Chapter One: The Appearance

John Koenig studied the tiny pink creature in the bag with amazement. It was still too early to tell, but if this endeavor of theirs was successful, it would be a huge step for their communities. As he stood contemplating, he heard the door behind him open and turned.

Victor Bergman, chief scientist for the communities on Berg entered; his son in a baby sling against his chest and the three remnant children in tow. The children's faces lit up upon seeing the Commander and they eagerly ran to him, holding out their arms for hugs. Koenig complied and smiled at his friend. "School time again, Victor?"

"Always, John! The best way: taking them around our communities, teaching them." Hugs over, the little ones gathered by the observation window staring at the little lamb in the artificial womb with wonder. The Professor knelt behind the three and softly started explaining to them again: "Normally the baby would be inside the womb of the mother, the ewe, but because we don't have grown up sheep here on Berg, this is an experiment to see if we can let the fetus grow in that artificial womb until it is ready to be born."

"Just like the human babies are growing inside their mothers?" Sheena Harris asked. Victor ruffled her hair.

"Exactly. Only we made this ourselves, with everything pretending to be like the real thing for the little lamb… the clear bag protects it from the outside world, the electrolyte liquid acts as an amniotic fluid and those tubes provide nutrients to the baby. The baby has been in there for about two months, and if all goes well, it will be born in another three."

"And we have to be very quiet," Victoria Delray whispered.

"Yes. Even though we are outside the room, the little growing lamb likes it warm, so everything surrounding it is warmed up, and it likes quiet so it can sleep and grow." Victor got up and turned to Koenig. "If this is successful, we can work on developing more of the embryos. So far, so good."

John was playing tug-of-war with little Thor who was waving his arms energetically, having gotten hold of one of the commander's fingers. The little boy was sporting a thatch of dark hair and was reaching for everything near his grasp. John shook his head with a smile. "Already too curious, he's all you, Victor."

His friend laughed. "That's what Helena says too." The little feet were kicking too, accompanied by squeals and other noises. The three children had turned from the lamb in the artificial womb and were all reaching to touch various parts of the restless baby.

"Isn't it great," John commented, "how everything is done in community? These three…." He ruffled each head… "are growing up helping and learning about babies and everyone in our communities have just taken to making all the children part of their lives."

"That's how it should be, I think," Victor said. "Of course it's still a major event after our long exile on Alpha, but it's wonderful to have all shared in Paulandra's first steps and words. Now we're all rooting for little Anna."

"Where are we going now, Professor Victor?" Sheena asked.

"Where would you like to go?"

"The merry-go-round! The merry-go-round!" the two girls cried as the group made their way outside. Kevin McMurry just looked resigned as the girls pulled the Professor by the arms in the direction of the merry-go-round by the lakeside.

"Where would you like to go, Kevin?" Koenig asked.

"To the real eagles," the boy answered without hesitation.

"I'm heading to Kukua, Victor. Want me to take him there?"

"Sure… thanks John. Carolyn will be taking the girls soon anyway and I got to get this one squared away," he indicated Thor, "deliver him to Helena and get some work done."

"He's your work now, Victor," John smiled. "I can't think of any more important job."

Commander Koenig set off in the direction of the command room situated in the community called Uzazi, the first settlement created on Berg. His ATV from the inventory they had found on a spaceship from earth, the Superswift launched as a survival ship after earth had been devastated by nuclear war, was there, and he would use it to travel to the second community, Kukua, 9 km away. Kevin McMurry was one of the only three children who had survived on the earth ship, together with the girls Sheena Harris and Victoria Delray, and the three children were now completely part of their communities. It had created some unique challenges for the Alphans, but as always they had risen to the occasion and all took part in teaching and raising the youngsters.

The communities on Berg, their planet in the solar system Alpha Nova, had undergone tremendous changes over the last few months. Not only had three preteens been added to their number, but also three babies with a fourth to be born soon. Paul and Sandra Benes Morrow had been the first couple to bless their community with a baby girl, and Paulandra Morrow was now just over a year old, already walking and beginning to talk. Hector Perez and Tanya Perez followed soon after with their daughter, Anna, who would be turning a year old soon. During the tense time while Berg had been threatened by war from the Sidons and Bethans, Doctor Helena Russell had given birth to her and Victor's son prematurely, but he had been given the support needed to develop and Thor was now a strong, healthy baby. David Kano and Angela Robinson would be next, the birth of their baby imminent.

