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The Sythian Encounter

Authors: Heather Hammonds
Show Year: Y2
Rating: PG
Date: 1999
The Alphans receive a visit from a reptilian space-faring people who claim to need medical assistance for one of their crewmembers. But are their intentions really as peaceful as they claim?
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Tony Verdeschi stared at the big screen in Command Center, watching the fractured ball of their Moon roll on through empty space via the eye of a remote orbiting satellite that they had tagging along with them. He sat with his chin resting in his hands, feeling pessimistic as he surveyed the scene. The space ahead of them was almost completely empty. The nearest star system was right out of Eagle reach; no more than a blip on the stellar map, at a ninety degree angle to the path the Moon was taking. Would they ever find a new home? Would they ever have a future outside of Alpha? Today, the odds seemed against it.

Maya looked over from her desk and frowned. It was not like Tony to be moody and she could almost see the depression hanging over him, like an interstellar dust cloud. Luckily John Koenig wasn't in the room- he didn't appreciate his senior staff moping around Command Center. They were supposed to set a good example for the other Alphans. Well, she would just have to try to cheer Tony up. Perhaps she could interest him in a game of low gravity squash after their shift; hitting that funny little ball around was always good for a laugh. Suddenly, her monitor gave a warning beep.

"Maya, are you picking up an unusual contact at all?" asked Sahn tensely, from the other side of the room.

The data analyst was a whiz with communications and she had homed her instruments in on the source of disturbance a fraction of a second ahead of the distracted Maya.

"Oh- my sensors indicate a space craft of some kind," she replied with surprise.

"What? From that system way off to the side of us?" asked Tony, snapping to attention and forgetting his earlier gloomy thoughts. "I'd better contact John."

Commander John Koenig was not pleased when the monitor in his room called for his attention. He had been planning a quiet time alone with Helena, who was due to come off her own shift any minute. Lately, despite sailing their rocky ship through an empty area of space, Helena had been busier than ever with her duties as Chief Medical Officer. When there was no new star system approaching and no immediate chance at a new home, levels of crew depression skyrocketed and she kept long hours in Medical Center, running extra psychological evaluations and health checks. He sometimes wished he could have fallen in love with a simple maintenance officer.

Heaving a sigh, he answered the insistent beeping of the monitor. Tony's face appeared, looking tense.

"Sorry to disturb you John, but it looks like we have a contact, and it's heading in our direction at some speed. An alien ship."

Within minutes Koenig was at his post in Command Center, receiving data and barking out questions.

"Are you sure it's heading towards us Maya?" he asked briskly.

The Psychon nodded.

"At it's present speed, estimated time of arrival is sixty minutes Sir," added Sahn.

"A ship out here in the middle of nowhere," remarked Alan, walking in and taking a seat at his desk. "And if it's moving that fast, then it must be in a hell of a hurry to get to us."

"I don't like it," growled the Commander. "Maya, analyse the incoming data on the ship's composition as quickly as you can. Sahn, start broadcasting a contact message on all channels and see if we get any response. Tony, put Weapons Section in the picture and place all security staff on alert. Alan, have three armed Eagles take up positions above the base, just in case..."

Command Center moved into action, just as it had so many times before. Nobody panicked and there was no conversation between crew members; just a smooth execution of orders. They were professionals and John Koenig couldn't help but feel a sense of pride in watching them, even in an uncertain situation such as this.

Dr Helena Russell had just seen her last patient leave and was looking forward to taking a break herself, when young Ed Spencer brought the news of an approaching alien craft. By the time she had rushed to Command Center, the object of their attention filled the screen ominously.

"My God, it looks like a war ship," she whispered, gripping Koenig's arm in fear .

The approaching ship was an awe inspiring object, to be sure. Streamlined and silvery, covered in close fitting tiles that resembled nothing more than scales, its blunt nose arrowed relentlessly towards Alpha.

"Tony, put the base on yellow alert," ordered Koenig, sweat standing out on his forehead.

So much depended on him making the right decisions at times like this and no matter how many crises he saw Alpha through, the job never got easier.

"Commander, I know what the ship looks like, but my sensors cannot detect any form of weapon aboard- only a nuclear drive similar to that of our Eagles," stated Maya.

"But what if they have weapons unrecognisable to your sensors Maya?" asked a grim Tony.

"You do your job and I'll do mine," she replied tartly, certain that she had modified Alpha's equipment sufficiently to detect even the most advanced of weapons.

"I have a contact coming through," called Sahn and as she fine tuned Alpha's communications equipment, a most startling sight appeared on the big screen.

In place of the impressive ship was the face of one of the most inhuman aliens they had ever seen. Its skin had a translucent quality, like the earthworms kept in Alpha's hydroponics section, except that it was covered in minute scales similar to those found on reptiles. Indeed, the face resembled that of a lizard, with a wide, flat mouth, two holes each for ears and nostrils, and a pair of jet black beady eyes. At present, the alien seemed to be adjusting some kind of mechanical headset with a pair of thin webbed hands. In a few seconds he had positioned the device to his satisfaction, with one part attached to his ear hole and the other to his throat. Then he began to speak.

