Chapter 1: Rumors of War

"What are you thinking about, John?"

The two men were stretched out on a blanket at the edge of the lake on Berg, watching as a group of Alphans were just enjoying a beautiful day, relaxing and playing. On the little pier, Bob Mathias and Helena Russell were sitting with the three remnant children, playing with makeshift fishing rods and nets. The children were still gaunt and mostly silent, but had taken to the two doctors, and enjoyed spending short periods outside with them.

"I just can't get that ship out of my mind, Victor. Those people had been part of us once. I keep thinking that I should have stopped them…"

"They made their own choices, John. The strength of your command ensured the cooperation of the rest of our people. They saw that, but they did not understand. Until the very end they expected us to react in the old, violent ways. One girl turned away from that ship right at the very end, but the others… chose to remain imprisoned by their distrust."

John sighed. "Yes. I often wonder how they got to that final, desperate condition. Had the seed always been in that particular group of people, or had we unwittingly made them so by our actions?"

"We'll never really know, John. I'm inclined to believe we are more a product of our environment than our genetics, and the foundations of their psyche could have been laid long ago. And over many years they chose situations to expose themselves to, to validate their beliefs." He pointed to the group on the pier. "Now look at those three precious children: the foundation of their experience had been laid on earth, during a time of destruction and struggle; and then on that ship in dire circumstances. They are not blank slates, but their minds are young, elastic, still unbound. The environment we provide for them can yet alter their futures completely."

"What a beautiful day," Angela Robinson smiled as she flopped down on the moss-like ground cover so prevalent on Berg. David Kano lowered himself next to her, and for a few minutes they all studied the activity on the pier.

"We're going to have to find homes for them," John Koenig reflected. "They've been having caretakers staying in the medical center with them, but that is no permanent home for them."

"Perhaps we should allow families to take them in," Angela suggested. "Like foster families."

"Helena, Bob and I have been discussing it," John replied. "But we are… hesitant… to fall back to the archaic procedures that once served us on earth."

"Those procedures were necessary, Commander," Kano commented. "To uphold law and order, to protect people…"

"Were they really, David?" Victor said pensively.

"Yes! We've all been through what just happened about that ship! Now, we did go through things in a somewhat different way, but it's because we had not been prepared. We did have an authority though… the Commander here."

"David," Koenig said. "I understand what you're trying to say. But imagine for a moment we had been prepared: with an army, weapons. What would have happened if that ship had been on an earth the way we had known it, and a group like Bannion's had been trying to take it, taking hostages?"

It was Angela who answered softly after a moment: "There would have been bloodshed. Violence. Death on both sides. The hostages may have been killed, or the rebels, or some of us."

"So take that one step further," John continued. "Let's say we had won. Some hostages had been released. Some of us survived. Some of the dissidents arrested. What would we have had for our trouble?"

David and Angela looked at each other, unsure of the answer.

"A ship. An intact, inanimate manmade object. That's all."

"So are you suggesting, Commander, that we should have no laws?" Kano scratched his head. "Do you really think a society can operate with no written laws, and law enforcement?"

"David, take a very primitive society, in our eyes of course, like perhaps the San or the Korawi people of earth. I prefer the term isolated society, those who have not had contact with western civilization," Victor explained. "Did they have written laws and regulations like we did? The manmade trappings like money, consumerism, and politics?"

"No, Professor, but they had their own primitive codes. Some of those, very violent, as a matter of fact."

"But to outsiders, David." John joined in. "If a group of hostile alien beings were to land here in the next few minutes, we would protect ourselves."

"How is it different that protecting ourselves against Bannion and his people?"

"They had been part of us. They had known our laws, and chose to go against them, using violence. If we had used violence against them, like in the past, it would have simply perpetuated the cycle," John said. "Forever."

"You've certainly come up with some things lately, Commander, that has stretched our thinking," David said, reaching for Angela's hand. Then he laughed. "It really makes me tired."

"The children are adorable, Commander," Angela changed the subject. "Especially the little girls. David and I could take one… little Sheena Harris. She's really crept into our hearts."

"Sounds great, David, Angela. The two of you will be wonderful parents. I'll talk to Helena."

