"Doctor Scott . . . when do you see this monster?"
"All the time I was there. It tried to attack Steven once, but Midnight came in the room and the dog-beast ran out through the wall."
"Doctor Scott, what do you know or remember of this monster? When did you first see the beast?"
"I donít know. It comes and goes whenever it pleases."
"When did you first see the beast?"
"It comes and goes whenever it pleases."
"When did you first see the beast?"
"It comes and goes . . ."
"When . . ."
" . . . whenever it pleases."
"I have fleeting dreams. Cold. I walk over a land met with a bleeding sky. Something comes to me when I least expect it. It tells me it wants to make love to me. But all it does is steal more from me. Itís eating me alive."
"Trias nyt skau"- To do no harm.
"Trias plindau nyt pnumau"- To endanger no life.
"Trias neesam yvlan, richat"-To respect and uphold and praise
" . . . Trias cres noothoo pnumau linth kem kemkan"-. . . to put another life before my own.
"Trias nyt skau . . ."
"Shhhh." A warm kind hand lay on Kyleís chest and he could feel the life force flood his weakened soul. He slowly opened his eyes, still murmuring the oath he took hundreds of years ago. He blinked, slowly adjusting to the bright friendly light in the hospital room. The first thing he saw was Kaylaís lovely face, so sweetly framed by her curling horns and silky dark brown hair. Her wild dark eyes sparkled with a hint of sadness, her brows fixed with worry.
"It attacked Steve." Kyle weakly murmured. "I remembered, but I forgot again. Midnight was there, but that was a long time ago. But there was something else . . . something I canít remember . . ."
His brow tingled from her lingering kiss. Kyle closed his eyes, the moment lifted his pain and he wished she would kiss him on the lips, just once.
And the very next moment, she did. A light touch of her soft lips crossed his and Kyle took in her scent and felt her strong soul caress his lovingly, kindly. She gently kissed him between the eyes and took his hand in hers then she withdrew.
Kyle watched as she sat next to him. She too was wearing a hospital gown, her favorite robe covered her body, bordered at the shoulders and sleeve cuffs with lace and a silk tie string at the neck piece. His eyes fell to her hand, still kindly holding his. A new bandage wrapped his wound but blood stained the back of his hand near the stigma. His mind remained foggy. He struggled to recall the last few . . . days? Weeks?
Months, at least, it had to be months.
"What day is it, Kayla?" He finally asked.
"And . . . and . . ." Kyle shook his head. There was a question he needed to ask, but Kyle could not find the reason to ask it, nor could he figure out what he wanted to ask.
"Half a week." Kayla answered. "Weíve all been here for half a week, Kyle. Iím getting out on good behavior."
Kyleís face twisted in confusion. "A week?"
". . . why?"
Kayla knitted her own brows but Kyle could not tell if she was wondering why he was asking questions, or if the answers were as puzzling to her. "Respiratory treatments, Kyle. All four of us inhaled toxic gasses." She shook her head slightly. "Kyle, donít you recall the ship? Falling into the ravine? The light went out in the cave and-"
Scott turned pale. "Steve!" He whispered. "Oh, Primus!" he about jumped out of bed and then realized a tube snaked in and out of his left arm. His eyes followed the tiny hoses containing blood and he bounced his eyes from that back to Kayla.
"Blood loss." Kayla answered quietly. "Youíve lost four and a half pints. They raced for hours trying to close off torn veins." Her eyes fell. "At least, thatís what Spellbinder told me.
Kyle only recalled the deep darkness, the blue panel lighting the hallway, guiding he and Steve as they walked. Then he remembered the autopsies, the bridge and . . . and . . . Steve and the cold and . . . "We came to a dead end. Steve was hurt somehow and I had to force myself to try the combination lock."
Kayla nodded. "They found deep pierces like tooth marks in his left shoulder. And . . . they found blood in his ears. But they donít know why-"
Kayla turned her head just so, her eyes peering at him out their corners.
"He attacked us." Kyle explained. "I-I recall it raced down the corridor just as I was trying to pry the door open and It-he-attacked Steve . . ." Kyle shook his head when he realized his memories were all out of sequence. All gone. There was something more; a memory that refused to surface and the more he thought of it, the more elusive it became and Kyle decided to leave it. Another thought instantly replaced it, however.
Kaylaís eyes darted away, striking the hall in a southern direction. "Sheís in ICU, too. We . . . we were in the ravine and I saw these holes in the rock walls all around us and I could not figure out what they were. We didnít see them during the day; they werenít visible. But when we found them, Jill tried to pry the rock away, too see what it was and that was when it sprayed directly in her face. Seconds later, the whole area filled with a gas. We passed out."
"Thatís where we landed, wasnít it?" Kyle asked.
"No. I donít recall anything but the wall suddenly lifted and I fell." Kyle would have said more but he spotted Steve against the open door. Doctor Scott blinked and a vision flashed before his eyes:
THIS JUST IN: SIXTEEN UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECTS HAVE BEEN SPOTTED OVER THE CENMAR AND YINSTARK CONTINENTS. SOURCES SAY NO ONE IS TO PANIC, THEY MOST LIKELY ARE HERE FOR REFUELING. I REPEAT-DO NOT PANIC AT THE UFOíS . . . DO NOT PANIC
And sixteen black shapes became harbingers of death . . . sixteen? Werenít there nine?!
Werenít there nine?!
Kyle shook his head, the voice faded with his inner demands. He watched Parker stand in silence. His face did not bother to cover the anxiety and terrible oppressions darkening his mind.
Vicious dreams of merciless cruelty left Steveís nerves a tangled mess. He came see Kyle, to make sure Kyle was okay.
But while this confirmation lifted his fears for his friend, did not lift Steveís oppressing mood. Something was stolen from him and Captain Parker could not tell what it was.
He turned every direction to evade their memory but they haunted him like a dying man forced to stare into a mirror. He blinked, unable to think of anything to say to Kyle at the moment. It was the terrible lidless eye that haunted him. It watched him constantly-right now. Right now.
An awkward silence ensued and for once Kyle saved the moment: "Really, now, Nurse Kayla. If you were going to have me examined, the least you could do was get someone more experienced than a monkey."
Parker caught the joke and his jaw dropped in mock humiliation. "Will you listen to this guy? Heís been barely conscious for two seconds and already heís bossing you around!"
Kayla studied his pale face then she turned to Kyle. "You know, Jill and I went along to keep you guys out of trouble. Seems you got into it, anyway. You owe me a breakfast for it, Mister. A good breakfast, not something made up here or at the kitchen." Kayla beamed and turned back to Parker. "He just called you a monkey, Steve."
Steve crossed his arms. "How do you like that? I try to save a manís life and sanity and all he can do is call me names. Did the other nurses tell you to say that, Kyle?"
Kyle blinked slowly. "They wonít tell me anything." He complained. "I ask about the girls. They tell me Ďeverythingís fine, Doctor Scott. Take yourself a holiday.í I asked about you. They say ĎSteveís doing fine, Doctor Scott, you just lie quiet.í Holidays and quiet . . . not meant for someone who canít mentally settle down, Steve." He paused, subtly smiling. "Iím glad youíre okay."
Steve returned the smile with a grim reaction. He didnít feel much like anything at this point. He approached the bedside and frowned. He tried to think of something else to say, anything. But nothing bright nor cheerful came to mind. Nothing at all.
"What now?" Kayla asked quietly breaking the moment.
Kyle blinked slowly. Weariness called him to back to sleep. The nurse would return in a while to give him more fluids. "Now . . . we compare notes and try to make sense of what we saw." He closed his eyes again and sighed.
Steve nodded in mute agreement.
* * *
Jill laid flat on her back. Her arms lay stretched out, clamped to a tableís cold surface. Her legs lay apart, supported by a ramp, the rest of her body was exposed to chilly air and Jill wished someone would cover her. Something covered her eyes, prohibiting her from seeing anything. She prayed she was in Medbay . . . she assumed . . . McKennan tried to lift her head and found it pinned tight from her temples-no, she was attached to a machine from her temples. She tried to wiggle her fingers and felt tiny metal rods all buried lengthwise under the skin.
Her heart started to pound in fear. The more she tried to move, the more devices and things she found in her body.
Jill moved her lower jaw and found it still worked. She swallowed, finding her mouth terribly dry. "Somebody?" Her voice scarcely, scarcely made a sound. "Somebody, help me! Is anybody there? Anybody?"
Then she realized it was an idiotic idea to call for help; she might be heard by the wrong people!
Something hissed open and shut and Jill started to hyperventilate. "Hello?" She called. "Kyle? Steve? Is somebody there? Iím cold!" She waited for response-the terrible blindness drove her mad, "Hello?"
"Zhack." An alien voice said beside her.
"I donít know what that means." Jillís voice broke in fear. "Please, I canít see anything! Whoís there?"
"Iím sorry." Jillís voice wavered. "I donít recognize that word-wait . . . Zhack . . . thatís Chenobian for demon. Did you just call me-" she caught her breath as ice cold metal kissed her at the top of her chest and trailed clear down her front. Jill tried to squirm, but clamps and rods held her naked body taut and she started to cry.
