Russell didn’t move, shocked by what she had just witnessed, concerned for those of her staff who had been shot, the danger to Bergman, and the revelation of who this silver-suited assailant was.
“We… we thought you were dead,” she gasped. “What happened – what are you doing?”
“As I said Doctor,” Ka’Ne answered, his own voice booming inside the helmet, “I don’t have the time to explain. But the survival of both Alphas… of Moonbase Alpha depends on it. Come on! Please!” He gestured with the laser, and stepping over the unconscious bodies, she moved to where Bergman lay, oblivious to what was happening. She checked his condition – unchanged, stable. He could be moved without too much peril, but nevertheless…
“If I move him, he could die,” she said, regaining some of her composure.
“There’ll be a medical team… look, we have to take the risk. Disconnect him and we’ll move him to that gurney. Now, Doctor.”
Ka’Ne looked to the door as Russell began removing electrodes, sensors and drips. Checking that she was still unobserved, she moved her right hand to the comlock at her belt. Without looking she pushed the volume control all the way to zero, and pushed the activation button – connecting to the last person she spoken to – Commander Koenig.
Koenig had returned to Main Mission and stationed another security guard on the gantry, overlooking the entire room. Following the doctor’s instruction, Paul had been immediately concerned at this, and whilst trying to look busy was in fact watching Koenig’s every move. Sandra had noticed Paul’s disquiet, but the Commander was still oblivious, poring over the computer readouts and continually asking for sensor updates.
“Paul,” said Koenig, over by Computer, a print-out in his hands. “Ask Alan to abort his approach. I want him to take station above Alpha and do sensor readings – he’s to report anything unusual immediately.”
“Yes, Commander,” said Paul, his frown deepening. “Is there anything in particular… I mean, what exactly…”
Koenig crumpled the strip of paper into his fist. “Relay my instructions, Paul, understood?” he snarled.
“Right away, Commander,” said Paul, with a sideways glance at Sandra.
Koenig’s comlock buzzed at his hip. He pulled it off his belt with a bit too much aggression and looked at the screen – but couldn’t see anyone there.
“Hello?” he demanded. Paul looked up again, as Koenig rattled the comlock as if trying to correct a fault.
Just as he was about to close the connection, he heard something, a faint voice. He pushed the volume all the way to full.
“Helena?” he said, holding the comlock closer to his face.
“…while I’m doing this, couldn’t you explain why we have to take Victor to the Reactor Room?”
“WHAT?” Koenig thundered. “Helena! What’s going on? Helena?”
Paul dashed over to him, prised the device from his grip and slotted it into Sandra’s console. She pressed a couple of controls, and the tiny TV display appeared on the main screen, the sound amplified so all in the room could hear.
“Please, Ka’Ne, can’t you just explain why the reactor room? Don’t we need more help in Medical Centre, and what about the people you shot…”
There were gasps around the room. Koenig stood as if paralysed, his mouth open.
“Ka’Ne?” said Sandra. “And he shot people?”
There was a muffled, completely unintelligible reply on the comms channel. “Another Alpha?” said Helena.
“Commander,” said Paul. “Shall we go to alert status? Send security to Medical and the reactor section? Commander?”
Koenig closed his eyes, slowly and deliberately, taking a deep breath, trying to control his racing heart and ignore the cold sweat that ran down his back. His eyes snapped open again.
“No, Paul, we don’t want whoever it is to know what Helena has done. Seal off the launchpads and the entire power section and post guards at both. We’ll try and intercept them between Medical and the travel tube. No Paul,” he said, as Paul reached for the laser under his desk, “I need you to run things from here.” Koenig signalled to the security officer on the gantry to stay put, and ran for the exit.
Paul sat at his station and flicked a control. “Security – send a detail to the power section, and a two-man team to meet Commander Koenig at…” he consulted the map of the base, giving them the location of the travel tube closest to Medical. “All sidearms to be set on stun. Main Mission out.”
Just then a deafening scream came over the speakers. Sandra reflexively put her hands over her ears. Paul jumped to his feet, looking at the screen. The white and grey featureless picture changed for a split second to a flashing spiralling image of the medical bay, before the scream was cut off, the display replaced by a snowstorm of static.
