the female to oblivion! He had allowed her to interfere again, and this time she had done it with simple words. Rational words,
reasonable words, but only words. It was true he could brook no loss of power to his beam, the all-important beam that would
resurrect his planet, his people. Any power loss now was intolerable. But he had allowed her to win once more and come between
his actions and his better judgment. Then – the insolence of her! - she had attempted to foment a revolt.
Fortunately the rest of her kind were too stupid or submissive to follow her. They stood by like dumb beasts
as she tried to convince them of the truth. Perhaps they had some inborn immunity to her powers, but he suspected really,
they were just too spineless to do anything other than be led to slaughter. He almost hoped she survived the transfer. Once
she could no longer distract from duty, it might be highly pleasurable to avail himself of all her physical amusements…before
he removed her disquieting presence from his sight forever.
It had required every bit of self-control she possessed to back down when ‘the thing’ had threatened
to confine her to quarters or sequester her in Medical. A ‘thing’ she now knew him to be and it filled her with
revulsion that she had ever allowed herself to think he was anything else, that she had voluntarily touched him. John, their
John, her John would never order Tony and Maya fired upon, not without far better
reason than he’d offered and never with the look of vindictive hatred she’d seen upon his face. The same look
had been turned on her when she’d stood up to him and called him out. But no one had followed her lead, even Alan wasn’t
ready to admit this trespasser in their midst wasn’t John. He had to be
stopped, but she didn’t know how. She only knew she couldn’t do it from Medical, and all her instincts told her
if he got her alone in her quarters again, she wouldn’t be able to reach him this time.
So she backed down…and waited. She waited as Sandra counted off the system failures one by one. The water,
then the food supply, both frozen and shut down. When finally the creature would deprive them even of air, she could hold
her tongue no longer and at last, thank God, Alan found his voice, too.
It seemed as though it would be too little too late. Even John’s arrival, their John, her John finally, at the eleventh hour, had appeared to make no difference.
Their usual weapons were useless against the invader. For a moment, it truly looked hopeless. Then John found the way. Somehow
he always found the way.
At the instant of the alien’s demise, John, too, felt an impact…like a small implosion
within his skull, as if a narrow, frozen needle had been inserted through his temple and swiftly yanked out. The sensation
was similar to the euphemistically-named ‘brain freeze’, as though he had ingested something very cold very quickly.
For a moment, he had to rest a hand on a corner of his desk for balance, but the feeling evaporated as rapidly as it arrived.
His hand moved back to the blue button, halting the high-decibel shrieking of the sonar and
bringing a sudden, unsettled hush to the room. No one spoke. The stunned looks on all faces expressed words that would not
come. Every eye rested on the scattered pile of dust and splintered crystal
fragments that had been the walking, talking, counterfeit Koenig. If not for the pile of debris, the whole adventure might
have seemed a collective bad dream.
Then the familiar voice back in its customary place broke the silence, sending all of Command Center into a
controlled and welcome turmoil. “Alan, take an Eagle and a security team. I want Tony and Maya off that asteroid now.”
With a broad grin, a slap on the back and a fast, “Right, John,” the pilot was out the main door
at a run.
“Sandra, reboot all systems. Start with air recycling, move to the water, hydroponics, then protein production.
Let’s get this base warmed up.” The tone was business-like and abrupt, but for the first time in two days, not
An enormous smile covered the petite brunette’s face and she beamed at him quickly before sliding into
her seat and directing attention to her console. “Yes, Commander!”
“Yes, Commander?” She spoke over her shoulder as her fingers raced across the keys of her terminal.
“Get a cleanup crew in here. Have someone come sweep up this mess.”
She stifled an appreciative giggle. “Yes, Commander!”
“Helena?” He reached out a hand to her as she moved toward him around his desk.
Her fingers clasped his; strong, but gentle and warm to her touch. It was what she’d expected to feel
after what she’d witnessed. Still it sent a powerful surge of exhilaration through her. So did the swift, un-businesslike
hug they allowed themselves as she felt his heartbeat, safe and steady in his chest against her hand. There was time for a
too-fleeting kiss, a softly delivered, “I’ll be in Life Support. I expect you to report to Bob within the hour
for a check-up.” Without waiting for his response she slipped from his arms and was gone, racing through the corridors
to meet with Ben and discover what damage the alien’s short reign had caused in her section.
