John Koenig could remember
a time when he’d not considered himself hapless. More to the point, he’d always thought himself born under a lucky
star. Objectively speaking, his luck was holding. The moon and its base and crew might be hurtling through space, encountering
unfamiliar species and near-disasters for which they were always ill-prepared, but they had adapted and overcome. A practical
person would have pointed out there was little choice; it was adapt and overcome or die. Still, he was proud of his people.
If he wasn’t feeling so sorry for himself he might have been proud of his own contributions, but he wasn’t
in the mood. He thought of Alan and one of his favorite sayings when they raised a glass or two together…when life throws
you limes, get out the tequila and punt…Alan could always be counted on for a wide grin and a quick laugh, even when
the odds looked bleak. But Alan wasn’t here now. John didn’t suppose he’d ever see him again. What was worse,
She wasn’t here.
He shook his head. The situation might be comic if you had a taste for satire, and John could laugh at himself…sometimes.
Now wasn’t one of those times. He wondered if maybe events of the past days were just the universe’s way of telling
him he was meant to go through this life alone. He would have friends, lovers, but no true partner, no one special love. He
had allowed himself to believe that this would be different, but apparently he’d been mistaken.
The truth was, none of his life’s romantic relationships had ever lasted once they came up against his
all-consuming career ambitions. His wife had endured only a few years; then, tired of coming second to the space program and
putting her own aspirations behind his, had asked for a divorce and he had granted her request with little argument. He was
unhappy with the decision, more from having to admit to failure than the actual loss of the marriage, but he’d agreed
and quietly walked away. A few months later, she’d been killed, an innocent bystander in a brutal terrorist attack…and
he’d spent years trying to cope with the guilt of thinking if only he’d tried harder, if the marriage had meant
more to him, maybe she’d still be alive.
There had been no one significant in his life since and he hadn’t wanted anyone. No complications, no
heartbreak to himself or another. There was no room and no need beyond the occasional physical gratification, so he’d
not been a hermit. There’d been sexual partners, more than a few, but nothing remarkable. He’d had no interest
in serious involvement. Twelve years had passed since his divorce when he was assigned to Alpha’s command and however
long in earth time it had been beyond that, then…
Dr. Helena Russell…the first woman in years to crack his defenses and pique his interest. Hell, she’d
smashed his defenses, and she piqued much more than his ‘interest’. From the moment he met her, she was a challenge,
and not willing to take crap from him just because he was the Base Commander. She’d had enough belittling treatment
from his predecessor. She didn’t fear, or feel intimidated by his dogged devotion to duty; she was a workaholic herself.
He could be himself with her. She argued with him, she made him laugh and, sweet Jesus, she aroused him. He chuckled in spite
of his mood. He’d felt aroused thousands of times in his life…what he felt for her was arousal squared, arousal
times pi. The tired old joke about playing doctor had unlocked a whole world of tantalizing images in his mind. Yeah, he’d
like to play doctor with her. She could examine anything she wanted, multiple times, as long as he got to return the favor.
He woke every morning in the same physical state as every other man, but for months now it had been more than
a basic inclination of his gender. It included dreams and sweet fantasies of her, always her. Meditations on pale, soft skin
that looked as if it should be coolly indifferent to the touch, but he already knew it wasn’t. Warm silkiness he wanted
to feel pressed against his body, blonde tendrils he wanted to run his fingers through, long legs he wanted to feel wrapped
around his waist as she lay beneath him…
…but it was more than carnal. Had it only been about sex, he could have had his itch scratched months
ago, and would have. He was the Base Commander; his bed did not have to go empty. That wasn’t egotism on his part, just
fact. But he waited, and found release with the help of his imagination and his own right hand, because he was waiting for
someone that for the first time in his life seemed worth waiting for…
He wanted her like he’d never wanted any woman, sexually and every way. He craved her company, he felt
eased by her smile, he wanted to swim in her sparkling sea-green eyes. He wasn’t certain he’d ever been in love…
except with the space program…but he was damned sure he was now. He almost laughed aloud again. It was the irony that
really made the story so pathetic…He’d had to come to the moon to find Helena and feel his heart stirring with
sensations that were as foreign as the deep space surrounding him…more, because he’d always yearned for deep space,
not so much for the proximity of any one particular woman. Now, he’d discovered what the great poets rejoiced to heaven
about, and he’d found her when he was no longer some callow adolescent, but a grown man who had lived long enough to
appreciate the rare woman she was…and she was likely lost to him forever.
