by Terry S. Bowers
This story first appeared in Issue 92 of the Power Star Fanzine, November 1995, published by the team of Jerry Seward and Kimberly Murphy-Smith (Editors), Brian Neal (Postmaster), Walter M. Scott III, (Graphics Editor) and J. Calvin Smith (Manuscript Editor). Text taken from the fanzine. Story by Terry S. Bowers.
This story is posted without the author's permission - with due acknowledgment - hoping to attract her attention. If you wish it to be removed, please contact the webmaster without any delay.
Moonbase Alpha's long range sensors had not yet detected the approaching spacecraft, nor its occupants when their influence on the Lunar inhabitants was first felt. Nothing specific, nothing noticeable, just a faint, intangible sense of something not quite right. It manifested itself in the form of restlessness during off duty hours, the inability to fully concentrate on the chosen form of recreation, and a vague nagging feeling about something which could not quite be pinpointed.
Helena Russell tossed the quarterly report aside and sighed heavily. She did not want to spend her off-duty hours reading it, but if she were to be prepared for the Command Conference scheduled for the following morning, she had to. Despite the fact there had been problems and delays all down the line in the report's preparation, she was the one ultimately responsible for it and John would accept no excuses if she were not ready with the facts and figures when he asked for them. Personal considerations aside, he demanded and expected only the best from his command officers, of which she was one, and would accept nothing less than what he demanded of himself and sometimes--unintentional though it was--he demanded even more of her, as if to prove he was not playing favorites because of their personal involvement. Helena smiled as she stretched, her thoughts on John. She'd never really minded the fact he seemed to go out of his way not to show her favoritism, still didn't, but sometimes it would be nice to have the less complicated life of a non-department head.
Sighing again, Helena picked up the report and returned to her reading, making brief, cryptic notes as she went. She would be ready for that meeting in the morning.
Later that same evening, John Koenig was disturbed by the restless movements of his bed partner. Not enough for him to awaken, but enough so he knew she was not sleeping as soundly as she usually did. Shifting in his sleep, John reached out and wrapped an arm around Helena, drawing her closer to him. She quieted, nestling against him as the physical contact calmed and assured her. She slipped her hand across the crease of his waist and draped her arm about him, welcoming the closeness. They both slept on until morning.
The Command Conference was just concluding when the alien ship reached the outer limits of Moonbase Alpha's long range sensors. Within moments, activity in the Command Center increased as staff members began trying to discover all they could about this new contact.
Helena sat at her Command Center station, watching the big screen for a first glimpse as to what this new ship might look like, unaware John had stepped up behind her and placed his hand on her shoulder. Her mind was elsewhere, on something she couldn't quite bring into focus but was disturbing nonetheless. Not until John stepped around to her side and leaned close, calling her name softly did she come back to her surroundings.
"Helena, are you all right?"
She blinked and swallowed, glancing up to meet John's concerned gaze, felt the slight squeeze of his hand on her shoulder. "John?"
"Are you all right? You looked so...distant, and troubled."
"No...no, I'm fine."
She nodded, not at all certain she was fine, but would not give in to this bothersome habit of day dreaming she had developed the past few days. She smiled. "I'm sure."
"Good. Any indications of life signs yet?"
She looked from John to her readings displayed on the computer screen before her and ran a practiced eye over the data. Helena slowly shook her head. "Nothing conclusive, John."
"Keep at it. Sandra, you'd better start sending friendship greetings on all known frequencies."
Sandra returned to her duty as John studied the big screen for a few moments, then moved back to his own desk and sat behind it. He knew it would be awhile before they had any useful information on the new contact, so he turned his attention to the work awaiting him, but as he called up the first of the computer files, John found he could not concentrate. His eyes wandered back to Helena where she sat at her station. He was beginning to worry. She was not usually so easily distracted, and she seemed pre-occupied. That too bothered John, because Helena was almost always willing to confide in him, no matter if the problem were a personal or a professional one.
Koenig smiled as she bent over her work. Perhaps she'd just not had a chance to discuss whatever was bothering her with him, or hadn't quite figured out how to bring it up. He knew she would when the time was right, but until that happened, he would keep a watchful eye on her--just to re-assure himself.
Glancing at the big screen again, Koenig turned back to his work.
Five hours later Alpha knew nothing more about the approaching spaceship than when contact was first made. Messages of their friendly intentions continued to be broadcast and interest remained high, but those in the Command Center turned their attentions to other duties and the everyday running of the base. Helena had set the life sensors on automatic and coded it to relay any data to her in the Medical Center, then returned to her duties there. Something about this whole thing bothered her, but she couldn't pinpoint it, couldn't specifically say what it was that bothered her. She knew it reminded her of something, but could not identify what it was. It seemed much like some vague, distant, almost completely forgotten memory. Of what she couldn't tell, nor from where; from what event in her life.
She tried to shake it off and concentrate on the work awaiting on her desk, but could not keep her mind focused. Only when she was dealing one on one with the patients could she keep her mind completely on the task at hand. And for some reason, the Medical Center was busier than usual. No major problems, accidents or injuries, just a long string of minor complaints. She welcomed the excuse to stay away from her desk, reasoning she would get caught up later.
Helena had just finished stitching up a moderately deep cut on a med tech's palm caused by a broken test tube when her commlock sounded. Hoping it was John, asking her to dinner, Helena activated the devise, finding instead a message alerting her to activity regarding life signs on the approaching alien ship. Leaving a nurse to dress the wound, Helena made her way to the Command Center, slipping into the chair at her station and calling up the data as John glanced up at the big screen and over at her. He waited until she'd had a chance to scan the new information, then stood and crossed the room to join her.
"I am receiving indications of humanoid life functions, John...very similar conditions to our own needs."
"Any response to our signals yet, Sandra?"
Sandra shook her head. "No, Commander, nothing. However, they are well within range and should be receiving us."
Sandra nodded and John turned his attention back to the big screen. He wanted to get a look at how this approaching ship was designed. Maybe that would give them an indication as to how communication might be attained. "Are they within long range visual yet?"
"Punch them up on the big screen, Maya."
Moments later the star scape was replaced by an image of a very functional, yet beautiful ship. All eyes studied it for a long moment until the image began to waver and fade, redefining into a visual image of a very human looking being.
"Greetings, beings of Moonbase Alpha. We too have peaceful intentions and are in need of assistance. Who of you is in authority?"
John swallowed, glanced at Tony, and stepped forward slightly. "I'm Commander John Koenig."
"And I am Uundaal, commander of this craft. I inquire if we might be granted permission to land this craft in your territory? We seek...mechanical aid."