“Come on, Doctor, stop stalling! We need to go!” Ka’Ne said, putting the gurney into position next to Bergman’s bed, holstering his laser.
Russell shook her head. “OK, if we must, we’re ready to go. Take his shoulders – be careful of his head – and I’ll take his feet. On three? One, two, three!”
The doctor covered the frail body with a sheet, as Ka’Ne began to fasten the restraints across the professor’s chest and thighs. “All set?” he said, drawing the laser again. “Then after you, Doctor.”
Helena released the brakes and started to manoeuvre the gurney towards the door. Ka’Ne pulled his comlock off his belt to open the door and without any warning, Russell screamed. Even muffled inside his helmet, the sound immediately set his teeth on edge and he almost dropped his laser and the comlock. He quickly shifted his body so that he could what had happened through the visor. At first he just saw her, standing there, both hands to her mouth, eyes wide in terror. But there was nothing… then he followed her gaze.
Kano, was sitting bolt upright, his face entirely expressionless, his eyes rolled up his head so only the whites were showing. As Ka’Ne levelled the laser at his hip, the computer technician’s head slowly turned to face him.
“There has been a change of plan,” Kano said, in a flat, robotic voice. “I must go with you.”
Flying a low circuit a kilometre above the base, Alan checked his gauges for the umpteenth time. He knew something was going on in Alpha, but no-one had bothered to tell him and all he got was orders from Paul and the occasional sympathetic look from Sandra. Even with all the flying he’d done so far that day, the Eagle was good for hours yet, so he couldn’t even use refuelling as an excuse. He looked over at the young pilot next to him. Though still diligently checking the sensor displays despite having nothing to report, he wasn’t his usual ebullient self either.
“Boss…” Jones said, presently. “Take a look at the dorsal camera… it must be some kind of… mirage or something? Right?”
Alan toggled the video display on his console. There was Alpha, right below them, laid out just like model he’d seen in the Alpha Project office years ago when he first applied for the program.
“Wait…” He realised this was the ventral camera, pointing straight up from a central point on the Eagle’s spine. He toggled back to the ventral, and then dorsal cameras. Then he checked the instruments. They were not flying upside down – but then…
“Strap in,” he said, closing his visor. He pulled back on the controls and the Eagle’s nose pointed up – and they could both see the lunar horizon and then Alpha through the cockpit windows… above them.
“Boss?” said Jones, his blue eyes widening behind the orange visor.
Alan checked the instruments again – his auto horizon flipped over – an alarm sounded in the cockpit, as the computer-assisted flight controls failed. The gyros went out completely and the engines stuttered.
“Standby for full manual control in 3…2…1…now!” Alan flicked a switch on the panel in front of him as he deactivated the computer. Jones, one hand on the joystick, now busied himself taking on all the duties usually performed by the automatic systems. Alan struggled initially and then managed to hold level – though too much pitch one way or the other seemed to drag them in that direction. He was reminded of an old fairground game, guiding a metal hoop along a thick, curved, metal wire. Touching the wire completed the circuit, sounded a buzzer… and you lost. It needed a steady hand. Right now, too much in either direction…
“Eagle One to Moonbase Alpha! Alpha, do you read?”
Sandra’s face appeared on the screen. “We read you Eagle One.”
“Alpha,” Alan said – the fact he didn’t address Sandra by name alerted her that something was up.
“Alpha, we’re in trouble. This is going to sound crazy, but… look up. What do you see?”
Sandra looked puzzled. “Sorry Eagle One, say again? Look up? What do you mean?”
“Just do it.”
She selected the outside video, pointed the camera up and switched the display to the main monitor. There was an aerial feed of Alpha. At first she didn’t register. Then she checked the feed, panned the camera, and pointed it straight up again.
“Paul!” she said, standing up. “Look at the screen!”
Paul looked up from his desk. “A feed from Eagle One? Have they spotted something?”
“Paul, that’s our camera – that’s directly above us!”
“Can’t be!” he said, immediately doubting her. He did the same things she had just done. Some of the technicians ran to the windows, craning and crouching in order to see what was there. Another moon, horrifically big, filling the sky, and another Alpha.
Paul activated his comms channel.
“All stations Alpha! Collision alert! Evacuate to the emergency bunkers! This is not a drill!”
