The Compact started out as something that seemed like a good idea. It didn’t take long for the solidarity to turn into something alien, something monstrous. No one within the Eurydice Compact will admit to that, though. Everyone who managed to escape, however, tells a different, perhaps more true story.
— Erich Quizibian, Foundations of the Congloms of New Earth, c. 5070 PD
6 Octem, 5249 PD
Alana sat with her chin propped up on her hand, watching Rachel make eggs. Why’d I let her talk me into leaving them last night? She tried not to sigh. She tapped the fingers of her metal-sheathed right hand against the tabletop, more out of habit than real irritation.
Rachel glared at her over her shoulder, spatula poised over the eggs sizzling away in the pan. “Stop that, Alana. Do you have any idea how annoying that sound is?”
Alana smiled sweetly. “That’s why I do it, Rachel.”
The older woman shook the spatula at her. “You can be miffed with me for dragging you down here all you want, Alana. There’s no way, however, that you’re going to convince me that I did the wrong thing.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Of course not, Rachel. Once you’ve made up your mind, there’s no changing it. Ever.” That’s how Brendan and Lindsay ended up Bonded. There was no way I could convince you that it shouldn’t happen once you decided that it should. Alana suppressed a sigh, fingers stilling against the table. She stared at her hand for a long moment.
It had been a sore point between her and a lot of people the past few years, since she retired from working with the defense forces. If she was retired, why not take the final step away from what the Compact had done to her as a child and have the cybernetics removed and her arm rebuilt?
She stared at her hand for another long moment, the hand that had killed more men and women than she could count. Should I do it? Finally get it done? Dr. Grace had been after her for months to have her right arm decybered, the latest in the long line. It was more than certainly time. The servos up near her shoulder seized up when the weather got cold, and she didn’t carry neurotoxins anymore to fuel the injectors. It would be strange, though. Her hand hadn’t been fully flesh and blood since she was fifteen years old. Twenty-three years was a long time to live with cybernetics coating a primary limb.
Rachel noticed her look. “Have you made the appointment with Ezra, yet, or am I going to have to do that for you, too?”
Alana glared at her, blue eyes narrowed at the slender, dark-haired woman. “If you do, I’ll find some neurotoxin to load and you’ll be the last victim of this hand, Rachel.” She slumped back in the chair, not really angry despite her words and the glare. “I’ll make the appointment when I have the time to have it done. He said my recovery time could be as long as three weeks.”
“That depends on how atrophied the synapses are. If they’re in good shape, it won’t be nearly as long.” Rachel turned back to the eggs. Alana sighed.
“Twenty-three years says my synapses are probably fried, which means he has to rebuild them, which means three weeks. I can’t afford to leave the Oracle unguarded for that long.”
Rachel got down some plates. “Lindsay’s a big girl, Alana. She can take care of herself.”
“What happened yesterday would suggest otherwise.”
Rachel took the eggs off the burner and scraped some onto one plate, then the rest onto the other. She brought both plates to the table, setting one down in front of Alana. “You couldn’t have stopped what happened to her yesterday, Alana. That was beyond anyone’s control.”
“Commander Cho seemed to have matters fairly well in hand.”
Rachel ignored the baleful look Alana was giving her, shoveling a mouthful of eggs in before carefully phrasing a response. “Brendan and Lindsay are Bonded, Alana. They have a connection that goes in both directions. Of course he was able to anchor her and draw her out of the fugue.”
“Are you certain he didn’t plunge her into it?” Alana savagely stabbed at her eggs, glaring at her plate. The vitriol toward Brendan was irrational and she knew it, but it was hard to shake, even after eleven years.
“That’s cruel, Alana. I’m not even sure how you could begin to suggest something like that.”
Alana drummed her metal fingers against the table again. Rachel looked like she was about to stab her with her fork. She stopped with a sigh. “I swore I’d protect her, Rachel. From anything and everything. Especially when I retired.”
“Maybe you should unretire.”
Alana just stared at her. “Unretire? What’s that supposed to mean?” She leaned closer, brow furrowing, eyes narrowing. “What did she see, Rachel? Did she tell you?”
“There’s a war coming, Alana. Recruits could use your expertise in making things dead.”
Alana shook her head firmly. “I’m retired. I’m too old for the soldiering crap.”
“And yet you still haven’t gotten fully decybered.”
Shut up, Rachel. She bit her tongue and shoveled in some more eggs, chewing and swallowing before even daring to respond. “Someone has to keep an eye on your niece.”
“Like I said, Alana, Lindsay is more than capable of taking care of herself.”
