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The Seabed Legacy

Authors: Krato
Categories: Tony/Maya
Characters: Maya, Tony Verdeschi
Show Year: Y2
Rating: PG-13
Date: 2001
It's Tony's birthday and a great opportunity for him to try out his most successful brew to date. However, a wonderful party ends in tragedy for one guest and an inconsolable Tony blames himself
Average Rating: 5.0/5 (based on 4 reviews)

He slowly turned his head away from the bright lights pulsating in the darkness. Maybe under other circumstances, the soft, rhythmic glow could have proved a comfort; a light at the end of the tunnel, a beacon in the long night but right now, he just wanted to be wrapped up tight and snug in inky blackness. But that was a luxury long denied him. Although often cocooned in a dense, shadowy pretence of night, the fragile blister that clung to the surface of the moon and sufficed as home to two hundred and ninety seven people was perpetually alert with the technology of communication. All over the base, from the largest craft hangar to the smallest storage cell, consoles, commposts, door entry panels, equipment of every description blinked and glared out their lights as indication of their current status. He should be grateful, he knew. No lights - no life. Whilst the computers kept on functioning, so would they or at least that was the theory. But Alpha's Life Support couldn't prevent accidents could it, couldn't foresee human error? If it could, he wouldn't be lying here in the semi-darkness, staring with unseeing eyes at the hard, slippery smooth back of a waiting room sofa. Part of him wanted to sleep, knew it was the sensible thing to do, to refresh his weary mind and body and alleviate his torment. He couldn't - it was as simple as that. Fear held him tightly in its' painful grip, making his eyes wide and his muscles taut. Why? Why did it have to happen?

Involuntarily, his head jerked towards the door, his ears straining to listen for a repeat of the whispered sound he fancied he had just heard. Nothing...imagination kicking in. Maybe it would have been better to go back to his quarters. Maybe he would have felt calmer, a little more in control, at least of his own emotions had he distanced himself. Everything was out of his hands now; it would make no difference where he was, certainly not to her. But if he was wanted - for whatever reason, he was right next door.

The glowing lights of the Commpost were in his line of vision again and this time he sat up, swinging his feet to the floor. He sat for a while, his head in his hands, wondering how exasperated they would be if he went to ask again. No. They were doing their jobs and had promised to keep him up to date no matter what the time. With that thought, he checked his watch and discovered it was almost 2:00am. An hour and a half since he had last spoken to anyone. Surely something must have been discovered by now. Whoever said, "ignorance is bliss" wanted stringing up. With that, the question of blame loomed a little larger and leant a little further towards him. It was the beer, that damned home brew that at last he had made palatable, enjoyable even and left for everyone to help themselves. Potent stuff, they had all laughed. "Got a kick like Eagle fuel", someone had commented. The general consensus had been that he had finally come up with something worthy of the name beer. He wished to God it had tasted like rusty dishwater.

"Can you remember the last time you got absolutely hammered?" Alan asked as they carefully deposited the second of the three plastic canisters onto the trolley.

"Actually, I can. It was with a few of the guys from security two days before we were due to make the trip back to Alpha. My brother was with us because he'd been staying over at my place for the last few days of my leave." Tony grasped the remaining cylinder and waited for Alan to get a purchase on it.

"One, two, three, hup," and it was hefted into place.

"We had a great night and I suppose I got to say goodbye to Guido for the last time. How about you, anything memorable - or not as the case may be?"

Alan chuckled. "Four guys, a bottle or two of Southern Comfort and a Poker game that went on into the wee small hours. Seems like a lifetime ago now. It was another world away."

As they began manoeuvring the trolley out through the doorway, Alan said, "You realise the only reason John gave permission for this much alcohol was because he doesn't believe anybody will actually drink it."

Tony smirked. "He might be in for a shock then."

"Well, I gotta admit buddy, this time you might just have cracked it."

"It could open up great bartering potential," said Tony with enthusiasm. "Think of the demand - birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries..."

"Weddings, funerals, barmitzvas..." Alan continued.

"The thwarting of yet another alien invasion..."

"You could name yer fee mate, Brewery King of Alpha."

"Sure, Beer-maker to the Commander," Tony laughed, moving his hand through the air as though depicting wording on a sign.

"You're sure you've not been a bit optimistic on quantities?" asked Alan, a small glint in his eye.

"It was you who told me not to skimp on it 'cause I'd brewed something half decent at last!" the other protested.

"Yeah, well, you can always chuck it away like you usually do."

"Thank you for that vote of confidence."

"Sorry mate, you must be feeling pretty low anyway, another year older and all that."

Tony guided the trolley out of the travel tube and they began making their way down Corridor B.

"Fortunately 'mate', I'll never catch up with you will I?" he replied haughtily.

"In years maybe but I think you've already overtaken me in the ageing process."

"Ha!" Tony retorted. "Boyish good looks and the maturity to match."

"No, be fair. I've got a relaxed sense of humour."

As they rounded the corner, Alan took one hand off the trolley bar and appeared to be adjusting the commlock on his belt. Tony barely noticed, too busy attending to his precious cargo.

"Hey, steady! I'm glad you fly an Eagle better than you push a trolley."

"Sorry," Alan winced.

A few seconds later and they were at the main recreation room, the venue for Tony's small and informal gathering in celebration of his birthday. The truth was that he'd only decided to acknowledge it at all when his latest batch of beer had turned out so successfully. It seemed the ideal opportunity to give it a public airing and an occasion like this meant a captive audience. He'd asked people to start dropping by from around 8:00pm which allowed he and Alan fifteen minutes or so to get the 'bar' set up.

"Would you programme up the music, Al?" Tony asked as they manoeuvred themselves round to face the door.

"And not the Beach Boys," he warned.

Alan figured that if you wanted a party to go with a swing, it should include at least two Beach Boys tracks. It brought back nostalgic memories of family beach parties when he was a kid and anyway, if it put a smile on everyone's face and got a few people up to dance, what could be better?

"It's been sorted," smiled Alan.

"Sorted?" Tony frowned, pressing the door entry panel. The door slid away into the wall. "When did you...?" he began, before taking a step backwards as a sea of faces only inches from his own, reared up before him as one and shouted, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"

It took a moment for Tony's shocked expression to peel away, leaving a bashful grin in its stead.

"Okay, so what's going on?" he asked suspiciously. Hands grabbed at him and he was pulled inside the recreation room before he got an answer. Apparently somebody had been busy. The ceiling had been strung with a multitude of handmade paperchains, probably material rescued from the recycling units. Along one wall, in foot high gold lettering read the message, "Happy Birthday Tony" and to one side, three tables had been pushed together and were laden with food.

"Hey, this is great," he beamed, surveying the scene and feeling just the tiniest twinge of embarrassment. He swung round at a sudden boom of noise behind him and realised that the audio console had been brought to life. He shook his head in amusement as he recognised the introductory strains of Mambo Italiano.

"Oh, very funny. When was all this arranged anyway?" he asked of no one in particular.

Sandra Benes stepped up to him and reached up to plant a kiss on his cheek. "You can blame Alan. He admitted to a few of us that that poisonous concoction you insist on making might just be drinkable this time and we thought that the more of us who came meant the less there would be to go around." A mischievous look settled over her pretty elfin features.

"Charming! Sounds like you've been taking lessons in verbal degradation off Maya." He looked about him. "Where is the light of my life and reason for living anyway?" he asked casually.

"I spoke to her and hour ago," Helena Russell supplied, as she approached with the Commander. "Something to do with an experiment over-running in one of the Biology Labs. A new protein extraction technique or something like that. She said she'd do her best to get here on time but it looks like she didn't quite make it."

"Probably hoping to miss the first round," Alan laughed.

Commander Koenig leaned into the group, his arm around Helena's waist. "So when do we get to sample this alleged nectar?"

"Are you volunteering your palate, John?" Helena quirked an eyebrow.

"Sacrificing his palate," Sandra giggled.

Sidling over to where Alan had parked the beer wagon, Tony slid a gentle hand over one of the kegs.

"You may mock but by the end of the night, you'll all be down on your knees, begging me to make another batch."

"If we're not down on our knees in the bathroom first," said Bill Frazer, dryly. He had been standing eyeing the kegs doubtfully.

Those in the room close enough to hear, fell about laughing and Tony, grinning from ear to ear, clapped his hands and rubbed them together briskly.

"Okay big mouth, that just earned you the first pint."

Taking a clear plastic beaker from the stack on the lower tier of the trolley, he ceremoniously twisted the tap of the first keg and held the beaker out as the golden brown liquid and splashed into the bottom. Bill held up his hand in mock horror.

"Please Tony, make mine a half."

Filling the beaker, he passed it to him.

"Course, I've realised that my beer will always have the disadvantage of being drunk out of plastic containers. It's the psychological factor you see. On Earth, you always drank a beer out of a glass or bottle so naturally there's an association with the taste."

"Whatever you say, Professor Verdeschi." Bill smiled.

"No, I think that's a fair point," Helena conceded.

"Everyone waited for the grimace to appear on his face as Bill tentatively swilled the liquid around his mouth before swallowing. When he took another, larger mouthful, a ripple of amused encouragement went around the room.

"You know, that's not bad!" said Bill in an amazed tone. "I'm not saying it's great, I mean, you wouldn't exactly mistake it for a Budweiser or anything but... it tastes good enough to get drunk on, I'll give it that."

A few whoops and cheers rang out at that.

"What marks are you giving it then Bill?" John asked.

Frazer considered for a moment. "Eight maybe?"

The burst of happy applause and the general move forward to participate in the voting had Verdeschi proudly begin the distribution of the vindicated brew.

"Eight?" queried Alan. "I only gave it a seven."

"Alan," said Tony, passing him a cup, "I don't give a four ex!"

He was on his feet before the door had opened an inch and was across the room as a haggard Doctor Russell entered. In a way, he felt uncomfortable seeing her. Had it been a nurse presenting herself to him, he might have been able to believe that the situation was no longer serious. But the professionally calm expression on Helena's face had an unsettling effect on his imagination.

She shook her head, her silky blonde hair falling against her cheeks and for an awful moment, he mistook her lack of words as a prelude to a dark announcement.

"What? Tell me!" he gripped her upper arms with unnecessary force and looked fearfully into her unsmiling face.

"We don't know, we're no further forward," she said, allowing him to vent his anguish. "She's still unconscious but her brain activity appears normal. Her vital signs are all sluggish and increasingly so. The severe pain she was experiencing has been stanched by the shot I gave her and she's on an IV to keep it topped up."

Finally releasing his hold on the Doctor, he asked with desperation in his voice,

"She'll be alright though won't she? She'll come round eventually?"

"I just don't know Tony, I'm at a loss. All the tests we've carried out have come up with nothing so far. Her physical make-up is almost identical to ours but when it comes to blood-cells, antibodies, hormones, half the time, we can't even begin to guess."

Turning away sharply, he barked out, "This is my fault isn't it? I've poisoned her with my bloody stupid beer haven't I?"

Coming up behind him, Helena put her arm around him. "There's no reason to think that. She's never shown any adverse effects before has she?" she told him with a reassurance she certainly wasn't feeling. Tony wasn't fooled.

"She's never drunk that sort of quantity before. You know as well as I do that when she transformed the second time, she'd had too much, we all had. Either there was some kind of chemical reaction to the metamorphosis or she was just too drunk to control it," he said with bitterness. That was the most likely explanation as far as the medical staff was concerned but even so, nobody could be blamed.

"We're looking into the possibility of a reaction to alcohol but when we don't even know how Maya's metamorphosis occurs, it's hard to know if it acted as the trigger."

"Can I see her now?" he asked stonily.

"Tony, don't take this on yourself. There's absolutely nothing to indicate her system has been poisoned, nothing. Everything just seems to be... well, slowing down. There's also some paralysis, down her left side..."


"It could be a symptom of her heart slowing, I don't know."

Tony headed for the door, his own heart pounding frighteningly loud in his chest.

By the time Maya made her appearance, everyone had their drinks and was busy getting into the party spirit. Shermeen and Alibe had taken the plunge and started off the dancing but most people were sampling the buffet fayre, including Tony.

"You're honoured," said a voice that felt like warm oil sliding down his spine. "All this fresh fruit!"

"Somebody must love me, huh?" he said, turning to take her in his arms.

"Oh, I'm sure," Maya purred into his ear.

"Anyway, where have you been until now?" he reprimanded.

"I'm sorry. I was in one of the Biology Labs this afternoon and things didn't quite go according to plan."

"I know," he smiled, "Helena told me."

"I really wanted to see the look on your face when you arrived as well."

"I'll bet you did. I nearly had a heart attack!"

Maya giggled. "My poor Tony. Anyway..." she kissed him soundly, "happy birthday."

Alan and Sandra who had been standing at Tony's side when she arrived, picking at the buffet, moved closer to join in the conversation now that the couple had had a few minutes together.

"Maya! Where have your feathers gone?" Sahn exclaimed.

They each looked down at Maya's dress, about the only thing she had left to remind her of her home on Psychon. Tony had been standing too close to notice but now, his voice full of surprise said, "You've taken them all off!"

"They were a bit bedraggled. I unpicked them all last night," she said, looking in turn at the shocked faces. "It took me nearly three hours," she added, almost defensively.

The dress, although bereft of the large, pale green feathers around the hemline and cuffs, looked just as stunning and even more sophisticated without the added froth of colour.

"It looks lovely Maya," Sandra assured her. "It is very elegant."

Alan nodded in agreement. "Reckon it looks better actually." He suddenly looked guilty. "Or was that the wrong thing to say?"

Maya patted his arm. "No, that was a very sweet thing to say, thank you Alan."

"They did sort of get in the way sometimes," Tony pointed out. "Like when you were eating, dancing, walking, moving..." he continued.

Maya frowned. "Nobody liked the feathers did they?"

There was a moment hesitation before, in unison, the three gushingly denied the allegation. She shrugged and leaning past Alan, said, "I suppose at least my time wasn't spent in vain then," and plucked a plump green grape from a bowl.

"Hey Tony!"

Swinging round at the call of his name, Tony caught the eye of George Crato who was standing at the beer trolley. "Alright if we help ourselves?" asked the middle aged Greek.

"Sure," Tony replied, casting Alan an 'I-told-you-so' look, "and congratulations George."

"Congratulations?" he asked, peering past a number of bodies as he opened the tap on the keg. "What did I do?"

Raising his beaker to him, Tony replied, "You're the first person to ever ask for a refill!"

Unbidden, Maya took the beaker from him and sipped at the contents. "Oh, Tony, that really is much better. It's lost that...tang."

"What do you mean 'tang'?"

"You know, like, well... like something had crawled into the keg and died."

"Charming," he snorted.

Crato moved over to them with his glass full to the brim.

"And anyway," continued an affronted security chief, "what does an alien know about the subtleties of brewing beer?"

Maya gave him an impish look. "Maybe nothing but you can't expect me to be terribly enthusiastic about a drink made by a member of a race who thinks it acceptable to drink the lactic fluids of animals. That's quite disgusting." And she wrinkled her nose to reinforce her point.

George Crato held up a hand between them. "Stop. No more squabbling. This is a birthday party, no fighting."

They both laughed at the gruffness in his tone.

"We're not fighting, we're enjoying ourselves," Tony told him.

"What? You tell me you can't find better way to enjoy yourselves eh?" He swiftly downed half of his beer before continuing. "This is a beautiful woman," he said, grabbing Maya's forearm, "not an alien. You must respect her good, boy, be serious okay, I am serious here."

Maya looked at Tony and they both had to stifle their laughter.

"Alright George, I hear ya."

It wasn't unusual for Crato to speak his mind. His Greek temperament featured a straightforwardness, which could be both charming and refreshing but also disarming. Despite this, Tony had to wonder whether the potency of the beer was having some effect. Not that he minded but to refer to the head of Security, as boy was a liberty he only expected to be taken by personal friends.

"She is different - special. You're a lucky boy. In my country, she would be a goddess huh?"

Verdeschi couldn't resist. "Did the Gorgons class as goddesses then?"

