‘…The wind in the willows…blowin’ in the wind….windmills
of your mind…they call the wind Maria…did Clint Eastwood sing that in the movie? Lee Marvin? No, it was some other
actor…wind, wind blow away, come again another day...no, that was rain, not wind…’
It was funny, she thought, how often the wind, when safely confined to songs and children’s books, seemed
almost like an ally, or at least benign. It didn’t usually appear in the role of sadistic enemy. But on Earth it could
be, when it took the form of hurricane or tornado. Here, outside this relic of an Eagle they’d been forced to call home,
it hadn’t ceased its battery in over 48 hours.
A few times yesterday and today, the men had ventured out to try and dig the marker into visibility. It was
a hollow exercise; really it just gave them an excuse to go outside the cramped Eagle quarters for a while and pretend to
do something constructive. They returned each time exhausted, wind-battered and covered with more moon dust. For health reasons
she should have stopped them. The less dust any of them inhaled the better. But it was one of the ways the two of them could
still work together with equanimity. Inside the damaged cabin for too long, they tended to snipe at each other during discussions
of ways they might still manage to help implement their rescue. How they had the energy to bother, Helena had no idea. Occasionally,
she worried they could eventually reach the point of exchanging blows…although when she looked around the limited space,
she didn’t believe there was enough room to throw a punch. Someday, Helena thought tiredly, someone ought to study the
odd correlation between testosterone levels and stupidity.
Much of her concern remained fixed on Sandra who was showing improvement and didn’t need to be exposed
to frayed tempers any more than necessary. Her marginal recovery had made the normally duty-conscious Paul antsy and difficult
to manage...which in turn, sometimes set Alan off. Helena supposed it was because Paul knew as well as she that Sandra’s
progress would be short-lived if they didn’t get help soon.
On a personal level, Helena understood Paul’s worry. There would be significant limits to her own composure
if that were John lying out there, and she knew John wouldn’t be doing any better if it were she. But conditions dictated
she try and maintain some group equilibrium, and that meant trying to keep Paul, and Alan, under control. She didn’t
honestly know how much longer she could do it.
“You’re awfully quiet tonight.”
She smiled a little, and sighed. “I know…Lost in thought, I guess.”
She and Alan were back in the cockpit in their now accustomed places. It had become a late afternoon ritual
of sorts, giving Paul time alone with Sandra and, just as importantly, gave the group dynamic some breathing space.
“Maybe the wind’ll let up tomorrow,” he suggested.
“That would be nice,” she agreed.
Alan stared ahead out the windscreen at the blowing dust. “How’re we doing for emergency rations?”
She hesitated. She owed him a truthful answer. “Enough to last till they find us…as long as they
find us in the next couple of days.”
He smiled at her effort to be positive. “Well, that’s all right then. We’ve got nothing to
She nodded with more confidence than she felt. They hadn’t seen or heard another Eagle since the first
day. “I know. John will find us.”
“Course he will. I know John…he’s not gonna stop looking till he finds you.” He winked
at her. “That’s why I’m making sure I stay right close by.”
Smiling almost shyly, she shook her head. “You know him better than that. He’s looking for all of
“Sure he is…” Alan teased her gently, “but I know him well enough to know he’s
got his priorities.”
Lying again on the hard, sloping floor, she tried to sleep. Exhaustion should have made it a simple task, but
her thoughts refused to cease their churning. ‘John will find us,’
she told herself over and over. ‘He will…you know he will.’ Crossing
her arms tightly over her chest, she fought the fear that washed through her. It came each night, cutting a ruthless cold
straight through her body that was far more insidious than the chill of the air. Each time it was more brazen. She knew it
was partly due to her own waning energy reserves. They were all starting to deteriorate a little. Nothing was irreversible.
Not yet. Soon though, certain physical boundaries would be reached, then crossed. Survival would become more problematic.