Alana tried not to sigh. “I don’t want to go back to that, Rachel.” It wasn’t entirely a lie. While part of her liked being deadly, the ability to kill so easily, the rest of her was afraid of that part of herself. The only thing that let her sleep at night was the knowledge that she’d turned what the Eurydice Compact had done to her toward good use when she’d come to E-557 and found Rachel and Lindsay here. Protecting the girl was her life’s work, and her greatest work. She owed her benefactor that much, at the very least—perhaps more.
“If the survival of everyone here depended on it, Alana?”
The former soldier looked down at her half-eaten plate. “I’d do what I had to do.”
● ● ●
Brendan filled both mugs with the herbal brew that had been marked “tea” in Lindsay’s handwriting, assuming that it was the latest attempt at coming up with something like what Madeline Potter mixed up on the east side of Nova Spexi. It smelled good, in any case. He just hoped it would taste as good as it smelled.
He had a patrol in a few hours and had been considering seeing if someone else could cover it, mostly so he could stay home with Lindsay. He was fairly certain she wasn’t going to let him get away with that, though. She usually didn’t. She’d been convinced for a long time that his work with the air corps was more important than anything she did at home, or anything she needed him for at home.
Of course, with any luck, Ezra Grace would convince her to take a sedative and sleep through most of the day. Whether Brendan stayed or went, at least he wouldn’t be fighting with her about the decision.
Brendan settled down with his mug at the kitchen table, glancing back through the wood-and-glass back door at the herb garden outside. He’d have to take a couple days off to help her pot some of them, soon, so they could bring them inside through the winter. They’d done it the past few years and it had worked well—they’d had enough to cook with and then had enough to replant after the thaw. Those days off would be a welcome break, quiet time together when they wouldn’t have to talk about her visions or about anything at all. They’d just work, side-by-side, and be together in an ordinary way that felt painfully rare these days.
He took a sip of the brew and blinked at it, staring at the mug. It was very good, which was a very pleasant surprise indeed. He smiled, glancing toward the bedroom. Good call, Lin. This one’s a keeper. He’d have to tell her later, when she woke up.
Ezra slipped into the kitchen not a minute later, setting his kit down next to the doorframe. Dark-haired, he was taller than either Brendan or Lindsay with pale skin and light eyes. He shared his older sister’s statuesque nature, with a chiseled jaw and aquiline nose, though the severity of his features was often softened by a faint smile.
“I gave her a sedative,” he said quietly, sitting down at the table with Brendan. He pointed to the extra mug. “That for me?”
Brendan nodded. “She going to be okay?”
Ezra frowned for a moment, then nodded. “I think so. It’s not really my area of expertise, Brendan. Elbridge didn’t recommend anyone?”
Brendan shook his head. “If he did, I never knew about it. I really don’t think he expected to die so quickly.” Elbridge Baxter had been ancient—at least ninety, probably a decade or more older still—but he’d been Lindsay’s doctor for years, and had been a leading expert on psychic medicine. He’d died the month before, somewhat unexpectedly, though he’d been sick on and off for the past year. “I’ll have to do some homework. See if there’s anyone whose research is on par with his.”
Ezra nodded, taking another gulp of tea. “I don’t think there’s going to be any ill effects beyond the occasional nightmare. Have you been sleeping okay?”
Brendan shrugged. “When she’s been sleeping, I’ve been sleeping. I usually wake up when she does.” He rubbed his eyes. “It’s been a long summer, Ezra.”
“I wish I could say it was going to get better.”
He swallowed hard. “I know. If what she’s seen is right, it’s only going to get worse.” He squeezed his eyes shut, leaning back in his chair. “I just wish there was more I could do.”
“We all wish that for the people we love, Brendan. Sometimes there’s just not anything else we can do for them.” Ezra leaned back in his chair. “Kara told me something interesting at dinner last night.”
Brendan made a face. “You had dinner with her and Gabe last night?”
“You sound surprised by this, Brendan. She’s my sister.”
“I know, I know.” He leaned back in his chair, scrubbing his hands over his eyes. “I just…I don’t know. I guess I didn’t think that she’d talk about what went down at the meeting, I guess. I’m assuming that’s what you’re talking about.” The look on Ezra’s face confirmed it. “What’d she tell you?”
He swirled tea around in his mug. “Said they called the Council meeting early because of Lindsay’s visions, for one. They only kept talking for about fifteen minutes after you and Alana took her out of there. She was pretty sure Alana was going to snap someone’s neck. Kara laid odds on D’Arcy being a likely target, but she wasn’t going to take chances, either.”
“I wouldn’t put it past her.” Brendan stared down into his mug.
“Neither would I,” Ezra admitted. “Every time she whines about getting old, I should start reminding her that she could still snap someone’s neck with a couple of fingers.”
