September 13, 1999:
Mark Nine Hawk 306 silently orbited the Earth, her engines off-line. She was on stealth-mode, scanning above her home planet for anyone or anything that might not belong there. Her pilots were able to talk about mundane things as the autopilot and auto-sensors performed their tasks, the pilots needed only for the job of attacking and destroying anything that dared make an unfriendly move. As the craft crossed the meridian into the dark side of the Earth, the blazing lights of the cities below could be seen; Birmingham, Coventry, and Leicester, all oblivious to the threat to their survival by an alien race that was considered more Hollywood novelty than living, breathing hostile entity.
The Earth's governments had long ago decided to keep the alien's existence a secret, but the so-called Grays were persistent, and at times belligerent, enough to attempt landings on Earth. This was where the Mark Nine Hawks came in; all planetary landings were to be intercepted, with the exception of the very infrequent meetings between Gray officials and their human counterparts. As life went on as normal on the surface, with people watching their favourite television shows, attending rock concerts, and eating their fast food burgers, and out on the Moon maintaining Moonbase Alpha, the three squadrons of Hawks were used as front-line defence against a race of people that sought not friendship with humans, but something much more sinister.
Hawk 306 was directly over Northampton when the Houston-based Command Centre interrupted the pilot's discussion about the next World Cup of soccer. They'd spotted an incoming object which matched the previous sensor readings of Gray saucers. Their powerful engines were engaged, and instantly the fighter was blazing across the night sky, 700 miles above the city. Weapons were powered up, and coordinates for the alien ship were transmitted to 306. The pilot altered course by two degrees, and then his scanner lit up with their own sighting.
The Grays had taken to just flying in, making a pre-emptive strike or only firing back about a third of the time. Usually, the Hawks scored hits and either blew the saucer out of the sky or forced it to crash. The general public had no idea how many crashed Gray ships littered the Northwest Territories of Canada, the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, and the jungles of Brazil. Fortunately, the saucers very rarely crashed in populated metropolises, which the pilot of Hawk 306 was very grateful, the incident at Vancouver, notwithstanding, so the secret war continued, unknown to Joe Public.
In seconds the saucer was in range of the Hawks laser, a weapon that brought a smile to the pilot's lips every time. It was stolen technology from a crashed Gray saucer, and the only weapon man had at his disposal that was guaranteed to pierce the resilient, smooth hull of the Gray ships. His control panel bleeped and hummed, and then rang out a weapons-lock. The pilot was less than two seconds away from firing when a blinding white light distracted him, forcing an involuntary jerk of his arm to cover his eyes and away from his firing control. Was it a Gray attack? Had they fired on him?
No, it was much worse.
A massive explosion had taken place on the Moon, which according to his instruments, was actually pushing the Earth's lone satellite away from the planet! Had the Grays created some kind of ultimate weapon and demonstrated it on the Moon? Had they blown up Moonbase Alpha as retribution for all the Grays that had been shot down? The pilot and his co-pilot didn't know, but amongst the feedback and disruption of electro-magnetic fields of the Earth and the retreating Moon, the pilot gritted his teeth, firing up the Hawk's turbo-boosters, then fired on the Gray ship, and kept firing even as the saucer was reduced to a ball of sputtering flame.
The Command Centre back on Earth was going crazy, voices raised, some crying, as the surface of Earth trembled from earthquakes and tidal waves, the calm symbiosis between the two spheres forever changed. The Hawk pilot fought to enter Earth's atmosphere, which had been churned up and turned into a royal mess, but not enough to prevent him from landing at the nearest base.
Humanity would survive the cataclysm, scarred by the fact that they'd lost their Moon, and that it had probably been the work of the Grays. The heads of the various governments would eventually meet and agree on one thing; Earth was now at war with the Grays of Zeta 2 Reticuli, and they were to be shot on sight if they dared set foot on Earth.
34 days later and billions of miles away...
Commissioner Gerald Simmonds paced his spartan quarters like a caged tiger. Nothing present gave him any comfort nor calmed his edgy nerves. No amount of reading, watching pre-recorded videos or documentaries, or strolls in the botany section that maintained trees and grass and flowers from home. He was tired of being irritable, tired of being bored out of his mind, tired on inane conversation with people he didn't know, tired of the Alphan uniform he was forced to wear, and tired of the lack of real food and drink. He longed to be dressed in one of his Armani suits, or the bathrobe from Morocco that he'd worn every morning the past four years, until the breakaway accident. He was at the breaking point, appetite-wise, as real food had been rationed to an all-time low in an effort to conserve it, resulting in the stomach-churning glop and sawdust the Alphans had created with their protein stores.
But most of all, Simmonds wanted an end to the everything-is-fine-and-we're-lucky attitude coming from Alpha's senior officers. It wasn't enough that they were still breathing; he wanted familiarity, sun on his face, rain in his hair, cars honking at his limousine, dogs barking at him and child crying when he was near them, anything! He longed for a fine wine, a quiet evening with a brandy and a newspaper, a filet mignon dinner with all the trimmings. Anything that resembled a normal Earth-bound life! Not this retched existence on a wandering, lost Moon! The thought that he, a politician, not an astronaut or scientist, could be condemned to a life where he never saw Buckingham Palace, the ruins of Greece, or the matches at Wimbledon again was simply too much to bear. And every second that passed the Moon streaked farther and farther away from all that he knew.
His head ached from this daily drudgery and depression, while his stomach ached from the same. Or perhaps it was the Alphan food. He didn't know, and he didn't care. What did matter was that when he finally took charge, finally tried to do the right thing, a terrible secret he'd kept to himself had been revealed. Had he just let that yes-man, Paul Morrow, do his job, the secret of his knowledge of the Gray bases on the Moon would have remained as such. He thought he was helping Koenig and his people find a way out of the secret alien base they'd found themselves trapped in, but as it turned out, the team had stumbled upon a hangar bay that opened up to the Moon's surface, giving them a way out. Granted, they nearly died when the bay was decompressed, but by then it was too late. Simmonds had revealed he knew how to pierce the walls of the base with the Moonbase's transmitter because he, himself, had been told that was the frequency that humans and Grays had conversed with for decades. That led to a meeting with Koenig and the bases science officer, Victor Bergman, and the revelation that Earth had not only been visited by these aliens that humans had taken to calling 'Grays' for decades, but had had to allow the aliens to build bases on the Moon, until humanity's technology had caught up with them. He'd told Koenig and Bergman what had been told to him by senior officials when he attained the office of lunar commissioner, and by then it was a foregone conclusion that the Grays were here to stay.
That had stuck in his craw back then, and one of his first duties as commissioner was to oversee the production of a new fighter craft, the Mark Nine Hawk, to be used as protection against what Simmonds saw as Gray belligerence. They'd proven an effective defence against the large-headed, gray-skinned, child-sized aliens, but had not completely ended the Gray threat. That was something he would never see, now that he was trapped on the Moon, flying God knew where, into deep space.
It was an ignoble end to someone that considered himself one of Earth's protectors.
His door buzzer rang out, and he considered not answering it, but resigned himself. He picked up his commlock, preferring the refreshing change of an argument to the mind-numbing loneliness of his quarters. Without even checking who was at his door, Simmonds activated the commlock with all the enthusiasm as a couch potato with a TV remote. He heard a few footsteps enter his quarters, followed by the door closing behind them. He sighed, and tossed the commlock onto a chair.
"I've been expecting you," Simmonds mumbled.
Commander John Koenig's stony expression told Simmonds that he wasn't about to enjoy the next half hour or so.
Professor Victor Bergman stepped back from his chalkboard, not only to consider his calculations, but also to rest his weary arm. Once he'd accessed data that Computer had stored from the now-defunct internet of Earth, Victor had written and erased calculations and equations with the frenzy of a concert conductor approaching a crescendo.
He nodded at his handiwork and agreed that it was as close to the truth as he was going to get without actually being told by the Grays that he was correct. The meeting with Simmonds regarding the alien race that had colonized the Moon under humanity's nose was an eye-opener. The fact that Earth's leaders knew about the aliens and even where they were from was mind-boggling., but completely unexpected was the fact that Simmonds, alone, knew the whole story. He knew about the decades of visitations by the Grays; he knew about their Moon bases (although not the true number of them); and he knew where they were supposedly from.
That was when Victor dove into his next project, filling in all the blanks about the Grays and their home system that he could manage with the resources at hand. He could have used Computer to do the heavy work, but he preferred to use his mind, rather than take the lazy way out. Using Bodes Law and Kepler's Third Law, Victor ascertained that Zeta 2 Reticuli, a G1V star, possessed four planets, the fourth of which was approximately 1.12 astronomical units from its sun. The Earth was one a.u. from the Sun at about 93 million miles, while Mars was 1.524 a.u.s, which planet Reticulum 4 well within the life-zone of a G-class star.
Research also determined that the scientific community announced on September 20, 1996 that a planet was thought to orbit Zeta 2 Reticuli. Had this been the first step by the Powers That Be to gradually inform the general public of the existence of the Grays? Bergman couldn't answer that now. Interestingly, though, one of the most famous alien abductions, the case of Betty and Barney Hill in 1961, would eventually reveal that the aliens had told Betty where they were from. However, as it was just one of hundreds of UFO encounters/sightings the facts it held were no more important or relevant than any other. Now that it was a fact that the Grays originated from Reticuli, the Hill's captors took on an intriguing identity; they, too, had been Grays.
Victor wasn't sure if he should be pleased with this confirmation or not, thanks to the Moon's present trajectory. The nuclear explosions that had sent the Moon on its deep space voyage hadn't sent it on a heading towards the Gray's planet, but it still felt too close for Bergman's peace of mind.
23 light years had never seemed so short a distance in all of Victor's life.
"So...what would you have me say?"
"Why, for starters," Koenig told Simmonds. "Why keep their existence a secret from my staff and I?"
Simmonds shrugged, ambivalent. "After a month on this rock I doubted they were alive or even still here, so-"
"I'm not talking about recently, Simmonds, I'm talking about a day, two days after breakaway, even a week. You never said a word about their existence or their bases, despite the fact that their abductions of and experimentation on humans proved them to be a potential threat to life on Alpha."
"They died because of Breakaway, John," Simmonds reminded him, waving a nonchalant hand at the commander. "Their frail bodies were no match to the g-forces."
"Yes, you know that now, but you didn't a month ago. What were you thinking? Bargaining with them if they showed up on our doorstep?"
Simmonds grimaced at the thought of that. Koenig had no idea how much the Commissioner despised the Grays, and to suggest that he'd ally with them was to insinuate that he'd sell his sold to get off this rock. It wasn't far from the truth, but it would have to be someone, anyone, but the Grays, for him to do such a nefarious thing.
"John, you'll just have to believe me when I tell you that I truly thought the Grays had been decimated by the explosions in the Nuclear Waste Disposal Areas. You were there; we barely survived the accident. And if they had, I would have assumed that they would have taken their light-speed ships back home. They wanted the Earth, John, not the Moon! This was simply a convenient location for their bases! Once removed from the Sol system, what was the benefit of them remaining on the Moon? I'll tell you; nothing! An attack on Alpha would have done them no good, and they'd learned as much as they could have about humans, so one or two more from Alpha wouldn't have made a damn bit of difference. One day became two days, and two became five days, and five became two, three, four weeks. I could hardly tell you what I, myself, had been sworn to secrecy about, now could I?"
It made enough sense to Koenig, but he still had to get one more thing off his chest.
"Your concern for our lack of resources is well known, Commissioner, and yet keeping the Gray bases existence a secret would have deprived us of any number of potential supplies. Maybe you should have considered that while you ate Alphan rations?"
"Yes, yes, that occurred to me, but I didn't do anything about it and I am sorry, all right? Very sorry. I cannot change the past, and what's done is done. Now, if you'll excuse me," Simmonds said, turning on his heel and picking up a book that he actually couldn't stand reading beyond page 14, "I'd just like to resume my reading. It's about all the comfort I have these days."
Simmonds dumped himself into the chair that he'd tossed his commlock onto, his back to Koenig and his fingers deftly locating a place one third into the book. Apparently, his body language convinced Koenig that this meeting was over, and the Commissioner was going to sulk and read. He left Simmonds's quarters, and only when the door had closed did Simmonds grunt and pull the wayward commlock out from under his now-sore buttocks. He threw the device onto his couch, the lousy novel joining it a second later.
He had been wrong.
He preferred to be alone and sulk, rather than have an argument
Koenig had to accept that that would be about as much sympathy and honesty from Simmonds for now. He couldn't be sure how much the Commissioner was still keeping from him, and that made his stomach ache in a way that only Gerald Simmonds knew how to aggravate.
It was 0825 hours, and the detour to Simmonds's quarters kept him from where he felt the most comfortable, namely Main Mission. As he passed by his people he could see in their eyes a respect for his authority and pleasantness that was abruptly removed from Simmond's head after breakaway. He nodded a 'good morning' to the occasional Alphan, among them Anton Zoref and Bob Mathias. A good-looking security officer approached him and offered a friendly,
"Good morning, sir!"
Koenig's mind raced for the officer's name but couldn't quite latch onto it. Instead of pausing, which would prove he didn't know who the man was, Koenig replied with the closest approximation that his memory could offer.
"'morning, Mister Verdilly."
The officer stopped in his tracks, his face scrunched up into a 'What-did-he-just-call-me?' look, but the Commander had already entered the travel tube, and was gone. The man shook his head, mumbling,
"That's 'Verdeschi', sir. Tony...Verd...whatever."
Main Mission was bustling with activity, and thankfully it wasn't because of an emergency. Still, news of the nine alien bases had either unnerved, intrigued, or pissed off his Alphans, depending on who John spoke to. He entered the huge room to find his senior staff at their posts, with second-in-command Paul Morrow ready with a status report.
"All of Professor Bergman's sensor/camera units are functioning perfectly, sir. We're able to access any view from any location on the Moon now. Readings show normal radiation, and no activity or life near them."
Koenig nodded. "That's good to know, Paul, but I think you know I'd rather have a report about the Gray bases."
Morrow returned the smile, and handed his commander a five-page print-out. "Updated ten minutes ago, sir. The first base discovered, the one in Sinus Medii, has Team 3 at it, and they're exploring accessible areas. The second base in the Sea of Tranquility has Team 4 at it, and they've reported more sophisticated electronic and scientific equipment at it. Team 1 is a few minutes from Base 3 in Mare Undarum." The mentioning of Team 1, which consisted of Alan Carter, Greg Sanderson, Kyle Cernik, and Eva Stein caught Koenig's attention. Morrow continued, "They traded places with Team 5. Seems they couldn't wait to do some more exploring."
"Well, I can't blame them for that, but I don't want these bases treated like amusement parks. They could hold any number of dangers that we don't know about. As much as I want to explore all of them at once and know what's in all of them I don't want my people climbing over each other for first crack at them. Coordinating three teams is enough of a logistical problem, anyway."
Morrow nodded, knowingly. Main Mission was capable of overseeing multiple operations, but sooner or later they were going to overlap, and more than one crisis might have to be addressed at the same time. Koenig made his way up to his office, using his commlock to part the big doors all the way. Pushing aside Simmonds's annoyed face out of his memory, he read his report.
Eagle Four landed with a thump in Mare Umdarum, a cloud of lunar dust swept up and away from it. Carter powered down the engines, and joined the surface team in the module, helmet in hand.