The human body could withstand a lot of punishment. The old tenet that a person couldn’t go beyond three
days without water wasn’t necessarily true, but it might be a near thing in the types of temperature shifts they were
experiencing, especially in the heat of the day. Paul’s initial estimate of 120 degrees in the shade was an exaggeration,
but not by so very much. The violent swings between heat and cold, combined with the lack of food and water would do all of
them in shortly, beginning almost inevitably with Sandra.
Helena knew she had to rest if she could. Another bleak morning would begin soon enough. She attempted to lull
herself to sleep with memories, all of them centering around one soothing figure…
…The first time she’d seen John enter her office, the first sight of those mesmerizing blue eyes…Who
would have imagined where they’d go from there, on this wandering moon and in each other’s lives? The first guarded
moves between the two of them, cautious approaches and retreats combined in a strange paso doble as they each tried to decide
just what they wanted from the other, how far they wanted to take the attraction they both felt…wary pretexts for the
The first time he’d touched her had been in his office after a command meeting. Not long after Breakaway,
and everyone was exhausted from the hours of extra duties, the struggles to find new ways of coping with previously unimagined
challenges. She’d been standing at one of the viewports, watching the stars go by, idly rubbing at the day’s tension
in her neck. She’d suddenly sensed his presence behind her, heard his voice, ‘Allow
me.’ So straightforward yet somehow not improper. She’d felt his strong hands replace her own fingers, forceful
but gentle, not suggestive of anything more than a gesture of friendly reassurance. But she’d also felt a distinct tingle
rise deep in her belly and flash downward, reminding her how long it had been since she’d permitted any man to touch
her. It had been undeniably agreeable and…comfortable. Too comfortable between herself and the Commander. She’d
had to pull away from the unexpected sensation, the awkwardness she felt. Her eyes had met his only briefly but she’d
seen he felt the same current, the same surprise, perhaps even the same tingle. Though it had been several long months afterward
before their relationship was consummated, both knew then they were more than coworkers pushed together by circumstance.
The first time he’d kissed her had been ridiculous. Strolling through one of the agricultural gardens,
both truant from duty, they’d had the need to escape for a while and come to terms with the horrifying mental game they’d
just been put through by the unknown residents of an unknown world. Most of Alpha
had been destroyed, many Alphans killed…except, in the end, they weren’t. In reviewing the incident, it had become
clear that no one had recollections of anything other than the terrifying anticipation of a deadly attack that had never come.
Thanks to John making the correct choice, life continued.
For the two them, however, moving on was less simplistic. They had shared memories of the awful fantasy the
aliens had provided. Feelings they had hardly yet examined themselves, much less discussed with each other, had been tapped
into and used…against them or to assist them was open for debate. Whichever the case, John had learned for the first
time what it might feel like to lose her. Helena had learned that, in the right circumstances, given enough impetus, by applying
enough sheer will, she could yank John out of death’s hands…The recognition of such a bond between them, so strong
even alien cultures could sense it, had made them both jumpy and restless. They instinctively sought comfort in each other’s
company, though the physical nearness added to their unease.
They had walked nervously side by side, neither seeming to know what to do with their hands. “You know,”
John had observed, “I don’t even know what point they were trying to make…because we’re colleagues,
“Friends,” she’d added.
“That’s it,” he’d agreed. “Friends. “If we were more than that…it
would be too complicated…we have responsibilities…”
“Obligations,” she’d concurred.
“Yes, absolutely.” He’d turned to face her. By then they were standing under a grape arbor,
one of several that produced varying qualities of Alphan wine. Once, the arbors had been frivolous experiments, some pet project
of some idiot politician back on Earth. Now they were important elements to holding everyday life within some realm of normalcy.
“I wouldn’t want you to take this the wrong way, Helena, but, really…I, uh…” Her eyes, her lips,
her body had been so dangerously close. “I…don’t…it’s not as though I…want to kiss you
or anything like that.” His voice had dropped to a whisper.
