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 ENDGAME part 2

In the passenger section, Helena bandaged Carson, gave him a stronger
sedative and, covered him with a blanket. She then sat next to Zahara and
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 your questions,
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 was quite
warlike for several centuries also."
"Are you now?"
"Well, on Alpha, we're not. We've learned that differences in appearance
or beliefs should be secondary to the common cause of survival. We've
learned to respect and appreciate the differences amongst ourselves rather
than make them a problem or cause for conflict."
"My people were on the verge of putting an end to their conflicts.
Indeed, as individuals, they saw little reason to go on killing each other,
but it was the differences amongst our leaders that caused and perpetuated
the war. You've seen the result."
Helena was deeply intrigued. She was about to inquire further when she
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." Tony, obviously
impressed by the ample form of Zahara's android body, gave a generously
welcoming nod. "Zahara, this is Tony Verdeschi, our Head of Security."
"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, Zahara," John
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 left to
escort Carson to Medical for thorough examination and treatment of his
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
that tube?"
"Only the pretty ones," Tony jibed, prompting Maya to disapprovingly
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 her
around. Maya described the function of the wall and desk computers, but
Zahara seemed more interested in the authority figures who occupied the
desks in the room. Maya formally introduced herself and all the officers at
the desks in turn. When Helena arrived, she said to John, "Ben's seeing to
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."
"Good idea."
"A most impressive control room, Commander," Zahara commented.
"Thank-you. Now might I inquire as to the condition of your world? The
war. How long did it last? Why and how was it fought?" Everyone in the
Centre, John, Helena, Maya, Tony, Alibe, Bill, and the others, listened as
Zahara spoke.
"My planet was called Aries. A war started centuries ago, between two
competing power blocs with different ideas of how the planet's resources
should be distributed, as well as chauvinistic attitudes about each other's
physical appearances and ways of life. As the war waged on, our technology
advanced significantly to the point where both factions used robot soldiers
to do the fighting. But as the numbers of belligerent machines increased and
their weapons became more and more destructive, human losses on both sides
were extreme. The more people who were killed, the more determined the
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 compelled
everyone to go along with the fighting. Eventually, a group of scientists
came up with a means to end the war by establishing a balance of power.
Unfortunately, they were too late to save the planet."
"What was it the scientists came up with to secure a balance of power?"
Maya asked.
Zahara hesitated, then said, "I was placed in my casing before they had
completed their project. It's obvious from what became of Aries that they
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 quarters
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 afraid I'm
required for a medical. Maya here joined us from another planet also. She
knows what its like adjusting to our surroundings. Perhaps she will oblige
you for now."
Maya smiled. "By all means, Zahara." As they departed, Helena said,
"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 she brought
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. Helena
stopped walking and faced John directly. "Are you suspicious of her?"
"Yes, I am. You saw how she was on the planet. She has the countenance
of royalty but the instincts of a warrior."
Helena thought for a moment, then mused aloud. "Like the all-powerful
chess Queen. I see what you mean."
Koenig nodded and resumed walking. She kept up. "Are you anticipating
some trouble?"
"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 dangerous."
"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 and report
anything that's makes you suspicious in even the slightest sense."

Helena accompanied John to Medical for his exam, and shortly after, Maya
arrived bringing Zahara on her tour. Maya underwent her own physical while
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 party members
and happily reported that no one's health had been seriously affected; they
had gotten away just in time. Helena resumed Zahara's guided tour, freeing
Maya to begin her work on thoroughly interpreting the Arien book. The others
returned to their stations.
Helena invited Zahara to sleep in the quarters adjacent to her own. When
Alphan nighttime came, Helena watched Zahara enter the adjoining bedroom and
close the door. Zahara's room did not have direct access to the corridor,
meaning that Zahara would have to pass through Helena's apartment in order
to depart the twin Living Quarters. Thus, Helena presumed that Zahara would
be safe and accounted for all night.
The 2400 Hours to 0800 Hours duty stint was known on Alpha as the
"graveyard shift". Security watches were changed, new officers took charge,
and the men settled for a quiet watch. Tony's second hand in Security
Section was Richards, an unfailingly earnest-looking man, the same one who
had helped Tony find Patrick Osgood in the catacombs during the crisis of
the heat storm, 1196 days after breakaway. Captain Richards was the officer
on watch the night after Zahara's arrival on Alpha. He barked into his
commlock, "Central Security Command to all watch posts. Shift change
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. He looked
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?"
she asked.
In the alluring presence of this robotized image of majesty, Richards
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. Richards
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
under arrest."
Zahara's eyes widened even more. "That's quite impossible," she said,
still totally impassive. "In a few more seconds, you will be dead."
"Lady, you shouldn't talk that way!"
The glint in Zahara's eyes increased to a sparkle, then to an uncanny
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 burst of
energy.

