The cafeteria was quiet, midway through second shift and what would
have been early evening if they had such things as days and nights. She and Sue had chosen a spot near the back of the room
that made uninterrupted girl talk easy; an hour or so of casual chat providing a needed break. Lately, she was stressed, John
was stressed, she could use some carefree moments. Then an off-duty security man had strolled past their table with a huge
plate of seemingly innocent soy pasta, pale and globby, drenched in a blanket of chunky pretend meat glop…Normally,
she liked the concoction well enough…But now, the sight of the too-white pasta, the scent of the faux meat sauce, she
didn’t know what set her off, but she had to excuse herself to a startled Sue and exit to the restroom.
As she made her way back, she was grateful she’d attracted no attention from the few other diners. The restroom
had been, and remained, empty so no one had witnessed her brief misery. Sliding back into the chair, she noted the inscrutable
look on Sue’s face: no longer alarmed, but an empathetic smile was on her lips, and above, her eyebrows arched upwards
“Better?” Sue inquired.
Helena answered with a shaky nod and took a sip of fruit juice. She mumbled about eating something that disagreed with
her at lunch and kept her gaze warily focused on their table where neither of the salads seemed to be making any offensive
moves on her senses. She could feel Sue staring and Helena hadn’t missed the skeptical tone in her voice. Managing a
weak smile, she said, “I’m okay.”
Sue shrugged. “Oh, I imagine so,” she agreed. “I’m just amazed at how you say it happened.
Either I’ve been away from basic biology studies for too long, or this whole hurtling through space thing has really
altered our basic make-up.”
Puzzled, Helena frowned at her. “What are you talking about?”
Another shrug. A friendly smirk played across Sue’s features, but she made sure to keep her voice low when she
responded. “Well, last I remember, you couldn’t get pregnant from something you ate.”
Helena nearly spit juice all over herself and Sue, too. “I did not
say…I told you…I mean…that’s not it.” Good grief, Helena,
you sound like a criminal being questioned by the police. “I think it’s something else,” she added lamely.
It was Sue’s turn to frown. Was Helena ill, or was she just trying to ignore the obvious? “I guess it could
be,” she allowed. “Have you had other symptoms?”
“Like what?” Okay, now you just sound like an imbecile.
Sue rolled her eyes in exasperation. If Helena had only been a vague acquaintance she would have dropped the subject,
but the deliberate evasion had her curious. “Oh, I don’t know…besides the nausea…excessive fatigue,
breast tenderness?” She leaned in closely to whisper. “Are you peeing a lot?”
Helena didn’t feel quite right with this discussion considering John didn’t have a clue about what was
going on, but this was becoming a losing battle. “I may have had some of those,” she admitted, her voice cautious.
“Which ones?” Sue questioned eagerly. She wasn’t about to stop the inquiry now.
A pause, a brief consideration. She really could use a confidant and she knew Sue would honor her trust. “All
Sue gave a sympathetic chuckle and popped a cherry tomato into her mouth. “Gee, that’s a lot of symptoms.
You should probably see a doctor.”
Helena had to laugh, too…a little. “I suppose I should,” she acknowledged quietly.
“So…what does John think?” Sue’s blue-grey eyes were sparkling merrily now. She knew Helena
wanted this. As for John…well, once upon a time, Sue had found John Koenig squarely on the gruff, unapproachable side,
and that was putting it politely. Really, she’d thought the man an A-grade scary bastard when she first met him; egotistical,
thoughtless and rash, even if far more professional and competent than Gorski could ever hope to be. She’d been stunned
when she discovered Helena was not only sleeping with him, but had fallen for him hard. She
certainly hadn’t viewed him as having a warm, fuzzy side. But her son, Jack, had seen through the Koenig outer defenses
by the time he was two and he spoke as casually to the Commander as he did to the laundry staff. Between her son’s informal
attitude and her friend’s romantic involvement, Sue had learned John was not only genial, he was enormously kind, and
he certainly loved Helena. “I think he’ll be a wonderful father.”
She did, too.
Helena smiled hesitantly. “I do, too…if he gives himself the chance.”
Sue paused mid-chew on a carrot stick. “What do you mean?”
She hated to say it, hated to admit it, but she might as well face facts. “Sue…John doesn’t want
“He said that to you?” Sue caught herself; she hadn’t shouted, but her voice had been louder than
she’d intended. A fast glance showed no one looking their way, curiously or otherwise. “He said that to you?”
she repeated, her voice more controlled. She was flabbergasted.
