WHO DIED AND MADE YOU COMMANDER?
by
Patricia and Catherine
Maya
“Moonbase Alpha Status Report,  April 7, year 15, Doctor Helena Russell-Koenig reporting.  We do so much waiting here.  Once again we are
hoping that we have found a habitable planet and possibly a new home.  A survey team has been down on this new planet for over half a day and
the results of their findings seems to be indicating….  So many times we’ve gotten our hopes up only to see them crushed mercilessly.  I don’t
know….”

The console next to her beeped, interrupting and startling the doctor.  Helena pushed the button and Dr. Ed Spencer’s face appeared on the
screen.   “Helena, could you come to Command Center, please.”

Helena nodded.  “I’ll be right there.”  She turned off the screen and let out a small sigh.  “Break’s over!”  She thought.  She turned off the recorder
as she pushed it back into the corner.  Helena took off her lab coat and walked out the door.

The Command Center was bustling with activity as information from the survey team poured in.  Helena noticed that not everyone was smiling.  Ed
was one of them, his eyes squinting in deep concentration.

She placed a hand on his shoulder.  “What’s the problem?”  She said seriously.

“Not a problem exactly.”  Ed pointed to the bio-monitors he stood in front of.  “I was hoping for a second opinion.”  He took half a step to the side to
give Helena more room.

The monitors showed the heart rate, temperature and respiration of all six members of the survey team.  Everything appeared to be normal except
for 2 men with a slight rise in temperature.  One of them also had a higher respiration and heart rate.  “What is Donner doing?”  Helena pointed to
the monitor.

“I checked on him.  He’s gone up to the top of a sloping hillside to get some elevation readings.  He says it’s sunny and 80 degrees.”  Ed raised
one eyebrow.

Helena chuckled lightly.  “We should all be so lucky.  What about Alan.”  She pointed to the other bio-monitor.

“He’s at base camp.  He says that he’s not doing anything too strenuous, and that he feels fine, but I’ve been watching his temperature go up
slowly for about 2 hours.  Then, 20 minutes ago, Schuler’s temperature started going up as well.”  Ed crossed his arms over his chest and waited.

Helena looked at his current condition.  “He’s at 100.2 degrees now.”  She sat down and checked Carter’s medical history since leaving with the
survey team.   “Has he complained at all of any trouble breathing?”  Ed shook his head and smiled.  Helena pushed the communications button.  
“Alan Carter.”  The screen went blank and seconds later the blond hair Australian’s smiling face appeared.  “Doctor?”

“Alan, I just wanted to check and see how you’re feeling.”  Helena glanced at his bio-reading.  “The monitor shows us that you have a little over 100
degree temperature.”

“Like I told Doc Spencer, I’m fine! It’s about 82 degrees out here.  We’re bound to be a little over heated.  I don’t feel any…”  Alan’s face suddenly
disappeared and he sneezed loudly.  Command Center hushed and many people looked at Helena and Ed.

John Koenig looked sharply at the doctors.  Helena was shaking her head at Alan.  Koenig handed his clipboard to the technician he was working
with and moved to stand near Helena.

“It was nothing!”  Carter argued.

Helena hit the mute button and turned to John.  “I want to pull them off the surface.  We don’t know why, but Carter and Schuler are running a
temperature.”  Koenig nodded at her and walked to his desk to make the arrangements.  Helena turned back to Alan and took him off mute.  “We’re
sending an eagle down for you and Schuler.  I want you both back here in medical so we can find out what’s wrong.”

Carter looked away in disgust.  “Come on, Helena!  We’re fine!”  Carter knew he shouldn’t argue, so he tried a slightly new angle.  “Connie’s gonna
be disappointed.  This is her first time away from Alpha in a year!”

“I’m sorry Alan, but I have to make sure you don’t have something that could be fatal!”  Helena said sympathetically.

“I can still fly!  No need to send an eagle for us!”  Alan still tried to convince her.  “I can put it…”   He disappeared again, sneezing loudly.

“Bless you.”  Helena said dryly.  She turned off the communicator and glanced at the bio-monitor.  Carter’s temperature was now 101 degrees.  
“Keep me posted.”  She said to Ed, and then walked to Koenig’s desk.  “John.  Don’t let Alan into the cockpit of the eagle.  I want him and Schuler
quarantined.”

“Is it that serious?”

“It could be.”  Helena left Command Center and headed for the elevator.  On her way she passed the classroom where Alpha’s newest citizens,
their children, were studying.  Helena paused and listened to the math lesson being taught.  She smiled as her son was called on to give the answer
to a problem and he got it right.  Then she moved on down the hallway.  While she waited for the elevator, Helena called the level H medical center
to let them know about the two patients.  “Make sure that the quarantine room is ready.  Also, if you could please call records and ask them to bring
up a laptop so that they can make their report for the Commander.”  The nurse on duty acknowledged and Helena turned off her comlock.
                                |                        |                        |

“This is ridiculous.”  Carter snapped his comlock onto his belt roughly.  He took a few steps away from the eagle and cupped his hands to his
mouth.  “Connie!”  The 35-year-old Irish botanist looked up.  Alan waved at her to come to the eagle.

Connie gathered up her bags of samples and carried them back to the eagle.  When she arrived Alan was still stomping around angrily.  “What’s
up?”  She watched him pick up one thing at a time then put it down roughly on a nearby table.

“We have to go back….” Alan sneezed loudly.

“Bless you.”  Connie mumbled.

“….to Alpha.  Thank you.”

“I knew it was too good ta last.”  Connie started to help him pack.  “What reason did they give?”  She placed a piece of equipment back in its’ box.

“Apparently we’re running a fever.  So we have to go back and be lab rats while they try and figure out what’s wrong.”  Alan stopped and calmed
himself.

“A fever, but I feel fine!”  Connie stopped and looked at her bio-watch.  “What about Donner and Baker and the others?  Do they have fevers too?”

“No, just us.”  Carter smiled wryly then covered his face with his coat as he sneezed again.

Connie Schuler backed up and looked at Alan in fright.  “You’re sick!  You’ve caught a cold or somethin'!”

“Calm down.  The Commander’s sending our replacements and Doctor Russell will fix us right up.”  Alan took a step toward her.

Connie tossed her bag on a nearby table and backed away from Carter.  “Stay back!  I don’t need ta be any sicker than I already am!”  She threw
her arms wide and paced the clearing around the eagle.  “This is jist great!  I finally git a chance to get away from my problems and this is what
happens!”

“It’s not all that bad.”  Alan looked at her sympathetically.

Connie stopped and put her hands roughly on her hips.  “Easy fer you to say, Alan Carter.  You haven’t been sittin' up on Alpha waitin' fer Med.
Center ta let you go back to work after a miss-carriage, then wait again fer 'em ta clear ya for planet side missions.”  She turned her back on him
and crossed her arms over her chest.

Alan was about to walk toward her when he froze.  He thought she might be crying when he suddenly heard her sneeze.  Connie threw one hand in
the air and let it fall limp at her side.  “Great.  Just great.”  She murmured.
                                |                        |                        |

Bill Frazer had been given strict instructions to land a little ways from the base camp so there wouldn’t be any close contact.   As soon as touch
down was complete, Bill opened the outside door.  He called back into the passenger compartment.  “Last stop!  All out for London and all points
west.”

“Thanks, Bill.”  Shermeen Collins smiled and waved at Frazer as she stepped out of the eagle.  The sunlight blinded her for a moment and she put
on a surgical mask as Helena had instructed.  Shermeen waved at Alan and Connie as they approached and walked across the clearing, giving
them a wide berth.  “Taking the sample bags back with you?”  Shermeen observed.

“Yea, that’ll save ya the trip.”  Connie pat the bags

“Listen, Connie, I’m really sorry….” Shermeen started.

Connie raised her hand and interrupted her.  “Nothin' fer anyone ta feel sorry for me 'bout.   I’ve had enough of
that in the last year.  These thin's
happen.”  Shermeen tried to say more but Connie walked toward the eagle with Alan following.  “After all, Doctor’s orders take precedence over any
head o' department.  She’ll prob'ly but me ta bed, tuck up the covers, and feed me broth fer another month.”

Shermeen walked on toward the base camp.  As soon as the eagle took off she removed her mask and went to work.

Alan made sure that Connie was settled before he went to the cockpit.  When he found the cockpit door locked, he called up to Frazer.  “Hey what’
s the big idea?  The door’s locked.”

Bill was sympathetic but unyielding.  “Doctors orders, mate.  Commander says I’m not to have any contact with you two.”

“Sit down, Carter.”  Connie called from her seat.  She sneezed twice.  “I don’t suppose ya have a hanky?”  Alan shook his head as he took a seat
next to her.  “No, I didn’t think so.  It’s standard procedure ta quarantine anyone who's suspected of carryin' any virus or disease into or out of
Alpha.  Even I know that.”  Connie tried to curl up and get comfortable in her seat.  “I’m tired.  Is it warm in here ta you?”

Alan stood to check the thermostat.  It was the same 70 degrees that it always was in the eagles.  He turned around to sit back down and almost
lost his balance.  “I’m going to have to give Bill some flying lessons.”

“Why?”  Connie shifted again.

“He’s pitching this bird all over space!”  Alan sat down.  “You’d think we had to go through a mine field to get back!”

“Leave him be, Alan.  He’s flyin' jist fine.”  Connie turned toward the wall and put her feet up on her sample bag.

“You probably didn’t feel it because you’re sitting down.”  Carter mused.

Helena put on a surgical mask while she waited for the decontamination chamber to release her patients.  As the door opened, Connie Schuler
almost knocked her over.  “Will ya let it go, man?  He’s a damn good pilot an' he was flyin' jist fine!”  She stopped short.  “Sorry Doctor Russell.”

Helena motioned the pair to follow her.  “How are you feeling?”

“We’re okay.”  Alan spoke up.

“Don’t let him fool ya, Doctor.  I’m hot and I’m havin' a wee bit of trouble breathin' and I think Carter’s feelin' dizzy.”  Connie expounded.

“It was Bill’s flying!”  Alan insisted.

“I suppose t'was Bill movin' the decontamination chamber too!”  Connie quipped as Helena ushered them down the hall and into the quarantine
room.

The doctor shut and locked the door behind her patients.  She turned on the 2-way speaker.  “Behind the curtains you’ll each find a blue-set to fit
you.  When you’re ready, we’ll start some tests.”  Helena indicated the changing curtains in either corner of the room.

“We’re ta be in here together?”  Connie waved her hand around.

“For now at least.”  Helena explained.  “We’ve put up a divider for your privacy and we’ll get you anything else you may need.  Also, the Records
Department has brought up a laptop for your report or any other use.”

Connie folded her arms across her chest and went behind the nearest curtain mumbling to herself.  “Will the nightmare never end?”

Helena turned off the speaker.

“How are they doing?”  John handed Helena a cup of coffee.

“We’re running all the standard tests and we still don’t know what they have…”  Helena took a sip of coffee and sat on the couch in their living area.

“But…” John prompted, sitting down next to her.

“We’re hoping to find a cure before Connie kills Alan.  She’s convinced he got her sick somehow.”  She took another sip of coffee.  She set her cup
on the  coffee table and moved closer to John, sinking into his arms.

The couple sat silent for quite some time before the door to their apartment burst open.  Bustling noise followed John and Helena’s two children.  
They ran into the room and jumped into their parent’s laps.

“Mom, guess what?”  12-year-old Catie settled herself on her fathers’ lap.

“What?”  Helena tucked 9-year-old Victor into her arms.

“We had
the most stellar day at school.”  Catie looked from one parent to the other.  “We go to Green Time, right, so that we can learn some farm
techs.  Well, we all jettison down and tech around, when
Ed Collins shows up to show us which plant is which.  I thought I’d go nova!”  Catie put her
hands on her cheeks.  She pushed off her father’s lap and kissed her parents.  “I just have to change.  We’re meeting in the R. C.”  She headed for
her bedroom.

Victor jumped off his mother’s lap.  “I have to change my clothes too.”

“Airlock that!”  Catie stopped and turned to face her brother.  “I will not be velcroed to you all night!”

“Catie!”  Helena pleaded.

Victor stood his ground.  “I don’t Velcro.  I can go to the R . C. anytime I want.”  He put his hands on his hips and stomped one foot.

“Hey, black hole.”  Catie knocked on top of Victor’s head.  “If you jettison to the R.C. with me, guess who’s responsible to jettison you home?”

“Nobody.”  Victor said defiantly.

“Ah, Victor…”  John started to interrupt.

Catie cut her father off.  “Wow, 2 black holes in the same place. Is that even possible?  No, crater brain,
I have to!  So just airlock it right here.”  
Catie turned on her heel and shut the door to her bedroom behind her.

Victor stomped off into his own room and closed the door.

Helena and John looked at each other for a moment.  Helena snuggled back into her husband’s arms.  “Who knew that becoming a parent requires
you to learn an entirely new language?”  She said.

Catie and Victor emerged from their rooms at the same time.  “Mom!” Catie whined.

Helena sat up to settle the argument when the compost began to beep.  “Saved by the bell.”

“That’s the end of round one.”  John quipped.

Helena walked to the post and hit the comm button.  Ed Spencer’s worried face appeared on the screen.  “What’s wrong, Ed?”

“Three more survey team members have started running a fever.”  He stated.

“Tell the entire team to pack up and come back to Alpha.”  Helena ran her fingers through her hair.  “Tell Allison to prepare the rest of the center
and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”  Ed nodded.

John came to stand behind Helena and placed his hands on her shoulders.  “Ed, is Donner okay to fly?”

“Yes, Commander.  His temperature hasn’t started to rise yet.”

“Good. Tell him to distance himself as much as he can from the others.”  Ed nodded again and Koenig broke off communications.

Helena sighed and started to move away but John turned her around and held her closely.  “Catie.  Your mother and I will be back as soon as we
can.  In the meantime, you are to look after your brother.  Take him with you and make sure that you’re both home by 20:30 hours.”

“Okay, Dad.”  Catie said.  She put her arm around Victor and led him out the door.  The children looked back at their parents as the apartment
door slid shut.
                                |                        |                        |

Catie and Victor walked into the Recreation Center together.  Most of Alpha’s children and a few off duty adults were there.  The Koenig children
each went to talk to a different group of friends.