"In a hurry to go for a jog, Carter?" the bearded Sanderson joked, locking his helmet into place.
"Why do you say that, Sandy?"
"Hell, you set us down so hard I thought you were in a hurry to check out the little green man base?"
Alan chuckled, and attached his own helmet. "That's little 'gray' man to you, son and yeah, I'm itchin' for a walkabout. Been to the first one, and now this one, so I'm real curious.
"You fly-boys," Sanderson laughed, ending it with that and making Alan wonder if that was supposed to be an insult or a throwaway comment. He checked that his team was ready, and decompressed the module.
Carter felt a moment of déjà vu as the Gray base came into view just forty yards from where he'd landed the ship. It was the same design as the first, with interconnected pyramidal structures that equalled the size of a house, a lone doorway illuminated to show them the way inside. He'd think it was the same base at Sinus Medii were it not for the different landscape around him.
After trial and error at the first two bases, the Technical Section had devised a way to depressurize the airlock without the sudden decontamination procedure that always followed entry past the outer door. It was a good thing, too, as the blinding white light and nausea was something he could do without.
Sanderson led the way like he was bringing home the boys for a round of beer and darts, fiddling with the unlocking mechanism as he went. The airlock was cramped for four people of human size, but Gray size was probably an easier fit, Alan reckoned.
"Stand-by. Overriding the decon system...now," Sanderson's voice was heard to say over three sets of headphones. A couple of lights shorted out on the small control panel. "Done. Alan? Wanna do the honours and do your breaking-and-entering act?"
Carter wasn't sure he liked Sanderson's humour, but now was not the time to tell the big man that he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Carter leaned forward and touched the buttons that he'd randomly pressed at Base 1, but was now sure of as the ones that would simply close the door and pressurize the airlock. Less than a minute later, the inner doorway opened.
"Pressurized," Eva reported, somewhat needlessly.
The group entered the hollow structure, which once again possessed a single small control panel to activate the airlock systems, and a steep stairway that led down into the subterranean areas of the base. The first base had been quite large, possessing a hangar bay for actual flying saucers, equipment, storage, quarters, and most disturbingly, the remains of human abductees. Numerous people from Earth had been brought to the base and experimented on; for what purpose was still to be determined by Doctor Russell. Even the numerous dead bodies of the diminutive gray-skinned aliens paled in comparison to the horrors that Alan, Koenig, Helena, and the other Alphans present beheld. Carter was interested in seeing what this third base had to offer, but he dreaded finding more barbaric laboratories and dead humans.
The second base had held none of the terrible brutality of Base 1. Located in the Sea of Tranquility, a mere 12 miles from where Neil Armstrong had landed his lunar module, ironically christened 'Eagle', Base 2 had been more of a supply depot and Earth observation outpost than anything else. Eight Grays had been found there, as opposed to the fourteen at the first base, and all had died from the same thing; crushed by the powerful g-forces created when the nuclear waste detonated and catapulted the Moon out of Earth orbit.
Now it was up to Team 1 to discover the secrets of Base 3. Not one of them hoped to reveal another chamber of horrors, as word of that had spread across the Alpha in a matter of hours. Supplies and valuable data were sought after more than anything else. As with the other bases, the ceilings were low for humans, so the three men had to hunch slightly to avoid the sensation of claustrophobia, while Eva Stein could walk as she pleased, as the shortest one present.
"Breathable atmosphere. More or less," she reported, checking her sensor unit.
Each of them began to unlatch their helmets, but kept them handy should the air suddenly give out. It was deathly still in the base, illuminated by weak lighting only at the doors that lined a single corridor, the soft humming of power as silent as the softest exhale of breath.
"Forgot to pack a map of this place," Sanderson joked lamely, feeling no humour, despite his quip. "Might as well check the first door and just keep going from there. Agreed?"
Sanderson wasn't in charge, but nobody was in a position to argue. Somehow it was a comfort to have a bear of a man on their side, so the team kept close to him more on instinct than any earned respect. Each door had a small credit card-sized panel outside of it that would lock or unlock it. Other base doors had been found to be security locked, and those were the ones that were noted and catalogued, usually dealt with later.
The first door swished open revealing a swirl of dust in a dimly lit room stacked with containers. Alien lettering labelled them, but might as well have been spatters on mud on the floor for all the sense they made to the Alphans. Cernik stepped forward, aiming a device at the containers. He ran his sensor check a second time.
"Water! Great! We can definitely use that!"
"Maybe. It could be water from their planet, and might need to be decontaminated. God knows what kind of crud might be in their water supplies. But it's a good start, huh," Sanderson said.
The team made their way down the corridor, locating two more locked doors, and one of which was used as storage for unrecognizable electronics parts, then they came to a door that was unlike any other discovered by any exploration team. It sent chills down Carter's back.
"Sanderson! Guys! Here!" he beckoned.
The others left the open storage doorway and joined Carter, their faces reflecting the Eagle pilot's shock.
The door was labelled with an image of a human being.
The body lay dormant and lifeless in the lounge of Launch Pad 1 to prevent possible contamination. Frozen in time and death, the thing awaited what would be considered from its perspective alien medical specialists. It lay on a sterile silver gurney, bathed in a morbid blue light, unseeing huge eyes remaining open underneath a silver sheet that covered it from its obscenely-large head to it's tiny child-like feet.
As Doctor Helena Russell scrubbed in preparation of the autopsy, her assistant, Doctor Bob Mathias, caught a look that was only familiar to him on the faces of others. He could tell the difference between Helena's controlled, cool reserve, and a look that was pensive and distracted. He tried to relieve the tension with a light,
"Wonder if he has a Martian life insurance policy that we can bill?"
"Pardon?" Helena mumbled, obviously caught daydreaming. "Oh. Yes, that would make it...easier." Her reply came with a forced smile, but ended with a frown filled with angst.
"Helena, if I didn't know better I'd swear that you didn't want to do this," Mathias finally admitted, grinding his soapy nails with a brush under flowing water.
She sighed, and nodded. "You've guessed right, Bob."
He showed the surprise he felt at guessing her emotional state correctly. "But why? This is an amazing opportunity! We're about to be the first people to ever examine the biology of an alien species!"
She shook her head. "Not quite. If a film made in 1947 is authentic, then we might be the third and fourth doctors, or the thirtieth and thirty-first."
Mathias shrugged. "Well, I'm still excited about this. You haven't told me what's on your mind, though?"
Helena hesitated as she turned off the water and dried her hands. "It's one thing to see aliens on TV or in the movies, but this was once a living, breathing life form, and one that only approximates our physiognomy. It looks like a hideous mutant by our standards, but it's actually an entirely different species whose population could have been in the billions. I'm not an overly religious person, Bob, but it's disconcerting to know that Earth really wasn't alone in developing intelligent life, and that God may have simply made Earth and moved on, then made the Gray's planet, and moved on."
"That's probably why the authorities didn't reveal their existence to the general population, Helena. If someone like yourself questions their place in the universe because an alien race is revealed, imagine what more spiritual people would go thorough?"
"What are your feelings about that, then, Bob?"
"Me?" he asked, and thought about it with a casual smile. "We've always been told that God is everywhere. Who's to say that He can't watch over more than one of his creations at a time? We've been taught that He can take care of more than one person at a time, so why not more than one planet at a time? He's not a man, He's God; as infinite as the universe. I couldn't do His job; that's why He's God. We're simply discovering another of his creations. I'm sure oceanographers were overwhelmed the deeper they travelled under the sea where they discovered what might as well be alien life. But they took it in stride and did their job. Somebody else poked inside one of those aliens? Okay. Now it's our turn, and we should relish this opportunity that's been given us, Helena. We have state of the art technology on our side, not 1940's, so we might discover things the alleged other doctors never did. You're never supposed to stop learning once you earn that medical degree."
Helena offered him a bright smile. "I see the Lunar Commission knew what they were doing when they sent you up here, Bob. That positive attitude is exactly what all of us will need while we're out here."
Bob replied, "C'mon. We've got some history of our own to make out there."
They entered the cool room where their subject awaited them.
Koenig decided to stretch his legs at the same time that Victor came by Main Mission, some papers in his hand. Morrow and Tanya Alexander were coordinating Team 4 which had taken off from the Gray base at Tranquility, and Team 2 which had an E.T.A. of fifteen minutes to base 4 in the crater, Kepler. The fourth base was still a mystery, so this first visit would now reveal its secrets.
"Just think, Tanya; just five more bases to go after that," Morrow commented.
"Hopefully they are empty or have supplies. Perhaps we discovered the most horrific one first."
Morrow nodded, and greeted Bergman before returning to his duties, while the Professor approached Koenig, and handed him his papers, showing how close they'd be coming to the Gray's world.
"If you consider 23 light years 'close'," Victor quipped.
"Their saucers could make the 39-light year trip to earth in a month, Victor," Koenig reminded him.
"And they couldn't make a return trip without the supplies stored on the Moon, according to Simmonds. If they don't have a supply depot somewhere else, then I'd say the Grays were quite rigid in their travelling, with no deviation in course from their objective, namely Earth. However, we can't be sure they weren't sending scouting parties out to any number of planets within their capabilities."
Bergman paused to allow that thought to click inside Koenig's mind. The Commander spotted the inference immediately.
"You're saying that we could be crossing another flight path the Grays use for another planet?
Bergman nodded gravely. "We've been so caught up without own experiences with the Grays that it never occurred to me until this morning that Earth might not be the only planet the Grays had an interest in. In which case that 23 light years between us and them might be the halfway point between Zeta Reticuli and another star. Here, this is what I've come up with so far..."
"Carter to Moonbase Alpha, come in! Urgent! Carter to Alpha, come in!" the pilot's voice practically yelled, somewhat out of breath and demanding everyone's full attention.
"Morrow here, Paul. Something wrong?"
"Ya could say that! Big news! Is the Commander there with ya?"
Koenig and Bergman appeared behind Morrow. "Right here, Alan. Report."
"Hold onto yer horses, Commander; my team has found more of our own people! And these ones are alive!"
Helena and Mathias had ascertained the location of the alien heart and lungs when the urgent call came for them to halt the autopsy and get suited up for an emergency at Gray base 3. At first the two doctors thought one or more of the team had been hurt, since for all they knew the Gray bases were laden with booby traps. It was with speechless shock that they were told that Alan and his party had found several human beings on life support systems, forgotten abductees brought to the Moon prior to breakaway.
Eagle Six blasted off from launch Pad 1, and climbed rapidly, Ray Torens at the pilot seat, Koenig at the co-pilot position. As the ship traversed the hundreds of miles between Alpha and Mare Undarum, Helena, Mathias, and Bergman made final adjustments to their spacesuits and equipment.
"Imagine! Up until a few days ago we thought we were all alone on the Moon, and then we discovered that we had shared the Moon for decades with an alien race. They perished, making us think we were alone again, and now we learn that there are 14 more human beings alive with us!" Victor marvelled.
"I admit it'll be nice to see new people, but an additional 14 people will tax our power and resources further," Helena reminded them. "I just hope I can revive them. Alan didn't think they were in suspended animation, but rather unconscious and on life support."
"I'd hazard a guess that had the Grays not died during breakaway these people would have been additional test subjects," Mathias surmised.
"Mm. We'll be happy to see them, but will they be happy to see us, I wonder? Each of them will have to be told the truth gently about the disaster and how they'll have no choice but to start a new life on Alpha," Victor said.
Helena felt a wave of anxiety about such a thing. Simmonds was a constant thorn in John's side, unable and unwilling to acclimate himself to life on Alpha. With luck only a few or none of the 14 newcomers would be as much trouble as him.
Torens would have to test his piloting skills somewhat as he had to manoeuvre his Eagle between Eagle Four and the base hatch. Docking would be impossible, so he would have to land the ship in a way that would give the rescue party the shortest distance possible to bring survivors aboard. Blasting lunar dist every which way, the retro rockets on the belly of Eagle Six brought the rescue ship to a gentle halt just 18 feet from the dust-swept opening. Koenig thanked Torens for his speed and efficiency, then joined the others as they prepared to disembark.
The rescue team would find Carter waiting below, eager for Russell's medical expertise. He was so excited and uptight that he practically reported everything he had to say with one breath.
"Fourteen people; five female and nine males, of which nine are Caucasians, two black, two Asian, and one middle-eastern, as far as I can tell, and all are between the ages of 20 and 50, tops. None have been operated on, but they're all hooked up to alien equipment, which Sanderson wanted to fart around with, but I told him not to until you guys came."
The team found Sanderson, Stein, and Cernik hovering over the rows of humans like protective watch dogs, visibly relieved at the sight of two doctors and their commander. The room was rectangular with equipment arranged beside each bed, of which only two were empty. Either side of the room possessed seven humans, all oblivious to the outside world. Helena and Mathias examined the nearest human, an Asian woman, before checking the white male beside her. Bergman examined the alien equipment, his mind racing to ascertain the function of each button and display screen.
"We checked out a couple corridors after Carter called you, sir," Sanderson reported, "but this was the only place with humans in it. So far, we've only located two dead Grays, and they weren't even in this room. They were in what looked more like a main control room for this base."
She looked up at her commander, and responded, "I think it should be easy enough to revive them, John. They appear to have been hooked up to a system that would keep them unconscious for as long as they were plugged in, but fed intravenously. They weren't frozen; they've aged a month as some might in a coma."
"The question is who do we revive first?" Mathias pondered, looking side to side and glad that he wasn't saddled with that decision.
Koenig looked around at the sleeping people, soon to be told of their new lives light years away from everyone and everything they ever knew. Some were disturbingly young and would probably take it the news the worst.
"We've got limited room on the Eagle, so we'll just start with these three," he said, waving in the general direction of the three people nearest to the door. "But let's take that first one real slow, okay? I want to get this right fourteen times over. Everyone, let's give the doctors and Victor some room in here. We'll do a short recon of the rest of the base, in the meantime."
The comm-post in Medical Centre bleeped just before Paul Morrow's face appeared on each of the four screens. Doctor Ben Vincent approached the unit.
"All set here, Paul. We've got six beds set up for the first two arrival parties, but I hope that's all we'll get for now. Better to keep the remaining beds open for our own people if they need them."
"No problem, Ben. The Commander wants to awaken the first six, talk to them and let them know the situation, so they might be able to comfort the next ones that are revived."
"Works for me. Talk to you later. Medical out."
"...and the dog says, 'I would, but only on Wednesday! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
Matthews rolled his eyes at dumb joke number 581 uttered by Pastarelli, his co-worker in the SETI section of the communications division. They'd known each other for years, and still Matthews had a hard time understanding how virtually everything out of the the Italian's mouth made him crack up into fits of laughter. Matthews was pretty sure that the most recent attempt at humour would have been just as lousy even if Jerry Seinfeld, himself, had told it.
"Why does it have to be Wednesday? What's wrong with Thursday or Sunday?" Matthews wanted to know.
Pastarelli stopped chuckling, and became as serious as a man at a job interview. "Well...nothing. The punch-line is that he's a talking dog and he knows what 'Wednesday' means! Get it?"
Matthews shrugged his shoulders. "Not really. How does the dog know the difference between Wednesday and Thursday?"
"He doesn't need to know!"
"Then he's not really that smart, is he?"
"But he's a talking dog, for God's sake!" Pastarelli cried, waving his hands and getting annoyed. "Isn't that enough?!"
