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Space: Y2K

Authors: Janet Sever
Show Year: Y1
Rating: PG
Date: 1999
The "Millenium" bug hits Alpha's computer systems while the Moon is hurtling through space. While the crew of Moonbase Alpha try to get their computers working again, they also find themselves facing an outbreak of religious fanaticism.
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11:30 PM, December 31, 2000

Helena Russell sat at her desk, twirling a pencil between her fingers. The Medical Center was quiet-- too quiet. For the last three weeks, there had been absolutely nothing to do. The moon and the Alphans were hurtling through a vast section of space where there was literally nothing--no systems, no gas clouds, no asteroids, no anomalies--nothing. She and the staff of the medical lab had used this opportunity to catch up on residents' physicals, restock depleted medical inventories, and generally catch up on things that were behind. But everything had been done now for a week, and today Helena found herself wishing someone would sprain an ankle or stub a toe, just so she would have something to do.

It was in these lulls when Helena found herself missing Earth even more than usual, and she found herself wishing she could find something to keep her busy to take her mind off the self-pity and loneliness she was feeling at the moment. She twirled the pencil and began ticking off all the things she missed on Earth and would never see again. French butter croissants, Starbuck's Cafe Mocha with a light dusting of cinnamon, a new movie once in a while, the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in bed, her beautiful brick colonial house in Alexandria, Virginia, professional theater, dogs and cats, dinner parties, meeting new people, the laughter of children.......

She stood up at her desk and stretched, then looked back down at what she was working on. It was a status report on life support on Alpha, including information about their oxygen supplies, recycling status, water supply and food situation. Actually, Alpha was in the best shape that it had been in since leaving Earth, and projections looked good for continued improvement. A vein of frozen water had been discovered deep below the moon's surface, and it promised to supply them with fresh water and oxygen for years to come. Plants that had been found on some of the planets they had visited had augmented and added variety to their food supply, and hydroponics had recently made some breakthroughs that significantly increased the yields of their crops. The Alphans had also been able to mine some key metals and minerals from some asteroids recently, and so they had been able to manufacture backup components for all of their key systems. Life was looking pretty good in terms of their physical survival.

However, the other component of her report to John and the command staff was less positive. That part of the report dealt with human resources aspects of Alpha, and this information was worrisome. The spirit of the Alphans was low. The monotony of over a year in space, far from home with no hope of return and no new home imminent was wearing on the Alphans in negative ways. Her report to John would be less than rosy, she realized, and she knew that John would have difficulty with some of the issues she needed to bring up.

Often John was so involved with his command staff and whatever current crisis was at hand that he sometimes forgot the "little people" on Alpha. However, Helena dealt with them daily, as did the rest of the medical staff. There was a definite social structure on Alpha that was somewhat invisible to the rest of the command staff. John and the others had a tendency to forget that there were six custodians among the Alphans, twelve food service workers, and about twenty five other lower level workers who, although generally bright and capable, had relatively lower educational levels than the rest of the Alpha staff and who were limited in the number of jobs they could be rotated into. And that job rotation wasn't happening much, anyway. Dr. Mathias, who had training in psychology and psychiatry, was working with many of these people, but they were seeing more and more situations of deep depression or other unhealthy behavior, not just from this group of Alphans, but from more and more of the staff in general. There had been incidents of fighting, partner abuse, and even some drug abuse, and it was getting worse as time wore on. What did the future hold for the Alphans if they did not find a planet soon?

She returned to her report, her mind still on that Starbuck's Cafe Mocha. Her recommendation to John was that they increase job rotation and also begin a cross training program for all staff members. It was important from a mental health point of view, but from a survival standpoint as well--if they lost a key person, it was important that another one be ready to take that person's place. Additionally she would recommend that more leisure activities be structured. Finally, there was something very important that had been neglected in their struggle for survival, and that was the spiritual component. Regular worship services had never been a part of Alpha's routine, although back when they orbited earth, many like minded groups had met for Bible study, or meditation, or discussion, or informal worship. That wasn't happening any more, and frankly, duty schedules almost discouraged it.

