Chapter 11: The Party
John Koenig strode over to the side of the pool, where a bunch of small bodies were churning the water like a tsunami gone wild. But he didn't mind the water splashing him as he squatted down by the side of the pool, and smiled at Victor Bergman who was trying to cover his face from the raging water.
"Some swimming lesson you have going here, Victor!"
His friend laughed as the children splashed some more, jumping and squealing around him. "I think I lost the lesson part a while ago, John! Now we're just playing kill-the-water-monster I think."
"Commander," Paul greeted. He was in the water too, with Sandra, who was playing in the water with Paulandra. Sandra waved, smiling radiantly. John Koenig waved at the two of them.
"I have news, Victor," John continued. The scientist turned to Paul.
"You'll watch them for a while, Paul?"
John tossed a towel at his bedraggled friend as he climbed out of the pool in the recreation center in Uzazi, and they moved away from the side of the pool while Victor dried his face.
"What is it, John? Problems?"
"No, no, on the contrary. I've just come from medical and the two patient volunteers who received your experimental treatment."
"Helena and Bob assure me their latest blood tests show them to be virus free!"
Victor's face lit up. "Ah, that's wonderful news, John. Any side effects?"
"None except the temporary loss of smell they reported right at the outset of treatment. And that, they assure me, has fixed itself."
"Wonderful!" Victor clenched his fists in a salute of triumph. "Looks like we've done it, John!"
"Looks like you've done it again, Victor."
"Ah, no, no, John. It was a whole team. Everyone gave their all."
"When can I have some of it?" John asked with a smile.
Victor scratched his chin. "As far as I'm concerned things look good John, thanks to the two folks who volunteered to be the guinea pigs. But I'll defer to medical. Once Helena is satisfied that there are no side effects, I'm sure she'll get everyone treated as soon as possible."
"I know. Patience is a virtue, right. I'd just like to get all this behind us, so we can focus on everything that needs attention."
"True. I think we'll all be glad to put this chapter behind us. It has been emotionally and physically draining on everyone. That's why this break is perfect John, thanks! We all needed it: short shifts with long breaks."
"And as soon as all the treatments are over, we'll have the party: the biggest one Berg has ever seen!" The two men laughed. Things were looking better for their communities.
"Well, I better get back to that swimming lesson," Victor said. "I'll be over to medical in a while, soon as the kids are dried off and dressed. They don't swim well enough yet to be left."
"Great. I'm glad you're teaching them to swim, Victor. Anything that leads them into a normal life is wonderful."
Victor smiled. "They have a village and more… I don't think there is anyone on this planet who doesn't love them as if their own."
John nodded. "I think you're right. They'll have a place of honor at our party!" Then he just shook his head and laughed as the normally stoic scientist jogged to the side of the pool and threw himself into the water beside the kids like a sack of stones. This was what they all needed now: their health back, some relaxation and light-hearted fun. With a smile on his face he turned to head to the medical center.
"How do you feel?" Helena Russell asked as Commander John Koenig got up from his bed in medical and stretched.
"Perfect!" he smiled. "Like a new man."
"We'll get the last patients on treatment within the next few days, John, but so far everyone reports that they feel great and have no side effects."
"That's wonderful news, Helena." He hugged her. "You guys have done an awesome job. Now if only we can find those missing three containers."
"She probably stashed them somewhere to retrieve later. We might never find them."
"And if they are found months or years later by some kids playing around, at least we have a cure," John sighed.
"Want to see some more good news?" she asked, taking his hand and leading him to another section of medical.
"Of course. Can never get enough good news."
She pushed into the neonatal unit and John Koenig stopped dead in his tracks. Victor Bergman was sitting on the bed beside the incubator with Thor nestled snuggly in his arms and a big smile on his face. Koenig was over by the bed in a few huge, excited strides.
"He's out! Wonderful." His face lit up too as he gave Helena another big hug before bending down to gently stroke the boy's head. "Hello Thor! This is your uncle John."
The baby gurgled and waved his arms, his eyes darting from face to face, and then his faced scrunched up.
