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Fifteen hours from Arkadia

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Summary: Missing scene from The Testament of Arkadia. What did Alan and Helena have to talk about on the long flight back to Alpha
Word count: ~ 6,000
Disclaimer. I don’t own the characters, I’m only borrowing them, and no copyright infringement is intended.

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Up until the door opened and she saw Alan Carter at the other end of the boarding tube, a part of Helena hadn't really believed that Luke and Anna would let her go unharmed. She almost ran through the tube to him, hardly daring to relax until both she and Alan were seated in the cockpit and the two Eagles had detached from each other.
Alan glanced over at Helena as he set course back to the Moon. “Are you all right, Doctor Russell? They didn’t hurt you?”

Helena smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes, “I’m fine, thank you Alan. But I’ll be better once I’m back at Alpha.” She fell silent, her mind awhirl with thoughts of Anna and Luke and their lonely fate. Her sympathies for them though tempered by the knowledge of the fate to which they had condemned the remaining occupants of Alpha.
She barely noticed when Alan finally made contact with Alpha almost an hour into their journey, "Come in, Main Mission, Carter calling. Survey Eagle heading for Alpha."
John’s voice came over the comms, “Helena?”
Alan glanced over to where Helena was staring blankly out the viewscreen, “Safe,” he replied, “But we’ve lost Luke and Anna.”

“He shouldn’t have done it,” said Helena, so quietly that Alan barely heard her.

“Luke?” he asked, “Damn right he shouldn’t have.”

“No, I mean John, Commander Koenig. One life for three hundred,” Helena shook her head, “Without those supplies…Alpha can’t survive…”

“Guess it’s just as well that the Commander has something up his sleeve,” said Alan, a grin on his face. He saw a look of puzzlement on Helena’s face. “Now that he knows that you’re safe, my guess is that there’s a pursuit Eagle or two on the way to Arkadia.”

A look of relief came over Helena’s face, but quickly faded, “But if they take all the supplies from Luke and Anna…”

“That’s not our problem,” said Alan, firmly. “They had no right to take the supplies from Alpha in the first place.”

Helena sighed, “Yes, but I still can’t help feeling sorry for them.”

“They made their choice.”

Helena fell silent.
A minute later the comms burst to life again and John’s voice came over the speaker with an added sense of urgency, “Alan. This is an emergency. Full power. Alpha’s on the move again! Hit that throttle or you’ll get left behind!”

Alan had the throttles on maximum before John had even finished speaking. He quickly acknowledged the transmission and then started keying in figures into the onboard computer. He frowned slightly as he got an answer back.
Helena watched warily, not wanting to break his concentration. Finally, she couldn’t bear the silence, “Alan? Will we make it back?”

Alan glanced up from his calculations and smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry Doctor Russell, this isn’t the first time I’ve gone chasing after the Moon!” He could see the look of concern on her face and his tone became more serious, “The return course I’d already plotted was based on the Moon being exactly where I left it. The computer just has to recalculate to take into account its movement, speed and trajectory. Then it has to check with the Computer on Alpha. Once we know how fast they’re going and which direction, we just have to point in the right direction and keep going until we catch up.”

“But we will be able to catch up, won’t we?”

Alan was ready with a glib reassurance, but one look at Helena’s face and he knew he couldn’t be less than honest with her. All the times she’d patched him up in Medical, she had never tried to gloss over potential bad news. She had always given him the facts, harsh though they may have been, and he knew he owed her the same courtesy. “I don’t know yet,” he said, gently. “We had more than enough fuel when the Moon was in orbit. But if it speeds up too much, for too long, then it may outdistance us before we can catch up.”

“So, what happens if we can’t catch up?” Helena’s voice was steady.

“We should know before too long whether we have enough fuel to make it or not. Then we have a choice to make. If we can’t make it to Alpha, we might still be able to get back to Arkadia.”

“No!” said Helena, with more force than she’d intended.