Maya's obvious lack of understanding had Crato even more exasperated, although it was clear he was enjoying the banter when he made as though to whisk her away.

"You come with me," he said, putting an arm around her. "Your Mister Verdeschi is a bad lover."

That got the attention of several people.

"Really George," Maya laughed, as she finished Tony's drink. "Tony never gets away with anything, I can assure you."

Rachel Evans, a young woman with long dark hair and an attractive smile who worked as an operator in Command Centre, stepped in to rescue Maya.

"It's true and besides, it would be so dull in Command Centre without their double act. It's what gets us through the shift."

Crato wagged his finger at her, shaking his head of curly white hair. "Clever words yes, romance, no."

"Ah, now there you have a point," Maya agreed, nodding sagely.

"Romance?" said Alan Carter, aghast. "Hey now, lets not get too heavy here."

Rachel went to Crato's free side and the Greek happily placed his other arm about her. "I think romance is sadly lacking on Alpha," she said firmly.

Sahn sighed wistfully. "It does seem to be in short supply I think."

Alan rolled his eyes. "It's just like everything else - rationed. Don't get greedy."

She merely smiled sweetly at him. "I'm sure there are small supplies to be had all over the base if I just look hard enough."

Tony, who had been silently pondering, suddenly spoke up and there was a secretive glint in his eye. "I can guarantee you that by the end of the night, you'll have radically changed your opinion of me."

It was clear that Maya was in a room designated for intensive care. A bank of monitors along the wall behind the bed blipped and flashed in the semi-darkness like a busy metropolitan city street. Above the bed, a transparent bag of fluid hung from a stainless steel stand and light, reflecting from

the medical machinery turned it into a street light to complete the tableau.

Doctor Spencer stood over her and was lifting an eyelid to shine his penlight into her unseeing eye.

"Hello, Tony," he said, looking up.

"What's happening?" he asked. Maybe something had changed; maybe he had found out something important in the short time Helena had been away. He saw the quick look Spencer darted at Doctor Russell and the slight nod of Helena's head.

"Look, I want to know what's going on. I don't see what good it does keeping things from me."

"It isn't our intention to keep anything from you," Ed told him quietly, "but at the moment, I don't have anything very encouraging to tell you."

"Is she getting worse?"

There was a small hesitation.

"I'm hoping that she'll stabilise soon. Deterioration of her vital signs is steadying."

Tony looked down at Maya's deathly pale form, lying in an unnaturally uniform repose. The blue sheet, which covered her was smooth and neatly turned over into a fold just above her waist. To Tony, she looked like a freshly laid out corpse. Swallowing hard, he continued to stare down at the usually vibrant figure as he asked, "What do you mean by 'deterioration'? Helena said her system was sluggish, slow heart rate. Deterioration sounds like something else."

Again, a pause and that look before Helena began, "Tony..."

"Just tell me," he said, his voice raised in growing alarm.

"Maya should be on life support..."

"Then why the hell isn't she?" Verdeschi interrupted, knowing as he said the words, that Helena was trying to explain that point.

Steadily, Helena continued. "An hour ago, we put her on a ventilator. It seems incredible but her lungs were just refusing to inflate. Scans showed no blockages and the equipment was checked and re-checked. We had to give up for fear of causing damage. We gave her a high dosage heart stimulant which had absolutely no effect, as was the case with cardio-vascular shock therapy."

Ed Spencer took up the threads and Tony turned to him slowly and incredulously.

"It's almost like her body has cocooned itself against all outside intervention. Her system seems intent on shutting down, is the only way I can explain it. I don't know what else we can do except hope that things don't get any worse."

"And if they do, she's going to die?" He sounded like a little boy; all the fire gone out of him as the doctor's words seeped in.

Helena came to stand at his side, looking with him at the weakening body of Maya. A series of circular pads were positioned in various places over her body. Each pad contained an encoded chip, which relayed constant information to the equipment behind the bed, enabling the medical team to monitor every individual organ.

Tentatively, Tony reached across and took her right hand as he bent to kiss her cheek, noticing an area of deep bruising inside her elbow.

"I needed the morphine shot to go directly into her bloodstream," said Helena, by way of explanation. "Her veins were so recessed, I had to give her arm quite a pummelling."

Tony made a murmur of acknowledgement and took the seat Ed had pulled up for him. He coughed then, an awkward sound and an attempt to clear his throat of the emotion, which threatened to choke every ounce of dignity from him.

"There's nothing you can do?"

"We've tried..." she heard the catch in her own voice, "we've tried everything. I can only guess that something in her Psychon physiology is kicking in and I can't pretend to know even the basic principles of metamorphosis." Helena pushed a lock of hair from her face. "I feel so useless Tony. I practice human medicine and I know I'm a good doctor but I can't help Maya. She's slipping further and further away and I can't help her."

Ed gave her a sharp look as he heard a heart-broken friend encroaching on Doctor Russell's territory. It wasn't time yet for despair.

"Helena, the lab may have completed their tests on the hops samples," he reminded her pointedly.

Doctor Russell said, "Thank you, I was aware of that," and Ed realised too late his tactlessness in Tony's presence.

He didn't seem to be listening to the conversation anyway and Helena, aware that she did indeed need a break to get her emotions in check, quietly left.

The chatter of medical equipment was pronounced in the human silence. Tony was simply staring at the Psychon woman, his face unreadable. Spencer busied himself with monitor readouts and got the answers he was expecting; another 4% drop across the board (at least that had slowed) but the paralysis appeared to be spreading, creeping over her body like a darkly massing cloud. It was fantastic and horrific.

"So what's your opinion? I'm sure you have one." His tone was confrontational but when he looked up, Tony hadn't moved.

"My opinion?" Ed asked, not exactly sure what he was expected to say.

"I want to hear your personal opinion on why this is happening if you can't provide a professional one."

"Ed Spencer doesn't have any more answers than Doctor Spencer."

"In your opinion," Tony persisted, "how likely is it that something in what she drank tonight has done this to her?"

He saw what he was getting at and sighed. "It's a possibility that's being looked into."

"Oh come on now Doctor Spencer, this is no time for diplomacy." He suddenly leaned back in his chair; arms folded against his chest and a slick, false smile fixed on his lips. "Tell you what Ed, on a scale of one to ten, what are the chances that I've poisoned Maya hmm? What do you think Ed?"

The one to ten phrase was one everyone had come to associate with a test of beer quality and Ed blanched at his sardonic humour. This game he was playing, the flippant goading, he recognised as a way of apportioning blame. Verdeschi was more than willing to accept responsibility if that meant there was a logical reason for it all.

"Okay, in my opinion, the alcohol played a significant part. In what way, I've yet to discover. Does my opinion make you feel any better?"

The smile faded rapidly.

"Believe me, the why's and wherefore's are irrelevant, all that matters is finding a way to get her well."

Nodding miserably, he leaned his arms on the side of the bed and tenderly stroked his fingers through Maya's silken red hair.

"Can I ask you something that is relevant?"


"If you can't find a cure and she carries on like this, how long has she got?"

Ed glanced at the monitoring equipment, not liking what he saw.

"Maybe if Maya was human, she wouldn't even have made it this far. A few hours, four maybe."

Tony shut his eyes tight whilst he took that in. It hurt; it actually physically hurt, although if he were asked, he wouldn't be able to pinpoint where.

"Do you want to spend some time alone with her?"

"Yeah, yes I do."

"Okay, I'll be down the corridor in the Bio.Lab. with Helena if you need one of us. There are three nurses on duty and one of them will be in every fifteen minutes to check on Maya. It goes without saying that if you see the smallest change, you should get someone in here. I think you'll probably be far more observant than anybody else anyway."

He headed for the door. "Hopefully, I'll be back with some kind of solution before you know it."


He turned.

"Thanks for you honesty."

"That isn't anything to thank me for."

By 10:00pm, the number of party-goers had doubled to forty as the last shift finished and word spread that a good time was being had by all. Almost everyone Tony considered a friend and who wasn't standing duty turned up at some point. And of those, very few remained sober. When the beer ran out, Tony was ordered back to his quarters to collect whatever he had lying around that had previously failed taste tests. Quality seemed to have quite lost its importance by the middle of the evening.

"Oh, I love this!" squealed Maya, jumping up to dance again and dragging an inordinately happy Helena along by the hand.

"Don't you just love this one, Helena?"

"I must confess," Helena laughed, "that although Tom Jones was never one of my great musical passions, I can just about handle his 'Sex Bomb'."

The two leaned against each other, shrieking with laughter like a couple of schoolgirls.

Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb, you're a Sex Bomb...

The women bumped hips in time to he music, arms raised up and posteriors undulating suggestively. As the song neared its' conclusion, Alan Carter sidled up behind Maya and put his arms around her waist, gyrating with her as he whispered something in her ear. Maya nodded gleefully and disappeared in the direction of the main Rec.Room doors. Alan looked behind him to where he had come from and made for the opposite direction.

Helena grabbed his arm, out on a limb now she had lost her dancing partner.

"What's going on? Where are you both rushing off to?"

Alan placed a silencing finger to his lips. "Shhhh. Birthday surprise," and winked. Helena wended her way back to the table she and John had initially been sharing with Tony, Maya, Sandra and Alan but which now seemed to be the congregational point for a considerable number.

"...and in the meantime, Alan's made his way to the nearest Commpost to find out from us where the hell the buggy panniers have got to," Bill Frazer delivered his punch-line to the delight of those listening.

"That one was well covered up," John Koenig observed. "That's the first I've heard of it."

Helena's heart warmed as the Commander's laughter mingled with that of his crew. It felt good to see him so relaxed and stress free. Maybe the Verdeschi brewery should be re-sited in Medical Centre and the beer issued on prescription." He looked up then, sensing her nearness and casually draped an arm around her hips.

"Hello there, Doctor Russell. Enjoying yourself?"

Helena didn't get a chance to answer before a chorus of good-natured booing and jeering began when the music track currently playing was cut short.

"Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention for a minute," Alan Carter called out formally. It took a moment to quieten down whilst people whispered their thoughts to each other on what they believed was going on.

"Please, all take your seats and I'd like to ask the birthday boy to make his way to the front of the room."

The whispering began again as the guests complied with Alan's request. Tony trudged to the front, shaking his bowed head.

"I swear, Carter, whatever this is, I'm gonna pay you back," he warned.

The lights dimmed down then and a near silence fell over the place. The doors of the main recreation room slid back and a silhouetted figure stepped into view, pausing on the threshold for effect. Barely audible music began to play in the background and a palpable tremor of awe ran around the room as it began to register what and whom it was they were seeing.

"I want to be loved by you, just you, and nobody else but you..."

The music played softly on the audio console. Alan worked the lights up and as Marilyn Monroe sashayed across the open space towards Verdschi, the crowd spontaneously broke into a combination of applause and excited, wondrous laughter.

Although each and every one of the Alphans knew beyond doubt that this character before them was the Psychon, Maya, it caused more of a reaction than almost anything she had transformed into before. Recognition was instant, as familiar as a family member, a face they had grown up acknowledging as an icon, an idol. She had been known as a screen legend and a sex symbol but to the huddle of men and women, she represented a piece of something that they had thought lost to them - Earth. Her presence had created the strangest atmosphere; a kind of euphoria, which wasn't exactly what Alan Carter, had had in mind when he put his suggestion to Maya. The idea had begun with the intent to quash a playful rumour started by locker room gossip. It wasn't that Tony and Maya found it particularly offensive, just a bit annoying and rather ridiculous that such an interest should be taken in their sex life. Speculation as to whether Maya made use of her metamorphic abilities in the bedroom had lead to a whole list of personal preferences, each suggestion being more fantastic than the last. Rising from the tentative possibilities of certain female crewmembers came the mind-blowing pinnacle of a long dead screen goddess whose legendary status made her almost a fictional character. And of course, although all this was known to be nothing more than a rumour, people were happy to believe that there was no smoke without fire. Alan had figured that by holding this rumour up to the light themselves and making a mockery of the whole notion, it could be treated as one big joke.

Judging by Verdeschi's reaction, it was quite obvious that he had never met Marilyn Monroe before in any way, shape or form. The poor guy had actually taken a couple of steps back as she approached and now stood with a petrified grin of morbid fascination on his face. Marilyn herself was happily playing to the crowd, bending forward to wiggle her assets as she blew kisses at everyone.

"Good evening," she called and when the noise level failed to subside, tried again. "Good evening everybody."

At last it quietened down and each person sat waiting expectantly, mile wide grins much in evidence.

"It's nice to be here with you all tonight," purred the blonde bombshell.

"Nice of you to come, Marilyn," somebody shouted out.

"Well, actually, it was Mister Carter there who asked me along." She extended one gloved and bejewelled hand to point him out, standing at the rear of the room. There was another flurry of cheering and brief applause.

"Alan told me he wanted Tony Verdeschi to have a birthday surprise that he'd never forget..." The catcalls succeeded in drawing a flush of red to Verdeschi's face. "And so here I am."

"Just go easy on him," called out his Commander, "I need him fit for duty." Foot stomping and gales of laughter ensued.

Chief Verdeschi's right-hand man, Pierce, threw back, "You kissed goodbye to anyone being fit for duty when you sanctioned this beer-fest Sir."

Surveying the room, hands on hips, Tony succumbed to he spirit of the affair, despite his embarrassment. He didn't think an occasion like this had ever turned out so successfully, certainly not since Breakaway anyway. There was a genuine excitement in the air and a great feeling of camaraderie, of togetherness that was created by something other than life-threatening circumstances for once. People were laughing, some close to tears, forgetting all of Alpha's troubles in the heady rapture of the night.

But Marilyn Monroe! He stared at the larger than life woman next to him, her voluptuous curves accentuated in the tightly fitted, long dark strapless gown and suddenly he remembered seeing the old film footage of the occasion when Marilyn had worn it in reality. Not that he thought Maya would have had anything untoward in mind, but the realisation that all she was going to do was sing to him was a bitter-sweet relief.

As if on cue, all the lights, bar a row of ceiling lights above him went out.

"Kennedy's birthday bash. Am I right?" he asked.

There was a flicker of surprise in her eyes. "Why, yes. Very good Tony," she cooed, before turning back to her audience. "Anyway, I'd like to wish Tony here a happy birthday and hope there are many more to come."

As she had no microphone, Marilyn clasped her hands at her middle and began to sing, in that seductive yet little girl lost manner for which she was famed.

"Happy birthday to you..."

Not a sound could be heard, for she held the rapt attention of the audience and Tony realised he was holding his breath. This was so weird, like a piece of history being hurled forward through time.

"Happy birthday to you..."

He wondered on what level of consciousness, Maya's mind was operating. To what extent had she taken on the role of Norma-Jean?

"Happy birthday, Mister..." her lips were determined to make a meal of the word, "Verdeschi..." He's never heard his name said in quite such an erotic way before and he had a job to look her in the eye.

"Happy birthday to you."

Then, putting her arms around him, she hugged him briefly and placed a chaste kiss on his cheek, for which Tony was eternally grateful. Anything more intimate and he felt sure that his colour would have risen to death-defying heights.

"Thanks very much," he managed to mumble, amid the foot stomping and whooping.

"It was my pleasure." And as she turned to make her exit, she suddenly stopped in her tracks and looking over her shoulder, asked loudly, "Say, have we met someplace before?"

Tony raised both his hands in a gesture of innocence.

"No, I can honestly say that we haven't. I'm quite sure I would've remembered."

"Gee, I guess you're right. I would've remembered a cute ...," she paused, looking him up and down appraisingly, "face like yours." Marilyn giggled and took her leave of the party.

As the Rec. Room doors slid shut behind her, Carter played her out with the instrumental 'Happy Birthday' tune to which everybody raucously sang along. Tony bowed formally before taking his seat.

"Oh, Tony," shrieked Shermeen Williams, "you should've seen your face. It was a picture!"

"I think our hot-blooded Italian Chief may just have lost his cool there," called out Verdeschi's deputy, Pierce.

