The frozen ice world slid past the range of the long-range cameras that were trained on it. A dozen personnel in Main Mission watched the big screen intently, holding their breath as the computers of Moonbase Alpha made their calculations and decided the fate of the runaway moon and her reluctant passengers.
Paul Morrow's face was expressionless, although his stomach was doing more somersaults than it did during that vacation to Mexico back in '91. Victor Bergman appeared at his side, tearing his attention away from the lifeless ball of snow that was the center of attention. He looked up from his seat to the wise, old professor like a boy looking for an answer from his father.
Bergman smiled that warm smile of his and shook his head once. "Don't worry, Paul. There's virtually no chance of the moon altering course and taking up an orbit around that planet. It's barely 1600 miles in diameter, which makes it a little bigger than Pluto. And being that small it's gravitational field couldn't possibly pull us towards it since our diameter is 500 miles greater than it, and we're travelling too fast for it to snatch us."
The corner of Morrow's lip curled into an ironic smirk beneath his moustache. "Then why're we asking Computer if we're altering course towards it?"
Bergman rested a consoling palm on Morrow's shoulder, and replied, "Just to be safe. Besides, it's the interior of that solar system I'm more interested in. Long range sensors show three more planets orbiting this star which could affect our flight plan. Those are the ones we need to keep an eye out for."
Paul nodded. So far, the moon had been extremely lucky to come within range of habitable class-M planets, rather than gas giants like Jupiter or that Pluto-wannabe out there. It would be disasterous for their chances of survival if the moon became locked in orbit around a lifeless gas giant. The life expectancy of the Alphans would then be calculated by months, rather than years.
"YES!" David Kano cheered aloud, stealing everyone's attention away from the large viewscreen. "No course change created by outer planet! We're still proceeding into the star system, but at a decent angle away from the sun, so that we're not on a collision course with it!"
Voices took up a cheer and air of relief in Main Mission amid hand shakes and renewed optimism. Paul's smirk became a toothy grin, matching that of Victor's. It had been a minor crisis in relation to many of the dangers that Moonbase Alpha had withstood since leaving the confines of Earth's solar system months ago, but every day was a struggle to survive when all you had were the resources of the lunar landscape and the people that lived there..
It would be a day later when many of the same people would be present in the control room for the next stellar encounter, although this time Commander John Koenig was among them. He, too, had felt that the system entry would be uneventful and trusted Bergman's theory that the ice world posed no threat, so he'd taken the evening off for some private time with Helena. Now that they were about to encounter the 'meat' of the solar system he was front and center and eager to learn what was next.
Millions of miles away, amongst a sea of stars, was their potential new home. It was a green and brown world, streaked with white clouds that obscured most of the land masses, which Kano revealed took up 61 % of the sphere. That meant that it had much less water than Earth, but it was a goldmine in relation to the barren lunar environment.
"Sandra? Anything?" Koenig asked, a hand propped up on a crossed arm, as his thumb absentmindedly stroked his lower lip.
She checked her instruments, which remained as quiet as a mime. She looked back at him, shaking her head. "No response to any communiques, Commander. If there's anybody down there they're either ignoring us, or they don't have the capability to respond."
"Eagle 2 to Main Mission," a familiar Aussie voice called over a comm-line, his helmeted features taking up all of a small viewscreen on the wall.
"This is Main Mission, Alan," Koenig answered. "I'm afraid you'll have to be our eyes and ears out there. Nobody's talking to us, so it's up to you to find out if anybody's home."
"You got it, Commander. Save a seat for me for tonight's movie, okay? Still haven't seen 'Titantic', and I wanna know if it's as big a deal as everyone seems to think it is!"
"I promise not to tell you the ending. Good luck."
"Thanks, Commander. Eagle 2 out."
Engines revved up, and blasted enough force outwards for take-off from launch pad 3, forcing lunar dust to spiral up and around the Eagle spaceship, and seconds later send pilots Alan Carter and Jerry Knox on their way to a new world.
Koenig turned to Bergman, and asked, "So what's the verdict?"