"What kind of aid?"
"We have developed a minor problem with our main propulsion unit. My engineer states it cannot be repaired while in flight, and believes it will become far worse before we reach our ultimate destination. We need not trespass if you do not wish it. All we require is a temporary touchdown."
John glanced away briefly, meeting Tony's wary eyes, then looked back at Uundaal. "We extend our hospitality to you, and offer the use of our base to repair your craft, Commander Uundaal."
"Our gratitude, Commander Koenig, as my crew will be able to work more quickly in a suitable environment."
Helena watched the alien commander while details were arranged, feeling slightly uneasy and wishing she could slip away unnoticed. But that was not likely as she would be needed to provide data and medical opinions on their visitors. Swallowing hard, Helena forced the uneasy feelings aside.
She was once again in her quarters after duty, trying to concentrate on back logged reports, and having less success than the night before when the quarters' door opened and John entered. Helena looked up and smiled, welcoming him and the excuse she wanted to put her work aside. "John?"
"Hi...don't let me disturb you."
"You're not. Everything settled?"
"Yes. The Tarnellians will land on Pad Five late tomorrow morning. The ball is in Alan's court now, and I'm going to relax for awhile. Have you eaten yet?"
"No...I'll order something while you change."
John nodded his agreement with her plan and smiled, moving toward the closet to get his robe while Helena reached for her commlock to order their meal. The food arrived within half an hour. She and John shared a comfortable silence as they ate, but his worry for Helena from earlier in the day had not eased any. While they ate, John watched Helena, aware her eyes wandered about the room, to now and then linger on some object for long moments as a frown would crease her features, then she would be back with him as if nothing were wrong. It was unlike Helena for her to be so distracted, so...fragmented, and John began to feel slightly afraid as well as worried.
Helena had been staring past him, over his shoulder, a frown on her face and perhaps a touch of fear in her eyes for over two minutes. Reaching out toward her, John placed a firm hand on her arm and squeezed gently. "Helena...Helena!"
He shook her arm gently and she blinked, glancing at him as her eyes grew wide and she took a deep breath. "Helena, are you all right? You were so...distant."
She shook her head and took John's hand. "I...don't know. I can't seem to concentrate on...anything lately."
"You sure were just now. It's as if...you weren't even in this room. Are you feeling all right?"
"I...I think so, John. At least I haven't noticed anything amiss."
"Maybe you should have Mathias or Vincent check you over. I'm becoming a bit worried about you."
She studied his expression, felt the gentle grip of his fingers about hers and nodded. "I'll talk to them, John."
He nodded his acceptance and leaned forward and kissed her gently, meeting her gaze when they parted. "I don't want anything happening to you."
She smiled and returned the kiss, knowing he truly meant it. "Nor I you."
That night as they slept, Helena's mind became filled with confusing, swirling images. They all involved John, the people she knew on Alpha or had known while on Earth, but nothing was clear. They disturbed her, brought up images she'd long forgotten or learned to accept; images she did not want to see or experience again; disturbing images of people and events from long ago and from recently. And those disturbing images caused her sleep to be troubled, her restless movements beside John to disturb his rest as well. Aware of something wrong beside him, John woke slowly to the restless movements from Helena. She was whimpering, mumbling words he could not understand, and he reached over to put his hand on her shoulder. The contact caused her to jump, releasing a startled cry, and to pull away from him as she sat up in bed, breathing deeply, almost gasping for breath.
"Helena..." He reached out for her again.
She turned distressed, frightened eyes on him as he pulled her into a calming, comforting embrace. "Helena...sh-h-h...I'm here."
She shook her head against his shoulder as her breathing slowed. She wrapped her arms about his waist and held close, then slowly eased back to meet his worried gaze. "I...don't know. I thought..."
"What did you think?" He tenderly brushed her hair back as he watched her expression calm, her breathing return to normal.
"I thought I was...I can't remember now, but I didn't want to be wherever I was. I didn't want to see...something."
"No, more...fragmented...just...images of...I can't see them, can't remember them now. John..."
Helena shook her head and looked down, unwilling to focus on what had frightened her so. "I...don't..."
She breathed deeply again and once more shook her head. John held her close and eased them both down to the bed. He wrapped his arms about Helena as she trembled slightly, then slowly relaxed, taking comfort from him. "Can you sleep again?"
"I'll try, but..."
John kissed her and gently ran his hand up and down her back until he felt her relax more completely and gradually drift back to sleep. He lay awake for a long while, listening to her even breathing, his worry growing. Something was very wrong and he would--had to--do all he could to help find out what it was, then correct it. He hated seeing Helena like this. He had to help her.
Despite having slept soundly the rest of the night, Helena awoke tired, un-rested and pale. Still concerned, John accompanied her to the Medical Center, where Ben Vincent was just finishing up the morning rounds. He frowned when he saw Helena, and agreed to check her over. His findings were not all satisfactory as far as Koenig was concerned. Physically and psychologically, Helena was fine. A bit overworked and over tired, but that was a chronic condition for many of the senior level staff members, and Dr. Vincent could do nothing but recommend more recreation time and more rest. All concerned knew it was unlikely Helena would be able to follow doctor's orders, and John sighed in frustration as Vincent left him alone with Helena in her office.
"That's not what I wanted to hear, Helena."
"I know, John, but at least I've not developed some new, exotic condition."
He tried to smile at her attempt to wave it off lightly, but both knew she was as concerned as he. Before he could respond, his commlock sounded and he answered. "Koenig."
Sandra's face greeted him. "Commander, we have just received word from the Tarnellians. Their ETA at Pad Five is now..." She glanced at her readings. "...eighteen minutes, thirty seven seconds."
"Thank you, Sandra. On my way. Have the others meet me there." He deactivated the commlock. "Helena, do you feel up to greeting them with me?"
Helena had gone pale, her eyes distant, but she looked back to John at the sound of his voice. She swallowed hard, forcing down an extreme, nearly uncontrollable wave of panic, then nodded. She did not really want to go, but she suddenly felt the need to stay close to John. "Yes, I'll be...all right, John."
He studied her closely, then nodded, holding his hand out to her. Helena stood from where she sat behind her desk and allowed John to escort her from the room. So long as she was with him, everything would be all right; she would be all right. She had to be.
Her eyes wide, alert to every subtle movement on the part of their visitors, Helena Russell responded when needed, hoping her uneasiness and nervousness did not show to them. She did not want to offend them nor cause ill feelings, and she had absolutely no reason to feel so much dread and near panic when she was near them or even thought of them, yet she did. Helena could not explain it any more than she could ignore the concerned looks John sent her way.