Maya was treated to another round of applause when she tried to sneak back in unnoticed. The usually reserved Doctor Ben Vincent couldn't resist saying, "It's my birthday next month and I must confess to having a soft spot for Michelle Pfieffer."

Maya turned to him. "I'd be happy to oblige, if only I knew who she was."

"Any chance of a private performance darlin'?"

Hearing the smooth Irish tones of Dave Reilly made Tony's hackles rise. He swung round in his seat and immediately caught sight of the infamous Stetson hat bobbing around in the crowd. That damned Irish cowboy must have invited himself along and gate-crashed the party because Tony sure as hell hadn't asked him to come and he couldn't imagine for one minute, Alan thinking he'd want to see him.

"Hello Dave," Maya smiled warmly, ignoring his comment altogether and carrying on to the table where most of the officers were sitting.

"You didn't mind too much did you?" she whispered anxiously, bending down to Tony's shoulder.

"Mind? I'm still shaking!" He held out a trembling hand, laughing.

"You looked scared to death when I first walked in."

"Believe me, it didn't end there."

"At least everyone else seemed to enjoy it," she tried.

"Yeah, sure, they would wouldn't they? There's nothing like a little public humiliation at someone else's expense for lifting the spirits."

"I'm sorry. Maybe it was taking it a bit too far," she apologised.

Without warning, Tony reached out and swung her round onto his lap, wrapping his arms around her. "It was great - a little piece of Hollywood right here on Moonbase Alpha. Thank you." He kissed her on the nose and Maya wriggled in delight.

Alan Carter had made his way back to their table and hovered behind Sandra's chair, dramatically sniffing the air. "What's that smell?"

"What smell?" Helena asked, still laughing at Tony and Maya's exchange. "I don't smell anything."

Alan raised a finger in the air. "Ah ha, the smell of fear. Sorry cobber, I didn't think to bring you a change of underwear."

"Oh, so here he is, the mastermind behind tonight's little soiree."

"No need to thank me Tone," said Alan with feigned innocence, "after all, it wouldn't have been possible without Maya."

"A fine performance," put in the Commander.

"It's ironic when you think about it," Alan continued, and then paused to allow someone to coax the latest witticism from him.

"Come on then Alan," Sahn obliged. "What is ironic?"

"Well, think about it. He goes a whiter shade of pale when he gets to meet a celebrity of the silver screen..."

"Who happens to be dead," John pointed out.

"Yeah, I'll grant you that but even so, the bloke is totally unfazed by the fact that his girlfriend is an alien."

Helena sat up poker straight in her chair, her beaker of beer part way to her lips and an expression of horror freezing her statuesque features. "He said the 'A' word!" she exclaimed.

The others joined in with her mock censure by shaking their heads, tutting and generally inhaling or expelling air through disapprovingly pursed lips.

"Oh Alan," said Sahn, her voice heavy with shame for him.

"Xenophobe!" John accused.

Helena narrowed her eyes and said haughtily, "I think you'll find Alan, that a more suitable expression might be 'visitor from another planet'." The phrase sounded just the tiniest bit slurred.

Maya let out a sudden hearty laugh at that which set the others off in fits. "I think that may be worse. It makes it sound like I'm just passing through," she complained, the last few words increasing absurdly in pitch as she tried to staunch her laughter.

"I'm only stating a fact," Alan tried to defend himself, reaching for his beer which had now grown warm. Unconsciously, he pulled a face as he drank down the beer from an earlier batch, which had previously been deemed unfit for human consumption. "I wouldn't take offence if Maya called me an alien. Hell, I am an alien to you aren't I sweetheart?" he asked her with a grin.

"Alan," John Koenig smiled benignly, "you're an alien to most of us. Can I get anyone another drink?"

By 11:00pm, the beer kegs had been bled dry and locusts had long since destroyed all evidence of there having ever been a buffet. It seemed appropriate to wind things down at this stage and Alan suggested to the host that a few slow tracks on the audio system might put the message across. Tony was strangely enthusiastic about the idea and leapt up to select the songs himself. He had seemed keyed up and in a particularly buoyant mood for a large part of the evening but Alan had sensed an anxiousness, a nervousness almost which made him wonder guiltily whether the Marilyn gag had genuinely bothered him. He returned to the table, chatting briefly with a few people on the way who wanted to say how much they had enjoyed themselves. Several couples had already made their way over to the area set aside for dancing and John and Helena got up as soon as Tony rejoined Maya. They found themselves alone at the table.

"Right," said Tony, rubbing his hands together carefully, "fancy a smooch?"

She took the hand he held out to her and allowed herself to be escorted to the dance floor. Tony held her close but didn't attempt to speak whilst Bryan Ferry crooned away 'Slave to Love'.

"Tony," she said against his ear.

"Mm hmm?"

"Are you alright? You've gone very quiet. I didn't embarrass you earlier did I?"

"Embarrass me?" He frowned for a moment before catching on. "Oh, that! Course not."

"And there's nothing bothering you?"

Bypassing the question, he said quickly, "Listen." He stopped talking as a new song began. "I remembered this song a couple of days ago. If it wasn't for the fact it's nearly thirty years old, I'd swear it was written about you."

Chuckling softly, Maya snuggled against him as they swayed with the music. As instructed, she listened intently to the words of the song.

She, may be the face I can't forget,
A trace of pleasure or regret,
Maybe my treasure or the price I have to pay,
She, may be the song that summer sings,
Maybe the chill that autumn brings,
Maybe a hundred different things,
Within the measure of a day.

She, may be the beauty or the beast,
Maybe the famine or the feast,
May turn each day into a heaven - or hell,
She may be the mirror of my dream,
A smile reflected in a stream,
She may not be what she may seem,
It's hard, her shell.

She, who always seems so happy in a crowd,
Whose eyes can be so private and so proud,
No-one's allowed to see them when they cry,
She, may be the love that cannot hope to last,
May come to me from shadows of the past,
That I'll remember, 'til the day I die.

She, may be the reason I survive,
The why and wherefore I'm alive,
The one I'll care for through the rough and rainy years,
Me, I'll take her laughter and her tears,
And make them all my souvenirs,
For where she goes, I've got to be,
The meaning of my life is... she.

During the song, a few people briefly eyed the couple. Those listening to the lyrics guessed the reason for choosing such an old ballad; the words obviously held great significance.

"Wow! Who would've believed it?" Helena whispered to John. "Tony Verdeschi, a romantic and in public to."

"He doesn't want to loose face with George Crato remember."

She smiled and rolling her eyes said, "You're such a cynic Commander Koenig."

"Or maybe that God-awful beer is clouding my judgement, in which case, Tony only has himself to blame."

Maya also had to assume that George Crato's chiding had had a pronounced effect when Tony asked rather too brightly, "Would you marry me?"

After giving it a few moments thought, she answered, "Probably, although I don't think George necessarily intended you to make that much effort."

It had come out wrong and Maya had assumed it was a rhetorical question. Her high colour and dreamy smile though, indicated it might also have something to do with her steady consumption of alcohol.

"No, I mean it, no clowning. I want you to marry me."

She stood gaping at him whilst Tony fumbled in the pocket of his black jeans (just about the only other pair of trousers he owned besides his uniform). He drew out a small navy velour pouch, closed with a drawstring. Taking hold of her hand, he put it in her palm.

"What's this?" she asked automatically.

"It's part of an old Earth custom."

Cautiously, she opened the bag and shook out the contents into her other hand. The ring that fell out was beautiful in its simplicity. A single stone that refracted light like a tiny chunk of captive fire was set into the delicately sculpted shoulders of a band of coppery gold metal which, like the stone itself had yet to be named. Having first sworn her to secrecy, Tony had enlisted the amateur talents of Joanna Craven from the power plant whose hobby for the past year had been jewellery making. Apparently, her best friend from Meturllugy had suggested the idea and now, many women on Alpha were the proud owners of some bauble fashioned from mining expedition booty. It seemed that Meturllugy's cast-offs had become quite a lucrative business for Joanna. The price of the ring? Ten private lessons in unarmed combat. For some strange reason, she had always wanted to be able to throw someone over her shoulder. Tony considered it a small price to pay.

"This is a..." she searched for the term, "a ring of engagement?" Maya asked, astounded. Tony watched her face as she stared at the shiny object in her fingers.

"It is if you say yes," he prompted.

"But Tony, I didn't... you planned this?"

"Well, I didn't just decide to ask you tonight if that's what you mean."

"No, of course, I'm sorry, it's just, well, a surprise," she stammered.


"So?" Then her eyes sparkled wonderfully as she snapped her attention back to Tony's original question and she laughed at him as he nodded vigorously in an effort to get the words out of her.

"Yes..." but before she could say anything more, Tony was slipping he ring onto her finger and kissing her passionately.

It took only a minute for those around them to realise what was happening.

"Is this what I think it is?" Alan grinned, breaking away from Sahn and pulling her along with him. "You old dog, you never said a word."

The news was spreading around the room and people gathered to congratulate them.

"Maya, it's absolutely lovely," Helena told her as she held the others hand up to examine the ring.

Tony turned as John was shaking his hand. "Joanna Craven's handiwork. Can you see her anywhere?" he asked, craning his neck to look around the room. He finally spotted her looking his way and waved her over. The petite blonde was all smiles.

"Congratulations you two. Maya, thank God you said yes. He's been bugging me like crazy for the past two weeks to get it done."

"Joanna, thank you, it's beautiful," Maya enthused with genuine feeling.

The power section operative held her hand to wiggle the ring about. "Oh, it's not exactly a perfect fit is it?" she said with dismay. "We had no way of knowing what size you'd need and your fingers are quite slim aren't they? I'll come and see you tomorrow and I'll take it away to make some adjustments if that's okay?"

"If you're sure you don't mind?"

"Of course I don't. It isn't finished until it fits right."

Tony was with a group of Eagle maintenance workers when Commander Koenig got the call on his Commlock. It was Simon Hayes who looked like he was trying hard to keep a straight face about something.

"Problem Simon?"

"Kind if Commander. I'm really sorry to bother you with this sir but it seems we have a technical fault with the Travel Tube in this sector. It's jamming the whole system and I need your permission to bring some equipment in to cut it open."

"Do we have bodies in there?" John asked.

"Just one. Petrov had just come off shift and was on his way to see Mister Verdeschi before the party finished apparently. He's actually stuck over on Corridor B."

Koenig saw the funny side. "Okay, fine. So near and yet so far eh? Get a couple of guys and rip it open."

Helena and Maya had been straining to hear what the interruption was in aid of, above the general hubbub but had got the gist.

"John, I could go," Maya offered. "It would be silly to use cutting equipment and do all that damage when I could just force the door back."

"Do you mind?" he asked.

"My pleasure."

Koenig relayed the information.

"I'll bet Petrov never thought the party would have to come to him," Helena commented with a smile.

The three of them headed for the exit out into Corridor B but not before Alan had collared them.

"Where are you off to in such a hurry?" he asked in surprise.

John briefly explained.

"Well, you'd better take Tony along then."

"Tony? Why?" Maya wanted to know.

"Whole thing smacks of a set-up to me."

The cogs turned unsteadily, skidding a little with the unaccustomed lubrication. John beat the others to it by a hair.

"You mean, a fiendish plan to embarrass the pants off him?"

"Could be."

"No," said Helena. "I can't see it. Why contact John. How could anyone be sure that Tony would get to know about it?"

"Helena's right," Maya agreed. "We were on our way out without telling Tony because it's only two minutes down the corridor. They couldn't rely on it being mentioned to him."

Alan shrugged. "Maybe not but they could've assumed Tony was standing somewhere close by and seeing as Petrov works under him and was on his way over, it's be natural for him to go along."

They all looked at each other, uncertain of what to do. John put an end to the dilemma with his decision to tell Tony what they suspected.

"I think he's probably had enough excitement for one night," was his reasoning.

As the door slid shut behind the doctor, he felt utterly alone. Maya was there, on the bed in front of him but she had no presence. It was like part of her, her spirit, her soul, whatever you chose to call it had been locked away, deep inside this dying shell.

"Christ!" he muttered in desperation as he found himself crying hysterically. It lasted only a matter of seconds before he got it under control. He sat listening to his own heavy, trembling breaths whilst he tried to construct some kind of sense out of what was happening. At last, he touched her. After what he had learnt about her condition, he realised he had been frightened to even lay a hand on her for fear of causing further damage. Her body was so fragile in its weakened state and he couldn't stand the weight of any more blame than he had already inflicted upon himself. His fingers slid uneasily down the exposed skin of her forearm. The flesh felt taut and rigid to his touch, unhealthily cool. He stopped short of her hand with its IV needle taped firmly in place. This was the paralysis, which Helena had described. There was something quite terrifying about it that he didn't want to face and he took the chair round the other side of the bed where she was warm and soft and recognisable. A buzzer sounded discreetly at the door and a nurse came in, casting Tony a sympathetic smile as she checked the monitor readings and gave Maya a cursory examination. The silence suited him. He wasn't in the mood for pleasantries.

"I'm sorry, Mister Verdeschi," the nurse whispered, just before she left.

Covering Maya's hand with his, he put his head down next to hers on the pillow.

"You can't leave me, not now. You don't know how much I need you. I don't want to go back to how things were before you came."

Saying the words out loud swelled his chest with pain but he had to say them if there was a chance that she heard anything at all, he had to say them.

"We've got to find a new home haven't we?" he smiled through a grey wash of tears. "When we do, I want you there. I couldn't face it alone." His fingers gently clasped hers. "A good wife should be at her husbands' side err?" he said in a pronounced Italian accent. For a moment, he lost it again, crying bitterly against the pillow, his vision filled with the dark, abstract mass of her hair, like a rain blurred image seen through a window. Suddenly, he sat up sharply.

"You know I love you Maya? I don't tell you that often enough do I? Even at the party when I asked you to marry me, I still didn't tell you how much I love you." He passed a hand over his brow in an irritated gesture. "Crato had the measure of me didn't he?"

Tony didn't know how to read the equipment Maya was channelled into but he knew how to read faces and he saw the look of concern on the face of the nurse increase over the next three check-ups. He watched her brows knit together as she made a beeline for the IV bag hanging up above Maya. She tapped it hard a couple of times and squeezed on the line where it fed in. But then, her eyes widened in alarm and Tony saw she was staring at a growing dark patch on the sheet around Mayas' left hand. The nurse made to lift the arm clear but the action seemed to become a mime of moving a heavy object. Tony was on his feet.

"What's the matter? What's happening?" he demanded fearfully.

She was pressing on the line into Mayas' hand, peeling away the sodden adhesive tape.

"It's fine," she said automatically, before giving up her attempt to stem the flow of morphine solution and dashing to the Commpost by the door. Helena Russell appeared on the screen.

"Julia?" she questioned warily.

"I'd like you to take a look at Maya if you would, Doctor."

Helena nodded and the screen went dead.

"What's happening," Tony asked again, a little more forcefully. No competent nurse should be phased by a leaking IV, of that he was sure.

"I don't know," said the nurse as she stabbed rapidly at a series of buttons behind the bed. "It's the paralysis. It's not normal. It's changing into something else."

It didn't make sense to him. Reaching over, he gripped Mayas hand and then, with a mounting horror, began to realise what the nurse meant. With trembling fingers, he explored the hardening flesh of her forearm, upper arm, shoulder and there he stopped, unwilling to go any further. She felt solid, hard like stone, like a piece of frozen meat. Looking up, he met with the incredulous eyes of Julia.

Helena came striding purposefully through the door, her face an unreadable mask. Doctor Spencer brought up the rear.

"What have we got, Julia?" she asked quickly, here hand dropping absently to Maya's arm as she scanned the computers. Suddenly, her face changed.

"Oh God!" she whispered. Flinging back the sheet, her skilful hands roamed deliberately over the Psychon woman, pressing and kneading to discover the effected areas.

"Only the left side still," she said almost to herself. "The entire arm, leading up to a small area along the neck, breast area, extreme side of the torso, hip, pelvis and down almost to mid-calf." She stood back to allow Ed to conduct this own examination.

