Jim Mackilson, crossing the station, hesitated as a feeling something was wrong had overcome him. He looked at the big screen showing so many nearby stars in the center of the milky way. Was there something wrong? He switched on the computer and asked it to check all variations since his last observation.
"No," Billy, the computer wrote silently, "there is nothing new of importance, sir."
"Any events of less importance?"
"Some comets cruising over there," it answered, "and, as you know, a distant sun is to become a nova."
Mackilson, commander of the station, looked at this sun.
"When will it explode?" he asked absent mindedly. Something else was plagueing him.
"Maybe in one hundred thousand years, or later," the computer wrote.
Well, then there is no danger there, Mackilson thought. But there was a catastrophe brewing ahead, he felt it.
A few moments later he looked at the back of Tomlinson, one of his men working at the panel, with hair raised, it seemed to the commander. Better take a shower, John, he thought. He looked nearer and he wondered, his man seemed full of tension, his back arched, and his fingers, yes, his fingers, there was perspiration dripping from them and smearing the screen he just had touched.
"What's up, John?" he asked and drew nearer.
Tomlinson didn't hear him, he was so engrossed in his job, checking if there were metallic objects out there.
"John?" Mackilson asked again, now standing behind his specialist.
Tomlinson didn't turn round, his fingers glided over the panel, and there was a switch he activated, and the warning red light began to shine, accompanied by the buzzing sound of the alarm.
"What are you doing, John?" Mackilson asked angrily stepping quite near the man and looking over his shoulder.
And he removed the order Tomlinson had given with a quick movement of his own hand. Then he saw Tomlinson's face, red and swollen, his eyes bulging out of their sockets.
Now Tomlinson realized the commander was beside him.
"Making a better frame of the picture," he stuttered.
"But you have wiped out your visual," remarked the commander.
"No, I have . . . ." The man in front of the panel stopped short.
"Do you see this?" demanded Mackilson.
Tomlinson's eyes widened, he licked his lips and pressed one or two buttons, and the picture of space out there was as clear as before. The alarm signal ceased, the red lights went out, and the beam specialist turned fully round, wiping sweat from his brow. There was a bemused shimmer in his eyes.
His good men, Mackilson thought. They don’t have a habit of makng mistakes.
"I thought," Tomlinson said, his fingers visibly trembling.
"What did you intend to do?"
"I thought there was something out there, Boss," he pronounced with difficulty.
"Out there? Let me see!"
Both men, bowed over the control, moved the key beam, and, indeed, there was something like a ball or a globe, far out there, hard to detect if you weren't a lucky devil.
"You swiped the visual, John?" Mackilson asked.
"No, sir, I . . . ."
The commander looked into the eyes of his beam man. Tomlinson seemed normal again. But, hell, he thought, what had changed him?
"You need a shower?" he peacefully asked.
"No, sir, I showered half an hour ago," Tomlinson answered, his face and shirt and everything around him full of sweat as if this man had just worked the hardest job in his life.
"Have a break, please," Mackilson said.
"That's an order?"
"That's a recommendation, but do it!"
Tomlinson arose and swaying and staggering, even cursing, he moved to his quarters.
"Can you check this, Billy?" Mackilson asked the computer loudly.
"It will take some time, sir," answered Billy.
"Why didn't you check it immediately?"
"There is some camouflage to it."
"Camouflage?" Mackilson knit his brows.
"Looks like a comet or a ball of snow or an object where metal is strewn in."
"Hell, check it!" exclaimed the commander. "How long will it take to deliver results?"
"Don't know. Depends on the quality of the disguise, sir."
"And make it snappy!"
"The snappiest ever possible, sir."
Mackilson wiped his head. Hell, they had found something they all the time were searching for, and now one of his best man almost had deleted it.
"Chief!" There was one of the minor colleagues calling.
"Beg your pardon, Chief, Bree is my name," said the man whose face appeared on the screen.
"Sorry, Bree," Mackilson answered, he who had such a penomenal memory for names, and now this. "What is it?"
