Away we Fly:
A strong Force, Break from Earth,
Torn from Hearths, Broke many Hearts.
Cries in the Darkness. Aliens on the Attack;
Few, so few Friendlies; So, so, so many Enemies.
Baby altered and Restored. Others of earth, now Different.
Black sun leaves us Wondering... Just what happened in There.
Course of mutating Collision, Leaves us all Unchanged.
Who and what are They? What do they all Want?
Who are we, Really? What do we Want?
Perhaps Simple: A warm Hearth;
A new Earth. But Where?
Just How? And......
Commander John Koenig, alone in his large Main Mission office, finished reading the poem. It made his space seem so large and so tiny at the same time....
The poem had been found in the desk of Laura Adams after her death, and had soon wound its way up to him, Controller Paul Morrow being the last in the chain before John. It had been written by hand, but not in cursive, which was slowing verification since everything else in her desk was in cursive, and it was possible she had obtained the poem from someone else. Not that it would be that hard to find some work material or something that could provide verification, but there had been a delay in someone going through her effects in the first place, so this poem was fairly freshly found.
Indeed, it was cleaning up in the chaotic and ultimately sad death of the Space Brain that someone had noticed the poem in a now-open desk drawer. Laura, Dan Mateo, and Dr. James Warren had died less than a week before, but then three more had died from the Brain's antibodies.
As tragic as each loss was, the rest were lucky there had not been more in the latter incident, given some breaches of the hull. Yet people had been in spacesuits, and the foam, already known to have extraordinary properties, had resisted the loss of atmosphere even as it invaded. It had vanished almost as abruptly, at which point they were having to seal surprisingly small holes in the hull. On the Moon's surface, it had not yet pressed down at all, and after it disappeared, footprints and moonbuggy tracks were still present, undisturbed. Impossibly light in some ways, but crushing in others, and sharply penetrating in some ways as well. It was the strangest foam imaginable.
Some thought the death of the Brain itself had apparently prevented one last catalyst from being applied that would have turned the foam extremely dense and crushing. Instead, perhaps its death had released something analogous to lysosome enzymes that had perhaps broken down the foam with nary a trace left in the vacuum of space, and scarcely any in Alpha either.
It was a mystery, but one that was relatively minor compared to the entity itself. What was it? What did it really do? How did it live? How had it come to life in the first place, in the chill empty of space?
All this gave John pause. He had to remind himself the universe was vast beyond imagination, and ancient beyond imagination.
Victor had told him something very interesting once. Not just to John, though. Victor liked to tell it to all his friends, protégés, students, co-workers, and symposia attendees, for years already. The words varied slightly each time, or he'd pick and choose from it. In one of his books, however, Professor Bergman had finally written a full version.
John walked over to his office bookcase, and picked it out. The bookmark was there, ever since he had placed it the first time after hearing a version of this in one of the Professor's classes. Even when he was younger, he had found some wisdom that would stick....
One could live to be a 100 years old, but stop and think how much time that is. A lot, you may think. Now imagine living a hundred such lifetimes -- but all as a single, extraordinarily long life. Step back and think how many experiences that would be. Years to explore the planet, read, experiment, and wonder. Yet, that still only gets you to 10 thousand years. Now try to imagine 10,000 of those 10,000-year lifetimes, end to end, but again as one life. Stop and think about living all that.... Yet, that is still "only" 100 million years. You still have to multiply that by another 100, just to get to the lower-end of range of the current estimate of the age of the universe: 10-20 billion years. 10-20 thousand million.
Now commence another journey, not in lifetime but in space. I could start at the beginning with the numbers, but now that we are up into massive magnitudes, let's stay in their domain for a little while longer.
We currently estimate there are in the order of 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone. If we lived that 10-billion-year lifetime, we would have to visit ten stars a year just to reach all the stars that exist in one galaxy at this moment. Of course, some stars don't last that long, but I'm just talking scale. Ten stars a year, for that 10-billion-year lifetime.
Now try imagining having to have another 100 billion of your 10-billion-year lifetimes just to visit all those other galaxies.
Are you exhausted yet?
If not, maybe you will be, because I forgot something: I was rather optimistic to assume you can visit ten stars a year. Don't take your bicycle. If you bike say about 4000 kilometers a year, it will take your whole 10-billion-year lifetime just to reach our nearest star. Forget ten stars a year if it might take your virtually unimaginable lifetime just to reach the nearest one. Now you may scoff at the bicycle tour rate, but that is a very achievable and easy to grasp 'human' scale, rendered insignificant against the scale of even the smallest of interstellar distances.
Don't assume too much of old-style rockets either. Remember that nice, short 10,000-year lifetime? Well, if you would be happy to live such a brief time, it would barely be reaching Alpha Centauri by your end, if it were heading that way. Better than that 4000 kilometers per year bicycling, for sure, but still a long time.
A year. That reminds me again of time. In a single year, there can be a few generations of some animals, and in some cases a thousand generations or more of bacteria. Each bacterium is too small for the human eye to perceive. Even at this size, however, we have barely begun the journey to atomic size. Much can happen in a mere second inside something as tiny yet vast as a bacterium, when you look at even its incredible number of molecules.
The universe is vast and ancient, not just at the largest of scales, but in a way, at the smallest of scales. We live in a happy, sometimes blissful, and often ignorant middle zone in both space and time.
For us to assume that we know everything at any scale, even our own, is, in my humble opinion, optimistic at best, and arrogant at worse. We may be discerning better approximations to the "rules" of the universe, but those rules, whatever they are, still allow great variations and combinations to occur at even the smallest of scales in time and space. Multiply that over a ten-billion-year lifetime -- the universe's perhaps -- and across a hundred-billion galaxies, the amount of activity becomes difficult for the human mind to distinguish from infinite.
The word "fact" should be a difficult word for any scientist to speak. At best, we should be happy when new theories advance, and be open to always looking for new theories, no matter how tempting the trap that tenure in one same framework for most of your lifetime -- normal lifetime I mean -- may be.
Each theory may be a better approximation to reality. Some may hold up longer, some may crumble in little time. Many may need revisions. Some theories, even if surpassed, may remain still-useful approximations in some situations. Some ideas simply have to be dropped. Some were simply wrong from the start.
Even now, some scientists make the mistake of getting caught up in one set of theories, comfortably comfortable, instead of comfortably uncomfortable. We cannot doubt everything or we will be lost, but we cannot trust everything either, or we will be either lost, taken advantage of, or arrogantly damage others.
Yet even if we have gotten good -- and can continue getting better -- at computing some of the basic rules of the universe, and their immediate consequences, imagine how over how much space and time you would have to compute this. Even if our approximations eventually come close to or even at reality, the universe is vast, the uncertainty principle appears to be very healthy, and thus a lot can happen that we will probably never be able to fully predict.
So I suggest being comfortably uncomfortable in a universe of improving approximations that still do not tell us everything that will happen. Comfortable because this is the process of progress, and there are many lifetimes of topics in which to find fascination in your explorations and theorizing, at whatever scales you find interesting. Uncomfortable because you should always be willing to question your own conclusions, to always be open to questions from others, ready to both defend your viewpoint when needed and abandon it in part or whole when needed -- sometimes perhaps both at the same time.
The universe is not here to make this easy, it is simply and wonderfully here, however that may have come to be, in all its layers of simplicity and complexity. It is up to us, each and every individual, whether to explore and hope we grasp more over time -- just a little more. It is this that makes us all explorers. All of us are at some frontier or another.
I am just a scientist. I do not pretend to know everything. I enjoy my best estimations on what I think I understand best, finding fascination in this, learning more, theorizing again, and trying to place such ideas in context. That is a life's journey, and I like to think this perspective keeps a scientist humble yet energetic.
John thought it was a wonderful speech, and had revisited it several times since Breakaway. It gave him an understanding of just how fast their still poorly-understood travel truly was, yet how little they were still seeing.
In all that vast space and time, should John be surprised something like a space brain had come to exist? The term sounded almost corny, yet here it had been, and it had been unusual, complex, and presumably had some rules it had operated by. Humans liked to give short phrases -- handles to handle something they really could not handle in all its true complexity. Alphans would probably never understand what it was -- nor how it had come to be.
Had it evolved on its own in the vastness of space-time, or something thrown into space that had evolved from there?
Or had some ancient culture selectively bred something to exist in vacuum, live directly on radiation, and be able to attempt to communicate? The living on radiation part was not entirely difficult to understand, as plants did it, except they needed air, water, and other nutrients too. Just because John could not imagine how something would live in a cold vacuum did not mean nothing did. Yet that also did not imply anything and everything could happen. He could not assume anything he imagined would or even could exist somewhere. Still, the Space Brain had existed.
Had some being created it even more rapidly?
Such had been the musings of John and Victor, with some speculation by others mixed in as well. It was a mystery. He would have to be comfortably uncomfortable with this, he realized.
However, it was a mysterious being who had unintentionally cost three Alphans their lives, so it was a bitter mystery as well, very uncomfortable in that way, to say the least. The cost of learning more was sometimes paid in lives. It had been true throughout the existence of exploration, regardless of whether that was stepping outside of one's house, or outside of one's entire world. Still, that did not make it any easier, or any less dangerous to a moonbase already pressed to survive.
It was into this aftermath of six deaths in a week that this poem had emerged. It did not have a title, but he suspected others would call it "Away we Fly" or "Cold Universe" after one or the other of the two phrases within the first line. John found it to be a poignant poem, infused with sadness, quiet confusion, and longing. All the words seemed to teeter heavily and uneasily on the tip of an extra, final question mark -- which itself seemed a wide-open and plaintive question.
For a moment, that final question seemed to look like a vague outline of Atlas, stooped over as he held up the weight of what in this case was considerable sadness and hope, all balanced precariously. Yet if so, this Atlas was holding up not Earth or a new world, but a diamond shape. Had that meant something to Laura, or was it just the way the words seemed to come the best?
He sat back. While there was hope in the poem, the intensity of the sadness and confusion was difficult. It only added to how he felt the base was slipping into a sort of collective depression. People turning inward, so many people dying, post-traumatic shock from repeated attacks.
They were hardy, to be sure, but was this all slowly taking a toll, when so few places allowed even an attempt to start Operation Exodus, and how there had been failures even when it had seemed possible. They were all still stuck on the Moon -- all who had survived, anyway.
John was not one to wallow in such thoughts, and psychology was more the domain of Dr. Bob Mathias, who was the closest to a psychiatrist on base, though Helena had some background as well.
Still, it had weighed more and more heavily on his mind as time went on. Even now, as he got up and started pacing in his office, he felt this concern was a command concern. Part of the overall "health" of the base. It wasn't just a place, it was a people as well. Both parts were essential -- fundamental.
Some individuals suffered more losses than others. All still seemed to be suffering from the repeated shocks of such losses, not the least of which was Breakaway cutting them all off from Earth. Repeated alien attacks and other strange events. Yet while the people got more philosophical, rightfully so, there were slow signs of recovery and hope too. They were not mutually exclusive, and at times, both seemed to interact as well -- philosophy and hope.
The babies, all ten of the first wave -- from those pregnant less than three months at the time of Breakaway -- had been born now, each an occasion of joy, though more muted after the strange happenings with the first child. Though that situation was now "understood" as much as it could be, there was still just a bit of primal fear in each that something could go wrong. That two of the babies had been born with health problems only kept that going, muting the joy a little.
The second wave of children was less than two months from starting to arrive, of over twenty post-Breakaway pregnancies the officers had been mostly surprised about, that had then led to required birth-control measures due to various life support concerns. Of course, the anticipation over their arrival was growing, and perhaps that was increasing morale too.
Besides that, there were parties, though still rather few and small so far. A few but slowly-increasing postings on the "Light Side of the Moon" board on Main Computer. Someone's idea about distributing plants here and there around the base and allotting a few for each person.
One of the most curious positive social results was also on Main Computer, which reported the Living Quarters Locking Index, or LQLI. The lower the number, the greater the sign of trust, generally speaking. Surprisingly, it had been dropping a lot recently -- improving.
Still, the "mood" of Moonbase felt to be faltering to John, in other ways, as much as he could tell. It was as if there was some joy to be found even as they all felt like they were sliding down the hill towards a black abyss. Perhaps not unlike the hollow party held while most were already under the influence of the Guardian of Piri. Anyone who could count could realize that they were losing people far too fast. 28. Too large a number for three-quarters of a year. More than three-dozen a year. If that kept up, all the original Alphans could be dead in less than a decade.
Of course, if that were they case, they would actually die years before then, because a Moonbase could not be sustained with too low a population. It would break down faster and faster, until too many life support systems could not be sustained by the people who remained -- or one critical system went and could not be restored. A few people could theoretically run a base for a few weeks if nothing major went wrong and most sections of the base were shut down. A hundred for maybe a year or two -- hypothetically. Two-hundred for a few years. It was a sort of curve, and 250 was considered a "safe" number for the size the base currently was, barring outright catastrophe. Of course, those numbers had originated as thought experiments on Earth.
The occasional celebration of a birth, and other muted and few events, were but occasional occasions of joy and laughter, covering a mixture of deep concern and determination.
So much of the determination was over survival and finding a new planet. So absolutely critical. So why did that not feel like enough?
He set the thoughts aside for the moment, stopped pacing, and headed into Main Mission itself, through the smaller sliding door in the divider that could open more fully.
Not finding Paul Morrow there, he looked around, and saw him standing on the observation deck. This was becoming more of a habit with Paul, of retreating to curious places at times. This one, though, was quite common -- for just about anyone who worked in Main Mission.
John headed to the stairs, and once up them, settled in at the next window over. Paul looked at him, quietly and nodded, saying, "Commander," but when John simply nodded and looked out the view over a large part of Moonbase Alpha, Paul resumed doing the same.
