Charity had twisted her way out of Tidely's grasp and knelt by her mother's side where she lay on the damp grass. She took her hand and wept bitter tears. "First Daddy and now Mama …" she keened. "Why … oh … why?" she sobbed.
Hands grasped Koenig and Helena as the others raced to where Abigail fell. They were pulled back by Tidely's men and Helena, only knowing she was a doctor with an injured human being in front of her eyes, cried that she must be allowed to help. Abigail still might have a chance at life if she was allowed to work on her.
"A Midwife? I do not think so." The deputy scoffed. "Besides, she be as dead as they come."
"You animal!" Willow cried, turning to look at the sheriff, "How could you?"
"She threatened me. What was I to do?" Tidely said, dismissively.
Victor looked up from the prone woman and in his most reasonable voice said, "Please, she has a pulse. This woman is not yet dead. Allow Goodwife Koenig to help. She is a proven healer. You know this!"
Sheriff Tidely's eyes narrowed and he looked at Koenig. "Perhaps we can negotiate." Tidely scrutinized their leader's expression, as he was held. He was an angry man and concerned. His woman, Helena, on the other hand was merely focused on Abigail. "You would help this woman even though she betrayed you?" he asked.
Helena briefly focused on Tidely, "She has her reasons. Fright makes a person do unwise things."
"If I allow you to help her ... you and Koenig will still come back with me to Swaynip?" He asked conversationally. "There will be no way out for either you or your husband. You understand this, do you not?"
"You will swing together." The deputy added.
"As long as you let the others go, and they are free to take our child once it is born, and the baby is allowed to live safely and away from here – yes." Helena's voice shook, "Yes, we will go with you and we will not try to escape." She did not need to consult John on this decision. Time was of the essence and they could worry about whatever else might follow later.
"Enough talk." Koenig growled, seeing the sheriff's antics as near torture. "Let her go to Abigail!"
Tidely gave a short nod and Helena was released.
She quickly ran to the wounded woman and crouched beside her. Victor had his hand on the injury, attempting to stop the bleeding with pressure. Helena quickly took her vital signs then, urging Victor aside, she looked at the area of the blast. Abigail was hit on the upper right side of her chest. Sadly, the woman was all but dead but Helena knew she had to try for Charity's sake. "Willow, go in and get me clean towels. Boil some water. We need to stop the bleeding and clean the wound." She then looked at Abigail's sobbing daughter, "Go get a pillow and blanket for your mother. We need to keep her warm." Helena spoke gently and the girl nodded, leaving them. "Sean, I need instruments; anything sharp to remove the musket ball. Hurry and use the boiling water to clean them."
"Helena, shouldn't we take her inside?" Koenig asked, his tone heavy with worry.
"No, not yet. I don't want to shift her." Helena said, "I'm not certain where the musket ball is or if it broke apart inside of her. Until I'm sure, a sudden move might kill Abigail. I need to do a quick exploratory and when I'm certain it's safe we'll take her inside."
"How long will this take?" Tidely demanded.
"As long as it takes." Helena snapped, answering his impatience with irritation of her own.
"You act like you really care." The deputy said. His tone was snide.
"Yes …" The Sheriff's spoke softly and was unpredictably curious, "You do care, don't you?"
Bergman looked up at the man where he stood, legs apart and his arms crossed, the knife still held but loosely between his fingers. "Of course we do, Sheriff." Thoughtful, Victor stood as the muskets were trained upon him. He glanced once at Koenig who observed him with curiosity. The Professor had suspected something enigmatic for a while and now it was time to see if his deduction was accurate. "We are all human beings, with faults and fears, but it is our way to help the helpless."
Tidely appeared inspired for a moment, "Has it always been that way?" he asked, his voice changing ever so slightly, becoming gentle and enquiring. Without thought it seemed, he slid his knife into a leather sheath attached to his belt.
Feeling odd, as if something was coming to an end, Helena looked up. She looked first at Tidely then at John, whose eyes had narrowed as the hands, which had held him so firmly, loosened their hold.
Yes, something was happening.
Victor continued, "We have had our moments of imperfection, disagreement and – yes – even blood-shed. But I believe man, for the most part, is a good creature and capable of many things. We of Earth are a worthy people."
Tidely looked at his deputy, "They know." he said.
"He does." The deputy said, indicating Professor Bergman.
The ground beneath them began a slight rumble.
