The Law of Unintended Consequences

From the Story Arc: Two For The Show

Previous Story in the Arc: Forever Friend by Astra Kyne Murdock (Wednesday, March 29, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: What Dreams May Come by Astra Kyne Murdock (Saturday, August 12, 2006)

(posted Saturday, August 12, 2006)

This story takes place during and after the Tutelary Trial as posted on the RP Congress boards. www.rpcongress.com

In the life of a city, especially a city of heroes, the pain of one girl is nothing. But for the girl...

It was just a coincidence.

The reporters, more than enough to fill the tram station, converged on the platform where two weary teenagers were about to emerge. Illegal hacks into the hospital transportation system gave them accurate information. And there were, perhaps fifty or so people crowded into that platform, what with light-handlers, sound-men, cameramen and all. But these were the Murdock kids, twins, one bonded to a Peacebringer and one to a Warshade and both friends with the infamous Tutelary. They were Hot. And they were camera-shy. They'd probably crack and do something newsworthy. If it bleeds, it leads.

It was just a coincidence.

Astra rubbed her aching head as she and Aedan clung to straps and tried to look as normal as possible. No Kheldian energies, just two kids, one not even in spandex. It seemed that Sera had passed on her telempathic gift to her daughter, and it was getting stronger...Mom had taught her the shielding but it wasn't working quite right. Kyne thought it might have something to do with native Kheldian telepathy interacting with the genetically bestowed gift.

And then the doors of the tram opened,

It was like being hit with a Q-gun, only to the brain. Astra gasped and clung to Aedan as they were shoved into a corner, unable to move, microphones thrust in their faces, lights blazing. She managed to squeek out a plea for help on open comm before the last of her shields suddenly collapsed and she was engulfed.

It was a whirlpool of fear, greed, hunger...and hate. Hate, from a couple of Longbow agents and a cop who stood by and did nothing. Hate from some of the media people. Knives straight to her heart, her soul, flaying her, as she was blinded by lights and deafened by people shouting. A violent mental assualt, it didn't stop.

...freak...

...frikkin cape...

...get this on tape, worth...

..spoiled brats...

...overpriviliged...

...gonna crack on camera...

...this way....

...this way...

....get that shot...

...parasite...

...creepy...

...murderer...MURDERER!

...arrogantmonsterdemonstupidmurderingalieninterloperscommiesgethatshotmakethemsweatcowardskillerkillerKILLER!


Hate. Hating her, hating Aedan. Why? What had they ever done? She who had never experienced a moment of hatred directed towards her in her life--now felt herself dying of it.

It was just a coincidence

Aeden half-supported her across the threshold of the CCCP HQ, dropped her on a worn-out sofa, and ran to get her some water or tea or something. Dazed and confused, she tried to mend her shattered self with Kyne's help when a familiar voice on the television made her look up.

She knew that person. SnoQiti. One of the Congress heroes being interviewed on some talk show. Her tattered psyche reached for a sanctuary, words of solidarity, of comfort, the reassurance that no matter what their differences, the allies of the RPC would protect each other. This was someone familiar, an ally, safe--

Except the cat-woman looked into the camera with eyes filled with the same hate of all those people in the tram station as the interviewer asked her about the CCCP and the announcement that they might be forced to withdraw if their freedoms began to fall by the wayside.

"I'll buy them all one-way tickets--" she snarled, her expression, and her tone, leaving no question in anyone's mind that she would be only too happy to see every member of the CCCP lined up against a wall and shot. No. She had said as much. A “one-way ticket” meant that she really did want them shot. All of them.

A fellow hero--

Astra felt the bottom drop out of her universe. First, sensing Peacebringer traces in Cole's offices. Now this.

Betrayal. Betrayal on all sides. How many others of those she thougth she could trust, those she had looked up to, those she had depended upon, felt the same way? How long had they hidden their true feelings? Were they still hiding those feelings, waiting for the moment when there enough wolves gathered to make a satisfying show?

She could not trust one of her own. She could not trust her allies...what if it had been SnoQiti who had betrayed Tutes? Someone had. What if she was helping Cole right now? Who would be accused next? Zvezda?

Aedan?

And that night, the nightmares began.

And then came the verdict of "guilty."

From that point on, every moment became a nightmare of fear, waking and sleeping. And there was no place safe, no sanctuary. No place at all.




Astra got back to the apartment after another solo mission to find it empty. Utterly empty. Clamping down on panic as she tried to comm her mother and father and got nothing, she told herself it was nothing to worry about. Surely not.