"Tony," she turned to the mortified Security Chief. "I ran a check on Maya six months ago. She'd been on the survey team that went down to the planet we named Seabed. You know. There was all that fragile, rocky terrain, like white coral..."

"I know, I remember," Verdeschi snapped, irritated by her time consuming description.

"When she got back, she came to Medical complaining of a headache and a bruised, numb feeling in both hands and around her right hip and thigh. I checked her out, naturally but found nothing. I told her to rest up for a couple of days. When I saw her for lunch the following day, she said the symptoms had all but gone... Tony?" Helena wasn't sure he was taking it in, all his powers of concentration seemed to be needed to keep himself together. He lifted his eyes to hers and nodded, his attention flitting repeatedly back to the bed.

"Yeah, yeah, I remember that. She said it didn't really hurt. She'd lost some feeling in her hands. She dropped a cup of coffee on the floor in my quarters that night. She tried to use a pen as well I think but her fingers couldn't grip properly. You think there's a connection?"

"I don't know what though. We're talking six months ago and she's been fine up until this." She swung round to face the wall, exasperated. "Oh, I can't explain any of it. She's literally turning to stone and I don't know how to stop it."

Regaining her composure, she turned back and busied herself with the patient chart by the bed. "It's been the same with samples of blood and tissue cells. All are showing signs of petrifaction. Three of us have been conducting experiments in radiotherapy, chemotherapy, ultraviolet, you name it. Ben Vincent's still at the lab now."

"I'm going to transfer this IV to the right arm," Doctor Spencer broke in. "It's not going anywhere here. Julia, would you get me a fresh pack?" he asked the nurse who was still hovering in the background.

A thin, keening moan brought four startled pairs of eyes to focus on Maya.

Tony sauntered up the corridor, his arm around Maya's shoulders and his free arm gesticulating wildly in mid air as he gave her his description.

"Now, I'm talking about a real monster here, okay. Not just a namby-pamby 'little bit unpleasant to look at' monster, I mean a real evil brute with fangs and skin like sewer slime, you get the picture?"

"Mmm," Maya pondered humorously. "I don't think I recall ever having seen a creature like that and if I haven't seen it, I can't be it."

"Well, alright, but something really ugly. I want you to frighten the life out of whoever steps out of that Travel Tube."

"You have a decidedly nasty streak in you Tony, do you know that?" Maya asked, playfully tweaking his nose and then bumping into him as she fell out if step.

As the party had more or less reached its conclusion anyway, the guests had spilled out into the corridor when the story of the Travel Tube prank got around, certain they would be finishing the night on a high note. The theory was, if it really was nothing more than a practical joke, the perpetrators would have to reveal their intentions before Maya had the chance to break in through the door panel. Even the repair of the minimal damage Maya intended would be a drain on resources.

"Quieten it down you lot." Alan Carters inebriated attempt at a whisper made him choke out a high pitched laugh and several of the others shushed him with equally inebriated vigour.

Standing outside the Travel Tube door, John slipped his Commlock from his belt and brought up the image of Simon Hayes on the miniature screen.

"Okay Simon, we're out on Corridor B. Petrov alright in there?"

"He's fine Commander but he'll be all the better after he's broken out of there."

John hesitated, allowing Hayes the opportunity to stop the proceedings. He turned to Maya, his eyebrows raised in question.

"Are you ready?"

Maya shrugged and then nodded the affirmative.

"And you're sure this door is jammed tight?" John made a final bid.

"Yes sir." The operative was clearly puzzled by the query until the light of understanding dawned. "It's a genuine fault. Petrov isn't going to jump out wearing stockings and suspenders and doing the Can-Can."

Those in Johns' immediate area who heard the remark found the idea amusingly repulsive.

"Pretty picture huh?" Alan remarked, glancing at Maya. She didn't reply but continued to stare down at her hand, a deep frown ageing her beauty with lines. Flexing fingers, she appeared to give a tiny shudder before hugging her arms around herself and then returned her full attention to that was happening. It occurred to Alan that maybe what he had just witnessed was a sign that Maya wasn't entirely happy with the engagement. Strange. He's thought their relationship had reached the stage where marriage was a welcome inevitability for both of them. By the look on Maya's face just then, he's been wrong and more to the point, so had Tony.

John turned back to the Psychon, chuckling softly. "Looks like you're on. Do you want to do the honours?"

Unsmiling, she nodded briefly and as the others began backing up to give her some room, Maya's eyes opened wide. A silence of anticipation fell. No matter how many times they watched Maya transform, each time was just as fascinating and miraculous as the last. Quickly, her body dissolved into particles of light which swirled frantically into a central column and then flooded outwards as it took on the form of a mountainous giant limbed creature with beige, shaggy fur. It's face, although partially fur covered, had an odd compact appearance and its' huge fly like eyes bulged hideously. The short muzzle yawned open as it bellowed mightily.

"Hey, I know this one," exclaimed John. "This is one of the three law keepers we came across on that planet where it was considered a crime to pick a flower."

The creature lumbered to the Travel Tube door, still roaring while it pushed against the metal, causing a slight buckle, which enable it to force the door to slide back into the wall. Petrov could be seen inside, sitting in the seats nearest the door and wearing nothing more avant garde than a white cotton shirt and navy Chinos. Giving the Maya/Creature a wide berth, Petrov obviously relieved to be out of his prison cell, sidled out into the corridor to a hearty cheer.

"Glad you could make it comrade," called Tony."

Above the noise, Shermeen shouted out, "What's wrong with Maya?"

Heads turned in time to see the creature stumble against the wall and slide to its knees. The monotonous roars it had been emitting changed rapidly into squealing yelps, which curdled the blood in their intensity.

"Change back Maya," Helena cried, hanging on to Tony as they dashed forward.

"Concentrate Maya, change back," Tony ordered sternly.

The shaggy beast continued its awful tirade and fell backwards to the floor, scrabbling uselessly at the air with one ferocious clawed paw, shrieks and bellows mingling in its throws of agony. Tony took a step closer, aware of the danger he could be putting himself in if the Maya/Creature should turn on him.

"Tony!" Helena warned, her hand at his back. Nostrils flared, he screamed, "For Christ's sake, change NOW."

The crowd that had gathered around was confused and anxious, frightened for the creature that was Maya. They stood watching in helpless dread while it raised itself onto all fours, howling out its pain and then collapsed onto it's side. Helena had already taken her Commlock from her shoulder bag and was telling Doctor Spencer to get a team down to them, explaining that they would have to get out at an earlier point in the Travel Tube system due to the problem. Whilst she talked, she saw the apparently unconscious beast melt away in a blur of brilliant light, leaving the slight, frail figure of Maya, curled up in the foetal position. Suddenly, everyone was talking at once.

"Please, move back, move out of the way," Doctor Russell yelled, slamming her Commlock against John's chest as she rushed to help her friend. Tony and Sandra were on their knees at her side, trying to bring her round but to no avail.

"Is she alright, Helena?" asked Tony urgently as Helena passed her Bioscanner over her body.

Helena shook her head, once. "No, something is very wrong here. Vital signs... all fading fast. I need her in Medical right now."

Maya came to with a moan on her lips that quickly escalated to a tortured scream. Stepping back into his Security team shoes, Petrov called for everyone to head back to the Recreation Room and wait twenty minutes to avoid causing an obstruction to the emergency medical team. Maya was shaking convulsively, sweat standing out on her brow and tears falling back into her hairline. Fear shone bright in her blue eyes and she desperately sucked in air, trying to staunch the murderous scream in her throat long enough to speak. She strained to raise her head.

"Tony.." she managed to gasp.

"I'm here sweetheart... Helena, do something," he implored with a calmness which smacked of impending panic.

He grabbed the hand that was thrust towards him and held it fiercely. She clung on, closing her eyes tight and writhing against the pain. Her fingernails dug into his knuckles.


"I know baby."

She tossed her head wildly and again, her nails scratched deep.

"Heeere," she shrieked out.

Helena got to her feet. "Okay, that's it. We can't wait around here any longer. John?" she called over her shoulder. "I need you and Tony to meet up with the medical team. The sooner we get her under sedation the better so she'll have to be carried."

Maya's screams were building to a crescendo. Sahn, who had remained crouched on the floor at her side, moved back on her haunches to allow John to take her place. She was sobbing now herself, a fist crammed against her mouth, which she was biting on hard, tears and mucus mingling to trickle over the knuckles. As the creature had done, Maya abruptly became quite still.

"Is she dead?" Sahn asked, terrified.

Alan had been standing against the wall with Petrov and now he stepped in to gently pull Sahn to her feet, letting her weep against his chest while he held her.

Helena read her Bioscanner. "She's blacked out. That's a blessing in disguise."

Without a word, Tony hoisted Maya's prone body into his arms and walked purposefully down the length of the corridor.

"Alan, take Sahn home. I'll keep you informed. Petrov, I appreciate you're off duty but I could use you right now."

"Of course Commander, whatever I can do to help."

By the time they met up with the medical team, Tony's upper body muscles were taut with the strain the dead weight had put on them but the rush of adrenaline which fear brought with it, gave him an unnatural resilience. They followed as she was wheeled away to Medical Centre at break neck speed, Doctor Russell shouting instructions to the crew. The journey in the Travel Tube that took them to the doors of Medical was a nightmare for Tony. He couldn't hack the standing still, the lack of movement within the tube car and all the fear and anxiety rose within him. He paced from wall to wall a couple of times and slammed his fist against the smooth white surface, his leg kicking out at the same time. He spun round at the pressure of a hand on his shoulder and found John before him.

"Take it easy Tony."

Verdeschi's face was ashen. "Don't tell me to 'take it easy'," he mocked the Commander. If she dies..." It was a threat borne of his misdirected anger. Rancour boiled in his voice with a promise of irrupting violence. Ignoring the finger stabbing at his chest, John roughly pulled the Italian to him.

"No one's talking about dying. She'll be okay." He slapped his back, appeasing him with physical contact. "We're not going to loose her Tony." And John was usually right - usually.

"We have to stop now Helena. It's over. It wasn't making any difference anyway," Ed Spencer stated calmly.

Helena Russell didn't respond. She didn't have to, all present knew he was right. Every monitor was flatlining and had been for the last six minutes. Quietly, Spencer flicked up a series of switches to knock out the fibulator and cut the power. Wiping the sleeve of her hospital coat over her damp brow, Helena thanked her medical staff for their efforts.

Tony Verdeschi had been a witness to her death. He had watched from just a few feet away as they worked on her petrifying body. He had seem her eyes rolling back in their sockets and her limbs jerk spasmodically as she fought against the vile, debilitating sickness. He heard her wretched screams of terror, the pain that had previously rendered her unconscious, returning with a vengeance but no mercy this time. If what Doctor Spencer had said was correct, that an Earth human possibly wouldn't have lived this long, would it follow that one of them wouldn't have been able to endure this amount of torment. As the petrifying process sped through her body, her strangled cries became desperate and hoarse. Her throat was ceasing up, her neck muscles freezing as the cells hardened. By the time Helena began shocking her body with high voltage electrical charges, Maya had been completely immobile. In quick succession, every vital life-sign ceased to exist and every organ had ceased to function.

Tony felt himself swaying. The smell of sweat and perfume and stale beer hung in the air and that God-awful cloying antiseptic stench. He realised that his hearing had become muted and he was loosing his peripheral vision to darkness. On unsteady legs, he lumbered to the wash basin in a corner of the room. There, he let the gorge rise from his stomach, let it climb hotly, burning his throat. He spewed violently, rich colours splashing hard against the shining chromium of the sink interior. He reached to pull down on the tap and when the water gushed out, a second surge of rancid bile raced up to meet it. After wiping his mouth clean with a couple of handfuls of water, he stood up straight, turned off the tap and without a backward glance, left the room.

His brain was telling him to get out fast but not where he should be going. He walked past the only nurse still left on duty in the reception area, totally oblivious to her questions of concern. When the main Medical Centre doors slid shut behind him, Tony felt a thin shroud of peace descend upon him. Gone were those terrible sounds, images stolen from a half-forgotten nightmare, scents of decadence or despair from a half-remembered dream. The dimly lit night time corridors of Alpha would lead him away, channelling him into normality where life went on in its' own fashion.

"I can't just leave him," said Helena, in answer to Ed Spencer's request.

"Just half an hour. Give him time to get his head around it."

"For us all to get our heads around it," she said bleakly, modesty prompting her to carefully close the front of Mayas' hospital gown. Leaning over, she tenderly kissed the cold, rock hard cheek of the dead woman who, despite her alien status, Helena had come to think of as her closest friend. Maybe it was because of Helena's elevated status as Chief Medical Officer, or her relationship with the Commander, or maybe the combination of the two that placed certain demands on her and therefore denied her the ability to form close attachments with other females on the base. Maya had been segregated by her alienness and although she appeared gregarious with those around her, Helena knew she always held a little of herself back. Helena had been privileged, she felt, in knowing all of her. Like Tony, to some degree, Helena had just lost an important part of her life.

Slowly, her hands routinely peeled away the microchip pads, which still adhered to Maya's solid flesh.

"I know it might not seem appropriate at the moment," Ed began, "but what are you planning to do next? Presumably you want to follow procedure and carry out a post-mortem."

Helena swallowed down a queasy feeling in her gut. "I think that decision should be made by Tony. The body will have to be placed in cold storage for a few days anyway whilst arrangements are made. Unless we discover anything to suggest that this illness was anything other than unique to Maya, then it's up to Tony to do as he sees fit."

God but she was a hard-hearted bitch. Maya had been dead ten minutes and she was already referring to her as 'the body'. Was she really so cold and clinical all the time? Was that how she came across to others?

She stripped off the micro-thin surgical gloves she wore but kept on her white coat. Without it, she doubted she would be able to face the small gathering of people in the waiting room.

For a while, Tony wandered. Wherever he went, it was quiet. He found he was able to blank it from his mind quite comfortably and without too much effort which was what he needed to do. He knew that this numbness he was feeling was wrong. He felt hollow and buoyant, almost like he was on something as he walked sedately into Command Centre.

Heads turned when the unkempt, unshaven Tony Verdeschi took his place at his console, still wearing jeans and black T-shirt. They had all heard about Mayas' collapse and subsequent emergency admission to Medical. They had also heard, after Simon Hayes requested information that her life hung in the balance.

Yasko swivelled her chair round and shot a questioning look at Simon who merely shrugged helplessly.

"Tony?" Yasko tentatively tried to get his attention.

He looked up from logging into the computer.

"Everything okay?" she asked.

"Yeah. It was a shame you had to miss it."

Yasko had been on the duty roster and so missed the party. Frowning at Tony's unexpected response, she wondered what else she might be missing.

"And how is Maya?" She felt awkward. Something was not right and she dreaded his reply.

Tony's nerves were jangling. She was trying to get him to talk about it. Did she think he didn't know she was dead? Did she think he would enjoy repeatedly going over the gory details every time somebody asked? Besides what business was it of Yasko's?

He smiled thinly. "She's fine."

"But she was taken to Medical Centre. We were lead to believe..."

"She's fine," he repeated, tightly.

Yasko sensed the Security officer was issuing a challenge which she wasn't in a position to accept.

Turning back to his console, he commented, "Looks like you've had a quiet night here."

New data was minimal. For the past week or so, the moon had been traversing a particularly bare sector of space. He glanced up at the Big Screen and his eyes confirmed the negative information that the computer was relaying.

There reigned an uncomfortable silence. The five operators on duty exchanged the same look of concern behind Verdeschi, before returning distractedly to their duties. Tony relaxed a little, confident that his abruptness had rebuked any further questions. Maya had died in an horrific way; did they think he would allow her to become just another subject for their inane prattle? Whilst he didn't talk about it, neither could they.

Loosing concentration, his mind began to wander and he stared blindly at his monitor. Was he responsible for her death? He felt responsible. He felt guilty, if not of murder, of something akin to murder. No matter how much he claimed to have loved her, he had poisoned her, killed her. He knew his punishment would last a lifetime; every unoccupied waking moment and every fitful sleep he would hear those screams and meet again, the fear and pain which ravaged her face as she died.