Helena fell back and she gasped as Abigail turned over, an odd smile on her face as she looked up at her doctor. Slowly, the woman began to melt or seep into the ground.
Koenig broke away from his captors and ran to Helena. He helped her up as the quake grew stronger and held her in his arms. He watched as the other men, like Abigail, slowly sank into the ground.
Bassy came from the house, Willow behind him, and called: "What's happening?"
Willow touched his arm and smiled sweetly and very sadly at Sean, "Goodbye, my love."
They were overcome by a swirling void, a kaleidoscope of color that muted then grew stronger. Sound took on a deafening quality then slowly ebbed as they heard the semblance of whispers. Blindly, Koenig reached out into the blackness and felt soft flesh. Helena's hand had sought his and had found its target. Victor was on his opposite side, grasping an arm as the shaking began to lessen – and a dazed Bassy approached on Helena's opposite side.
The men and woman looked down at themselves and were astounded to see that they were wearing their Alphan clothing, the uniforms they had grown to dislike but also cherish over so many months on the wandering moon.
"John?" Helena asked, wondering if he knew any better than the rest of them what was going on. All four Alphans were now standing on a platform and surrounded by blackness. "What has happened?"
"You are an interesting people." An androgynous voice announced. It had no source from what they could see. "We have met many such as yourself, some human and others of origins we never could categorize. Space is vast, you see." Then, "But you are an infinitely surprising race."
Koenig decided to get the obvious question out of the way first, "Who are you?"
"Who we are is of no consequence, Commander. We have been monitoring your people for some time and found you interesting. We have watched you during moments of great hardship and accomplishment while on Moonbase Alpha. We were and are impressed." The voice paused momentarily, seeming to prepare the Alphans for a confession, "However, it made no sense to us. We had always been told you were a savage people, a virus floating through space, too insignificant to either appraise or tolerate. What we were being told and what we could see were so dissimilar."
"We are a people of varying temperament." Victor offered, unsure how to answer the disembodied voice.
It seemed to consider his words then said, "You have a champion in space, worthy and essential beings you know from the past. An admirable leader of these beings spoke well of you, the people of Moonbase Alpha, to us." The voice paused, "Therefore we felt you worthy of a test."
"Test?" Bassy voice was incredulous, "What is going on here? Where is Willow and the others?"
Koenig lifted a hand, indicating Sean needed to be quiet. He was not the only person experiencing conflicting issues here. The aliens would tell them all they needed to know in time.
The voice answered laconically, "Willow Martin exists only in your mind, Sean Bassy. For you, she was a reward."
"And that is how the test worked?" Bergman hazard, "You created this world, pulled Alpha into it, then brought us here to closely examine our people, how we reacted to stimuli through association?"
Koenig said, "You put us into a situation, perhaps something you learned about Earth history from our computer – and you observed us?"
Helena grasped onto what the alien voice said earlier, "You gave us challenges and rewards but, basically, we were observed like lab animals." Then, with an arched eyebrow she asked, "And we still are?"
"Yes." The voice said simply, "It was not our intention to truly harm you. We merely wanted to understand you."
"And the experiment is now over." Koenig summed up. "You are returning us to our people?"
Again, the voice gave the affirmative.
"But you, whoever you are, can't do that." Bassy exclaimed, "We are people with feelings, emotions and … dreams. We love. That's not just a word. It means everything to us."
Helena looked sorrowfully at Sean. He had fallen deeply in love with Willow Martin, a young woman he planned to make his wife and share his life. Now, after having lost his heart to her, he was being told Willow was not real, just another tool used to watch the reactions of mankind. The love of Sean Bassy's life had been taken from him in a most cruel way.
Then, thinking of her own loss, Helena gently laid a hand on her abdomen, noting it no longer swelled with new life. She closed her eyes, feeling her own pain. She felt John's hand on her shoulder and she looked up into his grieving gaze. He too was in pain, eyes glossy and sympathetic.
Was what she and John had, beyond hard living, friends and a baby, also an illusion?
"What happens now?" Victor asked.
"You have been deemed worthy to renew your journey. We will continue to watch your progress. Perhaps one day we will meet again but, for now, you will return to Moonbase Alpha. Everything that has happened to you, although the time appeared much longer to you in the existence in which you were thrust, actually took no time at all. Your Eagle spacecraft is ready to receive you." The voice then added, "You will remember nothing."