"Uh oh," John smiled as the crying began. Victor looked startled, but Helena was over in a flash, taking the little body from him.
"He's just hungry."
"However do you know that?" the scientist muttered, getting up.
"I'm his mother," Helena teased. "Go on, you two. I'm sure you have boy things to discuss."
Victor bent down to kiss her cheek, running his fingers through her hair, and then touching his son gently. Then he followed John Koenig out the door and the two men headed outside.
"You know that I'm planning a really big party for when everyone has been treated and is well again, Victor?" John started as they made their way to the command center.
"Yeah. Helena mentioned it."
"I'm probably the last one you should ask," Victor chuckled. "But it's a great idea. All I can think is there should be music."
"I want the children and the babies to be the focus," John continued. "But at the same time I just want everyone to relax and have fun. It's been a grueling few weeks." He stopped and turned to his friend. "And I want to know what happened on those ships, and while you were injured."
"I'm not sure I know myself," Victor said, strolling with his hands behind his back.
"Walk with me," Koenig said, angling away from the command center and heading towards the lake. "And start by telling me about the Sidons."
Victor was deep in thought for a moment. "I docked with the Bethan ship, where Theia and her three assistants were waiting, but we had the Sidon chief on their communications."
"Yes. He seemed quite willing to listen to my ramblings, which were just more of what I said before setting out: the gist was that destroying us made them no better, would not bring their lost worlds back, and wouldn't give them many points in the eyes of the cosmic overseers or whatever they want to call themselves. I took a gamble on that one."
John smiled. "It was a good one though."
"Well, Karchan seemed interested in avoiding the whole confrontation, but I had a feeling the Bethans had more to do with that than my so-called negotiations."
"Don't underestimate yourself, Victor. I was just so angry at that time, and I appreciate that you went."
"I explained to them how our moon had come to drift aimlessly through space, how the first Sidons had found us and wanted revenge. That by sheer chance, Ernst Queller had been on Alpha and took control of the Voyager to destroy the Sidon ships and save Alpha. I explained how it might have been his way of atoning for the destruction Voyager Two had caused on earth, and apologized that it had been the Sidon ships threatening Alpha that paid the price. Then I explained how the Superswift had arrived here, the message from earth, the three surviving children and our quest to start anew and with a different way of doing things. It seemed to satisfy him."
"Well done, Victor."
"I really didn't have to do much to persuade him. He said he would take it to his council, and that they were returning home. But, all the time I was aware that Theia and the Bethans were a whole different story. I could see they were not going to back down."
"Yes, the girl who chose to stay with us has explained some of what went on to us. In her opinion, Theia was acting mostly on her own, having being given permission by the Bethan forces to join the Sidons in her quest for revenge. She is of the opinion that they gave Theia permission in the hope of getting rid of her, because she had become unbalanced."
"That's the impression I got. She was… irrational, indecisive, confused; and left us for long periods. The girls didn't really know what they were supposed to do except land on Berg."
"But you knew they were not going to let you go? Do you think the Sidons knew?"
"I don't think the Sidons and the Bethans really had any cohesion to begin with. I had the feeling they were only too glad to get away from there. And yes, by the time the Sidon ships left, I pretty much knew the Bethans were not letting me go. But I was not restrained on the ship in any way. They simply ignored me."
"So what happened on the Bethan ship?"
"One of the girls… Virea… kept glancing at me, as if she wanted to speak. Theia was not around much as they landed, but the other two girls seemed totally under her control. She seemed demented though, as if she couldn't make up her mind as to what they were supposed to do."
"Virea explained how she would give conflicting orders and change her mind every time they saw her. Virea is much younger than the other girls were, and not as much under Theia's spell. She did find you fascinating, because part of their indoctrination on Betha included horrific stories of the males of a species." John laughed. "I guess the cosmic forces ensured that the right male of our species went."
"I could see that Theia was failing," Victor continued. "She really looked very sick. But they were mapping our missile defenses, and I knew from experience that they could override the force fields. I determined that if I could get a message out, your best option would be to destroy the ship, but of course I realized it may not be as easy as that."
