She delayed until that evening, then made her way to the
quarters Blake Maine had shared with his life partner, Dan Riggs. She rang the chimes and waited while Dan buzzed her into
the space where he and Blake had lived.
“Ah, come in, my dear.” His accent, reaching back into the rolling hills of Virginia horse country
exuded an old fashioned charm, as did the chaste kiss he placed on her hand. It was an affected gesture, but sincerely meant.
“I would have come to see you, but I wasn’t sure you’d be ready for more visitors than you’ve already
“That’s part of what kept me from coming to you before this,” she smiled sadly at him. “I
knew you’d been overrun with visitors yourself and I didn’t know if I should add to the multitude. I do apologize
for not coming sooner.”
He clicked his tongue and waved away her words, motioning her toward the couch. “No need for apologies.
We’re in the same boat, you and me, aren’t we? Of course, there have been others on Alpha who’ve gone through
what we’re going though.”
“And we won’t be the last,” she completed the thought.
In his hand he held a beautiful crystal tumbler containing two fingers of light amber liquid. “Twenty
year old single malt…at least it was twenty years old when we left Earth; hard to say how old it might be now,”
he gestured with the tumbler. “Blake and I doled it out sparingly, only drank a small bit each and every year on our
anniversary. I’d offer you some but word on the Base grapevine suggests you’re in no condition to imbibe.”
He raised a speculative eyebrow. “You’re pregnant?”
She smiled another sad smile and nodded. “As is frequently the case, the grapevine is correct. Otherwise,
believe me, I’d love a scotch. In fact, I’d love several. I’d like to sit here and help you finish the bottle.”
He sat beside her on the couch. “I have some of that vile swill that the cafeteria passes off as milk
if you’d like, or fruit juice.”
She shook her head. “I’m fine, thank you. It would probably just make me nauseas anyway.”
She stared at her hands clenching and unclenching in her lap and took a deep breath. “Blake was a good man. I’d
gotten to know him better since he moved onto the exploration team. He was always very thorough with his findings, very detail
oriented.” She paused, annoyed with herself for her choice of words. She sounded like she was handing out a job evaluation,
not trying to say something kind to the person on Alpha who had cared most for Blake. “He had a good sense of humor,”
she added lamely.
“Actually, he was downright obsessive-compulsive when it came to details,” Dan smiled fondly, not
bothered by her awkwardness, “and the man was a veritable fount of useless trivia. Ask him a question that only required
a simple yes or no answer and you’d get a five-minute dissertation on the subject. But I imagine that’s partly
what made him a good addition to the team, that caring for details. And you’re correct; he did have a good sense of
humor. Rather ‘Monty Pythonesque’, but funny.” He sipped his scotch thoughtfully. “Your Commander
was a good man, too. And smart. Saved all our asses more than once, didn’t he?”
She almost chuckled even as she blinked away tears that were once again threatening to surface. “I guess
he finally ran into something he couldn’t save himself from.”
Dan patted her hand. “My dear, we all run into something like that…sooner or later….At least
you will be left with his child, and that’s no minor thing.” He watched her nod her head. “Did he know about
Helena bit her lip, shaking her head. “I’d just found out, the day they left as a matter of fact.
I could have told him when they were on their way out or between the two planets, but I wanted to wait and tell him in person.
And now…..” She left the sentence hanging.
He patted her hand again. “Never mind; I’m sure that wherever he is now, he knows. And I’m
sure he’s pleased that you won’t be alone.” He observed the woman beside him struggling with pain that radiated
off her in palpable waves. He knew how she felt. He himself had passed the same point sometime in the wee morning hours when
he’d decided how he would spend this evening. Like the rest of Alpha, he wished he could make some of this easier for
her, but he knew nothing would and she, unlike himself, at least had her baby to consider. “Could I feel?” he
asked abruptly. “The baby? I know there’s nothing much to feel yet, but would you mind?”
She laughed a little shakily at him and guided his hand to her stomach. “Actually, there is a little something
to feel already. Not much of a change, but it’s there.”