The metal punctured her skin down two more layers, hurting and she started breathing hard. "No!" She screamed.
One more long slice and long cold fingers dug into the cutline and pulled her skin apart.
Jill squirmed and struggled to sit up and tried to open her eyes. Something warm and wet plastered her face and she tried to pull it off, but her hands were bound to bed rails and she kicked and screamed through the wrappings. She screamed louder and alarms whined, calling people to attend her.
"Donít touch me!" Jill screamed. "Iím sentient! Iím sentient!" The hiss of a tranquilizer sounded in her ears and the girlís body wrestled and bucked in protest. She started to weep.
<<Jill . . .>> Skywolfís presence whispered her name and Jill gasped for breath, her body struggled to resist.
"Easy, child." a gentle feminine voice sounded to her right, "Youíre safe. Right here in Medbay. Youíre alright."
Jill calmed, faintly hearing the noise outside the room as people came and left . . . ICU? "ICU?" She slurred.
"Yes, hon. We gotícha taken care of."
"Kyle and Steve?"
"Here. Safe. Sleep."
That was all she needed and McKennan passed out.
* * *
Four days elapsed before Doctor Hashu gave Scott, Kayla and Steve the okay to leave. Hashu privately explained to Kyle they feared Jill might have lost her sight due to the frontal impact of the gas.
Steve insisted they say nothing to their Ďlittle friendí and he expected everyone to allow no time for Jill to feel downhearted. They visited her everyday, several hours at a time.
Three days later, Doctor Hashu performed a final surgery and later that afternoon, they started to remove her bandages.
Kyle sat there with her, holding her hands while Hashu carefully cut away the gauze.
"This is so much better than the dream I had." Jill was grateful Kyle held her hands while Hashu undid the binding one medicated layer at a time.
"What dream?" Kyleís soft professional voice filled the air and McKennan realized she had forgotten how much she loved his manners.
"I was bound to a table of sorts and dissected." Kyle gently squeezed her fingers.
"Thatís frightening, Jill." He answered softly.
She swallowed hard, unable to cry. "A terrible dream." She whispered. Again he gently squeezed her hands assuringly.
Hashu removed the remaining bandages and gingerly cleaned her new skin. He smiled at Kyleís admiration of his work and applied a layer of lotion over McKennanís restored face.
"Okay, Jill." Hashu paused in his work. "You need to apply lotion to your face every day for five days."
"Okay." McKennan answered softly.
The two doctors exchanged a silent worried glance. Kyle remained still, "Jill, when Doctor Hashu takes off the bandage, keep your eyes closed a moment later then cover them before you open them."
"Okay." Her voice nervously echoed.
Hashu removed the little pads of woven cotton from her eyes and Jill covered her face.
Kyle laid his fingers over his mouth, silently praying. She slowly withdrew her hands and blinked a set of pretty brown eyes.
"Itís all blurry." She reported, "Iím okay, though."
"You most certainly are, Jill." Hashu answered. He scribbled everything down on the chart beside him and turned away one moment then came back and handed Jill a lollipop. "This is for you for being the best patient of them all." He congratulated.
Jill graciously accepted it, trying hard not to smile.
* * *
Kyle and Steve agreed to hold a meeting and exchange notes they and the ladies acquired from Chenobis. Steve decided to invite Nick for his technological expertise. Then he thought of another friend of theirs: Matt Frasier. The problem was timing. Matt was in the middle of a divorce and Nick had been called away to handle a black-out in Below.
Kyle did not want to wait any longer than they had to. Urgency filled him from the moment he woke, to the time he dropped off to sleep. Voodoo said very little to him, almost sulking. But knowing the Sentinelís behavior, Kyle understood Voodoo was merely trying to deal with the whole mess. At least they werenít fighting.
"You never said anything to me." Voodoo quietly stated two days after Kyle was released from the hospital. They traversed the park, walking slowly so that Doctor Scott did not have to catch his breath. Kyle sipped water and caught sight of the one hill sloping off to the eastern part of the park. It was Steveís favorite place. Crowned with large trees and a bench, it stood watchful over the rest of the garden. "I tried to contact you in the ship." He answered. "But I couldnít get through."
"Tell me about the ship, Kyle. What happened?"
Kyle shook his head. "I donít know, Voodoo. At least, I donít remember too much. There was alien technology . . . something happened to Steve and I know I have those memories, but I canít tap into them."
Voodoo suddenly collapsed to his knees, his form hunched over. "Why are you blocking me?" He asked.
"Canít you hear me anymore? I tried on hundreds of occasions to talk to you over the link, but you keep a shield between us. It hurts, Kyle. Youíre hurting me."
Kyle flinched in surprise. "But . . . I thought you were holding a shield against me. I thought you didnít want me poking around in your head, that you might have some . . . top secret . . ." he felt a vibration through the link. Weak, plaintive, sad. If it was from Voodoo . . . "V, why would I shield you from me? I need you. I need to know someone is there for me."
Voodoo shrugged. "I dunno. I figured you were mad at me."
Kyle stared at him and accessed artificial implanted memories. It was hard because unlike true memory, Kyle had to access them like one would textbook material. He frowned. "Voodoo, have you ever known me to be angry without finding the time to snap at you?"
Voodoo frowned. "Kyle, you are not the kind of person to loose his temper unless pushed to a point. I can press buttons all day and you wonít make a move. Not until I start attacking you emotionally."
Kyle blinked at this revelation. "Oh." He turned away, taking another quaff of water. He turned back and pointed a finger at Voodoo. "I think there might be something wrong with the link."
Doctor Scott shook his head. "Donít know. Most likely outside interference. Or my own physiological condition might be setting up prohibitive parameters attacking neural pathways through the coroander nerves, thereby affecting your ordysimic sensors."
Voodoo snorted and smiled, struggling not to laugh.
Kyle blinked. "Whatís so funny?" His voice was level, indicating he wasnít mad, just curious.
"You rattle that stuff off as though nothing had ever happened. I didnít understand a thing you just said."
Kyle blinked again and drank more water. Then he smiled, admitting it all did sound kinda funny. "Perhaps we should go talk to Skywolf."
Kyle followed Chaos out to the Observation and Scanning Auditorium (OSA). Standing fifty feet high and seventy feet in either direction, the room remained the only facility in three solar systems capable of doing x-ray, CAT scans, MRIís and EEGís right on the table without moving the patient. Originally, the OSA was the only means of tapping into the consciousness that made the Interface links. Kyle and Skywolf collaborated on it for thirty years just prior to the Tji war. There was almost nothing a patient could hide from the sensitive (very expensive) equipment. Even dreams could be monitored on the sub-psycho laser graph.
But Kyle never dreamed he would end up on one of those tables himself. He squirmed, trying to forget that he was just here for a quick exam, not a bug under a microscope. He could not figure out why he was so nervous.
Ten feet from him, Voodoo lay on a similar table. But he remained very still. He gazed at his nervous partner and forced a smile. "Itíll be okay, Kyle." Voodoo said softly. "I wonít let them stick needles in you."
Kyle flinched and nearly sat up but Voodoo beat him too it, supporting his weight on one elbow. "Kyle." He called softly. "Donít panic."
"Iím trying not to."
Hashu called from the control room above them, his voice full of concern. "Is everything alright, you two?"
Voodoo gazed up at the transparent titanium windows. He automatically patched into the intercom system. "Kyleís . . . having subconscious flashbacks, Doctor."
Skywolf patched in from his station. "Voodoo . . . I thought. . . I thought you talked to him-"
"Whoís had time?" Voodoo snapped. "Just . . . just gimme a minute, will ya? Hold on to your reserve tanks a second." He slipped off the flat and knelt at his partner while Kyle sat up.
"Whatís wrong with me?" Kyle held himself tightly and batted his eyes against the glaring floodlights from the control station.
"Itís an old wound." Voodoo answered simply. "I guess itís one of those bad moments-you know, when they transferred some of my memories to you . . . something like that. But, how did the emotion transfer? I thought you said the emotions . . ." Voodoo stopped himself and frowned. "Okay, we were both there. I think youíre . . . "
Kyle looked down, unable to retain eye contact. Something awful must have happened and it caused him to have a panic attack. "I donít want to know." He said softly.
Voodoo took Kyleís hands between his fingers. "We donít have to do this." He emphasized.
"Yes we do." Kyle argued.
"No. We donít. We donít have to do a damned thing. If you donít feel comfortable enough to do this, we wonít do it. I wonít have you freaking out on me. Kyle, itís not your fault."
Kyle drew a deep breath. That helped. Whatever it was that had happened seemed to fade and Kyle put his trust in Voodooís sincerity. He nodded and laid back down. "Iíll be okay." He gazed at his partnerís opticless face but Voodoo remained stern. He waited a moment, watching Kyle and scanning his life signs for trouble. But Kyle seemed to genuinely relax. Perhaps it wasnít the flashback at all. Perhaps Kyle just needed a little reassurance. Voodoo hoped so. He returned to the examination table and patched back into the intercom.
"Heíll be okay. But no dilly-dally. You know he hates this."
"Alright, Voodoo. Just be patient. Weíll get you two out as soon as possible." Wolf turned to Chaos with a frown. "Testy, isnít he?" he asked, meaning Voodoo.
