The Eagle was so hot it seemed as if he were still in the explosion. Looking out the viewport, he saw only blackness, the lingering light of the explosion in his eyes preventing him from seeing any stars. He looked at his hands and saw how flushed and sweat-soaked he was. The environmental system was apparently fried, and trying to cook him in turn.
He set the heating system to manual control, lowered the temperature, then turned on his inter-Eagle communication system. He tried calling to Maya, but there was no response. "Dammit, Maya, you better have made it. This was your own half-baked idea, and it apparently worked."
"Half-baked" was not an inappropriate phrase, for many of the Eagle control systems were down. Fighting his still-tearing eyes, he managed to restart some of them. He tried to call Maya again, but there was still no response. Unfortunately, he could not get the scanners working to find her Eagle. One of the large rear engines was inoperative, as well as half the fine-control thrusters scattered on the ship's surface. Most of the damage appeared to be minor and could be worked around, though it would take Alpha's facilities to fully repair them. He would not be able to board Maya's Eagle if needed, for his Eagle's boarding tube systems were destroyed, and hers didn't have the system at all.
The first problem was finding Maya and Alpha with no other sensors than his own eyes, which were continuing to clear. Turning his Eagle in all directions, he searched, but could find neither the base or the other ship. He didn't want to just start flying around, for without sensors, he could easily end up flying away from Maya or Alpha.
He tried the communications system, but had no more luck. Alpha should have been able to hear me. Either I'm out of range, or I have a problem in my communication system. He had no indications of the last, but that didn't guarantee anything. Hell, for all I know, the warp could have sent me light-years -- or a galaxy -- away from the Moon.
Finally, after many interminable minutes, the system found a signal. A subdued, somewhat frightened voice came over the line. "--lan? Was that you? Alpha?" Then she got more formal, though her voice still sounded weak. "Eagle Seventeen, calling Alpha or Captain Alan Carter. Respond please. Moonbase Alpha--"
He interrupted her. "Eagle Nine calling Eagle Seventeen. This is Alan, Maya. I hear you."
Her face appeared on his monitor, and he could see a hesitant smile come to her face. The free-hanging part of her hair was drifting around her head rather than hanging down, an obvious sign that the artificial gravity system had malfunctioned. She was not sweating, so her Eagle's heating system was nominal. She looked dazed, however, and seemed to be staring right past him.
"I... I can't see. The... gravity system.... I closed my eyes, but... could not faliski... ah, crouch or... further shield myself... asklyt the gravity... artificial haywire."
Her scrambling English and slipping into an unrecognizable alien language -- presumably Psychon -- indicated she was very dazed, for he had never heard her speak that way.
"Do you think the blindness is, ah... temporary?"
"I'm not sure. I think so. But light... dactylyl... do not seem will... fade for some time."
Though she had been looking towards the screen, she now turned away.
"Maya, you're bleeding from the side of your head."
She sat there dumbly, and he repeated the statement, adding, "Just above your hairline."
She absently put her hand up to her head. "Oh," she muttered. "That kalaa be what hurts."
When she closed her eyes, and did not open them, he shouted "Maya!" into the screen. She started in surprise and snapped "What?" back at him, with a surprising amount of energy.
"That's better," Alan said with a bit of relief. "You seemed lost."
"Was that supposed to help?" she asked with a nearly clear voice.
"It already has. You may have a concussion for all we know."
"Perhaps. I have a headache the size of Psychon.
"Whew. That's worse than mine. It's only Eagle-sized."
She laughed a bit, then coughed. "Now what do we do?"
"Well, for starters, we have to find each other -- and Alpha."
"Have you checked the scanners?"
"I don't have any working. They were destroyed or badly damaged."
"Oh," she uttered, turning her head away again.
"I also have lost some thrusters and boarding tube control, but most everything else is operational."
"I can't tell about the other systems, but I don't have artificial gravity," Maya said listlessly.
"I can see." At her totally blank look, he added "Your hair."
She said nothing, instead closing her eyes again, drifting towards sleep. This time, his shouts took longer to rouse her, which deeply concerned him. "Hmm?" she lazily replied at last, wearily opening her eyes to mere slits, obviously wanting nothing more at that moment than to sleep.
"Come on, Maya! Open those pretty eyes. I need your help. Okay?" All he got back was another lazy murmur. He shouted again: "Snap to attention, Private Benjamin!" For some reason, the line worked, for he finally got some semblance of coherence from the woman.
"What does that mean?" she said in a quizzical voice.
"Something military. Don't know where I got it. Are you okay now?"
"Yes, mostly. Laskas. You're probably right -- about my... ah... concussion I mean."
"Can you turn into something to leave the injury behind for an hour? Does it work that way?"
"Sometimes. The problem would return when I revert, though. I'll try."
"Hey, just make sure it is intelligent and can speak in a language I understand."
She smiled weakly, then turned away. A distant look came to her face, and for a moment, the metamorph's very-human lines fuzzed slightly; but then her face grimaced, and she cried out in pain.
"Maya! Maya, what is it?"
"I c... can't... trans... form," she cried in a shuddering voice. "There's... pain when I try to astakoi."
"Your concussion?" he asked, noticing her continued slips into Psychon.
"Maybe. Or these zhykrot warps. They disrupt my metaform connections."
"After the space warp hit you a few years back, you transformed like a madwoman."
"It disrupted me a bit differently, causing me to first get ill, then lose control to the subsequent illness-created delusions. Now I seem to have no control over my abilities -- at any level."
"Will it come back?" he asked, realizing the possibility of it not returning would frighten her.
She turned away from the screen, and her voice was choked. "I... don't know."
Alan could hear the fear in her voice, and tried to distract her -- with another problem: "We have to find each other. I don't have sensors to find you. You may have sensors, but can't see the readouts."
Her head turned back to the screen. "Have you started the emergency beacon?"
"Yeah. But no outside signals yet."
"If I start a beacon, could you determine where it's coming from?"
"No. I had one such instrument, but it was on the sensor platform which burnt out. The backup is merely an omnidirectional receiver, like a simple radio, and your Eagle doesn't have the directional receiver at all, even if you could see."
"What do we do then?" Even blind, she kept turning her head towards the screen, as if from habit. Inspiration suddenly struck him. "Hey, Maya! Can you picture the Eagle controls?"
"No, Alan," she said. "I'm blind, yaskat." He didn't know what the last meant, and didn't ask. She was frightened and angry, but at least was not going to slip into unconsciousness anytime soon.
"I know, Maya," he said gently. "What I meant is: can you picture the Eagle controls in your mind?"
She turned away -- looking towards the front of the Eagle -- and paused, concentrating hard. "Yes. Mostly. Why, how does it help? I cannot see any of the readouts."
"No, but if I guide you through some steps, you can get some printed readouts, then show them for the camera. Either I can interpret them, or I can read them back to you."
Her face lit up like a sun. "Alan! That's brilliant!"
He humbly mumbled "thanks," then started giving instructions, guiding her to the correct buttons by describing their locations relative to ones she already knew. She listened to him, and slowly felt her way around the consoles, guiding herself by gentle touch to the correct button, to ensure she didn't disrupt any systems by pressing the wrong button. Working together, they ascertained the status of her Eagle. Reading the slightly- fuzzy image of a printout from her ship over his monitor screen for the blinded woman, he listed the problems.
"You have seventy percent of thrust capacity on the main engines. Four fine-control thrusters are out, but they are scattered, and shouldn't affect you too much in landing. Could you move that readout up a bit? Good. The reactor shows a bit of instability, but it will hold if you don't push it beyond sixty percent. The scanners are down, but not out. Oh... and you better not leave the pilot section."
"Everything in back of the door behind you is a vacuum."
"A vacuum?" she shivered. "Are you sure it's not a mistaken reading?"
"I don't know. You need to get a more detailed printout of that subsystem." He listed the steps, and interpreted the resulting printout for her.
"The recycling system started venting all the air into space, suddenly 'thinking' the normal oxygen was a poisonous gas. It replenished the cabin with air from the tanks, which was also seen as poisonous. All the air was eventually exhausted, despite safety systems designed to prevent dumping of all the oxygen. It was a poorly-designed system, and we eventually changed it after Breakaway. But your Eagle had the system, and vented it all. The readings add up. It's dry outback."
"Why didn't it vent the pilot section?" she nervously demanded.
"The systems are completely separate, even down to the pilot section having a small version of the air recycling system -- just in case that module needed to separate in an emergency."
Next, they tackled the scanner system, which was "down, but not out," as Alan put it. Blind, Maya could make no major repairs; but with Alan's guidance she was able to restart, isolate, or bypass the various sensor subsystems by swapping a couple boards, throwing some small internal switches, and some other tedious and nerve-wracking work with relatively small components. It took well over an hour, and left Maya sweating.
Alan was quite amazed by Maya's relative calm. She was blinded, injured, unable to transform, lost in a damaged spaceship, trying to find her likewise-lost friend. Yet despite her small signs of fear, she was far from a panic. Alan had known very few people with such a strength -- and most were on Alpha. Beyond the earlier sleepiness, he didn't know what all the possible effects of a concussion were on her alien neurology; but his keeping her active had apparently suppressed the numbing effects. Still, it seemed too good to last long.
He was beginning to feel fatigue from staring at the small and somewhat fuzzy screen. Yet another terrible headache was forming behind his eyes, and he now only wished he had asked to take a headache-reliever, but also that the monitor was larger or higher-definition. It had seemed fine before; but that was when it had been a mere luxury. Now, it was a necessity, and the existing system wasn't good enough. Fortunately, it was enough in the end. After so long, the system had been rebooted -- bootstrapped really, to the point where the scanners finally came back online.
He had her first filter for objects of two sizes: the Moon and the Eagle -- limiting the latter to the nearest million kilometers, as there could be a lot of Eagle-sized meteoroids flying around in this star system. The Moon-sized part of the scan was left at full range -- nearly twenty million kilometers.
The scan came up with five objects. From the information given, he determined the identity of one.
"Got it! The Moon is 2.7 million kilometers at 735 mark 291, receding at two hundred kilometers per second towards 571 mark 322. We had better get moving."
"What about you? Can you find yourself on this?"
"There are four other objects listed. Higher, please. No, that's too high. Good. Only one seems like a good match. I need you to get a concentrated narrow-beam scan on that source, just to be sure."
"How narrow? We've already drifted relative for each other since the scan."
"Distance is -- no, don't drop the printout." Her arms were obviously tired, just as the rest of her body, but she did not complain, so Alan continued: "As of the scan, the distance is 893,100 kilometers, 371 mark 073, receding 357 mark 084, at 144 k.p.s. If it's me, we're flying apart, and bloody fast too."
Using the set of figures Alan had read off, Maya mentally calculated what the current position of the object would be, compensating for the recession he had listed, then applied a narrow-beam, high-resolution scan in the area. Having done a similar procedure already, she was able to step through it without Alan. In a minute, she was holding up a new printout to the camera proximate to the little monitor.
"Hot dog!" His words were odd to Maya, but his delight was obvious, and she smiled. "Your smile has beautiful timing. It's me alright. Can even tell how I'm oriented, so I can point myself correctly."
"You are still flying blind, Alan. What if you're off?"
"We'll be closer, at least. We can rescan. After a second try, I should be within visual distance."
"True. I'm not thinking very clearly."
"Just try and hold on, Maya. You'll have to fly yourself all the way back to Alpha and land. Even if my landing tube were working, I can't get to your Eagle's pilot section to fly it or get you out."
"Why not? You can come in with a space suit on."
He was rather surprised -- and worried -- at the question, due to the obviousness of the problem: "I can enter the Eagle's passenger module; but the moment I open the door behind you, your air will be lost to vacuum -- and you can't transform into any of those crazy vacuum-resisting creatures, either."
"Oh," she muttered sheepishly. "I really am having trouble."
"You're doing damn well -- I can hardly notice it."
"Well, thanks. But let me know if I start slipping any more."
"How are your eyes?"
"Unchanged," she said, then calculated the optimal flight course -- in her head -- and relayed it to Alan. Despite his uncertainty over how well she could compute with a concussion, he followed her instructions, carefully adjusting the attitude of his Eagle and applying thrusters. After twenty minutes, he slowed the Eagle, and the two of them worked together on another scan. He was only a thousand kilometers away now, in a somewhat different direction, due to off-center approach. He was soon on his way again -- though much more slowly, to look for her Eagle.
"Not bad," he said.
"For a blind woman and a man in a blind Eagle."
"We Alphans know how to survive."
Maya smiled, still pleased at hearing any statement which included her as a member of the base.
Alan continued, "How many women can plot flight courses in their heads; and how many men can fly an Eagle as good as I can?"
"I don't know. How many?"