Some of the technicians went back to their stations, others – not designated essential personnel, ran for the exit. The large bulkhead of the commander’s office began to close automatically as the alert klaxon sounded.
“Eagle One?” said Paul. “What’s your status? And is that… that real, or some sort of reflection?”
“Alpha,” said Alan, straining with the controls. “That’s no illusion. Magnetic and gravity readings are off the scale.”
“Eagle One, make an emergency landing and go directly to the bunker.”
“Roger, Alpha,” said Alan. “Paul, what’s going on down there?”
“No time to explain. Get down here. Main Mission out.”
Ka’Ne moved to the next corner of the corridor outside Medical and looked back at his unwilling companions. Kano was walking next to the gurney, now looking straight ahead, Dr Russell pushing the gurney with both hands, her face wet with tears from shock and fear.
Ka’Ne looked round the corner as stealthily as the big silver helmet would allow. Standing right in front of the travel tube was Koenig and two security men whom he immediately recognised, Patel and Murphy. Why did it have to be them? he said to himself. Patel was his best pal on the base.
He signalled for the others to wait, and turned the corner, his laser levelled at his hip.
Patel was the first to see him. “Commander!” he said, aiming his laser.
Koenig was armed too, but didn’t draw his weapon. He stepped forward, raising both hands, palms outward.
“Ka’Ne?” he said, with a half smile. “Are we ever glad to see you! We thought you were dead!”
“That’s far enough, Commander,” said Ka’Ne, again deafening himself with his own voice inside the helmet.
“Look, it’s great that you got back here, why not let the doctor look you over, and we can talk about it, okay?” Koenig took another step forwards.
“There’s no time, Commander. We have to go. Step aside. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
“Come on, big guy!” said Patel, though still keeping the laser aimed. “Enough of this now, OK? We all go a little space-happy after a while eh? C’mon, put the laser down!”
Just then, the coms pillar in the lobby lit up, Paul’s face appearing on the screens, one facing in each direction. “All stations Alpha! Collision alert! Evacuate to the emergency bunkers! This is not a drill!” The alert klaxon began its electronic wail. Patel flinched at the sudden noise, his aim faltered, and Ka’Ne shot him in the chest, sending him to the floor in a heap. Murphy had carelessly allowed Koenig to move into his line of sight and so had to duck to the right before he fired. The blue energy beam sizzled and crackled harmlessly on the silver spacesuit. Ka’Ne shot back, and the big Irishman staggered backwards, his teeth gritted, trying to re-aim the laser. Ka’Ne fired again, this time sprawling him across a row of white plastic chairs.
Koenig went to draw his own sidearm but stopped as Ka’Ne turned his laser on him. “Go ahead, Commander, your laser won’t affect me. We’re wasting time. No doubt you’ve sealed off the Reactor Room? Well now you can come with us and unseal it. Call the travel tube.” Ka’Ne gestured for the others, and Koenig’s heart fell as he saw Helena so distressed, his old sick friend on the gurney, and Kano… Kano in some sort of trance?
“We have to hurry. We are running out of time,” the computer officer stated, looking straight ahead.
Koenig summoned the travel tube with his comlock. All this and now a collision alert? He had to know what was going on!
Eagle One bucked and shuddered like a crazed bull at a rodeo. Alan now had both hands on the joystick, relishing the other controls to Jones, his hands moving from panel to panel as fast as he could make them. “It’s no good Boss, we can’t hold her – what if we power down and let her fall…”
“Yeah, fall… but which way is down?” Alan said through gritted teeth, his eyes stinging from sweat.
Jones toggled the comms switch. “Eagle One to Main Mission!”
“Main Mission – go ahead Eagle One.” Paul’s face was broken by static on the cockpit screen.
“We’re going to try and bring her down but it won’t be pretty. Can you turn on the lights on Pad 4 and prepare for a hard landing?”
“Will do. Good luck. Alpha out.”
“You know, Boss,” said Jones, as he saw the landing lights come on beneath them, “there’s something about that guy that just fills my heart with optimism.”
Alan shook his head. “Let’s see if we can get this crate down in one piece!” He pitched the nose down and triggered the main engines. The Eagle jerked forward and then began to fall away, in the right direction, but then it began to accelerate. Alan tried the engines again, but with no response. They wouldn’t ignite.