Everybody had given up the pretence of work and was listening to the staccato tap, tap, tap of one finger hitting one key, over and over on a keyboard. At length, Hayes got to his feet, drawing the attention of the other.

"I'm going to a get a coffee. Anyone else want one?"

His offer was gratefully received although the tapping persisted.

Once outside in the corridor, Hayes carried on past the coffee machine and on to the nearest Commpost where he punched up Medical Centre.

Having been apprised of the situation by a nurse on reception, Doctor Russell returned to the grieving assembly in the waiting room.

"Nothing serious?" John asked when she resumed her seat.

"She passed her fingers through the back of her hair. "Ruth's just spoken to Simon Hayes. Tony's in Command Centre, apparently. Simon seems to think he's acting strangely and wanted to know how Maya was because Tony told him she's fine."

"What the hell is he doing in Command Centre?" Alan wanted to know. He had taken Sandra home like John had asked but they had sat up talking, knowing that sleep wouldn't come easy for either of them. Finally, Alan had asked if they could come and wait for news in Med.Centre. Upon arrival, they found that John Koenig, the Frazers, Kate Andrews and surprisingly, Crato already occupied the waiting room. They learnt that Tony was next door with Maya who was yet to regain consciousness.

Bill Frazer said quietly, "The poor guy probably just didn't know what to do with himself."

"What was he supposed to do?" Kate agreed. "It wasn't like he was going to go back to his quarters and catch up on his sleep."

"Which I daresay is exactly what he needs to do," said the Commander.

Sandra flopped back against her seat and rubbed her puffy eyes. "And everything will seem so much better in the morning," she said with leaden sarcasm.

"He thinks he's to blame," said Helena. "He's convinced himself her body couldn't cope with the amount of alcohol she consumed and she reacted against it."

"Is he right?" asked John.

Helena paused while she considered her answer. "Initially, I thought so but now I'm leaning towards the other possibility of there being a connection with the Seabed tour."

With Maya gone, so was patient confidentiality and Helena detailed the symptoms Maya had mentioned upon her return to Alpha.

"Maybe I wasn't thorough enough," Helena chastised herself. "She told me she was fine the following day and I didn't follow up on it."

John said gently, "You were given no reason to."

"I shouldn't have needed a reason."

Sandra and Alan were looking questioningly at each other until Sandra seemed to come to a decision and said with urgency, "Tell her Alan. Tell her what you told me."

Alan looked torn. "I don't want to speak out of turn or anything..."

"It doesn't matter," said John. "What's on your mind?"

"Well, you know when we were standing outside the Travel Tube earlier? Everyone was laughing at some joke Simon had just made and I said something to Maya about it. She didn't hear and she was kind of studying her left hand with this real serious look on her face. I thought at the time that maybe she was having second thoughts about marrying Tony but looking back, it could've been she was getting pain from it." Alan demonstrated by lifting his hand up. "She wriggled her fingers around like this. And then she shivered, like a ghost had walked through her."

Helena sat forward, trying hard to push her tired brain into gear. "So, it could have been a re-emergence of the symptoms she suffered before."

Annette Frazer was unconvinced of any link. "But why would it suddenly come back after, what did you say, six months?"

"She could've picked up a germ, bacteria, anything on Seabed. Some micro-organism which lay dormant in her body all that time," Helena speculated.

John was warming to the theory. "Triggered by the beer maybe?"

"I suppose that is a possibility or maybe it was pure coincidence, that it should happen at the party. It might have happened at any time and the trigger could have been the metamorphosis."

"But if there were signs of it before she transformed..." Kate put in.

"Who else was with that planetfall?" Helena shot at John.

He thought quickly. "It was only a small team. It only warranted a cursory survey. Other than myself, there was Bill here, Dave Reilly and Maya of course. You think we could have whatever Maya had?"

Annette looked at her husband nervously and Bill and John exchanged glances.

"But the tests you ran," John pointed out, "you didn't find anything organically malignant did you?"

"Time wasn't on our side, John. We were more concerned with finding a means to top it spreading. We could easily have missed something." Making a decision, Helena told him, "I want blood samples off you and Bill and I need Dave Reilly to come to Medical too. If there is the slightest chance that anyone else might die, we need to know. We have to have some idea of what we could be up against." Helena's mind was suddenly aghast with the knowledge that an autopsy would have to be performed on Maya's dead body. She knew with certainty that she wouldn't be present herself, that was something she couldn't handle right now.

"Whether anyone else is in danger or not, finding the cause of what's happened may go some way to helping Tony come to terms with it all." The remark Bill made reminded them all that Tony was in need of some attention over in Command Centre.

"I'll see if I can at least get him to go to his quarters," said John, standing up.

Helena nodded in agreement. "He shouldn't have to come back here but he's probably in shock. I'd like to check him over and see that he gets some sleep."

George Crato spoke up then for the first time since Helena Russell had rejoined. "I would like to go to him," he said and as he got to his feet, looked about him, adding, "if that is okay with everyone."

Koenig couldn't hide his surprise. Of all of them gathered here, Crato was the one he would least expect to put himself forward. He hadn't even realised that he and Tony were that friendly.

"Sure George, thanks." He smiled appreciatively. "I'll still be here if you run into difficulties. He's going to be pretty cut up - don't expect much co-operation."

"I think maybe I understand how he is feeling. I'll talk to him."

George Crato left a depressive silence in his wake.

"I know he lost his wife back on Earth a few years ago," said Annette, glumly. "I have heard it hit him very hard at the time."

It was just coming up to 6:00a.m. George Crato refused to meet anyone's curious interest as he stepped into Command Centre and walked directly to where Verdeschi sat looking vacantly up at the Big Screen.

"So what are you hanging around in here for?" he asked confidently. "You come with me. We'll get ourselves some coffee in the canteen, okay?"

Tony lifted his stubbled chin. "What?" he asked hazily.

"Come on boy." He clapped him on the shoulder, which seemed to galvanise him into action. "You got no business in here at this time of day and neither have I. Maybe we see about breakfast."

Tony allowed himself to be lead away through the main doors.

"What time is it anyway?" Tony scraped the palm of his hand over his lower face.

"Six o'clock. Long night eh?"

Tony didn't reply. He was looking across at the open area of the Travel Tube car they were in on the short journey to the larger of the two base canteens. The area was there to accommodate the transportation of bulky machinery and equipment and of course, stretcher trolleys going to and from Medical. He remembered vividly the last ride he had taken.

The bright and spacious canteen was empty apart from a couple of domestic maintenance workers who were about to go on shift. Word had got around about the previous night. Everybody knew there had been a medical emergency involving the Psychon but few were as yet privy to the appalling outcome. The maintenance men looked as though they were about to come over to their table as they sat down with cups of coffee but Crato fended off their enquiring glances with a severe shake of his head. Tony didn't see Crato's stern expression and the raised hand, warning them away as his head descended into his hands. George stirred two spoons of synthetic sugar into his black, synthetic coffee flavoured drink.

"So." He took a sip of the hot liquid. "You don't want to talk about it. Good, we won't talk about it. I know what you're feeling. My wife died, ten years ago now. That was unexpected to. One day she's fine, the next she's on an operating table and then...pwwph..." he slammed his hand down flat on the shiny beige surface of the canteen table. "Crato is a widower."

Tony looked up, startled by the noise, only to subside back down with sagging shoulders.

"And now I'm supposed to ask you about your wife and suddenly it'll all make sense and I can carry on with my life, is that it?" His tone was almost conversational.

"You don't want to talk about Maya and that's okay because I can't talk about my wife. Ten years is a long time but not long enough. Time may be a great healer but it depends how much it hurts to begin with, you know. Do you want some breakfast now?"

The sudden change in direction threw Tony and he shook his head dumbly. Chair legs squealed when Crato pushed his seat back and went to get himself a bowl of cereal from the vending machine on the counter top. He still wasn't allowing it to register. He could feel himself holding it back because he knew he couldn't handle it yet - if ever. His head ached with the strain.

Crato returned to the table and began to eat, a porridge-like mash that was surprisingly palatable.

"You know you look like shit?" Crato observed.

"Do you think I care?" Tony fired back, angered by the sub-ordinates' insolence.

"Of course you don't. That's why I'm telling you. Go home and have a shower, then try to get some sleep. If you can't sleep, Doctor Russell is on standby with the promise of enough tranquillisers to fell an elephant." Crato carried on eating while he talked.

"Just who do you think you are, my father?"

Crato smiled warmly. "Your father? Ah, no. On Earth I had...maybe still have, who knows... two sons, one a waster, the other a shirker and both with an attitude that at times would almost have me deny them my name. You have only one out of these three traits, fortunately the one which can sometimes be put to good use and seeing as you don't share my name, we don't have a problem."

Tony was looking at the white haired Greek in amazement. "Crato, what the hell are you talking about?"

"I'm telling you that there is nothing wrong with a little fatherly advice and maybe easing my conscience at the same time."

"And what have you got on your conscience?"

"I wasn't there for my boys when their mother died because I was too concerned about myself. I shut myself away and shut them out."

"Then it's lucky for me I don't have kids isn't it?" Tony said bitterly.

"I also feel bad about the remarks I made at the party. I only said those things in jest."

"Well there's no smoke without fire is there? Does that salve your bruised sensibilities?" Tony gulped down a few mouthfuls of his coffee.

"I know you loved her and so did she. That's all that matters now."

Tony's shoulders lifted with a ghost of a laugh.

"Something funny?"

Locking his fingers together around the coffee cup, Tony replied, "I think it surprised everyone when I fell for Maya." He wiped a hand across his lips quickly. It felt odd saying her name out loud like that when it had been trapped, catapulting around in his head for so long. He laughed shortly. "God, it even surprised me. I had a reputation for finding conquests rather than relationships."

"Oh, I know that," Crato gave him a rye smile.

"The first time I met her was over at Security. I was meant to be interrogating her after she was brought back from Psychon. She was trying so hard not to cry. Her father had just been killed and she'd been taken prisoner to all intent and purposes by an alien race but she was determined not to break down in front of me. I remember, I kept forgetting to speak because I couldn't take my eyes off her. I just wanted to look at her and listen to her voice." He took another drink. "The Commander told me afterwards how close he came to picking my jaw up while we were in there. You know, I actually wanted her to break down in tears just so that I could touch her, even if it was just to put my hand on hers. Maya said it had been the strange expression on my face that had kept her from crying, she was worried what I was going to do to her."

Tony laughed far too loudly and the unnatural sound reverberated around the canteen. He mashed the palms of his hands into his closed eyes to dash away the unexpected surge of tears. "Sorry... sorry George. Sitting here blubbing isn't going to solve anything."

"You may as well try it until you find something that works better."

"I can't get it out of my head that if it wasn't for that beer..." he rested his fingertips at his temples, "that rat's-piss beer... she'd be okay."

Crato saw an opening and took it.

"Doctor Russell's running tests on Bill Frazer, the Commander and Dave Reilly. She seems to think it may be something, a virus or something that Maya picked up when she was in the Seabed landing party."

"Yeah, she mentioned something about Seabed." He sniffed and rubbed his damp hands down the front of his jeans. "But no one else has been ill. Why Maya?" His own words rang painfully in his ears. "Why Maya?" he cried out and sank heavily onto the table top as deep, unfamiliar sobbing enveloped his whole body and he lost awareness of everything around him. A hot, floating sensation overtook him and a black, desolate voice in his head wished him dead.

It was now thirty-six hours since the death of the Psychon, Maya. George Crato had helped Tony Verdeschi back to his quarters where he had agreed to have a sedative administered when Doctor Russell arrived. He would have agreed to anything that morning

Helena took the blood samples she required and entrusted them to the Lab. Staff while she snatched a few hours sleep. She was painfully aware that if she had missed something earlier with Maya, then her exhausted brain stood little chance of spotting it now. Only now, John and the others lives could be at stake as well. She cried herself to sleep with John at her side, whispering to her words of comfort as much for his own sake as hers.

Tony had awoken from his induced sleep with the thought that all people at that moment who had ever been in his position must wonder if they were waking from a nightmare. He had lain in bed, his arm over the place where Maya would so often be but he didn't cry again. He had cried long and hard in the company of Crato and Helena and his initial grief had been spent.

He had dragged himself from the bed to use the toilet and then fell back into bed, which was where Helena had found him an hour later. Kneading listlessly at the bed sheet, he was visibly trembling. He readily accepted the pills Helena offered and asked for a prescription of them, which was quickly denied. He had refused food on the grounds that he wouldn't be able to keep anything down and Helena was prepared to let it ride but stipulated he had to eat something by suppertime. Tony was adamant that Joanna Craven should be given Maya's engagement ring to make the necessary adjustments as promised. It was obviously important to him and was the only point in their somewhat one-sided conversation that Tony showed any animation. Once Helena agreed to get the ring to Joanna, Tony again lost interest and showed no concern as she tried to explain to him her reasons for investigating the Seabed survey. He simply didn't care. Maya was dead and now the cause or the dangers to anybody else were irrelevant. Their survival on Alpha was precarious at the best of times and Helena had to wonder if Tony had just lost his reason to keep up the fight.

It was 13:00p.m when Nurse Carmichael placed a plate of sandwiches surreptitiously on the corner of Doctor Russell's desk.

"Julia, I said I didn't want anything," said the doctor in a monotone. She didn't look up from the sheaf of papers she was currently pawing over. Several other reports based on the Seabed survey were arranged in neat piles over her desk.

"I thought you might manage something if it was there," she answered and added, "You really should eat something, Doctor Russell."

Helena's eyes flickered up to meet those of the young nurse. "I know. I will, I promise. Thank you" and she smiled her appreciation. Just as she lowered her head to begin reading again, Julia said almost apologetically, "Errm, by the way. Doctor Vincent said to tell you that he's planning the autopsy for 15:30 p.m. this afternoon if that's okay with you."

Helena crossed her legs under the desk and laid a fingertip over the word in the section of the report she had reached. Her body language said far more than the single word she uttered. "Fine."

"Oh, and here's the ring." Delving into a side pocket of her uniform, she produced the glittering object and laid it near the sandwiches, atop one of the piles of paper.

"Thank you," she said with sincerity. Drawing that ring off the finger of her dead friend was not something she had felt capable of doing herself.

She finished the summary report John Koenig had written, before throwing it down unceremoniously. The bloods that the Lab. had analysed for her had all come back perfectly normal - nothing present that shouldn't be and nothing lacking. Koenig, Frazer and Reilly had all submitted to medicals within the last six months and then, as now showed no abnormalities. The blood samples taken from Maya when she was first admitted had been normal too, normal for Maya anyway. It had corresponded perfectly with her previous typing. So what could possibly have caused the cells to freeze as they had done, not only blood but tissue cells as well?

Helena reached out for the ring that the nurse had left on top of Dave Reilly's report. She looked into the fiery centre of the stone and ran a fingernail over the delicately engraved metal shoulders that clasped it in place. Joanna Craven had made a nice job of it, Maya must have been thrilled. In her minds' eye, she saw what Alan Carter had described, Maya holding up her hand. Studying it? Examining what? Her ring or her hand? Had Alan seen a look of disdain fleetingly pass over her face or an expression of pain?

About to put the ring back down, her hand hovered over the Geologists' report. She snatched up the A4 sheets and flicked through quickly, scanning the various headings and subsections. There was something, something that she wasn't seeing, something obvious. Suddenly she stopped. Samples analysis - a short piece as there had been little in the way of usable materials on Seabed. There was a submission by the Meturlogist in Dave's department; lists of figures, percentages, weights, none of them meaning much to Helena. But she was sure they were significant. She felt the ring pressing into the palm of her left hand as she clutched it tightly. She had a feeling she knew where Joanna Craven's source of materials had come from and if she was right, it looked as though the rest of the survey team was in the clear. She glanced down at the untouched sandwich before leaving her office to take the ten minute Travel Tube journey half way across the base to the Geological section.

Dave Reilly didn't look particularly busy. He was sitting behind the central workbench on a high lab. stool, pushing a small dusting brush back and forth between two fixed points in front of him. He appeared to be alone in the department although there were many small storage rooms leading off from various points where other staff could be working.