John Koenig had reached his vehicle and made sure Kevin was sitting tight behind him. They all enjoyed the ATVs as they were much faster than the moon buggies, but a recently formed transportation unit was working on plans to engineer some new forms of transport for their new planet. Victor Bergman had designed a carbon fiber bicycle and there were several of them to be seen in the communities now. Their eagles were still being taken care of very carefully and the pilots continued putting in flight hours, as well as teaching some others the skills of flying an eagle. The eagles were used for flights to Erath, the other habitable planet in Alpha Nova, because research was still being done there.

The two of them set off for Kukua, the second community that had been started on Berg. John Koenig wanted to visit the newly formed agricultural section there. It had been determined that no cross-contamination between vegetation from earth and vegetation from Berg could occur, so an area had been cleared and the first crops: wheat, cotton and corn had been planted and were growing. Several rows of fruit trees: apples, peaches and oranges had also been planted. Berg was quickly becoming a true home and the Alphans had to adapt, learn and change.

Clothing had become a focus too. Many still wore their old Alpha uniforms and of course had some garments from earth, but a group had been formed to sew new garments for the children and the babies from the limited fabric that had been available from Alpha. Extra blankets, sheets and other things had also been utilized for clothes. As the population grew though, more would be needed and thus it had been decided to start with cotton as one of the crops. Engineering was working on designing some kind of loom for use in the near future and a group of scientists were helping with creating artificial fabrics too. The manufacturing section had become an important part of the community but needed to experiment more with items found on Berg. If the lamb could be birthed successfully from the artificial womb it would also add wool to their future inventory.

Commander John Koenig, who had been the Space Commission's appointed Commander on Moonbase Alpha on the day the moon had been blasted out of earth's orbit by an explosion of the nuclear waste stored on the moon, had been re-elected Commander on Berg. Now, as he steered his ATV towards Kukua with Kevin McMurry clinging to him, he reflected on the many things that had happened to them since Operation Exodus and the many things that still needed doing. After a stressful first few months with the arrival of the Superswift from earth and then the threat of war from the Sidons and Bethans, they have had a few quieter months and had used the time to focus on developing their communities and adapting to the change of having children around again. He was hopeful for his people, but he knew there were still many things to deal with, and future threats from outer space were always still possible.

They passed the site where the huge Satazius warship from Betha had landed some months ago, threatening to annihilate their communities. Extraordinary circumstances had intervened, yet again saving the Alphans from destruction, but in the process they had almost lost Victor Bergman. The warship had mostly been dismantled with the idea that parts of it could be used in future, and the only surviving Bethan from the encounter, a girl named Virea, had opted to live with the Alphans. She was turning out to be a big help in understanding the workings of the big warship.

John Koenig became aware of a small hand thumping against his back and brought the ATV to a stop, turning around to Kevin.

"Are we going to build a big spaceship to go make war too, Commander John?" the boy asked.

"Oh, Kevin, I would hope not," John Koenig answered. The remnant children had survived a devastating nuclear war on planet earth before being put on the survival ship, and the boy had been fascinated by the episode of near war on Berg. "We prefer to live in peace."

The boy looked thoughtful. "But if someone comes to attack us?"

"Then we will defend ourselves like we did before, Kevin. But we will never go out to make war ourselves."

Even though Berg had no day/night cycle the Alphans still used lunar time and by 22:00 residential units were blacked out to allow for a normal dark period of sleep. Victor and Helena were both stretched out on the floor of their living unit, Thor asleep on the floor beside them. Helena had her head on Victor's stomach and was watching him with amusement in her eyes.

"Tired?" she asked.

"Uh… yeah…" he confessed. "But it's not like I've really done anything."

She laughed. "Taking care of kids… and babies… is exhausting."

"You're telling me," he said, playing with her hair. "I think because it is so unpredictable."

"I'll take him tomorrow," she said. "It's not that we're really busy in medical. Something about this planet agrees with our people."

"Yeah. We're the first inhabitants in a new world… there are no known diseases around yet, except for what the Bethans brought."