John sometimes worried about Paul. While some people had started slowly recovering some humor and cheer, and there were signs of change afoot as they slogged on towards the end of their first year cut off from Earth, Paul did not seem to share in that coming together. He was an officer, in many ways of the "old school" British military mindset, or what John assumed was the mindset. Not totally aloof as to scorn interacting with non-officers socially, but just not doing it much. John wasn't sure he had many friends, but he did have one close relationship, that was hardly a secret despite their discreetness, namely with his fellow officer, Sandra Benes.
Still, it seemed something else had changed in the stolid Controller, and John sometimes wondered if it was around the time of what some had dubbed the Last Sunset, when an alien sun had set red in the fading temporary atmosphere that planet Ariel's people had bestowed on the Moon to distract Alpha.
Prior to that sunset, when the Moon's atmosphere was at full pressure, Paul had run across what was now becoming a startling potential food source of unknown origin. Alphans were working on trying to find a way to strip its hallucinogenic properties -- now. Paul had not known that when he had been consuming it.
Wherever Paul had gone in his mind, and however much he had seemed to come all the way back shortly afterwards, John had some small but growing doubts.
John set those thoughts aside when he suddenly recalled something from nearly a week back, just before the encounter with the Space Brain. "Well, it's time we had a new puzzle," John had somewhat flippantly commented as people were starting to work their way through the same jigsaws again.
"Time we had a new world," Paul had said then.
True, so true, John had thought then and now, but it had always struck him as a curious moment, had nagged at him.
John had never given a verbal response to Paul's reply. Maybe now was the time.
"We do need a new planet," he quietly said into the silence.
Paul laughed gently, a curious sound for him. "Yes, we do need a new planet," he said with an equally-low voice. He did not immediately elaborate, but then there was another curious laugh.
John looked his way a little, and waited for Paul to say something. He finally did, still just as quietly.
"Time we had a new plan."
"What do you mean?"
"Can we talk in private?"
Simple, Not So Simple
David Kano was deep into computer code. The project he was focused on today was not new. It had been started awhile back, and would continue for awhile. The goal could be summarized simply: turn virtually every monitor on base into a way of displaying more information, to lessen the reliance on printing output on cards.
The faster Alphans could respond to crises, the better their chances of survival, and having to wait for cards and read them, which had never struck anyone as that much of an inconvenience while in Earth orbit, had started striking more people as an issue out here, where quick response was needed far more often.
Easier said than done, of course. So many others thought it sounded easy. He shook his head for perhaps the hundredth time, having heard, mostly second-hand, the questions -- not so much from the officers, but others -- on when such systems would arrive in their workspaces and quarters.
Did they not understand? It was a major change. How difficult was it to see this? Couldn't anyone hear "put readout data on screens instead of cards" and instantly know that was a lot of work, without having to be an expert? Of course, the officers knew, but even they had not gotten it instantly, for the most part.
The Big Screen was of course the best of the monitors, already well-designed for such multiple purposes, in multiple modes -- and long used in those ways.
The base had scattered mid-sized monitors, far smaller than Big Screen but larger than most commpost monitors. These mid-sized ones had some moderate capacity for both televideo feed and digital feed. Most of the far more numerous smaller monitors could do little more with digital information than display "Red Alert." They could potentially display more, but for the most part were television monitors, not digital readouts.
The Space Brain's attempts to communicate had been visual data, like television, rather than digital in nature. So the smaller monitors could handle it, especially as that being or cosmic intelligence or whatever it was, seemed to know exactly what sort of signal to send that would be interpreted by the most monitors.
It was all so clear to David, but few others really got it. June Washington and others in the Computer department, of course. But even many of the other departments in Technical Section did not really understand Computer well. He was the Technical Officer, leading a section of numerous disciplines, most so vertical in nature, that few understood the others that well.
Drilling deeply -- vertical -- was essential, to be sure, but if it came at the exclusion of cross-communication, they could very well be missing opportunities. David was not necessarily the best communicator, he knew, but as an officer bearing many responsibilities, the depth-at-the-cost-of-breadth concern had been bothering him recently. While Professor Bergman brought so much depth and breadth as Science Advisor, and was ameliorating the potential problem to a large degree. However, David realized it was too easy for a small number of people in some expertise to die, and most of that experience would vanish, leaving others scrambling to try to figure out things from books, data stored on Computer, or -- he shuddered -- pure guesswork.
He did not like guessing. No precision at guessing. Unless one could assign a certainty value of some kind. Then it was not guessing, but now rose to the level of estimation.
One of the several major problems he struggled with was how to force the various multiplexors in Computer to translate digital information onto monitors set up for television signals. Computer was designed for raw computational and heuristic power, not to be a bloody universal television, he thought in frustration.
Even when successful -- he was about 95% certain he would have it all solved and deployed by around 290-300 Days After Breakaway barring too much interruption -- it would be a slow process, he already knew. Data streaming perhaps one line of text at a time as the signal was converted. That was actually mildly more difficult than just converting the whole stream to an image and then displaying it, but no one -- not even David -- thought such a delay was viable. Better to start displaying some information immediately, and still be able to finish displaying all of it, still in less time than formatting for card output and doing that. Besides, it would be less drain on artificial cellulose production to not be wasting so much of it printing all those cards just to convey a kilobyte or less worth of readable information.
Not that this would completely eliminate paper modes, but it would help to replace most such uses.
Still, this should all have been easier. Sometimes he wondered why no one on Earth had thought of an inexpensive approach, to do this on something smaller than the hyper-sophisticated and very expensive Big Screen technology. He could not convert the small monitor's to act like Big Screen, he had to get Computer to talk to the small monitors digitally in a different way.
Thus, there was part of his frustration. He understood this and other aspects of the problem, often immediately, but few others did, even after some explanation.
So he finished with one block of code. He suspected only a 75% chance of it running at all, but that other 25% might be a shorter path to a solution. It was worth the time attempting it.
He "bootstrapped" the module into the proper sequence location, then had Computer attempt to start the subsystem.
He waited the usual time. Then, in first a male voice and then the usual female voice....
"I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that. Memory Block 24C3:F643:7B87:0000 overrun by Instruction 7723:7890:0446 at 98B1:8E31:DCA9."
He groaned inwardly, both at the failure and the old joke. Someone, as a parting "gift" the day he finished his assignment, a week before Breakaway, replaced Block 77A9:8823:99A0 -- a hard-coded static block of Computer's voice saying "New Block Execution Failure" as the prefix to the run-time details -- with a HAL quote sampled from "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Maybe it was his own fault. He could have let Computer run the On-Demand Voice Message Generation subsystem each time "New Block Execution Failure" had to be enunciated; but for programming purposes, it had seemed more efficient to have this repeated message stored as a simple block rather than having to go through the more complex subsystem all the time. So, it had created the opening the departing team member had obviously found and exploited.
In the days before Breakaway and the months after, it had not been a priority to fix this bit of silly sabotage.
Lena Andreichi, his rather equally humorless girlfriend for a few months, had known about it, but when he mentioned he was finally going to have some time to revert that tampered block, she had surprisingly suggested leaving it.
"It is only issued to programmers, only during initial test mode, right? Not outside your Department? Just leave it. Then you can pretend you have a sense of humor. Just like I have a few stock jokes, and I can pretend I do. You can point to it, act like you came to think it is funny, and get people off your back for a month or two."
Coming from a person almost as serious as he was, he took it seriously. Otherwise, he would have dismissed it immediately, as a pointless exercise in mild social deception. Still, despite accepting the advice because it had come from Lena, That did not mean he did not the practical joke rather too silly -- not to mention an abuse of Computer's purpose. Besides, Computer was not HAL.
Still, he put up with it. Enough people joked he was more computer than human as it was. Not that he cared most of the time; but he did now and then.
To B or Not to Be?
"So what kind of new plan do you have in mind, Paul?" John asked him. They had left the observation deck, crossed the rest of Main Mission, and were now in the Command Office, behind closed doors, settling into the lounge chairs present.
Paul looked at John, and said, "We need Operation Exodus. We need a new planet. But we need more -- a lot more. Our needs are humble, yet also profound. And one need does not exclude another."
John gave him a slightly odd look, perhaps at the particular wording. That look vanished quickly, turning into a slight nod. "Something tells me you've got the start of an answer to the start of a question I was beginning to see ten minutes ago -- or in parts ten weeks ago, in a sense.
"What question?" Paul asked quietly.
John made a slight brush-aside motion and said, "No, keep talking."
"Keeping Operation Exodus well-tuned, up-to-date, and practiced as much as we can here, is all absolutely necessary. But we're pinning all our hopes on one Plan. Call it Plan A. We have no Plan B."
"I take it you don't consider continuing to exist in Moonbase Alpha as a proper Plan B. Except it is a binary choice, either finding a planet or remaining stuck here -- unless we miraculously stumble on a way back to the Earth we know, which is unlikely given we're pretty sure there has to be time dilation."
From the way the Commander said the first part, the Controller already knew that John Koenig probably did not think that the current scraping to survive in Alpha was sufficient; but as he said, it was a binary choice. Paul had had more time to think this through, though.
"Plan B is on Moonbase Alpha, but not status quo," Paul started explaining. "Moonbase Alpha has to expand. You and I both know it. We are limited. Yes, we can start raising some more children at some later point, but you and I both know that if we don't run out of quarters first, we'll run out of spaces for plant growth, fish growth, room for non-food crops for biochemical or clothing purposes, room for Manufacturing to expand to support a growing population, or some other of the numerous factors that comprise Life Support. Alpha's designated capacity of 333 was slated to start expanding, as it often does, with new structural additions, starting several months ago."
"Until Breakaway hit. Yes, I know, and I understand your points, I think. But are you suggesting we dust off the original plans -- however far Chief Architect Alexander Karedepoulos got before Breakaway shelved them -- and start pulling a lot of people away from other duties? We've got time before that long-term seven-year deadline we discussed a few months ago starts requiring action in a few years--"
"Action is needed now. For a few reasons. We are all too focused on one primary goal, pinning all hopes on that. That is starting to kill us."
John nodded. "The poem apparently written by Laura Adams."
Paul now nodded. "Only one of numerous signs. I know the feeling myself. Brooding. Philosophical is good. Depressed is bad. Not that I'm there yet, but I feel the base is picking up speed through the former on its way towards the latter, and I think you know this too."
"And there you hit on the start of my question. So you think we need dual goals, that everyone can see -- can feel -- we have more reasons to hope."
"Yes," Paul affirmed, relaxing a little knowing that John was as shrewd as ever.
"Okay, let's say I agree, and I'm pretty sure I do. Say get Karedepoulos started sooner and pull--"
"No, I have something more far-ranging in mind. A vision that I have been working out for awhile, but will still need a lot more work, and some luck too. I will need Alexander's help, and various others, to add more framing, more detail, to what I have in mind. I'm not even positive how quickly it can happen, but it is more ambitious, and could help guarantee us a lot longer than more of the usual kind of growth."
John leaned forward slightly, clearly curious. Paul wondered what John would think of this plan. He wasn't about to mention some of it came from just before the last of the hallucinogenic influence finally faded from his mind, from the fungus found from when the Moon's temporary atmosphere still existed.
With the loss of that atmosphere, he had lost hope of building houses and farms on the Moon's surface. Yet one vision, had crossed that hope with an iron-stomach realization.
He had tried to push the idea aside as just a drugged dream, but this was no idle fantasy, no pointless drift in random images, no loss of oneself into a wasteland of pretty nothings. It was a genuine idea that had taken root from a soil of previous concerns that he had frequently trod across, fruitlessly. It was merely the timing that was odd. Still, as certain as he was of that, he was not going to mention that timing.
"Part of a viable Plan B is to build Biosphere V." Paul stated, unintentionally with a tone of certainty like it had been discussed before.
"I... don't recall any such building plan having been proposed by the ILC."
"That's because it is my plan. Or the start of a plan."
"Biosphere IV is not very large," John said, looking puzzled. "You must be talking about something larger. But how is that--"
"Because we have to build it huge. A structure attached to the base, or maybe somewhere else. Enclosing a volume of, say, all those alien spaceships that have been destroyed on and around the Moon."
"That is a lot of metal to find to... wait a second. Are you saying we reuse the metal of those spaceships themselves? We still don't know a thing about working those unfamiliar alloys. We can't even cut most of them yet. Okay, I get your point. We dedicate ourselves to figuring them out. A new, additional focus. New hope."
Paul nodded. "We've got the remains of the Satazius and the Bethan battleship. The three Sidon spaceships and four spaceships of Jarak's people, the fragments of all of them having crashed on the Moon or gone into orbit. That is nine spaceships of large to very large sizes."
"Not that I've calculated it, but while that would be a lot larger of a biosphere building attached to the base, much larger than Biosphere IV is, and perhaps enough to grow some crops -- it does not sound large enough."
"Given current building techniques," Paul stated. "I'm not proposing a particular design, I'm proposing a plan where part of the goal is to find new ways to create the best design possible."
"So we task Karedepoulos to get creative? Or more of Technical to work on new ideas?"
"Something like that. I run out of details at that particular point, at this time anyway. However, I would like to take point on this."
"You know you're already rather taxed at this point, as are all of us officers. We may be running out of puzzles and getting bored sometimes, but when we're not, we are up to...." John trailed off when Paul nodded, acknowledging that while Alpha could have off time, the stresses during "on" time often became intense.
"I'm not sure what to suggest, sir. I still need to be the Controller."
"I think perhaps I have an idea," John started, then pausing before continuing. "You currently oversee Security Section. Their needs have grown with all that has been going on. Perhaps you need that lifted away."
"Actually, that reminds me. Someone has been quietly taking a lot of the load away, keeping the work about even for me."
John looked surprised for a moment, but quickly saying, "Who? Verdeschi?"
