Helena took the news of John’s possible survival quite
calmly as it happened, trying hard to hope and not hope at the same time. It broke Tony’s heart to watch her try to
balance her feelings, to hold herself together. The news about Dan Riggs went over less well. Her sense of guilt was clearly
enormous and it only added to her already unstable emotions. He and Maya comforted her as best they could, but it did little
“Do you want to come and wait in Command Center?” Tony asked her.
She shook her head quickly. “Even if it’s good news, I don’t think I want to be around anyone
right then. If he is alive he may still turn out to be infected with whatever killed everyone on that planet…if he’s
sick….” She couldn’t finish the thought. She ceaselessly twirled the ring on the little finger of her left
hand, willing herself into professional mode. “If he or Blake are alive…make sure you talk with Alibe and Bill
about quarantine procedures for the trip back. Alibe knows but go over it anyway for Bill’s sake. They’ll need
to get physical samples from some of the dead on the planet; water and soil samples, too. Samples of some of the vegetation
“I’ll go over everything,” Tony assured her. “If we have questions, I’ll get Bob
or Ben or Ed on the job. If you change your mind, just come to Command Center whenever you want,” Tony instructed gently.
“If not, that’s fine. I’ll let you know as soon as I know. And…we’re going to operate on the
assumption that it is John at least…I’ll patch him through to you here as fast as I can.”
She nodded gratefully. Tony and Maya both gave her strong, hard hugs and left to wait out the last few hours
in Command Center.
When the big screen had shown them the sight of the lone figure in the strange grey jumpsuit making its way
toward the Eagle, a cheer went up throughout Command Center. Tony felt the weight of the universe leave his shoulders as he
sank tiredly into the command chair, now only an interim seat, and waited for the moment he’d be able to talk to John.
In the meantime, he buzzed Helena.
“It’s him. We’ve got him. He’s not in the Eagle yet, so I can’t tell you his condition,
but he’s upright and walking. He’s alive.” He watched her on the screen as her eyes closed in relief and
her head dipped slightly forward toward her chest as she exhaled heavily.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“I will put him through to you as soon as I can,” he promised and cut their link to leave her to
It took a while for Bill and Alibe to get into their biohazard suits so they could get John into the Eagle.
Then there were ensuing greetings and group discussions revolving around the various samples they needed back in Medical.
At last, John wearily sat down in the quarantine compartment and contacted Command Center.
More cheers of greeting went up, then died down and everyone slowly began to return to their duties. He and
Tony were finally able to speak. “Good to see you, John. You don’t know how good,” Tony told him.
John laughed in near exhaustion. “I can’t say yours is the first face I wanted to see, but it’s
good to see you, too.”
Tony nodded in understanding. “She’s…not here. She’s in her quarters.”
“Okay,” he sighed, a little uncertain. That was unusual but he assumed there was an explanation.
He reviewed some general instructions with Tony and angrily verified the facts of Blake’s death then, feeling like his
major duties to the Base were completed he asked, “Would you patch me through to Helena now?”
“Sure, John,” Tony replied, and then hesitated. “If we’d known for certain you were
alive she would have been here in Command Center from the beginning. I just didn’t want to get her hopes up and then….well,
she wanted privacy when you first spoke….” His voice trailed off.
John nodded, but frowned as he saw Tony still hesitating. “What’s wrong?”
Tony opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again as he tried to measure his words. He wasn’t going
to tell John about the baby. Let Helena be allowed that privilege, considering everyone on Alpha except John himself knew
of his impending fatherhood. What worried Tony presently was the acute awareness of the teasing way John and Helena usually
handled episodes of stress and danger once they were in the past, kidding each other as though it didn’t really matter,
all was well again. He and Maya were guilty of the same behavior. He assumed John and Helena eventually got around to discussing
things more seriously in private, but that wasn’t any of his business. Technically, it wasn’t his business to
tell his commanding officer how to deal with his personal life but he couldn’t help but think that, this time, if John’s
first words to Helena were delivered with a nonchalant attitude, it might not be the best choice.
“It’s been a little rough this go round, John,” he began slowly, deciding John was smart enough
to pick up on a few basic hints. “Alpha’s fully functional and running smoothly, don’t get me wrong. We
all carried on. In fact, you could even say we rose to the challenge as best we could. I think you would’ve been proud
of everyone… Uh...except, we had… Dan Riggs? You know, Blake’s partner?...He blew himself out of airlock
12 yesterday morning, calm as you please. Helena had visited him the night before and she said he’d seemed quite at
peace with everything. We figure he’d already made up his mind. Alan took an Eagle out and recovered his body so we
could put him and Blake together once you get back with the remains. I think Helena feels partly responsible; like she should
have picked up on something when they were talking.”
