Ghosts from the Past

From the Story Arc: Red Lion, White Phoenyx

Next Story in the Arc: Tea for Three by John Murdock (Monday, June 26, 2006)

(posted Tuesday, June 13, 2006)

Sera was not entirely sure what to think now. Too many people were coming out of John's past, people he had not even really talked about. When he thought about them, of course, she shared those thoughts...but John was not much for thinking about the past once he had set it to rest.

Well, he might have set it to rest for himself, but the past seemed to have a mind of its own. First Doctor Garvey. Now this man...found, by of all people, Kyria Shadowdancer. Was that a coincidence or a conspiracy? Could he be working for Garvey?

But Kyria was one of the best judges of character that she knew. She used the Warshades' limited telepathy with great discretion and skill. Surely if there had been something wrong, she would have sensed it.

Surely, if there was something wrong with the man, Sera herself would sense it. He sat cater-corner from her at the coffee table in the first room of the apartment...she would not bring him into her sanctum, not yet.

Though before Garvey, she would have, without a second thought.

This was driving her mad. She was not suspicious by nature. Or had not been.

" say you know my husband, Mister---MacPherson?"

"That's one way to put it, ma'am. And call me Christopher, or just Chris if you'd prefer. Johnny and I served together, quite some time ago." The bronze-skinned man sat cross-legged on the couch in the Murdocks' apartment, serenely gazing at the creature before him. He wore a beard and mustache, both thick and slightly unruly. His clothing was simple leather and cloth, sturdy garments made for durability rather than fashion, he looked like some sort of modern day interpretation of a medieval blacksmith. He'd found his own peace, but this place seemed charged with its own sort of calm. Infused with it.

"When would that have been?" Sera asked, her mind flashing to the scrapbook that John had pieced together for himself, before his fusion. John Murdock hadn't been one for holding on to many mementos of the past until he had been told that the past was going to be taken from him. Served--surely this Christopher MacPherson didn't mean in Garvey's program? If he didn't, he could only mean from John's time in the Army. But...beard, mustache...he could have been anyone in those pictures.

"Five years ago, coming close to being six years now. We were assigned to the same unit for the Army, special operations. He was my troop's sergeant." John had a talent for leading others, though he never really had been one to make much of it; he preferred to "lead by example" rather than issuing orders all the time and throwing his weight around. A REMF he certainly was not; wouldn't have been a place for him in their unit, had he been. "Most of the work we did was fairly confidential, you understand."

Six years ago. The time of the ambush, when John's entire squad had been wiped out. An ambush, as it happened, that had been planned and executed by John's own superiors, in order to isolate him and steer him into their unholy "program." Sera practically vibrated between wanting to believe this story and fearing that the man was sent by Garvey. She temporized, playing for time, and opting to take a middle road. But first...

{Beloved?} Thank the Infinite for the "family channel." It would have been impossible to arrange a comm call at this point. Telempathic communication had the blessing of being discreet, however. {Beloved, this is...fairly urgent. There is a man here who says he knows you from--before. He says that his name is Christopher MacPherson.}

John's mind raced across space and time, meeting with Sera's in an instant. There was a sense of apprehension and discomfort that came with him, tingeing their connection for the briefest moment. {MacPherson? He's a dark fella, about my height? Not too much of an accent, right love?}

{Yes...but he does not look like anyone in your old photos. He is very hairy. What if Garvey sent him?}

{Point.} John hesitated a second before continuing. {This might verify things, but I'll have to see him myself to be certain. Ask him what we used to call each other.}

The conversation took place in the time it took for Sera to go to the end table where the scrapbooks were kept and take out the one from Fort Bragg. She opened it to the pages where there were several color-faded photos of young men being foolish together. "Do any of these look familiar to you?" she asked. Better if the nickname came naturally without her having to prompt it.

Chris smiled, pulling a photo from the pile. John was standing off to the side in it, wearing a set of 'Class B' fatigues and shirt. There were three other men; one was holding the other two in a double head-lock. Chris was laughing in the photograph, having been one of the 'victims'. "This one, ma'am. We were heading out on leave from Ft. Bragg that day. Here's John, and here's me." He picked up the photo, studying it. "That was our first tour of duty together, in fact. He was one of our newer members, but fit in well enough."

"I still cannot imagine him being in such an organized thing as an Army," she mused. "Orders and titles do not sit well with him. He could have been made a Commissar long since, but threatened to quit if Bella foisted the title on him." If this man was sent by Garvey, small harm in reminding him that if he harmed any of the Murdocks, all of the CCCP would be on him like a wolf pack.

