Beth6787

June 2018

Arkadia Revisited

Set six weeks after the Alphans left Luke & Anna behind, a contact on sensors looks very familiar...

After the traumatic events surrounding the departure of two of their most senior personnel, not to mention one of John Koenig's closest friends on base, life had returned to normal on Alpha. If he could call drifting endlessly through space with no control over their flight path or duration of their tour of duty 'normal'. Or, at least it appeared so : on the surface. But their Commander knew better deep down inside himself.

There was an underlying tension in the air. Some Alphans were being just a little overly formal with him, not looking him in the eye when they could get away with it. Sometimes he would hear voices drop as he came into view or people break apart with unnatural haste to resume their duties. He had tentatively voiced his concern to Helena who assured him that he was overthinking things. Doubting himself and going in mental circles, resulting in a little paranoia and over-sensitivity. He had let her think that he was reassured and dropped the matter, even laughing it off a few days later, so there would be no nagging doubts in the mind of their CMO that their Commander was mentally fit for duty and back to his usual self : having an inner equanimity that allowed him to command with confidence and rationality.

But Koenig could not fool himself. There was an underlying resentment in the air and he strongly suspected the cause. A significant number amongst their crew believed he had made the wrong call and that Luke and Anna had been right. They should all have settled on Arkadia, even though all their scientific data was telling them the planet was a barren wasteland. The two of them, both rational and highly regarded Section Heads within their respective departments on Alpha, had believed that they had made contact with the inhabitants of that planet and that it was not dead : merely dormant. Awaiting the arrival of humanity to start the cycle of re-birth. Complete the circle and return the descendants back to their planet of origin. That they were all Arkadians within their DNA, finally returning from their colony outpost planet -Earth - after many millennia.

But he had decided otherwise and they were now many millions of miles away, hurtling through unknown space once again. It was now purely academic and they would never know what had befallen the two comrades they had left behind. Or abandoned, he chastised himself for the hundredth time. Koenig doubted they would survive for more than a few weeks at best. Even the entire Alphan community would struggle to form a colony on a new world. There were just so few of them to re-start an entire society. But two people, alone? Rationally impossible but ...yet...Luke and Anna had taken that path knowing...

Koenig's dark thoughts were interrupted by the incessant bleeping of his Comm-lock. With an uncanny knack for knowing instinctively when his friend needed the reassuring counsel of his long standing mentor, Victor Bergman's face brought him back to the here and now. Koenig activated the device and admitted his friend to his inner sanctum, otherwise known as the Commander's study, just behind his Main Mission central office.

Taking one look at his protege Victor was sure that Helena had been right. John was still beating himself up over his self-inflicted guilt at having abandoned Luke Ferro and Anna Davis to their 'fate' which Victor knew meant death in their Commander's mind. If that was the case then in was a fate that Luke and Anna had willingly embraced. Indeed - enforced on their Commander - by the cruel abduction of the one person that Koenig cared about enough to cause him to risk all for her safe return. Yet another decision that the younger man would be struggling to justify to himself.

Victor stood just inside the doorway and silently observed, contemplating just how to broach the elephant in the room. Time to grab the bull by the horns he thought momentarily as he started to walk towards John's desk, coffees in hand. Before Victor had a chance to speak John's terminal bleeped and Chief Operations Officer Paul Morrow's face appeared on screen.

"Commander, Sandra has just detected a 2% power drain of unknown cause. Kano has checked computer and confirmed..." Paul hesitated looking increasingly uncomfortable. "And Computer is saying that the cause is external forces...just as before."

Victor Bergman and John Koenig exchanged a loaded glance. "Paul, have long range sensors ran a full spectrum sweep, gravitational forces, magnetic fields, approaching stellar phenomena : the works. Tell Kano that this time I want concrete answers. Tell him to pull computer apart circuit by circuit if necessary but I want hard data within the hour. Koenig out."

Victor Bergman understood his frustration but everyone was doing their best and not even computer could magic answers out of thin air. Better that he offer his services as a sounding board and let the younger man vent in his direction than knock Base morale any further. "John, I'm sure everyone in Main Mission will give of their very best to get to the bottom of this. I expect it is a residual effect of the rapid power drain we sustained six weeks ago. Kano and I worked around the clock replacing burned out components and re-routing the power lines where necessary. No doubt we missed a minor circuit or two. I'm sure we will get to the bottom of this in no time at all."

