite so much now she was well again, now she had a means of escape. Effortlessly, her mind focused on the shimmering green image of a Psychon bird of prey and felt the reassuringly familiar jolt as she let go of her body. She rose steadily, the wind lifting her higher but holding her back at the same time and she could feel her heart beating an adrenaline pumped tattoo in her breast. For a while she was in a limbo, going no where, balancing on the sleek, cold underbelly of the bullying wind. Beneath her, she could see the protruding mouth of the cave, rounded and pouting as though these were the lips that huffed and puffed, blowing out a kiss of death. Maya was able to pick out bright patches of vegetation that had been her sources of food, could follow the routes through the dense undergrowth that she had trudged. She was lifted higher and buffeted backwards, away from where she needed to be. But she was strong now and she flexed her huge wings powerfully, thrusting her hook-tipped beak fowards and veering down low where the wind was weaker. Within a few minutes, she had passed over the length of the valley and was rising up against the sheer rock face at the other end. The blast of wind at ground level was tremendous, knocking the creature through the air several feet. Somehow, she maintained her balance and fought back with steely wings, twisting and turning her body with the currents until she had righted herself again. It was then that her hooded, beady eyes pinpointed her goal. In the distance, far away from these miles and miles of rough, brown, desolate rock stood the city that instinct had told her was there.

The sun glinted strongly off the top of the clear dome covering, blackening the tall, castellated buildings and soaring towers within. In there, she would find all the answers. There were people in this city who would explain everything, who wanted to help her get home and would know how to go about it. She couldn't continue in this form - she would be dashed to the ground eventually. The bear again then, that form had served her well enough before, it would get her to safety again. The transition from bird to mammal proved harder than Maya had anticipated due to the enormous amount of concentration necessary in flying headlong into the wind but sheer willpower brought on the black, shaggy beast after several long moments. The glimmering city of her saviours suddenly seemed closer, close enough for her to count windows, pick out tree-lined pathways and tall, ornate archways. It wouldn't be long now. And then a vague but wonderful possibility entered her mind as she plodded on - what if what had happened to her had happened to other Alphans who had since been found and cared for? Maybe there were others who had awoken to find themselves in this bleak and frightening world, maybe she wasn't alone afterall.

She was almost there, she could see the stately figures drifting together in small groups, their long robes flowing about them as they talked expressively of what was important and what was not. But the images were becoming blurry, fuzzing around the edges, a creeping fog slowly smothering everything it came into contact with. It was rising up from the floor of the dome, insinuating itself in between the buildings to gradually obscure everything from view. The great bear was almost upon it now but stopped dead in it's tracks, swaying on all fours against the wind, watching as plumes of soft, red mist drifted upwards to mingle in a pink candyfloss of colour. It was filling the dome like poison, blinding and choking and thickening into a heavy, impregnable mass and all the time, growing redder and bloodier. It was like a macabre child's toy, a snowdome containing a war-torn city and instead of the pretty, metallic white speckles floating in crystal clear liquid, bloodied waters represented the terrors and atrocities it's inhabitants had lived through. Maya felt her control over her transformation slipping as her brain filled with the realisation of the horror she was witnessing. It was back, that heavenly grotesque she had half convinced herself had been a nightmare. Although it wasn't visible yet, she knew it was in there, lurking within the swirling cadaverous depths of the once beautiful sanctuary. She turned to run but found she had reverted into her true form; a dirty, bedraggled young Psychon woman, clad in torn night clothes of by now an almost indeterminate colour. The wind took hold of her and lifted her off her feet, propelling her forward to slam forcibly, headlong into the ground. The pain was agonising, her left hip smashing hideously onto the uneven rock and several inches of skin shaving off various areas of her body. The red hot throbbing in the side of her face was probably an indication of a smashed cheekbone and the pain that ran through her arm when she tried to raise herself up was most likely a broken wrist. She couldn't cry out yet because it was too much to take in. There was a deep, loud rumbling from behind her that reverberated through the earth. Maya turned her head and strained to look over her shoulder at the domed city, just as the first crack zipped hungrily upwards from it's base. Hundreds of smaller cracks began to fizz out, abruptly coating the glassy surface in an icy glaze. Unconsciously, Maya made a desperate sound in her throat and her bare feet scrambled uselessly on dry rock.

"No, no, you can't do it," she moaned. The explosion, when it came was deafening. The dome blew upwards like a volcano and the screech of splintering glass mixed gratingly with the barbarous winds. The blackened skull-like head emerged, the city's buildings crumbling thunderously to dust as it rose up.

"MAYA!" It's amber eyes fixed on her with malicious fervour. "I can destroy all hope."

Like a snake, it darted out of it's mouth a skinny, slimy black tongue that lashed through the air, so close to Maya that she could feel the heat radiating from it. She screamed out in terror but her voice was lost in the tumult around her. Dragging herself into a sitting position, Maya inched backwards, her hand clutching at her hip when the searing pain bit deep.

"Where am I?" she screamed out. "Why am I here? I don't belong here." Her heart was beating so fast that she found herself gulping in lung-fulls of air, on the verge of blacking out. Fear was consuming her consciousness, dragging her down to somewhere dark -she almost welcomed it.

"Where do you belong?" he laughed. "Do you know?"

Maya looked the creature in the eyes and although her voice shook badly, she said with conviction, "Alpha. I belong on Moonbase Alpha."

The thick, red, bloodied fog was gushing and swirling all about it and now the edges were flowing out towards Maya, tendrils reaching out with extant determination. Once again, the greasy black tongue slipped from between those awful serrated teeth but this time it whipped through the air and fastened powerfully around her neck. "Cara!"

The word filled her mind, drowning every other thought and her fingers tore at the pulsing wet flesh at her throat only out of instinct for survival. She saw the yawning black chasm of it's mouth and smelt the stench of her own death as the life was choked from her ...

Choking and gagging, she sat up, rancid vomit spilling out of her mouth. She was trembling all over and was partly aware of the low, regular wail that was coming from her lips but wasn't able to make herself stop. She got to her feet on the second attempt and almost passed out. Focusing on the fan of sunlight on the floor in front of her, Maya headed towards it, trying to assimilate the facts of her situation as they returned to her. She was back in the cave ... was that still in the cave? Had she ever left it? She hurt all over but it didn't feel like anything was broken. It had been a nightmare hadn't it? A nightmare as diabolical as any dream she had ever had of the destruction of Psychon. It was a nightmare that carried on, to a lesser extent, when she woke up. She leaned heavily against the cave entrance, gazing out at the now familiar jungle territory. The light wind lifted a noxious stench to her nostrils and she realised with mounting distaste that it was her own body that she could smell. Maya looked down at herself, her usual fastidiousness had had some serious setbacks of late but the state she was presently in was nothing short of barbaric. She needed to bathe but the prospect of trekking the mile or so to the narrow ribbon of water she had found was out of the question. Better to use up her store of food and water pouches and when she felt better, get herself cleaned up and replenish the supplies at the same time. Wandering dazedly back through the cave, she collected up the giant leaf she had used as a platter for the fruit and took a long spear of it. As the tip brushed her lips, something made her hesitate. Why couldn't she keep anything down? It was only fruit, there wasn't anything else. But these dreams she had had, they were more than that, they were too vivid, too focused, more like hallucinations. Did it all have that effect of was it once specific one? She had no way of telling. But what option did she have at this point? It looked likely that she was now to be reduced to digging for worms and grubs. She wasn't convinced she would be able to kill and skin one of the small mammals she had spotted but the thought of cooking it made her realise that she should be building a small fire for warmth if nothing else. She picked up one of the water filled leaves. Surely the water stood an equal chance of carrying the contaminate but there, she really did have no choice.

The hours ground past with formal repetitiveness. Whilst Tony remained in Command Centre, several lab staff were given access to his quarters to quickly dismantle their now surplus array of equipment. This was done, however, with a kind of respectful reverence that, had Tony been there to witness it, would have had him climbing the walls. It was assumed by all those privy to the situation that there was a good chance Maya would not be returned to them and had they been made aware of the Temporal Regulator's track record with misplacements, these assumptions would hold more than a little credence.