"Runceford, sir," the caller said.
"Runceford? Machinery and atomic pillar and beam support?"
The commander didn't even wait to hear what Bristol - no - Bree would propose. Following an eerie feeling, he switched down into the area of the station where all this heavy and dangerous machinery was located. The sweeping camera found its target within seconds. That was William Runceford down there very busy before a panel situated on the pillar in which waterlike substances were gushing.
There were five or six knobs there, old switch buttons, you press one and end all processes. You press another and you blow the station apart. They are signified with colours and locking devices and labels saying: "Use permitted only in cooperation with another authorized person and with allowance of the captain. Please be careful, do not endanger the whole ship (or station)!"
Why such perilous device on board such a station? Space is full of problems, as well as full of trouble, you never know whom or what you will meet.
"Runceford!" It choked in the commander's throat seeing how easily that man had surmounted all locking devices and now was standing before the panel with his hand hovering over the red button.
Like awakening from a dream, Runceford turned round and looked into the eye of the camera and he saw his commander.
"Hell, William," Mackilson growled, "what are you doing down there?"
"The holder is broken. I try to fix it."
The holder? Mackilson looked there. Indeed, there were electric devices, and some plastic material had been damaged last time when a cosmic shower had hit the station.
"But, the holder is far away from your present station, William," Mackilson grumbled, almost out of breath.
Because, he realized, Runceford's hand still hovered over the red signed button.
William Runceford, hearing this, turned round. His face had been red and now it became pale. And slowly, slowly, as if there was a poisenous spider or some sort of evil snake crawling there, he removed his now trembling hand from the red button.
He wiped his forehead and swallowed.
"Sorry, sir," he whispered, "I must have mistaken it."
Mistaken it? thought Mackilson, and now he himself swallowed.
"Where is the second man to press any of these buttons?" he asked, leaving himself aside, because he was the commander, and they never had asked him.
"Earnest Smith?" Runceford demanded.
"Gone for personal business, sir."
What kind of personal business, Mackilson didn't ask, but the veins were protruding out of his neck.
"You," he hesitated, "can activate all machinery on your own, William?"
"I can, sir," the specialist replied.
"And how did you eliminate the contacts presupposing that only two of you can work on the contact?"
"That's easy, sir," Runceford replied and explained how - with the help of the computer - they could configure fingerprints.
Mackilson swallowed. Yes, he realized, they could do that, for the computer having saved everything (and, naturally, all data on their health) in his memory banks, it was a matter of split seconds to do that. But the computer was not allowed to follow such orders. Mackilson was aghast. The computer had done it.
"You move out of this sector, William," he calmly said.
"Yes, sir," the man down there replied, and some red colour came back into his complexion.
Mackilson watched him till his man was on the ladder and moving up. He again swallowed. Bristol, he thought. Am I now going mad myself? Bristol - Bree! How can you mistake this? You cannot, he considered. But he had been so sure of this - wrong - name. And Runceford? What about his buttons? Impossible, the specialist couldn't go wrong! But he did. And John Tomlinson, deleting out the most important information they ever had received.
But he had to check one more important point.
"Billy," he called the computer.
"Fingerprints of Earnest Smith, Billy!"
"Did you copy them?"
"And passed them over to Runceford?"
Mackilson's throat was aching as he heard this.
"But you are not entitled to do that, Billy," he said.
"No, sir," the machine answered.
"And how come, anyway, you passed them on?"
It took the computer - click, click, click - some seconds - that's an eternity for such a device - to check this past process.
"There was some electric stimulation enabling me to do this, sir," it finally explained.
"Do you know where it came from, Billy?"
There was another point bothering the commander.
"You know, Billy," he said, "there are only two men necessary to detonate our station?"
"Yes, sir, I do know this," answered the machine.
"Because they can only act in cooperation with me, the commander?"
"Yes, I know, sir. But, please forgive me a remark in this respect."
"Yes, Billy, go on!"
"If the director is tipsy or groggy or dizzy, then I can address his deputy as third man responsible."
