Tony’s commlock buzzed and Bill Frasier’s face
appeared. ‘Bout time you checked in,’ Tony thought with annoyance.
‘And why are you calling my commlock instead of into Command Center?’
He almost asked the question aloud, but something in Bill’s expression stopped him. The pilot looked out of the tiny
screen with sunken eyes; his mouth opened as if to speak, but no words came. A cold twist of fear he couldn’t explain
rose in his chest and slithered down into his gut as Tony gazed at Bill’s unusually pallid features. “Let me get
private,” he instructed quietly and saw the other man nod in understanding. In an ordinary voice he said, “Maya,
Sahn, I’ve got to get something from the conference room. Be right back.”
Once alone, he checked his commlock again. Nothing had changed; Bill was still there maintaining his pained
silence. “Bill? Bill, talk to me.” His alarm grew as he heard noises in the background. “Alibe?” It
sounded like she was crying. “What the hell…?”
“Tony,” Bill finally spoke in a cracking voice. “They’re dead! They’re both dead!
Blake and…and the Commander…they’re dead.”
“What?! Repeat that,” he demanded and Bill did. “That’s not possible. Something may
have happened to Blake, but I refuse to believe that John Koenig is dead. You’re wrong. Tell me what the hell’s
been going on out there.”
“We have both their remains on board, Tony. We’re bringing them home.”
Tony felt his legs go weak and since he wasn’t near enough to any chair he sat straight down onto the
floor, everything in his body functioning on automatic pilot. He stared at Bill and realized distantly he’d been right;
he did hear Alibe crying. “Give me your verbal report right now,” he requested, his voice gone monotone. Bill
complied: the prison colony, the invisible fencing, the electronic barrier around the planet that had rendered him helpless
to report or appeal for counsel till now. When he’d finished, their roles had reversed and Tony was the one staring
wordlessly at Bill as the seconds ticked by. Finally Tony managed to say, “Contact no one but me till I advise you otherwise.
If you haven’t heard anything prior, give a call when you’re a couple of hours away and I’ll send out an
escort.” Bill nodded his agreement and Tony broke the link.
How long he sat there he couldn’t have said, his mindless focus only broken by Maya paging his commlock.
“Are you all right? You looked strange when you left and you’ve been gone quite a while….and you look stranger
now,” she said slowly, concern creeping into her voice.
“Meet me in the conference room,” he asked quietly. “Bring Alan with you.”
When they arrived, he’d gotten off the floor and was sitting at the table, his head in his hands. Softly,
he explained the details as he knew them. Tears began rolling unchecked down Maya’s face.
Alan sat woodenly, shaking his head every now and again as though he might wake from a bad dream. He finally
broke the silence with an angry question. “How do we know it was really unintentional?”
Tony swallowed. “I guess we don’t, but if they truly meant us harm, you’d think they would
have killed Bill and Alibe, too….I don’t know what to tell you.”
“It doesn’t matter now.” Maya wiped fiercely at her tears. “What matters is we have
to tell Helena before this gets all over the Base. Blake’s partner, too…Dr. Riggs…Dan?...They have to be
told as soon as possible.”
The men halfheartedly recognized her point. “You’re going to have to talk to them, mate,”
Alan reminded Tony. “You’re the one in command now, it should come from you.”
Tony nodded in utter misery. “Helena first. Let’s find her.”
She was in her quarters, just off duty and more tired than usual as she had been for the past weeks. She assured
herself it was normal, but it still made work shifts harder to get through and she was anxious for John’s return. She
worried about his condition following the Eagle crash, but he’d been through so many of those she was trying not to
be too stressed. She felt no sixth sense of his being badly injured. The truly tiresome part was the time he was going to
have to spend in quarantine when he got back to Alpha. Based on the initial data, she didn’t really think this particular
plague was a danger to them but proper precautions would have to be taken. He’d realize it was necessary, but he wouldn’t
suffer it lightly. She hoped her staff would be able to put up with him.