Brendan shuddered. “Do me a favor and don’t. She’ll start trying to find ways to snap my neck and make it look like an accident.”
Ezra rolled his eyes. “She cannot possibly hate you that much, Brendan.”
“You’d be surprised, Ez.” Brendan leaned against the table. “So when’s she getting her arm fixed?”
He groaned. “It’s looking like as soon as I strap her down to a table and sedate her. I keep telling her it’s no big deal, I’ve done it a thousand times—well, maybe not a thousand, but enough times—nothing’s going to go wrong. She’ll be able to actually feel things with that hand again.”
“Like what? The blood of her enemies as she rips their hearts out of their chests?”
“Good god, Brendan. You’re morbid today.”
Brendan sighed, massaging a temple. “If you’d seen what I saw last night…”
“She showed you?”
Brendan winced. “She didn’t have a choice. I touched her and got flooded.”
His friend’s brows went up. “You what?”
He swallowed, feeling suddenly uncomfortable, as if this was something he maybe shouldn’t have told him—and Ezra was his closest friend. “I grabbed her. I wasn’t thinking. I just grabbed her. I had to snap her out of it, out of the fugue. I had to snap her out of it. So I jumped the wall and grabbed her. When I touched her, I started seeing what she was seeing.” He swallowed again, trying to force down bile. “I don’t know how she handles it sometimes, Ez. I just…I don’t. I couldn’t do it.”
Ezra shook his head, frowning. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything quite like that, but a Seer and psychic of her magnitude…” His voice trailed away as he tapped a fingertip against the side of his mug. “Is it true that they think her parents are still alive out there somewhere?”
“They’ve got intelligence that says they’re alive out there somewhere.” Brendan rubbed at his eye with the heel of his hand. “It’s her visions that’re telling us exactly where, but intelligence can’t confirm what she’s seen yet.” Supposedly. He sighed. “We thought it was just a dream, when she saw what she saw about them. A nightmare.”
“A nightmare? I’d have thought seeing her parents would make it a good dream.”
Brendan licked his lips. “Not when you’re seeing your parents being tortured.”
Ezra winced. “Is that what she saw?”
“That’s what she told me she saw, anyway.” He sighed, taking a long swallow of his tea. “She didn’t want to describe too many details. I made her describe one of the rooms to me, though. Well, she asked me if it sounded familiar. And it did. I swear, I was in the room she described to me.”
“Before you came here.”
“Right before I cam here, Ez. Right before I came here.” Brendan rubbed both eyes with the heels of his hands. “Except for the slab she described, it was exactly the same. We thought she’d gleaned it from my mind or something and created the nightmare out of that.”
“Man.” Ezra drew the word out, shaking his head slowly. “Kara said something about her parents being alive. She also said that Rachel was about to tear D’Arcy a few new holes.” He frowned. “Not that I’d blame her for doing it. He needs to be taken down a few pegs. He asked me once if I’d studied any of the technology I’ve taken out of refugees. I wanted to know why he was asking and he had the nerve to tell me it was none of my business. Because it doesn’t matter that I’m their doctor and it could possibly be unethical for me to tell him anything that could be used to do violence against anyone with implants or cyberware, since I’m pretty damn sure that’s where he wanted to go with it.”
Brendan winced, bracing for the tirade. Ezra was perhaps the most brilliant man he’d ever known—which probably didn’t say much, since Brendan didn’t get out that often. They’d met when Ezra was a very young doctor and Brendan was still recovering from having his implant removed after his somewhat inauspicious arrival on E-557. The doctor had a tendency to go on rants about ethics and what he should do with the research he did. Brendan didn’t care either way. The advances his friend had made in his research on various forms of cyberware had helped more than a few people, and that was important above everything else.
Ezra watched his face and shook his head. “You don’t want to listen to me go off again, do you?”
“Not really. Is it one I haven’t heard yet?”
“I think you’ve heard them all.”
“Then definitely not.” Brendan smiled. “No offense.”
He smiled wryly. “None taken. I know I probably do it too much.”
“Maybe go overboard a little.” Brendan leaned back in his chair. “What’re you doing this afternoon?”
“My schedule’s clear. Why? You want me to stay?”
Brendan winced. “Am I transparent or something?”
He shrugged. “You mentioned that you had a patrol, and I’m sure Rachel’s busy. She’s always busy these days.”
Doing what? God only knows. Brendan shook his head, smiling sheepishly. “I’d just feel better if someone was here with Lindsay, y’know?”
“What about Alana?”
Brendan shook his head. “Don’t ask.”
Ezra shrugged again. “Sure, I can stay. We’ll play cards or something and swap stories about stupid things you do.”
