From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: Valley Of The Shadow by Seraphym (Wednesday, June 13, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Conspiracies by John Murdock (Sunday, June 17, 2007)

(posted Friday, June 15, 2007)

Sol non occidat super iracundiam vestram. "Let the sun not set on your anger."

This Sarge might look like her father, but Astra was rapidly beginning to hate him.

The way he treated her, as if she was a liar--hadn't she proven herself over and over again, healing his people without even being asked until she was falling down drunk with tiredness? She could feel Kyne smoldering with resentment too, and by common consent Astra was the one behind the wheel at all times these days, especially around the Sarge, no matter how brain-weary she was, because if Kyne was in the driver's seat she would have gone Kuhkrut and decked him.

But the way he treated her mother--how dared he forbid people to talk to her? All she was doing was what she had always done, give them comfort and hope! Listen to their sorrows and try and ease them! What was wrong with that? She couldn't help how Miss Vickie treated her! And she couldn't help that other people were giving her respect! But Sarge acted as if--as if she was some kind of enemy agent who was trying to undermine him.

She knew Aedan didn't like it either. Twin had a much longer fuse than she did, but she sensed his was getting very close to the explosive, and when he went, well, he packed a wallop with a lot of gravity behind it.

Sarge hated, absolutely hated, that the General was talking in private with their mother, and doing it at least once a day. She was pretty sure that Zach Marlowe was not telling his Sarge anything at all about what they were discussing either. She had the feeling though, that whatever was going on, it was coming to a head--

But that was not the worst of it, so far as Astra was concerned. Because on top of all of this, even though the Sarge had said point-blank that he knew the Shadowed had Portal tech, he had not even given them so much as a compass direction, much less a map, to where it was. And under Sera's serene exterior, Astra could feel her growing more and more frantic, even despairing, the longer they were away from Dad. She herself was having nightmares about it, seeing her father broken, wracked with grief, or lost among the worlds of the multiverse himself, trying to find them. Dad had always been so strong, the rock that all of them could depend on. Seeing him the way she had in her dreams was terrifying, more frightening than anything other than touching the minds of the Fallen.

She had the feeling this morning when they woke up, looking at Aedan's haggard face, that Aedan was sharing these nightmares too, or something like them. And maybe that was what decided her, when she finished healing up a broken leg one of the sentries had gotten when he made a misstep and tumbled down the mountain. She had gone to find her mother and try and talk about this.

But what she had found was the Sarge forbidding Sera to have anything more to do with "his people." He had left in a cream-colored huff. Shocked, she had felt her mother's tumble into an abyss of despair, and watched as Sera broke down and wept.

Enough was enough. She and Aedan needed to talk. And then they needed to do something.

< Twin? > she called on the Family Channel. < You in the middle of anything? I need to talk to you. >

Aeden's telempathic reply came immediately. < I'm free. What's going on? >

Astra quickly gave him a summary of what she had overheard--and what she had felt from their mother. She tried not to get tearful over it, but it was...hard. So hard to have felt that despair from Sera, who had, for all of her own short life, been such a steady pillar of strength for all of them. < She's giving up! > Astra tried not to wail. < That awful Sarge has just... > She couldn't complete the sentence. Kyne did it for her.

< I swear to Rudy I am gonna kill that bastard if I get the chance. >

< Why don't we just talk to him, first? The two of us can do something, right? >

Astra thought of protesting, of pointing out that if he didn't believe Miss Vickie and their mother he certainly wasn't going to believe them--but what could it hurt? She did hold that ace card. Right now, she was their only healer. They had a couple of make-shift "doctors"---mostly quickly trained medics and even a veterinarian---but she was the only one that could heal. This world's Vickie was a fighter, not a healer.

< All right. We can try. >

They ran into this world's John Murdock after he'd just had a meeting with the General. Astra could see that he was agitated, but she couldn't read body language very well and she didn't want to chance a telempathic connection when she was so angry with him. She might hurt him. She had been discovering that she could do that ever since changing the memories of the Fallen....

The Sarge spotted her at just about the same time as Astra had caught sight of him. He came to a halt, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "You look like y'need something, kid. What's it gonna be? I've gotta handle a couple of things." His tone was impatient, but not quite as harsh as it had been previously.

Sometimes her mouth said things before her brain could stop it and this was one of those times. "Why did you order Mom to stop helping people? You're killing her! Why can't you just leave her alone to do what she has to do?" Aedan came walking into the corridor behind the Sarge, effectively cutting off any retreat.

"Ganging up on me? Alright, y'wanna know why? I don't trust any of you. You're a bunch of folks that dropped outta the sky, just 'bout, with a fantastic story that I have no way of verifying. You've done some good things, but I can't get a bearing on what your intentions are. What your 'Mom' is doing, I can't be certain of. And because of that, I have to guard against it. These people are my responsibility; if they get hurt...I can't let 'em. Y'get me, kid?" He waited for a response, defiantly planting his fists on his hips. "If that means that I gotta keep your Ma separated from 'em, then so be it. Vic and the General...I need to talk with 'em more about this. Can I get through?"

Some of her mother’s despair seeped into her soul and she felt on the verge of giving up herself. "Fine," Astra said, dully. "Go ahead. Pass out the grape Koolaid, order the cyanide syringes and sign all our death warrants. You might as well."

"What the hell are you goin' off about, kid? I don't have time for this, if you're just gonna try an' guilt me with some crap. You got somethin' to say worth listening to, or not?"

"What we're saying," Aedan said, "Is that you need to lay off. We're not your enemies, even if you can't trust us yet. This isn't do or die---"

"Actually, it is. It has been ever since the World Government got their hooks into everything. We've been livin' with this for years. And this is how we've adapted. This is how we're fightin' back. Y'know how many times we've had people turn on us? How many folks have been made into traitors just to keep their families from having unspeakables done to 'em? It sure as hell is do or die, kid."

"No it isn't," Astra said flatly. "The enemy is something you don't believe in. So it isn't do or die. It's just die. And that's what we're all going to do. Us, because we can't get home. You and everyone you're responsible for, because you can't believe in some things even when you see them with your own eyes. And everyone else with you."

"And just what have I seen, kid? You tell me, 'cause I'm pretty sure you don't wanna know some of the things I've seen in the past few weeks, not to mention the last few years."

< Huh. My rosy red derriere. Show him, honey. Show him the Fallen. >

Astra stepped forward quickly, moving with Kheldian reflexs. She phased so he couldn't touch nor stop her, and touched his hand with her energies, opening a brief empathic link to give him a glimpse--the merest glimpse--of what she had seen in the minds of the Fallen. But in that glimpse, she made sure that what they were was very, very clear.

The Sarge convulsed once, flinching away instinctually as if shocked by electricity. He looked about himself wildly, panting, as if to check to make sure that the walls around him were real. He stared hard at Astra for a few moments before speaking. "Never without my permission, ever again. Do y'both got that straight?" He looked back and forth between Aedan and Astra, and then pushed past Astra. At the end of the hallway, he stopped to glance back at Astra...and she saw something different in his eyes. Doubt. And then he was gone, rounding the corner.

She clenched her jaw, telling herself that she was not going to cry. "Twin...we have to get Mom out of here. Get JJ out, and Ratt too. She can't stay here, this is killing her. We have to find a way to the Portal ourselves."

Aedan looked back at her, eyes filled with desperation that mirrored her own. And Fear. Terrible fear. "Sis...this place, this world...it's death. It's killing everyone."