From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: Requiem for a Dream by John Murdock (Wednesday, July 11, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Confounded by Dr. Jacob Garvey (Wednesday, July 11, 2007)

(posted Wednesday, July 11, 2007)

Vindictæ trahit exitium. "It brings the ruin of revenge."

Time stretched on for John. In the darkness, with only the sound of his own movement and cries, he was more alone than he had ever been before. His family was dead; while there may have been some doubt before, the fact that Garvey had so meticulously planned to use them against John left no question as to their fate. They were dead, murdered by a mad man. And it was John's fault. He hadn't been smart enough, quick enough, prepared enough. He just hadn't been there. He would have given anything, killed anyone, just to be in that Portal Corp room with them. To die with them.

Even with them dead, he had had the comfort of being able to avenge their murders, of being able to strike back at the source of his misery. And now he was robbed of that, too. His failure was complete and total, and he was broken. If he could have ---if he had the energy---he would have killed himself; even then, Garvey would have probably found him useful, and John's final token gesture of defiance would be wasted. All that was left for him, now, were days of horror and misery, stretching on for however long Garvey needed him. And John knew that as soon as Garvey had exhausted John's usefulness that he would be discarded, as simply and matter of course as throwing away a piece of used trash. John's sanity was slipping, and he couldn't even muster the will to try to hold onto it; to what end? For what purpose?

Wracked with his grief, John almost missed the tingle on the edge of his perception. He couldn't hear anything other than his own breathing and the hum of the air filtration system. He couldn't see anything in the pitch black, perfect darkness of his cell. But he could feel something...there. Another consciousness, something living and vaguely familiar. He traced it along the path towards the mind of whatever he was sensing, stretching his feelings out; it was in the cell next to his. His sense of loss and hardship suspended, John was consumed with curiosity. What could this be? He extended his senses, willing his mind to touch that of his fellow captive---

--and he was invaded. As soon as he made contact, he felt a rush of memories, emotion, and a terrible Will. There was a hunger there, too; for life, for survival. All of it washed against his mind, trying to conquer him. Instinctually, John resisted, pushing back with what meager telempathic skill he had. He felt violated, tarnished. Time froze around him; nothing was happening, nothing existed outside of the battle in his mind. Without thinking, his own sense of self returned. With it, emotion. Nothing nuanced; just raw, polarized feeling. Right now, he felt unmitigated hatred. It radiated out through him, pulsing through the connection. In an instant, the other presence recoiled---and relented.

John felt the attack on his mind fade, but a lingering desire from whatever that Will was remained; GIVE. Shivering uncontrollably, John was terrified. Slowly, very slowly, he regained control of himself. On the edge of his senses he felt the other consciousness creeping, probing. Not malicious, not forceful as it had been before. But curious, now.

Steeling himself, John decided to make the first move.

< Who are you? > No answer. A sense of anticipation, though, did filter through. John tried again. < Who is this? >

< A captive, > came the reply, < like yourself. > Whatever it was, it was not human. Some of the core emotions carried over, but he could feel that the language wasn't the same; the concepts were shared, but were tinged by experiences and that were decidedly...monstrous.

< Why did you attack me? >

< To survive. We are both weak here. This place makes us weak. > The dialogue sloshed around John's mind; it definitely didn't feel right, but there was still a vague familiarity there. It felt like...himself.

< You're a Kheldian, aren't you? >

< Yes. What's more important than what I am, however, is what I offer. >

< Offer? >

< Strength. Strength enough for survival. Strength enough for escape. >

What was this being talking about? How could they possibly get out of here? John had barely enough energy to keep thinking, to keep the connection open, much less----oh, no. Oh, no.

< How? >

< Merge. > The consciousness surged forth again, but nowhere near as strong as it had been before. John knew that it was weakening; the first attack had been its best effort to take him over. John resisted, and almost immediately he felt the consciousness fade even more. It was trying to merge with him, but at what cost to itself? It didn't feel like a Nictus, wasn't entirely like any Peacebringer or Warshade John had ever encountered, either. And---it was dying. The consciousness licked at his thoughts, trying to grab ahold of his mind again. John mustered what energy he had left, and confronted the consciousness. In the Kheldian's weakened state, it couldn't even fight back; it was surprised, having been totally committed to taking over John.

< I am John Murdock. And we will do this my way. > John released his hold on the dying Kheldian...and relented his guards. He began weeping, feeling the horror of what was happening. As soon as it started, John immediately knew exactly what this Kheldian was, and what John was becoming by merging with him. And he accepted it.