Koenig sipped at his coffee and looked studiously at the surface of his desk. Victor was right as usual and he had overreacted. It was just unfortunate that Paul's alert came just as he was thinking about...a co-incidence, that was all. Helena and Victor were right. He WAS over-analysing and perhaps getting a little oversensitive in his old age. He understood how it looked from the outside but then no one else had to stand in his shoes. Being solely responsible for the lives of over two hundred and thirty remaining Alphans. Since the traumatic events of Breakaway they had lost almost one hundred personnel to the vagaries of space, Luke Ferro and Anna Davis, just the latest in a seemingly never ending catalogue of calamities to befall their small group of survivors. Perhaps the last living humans...they just had no way of knowing what had befallen the eight billion humans on planet Earth as the moon was torn from orbit. However, from the few newscasts they had received before finally falling out of range, the indications were not good. So he, John Aaron Koenig, held sole responsibility for the continued survival of the human race. It was a burden he would not wish on his greatest enemy.

"I'm sure you're right Victor. I'm just tired and in need of some good news. Just for a change. Liaise with Paul and Kano to track down the fault and requisition whoever you need from Technical to get the job done. Top priority."

"Of course John. Leave it to me." Just as Victor stood to take his leave Paul Morrow's face appeared on screen again asking them to come right out to Main Mission. There was something they both needed to see on the main monitor.

As soon as Main Mission doors opened John and Victor glanced up at the view screen and stopped dead. There in front of them was the planet. Without having to ask they both knew without a shadow of a doubt. Directly ahead of them on their existing trajectory was Arkadia. It was impossible. Yet here they were once again.

John Koenig was vaguely aware of Sandra Benes informing him that they would be within Eagle range of the planet within eighteen hours. ...

—/—

Three hours later...

Helena still could not believe her eyes. Yet all the data from the long range sensors confirmed what they saw and heard in the transmission from Arkadia. On screen had been a picture of a veritable Garden of Eden. Lush vegetation everywhere within camera range. The dwelling fully built and a rudimentary irrigation system for the crop fields immediately to Anna's left. Luke had not joined her for this initial transmission, apparently busy tending the chickens and awaiting the birth of the first litter of rabbits.

Anna had told them that they had started planting within a couple of days of touchdown and Luke had built their shelter within a week. By that time the first seeds had germinated and the birch and willow saplings were already a couple of feet tall. From seeding to maturity had taken the trees no more than fifteen days and for the vegetable and root crops half that time. Some component of Arkadia's atmosphere was acting as a catalyst. Accelerating the growth of every living thing exponentially. She was confident with this rate of growth the whole population of Alpha could be sustained. She had pleaded with John Koenig to bring a team down to their settlement to see for himself. Exodus was not only feasible ...it was their destiny. She and Luke were sure of that. Then, just as she was about to sign off she panned out the view and the full miracle was in evidence.

Just over six weeks Alphan time since they had parted ways and Anna was heavily pregnant, no doubt about to give birth any day !

The screen had returned to black and within minutes their moon had ground to another halt in space and the power outage rate had increased. Deja vu. John Koenig had called a senior staff meeting and they had taken only minutes to decide that a reconnaissance to the planet was inevitable. This time Commander Koenig would remain on Alpha and the away team would be commanded by Victor Bergman with herself as medical assessor; Sandra Benes to collect as much data to relay to David Kano as possible; and Alan Carter to pilot them there and back. Alan would also analyse the performance of the Eagle within Arkadia's atmosphere - memories of the encounter with planet Ariel still being fresh in all their minds.

Departure was set for 0630 hours Lunar Time.

—-/—

Four days later ...

Victor was relaying his final report as the Survey Eagle was preparing to depart. What Luke and Anna had achieved during their short sojourn on Arkadia was truly remarkable. Actually scientifically and temporally impossible by all known physical parameters. His first thought was that either Arkadia or their moon had passed through another temporal anomaly such as the Black Sun that Alpha had encountered a few months after Breakaway. But there was no evidence of that. As far as Luke and Anna were concerned, they were unaware of changing position in space since their initial arrival. Luke was adamant that the starscape above their heads in the night sky was identical in both composition and orientation of the constellations they had begun to name. Then perhaps it was Alpha's moon that had done so? It was evident that they had flown in some sort of elliptical path to return to Arkadia yet Main Mission had not been aware of any deviation in their flight trajectory...