As Tony spoke, John felt the air leave his lungs like a slow leak. Losing any of his people was something he
took personally, always feeling as though it was his fault; and there was something else Tony wasn’t saying, he could feel it. After hearing the last announcement, he wasn’t sure he wanted to
hear it till he was back on Alpha. He knew he should say something about Dr. Riggs, but his mind couldn’t seem to process
anything that felt like the proper words. His only concrete thoughts just now were about one person. “Is she alright?”
Tony gave John a weary half-smile. “Helena’s a strong person. Considering she’s just spent
the last few days believing you were dead, and now, even though you’ve risen from the grave, you might still turn out
to have some lethal plague that’s going to kill you anyway….I guess she’s doing as well as anyone would
be.” He saw John’s quick glare and realized he’d just sounded pretty damned flippant himself. He sighed
apologetically. “I’m sorry. It’s been bad, John, but she…hung in there. She’ll be okay. I’ll
get her for you.”
He pushed a few buttons to buzz Helena. She was at her desk in her quarters staring pointlessly at the same
page of the same research material on plague microbes she’d been trying to read for what felt like hours, not wanting
to be around anyone else when Tony’s call came. When finally she heard his voice, she was almost too afraid to push
the buttons on her monitor.
“Helena?” Tony paused only a moment. “I’ve got John on the line. Here you go.”
She opened her mouth to reply but no sound came out and she settled for nodding at him instead. Tony gave her
a supportive wink and disappeared from view. She stared hard at the monitor then, willing it to show John to her, to speak
with his voice.
John waited impatiently to see her on the Eagle’s passenger monitor. Even with Tony’s warnings,
he was about to facetiously say something about the details of his death being highly exaggerated when he saw her face appear.
She was staring at him, features strained, dark circles clearly showing beneath her eyes. Even with the limited picture quality
he could tell she was trembling and barely managing not to cry. Her fingers reached out and moved lightly across the screen,
obscuring his view of her and he knew on her side she was tracing the contours of his face as if she might somehow manage
to touch him through the glass.
He tried to smile, but it only half worked as he couldn’t keep the concern that now threatened to overwhelm
him off his face. “Hey, beautiful,” he whispered.
“Hey, yourself,” she replied, so softly he almost couldn’t hear. She continued to trace her
fingers over his face on the screen. He was grubby, he had a robust beard stubble going and he looked as drained as she felt,
but it was him. He was alive.
“Are you okay?” The ubiquitous question…though it was clear she wasn’t.
She started to nod her head yes, but it turned into a no, then changed again as she took a deep breath and forced
herself to find her voice. “I will be…now.” She took another deep breath. “Is Blake…?”
“No. He’s gone,” John said gently.
She bit her lip and nodded, relieved in a way after recent events. “Dan…”
“I know,” his voice stayed in the same gentle murmur. “Tony told me.”
“I should have caught on to something there; I should have noticed he was too at ease. I really dropped
the ball with him.”
“You can’t save everyone, honey,” he comforted. “Some people reach a point where they
don’t want to be saved.”
She went through more chewing of her lip, struggling to find some level of normalcy. “I’m not sure
about the beard,” she finally said, her eyes critically examining the stubble on his face.
“It’s not staying; too itchy.”
“How are you feeling? No fever, no cough? You’re still going to have to stay in quarantine when
you get back, you know.”
He sighed and rolled his eyes. “I know, I know. I feel fine, though. No symptoms of anything. We’re
gathering plenty of samples for you and your staff to run through your eager little machines and prove that I’m plague-free.
Alibe and Bill are keeping me quarantined all the way back and she’s going to start running tests during flight to cut
down on what you’ll have to do later. ”
“Yeah, well, until we prove everything is totally clear, you’re not getting out, mister.”
She managed something resembling a smile for him, though it quickly faded.
“I knew you’d say that.”
“You need to remember, John, it’s going to take awhile to culture the samples through their full
life cycles. This is almost certainly a strain of plague we haven’t seen. You’re probably going to be behind glass
at least a week when you get back.”
