"GET OUT OF THE WAY! COMING THROUGH! LOOK OUT, ZOREF!" the Commander of Moonbase Alpha shouted, as he dashed down an unusually busy corridor, his hands physically peeling his charges off to one side. Nothing was going to prevent him from reaching his goal, a sanctuary that he knew was just past the next communications post.
Some of his people gasped at the look of desperation on his face, unsure of why their leader had such a wide-eyed, almost manic expression on it, but they understood the need for him to get where he was going. The bright walls of corridor E-12 were almost a blur to him, as his eyes focused on what was ahead of him, the door he had to pass through, even if it meant using a laser cannon to blast it to smithereens.
He yanked his commlock off his belt and pressed the locking release button three times in rapid succession, the door slowly parting only on his third try because he was finally close enough for the sensor to register his request. He casually waved the device behind him and closed the door behind him, which allowed the Commander to release the breath he'd been holding. It came in great gulps of air, his aching legs unused to such an emergency, while his eyes scanned the room he was in.
He couldn't be certain whose quarters they were; Banner's? Carter's? It could have been Jackson's or Ramirez's for all he knew or cared! He gasped for an additional breath, and forced his feet to carry him on to his desperate goal, just past the small kitchenette and meagre bookcase filled with aging magazines, and slammed the door behind him.
There he remained for nearly twenty minutes before he heard the entrance bleep from someone unlocking it, and then the distinctive chirp of a commlock activated inside the cabin to close the entrance behind the new arrival. With a calming breath, and tug down on his uniform shirt, the Commander exited his hiding spot to confront the newcomer.
"Commander? What are you-?"
"I apologise for the intrusion, Tanya. I was just...well...I had somewhat of a...ahem...need for your, uh, facilities, and...um. Here we are."
"You needed to use my bathroom? When your quarters-"
"-are just thirty feet down the hallway?" he smiled, trying to appear charming but failing miserably. "Yes, well, I...didn't think I could...reach there on time."
What are you, three years old? she wondered to herself, open-mouthed.
"I just had to. I hope you'll understand. I think I'll be going now."
"You haven't gone yet?"
"No, I mean I shall be leaving now. Thank you for the use of your toilet, Tanya. Again, I apologise for the intrusion. Have a good afternoon."
"Good afternoon...Commander," Tanya Alexander mumbled, her mind racing from confusion to a reluctance to press the matter since he was the Commander.
He bid a hasty retreat, and out of curiosity Tanya opened her bathroom door, only to be nearly bludgeoned by a wave of rank air. She gasped in shock, breathing in more of it, causing her to cough and cover her nose. She quickly closed the door and brought her commlock to her face.
"Alexander to Maintenance Section, Plumbing Division; I believe I have an emergency situation in my quarters! Request immediate service! And bring protective breathing gear!"
If the Commander had seen the dirty look Tanya was sending him through the interceding bulkheads he probably would have dropped dead on the spot...
...which wasn't far from what nearly happened next.
He was trying to recover his dignity and appear like nothing happened, even though he was walking past a few of the people he'd shoved out of the way minutes before, when he casually walked towards an elevator, aimed his commlock at the sensor pad and pressed the call button.
And nearly fell down the empty shaft.
The Commander's reflexes brought his hands up on either side of the door frame, his breath sucking in violently as he gasped in shock, staring down into a pitch black empty elevator shaft. The lift should have either been sitting there waiting for the next passenger, or the doors shouldn't have even opened up. On shaky legs he backed up, and watched as the elevator doors closed. He looked around him and registered the same surprise he was experiencing on the faces of the nearest Alphans, but was disappointed that none of them were near enough to have caught him, had he fallen the five floors to the bottom of the shaft.
He adjusted his collar and swallowed, his mind racing to regain his calm. "I believe I'll take the stairs," he said to no one in particular.
He departed the area, unaware of two pairs of eyes watching him on a surveillance screen in an office within the Security Division. They watched as the ruffled moonbase commander stiffly walked away, his movements tracked by a second and then a third camera, all the time unbeknownst to him, just as he was unaware of the female Alphan that he said 'hello' to gave him the middle finger behind his back.
"You told me you could do it," one of the spies complained, biting a nail on one hand down to the quick.
"I said I'd do my best. This'll just take a little longer," his partner insisted.
"It's got to look like an accident, you know? How many times can we manipulate him and coordinate his actions to keep it accidental? He'll be on his guard sooner or later."
"Look, just be patient, will ya? I have lots of ideas, and he's got lots of enemies right here on Alpha. I can get help just like that," he assured, emphasising his point with a snap of his fingers.
"Who else knows we're trying to kill the Commander?" the first conspirator asked, his heartbeat rising from fear of being caught.
"Nobody, nobody. I was just saying-"
"Then forget it! Let's keep this between you and I, okay? We'll get him next time. Hopefully."
Tony Verdeschi smiled mischievously, and offered a consoling pat on the back of his secret ally. "Don't worry, David; I've got your back. And the Commander has a nice big target on his!"
David Kano barely managed an acknowledging smile, aware that what they were planning was punishable by life imprisonment or even death, but something had to be done.
Commander Anton Gorski had to die.
Doctor Helena Russell was daydreaming about Washington Park in her hometown of Chicago, and the times she and her husband Lee had walked through it, even on cold December afternoons, when an all-too-familiar face appeared in her Medical Centre. She leaned forward on her desk so quickly that she nearly slipped a disc, a hand covering her forehead, and a pen in her hand in an instant, so she would appear busy and not goofing off as she usually did this late in the afternoon.
"Doctor-" Gorski began, before she interrupted him.
"Yesyesyesyesyes, Commander, I'm working on my weekly status report! I'll get it to you as soon as-"
"No, Doctor, I'm not here for that," he said, waving off her words, his face an essay in urgency. "I've got something that's of vital concern to me to discuss."
"Oh. Okay. What can I do for you?"
He spared the hovering Doctor Mathias a glance, sure that the man was being too nosey for his own good, but probably too far to hear them clearly, and looked back at Russell. "I'm in need of...the usual."
Helena's shoulders sagged and she sank back into her chair, practically rolling her eyes. "I thought you said it was important?"
"It is!" Gorski hissed. "I'm having serious gastrointestinal problems again!"
"'Again'?" Helena repeated, the right side of her full lips nearly twisting into a derisive smirk. "Commander, you've come to me every week since Breakaway, complaining about your stomach!"
"Can you blame me? The distinct lack of 'real' food on this base has upset my stomach to the point of-"
"'Real food'? Commander, we've passed by several planets since Breakaway, among them Piri and Terra Nova, and both times you refused to send down so much as a reconnaissance Eagle to explore them!"
"My dear Doctor, we've had this discussion before! I'm not willing to risk our limited resources on wild goose chases! We passed through a space warp 36 hours ago, and by some fluke we're approaching another solar system, but I'll be damned if I lift a finger to land somewhere and contaminate our air and water with some malevolent alien virus or whatnot! Nononono. Not I. We're safe here on the Moon, minding our own business."
"'Minding our own business'?" Helena repeated with a gasp.
"I do wish you'd stop repeating me."
Helena continued her train of thought. "We were hailed by a scout ship from a planet called Caldor, which you refused to allow to land, and you wouldn't allow a single Alphan out onto the surface when the people of Ariel layered the Moon with an atmosphere!"
"A temporary atmosphere, Doctor," Gorski corrected, raising an admonishing finger. "Lord only knows what kinds of diseases we could have been exposed to, to say nothing of the cosmic radiation from an alien sun!"
"Sensors showed it was Earth-like outside!"
Gorski tutted, making an annoying, "Keh!" sound that she so loathed. "Nonsense. No science known could perform such a miracle."
"Never mind, never mind, Doctor. I'm not here to debate the past. Now, I really must insist on medication for my stomach."
The arguments had raged for months in deep space, and months in Earth orbit prior to the massive nuclear explosions that tore the satellite out of Earths loving embrace, and in that time his obstinacy had drained the determination out of her bit by bit. Sometimes she felt like a prisoner within her own Medical Centre, her preference to remain as far away from Main Mission as possible on a daily basis, barring emergencies.
Bullied by his incompetence and selfishness, she rose from her desk, walked over to a medicine cabinet, and tossed him a bottle of pink tablets. He grimaced and released an indignant "Keh!", stooping to pick up the plastic bottle from the floor that his clumsy hands had been unable to catch from just ten feet away.
"Thank you," he said coldly, plastering his fakest smile on. "Good day."
"Whatever," she sighed under her breath, returning to her desk and the comforting framed photo of her late husband.
Alan Carter checked the chronometer inside Eagle 12, and swallow for the ninth time, calculations and hypothetical encounters colliding in a jangled mess. He swallowed once more, which was caught by his friend and co-pilot, Alex Thompson. He checked his scanners and came up clear, which allowed him to comment,
"You gotta relax, Alan. Worrying about Gorski'll put gray hairs on your head."
"Yeah? Well, then you claim to be the brains behind this little jaunt and see how long you keep flyin'!"
Alex was about to argue the point, but Gorski had grounded Carter for a month doing exactly what they were doing right now, namely, performing a long-range scout flight without authorisation. Gorski was so adamant about retaining resources, power, fuel, and even food that Moonbase Alpha was practically run like a prison. Even simple scouting like this could be twisted into something despicable and unnecessary by the anal leader, even though it should always be standard practice.
They might have been able to explore the planet Zenno, but Gorski had stuck to his guns and no landing was performed, just a long-range fly-by of little consequence. Now the planet was extremely far away, especially thanks to a recent space warp the Moon had pierced, which was why he and Alex had taken a quick jaunt out to see what was out here, and were now burning rubber in an effort to return before Gorski and/or Gleason could find out. Professor Bergman would hopefully do his part and keep Gleason occupied long enough for Eagle 12 to touch down, the base's annoying Controller none the wiser.
And why should Timothy Gleason even know? The wuss was the biggest ass-kissing Yes-Man on Alpha, his natural environment on either of Gorski's shoulders, and only ability to delegate responsibility or blame to others, while simultaneously accepting as much credit as he could from others hard work.
Whereas Alan would ordinarily keep in contact with the base via voice communications and transponder signal, this wasn't possible if his secret reconnaissance trip was to remain off the record. Eagle 12's sensors picked up the location of the lunar base, and its onboard computer programmed a flight back to the same pad she'd been launched from, all without Main Mission guidance. It was trickier and riskier, but Carter had enough confidence in Computer to bring them home. With one last look at the chronometer to tell him that he and Thompson had been out fifteen minutes longer than expected, Carter's sweaty hands went into action, and lowered the spaceship to the pad with a less than graceful thump. The silent signal on a control panel indicated that they were down, and the elevator could be lowered into the comforting subterranean cavern that was beneath the landing pad.