"Please excuse the delay in communications fellow travellers, but certain technical difficulties prevented me from speaking with you before now. This translating device had to be altered... Nevertheless, now we can converse with each other."

The crew of Command Center stared at the image on the screen and waited for their commander to reply.

"My name is John Koenig and I am commander of this base," he said, trying to keep his voice neutral and hide the suspicion he naturally felt. "Please identify yourself. Your ship is heading directly towards our moon and with respect, what do you want from us?"

"Good Commander, we know who you are. We have not been able to communicate until now, but we have studied you as we approached. I am Captain of this vessel and my name is Hasa. Myself and my crew hail from the twin planets Sythia Major and Sythia Minor which are at present, one light year distant from your moon. We would not have disturbed you but unfortunately, one of my crew is ill and I rather need your help. We are far from home and would beg your assistance."

Koenig signalled surreptitiously to Alan without taking his eyes from the big screen and his chief pilot had the Eagles he'd deployed maintain a holding pattern high above the base.

"I am Dr Helena Russell, Chief Medical Officer here," Helena spoke up. "I am not sure how we could help you as our life forms obviously don't approximate yours, but what is the nature of your crew member's illness?"

"We are not so different as you may think," replied Hasa. "We took the liberty of analysing your life support requirements, as I am sure you have done with our ship as it approached. We also are oxygen breathers, although we require a much warmer atmosphere and a slightly greater concentration of the gas. Humidity must be higher for our comfort also."

"That's so," whispered Maya to the Commander. "My sensors confirm what he is saying."

"I repeat, what is the nature of the illness?" asked Helena, who was curious, despite her caution. The alien very closely resembled reptiles from Earth and there might be something she could do to help...

"An important member of my crew was inadvertently exposed to extreme cold whilst making repairs to the outside of our ship," was the reply. "His lungs were damaged and I fear that without treatment, he will die. We have no medical officer aboard and it is many days travel back to our home planets. Please, I beg of you!"

Helena looked up at John and he could see the doctor in her would not refuse a cry for help. With a sigh, he nodded his head.

"Okay," he said to the alien. "You have permission to land, well away from our base. My crew will direct you. Medical assistance will come to you, as I fear our colder atmosphere in here could cause your people further harm."

"Thank you Commander," Hasa humbly replied.

Ben Vincent was at his fiery best when he heard what the staff of Medical Center were going to have to treat.

"We know nothing about their physiology, Helena! What if we do the alien a damage instead of helping it? How will its crew mates react? It's ridiculous and dangerous. What if the sick alien has something that's infectious to us?"

"So many what -ifs Ben," frowned Helena, who was sick of listening to him whine. She was not in the mood for this sometimes arrogant man's display of temper. "Look- the risk of infection is low, because the patient's illness was apparently caused by an accident. We are doctors and we have to treat the sick. We've been asked to try to help. I'll go to the alien ship and you must stay behind; we can't risk two senior members of the medical staff. I've sent Ed Spencer to gather all the data we have on Moonbase about reptiles, because that is what these aliens look like to me. It's possible the patient could be in some sort of forced hibernation. I'm going to do my best for them."

Vincent was unsure whether to be put out at being left behind on the base, or relieved. His feelings came down on the side of relief and with a curt shrug of his shoulders, he returned to running the health evaluations on the Moonbase crew.

The alien craft had been directed to land five kilometres away from the base and it lay recumbent in a bed of moondust, basking in the feeble light of distant suns. Koenig had chosen a small party of six to make the mercy mission across to the Sythian ship and they were ferried over the short distance on an Eagle stuffed with every conceivable piece of medical equipment Helena thought she might need. The crew consisted of Alan Carter, Helena, two security officers, a nurse, Maya (as he felt that her powers of metamorphosis might come in handy if there were communication difficulties) and of course, himself.

The Commander allowed himself a small smile, as Alan executed a perfect landing next to the other ship and their Eagle's boarding tube snaked out to make contact. Luck was with them and the airlocks were compatible; no time delaying adjustments were necessary to allow them entry to the alien craft. Maya had confirmed that the atmosphere inside the alien ship was quite safe for the Alphans to breathe, but she had not prepared them for the blast of hot and humid air that hit them as the Eagle door slid back.

"Oh," gasped Helena, pulling at the neck of her tunic. Each of the Alphans began to pour with sweat, losing precious body fluids.

To the side of the airlock stood the alien they had seen on the screen in Command Center, complete with headset. He was flanked by what were obviously two guards, but he stepped forward in a friendly enough manner and extended both webbed hands in a palms- upward, submissive gesture.

"Thank you for coming," he said, although now they were up close to him, they could see that the words he spoke were actually issuing from the communications box at his throat, and not his mouth. "The blessings and love of our twin planets be upon you for your kindness."

