DAY FIVE – Afternoon
How long she lay there, Helena didn’t know. The next thing in her awareness was the sensation of someone
jerking her left arm hard enough to hurt. Technically, it wasn’t the jerking that hurt; it was her whole left side…and
her right side…and her head…and her back. Eyes still closed, but conscious, she analyzed the radiating pain surging
through her torso: bruised ribs certainly, possibly some muscle tearing…ribs could be cracked…or even broken,
but she thought not. She didn’t feel any major wounds and, though her back ached badly, she didn’t believe she’d
suffered any spinal damage. Everything was sore from weariness and the hard landing her body had just suffered. Her ears still
rang from the blast of the destroyed Eagle, but she didn’t think she had any serious injuries. Why then was it so difficult
to breathe all of a sudden, harder than she remembered prior to the explosion? With effort, she willed herself to open her
‘Thank you, God,’
was all Alan could think as he watched her eyelids flutter open. He didn’t know how long she’d been out. He didn’t
know how long he’d been out after his fight with Paul. The sound that had punched its way through his unconsciousness
and brought him back to reality was, ironically, not the boom of the explosion but the beautiful noise of an Eagle, flying
overhead and searching for a place to land among the rocks. They had been rescued at last…But why was it so hard to
He’d struggled to his feet and found himself surrounded by those damned blue capsules, the dubious messengers
from Ariel returned. He didn’t see Paul, which was fortunate. He wouldn’t have had the strength to take him on
again. Hell, he hadn’t been able to beat him the first time. He did see Sandra, crouching in Paul’s makeshift
shelter, looking stunned and frightened like a doe in a snare. At least she seemed unhurt and she had pointed him in the direction
Helena had gone.
When he’d seen her lying amongst the rocks and surrounded by more blue capsules, he was certain she was
dead. The thought filled him with panic. Not now, not after all they’d survived, not after all she’d done to hold
them together and keep them alive. He was not only upset about the loss of her medical skills to Alpha, but devastated at
losing someone he now thought of as a real friend. He agonized, too, about John’s reaction. Irrationally, he found himself
thinking she couldn’t be dead because John would kill him if she was.
Oxygen levels were dropping dramatically in the higher elevations of the mountain range when Bob sat to attention,
indicating a spot off to their left. Relieved energy surged through him as he pointed and the Commander banked the Eagle once
more, turning it quickly about to face the signal. They must be alive, one of them anyway, and though all were his friends,
he was selfishly hoping most for Helena’s safety. He didn’t just want his friend back, he wanted his boss restored.
The last few days had been more than enough to convince him that CMO of Alpha was not a position he ever aspired to attain if he could avoid it. He greatly admired the man at his side, but dealing with the Commander’s
moods on a daily basis was another story and Helena was welcome to it. His hands moved to his seatbelt, ready to unstrap and
go the moment Koenig sat the Eagle down.
The rising smoke trail was the only optimistic sight John had seen in days. At least one of them must be alive
down there…but they couldn’t have much breathable air left. The lack of flames in the smoke seemed to attest to
that, and he still had to find a spot to land. He feared what they might find, his mind unwilling to process the thought that
one or more might not have survived. If that one should be…no, he would not think it lest even in these final moments
he should somehow jinx anyone’s chances. Instead, he silently thanked every higher power, named and unnamable, that
Bob had noticed the signal. He himself had missed it.
Alan had just raised her ungracefully to her feet as John and Bob appeared over the rise of a nearby dust dune.
The cavalry arriving at last.
‘Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you,’ was all John could think as he saw them leaning on each other and staggering toward
him and Mathias. They were bruised and covered with dirt and thinner than the last time he’d seen them. They looked
like they needed to be triaged as stretcher cases, not treated as members of the walking wounded…but they were alive.
Through the mercy of some miracle, they were alive.
All he wanted to do was pull Helena into his arms and hold onto her for the rest of their days. According to
Victor’s last report, that might be a lot less time than he would have hoped for, but at least now they’d be together…But
Alan looked like he needed help, too…and where were Paul and Sandra?
