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"Three years? Are you absolutely sure, Victor?"

They sat at a conference table. Maya, Professor Bergman and Commander Koenig exchanged
disillusioned glances as the Psychon passed her paper report and a diskette with more
information, into John's hands. He would examine both in more detail later.

Victor, hands folded on the table top before him, spoke lowly. "Long range probes confirm
it, John."

"Barring a window in space or any other phenomena, Tri will be our last chance to colonize
a habitable planet for over three years." Maya bit her lower lip. She and the Professor first
made this discovery less than forty eight hours ago. At the time, they thought it a mere
miscalculation but as she and Bergman examined findings and verified more details, the two
came to ascertain that Alpha was headed into an area of deep space absolutely unpolluted by
suns or any other life giving orb.

"John," Victor cleared his throat, uncomfortable with what he was about to say. At the
moment Koenig was also being pressed with another problem and he hated to place more pressure
on his friend. "We already know Alpha isn't going to orbit Tri and we also know that it could
be a perfect planet for us. Atmosphere, plants, animals and all the elements human life needs
to sustain itself."

"And it's already inhabited." Koenig added, stubbornly. "By a people who have shown
aggression. Have you forgotten the weapons fired on Alpha less than four hours ago?"

"No." Bergman grimaced. No one was harmed. The missiles were detonated in space by Alpha,
on their way to the moonbase. "It's true, John. Their leader is harsh and does not seem to
care for you but he is now willing to talk with us about colonization. He realizes our
peaceful intentions." Victor searched for the right words, "Ataun did apologize in his own

Acknowledging that he had acted in haste didn't constitute an apology in Koenig's mind.

"And this would be a perfect time, Commander." Maya inserted, unconsciously laying a hand
on her protruding belly. What better gift could a mother give her child than a true home,
where he or she could plant and build? Maya was anxious and with good reason.

Koenig lifted the report again. Thumbing through the pages he said, "Give me an hour to
consider." He glanced over at the Psychon, "In the meantime, have Eagle two-six prepared for

"Yes, Commander!" She smiled brilliantly and gently rapped the table top with triumphant

Bergman also beamed, "And who will be leading this mission, Commander?" he asked, also
relieved and genuinely curious. It wouldn't be Koenig. This much was certain.

'Who else?' Koenig thought.


Her bags sat beside her as she stood, her hands on his shoulders, their lips eagerly fused
with a passion born of love, sorrow and worry.

"I despise this." John Koenig whispered in her ear as he breathed in the scent of the
woman's fragrant hair, his arms holding her possessively. They managed to catch two precious
minutes alone in a utility room.

"Oh really?" Doctor Helena Russell pulled back just a bit in feigned alarm, a small mock-
indignant smile permeating the fair, attractive face. Ever since her return from whatever
Earth dimension she'd been sent to, John had grown more loving and attentive, as had she.
Perhaps the old saying was true: 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder.'

"You know what I mean." He held her to him again, stroking Helena's blond hair as he spoke
above her head, "I know how much you wanted to be here for Maya. I hate that it can't be

Helena's amused smile lessened but she didn't allow Koenig to see her dissatisfaction. She
turned her face into his shoulder and closed weary eyes. It was Maya, not the precarious task
at hand, that disturbed her most. An alien birth and already matters weren't routine. A
Psychon's gestation period was seven months, not the nine of a Earth woman. And now, at six
and a half, she was in Medical Center in labor. Who knew what could happen? Maya wasn't even
certain she could refrain from changing shape if the birthing somehow triggered this impulse.
And, if she did transform, would it hurt the child? The baby would be half human, after all.

Thinking along different lines, Koenig hated that he had been fool enough to walk into
trouble, thus leaving Helena and her crew at the mercy of unpredictable aliens. If something
went wrong this time he wouldn't be there to protect them. Perhaps the thought itself was a
little self indulgent - some might even say egotistic - but the intuitive worry was genuine.

Helena Russell was to be the leader of this landing party and she took pride in the
knowledge that John, her Commander and companion, trusted her with such an important
assignment. Admittedly, her self-esteem was somewhat sacrificed when recalling that she was
Koenig's third choice. The job could and would have gone to another worthy Alphan if it
hadn't been for certain, in some cases unavoidable, circumstances. Alan Carter, Alpha's
number one pilot, was laid up because of an accident during wrestling practice. A cracked rib
forced bed rest. Tony Verdeschi was kept back, of course, because the lovely resident alien
was, as the saying goes, 'ready to pop'. So, taking into account the reconnaissance needed to
be lead by someone experienced and who could negotiate matters with intelligence, charisma
and firm diplomacy, who did that leave?