"Exactly. I think he had some sort of officer training back on Earth, not to mention a PhD in something I forget, before his career took a lot of turns. I thought ILC made a loopy decision assigning him here as a guard when he seemed to have problems, but in hindsight I think someone there saw more potential in him. He has been simply volunteering to take up more and more duties, and seeing to some organization and supervision that I've not always had time to do as well as I prefer."
"Security Section needs its own officer," John mused.
Paul nodded. "That would solve several problems."
"We've never had that role here. We need to draw up the role to properly separate his specific tasks from yours, so that both of you know what is needed."
"Simpler than the Science Officer idea we bandied about one time?"
"I've never had a chance to revisit that," John admitted. "One of this base's main missions was technical research, so Technical Section is much of the base, filled with so many vertical and poorly-interacting departments -- as Kano has frequently pointed out. Besides, he gets drawn back to his own best expertise so often. I still don't know how to even begin separating that complicated situation and make it run properly as a new role. I'm sure I can, but that is for another day -- or week."
John paused, offered Paul some coffee, then soon continued as he poured. "Creating a Security Officer role should not take quite as long to define."
"I think I can do most of that work," Paul offered. "Now that you brought it up, I think I can already see some very plain separations of duties. Might be some complications I have not considered yet, but still...."
"And with a Security Officer reporting directly to me and within Command Conference, that would remove all time you spend on supervisory and reporting duty regarding that section. But we need to evaluate other possible people for this role too, to make sure who is the best candidate."
"Very well. I agree."
"So once we sort all of this out, that would free you up for that and for Plan B instead."
"There's more, Commander."
"Oh?" John said, with raised eyebrow.
"I have been thinking about these problems for awhile," he started explaining. "The concerns in Command Conferences, from elsewhere, of my own. For awhile now. I know you have too, but some things just started clicking. Not just about that, but also your comment in a prior Command Conference about 'starting to feel too exposed to danger' in Main Mission. I had already been talking to Dr. Warren and now, uh, Abigail Strong in Botany, and Pedro Gutierez in Zoology, and they both say their plans for eventual plant and fish crops are going to need more space sooner than anyone first thought, especially the botanical side since the crops we have now will be insufficient as the Grain Stores continue to decline."
"I thought we were ahead of that curve for a few years."
"We're assuming none of those particular Stores get destroyed. If any do, we'll be out of time much sooner."
Koenig slapped fist into palm. "I thought that sort of assumption was removed from people's thinking months ago."
"It took awhile for some departments to recalculate all those complicated plans originally promulgated by hundreds back on Earth. Plus, our departments have recently noticed some other factors too, such as needing Chemical Department to design some better fertilizers."
"Okay, we've got many points to discuss, but...."
"My point, Commander, is that even if we convert some of those smaller, unused quarters downlevel, for crops, that won't be enough, I think. I have not talked to anyone else about this idea yet, because it will be unpopular, but I think we all have too much space per person uplevel. It was all well and good with the ILC's and World Space Commission's multi-decade plans when the Moon was in orbit, expansion plans were being formulated, and all of that. Now, though, the more I look at some of those now-dusty plans, the more I think they no longer entirely apply to us, cut off from Earth and only sporadically -- however essentially -- we're finding some supplies on some planets."
"So you propose catching two birds in one cage. Swapping quarters down-level, and converting up-level into more -- and larger -- farm and manufacturing space. That we not only get more production capacity, but keep our people safer."
John frowned, though. "But only somewhat safer, because they still have to come uplevel to work in those spaces."
"But if we do this right, the higher the level, the less we can have hourly presence. Maybe not on such a neat curve, but generally-speaking anyway. The production spaces would be exposed to danger, but if we keep losing more people, that is the more permanent loss."
"Your Biosphere V is subject to the same types of possible dangers."
"Right, sir. It is subject to a lot of things. There is a lot to plan, to speculate on, to try to mitigate or solve. Or partial risks we realize we must take in the end. Or we may reach the conclusion to do something different."
"The quarters swap sounds complicated. That could take some planning."
"In my opinion, it should happen within months, and would only be a first step to Plan B. The greater capacity-expansion planning is going to get very complicated and a lot more speculative, especially when it comes to realizing how creative we might have to get to pull off as much as we can. Trying to figure out how to work the alien alloys, the most efficient way to use it. Safety ideas. What sort of shape such a Biosphere would take. What and/or who to put in it. How to protect it."
John nodded. "Swapping quarters and workspaces is, after the shock of the initial idea passes, just lots of details, and dealing with the grumbling. Trying to create a whole new building out of material we can scarcely put a dent in, to come up with technologies for that, for turning regolith into soil, how to maximize use of a space whose shape you don't even know yet. This all comes with a huge number of ifs, and I'm sensing a lot of risk if we commit a lot of resources -- still ill-defined at this point -- at it."
"Relax, Paul. You've not yet sold me on a concrete Biosphere V made out of alien hulls and growing plants in speculative moonsoil, but you've sold me on the idea of looking into that and other initiatives, as a chance of increasing our capacity, sooner rather than later."
"But.... I need more outlines, more thoughts detailed. You seem to have the vision on these ideas, but before I sign off on further use of resources, I need more than a half-hour discussion or even a four-hour discussion."
"I can start getting those together. I was thinking, uh, that at some point, probably a few months in, of having a few more people involved semi-regularly rather than just in occasional consultations. There could be a Strategic Planning Centre, if you will. I'll probably start outlining who should be on that."
He was tempted to offer his quarters for the SPC, but that was getting ahead of things. Besides, the timing might not make sense. Plus, he had started wondering if he might propose to Sandra at some point in that same few-month timeframe. Having a Centre in whatever quarters that an officer couple might end up with, would probably not work.
John interrupted Paul's briefly-rambling thoughts: "Outline the Security Officer role first, so you can remove those duties from your time as soon as we can. Have draft duty separation documents to me within four working days. We'll discuss them, and once we agree on some plan on that, we'll work on the who should fill that role.
"Once that is set, start outlining your plans, including on how the Strategic Planning process itself would work." John paused, then continued. "One part of it, though, should be me and the rest of the officer corps are regular consultants, as we'll have plenty of ideas and feedback as well. In the short term, though, talk to others like Karedepoulos, Strong, Gutierez, and others, but in a consulting fashion initially. Quietly for now, as you have been."
"And the quarters-for-workspaces swapping?" Paul queried.
"Truth be told, I would rather be in a safer configuration sooner rather than later," John replied evenly. "I wondering if that Architect's Planning Center, in Level J, built for when construction work is ongoing, wouldn't make for a better command center than exposed way up here."
"The room at the bottom level directly below us? I can check with Karedepoulos on its suitability."
"Are you suggesting we abandon Main Mission? Decommission it in favor of a command centre?"
"Ever since I said we were too exposed in Main Mission, I've been thinking about it. While the high perch and the direct view of the entire base and environs is valuable, it increasingly feels too dangerous, like we're lifting our hands up to offer a prime target. Plus, I don't know about you in the U.K., but back as a kid in the U.S., we were always taught that if something dangerous was happening in the outside environment, to stay indoors, but avoid really large open rooms that would be the first to collapse. As strong as that tower is in many ways, I don't think the builders of the Moonbase had alien attacks in mind when they designed Main Mission.
Paul sat there. He'd been posted to Main Mission for a lot longer than John had. Yet he had had some of the same thoughts too.
"For whatever it is worth, Paul, the thought pains me in a way. It is a good place, and my idea feels like hunkering down in defense."
"But I agree, sir, as much as I'd hate to leave it."
They sat there for a minute, sipping their coffees.
"Okay, Paul. I think I agree with your sense of urgency on swapping out quarters, and let's attach a new Command Center to that. I'll write an electronic post to you to make both ideas official in writing, but let's start small. First, draft your idea of a Security Officer's roles so that I can evaluate it. Then start checking the swapping ideas. We'll bring in the other officers a few days after you've checked the basics we've discussed, then at some point after that, after enough of the ideas if not all the details are settled, when to announce the move to the whole crew."
John paused, then added, "Are you sure you want to take on all this planning? I still need you to be effective in Main Mission as Controller -- like you stated before."
"Right. I had no plans otherwise. These duties would take the place of supervising Security, and perhaps some off-hours time as the thoughts already have been."
"Just watch yourself. Helena is getting on my case for not easing up sometimes -- that having exhausted, careless officers could kill Alpha too."
Paul smiled slightly. "Same here. I understand."
It was John's easy use of Helena's name that got Paul to thinking a little. It was scarcely new of John, yet in this semi-formal discussion, and referencing her in terms of her Chief Medical Officer role, made it seem like a case where he could have said "Dr. Russell" or said "Helena" in a different way.
It only added to the thought, planted by Sandra in private, that perhaps the Commander and CMO were starting to drift away from merely colleagues to something more. There was clear attraction. As much as they tried to damp out the signs in professional contexts, it was still not that difficult to notice. Helena had even shown signs of distress when Dione tried putting moves on the Commander. The way they talked to each other sometimes.
No one was sure whether or not they were dating. If so, they were being very discreet about it. Sandra suspected not, though, like they were both still holding back. If there wasn't more of a relationship yet, one could start forming at any point, Sandra had speculated once recently.
Paul was not exactly interested in knowing everyone else's relationship state. He doubted, though, that his and Sandra's largely-discrete relationship had gone unnoticed by Alpha as a whole. For all its size and population of a few hundred that still sometimes made it easy to forget someone's name or face for a few moments, it was now a closed society too -- at least in some senses. In talking with Verdeschi, it was clear that he thought some sort of rumour mill, only mildly present before Breakaway and even further muted after Breakaway, was starting to churn to life here. Paul didn't know. Tony seemed to have a good ear to the ground, as some would say. Part of what would help as a Security Officer, to be sure -- part of why Paul had recommended Tony.
Sandra had a much better grasp on who was who on base than Paul. Part of her role as Service Officer, and part of her nature too, though she was not prone to a ton of socializing or social chatter either.
"Sorry, just thinking."
The discussion wound down quickly after that point, but the work on Plan B was only just beginning.
After he left John's office, Paul sighed... in relief.
New Roles and Connections
What a week it had been for Tony Verdeschi. He stared out of the window of his new quarters.
Chief of Security, or what some were already nicknaming Security Chief. The newest officer of Alpha, head of Security Section. It was actually the last fact that gave his new role its formal name: Security Officer. Commander Koenig seemed fond of using the term "officer" in titles.
Currently Alpha had a rather odd mix of terms: Chief Pilot, Chief Medical Officer, Technical Director, Service Leader. It betrayed Alpha's sometimes hodge-podge development: its pseudo-military organization that ranged from very military to very civilian and strange mixes in between. Toss in a Science Advisor who had become a de facto officer and in some ways now a co-leader of Technical Section, given Kano's frequent need to handle Computer Department needs most often, and Tony was starting to see that Koenig would probably want to simplify the title scheme.
Still, one of his Section's people was already starting to call him "Chief." Frankly, Tony didn't care much about the exact title, as much as the role it implied and the responsibilities it carried. That was what was most important.
He had just been promoted to this role, of names formal or informal, days before.
"You already more than show the leadership potential needed to fill a new position we have drawn up, that we found an urgent need for," John Koenig had said. Paul was taking up some new duties, creating some sort of new "Plan B" while still filling the Controller role. Tony had not heard much about that plan, and apparently there was to be an introduction of the basic idea to the officer corps sometime next week.
The Controller had always been the supervisor of the Security Section, but the importance of the section had grown since Breakaway, given alien attacks, resource concerns inside and out, and often acting as initial responders in other crises, before Medical, Technical, or Service responders could show up, or to back them up in various ways even as non-experts in those fields.
Within a few months after Breakaway, after Tony had mended from Breakaway injuries and been back on duty, these growing needs had -- within mere months -- started threatening to eat up more of Paul's time, until Tony had simply stepped up and started taking up more and more of the supervisory duties. That often meant more paperwork, and more work in general, but Tony knew that Paul and the other officers had their hands full.
Tony had been on increasing numbers of missions too, on secondary mission Eagles to this point, getting his feet wet with exploration, something more and more people were doing -- another necessity of current Alphan life.
He looked around his quarters, that he had just moved into yesterday. "Officer's Quarters" as they were called, regardless the exact title. The space was larger than he was used to -- but he could get used to that! So why did he have a strange suspicion this was only temporary?
He had already gone to General Stores to pick out a few new things, and some of his friends had shown up with extra stuff, either out of humour or friendship.
He had been quick to respond heartily to that. He did not want becoming an officer to distance himself from his people. It was both an intrinsic trait and something he had seen Alan successfully cultivate too, that Alan was usually "just one of the guys" as some would say, yet if something was not getting done, he would become very much the authority, and not tolerate slip-ups. The military types in his department seemed to understand the difference well, but Tony had long been hearing that with an influx of civilian pilot or maintenance trainees, they often got tripped up knowing where the difference was.
Besides, Tony needed to stay in touch, more than most. Security was not just from external forces, but from potential internal trouble. Cases like what Simmonds had done were troubling. Not that anyone would have predicted that, but other trouble spots might start showing. With a lot of military and scientists around, and the tours of duty that rarely went beyond two years, Alpha had not had that much of a rumour mill, and what it did have had largely shut down after Breakaway. Now it was gradually firing up again, and Tony, besides being the social type, felt like having an ear out for scuttlebutt could help in a security sense, not just for potential problems, but to have an even better sense of the people.
He looked over his latest "beer"-making apparatus. A hobby he had started while injured after Breakaway, it was not the slightest bit a secret. Koenig and Morrow had been in his quarters enough times, but had not raised the slightest word about it -- not even during discussion about his promotion. He smiled. Somehow, something about him being an officer but still trying to brew beer would probably help keep him "just one of the guys" too, in some ways. Good for friendships and for hearing scuttlebutt. Now if only they would stop making fun of his concoctions!
