Chapter 12: The Intergalactic Council

"Raan," Commander Koenig nodded in acknowledgement to the Zennite.

"I am Kevril from Drakh," the tallest of the robed figures drawled. "I've taken on a generic humanoid form you can relate to."

"And I, Mehara from the planet Kecantikan," a red-complexioned female alien said, pushing away her veil.

"I am John Koenig…" the Commander started, but Kevril held up a hand.

"We know who you are, Commander Koenig. Please sit down so we may start."

With a shrug at each other the two Alphans sat.

"Commander Koenig, please understand that we are merely representatives of the Intergalactic Council, chosen because we still have physical forms you can relate to," Raan said. "We will convey to you all that is required, and oversee this last part of your training which consist of the necessary meditation techniques to fully utilize your human brains for thought-communication while you are conscious. So far you have only achieved it while in an altered state like sleep or loss of consciousness." Raan gestured to Kevril with a bow.

"I am a health specialist," the alien from Drakh said. "In your terms, a doctor. I will ascertain that your health limits are not exceeded."

"My role as anthropologist is to teach you the history and purpose of the Intergalactic Council," Raan stated.

Mehara turned to the Professor. "I'll be instructing you in the science disciplines of the galaxies," she said, and smiled as the scientist's face lit up in anticipation.

Everyone around the table now turned to the radiantly beautiful Atherian. "I am here as a friend and observer," Arra said. "And to answer any questions you may have, and comfort your fears until you learn to conquer them."

"We're not afraid," Koenig smiled.

"Oh but you are, John Koenig," Arra replied sympathetically. "You fear always that you don't measure up to what is expected of you." She turned to the Professor. "And you, Victor Bergman, constantly fear that your actions may harm others. Both those fears are crippling in their own way."

The two Alphans looked down, feeling vulnerable at the exposure of their weaknesses.

"We are here to help you, not harm you," Arra continued softly. "If you can conquer those deepest fears, it will bring you closer to reaching your full potential. Now… time for business." She deferred to the other three beings.

"Medically speaking," Kevril started, "your physical bodies have already undergone changes during the periods of your travel, but we assure you that your basic human construction has not been altered. Your immune systems have been boosted because of things in space humans have never encountered. Your cell systems have been revitalized. Any form of degenerative disease has been reversed." He turned to the Professor. "We have taken the liberty to update and improve your primitive mechanical implant to make it more compatible with human biology." Victor Bergman sat back, startled. "Be assured it is still a mechanical device your medical equipment can deal with, but it should serve you better for the remainder of your physical life."

Koenig smiled broadly and patted his friend on the back. "Sounds like good news to me, Victor!"

"Yes, yes," the Professor replied quietly, then met the eyes of the alien. "Thank you."

"I will also assist in teaching you how the mind can be used to encourage healing and speed up cell recovery and regeneration."

"The diversity of the intergalactic worlds that form part of our council calls for us to understand the basic scientific principles utilized by the many civilizations so that you do not inadvertently cause harm while dealing with intergalactic matters," Mehara took up the discourse. "While many remain the same as those discoveries on earth, I will lead you into those scientific principles mankind has not yet discovered; scientific principles that govern only in deep space. You will enjoy some of the demonstrations we have planned for you."

"I will take you on a historical mind-tour of the known universe and introduce you to the different galaxies represented in our council." Raan was next to speak. "There are some general conventions of behavior when dealing intergalactically, of which I'll make you aware. Then I'll show you the intergalactic historical register, of which you will be proud to know, Berg in Alpha Nova has already become part of."

Professor Bergman held up his hand. "Wait… you said… known universe. Does that mean there is… an unknown universe you're not even aware of?"

"Yes, Professor," Raan nodded. "Just like mankind is forever expanding their knowledge, we of the galaxies are still learning too."

"You will not always be together for your training," Arra added. "During times of rest and meditation you need to share with one another what you have learned. If you conclude your training successfully, you will each develop abilities and fields that correspond to your talents and strengths, and that is where you will most likely be used, but it is good to have a broad general understand of who we are and what we do."

"Most of all we would like you to relax and enjoy your time with us," Kevril said. "It will not be an easy time and you will need to reach deep inside of yourselves to succeed, but from our observation of the human spirit in the best of the species homo sapiens, we feel that you have what it takes."