"So John, I'm at a loss to explain it. Logic dictates that it is impossible that we are back here on Arkadia, in the current timeframe, yet here we are. I just don't know...perhaps Luke & Anna were right all along...that it is our destiny to settle here. To return to our planet of origin."

"I'm still not convinced Victor. All the data you and your team have sent us over the last few days just looks a little too good to be true. I can't put my finger on it but my gut is telling me to stay away from Arkadia..."

"Well John, at least we appear to have time on our side now. With the power outage having stabilised at 5% and our moon having stopped only five hours Eagle flight time from the surface we can explore at our leisure. Operation Exodus can remain on hold until we are absolutely convinced that it is in all our best interests although I suspect we will need to be seen to send a second reconnaissance team fairly shortly..."

"Yeah Victor, I know. The natives are already getting restless and we've no way of knowing whether history will repeat itself. If we do suddenly start moving away from Arkadia again then we will have to make a rapid final decision on whether to evacuate Alpha. Paul has already broached the subject of putting Operation Exodus on standby - just in case. I told him that all options were still under review until your team's return and we've had a chance to thoroughly debrief but..."

Victor finished the thought for him "but Paul saw through your attempt at stalling for time and he's not happy."

John sighed "No he's not and I'm sure he speaks for the silent majority on Base. A temporarily silent group. For now. The problem is that my gut is still telling me to hold back but I've no hard data to back my position up. Has anything - anything at all - come to light that warrants a delay whilst we consider further?"

"Sorry John. Everything checks out A okay. Helena and her team can find no human pathogens either microbial or viral and all the plant species are of course derived from our very own seed stocks so nothing alien in the organic environment. The atmospheric gases are identical to those on Earth a couple of centuries ago and in almost identical ratios. The only marked difference is the absence of twentieth century industrial pollutants which is undoubtably to our advantage. Arkadia is basically an improved version of our own home planet. Unless there is a sudden development to cause concern I cannot justify recommending a delay to instigating Exodus." Victor watched the face of his Commander visibly tense. Perhaps there was something that had come to light that John could not divulge over the Comm... "John, we'll talk as soon as Alan touches down. ETA five hours and thirty minutes from now. Bergman out."

John Koenig cut the Comm link and sighed. He didn't like it one little bit. Nothing added up and he seemed the only one with serious reservations. As had so often been the case in the past and each time his gut had been proved right. This time they had been given a second chance to colonise a planet they had encountered before and now they knew that Luke and Anna had not only survived, they had flourished and were about to welcome the first newborn Arkadian in twenty five thousand years. From what Helena had reported, Anna's pregnancy was text book perfect and her son would arrive within the week... No observable spatial anomalies either end and their chronometers had remained synchronised with those on the moon. In other words, only six weeks had passed for Luke and Anna as well as here on Alpha. Yet Anna was effectively nine months pregnant and some of the trees appeared to be around a decade's growth from the point of germination. Time seemed to be passing at an accelerated rate on the planet but not uniformly. It defied the laws of physics and was beyond his understanding. And what John Koenig could not understand he could not predict. Therefore he would be asked to make a blind decision based on what? Faith? Hope? Desperation? Perhaps Victor could shed some light in person on his return, otherwise...

—-/—

Twelve hours later, conference room, command team review...

John Koenig looked around at the faces of his assembled Division Heads and it was obvious there would be no voice of dissent. "So what you are all telling me is that there is not one single reason to withhold Exodus bar the time differential that none of us can even hazard a guess at the cause of?"

Helena looked sympathetic but inclined her head to affirm, Paul and Alan were trying valiantly to suppress their impatience to get moving, Tony Collins of security just looked bored and Victor looked resigned to the inevitable. Only David Kano showed a glimmer of empathy but John knew full well that was because Operation Exodus would inevitably involve scaling back computer facilities to those that could be readily dissembles and rigged up on their new home, wherever that turned out to be. For Kano alone, Alpha would always be his preferred home.

"Alright, I'll instruct computer to select a team of twenty people to set up a permanent base alongside Luke and Anna's settlement. The Arkadian encampment will be tasked with creating the infrastructure necessary for an eventual re-location of all our people to the planet. However, no further Alphans will de camp for at least six months. In the meantime we will observe their progress and Medical will keep an around the clock monitoring of all the away team's vital signs. Should all be well then - and only then - will I consider a full evacuation."