"I never thought of it that way. I wonder what we brought here in our bodies from earth?" she mused. "But Thor can spend the day in medical… perhaps he'll want to be a doctor one day."

"I'd like to go to Erath," Victor confessed. "They've started up again at the tunnel, but they've had to re-drill because during our absence some of it froze again."

"Oh, that tunnel. I hate it, Victor," she sighed. "But I know it's important to you."

"I'll ask John for an eagle. That way I can stay for maybe just a couple of days."

"Because you'll miss me too much, right?" she teased, turning to lay beside him with her head on his shoulder.

"You… and Thor."

"You think you're an ace pilot now you've flown an eagle alone once?" she teased some more.

The baby chose that moment to start kicking and squirming, uttering a few strangled syllables. Helena sat up and reached for her son. Victor sat up too, his arms around his knees, watching her play with the little boy, his eyes filled with wonder yet again. She was bouncing him on her legs while he was squealing with delight. Finally, her arms tired, she parked him on his butt, whereas he scooted himself to his father, uttering a distinct "Da!"

They both laughed as Thor grabbed fistfuls of his father's shirt, trying to pull himself up. Finally Victor helped him, holding him up, but the chubby little legs were still wobbly. "Once he starts walking, it's going to be a different story," he remarked thoughtfully.

Helena had to laugh. "Better start getting some of your stuff out of reach."

"Or build a pen," he offered.

"You'll be surprised how quickly they learn how to get out of those," she smiled. "Toddlers are incredibly good escape artists."

Somewhere in the room Victor's commlock started beeping. With a sigh he stood up, Thor on his hip, and went over to the couch where the device was.

"Victor?" It was John Koenig.

"Yes, John?"

"Could you go to the command center? Lee and Tanya think there is something on the scanners we need to see, but I'm still in Kukua getting ready to head your way."

"Sure, John. I'll let you know if it's worth coming here for." Helena had risen too, taking Thor.

"I hope it's not serious," she said while he put on some shoes. "These last few peaceful months have been wonderful."

"It doesn't sound serious," he said, grabbing his commlock and heading for the door. "Hopefully I'll be back soon."

Lee Oswald and Tanya Alexander were manning the night shift in the command center in Uzazi. "Professor!" she exclaimed as he entered. "Our most distant scanners have picked up something."

"John asked me to come," he explained. "Can you put it on the screen?"

All three of them looked up as she punched the necessary controls. At first there seemed to be nothing, but then they noticed it: a strange shape tumbling and twisting in the darkness of space.

"What on earth is that?" Lee Oswald asked as they watched its crazy dance. "Could it be some sort of craft?"

Visible on their screen was a triangular pyramid shape glowing light golden, but instead of traveling in a straight line like a spaceship, it was tumbling and rolling like a child's building block.

"If it's a craft," Victor remarked, "whatever is in there is completely scrambled. Any signals?"

"None whatsoever, Professor."

Victor went to the communications console, punching up John's quarters in Kukua. "John?"

"Yes, Victor?"

"There is something on the scanner, that's for sure, but it's unlike anything we've ever seen. It's like a block… in the shape of a pyramid… just tumbling through space."

"You think it's a craft?"

"From the way it moves, I doubt it, unless there is some kind of stabilizer inside. No signals from it."

"OK Victor, I'll head on over. I better take a look."

"Right, John. We'll try to keep making contact. Do you want us to prepare an eagle?"

"I'll decide when I see it. I'll only be a few minutes." Kukua was but 9 km from Uzazi. "If it's only on the distant scanners now, we have time if it doesn't seem threatening."

"No, it doesn't. It's actually quite amusing to watch," Victor replied.

"Let me know immediately if anything changes, Victor."

"Will do, John. See you in a while."

The three of them continued watching the slowly tumbling shape. None of them had any idea what it could be, and Lee continued calling for a reply. But the golden pyramid just tumbled ahead slowly and silently. They could see no ports or entrances anywhere along the smooth sides.

"Maybe the gods are playing dice," Lee remarked. "And one got away."

Victor Bergman had busied himself at the computer console and now plucked out a printout. "If one extends the trajectory and disregards the tumbling motion, it's definitely heading here." He scribbled hastily on the back of the printout. "Taking the current speed and the distance from our furthest scanners it'll take about 4 hours to get here, if it doesn't change course, speed up or slow down."