If the director is groggy. Mackilson deeply swallowed. Because he hadn't been in best condition, so the machine in the end acted righteously. And how dit it pass on the responsibility to Ben Marley, his deputy? He didn't even ask this, because, if you want to play false - and say, electrically - you will always find your ways.
"Thank you, Billy."
"Always at your service, sir."
This information, Tomlinson's information, the comet or the ball of snow, hell, that's the problem's center, he thought. And decided, first to drink a coffee, or better sip a cup of cappuccino, then he could think better. There, in the kitchen, dogsbody Johnny was waiting.
"What's up, sir?" Johnny asked regarding his seemingly exhausted chief.
"I need a cup of cappuccino, Johnny," Mackilson replied while his neck was cramping.
The commander sat down and thought, What else will they be up to? The guard station was big as an enterprise must be to watch the stars all over, but only a handful of specialists were necessary for it.
"No, Johnny," he said, "a cup of cappuccino."
Hell, what did that boy do there?
"Yes, sir," replied Johnny Veruso, holding some tea bags, as if foolishly kidding his superior.
Slowly Mackilson stood up, body stretched, in his face an expression of anger and unbelieving. He drew nearer, whilst Johnny downed the bags into an electric kettle. He grabbed Johnny's hand and stopped the bags dangling over the rim of the kettle.
"You know what you are doing there?" he asked grimly in a suppressed voice.
"Sure, sir," Johnny answered, the dangling bags in his hands.
And he lifted that hand confidently as if to show his superior how foolish the other one was. And hesitated, now seeing what he was holding in his fingers. Unbelievingly he lifted up his hand, drew their contents nearer to his eyes, and looked a second time. He couldn't believe it, laid the bags into the sink, now visibly shaking, and said:
"I could have sworn . . . ."
"That that's cappuccino, Johnny?"
"I am sorry, Sir, I didn't intend to do this," the dogsbody stuttered, his face flushed, turning round to the cupboard wherefrom he - indeed - picked a well preserved package of cappuccino.
"I could have sworn," he murmurred, and stopped, sweat pouring down his throat.
"What could you have sworn, Johnny?"
"I am sorry, sir, this was not meant to be an insolence."
"No, sir, not overworked. The valves run right, the rudder - I mean the backbord rudder - is directed very well, and the energy pool down there . . . ."
"The energy pool, Johnny?"
Johnny Veruso still stood there, the package of cappuccino in his fingers.
"There was a fracture, Chief, I think there was."
"Please, let me see it, Johnny," Mackilson said, finally slurping his cappuccino.
Johnny Veruso, not only responsible for the kitchen, showed his chief a diagram, shot about two hours ago. There was a line on it representing the flow of energy and a sharp bend downwards.
"You didn't inform me on this," Mackilson said with oppressed reproach.
"The kitchen appliance," Veruso tried to defend himself. "I used more utensil at the same time than is conceded. I switched off one of the energy devouring pieces of apparatus, you see there," and he showed to the visible protocol, "and the line recovered."
"You know, Johnny, you must report each incident of this kind. The minor ones included."
"Yes, sir, I know, sir."
"Our lives depend on it."
"Yes, sir," the makeshift cook said, finally wiping the tea bags into the dustbin as if he could wipe out the memory of tea and coffee.
Mackilson, still present in the kitchen, pressed a talk button.
"Hey you, listen up, everywhere on board the station," he stated somewhat croakily.
He looked at the panel. Light diagrams were lighting up. One by one they were listening.
"Okay,” he then said, "stop all works of registration. Stop all unnecessary electric devices. Whatever you do, now at least two of you work together. Detailed explanation later. We have discovered a hull out there in space."
And to the computer, who seemed okay again due to all registration, he said: "What about the camouflage of that ball out there?"
"We'll penetrate it, sir," said Billy.
"What kind of disguise is it?" Mackilson asked thinking of John Tomlinson who had detected that hull.
"It's a kind of radiation, sir."
"Bouncing off our key beams?"