John made a quick judgment call: Bob was of slighter build than he was and could manage Helena more easily than
Alan. He told Bob to take Helena to the Eagle while he assisted his friend. Then he’d go search for the others. They
needed to move fast. He could feel the air thinning.
A few shaky steps were required for Alan to get his footing, then he recovered slightly, enough to wave John
off, urgently sending him after Sandra.
Events got hazy and hectic for a while after that.
Bob thought he’d never seen Helena look so frail. But frail in body wasn’t frail in spirit. He’d
nearly gotten her back to the Eagle when she remembered Paul’s mushrooms; they would need samples for toxicological
tests. She wanted to stop and collect them herself, infuriatingly stubborn woman that she was. It took all Bob’s persuasive
powers to send her along to the ship with Alan. He promised to follow with her samples. ‘Everyone
else will be safe and sound and they’ll find me keeled over face-first in a mushroom patch. Perfect.’
Alan thought he must have been hit harder than he’d realized. He’d nearly gotten Helena and himself
settled into the Eagle’s cabin when he remembered he hadn’t told John about Paul’s dangerous mental state.
That was dereliction of duty, plain and simple; worse, it was letting down his friend. Back out onto the surface he stumbled,
almost running down Bob with his armful of mushrooms, in his haste to get to John. ‘Have
to find John. Have to warn him, watch his back.’
Sandra thought this must be the end of sanity as she knew it. She was starting to believe she was the one hallucinating.
She had seen the noble and gentle man she was beginning to love beat Alan senseless, then try to strangle Helena and now,
as she watched in horror unable to render help, he was brawling with the Commander. No, it was worse than a brawl; Paul looked
like he wanted to kill someone. ‘You have to stop this, Paul! What has happened
Helena thought she would go crazy waiting. She would have gone with Alan if Bob hadn’t physically restrained
her and threatened to shoot her up with something that would knock her out for the next week. She tried to explain how hazardous
it was to approach Paul, how Alan couldn’t be of much help. Bob didn’t care. He had a patient to treat and he
wasn’t going to let her get away, even if she did outrank him. But her concerns wore him down. He put her in a seat,
gave her water, and went back out himself, pausing only long enough to grab a couple of oxygen masks from his supplies. ‘God, what’s happening out there? I should have gone. At least Bob remembered
the oxygen. No, it’s alright; John can take care of himself. Now he’ll have help. I should have gone.’
Paul thought this battle was a fitting way to begin his reign. He saw blood. He could taste blood. Better yet,
he wanted to draw blood. He wanted to kill this black-haired, blue-eyed bastard who would come between him and his providence.
John couldn’t see it, the rightness of it. None of them could see it. Very well. He and Sandra would begin New Alpha
all by themselves. Just as every first story of every people, it would begin with a male and a female. No other ingredients
were necessary. All he had to do was overcome this fool. ‘You think you can take
me? You can’t. This is my destiny, not yours. We’ll see who’s in charge now. Come on!’
John thought this was hardly the rescue mission he’d envisioned. What the hell was wrong with Paul? Paul
was reliable. Paul was steady. Paul was a by the book, follow the rules, ‘never-raise-your-voice-to-your-commanding-officer-much-less-your-hand’
kind of guy…Paul was waving a grappling hook at him and gave every appearance that he intended to use it. What the hell?!
John dodged, then dodged again. If he dodged wrong next time, he was going to be the one who needed rescuing, and with each
passing second it was getting harder to breathe. ‘Okay, come on, Paul. I don’t
want to hurt you, but I will if I have to. We’ve got to get out of here now! Let’s finish this.’
In the end, it just required a good right cross to take Paul down…that, and thinning oxygen, and spending
a few minutes feinting him around like a matador with a bull. John had no illusions about this fight. He’d gotten in
his share of effective hits, but it could all too easily have gone another way.
Alan and Bob arrived, both ready to join in the combat if need be. Fortunately by then, all that was necessary
was getting everyone safely loaded into the Eagle and into breathable atmosphere once more. As the ship’s hatch closed
behind him, John automatically did a head count; it seemed prudent based on the way they’d all been tearing around for
the last several minutes.