"Maybe it'll disappear again altogether?" Tanya said.

"It makes no sense," Victor observed, walking to the big screen, his eyes fixed on the display. "If it has motors, it should have propulsion in only one direction, without the tumbling."

The door opened and John Koenig entered. His eyes drifted to the big screen immediately. "What have you got, Victor?"

"It's pretty big," Victor replied. "The sides are all equilateral triangles with a length of 109 meters. But I just don't know, John."

Koenig shook his head. "It defies all odds."

"It's heading here though, John, to Berg, if it stays on the same trajectory."

"What propels it?"

"Could it be a ship within a ship?" Victor thought aloud. "A vessel within that pyramid, like a gyroscope… the thrust from its motors could account for the tumbling motion of the shape as the blowback hits the sides."

"Like a hamster in a wheel?" John remarked.

"But why?" Tanya asked. "Why build a ship within a shape like that?"

"No idea," the Professor replied.

"Maybe it's some kind of cosmic egg?" Lee Oswald said.

"Now there's a thought, John!" Victor scratched his chin. "But where is it from? And what is its purpose?"

"Let's get an eagle up to go have a look," Koenig said. He went up into his office, punching up his console. "Alan? You awake Alan?"

"Yes, Commander?"

"We have something on our scanners. I'd like you to take an eagle up. It doesn't look like a threat, but I'd rather be sure. I'll meet you at the eagle hangar."

"You're going too, John?" Victor asked, surprised.

"Yes," John said. "It's been too quiet for me," he laughed. "A little trip won't do me any harm. Hold the fort here, Victor."

"You need me to call anyone else? David, Paul?"

"No, let's hold off on that until Alan and I have taken a look. Like you, I don't think it's a threat, just something really strange."

"OK John. Be careful out there."

As John left the command center, Victor called Helena on his commlock to report that it may be a while before he was able to get home. Then he sat down at Koenig's desk and watched the big screen from there. The golden pyramid shape just continued tumbling along slowly and he was soon deep in thought trying to determine in his mind what the strange phenomenon could be.

"There is no way we can even attempt to get closer or dock with that thing, Commander," Alan laughed. They were some distance away from the tumbling golden object and just looking at it brought on motion sickness.

"Circle it, Alan, let's see if we can see some kind of port or entrance this close up."

The eagle slowly flew around the erratically tumbling shape, but the men could see nothing except unbroken, golden tinted sides. There did not even appear to be any seams.

"What do you think it is, Commander?"

"I have never seen anything like it," Koenig replied. "At least not traveling in space. I don't even know how it can be moving. I see no propulsion systems."

"What do we do now?" Alan asked, making another circuit around the object.

"Victor calculated that it seems to be heading for Berg. If it gets there, it would need to land somehow, if it is a craft. Otherwise it might just crash down. So, I think we need to go and prepare a welcome party for it."

"Should we stay with it? It may change into something else along the way?'

"Yeah, might be a good idea. I'll let Victor know and see if they can work out roughly where the thing is going to land or crash." John pressed some buttons. "Berg this is eagle three, do you read?"

"Yes John. Everything OK?"

"Yes Victor. Just more of the same. Not a peep from it, or any idea what it is."

"Yes, we see your eagle."

"Makes me sick just looking at it move," John said with a smile. "Do you think you could calculate more closely exactly where it might go down?"

"I'll try my best, John. Computer is having problems because of the erratic motion, but if I disregard that, I might be able to figure it out."

"We're going to follow it down," John reported. "I think it might be wise to have a welcoming party on the ground once it touches down in whatever way it's going to come down."

"It's going to be a long follow, John. Last time I calculated it suggested 4 hours before touchdown. It's not moving very fast."

"Hmmm… that is long." Koenig looked at Alan, who nodded.

"We'll return to base," John decided. "Once it gets closer we'll put another eagle up to shadow it. By then we'll know more about where it will be going."

"Right John. We'll keep an eye on it."

Alan flew around the intriguing object one more time and then headed back to Berg. "I think it's just a shell," he said. "And that there is something else inside."

