If he could get a good
night’s sleep, things would start falling into place. The disparate pieces would make sense. He could get over this
doubt and confusion with decent rest and form a plan of action. At least that’s what he kept trying to tell himself.
He was pretty sure it was a load of crap.
Much of what had happened on Terra Nova would never make sense. As for sleeping, it almost wasn’t worth
the effort. When he did sleep, he had dreams of the moon and all inhabitants blown into tiny fragments, raining down through
an orange sky. He saw planets destroyed by firestorms and explosions, millions of lives lost. Every time he closed his eyes,
his unconscious set about torturing him for the near disaster setting foot on that cursed planet had been.
To his relief his fellow Alphans didn’t seem to blame him, though all carried the memory of nearly not
surviving the experience. Everyone wanted to find a real home. All had wanted the planet explored and most would have done
so sooner than he had. Collectively they knew they would have been guilty of the same choices had they been in his shoes.
He was grateful for their support but privately, he wasn’t sure he deserved it.
The hours passed and he didn’t sleep, but he needed to, soon. He was fairly certain he’d dozed off
at his desk this morning prior to the staff meeting. He’d never been so thankful that his office was closed off from
the rest of Main Mission. Staying alert at the meeting had been a chore, too. Fortunately, nothing pressing was on the agenda.
No one had suffered any lingering ill effects from the encounter with Terra Nova. Medical verified that all who were alive
before were well and accounted for now, and all other departments confirmed Alpha to be in general maintenance mode. Nothing
was especially great, but they all lived to fight another day. Good enough for now.
It was crucial he talk to Helena, too. They needed to sort things out between them. Last night, as he lay awake
in an otherwise empty bed and wondered how he could have gotten so accustomed so fast to having her warm, soft presence beside
him in the dark, her heartbeat next to his, reassuring him that something was right in the universe, he knew he couldn’t
go on like this. He couldn’t continue avoiding her as he had with their canceled dinner date and again after the meeting.
He didn’t want to avoid her…he just wanted to be under control and thinking clearly. He’d had a headache
since yesterday morning and that wasn’t helping.
Part of the problem had started weeks ago…if you could call it a problem. Even before Russell’s
reappearance, even before they discovered Terra Nova along their course, he and Helena had been trying with varied success
to step back, just a little, from the consuming fixation their relationship was threatening to become. Well, he’d been trying to step back and she had been willing to give him space. It was still new, this thing between
them, and they both had adjustments to make as they navigated their way through to…what exactly? They had made an agreement, at his suggestion, to take a day or two off from each other once in awhile,
even when their schedules might allow them to be together. Sometimes they followed through on the intent.
The problem was…was there a problem? John had no answer. He knew that when they indulged themselves, they
could hardly stand to be apart. It wasn’t about the sex…Oh, but it was about the sex…heady and addictive,
comparable to no previous relationship. So far, they had made love on every available surface in her quarters and his and
then had started over again. There were times when they behaved like teenagers in heat…and it was unfamiliar to them
both. Little about their sexual conduct with each other fit their prior notions of themselves…and it was fascinating
to learn they had these other adventurous people inside them.
But really, it wasn’t the sex. The sex was a side effect, a happy by-product of the emotions and the emotions
were pretty damned addictive, too…He breathed her like air. He wanted to be with her all the time. Helena put a joy
in his heart he didn’t remember ever feeling. She made the days bearable. She made him feel like she was what he’d
been searching for his whole life. That he’d found her amongst the stars seemed to make flawless sense…and she
fit in his arms so, so perfectly.
But it scared the hell out of him. She had come to mean so much, to occupy such a place of primacy in his soul.
The experiences on Terra Nova had only underscored that and grown more terrifying the more he reviewed them. He’d come
so close to losing her and the thought of that made him numb inside. Surely, this could not be the way he was meant to function,
dependent on another for his reason to live, his will to survive.
But his real crisis had started after Terra Nova. To feel as he did about her, and to see her looking out the
viewport on the Observation Deck as the planet faded to a bad memory…he had thought for a moment he was going to be
sick. He had gone up to offer comfort, but as he’d watched her standing there, staring, looking it seemed almost wistful,
it had been a struggle not to lose his balance. He had to grasp the railing hard not to fall backwards down the stairs, overcome
with nauseas vertigo. To breathe had suddenly hurt and there had been a pain around his heart. Neither were the same as they
had been on the planet when he’d had to fight to live again. These pains
were worse…and he’d hardly spoken to her since. He was afraid to hear what was on her mind.