Chaos frowned. "Scottís like most doctors, Wolf, better on the handle-side of a scalpel."
Skywolf grunted and he and Hashu started on the sequence of scans.
"Physical patterns normal." Hashu reported.
"Same here." Wolf replied. He watched the monitor as UV blue scans shot between Kyle and Voodoo at one frequency then changed frequencies for variation patterns then changed again toward the dark light spectrums, picking up the Interface auras and life force patterns.
Chaos stepped a little closer to the window as the dark light revealed the sequence Interface patterns unique to Kyle and Voodoo. "What the hell is that?" she asked.
Wolf stood and watched as the patterns between Kyle and Voodoo fluctuated much like a subspace message suffering from massive interference. He shook his head. "I donít know. Let me run another scan on the Raínine frequency."
"Thatís going to make Voodoo really edge." Chaos warned.
"I know." Wolf frowned. He tapped in the order for the computer and the scan light changed rapidly, shooting out streams of red light intermixed with blue. Voodoo covered his face and turned his back to Kyle.
"Iím getting peeks and valleys." Hashu warned.
But he went unheard as Wolf and Chaos strained to see what the scans were revealing. Wolf glanced at his monitor and shook his head.
"Oh Primus." He swore. "Okay, I think Iíve seen enough. Shut it off. Shut them all off." He sat down and started piecing the information together. But he already knew what it was saying.
Jill entered the auditorium with a robe for Kyle. He sat up as though just waking from a restless sleep. But he did not greet or look at her. Jill laid the robe over his shoulders and tried to make eye contact. "Kyle?" She asked carefully. "Are you okay?" She waited, but he still said nothing. She glanced up at the control center. <<Wolf, heís not responding.>>
<<We had to use raínine frequencies.>> he answered objectively.
Jill frowned and shielded her partner from her fearful reaction when Kyleís nose began to bleed. She swept up tissues for him. "Wolf said he had to use raínine, Kyle." She answered his puzzled expression. Jill glanced in Voodooís direction and found the Sentinel had not moved. Perhaps he had blacked out.
Kyleís mind raced to recall what that meant. In his confused state, all he knew was that it was painful. Then he remembered raínine was a dark light frequency that reached deep into the subconscious mind and extracted meta-DNA information from the life force. If used for an extended period of time, the frequency would kill the patient.
He thought his head was going to shrivel up. Kyle weakly laid on his side and almost instantly fell asleep.
A female flung herself at Steve the moment Parker stepped into his quarters. He staggered in surprise, staring into the eyes of a feline-like creature with silver hair and green eyes. She gripped him in a fierce kiss.
His stunned reaction faded to astonishment after she turned angry when he didnít remember her-or the fact that they were married. Her tight little figure huddled in grief and it was all Steve could do to comfort her.
Then came the argument.
And standing in Medbaysí diagnostics section, the last thing Parker wanted to hear is some long-ass report from Skywolf. But his attitude changed with Skywolfís grave news:
"The link between Kyle and Voodoo, the reason for their inability to communicate . . . the link is diminishing."
Steve and Mid gave the doctor the very same expression.
"That is impossible." Mid voiced first.
"I thought nothing could change the strength of the link once itís established." Steve added.
"Normally, yes." First Aid agreed. "Once Interface occurs, there is no going back. There is nothing you can do to strengthen the link. It simply is. But three tests confirmed the very same thing: Kyle and Voodoo have thirty percent link left. And it looks like itís diminishing."
Midnight leaned against the wall, astounded. "That, that will kill them both, wonít it? It will be like they died. That means Voodoo will loose his mind, wonít it?"
"Not altogether at once." Skywolf answered. "Heís already going through the withdrawal stages: headaches, slowed reflexes, irritability."
"But because Kyle is still alive, and Voodoo is aware of it, itís slowing the insanity stages to a crawl." Parker assumed.
Mid gazed to Steve and thought briefly how he would feel if anything like this ever happened to his partner. Not Steve, Mid thought, I wonít loose Steve. He watched as Steve turned away, lost in his own thoughts, raising a shield to keep Mid out of the confusion and pain over Ashtar and the whole affair with Kyle.
Midnight sighed. "What do we do?"
Skywolf and First Aid glanced at each other, looking for an answer neither of them had.
The silence became awkward after a moment then Steve pocketed his hands. "I think," he called, "we just move on with our plans: find out what the hell those creatures are and what we can do to put a stop to it."
Mid frowned and nodded in silent agreement.
Kyle struggled with the same nasty headache two days after the examination. He carefully poured over the recorded images Jill brought back from Chenobis. She sat quietly next to him, sipping a tall glass of iced juice. Kyle scribbled notes wishing she would say something about her findings. The silence in his head was slowly forcing him out of his mind. Sound, any kind of sudden sound, made him jump because the quiet in his soul was so terrible. Voodooís voice wasnít in the back of his mind anymore and Kyle forced all his concentration on anything that passed him in order to avoid the stillness. But there he and Jill sat there quietly in the library, waiting for the others to attend the meeting.
Finally he paused to stretch. Jill turned from an empty glass, watching Doctor Scott as he paced the room.
"What do you think?" She asked, looking forward to his professional opinion.
"About your recordings?"
"Yes." Jill stared at him, not at all liking his sweater and jeans outfit. Kyle usually ate, slept and lived in his uniform but for the past two days, he hadnít so much as thought about it.
"Well . . . I think itís frightening. The scratch marks on the walls are very indicative of what Steve and I assumed during the autopsy."
"And whatís that?"
"Mass murder-or war, depends on your point of view."
Jillís weary three-fingered hands pressed controls over the digipad as she transferred other data from one gadget to another and in the next moment, the printer located next to the south window clicked on and started spewing paper.
The doors swished open and both silently gave the entrance a wary glance. Nick more or less dragged Shan in, a wide grin plastered over his face, his eyes hungrily scanning the table for alien technology. Jill kindly offered it to him by producing a little plastic bag containing the flat crystal from Chenobis.
"Here you go, Nick." She baited, dangling the bag like a carrot on a string. "But donít tell a damned soul you have it. The governments on Chenobis will kill to get their hands on this."
Nick made a beeline for the Ďhoneyí and swept it away. He examined it closely as though preparing to bid a handsome price.
Steve came in the very next minute. His eyes scrutinized Kyle, but he said nothing; neither his nor Kyleís expressions changed, as though they knew what the other was thinking. Steve cast his gaze to the table, dreading the inevitable.
Kyle just glanced at the blue-skinned woman that arrived with Nick. He offered her a weak smile, but had no idea who she was. He took his seat next to Jill and fingered an empty cup of coffee.
Shan shot him a surprised look. Kyle didnít say hello. Her eyes jumped from Kyle to Steve in silent question. Steve berated himself for forgetting. Kyle knew Nick because a week before the conference, Nick was being treated for burns. And while Nick talked about Shan, Kyle did not meet her face to face. He moved in, laying his right arm across Shanygnís shoulders and guided her to Kyle.
"Kyle," he called. He waited until Scott gave him eye contact. "Kyle, this is Shan."
The moment proved awkward. Kyle forced another smile, but Steve could tell he was upset and embarrassed about his behavior. He regained his composure a moment later, but he did not offer his hand in greeting. Instead, Kyle hid it under the table and Steveís heart ached for him. "Hello, Shan." Kyle whispered.
To Steveís relief, Shangyn sent him the warmest smile he had ever seen the lady offer anyone but Nick. She sat in the next chair and touched Kyleís shoulder then took his hand. "Hello, Kyle." She answered softly. She squeezed his hand.
Kyle looked back, grateful for the contact. Shan, like Kayla, was unique. A black sleeveless turtleneck hugged her torso, revealing more of her blue skin. Electric nodes and tiny wire connectors punctuated her joints and a pair of slim black braces wrapped her wrists and upper arms. Her short, cropped, dark blue/black hair framed her face in an expression of power. Kyle figured in a tough situation, Shan was more than capable of handling herself.
Shan couldnít get over the fact that Kyle was not wearing his uniform. She tossed her gaze to Steve and sent him a Ďsomethingís-not-rightí look. Steve read the expression and nodded, slowly blinking.
The entrance doors opened and a well-built male slipped in, carrying a coat and brief case. "Hi." He smiled at Steve who invited him to have a seat. The blonde man lapped his coat over the back of a chair and set the case on the table. He nearly sat when he wiggled his fingers at Shan who shined him on. Jill waved at him without making eye contact.
"Sorry Iím late." Matt sighed. "Bad day."
"Itís okay." Steve forgave. "Weíre still waiting on Kayla. Matt, you remember Doctor Scott, donít you?"
Matt opened his brief case and gave Kyle a second look. "No, actually. Weíve never formally introduced." He stood and extended a hand.
Feeling a little more at ease, Kyle stood and accepted the shake. Matt sat back down. "Good to meet you, Doctor Scott."
"Itís just Kyle." He answered simply.
"Well, Iím supposed to be Colonel Matthew-something-Frasier. But I like Matt." Frasier buried his face in his brief case, sorting through papers and digipads. "Short, to the point. And donít ask me what my middle name is. Itís a horrible name and Iíve tried for years to change it."
