Chapter Seven: An Old Friend

"Let my people go, Bannion." John Koenig stepped even closer to the four men, ignoring the weapons pointed at him. "All they want to do is to go and help those who may be injured. I will talk to the people outside. I'll reassure them, and send them away, so things can return to normal while we prepare for your departure. I will guarantee your safety." He pointed to his office. "Barricade yourself in there, if you want. All our communication devices are available for you to contact your people. But you have my word; no one will come for you. When I return, we will talk, and get the wheels rolling to start preparations."

Bannion and his four men started backing away, their faces filled with distrust, their eyes filled with fear. "Remember, Commander, we have remote weapons trained on you! We can set them off with one word."

"My word, Bannion." Koenig turned to his people. "Go… go and help. If anyone asks what's going on, reassure them that it was just an unfortunate misunderstanding, a lone individual who briefly lost control. Tell them anything you want, but go. Now!"

The small group burst into action, racing for the exit. No effort was made to stop them, and John Koenig too strode away, watching his people race towards the recreation center, before turning to the group of security men at the command center entrance.

"Stand down."

"Anna Wong said…," Tony Allen started, "men with laser cannons…"

"Stand down, Tony. Everything is under control. Thank you for responding. I'll meet with you all later for a more thorough briefing, but for now, I'm going to go help over there." He indicated the hole in the structure, where smoke was still escaping in wisps."

"Yes, Commander," Tony Allen replied. "Standing down."

John Koenig hurried towards the ruined recreation center. In the smoke-dimmed atmosphere medical orderlies were helping people onto gurneys; attending to those sitting up, less seriously injured but still in a state of shock; while other people were rushing around with fire extinguishers, putting out pockets of fire. He looked around and spotted Victor and Helena by the side of the pool with a group of victims, judging by their dusty, disheveled appearance. He rushed over and grabbed his friend firmly by the arm, leading him some distance away.

"John! That missile, it came through right there where the changing rooms and showers for the pool area are." Victor gesticulated. "And no one was inside there at the time! They were all here in the pool, playing a game of water polo. No one got seriously hurt!"

"Victor, that's great news." But John gripped his friend by the upper arms, imploring him with that forceful action, to listen. "But you need to listen to me, Victor. Listen to me carefully."

"I'm listening, John." Victor face was filled with confusion.

"I need you, Victor, to stay away from Helena, here, in public, where those people can see."

"But John, I…"

"Listen, Victor! Those people want to harm you!"

"I'm not afraid of them, John."

John sighed. "It's not about that, Victor. Please, try to understand. I've given Bannion my word that we would not harm him, or his people, and I meant it, even though we don't have the same assurance from him. But it is also my responsibility to keep all of my people safe. And I have observed since our interaction with these people began, that they seem to have targeted you in particular, and more specifically at those times when you engage with Helena. I have my suspicions as to why, but all I'm asking you now, no, begging you, Victor, is to please follow my instructions on this. It's one part of their whole plan I don't quite understand, but they mean you great harm." John looked at his friend, hoping with every fiber of his being the urgency would sink in with the older man. "You may not understand, Victor, but I ask you to trust me on this. Please, trust me. Do this for Helena, for your unborn child, for me… do this Victor, for me, because I love you as a dear friend." John's shoulders slumped, his strength completely drained by the intensity of his appeal.

"OK, John," Victor said after a few moments, reaching out to squeeze Koenig's shoulder. "I'll trust you on this." The men locked eyes. "Thank you."

Only then did John Koenig realize that he had been holding his breath, and as Victor turned away and started off towards some of the service personnel handling the fire extinguishers, did he slowly breathe out. Then he too, sprung back into action to help those affected by the unprovoked act of violence by the madmen loose on Berg.

A small group of Terry Bannion's people was gathering in an unused residential unit in Uzazi. Armed men were guarding the door, but in the two days since the meeting with Koenig and his leadership team, they all had to admit that not one of them had been accosted in any way. Even those who still remained incognito reported that no one on Berg seemed to find the preparations being carried out at the Superswift unusual, or had spoken to them about unrest, hostages or the plan to take the ship.