"We hope we can be of some help," replied Koenig, introducing each member of his party, with the exception of the two security guards, who were to stay behind in the Eagle unless needed.

"I would like to see the patient straight away if I may," said Helena. "I am sure you can appreciate that we Alphans find your atmosphere extremely uncomfortable and will only be able to stay here so long before we begin to dehydrate."

"Of course," the Captain replied, bowing his head.

With a barely audible high pitched whistle, the lizard- like alien signalled to his guards and everyone proceeded to walk the length of the Sythian ship. It was not so very different internally to other alien ships they had seen; space travel necessitates functionality above all else and this craft was obviously that. Instrumentation bristled and hummed on every wall, as it was attended to by several other aliens who barely gave the passing Alphans a second glance.

"This is a well equipped ship Commander," commented Maya in a whisper.

"I find it odd that they seem to possess no weapons; I wonder what they are doing travelling all the way out here?"
"Our mission is a peaceful exploratory one, comrades," explained Captain Hasa, his sensitive hearing catching every one of Maya's words. "Our race of people decided long ago that weapons were evil and unnecessary."

"A worthy attitude, but how do you defend yourselves if attacked?" asked Koenig.

"We have never been placed in such a situation," was the dismissive answer.

Helena's patient was lying in a small cubicle to the front of the ship, in which the temperature was even hotter. She winced as she entered, wishing she had brought lighter clothes and longing for a glass of cool water. The stricken alien was indeed lying in a coma, his pale skin a strange shade of grey compared to that of his crewmates. Hooked up to a crude cardiac monitor, he was drawing in air with sharp, uneven gasps and Helena's heart sank as she began her examination. A hurried study of the information on reptilian physiology that Ed had brought to her back on Alpha merely confirmed the worst. Their immune systems were not as robust as that of a mammalian creature; an infection of the lung tissue would more than likely prove fatal to a life form of this kind. She requested a powerful antibiotic injection from the bag that her nurse was carrying and administered it under the alien's skin, feeling more like a veterinarian than a doctor.

"I don't know how he will respond; you can appreciate that I am a little out of my depth here, but I will do my best," she said to the Captain.

"A thousand thanks for your efforts comrade, whether they be successful or not," replied the alien in a courtly manner.

"John, I need to stay here with the patient for a while and my nurse will go fetch some other supplies from the Eagle for me, if that's all right," Helena continued, looking up at Koenig.

"Okay. Alan, you go back to the Eagle with the nurse," said Koenig, his initial feelings of suspicion about these strange aliens mostly allayed, now that he'd seen their sick fellow for himself.

One thought continued to bother him, though. Like Maya, he simply could not accept that these frail looking creatures didn't possess any weapons, even if they were used only in self defence. The way they ran their ship, the way their captain treated his crew in a military fashion... something didn't quite gel.

"Perhaps you would care for a brief tour of the rest of my ship Commander," offered Hasa. "The other members of your staff are welcome to go where they wish, although without the communicator, I am afraid they will not be able to converse with my crew."

"Thank you, I'd like that," responded Koenig, curious to see more, in spite of the oppressive heat.

"I'll be fine working here by myself, John," said Helena.

So Koenig followed the Captain, Alan made his way happily back to the Eagle with the pretty young nurse to collect more medical equipment, Helena stayed with her patient and Maya wandered off on her own. Thus, the group of Alphans was split up.

Helena worked quickly and quietly, running her bioscan over every centimetre of the ailing Sythian's body in a search for clues as to how she could help him further. An alien guard had been left behind with her and his small black eyes followed her movements closely, making her feel distinctly uncomfortable. She gave him an uncertain smile, knowing full well that a smile probably meant nothing to him. He drew the edges of his mouth back in return and gave a nod, before suddenly spitting at her with a shocking violence. The substance he spat hit her arm and Helena stared at it with surprise for a second before losing consciousness, even as she reached up to wipe it off.

Koenig followed the Captain slowly through his ship, marvelling at the similarities between the technologies of his own species and this totally different one, which had developed in a corner of the universe far away from Earth. He was absorbed in the examination of a strange round communications unit when he heard a strange hissing sound, coming from directly behind him. He turned around, just in time to see one of the alien guards spit at him like a cobra from Earth. In a few brief seconds, he knew no more.

Alan, the nurse and the two guards were sorting through hexagonal boxes of medical instruments, looking for a special oxygen mask Doctor Russell had requested, when the Sythian guards barged in. All four Alphans turned to face the faintly repulsive, scaly individuals, and Alan and the guards made to draw their weapons. They were too slow. There was nothing they could do to prevent four blobs of poison hitting their marks with lightning speed and accuracy. Seconds later, they collapsed in a heap like so many stringless puppets.

