read, then had to read again the ‘Eyes-Only’ segment of Helena’s report. His first appraisal so numbed his
concentration that when he’d finished, he couldn’t recall the specifics. He had known she would face the greatest
peril from his double precisely because of their relationship - she knew Alpha’s Commander as no one else did. That
she was also the CMO, with a right to order the examination of any member of the community any time she deemed it necessary,
had added to her risk. On the asteroid, when Tony had warned him she was the only one who even suspected the copy of being
more than he seemed, John had not been surprised. But from that moment until he entered Command Center and saw her standing
there safe and unhurt, he had felt a clutch of panic around his heart that had gone far beyond his general anxiety for the
safety of the Base and his people. As his eyes raced down the computer screen once more, he grasped with sickening clarity
what had nearly transpired.
What was worse, he could see it somehow, in his mind; flashes of images, memories not his own, snippets of acts
performed by the alien. Bits and pieces of visual information floated behind his eyes and as he read, he saw the creature
grab hold of her, saw him push her roughly against the wall…and knew precisely what he had planned to do…what
he’d wanted to do.
She had been assaulted once before at the hands of the unspeakable ghouls who called themselves Darians. Any
number of times in their wayward moon’s travels she had nearly died, as had he, as had they all. That she had come so
close to both fates at the hands of a creature designed to replicate him in form, if not in spirit, seemed a particular cruelty.
She had appeared to be alright earlier, but edgy and tired. Her report stated
that, despite what she believed to be the copy’s intent, he had not harmed her. Her confusion as to why he had made
that decision was patent in her written account, something she seemed to be struggling to understand. Perhaps later John could
share her wonder. For now, he was just thankful for the alien’s comparative generosity.
Checking the time, he realized he hadn’t spoken with her for hours, hadn’t seen her since what was
now yesterday. The efforts at getting all systems back online had kept the entire Base busy for the past day and a half ,
the two of them being of necessity among the most preoccupied of Alphans. Reading her report a third time, he had an overpowering
need to hear her voice and see her face before performing any further mundane duties. His hand moved to his commlock to call
her, but ran a location on her instead. Just now he decided, he badly needed
to touch her, too.
John entered Medical to the sounds of bedlam. The clamor of screaming and squalling was deafening…yet
none of the staff seemed concerned. They weren’t even moving all that quickly and most of them looked inexplicably amused.
“Hey, Commander, what can we do for you?” Ed Spencer had materialized at his elbow and was shouting
by his ear to be heard.
“Ed…what the hell is going on in here? I thought we had no serious injuries.”
Dr. Spencer grinned. “We don’t, sir. This is what happens when you’ve got seven babies all
demanding attention at the same time.”
John’s confused expression changed to one of acceptance though he was still startled by the din. “But
they’re all alright?”
Ed laughed. “Yes, sir…they’re all just hungry, and tired…We only brought them up out
of the caves a little while ago,” he explained. “Helena decided we should wait till the Base temperature rose
a few degrees. And she wanted to examine all of them before they went home…None of the kids like the exam part.”
He shrugged good-naturedly and noting the Commander still seemed unconvinced, he added, “Helena’s in the back
corner exam room,” he indicated with a nod of his head.
“Thanks.” He started walking in the designated direction, ignoring the look of contained humor on
As he made his way toward Helena’s presumed location, the noise began to abate, but not his discomfort.
Passing the next to last exam room, a female voice called out a friendly greeting causing him to turn directly toward the
sight of Michelle Osgood, breast out, nursing her son. Averting his eyes to the ceiling, he responded, “Michelle, how
are you? How’s James?”
Surprised at the picture before her…Commander John Koenig, stalwart leader, a man who had faced down alien
creatures of all sorts, even fought them in hand to hand combat a time or two, now rendered ill at ease at the display of
a woman breastfeeding a baby…it was all Michelle could do to say, “We’re both fine, Commander. Everyone’s
fine.” She couldn’t help herself. A small giggle escaped her lips.
“That’s good,” John told her. “I’m glad to hear it.” He cleared his throat.
“Give my regards to Pat.”