He grimaced. “I know, I know, I know. Alibe already warned me. I’ll try to be as patient as possible
“You don’t have any patience, John. You’ll have
to do better than that.” She began to relax a little at last. “We’ll try to make it painless. I’ll
have Tony set up a computer link in the room so you’ll be able to go to work every day if you want. You’ll just
have to do it by computer commute. I’ll get you things to read and I’ll keep you company as much as I can.”
“But I have to sleep alone,” he complained, a playful note of suggestiveness slipping into his voice.
She did smile at him then, fleeting and wistful, but a real smile. “Hopefully, that won’t be for
His voice returned to a near whisper. “I’m sorry, honey. I’m so sorry you had to be put through
She crossed her arms tightly in front of her, urging herself not to start sobbing now. “It’s not
as though you did any of it on purpose.”
“I’ll be home soon,” he told her.
“I love you.” He touched two fingers to his lips then placed them over her image on the screen where
her own lips trembled.
“I love you, too.” Her voice was on the verge of betraying her again.
He sighed. There was something else going on with her, something that had Tony on edge. He sensed it; had known
before he left that something wasn’t right with her, but he couldn’t read her mind and she clearly wasn’t
going to address it right now. Reluctantly, he said, “I better go help finish with those damned samples of yours so
we can get out of here.”
She understood. “I’ll see you when you get back.”
He nodded, “Bye.” He cut the link, not wanting to leave her, but needing to get the sample collecting
expedited so he could see her in the flesh, and as soon as possible.
Hours later as they were finally headed for home, John finished composing and transmitting his report, then
sought sleep in the Eagle’s uncomfortable cabin. His mind returned to Helena…something wrong, or at least not
usual going on with her. She’d been distracted for several days before he left and she wasn’t feeling herself.
He’d noticed; even sought out Bob who’d been sympathetic to his concern, but remarkably unhelpful with any details.
In his opinion, Helena’s second had been overly protective of her privacy given John’s position of command and
his need to know everything that happened on Alpha. Bob had claimed he knew no facts, but assured him he didn’t believe
her to be ill. That had been John’s biggest fear and Bob did put his mind at ease…but something was still…‘off’…and
it irritated John that the man would hazard no guesses.
To Helena, he’d said nothing since she hadn’t been forthcoming. He knew her well enough to know
she talked about things only when she was ready. He sighed heavily. Maybe he was blowing things out of proportion. Perhaps
he was just feeling guilty about what she must have been going through these last days, knowing there was no way to give her
an assurance that it wouldn’t happen again and next time maybe he wouldn’t come back. Maybe the only thing wrong
was that she’d gotten as tired of everything as he had.
Damn this existence they’d been sentenced to anyway! He would have loved her anytime, anywhere he’d
met her…why couldn’t they have met back on Earth or even on some other planet as members of some other society,
even some other species…anyplace where life would have been boring and ordinary?
He closed his eyes and silently begged for sleep to come. It ultimately obliged him, but not in a restful fashion.
He dreamed quickly and vividly, and the visions he saw seemed charged with meaning, though he wasn’t normally a believer
in the efficacy of dreams.
…First he saw her and she looked, if possible, even more beautiful than she usually seemed; luminous,
as though she was partly composed of light itself. She handed him a wrapped package but he couldn’t see what was inside
no matter what he did to the box and they were outdoors somewhere, no maybe inside, were those walls?...He couldn’t
tell…but they must be outside in a grove or jungle because everywhere he looked he saw lush, ripe fruit and flowers,
trees heavy with their leaves and crops…The wrapped box reappeared and a bunch of overly cutesy, little fuzzy animals
with unnatural pastel fur started popping out from behind every tree and plant and grabbing playfully at his ankles. Even
in his dream state he was aware he had never dreamed images of this kind in his life. He half expected to see Helena morph
into some Disney princess-type with little birds on her shoulders and deer and bunnies cavorting around her. The whole thing
was wacky and he had the thought in his sleep that if they both burst into a fairytale song while the blue and pink bunnies
danced he was going to be sick. He was more than a little afraid the bunnies would start talking to him and he really wanted
to wake up before that happened.
Then things seemed to improve and get far more interesting as, without preamble, he was making love to her in
soft grass, all clothing instantly vanished and attention only on each other. They moved seductively together, bodies joined
intimately. He was aware of staring into her gorgeous green eyes so intently that he felt surrounded by them, falling into
them, his consciousness enclosed in their depths as his erection was enclosed in her body, safe and warm and home. From somewhere
came a small sound like the tinkling of a wind chime or summer rain falling in a field; coming closer, getting louder, until
it was discernable as the giggling of a child, and when he looked again he could see the tiny form of an infant within the
dark pupils of both her eyes…Then all the bunnies reappeared and started applauding and performing awkward bunny cartwheels.