Alan shrugged, “Or we just keep going. The computer projection is based on the standard manufacturing parameters of an Eagle, but there’s always a margin of error, and let’s just say that I’ve been flying these things for long enough that I know how to squeeze a bit of extra performance out of them when it counts. If there’s a way to get us back to Alpha, you know I’ll get us there…even if I have to get out and push!”

“And if there’s no way?” It was like an open wound, but Helena couldn’t stop herself from digging away at it. She could bear any number of harsh realities, once she knew what all the possibilities were.

“Once we run out of fuel, we’ll end up drifting. Survey Eagles have survival rations for a crew of four for two weeks, so we could hold out for at least four. Maybe more if we’re careful. But the batteries for life support, even under the best of circumstances…two weeks, maybe a little more.”

“So, we’d freeze to death before we’d starve,” Helena laughed hollowly. “I suppose that’s something. Or maybe we should just drain the oxygen…hypoxia isn’t a bad way to go. Better than a lot of the alternatives. Fire, explosive decompression…exsanguination…”

“Hey, there’s no call to be thinking like that,” said Alan. He instinctively pushed forward on the throttle, even though he knew it was already at maximum. “We just have to wait for the computer.”

“I’m sorry, Alan,” said Helena with a sigh as she slumped back in her seat. “It’s one of the penalties of being a Doctor. You spend so much time surrounded by death, it’s inevitable that you start to wonder about the manner of your own.”

“Well, I plan to die in my own bed,” said Alan, firmly. “Or somebody’s bed anyway!”

In spite of herself, Helena smiled wanly. The sudden beeping from the computer a few seconds later wiped the smile from her face and she sat up. She watched as Alan took the readout from the computer and scanned it intently. He frowned slightly, doing what appeared to be his own mental calculations, and then he turned to her, a smile lighting up his face like the sun.
“We’ll make it,” he said. “The Moon’s speed and trajectory is back to what it was before we got stopped. We may need to keep full throttle for most of the journey, but we should have fuel to spare.”

The relief on Helena’s face was palpable.

“I promised the Commander I’d bring you back, and I’m a man of my word.”

“Thank you, Alan.”

“Anyway, it’s going to take a bit longer than the outward journey, so if you want to catch a few zzz’s back in the cabin, go right ahead.”

“I’m not sure I could sleep right now,” said Helena. “I’ll stay up front for now if that’s all right.”

“No problem, Doctor Russell. I could do with the company.”

“And I think if we’re going to be spending the next fifteen or so hours together, you should probably call me Helena.”

“Sure thing, Helena.”

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Two hours from Arkadia
They’d been travelling for another hour or so when Helena realised to her surprise that she was starting to feel hungry. She’d been too stressed during the outward journey to even think of food, not that Luke or Anna had offered her anything. Even if they had offered it, Helena knew she would have choked on it, knowing that she was taking food from the mouths of her fellow Alphans. But now things were different. Victor had assured them during Alan’s last check in that the power levels were almost back to normal and food production had resumed its normal levels. “Although I think that John plans to boost production for a period of time,” he’d said, confidentially, “At least until we’ve replenished what was lost and put some more in reserves.”

Helena felt yet another wave of guilt at the knowledge that John had sacrificed so much for her. Yes, he had had a plan, Victor had confirmed as much, but there had been no guarantee that the pursuit Eagles would have been able to make it to Arkadia and retrieve the supplies. Luke and Anna wouldn’t have given them up easily and blood could well have been shed in the process. Blood that would have been on Helena’s hands.

She pulled herself away from those unhelpful thoughts. Luka and Anna were lost, but she and Alan were heading home. Alpha was safe…for now.

“Alan,” she said, sitting up and unclipping her harness. “I’m going to get something to eat. Do you want anything?”

“Well, I could do with a coffee if you don’t mind.” He laughed, “Or what passes for coffee in the survival rations.”

“I’ll see what I can find.”

There was indeed a packet marked coffee in the rations. Helena prepared two cups and brought them back to the cockpit, along with a handful of energy bars.

