Fog, so thick it was almost
glutinous, pervaded his sight in every direction. The water should have been frigid to the point of causing a shock to his
system. It should have been so cold that it could have jolted his heart to a standstill or brought it back to a normal rhythm
from its disturbing irregular thumping. But the water was warm and reassuring. It seemed to have a gentle tidal pulse that
was helping to push him along his way, working in concert with the force that tugged at him, urging him forward. He only hoped
the influences controlling his momentum knew what they were doing, for though he knew what his goal was supposed to be, and
who, he had no idea where she was or how to find her. He didn’t know if he could, or whether he had the energy to try.
He was beginning to doubt it.
Continuing on its course, the water at times seemed to buoy him up; more often, it neatly gurgled along with
him floating under the surface. The more he relaxed, the deeper he sank, but the movement went unnoticed. He felt like he
could have gone on being soothed by the motions indefinitely. It was all so calm, like a soothing bath or a bubbly hot tub.
It would be so easy to give in and drift to sleep in the peaceful, rocking embrace. No more problems to solve, no more crises
to survive. But even as part of his brain tried to submit and settle into this place of no concerns, there was a violent,
shaking wrench around his chest centered in his heart, the tugging became a hard jerk and his thoughts started charging in
a new direction.
Russell…things Russell had said…every word the man had spoken, every action had possessed a sense
of emergency. John remembered that now. A tragedy, a whole series of calamities…Anxiety finally pushed its way forward
into his thoughts; right behind it, a troubling desperation. He should be accomplishing something with all this floating,
not just listlessly drifting and sinking. John was uncertain how long this journey was taking, but as his tension rose it
seemed drawn out to the point of peril. His mind, he realized, had not been functioning efficiently for some time.
Russell - Jean, too, for that matter - must have been right when they tried to convince him he wasn’t
dead. The physical decline he’d been experiencing would have made no sense otherwise…Not that very much had made sense over the last hours and days, but he had to start accepting certain things as factual, regardless
of their logic. Then there were the visions Russell had shown him…he couldn’t recall specifics, but part of it
was bad, very bad. If he didn’t, or couldn’t, get back to Helena, and soon, things would be worse than bad and
not just for them. He couldn’t remember why he knew that, but he knew it with confidence…and…
…Helena…How long had she been alone on that miserable planet while Russell was with him? He should
have thought about that earlier. He’d assumed Russell would take care of her. He’d seen the man consoling her,
why the hell hadn’t he stayed with her? Because of him, John admitted…his fault…like everything else that
had taken place since they’d left Alpha. He had followed up his bad decision to explore the planet with more piss-poor
choices. When Jean had pushed him along his way, he should have tried to find the path back to Helena then. Instead he’d
indulged in sitting and feeling sorry for himself. Russell, or whatever he was, had been left with no option but to leave
her and come deal with him.
Helena…what all Russell’s urgency hadn’t accomplished, her name did. His mind chanted her name over and over, and he felt his heartbeat normalize as though it had never been
amiss. He could hear his own pulse pounding in his ears and oxygen blasted through his lungs, shooting him up above the water’s
surface and leaving him gasping in surprise. But at last he was surprised into action.
Surely this curious voyage could be expedited if, instead of just floating, he did some swimming. With a couple of
experimental strokes he seemed to cover a far greater distance than would have been possible under normal circumstances. With
the increased distance came increased energy and a renewed pulling on his solar plexus, not as unpleasant as it had been,
but somehow more insistent, more pleading, more like…Her…beckoning to him.
John had no way of getting his bearings or gauging distance. All around him remained a viscous haze. He had
to presume the yanking sensations were guiding him correctly. He struck out through the water knowing only that he had to
end this. He had to make good his errors and he had to get to Helena. Yes, he needed to divert impending catastrophe, too,
but more than anything he had to find her. If anything had happened to her in his absence, he wouldn’t care what disaster
might befall the universe. The universe would eventually find a way to heal, recover and move on. He never would.
How long he kept at it, he couldn’t have said. He only knew that when at last he reached a point where
he didn’t think he could swim another stroke, he thought her name one more time, pictured her smiling at him, imagined
her arms around him… and a force stronger than any he’d yet encountered grasped him around the chest, heaved him
deep under the water then spit him up again into…the air or onto land? He didn’t know.
The answer only came with a thudding stop that nearly took the wind out of him. He looked down to find he was
completely dry, apparently unscathed…and back in uniform. Slowly he breathed in and out, feeling the action as a normal
sensation. He examined his hands and flexed his fingers. He was standing upright. No bones broken as far as he could tell,
not even a smudge on his clothes. He seemed to have returned to the surface of the planet, but somehow before the storm, before
everything had gone so wrong.
If he was really alive then, please God, everyone else was, too. If everyone was in one piece, if they still
had a Base, then they could go back, they could eventually forget they had ever seen this world. No, perhaps not forget; try
to learn something from the experience and not repeat the mistakes. They could continue their quest for a real home…with
more judicious assessment employed next time. If everyone was fine that would mean she was, too….Helena, his love, his
beacon. All he had to do was find her.