"Yes, sir, but when you have located it we can address it from different angles, and at the end we will look tightly at it."
"Better you look into it!"
"Of course in it as well, as soon as we have cracked its surface."
"Will you - ahem - crack it?"
"Sure, we will, sir."
"How many hours will it take you to do this?"
"Three hours minimum, sir."
He didn't mention the maximum. Mackilson didn't ask for the maximum, instead he was watching their dogsboy, he sighed with relief. That at least was something good told him by the machine. And there was Johnny Veruso, standing in the kitchen, his hands still trembling.
"This because of me?" he asked unbelievingly, looking desperately at the bin where the tea bags finally and completely had disappeared, taking with them any trace of misbehaviour.
"No, Johnny, but please hands off of all electric devices for the next few hours. Okay?"
"Okay, Chief." Johnny Veruso looked curious. "What about supper?"
"Cold supper, Johnny. Do you think they will accept it?"
The dogsbody seemed reliefed. "Oh yes, sir! For sure. I'll do my best!"
Mackilson, outside the kitchen, sweat on his own fingers, looked around the lazy humming station via their communication system. There was a man, named Swain, brushing his teeth in the toilet, he didn't do it with a tooth brush but with his fingers. And over there, at one of their store rooms, there was their cargo man with a printed list in his hands, which he went up and down with a pencil, up and down with the pencil, up and down, grinning and nodding his head as if searching for something on the paper something he for sure never would find there.
He came to when Mackilson was chewing him out.
"Sir," Marley, his deputy, stuck his head through the door.
"Is it true, sir, no activities whatsoever for the near future?"
"It is true," responded Mackilson threatingly lowering his head.
"There may be a stone meteor, sir, out there, maybe hitting the station."
Mackilson looked at his own printed papers.
"In three days to your convenience,” he answered.
Ben Marley, slightly terrorized by the looks of his superior, gave in, retreated from the door. No activities, no, no, no activities.
Mackilson himself, still cold sweat on his fingers, finally retreated to his private quarters. He swallowed. Damn it, he realized the next moment, he very nearly had entered the wrong room. That one beneath his own quarters. He took a deep breath, everything was going haywire, but he, the commander of this station, couldn't let go. No, he never would let go!
And then, all of a sudden, he remembered this:
"I'm waiting for you, Jimmy," she always said to him when he set off into space.
She? Who? He looked into the mirror over the basin and saw dark lines under his eyes, and his lips were tight and narrow, and there, one cheek, wasn't it swollen?
Rosalie, he remembered. That, contacting his wife, was the idea why he went to his own rooms.
"Billy," he then said to the computer.
"I want to contact my wife, Billy!"
"On earth, sir?" the machine asked cautiously.
"On earth, computer," he strictly demanded.
"Yes, I'll do it. It will take some seconds to find her."
"Come on, do it!" Mackilson, in desperation, snapped angrily.
And, indeed some seconds later - through substellar space relation - Rosalie, there she was on the monitor, looking aghast at him, flowers in her hand, she obviously recently had picked in the garden.
"What do you look like?" she asked after their short greetings.
He rubbed his cheek, staring at his wife, immediate sub contact over so many light years was excellent, and her beauty, as ever, was intoxicating.
"I had problems entering this room," he began clumsily.
"You don't look drunken," she retorted dropping all fun she had had in mind (joking as they always did).
This was serious. She never had seen her husband in this condition. And how he looked like!
"I am not the only one to be involved into problems, darling," he said and felt better gazing at her, strength returning to him.
"Your memory failed?" she asked knitting her brow, laying the flowers aside on the table.
"You are not the only one?"
"William almost detonated the station."
"Yes, darling." "Detonated?"
"He is a good man." She laughed unbelievingly, and stopped short.
"Even in the kitchen they mistake tea for coffee," he continued.
"Is there a ray field you are crossing?"
"No, darling, there is another ship or station out there."
"Why don't you tell me at once about this object?" she asked angrily, then, seeing his looks, calmed down.
"Sorry," he answered, "I forgot it."