As if the recent promotion wasn't exciting enough, Tony was now getting ready for a wedding. Not his, of course, as he was not in a relationship for the moment, but the marriage of his friend Patrick to Michelle. Tony was to be Pat's Best Man.
The proposal had only been two weeks before. Most engagements simply did not last that long on Alpha. Preparations were simple, weddings fairly small, usually about 10-20 people altogether. There weren't many choices to make on clothes, food, decorations, who to invite, or where to hold the ceremony and reception. Nor were there logistics of people getting there, for everyone was already in the same Moonbase.
About the only complication, unless someone got cold feet at some point, or an alien encounter or other emergency created a delay, was if one of the intended guests was on one of the remote survey teams searching for resources elsewhere on the Moon. Then it was a scheduling matter, either for the wedding or for the survey team.
Clothes. It was time to get dressed in something a little different. He walked away from the window, to where the "special" lent clothes hung, and started changing for the wedding.
Very few Alphans' off-hours clothes that they had brought from Earth were even close to wedding-ready. Before Breakaway, only two weddings had happened right on the Moon itself, and the couples had brought clothes from Earth -- which were soon returned back to Earth. Most off-hours clothing was rather informal in nature, such as exercise clothes of various kinds, t-shirts, sundresses, and similarly informal things.
Joan Conway -- the physicist who had been found to be a hidden tailor after a survey had turned up various previously-unrecognized skills among Alphans -- was working on creating a few simple but clearly-distinct near-"wedding dresses" and "semi-suits." Those weren't ready, though, so an interesting compromise had emerged, of modified uniforms. Jackets, being made for exploration missions but which could be altered to look a little more formal, were now being worn by men in the immediate wedding party. The women could substitute a simple skirt, using the same material normally used to make slacks, in place of the universal slacks of the uniform -- and bleach the whole thing white. A few sets of the men's clothing, and a few sets of the women's, in different sizes -- and some adjustments -- and it worked as something simple yet distinct. Better, Tony thought, than the first few eventual post-Breakaway weddings, where it had just been nothing more than the usual blah uniforms.
Strangely, there were some whispers floating in the air that were threatening to turn into demands, that some of these variations, sans the more-"formal" jackets and bleaching, be allowed every day. Frankly, Tony would prefer wearing a jacket. He felt more comfortable that way, in general and for the fact that temperatures on Alpha were a couple degrees cooler than in the past, to conserve some energy. (While energy was just about the least of Alpha's concerns, unlike so many other factors, a "waste not want not" attitude had quickly resulted in some conservation measures until this factor could be better studied long-term.)
So on these facts, he liked the idea of some sort of jacket being allowed as part of the working uniforms. So maybe he would add an officer's voice to the demands, for the men. Perhaps Helena would add hers for the women to be allowed to wear skirts if they wanted. Tony almost laughed at the thought, and for a moment wasn't sure if it was over this minor but perhaps "fresh" morale booster, or the thought of Helena spearheading some such move from the women's side.
He looked at himself in the mirror. Yes, this will work. Of course, this was the more formal variation of the jacket, rather than the more insignia-laden ideas used on missions. He hoped Lena would like the look.
Lena Andreichi, a Botanist, was quite fetching. Tony had known one of Michelle's best friends was Lena, and had been happy to hear Lena had been chosen as the Maid of Honor. Tony liked Lena's bearing and look. No-nonsense, in contrast to his own jocular attitudes. Short dark hair, thick eyebrows almost like Audrey Hepburn's, and soft brown eyes, yet with a steeliness in her them that seemed very much like many of those who came from the defunct U.S.S.R. She was shorter than he, but never seemed to let her stature be seen as a way of figuratively looking down on her. He liked that sort of strength in a woman.
The problem for Tony was, however, that she seemed more interested in dating computer geeks.
First Benjamin Ouma, until he had sadly died a few days after Breakaway. He had sustained initially-unnoticed internal injuries. Report was that Lena had been the one who started pushing him to have his strange occasional pain checked out, but even by then it was too late to reverse the damage.
A couple months later, Lena had started quietly dating David Kano, before they had broken it off a few weeks ago. Tony wondered if Lena's intensity was too much for Kano, whom Tony did not know all that well. Tony was sure he could handle a fiery woman.
However, both those men were fairly no-nonsense too, like she was. Maybe that was her type. She didn't have much of a sense of humour, quite the opposite of Tony. Still, he was very interested.
Tony's mother would have probably been bothering Tony about him not even dating any of the fairly high number of Italian women on Alpha; but he had always found himself attracted to the women further from the familiar. So had his older brother, Guido, back on Earth, much their father's puzzlement too. The pretty, no-nonsense Lena, from the former Soviet Union, had caught Tony's eye, and this Best Man / Maid of Honor combination was lucky, he thought.
However, Lena had been aloof in the wedding practice that had been held yesterday. Perhaps a dance or three at the reception would change that.
He was happy for Pat and Michelle, though. It seemed like they'd go to the ends of the Earth -- even though they could only go to the ends of the Moon (or was it to the ends of the Universe now?) -- for each other, and that was something wonderful.
Too many of the pairings post-Breakaway felt more like two just getting together to find comfort with each other, to keep out the cold of the hostile universe they found themselves flying through, rather than any deep-rooted feelings that promised a longer relationship. Tony was as guilty of that as others, though he had no child to show for that, unlike some of the more impulsive or thoughtless couples.
Even worse, a few of those couples were no longer together -- some children would be starting in single-parent families. What if that parent was killed? Would the other then step up?
He had heard a rather vague rumour that one couple was so ill prepared for starting a family that neither one wanted the child. Ridiculous, Tony thought. He hoped it was the rumour that was ridiculous for neither one wanting the child would be even more ridiculous. More than ridiculous. Completely irresponsible. Reprehensible really. Would Alpha have to start an adoption program?
He had drawn a line, consciously or unconsciously. Perhaps not at the same place his parents would have preferred, but perhaps their upbringing still showed through in that the line was still there, somewhere. He wanted to have a family with a woman he loved with all his heart. Someone special. Not just someone to merely stay warm with, but with whom he could share a collective warmth of love at various levels. That seemed less common here -- but perhaps that was his semi-cynical side speaking.
Yet despite the part of him that sought a genuine, deep relationship, that he would have thought women would respond to, he found himself in a series of more heated, faster-burning relationships where he had problems when it started coming to further commitment. Maybe it would work better with Lena. Maybe her serious side made him think he would respond differently this time.
If only he could melt her aloof, borderline-icy attitude towards him so far.
Alexander had known something was going on.
First Paul's questions. Subtle. Subtle enough that it might not have tripped the senses of most people. But Alexander was somewhat reactive. He had tensed up.
Then there had been quiet. Then more questions from Paul. Generalized, vague, but intriguing questions, as before -- but new questions as well. Reworking some plumbing needs. Moving some large equipment out of Medical Center. How many data connections existed in the Architectural Planning Center, and the strength of its beamwork. These odd questions were taking time away -- yet it was away from him being a glorified repair supervisor.
Newly-named Chief Architect of Moonbase Alpha, he had arrived in mid-August 1999, to start initial design of wholesale new additions to the base, whose construction was slated to begin on October 1, 2000. It was hardly to be the first cycle of expansion for the Moonbase, but the first that he would be leader.
Post-Breakaway, however, he had mostly seen to repair. Repair of structural damage due to Breakaway. Repair to damage from one alien attack after another. Repair of structural damage from.... It went on and on but often the same. He was not a maintenance technician, but he oversaw many technical disciplines in building. His company had started as design, but had quickly become general contractor as well. So he could certainly oversee these post-Breakaway duties, but left his primary passion for design out in the cold, hard vacuum of deep space -- as distant as Earth now was, he felt.
At the time of his accepting the contract for Alpha expansion, he had been forty-three years old, yet already the star of Greece's new-architecture community, and very well-known by the public there and to a lesser degree elsewhere in the world.
His rise there had been from the ashes of conflict a decade before, however....
It was called variously The War of 1987, The Year of Madness, or World War III. Many suspected history would settle on the last. It could have started almost anywhere, in any of various fashions, as some tensions had been building for years, but his country had been one of the initial flashpoints. Greece and Turkey were long-time enemies or adversaries, that even in peacetime were often looking across the Aegean Sea with suspicion, and sometimes loathing.
Terrorists affiliated with rogue states had sensed an opportunity, and began a series of alternating bombing campaigns in late 1986. Suicide bombings against Greek targets, and non-suicide bombings against Turkish targets, with enough intentional clues left in each case to implicate the other side.
Angry rhetoric soon started on each side, from both governments and many of their people. This soon spread to another tinderbox. Fourteen years after the start of the Twentieth Century, an event there had triggered World War I. Now, fourteen years from the end of the century, Yugoslavia began descending into internal conflict, along religious and tribal lines, encouraged, as discovered later, by the same nations stoking Greco-Turkish tensions.
In January 1987, Greco-Turkish battles flared on Cyprus and some east Aegean Islands, while outright civil war began shredding Yugoslavia. Both events drew in the Soviet Union, concerned about its Slavic allies in the Balkans, and its shipping lane through the Bosporus and Aegean. Fleets from various nations began massing in the entire region.
In addition to exploiting religious and ethnic fault lines, the terrorists and their sponsors began pressing along other lines, namely racial and class, as well. They used the worldwide focus on the Aegean and Balkan flashpoints to "quietly" stoke strife elsewhere, until, in stages through the first half of 1987, much of the world was drawn into apparent anarchy that was actually an attempt to impose a world of their order. Several countries sliding into chaos soon became new nests of terrorists who managed to arm themselves with the latest missiles, laser systems, and other weapons.
Two Hawk aerospacecraft were stolen from the U.S., and a Soviet conventional missile submarine was stolen, though most of the world did not know of the thefts initially. The Mark 3 Hawks soon attacked and sunk two massive ships -- one Soviet -- in the Bosporus. The sub was used to hit the U.S. Congress and Wall Street. The two wily superpowers, while still in a semi-thawed Cold War, were not so easily fooled into war with each other, however. Instead, they and several other powers began targeting some of the nations which had been stoking the conflict, while another was overthrown by its own people after dramatic events that actually startled the world somewhat.
These factors, and numerous migrations of people, helped cause some dissipation and disruption of some of the conflicts, slowed them long enough that some collective shock and fatigue took hold.
It had taken the loss of tens of millions, directly or indirectly, however. Few nations -- even some historically neutral ones -- went without suffering at least some strife or attacks. Or worse.
The Soviet Union, already crumbling under an inflexible economy, won most of its battles but lost its existence, shattering into eighteen nations. Genocidal movements had ravaged parts of Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sudan. Rwanda survived as a nation, but Sudan broke into two. Yugoslavia miraculously started a reconciliation process and would survive. China lost a province. So did India and Pakistan. Class riots in India and England had done damage. Solidarity had won peacefully in Poland, but that country had been hit by a nuclear weapon stolen from the U.S.S.R. by terrorists. Another country was similarly hit. South Africa had shed decades of Apartheid but at high cost.
Some countries had survived better, despite some hits, including Italy, Britain, the United States, Morocco, Spain, Argentina, and others. The U.S. Congress re-formed in Philadelphia, votes quickly filling the 20% of seats whose holders had been killed in D.C., and many Wall Street businesses temporarily relocated to St. Louis, while the original centers were being rebuilt.
It had been fortunate that it had not been major powers against each other, or their respective war machines could have created even more casualties, and considerably more infrastructure damage. So except in the worst-hit countries, most technological facilities had survived.
Greece and Turkey, where the war had been sparked, while not seeing some of the worst atrocities, had not seen "lighter" damage either. Large parts were in ruins. Disease had broken out around the Aegean and elsewhere and had nearly threatened to turn into a pandemic that some thought could have killed another billion worldwide. Fortunately, that was stopped by research by the CDC and Cleveland Clinic in the U.S., the European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control in Sweden, and agencies elsewhere.
Alexander Karedepoulos had left his homeland of Greece years before. Greece's building industry had been moribund for half a decade before the war, and he had sought architectural apprenticeship in the United States, which had been undergoing an boom for about that long.
He had watched the war from afar, with fear for those he knew back home, but a little nervousness as some riots started in some American cities too. Then the war hit Manhattan. He had even seen the missiles flying against the lower part of the island, destroying many structures along Wall Street and hitting the WTC and WFC. Wall Street took the worst, while the WTC and WFC buildings stood and were soon undergoing repair. The death toll had been high, yet there had been surprising order in the hours and days afterwards, not just from authorities but the people.
That had surprised him, but there was still elements of fear and anger, and not necessarily just about what might happen between the Americans and Soviets. He had kept a nervous eye about himself for awhile afterwards. He wondered if people would look at him with suspicion, especially given the war had first taken spark in his area of the world. Stares on the street made him more nervous for awhile.
It was difficult to judge how a semi-alien culture would react, after all. It was similar in some ways but different in others, complicated by how it sometimes felt like a single culture and sometimes a complex amalgam.
In the end, though, the war had cost him -- not in the U.S, but back home. Cut short were the lives of many in his extended family in Greece: his parents, his brother, a grandfather, an aunt, three cousins, and two nieces. Not to mention some of his old friends, including a few that had gotten into the fighting themselves, despite his advice against. For that and several other reasons, he had decided he had no intent to return to live in Greece, joining a trend that many who had left their homelands before or during the war not returning afterwards.
There were still some failed nations, as well as other nests of terrorists. Though the stolen Hawks and submarine had been destroyed, other technological thefts were still occurring, and terrorists were still trying to stir up some strife in some of the earlier hot zones, including in Greece and Turkey. The various powers made announcements that laser cannons built near many of their cities would stand, as would the one built near Moonbase Alpha, to guard against stolen aerospacecraft. Already, new Mark versions of Hawks were being made, to further defend various countries and harry terrorists and their supporters. Some rumors suggested that the lunar laser had been used a few times against such targets on Earth.