Bergman shrugged. "It's a good movie, but when you know what happens to the ship--"
"No, no, Victor, I mean what's the verdict about our course?"
Bergman blushed. "Oh, that. We're still too far for 100 % probability, John, so any speculation I have would be as good as your best guess. Computer needs more time for it's calculations."
Koenig grimaced with a nod. "Sometimes I wish we didn't have to rely so heavily on on our technology for answers, but it's that same technology that's kept us alive this long."
"Anything is possible when you're living on a free-travelling stellar body like we are, John. And that includes good possibilities, in addition to the bad."
"Brushing up on your philosophy, Victor?"
The Professor shrugged. "Got to occupy myself some way, between all those blockbuster movie, John."
Koenig returned the smile, which became larger as his favourite crew member entered Main Mission. Doctor Helena Russell appeared at one of the entrances new the big screen, and gave it a cursory glance before she came to a stop beside Koenig and Bergman.
"Pretty world," she commented.
"Alan's going to see how 'pretty' it is, forsthand. Thought I'd send him ahead to scout it out before we decide if it's worth landing on."
"Alan again, John? We have so many pilots on Alpha; shouldn't they get a chance to fly reconnaissance missions once in a while?" Helena asked.
"Maybe you'd like to hold Alan back, Helena? If so, you'd probably have to tranquilize him, because he's always the first to volunteer. I know he flies the majority of the missions, but it's because he wants to and he's the most capable. Everyone will get their chance."
"Well, if he's the one asking for extra duty I guess we can't damn him for his work ethic."
Minutes later, Alan was on the speakers again. "Come in, Alpha."
"We're reading you, Alan," Morrow confirmed. "What's up?"
"Plenty! I'm picking up energy readings-- lots of 'em! But, they're out in space, not on the planet."
"Alan, send us the coordinates. Paul, transfer tracking sensors to Alan's readings," Koenig ordered.
"So far I'm reading a dozen, Commander. Uh, make that 15. Now I'm seeing 17 of 'em!"
"Get out of there, Alan! Return to base!" Koenig snapped. He didn't know what those energy signatures were, but Carter and Knox were outnumbered 17 to 1, and nobody could survive those odds.
Eagle 2 swung around on her axis and did a 180, lining the moon back up with her nose, even though she'd come within 4000 miles of the strange planet.
"Commander! Our scanners are showing 26 objects in space! More appearing every few seconds," Morrow alerted, feeling his jaw tighten. The anxiety he'd felt about that puny ice world was nothing to what he now felt for his friend in the Eagle and his chances of survival.
Instruments bleeped and hummed before an alarm signal stole the attention of everyone present. Helena subconsciously stepped closer to Koenig, knowing all too well the sound of their scanners making a positive I.D. of something new and possibly hostile.
"Scanners confirm that those objects are spaceships, Commander," Morrow said, keeping his voice tight and business-like in the latest crisis situation. "It's an entire fleet out there! It now numbers 39 ships of various sizes."
"Contact them, Sandra. They've probably seen our Eagle, and they sure as hell have seen our moon. Let's find out if they're hostile first. They could just as easily be a scout group."
Koenig noted Bergman's look of skepticism out of the corner of his eye, and added with a nod, "Okay, a very large scout group, but let's find out their intentions before we panic for no reason."
Sandra steeled herself, and forced herself to speak calmly into the transceiver. "This is Moonbase Alpha to alien fleet; we mean you no harm. Please respond."
When she received no response, Paul quietly added, "Fleet numbers 48 ships now."
Koenig hoped it ws a scout party or interstellar ark or anything other than an invasion force. At this rate the alien ships would outnumber their Eagles, and most of those ships out there were much larger than an Eagle, reducing the odds of a fair fight even further.
"Try them again," Koenig requested. Sandra did so, but they remained stubbornly silent about their objectives.
But it did pique their curiosity.
"Commander, three of those ships have altered course towards us. They'll intercept Alan before he gets back here," Paul said.