Helena called his name and he raised his head, scowling. His expression softened a little as he recognised her.

"And what brings Doc. Russell round this neck of the woods?"

She approached the workbench, holding the ring up for him to see.

"Can you tell me what this is?"

"You wouldn't want me to be stating the obvious here now would you?" He took it from her and sat back with a sigh, putting a scope to his eye to examine it.

"Primarily, I'd like to know where the components that went into making it would have come from," she told him.

"I take it this is Maya's ring?"

"It is, yes."

He made a grunting sound. "Nice choice of rock. Mister Verdeschi's I suppose?"

"Presumably, I don't know."

It was an open secret, the dislike Reilly and Verdeschi had for each other; brought about by the fact that Reilly didn't make any secret of his interest in Maya.

"There'll be some sort of ceremony will there? I'd like to pay my respects. I... I really liked Maya. It wasn't all about winding Tony up you know." His eyes wanted Helena to believe him.

Helena nodded solemnly. "She'll be greatly missed by a lot of people. I should imagine the Commander will make an announcement tomorrow about the funeral arrangements."

Reilly returned to the ring. "If you don't mind me asking Doc, why do you want to know?"

As soon as the question was out, the answer dawned on him. "You think this stone came from Seabed don't you?" he exclaimed. "You said this morning when you took the blood sample from me arm that you thought maybe Maya had contracted something down on Seabed. Do you think whatever killed her came back with us to Alpha?"

"If it was from a sample which came into your department, I'd say that her illness was unique to Maya. Rocks, metals, they would all have been handled by other people here wouldn't they?"

"For sure. Everyone jumps right in when a survey team comes back with the booty." Dave eased himself down off the stool. "But only Maya got sick."

Taking the ring with him, he strode off towards one of the small anterooms behind him. "I can tell you fairly easily where this would've come from. We keep an allocation database. Every time something goes in or out, the date, time, size, weight, destination, purpose and so on gets logged on the computer."

Helena followed him through into the broom cupboard of a room and watched hopefully as he entered a series of instructions through the keyboard.

"So," he asked, "how do you want to go about this? We can bring up a list of what was brought up from Seabed or it might be easier if it's narrowed down to what Bev Hatton's been working with over the past few weeks."

"She's Joanna Craven's friend?"

"That she is. Joanna comes in from time to time and Bev signs out the bits and bobs she wants for this jewellery making malarkey. We've got a whole storage unit full of what you might call 'sundry items'; interesting rocks, lumps of stone, fragments of metal ores that might be of some use if we had a thousand times the quantity."

"And Bev would've logged even these sundry items that Joanna wanted on the database?"

"Everything." Dave had a series of project codes up on the screen. "There you go, three-two-seven-five, sundry allocations. I doubt there'll be much there."

He requested a two-month period to display and got only eleven items listed.

"Right then. We can narrow this right down to five. See? Three metals and two gemstones." His fingers stabbed impatiently at the keyboard and Helena waited, the screens changing too rapidly for her to keep up with the text. Dave smiled. "All signed out to Joanna Craven." His eyes followed the data. "Neither of the stones was from Seabed... bingo! Looks like you were right Doc, here it is. Given atomic number GA17, atomic weight 171.2, relative density 14.4, highly ductile and malleable - origin: Seabed. Allocated to Joanna Craven for recreational purposes sixteen days ago."

"Thanks Dave, I guess that's all I need to know."

For some reason, proving herself correct didn't have the accompanying feeling of gratification she might have expected. What did it matter, other than showing that John, Bill and Dave were definitely in the clear.

Maya didn't know if she was dead or not. She wasn't even aware that she had actually died. She felt very little other than her own existence in whatever form that might take. She knew her own name but couldn't say it, couldn't imagine what the word would sound like. She thought she may be cold but she wasn't sure what had given her that impression. Gradually, coherent thoughts began to take shape, unpleasant thoughts and memories. She had been hurting badly, excruciating pain the like of which she had never experienced before. And she had known a primeval fear; an all-consuming desire to hang on to life as it was being brutally ripped away form her. There had been other people with her who were trying to help but couldn't. Someone else in pain, talking, comforting, crying, needing her. Yes, it was cold but that was possibly a good thing because it meant she was gaining physical feeling. Slowly at first, a tingling sensation began to stream through her. She was again conscious of her physical self. Molecules stirred uncomfortably within her, jostling strenuously to keep together or maybe to tear her apart. No, oh no, not again, not like before... but it didn't come. The tingling became more intense but was tolerable. She could feel the uncontrollable energy fizzing violently throughout her body, not just in her limbs but actually inside her torso and internal organs. She could do nothing but wait and hope that any new change would be for the better.

"How can I tell him, John?"

"Don't tell him, not yet. Get Joanna to go ahead with the alterations and let Tony have it back. Tell him then if you think he's up to it," Koenig told Helena.

"And if he isn't up to it, what then?" she asked miserably.

"Then we have to decide how important the truth is in this instance," he said gently.

Helena gave him a sharp look. "I couldn't live with that on my conscience and neither could you."

"You're right, I know. Look, give Joanna Craven the ring, at least that'll give you some time. We can work out how we're going to deal with this nearer the time. With luck, Tony will have come to terms with it all in a couple of days."

"I sure hope you're right."

John noticed her hand was shaking as she reached out for her drink. "You alright?"

She nodded and the cup began to tremble with increasing violence in her fingers. John reached for it deftly and placed it back down on the table. "No, you're not."

"It's been a complete nightmare, John." Tears were trickling over her flushed cheeks. "She died in such a grotesque way and I'll always be wondering if there was something I could've done to..."

"There was nothing," he told her with conviction. "Maya has always been an enigma as far as the medical department is concerned and I'm quite positive if there was any chance of you saving her, she'd still be with us now. There's no point beating yourself up about it."

Helena smiled weakly and wiped the back of her hand across her tear stained face. "Another half hour and Ben will be starting the autopsy," said Helena, checking her watch. She grimaced. "He'll have to use cutting lasers. It seems... pointless, in a way. It can hardly be a conventional autopsy can it, not the way she died. I can see Ben having to abandon it."

John agreed. "I don't see how it could prove anything either way in Mayas' case anyway. Whatever is found could be explained away by her Psychon physiology."

Helena had her elbows resting on the table. Determinedly, she pressed her lips against her inter-linked fingers before voicing her decision. "It's just a formality isn't it, medical procedure. I'm going to tell Ben not to go ahead. Tony can do without any more heartache. Having his fianc's corpse sliced up and mutilated isn't going to make it any easier for him to deal with."

The harsh words offended her own ears and she looked at John guiltily. For reply, he leant forward and placed a pacifying hand on her shoulder.

There had developed an odd atmosphere across the base in the intervening hours since Maya's death. Although all too familiar with bereavement since Breakaway, the loss of a senior officer was a shock. A life was a life but the death of a Command Team member somehow made those remaining feel that little bit more vulnerable. It had happened before when Victor Bergman had passed sway and again only two months later when Paul Morrow and David Kano had lost their lives whilst participating in a doomed reconnaissance flight. Their deaths created gaps in the wall of defence between Alpha and cold, infinite, unimaginable space. And Maya, who strictly speaking wasn't one of their number but had more or less come to be accepted as such, she had represented an almost supernatural force behind their continued wellbeing. She had provided extra opportunities of survival with her unique inhuman abilities. She had also provided the very human virtues of faith, perseverance and dedication to the Command Team. Koenig's base-wide announcement had razed moral to the ground and left many people to mourn the demise of an unexpected source of friendship on Moonbase Alpha. Tony Verdeschi, the Italian chief and security officer of the base had lost much more than a friend in the Psychon woman. Over the many months since she had joined them, the initial curious interest they had shown in each other had developed into full-blown attraction, which finally matured into love. Tony wasn't the type to fall hard but he had done for Maya. Of course it went without saying that he had never met a woman like her before, how could he have done? She didn't fit into any of the stereotyped categories he was guilty of putting women into, nor was she even aware that they existed. The image she presented to him was a true reflection of herself, for she had never had the opportunity to learn of womanly wiles during her restricted pubescent years on Psychon. Tony had sometimes wondered how other people got through the days with little more than the hope of one-day implementing Exodus. He couldn't imagine a life without Maya now, she had become an integral part of his existence and a part of every reason for everything he did.

Everyone felt for him. It wasn't pleasant to see such a tough and resilient, fun loving individual crumble so readily. Alan Carter had visited him in his quarters in the late afternoon after consulting with Helena. She had advised him to try to act as naturally as possible around him but that had been easier said than done. Tony had clearly been making a supreme effort to hold himself together and conversation was stilted. Clad still in the pyjama bottoms which he had slept in after returning from Medical, he prowled nervously about, only half listening to Alan's valiant attempt to strike a balance between platitudes and sympathy. He came away with a feeling of defeat trailing him. He'd thought somehow he would have been able to reach him. They were mates. They knew what made each other tick. But when it came down to it, he wasn't Maya.

Helena Russell visited for the third time at around 19:00p.m, this time with Koenig. They were on their way to dinner and although she didn't expect him to join them, she wanted to check how he was doing and hopefully find him amenable to her bringing a tray of food back to him.

After announcing their arrival at the door, Helena let herself in. She had set the door release to automatic previously - just in case.

"Tony?" she called softly into the semidarkness of the living area. There was a stale odour about the place and she crossed to the air conditioning control by the bedroom door. Tony almost ran into Helena as he stumbled through the doorway, mashing the heels of his hands against swollen eyelids.

"Uhh, Helena." He ambled past her. "I was dreaming." He scrubbed at his thickly bristling chin which was beginning to itch and half smiled at John as he carried on into the living room.

"I'm sorry. We shouldn't have disturbed you," Koenig apologised and sought to conceal his discomfort at seeing Verdeschi in such a sorry state. The Italian turned, swaying on unsteady legs and smiled at them both strangely..

"I was dreaming," he said again.

Helena was at his side, guiding him to the sofa. "Well, why don't you just sit down here for a second?"

John went into the bathroom and fetched a glass of water.

"I dreamt about Maya." He sounded happy, like his old self. "We were sunbathing on a beach - Earth I suppose. Weird thing to dream about." He chucked quietly, accepting the water off John. "It was... peaceful."

Helena nodded. "That's good Tony. Good for you!" Quickly, she waved her Bio-Scanner over him. "You know, you'd feel better if you ate something."

He made a face. "I'm not hungry. I couldn't eat anything anyway."

"I could order you to eat," said John, only half jokingly. "We'll bring you a meal back later. Eat what you can, okay?"

"I want to see her." He looked from one to the other, swallowing hard. "I want to see Maya."

Helena felt, rather than saw John's look. "I don't think that's a good idea Tony," Helena told him anxiously.

"Why?" he asked bluntly.

"You're upset and I don't think you should have to deal with that right now."

Tony still had the glass of water in his hands and was grasping it tightly enough to shatter. "No, no. don't you see? My last memory of her is of seeing her die in a hospital bed. I need to see her at peace."

"I can understand that but... maybe in a day or so, when you're more yourself."

"I'll be more myself when I can see her. Helena, I was brought up a Catholic, we pay our respects to the dead in person. I need to see her, say a prayer, do something, I don't know. Helena, please," he asked beseechingly. He appealed to John. "I have a right don't I?"

"Helena?" Koenig was apparently with Tony.

Doctor Russell sighed in resignation. "Alright but only on the condition that you have some dinner beforehand. I don't want you passing out on me."

Tony's relief was sharp.

"Look," said John. "Why don't I send someone over from the kitchens with a meal and then you'll have time to get yourself cleaned up before you go, okay?"

"Yeah, yes, I'll do that," he said gratefully.

"We'll come back at, he looked at Helena, "say eight?"

"Make it eight fifteen. That'll give you an hour," she said to Tony.

He sucked in a deep and tremulous breath. "Thank you."

Koenig put a comforting hand to his shoulder. "I've tried to imagine how I'd feel in your place but I can't. I guess that means it must be pretty painful."

Tony raised his eyes to his but didn't speak.

"When you want to talk, I'm here, so don't let it bottle up for too long. We all loved her - might do us all some good."

John stood up and Helena followed suit, stooping to kiss Tony's cheek. "See you later" she whispered against his ear.

"You know," said John, moments later as they started down the corridor," what Maya called transforming, centuries ago on Earth would've been called witchcraft. I know it's stupid but I think I always assumed there was a kind of immortality wrapped up in there too."

"The white witch who lives forever?"

"Something like that." He squeezed her hand tightly in his. "Not much of a fairytale ending though is it?"

"I felt so guilty in there. I kept thinking we shouldn't have gone together. It was like we were rubbing salt in the wound. Everything came out as 'we' this and 'we' that."

"People can't stop being couples just to avoid causing offence," John pointed out. "Anyway, it's probably just you being hypersensitive, honey."

They took the Travel Tube in silence, each with their own thoughts.

"I meant what I said back there," said Koenig as he helped himself to the evening's selection of hot food.

"About what?" Helena passed him the ladle for the dish of textured meat substitute casserole.

"About... " He stopped as a woman bearing a pot of vegetables approached from the other side of the hot counter.

"Wendy!" The Commander got her attention. The middle aged catering assistant greeted them both warmly and Koenig gave his request for a tray to be taken as soon as possible to Tony Verdeschi's quarters.

"About what?" Helena tried again when the woman had gone about her task.

"I really can't imagine how I'd react if you died like that, died any way for that matter."

She shrugged. "Different people respond differently to death. Some people take it in their stride, or at least seem to and then crack up six months down the line. It's far healthier to grieve at the outset like Tony."

"Would you say he's coping?"

"I think for now, yes. He's depressed, obviously but so long as it's not allowed to slide, he'll probably be functioning pretty much as normal within a few weeks."

"You think so?" John asked.

"Well, that's taking an optimistic view. Given our situation, death has never been an easy thing to get over. There's nowhere to hide is there? It's a claustrophobic environment where we live in each other's pockets and if you can't physically get away from it, the only other option is mental retreat. And I think it's getting harder for everyone. Every time we loose someone else, it's like our community is being eroded away."

"I feel that too. Maybe it's a sign that our birth policy should be reviewed before it's too late for us to repopulate.

"I think so," was all she said. She had been waiting to hear something along those lines for a long, long time. If they couldn't have a new beginning on another world, then at least a fresh start here. It was time. They needed their future here and now but what that would mean for Tony was debatable.

A few mouthfuls were all he could manage but it was enough to get him through the ablutions necessary in making himself presentable. However, a shower and shave couldn't erase the deep shadows smearing his face and reflected in his eyes nor the feeling of aloneness that had begun to ebb and flow through him. She was gone. Nothing else. Nothing else was relevant. He was doing what he had to in order to be allowed what he was supposed to think of as a final goodbye. Tony didn't see it as anything quite so constructive. For him, it was more a base desire to be with her, for his senses to drink her in and remember in present tense.

He was unaware of the looks he drew as he walked in between John and Helena to the Medical Centre. Sympathy, curiosity, pity, goodwill, it was all lost on him as he was pulled inexorably to the Psychon.

"You're quite sure this is what you want, Tony?" Helena asked him as they entered Medical. "I'm sorry but I'm not convinced it's a good idea."

His need for Maya was intense but his logic was unable to see the futility of such an emotion. He could do little more than nod his assent while he clenched and unclenched his fists at his sides and his too bright eyes darted relentlessly to the squared hallway just off the far end of the reception area.

"Down there?" he asked for confirmation.

"Okay, come on." Over her shoulder, she murmured to John, "I'll catch up with you in my office. I'll only be a minute."

The door at the end of the hallway took them through to a large, open room that was used as the dispensary. Lightweight, metal racking was stacked with a huge array of containers used for storing anything from Metaclopramide to bandages. To one side of this regimentally tidy and organised area, a service lift was situated. It wasn't anything complicated, just straight up and down, either to the dispensary or to the facility installed underneath Medical, which served as a morgue. The place was little more than a box, brilliantly lit to expose the clinical white interior and containing two rows of five metal casket drawers set into the far wall. There was a long stretcher trolley in one corner stationed beside a single pedestal desk and chair. The desk had a white doctors' coat thrown across its' surface and a neatly rolled length of cotton gauze. There was no Commpost and no heating, as the occupants of this section of Alpha required neither.