Chris chuckled, scratching the back of his head. "Well, our unit was a bit less restrictive than most others. We played things fast and loose. Being at the top of your game has it's perks, I suppose. Johnny was a military man, though. In his family, from what he told me." Their troop had been especially close-knit, which happened rather naturally. They drew together, through shared conflict and responsibility to each other. Something of a fond memory for Chris, these days.

Sera reached out and lightly touched the so-young picture of John with a kind of caress. Blaze was there...oh yes. If she had had this picture herself in those dark days, she would quickly have recognized that John Murdock in Blaze Phoenyx's eyes. Not that it would have made a difference. The John she loved was the one who had come through fires both metaphysical and physical. Not this man. Or at least, not in the same way. "He will not even let the younger members, nor our children’s friends, call him 'sir'."

He shook his head. "Still blows my mind, Sarge Murdock having kids." He gestured graciously. "Nor a woman understanding and patient enough to put up with the likes of him."

"'The heart has reasons that reason cannot know,'" she replied quietly, eyes still on the picture, quoting Blaise Pascal, a quote that Nova Requiem, Tasha, had used to describe her own situation not more than--was it only two days ago? "I think he must have changed a great deal from the young man you knew."

Chris nodded thoughtfully. "I imagine we both have. The world even, since the war." He looked down at the coffee table for a moment. "Such is the nature of things; constantly changing and dynamic."

"Change and grow, or die and make way for new growth. Either way, death really has no dominion..." I will not lose him. I will never lose him. Nor he, me. This above all was what held her steady.

Chris looked up as Sera finished her sentence, his lips quirking a bit at the corners. "You know, you really sound like him, just now. It's good to know; he rubs off on everyone equally, and I'm not the only infected one."

She looked up, unexpectedly looking into his eyes. Honest eyes, but eyes that had seen fires of their own. She wanted to trust him. "Infected?"

"Johnny has a way of influencing folks. He's got a charisma too him, I guess. Just couldn't help but like him when I met him. He was a 'reader'; everyone in our unit was a college graduate. Part of the prerequisites for getting in. But Johnny always had a book on him. Fiction, philosophy, poetry, plays. Real 'big brain' stuff. Didn't stop him from referring to himself as just 'another dumb grunt', though."

"He still says that, and he is one of the wisest creatures I know." Her eyes went back to the picture. This was something of a revelation. So, there were the seeds of her John there. "And he still reads. Almost the only things he owned when I first met him were books." Her mind flashed back to that first night she had spent with him, in that barren, dingy, one-room apartment. Books piled everywhere, but not randomly. She smiled to herself. The apartment might still have been barren and a touch bleak, but when he had awakened it had at least not been dingy and filthy anymore. Angelic powers did have some rather mundane effects; grime and dirt could not persist in the presence of an angel...she wondered if he had noticed. Possibly not. Probably not. They had both had other things on their minds.

Such as the fact that he had just learned that his own powers were killing him.

"I think books mean more to him than food. It is the same for all our children, too. And I think all of us are rather in love with science fiction and fantasy."

"He read a lot of that, sure enough. Got a couple of the guys hooked on this one author...can't remember his name for the life of me. Not a big-time one like Stephen King or anything, but a good one all the same. Book was called 'Armor', I think."

She laughed. "We have three copies and an electronic one he--I swear this is true--had poor Waitron scan page by page, just in case there is a fire here. He says it reminds him of his misspent youth."

Chris smiled broadly. "We were all pretty rough and tumble. Boys will be boys, and that sort of thing. He was pretty wild himself, if you can believe. Not when it came time to do work, of course. Doing what we did, we had to be professional about it, unlike some other units. Still, we had our fun when we could." He stretched a bit. "'Jack and Mac', they called us. I landed him with 'Jack' from the book, and he turned around and labeled me 'Mac', though that seemed more than a bit too obvious. Nice spot of revenge, but it was all in good fun."

Sera slowly let out the breath she had been holding. {Beloved? He says that you were 'Jack' and he was 'Mac.'}

John's thoughts reached her immediately. {I'm already on my way home, love. And there's only a few men on Earth that would've known those names. I'll be right home.}

{Do I tell him the truth about the ambush?}

{No, love. That's something that I have to do. I'm certain of it. Keep him there, but be careful. Y'never know.}

{He could have once been your friend...but he could still come from Garvey. I understand.}

{Garvey, or somethin' even worse. I'll see y'both soon; portal techs are debriefin' me at present.}

Anxiety clouded her thoughts. {Beloved. Hurry. I will keep him here.} But none of this showed as she turned the page to another set of photos. "Perhaps you might be able to explain this to me...."