“No,” Helena corrected her. “No, of course not…” Then, “Well, yes, in a way, he
has said it, but not specifically about…this…” She glanced down at her lap. Nothing there to see…yet.
If anything, she’d lost weight the past couple of weeks, courtesy of…Yes
Helena, it is morning sickness. You know it, you just aren’t ready to admit
Sue’s amazement continued, but now her mind switched targets from Alpha’s explosive Commander to Alpha’s
headstrong CMO. “You haven’t told him, have you?” She watched Helena shake her head in response. “Helena,
the man is leaving in three days to go gallivanting off to some alien planets yet again, where he could come up against any
kind of scaly, slimy, one-eyed who-knows-what and you haven’t told him you’re pregnant?” If it was possible
to screech and whisper at the same time, Sue had just managed it. She fixed her friend with the same glare she used on Jack
to make him clean his room.
Helena licked her lips nervously. “First of all,” she began slowly, trying to get the conversation under
some control, back to a more comfortable level, “I don’t know for sure that I’m…that it’s…I
don’t know…I wasn’t kidding before, it could be something else.”
“You haven’t tested yet?” Now Sue was incredulous. “So he doesn’t know. And you’re
claiming you don’t know either. Yet.”
Helena started at the words. ‘He doesn’t know. You don’t know.
Yet.’ Four weeks ago. John’s voice, but not John. John’s face, blue eyes blazing into hers, confused,
surprised…but not John’s face, not really his eyes. Oh…my…God…did
the alien, did he know? Is that what he meant? Was I, then? No, he couldn’t have known. It isn’t possible…Is
it? Her thoughts raced and she wrapped her arms about her chest feeling suddenly very cold.
Across the table, Sue looked on in concern. “Helena?” She reached out a hand to touch the other woman’s
elbow. “What is it? Are you all right?”
“I…yeah…I,” She exhaled uneasily. “I’m sorry, yes. My mind was somewhere else for
a minute.” She forced herself to relax her posture.
“Obviously,” Sue commented. She studied her friend’s visible tension. “Helena, I know it’s
none of my business, but I think you ought to tell him before he goes out there.”
She sighed. “His going out there is why I haven’t said anything. He’s got enough on his mind. If
I told him now, he might decide not to go, then he’d feel guilty for putting someone else in possible danger. Or he’d
still go and feel guilty the whole time he’s away for leaving me.”
“Well, fine,” Sue argued. “Maybe he should stay here with you. Let someone else duel the monster
for a change.”
“It’s not that simple for him, Sue.” Helena could only fantasize about their lives and choices being
so easy. She toyed with some lettuce on her plate.
Sue sighed in understanding. “I know it isn’t,” she admitted, less quarrelsome now. “Okay,
I do know that. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be him. I know he carries a responsibility to three hundred
people. I know that must weigh on him every day. But he has a responsibility to one person in particular.” She paused
and eloquently dropped her eyes in the general direction of Helena’s stomach. “Now he has a responsibility to
two people in particular. Don’t give me that crap that you don’t know, even if you haven’t technically done
the test yet.” She paused again, aware she was saying nothing Helena didn’t already know and suddenly repentant
that she wasn’t making her feel any better. She reached out again and gave Helena’s hand a little squeeze. “I
think you’re wrong that he wouldn’t want it, that he wouldn’t he happy.”
She smiled ruefully. “You know what he’s always said about having children on Alpha.”
“I know what he’s said officially, publically,” Sue acknowledged.
“He says the same things privately. And,” she tried not to be too sarcastic, “I don’t know
if you’ve noticed, but John doesn’t tend to say much he doesn’t mean.”
Sue shrugged. “He doesn’t know he doesn’t mean it,” she shot back cheerfully, and grinned as
Helena looked at her as though she’d lost her mind. “No, really; he doesn’t realize he doesn’t mean
it. It’s completely theoretical to him at the moment. Right now, fatherhood to him is, no pun intended, entirely conceptual.”
She grinned as she drew a small laugh from her listener. “Take it out of the realm of the hypothetical, bring it into
the world of fact, and I bet you he’s going to be thrilled.”
“I hope he will be.” Helena could hear the longing in her own voice. . “If that is what it is,”
she finished awkwardly.
Sue rolled her eyes dramatically. “Oh, good God, no wonder you can’t tell him; you can’t say the
word yourself.” She leaned close and whispered, “Let me help you; you’re pregnant, you’re pregnant,
you’re pregnant. Want to say it with me now?”