The doors opened again and Kayla quickly entered, taking a seat, acting like a little girl late to class. "Sorry." She whispered.
Steve ran his tongue over his teeth. "Well . . . I guess we should get started. Anybody want to go first?"
Matt closed his brief case and set it on the floor. He arranged three digipads and two paper tablets in front of him and wrestled a pen between his hands. "If no one is willing to say anything, how about someone start by filling me in on whatís going on?"
Kyleís eyes snapped up, surprised. "No oneís told you?"
Matt struggled not to smile. "No, Doctor Scott. All I got in subspace transmission was quote:ĎMatt! We discovered something! Could you come and check it out?í Unquote."
The corners of Kyleís mouth tightened as he tried not to smile. He folded his hands on the table and leaned forward just a little. "About a month ago I was asked to investigate a very abnormal medical case on Chenobis. Beth DíChlavic suffered from severe amnesia and self-inflicted wounds. The day I was there, something, some force, ripped her to pieces then turned and injured several other people." Kyle paused a moment, struggling against his emotions to tell the rest of the story. "Whatever afflicted DíChlavic, has affected me. Steve and I did some investigating and found Beth was not the only one killed by It."
Matt opened his hands, his pen twitched in one of them. "So this is just the matter of finding out what ĎItí is." Kyle nodded. Frasier batted his eyes. "Iím sorry, Doctor, but I donít feel you need me. It would seem the medical mystery is more your own forte than mine."
Steve sat in the chair next to Matt at this point. "Thereís a great deal more to the story than poltergeists, Matt. Weíve uncovered the story of a planet-wide alien invasion and the near-extinction of the entire Chenobian population through cross-breeding."
Shan, Nick and Matt stared at Parker, startled.
"It gets better." Kyle added, pleased their new cohorts had attained interest. "Steve and I were trapped in the space ship found by DíChlavic. The things we found . . . the autopsy I performed . . . It seems the Chenobians saved their own race through genetically-manipulated biological warfare."
Mattís eyes widened and he gazed down at his hands with a great exasperated sigh. "Okay. So, what youíre asking is my help in unveiling the connection between the so-called medical problem and the alien factor."
"Right." Kyle and Steve chorused. They caught each othersí gaze and Steve smiled far more broadly than Kyle.
Matt sat up straight. "Well, letís see what you have."
Kayla drew items out of subspace and placed them on the table next to Bethís journal and the manilla folder Jill brought from the cave. "I have a photograph and map of the area we were in from Doctor Rychelís tent. There is also a very weird artifact . . . some kind of scroll or other." And she laid this on the table, expecting someone to grab it.
Kyle stared at it suspiciously. "Where did you get that?"
"From Rychalís tent." she answered simply. "Take a look at it. Itís really weird."
Steve took it first, sliding the scroll out of its leather keep and unraveled it. He flinched immediately, batting his eyes as though shocked with bright light. "Itís a contract." He announced.
Kyleís dark eyes met Steveís and memory shot through him; "I call them the Watchers." he recited: " . . . The freakiest part of the alter-find is the skin scroll tucked away in the little ceramic box." Kyleís expression remained impassive as Steve turned blank. Doctor Scott repeated word-for-word what Parker read from the journal about a week ago
Matt glanced from one Tentchi to the next. "Whatís he saying?"
"Itís a passage I read from the journal." Steve answered as he leaned back in his chair, impressed. Kyle was only half conscious at the time it was read.
Kyle considered the words carefully and recalled the room he, Steve and the ladies visited. "The tanks." He said softly to himself. "File cabinets."
"Yes." Jill nodded. "We were all in that room, Kyle. We were separated."
"Thatís not what Iím thinking about, though." Kyle shook his head, not looking at her. "It was the cube we were examining when the . . . light flickered. The cube was what Beth described as an alter. I donít think she meant a literal alter; she was being poetic. As you recall, Rychal and his brother were killed there. And it was that very place all the trouble started."
Kayla watched Steve lay the scroll on the table and stared at it for a long moment as though caught in a trance. "What about the two dog statues DíChlavic mentioned?" The Kshi asked. "Where are they? What would they be doing in the Ďalterí?"
Matt nodded. "Could be a storage place or something."
Scott shook his head. "The one thing we all need to remember is that one major event followed another." Kyle took to his feet and paced in a small circle. "First the aliens invaded. Years afterward, a new civilization started to form and a rebellion took place. It very well could be that the people were oppressed and culturally, they rebelled."
"The removal of the female reproductive organs." Kayla agreed. "Art or fashion, it became a symbol."
Steve laid the scroll on the table and stood as Kyle laid his arms across the back of his chair and leaned forward. The two stared at one another for a moment as though trying to read one anotherís thoughts.
Steve frowned. "The alien invasion begets a breeding program that begets a mutation factor which begets a cultural rebellion and then diseases break out . . . what are we missing here, Kyle?"
Scott blinked. "Sightings?"
Matt glanced from the Doctor to the Captain. "You mean ghost sightings?"
Both men gave him their attention and for some reason, Frasier wanted to crawl under the table. He shrugged and fell silent.
Kyle turned his attention to Nick who remained silent up till now. "What do you have to say about all this, Nick?" he asked.
Nick shrugged. "Only that someone promised to let me see something of crystal technology and I donít have anything to look at other than the trapezoid."
Kyle stared at him cooly before sliding his hand into a pocket and produced the three pieces of flat metal from the ship. "Here. See what you can make of these."
"What are they?"
Doctor Scott shrugged. "Someoneís mystery novels, Iíd guess, Nick. There was a whole shelf case of them."
Steve nodded and reached for the manilla folder Jill brought with her. "That was just before we entered a death chamber and found all kinds of torture victims."
Shan paled and threw her eyes on the table. Steve caught the moment and smiled apologetically. "Sorry, Shan."
Nick glanced in his wifeís direction, amused that anything should bother her at all. Then something from the table caught his eye. The techno-wizard spotted the scroll lying unrolled near Steve. The deformed head of a dead alien reared out of it and turned to him with a terrible evil smile. When its lips split, blood seeped from between its stained teeth. Nick nearly dropped the plates and glanced about to see if anybody else saw it. But no one at the table reacted in any way.
Matt scribbled over a tablet while Steve leafed through the folder. His eyes drifted toward the scroll as his mind tried to fit all the pieces together. He heard only a few reports regarding the deaths in West Central and Strata-Mainframe. It seemed a little odd that no Transformer had been injured or killed by the ghosts; just the Humanoid population.
As he continued to stare aimlessly, a veil of darkness settled over his eyes. He shook his head, finding his sight left him. He glanced from one side of the room to the other and before he could say anything, a shadow crossed the darkness. It turned toward him; a figure of ash and rain and it bore the face of an old man, deathly pale and burdened by decades of grief. A fearful green light glowed softly from behind the holes that served as a set of eyes. Matt tried to look in Kyleís direction and the moment he did so, the vision passed, his sight returned. But it left the Colonel unsettled. He cleared his throat, uncertain whether or not he should mention what he just saw. "So the poltergeists are the ghosts of the aliens?"
Everyone stared at him. Kyle frowned. "No." Doctor Scott replied quietly. "According to DíChlavicís journal, Chenobis has suffered severe plaques. Each time the plaque hit, itís only been certain parts of the world and very particularly the science community."
Matt sat back in his chair, confused and frustrated. "That makes even less sense. How about approaching this from another angle? Whatís with the crystal?"
Jill glanced at Nick who intensely studied the plates. "I found it stashed in one of the cars there at the site, a pile of letters along with it. One of which, and I have it here, clearly states that Bethís team was in terrible danger and they tried to use the crystal as a bargaining tool to get government help. But the letter never arrived. It seems they were sabotaged from the very beginning."
Matt looked puzzled, "Sounds like this ghost doesnít like professional communities."
Nick sat on the table top, his feet on the chair and he stared at Kyle. "So youíre saying that the excavation woke up a pair of sleeping ghosts."
"Yes." Kyle nodded.
"But who are these ghosts?" Matt asked, unnerved about the whole thing.
"Ptysar." Steve answered. "One ghost is Ptysar."
"Xesnex." Kyle instantly added. "The otherís name is Xesnex."
"How do you know that?" Steve asked with a contorted expression.
Kyle couldnít look at him. "I-I guess I remembered when I regained consciousness."
Steve expected a better, more detailed answer, but Kyle offered nothing. And rather than forcing it out of them man, Parker swept up the journal and flipped through the pages, finding the one passage describing the scroll: "The word ĎZhagkí . . . means Ďdemoní. Could this be a contract with a demon? If so, that would explain the Keepers of the alter-" he lowered the book. "I suspect that is the descriptions of our ghosts."
Kyle shook his head. "But the contract was made with one demon, not two."
Steve held up a finger and continued the passage: " . . .and the One they were protecting. He must have been a prince or a king at one point." He closed the journal. "So what weíre looking at is a hypothesis stating that a couple of demons, maybe more like aliens, made a contract with this king."
"But for what?" Nick asked. "What has that got to do with this? Why is it so important?"
Kyle furred his brows. "Hereís another question for you, Nick: Why the hell was the scroll and the ghosts there at a research facility?"