The U.S. economy had taken some hits and had wobbled about, but had gotten nowhere near the edge like the U.S.S.R. had been approaching even before the war. So Alexander had many job prospects, and a fast-rising career given his focus on detail, sweeping design ideas, and overall vision was capturing more attention in his adopted country.
He did, of course, return to Greece to visit his surviving relatives and friends. Abruptly, his disgust over how the war had been ignited on the too-fertile grounds of the long-running Greco-Turkish enmity evaporated. So much of beautiful Athens leveled. Santorini in ruins. People's homes, businesses, and some of the ancient sites... destroyed. The images of damage to Athens ate away at him after he returned to New York. One day, something tripped within Alexander. Perhaps it was his name, after a warrior who had conquered much but seemed to want to build so much more, that made him want to conquer his own disgust and stay home to build, build, build.
Unfortunately, many architects had left Greece before and during the war, and virtually none seemed interested in returning, given some continued terrorist activity there and the memory of Greece being one of the initial flashpoints of the war. Despite what others knew, despite money being made available for rebuilding, and despite how that was triggering further migrations of people to new countries to help where they could help, little of that flowed into his native country initially. That angered him at first, that such pettiness remained, even while many long-standing hostilities were fading so rapidly and so much further than before, it seemed. More than anything, however, it left him feeling hollow.
So Alexander made a decision that he had to return again to Greece, not as some conquering hero, but just as someone who wanted to have a hand in designing the new structures of Greece, to create architecture that would inspire builders to flood in.
He had many contacts in the U.S., including some Greek expatriates, and he started trying to convince them to come or return to Greece. Some hesitated, but to inspire them, he started showing them some initial rough sketches of ideas. He thought he was onto something with them, and apparently so did many of his friends and colleagues. So had Ruth, his girlfriend. She had contacted some of her family's well-placed friends, and some additional money and resources started accumulating in New York over the course of 1988 and into 1989, even as they wrapped up various contracts there and elsewhere or he started delegating responsibilities on the longer projects.
One day, in April 1989, Ruth's family arranged an expensive but efficient novelty for Alexander's group: a two-Eagle flight. One carried a passenger "pod" of him and eight others that would form the core of his new company in Greece. Others would follow soon in more conventional airplanes. The other Eagle flight was freight, the core of his company's equipment, even though here too, more would follow on a cargo 797. The two Eagles had flown from New York to Athens, via space.
He had been stunned to find this ship had 0.3G of artificial gravity, which it used either internally while in space, or externally while in atmosphere to help lessen the amount of lift needed. The latter was to the point that undercarriage thrusters, anti-gravity, and a pair of rather short wings and a minimal tail all took nearly-equal shares of controlling the craft in air. It even landed with a minimal roll, having four sets of wheels mounted to the bottom of only semi-streamlined pods. As pure streamlining became less important, more straight lines, flat planes, and tubular framework seemed to be emerging with each new Eagle version and Hawk mark, surely driven by efficiencies in construction.
No wonder these and other craft built by Accipiter Systems and its affiliated companies looked so strange, he had realized. Even crazier, a pilot let slip to his girlfriend that it had a "force field" capacity, to project a weak defensive force made of energy. Almost as startling, the ships were partially powered by nuclear generators -- apparently far more compact than anything he had heard about before, including the types sometimes built into larger buildings the last few years.
Prior to that, Alexander had paid little attention anything space-related. None of it built buildings -- or at least none that he had been involved in. He had heard of the mission to Uranus that had gone missing in 1986. For some reason, he heard more of the negative, and paid too little attention to the numerous successes, including the Moonbase started in the 1980s. With his first Eagle flight, though, that all changed. Space and its tech started fascinating Alexander, though more as a hobby interest than a career.
In 1990, he and his team had begun spinning out detailed architectural drafts of what he called "neo-classic tech" architecture -- ideas for Greek buildings that looked not only looked modern and technological, yet seemed reminiscent of ancient Greek structures, like those virtually destroyed on the Acropolis. They would not look ancient, but still have many well-integrated hints of classic -- echoes, in a way. New pride for Greece. Or so he hoped.
Fortunately, the Greek government had embraced the ideas with a passion, and his company was quickly hired for the architectural design phases, while the government started calling for bids on the building. His company added more and more people, at an accelerating pace, and soon branched the company into general contracting as well, starting to bid for and often win those contracts as the years went on. It was not necessarily the most typical growth pattern for an architectural company, but it worked far better than expected.
Yet seeing in Turkey's equal losses, he grew inspired and began sketching some designs that struck him as a mix of modern and what he knew of Turkish design tendencies. At first, he had posted them semi-anonymously on a new network of supercomputers and mainframes, thinking someone in Istanbul's new computing center might notice. Two months later, someone had figured out he was the source, and a semi-anonymous note asked for more.
His initial core team grew somewhat as his designs started getting noticed all about Greece, and increasingly elsewhere. His company soon had comprised Greeks, Americans, British, Italians, Yugoslavians, and ten other nationalities by 1991. They helped turned his general concepts into firm architectural detail design, while he still did detailed design himself on some of the projects. Many more started getting built. Businesses, apartments, government facilities, even industrial plants all began going up with various new-yet-classic looks.
The semi-anonymous Turkish contacts turned less anonymous, and by 1992, he was working openly with a fast-growing Turkish team, in a similar pattern. This collaboration that would eventually grow so intertwined that the two groups would later merge, in 1994, into what one of his American team members had suggested calling the GreeTurK Architectural Company -- or simply GTK. Soon, expatriates from numerous countries, some former enemies, began signing up as his and his company's reputation grew.
Between 1992 and 1994, however, his curiosity had him seeking out more information about artificial gravity and force fields, and he was now following the growing Moonbase Alpha with more and more interest. It had full artificial gravity, as it turned out, with massive generators too big to fit in the Eagles. Someone named Professor Victor Bergman was either the creator or part of a team, for both artificial gravity, and force fields.
By 1994, Alexander's dreams of Moonbase, growing strong, had prompted him to make sketches for new additions to it. He struck up a correspondence with Bergman by sending him some of the sketches, including for a Biosphere III attached to the Moonbase, and several other potential facilities -- all based on "next step" ideas he'd read about.
It was a lark in a busy man's life. Too busy, in fact. Too much travel. Numerous sites in Greece and Turkey. Two more back in the U.S. Several sites each in Italy, Albania, Yugoslavia, a recently-reunited Germany, Slovakia, Egypt, India. Projects in several other countries. Ruth, his long-time girlfriend, left him along the way, just as he was thinking of asking her to marry him. Perhaps his taking time to toss some ideas at the Moon had been the "last straw" for her. He soon started attracting women that seemed more interested in his money and growing fame than anything else. That turned him somewhat more suspicious, which sadly may have cost him a good girlfriend in 1997, him wondering too late if she was more like Ruth than the others.
He threw himself into more work, driving a series of supercomputer-aided architectural design improvements that had allowed him to create more general designs quickly. He would then let his team fill in more and more of the details rapidly, even though he would sometimes still do detailed design on some of the projects, to keep in practice of the details.
He had not heard anything more than an "intriguing" from Prof. Bergman, when one day in 1995, nearly a year later, he was asked to come to London, to an International Lunar Commission meeting.
In the middle of many projects, he had almost asked to defer until later, but very curious, he had made time, wondering why he had debated for even a moment. There, he met Commissioner Dixon -- and Professor Bergman in person for the first time. They wanted to commission several of his designs for detailed architectural treatment, by him, including the Biosphere, which they had relabeled to Biosphere IV, pointing out a fact that Alexander had somehow missed: a Biosphere III had already been in Earth orbit for years.
He was soon shuttling back and forth to the Moon, getting a crash course on architectural points of designing buildings in a literal vacuum. Best of all, he was soon learning about how to design with artificial gravity in mind, due to how Moonbase had containment generators that meant the inside of the structure could be at full gravity while the outside was at one-sixth -- lunar gravity. They could even "hot swap" individual generators or repeaters, in order to make repairs or continual improvements in efficiency, without having to bring down the whole AGG system to do so.
Indeed, with the continual improvement to AGG components, Eagles could now have 0.82G with no increase in the equipment size. Now most in-atmosphere lift was coming from using the AGG for external anti-gravity. Landing now involved no roll length at all, and wheels had been replaced with pads. Eagle wings were now stubs, the tail was gone, and straight and flat surfaces were growing even more dominant everywhere except the distinctive curved nose section that scarcely changed at all, even ship to ship. The whole combination, regardless of ship-to-ship variation, was now becoming a signature look to Accipiter Systems ships: curved nose, engine bells, and tanks, and little else, with increasingly straight lines everywhere else.
His initial fascination with 0.3G on that Eagle Transporter years before, that had gotten him thinking about space and eventually sketching such, had come full circle, and was now helping him learn about artificial gravity. His "carelessly" -- as some colleagues and friends had sometimes called it -- "tossing" initial sketches all over the place, like to Turkey and the Moon, might have cost him a few jobs that people just derived themselves from the sketches, had been paying back handsomely in many areas.
Some Greeks had hailed him a bridge builder, for finding a way of getting Greeks and Turks rebuilding together, with designs both distinct for each culture yet with new, shared features too. Some had tried to draw him into a hero role, but he was reluctant to comply. He had drive, and little patience for those who could not keep up or learn quickly. He had a determination. All of this could make him look aloof and arrogant in some ways, but he did not care.
Still, the increasing demands for lesser things, like speaking, threatened to take up more and more of his time. So instead, he let lunar projects, and visiting the base, take up such time and provide an escape. During the visits, he could still -- with data uploaded to Alpha's "Main Computer" -- keep working on Earth-side projects as he increasingly shuttled back and forth.
By this time, his now sprawling company was filled with people from various disciplines and now long able, where his company's bids succeeded, to act as the master builder or general contractor for many of the projects. GreeTurK was fast becoming one of the largest architectural/building firms on the planet by 1997, even as its founder was now spending about a third of his time off-planet. Fortunately, he had picked his early colleagues well, and most of them had stayed with him, only one leaving out of creative differences and another over family concerns. If the media wanted to call his original team "Alexander's Generals," so be it. As long as his team didn't fall to bickering. So he delegated by keeping his pattern of assigning them in varying pairs to the larger projects, and continuing to cooperate in resource sharing/scheduling for the scads of smaller projects. They had to work together.
He was by any estimation a rich man by 1999. He could have almost bought his own Eagle, which now boasted a full 1.0G system and had shed its wings entirely (even though it still needed vertical thrusters near the ground, due to some aspect of physics he knew nothing about). However, they could not be bought by individual corporations. Even if the World Space Commission would have allowed that, the economics would not have made sense for his company, except as perhaps as marketing boast, which struck him as more arrogant than useful.
Perhaps his clear vision and drawing lines that might have made him seem arrogant at small scales rather than large, was what made him more tolerable. Maybe that was still why he had contact with Prof. Bergman, Alpha's Maintenance and Manufacturing, departments and other parts of its Technical Section. He was more interested in results than accolades. Impatient at times or not, he got things done.
So early in 1999, he accepted a commission to start major additions to Alpha that would begin in October 2000. This was not to be individual structures like Biosphere IV and some other new facilities had been in the past, but extensive additions to grow Moonbase Alpha outwards. Despite its name suggesting more moonbases were to come, none had been started, though several were in early discussion.
The world had changed since 1987. So while Alpha had started as largely an American, British, and Italian venture, with some other nations' involvement, it had become much more diverse after 1987, with Russia and China, then Ukraine, Morocco, South Africa, Argentina, Australia, and Japan all getting involved, and attracting interest from others as time went on. Growing Alpha had proven more feasible than starting entire other Moonbases, though the idea of a Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon never died. Eventually having others would prove useful and in some ways safer once Alpha grew large, the International Lunar Commission had long thought.
Initial basic blueprints and estimates by his company, with intent to subcontract with several others, as well as with Accipiter Systems for the use of Eagles to haul materials, won them the bid to expand Alpha. Detailed design of the new project would soak up almost all of his time going forward. Several of his closest colleagues would be involved, but for awhile, they would remain on Earth except for occasional visits, while Alexander would continue shuttling, spending more and more time each visit.
January 2000 would have seen more permanent posting by some his team members within Alpha to continue design work, with October 2000 to be the start of construction, when there would have been massive inflow of workers to the small down-level quarters.
Ironically, he had been the one to suggest always building a little ahead. Back in 1994, it had been a two-line suggestion scrawled onto one of the diagrams, to build rooms which could be used as storage between construction phases, then quickly repurposed to quarters when builders started arriving.
However, on September 13, 1999, he had been the sole GreeTurK company member on-site when the Moon had exploded out of its orbit. It had scuttled most of his former life, all those plans. It had nearly scuttled the lives of all Alphans, not just at that time but the ensuing encounters with all sorts of aliens he found mostly very arrogant.
No one would be expanding Moonbase any time soon, he knew.
He had soon gotten re-assigned to overseeing repairs, then to designing a replacement Nuclear Generating Area after one had gotten destroyed by some alien force that had taken over an "Alphan." It was incredibly humbling. "Earth's New Master Builder," one magazine article had proclaimed him. Here, now, he was just a glorified repair supervisor, the new NGA project scarcely using a fraction of his design skill, and the rest of the repair projects virtually none.
Mandatory birth control was abruptly put in place about three months after Breakaway, and they had soon found out why: instead of ten expectant mothers, there were more than thirty. This had prompted discussion about expanding capacity, but with an eye for a seven-year deadline, enough time to catch their collective breaths here in deep space, then put together and start executing plans -- before continued aging of the population would become a severe reproductive concern.
Yet under bombardment on an almost weekly basis, a seven-year concern, however important, did not seem as much of an immediate urgency, especially as damage from repeated alien attacks took up much of his time.