"This is worse than having to fight them," Jerry Travis grunted. "They just… caved in… like a bunch of spineless jellyfish."

"I tell you what," Pete Irving said. "It's not normal. I don't trust them at all."

"It's like what we did never happened," Jerry continued his lament. "That beautiful hole in the recreation center, nobody even looks at it anymore."

"We should have had bodies," Pete grinned. "Nothing like dead bodies to make folks sit up and notice."

"Well, you got what you wanted," Shermeen Williams commented. "You got the ship. I don't understand why you're complaining so much."

"You don't know the whole story," Joan Conway sneered. "It's not just about that ship. We're also helping Commander Koenig achieve his dream."

"That romantic fantasy. What crap," Shermeen laughed, but was shocked into silence by a firm slap from Joan.

"Oooh, a catfight," Pete Irving crowed, but the door burst open and Terry Bannion stood before them. He took in the guilty expressions, the furtive glances.

"What's going on here?"

"Just a little disagreement among the ladies," Pete grinned.

"She's the one," Joan hissed, pointing at Shermeen. "She makes fun of us and our plans."

Bannion glanced at the girl rubbing her red cheek. "How so?"

"She wasn't with us from the start. She calls our plan to help the Commander get his true love a romantic fantasy."

"And that's exactly what it is," Ann Coulther said, entering behind Terry Bannion. "It is time we forget that part of our plan and focus on the main objective. We now have the ship, and those people are really working very hard to get it ready. Soon, we'll be heading back home."

"They're not going to give us that ship!" Pete Irving threw up his hands. "It was too easy. Why can't you people see that? They're planning something. They're just pretending."

"Pete, did you check on the group with the hostages earlier, like I asked?"

"Yes, Terry. They're all fine. Except for that drama queen Mandy who can't stop crying since you told her the Commander won't go on the ship."

"You guys really don't like each other very much, do you?" Shermeen said.

"Revolutionaries don't have like each other, they just have to unite around their cause," Pete retorted.

"So, you're revolutionaries?" Shermeen laughed disdainfully. "You don't even know the meaning of the word. I'm out of here."

Joan jumped up, but Bannion held her back. "Let her go. We have to talk."

"But she…"

"She won't do anything," Bannion reiterated. "And I'm tired of all the bickering."

"So am I," Pete admitted. "We should have started our revolution without all these women."

"Just shut up, Pete," Bannion barked. "I need to think, and I need some real advice instead of these childish squabbles."

"You know that by their actions they have effectively disarmed us without using a single weapon?" Ann Coulther said, sitting down.

Terry Bannion sighed and sat down too. "I'm not sure what they've done, but they certainly put a damper on things. We need to get our fire back."

"We need to refocus on our main objective, that ship. And our destiny to return to earth, to rebuild, to save mankind," Ann continued. "I think they're helping us because by doing so, they can get rid of us. And I say, Great! Good riddance to them too. They can stay here on their pitiful little planet, but we'll be going back to where it really matters! Earth! Our true home."

"Well, some of the girls are really in it more for the whole Commander thing," Fred Dobson said, looking at Joan. "They've been rather sulky lately."

"Well, I know you can't force him," Joan said defensively. "But Mandy and her disciples are kinda stuck in that groove. I feel we have to give them something to calm their feelings. They feel we're letting them down, not working hard enough to convince the Commander and Doctor Russell we're doing it all for them."

"Are we really doing it for them?" Ann Coulther asked, but they stared at her, not understanding.

"So, if those two won't go on the ship, what's the next best?" Pete smirked, waving his laser cannon. "We get rid of Bergman! That way the Commander gets his love," with a sideways glance at Joan, "and we can be gone from this place. Case closed."

"I don't agree," Ann Coulther offered. "Killing someone won't help our cause. Our focus needs to be on that ship. And the Professor and David Kano are the ones doing the reverse plotting. We still need them."

"But not for long. Once we have the reverse plot, he's redundant."