Matt leaned back in the chair. "Maybe they instigated the research program." He quietly suggested. Parker beside him took to his feet and started to pace.
Then another idea hit Kyle. "The ghosts are blamed for the plaques that have hit Chenobis from time to time. What if the contract was created in addition to the DNA virus? You and I both have seen what those ghosts can do, Steve. Murder en mass."
Steve stared at him for a moment. "So what youíre saying is this prince or king started a research and torture program to rid the world of their alien invasion problem. He wasnít satisfied with the fact that the scientists were capturing and murdering hundreds of aliens. So he made a business contract with a pair of aliens who . . . were killing Chenobians rather than aliens? Does that make sense, Kyle? Why were they killing Chenobians?"
Matt interceded again: "If I might make a suggestion here." He said quietly. All eyes turned to him. "I would guess the plaques arenít meant to murder so much as they were designed to weed out alien DNA. It would seem that if the people were mutated with the alien contagion, the only way to create a reversal process is to wipe out populations that have more of the mutation factor than others."
"And what about the science community?" Nick added. "Why would the aliens keep the Chenobians from technological improvements? If you want advanced equipment, here it is. I suspect the alien invaders had a system of crystal and kinetic technology. I doubt they had vocal interface at all."
Kyle nodded in agreement. He frowned "How did the king get in touch with two aliens? And why are they so willing to carry out their contract to this day? This whole incident, the invasion, occurred almost two thousand years ago. Why are the aliens still bothering with it?"
Steve shook his head. "It must have something to do with the contract. Maybe itís binding."
"Know what I think?" Matt answered in turn. "It sounds like these ghosts are doing more than just murdering at their pleasure: theyíre feeding off death." A soft bleep interrupted the moment and Matt snapped out his wrist and read the message. He frowned. "Guys, I need to go. How about we continue this tomorrow?"
Kyle frowned, saying nothing, and looked away. Steve silently nodded and Nick sighed and stared out the windows into the park. Jill offered Matt a sad smile with a permissible nod. Kayla sat with her arms folded. She merely nodded, glancing once at Kyle then pressed her lips tightly.
Shan gave him an open smile, "Sure." She agreed.
"Okay." Frasier snapped his case closed and abandoned the group.
Silence hung suspended like frozen time. Kyle felt cold inside. He softly rubbed his stigmatic hand, itching to release the tension and stress built up from the past few days. Skywolfís news burdened him in a way Kyle had not felt before. His whole life was being ripped up, one strand at a time and he did not know how to deal with it. The silent room drove him crazy. Everyone fell to their own thoughts and considerations. Kyle about bolted out of his seat when Steve finally spoke up:
"Anyone for Chinese?"
Two hours later, Kyle strapped on protective gaming gear. He did not enjoy lunch. All the others chattered on about things and people or events he knew nothing about. It annoyed him so much that they knew what they were talking about and he hadnít a clue. Kyle thought about burring his pain in news articles and medical updates. He thought about reacquainting himself with his office at Medbay. He thought about going over the Internet at home and pouring over all the oldest news and history he could read in as short a time as possible. But his agitation would not let him sit. He needed to vent. He tightened his boot straps and slipped on a pair of gloves.
He remembered the rehabilitation center on level six south of the geriatrics ward there at Medbay. Standing almost isolated from the rest of the complex, Rehab claimed the same amount of space as three private housing districts. There were sixteen huge holodecks, eight gyms, four indoor basketball courts, four indoor pools, twenty-six saunas, twenty-six jacuzies and one football field. Most of the Rehab was filled beyond capacity during the day as classes were held for the public and private sectors outside the Complex.
Kyle managed to reserve holodeck nine to himself. But he suspected it was more because of VIP privileges rather than a list of first-come-first-serve. Not that it was fair, but Kyle was very grateful nonetheless.
"Computer," he called and a bleep echoed in answer, "Uhm, Iíd like to try one of Captain Steve Parkerís programs."
Kyle swept a dragonrod from the wall. "I think itís called Duality."
REQUIREMENTS: DRAGONROD. SINGLE PLAYER ON FIRST LEVEL. PROTECTIVE JOINT GEAR.
That was what he was after. The doors slid open and he entered, bearing the dragonrod; a heavy battle axe with a crescent blade at both ends.
The room greeted him with an ancient ruins theme. Stone slabs covered in overgrowth squatted in some semblance of order. A dreary grey sky brewed overhead and the floor grounded under his feet with the burden of old crumbling bricks and dirt.
A holographic humanoid stomped its way toward Kyle. It sized him up and down, sneered and made a defensive stance.
Kyle sized him up too and shook his head. "This is too easy." He complained under his breath. He let it attack first and he whacked its midriff with the flat side of the axe. The opponent stumbled back, rebounded and thrust at the doctor. Kyle deflected easily and sliced its head off. The humanoid sizzled out of existence and Kyle frowned.
"Computer, next level, please."
Two guys jumped out from nowhere. Kyle sliced one down the front side and kicked the other in the center then also decapitated it.
"No. Computer, next level."
Steve rendezvoused with his wife at a familiar cafť. Well, he remembered the cafť, but not her. And once again, they fell to the same frustrating argument; he simply could not remember her. She brought photo albums this time and holographic recordings of parties and places they had visited over the years.
The hour he spent with her was very trying. Finally, she agreed they would discuss it later when he had been able to handle other business first.
But honestly, Steve did not know how to deal with the fact that he was married; nor that he once loved someone and could not remember her. So Captain Parker turned to the one thing that was most familiar to him; an old friend.
Steve made a beeline for Medbay and straight to Kyleís office. But Doctor Scott was not there. Steve checked the roster but Kyle had not signed in, meaning he was not there in the organics wing. He turned to the reception desk on level four.
The four-armed receptionist greeted him with a quick smile just as she answered the phone. She gave Doctor Neth the room his patient was in and turned to Steve.
"Looking for Kyle." Parker raised his left brow.
She tapped a few keys at the computer and answered the phone again while another doctor asked her for a report on the emergency lines coming in at two P.M. She handed him that and drank a sip of coffee.
"Doctor Scott is not here today, Captain Parker, Iím sorry."
"Heís not home, either." Steve informed quietly. "The man has to be here somewhere. Kyle wonít go anywhere else."
She nodded politely and tapped at the computer again and answered the phone with another hand and scribbled a note all at the same time. She turned to him again. "Rehab." She nodded, staring at the computer with some perplexity. "Rehab." She repeated. "Kinda odd. Kyle rarely goes there unless heís jogging around the track."
Steve patted the counter top. "Thanks"
Kyle was hardly tired. One level followed another. He just beat five guys attacking him at once and they all sizzled out the same fashion as the first. Either Steveís program was sissy-stuff, or . . .
Doctor Scott laughed at himself.
The doors opened and Steveís figure silhouetted against the glaring outside light. "Hey." he greeted.
Kyle twirled the dragonrod once. "Hey." He returned.
"Heard you were hanging around. Thought Iíd come and see what you were up to."
Kyle smiled humorlessly. "I thought Iíd blow some steam. This program of yours sucks."
"Is that so?" Steve entered, wearing protective gear, but bearing no weapon. The doors clanged behind him, completing the scene again. He folded his arms and stared at Kyle, his left brow rising.
Kyle slightly lifted his chin. "Computer," he called. "Level eight."
Steve turned cold, but did not allow his shock to hold back his response: "Computer, belay that. Replicate one dragonrod weight: forty pounds."
A dragonrod appeared from nowhere and Steve took it up. "Level eight, Doctor Scott?" He spired. "I donít think so."
Kyle twirled the rod once again and set the corners of his mouth. He was ready for a fight-a real fight. His eyes went dead set against Steve. If Parker needed some exercise . . .
Steve took stock of Kyleís stance: Relaxed, positioned correctly. But Kyle had a blind side at the left knee. Steve went for that first and found himself not only swiftly deflected, but forced to defend himself at the ankle and again at the neck. They stood still again, sizing one another. This time Kyle attacked, aiming for the waist and again at the head. Steve parried and ducked then came back for Kyleís left arm. Kyle blocked him and kicked him in the chin. Steve fell back and sprang right back up.
Kyle meant business.
Parker moved his lower jaw back and forth. "Nice." He congratulated. "Maybe you are level eight material after all."
He jumped back when a blade nearly sliced him in half. He stepped in with a right swing, the rods clanged hard and Steve nearly nicked Kyle across the chest. Kyle kicked his weapon, but Parker held it too skillfully for that kind of tactic.
Kyle still got him by the ankles, kicking Parker off his feet. Scott swung up and Parker rolled as the bladed weapon plunged into the ground he lay on seconds ago. Steve backrolled and came back with a broad upperstroke that could have shattered Kyleís lower jaw.
Kyle dropped to a hard right, doing half a cartwheel then snapped right back out with the other end of the rod. Steve leapt and jabbed, sinking the blade into a nearby tree, missing Kyle by inches.
Scott rounded the tree, breathing heavily as the two paused a moment.
"Now what do you think of my program?" Steve asked.
"It still sucks." Kyle joked. "All the opponents have the same ugly face-yours."