"Well, I know Eagles better than anyone, but I did know this woman in Sydney--"
"Well, not quite as good as you. But there were some humans who could calculate amazing things without electronics."
"Oh?" Maya's tone indicated genuine interest, not disbelief. "I hadn't known that."
"Well, it's not common, and in some -- but not all -- cases, the individuals have some a psychological problem called autism which makes it nearly impossible for them to relate to the world."
"I've heard of autism. I did not realize it conferred extra mathematical ability."
"Well, it doesn't in most cases. I'm referring more to the autistic savants; and the talent isn't always in mathematics. In some it's music, in others it's art."
"And I did know such a woman in Sydney. She was my aunt."
"I'm sorry," Maya mumbled.
"Oh, nothing to be sorry about. She was a wonderful lady, and had a subtype of the disorder which could be treated with some new biotechnology. She even retained some of those mathematical talents, and went on to work at Computer Lab Three -- damn unoriginal name -- which was Down Under."
"Small universe," Maya said softly, adapting an Earth expression she had read in Terran literature. "Why didn't you say anything?" she asked.
"I know it was the same lab Victor contacted. It just would have been very awkward and rather pointless -- not to mention selfish."
By now, his second flight was nearly finished. He was able to spot a small, elongated star in front of him, just a bit to starboard. He altered his ship's course slightly to intercept. The 'star' slowly grew brighter, then started swelling into the familiar rectangular shape.
"I can see you, Maya.... Coming into range.... Circling around your Eagle.... It's been turned a crispy-looking tan color, worse on the bottom. You must have been only meters above the ground -- practically in the center of the fireballs -- for the Eagle to be burnt this way. It doesn't seem to have done more than sear the paint, though. Thank God we jumped in time."
When he didn't get any response, he immediately shouted her awake again. She seemed to be slipping towards a coma, from the concussion and warp, whose effects he had partially belayed by keeping her busy. He had to delay them further. She had to pilot the Eagle all the way back, or she'd die in space. "Come on, Maya. Hang in there. Your concussion is trying to make you sleep."
She seemed to latch on the last word: "Sleep.... Need sleep.... Sleep... heals."
"Yeah, but healing won't be of much use if you die in the Eagle."
That caught her attention. "Die?" she shrilled.
"In the cold, dark vacuum of space. Frozen to death when your fuel runs out. Sound like fun?"
Alan's harsh words brought Maya around again.
Forty minutes later, they were in visual range of the Moon, with Alpha just beyond the horizon. He continued trying to reach Alpha, and Maya joined in with a weak, thready, but still coherent voice.
There was no response.
Over the past two days, it had become painfully obvious to the younger John Koenig that of all the members of this strange base, the aged Commander seemed most uncomfortable of all. It was not surprising, considering the presence of his duplicate on the base, but that wasn't the whole answer.
"It's me," Helena said. "He watched me die four years ago."
"But now you're back.... Back to haunt him," John said.
Helena nodded miserably. "And it's hard on him."
"It's hard on you, too," John noted.
"Yes. He's sadder, a little less energetic, older, and with less hope, but he's still you. Though I know he's not the John I know, I still feel a bit of attraction for him, and for even more reasons, he feels an even stronger attraction for me." Helena felt a bit uncomfortable admitting these facts to John. Fortunately, he seemed to understand.
"And it's hard on Maya too," Helena continued.
"Oh, come on, John. You couldn't have missed it."
"No, I guess I couldn't. Just seems odd to see myself interested in someone other than you."
"Yes, it does; but it doesn't surprise me. He lost his wife, and she lost her Tony -- on the same day no less. Both felt the same loss, and in their mutual pain, they drew together for comfort. I guess they never really drew apart."
"I hope you don't mind my saying this," he started hesitantly.
"I really hope they stay together."
"Why do you think I would have trouble with that statement?"
"Well, it just... well... seems somewhat unfaithful to be saying something like that right to you."
"Unfaithful? John, we're talking about an entirely different reality. Who am I to judge it by our standards?"
"But we could easily share the same fate." As soon as he said it, John felt uncomfortable. "Sorry, Helena. That was a pretty cynical thing to say."
"Well, maybe it is depressing to think of, but I'm glad to see them getting some comfort from each other in the face of their continuing grief -- to see John getting some measure of happiness from Maya. I would wish you no less in our reality. So don't feel you're being unfaithful to me."
Maya could hear Alan's sudden gasp over the transmission. "What is it?" she asked.
At first, he didn't respond. Alpha had come into sight. Damaged, partially burnt, most landing pads destroyed. It had sustained at least one devastating attack. It didn't look like much life was down there, though lights burned in the windows of some undamaged sections.
"Oh, hell, I don't think we came out in the right time."
"What? What is it?" Maya demanded insistently.
He told her.
"I sure hope that isn't our future," she said.
"You think it's another reality again?"
"I hope so, Alan. I really hope so."
"Me too. If this is our future, I'm not sure I want to live it."
The picture on the Big Screen shocked John. "Eagles? Where the hell did they come from?"
The others had similarly surprised looks, and could offer no answer.
One of the Eagles was brown, while the other looked close to normal.
As soon as the brown Eagle started settling -- clumsily -- on the pad, Bill Fraser ordered his people to extend the docking tube. Moments after the tube started extending, he caught sight of something on the still-airborne Eagle. "Commander!" he called out. "One Eagle is blinking a signal light! It's Morse code: 'Other ship... cannot... dock... pressure bay... medical unit.... This... Eagle... can... dock.' "
"Okay, follow those recommendations," the commander of this base said.
Bill hurried the orders to his subordinates. "Bay Four: retract landing tube. Pull the first Eagle into the bay, move the Eagle, return the pad for the second Eagle, and pressurize the bay. The second Eagle can dock with the tube."
Even as Bill was speaking, Koenig gave further orders to Paul. "Get two security men to each area, and have Doctor Mathias report to the bay."
"What about me?" Helena protested.
"Hel... Doctor Russell," he started awkwardly, obviously still not entirely comfortable with her presence. "Go ahead. Send a nurse to the Eagle still in the air. Maya, head down to the bay, in case you are needed to pry open a door on the damaged Eagle. If someone's injured, we can't wait for someone to open it with a torch." Maya nodded, getting up to move to the door. "Maya," he called again, stopping her progress towards the door. "Try not to damage it too much. We may need it." That got a weak smile from the Psychon, and a sharp glance from his doppelgänger.
When Fraser, Maya, Russell, Mathias, and the two security men, Giles and Bokessu, reached the bay to join Tom Hansen, the operative who was already present, the Eagle was just being brought into sight by the overhead cranes. There was a collective gasp when they saw the outer door of the Eagle gaping open.
Maya looked at Bill with a horrified expression. Bill turned to his subordinate. "What happened?" Fraser practically shouted at Hansen. "The door was closed when it landed."
"I don't know," he answered nervously. "Pressure's not equalized, so anyone there would be dead."
In frustration, Fraser pounded his fist on the nearest console.
These older Alphans' emotional reactions were the perhaps most pronounced that Russell -- stranger to this dying base -- had seen.
Then Hansen gave another report as he studied monitors and pressed controls. "The pad reached the surface again, and the other Eagle just landed. Extending boarding tube now."
Then the indicator over the bay door indicated pressure was equalized, and all but Hansen rushed into the bay. The Eagle's stairway had not extended, so Fraser had to run to the portable stairs and push the wheeled thing to the Eagle.
Security men first, they rushed up into the Eagle. Fortunately, they found no one in the passenger section. Helena noticed Maya had troubled expression, and asked her what was wrong. Maya shouted "What?" in return, and Helena realized the other woman hadn't heard her over some infernal racket coming from the ventilation system. It was working furiously, to unknown ends. Helena put her hand to the vent, and Maya followed suit on another vent. "It's venting outward from this section," Maya shouted. Helena nodded her agreement. Fraser glanced at the two women, and said, "This one too."
"Why?" Maya asked.
Bill shrugged, then added, "Looks as if it was venting into space and creating a vacuum. The pilot opened the door so the pressure would be equalized before we tried to board, so there wouldn't be explosive repressurization. That's pretty clear thinking, but it makes me wonder why the person hasn't come out yet. Better check the front door and see if it's jammed."
Bokessu immediately went forward and tried the door, but failed to open it. Maya stepped forward. Bokessu, guessing what was coming, stepped back, allowing the first officer to pass.
Though Maya's back was turned, Helena could see tension in the woman. Something was definitely troubling her. Before Helena could say anything, however, the metamorph's form started fuzzing at the edges. The woman's form vanished in a haze of light, then started resolidifying into a thick-skinned, lizard-like form, one of Maya's favorites. A hideous squealing filled the air. For a moment, they thought it was another Eagle system going haywire, but then realized it was the creature -- Maya -- who was making the sound. It turned to them with a horrifying expression, and they all backed away. In a very human way, it put its scaly hands to its head, continuing to wail piteously. They realized it was in great pain. Then it turned away from them, and in fury attacked the door.
The door never stood a chance. Maya not only rent it open, but bent it in the process, so it could not be fully retracted. The moment it had finished the door off, it practically flung itself away from the door, stumbling and falling to the ground in the process. The wailing finally ceased as the creature fell to the floor and reverted to Maya's humanoid form, unconscious. Helena rushed up the Psychon. A quick examination revealed Maya's pulse was racing, and her breathing was strained. But why?
Bob Mathias started rushing towards the pilot section, but Giles restrained him. They didn't know who -- or what -- was piloting the ship. It was the security men's sometimes unpleasant duty to be the first ones into potentially dangerous situations. They glanced at Maya in concern, then walked to the front, Bokessu taking the point, with stun gun ready. He carefully peeked into the Pilot Module, then called to the others. "Mister Fraser, Doctor Mathias, you'd better have a look at this."
They did. There in the pilot's seat sat Maya, unconscious. Though slightly different-looking -- possibly younger -- it was the same woman who had just collapsed in the passenger section.
Mathias shouted the fact to Helena, who quickly started giving orders. "Bob, stay with the one up there. Fraser, get back here. I need your help. We've got to separate them as quickly as possible. They can't stand proximity to each other. "How is that one, Bob?"
"Not good: concussion, irregular heartbeat, labored breathing, shock. We must get her to Medical."
"Okay, but give us a minute to pull this one out first."
For a moment, Mathias almost protested Helena's ordering him about, for he had been Chief Medical Officer since the death of the Helena he knew; but he kept his silence. It would serve no purpose trying to assert his authority. Besides that, it felt good to hear Helena shouting orders again, despite the fact this woman was a stranger to this particular Alpha. Furthermore, she was right.
Fraser and Giles lifted Maya onto a stretcher, and as they carried her out the Eagle door, Helena pulled out her commlock to reach someone at Medical. "Yes, ah, Doctor," Nurse Adams responded, unsure as how to address her one-time supervisor.
"I need portable equipment sent to..." she paused, trying to come up with a location relatively far from Medical, finally hitting on an ironically appropriate location, "... Maya's quarters. Monitors, precautionary cardiac and respiratory aids, and half of the Psychon specials -- but leave some in Medical. There will be two to tend to."
Adams looked confused, but responded in the affirmative. Helena terminated the connection.
Instantly, Helena's commlock buzzed, and the white-haired commander of this base appeared, concern strong on his face. "What's wrong with Maya?" he demanded.
Helena swallowed. "She's fallen unconscious, and..." she choked on the next words.
Helena ignored him for a few seconds as they passed into and through the ante-room where Hansen was watching the boarding tube extend towards the other Eagle on the surface. When they boarded the travel tube, Helena finally answered the older commander's question.
"There was a second Maya, piloting the Eagle. They can't tolerate each other's presence."
"How is she?" he demanded again.
"Unconscious, but in no apparent danger. The oth--. Wait, she needs a sedative." The Psychon had started to toss and turn, and Helena's medical scanner started giving off peculiar readings.
"What for?" Fraser protested. "She's already unconscious."
Though Fraser made a move to stop her, Helena had already applied the sedative, then explained. "In some forms of shock or trauma, a Psychon brain remains hyperactive, trying to transform into something else to escape whatever caused the shock; be it an attacker, a rockslide, or some other danger. Psychons even believe transformation can help heal injury or shed disease more rapidly. Of all the times she's been knocked unconscious, I've only seen this reaction once before, and it was in response to a powerful space warp, which is close enough to this crazy situation."
"If transformation can help her, why the hell are you stopping it?" the Commander demanded angrily.
Helena's ire increased in response. "Because the one time she -- the Maya I know -- was in a similar condition, she turned into stun-resistant creatures which went on a rampage, injuring others, and eventually herself, when she got into an Eagle and tried to fly it inside of a hanger." Helena's group had entered the travel tube, and she continued speaking. "I don't know how Psychons handled these cases, but we couldn't. This time, when your Maya transformed, she screamed in pain the whole time she was in the other form, then collapsed. If she tries to transform again--"
"Okay, Helena," the Commander finally said contritely, chilled by the story. "I'll trust you to care for her, though the incident you mentioned never happened to us. By the way, a young version of Alan just stepped off the other Eagle. I think he's coming down to meet you."
