Well, finally, the longest installment in this series yet. The assignment that this was written around was an assignment where we had to write a conversation between these two people here:
Well, that’s my edited “dream” version of the picture. The actual version is here. So that’s it for this intro, enjoy the story. 🙂 Oh, and for curious people, there are 4834 words in the story.
Mako looked hurriedly around for somewhere to hide, but the room was small, and he was too big to squeeze into any of the nooks and crannies. It was in moments like these that he wished he was smaller; but, there was no help for it. Putting on his best pitiful look, and readying a plaintive whine, he turned to face whoever walked in.
As chance would have it, it was Jayna herself.
“Well, well, well,” Jayna said, turning a light on. “What have we here?”
Mako gave vent to his carefully prepared whine and backed up by a few steps.
“No need to fear,” Jayna said, grabbing an energy bar from her emergency rations belt. She advanced slowly, holding the food out.
Mako cocked his head to one side in the characteristic canine stance of curiosity, then stepped forward quietly to receive the bar. Jayna ruffled his fur as he devoured the viands, and looked around to see if the dog had disturbed anything. He hadn’t, and she rose to her feet, sub-consciously scratching Mako behind the ear.
This person was a natural animal lover, Mako thought, instantly warming up to Jayna. He rubbed himself against her leg affectionately, and gave her hand a lick. She laughed gaily and turned to face Mako again.
“Well, you’re a nice dog and all, but I do believe your owner will be looking for you.” Jayna said. However, she was oblivious to the fact that while turning, she had brushed against a shelf with some carelessly placed test tubes. Mako saw that they were filled with a potent acid, and realized in an instant they would empty on Jayna’s bare neck.
Disregarding her exclamation of surprise, Mako jumped at her, knocking her back, just as the chemical fell to the floor. Jayna’s smile left her face the instant she realized the danger she had been exposed to. Her face pale, she hurriedly put on a pair of specialized gloves and began cleaning up the mess. When she turned to thank Mako, he was gone.
“Well, Mako,” Liam said, from inside the bathroom. “What have you learned?”
When will you give me a break? Mako replied mentally, putting as much incredulity into his tone as was possible with mental communications.
“When my dreams give me a break.” Liam told him verbally, coming into the room whilst tucking the remains of his shirt in.
Well, the base is quite extensive, though I believe I have a fairly good floor plan of it. As for Jayna, she’s a natural with animals, but there was a confusion to her I detected. She does not seem to completely understand herself. That was all I could gather without compromising you. She would have brought me back here, and I didn’t think you would want an early morning visitor.
So, you said you had another dream?
“Yes,” Liam replied shortly, pulling on a pair of gloves, and stepping into his boots. “Victorian era, old history. I was a villager this time, not some random king. As usual, I could not find her.”
I’m beginning to think you should ignore these dreams, Mako said, pacing the length of the room like a human would.
“I would if I could, but they seem so hauntingly familiar, like I’ve been there and done that.”
It is possible that during the Process you were implanted with memories that are not your own as an experiment. Mako said, his face the perfect picture of doggy concentration.
“Yes, that could indeed be the–”
Liam got no further. There was a knock on his door, then it slid open, revealing Jayna, who stepped into the room. Liam could see the words on her lips, ready to be spoken. He saw her take in the breath to speak them. Then he felt the wave hit him. His whole body shuddered with the battle that was occurring within it. Liam felt himself slipping, he knew he would have to do something quickly.
“Don’t you have any sense of privacy? I am trying to dress.” He said, allowing the faintest trace of annoyance slip into his voice, then he bit his lip inside his mask at the look of self-conscious pain that spread across the face of the person in front of him. Physical and mental hurt was something he had caused in the past, and it was exactly what he was trying not to cause now.
“I– I was looking for your dog.” Jayna faltered. “He saved me and–”
“And?” Liam said, the rising energy in him to bending the word into a rapier sharp, fencing-like thrust.
Jayna gulped, this was not how she had envisioned their meeting. She had thought he would at least be concerned for his dog, but he seemed to hardly care. His tone betrayed the fact that he was more than a little annoyed at her intrusion, and she was ashamed to realize that she had entered his room abruptly.
“I’m sorry, I– I didn’t mean to disturb you. I just wished to tell you about your dog. He escaped, and might not be–”
Liam hear Jayna break off for the second time in three minutes, then realized why. Mako had meekly peeked around from behind Liam, and was wagging his tail with recognition. Liam’s face contorted violently, and he crossed his arms in an effort to hide the rising and falling of his chest. He tensed his muscles as another wave washed over him.