She picked up the report and smoothed back her hair. She decided to personally deliver it to John who was also working a night shift, hoping that he would have time to get some dinner and ring in the new year with her. He should, she thought, he's just as bored as the rest of us right now, perhaps even more so. She looked at the clock on her desk. Midnight.

As Helena walked to the doorway, the lights went out. She aimed her comlock, but the door out of her office wouldn't open. No power, she thought. She began to feel a bit panicky. How could this be happening? What was going on?

She punched a button on her comlock; the whole unit was dead.

I need to get up to Main Mission, she thought. Assuming I can get out of my office. Helena went back to the door and felt for the small panel to the right of the door which housed the manual door switch. An emergency flashlight was also stored there. She hit the button and the doors slowly slid open, but she realized that there was no way to reclose the doors. She shined the light quickly around the room, just to make sure everything was secure. She trusted her fellow Alphans, of course, but was always careful to follow protocols.

Walking into Main Mission, she saw that the area was also lighted by a few hand-held flashlights. It seemed strange to see the main screen dark, and the control panels without their blinking lights. The control staff was clustered around Victor, listening to him speak.

".....and so we assumed that the effect of the Y2K bug would not threaten Alpha's systems since they were so state of the art when they were installed. But, it appears as can happen when work goes to the lowest bidder," the staff smiled at Professor Bergman's ability to be witty, even in the midst of a crisis, " that some of the code is flawed, or that some of the embedded chips have failed."

"So what are the affected areas?" John's voice betrayed his tension, although Helena thought he was being surprisingly calm.

"So far it looks like all the power. Life support is on an entirely different power system, so we still have air and heat. Just no lights or Computer or sensors or power doors or all of the other little comforts." Bergman frowned. "John, all of the hydroponics areas will be affected by this."

Sandra Benes spoke up. "Why are we seeing the effects of the Y2K bug now? I thought all of that was supposed to happen when we hit the year 2000, not the year 2001?"

"Good question, Sahn. Basically, Alpha's systems every month do a very simple calculation to determine how much energy and other resources were used during the previous month, and then the computer calculates how those resources should be allocated in the upcoming month. It's a wonderful system, really, very thrifty and actually saves us quite a bit in wasted resources. For example, we lost captain Nichols last month in that Eagle crash, and consequently, we are not using as much power now or oxygen as we would if he were still with us, and the computer updates the systems accordingly." Helena nodded her head at Bergman's words, understanding now the reason for the problem they all faced.

"Essentially," Victor continued, "the computer looked at the statistics for last month, and instead of seeing reading that last month was December, the year 2000, it read it as December, the year 1900. And since nothing was here that year, it simply assumed that we used no resources last month and consequently, need no resources this month. So it shut everything, including itself, down."

"But why didn't this happen last month or the month before?" Koenig growled. "Why this month?"

"I can answer that one, " Kano volunteered. "All of the existing code had to be corrected manually, line by line. It's most probable that whoever it was that was doing the corrections simply missed a line of code. Or it could be just a single faulty embedded chip that was missed. Most of them were replaced early in 1999 when they realized this might happen, but a few could have been missed. Experts were predicting the possibility of that happening with banks, credit cards and the social security administration before we left. It seems we were not immune."

"Well, whatever the reason, Kano, you, Victor and Sahn need to get the computer back up. I need the rest of the command staff to get the word out to everyone on Alpha of what the problem is and that we are working to get it repaired. In the meantime, we are going to have to figure out a way of getting everyone together and let them know what is going on during this crises. Any suggestions?"

"I think that the best thing would be to have someone from the command staff in Rec Area One to answer questions and disseminate information. It's the most central room on Alpha and big enough to hold a lot of people at once. "

"Sounds good to me," Koenig said. "Let's get the word out."