The ship settled with a softer thump as it came to a stop, then a slight jiggle as a winch picked the ship up using an overhead guidance system, and pulled it the rest of the way into the hangar and down onto a marked area, appearing for all intents and purposes to have never left. Carter and Thompson changed out of their spacesuits in the central module, and exited the ship in their standard uniforms.
"I should have known. Captain Carter. Lieutenant Thompson."
The pilot's blood ran cold as they found themselves face to face with not only Commander Gorski, but also his right hand man, Controller Timothy Gleason, clipboard in hand, shaking his head in disappointment, but smirking to himself as he made several notations.
"Uh, I can explain, Commander..."
"Indeed, Captain. Do try."
Carter looked to Thompson for help, but ever ounce of courage had escaped the cocky astronaut now that he, himself, had been caught red-handed. Carter's eyes implored his friend for words of defence, but Thompson was ominously silent.
"We were just scoutin', Commander. It wasn't a joyride, or anythin'."
"You know the regulations, Captain, and I expect everyone to adhere to them."
"Nobody is above the law," Gleason reminded, needlessly.
"We know, sir," addressing Gorski, and ignoring his little buddy, "but we still need to be sure everything's okay out here, especially after we flew through another space warp."
"And what did you find, Captain?" Gleason asked, all too cocky.
"Um. Nothing. All quiet," Carter admitted, glumly.
"On the other hand, you've just made a discovery right here, ," Gorski frowned.
"I did, sir?"
Gorski nodded solemnly. "You've discovered that breaking regulations carries with it certain consequences. You are hereby stripped of the rank of 'captain' and grounded. Permanently. You've flown your last Eagle. Dismissed."
The Moon recovered quickly and without lingering radiation from the space warp, Victor Bergman had determined. He cross-referenced data from his lunar sensor units and Computer's optimum moonbase conditions, writing incoherent scientific techno-babble on a blackboard in his lab so that he could see the results for himself. He nodded at his findings, and satisfied with the results, congratulated himself with a swig of brandy from a small flask he kept hidden amongst his books.
He relished the warmth of it going down his throat, burning it and bringing his taste buds to life at the same time when a thought occurred to him. What was he supposed to do around 1400 hours? Something about a meeting with Gleason, wasn't it? Alan had asked him to do that favour and had insisted it be strictly confidential so he could...what? Fly an Eagle or some such thing? He checked his chronometer and found that it was just past 1530 hours. Oh, well. Too late to do that little thing for Alan, but he'd make it up to the young man. Maybe offer him some of his brandy? Certainly not! It was like gold around here, and now he was down to just half a bottle, well, what was he thinking? Once that was gone, it was gone! Sorry, Alan! He smiled to himself, and took another generous mouthful.
He looked back at his scribbling and giggled to himself. He really shouldn't drink and hypothesize at the same time if the little cat he'd drawn above Alpha's life support status was anything to go by!
In Main Mission, revitalised by his stomach medication and catching the troublesome Carter red handed breaking regulations, Commander Gorski requested status reports from his team, those present all too aware of the remora to the shark, namely Gleason and his ever-present clipboard. Rumour had it the jerk actually slept with the thing since not a woman on the base would think of sharing a bed with the greasy character.
Kano swivelled in his chair near the Big Screen to reply, "Sensors show all clear up ahead between us and the solar system, and our velocity is constant. We're not being dragged in, from what I can tell, just flying under our own speed."
"Communications?" Gorski asked.
An embarrassed Tanya Alexander, fresh from the curious looks given her by Alpha's plumbing technicians in her contaminated bathroom, answered, "Nothing within range, sir. Computer is analysing a very distant emanation amongst the solar winds, but nothing we can identify as yet."
"From a planet inside the system?" he asked her.
She shook her head. "Location unknown, as yet. It's much too far away."
"Why not send an Eagle out to-" Kano suggested, until he was shot down with a withering glare from Gorski. "Right. Of course not."
"Certainly not," Gorski maintained. "What purpose could be served by flying a million miles away, only to discover the signal was merely emanations of a pulsar 20,000 light years away that's now within range? Let's lay low and wait for the computer to figure out if there's anything out there. Now, what about the base, itself, Timothy?"
The Yes-Man touched exactly two buttons on his console, and nodded approvingly. "All sections green, sir. No damage incurred from the warp, sir."
'Even though there should have been something?" Kano mused.
"Such as what, ?" Gleason challenged.
"I can't say, but you can't seriously expect something the size of our Moon to travel through a warp or wormhole or whatever and not take a few bumps and bruises along the way? Maybe it did something to us and we don't even know yet."
"Leave the scientific analyses to the Professor, if you would, ," Gorski berated, looking side to side as if he'd just lost his tail. "Where is the Professor? I expected him here to make a full report?"
"Shall I page him, sir?" Gleason offered.
"Yes, please, if you will, Timothy?"
"It would be my pleasure, sir. No problem at all, sir," Gleason assured, grinning like an obsequious idiot. He touched the comm. Panel with intensity, and requested Bergman's presence on the double. It made Kano want to retch, it was so obviously meant to pander to Gorski's good side that he was sure the Commander knew it and thrived off it. Nobody else on Alpha acted like Gleason, a man that had gotten where he was by flying under the radar and latching onto as many of the right people as possible to get him to where he was now. The man wasn't capable of, nor did he want, command of Moonbase Alpha, quite content to serve Gorski and agree to whatever came out of the Commander's mouth.
"Yesh, Commander, wha' would you like?" Bergman asked on a small screen. Kano wondered if anyone else could tell that the Professor was swaying slightly.
"A report, Professor. Preferably here in Main Mission."
"Shertainly, Commander. I'm way on my way. Bergleman out."
Kano made a mental note to hide his secret stash of Jamaican rum from the Professor as Tanya alerted Gorski to her findings; sensor contact of something had set off several types of bleeps and alerts from her station.
"Turn off those alarms, Tanya, and tell me what you've found," Gorski asked, looking up at the star scape plastered across the Big Screen. When the alarms continued to signal, he tore his attention off the murky black skies to look back at her, as Gleason had done, almost mirroring his movements to the second. "Tanya?"
"Sorry, sir. Um, I think this is the proper switch," she said to herself, silencing the offensive noise.
"Tanya, I realise that that post wasn't what you signed on for, but ever since the unfortunate death of Sandra Benes during Breakaway-"
"I'm getting the hang of it, sir, really."
"That remains to be seen. Can you report your findings to the Commander now, Ms. Alexander?" Gleason practically challenged.
"Yes, sir," she replied coldly to the nerd, before looking back at Gorski, who was only half as annoying to her as his buddy. "Sensors are picking up a large object travelling at a right angle to us, also travelling towards the solar system up ahead. I think it might even be the source of the signal that we're barely able to register."
"Put a course plotting on the Big Screen," Gorski ordered.
Tanya's slender fingers danced across her board, creating a rendition of a star, a trio of planets and their orbits, and object at the bottom of the screen, and one to the far right. Seconds later a pair of red lines shot out ahead of the white disk representing the Moon and the 'X' representing the sensor contact, intersecting somewhere between the orbits of the second and third planets, followed by a tiny 'boink!' sound effect.
"A collision course?" Gorski whispered, feeling his complexion go pale.
Kano was on it, accessing Tanya's findings and those of his best friend, Computer. He tore off a piece of paper, figures and estimations on it.
"Confirmed. At present course and speed we'll be knocking heads within the next 15 hours."
"Collision course with what, ?" Gleason asked, the faintest trembling beneath his words.
"Unknown. We'll have to wait and see. Or send an Eagle out to take a look."
Main Mission became utterly quiet. All present waited for a decision. An immediate decision, considering the consequences. The control room remain ominously silent as Gorski looked from the Big Screen to Kano to the screen to Tanya to Gleason to the screen to Kano to the floor to the screen and back to Gleason. Gorski cleared his throat, his people poised to take action, each of them leaning forward in expectation. Kano could swear he could hear the music to Final Jeopardy playing in the background, not to mention Alex Trebek waiting as patiently as the Main Mission crew for a final answer.
Gorski thought some more, his blood pressure rising as he began to pace and become annoyed by the staring faces he could sense around him. To scout or not to scout, that was the question. What to do, what to do? Pros and cons entered his mind, his ever-loyal Controller, Timothy Leland Gleason, smiling confidently and patiently at him, but unfortunately, not offering a single word of advice or idea to implement. He just smiled at him like a boy up at his hero.
His people waited for Gorski to do the obvious, to get up to speed with the rest of the command staff, but they would be disappointed. Perhaps if they'd had less than 3 hours instead of a magnanimous 15 Gorski might have jumped on a course of action. Instead, his own rigidity paralysed him. After all, there must be a half dozen ways of dealing with this, he thought to himself, even though he was terrified of implementing the wrong one.
What to do, what to do, he mused.
Kano looked at the chronometer and sighed. He figured he'd be dead in about 14 hours and 50 minutes at this rate.
"All right, ladies and gentlemen, all right, Uncle Victor is here!" Bergman announced, casually strolling in as if he'd arrived at an afternoon tea party. "Have no fear, Bergman isGOODGODWE'REONACOLLISIONCOURSE!"
"And we're just waiting for the Commander to recommend what action to take," Kano said, sounding all too patronising, his tone making light of the deadly situation.
Bergman seemed to instantly sober, his gaunt features even paler than normal. "Surely you'll send out a probe to see what we're heading for?"
"That was one option I'd contemplated, yes."
"Well, good. And what were your other ideas?" Bergman challenged, quite familiar with Gorski's method of decision making.
"Too complicated for discussion here and now, Professor," Gorski stated, his chest swelling from confidence he didn't actually feel.
Like hell, you useless s.o.b., Kano thought to himself. Bergman was a wasted intelligence nowadays, as far as he was concerned, but at least he suggested solutions on occasion...not that Gorski implemented too many of them other than the Bergman force field that protected them as they travelled through a black sun several months ago. The sensor/camera units that now littered the lunar surface to show them the entire night sky seemed a like good idea from the Professor, but they'd only resulted in more views of the desolate surface of the rogue moon and little else.
"Wellwellwell. I wouldn't want to disrupt your plans with my own ideas, so I suppose I'll be returning to my laboratory-"
"Not so fast, Professor!" Gorski insisted, grabbing the skinny scientist's arm and holding him back. "Please remain here. I-we could use your valuable input at this time."
Bergman shrugged, and looked like the lone guest at a party without a chair to sit on . "Fine. I've nothing better to do."