“The vertical thrusters! I’ll try and level her off!” shouted Alan, desperately trying to keep it level with the attitude thrusters. Jones checked and triggered them – they all fired and for a moment the descent began to slow, but then the ship began to slowly spin on its long axis. Gyros that would have helped Alan were hopelessly scrambled, and as good as he was, a ship like this just wouldn’t fly without attitude control. If the ship wasn’t level, it could flip…
“I’m starting to lose her!” said Alan. What’s directly underneath us?”
Jones checked the monitor.
“It’s Main Mission! And we’re falling right towards it!”
It had been easier than Ka’Ne had expected to get the gurney onto the travel tube, but then he had to remind himself that they were both designed to make that job easier. There were even slots in the floor of the tube car for the wheels. Dr Russell and Koenig sat on opposite sides of the car, Kano stood, unsupported, but seemed to be unaffected by the acceleration or deceleration.
“Commander,” said Ka’Ne, “you need to contact security at the other end and get them to stand down. We don’t have the time for another pointless firefight. Believe me, we’re doing this to save Alpha and all of our lives. Just let me complete my mission.”
Koenig looked up at the helmeted figure looming over him, all former pretence of friendliness gone. “How can I possibly do that, Ka’Ne? You’re holding me and the doctor hostage, you have my best friend there when he should be in the hospital, and what the hell did you do to Kano? And now we have a collision alert! You’re not helping, you’re stopping me from doing my job!”
“Let me put it this way. If you succeed in stopping me, that collision will happen and we all die. If Professor Bergman were here…”
Helena looked at Koenig, concerned. “The Professor is right here, Ka’Ne. Don’t you recognise him?”
The big man shook his head, realising he was achieving nothing. “We’re there. Get ready. Commander, you go first.”
The tube car decelerated smoothly to a halt, and the doors slid open. Two security men and a reactor technician stood in the lobby, all with lasers drawn.
Koenig stepped out, his hands up. “Put the lasers away. They can’t hurt him. We’re going to the Reactor Room. Wait here in the lobby.” Koenig was desperately trying to signal them to physically attack Ka’Ne, but he wasn’t sure he was getting through. The crewmen stepped back, one holstering his sidearm, the others keeping them in their hands but not aimed. The doctor wheeled the gurney out into the lobby and straight past them to the corridor beyond, followed by the impassive computer officer and their silver-suited colleague at the rear. Ka’Ne nudged Koenig forward, to follow the gurney. He stumbled forward and then dived to the ground. “NOW!” he yelled. The two crewmen levelled their lasers and fired – with no effect. The third leapt on Ka’Ne from the left hand side, trying to tackle him to the ground. But the big Hawaiian stood firm, twisting his body and throwing the man aside, crashing into the wall.
“Again!” shouted Koenig, scrambling to his feet. They fired again, keeping the triggers pressed until the spacesuit was encapsulated in blue energy. But still with no effect. Ka’Ne levelled his gun and fired, hitting the security man in the side, doubling him over. The technician set his laser on KILL, levelled it and then fell unconscious to the ground, felled by a punch to the back of the neck from Kano.
“No, Commander Koenig,” Kano said. “Give me your weapon. We must leave. Now. This is the voice of the Alpha Computer. Do not interfere.”
Koenig drew his laser, and then flipped it around in his hand, offering Kano the grip. Kano snatched the weapon from him, deactivated it and threw it aside.
“Now. We must… we must…” Kano slowly tipped his head back to look up.
“What now?” Helena gasped.
Paul looked up from his console. Whatever was hanging above Alpha wasn’t another moon, he was sure of that – if it was the gravity of both at that range would have smashed them both together in an instant. But what he was sure of was whatever was there was certainly getting more massive, increasing gravitational forces on the base and surface of the moon, and he couldn’t explain it. Now looking at the video displays on the main panel, he could see that both Eagle pilots were under extreme stress, and the ship was out of control. It was going to crash. He checked the vector on his own remote controls – it was falling right towards them. Impact was only minutes away.
“Everybody,” he said to Sandra and the three remaining staff, “get to the shelters. Now!”
The others got up and ran for the exit. But Sandra stayed put.
“You too, Sandra. Go!”