"I won't go!" Bassy unexpectedly said, "I want Willow. I want the life we were to share together! You can't take that away from me …" Then the pilot implored, "Real or unreal, please, give me this last reward."
"A very interesting people." The voice echoed around the Alphans once again.
"That was a close one." Victor Bergman stood in the doorway that separated the pilots section from the passenger section of Eagle Two.
The Alphans attempted to penetrate the atmosphere of the mysterious world but the moment they tried their Eagle's systems began to fail. They were forced to pull up and out and could find no way to re enter and land.
"I believe it's a previously undetected force field, John." Bergman said, reading from a small paper he held in his hands. He gave it to Dr. Russell to examine as she appeared by his side.
"Whatever it is, we are clearly not wanted here." Alan Carter said. He flipped a few switches and waited for his Commander's order.
"No point in trying to land on a planet that clearly does not want us there." Koenig exhaled in regret, "Take us back to Alpha, Alan."
Koenig looked up at Helena and noted a draw of confusion on her face, "Helena?" he asked.
She looked up from the paper and saw that both John and Victor were looking at her, "Nothing." She said but still appeared dazed and perplexed. She shook her head and returned to the passenger section.
Koenig glanced at Bergman.
He gave his friend a lopsided smile as if to say it was merely disappointment. "Setbacks are never easy." Bergman said. They had all hope to finally find a happy home to live on. Victor too returned to the passenger module.
The Commander was not so certain that was all there was. He glanced at Carter and said, "Think you can handle it alone here for a while, Alan?"
"You bet." The Australian replied, "I'll get us home to Alpha in two shakes."
As Koenig unbuckled and slid out of the seat he said, "Try to keep that shaking to a minimum, Captain."
Professor Bergman was at his desk, busily calculating a few perplexing figures, and Helena was sitting in one of the standard chairs. She was looking at the screen that showed the disappointing planet dwindling away as they returned to the moon.
Without preamble, Koenig slid into the chair next hers and looked at what she was viewing, "It's too bad." he said, "It looked so promising like so many others." John again gazed at Helena and saw her face twist with an odd semblance of loss and confusion, "Is something wrong, Helena?"
"John, whatever happened to Sean Bassy?"
"Bassy?" Koenig searched his mind, "Wasn't he one of the pilots that was killed during our breakaway from Earth? He was a good man from what I recall. Well liked." Curious, he asked, "What made you think of him?"
"I'm not sure." She spoke softly, nearly reverently. Then, without really knowing why, Helena placed a hand on her midsection and felt further bereavement.
"We've lost a lot of people, Helena." He said, "But I still have hope that there is a future for us." Koenig nearly smiled, "Even if that planet did not want us I'm sure there must be one that does."
She smiled mildly and looked from the screen to her Commander, "And when we find it we will settle, work hard, grow crops, and have families." Helena shrugged slightly, "I would like to see that happen soon, John."
Koenig reached over and took her hand in his. "So would I, Helena."
On the planet Socre the cry of a child rang out in the quiet kind village of Swaynip. He was a strong newborn baby boy and his father was proud of him, as was his beautiful mother. They would name him John Victor Bassy and he would not want for love or happiness.
In this world there was only harmony, capped-off with hard work and rustic living. It was a place where a man and his family could flourish, grow together, and be content until the day they died.
Fantasy, an alien intelligence thought, was merely another way - often satisfying - for a human man to live. They could offer them little but, for mere human beings, they truly did not require more.
Moonbase Alpha continued its journey.
August – October 2014
Thank you so much for your kindness and patience over the few months it has taken to get this fiction on this website .
I had the outline written and was following it closely but - as so often happens - personal problems intruded. I also got to a point where I had to step back and reconsider a few plot points in The Bygone Ordeal. At the time they made perfect sense in the outline but as I wrote I could see where it came off ineffectually.
Instead of making an entire mess of the ending I thought to look away from it for a while, get into something else, then return fresh. Finally, I saw the problems I wanted to correct and, I think, it makes sense that things happened the way they did in this fiction.
Please let me know what you think. I hope you are not too disappointed and might have enjoyed the story. Please know your encouraging words are always a big help and motivation for any fan writer.
By the way, if you are interested there is a new Halloween story over on the Mission: Impossible featuring Cinnamon and Rollin. Please take a look.
Take care, my friends, and I hope to make the next story not so ... epic! :)