Gorski smiled and visibly relaxed, seemingly believing that he'd averted the inevitable crisis. Nobody said anything, not even Gleason, but the Commander did catch Kano's eyes surreptitiously stealing a glance at the Big Screen and the animated prediction of the future. Gorski snapped out of it.
"Yes! Yes, well, let's do this thing, shall we? , please inform Launch Pad, uhhh, One? Yes, Pad One to launch an Eagle with a crew of, let's say, three, no, two, up there to investigate this mystery. And tell them to be quick about it since we only have 16 hours."
Kano grimaced and corrected, "14 hours and 48 minutes, sir."
"Close enough. Tanya, please continue scanning for additional data to find out if it's a ship or comet or whatever," he said, as he backed up and turned around to climb the stairs into his office. "Please take over, Timothy."
"And what should I be doing, Commander?" Bergman asked.
Gorski just waved off the question with, "Scientific analysis, I should think. I'll be in here if anyone needs me."
Gorski disappeared behind the small door that led into his office, having activated the full wall-sized doors exactly twice since he took command of Alpha. It just didn't appeal to him to allow his staff access into his private domain.
Besides, he was in desperate need of the bathroom again!
Tony Verdeschi adjusted a pair of tubes in the jumbled mess that was his beer-making apparatus, and nodded with approval as twin streams of golden liquid travelled within them. At first he'd kept the project a secret from the Commander, but had been found out by that little weasel, Gleason. Unbeknownst at the time to that boot-licking git, Anton Gorski actually liked the occasional beer or ale from time to time back home, and had felt like he'd found a new friend in Verdeschi once the beer-maker had been discovered.
Unfortunately for Gorski, the feeling wasn't mutual, and feelings of antipathy and frustration had surfaced in Tony, especially once Gorski had begun to hog the final results and then have the gall to make his own suggestions on how to improve his beer. There were also issues about Gorski's lack of command abilities in this months-long crisis, and his treatment of some of Tony's friends. It finally came to a head when Gorski confined security guard Nick Long to his quarters for a week after an altercation with his lap dog, Gleason. A few confidential inquires with certain Alphans were made, and Tony found out that he was not alone in his dislike of Gorski. The final straw had been when Gorski stranded Eagle 2 out in deep space, a victim of a lack of enough fuel to return thanks to Gorski's impractical conservation initiatives.
Still, he didn't want to be known as The Man Who Killed Gorski, so he engineered a couple 'accidents' to occur with the help of Kano, who probably despised Gorski more because he was stationed in main Mission with the Commander. Tony had thought he could get the job done with tainted beer, gradually increasing its toxic effects on Gorski's weakened liver, but all it had done was give the man the worst case of indigestion and diarrhea this side of the Milky Way Galaxy. He'd programmed the elevator doors to open without a car inside it with his own security protocols, but Gorski had saved himself.
Time to think bigger.
Verdeschi grinned to himself as he made his way to his security office to initiate his latest scheme to rid Alpha of its most useless Alphan.
Pilot Bill Fraser couldn't believe he was back out in space again, having been denied the opportunity to fly for so long thanks to the new regulations. He savoured the idea of being millions of miles from the stuffy, confining areas of the moonbase, even though that was what he now had to consider 'home'. He looked out the portholes of Eagle 3 towards the vast reaches of deep space, and checked his computer graphics.
"So, what do you think's out here, sir?" his co-pilot, Torens, wondered.
"Hopefully nobody but us chickens."
"Space chickens?" Torens chuckled. "Couldn't be as bad as that space meatloaf we had in the galley last week."
"That was meatloaf? I used that as soundproofing between my bedroom wall and Carter's wall!"
Torens grinned. "You can still hear him?"
"And Tanya. And Lisa, and Carolyn, and Sophie... The dude's a crazy sex machine, that's for sure."
"Hey, is it true that Carter fooled around with Mad-" Torens began when the sensors latched onto something coming their way. Only it wasn't the main object, whatever that was, because it was still too far away for visual contact. What was approaching them was much smaller, and had apparently seen them first. "What do we do?" the co-pilot asked.
"Arm the laser."
Torens frowned liked he'd just been asked to recite Shakespeare. "We haven't got a laser on this crate!"
"Dammit! I thought-?"
Torens shook his head. "Gorski had 'em removed for spare parts."
"Bloody bonehead!" Fraser cursed.
"Contact is closing, sir," Torens reminded. "Do we turn and run?"
Fraser let out a frustrated sigh. "No. We came out here to see what we're gonna collide with. Gimme a good look at that thing, though; full power to sensors."
Eagle 3 continued on its own interception course towards the distant object and what appeared to be its own probe towards Moonbase Alpha, although communications remained obstinately silent. Main Mission continued to monitor their progress, Tanya reporting that someone or some thing was meeting Eagle 3. It would go unnoticed by Gorski, who was still in the bathroom, reading a year-old copy of Sports Illustrated.
Fraser checked his scanners, and did a double-take. He checked them again, and looked at Torens, who caught on exactly four seconds later. "Do you see what I see, Ray?"
Torens nodded, his face showing the same confused look he had at last night's poker game. "Yeah. But what's it mean?"
"Not sure," Bill Fraser admitted. "Are they reflecting our scan back or what?"
"How could they do that? They couldn't be expecting us, could they?"
"Don't know, Ray, but they've matched our speed now. We'll be knocking heads in about a minute at this rate. Visual in 15 seconds."
On the small viewscreen between the pilots a star field was projected with a small white object in the center that gradually developed into a shape other than a tiny blob. It kept their attention locked onto it, their minds too curious as to the visitor's identity to recall that they had no weapons to defend themselves if necessary.
"What...the...hellll?" Fraser whispered. He looked to Torens to confirm that he wasn't delusional, but the younger man's face reflected his own astonishment. He looked back at the viewscreen, and muttered, "It must be an illusion!"
Fraser and Torens wouldn't be able to deny the truth of the ship that rendezvoused with them; it was an Eagle from Moonbase Alpha.
The two Eagles slowed their pace and came to a halt just half a kilometre from each other, almost appearing to be hovering in front of a galactic mirror. Fraser checked his instruments and stared at the flashing light on the communications panel for several seconds before he understood that it meant that they were contacting him. He activated the system, and saw the star scape replaced by a very human-looking man.
Fraser didn't recognise him, but if he could read the newcomer's expression correctly, then it meant that he was surprised to see him. The man on the screen was good-looking with intense blue eyes, and neat dark brown hair, but he wasn't wearing an orange space suit like he and Torens were required to, thanks to Gorski's rigid adherence to regulations.
"Bill? What are you doing out here?" the man asked.
Torens stared open-mouthed at his pilot, then looked back down at the viewscreen. "You know my name?" Fraser asked, oblivious to the obvious.
"Why wouldn't I? We've known each other for about 9 months. So why are you out here? Did Paul send you out to recall us?"
"Fraser, I don't know why you're playing dumb right now, but I'd appreciate a reason why you came out here, and how you were able to beat us to these coordinates?"
"Mister, I haven't got a clue what you're talking about," Fraser admitted, now feeling a little teed off that this stranger was acting so demanding. "we came straight from Alpha to investigate an object heading for us, we locked onto your transponder signal, and then you showed up. Maybe you're the alien illusion that needs to do some explaining!"
"You couldn't have come straight from Alpha from that trajectory," the man insisted, until his attention was diverted by whoever was in the command module with him. The camera shifted to an overhead view that took in all of the cabin and not just the pilots seat. Not only did it show the confused blue-eyed man in the pilot's seat, but also Alan Carter in the co-pilot chair, and Victor Bergman hunched over by the entrance. "What's going on, Victor?" the nameless pilot asked over his shoulder.
Fraser and Torens overheard Bergman say, "We'll find out in a minute, John. Excuse me, Fraser, isn't it?"
"What're you doing over there, Professor? And who's your pilot? And why is Carter with you when he's been grounded?" Fraser asked, too many questions and not enough answers piling up in his brain.
"A moment, Fraser, while our onboard computer checks our respective courses," Bergman said, tearing off a printout from a side console. He nodded to himself, biting his lower lip as he showed the data to the pilot he'd called 'John'. His blue eyes read it, then read it again, only this time a little closer, as if he was reading something unbelievable. He looked back at his image of Fraser, as Bergman added, "I think we need to investigate this, John, and quickly since we're down to barely 13 hours."
The one called 'John' nodded, and said, "I need to speak to your commanding officer, Fraser. Something big is happening and I suggest we pool our resources to deal with it. Can you lead us back to...back the way you came?"
"Sure. I guess it'll be allowed," Fraser shrugged. "Came out here for answers, and now I've got five times as many unanswered questions."
Eagle 3's manoeuvring jets turned the ship around 180 degrees, then the main engines flared into life. Seconds later the mysterious second Eagle continued on its original course, its occupants waiting breathlessly for some answers of their own.
Tanya announced that Eagle 3 was returning...with a visitor. Gorski was back from the bathroom now, and as interested in the Big Screen as Kano, Bergman, and the rest were in it. They thought they were seeing double as a pair of Eagles sped towards them. They were identical down to the Alpha emblem near the nose of the transport; it was almost as if two ships had been launched instead of one. It occurred to Gorski that by some fluke that this could be the missing Eagle 2, but if so, why hadn't they told him about it? No, this was something completely different.
"Have that other Eagle touch down on Pad Two," Gorski ordered. "Professor, Timothy, you're both with me. , you're in control."
Kano nodded, hoping that if Verdeschi was going to try and kill Gorski again that he'd wait until they had some answers to this riddle.
Gorski was taking no chances and brought a pair of security guards with him to the reception area of the launch pad. He didn't think they'd be necessary, but Alpha had been cut off from all visitors for so long that he'd forgotten how to actually welcome anyone. The last civilian to visit Moonbase Alpha prior to Breakaway had been that crazy female pop singer who'd fooled around with so many Alphans that he was sure she was just trying to break some kind of record. She'd gone through with her musical performance, then was allegedly caught in a compromising position in an Eagle cockpit with Alan Carter, but nothing could be proven.
The doors to the boarding tube parted, releasing a trio of visitors, two of which were completely familiar, and one that Gorski recognised but had no explanation as to his presence.
"Koenig?" he murmured, almost involuntarily.
"Commander Gorski?" Koenig said, his own surprise a match for the Commander's. "I wasn't expecting to find you here."
Gorski looked to either side of Koenig, and was shocked to find not only Carter but Bergman present, all the more surreal, as he could see his own version of Victor Bergman standing right beside him. He fought to regain the power of speech.
"I'm-I'm- the- you've- minustoble..." was what came out of Gorski's mouth.
"I take it you recognise Carter and the Professor?" Koenig asked.