John smiled after her, then brushed crystal dust out of his chair and sat, surveying his team hard at work to
contain and reverse the chaos. Reports were already flying in from all sectors. No manifest disasters yet, but not every department
was back online. Some wouldn’t be up and running for hours. He was in for a deservedly long shift.
Helena heard the door to Life Support open and close and assumed it was Ben returning from his dinner break.
“You were quick. What did you bring me?”
A pair of well-known arms wrapped around her in response. “I didn’t know I was supposed to bring
anything but myself.” He nuzzled her neck.
She leaned back peacefully against him, glad for the interruption from her stack of computer readouts. “I
thought you were Ben.”
He placed a kiss on the side of her head, “Nope; just heading back to Command Center from my check-up.
I thought I’d see how you were doing in here.”
Spinning in his embrace, she frowned up at him. “John, you were supposed to do that hours ago,”
“I’ve been a little busy,” he soothed her. “But I did it. And I’m fine. Call Bob
and ask him if you don’t believe me.”
Mollified, she nodded. Then, “Tony and Maya?” she quizzed.
“Also been and gone. Also fine. Both back on duty,” he reported. He pulled her closer, exchanging
stress for comfort as he felt her arms slide around his neck and her face burrow into his shoulder. He bent his neck so his
lips rested beside her ear. “How does it look from here?”
“Not too bad, considering,” she answered contentedly, her voice a little muffled from his shoulder.
She almost felt drowsy. It was so warm and cozy in his arms. “Systems three and six went down completely. Four and nine
had issues, too, but everything is nearly back to normal except number three. It went down first and stayed down longest.
We still only have it back to half power. We’ve done several reboots, but we think we may just have to nurse it along
until we can complete some re-wiring on the circuits. Ben thinks he can handle that himself. And,” she concluded with
relief, “we suffered no causalities.”
He nodded, grateful for the good news. “What about the kids?” He had never been enthralled with
the idea of children on the Base, but more than a year ago Helena and Bob had gone on an all-out crusade and worn him down
with a slew of logical arguments. So far seven new Alphans had been born, all miraculously healthy and without complications.
The youngest, a boy, born to the Osgoods, had arrived less than two months ago. Despite worries for Michelle and her mechanical
heart, that birth, too, had gone without difficulty. But every time they faced another crisis, John questioned his decision.
It was too late to reverse, but if he had it to do again he wasn’t sure he would let the doctors carry the debate. Life
was just so fragile here.
She smiled. “All fine. We evacuated them to the lowest caves once we realized how drastically the energy
drain might affect the temperature inside the base. It was Shermeen’s idea.”
John looked doubtful. “Shermeen Williams had an idea about something that didn’t involve plants?”
Helena laughed lightly. “It was because of her plants that she had the idea. She keeps some of those caves
at greenhouse temperatures round the clock and she calculated the lowest level agri-farming areas would retain their heat
the longest. So, any plants that could be moved got moved. And she came to me and suggested we do the same with the children.
Basically we hid the babies with the bananas and tomatoes.”
He shook his head, not sharing the amusement of her tone. “Yet another example of why it’s insanity
to have children here. I should never have allowed it.”
She pulled away from him suddenly, crossing her arms in front of her. “Why? Because someone should have
foreseen that you were going to go wandering off into a cave by yourself, get taken
prisoner and duplicated by a crazed alien who wanted to drain all of Alpha’s power to bring his own dead world back
to life?” she snapped. “You’re right, John; I don’t know why we didn’t see that coming.”
He was startled. Instant mood shifts tended to be his territory, not hers. “Helena, I…honey, all
I said was…”
“I know what you said and I think I know your opinion on the subject by now. Do we really need to go over
“I, uh…I…no…I’m sorry…I…” He didn’t know what he’d
said or done to cause this reaction. Certainly, he’d said nothing he hadn’t voiced previously. Guiltily though,
he recognized all too well that she was right about his culpability in their latest near-disaster.
She sighed, running her fingers through her hair. She didn’t know why she’d just turned on him.