"We were playing for time," John added. "Especially when Theia came up with that crazy request for eight of our people: the women and the female babies. Virea has since confirmed that their planet is in trouble and all Bethans would soon be extinct."
Victor shook his head. "The same problems all over the universe: hatred, distrust, violence. Anyway I got the message out to David and knew he'd let you know. My hope was that you would be able to destroy their ship before they annihilated our communities or do whatever Theia made her mind up to do."
They had reached the side of the lake and John Koenig put his arm around the older man's shoulder. "We were going to destroy the ship, Victor. It would have been a terrible blow to us… to me… to lose a friend and colleague, but we did plan it in such a way to at least try to find you and get you out before the final blow."
Victor nodded. "I know, John, but even if not, it would have been a small sacrifice for the future." He looked up at his friend. "It's all academic now anyway. Theia came back, but before she could issue any orders, she simply collapsed. I offered to get her medical help, but then the explosions started and I knew you were attacking. Communications were knocked out before I could get word to you, but Virea put me in that escape pod. The rest you know…"
"I thought it was another attack… a bomb or something… I'm sorry, Victor."
"I don't blame you one bit, John. Nobody could have known, and on hindsight it was a very foolish move to launch from a ship under attack. Anyone would have concluded that it was another form of attack. Bringing the pod down was the correct decision."
John shook his head. "After getting it open and seeing you… it didn't seem that way."
"It's all irrelevant now, really. We're all OK." Victor smiled at his friend.
"And that's what I'm most curious about," John smiled back. "Exactly how you are OK."
Victor shrugged. "I really don't know. I remember some dreams of huge… rooms… if you want. Strange beings talking to me, instructing me… I'm not sure… but instructing me to think what I wanted to be real… creating wellness with my mind and physical wellness would follow…" He looked up at John. "I think you may know far more than I do about this."
"I was angry and devastated after it all, Victor. I went for a ride far away from the communities, ready to just throw in the towel, but I had a vision too, out there… a cosmic intelligence like we've met before, and asked… no, begged them to help. They told me: 'As you think it to be in your mind, it will be for you.' I understood it to mean that I needed to think you well, so… even though everyone else rejected my story, that's what I did… Not everyone though. While I was in medical, Kevin McMurry came and repeated those same words to me."
"Ooh, there is one smart boy, John. He's way beyond us, almost like some kind of ascended human."
"It seems that the cosmic intelligence I had encountered had visited him too."
"Perhaps it started in that ship, John, during their long and terrible journey. Perhaps he is why the ship was guided here. Perhaps he is meant to be here, to aid us in our journey towards a better way…" Victor's eyes lit up. "Isn't that exciting, John! What we perceive as coincidence may not be… it may all be part of our cosmic destiny…"
John smiled thoughtfully. "For once you don't sound very scientific, Victor."
Victor threw up his hands. "How can I? We're dealing with things we cannot explain with our minds. The only logical thing that remains is to accept them in our hearts."
The two friends looked at each other, both sets of eyes filled with incredulous wonder.
"You're right, Victor," John Koenig said. Then he started back towards the community of Uzazi. A few strides away, he turned. "Give that party of mine some thought, Victor," he called with a smile.
From the seat of his moon buggy, made up to look like an old fashioned baby pram, Commander John Koenig studied his large group of people with an enormous smile on his face. They were gathered about 1 km outside of Uzazi for the start of his big party, which had simply been themed "Baby Steps". The first leg of the party was in the shape of a fun run/walk/ride to the lakeside, where games, food, dancing, water activities and other day-long fun awaited them.
To his side was an ATV with Alan Carter at the helm. The ATV had been made up to look like the locomotive of an old steam train, and hitched to it were four moon buggies with canopies to look like old train carriages. In the first of these were the three remnant children, dressed in carefully made Alpha-lookalike uniforms and each wearing a little golden crown. The other carriages held the couples with babies: Paul, Sandra and Paulandra who was strong enough already to be balancing with her chubby baby legs on Paul's lap, her arms waving excitedly at all the revelry; Hector and Tanya with their daughter Anna and Victor, Helena and Thor.