Gorski nodded. "But I'd appreciate an idea of what you're doing out here in the middle of nowhere?"
"Well, by some kind of galactic fluke we just came from our own version of Moonbase Alpha."
"Your version?" Gorski repeated.
Koenig nodded, adding, "One where I'm in command."
"You-?" Gorski repeated, becoming more dumbfounded by the minute.
"Excuse me, gentlemen, but am I to understand that you also reside on a runaway Moon?" Gorski's Bergman asked, stepping forward.
Koenig's nose twitched from the unmistakable odour of alcohol, but he ignored it in favour of a dead serious, "Yes. And you're aware that both of us will collide in about 12 and a half hours from now if we don't do something about it?"
"Two Moons," Gorski whispered to himself, his mind barely able to keep up to speed as his mind pictured the inevitable collision of two lunar spheres.
"And apparently two Moonbase Alphas," Koenig added, "bringing our respective populations to over 600 that we need to find a way to save. We might need to initiate two Operation Exoduses simultaneously and make a landing on one of the planets in this solar system."
"We don't know if there's even an Earth-like planet in this system," Gorski noted.
"Then a fast probe will need to be sent out to locate one. We know there're three planets in this system; even if one is similar to Mars we'll need to evacuate down to it," Koenig stated.
"Nownownow, I am in command here, Koenig, and as far as I'm concerned you and your people are in my universe. I should think that it should be me that makes the decisions here."
Koenig stared hard at Gorski, immediately on the defensive if his frown and crossed arms were any indication. "Just as you 'decided' to ignore the problems with the nuclear waste storage facilities that detonated and sent you and your Alpha out into space, thanks to a lack of a backbone to stand up to Commissioner Simmonds?"
"How did-? Simmonds said he'd-, what I mean to say-"
"In my timeline, Commander, I replaced you, but I was too late to stop the explosions in the waste dumps. We've been flying by the seat of our pants since September 13, 1999."
"That's the same date as our own! What did you-"
"Excuse me, Commander, er, Commanders, but perhaps we should bring these gentlemen to the Professor's laboratory to begin working on plans to prevent the collision?" Gleason suggested.
"Yes, yes, you're quite right, Timothy. Two Victor Bergmans should prove quite invaluable. My other questions can wait. Oh, where are my manners? Gentlemen, this is Controller Timothy Gleason."
Koenig, Bergman, and Alan shook his hand, each of them wondering if Gleason had always been second in command, and just where Paul Morrow was in this universe. Gorski led the way to a travel tube, his mind spinning at the sight of two Victors, side by side, locked in conversation, while Koenig and Carter followed behind.
"Very weird stuff goin' on here, Commander," Carter muttered under his breath.
Koenig nodded solemnly. "You noticed?"
"Not hard to notice the uniform stripes on the right sleeve insteada the left, and how everyone has their hair parted on the opposite side of their heads than our own people do."
Koenig nodded, and pointed to a door he recalled was the entrance into Waiting Area 2, except that something stood out like a neon sign...
...The lettering was backwards.
It was said that two heads were better than one, but nobody had ever claimed that two Moonbase Alpha commanders were better than one. It made those present wonder if two Gorskis or two Koenigs might have been better than one of each, as neither was willing to give in to the other, nor could they agree on a feasible plan to rescue themselves.
"Out of the question! Absolutely not!" Gorski adamantly snapped. "My Moon somehow survived the full brunt of the nuclear explosions because I never reduced the number of waste containers as you did! MY Moon couldn't possibly survive another nuclear explosion to act as a braking system to slow it down! And even if it did work, what if it stopped my Moon's forward momentum? We'd be stranded millions of miles from the nearest planet!"
"The alternative is worse, Gorski," Koenig argued, his own protective nature where his Alpha was concerned taking over. "By our calculations, your Moon is travelling too near to the center of the system! In other words, if you don't collide with my Moon, you'll collide with the star!"
"In theory," Gorski countered. "Our respective velocities are constantly correcting themselves, and by travelling deeper into the system we'll have longer to prepare for an exodus because the class-M planet your Bergman just located will be closer."
Koenig shook his head, unwilling to back down. "You said it yourself; our velocities are always changing, and there's no guarantee that you'll have enough time to leave the Moon. In the meantime, my Moon might be cracked like an eggshell by exploding a nuclear device on it to prevent a collision!"
"Koenig, Koenig, Koenig," Gorski sighed, rubbing his eyes in frustration, "As I keep telling you there is less Moon here than on yours! The crater from the thermonuclear explosions is much bigger than yours, and is still spewing out hard radiation! To say nothing of the fact that you've entered my universe-"
"There's no proof of that, Gorski, an' you know it!" Carter countered, his own fear for survival becoming too real for his liking. "Maybe you popped inta our timeline! Ya can't prove otherwise, can ya?"
Gorski levelled Carter with a look of raw hatred. "You're as unlikeable and argumentative as my own Carter, I see. How do you tolerate this troublemaker, Koenig?"
"I'd put my life in his times a dozen times over, Gorski, because I've already done so many times since we're left Earth. Perhaps you ought to place more trust in your own Alan Carter."
"Gentlemen, could we please stay on topic," Koenig's Bergman asked, leaning on a computer console. "Perhaps we won't get anywhere with the braking plan. John, you'll recall we were going to employ a chain reaction detonation of nuclear devices between ourselves and the planet Astheria to redirect our course? Perhaps that's the way to go?"
Koenig eyed Gorski suspiciously. "What about it, Commander?"
"I'm not sure. The calculations, the resources required..."
Now it was Koenig's turn to sigh. "The alternative is to be squashed by the Moon."
Gorski hesitated long enough for Gleason to step in, although Koenig speculated that Paul would have been much more brisk and much less afraid to step on Koenig's toes if it meant getting the job done.
"Excuse me, Commander, but perhaps we should try it their way? The detonations would be in space, so all we'd have to contend with would be the shockwaves, which could most likely be repelled by the Professor's force field?"
"What will you be doing while we fly through that minefield, Koenig?" Gorski challenged.
"We'll be doing the same thing, Commander, only placing them in our path to point us in a different direction than your own new flightpath. Remember, you have to be given a new trajectory if you're to avoid flying directly into this system's sun," the visiting Bergman said. His counterpart from Gorski's base frowned in annoyance, his own muddled brain barely able to keep up with his twin. Damn that brandy, anyway!
"Very well, then. If you can't think of anything else we can do to avert this crisis?" Gorski asked his Bergman. "Victor?"
His Bergman shot to attention, believing that he'd been left out of the thought process. It was like a shot of caffeine, waking him up to his surroundings.
"Uh, yes, yes, Commander. Let's go with my double's plan. We have very little time to come up with something else, anyway."
"You have the data regarding what resources are required?" Gorski asked Koenig.
"In our computer on my Alpha. We can contact them from Main Mission, and they can transmit everything you need to know."
Gorski led the way out of the lab, into a travel tube, and into his control room. The threesome's arrival in an identical Main Mission brought forth several looks of surprise from Gorski's crew, no doubt noticing that Carter's and Bergman's hair styles were the opposite of what they were familiar with, as were the placement of Carter's arm stripe, and the black commander's stripe on someone other than Gorski.
"Kano, Tanya; nice to 'meet' you," Koenig smiled, approaching the two startled figures.
"Commander Koenig, as you can see, comes from the other Moonbase Alpha," Gorski said, by way of explanation.
"Two Alphas?" Kano gasped, trying to wrap his brain around that idea.
"Identical in lots of ways," Koenig commented, looking around, noticing that the layout was the same, but the people physically appeared like mirror images of the people he'd left behind. His eyes caught those of Gorski, and added, "With some interesting subtle changes."
"You were going to contact your base, Koenig?" Gorski prompted.
Koenig instructed Tanya to do so, giving her the necessary coordinates and frequency to link the comm. Systems. He spared his people the shock of meeting their copies, instead opting for voice communication only, and then just a direct line to his own Controller, Paul Morrow. After an initial surprise that an alternate Moon was streaking their way, Paul took control of the situation, transmitting the required data for nuclear charge displacement and necessary refitting of the Eagles to carry the bombs.
Gorski's commlock bleeped and he answered it, but instead of the face of someone on the tiny screen, it fizzled and jiggled with a series of cascading series of twisting interference lines and snow. He stared at it, shaking it for a moment, trying to make out something that was barely visible through the crackling distortion.
"Hm," was all he could say, his face a picture of confusion.
"Something wrong?" Koenig asked.
"Commlock is broken, I should think," Gorski said, handing Koenig the malfunctioning unit.
Koenig turned it around in his hands, frowning as he squinted at the barely perceptible images flashing beyond the curtain of snow.
"I think I can see a read-out of some sort. I think I see the number ten. There's an eight. A seven..."
"WHAT?" Kano exclaimed, clutching his console, his mind suddenly on fire from fear and realisation. He leaped over Tanya's console, fought with Koenig for a second to retrieve the commlock, then spared a look at the screen, and flung his arm forward all in one fluid motion.
Nobody present could have expected the commlock to explode like a grenade a second later.
"Moonbase Alpha status report, 276 days since leaving Earth orbit. Doctor Helena Russell recording. My staff have successfully saved the lives of both Moonbase Alpha commanders, as well as tended to the minor injuries sustained by Tanya Alexander, both Victor Bergmans, and the twin of Astronaut Alan Carter. Unfortunately, we could do nothing for David Kano, or Controller Timothy Gleason, who sustained the most severe injuries when Commander Gorski's commlock inexplicably exploded from what has been theorised as an overload. Eyewitness accounts reveal that Kano seemed to know what was about to happen before anyone else, and will be laid to rest with heroes honours, even though his aim when throwing the commlock was faulty, virtually handing it directly into the arms of our late Controller."
Tony Verdeschi bounded into the Medical Centre, his face a mixture of distraught fear. His plan had backfired stupendously, and is main ally in ridding Alpha of its loathsome Commander, had been accidently killed. His eyes scanned from side to side taking in numerous faces, some familiar and yet subtly different. He did a double-take as he beheld two Victor Bergmans hovering over a stranger in a Commander's uniform-wait, it was different, too. The left sleeve was black and the right had the black stripe instead of the other way around, and the man wearing it wasn't a copy of Gorski.
His heart beat even faster as he saw Commander Gorski given permission to leave from Doctor Russell, despite a cautious, painful exit off an examination table. Verdeschi wondered if anyone would be able to link him with the exploding commlock? Or the missing elevator, or the intentionally-poisoned beer, at that. Was Gorski stupid enough to consider these events as just random bad luck?
"," Gorski grunted, tugging his slightly rumpled shirt down. "I want all commlocks checked for potentially dangerous malfunctions. I seemed to have experienced a fluke with mine. Damnedest thing I ever saw; probably a one in a million freak of nature."