When he saw Helena start to rise to help Bob with Paul, he quickly cut her off, gently but firmly pushing her
back into her seat and belting her in for the return trip to Alpha. Kneeling at her side, brushing her hair from her eyes,
kissing her dust-covered forehead, he informed her, “I’m officially relieving you of duty until Bob tells me otherwise.
Understood?” He expected an argument, even now.
Helena managed to smile into the adored blue eyes, overflowing with love and worry as they looked into hers.
She could tell from the amused twinkle in the background that he expected her to disagree. Well, she was going to surprise
him. She was suddenly too tired and sore to do otherwise. “Okay,” she replied meekly.
John floored the Eagle all the way back to the landing pad, Helena’s submissive demeanor having put wings
to his every action. He was terrified she was hurt far more seriously than she appeared. He performed a shortcut version of
shutdown procedures inside the hangar and with grateful relief, emerged from the cockpit to hear her squabbling with Bob.
“Helena, it’s standard practice.” Bob had already had a run-in with Carter about the trip
to Medical. The pilot had balked at the idea of using a gurney until threatened with a month’s loss of flight status.
Now Helena was giving him grief.
“I don’t care about standard practice; I don’t need a gurney, I can walk to Medical.”
Bob had called ahead for four, when he clearly only needed three. That was his problem, she wasn’t getting on it.
With that, she’d pressed her colleague’s tolerance to its peak. “Like hell you can!”
Bob rarely fought with her…except on occasions when she was the patient. Like now. Looking for backup, he glanced over
his shoulder at the Commander who was just entering the cabin from the cockpit. “You fight with her,” he appealed
in uncharacteristic exasperation.
Shooting the doctor a wry expression, John replied, “Oh, I’m not going to fight with her.”
He hit the switch to open the hatch, revealing the small corps of anxious medical personnel on the other side of the gangway.
Then he crossed back to Helena, wordlessly lifting her out of her seat and carrying her to one of the gurneys where he placed
her decisively upon it. “Overwhelm and conquer, Mathias; sometimes that’s the only way,” he advised for
She opened her mouth, ready to debate…but she saw John’s raised eyebrow, daring her to dispute his
wishes…and she saw the pleading look covering the rest of his face…and she felt the exhaustion reasserting itself…and
her mood shifted. “I knew you’d find us,” she whispered. “I knew you’d come.”
His arms wrapped her tightly. He buried his face in the curve of her neck. “I would never have left you
out there. Never.”
“I know.” She clung to him, hating the fact that he was seeing her so dirty and disheveled and un-showered,
though he didn’t seem to care about any of that.
He pulled a little away, but didn’t release her. “I have to see to some things in Main Mission.
I’ll be along soon.”
On the return trip, he’d had a quick conversation with Victor. The fast disappearing atmosphere was, as
everything always seemed to be for them, a mixed blessing. There was good news and bad. He didn’t want to leave her,
but he had to get the Base secured for all their sakes.
Holding and supporting her as he helped her lie back on the gurney, he leaned over and whispered in her ear,
“Be a good girl for Bob…or I’ll come duct tape you to the bed.”
Even in her present condition, she couldn’t help herself. With a tiny mischievous smile she whispered
back, “Promise?” and smiled just a little wider as he rolled his eyes in pretended sternness. Then grasping his
hands as forcefully as she could, she lectured him, “Before you do anything else, make sure you decontaminate. Get this
“I think I know the procedure.” He kissed her fingers.
“I know you know it.” She still wasn’t letting go. “Make sure you do it.”
“Yes ma’am.” He squeezed her hands again, gave her another kiss, and reluctantly moved away.
Turning his attention to Mathias, he ordered, “I want updates every thirty minutes. I’ll be there as soon as I
As he stepped back from the group of patients, doctors and nurses huddled on the gangway, his motions were calm
and unhurried. The moment he was out of their sight, he ran like a mad man for Main Mission.