He left his hand on her only briefly, glad she’d allowed him the small indulgence but suddenly feeling
old and foolish. “Well, I don’t know what you normally feel like, of course, but yes, there does seem to be a
little something extra there.”
Helena nodded fixedly. “I know. I’m only just past seven weeks and I have this terrible sense I’m
going to be absolutely huge before this is over.”
After another delicate sip of scotch, he said gently, “Well, if that turns out to be the case, just remember
that he would have thought you looked beautiful. He loved you.”
She swallowed with difficulty, regretting that she hadn’t accepted the offer of juice. At least it might
help the lump in her throat to recede just a little. “I didn’t know you and John knew each other in particular,”
she managed to say.
“Oh, we didn’t know each other in particular, in fact not at all,” he commented bluntly. “I
don’t think I ever had even one full conversation with the man, though I’m sure it would have been interesting.
I’m certainly sorry now that I didn’t.” He shook his head. “But you didn’t have to know him
to know that he loved you. It was in his eyes whenever he looked at you. A blind man back on Earth could have seen it.”
Once again, for what seemed like the hundredth time today, she tried to clear her throat to speak. “You
know, I came by to see if there’s anything I can do for you and you’re the one saying all the comforting things.
I don’t feel like I’m doing my part very well.”
He shrugged off her dismay. “My dear, I’m older than you are. Not by decades, but enough to where
I’ve seen several people die who were close to me. It doesn’t get any easier, but there’s not a damned thing
you can do to stop it.”
“But there hasn’t been anything like this,” she suggested.
“No,” he agreed, “there has not”. His soothing speaking voice took on a dreamy quality.
“Blake was nearly 20 years younger than myself. In the natural order of things, I certainly always assumed I would go
first. There’s quite a dichotomy between my field of geology and his in life sciences, so as you can imagine, we met
rather by accident…not that I really believe in coincidences when it comes to matters of the heart…His younger
sister was the best graduate student I ever worked with. She should be at the top of the field by now. She’s back on
Earth, if there’s still an Earth. She may be a great-grandmother by now for all I know.” He took another slow
sip of scotch. “He was the only man I ever loved….I knew even before Mr. Verdeshi arrived that something had happened…something’s
just felt out of sorts in the universe to me for the past couple of days. I don’t know how to explain it better than
“I know what you’re talking about, but I didn’t feel it,” she sniffed. “I thought
John and I were so attuned that I’d just know if something ever happened to him, like what you’re talking about
with Blake…but I didn’t,” she ended sorrowfully.
“Maybe because you’re pregnant,” the older man suggested. “In a quite significant way,
you still have part of him very much with you. If you can manage to look at it in that sense, he’s not dead to you at
all really, just somewhat…transformed.”
A few of the tears she’d been resisting finally won and slipped slowly down her cheeks. “You seem
to be at peace with all this. How did you manage it?”
Dan shook his head. “No, I’m not really at peace, but I’m enduring. What else is there to
do?” No, not at peace yet, he thought to himself, but soon. To her he said, “Now to answer your earlier query, there’s nothing you can do for me, though
you’re sweet to ask, especially considering what you’re going through yourself. And I do appreciate you coming
by. I would have called on you before the evening was gone.”
She nodded and rose slowly to go, recognizing his dismissal for what it was, though he’d been infinitely
polite about it. She didn’t mind. She was ready to be alone again with her own thoughts and understood completely that
he wanted the same. She kissed him on the cheek and excused herself, her last sight of him being one of him pouring two more
fingers of scotch into the crystal tumbler.
Tony slept fitfully which was to say hardly at all. Everyone had been accepting of him in his new position,
but then they didn’t have much choice. He had yet to move into John’s chair; that was a step he wasn’t ready
to make and he only went to the command desk when necessary. He’d sat there before, of course, but those other times
John was coming back and it was only temporary. Tonight as he tossed and turned, he was the most uncomfortable he’d
been since receiving that first message from Bill, and he didn’t know how receptive everyone would still be toward him
if they knew at this moment he was keeping potentially important information from the entire community.