Yep; he was stupid enough. He really was a dolt.
"Yes, sir, I'll get right on it. How-how are you?"
"Thank you for your concern, Tony, but my health is quite secondary to what needs to be done. Have Timothy arrange-" Gorski said, until he recalled the events that led to the death of his Controller. "Uh...that is...we need to make arrangements to load and launch some Eagles. I guess I'll assign...uh..."
"Sir, perhaps Carter is the man for the job?" Tony suggested.
"Carter? I've relieved him of duty!"
"He's too valuable to sit on his ass, yo-sir. Who'd take Gleason's place? Tanya? Ford? We need Carter on this, sir, since he's the head of Reconnaissance, anyway." He caught the other Alan Carter looking his way. "Our Carter, I mean."
"Well, duh," the second Alan muttered under his breath. He didn't look like he was in any hurry to meet his double.
"Very well, very well," Gorski sighed with a dismissive wave of his cut hands. "See to it."
"Yes, sir," Verdeschi said, bidding a hasty retreat.
He'd been prepared to blame the other Alphans for the 'accident', but Gorski's lack of suspicion negated that plan. Probably just as well, since he had other things to do. Attempted assassination would have to be put on hold until it was guaranteed that all of them were going to survive. He wondered if Gorski could somehow get himself killed when the plan was put into motion, so he'd keep an eye open for any opportunity that presented itself.
Koenig pulled Carter aside when Gorski turned to Russell to get a prescription for a pain reliever, and said as quietly as he could, "I'm no technician, Alan, but something tells me that commlocks shouldn't randomly explode like that."
Carter nodded. "Not when it's actually displaying a countdown! An' it just happens to belong to the Commander? Pretty weird if ya ask me."
"The question is why did it happen and who was behind it?"
"Don't exactly have time to play detective, sir. But I'd suggest keepin' the guy more than a few yards distant from ya."
Koenig nodded, and was beckoned by Gorski to accompany him back to Main Mission. "I'm sure your people would like a status report about you...uh, status."
Koenig caught Carter's restrained smirk, and led the way out of the medical facility with an appreciative nod at Helena's double. The two Bergmans followed, the sober one waving his twin out, then offering a quick hand to steady the other's awkward footing. He looked back at Russell, who mimed a drinking motion and added a shrug of her shoulders. The sober Bergman shook his head sadly and left.
Mathias approached her and sighed, "Perhaps we should try and trade our Victor Bergman for the other one? I think we'd be better off with him."
Russell was still watching the exit, her mind daydreaming. "Yes, he was very good looking, wasn't he?"
Mathias made a sour face. "Bergman?"
"What? No, I mean- never mind. I was talking about something else. Let me see the autopsy reports on Gleason and Kano when they're ready, please, Bob?"
Mathias left to do so, leaving Helena to return to her memories of the handsome commander of the other Moonbase Alpha, and her feelings of being cheated. He was so rugged and masculine, exuding a sense of command that the somewhat overweight, baggy-eyed, lisping Anton Gorski could never hope to possess. She'd noticed how Koenig had interacted with her, seemingly interested in her, looking at her closely as if he knew her but didn't. She wondered what her twin was like on the other Alpha, and if she and Koenig were close in some way, or if she realised how lucky she was to simply have Koenig in charge.
"...his body was very badly damaged, and I was unwilling to bring it back to Alpha; fear of bacterial contamination and all that," Gorski was saying above the humming of the travel tube speeding towards Main Mission. "He was near death, anyway, I should think."
Koenig sighed sadly. "Not nearly, I'm afraid. Balor's body could regenerate itself, as part of his prison sentence. We brought him back to Alpha, and he wreaked havoc until I tricked him into entering an airlock."
"You killed him?" Gorski asked, incredulous.
"It was either him or us," Carter piped in. "Just before that he was beatin' the snot outta the Commander-"
"Yes, that's enough, Alan, thanks," Koenig grimaced, recalling the savagery of the attacks from the alien they'd found trapped within a rogue asteroid. He faced Gorski again, the trip in the tube nearly over. "Have you ever heard of the Darians?"
Gorski's eyebrows popped up, yet another similarity between them occurring in the alternate timeline of Koenig's Alpha. The difference was that Koenig's people should have been dead by now, considering their propensity for getting into trouble.
"Yes. A shame, really."
"You couldn't get the two sides to cooperate?" Koenig asked.
"'Two sides'?" Gorski repeated. "I'm not sure what you mean. We intercepted only one message asking for help."
"Which society did you encounter, then?"
Gorski clicked his tongue, and stood up, noticing the car was seconds from coming to a stop. "Neither. What aid could we offer? Both of us were adrift, with limited supplies. Moonbase Alpha isn't the Coast Guard, Koenig. Whatever tragedy befell that huge Darian ship was theirs to correct, not mine. My people and my base come first."
Koenig couldn't damn Gorski for that, but the guy was more callous, anti-social, paranoid, and dimmer than his counterpart back on Koenig's Earth. Of that he was sure.
The doors parted, and seconds later Gorski was bounding into his control room asking for status reports and trying to appear as professional as possible in front of the newcomers, something he really hadn't had a chance to do thanks to the accident.
"We got the data and the supply list from the other Alpha," his Alan Carter confirmed. "Just need yer signature to release the items, then I'll copy them in triplicate like ya usually want, then access the security locks fer-"
"Oh, nonono, Carter, that's fine, really, really," Gorski stammered, blushing from embarrassment and snatching away the sheet. He signed it with a squiggle that didn't resemble his signature at all, and slapped it back into Carter's hands. "Let's just get this plan on the road, shall we? How much time have we got, Tanya?"
The Russian woman, despite her heavy makeup seemed paler than he'd ever seen her before. "10 hours, 50 minutes, sir."
"Good grief," Gorski gasped. He swung around to face Koenig. "Is that really enough time to do this?"
"Barely," the second Bergman confirmed. "And I think we should get back to our Alpha as soon as possible, John. There's very little reason to stay here."
Koenig nodded, and had Tanya contact the other Moon to get his own status report, and inform them of his imminent return, as the two Alan Carters came face to face, each mirroring the discomfort of the other.
"Hey, uhhh, mate," Koenig's Carter said. He kind of smiled as he admitted, "Not sure what to call you. You're me and I'm you, and we both think we're the real McCoy."
Gorski's Carter shrugged, and offered a hand to shake, "Call me 'Alan'. It's our name, after all." The other Carter shook his hand, and was left speechless again. "You like Koenig as your commander?"
The other Carter nodded earnestly. "Wouldn't have it any other way. I was there when the switchover between my Gorski and Koenig took place. Guess my version of yer commander is back on Earth."
Carter barely prevented himself from sneering as he admitted, "Wish it went down like that on my Alpha. Things woulda been a lot more easier, I'll bet."
The second Carter wasn't convinced. "Helluva life out in space, Alan, trust me. I lost alotta friends along the way."
Carter frowned, unwilling to find out if some of his friends no longer existed in Koenig's universe or timeline or wherever he dropped out of. Instead he asked, "So, tell me, ya got a girlfriend back on Alpha?"
The other Carter actually blushed, and looked away. "Not really. Life's a bit hectic some days."
Carter grinned like he'd won the lottery. "Too bad, mate. Yer missin' out on a lot of what makes life interestin'! Sometimes I get laid so often that I actually forget the sheila's names! Maybe ya should get to know yer Tanya better, 'cause if she screams the way this one does-"
The other Carter frowned, and turned away saying, "Yeah, yeah, okay. Nice meetin' ya...'Alan'."
Carter frowned back, wondering what he'd said wrong as someone named Paul on the Big Screen told Koenig and the others that he was eager for the Alphans to get back. It brought a lump to Gorski's throat; he missed Timothy greatly, and would have to assign a suitable replacement eventually, but for the life of him he couldn't think of whom, so he revealed his concern to Koenig.
"I really don't know your people, Commander, but you might want to consider your Chief of Security. He'd have the necessary skills in safeguarding your base, and the best interests of the Alphans at heart."
"Hmm, really? That would be Tony Verdeschi."
Koenig smiled good-naturedly, and said, "I have one, too. Seems a likable, motivated type."
Gorski smiled, seemingly relieved that a decision that Gleason might have made for him had been made by the other base commander. "Thank you, Koenig. I believe you've just helped my Alpha greatly. Allow me to escort you back to your launch pad. Victor, you can stay here to oversee the operation."
Gorski hoped Koenig and his men didn't see his Victor Bergman ignore him as he dug a finger into his ear, remove it, and squint at what was on it.
Koenig's Eagle was rocketing back the way it came as Bergman shuffled into his laboratory, the lines bracketing his thin mouth stretching deeply as his frustration simmered under the surface. The nerve of that imposter taking center stage like that and flaunting his supposed superior intellect! How dare he brag about alleged experiences and act like he, the real Victor Bergman, was the inexperienced twin! It was too similar to how his parents had acted around his younger brother, Patrick, who was less intelligent than him and a bit of an outsider. How dare this Koenig copy walk all over Gorski and take control like that!
Victor fumed and paced in front of his chalkboard, facts and figures blurring from side to side as he glanced at them every few seconds. He stopped in front of one calculation and squinted at it. What was this part about? He wondered. He backed up and looked at the entire board, but it was too much to take in, so he wiped out the confusing bit to recalculate the sum. It was only when he tried to replicate the other Bergman's numbers that he realised that he couldn't do it! The bastard was too smart for his own good!
Victor tried again and again to regain the elusive calculations, only to be stymied for nearly an hour before he took a wild guess and came out with a frightening result; the plan was going to fail! He was sure the board's calculations had been restored to their previous sums, and he cursed himself for not seeing the original miscalculations. He yanked out his commlock so quickly that his hands fumbled with it like it was a hot potato, before he steadied it and contacted Gorski.
"Commander Anton Gorski's commlock...has been disabled," the monotone voice of Computer told him.
"Then patch me through to Main Mission!" Bergman snapped.
Gorski appeared in the lab several minutes later, not that it did him any good. He was no scientist by any means, and might as well be attempting to translate ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics for all the sense it made to him. He paused dramatically. Bergman rolled his eyes at the inactivity that followed, and Gorski's poor acting job of pretending to understand the problem.
"Yes, I'm sure!" Bergman shouted angrily. "This cockeyed plan can't possibly work by these calculations! The devices will explode and the shockwaves will be little more than diffused magnetic field emanations! We'll still collide with the other Moon!"
"My God," Gorski sighed, hopes of living another 10 hours fading fast. "What can we do, Victor?"
