Standing in the circle
of Lee’s arms Helena tried to grasp at some scrap of reassurance, but all she felt was desolate, as she’d been
when kneeling over John, examining him for any flicker of life. He‘d sacrificed himself to save her, shoving her into
the cleft of the rocks while his body was pummeled by who knew how many pounds of debris from the hillside. When she reached
him, he’d managed to get out a few words, and then he…dear God, he was just…
…But no, no God, dear or otherwise…there wasn’t one, there couldn’t be…not after
bringing them through so much and allowing it to end like this…They’d overcome so many obstacles…for what
purpose? They should have all just died in Breakaway.
She held on to the only lifeline there was. Lee’s embrace was still familiar, even after years of absence,
but in her present situation, it offered little comfort and, his arms were not the arms she wanted to feel around her. Just
now though, with everyone and everything she’d known dead or destroyed, she clung to him, terrified that in the next
moments he would be gone, too.
The physician part of her mind disconnected from her emotions and impassively calculated how long she might
be able to endure in this awful place. As she would have expected, she foresaw nothing but bleak scenarios but it hardly mattered.
She had no reason to go on living. She might be Alpha’s only survivor this moment; mercifully soon enough she’d
be joining John and all the others.
As the chaos around her sank in upon her consciousness, another area of her mind, that of memory, also began
to behave independently and her scientific side observed it with cool detachment. In other circumstances, the images she replayed
would have brought wry amusement, even happiness. Now they served only to preserve her mental faculties in an act of instinctive
With her head resting against his shoulder, she thought about her early years with Lee, fresh out of medical
school and both of them so excited to be working in the expanding space program. Those had been thrilling times, providing
daily challenges and new discoveries and they both welcomed the tests of their abilities. It was daunting sometimes to anticipate
the physical and psychological needs of humans entering deeper space. Sometimes the surprises were far worse than what had
been predicted or imagined. The shifting budgets and pecking orders, all at the mercy of election-obsessed politicians and
mercurial public opinion, created job uncertainty. Battles were lost on some projects; lives were lost on others. But they
both loved what they did, and in those days they succeeded more often than they failed.
Ironically, one of the things she remembered best about those days wasn’t the professional struggles but
the climatic ones, specifically, the shocking number of staggeringly bad hair days provided courtesy of the humid summers
on the Florida Gold and Texas Gulf coasts. It never seemed to matter which space center she called home, if it was between
April and October she could count on her hair being impossibly frizzed in the morning, flat and lifeless by mid-afternoon.
Between that shallow concern and the frequent power plays and CYA bureaucracy, she found over the years that when she was
away from the insulated community of the centers she missed them very little. Once Lee was gone, she was bored and restless,
not with her work but with her environment. When it came through, her posting to Moonbase Alpha had been a welcome escape
in more ways than one.
She remembered pleasant times, too. When she and Lee had married, they’d had two wedding celebrations;
one in America for the majority of their friends and her relatives, and one in England where most of his family still lived.
It had saddened her to be married without her father’s steady presence, but she knew he would have been happy for her
and pleased with her choice of Lee. The two men would have gotten on well, both being calm and caring people. Lee’s
family had been pleased with his choice, too. His parents were reserved in that typically British fashion, but they had been
very warm and receptive to her in their own starchy way. She loved their son and that was good enough for them.
They had honeymooned in the British Isles, splitting their time between London and its bright theatre district,
then changing pace and heading north, up into the Scottish highlands. Those one-lined roads, winding about the lakes and through
the craggy cliffs had provided some of the most beautiful drives she’d even taken. The air had been crisp and bracing
in the early morning and again at twilight even though it was July, and the local cuisine at the inns they stayed at had been
delightful. Helena also discovered that there seemed to exist more brands of Scotch in Scotland - a great many of which were
unobtainable outside the country - than there were species of frogs in the world, and thanks to some of Lee’s research
projects, she happened to know there were about five thousand kinds of frogs.
Their time together, on their honeymoon and in married life, had been cozy and intimate…and friendly.
They had been good friends since they first met. They just plain liked each other and enjoyed each other’s company.
Considering their professional lives often caused them to be apart for weeks and more at a time, that seemed a good situation.
Had they felt a constant need to be together, it would never have worked. But what they lacked in consuming passion, they
made up for with highly animated conversations and deep, abiding affection. Their whole relationship had been like that. The
flames of attraction that burned between them were admittedly not heated, but there had been much light.
He had told her they couldn’t be together. That was hardly surprising with what she’d seen of his
new abilities back on Alpha and what she saw now in the devastated planet around her. Given that she’d witnessed the
moon, its base and all inhabitants blown to bits a short while ago his capacity, or lack of, to reside on Alpha seemed a moot
point. As for staying here…even if she could be transformed into whatever sort of being he was now so that she could
survive, it wasn’t an appealing solution.