He knew he could never get over her. He didn’t want to get over her, or end things between them. He just
wanted to be in more control of himself. He couldn’t be so reliant on another person, there were too many depending
on him. He couldn’t let the wellbeing of one person determine so much of his thinking, his decisions. The notion went
against everything a commander should be, but…was what he was feeling really about command?
How much of this crisis was real, and how much was just his ego getting in his own way, feeling indignant at
the possibility that maybe she had once loved someone else more…maybe still did? Just because the vision of Jean had
told him he was meant to be with Helena, did that by extrapolation mean she was meant to be with him, or was he her consolation
prize? His mind did nothing but run in circles and he was not used to such confusion…or this foolish neediness. He was
accustomed to seizing situations and taking action. Now, stymied and frozen in place by the complex and obsessive love he
felt for her, he didn’t know what action to take. If he could only sleep…..
“Hand me that drill, John,” Alan requested.
Carter’s voice startled him from his circling reverie. Most of the day, he’d been out here in the
hangars, pitching in with basic Eagle maintenance. Currently, he and Carter were disassembling engine parts on Eagle 2. It
had been their vehicle on Terra Nova and he wanted every piece checked, rechecked and checked again for any sign of stress
or failure, or indication of anything that simply shouldn’t be. He was too tired to risk the reassembling, but this
was mindless tedium.
It took him a moment to locate the indicated tool, even with Alan pointing it out. It was sitting right in front
of him. Passing it over, he shook his head in a futile attempt to feel more alert.
“You look tired, John,” Alan noted, taking the drill from him.
He sighed. “I haven’t been sleeping very well.”
Neither man said anything for several moments, then Alan piped up again. “Anything wrong between you and
John grimaced and let a weighty pause drop before he responded. Carter had been such an agreeable, quiet companion
most of the day, leaving him to his own thoughts. Now, John sensed, he was about to get chatty. “We have lots of doctors
on Alpha, medical and PhD’s. I don’t know which one you mean.” The tone of his voice would have been enough
to dissuade almost anyone else from pursuing the matter. Carter wasn’t just anyone.
He grinned. “Oh sure, you know…the pretty one…tall, blonde.” He got a mischievous look
on his face. “Blue eyes.”
“They’re green,” John responded automatically, then rolled his own eyes as he noticed Alan’s
grin widen in satisfaction. “Do you have some point to make, Carter?” He tried to turn his attention to loosening
Alan shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know, John…I’m really just a pilot, you know? I don’t
have the list of degrees, all those alphabet letters you could tack onto the end of your name if you wanted to…’Course,
it would be kind of silly, wouldn’t it, if we all had to call you Doctor Commander or Commander Doctor,” he shook
his head. “It’d make you look like you were trying to be uppity.”
John rubbed the space between his brows. The headache he’d had since yesterday wasn’t getting any
better with this conversation. “Carter. Point. Get to it.”
“Sure, John,” he scrutinized his old friend. “I was saying, I’m just a pilot. I know
I’m not as smart as you. I’m not as smart as Helena either. And I’m sure as hell, not as smart as the Professor…Now
there’s a smart man.”
John sighed again, heavily. Obviously Carter was not going to be rushed to whatever it was he wanted to say.
“Victor’s probably smarter than all of us,” he agreed. Maybe if he agreed with every word this would end
“Yeah,” Alan nodded his head. “If you ever needed advice about anything, he’d be the
man to talk to, I reckon. I wouldn’t even presume to try and give you advice when you’ve got a man like the Professor
to turn to. Yep, Professor Bergman would sure be my go–to guy, ‘cause he thinks a lot. Just like you. You think
John was puzzled, but relieved. It had been a weird little exchange, but apparently Carter was just worried
about him and wanted him to talk to someone and thought Victor would be a good choice. He knew Alan’s concern was kindly
meant. He’d almost relaxed back into his current task, still trying to loosen the bolt, when his relief dissolved.
“Course, thinking isn’t always what the situation calls for, if you ask me. Which you haven’t,
but…hypothetically speaking,” Alan began, “oh, by the way, hypothetical means you’re just pretending
something might have happened, or could happen.”
“I know that,” John said tiredly. He might as well let him finish. He was going to anyway.
“Oh, I’m sure you know it, John. Smart, thinking man like you. Just wanted to make sure you know
I know. Wouldn’t want you to think I was throwing out some fancy term and not knowing what I was saying. You know what?”
Alan winked at him. “I’m gonna toss in rhetorical, too. That means you don’t have to answer or comment when
John gave up on the bolt and laid down his drill. He looked at Carter expectantly, hoping he’d at least
get onto his subject soon. Crossing his arms, he leaned his back against the
wall behind him. “So, hypothetically and rhetorically?” John prompted.