"OK, Pete, if it makes you feel better, take a chance if you find one. Now, we all have work to do. Get a new team out to relieve those looking after the hostages. Go check our remote weapons. Then, rest in relays. We need to watch these treacherous people carefully. Outwardly they may seem to comply, but in their hearts they hate us," Bannion said, then turned on his heel to leave the unit.

John Koenig leaned back in the chair, folding his hands behind his head. "So, by tomorrow, Victor, you and David will have the reverse plotting completed?"

"Yes John," the scientist nodded. Then he shook his head. "But it's the most incredible thing, really. Traveling that course, at the speed that ship is capable of, it would take 600 years! And David and I have checked our calculations… over and over."

"But Victor, we know that ship arrived here, in Alpha Nova, a little more than two years after our moon got blasted out of earth's orbit, based on the calendar and the logs we've been keeping."

"Exactly, John. It makes no earthly sense."

"So how do you explain it, Victor?" The two men looked up as Helena entered the room to join them. After the last few long, stressful days, the three of them were catching a short break in Victor's and Helena's residential unit on Berg.

"Just theories, John. But to me it seems," Victor held out his hand to Helena, who joined him on the couch, "that there is some kind of line, or lines, in the universe. Unseen of course, but when crossed, time becomes distorted somehow… at least time as we know it."

"Like time travel?"

"Perhaps. Perhaps not. We've been aware, although we didn't understand it at the time, that we crossed some of those lines during our journey on Alpha. The black sun, for example. Somehow we went through it, but we really don't know where, or even when we ended up. We have no maps, no reference. And that brain that tried to destroy us with its antibodies; and our collision with Atheria, all those times were times we experienced some kind of shift in time. So, while we may have experienced about two earth years, the rest of the universe may have experienced thousands of years."

"So, you think we're in some kind of time capsule? That time is standing still for us?"

"Not still, John. We still experience the passing of time, but our experience of it is distorted. What may be one day for us in Alpha Nova now may be hundreds of years elsewhere in the universe."

"What brought this on?" Helena laughed, looking up at Victor.

"Victor's been telling me that the journey back to earth may take that ship 600 years, based on his and David's calculations and the capabilities of the Superswift during interstellar travel."

"You're kidding, right?"

Victor shook his head. "It's what the data predicts."

"Are you going to tell them, Victor?" John said thoughtfully.

"If there's any smarts among them, they should be able to work it out for themselves. Time equals distance divided by velocity."

"But they believe, like we all do, that that ship has been traveling for about a year. Let's hope they keep believing that."

"Exactly John. And it may have been. But, to get where we are, it could have crossed those lines too… at least some of them, and experienced that distortion in time. So, the interesting thing I've been pondering is this… we know we've crossed some of those lines, and we know that ship crossed some of those lines, but my question is… once you've crossed that divide in time, can you go back? Ever?"

John rubbed his eyes. "That's too much for me right now, Victor. Bottom line is, what are you going to tell them?"

"David and I decided to just give them the star map and the coordinates, and allow some of them to watch while he programs the onboard computer. We can tell them we think it'll take about 2 years, because that's the time frame we've observed from our perspective, and hope no one in their group decides to check. Because how do you stock a ship like that for a 600 year journey? You can't. In the end, however, unless some cosmic force gets them through those distortions in time, none of them will survive the journey. We'll be sending another ship of death, this time back to earth. Tragic, really."

John shook his head sadly. "Well, technical has done all they can to overhaul the Superswift for interstellar travel. I'm glad we can finally start stocking her up, so we can get this nightmare over with."

"Any news of the hostages?"

"I have men looking all over, as fast as they can. Bannion has grounded all eagles except ones we're going to use for hauling supplies, and even then one of his people will always be on board. They've also been keeping tabs on the moon buggies. So the men have had to slip away and do it on foot."

"David is pretty torn up," Victor sighed. "He's amazed me with his ability to still work on that data."

John studied his two friends. Then he sighed deeply. "I don't want to be the bringer of more doom, but, we have to be realistic. Before I go, I need to say something."

"Sure John, go ahead."