As the command staff scattered, Helena touched John's arm. "I'll put this on your desk for later," she said, indicating the report in her hand. "Seems kind of funny delivering this with the crisis at hand--no boredom at the moment."

He looked at the file in her hand. "Is that your recommendation for getting people back on an even keel?"

"Let's get through this mess first--we may have more to worry about than some boredom and depression."

"We surely may." He took a deep breath and looked around Main Mission. Victor, Sandra and Kano were deep in discussion as to how best to attack the problem. He pulled Helena close and kissed her quickly. "Happy New Year."

As Helena walked out of Main Mission, Koenig pondered the issue of their collective mental health. Several recent problems concerned him greatly, and he wondered how long they could go on like this, a rag tag group of survivors, clinging to this barren rock. He shook his head and walked over to Sandra and Victor, muttering under his breath, "One crisis at a time. One crisis at a time...."


The first staff meeting in Rec Area One did not go as well as Koenig would have liked.

The denizens of Alpha were wedged into the room like sardines. Some were sitting, but most stood so as to make the best use possible of the available floor space. Several began asking questions as soon as Koenig entered the room, and he held up his hand for silence.

"By now you are all aware of the problem we face. The command staff is working diligently to get the computer back on line, but we have encountered a few unexpected problems. We are hoping to get it back online within the next eight hours or so, but I can't make any promises. In the meantime, we have heat and air, just no other power. Think of this as your first real vacation in a while!"

A voice in the background said sardonically, "I'd prefer my vacation with some sun and a beach!" and several people laughed. Koenig thought he recognized the voice as belonging to Tony Verdeschi from security. He had always seemed like a bright young man with a future, and Koenig had often thought he needed more responsibility.

Koenig had tried to keep the meeting upbeat, but he could see by the worried faces of the staff that they were not very confident about this situation. In fact, he thought as he looked at them, this was really the worst crisis they had faced since the initial explosion that had propelled the moon into space in the first place. No alien intervention could save them, no rabbits could be pulled out of the hat. They could only solve this problem by their combined intelligence, perspicacity and grit. He told them this. "I have every confidence that we will, just like every other crisis that we have faced, get through this."

He was extremely surprised by the next question, asked by that pretty brunette Anna Evans from hydroponics, "Do you think this is the end of universe, the end of time as prophesied?"

Koenig flicked his eyes to Helena, whose own face remained impassive. "Uh, no, of course not. Why would you say such a thing?"

Anna surprised him again by turning around and addressing the rest of the staff, not him, shining her flashlight on herself so all could see her clearly in the darkness. "It was prophesied in a book called 88 Reasons why the Rapture could be in 1988 that the world would end sometime between September 11 and 13 of that year. What if the date was right and the year wrong? What day did the moon break orbit? Today is the first day of the new Millennium--not last year as many believed. Make peace with your God, for the end is near!"

Koenig was extremely surprised to see some of the Alphans turn to Anna with interest.

"Please, folks, this is not the end of the universe--it's a computer glitch. Go back to your quarters, try and relax, and meet back here at 6 for an update." Helena and John watched silently as several people stayed after the meeting to talk to Anna.

"John, I can't believe we just saw that."

"Me, either. I thought we had the most rational group of people in the world. What gives?"

"I don't know. Stress makes people behave in strange ways, sometimes. Let me talk to her."

Helena walked over to Anna and motioned her aside for a moment. Two of the people to whom Anna had been speaking stayed in the room.

"Anna," Helena asked, "is something bothering you? Would you like to talk about it?"

"Oh, Doctor Russell, nothing is wrong! It's the most wonderful thing ever! The end is near, and we can leave this dusty ball and go to our God!" Anna's big blue eyes were shining with the light of a fanatic.

"Why do you think that?"

"This computer problem--it's a sign from God that we have no need to rely on artificial intelligence any more, that we won't need such things in heaven. It was a sin, you know, to come to the moon," Anna told Helena earnestly.

