In the passenger section, Helena bandaged Carson, gave him
sedative and, covered him with a blanket. She then sat next to
initiated a conversation.
"My name is Helena Russell.
I'm a doctor. Tell me something of your
world, Zahara. How long was it at war?"
"Centuries. Dr. Russell, I would be delighted to answer
but I think it would be more effective if I did so for all of
you at once.
Maybe once we arrive on your... Moonbase."
"Of course. You know, our species back on our home planet
warlike for several centuries also."
"Are you now?"
"Well, on Alpha, we're not. We've learned that differences
or beliefs should be secondary to the common cause of survival.
learned to respect and appreciate the differences amongst ourselves
than make them a problem or cause for conflict."
"My people were on the verge of putting an end to their
Indeed, as individuals, they saw little reason to go on killing
but it was the differences amongst our leaders that caused and
the war. You've seen the result."
Helena was deeply intrigued. She was about to inquire further
remembered Zahara's pledge to thoroughly elaborate once they
were on Alpha.
Eagle Four landed gently on the same launching pad it had
left over four
hours before. The boarding tube collected its occupants to be
met by Tony at
the reception point. John and Zahara were first to step out.
"Tony, this is
Zahara. She helped us escape a particularly nasty ambush."
impressed by the ample form of Zahara's android body, gave a
welcoming nod. "Zahara, this is Tony Verdeschi, our Head
"You are the leader of this base's army?"
"Well, I wouldn't exactly call my department an army."
"We're a scientific rather than military establishment,
corrected her as the other Alphans disembarked.
"But you do have levels of rank, for organizational purposes?"
John could not understand the purpose behind her questions. "For
organizational purposes, yes."
As Alan departed to his duties in the Launching Area and Helena
escort Carson to Medical for thorough examination and treatment
injury, Maya nudged Tony and whispered, "Hey, I saw the
way you were looking
at Zahara just now. Do you make goo-goo eyes at every alien who
steps out of
"Only the pretty ones," Tony jibed, prompting Maya
form her mouth into an "O" and slap Tony on the arm.
"Zahara, may I show you our Command Centre?" John asked.
"Yes, I would find that most interesting."
John, Tony, and Maya took Zahara to Command Centre and showed
around. Maya described the function of the wall and desk computers,
Zahara seemed more interested in the authority figures who occupied
desks in the room. Maya formally introduced herself and all the
the desks in turn. When Helena arrived, she said to John, "Ben's
Carson's arm. It's scorched. We're probably going to have to
do a skin
graft. I also want every member of the landing party to report
for an exam,
just to be safe."
"A most impressive control room, Commander," Zahara
"Thank-you. Now might I inquire as to the condition of your
war. How long did it last? Why and how was it fought?" Everyone
Centre, John, Helena, Maya, Tony, Alibe, Bill, and the others,
"My planet was called Aries. A war started centuries ago,
competing power blocs with different ideas of how the planet's
should be distributed, as well as chauvinistic attitudes about
physical appearances and ways of life. As the war waged on, our
advanced significantly to the point where both factions used
to do the fighting. But as the numbers of belligerent machines
their weapons became more and more destructive, human losses
on both sides
were extreme. The more people who were killed, the more determined
opposing leaders were to continue fighting."
Maya listened pensively. "Were there no people who sought
an end to the
carnage? No pacifists?"
"There were indeed, but our leaders had total control, and
everyone to go along with the fighting. Eventually, a group of
came up with a means to end the war by establishing a balance
Unfortunately, they were too late to save the planet."
"What was it the scientists came up with to secure a balance
Zahara hesitated, then said, "I was placed in my casing
before they had
completed their project. It's obvious from what became of Aries
were too late."
John said, "Zahara, your story is a fascinating one. We
look forward to
talking about it some more. For now, I'll have you taken to living
where you may rest."
"I've had a long sleep, Commander." She charmingly
walked over to him.
"I would really like to see more of your Moonbase."
"Very well. I would be pleased to show you around, but I'm
required for a medical. Maya here joined us from another planet
knows what its like adjusting to our surroundings. Perhaps she
you for now."
