7. The Ticking of an Atomic Clock
A battery of Eagles assembled around the observation pods towards the south pole of the moon. A system of corridors, airlocks and shelters connected the entire conurbation. Engineers were hastily connecting cables to ensure a sustainable, at least in the short-term, system of power.
Koenig joined Alan and Victor on Eagle-2, along with Paul Morrow, David Kano and Helena. Together, these chiefs of staff would decide the fate of Moonbase Alpha.
"Okay Victor," said John, "We've heard the theory, now let's lay it on the line."
"Well," said Victor as he sat his hands on the meeting table, "it's much like I said John. A nuclear meltdown has a chance --"
"A chance, Victor, a chance!" exclaimed the Commander. "Can we take that chance?"
Paul Morrow interrupted. "Commander, if I may say – the crew of Moonbase Alpha want that chance. If we don't, then we will never get back to Earth. That's how I feel. That's how we all feel."
"I can't risk the lives of the crew so easily, Paul." exasperated Koenig. "Give me some odds Victor."
"Hmmm," mused the scientist. "well, I'd say, the chance of the power being at a level enough for the beam to work is, what, about 85, maybe 90%."
"And the meltdown working?" quizzed Koenig.
"Possibly a bit less. Maybe 70, 75%."
"Those are good odds Commander." spoke Paul. "The deck is stacked in our favour."
"But those people's lives aren't a poker game!" shouted Koenig, slamming his fist down on the meeting table. "Helena, how long can we last without that nuclear reactor?"
"Well, in this current system, we can manage the three months until we get back to Earth. Maybe even up to six months if we have to." said the doctor.
"That's if the gamble works." despaired Koenig. "What if it doesn't? What if just one thing goes wrong? That's six months of life we have at the most, unless we find a new planet."
"Probably less Commander." uttered David Kano. "Without a fully-functional computer, we can't scan for habitable planets."
"And even if we did," Alan Carter interjected, "we couldn't fly down to investigate. Under this web of Eagles, we've got one trip. If we get it wrong, there's no going back."
"But we can go home!" insisted Paul. "There's no need for scans and reconnaissance missions."
"If it works." reminded Koenig. "Can we take that chance though?"
"Well, let's ask the people out there!" demanded Morrow.
Koenig fixed him with a cold stare. "No. This is my decision. I took on this burden of command. It's my responsibility. Helena?"
"My husband's out there, John." said Helena as she averted her eyes from her Commander. "All of our families are. They just want the chance."
"Victor?" asked Koenig.
"Ah now, John. I can't tell you what to do -- even if I knew myself." explained Dr Bergman. "We've got years of supplies on Alpha. With reconnaissance missions, we could come upon a planet tomorrow, next week, next year --"
"Yes, a planet." said Paul, "But not Planet Earth."
"Well, yes, that's true." Victor stuttered. "And, at the same time, we may never come across a planet that can support us. It's a gamble either way."
"But one of side of that gamble means a slow lingering death without hope," responded the Commander. "or home."
"Commander, we're getting close to critical." informed Kano.
"Thank you, David." Koenig held the remote control – a modified com-lock – in his hand. Ignoring all others, he concentrated his thoughts. Koenig desperately wanted to see home.
"Commander Koenig!" demanded Paul, "We need to do this now!"
Koenig made no reply. Home. To walk in New York. Climb in Montana. He'd never seen China. Koenig realised how little he actually knew his own world.
"Commander. We need an answer!" urged Kano.
What he wouldn't give to see Earth again. And by just pressing the button in his hand --
"John, please!" Helena pleaded.
What he wouldn't sacrifice just to breathe real air again, not recycled atmosphere. Then he realised. Koenig wouldn't give the life of his crew. He had pledged to keep them safe. He couldn't guarantee crippling the moon's main source of energy would work. He couldn't guarantee there would be enough power in that vanishing web. There were other factors too no-one was speaking about. A critical failure in one of the Eagles would condemn them to a fatal prison, even if they made the jump. He was Commander because he knew being liked was not one of his duties. But being pragmatic was.
Commander Koenig walked from the meeting table, the modified com-link disabled. He walked passed an angry Paul Morrow, a tearful Helena Russell, a disappointed Victor Bergman. He strode into the nearby Eagles and pods but only spoke one word to each. Amidst all the anger, wailing and crushing disappointment, all Commander John Koenig could utter was
The chain of command can wreak a terrible loneliness.