"Really?"

"Oh, yes, Doctor Russell, the heavenly Father gave us all of Earth and we weren't satisfied, we had to have the stars, too. It was wrong. It's not too late, Doctor Russell, to make your peace with God!" And with that, Anna Evans skipped out of the door, followed by the two people who had waited for her.

"Well?" Koenig asked. "I heard part of that."

"Obviously the girl is suffering some kind of delusion. I wish I could get into her medical file to review it. I don't recall any history of mental illness in her past, or her family, and she just had her routine physical two weeks ago and everything was fine." Helena frowned. Her recent report to John was on her mind, and she worried that this current problem would bring out more neuroses among the staff.

"She seems harmless for now. We'll just need to keep an eye on her. Have you eaten?" John asked.

"No, and I'm starved. Let's go to my quarters where we can talk for a bit. I have a few munchies there."

Just a few minutes later, they sat in Helena's quarters on the sofa with a light meal of fruit and bread between them. Helena felt suddenly exhausted. She grabbed a blanket and covered herself with it. "Tired?" John reached out and pulled her closer to him, and covered them both with the blanket. "Just a few minutes I was wishing for something to do, something to occupy me, " she replied.

"Be careful what you wish for--you just might get it!" He reached over and switched off the flashlight, and they sat companionably in the dark.

"So what's happening with the computer?" Helena asked. "Why is it going to take eight more hours?"

"If we're lucky it will only take 8 more hours," John answered. "Kano, Sahn and Victor have run into a lot more Y2K problems with the backup systems that we need to use to restart the computer. It looks like they are going to have to use a computer on an Eagle, which runs on a separate system, to fix the back up system, to fix the main computer. At least that's the way I understand it. I'm no computer whiz!"

Helena smiled. "Me, neither. I have just always counted on them being there and working when I need them to work. I feel lost without them!"

"What are we going to do about this Anna Evans problem?" Koenig asked.

Helena sighed. "Well, I was going to tell her to come in for an exam, but she slipped out so fast I didn't have a chance. I'll grab her at the next meeting and have her come in to Medical. I think she is just having a panic reaction to what is happening right now. You know, a lot of the staff haven't faced some of the things you and I have, and their training never prepared them for all of this," she gestured with her arms. "It's scary realizing how dependent we are on our computer and our systems. It makes everyone realize what a big, hostile universe it is out there, and how insignificant and powerless we really are in it. Particularly after all this time, drifting through space."

John was quiet for a couple of minutes. "Do you believe in God, Helena?" John asked quietly.

She turned to search for his face in the darkness. They had never talked very specifically about their religious beliefs before. "I believe that there is something larger than ourselves out there. Whether it's God, a sort of Universal Mind, or just the power of all of humankind combined--well, I don't know. What about you?"

"I was raised as an observant Jew, but when I became an adult, I kind of rejected all that religious stuff--there never seemed to be room for both science and God. Now, as I'm getting older, I think about it more and more. I think, like you, that there is a Higher Power, but what it is, I believe, we are incapable of understanding." He paused. " What about an afterlife?" he asked.

"I look at it from a physics perspective. Nothing ever really dies or goes away, it just changes form. I think when we get too caught up in thinking about an afterlife, and preparing for it, we neglect this life. I think that if we live the best life we can while we're here, the rest just takes care of itself." She yawned and he kissed the top of her head.

"Let's get a little bit of sleep while we can," and he drew the blanket closer around them. He sat wide awake as her breathing deepened, simultaneously pondering the idea of God and his own helplessness in the face of the current problem affecting the people under his care. Sometimes he felt as though he hadn't slept since September 10, 1999.