"Yes, darling. But talking to you, I feel better. Now I remember almost everything."
"Well," she breathed heavily, organizing her thoughts, "there is an object, and all of you have difficulties keeping your thoughts together. That's right?"
"That's right, darling."
"Who detected that object or station?"
"And he told you frankly about it?"
"No, he tried to erase all traces of its existence."
Now he heard some pot or glass splintering.
"What was that?" he foolishly asked.
"That? Nothing. I dropped the vase of flowers. Don't mind," she continued. "Did he erase everything trailing down to the object?"
"No, there is a computer backup, you know, that way, nobody can willingly or unwillingly destroy it."
"Good," sighed she. "And now, this object. What kind of ship or station is it?"
"I'll show you, darling."
She, lightyears away, nodded.
"Billy, how far are you, unveiling the interior of that station?"
"Soon ready, sir. One surface more, and we can hack it."
"Please show the pictures of its hull, one by one, as far as you have registered them."
"One by one, as far as registered," the machine answered.
And there they were, pictures of a ball, hovering in space, similar to their own station. A silver ball it was, and mockingly some lights were shining all over its body - under the protected and disguised cover.
"You are cracking it open?" Rosy asked, whilst new won frame after frame glided over.
"We are trying."
"Some kind of camouflage, says the computer."
"Well," she exhaled heavily and caught with quick and deft fingers the next flower pot falling down, in mid air.
"What do you think, darling?" Mackilson asked, staring at the flowers.
"They are attacking you," she replied, placing the flowers on a table.
"There is no beam, no ray, no nothing of that sort," he mused, half groggy.
"You need no beam for that purpose."
"What do you need for it, please?"
Jim Mackilson still was more than exhausted, but now at this outlook he recovered all of a sudden. He stroked his cheek. Still swollen.
"It's just a matter of feeling," said she, the female being, evidently knowing very well what she was talking about.
"A matter of feeling? Ah," he hesitated, "some wish or desire?"
"Exactly, Jimmy, that's it."
"You mean," he cautiously felt his way, "just something within you, say a desire, and it will become true?"
"Like in the fairy tales?"
"That's it." She nodded, but didn't smile at all.
"Well," he hesitated again, licking his lips, "like we have encountered each other several years ago?"
And he looked - over that immense distance - into the eyes of that beautiful woman who had always remained a mystery to him. But she, his lovingly wife, now was cold as ice. He shuddered.
"Gee, what are you referring to?" she wanted to know, although, he felt it, she knew very well what he was up to.
"When," he cautiously began, "I had the urgent feeling to buy you some perfume, yes, I remember, Chanel No. 7, or No. 6, don't remember exactly, but there was that urge, I couldn't hinder it. I had to buy it."
"You didn't like to give it as a gift to me?" she strictly interrogated.
"No, no," he stuttered, "I liked to surprise you with it. But then," he almost halted, "it was no surprise for you?"
And he again once more looked questioningly over light years into her lovely face. Yes, unquestioned, a lovely face it was.
Rosy smiled softly. "It was like spoken between us, but without words."
"Catching up the feeling of another person, and without realizing where it comes from, and you think it's your own idea?"
"Exactly." She nodded vigorously. "Incidentally, I liked the perfume very much. And, by the way, important is not your buying and presenting it, important was your gesture, your attitude towards me which you expressed this way."
He, swollen cheek in his hand, grinned. "That I love you?"
"Well," he said, coming to the point mentioned by his woman, "we are being attacked."
"Yes," she whispered, "all of us, you know?"
"All of us?"
"Your men on the station."
"And me, Jimmy."
"You, Rosy?" He couldn't believe it.
She swivelled the camera down to the floor and the broken flowerpot there and the shards, and then she almost reproachfully looked over the giant distance separating, but never parting them.
"You dropped the pot. But," he hesitated only for a moment, willing to say: "That's normal, darling, that's about to happen."
But he didn't say it. As he realized what she meant, he breathed heavily. On the other hand, he thought she had saved the second pot of flowers. This notion encouraged him.