He sighed. Maybe it was for the best. Something in the cosmos with a distinctly foul sense of humor always seemed
to toss a barricade into their romantic course anyway. They’d spent months getting to know each other, warily dropping
their guard, becoming friends and confidants, but moving carefully with anything outside friendship. Conscious of their tangible
physical attraction, they refrained from acting on it. They were both painfully aware of being emotionally damaged goods.
His deceased, former wife and Helena’s dead husband had left enough invisible bruises. As much as they desired each
other, neither was eager to add more marks.
Still, their feelings and longings had become almost impossible to deny. He didn’t know how Helena coped
with her physical urges…and if he thought about that too much it made him crazy….but he’d long lost count
of how many times he’d had to jack off in the shower before meeting her for dinner so he could get through the meal
without an obvious raging hard on making its presence known. Expressions on her face, her voice could give him an erection…and
when she touched him in any way, it was almost torture. He fantasized about her in his spare time. He fantasized about her
when he had no spare time. He sat in his own command meetings and fantasized about lifting her onto the conference table and
banging her till neither one of them could walk. He woke too often with his groin slickly coated in the remnants of the latest
dream starring Helena…and he didn’t want to know what the laundry department must think. But…he loved her,
he knew it, and he’d promised himself he would move at her pace. It wasn’t as if he wanted her for one night.
He’d reached the conclusion he wanted her indefinitely, regardless of whatever complications that might create.
They’d gotten so close so many evenings, he was sure they would have made the shift from friends to lovers
anytime…and then they’d encountered the Darians. Even if he never saw Helena again, if he had the ability to get
into an Eagle and go find that bunch of bastards on their god-forsaken ship and blow them to kingdom come, he would do it.
The universe could have their sorry lives and what was left of their collective culture in microscopic pieces. Revenge wasn’t
his style, but he was more than willing to make an exception in their case.
It was bad enough that Helena had to watch them kill Bill Lowry right in front of her. It was bad enough she’d
barely escaped the fate of having her internal organs harvested, before having whatever was left turned into the Darian version
of soylent green. The worst part, the comprehension of what an ‘Offering to Neman’ had really meant, he didn’t
discover until they were back on Alpha and too far away from the alien ship to do anything about it.
The foreign toxins in her system had to be flushed out and it had taken her days to fully recover from their
“pre-collection” and revival methods, not the twelve hours claimed by Kara. It was another couple of days beyond
that before she remembered everything. Bob Mathias had been the one to tell him. Helena hadn’t divulged the facts to
Bob or himself. Once she’d remembered the details she’d written her report and tried to go on about her business.
But John knew something was very wrong, though she wouldn’t confide in him. She had avoided him, his company, his touch,
everything. Then Bob had read her report…and come to John’s office, knowing the Commander needed to be prepared
for what he was going to learn.
John would always remember her typed words on the computer screen. He remembered staring at the sentences, his
mind trying to come to terms with the ugly revelation, willing the letters to alter before his eyes and say almost anything
other than what they did.
Bob had sat silently on the other side of his desk, waiting for him to finish, waiting to give the psychological
guidance he knew the Commander would need.
“Bob…” It was all John could say at first. He was stunned.
Mathias swallowed hard. He’d known this would be difficult, but he hadn’t expected to see tears
standing in Commander Koenig’s eyes. He’d been aware, all Alpha had been aware, the Commander and Dr Russell had
become close friends and possibly more. The grapevine was constantly abuzz about them, but the grapevine buzzed about everyone.
It was part of the daily entertainment. What Bob hadn’t realized till this moment was that the Commander was deeply
in love with his CMO. This was more than he’d anticipated. He’d figured on offering insight on Helena’s
emotional state to the man who was her commanding officer, good friend and, maybe casual lover. As he registered the expressions
of devastation and hurt and fury battling for dominance on Koenig’s face, he knew he might as well be dealing with her
Bob had cleared his throat and begun very slowly to speak. “Commander, victims of sexual assault will
John had cut him off savagely. “They…raped…her…Bob!
Call it what it was. ‘Sexual assault’ sounds too casual a term for what those sons of bitches did.”
Seeing him pace the office like a caged tiger, Mathias had thought for a moment Koenig might put his fist through
a wall. “She will get past this and she will recover, Commander…John,” he’d said quietly, trying to
calm him. “You need to remember that it isn’t just about the violation, it’s about the total loss of control.
