I surface from the darkness slowly, like I'm at the bottom of the ocean and I'm rising towards that spot of light where the water meets the sky.
Water. I'd love some water. Antarian "water" just isn't the same. Too thick. I miss real water.
But I know who I am again. And I know why I'm here.
Actually where is here? I don't think I'm in my cell. What I'm lying on it's softer. Firmer. The smell is more antiseptic than musty.
I don't hear anything but the humming that is a part of everything here, the familiar vibrations that tell me I'm still on the station.
Vibrations. My eyes fly open then clench shut, because the light seems too bright. I wait until the throbbing dulls somewhat before opening them again. Slowly.
I'm definitely not in my cell.
There's something nearby, a diagnostic machine of some kind. I can see my reflection in it, sort of. I look away. I don't want to see what I look like right now. It might prove detrimental to morale.
I'm not being restrained, but I have a number of electrodes of some kind attached to my arms, head and upper body. I think I'm in a medical bay. From what I can tell, I'm getting some kind of treatment.
And I think I'm alone.
The voices in my head have gotten stronger. Louder.
They're telling me to get up, that I can't rest yet, that there's more to do.
I try to ignore them, but there's no escaping them.
One voice, hauntingly familiar, tells me I have miles to go before I can sleep. This is a voice I can't tell to go away. So I set my jaw and will myself to sit up.
Oh god. Please, god, if there is a god
I'm upright, I think, but the lights are too bright and I'm too nauseous to think clearly and and it hurts.
As the tilting sensation subsides I start pulling out the sharp needlelike probes. My hands shake, but the spikes slide right out, leaving only pinpoints of blood welling on my skin. The machines they're connected to aren't equipped with any alarms - that I can hear, anyway. Thank god. I don't think I could take the noise.
I wait a little longer, trying to get my bearings. Finally I make my move, weakly swinging my legs to one side, noticing with no little relief that I'm still wearing most of my uniform, although I'm down to my undershirt on top. I guess they couldn't stick their probes through my jacket.
It's not that I'm too concerned with decorum at this point, but clothing provides some basic protection that I think I'm going to need. And I'm right. As I push off the bed, my arms and legs go limp and I find myself huddled awkwardly on the cool floor, trying desperately not to pass out.
Like the voices would let me. They're so damned insistent. There's even one that sounds like -
// Kyle's laughing. 'Check it out,' he invites, twisting so I can see the marking under his ear, a testament to both his nominal status in Antarian society and his newly earned rank in the Allied Forces.
'You call that a marking? Now this is a marking.' I pose, pulling my jacket away from my neck to show him mine, under my left ear.
He whistles in appreciation. 'Very nice,' he says, leaning in as he notices something. 'Hey, did he -"
'Yeah.' I roll my eyes. 'He left space for a royal marker to be added some day.'
'You ask him to?'
'Nope. I didn't even tell him who I was. Maybe he was psychic,' I quip. 'I should've asked him to tell my future.'
I really am kidding. Like I had to tell him who I am? I'm Human and a member of the King's inner circle. There aren't too many Antarians in the capital city who wouldn't recognize me on sight.
Kyle just shakes his head. 'These people. Big on destiny, aren't they? They plan everything out.'
'Oh, shut up. I hate that word. I make my own destiny, thank you very much.'//
- I come out of it with a shiver, blinking under artificial lights that suddenly seem much colder after the warm glow of Antarian moonset.
What the fuck was that?
But there's no one to answer, and I can't sit around here all day. I have places to go. Buttons to push. People to save.
People to kill.
Somehow I stagger to my feet and find my way to a wall, to prop myself up against it before I collapse again. As it is, the dizziness seems to be getting worse, and I brace myself as another wave of pain washes over and through me -
Michael stares at me, his lips a grim slash across his face.
'Damn it, Guerin!' I use his last name to remind him that he's Guerin, I'm Parker, and we're both soldiers, damn it, even if I am sniveling and going through enough tissues to insult my highly developed sense of dignity. 'I can't do this if you don't. Just do it already.'