“Ah, that hits the spot,” said Alan gratefully as he took a swig of the coffee. He was somewhat less enthusiastic about the energy bars. “Ugh, all the technology we have. All the advances that scientists have made in the past decades and we still can’t produce survival rations that don’t taste like cardboard!”

Helena grimaced as she tried her bar, “I think I’ll have to get Commander Koenig to make improving them a priority once we get back.”

“Better than nothing, I suppose.” Alan had finished his first bar and was halfway through a second. “It’ll keep me going till we get back, and then I am having a three-course dinner…to start with.”

“What if it’s morning on Alpha by the time we get back?” asked Helena, curling up in her seat.

“Then I’ll have a three-course breakfast!”

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Four hours from Arkadia

“I spy with my little eye, something beginning with…S,” said Helena.

“Um, space?” asked Alan, with a wry grin. “Because I think we’ve had that a few times already.”

“No, it’s not space.”

Alan glanced around the cockpit and then smiled, “Safety harness.”

“You are way too good at this,” said Helena, smiling. “Okay, your turn.”

“I spy with my little eye, something beginning with…L,” said Alan.

Helena frowned, “Lever?” she guessed.

“No.”

“Light?”

“Nope.”

Helena looked around the cockpit, trying and failing to come up with the correct answer. Finally, she admitted defeat, “Okay, I give up, what is it?”

“Lots and lots of bloody space!” Alan ducked as Helena threw her balled up energy bar wrappings at him in disgust.

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Six hours from Arkadia

“Show me the way to go home,” sang Alan, quietly. “I’m tired and I want to go to bed. I had a little drink about an hour ago and it’s gone straight to my head.” He glanced over at his passenger and saw that Helena’s eyes had closed. He fell silent, not wishing to disturb her.

“Don’t stop,” Helena’s eyes were still closed. She had retrieved a blanket when she’d tidied away their earlier meal and now, she pulled it closer around her.

“Don’t usually get people asking me to keep singing,” Alan grinned, before starting a new tune, “Rock a bye Doctor, in the cockpit. If we hit turbulence the Eagle will pitch. When we reach Alpha, the Eagle will fall and down will land Alan, Helena and all.”

There was a low chuckle from Helena.

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Eight hours from Arkadia

Alan had stopped singing once he’d been certain that Helena had indeed fallen asleep. He’d made his regular check ins with Alpha as quietly as he’d been able to, so as not to wake her. But now he was faced with a situation wherein he knew he would have to disturb her slumbers.
“Helena,” he said softly, trying to make the transition to waking as easy as possible. There was no response, so he called a little louder. “Helena, wake up please, I need to talk to you.”

It took a few minutes, but Helena finally started to stir. She looked around her sleepily and it took her a few seconds to realise where she was. “I’m awake,” she said, blinking as she took in her surroundings. “What is it? Are we back at Alpha?”

“Not yet, we’re probably about halfway there. Sorry to wake you, but I need you to do something for me.” He saw her look of apprehension and he added reassuringly, “Nothing’s wrong. We’re making good headway. I just need your help with something.”

He waited until Helena had sat up fully and was looking a bit more alert before he continued.
“Okay. I have the controls on auto, and I’ve set it to go full throttle. The only problem is that if the computer thinks that the thrusters are overheating, it will override the programming and slow us down to make sure we don’t damage them. That’s why I’ve kept it on manual most of the way. I need you to watch this light here.” He tapped a light on the panel which was showing green. “If this light turns orange, that’s to warn me that the computer thinks we’ve a problem but it’s giving us a chance to fix it. If we don’t fix it then it’ll go red and shut down the thrusters. I need you to watch that light and tell me the instant it turns orange.”

“But what will you be doing?” asked Helena, a little confused as to why Alan wouldn’t be able to monitor the light himself.

“Well, I need to, em, stretch my legs a bit,” said Alan.

Helena nodded, “Of course, you’ve been sitting down for so long. And the outward journey as well. You should do some full body stretches as well. There’s plenty of space in the cabin…” Her voice trailed off as she saw the expression on Alan’s face, and was that a blush she saw forming on it?

