From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: One Step Forward by Seraphym (Wednesday, April 18, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Under the Shadow by Seraphym (Tuesday, April 24, 2007)

(posted Tuesday, April 24, 2007)

Dum spiro, spero. "While I breathe, I hope."

There was silence. And then, the stranger with John's face rounded on his people. "Out!" he ordered.

"But Sarge--" someone protested.

"I said out. Now. All of ya!" One look at his expression, and there were no more protests. The RV emptied, until there was no one left but Sera, her family, and the John of this universe.

He got right up in her face, and she could feel the terror pouring off him. It was that which made him so fierce, and so angry, and for that reason, she could look up into his eyes with relative calm, and only the pain that came of seeing someone so like her beloved, and so unlike. "I ain't used that name in ten years," he said, fiercely. "Now I wanta know how you know it! 'Cause there are only two people alive who do, an' neither of 'em know you."

He slammed his fist down on the sturdy metal table in front of him. "Tell me, woman! Who sent you? Was it Them? Was it Him?"

He beat against the table again, striking it so hard that it left an imprint. The fear in him broke down her shields, and in that moment she understood that the terror was not for himself, it was for his people. She touched the fist that had just slammed down into the table, and let down her shields a bit. He was thinking so hard about them, the ones out there in danger, and so powerful was his fear, so strong the images of Them in his mind that suddenly--

Suddenly she was there, there, with them. As she once had been, when she was not truly incarnate as such, when she could see anywhere and anyone if she but had the most tenuous of connections to them--

And she sensed--something terrible. And so did Astra...

Astra was as white as a sheet. "The Fa--" she was murmuring. She clutched at Aedan. Linked with her daughter, linked with the people in danger, and linked to those terrible creatures who were so unlike her, and yet once had been her own kindred, Sera saw it all.

A half dozen families. Men dressed in fatigues. Children, clutching mothers, all of them in hiding in something like a cave. A cellar perhaps, like the one they had lately deserted. But outside, hunters, slowly closing in.

Outside...three of the Fallen. Sera saw them, felt them, as she had when the family first entered this world. She sensed them as she had used to be able to sense them in the long, long ago, sensed their despair and their darkness and as in the ancient of days, she knew where they were and what they were doing. It did not matter that they were miles away this time; all that mattered was that she knew them, and their presence....hurt...their avidity, their greed for the kill stabbed her to the bone. And Astra, who had touched their minds, also sensed them, sharing her mother's vision.

Sera was not aware that she had cried out in horror; she was aware that in that moment of realization, she literally drained herself of the strength to feed Aedan and K'takei, as Astra and Kyne did the same. They were of one mind at that moment, and did not even have to think to know what must be done.

< Aedan! > she cried. < K'takei! Save them! >

Aedan and K'takei reached--

--and as a Warshade wormhole opened, and the underground RV filled to bursting with shocked and bewildered people, Sera and her twins passed out cold.

Sera came to, her mind hazy. She could hear someone talking, but it took a few moments for the words to connect to their meaning. John--no, not her John, the other John--was talking. Astra, Aedan, were they-- Yes, there; they were near her and well. And Ratt and JJ. JJ was still unconscious, no change...but they were with more people, with more resources, and that was reason for more hope. She relaxed a little. For now, it was as good as it could be, One thing at a time. One slow step. She let her mind gradually clear.

"--from the outpost that we lost contact with 'bout a day ago. Get 'em all through medical, cleaned up, an' then get 'em some food an' lodgings. Debrief any of our people that were with 'em, an' tell the General that I need 'im down 'ere. Urgent. Y'got that?" Sera's vision swam for a moment after she opened her eyes, but cleared quickly enough for her to see what she assumed to be an aide of some sort nodding to John, then leaving the room. Astra and Aedan had both already come to; the twins and Ratt had crowded around her and JJ defensively. The reinforced door clanged shut, leaving just the family and this world's John Murdock alone in the room.

She sat up, and rubbed the back of her head, wincing as she encountered a lump. Astra flushed, and healed it with a touch. Looking over as if he had just taken notice of them for the first time, the "Sarge" stalked back to his position behind the marred table. He leaned forward on it heavily, a grim expression on his pale face. He just stood there, staring them down, for several very long moments. He broke the tension that was building up, stabbing a gloved finger through the air at them. "So, are you people gonna tell me why I have 'round twenty-some-odd assorted civvies an' soldiers just drop into my base of operations from who the hell knows where, or am I supposed t'guess?"