He hesitates, and when he speaks, his voice is strangely soft. 'It's not too late,' he says, tossing the package on the bed behind me, like he can't stand the weight of it in his hand anymore. 'You can still pull out. No one would blame you, not now.'
'Are you telling me you have another way to do this? Any other way of finding out everything Khivar knows without sacrificing thousands of troops and civilians to do it?'
He opens his mouth to respond but I speak first, hard and fast.
'Can you tell me we don't desperately need an advantage now, any advantage? Is there a better way to find out precisely how to defeat him? And maybe even how to rebuild society afterwards without wondering what other tricks his followers have up their sleeves? For that matter,' I push, stepping forward until he begins backing away, 'Is there anyone else in a position to do this? Because I'd back out right now - right this second - if there is.'
'Would you?' He's honestly curious.
It takes me a moment to answer. 'No. This is my mission. You can't take it away from me. You won't take it away from me.'
I hate myself right now. I hate both of us.
I think Michael does too. Earnestly, as if trying to convince himself, he tries to reassure me. 'Max'll be in contact with you every day. And he'll have the doctors linked in the connection too, to relieve the pressure of Khivar's - mind - as fast as possible.'
'I get it, Guerin. I know the drill. Every time Khivar opens a connection,' I recite, throwing his own words back at him, ' it'll go both ways, and I'll get some of his memories. I know. And the doctors'll take them and maybe heal me a bit, and I'll be all set for another day of screwing with the alien interrogators until I get the signal to get out of there.'
'We'll have a rescue ship out there waiting,' he continues doggedly. 'I swear we will. All you need to do is give Max an idea of where you are and we'll find you.'
Something in me cringes to see Michael Guerin pulling the mother hen act. It doesn't suit him.
'Why, Guerin,' I tease, trying to get back some of that old camaraderie, 'if I didn't know better, I'd swear you think my wimpy Human brain can't handle the stress of mind-fucking one lil' old space tyrant.'
He doesn't say anything and, in a way, that is my answer.
I drop all pretense at levity. 'Just do it, okay? Now.'
He leans forward to take my chin in one hand and pulls my head forward to whisper a phrase in my ear.//
- I gasp, trying to breathe. What the
Where am I?
I just went on vacation, and I got bit by a bug, and I'm sick and ... no. I'm in a Trejantisian medical bay. But I can't stay here. I need to get to to
The engine room.
First things first. Need to get through the door
And past the guard standing in it.
He doesn't seem to know much English. Just keeps speaking in Trejantisian. Swearing, by the sounds of it, and every now and then telling me to "Stop".
I guess I don't look like much of a threat. He's easily a couple feet taller than I am, and from the way he moves around, I think he's feeling a lot healthier.
He has me back on the table in seconds, but he doesn't bother with the probes. I don't think he knows what to do with them. Restraints, on the other hand, he seems to get, although I don't think he's used to doing this himself, because he leans across me to hook something on the opposite side of the gurney ... leaving his weapons belt only inches from my free hand.
He freezes when he feels something prodding him in the side. I'm not too sure about Trejie physiology, but I'm pretty sure I could hit something debilitating at this range.
"Back off," I say.
He looks down, clearly not understanding what just happened, and I realize how young he is.
Still the enemy, though. I push at him, and he steps back slightly, stance stiff. And strong. He looks strong. I bet he could get me to the engine room in no time. But how to make him understand?
Without breaking eye contact, I reach out and touch his wrist. Something passes between us, power, and suddenly I feel a pain shoot through my head -
//'I wish you'd let me grow out your hair again. It looked good long.'
'It's not that short. It's long enough to tie back, isn't it?' I roll my head forward so she can lift a section. She's really good at this. When Maria used to do my hair, she always pulled it or burned my ear with the curling iron. She got good results, so I didn't really mind, but Isabel knows how to work a scalp, like it's a canvas and she's an artist.
She doesn't respond for a minute, and I take the time to enjoy the feel of her fingers deftly arranging and pinning the section in place with her powers. I know I'll have to get her to release it later, but it sure beats all the hair goop we used to use back on Earth.
When she speaks, her voice is low and resigned, but also wondering, like she can barely believe she's saying the words.