Catie sank down in a chair across from Jackie Crawford and Francis Fraser.  Franny pushed a platter of mixed fruit toward Catie.  “I stopped at the
cafeteria before I jettison here.  Want some?”  Catie nodded and grabbed a couple of grapes.  “You look like you’ve been on yellow alert all day.”  
Fran stated.

“Thanks.”  Catie said sarcastically.  She popped a grape in her mouth and looked across the room at the video games.  “Where’s Sam?  I thought
she’d jettison here before me.”

“Don’t know.”  Jackie said.

When they heard the rec-center doors open, the trio turned to see who it was.  Jackie sank back into the couch.  “Just Antonia.”

Little Antonia Verdeschi stopped and stood on tiptoes as if she needed to see over a crowd of people.  Catie waved the 4-year-old over to them.  
“Toni!  Over here!”

“Guess what?”  Antonia threw herself onto the couch next to Jackie.  “I just heard my Papa and Uncle John talking about Uncle Alan being in
Meds.”  She bounced a little closer to Jackie and smiled up at him.

Fran looked worriedly at Catie.  “Is that true?  Is there something wrong with the survey team?”

Catie opened her mouth to respond just as Samantha Carter flew into the room.  “Red Alert!  I just jettison here from level H Meds where my Pop is
quarantined and I thought, you know, this is going to be totally stellar!  You know, no one to tell us what to do or anything.  But, then I thought, how
alpha nuclear is that!  I mean, what if it spreads!  Who’s going to run the base!  We are talking serious nova!

Fran stood and put her hand on Sam’s shoulder.  “Back it down to yellow alert!  You’ll blow a hatch or something.”  She sat Sam down in a chair
next to Catie, and then she sat down next to Jackie again.  “Go ahead and tell us, Catie.”

Catie sat forward in the chair and grabbed a couple of grapes.  “When Vic and I were leaving the apartment, Doctor Spencer called my mom and
said that three more team members have gotten sick.  They’re taking the whole team off the planet.”  She popped the grapes into her mouth and
sat back in the chair.

“That’s standard procedure.  They’ll be quarantined for the safety of the base.”  Jackie grabbed an apple and bit into it.

“You think you’re so alpha, Jackie!”  Samantha sneered at him.  “Just because you’ll be getting a commission when you turn 16 next year.”

“I’m just telling you how it works around here.”  Jackie tried to defend himself.  “And my name is
Jack, so don’t go nova.”

“Yea, don’t go nova.  Jackie knows a lot about a lot.”  Antonia piped up, then she smiled at Jackie again.

Jackie rolled his eyes.  “It’s Jack!”

Fran stifled a giggle and whispered in Jackie’s ear.  “
She thinks you’re alpha.”  She then spoke to everyone.  “I’m timed to intern tomorrow, so I’ll
info you as soon as I know anything.”

“Okay.”  Sam stood up.  “I am loosing serious training time.”  She pointed at Fran.  “Info me ASAP.”  Fran nodded and Samantha walked to the
corner with the video games.


                                |                        |                        |


 Bill Fraser walked into the hydroponics lab and set two black sample bags down on the large experiments table.  “Here you go, Eddy.”

“What’s this?”  Eddy Collins pushed aside the plant he was examining.

“Connie Schuler left these in the eagle and asked me to bring them to the lab.”  Bill peered over the top of Eddy
as he opened the first bag.  
“Anything good?”

“Lots of good.”  Eddy removed the plant and soil samples.  He pushed the bag aside and reached for the second.  “This is the reason the woman
is head of hydroponics!”  Eddy pulled a sample bag out and held it up for Frazer to see.

“You’re excited over a fern?”  Bill looked at the bag skeptically.

“Not just the fern.”  Eddy ignored his attitude.  “Look at its roots!”  He turned the bag over and on it’s side so Bill could see.  At a closer look he
could see little onion-like bulbs hanging from the roots.  “This could be a new strain of vegetable!”  Eddy almost shouted.

“Good!  Okay.”  Bill started to back toward the door.  “Well.  You have fun with your….plants and I’ll see you later.”

“Okay.  See ya!”  Eddy waved but never looked up from his samples.  He opened the bag and started taking out the fern plant as Fraser left the
lab.
     

                          |                        |                        |

All six members of the survey team filed into the level H medical center.  They glanced at the quarantine room as Helena and the nurses ushered
them inside.  Shermeen started to head for the observation window when Helena cut her off and steered her back to the other side.

Shermeen could tell that Connie was far worse than Alan.  “Is Connie okay?”  She whispered to Helena.

Helena looked in Connie’s direction quickly and turned back to Shermeen.  “She’ll be fine.  It just seems to be a bad cold.”  She tried to sound as
encouraging as possible.

Shermeen nodded. But she had caught the look of concern in Helena’s eyes.  She took her place with the other team members and accepted a
blue-set that the nurse handed her.

“Room dividers have been set up so that you will have as much privacy as we can afford you.”  Helena indicated the panels.  “The men on the left
and the women on the right.  I know that these are not ideal conditions, but you are under quarantine and we want to make sure it doesn’t spread
any further.”  Helena paused and indicated that they could chose which bed they wanted.  As the team dispersed Helena and the nurses moved
behind another privacy divider.  “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask for it.”

“How ‘bout some grub?”  Donner drawled.  “I don’ know ‘bout the rest of ya'll, but I’m starved.”
Helena was smiling as she removed her mask and gloves.  “Dinner will be on it’s way shortly.  First we take blood, then we give food.”  She watched
her nurses prepare a tray of empty sample bottles and hypodermic needles, then turned toward her desk.  She sat down in front of the observation
window and ran her hand through her hair.

Helena jumped slightly when her comlock beeped.  John’s face appeared on the screen.  “Hi!  What are you up to?”  Helena said softly.

“Actually, that’s what I’m calling you about.”  John smiled slightly.  “I don’t know how long I’ll be and I was wondering just how late you’ll be….”  John
raised his eyebrows and waited.

Helena took a deep breath then let it out.  “I just got the survey team here.  The nurses are taking blood samples now, then we have all the vitals to
check.”  She started to say more but John cut her off.  “Okay, okay.”  He smiled.

Helena smiled and pushed her bangs out of her eyes.  “I’ll take care of it.  Try and get some sleep tonight, though.”

“Look who’s talking!”  John teased.  “Physician take thine own advice.”  They both chuckled.  “You will be coming home tonight, right.”  John said
seriously.

“Right.”  Helena turned off her comlock and placed it back on her belt.  She sighed deeply and looked through the window at Connie and Alan.

Connie Shuler’s temperature was nearly 104 degrees.  Alan’s was still stable at 102 degrees.  Both of them had their heads elevated so they could
breath easier.  Helena worried about Connie the most.  Their symptoms emulated influenza, but none of the conventional cures were helping.  She
also hadn’t figured out what was causing it.


                                |                        |                        |

The door opened to a dark apartment.  Victor stepped inside and clapped his hands loudly.  Two small lamps on either side of the couch came on.  
“Mom?  Dad?”  He called.

Catie peeked into her parents’ bedroom. “Dad?”  She turned on a light but neither parent was there.  She turned off the lights and joined Victor in
the kitchen.  “They must not be home yet.”  She helped Victor take food from the refrigerator.

Victor looked at his sister.  “You are so lucky then.  Dad said to be home half an hour ago.”

Catie picked up a bowl of dressing and her plate of vegetables and headed for the couch.  “Sam needed a good walloping on that game.”  She set
the plate and bowl on the coffee table.

“Yea, too bad you weren’t the one to give it to her.”  Victor smiled at his sister sadistically.

Catie’s mouth hung open for a moment.  “How would you like to find out what a decompression chamber feels like without a spacesuit?”

Victor began to reply when the compost started beeping for attention.  They both ran to answer it.  Victor arrived first with Catie banging into him
as
he hit the com button.

Helena smiled at her children.  “Did you have fun in the Rec Center?”  The kids nodded.  “Good.  Your father and I will be home late tonight, so I
want you both in bed on time.”

“Okay, Mom.”  They said almost in unison.

“Also,”  Helena continued.  “We may need to leave early in the morning so, if we aren’t there, just get yourselves off to school.”

“Okay.”  Catie nodded.

“Right!”  Victor added enthusiastically.

Helena smiled broadly.  “What are you going to do before bed?”

Victor shrugged.  Catie spoke up.  “We just got some veggies and dip out.  I wanted to play the computer game that Mr. McKay made last week.  
Samantha says….”

“Doctor Russell, come quickly!”

Helena looked behind her then back at her children.  “I love you.”

Catie and Victor stood looking at the blank screen sadly.  Neither one moved for a moment.  Catie put her arm around her brother and they moved
silently to the couch.

“Do you still want to play the game?”  Victor asked softly.

“Do you?”  Catie asked.

“Nah.”  Victor dipped a carrot and bit off the end.  “I think I’ll just read.”

“Good idea.”  Both children went to their rooms and returned to the couch with a
reader and disc.

                                |                        |                        |

John Koenig returned home early in the morning to try and catch a few hours sleep before returning to Command Center.  A dim light in the kitchen
area told him that he wasn’t the only one up.  He went quietly into the kitchen finding Helena cooking something on the stove.  Moving quieter still,
John snuck up behind her, put his hands slowly around her waist and started kissing her neck.

“What if my husband should come home?”  She leaned back into his arms and sighed softly.  John’s lips and breath on her neck made her squirm
slightly.

“Don’t worry, I’ll just duck out the back window and shimmy down the drain-pipe.”  He stood straighter and kissed the side of her head.  “Are you
making cocoa?”  He pulled her shoulder length blond hair away from her face and kissed her cheek.

“You’ll make me burn it if you keep this up.”  She said playfully.  “Then we’ll both be sorry.”

He took her face in his hands and kissed her deeply.  When they separated, John held her closely for a moment.  “I’ll turn down the covers if you
bring me a cup of that.”

“Deal.”  Helena stifled a yawn.


                                |                        |                        |

Catie tiptoed to her parents’ bedroom door and peeked inside.  Neither one was there and the bed was made.  “I wonder if they even made it home
last night.”  Catie mumbled.

“What?”  Victor emerged from his room rubbing his eyes.  “Are they here?”  He looked toward his parents’ room then followed Catie to the kitchen.

“No.”  Catie grabbed a note from the fridge.  She read it aloud for her brother.

“Good morning, my children!
Your father and I have had to be back on duty early.
You’ll find cocoa in the microwave and fruit in the refrigerator.  We have
made plans for a family night, so please come right home from school.  
Have a good day and we’ll see you tonight.
All our love, Mom and Dad.”

Catie turned on the microwave and pulled the fruit out of the fridge.  Victor pulled out a half eaten veggie burger from an earlier meal and
unwrapped it.

“Yuck!”  Catie exclaimed as she pulled the hot cocoa from the microwave.  “You’re not eating that, are you?”

“Why not?”  Victor took a big bite.

“It’s from two nights ago!  It should be jettison to the recycler for the animals.”  Catie sat down at the table in disgust.

Victor took another large bite.  “M-m-m-m.”

The children sat and ate silently after that.  When they were finished, the kids took care of their dishes and went to their rooms to get ready for
school.

Catie was the first to emerge.  She adjusted her small backpack and called to her brother.  “Come on, Vic.  We’ll miss the tube and then we’ll be
late.”

Victor came out of his room trying to shove something into his backpack that was too big for it.  “I’m coming!  Airlock it!”


“What is that?”  Catie tried to take it from him.

“It’s mine!”  Victor pulled away almost dropping the object.  “Dad said I could have it and take it to school to show the others.”  It’s wrappings started
to fall away and Catie caught sight of it.

“It’s a rock.”  Catie folded her arms across her chest.  “That’s from the catacombs.”

“Shows how much you know.”  Victor sneered.  “This is a piece of the meteorite that uncle Alan brought back last month.  Mrs. Fraser said I could
give an oral presentation as soon as it was released from the lab.”  Victor wrapped it tighter and tucked it under his arm.  He headed for the door.  
“Come on!  We gotta jettison or we’ll be late!”
                                |                        |                        |

Maya stepped tentatively into the Medical Center and looked around.  Ed Spencer looked up from his equipment.  “Maya.  What can we do for you
today?”

Maya looked toward Helena’s office.  “Is Helena available?”

“Not really.”  Ed turned off the light on the microscope and crossed the room.  “She’s up in the other center.  Can I help you with something?”

“No, that’s alright.  I….I was just going to see if she wanted to have a cup of coffee.”  Maya smiled and took a step backward.  She stumbled slightly
and Ed grabbed her arm to steady her.

“Are you all right?”  Ed watched her suspiciously.

“I’m fine, really.”  Maya had to blink a couple of times.

“Sit down over here.”  Ed led her to an examining table and helped her up.

“I’m fine.  I just stepped wrong.”  Maya insisted.

Ed took out his penlight and checked Maya’s eyes.  He put the light down on a nearby tray and picked up an ear thermometer.  When it beeped he
tilted it to read it and Maya looked at him.

“Well?”  She prompted softly.

“You have a temperature.  2 degrees over normal.”  Ed put the thermometer back on the tray.  “Are you having trouble breathing or feeling
dizzy…other than just a moment ago?”  He smiled slightly.

Maya looked at her hands.  “I’m not having any trouble breathing.  I noticed that I might be getting a fever so I thought I’d come and see Helena.  
When I got out of my chair in Command Center, I had to stand still for a moment and get my balance.  Then, of course, just a minute ago.”  Maya
looked up at Ed.  “I’ve got it don’t I.”

“It appears so, but I’ll call Doctor Russell and see what she thinks.”  Ed walked away still talking to Maya.  “I’ll send a nurse in to help you change.”  
He went into Helena’s office and shut the door.


                                |                        |                        |

Annette Fraser grabbed the beeping comlock off her belt and hit the button.  “Yes, Doctor?”  She smiled at Helena.

“Annette, are the children on their lunch break?”  Helena looked pale and worried.

“Yes.  Why?”  Annette stood and headed for the door.

“I need you to take them all the Recreation Center as soon as they’re finished.  Don’t hurry them.  Take your time and I’ll meet you there.”  Helena
tried not to let her voice give way.