Helena then called Mathias on the commlock, ordering him to sedate the other Maya if she became restless. Given the other's more serious condition, it was risky to apply any sedative, but she had a strong feeling allowing either one to transform would be a serious mistake, if not fatal for the metamorph. Helena then pondered the commander's last words. Alan in the other Eagle? Maya and Alan. Those two disappeared after Victor, and just before I was swept away. Could they be the same ones? But where did the Eagles come from? Maybe they're not from my reality, but a third one instead. The possibilities were dizzying, and getting caught in them now wouldn't help her patient.
When they reached the end of the travel tube, Alan was waiting, and immediately started following them as they wheeled Maya to her quarters. "How is she? She had a.... Wait a second, this isn't right." He retreated a bit in confusion, realizing Maya looked different.
"Alan, this is an alternative and somewhat older universe, which has its own version of Maya."
Helena wanted to explain further, to find out if he was from the same reality, but Alan -- after staring at Maya with a bug-eyed expression -- quickly turned to find the Maya he knew. When the travel tube appeared a minute later, there was indeed another Maya, and it was the one he knew, complete with the bleeding head. They rushed past, but Alan followed.
Mathias forestalled the inevitable demand with some information. "She has a concussion, and is in some sort of shock. It's serious, but probably not life-threatening. We'll know better when we reach Medical Center."
"She's been blinded," Alan said.
Bob gave him a surprised glance. "By what?"
"An explosion. She thinks the blindness is temporary."
"So that is why the Eagle was brown. How the hell did it survive?"
"It would take a bit of explaining."
"Well, save it. And I'll keep her sight in mind. She thinks it is temporary?" Alan nodded. "Okay. You stay with us. We may need to ask more questions. Just keep out of the way."
Fraser, Giles, and Dr. Russell had gotten the base's resident Maya to her own quarters, where Nurse Adams was setting up some of the portable equipment requested. They transferred the Psychon to her own bed, then applied the more sophisticated monitors to her.
Her heart and lung activity were still somewhat abnormal, and a cause was quickly found: though still unconscious, the Psychon's brain wave patterns still showed an excessive amount of activity. It would peak and hit a certain level, above which it could not climb. In fascination, Helena watched the readouts. They would stay at that maximum level for some time, then quickly fall off, only to make a running try at it again. It was the weirdest thing she had ever seen. The maximum was not high enough to produce externally visible restlessness. Apparently, the sedative had not knocked out the brain activity, merely put a cap on the maximum level. Though it was a fascinating sight, it worried Helena, because it looked like someone beating herself silly on an unyielding wall, and the doctor had no idea how to stop it -- or if stopping it was even a wise idea -- for she hadn't seen anything quite like it.
Helena still believed she could not allow the metamorph to attempt to use her talents, and this activity could easily be an attempt to do just that.
John, the commander of this base, entered, a frown already on his face. "How is she?"
"She's not in life-threatening danger."
"You don't sound very certain. What's wrong?"
This commander may not have been her John, but he had read her almost as well. "I gave her the sedative to prevent an unconscious attempt to transform, but she is still fighting it."
"I don't see any restlessness."
"The sedative capped it at a lower level than can appear to the eye, but it's there, and I'm afraid she'll further weaken herself trying to fight it."
"You said this kind of response may be an instinctive attempt to transform to escape further injury from a threatening situation."
"In this case, it's a misapplied -- and dangerous -- application of the instinct." Helena suddenly had an idea. "But if she can be shown there is no threat..."
"No threat? How?" Then an idea struck him, and he quickly took Maya's hand in one of his, and put his other on her forehead. Kneeling beside the bed, he half-whispered to her. "Maya, Maya. Take it easy. There's no need to transform. You're safe. Please, calm down. Sleep peacefully. Rest. Don't try to transform. Just allow yourself to sleep. Don't fight it. Sleep will help."
Neither had any idea whether it was the words, the tone of voice, the warm human contact, or just coincidence, but the brain activity readings slowly subsided into an obvious pattern: deep sleep.
No coma, Helena thought, sighing in relief.
John, realizing it meant Maya was okay, followed suit.
John gave Helena a questioning look, and then flicked his head towards Nurse Adams and the door. The nurse didn't see it, but it's meaning was obvious to Helena.
"Nurse, please get some water." Helena knew full well how maintenance problems had rendered it impractical to route potable water to individual quarters, so the nurse was forced to leave the room in search for some. When she had left, John turned to Helena.
"I want to thank you, and apologize for my attitude earlier. I don't know if you will understand, but here and now, Maya is...." His trailing voice and the way he continued to gently caress Maya's hand indicated what he was getting at, even if his reserved nature prevented him from saying the words to someone who was in some ways a stranger, and in other ways a lost soul mate.
"I understand perfectly, John."
She smiled. "You're not a very obvious man, John, except to me. It didn't take long to see how you've come to care for each other, and believe me, I'm happy for you. I would not want to disrupt that, even unknowingly."
"It's just... you're so much like the Helena I knew; and it's confusing, even though my mind knows you're different."
Helena nodded slowly. "You're much like the John I love, so it is... difficult... for me too. I love my John. You're like a stranger, but you're so much like... my love."
His stare had intensified slowly during her words. He could not resist falling into her eyes... the same eyes he knew....
Helena finally broke the stare, and they both turned away, embarrassed, John pacing the room a bit while an uncomfortable silence hung between them, like a blanket or perhaps a distorting lens, twisting painfully familiar faces from soul mates to strangers. Helena swallowed hard, trying to repress feelings towards this man, and not entirely succeeding. She wanted to touch him, to embrace him, to chase the demons of loss from his mind.
As if sensing the emotions welling up in her, or perhaps feeling them himself, he shifted the subject. It took only a glance, towards the unconscious Maya. "It's confusing for me, and by consequence, for her," he said, staring tenderly at the beautiful woman he loved.
"It's just as confusing to me, and to my John."
John didn't seem to hear Helena, for he continued his previous thought. "I already lost you.... I don't want to lose her too."
Helena finally couldn't stand the pain and fear in his eyes. She hesitated a moment, indecision keeping her in place for a moment before she finally moved to him and rested her hand on his arm. "I'll make sure you don't," she said softly.
He turned slowly towards her, and as one, they embraced. For a moment, it did not feel like an entirely a chaste embrace, for in each other's arm, feeling familiar forms, and unconsciously sensing the same identifiable scents, both felt the urge to draw even closer, to touch their lips together, to....
They both silently resisted until the feeling passed, then shared a few moments of simple friendship; and when they finally parted there was no discomfort left between them, only understanding.
"Not easy sharing emotional spaces with our copies," he said quietly, as if drained of emotion. Helena agreed, with the subtlest of nods. "I had the Helena I knew, now Maya and I.... Then you, a different version of Helena, appear...."
"And now you've got another Maya in this base," Helena said.
John choked out an ironic laugh. "Pretty twisted, eh?"
Helena laughed. "Love is never easy to understand, but space can make it downright impossible."
"But we can't let it stop us."
"No.... It's one of the few things we do have anymore."
There could be no argument, and a moment of silence sufficed as agreement.
They had both forgotten about Nurse Cynthia Adams, who finally returned with a pitcher of water. Despite the fact neither had done anything, John and Helena blushed slightly. It was obvious that Adams had been gone far longer than necessary to retrieve a pitcher of water. She glanced at them, an enigmatic expression on her face.
Helena immediately started issuing orders. "Monitor her. Make sure her brain wave pattern stays calm. It should start to show a peaceful rise towards consciousness. If the erratic patterns return, call me. I'll be down to check on the other one." Helena turned and left, knowing the commander would remain behind to keep Maya calm. She smiled as she heard the nurse asking John, "The other one?" Apparently, she had never learned the exact reason for Helena's orders, despite her long absence to points unknown.
Helena left Maya's quarters, guilty at allowing herself to remain tangled in this twisted web of unavoidable emotions so long as to have not gotten down to Medical Center to assist the other Maya, but happy she and the commander had come to an understanding and -- as far as possible -- resolved their confused feelings. She suddenly remembered her earlier thoughts that this Maya and Alan could be the very same individuals who had disappeared from Helena's own reality moments before she had awakened in this alien reality. Her pace quickened. Reaching Medical Center, she found Alan and John -- her John -- there by the new Maya's side. Bob Mathias quickly filled his fellow doctor in.
"I don't get it," he started. "Her brain wave patterns went crazy, and she was almost convulsing. But when Alan and John tried to calm her down, she did."
"I'll try to explain it later. How severe was the concussion?" Helena asked.
"Moderate. She'll probably be out for forty-eight to seventy-two hours, but permanent damage is unlikely -- and I doubt the concussion was the cause of the brain-wave patterns." Then Bob spoke on something which was bothering him. "On the Eagle, you made it sound as if the very act of attempting to change would be dangerous.
Helena nodded. "The other one had such a psychotic reaction. I don't think they could stand each other's presence. It's probably due to their nature as metamorphs."
"It doesn't make sense, though, because no Psychon would be able to stand another."
"Actually, it's probably more of an issue that Maya could not stand herself. Maybe they both try to share the same... ah, metamorphic space, if you will, when brought into proximity. I can't pretend to understand the issues with a Psychon, but it was bad enough with me."
"Hmm.... I wonder what constitutes being 'too close.' Maybe they're still too close."
"Maybe they shouldn't even be in the same universe," Alan said, eliciting groans from the others.
"I don't know," Helena said sadly.
"We can only do the best we can," John said, "and hope one of them wakes up soon to give us some answers, or at least ideas."
"The other should wake up within 12 to 18 hours," Helena stated.
"This one may be out for 48," Bob said.
"Okay, I guess we just have to wait and watch," Mathias said, leaving the room. The nurse left a moment later, leaving all four of the people who were strangers to this base alone in Medical.
John and Helena turned to Alan.
"You two came on a rescue mission? How did you manage it?"
Alan shook his head. "Actually, both of us disappeared as well."
"On board Eagles?"
John frowned, and Helena asked, "Then how?"
"We both woke up in separate parts of an Alpha just before Breakaway."
"Oh my God," Helena cried. "Were you able to prevent it?"
"In a strange way, yes, maybe, I think. With Eagles."
It was a confusing response, but Helena took it as a positive anyway. "So what does that do to us? We know about Breakaway. It still happened, at least my memory says it did."
"Hold on," Alan said, putting his hands up a little, "Maya and I discovered it was a different reality, because parts of the base were designed a bit differently. Everything and everyone was a damn close copy, but not the same."
"We found the same thing. Except for meeting the Dorcons and the aliens who tried to deceive us into blowing the dumps up -- they were both mobile -- virtually everything after Psychon was altered in this reality, whereas everything before was -- as far as we could tell -- completely identical."
"So completely that for awhile, we believed this reality and our reality were the same before Psychon, though they were of course different for years before we started having this time trouble."
"So you're saying something different happened at Psychon?" Alan asked.
Unseen by the human eye but for the monitors showing rare patterns of activity which could not be understood, the two Mayas dreamed a strange dream, sharing a dream in parallel, yet not truly together. A rare point of contact in metaspace. An alien form they both knew, had both seen so many years before, but with different memories attached to each. Initially similar memories playing in unison.
A young Psychon woman -- little more than a girl -- with incomplete metamorphic skills: the ability to "look" and "feel" the alien in "metamorphic manner," but no real power to act on the sense.
A new species. Not the first, and not the last. She watched them as they stirred, got up, and stared at her in stony silence. They were cat- like, with long claws, the piercing eyes of a trylor, and the sheer meanness of an upset nieria -- rather menacing in appearance.
The shield between them went down. Only for a moment. Psyche was flawed, and allowed the alien to try to jump through, and get at Mentor's daughter.
Maya jumped back instinctively, but the shield restarted, with the alien half-way through it. It remained pinned, held in that position for long moments, as the shield struggled to push the foreign object out -- one way or another.
/ / / /
\ \ \ \
|The alien was flung back into the cell.|
| | | |
| | | |
|The alien was flung outward, directly at Maya.|
| | | |
| | | |
|Maya sighed in relief, her beating heart reverting to a normal pace. Mentor's image quickly appeared to check on her the moment he realized a fault had occurred. She shakily glanced at him, then smiled, knowing it was not her father's fault: he could not possibly be perfect, after all. Mentor smiled in return, and told her to leave and let Psyche soothe the hostile spirit of the monsters.|
| | | |
| | | |
Maya tried to dodge the hostile alien as it was thrown at her by the
shield, which finally spit out the irritating object. She could not avoid
the collision; both fell in a heap, from which the alien quickly recovered.
