The former radiation-proof bunker under what Tanya had dubbed “Moonbase Beta” had space enough for each of the seven human occupants to have separate quarters. Jackie would live with Sue, of course; but soon enough, he would grow and want his own room.
If they lived that long.
It wasn’t a bitter reflection from Victor Bergman, only a matter-of-fact one. The odds were against them. They had no Eagles, and couldn’t leave the confines of what was once a humble monitoring station. They had power, but only if they could keep the generator going. Food, water and oxygen they had, with the same caveat for the recycling plants. One failure would wipe them out.
The same had always been true of Alpha. But they had smaller numbers, and they didn’t have John Koenig.
Still, where there was life, there was hope.
Surveying his quarters, Victor decided they were adequate. There was even a workbench outfitted with all the equipment his lab on Alpha had held. There was a chess set on a small table. He regretted there were no books. Then he opened a cabinet and found a selection of those, too, including a Complete Works of Shakespeare, which made him smile and touched him with pity all at once. He flicked its dog-eared pages–it was the same copy he’d had on Alpha–and remembered the false author with fondness.
“Fancy a game?”
Victor turned, astounded. Quince sat at the chessboard, back in his Alphan uniform, looking none the worse for wear.
“You never run out of tricks, do you?” he asked the boy.
“The Author likes to believe his power is absolute. Like most creators, he underestimates his creations. I sidestepped out of his way. If I stay here, I’ll escape his notice.”
Victor shook his head. “That hasn’t worked so far. What makes you think it will this time?”
Quince laughed without mirth. “This time, he doesn’t want to find me. I’m his greatest failure–the failed experiment he couldn’t kill.”
“The others may not welcome you,” said Victor, sitting on the edge of the bed to be on a level with Quince. He’d always detested conversations held between a sitting and a standing party. They seemed so unequal.
“Perhaps not. But I can assure them I will effect no more changes. To do so would draw his attention.”
“And if he comes here?”
“I can step away again, any time. But he won’t.”
“Empirically, there’s no evidence to support your conclusion,” said Victor. “Surprisingly, though… I agree with you.”
“I know I have disrupted your lives,” said Quince. “I did not mean to do that. I came to help. In that spirit, let me offer you one, last gift. It’s true I cannot change what the Author has done, but I was able to protect some things from all of his ravages. And I can give you the ability to survive, to help your friends.”
“What’s in it for you?” asked Victor.
“When I used my powers on my own, I made tragic mistakes. I would not turn to the Author for guidance, because he’s a tyrant. I want help in deciding what to do… who to be. I want wisdom.” His clear, green eyes fixed on Victor’s own. “I want you to be my teacher.”
“Well,” said Victor, “It’s a role I’m comfortable with.” He held out his hand. “I accept the position, Mr. Quince.”
Quince smiled genuinely. “Thank you, Professor.”
“Now, tell me more about how you can help us? What abilities can you use without drawing the Author’s attention?”
“I can still step from this place, and I can take any or all of you with me.” He stood. “May I demonstrate?”
John Koenig would have said no. Helena Russell would have insisted it was too dangerous. Even the others who had accompanied him here would probably beg him not to take the risk.
“You may,” said Victor. He stood as well.
Quince took his hand, and his new quarters vanished. In place of its clean, bright walls were the moldy walls of a cavern, damp and lit by some sort of naturally occurring phosphorescence. In the distance, Victor could hear the distinctive clink of picks against rock, the grunts of men working.
“We’re in a mine?” he asked Quince.
The boy nodded. “Yes. Don’t worry, I can keep them from observing us. As the Author promised we’re ghosts. Come, I want to show you this world.”
Victor said dubiously, “It doesn’t look very promising as a new home, Quince.”
“Oh, it’s not a new home. In fact, it won’t be here at all in a few days. It’s the world Alpha is about to encounter–their first adventure in their new reality. It’s going to play an important part in their future.”
He led Victor down a tunnel toward the light and noise, saying over his shoulder, “The inhabitants call the planet Psychon.”
Afterward: So, when all is said and done, “The Pretender” is another Year One / Year Two “explanation” story. Why were the two series of Space:1999 so different? These stories are written to answer that question. I wrote one–“Transition: 2000“–20 years ago. The Powys Media books developed their explanation for the changes between years in a series of novels. Drew Gaska wrote a different explanation in his wonderful graphic novel, To Everything That Was.
But, with due respect to those creators whose work I enjoyed very much, none of the explanations–even my own earlier one–satisfied me. The show was so different in its second year, that just explaining how some characters died or colonized other worlds, and how uniforms were made warmer to save on heating, and how an underground command complex made more sense than one at the top of a tower… All these explanations still didn’t add up to why the tone of the show changed completely, to the point that the remaining characters were almost different people.
This explanation (the one chronicled in “The Pretender”) satisfies me. It doesn’t leave me wondering how Paul, Victor, Tanya and Kano could be so important one minute, and never even mentioned again after the next. It does something interesting with Sue and Jackie Crawford, who I think deserved more screen time. And it plays a little inside joke in adding Michael Keel. No, he was not a named character in the series, but he was on screen. Gareth Hunt of The New Avengers was signed as a guest star for the Year One episode “The Guardian of Piri.” He got into a fight with director Charles Crichton and walked off the set. His role was recast, but he still appears briefly as an Eagle pilot in the episode. I liked the idea of working him in, and gave him the first name of his most famous character with the surname of John Steed’s first partner on The Avengers.
And why put so much effort into saving these characters and giving them a home? I think it’s an interesting idea to play with that, during Year Two, there might have been a “Moonbase Beta,” watching and silently helping, unbeknownst to friends who had forgotten them. Maybe I’ll do another story some day, or maybe someone else would like to take a crack at one.
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