Maya walked as quietly and unobtrusively as possible towards the rear of the alien ship. She was not satisfied with Captain Hasa's explanation as to why they were carrying no weapons and she had a nagging feeling that something was very wrong here. Of course, the quickest way to ascertain just what that was would be to become one of the Sythians.

It took nothing more than a little concentration on the Psychon's part to turn her body into a shaft of glowing molecules, and from there, into a Sythian. Now she could walk freely amongst the aliens and understand their language of high pitched whistles and clicks. As an added bonus, she would no longer be bothered by the high heat and humidity within the ship. Maya immediately began to feel much better. Much better, that was, until she checked her new body out and realised where the Sythians kept their weapons- in a sac at the back of their mouths. It was a poison sac, like the snakes on Earth she had read about. The Psychon was sure that at the very least, Helena would be in danger. What if she inadvertently triggered the release of poison from her sick patient's mouth? Why had the alien Captain failed to mention the possibility of this? There could only be one reason. Maya was about to rush back to Helena and warn her when she felt the ship move. A whistle sounded and two Sythians rushed past her.

"Come on Comrade," one called to her, in his own language. "The first part of our objective has been achieved; we are leaving and need to return to our posts."

Maya acknowledged his words as best she could, and made herself look busy. What had happened to the others?

Tony Verdeschi stared open mouthed at the big screen as he watched the alien ship lift off. He heard Sahn give a little cry as she sat at her desk and he looked over at her.

"Where are our people Sahn? Check the Eagle with your sensors; the boarding tube is still protruding!"

"Airlock is shut and pressure inside the Eagle is fine Tony," she replied shakily. "But sensors indicate there are only five people on board, where there should be seven."

His stomach churning, Verdeschi slammed down the communications button on his console and yelled,

"Eagle four, come in Eagle four. Are you receiving me? What the hell has happened out there?"

No answer was forthcoming and it was a grim Chief of Security who ordered a rescue Eagle out onto the Moon's surface. Dr Ben Vincent would be flying out of Moonbase today after all, only it was his own people he would be treating and not the aliens.

Two hours later, Koenig, Alan, the nurse and security guards, began to emerge from their temporary paralysis, much to the relief of the staff in Medical Center.

"What happened to you John?" asked an anxious Tony, as soon as the Commander's eyes opened.

"Poison - they spat some sort of poison at us. Why did they do it?" muttered Koenig, struggling to get up off the bed.

"Stay put Commander," ordered Ed Spencer, who was hovering nearby. "Your body will still be processing out the toxin."

"Helena and the others?" Koenig asked, sitting up and ignoring Ed's advice.

Tony looked away for a minute and then replied angrily,

"Alan, the guards and the nurse are here in medical center and will be fine. As for Helena and Maya - as far as we know they are still on board the alien ship. And the bloody alien ship seems to have disappeared."

As soon as he could walk, John Koenig returned to his desk at Command Center, staring off into space with bleak desperation in his eyes. He blamed himself totally for the loss of Helena and Maya. Why had he been so incautious as to allow the party on the alien ship to become separated from each other? Now they may have lost two of the most valuable members of the moonbase crew; one of them who's life meant more to him than his own.

"Why, Tony? What motive could they possibly have for taking two of our party hostage?" he sighed, as the younger man walked into the room and disconsolately took up his own post.

Koenig suddenly realised that Verdeschi would be taking Maya's loss hard and tried to give his security officer a forced smile.

"I'm sure they will contact us with their demands and we'll do our best to give them whatever they want."

"What if they just took them as specimens for one of their zoos or something?" whispered Tony.

"No, it can't be something as simple as that," was John's shaky reply.

The thought of Helena in some zoo did not bear thinking about.

Helena woke to find herself stiff and sweaty, trapped in a dark little metallic room with no windows and only a small observation hole in its door. She could hear the drone of the ship's engines somewhere close by and deduced that they were moving. But where? And where were the rest of her party? Her body felt leaden, as she tested each limb carefully to make sure that she wasn't injured. She remembered the guard spitting at her and shuddered; the sick patient had been nothing more than a ruse to get them on board. How could they have been so naive?

Presently the door to her cell opened and Captain Hasa stood before her, wearing his communicator.

"We are sorry to put you to this inconvenience Doctor, but it is necessary for us," he said.

"What have you done with the others?" Helena demanded to know. "And you must realise that without treatment, your own crewman will surely die. You did him no favours by imprisoning me."

Hasa waved his hand dismissively.

"He was expendable," he replied. "He was injured deliberately to draw you aboard, Doctor. And to answer your question, the others of your party are safely back on your Moonbase. We only required one hostage of great importance, and since you are their Chief Medical Officer, you are enough."

"Hostage? But why do you need a hostage? What do you want from us?" asked Helena, feeling stronger and more clear headed, as the poison receded from her system.

"Questions, questions," sighed the alien. "I shall tell you our story though, as you may be able to convince your Commander to do as we request better than I can.