“As you can see, he– is– per– fect– ly– fine.” Liam said through gritted teeth, his words sounding like he was spitting them out.
“Y– es, I see. I’m sorry, I’ll go immediately.” Jayna said, leaving the room before the flush rose to her face.
Liam collapsed onto the bed, his chest heaving. His breathing sounded hoarse and metallic through the filter in his mask. The filter was meant to filter out the smells that could trigger his condition, but no filter was perfect, and his animal-like senses rendered it almost impossible for anything to pass him undetected.
Mako sympathetically crawled up onto the bed beside his master. He knew no words that could express what he felt for Liam, so he remained quiet. Liam, even in his pain, realized Mako was there, and dropped a hand to his head. A few minutes later, Liam managed a weak smile from behind his mask.
“I made it didn’t I?” He said, the smile stretching into a lopsided grin.
Jayna walked wearily towards Cassie’s room. How had her day gone so wrong?
First, she had simply gone around, doing he normal routine check. She had left the lab for last, as she looked to linger there, and stare at the interesting chemicals that shimmered in numerous colors. Then she had met the dog. He had saved her life, she recalled, gingerly rubbing the spot on her neck where the acid would have landed. She could just imagine the burning sensation she would have felt, as the chemical would have bored first a bowl, then a hole through her neck.
Then, after the dog, she still didn’t know its name, had saved her, she had cleaned up the mess, letting the dog escape in the meantime. She had spent five desperate minutes hunting for it, then had decided that her best course of action would be to alert the owner himself. She had figured that this would also give this a chance to advance the assignment Cassie had given her, of finding out more about Liam.
But she had bungled the whole thing by storming into the room. No wonder Liam had been upset and curt. Still, it was no call to remain rude, Jayna thought, the train of her mental pondering taking a sharp turn. He could have at least been more civil, and asked her why she was there. And then when she had shown her worry for his dog, he had dismissed her cares matter-of-factly. He had even crossed his arms!
Well, she was higher up in the ranks than him, and he had no right to act or speak that way to a commanding officer. She would have him punished for that. Then, as her physiological train rounded another bend, she realized that not everything added up. Liam had claimed to be dressing, so he could not have led his dog back to his room, and the dog would have had to have a precise mental picture of the area to be able to return to Liam’s room so quickly. Which would mean that the dog had not been lost.
So, if the dog had not been lost, then what was it doing in the chemical lab? And how did it get in in the first place? Jayna knew that no dog, no matter how smart, could punch in security codes. So then, if Liam had let his dog out, for what purpose? Was he trying to spy around inside the base? Did the dog have a hidden camera on its collar? She would have to get more information from Cassie about Liam’s background.
“Liam,” Cassie said, from behind his chair.
Liam had detected her there moments ago, but thought it wise to give no sign of his heightened senses. He turned around like a startled human would, and even managed to put a slight tremor into his voice.
“One of the radio radars is not working. I will need you to go and fix it. You will be given a crew to help you with it.”
“Yes ma’am,” Liam said. “Just allow me to finish transmitting this message?”
“Certainly,” Cassie said graciously, her normal, subconscious self taking control as her mind flashed to an image in her memory. That mask, that same poise, she had seen it all before. But where? She knew that it was important. Then again, perhaps it was just deja vu. She knew she would never rest in peace unless she knew exactly where this familiarity came from, so she raised the communicator on her wrist to her mouth and spoke several words into it. Words that made Liam’s mouth go dry.
“Jayna, I am sending Liam to fix that radar. I want you to tag along and learn from him.”
There was a muttered reply from the other end, then Cassie put her arm down.
“Um, I apologize for my impudence, ma’am,” Liam said slowly. “But would it not be wise to have your pupil learn from a more seasoned radio operator? My graduation tests were no more than three months ago, as you yourself know.”
“Liam, when I say something, it is final,” Cassie said, in a tone that brooked no contradiction.
“Yes ma’am, sorry ma’am.” Liam said. “I will head over there now.”
Liam met his team inside the radar control room. It was a rectangular room, proportions from the golden rectangle, he noted automatically, as he likewise observed the large glass viewscreen and control panels.