“No Paul, I’m not leaving you. You need me here to…”
“Sandra, I need you to leave. There’s not much time.” Paul got up and moved to her desk, signalling the security man to come down from the gantry. He didn’t need telling twice.
“Paul…” Sandra said, knowing what he intended to do. She tried to remain calm and professional but it was too much. A sob escaped from her chest and tears streamed down her face. “I want to stay here with you!” she said, burying her face in his chest.
He held her tightly, stroking her hair for the last time, before kissing her on the head. “Sandra…” he sighed, fighting his own emotions. He took a deep breath and, his hands moving to her upper arms pushed her back towards the security man. “Take her to the bunker – smartly now! And seal the bulkheads behind you. Now, man!”
The security man nodded, and taking one of Sandra’s arms, quickly dragged her to the exit.
“Paul! PAUL!” she sobbed.
Paul turned back to his console, and sat down at the controls. He still had a good uplink to the Eagle – if there was a chance, he had to take it.
On Eagle One, Alan desperately tried to make the big ship turn to his bidding, but it was as if it had a mind of it’s own. The screen flickered and Paul appeared.
“Eagle One, this is Main Mission. Stand by to eject!”
“Oh no,” said Alan. “No Paul! Get out of there! Don’t you bloody dare!”
Jones looked from Alan to the serious face on the screen, and back again.
“I say again, stand by to eject!”
An indicator flashed red on the control panel. The eject system was armed.
“No Paul! You can’t do it! Leave it to us and get to the shelters! Paul!”
“Eject in 5…”
Jones sat back, checked his visor was locked, and tightened his harness.
“Paul… please Paul, don’t do this!”
Behind Alan’s seat, he could hear and feel the links that connected the command module to the body of the ship unlocking.
“2… Goodbye, Alan. 1… Zero!”
Alan released the joystick and sat back, as the explosive bolts triggered and the command module was thrown free of the Eagle, like a lifeboat, effectively beheading the ship. The computer system snapped on, independent of the main flight computer, this had only one purpose – to provide as smooth a landing for the module as possible.
The attitude thrusters fired and fired again, levelling the module as they got closer and closer to the buildings below.
“We’re not going to make it!” shouted Jones.
Alan braced himself, preparing for the worst as the moon base sped past underneath them… but then they were clear. The thrusters disengaged and the module hit the surface with a crunch, sliding through the fine razor-sharp dust for what seemed like hours to the men inside, before finally shuddering to a stop.
The lights flickered, but came back on. They were safe.
Alan unlocked his visor and opened it.
“Godspeed, Paul,” he whispered.
Now the Eagle didn’t need its engines, Paul shut them down and dumped the fuel, spraying it harmlessly into the vacuum of space. He depressurised the cabin completely to rid it of any oxygen and vented all the reserve tanks. Finally, he closed down the power, so the spaceship was nothing more that a massive hunk of metal and plastic. One minute to impact. He shut down Main Mission, transferring all the computer function and other control to the secondary Command Centre at the other side of the base.
He expected his life to flash before his eyes, but it didn’t. Of all the hours and dangers they had faced over the past several months since Separation, he hadn’t expected his life to end like this. He laughed at himself. The heroic act. The self-sacrifice that his boyhood heroes had made, from the days of polar exploration to the early days of space travel. But he didn’t feel noble or heroic. He felt stupid. Would his father be proud? Probably, but none of his family or friends would ever hear of this. As the time went on, he thought for a second that he had miscalculated. Perhaps it had missed! Had the jets of air and fuel changed the ship’s trajectory? He stood up.
The Eagle smashed through the roof, in what an earthbound observer would think to be slow motion, one sixth Earth gravity. At first it appeared to settle on the roof but then continued on, almost unhindered by the building’s structure. Main Mission folded in on itself, the explosion of the remaining air almost unnoticed. All soundless.
In the bunkers, they did hear and feel the impact. Some of the crew cowered as they were showered in dust from the roof beams. Sandra curled into a ball behind stacked boxes of emergency supplies, and quietly wept.
Koenig was thrown to the floor as if the ground had actually jumped up to meet him. Alert klaxons sounded again and they were momentarily plunged into darkness, before the emergency lights came on. His astronaut awareness was always there – the air pumps had also stopped. He jumped to his feet, and then went to Doctor Russell who was sitting up, rubbing her forehead.