Koenig had had enough. He called a red alert, and had three Eagles launched immediately. They'd be their first line of defense, or simply act as cover for Carter's return depending on what the aliens did next.
By the time the four Eagles had rendezvoused in the same sector, the alien fleet had swelled to 64 ships in total, most of which had slowed and gradually approached the planet. They were by no means harmless-looking. They looked chunky and brutal, fierce in design and intent, most as big as an ocean-going cruiser, but at least half a dozen were as big as an aircraft carrier. The three curious alien ships that broke fleet formation soon revealed their intentions.
"For the glory of the Skurok Empire, we claim this world!" a harsh voice shouted over Sandra's speakers.
Instantly, the Eagles came under fire from behind, one of them blown to bits before Alan or any of the other remaining pilots could make a move.
"Evasive maneuvers! Engage enemy shups!" Koenig ordered. There was no turning back. If somebody wanted to hit them then they'd find out that Alpha would hit back, even to the last man and woman.
Carter felt the floor of his ship lift and tilt for a few moments before artificial gravity took over and compensated. He revved his engines and did a loop, narrowly missing a stream of deadly orange firepower from an enemy ship. It broke off from him, and gave chase for Eagle 7, while two alien ships were spewing beams at Eagle 11.
Alan struggled to get closer to the alien ships, which seemed to be able to fire in two directions at once, but not always accurately, if their near-misses were any indication. He watched as Eagle 11 tried to make a hard turn to port, but was caught in the crossfire of two enemy ships, and quickly blown out of the sky. The targeting system bleeped and signalled ready as an alien ship entered the cross-hairs of his lasers; Alan thumbed his laser trigger.
The alien ship survived the direct hit.
It veered off even as Alan stared dumbfounded at it, and stole a glance at his co-pilot. "It survived!" Knox gasped. "Our weapons are useless against them!"
"Go for a second strike!" Carter growled.
"Can't! Second ship is heading for us!"
"Better shake 'em, then!"
Alan's Eagle swerved and ducked, always a step ahead of the alien's death touch. The three alien ships traded targets, so now Eagle 7 had to contend with the ship Alan had hit, while a new alien pilot pushed Alan's piloting skills to the limit. Try as he might, he found himself getting closer to the the moon, penned in on one side or forced a thousand miles further from the new planet and the alien fleet.
"Paul, I want three more Eagles on those launch pads; we gotta get some numbers up there."
Koenig look back at Helena and frowned. "Helena, better get back to your medical centre. We might be getting casualties soon."
"If those aliens out there want to fight over that planet out there then we might have to stand up to them. Even just to protect ourselves. Get going."
It was one of the hardest orders Koenig had given. He wanted her here with him where he could be sure she was safe. However, his personal needs came in secondary to that of his people, and if Alpha sustained casualties then Helena was the one person that could save them.
Eagle 7's destruction lit up the big screen, illiciting gasps and outrage. Carter was now outnumbered 3 to 1. Koenig ordered him back as fast as he could make it, even as the aliens gave chase.
"Moon-base Al-pha," the hostile voice said over the speakers, it's evilness echoing within it's cockpit, "we see you! We see you on our targeting scanners! Heh-heh-heh-heh," the creature laughed slowly and sadistically. It was the cruelest touch of all. "We're going to spare your puny ship...however it won't have a base to return to! Attack group, new objective; obliterate that lunar base! For the glory of the Skurok Empire...DIE, ALPHA!"
Two of the alien ships released powerful energy blasts that streaked past Carter and thousands of miles beyond to strike the moon's surface. Ancient lunar rock and dust spewed up from the impact, only yards from the outer perimeter of Alpha, before the aliens scored direct hits on two buildings that were at the edge of the base.
Everyone felt the trembling of shockwaves in Main Mission, even though they were far from the strike. Hanging on for dear life, the Alphans waited for the next salvo, only to be disappinted.
On the big screen they watched as a white light like the purest of sunlight emanated from the planet's surface and engulfed the three attacking Skurok ships, causing them to explode with the intensity of a trio of nuclear explosions. Carter's Eagle was left untouched, as it made it closer to the lunar surface.