John Koenig watched as exasperated glances were exchanged by his top team. No one challenged him directly as they filed out but he felt more alone than ever. Only Helena hung back until the others were out of earshot. One glance at her expressive eyes said it all "Go ahead Helena, spit it out. You don't agree with my decision do you?"

Helena Russell fought a mental battle before replying. Professionally, she understood the burden of responsibility that weighed so heavily on John Koenig's shoulders. He alone was ultimately responsible for all the Alphans continued survival and any losses were almost always a direct consequence of his command decisions. And that alone necessitated that his was the ultimate voice of caution. But normally that burden was shared. The Command of Moonbase Alpha was rotated every two years and there was always back up from the various world governments on Earth. Out here John had no sounding board bar his senior staff so caution could easily turn into fear of failure, making the wrong call, paranoia and self doubt. John had been showing signs of this recently and she knew full well that her professional objectivity was clouded by her personal feeling for the man. She was in love with him and she knew that he reciprocated her feelings. They had been very careful to take things slowly and to consciously keep their professional and personal lives apart - as much as that was possible on Alpha. She needed to keep things strictly professional now whilst letting John know that he was not alone.

" John, I understand your concerns. Whilst Arkadia appears on the surface to be a dream come true, there is still so much that we are at a total loss to explain. From a scientific viewpoint I cannot explain the rapidly accelerated growth we see everywhere that Luke and Anna have introduced life. But therein lies the problem. Although we are seeing an apparent differential in the rate of the passage of time, there are no signs whatsoever of any ill effects on the flora, fauna or - most importantly - Luke and Anna themselves. Quite the opposite. They are both in perfect health, better than either were before leaving Alpha and Anna is about to give birth to a perfectly formed baby boy." Helena handed him a cup of tea and placed her hand on his left shoulder. "From the perspective of everyone on Alpha this just seems an excessive precaution. Expecting everyone to twiddle their thumbs for six months whilst the lucky few make a head start on their new lives. Even computer's choice of the twenty 'pioneers' may cause resentment amongst those left behind. Perhaps a shorter timescale between the initial encampment and full Exodus? At the rate of growth experienced by Luke and Anna over the last six weeks the viability of the encampment should be self-evident in less than half that time. Perhaps review progress after the first couple of months with a view to bringing forward the final Operation Exodus at that time if no causes of concern have come to light?"

John indicated for Helena to take a seat on the other sofa. "Helena, I just wish I could rationalise my concerns. This whole situation reminds me of my encounter with Ara of the planet Etheria : only in reverse. That time I was throwing caution to the wind and trying to persuade you all to take a leap of faith and this time I'm the one holding back. It's just a gut instinct that this move will not end well. If we relocate and abandon Alpha and suddenly the moon starts to move away again there may be no coming back."

"I know John, but eventually we will have to take that leap of faith and if our moon remains here indefinitely there will eventually be no other option than Arkadia. And..." she could not bring herself to voice the tail end of that train of thought so John voiced it for her.

"And eventually my authority as commander will be eroded irrevocably. There will be the inevitable mutiny and Alpha will be abandoned regardless of my opinion. It's only a matter of time."

"We are nowhere near that point yet John and you have been proved right before. Victor, Paul and I will support your decisions but perhaps it would not hurt to show a little more enthusiasm : in public at least..."

John smiled wearily at her "Point taken. It's time I instruct Kano to get computer to make the initial selections for the advance party. Show willing..."

As Helena headed back to Medical to begin preparing the supplies for the field hospital John Koenig headed out to Main Mission to begin instructing his people for the initial phase of the Exodus. He just hoped he was not signing their death warrants in the process.

—-/—-

The following day the list of 'pioneers' was made public. Paul Morrow would head the group with Victor Bergman as his deputy and chief scientific officer. Bob Matthias would head the medical team and David Kano would be tasked with getting the field computing system up and operational as soon as possible. It was a top priority stipulation of John Koenig's that direct data transmission between the settlement and Alpha's central computer commence as soon as humanly possible. The remaining sixteen comprised additional scientific and clinical staff and eight technical engineers tasked with construction and operation of the infrastructure of the settlement. Departure would be in two lunar days.

The following forty eight hours passed in a whirl of activity both in preparation for those departing and settling in their temporary replacements into their key roles on Alpha. Ben Edwards was to deputise Helena in Medical, Yashko Ichimira to work with Sandra Benes in the absence of Paul and Tony Verdeschi to head security and take over the role of 'First Officer' from Victor Bergman.