Maya smiled. "By all means, Zahara." As they departed,
"You didn't have to be the first to take the exam. That
was a dirty trick,
John. Zahara had eyes for you."
John smiled back. "What a shame. I rather thought you were
the one with
eyes for me." They exited Command Centre, en route to Medical.
He put his
arm affectionately around her as they walked. "Helena, I
want you to watch
Zahara closely, let her bed in the quarters next to yours, bond
with her if
you can. I would ask Maya, but I want her to work on that book
back from the planet."
Helena was puzzled. Zahara had helped to free them from their
predicament on Aries. She seemed to have proven her integrity.
stopped walking and faced John directly. "Are you suspicious
"Yes, I am. You saw how she was on the planet. She has the
of royalty but the instincts of a warrior."
Helena thought for a moment, then mused aloud. "Like the
chess Queen. I see what you mean."
Koenig nodded and resumed walking. She kept up. "Are you
"You saw the way her pendant destroyed that tank, just by
the power of
her will. If she were to turn on us, I think she could be very
"Why don't you put a guard on her?"
"Oh, I intend to have Security on the alert as always, but
I don't want
to be affrontive. She led us out of a very bad situation, and
she is a
guest. I think a more subtle kind of observation is called for,
at least for
the time being. But I definitely want you to be very careful
anything that's makes you suspicious in even the slightest sense."
Helena accompanied John to Medical for his exam, and shortly
arrived bringing Zahara on her tour. Maya underwent her own physical
John and Zahara talked more about the style of war on Aries.
Within an hour,
Helena and Ben Vincent had finished their tests on all landing
and happily reported that no one's health had been seriously
had gotten away just in time. Helena resumed Zahara's guided
Maya to begin her work on thoroughly interpreting the Arien book.
returned to their stations.
Helena invited Zahara to sleep in the quarters adjacent to her
Alphan nighttime came, Helena watched Zahara enter the adjoining
close the door. Zahara's room did not have direct access to the
meaning that Zahara would have to pass through Helena's apartment
to depart the twin Living Quarters. Thus, Helena presumed that
be safe and accounted for all night.
The 2400 Hours to 0800 Hours duty stint was known on Alpha as
"graveyard shift". Security watches were changed, new
officers took charge,
and the men settled for a quiet watch. Tony's second hand in
Section was Richards, an unfailingly earnest-looking man, the
same one who
had helped Tony find Patrick Osgood in the catacombs during the
the heat storm, 1196 days after breakaway. Captain Richards was
on watch the night after Zahara's arrival on Alpha. He barked
commlock, "Central Security Command to all watch posts.
completed at 0007 Hours." Sitting down to his duty charts
and giving them a
perusal, Richards became aware that he was reading under a shadow.
up and saw Zahara, dressed in the exact same fashion as when
she arrived on
the base, her eyes intense with some dire purpose. "Are
you in charge here?"
In the alluring presence of this robotized image of majesty,
strained to maintain a grave countenance. "Yes, I am...
How did you get in
here? The door is locked, and there are no windows."
Zahara stood expressionless, refusing to answer the question.
sighed impatiently and stood up. "Look, lady. I know that
you're an alien
visitor and that you're probably just lost. But I'm going to
have to put you
Zahara's eyes widened even more. "That's quite impossible,"
still totally impassive. "In a few more seconds, you will
"Lady, you shouldn't talk that way!"
The glint in Zahara's eyes increased to a sparkle, then to an
glow. Richards knew he was in trouble and reached for his gun.
"I am only doing what I must do, Captain."
And with that, Captain Richards was dispatched in an awesome
Flanked by two guards, John shot down the corridor from Security
to Helena's quarters and, upon reaching his destination, rapidly
his commlock and hit the signaling button. "Helena, let
Seconds later, the door opened to reveal Helena in her pajamas,
attractive to John as ever. On this instance, the Commander's
elsewhere. "John! What are you doing here at this hour?"
"Where is she? Where's Zahara?" John walked past Helena
into the room
and headed for the door to the adjoining suite.