"Alan! You okay?" Koenig wanted to know.
"Fine, Commander. What happened?"
Koenig shook his head. "Somebody on that planet decided to show who was boss, I suppose."
"Sir, massive energy reading on the planet," Morrow reported. "Readings are off the scale!"
Everyone watched in awe as the white light appeared again, this time enveloping the entirety of the Skurok fleet. Seconds later a new sun was born and died above the planet, leaving only billions of tiny balls of fire in its wake, before they, too, evaporated in the cold of space.
Nobody said anything. Nobody could. Their thoughts turned immediately to their own survival. Were they next?
But not the way the Skurok Imperial fleet had met it's end.
"Moonbase Alpha, this is the planet Vohl," an ancient voice said over the speakers. "This planet is for no one to conquer. nor colonize. It is ours, and ours alone. We have dealt with a hostile force in a way that they deserved. You were not the agressor and were outmatched by their brutality. You will be dealt with accordingly."
Koenig was about to plead their case and perhaps ask to meet with the leaders of Vohl to work out a peaceful solution when a blue light sprang forth from the planet's surface and struck the moon. Everyone fell to the floor wherever they were on Alpha, soon overcome by the same powerful g-force that they'd felt that fateful day in 1999 when the moon was blasted free of Earth orbit.
Koenig found himself spread-eagled on the floor, chilled by what the Vohlians were doing to him and his people. The Skuroks had seemed powerful, but they were insignificant compared to the wrath of this unseen, powerful race on the planet. He began to have trouble breathing as his body was forced hard against the cold floor. He wondered fearfully what the aliens were doing to his base and the moon, until a cold fear clutched his heart. Helena! She was in Medical Centre, and no doubt being squashed against the floor as he was. He could only pray that she was okay. Why were the Vohlians destroying them? Hadn't the voice said something about the Skuroks being the agressors? Alpha hadn't meant any harm, and had only tried to defend themselves, so why were the Vohlians exacting revenge on them, too?
Koenig's thoughts about imminent death were put on hold as the g-force that held everyone enthralled gradually began to release them. Their artificial gravity slowly returned to normal, and the rumbling in his ears faded to the calming hum of the control room instruments.
He pushed himself up on aching legs, helping his older friend, Victor to his feet. Morrow was back at his station, even as someone helped Sandra into her chair.
"I want a status report now! And I want to know where Alan is!" Koenig barked. He thumbed a button on the console that Morrow worked on. "Medical Centre; Helena?"
"I - I'm here, John. Bruised and bewildered, but we're alright down here. What happened?"
"I'll let you know as soon as I find out. Just wanted to see if you were okay. Koenig out. Well?"
"Eagle 2 to Alpha, are you receiving me?" Alan's voice said from a viewscreen, his brow knitted in concern.
"We're here, Alan. What's your status?" Koenig asked.
"I'm chasing you again, Commander! Seems like deja vu out here!"
"Chasing us?" Koenig repeated.
"Yea. A big beam of light hit the moon from the planet, and actually pushed you guys away from them!"
"Confirmed," Morrow said, checking his panel. "Our trajectory has been altered by 70 degrees, and our speed increased by 25 %! We're flying out of this solar system even faster than we entered it!"
"Incredible!" Bergman marveled. "The power that they must have at their disposal to actually push the moon away from their planet, and out of their star's gravitational pull must be extraordinary! We could have learned a lot from them."
Koenig shook his head, but managed a small smile. "I doubt they'd welcome anybody with open arms, Victor. And maybe that's a good thing. I'd prefer it if the only people with that kind of power were the Vohlians, themselves. Hopefully they use it for better causes than the Skurok Empire could have used it for."
As Eagle 2 touched down, the Alphans watched as the atractive alien world recded from view faster than any other world they'd encountered. The Vohlians had given Alpha a new lease on life by defeating a hostile race that would surely have erased the human colony from existence. Koenig could only hope that the tremendous boost in velocity for the moon brought them closer to a would that they, and they alone, could call home.