“Is something wrong, Doctor?”  Annette had made it to the hall and her voice was a whisper.

Helena smiled as best she could.  “Take your time.  Don’t hurry the children.”  She broke off communications.

Annette stood stunned for a moment.  She collected herself as much as possible before she re-entered the cafeteria.  She knew the doctor well
enough to know when she was holding back.  She walked back into the cafeteria with a smile on her face but her head was swirling with questions.

Annette sat back down in her chair and tried to finish her meal.  Jackie, sitting at the next table with his superior, watched the entire thing.  He
leaned over to his former teacher and whispered to her.  “Everything all right, Mrs. Fraser?”

Annette looked at him as if she’d been startled.  “Fine!  I just got a change of curriculum for this afternoon.  Everything’s fine.  Just fine.”  She
smiled and turned back to her meal.

Jackie resumed eating but kept an eye on her  “She was never a good liar.”  He thought.

Annette tried to stay as normal as possible.  She just couldn’t stop the nagging feeling that something was truly wrong.

When most of the adults had left the cafeteria, Annette stood and made an announcement to her class.  “There’ll be a little change in plans today.  
Instead of going to the eagle bay, we’ll be going to the Rec Center.”  This information brought wild cheers from the children.  She raised her hands
to quiet them, a real smile on her face.  “Doctor Russell-Koenig will be joining us for our lesson.”

Raquel Collins’ hand shot up in the air.  “What’ll we be learning?”

They all looked at Annette and she faltered slightly.  “Ah….it’s a surprise!”  She recovered quickly.  “Now, finish up and then we’ll all head up
there.”  She sat back down and tried to relax.

Jackie and his superior stood to leave and said their good-byes to Annette. She smiled cordially but he could tell that she was worried about
something.

Not long after they left, Annette gathered the children and led them to the elevator that would take them to the Recreation Center.  The children
chattered merrily in the elevator and travel tube.

They entered the Rec Center lounge area where they met Doctor Koenig and two nurses.  The medical team wore full white decontamination suits
causing the children to hush to a whisper.

While the smaller children wondered why the adults were dressed oddly, the older ones noticed the extra tables and chairs.  On one chair there
were a pile of emergency blankets.

Jackie and Francis were the last to arrive.  Pulled off of
their afternoon training, they met outside the door and now moved to stand next to
Annette.  Jackie leaned over to whisper.  “Now will you tell me what’s going on?”  Annette Fraser simply shrugged.

“Now that you’re all here, I need you to listen very carefully.”  Helena’s muffled voice silenced them.  “Most of you already know that the survey
team has been pulled off the surface of this new planet and that most are very sick.  What you may not know is that it appears to be spreading to
some of the other adults.”  This news caused the children to whisper worriedly amongst themselves.

“Who’s sick Aunt Helena?”  Antonia Verdeschi spoke.


 Helena closed her eyes a moment then looked at the little girl.  “There are quite a few.”  She took a deep breath.  “The latest ones you may not
know about are…”  She looked at the children in turn.  “…Bill Fraser…Sue Crawford…Ed Collins…Andrea Mathias…Tony and Maya
Verdeschi…John Koenig…”
Her voice wavered and she stopped.  She quietly cleared her throat and continued.  “We’re working on a vaccine now,
but in the meantime, we’re quarantining you all for your own safety.  We will need your cooperation as much as possible.  Okay?”  The children
simply nodded solemnly.  “We’ve converted the Solarium into sleeping quarters.  The infants and toddlers are already in there.  We can’t always be
with you, so we really need the younger children to listen to the older ones.  Also, Francis Fraser and Linsey Mathias will be in charge of the
babies.  Please give them any assistance they may need.”  Nothing Helena said made the worried looks of the children disappear.  She tried to
think of something comforting.  “We will come and visit and check up on you as often as we can.  Meals and snacks will be brought from the
cafeteria every day.”


 Just at that moment the buzzer sounded at the door.  One of the nurses went to let in two crewman wearing decontamination suits.  They carried
trays of fruits and vegetables, soy burgers and rice cakes and various condiments.  They set them on the tables and left the center.  The children
watched the procession until they were gone then turned back to the doctor.

“Doctor Russell?”  A hand shot up in the back of the small crowd.

“Yes, Jack.”  Helena was careful to use his more mature name.

“How long will we be in here?”  He asked seriously.

“We’re not sure exactly how long.”  Helena noticed Annette moving slowly toward her daughter.  She whispered quickly to her nurse and then
continued.  “It will depend on how long it takes to develop a vaccine and administer it to everyone.”

As Helena explained the process, Annette reached Franny’s side.  She reached out to hold her hand when the nurse seized her wrist and pulled
her gently but firmly to the door.  Fran started to reach out and stop her from leaving when Jackie grabbed her hand and turned her back to face
the doctor.  He hissed quietly in her ear.  “We don’t know how it’s transmitted or if she’s been infected.”  Small tears rolled down Fran’s cheeks and
her bottom lip started to quiver.

Helena continued as if nothing had happened.  “So, if you’ll each take a blanket and follow me, I’ll show you where everything is.”  Helena moved
toward the back of the lounge.

All the children moved toward the pile of blankets slowly except Catie Koenig.  She almost ran forward, grabbed a blanket and caught up with her
mother before the other children.  “How bad is Daddy sick?”

Helena could barely look at her own child.  She could see John’s eyes in hers.  Commander Koenig had been the twelfth person, outside the
survey team, to succumb to this disease.  Some were fighting it off fairly well, but not John.  He hadn’t arrived in the Medical Center until the
symptoms were completely out of his control.  She wasn’t quite sure how he had made it all the way on his own.

She didn’t want to lie to her daughter, but Catie and John were so close.  She wasn’t sure if her little girl could handle the whole truth.  “He’s got the
same thing as the others.  A fever, some respiratory trouble…he’s going to be fine.”  Helena tried to smile under the mask.  Catie knew she wasn’t
being told everything.

The other children had caught up and they all moved down the hall toward the Solarium.  “Of course, you will have the run of the entire Recreation
Center.”  Helena called back over her shoulder.   They paused at the big double doors that led to the changing rooms and pool area.  “Please be
sure that swimming is done in groups of 2 or more and no youngsters in without someone 11 years or older.”  Helena heard disgruntled sounds
from her son and his friends.

They moved on to the Solarium.  “As you’ll see, we’ve blocked it in sections for boys and girls.”  She felt as if she’d been saying that for a week.   
“So pick a spot and make yourselves as comfortable as possible.  If there is anything personal that you would like from home, please tell your
parents when they visit, or let me or one of the nurses know and we’ll do our best to get it for you.  I have to get back to the Medical Center, but I’ll
be back later tonight.”  The children watched her turn around and walk out the door.

Helena took off her decontamination suit in the outside hallway.  She brushed a tear from her cheek as she took her comlock off her belt.  
“Computer, this is Doctor Helena Russell-Koenig.  Allow access to main Recreation Center doors via comlock only.  Restrict access to main
Recreation Center doors from any comlock under level 2.”  She wadded the suit up and tucked it under her arm, then moved down the hall to the
nearest medical center to check on her patients there.

The children stuck together most of the afternoon.  Catie had found playpens in a storage closet.  They all helped set them up in the lounge, and
then carried the babies in there to keep an eye on them.  

Fran was standing next to one of the playpens when Jackie came and stood beside her.  “What are we going to do, Jack?”  She folded her arms
tightly across her chest.

“We wait.  They’re going to find a cure.  They have to.”  His voice went soft and quiet.

“I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my mom.”  Fran started to cry softly and Jackie put his arm around her shoulders.

“I promise that it’ll all work out okay.”  Jackie pat her shoulder then let go.  “Are you hungry?”  Fran shook her head and wiped her eyes before the
other children could see.

The doors to the Rec Center suddenly opened to several adults in decontamination suits.  Catie, Victor, Samantha and Paul jumped up off the
floor where they had been playing a game.  “Mom!”  They all yelled.

Other parents had arrived to visit with their children.  Nurses and other crewmen filed in with food and personal items and set them up on the
tables.  One of the nurses took a baby from Linsey so that she could visit with her father.

The room was buzzing with chatter and laughter.  Helena and Sandra Carter greeted Antonia and Raquel Collins.  “How’s my Mama and Papa,
Aunt Helena?”  Antonia almost jumped into Helena’s lap.

“And my Mom and Dad?”  Raquel looked at Sandra.

The women answered their questions as well as they could without frightening the children.  “I won’t lie.”  Helena started slowly.  “They are very
sick, that’s why they can’t be here to visit with you.”

“But, as soon as they’re well enough, we’ll send them here to see you.”  Sandra volunteered.

The children seemed satisfied with that so Helena and Sandra asked what they had been doing without them.  They all had a pleasant time with the
kids and one by one the adults filtered out.  Helena and the nurses were the last to leave.

The nurses had fed, changed and checked the babies and toddlers whose parents hadn’t been able to come and visit.  Then they put them down
for a nap before checking the other children and leaving.  Jackie stopped Helena at the door.  “Is my Mother going to die, Doctor?”  Helena
hesitated.  Jackie took a step closer.  “Please don’t lie to me.  I’m not like the little ones, I can handle the truth.”  He spoke seriously, never breaking
eye contact with her.

“We don’t know what’s causing it, Jack.”  Helena removed her comlock from her belt.  “We’re doing the best we can.”  She opened the lounge door
and started to leave.

“How many more have gotten sick?”  Jackie suddenly blurted out.

Helena looked around sharply to be sure none of the other children heard.  “Fifteen more, just today, and I don’t even know how it’s spreading.”  
Helena took a deep breath.  “The one consolation I have is that neither Alan Carter or Connie Schuler has died from it.  It isn’t much, but it gives us
hope.”

Jackie nodded and Helena stepped out of the room and closed the door.  Fran walked up to Jackie and led him back to the group.


                        |                        |                        |

The following days’ routine went about the same way, until the evening visit.  Three of the parents had not shown up.  Francis also
noticed that one of the nurses had been replaced and that her mother looked a little flushed.

When the parents and nurses were gone, the children all sat together in the lounge.  They were very quiet for quite awhile.

Tasha Schuler sat at Linsey’s side, hugging her arm.  “Why didn’t my Da come to see me?”  The 3 year old asked.

Linsey looked pleadingly at Jackie and Fran.  Fran nodded and made a face that said, ‘tell her!’  Linsey had always wanted to be a doctor like her
dad and Doctor Koenig, but the 10 year old didn’t know if she could handle this part of the job.  “Well.”  She swallowed hard and her voice faltered a
little.  “He probably didn’t come tonight because…he might be sick too.”  Linsey finally spit it out.

“Not my Da!”  She started crying.  “My Ma says he’s big and strong and nothin’ can hurt him.”  The little girl melted into Linsey’s side.  She hugged
Tasha tight and rocked her slightly.

After a few moments Jackie spoke up.  “Why don’t we all just go to bed early tonight?”        

They all agreed and helped Fran and Linsey with the babies.  Once in the solarium those not helping went to their own beds.

Antonia was too small to carry one of the babies but she tagged along after Jackie, Fran and Catie.  “Catie?” The little half-Psychon piped up.

“Yea.”  Catie tucked a blanket around an infant.

Antonia watched her work.  “How did Mama get sick when she’s not human?”

Catie stopped and looked at her little friend.  She had almost forgotten that Maya wasn’t
an Earthling.  “Umm…I don’t know.  I don’t ever think of
Aunt Maya as an alien.”  She took her hand and led her to the ‘girl’s side.’  “I only ever think of her as my Mom’s friend that has an incredibly stellar
talent.”  Catie smiled down at Toni.

“Totally stellar!”  Raquel piped up from behind.  

The girls changed into their nightclothes and Catie tucked Antonia into her bed.  “Do you know any stories, Catie?”

“I know one that my Dad told me a couple of times.”  Catie said hesitantly.

“Can you tell it to me?”  Antonia looked at Catie with dark pleading eyes.

“Okay.”  Catie settled herself on the corner of the bed.  
“Once upon a time in a land of green and plenty there lived a kind but strong king named
King…Tony.  King Tony had 12 lovely daughters.  There was the oldest named…Francis.  Then came…Raquel, Catie, Linsey, Samantha,
Antonia…”
Toni giggled.  “Tasha and…umm…5 other sisters.”  Now Catie had the attention of all the girls.  “Fearing for his daughter’s safety he
locked them in their bedroom each night.”
 “Why?” Tasha asked.  “Because every night they had beautiful slippers and every morning their slippers
were torn and ugly.  So King Tony, wanting to know how it happened, sent out a proclamation.”
 “What’s a problemation?”  Tasha wondered.  
“Proclamation.  He sent a message out to all the people.”  Catie explained.  Several ‘oh!’s were heard.  “The king said that if anyone could tell him
where his daughters went every night, they could marry any one of his girls.  On that very night a young man named…Jack…came upon a fairy
princess called…”
 “Maya!” Raquel almost yelled.  “Okay, Maya.  She granted him one wish.  He wished that he could find the princesses secret so
that he could marry one of them.”
 Antonia’s hand shot up.  “Oh, me!  Please, me!”  “The fairy Maya then gave Jack a magic coat that would make
him invisible.  He thanked the sweet fairy and headed off
to the castle.”

“That’s enough for tonight.”  Catie re-tucked Antonia.  Several complaints were heard around the room.

“She’ll tell some more tomorrow.”  Fran tucked Tasha into bed.  “Now jettison to sleep.”

“And have stellar dreams!”  Raquel interrupted cheerfully.

Fran turned out the lights and eventually they were all sound asleep.


                |                        |                        |

Somewhere around 03:00 hours, Antonia Verdeschi sat straight up in bed.  Her breathing was heavy and haggard.  She threw the blanket off her
legs and crept out to the lounge area.  Toni went straight to the food tables to get a drink.  She emptied a glass of water and was about to walk out
of the lounge when she suddenly turned around.  “Mama?”  The little girl looked through the dim light to the other side of the room.  Toni crossed
the room slowly.  In bare feet and nightclothes, the child stood in front of the door leading out of the lounge.  She reached up, her hand shaking
slightly, and pushed the button to release the door.  It slid back and the small child walked down the hall to the outside door.  Once again she
pushed the control button.  Nothing happened.