Mostly, she wanted to give him the news so they could get past the surprise and move on. If he didn’t
get back soon, she thought resignedly, she wouldn’t have to tell him; he’d know by looking at her…and so
would everyone on the Base. She recalled the morning, nearly a week ago already, when she’d finally verified her symptoms
and berated herself again for procrastinating so long.
As she’d arrived for her shift only a few hours after John had gone her first words to Bob had been, “I
want you to draw some blood.”
“Yours, I presume?” he asked. “And a very good morning to you, too.”
“Sorry,” she replied with a little more grace. “Good morning…and yes, my blood.”
“Okay; want to tell me what I’m looking for or do you just want me to guess?” he queried.
She sighed and sat down at her office desk, clearing her throat nervously. “I could give you a list of
symptoms, but I’ll cut straight to the bottom line. I’m late.”
“So you want me to check your HCG levels.” His voice was noncommittal. “How far along do you
think you are?”
She hesitated. Lately, the incident with John’s evil twin was never far from her thoughts. That evening
in her quarters he’d implied he knew something that she did not…but…he couldn’t have known this…could
he? With a quick glance at her calendar, she purposely chose a date after the doppelganger’s demise. “Five weeks
maybe,” she suggested. “But it could be something else…I just want to get the testing out of the way.”
He nodded at her, still straightforward in his attitude. “Does the Commander know what you suspect?”
Privately, Bob happened to know the Commander had noticed some oddities in her
behavior…and had come to him in concern two days before. Bob had advised him not to worry, but he’d offered no
professional insight beyond waiting her out. The vague answers had not been much appreciated.
She shook her head. “He’s been so sidetracked the last couple of weeks…the way he always is
when there’s a new planet to go explore. I didn’t want to distract him with something I wasn’t sure of…I
don’t know exactly how he’s going to react.”
Bob frowned. “I know how difficult it was to convince him, but we ended that over a year ago. We’ve
had more than half a dozen babies born and, despite some bumps in the road, everything’s been fine…the mothers,
the babies, the food supply and the life support system. Even the fathers have survived,” he joked.
She smiled, remembering all the arguments on the subject…arguments she and Bob had finally won by pointing
out they’d already lost nearly forty people to accidents and varying disasters since Breakaway; sooner or later, they
would need to replace those lost souls or eventually be unable to operate the Base. Beyond that, Alpha had originally been
intended to house families when necessary so that Base assignees could have their children with them if they chose. They had
a number of family living units that weren’t occupied, and they could construct more if need be. It would give the miners
and engineers something to do during those long boring stretches of empty space.
They’d also successfully expanded the food supply by employing portions of the underground cave systems
and ancient lava tubes, outfitting them with artificial lighting and water sources. Alan and his fellow pilots had gotten
quite adept at what was euphemistically called ‘lassoing comets’ when the opportunity arose; the water ice from
comets required much treatment before it was viable for use on plants or to drink, but that was a skill the bioengineers had
The final point had been the admission that, though they weren’t going to stop looking and hoping and
trying, the fact was they might not get off this damned rock for twenty years. They might never get off and if they did, it
might not be their own generation that achieved Operation Exodus. That acknowledgement had been the real stumbling block for
John, but he’d ultimately faced it and given a grudging go-ahead to ‘Project Baby’ as he called it, but
he’d made it clear to her privately that he thought the couples who chose to start families in these conditions were
She brought her attention back to Bob and his last comment. “I know. But you know how he was about everything
“Ah, I see,” Bob comprehended her at last. “This one is a surprise. You two weren’t
Helena sighed again. “I don’t even understand how it happened.”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “Want me to get you some books and diagrams?” he asked drily.
“Very funny…you know what I mean.”
“Yes, I do…and you know as well as I that nothing, short of abstinence, is one hundred percent effective
one hundred percent of the time. If I may be frank, you and the Commander have never had the abstaining thing down very well
that I’ve ever noticed.”
“Bob!” she looked embarrassed but she was smiling.