"I dunno. What about that part with the DVD player? Does he-"
"Never mind, never mind!" Pastarelli sighed, slumping in his chair, while fiddling with his control panel. "Geez, try and lighten up somebody's day with a funny story and it becomes the Spanish Inquisition!"
"Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" Matthews laughed.
"Aw, shaddup! Next you'll be comparing my talking dog joke with that parrot sketch!"
For the chance at a little peace and quiet while he did his job, Matthews decided against the unfair comparison, and adjusted his own controls, savouring the sudden silence between he and his partner. Less than five minutes later the Italian SETI specialist was talking again, but this time he was all business.
"Look at that. I saw that yesterday, too. Does that look like a signal to you?"
Matthews left his console to examine the squiggles and lines that were shifting across Pastarelli's small view screen. The two of them were experts in their field of study and employed by the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence organization, which had maintained a small department on Moonbase Alpha until breakaway. The two of them shared scanning and analysis duties with three others, but were usually teamed with each other. Matthews figured it was because none of the others could stomach Pastarelli's weird sense of humour, which overwhelmed a keen intellect at times.
"Mm. You've seen this once before?"
Pastarelli shook his head, not a black hair on his perfectly-coiffured head moving a centimetre. "This is the third time, actually. It happens every time we scan sector 61. Is it a signal?"
Matthews adjusted the gain but the lines continued to jump and fidget. "Let's find out by scanning the adjacent sectors. Maybe we're catching the edge of a quasar emanation."
Helena and Mathias sighed simultaneously as the last connection to the alien equipment was removed from the Asian girl, whom they both agreed was no more than 24 years old and of Japanese descent. Until they were able to speak to her about her abduction her home town could be Tokyo, Kyoto, San Francisco, or Toronto. Mathias took her blood pressure again, while Helena listened to the girl's heart.
Satisfied that they'd caused no damage, Helena asked Koenig to arrange transport for the survivors, so he had Team 1 return to the Eagle and retrieve all the necessary space suits and equipment. Reviving the young lady in an underground alien base would be much worse than a familiar human medical centre. It took a half hour from the time Alan, Sanderson, and the others left to the final life support connection was made before the woman was ready, at which time the second survivor, a white man of about 30, was nearly disconnected from his alien machinery.
"I've got the front," Sanderson volunteered, grasping the handles of the stretcher near the Asian girl's helmeted head.
"I've got the back," Carter said, hefting up the survivor from the handles near her boots.
Cernik and Stein joined them, as they'd been needed to operate the hatch controls to the surface and the hatch to the Eagle, as well as hold the young lady in place when they waited for the cramped alien airlock to decompress.
"I saw all that lot down there," Alan said, his voice transmitted into his team's helmet earphones. "All look in decent shape; no really old people or even overweight couch potatoes. Looks like the Grays needed healthy people, for whatever reason."
"If they didn't want to fatten us up to eat us, then what were they doing kidnapping people all over the place?" Cernik wondered.
Nobody had an answer to that.
She'd been aware of unknown voices at the back of her mind, but no one that she could identify as someone she knew. She felt like she'd slept a week, and realized that her arms and legs had fallen asleep during the night. No, not asleep. They were weighted down, as if she had someone on top of her or had gone to bed wearing a heavy winter coat and pants. She tried to swallow, but her tongue felt dry and useless, as if she'd drunk six cups of coffee the night before and now had the worst case of morning breath she'd ever woken up with. The night before? What had she been doing last night? She hadn't been out with the girls; it had been a weekday, and she'd left work to get home in time for-
Lights! A glowing disk! The car stalled on Highway 160! Eyes! Hideous large black eyes!
She opened her own eyes, and gasped so strongly that she nearly swallowed her own tongue! The aliens were back and they were carrying her somewhere! She screamed so loud in her own helmet that she nearly burst her own eardrums, while she tried to dive off the stretcher they were carrying her on. Her mind was racing and she was overcome with nausea and confusion, her eyes blurring with tears that distorted her vision, as the ground below seemed to be made of sand-covered sponge. They put her into some kind of space suit that clung to her and hindered her movements, making everything feel like it was moving in slow motion.
"KEEP AWAY FROM MEEE! OH, GOD, NNOOO! NNOOO!! SOMEBODY HELP ME! HELLLLP" she screamed so loudly she could barely understand her own words.
The orange-suited alien hustled to grab her, but she was rolling around and bouncing along the ground, feeling like a puppet with an insane man controlling her movements. When she tried to run she lost her balance and careened sideways, falling gently to the ground, her booted feet up in the air. All at once her limbs were grasped by the aliens, who struggled to drag her inside a spaceship or giant white insect. Her mind could take no more, so with one final scream of terror the woman passed out, and became totally limp in the arms of the Alphans.
Once the module was decompressed, Carter disconnected and yanked off the woman's helmet, then his own. Stein tore the emergency medical kit from its cabinet and opened it ready to offer assistance, but Carter's relieved look told her that it wouldn't be needed. Not yet, at least.
"She's still alive. I reckon she woke up and panicked."
"Damn, that scared the bejeezez outta me," Sanderson gasped, his own face looking as pale as a man in a cemetery at midnight. "She coulda hurt herself or one of us by pulling a stunt like that!"
"What stunt, Greg?" Eva Stein accused. "To her one minute she's on Earth, and the next she's aware she's locked in a space suit on the Moon. Try and cope quietly with that!"
"Okayokayokay," Carter said, interrupting the nasty remark he could tell Sanderson was about to utter. "We've got two more to get in here, and we can only to that with her suited up again. Eva, stay here with her. Torens," he said, noticing the concerned Eagle Six pilot hovering near by the command module door, "keep 'em company. And actually, put your interior helmet lights on so if she wakes up again she can see your human features, and not those Gray guys. She might not panic if she sees we're Earth people."
Koenig and Victor struggled to suit up the second survivor, the white man, while the doctors slowly disconnected the third survivor, a second white man with a European look to him.
" someone who's...probably healthy and...not a pound over 150...could feel like 250 pounds...while unconscious!" Bergman grunted, trying to manoeuvre the limp male into a position that would allow John to connect the belt seals on the man's suit.
Koenig agreed, and helped set the man back down onto his examination table, giving the two of them a chance to catch their breath before they attached the helmet. Footsteps a minute later told him that Team 1 had returned, but their faces shows a grimness they hadn't displayed when they'd left.
"She woke up!" Alan said, entering the room, and sparing an extended look at the doctors. "You might wanna give everyone a shot to keep 'em under until we get back to base."
"Oh, no," Helena whispered.
"Where did she wake up?" Koenig asked.
"Up on the surface, a couple yards from the Eagle. Freaked out because of the lighter gravity and because the lot of us probably looked like more Grays in space suits. Lucky for us she fainted, or she might have gotten herself hurt and tried to take off her helmet!"
Helena grabbed a hypo from her kit, and injected the space-suited man with a cc. of a transquiliser. In their weakened state the drug would likely keep all of the survivors under until they revived them back at Alpha.
"Helena, how much longer until you disconnect this next man?" Koenig asked.
She checked her hypo, and laid it on a table beside the European man. "Bob and I can have him disconnected in the next ten minutes. The procedure is simple and virtually without risk."
"We'll carry both of them to the airlock at the same time, then," Koenig decided. "He'll go outside with you guys first," he said, indicating Alan and Sanderson, "then Cernik, Victor, and I will bring the third one. Helena? Should I bring another Eagle here to retrieve another three people, or do you want to return to Alpha with just three people?"
"I hate to leave the others here, alone, but...they need to be dealt with very carefully, and I can do that easier with just three at a time. Bob?"
"Absolutely. They've been here, safe and sound, for a month. Another day or two won't matter. We've got to allow them to recuperate at their own rate, and inundating Medical with a half dozen people will just spread us too thinly."
"Fine. Continue disconnecting him. We'll leave together."
Simmonds had ascertained, after some discreet research, that Koenig and his lackeys rarely, if ever, are at Cafeteria 3, located on level three of the building housing the solarium. No, they preferred number 1, which was nearest to Main Mission. He just wasn't up for their irritating looks, their lame attempts at socializing, or their cold stares. He knew he'd feel more comfortable here, amongst the 'little people', the ones that hardly mattered, but still did their part to keep the base up and running.
Half of the ten tables present were filled, while a small line of humanity examined the food that was as appetizing as day-old tea and cardboard with cheese smeared on it. Still, he had to eat and this was the closest to food that he was going to get without being aggravated.
"Hello, CommissioNER!" a cheerful, heavily-accented voice said behind him.
He'd hoped for some semblance of anonymity amongst the crowd, but he supposed a unique personage such as himself couldn't go unnoticed for long. He sighed inwardly, and turned around to face the woman who had broken his 'cover', only to misjudge her height. He looked down and be held a short Chinese or Japanese or Korean woman (he didn't particularly care which nationality she was), who was grinning up at him toothily, her elfin features bunched up.
"Er...good morning," he replied, wondering what this young lady had to be so happy about.
"What are YOU having this mornen?"
"I'm having corn frakes!"
"Oh, really?" Simmonds grunted, not impressed by her choice or her heavy accent that was butchering the English language.
"Sure, you wanna try some? I was talking to Trevor in the FOOD prep section and he told ME that we were allowed rations of real mirk this today!"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Mirk! For your corn frakes!" she grinned, convincing Simmonds that she was the type to get excited about a coupon for a 99 cent Big Mac.
"I believe you're trying to say 'milk'?"
"Yes! What did I say?" she asked, her face bunching up in confusion.
"Nothing wrong with that CommissioNER! I thought I said 'mark', and THAT would not make sense, huh?"
"Indeed," Simmonds sighed, turning away from her and silently wondering how such a child could have been assigned by the International Lunar Commission. What was she a specialist in, anyway, finger painting? He pretended to search the items behind the glass window for a breakfast entree.
"I'm not having EGGS!" the girl announced out of the blue.
"Well...bully for you."
"Want to know why?" she asked.
I'd rather know why you talk the way you do, placing emphasis on the wrong words in any given sentence, he thought to himself. He frowned, and gestured for her to continue, even though his stomach was demanding nourishment.
"Because I heard those are duck eggs, and not chicken eggs, and that's just weird, right?"
"Er...if you say so."
Simmonds shook his head, wishing he was standing somewhere else in the line up. God, she wouldn't actually want to sit down with him, would she? He didn't even know her name and preferred to keep it that way.
"Don't believe everything you hear, young lady," he gruffly advised, turning his nose up at a kitchen staff member who offered him a plate of sausages.
"Alan Carter says they're duck eggs, so I guess I should believe WHAT he says. Just like I heard about those new people from Tanya Alexander, and she should know the TRUUUTH!"
Simmonds rolled his eyes, his patience near its breaking point. "'New people'?"
"Sure! The ones the gray aliens had locked up in one of their bases."
"WHAT?!" Simmonds exclaimed, unable to believe what he'd just heard from this confusing young lady. His voice carried so far that everyone looked his way.
"Sure? You didn't hear about IT!? It's really, really big news, and news travels very FAST on Alpha. Commander Koenig is at a base right now waking up the new people. Isn't that great news?"
"Excuse me!" the Commissioner yelped, tossing his tray to her and dashing out of the cafeteria.
"Hey, Commissioner, what about the real MIRK for your cereal?! Oh, well. More for me!" she grinned ear to ear, then noticed someone else she recognized joining the line. "Oh, hi, Lowry!"
"Morning, Yasko! How are you today?"
Simmonds paced in his travel tube, gaining uncomfortable looks from the others he shared the vehicle with, while it traversed the tunnels en route for Main Mission. He'd spoken to Koenig only a short time ago, and in that time he'd either discovered the so-called 'new people' or he'd come to his quarters to tell him about them, but their argument had cut short that revelation. Either way, this was too important to ignore. He had to get to the control room and advise Koenig's lackeys on the best possible procedure. New people! Possibly civilians like him! For the first time in a month Simmonds felt like he was in the company of people just like him, rather than a vagabond collection of astronauts, eggheads, and commoners that infested this base.
The big screen was displaying an image of pad one, where Eagle Six was touching down. Simmonds found Morrow barking out orders and generally getting high on power while the real commander of Moonbase Alpha was absent for the second time this week. Simmonds hadn't bothered to memorize but a few faces, of which Morrow and Kano were two that he noticed were at their stations. He'd found Tanya Alexander attractive in a way, but never realized that she was the type to gossip and tell underlings like that talkative Chinese girl about sensitive matters like humans captured by those insidious Grays.
"Medical teams are standing by the hangar, Commander," Morrow was reporting over the open comm. Line. "Eagle Four is touching down on pad three now."
"David, could you relay to Team 4 the news that humans have been found at Base 3, and that they should move on to Base 7, in Crater Stevinus. They're close enough to it for a short visit."
"Morrow to Eagle Nine."
"Eagle Nine, Irving here."
"Prepare to launch in one minute. I'm just coordinating two return flights."
"Just say the word. Standing-by."
Paul let out an indignant click of his tongue and stared incredulously at the Commissioner who'd been pestering him like a child in a toy store.
"Commissioner, I am rather busy, as you can see. Whatever you want, can't it wait?"
"I should think not! It's come to my attention that your commander has found some people in one of the alien bases, and is bringing them here?"
Morrow looked at him with a sour expression, wondering who had the big mouth and had already spread the news, just a short while after he, himself, had learned of the abductees. There was no sense lying to the politician, as he had the authority and bluntness to confront Koenig about the rumour, anyway.
"Yes. The Eagle with the abductees has...or rather, will land in five minutes."
Simmonds didn't offer so much as a 'thank you', which suited Paul just fine; the Eagle had already touched down, and the patients were probably enroute for Medical centre at this moment. Wasting Simmonds's time brought a small smile to Paul's moustached face.
"Paul, Eagle Four has touched down," Sandra reported.
"Morrow to Eagle Nine; you're clear to launch. Say hello to Crater Kepler for me."
"Excuse me, Mister Morrow?" a voice beckoned him that he didn't recognize.
What now? The exasperated Controller moaned inwardly. He was going to lose his voice if he didn't give it a rest soon! He turned and faced an Alphan he didn't recognize.
"I'm Scott Matthews, SETI Division," the blue-eyed technician said, seemingly uncomfortable around the lone authority in the control room. "My partner and I have been scanning various sectors, and usually don't find anything other than background solar winds, but we've latched onto what we think might be an artificial signal." He handed Morrow a long printout.
Paul looked it over and decided it was important enough to investigate, so he had Kano download the readings into Computer for an analysis. Knowing it would take some time to process, Matthews left, hoping he'd be informed later of the results.
Angela Robinson exited the travel tube she's shared with the fidgeting Commissioner Simmonds, sure that she'd heard him mutter something rude under his breath as the doors closed behind her. She'd heard correctly. Simmonds stood up from his seat, now alone in the travel car that had stopped four times to let on more Alphans, or drop others off. And he used to feel that the three to six interruptions per ride in the elevator at the Commission building had been unbearable! He'd never experienced such laziness as these Alphans, who seemed to enjoy riding the travel tubes just for the hell of it, or the opportunity to socialize while on duty! That silly girl with the bulging eyes, Annette something had twice tried to be overtly friendly, but he rebuffed her. She simply wore too much eye shadow to be taken seriously.
Finally the vehicle came to a stop. And the doors opened automatically nearest the main entrance door to Launch Pad 1, where a female Alphan manned a secretarial-like desk. He'd have preferred to just run into the hangar, but some times called for his political charms to be employed.