He climbed out of the room and onto the roof of the control room to examine the actual structure of the radar itself. He leaned over a railing to look down the access shaft. He soon found the problem, and realized with a groan that it was not an easy one to fix. As he stood there, contemplating the problem, he sensed another being enter the room below, and moaned internally as he recognized her. Why did life have to be so cruel?
“I wanted to say that we got off on a bad start just–”
“Will you please go down and wait with the others?” Liam said in as quiet a tone as he could manage. He did not wish to use the same dismissing and annoyed voices he had used before.
“Will you please stop interrupting me?” Jayna said, all the irritation she had experienced earlier that day rising up inside her.
“I need to concentrate,” Liam said.
“And I am your commanding officer,” Jayna reciprocated.
“The General told me I was to teach you.” Liam said, keeping his voice as emotionless and even as possible.
“That is no excuse for insubordination!” Jayna said, backhanding Liam.
Liam ignored the stinging pain. He just stood there staring down Jayna, who stared back, equally as stubborn. Liam could feeling the waters of temptations welling up behind his makeshift dam of self-control.
“I do not believe that good commanders should hit their soldiers without good cause.” Liam said flatly.
“And I do not believe that good soldiers should talk back to their commanders.” Jayna said, half enjoying this war of words that she was having.
“Look, can you just go?” Liam said.
“No,” Jayna said, shoving Liam aside to take a look at the problem herself. She gasped. “Why, these are enerblade cuts. Somebody sabotaged this!”
“Yes,” Liam said, maintaining that same passive tone of voice. “As I had already discovered. And the only way to reach it is from inside the room below.”
“Oh–” Jayna said, realizing the meaning behind Liam’s words. “You– you wanted me to go down and help.”
Liam could not manage a reply, so he just silently shoved his way past her, gasping at the contact, before making his way down into the control room. Jayna followed quietly, subdued for the moment.
“Okay,” Liam said, gathering his work crew around himself so that Jayna could not get close to him. “Here’s the deal, we’ve got some severed cables in the roof. We can only access those through that panel up there. You,” Liam pointed at the two most fit men in the group. “Get that roof panel open. I will personally manage the reconnection of the wires.”
“Why can’t one of them do it?” Jayna challenged.
“Because,” Liam said, letting just a little derision slip into his voice by accident. “These wires are extremely complicated. If wired wrongly, they could bring this whole station down on us, not only sealing us in, but burning us to crisp.”
By this time, the panel had been removed, and Liam ascended the ladder. He cautiously began pairing the wires together, occasionally calling for the help of one or two of the members of his team.
“I can’t learn anything if I’m down here you know,” Jayna said, approaching Liam.
He involuntarily tensed as she neared him, and the rush of blood to his head caused him to drop the pair of pliers he was holding. Jayna deftly caught them telekinetically, drawing them to her hand. She climbed up the other side of the stepladder, handing the pliers back to Liam.
“Okay,” he said quietly, then softly, so the others couldn’t hear, he added. “You win, for now.” That was all Liam dared to say, before asking her to hold the two ends of a cable so he could solder it back together.
However, his dam of control was beginning to waver, and leaks would burst through occasionally. One one of these occasions, he slipped, and burned through his glove with the soldering iron. He managed to hurt his hand pretty badly, and stepped down from the ladder, gripping it tightly.
“Are you alright?” Jayna said, concernedly as she stepped down from the ladder herself.
“Don’t– touch– me.” He said as she approached. Only he and Mako knew the dire consequences that an encounter with his bare skin could cause. “One of you, go up and finish the job. Just connect the primary power, and hook up the two rotational converters. Then all that’s left is to connect the four signal resonators. Make sure you hook up the right ones to the right sockets.”
Jayna had stepped away from Liam at his forced sentence, and a shadow of anger had crossed her face as he had stepped away. What was he scared off? It was not like she was about to hurt him.
Liam looked up from bandaging his hand only to exclaim violently. “No! Don’t connect those two wires!”
But it was too late. The man had put the two ends together, instantly frying the insulation and setting himself on fire. The door slammed shut and locked, while the fire spread rapidly through the wire conduits, heating up the steel roof.
“This place was supposed to have the power cut off.” Liam said, more to himself than anybody else.
“What are we going to do?” One of the men cried out. Already the room was heating up. It was like they were encased in a metal box of doom.
The men looked towards the viewscreen as the obvious solution, and began smashing a hole through it. Their fists did nothing, so together they picked up the ladder, preparing to use it as a battering ram.