"You might be correct. Alan, though that still doesn't make much sense. If it is a vessel of some kind, why travel in such a complicated way?"

"To hide?"

"Hiding inside something that is so noticeable doesn't seem very practical," John countered.

"Should I try the lasers, Commander? Try to draw it out just in case it is hostile?"

"No, Alan. It has not threatened us in any way, so I'd rather not we fire first." Koenig had sudden flashes in his mind of Vana's golden planet of light and wondered briefly if the pyramid could be from there. It could be from anywhere in the universe, and it may be totally benign or even beneficial. "We've been released from the confines of earth thinking and the unknown doesn't just need to cause fear anymore," he explained, "merely curiosity and caution."

"I'd rather be cautious," Alan commented. "We met enough folks out there in space on our journey on Alpha that meant us harm."

"Not really," Koenig said. "Most of the time planets and organisms were just working towards their own defense or survival and we were the intruders. We did what we had to do to ensure ours."

Alan glanced at his Commander. "Ummm… Commander?"

"Yes Alan?"

"I'd like to teach Virea to be an eagle pilot if it is OK with you. I think she may be a great asset to us."

Koenig looked at his chief pilot with surprise. "Why, I think that's a great idea Alan. Of course! Do you think she'll be interested?"

"It's what she had been taught, Commander. She knows a lot about space travel, spaceships and strategy."

"Sounds great! Yes, by all means. Engineering has had her over for a few visits. We're working on perhaps designing some newer craft. She's very thankful that we took her in and she's a fast learner, adapting to our ways."

"Do you think the Bethans may ever come and look for their ship, Commander?"

"I doubt it. It's my impression that their planet really is in trouble. I hope that with Theia gone, they can make peace with Delta, but with a war that has lasted hundreds, maybe thousands of years, it may never happen." They flew on in silence for a while; then Victor's face appeared on the communications console.


"Got you, Victor."

"It looks as if that pyramid might come down roughly 40 km southwest from Uzazi, bar any course changes. Even if it crashes it may not be a threat."

"Get a security team ready Victor. One of our war eagles. They can move to that sector once the pyramid gets closer. Alan and I should be home soon."

"Got you, John."

"I think when that thing lands the sides will open up like petals, and there will be something inside," Alan said.

"Something really scrambled," John retorted with a smile.

The contingent of ATVs and moon buggies were gathered some distance away from Uzazi with a war eagle circling slowly above. Those on the vehicles could not yet see the strange descending object, but the command unit was keeping them updated and it appeared they were roughly in the correct spot to witness the landing or crash. There had still been no signal or contact with the craft, if it was that, it had not changed in appearance, and still did not seem to be threatening. The welcoming party was fully armed though, with laser cannons and even a shoulder missile launcher and a couple of missiles just in case something threatening emerged from the inside. All eyes were scanning the sky.

"Commander!" Paul Morrow's voice over his commlock sounded excited. "You should see it shortly. But… it has stabilized! The tumbling has stopped and it's just descending slowly now. You're at the right spot."

Koenig relayed the news to those waiting with him, and the men looked at each other with amazement.

"So it does appear to be some kind of craft," Victor Bergman observed. "I so hope it's benign! The things we can learn from it about propulsion would be fascinating."

"There! There!" Tony Allen shouted, pointing, and all eyes followed his finger. Yes, they could now make out a tiny black speck high up in the sky. The watchers stayed on their vehicles though, in case they had to move out of the way suddenly. As it started growing bigger from their point of view there were a few whistles and calls of surprise. They had all expected that the object, whatever it was, would land on one of the sides with the tip facing upwards; instead it was descending slowly with the tip pointing down.

"Now there's one for the books!" Victor remarked dryly. The group had observed that they were a safe enough distance away and stood rooted to the spot, watching the controlled descent with amazement. The pyramid came down almost serenely, growing bigger and bigger by the second, but made no effort to present a flat surface for landing.

"Perhaps it will topple over upon touchdown?" Alan asked. "Are we far enough away if that happens?"

"Yes," Koenig answered, his attention riveted on the golden shape. It came down, now just a few hundred meters above them and towering over them, and seemed to slow even more. Men were holding their breaths, raising their weapons just in case something menacing sprung from it, and Tony Allen readied the missile launcher.