"Good morning," he said with a half-hearted smile that he didn't mean.
"Good morning, Commissioner. How may I help you?" she asked, sounding cordial enough.
"Yes, could you tell me if Commander Koenig's ship has touched down yet?"
She blinked uncomprehendingly, until she realized that her visitor wasn't fully informed. "Yes, sir. Over ten minutes ago."
"Ten--?! But Morrow said-" Simmonds stuttered, until realization dawned on him. "Keep me out of the loop will he? We'll just see about that!" he mumbled, and turned to leave, but hesitated. He looked back at the receptionist, who had the look of someone hopeful of a bonus from their boss. He forced himself to calm down, just as he had during that ridiculous meeting with President Yeltsin some years back, and said, "Thank you, my dear. You've been most helpful."
"You're welcome, Commmissioner. Have a nice day."
He entered the travel tube, empathizing with the young lady, who was probably stuck back there all alone, as he was stuck on the Moon by himself. He thought where Koenig could have gone, and immediately dismissed the notion that he'd return to Main Mission. No, the stalwart Moon base officer would stick like glue to his chief medical officer, and go to the medical section with her and the new people. He keyed in his destination request, and paced in anxious anticipation for his next destination.
But first he'd have his ride interrupted three times, one of which by the dreaded cereal-eating Yasko.
While Mathias and a nurse examined the second survivor, and Vincent and an assistant hovered over the third, Helena and Nurse Paula Garver oversaw the care of the young Asian woman, who was now free of her space suit and in a patient smock. Koenig stood off to one side, looking at all three doctors care for their respective patients, aware that any one of them might be the first to wake up. It was an exciting proposition, but also a daunting one. Fourteen people would wake up to a reality check that he couldn't know for sure any of them could cope with. And chances were that the fourteenth wouldn't be any easier than the first.
"She's coming around," Helena noted. "Should I sedate her, John?"
He stepped forward, shaking his head. "No. Let's get this started. She's already woken up once from this nightmare."
The young woman swallowed, and seemed to be in a semi-conscious state, her mind playing a fuzzy, incoherent picture before her. Helena leaned forward, and said quietly,
"Hello? Can you hear me? You're in a medical centre now. Everything's going to be okay now."
The girl's eyes cracked open slightly, then bulged open when she tried to get up, until Helena and Garver gently laid her back down.
"Eyes! Aliens! What?! What?!" she stuttered, thrashing about, her eyes filling with tears.
"It's okay, it's okay! Shhhhh! You're safe now!" Helena assured.
The girl looked up at the woman who was clearly a gentle soul and a doctor, while her assistant gave her an encouraging smile. She became aware of being in a room with equipment that bleeped and hummed, and was cast in shadows. A stern-looking man appeared at the foot of her bed, seemingly looking at her like she was some kind of specimen.
"Where...where am I?" she whispered up to the blonde doctor.
The doctor gave the man a quick look, which seemed filled with discomfort, but she looked back down at her, and replied, "You're in a medical centre. You've been...on a life support system for over a month."
"'A month?'" she cried.
"It's OK, you're going to be fine now. I'm Doctor Russell; can you tell us who are you?"
"And where you're from?" the man added.
She looked at the faces and around her again, trying to understand how she could have lost a month of her life when her body simply felt tired, but without the pain of a serious injury. The doctor, the man, and everyone else wore unusual uniforms, too. Not quite military or police, but neither were they dressed like doctors that usually wore long white loose-fitting coats. She looked back up at Helena.
"I'm Jenny Shiro. I'm from Alamosa."
Doctor Russell and the unidentified man exchanged looks but clearly drew blanks. "Where's that?" he asked her.
Her face bunched in confusion. Just how far from home was she? "Colorado," she replied, simply, making it sound obvious. "I was on my way home from work. I was driving on Highway 160 when-" She stopped in mid-sentence, her face going blank.
Koenig and Helena waited for another word, but she'd stopped like someone had pressed her 'off' switch.
"Jenny? Jenny?" Helena prompted.
The girl blinked and came back to life. "Yes?"
"You said you were driving home and then...what?"
Jenny thought for a second, and shrugged. "Then...I was here."
"Are you sure?" Koenig asked, leaning forward. "You don't remember your trip home being interrupted?"
"Interrupted by...what?" she wondered, her eyes searching for the truth in his.
"I think that's enough for now, John. Physically she's in a good health, but she needs to rest. We can talk to her more later," Helena insisted. "Jenny, your body has been hooked up to some equipment for several weeks, and now it needs to be allowed to heal on its own. I'm going to give you something to help you to sleep, and then we can talk some more. Okay?"
"Yes, Doctor," she replied, feeling she could trust this woman. The man scared her somewhat, however.
Koenig backed off, understanding Russell's thinking. Why add to the woman's shock with full details all at once? She'd uttered words that she apparently couldn't recall seconds later, so her memories had been immediately buried in her subconscious. That would make the revelation of where she was that much more traumatic.
He became aware of raised voices outside the main entrance, and something told him that he knew who the cause of it was. He unholstered his commlock and aimed it at the doors, parting them, allowing a big mouth to be heard.
"I have authority over you, mister, no matter what you think! Koenig! Koenig! Tell this buffoon that I'm allowed-"
"Let's talk about this outside, Commissioner," he said, leading the gruff politician back into the hallway and several yards from the doors, and the towering security guard.
"What's happening in there? I'd like a report!"
"Simmonds, whether you're in a hospital zone in Boston, London, or the Moon, the rules are that people are supposed to be quiet. It's common courtesy. Now, the first survivor has woken up, and given us her name and where she lives, but nothing more. That's all we can expect from any of them, considering they've been flat on their backs for over a month. Right?"
That seemed to mollify the Commissioner, but ever the politician, he had to have the last word.
"Yes, well, your so-called Controller, Paul Morrow, sent me on a wild goose chase, telling me that you hadn't landed, when you had! I don't appreciate being the butt of his games, Koenig, and the implication that I will be in the way!"
"Fine, I'll speak to him about that. But, right now, Commissioner, you and I really are just in the way here, and we should let Doct-"
He was interrupted by a crash and loud voices from inside the Medical Centre. The guard whipped out his stun gun, and looked to Koenig for permission to enter. Koenig nodded, and followed the man inside to find raised voices and a commotion erupting that involved a nurse being used as a shield by one of the survivors. Koenig recognized him as the third one, the European-looking man.
He was shouting something in French, which would complicate things, as none of them spoke French! He was panicked and blinking furiously, as if he was a drug addict on a bad trip. He shouted in his native tongue that he wanted to know where he was and who they were. He saw a guard pointing his gun at him and refused to release the terrified nurse he held in front of him.
"Don't shoot him!" Helena urged. "A stun might kill him in his condition!"
"We've got to make him understand that we're not going to hurt him," Mathias said.
"Calm down, sir," Koenig said, quietly, his hands held open at shoulder height in the universal sign of meaning no harm.
The man's eyes were wild, and he was breathing heavily. Helena worried that he might burst a blood vessel or have a seizure, he was so upset. He demanded again, in French, to know who they were and what they intended to do to him. An unexpected ally appeared beside Helena. It was Simmonds.
"Let someone versed in French take over then," he told them confidently. He stared down the crazy man, his hands held calmly behind his back. "Bon jour, Monsieur. Mon nom est Gerald Simmonds. Je suis Commissaire de la Commission Lunaire Internationale."
Koenig had a bad feeling about this but he let him continue.
Simmonds said something else in French.
The man erupted in a frenzy of hostility and threats to the nurse.
"What did you say to him, Simmonds?!" Koenig barked.
"I simply told him to let her go!" Simmonds assured him.
He'd inadvertently told the man where he could shove it.
Simmonds's French was much more than he would admit.
"What's...going...on? Where am I?" the second patient slurred, trying to get up.
It distracted the French man long enough for his hostage to bite his hand and loosen his grip. Mathias and Koenig were on him in two seconds, and by then he'd gotten a quick sedative shot from Helena. Vincent and his assistant held down the second man, and assured him that everything was okay, and that the other man had reacted badly to his recovery. It seemed to be enough for him to willingly remain in his bed, unsure why somebody in this crowd of unknown people was freaking out. He watched from the safety of his bed as the psycho French guy fell asleep at last, his shot taking effect. He couldn't help but notice his surroundings, too, as well as that everyone wore a uniform.
"He's out," Helena sighed, reconnecting the French man's monitors. "Paula, find out if we can have a French translator here in an hour or so. The next time he wakes up I want him assured that we're not going to harm him. And also find out why he reacted so badly."
Relieved of one problem, Koenig approached the third survivor, glad that he simply looked confused and not psychotic.
"Sorry you had to see that. How do you feel?
The man thought about it for a second before replying, "Okay, I guess. Tired. Where am I?"
Koenig took his cue from Helena and responded with an ambiguous, "A medical centre. This is Doctor Russell, she'll be caring for you. Who are you?"
The young man, barely 30 years old, answered, "Jack Parker. Can I ask you something?" Koenig nodded, although hesitant to give out too much information.
"What the hell am I doing on Moonbase Alpha?"
Koenig wasn't expecting that! He stared at Parker, then Helena, then Simmonds.
"Sonova--!" Kano gasped, checking the printout that Computer had given him. Hew looked at it a second time to be sure that he wasn't making a mistake with the coding, but the answer was crystal clear. "Paul! We've got a problem!"
Morrow stopped in mid-sentence, his conversation with Petrov abruptly ended. He watched as his friend bounded down the stairs from the rows of computer panels, a printout held out before him in an unspoken urging for the Controller to check it out himself.
"Those SETI specialists locked onto a transmission, and it's not one of ours! Computer has estimated the general direction it was aimed and I'll give you one guess which way it was pointed!"
Bergman appeared at Morrow's side, looking over the same sequence of figures and results. It was a race between the two men who could turn whiter.
"Zeta 2 Reticuli," Bergman whispered. "Or at least in it's general vicinity. Breakaway sent us on a course that skewed the transmission several degress away from the star, but it's definitely a Gray distress signal!"
"We've got to block it! Or knock it out!" Morrow told him.
The Professor nodded, gravely. "Immediately, Paul. We can't let that get through and have that signal bring more of them here. We've also got to find out if the signal was sent by one of their people or if it's an automated signal."
"Sandra, we need jamming signals out there on the double! We need to scramble something that's trying to contact the Grays!"
"Yes, Paul," she said, her fingers flying across her keyboard.
"Main Mission to all launch pads; prepare to launch a laser-equipped Eagle in the next five minutes. Top priority. Flight plan will be relayed momentarily," Morrow said into his intercom mic. "Professor, any idea which base or bases could be sending it?"
Victor examined the readings and the directional coordinates, and grimaced. "It would seem to originate from the Moon's western sectors. There are four bases that we know of on that side of the Moon; Valis Schroteri, Crater Gassendi, Mare Nubium, and Crater Kepler."
"I sent Team 6 to Kepler just a while ago!" Morrow replied, concerned for Iriving and his complement.
"Then let them know ahead of time that they might need to destroy that base upon arrival," Victor said.
"Professor...there could be more human survivors there."
Bergman nodded sadly. "But if the Grays locate us there might not be any Alphan survivors. Give the order, Paul."
"What makes you think you're on the Moon?" Koenig asked with a lopsided smile.
Parker shrugged. "Isn't it obvious? I've seen people on the news wearing the same uniform as yours, and it's only in use on Alpha. Is Commander Gorski still here?"
"No, he left prior to br-to my assuming his post. Commander John Koenig," he said, offering his hand, which Parker weakly shook. "There's no use batting around the bush, Mr. Parker. You're on the Moon because we found you inside an underground alien base located on the Moon. You were the victim of an alien abduction."
"Say what?!" Parker gasped, not quite able to wrap his mind around the full truth. "You've got to be joking!? Aliens...captured me? Why?"
"We don't quite know just yet," Helena admitted. "But if history is anything to go by then you were abducted at random. Perhaps spotted, captured, examined to see how healthy you were, and then...retained, as it were, for whatever further purpose they'd intended."
"If it's any consolation, from what we can tell, a disaster resulted in the deaths of every Gray alien on the Moon. You're safe now, and amongst thirteen other civilians that we found inside the same base."
"Base? Alien base? Holy shi--. I've always believed in aliens and life on other planets on other worlds, but not on our Moon!"
"Join the club. We only just discovered their existence three days ago," Koenig said, sparing Simmonds a glance, who didn't take kindly to the inference.
"So...what did they do to me? And to Eddie? Where's Eddie?" he asked, starting to sit up and look around.
"Take it easy, Jack. Lie down. We've only just revived you and two others. One of the other eleven people back at the alien base could be Eddie, who is...?
"My best friend. We were...on a boat? On a dock? I...can't seem to remember. I think it was a dock in San Diego. Why can't I remember for sure?"
"You've been through a lot, Jack," Helena offered. "You need to rest, okay? The best thing is for you to get some sleep and let your body recover."
"Recover?" he frowned. "Just what did they do to me?"
"Nothing obvious that we can detect, yet. I haven't had a chance to give you a full examination, and I'm not going to do that until you get some rest."
Nurse Garver returned with a hypo, which Helena checked.
"You're the doctor," he said. "Just let my family know where I am, huh? And try and get me home in time for my birthday."
Helena swallowed uncomfortably, and gave him his sedative.
"We'll do our best. When's your birthday?"
Parker's eye lids became heavy and he felt sleep come on, but managed to slur, "July 13...same day as my favourite actor...Harrison...Ford..."
Parker was out like a light seconds later, unable to hear the heavy exhale of breath from Helena. Her eyes were filled with sympathy for the young man, something she saw reflected in John's eyes.
"Abducted prior to July 13; that means the Grays abducted him over three months ago!"
And that made the task of informing the abductees even harder. Losing one month of their lives would be difficult enough to cope with, but the revelation that Parker and others like him could have lost over three months of their lives to alien experimentation could be too much for any of them to handle.
Alan wasn't about to let his men and women out into the field on a mission that he, himself, wouldn't fly, so for the third time in 24 hours, Carter was piloting an Eagle over the lunar landscape, his tracking system locked onto the alien signal. As co-pilot Torens adjusted his controls, Alan's Eagle 4, refuelled and certified flight-ready, traversed the barren surface, craters and hills of all shapes and sizes coming into view and seconds later streaking behind them. All five Eagles sent out had their communications systems locked onto the signal, but eventually four of them would lose it as they approached the wrong base. The fifth Eagle would hit the jackpot, and Alan wanted that ship to be his.
He was about to be rewarded.
"Signal is getting stronger, sir," Torens reported.
"Then it's a race, lad. Eagle 10 and by buddy Pete Johnson are headin' for Crater Gassendi, which ain't too far from Mare Nubium."
Carter was an optimist, and didn't note out loud that they were nearing the equator of the Moon; Gray bases to the west of them at Kepler and to the east at Medii could just as easily be the signal's origin point. They couldn't know for sure until they continued flying south of either alien base. Even then, Alan mused, there could be a tenth base out there, or a remote communications unit sending out that S.O.S.
Six minutes later Carter was sending his own transmission.
"Eagle 4 to Alpha; confirmation of Gray signal at Mare Nubium. Repeat; Gray signal originates at Mare Nubium. We're going in to knock it off the air."