Temporary goodbyes were said and soon Eagles 4 and 9 departed for their new home on Arkadia. As John Koenig watched them become specks of light in the far distance he could not stop the sense of foreboding that engulfed him. His subconscious could not shake the feeling that he would never see a single one of them in person again...

—-/—-

Two months later...

John Koenig had bowed to the inevitable and Operation Exodus was in full swing. Over the past eight weeks there had been nothing but glowing reports from Arkadia. The new colony had been nicknamed 'Home City' and the twenty personnel assigned there within the first wave had completed the construction of a fully functioning power and recycling plant and over sixty residential dwellings. A rudimentary bartering system had been set up and others were now assisting Luke and Anna with the livestock and crop management. These two initial 'pioneers' had become honorary elders within the community and Luke had assumed the role of leader jointly with Paul Morrow.

Anna had given birth to her son, Joseph, a couple of days after the two Eagles from Alpha had first landed. Although only a couple of months had passed he was already the size of a human three year old and running about exploring. His mental development was on a par with his physical maturity and already his mother was well into her second trimester with his baby sister. All six women amongst the first wave were also now expecting and Bob Matthias reported that there were no clinical problems at all. In fact, even the usual morning sickness, swollen ankles, tiredness etc that are so commonly evident in human pregnancies had not plagued the new Arkadians.

The crops were not blighted by either disease or infestations of insects and all the rabbits, sheep and chickens were breeding abundantly. The climate was temperate : neither too hot nor too cold; neither arid or waterlogged. There were light breezes and gentle rainfall. No electrical storms nor snow and ice. In fact, no reason to delay the final Exodus for a further four months bar their Commander's ongoing 'gut feeling' that everything in the proverbial garden was just a little too rosy.

So after several heated command meetings with the current Section Heads on Alpha and some substantial arm twisting by those already settled on the planet, John Koenig had acquiesced.

That was nine days ago and the final loading of the Eagles was taking place with a plan to depart Alpha for the final time at 0800 tomorrow morning. Just over sixteen hours to go and their old life wandering aimlessly through the cosmos would finally be over. They would begin living as human beings once again. All the possibilities inevitably on hold whilst existing in the artificial environment of their lunar barracks would see the light of day. Within the last week, casual romantic liaisons had solidified into partnerships and almost all the Alphans were busy making plans for their new lives. Forming families and close knit groups who planned to work together as mini-cooperatives.

Even Helena had caught the joy of the infectious mood. Not wanting to hurt her he had just smiled and said little as she spoke of her dreams for their home and future family. At forty three years old she had little time to waste if she wanted to realise the dream of a child of her own. With the incredible fecundity that was apparent on Arkadia perhaps thee was still time for not only a child but future siblings too.

It seemed as though anything was possible. Any dream could be realised and then it struck him. The Guardian of Piri ! Computer had been fed a fairy tale and his people had all been seduced into accepting eternal limbo as some sort of utopia. Only he had resisted and finally he had prevailed. Exposing the sham for what it was. Something deep inside was telling him that Arkadia was a trap too. Only this time he could not see what lay beneath. Yet. Perhaps the only way to defeat this...whatever this was...would be to live down there for a while and do some digging.

John looked around his quarters one last time. All was packed ready for loading first thing tomorrow bar the pyjamas he would be sleeping in. For old times sake, John had persuaded Helena that they should both spend their last night on Alpha each in their own quarters. A final chance to say goodbye to their old life before embracing the new. As his head hit the pillow he was sure that this last night would pass far too fast...

—/—

0600 hours Exodus Day...

Technical were loading the last of the cargo containers from his quarters and John Koenig had headed for Main Mission to relieve Tony Verdeschi and record his final log. In reality there was little more he could do at this stage, everything having been either shut down or running on minimal power to maintain essential systems until the last Eagle launched from Pad 6 at 0845 hours. The one indulgence he had allowed himself was to keep the main viewscreen operational. His would be the final Eagle to depart and would carry himself, Helena and Sandra with Alan Carter in the pilot's seat. They were scheduled to take off fifteen minutes after the rest of the flight and Commander Koenig intended to witness the final exodus with his own eyes from his old command chair.