Antonia swallowed back tears and crouched down under the control panel.  She ran her hand over the wall for a moment before jumping up.  She
padded quickly over to the tables, found a knife and returned to her crouched position next to the door.  Using the knife, she forced open a small
panel to reveal the wires that controlled the door.  Again Toni used the knife to cut the wires and cross them to force the door to release.

Now in the hall, Antonia looked around.  “Mama?”  She almost whispered.  She turned suddenly to her right and walked slowly down the hallway.  
She’d never been out this late at night before, not even with her parents.  The hallway was cold and frightening and Toni stayed close to the walls.

The four year old had gone quite a way when she suddenly heard strange noises coming from in front of her.  She had to round a corner to the
left, so she tiptoed quickly across the hall and edged slowly around the corner.

At the end of the hall was the medical center.  The doors were wide open and Antonia could see several adults sleeping on the beds.  Helena
suddenly came out of the center and went into another room nearby.  Toni stepped back so that she was completely hidden by the corner.  She
peeked out in time to see Helena re-enter the Medical Center.

The doctor stood just inside the doorway and motioned to someone.  “Bring her in here.”

Antonia watched in horror as Maya was half dragged to the door by two security men.  Tears rolled down her checks as she watched her mother
start to morph and struggle, then regain control and go half limp from exhaustion.  “Mama.”  Antonia’s lips moved but no sound came out of her
mouth.

Maya’s head came up quickly and mother and daughter made brief eye contact before she disappeared into the other room.

Antonia raced back down the hall to the Rec Center.  Crying openly, the little girl ran inside, closed the main doors and re-wired it back to normal.  
Jamming the panel back in place, she ran down the hall and into the solarium. Toni walked to Catie’s bed and crawled under the covers.

Catie woke up from all the movement.  “Toni?  What’s wrong?”  She spoke groggily.

“I had a bad dream.”  Antonia choked.

“It’s okay you’re safe now.”  Catie wrapped her up in her arms and rocked her until they both fell asleep.


                |                        |                        |

The next day was like the one before, except that fewer parents had shown up to visit.  Antonia didn’t come to sit in Helena’s lap.  In fact, the child
seemed to make an effort to avoid her.  When Helena moved to help feed and examine the infants, Antonia made sure she moved to another
corner.  The doctor called her daughter over to help.  “What’s wrong with Antonia?”  Helena handed Catie an open med-kit for her to hold.

Catie looked in the little girl’s direction then back at her mother.  “Nothing.”

Helena raised her eyebrows.  “Nothing?  She’s been avoiding me today like I have the plague.”  Mother and daughter looked at each other.  “No
pun intended.”

Catie shrugged.  “She had a bad dream last night, but she’s not sick or anything.”

“Aw.  She must be missing her parents.  What was the dream about?”  Helena moved on to a group of toddlers in a playpen.

Catie followed with the med-kit.  “Don’t know.  I’ve asked a couple of times but she airlocked it.”  She shook her head.  Helena’s brow furrowed and
she looked at Catie.  “Oh, sorry.”  Catie giggled.  “She’s not talking about it to anyone.”

Helena finished her examinations and took the med-kit from Catie.  She approached Antonia from behind.  Helena knelt next to the child and
opened her kit.  Realizing there was nowhere to go, Antonia drew her knees up and hid her face in them.  “Toni?”  When Helena touched her
shoulder she tried to shrink away.  “I have to examine you, sweetie.  To make sure you’re all right!”

Antonia stopped squirming but she still wouldn’t look at the doctor.  Helena finished the exam and moved on to the other children.  Neither of them
let the other out of their site until Helena left.

Antonia stayed near Catie the rest of the day but only spoke when she was asked a question.  Catie couldn’t wait for her mother to return that
evening so that she could talk to her about it.

Dinner arrived via two crewmen and two nurses.  Jackie peeked through the door before it closed.  “Where’s Dr. Russell?”

“Koenig.”  Victor corrected him.

Jackie only scowled at the boy.  He stepped toward the nurses.  “Is she coming tonight?”

One of the nurses looked at him for a moment, then shook her head and turned back to the babies.  None of the children moved.  They just stood
or sat staring at the nurses.

After they were gone, the older children tried to persuade the younger ones to eat.  All of them nibbled on a little but no one really ate.

The children spent the rest of the evening playing quiet games or reading.  One by one, without being told, the kids went to bed.  The older girls
put the babies to bed, and then joined the others.

Catie sat indian-style on her bed.  “Who wants to hear some more of the story?”  The girls mumbled and Catie heard a couple of meek no’s.  She
sighed and, changing quickly, hopped into her bed.

Not long after the lights went out Catie felt a small hand on her shoulder.  She rolled over to see Antonia standing beside her bed.  “What’s
wrong?”  She whispered.

“Can I sleep with you?”  Toni whispered loudly.

Catie smiled and threw back the covers.  She climbed in with the older girl and they snuggled up together.


                |                        |                        |

“Franny, I’m hungry.”  Three-year-old Tasha Schuler tugged on Fran Fraser’s top.

“Me too, Catie.”  Antonia looked up at the tweleve-year-old.

“Fran, what time is it now?”  Sam asked in an unusually quiet tone.

“11:30 hours.”  Fran answered, hauling Tasha onto her lap.  

“Something’s wrong.”  Jackie paced the room worriedly.  “Something isn’t right.”

“Is that true, Catie?  Is there something wrong with my mama and papa, and Aunt Helena, and the nurses?  Is it true?”  Antonia spoke quickly.

“I don’t know, Toni.”  Catie tried to quiet the four-year-old.

“Jackie, stop pacing like that.  You’re scaring them.”  Fran hissed as she rocked Tasha slightly and stroked her hair.

“Not to mention the rest of us.”  Sam piped up.

“I can’t stop.  There’s something wrong.”  Jackie ignored the misusage of his name.  “Nobody’s come since last night.  We get nothing on the
compost for news and no ones answered our page.”

“Catie, what d’you suppose happened to Mom and Dad?”  Victor climbed up and sat on the table next to his sister.

“Nova!  How black hole could I get?  You’d think I went mushroom or something.  Was my brain airlocked?”  Jackie rambled.

“Jackie!  WHAT?!”  Fran stopped him.

“No one’s come for hours, right?  Not even a nurse, and the number of people that have come to visit us in the past couple of days has
decreased.  First Sam and Paul’s mom stops coming and then Dr. Russell.”

“Koenig!”  Catie and Victor shouted in unison.

“Sorry, Koenig.  And now, not even a nurse.”

“So, what are you getting at?”  Sam was starting to get irritated.

“They’re sick!  Their all sick!”  Jackie turned to the door.  “We gotta go out there.  They could be dead.”

“Franny!”  Tasha shrieked.

“Jackie stop talking like that!”  Fran yelled.

“Airlock it for right now, Fran.  We’ve gotta go out there!”

“Are you mushroom?  It’s total red alert out there!"  Sam jumped to her feet.

“Would you rather starve, Sam?”  Jackie turned on her.

“Wait, time warp for me.  Who’s starving?”  Raquel Collins spoke up.

“Black hole alert.  Destination, Raquel.”  Paul joked.

Raquel shot Paul a mean look.

“Jackie thinks the adults are all sick.”  Catie answered simply.  “No one’s come to bring us food and Jackie wants to go out there.”

“Are you mushroom?!”  Raquel repeated.

Jackie pulled out his comlock and pointed it at the door but, before he could push a button, Fran had pushed Tasha off her lap.  She jumped up
and was by Jackie’s side, trying to reason with him.  “Jack, what if it’s airborne?  What if we get the disease just by breathing the air?  Didn’t you
listen in science class?  We don’t have much of an immune system!  We’ll defiantly die if we get it!”

“We’ll die anyway, Fran.  The leftovers aren’t enough to last more than half a day.  We have to go out.”  Jackie began to press a button when she
stopped him again.

“Wait!”  Fran turned to Catie.  “Go get Linsey and Jose.”  When Catie returned with the other two children, Fran continued to give directions.  
“Okay.  Catie, Jose, Linsey, Raquel, Jackie and I are going out.  Sam.”  Fran looked at the ten-year-old as she stood at attention.  “You’re in
charge.”

“Can I go?  I can keep up with you.  I know the whole base by heart.”  Victor pleaded.

“No Vic!  You stay here and listen to what Sam tells you!”  Catie instructed.

“But…”

“No!”

“Okay Sam, gather everyone up and take them back to the library.”  Fran turned back to Jackie after they left.  “Okay.”

“Stellar!  This is gonna be just like a mission!”  Raquel squealed excitedly.

They crept down the hall to the main Recreation Center door.  Jackie held up his comlock again and pushed a button to open the door.    He
pushed it again, not understanding why the door wouldn’t open.  He pushed it several more times, but none with the success of opening the door.

“What’s the matter, Jack?”  Linsey spoke from the back.  She was impatient and nervous.

“I don’t know.  My comlock won’t open the door.”

“Let me try.”  Fran pulled out her comlock and pushed the same button a couple of times.  “It won’t work!”   She said, slightly astonished.

“That’s what I just said!”

“Well that’s just great, Jackie.  Excuse me, ‘Mr. Genius’, when can we schedule another of your mushroom ideas?”  Raquel said sarcastically.

“Well at least I tried!  I didn’t exactly see you jumping with a nova idea of how to get out!”  Jackie snapped.

“What if we pried the door open?”  Jose suggested.

“No…well…maybe.”  Jackie pondered.  “Well, no harm in trying.”

The group gathered at the door and pulled on the curved design.  When it didn’t budge they stepped back.

“This is just nova!”  Linsey said sarcastically, beginning to panic.  “Now how are we going to get out?”

“You want out?”  A small voice inquired fro the back

The six children spun around to face little Antonia, who was leaning against a wall with her hands behind her back.  “I can get you out.”  She smiled.

“Antonia!  What are you doing here?  You’re supposed to be in the library with Samantha.”  Catie said sternly.

“I wanted to see what you were gonna do.”  The girl shrugged  “This looks pretty stellar.”

“Toni, go to the library!”  Jackie commanded.

“But I can get you out, Jackie.”  She said sweetly, her eyelids fluttering.

He eyed her suspiciously tilting his head.  “How?”

“It’s all in the wiring.”  She walked over to the panel by the door.  “Aunt Helena locked it by voice command it seems…so…” She pried the panel off
with a knife and began searching for a wire.  “You just have to…find…the right…wire.”

Jackie knelt next to her, watching her every move.

“Okay.”  She said after a few seconds of work.  “I just have to cross this last wire…”

“Wait!”  Jackie stopped her.  “If you cross these two wires, will the door automatically open?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, thanks, Toni.  Go back to the library now.  “Jackie instructed.

“Hey!”  She pouted, dropping the wires.  “I got the door open.  I should be al
lowed to go, too!”

“No, Toni!  Now go.”

“Okay.”  Antonia slowly walked down the hall.

The group watched her step into the library, and the door close behind her.  Jackie crossed the wires and watched the door open slowly.

The six children took a step back involuntarily as the door opened.

Jackie and Fran stepped out first, not realizing they were holding their breath.  They looked down the corridors.  Seeing that they were empty and
dark, the pair called the other children out.

“Where do we go, Jack?”  Linsey asked tentatively.

“Medical Center.  I want to see what’s going on.”

The children walked slowly down the corridor toward the center.

As they neared one room, they heard strange noises coming from it.  Catie peaked inside, inhaled sharply, then shrieked at the sight.  “Aunt
Maya!!”  Maya obviously heard her because she looked up as Fran pulled Catie back.

“Don’t go ahead of us!”  Jackie scolded, gesturing to Fran.

“But…Aunt Maya…”

“Okay, honey, calm down.”  Fran had Catie take a deep breath.  She turned to the rest of the group.  “Whatever any of you see, do not tell
Antonia!  Understand?”  The rest of the group nodded.  As they rounded the corner each child looked into the room that held only Maya.

The group watched as she changed from creature to creature, pulling at her restraints and bindings.  Catie, Raquel and Fran hid their eyes and
led the other three away.

As they stood in front of the door to Medical Center, Jackie turned around.  “Okay, we are going to be very cautious.  Don’t touch anyone in bed or
who appears to be sick.  Agreed?”

“Agreed.”  They answered almost in unison.

The door slid open and the children stepped in cautiously.  The girls huddled together with Jose’ and Jackie in front.

The center was dimly lit but they could still see the adults sleeping in scattered beds.  The room was over crowded and the group had to move
carefully.  One light was brighter than the rest and that’s what they headed for.

They slowly approached the blond haired woman sitting at the desk.  “Excuse me?”  Jackie almost stuttered.

The woman turned and inhaled sharply.  The little group did the same when they saw who it was.  Carolyn Powell put her hand to her throat and
stood up.  “What are you doing here?  You’re supposed to be in…”  Her eyes went wide.  “Oh my god, I forgot to bring your food!”  She took a step
forward.  “How did you get out?  It’s too dangerous for you to be wandering around the base!”  She inhaled sharply again and spoke in a whisper.  
“Have you touched anyone?  Dr. Koenig will blame me if you’ve touched anyone!”

The children looked at one another as she rambled on.  Catie stepped forward and held her hands up.  “Carolyn!”  She used a commanding voice
and the young woman stopped and stared at her.  Catie lowered her hands.  “We haven’t touched anyone.  Why is that important?”

Carolyn closed her eyes and took a deep breath.  Since the encounter with the lambda phenomenon wiped her memories, mentally she wasn’t
much older than Jackie and the strain was starting to show.  She spoke slowly and eventually opened her eyes.  “Before she succumbed to the
illness, Dr. Koenig found out that the disease was being transmitted by touch.”

“So, if we touch anyone we’ll get sick and die?”  Jackie interrupted.

“No!”  Carolyn sounded excited.  “No one’s died yet.”

“When did my mom get sick, Carolyn?”  Catie asked.

“Yesterday afternoon.”  Carolyn went quiet.  “She came back from making her rounds and collapsed in this chair.  She told us to make sure you got
your evening meal and then she passed out.  We put her to bed and Anna left to check on you.  She never came back.”  Carolyn looked at each
one of them.  “You should go back to the Rec Center.  It’s not safe out here.”