“I’m not leaving you here so you can conspire against me with my wife.”
He laughed. “Oh, I know you’re not, Brendan. It’s not like it’s going to amount to anything, anyway. She’ll probably sleep most of the day and I’ll read one of your books and that’ll be that.”
“Which one? Quizibian’s Foundations of the Congloms of New Earth is a particular favorite of mine.” Lindsay slumped into the chair between them unexpectedly, rubbing her eyes and looking like several miles of rough roadway. “What are we talking about?” She reached over and stole Brendan’s mug. She was in her pajamas, a tank top and knit pants that tied with a drawstring at her waist, and hunched over the cup as she took a long swallow. Brendan blinked.
Then he looked at Ezra. “I thought you said you gave her a sedative.”
“It wore off.” Lindsay rubbed her eyes and scooted her chair closer to Brendan’s. She looked at him, still a little bleary-eyed. “So you’re going on patrol today after all?”
He winced. Was hoping I wouldn’t? “I can find someone to cover it if you want me to stay home, Lin.”
She shook her head. “No, it’s okay. It’s your job. Someone’s got to do it. Go out there and make sure that no one shows up down here to hurt anyone.” Her smile was watery, though, and it put to lie the sentiment of her words.
“This is my job, too.” His fingers brushed along the curve of her jaw. “Do you need me to stay home?” He emphasized ‘need.’ It was an out, and she’d recognize that. No guilt attached if she fibbed and said she needed him. He’d believe her.
She smiled, leaning into his fingers. “I love you,” she murmured.
Ezra leaned back in his chair. “Should I go?”
Lindsay kissed Brendan’s fingertips. “No, Ezra, stay. Brendan’s got a job outside of this house, and he’s going. He won’t be gone that long, anyway, and if I’m making sense out of anything that I saw, I’m going to have to get used to him not being around.”
He felt cold, pressing his lips together tightly as he stood, mechanically moving to get a third mug and fill it with some of the now-cooling tea. He went to reheat it. “Lin…”
“Brendan, I’m not going to tell you to stay home. If you feel like you need to stay here with me, then stay. I’m not going to back you into it.”
He sat down heavily, staring at her, then looked at Ezra. Ezra shrugged. “Don’t look at me, Brendan. I told you she’d live, but it’s not my specialty.”
Lindsay smiled lopsidedly at Ezra. “Then why’d you come?”
Ezra pointed at Brendan, as if that answered the question completely. Lindsay laughed a little. Brendan’s face flamed.
“I asked him to,” he said quietly. “It made me feel better to have you checked out, y’know?”
She took his hand and squeezed it. “I know. And I love you for it.”
He sighed a little. “I guess you’ll be okay without me, right?”
She looked away, blushing a little. “Don’t get me wrong, I’d love for you to stay home and play hooky with me. I’m just not sure that it’s justifiable.”
Brendan shook his head a little. “You almost collapsed at a Council meeting.” It sounded more like a protest than he’d intended. “My boss was there. I think that it’s understandable.”
Lindsay smiled faintly. “Then stay home with me today?”
“Gladly.” He kissed her forehead.
Ezra’s chair scraped a little against the slate floor. “Well. I think I’ll leave you two lovebirds to nest, then.”
She grinned. “Beautiful analogy, Ezra.”
He smiled. “I like to think so. Call if you need anything, Brendan.”
“I will. Thanks, Ez.”
“Pfft. No problem. I’ll see you for cards this weekend. Assuming a war doesn’t break out between then and now.”
Lindsay shivered and Brendan shook his head. “I hope not. But if it does, I’m sure we’ll be the first to know.”
It was at about this point in the narrative that Alana and Ezra had really begun to grow on me (I’d liked Lin and Brendan from the start).
Fun fact: when I was originally plotting The Last Colony, I’d played with the idea of Ezra being in his 60s and another refugee from Mimir; an old friend of Rachel’s. I’m glad I changed my mind.
When you led me here from Awakenings I knew I would find a decent story. I am not as fond of Science Fiction as I am Fantasy, yet this story has characters that insist on being recognized for themselves and not their setting. That is quality. To me a great story is one where the setting is described enough for the mind to slip into it, but has characters that force even the best described setting into the background.
*laughs* Well, I’m glad that you were lured over. Hopefully I don’t slip and begin to disappoint.
I will admit that my great strength is in writing characters more than anything else. I try to ensure that the characters are compelling, and that a reader cares about them. I usually know I’m doing something right when people start to throw things at me.
In that case I’ll stock up on plushie fruits.
I appreciate the fact that you’re not going to throw REAL fruit at me. Thank you.
I might throw some to you. After all, I bet you would like a good apple or berry to munch on.