"When you present them with the data tomorrow, and David starts reprogramming those onboard computers, you become superfluous to them, Victor."

"I'll stay out of their way, John."

"I'm afraid it's more than that, Victor. I've had the feeling for a long time, even before all this business with the ship came to a head, that there is a group of people who have somehow made you their… scapegoat… if one can use that word. People who blame you, for whatever reason, for all they think have gone wrong in their opinion."

"But that's ridiculous, John," Helena protested. "Victor is the most harmless man I know."

"There are people who dislike the fact that the two of you are together. They don't know your history, and they don't know your hearts. They only know what they observed on Alpha, and that there was an attraction between you, Helena," He looked at her with a shrug, "and me. And in their opinion, we should be together, not the two of you. It threatens their preconceived notions. That's about as straight as I can shoot this one."

"You've confused me even more now, John," Helena said.

But Victor chuckled, reaching for her hand; then looked at John. "I think what John's trying to say is that people look at him and you, and see the match, and their conventional minds approve. Subconsciously, of course. Then, they look at you and me," he smiled at her, his eyes filled with tenderness, "or rather, at me, and their conventional minds do not approve. Also, subconsciously, of course."

John shook his head, a smile on his face. "Sometimes, Victor, I really just want to deck you. But yes, thank you. That's about what I was trying to say. They don't understand your relationship, so they reject it, and they make you, Victor, the scapegoat. I asked you to keep your distance from Helena, because I sensed that it angered them, and felt it might cause them to harm you. You trusted me on that, which defused the situation somewhat. Then, you were useful to them because of the data they needed. Now that step is complete, and I'm afraid there are still those entertaining the thought of harming you, to give me, in their opinion, what I want."

"But we told them, John, we're not going on that ship, you and I."

"I don't think they've accepted it, Helena. I think there is a faction, a very strong faction within that group, that still wants to force their outcome. And I don't think Bannion has good control over it all. But he seems to be the kind of man who would like to appease his people, to keep them all happy, or in line, and he may just allow that faction free rein. I think Victor is in danger."

Helena looked up at Victor, who merely looked thoughtful, and with her hands around his neck, buried her face against his shoulder. He rubbed her back soothingly with one hand, holding up the other towards his friend in a gesture of resignation.

"I've said what I wanted to say. Just be careful, Victor. I don't know about you two, but I'm completely drained." He got up, headed for the door. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Bannion." Koenig acknowledged the man entering his office with a brief nod. "Sit. Please."

Terry Bannion perched on the edge of the chair, his hand hovering near his belt and stun gun. Koenig had suggested that Bannion's men stop carrying around their laser cannons so openly to give the appearance of normalcy. But more people on Berg had since started drawing conclusions, and there was a palpable tension in the air.

"You wanted to see me, Commander."

Koenig shut his door with his commlock, momentarily startling the man, who drew his stun gun.

"That is more for your protection, Bannion," Koenig started, gesturing to the door. "We have found where the hostages are kept. We have found over two dozen of your hidden remote controlled and conventional missile sites."

"You lie!" The man jumped up, aiming the stun gun at Koenig.

"The hostages are kept in a hastily constructed bunker buried in a hillside 30 km northwest from Kukua. Here are the coordinates." John held out a piece of paper, which Bannion snatched, barely glancing at it. "And here are the coordinates for the missile sites we've found. The weapons have been disabled." The Commander held out another slip of paper.

Bannion sunk into the chair. "What are you going to do now?"


The man stared at Koenig uncomprehendingly. "Nothing?"

"I called you here, Bannion, alone, so you can save face with your people. We will continue getting your ship ready; complete the stocking of supplies, and teaching your appointed crew members how to run that ship. We have scheduled the tentative launch for a week from today; if you are satisfied that everything has been done to your specifications. Meanwhile, you will go ahead and release those hostages. Unharmed, and with no strings attached."

Bannion gave a few short, insincere laughs. "I'm not a fool, Commander. The moment we let those hostages go, you'll go for us, punish us, kill us. No, no, no," he shook his head. "You may have found them, but if you try to get them, they will die. All of them. And we have more weapons. You have not found them all." He waved the little slip of paper triumphantly. "We have many more. You're in no position to make demands."