“Who’s running the base?”  Jackie stared at her in disbelief.

Carolyn simply stared at him.  “No one.”

“No one?!”  Jackie’s mouth fell open.

“The Commander said that they put the base on automatic.”  She said flatly.

Jackie shook his head.  They were all quiet for a moment, then he turned around sharply.  “Fran, you and Linsey stay here and help Carolyn.”

“Alone?!”  Fran hissed in a panicked voice.

“You’ll be fine.”  Catie insisted.  She understood her paranoia.  They had all heard the story of how Carolyn had tried to take over the base.  But
Catie had watched her mother
“raise” her and teach her and she knew that Carolyn was a different person.

Jackie turned to the others.  “The rest of us need to go around the base and make sure that everything is still functioning and see if anyone else is
still standing.”

“Wait!”  Carolyn went to a shelf and grabbed a handful of surgical gloves.  “Put these on if you should encounter anyone.  Don’t ever let them
touch your skin.”  She gave a set to each of them.

Jackie, Catie, Jose’ and Raquel left the medical center heading for the travel tube.  Catie stopped at the door and turned back to Carolyn.  “Go
take the kids their meal please.”  Carolyn nodded and Catie ran to catch up with the others.  As they waited for the tube to arrive, Catie voiced what
they were all thinking.  “Where do we start?”  Everyone looked at Jackie.

He looked at each one of them and shrugged.  “I’m open to suggestions.”

Raquel folded her arms across her chest.  “The base is too big to just run all over looking for people.”  They all looked at the girl hoping for an
answer.  She took a very deep breath.  “We should definitely know where we’re gonna start before we jettison there.”  Raquel nodded her head
matter-of-factly.

The opening of the tube doors hid Jackie’s groan of disapproval.  Jose’ just stared at the girl and Catie said sarcastically, “Thanks, Raquel,” as she
stepped inside the travel tube.

They all moved inside and the door closed.  Jackie stood at the controls a moment, then turned to the group.  “Where
do we start?”

“Oh!”  Jose’ sat up straight.  “My mom and dad used to tease me that Commander Koenig could see everything we did from his desk in Command
Center!”

“Is that true, Catie?”  Jackie looked at the girl.

Catie’s face was all smiles.  “Yeah!  We used to play games sometimes.  He’d show me part of Alpha and I’d have to guess where it was!”

“Nova!  That’s where we start.”  Jackie pushed the buttons and sat down.

“Nova!”  Raquel repeated excitedly.


The door opened to a dimly lit center.  The group stood just outside the door.  No one moved.  “That’s kind of creepy.”  Raquel whispered from the
back.  Catie nodded her head in agreement.

Jackie took a few tentative steps into the room and looked around.  Realizing he was alone, he motioned the others to follow.  “Come on!”  He
whispered.

The trio moved slowly into the room, almost as one unit.  Their eyes were wide as if they expected something to jump out at them.

“Can someone turn on the lights?”  Raquel clung to Catie’s arm.

Jackie looked around the Commander’s desk.  “I don’t see anything…” He mumbled.

“Oh!”  Catie jumped to the wall near the door and hit a button causing the lights to come up.  Everyone turned and stared at her.  “Sorry.”  She
shrugged and returned to the group.

“Okay.”  Jackie pulled Catie alongside him.  “How does this work?”  The other two gathered around.

“It’s been awhile since we played.”  Catie looked over the keys carefully.  She bit her bottom lip and pressed a button.

Computers suddenly started flashing yellow alert.  Klaxons wailed throughout the base.  Raquel grabbed her ears and Catie frantically push
buttons until the noise stopped.  They all exhaled heavily.

“And for her next trick, ladies and gentlemen…”  A voice said behind them.  They all turned to see Victor leaning against the doorframe.  Antonia
and Paul stood beside him.

“What do you think your doing out of the R.C.?”  Jackie demanded.

“Arriving just in time, I’d say.”  Paul quipped.

“You shouldn’t be out!”  Raquel put her arm around Toni.

Antonia whispered back loudly.  “I told them I wouldn’t get them out unless I could go too.”  She covered her mouth so as not to laugh out loud.

“What are you guys doing here?”  Catie put her hands on her hips.

“Stop trying to be mom.”  Victor pushed her out of the way.  “You won’t get anywhere if you don’t override dad’s codes.”  He pushed several
buttons and cleared the yellow alert status.  Then he pushed a few more and they were all suddenly staring at themselves in the monitor.  Victor
turned to Jackie.  “Where do you want to start?”

Jackie was about to respond when his comlock started beeping.  Samantha’s anxious face appeared on the screen.  “Red Alert, Jack!  I can’t find
Victor, Paul or Antonia!  I’m afraid that they may have left the R.C., but I don’t know where they’d go.  I’m going nuclear over here!”

“Calm down.  They’re right here with us.”  Jackie made a ‘thanks a lot’ face at Victor.  “We’ll keep an eye on them.  Try not to let anyone else
escape.”

“Ha, ha,
Jackie!”  Samantha cut transmission.

Jackie made a rude face at his comlock and snapped it roughly back on his belt.  Paul guessed his thoughts.  “Take a number.”

“Alright, let’s try and find out if any adults are still…healthy.”  Jackie turned back to the group.  “Start at one end of the base and work your way to
the other side.”  He said to Victor.

“Okay.  Let’s start in Life Support.”  Victor put the image on the big screen at the front of the room.  He panned the camera around the room.  
When it reached the supervisor’s desk Catie inhaled sharply.

A man sat at the desk, his head and arms resting on the top.  Jackie squinted at the monitor in front of him.  “Can anyone tell who that is?”

Victor tried to get a closer shot.  He growled softly and turned to the group.  “Toni, can you get me any closer to him?”

“Right!”  Antonia jumped into her mother’s chair and, sitting on her feet, pulled herself up to the desk.  She tuned her monitor to the same picture.  
Her little fingers flew over the keys and the camera zoomed in to the desktop.

Everyone looked curiously at the screen, then Victor giggled softly.  “Too close, Toni.”

“Oops!”  Antonia backed the camera away slowly.  The group then realized that they had been looking at the person’s elbow.

“That’s good!  Stop!”  Catie yelled.  She walked up the center isle.  Jackie followed close behind.  “Do you recognize him?”  She asked.

“It looks like David Richards.”  Jackie turned to Victor.  “Is this the only angle this room has?”

“The other angle faces the door.  All you’ll get is the back of his head.”

“Someone should jettison down there and make sure he’s all right.”  Raquel spoke up.

“Don’t be mushroom!”  Paul spoke up.  “He’s obviously sick.”  Raquel stuck her tongue out at him.

“Stop it you two.”  Catie interjected.  “Besides, we really can’t do anything for him right now.”

“Keep going, Vic.”  Jackie spoke up.

Victor nodded.  Between him and Antonia they covered the base quickly.  At one point they brought up an image of the Rec Center on the big
screen.  Everyone smiled and Toni giggled to see Sam sitting sideways in an overstuffed chair.  Her expression of pure exhaustion only seemed to
boost the younger children’s noisy merriment.  Sam’s only ally was 7-year-old Jaden.  He was running after the 2 ½-year-old Osgood twins who
were completely naked.

Catie went to Sandra’s desk and plopped down into the chair.  Her angry face appeared on the composts in the lounge area.  “I believe,” she used
her most commanding voice, “that it is way past bedtime!”  The children stopped to see who was talking, giving Jaden a chance to catch the twins.

Samantha sat up, her mouth hanging open.  “I tried to…” She started.

Catie cut her off.  “You are being very bad children.  Now go change and jettison into your beds!”  None of the children moved.  They simply stood
staring at the compost.  “Go on, or I’ll tell all your moms and dads that you’re being naughty!”

All the children started running for the door that led to the solarium.  They giggled as they went, pushing and shoving to be first.  Jaden herded the
twins toward the door.  Sam stopped briefly at the compost.  “Thank you.”  Catie smiled at her and turned off the monitor.

“Wow.”  Raquel stood stunned.  “
That was stellar.”

“Yea.”  Victor agreed.  “Who know that all those years of acting superior would pay off?"

“Some people have what it takes…”  Catie smiled maliciously at her brother. “…and some people…”  Her smile faded and her voice trailed off when
Catie saw little Toni’s face.  The child had tears in her eyes and her bottom lip quivered.  “Antonia?  Are you all right?”

Catie moved around the desk and stood next to her friend.  She looked at the monitor on Maya’s desk and froze.  “Victor, come here.”  She choked.

Victor came to stand in front of his sister.  The picture on the monitor was of one of the medical centers.  “Mom and Dad.”

“And Uncle Tony.”  Catie said simply.

Victor reached in front of Antonia and turned off the monitor.  “Vic!”  Catie wailed.

“We have more important things to think about.”  He stated flatly.

“What is more important than our parents?”  Catie asked angrily.

“The safety of everyone on this base.  That’s what mom and dad would say and you know it.”  Victor pointed his finger at his sister.  He lifted
Antonia out of the chair and set her on the floor.  “Jack, take Catie and Toni down to Life Support and check on Mr. Richards.”

Antonia took Catie’s hand and smiled shyly at Jackie.  Catie stared at Victor in disbelief.  “Who suddenly made you Commander?”

“It makes sense, Catie.”  Jackie spoke up.  “You and I know the most about the unit.  We can make sure that everything is running smoothly.”  He
then looked down at Antonia.  “Why do we need to take Toni though?”

“Cause I’m the smartest, that’s why.”  The 4-year-old spoke up.

Victor shrugged and smiled at Jackie.  “She got us out, didn’t she?  Besides if there’s two things Toni knows, it’s electronics and computers.”  He
winked at the little girl.

“Okay.”  Jackie begrudgingly agreed.  Antonia grabbed his hand too.  “Come on.”  He said solemnly.  The trio left, heading for the travel tubes.

“Paul.”  Victor moved to the Commander’s desk.  “Take your father’s station and just check on internal systems.”  

“Yes!”  Paul smacked his fist in the other palm.

“Raquel.”  Victor pointed at the girl.  “Do you think you can sit at Aunt Sandra’s station and just check…”  Victor waved his hand at the big screen.  
“See if anything is out there.”

“I’ll do my best.”  Raquel raised her eyebrows and sat down at the desk.

“Jose’.”  Victor called the older boy over to the Command desk.  He spoke quietly so that the others couldn’t hear.  “Did you guys go to Med Center
yet?”

“Yea.  We jettison there first.  Fran and Linsey stayed behind to help Carolyn with our parents.”  Jose’ said.

“Nova!”  Victor led Jose’ to the door.  “If you would find them and find out the status of our parents and the others…”

“Why don’t I just contact her from here?”  Jose’ referred to the medical station.

Victor pulled him out the door, still whispering.  “If the news is nuclear, it would be seriously disturbing to hear it over a com-system.”  Jose’ nodded
his agreement.  “If it is nuclear,” Victor continued, “jettison back here and tell us all at once.”

“Okay.”  Jose’ started to walk away.  He stopped and turned back to Victor.  “Did anyone tell you not to touch any adult who’s sick?”

“No.”  Victor shook his head, confused.

“Carolyn said that Doctor Koenig found out the sickness is spread by touch.”

Victor took a couple of steps toward his friend.  “Do they know how to cure it?”  He asked hopefully.

Jose’ shook his head and both boys looked at the floor.  “The only thing stellar she said was that Mr. Carter and Mrs. Schuler aren’t dead yet.”

Victor nodded.  “You’d better get going.”  He watched Jose’ until the boy was around the corner, then he went back inside Command Center.

“Hey, Victor!”  Raquel called excitedly when she saw him enter.  “Look what I’ve found!”  She turned back to her console and punched a few
buttons.  She put a picture of the exterior of Moonbase Alpha on the big screen.  “Pretty stellar, huh!”  Raquel smiled back at him.

“That’s great!”  Victor said encouragingly.  “Can you zoom in on the stars and then pan all the way around Alpha?”  He walked toward her slowly,
still watching the screen.

“Sure.”  Raquel radiated confidence.  She turned back to her desk.  “It’s really easy once you know what you’re doing.  This would be a totally
stellar job to have.”  She chattered as she pushed the buttons.  “Maybe I’ll change my major from botany to…”

“Hey!  What happened?”  Vic yelled.

“Oops!”  Raquel had accidentally made the big screen go blank.

“Looks like Raquel’s found a black hole out there to match the one between her ears.”  Paul laughed.

“Airlock it!”  Raquel yelled back without taking her eyes off her work.  “There!”  She cried triumphantly.  The big screen now displayed an expansive
star field.

“What’s that?”  Victor pointed at the screen.  “Can you get closer?”

Raquel bit her lip as she worked.  Slowly the view on the screen brought a bright pink and blue satellite closer.  “That’s it.”  She announced.  “I can’
t do any better.”

“Stellar.”  Paul whispered, staring at the screen.

“Yea, but what are you going to do about it?”  Victor said sarcastically.  “Take an eagle down there and check it out?”

Paul jumped to his feet and saluted.  “Yes, sir!”

Victor turned and stared at him.  “Don’t be mushroom.  You wouldn’t even be able to see over the console and you know it.”

Paul threw himself back in his chair.  “You can be such a nuclear explosion, Vic.”  He said sullenly.

Victor turned back to face the big screen.  “Whatever it takes to keep you grounded.  Raquel.”  He looked at the girl beside him.  “Start panning
around the surrounding area.”

She nodded and set to work.  Victor walked back to where Paul sat.  “What’s internal look like?”

Paul sat up straight and punched up statistics on his monitor.  “Everything looks normal.  It shows here where your dad put the systems on
automatic.”  He hit a couple of keys and the monitor now showed a split screen of the Life Support Unit and their statistics.  Paul pointed at the
monitor.  “It doesn’t look like Jackie’s found any problems in there.  These stats have been the same for hours.”

Victor folded his arms and paced the center isle.

“Stellar!”  Raquel whispered.  She sat staring at her monitor.

Victor moved next to her chair.  “Wow!  Put it up on the screen.”  He smiled at the girl.

The children stood in awe of a passing comet.  “It’s tail registers at 15 kilometers long.” Paul said softly.

Antonia entered Command Center and inhaled sharply.  “A comet!”  She clapped and jumped into her mother’s chair.  Her fingers flew over the
console keys.  “I’ll record it for school.  Long range sensors can only pull about half of what an eagle could give us for info.”