“Helena? Are you hurt?” he said.
“No. No I’m fine John. What was that?”
“I suppose whatever was going to collide, did! I have to get back to Main Mission…”
Ka’Ne was on his feet, and so was Kano. But Kano was shaking his head and rubbing his eyes.
“Kano? Kano!” pleaded Koenig. “Can you hear me? Is that you?”
“Y-yes Commander,” said Kano, in his usual measured tone. He looked down at himself in the blue medical pyjamas, then at the others, before taking one end of the gurney.
“We have to go Commander. We’re running out of time!”
“What?” said the Doctor and Commander, almost simultaneously.
“Alpha is in great danger,” said Kano. “We have to get to the Reactor Room as fast as possible. Professor Bergman’s life… all our lives depend on it!”
“There is another moon, another Alpha, Commander,” he went on. “Their reality is different to ours, their technology is more advanced, but still they need the help of our Professor Bergman, and myself, to stabilise and prevent the two realities from destroying each other. In the other reality, I died on Seperation Day. The Professor has half of the knowledge they need… So they need him there. They also have the technology to save his life. They’ve been working on their communications all this time, which is what initially knocked me out. Now however, the link to our computer has been lost, and so unexpectedly it gives me the chance to explain.”
Helena looked at Koenig despairingly. “Go? Go where?” she said.
“The other Alpha – which is currently beginning to encroach on our reality, about 5 kilometres above us. If it comes all the way in, the two moons will collide and smash each other to atoms. We must stabilise the inter-dimensional rift, before it’s too late.”
The walked down the corridor and Koenig opened the door with his comlock, revealing a make-shift barrier, defended by three security officers. They all crouched down behind the stacks of boxes and spare parts, their lasers ready.
Koenig stepped forward, once again his arms out. “Stand down!”
The security men looked at each other, hesitant for a moment, but when hey saw the big silver-suited figure and the distraught look on the doctor’s face, they went back into their ready stance.
“I don’t know what’s going on here, Commander,” said Amundsson, a tall white-haired man in the middle of the barricade, “but we just lost Main Mission, it looks like we’re under attack – we’re not letting anyone through to the reactor. Drop your lasers.”
“I’m giving you an order, godammit!” shouted Koenig, stepping forward again.
“Not another step, Commander!” Amundsson said.
“Jan, we don’t have time for this nonsense!” said the muffled voice of Ka’Ne. He walked forward, shouldering Koenig to one side and fired on a wide beam. The barrier and the men behind it lit up with a blue glow. One slumped to the floor, another staggered back in pain, but Amundssen gritted his teeth and fired back, with no effect. Still walking forward, Ka’Ne reset the laser to narrow beam and fired again, hitting the Norwegian high in the chest. Amundssen’s head jerked back, and then he fell backwards, poleaxed. The other security officer was trying too crawl away and get to his feet, but Ka’Ne shot him in the back as he walked past.
“Come ON!” shouted Ka’Ne, looking back awkwardly through his visor.
The command module of Eagle One sat in a crater at the end of the groove it had cut into the lunar surface. It was canted slightly to one side, like the decapitated head of a fantastic insect. There was sudden flash and burst of gas as the door at the back of the head blew off, soundlessly. Alan jumped out of the doorway and glided slowly to the surface, and once he was clear, Jones followed, though he failed to stick the landing and fell to one knee. The two astronauts looked back towards the moon base. There was no visible fire or escaping atmosphere, which were good signs. But the roof of Main Mission, a storey taller than the surrounding buildings, was no longer visible. Where it used to be, slowly falling dust and debris glinted and twinkled as it caught the light.
Alan turned angrily as Jones punched him hard in the arm, almost hard enough in this gravity to knock him over. The young astronaut was wide-eyed, and pointing straight up. Alan leaned back to better look up in his helmet. What he saw immediately made his stomach turn over, as he was looking up – but also down. Another moon loomed impossibly close overhead, almost filling the whole sky now, another Moonbase Alpha, but this one undamaged. “My God…” he gasped. He looked back at Jones, and recognised the look on the young pilot’s face. He grabbed him by the upper arms and shook him. “Jonesy! Snap out of it! Come on – let’s get back to base!” Jones’ eyes refocused, and he shook his head as if to clear it. “I’m OK, Boss,” he said, weakly. “Lead on.” Alan nodded, and began to bound across the surface towards the nearest airlock.