"It isn't fair, John," Helena said quietly and felt his arms move a little tighter around her waist.

"I know."

His voice was rich and comforting against her ear. There was something reassuring in his height, the way he had to bend down to her, encircling her from behind. It was such a protective gesture but it couldn't ease her sadness, not only for Maya but for Tony as well and the loss of his family. To possess that sort of knowledge would destroy Helena, she knew that beyond doubt. Dee Featherstone's words had shaken her up inside and her heart had gone out to Tony. She couldn't tell whether the emotions she had seen him display represented the full depth of his feelings but when he had said 'my son', Helena had felt the tears pricking at the backs of her eyes. She wondered how John would have reacted had he been in Tony's position but refused to dwell on that - it would never have equalled her passion, it would never have been enough.

"How can it be right for things to turn out this way? What happened to fate? Destiny?"

"Who's to say that isn't what Temporal Regulators are?" he asked seriously. "Maybe throughout the ages, they've always been there, guiding humanity."

Helena leaned back against him with a sigh. "Wouldn't that preclude the existence of a divine being?"

"But not of gods. They could be gods couldn't they? The ancient Greeks had their gods on Mount Olympus, Egyptians, Romans, Vikings all worshipped a whole collection of gods. The Asian faiths don't believe in just one all-powerful creator."

"Are you saying we should be bowing down to Dee Featherstone and her less than perfect colleagues?" Helena stared hard into the blackness of the observation portal in front of them, feeling that her lack of religious dedication over the years was nothing to reproach herself for.

"Certainly not. I'm saying that it could take all the mysticism, all the magic, all the fear out of faith. Maybe it's all just ..." he hugged her with a shrug of his shoulders, "scientific strategy!"

"All this is scientific intervention, not divine intervention. All these years, humanity has berated the maker for being a cruel god, inflicting famines and pestilence, when all along it's been a handful of Temporal Regulators 'just doin' their job?"

"I'd hate to think that were true."

She turned her head awkwardly to look into his face. "Would you?"

"I rather like the idea of paradise," he said teasingly.

"I'm sure at the end of our allotted span, they could transport us to a better place," she said slowly and maybe with a little sourness.

John didn't respond to that, hearing the dark thoughtfulness in her voice. At the moment, he felt about as much in control as a kid with his city of plastic building bricks; for a few hours, he ruled his imaginary world and then Mommy came and told him to put it all away. He got the impression that Helena too resented this 'sterile' intrusion into their lives even though now, unless they could find a way to reach Maya themselves, it was a necessary evil.

They stayed silent for some time, each deep in their own thoughts, inspired by their initial conversation.

"She won't find Maya alive will she." It was a statement Helena was making, her voice held no query.

"We have to hold onto hope, honey."

The endearment brought a lump to her throat and she turned and buried her face against his shoulder.

"It's been so long since she disappeared and obviously Dee Featherstone isn't getting anywhere otherwise she would've been back by now." She checked her watch. "Six hours, nearly six and a quarter since she was last here."

John took her arm by the wrist, covering her watch. "And no news is good news, remember?"

As if on cue, Koenig's commlock sounded on his hip and he quickly extricated himself from Helena to answer it.

It was Sandra. "She is back, Commander."

"Maya?" they asked in unison.

"No, sir. Dee Featherstone is here."

He was already exiting the door of the observation lounge with Helena hot on his heels.


Verdeschi stood behind his station, bent forward with his hands flat to the desktop. The scowl on his face left no one in any doubt as to his attitude. Surprisingly, Dee seemed equally furious although her anger wasn't directed at him.

"Nothing," she said tartly, "absolutely nothing, other than I now know why we have this situation." She frowned and paced a few steps with her hands on her hips, nodding vaguely in the Commander's direction when he entered with Doctor Russell. "The great Philip Stott, no less. He arranged this interjection himself. Apparently, Tony was .." she stood still a few feet away from him, "Mister Verdeschi was originally going to be the one to be removed to the safe house but it was felt there was less risk involved using Maya. Rather ironic, isn't it?" she said stonily.

"Risk of what?" John asked.

"Of the interjection being discovered. In most cases, the interjection can be achieved without detection, in this case, Maya's disappearance would most likely have gone unnoticed due to her occasional habit of rising early when there's some work project to be completed. It was thought that Mister Verdeschi would simply turn over and go back to sleep."

Tony grunted. She was probably right, he'd probably have done exactly that and thought no more of it. The spark of elation he had felt upon seeing this woman again had been just that - a spark that had died the instant he had seen the look on her face. These past agonising hours of desperate hope had come to nought and now he just wanted to bury his head in his arms and scream but instead, he sat down calmly, picked up a pen and sat back to twist it casually between his fingertips. "So what happened?"

"The idiot," she spat, "forgot to make the necessary allowances for Maya's species. He started off working on the basis of it being a human removal and forgot to adjust the procedure when he switched to Maya."

"This goes back to what you were saying about Metamorphs sometimes being a problem?" Helena asked.

Dee looked down, remembering the pitiful excuse Stott had thrown at her so casually. It doesn't have to be a problem. The man had actually had the gall to blame his mistake on the subject's relationship, telling her it would never have happened if it wasn't for their interspecies relationship. He was such a bigot, it made her sick! That was why she had decided to act upon her idea. She would never have been given clearance for such a move but she didn't want to loose this one. It had been a mistake, yes but a careless one and it just wouldn't be fair to walk away. This was only ever used by the senior Regulators and then it had to be as a last resort, when time had run out. She would most likely be found out, even if she managed to concoct some plausible explanation for her report, there was still the chance that Phil Stott would discover his Needle was missing. But the people here shouldn't have to handle any more sadness, they had been dealt a big enough blow with Breakaway. This wasn't even forced to work and she could be raising hopes only to dash them again but if she didn't explain what she was doing, maybe it would be easier to let Tony down.

Helena brushed away an imaginary film of dust from the top of Tony's terminal. "But you're no closer to finding her."

"I can't tell yet. I'm looking at it from several different angles, it takes time for answers to filter through."

She saw the heartbreak in Verdeschi's eyes and knew she was doing the right thing. "Tony, may I speak to you privately?"

There was a new gentleness in her voice that somehow made him anxious. He stood up with a sense of foreboding, catching John's eye.

"Use my office." Koenig feared, as did everyone else present, that Dee Featherstone was preparing to impart unpleasant information which Tony might need a few minutes solitude to consider.

He lead her away into the Commander's small side office, his heightened senses noting the strangest things; the tiny crack in the light panel on the far wall; a sliver of white paper adhering to the foot of one of the desk legs; the fact that the small concept sculpture of a bird in flight that Helena had fashioned had moved it's position a few inches since last he had noticed it. Tony motioned for her to sit but she ignored the gesture and followed him instead to stand near the Commander's chair.

"She's already dead, isn't she," he said with all the composure he could muster.

"I have no reason to believe that, Tony - really." She stood straight, her hands clasped behind her back, meeting his eyes easily.

"You've obviously got something to say. Go ahead ... Dee," he prompted.

"Do you trust me?"

He hadn't been expecting that and it threw him for a few moments. "Trust you?"

She raised her eyebrows.

"Do I have a choice?"

Dee took a step back and tucked her hair behind her ear. "Take your shirt off."

Tony scratched his forehead, screwing his face up in amused disbelief. "What?"

"Your shirt."

"And why would you want me to do that?" he asked with a hint of suspicion.

"Because I'm rapidly running out of ideas and I think you're desperate enough to try anything to get your wife back."

Verdeschi didn't budge. "What are you going to do?"

"Help you!" she cried in frustration. "Look ...ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies, Tony, that's all I can say."

There was something in her stance, something altogether too composed under the circumstances. He was getting the impression that she was doing something unorthodox here. "Alright," he said finally. "I'll trust you."