Helena shivered in his arms. She couldn't get Maya out of her mind.

Doctor Ben Vincent, second in command of Medical Center, had said, "This may be a little
different but it's not the first baby to be delivered on Alpha." He spoke to the happy-
parents-to-be and (somewhat unnecessarily) Helena. "Doctor, you should go on as duty
dictates. Maya will be fine. I'm going to tend to her personally."

Hurt by Doctor Vincent's transparent two dimensional attempt to remain professional,
despite the fact that this was her challenge, Helena wanted to remind him that Chief of
Security Verdeschi wasn't expected to follow this same prerequisite. But she took a breath
and kept her thoughts to herself. As Chief Medical Officer she could over-ride Vincent's
suggestion and probably wouldn't have gotten much of an argument, but it wasn't her place to
be so self serving and defensive. The good of Alpha, as always, came first.

And Tony ... He had every right to be with the woman he loved at a moment like this. Yet,
the Verdeschis wanted her there too. Helena doubted she would ever forget the apprehensive
half angry look Maya passed her when she announced she had to leave them for Tri. Helena
leaned down to give the woman a hug, sensing stiffness, as Maya lay in her bed in Medical
Center. And Tony just stood beside them in open, yet silent, agitation. They knew it wasn't
her fault yet it didn't matter. Helena was leaving when they needed her most. It was a no win
situation. Helena Russell was expendable to the process of birthing babies if her negotiating
expertise was needed elsewhere. End of story.

"When you get back and this is all over ..." Koenig spoke softly, next to her ear. "We are
getting married. No excuses." He pulled back a little and smiled gently. So much had happened
to derail their other attempts at a legal union. Babies were being born left and right, twins
for Bill and Annette Frazier. Then there was an odd signal from deep space. At first Koenig
thought it the Tagleons, that mysterious alien race who kidnapped Helena several months ago
but, if so, they weren't making themselves known. Then three weeks ago there was the
discovery of planet Tri and Alpha's last chance, for a very long time, to call some living
world home.

"And maybe, if all goes as planned, we can have our wedding underneath a canopy?"

"To prevent the sun from getting in our eyes?" He went along with the fantasy.

"And to keep the leaves from getting in our hair." Her fingers traced lightly across his
cheek. "There will be a breeze." Her smile was gentle and whimsical.

A door softly whooshed open, "Time to go, Helena." Victor interrupted the couple in their
hiding place. He was dressed for planetary exploration and took Helena's bags. Since Maya was
out of the picture, he was elected to be the mission's scientist. Bergman knew John thought
well of his abilities yet he was not fooled. The Commander's main concern, other than the
safety of his moonbase and people, was for Helena Russell. Bergman knew he was there to watch
over her -- to see that no harm came to the woman Koenig cherished more than any other. And
Victor, very fond of Helena himself, would gladly do as expected. He owed John that much and
it would be a pleasure.

"John," Helena cleared her throat, conflicted. Something more was on her mind but it could
wait. "When I get back we have to talk. I need to tell you something very important." She
could tell by the narrowing of his eyes that he was interested. But now was not the time and
place. "But it can wait. We'll talk about it later."

With steely resolve yet opposed to the inevitable, the Commander escorted Helena to the
travel tube doors where her colleagues awaited her. She gently reached up, again touching his
cheek, before backing into the travel tube. His eyes caught the glint of the gold band on her
finger. An onyx stone decorated the engagement ring -- a stone from Earth, their home world.
John told Helena her wedding ring would be a match, bands that entwined but the decoration
would be a polished moonstone.

The symbolism did not catch Helena unaware. They made sweet, passionate love and Koenig
couldn't remember a time he ever felt an attachment which ran so deep. All reflection of any
other woman he might have felt desire for fled that night and would never come back, as a
memory, to haunt him.

Now, watching Helena and the men disappear behind the closing doors (and acknowledging
Helena's 'all is well' beam) John bowed his head a little in silent prayer. He didn't do it
often these days but it seemed fitting.


Damn Ataun and his advocates! Koenig could barely suppress the rage bubbling inside of
him. This alien was pressing an advantage because he knew he could get away with it.

"So far so good, Koenig. I'm impressed." Ataun looked at them from the screen in Command
Center. He appeared relaxed and smug, munching on some sort of fruit or candy as he spoke.
"Of course, I thought even a man of as limited intelligence as you would be able to put
together a landing party but am amazed at how quickly it was done. Good boy!" and there
wasn't just a little sarcasm in his voice.