"You were thinking of them, afraid for them. I hazard a guess that this was what you were speaking about when we were brought to you." Sera kept her breathing calm and regular with an effort. John's jaw tightened, but he didn't say anything. "My children and I are...metahuman, as you clearly know, since you were surely briefed on what we have been doing. When I touched your thoughts, I was able to see the ones you were thinking about as well. My daughter and I also saw something else; their danger was far greater than you knew. The hunt was closing on them and there were three of Them among the hunters. My son Aedan--your scout will tell you he can transport people, as my daughter can heal. My daughter and I gave to him all of our strength so that he could save them." She spread her hands. "That is all," she finshed, simply.

John glanced down and to the right, as if seeing something that they couldn't. After another long pause, he looked back to Sera. "Can whatever you did be tracked? Can it be traced back to this location?"

Sera hesitated. "I do not know," she said, finally. "In my experience...perhaps. It was a graviton-manipulation, a wormhole, rather than magic, which can be shielded." She blinked back tears. "I am sorry. We could not bear to--let them be taken. Especially not by Those."

John walked over to a wall, removing a microphone for some sort of intercomm system. "This is the Sarge. Get everythin' locked up an' ready t'move, just in case. We might have company soon, an' I don't wanna get caught sleepin'. Out." He turned away from the wall to face them again. "You don't know 'bout the Enemy. They've got the sorta tech that would make y'cry."

"I can guess," she sighed, and glanced at Aedan, Astra, and Ratt. They looked back at her, soberly. < This may mean They have a Portal, > she pointed out. < Or at least, the means to make one. > "Would you rather," she said, looking back to the Sarge--not her John, there was no connection there as there had been with Blaze, and she could not think of him as John, now--"Would you rather we had left them there?"

He grumbled for a minute. "Shaddup. That's besides the point. Don't get comfy; we may be movin' again soon. Until then, though, you've got some more explainin' to do." He stood up to his full height, crossing his arms and leaning back against the wall behind him. "First an' foremost, how d'ya know my name?"

"I could tell you it is because I am a telempath, but that would be both a lie and the truth," she said, throttling down the pain of looking at the face that had no love for her in it. "It is the truth, because I am, as is my daughter. It is a lie, because that is not how I know." She licked her lips, and blinked back tears. "I know--because in another universe, far from this, a parallel reality if you know about such things, my name is Sera Murdock, and I am the beloved of your counterpart there. And these--" she waved her hand behind her, "--are his children."

He stared at her. She looked back at him, steeling herself for his reaction. She could not predict what it might be. Disbelief, scorn, anger, fear...or, oh Heart of the Infinite, let it be...belief? His face could have been carved from stone, it was so still and unreadable. "Explain, an' right quick."

"There are layers upon layers of parallel existences," she said, looking down at her own hands. "Every time some important decision is made, another branches--"

He interrupted her. "Skip that. We know plenty 'bout the multiverse an' whatnot. Crap comin' in from parallel worlds is partly what started the Troubles for us. Explain the part where you're my family."

Slowly, with an ache following every word, she told this John the life history of hers. She watched as he winced with certain names. His former teammates. The Facility, and all it had meant. Jacob Garvey. The woman he had loved and watched perish. She saw him close his eyes and clench his fists as she described the destruction of The Facility. She saw his eyes widen as she went on with the tale of John's joining of the CCCP and his comrades there and his friends in RPCongress. They flashed when she mentioned Zach Marlowe and Red Djinni, softened for just a moment when she described Vickie Victrix. They grew suspiciously bright when she said the name "Bella Dawn Parker."

Then she described how they had met, she and her John, and how they had fallen in love. And there...she stopped.

Because if the John of this world was the same as her own--he was going to die. His powers would kill him.

What to tell him? Not that. Not now at any rate. She was saved by something totally unexpected, though in this world, the unexpected had thrown them all off balance so often they had almost become accustomed to it. This was a sound. The sound of someone whistling. She looked up from her hands, eyes widening as she recognized the tune, "It Not Easy Being Green."

The door opened, and this world's John looked past Sera. "Kermit, 'bout time ya got 'ere. I'd like you to meet our new---friends." John coughed heavily into his hand, before making a sweeping gesture in front of himself. "Folks, I'd like t'introduce y'all to the General,"

Sera stood up, and turned around. But her daughter was faster. "Uncle Zach!" Astra cried out, and flung herself at the khaki-clad, green-skinned man. "You're alive!"