“Um, that was…that was a euphemism, Helena,” said Alan, his face flushing slightly. “I need to um…”

Helena put her hand over her mouth and tried to hide a smile. “Of course, yes…take your time, I’ll be fine here.”

Alan returned several minutes later and retook his seat. “Light still green?”

“Yes,” Helena hesitated before continuing. “Alan…there’s not a lot of soundproofing in the Eagles, is there?” She saw the horrified look on Alan’s face and yes, this time there was most definitely a blush as well. “It’s quite all right, I’m a Doctor…it’s nothing I haven’t heard before…”

“Helena…I…”

“What happens on an Eagle stays on an Eagle,” said Helena, firmly. “But next time, I’ll remember to cover my ears.” She winked at Alan who quickly grabbed the controls and started paying an inordinate amount of attention to the scanner.

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Ten hours from Arkadia
Check the speed, check the fuel, keep the throttle opened up to full. Check the thruster panel to make sure it’s not overheating. Contact Alpha every hour to update them on your progress. Check the scanners to see if there’s any obstacles in the way. Have the computer liaise with Alpha to ensure that you’re still on course. Check the life support panel to see if its functioning. Lather, rinse and repeat and pray that nothing goes wrong before you get within range of home.

Home, he wasn’t sure when he’d started thinking of Alpha when the word ‘home’ was mentioned. Alpha couldn’t be more different from where he’d grown up. But he was a practical man and once he’d realised that Alpha was going to be his home for the foreseeable future, he’d done his best to accept the fact. Occasionally he wondered whether he’d made the right decision, oh so many months ago. When the Commander had asked if he could make it back to base, Alan hadn’t even hesitated before steering towards Alpha. But he could have made it back to Earth. His Eagle, or rather, Simmonds’ Eagle has the range and enough fuel to reach Earth orbit. All he needs to do is turn the control column, key in the course which was had been pre-programmed for the return journey. A few hours from now and his feet will be on solid ground again and the sight of the explosion on the moon fading in his memory.

“Alan!”

Alan blinked as he saw Helena appear in his field of vision, crouched down beside him. There was a worried expression on her face, and she held a cup in one hand and two pills in the other. “What?” He shook his head to clear it. “What’s wrong?”

Helena held out the pills to him. “Stims from the medical kit. I prefer not to prescribe them unless it’s absolutely necessary, but I think you need them now.”

“Ah Helena, I’ll be fine.” Like most of the Eagle pilots, and indeed a lot of the population on Moonbase, he’d had to use Stims before. The first few weeks after the breakaway, there had been so much to do, everybody had been pulling double shifts, even triples. He appreciated the physical and mental boost they gave him, but he always hated the way he felt afterwards.

“How many hours have you flown since we first sighted Arkadia? And how much sleep have you had?”

Alan opened his mouth to answer but hesitated. He didn’t think saying ‘a lot’ would suffice. And there had been a lot, there’d been the outward trip and the return and…he swallowed hard as he tried to add up all the numbers, but he kept getting different answers and he couldn’t keep them clear in his head. Reluctantly, he took one hand off the controls and held it out for Helena to give him the tablets. He looked at them with distaste before putting them in his mouth. Helena handed him the cup and he washed them down quickly.
For a few seconds nothing happened, and then suddenly Alan felt as if he’d been plunged into an ice pool. Every nerve in his body screamed…every hair on his body felt as if it had been plucked simultaneously. It felt like an eternity, but Alan knew from experience that less than ten seconds passed before everything came into clear focus.
“Forty-one hours,” he spat out, his mouth feeling as raw as if he’d screamed for hours. Swallowing hard, he felt the pressure on his body ease. “Eight hours each way on the survey mission. Fifteen hours to follow Luke and Anna. Ten hours so far on the return journey. And maybe ten or twelve hours of sleep on the survey mission while the Commander was flying.” He rubbed his hand across his eyes before turning to look at Helena.