Untimely, although he would never know what it was he had said or done in the first
place, Koenig had gotten off on the wrong foot with the Trician leader, somehow instigating
an ill conceived missile attack. And John wasn't able to get himself back in the good graces
of the stubborn alien either. Even after the Tricians 'apologized' for their rush to judgment
Ataun, a strange gold helmeted humanoid, was contemptuous. He seemed a diplomat of some kind
although his propensity for unreasonable anger made the Commander pause. No, he thought, he's
a soldier and not a good one. Ataun appeared to possess no strategy, tact or restraint. On
other hand, if the alien was already exhibiting those traits - and his people were just like
him - then the Alphans might find themselves in a lot of trouble if it was decided they
should colonize Tri.

Ataun made it quite clear, before Eagle two-six took space flight, that the Alphans had no
rights on his planet, as long as it was still his to rule. Ataun would only consider
Earthling colonization if Commander Koenig stayed off of his property until a firm decision
was made by he and his people.

It galled Koenig but he gave in to the demand. He couldn't in good conscience jeopardize
the Alphans chances for a home just because he didn't trust the Tricans and had been
personally affronted by their leader.


As demanded, the landing party was small. It consisted of Botanist Carl Wilson, Professor
Bergman, Security Officer Robert Yarnell and Doctor Russell.

"Gentlemen, it's time to get to work." Helena told her crew as she studied a portable
scanner. Helena leaned against the right front leg of Eagle two-six as the men picked leaves
and grasses and stored them away in their specimen cases. She would not outwardly show it but
Helena was worried. A greeting party was to have met with them the moment they landed on
Tri's surface but if there really was to be an assemblage they appeared no where in sight.
Helena assumed this was simply another of Ataun's odd little power plays. He would keep the
Alphans waiting until he decided to show up. "Keep sharp." she advised.

Earlier, just as their Eagle entered Tri's atmosphere, an on screen Ataun gave
instruction: "Once you touchdown stay inside of the spacecraft, Doctor." He was very firm and
that clued Helena into an immense amount of distrust - which wasn't one sided. However, after
an hour and a half of fruitless inactivity on such a tight schedule, Helena gave her small,
restless crew permission to proceed. She told them to stay close to the Eagle, taking their
leaf and mineral samples, and to keep eyes wide open. In the meantime, she planned to examine
an active creek near their landing sight.

Unlike Helena, Bergman and Yarnell, Carl Wilson was new and untested. Initially, Helena found
some humor in the big man's exclamations of wonder and awe. It had been years since he last
stepped foot on real soil and inhaled fresh, unrecycled air. Helena marveled at the huge,
unchecked grin which broke his round, ruddy face.

Carl was jumping up and down on damp, giving earth as if he were a small child at play. "A
forest!" he shouted, pointing to the lushness before them. "Birds!" He took in their singing.
Wilson was in heaven.

Helena noted a look which passed between Victor and Robert. They both seemed uncomfortable
with Wilson's display. She found that odd, especially from Victor.

Then, it started to rain.

Rumblings and flashes of bright light could be heard and seen from the dark clouds above.
The storm moved in suddenly, without any warning, and Helena, being a good observer, was at a
loss. Why hadn't they charted it earlier, just before Ataun picked their landing sight? She
could recall no cloud cover, other than a light marine layer near an eastern ocean. Why
hadn't Ataun said something himself? He had to know.

Victor came up beside her, "This is very strange." He indicated the readings on a scanner
palmed in his right hand. The little red needle was bouncing back and forth as if unable to
make up its computerized mind. "There is no reason for this unless the moisture in the air
contains ..."

"Toxins, Victor?" Helena nearly spat the words out. She didn't wait for the Professor's
answer, "Everybody in the Eagle! NOW!" she called and watch Yarnell and Wilson obey at a run.


On Moonbase Alpha another drama was playing itself out.

"I should be in there." Verdeschi lifted the paper cup to his lips but didn't taste what
passed for warm coffee on Alpha as it traveled over his tongue and passed his throat. He
stared straight ahead at the doors which kept him apart from his wife, "She needs me."

"Yeah, she does, mate." Alan Carter said, placing a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. They
sat in a waiting area, beyond the birthing theater. "And she knows, even through this ordeal,
that you're here for her even if not in that room."