"We are being attacked," she softly, almost musically speaking, insisted. "All of us. You, your men on the station, and now I am included in this sector."
But, looking at the saved flowers shown in her back, again, he hesitated. "Why you, darling?"
"That's due to contact," she answered, "everybody contacting you is being dragged into it, willingly or unwillingly, it doesn't matter."
He wheezed, sweat dropping down.
"I did not intend to do this, darling," he raspingly said.
"It's not your fault," she answered. "We should take care of humanity. It's enough when one person on earth - me - is concerned with it. The others, imagine," there was fire fiercely burning in her eyes, "are up to making mistakes, errors all around the world. Pilot errors and planes crashing down. Wrong handling in the kitchens leading to fire everywhere. Traffic lights showing red, and they walk because it's green for them. You understand?"
"Oh no!" He wailed, then was silent.
Then he asked, a trifle of desperation in his voice: "What can we do about it?"
"What did you do?" she counterasked.
"Nothing," he replied and stopped, thinking it over.
"Well," he then said, blushing, "I called you up."
"Indeed, you did." She smiled maliciously, almost like a witch.
Terrible. That lovely wife could be terrible like a woman defending her child.
"Do you think that happened just by chance?"
He was in trouble to follow his endeared wife, she was proceeding so swiftly.
"I thought," he mused, "it be better to speak with someone you are highly acquainted with, the other one could help to estimate the problem."
"Contact," the computer said this moment so that both of them could hear his remark.
"You got the surface cracked?" Mackilson, his spirits rising, eagerly asked.
"Yes, Sir, now we can have a look into the station. Sir."
"Come on, let's see it." Then he halted. "Are they aware of us contacting them?"
"Well, I thought," the computer explained, "when they use camouflage, it's good we are using it as well."
"But our station is not camouflaged."
"No, but our beam reaching into their interior is."
"They don't know we are hanging on them now?" Rosy asked from the immense separating distance. "No, Madam, there is no registration of our subdued penetration possible."
"How do you do this?" she further inquired.
"Wave regulation, Madam. You can suppress each wave in laying another wave of the same kind and length over it. That's valid for light and everything else you can find in space and in the interstice, Madam."
Rosalie Mackilson sighed although she didn't really understand how one wave could be laid over another one and thus influence it.
"Open up that channel," her husband urged the computer. "Let's see what's in their station."
"Yes, sir," the computer howled, and - on the question why - he reported: "They are - errr - trying another gimmick. This one is directed against me."
"They regard me - errr - as the brain of our station."
"Can you withstand it, Billy?" Mackilson wondered.
And he began to describe his electronic counteraction, laying wavelengths over the beam of the aggressor, till the commander stopped him, wondering if their super brain also had gone mad. But no, it had not, and it's speech occurred without any more electronic interference. And then there were the first pictures.
"Hell," Rosy exclaimed surprised by what they looked at, "it's almost like our own station. And the same sort of crew, isn't it?"
Indeed, there were human beings, all male to judge after their countenances, and there was a panel around which they were gathered, and a giant monitor showing their own - Mackilson's - station. The image first somewhat was blurred, but then it became terrifyingly clear. They who watched it on the earthly station - and in the meantime everybody looked greedily at it - as well as Rosy so far away almost shied away.
"Let's have a round trip through their globe. That's possible, Billy?"
"Very well, sir," the machine answered.
And the rooms and the sectors swiftly changed, and again it was as if they somehow were sweeping through their own outpost because, when you build such an instrument in far away space, you harness the same means and many a times you hit on the same solution.
"Content, sir?" asked the computer.
"Utmost," Mackilson answered, looking pensive at what - over there - clearly was a kitchen.
Then he turned around, staring grimly at Rosalie, and asked her: "What do you make out of it?"
"Billy, you okay?" she asked the computer, addressing him by his nickname.
"In all respects, Madam."
"No problem whatsoever?"
"No, Madam, they will never more surprise me."
"Can we destroy them?" the chief of the station wanted to know without waiting for his wife answering the computer.