She found herself being pulled to her feet by the alien, which brought its
claws to her throat, even as the image of Mentor appeared. Speaking in its
sibilant tongue, which Maya had learned two years before, the alien
threatened Maya's life, trying to force Mentor to release its own people.
Maya, too inexperienced to transform, held still, well aware a sudden move could cause those claws to get buried deep in her throat. The alien demanded to be returned to its ship. They would take Maya, and release her in an escape pod at the edge of the system. The prospect terrified Maya, for they sounded more likely to kill her the moment she became useless, rather than give up a useful escape pod.
"No deception this time, Psychon," the alien said to Mentor's image. "You will not drag us back to the planet, as you did the last time. You will return those of my people taken elsewhere on this pestilent planet; and if we see any of those green lights, this female will die," it hissed. To prove the point, it drew its claws expertly across Maya's throat, drawing blood and making her cry out, but not cutting deeply enough to truly harm her. "Now release the force field," it said, as its companions watched, desperate hope in their eyes.
The shield went down, and they all surged out. Dragging Maya along, the first alien arrogantly walked into the image of Mentor, as if dismissing her father as insubstantial.
It was a mistake, as the image played a trick the alien had not previously seen, turning into green light that this time was a stasis field. Maya and the alien were completely immobilized, though they were somehow able to breathe. One of the other aliens tried to beat at the field from the outside, but it expanded and engulfed the other alien too. The others fled, screaming in terror, but another green ball rapidly caught up with them. Mentor manipulated the first field expertly, using it like a solid force to separate the alien's claws from his daughter's throat and then push the two apart, finally freeing Maya as the others were returned -- faces frozen in silent screams -- to their cells. The scene shocked Maya deeply.
| | | |
| | | |
Maya, already fully relaxed, returned to her studies, happy nothing had
happened to her. She could easily have been taken hostage. They could
have hurt or killed her, or maybe gotten to her father and harmed him.
Why does the universe have to produce such hostile beings? she wondered. So foolish, so needlessly violent. Though the incident bothered her, it eventually faded from memory. Several species later, an older, fully metamorphic Maya met a somewhat more Psychon-like alien commander, who spoke the most outrageous and insulting lies. It would take her almost a day to find they were not lies.
On the fourth day of Tayak, 6769th year of Psychon history, Maya's homeworld came to its fiery demise....
| | | |
| | | |
Maya, shaken and still bleeding slightly, returned to Mentor for medical
attention and fatherly comforting, then retired to her room. As she
slipped off to sleep, she played the whole incident through her mind --
almost endlessly, it seemed. She was disturbed not as much by the violence
against her as the frantic desperation, their claims of being deceived and
dragged to Psychon, and their sheer terror while being recaptured. Why
had they acted so fearfully? she wondered.
She never stopped asking herself that question. By the time some almost Psychon-like "Alphans" appeared, she was already having strong feelings that not all was as it appeared. Seeing the same fear in the otherwise very controlled alien commander, along with words which were so similar to those uttered by the cat-like aliens who had taken her hostage years before, disturbed her.
"I've been lied to, assaulted, seen my people brutalized, killed!" he shouted. "Shall I go on?"
"Obviously, Commander, you have not fully recovered." she said with an insulted tone.
The alien commander kept on shouting: "Mentor betrayed us, viciously destroyed--"
Maya cut him off. "My father would harm no one!" she said in visible anger, but with a sickening uncertainty. She was about to escort him, as her father had ordered; but she paused, her doubts coming to the front and holding her in place, long enough for Koenig to marshal an additional attack.
"Why do you think Mentor wants us here?" he asked, almost innocently.
The reasons she then gave were those her father had been saying for much of her life, but they echoed emptily on the walls, disbelieved by the alien commander, and doubted by her own ears.
"Go to the pits. See what I've seen: mindless hulks, destroyed by your father!"
"That's not true!" she shouted, afraid to face the possible truth of his words, of her own worst fears.
"Maya, please, go to the pits, prove me wrong. Please, Maya!" he finally begged.
"No, you lie!" Maya shouted and fled. Her emotions in chaos, she latched onto three words: "prove me wrong." Just who was the 'me' in the statement? Yes, she would prove the alien wrong; and more importantly, destroy her own doubts once and for all.
Unfortunately, Maya soon found she could do no such thing, and on the third day of Tayak, 6769th year of Psychon history, Maya's homeworld came to its fiery demise....
\ \ \ \
/ / / /
|Such a small thing. The difference between a shield spitting a trapped alien out of the cell, or back in. From random chance in an instant of time, creating differing long-term outlooks, turning into differing destruct dates -- released gravitation straightening the Moon's course at different times, bringing about different courses, and ultimately affecting the course of hundreds of lives over years, and beyond.|
Maya, haunted with the horrifying images of the pitiful husks laboring for her father -- and herself -- fled her own dreams, trying to escape out of terrible memories and attempting to rise into consciousness. They tried, but kept hitting a barrier in their minds, a wall which had to be breached....
Finally, though, a feeling of peace and love flowed in from somewhere outside that same shell, and she calmed.
Helena saw the readouts fluctuating, once again showing the Psychon's brain-wave patterns were beating against the sedative barrier. Maya would never stop throwing mysteries at Helena, and this puzzling behavior was one more thing to discuss when Maya -- either one -- came to. For now, a few soothing voices and some gentle touches settled her back down.
The fact Nurse Adams shortly called in to report a similar incident with the other Maya startled Helena further.
John returned to the subject which had been interrupted by Maya's trouble.
"I talked to this base's Maya, and eventually found out she had already been starting to doubt her father by the time we -- this reality's copies of us I mean -- ahh, arrived. The incident that planted the seeds of doubt also left her that faint scar on her neck. Anyway, she helped us -- I mean our doppelgängers -- reach and destroy Psyche earlier in this reality than ours."
"So?" Alan asked.
"Psychon inevitably progressed to destruction, but hours earlier."
Alan quickly caught on. "The planet blew up, and the receding Moon, which was still being affected by the gravity, was suddenly free of the influence, and took a different angle out of the Psychon system, which of course took us by different -- and from what I saw of the damage here -- more dangerous planets."
"Sad, that her helping us a bit earlier could have ended with this sorry base," Helena said.
John shook his head. "Fate has been mercifully kind to us -- for the most part -- but apparently turned a cold heart to this group."
"Perhaps it's just as well the two Mayas not talk to each other," Helena said. "I think it would devastate the one belonging to this base if she were to realize her actions brought about such a more tragic reality."
"Now wait a minute, Doc," Alan started. "I don't think you can put that kind of blame on a person."
"I don't. She did the right thing in helping them out earlier than our Maya here helped us, and had no way of knowing how it would turn out. But maybe Maya herself would feel guilty. We haven't lived through the terrors these people have, and even if they don't blame Maya, they may not look at her the same way again."
During the next two days, they approached the center of the star system. Early on the morning of Day 5038, the commander of the dying moonbase entered Medical Center to find just the four people he wanted to talk to. Uncomfortable beyond belief, he blurted out what was on his mind without preamble: "You can't come with us," the white-haired man told a younger reflection of himself, though he didn't look directly at the other, instead letting his eyes wander over the other ones alien to this base: Helena, Alan, and a Maya who was just barely awake, having recovered a measure of consciousness thirty minutes before.
Despite the baldness of the statement, none of them argued the point.
At very least, the two Maya's were incompatible. This Maya had awakened, at the cost of the other, "native" one -- who was on the opposite side of the base -- screaming and fainting. She certainly could not go. The commanders found it difficult to tolerate each other, and that could easily turn into a fatal condition. Helena would stay with her John Koenig; and Alan had no intention of abandoning the others, even though he personally had no copy to contend with.
The older Commander dropped his next big statement. "We want your Eagles."
"Just like that?" Alan said. "You up and hop away with them, kicking us to the ground like some ungrateful kangaroo?"
"We are approaching this planet very closely. If it is habitable, we have a chance to get all personnel off at once. One of our Eagles is at less than a third effectiveness, and the other is two-thirds. That's like having less than one Eagle. Your two Eagles are both near full strength, with little damage, which effectively triples our capacity. Instead of forty percent, we can get everyone there, plus some equipment, and still have Eagles -- or at least one -- to use on the planet once we settle."
"I sympathize; but that leaves us nothing," Alan cried again.
"They are not really your Eagles," the older Koenig protested. "You 'borrowed' them -- so to speak -- from the pre-Breakaway Alphans."
The younger Koenig countered: "In one sense they are ours, since those pre-Breakaway people gave the Eagles to Alan and Maya. So it's up to us."
"We could take them from you."
There was a long, uncomfortable pause. "I don't want to; but I will, if I have to."
"We wouldn't be able to do much about it," Helena suddenly piped up, "but I've got a better idea."
Four days later, someone wandered the darkened halls of Alpha, smiling in the feeble light of a retreating sun shining through the transparent window. Joy surged through his being as he reveled in the transparency of the universe. As good as I had hoped. Everything goes according to Plan. Even Luck is helping Me with the Unplanned Aspects -- so Fortunate. All the Signs are Here. The New Rules over the Old. Me over the Other who showed Me how not to walk. But such Chaos around the Core.... It shall be Destroyed. Life, the only Cloudy part of it All, shall be Transparent to Me! He walked on towards the last flight of Eagles, mixing in with the humans walking towards the travel tubes, unnoticed, and slipped aboard. He could have traveled another way, but... this Way would be more informative, though I feel I must return here shortly. Something Important....
The Moon, carrying a moonbase bereft of all but one Eagle, fled towards the edge of the star system, carrying four lonely people who had been ripped from their own time, their own reality. A Moonbase with life support for only a limited section of the base; power to support only the immobile parts of Main Computer and the paltry number of control consoles which had not been removed to Haven -- the name Alibe had given to the planet -- during the final cannibalization of equipment. A few sensors remained active, and three weeks of food for four people sat in the make- shift cafeteria, in the room next to Command Center. Enough to carry them to the next star system at best -- a kind of death sentence they had accepted to allow the others a nearly full measure of supplies. Hopefully, a jump to their own reality would occur at this or the next system's hyperjump boundary -- when the Moon respectively sped up to, and slowed down from, its bizarre form of faster-than-light travel.
They were left the most-damaged Eagle, after it had made a mere two trips to the planet. It had been Helena's idea had give the other Eagles away, so long as they got at least one Eagle back, even if it was the bad Eagle. Poor transportation was better than no transportation. The others had agreed to the idea, albeit not without reluctance.
Through the last Eagle remaining with the four Alphans on Moonbase "Omega," they managed to keep in all the people who had transplanted themselves to "Haven."
The last news from those on Haven was a startling: one Helena Russell and one Tony Verdeschi had been found on the planet, and they seemed to have been the ones thought killed some years before, though they had aged a few less years than the their counterparts on Alpha -- and had a strong relationship to each other, much as the one John and Maya had formed. "We think they went through a time warp," the Maya on Haven commented through steadily increasing static.
Both Mayas had been healing since they were finally separated from each other -- the "native" Maya having been taken off the dying on the very first Eagle flight.
The static was soon becoming overwhelming, and all realized their last link was nearly gone.
"Fare thee well," the younger John Koenig had said as the transmission started breaking up.
His words barely intelligible over the static, the other, older John Koenig said, "It will be a challenge, especially to us; we appreciate your prayers." They heard both hope in his voice, through the interference, as well the same tiredness that haunted all the "Omegans." It would not be easy for them, in any way -- but at least they had a world to recover and rebuild on, instead of a doomed base.
The four mulled over the last words, and the really unusual news regarding two missing individuals now found on the planet. What force had brought those two to that planet -- the same planet the desperate "Omegans" had fled to? "Haven" indeed. A strange twist -- made even more complex for the relationships that had developed since then. No one needed to state their realization of how troubled the waters would be between John, Maya, Tony, and Helena -- the first and last of whom had been married.
Since most of the base was shut down, none of the four left there had much to do. They had a lot of time on their hands, with little entertainment, since all of the Data Disks had been removed to the planet. Not a book, not a movie, not a song -- nothing remained on the base. Terran -- Alphan -- culture had been moved to Haven. Those remaining behind -- who didn't belong in the first place -- had only their work, and each other's voices to keep them from going crazy due to sensory deprivation.
The work ran out soon for most of them: for there was little equipment left on Alpha, and little to repair it with -- just some tools the other, weary Alphans had left behind. Or did my doppelgänger spare us a little extra? Koenig wondered. He didn't have an answer to that question.
Alan sat in front of a console, looking extraordinarily bored. Helena noticed his lounging attitude, and called Alan. "You once mentioned that you wanted to learn something about Main Computer."
"When did I say that?" Alan asked, glad for the distraction.