Introductions and pleasantries complete, John left the Tarnellians, Alan and the maintenance crews to discuss what would be needed, turning his attention back to Helena. She was pale, her breathing shallow and her eyes wide, as if she were afraid; had been startled or frightened by something.
"John, I'm sorry, I..."
He shook his head as he took her firmly by the arms and headed for the nearest travel tube stop. "We're going straight back to Medical. Obviously, something is very wrong."
Helena only nodded her agreement, welcoming John's comforting, protective, guiding arm about her. She didn't know why she was feeling this severe anxiety, but wished it would stop.
Koenig paced the floor of Helena's office as Doctor Vincent examined Dr. Russell for the second time that morning. He called in Bob Mathias as well, and together John hoped they could learn the cause of Helena's problem.
Turning when he heard the door open, Koenig stopped pacing and moved to meet Helena as she entered. She seemed calmer, less nervous and excited, and he smiled when he met her gaze. This was closer to the Helena he knew. "You look much better," he commented.
"I...feel a little better, John, calmer."
"Do they know what is causing this?"
"No...not yet. Not all the test results are back."
John met her eyes as his hands rested on her upper arms, he studied her carefully, then placed a gentle kiss on her forehead and held her in a tender embrace. He felt her breath deeply as she slipped her arms about his waist.
"I'm glad you're here," she sighed.
He smiled. "Where else could I be?"
Helena smiled gently against John's shoulder, her arms about his waist tightening a bit. "Ben wants me to rest."
"Couldn't hurt any."
"I know, but..." She shook her head, unable to explain these feelings of dread and...foreboding she was experiencing--to John or herself.
Koenig pulled back to meet her eyes, smiling when he saw a calmness she really did not feel reflected there. "Try, Helena..."
"All right, but...not here. Our quarters."
"Good idea. I'll walk you."
Helena nodded, grateful for John's company, and let Ben know where she was going on their way out.
Frustrated by their inability to find even a trace of a clue as to why Helena was exhibiting this particular set of symptoms, Ben Vincent made his way toward Helena's quarters. He didn't want to report the lack of findings, but knew he had no choice. Taking a deep breath, Dr. Vincent stopped outside the door and buzzed for admittance. After several moments and no answer, he tried again. A third try netted the same results.
Growing concerned, Vincent requested a location check on Helena through Main Computer, to be traced via her commlock. According to that, she was in her assigned quarters. Deciding to chance his interrupting something, Vincent used his Medical Override clearance and bypassed the privacy setting code. The door opened and Vincent stepped into the brightly lit room. "Helena...are you all right? Helena?"
There was no answer, so he entered the room further, closing the door behind him. "Helena, it's Ben Vincent. Are you here?"
Across the room, soft, classical music came from the sound system, and water was bubbling away, preparatory to brewing some tea. Vincent turned both off, listening hard for any sounds, any movement which might indicate where Helena might be.
Gradually he became aware of the sound of running water and sighed slightly. She was in the shower and simply had not heard him. Feeling a bit sheepish, Vincent chose a chair facing the bathroom door so he wouldn't startle Helena too much, silently hoping she was at least wearing a towel or robe when she stepped from the bathroom, and sat down to wait.
But as he sat and listened, he began to wonder if his relief had been premature. There was no sound of movement in the bathroom--no splashing or sloshing of water--simply the steady stream as it left the shower head.
Vincent stood slowly and crossed to the bathroom door. He knocked firmly, listening for a change in sound. None came. He knocked again, calling out this time. "Helena...Helena, it's Ben Vincent...Helena? Dr. Russell?"
Still no response. Given Helena's previous symptoms, Vincent decided he should wait no longer. He reached out and keyed the pad which would trigger the lock and open the door. It slid away slowly as steam rushed out and into the main room. Vincent stepped back and waved the water vapor aside. "Helena?"
He moved into the bathroom and peered through the lifting steam. "Helena!"
He stepped forward quickly, hurrying to where Helena had retreated to a corner. She was partially wrapped in a towel, her hair wet and dripping as if she'd just stepped out of the shower.
Vincent put through an emergency medical alert call, then turned his full attention to Helena. She stared straight ahead, ignoring everything around her, and crouched in the corner as if trying to hide or protect herself from something. But her eyes were wide open, and they held a haunting, terrified look.
John Koenig dashed into the Medical Center at a run, knowing it was Helena which had prompted the request he come as soon as he could. The door sliced shut behind him and Koenig slowed, his eyes resting on Helena as she lay, unmoving, on a diagnostic bed. The Medical staff was hovering about and one of the nurses spoke quietly to Ben Vincent. He glanced over his shoulder at the Commander, nodded and turned back to his patient. John stood quietly for a moment, then began to pace the floor slowly, arms folded over his chest in worry.
Moments later, having done all he could for Helena at that time, Vincent left her bedside and crossed to where John was pacing. Koenig stopped and met the doctor's gaze. "Ben?"
Vincent glanced around, then pulled Koenig off to the side, away from the center of activity but still within sight of Helena. He knew his Commander and knew he would not leave Helena's side if he could possibly avoid it. "She's stabilized for now, Commander. Her condition is...guarded."
"I went to your quarters to let Helena know the most recent test results were inconclusive. When I received no answer after several attempts, I grew concerned and used Medical Override. Everything seemed in order when I entered. I heard water running and decided she was in the shower and simply had not heard me. I sat down to wait but realized before too long that something was very wrong; there was no sound of movement in the bathroom. I called to her again and finally decided I should risk intruding. I found her huddled in a corner, totally unreceptive to outside stimuli and unresponsive to her surroundings."
"She was unconscious?"
"No, Commander, that's the odd thing. She was conscious--still is. She is able to respond to simple instructions, but anything more complex is...ignored. It's as though she has simply...shut down all but the very basic interaction with her surroundings, and with people. Our scans show no brain damage, no physical or organic cause of any kind."
"Difficult to determine since she can't--or won't--respond to outside stimuli, but Mathias doesn't think so."
"Some severe emotional trauma or...an outside influence perhaps."
"We have yet to determine that..."
Behind them, the Medical Center doors opened to allow an Eagle technician in. He carried an unresponsive woman in his arms, her eyes wide open, gaze fixed on some far away point. Vincent studied the woman briefly, glanced in Helena's direction, and frowned, moving toward his new patient. "Phil?"
"Doctor...it's Betty. I found her...curled up on the floor of our closet. She's awake, but won't answer me. What's wrong?"
"Let's find out. Put her over here, please."
Phil did as instructed, then stepped back to allow the medical staff to examine her. Ben glanced from Betty to Helena again, then turned back to Phil. "Has she complained of any physical problems lately, Phil?"