“Yeah, well,” Alan continued to work on another bolt as he yakked amiably away, “if I had
a woman like that, who looked at me the way she looks at you when she thinks none of us are watching,” he chuckled suddenly.
“Course, the way you look at her when you think no one sees is a sight to behold, too. Anyway,” he ignored the
frown that appeared on John’s face. “I think this whole thing with her dead husband poppin’ up would have
really bothered me.”
John felt his blood pressure begin to rise but he said nothing.
“It would have bothered me, especially since you could tell that she still felt something for him. But,
hey, that’s natural. Why shouldn’t she? She was married to the guy, she thought he was dead. Then he isn’t.
Probably a pretty weird experience for her, too, I imagine.” He paused, taking a sip of water, then pointed his drill
like a finger at John as he continued his roundabout pronouncement. “Now I can see how, if I was a smart guy, it might
be easy to get all caught up in worrying about ‘hey, does she still love him? If we were both standing in front of her,
which one of us would she pick? What if it wasn’t me?’ That’s a lot to worry about and I can see where it
might just make me sit around and brood a bit.”
John was barely controlling his temper. He fixed Carter with the infamous Koenig glare. Most people backed down
when they saw it if they had any sense. Even Alan would back down when he knew he was wrong. That was the problem. Alan knew
he wasn’t wrong. Actually, Alan knew he was dead on target. John continued to glare anyway, having no other response
available except for maybe shouting, and he didn’t feel like shouting. He was too damned tired.
Alan met John’s glare without flinching. In fact, he looked him right in the eye with unyielding cheerfulness
and continued on his merry way. “But the thing is, I’m not a smart guy. If I had a woman like that, who looked
at me the way she looks at you, and we’d just been through this whole dead husband coming back thing…what I’d
be thinking is…bugger him. He’s not here now, I am. He’s not coming back, but I’m here and she’s
here. And she’s still looking at me the way she was before he turned up. So I’ll be damned if I’m gonna
just piss away time I could be spending with her doing pointless shit that I don’t need to be wasting my time doing.
Life’s too damned short, especially out here.” He finally halted and grinned at John again, but kindly, concern
showing in his eyes. “But you’re the smart guy, John. You know when you need to sit around and worry. I wouldn’t
have a clue.”
The silence was overwhelming. Alan’s words had bulls-eyed right to the center of his brain. His anger
at his friend’s audacity snapped off like he’d hit a switch. Eyes focused on the floor, he quietly noted, “Sometimes
you’re fairly perceptive for a dumbass pilot.”
All teasing gone from his face, Alan looked at his old friend with compassion. “John, we’ve been
friends a lot of years. I haven’t seen a woman light your fire the way this one does in…ever. What the hell are
you doing? You don’t have to answer, pretend I’m still being rhetorical. But what the hell are you doing?”
He rubbed his forehead again, uncomfortable with the painfully obvious. “It’s not as simple as you
want to make it.”
Alan snorted. “With all due respect, I think it probably is. You’re crazy about this one. You’re
just not used to feeling so vulnerable, that’s your problem.” He was pointing his drill again for emphasis.
Not wanting to address the truth of that comment, John tried a slight shift. “You know, there is the matter
of appearances, responsibilities to our positions.”
Alan shrugged with visible scorn at this argument. “If we were where we belonged and the Space Commission
could still crawl up our backsides and ask us to cough, I’d say that might be a valid concern. But you know what I think
matters out here?...A sense of normalcy, anywhere we can find it. And you can’t tell me that with the way she looks
at you and the way you look at her, that the two of you being together is anything but normal.”
He thought about trying to come up with a response. Then he thought about trying to explain…until he realized
how he would sound: that he was whining about loving her too much, or worse, whining that the sex was too good. He could hear
Carter now…’So are you complaining, John, or bragging?’ With
that realization at last came another; that Carter was probably right about everything. He was being a damned fool.
His head still pounded, but at least it felt free of cobwebs. He and Helena absolutely needed to talk…amongst
other things. So they would. They would talk their issues through, and afterwards if he had his way, neither of them would
be spending tonight alone in an empty bed…Unless, of course, he’d made her so furious with his recent behavior
that she wasn’t ready to let him make it up to her. That was a prospect he’d have to face. He wouldn’t blame
her if she was a little frosty toward him with the way he’d put her off. For now, he’d go shower, then locate
her and hope for the best.
Alan was silently observing him, but not pressing.
Smiling faintly, but smiling for the first time in days, he asked, “You can finish this by yourself?”
The grin returned to the pilot’s face. “Yeah, John, I think I can handle it.”
Clapping Carter on the back, he walked away toward the exit.
Alan watched him go, then turned his attention back to the engine, whistling as he worked.