Steve silently pointed at Kyle. Now he was in trouble. Steve jumped at him and jabbed for the midriff. He was deflected. Uppercut. Block. Lowpoint. Block. Left, right, middle, left, left, and one turn, one jab, one thrust after another was met with a block and a similar move from Kyle. The rods swung in the air with a deadly swishing sound and clang hard, angry metal against angry metal until Steve pulled a level twelve maneuver, ducking, jabbing and swung up with his right foot, kicking in the waist and butt the center of the rod hard into Kyleís chest, knocking Scottís wind right out of him. Kyle fell back, stunned. He dropped his weapon and lay very still as Steve swung up for the final blow. The blade came within three inches of Kyleís face and froze.
Kyle closed his eyes. If Steve had lost once simple ounce of concentration and control, he would have been killed.
Steve held himself tightly. He shuddered from adrenaline overdose and it took him a moment to come down from it. He slowly retrieved the blade from Kyle and stabbed the ground in victory.
But Steve did not feel victorious. He collapsed to his knees and stared at Kyle, gasping for breath. "Kyle." he coughed once. "If I hadnít seen it and experienced it myself, I would never in my life believed it."
"What?" Kyle slowly pulled himself up, shaking. He dusted his hands.
"This. Up until this moment, you have never gone beyond a level six. I just tested you at level ten. Wanna explain that?"
Kyleís eyes widened in astonishment. He turned cold. "Good day?" He guessed.
Steve shook his head in turn. He did not want to know.
The intercom beeped just then. DOCTOR SCOTT? Came a nurseís voice.
"Here!" Kyle answered as he and Steve stood.
"PATIENT TO SEE YOU IN ROOM 1120."
"On my way."
Steve lifted his left brow. "Thought you were going to take the day off."
Kyle smiled wryly. "They do that only for certain patients."
Kayla puttered about her quarters for two hours after arriving home from the miserable meeting. Everyone around her wallowed in the same dour mood and it wore her out. The empath poured herself a cup of hot cocoa and opened a package of apple chips. She collapsed into her couch and turned the TV on. At first she ignored it, just surfing through channels, coasting through soap-operas, sports and documentaries (most of which are pirated from Earth and Centauri TV). She ignored the kiddie puppet shows and Captain Kangaroo and finally found the news.
" . . . while trade is at an all-time high on Cybertron, some sources say tough times are ahead. With the unusual pirate ships that appear from nowhere, attack and leave, it means precious patrolling resources will have to be expanded to include most trade routes to and from Cybertronian space lanes just to insure desperately needed supplies arrive safely. Prathos of Strata-Mainframe reporting for CNN.
The scene shifted to the anchor reporter, a fellow in dark tan skin and white hair. He stared into the camera without expression. "More mysterious deaths reported in West Central today. Doctors from Medbay are puzzled over the oddity of the crimes, calling the events ĎRed jack murdersí. Twenty-six people were found dead when a shuttle crash-landed outside the main landing strip outside the city. Workers were not injured, but all twenty-six passengers were found dead at the scene. Critics point fingers to Doctor Kyle Scott who earlier had warned the medical community of a possible threat concerning a murderous poltergeist loose on the planet. While authorities refuse to comment, sources suggest the ordeal is under intense investigation."
Kayla rolled her eyes and shut the TV off, sinking into her cushiony couch. She sipped her cocoa and thought about Chenobis, the dead man she found yet standing.
Kayla took another sip of the comforting warm drink. Kyle had lost a dangerous amount of blood and Steve had that odd look in his eye, as though . . . as though something were robbed from him. Their escape was nothing short of miraculous, now that she thought of it. It was so coincidental that Steve and Kyle should end up escaping the ship right in the same area as she and Jill.
Kayla had lost faith in the gods hundreds of years ago. But now . . . now she started to wonder.
She set her empty cup on the floor, folded her hands and fell asleep.
*Here! Come and witness this great triumph!* The cold voice filled Kayla and she shuddered, but had no choice. She unwittingly participated in witnessing an event.
Quintessons floated round about the table, the room nearly completely dark other than that. A poor Human female lay strapped to the table, her legs spread as she prepared to give birth. The five-faced monsters all gathered round her as though she were an animal, paying no mind to her screams and cries.
Then it happened.
And Kayla thought she was going to be sick.
The poor woman gave birth, alright-to a miniature version of the five-faced monsters around her.
*Success!* One Quint declared, its tentacles flaying in unrestrained excitement.
*Yes.* Another agreed. *We now understand the use and versatility of this organic species. We can order bounty hunters to begin collecting other females of this species. Through them, we may increase our numbers successfully.*
*Wait!* A third Quint called. In his tentacles, a scanner bleeped in alert mode. *Someone is sending a mental transmission.*
*Find it!* The Second Quint ordered. *Kill it!*
And they searched the room. Kayla hid in the shadows of her prison, but her eyes did not leave the sight of the poor woman, now dead from neglect. Three other caged creatures squealed in protest as the Quints prodded for information, trying to pinpoint the source of telepathy.
And they found her.
*Here!* Declared the one with the scanner. Two of its comrades peered into the cage and Kayla realized she too was pregnant. She held her head high. She was going to die, liberated from further tests and degrading treatment. One Quint simply passed a spear through the energon bars and cut off her head.
Kayla shot from the couch and screamed.
Doctor Scott didnít need to ask how she felt. Her pale face and clammy skin told a good part of the story. He rolled a seat in front of her and silently examined her first, checking her lymph nodes, then her temperature.
"It was real." She said softly. "I was there, Kyle. I was really there."
Kyleís dark brown eyes drifted from her to her Dokiah Interface.
"A dream." Spellbinder answered softly. "She woke up screaming and I couldnít calm her down."
"I was in a cage and pregnant and I watched another woman, a Humanoid female, give birth to a Quintesson and they found out I was sending a telepathic message across space and then they sliced off my head."
Kayla was not the kind of person to give into imaginative fears. She was as down-to-reality as Steve. Kyle took her hands into his, her cold skin no doubt glad for his warm touch. "I am not going to discredit your experiences, Kayla." He said quietly. "More than any of us, you are most sensitive to extra-sensory perceptions."
Kayla swallowed hard, her lips almost as white as the paper sheet she sat on. "Are you saying that what I saw might be real?"
Kyle didnít answer her right away. He believed her but he wasnít sure how Spellbinder would take his answer. "I think itís possible." He finally replied.
It did help to ease her distress. Kayla wasnít crazy, everyone knew that. Much of her trembling slowed.
"Go home, Kayla." Kyle instructed. "Take a bath, put on your jammies and watch some TV. I think youíll feel better tomorrow."
Kayla smiled at the Ďjammiesí word. "Thank you, Kyle." She slid off the table and picked up her coat.
* * *
Midnight was so sorry he could do nothing to protect his soul-mate. He did what he thought was the best way to ease Steveís suffering: he forced Steve to drink a glass of poison.
He promised it wouldnít hurt. Steve would just go to sleep and never wake.
Steve wept, begging Midnight not to make him drink it. He could just move on, live elsewhere-maybe Kyle would let him stay with him for a while.
But it was unacceptable. Midnight didnít want to be seen as vulnerable. And Steve was a weakness. And so he forced Steve on his back and poured the drink in his mouth and Steve wept, begging, begging.
Steve woke crying. He felt so helpless, so vulnerable compared to the giant robotic creature. He would be forced to
die without a choice. He gathered his arms about himself, cuddled in his chair.
Realizing he was in a chair, it dawned on Parker he was dreaming. His eyes caught sight of a framed piece of metal proudly hanging from the opposite wall. He was safely in his own quarters. Audience laughter spilt from the TV but it did not catch Steveís attention. The Captain stared at the slice of metal, one of few pieces left of Braintrust. He shuddered weakly and tried to tell himself everything was just a really bad dream. But it left him cold.
* * *
Three days passed but the Tentchi held no other meetings. Steve was called back to the council meetings
The last thing Steve wanted was to hear was another hour-long rant concerning the Nagk. The trading embargo enraged several other planets, stating Cybertron had no right to impose such a treatment upon business. The problem was, the Nagk had been caught red-handed intercepting and stealing and/or destroying supplies to other worlds. Optimus accused them of high-rolling piracy. Naturally, the Nagk were outraged. They demanded a hearing-they got one on Emright, but now they didnít want to wait for Emright. They demanded the meeting be held there on Cybertron in a sterilized environment.
Steve did not want to hear it, no matter what Midnight said. He did not want to attend.
And for all the resistance Parker put up, Kyle still did not hear anything from him.
Doctor Scott kept busy, however. Immersed into his own past, Kyle struggled to piece things back together. But it was slow, very slow.
Kyle heard himself laugh in the recorded journal. He thumbed through folders and files and re-familiarized himself with his computer and every other nook and corner of his office in Medbay. Actually, Doctor Scott mused, his office was more a mega-library than the libraries Downstairs.
"Will you stop? I have to record this!" he heard his own voice break over laughter. "Okay . . . Um, weíre on this wonderful exotic planet full of-Steve, put the crab down. Okay. We are on oceanfront property and believe it or not, the water here is BLACK. And Steve canít pretend heís an adult long enough for me to make this entry."