The rest of the Alphans was a hilarious bunch. Several of the men were simply dressed in diapers to represent babies. Several women were stuffed to look heavily pregnant. A few Alphans had converted their clothes to look like baby jump suits and some of the more enterprising people had created contraptions that looked like baby walkers with wheels. There was even a group that had created a crib-like device they would be pushing to the finish line, the four of them inside it dressed in their diapers.
John spit out the pacifier he had in his mouth and shouted to be heard above the noise. "All right people! We'll all be doing this fun walk to the lakeside, where there are all kinds of activities set up for us to do. All duties are suspended for the next six hours, so join us for food and fun. Take us away, Alan!"
The little make-believe train jerked forward, even managed to belch a cloud of steam and the procession of costumed Alphans fell in beside and behind it, cheering, whistling, hooting and clapping. Commander Koenig joined the crowd in his moon buggy 'pram'; there was much laughter, conversation, some singing and just general silliness. Koenig reflected for a moment that if any cosmic intelligence was watching them now, they would certainly be grouped among the crazies in the galaxies. The little make-believe train let out a whistle and another belch of steam while Koenig studied the children's faces: they were enraptured. John drew his moon buggy level with the 'locomotive' and gave Alan a huge thumbs up.
Some of the more energetic Alphan 'babies' were jogging on ahead in the fun run, while those with the complicated baby contraptions shuffled along as fast as they could, but the 1 km still went much too fast. By the lakeside a reconnaissance dome had been converted, stretched on pylons and painted with red stripes to look like the dome of a circus tent. There were tables laden with punch and juices, finger foods and plates of strawberries and other produce from the hydroponics farm. There were all kinds of floating devices waiting beside the lake, promising some more hilarious fun for the hours ahead. Music was playing.
Some of those who had completed the fun run quickly were already splashing in the shallow lake by the time the train pulled up, but when Commander Koenig pulled up in his pram, they quickly came to gather around him and the train. David Kano in his diaper was holding a small box. Alan Carter lifted the children out of the train one by one and Koenig squatted to face them.
"Kevin, Sheena and Victoria, we are extremely happy and proud to have you here on Berg with us. You came from earth, survived a horrific journey, but are now united again, forever, with earth people. We count you as part of us, and as a small token of our love for you, these are for you…"
From the box he took an Alpha-style commlock and handed it to Kevin. Then he did the same for each of the girls. The children looked at the devices with wonder, no doubt realizing from what they had seen that these items were vital components to life in the community. Victoria reached up and hugged him firmly around the neck and those nearby could swear they saw tears in Commander Koenig's eyes.
"Now, let's eat and have fun!" Koenig shouted, standing up and lifting the girl in his arms.
Some of the slower folks on the fun run had joined up and headed towards the tent and refreshments. David Kano had his arm around Angela, who had had no need to dress up. John smiled at the sight of the fathers: baby wraps were the in thing on Berg, and it seemed it was always the dads who wore them. Paul, Hector and Victor stood together, their babies carried in front of their chests. It was a funny but also wonderful sight.
He headed over to the food tables with the girl and helped her get a small plate of food together. His eyes, however, kept straying to the side of the tent, where some kind of structure, tightly wrapped and concealed in old reconnaissance domes, was sitting. He had seen a freight eagle transport it in earlier, and Alan had told him solemnly that it was a secret; something Professor Bergman had been working on in the back of the eagle hanger.
He made his way between the groups of people, chatting here and there, making a point of thanking each and every one of his people for their work and perseverance. As some people finished eating and drinking they moved to the lake and the floating craft again so that before long the normally calm lake surface was churning with activity. Paul and Alan had Kevin on some kind of rubber raft and they were splashing everyone in sight.
"Well, Commander," David Kano said by his side, "This is more like a real life, isn't it?"
"You've got it, David." Koenig placed his arm around his computer expert's shoulder. "Thank you, David, for all you have done for us."