"Day 1609," Maya stated matter-of-factly -- almost cheerfully, as she fiddled with some recalcitrant circuit in a remaining computer panel in the wall. Obviously, she was rebounding quickly.
"I think you misplaced a file in that computer in your head," Alan said.
"I think it sounds like a good idea, Alan," John said. Alan flashed him a betrayed look. At the moment, he could only think of one thing worse than hearing Maya talk for hours about a computer; and that would be to hear David Kano talk for a few minutes about a computer. Both were worse than being bored -- although Maya was pretty at least, even if unavailable.
"You could play a game of chess with her," Helena suggested.
"Oh? Who taught you?" Alan asked Maya, suspiciously.
"Tony, on Day 2190."
"Who's the last person to beat you?"
"Tony, on Day 2194."
"Forget it," Alan groaned in a defeated tone. "Logic and instinct -- Tony never stood a chance." Maya gave him a look, apparently wondering if there was another meaning hidden in it. It apparently eluded her, for she just frowned.
He sighed. "Okay, I'll take the computer lesson. At least I'll stand a chance of success." He got up and followed Maya to the Main Computer Core. Maya smiled. She still had a few repairs she could carry out, and wanted some company. Thanks to Helena and John, she had gotten it without asking. It would be a perfect lesson for Alan.
Alan shrugged to himself. Learning parts of each other's expertise was an excellent idea, and he could think of worse teachers than Maya. Actually, he couldn't think of any better.
In Command Center, Helena turned to John. "Good move, getting rid them."
"It was a team effort," John stated, holding out his hands to her.
Helena smiled, walked over, and allowed him to pull her onto his lap. Their mutual warmth brought an immediate response. No, they couldn't exactly indulge in that... They found themselves kissing. "Isn't this too public a place for this?" Helena teased at the first pause.
"Oh, Maya will keep him busy for hours."
"Are you sure?"
"You missed Maya's wink at me?"
Helena pulled back, a flabbergasted look on her face. "She winked? Oh, come on John. You've got to be joking."
"I won't say."
"Is this a test?"
John smiled. "I won't say."
Helena gave him a mock slap, saying, "You're horrible!"
"Oh... not that horrible. Rather... ahh...." She didn't finish the sentence.
Maybe they were letting their emotions run a little more freely than usual, but after the repressingly depressive atmosphere around all the hopeless others, it seemed only natural to restore their spirits.
Dave Reilly had finally reappeared on Day 2522 -- in his own quarters, of all places. Sandra and Bob Mathias had interviewed him, with no luck. The man did not remember anything, despite reappearing in distinctly non-Alphan clothes -- something mildly inspired by the Old West of America, which somehow didn't seem too surprising. Sandra ordered the clothes taken to some research labs, to see if anything unusual could be found on them.
With Reilly's reappearance, only John Koenig, Helena Russell, Tony Verdeschi, Maya, Alan Carter, and Paul Morrow remained unaccounted for. Apparently, it was going to be first gone, last to return. Those five had vanished from a meeting, and had probably ended up going to the same place or time, and would return together. Or so she hoped.
Sandra had been in command for three days now, and was actually enjoying it. No further crisis had occurred, so it wasn't really a true test; but there were enough challenges shuffling requests, giving advice, and assigning priorities, amongst many other things, to keep her busy. Shuffling data, and communicating -- two things Sandra loved to do.
A few days later -- Day 5044 -- a brief but piercing scream flew through the corridors.
The three looked at each other. It had been Maya. They ran to her temporary quarters, and signalled on the door. Almost immediately, to their relief, Maya responded, "Yes?"
"Can we come in?"
"We heard a scream."
There was a pause of several seconds. Then the door sighed open. Maya was still in Alphan-style bed-clothes, and she seemed to be breathing somewhat more heavily.
"What is it?" Helena asked in a concerned voice.
"It was just a nightmare," Maya said with a flick of her fingers.
Helena would not let it be dismissed that quickly, however. "Just a nightmare? You almost never get them anymore. What was it about?"
Maya shook her head, and John took it for a refusal to discuss it. "Maya, please tell us. With all that's going on, it may be important."
She shook her head again, and followed with an explanation: "I would, but I can't remember it."
John and Alan accepted the explanation, but Helena pursued the issue. "Isn't forgetting a dream rather unusual for you?"
John looked at Helena. "Do you think it may be important?"
"Perhaps. Hypnotism could often help...."
"But?" John prompted when she trailed off.
"But it doesn't work on her," Helena answered. "I've tried before. She was willing to relax and go along with it, but I still couldn't put her in a suggestible state."
"I'm not surprised," John stated, not totally in reference to her alienness. Suggestibility varied considerably, even in humans; and many strong-willed people simply could not be hypnotized.
"Is there another way?"
Helena nodded. "A prompting session. I can't hypnotize her; but I could get her relaxed, and ask a series of questions, to attempt to trigger memories."
"Okay, sounds good," John said.
"I'll need you two to leave -- to minimize distractions."
Neither looked happy at the request -- besides wanting to know, they had nothing else to do -- but they complied.
Helena walked to the door, and used the panel to turn down the lights in Maya's temporary quarters. The Psychon sat on the edge of her bed, tension keeping her spine ramrod straight, and her hands clenched. Helena could see that the dream bothered Maya greatly, even if she couldn't remember it. The doctor had no idea how successful she would be at recovering the nightmare, but something told her -- as it had told John and Alan -- that it might somehow be important. This was in Bob's area, but she would try to make a go of it.
The doctor instructed the science officer to lie back on her bed. The latter did so, without a word. Helena reflected on how the gesture had bothered many a human patient (here, lie back on the couch, and tell me about your mother -- not that any sensible psychologist actually says the last part nowadays), but it didn't seem to bother the Psychon.
"Now close your eyes, and relax. Breathe deeply." The first breath taken and released came in a gasp. What the hell is bothering her? Helena wondered, surprised by Maya's reaction. "Again, this time deeper, and longer." It didn't take long for Maya to calm down. She may not be receptive to hypnosis, but she sure has incredible control over her own body, Helena reflected for not the first time. Built-in biofeedback. It takes months to train a human for such control -- then again, maybe that's the first step in training a Psychon to use their metamorphic potential. Then the image of Dorzak came back, and Helena recalled how he had "lifted" the ability from Maya, seemingly bypassing all training. Maya had no explanation for Dorzak -- his telepathic abilities, his ability to learn her power, or his evil. He remained a disturbing enigma. One Maya understandably did not like to discuss.
Helena started at Maya's voice. The other had raised her head, wondering at the long pause.
"Sorry. Let's continue. Put your head back down, and keep breathing slowly, deeply, calmly.... Now, imagine...." Helena paused. From a generally unused part of her training, Helena had been about to take Maya "on a walk through the park" -- a common strategy was to bring out relaxing images of nature -- but had realized that the Psychon might not relate well to a park on Earth, and there had been little Psychon nature left when Maya was born, and none later. So she found the next best -- if rather pale -- alternative.
"Imagine the Biosphere. You walk into the area, and see the apple trees, with their green leaves..." Maya's almost instantaneous smile caught Helena off-guard, before she recalled that Maya and Tony had been lying under the blooming apple trees for a not inconsiderable time some weeks before. Helena smiled, happy that she had found one of Maya's happy memories -- it would help the process. Helena was about to ask her first question, trying to help the other find the memories of the nightmare; but Maya offered something instead.
"A smaller tree is growing under the apple trees."
Stunned, Helena swallowed the question she had intended to ask. Without any true prompting, Maya had thrown out a statement, which was very unusual. For a human, she realized. Not knowing what else to do, and wondering what Maya had meant, Helena followed along.
"How small is the little tree?" Helena asked, finding herself on more familiar ground: it was a going to be a prompting session after all, though Helena wasn't sure whether Maya was actually discussing the nightmare at all.
"A sprout, to tug at."
"Tug at it, then," Helena ordered automatically, though softly, wondering if she had perhaps hypnotized the alien after all.
Maya opened her eyes a bit, startling Helena, refuting her last hypothesis. "Play the game," Maya said softly, deep in her accent, almost as if adrift in a sea of near-total calm. You are my ystra -- opponent. Take the initiative, or lose," Maya concluded, closing her drowsy-looking eyes again. Maya was not hypnotized, but was obviously adrift somewhere close to sleep, right where Helena had wanted her to be in the first place.
Helena's thoughts swirled, trying to make sense of the other's words, wondering what they meant. Play the game? The feeling of being on familiar ground had vanished, for it had been an illusion. Helena bridled at Maya's presumption, but let the feeling pass. If Maya wanted to take over the session with some strange game, so be it. Take the initiative, or lose. Helena took the initiative. "I tug at the sprout, and pull it out."
"Out comes a piece of fruit."
Fruit? Out of the ground? 'Fruits of Labor?' No, that's too human of an expression, and this game sounds very Psychon. Helena took a chance, not knowing what else to do. "I take a bite from the fruit."
"It is sour."
Sure as hell sounds like a battle. "I drop it, and spit out what I have in my mouth."
"The tilarik fruit splatters, and the shell inside breaks."
Shell inside? What kind of fruit is that? She must mean the pit. Helena felt herself getting way out of her depth, but struggled to make a go of it, thinking that perhaps Maya knew what she was doing -- for Helena no longer did. "I lean down to see what's inside."
"A ralkoa bug -- fully grown -- flies out." Maya was smiling. Helena had no idea what was funny.
"I follow after it," was all Helena could think of.
"It flies high. How do you follow?"
It seemed like a parry, and Helena didn't at first know how to respond. Then she found inspiration. "An Eagle."
Maya's brow furrowed. "The bird, or the spaceship?"
So far, the "game" had been filled with odd ambiguities; but apparently, this kind of ambiguity was not allowed. Not knowing what to do, Helena took the response which seemed riskier: "The spaceship."
"Ooohhh. You cheat in transforming into the non-living."
Uncharacteristically, Helena nearly shouted an obscenity, but Maya was continuing in a far-away voice, "Instead of declaring EndGame, I claim Even Trade. I fly into space in an Eagle instead, and reach a planet with buildings on it."
Now, Helena seemed to have gotten somewhere, literally. The next move was Helena's. But how do I get her to describe the planet without actually asking? She didn't know anything about this game, but had found that simply "asking" about something was against the rules. In order to get anywhere, Helena had to let her imagination run free. "A storm blows up, and a downdraft forces you to the ground. The crash starts a fire in the Eagle."
"I flee the Eagle," Maya said.
A normal prompting session was supposed to be a series of questions, each answer being taken into account when forming the next, more specific, question -- a kind of Twenty Questions. Maya had not followed along. This "game" seemed a poor way to go about dream recovery, for Helena's every move changed the story, and how could that help? "The storm is powerful, and it starts hailing. The approaching clouds look even darker. You have no shelter."
Helena realized how she seemed to be routing Maya at her own game. Either Maya was rusty, or she was letting Helena get away with it. Helena suspected the latter, though she couldn't say why.
"The Municipal Building reaches out and swallows me."
Helena gasped, startled by the strangeness of the response. Now what do I do with that? Helena realized this was something important, but struggled to find some way of building on it. Pun intended.
She decided to adapt one of Maya's earlier responses. "Buildings do not swallow people. But I will allow it, in return for a favor." It was a daring initiative, an attempt to recover some control.
Maya paused, then said, "I accept the Reprieve."
Helena smiled. She had control, at last -- or so she thought. "Describe your surroundings, in great detail."
"Is that all?" was the amused response. "It is of alien construction. I am in a large, cavernous room, with black ceilings, purple walls, and a brown cross-hatched floor of soft material. The light coming through the windows is brilliant, but the ceiling absorbs it all, except for thin, bright lines which break the monotony of the ceiling. There are tables all around me, with chairs at each. Some of the chairs are moving, half of them switching sides on the tables, then jumping out at me. I run, but they follow -- all of them now, mismatched pairs running and tangling."
Maya's breath was now coming in ragged gasps, and all attempts to play a game were abandoned as her frightened monologue continued unabated. "The doors are locked. I try to transform into a bird to fly over them, but I cannot. They catch up and jump on me, pressing me down forcefully." The words were coming in a terrified rush.
"I struggle, but they have fused to the floor, preventing any hope of escape. Footsteps approach, and my heart pounds." The doctor's was also pounding, unnoticed for Helena's rapt attention on Maya. "Footsteps. I call out, but there is only amused laughter. Someone floats into view... Someone...."
It was the nightmare, Helena could see, and she reverted back to human prompting, sweeping aside the last of Maya's game -- for Maya herself had seemingly abandoned it by giving so much information. Maya hadn't said any more, so Helena ask, "Who is it, Maya?"
"A leering face."
"Whose?" Helena insisted.
Helena's mouth fell open, disturbed by all the possible implications.