It had been just moments since Lee had stepped away from her, but long enough that she had to consciously control
her breathing in order not to hyperventilate. She was afraid to open her eyes. The devastation that had surrounded her was
too freshly seared onto her retinas.
Helena sensed she was alone. The air around her seemed charged with static, and the wind began to rise…not
with the howling destruction it had possessed, but a warm churning all about her. The electricity in the atmosphere tickled
her skin, but not in a disagreeable way. She tried to focus on Lee’s directive, tried to guide her mind to see what
she wanted to see whole and restored…their moon, Alpha, her friends. John.
‘You have to come back to me, John. Now. You have to.’ She whispered the words urgently, out loud to no one, hoping, but not believing it
could possibly do any good. Her thoughts searched for him, trying to sense some evidence of him anywhere. Her heart told her
irrationally if she could just feel him somehow, lasso his consciousness with hers, she could have him back again. With shaking
breaths, she fused all her will on remembering how it felt to have his arms around her, to have his heart beat against hers.
Certain it was ridiculous and impossible, but willing to grasp at any optimistic thread, she had a fleeting vision of him
flailing in deep water, not much energy left…and her mind followed that with a new picture of her own making; of throwing
him a lifeline, willing the rope to tie itself firmly around his chest and draw him in toward shore. She knew it wasn’t
real, it couldn’t be. But she tried. With every ounce of concentration she possessed, she tried.
Without preamble, the atmosphere about her altered again. The prickly static along her arms faded. The warm
wind that had been spinning around her ceased and all became still. Fearfully, she opened her eyes.
The planet as far as he could tell had been returned to its previous state. Trees, plants, those birds that
looked so like Earth macaws, but couldn’t be…all looking free of injury or damage, as though nothing cataclysmic
had ever taken place.
A tropical breeze caressed his face. John turned in a slow circle. Ahead of him, maybe fifteen feet away, was
the only sight that mattered to him on this planet, on any planet.
The still air gave way to a sultry breeze upon her face. Nearby she heard birdsong. Everything seemed the way
it had been, no sign of catastrophe anywhere. Helena turned in a slow circle. Behind her, maybe fifteen feet away, was the
only sight that mattered to her.
A smile lit up his face when she saw him.
A smile lit up her face when he saw her.
He took a couple of tentative steps toward her. She took faster, not so tentative steps toward him. Coming together,
their hands touched, joined. Fingers slid swiftly up wrists to elbows, clutching hard.
Her eyes were so full of love and relief he couldn’t look for very long. It was too overpowering, too
humbling. Somehow, this incredible woman had saved him, pulled him back. Despite her fear, she’d been stronger than
the elements, tougher than the circumstances. He didn’t understand it, but he didn’t have to, now or ever.
His eyes were so filled with love and amazement she couldn’t look for very long. It was too overpowering,
too stunning. Somehow, this remarkable man had found a way through hell and high water back to her. He had been more resilient
than everything the planet had thrown at them, even when it tried to kill them. She didn’t know how it was possible,
but she didn’t care.
Without saying a word they turned slightly apart, their movements in harmony, to stare into the sky above and
confirm that they weren’t the only survivors. Their moon, reassuringly whole once more, seemed to beam down on them,
calling them back to where, for now, they belonged.
His arm slid up her back and around her shoulders. She’d already been trembling. The increased physical
contact made her shake as though her body was encased in ice. He pulled her into a slow, tender embrace and she willingly
entered the haven of his arms. They stood close and tightly held on, but did not kiss. Kissing would have been too hard just
then, too emotionally raw for either of them to tolerate.
With her head resting on his shoulder, John noted movement from the corner of his eye. He glanced up to find
Russell standing about twenty yards away, incomprehensively accompanied by the largest dog John had ever seen. Their gazes
met and the other man silently raised a hand, both in salutation and farewell. John nodded in return, profound gratitude flooding
his heart. Helena stirred in his arms, adjusting her position more compactly against his chest and he looked down and away
to stroke her hair. When he raised his eyes again, Russell and his surprising companion were gone.
John exhaled heavily, knowing he couldn’t continue to stand here and hold her, though he wanted to do
little else. She heard his sigh and understood. They had to leave this place as soon as possible. It was critical they do
so, but for just a few moments more, they wanted to be together somewhere other than the sterile hallways of Alpha. John took
her hand and she led him back beside the little stream they’d found earlier.
He took a deep, soulful breath. Just to breathe normally again was a gift, but his feeling of being so blessed
went well beyond his basic need for oxygen. To walk on grass with her, holding her hand in his…even if the grass was
kind of a peculiar blue, to walk under a sky with her, even if that sky was orange, to sit beside a stream with her, even
though the water was an odd, chocolate brown…all were simple enough wishes. For now, they were wishes which could not
be, but to have them granted even for these moments was a kindness from the universe he wasn’t sure he’d earned.
His commlock summoned, breaking the spell, and he spoke first to Victor, then Alan. All was restored as if it
had never been otherwise. His eyes met Helena’s, and he saw his own thankfulness reflected there. The part of the universe
they temporarily occupied was as it should be. They could go back to something called home. Together, they slowly made their
way back to the Eagle.