He held up both hands in mock defense. “I’m just telling you.”
“Just get a needle and a vial and tell me the results,” she instructed.
A while later, she was immersed in reports when Bob returned, dropping a computer disc on the desk in front
of her. “Come with me to an exam room,” he requested. “Let’s do some measurements.”
Her mind was still on reports, and her brow knitted together at the interruption. “Hmm...I’m sorry…measurements?”
He smiled at her. “Of your baby….Based on your hormone levels, I think you’re more around
six, maybe six and half weeks, so I want to do some measurements.” His smile turned into an outright grin. “Are
She sat back in her chair and looked down at her lap placing a hand flat against her stomach, feeling carefully.
She wasn’t shocked; she’d suspected it based on her symptoms of the past weeks, but in truth, she really hadn’t
expected this to happen for her and John…ever…and contributing to her jumbled thoughts was the recognition that
if Bob was correct on the timing, then the Kalthon creature could have known…somehow…though
she wouldn’t have been more than a few days pregnant at the time. What that might mean or not, she’d worry about
later. For now, oh my God, she was pregnant….
Aloud, she said, “I knew what it seemed to be, but I never really thought…well, I thought it could
have been something else…I mean, I’m not exactly 25 anymore…part of me thought it would be wonderful, but
I really thought it was something that just wasn’t going to be part of my life…” She looked up at her colleague.
“I’m rambling, aren’t I?”
Nodding affirmatively he commented, “At least you’re not hysterical. And you’re entitled to
ramble a little. Are you going to tell the Commander while he’s out there or wait till he gets back?”
She gave a small exhalation of laughter. “Oh, I think this is the kind of news that needs to be delivered
in person, don’t you?’
“Ye-es….but remember we expect him to be gone about a week. If I’m right and you’re
about six and a half weeks now, you’ll be getting close to eight when he gets back and on the cusp of possibly starting
to show a little…How surprised do you want him to be when he gets out of that Eagle?” Bob snickered.
She chuckled. “Okay, so maybe I’ll play it by ear.”
Only then had it dawned on her that Bob had been thoroughly unsurprised by her initial request or by the results.
A few succinct questions revealed that most of her staff had noticed symptomatic changes in her manner: atypical fatigue,
uncharacteristic moodiness and a nearly constant discomfort with food.
Awkwardly she asked, “So…you’re telling me all of you suspected this?” She wondered
how far the rumors had spread. There were few secrets in the small town atmosphere that was Alpha.
“Basically…,” Bob paused in pretended consideration, “…yeah.” Seeing her
unease, he added, “Fortunately, we’re a pretty close-mouthed group in here, thanks to our training.” He
winked at her. “Mostly, we’ve been wondering how much longer you were going to try and tell us that something
you ate disagreed with you.” More sympathetically, he verified, “The morning sickness is bad?”
She gave a little groan. “Bob, I have never felt this miserable in my life. I was almost glad John left
this morning. I threw up so many times I wouldn’t have been surprised to see my spleen come out.”
He chuckled in compassion but knowing there was little he could do about the problem, he settled for reminding
her, “It usually gets better in the second trimester. And,” he smiled kindly, “you know you’re going
to feel like it was all worth it in the end.”
But the decision to wait to tell John…“That was perhaps a tactical error,” she reprimanded
herself aloud. Bob had apparently been right about the time frame. On the very morning of the day the two of them calculated
she hit the seven week point, her tummy seemed to pop out overnight. Not much, not where anyone had noticed; she moved her
belt an inch higher and kept her jacket on. But out of uniform she could see a difference standing sideways in the mirror,
and she could feel a difference when she ran her hands over her abdomen. Inadvertently, she hadn’t left John a lot of
time to adjust to the idea before the changes were right in front of him. Looking down at the little increase in her midsection
she whispered, “Your daddy’s going to be awfully surprised when he gets home.”