Flanked by two guards, John shot down the corridor from Security Section
to Helena's quarters and, upon reaching his destination, rapidly withdrew
his commlock and hit the signaling button. "Helena, let me in."
Seconds later, the door opened to reveal Helena in her pajamas, as
attractive to John as ever. On this instance, the Commander's mind was
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 and Captain
Richards is dead."
Helena stood aghast at the news as John used his commlock and opened the
door. Zahara was laying in the bed, her headdress removed, allowing her full
head of hair to hang down in beautiful locks. Her robes were removed leaving
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 toward
Zahara's bed. "You were seen walking through the base only a few minutes
ago!"
Zahara assumed an aspect of seeming puzzlement and innocence. "There
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 line of
questioning is understandable under the circumstances, but I maintain that
there's no way I could have left this room. Besides, what reason would I
have to kill one of your men?"
Zahara was a guest on the base, and her story did tentatively check out.
"Okay, Zahara. I'm prepared to take your word. You did save our lives
yesterday. Go back to sleep. I'm sorry I disturbed you."
Zahara nodded elegantly and laid back down. John backed away into
Helena's room and commlocked the door shut. He raised his pointed finger and
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 back there
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 the
charred and decomposing body of Captain Richards. Tony watched as the
stretcher was carted away. He was breathing heavily with anger and sadness.
John entered, patting Spencer on the shoulder as he went by, and walked over
to Tony.
"Richards was a good man, John, and a close friend. Why would she do
this?"
"She claims she didn't. And all the evidence in Helena's quarters backs
her up."
Tony scoffed. "Well, someone is wrong. Two of my guards saw her leaving
this section minutes after Richards' death was registered on computer."
"Either Zahara has a twin, or she found some way of getting out of a
locked room."
John's commlock beeped. It was Maya. "Commander, I'm in Techlab Three.
I've interpreted the more salient portions of the book from Zahara's throne
room."
"Be right there." He turned to Tony. "I'm sorry, Tony. Do you want to
come along?"
"No, I'll stay here to oversee the clean-up... and to pay my respects."

Helena paid Zahara a brief visit shortly after Koenig left.
"The Commander is not one to make rash accusations, Zahara. What have
you been doing?"
Zahara's face showed empathy and apparent conflict, yet she was as
composed and stoic as ever. "Please, Helena. Do not ask me. Believe only
that my mission is a peaceful one." Helena and the guard exchanged perplexed
glances as Zahara went back to her bed. They departed and closed the door.
Rather than lie back down, Zahara dressed, putting on the khaki guest
uniform John had provided and reattaching her earrings and one of her
necklaces. Moving in the direction of the side wall, she looked toward where
Helena had stood and said quietly to herself, "Good-bye, Helena. Eventually,
you'll understand."

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 Centre. She
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 of
linguistic commonalities, compiled by the computer.
John entered, and Maya very hastily commlocked the big, twin doors shut.
"I've discovered some frightening things about Zahara."
"With the death of Captain Richards, I'd say we're overdue for some
facts. Go ahead."
"Well, you remember what Zahara said about the Arien scientists trying
to achieve a balance of power. I think they did come up with something, and
that thing is Zahara. This book is a manual, and it's all about Zahara."
"We already know she's some kind of android."
"She's a highly sophisticated machine, and the worst kind." Maya opened
her eyes wide for emphasis. "A weapon! But a weapon designed to bring
peace!"
John recognized the contradictions and could only incredulously say,
"What?!"
Maya paced as she talked. "You must understand the mind set of the
Ariens at the time she was built. They were dying, desperate. Their
reasoning was almost psychotic at this point. They decided that leaders had
brought them into war, and so reasoned that if there were no leaders, there
would therefore be no war. Zahara was designed and programmed for the
purpose of destroying all leaders."
John and Maya both stood in silence as the Commander processed the
information. "You're saying that the reason she was created, her continual,
overbidding purpose is to destroy leaders."
"That's right."
"Then that must be why she's on Alpha, and why she killed Captain
Richards. He was a leader, in a sense. Tony's second-hand in Security
Section. And if your hypothesis is right, her eventual target must be me."
"That follows, Commander. She probably eliminated Richards as a
preliminary step, meaning that her next target is probably someone higher up
the ladder of command." Her eyes widened with realization and panic. "Tony!"