Koenig studied the man opposite him. "I'm not making a demand, Bannion. I'm giving you and order. You will release those hostages unharmed. You still have my word that no harm will come to any of you. We'll get you on that ship, you and all your people, and on your way, and you'll go with our blessing. You don't need those hostages anymore, and your people need to get ready. You can't waste their time with guarding people that mean you no harm."

Bannion looked around wildly, as if looking for support somewhere. He shook his head vehemently. "You think I'm a fool. You think we're all fools!" He aimed the stun gun erratically, his hand jerking: the table, a chair, the door, the monitor.

John Koenig folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. "I don't think you're a fool, Bannion. I think you're a man to be pitied. You and your people think you know what you want, but it's all just… some sad, distorted fantasy. Yet, you've chosen that for your destiny, and I will respect that."

"I'll kill you!"

"You'll lose the support of half of your people," Koenig stated. "Then your war will not be with us, but with them."

"We'll kill the Professor!"

John Koenig stood up slowly, coming around the desk with measured steps, completely ignoring the shaking hand aiming the stun gun at him. He bent down, wrenched the man out of his seat by his collar and got right his face, pushing the weapon aside.

"Victor is my friend. If any of your people harm him in any way, I will personally tear you apart, Bannion, limb by limb, before loading your sorry remains on that ship with your minions." He threw the man back into the chair. Bannion slumped, his head hanging.

"You see, Bannion, you and your people built your entire plot upon two completely false premises: One – that we would never allow a group who wanted to return to earth to use that ship, and, two – that the sick fantasy harbored by some of your group that I wanted Helena Russell at all costs, is true." Koenig turned his back on the man, returning to his chair. "If your foundations are weak, your whole structure is compromised. That's why your plan fell apart. Now, go coordinate with Paul Morrow. He'll give you an eagle to go pick up those hostages. Some of our security and medical staff will go with you, but they are only going to help the hostages… our people. Not one hair on your heads will be harmed."

Terry Bannion flung his belt and stun gun onto a chair, pacing the room frantically.

"What did he want?" Pete Johnson asked.

"They found the hostages."

"What? Did they attack?" Pete Johnson was incredulous.

"No. They also found some of the weapons." Bannion flung the notes at Johnson. "Where's Irving? He was supposed to coordinate daily checks of those weapons. Koenig says they disarmed some."

"Probably with Mandy. Those two have really been getting it on!" Johnson chuckled.

"He needs to do his damn job. Get him in here!"

"Shouldn't we be sending reinforcements to the hostage site?"

Bannion sighed. "No, Koenig says they're not going to attack."

Johnson studied his leader thoughtfully. "Of course they're going to attack. And we've mostly got women there, guarding them."

"Everything Koenig has said, happened exactly like he said it would," Terry replied with a sigh. "They gave us the ship, they've plotted our course, they're stocking it, they're training some crew, and not one of us has been harmed."

Pete Johnson scratched his head. "Well, Terry, I still think they are planning something. And just think! If they free those hostages, we have nothing! They'll come straight for us, man. We need to get men there right now, and we need to defend that place. Those hostages are our tickets."

"Koenig wanted me to give the word to release them. I told him I needed to talk to you guys. So, he's waiting for me to get back to him."

Johnson shook his head. "We cannot release those hostages. We need to throw out a body and tell them to withdraw, or else we kill some more."

"I really don't know what to do, Pete. Koenig likes to mess with my head. Can't we just get some of the others here and have a talk. I'm telling you, they won't attack to free those hostages. I don't know what they're going to do, but they won't attack."

"OK, well, call Irving, and Jerry, Ann, Fred and Joan, but for goodness sake not Mandy. I'm so tired of her whining. Get a few guys to keep watch nearby, but tell them to stay hidden."