As the couple headed towards the pier, Victor turned to his friend. "Sounds like you've been thinking along the same lines I have, John."

"I don't know, Victor. When I wake up, it's like those thoughts are just there. Like, I'm being guided by some unknown force."

Victor laughed. "Perhaps you are, John. Stay tuned then. We're going to need that guidance."

John clapped his friend on the shoulder. "C'mon, let's go see if they caught anything."

"Commander, our scanners are picking up something!"

"Be right there, Paul."

As Koenig left his office to join the others in the command center, Paul had already increased magnification, and John stopped dead in his tracks.

"The ship from Atheria!"

They all stared at the behemoth, its oversized, bulb shaped nose gliding into view on their big screen.

"Commander," Alan Carter exclaimed. That's Arra's ship!"

"But what's it doing here?" Koenig asked, perplexed. "Our last record of it was in the spaceship graveyard where we encountered Cellini's monster!"

"Commander, we're picking up a signal!"

"Let's hear it."

"John Koenig, we meet again. This time I owe you a great debt of gratitude."


"Yes, John Koenig. The first time we met, you helped my people and I fulfill our destiny, and thereby, yours. I see you have completed the first part of your journey."

The Alphans in the command center looked at each other with bafflement on their faces.

"We met a second time, John Koenig, but you were not aware of it. Some of our people had been caught in the web of that space entity while on another mission, and by visiting that cluster of spaceships and disabling the entity, you allowed my people who had been trapped, to break free and continue. Therefore, we are grateful to you not once, but twice."

"What do you mean, Arra, completed the first part of our journey?"

"You found the solar system you were meant to find."

Alan shook his head. "That's crazy! How could she know?"

"If you search for your destiny diligently enough, Alan Carter, it will eventually embrace you."

"So you're telling us that it was pre-ordained that we find Alpha Nova? And settle on Berg?" Koenig asked, looking at his people.

"Nothing is pre-ordained when people have a choice, John Koenig. The first time I appealed to you for help, you chose to help us. You could have chosen otherwise, and the shape of eternity would have been different."

"Do you need our help again, Arra?"

"No, John Koenig. We are, like I said, here to express our gratitude before we return to Atheria. I have something to offer you and your people."

"Thank you, Arra. You are most welcome to land."

"I would prefer it, John Koenig, if you sent a small party to my ship. You know from experience we can accommodate your craft comfortably. It is not as easy for me to leave my restful surroundings.

"Who would you like me to bring, Arra?"

"I would like to see that brave young man who helped us, John Koenig." Alan Carter looked up with surprise. "And… perhaps… your Professor. A most interesting man. And of course, you, John Koenig. My last meeting with you was most delightful."

"Of course, Arra. It will be our pleasure." He turned to Alan. "Alan, let's go get an eagle ready for launch. Paul, get hold of Professor Bergman and tell him to meet us at the eagle hangar. You take over here, Paul."

"Right, Commander. Do you need an escort eagle, just in case?"

"No Paul. We'll be fine. We may lose contact for a while, but we'll be back."

"Let's go Alan!" John gestured to the young pilot. Together they walked to the eagle hangar some distance from Uzazi, one of the two settlements on their planet, Berg. A few months ago the hapless group of people who had been on Moonbase Alpha when the moon had been hurled out of orbit from earth by a nuclear explosion, had finally found a small but pleasant solar system with two habitable planets. After originally colonizing both planets, they had had to all resettle on the smallest of the two, named Berg by the original colony, and by now two small but growing communities had been formed: the first, Uzazi, meaning "birth", the second, Kukua, meaning "growth". The eagle hangar had initially been a simple structure for keeping their transports in a central location, but had since developed into a fully fledged area for space aviation. They had re-installed the track systems to ferry eagles from bay to bay, and a team of technical specialists kept the fleet of eagles running smoothly.

"There's the Professor!" Alan called, as they saw Victor Bergman, chief scientist for the communities; also make his way to the hangar.

"Victor!" John called, and his friend turned.

"John! What's this all about?"

"Do you remember our encounter with the people of Atheria?"

Victor chuckled. "How could I not! It was the one time, John, that we all thought you had really lost your mind. Yet our moon and Atheria touched, just like you had said it would, but we never collided."