Shortly thereafter, Eagle 4 was circling an artificial structure that had been dubbed Base 5 by the Alphans, and the location of the resting spot of the unmanned Ranger 5 lunar probe, launched in 1964. This base was different from the others discovered, and appeared as a straight wall, hidden amongst artificially-created craters. Only from a certain angle did it stand out as something that didn't belong.
"So what do we do now? Just blow it to smithereens?" Torens wondered.
"I thought I could do that without a single thought, but...what if there're more of our people down there? Bad enough to be abducted but to die without a chance of being rescued, well, I won't stand for it. We'll bring some heavy weapons with us to wreck their transmitter, but I wanna look inside first."
"We're not exactly cut out for a recon, sir," Torens reminded him. "I thought we were supposed to let experienced surface teams check out-"
"No time for that, lad. Grab your helmet; we're going for a walk."
The interior of the base was as still and confining as the others, as far as Alan was concerned. He carried with him a sensor unit to home in on the signal, which led him straight to the room like some kind of electronic bloodhound. No Gray bodies were seen by either of them, nor was there any sign of human occupation, which made the task that much easier.
"We'll do it the easy way first, an' just shut 'er down manually," Carter said over the helmet comm.-line.
"I'm getting no life signs anywhere. Who set it off, then?" Torens asked.
"Probably an automatic system," Alan surmised. "It could have been set off when we started puttering too close to the other bases, or when we located this one. I dunno."
Carter took a couple steps towards the control panel, but was slammed back onto his rear end as he walked into an invisible force field.
"Aawww, buggers!" he cursed.
Koenig knew that he'd be the most useful in Main Mission, and would also be on top of any new developments. Helena assured him that the three survivors would remain asleep for at least a couple hours, so there was one worry out of the way. Now he could devote his full attention to the Gray bases, even if Simmonds had seen fit to hover near him, ever the nosey busy body.
Morrow told him that Alan had been the one to locate the base that was transmitting the weak signal, but they hadn't heard from him since he'd entered the interior of the underground facility almost ten minutes ago. The other Eagles had been recalled, with the exception of Team 6 at Kepler, whose assignment had been entry into Base 4, anyway. Bergman had no answers as to when or if the Grays would receive the distress signal.
"We can't be certain how long it's been transmitting, or if they have any ships between us and their home solar system. One possibility, also, is that they'll arrive at the point that the Moon was at when Alan terminates the transmission, and by then we could be long gone."
Koenig asked, grim faced, "And if he can't shut it down?"
"Then they'll spot us like we were sending up flares."
Helena was troubled by the violence of the third survivor. He'd reacted so badly, and posed an equal threat upon waking as the first time he'd regained consciousness. He didn't look so dangerous while asleep, his five o'clock shadow creating a rugged, masculine figure. However, his wild-eyed frenzy and ease with which he threatened Nurse Martin gave her cause for concern. She'd had Bob place him under restraints, then approached a comm-post.
"Kano here," the friendly computer technician responded.
"David, do we have census records with photographs? Or perhaps police records?"
Kano shrugged. "I'd have to check, Doctor. Ouma was very thorough in his downloading of data from earth and the internet, but I can't be sure. Give me about five minutes?"
"Thank you, David. Russell out."
She turned to find Mathias near her, his face reflecting her concern.
"For what it's worth, I agree with you. That man is dangerous."
Good to his word, Kano confirmed that Computer possessed many types of records of people from all over the world, including Interpol, FBI, and CIA records. Helena transmitted an image of the sleeping survivor from the shoulders up for Kano.
"If you make a match, any match at all, David, please let me know."
With a little detective work, they'd know who this man was before he had the chance to lie about his identity when he woke up.
Carter led the way through the labyrinth of corridors, Torens in tow. He'd stop at every door, some of which would open up, while others remained locked. A part of him was gratified that they didn't find another room marked with a human diagram or rows of jars with human remains within them. He did, however, locate a familiar sign.
"That's the hangar bay. It's just like the sign back at the first base."
"So, there're flying saucers inside?"
"Cool! Let's check 'em out!" Torens said, reaching for the controls that would open the doors.
"Easy, kid! Not now. The last time we entered a Gray hangar deck the saucers activated and launched by themselves. For now, this base doesn't recognize us as any kind of threat."
"Okay. But, we've still got to knock out that transmitter, sir! We're wasting time taking a tour, if I may say so!
"It ain't a tour to look for a pub or tennis court, lad. I'm lookin' for anything that'll help us bust up that transmitter. Even a circuit breaker room to cut all power to that damn force field. If we can't do it the easy way using Gray technology against it, then we'll blast it with our rifles," Carter explained.
They eventually reached a door with markings that neither recognized, but was still of interest to Carter. He looked at the six strange images on the plate-sized plaque adorning the door. Rather than lettering, the six images looked like artistic splotches or diagrams.
Carter looked at Torens, who couldn't understand them, either. "Reminds me of those weird splotchy drawings that psychiatrists show patients and ask, 'What do you see? Your mother or a butterfly?'," he joked.
Carter tried the control panel on the outside, and was surprised when the door slid open.
Apparently Torens was more surprised by what he saw come out, if the high-pitched scream in his helmet was any indication.
Morrow approached Koenig's desk, his face a mixture of relief and concern. He handed his commander a report, summarising it.
"Team 6 has reported 11 dead Grays at the Kepler base, but no humans. Analysis so far suggests a research station that doesn't involve human experimentation. Also could be a supply station if the numerous cargo containers are any indication, several of which contain alien food and water."
Morrow shook his head. "Silent for 20 minutes, now. I realize that signals can't penetrate the deeper someone goes into a Gray base, Commander, but I don't like this.
Alan hasn't offered so much as a stand-by signal."
"I don't like it either, Paul, but we'll just have to trust Alan to put his best foot forward."
Alan was putting his best foot forward; then his left foot, then his right foot, then his left... He and Torens were making a dash down the corridor they'd just come from, as a hundred alien insects the size of their fists nipped at their booted feet. Led by a communion instinct, dozens of insects followed one another, the leader of which was chasing the two huge intruders that feared it.
The little creatures had swarmed out of the confined room like water down a hill, which was enough of a reason for Carter and Torens to retreat, not knowing if the bugs were curious, friendly, or very, very hungry. Alan recognized them as one of the images on the plaque, although poorly rendered by the artists. His one glimpse inside the room had shown him the insects climbing off a husk or corpse of something, so that told him that they might be hungry enough to try and eat their way through their protective space suits. If they did that, then he and Torens would be trapped down here until a rescue party managed to locate them, and by then it might be too late. He hadn't even bothered to unlock his helmet, so he couldn't be sure there was even a breathable atmosphere in the base, since he hadn't bothered to run an atmospheric scan. The first ones out had leaped for them and clung to their boots and legs, their six legs running at top speed as they tried to reach the pilot's heads, only to be swatted down.
"Cripes, they're friggin' scary little-" Torens gasped as he ran, until Carter yanked him off course.
"Back this way, Kid! Run!"
Torens recognized it as the corridor with the transmitter room. He'd almost led them down a different corridor, and quite possibly a dead end, at which point...he didn't want to think about that.
"Pull your stun gun out, and set it for stun!" Carter's voice shouted over Torens's helmet ear phones. His weapon! Of course, why was he running when he could fry them?
They ran a few yards past the open transmitter room, then Carter fired down at the floor nearest their feet. The creatures burned up or were singed by the intense heat, their fragile little bodies no match for even a low laser setting. Carter told him to follow his lead, at which point Torens fired his weapon at specific points in front and behind the alien insects. They seemed to sense the threat, and were no longer interested in the two large creatures that might have made an interesting meal for them. They scurried into the transmitter room en masse, at which point Alan fired a couple more times behind them. The creatures raced forward and were instantly beaten back by the force field around the transmission equipment. Between the laser strikes behind them and the force field ahead they couldn't see ahead of them, the multiple contacts drained it of power, until some of the alien bugs were able to pass through the weakened, crackling, shimmering energy wall.
"That's done it! Fire at the control panel!" Alan ordered, thoughts of doing the job gently thrown out the window.
A double laser strike smashed into the field, pierced it, and slammed across the blinking, humming controls. The field wavered and dropped, then the panel exploded outward. Carter and Torens turned away at the door frame just in time to feel the shock waves of the machine's destruction, able to hear the detonation through their helmets. Carter looked inside, and found carnage; a few insects were still alive, but most were as dead the the silent transmitter.
"Welll...I thought this was going to be a tough job!" he quipped.
His nightmare began when he was ten years old, the lone witness to his friend's death at the hands of a hit and run driver. Up until then life had consisted mainly of school, cartoons and street hockey. Andre's death and his family moving across the city of Montreal had turned his young life upside down, resulting in miserable time at school with few or no friends. He would eventually meet up with Yves, who would introduce him to the adrenaline rush of breaking and entering.
His life had never regained the innocence of childhood, as he was kicked out of home by parents who couldn't endure the change in their angry teenage son, and his complete lack of interest in finding a decent job. He lived on the streets and in shelters, pan handling by day and mugging people at night. Whenever the police locked him up it was only for a few days, but a few days multiplied by fifteen offenses made him an angrier person, frustrated with the turn of events that propelled him to this point in his life, but unwilling to claim responsibility.
One night when he couldn't sleep in his shabby hotel room he decided to go for a walk, finding himself near the city limits when a light in the sky grabbed his attention. He barely had the chance to make it out as a glowing disk when a spotlight transfixed him.
The nest thing he knew he was without muscle control of his body, lying on a metal table as large-skulled aliens examined him. He would never forget the screaming of anger and terror he was hearing in his mind, while his mouth remain closed, unable to utter a single word. They ran unidentifiable tools around him, and poked him with their long, alien fingers, elasticity of his skin.
Multi-coloured lights flashed before him and he was asleep again, dreaming about people he didn't know and places he couldn't identify, as most dreams played out. The next thing he knew a woman was performing another examination of him, but this time he found that he could move, so he took advantage of it. She'd resisted, and help had arrived in the form of several men in strange uniforms. Where was he and what were they doing to him, he demanded in his native French. They didn't seem to understand him, until a man that had apparently asked his hair stylist to make him look like one of the Three Musketeers came forward. His rudimentary grasp of French was simple rude, as he introduced himself then told him where to stick it. By then he'd released his pent-up anger on the nurse, as this weird situation was indicative of the bad luck that followed him everywhere. The nurse bit him, and he was subdued and drugged.
Now he was coming to, and watching the others around him with eyes that were open just a fraction. He saw the bitch that had bitten him, as well as the black doctor and the blond doctor, but they were all dressed in the same white/beige uniform like they worked in a sanatorium or something. He tried to scratch an itch on his thigh only to learn that his hands were bound by restraints. A slight shifting and he also determined his legs were held down, too.
So, they didn't trust him? Well, he had no reason to trust them. He would bid his time and if he had to murder all of them to escape then that's what he would do.
Carter and Torens returned to their Eagle to report success at shutting down the Gray signal, which Paul confirmed, noting that no other bases had begun transmitting. Koenig told them that as Alan was already there that he could perform as thorough a search of Base 5 as he could manage. Torens hated the idea. Force fields, alien bugs, what next? He preferred to leave these kinds of jobs to the professionals. What did Koenig expect them to do? Put on some hiking shoes and draw a map? He watched as Carter closed the channel, then started rummaging through a supply cabinet.
"What are you looking for?"
"A pen and a notepad. Hope you're good at drawin' maps."
Torens groaned inwardly, missing the good ol' days of routine Eagle flights between ILC bases on Earth and Alpha.
He wasn't sure when he would be able to make his move, what with his arms and legs held down, but he was becoming increasingly irritated at being treated like a criminal, even though he was one for more years than he cared to think about. Through squinted eyes he watched as the blond doctor read the monitors near the Asian chick, who didn't seem to be tied down, if her bare arms over her blanket were any indication. He closed his eyes all the way when the woman turned around in his direction.
It was frustrating not being able to spy on her, but he couldn't hide his surprise as he felt fingers on his left eyelid, opening up his eyes. He gasped at the contact, as the blond doctor showed surprise that he was already conscious. He didn't hide his anger and indignation, growling in French,
"Get your dirty hands off me, lady! What the hell do you think you're doing?!"
"She won't harm you. Doctor Russell only wants to help you," a deep male voice beside him assured him in French, while a meaty hand across his chest pressed down with only a fraction of the force it was probably capable of.
He looked to his left and found a large man with a moustache staring down at him, his unsmiling face a contrast to the softness of the doctor. He said something in English to her, who replied with a nod in the man's direction.
"You're under restraint," he told him in French, "only because you attacked a nurse for no reason. You didn't have to do that, you know. You're in a medical centre, and Doctor Russell just wants to help you."
"I've heard that before."
"Yea, well, she means it. I take it you can't speak English?"
"No, why should I? You Yanks think you're God's gift to humanity, forcing English down every country. I'd rather cut my throat than have English stuffed down it."
"I'm not American, I'm French-Canadian."
The survivor's face changed like he'd met up with a long-lost brother, but only for a few seconds.
"Whatever," he commented.
None of the medical personnel here could communicate with you, so they asked me to act as translator for you. I'm Marc Savard. Who're you?"
The man lost any friendliness he intended, and simply didn't answer.
"Is there a reason you won't tell me? Maybe a police record?" Still no answer. "You'll find out that such a thing probably doesn't matter now, so you should make the best of a bad situation, and just tell me who you are."
"Situation?" echoed the survivor.
Savard nodded. "There was an accident, and we're isolated now. Everyone has to trust everyone else now if we're going to survive. Whatever went wrong with your life before is old news. You can start fresh now, but we'll need a reason to trust you. So, how about it? What's your name?"
"What accident? Like another nuclear war or something?"
"You'll find out later, but only if you gain our trust. I'd imagine that those restraints are going to be really uncomfortable six hours from now."
"Alright, alright," the man huffed. "I'm Gilbert Boudreau. There. Satisfied?"
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Boudreau," Savard said, although he didn't sound like he meant it. "Where are you from?"
"Born and raised in Montreal."
"Aahh!" Savard said with a nod. "That explains your dislike of English. You probably voted for Quebec to separate from Canada and become a sovereign country."
"Yes! And it should have happened a long time ago! You're French, why don't you agree?"
Savard shrugged, unimpressed. "I like my countries intact and tolerant of everybody's province or region."
He looked at the woman doctor and relayed Boudreau's name and hometown, even though they were virtually the same in English and French. She left and began talking to someone on a monitor on the side of a pillar.
"So I told you some stuff, now you tell me this; where the hell am I? Some kind of mental or prison ward or what?"
"You'll find out soon enough, . You're among friends, but what happens after that will be up to you."
Boudreau didn't like the sound of that.
In Main Mission Kano tore off a printout and returned to his revolving desk at the front of the control room. With a flick of a switch Doctor Russell's face reappeared on his monitor.
"I've got your information regarding your patient, Doctor."
"Let's have it, David."
"Boudreau, Gilbert Richard, age 28, born August 10, 1971 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Multiple arrests and convictions, including breaking and entering, car theft, and resisting arrest. No fixed address, but was reported a missing person by the police in May, 1999, when he didn't show up for a court appearance."
Helena paused as her mind digested that bit of information. "May? Now that we know his names could you check our records for any other incidents or police reports, David? If not, then this could mean he was abducted as much as six months ago."
"Right away, Doctor."