“Better?” asked Helena, as she picked up the cup which had fallen from Alan’s hand as the pills had taken effect.

“Much better,” said Alan, quietly. “Thank you.”

“How much longer until we reach Alpha?”

Alan glanced at the control panel, not needing the computer to confirm his estimate, “Another six or seven hours, all going well.”

Helena checked her watch, “I’ll give you a half dose in three or four hours. That should keep you functioning until we get back. And then once you’ve been debriefed, I’m putting you on twenty-four hours rest. I don’t care if there’s an alien attack or another mutiny. You are grounded for anything short of Operation Exodus.”

“Yes Ma’am!” said Alan, half tempted to snap off a salute.

“That should be ‘yes Doctor Russell’,” said Helena, smiling warmly. She patted him on the shoulder. “But this is Helena speaking now. I should have realised that you’d need something to keep you going before it got this bad.”

It hadn’t been anything specific which had alerted Helena to Alan’s state of exhaustion. True, he had fallen silent, but their conversation had ebbed and flowed throughout the hours they’d spend in the Eagle. Neither of them feeling the need to talk just to break the silence.
But Helena had woken from a short doze to see Alan staring out the viewscreen. His hands were working the controls, just as they had been throughout the journey, but there was something about his body posture, the fixed expression on his face, that had given Helena pause for thought. When he had failed to respond to her calling his name repeatedly, she had known that something was wrong, and she could have kicked herself when she mentally counted up the hours that had passed and realised that he must be running on his last reserves.

Helena hadn’t wasted time trying to get him to respond, but had simply gone straight to the medical kit, hoping that it, like the rest of the supplies, would have been kept fully stocked for a potential survey expedition. Stims were a standard part of the kit. With only limited time available to survey planets, sometimes it was necessary for teams to work around the clock. She made a mental note to restock the kit, together with all the other supplies they’d used, once they returned to Alpha, and also to update Alan’s medical file with the amounts she’d given him, just to make sure he wasn’t prescribed it again too soon.

 

“It wasn’t your fault, Helena,” said Alan. “I’ve been a pilot long enough to know the dangers of fatigue. I should have known I’d need a boost at some point.”

 

“Well, we won’t let it happen again,” said Helena, firmly. She took her seat again and clipped her safety harness into place. “So, another game of I-Spy?”

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Twelve hours from Arkadia.

“Trees,” said Alan.

“Trees?” asked Helena, somewhat surprised. “That’s what you miss about Earth?”

“Oh, it’s not the only thing,” said Alan. “But it’s just…there’s something about getting away from civilisation, away from all the noise and just lying down underneath a tree and looking up through the branches.” He looked away into the distance, lost in his thoughts.

“I suppose it depends on who you’re looking through them with,” said Helena, gently.

“Yeah…” Alan was silent for a few seconds before continuing, “Of course you get a few weird looks if you try doing that in the Hydroponics section! Anyway, your turn. What do you miss?”

“I miss getting behind the wheel of a car and just putting my foot down. It’s not just the speed, it’s just being in total control. Knowing that with a flick of my hands I can go in any direction I want, and nobody can stop me.” She saw the look of surprise on Alan’s face and laughed, “What, you didn’t think that prim and proper Doctor Russell had a rebellious streak in her?”

Alan smiled back at her, “I guess I’m learning a lot about Doctor Russell today.” He looked thoughtful for a few seconds, “Well, our course is locked in, so you can’t change direction, but let’s see if I can’t give you a taste of speed.” He nodded towards the controls on Helena’s side of the cabin. “Put your hands on the controls. Pull as far back on the throttle as you can…” He waited until she was in position. “Okay, I’m handing control to you…now…”
He smiled involuntarily at the look of joy that came over Helena’s face as she felt the power under her hands.

“I’m flying!”

“Well, not exactly,” said Alan. “But I tell you what. Once we get back to Alpha, the next time there’s a quiet patch. If you like, I’ll take you out on a reconnaissance flight and teach you the basics, give you a proper go of it.”