When her chime sounded, she tried not to be annoyed even though all she wanted was to shower, eat something
before the morning sickness hit again and crawl into bed. She walked to the visitor screen and was surprised to see Tony.
“Hey, Helena, sorry to bother you.” He sounded odd and, she thought, nervous. “May we come
She saw only Tony on the screen, but shrugged and pressed the button. “Sure, who’s we…?”
Her voice trailed off as she saw Alan and her eyes began darting swiftly between them. Both men looked somber as they moved
slowly towards her. Alan tried to put a gentle hand on her shoulder; Tony reached for her other arm. Before they could quite
touch her she began to back away as though getting distance between them and herself would somehow stop or change the words
she saw hovering in their eyes.
Alan swallowed hard. “Helena…” His voice came out a splintered croak.
She shook her head. “No,” she told them firmly.
They moved toward her again. Again, she backed away. “No.”
“Come sit down,” Tony tried to coax.
“I don’t want to sit down.” No tears came, not yet, but she started to tremble and wrapped
her arms tightly around her body in a futile effort to protect herself from the announcement. She’d known this could
happen from the moment she felt herself falling in love, but stopping herself from loving Commander John Koenig had proven
impossible. She looked once more from one to the other and, knowing she couldn’t avoid the news, allowed them to reach
her and guide her to the couch.
“What happened?” she demanded, her voice barely audible. “Where? How?”
“We don’t know all the facts yet,” Tony informed her softly. “When Bill and Alibe get
back we’ll find out more. They’re bringing them home, John and Blake. We lost both of them.”
Then he told her other details…the Eagle crash, but…it wasn’t the crash…something about
a prison colony, a barrier…communications impossible until a certain distance from the planet’s surface….
Her mind registered the information but she didn’t consciously hear much of it. Her memory snapped screaming
back through time to the moment the powers-that-be had come to tell her about Lee’s mission; how it had disappeared
and all were presumed lost. Those men at her door hadn’t been friends like Alan and Tony; they’d been respectful
and dutifully solemn, but they hadn’t personally suffered the loss like the men sitting with her now. Did that make
this easier or harder? She tried to remember, had that hurt as much as this? Had she felt as numb, lost, empty? Had she been
as frightened, as devastated?
She was aware of Alan holding one of her hands in silent wretchedness. Tony held the other and kept a steadying
hand on her shoulder. She became aware too, that Tony had finished speaking and was watching her intently. She looked from
one to the other in stunned anguish, her brain realizing she should probably say something but she couldn’t find any
Tony squeezed her shoulder. “What can I do for you? Anything, just ask.”
She shook her head blankly. There was nothing.
“Helena?” It was Alan’s voice. “Would you like us to call Medical? Get whoever’s
on duty to bring you something to help you sleep?” He thought she looked like she was sinking quickly into shock.
“Ben’s on duty,” she answered mechanically.
“Okay,” Alan said kindly. “Would you like us to have Ben bring you something to help you relax,
“I can’t take anything like that,” she said vaguely.
‘Of course you can,” Alan reassured her. “You don’t have to try to be strong all the
“Believe me, no one expects you to be right now,” Tony agreed, squeezing her shoulder again.
With another shake of her head she told them, “No, I mean I can’t…now.” She paused,
knowing they were staring at her in puzzlement. It didn’t matter she realized, if they knew before John did because
now, John would never know. “I’m pregnant,” she whispered, and two big tears finally rolled down her face.
At Tony’s urgent request, Ben had come immediately to check
on her and give a gentle pep talk about how she needed to think about the baby and try to rest. Alan and Tony had stayed until
first Ben, and then Sahn and Maya had arrived. Tony then reluctantly left to go through it all again with Blake’s partner,
and Alan departed for Command Center to keep watch on things till Tony could return. After an hour or so, and having assured
himself she was at least physically comfortable, Ben went back to Medical to change all the schedules so her absence would
be covered as long as necessary. Then Maya stayed while Sandra left and came back with food which Helena glanced at but couldn’t
eat. She curled up in the middle of her bed and laid there, eyes closed and listening to the distressed murmurs in the background.
