Author's Note: Having been working my way through the episodes and purchasing a few of the books, I can't help but be bombarded by plot bunnies. And of course, who can resist the introductory scene in 'Breakaway'? No fan of Helena/John can deny the glorious tension in that first meeting. I have taken small liberties with Helena's character...they were all a little wooden in the first season and I think she would have been a little more passionate about her work and patients. Such is the prerogative of a fanfiction writer.
HUMAN DECISION REQUIRED
Commander John Koenig had read the files on Doctor Helena Russell, as he had for most of his senior staff. He knew that she was the daughter of a scientist and a doctor, that she had exemplary academic results all the way through her education, that she was one of the youngest high-ranking medical officers in the Lunar Commission (and being female, even more of a rarity in the male-dominated and often chauvinistic 'old boys club'), and that she had joined Alpha as CMO not long after he had left his first posting there. He knew more personal details; that her parents had died in an accident and she was an only child, that she had been married to Lee Russell, the astronaut on the Jupiter mission who had gone missing - presumed dead - more than five years before, and that she maintained good health and could often be found in the gym when off-duty.
He also knew that her second-in-command, Bob Mathias, found her easy to work with and respected her knowledge and experience, that some patients found her a little cool and detached (perhaps not quite the words they used) and that she liked to sculpt in her free time.
But the files certainly hadn't prepared him for the woman who stood to greet him as he entered her office in the corner of the Medical Centre, he mused. They hadn't prepared him for the platinum hair, styled in a short bob that exposed an elegant neck, the delicate cheekbones and perfectly shaped face, nor the almond-shaped eyes that studied him in return as he stepped through the doorway. He caught a flare of interest in their green depths before she schooled her features into neutrality as she moved round her desk, extending a slim hand to greet him.
"Doctor Russell, I presume?"
"Yes, Commander." Her voice was soft and melodic, and as he shook her hand he realised her petite frame belied a strength that he expected had caught many by surprise. But then Koenig himself shouldn't be surprised, as he had already read about how she'd managed to help Mathias wrestle two of the burly workers into restraints when they'd started to display symptoms of the supposed virus.
An object caught his eye and he stepped over to a small plinth in the corner of her office. "Donnelmeyer, right? Eighteen...eighty seven. As used by Louis Pasteur and Marie Curie." He ducked down to glimpse through the eye piece of the microscope, then glanced up to find her watching him with an inscrutable expression.
"A replica. A prize, for a scientific award in college," she replied. He nodded, then stood straight again. She was almost a head shorter than him but she held herself well.
"When will our Meta Probe astronauts recover from this virus?"
Her lips twisted into a moue of discontent. "There is no virus."
"I've read the reports Commander Gorski sent-"
"And you believed them?" Her question was sharp, just short of insubordination. "There is no virus, Commander. They have an unusual form of brain damage. Their condition is critical."
"So they're not going to recover?" He needed them - Gorski's failing had been cuts to the staffing on Alpha, signed off by Commissioner Simmonds, and as such there were no back up crews. Without the astronauts, the probe was unlikely to launch. And John Koenig would be the scapegoat, paraded in front of the world as a symbol of the failed project.
Helena spun on her heel in frustration, hands waving animatedly as she spoke. "Commander, I've lost nine men! Eleven men showed evidence of brain damage and I lost the ninth this morning! My job is to find out what is wrong with them and cure them, and to help find a way to prevent it from happening again. I can't do that when Gorski and Simmonds are completely ignoring my reports and slowly tying my hands behind my back!" She turned to face him again, eyes narrowing. She had spirit, he'd give her that. And anyone who could cross both Gorski and Simmonds and come out still fighting was definitely someone he wanted on his staff.
"But out of the eleven men, nine were workers at Nuclear Disposal Area Two. And all of those were the men who died. The two Meta Probe astronauts never went near that site."