"As you know, myself and my people come from the twin planetary system of Sythia Major and Sythia Minor. Sythia Major is a large, warm planet and Sythia Minor is a much smaller, slightly cooler one which orbits around its partner. Together they orbit our sun, Sythas. Centuries ago my forebears emigrated from Sythia Major, where our species originated, and took up residence on the minor planet, making it our home. The cooler, tougher conditions bred a race of warriors who were far better equipped to exist in the universe than our ancestors back on Sythia Major. Today those on the major planet live a degenerate, static existence, seeking nothing more than to live at peace with one another and never looking outward. But we on Sythia Minor realise that with our unique abilities, this region of the universe can be ours for the taking.

"Unfortunately, there was a political upheaval on our planet and a regrettable war broke out. Nuclear weapons were used and our planet is no longer habitable. Those few hundred of us who are left orbit Sythia Minor in space stations, receiving supplies from Sythia Major upon which we subsist. Now we wish to return to our planet of origin, but the Majorians will not have us back! They say we are too aggressive and that since we have destroyed our own world, we will do the same to theirs. It is ridiculous, of course.

"Your moon's passage through this sector of space has presented us with a unique opportunity, for with the weapons we have detected on your base we should be able to persuade the Majorians to let us return. We have none of our own left to use, you see. They came aboard our stations and confiscated what remained in the first weeks after our war. So, Alphan Doctor, do you think the good Commander would let us have your store of laser and nuclear weapons in return for you?"

Helena stared at the alien for a full minute, too shocked and angry to put her thoughts into coherent words.

"No," she whispered finally. "Never. Haven't you learnt a lesson? You destroyed your own planet and now you seek to threaten your neighbour in order to make them allow you on to their world. No wonder they don't want you; you're nothing but terrorists. Commander Koenig will never accede to your demands and I would kill myself first before he even considered it!"

"We will see," said the alien, no emotion sounding through the communicator at his throat.

He backed out of the cell and the door slammed behind him, leaving Helena on her own in the dark. Tears filled her eyes and she hid her face in her hands. Alpha would be so vulnerable without its weapons and she could not allow John to think of bargaining with this creature for a second. What was to become of her?

From the roof, where it had been sitting unseen, a tiny moth floated down and landed on the floor. The form of Maya appeared in a welcome glow of light and she rushed to Helena's side as soon as she was able.

"I heard that creature's disgusting story; are you all right?" she whispered.

"Yes, yes, but how did you get here?" Helena asked, trying to compose herself. "The alien said everyone else had returned to Alpha."

"They're not as smart as they might imagine; somehow they misplaced me. They must think I was on the Eagle when they left, as they certainly haven't been searching the ship for me. Their mistake has given us a chance to upset their plans."

"But how? We don't even know where we are in space so how can we get back to Alpha?" Helena whispered.

"By taking a hostage of our own," chuckled Maya. "While I was searching the ship, looking for you and the others, I stumbled across a very special room. An incubating room. It seems the breeding custom of this race of aliens is for the female to lay a single egg and the male to take it with him wherever he goes, until it hatches. There are several eggs in the incubating room of this ship and one of them belongs to Captain Hasa. Only one Sythian guards the clutch."

"Are you certain of this?" asked Helena incredulously. "It would be stupid of them to carry their young away out in space, far from the safety of their home."

"Nevertheless, that's what they do, " replied Maya " Like I said before, they aren't as smart as they would like to think. Leave it to me to take the egg hostage. I think it's best if you stay here in the cell for the time being, so as not to arouse their suspicions. Once I have the egg, I will come and get you out.

Helena nodded her agreement, seeing the sense in what Maya was saying. As long as she was still safely tucked away in her cell, the aliens wouldn't suspect an ambush on their precious eggs...

It was not long before the Sythians made their terrible demands, explaining to the Commander exactly what they wanted, and why. A white faced Helena was dragged from her cell and brought to the screen for him to see. He burned with suppressed rage at the sight of her.

"I'm fine John," she said in a hoarse voice. "But these people mean business. Just take a little time to think about their requests, or they will kill me."

"We'll do what we can Doctor Russell," Koenig replied in a formal voice, not wanting to show his true feelings in front her captors.

"Where is Maya, John?" Tony muttered urgently. "Why have they said nothing about her?"

Koenig made a silencing gesture and spoke to Captain Hasa.

"You understand that as the Doctor said, we must think about your requests. To give up our weapons store will leave us vulnerable at a future date. I must put it to a vote."

"You may have four of your hours- no more," was the reply. "At the end of that time, if you do not accede to our demands, your doctor will cease to live. And do not try to locate our ship. We are near you, but shielded from your probes. We will reveal ourselves once more when the time is right."

The screen went blank and a murmur went up around Command Center.

"What has happened to Maya - why didn't you ask?" shouted Tony.

Koenig put a calming hand on the younger man's shoulder.