Tony was in the Security Section, conferring with Carson on the events
down on the planet. Carson had his arm in a sling and was standing at the
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 voice issued
from behind. "Tony Versedchi."
Tony whipped around to see Zahara, her eyes sparkling with menacing
intent.
"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 get in?"
"That is of no importance. I have come to eliminate you, Mr. Verdeschi,
in accordance with my mission."
Zahara's eyes glowed as did her earrings, and Carson, having seen
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 eyes, and
Carson took the full blast.
"Carson!"
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 already
lethally potent body. Zahara's eyes glowed for another attack when Tony's
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 from Tony,
sparing him, and made way to leave the room, but not through the door.
Before Tony's astonished eyes, Zahara stepped into the wall, her body
merging with it, fading into it, and disappearing completely. "Holy Moses!"
Tony exclaimed.
Voices were still urgently calling on him through his commlock. Maya
and John had left Techlab 3 and were running in the direction of Security
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 from his
belt. "Maya! John! I'm okay. Zahara was here and killed Carson!"
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. "Of course,
that's how she killed Richards," concluded John. He asked again, "Are you
all right?"
"Shaken, but otherwise okay. John, she's invincible! How are we gonna
stop her?!"
"Yes, she is that. I got far along enough in the manual to determine
that much."
"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 down, "Well,
what are we going to do?"
They hastened into the lab, and Maya, surveying the disassembled book on
the table, uttered, "If there's an answer, it must be somewhere in her
programming."
John's commlock beeped, and he impatiently answered it. Helena, with the
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 Carson is
dead..."
"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 for
several seconds. "Is Tony okay?"
"Yes."
"Where are you? I'm coming down there."
"No! Helena, stay in your quarters. Under no circumstances leave."
"But, John..."
"Please Helena, do as I say. I have to think. One way or another, we're
going to stop her."
He did not wait for her reply of agreement. Hooking the commlock back
to his belt, he started pacing urgently. He did not know that the powerful
X-rays from Zahara's eyes had zeroed in on him and that she was just a few
rooms off.
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. "You
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 John
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 eagle. The
surprise at seeing Maya's metamorphic ability confounded Zahara momentarily,
long enough for John to escape out the doors. To further improve John's
chances, the transformed Maya jumped on Zahara's back, but with phenomenal
strength, Zahara pushed the husky creature off and back toward the exploded
equipment. It retransformed into a dazed Maya who watched Zahara pass
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 storeroom.
Scrambling for cover behind a stack of ration cubes, John could see
Zahara gradually coming into the room via the wall and heard Maya calling,
"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 locking in
on John. "And now, Koenig, you will die. Death to all leaders!"
Suddenly, catch-as-cats-can, John had a means of attack. Zahara was
programmed by people whose own train of thought was desperate and very
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?! Does that
include YOU? You led us from Aries!"
"What?"
"You saved our lives by leading us out of that city. You led us!"
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 brain.
The paradoxes of logic were irreconcilable. She led the Alphans to escape;
therefore she was doing the very thing she had been programmed to eradicate.
She started trembling, her flickering eyes now aglow with a powerful energy
going nowhere. "No. You're tricking me! My cause is just! All leaders must
die!"
"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 changed into
a desperate whine. "You're tricking me! Stop!"
John continued. "Now, fulfill your primary function. You're a leader,
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, blowing apart
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 beheld the
remnant of the Arien Endgame, the Ariens' final play in their chess game of
war.
"Checkmate," John commented dryly as Maya appeared in the doorway. In
the corridor, she had heard John's mind-breaking logic and the subsequent
self-destruction of Zahara.
"A brilliant coup," she added.
John withdrew his commlock. "Tony, we've defeated Zahara. Come to
Storeroom Eight."

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 chose to
achieve it. They sought a quick solution, the wrong solution. They were so
desperate to end the conflict that they overlooked the fact that even
peacemakers have their leaders."
He put the disembodied, wrecked arm on the rubbish cart summoned to the
storeroom and motioned for the clean-up crew to do the rest.
Helena spoke. "She was beautiful."
"Yes," Maya replied. "A beautiful, nearly perfect android."
"She was perfect enough to make mince-meat of two of my men," Tony
said, still testy after losing Richards and Carson.
"A weapon for peace. Even on other planets, the conundrum is the same,"
John added.

 

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