Bannion hurried outside, and Pete Johnson hung his head in his hands, reflecting on the fact that his greatest mistake had been to allow Terry Bannion to assume leadership for this undertaking. Bannion could get people motivated, but if things didn't go his way, he had a hard time keeping himself, and therefore everyone else, motivated. "I should have just done it myself," he mumbled to himself as he heard a moon buggy pull up; other hurried footsteps.

They merely nodded at one another and took seats.

"Mark will round up a few guys to keep watch," Fred Dobson said. But everyone at the meeting had a laser cannon and stun gun, within easy reach.

"So," Pete Johnson started. "Terry tells me Koenig informed him that they found where the hostages are being kept. I checked the coordinates. They're correct."

"I told you we had to watch them more carefully!" Irving started, but Johnson was in the man's face in two steps.

"You had the simple job of coordinating the men who checked the weapons' sites daily, but Koenig's men found more than half of them and disabled them. Why have we not been told?"

"I did check them," Irving whined.

"No. You have been checking out Mandy."

Irving looked as if he was about to cry, when Ann Coulther spoke up: "That girl is bad news. I told you that from the start. She doesn't even understand what we're trying to do."

"She does too," Pete Irving countered. "She tells me all the time. I'm so tired of hearing it, but she does know."

"So, what does she tell you, Pete?" Ann Coulther said sarcastically.

"You guys know!" he replied, his voice still whiny. "How we were split up when we left Alpha, because Morrow wanted to take over command. How they separated the Commander from Doctor Russell. How they wanted to isolate him to make him look bad."

Ann laughed. "And what else, Pete? What does little Mandy whisper in your ear when you… you know…"

"Terry! Tell her to stop! She's making fun of me. You all know what happened."

"Actually, we don't, Pete," Ann continued.

"Well, that stupid old man was helping Morrow, by brainwashing Doctor Russell, to turn her against the Commander."

"Stories, Pete, childish stories from a girl obsessed with Koenig. Do you imagine you're Koenig, and does she think she's Doctor Russell when you two are together?" Ann spat.

Irving turned on her. "You're just a jealous…"

"Stop it!" Pete Johnson commanded. "We get the point, Ann. Now, you all need to listen. That is one part of our plan that we all have to drop. That part is not working out, but yes, I'm inclined to think it's just a delusional fantasy too. But our most important goal is that ship!"

"A ship that will take us home," Ann Coulther agreed. "That is our first mission. To return to our people, and our planet, take them our knowledge, and rebuild. We will save our people on earth!"

"And now we have a few problems, but the ship is almost ready," Johnson continued. "Tell them, Terry."

"Koenig said the ship will be ready in a week." They all looked at each other, a few smiles beginning to form.

Dobson suddenly exclaimed: "We should be helping those guarding the hostages!"

"Koenig said they won't attack," Bannion said, hanging his head.

"And you believe him?" Jerry Travis said, incredulous.

"Yes," Bannion said softly.

"I believe him too," Ann Coulther said. "I've told you. They are cooperating because they want to get rid of us. And that's perfect! That gives us the upper hand, and that ship!"

"He wants us to release the hostages."

"So, release them," she said. "Saves us a lot of trouble."

"No, I don't agree," Travis said. "They may have cooperated so far, but once we let those hostages go, they'll just round us up. We'll never see that ship!"

"And what do you think they'll do with us?" Ann Coulther asked. "There's no prison here, no judge, no jury..."

Their faces were filled with uncertainty. Then, Pete Johnson said. Let's vote: release, or keep?"

"Release," Bannion said, relieved that the rest of what had happened at that meeting had not needed to become known.

"Release." Ann Coulther said.

"Keep," Irving grunted.

"Me too, keep," from Travis.

Frank Dobson voted for release, but his girlfriend Joan shook her head. "Keep."

Bannion looked at Pete Johnson. "So, it's up to you, Pete."

Johnson looked at Ann, then at Bannion thoughtfully. "Release," he finally said. "Let our people know; and tell Koenig. We'll see how good his high and mighty word is. If his people do turn on us now, we may have just won our case."