"Did you hear what Helena actually said? She told us to take a little time in making our decision. I think that Maya is at large on the alien ship and the Sythians don't know it. After all, any race of beings that completely destroys it's own planet in a war and then asks for more weapons to threaten another with, can't be too brilliant. My guess is that Maya and Helena have some sort of plan, otherwise Helena would never suggest that we consider giving up our weapons. We must think of our own plan to stall the Sythians."

"And in the meantime, let's hope their shields aren't so good that they don't reveal their position in space," added Alan Carter, who was standing grim- faced behind the Commander.

"With your help Alan, I could get on with the search right away," called Sahn from her desk.

"Contact Petrov down in weapons section Tony. See if he can help us come up with some bribes to stall these lizards," said Koenig, giving the Italian a slap on the back.

In reality, there was not much those on Moonbase could do to help Maya and Helena. They had to sit tight and wait in frustration to see how events developed.

After being returned to her dismal cell, Helena sat in the dark and waited anxiously for Maya's return. They were on limited time now; four hours were all they had to take a hostage of their own. The heat in the cell was unbearable and although a glass tube full of water had been left for her, Helena was reluctant to drink it. What if it was drugged? Eventually, she could stand it not longer and wiping the sweat from her eyes, she reached over and drank the tube in a few gulps. To her relief, she felt fine, but without more water soon she would dehydrate and collapse. Hopefully, Maya was keeping as much as she could to the alien form; she would conserve her own body fluids that way.

Presently Helena heard a rustle at the door and a series of high pitched whistles and squeaks, followed by a spitting noise and a heavy thud. Relief flooded through her as the door swung open to reveal her Psychon friend.

"Here, help me pull this guard into the cell and we'll lock him in. Sorry I took so long, but I had to disable the guard who was watching over the clutch of eggs, and then find a safe place for us to hide our hostage while we make our own demands. It's there now."

"How can you be sure it's the Captain's egg?" asked Helena.

"The guard was turning the eggs every so often and I heard him talking to it. There was no mistaking the note of servility in his voice."

"You think the creatures in the eggs can hear?" said Helena, amazed.

Maya shrugged.

"Why not? Come on, let's get out of here."

It severely taxed Helena's strength to run to the hiding place Maya had found for them inside a junction of the ship's air ducts, even though it was not far from the cell she had been kept in. Falling to her hands and knees on the floor of the duct, she gasped for air, struggling to loosen the neck of her tunic, as she felt as though it was strangling her. Maya was feeling the heat too, although she was not in such a bad way. Most of her time on the ship so far had been spent in the form of a Sythian, just as Helena had hoped. The egg lay on the floor between them and they watched as it pulsated, the creature inside it turning restlessly.

"It looks near to hatching, poor thing," observed Maya.

"Yes, and if we are going to make demands of our own, I suggest we do it right away," agreed Helena "It won't be long before the Sythians discover that the Captain's egg has gone and then they'll start hunting for us."

Captain Hasa looked at his ship's communications monitor with fear in his cold reptilian heart. A tiny blip on the screen indicated that a large ship from Sythia Major was heading in their direction- and his shields might fool the aliens on the wandering moon, but never his more advanced relations. He could not allow the one called Commander Koenig any further time; if he did not get the weapons he required within the hour, their chance of gaining a foothold on their larger neighbour planet through force would be lost! His webbed hand hovered over the button which would put him in touch with the aliens he would rob, when a shout went up from behind. Turning, he saw the Alphan doctor and another alien creature which he did not recognise standing in the doorway of the ship's operations room.

And with them, they carried the egg of his unborn son...

Hasa gave a squeak of horror and one of his crew made a threatening move towards the two Alphans.

"Stay back," shouted Helena, as Maya, who had taken the form of a monstrous gorilla, lifted the egg high in the air. "Make one move towards us and this creature will smash your egg to pieces."

As one, every member of the alien crew present took a step backwards.

"You mustn't do this; that is my sacred egg! If any harm comes to it before hatching, my mate and I will never be allowed to produce another," Hasa gabbled through his communicator.

"Our demands are simple," continued Helena, who remained unmoved by the alien captain's pleas. "Return us to the Moonbase and then be on your way. Inform Commander Koenig that you will rendezvous with one of our Eagles at the same position on the surface you held previously. Once we are safely aboard, you shall have your egg back."

Captain Hasa stood frozen to the spot, torn between his desire to turn weapons of destruction upon the recalcitrant, peace loving neighbour planet that he so despised, and the deep instinctive need to protect his young. His crew waited for his decision, staring at him with their small black eyes. He knew they would obey him without question, whatever he decided to do. Hasa had always been a strong leader. Still, to back away from the chance to obtain as many valuable weapons as this moonbase possessed would weaken his position. And there was still the matter of the ship from Sythia Major, which was now clearly visible on his optical screen.

"Commander," called Sahn, waking Koenig from the fitful doze he'd fallen into whilst sitting in his chair. "Sir, I have a contact on the screen. It's not the original Sythian ship, but a bigger one of similar design- and it's making for a point dead ahead of us!"