"No, but...she hasn't slept well the past four nights, has been very restless. Last night she woke up...afraid of something but didn't know what it was, couldn't tell me."
"No, not really, just afraid...almost in a panic."
Vincent nodded as he glanced at Koenig, who was nodding as well, his face clouded by a frown. Vincent returned his attentioned to the technician. "Has Betty had any difficulty concentrating lately?"
"Yes, even on the simplest things like eating or getting dressed. She was late for duty yesterday because she kept...drifting off, just staring at the wall. That's not like her at all. What's wrong with her?"
"We'll know soon." Ben patted Phil Jilek's arm then moved to see what the initial exam results were. He ordered further tests as Phil watched helplessly. The technician suddenly realized Koenig was standing nearby, and turned to him almost apologetically. "Commander, I'm sorry. I know I should be down helping Mr. Carter with repairs to the Tarnellian ship, but I had a break and was worried about Betty so I went to check on her and..."
"It's all right, Phil. I know what you're going through." Koenig nodded toward where Helena rested.
Phil's eyes grew wide, then he swallowed. "Dr. Russell too?"
"Yes...she was found about forty minutes ago."
"Do they know what's wrong?"
Koenig reluctantly shook his head. "Not yet, but they are working on it, Phil. The best thing we can do right now is stay out of the way."
Jilek let his eyes rest on his wife. He didn't like it, but knew Koenig was right.
Over the next hour and a half, Ben Vincent and the Medical staff admitted and treated five more cases identical to Helena Russell and Betty Jilek. Some were brought in by concerned friends or loved ones while others were reported to Medical by the Security teams dispatched to determined why a certain individual had not reported for duty and failed to answer all signals.
With all the patients stable and being treated as best they could with so very little information to go on, Ben Vincent sat tiredly behind his desk and instructed computer to look for any common factors which might help to explain why these specific individuals were affected and no one else. He knew it would take time, and hoped to get some rest, but as he stood to go stretch out on the couch in his office, the door buzzer sounded. Vincent sighed, then activated his commlock, aiming it at the door and signalling it to open.
The door slid aside and a tired Koenig took a step forward. "Doctor?"
"Come in, Commander...have a seat."
John shook his head, unable to sit or to stand still. He was worried about Helena and knew he should be leaving Ben alone so he could work on the problem, but he had to know if any progress had been made. "No, thanks...Ben..."
"Commander, I wish I had some firm data to give you, but I don't, at least not yet. In the past three hours, we have admitted and begun to treat a total of seven cases of, apparently, the same thing. All seven are exhibiting the same outward symptoms. They are conscious and aware of their surroundings, but either cannot or will not react or respond to those surroundings. It's as if they have...withdrawn and focused all their attention and concentration on something only they can see. In some cases there is a slight reaction to audio or visual stimuli, but on a very instinctive level--pupil reaction to light, jumping in response to a sudden, unexpected sound. However, in all seven cases, brain scans have revealed an increased level of activity in the area of the brain which controls memory. I don't know yet if it is a symptom--or perhaps a cause...or maybe even a side effect."
"I know you're doing all you can with nothing to work with, Ben. It's just so hard to...not be able to do anything, to stand by and see her like that and not be able to help..."
"Perhaps you can help, Commander. Be with Helena. Touch her, talk to her, try to distract her from whatever internal focus she has locked on to. Perhaps if we can get more response to external stimuli..."
John glanced down at his hands, then nodded. "I'll do anything, Ben."
"Give it a try, Commander."
Again Koenig nodded, whispered his thanks and left the doctor's office. Vincent really didn't know if his suggestion to Koenig would help, but it couldn't hurt.
Grateful for his well-trained, highly capable Command Center staff, Koenig was able to spend most of his time by Helena's side as the Medical staff tried to determine what was causing the conditions of seven members of the Alphan community. Fortunately their visitors were so busy concentrating on the repair of their ship they didn't notice his lack of attention to them.
Studying Helena's distant eyes, wishing he could somehow reach her or at least know what was going on behind her blank stare, Koenig jumped slightly when he felt a light touch on his shoulder. He turned to find a wide eyed Sandra Benes standing just behind and to his side.
She tried to smile. "Commander, forgive me. I did not mean to startle you."
"It's all right, Sandra."
"I came by to see how Dr. Russell is doing."
"No change. Ben is trying to find out what is causing this, but there seems to be no physical cause. If we could just get one of them to communicate with us, but they're all...cut off from us by whatever is going on in their minds."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
John glanced at Sandra, seeing the worry and concern reflected in her eyes. He nodded slowly. "Would you mind sitting with her for a little while? I...need a break. Ben says we should talk to her, try to get her to respond to us."
"Of course, Commander. I will be glad to."
"Thank you, Sandra."
She smiled and nodded, watching as Koenig bent over and kissed Helena tenderly, whispering in her ear something meant only for Helena. He watched her for a moment, then sighed. "I'll be back as soon as I can, Sandra."
"Do not hurry, Commander. You must take of yourself as well."
He gave her a tired smile and left Helena's side. Sandra watched him go, then turned back to Helena. She studied her friend for a long moment, and slowly eased herself into the chair Koenig had just vacated.
"I do not know if you will hear me or even can hear me, Helena, but you must come out of this--for all of us, but especially for the Commander. He needs you very much..."
There was no response and Sandra sighed. She wondered if there was anything else she could do.
Slowly, very slowly a possibility came to her mind. If there was no internal, physical cause for this condition, perhaps it was a psychological one. But she was certain the doctors would have considered that possibility all ready. However, perhaps they had not considered some kind of external cause or influence, and wondered if anyone had explored the possibility. Most likely they had not, for no request concerning a search for external influences had come in to the Command Center during any of the past three duty shifts--a twenty-four-hour period going back to well before Helena and the others had been discovered to be ill.
Glancing over her shoulder when she heard soft footsteps, Sandra frowned. Koenig was back. "Commander..."
"I couldn't stay away, Sandra."
"You will do Helena no good if you do not get some rest yourself."
He let his voice trail off as his gaze returned to and rested on Helena while she lay unmoving on the bed. Slowly John reached for her hand and held it gently.
Sandra watched him for a moment, wishing there was more she could do right then. She moved away from Helena's bedside, placing a firm hand on her commander's shoulder. "Please let me know if there is anything more I can do, Commander."
"I will, Sandra. Thank you."
She nodded, gave him an encouraging smile, then turned and left the Medical Center, to return to the Command Center. She wanted to follow up on her idea right away.