Arra now laid her hand on the Commander's arm again. "We have just one thing to ask of you, John Koenig. A pledge, so to speak."

"If it is within my power, Arra."

"It is. There is one of you, on Berg, who is already far more advanced than the two of you…"

"Kevin McMurry," the Professor whispered and Arra turned to him with delight.

"You have noticed. Yes, we want you to pledge, John Koenig, that when he comes of age, you will allow him to become part of our council."

"If he wants to, of course," Koenig replied.

"Choice," Arra smiled. "Always necessary for mankind to feel in control. But you will learn, John Koenig, that some things are simply meant to be. I will leave it to you to convince the young man of his destiny. Now, let us commence. Professor, you will go with Mehara first, and John Koenig, Raan will take you under his wing. From time to time we will all meet up to evaluate progress, and you may hear what you call 'voices' teaching you more things as your minds develop. And if you have questions, ask." As she spoke the last words, her robed form dissolved from sight and the lanky form of Kevril contracted to a pinpoint of light before vanishing, leaving the Alphans with their first mentors to begin the focused training.

"Paul, we have a contact on our distant scanners," Lee Oswald reported from his desk in the control room in Uzazi.

"Details?" Paul Morrow asked from the desk in the Commander's office, where he had his four-year old daughter, Paulandra, on his lap and was reading to her.

Oswald punched a few keys. "Powered. Fast. A vessel of some kind."

"Visual?" Paul came down to the big screen, his daughter in tow.

"Not yet, a few seconds," Oswald said, his fingers busy. Moments later the distant probes started sending their feed and the men gaped. Paulandra jumped excitedly as the picture appeared, unaware that it may spell danger.

"What is that?" Paul asked as all eyes went up to the screen. The slate-grey, roughly triangular ship looked like a primitive stone arrowhead with multifaceted flat surfaces.

"I don't know," Oswald said, "But it doesn't look like a war ship to me."

"Let's scramble the war Eagles anyway," Paul said. "And start sending our signal."

"Wait… wait… we're getting a signal." David Kano suddenly exclaimed. "On the interstellar frequency."

"Let's hear it, David." Paul was still staring at the strange vessel, but the message made them all swing towards Kano and his desk.

"Berg Command, Berg Command, this is John Koenig on Te Wera. Do you read?"

"It's the Commander!" Paul exclaimed. "They're coming back!" Those in the command room started jumping up and down with hoots and hollers, hugging and backslapping while Paul punched some keys excitedly. "Yes Commander, we read you. And are we glad to hear your voice!" Then he was overwhelmed by hugs from Kano and Oswald and for a few moments there was uncontrolled revelry.

"We're coming in slowly, and will be landing in about 30 minutes, Paul," the Commander's voice came again.

"Slowly?" David Kano looked up at the approaching ship. "Our Eagles take about 4 hours from the distant probes!"

"Yes, Commander," Paul replied breathlessly. "Are you OK?"

"We're fine, Paul. Clear the launching area of all Eagles so we can set this baby down."

"Yes, Commander!" Paul threw his hands in the air with joy before turning to the main communications console. "Attention all departments on Berg. This is a Happy Alert! Commander Koenig and the Professor are returning and will be landing in 30 minutes. All duties except critical ones are suspended for the next couple of hours if you'd like to meet them at the Eagle hangar!"

Those in the command center rushed outside to meet up with those running from the various buildings with shouts of joy. People blindly grabbed each other, dancing between the buildings, and there were several tear-stained faces. The children old enough to sense that something was in the air danced too. Then some started making their way to the monorail station in Uzazi to start the trek to the Eagle hangar and the landing zone.

Sandra met up with Paul, their second child on her hip, and they both made their way towards Helena Russell, who was standing outside the medical center staring into the sky, tears running down her face.

"They're coming back, Doctor Russell," Sandra confirmed softly, taking Helena's hand. "Let's go meet them. Where's Thor?"

Helena wiped her cheeks but was unable to wipe the smile from her face. "Inside, somewhere, with Kevin. Pardon this shameless bawling… but it's a happy bawling," she laughed, wiping her face again.