"Sahn, scan that area ahead of us with everything you got," snapped Koenig, instantly alert. "It's my bet that our disappearing hostage ship has got to be there. And Alan, go find Tony please. I don't seem to be able to contact him."

After asking around, Alan Carter found Chief Of Security Verdeschi sitting alone in the Moonbase observation deck, with his commlock deliberately disabled. Tony sat in a specially designed tilt- back chair, staring balefully up at the dark sky and wondering where in the Universe Maya was. They had seen Helena Russell and were certain that at least for the moment, she was alive. But for all they knew, Maya could be dead and John Koenig's brave words about the two women having some plan would mean nothing.

"Come on Tony; switching off your commlock while on duty is a punishable offence," Alan said gently, understanding his friend's grief. "The Commander wants you back at your desk, because we have another contact on the screen. A different ship."

"But no further word from Helena or Maya, right?" said Tony in a whisper.

The affable Australian pilot looked away.

"No mate," he replied. "But don't give up hope yet. You of all people should know not to underestimate Maya and her talents. I bet she and Helena are cooking up something right now. Let's go- I won't say anything about the commlock if you don't."

With a nod, Verdeschi stood up and accompanied his friend back to Command Center, feeling no better for Alan's optimistic words. He was a man of action and at the moment his hands were tied; there was nothing he could do to help Maya or Helena and this fact hurt him the most.

As things turned out, Alan couldn't have spoken truer words to Tony. Just as they walked back into Command Center, the face of Captain Hasa appeared on the screen. It was a very different alien who initiated communications this time.

"Commander Koenig, I have been placed in a rather awkward position and would be happy to simply return your two crew members," he stated.

"He said two!" whispered Tony to Alan.

"I heard," grinned Carter.

The alien moved aside to be replaced by the image of an exhausted Helena, who was partnered by a massive gorilla, carrying what appeared to be some sort of egg.

"John, we are fine. We have in our possession the egg -the son- of Captain Hasa and we will exchange it for our own freedom. Send out two armed Eagles and meet us at the same site where the Sythian craft landed earlier."

"All right Helena, tell Hasa to reveal himself and we will meet him there as soon as we are able. And warn him not to try anything funny, or we'll blast him and the other ship he has with him out of existence!"

Helena looked puzzled at the mention of another craft, but made no further comment. The alien Captain stepped back into the picture and said,

"That ship is no ally of ours and the transfer of hostages must take place quickly. We do not wish to be - er - interfered with by other spacefarers."

With those words, the screen went blank .

"What do you make of that?" asked Tony.

Koenig raised his eyebrows.

"It's possible that the new ship is big brother from Sythia Major coming to see what the hell his aggressive little relatives are up to. If they find out, it will damage Hasa and his compatriots chances of ever making a home on the mother planet. They won't want to be discovered committing acts of violence, but I think that they deserve a lesson. Alan, get Bill Fraser and yourself up in two armed Eagles. And Sahn, if you can arrange it, I would like to have a chat with that other alien ship."

"That should not be a problem Commander. I am actually receiving a signal from it now," replied Sahn.

Helena stood tensely at the Sythian airlock, forcing every fibre of her dehydrated and exhausted body to stay alert. Maya (in gorilla form) was standing beside her with the precious egg, making the odd threatening noise. The Psychon was also feeling that her body was stretched to the limits of it's endurance by the heat and hoped desperately that she would not faint and return to her usual form before their rescuers from Alpha arrived. Helena glanced across at her while trying not to think too hard about how much she was longing for another drink of water.

Captain Hasa seemed anxious to be rid of them now, after going to all the trouble of taking her hostage, and Helena didn't think it was just because of the fact that they had his egg. She was curious about this other ship John had spoken of and was also wondering if Sythians from the larger planet were approaching.

"We are about to land on your Moon now," the alien captain muttered. "Please make the transition from my ship to yours and the return of my son as speedy as possible. Since we have failed in our attempts to procure weapons from your people, we would like to be on our way as soon as we can."

" Why- is someone following you?" asked Helena in a dry voice.

The Captain merely hissed at her and looked as though he was about to spit poison. Maya / gorilla raised the egg far above her large head and the embryo inside it turned a somersault, sensing the danger.

The Sythian ship came to rest on the Moon's surface with a soft thud, and a short time afterward, Alan put his Eagle down next to it. As the airlocks between the two ships opened, Maya could hold her gorilla form no longer and passing the egg to Helena, she dissolved into a spinning vortex of shining molecules. The Sythian captain and his guards cowered in fright, but Hasa's fright turned to rage when he saw the young woman who stood in front of him in the gorilla's place.

"You!" he cried. "You were supposed to have returned to your Moonbase with the others!"