Then again, yes, she did…She was tired and hungry and she was more than a little put out with him for having so thoroughly
violated a common standard procedure…She just hadn’t intended to address it now. “No, John, I’m sorry
I said it like that…I’m tired and I haven’t eaten all day and I know there’s no way you could have
known what would happen when you went into that cave.”
“Which doesn’t change the fact that I never should have gone in to begin with,” he pointed
out wryly. “Believe me, I know. If any and I mean, any of the rest of you
had pulled such a boneheaded stunt I’d probably demote you. It was wrong. It was stupid, it was idiotic, it was reckless,
it was arrogant, it was irresponsible…” He paused to clear his throat. “You could stop me anytime, you know.”
He searched her face for signs of moderation in her mood.
“Once you’ve added impatient, rash and foolhardy, I will,” she retorted. But there was a forgiving
smile playing around the corners of her mouth.
He leaned toward her and, without touching her otherwise, kissed her ever so gently. “It is all my fault.
I know it and I am sorry.” He sighed. “It’s not the first time my impatience has nearly cost us…”
“Everything?” she finished for him. Her tone remained curt.
There was nothing he could say in dispute or to defend his action. Nodding ruefully, he agreed. “Yeah.”
Helena considered continuing the litany of his errors. In her present mood, fueled by low blood sugar and a
lingering unease from her private experience with the alien, it was what she wanted to do, but she held her irritation in
check and relented. John may have done a very unwise thing, but he wasn’t a stupid man. She didn’t need to tell
him what he’d done wrong, nor did she need to mention that, if not for Tony and Maya, they would all be dead. She planted
a light kiss of her own upon his lips.
“I love you, you know,” she whispered. “I’d love you just as much if you could manage
to be a little less…impulsive.”
He chuckled and pulled her back into his arms. “Understood.” He did understand. One of these days
he might even learn to curb his temperament in a constructive way. He knew he sounded casual, but he was going to be beating
himself up about this escapade for weeks to come. The fact they’d had no loss of life was no thanks to him.
She sighed in resignation and held him tighter. He did understand, she knew…and she understood the likelihood
of him behaving any differently in the future was…probably not good. At least, she figured he wouldn’t go traipsing
into a strange cave all alone anytime soon. She was going to put him on indefinite medical leave if he did.
“I’m back,” Ben announced cheerily as he entered Life Support carrying a pair of stacked plastic
dinner trays. “Oh, sorry,” he grinned, noting the interrupted embrace of the Commander and his boss. “Didn’t
know you’d be here, Commander.”
“I have to get back to Command Center anyway,” John responded, though the goofy grin on the young
doctor’s face made him roll his eyes. “I’ll see you later,” he told Helena softly.
She nodded, but her face was scrunched into a grimace. “What is that awful smell?” she questioned
Her colleague was already unpacking the food. With a shrug, he uncovered his tray to show her. “Soy burgers.
I got you one, too, but all gooey-ed up with lots of that fake cheese the way you like it.”
She backed a step away with a dismayed sniff. “How long were the refrigeration units out in the cafeteria?”
Ben exchanged a puzzled look with John. With another shrug he said, “Not long enough to cause any problem…well,
they were pretty sure.” He took a large whiff, “Smells okay to me.” A big bite of burger followed. “Tastes
okay, too.” Chewing happily, he held it toward her in display.
“Pretty sure?” What a ringing endorsement that was. Not for the first time in her life, Helena thought
that men, left entirely to their own devices, would live like bears. In the confined space, she stepped on one of John’s
feet in her effort to get further away from the less than inviting aroma. “Well, it doesn’t smell okay to me.
I’m not eating that.” She gave John a swift kiss and ran her hand over his chest once more in a reassured check
of his living, breathing, human body. “Yes, I’ll see you later,” she answered his earlier assertion. “I’ll
be back in awhile,” she informed Ben. “After I find something to eat that doesn’t look or smell like that.”
Hurriedly, she exited Life Support, leaving two baffled men in her wake. As the door slid shut behind her, Ben
pointed at the other tray. “Want hers, Commander?”
With only a slight hesitation, John accepted. He hadn’t eaten all day either. “Sure, why not? It
smells okay to me, too.” He frowned at the door, wondering at her odd reaction.