Only twenty minutes before he had been scrubbed, in a doctor's smock and smiling beneath
his mask. Maya had dilated to the maximum and it was time to meet his child. And he was there
with her, mopping his wife's brow, speaking loving words of encouragement to Maya as she
gritted her teeth, legs parted and propped up on stirrups. He was determined to go through
with it, being there for the actual birth, although seeing his beloved's pain was more than
he could really bear. It was a foolish laughable fright, he knew. He'd been through so many
alien horrors while on Alpha but seeing Maya give birth was a terror he wasn't sure he could
face. But he did. He had mustered all of his courage for this moment. Tony was going to be
there for Maya ....

... and now someone was laughing at him. Maybe it was Satan or the outer space equivalent?

Verdeschi didn't know. All he was certain of right now was that his wife was in trouble
and he could do nothing. Doctor Vincent saw immediately that something wasn't right with the
birth and told Tony to leave. Twenty minutes ago. It felt like an eternity.

"We did so much. Made so many plans." Tony murmured, dazed and morose. "What will I do if
she doesn't come out of this, Alan? What if the baby ...?"

"Don't think of it." Carter suggested. Gripping Verdeschi's shoulder all the harder. The
movement made his own ribs ache. He shouldn't even be out of bed, recovering from the
wrestling accident, but someone needed to be with Tony and John was busy in Command Center.
He knew the Commander would be here if he could but it just wasn't possible. So, as always,
it came back to the Eagle pilot. And Alan didn't mind. He only hoped he could help, but
doubted it seriously.

A cry came from the birthing theater, sending both men to their feet. First a woman's ...
then a baby's.


"Wonderful," Yarnell complained, inside the Eagle. He stared out at the deluge and
suppressed an urge to slam the hatch shut. "We gave these people our coordinates. What are
they waiting for? Why didn't they tell us the climate was so unpredictable?" Yarnell, a thin
small-framed security guard with dark hair and spectacled blue eyes, had been vocally
displeased with Doctor Russell's decision to call them in when the weather turned bad. How
were they suppose to do an investigation when their ruling officer fumbled at the first sign
of rain? It's only water, he thought, why is she being so damnably cautious?

Others knew better. Victor's scanner, still behaving peculiarly, could not give them a
detailed analysis. Testing on the alien precipitation had to be done by hand, in the safe
confines of Eagle two-six, and it was a precisely detailed labor. "I should have the answers
we are looking for in a few minutes." Victor answered their unasked question, attention
focused on a boiling beaker of rain water in front of him.

Helena stood behind Bergman and watched closely. She'd done this test herself on many an

"Relax, Rob." Reclined lazily in one of the passenger chairs, Wilson appeared the easy
opposite of his comrade. He watched as the security guard passed him on one of his pacing
laps. Wilson was once in Security himself but chose to transfer to Botany when the moon began
its jaunt. Still, he and Yarnell remained friends. "The rain will stop soon and the Tricians
will probably show up just as quickly." He'd nearly forgotten what it was like to feel a fine
mist on his face. Oh, if only he could stomp around in actual mud puddles! Karen would have
liked it too. She was such a lovely, sweet girl. He missed her terribly. Nearly forgetting
himself, Carl snapped out of his haze and used a languid motion to smooth shoulder length,
sandy hair out of his eyes.

Yarnell paused in his pacing and stared at Wilson with a combination of anxiety and
seemingly groundless concern for his associate. *You need watching*, he thought.

Doctor Russell had to admit that she too was becoming anxious. Three times she had called
up to Moonbase Alpha since landing and each time there was the confusion of static and
garbled speech, until finally she could see or hear nothing. Helena could only blame it on
the storm and if it was affecting their comlocks then perhaps their sensors were off as well.

Professor Bergman's analysis confirmed it. He dipped a blue swatch of cloth into the
beaker at a crucial moment and watched as it turned a creamy shade of gray. "It's just rain
water, Helena. There is another element in there that I am unfamiliar with but it isn't
poisonous." he concluded.

They waited fifteen more minutes without further word from either Alpha or Ataun. The crew
took turns watching the rain from the Eagle's one opening, each Alphan lost in their own

During that time Helena sat in one of the passenger seats and pondered over many things -
but two particular items of concern stood out in her mind:

First, there was Maya and the baby - of course. Her godchild.