“I think I’d like that…very much.”

Alan let Helena stay at the controls for several minutes. He knew that even if she eased off on the throttle too much, they would still have enough reserves to get back to Alpha. At worst it might extend their travel time a little, but it was worth it to see Helena looking so happy.

“Okay,” said Alan, his hands back on the controls. “Switching back in three, two, one…” He flipped a button on the panel and felt the power back in his hands.

Helena reluctantly let her hands fall from the controls. She could still feel the vibrations from the Eagle running through her body. “Thank you for that, Alan,” she said softly.

“Any time.”

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Fourteen hours from Arkadia

Alan felt a little tension ease from his mind as he checked the computer readout again. At this stage of their journey, even if they somehow ended up dead in the water, they were close enough to Alpha that if necessary, a rescue Eagle could be dispatched to retrieve them.

Of course, there were still plenty of things which could prevent them from reaching Alpha safely. A space warp could send the Moon halfway to another galaxy. An alien ship could show up and intercept them. There could be any number of radiation clouds or spatial anomalies that wouldn’t show up on their scanners. But none of those were things that Alan had any control over, so he put them from his mind and concentrated on what he could control, namely handling the Eagle as best he could.

Still, he knew he wasn’t going to fully relax until they were safely docked.

Alan made no objections when Helena appeared at his side with another stim tablet. This time the jolt wasn’t quite as obvious as there was sufficient residue from earlier to take the edge off the reaction. But he still had a grimace on his face as his focus sharpened again. “Only a few hours more,” he said.

“Time for some more coffee and rations?”

“Might as well. Thanks.”

Helena soon returned with the provisions and settled herself back in her seat.

 

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Sixteen hours from Arkadia

Alan checked his instruments again. A smile came over his face as looked through the viewscreen and saw Alpha in the distance.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We are now approaching Moonbase Alpha and should be docking in less than half an hour. Please ensure that your seat is raised to the upright position and your safety harness is securely fastened. We thank you for flying Eagle airlines and we hope you enjoyed your trip.” He glanced over at Helena, who looking at him with a half puzzled, half amused expression on her face. “I always wanted to do that!”

“Well, I can’t say I enjoyed the first part of the trip, but the return journey was a pleasure.”

Helena smiled warmly at Alan, but he could see an air of sadness around her and he guessed that she was thinking about Luke and Anna. He had had occasional thoughts about them during the journey. Mostly barely restrained fury, at least on the outward journey when he had no idea how Alpha was going to survive. He had distracted himself by thinking up wild plans as to how he could board Eagle four and maybe subdue the pair long enough to retrieve the supplies. Of course, none of those plans would have been put into practice. The Commander had ordered him to bring back Doctor Russell and that was what Alan was going to do. He had just hoped that the Commander had some sort of contingency plan going on. And in the end, it had all been academic. The Moon was back on the move, power was restored to Alpha. Luke and Anna could keep the supplies and as far as Alan was concerned, Alpha was well rid of the pair. They’d made their bed and they could lie in it. They weren’t his problem anymore. But from everything he knew about Helena, he was pretty sure that she wouldn’t be able to forget about the pair so easily. Still, at least he could take her mind off things for a little while longer.

“One more for the road?” Alan cleared his throat and started singing, “Start spreading the news, we’re coming back home. We’re just in time for tea at Moonbase, Alpha!”

 

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“Survey Eagle calling Alpha,” said Alan. “We are down on pad four. Engines are shut down. Ready to disembark.”

“Welcome back, Alan.” Paul’s voice came over the comms. “Commander Koenig is waiting for you.”

“Thanks Paul. It’s good to be back.” Alan broke the connection and turned to Helena. “We’re home.” Unstrapping his safety harness, he stood and held a hand out to Helena. “Come on, let’s go check in with the Commander.”

Helena took Alan’s hand as she stood up but didn’t release it immediately. “Thank you, Alan,” she said softly, as she squeezed his hand. “For everything.”