She laughed again, more relaxed now, “I might be,” and then laughed harder at Sue’s frustration.
“I know it’s silly,” she explained. “It’s just that saying it will make it real for me, too,
and I’m not sure I’m ready for it either.”
“Well, honey, you better get ready,” Sue interrupted. “It may seem like you’ll never be able
to tie your own shoes again by the time you’re in month seven, but trust
me, you go from that to getting up for middle of the night feedings before you know it. And,” she added with another
grin, “I know most men can be kind of dense about this stuff, but I’m pretty sure John will catch on to something
before then. He’s smarter than he looks sometimes.”
Helena smiled, but felt the impact of her friend’s words more than she liked. “I know,” she agreed.
“I have to tell him soon. And I know I wanted this; I do want it, I am happy, but…all of a sudden, I just keep thinking about all of John’s arguments against it…and
I know he’s right about every one of them. It’s an awful situation we’re in and it’s a frightening
place to raise a child.”
“No kidding,” Sue remarked drily.
Helena rubbed the space between her eyebrows in embarrassment. “Oh God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…I
know you know that better than anyone.”
Sue waved her off. “We’re friends, you don’t have to apologize. I know you didn’t mean to be
insensitive; you were just being self-absorbed.” She giggled at Helena’s groan of remorse. “Stop it, I’m
teasing you.” She gave another gentle hand squeeze. Seriously, she said, “Look, you’re not wrong, John’s
not wrong. It is completely terrifying sometimes. Not every minute of every day, and not even every day, thank God, but often
enough. I could tell you something different to make you feel better, but I’d be lying to you….” Seeing
the apprehension on Helena’s face, she lightened her comments. “So, we live on a floating rock we can’t
control. And let me tell you how weird it is when your son has a sleep-over with his best friend, except his best friend is…Brian.
Need I say more?”
Pleased to finally draw a real laugh from Helena, Sue added encouragingly, “For what it’s worth, though
I wish our lives were normal, I’ve never once wished I didn’t have Jack. As much as I loved his father as much
as I miss him, I wouldn’t trade one for the other. For all the fear, there’ve been lots of moments of joy.”
The wide grin returned to her face. “And I think you and John will be great at this.”
“Great at what?” A familiar baritone; the owner had gone unobserved in his silent approach to their table.
Dark blue eyes shot quizzically back and forth between two flustered women.
John leaned over to give Helena a quick kiss, noting her face held the startled expression of a guilty child.
Helena looked to Sue for help.
“Uh…some of us thought,” Sue began hesitantly, “that is…” She looked at Helena
for guidance. All she got was a pair of anxious green eyes that were desperately asking, ‘Yes?
Some of you thought what?’ Sue cleared her throat. “Some of were thinking…that…you two would be
perfect to…to…play Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus in this year’s Christmas show. Other people have taken their
turns; we figured maybe it was yours.” She looked again at Helena. Helena just looked aghast.
John looked appalled. “Absolutely not,” he replied definitively.
“See; told you so.” Helena tried to pull herself together. Her eyes asked, ‘Couldn’t you have done better than that?’
With a small glare that retorted, ‘I didn’t see you thinking on
your feet,’ Sue turned to John. “Really, Commander? Are you sure? Everyone in recycling will be so disappointed.
They already signed up to be your elves.”
John shook his head as Helena began to giggle. “I’m positive, Sue. We won’t do it. Well, I won’t
do it,” he amended. He knew he was being had, but wasn’t sure he wanted to know the details of the joke.
“Oh…well, okay then.” Sue effected what she hoped was an expression of woeful disappointment. Then
with a perky, “Gotta go. Jack’s karate class should be over by now. He wants to practice hard so he can beat up
evil aliens some day. See you both later,” she grabbed the rest of her salad and practically scampered away from the
John seated himself, eyeing Helena dubiously. “Do I even want to hear the explanation for that?” he asked,
helping himself to an ignored slice of melon on her plate.
Oh, yes darling, I’m sure you would want to know. But I’m
not ready to tell you yet. I’m still getting used to it myself. She smiled enigmatically. “Not important. How’s the training going?” she asked, nimbly
changing topics. “Is Blake going to be ready to deal with the co-pilot duty?”
He noted the subject switch but let it pass. Pushing Helena when she didn’t want to be pushed only resulted in
pissing her off and the last thing he felt like doing was fighting with her. “Oh, I think so.” He scrounged a
second melon slice. “We’re going to do another short practice trip late tonight, which means,” he rubbed
at the tension in the back of his neck, “if I were you I wouldn’t wait to have breakfast with me.”