“Come on Liam!” One of them said, to the radio engineer, who now sat in a corner, apparently taking no notice of the events around him. The man, seeing that Liam did not respond, shrugged his shoulders, and gave the word for go.
They charged forward and hit the viewscreen. Their efforts went unrewarded as they bounced backwards, but desperate men went for desperate measures. They tried again, and on their third try, succeeded in launching the ladder through the viewscreen. They were fortunate that it was an older model, or they never would have broke it. One of the men jumped through the hole, but, as the others realized with horror, the viewscreen was repairing itself.
A long shard passed through the man’s midsection, abruptly stopping his progress through the hole, and amidst his screams of pain and agony, the viewscreen sliced him in half. Some of the weaker stomached men threw up their breakfast at the gory sight, while even the more seasoned soldiers had to turn away.
Liam continued to survey the scene with what may have been assumed to be an impassive stance, though his mask gave no sign.
He finally rose to his feet. The men by now had stripped off any unnecessary clothing. The room was above a hundred and ten degrees fahrenheit and gaining fast.
“I will have to go through the cables shaft and open the door from the outside.” Liam said, his voice betraying no emotion.
Most of the men looked at him like he had gone crazy.
“Are you out of your mind?” Jayna said. “There is no way you will survive the flames.”
“And if I don’t then you will be rid of an impudent soldier. Now will you give me a boost up or what?”
Shaking their heads, some of the men who were not completely prostrated boosted him into the hole. Liam shied away from a burst of flame that leapt to catch the current of oxygen he brought with him. He could feel the metal in his mask heat up rapidly, but ignored the scorching sensation on his face.
He could see his target above him, the service rail he had looked over minutes before to assess the situation. Bursts of flame leapt across the shaft he was about to climb, and enormous gears, set in motion by that one misplaced command wire, blocked his way.
“Well,” he muttered to himself as he began his climb. “I only have the threat of being burned crisp or crushed flat. Nothing too bad.”
He hung from a particularly large bundle of cables, watching the fire before him. Then, timing it at a low spot, he pulled himself rapidly past it. He hung from the next bundle of cables, watching the gears that now spun before him. He would have only a few seconds to squeeze in between the supporting frame in the gear and the service shaft before he would be crushed. He wanted to wait a few more seconds to completely memorize the timing, but the flames from below egged him on.
He launched himself with as much force as he could muster through the narrow gap, and barely managed to pull his foot through before the supporting strut passed through the slit in the service shaft. A couple more bursts of flame an another pair of gears later, he was readying himself to pass the final fire, when the bundle of cables he was holding onto broke. He fell towards the gears, and landed on one hard.
He tried to get to his feet when he noticed that his sleeve had gotten caught in the weave of the gears, and that his hand was being pulled towards them. He tried tugging away, by the synthetic fibers that made up his battle shirt would not give. Then he began trying to take it off, but as he had realized earlier, he wouldn’t make it in time. So, setting his teeth as hard as he could, he prepared to let his hand pass through the gears.
He screamed as the giant metal monsters crushed his right hand to a bloody pulp. It was over in a matter of seconds, but it felt like years to him. However, the increasing heat had reminded him of his initial mission, and, without a sidelong glance to his hand, he leaped up from the gears, catching a handhold just below the fire above him. A few seconds later, he was on the platform, and had opened the doors, letting the men and Jayna out of the control room.
By this time, medics and emergency response teams had arrived, and were working to put out the fire. Amidst all the bustle and confusion, Liam managed to slip away. He made his way to his room, and with his good hand, keyed in the entry code for his door. The door closing behind him as he stepped in, he paused to survey the room, then he undressed and tumbled into bed, grunting as he shoved Mako over to make more room. He carefully cradled his wounded hand in a position that would keep it still, then he went to sleep, knowing that his hand would be completely healed in the morning.
He was stumbling along a train track. He knew he was tired, but he knew he had to get somewhere. He kept moving. The sun shone on his back, pelting him with its golden rays. He was cradling his right arm; it had been run over by a cart previously. There was forest on either side of the train track. It was dark and deep, and he did not wish to look into it.
Then suddenly, his hand was healed, he was no longer tired, and he began running along the train track; running because he knew that what he had searched for for all these years was just ahead. He arrived at the spot– he knew it was the spot– he had seen it so many times in his dreams. But no, she was not here. It couldn’t be though! She had to be here. But looking around, he realized that she wasn’t.