"There would be some risk to it, sir."
"When we try to destroy them we muster up a lot of energy. We cannot do this camouflaged. They would detect it. They wouldn't have much time, but maybe time enough to create a devastating reaction."
There on the other station one of the men - with some rank marks on his sleeves - slowly moved, looking around as if searching something he himself couldn't tell exactly what was. He bent over to an elder man with gray hair and more rank insignia on his sleeves and whispered something in his ear. The elder man looked embarrassed, then smiled, and said something unfriendly which made the other one pale. Anyway, he almost saluted - yes, sir! - and searchingly looked again around, but there was nothing. Not fully convinced, puffing out the air, he leaned back into his chair.
"Rosy?" Mackilson urged his wife nervously. "What was that?"
"The minor rank has caught something," she said, looking herself at the alien's kitchen which still was shown beside other quarters of the foreign ball.
"You mean noise or such?" Mackilson asked unbelievingly.
"No, darling, not noise. But feeling." She gasped.
"What's that? Substellar phone bad?"
"No," Rosy answered, now some dots on her face, some of them resembling the swollen cheek of her husband. "There is kind of foreign intrusion."
"Can you hold contact over there to my wife?" Mackilson asked the computer.
"Very well, sir," confirmed Billy.
"They did learn something," she murmurred over an excellent computer-defended line. "They must have automatic devices to absorb or destroy any intruder no matter how near he is to them."
"What can you make out of it?" Mackilson directly asked his wife, so, as if she were part of their crew.
And, of course, no one else could solve the problem. But, indeed, he thought, now, unintentionally it had become HER problem, too.
Rosy, over immediate substellar contact, still looked at the kitchen over there. She smacked her lips. There was a man in the kitchen, holding pans in his hands, moving between stove and refrigerator.
Bang! down went the first pan.
Bang! and the second followed. The alien man, unbelievingly, looked bewildered, shrinking back from the little disaster he had created. Then, like a flash, he speedily moved to the wall where the eye of a camera inside the station was watching him and his deeds. Hurriedly, but obviously unnoticing there would be a record, he covered it up with a kitchen towel which he grabbed from a cupboard. Breathlessly, he swept the trash under a table, then, without slacking, put it into a moveable bin. And mopped sweat from his forehead, and whispered something they - the watchers from outside - couldn't understand, but for sure he said "By Gosh!" or "Hell!" or something like that.
They all watched the pictures.
"My god, Suzy," Jim Mackilson exclaimed, "how have you done this?"
"I haven't done anything," she answered, being tense, no, tenser, than the captain ever had seen her.
"But, you are working wonders," Mackilson persisted.
"How's that possible?" then he asked.
"You are," he was startled, "light years away. Do you know that?"
"Distances don't matter in this respect," she answered absent mindedly.
Because there was another picture, that of the data zone on the other outpost, computers lighting there, and one more man before the panel there.
"By the way," she coolly mused, "they can reach us, you and me, over great distance. Can they?"
"So can we do as well!"
"There is only one problem," she continued, also tension rising in her voice, "I cannot concentrate unlimited on it. Normally, it's better when I sleep before. But when there is much at stake, it works almost by itself."
She didn't say Jimmy, but crunched her teeth. There was that man there before the data banks, now with trembling hands, and a look in his eyes as if the devil were behind him. Almost as if being hunted, his hands glided over the panel. There was a bulb there, here a knob, and a button, and LEDs all over the panel. And finally, with heaving breast and clacking teeth (as if fever had caught him) he pressed on an LED point, and pressed again, and pressed for a third time and - no - not for a fourth time, because lights went out around him, and the emergency illumination took place, and in the somber flashes he whirled around because there was a loudspeaker's box out of which obviously alarming tones and voices were emitted.
"What key did he press, Rosy?"
"You mean, unwillingly, Jimmyboy?" she asked almost jovially.
"Yes, unwillingly." The chief of the station nodded.
"It's contacts out and in and namely a registration of our own station."
"But they know where we are, don't they?"