Bergman grinned devilishly, and approached the Commander purposefully, retaining his balance by holding onto the edge of the lab table. When he was close enough he leaned into Gorski's left ear, and practically growled,
"Take their nuclear charges, and detonate them on their Moon!"
The callousness of the scientist left the Commander speechless. "They'll all die if you do that! It'll obliterate their Moon! "
"Precisely!" Bergman grinned, grasping Gorski's shoulders tightly, as if to shake some sense into him. "That would eliminate the need for us to concern ourselves with the imminent collision! There'll be nothing left of Koenig's Moon!"
"And 300 people, Victor!" Gorski snapped, so outraged that he shrugged off the crazy scientist's hands. "I can't do that!"
"Yes, you can, you stupid, stupid bastard!" Bergman sneered, pushing Gorski back. "Our 300 lives against 300 imposters? Are you serious? You said it yourself; they dropped into our universe, and now we'll simply be correcting the imbalance!"
"Well...I...I was just saying they're in our timeline, our universe. I actually don't have proof of that."
"Who gives a-? Command- Anton, think logically, man! These figures are about as helpful as a formula for shampoo! They won't save us! You will by turning the tables on them!"
Gorski was silent, then shook his head, saying quietly, "Koenig and the other Bergman seemed so earnest; so sure of themselves. What do you think they're actually up to, then, Victor?"
Bergman made a sour face, and waved off speculation with a chaotic series of hand gestures in the air. "Who the hell knows? I think they believe these calculations, and we'll get confirmation of that when you send out our Eagles to latch onto their nuclear charges, and dump them on their own doorstep! On that fake Moon of theirs!"
"Still...to kill all those-"
"Imposters! Imposters, Anton! As real as a photocopy of a snapshot!"
Whether it was from a lack of sleep, real food, command experience, or Victor's bad breath, Gorski's mind became light-headed as he considered all the facts, and looked into the old scientist's pleading, bloodshot eyes.
"God forgive me, Victor. But let's do it."
Carter was invigorated by the task at hand, a full-blown multi-ship mission that involved several departments at once. They'd had so little reason to come together as a team, what with Gorski's reluctance to interact with the rest of the galaxy. It had seemed like they were going to have visitors when that huge alien ship had parked itself in orbit around the Moon and hailed them. It looked more like a space liner than a space warship, but what had Gorski done? Evacuated everyone to the bottom level of the base and shut off all power, pretending like there was nobody home. The aliens, identifying themselves as the Breelite star cruiser Narlos, remained in orbit for several hours, probably because they could detect the coward and his people beneath the base. They probably shrugged their shoulders (if they had shoulders), and left, never to be seen again.
"Pad One; launch Eagle. Pad Two; launch Eagle. Pads Three, Four, and Five; stand-by to launch on my command," Carter ordered into his microphone.
Two Eagles, their bulky central modules replaced by complicated cargo platforms that held a nuclear device in the center, blasted off, and raced off to their assigned locations. Fearing that the other Moonbase Alpha might be monitoring their progress, Gorski was going to send his ships where they were supposed to be, then alter course for the second Moon's nuclear charges. There would be five of them, and five Eagles to haul them back to the other Moon, then they'd be randomly dumped there. With luck, Koenig's Alpha wouldn't have time to respond, and as Gorski's Eagles flew back here, Koenig's Moon would be annihilated by ten nuclear bombs.
"Pad Three; launch Eagle. Pad Four; launch Eagle. Stand-by Pad Five," Carter ordered, sparing a look at an approving Gorski. The Commander had told him the plan, and although it was barbaric and would probably land them all in Hell, Carter wanted to live, too. His double probably would have done the same thing to him, he reasoned. It occurred to him that the other Alpha might very well have thought of the same sneak attack, and might try to steal their devices to launch on his head. "Pad Five; launch Eagle."
Gorski keenly felt the absence of Timothy during the proceedings. Even that mouthy David Kano had left a void that needed to be filled. Well, maybe that Ford fellow would do the job. Used to work for some special government agency dealing with extraterrestrial contact or some such, he understood. But, Verdeschi as second in command? He was as likely a candidate as any, considering he couldn't trust Carter as far as he could throw him. He watched the Big Screen clock count down until impact as it simultaneously counted down to when the multiple charges would be detonated on the faux Moon. His body couldn't stand the strain, and he made a quick escape to the bathroom once more.
Bill Fraser was disappointed that poor Alan couldn't be out here with him, but was relieved to see his friend in charge of the operation. That boded well for the trouble-prone astronaut in his eyes. All he had to do was be more like him, not step on Gorski's toes, and things would be back to pre-Breakaway status when there were actually happy faces on Alpha.
And he might want to leave some of the women for other lonely Eagles pilots!
"Hello, Alpha, this is Eagle 3."
"This is Carter, Billy. Howzit lookin' out there?"
"Black as the ace of spades, but all systems check. Ray and I are five minutes from our mark. How long do we stay out here before we change course and grab the other charges?"
Carter paused and checked with Computer, then answered, "23 minutes, bud. Then run like hell and dump 'em anywhere on their Moon, other than on top of that fake Alpha, okay? We're not the Enola Gay bombing Hiroshima, and I doubt you'd like ta be the guy that'll be known as the one that bombed our twins outta existence!"
"Right on that," Fraser agreed, sadly. "Standing-by for further instructions. Eagle 3 out." He closed the communications channel, and caught the sad puppy dog eyes of young Torens watching him. "What?"
"Not used to this. Killing, I mean."
Fraser shrugged. "Them or us, kid. Sounds like a fair trade to me."
The idea had been that Koenig's Eagles would have placed their charges and returned to base, and have no time to respond to the bombing run. A few hours later, as the 'real' Moon passed by the projected collision point, the base would be in a better position to initiate Operation Exodus for the second planet. They would have plenty of time to pack up without the threat of the devastating lunar collision, and the imposters would be erased from this universe.
However, despite believing that everyone was an exact copy on the twin Moon, it would become obvious to Gorski's eagle fleet that their Alan Carter wasn't as smart as his counterpart...
...thanks to broadcasting the murderous plan on an unscrambled channel.
"What's...going on?" Fraser mumbled, as his scanners showed five Eagles from the other Moonbase Alpha seemingly standing guard between them and their twin base. "They should've left by now."
Torens checked his scanners, too. "I'm reading their charges in their specified locations, but their Eagles are in our way. Like they're..." he said, stopping in mid-sentence to swallow hard, "...waiting for us?"
The communications system came to life, and on the small viewscreen an image of John Koenig appeared, and did he look pissed!
"This is Commander John Koenig; I can't help but notice that all of you are heading for my Moon, and still have your nuclear charges onboard. You appear to be way-off-course.!"
"What do we tell him?" Torens whispered, even though nobody had touched the transmit button.
Fraser thought for a moment, then leaned forward. "It was a nice try, 'Commander', but my people won't be fooled by your lies."
"They weren't lies, Fraser! The plan is your only choice of survival!"
"So you say, mister! All Eagles; full speed to the second Moon! Engage enemy craft, if necessary!"
In a lonely unnamed star system never visited by Man before, two fleets of Eagles engaged in a dogfight with one goal in mind; the continued survival of their Moon.
In one Main Mission the faces of Gorski, Carter, and Bergman watched in silent rage as Computer played a digital representation of the two fleets, their ships denoted in blue 'E's, and Koenig's in red. They circled one another and twisted every which way, until one of the red 'E's disappeared, the victim of a well-aimed laser. Gorski had taken no chances, and had reinstalled the weaponry for just such a contingency.
In the other Main Mission, the faces of Koenig, Morrow, and Bergman reacted with outrage and frustration, unable to explain why they'd been double-crossed by people who were ostensibly their doubles, but could react differently to the same set of circumstances. They watched their Big Screen as they lost Eagle 20, followed by two of their Eagles taking out two of Gorski's Eagles in short order.
The difference was the superior fighting skills of Koenig's Carter in Eagle 1, and Koenig's Bill Fraser in Eagle 7. Whereas Gorski had stifled his pilots with inactivity and not a single space battle since they'd left earth orbit, Koenig's pilots had felt the true life or death struggle of life in deep space. The result was a battle between Eagles that became less of a battle and more of a lesson in warfare in space.
Koenig's Carter lined up an enemy Eagle, and hesitated as he held his thumb over the 'fire' button for his laser. It didn't seem right destroying that which was so similar to his own friends and home, and he caught himself wondering whose twin was inside that Eagle? Torens? Mark Bradley? Pete Johnson? Instead, he fired a warning shot, forcing the other Eagle to bank away from Carter's Moon.
Fraser and Torens caught sight of this, peeled off to intercept Carter's Eagle, and fired twice missing both times only because Alan had noted their blatant attack run. Carter did a loop-the-loop in his Eagle, and swung down towards Fraser's Eagle. The hunter had become the hunted, forcing him to fly his ship wildly, twisting and turning in directions even he couldn't anticipate. Carter fired another warning shot, even as a third Eagle from Gorski's fleet exploded into a brilliant plume of nuclear death.
Carter had had enough, and broadcast to both fleets, "Three of yer guys are gone; back off now and go back where ya came while ya still can! Do ya copy? I'll order my Eagles off, as long as ya go back now!"
Torens looked in utter fear at Fraser, all too aware that his life was in the pilot's hands. Actually, he could switch off Fraser's console and take over, but Bill would be on him in seconds to wrest control back. Fraser looked scared, too.
"What do you say, sir?" Torens asked quietly, his eyes imploring his superior to make the right choice.
Fraser wondered, too. The other Eagles were too good for them, having lost just one to the three from their side. He felt like a skinny kid trying to force his way past a bunch of muscular jocks that wouldn't give an inch. Even if he and his last Eagle somehow got through the blockade, two charges probably wouldn't blow up the other Moon, and they would surely be shot down by their twins. He had no intention of committing suicide for the likes of Gorski.
"Eagle 3 to Eagle 15; return to base. Repeat; return to base. Cease hostilities."
Gorski practically had a heart attack as he heard those words, unable to believe that Bill Fraser had turned coward and was even more of a liability than Alan Carter. He watched, crestfallen, as his Eagles slowly made their way back to the Moon under the watchful eyes of the four hovering Eagles from Koenig's base.
"We're dead. Both bases are," Bergman stated, solemnly, as he approached from one side. "We're still on a collision course with the other Moon, Commander; nothing has been settled."
"What about Operation Exod-"
"To blazes with that, Commander!" Bergman snapped. "The operation will only be a success if there's no collision! The resulting impact of the two Moons will scatter asteroid-sized debris for millions of miles and act like atomic bombs as they impact the surface of that Earth-like planet out there! There'll be nothing left of it, either, when all is said and done!"