“I tried that.”  Paul said.  “Vic wouldn’t let me go out.  He thinks he’s in charge while his dad’s sick.”

Antonia nodded.  “You’d be mushroom to try.  You’d never even see over the controls.”  The child turned away from Paul’s indignant face.  Raquel
laughed aloud and then covered her mouth with her hand.

“Toni, where’s Jackie and my sister?”  Victor sat down in the commander’s chair.

Antonia jumped out of her chair.  “Oh!  They told me to tell you that they jettison down to meds to check on our parents.  They wouldn’t let me go
because they think I’m too little to handle sick people.”  She kicked the leg of the desk.


                |                        |                        |

Jackie and Catie met Jose’ as he came out of the Medical Center.  “How are they?”  Catie asked.

Jose’ stared at the floor as he spoke.  “They’re all pretty bad.  My mama didn’t even know I was there.”  He looked up at Catie.  “Linsey says your
mom’s fever is really high.”  She brushed past him and ran into the center.

“Have you seen my mom?”  Jackie inquired.

“No, but Lin said a lot of the parents were left in their quarters because of space.”  Jose’ explained as the boys entered the center.

Jackie glanced around the room and saw Catie sitting between her parents.  She held her mother’s hand and watched her father’s monitors.  He
spotted Linsey in a shaded corner.  She seemed to be standing frozen.  He stepped up to her and placed a hand on her shoulder.  Linsey jumped,
spinning around and Jackie murmured an “I’m sorry.”  

“Have you seen my mom?”  He whispered.

“No.”  Linsey stepped past him.  “And you don’t have to whisper.  None of them can hear you.”  She gestured at the patients in the room.

Jackie followed as she paced the center.  “Do you know where she is?  Do you know how she is?”  He pleaded with his eyes when she turned to
face him.


“No, but I can find out.”  Linsey went to the desk and used the P.C.  “Doctor Koenig make detailed listings of everyone’s condition and which center
or room they were placed in.”  She brought up the program and scrolled down to Cynthia Crawford’s name.  “Here she is. She’s at home in your
quarters.”

Jackie placed his hands on the desk.  “Is she okay?”  He glanced over at Catie and her parents and fought down his own rising panic.  Since his
father had died just after Breakaway, mother and son were all each other had.

“This was last updated yesterday, so this is slightly old information.”  Linsey scrolled across the screen.  “She appears to be stable, although far
from well.”  Linsey dropped her elbows down on the desk and rested her head in her hands.  She stared at the screen and her eyes fluttered slowly
closed.


                |                        |                        |

“Alpha stellar!”  Raquel gazed at her computer.  She punched a few keys on her console making the view on the large screen go to the right of the
comet they had been starring at.

“Another one!  Nova!”  Paul sat in his chair contentedly and looked at the newfound comet.

“Toni, pull up the info on this one.  Maybe we’ll have better luck.”  Victor instructed.

“Way ahead of you!”  The little girl smiled, her eyes locked on her computer screen as she typed.  “Its’ tail registers five kilometers longer than the
other one.”  She unsuccessfully tried to stifle a large yawn.  “Sorry.”

Victor came and put a hand on her shoulder.  “It’s okay, it’s been a long day.  Anything else?”

“Lots, actually.”  She scrolled down.  “It contains all the usual components.  Wow, censors have never picked up this much!  Victor, its nucleus is a
type of igneous rock!”

“Stellar!”  Victor smiled broadly.

Raquel turned backward in her chair.  “So…what does that mean?”

“It means it probably contains Titanium.  I bet if we could somehow get…uh, oh…” Antonia’s fingers froze on the keyboard.

“What?  What is it?”

She answered tentatively.  “Its’ course is 40 kilometers south-west of the first one.”

“Oh, great!”  Victor whirled around to his father’s desk.  He turned on the comm system, punched a couple of buttons and looked at the screen.

Carolyn’s confused face appeared.  “Medical Center?”  She took a step back when she realized who she was looking at.  “Victor?  You’re out too?”

“Spare me mom’s speech, I’ve already gotten that from Catie.”  He brushed off her surprised look.  “Where’s Jackie?”

“Um…I don’t know.  Is he supposed to be here?”

“No…I was just wondering where he was, I need to info him.”  Victor answered, slightly agitated.

“Oh, um…I’m not sure.”  Carolyn bit her lower lip.

“Okay, well, I’ll try the other Med Centers.”  Victor was about to cut the communications when Carolyn stopped him.

“Vic, why don’t you just try his comlock?”

“That’s a nova idea!”  He exclaimed as if he’d had a revelation.  “Thanks Carolyn.”  Victor pulled his comlock off his belt and pushed a button.

“What is it, Vic?”  Jackie whispered into his comlock.

“We have a nuclear problem over here.  Could you and Jose’ jettison here ASAP?”

“Sure.  I’ll bring Catie along too.”

Victor raised his eyebrows and his voice had a hint of a whine in it.  “Couldn’t you bring Fran or Lin instead?”

Jackie sighed and rolled his eyes.  “Both are needed in Meds.  Catie they can spare.  Get over the sibling rivalry.”

Victor sighed heavily.  “All right.”  Both boys turned off the comm. system at the same time.

Antonia swiveled her chair to face him.  “What are we going to do, Victor?”  She asked quietly.

“I don’t know.”  He answered, starring at the large screen.

“Time warp!  What is going on?”  Raquel inquired from the front.

“That comet is 40 kilometers south-west of the original!”  Paul answered worriedly.

“Oh.”  She said nonchalantly and then turned back to her console.  She turned to face them again slowly.  “So…?”

“So, that thing is headed straight for Alpha!”  Paul looked at her incredulously.

“Uh, oh.”  Raquel sank back into her seat and swiveled slightly to face Victor.  “You’re Commander now, Vic.”

“Yeah, and it’s not a game this time.”  He stated as he leaned against the desk with his arms folded.

“I wish my mama and papa were here.”  Antonia voiced everyone’s thoughts.

“I wish my mom and dad were here, too.”  Victor walked over to Antonia’s chair and put his hand on her shoulder.

“Me, too.”  Paul said quietly.

“Me three.”  Raquel gave a very light hint of a smile.


                |                        |                        |

“Catie, come on.  We’re going to Command Center.”  Jackie stopped when he realized she had ignored him.  He turned around and walked back to
where Catie sat between her parents.  “Catie, we have to go.”  She looked from Jackie, to Helena, to John and then back at Jackie.

Linsey looked up from the bed next to the doctor.  “They’ll be okay, Catie.”

Catie tentatively nodded at Jack.  As he turned to walk back to the door again, Catie stood and bent slightly.  “I’ll be back.”  She whispered to her
parents, glancing back and forth at both of them.

When the three entered Command Center they saw the other group starring at the big screen.  Jackie, Jose’ and Catie moved to stand next to
Victor who was leaning against the back of the command desk.  His arms were folded and he didn’t look at anything but the screen.

“What’s the emergency?”  Jackie asked the boy.

“That.”  He answered flatly as he pointed to the big screen.

“It’s a comet.”  Catie stated the obvious.

“Yeah, and it’s headed straight for us.”  Victor said calmly.

“What?”  Jackie’s eyes widened.

“It’s course…it’s headed for Alpha.”  Victor said as he turned to look at Jackie.

“Are you sure?”  Jackie was beginning to panic.

“You can check Toni’s data, but we’ve already confirmed it twice.”

“What do we do about it?”

“How should I know!?  I’m not even out of basic training yet!”

“Yeah, but your dad’s the Commander!”  Jackie said as if it meant something.

“So?  My mom’s a doctor.  That doesn’t mean I know how to perform surgery!”  He said irritably.  “That’s kinda why I called you.”

“Me?  Why me?”

“Cause you’re the oldest, Jack.”  Catie answered for Victor.

“So…that doesn’t mean anything.  I’m studying in Life Support.  I don’t know anything about this.”

“He’s right, Vic.”  Raquel swiveled around in her chair.  If anyone would have answers, it would be you, Catie or Toni.”

“Me?”  Catie squeaked.

“Well, you’re his sister.”  Raquel shrugged.

“Unfortunately.”  She mumbled.  Victor glared at his older sister.

“Stop it!”  Jack threw his hands in the air.  “Airlock it right here!  We have way bigger problems.”  He folded his arms and paced the aisle.  “Are we
sure it’s headed for Alpha?”

“What’s all this
we stuff?  You want answers, talk to Toni.”  Paul tilted his head in the little girls’ direction.

“Antonia?”  Jackie stood next to her desk.

“I’m almost positive!”  She insisted.

“Almost?”

“Well…we’re using long range scanners so it’s not exact or definite.”  She answered wearily.

“Then you could be wrong?”  Jackie asked excitedly.

“I guess.”  She answered tentatively.  She hated admitting that she was wrong.

“Nova!”  Jackie turned to Raquel.  “Get Sam for me.”

Raquel swiveled back and worked quickly as Jackie approached her.  Sam’s half-asleep face appeared.  “Hello, this is Samantha Carter.  I’m
asleep right now but if you’d like me to call you back when I’m awake, please leave a message after the beep.”  She said sarcastically.

Jackie rolled his eyes.  “Sam!”  He almost yelled.

“What’s wrong?  Is my pop okay?  How ‘bout my ma?”  Sam was instantly awake.

“Everything’s fine.”  Everyone gave Jackie a strange look.  “Actually, your dad seems to be coming around.”

“Really?  He’s awake?  I’ll jettison to the med center!  Thanks Jack!”  Sam spoke so fast Jackie had a hard time keeping up.

“Whoa!  Airlock! Who can you leave with the other kids?”

“Well, I can leave Jaden to it.”

“But he’s only seven.”

“I know that, I’m not mushroom.  But he’s been helping me all night.”  Sam could tell Jackie was skeptical.  “Everyone’s asleep anyway.”

“Okay.”  He said finally.  “But jettison back as soon as possible.  Oh, and Sam…if he’s well enough, tell your dad to jettison to Command Center.”

“Is everything okay, Jack?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Can do.”  She smiled.

Jackie broke communications and turned to the rest of the group.  “Mr. Carter may know what to do.”

“Yeah, dad’ll know.”  Paul said enthusiastically confident.

Victor turned to the half-Psychon girl.  “Toni, go let Sam out.”

Toni jumped out of her chair.  “Yes sir, Commander.”  She saluted him.  She ran out the door and down the hall.

Victor gazed up at nothing.  “Commander Victor Koenig.”  He whispered, mesmerized.

“It doesn’t fit.”  Catie murmured to him as she crossed to her mother’s desk.  She turned on the comm. system and saw Linsey on the screen.  
“Hey, Lin, how’s my mom and dad?”

Linsey understood her friend’s concern, but she was starting to get irritated.  “They’re fine, Catie.  Well, as fine as they can be.  Don’t worry.  Fran
and Carolyn think that maybe this thing just needs to work itself out, because Mr. Carter and Mrs. Shuler seem to be coming around.  With any luck,
the Commander and Doctor Koenig will be up in a few days.”  Linsey tried to assure her.

“A few days!”  Catie shrieked.   This got the attention of everyone in Command Center.  Victor walked over to stand next to his older sister.

“Yes, Catie, a few days.  Doctor Koenig only got sick yesterday.  We’ve got to let this thing run its course.”  Linsey told her calmly.

Victor spoke before Catie could start an argument again.  “Thanks for the info Lin.”  He cut the comm.

“Victor!”  She turned to face him.  “I was talking to Linsey!”

“No, you were arguing with Linsey, and for no reason.  None of us can do anything.”

Catie fell into the chair defeated.  “I know.”

Victor put his hand on her shoulder.  “Don’t worry.  They’ve been sick longer than this before.”

“But they’ve never looked so helpless.  They’ve always been awake and telling us that they would be fine, and now…”

“I know.”  He looked around the center.  “Let’s find something to keep you busy.


                |                        |                        |

Samantha Carter arrived in the level H Medical Center completely breathless.  She walked quietly to the observation window and placed her hands
on the sill.

Alan and Connie were still lying propped up.  Francis stepped up to Sam’s side and put her arm around her friend.  “They’re getting better.  
They
're both off the respirators.  Mrs. Schuler was nuclear compared to your pop.”

Sam nodded.  “Can I go in and talk to him?”

“Sure.”  Frances grabbed a pair of surgical gloves and handed them to Samantha.  “Jackie called and told me what was going on.  “Wear these.  
The sickness gets around by touch.”  She went around the girl to open the door for her.  “It’s late, so don’t keep him awake too long.”

Sam nodded her understanding, slipped her hands into gloves to big and, stepping in front of the door, took a deep breath  “I’m ready.”

Frances simply smiled at her friends’ dramatics and opened the door.

Samantha stepped slowly towards her fathers’ bed.  She hated visiting people in medical, especially her parents.  It always made her
uncomfortable.  She couldn’t help but remember the last time she had to visit her father.  He had been hooked to all kinds of monitors and life
support equipment after he crashed in an experimental eagle.  Paul had only been 3-years-old and her mother insisted they go with her; just in
case.

Sam pulled a chair alongside the bed and cautiously took Alan’s hand.  “Pop?”  Sam spoke quietly and softly squeezed his hand.  When he didn’t
respond, she cleared her throat and spoke up.  “Pop?  Are you awake?”  Sam rolled her eyes at her own immaturity.

Alan mumbled and turned his head slowly.  “Pop?”  Samantha sat forward in her chair.  She held her breath and smiled as he opened his eyes.

“Sam?”  Alan slurred, his voice thick from sleep.  “What are you doing here?”

“I came to see how you were.”  Sam said softly.

Alan smiled more broadly.  “You hate visiting people in Medical.  What’s the real reason?”  He looked around.  He could feel his senses coming
back slowly.  “Where’s your mom?”

Samantha looked down at their hands.  “She’s sick too.”  She looked into her father’s worried eyes.  “In fact, all of the adults are sick.  Aunt Helena
quarantined us kids as soon as Aunt Maya and Uncle John got sick.  Even Jackie and Fran had to go in with us!”  Sam’s voice rose with her
enthusiasm to tell the story.  “Mom and Aunt Helena came to visit 3 or 4 times a day.  We helped take care of the littler ones and Catie told this
stellar bedtime story!”  She started using her hands to gesture.  “Then it got kinda creepy because one by one the adults stopped coming.  That’s
when Jackie went truly mushroom and started saying that all of you could be dead or dying!”  Sam stopped suddenly and bit her bottom lip.