The next meeting didn't go much better than the prior meeting had. Koenig was happy to report that Alpha's water systems were working again, since it was controlled by a separate system, but that other power was still not available. He was surprised to see fewer people at this meeting than at the last. He would have thought everyone would have been eager to learn the base's current status. He supposed that people had taken his suggestion to heart, to treat this as a vacation, catch up some much-needed sleep, yet that thought was not supported by the worried faces he saw before him.

At the end of his briefing to the assemblage, Koenig asked for questions.

"What do you say about the book of Daniel's prophecy about the 70 weeks? Anna says it foretells the end of time for all of us!" A young man whose name Koenig could not immediately recall yelled out from the back of the room.

"Uh, I'm not familiar--"

The man began waving a Bible, proclaiming "'A period of seventy weeks has been decreed for your people and your holy city to put down rebellion, to bring an end to sin, to atone for guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to confirm the prophetic vision, and to anoint the Most Holy Place!' It has been exactly 67 weeks since the moon left the Earth's orbit! The end is near! The end is near!" The man screamed and ran out of the room. Another man followed quickly.

"What the hell--" Koenig muttered under his breath.

"I think we are seeing the beginning of a mass hysteria," Helena breathed into his ear. "We need to figure out what's going on." She looked around for security but none were present. I never realized how dependent I was on my commlock, she thought. "There is more going on here than simple stress, " she breathed.

"Let's go find Anna Evans," Koenig said grimly.

Helena and John walked down the corridor to Anna's quarters. The door was open and she was not inside. "Probably spending time with someone else."

"What I wouldn't give now for some working commlocks," muttered John, echoing Helena's earlier thought.

They walked a ways down the corridor and heard voices from another room in the crew quarters. It was the young man that had been so vocal at the last meeting. "And as Anna has pointed out, when we left Earth, the Senate had just failed to impeach the evil and sinful American president, Bill Clinton. Biblical prophesy says that at the end of time, the Earth would be controlled by Antichrist, who was clearly Clinton, and good and evil would do battle. This was going on when we left. We are the chosen ones! We are the ones that God saved at the end, and now he is calling us home! This" and the man spread his arms wide "is the darkness before the light! This is the end of the apocalypse," he screamed. The two people he preached to sat on the sofa, eyes wide open, fear evident on their faces.

"James Griffiths, come to med lab with me immediately!" Helena ordered. She walked over and grabbed the man firmly by the shoulders, propelling him forward.

"Oh, Doctor Russell, there is no need to worry about my physical body any longer! I won't be needing it where I'm going!"

"Why don't you come with me," Helena said, more soothingly, "and tell me all about it?"

Koenig stopped them. "Where is Anna Evans now? I--uh--want to hear more of what she has to say."

"She is down in hydroponics. Preaching to the true believers!!"

John touched her arm briefly and headed toward the entrance to the tunnels. Helena steered Griffiths to the Med Lab, nodding and saying "I see" in appropriate places during his tirade.

She was met by a jubilant Mathias, who informed her that the Medical section of the main computer was back online. "Thank God," Helena breathed. She and Mathias coaxed Griffiths down and began to run what tests they were able to do with the limitations at the moment.

"What do you think it is, Doctor?" Mathias asked as he sedated Griffiths.

"It's almost like he's drugged or something. Anna was like that, too, when I talked to her at noon. Are any of our drug stores missing?" Helena asked, as she thought about the door she had been forced to leave open in her office.

"No, no one has broken into anything," Mathias said thoughtfully. "What is Griffiths' assignment?"

"He's one of our general maintenance workers. Lately he's been working in the lower areas, expanding hydroponics and-----" Helena caught herself. "Let's check his nitrogen level." She suspected she knew the answer.

A few minutes later, tests complete, she had the answer. Now she had to find John and the rest of the people who were affected.


John walked through the dark passageway, his flashlight the only illumination. Although he knew it was an irrational feeling, he always felt nervous in the Catacombs. They were just creepy, and although he knew the expansion of Alpha would depend on widening these areas, he could not imagine living and working down here. He began to feel a little claustrophobic as he thought of the tons of moonrock above him, weighing down..... He shook the feeling off and continued on.