She’d swallowed, her voice also fallen to a whisper. “No…I understand completely, John.”
Her back was against the arbor framework; his face, only a few perilous centimeters away. “I’m not insulted…I…don’t
want to kiss you either…the thought never…crosses my mind.” She’d wondered if his eyes were always
such a beguiling navy blue, whether his proximity always caused her heart to race.
He’d pondered whether her eyes were always such an alluring shade of emerald, whether her mouth was always
so tempting. As his fingertips brushed across her neck, he’d been about to add that he also never thought about kissing
her bare shoulder, or the hollow of her throat, or every single inch of her ivory skin. But it all seemed moot as his lips
lowered to hers, as his arms encircled her, as her body pressed to his.
Several moments later, pausing for breath, he’d admitted, “Okay, I may have thought about it once.”
“Or twice,” she’d murmured.
“All the time,” he’d confessed as their lips came together again.
The first time they’d made love had been a revelation, stunning in its emotional clarity and utter bliss.
Coming months after their first kiss, they’d held back longer than they would have thought possible. Originally, the
postponement seemed right and necessary. For awhile, it even became a matter of habit. But eventually, not being together
became intolerable. Eventually, making love seemed as right and necessary as the postponement had been.
A few months ago, they’d faced their most recent hurdle. Admitting their intimacy in the form of the first
publically beheld kiss had been difficult. She’d had more concerns than he, though in the end she had been the one to
move things along. She still marveled that she’d been bold enough to do it, but she had no regrets.
John had come to Medical to pick her up for dinner that evening so she wouldn’t have to go anywhere alone.
He knew she’d be anxious after the lunchtime festivities. He strode past the knowing looks of her staff and entered
her office, crossing to her desk and pulling her to her feet and into his arms. “Are you all right?”
She smiled. “I’m fine…a little…unnerved, but fine.”
He raised one hand to stroke the side of her face. “No one has ever done for me what you did today.”
Her smile widened, teasing him. “I’m sure lots of women have kissed you, John.”
He smirked. “Not as many as you think. And you’re the only one that counts.” He kissed her
tenderly. “I would never have asked you to be that kind of brave.”
“I know,” she assured him. She took a shaky breath. “I decided if we were going to do it,
we might as well do it spectacularly.”
He laughed. “Well, we have to get dinner. Do you want to go by one of the smaller restaurants, or are
you ready to return to the scene of the crime?”
“Hmmm,” she mused. “You know what they say about getting back on the horse,” she replied,
cheerfully mixing their metaphors.
“I’m game if you are.” He squeezed her hand, and then kissed it.
They’d had to put up with a few days of meaningful glances from just about everyone. Nothing unexpected
and soon, everybody had returned to standard routine. John had been right with his analysis; once it was done, the two of
them could walk together, eat together, spend time together any way they wanted, and no one gave them a second thought. Almost
immediately, the concept of them as a couple had become a regular fixture in the collective mind of the community. She had
Their last evening together had been only five nights ago…but it felt so much longer and he felt so far
away. She’d thought they’d have more time, a future…if not here and now, sometime, somewhere. Perhaps they’d
already had all they were meant to have. Two tears she failed to subdue slid out the far corners of her eyes. Lying on her
back as she was, they dripped down annoyingly into her ears. Clinically, she was surprised; she would have thought she might
be so dehydrated by now that tears wouldn’t come. She sniffed quietly so as not to draw attention and brought the tears
under control. She was not going to
lie here and cry.
As her mind swerved back to the present, she forced herself to face the unavoidable. She wasn’t afraid
of dying; if that’s what was going to happen, she hoped it wouldn’t hurt much, but she didn’t fear it. She
did fear never seeing John again. Her heart didn’t question his determination. That man possessed more resolve than
any person she’d ever known. She believed with all her heart that he would find them and would not stop looking till
he did, just as Alan had stated…but her mind questioned whether they’d still be alive.