Scott grinned. It was one of very few happy entries in his extensive recorded journal. So far he had heard all of twenty recordings. Three days after Kaylaís vision, things seemed to have settled. No signs of mischief from the dog-beasts and Kyle wondered if they were planning something else, or busy elsewhere.
"Kyle?" Steve called over the recording. "Lookit."
"Found a hermit crab."
"How do you know itís a hermit crab?" Kyleís voice came with amusement.
"Well, I doubt itíll come out of its shell, Steve."
"Oh . . .well thereís a little trick to that. You see, you never ever force the hermit out of his shell; you allow him to come out. You just hold him like so and sooner or later, he starts to feel secure and-ah-see? there's the little guy's antennae. He's checking the place out. Now, we just talk to him, soft, slow. We donít demand anything. Hello little fellow."
A space of silence crossed the recording and Kyle smiled then heard himself greet the hermit crab. "Hi, fella. Pretty thing, isnít it?"
Just faintly Kyle could hear Jillís voice call from a distance and Steve said something about food. The recording ended and Kyle shut the machine off. He had no memory of the incident, but hearing it made him feel good.
He rounded his desk and sat in the chair, thumbing lazily through folders, reacquainting himself with names and faces and dates. He took particular notice how many of Medbayís latest cases seemed to have sleeping problems. Kyle tucked that thought away for a later time and read up on all the patients from one wing of Medbayís organic section to the other.
He closed his eyes for a moment.
The dim light echoed a terrible sound of distant coldness and fear. Ghosts of the dead and injured touched him all over and Kyle wanted to wash himself of it.
The death stank, not so much in a smell as it was a feeling. He could feel the death, he could feel the filth of the tortured females as their bodies were invaded and forced to bear things unnatural to their own species.
And a name from deep, deep in his subconsciousness.
But the name came blocked by someone elseís imposition.
Kyle found himself trapped in a dream within a dream and the dream liquified into a terrible memory dark and forbidden by ancient walls of sentient will.
They were tests, werenít they? And Steve was there, wasnít he? Old. Old. Old.
And the Fabin traded off and on with another creature, a creepy dark creature resembling sort of a frog-like bodies, biped in nature, huge triangular faces and large bulging eyes. Forked black -
Kyle lurched, but trapped in the dream, he could not break free. He remembered the tongues . . . one kissed him as he lay bound to a table. They-the Fabin-had broken his hands and were not merciful in their torture. They drained his blood and put it back before he died.
Kyle gasped for air, struggling to pull out of the trapped dream. He felt himself fall to the floor in front of his desk and he still could not break free.
And they came, riding over the cloud-bounded sky, things on wings buzzed like insects from the bowels of places unspoken by sentient tongues. And they came by the millions, amassing across the great cities, they encircled the building and set them afire and the people died as they ran. Fire and smoke, destruction-Doctor Scott recalled a word from his own home world-Tachnau-planetary destruction. The Earth equivalent to an apocalypse.
And they drained his blood again-and somewhere else in his mind, a terrible, terrible sin was committed-a memory locked down so tightly Kyleís conscious mind could not bear it if it were ever uncovered. Something even Voodoo could not comprehend. Kyle instinctively nailed another barrier between it and his mind. For if he ever remembered the incident, if he ever brought it out of that one tiny space in his soul, Kyle believed he would plunge straight into a coma.
And once again he tried to surface, tried to pull out of the dream he could not rise from. Wake up! His unconscious mind told him. Youíre laying on the floor of your office! You must get up! Breathe! You must call for help! Breathe! Breathe!
And the music continued to lure him back from surface unconsciousness. It tried to pull him back under. He tumbled down, down . . . like a drowning victim . . . and somewhere there he felt something begin to change him inside.
"You are ours, Doctor Scott, mind, body and soul. Ours. . . ours. You belong to us."
. . . SsssssSteve . . . he dismally thought. And for some reason he started to weep, pleading for someone, anyone to help him. He reached up and wrapped his hands round the back of his head.
And the raníkas tramped the ground with sure-footedness. A bloodied sun dipped beyond the smoky horizon. The battle ground wallowed in blood and death; one of many hundreds of battlefields. The cities burned in the late of night, the hillsides groaned under the weight of the dead.
And blood splattered the wall as they hacked his mother to pieces before his eyes and Kyle-Ptysar-swore with all his soul the freak aliens would pay and pay and pay and pay and pay.
Kyleís eyes opened, his body now so weak he could not so much as lift his hands.
A stream of water and blood slipped into the room and flowed silently around the desk and nestled under Kyleís arm. A face formed, staring at Doctor Scott eye to eye.
"Ours." it said. "Mind, body and soul. You will become a part of me and me, you and sooner or later you will not be able to tell where you end and I begin. We will become a part of each other."
And the thing washed itself over Kyleís languid form, warm and liquid-like without feeling wet.
Kyle thought it was like being raped.
Doctor Scott woke again much later, finding himself laying on a couch Downstairs. A thick warm blanket lay over him and Voodoo sat dutifully beside him, one finger under Kyleís left hand.
<< . . . >>
Nothing. A presence but no sound and it choked Doctor Scott. He had been cut off from the voice in his soul and the resulting emptiness consumed him. Kyle hid his face in shame as tears refused to be held back.
"I canít hear you anymore!" He sobbed softly. "Itís all silent!" Voodoo gently gathered him into his arms, saying nothing. Kyle relaxed, longing to phase, and knowing in his heart they could no longer do even that. The Dokiah bowed his body over Kyle as if to protect his love from spying eyes. He could think of nothing to say to consol Kyleís grief.
And hours turned toward the next day.
Kyle woke again, finding Voodooís hunched form folded over him. Voodoo had long since shut down himself and Kyle could only guess his partner was just as devastated as he. Kyle did not want Voodoo to go anywhere anymore. His hand softly stroked the metal under him, searching almost unconsciously for some gentle stimulation. The separation left him so alone, so cut off from a constant stream of encouragement and support.
Kyle sighed and nearly fell asleep again when Voodoo stirred and sat up. He gave his partner a weak smile.
Voodoo did not return the smile. He scanned Kyleís life signs, unhappy at Kyleís weakened condition.
"Something touched you, Kyle." Voodoo somberly whispered. "I actually felt it. You were falling from me entirely." He carefully laid Kyle on the library couch and shifted to his knees.
"I . . . I was caught in a dream I couldnít get out of." Kyleís voice was equally as soft, but weaker. "I was so terrified-"
"A nurse found you laying on the floor unconscious, but crying."
"It was all over me." Kyle quickly answered. "I felt it all over my skin. It was horrible."
"You had a memory lapse." Voodoo pressed.
Kyle frowned. "No I didnít."
"Yes, you did."
Kyle shook his head. "No. I had no-"
"Kyle, you had a memory lapse-you remembered the Fabin."
"How do you know?"
"I know. Our link maybe only thirty percent, but I can still feel things, if only remotely. I felt your fears. I thought . . . " Voodoo shook his head and stared at the floor.
"What?" Kyle whispered. "What?"
"I . . . I thought it was something you would not remember. You and Steve and Ray were in such terrible shock-"
"They broke my hands." Kyle came right back.
"Yes." Voodoo whispered.
"And they did other things, didnít they?"
Voodoo could not answer.
"Who were they, Voodoo?"
"Merchants." Voodoo made the word sound like a spitting word. "Like the Harvesters. But the Fabin like to play with their prey. They changed Rayís blood type entirely. He was sick for years."
"What triggered the memory?" Kyle started feeling better, now, not quite so afraid. He sat up, his back to the couch and crossed his legs. But he drew the blanket close for emotional security.
"I donít know." Voodoo answered with the same soft voice. "Maybe something Ptysar did or said to you. Maybe something else you might have dreamed. Trapped in a dream in a dream . . .dark places with terrible lights . . . and the sound of a music not quite melodic."
"Voodoo, stop." Kyle swallowed hard, not wanting to remember.
Voodoo slowly closed his mouth. He stared at Kyle who read a chilling sadness in his Partnerís expression.
Kyleís eyes narrowed and he carefully thought over Voodooís words-and dared remember just glimpses of the nightmare. "You." He whispered. "Part of what I was remembering was what you were going through . . ." And Kyle struggled again, a little more deeply, a little more daring. But he felt no fear, so long as Voodoo was there with him. "They pulled you apart." He surmised. "Didnít they? The music . . . they used ultrasonic frequencies to dis . . . member . . . " Kyle shut his mouth, understanding the music, the dreaded sounds in the cold. "Oh, Voodoo." He choked and whispered, tears dimmed his eyes. "Voodoo."
Voodoo took Kyle home to let him rest more comfortably. He knew he should have done that earlier, but at the time, all the Sentinel could think about was holding his love. Kyle hoped no one would reprimand his partner for his fears.
Scott decided to Ďorder outí rather than bother trying to come up with something to cook.
"Chinese." Voodoo cheerfully input. "You always liked Chinese."
"How do you know?" The doctor smiled as he scanned the net for a place.
"I know everything." Voodoo beamed.
"Iíll bet." Doctor Scott grinned, his eyes glued to the computer. "Just anything, then?"
"Well, I know you like Peking. You raved about their wonton soup."