Helena crossed haltingly to the drawers and pulled at the only one that was fitted with a little plastic insert on the front. It read 'Maya - Daughter of Mentor', her proper title in the absence of a surname. The drawer slid outwards silently on hydraulic runners to reveal the shrouded body of Maya. Verdeschi took a few steps forward and began to feel a dull thudding in his head like a rubber ball was being bounced around inside it. Without a word, Helena folded back the crisp white sheet as far as the collar bone and felt tears start as she looked upon the blank, pale face. Tony brushed against her as he moved forward again. He was smiling broadly, his head almost quizzically inclined and he was weeping freely and passionately.

"Call me when you want to come back up," Helena said. She leaned heavily against him, communicating her shared grief.

The lift went back up to the warm, softly alive world of Medical, leaving Tony alone. Although fully expecting her body to be as cold, impervious stone, he was unable to resist cupping his hand to her face. In a cruel way, it only served to compound his distress to find her flesh was once again soft to the gentle pressure of his fingertips. Whatever rigor had possessed her body before death had conversely dissipated afterwards.

"Oh, God," he choked out, taking her face in both hands now and falling forward to kiss her cold lips. Her rich mane of mahogany hair lay loose beneath her head and as always, Tony was unable to resist the temptation to dig his fingers deep into the silken mass as he pressed his mouth against her elegant white neck.

He pulled back suddenly. His imagination was playing unkind tricks. He thought that he had detected a trace of warmth at the nape of her neck and a heated aromatic scent about her skin. Fresh tears flowed over his cheeks and dripped down, making small, grey patches on the sheet. He wiped away a tear, which had spattered at the base of Mayas' throat. Cold. With unsteady hands, he drew the sheet off her body to reveal her nakedness. So smooth and pale and long limbed.

"I'll always love you, Maya," he whispered, "always,"

He took a shuddering breath as he caressed her left shoulder, down over the breastbone, round the contour of a gently rounded breast. The dark, taut nipple was surrounded by a pronounced aureole, delicately beaded and infinitely sensitive. Tony let the palm of his hand brush against the erect nipple and on into her slim waist, over the satin curve of her hip and over her flat belly. He stared hard at the radiating pattern of pigment, which spanned the smooth surface of the navel. Maya had explained to him how new-born Psychon babies had their umbilical cord cauterise and the natural pigment was dispersed according to the skill of the person performing the cauterisation. She had described it as part of their culture, a non-religious ceremonial occasion that went hand in hand with the birth of a child. As the child passed into puberty, tiny brown bumps appeared, forming a small circle around the scar. The more regular the circle, the more attractive it was considered to be. This was important to a Psychon, as the area was also an erogenous zone. That being the case, Tony studiously avoided lingering too long over that spot.

A noise, like a whispered sigh quickly brought him to attention. Instinctively, his gaze fell upon Maya. He looked behind him at the lift, not really knowing what he expected to see, then his eyes travelled around the stark walls, searching out the air ducts. The sound came again and he knew beyond doubt it was Maya.

"Maya?" He grabbed at her hand, his stomach lurching violently in a rollercoaster motion as his memory recalled the fact that corpses could sometimes accumulate a build up of gasses which when expelled, could even give the dead the appearance of life. Just for that split second, he had thought a miracle had occurred.

He smiled wearily. "Still playing tricks, Maya?"

Tony reached behind him and tugged the sheet back up over her legs and the smooth, darkly pigmented mound that nestled high between them. As the sheet covered her hips and stomach, he stopped. He looked again at the dark, stiff nipples of her breasts. Was that normal? Was that how she had died? Surely a lifeless body couldn't respond to cold temperatures in that way. The hand which lay in his twitched almost imperceiveably but Tony felt it like an electric shock shooting up the length of his arm and he leapt backwards with a yelp.


He fought against the rushing blackness that threatened his senses and pressed shaking fingers against the artery in Mayas' neck. There was nothing. He moved down half an inch and pressed down hard, afraid that the pounding of his heart would obliterate any outside sensation. There was a pulse, he was sure of it. He grasped her wrist and felt about until he got another feathery but regular beat. He was sweating now, despite the chill in the air.

"Oh shit," he said again. "Maya, can you hear me? I'm here Maya, okay? It's okay now, it's okay," Tony stammered. Tearing off the navy blue uniform jacket he had on, he tried his best to tuck it around her body, realising he needed to get her warm. Awkwardly, he managed to get his arms under her and hoist her up. The sheet which was still draped over her, trailed along the floor in front of him, perilously close to tripping him up as he staggered to the lift. He strained to lift his arm high enough to punch the lift call button with a knuckle before stumbling inside. Why hadn't he called ahead on his Commlock first? Stupid, stupid. It could be dangerous to move her. He didn't know what kind of a state she was in.

Verdeschi made a horribly grim spectacle, lurching down the hallway from the dispensary with what was allegedly a dead body clutched in his arms.

"Mister Verdeschi!" a nurse cried out in alarm. "What are you doing?" For her, it was all too clear. She had heard he was taking it badly and this scene playing out before her was certainly reinforcing that theory.

She called out behind her. "Julia!" just as Julia Carmichael stuck her head out of the sluice room door. Quickly assessing the situation, she told the other nurse to get Doctor Russell.

"She's alive," Tony shouted. He began to laugh grotesquely.

By the time Helena, John and Ben Vincent arrived, Tony had gently deposited Mayas' limp form on the nearest ward bed and was frantically looking round for help.

"You've got to do something Helena, she's alive, look, she's alive." He saw the pity in their eyes. "I'm not mad," he cried desperately. "She's got a pulse, she's breathing, see for yourself."

"Tony, calm down," Helena told him. Quietly, she berated herself, "Why didn't I see this coming?"

Tony was pushing Vincent away. "Scan her. Go on man, scan her."

Ben slowly drew his Bio-Scanner from his coat pocket and looked at the Commander.

"Go ahead, Ben," John sighed and starred down at the grey tiled floor disconsolately, his hands on his hips as he waited for the inevitable verdict.

Helena tried to move Tony away from the bed, saying, "I know it's hard Tony. You just have to understand that..."

"And you have to understand that Maya isn't dead."

Ben Vincent read the Bio-Scanner and whispered incredulously, "He's right. I don't understand it, it isn't possible."

"Help her." Tony's desperate plea galvanised the medical staff into action and she was placed on life support inside a few minutes.

This time though, her body responded positively to their ministrations and Maya made steady improvement throughout the rest of the night.

For five days she remained somewhere on the edge of consciousness. Those who wanted to visit were encouraged to do so in the hopes that she could be pulled through the haze which held her, trapped in a limbo world somewhere beyond their knowledge. For those five days, Maya lay inside her cocoon of flesh as it healed. She heard everything that went on around her but saw nothing. Occasionally, a familiar smell would reach her; sometimes she was aware of hands, touching the surface of her physical being. It was a reassuring sensation which she tried her hardest to respond to but it was like attempting to move an inanimate object using only the power of her mind when she didn't even know where that object was. Her success, she could only judge by comments voiced by those around her. It felt as though she was on the wrong side of a locked door that she couldn't even see. She had no sense of time and when things went quiet, she became frightened. Without outside contact, she was alone in her own personal void, maybe waiting, maybe lost forever.

She had been drifting aimlessly, deprived of all senses, for how long, she had no idea, when she heard the voices of Helena and Tony. That had opened up her world with terrifying insight. Suddenly she was given another dimension to conjure with, an explanation of sorts and a searing rush of panic. She knew then what had come after the pain and yet she was still existing somewhere. She wasn't dead but she didn't know how to make them understand that. She had heard Tony weeping and wanted so badly to find her way back to comfort him. But above all was the urgency in making him realise she was there. She screamed his name, lashing out into the dark, tumbling and soaring, jagged snaps of light bursting around her. The loose, flailing energy at last made contact with skin and flesh and bone and Tony's cry of alarm told her she had moved some part of her body sufficiently for him to notice. A crushing, protective force enveloped her and she sensed she was leaving the cold place soon.

People came and went. Many voices saying many different things. John Koenig, tentative at first, as though embarrassed to hear his own voice, updated her on Command Centre events. The more he talked, the easier the words flowed and he told her how she was missed at her post and not just for her operative skills.

Sandra Benes, who having been told by doctor Vincent that she should assume that Maya was hearing all that was said to her, gave her a rather informative talk on Astral Projection. Sahn said that if Maya really could hear her, now might be a good time to try it out for herself.

Alan Carter told her to hurry up and pull herself together because things were getting pretty dull without her. He told a couple of jokes but then apologised for the first being too blue and for forgetting that the name 'Quasimodo', in the second wasn't likely to mean anything to Maya anyway. Then he got all emotional, kept calling her 'mate' and made a sharp exit.

There were visits from Tech. Lab. staff and two of the Eagle crew. Shermeen came along with Eddie Collins in tow and between them, they enthusiastically described their current work on a wild rice hybrid. Bill and Annette Frazer came bringing Dave Bartlett with them and Dave Reilly risked a five-minute visit after first checking with a nurse that he wasn't encroaching on anyone else's visiting time. Helena Russell was able to stop by several times a day and keep a regular check on Maya's progress.

Tony Verdeschi spent every second of his free time in her hospital room. He did everything he could think of to get through to her. On one visit, he might come armed with a book of Shakespeare and read aloud a few scenes from 'Othello'. A few hours later, he would be back to read extracts from 'A Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy'. He played her music, anything from Elton John to highlights from Puccini's 'Tosca'. His moods seemed to be either up or down, never anything inbetween. Either he was fired up with a bright optimism for her imminent recovery or, at his worst on one occasion in the middle of the night, he had woken up and gone to Medical, convinced she was still dying. He had wept for an hour, hopelessly and helplessly. The following morning, before breakfast, he'd gone back, told her he knew how pathetic he had been and joked that he'd probably put her off the conscious state altogether. In fact, it had had quite a positive effect. Over the past few days, Maya had been gathering strength. She now knew she was only waiting, it was just a matter of time until she was whole again. She felt it was close.

She was listening to George Crato tell her about his wife. Anna's death, he said, had destroyed him totally for many months and during that time, his sister-in-law's family cared for his sons.

"Nobody understood how much she meant to me," he said. "Even my boys, as much as I loved them, they couldn't fill the gap she left in my life. I didn't want to live. I confess this now, to you, because when we thought you were dead, I saw this in Tony. If you couldn't be with him, he wanted to be with you. I knew this was at the back of his mind as a way out of his situation. When he could live without you no more, he would follow you. Believe me, Maya, I see it in his eyes." Crato patted her hand, lying on top of the bedsheet. "You must wake up now, okay? Make Tony happy again. He thinks maybe you live, maybe you don't. You've been this way a long time now. These doctors say for too long, this long is not good for your brain or something like this." He sighed deeply and nodded to Julia Carmichael as she came in carrying a fresh saline pack.

Squinting against the unaccustomed light, Maya had a sudden rushing flood of relief course through her at the sight of George Crato. Her lips parted to speak but she couldn't make the sounds come from her throat. It didn't matter, he was looking at her anyway.

"Sleeping Beauty!" he exclaimed joyfully.

Julia beamed. "About time!"

Maya remained in her hospital bed for another week. Although she was fully conscious from the moment she opened her eyes again for the first time, her body remained stiffly uncooperative. She was plagued with muscle cramps and bouts of pins and needles. She ached all over and felt sore and bruised as her hands and hip had done six months before, after her return from Seabed. It was obvious now that it had been Maya herself who had collected the metal ore from which GA17 had been extracted. Dave Reilly had pointed out that after picking up the raw material, Maya would have put it into the sample bag slung over her shoulder. She would have continued the survey of Seabed with the bag swinging against her hip, which of course, explained the aches and pains of later.

"Maybe we should rename the stuff Kryptonite," Dave Reilly had said mildly, at a meeting convened to discuss the information gathered concerning Maya's illness.

Verdeschi had rounded on him, bristling with misplaced anger. "Why don't you just concentrate on getting every trace of that shit out of your department and into the nearest airlock."

Her circulation was extremely poor and therefore, Maya was permanently cold. To combat this, she took daily visits to the Solarium and had the privilege of hot baths instead of showers. Even walking was difficult at first, painful and laborious. Tests that Helena instigated revealed a thawing out process was occurring. Vital organs were totally clear of frozen cells now. The coma seemed to have been a form of self-preservation, allowing her to readjust slowly before her body began to function again at normal levels. Before the ring had been taken from her finger, she had been in what could only be described as suspended animation. If Tony hadn't been so insistent about having the ring altered, she would have been laid in a casket and jettisoned out into space days ago. Everyone was aware of what could have been. Of course, it was impossible to explain why Maya had reacted the way she had to the metal, just as it was impossible to understand how she performed her molecular transformations. It had happened but thankfully, it was over.

She endured hours of rigorous physio to get her limbs supple again. Initially, a few minutes at a time was all she could stand without feeling that she had been punched and kicked and generally beaten senseless. Even a hand rested on her arm felt like a slap had been dealt her. Quickly though, her traumatised body licked clean it's wounds. Within four days, Maya was back on her feet, albeit shakily and wanting her freedom. There was no way Doctor Russell was allowing that however. As far as she was concerned, her patient had come back from the dead and moving anywhere out of medical supervision would be out of the question. But it was true that Maya was making an astonishing recovery. By the seventh day, she freely admitted to still be experiencing some external discomfort but only to highlight the fact that she felt perfectly well otherwise. She had lost weight but that was to be expected. At first, she had been unable to swallow even the most pureed food offered and then when she did manage to eat, her stomach refused to keep anything down. She was pale and tired but the imposed lethargy had contributed to that. At first, Tony had agreed that leaving the safety net environment of Medical would be foolhardy, no matter how much better she felt. Left to him, she would have been wrapped in cotton wool and buried in an oxygen tent under twenty-four-hour watch. She was suffocating though. God knew their world on Alpha was limited as it was but at the moment, Maya's world had been condensed down to one room. Maya took the repeated refusals to release her good-naturedly to begin with. It was for her own good, she was teased. But the humour soon wore thin. Tony saw her unhappiness and frustration subtly increasing and suggested to Helena that maybe a compromise was in order. With a lot of persuasion and a little Italian charm, Helena agreed to entrust Maya to his care.

That night, Tony took Maya home with him to his quarters. Her relief at this outcome was absolute. She left Medical promising vehemently that on no account would she leave the quarters except to go to the Solarium and attend Physio sessions. Even on those occasions, she should be accompanied to her destination. Helena was insistent. Answers were thin on the ground and she was wary about accepting Maya's recovery at face value. Tony had collected most of Maya's personal belongings and arranged them amongst his own as he saw fit. She had precious little of her own. Having arrived on Alpha with only the clothes she stood up in, anything else she now owned had been either given or bequeathed. They all hand so little and yet, since Breakaway, he had started to think that maybe austerity was good for the soul. People genuinely cared about each other, their feelings mattered. There weren't the same material distractions to detract from what was important in life, namely, humanity. Yes, it was true that every so often, cracks would appear as had happened once with Greg Sanderson. But wasn't it also true, flaws could erupt in the human psyche within any society? The Alphans weren't perfect but they had a common cause that held them together. The survival instinct was a strong bond. Tony wondered how much this had to do with his feelings for Maya. He had been in love before but never, he realised now, to the point where he felt he couldn't want to live without that person. 'I can't live without you'. That glibly spoken line woven into so many tortured love songs throughout the years. Such a simple statement, bearing such an intense emotion. It was more than just a basic need to be close to someone too. After Breakaway, there had been a couple of women. During both relationships though, he had seesawed between user and used. Give and take had never seemed to coincide and Tony had had the cynical idea that both parties believed they had to be in a stable relationship to get them through the dark days. That had led to a succession of one night encounters, earning him a love 'em and leave 'em reputation. For a while, he'd thought, after Maya came along, it was just infatuation he felt for her. She was beautiful, intelligent and more importantly, as far as his self-assessment went, alien. He wanted to know everything about her. Her planet, her upbringing, her culture, her ideas and views on everything and everybody she encountered. He was intrigued and fascinated by her and consequently spent more time getting to know her than he had any other woman in his life. He had fallen in love almost against his will and had fought against it for a while. He treated the whole situation as a joke but when she did the same, it made him realise just how deep his feelings went. He had been assuming that this relationship would follow the same course as any other and it had been quite a shock to discover that this was 'the one'.