She brought her hands from behind her back, lacing her fingers and holding them together in an attitude of patience. Studiously, Dee averted her keen grey blue eyes whilst Tony cautiously peeled off his tight fitting uniform top, his brows knitted together in a frown of self-consciousness. He slung the garment across the desk and stood practically to attention, his arms rigid by his sides.

"Okay, what now?"

Clearly trying to give the impression that her mind had been elsewhere, Dee looked up. "Right." Her eyes flickered over his toned physique. The hours spent in Alpha's gymnasium, for the simple lack of alternative entertainment had produced pleasing results and no female, no matter what astral plane she resided on, could fail to notice this. "Try to relax."

"That's easier said than done."

Dee moved to within inches of him and placed both hands on his chest.

"For more reasons than one," Tony noted.

Her right hand began to slide down through the dark smoke of curling hair, fingertips digging lightly into the wall of muscle in his abdomen.

"Erm ... Dee," Tony cleared his throat. "This is all very nice but is it necessary?"

He could feel her warm breath grazing his neck as she moved close into his side and slid her left arm up his back.

"Dee ..."

He hadn't a clue what she was supposed to be doing but he wasn't comfortable with whatever it was. He allowed his eyes to fall to her mane of shiny blonde hair and watched whilst the palm of her hand pressed gently, rotating in small, tender circles over his stomach. He thought guiltily that if she kept this up much longer, he really would be standing to attention. It was like she was trying to seduce him in some ritualistic way, to turn him on slowly. Her left hand now began to mimic the movement just to the left of his spine and parallel to her right. Her body pressed up against him like this, the feminine curve of her torso pushing against his arm as her arms encircled him. Reminding himself why she was here, Tony broke into a sweat. This couldn't be what he thought it was, his impetuous male instinct was just jumping to ridiculous conclusions.

She suddenly became still, fingertips resting poised on his damp skin. In a quick movement, her right hand dropped and for a brief moment, Tony saw the glint of silver in her clenched fist before whatever it was, was jabbed with considerable force into his flesh.

"Oh my God," he said with relative calmness.

Dee's left arm released him and they both stood looking down at the instrument protruding from his abdomen. She was still firmly gripping the handle when Tony felt it somehow twisting inside him and this extraordinarily painful sensation kicked his brain into gear.

He cried out loudly, half with anger, half in shock and grabbed at Dee's wrist. "What ... what are you doing?" He tried to pull her arm away but started to feel his knees buckling under him. His eyes suddenly felt hot and swollen and in his mind's eye, he imagined them to be filling up with blood. As he slowly sank to the floor, he reached out for Commander Koenig's chair but only succeeded in sending it skidding backward where it jarred into the wall and tipped over. Tony clutched frantically at his stomach and looked up at Dee who was looking with interest at the weapon she had just pulled out of him. It was a silver coloured rod, maybe eight inches long and set into what appeared to be a handle of dull blue stone. The tip of the rod was wickedly pointed, more than capable of piercing weak human flesh. But it gleamed brightly, not a spot nor a smear of blood to be seen. There was a throbbing, burning pain inside Tony, punctuated with sudden bursts of violent hot spasms like flames were being fanned from within. Looking down, he saw his own rich, dark blood coating his fingers, disgustingly sticky and surprisingly thick. He felt the wound pumping it out steadily to saturate the front of his trousers. A heavy pounding started in his ears. He was going to die, God, he was going to die. He sagged foward, his mouth gaping open as he tried to articulate a sentence but nothing came and he toppled over onto his side.

"You'll be fine," said Dee.

She got down onto her haunches, peering at him as she slipped the silver instrument into an inside pocket of her jacket. "I'd better go now."

Go? No, that couldn't be right. She couldn't leave him to die like this. Her right boot was in his field of vision. It was black and shiny, very shiny - what was the word for that? Had he done something to offend her or was if something that he hadn't done? He heard voices in the background, shocked, angry voices that sounded familiar ...

Koenig burst into his office upon hearing the howl of anguish from Verdeschi, closely followed by the thud of something being dropped or thrown. Although he had no idea what was going off in there, he certainly had not expected to find his first officer curled up on the floor in a pool of blood.

After patting his upper arm, Dee rose and turned to greet the Commander with a professional smile. "He'll be fine. It really isn't as bad as you think." She moved aside to accommodate Helena who was now on her knees by Tony's side, gently pulling his hands away from the gory looking mess. "You might want to keep him in your Sick Bay overnight, Doctor."

"Overnight?" Helena choked. "Look at him!"

The boots were receding, walking away from his view. Patent leather, that was what you called it, patent leather. Tony wasn't to know that the glossy sheen he saw was brought about simply by the film of tears in his eyes as he slipped away into oblivion.

Koenig was grabbing Dee by the shoulders, shaking her aggressively. "What in God's name have you done to him? Are you insane?" It occurred to him then that she had a real physical form, she was flesh and blood and he let her go because he was flesh and blood too. He was trembling; he had trusted her, he had made a mistake.

"I have to find Maya now, Commander."

She was slightly flushed and her tanned skin glowed radiantly. She looked younger, her placid expression neutralising the laughter lines about her eyes and mouth and for one awful moment, John thought she might actually have enjoyed what she had just done.

She disappeared then. That odd crack of white lightening froze her outline in the air and a second later, she was gone.

"Helena?" He swung round to find Helena reading her Bio-Scanner, shaking her head as she did so.

"It doesn't make much sense but it seems she was right - he's not as badly injured as the wound suggests."

John crouched down on Tony's other side and reached over to retrieve the Commlock she had discarded after announcing a medical emergency to her colleagues in the Med.Centre.

"How's he doing?"

"It's an incredibly deep wound as far as I can tell. I can't understand how his body is coping with it so well." She cast about the room, apparently searching for something. "Pass me his tunic would you?"

John noticed then that her left hand was held firmly against Tony's stomach, stanching the flow of blood. He handed her the garment lying over his desk and she wadded it up to make a pad.

The door sounded and a filled the room with a gurney and trauma equipment and rapidly and efficiently went about their business with Helena second guessing the source of the injury. Koenig listened to the frenetic activity going on around him and held his head bowed, his hands clasped behind his back

How did he get it so wrong? He had accepted everything this woman had told him at face value. Why had he done that? After all the deceit and deception from outside forces that he had successfully steered Alpha through, why hadn't he seen this one coming? He was certain now that Maya was dead, wherever she was and maybe Tony was shortly to follow her. She had talked of 'essence', this woman, of 'life and death'. Had she stolen that essence for her own benefit, was that it? Or maybe she really had been who she claimed to be except that she had missed out her job title of 'Temporal Assassin'. Maybe everything she had said had been true, there really was a Tomas Verdeschi, instrumental in starting a galactic war and that being the case, it was safer to wipe out his parents, not just him.

They were leaving now, Helena sweeping though the office door with that look she acquired when she was caught up in some medical emergency, totally absorbed, completely professional. Ah, Helena. He hadn't expected her to look over at him but she did and then she was gone and John was left feeling disconcerted because he hadn't been able to read that look.

He moved behind his desk and righted the chair before sitting down, elbows up and fingers steepled. He closed his eyes momentarily, seeking peace but saw only the image of Tony and Maya as they had been only a few weeks earlier when they had stood before him to be married at the little alter of the chapel. The small white bird sculpture sat to the left of the monitor. Reaching out, he took its heavy, bulbous shape into his palm and closed his hand around it, tightly. Strange, how something so hard could feel so soft too, comforting. He hadn't particularly liked it when Helena had presented it to him last birthday. She had been experimenting, she said, trying something different. "You could use it for a paperweight," she had teased, picking up on what he thought were his carefully concealed reservations, "if it's too abstract for you." Too abstract correlated with too arty but John had told her it would look fine in his office. Over the months though, he had come to appreciate it's simplicity, it was clean and uncomplicated and it's smooth, undulating curves and hollows had the power to soothe the mind. He held it like a talisman - if he kept it safe, it would keep him safe. Although Helena knew he had grown fond of her gift to him, she would have been surprised to learn of this sentimentality.