A short time later when the other two survivors had awoken and been certified healthy enough by Helena, Koenig arranged a meeting with them, with Savard acting as Boudreau's interpreter. There was little reason now to hold back the grim reality of the situation to the newcomers. Reluctantly, he included Simmonds in the meeting, but was pleased to have Victor at his side as a sort of mental crutch.
Helena and Mathias were on an Eagle, en route to recover three more survivors, one of which would hopefully be one Eddie Sedgewick that Parker had spoken of. Each of them would require all the help they could get to accept their situation. He'd specifically arranged the meeting in a room just down the hall from the main Medical Centre,
without windows. Parker knew he was on the Moon, but the others did not. All three looked up at him expectantly as he stood before them. Victor and Savard were seated on either side of him, while a rugged security guard he recognized as Ugarkov stood by the exit. Simmonds leaned against a wall in the corner, his arms crossed.
"I'm Commander John Koenig. Mr. Parker knows where he is, but the other two of you don't," he said, pausing to allow Savard to translate. "This is going to sound too incredible to be believed, but it's the truth. Each of you was the victim of an alien abduction. You've been kept on a life support system until my people accidentally located the alien base you were being held captive inside."
Jenny started to stutter and babble out questions, but was hushed by Parker, even as Boudreau became agitated, his mind unable to believe the ludicrous story. Koenig continued.
"This is beyond even our experiences, but rest assured that you're safe now. What you do not realize, however, is that the base you were discovered in was located underground...on the Moon. At the moment, the three of you are still there, but on Moonbase Alpha."
"This is crazy! I'm no astronaut! I don't want to stay up here! When can I go home? When can I call my parents?" Jenny cried, her eyes flooding with tears.
"Don't worry, Jenny," Parker assured her. "Moon flights are as common as airline flights from the States to China, right, Commander? You'll be back in Colorado by the time-"
"I'm afraid it's not that simple," Koenig stated flatly. Three sets of eyes stared back at him, hanging on his every word. "While you were unconscious, there was an accident at the nuclear waste disposal areas up here. There was a massive explosion. The Moon broke out of orbit...and has continued to travel outside of our solar system."
Parker shook his head, his expression changing from hope to a complete lack of comprehension, as his faith in Koenig was shattered. It was a living nightmare, as he fought to accept that he was sitting on an out of control Moon, and Earth was falling away every second. Suddenly, all the petty things that bothered him, drivers cutting him off in traffic, the high price of beer, telephone solicitors, his loud neighbours...they all paled in comparison to the predicament he found himself in. He could hear Jenny crying, while the French man was silent, obviously unable to believe it, either.
"We've survived quite well here for over a month, and I'm confident that we'll continue doing so," Koenig said. "Alpha has all the resources for survival, it's self-sufficient, and in time you'll make new friends and start new lives. Of course, accommodations will be provided for all of you, and in time we'll be able to decide where all of you could work. We could always use another pilot, engineer, scientist, electrician..."
He had to stop as he saw Jenny Shiro bury her face in her hands, her shoulders trembling uncontrollably. Jack Parker offered a squeeze and gentle stroking on her arm, but he was doing it more out of instinct, as his face showed shock and only a fraction of the acceptance he'd need to survive on Alpha. The French man, Boudreau, was also taken aback, but seemed to see things in a different light, and why not, thought Koenig. He should have been in prison, but he was now free of the law.
Victor cleared his throat and leaned forward, his fingers linked before him. "Now, now, Jenny, in time you'll learn to accept this as a new challenge in your life. Obviously, this was not how you imagined it, but you're very young, and it's not without its excitement. What did you do in Colorado for a living? Did you work with computers?"
She shook her head.
"Oh, well, what about anything technical or electrical?"
Again, she shook her head, and removed her hands to reveal tears streaming down her face into her lap.
"We have many positions that you could fill here on Alpha that don't require you to be an astronaut or scientist. How about working in the botanical gardens or the food preparation section?" Bergman asked.
"I can't cook! My boyfriend left me because I was such a lousy cook!" she cried, wiping only half of her tears from her eyes, her control slowly returning.
"We'll find you a place, Jenny, I promise you. What exactly are your qualifications?" Koenig asked.
Her face burst out in anguish, "I'm a cashier!"
"Oh...dear," Bergman mumbled.
Oh, bravo, Koenig and Bergman! Simmonds thought to himself. You really know how to handle the ladies!
Helena and Bob Mathias unbuckled their seat belts and seconds later were joined by their Eagle pilot, Pete Johnson. He'd been a little miffed that ol' Carter had hit pay dirt again, and was the one that found the alien transmitter. He'd been on his way to Crater Gassendi, but was recalled. He'd been itching for a go at the alien bases, so he volunteered to bring the doctors back to Mare Undarum and Base 3 to retrieve three more people. It was all so mind boggling to Johnson; multiple alien bases on the Moon, then the aliens dying, and then comatose humans found. Boy, were they going to turn heads at Alpha for a long time to come!
Also accompanying them were Sanderson and Cernik once more, who would help carry the survivors to the Eagle. Sanderson was looking forward to the task, loving the feel of Moon walking and seeing the lunar landscape up close. It was a relief to get outside the confining walls of the base, even if he had to pack on a forty-pound spacesuit. What he hoped for this time was an easy trip with none of the people walking up like the girl had. That had been almost too much for even his nerves to take.
"We'll disconnect the closest two to the door of their room, but I want the third patient to be a white male, age 29, with black hair, and a small scar on his forehead, if such a man is present. That would be Mr. Parker's friend, Eddie Sedgewick. If he's not among them then we'll simply choose someone else at random," Helena said.
Once the module was decompressed, she followed Sanderson out onto the surface, Mathias, Cernik, and Johnson following close by.
Torens had drawn a map with more locked doors on it than he had fingers and toes. Door after door remained locked, and Carter simply shrugged and moved on, humming songs from U2 or David Bowie. Torens swore to himself that if Carter broke out into a rendition of 'Major Tom' that he might not be able to stop himself from giving his superior a swat on the arm.
Base 5 had shown itself to be quite large, and thankfully free of further infestation. What few bugs had survived had scurried away from them, their tiny brains now aware that these two life forms could hurt them and weren't a source of food. Coming to a dead end, they back-tracked to locate the last junction they'd crossed.
"Sir, aren't we just kinda wasting time here? For every open door we find three locked ones. We're not exactly finding out too much about this place."
"Locked doors are something, mate. And those'll be for the specialists to unlock. I can tell ya that I wished I had a map when I was there. Probably woulda steered clear of the rooms with the body parts in 'em."
They came upon the junction they were looking for, and after another locked door they gained entry into a room stocked with active control panels, and tables littered with electronic components.
There were also Gray bodies everywhere.
Carter looked at his co-pilot and said, "Write this room down as important, Torens. With a capital 'I'."
"Commander! Distant contact on sensor/camera unit 42," Sandra reported.
Koenig jumped out of his desk, and approached the center of the control room.
"I was running a search and scan routine amongst all of the new units that we set up, when Computer noted activity on that one," she explained.
Now that Alpha had cameras set up all over the Moon they could look in any direction, making it impossible for anyone or anything to sneak up on them.
"What sector is 42 set up to monitor?"
Sandra checked her instruments for the appropriate star charts, and responded, "Northeast sector three."
"That's the general direction of Zeta 2 Reticuli, John!" Victor announced.
"How far away are they?" the Commander asked.
Sandra checked. "Five point two billion miles and closing fast. They are on an interception course for us. They will reach us in twenty-five minutes!"
"Paul, sound condition red. Get laser-equipped Eagles out there now."
"Yes, sir. Attention all launch pads..."
Oblivious to the approaching danger, Helena's medical team entered the Gray base, and easily found the man that Jack Parker had described as his friend. Only one person at a time would be disconnected, but the next two chosen were a black woman in her mid-thirties and a swarthy white man in his mid-forties that looked either Italian or Greek.
This time she took care to administer a sedative once the patient was released from his or her alien control, so there wouldn't be a repeat of Jenny Shiro's panic. They were successful in disconnecting Sedgewick, who was taken to the Eagle and left with Johnson.
"Despite the lighter lunar gravity it's not easy carrying so much dead weight, you know," Cernik complained.
"Aw, I knew you were eating too much cake and not enough spinach recently!" Sanderson smiled. "I could do this all day! It's a great work-out!"
"Don't say that too loud, Sandy, otherwise the Big Shots will stick you with manual labour duty for the next six months!" Cernik warned.
"It's okay, guys, if Cernik wants me to bring the next guy back ," Johnson offered. "That way you can sit back and recover your delicate constitution!"
"Very funny. You've got a deal, though."
Sanderson and Johnson exited the Eagle and shuffled back to the alien base.
"So, I haven't been inside one of these things," Johnson said over the comm.-line. "What's it like?"
"About as many laughs as a stay-over at Dracula's castle. It ain't no picnic, man."
Johnson frowned inside his helmet. Maybe he gave in to Cernik's wimpiness too soon.
Simmonds wasn't expecting a call from Koenig, nor did he particularly like being disturbed when he was sulking in the privacy of his quarters. The Commander had made sure that he was kept at arms length from the survivors, setting three of them up in their own base apartment in a different section of the accommodation Building, away from Simmonds's area. He'd have his chance to talk personally with the new people, but he'd been politely told to back off for now. Resigned that he was going to spend the afternoon listening to the same four classical CD's for eternity, it was somehow preferable than having to deal with the pig-headed Alphan commander.
"What is it, now, Koenig? Cutting my rations of tepid Alphan coffee down to-''
"Simmonds, we having incoming contacts, and there's a chance they're Gray ships. I'd appreciate some input here at Main Mission, since you're the expert on them."
"Me? I know the bureaucratic side, Koenig, not the tactical-"
"You know more than most of us, Commissioner, either way. Can I expect you here?"
The sense of control and power over Koenig was invigorating. He hadn't felt it for over a month, and he was going to take full advantage of it.
"Very well, Koenig," Simmonds said, airily. "I'll be right there." In about twenty minutes, he added to himself.
While the crew in Main Mission dealt with the latest crisis, Simmonds strolled into his bathroom and took his time brushing his teeth, and combing his hair before he calmly walked towards the control room, bypassing every travel tube.
"Commander, what about the other Eagles out there? Alan and Doctor Russell are at two different bases, and Team 6 is still at Kepler," Paul asked.
"We don't need our people out there in the way of a possible confrontation. Recall Team 6 and Alan immediately, but have Doctor Russell accelerate her resuscitation of the survivors."
Minutes later a transmission at an unusual frequency was picked up. It had been aimed directly at Alpha. Koenig had it put on the big screen, which changed from the Alphan test pattern to a startling close-up of a living Gray. It's eyes blinked only occasionally, and as rapidly as a bird's, although the actual organs didn't seem to move around in their sockets as human eyes did. It gave Koenig the impression that it wasn't necessary, as the creature didn't have peripheral vision, and could see everyone and everything at once with such huge organs.
"Earthers. I am Nov," the Gray said in a surprisingly deep, but melodious voice.
"I'm Commander John Koenig of Moonbase Alpha," he said, deciding to play it as a first contact. "What can we do for you, Nov?"
"It is more what I can do for you."
"We have noted your life signs and your Moon's passage through space. I come offering you rescue from your uncontrollable planetoid. I can summon additional ships to bring you to a habitable planet where you would...could live out your lives."
"That's very generous, considering we've never met."
"It is our way," replied the alien.
"Really? And what would my people do for you in return when they were brought to your planet?"
The Gray simply stared back for longer than humans preferred, then said, "We will find a place in our society for you. We have done this before?"
"For other alien races? Or just the human race?" Koenig questioned, feeling his anger rise within him, as he recalled the comatose humans and dissected ones.
"As I have said, we have done this before." The alien paused again, before saying, "Why would you refuse an offer of help, Koenig? Do you truly believe that you will survive for more than a year on an out of control Moon?"
"You haven't answered my question, Nov," Koenig said. "Have you met my people before? How do you even know your planet can sustain my people? Or that we breathe the same atmosphere as one another? But, you already know that, don't you? You have been to our planet before, because you referred to us as 'Earthers'."
Nov hesitated and looked off to one side, apparently considering his answer. "Yes. My people have travelled to your planet before. As explorers."
Koenig was about to refute that when he saw Simmonds appear at the entrance of Main Mission, his hands behind his back and gait as casual as an old man strolling through a park, his expression as smug as ever. Koenig beckoned Simmonds forward with a curl of his finger, which Simmonds casually accepted, then noticed how everyone's attention was riveted to the big screen. He looked up at it, and stopped in mid-stride, his mouth gaping open, and eyes unbelieving of the image. He raced over to Koenig to stand by him.
"Take the long way here, Commissioner?" Koenig mumbled under his breath.
"A moment, please, Nov," Koenig requested, then turned his back to the alien and gave the Commissioner an abridged version of events. "He claims they're only explorers. Is it possible that only some Grays are violent and kidnap humans? Perhaps there are several factions of Grays, from several countries on Reticuli?"
"I remind you, John, that prior to breakaway we were virtually at war with them. They haven't displayed scientific curiosity about our planets for decades, only our people," Simmonds replied quietly.
Koenig faced the big screen. "We've decided not to accept your offer, Nov, but thank you anyway. Safe trip home."
The Gray stared back at him, and tilted his huge head slightly forward, and said quietly with a menacing tone, "You should reconsider. My planet has much to offer."
"I've given you our answer, Nov. Return to your planet."
"Then, it is regrettable that you resist. We could have done this with you cooperation. Instead, you will be removed from your Moon and brought to my home world, where you will willingly serve us. We hold your lives in our hands, and will do with you as we please, because your primitive-"
Koenig shut the channel with a swipe of his hand. He switched to the scrambled frequency locked onto his Eagles, which orbited the Moon between them and the approaching Gray saucers.
"Koenig to all Eagles; prepare to engage enemy craft."
"John?" Simmonds said, gaining his attention. "Their ships will survive direct hits from your Eagles. Only Mark Nine Hawks could match them, and you don't have any on your base."
"They'll have to prove it."
"Your pilot's best chances will be to use their weapons at near-overload intensity. Maybe if they're damaged they'll retreat, but experience tells me that it's not a fair fight."
Koenig nodded, and relayed to his pilots to set their lasers as high as they could get them. Next he had Kano link Computer and the big screen to the sensor/camera units covering the Moon, so they could see the battle. Immediately, Morrow ordered all personnel to descend to the lower levels for protection. The base had never come under attack, but there had been numerous fire and decompression drills performed down through the years. John trusted them not to panic, even though few of them had ever seen combat action in their lives.
The formation of five Eagles broke off from one another as four alien saucers made a mad dash towards them and the Moon. As half of the pilots charged their weapons, a triple stream of energy crossed their paths, one beam nipping at the edges of Eagle 11. She wobbled and lost speed, her momentum disrupted by the power of the alien beam. Seeing one of their own in trouble, the rest of the Eagle squadron let loose with their own lasers, some scoring hits, but the saucers continued to approach, enduring the first strike.
Eagle 9 pilot Frank Davis poured on the speed, and fired several arrows of laser fire at a specific saucer, which took it like he was throwing rocks at it. He weaved and banked, narrowly missing incoming fire. The attacking saucer broke off from its fellows, still heading for the Moon, as Davis gave chase.