"You're staring."

"How do you know?"

"I know everything."

Tony had to smile as he looked into her pale face, snuggling against his shoulder.

"Do you know what I'm thinking now?"

"Do I want to know?" Languidly, Maya opened her blue eyes and lifted her beaded brows questioningly. The mushy expression he wore had her smiling right back.

He sighed and leaned his head back into the corner of the sofa. He had too much running through his mind to be able to concentrate on the film they were meant to be watching.

"I still can't believe you're here."

"I'm not sure that I am. I feel like I've been somewhere else for so long that..." Her voice petered out and she struggled to sit up, gasping for air.

"You okay?" Tony resisted the urge to pull her to him. Any physical contact had to be extremely gentle at the moment. She was still feeling fragile and sore. Her throat was tight and there was a rawness in her lungs that became a problem when she tried to speak more than a few words at a time. She was getting better every day but it still made Tony's heart beat faster just the same.

Recovering quickly, Maya nodded.

"Would you feel better in bed?" he asked.

"I'm happier here with you. I've spent the last week in bed."

"Are you still cold?" He was noticing the way she held her shoulders hunched. The room heating was already turned up full.

"A bit." Gingerly, she levered herself back until her head was resting against him once more. "You'll just have to keep me warm won't you?"

"Maya, you'd better be telling the truth about being well enough to be out of hospital," he warned. "Maybe I was being selfish, wanting you here with me."

"Selfish?" I was going mad in there! Anyway, stop worrying." Quietly she added, "it makes me feel guilty."

Tony turned his head awkwardly so he could see her face. "What have you got to feel guilty about?" he marvelled.

"When I was in the coma or whatever it was, you were always there. You tried so hard." She paused for a couple of deep breaths.

"What was I going to do, give up?"

"You were so desperately sad, Tony."

"Yes," he nodded gravely, "I was."

"I heard George Crato telling me that maybe if I died, you'd... you'd do something stupid."

Tony was silent for a moment. "Maybe I would've done. Fortunately now we'll never know."

"How could you even think something like that?" Her hand found his where it lay on her hip and she laced her fingers through the back.

"I don't know, it must be love," he grinned and kissed the top of her head.

"It isn't the least bit funny, Tony," she reprimanded, hearing the humour in his voice. "It's horrible and yes, that is selfish, to give up your responsibilities just because you can't have what you want." Maya coughed strenuously.

"Stop that!" he commanded with mock seriousness, causing her to cough even harder as she laughed. "Anyway, I've got you now, so climb down off your high horse."

Subsiding again, she asked, "My what?"

"You're moralising," and added flippantly, "I can't help it if I love you more than life itself."

Maya raised a finger aloft. "Shhh - listen."


"Can't you hear it?"

"Hear what?"

Maya cast him a sly look. "The sound of a thousand violins."

He rolled his eyes. "Funny. You're never going to let me forget that are you?"

"Certainly not."

"And I suppose you can remember word for word the rest of the "wild garbage" I've been spouting at you in Medical?"

"Naturally." She squirmed with delight at the reference.

He stroked her brown streaked cheek tenderly. "I'm not about to go back on any of it this time though."

"I know." He meant it, of that she was in no doubt. She had heard his innermost thoughts. She had felt his grief lying over her, thick like a blanket, a tangible emotion.

"I love you," he spoke matter of factly, "and I make no apologies for wanting to put what I feel for you above anybody or anything."

"Oltous," she whispered, the word that in her language had three meanings, depending on the way in which it was pronounced; one love, first love, only love. His mouth came down to meld warmly with hers but after only a couple of seconds, Maya drew back, breathing hard. They both laughed.

"Sorry," Tony said sheepishly. "It seems a long time since we've done that. I've missed you."

She gave him a half-hearted smile, which quickly turned into a grimace. Slowly, she manoeuvred herself round and up off the sofa. Tony held both hands out, precipitating a fall.

"What's wrong?" he asked urgently.

Maya couldn't keep still. She paced a couple of steps to the left, then back again, bent over, half turned and groaned loudly, shaking her head. "I'm alright. It's just those muscle cramps again," she gasped.

"Do you want a shot of that muscle relaxant?"

"No, I'd rather not." She got down on her haunches and rocked backwards and forwards, trying to ease the spasms in her carves. "It makes me drowsy and I get this heavy feeling." She stood up again, obviously still in a great deal of discomfort. "Do you mind if I go for a shower? It'll be better if I get warmer."

Tony's arms encircled her lightly. "You don't need to ask if I mind," he spoke softly. "You're living here, it's home."

Head tilted to one side, Maya said, "You're different."



"Course I'm attentive, you're ill. You died!"

"I didn't die. I didn't feel dead. I was suspended."

"It amounted to the same thing at the time. Anyway, it's true what they say, you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. But by some miracle, you're back and it makes me feel pretty lucky - speaking from a purely selfish point of view," he added with sarcasm which Maya appreciated.

"I won't be long," she said and dragged herself into the bathroom. Tony noted her still gauche movements and thought how unsettling it was to see her devoid of her usual catwalk grace.

"I got all the stuff out of your bathroom," he called. "Everything's in there."

"Thanks," she replied brokenly as she tried to raise her voice.

"Give me a shout if you drop the soap." He could feel her smile.

She was smiling. Despite everything and because of everything, she was immensely happy. It had seemed a very long day but she didn't want to waste what bit there was left of it by going to bed. Tony had been right though; she would feel better lying down in bed. She could tell that the aches and pains were exaggerated by her tiredness. Still, once she had stood underneath that hot, steamy water for a few minutes, she would relax. It felt nice, being in Tony's quarters like this. Of course she had spent many nights here over the months, many evenings listening to music, watching films and documentaries, learning about his home world. Sometimes they talked about events which had taken place that day, serious things, silly things. It wasn't often they talked about the future, either the distant future or their personal future together. Nothing was set in stone for any of them and anything other than here and now equated to dreams and desires.

She took longer than planned in the bathroom. It was still difficult for her to find the dexterity for even simple tasks like unfastening buttons and zips, operating the shampoo dispenser and wrapping her wet hair up into a towel. All of these things she managed eventually but not before Tony had voiced his concerns from the other side of the bathroom door.

Maya stepped out into semi-darkness in the living room area and so made for the bright light splaying out of the bedroom.

"Is this your not-so-subtle way of getting me to go to bed?" she asked.

At the sound of her voice, Tony put aside the novel he had just begun reading. "I might have an ulterior motive."

"As much as I appreciate the thought, I..."

"I wasn't thinking of that."

Slowly, she lowered herself onto the edge of the bed opposite Tony and started rubbing her hair dry with the towel. "I'm offended," she pouted, casting him a sideways look.

"Alright, I was but only in passing. I'm a sensitive guy."

"You mean I've been wrong about you all this time?"

He was glad to have the chiding banter back. It told him her claims of recovery were not unfounded.

"Do you feel any better now you've had a shower?" he asked.

Maya nodded. "Heat seems to do me good. It was lovely."

Kneeling up on all fours, he leant over and softly kissed her cheek, "Good."

Yawning broadly behind her hand, she said, "I'd better dry my hair."

For the next few minutes, he watched while Maya ran her fingers through her damp auburn hair as it dried with the warm bast of air from the hairdryer. As her movements became slower, he realised she was struggling to keep the hairdryer raised. Wordlessly, he took it from her hand and positioned himself cross-legged behind her.

"This is a first for me so don't expect miracles."

Maya sagged a little, letting him take over. At first it was awkward, handling the long tresses but he continued, copying what Maya had been doing, gently scrunching the hair up to regain it's natural shape. He found the task to be quite therapeutic, as apparently did Maya.

"Mmmm. That's nice," she purred, arching her back to stretch out her tiredness.

Finally, he got off the bed to finish off drying the front. Taking care not to pull. He smoothed the hair back off her brow, tracing the widow's peak that framed her forehead. Her eyes were closed and she swayed sleepily with the pressure of Tony's hand.

"Okay, you're done."

Maya opened her eyes again, suddenly alert. The sound of Tony's voice coupled with the silenced dryer brought her out of her light doze.

"What? What did you say?"

He smiled at her startled expression. "Come on, into bed." Pulling back the cover, he clambered over to his side and waited while she took of her bathrobe and got in beside him.

"Tony, can I ask you something?" Maya began massaging her calves as she talked.

"Sounds serious."

"No, not really, it's just..." He thought he detected a hint of embarrassment.

"Well, while I was in the coma, it wasn't just you who talked to me."

"Yeah, I know. You had a lot of visitors. It was a team effort to get you out of it." Tony lay back, resting on his elbows, wondering what was causing her the problem.

"I mean, some people talked to me like you did."

She had him intrigued now. "I'm not with you."

Maya lay down next to him and he gazed down into her troubled eyes.

"Certain people said certain things to me that maybe they wouldn't have said if they thought I could hear everything word for word." She drew a deep breath after her exertion, making Tony laugh.

"What sort of 'things'?" And then he became serious as several possibilities entered his mind. "Are you saying someone's got the hots for you?"

"No, nothing like that," she said quickly. She twisted around a little, obviously not comfortable. "I don't mean things directed at me personally. I was told some personal things, things I probably shouldn't know about."

Hunkering down into his pillow, he grinned. "Interesting. Any of it you'd like to tell me about?"

"No," she said steadfastly.

"Are you serious, you really had people spilling their guts to you?"

"If that amounts to the same as revealing their secrets, yes."

"But you won't say who or what. Boy, talk about a tease."

"The thing is, I haven't told anyone but you that I could hear anything while I was in Medical, not even Helena." She turned onto her side to face him, a frown of agitation on her face.

"So this is a moral dilemma then?" Tony asked.

"It can't be important can it? Medically speaking?"

"Helena too?"

She nodded. "But you and Helena talk about... stuff, don't you?"

"Yes but that's different, we weren't having a conversation. I was hearing her private thoughts - several people's private thoughts."

"If you think anyone would be embarrassed, I should keep quiet."

"I think you're right, it just feels like a responsibility."

"So tell me some of the juicy bits and we can share the responsibility," he coaxed.

"No, Tony. I couldn't. I feel bad enough about it as it is." Maya was still fidgeting and finally sat up, rubbing at her lower back. "I think I'm lying on something."

"Really?" Tony smirked, happy to watch her struggle on this occasion.

She felt around beneath her, searching for some offending article. "What's so funny?" she asked, just as her hand made contact with something small and hard. Maya brought it up into view. "The ring!" she exclaimed and then asked a little tensely, "It's not the same one though is it?" Her fingers were shaking but whether it was from the concentration she needed to hold such a delicate and small object or the shock of possessing what might be potentially another threat to her life, Tony wasn't sure.

"It's the same gemstone but Joanna reset it. The metal's an alloy and it's safe. It was tested several times against the blood and tissue samples you gave and there's no problem with it."

Maya didn't respond but continued to stare at the ring.

"I know it's not very romantic but you might feel happier knowing it's made from the same alloy used in parts of the Eagle hulls."

Her eyes flickered up to meet his and she nodded once in recognition of his words.

"So...?" Tony ducked his head in an attempt to regain her attention, "what do you think? Do you want to risk putting it on? Maybe I should be asking if you want to risk marrying me." He waited expectantly.

"Tony, I'd..." She stopped, holding the ring out to him. He took it automatically, feeling a tightening in the pit of his stomach. Was she turning him down now, after everything? Had she only agreed to marry him the first time round because she had been carried away in the heat of the moment? Maybe this last week had given her the chance to consider her reasons for not marrying him. For all he knew, they were probably very good reasons. Now it was his turn to look the other way.

"Suppose it's not much of an offer when you think about it."

"I'd almost forgotten how all this started. I'd forgotten what the ring meant to you... to us," she corrected herself.

"Obviously not the same as it meant a week ago."

Maya looked surprised at the inflection in his voice. "Why?"

"Because you said yes a week ago."

Again, she held her hand out to him, this time palm down. Exactly. Do I need to sign something in blood? Is that another of your Earth marriage customers? Like the man placing the ring on the third finger of the woman's left hand?"

As her hand started to tremble again, Tony quickly slid the ring back on her finger where he knew, without doubt, it belonged. Flushed with relief, he enfolded her in his arms. "Boy, you like to make me sweat don't you?"

Incredibly tired, she subsided against him. "I didn't need to be asked twice, that's all."

Something roused him from sleep a couple of hours later. Maybe it was Maya's hair tickling against his face or the unpleasant stirrings of a bad dream that caused him to snap open his eyes and experience the chill sting of consciousness. At once, he focused on Maya, dark and still, her fists clenched either side of her head on the pillow, like a small child. Normally, he would have moved himself up close behind her and in her sleep, she would have nestled into him, making warm, contented sounds. Tonight, Tony would have to be content to hold her hand. His hand stole up to hers and as his fingers closed around it, he felt rather than heard a black, penetrating hum rise up from the back of his mind. She was cold, icy cold.

He sat up, crying out her name and shaking her by the arms, a frenzied panic overtaking all his responses. But in that same elongated moment, Maya too was shouting out in fear.

"What? What's the matter?" Her fists beat him away, fending off his vice-like grip. "Tony, stop it!"

"Oh God, I thought you were... I thought you were dead," he panted, his heart racing. He slowly let her go.

"It's alright, you were dreaming," she told him.

"No, I wasn't, you were freezing cold." He stopped then, hearing the terror in his own voice and yet knowing there was nothing wrong. Had he dreamt it? Had he dreamt that he had reached out to her?

Maya had calmed down. As soon as she realised that she wasn't being attacked, she was able to quickly switch on to the situation. Tony was just shaken up. He'd had a fright.

"I'm alright. There's nothing wrong with me," she soothed, drawing his head down to her breast as she placated him. Tony felt her warm skin against his cheek and her cold hands caressing the back of his neck and shoulder.

"Your hands are like ice, Maya!"

"I told you, it's just bad circulation, it's nothing to worry about."

"Yeah, I know." He drew in a deep breath and let it out unsteadily. "Did I hurt you?"

"No," she lied. She had nauseating stabbing pains running down the length of both arms and there was a subtle tightening within her chest. It was easing off though and it was tolerable. A few days ago it would have been a different story. That sort of rough handling would have necessitated a pain- killing drug to be administered. She was getting well again.

Maya kissed the top of his head. "Back to sleep now."

Reluctantly, he pulled away and lay down on this back. She followed him, carefully stretching herself down the length of his body so that he was able to feel every curve and hollow. One smooth, firm leg slid over his and he felt surrounded by her presence. Briefly he shut his eyes, turning his face into her thick mane of auburn hair. "I love you," he told her and revelled in the sound of the words echoed back to him and the feel of her palm pressing flat against his stomach muscles.

Looking upwards, he saw the square shape of the Commpost set into the wall. Constantly active, the back lit panel of control buttons blurred the edges of darkness surrounding it. The glow was warm and friendly, offering the reassurance of contact with every piece of the jigsaw that formed their small world. The light pulsed and radiated as it was doing at every Commpost throughout the base, as no doubt it was still doing in that small waiting room in the Medical Centre. A pulse. A testament to life itself. Had whoever engineered the communications system realised that this regularly intervalled pulse was a metronome for the human heart? Tony felt the gentle yet strong tattoo of a heartbeat against his upper arm and closed his eyes. Maybe not just the human heart...

Special thanks to Katy E. Without the Emails of encouragement I probably wouldn't have made the effort to even finish this story, let alone send it to Ariana!

Copyright (c) 2001. 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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