Replacing what he thought of as the 'dove', John left his office to inform the rest of Alpha of the potential danger he believed Dee Featherstone to represent. It was with trepidation that he then headed for Medical Centre to discover whether or not he still had a first officer.

Things were improving. After drinking the remaining water supplies, Maya had sat for a while in her 'place in the sun' and thought positive thoughts. For all she knew, there were Eagles out searching for her although there was still no way she could possibly explain away the fact that she had woken up wearing her pyjamas. Even accounting for amnesia, under no circumstances would she have been wearing night attire anywhere other than in her quarters so, she reasoned, she must have been abducted somehow. This logical thinking seemed to get her mind back on track, allowing her to focus on a higher level and relax enough to transform into a wild dog for a few just minutes. Her animal instinct in this form, driven by hunger, was quick to make a kill, savaging a small reptilian creature and dragging it back to the cave. Fortunately, it was at that point, barely recognisable as anything other than meat and after spending a frustrating hour and a half getting a fire started, Maya was able to skewer the little body with only a slight quivering of the stomach. Although enjoyable, the taste and texture took some getting used to, particularly as she had lived on a vegetarian diet since leaving Psychon. After eating her small feast, she banked up the fire set just inside the mouth of the cave and tried another transformation, this time a tiny, bright bird that flitted with ease though the heavy undergrowth. The distance that had taken her a good hour to travel as a humanoid was completed in a mere fifteen minutes and it was with satisfaction and relief that she found herself standing beside the slow moving stream. Her first job was to collect another load of the thick and malleable leaves and gather up a pocket of water into each. This too, took her much less time than on the previous occasions and Maya congratulated herself on her efforts. It was almost warm here this time. The sun was shining and although it's rays didn't fully penetrate through these vine covered trees, it heated the darkened interior to a comfortable temperature and the wind was reduced to a minimum. However, Maya still didn't relish the prospect of stripping off to wash her grimy body in the chill waters. Hitching up the legs of her pyjama bottoms, she stepped gingerly into the stream and found it only came up to her shins. Seeing as she could easily step from one bank to the other, washing in the stream would not be unlike bathing in a tub - only colder, and without soap and without a nice warm towel to wrap herself in afterwards. She could be quick, using her pyjamas as wash cloths in order to clean them too. She could put them back on wet and then transform into the bird again to get back to the cave, with it's nicely blazing fire to dry herself by - but then she would have to leave the water parcels behind. The coldness of the water was quickly working up her carves, causing the muscles there to contract painfully into dull, shooting cramps. That decided her, she would compromise. Hopping out onto the bank, she carefully flexed her lower legs whilst unbuttoning her pyjama jacket. She looked skywards, up to the dense canopy of vegetation and noted with dissatisfaction that although a patchwork of blue was clearly visible, the sunlight filtered weakly through pale shafts of light to dapple distortedly over the ground. A situation like this could have been an adventure under other circumstances. She supposed that logically, wherever she was would be a more than acceptable environment for the Alphans to inhabit. The ferocious winds up there beyond the protective rim of mountainous rocky walls would be a small price to pay. The less hostile but still rough breezes down here, they could learn to cope with, to adapt to and probably even harness. Maya shivered as she knelt down by the stream and splashed water up over her arms and shoulders. Yes, if this was a reconnaissance party landing, she would be taking readings from the water now and she would be dressed in trousers and boots and have on a suitably warm jacket. They would be within calling distance of each other, hearing the jocular comments bandied amongst the group, the exclamations of surprise and of wonder and the note of seriousness that held together the proceedings because after all their findings were what John Koenig would be basing his decisions on.

It was so cold, her teeth chattered together as she continued to wash. Water ran down her torso to wet the top of her pyjama pants through and she wondered if she would have been better off just climbing in naked and getting it over with. She tried to lean further forward as she splashed water up around her neck and cursed when most of it splashed back down over her lap. Alright. She went through little scenarios in her head; if she bathed in the stream, she could get straight back into her dry but rather smelly pyjamas and carry the water pouches back to the cave. If she washed her clothing at the same time, she would freeze if she didn't transform herself into something that could get her back quickly to dry by the fire and that would mean coming back for the water later. Could she face washing her hair? It felt truly disgusting and smelt equally bad but the idea of sopping wet tresses plastered down her back, even for a few minutes ...

Forcing herself into a decision, Maya slipped off the pyjama trousers and before she had time to dwell on it too much, stepped down into the narrow channel of water. She shrieked involuntarily as she immersed herself up to her hips. Goosebumps sprang up in places she didn't think were possible and her situation would have seemed hilarious if she didn't ache with cold quite so badly. If Tony was here, she would probably see the funny side because he would be laughing heartily at her plight, making her forget how horrible this was. Maya scrubbed viciously at her filthy skin with the pyjama jacket, hoping that the attack would pummel a little warmth into her flesh. Where was Tony? She needed him so much, she could cope if he was with her. But what would be the point of that? She wouldn't wish any of this on him, she would rather know that he was safe. After an eternity of three minutes washing clean her smooth, pale skin, she attempted to rub some of the dirt from her clothes but gave up when it became apparent that much of it was staining from vegetation and also grease from the cooked reptile she had eaten.. Shivering noisily, Maya got out and shrugged her dripping body into the wet pyjamas. There was still an unpleasant odour pervading either the clothing or her body but most probably, both. It took an awful lot of concentration to become the little bird again but eventually, she managed it and took flight through the undergrowth and back to her cave. Once there, she was filled with dismay to discover the fire had all but petered out. The best laid plans of mice and men, or in this case, small birds and women. Maya had heard the phrase a few times, the last only last week (at least she supposed some time during the last few days still constituted 'last week') spoken by one of the lab techs when an experiment failed. Right now, she really wanted to know precisely where that quote came from, it suddenly seemed important to her, something to hold on to. With a heavy heart, she set about rekindling the dying embers. The best laid plans ...

"Alright. Take it easy now. How do you feel?"

Groggily, Verdeschi opened his eyes wider and surveyed his surroundings without managing to take any of it in. "Helena," he mumbled, screwing his eyes up to focus on her for a moment.

She repeated her question. "How do you feel?"

"Fine." He lifted himself up onto an elbow. "Has she gone? Has Dee gone?" His voice held no alarm, only perhaps, curiosity.

"I've given you a healthy shot of Morphine," his lack of concern leading her to believe that the drug was fending off anxiety as well as pain. Helena gently pushed him back down on the bed. "Are you still in any pain?"

He shook his head impatiently. "No, I told you, I'm fine." Suddenly he yanked up the blue pyjama jacket he had been dressed in, frowning at the swathe of bandages he found about his middle. "I don't need this," he said, tugging strenuously at the material. "Dee was telling the truth."

Helena grabbed both his arms to restrain him. "No!" she cried. "Tony, you're going to hurt yourself."

"There's nothing wrong with me," he insisted and pulled away from Helena to lie back flat again, his fingers working the bandages quickly down over his stomach.

Her heart in her mouth, the doctor practically threw herself across him, jerking a look over her shoulder in the hopes of finding someone else in the room able to offer her assistance. "Don't do that!" She stared in disbelief at the livid red sore spread across his exposed flesh. The wound she had seen originally, she had mistakenly thought was far more serious than it actually was. The point of entry wound didn't go anywhere near as deep as she had at first suspected and thank God, by some miracle, the weapon had missed any vital organs. Strangely too, the bleeding had all but stopped. But this? There had been a hole in Verdeschi's gut large enough to slide your little finger into - how could it possibly have healed to nothing but this weeping welt? "But you ... you lost so much blood!" she floundered.

Tony had a bemused smile on his face as he shrugged that off. "She said I had to trust her."

He was relaxed again now, letting Helena remove the bandage and study the remaining marks with her questing fingers.

"This is incredible," muttered the doctor.

Crossing his ankles over each other, he looked into her face, half enjoying the confusion her saw there. "I had a dream about Maya."

"Mm hm." Helena was dividing her attention between the wound and the monitoring equipment at the rear of the bed that Tony was hooked up to. "What did you dream?"