He started growing pessimistic, however, both on a personal front, and about the future of the Alphans. One day, he had calculated the personnel loss-rate numbers himself, and wished he had not. Seven years might have been a goal based on aging and reproductive concerns, but that was almost the same period in which all original Alphans might be dead. He had learned a lot about a moonbase's operations, though, and knew in a practical sense, they would be dead long before seven years, at this rate, because if too many people died, there would be an increasing rate of decline in response time to the various factors comprising "Life Support."
It was a severe conundrum that he thought impossible to resolve. Meanwhile, his time was quite fully taken with lesser but no less critical-to-survival projects. He grew impatient with aliens and their seemingly pointless attacks. Such arrogance among them, he often thought. He was not really a hypocrite, and knew some people thought him arrogant, but there was something humbling in both his current role and Alpha's current role as what some Americans called a "punching bag for aliens."
Now there were increasingly odd questions from Paul Morrow, odd especially coming from a Controller, and an odd distraction that Alexander at first he thought a threat on his thin time.
The newest batch had gotten even odder. What is Morrow up to? Does the Commander know?
The points of discussion were starting to fire up Alexander's imagination, and he had little time for that, sadly and frustratingly enough. Even today, due to potential Space Brain damage, he had more structural integrity checks that he knew had not occurred to anyone else.
Then it struck him. Morrow, as second-in-command rather than Controller, doesn't like my original expansion sketches from late 1999. Those plans were not the ambitious growth he had been commissioned for, but post-Breakaway, it had still felt like a breath of fresh air, despite his recent cynicism about getting to any of it any time soon. But we have to expand, and that is a good, solid plan.
He paced his room, frustrated and annoyed, then decided he should have a talk with Commander Koenig about Morrow's persistent and odd questions.
Once Alexander got going on a line of thought, it was hard to stop him, and Morrow's questions had raised a lot of random thoughts that were taking his mind away from more critical needs. He could prioritize, but could never entirely shut off his imagination.
He had one of the few computer stations in a residence that had as much access to Main Computer as his workstation. So he dropped an Electronic Post to Commander Koenig.
"You're asking me what to do with excess snails?" Commander Koenig asked, somewhat puzzled, wanting to be sure he had heard right.
He was sitting at his office desk, meeting with Pedro Gutierez, department head of Zoology, who had stopped by with some updates.
The biological departments were a curious situation, because Botany, Zoology, and Hydroponics were split among Service and Technical sections, with some personnel from each, and department leaders reporting semi-interchangeably. Hydroponics was now considered part of Service, because its production side was providing some of Alpha's food, but even there, its research side was still semi-Technical.
"Yes. I did not want to disturb Ms. Benes on her weekend, and Mr. Kano is handling some sort of Computer issue and has been delegating most Technical Section needs for a couple days."
He knew what Kano was looking at, a problem that had arisen recently, and was delaying -- again -- the long-term project he had been working on when not dealing with other Technical Section needs.
"This could not wait?" Koenig asked Gutierez.
"Er, maybe, but it got delayed two days as it was. We had an experiment running a complex micro-biome, where snails were supposed to handle the excess plant growth the fish did not want to eat, but something else was out of balance and the snails took over -- a pest. We had to remove them all so the fish would have enough to eat. The problem was a little more complicated than that, but that is the short version of the story. We've got some still living well-balanced lives in smaller systems; but from the larger experiments, we froze what snail eggs we could find, filtered the system to get the rest, and removed a few bins of adults."
"That is a lot of snails," John said dryly, even as he saw his monitor indicate he had a new Electronic Post. Already new work was beckoning, and he was stuck talking about excessive snail populations in a semi-failing experiment that now sounded fixed.
Into the silence, Gutierez explained further. "There were rules about not destroying so much living stock of anything without consulting with Earth or the officer corps."
John suppressed a sigh and tried to find an even voice. "Pedro, with all due respect to the nature of the experiments -- since I know they are about trying to see if we can grow enough fish to eventually become a food source...." John paused. He wanted this topic to end quickly. "Ask the cafeterias if one is interested in trying a new but temporary protein source, and if they're not, then you figure out how to recycle them."
Gutierez had a couple more questions, these fortunately a little more significant. John handled them just as quickly, and almost as soon as Pedro left, John was onto other topics.
Koenig now had two new electronic posts on Computer, from Kano and Karedepoulos. He checked Kano's first. He had solved one issue Main Computer was having, but was still dealing with another. There were assurances this did not look like it would lead to a major problem, but should be dealt with. Koenig responded quickly, approving.
John Koenig then looked at the electronic post he had received from Chief Architect Alexander Karedepoulos.
John had scarcely heard of him before coming to Alpha in September 1999. A brilliant architect who had helped in a Greco-Turkish rebuilding effort in some way. "Alexander and his Generals" had been the title of some magazine article, maybe 4-5 years back, but could not recall having read more than partway into the article, perhaps pulled away by something at the time. Or more likely it had started with details on the destruction, reminding him of the loss of his wife Jean, in that war, on that continent, in a place that had seemed safe before chaos had broke there too. Even now, that brought a dull ache to his heart.
In the weeks and months after Breakaway, he read the personnel files, but the one on Karedepoulos had focused only tersely on his Earth pursuits, paying more attention to his increasing Lunar contributions since 1994. So John had assigned him to oversee the numerous repair tasks coming from Breakaway and subsequent damages, and to report to Technical. Some months back, the major discussion of the various Life Support factors had led to more direct contact, and some plans for some base expansion at a later date. Now, there was a new plan forming with Paul, and it appeared Karedepoulos was sensing something was up.
He called Paul in, then Alexander. Abruptly, he called Victor in as well, recalling that Victor had been instrumental in initially getting Karedepoulos to the Moon some years back, much as the Professor had in a number of other cases as well, him having a wisdom for recognizing certain talents.
Paul arrived a few minutes later, followed a minute later by Karedepoulos, who seemed somewhat taken aback to find Morrow there. Koenig had a pretty good idea why. First, though, he wanted to get the more urgent need discussed. Victor arrived just then.
"Sit down, please," he said to all of them, pointing to the chairs in the sunk-in area of his office. No planning table this time. Not yet. The only "sketches" needed at this time were more figurative, abstract, and verbal at this point. He turned to the dark-haired Karedepoulos. "I assume you are aware of the spare storage compartments downlevels originally set up for use by planners and builders to occupy during design and construction phases in Alpha's growth cycles, as quarters and workspaces?"
"Yes," Alexander said. "I was the first to suggest them."
John looked at Paul with a raised eyebrow. His second shrugged. It must have been before Paul's time on base too.
"Ah, yes," the Professor said. "I do recall that. So much more efficient to have such multi-use compartments. Alpha's Chief Architect at the time was skeptical of using such out-of-the-black suggestions, but I tried to convince him of the practicality. And succeeded."
John had not known that about Victor, that he actually had had some say in parts of the shape of Alpha. That could be a later discussion, but for now, he turned back to Alexander.
"I was unaware of that. Paul and I have been discussing some urgent new plans. We are too exposed having residences in upper levels. We are going to convert all those lower-level rooms to residences, as quickly as possible. Some mid-level residences will be repurposed for families to occupy to give them more space and some common areas. Similarly, of the lowest-level residences, the largest of them will become officer quarters in two areas, and another block of family residences."
Karedepoulos looked rather stunned early on, but soon recovered. "Okay, that makes some sense, but there are not enough empty downlevel rooms to take up all the slack. You'd have to convert some of the smaller work or storage spaces mid-levels into residences as well. That means moving a lot of workspaces uplevel."
"Then you're also confirming our thoughts," Paul said, though both officers knew it wasn't really so much confirming as simply quickly learning what the officers already had in mind for awhile.
"What will it take to do that?" John asked.
The architect leaned forward slightly. "Well, one of my later thoughts that I supplied was to have those quarters set up with the plumbing and wiring needed for quarters, even if not set up as residences immediately." The architect then gave a laugh that sounded ironic to John. "In fact, on Breakaway morning, or the night before, I was thinking about how I'd soon have to find out exactly how fast those could be converted, for the construction that would now have been coming up later in the year, had Breakaway not occurred."
"Are you aware of the state of those down-level rooms now?" Paul asked.
"No, I had no reason to find out yet, since expansion, though we discussed it a few months ago, simply has not been a priority compared to the new NGA and all those alien-attack repairs. Not to mention helping recommission that laser cannon, which is not exactly my specialty -- restoring deliberately-disabled military equipment."
"We understand," John said, sensing some temper or impatience in this man. "Talk to Sandra. Find out. She is already aware of this sub-plan."
Alexander sat back slightly. "You know a lot of people are going to hate losing that space, and those that have views--"
"Some sacrifices must be made," John said, somewhat impatiently himself now. "I am sure most -- including yourself probably -- know we have not been faring well out here."
"True," Alexander said after a moment. "Better than I'd expect, in some ways; but the loss numbers are not good. No offense, Commander."
"None taken," he said, though he was all too brutally aware of how so many under his command had been lost, despite all the efforts of him, the officer corps, and the rest of Alpha. At least he seems more concerned with reality in the end, John finally thought.
"We would also like to convert that central Construction Coordination Center room into a new command center," John said.
"You mean the Architectural Coordination Center?"
It had to have been about the third or fourth name John had thought of or heard for this, but presumably this was the official name. He nodded.
"You mean to replace Main Mission?"
"As a command and nerve center, yes."
"Much smaller room."
"But the largest at that depth, right?"
"You're talking safety from attack, I assume? Those questions about beam strength and data capacity. Oh, I see now. And yes, it is the largest at that depth, though there are some other rooms down there almost that size. I'd have to check the master plans to be certain, but that room is probably one of the safest, since there are so many central vertical support beams around it. Some of the toughest structure of the base is at its roots, and that room being in the center of the base of the Main Mission tower, especially so. Again, I'd have to double-check."
"Sounds good on the likely state; but yes, double-check."
There was some more discussion about those plans, but as it wound down, John transitioned to the new topic.
"Alexander, as you know, we laid out a basic deadline and some general ideas about needing to expand Alpha starting in seven years, to accommodate the fast-growing number of families that must be allowed by then if we are to survive past a generation. Paul has brought to my attention that this is too vague, set at too low a priority, is not ambitious enough, and is set too far into the future for us to feel it in action."
That caught the architect's attention. He leaned forward more, saying, "Oh?"
John looked at Paul, who took over.
"We need a Plan B. A comprehensive Plan B for if we're still here on the Moon in seven years instead of on a planet. But we need to start working on it now. Moving quarters is only a start. We need ambitious new plans like a Biosphere V, whole new workspaces to house new industries. Fish farms, more plant crops. New family spaces. New manufacturing abilities. More of course, or to be determined. We need to plan such that by seven years, we can already be more than doubling Alpha's size, and have some of that construction underway."
Alexander sat back, but with a fascinated expression. "That is, fantastic! Plus... okay, I see. The planning as hope for the future too."
Paul looked at John, raising an eyebrow.
"Just how much do you two know about my company on Earth?" the Architect, directing the question to the Commander and Controller, knowing the Professor knew a lot about his company.
John shrugged slightly, saying, "Next to nothing."
Paul shook his head as well. Paul had probably known Karedepoulos longer, but perhaps also knew little about the architect's background.
"I saw architecture as a way of breathing life and new vision and new hope back into Greece, and later Turkey and other countries."
"Then you are already grasping one of the points of Plan B," Victor said.
"Sure, I think I can do a lot in that direction. If you want me to take that over, I am certainly willing."
"It is not that simple," John said. "It is not just making buildings, it is the balance of things we have to build them for, and all the process surrounding that."
"Oh, you don't have that figured out yet. Well, that makes it rather more difficult."
"What it makes it," John said, "is the work of a team."
"The Strategic Planning Centre I am starting to plan on assembling," Paul said. "I need to gather key experts, who can call on resources as needed, to formulate, and perhaps frequently re-formulate, what we need."
"It sounds like you have given this much thought," Karedepoulos said to Morrow, but looking a little confused as to what this all meant put together.
Bergman jumped in. "Paul has an overall vision, and a lot of command-corps-perspective knowledge of needs, but needs help filling in the details, not just architectural, but from other Technical and Service needs and ideas, and this may evolve over time."
John wondered if this man, apparently something of a hot-shot back on Earth, would tolerate being second in such a plan, or would see it needed command-level leadership -- and at times that authority to get disparate and stretched resources to cooperate.
Perhaps Alexander picked up on something of John's concern, for he said, "Well, I'm used to having to work with governments, so I might be at the top of my profession, but still not at the top of the chain of money there or of command here. So trust me, I'm in. You realize this shifts a lot of resource handling earlier in time."
"Yes," Paul said. "The Strategic Planning Centre will have to assemble thoughts on how to handle and distribute those tasks amongst everything else. It will also have to consider new ways of doing things. Just mining metal out of the Moon is not enough."
"Not enough? What other sources are there? The remains of alien spaceships? The metal alloys in them are almost impossible for us to rework."
"Then we must try to determine ways to rework them," Paul said calmly.
Karedepoulos laughed, with a smile. "You know, I like the sound of that. Still, I cannot see how we are going to emerge out of the muck of work generated by repeated alien damage. I foresee little of my time going to the SPC and a lot to the mundane, for months."
Karedepoulos was very direct, and clearly not intimidated by authority. Some of his comments bordered on flip in tone, but were clearly serious in intent as well. John could foresee a little friction working with Karedepoulos, as he could just imagine he probably had with governments too.
Still, John nodded at the concern how Plan B, beyond the reshuffling of spaces, might be slow to take off. "I already know you'll be stuck with a lot of that. That is our almost impossible nut to crack, but someone -- or a team -- will have figure out how to build the right hammers to do that, even if we don't yet know how."