Very late, during what passed for Alpha night hours, Tony had gotten another message from Bill. He and Alibe
had been nearly home, three-quarters of the way, in fact, when they’d picked up a signal from one of Eagle One’s
emergency distress transmitters. Instead of coming from the second planet where the wreckage of Eagle One rested, it was coming
from the first planet John and Blake had visited. Without Tony needing to ask them, they had turned around and were heading
back to check it out despite their physical and emotional exhaustion. Truth be told, none of them expected a miracle. Based
on what few facts they knew, Bill and Tony could both think of scenarios as to why and how one of the transmitters could have
gotten there and why it might only now be sending or being received. Miracle or no, they’d need him to send out a refueling
Eagle and a replacement crew to help them get back to the Base, but that was the least of his concerns.
The nagging worry hindering his sleep was the command decision he’d made to keep word of the distress
signal private until they discovered exactly what it meant. He hadn’t reached the conclusion lightly and he’d
discussed it with Alan, Maya and Sandra and gotten their input before following his instincts. He’d made the choice
based less on concerns for Alpha as a whole and more on the emotional upheavals it would cause to Helena and Dr. Riggs. He
didn’t know Dan Riggs well, but he seemed stoic enough. Helena though, was very fragile just now; she wasn’t avoiding
people and she wasn’t having screaming, sobbing meltdowns…not that anyone knew about…but it was painfully
obvious her tears were always near the surface and only precariously held in check. Lately she reminded Tony of a cup of fine
china that had lost its handle; the cup part was still there and technically serviceable, but the damage was apparent and
impossible to repair. He couldn’t put her through the emotional roller coaster of hopes returned and hopes dashed. If
that made him weak or a bad commander, so be it.
Beside him in the dark, Maya touched his shoulder. “I think it is the right decision,” she whispered,
reading his mind. “You know Sandra and Alan agreed. You’re not just thinking about her emotional state, you’re
thinking about her physical condition, and you have to do that. I can’t imagine allowing her to feel hope and then taking
it away again would be good for a pregnancy.”
He pulled her closer. “I know. But we haven’t made a big practice here of keeping secrets. John
always tries…tried…to keep important matters as public as reasonably possible.”
“If the situation was changed round, don’t you think he’d try to protect me as best he could
until he knew the facts about you?” she softly suggested to him. “Don’t you believe he’d be as gentle
with my feelings as he could be until he was left with no other choice? Don’t you think he would feel he owed it to
you to try and take care of me, especially if your child were involved?”
Tony sighed and hugged her to him as tightly as he could. Her words were not the words of the usually playful,
sarcastic Maya he’d fallen in love with. This was another side she didn’t typically show, not even to him. One
good thing he could say about John’s death, if there was anything good about it at all, was that it had seemed to make
virtually everyone realize they should be a little more grateful for what they did have, maybe a little nicer to each other,
too. He’d noticed signs of it all over the Base, not just in the more emotional exchanges he and Maya had been experiencing.
It was astounding that such a stunning blow, which could have brought out the worst in everyone, instead for the most part
seemed to have brought out the best. He kissed first one and then the other of her peculiar eyebrows and nodded. “I
know he’d try to protect you if the situation was reversed. Helena would, too.”
His commlock beeped suddenly from the nightstand. He grabbed it.
“News?” Maya asked hopefully.
“I wouldn’t have thought yet, but we’ll see,” he replied. “This is Verdeshi.”
The worried face of a security man appeared. “Tony, problem; Dr. Riggs has entered airlock 12. It was
coincidence that Vince and I happened to be walking by. He stunned Vince and now he’s locked himself in. He blew the
lock from inside. I can’t get it open.”
‘Shit!” Tony was already out of bed and pulling on his uniform; Maya was following suit. “What’s
he up to? I should have known he was being too damned calm and serene!” To Pierce, the security man he said, “Tell
him I’m on my way and not to do anything stupid until I can talk to him. Tell him the inside door’s not quite
secure and he could hurt someone if he opens the outer one. Tell him whatever you have to tell him, but stall him from doing
whatever he’s got planned.” He ran out of his quarters, Maya at his side.