Kano smiled shyly. "Thank you, Commander, for holding us all together again."
"If only you knew," John reflected in his heart. He caught up with Sandra, sitting on a blanket with Paulandra watching the madness on the water and sat down beside her. The baby girl made some gurgling noises, then smiled and proceeded to claw her way up his leg.
"She's growing so fast," he smiled at Sandra. "She's gorgeous."
"Thank you Commander," Sandra's eyes reflected her pride. "Yes, she'll be walking and talking soon."
"That's when the real fun starts, right?"
She laughed. "So many babies, Commander, we'll need a school soon!"
"I think we're doing OK just homeschooling right now," he reflected, "But yes, things will be changing in the near future."
"What's that thing under the tarps, Commander?" Sandra asked, pointing at the concealed structure.
"I have no idea. Something Victor had been working on." He looked around. "Where is he?"
Sandra pointed and then smiled. "It is still so strange to see the Professor like that… a kangaroo with a baby."
"And we don't know how it happened, but we are all happy that he is well again."
Koenig nodded. "One of those inexplicable cosmic things, Sandra. But no one is more grateful than I am." He jumped up and strode towards his old friend. "Victor!"
"John! Need a diaper change yet?" Victor laughed, gesturing at the white towel John had wrapped around his clothes.
"Getting some practice huh Victor," John countered. "No, we're all wondering about that contraption you got sitting over there."
Thor was snuggled tightly against his father's chest, and despite the noise seemed fast asleep. "You know John," Victor said, noticing John studying the baby, "Despite all our fancy western conveniences isolated societies still had the edge: this is the best way to transport babies."
John shook his head with a smile. "Always the explanation, Victor. Now explain that thing under the covers…"
The Professor looked around. "Get the children together, John, while I hand Thor over to Helena. Then I'll show you."
"Right, Victor, I'll meet you there."
A few minutes later Commander Koenig had rounded up the remnant children and herded them over to the covered structure. Others had also moved closer, watching as the Professor was undoing some of the rope holding the dome fabric around it. "Stand back a bit," he gestured. "Alan, please help me with this," as he started pulling the fabric away. The pilot joined him, and as the two men pulled the covers away, there were gasps and cries of exclamation before a sudden, spontaneous applause broke out.
In front of them was a merry-go-round; but the most amazing one they had ever seen. Instead of horses or animals, the five seats were miniature eagles, obviously made from leftover parts found in the eagle hangar. There was a center pole and main bearing but no roof. Victor had clambered onto the platform and made his way to the middle, where some sort of mechanism was attached. "Well, come on then," he said with a smile.
"You mean this thing actually works?" John laughed, incredulous.
Victor nodded. Several hands reached out and helped the three children into an eagle each. Sandra was small enough and climbed into the fourth while Paul handed her Paulandra.
"Ready?" Victor asked and Koenig just shook his head in amazement. Then, slowly, the merry-go-round started turning, and the faces of all those watching lit up in amazement. The children's faces were filled with delight… and there was music…
"My heart turns my mind into circles
As I lie here all alone in my bed
The moon shines brightly through my window
And I wonder if it's true what they say
That there's a man... A man on the moon…"
Faster and faster the little eagles went, and people started clapping to the music. John Koenig studied the faces around him. There were tears in some eyes and every face was filled with emotion. He noticed Helena beside him and hugged her to him. "Where on earth did Victor get this music?" he whispered.
"Johan Burger," she smiled at him. "The eagle pilot from South Africa. It's an old song by a band called Ballyhoo. Haunting music…"
Around them people were swaying and clapping to the music, watching the little merry-go-round and the children completely caught up in the pleasure of the moment. Across the platform John Koenig caught his friend's eyes and smiled the biggest smile he could muster to convey his thanks. This was community, this was future… his own eyes started getting moist and all the stress and anger fell away from him; his heart filled with so much love for his friends, his people. He was aware of Helena watching him and as he met her eyes, she held out her son to him. He took the little baby in his arms, hugging Thor to him and at that moment he had no more fear for the future of his people.