Finally, without any sound, the pyramid came to a stop, hovering with its tip down about a meter above the surface of Berg. The golden glow was beautiful and their eyes traveled up, up, up, taking in the size of it. Everyone waited in silence for the final touchdown, but it appeared the thing, whatever it was, was just going to hover there, its arrival complete.

"Well," Commander Koenig said after a good few minutes of silence. "I guess that's it?"

Victor Bergman scratched his head. "Looks like it. Curiouser and curiouser." No one had attempted to approach the object yet.

"Are you getting this, Paul?" Koenig asked.

"Yes, Commander. What an incredible sight!"

There was not a sound from the object nor did the sides open as they had all expected. It just hung there like some strange triangular sun, reflecting the light and bathing the observation party in a soft golden glow.

Victor held up his scanner and indicated the other instruments hung around his shoulder. "I'll go closer now, John, and see if I can get any readings." The Professor was in a moon buggy with Alan Carter, who nodded eagerly.

"Victor, you take the controls. Alan, have your laser cannon ready and do it a few meters at a time. We don't know if that thing can still change or spit out some hostile alien force."

The moon buggy started crawling forward; then stopped. When nothing happened, Victor took it forward a few more meters. Some of the men in the party moved their vehicles up too, flanking the leading buggy; their weapons ready as well. The Professor stopped again, waiting for a few minutes, but the large craft remained inert and silent. He looked back at John Koenig, shrugged and then moved the buggy forward again. The little craft was completely dwarfed by the huge shape. Victor lifted his scanner towards it; then shook his head. "We'll have to go closer. Still no readings." He then took the buggy about 20 meters closer.

"If this thing topples now, we're dead meat," Alan chuckled. Even though the pyramid was hovering just above the surface, it looked steady enough. They continued creeping towards it slowly. The other vehicles hung back now but the men all had their weapons trained on the strange object. Finally the two men in the buggy were no more than 10 meters away, but the pyramid remained inert.

"Take the buggy around it once at this distance," Alan whispered as if there were things inside that might hear. Victor steered the buggy around the golden pyramid once, but even that caused no response. The two men looked at each other.

"I'm going close enough to use the scanner," the Professor said.

"Yes, let's get this over with," Alan replied. "Whatever it is, it's either empty or dead or a trap to draw us in. We might as well find out."

Victor nodded and piloted the moon buggy until the two men were right beside it. "Hey, did you feel that, Professor?" Alan suddenly exclaimed in awe, looking up. As they had approached it was as if the golden glow had enveloped them, like a gentle, cool breeze.

"Yes, yes, I did," Victor replied, bringing the buggy to a stop. He lifted the scanner. "Could you take the buggy around it?" he asked Alan. "Doesn't look as if you'll need your weapon."

The men on the other vehicles about 100 meters away had seen what appeared to be a golden mist surround their two fellow Alphans and Koenig cried out: "Watch out! Fall back!" But it appeared as if the two men couldn't hear them. John saw Victor raise his scanner towards the pyramid and saw Alan take control and steer it around the tip. Despite the mist the men seemed OK.

At the tip of the pyramid the two men were totally absorbed in their investigation. Alan took the buggy around it again, and Victor Bergman had stood up in the buggy, his hand on Alan's shoulder for balance, aiming the scanner even closer to the golden sides. "It's incredibly dense," he said. "Not emitting anything we can read."

"Fascinating," Alan agreed. As they made another pass the young pilot put out his hand to run it along the smooth golden surface.

The men at the other vehicles had been watching too, and Koenig saw Alan raise his hand and place it against the side of the space pyramid. Immediately the golden mist thickened, swirling so as to completely surround and conceal the buggy. "Abort! Abort!" Koenig shouted. "Get back you two!" The golden mist just thickened.

Koenig shot forward on his ATV, racing towards the shape. A couple of other vehicles followed. As they drew closer the mist abated somehow and they could see the moon buggy still sitting at the tip. Koenig let out his breath, but as he drew even closer and the mist thinned out even more he could see that it was empty. Both men had simply disappeared. The scanner and laser cannon lay beside the buggy; the buggy looked unharmed, but both men were completely and inexplicably gone.

(To be continued...)