“Okay, Dr. Riggs…Dan….what do you think you’re doing?” Tony asked him carefully
as he stood outside airlock 12.
“Mr. Verdeshi, I waited for you to arrive because your security man here said you requested that I do
and it seemed reasonable enough to show you good manners,” Dan replied. “I am sorry, by the way, about the gentleman
I stunned. It wasn’t the way I wanted to conduct this business.”
“Vince will be alright, Dan,” Tony told him, skipping over his apology. “You don’t have
to do this, you know. In fact, I can give you a very good reason for not doing it.” Tony was sweating. Out of sight,
Maya was desperately racing her fingers over her commlock, trying to cajole Computer to open the inner door of the airlock
and override the damage to the inside keypad. It wasn’t working.
“Now Mr. Verdeshi…” Dan began.
“No, I mean it!” Tony cut him off. “Bill and Alibe were almost back when they picked up a
signal from one of Eagle One’s distress transmitters. It’s coming from the first planet Blake and John were on.
They’ve turned around and are going back to check. We don’t know what it means and we won’t know for hours
yet, but it could mean that one of them, maybe even both of them are still alive. I’m not making this up, Dan! I kept
it from everyone because I just didn’t think it would be fair to you and Helena to let you get your hopes up and then
shatter them again. Maybe I was wrong to do that…but I’m telling you the truth. Blake could still be alive!”
Dan smiled at him, gently indulgent. “I can see you’re telling the truth. And for what it’s
worth, I think you made the right decision. It would have been wrong to let everyone hope and then have it turn out to be
nothing but a wayward transmitter that fell out of someone’s pocket and has only just now decided to send its signal.”
“Then you can come out of there and we’ll forget about this and we can all…go get one of the
bars to open and drink a couple and cross our fingers that it turns out to be good news,” Tony suggested. “How
Mr. Verdeshi…Tony, if I may…there is not good news for me, I know that. I can’t explain how
I know it, but I do. I know as certainly as I know anything that Blake is no longer amongst the living…at least not
within the narrow scope our species is capable of understanding living. But I do know he’s out there now waiting for
me on some other plane. I know he would wait as long as he needed to, but I don’t feel like making him wait. Someday,
you may comprehend what I’m talking about, and then again, you may already realize. I do believe you care about that
lovely lady of yours more than you like to admit.” He started to turn away, then, “Perhaps you should get the
bar to open early and celebrate….I can’t tell you why I believe this either, but I believe that signal will mean
that Alpha and Dr. Russell will have their commander back. He’s a very clever man and he’s a survivor, and if
there’s any way for him to get back to his love I believe he will find it.” He did turn from Tony then and walk
toward the outer door.
“Dan, please!” Tony tried.
“I do apologize for doing this on your watch, Mr. Verdeshi. It is not a reflection of my faith in your
ability as a leader. It is simply what I have chosen to do.” With quiet composure, he hit the button on the outer door
and was instantaneously yanked from sight.
Tony laid his head against the airlock door, slamming his fist against the glass. Maya, who’d been feverishly
sending commands to Computer right until the end, came up slowly behind him, leaning her head against his shoulder. “I’m
sorry,” she told him quietly. “I couldn’t make the computer do what I wanted.”
“It’s not your fault,” Tony said tiredly.
“Try to remember it’s not yours, either,” she instructed.
He turned from the door and slipped his arms around her shoulders. “So now we keep waiting, and as wrong
as it seems, we have to hope that Blake is dead. Otherwise, I’ll have to
explain this to him somehow, and I don’t have the vaguest idea how to even begin to do that.”
She kissed his cheek. “He knows Dan better than we do. You might not need to explain anything.”
“But I do need to talk to Helena. This is going to be all over Alpha in a few hours.”
Maya squeezed his hand. “I’ll come with you.”