The reactor room doors closed behind Helena as she wheeled in the gurney. Ka’Ne locked the doors with his stolen comlock.
Kano ran back to the door, and began to pace away from it, counting as he went. Satisfied, he looked up at Ka’Ne. “Here?” he said?
Ka’Ne nodded and then said yes, realising his nod wasn’t visible. “Stand back Doctor – Commander,” he said, moving the gurney to stand next to Kano. “Goodbye,” he said, flicking the switch on the pack on the front of his spacesuit.
For Commander Koenig and Doctor Russell, it was as if there companions had never been there. Without a flash, a noise of any kind, one second they were there, the next they were simply gone.
“Oh, John!” gasped Helena, collapsing into his arms.
“We had no choice. No choice. At all…” he said, more to himself than to her.
On the other side of the base, a young dark haired man was trying to fix a door control. Behind him was most of the command crew for the base, some upset, some wearing thermal jackets they had been wearing in the shelters.
“Come on, Tony!” one of the computer technicians said. “We need to get in there!”
“Alright alright – keep your hair on!” he said, picking another tool from the box by his knee.
“Just one more… there!” He stood up, triumphant, as the door slid open. The Command Center was already fully activated, the lights already on. This had been the original control room for the base, primarily dedicated to station functions. Though the same number of stations were in here, it had a lower ceiling and was flanked by dark ranks of computer servers. After the large open space of Main Mission, this was much more claustrophobic, though arguably more efficient.
The crew moved quickly to their stations and the dark-haired man followed them in, up to the front of the room under the main screen. The view shifted from the stylised map of the base to an external camera. Hanging above the familiar building of Moonbase Alpha was another one, upside-down, impossibly close.
“Someone said Paul was the only casualty…” he said.
“He’s missing. Just missing,” said a voice, from the station behind him. He turned. Sandra was there, her eyes red-rimmed, going through her start-up checklist.
“Sorry, Sandra, I didn’t mean to… it’s just that with the Commander, Alan, Paul and Kano unaccounted for, that would mean I’m… I’m…”
“Yes, you’re in command for the first time,” Sandra snapped. “So what are your orders, Tony Verdeschi?”
In the Reactor Room, a comms panel by the door cracked and buzzed to life. Koenig ran to it and tried to stabilise the picture. Tony’s face appeared.
“Tony?” siad Helena, looking over Koenig’s shoulder.
“Commander,” said Tony, “glad to see you’re OK.”
“What’s happened? Where’s Paul?” Koenig growled.
“Paul… we lost Main Mission. Eagle One crashed into it. Paul is missing. No other casualties.”
“Alan?” Koenig said.
“The pilots are OK. Main Mission is destroyed, but surrounding damage was minor. We’ve activated the Command Center.”
“Get a medical and tech team to the Reactor Room, Tony. We’re on our way back.”
By the time Commander Koenig and Dr Russell made it to the Command Center, Alan and Jones were there, still in their spacesuits, helmets in hands. Tony was at the commander’s station, at the back of the room.
“What’s the situation?” said Koenig, as the door closed behind them. “Paul… I mean, Tony?”
Tony decided the best thing to do was ignore that gaffe. “The other moon, it’s not an illusion or reflection, it’s really there, or almost anyways. It seems to be gaining mass, and as it does, it gets closer. We starting to get system failures and increased seismic activity across the lunar surface.
“The defence screens?” said Koenig.
“Activated and at full power Commander,” said Sandra, “but to no effect.”
“What should we do?” said Tony, edging away to allow Koenig to take his station. “Evacuate to the far side?”
Koenig looked up from the display screen. He saw Alan shaking his head. “Even if we had time, and there was any place over there for us to go, none of the Eagles will fly, John.”
“There’s nothing we can do,” said Koenig. “We just have to hope that… the other Alpha has what they needed. All we can do is wait.”
Koenig sat down, and after requesting Sandra to activate the public address system, told the entire base what had happened to the best of his knowledge. Crewmen sat at their stations or assembles at commposts to listen. Some concerned, some incredulous. But most seemed to take some solace from the Commander’s calm and measured delivery.