Silence. Maya said nothing more, and Helena found herself unable to go on for a moment. "And what does he do?" she finally asked.
But Maya did not answer the question. "The game is over, you have won."
Maya's breath started easing, and the tension slowly left the Psychon's body.
Helena remained rigid in her seat. Obviously, Maya had nothing else to provide -- or wasn't going to offer it. Helena looked at Maya, realizing she seemed hypnotized. Too curious to resist even under the circumstances -- or perhaps because of the circumstances -- Helena tried something.
"When you wake up, you will immediately get up, walk over to the sink, and bring me a glass of water."
Maya's eyes opened up, and there was a puzzled expression on her face. "Why? Are you thirsty? Wake up when? I was never asleep."
Nope, no luck there. She wasn't hypnotized -- at least not in any way I understand. "You remember everything?"
Maya nodded. "You played the Metamorphic Game surprisingly well for a novice."
Helena had no idea what to say. Her guts were still twisted.
Seeing Helena's expression, Maya's became concerned. "I'm sorry. I should have warned you. It's the Metamorphic Game, where you make moves to try to corner the other. My father taught it to me. It seemed like a good way to... ahh... free associate, I believe you call it, and get to the dream."
"It was... interesting," Helena said diplomatically, though a bit coolly. "You will have to tell me all about it sometime."
"Did my words mean anything to you?" Maya asked in a more sober voice.
"I'm not sure. I'll have to think it over. Thanks... I think."
Maya's expression seemed worried, so Helena smiled, albeit a bit stiffly. "I don't mind. It was quite a surprise, and it seemed to work well for you. Now, I think I'll leave you to get back to sleep or something."
"I don't think I can sleep again right now. I'll take a shower and take over watch in Command Center." Helena nodded, then excused herself from the room Maya was using. Alan was not in sight, but John was just down the hallway, waiting -- and not very patiently either.
"So... find out anything?" he asked as he walked towards her. Before she started replying, John added something else. "Jeez, you're sweating. Was her nightmare that bad?"
"It wasn't her nightmare as much as the method we used to get at it."
"I'll explain later. Let's go to the cafeteria."
After grabbing a bite to eat, Helena recounted Maya's dream. When she finished, John glanced away and frowned, trying to make sense of it all.
"Swallowed by a building and attacked by chairs? I don't get it. You know what her nightmare image of me is all about? A premonition, perhaps? It sounds crazy, I know, but we've seen a lot of crazy things."
"Maybe; but it doesn't matter much if I can't interpret the dream images. Beyond simple relaxation and prompting techniques, I have no training or experience in dream interpretation. It is a complicated subject filled with uncertainty, since each person's use of images differs to some extent. Even Bob would have had trouble here. Maya played an alien mind game, using images riddled with metamorphic symbolisms which would mean a lot more to a fellow Psychon than us. As similar as she often seems to us, she's still an alien mind who grew up in an alien culture, and the mix with Terran influences only complicates everything. She claimed the building was of alien construction, so it's an alien interpreting more alienness. The only obvious thing is being swallowed and attacked by an alien force, and being laughed at by you, as if you're under alien influence."
"Or a copy of me," John mused, with a tone of amused irony after all that had happened. "Wait, you said the building was alien construction. Alien to her?"
"I was thinking alien to us."
"Moonbase Alpha may no longer seem alien to her; but Earth would."
Helena debated the possibility. "She never said what 'alien' meant, or what planet it was on. I'm sorry, I should have asked.... But she would have called that foul, I think."
"What did she say the building was?" Alan asked.
"She didn't. She just described.... Wait. She called it the Principal Building."
"A symbol for Command Center?" Koenig asked.
"Maybe," Russell said. "No. It wasn't 'Principal Building.' It was the 'Municipal Building.' "
Koenig's brow furrowed. "Municipal Building." It tickled at him, teasing some memory which wouldn't reveal itself. "Maybe it refers to Earth after all."
"Like from our childhood. The U.S. Government. City Hall. Circuit Court. Remember all that?"
John remembered a lot more. "City Hall! We can't fight City Hall forever."
"New Earth. When Magus tried to influence get me to make love to Maya. We were semi-conscious of what was happening, and that's what I said to her."
"You never mentioned those words to me before," Helena said sharply.
"I hadn't remembered until now."
Helena dropped the subject. She too remembered feeling Magus's influence, and saying something to Tony, but being unable to fight it. "Magus. Purple walls -- his robes? Ceilings crisscrossed by thin, bright lines -- like his laser attack. A brown cross-hatched floor?"
"His sandals," John supplied.
"Your leering face -- a crude expression of sexual desire?"
"What he wanted me to feel for Maya. What about the chairs and tables?"
"They were switching sides -- his intent again. But they were also pinning her down -- but who or what do the chairs represent? It might be more of a Psychon image."
"Oh, Christ," Alan exclaimed. "Just what we need. Another Magus wandering around this reality."
"We know how to fight him," Helena said.
"We haven't even seen him," John said. "Furthermore, we may not be able to trap him in the same way a second time."
"If we can believe our interpretation of her dream," Alan said.
"A dream is an awful weak thread to go on," Helena agreed.
"Yet the imagery seems awfully strong," John countered. Helena nodded, almost vigorously.
"It may just be a memory," Alan said.
"Dredged up by what?" John asked.
"Good point," Alan conceded. You think we should take this dream of hers seriously?"
"I think we should take it as a possibility," the commander said, "and start figuring out a defense we could use."
In Command Center, Maya mulled over her recovered nightmare as she tried to repair her still-erratic console on this alternate Alpha. The equipment was not in very good condition, and she found herself having to cannibalize parts from some of the less-essential work-stations, adding to the entropic appearance of this base.
She had relieved Alan, who was now sleeping in another room; while John and Helena were... elsewhere. A pang of jealousy briefly surged through her. John and Helena were together in this reality. They had each other, while she had been forcibly separated from Tony.
She immediately felt guilty for the thought. She should have been happy those two were together, for Alphan couples had been separated in various ways -- countless times it seemed -- and this shouldn't have seemed any different. So why did the emptiness feel so much more acute? Why did it get harder and harder each time? Her mind skittered away from the obvious answer, not wanting to make the vacuum of emptiness grow. The feeling was still hard to avoid. Thirteen days, her habitually calculating mind said, answering a question she hadn't really wanted to ask. It seemed like months. Thirteen confusing days of a duplicate Tony who was not the one she loved, and a duplicate John who loved another version of her. And the man she loved? Somewhere -- sometime -- else somehow less real in a way, on an Alpha alien to this Moonbase, down shifting, metamorphic streams of events....
She shook her head, almost violently. She would get back to him. Somehow.
She paused. It really does seem like months. Unlike her friends, Maya's exacting time sense was not prone to the feeling that time was longer or shorter than it really was -- so why do I feel it now? She put her slim fingers to her temple -- a seemingly universal gesture of thoughtfulness she had picked up from Mentor as a child. But she had picked up many little habits from the earth-people, and had adapted to their culture, with its more or less integrated internal cultures. Perhaps she had started to feel some of their same feelings -- even ones that were alien to her own. She didn't know whether to think this good or bad, then decided that a messed up time sense was yet another way the time warps were playing cruel games with her body and mind.
Realizing she had done nothing but sit and stare at a wall for five minutes, she stood, picked up the repair kit, knelt on the back side of the console -- the side nearer to the Big Screen -- and removed a panel. With the help of a flashlight, she closely scrutinized the circuitry, finding it was heavily scored, as if short-circuited. She sighed; this one would not be as easy to fix as the previous ones.
Maya reached over the console surface and shut down power to this area of circuits.
Memories of Alan's company for the past two weeks flitted through her mind, and she felt a surge of warmth. He had been such wonderful company through it all. He had smoothed her introduction to the pre-Breakaway Alpha, saving her freedom -- and perhaps her life -- having prevented everyone from sharing in Simmonds' hostility. Maya was amazed at how well he seemed to take it all, especially the duplicate part, which she herself had difficulty with (indeed, she was still unable to transform). He had even managed to keep a sense of humor.
Why didn't he have a steady relationship? He was such a warm, strong, attractive man, with so much to give. Certainly, she had noticed.... Maya caught herself, suddenly confused by her own feelings towards Alan, then confused by the recognition she even had such feelings for him, even if only a little bit. From what she understood, those feelings were supposed to be for Tony, and she was dismayed that her feelings could start wandering in such a short period of time. She felt mortified by guilt, and frightened someone would discover her feelings, and tell Tony. Or maybe Tony would realize it himself....
She shook her head -- the second time she had done that in ten minutes -- trying to clear her feelings. Tony wasn't like some of the jealous men in certain forms of human literature. Well maybe a little... but he was used to her flirtatious nature, realizing it wasn't a sign of desire; and though she could easily have had half the men of Alpha, that was not her desire, as much as it might be theirs. She thought Tony understood that -- she thought that is what she herself felt.
She still had some difficulty with the concept of jealousy. For people who were not unlike Psychons, there were still differences. One was their tendency to overreact to some of the most innocuous things. Even simple friendliness or humor between the sexes could sometimes be misinterpreted. It was the "sometimes" part that proved difficult. Different people, slightly different situations, and different viewpoints all around. If they couldn't even agree on what meant what, how could Maya? As much as she had learned to adapt to over aspects of Alpha and its people, she had long since given up trying to figure some of these things out, and decided to let herself act naturally. It seemed no less a valid approach than anyone else's, and allowed her to concentrate on other issues. Sometimes -- like now -- those same questions would arise again.
In attempt to distract herself from a rising tide of confusion, she turned back to her work. She tried to carefully tug a circuit board out, but with little success, which frustrated Maya. She was intent on her work that she ignored the opening of the rear doors for a moment. When she looked over the console to see who had arrived, it took her stunned mind almost half a second to identify the distinctly unwelcome visage who had swept in. "Magus!" she gasped, immediately drawing his unwanted attention directly to her.
Magus, for his part, seemed just as surprised by Maya's appearance from behind the console.
"Maya! They left you here? The Psychon, abandoned by her Earthly friends?" Then he paused. Magus seemed terribly confused to Maya, even to the point that his over-done I-Am-God pontificating, which Maya remembered well, had disappeared. "No, you... left for the planet," he finally said.
In one sense, the statement was literally true, and Maya decided to play a little game, hoping to confuse him more and keep him off-guard. After all, turnabout was fair play, as some of the Terrans liked to say. "Yes, I am on the planet."
Magus appeared to concentrate for a moment, but not long enough to allow Maya to do anything useful, for he looked back at her before she could do more than look at her commlock. "Ah, yes," he said. "You are indeed on the planet. Then what are you? An image? A device?"
Maya pondered the implications of his not being able to sense her immediate presence, and the fact that he seemed truly lost, making assumptions and flying down paths of wild speculation. While Magus distracted himself with his comic display of confusion, Maya reached for her commlock, hoping to warn the others. Unfortunately, Magus spotted her. His features sharpened in a shrewd look which gave Maya the distinctly uncomfortable feeling he had been deceiving her with his show of confusion, in an attempt to draw her out. His words only seemed to confirm he had succeeded.
"Except... you are not an image or a device. You are too alive, too real." He stressed the last word, almost as if playing on its similarity to the word reality. "And you knew my name," he added, making Maya regret the impulse which had made her blurt his name aloud. "You bear the Spirit of Another Place," he continued. "You connect to the Hidden Line which has expanded and snagged the Main Line." This Magus seemed to talk in even more vague terms than the one she had met before; but even so, Maya could understand that he had recognized her of another reality and even another time, even if he couldn't sense her presence, as he claimed -- or had that been a lie too?
"I saw your desire to communicate. You are allowed to call to your friends. This concerns all of them." He had not listed the others, leaving Maya unsure as to whether he really knew who was here. There was no way of being certain. She finally pulled out her commlock and called John. "Commander, Magus is here," were her four simple words.
A pause, then one word in response: "Understood." She didn't hear any surprise in his voice, and wondered at it. She and Magus remained silent. Maya because she didn't want to reveal anything; and Magus seemingly because he wanted a larger audience, one which contained the commander.
Years before, in the reality Maya knew, Magus had pulled the Moon to a small planet, New Earth, claiming to be the Creator -- God -- and coerced four of them to the planet, partially through their own desperate desire to find a habitable planet. Once there, Magus trapped them, shutting out all contact and preventing Alpha from sending a rescue Eagle. Magus then attempted to manipulate her to mate with John, and Tony with Helena, opposite of their existing relationships. He almost succeeded. Then they discovered the horribly mutated results of his last mating experiments, intelligent creatures so utterly tormented genetically and mentally by Magus -- the "Last of the cosmic wizards" -- that they preferred to die. Ultimately, the Alphans figured out the secret of his extraordinary -- almost omnipotent -- powers: a Light Decelerator, a device which gained energy by slowing light particles down. Through a simple and exceedingly primitive trick, the four Alphans got Magus to fall into a tree-branch-covered pit which deprived him of his needed light. They escaped, while Magus' planet- -lacking the force Magus used to hold it together against the Moon's unwelcome gravity -- blew up around him.