"Then...what do we do? What does Koenig think he's doing, if the calculations have always been a sham?" Gorski wondered.
Bergman and Carter had no answers. All he knew was that the Big Screen told them that they would come face to face with the mirror image of their Moon in 7 hours and 13 minutes. In fact, if one looked out the bank of windows along one side of the control room, the copy Moon could just barely be identified amongst the sea of alien stars beyond it. The mood became more sombre by the moment as the two surviving Eagles came in to land, the occupants of Main Mission resigned to their fate, until Tanya's sensors bleeped from multiple contacts.
"What is that? What's happening?" Gorski demanded, leaning over her shoulder so far that she could smell the offensive, sweaty odour emanating from his right armpit. She cursed him for his questionable personal hygiene that seemed to have a life of its own that zeroed in on her again and again. Her bathroom would never be the same!
"Three- no, four contacts entering range. But not towards us; just within our projected flight path."
"Identify what, Commander? Isn't it obvious who they are?" Bergman dared. "Those are Koenig's Eagles!"
"But they're not heading for us!" Carter countered. "Just somewhere out-oh, hell! Is he flyin' out where I think he's is, Tanya?"
Gorski was about to question him, when the same thought occurred to him. He had Tanya project the locations of where his pilots were supposed to have placed their nuclear charges, and sure enough, Koenig's Eagles were heading straight for them.
"What's he doing?" Gorski wondered. ", contact the other Moonbase Alpha. I want to know what insanity this is!"
Moments later, John Koenig's image and that of his own version of Main Mission was displayed on the Big Screen. His Victor Bergman was nearby, as was his Doctor Helena Russell (what was she there? he wondered), and a young moustached man with the red stripe of Controller on the opposite sleeve.
"Koenig, what the devil are you up to? Call off your attack!"
Koenig shook his head in exasperation and glared at the Doctor and his Controller, as if to gain strength from them, before he replied, clearly annoyed, "Is isn't an attack, Gorski! I'm trying to help you! Both of us, in fact!"
"How?" Gorski demanded, slapping his sides with his arms.
"By a display of good faith toward someone who needs to be pushed off course worse than we do! Your Moon will collide with us if we continue on, but if I used my charges to deflect my Moon, you'd still wind up hitting the star. I'm going to detonate my charges and alter your course away from us and the star, and with a little luck, in the general direction of that habitable planet."
"Victor said your calculations are incorrect! Five nuclear charges wouldn't have done the job, let alone the four that you have left! What about your Alpha? Are you going to deflect it, too?"
"I'm preparing more Eagles, but we have even less time now, thanks to your pilots attacking mine. The calculations were correct, Gorski; I don't understand how your Victor Bergman couldn't agree with mine", he said, sparing his embarrassed friend a glance, "but I suppose we're not exact duplicates of one another."
"Very well, I appreciate the help. And I'll have Victor go over the calculations again," Gorski said, this time not sparing his comrade even the slightest bit of friendliness. After all, it was because of Bergman that three Eagles and their pilots were gone, and his base had nearly destroyed 300 twins of themselves. "What can we do in the meantime?"
"Secure your people in the lower levels, and prepare for Operation Exodus. Four charges might not direct you in the same way that five might have, but at least you'll be on your way."
"Very well. Thank you, Commander."
Koenig offered only a forced smile, and a nod before closing the channel. Gorski found his people watching him, waiting for the next order, which if history was any indication, may or may not be given in a couple hours. They almost looked like they were waiting for him to ignore Koenig's suggestions, but not this time. He would trust the alternate Alpha commander.
"You heard him. Ford; Carter; Tanya; coordinate preparations for Operation Exodus according to International Lunar Commission protocols. All non-essential personnel can proceed to the lower levels immediately. Victor...you...come with me."
There were few times that Gorski found himself in a position where he was justified to scream at someone for doing a lousy job, but this was definitely one of them.
Word had gotten to the Security Office that an Exodus was planned, once the nuclear charges had been detonated and the Moon deflected towards the habitable planet. This was great news for all concerned, but it brought a feeling of unease in Tony Verdeschi. Once they were planetside would Gorski become a dictator? Would he limit what could be removed from the base and force the last bastion of humanity to live as cavemen or monks? Would they be forced to live in huts and wear robes and have food and water limited by his own narrow minded standards? Would he forbid beer from ever being brewed again?
He felt it his duty and sacred promise to his late friend, Dave Kano, to carry out their plans of killing off the man that could almost single-handedly be considered the one that put them all in this predicament. The thought of living for years under Gorski's rule was too much to bear, so something had to be done about it. And what better time than during the abandonment of the Moon, when even a simple mistake could turn tragic? It was perfect! Any number of things could go wrong during the course of the transfer from the Moon to the planet!
He contacted Ramirez down in the hangar bays and made some innocent suggestions and requests, not letting the manager know what he truly had in store for the soon-to-be late Moonbase Alpha commander.
"...3...2...1...0! Detonation!" Ford called out.
The Big Screen exploded with a furious nuclear explosion which seconds later caused a slight tremor in the console that he hung onto. A few seconds later, a second charged blossomed into nuclear fury, followed by the third and fourth, blasting out radiation and shock waves.
Gorski breathlessly waited for the tremendous shockwaves that he'd been promised, but the Moon simply vibrated about much as an elevator ride. He looked at carter, Carter looked at him and Tanya, Tanya looked at a fellow Alphan, who turned bright red when she caught him staring at her cleavage.
"What-? What the hell was that?" Gorski complained. "I was expecting-"
The Moon suddenly did a double-take of its own.
Alphans cried out in surprise, some of them screaming like little girls as the base and all around them shuddered and buckled like they were under attack. Memories of the massive nuclear explosions in Waste Disposal Area Two returned, although this time they weren't accompanied by the startlingly powerful G-forces that had squashed everyone against the floor. Alarms blared and Alphans fell to the floor and into one another as the Moon twisted and shouted for stability.
The tremors subsided, and they were finally able to regain their composure, happy to still be alive. Gorski frowned in annoyance as he wiped off the dripping coffee that he could have sworn Carter had thrown in his direction, but couldn't prove. Carter climbed to his feet, checking his console for his missing coffee, while Tanya stared in outrage at the male Alphan that had landed on top of her, supposedly to protect her, except for the fact that his hands were firmly placed on top of her bosoms. She fought like a tigress to get the embarrassed man off her, strongly tempted to give him a swift kick in the crotch.
"Status report!" Gorski barked out, blinking sticky coffee out of his eyes.
Tanya and Ford fiddled with their controls, barely able to silence certain alarms and unnecessary monitors before she happily responded,
"It's working! We've altered course! Projecting new flight path on the Big Screen!"
Sure enough, the viewscreen above everyone's head showed a red line projecting their heading that not only took them away from Koenig's Moon, but also the star. In fact, they would now fly somewhere between the inner planet's orbit and the star in the long run, but the second planet, the Earth-like one the other Bergman had reported, would be close enough to transfer to.
"He did it," Gorski whispered, more or less to himself. "Koenig helped us like he said he would." It meant that they could now leave the Moon and begin new lives...on an alien planet, Gorski realised. All of his fears came to the fore and he felt a familiar bubbling in the pit of his stomach. They really would have to leave Alpha and settle in some godforsaken' alien world with all of its myriad dangers and problems.
He left Main Mission for the bathroom to throw up.
A half hour after he'd made a quick exit and cleaned up, Gorski reappeared in Main Mission to find out how the other Moon was doing. He'd expected to find his people's spirits high, considering the reprieve they'd been given, but Carter's face told him that something wasn't right.
"What did you do this time, ?" Gorski demanded to know.
Alan immediately went on the defensive. "Hey! It's not about me, okay? We just got some bad news from the other Alpha. Well, bad for them, not us."
"Their computer crashed. Some kinda power outage that knocked outta buncha systems. None of their launch pads are operatin', and won't be functional for at least a day."
Gorski spun around and looked up at the Big Screen, checking the respective positions of the two Moons, and the second planet. Koenig's Moon was on the same trajectory that it had always been on since the start of all this.
"What about their plans to deflect their Moon?"
Carter rolled his eyes, annoyed that what he just said still hadn't yet sunk into the thick skull of his commander. "They didn't have time ta load up some more Eagles; they could only land the ones that saved us. Even then, the pilots will hafta climb outta their ships and enter the base through an alternate entrance. They don't have time to try their own deflection."
"They'll just keep flying straight ahead, Commander," Tanya added, sadly. "Right past where we would have collided, and out of the system. Their course shows no signs of being affected by the gravitational pull of the star."
"Ooh, damn," Gorski frowned. He'd just gotten used to the possibility that the planet was going to be settled by two Moonbase Alphas, which would have been doubly confusing, but what alternative did they have? "Seems so unfair that they helped us, and have nothing to show for it." He heard his own words, and puffed out his chest defiantly. ", load up every available Eagle with a nuclear charge and fly them out-"
Carter was shaking his head. "Too late, Commander. The other Professor Bergman told us that it'd be a wasted effort. They're too far past where they were supposed to detonate their own charges, and without the computer to recalculate a new location, there's no point."
"We have a computer, Carter!" Gorski argued.
"Yeah, but not the resources or the formula. The best we'd manage is to redirect the other Alpha outta this system at a different angle than the one they're on now."
Gorski shook his head, feeling like he'd failed, even though his own people were going to soon colonise a new planet, and finally get off the wandering rock. He wanted to thank and apologise to Koenig at the same time, but he couldn't do it. And Carter or someone else had probably already thanked the alternate Commander for his help. Gorski sighed with a frustrated "Keh!", and returned to his office, believing that Koenig would find a way to take care of his people.
In the meantime, he wanted to finish reading his issue of Sports Illustrated.
Gorski couldn't remember the last time he'd seen the base this busy, with every single Alphan hustling to carry out numerous tasks each. Operation Exodus was a go, and by this time tomorrow the Moon would be abandoned, left either to be pulled into the star as he travelled too close to it, or captured within a gravitational field that might hold it in an orbit even closer to it than the inner Mercury-like planet that was present. Faces flew by him, some of them even smiling and friendly, which would ordinarily make him suspect that something fishy was up, but not this time. The prospect of evacuating to a planet with a breathable atmosphere was very real, and had flipped the moral of the base 180 degrees towards something nearing Euphoria.