"The train will be full in no time," Paul said. "Go get Thor and Kevin and we'll go get us some moon buggies. We have time."

Angela Robinson came running from the laboratory. "I'll round up the other children and we'll go catch the next train in 15 minutes," she said, linking her arm with David Kano. "See you all at the Eagle hangar."

Some people were already leaving in moon buggies, and a few ATVs grumbled past them. There was a huge exodus to the landing site and no doubt the same was happening in Kukua and at the stone-works and plantation sites.

"Is there anyone left in the command center?" Paul asked with a smile as he pulled up in a moon buggy. "Just in case?"

"I'll go," Lee Oswald said with a wink. "Just in case."

"Thanks Lee. Appreciate it. Keep us updated."

Sandra pulled up in a second buggy, but left it for Doctor Russell, Thor and Kevin and joined Paul and Paulandra, her second daughter on her lap. Bob Mathias came out of the medical center too.

"Great news!" he smiled. "But we have a mother close to labor. I'll stay so Doctor Russell can go… she needs to go… if she can find Thor," he added with a chuckle. A few minutes later Helena Russell finally appeared, her two year old son's hand firmly in hers. Kevin McMurry jumped in the moon buggy, looking at her expectantly and she relented.

"Yes, you can drive." Thor reached for the control stick too, but she pulled him into the back with her. "Not you," she laughed, hugging him to her. "Not yet."

Inside Te Wera the two men were concentrating hard in flying the still unfamiliar ship. Intergalactic flight was mostly automatic and computer controlled, but slow flying, take off and landing needed pilot input. Koenig had excelled during his lessons, but this was the first solo landing he would be making. True to Arra's analyses of him, he wanted it to be perfect. Meanwhile he was also teaching Victor Bergman.

A cockpit of sorts had been fitted in the nose of the ship, and sliding panels revealed that there had been ports to see through all the time: only the controls had been hidden. There were two seats for pilots to use during manual flight, and those had been imprinted with the two new Intergalactic Council members' biological data. No one else would be able to fly Te Wera, and Koenig was still uncertain how he would break the news to Alan Carter.

"What do you think they're doing down there, Victor?" Koenig smiled to relax his friend, who was still very tense at the controls.

"Carrying on with things as usual?" Victor suggested.

"You don't think they'll be happy we're coming back?" John asked with mock indignation.

"The two of us? Nooo…" Victor retorted with a chuckle. "I doubt they ever realized we were gone."

Koenig pointed at the communications panel. "Call them, Victor, tell them ten minutes. It's just practice."

"Te Wera calling Berg command, do you read?" the Professor called.

"Read you, Professor," Lee Oswald replied. "I'm alone here; everyone else has left for the landing zone. Everything in order?"

"Landing in ten minutes, Lee," Bergman responded. "Everything is in order."

"You missed the madness in the streets of Uzazi," Oswald's voice was filled with laughter. "You won't believe the dancing and cheering."

"What for?" the Professor asked, and there was a moment of stunned silence.

"For you, of course," Lee said. "You and Commander Koenig. We've missed you. You've been gone for two years, you know!"

"We're glad to be coming home too. We've missed our people. See you in a few minutes." Bergman closed the connection, concentrating on his Commander's actions in slowing the ship down and bringing her around. They were now in the outer atmosphere of Berg, where friction would help slowing their vessel, but they still had to bring her in with a large curve. Below them the surface of their home started coming into view, green and bright. Koenig slid open some more panels on the sides so they had a better view. The large ship floated silently above their planet and Koenig pushed the nose down more.

Koenig glanced at his friend, who was staring out through the viewport. He could hardly imagine what must be going through his head, having been away from Helena and his son for two years. He could barely contain himself with excitement at seeing her again, and he pushed aside the momentary twinge of disappointment that threatened to surface. Their training had been hard, with many initial failures, but they had persevered. Yet Raan had not said a word about Vana at their departure, and he had been afraid to ask.

The vegetation now started appearing distinct, and Koenig simply glided the big ship in. Both men drew in sudden breath as the buildings of Uzazi started coming into view.