If Victor were here now he would laugh at me and rib me about becoming sentimental in my old age, John thought. Perhaps there is some truth to that. After all, this will be the final time I sit in this chair and record the Commander's log. Indeed, without Alpha, I have no command beyond the loyalty and trust that I hope I have earned from my people these last twenty months as we have embarked on the greatest odyssey ever experienced by mankind.

John Koenig began to record "Let it be known that this is the final log entry of Commander John Aaron Koenig of Moonbase Alpha, Earth equivalent date 7th May 2001 AD. this morning we will complete Operation Exodus as we depart for the planet known as Arkadia, This is our second encounter with this world as we have traversed deep space and if the ancient Sanskrit inscriptions are to be believed: we have returned to the world of origin of humankind. Our moon was torn from its home planet orbit by a cataclysmic explosion of our own making and hurled into the furthest reaches of the cosmos. During our travels we have encountered many stellar phenomena and alien civilisations. We have made our fair share of mistakes and I hope we have learned from them and are stronger and wiser as a result. The remaining two hundred and thirty five souls on this barren rock depart now to begin anew our civilisation and perhaps re-seed the human race itself. We know not whether anyone on Earth survived the terrible events of 13th September 1999, we can only hope and pray that they beat the odds as we have done. Whomever should board this monument to humanity's ingenuity and curiosity to seek out the secrets of the cosmos..."

He was cut off mid sentence as he literally felt the air being sucked from his lungs. As the gravity plating failed he was thrown back against the far corner of the ceiling and was vaguely aware of multiple klaxons alarming simultaneously. Forcing his eyelids apart he could only watch in horror as Arkadia receded from view before his eyes. There was no way to reach his desk and answer the hail from David Kano in the Arkadian communications centre. Within seconds the viewscreen cleared to show the worried faces of Victor and Paul.

—/—

Home City, Arkadia. Communications centre 0630 hours.

Clustered around the only viewscreen they had were David Kano, Victor Bergman and Paul Morrow. It had been David's turn for the night shift and Paul had been scheduled to take over at 0700 hours. Victor Bergman and Luke Ferro were to head up the official welcoming party as the first Eagles from Alpha touched down around midday. Paul and Victor were having breakfast together and running through the planned schedule of events one last time when the most bizarre series of events had occurred. Suddenly the air had become stiflingly still and humid and the dawn turned to dusk. Victor's initial thought had been of a Solar eclipse but that was impossible. Arkadia had no satellite of its own and Alpha's moon was not in orbit so could not be aligned between Arkadia and its star. Yet that was exactly what was transpiring. A stellar body was passing across the face of Arkadia's sun and as Victor watched in horror it appeared to increase in size, eventually obscuring the sun altogether as he and Paul stumbled into Kano's sanctuary. Their new computer confirmed Victor's greatest fear that it was their moon with Alpha's crew still grounded passing rapidly between the planet and its sun on a trajectory out of the solar system and into deep space once again. From the rate of traversal across the sky the g-forces that Alpha would be experiencing were even greater than at Breakaway. Victor knew that their chances of survival this time were almost non-existent. If anyone was still alive they would be powerless to reply but he felt compelled to try. Perhaps his dear friend and protege, John Koenig, had until that last minute been sitting in his command chair composing his final log entry. Victor hoped so and knew this was the way he would always picture him from now on.

Looking at the faces of his comrades he knew that Paul and David had grasped the significance of the data as much as he. Paul gestured to David Kano to step back and Victor's face filled the screen...

"John, I hope you can hear me. Down here we are experiencing a solar eclipse as the moon is moving between Arkadia and its sun. From our initial data it appears you are once again heading into deep space on the same trajectory as before we encountered Arkadia for the second time. We realise that you cannot launch Eagles at this time and that you are currently experiencing g forces almost 10% greater than at Breakaway. We can only pray for your survival. Know that we are not affected bar the eclipse. The air is humid and close almost in anticipation of a thunderstorm but we are unharmed. We cannot hope to afford a rescue. Eagle 4 has been dismantled and Eagle 9, although serviceable, requires refuelling before she can launch. At your current rate of acceleration we will have used our entire fuel reserves before we are half way to your current position. We can only hope and pray that the moon slows and Alpha can survive. Perhaps in time you will pass this way again. As we have learned these past two years out here : truly anything is possible in this universe. Until we meet again..."

Victor fell silent as the second dawn arrived, obscuring the receding pinprick of darkness against a blazing new day.

THE END.

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