There was silence. An as-yet ill-defined plan with capacities they did not have at this point.
"The first mission to the Moon started this way," Victor said. "At the time the plan was announced, much of the technology to do it did not yet exist, yet the plan was to fit into less than a decade."
"Exactly," Paul said. "We must start at least initial thoughts. Make some assumptions. Plan on being able to use the alien hulks at some point. Plan on finding better techniques that will allow us to build bigger mechanisms."
"Start dreaming," Victor continued, "even if you have little time to do much about it. Just talk in the SPC meetings, whenever they start, if that's all you can do for awhile. Even that is progress."
Alexander was nodding, more and more often, and then said, "I both like that and say it won't really feel like progress. Used to be that I'd sometimes toss ideas into the wind even if some never found a roost or a way to return to me as a project; but the situation of Alpha just feels so different, not as an open road to new hope, but as, what do the... Brits say? Rearranging chairs on the Titanic? Especially if I remain immersed in current projects and all these room shufflings?"
John was beginning to understand why he had become Alpha's new architect. The man had vision too, but his vision also included seeing the dire long-term situations of Alpha.
"Then maybe you are in as much need of the hope this project can bring," the commander said calmly, not wanting the words to be mistaken for patronizing. "Once we start talking with more and more people on Alpha about it, the more the central SPC figures need to project this brings us a lot of hope, perhaps not as much as a successful Operation Exodus, but a good fill-in."
"Sometimes the new spaces can help raise up the people," the architect said quietly. "I never thought about it in regard to myself, but uh, the leadership role you also suggest is part of this for the SPC members... sounds very familiar, even if I never stopped to think about it much in my past endeavors."
The conversation soon wrapped up, after a few brief questions. Then Karedepoulos was dismissed. John and Paul looked at each other. The SPC now had three regular members: Paul, Sandra, and Alexander. John, Alan, David, Helena, and probably Tony would consult. A few more regular members would be needed, and there would probably be a few more needing consultant roles. There would be more of these targeted meetings, ad hoc or pre-arranged. Recruiting, in a sense.
John, of course, would have final say on what got approved for further work. In most other ways, though, this project would be Paul's, probably for many years. They talked briefly more, until at last John was alone.
He still felt a little puzzled about from where in Paul this long-term vision had emerged. That had not struck John as part of his personality, and nothing in Paul's files had really suggested that there was this much of it. He frowned. Even now, he sometimes still wondered about Paul. Yet John had to count this as fortunate. Paul had been thinking of an answer even as John had been thinking of a worrying question.
And Alexander.... John pulled his file again. He had studied all these files in the weeks after Breakaway, but in a broken, sometimes skimming fashion. Head of the GTK.... Scanty details about his rebuilding efforts on Earth. Strong team-building skills. Noted as sometimes fractious or aloof. But... "Sees rebuilding structures as a way of healing wounds of war." John had forgotten that. No wonder Karedepoulos had sensed the idea of hope embodied in Plan B.
It seemed Alexander liked to use architecture as a figurative phoenix, but Alpha's circumstances had been constraining him. Even nine months of watching the hits Alpha took had left him feeling helpless; and far-future, modest building plans had not whetted his appetite as much as this more ambitious Plan B, even if he still felt pinned down by other concerns.
Just as Alpha had managed to keep its best pilot, when he could very well have turned to Earth in those first moments of Breakaway, it seems Alpha had kept the best architect it could have had, and was only now figuring out the positives he could bring.
In some ways, we are extremely fortunate, John Koenig mused. Suddenly, some singular thoughts like this, together with Paul's bold new plan, gave John some renewed hope. The commander was starting to see skills emerge that even the survey a few months back had not found. More subtle, yet more critical characteristics.
Perhaps these are what will save us.
Now, for just a moment, he felt that same sort of optimism that most often seemed to come from Victor. Is that what the wise older man could see and feel?
Yet almost as immediately, that only added to the feeling of John's burdens. He already knew each life was precious, but now the losses felt even greater than they already had. What precious past or future skills were being lost with each one, that no one had yet realized?
He grasped hard for the positive, found an island of peace, and decided to talk to two people, one at a time: Victor, and Helena.
Maybe, just maybe, there was some truth to Arra's long-term, equally positive and vague forecast for Alpha's future.
It would take a lot of work, though. There were no guarantees, except probably for more deadly incidents ahead.
Still, John had needed a new sense of hope, including for himself, and now he was starting to grasp what Victor and Helena kept trying to tell him. Not that they were oracles, but that he had to see the positives, and not always "live in the negative space of loss."
Alpha had to see a future for itself, not just clinging to the hope of finding a planet, a hope that seemed to diminish slightly with each failed encounter, but that there was another plan, another way. They'd all have to start seeing the possibility. They'd have to start seeing the positive potentials too. Wallowing in the negatives could drag them all down into hopelessness, listlessness, losing that edge and dedication. That could be....
He shook his head. He already felt that dark empty space too much in his own thoughts. He was seeing a little of the positive.
Yes, a new talk with Victor. And... another new plan, or the start of one....
He thought for a bit about that, then further afield, and further yet, until he smiled as he reached a new conclusion, one apparently born of a new hope for the future.... Time to ask Helena on a proper date.
Perhaps Not Welcome
It took a couple more weeks, and surviving the damage and five deaths caused by no less than what appeared to be a sentient machine, Gwent, to get the initial quarters/workspaces swap plans written.
To that got added plans to move Medical Center downlevel too, swapping the locations of it and Medical Care Unit 1, though Paul and others were at a loss as to how to move a couple of the larger pieces of equipment. No one left on Moonbase knew how they'd gotten there in the first place. Perhaps there was a record somewhere, but it had not yet been found. Some records in Main Computer were known to have been lost in the first space warp encountered. Someone might have to figure out how to take those machines apart, but they'd be left where they were until deeper research was done some other year.
In the end, the amount of room switching was going to be major.
A memo announcing this was crafted by Paul and John.
All Sections Alpha:
Two things have become painfully apparent in the last several months.
The first is that having personnel quarters, command facilities, and several other major sites (e.g. Medical Center) in the upper levels and Main Mission tower has created excessive vulnerability to loss and potential loss due to attacks and other situations.
The second is that, as you all know, we had discussed some modest growth plans to finish within seven years, to allow for expansion. However, we have come to realize these initial plans are too modest. Some capacity expansion must begin sooner, even though we cannot start to add building space for some time. Room for more crops. More manufacturing of metal, chemicals, equipment, and so on.
To satisfy both of these short- to mid-term needs, we have determined we will have to forego the larger quarters we enjoy up-level, to turn them over for other needs such as described in the previous paragraph, and for us to move to lower level quarters.
Though many people will still of course end up working up-levels, in terms of timing (total and waking vs. sleep), it is clear more safety is to be gained with quarters down-level, and even more clearly more space for resource needs.
We realize the loss of space, and for some the loss of views as well, will be a sacrifice, and perhaps difficult for many. Almost all will have to move, except for a few families already in mid-level quarters. Other families will have to move, but will still get the largest quarters. Everyone else, including all the officers, will lose space.
Those of you that do have more work-related material in their quarters, contact Sandra Benes to discuss possibly moving it to a small laboratory/workcenter. If you have a lot of personal material, consider storing some of it in or out of your quarters, or donating some to Stores. On these or any other counts regarding this, we can discuss these or perhaps other options.
We wish this had not become necessary, but we hope you can all see the practicality and safety of this. We are all committed to trying to survive in deep space. Some of us have started further planning on finding more aggressive building plans that should help us all have more space in the future. A better outline of that will be forthcoming at a later point.
Aside from that please direct all questions and concerns at the Command Corps and/or Service.
Just when Greg Sanderson had started respecting Commander Koenig a little, he had to pull something like this.
While Greg's primary role was surface exploration, looking for resources on the Moon that Alpha needed, when he was back on Moonbase, he was a security guard part time. Sometimes, Security personnel might also be handy to haul stuff around, and he was called on even more often for that, as he was one of the strongest men on the base.
He had been in those downlevel storage spaces. He already knew what many of the rooms there looked like. Most had bathrooms. They had clearly been built as potential quarters. He had asked Verdeschi once, and found out they were intended to be dual-use, as storage, but to become temporary quarters during building phases. Koenig was going to cram everyone in temporary workmen's quarters. Not that there was anything wrong with workmen, of course, but it was the principle of it, and also that the largest rooms down there were smaller than the smallest uplevels, he thought.
It chafed him to be losing precious space, but it was more than that.
It was the cowardice of it all. Since Breakaway, they were all on the firing line, with attacking aliens and bizarre forces like energy balls and what most were starting to call a "Space Brain" and whatnot.
Had they forgotten all the releases when first signing up, while back in Earth orbit? While the ILC had made no attempt to de-claim all responsibility, since they held a lot of responsibilities in terms of safety, the forms had clearly stated those seeking duty in space were increasing their risks. Traveling in spaceships that could sometimes disappear without a trace. Living in buildings in vacuum. Working in vehicles and structures almost exclusively powered by nuclear generators. The chance of outbreak of illness such as the one that had killed all those people aboard a station in orbit of Venus. Everyone heard of risks, and the forms, while containing much more staid language, still made it clear.
Breakaway itself was a new danger no one had considered, and now the aliens and alien forces only compounded that. Yet Alphans -- the term was finally starting to grow on him -- had stoically faced up to them. He had heard a few whiney types rattling cages to try and get away from windows, but now Koenig wanted to put everyone in cages?
None of his survey team thought much about of the plan either. Their team of four were out away from Alpha for a month at a time.
It did not occur to him to consider that this actually put them out of the immediate danger most of the time, that they were not being hit this way, over and over, quite as often. If Alpha were destroyed, they'd not live that much longer, but they were not taking the trauma of the repeated hits. Sanderson could be blind that way. He was also blind to some of the other reasoning in the memo, that there were other needs for the larger spaces uplevels. He had read them, but found himself not really believing Koenig, given what he perceived as the cowardice of the defensive move.
He's running, he thought. Running and hiding downlevels, just because some over-designed alien machine with a name hits us? Gorski would have never done that. Despite having been angry about Gorski being removed, Sanderson had finally started to start respecting Koenig's capabilities. Not quite believing in him to the point of thinking he was the right commander for all of this, but the respect had been growing.
Now, he took a dim view of this action. Better to face what we see with open eyes through readily available glasses, he thought, thinking of the viewports as glasses for a moment, then to bury our heads in the moondust and pretend we cannot look danger in the eye.
He assumed Paul Morrow had only been dragged along, perhaps forced to analyze Koenig's numbers about all this, or bend to Koenig's will, or something.
Perhaps he would ask Tony Verdeschi, who had been made an officer more than two weeks ago. Sanderson respected Tony, who seemed wily and seemed to have the suspicion of aliens that an officer ought to have. Not that Koenig didn't, but too many incidents had seemingly started from a position of giving too much trust, Greg thought. Even the Kaldorians should have been treated with more suspicion, even though they had seemed okay in the end and it was that bloody fool Simmonds who had destroyed himself.
Not that Greg was privy to all the details, but that did not stop some leaks and some quiet but growing scuttlebutt of speculation.
While Koenig had been earning Sanderson's respect, at last, he felt that was fading now. But Verdeschi is now in the inner circle, the Command Corps. Perhaps he has to tow the line too now. No, maybe best not to ask Verdeschi about this.
His co-worker Eva was friends with Tanya. Perhaps he'd ask Eva to find out if Tanya knew if/how Morrow had been forced to show solidarity with this pathetic decision.
He figured on asking some quiet questions, but was not about to get too loud about this. Let everyone else believe that Greg believed in Koenig as a Commander. Greg had not gotten to that point, but had started respecting him somewhat if not much yet; but now it was starting to decline.
Over the next week after that, it became clear to the command corps that the news was greeted by either relief, disappointment, or anger.
Such was what Security Officer Tony Verdeschi and others were hearing and reporting back to Commander John Koenig. John had made it clear via the memo itself that he was not expecting everyone to be happy about it, but was expecting everyone to deal with it. He could not help it if morale was taking something of yet another hit. While he cared about the health of his people, including in this way, he cared about keeping his people as safe as possible, and finding some way of improving their long-term lot.
Some crewmembers were relieved, having felt vulnerable near the surface, or suddenly feeling vulnerable when it was pointed out.
Others were disappointed at giving up so much, but understood the reasons well enough.
Others were angry, willing to take the risk even, or not convinced it was that much safer downlevels. Or that the drawbacks to living even more confined lives might outweigh the "mildly greater risk" uplevels. Some of them had to be reminded of the other cause, of needing more space for resource development, and that many would be in larger and windowed spaces during their duty times.
Tony Cellini had even come to talk to John. Koenig was not sure how to take that, but some others had subsequently stepped forward as well. Fortunately, he was able to reason out the other points with them, and most went away somewhat more satisfied. Or so he thought.
Paul was reporting similar. It seemed the move was not so welcome to many. Perhaps he had underestimated how much people were clinging to what "little" they had left. Yet he felt his people could deal with this challenge. They would have to, because the rest of Paul's logic was clear. Space was at a premium for many reasons, and some had to override.
It was people who might not be saying anything to much of anyone, that John wondered about a little. But he could not control that.
Yet, in all these reports, it was becoming clear this had an unexpected effect of getting some other human emotions more back to the surface than had been true lately. Moonbase routines of the last several months, of running the base, exploring a planet or getting attacked, burying the dead, repairing the damage, and back to running the base, had now gotten up-ended by something different, with both mid-term and longer-term consequences, and creating short-term consequences of much more debate and argument, and even some complaints.
John was not sure if that was a good or a bad thing.
Hopefully, the changes themselves would answer some of the questions.
Perhaps there was hope after all.