"We were doing a planet survey. It wasn't much of a planet from what I saw of it, just a lot of rock really. Maya was walking ahead of me and I was trying to catch up with her. You know how it can be like walking in water in dreams sometimes?"

"Going nowhere fast," Helena smiled as she checked his blood pressure.

"Yeah, it was like that but I knew in the dream that it was because of the atmosphere, it was just slowing me down. I kept shouting her but she couldn't hear me for some reason. When she eventually turned round, she was suddenly right in front of me, you know, I could see her in detail, like she was right up close, even though she wasn't."

Helena nodded.

"And she was burning up, I mean, really hot, she was dripping wet with sweat, even her uniform was soaked through. I couldn't see myself but I knew I was wearing a polar jacket and I was still cold so I couldn't understand how she could be that hot. I asked her how come but she just stared right through me and I was starting to wonder if she was really there at all when I woke up." He glanced up, awaiting her comments.

"Symbolic of something I suppose."

Tony smiled ruefully. "Dream interpretation isn't exactly my forte either."

"Well, I'd be happy to swear that the state I found you in in John's office was a dream too. You've made an almost full recovery. It's incredible! I was discussing surgery with the team that brought you in and when we arrived, I think Ben thought I'd just been over-reacting, that we'd get away with just a few stitches but now look at you, Tony. It doesn't even warrant a Band-Aid."

"Are you trying to make me feel guilty or something?"

Helena patted his shoulder. "I know what I saw, I just can't understand what I'm seeing now." She cocked her head to one side, watching him. "And you honestly feel okay?"

"Bit sore maybe. And I feel sort of light-headed."

"That's just the Morphine. I want to run another scan to confirm what you're saying .. and to prove that my eyes aren't deceiving me."

"And then I'm out of here?"

"Er," Helena overrode him. "Not quite. Dee said to keep you in overnight and she seems to have been quite accurate so far. I think you can stay where you are for the time being."

Surprisingly to Helena, he didn't put up any resistance to her request but simply shrugged in an accepting sort of manner and shot her one of those disarming Verdeschi grins. "Not much else I can do now anyway. I don't know why Dee did what she did but she obviously had good reason. She'll find Maya. Whatever it was she did to me was to help her find Maya."

"Well, John's waiting outside to ask you about that. Alright if I get him in here?"

John entered cautiously, his demeanour indicating a certain anxiousness in visiting his deathly ill friend and colleague. The surprise, written so obviously on the Commander's face brought a bubble of laughter from the Italian's throat.

"You look like you've seen a ghost, John."

"I wasn't expecting you to look quite so ... healthy." He took in the casual way Verdeschi sat cross legged on the bed and more importantly, the shiny, weeping flesh inside the open pyjama jacket. He looked to Helena with a silent question.

"I think we can assume it was no ordinary weapon she stabbed him with," Helena answered him.

"Then what the hell was it?" He turned again in amazement to Tony. "Did you get a look at what it was? I thought we were going to loose you, you had a hole right through you for God's sake!"

"It wasn't a knife, at least, I don't think it was." Tony studied his belly for a moment. "I didn't get to see it properly 'til I was down on the floor and by that time, I think I was a bit out of it. It was more like a silver stick with a rough sort of stone handle. Looked like a silver wand," he grinned.

"Some kinda magic." Helena perched beside him on the bed. "Do you remember if it felt like a knife?"

"How should I know? I've never been stabbed before," he joked.

He had picked up considerably since landing up in hospital, Koenig noted with a snort. Tony had faith in Dee Featherstone. He had faith in her ability to bring Maya back to him. Koenig couldn't help but wonder if that faith was misplaced. He couldn't shake off the idea that they were all just pawns in whatever game this woman was playing.

"It was weird," Tony continued, "but there was a moment when it was in me that it felt like it was twisting round - by itself I mean and sort of," he stopped, searching for the word, "burning, I suppose."

"But how could doing that help her to track Maya down?" asked Helena.

"Trade?" John suggested. "Maybe she got what she wanted from Tony and she's finding Maya in return."

"Trade? I didn't think there was a reason for that much cynicism." Verdeschi sounded disappointed.

"I guess not. It seems a very drastic step to take, that's all, whatever the reason." He swung away from them and sighed in agitation. "When Maya's back here, safe and sound, maybe I'll apologise to Dee Featherstone for thinking unjust thoughts but until then, as far as I'm concerned, it was an act of violence against a Moonbase Alpha officer."

"You're wrong, John," Verdeschi said plainly.

"And I hope you're right.

She had got the fire going again but it had taken some time to coax the flames from the dying embers. Maya had to wonder if her need for cleanliness had been quite so important afterall, particularly since the knees of her pyjamas and her hands were blackened with ash and smoke. Did she but know it, her face too was streaked with smudged fingerprints of dirt and the left side of her neck from repeatedly pushing back escaping tendrils of hair. She had had to replace the organic hair band several times but it was still better than nothing. She had found something else that looked like it might be edible. Whether it was sweet or savoury she didn't yet know as she pulled aside the papery thin, orangey pink leaves around the base. The black fruit, encased in a clean and shiny skin was soft and gave off a sharply fragrant aroma as she turned it over in her hands. Here, at the rear of the cave, the shadows cast by the flames of the fire at the entrance, danced, long and sinewy against the walls. Maya found herself captivated by the movement, her eyes ranging with wonder over the dark rock. It was like the cave had come alive and an intimate warmth pulsated about her. She took the fruit with her and sat down by the fireside. Looking out across the lilting flames, she saw how overcast it had become outside and was thankful that she had caught the fire in time to restore it before the rain set in. Tentatively, she took a small bite out of the round, black fruit. The dark flesh was fibrous and rather bland but it was the thin, shiny skin which held the flavour; a rich piquant tang, strong enough to meld with the flesh and fill her mouth with its taste. It was gorgeous. She began to devour it slowly, working her way around the gnarled stone in its centre, enjoying the rough texture on her tongue. There were many more of them on the tree where she had found this but no matter how tempting, Maya realised it would be foolhardy to eat any more today. The hallucinogenic properties of one (or maybe all) of the other fruits she had eaten was sufficient deterrent to curb her hunger.

About to toss the little brown stone into the fire, she suddenly felt an odd compulsion to save it. Ever since she had found herself on this strange world, she had resisted the urge to collect together specimens of the surrounding environment. What did she think she was going to do with them? Life on Alpha had taught her many things, not least of all that in order to survive, you should understand and utilise what few resources were available to you. But on Alpha, she was part of a team, with people to rely on and people who relied on her. Now she was on her own with no one to care whether she had a thousand cuttings of new plant species - she gazed at the whorled, uneven lump nestled in the palm of her hand - or one solitary pit. She made a fist and held it tightly. She would take it home with her. This wouldn't shrivel and die before she found her way home, it would lie dormant, it could wait. Maya sat very still then, thinking about all those things she had previously tried not to think about. It caused a tight spot to form at the base of her throat. She thought of how happy she had been on the day of the wedding ceremony and how much a part of the people around her she had felt. For Maya, it had been more than a wedding of just two people, it had been an affirmation of her acceptance into the very fabric of the Earth people's culture. She had told Tony that and he had laughed and told her that she had been accepted long ago. But then he had seemed to consider it a little deeper and said he could see her point, afterall, he had told her he loved her long ago but they were only now getting married. That conversation had taken place a few days before the ceremony and she had felt so close to him, so grateful for him that she could have cried. Right now, she yearned for a physical closeness. The warm, solid feel of his darkly masculine body, she had committed to memory from that very first shyly curious night together and now she conjured up his image and was able to hold him and be held in her mind's eye. Tony wasn't the sort of man who could readily discuss his feelings but he could tell her he loved her and that was all Maya really needed to hear. Gentle hands and those deep brown eyes said everything else. She needed his presence like she needed food or sleep or water and his absence felt like one more deprivation. Drawing her knees up, she hugged her arms about them and stared into the flames for a while, knowing she should be going back to collect the water parcel from the stream yet unwilling to leave her thoughts behind. The fire crackled and spat as a gust of wind blew across the cave mouth and Maya tensed with the sudden sharp chill. As her head lifted, a vivid white light smote the air on the other side of the fire. Maya shrank back in abject horror.