"She's in bed, asleep. What's going on?"
As John reached the door to Zahara's room, he turned and replied,
"Nothing much, except that Security Command is in cinders
Richards is dead."
Helena stood aghast at the news as John used his commlock and
door. Zahara was laying in the bed, her headdress removed, allowing
head of hair to hang down in beautiful locks. Her robes were
her revealing gown. She appeared groggy as if awakening from
a deep sleep.
"Zahara, where have you been?"
"Wha? Huh? I've been here all night!"
John entered the room and surveyed the perimeter. There were
no holes in
the walls. He looked back into Helena's quarters then advanced
Zahara's bed. "You were seen walking through the base only
a few minutes
Zahara assumed an aspect of seeming puzzlement and innocence.
must be some mistake, Commander Koenig. The only way in here
is through that
door, and it was locked until you opened it."
"One of our Security men has just been killed, and not by
one of our
lasers. It was a blast that struck and charred his entire body."
Zahara exhibited shock and seeming sorrow. "Commander, your
questioning is understandable under the circumstances, but I
there's no way I could have left this room. Besides, what reason
have to kill one of your men?"
Zahara was a guest on the base, and her story did tentatively
"Okay, Zahara. I'm prepared to take your word. You did save
yesterday. Go back to sleep. I'm sorry I disturbed you."
Zahara nodded elegantly and laid back down. John backed away
Helena's room and commlocked the door shut. He raised his pointed
waved it emphatically as he spoke. "I don't know how or
why she's doing
this, but even ironclad alibis can be broken. I'm stationing
a guard in this
room as a precaution, and I don't want you going near her unaccompanied."
"Have Richards' remains been removed yet?"
"I left Security just as Ed arrived with his men. I'm going
now." As John departed Helena's apartment, he motioned for
one of the guards
in the outside corridor to enter and stay at Helena's side.
Spencer's group of orderlies performed the grim task of removing
charred and decomposing body of Captain Richards. Tony watched
stretcher was carted away. He was breathing heavily with anger
John entered, patting Spencer on the shoulder as he went by,
and walked over
"Richards was a good man, John, and a close friend. Why
would she do
"She claims she didn't. And all the evidence in Helena's
Tony scoffed. "Well, someone is wrong. Two of my guards
saw her leaving
this section minutes after Richards' death was registered on
"Either Zahara has a twin, or she found some way of getting
out of a
John's commlock beeped. It was Maya. "Commander, I'm in
I've interpreted the more salient portions of the book from Zahara's
"Be right there." He turned to Tony. "I'm sorry,
Tony. Do you want to
"No, I'll stay here to oversee the clean-up... and to pay
Helena paid Zahara a brief visit shortly after Koenig left.
"The Commander is not one to make rash accusations, Zahara.
you been doing?"
Zahara's face showed empathy and apparent conflict, yet she was
composed and stoic as ever. "Please, Helena. Do not ask
me. Believe only
that my mission is a peaceful one." Helena and the guard
glances as Zahara went back to her bed. They departed and closed
Rather than lie back down, Zahara dressed, putting on the khaki
uniform John had provided and reattaching her earrings and one
necklaces. Moving in the direction of the side wall, she looked
Helena had stood and said quietly to herself, "Good-bye,
Maya was at the computer bank
in the Techlab. She had brought the alien
book there to examine away from the hustle and bustle of Command
had been at it for hours, consulting the computer for transnational
probabilities, not even taking the time to remove her anorak.
The many pages
of the book were scattered on a large table, alongside a dictionary
linguistic commonalities, compiled by the computer.
John entered, and Maya very hastily commlocked the big, twin
"I've discovered some frightening things about Zahara."
"With the death of Captain Richards, I'd say we're overdue
facts. Go ahead."
"Well, you remember what Zahara said about the Arien scientists
to achieve a balance of power. I think they did come up with
that thing is Zahara. This book is a manual, and it's all about
"We already know she's some kind of android."