Alan smiled at her reassuringly.  “You’ve all been very brave, I’m sure.”  He took his daughter’s hand.  “But I know that you didn’t come here to
catch me up on all the gossip.”

“Jackie called and asked me to jettison here and find out how you’re feeling.”  Sam looked guiltily at her hands then back up at her father.  “He
looked real worried.  He said if you were well enough, that I should bring you to Command Center.”

Alan took a minute to comprehend what she was saying.  “Jackie’s alone in Command Center?”  Alan turned toward Sam and started to sit up.

Samantha jumped to her feet and gently pushed him back.  “No!  He’s not alone!  Relax.”  Alan still looked confused as she continued.  “Victor and
Paul are there and Raquel and Catie and of course Antonia.”

Alan sat straight up and swung his legs over the side.  Samantha took a surprised step back as he stood and tied his top tighter.  “You’re only
kids!”

Sam stepped in front of him and put her hands up.  “Pop, are you strong enough to be out of bed?”

Francis ran through the door as Alan grabbed his daughter’s shoulders to move her.  “Uncle Alan!  You can’t be out of bed, you’re still sick!”

“Normally, and if you were an actual doctor, I might agree with you.”  Alan put an arm around each girl and led them out the door.  “Am I the only
one….up and around, so to speak?”

“So far.”  Frances said gloomily.

“You shouldn’t even be up!”  Sam insisted.  “If Jackie hadn’t insisted I come and check on you, you’d still be asleep!”  He faltered slightly and each
of the girls grabbed him.  “Please, Pop, go back to bed.”  Sam pleaded.

Alan hugged her quickly.  “I’m fine.  You kids shouldn’t have this type of responsibility.”  He let go of the girls, grinning broadly.  “There…see…I’m
fine!”  He tried to be as convincing as possible even though his head was still a little fuzzy.  “Okay, possum.”  Alan looked at Samantha with a grin.  
“Lead the way.”

Sam sighed and took her father’s hand.  They said their goodbyes to Fran and left the medical center.


                |                        |                        |

“Are you sure it’s gonna hit Alpha?”  Victor stood facing Paul and Antonia.  The pair looked at each other across the isle.

Paul spoke up first.  “That’s what it’s looking like, mate.”

“The closer it gets, the better our information.”  Antonia chimed in. “It’s definitely going to hit us.”

Victor groaned and headed for the front of the room.  He simply stared at the panels for a moment, then spun on his heel and walked slowly up the
isle.  He spoke slowly.  “What if…what if it won’t actually hit Alpha?  What if it’s only going to hit the moon?”

Paul shook his head.  “All indications, so far, are showing it directly at Alpha!  Even if it only hit the moon, a comet that size would probably wipe us
out anyway!  There’s no getting around it!”  He threw himself back in his chair.

“In that case, we’d better all leave now.”  Alan stood in the doorway.  They all turned to face him.  Paul jumped out of his father’s chair and ran to
meet him.  They hugged briefly, his son beaming up at him.  “What’s planning on hitting us?”  Alan touched Antonia’s shoulder on his way to his
desk.

He sat down in the chair and let out a low whistle, half from what he saw on the monitor and half from being a little dizzy.  “I think he’s right, Vic.  
Unless it’s trajectory suddenly alters, that thing will hit smack in the middle of Alpha.”  Alan ran his hand across the top of his head.  “Man!  I wish
Maya was here for a few exact calculations.”

“I can do it, Uncle Alan!” Toni’s indignant voice piped up.  “I know a lot about this equipment.”

Alan turned sideways in his chair to face the little girl.  “Well then,
Miss Verdeschi, do you think that you could find exact information on that thing
so that I might figure out how we can avoid it?”

Toni gave him a mischievous smile and her hands flew over her mother’s keyboard.  She let out a satisfied sigh and made a show of hitting the last
button.  “There you are,
Mr. Carter.  Weight, distance, circumference and speed.”  She folded her arms across her chest.

Alan turned back to his monitor and scanned the information.  He raised his eyebrows and looked back at Toni.  Her smug look was gone and she
nodded slowly.  He looked at each of the other children, then back at his monitor.

“Is it that bad, Mr. Carter?”  Raquel asked softly.

Alan nodded slowly, his eyes never left his monitor.  He looked up suddenly and swung around to face Antonia.  “You didn’t give me density!”

The little girl inhaled sharply and turned back to her work.  She scowled and tried again.  Toni shook her head as she explained.  “I can’t get it,
Uncle Alan.  I think we’re too far away.  We would need some kind of…”  She faltered and looked over at Alan.

“Some kind of relay.”  She nodded and Alan continued.  “Something like sending out an eagle to get a better look.”  Toni smiled and nodded
harder.  Alan exhaled slowly and looked down at the floor.  “I really wish Maya was well enough.”

“I’ll go check on her!”  Antonia jumped enthusiastically out of her chair and raced out of the room.  Four loud “NO!” ‘s followed her out the door.

Catie raced out the door after her little friend, calling her name as she ran.

Alan looked around confused.  “What’s the matter?  Why can’t she go check on her m
um?”

Jackie stepped forward and stared at the floor as he spoke.  “When we left the Rec Center we happened to find Mrs. Verdeschi.  She was so sick
that she couldn’t stop transforming.”  Victor and Sam looked at him, horrified.

Alan nodded his understanding.  He remembered how terrible it had been last time she was ill.  The child would be traumatized to see her mother
that way.

Toni was whining and complaining as Catie dragged her back into Command Center.  “But I just want to see her!”

“You can see her later.  Right now we need your help with the comet thing.”  Catie sat her at the science station.  Assuming that the others had
explained, Catie turned on Alan.  “Right, Uncle Alan?”

Carter never missed a beat.  “Right.  I need the smartest computer expert awake to man this station while I’m up there.”  He pointed to the big
screen.  “Well, I can’t go looking like this!”  He grabbed his blue top and looked at the children.  “And I’m going to need a co-pilot.”

“Oh!  Oh!  Me!  Me!”  Paul stood on tiptoes with one hand raised in the air as high as it would go.

Alan rubbed the top of his son’s head and laughed.  “Oh, I’d love that, but I’m afraid you’re too small.”

Paul sighed.  “At least he didn’t mention the console.”  He thought to himself.

Alan turned to Jackie.  “What do you think, Jack, do you feel up to helping out?”

Jackie stammered and looked around the room.  “Me?  I…I don’t know the f-first thing about piloting!”  He finally spit out.

“Now’s your chance, boy.”  Alan grabbed his shoulder.

“This is different!  This isn’t just taking a kid for a fly around the base!  You should take someone who knows more of what’s going on.”  Jackie
looked around again desperately.  “Like…like…like Samantha!”  He blurted out.  “Yea, Sam.  She’s alpha stellar at those computer flight games in
the Rec Center.”  He ran the back of his hand across his forehead.

“Okay.”  Alan took a step toward his daughter.  “Pretty good are you?”  He looked Sam up and down like a military officer.

Sam nodded furiously.  “Yea!  I’ve beaten every game in the R.C.  I know every inch of an eagle cockpit and how to work it!  Please take me, Pop.   
Please!

“Alright, you can go.”  Alan smiled proudly at his daughter

“Yes!”  Sam squealed.

“Pop!”  Paul whined.  “That’s not fair!”

“Is too!  At least
I can see over the console!”  Sam mocked her brother.

“Pop, that’s so not fair!”

“Jealous, Shorty?”

“Black Hole!”

“Sam, Paul…”  Alan tried to speak.

“Baby!”

“Mushroom!”

“Paul!  What have your mother and I told you about using that word?”  Alan scolded.

“Sorry.”

Samantha gave her brother a “ha-ha” look.

“You’re so way out.”  Paul whispered and rolled his eyes.

“Maybe, but I’m still better than you.”  She said smugly.

“Airlock it.”  Paul fell into his father’s chair.

“That’s enough.”  Alan told his children quietly but firmly.

“You’re gonna need a medical officer.”  Jackie reminded them.

“But everyone’s sick.”  Raquel stated the obvious.

“Thanks, Raquel.”  Jackie sighed.  “You should take Fran or Linsey with you.  Or…never mind.”  Jackie was going to suggest Caroline, but he knew
Alan wouldn’t agree to it.

“Okay, we’ll take Fran.  She’s interning
part time and I’ll feel safer with her.”  Alan turned to the littlest girl.  “Antonia, be ready to give them
information.  Don’t leave that console until you get all of it.”

Toni smiled.  “Okay.”  She said excitedly, her fatigue forgotten.

Alan put his arm around his daughter’s shoulders and led her out the door.  “You’ve beaten every game in the Rec Center?”

She bobbed her head excitedly and recounted her conquests as they strode down the hall.

Victor sat down in his fathers’ chair.  He could just barely see over the top of the desk and he did his best to make his voice boom.  “Okay, let’s get
to work.  Raquel.”  The boy was forced to stand up to look at her.  “Continue tracking that meteorite and give Toni all stats to relay to Alan.  Paul.”  
Victor moved to the side of the desk for a better view.  “Check all base weaponry tactics for blowing that thing out of the sky if it gets too close.”

Paul sat straighter in his chair.  “Yes, sir!”

Victor looked at his sister.  “Do you think that you could work mom’s computer and monitor their bios?”  Catie shrugged.  “I’ll try.”  Victor then sat
back down in the command chair and monitored everyone’s progress.

Jackie stood for a few moments before moving to Victor’s side and speaking softly.  “I’m going to see Fran off and then make sure that Jose’ has
everything under control in the Rec Center.

“Okay.”  He smiled at the older boy and turned back to his monitor as Jackie left.


                |                        |                        |

Alan strapped Francis into the passenger seat and tightened it.  Then he followed Samantha to the cockpit.  “Okay!”  Strap in there.”  He pulled the
safety harness off the back of the co-pilot’s seat and started to help his daughter.

“Dad!”  Sam giggled.  "I know how to do this.  It’s required to know how to work an eagle harness practically from birth.”

Alan smiled and grunted an agreement as he sat in the pilot’s chair and strapped himself in.  He started the pre-flight ignition and looked over at
Samantha to instruct her on what to do.  His mouth fell open as he watched her flick and push all the right buttons.  “Hey.”

Samantha turned and looked at her father.  “What?  Did I forget something?”  She looked at him innocently.

“No, but I think if I’m not careful, my little possum will beat me out of a job!”  Alan shook his head.

“Not right away, Pop.”  Sam smiled at him.  “But later…so watch your back!”  She added in jest.

Alan called Command Center to acknowledge their readiness for take-off.  Antonia answered enthusiastically.  “You are cleared for take-off,
Uncle…um…Captain Carter.”

The children watched on the big screen as Eagle 4 took off and headed slowly over Alpha.  Raquel bit her lip and turned slowly to Paul.  “What if
we can’t stop it?  What if it really does hit Alpha?”

Paul spread his fingers wide and waved his hands slowly in front of his face.  “Boom.”  He said softly.

“Paul!”  Antonia scolded as Raquel turned back to the big screen.  Toni
barely heard her speak.  “I wish our parents were here.”

Victor stood and walked slowly up the center isle of Command Center, his eyes glued to the big screen.  “Monitor everything, Toni.  We need all
the info we can get, guys.”

Paul and Antonia worked their information from every angle, continually revamping and correlating the data.  Paul jumped out of his chair and
almost ran to the computer banks.  He ripped off the little slip of paper it had spit out and stared at it for a moment before handing it to Toni.

“It’s official!”  Paul practically yelled and pointed at the screen.  “That thing’s headed straight for Alpha.”  He folded his arms across his chest and
waited.

Victor turned and looked at his friend.  Paul had never seen him afraid of anything, until now.  Victor’s voice caught in his throat.  “Tell your
dad…and…and ask him what we should do.”  Paul walked slowly to his desk and called his father.

“What’s its density?”  Alan asked.

Toni relayed the information to the eagle.

Alan looked at his daughter.  “From the looks of this we aught to be able to blow it out of the sky.  You up to the challenge?”  Samantha bobbed
her head excitedly and Alan called to Alpha.   “We’re gonna try to blow it up, kids.  Hold tight and cross you fingers.”  

Raquel did as she was told.

Alan looked over the meteors’ readings to find the best angle.  He flew into position and looked over at Sam.  “Here’s your chance to show your
stuff, Possum.”

Sam nodded and fired up the laser cannon.  The girl bit a corner of her lip and targeted the laser.  Samantha tensed only slightly as the eagle flew
into firing range.  “Now.”  She whispered as she depressed the firing button.

The meteor blew apart into a million pieces.  Sam balled up her fist and jammed her elbow into her side.  “Yes!”  Father and daughter looked at
each other, grinning from ear to ear.


                |                        |                        |

In Command Center, all of the children leapt out of their chairs and began yelling and clapping.  Antonia, Catie and Raquel held hands and jumped
up and down in a circle.  The boys slapped each other on the back and laughed while they tussled.  Toni ran to Victor and they hugged briefly.

Raquel was the first to notice that something was wrong.  She inhaled sharply and pointed at the big screen as the first fragment of the meteor
struck the hull of Eagle 4.


                |                        |                        |

“What’s going on?”  Fran sobbed loudly from the passenger section.   The force of the collision had nearly thrown her out of her seat.

Alan did his best to dip and dive out of harms way, but the meteor fragments continued to batter the eagle.  Samantha let out a frightened squeal
as a chunk sheared off one of the landing gear.  Alan fought to fly out of the path of the fragments as more eagle parts joined the shower with each
contact.

The sounds of crashing and screaming coming from the passenger section caused Sam to look and call back.  “Are you okay, Frannie?”

“NO!”  She screamed again as one of the monitors blew out.  “Make it stop!”

Samantha looked over at her father.  Beads of sweat had formed on his face, his teeth were clenched and he held the yoke so tight his knuckles
were white.

A part of the computer bank blew-out just over Sam’s head and she screamed, her arms flying up to protect herself.  “Pop!”  She gripped her yoke
to try and help.  “We’ve gotta get out of this!”