One especially bold rabbit of the cotton candy pink variety patted him condescendingly on the head as though he were an exceptionally
dim-witted lout who’d just discovered how to make the last piece of a puzzle fit.
He woke with a gasp as if coming up from water…and it took him a moment to catch his breath because the
bunnies had been incredibly odd and sort of freaky. That last pink one was just plain snooty. Then he started to laugh. “Oh
my God, Koenig!” he said aloud to no one, “oh my God.”
He sat up in the seat, rubbing his eyes, shaking his head. He reviewed what had been out of character with Helena
before he left: her abnormal distraction, appetite not right…she’d seemed more fatigued than was typical for her…and
he’d mostly ignored it at the time but there was that moment a couple of nights before he’d gone when she’d
briefly turned several lighter shades of pale when Tony had passed his latest brew concoction under her nose. Granted, she
didn’t usually like the taste or smell of Tony’s inventions –
most people with functioning taste buds didn’t – but she didn’t as a rule look as though she might pass
out or throw up or possibly both if she could decide which to do first. He shook his head again at his own stupidity. He’d
been so worried that she might be ill and hiding the truth from him as long as she could to spare him, but…
…“She’s pregnant,” he whispered to himself. Then he laughed once more and repeated the
words, louder, to adjust his mind to the thought. He stood and paced around the quarantine area of the Eagle’s cabin
which was considerably less roomy than the usual amount of space allotted. His brain reeled as he sat back down and stared
ahead at nothing.
His mind segued to the couples on Alpha who’d chosen to start families once the green light had been given.
Helena and Bob had convinced him they weren’t going to be overrun with babies; in practical terms they were only replacing
members of the community who’d been lost through various means. He had acquiesced, but he had made it abundantly clear
to Helena that he thought those couples were incredibly brave, totally insane and unbelievably stupid. He had said he couldn’t
imagine a worse place for human beings to try and raise normal, healthy, well-adjusted children, but he’d stopped arguing
the point. As long as the numbers balanced acceptably with the life support systems and available space, he hadn’t felt
like discussing it further. All the new arrivals had done for him was give him extra little people to worry about and feel
responsible for, but he’d grown used to feeling constant anxiety for the safety of others. For her part, Helena hadn’t
pressed the issue in personal terms and he’d been grateful for that though he knew she was disappointed in him.
Now, what he might have once expected to feel, he didn’t. He
waited for irritation, exasperation, a trace of anger even, but those emotions were nowhere to be felt because lately…well
lately, he’d been thinking that maybe a family wasn’t such a terrible idea.
He did feel surprise, along with some outright bewilderment and a
rush of worry too, as it dawned on him that she’d spent the last few days believing he was dead and she’d be left
having their child alone. Guilt popped into his head too, when he thought about the fact that, though she now knew he was
alive, she was probably worried sick about his reaction, given his previously professed views on the subject. Belatedly, he
realized it must be common knowledge among their friends because this was surely what Tony had been holding back, this was
why Tony had been so protective of her. He willed silent thoughts of gratitude in his security chief’s general direction.
Before he was ready for them, a whole current of other emotions threatened to engulf his psyche, first among
them simple amazement. The concept of fatherhood was amazing. The notion she could be carrying his baby was amazing. The idea
that making love with her had created a child that was part of both of them was the most amazing miracle he’d heard
of in a long time. Foremost though, were sensations of love so intense and primal they nearly drove him onto his knees there
in the dark. He’d never felt anything like it and words he didn’t tend to say to her - like the fact that without
her, he’d be thinking about doing what Dan Riggs had done a hundred times a day; that there had been moments when the
confidence of her love was all that stood between him and defeat; that holding her in his arms was sometimes the only thing
that gave him the strength to get up and try again the next day - brought unprompted tears to his eyes.
A small part of his functional logical brain struggled to remind him that he didn’t know anything as fact.
He’d merely had a dream involving some cloying, unnaturally-hued rabbits. Maybe this was the first symptom of the alien
plague when it infected humans: hallucinations of deviant forest creatures. Maybe you saw snotty, candy-colored bunnies just
before you lapsed into an irreversible coma. He shook his head. He knew he was right, his heart felt it, but there was only
one way to be sure. He reached forward and tapped some commands into the cabin’s computer.