Reluctant to leave Helena's side, but finally giving in under Ben's threat to have him physically removed by a security team if he didn't get some proper rest, John Koenig relented, returning to the quarters he shared with Helena. He sighed heavily then stretched out on the bed, not even bothering to remove his boots. He was asleep moments later, exhausted.
Sandra stood slowly as she scanned the most recent data, then walked over to Maya's station. Together they compared notes and results, Maya nodding her head in assent.
"I think we should take these findings to Doctor Vincent," the Psychon beauty said firmly.
"Will you do that, Maya? I will continue scanning to learn the source of these signals and see if I am able to determine precisely how long we have been receiving them."
Maya nodded as Sandra handed her the data print out, then left the Command Center while Sandra returned to her station. They had indeed found an unusual external set of readings which, when traced backward, had become a significant factor several days before the first of the unexplained medical problems began. If she could learn the source of the readings and how long Alpha had been in their proximity, there might be a more direct correlation, and perhaps a way to block or counteract them.
Maya found Ben Vincent in his office, eyes closed as he rested his head against the back of his chair. She was reluctant to disturb him, but knew she must. "Dr. Vincent?"
He sat forward and opened his eyes at the same time, turning his chair slightly toward her. "Maya. What can I do for you?"
"I believe I may be able to help you, Doctor."
She nodded as she crossed to his desk and placed the data print out before him. He glanced down, and began to study it with more interest.
Maya began to point out some of the sections of the data to the doctor. "Sandra began to suspect there could be an external cause when all physical and psychological factors were eliminated. We discovered these when scanning on a wider than normal range."
Vincent glanced up at her, then turned to the computer screen and activated it, calling up some medical library files. "Take a look at this, Maya."
She rounded the end of his desk to study the screen more carefully. "These are nearly identical to the readings Sandra and I discovered. What are they?"
Vincent tapped the data she had given him, then the monitor screen. "These readings seem to be a slight variation of the pattern most commonly associated with those few humans who are able to communicate telepathically."
"Similar to the Lambda Variant we encountered before."
"Yes, but on a much narrower band, more specialized, and extremely rare. The Lambda Variant affects all the ESP potential of the human brain. This...frequency is much more specific and associated with telepathy only. Have you discovered the source of these...waves?"
"No, not yet, but we do know Alpha has been in their direct path and being bombarded by them for quite some time--since before Helena was found. Sandra is trying to back track and see if we can learn exactly when the bombardment began."
"Have you a rough estimate at this point?"
"Several days, I should think. I will be glad to let you know as soon as we have a more definite time frame if you'd like."
"Yes, please do, Maya. It may be invaluable to have such information, as all of the patients had minor complaints which began several days before they were found as they now are. There could easily be a connection...wait a moment..."
Vincent switched to another screen and entered some instructions, waiting a minute until a set of names was displayed on the monitor. He read it over carefully, nodding.
"What is it, Doctor?"
"I have finally found our correlation, Maya--the one common factor which connects the seven patients--their lack of any telepathic abilities whatsoever."
Maya frowned and studied the list on Vincent's monitor screen, finding each of the seven names displayed there to be one of the seven mysteriously ill patients currently in the Medical Center. "I am not certain I understand."
"When Helena did the ESP potential tests to determine the extent of that phenomenon's...hold and control over us, the source of the Lambda Variant waves we were being bombarded with, she found the majority of the Alphans to be within the expected norms. There were a few--the Commander, Sally Martin--who had an extremely high ESP potential, and there were a few--these seven--who had an extremely low ESP potential and no telepathic ability whatsoever."
"Then...why are they being affected now? If this...wave is specific to telepathic abilities, and these seven people have no such abilities..."
"It doesn't make much sense, I know. On the other hand, if we are being bombarded by these waves, and...this could be it, Maya. Those of us with even the most minimum of telepathic abilities are somehow able to cope with and compensate for whatever...messages or images are being transmitted by these waves. And because we do have this minimal ability, we aren't even aware we're doing it, aren't aware something is wrong, don't realize there is anything out there we need to fight or overcome. But for those who are not able to compensate, it is as though they are being...overwhelmed by the constant, pounding, unrelenting force of these waves against their complete, natural barriers. They are being...forced to accept these telepathic signals while every natural aspect of their brain is trying to resist, and the result is...oh, God..." Vincent went pale as he realized the implications and parallels of what was most likely happening in the minds of those seven patients.
Maya slowly, solemnly nodded her understanding, unable to even imagine what Helena and the others were experiencing. She took a deep breath and met the doctor's gaze. "I will let you know as soon as we have anything specific which may be of help. Doctor, is there any way to...block or confuse these telepathic signals?"
"Strong sedation works to some degree, but only to slow it down, weaken it temporarily, and I don't want to keep them under for an extended period of time. However, I'll see what other methods may be on record in the research files. I'm far from an expert on this particular aspect of medicine. This is more along Helena's line of interest."
Maya nodded, wished Vincent luck, then left his office as he turned to the task at hand. If there were some other way to block these waves or signals, perhaps it would help to ease whatever the affected Alphans were enduring. Perhaps not, but he had to try.
Uncertain of how long he'd been asleep, John woke slowly, then immediately put in a call to the Medical Center. He was told there had been no change in Helena's condition. Thanking the duty nurse, he signed off, then stood slowly.
After a shower and a change of uniform, John left his quarters. His immediate desire was to return to the Medical Center, but he resisted, heading for the Command Center instead. He'd not been there in over thirty six hours, and knew he needed to check in; at least try to make an effort, and learn the progress of the repairs to the visiting Tarnellian ship.
He entered slowly and moved toward his desk, noting everyone on duty seemed to be deeply involved with something. Sandra and Maya were in consultation at the former's desk, and he looked their direction when he heard them both react to something.
Maya looked excited and interested at something on the screen. "It now makes so much more sense, and explains why they have been so deeply affected."
"Affected by what, Maya?" he asked.
Both women turned, surprised to see Koenig at his desk, but knowing he would be very interested in what they had learned. "Commander, we believe we may have found the...cause or source of Helena's condition. All the others as well."
He was on his feet instantly and joined them at Sandra's station. "What?"
They showed Koenig the data, explaining as they went, including the medical research information Ben Vincent had provided. John nodded his understanding, his face reflecting his hope. "And have you discovered the source of these signals?"
Sandra nodded. "Yes sir, we believe we have. They...appear to be coming from the Eagle repair bays."
"More specifically, from the Tarnellians themselves, Commander."
"How? What's their purpose?"
"We are not certain at this point, Commander."