John Koenig was stretched on his bed in his quarters, hovering between sleep and wakefulness. The last few days had wrung everything from him. He was emotionally drained, but as he drifted in that zone between consciousness and sleep, he reflected with satisfaction that ten people from Berg had been reunited with family and friends, and that during this nightmare of the past few weeks, not one of his people had been hurt or killed. He had sent Victor to Erath with two other men, ostensibly to check the weapons cache and the tunnel site, but it had been for his own peace of mind.

He became aware of a shift in the space that was his home, of reflecting light, gently spinning. He sat up slowly, mesmerized by the tiny twinkling fragments of light around him, the room seemingly spinning slightly, and reached out to touch one of the fragments.

"In your world, John Koenig, you are asleep. It is safe for you, in that state, to join me."

Koenig looked around, and saw himself sleeping peacefully on his bed. But as he looked up, he also saw himself surrounded by soft golden light, in a room, an immense room, made of light.

"Who are you?" he asked. Moving forward required no effort, and he found himself being drawn into that light.

"Have you forgotten me so soon, John Koenig? I have not forgotten you."

He turned in circles, the light engulfing him in pleasant sensations of peace and tranquility.

"My father has since moved on to another plane of existence, John Koenig, but I have held you in my mind. I have visited you often, in my mind."

"Am I dreaming?"

"In your world, you are dreaming, but in my world, you are present."

"I want to see you."

"And you will, John Koenig. We learned much from you, when you last visited us, and I have kept studying your mind, so that I can understand. I can understand why you made the choice you made about your earth ship. You made the correct decision, John Koenig. My father had not understood completely, because his experiments were not real situations. But you had known your people, even though you could not read their minds."


"You do remember, John Koenig!"

"Yes, yes I do. Where are you, Vana?"

"Come to me in your mind, John Koenig, and you will see me."

John Koenig closed his eyes, thinking back to his time on Zenno. He remembered the lights… the city of light, Raan's experiments that had left him exhausted and confused, and the radiant young woman in a shimmering golden haze…

"Your mind is very tired, John Koenig. Your human body has reached its limit. I can see that you are trying, but you need to rest. My task was to assure you that your people are safe, because you made the correct decisions. Your fears no longer govern your mind or your heart. Your people have learned well."

"Don't leave me, Vana. Please? I want to see you!" John reached out into the light, his fingers trying to grasp the tiny shimmering fragments.

"I will never leave you, John Koenig. But I am still learning to cross the bridge between our worlds. You have given me the key, now I am making the journey. I will be with you, soon."

John sat up in bed and looked around wildly. Everything was as it should be: quiet, dark. His lunar alarm clock told him he had been asleep for about four hours. He breathed out slowly, overwhelmed by the dream. Or had it been a dream?

Events of the last week started returning to his consciousness, reminding him of the task that lay ahead of him in a few hours. In a few hours the group taking the ship would board and start their long, uncertain journey back to earth. He shook his head sadly, wondering if that ship would ever reach earth. And if it did, would those on earth at the time make the same horrific discoveries on that ship as they had? Would this group of sad, confused, angry people face lonely deaths in the vastness of space?

He got up, realizing that he would not sleep again. He would get ready and go to Uzazi, where no doubt some of his other friends were also awake; the fate of the misguided group of rebels weighing heavily on their minds. None of them had ever taken the events surrounding the taking of the Superswift lightly, realizing that the group who thought they knew their destiny, had no idea what they were heading into. But they had not intervened. Not one of the group had been harmed, the ship was stocked, the computers programmed and those making the journey had been trained to the best of their ability.

For a moment John realized that this must have been what the remnant on earth had been going through as they prepared to send the survival ship into space. The cargo was different, the motivation more noble, but the concern and feelings must have been the same. He wished that he could somehow have let them know that three of the children had survived. Three precious young children, now recovered enough to sit up, take simple food and attempt smiles at those caring for them diligently. Once Berg was at peace again, they could all focus on those children.

He suddenly remembered his dream… the lights… Vana. Did she really talk to him? It had seemed so real, and he felt comforted, vindicated. But then he remembered his duty, remembered that the eagle from Erath would be returning too, and started getting ready to go to his people in Uzazi.