John Koenig appeared through the airlock, flanked by two Alphan security guards who were armed with laser rifles. Helena gently placed the Sythian egg on the floor of the ship, before stumbling backwards and collapsing in the Commander's arms. The guards brandished their rifles and all the Alphans moved into their Eagle. They watched with relief as the door slid shut on the aliens. Alan detached their ship from the alien craft, and headed back to Moonbase, whilst Bill Fraser hovered nearby, his Eagle's weaponry trained on the tail of the enemy.

While Alan flew them safely home, Ben Vincent hooked an I.V drip up to the extremely dehydrated Helena.

"It was because I spent quite a lot of time as a Sythian that I am not as exhausted as Helena," said Maya, as she explained the series of events that had taken place on the alien ship to the others. "I'm only sorry that those barbarians got away from us without suffering any sort of retribution."

"Oh, I think they will, Maya," smiled the Commander. "I enlightened our friends in the other, larger ship of their relatives' behaviour."

He called out to Alan up in the Eagle's command module and an image appeared on a nearby monitor, that was being fed through to them from the main screen in Command Center. The larger of the two alien ships was in hot pursuit of the smaller and gaining all the time as they made their way back towards their planetary system.

"I wonder what punishment they will receive?" murmured Helena thoughtfully. "Their relations on Sythia Major are a peace loving race, according to Hasa."

"Peace loving or not, the captain of the larger craft was outraged," replied John, squatting down beside her and taking her hand. "I don't believe they will be injured, but I'd like to bet that they'll be kept under house arrest on their orbiting stations for many years to come. Besides, I doubt they will get an opportunity to procure more weapons in a hurry; there can't be many wandering moons in the Universe."

Helena smiled and closed her eyes, feeling truly safe for the first time in hours. Tony sat close to Maya as the Eagle touched down on launchpad one, holding tightly to her hand.

"I suppose you'll be glad to see a bit of empty space after all that has gone on, Mr Verdeschi," the Psychon teased.

"How true that is," he smiled, feeling very very glad to have her back.

Two days passed and the Moon continued to roll along on its erratic journey, moving farther and farther away from the twin Sythian planets. The Alphans thought they had seen the last of the strange lizard men, but they were wrong...

"There is an object moving towards us at great speed from sector 402 Commander," Maya called urgently, as Koenig was just about to leave Command Center and seek out Helena. He frowned impatiently- were they to have no time together at all?

"And I am receiving an incoming transmission," added a perplexed Sahn.

A second later, a Sythian face filled the big screen. Regal and aged, the creature stared down from the screen with kind, wise eyes that were so different from those of Captain Hasa.

"I am Kinthros, ruler of Sythia Major. People of the travelling moon, please accept the gifts we are sending as a small recompense for the personal damage our brothers from Sythia Minor caused. They have revealed all to us and will be suitably punished. Due to your courage, our mother planet was not bombarded with weapons and we can continue to live on peacefully. We have programmed an unmanned freighter to take up a position a little ahead of your moon, in order to give you time to unload it. It will return automatically once empty. Let it not be said that Sythians are anything less than a peace loving and generous race. I wish you good luck in your travels. That is all."

The screen went blank. Those in Command Center stood dumbfounded for a moment, unsure of what they had just seen and heard.

"Order a reconnaissance Eagle Alan. I think we can trust them- though God only knows what they have sent as our life forms are barely compatible!"

What the Sythians from the major planet had sent was a miracle. On board the unmanned freighter were all manner of unidentifiable grains, minerals which the Alphan geologists would have a field day with, bolts of multicoloured silk- like cloth and clear sealed canisters with succulent baby green plants growing inside them in agar. It took four Eagles several hours to ferry all the goods back to Alpha and transfer them to a special quarantine that had been set up underground in part of the Eagle docking area.

All Alpha personnel who were not actually on duty spent their free time staring in wonderment as the goods were unloaded.

"If all this stuff proves to be suitable for us, we will have just been given the best boost to our chances of survival possible," said Helena enthusiastically to Ben Vincent, as she watched him suit up to enter the quarantine and begin testing some of the food samples. "I'll be back off sick leave tomorrow and then I'll be able to go in there and help you."

"I'm sure Ben can manage without you for now," said a voice from behind her, making her jump .

It was John, of course, come to do a little inventory work himself. One of the geologists had reported tiranium amongst the list of minerals. The precious mineral kept Alpha's life support system running and a good supply of it would mean a load off the Commander's mind.

"I guess some good did come out of trying to help those aliens after all," reflected Ben.

"Glad to see you can admit it Ben," chuckled Helena. "Although by the time we get through working out where everything here should go, you may be so exhausted that you want to change your mind."

"Still no free time together," sighed Koenig melodramatically.

"We'll see what we can do about that," smiled Helena, putting her arm around his waist. "As Chief Medical Officer, I may have to order you to take a break- and that break may just have to coincide with mine."

John put his arm around her shoulder and they spent a few happy minutes, watching as Ben Vincent and others began the enormous task of sorting through the generous gifts from the Sythians.

Copyright (c) 1999. 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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