He sank down to the track. Why? Why did this always happen? Why could he never find her? A train whistle echoed down the track from far in the distance. He stood up and moved off the track; waiting. The train rushed past him; the ground he was standing on vibrated, and the gravel bounced around slightly. He felt the hot air engulf him, and the rush of wind as the train thrust its way through the air.
Eventually the last car of the train passed him, and he followed it with his eyes. Then he turned back, and his mouth fell at what he saw. It was her! After all these years of searching, he had finally found her.
“Well, are you just going to stand there gaping, or are you going to come and sit down?” She said, smiling to take the sting out of her words.
He hurried to sit opposite her.
“Where did you come from?” he asked.
“Just from the forest behind me. I have a cabin in there. Where did you come from?”
“I came from the city back along the tracks.”
“You didn’t walk here did you?” she questioned, incredulity rising in her voice.
“Actually, I did walk,” he said with a small smile at her suspicion.
“It’s twenty miles. Yes, I know. I’ve been searching for you for ages. I had just about given up hope when you showed up.”
“You should never give up hope,” she said earnestly, leaning forward and putting a hand on his arm.
“Easier said than done. I’ve spent all my life fighting, and trying to find you. Then, just when I thought I had, you weren’t there. It was more than enough to make me want to give up.”
“You shouldn’t just dismiss my advice with that clichéd phrase. You know that if you really tried you could keep on going.”
“I’ve been trying! Don’t you see? All this time I have been trying, but it gets tiring. I need a guide. I can’t keep doing this on my own. Not being able to interact with people is bad enough. Sometimes I feel like I will just fall through the world. I can’t touch anybody, I can’t talk to them properly. It’s horrible! Pure torture.”
“I see. So am I the only person whom you have been able to talk to then?”
“Yes, so you can imagine my joy when I found you.” Then a horrible thought struck him. “You will be here right? You will always be here?”
“Well, no.” She said, frowning slightly in thought. “This is one of the rare chances that I could come out here. My father doesn’t like me coming out to this train track. He says he can’t stands how it leads straight out from the big city. He’s a hermit.”
“This is what I feared,” he groaned. “I knew it was too good to be true.”
“Well, surely you have a phone or phone number. In our twenty-first century world, there are few that go around without some sort of mobile communication.”
“That is the problem. I cannot interact with anything beyond the clothes on my back and the floor. But wait, here I have been telling you all about my problem, yet I sense that you have a problem of your own.”
“Yes, I do. I have dreams. Sometimes horrible, sometimes pleasant, but always so, so confusing. And every time I wish to think about something to see what would happen if I did it. I always have another dream about it. And it is scary, because sometimes, I never know if I will get out.” At this, her voice broke, and she pillowed her head in her arms, sobbing.
“I’m sorry,” he said, letting his tone of voice be as reassuring and soothing as he could make it.
“I should probably go,” she said, getting to her feet and wiping the tears from her eyes.
“No– don’t!” he said, standing up as well.
“Take care of yourself,” she said, her voice fading with her body.
“No!” he cried, his voice etched with sorrow. He collapsed onto the track, not caring that the the sharp gravel was stained red with blood from his forehead.
“Be careful which way you let sorrow take you,” an old but masculine voice said from behind him. He turned quickly, only to see a Defen pacing the floor behind him. “You should use it as an incentive to do good, to help others, and keep them from that sorrow.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about.” he said sullenly.
“Oh but I do. My own brother let sorrow take him the wrong way. He took the path of a Vilth. He tried to kill me. Even in that final battle he tried to kill me. But she came and saved me. He fell, and fell, and fell. His body was vaporized in magma.
“Another thing you should avoid is love. If you do not wish to be hurt, then leave love alone. If you have a greater duty, one that requires you remain alive, then do not touch it. I had it both ways.
“With my first love, I was forced by a robot to choose whether I would kill her, or a whole planet of innocent people. It was torture to me. I finally chose, and then vowed that I would love no more. But I failed. Another came along, and captivated me. But, it did not go well as well. At least for her it did not. I gave my life for hers, and she has been living in sorrow ever since.”
“What, are you trying to be some mentor to me or something?” He grunted.
“Yes and no, just keep my teachings in mind.”
He blinked, and when he opened his eyes, the Defen was no longer there. Instead, there stood a sight so startling that he blinked again, just to make sure he was seeing correctly. It couldn’t be, he had gotten rid of them years ago!