Sometime after that, she didn’t know how long, it became obvious that the Alpha grapevine had gone into full-flung high
Eva Zoref and Sue Crawford arrived first, together. Both had been through the experience of losing husbands
on Alpha, and though she and John hadn’t been married, it was clear that everyone else viewed their relationship as
official in everything but name. Had she been capable of laughter, she would have found some amusement in thinking about all
the months the two of them had once spent trying to be discrete, trying to avoid the disclosure that they were involved. They’d
given up on secrecy long ago, but though they hadn’t been hiding anything for quite awhile, the scope of knowledge about
them would have surprised her a little, if she could have focused on it.
What did sink through, even past her pain and haze, was the level of caring and concern felt by everyone. Distantly
she was aware that Sandra, or someone, must have disabled her door chime so that it wouldn’t keep going off and bother
her. That was all she could think of to account for the fact that there seemed to be a constantly shifting number of people
and whispers in her quarters, comings and goings of what sounded like half the Base, but no accompanying door chimes.
At some point, she felt someone join her on the bed and immediately, a soft but strong woman’s arm went
around her shoulders hugging her firmly. It was Sue, who’d been in this exact situation only a few months after Breakaway.
“You want to die, too, I know. And I know it might seem impossible to believe, but you can go forward,” Sue whispered
to her. “You have to, and believe me, your baby will help you through this. You have to take special care of yourself
now because you have no idea how much it will mean to know that you still have part of the Commander with you. That’s
what you have to hang onto, that he’s still with you. He’s right here with you.”
Sniffing and crying softly, she whispered back, “I think I remember telling you something like that when
Jack was killed.”
“You did,” Sue admitted. “See how smart you were? You were right.’ Sue hugged her a
little tighter. “You just have to remember and believe your own words.”
“The only part I believe at this moment is the part about how I want to die, too.”
“I know,” Sue conceded. “I know. It gets easier…eventually. Maybe it never gets better,
but it will get easier.”
“Did you believe any of this stuff when I said it to you?”
“Not a shred,” Sue replied flatly. “I thought it was as much a pile of hackneyed crap as you
think it is now….But you were still right. Even through my grief I knew you were right. And I knew I wanted my baby
to be healthy.”
“John’s baby,” she said faintly.
Yes,” Sue encouraged. “You’re far luckier than you might have been. You will have his son
or daughter, and that’s a remarkable thing.”
Sandra slept on her couch that night and Alan returned and slept in a chair near her bed. By the next morning
as others came and went, it began to dawn on her just how hard the news had hit everyone. Helena knew she and John both commanded
respect. She had no illusions that they were universally loved. Apparently though, the respect factor was enough when combined
with the grief and uncertainty of losing the man who had guided them more or less safely from Breakaway till now to bring
out the compassion in them all.
Pat and Michelle Osgood stopped by with their three-month-old son. She
and Pat had not exactly had a warm and fuzzy relationship during the events of Michelle’s heart operation….so
long ago that seemed now. Following the surgery, though he was grateful to Helena for the successful outcome, he remained
self-conscious about his behavior during the crisis. Their encounters since, even at his son’s delivery – a planned
c-section due to concerns about Michelle’s artificial heart and the efforts of labor - had been strained. Now, Pat hugged
her so hard she was momentarily short of breath, while he pleaded with her to let him know if there was absolutely anything
he could do for her. Michelle offered to let her borrow maternity outfits as she needed them since uniform material was still
sometimes at a premium depending on the activity of the resident silkworms and how much cotton and wool the horticulture departments
chose to produce.
She finally had to politely but firmly chase everyone away in order to have some time with her own emotions,
but she appreciated their actions more than she could have put into words. Even through the hurt she realized that trying
to help her was their way of trying to help themselves through their own grief…that it was important to everyone to
do something for her, so she let them when she could. It was those thoughts that made her feel she needed to do something
herself, if she could, for her fellow victim.