Alan laughed. "I dare say, Professor, it was one time we had a pretty good scuffle. You had me there in a lock for a minute!"

Victor clapped the young man on the shoulder. "So, I take it we're heading somewhere?"

"When we caught up with the spaceship graveyard that contained our Ultra probe, I remember seeing the Atherian ship among all the others," John continued. "We followed Cellini and came face to face with his monster at last, and somehow, disabled it. It allowed the Atherian ship to break free, and they are now here, Victor! Arra is here, and wants to see us."

"Arra. Ah, yes, the woman of infinite wisdom who went on to shape eternity."

They arrived at the launch pad, where an eagle had been delivered, and climbed on board. Alan went through to the cockpit to run the necessary pre-flight checks, and Victor took his regular spot at the computer console. John sank into one of the passenger seats.

"I don't understand it, Victor. I've been having this feeling like I'm being guided, somehow… and now here she is. Arra."

"What does she want, John?"

"She says she has something to offer our people. As a token of gratitude for helping them not once, but twice."

Victor whistled his amazement. "That sounds amazing, John."

"And she asked for you, me and Alan."

"The motley crew!" Victor grinned.

"Well Professor," Alan appeared in the door of the cockpit. "She's ready for you."

John looked from his chief pilot to his friend. "Wait a minute! What's this? You're to fly us, Alan."

"I know Commander. But I've been helping the Professor brush up some of his skills. This is just the right kind of low risk flight for some flight time. I'll take over when we get to the Atherian ship." He watched his Commander study Victor Bergman thoughtfully. "Commander, I'm sure we'll be perfectly safe," he grinned.

John shook his head with a smile. "Well, OK then. Calgon, take us away!"

"Welcome, Commander Koenig, you and your people."

John Koenig had been in the Atherian ship before, but Victor Bergman and Alan Carter turned in circles taking in the enormous black and white hall and finally Arra's five-fingered throne. Koenig walked over to the Queen of Atheria: "It's good to see you again, Arra."

"And you, John Koenig."

Victor and Alan finally joined their Commander, bowing their heads respectfully towards Arra.

"The gallant young man who helped his Commander and our people last time we met." Arra smiled. "Alan Carter. You are a man of great courage."

"Thank you," Alan said, fidgeting a little uncomfortably.

"Professor. Finally we meet in person."

"I'm honored, dear Arra."

"Let's dispense with any other talk, because what I have to give you and your people is of the utmost urgency, Commander. I sent for the three of you, because you will be playing pivotal parts in events soon to unfold."

The three Alphans looked at each other; then stepped closer to the throne.

"The gift I have to offer, John Koenig, is some foreknowledge for you and your people, if you choose to receive it. It is not a prediction of the future, since we cannot know before the time the choices the assorted players will be making. But since you helped us, we on Atheria feel that it is time we helped you."

John looked at Victor and Alan, who both nodded briefly.

"I need to first give you a little intergalactic history that will help you understand. There is a loose conglomeration of minds in the galaxies, who from time to time exchange ideas and thoughts. Although from time to time certain individual inhabitants of planet earth had been contacted, humankind on earth as a whole had never been included because of the primitiveness of the human mind. But earth had been observed over many thousands of years by these intergalactic minds, and therefore the breakaway of your earth moon did not escape notice. A group of these observers became very interested in your small group on Alpha, because not only had the event been prophesied, but it had been foretold that you, as you know, would play an immense part in the future of Atheria."

The three men were mesmerized.

"During your unexpected journey through space, you encountered many forms of life, peoples and situations that had never been seen by any human from earth, and therefore you did not have the knowledge or experience to deal with much of it. In your attempts at resolving what sometimes threatened your survival, you at times caused sorrow and disaster to those you had encountered."

"It was never our intention, Arra." John Koenig said softly.

"Your mind has made that clear to me, John Koenig, and I understand. You were also willing to accept some guidance from time to time. But, not all in the conglomerate of minds are united on this. Revenge is a concept not unique to earth."

"Yes, we learned that through our mistake with the Queller drive," Victor said.