"They knew, darling."
"I don't figure that, Rosy."
"He deleted it."
You can delete much, on their station or on our station, there exist always means to recover all you want to know, Mackilson thought.
But, maybe we must confess now, his beloved wife read his mind or at least she sensed what was passing through his head.
She giggled, yes, she giggled.
"He has done a full time job," she explained. "He deleted all traces of our - of your - station, as well as the back up. No clues left behind." "Gosh!" cried Mackilson, mopping his head, and foreseeing what would happen next.
Because, his beloved wife, determined as never ever someone was determined before, picked out the same place the enemy had picked out when he attacked their own station. They follow your feeling, you follow theirs. So, the next picture - under assistance of Billy, the computer - went consequently down to the bunker with all the atomic gear or the rays or the beams or whatever they used there. We don't know what was behind that wall, where a fierce fire was burning, providing their station with all the electricity, and more, they were needing. But that man in front of the levers and the buttons knew it. And so he knew to push which button when he - absent-mindedly - was decided to detonate his own station.
"But," Mackilson wondered, "didn't they have a safeguard yonder. I mean, on our own habitat there are two men who must simultaneously press the buttons whilst their finger prints are checked out by our computer. And even a third man, me, the commander, or my deputy, must confirm it through the same procedure."
"There were two," Rosy replied, slumping back in her easy chair.
And immedately after her remark they noticed another picture. That of a second man - yelling - down in the abysses of that station. Yes, yelling, he pressed his hands over his ears as if there was some terrible noise there he couldn't withstand. And yelling there were more, even a third man, probably the master Chief of the station, to judge by the stripes on his sleeves. In that already recorded picture he was giving orders, but they didn't obey him, they obeyed another mind using its influence on their station.
Out came a big ball of fire, extending itself in space and in the interstice there in all directions, like a flaming new born sun. This fire went out, and out went the last influence some of them registered, and the human defenders looked into the distance where there was nothing but the void and some debris passing by.
Jim Mackilson haltingly moved away from the glorious picture. He stroked his cheeks, but, oh wonder, the one was doing better, no more swollen, only some diminishing reddish crust. And he felt better, much better than before. And the same instant he looked at his wife, and she also stroked her face, beautiful as ever. But no, she looked in his eyes as he looked in her's and he saw, she was tired, dead tired, he had never seen her exhausted so much, and under her eyes there were wrinkles and dark rings and she whispered:
"Jimmyboy," yes, again: "Jimmyboy," she quite unusually said, "we have made it!"
"You have made it," he firmly told her.
"That's possible only together," she whispered.
"I'll buy you another perfume, Chanel No. 7 or 6 or, hell, anyway, some perfume."
"I'll give you the correct number," she whispered.
"You really will do that?"
And she nodded and both of them and all men around the station and meanwhile a lot of more women and men around the galactic ways looked at the new born shower of meteorites or comets circling around the void of the destroyed station.
"Where do they come from?" Mackilson wanted to know.
"Just a shifting of energy, so you can influence matter moving with extra speed through the substellar space," reported Billy, the computer.
"There was no signal possible they, dying, could have sent out?"
"No, through the works of your lady this was prevented."
"And so they, farther out, wondering what happened, will think that comets or matter like that have hit their ball?"
"That's true, sir, space is no kindergarten or playground, but eminently dangerous, sir, if you allow me to remark this, sir."
"Granted, Billy, you hell of a computer!"
"Thank you, sir!"
And their reports are gone, he thought, and even the back-ups were destroyed. And he looked at his wife, she was already half asleep, but she blinked with an eye, when he said:
"Chanel No. 5, I'll buy it for you, darling."
"That's right," she whispered yawning, having defended her children, so many children.
And he added: "Have you done this, darling, refreshing my memory?"
But he got no answer from his wife because she rightfully was sleeping deeply, so deeply, as never before. But do you really think a husband must know everything his beloved wife is intending to do for him?
And so we see, space is full of dreams and wonder, and beware, please, you never know if your next dream will come true.