Who Are You?

From the Story Arc: Doppleganger

(posted Monday, August 13, 2007)

The voice on the comm. stopped Bella’s heart.

There was no “almost” about it. She felt her heart physically stop beating, the shock was so great. It was a good thing that she was sitting down. It was a better thing that People’s Elf was in the MedBay with her, and saw her go bleached, sensed what was wrong, and gave her a jolt of healing power that kicked her heart going again.

A moment before she had been pondering the announcement by Vanguard that the Rikti had been beaten back, and trying to calculate how much of it was a lie. Despite grudging liking for Lady Grey, Bella had a strong, strong distaste for Vanguard. It was not just because they had essentially kidnapped her. It was because they were too autonomous, and seemed to have difficulty with policing their own.

But all that fled her thoughts at the sound of that voice.

Zach’s voice.

In a daze, she listened to others on the open channels responding—listened to Battler excitedly insist that it was Zach, that he was standing right in front of the man, that—

She couldn’t stand it. “Comrade Battler,” she rasped into her own comm. unit, “I will be joining you.”

The coordinates in Steel Canyon popped up instantly on her screen, as if Battler had only been waiting for her to chime in. She scrambled into her Berkut suit. Whoever, whatever this was—she was not going to leave herself vulnerable. No one would read her face, nor her body-language. Not in the suit and helmet.

When she fanned in to a landing among those gathered there, she actually saw only one.

Him.

Zach.

A bearded Zach, an older Zach, a Zach with something grim about his eyes and something guarded about his stance…

Older. She had imagined him, imagined them older, together…

She clamped down hard on the pain, and let her other senses inform her. And they told her that this was truly not her Zach. Whatever, whoever, it was. Not a Crey Clone, either, they had a feel to them that he completely lacked. Little leakages of memory told her this was no clone, too—flashes of fighting, and a lot of it, long years of it,

And when he looked up at her for the first time—

A pain that matched her own.

They both clamped down on it; an excited Battler, who would not hear her quiet insistence that this was not their Bestial Boy, proposed taking on the Rikti at the War Zone. She was not going to let this fellow out of her sight for now—

And they fell right back into the rhythm of it, the patterns she and Zach had established; her heart ached, her body insisted this was him, her mind shouted NO!, and everything was awash in such grief and, yes, anger, that it was a shock to her to see herself handing her duties with competence, hear her voice steady.

When it was over, Battle insisted on escorting him back to CCCP, and she thanked god that the former wrester had not thought to take this man back to Zach’s penthouse. Perhaps her insistence had gotten through to him.

She headed straight back to her own apartment, then, at the door, changed her mind and knocked on the Murdocks’ instead. If by some miracle Sera was there—

The door flew open, and Seraphic Flame seized her hands and pulled her inside. “I sensed your anguish—“ Sera said, forcing her down on a couch, armor and all, and taking off her helmet for her. “But more, I sensed him I know this man, Bella. He is—he is the Zach Murdock of another world. The world where the children and I were. And—Bella—“ She bit her lip. “I meant to tell you one day…but now it seems that day has come. No one but John has heard this of me…and not even he knows all.”

And Bella listened, still awash in pain, as Sera told her of Shadowed Earth, the entire ordeal that the family had endured there, and most especially about the Zach Marlowe called “The General.”

“I have touched his soul, Bella,” the angel concluded. “When I sensed him enter our world, I went to speak with him. He is older by decades than the man I recall, and he is confused, very confused.” She shook her head. “I do not yet know what happened to him, to bring him to us; he recalls intending to come here to a point at what must be in our future, to appeal to Portal Corps to lift the interdiction to Shadowed Earth and allow heroes to come to help the rebellion. He does not remember anything more.” She paused. “Do not forget that your presence must causes him pain as well. He lost his Bella in circumstances terrible and tragic. And also this. It may not be possible to send him home again.”

Bella clenched her hands in her lap, and stared at them. Finally she spoke around a lump in her throat.

“I’ll….keep that in mind.”