Eagle 15 performed a corkscrew manoeuvre, circling the Grays that were firing at it. Pilot Toshihiro gritted his teeth as he felt the craft lift and twist ways that he was sure the designers hadn't intended. Well, too bad; this was war, and the Eagles were Alpha's main line of defence. His target saucer was lined up in his monitor, but swung off at an incomprehensible right angle. How did the occupants survive that? He wondered. He gave pursuit.
Eagle 11 pilot Danvers knew he was in trouble if he didn't get more power out of his ship. His sensors picked up bogeys approaching, sensing his troubles. He poured on the speed, but was jolted violently as an alien laser strike penetrated the middle of his ship, and blew out the other side. Disrupted and impaled by the alien's powerful weapon, Eagle 11 spun out of control, then ignited into a fireball as her fuel was super-heated and detonated.
"We've lost one," Morrow gasped, his sensors showing nothing where Eagle 11 was just moments before. "My God," he whispered, the horrors of losing more astronauts relived by him; Apollo One, the space shuttle Challenger, the Meta Probe and her Space Dock. Losing an Eagle pilot due to a battle in space would have been an unthinkable occurrence to him at one time.
Koenig allowed himself only a second and half to feel the loss, before he ordered more Eagles prepared for launch. If they had to lose every Eagle to save the innocent lives of the people of Alpha...well, there were worse ways to go, and he would willingly be one of those fighting out in space.
Eagle 3 came about and fired at the saucer in its cross hairs, but came up empty as the saucer accelerated and turned away. As it did so it returned fire, just missing the Eagle by only a few metres. Eagle 3 banked up, only to find itself in the line of fire of a different saucer racing in from a opposite direction. The pilot tried to do a loop-the-loop manoeuvre, but had his command module decapitated from the rest of his ship by the second saucer. The strike was too much for the ship, and it exploded outward from its two out of control parts.
"They got another one!" Toshihiro shouted over his comm.-line. "Don't let them take another of us out!"
"Then what part of the saucer do we shoot, mister?!" Davis snapped from his weaving ship. "They don't exactly have obvious engines like our Eagles do!"
The Japanese pilot had to agree. Those damn saucers worked on a principle that he didn't understand. The barbaric treatment of innocent humans fired him up, as he poured on the speed and chased a saucer back towards the Moon. He fired at it again and again, but the strikes only seemed to to hit a force field or were absorbed, he wasn't sure which. His sensors bleeped, and he yanked back on his controls, pulling Eagle 15 off course, and out of the incoming fire behind him.
"Dammit! Two have gotten through us!" Davis cursed.
"Then let's gang up on the two that haven't gotten that far!" Toshihiro countered. "It'll be a three-on-two fight then! Line up that bastard hard off port!"
Eagles 15 and 9 worked together and fired on the incoming saucer, scoring their first kill, as the saucer was pulverised by the super-heated laser. It gave the Asian pilot an idea.
"Try and hold back firing until the last second, guys! Our lasers are almost off the scale by then and have more of a punch to them!"
A saucer cut short the lives of the pilots in Eagle 18 with a flurry of energy strikes. It only enraged the others to seek revenge against the aliens. The crew in Main Mission watched with impotent anguish as they saw their defences cut through. Two saucers were on their way, when one broke off from the other, but still remained on course for the Moon.
"Where's it going?" Morrow wondered aloud.
"Sandra, can you get a fix on it with the sensor/camera units?" Koenig asked.
"I will try, Commander," she replied, working her controls furiously. "If it continues on it will be over the southern regions, or perhaps the equator."
Bergman found Koenig looking his way, the both of them as familiar with lunar geography as their hometown neighbourhoods used to be to them. "Helena," Victor warned.
"Paul, get Eagle 2 to scrub their mission. I don't care if they have to stop what they're doing and reconnect a survivor; just get out of that base now."
Cernik gasped at the news, his mind spinning from too much information, and not enough training to take over.
"B-but I don't know how to fly an Eagle! I can't get us outta here!"
"Then contact Russell and the others with your comm.-link, Cernik!" Morrow snapped. "We've got fireworks over our heads, and we might have a stray Gray saucer heading your way!"
"Do you th-think it'll try and retrieve the other sleepers?"
"I don't know, Cernik! Just get the hell out of there A.S.A.P., alright? Main Mission out."
Cernik rushed out of the command module, then stopped in the central module and looked at the unconscious man in the space suit, then took a step back into toward the command module, then reconsidered. Torn between what he should do and what order things should be done, Cernik stopped himself and forced himself to calm down.
"Right. Tell Doctor Russell and the others to leave. Right, that's first," he informed himself. He returned to the cockpit and used the Eagle's powerful transmitter to pierce the thick, resilient walls of the underground base. A snowy image of his buddy, Sanderson, flickered on the small screen, and required a repeat of the message to be understood by those in the base.
"Doctor Russell will have the third man out of here in less than twenty minutes, she says," Sanderson relayed.
"NO! No, no, that's not good enough! The Grays are on their way here! Drop everything and get back! Commander's orders! Acknowledge!"
Sanderson looked away, then nodded reluctantly. "Okay. We're coming back with just one survivor. Be up in five minutes."
Cernik closed the channel and wiped sweat that was trickling down his forehead into his eyes. Five minutes! Five minutes in a dentist's chair getting a root canal with freezing would go a lot faster.
Eagles 15 and 9 tried to catch their target saucer in a vice trap, approaching from two different angles, using their high-power lasers to 'sweep' the saucer in the direction they wanted him to go, but the Gray saucer would have none of it. It flew up at a right angle, forcing Davis and Toshihiro to rethink their strategy. Toshihiro caught sight of a blip on his sensors and cursed aloud in his native tongue as the other saucer also flew at a right angle, but used this technique to line him up in its sights.
"Not today you sonova..." Toshihiro mumbled defiantly, pulling back on his throttle and giving himself a heavy burst of speed.
Like a chess player that congratulated himself on a seemingly brilliant manoeuvre that assured checkmate, one of the Gray pilots found himself heading straight for the human ship that had just avoided one of its fellows. It believed it would act as a wall, as an impediment to the human ship, but the Earther had flown erratically and found itself dangerously close to another Gray saucer. A bright flash of light, and the Gray saucer was struck at nearly point blank range from a high-power laser. Unable to compensate for the distance and strength of the hit, the saucer was tossed away like a reckless Frisbee, suddenly losing power as it careened down towards the Moon.
"Yes! Yes, I got one!" Toshihiro cheered.
"And you gotta 'nother one coming in from 7 o'clock! Pull her up!" Davis called out.
His advice came in time, as Eagle 15 avoided a swatch of alien energy one moment, and was out of range the next. Eagle 9 took over the assault and gave chase, weaving side to side to make itself a harder target. The Gray saucer tried to vault to one side, but found itself lined up against Eagle 15. It swung back the way it came, but was struck twice by Davis's powerful weaponry. It released a weak return blast, but was struck twice again, this time by Toshihiro, and before the heat of those shots was dissipated, Davis struck again. The saucer's shields flared, and it lost its glow, while its speed was cut drastically. Inside, the alien crew were thrown about from the sudden, brutal deceleration, causing the alien craft to hang in space at an odd angle, slowly rotating on its axis.
"Got him centered, Toshi!"
"Then this one's for contaminating our Moon! Fire!"
Lined up like a proverbial sitting duck, the Gray saucer lit up like a small nuclear furnace, its powerful shielding a thing of the past.
That left the two Gray saucers approaching the surface of the Moon.
Cernik had never been so happy to see the loud and obnoxious Sanderson, along with the others. His cheating at poker games, and rude belching and flatulence were forgiven. All he wanted was for this Eagle to take flight. Johnson rushed into the cockpit, and started up the engines, his helmet still in place as the interior of the ship was pressurized. As Cernik and Sanderson secured the survivors to the deck on their stretchers, Helena and Mathias strapped themselves in. Over the intercom Johnson's voice told everyone to hang on.
Like the first jolt of a fairground ride, the Eagle blasted off the sandy surface with all the gentleness of an angry bull elephant. And no sooner had Eagle 2 become space borne did Johnson's sensors pick up a rapidly approaching object from the horizon. There was no I.D. on it yet, but Pete wasn't about to wait around for introductions. Cernik fell into his chair as the Eagle banked to one side, and struggled to fasten his seat belts, while Sanderson clawed his way forward.
"Sandy! Get back here, you idiot!" Cernik berated.
"Nothing doing! I'm going up front to see this for myself!"
As the doors swung open to reveal the newcomer, Johnson angrily barked, "Get back there, Sanderson, So I can-"
"Never mind, Johnson! These things fly better with a co-pilot to back you up!"
"You're a surface expert! What can you fly?"
"Only kites! But, I'll catch on!"
"Friggin' great," Johnson mumbled under his breath. "Look, those are the sensors and that's the stellar radar. Just tell me whenever something's coming too close, OK?"
"Uh, something's coming real close now!" Sanderson warned.
"Hope you like roller coasters!" Johnson commented, and yanked the Eagle off course.
The Gray saucer had spotted them, and followed them, barely two miles above the lunar surface. It released a twin blast of energy, obliterating ancient lunar rock on either side of the retreating Earth ship. Johnson dived towards a mountain range, then pulled away to follow a series of craters, but couldn't shake the alien ship. When Johnson tried to gain altitude, the Grays fired at him in an attempt to force him down towards the surface. However, they hadn't counted on Johnson's previous career as test pilot in the RAF, which usually required someone with nerves of steel and perhaps just a little insanity to do such a job for a living.
"I can only keep running, as long as he doesn't give me a chance to swing about," Johnson complained.
"If running keeps us alive, so what?" Sanderson countered.
Johnson agreed only a little, as he ached to turn the tables on the aliens and give them a taste of laser fire. He poured on the speed and flew hard to port, then gained altitude and pulled off to starboard, but couldn't shake his pursuer, while the surface sped past both of them at a voracious rate. The passenger sin the central module hung on for dear life, Helena and Cernik turning white-faced as the room twisted and turned, while Mathias's knuckles glowed white. Secured to the floor the two human survivors remained unconscious, completely unaware of the life-or-death struggle they were a part of. Helena began to regret bringing the second survivor, a black woman, aboard the Eagle. The idea had been to rescue them, not place them in the middle of a dogfight over the Moon. She felt the Eagle turn roughly to her left, and wondered how far Alpha was from them.
She might have been more interested in knowing how far away the giant lunar mountain range was from her.
"Aw, crud! It's a dead-end!" Johnson gasped, as he veered hard to port, the wall of rock the only thing visible out the ports as it avoided impact.
"What's that?!" Sanderson yelled out, noting an alarm and a light flashing in unison.
Johnson gasped. "Weapons lock! They've got us in their sights!"
Johnson's next breath was a heavy gasp as a massive flare of light and shock waves travelled through his body and seat.
"What happened? Did they hit us or--?"
"Somebody wanna say 'thank you'?" a familiar, and very welcome Aussie voice said over the comm.-line.
"Carter!" Sanderson called out in glee.
"I took 'im out when he wasn't looking, by the looks of things," replied Carter, as Eagle 2 covered Eagle 4's escape. "made a pretty fireworks display as he took a direct hit and then bumped into the mountain range. But he's still alive and coming about; get back to Alpha. I'll deal with him!"
"I'm only agreeing because we got survivors and doctors on board, Alan. But, good luck, anyway!" Johnson said.
Sanderson sighed, and wiped sweat from his red face. "I need a vacation."
Monnbase Alpha was primarily a research outpost while in Earth orbit, but weaponry had been stored within her for unforeseen emergencies. However, with very little outside hostile contacts at this point in their journey, laser tanks were only blueprint drawings in the Technical Section. Therefore, to defend against the approaching lone Gray saucer, Koenig sent out security officers to strategic locations, armed with laser rifles. If they had to use these against a Gray ship, then so be it. Alpha wasn't exactly defended by phaser banks and photon torpedoes.
"Parris herel I'm in place."
"Long here; I'm in place, too."
"This is Verdeschi; I'm ready."
Verdeschi! That's the guy I saw earlier, Koenig thought. Did I really call him 'Verdilly'?
"Torpilov here; I'm set."
"O'Neill reporting in; I'm in place."
Koenig held his breath as his launch crews prepared to send out more Eagles, and his brave security force stood guard on the surface.
"Here it comes!" Sandra reported.
"Can we survive a direct hit, Victor?" the Commander asked.
Bergman shrugged, but managed a smile. "She was built to last, but...those saucers have more of a kick than simple meteorites."
Morrow reported tensely, "Sensor/camera unit number 8 has recorded the approach of a Gray saucer due south of in the Mare Imbrium; range 100 miles."
"Koenig to all security operatives; wait until the saucer is directly above us before you open fire. Let's hit them by surprise at point-blank range. Good luck."
"Range...75 miles and closing..."
The trio of survivors were a bundle of nerves, and tried to make due with what little information they'd been given in their new home. As the most open-minded, Jack Parker, already an avid science fiction reader and movie goer, was devastated at the loss of his old life, but there was a thrill at being thrown into a life inside a high-tech Moon base. And if Eddie had been taken, too, then everything would be that much easier.
Jenny Shiro was pacing back and forth, unsure of what to do next. All this plastic furniture, and sterile white walls felt like a jail cell to her. Even the panoramic view of the lunar surface outside their windows screamed at her that her life had been irrevocably shattered. She couldn't eat, and her eyes burned with the desire to cry some more, but she'd embarrassed herself enough in front of these two men already.
Gilbert Boudreau, on the other hand, felt totally isolated in other ways. Savard had had to report to his station because of some kind of emergency, and now here he was with two people he couldn't even communicate with. The guy seemed friendly enough, but the girl's freaking out was a real turn off. It was too bad, because she was a cutey with a nice tight butt. A ten-time loser like himself came to realise that without contact with the Montreal police department and the lousy justice system backing them up, he really could turn his life around up here. And why not? Free room and board, and a really easy job to be assigned, once he let on how few qualifications he had. Unless they had a Chevy Cavalier on the Moon that they needed breaking into, he would be as helpful as a mall security guard, but he didn't care. He wasn't a loser; those people back home were! They were stuck on a polluted planet with people that couldn't stop killing one another for more than a day at a time. He noticed Parker wave both of them towards the window, so he joined the others. At first all he saw were a multitude of stars above a vast lunar wasteland. Then he saw the light approaching the base. It was too far to identify, but it almost seemed to glow like...oh, hell!
"Is that what I think it is?" Parker wondered.
Jenny stared hard at it, and slowly shook her head. "What is it? Do lunar modules glow like that?"
"Jenny, lunar modules haven't been used in over twenty years, and no, they never glowed," Parker answered. Boudreau asked him something in French, but all he could understand was the man's curiosity about the light in the sky. "I think it's a saucer. I think it's them."
"NNOOOO!!" Jenny cried.
"What is it? What's her problem?" Boudreau asked in French.
Before Jack could try to explain, the saucer was circling around the base, emanating an eerie orange beam from its belly. Seconds later, it was struck by a number of
Laser beams from different points outside the base. They impacted the saucer again and again, but it simply circled the base, sweeping Alpha with the orange ray, while returning intermittent fire, blowing up a cascade of lunar soil as it did so.
"Get down!" Parker shouted, which the other two easily understood.
The glow outside the windows rose like a car's headlights through a porch window, then seemed to pierce the very walls of their apartment. The three survivors gasped as one as the room became extremely warm, while the furniture glared brightly in the unnatural spotlight.