Now he was telling her something else, that all she needed to do was see what she wanted to see, as though that
could make any of this all right. A thought, verging into the realm of hysteria, crossed her mind and she wondered if maybe
she clicked her heels together three times and chanted ‘There’s no place
like home’, she could wake up back on Earth with her feet on the ground and a breeze on her face and the moon orbiting
in the starry evening sky where it by God belonged. This wasn’t right, none of it was right, nothing would ever be right
“Trust me. See what you want to see,” he told her again, holding her tightly. “I’ll
give you the strength.”
But it wasn’t so simple for her. She knew what she wanted to see, who
she wanted to see. But what she wanted felt like a betrayal, a stab in the heart to the man who held her close trying to comfort
her. It felt wrong to be thinking what she was, to want what she did.
“Lee, I can’t…I don’t under…you don’t know…it isn’t right to…”
Now she began to sob; violent, shattering sobs that left her scarcely able to breathe.
“Shhh, shhh…..Helena,” his voice and hands were gentle as he tipped her face up to look into
her eyes. “I know what you want…and who. It’s alright.”
She shook her head. “But…”
He shushed her again with his fingers over her lips. “If I could still be with you, I imagine I’d
feel differently. But that isn’t possible. There are many things I can make happen here that would be fantasy on Earth…but
I can’t make you be like me and I can’t make myself like you anymore.” He kissed her forehead and tried
to keep the remorse from his tone. “I would never have wanted you to be alone, to go through the rest of your life without
loving someone…having someone love you. And he does love you? This…John Koenig?”
She nodded. “He does,” she whispered.
“And you love him. He’s very lucky.”
Her sobs which had subsided returned in force. “But you’re alone,” she choked out. “It
Lee’s mind worked quickly. He would have to do something to get her to act. He couldn’t restore
things as they needed to be without her conscious participation. She knew the parts and the players as he did not. They had
to be reassembled correctly. It also had to be done soon; there was only so long that Koenig could stay out of his body…and
that went for the others as well. Even after everything was returned to its place, there was only so long the stability of
this world could be maintained in the presence of these humans, his molecular opposites, without the disaster occurring all
over again…and it would grow worse each cycle it repeated. Time was of the essence for many reasons.
He kissed her softly again, this time on the lips. “Remember I told you I can make many things happen?”
Before she could answer she felt a firm shove in the small of her back. She turned and looked not very far down
into two big, moist brown eyes. “Dexter? Oh my God, Dex?”
A loud, slobbery ‘Wooof!’ answered her and she hesitantly placed her hand on the silky head, scratching
between his ears. He felt real, and his long tail began slashing energetically back and forth as he grinned up at her.
It seemed like Dexter, who appeared in the photo with Lee that she had kept on view in her quarters…when
she still had quarters. Dexter, who had the proclivity as a puppy to chew up, but not swallow, any paper and cardboard products
he could get his paws on, creating faux blizzards inside the house and an atmosphere of persistent danger to important work
left unguarded. One morning, she actually had to go to work and tell a project chief that the dog ate her report. Dexter,
who once got so nervous while alone during a Florida thunderstorm, that he chewed a leg off the dining room table. Fortunately,
he was not under it when it collapsed.
Dexter, who somehow survived puppyhood and died of old age not quite three years after Lee had disappeared…but
in those years he had been the greatest comfort to her of anyone she knew. The day she lost the dog had been one of the worst
of her life and she had grieved as much for him as she had for Lee. Losing him had precipitated her request for the Alpha
assignment. She didn’t feel like she had anything holding her on Earth anymore.
“Is he real?” Her voice shook.
Lee considered his reply. “He’s as real as I am,” was the cryptic answer. He pulled her back
into his arms as her tears began to flow again. “You see, I’m not alone.”
“There isn’t time for all the hows, Helena.” He tried to keep the urgency in his voice to
a minimum. She was panicked enough and he needed her thoughts to be as clear as possible. “Now I need you to trust me.
Can you do that?”
She sniffed, trying to regain some footing of control. “I always trusted you.”
He nodded encouragingly. “Then trust me now. Close your eyes, Helena. Concentrate. See what you want to
see.” He squeezed her shoulders tenderly and let his mind see what she saw, his altered brain processing images almost
faster than she could recall them. Satisfied with her mental narration, he kissed her fondly once more and silently stepped
away, leaving a thought of his own behind: ‘John is the one you’re meant
to be with. He was always the one.’ Then one last footnote: ‘But I
will always love you, too.’
Had her eyes been open just then, the next sight might have been too overwhelming for her psyche to deal with
as Lee simply folded in on himself and vanished from any plane visible to human observation. How he went where he went, even
he couldn’t have explained. He had Helena doing her part toward restoration and she’d performed admirably; her
thoughts clear and exact once she’d been able to concentrate. But he could not afford to relax or take for granted that
all would be well. There was another equally pressing matter he still had to resolve.