"You must understand, Professor, that not all peoples in the universe are peace-loving and progressive. It may seem as if my commentary is particularly cruel to the human species of earth, but I can assure you that there are other intergalactic species that delight in war and destruction too. Most of them prefer not to join our intergalactic conglomeration, but we monitor them as well."

"A Space United Nations!" Alan Carter said.

"Very similar to your earth organization, Alan Carter, but we do not make rules or require contributions. We simply observe and meet in our minds to exchange ideas. It has been reported that several of these groups have recently developed an interest in your new planet."

"We searched long and hard, Arra, to find this new home. It's not ideal, but we are doing all we can to build a future," John Koenig offered. "As far as we know, it is a fairly young solar system; we did not displace any other peoples."

"You are correct. But while your moon was on an erratic path through space, it was difficult for them to pin you down. Now, you are static, easily found, and I'm afraid John Koenig, these people are looking for you, because they desire revenge."

"Arra! We desire no war with anyone. We are attempting a better new way."

"Your mind has been of particular interest to us lately, John Koenig. We observed what you did regarding those earth men and the ship you found, and it caused great joy among us that you were strong enough to break away from established human thought patterns. Those left on earth are still caught in the old patterns."

"So there are still people on earth!" Victor exclaimed.

"Yes, Professor. But the thought patterns we are monitoring from there are primeval, focused on survival and eventual domination. Let's get back to your situation, though. The foreknowledge I want to gift you with is not pleasant, but us Atherians have, as you would say in your world, developed a 'soft spot' for you and your people, John Koenig. Our gift is a warning, so you can prepare."

"Thank you, Arra. We will certainly take it to heart carefully."

"Some of the people you encountered on your uncontrolled journey through space are angry at what you and your people did to them, John Koenig, and are calling for revenge. They plan to go to war and eradicate what they feel is an unwanted presence in the universe. You and your people need to prepare."

"Can't we meet with them, Arra, and try to explain? Our communities are very young and very vulnerable. We do not desire war, and would rather make restitution if such were possible."

Arra hung her head sadly. "Would that they were willing to see things this way, John Koenig. We of the intergalactic council are most encouraged by your evolving thought patterns, and hope to welcome you into our number in the future. But those people are not reasonable. They want to punish."

"Arra, you know we stand no chance! We are but a few. Our technology cannot hope to compete in galactic warfare. Is there anything you can do, anyone who can help us?"

"Like your country on earth, Switzerland, we remain neutral, John Koenig. It is my personal choice to have warned you, as I have a certain affection for you and your people. I apologize that my gift to you is such a dire one, but I know that you will make good use of the information. Your young man, Alan Carter: you will need his courage and determination; you will need the wisdom and creativity of thought of Victor Bergman; and most of all John Koenig, your people will need your strength of command."

"But what's going to happen?" Alan pleaded. "Will we win the war? Will we even stand a chance?"

"Alan Carter, like I said at the beginning, this is merely foreknowledge, not a laying out of the future. I chose to come so you will have time to prepare. Their plans are still in the early stages. Intergalactic war is not easy. We do not know the decisions they will make in future. And if there is a war, we do not know the outcome. We cannot tell the future, we can merely observe current thought patterns, and advise based on that. But now, I am tired, John Koenig. These events cause me great sadness, so I will rest."

"We are very grateful to you and your people, Arra. We will consider all your words carefully. Please convey our fondness for the people of Atheria to them too."

The three Alphans bowed their heads respectfully as the regal presence faded from their sight. Then they turned to each other, their expressions mirroring mutual concern about all they have heard. "We better get back," Koenig said. "We need an urgent command conference." The other two nodded and the three men made their way back to the eagle in stunned silence.

"It never ends," Paul Morrow sighed. "Can't we just catch a small break?"

Commander Koenig studied his leadership group with a heavy heart. He was sure Paul's words echoed just about everyone's thoughts. "I know, Paul. But I count it fortunate that we now have this knowledge. Unprepared, our communities could have been wiped out in the blink of an eye, but now we can prepare."

"Who are these people wanting revenge?" Helena asked. "Could we not meet with them and negotiate some compromise? We're only just finding our feet here."

"Arra did not think that it was possible at this time," John replied. "But it is not set in stone. The outcome has not yet been determined. It is an option we need to prepare for. As to who they are, we were given no guidance, but we'll find out in due time, no doubt."