"It is possible they...emit these telepathically linked waves--frequencies--naturally, as part of their normal brain activity, just as the human brain gives off alpha and beta waves as part of their normal functioning," Maya added.
"Is there any way to find out for certain and then to...block or inhibit these waves?"
Maya shook here head. "So far, Dr. Vincent has been unable to determine a way to inhibit the waves or their effects without adversely affecting the patients."
"Maya, can you run a scan on the Tarnellians to be absolutely certain they are the source?"
"Yes, Commander, but only from close range."
Together, Koenig and Maya left the Command Center, heading for the Eagle repair bays. John was beginning to feel a hope and purpose for the first time since Helena had been taken ill.
The repair bay area seemed to be in constant motion as Alphans and Tarnellians alike busied themselves with mending the alien ship. It appeared strangely comfortable in the Alphan structure, and as Koenig looked down on the activity from the overhead balcony, he couldn't help but shiver. If the Tarnellians truly were the cause of the mysterious ailment claiming his people, Koenig wanted them off his base as quickly as possible.
Beside him, Maya shook her head, sighing in frustration. "There is too much interference from this distance, Commander. I am unable to get clear, precise readings."
"Then how are they able to affect our people?"
"I do not know, unless only our instruments are affected by the interference. Perhaps they are able to...bypass this problem. In order to get any usable readings, I will have to get much closer, Commander, perhaps right beside them."
"Will you be affected in any way, Maya?"
"No, Commander. If I were at all susceptible in any way, we would be aware of it by now. Dr. Vincent is convinced only those with no telepathic abilities are at risk."
John glanced out the soundproofed partition separating the balcony from the rest of the bay, and nodded. "All right, let's do it."
Together he and Maya descended the steep flight of stairs which would take them to the main floor of the bay, reaching for the protective ear gear all were required to wear. They entered through a double door, aware the noise level matched the activity level.
Maya spotted Alan Carter in conference with the Tarnellian leader, Uundaal, across the bay. She started toward them, Koenig not far behind. John watched as Maya skillfully and covertly went about conducting the scans she needed, while Carter nodded to Koenig, then finished his conversation with Commander Uundaal and excused himself. He indicated for John to follow him, and they returned to the soundproofed silence of the access stairway.
"Alan, how's it going?"
"Damage was a little more extensive than first believed, which in turn affected several other systems in minor ways. I think we've nearly got it under control, though."
"How much longer, Carter?"
"Eighteen hours, perhaps twenty. Why?"
Before Koenig could answer, Maya returned, joining them as she studied her readings. "Maya?"
"It checks out, Commander. They are definitely the source of the telepathic waves."
"Is there any way--at all--to stop or block them, shield against them?"
"Short of further harming or endangering the patients...no."
Carter glanced from one to the other, not completely understanding. "What? You're telling me Uundaal and his people are responsible for what's wrong with Helena and the others?"
"It appears that way, Alan."
"Some kind of telepathic influence. They may not even be aware they are doing it, or that it is having negative affects on our people."
"That has to be it. They've been so busy with their ship they haven't given anything else a second thought. And why haven't I or any of my crews been affected by them?"
"We believe only a very few are at risk from this, Alan. And it is very likely the Tarnellians may not even be aware they are causing this response in some of us. It may be totally natural...a byproduct of their normal brain activity."
"I can't believe they would be doing anything to harm our people--not deliberately anyway. They're a very gentle, considerate race."
"There is one way to find out, Commander," Maya interjected. "Show them our data, see if they are able to identify the same things we have, and explain the purpose of these frequencies."
John studied Alan's face a moment, knowing the man had grown close to this other race of beings through his work with them, but also knowing he had to take the welfare of the Alphans into consideration first. He nodded. "We have no choice. If they are the source of these waves which are affecting our people, they may know of a way to block or weaken them so Helena and the others won't be so severely affected. Alan, find out if they have a doctor or anyone with extensive medical knowledge of their race among their crew. I'd like to have Vincent consult with them."
Carter nodded, aware John was very concerned for the safety of all the Alphans, as was he. "Be right back, John."
He returned to the bay floor to talk with Uundaal, who nodded, then both went over to talk with one of the Tarnellian crew members. In less than five minutes, all three were returning to the silence of the access stairway. When the door closed, shutting out the noise of the bay once again, John took a deep breath, nodding his greeting to their visitors.
Uundaal was the first to speak. "Commander Koenig, Mister Carter informs us there is a medical problem with some of your people. How may we be of assistance?"
Between Koenig and Maya, they explained the problem, ending with Koenig's request of help. "We were hoping you might be able to identify this signal or wave we have detected," Koenig finished. "We will certainly do our best, Commander. In grateful exchange for all you have done to aid us."
"Thank you, Uundaal, we appreciate it."
"I'll get back to the repairs, John," Alan said, already starting for the door.
Koenig nodded, then asked Uundaal and the medical consultant, Zorleen, to follow Maya and himself to the Medical Center. They gladly complied, John hoping all the way they really could help.
Sandra had provided Ben Vincent with a more detailed breakdown of the data she'd collected, including a comparison of the Tarnellian's proximity to Alpha with the progress of the patients' deterioration. It appeared the closer the Tarnellians came to the base, the more severe the symptoms, finally resulting in the patients' total and complete withdrawal when the Tarnellians came to be inside the base itself. It made them wonder if those affected would slowly recover when the Tarnellians left Alpha and continued on their journey. Vincent was even more concerned about the negative lingering residual effects, but knew he first had to have someone recover.
Seated in his office, Vincent stood when the door opened and Koenig led the alien visitors into the room. Introductions were made and both visitors confirmed they understood how their assistance was needed.
Vincent nodded, then called up the wave frequencies on the computer screen. He turned the monitor so all in the room could see it.
Zorleen nodded, glanced at his commander, and straightened. "It is what we call the Malkai Wave or frequency. It is a common, ordinary emissions of our cerebral organ when engaged in any kind of...high level difficult activity."
"Stressful situations...times when you are...concerned or worried more than you normally would be over any given situation?"
"Yes, that is correct. In this instance, the radiated frequencies seems to be at a higher, more intense level than what is normally seen, but nothing to be alarmed about. We should revert to normal levels once the repairs to our craft have been completed."
Vincent and Maya both nodded, glanced at Koenig, then back at Zorleen. "Has the Malkai Wave ever been associated with...telepathic abilities in any way?"
"Not to my knowledge. Why do you wish to know?"
"This frequency is one the human brain also gives off, and has been linked to specific telepathic abilities in the human species. We believe this may--inadvertently--be the cause of our people's conditions. Is there a way to block, suppress or weaken these Malkai Waves from your cerebral organs?"