Struggling to doze in his seated position beside Sandra, Paul heard Helena sniff
softly. He wondered if she was crying. He sympathized if she was, but he would not bother speaking to her or draw attention
to it in any way. He didn’t get the sense from her usual behavior that it would be welcome if he did. She was private
about most things, though Alan seemed to have been able to hit it off with her.
He wouldn’t blame her if she was giving in to tears for a moment. They
were all starting to get more overwrought and Helena, as team leader and doctor, had more on her plate than the rest of them.
She’d done admirably as their leader, too, he had to admit. Though he’d been skeptical of John’s choice
of Helena over himself, he had accepted it without discussion. He rarely disagreed with John and when he did, he typically
kept it confined to his own thoughts. It was not in his nature or training to waste time doubting command decisions.
He’d had no question about her intelligence or ability to manage a staff.
On a daily basis, though, she outranked no one here. Head of her department didn’t give her a higher standing over Alan
or himself or even Sandra, except in medical situations. When he’d thought about it, he’d realized that was probably
what John had wanted and why he’d chosen her to do it: not someone inclined to giving others orders, but someone to
coordinate tasks, report findings without bias and make good decisions based on those findings. Those were all strengths of
Helena’s and Paul believed she would have used them ably had the operation gone according to plan. As it was, she had
surprised him with her facility to conduct the balancing act she’d been forced to carry out, walking a careful tightrope
of morale boosting while keeping a careful rein on the personalities involved. He knew he was going to give her glowing marks
when he wrote this up later…if he got the chance.
It was that big ‘if’ that was starting to weigh on his mind; undoubtedly
Helena’s as well. She’d done what she could, as had they all. Unfortunately, the situation was beginning to reach
the point for drastic measures and even there, they were limited in what they could try.
Then there was Sandra…Paul tried not to worry about her more than the
rest of the group, but it was impossible. Their relationship remained fresh and tentative. He’d gotten her on the rebound
following Mike Ryan’s death courtesy of the black hole, but he’d gotten her nevertheless. He just wished he could
figure out his place with her as skillfully as John and Helena appeared to have worked out their situation. They seemed to
have deciphered the dilemma of how to face problems with a united front and still responsibly fulfill their individual duties
to the community. He knew it hadn’t been an easy adjustment for them, but they’d done it and mostly done it well.
He often envied them.
More and more his thoughts turned to Alan’s sarcastic question back on
day one of this nightmare…‘What are you gonna do, walk?’ Drastic
certainly covered it as an idea. Insane defined it better. But with each passing hour he liked their chances less and less.
Walking back or at least walking part of the way out of the mountain range on the chance he’d be more easily spotted…odds
of success probably weren’t much better than they were sitting here. Still, if he were spotted, then the others might
be saved in time. If he weren’t, then his absence would give them maybe a day’s extra emergency rations. That
day might make all the difference to their survival.
Sandra stirred, interrupting his deliberation. She was getting stronger, but
he knew her rally wouldn’t last without proper nutrition and care. He gave her a bit of water, then a bit more…more
than he should have considering how precious little was left. The water line in the jug made up his mind. He debated only
briefly with himself. Rules of the desert were, first and foremost, travel at night when it’s cooler…and they
were certainly in a desert of sorts; a mountainous, windy, inhospitable desert. His likelihood of getting away unhampered
was better now, too. With Helena asleep on the floor and Alan in the cockpit, he could be gone before they could stop him.
They’d never let him try it in the daylight.
Putting on a jovial face for Sandra, he lied like their lives depended on it.
In his mind, they did. He told her of rainfall and more water and how he would be back soon. He wanted to tell her of his
feelings, too, but that would wait for another time.
Summoning his nerve and what was left of his energy, he left the Eagle. Moments
later, he heard Helena calling his name, but the wind was too fierce and the night too dark for her to see him. He felt confident
neither she nor Alan would try to come after him. Turning into the bitter wind-chill, he headed in the direction of Alpha.