"I've been going through our data, John, compiling a list of those we had harmed on our journey, so we might know what we are up against."

"Let's hear it, Victor."

"In our ignorance, we destroyed one of the Kaldorian people when we came across their ship."

"Their planet was facing extinction though. They were headed for earth, the only surviving group. I think we can safely disregard them."

"We destroyed the guardian of Piri to free our people."

"Which brought a dead planet back to life."

"The Sidons were already out for revenge because of our Voyager. Queller destroyed their party, and thereby foiled their plan."

"That's certainly an option. Paul, pull the data we have from that encounter, so we can study all we know about their ships."

"Yes, Commander."

"During our encounter with Betha and Delta, we destroyed the Bethan gunship and killed one of their leaders, Dione."

John Koenig rubbed his chin. "That's certainly a good possibility. Both the Bethans and Deltans meet the criteria Arra suggested. They thrived on war."

"I'll pull the data on that encounter as well, Commander," Kano offered.

"We destroyed, or presumed we did, the space brain trying to annihilate us by bombarding us with antibodies," Victor continued the list. "From the information you gave us at the time, John, by destroying that brain, many galaxies could have been affected."

"Yes," John sighed. "That's one of our encounters I'm not at all happy about, but we did what had to, to survive. If any of those galaxies had survivors, we simply don't have information on them, but yes, we can't discard that possibility."

"The last encounter I included was the Darians. We opened up their ship and put them in touch with the others in the damaged sections of their ship, but were indirectly responsible for destroying their gene bank in the process. We helped them with some knowledge and supplies, but when we left there, I was never sure Kara accepted our efforts as help."

"But do you think that they could have recovered sufficiently by now to be ready for war? Their circumstances were pretty desperate at the time."

"I don't think so, John."

"So Paul, let's disregard the Darians. Let's focus on those most likely to have it in for us. Summarize?"

"The Sidons, Commander; the Bethans and Deltans and the space brain."

"Thank you, Paul. Let's focus on getting all the data we have from those events to help us prepare. Now, our next and most important focus is to prepare our planet and our communities for an attack. Defenses first, then counterattack."

"On Alpha we had the underground bunkers, Commander," Paul reminded them. "Bulkheads and anti-gravity screens that could be modified into other force fields as needed. Our base was a tightly enclosed structure. The communities here are wide open."

"We had our eagles for reconnaissance and defense," Alan added. "We still have most of them intact."

"And," Kano interjected. "We still have a large amount of weapons we removed from the Superswift. We have not really investigated their capabilities yet."

John looked from one to the other, nodded. "So, our first priority is to safeguard our communities." He turned to Victor Bergman. "Can we set up equipment to provide the same type of protective fields to our communities here?"

"Certainly, John. We have most of the equipment, and our manufacturing unit can provide us with new material now."

"Set it up, Victor. What about bunkers?"

"I'm not sure the vast water tables would make digging bunkers feasible, but it'll have to be studied."

"Get on it right away, Victor. We needed the answers yesterday."

"Yes, John."

"Alan? Our eagles?"

"Easy to equip with weapons systems Commander. And once we've studied the Superswift arms, we can incorporate those. We could also set up missile defense on the surface."

"Get with armory, Alan. Coordinate with David, Paul and Victor and let computer help determine the best way for such a system. Helena, what about medical center? Are we prepared for a large number of possible casualties?"

"If we enlarge the unit in Kukua, we can be, John."

"Get to that right away. Anything else?"

"We would need to safeguard our fledgling new food chain, John. If there is a war, and we survive it, that food chain is essential."

"OK, Victor. Get with hydroponics and our breeding unit." He nodded to his team. "The news is certainly depressing, but we have it covered. We don't know how much time we've got. Let's get to work. I'll convene a meeting for all our people in both communities later today. Victor, you can brief those here in Uzazi, I'll brief those in Kukua. We need to assign as much manpower as we can to these preparations. Everything else can go the back burner. I have faith in all of you. I have faith in all our people. And most of all I have faith that Arra informed us not because she wanted to alarm us, but because she knows that we do have a chance."

(To be continued…)