"The monorail, John!" the Professor suddenly exclaimed. "They completed the monorail!" They watched a tiny train travel along the rail below them as Koenig circled again, and then the high roof of the Eagle hangar came into view. He started the shut-down sequence.

"Well, look at that!" the Commander laughed. The area around the landing pad was filled with people, quite possibly everybody on Berg. Koenig lined Te Wera up perfectly and the ship settled down gently to hover a few centimeters above the ground as it did upon landing. He shut everything down. "You go first, Victor," he said, unclipping his harness. "I'll be right behind you, but if we've changed into ugly green men and the others run away, I'm not getting out," he added to lighten the mood.

The Professor had walked over to the exit panel and now used the wall control to slide it open. A huge cheer greeted them, and Victor Bergman stepped onto Berg for the first time in two years, his eyes searching the crowd.

She was before him in seconds, flinging her arms around his neck, clinging to him while tears streamed down her face. He was momentarily stunned at the exuberant display of emotion, but wrapped his arms around her waist and swung her around, caught up in the joy emanating from the crowd. Then he held her by her shoulders, meeting her gaze, and shamelessly kissed her with abandon while everyone raised a big cheer. He was aware of John Koenig in the doorway of the ship behind him, and then his eyes picked out the small form of a boy with spiky black hair and huge eyes staring at him from the edge of the crowd.

"Thor?" he whispered, squatting down, vaguely aware of John Koenig hugging Helena behind him, and more people surging forward with exclamations of welcome. The boy took a few steps, then stopped and kept on staring. Victor held out his hand, waiting patiently while around him was noise, hugging, crying…

The boy took a few more steps and Victor found himself looking into a pair of curious light green eyes. Then Helena was beside him on her knees and Thor hastily completed the final few steps to his mother, while his eyes never left those of his father.

"Your father is home, Thor," Helena whispered, wrapping her arms around Victor's neck again, trapping the toddler between them. And when she pulled away, the small arms had encircled his father's neck. Then she noticed the tears in the scientist's eyes as he hugged his son to him and decided to leave him for a moment with his private emotion.

She stood up and faced John Koenig again. He was surrounded by his people and unable to keep up with the handshakes and hugs. "I don't know where you've been," she smiled, hands on her hips, "but boy, the two of you look good."

The other Alphans had noticed too. Both men looked lean, fit and hard.

"We have some stories to tell, that's for sure," Koenig replied, one arm around Sandra, the other around Angela. "But first," he said to Alan Carter, "I need Johan Burger."

Alan started pushing through the crowd looking for his Eagle pilot while John Koenig climbed back into the ship. By the time the Commander appeared with a small, flat bundle, Alan was ushering the young man through the crowd. Commander Koenig shook the young man's hand and then held out the bundle. "Johan, this is for you."

The tall, blond South African unwrapped the bundle, curiosity obvious on his face. He stared at the contents in utter stillness for a moment before hugging it to his chest, tears flowing shamelessly down his cheeks. When he finally faced his Commander, overcome, he stammered: "Where… did you… get this?"

"We've been to earth," Koenig replied, and as he knew his reply would, it caused utter chaos. People started shouting questions, pressing in on them, but Koenig held up his hand. "We met his brother, and a group of survivors in South Africa," the Commander shouted to be heard. "And yes, we'll tell you all the stories and answer all your questions in time." He placed his hand around the young pilot's shoulder. "Your brother and his people were very good to us, and sent a lot of things with us for Berg. You'll enjoy some of it." The pilot broke down and simply cried on his Commander's shoulder, and Koenig felt his own eyes fill with tears. They were home, they were safe and they were obviously loved.

Much later the crowds had dispersed from the Eagle hangar, and Commander Koenig sat with his chief pilot, Alan Carter, on the ground beside Te Wera, watching Johan Burger and a group of pilots tossing the rugby ball they had brought back to each other.

Carter was silent, staring at the fantastic ship. Koenig had explained to him as much as he could about the sub-atomic propulsion system, the triple hull, the intergalactic flight speeds, but Alan was dejected that he could never fly the ship himself. He had news of his own though, explaining to the Commander about their newly refurbished war Eagles, incorporating some technology they had learned from Virea, the Bethan.