She’s holding it all in right now but when she gets angry, and she will, she’s not angry at you even if it seems
that way. When she shows fear, it’s not you she fears. And in some way, she probably blames herself too, not for her
own assault, but for Lowry’s death. She doesn’t blame you.”
“Maybe she should,” he’d muttered angrily. “It was my responsibility to protect her;
Lowry, too. If I’d kept her with me it wouldn’t have happened. If I’d left Lowry to just guard the Eagle,
he might still be alive.”
“You believed you were protecting her when you left her with Lowry,” Bob reminded him. “With
all due respect, Comman…John…you can’t know what would have happened if different choices had been made
and it isn’t productive to worry about that now. What happened is done and that’s what you have to deal with.”
Bob delivered his next words gently. “Different people respond differently, but she’s likely not going to be interested
in any physical relations with you for awhile.”
“She hasn’t wanted me near her at all,” John had answered ruefully.
“That’s not abnormal,” Bob assured him. “But she will heal. She will want to be with
you again. You just have to be patient.”
John had realized Bob assumed he and Helena were already involved in a physical relationship and he didn’t
know whether to correct him. He’d settled for saying, “Believe it or not, I can be patient when it comes to her.”
Mathias had nodded. “When she’s ready, don’t be surprised if she’s also fearful. It
wouldn’t be uncommon for her to be afraid that this will have altered how you see her or how you feel about her.”
He’d shaken his head. “That’s not possible. Nothing could change how I feel about her.”
He’d known what a huge admission that was even as the words left his mouth, but he hadn’t cared just then.
For his part, Bob had been more than a little surprised by the depth of feeling the Commander was revealing
but he’d kept his face neutral and kind. “Just show her that. Be as supportive as you can. The two of you will
get through this.”
So he had been as supportive and patient as he could be, as often as she would let him. He’d been very
cautious with her. In some ways they’d had to begin all over again. A few days following her recognition that he’d
read her report, she had broken down crying in his arms. It had pained him to see how much hurt she’d been carrying
around inside, but he’d held on and let her cry till she couldn’t get anymore tears out. Then she’d talked
to him about it, giving him details he really didn’t want to know, but he’d listened anyway.
Slowly, they’d worked their way back to where she didn’t flinch if his fingertips grazed her face.
He could put his arms around her and not feel her stiffen and pull away. Finally, they could kiss again, really kiss, not
just a perfunctory peck on the cheek before saying goodnight.
John’s mind turned to an evening only a few nights ago. She still wasn’t ready for sex, and though
he’d needed a cold shower before bed, that was all right. They’d sat on her couch for hours, having dinner, joking
and relaxing. When she’d rested her head trustingly on his shoulder he’d had no expectations; merely kissed her
forehead and slipped his arm around her to draw her closer in a companionable way. She’d snuggled nearer and raised
her eyes at him speculatively; then she kissed him on the mouth, her lips just brushing his.
He’d forced himself to let her control the tempo, returning her kiss with care, applying only slightly
increased pressure. He hadn’t dared do anything with his tongue until he felt hers gliding across his lips, showing
she wanted more. They had kissed - only kissed - for many minutes; hands engaging in limited exploring, all clothing chastely
remaining in place. For him it was like being back in junior high school.
When they’d parted company, John was hot and bothered, but it was the first time in weeks she’d
been in an amorous mood. He knew she really did want to be with him, she just needed a little more time. He could wait. He
Then…this damned black hole had materialized in their path and although it broke his heart, he sent her
away to what he’d hoped would be some safety somewhere because as much as he wanted to have faith in Victor’s
plan, he didn’t believe Alpha would survive. He didn’t think the Eagle would either, but at least it gave her
a chance she wouldn’t have if she’d stayed here.
Part of him wished he’d gone to see her off, say some word of farewell…but the hard truth was that
hiding behind duty in his office was what allowed him to let her go at all. If he’d ventured out to the hangar, if he’d
stood beside her on the gangway, he would never have been able to let her cross the threshold…and he would not permit
himself to be that selfish. Not with her life. He wasn’t a praying man and he wasn’t very good at trusting in
things he couldn’t experience with at least one of his senses, but ever since the Eagle had taken off he’d had
one repetitive litany looping through his brain: ‘Please let her live. I love
her so. Even if you won’t bring her back to me, please let her live.’
Another weary sigh escaped him as he rose from his desk and headed out to Main Mission. There had to be something
he could do other than sit and brood. He hadn’t checked on the next to impossible reappearance of the Eagle in at least
half an hour. He might as well do it again.