“I will,” she called after him. His hasty departure from the doorway left her smiling and shaking
her head at men in general…and the many contradictions that made up Alpha’s chief.
John reached the back room, relief spilling over him as he saw Helena, looking perfectly well, in total command
of her element. Her back was toward the door as she dealt with two of her young patients: Jackie Crawford and he thought,
based on the visible crown of straight black hair, Lily Wong, five month old daughter of Anna and Zhou. Jackie saw him and
grinned and waved, causing Helena to look over her shoulder.
Gracing him with a smile he cherished, she told him, “I’ll be done here in a minute.”
John nodded and watched her attention immediately swing back to Jackie who was threatening to hop off the exam
table in order to race over to him. Unlike much of Alpha’s adult population, the little boy never felt any trepidation
in his encounters with the capricious Commander. It struck John that the kid would probably have known as well as Helena had
that something was wrong with the alien imposter.
“Oh, no you don’t,” he heard her tell the boy now as he insisted he was big enough to make
the jump, but there was affection in her tone. He saw her lift Lily and shift the baby into the crook of her left arm, then
wrap her right arm around the boy’s waist. Jackie threw his own small arms around her neck and let her lower him to
the floor. Instantly he headed for John, hurling himself in the realm of the Commander’s knees. With an indulgent sigh,
he surrendered to the child’s wishes and picked him up.
“We were in the caves,” Jackie informed him. “And Aunt Helena said I was in charge of all
the little kids,” he continued importantly.
“And he did an excellent job,” Helena added, coming up beside the duo, still cradling Lily.
He noted how tired she looked. “I’m sure he did.” John turned to the boy. “You’ve
always had strong leadership skills,” he encouraged him.
“Yep,” Jackie agreed. “I’m going to be a head pilot like Mr. Carter.”
“Don’t you want to train to be the Commander around here?” John asked him.
With guarded hesitation and a pitying look, the child shook his head. “No, you get into too much trouble.”
Helena exploded in giggles. From behind him, John heard, “Jack!”
“Mommy!” was shrieked into John’s ear as the boy began to wiggle.
Looking mortified, Sue arrived at his side. “I’m sorry, Commander. Jack,” she turned to her
son, “the Commander does not get into a lot of trouble.” She took him from John’s arms, balancing the boy
on her hip.
“What about the time he and Aunt Helena went away in Brian’s spaceship and they were all going to
live together instead of with us?”
“Brian is your friend now,” Sue reminded him. The machine,
once it was re-programmed to their own requirements, had proven quite useful to Maya in its ability to crunch reams of data,
but it had not lost its core ‘personality’ and had developed a particular affinity with young Jack. The two were
essentially best friends and often seen darting through the corridors together in Brian’s ‘off-duty’ hours.
“He was very confused when he did that.”
“Yeah, he doesn’t like to talk about that,” the child admitted. Then, “What about the
time the Commander and Mr. Carter and Aunt Helena disappeared and Aunt Helena got sick and almost died and those people thought
she was a princess and the Commander was a wizard and then they almost cooked them?” He shuddered with childish pleasure
at familiarly gruesome fairytale elements.
“That was a scientific attempt to get us all back to Earth. I’ve told you that story and so has
your Aunt Helena.” Sue still sounded patient.
Jackie frowned, first at John then at his mother, then back at John. “What about this time?” he asked them both, wearing an expression of triumph on his little face.
Sue paused. With a conspiring wink at Helena and a friendly glance at John she conceded, “He’s got
me there, Commander. You did get into some trouble this time.”
Reaching over to ruffle the boy’s hair, John admitted, “I think being a head pilot is a good career
choice, Jack,” he said. “I think I may just do that myself from now on.”
Jackie looked shocked, then concerned. “You can’t do that, Commander. Then someone else would have
to get in trouble all the time. You’re used to it.”
Stifling a loud snort of laughter , Sue hoisted him a little higher on her hip. “Let’s go home,
Jack.” To Helena, “That is okay?”
Helena smiled and nodded. “He’s just fine…precocious, but fine.”