'You don't think you're coming back next time, do you?'
'Sure I do.'
Her hands still, and I know I answered too quickly. Now she knows I'm humoring her.
'Letting you go is killing Max. And Michael beats himself up so badly over putting you in danger, Maria comforts him instead of beating him up herself.'
I smile despite myself, despite the truth of what she says. Some things never change, and in spite of everything else, I find that reassuring.
'Listen, Isabel, you've gone to a lot of trouble to make this all happen. And we both know it's not just because the King's girlfriend got a promotion. Max and Michael are desperately trying to keep up appearances, trying to keep up morale and support for the war effort. You're helping in your own way, and well, here I have an opportunity to make a difference in my own way, and I'm going to take advantage of it.'
I pull away from her hands to turn around, to face her as I speak. She may know how to push my buttons, but I know how to push hers too.
'Do you remember that time, back in Roswell, when you went after Whitaker? And then Nicholas?'
She nods, jerkily. She doesn't like to think about those days.
'You never asked, but I understood why you had to go after them yourself. And now I'm asking if you understand why I have to go back out there now.'
Tears shimmer in her eyes as she stares at me. Then, 'Turn around. I'm not done here yet.' She pushes me about and I feel her hands re-positioning my head, her fingers working through my hair. Gently.
- and then I'm in his head, and I don't need language to make myself understood. I exert just enough control to render him pliable and open to suggestion.
I don't know how I'm doing this, and now I feel nauseous for a different reason. I think I took more from Khivar than just his memories. I think I'm mind-raping this man right now, and I can't get rid of the notion that in some way I'm becoming the enemy, because it's so damned easy.
It feels almost natural.
But I still feel this obscure guilt, like I'm betraying my humanity, even though I'm violating this man's mind to help save humankind. Because this isn't me; it isn't. Liz Parker could never do this.
Unless everything and everyone she loved were at stake, of course. Then she could do six inconceivable things before breakfast.
Gritting my teeth, I push aside images of his childhood and training that I really don't want to see. In their place I imagine what I think a space station's engine room would look like, and project it to him. When he nods in recognition, I add two figures to the image, traveling through corridors to get there and avoiding being seen by other people.
The wrinkle in his forehead relaxes and his eyes go clear. Obediently, he turns around and leans forward slightly so I can climb on his back. He smells oddly spicy. Maybe he just came off a meal break.
I'm careful not to lose contact, not to lose the tenuous connection, as he sets off down the passage to our left in a light jog. The bouncing isn't helping my headache, or any of my aches, but I wish he could move faster. I listen feverishly for footsteps, constantly looking back over my shoulder to make sure no one's sneaking up on us.
There's something in the air, a jittery sense of urgency that wasn't there before. And now I start to wonder just why I was left alone. True, I'm in bad shape. There was no reason to expect any trouble from me. I can barely stand on my own two feet. But it doesn't make any sense.
Unless something happened somewhere else that made me a lower priority, something that required all available manpower.
I haven't heard any alerts, so the station isn't under attack or in physical danger.
What could possibly be going on? What is so important that it supersedes even the war in importance -
Max looks up and smiles. He's holding the baby on his lap, smoothing the red strands across her pale forehead as she watches him with large, dark eyes.
The sight breaks my heart even as it takes my breath away.
'She reminds me of her mother.' The reverence in his voice is overwhelming. I can feel tears prickling at my eyes, and I'm amazed
'Max, I don't regret this. I just I just wanted you to know.'
The baby grabs his finger in her tiny hand, and he smiles down at her before turning back to me.
'I know.' His expression is serious, but his voice is gentle, and his eyes warm.
Sometimes I think that if I can just look into his eyes long enough, hard enough, the secrets of the universe will be revealed to me. 'Max -'
'Were you serious?'
'About coming back for us.'
I smile through the tears. How can I not?
I stand there watching them for a moment and I feel I feel I feel like I could do anything right now. I feel invincible. But at the same time, I feel weak, like I could pretend nothing else matters because they matter more. I could turn my back on everything else, for them. If he asked me to. Part of me wants him to.