She considered her response. He sounded irritated, though she knew, not with her. It was the way they’d been
recently; she, worried and distracted, and John…angry, aggravated and demanding, but again, not with her, not truly
with anyone. His annoyance seemed aimed at himself and life and their circumstances. Sandra had confided he’d been like
a crotchety old bear the last weeks…almost anything and everything setting him off on a tirade, most often on the subject
of efficiency. It always passed quickly into a sincere apology for his display of temper. No one was complaining; all seemed
to sense he was just plain weary.
Conversely, he’d been very considerate of her…when he had the space in his schedule. As usual, preparations
for planet exploration left little private time but when they were together, he’d been almost overly attentive, as though
he was trying to make up for the hours spent apart.
She took hold of one of his hands, stroking the knuckles with her fingertips. “How about if I just eat when I
get hungry? If that happens before you get back, fine; if not, I’ll eat with you.” Though the word ‘breakfast’
sent a shudder down her spine these days, in the reality of their current shifts, it was meaningless terminology. Today, it
would be the last thing she ate before sleeping, not the first thing she tried to eat upon waking. She should be able to get
through it without rousing John’s suspicions.
He leaned forward placing his elbows on the table and holding her hand in both his own, kissing her fingers. He was
well aware he’d practically forgotten how to smile except when he was with her. Maybe because he was older, maybe his
goals had changed, whatever; he wasn’t the man he used to be. He’d always thrived on work, on the excitement of
exploration, especially in space. He couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t wanted to be out amongst the stars
and he’d worked toward that goal most of his life. Anything that tested his natural leadership abilities had been viewed
as a bonus to any job. When Breakaway occurred, he more than anyone had been able to look beyond the fear, beyond the enormous
challenge and uncertainty, and see the opportunity for high adventure of a kind not dreamt of in his youth. He’d always
wanted to see the furthest reaches of the galaxy. The Fates had granted that wish.
But now he wanted more…or maybe less, depending on your perspective. He wanted normal, he wanted typical, maybe
he just wanted a vacation. He wasn’t going to get any of it, so he supposed it didn’t matter how it was classified.
John couldn’t say when this feeling of ennui had taken root, but he knew when he’d noticed it and he knew when
it had begun to flare out of control…right after their encounter with that sanctimonious prick, Magus…
…He’d been in bed with his favorite physician, covers kicked to the floor, entwined bodies cooling in sheens
of perspiration from an hour or so of rambunctious sexual antics when she’d teasingly asked him, “So tell me,
what’s it like to kiss another species?”
John had rolled his eyes. “Ask Tony,” he’d advised, avoiding the subject.
But she was in a playful mood. “Come on, seriously…I always imagined with Maya’s exotic looks she
must do something positively reptilian with her tongue.”
“Helena!” There were times, even now, when she could surprise him with her bluntness in private, things
she would never say in public. “Baby, if you’ve been having fantasies about Maya, we really need to discuss this,”
he’d commented, which made her collapse in laughter.
He knew she wasn’t asking out of jealousy; none of the four of them had reason for that. They’d been victims
of circumstance, nothing more. But as John had tried to think of an appropriately pithy comeback to add to his retort, he’d
found he couldn’t answer her question. He didn’t know the answer. “I don’t remember,” he said
with genuine surprise.
“Oh, sure.” She poked him lightly in the chest, not believing at first.
“No, really,” he insisted. “Honey, if you don’t believe me, then you tell me: how does the
Italian Stallion kiss?”
She’d opened her mouth to respond, her intent to be as joking and descriptive as possible…and then…
John had watched with amusement as he saw the emotions of doubt and puzzlement play across her face.
She frowned at him. “I don’t remember…you’re right; I don’t remember,” and they
both laughed. Then as she snuggled against his side, she murmured, “I’m sure he doesn’t kiss as good as
He cocked a naughty eyebrow at her, rolled her suddenly onto her back and kissed her thoroughly.
“Mmmm,” she whispered, as she felt him begin to make his way down her body once more, “no one could
be as good as you.”
Coming on the heels of two days forced separation, or at least prohibited physical contact, their reunion had been
exuberant; exhausting, but worth it. But later, as Helena dozed contentedly at his side, sleep eluded John. He felt edgy and
unhappy; a little knot of dissatisfaction growing in his heart…not with the sex or anything else that had to do with
Helena…but with just about everything else.