John and Helena were heading towards one of the cafeterias. She had accepted his request for a date. A more formal one. They had shared some informal meals before, but this time, he wanted to make further intentions more clear.
Not that their clothes reflected this. He had come to Alpha under urgent circumstances, leaving him with little more than uniforms, since a larger shipment of personal effects would have followed a week or two later. It was to have been a posting beyond just the resolution of the crisis that had brought him there, so he had taken with him on the Eagle flight some of his most basic or favorite things to have with him. This, of course, had included some of his favorite pictures of his late parents, extended family, and of his late, dear wife Jean.
He had since received some exercise clothes from elsewhere; but for a first real date post-Breakaway, literally had nothing more than simply a uniform. Helena probably had some idea of this being the case, or was otherwise being somewhat discreet, for she wore a uniform too. This was Alpha, however, and while many other people did have a few other choices, he was not going to complain about their clothing choices or lack thereof. He was just happy for her company today, and thought she still looked lovely.
He had dated a few times in the thirteen years since losing his wife to the war, but nothing serious. He had found it difficult to overcome some of the hesitation over past memories. It was curious, because he had always considered himself adaptable. Ironically, he got the feeling Jean would have wanted him to find a new wife, perhaps years ago. Yet he had hardly dated again.
His early professional encounters with Helena had been somewhat icy, borderline confrontational. She didn't seem to trust Command to do the right thing, and it had not taken John long to understand at least the basics -- Gorski had been virtually ignoring her concerns in the weeks leading up to Breakaway.
Yet there had been an attraction. From him, almost immediate. From her, perhaps not as quickly, but he was not sure of that. He was pretty sure it was there now. So he asked. She had accepted.
They had gone out on a couple at-a-moment meals before, that had sort of been like dates, but without the benefit of declaration of such. This time was different, and he had been relieved and happy she had accepted.
John and Helena arrived at the door to Cafeteria 3. They were startled to see a simple sign posted outside, saying "First French Friday."
He looked at Helena, unsure what that alliteration meant. She shrugged slightly, but with slightly larger eyes, seeming to find the phrase intriguing. French food on a first date? Perhaps a little clichéd even if coincidental, but who am I to argue? he thought with a feeling of humor.
He reached out to press the door panel control, since it was open to all and quicker than using commlock, then waved her in first. The place was near capacity, and fairly noisy, more lively-sounding than he had heard in awhile. They were about to walk over to the usual serving line location here, when Kate Bullen materialized and said, "It is a restaurant day. Uh, in fact, every Friday here will be so, from now on."
Though some locations were labeled as restaurants, the fact was all such facilities had mostly operated as cafeterias since Breakaway, if not before. John was not entirely sure. Most had still done random restaurant days, with other Alphans volunteering to act as servers, often differing people each time, so most could experience both sides of this. It had been uncommon, but it seemed like it had been happening more often recently.
They followed Kate to an open table. Once there, she handed them menus, got their drink requests, and left. The menus were simple monospaced printouts.
"Huh, weekly now," John started saying, however. "I had not even heard of this particular idea."
"No need to raise it to officer level, I guess," Helena speculated.
"True, the wait staff are volunteering their own time, so no resource questions on that."
"I like it. We need more such initiatives. Speaking of which, I wanted to bring up something regarding uniforms."
"Oh?" he said, raising an eyebrow.
"Some have had the idea that the jackets sometimes being worn by support crews on planetary missions would be good on Moonbase, especially after we had lowered the temperature a few degrees. You'll be hearing from Tony Verdeschi about that, probably. I was hoping to suggest that women be allowed to take some uniform fabric and be able to form skirts from it, as I've heard interest in that."
Helena was full of surprises. He would have thought she'd see such ideas as beneath her to be concerned about. "Where is this coming from?"
"Bob is picking up on problems living so long in a place dominated by a few simple colors, and where everyone is wearing basically the same uniform. He says there is an overwhelming 'grayness' to our lives here that may be adding to fatigue within our people. Most people had duty assignments of no more than a couple of years, and could return to Earth for a week at a time now and then. Most of us, except those on missions, don't leave Alpha any more."
He frowned, still about ready to dismiss it. Yet it was Helena bringing it to his attention, and she was not one to take up light matters easily, so perhaps this was a heavier concern than it first sounded, or a lighter concern that had a simple relief valve.
"And Tony is going to say what?" he still asked, curious.
"That he's cold, used to Italian warmth."
"He spent as much time in Britain--"
"Where he probably just wore heavier clothes."
He sighed, feeling hit by waves of 'administrivia' lately -- so much he had already forgotten some of the topics.
When he had said nothing, Helena added that according to Tony who had taken the initiative to ask Joan Conway, that this would cost little extra time, especially for the skirts, Conway had stated. They did not lack the material, due to an accidental shipment of an absurd amount at some point before Breakaway.
"If you want a study or Command Corps discussion..." Helena continued when John still said nothing.
He waved a hand once, but sort of nodded at the same time. "As long as they still fit the basic idea of uniforms or like mission jackets or such, you can take this up with... Conway and come up with quick estimates regarding time."
"So you're delegating this right back to me?" Helena asked with a sly smile that he was not used to seeing on her face.
"Why not? As long as it fits... er, the parameters I just discussed, and it is more psychology than anything, I'll leave it a Medical issue. If you need me to sign off on something or if there are questions, fine, otherwise it is yours. And if Tony is, uh, wants jackets so much, enlist his help if you want."
"So are you ready to order?" came Kate's voice all of a sudden.
"Oh," John and Helena pretty much said in unison, both quickly hurrying back to their menus.
They were in a mix of French terms also explained in English, except for one. In a hurry, he initially pronounced it "Ess-car-got." He paused, then said, "Oh, escargot." Then he frowned very slightly as his mind went blank on what it meant, then again as he promptly got a feeling of deja vu.
Kate looked at them, then said, "Oh, sorry, we thought everyone.... Er, I mean... that means snails."
"Snails?" he exclaimed, wondering why he thought he had just talked about snails recently.
"Of course," Helena said. "But from where?"
"Actually," Kate said, "You two should really have some. It was the Commander's idea."
"My idea?" Was Kate trying to say it should be his idea to order the snails for his date? It seemed presumptuous of her.
"Yes, if not for your order on how to dispose of the pest snails that had taken over an experiment, the chef would not have had the idea to start French Fridays. The snails kicked off the idea, even though they won't be on the menu for long."
It finally clicked. Pedro Gutierez. Zoology experiment. Bins of excess snails....
Helena looked at John and smiled, but really looked like she was holding herself back from open laughter.
Cliché again, he thought, but now with more acceptance -- except.... "I don't think I want to eat snails," he said to Helena.
"Well, I want to try them," Helena said, "especially considering it was your idea. I'll take an appetizer order of them."
She was still smiling slightly, so he smiled back, just as slightly. They were both restraining themselves. They were usually Commander and Officer, but were now man and woman on a date but still so used to being seen as command corps. Discreteness was still in order, even though they were out together.
He rapidly scanned the rest of the menu, which included some pseudomeats and what he assumed were simplified French dishes, since many of the ingredients were simply not present on Alpha, or not currently being grown.
He rapidly found something and ordered it, as did Helena something else. He resolved that he would order some dessert for themselves, later. Meals on Alpha were not really overfilling, given resource and health concerns, so an occasional dessert worked just fine.
After Kate left with the order, Helena looked at him, and said, "You will try some snails. Doctor's 'orders,'" she said with a smile.
"Abuse of power," he said with an equal smile, feeling like they were both flirting a bit.
"Oh, John, you should enjoy some of the fruits of your decisions now and then."
This she said with a smile equal to the rest, but he suddenly wondered if she meant it in several different ways.
That got him to talking about some of the plans, the wistful poem Laura Adams had written (that she was the source had been confirmed recently), and the sudden surge of hope he felt just hearing Paul talking about getting more of the expansion plans going earlier.
When he did, Helena sat there thoughtfully for some moments, then started talking. "We need that hope. You need that hope. I need that hope. And more like it," she stated with a simple yet profound frankness.
"I've said it before," Helena continued. "Alpha is a barracks. Yet it is all we have now. I thought women who would see it as a place to start a new pregnancy post-Breakaway were irresponsible at best. Yet Paul is right too. As much as he and I and you and probably everyone else wants -- like Laura also wrote in her poem -- a new Earth, we need to have a Plan B. We have to figure on turning Alpha into even more of a home -- a nest even. Plants, uniform changes, children, more laughter, ah... more postings on the Light Side of the Moon electronic board, new buildings, safer homes downlevel, even at the expense of some spaces. Some are critical. Some seem idle things. Some are even sacrifices. Together... though, they add up to some important needs."
It was eye-opening hearing her talk about it this way. "Hmm," he finally started saying. "I have been increasingly worried about the morale of our people."
"It isn't that difficult to recall or calculate the hits we are taking. Too many people know the population losses are major, and how we're hemmed in by other resource issues. Everyone hearing about new plans will help."
John nodded. "That is true, and what Paul was suggesting soon started feeling like the answer to the questions that were increasingly bothering me. Even if the true burst of growth is still more than six years away, to reach it by a more ambitious plan will likely be the better approach."
"And Paul taking point and talking about a planning center will involve at least several people, not to mention some of us officers being consulted frequently, as he or you suggested."
"There need not be a single Atlas," he said quietly.
"An atlas?" Helena responded, looking puzzled for a moment. "Oh, Atlas. No, you bear enough on your shoulders. So does Paul. So do I. Yet, his wanting to involve more even if he is the main coordinator, is a brilliant stroke. You're holding up this base in some ways -- on your shoulders, I mean. For this, I think we owe more than a little of our survival success. Yet you delegate well, and we volunteer well. You may have the biggest burden, but you already share it, to some degree. That is a good point. You should keep doing this -- more even."
"Such sweet talk," John said very quietly, now with a sly smile of his own.
Helena laughed, which sounded so pleasant to John's ears. "Not exactly a prototypical date," she replied in a near-whisper. "Yet, to be frank, I rather do like your command style, so I think it is not on just the one level that I say that. You have turned out, from that September 9th, to be more full of surprises than I had expected, almost always in a good way."
"Well..." John started, then trailed off, before realizing again.... "So have you, also almost always in a good way." Perhaps maturity brought them to a place where they could compliment each other, but not overdo it to the point of glossing over the more awkward moments, yet still implying those were almost nothing in the bigger picture -- or the bigger picture they might start contemplating together.
"For example," he then continued, "you surprised me in just the last hour, first by daring to order snails, and by wanting to wear a skirt."
She laughed, saying, "I don't want to wear a skirt. Some other women would like to do so, and I think it would be an easy thing to allow."
"Oh, come now, I think you'd look great in a skirt." This came surprisingly easy to say, and he felt no reason to take it back. Almost all women liked such sentiments, even if recent history made it somewhat complicated for men deciding whether or not women really did.
Helena gave him a funny look, not rejecting the compliment but still not really accepting the idea, he thought.
The snails arrived just then, and John looked at them somewhat askance. He was rarely a picky eater, but this--
"Oh, come on," Helena said after Kate left again.
"Tell you what, I think you're a little silly for suggesting I consume these protein slugs to prove I can eat the results of my order, and you think it sounds silly for you to wear a skirt even though you are fighting for such a uniform allowance. So let's each agree to a silly act at least once. I think we're both still young enough."
"John Koenig, you can be a rather smooth talker. My father once -- or one hundred times -- warned me about such men." She laughed, though, and he found her appearance doing so to be enchanting. Maturity did not eliminate humor, and their soft flirting was all the better for experience, apparently not that diminished by rust, at least not at the moment.
"Well, I think you're old enough to decide silly or sensible now," he bantered.
"Okay, one silly act. Then that's it," Helena said with another melodic laugh. He was already finding her more and more attractive as her soft, lovely face lit up more and more often tonight than he'd seen before.
So he was soon eating escargot, and finding it was not that bad. Maybe having a non-"pseudo" protein source for the first time in awhile had him lowering his standards, or perhaps it was not so bad in the first place. Her wearing a skirt might be months away, assuming the general idea was approved in the end. Yet it did not matter, as the real change was a man and a woman reaching out a little more, taking some chances, and finding the results good so far. Too long with few relationships since their respective losses had them starting slow but definitely liking the results so far.
Their entrees arrived later, and they both wondered if the snails really represented a failed experiment, or a potential niche food in Alphan diet. Fish would was still the richer food source, but if there was the occasional eruption of snail populations, perhaps it was not such a failure as first thought.
No, it was not a prototypical first date, but given that she could talk him into eating snails, and looked so lovely in a uniform while complimenting his command style, of all the numerous unexpected things, then it still definitely felt like a date, and surprisingly even better than he had hoped.
John did eventually order up a dessert for them -- and requested another date. She accepted both, without hesitation.
When the meal was over, he escorted her back to her quarters, and they did briefly share a brief but wonderful kiss just outside -- until the sound of someone approaching from around a corner soon had him saying, "Goodnight, then, Helena."
This not-for-profit amateur/fan publication
is designed for entertainment purposes only,
and is not intended to infringe upon the rights of
Gerry Anderson, ATV, ITC, Polygram, Carlton, Granada Ventures,
or any other current copyright holders of Space: 1999.
"Time We Had a New..." an original story based on Space: 1999 is
Copyright ©2012, David M. Welle (MetaForms, Ltd.), and
may not be reproduced or published without consent of author.
?-??/??/11: started (ex poem cp)
M-01/02/12: drft1 done
S-02/12/12: drft2 done (rvu rdy)
T-03/13/12: drft3 done (r2)
This not-for-profit amateur/fan publication is designed for entertainment purposes only, and is not intended to infringe upon the rights of Gerry Anderson, ATV, ITC, Polygram, Carlton, Granada Ventures, or any other current copyright holders of Space: 1999.
"Time We Had a New..." an original story based on Space: 1999 is