But she was afraid to use the "family channel"--Sera already had enough grief and anxiety of her own and she wasn't going to burden her mother with this. It was probably nothing. John had gotten angry and smashed another comm. Sera was in HQ in a place where the range wasn't so good. It was nothing. Surely.

But panic filled her; a nausea that gripped her stomach, heart racing, throat tightening, the feeling of bands around her chest. she fought it down, and in desperation she decided to check with Sunstorm on more leads about the Council and their Nictus farms. Surely finding one of those would make people stop hating her family, would see that they were good and worked hard to protect the people! Sunstorm had something; she left a note for her parents and arrowed off to Perez Park, all the while trying not to let fear make her mind a blank. She needed to be sharp for this. She had to make this another Murdock success. She had to.

She was well into the Council base when her comm buzzed and she put one hand to her ear, after finding a safe place to answer from.

To her mingled joy and fear, it was "Uncle" Caradoc, the Elven knight assigned to her and Aedan as their guardian when they were kids, who had become their beloved family friend and come at her mother and father's call to help them with the "Garvey situation." "Astra, child, how does this night find you?" he asked, as if this was any other night.

Afraid to say too much, to betray how close she was to panic again, she whispered only, "I'm fine. How are you?"

They've got Daddy. They've got Daddy and he's calling to tell me--

"Well enough. Would you care for some company in your endeavors?" he asked.

Fear made the world go white again for a moment. No he;s fine, he's talking ok...if he's safe, Mommy and Daddy must be all right...I don't want him to know, I don't want them to know...but.. Oh how she wanted his company, his sword, the feeling of safety he brought with him. She could hold it together. She could. And she wouldn't be alone down here. "Um. Sure."

"Excellent. I will join you as swiftly as time and tide permit." He sounded so...fearless. She remembered being fearless.

"OK," she temporized. "You don't have to if you don't want to. I'm good."

Now he put that touch of coaxing in his voice that he did so well "Astra, I would take it as a great favor, if you allowed me to join you."

She looked around at the rough stone walls of her hiding place. "It's not a favor, it’s a cave," she said, and began to move out, cautiously, hunting for the next Council soldier, fear making her leak energy from her aura.

"I assure you, the setting does not deter me," he replied, just as she sensed something coming up from behind and turned just in time to see the patrol of a half dozen that had come up with no warning, and feel the first blast of quantum energy hit.

And she woke into her nightmare.

It was the cell from her dream, the cell she was thrown into before they took her and her family to the machines...

A wordless wail of absolute panic erupted from her throat. She scarcely heard Caradoc's startled reply as she hammered the door of her cell with blasts of Kheldian energy.

"Astra?"

Her mind was screaming. Her heart was hammering fit to burst. All she could think of was the need to get out. Out, before they came for her--They have me, they have Daddy and Mommy and Aedan and...

"Breathe deeply, child. Tell me what's wrong," Caradoc said urgently, all trace of levity gone from his tone. "I'm coming. I'll be there soon."

The door broke; as alarms blared, she shoved past it, blind with fear, she fired at movement, scarcely seeing what she hit. And then she ran, using her control over her energies to go intangible, fleeing past little knots of Council soldiers who never even noticed that she was there. Finally she found a hiding place in a section empty of any signs of life, the equipment and barrels covered in dust, and buried herself behind some old crates, shaking uncontrollably and weeping into the comm. "I dont wanta die...." she sobbed, seeing the nightmare through which the rock of the walls showed imperfectly. Watching herself die, screaming...

"Listen to my voice, Astra. You will not die." Caradoc's calm words just--barely--reached her through the sounds of her own heart pounding in her ears. "Breathe deep, child. Breathe calm. Speak to me."

"I...I...I...got out," she choked out.

"Are you safe where you stand?" he asked urgently. "Stay there. Continue to breathe. I'm coming to you now. Stay strong, child."

She couldn't have moved. The fear had her now, and shook her in its grip like a dog with a rag. And when Caradoc slipped into her hiding place beside her, she clung to him as the only shelter in a world of pain.

He held her, and murmured as he gently stroked her hair. "You're safe now. You're safe. Let it out, child," he whispered.

But she knew, she knew she could never be safe again. Not here. Not anymore. She babbled something of that out between her sobs, how terrified she was, how their minds battered at hers with hate whenever she went out. How she wanted to go home. Not here, but Underhill, where enemies were honest and friends did not turn round about and betray you.