Finally, after four minutes, John walked into Command Center, coming to stand less than two meters from the powerful and dangerous "wizard." Maya also edged closer, feeling the proximity was somehow important. His slight expression towards her seemed to affirm her action.
"Well, Magus?" the commander finally asked. "What do you want?"
The commander's words were a pre-arranged signal. All of the light vanished. The overhead panels, Big Screen, small monitors, consoles, even the blinking lights on all the computer panels went out. The doors, designed to be completely sealed against a hull breach, provided not the slightest sliver of light. Command Center was blacker than star-lit space itself. Magus was reduced to merely human -- or at least had been stripped of his "supernatural" power, whose source was light photons, slowed down by his "light decelerator," giving him energy. Lasers would only give him the needed energy, so John once again went for the primitive.
In the dark, he leapt for the space where Magus stood, meaning to knock Magus out. But Magus was not standing there, and John jumped through empty air, landing hard on the floor a couple of meters beyond. Maya had heard Magus step aside, closer to her, so she attacked him, likewise hoping to knock him out if possible -- even though she could not transform -- or at least hold him for the commander. But Magus was too quick, knocking her aside. The wind rushed out of her as she slammed into a console. The noises allowed Koenig to locate Magus again, and he managed to find and get a hold on Magus. Maya recovered her breath, just as Magus threw John off. Magus was still standing and now revealed a light source, a strange glowing orb. Maya threw herself at him, hoping to knock the orb out of his hand, before he could make any use of the light energy. But he already had: she struck a force field and collapsed in a dizzy heap at his feat.
John started towards Maya, but Magus' eyes flashed a warning; and John halted, realizing Magus would treat an approach as further hostility. John's mind picked the most inappropriate moment to recall words spoken by another Magus when he had first appeared within Alpha years before: "You don't have to bow down and adore me." Maya wasn't in a good enough condition at the moment to actually bow, but the words seemed to have some sick relevance.
Maya slowly gathered herself, wondering when these alternate universes would stop abusing her so much. For a moment, she thought she recalled something she didn't previously remember experiencing; but the feeling instantly faded, before she could even bring it to the surface. She tried to push away from Magus at the same time she attempted to get up, but to her surprise, Magus reached down to help. She almost recoiled from his touch, but resisted the urge and allowed him to pull her to her feet. It was the first time an Alphan had actually touched him, and she found he felt like any other humanoid: warm flesh.
Magus shook his head. "It never ceases to amaze me how you people will blindly attack a force of unknown power, underestimating its capabilities. As always, it was foolish," he chided. "Yet it was a clever attack, and proves you came from the Realm of the Lost Other. I have come prepared, as you can well see," he said, holding up the strange glowing orb, which was the only source of light in the room. It was hard to even look at Magus, for the globe shone with incredible brilliance. "But I assure you," he continued, "your fears are unnecessary. I do not have the designs he had on you."
"How can we be sure of that?" John asked. "The 'Lost Other,' as you called him, tried to make us believe he was God, deceiving us on that and his ultimate purpose for us."
Magus laughed, "God. Yes, I know about his Game. A little 'full of himself,' as you humans would say. He had some rather disturbed ideas. He was already Lost before you dispatched him. Now please, have the lights turned up, so I can turn off this device. It hurts your eyes to look at it."
John wondered what limitations the orb had. Perhaps Magus only wanted the Command Center lights back on to conserve the orb's energy. He looked at Maya, but she only gave the slightest of shrugs. The same thought had occurred to her, but she had no way of knowing the answer without further information.
On Day 2523, Sandra relinquished her temporary authority to Paul, who had abruptly appeared in the hallway outside of the meeting room where the officers had disappeared from, actually standing and conscious in this case. He was the first officer to reappear since Sandra herself. Oddly, Paul had jumped seven days forward, which was the same number of days Victor had jumped back.
"Maya's balanced transfer," Paul said in response, with some sarcasm in his voice. Sandra merely smiled a bit, not wanting to join in Paul's statement. Yes, Maya had grossly underestimated the phenomenon, but it seemed unfair to make fun of the usually keen science officer.
Magus made several appearances over the next couple of days, trying to convince the Alphans of his innocent intent. He acted hurt when they showed their distrust.
"But where does he go when he's not here? Haven?" Helena wondered.
"Probably," Maya said. "Close proximity to the sun would certainly give him more of the energy he needs than his little orb."
"It isn't even the same planet," Alan said.
"We know he can get around to different planets," John said. That topic exhausted, he moved on to another concern: "I think he's also watching our counterparts, secretly," John said. "He wanted alternative pairs, and he's already got those nice and neat on Haven: my copy and Maya; Tony and Helena."
"If they aren't reverting to their previous relationships," Maya said. "After all, John and Helena were married."
"I don't know. By this time, their new relationships may feel a lot stronger than the memory of their old loves."
"But their old loves aren't memories anymore," Maya said.
"That is what will cause them problems," Helena said again, this time not adding anything else. Maya and Alan had nothing to add.
"Now that he has them, Magus wants to keep the current pairs together," Alan said.
"I also doubt those Alphans ever met him," Maya said.
"Still, he's got exactly what he wants, so I don't think he'd show himself until necessary."
"He knew about the other Magus -- our Magus!" John suddenly recalled.
"Then he won't make the same mistakes," Helena concluded. "Can't we warn them somehow?"
"We're out of range," was the simple, unfortunate response from Alan.
The next day -- 5046 -- Magus appeared again. He only started talking for a few minutes, then his face contorted in an agony of unknown origin. He started yelling some gibberish, then fixed his gaze on the commander for a moment. A chill ran through them all at the sight of Magus's almost insanely enraged expression. Then he turned from the commander.
When his fiery eyes had swept over Maya, she unconsciously backed up a few steps; but he otherwise ignored her, instead fixing his glare on the side entrance of Command Center. Maya's eyes followed his, then widened at the vision which appeared.
He simply materialized out of thin air, just inside Command Center. No glare or swirls of light, no shimmering -- nothing. He just snapped into existence.
Maya gasped, and stood rooted to where she was standing, too surprised and uncertain to approach. Was it really Tony?
Verdeschi saw Magus first. He reached for his stun gun, but held his hand, remembering how the energy could strengthen the so-called "wizard."
"So! You are behind all of this!" Tony shouted.
But Magus was still clutching at his head, bellowing in pain. Alan tried to approach, to separate the alien from his orb; but a force field was shearing the air, and Alan drew back in pain. Magus looked at Alan with hatred, and the latter instinctively backed up another few steps, as if from a wounded, angry devil.
Maya ran up to Tony, and they hugged each other fiercely, even sharing a brief kiss before Magus bellowed in rage. "STOP!" He waved his hand, and Maya and Tony screamed in pain. Magus had activated the magnetic cocoons the other Magus had used on New Earth to pair the Alphans the way he wanted. This time, Maya and Tony had been embracing, and there was far more than just a point of contact. Crackles of repulsive energy had formed between them -- and it was a painful shock that threw them apart and to the floor.
They slowly got up, Maya aided by John, and Tony by Helena. Magus smiled, and it was a smile of mad delight. The incredible self-control was gone, seemingly burnt away by the temporal distortion which had deposited Tony here. He no longer cared about maintaining an appearance of benevolence. That deception had evaporated in a moment.
After helping Maya and Tony, John and Helena tried touching. A shock. The same trick, all over again. Magus trying to pair them the way he wanted, rather than the way the Alphans wanted.
"You can't influence us in the same way anymore!" John said.
"We remember your tricks from the last time!" Tony shouted.
"We are not of your reality," Maya followed. "You can't touch our minds the way your doppelgänger did over there."
"We are not cattle, to be herded about!" Helena asserted. "Your magnetic fields cannot alter our existing attractions, or bend our will."
"I will not tolerate your messing with my friends!" Alan shouted.
Magus rounded on Carter. "But will they tolerate my 'messing' with you?" A sparkling field of energy appeared, pounding at Alan. The force drove him to his knees, and he grunted in pain at every blow. Magus could not influence them by subtle means in this reality, only by gross methods.
The others stared helplessly and horrified at the scene, knowing they could do nothing to intervene.
"I can kill him if I so desire!" Magus shouted, and it sounded like the thunder of a god: a petty god -- or more accurately, a devil. "I will, if you do not follow my wishes."
"Your demands!" the commander corrected, trying to stall for time.
"Mere semantics," Magus dismissed, roaring with insane laughter. Then he frowned. "Seems I'm needed on Haven," he said, almost calmly, looking right in the commander's eyes. "Got to make sure you stay with Maya; and Helena and Tony do not rashly sever their bonds, after it had so many years to form."
"So that's what happened. You separated them. Taking Helena and Tony's Eagle, making it look like an accidental explosion. Then working them over for your own ends."
"What God put together, let no man tear asunder."
It was a sick joke -- even for Magus.
Magus laughed again, but it was simply an ironic, amused laugh, not the insane laugh. It still had an air-chilling sound. "But no, that's what I tried. The explosion was unexpected, and I thought I had lost them. Their reappearance on this planet is a surprise, as is the bond they formed. My hand was not touching them, and I didn't even have to move the Other You or Other Maya together. You did it on your own. It was almost too easy. Now I have two sets to find the answer with. One is almost all the way, if I can stop them from throwing it away. And you four... well, you'll take some work. My Other couldn't interest you in my proposal. It's your loss, but not mine. I still get what I want, and maybe your offspring will find the appeal in my words. I offer so much, and ask so little."
With a sound of blowing air, Magus vanished.
Everyone was now pale.
"So little?" Tony mumbled, aghast at the implications as he looked at Maya. Not being able to touch Maya was a very unpleasant prospect. When he reached for her, she also reached out, experimenting. A stinging shock was the verification of the cocoons' continued influence. Similarly, John and Helena reached toward each other, only to experience an identical result.
The four looked at each other uncomfortably. Alan, feeling close to fainting from the beating, broke the silence with an accurate evaluation of Magus: "Insane," he muttered. "Absolutely crackers."
While Alan recovered from a sprained arm and bruised ribs in a make-shift treatment room, the others desperately searched for a way out, and tried to think of a way of warning the other Alphans, now over a light-day away.
"Aren't there any indications of a coming time warp?" John asked Maya when they were all together with Alan.
"This equipment is terrible, but no, there are not any tachyon fields in evidence. They have preceded and followed every time-jump, but there are none here now."
"And we can't generate any," Tony said.
"Correct," Maya said.
"Damn," John said.
"I've been having nightmares about this," Helena said. "I'd rather blow ourselves up then submit to the wishes of Magus."
The others muttered their agreement, particularly Alan, whom Magus seemed to have little use for.
"That's it!" Maya suddenly exclaimed.
"What's it?" Tony said.
"Blow up the Moon!" Everyone gave her a look indicating they were wondering about her sanity. It was the kind of look she might have misunderstood years ago, but she could easily read it now. "No, I am not as crazy as I sound."
"Which still makes you a little crazy," Tony muttered jokingly, though still concerned about Maya.
Maya gave Tony an irritated, almost hurt look; but Alan leapt to Maya's defense. "I probably said something like that when she said we should float our Eagles over the Breakaway explosion."
"You did what?" Tony said, not having heard the whole story of Maya and Alan on that Alpha.
"So how does blowing up the Moon help?" John demanded impatiently.
"You know how the Moon travels faster-than-light between star systems?"
"Yes, at the Space-Normal Boundary," Tony started. "Something like a gigantic hyperspace field surrounds us, and then we skip across space at over a hundred times the speed-of-light, while everything inside our space- normal boundary feels... ah, normal."
"Yes," she verified his explanation aloud. "The field is much larger than our Eagle range, which is why we can fly around the Moon at what seems like normal slower-than-light speeds, even though the Moon is flying at hyper-light velocity."
"Like walking around in an Eagle," Alan commented. "You think you're going a meter per second or something, even though the Eagle -- and everyone aboard -- is actually travelling at thousands of kilometers per second."
Maya nodded, then continued. "Stars form their own space-normal boundaries, but they are far larger."
"I heard that," Helena said. "But I don't understand why stars don't fly around at faster-than-light speeds."
"They are... anchored," Maya said, "which is a whole subject itself."
"Okay, later," Helena said. "If the Moon blows up, won't the field collapse?"