"That's the obvious answer. No radiation leakage - of any level - has been recorded there. But look..." she led him over to a display unit, showing a colourful plate with the outline of a human head. "This is a thermographic plate. This is before." She pulled it away and picked up a second, slipping it into place on the backlit screen. "Here, a malignancy erupts and is clearly shown. There's immediate disorientation of the kind that's classic in radiation attacks. All nine of the workers showed the malignancy. The astronauts showed the same initial symptoms as the workers; we're monitoring them to see if the malignancy starts to show." She switched off the screen and turned to face him. "I know what I'm looking at, Commander. Blood work shows no sign of a virus. The brain damage is obvious. I just don't know what caused it."
Koenig sighed, studying the plate. "Are you saying the probe shouldn't be launched?"
"I can only advise you with what I believe is best for everyone. It's your decision. Without knowing what is causing it or who could be affected next, I wouldn't recommend sending anyone anywhere. I'd want to trace the paths of the eleven men - step by step if need be - to see where the commonality lies and where the radiation could possibly originate. And if it originates in or near Alpha..."
"The entire base could be in danger." He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them again to see the concern written all over her features. "Can I see the men?"
She nodded, then moved past him through the door into the main Medical section. An observation room lay in the furthest corner, the lights dimmed to a cool blue and the large windows overlooking two beds with the still forms of Warren and Sparkman, the astronauts. Portable display units showed name tags above screens of lights giving constant readings of life functions. Helena stopped by the corner of the window, letting him move to the centre between the two. Her face was almost stony, revealing very little as she stared through the glass but her eyes glinted with sadness and regret. He tore his eyes away from the doctor and watched the patients for a moment, tapping the glass and calling their names, but there was no response from either; not even a twitch of recognition.
He lowered his head, suddenly feeling the full weight of the command position. If the other patients exposed to whatever it was were anything to go by, he would lose two men before his first official day ended, probably a record for any commander of Moonbase Alpha.
"Thank you, Doctor Russell."
She didn't respond, merely turned her head to watch him stride over to the doors and use his commlock to open them. Before he stepped through though, he turned to face her again, his small smile an olive branch. "Oh, and Doctor? I've read all your reports, not just the ones re-written and approved by Gorski. You're doing a good job here."
And then he was gone, leaving behind a very bemused Helena Russell.
"HUMAN DECISION REQUIRED."
Those three words were firmly embedded in his brain, the monotonous delivery ringing loudly through his mind whenever he thought back over the previous hours. Human decision required. A human to decide on the future of the base and the people. And a human to second guess that decision, as to whether it was the correct one, whether something else could have been done, whether some of his people could have made it back to Earth had he been quick enough off the mark to organise transport.
Simmonds had been vocal enough, arriving at Koenig's office scant minutes after being released from the Medical Centre, his cut cleaned and treated. He believed Koenig should have done more and had argued the point until he was blue in the face, not even stopping to consider the extenuating circumstances. Perhaps there were others of his people that felt the same as Simmonds, but then they would have also dissented had he perhaps allowed a couple of Eagles to return and they weren't chosen - or especially had the Eagles failed to reach Earth and were out of the range of the moon, leaving those aboard stranded in space.
Command was a lonely and difficult position. Alpha came first, even if that meant not risking returning some people to Earth because their skills and knowledge would be essential to the running of the base as they drifted through uncharted space. Already Koenig's thoughts were turning to the issues they would likely come across in the future; running out of of resources, relationships and possible procreation, the need to find some sort of meaning to the sudden and drastic changes in their lives.
A human response to a human decision.
He sighed heavily, the quiet hum of background computers in his office turning into a buzzing in his ears and he stood, letting the side door into Main Mission slide open. It was late now, people having worked round the clock to bring order back to Alpha after the almost catastrophic breakaway. Technicians, maintenance and engineers had been flitting from unit to unit, pilots helping stabilise the Eagles, Medical Centre awash with minor complaints and cuts all the way to broken limbs and Command conferences on how to proceed for the moment until they settled into a routine of sorts.
As he stepped into Main Mission, a young data analyst lifted his tired head and nodded at Koenig for a moment before dropping back to studying his screen, missing the smile of encouragement from his commander. Beside him, Kano was reading but greeted Koenig quietly as he approached, reaching out to squeeze the computer specialist's shoulder in a silent gesture of thanks. Apart from them, it was empty, the lights dimmed and the usual rush and sounds of activity absent. After the initial flurry with all hands on deck to make necessary repairs and preparations, Koenig had made a base-wide announcement; everyone was to rest and Alpha was to run on skeleton staff. Those that were part of the staff that hadn't managed to catch any sleep were on shift patterns with others to allow everyone to get at minimum a few hours of sleep. He didn't know how long they had been working; he estimated around forty-eight hours.