He smiled ruefully. "This is a hard world for a child.'

She was shaking like an aspen in a high wind. "I'm so scared," she whispered. "They hate me so much and I'm so scared--They're going to lock us up and take our Khelds away and we'll die. We'll die and our Khelds will die and Mommy will die because Daddy dies..."

The Elven Knight's voice turned as hard as diamond. "No."

But the nightmare---the nightmare said differently. As he took off his glasses and gently lifted her face, she protested. "They locked Tutelary up. They're gonna take us away and lock us up--"

He interrupted her, looking deeply into her eyes. "Astra, do you know why I came here?"

"To...to....to....help Daddy with Garvey," she stammered, a new surge of fear washing over her. Garvey! Oh god--she had forgotten about Garvey! Which person she'd thought was a friend would sell them out to him?

"No," he replied. "I came her to protect you. And your brothers."

All she could do was shake her head. "But there's only one of you, and there's so many of them, and they're police--"

He nodded. "I know this. But Astra, when I say this, believe me... I do not care."

She buried her face in his shoulder and wailed. "They'll lock you up too! They can make our powers not work!"

"They may try," he replied firmly, "But Astra... we have resources they cannot dream of. If the time comes for it, we will leave this place. If they go mad enough, we will leave them to their madness. They can do much to hurt us. They can strip away our powers. But they cannot take away the things which make us what we are. We will not let them. We can show them that they will not stop us. We can show them that they cannot intimidate us. And we can show them that though we may be scared, though we know they can hurt us, that fear will never stop us from fighting to protect ourselves."

She closed her eyes, and buried her face in her hands. "I dunno who I can trust," she whispered, feeling betrayal, once again, like a knife in the heart.

He nodded, slowly, as she looked up again, "Trust is a fragile thing. Delicate as crystal, and I fear it has been shattered, at least for a little while. Your parents. Your brothers. Bella and Vickie and Djinni. The rest... the rest will have to earn it again. Slowly."

"...and...and...in the tram...in the station...." How to tell him the horror of that moment? The pain? "...those reporters and...and...and a policeman... and....and....Longbow..." she convulsed again with helpless weeping, and he gathered her into his arms to hold her tightly. "They're supp...sup... supposed to be our friends..."

"Astra, child..." he murmured into her hair, "It is always those we think are friends and allies who can hurt us the most."

".....I'm so scared...." There. It was out. He would probably despise her, he who was never frightened no matter what the odds or the battle. "Nowhere's safe. Nowhere. They can knock down the door. They can grab us at the tram. They can ambush us anyplace. They grabbed Tutes at the tram..." She could feel it again, feel it all around her, lacerating her, crushing her. "...all those eyes...all that hate..." She put her hands to her head as if by doing so she could somehow keep all the punishing blows of emotion out. "I can feel it. I can feel it. There's nowhere safe."

Caradoc's arms tightened around her as if to serve as her armor. "They hurt you, child," he said, voice harsh with anger. "As sure as if they took a knife to you. They hurt us all. We trusted them. We thought them better than this. And they showed that we were wrong. But all they showed is that we were wrong now. Every time, every person we trusted in the past who didn't betray us, we were right about them. For now, perhaps, safety is scant. The world now is night, dark and full of dangers. But at night, we light the fires and we stay with those we trust. If they come, Astra, we will stop them.

In a voice thick with tears, the nightmare playing out behind her closed eyelids yet again, she clung to him and tried to tell him of her tiny, personal hell. "when I try to sleep,. I think I hear them coming. when I dream, it's all nightmares. They come for us...and they don't stop, and we can't stop them and everyone dies and Kyne is screaming and dying and I'm burning up and I can't breathe..." And she couldn't breathe now--

From a far remote distance, from a place beyond comfort, she heard him whisper. "Gods... I'm so sorry, child. I do not... there are no words to describe how much I know I should have been there, how sorry I am that I was not."

What? "...not your fault," she managed.

He held her head against his chest. "Child... it is my fault. Because I am your guard, but also because I am your friend, I think, and any hurts to you bruise me as well. But this dark night is on us now, and no regrets of ours can change this. Astra... all I can say is this: Your father and your mother love you as deeply as love can be felt. They are two of the most potent warriors I know. I have never seen them fail. And they will never let harm come to you."

She shuddered convulsively as the vision of her father in torment, her mother dying with him, played itself out again, and she wailed, "I don't want them to die!"