"She's a highly sophisticated machine, and the worst kind."
her eyes wide for emphasis. "A weapon! But a weapon designed
John recognized the contradictions and could only incredulously
Maya paced as she talked. "You must understand the mind
set of the
Ariens at the time she was built. They were dying, desperate.
reasoning was almost psychotic at this point. They decided that
brought them into war, and so reasoned that if there were no
would therefore be no war. Zahara was designed and programmed
purpose of destroying all leaders."
John and Maya both stood in silence as the Commander processed
information. "You're saying that the reason she was created,
overbidding purpose is to destroy leaders."
"Then that must be why she's on Alpha, and why she killed
Richards. He was a leader, in a sense. Tony's second-hand in
Section. And if your hypothesis is right, her eventual target
must be me."
"That follows, Commander. She probably eliminated Richards
preliminary step, meaning that her next target is probably someone
the ladder of command." Her eyes widened with realization
and panic. "Tony!"
Tony was in the Security Section, conferring with Carson on
down on the planet. Carson had his arm in a sling and was standing
remains of what used to be the Officer on Duty's desk. Tony had
his back to
the corridor-side wall. They were conversing when a familiar
from behind. "Tony Versedchi."
Tony whipped around to see Zahara, her eyes sparkling with menacing
"Zahara, what are you doing here?" The door was locked
and Tony knew
that she did not have a commlock. "How the hell did you
"That is of no importance. I have come to eliminate you,
in accordance with my mission."
Zahara's eyes glowed as did her earrings, and Carson, having
Zahara's power in action on the planet, shouted, "Sir, move!"
and jumped to
push Tony aside. Zahara fired lethal laser energy out of her
Carson took the full blast.
Tony drew his gun and trained a kill beam directly at Zahara,
but it had
absolutely no effect. The energy was just absorbed into Zahara's
lethally potent body. Zahara's eyes glowed for another attack
commlock activated. John's face appeared on the screen. "Tony?
Are you all
right? Is Zahara with you? Tony, answer me!"
Tony, still in a state of shock,
did not answer. But Zahara, hearing
John's voice and knowing that he must now be onto her, turned
sparing him, and made way to leave the room, but not through
Before Tony's astonished eyes, Zahara stepped into the wall,
merging with it, fading into it, and disappearing completely.
Voices were still urgently calling on him through his commlock.
and John had left Techlab 3 and were running in the direction
Section. Maya had taken the communicator from John and was frantically
calling, "Tony! Tony! Answer me!"
Tony quickly regained his bearings and unclipped the commlock
belt. "Maya! John! I'm okay. Zahara was here and killed
John and Maya stopped in dead heat, closing their eyes in sorrowful
frustration and thankful relief. Tony continued. "But she
was after me! When
you signaled, she turned and left." He was incredulous.
"And she can walk
through walls, John!"
His two contacts looked at each other with pensive surprise.
that's how she killed Richards," concluded John. He asked
again, "Are you
"Shaken, but otherwise okay. John, she's invincible! How
are we gonna
"Yes, she is that. I got far along enough in the manual
"Nothing is invincible, Maya. We'll find a way to stop her.
Tony, you do
what needs to be done at your end. Out." As they headed
back to the Techlab,
John earnestly eyed Maya, who was only just beginning to calm
what are we going to do?"
They hastened into the lab, and Maya, surveying the disassembled
the table, uttered, "If there's an answer, it must be somewhere
John's commlock beeped, and he impatiently answered it. Helena,
expected report, was on the screen. "John, Zahara's not
in her room, and we
didn't see her leave."
"I know that, and so does Tony. She went after him, and
"But how did..."
"She walks through walls and is out to kill all leaders.
My guess is
that I'm her next target."
It was too much for Helena to take all at once. She was speechless
several seconds. "Is Tony okay?"
"Where are you? I'm coming down there."
"No! Helena, stay in your quarters. Under no circumstances
"Please Helena, do as I say. I have to think. One way or
going to stop her."