"There has never been a need to; it is harmless to our people and to all those other races we have come in contact with."
Zorleen looked at Uundaal and nodded his assent. "Yes, until now it seems."
Koenig sighed heavily and glanced down at his hands. He was about to comment when Ben Vincent's commlock sounded. "Yes?" Vincent said tiredly.
"Doctor, you're needed in the care unit immediately. Doctor Russell is..."
Koenig's head snapped up as his gaze met Vincent's.
"On my way." The doctor was on his feet and out the door, John right behind him, in seconds.
Maya, Zorleen and Uundaal exchanged glances.
"May we help in any way?" Zorleen asked in a concerned tone.
"Thank you, Zorleen, but I think it best if we remain here and allow the Medical staff room to work."
"Yes, of course. Your Commander Koenig, he also has medical knowledge to assist Doctor Vincent?"
Maya's glance went after Koenig, then she shook her head. "No...Doctor Russell is just...very important to the Commander. She was the first to be affected and he is extremely worried about her."
"They...have selected one another for the life long bonding?"
A smile played across Maya's features. "Yes, they have."
Uundaal glanced at Zorleen and both nodded, understanding. "Maya, does your data indicate the conditions of the patients worsened as we drew closer to your base?" Uundaal asked.
Maya turned to the computer screen and called up Sandra's findings, then nodded, allowing the Tarnellians to see what was displayed there. "Yes, it does."
"Would you feel it logical then to assume their conditions may improve as we increase the distance away from here?"
Maya again nodded, understanding what they were leading up to. "Yes, that may well be indicated."
"Then perhaps Zorleen and I should return to the repair center. We wish no additional harm to be caused by us, and if we are able to speed their recovery by assisting with craft repairs..."
"Yes, I see what you mean. Thank you, Uundaal. I'll show you the way."
All three left Vincent's office, heading back toward the repair bay. Maya hoped the theory was correct and that all seven Alphans would soon recover.
Seconds after leaving Ben Vincent's office, the sound of Helena screaming reached Koenig's ears. It was a terrified, agonized scream, one which caused John to stop cold, and take a deep breath to calm himself before continuing. He did not see or notice when, behind him, Maya led the Tarnellians out of the Medical Center, as all his attention was focused on Helena. Slowly John walked toward where she was, hands clenched in anticipation of the worst as another scream followed on the ending notes of the first.
Helena sat bolt upright, her entire body rigid, eyes wide and staring as they had always been, but now reflecting some terror only she could feel. Her mouth was open and trembling in a sustained scream of continuing agony.
John started forward at the same instant Ben Vincent reached up and slapped Helena's cheek in an effort to break her concentration. The only affect it had was to drop the volume of the scream momentarily. John gasped as he restrained himself from running over to Helena. The Medical staff shook their heads as nothing they tried proved effective. Beside Helena, another of the seven patients began screaming as well.
Covering his ears, John could only stand there. He watched Vincent give some instructions to the staff, then hurried back toward his office.
The doctor was startled to find it empty and placed a call to Maya on his commlock as Koenig entered. "Maya, where are you?"
"The repair bay. Uundaal and Zorleen felt they would be of more help here...how's Helena?"
Vincent looked up as the screaming began to taper off, fading to an echoing silence. He glanced at the Commander, then back at his commlock screen and the small electronic image of Maya.
"No change. Maya, tell Alan we have got to get those people off this base as soon as possible. I don't know how much longer any of them will be able to tolerate what their bodies--and minds--are being subjected to. Nothing we've tried seems to be of any help--even the shielding which normally blocks the Lambda Variant is ineffective here."
Koenig stepped up beside Vincent so he too could be seen on the other end of the connection. He didn't know details, but agreed with the doctor. Helena and the others could take very little more of this before it ended in a way none of them wanted. "Maya, tell Alan to use whatever he needs--reserve supplies, extra personnel and duty shifts, anything--to get them on their way as soon as possible."
"Yes, Commander." She closed the connection.
John turned to face Ben Vincent, who shook his head. "All I can tell you, Commander, is they must have been reacting to whatever telepathic message they were receiving. Heart rates fluctuated, breathing increased, brain activity doubled. Bringing the Tarnellians here moved the source of that telepathic influence so much closer, increasing the wave's intensity, multiplying it by...I don't know how much. However, it did seem to prove our theory. The severity of symptoms is in direct proportion to the nearness of the Tarnellians. Right now, the only hope I see of bringing them out of it is to get the Tarnellians off the base and away from us as quickly as possible."
"I'll keep them at it, Ben. Have you considered...the possibility of permanent damage?"
"I have...I won't know anything until one of them comes out of it. I do know they will all require extensive counselling to help them get past any residual affects there may be."
"How much longer can they last, Ben?"
"There are too many variables to predict that, Commander. Physically we can sustain them almost indefinitely. Psychologically...it depends on each individual's strength of will and ability to cope with whatever they are being subjected to."
"Yeah...I'll do what I can."
Vincent nodded, placed a comforting hand on Koenig's arm, then left his office to return to his patients. John stood by himself for a long moment, staring blankly at his hands, not wanting to consider the possibility Helena would not recover fully. She was strong, could take and overcome anything...but he had no idea what she was experiencing now. What horrible, frightening things was she seeing in her mind? What...terrifying telepathic message was she being forced to accept? John wasn't sure he wanted to know. But he did know he would be there for her when she needed him, and he knew he had to do all he could now to hurry the Tarnellians along. Taking a deep breath, John left the Medical Center, not daring to look in Helena's direction, fearing what he might see.
Never knowing John Koenig to so willingly authorize the free use of their carefully guarded and protected reserve supplies, Alan Carter realized the situation with Helena and the others was far more serious than any of them had believed, perhaps more serious than any could comprehend. Taking advantage of that permission allowed Carter and the Tarnellians to increase even more the efforts to repair their ship. They were nearly finished when one of the Tarnellians cried out in pain, his hand caught in a piece of machinery. Zorleen hurried to his assistance, unaware the man's pain was causing very serious problems in Alpha's Medical Center.
At almost the exact same instant the Tarnellian was injured, three of the stricken Alphans went into convulsions. The seizures lasted nearly a minute before the patients collapsed, their vital signs dropping to dangerously low levels while brain activity skyrocketed to equally dangerous high levels.