"No! No, not again," she cried out. She squeezed her eyes shut and covered her ears with her hands. Instinct seemed to take over then. Her body gathered up every available molecule of energy and survival kicked in to transform her into the little bird she had created earlier. Her mind just slipped into it, the nearest thing to get her away from what she was being confronted with. That she knew it to be a figment of her drug-enhanced imagination seemed irrelevant, escape was all that was important. Turning from the curving lines of white light, Maya retreated to the back of the cave in an extravagant fluttering of feathers, flying as high up as she could get and coming to rest tremulously within a rock fissure. With her heart pounding painfully inside her feathered breast, she strained to hear her aggressor's movements. She thought at first she could hear footfalls on the dusty cave floor but the silence that ensued made her think she was mistaken. When a strong, female voice called out her name, she almost lost her tenuous balance.

"Maya?" the voice came again but louder this time.

Maya stopped breathing.

"It's alright, Maya. I know you're in here. I've come to take you back."

The words were just words, individual and meaningless sounds that resonated inside her head.

"It's taken me quite a while to find you - I'm sorry."

There was a long pause and this time, quite definite footsteps as though someone were pacing the cave, seeking her out. Maya closed her tiny black eyes. Maybe if she could switch off, the spell would pass, fade away as the hallucinogen dissipated within her body.

"There was a mistake you see. You're here by accident. Your essence belongs here but not you, your husband showed me that."

The jolt those last few words caused was both mental and physical and her eyes snapped open involuntarily. Below her stood a blonde woman, dressed in a dark, close fitting suit. Her hands were on her hips as she gazed about her, frowning slightly into the shadows.

"I had to put Tony through quite an unpleasant experience to track you but fortunately it worked."

Maya was listening to every word now, no longer sure that this was her imagination speaking.

"I had to take him to the brink of death, just for a few seconds, just to make him at his most vulnerable. It's at that point when the essence flows strongest, when life is about to be extinguished. Done correctly and I could track his descendants through a millennia. You were drawn here because this planet will have significance one day." Dee stopped talking, allowing Maya time to digest what she was being told.

"You and Tony will share more than one essence. I don't expect you to understand, Maya and you don't need to but it's saved your life and when you go home, you can pick up the threads again because of it."

There was pleasure in the woman's voice, an elated happiness that Maya found hard to resist.

"Come on, Maya. I know all this must have been an incredible shock for you but it's time to go now." Dee smiled broadly. "I don't think I made a very good impression on your Commander Koenig so I'll be able to redeem myself when you turn up again."

"The Commander likes to err on the side of caution," Maya smiled back and surprised herself when it came out as birdsong.

Dee's attention was caught by the sound and she trained her eyes upwards. "Maya?"

It was real. What she was seeing and hearing was actually happening. She could leave this place right now because there had been, what did she call it? - a mistake.

"You Metamorphs don't make our job any easier," Dee called out laughingly as Maya emerged from her hidey-hole and flew to within a few feet of the woman. Even as she felt her body cells regrouping, Maya had serious misgivings. This could still be all her imagination or worse still, a trick by some alien being to get her out in the open for some as yet unknown purpose. What if she had been brought to this place to break down her resistance, to make her malleable and weak and now this woman was about to reveal her true intentions. Maya stood before her now, staring with defiance into the other woman's eyes.

Dee was filled with sympathy when she saw the state the Psychon was in. "Are you hurt?" she asked solicitously. Maya shook her head but remained silent. Dee took a step towards her and was disheartened to see her back away, blanching from her outstretched hand. "It's alright. You've got nothing to worry about now."

Maya still wasn't quite convinced though her heart was telling her she should be accepting what she was being told. "Who are you?" she asked at last. This time, her voice came out as words, although hardly recognisable as her own, hoarse as it was.

"I work with the Temporal Regulators. We try to keep time running smoothly. There was an interjection in your timeline that went wrong and you ended up here. This world isn't part of your timeline but your essence was drawn here. It's complicated."

"I'm sure it is," said Maya, more than a little confused.

Dee held out her hand for Maya to shake. "My name is Dee Featherstone. I'm sorry we had to meet under these circumstances but unfortunately, these are the only kind of circumstances in which I ever meet a subject and even than, maybe 'meet' isn't the appropriate word."

Maya felt Dee's warm fingers slide around her own and tensed slightly even as she clung to her physical presence. "What do you mean?" This woman was so disorientingly 'normal'. She was talking and smiling, pressed and clean and Maya was finding it hard to come to terms with after her time of savage isolation.

"I mean," Dee drew her closer, "you were lost and we're very lucky to have found you alive. It doesn't always happen this way."

"Oh." Maya knew there were a thousand questions she should be asking but couldn't seem to articulate any of them. It was all a mistake and she was able to leave now. Maya couldn't even begin to care why. With an abstract interest, she watched Dee take a silver disc out of a pocket inside her jacket. "I'm sending you home now," she said, slipping the disc between their joined hands.

"Thank you." There was nothing else to say.

"Are you ready?"

Maya suddenly panicked. "You're taking me back to Alpha aren't you?"

"Of course," said Dee, soothingly.

"And it'll all be the same, nothing will have changed?"

"Changed? I'm not sure I understand."

Maya felt the disc growing warm between their hands and realised that her departure was imminent. She caught her breath. "You were talking about time ... time going wrong. Is everything on Alpha still the same?" The words came out all in a rush of dread.

"There's nothing to worry about. The only thing different is that you aren't there." She put her left arm around Maya's shoulders then and hugged her warmly. She knew that Metamorphs were generally very tactile creatures and doubted that this Psychon would be any different. Her time here must have been very hard, starved as she was of all companionship. She felt Maya nodding her head, clinging to her gratefully. "Close your eyes or it'll give you a headache."

But Maya's eyes were already closed and so began her journey back across billions of light years of painstakingly mapped and carefully plotted space.

Gradually, the sound of softly murmuring voices broke through and began to increase dramatically in volume. At first she couldn't understand, the words were familiar but their meanings patchy until her brain started to translate the English into her native Psychon. It felt like minutes had gone by, not seconds before Maya dared to open her eyes again and then she was being lifted bodily from the hard surface she seemed to be lying on.

"She's okay," a woman's voice said, "She's dehydrated a little, most likely malnourished but the wounds seem to be superficial and ,,," Helena stopped. "She's coming round. Maya, can you hear me?"

Maya looked up into the face of a very concerned Doctor Russell. "Helena," she whispered with reverence. "Am I home?" She hardly dared to look beyond the limits of this woman's intensely earnest expression for fear of having her ripped away from her. Maya sat up quickly, hands and arms flailing about.

"Yes, you're home," Helena soothed, trying to keep her steady as Maya pulled herself up off the gurney. "You're home, honey."

The sound of running footsteps caught Maya's attention as Tony, closely followed by John, burst through the open doorway.

"Maya! Oh God, Maya," cried Verdeschi, grabbing her up into his arms and holding her much too tightly.

Collapsing against him, Maya wouldn't have been able to stand unaided anyway. She clung to him weakly and sobbed, "I smell."

Tony laughed loudly, choking on his emotion. "I know sweetheart."

She felt like the holiest of angels in his arms, like the dawn of creation and the meaning of life all rolled into one. He couldn't let her go. He couldn't mentally or physically release her yet and he was aware of other bodies surging forward, enveloping them both in warm words and fond caresses.

"I thought you might be dead, I thought ..." Tony dragged in a shuddering breath, "I didn't know what to think anymore."

And incredibly, Maya was soothing him. "I'm alright. Don't get upset," she begged because his joyous tears were causing her more distress than she had ever felt for herself whilst she had been gone. "Tony, it's alright." She held his head in both hands, cradling it against her shoulder. "Altous," she murmured, "altous."