“…and so Kano and Professor Bergman have both been transported to the other Alpha, where they can be best deployed to avert this disaster that threatens all of us. So now, all we can do, is wait, trust in our friends, and trust in us, our other selves, up there one that duplicate base. Stand by.”
Tony was standing over by the two pilots, his arms folded across his chest. “Does he actually believe all that crap?” he said quietly to himself. “And we just stand here and do nothing?”
Alan heard the remark, and quickly taking Tony by the arm walked him backwards into the arch by the emergency exit.
“You might have been suddenly promoted but remember your position now, eh? If you’ve got any opinions like that, keep ‘em up here,” he whispered, prodding Tony in the forehead with his finger. Tony swallowed and nodded, and Alan released him, just as one of the crew gasped.
A picture began to appear on the main screen. “Sandra! Try to boost the signal!” shouted Koenig, getting up from his desk.
The picture began to resolve – it was Main Mission, and many of the crew began to recognise themselves. In the foreground was a smiling Professor Bergman – with another Professor Bergman at his side in a wheelchair!
“Hello… hello Alpha! John? Can you hear us?”
Koenig dashed around his desk and came up to the screen. “Victor?”
The two professors smiled at each other and the screen.
“Hello John!” said the one in the wheelchair. “We got here in one piece, thanks to Ka’Ne, sorry we had to take him from you. We’re almost ready at this end. We feared the worst when the Eagle crashed into Main Mission -but you’re all OK?”
Koenig couldn’t help smiling to see his old friend restored to health, and hear his voice. “We just lost one, Victor. Paul… he stayed at his post to save the base.”
The other Victor turned to where a clean-shaven Paul stood at his station. Sandra gasped.
“Sorry John,” the other Victor said, “It would be good to catch up, especially for me – in this reality Separation took place before you arrived. “But we have to get on. We’re almost ready. We need to send a high frequency negative energy pulse through your defence screens, simultaneously with the one here. That should restore the quantum realities and seal the rift. Kano is sending the programme to your Computer now.”
Koenig looked across to the computer technicians, who both nodded.
“We are receiving it, Victor.”
Helena came up to stand next to Koenig. “Victor, they saved you? But… how?”
“Their technology here is about thirty years ahead of us, Helena. Their microsurgery techniques, robotics, nanotechnology… I wish we could send you that but we have no time. And after the rift is sealed, we will no longer be able to communicate. After a few days of convalescence form the surgery, I’ll be right as rain!”
A short dark-haired man in a command uniform came into view. “Commander Gorski!” said Koenig.
The Russian smiled and nodded. “Commander Koenig! Good to see you. We are ready at this side, we need you to run the programme from your side. The computers are linked, the pulses will fire exactly together. Regrettably, we do not have much time. There is much we would like to share with you, but…”
“Commander,” said Sandra. “We’re ready, on your command.”
Gorski nodded to his Sandra, and she sounded the alert. Koenig did the same.
“Goodbye, John, Helena, everyone! Safe journey!” said the old professor, smiling broadly.
“Goodbye, old friend!” said Koenig. “And Good Sailing to you and your crew, Commander Gorski. Now, Sandra!”
Sandra toggled a switch on her desk and the programme began to run.
“Defence shield energised, reactors to full power,” said a computer voice. “Firing pulse in 3… 2… 1… Zero.”
All the lights went out and the ground shuddered. Helena clung to Koenig as he fell to the floor, wrapping his arms protectively around her. Lights and images flashed before their eyes, and then extreme vertigo as the whole universe seemed to spin in all three axes at once. And then as soon as it had begun, it stopped. The lights flickered and came back on. The crew clumsily got to their feet, checking instruments and displays.
“Commander…” said Tony, from a computer panel at the side of the man screen. “It seems to have worked. The other moon has gone. No trace it was ever there…”
Koenig looked at the screen, then checked that Helena was unhurt. “Sandra, all stations report, any damage or casualties, report to Command Center.”
Alan turned to Jones and smiled, and then they hugged clumsily.
“We survived, again,” said Helena, rubbing the back of her neck.
“Yes, we did. But we had to pay a price this time. We lost some valuable people, and good friends.” He turned to Sandra, who was sitting with her head in hands. “At least they will carry on in another place, we can take some solace from that. But it doesn’t make our loss any the less.”