Sitting beside Helena, John jumped in startled surprise when she reacted, swallowing hard to force the lump from his throat. He was slow to move out of the way, frightened by the latest developments. He vaguely heard Vincent curse, then order all seven to be placed on complete life support. Unable to take his eyes from Helena, John watched as the medical orders were carried out, hearing only the steady beep of monitors indicating his people were slipping away, their lives sustained only by artificial and mechanical means. And he felt his anger begin to grow and surface. Logically he knew the Tarnellians could not control the effect their brain waves were having on the humans they sought aid from, but emotionally all he knew was that their presence as killing Helena. He wanted them off his base now. He reached for his commlock to issue the order just as the main screen in the medical complex came to life.
"Medical Center, we have an emergency in the repair bay," Alan Carter's Australian-accented voice called.
Ed Spencer left his patient in the care of nurses long enough to answer the emergency call. "And we have seven of them here, Alan. Can you handle it?"
"Damn! Oone of the Tarnellians managed to get his hand mangled in some of the equipment. Their doctor says he hasn't the facilities on board the ship to deal with it properly...he's in a really bad way..."
Carter trailed off, not wanting to request what Spencer knew he wanted--permission to bring the Tarnellian to the Medical Canter. The doctor glanced over his shoulder at the sound of a loud curse from Dr. Raoul. His patient had just gone into full cardiac and respiratory arrest. That made Spencer's decision much easier.
"Alan, we don't dare bring him here. Find out what you'll need to treat him there and I'll authorize an emergency team to assist, but...he'll kill our people if he's brought here. They've all just taken a nose dive, most likely in response to an increase of the Malkai Waves as a result of his injury."
Spencer called an assistant over to the communications screen to learn what the situation was and what would be needed to treat the Tarnellian, ordering an emergency response team to stand by. Spencer then turned back to his patient in time to hear Raoul pronounce his own patient dead.
Koenig bowed his head, then met the doctor's gaze. He shifted his gaze to Helena, and turned to the Medical team headed for the door. "Janet."
The team stopped as Koenig approached. "Yes, Commander?"
"Do all you can for the injured Tarnellian, but tell Carter I want them on their way in an hour. No more. We simply can't let them stay any longer...Wallick just died because of them."
"Yes, sir." Janet nodded to the team and they hurried out.
John hoped the Tarnellians would understand. If not...his own people would.
Forty-five minutes later, the Tarnellian ship lifted off. Many were there to wish them well and express regrets there could not be more contact between them, but not John Koenig. He was still in the Medical Center, beside Helena's bed, holding tightly to her hand as the life support apparatus continued to sustain her. Gradually he could see her condition begin to improve. Ten hours after the Tarnellians left, Helena and the others were strong enough to be removed from life support. At that point, John reluctantly left the Medical Center in order to rest, under threat of sedation if he did not.
When Koenig did return to the Medical Center, he found Helena and all the others had lapsed into normal sleep patterns. All were physically and mentally exhausted. He found Ben Vincent, dozing in his office, and hesitated to disturb him. The doctor had gotten very little rest during the crisis either. Instead, John returned to Helena's side, which was where Vincent found him several hours later. John glanced up to watch as the doctor examined Helena and carefully checked her vital signs, then finally met his commander's gaze. He nodded.
"Physically, they will all recover fully, Commander. I can't tell you any more until we find out what they experienced mentally, psychologically."
John nodded, his gaze resting on Helena's tired but peaceful features. He understood. "Thanks, Ben."
Vincent smiled tiredly, then moved off to check on the others. He found similar readings for all six and returned to his office after leaving orders he was to be notified at the first sign of returning consciousness in any of them.
Helena Russell was the first to return to consciousness, and she woke with a start, as if from a bad dream, to find Bob Mathias, Ben Vincent, and several nurses clustered around her bed. She also found John Koenig sitting beside her, clasping her hand as if her very life depended on it, the expression in his eyes slowly changing from extreme worry to guarded relief. He gave her a tender, loving smile and squeezed her hand gently. The look on his face told her she had been in serious danger, but she was safe now.
Following a battery of tests and several extensive sessions with base psychiatrist Bob Mathias, Helena and the others were finally released to their private quarters, under medical orders to rest a few days before returning to duty.
It was there John Koenig found her when he left the Command Center after his duty shift. He joined her on the couch. Helena immediately went into his arms and curled up next to him, resting her head on his shoulder. "Helena..."
"Just hold me, John."
He nodded and placed a gentle kiss on her head, keeping his arms about her protectively. They sat in silence for a long while, until Helena stirred and looked up to meet his concerned gaze. "I'll be all right, John."
"I know, but...it was so hard, not knowing why, not knowing what to do, not being able to help, to break through, to reach you...Helena, can you...can you tell me what...?"
"I wish I could, John."
His puzzled expression caused the shaking of her head as she glanced down, then back up at John. "I...don't remember details, John. All I have are vague impressions of...quick, fleeting images. My reactions while affected indicate they must have been horrible, terrible, extremely frightening images, but...I can't remember, can't grasp and hold any of them long enough to be certain of what they were. With time and work, Bob feels we'll be able to slow them down, perhaps enough to get an idea of what we each saw, but right now...it's the same for all the others. None of us can recall details, just...impressions of flashing images and the emotional responses they triggered."
"You...might be better off this way, Helena. If the look in your eyes, your expression..." John shuddered, recalling his own image of Helena when he'd first seen her, and closed his eyes, shaking his head to dispel it. He felt her hand on his cheek and opened his eyes to meet hers.
"No, John, we need to know. For our own peace of mind."
"I suppose...Helena, do you think any of those images...involved me?"
Helena smiled slowly, shaking her head slowly.
"I doubt it, John...somehow I don't associate you with anything that horrifying. All my images of you are...extremely pleasant. Why do you ask? Did I do or say something which..."
"No, not really, except...you wouldn't respond to me, at all. And the...nightmare fragments you had earlier seemed to involve on me extensively. I just wondered if perhaps...something you were seeing, were experiencing, might have contributed to that non-response."
Helena smiled slowly as she reached up to run her fingers gently across his cheek, meeting his gaze steadily when he looked back at her.
"The human mind is capable of creating great horrors, but it is also capable of tremendous healing. There is nothing I could imagine, or be forced to imagine which would...outweigh the fact I want you in my life; to share my life. I love you, John. Nothing will change that."
Relief washed over him as he reached for her hand, their fingers entwining. Slowly he nodded, a smile touching the corners of his mouth. He bent down and kissed her gently, then held her close.
"Nothing frightens me more than the possibility of having to go on without you, Helena. I don't care what we have to face, have to overcome, nor what our eventual fate may be, so long as you are here with me when that final challenge arrives. I love you."
Their gazes met, then their mouths in a deep, intense kiss. The terrifying images Helena had experienced became less and less important as they centered and focused on images of them together; of a future shared together.