The main problem was that Koenig himself couldn't sleep. Sure, he'd snatched a few hours here and there as he sat in his office but with so many people disturbing him, so many things to do and so much to think about, he hadn't had a proper sleep in his quarters and had now moved past the point of tiredness. Even if he wanted to he would be lying there staring at the ceiling until his alarm went off.
He walked to the stairs just to the left of his office entrance, leading up to a mezzanine floor built just under large windows looking out and up to the ever-changing space beyond. Although the solarium and a few of the other communal areas provided better views they were popular with lovers wanting a romantic evening, whereas the mezzanine was too close to the action (and the Commander's office) so was usually empty, meaning Koenig could sit and think in peace whilst watching the distant galaxies and nebulae.
As he approached the top of the stairs, he saw he wasn't alone. Leaning against one of the windows, her arms folded against the sill and her face upturned to greet some external light source stood Helena Russell, seemingly lost in thought. At his soft footsteps, she turned her head. Warm green eyes met intense blue and for a moment they stood in silence, regarding one another. They'd crossed paths a few times since breakaway but each time she'd remained cool and professional, delivering reports with brisk efficiency before returning to Medical Centre to support Mathias as more and more patients descended. But Koenig had seen the woman beneath the facade, and was intrigued by her. Victor Bergman turned out to be a mutual acquaintance - not only was he Koenig's old tutor and long-time friend but apparently he'd grown close to Helena during their time on Alpha - and the few times Koenig had tried to ask about her Victor had deflected him with a knowing smile.
"Can't sleep?" He spoke first, and watched as mild surprise lit her face before she shook her head. It was obviously not what she was expecting him to say; perhaps she thought he'd come for her report, or to tell her to rest. The surprise faded and she studied him briefly. He approached the window and leant on the sill next to her, maybe a little closer than was strictly appropriate.
"Neither can you," she observed. He nodded his assent and she continued, "I can give you a sedative if you'd like..."
"No, I'd rather not. I find I wake up with an awful headache afterwards." He smiled, watching as she had an internal battle with herself. The doctor obviously wanted to press the issue, but the woman won out and she remained quiet, eyes lowering until she found the sill fascinating enough to stare at. "Has it calmed down in Medical yet?"
"Mostly. We were flooded with minor injuries - mild cases of whiplash, bruising and some cuts. A few had broken bones." She paused and looked back up at him. "Commander-"
"John, please. We're off duty."
"John." She tested the name, as if it were alien to her. "You haven't been in for a check up."
"I thought it best to wait until the rush was over." Truth be told, his neck was still aching from the initial explosion and immediate G-forces which pinned them all to the ground as the moon sped away from orbit, and he wondered if he'd strained the muscles trying to move across the floor to respond to Alan Carter's radio calls. Almost unconsciously his hand lifted to his neck and she caught the movement, giving him a knowing look.
"Is your neck giving you trouble?" Not waiting for a response, she reached over and her cool fingers made contact with the nape of his neck, massaging and searching.
"What about you?" he said instead of replying.
"What about me?" Her fingers were gentle enough to soothe his injured muscles and he found himself enjoying the contact. Her demeanour wasn't quite as professional as it would have been in Medical Centre, but then he could see the bone-deep fatigue in the way she held herself and in the lines around her eyes that hadn't been present a day or so ago.
"Have you been checked out? You went down with a bump when it happened."
She looked up at him, realising how close they were, and gave him a shy smile. "Bob Mathias cleared me. I've got some bruising and have some muscle strain but I took something to help." Her fingers moved further to the right. "Does that hurt?"
He groaned softly when she hit a particularly sore spot and it seemed to wake her up, suddenly pulling her hands back and looking flustered. He chuckled, trying to break the tension and put her at ease. "Nothing I can't cope with until the morning. I promise I'll come in for a check up first thing and you can tell me how healthy I am." The joke raised a small smile but not nearly the humour he expected.