And then he was laughing again, riding a wave of euphoria. "At least leave me a note on the fridge door next time you want some time to yourself."

"I will," she promised, wiping away his tears with dirty fingers and leaving grimy tracks along his cheekbones.

Tony smiled into her reddened eyes. "You're beautiful."

"And you're a terrible liar."

They fell silent, for now, content just to cling to each other.

"How about that trip to Medical?" Helena enquired softly.

The pair turned to her as one and realised that their reunion had been anything but private when they encountered several pairs of eyes regarding them affectionately.

"Really, Helena, there's nothing wrong with me. I just need a shower and some food. I'm more hungry than anything else." And she actually believed that. The sudden rush of adrenaline in her body really had her believing that she felt no pain.

"I still need to check you over. You're covered in bruises and scratches and you could have picked up all kinds of infections from ..." Helena faltered here. "Where were you?"

Everyone looked to Maya expectantly.

"I don't know. The place where I ended up was like a jungle. I found a cave and used that as a shelter but I don't know where I was." The small smile on her lips began to tremble as she looked at the people around her. "I was always cold ... it was so windy you see, I was down in a valley but the wind was still there and it was so cold."

"Do you remember anything about getting to this place? Did someone take you there?" John interrupted gently.

She shook her head, no. "I just remember waking up on the ground and hardly being able to stand because the wind was lifting me off my feet. There was nothing but miles and miles of rock ... it was so desolate."

Tony met Helena's quick glance and wondered to.

"I transformed in and out of a black bear and walked for hours. I think I'd have died of exposure otherwise."

Those around her listened, appalled by the account. John rested a hand lightly at her back. "Come on, do as Helena says, there'll be plenty of time for this later. I'll feel happier when you've been given a clean bill of health."

Tony propelled her backwards and Helena neatly steered her back onto the gurney.

"What you were saying before, Commander; I don't remember anyone being there at the beginning but there was a woman, she said she was taking me home. She said her name was 'Feather' something but she may just have been another hallucination."

"You think you were hallucinating?" asked Helena.

Maya nodded. "I think it was the fruit I ate. I had horrible, vivid hallucinations." She shivered slightly. "But I think the woman was real."

"She was," Tony affirmed. "Dee Featherstone - your liaison officer," he added with a half smile.

"My what?"

"Later," the Commander said warningly. "Look, how about I organise a meal to be brought to the conference room. If you feel up to it, we could have an informal meeting over dinner, give us all a chance to find out what's been going on."

Helena started to say that she didn't think that was a very good idea when Maya announced, "That sounds perfect. I can't tell you how hungry I am." She looked up at Helena who was tucking a blanket around her. "I'm quite able to walk."

The doctor's mouth quirked into a small smile but she said firmly, "Well ,it's either this way or we all stand around waiting for a chair to be fetched for you."

Maya settled back for her journey with a resigned sigh.

During dinner, Maya was quite happy to talk at length of her ordeal and answered their questions precisely, as was her way. She looked better, although her face, hands and forearms were liberally covered in scratches and bruising. Her high colour, Helena had put down to the start of a slight chill. It was the damage sheathed beneath her clothing that was of more concern, her lower legs and feet being badly lacerated and the hip injury that was causing her to walk with a limp. But her buoyantly animated behaviour however, was in sharp contrast to that of her husband who seemed unusually subdued. Of course he had had the opportunity to hear privately of her experiences, since he had not left her side since her return to Alpha but even so, it still seemed unusual for Tony not to be participating in the conversation. Helena supposed that in both cases, their behaviour could be attributed to shock, followed by such an undoubtedly sharp sense of relief. They were just reacting differently. Many times during the meal, she noticed Tony leaning closer to Maya, murmuring words that, although she couldn't hear, were almost certainly questioning her well-being. At other times, he sat well back in his chair, just gazing at her with (or so it seemed to Helena), a sad tenderness which was so uncharacteristic of him as to give her cause for concern.

At last, Helena caught his eye from across the table as she laid down her cutlery on her cleared plate. Smiling encouragingly, she mouthed, "You okay?" and it was at that precise moment that Maya said in a voice loud enough to encompass the dinner table, "I think I'd feel happier about it all if only I knew why this great 'mistake' happened."

She was clearly troubled by the silence that descended so rapidly and her eyes turned questioningly to each face around the table. "Do you know?" she asked, finally settling on John.

Poor Tony. He hadn't been able to tell her, probably hadn't found the right moment in that short space of time they had shared alone together since Maya had been returned to him.

"We know," John confirmed.

Sandra and Alan regarded each other uncomfortably.

"Was I going to do something to jeopardise the base?"

Maya had come to understand, through pieced together references that time had been altered in some way because of her but until this point, there had been too much else going on to think about it in any in-depth way.

Alan put down his fork, delicately. "Nothing like that, love."

"I know I should've told her," Tony said miserably. "It's just that I thought she'd got enough to deal with at the minute."

"It sounds serious," Maya laughed nervously.

"Tony," the Commander said, "if you'd rather go somewhere to discuss this ..."

"It's okay, John, it's no secret, we all know the story." He took a drink from his water glass as though it were Dutch courage before leaning over a little to rest his forearms either side of his plate. "Dee said that these Regulators had to change history to avert a disaster that would've happened forty-two years from now." He saw Maya's eyes widen and ploughed on. "The man who was to be our Commander in 2041, made a decision that cost the life of an emissary on board an alien craft but some other race got the blame for it and an intergalactic war broke out."

"And Alpha was destroyed in this war?" she asked.

Tony's thoughts were racing as he struggled to formulate the next part of his explanation and didn't seem to hear the query.

"I do not think that was ever mentioned," Sahn put in, seeing that Tony needed more time. "All we know is that thousands of people would have died in this war."

"Sounded like it woulda put a big dent in universal history," added Alan.

Maya regarded them all innocently. "But I don't understand. What did I do? How was I the cause of any of that?"

Without looking at her, Tony moved his hand to cover hers. "Not just you, it was me too." He hesitated, feeling how stiff her fingers were beneath his. "The Commander's name was Tomas Verdeschi and if you'd have been around to conceive him, he would have been our son."

Maya smiled a little, her fingers twisting to curl around Tony's. "Our son?" Suddenly she was conscious of being the sole focus of attention. "So if I hadn't have been taken off Alpha that night, I would be pregnant now?" She giggled strangely as the realisation hit home. "And we hadn't thought that was even possible, Helena," she said to the doctor in a thin and joking tone and sat back with a stunned expression.

"I obviously got it very wrong." Helena was about to apologise but knew there was now nothing worth apologising for and in any case, that would have implied that she was sorry it could have happened and nothing could be further from the truth.

"I had a child!" Maya murmured. She turned to Tony. "What did you say his name was?" She knew perfectly well but wanted to hear it again, wanted to see the words formed on the lips of his father.

"Tomas." His eyes were burning, filling her with the warmth of his love.

"Why did we call him that?" It came out stilted and a little squeaky.

"It was my grandfather's name - my papa's father."

Maya looked away for a moment to stare down at their entwined hands resting together. "That's nice, a nice sentiment. It's a shame we couldn't know him."

Tony made an indistinguishable sound and the sight of him so close to tears brought a lump to several throats.

"I am sure Tomas was a great man," said Sahn, quietly, not wishing to intrude but wanting to offer the couple her sympathies in some small way. "He was handed the reins of leadership, after all."

"But now he never even existed," Maya threw back, shrilly.

John, sitting to her left, pushed his plate away. "We know he existed, Maya, at one time."

At once she was lost in thought. "Mm."

Helena stood up. "I'll have the dessert sent over." She crossed to the commpost. "I think it's you favourite tonight, Alan," she smiled, desperate to alleviate the tension of the situation.

"What? Fresh raspberry roulade with whipped cream?" he grinned falsely.

"Rice pudding must be your second favourite then." There were a few nervous chuckles.

"So if Tomas never existed," Maya suddenly continued with her train of thought, "how did Dee Featherstone find me?"