His reply was fierce. "They will not die."

If they weren't already dead...they could be out there somewhere, dead. Or in prison like her.

She sobbed. "P-p-promise?"

She felt him nod. "I swear."

"Protect them," she insisted. "Don't worry about me. P-p-p-protect them. Take care of Aedan."

Because it would not be worth living if they, if Kyne, were gone.

His tone left no room for compromise. "I will protect you all. And you will be brave. Bravery is good. But... Astra... know that bravery does not mean that you are not scared. Astra, all bravery means is that you do not let the fear rule you. The bravest men I know feel fear. But a brave man feels the fear, and continues to do as he must, despite it."

She swallowed hard. And the fear retreated, a little, a very little. The nightmares receded for a moment. "I...gotta...be brave. Kyne says we gotta. There's people in here as scared as me."

"Shall we be brave for them?" he asked.




She sensed that they had nearly closed on their objective, for three of the four hostages Sunstorm said were here had been released. And at that moment, the voice she had prayed she would hear came over the comm at last.

"Evenin', folks," said John Murdock

"D-d-daddy?" she wailed without thinking. "You're alive!"

And John Murdock reacted to that as any good father would. Instantly. "Aw, hell. Where're y'all at?"

When he arrived, she flung herself at him, sobbing incoherently. As he removed his helmet, revealing a completely bewildered expression, she babbled at him, clinging to him. "...you're not dead......they didn't get you...."

"Of course I'm not dead. Why would I be, kiddo?" he asked, with a hesitant laugh. "What's going on?"

In the back of her mind she knew this was irrational, and Kyne was trying to tell her that and soothe her at the same time, but most of her was locked rigid in terror. "....I couldn't find you..."

Her father's brow creased in puzzlement and growing anxiety. < Didja use the 'family channel', kiddo? >

Through her fog of fear she heard Kyne force through a reply herself. < JM, she's scared spitless and she's blocking everything to keep Sera from finding out. >

John wrapped his arms around his daughter and sighed. "I've had my comm off more often than not. Too many damned reporters with scanners, nowadays. Haven't stopped bugging me for a 'follow-up' statement after the trial. Vultures."

As Caradoc muttered something into his collar, and Astra shook at the word "reporters," her father held her close and came to a conclusion. "It'll be alright, kiddo. Y'all done patrollin' for the night, I assume?"

Caradoc winced. "I think so, yes."

He nodded. "Might be best to talk 'bout all of this at home. Besides, I need to get out've this blasted armor."




She sat on the floor in the corner, arms wrapped around her legs, where she could keep a good eye on the front door. Because they were coming. She knew they were coming. It was only a matter of time.

From a far distance she heard her father speaking. "Kiddo...what's wrong? Why d'ya think me and your Ma are in danger? Well, any more than we usually get ourselves into?"

Mommy. Do they have Mommy? No, Daddy would know...

"...I....I'm so scared. They're going to come for us, gonna lock us all up and take our Khelds awasy and we'll all die." The words poured out of her. "And I can't trust anybody... I mean, besides us. Family. There was a Peacebringer in that office. And all those reporters and Longbow and police and people we thought liked us hate us....." She shook. It was coming. Something was coming. She felt the dread hanging over her.

How could her Daddy be so calm? Couldn't he feel it too? "Some of 'em are, yeah. Just the nature of the 'news', nowadays. Anythin' for the leadin' story; "if it bleeds, it leads", an' all of that. The public'll forget about this soon enough, though. There's always somethin' happenin' in this city, so they'll get some other big thing to distract 'em."

Frantically she shook her head. "It's in my dreams," she sobbed. "They're coming for us. It's in my dreams--" She clapped both her hands to her head again. It was coming, she could feel it, they were coming...

A faint brush of love and comfort touched her. "You've got my word, dear, that no one will ever come for us. And if by some horrid piece of luck that they do, I can guarantee that they won't have the gumption to nab anyone."

And then she was lost.

Longbow agents broke down the door. She heard the crash of splintered wood, tried to escape but was frozen, smelled the ozone as they, shot JM and Sera first, then the JJ as he tried to get past them, then Aedan. There was a flash of white and the taste of blood as they shot her, then she woke to feel them hauled them clamping the Nullifier cuffs on her wrists.

From a far distant place she heard her father and Caradoc cursing. But that wasn't real. This was real.