Then, there was John. They needed to talk. Not just about their impending marriage but of
something that she had kept a secret from him for far too long. She wanted a child of her
own. Helena kept pretending it didn't matter, that children weren't a necessary part of their
lives together but the more she professed the more she fell into despair. John had to know.
When they returned to Alpha or settled on Tri, she would definitely tell him -- and hope he'd
have a change of heart. The Commander liked children but didn't want any of his own. John had
told her this in those early days while they were on Alpha, even before the couple had
decided on a future together. But so much happened since then. Perhaps his mind could be
changed now. She could ....

"Enough." Helena snapped herself out of the reverie and stood, addressing her crew. "I
have a feeling we are being tested in some way and I don't like it. Robert's right. We're
wasting time here, in this Eagle, while we should be out there, making contact and evaluating
this planet. Why hasn't Ataun made an effort to communicate?"

"Perhaps the storm is causing problems with their equipment, as it is with ours?" Wilson

"I just don't buy that, Carl." Helena looked from one man to the next, "The Tricians had
little or no problems connecting to our base, nor did Ataun find it difficult talking with me
in the Eagle --" she paused, "That can mean two things. Either our equipment isn't as
sophisticated as theirs or ..."

"Our signals are being blocked." Yarnell caught on. "We are purposely being cut off from
Alpha. But why?"

"I don't know." Helena answered, "But one thing I do know. We have got to make contact
with someone on this planet soon or our entire reconnaissance will mean nothing. Alpha is not
going to orbit Tri and we have only a few days to start and conclude an Operation Exodus, if
there is to be one."

Reaching for a pre-filled backpack she said, "One of us will stay with the Eagle. The
others will go out and actively try to find these people. Ataun might not like it but we just
can't afford to wait around here until he decides to make his presence known." She glanced
over at Yarnell, "Robert, you stay. When the rain clears - and if you're able - contact
Alpha and let them know our situation." She took a stun gun off its rack and handed it to
him, "Keep armed and protect yourself if necessary."

"Doctor, I'm in security .. I should be with you ...." Yarnell started.

She shook her head, "There will be three of us out there, all well armed. Besides, the Eagle
contains an electronic beacon. In case John ... Commander Koenig needs to trace us, this will
be where he comes first. Robert, I need someone here I can trust."

As Wilson and Bergman took their own backpacks and weapons Helena lifted a hand and patted
the downcast Yarnell on his left shoulder, as she had seen Koenig do with his crew on
occasion - "If all goes well you'll have time enough to explore."

"Maybe in good weather, pal." Wilson added, zipping up his coat.

Robert Yarnell was not amused.

Helena and Bergman chuckled and turned from the friends, walking out into the rain.

"Really though," Carl enforced before he too walked from him, "Watch yourself. Think of it
like those old simulation days back at astronaut training school. Try to get an A plus, Rob."

"You do the same." And, before the hatch slid shut between them, "Carl ..." He took a
breath, wanting to say something important but the words failing him, "Just be careful and
..." A little quieter, " ... take care of Doctor Russell. She and Professor Bergman really
need you to be one hundred percent. No flights of fancy, okay?"

Slowly, thoughtfully, Wilson nodded.

They left the Eagle and headed east. Bergman said he thought he had spotted a small city
or village in that direction just before they landed. If they kept at a good pace it would
take them no more than a night and day to get to the settlement.


"Commander, we should have heard from them by now." Sandra Benes whispered as she stood
beside his desk in Command Center. "I realize we have been experiencing communications
problems but I have lost all contact with the planet's surface. I can no longer detect the
Eagle's signal." Disgruntled, the young woman's hands balanced themselves on her hips.

Next to the base being in mortal danger, this was Koenig's worst fear. The landing party,
headed by his own fiancee', was in jeopardy. "What about Ataun? Have you been able to make
contact with him?"

Sandra's voice grew even lower and she leaned in, closer to him. "He is not answering but
I feel he does hear us."

A sitting Koenig glanced up at his communications expert. Sandra knew all there was to
know about her job. Space was an excellent teacher in that respect. He did not doubt her now.

Koenig also knew what she was thinking. Were they going to send out a rescue Eagle? Ataun
had forbidden him to do anything of the kind. Any other time the Commander would have gone
with his instincts and done what they told him. Yet this was an entirely different situation.
Just because the Tricians weren't communicating didn't mean the Alphans were being
threatened. If John made the wrong move now, acting irrationally, it could cost the base
dearly. No home, no planet and - if he really irritated Ataun - no Helena Russell to spend
the rest of his years with.

A bleep was heard from Koenig's console then, up on the Big Screen, Command Center
witnessed something that was awe inspiring yet familiar. A force field had been raise over
the entire planet.

Part 4
The Final Chapter