Sue smiled, too, in relief, and acknowledgement of her son’s outgoing traits. With another glance at Helena,
she confirmed, “Are we on for lunch tomorrow?”
“Absolutely…but call me when you’re on your way in case I’ve lost all track of when
Sue laughed. “As though it would be the first time.” She gave John a grin and left with Jackie.
John watched the pair walk away then turned back toward Helena. “You taught him all that,” he accused.
His face was stern, but his eyes were twinkling at her.
Struggling not to laugh any harder than she already had been, she answered, “I did not. I swear.”
Their eyes met and her free hand drifted up across his chest to caress his cheek, all of him soothingly warm
to her touch. He pulled her suddenly into his arms, baby and all. She could feel the intensity flowing through him as he held
her. “You read my report,” she whispered.
He nodded, but didn’t release her from the firm embrace.
“I’m fine, honey. I’m fine,” she reassured him. Between them, Lily hiccupped.
Relaxing his grip on her back, his hands rose to cup her face on either side, fingers sliding into her hair
as his lips lowered to hers in a decisive kiss. Her right arm circled his waist as she returned the kiss with matching zeal.
They broke apart only at the sound of a quietly embarrassed female voice.
“Umm…excuse me, Dr. Russell, Commander?” It was Anna, Lily’s mother and one of Helena’s
most tireless nurses. “I’m sorry.” Anna was beet red from her neck to her pretty heart-shaped hairline at
interrupting her boss in the middle of such intimacy with the Commander. It didn’t help that she’d always been
rather afraid of Commander John Koenig…and his notorious moods. “I
was going to take off for a few hours and take Lily home if that’s all right.”
Helena smiled encouragement at the young woman. “It’s alright, Anna.” Passing the baby over
she said, “Lily’s fine. Take as long as you want. We’re nearly back to normal and you’ve been on your
feet for the last fourteen hours. You deserve a break.”
Wrapping her daughter in her arms, Anna beamed at the praise, then said respectfully, “You should take
some of your own advice, Dr. Russell. You’ve been going without a break longer than I have.”
Helena ran her fingers through her hair. Her body acknowledged the truth of Anna’s words in muscle aches
and a level of fatigue she didn’t typically feel. “I will soon. Don’t worry.”
She bid mother and daughter good night…or whatever it might be by now, Helena didn’t know. Gratefully,
she felt John’s large, steadying hands kneading her shoulders. She leaned into him and found herself enfolded by his
protective embrace, his heartbeat calming against her back.
“You do need to get some rest, baby,” he murmured against her ear.
Oh yes, there it was…that’s how it was supposed to sound…Her memory drifted uncontrollably
to the last time his voice had called her that…except it hadn’t been his voice and it hadn’t really been
him and it was strange how a small simple word could sound so different when it was said with love. “Mmm…say that
again,” she requested dreamily.
Puzzled, he complied…and was rewarded with her twirling in his arms to give him a kiss, deeply succulent
in its intent, laden with promises far beyond the energy level either of them currently possessed.
When they reached a pause, prompted by the natural requirement for breath, he continued to hold her as she leaned
against him, as her arms came down from around his neck and huddled together against his chest, as she tucked her head in
under his chin. It was a long-familiar pattern of body language on her part, intricate in its vulnerable complexity. She did
it when she was feeling defensive or defenseless. Sometimes it expressed a need to be surrounded by him, other times it meant
she was fearful of letting him come one centimeter deeper into her soul than he was already, lest he disappear in a puff of
smoke and leave her heart forever broken. Sometimes it meant only one of those things. Sometimes it meant them all. John sensed
now was one of those all-encompassing times.
He sighed, drawing slow circles on her back with one hand while the other rested in her hair. Gently, he kissed
the top of her head. “Come with me,” he whispered.
Not moving from her comfortable spot, she whispered back, “Where’re we going?”
“You’re going to take your own advice. You’re going to take a break for a few hours.”
For once she didn’t try to argue, merely nodded up at him with weary eyes. “Are you joining me?”
He gave her a nod and another kiss in answer, then shifted her under one arm and began walking her slowly through