He did not wait for her reply of agreement. Hooking the commlock
to his belt, he started pacing urgently. He did not know that
X-rays from Zahara's eyes had zeroed in on him and that she was
just a few
Maya speculated. "Physical force is useless, but perhaps
some kind of
psychological angle, like the one we used on Brian the Brain..."
"We're going to find a solution... Just need time."
Suddenly, Zahara's form emerged from the wall nearest the doors.
have no time, Koenig. Now it is your turn." Her eyes glowed
rapidly to fire,
faster than John's reflexes.
The destructor beams were already out of her eyes when Maya nudged
out of the way. "Commander! Look out!" The beams hit
the instruments on the
wall behind, exploding them in a fantastic light show.
"Run for it, Commander!" Maya shouted as she transformed
into a huge, 6
1/2-foot-tall, ape-like thing with a head resembling of a bald
surprise at seeing Maya's metamorphic ability confounded Zahara
long enough for John to escape out the doors. To further improve
chances, the transformed Maya jumped on Zahara's back, but with
strength, Zahara pushed the husky creature off and back toward
equipment. It retransformed into a dazed Maya who watched Zahara
through the wall to the corridor.
"Koenig, you can't escape me! Accept your fate!" Zahara
bellowed at the
running John at the near end of the hallway. Her eyes blasted
a wave of
death that John dodged just in time by leaping into an adjacent
Scrambling for cover behind a stack of ration cubes, John could
Zahara gradually coming into the room via the wall and heard
"Commander, where are you?!"
"Maya, stay back! This is between her and me!"
Zahara was now fully in the room, her X-ray eyes probing and
on John. "And now, Koenig, you will die. Death to all leaders!"
Suddenly, catch-as-cats-can, John had a means of attack. Zahara
programmed by people whose own train of thought was desperate
probably irrational. From that came a flaw in her cause. And
she had given
him the golden opportunity to reveal it to her. "All leaders?!
include YOU? You led us from Aries!"
"You saved our lives by leading us out of that city. You
The confusion was already evident
on her face, her previously glowing
eyes were now blinking with light. "No! I led no one!"
John pointed a finger from between the ration cubes. "I
took orders from
you! I did what you told me to do! You led us to safety!"
Zahara put her hands to her ears to black out the contradictory
suggestions, but they were already registering in her own mechanical
The paradoxes of logic were irreconcilable. She led the Alphans
therefore she was doing the very thing she had been programmed
She started trembling, her flickering eyes now aglow with a powerful
going nowhere. "No. You're tricking me! My cause is just!
All leaders must
"All leaders? You were my leader. I took orders from you!
And we found
you seated on a throne on Aries. Thrones are seats of power,
are they not?
The seats of leaders!"
"Nooooooo! Steam issued from her extremities, and her voice
a desperate whine. "You're tricking me! Stop!"
John continued. "Now, fulfill your primary function. You're
and as a leader, you must die!"
The conflict in Zahara's brain could only be resolved one way,
and so it
was. In a final cry of, "Nooooooooo!", Zahara self-destructed,
to form a pile of metallic scrap on the floor. Her once beautiful
face was a
charred, robotic death-mask. John walked out from his cover and
remnant of the Arien Endgame, the Ariens' final play in their
chess game of
"Checkmate," John commented dryly as Maya appeared
in the doorway. In
the corridor, she had heard John's mind-breaking logic and the
self-destruction of Zahara.
"A brilliant coup," she added.
John withdrew his commlock. "Tony, we've defeated Zahara.
Tony, Helena, and Maya watched as John knelt and picked up
what was once
Zahara's shapely arm.
"Your cause was just, Zahara. But not the means your people
achieve it. They sought a quick solution, the wrong solution.
They were so
desperate to end the conflict that they overlooked the fact that
peacemakers have their leaders."
He put the disembodied, wrecked arm on the rubbish cart summoned
storeroom and motioned for the clean-up crew to do the rest.
Helena spoke. "She was beautiful."
"Yes," Maya replied. "A beautiful, nearly perfect
"She was perfect enough to make mince-meat of two of my
said, still testy after losing Richards and Carson.
"A weapon for peace. Even on other planets, the conundrum
is the same,"