Once again, Maya was startled at how quickly humans could come to an understanding -- however partial -- of complex subjects. They learned quickly enough to start asking very intelligent questions in short order. Even after all these years, the Terrans continued to surprise her at every turn, showing the enormous potential of Alpha. Many had taken a metaphysical turn -- supposing that something, or someone, was taking an interest in them. She had not experienced some of the mysterious things of their first year in space, but Maya sensed much of how it had shaken up these people.
"Yes, when the Moon blows up, its mass will be rapidly dispersed, and the field will collapse."
"What good does that do?" John asked. His question was not a dumb one. They really did not have any way to guess the next part -- unless by a lucky guess.
"I'd have to run some calculations to double-check, but I'm almost certain it would produce enormous quantities of tachyons."
Tachyons, a word -- and a phenomenon -- they had been tripping over at every turn. Ironic, considering they still had no direct way to detect them with Alpha's equipment. It had all been obscure patterns in other particle fields.
Alan gave a dark smile. "Our Moon was so weakened by Breakaway, other gravitational fields, and the intentional detonation to avoid Tora. It should blow up with ease, eh?"
Maya was puzzled by the flippant tone, but nodded.
John shook his head. "But these people didn't come anywhere near Tora, so this Moon didn't have that particular shock.
"Maybe not," Tony said. "But we -- us I mean -- never set off our whole stock, either. If we did, the Moon might have cracked right then and there. Instead, we can make this one do it right here and now, instead."
"If it's that weak," Helena said.
"Good point. Alan, see if there's any data left in the computers about this Moon's physical state. Tony, start getting together detonation supplies-- Wait, are we sure the others left us any?"
Tony shrugged, not knowing the whole situation with this base, but Alan said, "I really doubt they would take that sort of stuff with them."
"You're probably right. Try finding any such supplies, but don't load them on the Eagle yet. I don't want Magus to get suspicious when he arrives again. Just make all the other preparations. Maya, you run your calculations."
"Maya?" Alan interjected. She turned to him, and he continued. "Back on the Moon we were on -- the pre-Breakaway one, I mean," he floundered for a moment. Jumping time was still making hash of English. "You talked about the fields having a mass, and how some other things would determine where we would go -- though you could never get exact numbers.... Ah, what I mean is, how will we know where it will take us?"
Everyone turned to Maya, who was reminded uncomfortably of the time some- -was it weeks? -- before, when everyone had turned to her for answers immediately on the duplicate Victor's arrival some time ago, and she had none. This time, the commander did not blow up when she said "I don't know." He didn't look happy at this new problem, but he held his peace, simply stating "determine what you can, especially in regards to how to set off the dumps. When you have some ideas, talk to Alan after he corners some geophysical data."
Helena silently sighed in relief. John seemed to be regaining his usual control over his temper. Maya also looked a little relieved; she, Alan, and Tony left to their respective errands, leaving John alone with Helena.
"We have to do something about Magus," Helena immediately started. "We can't leave him running amuck in this reality, to do as he pleases with the others."
"We can't stop the Magus's in all realities, Helena."
"But we can stop his causing misery in this one."
"I agree -- if we can trap him long enough on this Moon, since he seems quite capable of jumping off the base at a moment's notice. We're not even sure the burst of light from the dumps wouldn't give him even more power."
"Perhaps the excess light would burn his system out. After all, he never bothered us again in our own reality, and this one has said things implying we had killed that one."
"That's true; but he seems aware of what happened to his doppelgänger, and may have figured out something to conquer the possibility."
"Then again, he wasn't beyond a star's normal space boundary. Maybe he can't survive a collapse of the border -- or the hyperspace field, or whatever."
"Helena, you never cease to amaze me. It sounds like an excellent point, though I'd have to get Maya's opinion."
Helena jumped right to another concern. "There's no guarantee we will jump before being destroyed."
John sighed. It had occurred to him, but he he'd kept it quiet earlier, aware it probably was on the other's minds as well, but not wanting to damage their hopes by broaching the subject. "No guarantees, but if we die, I'd rather make sure we take Magus with us, so he can't meddle with our... counterparts anymore. Alan and Maya did survive the Breakaway explosion, though. I can only hope we do too."
"Let's see if we got any sensor logs out of Magus' last appearance here."
Despite Helena's liking the implications of "we," she had to bow out. "I'd love to, John; but I've got to monitor Life Support, and with everyone working on some problem, I probably should get lunch -- or is it supper? -- together."
"All this, and she cooks, too?"
From another person -- or in another tone -- she might have found his statement condescending. But in this situation, she could only smile in appreciation of his complement on her abilities -- and the hidden undertone of his love. Unfortunately, she had little energy, and less time, to do more than smile. Even if she had, it was impossible: Magus' magnetic cocoons were still operating.
"So, we can create tachyons with our equipment after all," Tony said, with a fake smugness which still sounded real enough to make Alan wonder how Maya felt.
Despite Tony's light-hearted baiting, Maya took no affront. Instead, she laughed, in amazement more than anything. "You're right! It's a -- what do you call it? -- 'one-shot deal,' but apparently we can, after all. I'd never thought you could do such a thing. You Earthlings are clever."
Tony smiled. "No, Maya. We Alphans are clever."
Maya's warm smile made Tony very aware of how good his inclusive comment made her feel. In fact, it brought more than that to him -- and he had to stifle the rush it brought. Her smile altered a bit, looking almost amused and pleased at the same time.
"But where will it get us?" Alan asked. He had already informed the small group that the records indicated this Moon was very fragile: it had suffered worse near-calamities than their own Moon.
"That is impossible to determine with any accuracy," Maya said. "When the Moon is destroyed, the field will collapse, which will in turn produce tachyons." Her stress on the word 'will' indicated she had verified those effects. "But they'll be spread unevenly throughout the former space-normal area inside the... collapsing hyperspace bubble. Very unevenly. I can't determine specifics of where we will go -- if anywhere." Maya felt she had to add the last statement, but avoided wording it more clearly, aware the others would glean the intended meaning: possible death.
"Blind luck, then," Alan said.
They all nodded silently, thinking of the implications, and debating whether to follow through.
Tony finally put the available choices into words. "It's stay here and die if the food runs out before we reach a food-bearing planet. Or it's stay here and be battered by Magus if we do find a habitable planet. Or it's blowing up the Moon and taking our chances with the tachyons. I know what my vote is."
The vote was unanimous.
In a rather eerie variation of their earlier experience, Alan and Maya sat -- this time together -- in the pilot module of the one Eagle they had, as Alan approached the relatively small Area Three. Small, yes, but not insignificant. Its detonation would shatter the Moon, and collapse the strange hyperspatial shell the Moon cloaked itself in, creating tachyons which would carry them home. They hoped.
A strange, disturbing thought flitted through Maya's mind at that moment. Her actions had indirectly led to the destruction of her homeworld, Psychon; and now she was going to be directly responsible for destroying this Moon, a world in its own way. She had already seen two too many planets blow up in her life. It was like a tragic theme in her life.
Alan saw a strange, almost sickened expression touch Maya's face. As he turned to look more directly towards her, she causally turned away, hiding it.
John, Helena, and Tony sat in the back of the Eagle. As much as they wanted to be up front, they decided to leave Alan to his flying, and Maya to whatever calculations she was making.
It's a sham, though, Maya thought in that odd mixture of English and Psychon she had grown accustomed to thinking in. They had positioned themselves according to Maya's "latest calculations," but the latter were little more than guesses. She didn't say this, knowing the others found some comfort in her words, even if they were fake on this one occasion.
She didn't realize they had all guessed that fact, for they recalled her earlier words on the unpredictability of the collapse. It didn't matter. Going through the motions of Standard Procedure, whatever meaningless entity it had become, kept their minds from dwelling on the dangerous course they had chosen.
When Maya gave Alan the final coordinates and the clock approached T- minus one minute, Maya got up, wanting to be with Tony for whatever would happen -- even if they couldn't touch. She felt a pang of guilt for leaving Alan alone, so she gave a little peck on his cheek. He didn't ask what it was for, but simply smiled. When she reached the passenger section, she discovered there would be no chance to say what she had wanted to say to Tony, for Magus was standing between her and the others.
Before she could even think of acting, he whirled in a swirl of robe to face her, revealing his outraged expression: as furious as a demon from the darkest depths.... Worse, it was suddenly directed full force at her: "I know this was your childish idea, Psychon. What are you doing?"
Though he had somehow guessed it was her idea, Maya instantly realized Magus didn't actually know what they were up to. Why? It didn't matter, for she had to stall him, keep him here until the explosion, which would hopefully--
Whack. A force struck her, and she staggered backwards. Tony rushed Magus' exposed back, only to find it wasn't so vulnerable after all. Magus, seemingly aware, simply flicked a finger back at Tony, and he was struck unconscious. Maya had no such pleasure, for he directed another wall of force at her, which also knocked her against the closed door to the pilot's section. "You'll be bent to my wishes, or die. Come on, transform, mighty metamorph, and challenge my will, you pitiful worm."
John Koenig saw these words as final proof that the magician had lost all reasoning, all sanity. He was simply beating Maya -- perhaps to death -- and throwing childish taunts at her inability to transform. Koenig's rage overcame him, and his feet started moving towards Magus. Helena bodily threw herself in John's path -- heedless of the pain Magus's cocoons caused at their contact -- shouting "He'll kill you!" As if to prove Helena's point, Magus sent another shot in back of him, and the computer consoles to John's right short-circuited, hit by a powerful force. "You can't help Maya," Helena shouted as John tried to throw her aside.
Alan, having heard a loud thunk against the door behind him, used a control to open it, in time for Maya to fly through it, having been hit by another invisible fist. She struck the pilot, who lost control of the Eagle, which pitched forward so rapidly that artificial gravity could not adjust. Those still standing went down -- hard. John and Helena slid into the felled Magus, preventing the latter from regaining his feet. The shield around Magus was gone, as if the Eagle's plunge had startled him into losing control.
A white light flared brilliantly.
John heard Maya scream and saw Magus's surprised expression just before his own eyes instinctively closed. For a brief moment, he felt himself being torn into smaller-than-atomic pieces, and suddenly realized -- felt -- what the metamorph so hated. The pain instantly vanished, and he felt whole again, but different. He could somehow hear Maya's tortured screams, and tried to reach out towards the source. He found her (how?), only to find Helena and Alan, as well as Tony (when had he regained consciousness?). John tried to open his eyes, but discovered he had no idea how. What was he touching? How? With what? He now felt himself being stretched across space (time?), but it was a faint, distant sensation, bearing no pain. At least for him: Maya was still screaming, though he didn't know how he could hear her. He somehow felt them all drawing close to one another, unfettered by any force, surrounding Maya, trying to protect her. Her cries lessened, but did not cease. Then he felt (imagined?) something else slip amongst them. It wasn't Magus deranged presence.
Before he could find out what it was, Maya became silent, and John Koenig faded out of consciousness a moment later.
Paul had been in command for a remarkable eight days, and was beginning to be desperately worried about the people who were still missing. They were all key officers, and Alpha would be sorely hurting without them when the started entering into new star systems. Already, they were approaching one. Paul was not worried about his own command ability; it was just that he knew Koenig to be better, and wanted him -- and all the others -- here. Tired of thinking about it, he left Sahn and Alibe in Command Center, and returned to his quarters for some needed sleep.
When he entered his room, something extraordinary happened. The five missing officers silently shimmered into existence on the floor, bunched together, unconscious. He made a surprised noise, jumped back, then stared at them in shock. Maya was in the center, curled up in an almost fetal position, with Tony holding her in what seemed like a protective way. Protection from what? Paul wondered for a moment, before he overcame his surprise enough to call a Medical emergency. He approached, and checked each of their pulses in turn. All were thankfully alive, though Maya's heart was beating at a crazy rate. It didn't seem normal, but he wasn't sure. She was still an alien, and he was not one of Alpha's medical personnel. Alan seemed to stir slightly at Paul's touch, but did not awake.
Dr. Mathias and Dr. Vincent arrived two minutes later, along with five medics. The unconscious officers were wheeled out.
Paul later got a report. No medical cause could be found for the humans' sleep, as was the case with half of Alpha; but the Psychon had accumulated a number of half-healed injuries, including a concussion and broken ribs. At first, Paul thought that was why everyone seemed to be surrounding Maya, as if protecting her; but Mathias emphasized the fact that other than extensive fatigue, the injuries were perhaps two weeks old. Alan also had sustained some injuries.
Maya took several days to wake from her coma, but the others woke naturally within three or four hours, and were released after less than a day of observation. Tony stayed by Maya's bedside for most of that time. When she finally came to, she was on her feet within hours -- despite the protests of Helena, who was now fully recovered.
Immediately after John, Helena, Tony, and Alan were released, they started talking.
All had somewhat fragmented memories, much to Bob and Helena's worry, but story-wise they quickly filled in each other's gaps. Paul found it all completely extraordinary.