Max doesn't look at me again. But his words are enough.
'Go to Michael. Go on your mission. We'll be here when you get back.'//
- I shake my head to focus on the matter at hand, only now noticing the blood dripping from my nose when I see it staining the shoulder in front of me.
My head hurts, and these - these flashes, or daydreams, or whatever they are, because they aren't any memories I recall having - are coming more frequently.
They feel like memories, though. And I can't help but think that they're answering questions I haven't figured out how to ask yet. Like that last one I've never seen that child before. I'm sure of it. But Max held her with such familiarity. And there was something about her, something that seemed to touch a chord in me, something about her hair, maybe -
//'Liz, do you have today's receipts?
I look up and have to laugh, because Dad's trying to look like he knows what he's doing, but I can tell he's gotten a little overwhelmed by the paperwork around him. We had a lot of deliveries this week, and catering Isabel's wedding at the last minute meant a few unplanned purchases that we're working out now so the accountants don't get upset.
Mom's looking over the inventory I just took, and she's figuring out what we need to buy for the next week. She answers him before I can. 'They're right in front of you, Jeff. Liz gave them to you ten minutes ago.'
Mom and I exchange amused grins at the stunned expression on Dad's face as he looks down and, sure enough, there they are.
I can't help but notice the way the lamp makes her hair look like a soft halo. Sometimes I wish I had her hair. But it's a recessive gene, and I guess there's no red in Dad's side of the family. Still, the gene is in me, and who knows, maybe some day I'll have children, and I'll pass it on.//
- I tense at the sound of footsteps approaching. Several sets, by the sound of it, moving with some urgency.
Immediately the soldier carrying me pivots and slides neatly behind a bulkhead, effectively hiding us until they've passed.
When the corridor is quiet again, we continue on our way, and I take a moment to wipe the blood and sweat off my brow, trying to keep them out of my eyes. The stinging is a distraction, and -
'Lizzie? What happened?'
I try to be brave, not to cry as he comes over and kneels next to where I'm sitting on the ground. There are a lot of kids at the playground today and they'll make fun of me at school on Monday if any of them see me bawling like a baby. But when he gently dabs at the cut over my eye with a damp napkin, I whimper. And once I hear that sound coming out of me, I can't help it. I start crying in earnest.
'It hurts, Daddy. My head hurts.'
'Shh, it's okay, Lizzie. It looks worse than it is.' He stands up and pulls me with him.
'Am - am I gonna need stitches like Jenny did when she rode her bike into the fence?'
Dad laughs. 'No, I don't think you need stitches. I think a little medical attention might be a good idea though. Come on, then. Let's go home.' //
- distractions are not what I want right now.
I want to go home. I want to go home so badly I ache with want.
Because these last ones are memories. I don't know why I'm suddenly remembering things that happened so long ago. But after that strange vision of Max sitting so comfortably with a baby, I really did find myself thinking of my parents, and of how much they looked forward to being grandparents some day. It's like reality and fantasy are all mixed up in my head.
It's all I can do not to sob out loud. I'd give anything to be able to see Mom and Dad alive again. Maybe they could tell me who I am, because I don't know anymore. What kind of person does the kind of things I've done, that I'm doing?
I can't take much more of this.
Suddenly I realize that I've been slipping, that my tenuous link with the man whose will I've co-opted is fading, because I'm losing my grip, losing my control.
I straighten up and firmly reinforce my mental command to the man I'm holding so tightly, although the feel of his uniform turns my stomach.
If I truly want to get home, I need to do this.
I can't falter now. Not when I'm so close.
I study the door in front of me.
I don't recognize the letters on the sign. I don't know what it says. But there's no denying the way the walls and floor are visibly vibrating.
My unwilling aide nods as if I'd asked a question, and says something in Trejantisian.
I haven't the slightest idea what he's saying.
But there's no doubt in my mind that we're standing outside the engine room.
I just hope Olan and ... and Drav, that's his name ... have Kyle and the shuttle ready.
Because according to my recently acquired knowledge of generators, we'll have less than an hour before this entire place falls apart.
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