“Any time, Helena.”

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As the doors opened, they could see John waiting anxiously at the other end of the boarding tube.

Helen hurried to him and he clasped her arm, “Alright?” he asked.

“Fine,” said Helena, clutching onto his arm as if it were a lifeline.

Alan joined them, and John squeezed his shoulder. “We’re fine.” Alan saw the way the other two were looking at each other and knew that Helena was in good hands, “Excuse me a moment,” he said, smiling as he left the two of them together.

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A few hours later, Alan was alone in his quarters.
He’d completed his logbook for the flight in the survey Eagle and written his report on the loss of Eagle four. He’d written the orders for the technicians to give the Eagle a full service and have it refuelled for its next journey, adding a note to make sure that all supplies were fully restocked. He’d reviewed all the reports that had been filed by the people in his section in his absence. He’d even made a start on the rosters for the next few weeks of duty.

Finally, after he’d reassured himself that his section could manage without him for twenty-four hours, he’d gone back to his quarters for his Helena mandated rest.

At least that was what he had intended to do. Unfortunately, the stims he’d taken had other ideas. He’d had a meal and taken to his bed, but the sleep he so desperately wanted was nowhere to be found. His body was aching and restless after spending over thirty hours in an Eagle, but his mind was still racing thanks to the stims. Alan knew that he could contact Helena, or indeed any doctor in the medical section, and request a sedative to counteract the effects of the stims, but he disliked being sedated almost as much as he disliked the stims, so instead he just tried to ride it out and wait for sleep to come.

After an hour or so of tossing and turning, Alan gave up and decided to try and find something to occupy himself. There was a puzzle that Sandra had passed on to him after she’d finished it. He’d been meaning to get started on it. He had a few books in his quarters, but he’d read them so many times in the past few months that he had practically memorized him. “Maybe I should just go back on duty for a few hours,” he thought. “Helena doesn’t have to know.”

Just then, his comlock buzzed and to his surprise, Helena was on the screen. “She must be a mind reader,” thought Alan, with some amusement as he answered. “Helena?”

“Alan, I just wanted to see how you were doing. May I come in?”

“Sure, of course, yeah.” Alan quickly opened the door and Helena came in. Looking at her, he thought that nobody would have guessed that she had just spent over thirty hours in an Eagle.

“I saw from your medical monitor that you were still awake, so I thought I’d call round.”

“If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked a cake, baked a cake,” Alan sang, slightly off key. He sighed, “I’m fine, at least I’ll be fine once my brain stops buzzing and lets me sleep.” He smiled tiredly at her.

“Well, if you need any help, all you have to do is ask,” said Helena. “Anyway, I brought you a little something as a thank you.” She held out a container, which Alan hadn’t even noticed she was carrying. “The Hydroponics section were going to recycle it because it wasn’t growing fast enough. I asked them could I take it instead.” Opening the lid, she showed Alan the small tree in a pot. “It’s not going to grow very big, at least not here on Alpha. But if you put it on a table…well maybe you can lie down under it…”

A smile came over Alan’s face as he reached out to take the tree. “Helena…I don’t know what to say. Thank you.” Looking around his quarters, he thought for a few seconds and then pulled a small table over to his couch. Stacking the plant on top of the container raised it just enough that when he lay down on the couch the branches were above eye level. “That’s perfect Helena.”

“I’m glad you like it.”

“Now all I need is somebody,” he yawned involuntarily. “Somebody to look up through the branches with.” He held out a hand invitingly.

Helena took Alan’s hand and pushed it gently against his chest, “I’ll take a rain check on that, Alan,” she said, knowing that he would likely not even remember the invitation later. She squeezed his hand and watched as his eyes closed and his breathing slowed. She didn’t need to check his medical monitor to see that he was finally sleeping.

Helena waited a few minutes to make sure that he wouldn’t wake and then retrieved a blanket and tucked it around him. “Goodnight Alan,” she said softly as she left.

THE END