He noticed Alan Carter in an earnest conversation with Eva Zoref and Sophie Hunter, and wouldn't have thought anything of it until he noticed the pilot backing up against the wall. He wasn't within earshot, but he stared in surprise when Zoref gave him a slap in the face, storming off. His curiosity piqued, he was about to approach Carter and ask if there was a problem, when Hunter shared a few choice words with Carter, shot a thumb over her shoulder in the general direction that Zoref had gone, then gave him a slap in the face, only on the other cheek. Hunter spun on her heel, her platinum blond mane of hair swishing around like a curtain, before making her own exit. Carter rubbed both cheeks, saw Gorski staring at him, and shrugged, his face getting even redder from embarrassment.
The Commander had some unfinished business that couldn't wait until planetfall, so it was time to face it head on. He took a calming breath and entered the Security Division, catching the attention of Tony Verdeschi behind the main desk, the contents of which were in the process of being packed up.
"! We need to talk."
"Oh, yeah?" Tony asked, not liking the sound of that, so he gradually reached for the laser on his belt, unseen by the Commander.
"Yes, about that exploding commlock..."
"What about it?" Verdeschi asked, gently removing the weapon from his holster.
"A report, Tony, if you will. What did you find out about the flukish way it blew up on me like that?"
"Oh, uh," Tony said, returning his laser to his holster. "I sent it down to Technical, I mean, what was left of it, but they haven't found anything yet. Maybe it was because of the strange, uh, electro-magnetic emanations from, errr, the other Alphans that caused it? Because they came frommm, uhhh, another universe?"
Gorski nodded, considering it like he was a scientist. "Possibly, possibly. They were an unusual lot, weren't they?"
"I guess. Never really had a chance to talk to them, personally."
"Yes, well, I did. In fact, I had a few words about you with Commander Koenig."
Tony's eyebrows went up, as did his heart rate. He began to reach for his laser, again. "Oh, really?"
"Yes. Very enlightening. I think there's going to be some changes ahead."
"Such as?" Tony asked, suspiciously, his hand poised to level the laser between Gorski's eyes.
"For starters..." Gorski frowned, then broke out into an uncharacteristic toothy grin. "it was his recommendation that I promote you to be my second!"
"My second in command, Tony! What would have been considered Controller, had we remained on Alpha. Of course, now you'll simply be my right-hand man down on the planet."
"Say what?" Tony gasped, lowering the weapon again.
"Obviously, due to the tragic loss of Timothy the position is open, and I can't oversee the New World without the good judgement of an objective eye, so I chose you. Will you accept the posting?"
Verdeschi was speechless! He hadn't expected this in a million years, believing that Boozer Bergman had first dibs on the job. The question was, where did this place his desire to kill Gorski? Could he be trusted to be normal and let them get on with normal lives? Did people even care that he still lived, when they now had a new life ahead of them?
"I guess I'll accept it. Thank you, Anton."
"Uhuhuh, that's still Commander, if you please, Tony," Gorski corrected, wiggling a finger at Verdeschi. I am still in charge around here, and I'll continue to do so down on the planet. Now that that's settled, here's a list of some of the things we'll need to implement as we go ashore, as it were."
Gorski handed Tony a long list of rules and plans that he'd concocted, some of which made sense like conserving Alpha's water until the planet's water had been thoroughly tested, and advised caution concerning the native fruits and vegetables, but the list soon became more and more surreal.
"We have to become vegetarians?"
"Certainly! Let's start on the right foot, and leave the planet's animals in peace, shall we? There'll be no hunting or fishing for sport, or food, or for the intention of using animal fur for selfish fashionable desires. I always abhorred the fashion industry on Earth for that, and now that I've got a golden opportunity to do things the way I would have back home, I shouldn't want to make the same mistakes our ancestors did. We'll do just fine on a diet of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. Very healthy, I understand."
"Rule 7 says no alcohol!"
"Yes, terrible stuff, really. My great-grandfather died from alcoholism, and I'd like to nip this in the bud immediately before it becomes a problem with some people. Your beer was...interesting...Tony, but c'est la vie."
"What's this about Rule 9's zero population growth for three years?"
"Well, Tony, we'll be on a strange planet, with an alien environment that we won't understand for probably years to come. Would you really want to bring a baby into that type of potential danger?"
"So...no attempts to have kids for at least three years?"
Gorski shrugged. "Or the activities that could lead up to such an unwanted situation, I should think."
"No sex for three years?"
"Why not? We're all relatively young, Tony, and our people won't be going anywhere. Abstinence will make us stronger, develop character, and actually get to know a potential partner! Think of it; all that time to just sit and talk with any number of ladies, and at the end of the three years you'll have an excellent idea of exactly who you want as the mother of your child."
"'Child'? Not children?" Tony ventured.
"Yes, Rule 15; one child per couple."
"How can you guarantee that, Commander?"
Gorski sniffed. "I suppose one or two Alphans might inadvertently give birth to twins, but once she has a child, that will be all. Rule 16 states that the couple agree to abstain for sex for the remainder of their marriage, or according to Rule 17, the man will agree to a little snip-snip down below."
"We can't overload our resources-"
"We'll be on a planet! We'll have unlimited resources!" Tony yelled, incredulous.
Gorski grimaced, and restarted. "We can't overload the resources at hand with dozens and dozens of children, Tony! They won't be a useful addition to the colony for at least 7 or 8 years, anyway."
"But couples might want...wait. Did you say 'colony'? Singular?"
"Certainly! One happy family, Tony, think of it! We'll still all be together as a collective. Stronger, more efficient, just like here only with the benefits of an Earth environment."
"Why wouldn't we split up into several colonies? That way it would ensure that some of us would continue to survive in case of an unexpected accident or illness."
Gorski made a face like he'd just been told that he had two noses. "Why would any Alphan want to do that?"
I could give you a list with 17 reasons why, you miserable...thought Tony.
Gorski continued. "Well, look it over and make the necessary arrangements and preparations and such to implement them, Tony. And welcome aboard."
Aboard what? Tony wondered. It really was going to be hell on the planet with Gorski still in command! As the Commander opened the door with his new commlock, he turned around with a smile and said, "Oh, and I've come up with a name for our planet. We'll name it 'Lily'."
"Lily?" Verdeschi practically squealed.
Gorski smiled. "In honour of my mother. I think everyone will like the name as I tell stories about her camp fires during the long nights ahead. Good afternoon, Tony."
"Yeah, uh, good-" he said as the door shut behind Gorski, "-God! Planet Lily? No sex for three years, vegetarian diets, vasectomies! Oh, man, Gorski, you are a dead man! And I won't even have to ask for help! People will be knocking down my door...the door to my hut...to have a hand in this!" He sat down, disgusted that he didn't use his laser when he had the chance. He scanned the rules again, unable to believe that what he'd just heard could be outdone, but Rule 42 was going to be impossible to live with! He whipped out his commlock, and hit the transmit button, contacting the Launch Pads. "Ramirez, this is Verdeschi in Security. I've got a job for you regarding Commander Gorski's personal transport to the planet..."
Tony didn't tell anyone about his plan, other than Ramirez, who would be in his Eagle to the planet. Telling everyone what Gorski had in store for them would have complicated things, and might have resulted in a dozen assassination attempts at the same time! As such, he was confident that this time Anton Gorski would finally bite the dust. He shook hands with Gorski one last time, and could barely suppress the fit of giggles he felt overwhelming him.
"You seem unusually chipper, Tony?" Gorski asked, outside the waiting area for his Eagle.
"Just looking forward to the future, sir. Like the song said; 'The future's so bright I gotta wear shades'."
Gorski made a face, unfamiliar with the song. "Was that a pop song at one time?"
"Yes, sir, sung by-"
"Never mind, thank you, Tony. I much more prefer the relaxing melodies of Broadway show tunes, myself. Oh, which reminds me! We'll have to arrange sing-along groups at the first opportunity! I should think that people will enjoy that, along with stories about my mother's life in the Old Country."
"Yes, well, get a move on, then. My Eagle awaits, and so does yours."
Verdeschi's grin returned, this time ear to ear. "Yes! Yes, your Eagle! Enjoy your Eagle flight, Commander! Next time I see you-well, it'll be on the planet, I suppose!" As I burn every photo of you in a camp fire, the security officer thought to himself.
"Safe flight, Tony. Onward and outward!"
Tony cringed one last time, and made his way to his Launch Pad, unable to believe that this was the last time he'd set foot on the Moon. They survived this long some how, and as the new commander, he realised, he could run things the way he wanted! All-night orgies and skinny-dipping with the ladies entered his mind which should please the studs like Carter. His hopes prompted him to come up with his own list of rules. Actually, it had only one rule; live!
There was no one in Main Mission to oversee the last two Eagles take off from the Moon, one with Gorski, Bergman, Fraser, and seven other Alphans aboard, while as luck would have it, Tony's just had him and Ramirez on board. They laughed at the cockeyed plans of Gorski, and joked that he must have dipped into Bergman's stock of brandy to come up with most of them.
"Lily! Lily, Fidel! What in God's name was he thinking when he came up with a name like that for a planet? I was expecting Alpha Beta, or Earth Two, or something! Good thing her name wasn't 'Fred'!"
Ramirez laughed, and checked the sensors, reporting, "On course for the planet. ETA is 15 hours and 19 minutes, Tony. Hey, someone's contacting us."
Tony activated the comm system. "Verdeschi here."
"Eagle 1 here, Tony. Everything alright?" asked Gorski.
Tony made a face and said, "Say again?"
"It's Gorski on Eagle 1, Tony; report status?"
"What are you doing on Eagle 1? I thought you were supposed to be on Eagle 4?"
"Oh, oh," Ramirez gasped.
"What?" Tony asked.
"Did Gorski launch from pad 4?"
"And he's in Eagle 1?"
"Yeah, so what?" Tony asked, annoyed.
"I thought you said 'Pad 1, Eagle 4', not Pad 4, Eagle 1'!
Tony's eyes bulged out as they both turned around to look at the number on the door inside their cockpit.
Tony exclaimed, "Then that means you put the bomb on Eagle 4, which launched from Pad 1?"
"But, that's us, you stupid, ignorant-!"
Eagle 4 blew up, and Tony's plans with it.
There would be questions and few answers in the days and months ahead about the unfortunate loss of Eagle 4, which would gradually pale in importance as the Alphans settled on planet Lily to begin new lives. Outnumbered, and with Tanya Alexander as his new second in command, Gorski relented on several bad rules, convinced that some of them just weren't workable. There was also no way to prevent the Alphans from splitting up into three groups on three continents, as they had only the best interests of the future at heart. There would be visits between the groups, anyway, thanks to the large Eagle fleet at their disposal. The first children of the Alphans arrived less than 10 months later, the planet of their birth recently renamed 'Linova', thanks to a compromise by Gorski.
And somehow. some way...
...Anton Gorski lived to the ripe old age of 96...
...but the campfire sing-alongs didn't last quite as long.