Alan shot her a quick glance and spoke through his teeth.  “Thanks for the advice, possum.”


                |                        |                        |

“Activate the Bergman Forcefield!”  Victor pushed Antonia toward her desk.

“Are you mushroom?  That’ll drain 97% of all of Alpha’s power!”  Toni protested as Victor helped her into the chair.  “We could lose a lot of vital
systems.”

“Better that than major damage as that shower hits the base!”  Victor yelled as he ran back to the front of the room.  He grabbed a stunned Paul
who was staring, horrified, at the big screen.  “Come on!”  I need you to help Toni.”  He shoved the boy into his seat.  “Don’t lose it on me now.”

Victor raced back to Raquel who had already sat back down.  He turned her to face him.  “Call Alan and see if they’re all right.”  She stared at him
and he felt the need to shake her.  “Don’t mushroom on me now, this is nuclear!”

Raquel nodded and turned back to her console.  She moved slowly as if waking from a long sleep.  “Alpha calling Eagle…” she choked out.  “Eagle
4.”

Victor looked over at Catie.  “Are they alive?”  

“U-u-mm.”  Catie looked at the stats.  “Yes…I think so…yes!”  She ended with more conviction.

Antonia’s console suddenly beeped three times.  “Bergman Forcefield activated.”  She announced.  The children looked around themselves
silently while the systems dropped to half power.

“Alpha calling Eagle 4.  Are you guys okay?”  Raquel tried again.

The children stared at the big screen, which showed the meteorite shower through a dark blue haze of forcefield.  There was no sign of the eagle.

“Ten minutes to impact.”  Paul announced.

“Alpha to Eagle 4!  Mr. Carter?  Sam?”

Toni climbed out of her chair and went to stand by Catie and Victor.  She grabbed the older girl’s hand and leaned into her.


                |                        |                        |

She placed her hands on the back of Koenig’s chair to steady herself.  Looking bedraggled and still wearing her blue-set, Maya raised an
unsteady hand to push her hair away from her face.  Stumbling slightly, she made her way to her own chair.

Any noise she made was drown by Paul’s anxious announcement.  “Five minutes to impact!”

“Alpha to Eagle 4.”  Raquel waited impatiently.  “Why don’t they answer us?”

“Communications can’t get past the forcefield.”  Maya’s soft voice answered.

All five children whirled to face her.

“Aunt Maya.”  Victor breathed.

“Mama!”  Antonia ripped herself away from Catie and threw herself into her mother’s arms.  All but Toni saw Maya wince as the little girl climbed on
her lap.  She did her best to help, but Maya’s strength was nearly gone in the effort to get to Command Center.

“Aunt Maya.”  Victor stepped to the edge of her desk.  “How did you get out of your res…?” His voice trailed off and he looked at Toni.  “…to get
out of your room?”  He finished smoothly.

Maya smiled weakly.  “I thought of something large and strong.”  She gave him a knowing wink.  “When I regained consciousness, I came here.”

“But you should be…”

“Victor.”  Paul said softly, cutting him off.  “Two minutes to impact.”


                |                        |                        |

“Everyone all right?”  Alan yelled loud enough for Fran to hear him.

“Yes.”  Fran sobbed.  She was trying her best not to cry.

Samantha nodded.  Her eyes were large and she was shaken, but she sat quietly and waited for her father to tell her what to do.

The meteor fragments had finally passed and they were floating in space.  Alan looked at Sam then turned back to his instruments.  “Systems
check.”  He looked over the console.  “We’ve lost one of our landing gear and I can’t tell how bad the propulsion unit is but, I’ve definitely lost one
rocket and I only have half power in the others.”

“Laser cannon’s been damaged.”  Sam’s voice shook only a little.  “It’ll make short bursts only and I’m not sure how many times it can do that.  
Second missile is undamaged.”

“Not quite like the Rec game, is it?”  Alan turned the eagle toward Alpha.


                |                        |                        |

Maya turned to face her monitor and punched up statistics.  She closed her eyes for a moment while she waited for the computer.  She opened her
eyes again.  “Some of these fragments are big enough to get through the forcefield.  Professor Bergman and I only managed to modify it to deflect
small objects.”  She stated quietly.  “But if we can target them fast enough, as soon as they’re inside the field, we might be able to minimize the
damage.”  Dispensing this information seemed to drain Maya of the last of her energy.  She let out a small moan and leaned heavily on her desk
causing Toni to slip off her lap.

Victor pointed at Paul.  “Do it!”

Paul moved as fast as he could.  “Never thought I’d say this, but I wish Sam was here.”

Maya gathered her strength and, with one arm around Antonia, she helped Paul maneuver the laser gun into position faster.

They all watched in horrified fascination as the smaller fragments began to bounce harmlessly off the forcefield.  Some would bounce and collide,
breaking again into hundreds of tinier fragments.

A good-sized chunk landed just outside the field causing small tremors under their feet.  Raquel let out a frightened moan and clung to her desk.  
Antonia tucked herself tighter against her mother’s side.

“This one’s going to get through!”  Paul called out.

“Target the laser in front of it and wait for it to be in range.”  Maya helped with coordinates.

They watched a large fragment break through the forcefield, along with some smaller ones, and head for a landing pad.

“Now!”  Toni and Maya yelled in unison.

Paul fired the laser.  It shattered the meteorite into harmless debris.  The other fragments dented the outer buildings or fell harmlessly on the lunar
surface.  “Here comes another one!”  Paul announced as he and Maya targeted the laser.

Everyone in the room blinked and jumped slightly as the large chunk of meteorite blew apart and bounced harmlessly off the forcefield.

“It’s Eagle 4!”  Raquel yelled.  She jumped out of her chair and pointed at the big screen.  “They’re okay!”  She clasped her hands to her chest and
sat down on the verge of tears.

The last of the meteor shower bounced off the forcefield and Alan Carter’s face appeared through a haze of static.  “Eagle 4 to Alpha.  Are you
kids okay?”  

“Lower the forcefield!”  Victor called excitedly to Toni.  Now sitting back on her mother’s lap, the little girl complied.

Raquel now had a crystal clear picture of the Carter’s in the eagle cockpit.  Samantha was beaming and Alan was smiling, but anxious.  “This is
Alpha, go ahead Eagle 4.”

“You guys look pretty good.  What kind of damage did we get?”  Sam leaned forward in her harness.  “It doesn’t look too bad.”

Maya leaned forward in her chair, shifting Toni in the process.  “We’ve sustained minimal damage to launch pad 4.”

“Maya!”  Alan said in surprise.  “Are you okay?”  She nodded.  “Are you sure you should be out of bed?”

“I’m still a little weak, but I’m getting better.”  Maya smiled.  “You can land on pad 2, it’s clear enough of debris.”  Alan acknowledged and cut off
communications.

Raquel turned around slowly in her seat to face the others.  Her eyes were shining happily.  “We did it.”  She said softly.  “We are so incredibly
alpha!”  Her voice got louder as she continued.  She stood and clapped Victor on the back.  “You are stellar at being a Commander.  This was
totally nova!  We didn’t panic or go mushroom or anything!  We are so Alpha!”  Raquel threw her hands in the air.

Paul started laughing.  “If she brakes into song, I’m leaving!”  He held his hands out in front with his first fingers crossed.

Raquel took a deep breath as if she would start singing and fell back down in her chair laughing.

With Maya’s help, the children reset the systems to be almost completely automated.

Alan, Fran and Samantha arrived to find Command Center bustling with noisy play.  The children were playing a pretty rowdy game of tag.  He
cleared his throat loudly causing them all to stop.

Victor and Paul yelled in unison.  “Hey!”

The trio stepped into the room and the others gathered around Maya’s desk.  Toni grabbed her mother’s hand and leaned into her.

“We did it, Mr. Carter!”  Raquel said excitedly.

“You most certainly did.”  Alan laughed and leaned against the back of Koenig’s desk.  “I’d say that you all deserve a reward.”  Alan folded his arms
across his chest.  “I know!  A gold star on all your report cards.”  He gestured to the group.  Several groans were heard and Samantha playfully
shoved her father.

Fran laughed and moved around Sam as her father grabbed her and held on tightly, rubbing the top of her head.  She stepped up close to Maya
and her smile faded.  “Toni.”  She spoke so softly that only Maya heard her above the laughter.  Fran’s mouth hung open and Maya followed her
gaze.  The girls’ eyes were riveted on their hands.  “Oh, Toni!”  She almost wailed, causing everyone to stop and stare at her.  “What have you
done?”

“What?”  Toni looked at Fran and then at the other children.  “What did I do?”  She looked up at her mother.

Fran took a half a step back.  “You shouldn’t be touching your mother without gloves on! Remember?”

Realization dawned on everyone’s face and the room was silent except for the hum of machinery.  Toni moved even closer to Maya as if fearing
that someone would take her away again.

“Wait.”  Samantha stepped toward Fran.  “I’ve been touching my pop since he got out of Meds.  And he touched you when he helped strap and
unstrap you.”  She gestured back at her father.  “After all this time with him, wouldn’t we be sick if it’s still contagious?”

“Maybe it’s worked it’s way out of his system.”  Catie ventured.  Everyone looked at Fran expectantly.

“Well.”  Francis started hesitantly.  She looked at each of them and bit her bottom lip.  “I suppose that’s possible.”  She grabbed her own throat and
felt around for abnormalities.  “I seem to be okay.  How do you two feel?”  Fran looked from Sam to Toni.

Both girls shrugged.  “Fine.”  They said in unison.  Antonia giggled and hugged her mother tightly.

“So what do we do now?”  Raquel asked.  The monitor behind her suddenly beeped loudly.  She turned quickly and used her most authoritative
voice.  “Command Center.”

Linsey Mathias smiled back.  “Could you ask Catie and Victor Koenig to please come to medical?”  Brother and sister looked seriously at each
other.  “Their father has requested to see them.”  Linsey added cheerfully.

Before Raquel could even acknowledge, both children were racing out the door and down the hall.  “At the rate they just jettison out of here, you
should see them in about 3.5 seconds.”  Raquel laughed and turned off the monitor.

“Okay!”  Alan clapped his hands.  Antonia suddenly yawned loudly.  Alan chuckled and pointed at the child.  “My point precisely.  You kids have
had a very long day.  I’ll keep an eye on things here while you go get some sleep.”  Protests were spoken as Alan raised his hands.  “I know.”  He
quieted them.  “You’ve done a great job and you deserve to rest now.  Everyone will be up and about soon from the sounds of it.  Besides, it’s 23:
00 hours, you must be exhausted.”

Maya added her voice as the children started to protest again.  “Alan’s right.  Come on.”  She stood and ushered them out the door.  Maya
touched Alan’s arm and smiled at him.  “As soon as I put Antonia to bed, I’ll come back and help.”

Alan put his hand over hers and shook his head.  “Take your time.  Let me know how Tony’s doing.”  They gave each other a knowing smile.


                |                        |                        |

Maya didn’t realize how tightly she was holding her daughter’s hand as the doors to the medical center opened until the little girl wiggled her fingers
for freedom.  She released her grip slightly as they walked inside.

Linsey rushed forward, stopping them, and spoke in a hushed panic.  “Mrs. Verdeschi!  What are you doing out of bed?”

“I came to see how Tony’s doing.”  Maya answered.  She looked around the room.  Helena was to her right.  She was still asleep and Maya thought
that she looked more pale than usual.  John was next to her.  He sat up in the bed with his children at his feet.  He quietly called to her and waved
her over.

When Linsey allowed them to pass, Maya saw Tony.  He looked as if he was simply sleeping.  “Papa!”  Antonia tried to pull away but Maya held on
tight.

“Maya.”  John distracted her as she started to pass his bed.  “How are you feeling?”

“Much better, Commander.  Thank you.”  Maya smiled at him and continued on toward Tony.  She stopped at the foot of his bed and stared at
him.  ‘He doesn’t look sick.’  She thought.

Linsey had followed her and, as if guessing her thoughts, spoke quietly.  “His fever’s broke and he’s just sleeping now.  Almost everyone is better
except Doctor Koenig.”  Maya looked over at Helena as Linsey continued.  “Carolyn said that she was practically the last one to get sick.”  Maya
nodded.  

Linsey felt a strange need to explain to the small group.   “Doctor Koenig figured out that the disease was transmitted by touch before she came
down with it herself.  Carolyn and I were afraid it would happen again if we didn’t find the source, so we went through all of Doctor Koenig’s and
Doctor Spencer’s notes trying to find some connection.  We tracked it back to that planet we were surveying.”  Linsey now had everyone’s
attention.  “Carolyn’s not positive, but we think that those plants that the survey team brought back caused all the problems.”  Linsey finally stopped
and John and Maya looked at each other.

“It makes sense.”  Koenig mused.  “Those were the first ones to get sick.”

“I went down to hydroponics to get a report from Ed Collins about the soil and plant samples.”  Maya put a hand to her throat.  “One was budding
and Ed let me examine it.”

John Koenig shook his head, a slight smile on his lips.  “At least they weren’t fatal.”

Antonia yawned loudly and everyone stifled a giggle.  Maya looked down at her daughter.  “I’d better get her into bed.”  They said their good-byes
and headed for the Recreation Center.

Antonia questioned her mother as soon as they were inside the center.  “Why can’t I sleep in my own bed?  Why do I have to come back here?”

“I’m going to go back to Command Center and help Alan until everyone else wakes up.”  Maya opened the door to the Solarium and Toni led her to
her ‘bed’.  “I don’t want you to be all alone.”  Maya whispered as she tucked her daughter in.  She kissed Toni on the forehead.  “Pleasant dreams.”

Maya started to walk away but Antonia grabbed her hand.  “Please don’t go, Mama.”  The little girl said desperately.

Maya turned and sat on the edge of the bed.  “Why not?  What’s wrong?”

“Because the last time I slept alone I had a really bad dream about you being sick and Aunt Helena let two security guards take you away.”  Toni
blinked back the sleep.

Maya crawled in beside her daughter and tucked her into herself.  She whispered into Toni’s ear.  “So did I.”

Mother and daughter snuggled up closely and fell peacefully asleep.


                                
The End!
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