Briefly, she found herself alone in a cell, cold, lying on her side, head and body aching and Kyne screaming in her mind. A moment more, and the came again, and hauled her stumbling to a bank of strange machines. Her family was already there, strapped to tables. Longbow said nothing, as Aedan was rolled beneath the machine. It was only a moment, a flash of dark energy, and K'takei was ripped out of Aedan and died in an instant. The moment that K'takei was gone, Aedan burst into flames.

She screamed. But no one paid any attention. The sickening smell of burning flesh and hair filled the room as they hosed down the blackened corpse and shoved the table out of the way. John was next.


His death was even quicker.

Her mother gave a heartbroken cry and crumbled to dust.

Then it was JJ's turn. And then they turned to Astra. She felt Kyne ripped from her, as if they had opened her chest and torn out her heart. She felt herself ignite--she was screaming and Kyne was screaming and all the world was terror, fire and pain.


And then...it wasn't.

She was in her father's arms. He held her close as she choked with fear and grief.

"Gods..." Caradoc whispered.

From far away, she heard Kyne speaking. < JM, I need your help. I want to put the kid out for the duration, with no dreams. >

"Is that Kyne?" Caradoc asked.

John nodded as he held her. "That's her."

< I hate to do this, but until Bella can see her I think I need to take over. >

Take over. Oh yes. If Kyne could take over. Kyne was smart, Kyne and her daddy could stop this...

< How d'ya want to go about it, Kyne? > John asked.

"That is, I think, a good idea," Caradoc urged. "No dreams, and her parents here when she awakes"

< Join up like you do with Sera, and gimme a jolt of good old Kheldian Juice. I need more energy to put her under than I have. > Kyne extended a telepathic link. She sensed John synching with her, then felt the release of a burst of Kheldian energy through the connection, cut it off after a few seconds.

And Astra went from terror to peace. < That worked. OK, she's down until I let her out again >

Caradoc sighed deeply.

< Kandy's memories call this "shell shock" > , Kyne told them.

John nodded, closing his eyes for a moment, noticeably more relaxed.

< And I think you had better tell her mom. > That much Kyne was sure of. Sera needed to know. Assuming she didn't already. < It's more than that scare. About 50 reporters caught us at the tram. Pinned us in, and her telepathy blew wide open. That Kyria Shade got us out, But not before she got both barrels from the reporters, some Longbow, who may I add did NOTHING to help and some cops ditto. Then stuff on the TV that just dropped the bottom out of her trust in anyone in Congress. Well, that's when the nightmares started. She goes to sleep, and they don't stop. And....dammit, JM, even to me they feel real. >


John looked angry and griefstricken at the same time. Kyne sensed the agony he was feeling for his daughter. But as always, he remained calm and in control and above all, thinking. "You lie her down, for now. Even though she might be asleep, her body isn't, and probably needs the rest as much as her consciousness does."

Caradoc hesitated. "Is it... I do not mean to sound paranoid, but is there the possibility that they are, so to speak, oracular?"

Kyne shook their head. < I dunno. I don't know anything about precognition. >

"No... nor do I," Caradoc replied. "But the possibility, perhaps, should be explored."

John shrugged helplessly. "Nor do I. Again, doubt it. Mandy or someone with background with this sort've thing might be good to talk to. I'll drum through my PBA contacts, see if there's any sort of experiences like this ever happenin' before."

Caradoc rubbed his head, looking distracted and anxious. "Indeed. There are, after all, other worlds than these. She may be seeing into one, while she sleeps. Or perhaps she is a frightened child, worried that her family may be taken from her."

< Either, > Kyne replied. < In any event I'll tuck her up then trot her around to Aunt Bella in the morning. You need to tell Sera about this >

Caradoc sighed. "John, ah... Kyne... I believe I owe you both apologies."

Kyne turned their head toward him in surprise. < eh? >

Caradoc hung his head. "I should never have allowed her to be threatened like that. I am here to protect them and I failed."

Wearily, John clapped his friend on the shoulder. "Don't worry about it too much, Dylan. Shit happens, an' you can't predict everythin' nor be everywhere at once. You don't need my pardon."

Kyne gave him a look. < You know damned well she was spying on that DA and you couldn't go there. Only the one that could go intangible. Even Aedan was only being emergency evac. > She doubted he'd believe her. Caradoc took his duties seriously.

"You have my word," he said, with his jaw set, "I shall never so fail in my duty a second time."

John closed his eyes. Possibly conferring with Sera. When he spoke it was with firm conviction. "We'll get all of this sorted out."

Of that, Kyne had no doubt.