"I would suspect muscle strain or whiplash. I can't feel anything out of place and you're not in agony." She still looked tense and turned to lean against the window again, avoiding his gaze.
"Helena, there's something wrong, isn't there?" He set his hand down on the sill next to her, not quite touching but close enough for her to feel the warmth emanating and remind her of his presence.
She didn't speak for a moment but he could see she was trying to piece the words together to tell him. When she inhaled deeply he knew it wasn't good news. "Bob was going to report to you in the morning. We lost two more."
"No..." he closed his eyes against her words, hoping it would make them untrue. "Who?"
"Jeremy Hayes, from Technical. He was up a ladder when the explosion shook him off and he was forced ten feet to the ground. He landed awkwardly and broke his neck, and the extra pressure from the G-forces..." she trailed off, not needing to add anything. "And the other was Jessica Greene from the Commissary. She was crushed under a pile of metal crates."
This time Koenig did touch her. He put a reassuring hand on her shoulder, and although she still refused to look at him, he felt her tension ease minutely. "There was nothing you could do. They were tragic accidents."
"I've had to sedate a couple of their friends and colleagues that brought them in. They can at least get some sleep tonight and start grieving tomorrow."
"Any family on Alpha?"
She shook her head. "Neither of them. But they had loved ones on Earth."
And this was the difficulty he had to face. They already had the bodies of the men who'd been exposed to the magnetic 'radiation' at Nuclear Disposal Area One. They couldn't return them to Earth to be buried by their families. Alphans were each other's family now. He would organise a memorial service and have to decide whether to jettison them into space or start a burial ground on the moon. A difficult human decision that was nonetheless extremely necessary. "I'll organise everything. Everyone will want closure and to grieve before we can move on. We have the best people up here, but they're not just vital to Alpha, they're good friends."
She nodded, her mind no longer on the deaths or tiredness. He squeezed her shoulder lightly and dropped his hand back to the sill. She hadn't moved away and he wasn't sure whether she didn't mind his closeness or if she was just too tired to care but he was appreciating the human contact without the walls of command and responsibility in the way.
"How are you taking it?" he asked quietly after a few minutes of silent reflection. The dim lighting in Main Mission allowed them to view the 'sky' without hindrance, and Helena's profile was lit by the rays of distant stars, her pale skin almost glowing and her platinum hair turned silver.
"It's not sunk in yet." She gave him a small smile. "Perhaps it won't. I'll be kept busy." She paused, then continued. "I'm probably taking it better than most. We don't have family left behind, unlike the rest of Alpha. I can only imagine the pain others are going through, knowing that they'll never see their mothers, fathers, spouses or children alive again."
He wasn't surprised at her comment; she had obviously read his files. As a doctor she would have wanted as much background information on him to support his medical files - however there would have been the element of curiosity too, just as there had been when he'd read up on her. But there was an error in her statement, one he would never point out. She did know what it was like. Lee Russell's fate was still unknown and whilst he was marked as 'missing in action' there would always be the slightest hope he would return one day. Now she would never get to know, and in that moment Koenig admired her.
"We're a rare breed," he mused in return. "But I truly believe that we will seize this opportunity and thrive."
"'Go forth and multiply'?" she shot back, and he laughed, surprised by her sudden humour.
"Something like that," he grinned at her, feeling the tension and oppressing stress from the past few days sliding away as they shared another smile. Two strangers, brought together by circumstance, discovering mutual experiences and traits.
"We're human," Helena stated simply. "We're built to adapt. As a race we've survived some pretty tough times on Earth. Space is just the next step."
She turned back to the window and he followed suit, standing side-by-side as they took in the celestial view, the moon racing onwards to its next destination and the new chapter in the history of humanity.
Author's Note: I want to quickly thank all of my reviewers for 'No Goodbyes'. To rediscover a fandom after a long time and add to the small pool of fic is one thing. But to receive an influx of positive reviews numbering more than some of my very active fandoms is a wonderful welcome indeed. Knowing that you are out there, reading and enjoying my work is encouraging me to write more. Watch this space!