Tony Verdeschi brushed off sticky lunar soil that had washed over him from the near hit, then lined the saucer up in his rifle sights. The ship was hovering above the base, taking whatever they could dish out. He called out to his partners, and was relieved when all four reported in, although he and Long had taken the closest hits. In unison, five beams impacted against the saucer, and this time it moved...
An instant later, the saucer was enveloped by heavy laser fire parallel to it, knocking it on its side, and forcing it to retreat. Verdeschi looked up and let out a whoop.
"YEE-HAW! Here comes the cavalry!"
The saucer was blasted again and again by a trio of Eagles launched from three different pads around Alpha, forcing it farther and farther away from Alpha. With the advantage in numbers, the Eagles pressed the attack, oblivious of their disadvantage in firepower, but confident that their war experiences back on Earth would prove superior to the large-headed aliens. The saucer's shields flared, and the ship took a nose dive a few miles away from Crater Plato, exploding with the power of a nuclear warhead. The crew in Main Mission held on to whatever was reliable as the tremors forced people to lose balance, and create an uncharacteristic creak in the walls and supports.
Morrow checked his controls, and found himself smiling. "He's finished! Another saucer has been taken out!"
Koenig and Bergman looked at each other, with the scientist wondering aloud, "That's the third one. Where's the fourth?"
"C'mon! C'mon, you big, bug-eyed, bald bastard! Just try an' catch me! This is my backyard, an' I want you outta here!" Carter was cursing, as he sent Eagle 4 into a crash dive, then swung hard to port and across a mountain range, all the while the last saucer, the one manned by Nov, chased him.
Torens was an expert pilot, and only occasionally gave any indication that this wild ride was almost too much for him. Had he been a civilian, or a hangar deck technician, he was sure he would have retched or screamed like a little girl at Carter's crazy antics. However, as they were in a life-or-death situation, he knew he wouldn't want anybody else other than Carter at the controls. The flight had already lasted five minutes longer than he'd expected, so buoyed by this streak of good luck of surviving trouble with Alan Carter, Raymond Torens sat back and willed the Aussie, his new best friend, to beat the aliens in this dogfight.
Carter pretended to bank left again, but swung up and to the right, forcing the saucer to compensate and lose some distance. As faster-then-light ships, the saucers could outrun anything built by humans, but only miles above the surface of the Moon Nov couldn't do more than try to equal the Eagle's speed.
"Do you, uh, know where you're going, sir?" Torens wondered.
"That I do, mate."
The saucer weaved and returned on course, spitting fire and managing only to pulverise the rocky surface below the two combatants.
Back on Alpha, the trio of survivors recovered from the weird light show they'd been exposed to, although only Parker and Boudreau went back to the windows to see where the saucer had gone. By the time the security forces and the Eagles had scared off the alien ship, the two men realised that Jenny was absent.
"Is she allowed to do that? I thought we weren't allowed to leave?" Boudreau asked in French.
Noticing Jenny was gone, Jack figured out what his companion was asking, so he approached a comm.-post and looked at it. Wasn't this like an inter-base intercom system? Could he talk to somebody in command? Did they have MPs or a police force on Alpha? He watched as Boudreau reached past him, and touched a button on the comm.-post he'd seen Doctor Russell use in the Medical Centre when he'd been spying on her.
"Uh...Commander...Koenig?" Boudreau called.
A face appeared on the small screen, but it was of an unfamiliar red-haired woman. "One moment, please. This is the Technical Section. I'll transfer you."
"Okay, different buttons, for different base sections. Got it," Parker mused. A couple seconds later, the Commander was on line, and he didn't look too happy. "Well, we might have a problem down here, sir. Jenny left without a word. Can we go look for her?"
"Did you see she went?" asked Koenig.
"I'd prefer you didn't go too far from the Accommodation Sections. Check the nearest corridors for her, and report back to me. If she's left the building, then I'll have security search for her."
"You got it, Commander! Parker out. Let's go!"
Boudreau hesitated as he watched Parker hurry towards the door, but relented. The chance to get out of what almost seemed like house arrest to him was too much of a temptation. Besides, he was too curious as to what was up with the Asian chick to just sit back and be kept in the dark. They left their apartment, and chose a corridor at random.
In Main Mission, Simmonds approached Koenig, and said, "The girl seemed the worst off, psychologically. This whole situation may have pushed her over the edge. I know it affected me badly."
"For all of us, Commissioner," Koenig assured.
Simmonds managed a small smile. "You were at 'work when this happened, John. I was an unwilling passenger, and those people are kidnap victims. I think I should go talk to her."
"You can try, Commissioner, if you can find her. She's not even set up with a personalised commlock, just a standard one."
"It's better than standing around as an observer, as usual. Besides, she's in civilian clothes, and I will stand out enough that if I ask any Alphans she passes by they could lead me to her." Simmonds replied, already on his way out.
Koenig heard Morrow sigh, and looked down at him. "Is it me or has the air suddenly gotten fresher and less oppressive in here?"
Sandra smiled, but Koenig held back.
A jagged pointed peak that had rose towards the starry sky for uncounted millennia suddenly exploded into a billion pebbles, then was scattered across the lunar floor as Eagle 4 streaked through the cloud of debris, closely followed by the Gray saucer.
Torens had the urge to revert to his childhood and ask, 'Are we there yet? Are we there yet?' as he'd done en route to many a camping trip up north. Carter was giving him an extensive tour of the Moon, and his destination remained a mystery even to him, other than it must now be somewhere on what used to be the dark side of the Moon, far away from the nine Gray bases. Dark side? What was back there, other than...oh!
That was when the co-pilot saw it for the first time. He'd heard about it, read about it, talked about it with others, but hadn't yet seen it in person, and now that he beheld it with his own eyes he wondered how he and the other 310 Alphans had survived it.
The former nuclear waste disposal area now formed the most gigantic crater he'd ever seen, seemingly the size of the state of New Jersey. The explosion that had ripped the Moon from her Earthly orbit had been more massive than anything in human history, and had gouged out an incredibly immense new crater out of Luna, quite possibly taking a sizable chunk out of the outer crust and then billions of tonnes of underground soil and rock with it.
And even 33 days after the detonation, the area was still glowing hot.
An alarm caught his attention, which he relayed to Carter. "Radiation! It's too high here!"
"I gathered that by the alarm, lad, but it's part of the tour! Crank the shields up to maximum."
Torens did so, but he felt it was like using a piece of cardboard to deflect a lethal dose of hard radiation.
Nov chased the Eagle into a massive glowing crater that he surmised had been ground zero for the force that had sent the Moon on its unlikely voyage into space. Had he possessed human emotions, he would have been as awestruck as Torens, but his species was simply sterile in the creative areas, and focused more on this retreating human ship. Its pilot was good, but the radiation from this smouldering crater would kill him as easily as his weaponry would. Nov began to turn his saucer to one side, running parallel to the smooth rock wall, finding himself going in circles, as the Eagle simply led him around and around. He fired at it, but missed, as if the pilot had a heightened skill as a pilot that the others did not.
He reached for his weapons again, but the panel went dark, and flickered back on. He was about to ask what was wrong, when a second panel shut down, then illuminated again. He called out to one of his operatives, asking what was wrong, even as the ceiling lights went out, leaving just the lights on his control panels to tell see what he was doing. His controls told him that the Eagle was crossing the center of the crater on a course to leave the crater.
"Follow him out," Nov ordered.
"Energy output is compromised," an operative reported. "This area possesses radiation injurious to our power field."
Tricked! The humans were a dangerous breed. Only the most bland would be retained as slaves to be brought back home. The human aspect of creativity was a threat that could only be dealt with by erasing it from the species. Nov felt his ship tremble slightly as it struggled to fly out of the deep crater, but by then he'd lost track of the Earth ship. The saucer crawled only a few feet at a time towards the rim of the crater, its outer glow gone and replaced by a gray sheen to its own silver pristine surface, almost as if the smouldering crater had cooked it. Beyond the crater were more jagged rocky walls.
"Incoming transmission," an operative reported.
"Give it to me."
Over the speaker, Nov waited and then heard, "See ya hell, skinhead!"
A moment later, the interference-laden viewscreen before Nov displayed the image of the front of the Eagle rising behind a rock wall. The next, the Eagle had unleashed a point-blank over-loaded laser blast between Nov's eyes, striking the saucer from less than a hundred feet away.
They say that in space no one can hear you scream.
No one can hear you scream in a nuclear explosion, either.
Parker and Boudreau had gained some curious looks from Alphans, as they passed by in their civilian clothes, but nobody bothered them. They wandered from the apartment complex, and were now in a section that didn't look like they were exactly allowed in. Jack wished Boudreau could speak even heavily-accented, badly-mangled English, but the guy was at a total disadvantage here. Parker had had enough and started asking Alphans if they'd seen the civilian Japanese woman pass by, and soon found themselves in her trail...into a security area!
"What the hell is she doing all the way over here?" Jack asked, finally spotting her far down the corridor, entering a nuclear generating area.
"We found her, so why don't we call Koenig?" Boudreau asked in French, pointing towards the nearest compost.
"Man, I wish I knew what you were saying. Call Koenig? Is that what you're asking?" Boudreau pointed again at the Comm-post. Jack shook his head. Nah, we don't need to call him now. We'll just get her out of there ourselves. C'mon."
Reluctantly, Boudreau followed his companion inside, and besi\held a huge room, laden with control panels, and manned by a pair of technicians at their respective desks, one of which was behind a glass wall. He and Parker watched as Jenny paused to look around, then headed straight for some seriously technical equipment. The technician on duty, Anton Zoref, a man with thick lack hair and equally dark eyes noticed the young civilians inside his area and stood up.
"What are you doing here, gentlemen? This is a restricted area."
"Yea, well, tell her that!" Parker said, pointing at the Japanese woman off to one side that Zoref just noticed. She was reaching for some control rods that she had no business being anywhere near.
"Stop her! Get away from those, miss! Mark, come out here!" Zoref called in a commanding voice which Jenny ignored.
A brown-haired and bearded technician raced out of his office, and joined Zoref in grabbing the zombie-like Jenny Shiro by the arms. With surprising strength she tossed both of them away. They fell like rag dolls, and tried to grab her again. Mark was picked up with one arm and thrown into Zoref, knocking the wind out of noth of them. Jack tried to pull her back but she pushed him away, then was tackled by Boudreau, who'd had enough of this dangerous woman. He'd never hit her, but he would do whatever else he could to subdue her. She fought him, held down on her back, but but face an unemotional mask. Boudreau gasped as her eyes almost seemed to glow with an inner light for a second, then he was tossed off her like he was a five-year old, landing hard on his right shoulder.
Jenny slowly stood up, still in a controlled state, then began to systematically pull out Alpha's energy rods. The reactor began to warble and run up and down as vital systems were interrupted and disrupted. She withdrew a fourth rod when her body spasmed in a flash of light, dropping her to the floor.
Zoref and Parker looked at the source of the attack, and found a wide-eyed Simmonds, armed with a laser gun, staring at his handiwork. The technician hurried to the energy rods, and began to replace them in their sockets before the reactor exploded taking half of Alpha with it. The straining reactor gradually returned to its normal rhythmic pulsing.
"Did-- did you kill her?" Parker whispered, then checked the girl for a pulse.
Simmonds felt the warmth of the laser in his hand, and felt his nerves force-fed a shot of adrenaline. He'd never used a laser before, or even possessed a gun at home. He knew of the power of the laser weapons, but had never before harmed anyone with the high-tech gun.
"Oh, hell. I think she's dead," Parker gasped, hovering over the still body.
"no. No, she can't be. I...just wanted to help. Wanted to do...the right thing...for once," Simmonds whispered, unbelieving.
When Helena arrived on the scene she confirmed Simmonds's and Parker's worst fears.
"Moonbase Alpha status report, 36 days after leaving Earth orbit. Doctor Helena Russell, recording. It has been three days since our encounter with the Gray attackers and the base is alive with the news that the remaining abducted humans have been revived, and are alive and well. The final count should have been nine males and five females. But the unfortunate death of one survivor, Jenny Shiro of Colorado, has put a damper on any real celebration or victory. An autopsy revealed that she had been given a deep implant by the aliens that could control her, apparently in an effort to make her the instrument of Alpha's destruction. The implant matches those that were found by astronauts Alan Carter and Raymond Torens in a room on a Gray base. These would have been used on the other thirteen humans present, possibly for a Gray plan to disrupt society on Earth, making an attack easier for the aliens. Commissioner Simmonds arrived to subdue her with a laser locked on stun, but the shock was enough to force her implant to implode and kill her. He saved the base, but nevertheless, the Commissioner is overcome with grief and guilt that will take some time to overcome. Carter and Torens are recovering in Medical Centre, after they destroyed the last Gray saucer and fled the resulting explosion; I'm expecting a full recovery for both men. In the meantime, the remaining thirteen survivors have been welcomed into Alphan society, and will begin new lives in many departments in the coming months. Now that there is no sign of additional Gray ships noting our passage through space, I finally have time to resume my autopsy of the alien species, with the assistance of Doctor Mathias. I expect to have a thorough knowledge of the species when this is over; at last count 49 Grays have been accounted for in five of their bases. No doubt there will be more discovered in the remaining untouched bases."
The crew in Main Mission watched as a remote-controlled satellite was launched from pad one, and sent on a long journey back the way the Moon had travelled, but several degrees off course from its true course.
"Satellite on course, Commander," Morrow reported, monitoring the flight. "She'll begin transmitting our beacon and the Gray signal in about a half hour. Anybody shows up thinking they've got a bead on Alpha will be thrown off, and looking in the wrong direction."
"And by then, we'll be long gone, and undetectable," Victor finished.
"It's a good idea, Victor. I just hope it's as successful as your sensor/camera units turned out for us," Koenig said. "Did I hear that one of the survivors wants to work with you?"
Bergman nodded. "The French man, Boudreau. Seems he's got an aptitude for science that he never gave a chance for back on Earth. Sometimes science can make the leap between languages. Savard is giving him a crash course in English, and introducing him to other Alphans who can speak French. I think this whole Gray incident has scared him straight."
"Most of us were just plain scared," Koenig admitted. "I've been thinking, Victor; space contains so many unknowns out there and we have a real possibility of encountering more Grays or even another hostile race. For that reason I think we should prepare ourselves and place an emphasis on weapons to defend ourselves. We got out of this by the skin of our teeth, and I'd hate like hell to lose any more people, original or new Alphans notwithstanding. Those men that stood on the surface armed only with inferior laser rifles makes me cringe. I think we need to build some form of ground defences, armoured vehicles of some type to compliment the Eagles. Something."
Victor nodded with a sad smile. This Moon base had started out as a researcher's dream, but the harsh reality of space travel may have changed that to something he'd thought had been left light years away, back on Earth.
They noticed a reticent Commissioner Simmonds appear at the entrance, his hands behind his back and looking like a man who was entering a party he hadn't been invited to. Koenig and Bergman approached him and joined him near the windows to look out across their lunar home amongst the stars. The guilt that the Commissioner felt over his actions radiated from him like a heater, and although uncomfortable in doing so, John offered a consoling pat on Simmonds's shoulder.
He didn't look the part, or accept the credit, but it was because of Simmonds's actions that they were still here in one piece.
And at least for today, Gerald Simmonds was something of a hero.