Victor Bergman had returned home with Helena and Thor. During the next few days they would meet with their people several times to tell all their stories, and travel around Berg to see what his people had achieved during their absence. He had heard briefly about the stone-works, the newly established plantation, the three sheep and the four babies that had been added to their number, but it had been too quick and too much to process yet. But his friend needed time to spend with his family.

Koenig swallowed his disappointment again, getting up and holding out his hand to help up his pilot. "Well, Alan, it's good to be home again. I know you have many questions, but I need a good night's rest in my own bed. And some decent clothes," he grinned, gesturing at the shiny black tunic and pants that had been their standard outfit on the green planet.

"Of course, Commander," Alan smiled. "We're looking forward to hearing about your adventures. What happened to the golden pyramid, by the way?"

Koenig recalled Arra's words with a smile. "It had just been a tool to intrigue us and draw us to the intergalactic council," he replied, shaking his head. "They understood that human nature would eventually draw for them those they wanted. I can't say I totally agree with their methods, but it worked."

"If they had simply invited you, would you have gone, Commander?"

"Probably not," Koenig replied honestly. "Actually, I might have gone, but Victor would not have. In the end everything worked out though." He put his arm around Alan's shoulder. "I'm going to ride the train to Kukua. It's really good to be back again." He made his way to the small station building called Eagle Station and admired the small stone building while waiting for the train. He had learned that the stone blasted by the miners looking for minerals had been brought to a stone-working site by freight Eagles, where a few newly trained masons were shaping it into useful blocks for building. Though simple, the small open-ended building was beautiful, the black stone shining in the Berg sunlight.

He watched the four-carriage train approaching slowly. It was an automated closed system, trains departing from each of the four stations at 15 minute intervals in synchronized fashion. A few people got out and greeted him again with joy on their faces, but he was the only one getting in. Each carriage could carry eight passengers, and the final flatbed carriage was for freight. As the little train moved slowly along the rail, he stared out at the Berg landscape, finally allowing some emotion to surface, wiping his cheeks.

At Kukua station he was once again greeted happily by a few people boarding. There was an identical stone building with the carved letters "Kukua Station". He stood for a moment, looking out over the buildings of their second community on Berg. Then, with a deep sigh he stepped from the platform and headed in the direction of his quarters in Kukua.

People going about their tasks again waved at him as he passed, and he was glad they could not see his heart. While the biggest part of him was happy to be back home, happy to be back with his people, a small dark part was struggling with the bitter disappointment about Vana. He remembered Arra's words about patience and hope when she had read the question in his mind, but his hope had been that their successful conclusion of the training would allow him to return to Berg with Vana. But he had not been visited by her, and Raan had bid him farewell without as much as one word.

He stopped and looked at his small residential unit. Though he realized it was his, it somehow seemed different, as if it had subtly changed in his absence. With yet another sigh he put it down to the changes that had happened within him, and stepped up to the door. But then he froze again. It had changed: embedded in the door panel was a small golden triangle, shimmering softly in the sunlight. Hesitantly he put his hand out to touch it with his fingers, and for a moment it seemed alive, almost moving under his touch.

With a frown he touched the keypad to slide open the door and stepped inside.

He was greeted by a soft golden light, permeating the entire space. Everything seemed to glow, and he felt his heart leap for joy. "Vana?" he whispered.

The beautiful young woman came towards him from the bedroom, her face radiant. She was without her stark Zennite outfit, simply draped in a long white robe, with her golden hair cascading freely down her back.

"John," she sighed, falling into his arms. "I've waited so long for you."

"And I," he said, running his fingers through her hair and lifting her chin with his other hand. "Is this real, or a dream?"

"My father has pledged me to you," her eyes smiled with love. "I am here, John, in your world. I chose to wait for you here first, to be with you. I can meet your people later."

"Oh, Vana," he sighed, leaning down to kiss her tenderly. "I just hope you will be happy here in my world."

"I'll be happy anywhere that you are, John," she replied, her hand on his cheek. "And we share some abilities now we could use for our continual well-being, my love."

"Yes, we do," he whispered, his lips in her hair. Then, with a mischievous smile he picked her up in his arms, heading for the back room. "But first I have some unique abilities I'd like to practice on you… that is, if it meets with your approval?"