Tony replied with unnatural an clarity. "Remember I told you about the silver rod? The instrument she used on me?"

"I know but why? Whatever the instrument was for, she found me because of you, your essence. She said something about your essence being stronger because you were dying."

"I hadn't thought about it," Koenig confessed. "After seeing Tony lying there on the floor of my office with blood spilling all over the place, I never got beyond thinking it was all some kind of trick."

"What is the essence?" asked Maya.

"Essence of life?" Alan suggested. "Dee said it gets carried on in future generations but it's more diluted."

"A form of DNA, maybe," said Helena, "but she also said Tomas had already been erased so she had no hope of tracing you through Tony. He would've shared his essence with you both."

"She said something about sharing essence, yes," Maya remembered vaguely.

"And I got the impression that every trace of him had to be wiped away," Sahn frowned. "Dee said they knew there to be less risk of something going wrong if Tomas was not born and the more serious the event, the greater the risk of it happening at some other point."

Maya let go of Tony's hand. "She said we would share more than one essence - she must have found another way."

Helena suddenly laughed out loud. "Then isn't it obvious?" Dee said Maya was drawn to that planet, her essence lead her there because, we assume, that hundreds or even thousands of years from now, her descendants will have gravitated to that place." She watched the others mull that over.

"But I haven't got any descendants now," Maya pointed out.

"Maybe not right now," said Helena, her eyes shining brightly.

Tony suddenly understood. "More than one essence! More than one child - that's what she meant."

The doctor nodded happily. "I think so."

"Of course," said John. "Dee must've realised there was a possibility that Tomas had a younger brother of sister to follow on this line of essence. She traced it down through Tony's side knowing that somewhere along that 'line' she would find the thread that Maya had been drawn to."

"Wow. Makes you think doesn't it?" Alan marvelled. "It's like some great cosmic family tree."

"Only it stretches out across the future, not just the past," said Sahn.

Helena smiled wistfully. "It's all laid out for us, everything's planned."

John looked at her, hearing the echo of their earlier conversation. "And maybe what happened to Maya - that's really what fate is."

Maya remembered then, the strong desire she had felt to know the origins of the words that had come to her on that planet. "There's a phrase I've heard used, when things don't turn out as expected or not as planned - the best laid plans of mice and men. Is it just another of those strange sayings or does it originate from literature?"

"The best laid plans of mice and men, Gang aft angley," recited the Commander in a passable Scottish brogue. "By a man named Robert Burns."

"It is taken from the poem, 'To A Mouse, On turning Her Up In A Nest With The Plough,'" continued Sandra. "Robbie Burns was a eighteenth century Scottish bard and the lines actually read, 'The best laid schemes o' mice an' men, Gang aft angley." She blushed profusely when the other five stared in surprise, Koenig with his eyebrow at a jaunty angle. "I am sorry, Commander," apologised an embarrassed Sahn, "but it is a common misquote."

"No, no, that's fine, Sahn - thanks," he told her with a dazed but charmed smile.

"Did you study Burns at university or something?" asked Tony, amusement washing over his other emotions for a moment.

"It was your dad was the Burns buff wasn't it?" Alan asked, remembering what she'd once told him.

"He was forever quoting from his poems and songs. He prided himself on having a Burns quote for every occasion. I think that as a child I picked them up almost like another language without really thinking about it."

"Well I understand the gist of it and it seems to suit this occasion," smiled Maya.

"I used to think I'd like to know what was in store for me," said Alan thoughtfully "but I think life's too much of a rollercoaster to cope with anything but the present."

"How about you, Maya?" Helena asked the Psychon. "Are you glad you know?"

She was sitting close to Tony, their bodies touching as though they were joined; leg and hip, arm and shoulder they sat, communicating silently with an unwavering gaze.

"I can't be glad," she said finally looking to Helena. "I didn't need to know any of it. I'm sad for Tomas and happy for whoever may follow him but they just cancel each other out. And now I know that there will be a child one day, until it happens, I'll worry that there'll be some reason for he or she to be removed too."

Tony's hand stroked her knee and he told her firmly, "It's not going to happen again, Maya. We'll have our child when it's time."

Koenig looked solemnly at the couple. "Maybe it's a sign, maybe it's time now - for all of us."

"Do you mean that even this mistake could have happened to a reason?" Sahn asked, surprised.

"Who knows?"

"Yeah, like those Russian dolls," Alan said, "you think you're seeing the whole picture but really, it's just a cover for another one underneath."

"So even if we think the decisions we make now are being influenced by what's happened, it could be that it's all part of the bigger picture," Helena realised.

"I don't suppose we'll ever know." Tony threw an arm around Maya's shoulders. "And I don't particularly care right now."

Maya smiled sleepily, sagging against him and yawned deeply. Her adrenaline fuelled excitement that had kept her going until now had finally given up the ghost and the hot meal she had eaten was weighing comfortably heavy in her stomach.

John chuckled. "Unless Maya's desperate for a bowl of rice pudding, I think you should get your wife home for a good nights sleep."

"Mm, that sounds nice," Maya sighed.

"She means the rice pudding," Tony told them drolly and Maya managed a half-hearted slap at his leg.

Hayes let the maintenance crew into Commander Koenig's office and followed in behind to check over the cleaning requirements with them.

"Jeez, it's a mess," Alan Matthews whistled, kneeling down beside the still damp wash of blood staining the pale grey carpet.

"He must've lost a lot of blood," Hayes agreed "but apparently there isn't a mark on him now."

"Lucky guy," the cleaner grinned, already well aware of the strange phenomenon that had occurred. "So is Maya okay? We heard she was pretty busted up."

"No, she'll be fine, covered in cuts and bruises, mind you and Doctor Russell mentioned a damaged hip when she was down here earlier."

"Where was it she ended up?" Matthews asked as he reached up for a pump spray canister of cleaning fluid from the janitorial trolley.

"No one has a clue. Apparently it was an uninhabited planet but it was nowhere in this solar system that we could find. There's talk that it may even have been somewhere from our future."

Matthews was fascinated by this new snippet of information. "Man, you're kidding," and he looked over to the woman busy wiping down the Commander's desk. "You listening to this Janey?"

Without looking up, Janey shook her head, her curly dark hair bobbing about her plump, round face. "Nothing around her surprises me anymore," she said matter-of-factly. She picked up that weird little piece of white clay the Commander kept on his desk, what she imagined he would call 'objet d'art' or some such thing but was to her a very poor facsimile of a bird, fat and squat like it was made to fit into the clumsy hands of a toddler. Janey leaned forward to replace the sculpture and as she did so, she stepped on something and her foot shot forward. Both hands clamped down onto the desk to stop herself falling and she cursed under her breath.

"Steady there," called Hayes.

Janey ducked under the desk and reappeared with a wrinkled brown stone between her thumb and forefinger. "And where the heck would that have come from?"

"Looks like a fruit stone," observed Hayes, leaning forward to take a better look. "Although I couldn't guess what fruit." He took it from Janey. "Probably something Hydroponics have been messing about with."

Matthews was peering over his shoulder. "Want me to drop it by after I finish up here?" he offered. "Guess they wouldn't want to throw something like that away."

"Nah, the Commander probably had it in his office for a reason ... rolled off the desk." Hayes surveyed the uncluttered workspace and popped the stone down in between the monitor and that strange looking bird sculpture - looked like there was a bird in there somewhere anyway.

They could have no clue that the stone had fallen from Maya's pocket as she had been lifted clear of the floor, nor that like the 'dove', it was an important life-line to its owner, that it represented fortitude and hope and perseverance. Certainly no one would guess that in six years, three months and three days, a little child would sit in Alpha's Biosphere, beneath the leafy bows of a young tree, scrutinising the fascinating whorls and contours of the pit buried inside the black skinned fruit she was enjoying. She would not understand for a number of years to come, exactly why everybody said this tree belonged to the Verdeschi family.

Copyright (c) 2002. Reprinted with permission.
Space:1999 is (c) 1976 by Carlton International Media.
All stories are the property of their respective authors.

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