Days passed, and he found himself daydreaming about Magus’ planet and wishing it could have worked; not as the
conditions had been forced upon them, but with her, with his love. He pictured how wonderful it all might have been if they
could have been there, unencumbered by the mad magician’s rules and answerable only to themselves. Maybe they could
even have found a way to help their mutant neighbors. Tony and Maya could have stayed, or not. Anyone else on Alpha who chose
to join them could have done so, or not. Any of them who wanted to just keep drifting along on this goddamned rock could have
done that, too, for all he cared.
When Helena noted his escalating tension and tried to talk to him, he’d attempted to explain his feelings, going
so far as to admit that all of Alpha could have joined them or gone to hell as far as he was concerned. Her first reaction
had been a gentle, “Honey, you don’t mean that.” But that had been a miscalculation on her part.
He’d gone completely off on her; launched into a ten-minute rant where every other phrase began with f-this and
f-that and ended with the proclamation of being fed up with this modern day Moses shit and someone else could do the leading
from now on, he didn’t give a rat’s ass anymore. He’d stopped abruptly, partly from letting off steam and
partly because he’d seen fear in her eyes; not of him, but for him. He pulled her into his arms, whispering apologies,
told her she was right, he didn’t mean any of it, he was just tired.
Mostly, he’d kept things bottled up inside since then. Exasperation snuck out sometimes with Command Staff, but
he didn’t let it out in front of her anymore. But his anger remained; anger that someone somewhere had seen fit to bless
him with the love of his life while apparently dooming him to never have a real life with her, anger at always having to be
the one to find the answer, anger at feeling like the universe’s puppet…
…Then had come the misadventure with the Kalthon asteroid and its mirror creature, and he didn’t know if
he’d ever be able to forgive himself for that blunder. There were no excuses to be made about his irresponsible behavior
and he made none, but he knew his seething anger had played a huge part in what had happened there…and what had almost
happened on Alpha. It had influenced his lax choices on the asteroid and, he suspected some of the creature’s foul-tempered
actions had come from its reading of his mind. He’d been disagreeable to be around before the creature took his place;
when the creature copied the same manners, no one noticed a thing…at first.
Since then, he’d worked diligently to make the anger go away or at least hold it under firm reign. But the world-weary
burden he carried…that he couldn’t seem to shake. He was tired in spirit, and she - his rudder, his compass, his
lifeline - she seemed tired in body, beyond the natural daily expectations. She looked pale, even for her, and he thought
she’d lost weight, too, though he wasn’t sure and he wasn’t going to ask. He was afraid to ask just yet.
Ever since Paul…God, it had been over a year, hadn’t it? No, more than two years now…John had lived
in fear for Sandra, for Alan and especially for Helena. That awful tale had begun with unusual fatigue, followed by weight
loss and changes in appetite. Then that shattering cough, stemming from the horrific blooming in his lungs that Helena couldn’t
stop no matter what she and Bob tried. They hadn’t even been able to slow it down. It consumed oxygen and energy and
tissue until all Paul had been left to breathe was his own blood…It had ended mercifully quickly.
Helena and Bob both believed it went back to that time of the Eagle crash, their encounter with the planet Ariel. But
other than vague suspicions about the amount of moon dust Paul had inhaled while spending the night out on the moon’s
surface, possibly a connection between that and his premature ingestion of the strange fungi, Medical had no answers even
yet, two years later. As Helena pointed out, it might have been no more than bad luck.
So here they were, both under never-ending pressure, he couldn’t give her any of the things he wanted to give
her, and… ‘What if…? NO! No what ifs, not that what if.’ John could face most anything he had to, but not that. He wouldn’t survive that, and it
had become his greatest fear; that he might be losing her by inches to something he wouldn’t be able to fight…what
made it worse was the thought it could happen now, after everything they’d survived but before he was able to give her
a real home. He couldn’t imagine wanting to live anymore in a universe that could be that cruel.
“John?” She squeezed his hand. He looked so fragile, so exposed.
He drew her hand to his lips again to brush it with his lips. He needed to talk to Bob; he needed answers. He would
make time for that before the training flight, even if the flight ran late. Blake could wait.
But now, still holding her hand he lifted her out of her seat to stand beside him, forcing a smile onto his face.
“Let’s go for a walk in the gardens. I don’t have to do pre-flight checks for a couple of hours.”
Arms around each other’s waists, they left the cafeteria.