He heard voices up ahead and entered the new hydroponics area. The alien plants were being propagated here, and Anna Evans, her face illuminated by her flashlight, was preaching to what appeared to be a rapt audience of thirty or so people. " And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." She turned her gleaming eyes to Koenig, "Thus were the wicked on Earth slain by the mighty hand of God when He plucked the moon from orbit and cast us, the Chosen Ones, into space to be with him, closer to him, one with him."

Koenig walked toward her. Just then, the power came back on and the hydroponics unit was again bathed in a bright light. All of the occupants blinked wildly, their eyes having grown accustomed to the darkness. Koenig breathed a sigh of relief, glad that his team had gotten everything back on line. He once again heard a hum and a rush of air that he had never noticed before, and realized it was the auxiliary ventilation system that had been installed as this area was expanded, hollowed out of the moonrock. It must have been off line with the rest of the systems.

Anna continued, "'And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.' Again, this is what happened to the Earth when we broke away. We broke away from Satan, we broke away from evil!"

Koenig felt a hand on his arm and turned to find Helena beside him. He started forward to Anna, but Helena's touch pulled him back. "What---"

She shook her head. "Just leave her alone for five minutes or so."

Anna continued, "' 'Behold, the LORD makes the earth empty, He makes it waste, and turns it upside down, and scatters abroad its inhabitants.' You see, the Bible foretold of the Breakaway in Isaiah, too! 'He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD has spoken it.'" Anna faltered, holding her head. "The Lord is, uh, filling my head with his greatness..."

Helena took a few steps toward the girl, who motioned her away. Two orderlies from the medical lab stood waiting behind Koenig to assist. Koenig rubbed his head. He felt a slight headache coming on, too, but wryly doubted it was God trying to get in.

"'And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.'" Anna fell to her knees, clutching her head. ". . . Rejoice..in His ....salvation." Her audience, too, were rubbing their temples and necks, and it was obvious that they also were afflicted by similar headaches.

Helena gently helped Anna up, and went to the others, instructing them all to report to the medical lab. "How's your head, John?" she asked, placing a cool hand on his forehead.

"I have a little bit of a headache coming on. What happened?" he asked as they walked together back through the Catacombs.

"Well, my examination of Griffiths revealed a build up of some form of nitrous oxide in his system. It seems like some of our wonderful new alien plants give off vast amounts of nitrogen when they are subjected to darkness, and since this area has the highest concentration of these plants, it was the most affected. "

Koenig nodded his head. "And without the auxiliary air scrubbers working down here, it built up and affected her. But why Griffiths?"

"All of the people affected were hydroponics workers or maintenance workers who worked down here. We probably all would have been affected eventually, but there was a greater concentration of the gas down here."

"I wonder why it manifested itself in such a religious fervor?" Koenig mused.

"After the computer came up, I checked Anna's file. Her father was an evangelical preacher on Earth--she grew up helping him out at tent revivals, things like that. I think that's where her knowledge of scripture came in, then with her brain being affected by the gas, it just all began pouring out. I also think that the gas exacerbated the stress and desperation that a lot of our people have been feeling lately because of our situation." Her mind was back on that issue. She hoped that a more healthy balance could be added to the Alphans' lives to ensure mental health. Their survival depended on it.

"I did a little research on nitrous when I was in medical school," Helena continued, "and found out that William James was a big proponent of using it. He said in one essay that the effect made all the metaphysical ideas come together and he became totally convinced of their truthfulness. I think that with everything going on here, people were pretty eager to believe her, aided, of course, by the gas."

"So you don't see the hand of something bigger in all of this?" He gave her a playful nudge. "Some mysterious unknown force?"

"I don't know, John, God works in mysterious ways," Helena said, smiling up at him.


Copyright (c) 1999. Reprinted with permission.
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