Kyle typed in the name of the restaurant and sure enough, it popped up and boasted of branch restaurants in West Central, Strata-Mainframe and Below-and branches opening in the newer cities. Kyle clicked on the menu and stared at it. It all looked like a jumbled mess and he shook his head, not knowing what to do.
"Itís written in English." Voodoo knelt next to his partner.
"I canít read English, Voodoo."
"You donít have to, Kyle. You just click . . ." He took the mouse and hit file on the task bar and scanned down until he clicked TRANSLATION. The screen melted and popped back up into Cybertronian. Kyle gave Voodoo a grateful smile and it warmed Voodooís heart. He gazed at the screen with his partner and gazed over the menu. "Uhm . . . looks like menu Number Five is a good one. You like stuff thatís a little spicy-"
Kyle quietly laughed.
"Whatís funny?" Voodoo asked.
"You. Do you know everything about me?"
Voodoo gently took Kyleís hand and the touch swept through Kyleís body like a cool breeze under a warm afternoon sun. It sent chills down Kyleís back and he found he could not tell if it was his reaction, or stimulation from his Dokiah. "Six thousand years is a relatively short time compared to our life span, Kyle. It is precious to me. Weíve had our ups and downs like the other Interfaces. But Iím the lucky one, Kyle. Iím the lucky one."
The delivery girl brought Kyle a veritable feast he wasnít anticipating. But Doctor Scott found he was hungrier than he thought and Voodoo was glad his partner was able to eat anything at all.
"Youíre right." Kyle confirmed, "They do make wonderful soup." He paused, picking at the cashew chicken. "Itís sorta odd how things like this exist on a planet thatís dominated by buildings and machines."
"Imports." Voodoo shrugged. "The Council sees to it that the Humanoid population is well cared for."
Kyle looked puzzled. "Why?"
"Humans are essential to Cybertron. They have given us a culture Transformers have never had in millions of years of war."
Kyle stared at Voodoo for a long moment then harumphed in mild amusement.
"What?" Voodoo smiled, only able to guess whatís going through the Doctorís mind. It was maddening not being able to tell what Kyle was thinking at any given moment.
"It sounds like . . . I donít know . . . a petting zoo and you have to keep feeding the animals somehow."
Voodooís face lit up as though he were about to burst laughing. But he did not. "Humans have enriched our lives, Kyle. As a Human, you have such a wonderful way of seeing the universe. Before meeting you, all I really cared about was flying and fighting and exploring. But . . . I never really stopped to think about things like . . . bugs and flowers."
Kyle smirked, trying to keep closed a mouth full of food. He nearly swallowed everything whole. "Bugs and flowers, Voodoo?" He asked with a smile and a sip of tea.
Voodoo smiled more broadly and wondered what else he could say to make Kyle laugh.
The night moved on in a peaceful silence. Voodoo was glad he decided to just stay with Kyle. He knew the workers needed him at South Continent, but Kyle was far more important.
Voodoo watched Kyle for several hours while Scott leafed through photo albums, examined books hidden inside bookshelves in wall panels. Voodoo hoped the Doctor would go to sleep sooner or later. But Kyle merely laid on the couch his eyes slowly opened and closed as the stereo softly played one of many thousands of recordings. Finally Scott drew a deep breath and opened his eyes, staring back at his partner. He forced a smile.
"Babysitting does not become you, Voodoo." he quietly teased.
"No." The Sentinel agreed. "But Iím not sitting a baby. Iím guarding my Ten-she . . . or whatever-"
"Tentchi." Kyle corrected. "Itís a short ĎNí
Voodoo smiled. He knew that, but he liked to give Kyle a hard time whenever possible. He sat closer to Kyle and ran his finger along the carpet. "Sometimes . . ." he started carefully, "Sometimes I wish I could shrink down to your size, Kyle. Just for once. Just . . . just so I can hold you while you sleep. Just so I can hold you with my whole body, not just my hands. Just once Iíd like to sleep with you in my arms and wake before you do and hold you while you sleep." He ran his finger over Kyleís hair, watching as Kyleís eyes started to fall under the power of sleep. "Just sometimes." he repeated softly and smiled grimly as Kyleís eyes finally fell shut and he passed on into a dark rest.
The hours slipped away. Voodoo laid Kyle in his own bed and tucked the covers about his Tentchiís small frame. Kyle was so small, so frail, fading from Voodooís consciousness like daylight eroding into the impenetrable darkness of a winter night.
I can still feel him, the Sentinel tried to comfort himself. Heís still there. But it was a very small comfort. He thought they were through all that, he thought that with their phasing, it reestablished their link.
But . . . but it was a phenomenon for which no one had an answer. Was he losing Kyle?
Voodoo sat against the nearby wall, resolute in his determination to stay conscious until Kyle woke again. But one hour slipped into another and since Cybertron had no sun to tell night from day, it didnít matter when people slept . . . and before he realized it, Voodoo faded into a state of rest, the house still active by means of the stereo playing soft melodies.
Some time later, Voodoo thought he heard something in the back of his mind. It grew louder until he awakened and found Kyle whimpering in agony. Voodoo sat on his knees and activated his night vision.
"Kyle?" He softly called. "Kyle, whatís wrong?"
Scott buried his head under his arms and blankets. "My headís going to explode, Voodoo." He murmured weakly. He whimpered and moved as though the pain would decease if he left the bed. He lifted his head slightly and Voodoo gaped at the bloodied sheets and pillow. He started to object when Kyle simply passed out.
Voodoo panicked. He laid his hand on Kyleís back. "Kyle?" He called. "Kyle! No! Donít do this! Donít do this! Kyle, donít leave me!"
His gaze bounced off the walls in the bedroom, searching frantically for an answer. "Oh, Primus! What am I supposed to do? No! I donít want you to go . . . Kyle, I-Iíd rather you not be Interfaced with me than be dead!" Voodooís optics bounced off Kyleís desk in the front room and he remembered to call Medbay. He dashed to the visiphone and called Jill.
"Come on!" He ordered desperately. The screen blinked on as Jill yawned from sleep.
"V?" She greeted groggily. "V, whatís wrong?"
"Kyle . . . heís bleeding and he passed out." Voodooís patterned skin vibrated, his hidden optics flashed.
"Okay. Bring him into Medbay. Iíll meet you there on the landing strip."
Voodoo didnít worry about phone protocol. He abandoned the desk and returned to Kyle, checking pulse and life signs. Scott was still alive, but Voodoo had no idea if he suffered brain damage or not. He carefully wrapped Kyle in clean blankets and cupped his loveís tiny body in his hands. Voodoo made it just outside the threshold of the patio when his knees gave out in grief. He bowed over, gently holding Kyle as close to his body as he dared. "Donít leave me." He begged in a whisper.
It took a couple more moments before Voodoo managed to pull himself together. He forced himself on his feet and carefully transformed around Kyle and took off.
Jill did not want to do anything but find the very best pillow on Cybertron, fall into it and just sleep. Finally after nine hundred milligrams of sleep medication and three cups of herbal tea, she found herself wrapped in merciful darkness.
Then Voodoo called and she snapped wide awake and scampering to put on fresh clothes and gloves. She alerted Compton, the ER CO, and they hastily organized staff to make way for the Sentinelís landing
They raced to the wind-beaten landing strip the second Voodoo touched its dark metal surface. Nurses and specialists dashed to and fro, shouting signs, reactions and orders between them. Voodoo sat on his knees, watching them carry his love away. The Sentinel covered his face in despair and bowed over. A terrible coldness settled over his heart and Voodoo felt the link bleed.
Kyle opened his eyes as someone laid and oxygen mask over him. He weakly struggled to lift his left hand and a nurse patted it back down as Hashu administered a stimulant.
". . . Steve . . ." Kyle weakly murmured.
Jill batted her eyes against the noise around them. "Shh, Kyle, weíre here with you, itíll be-"
" . . . Steve, Jill. Weíve Touched."
Jillís knitted in dread.
Steve trudged up one lonely hill under the hydroponics terradome. It was his favorite place because from its flat top, a person can stare down fifty feet into the parkís gorgeous vista of foliage.
Steve sat against one of the older trees and tried to see beyond the glass and transparent titanium dome that contained the little green world and its simulated sunshine.
He managed to steal just a little time to himself. Another meeting was supposed to commence, something about the Mayor in Below being accused of something . . . Parker didnít have details and he didnít care. Everything seemed so complicated and it drove him nuts. He was married to a beautiful, exotic woman, of whom he had no memories. Parker felt Midnightís anxiety trickle down their quieting link. Something was wrong, but Steve could offer his friend no comfort. Kyle was drifting from him, further and further . . .
Steve knew a lot of people, most of them were friends and many others he had high regards for. But Kyle was sorta special. Not just because Scott had saved Steveís life more times than Steve could possibly count, but because Kyle himself was a dynamic individual.
Always the quiet ones, Steve mused darkly. He stood and started to retreat from his moment of solitude when pain lacerated his brain. The sudden impact threw Steve off his feet and he fell forward, clutching his head.
<<STEVE!>> Midnight called. <<STEVE! WHATíS GOING on? Steve? . . . steve? . . .st . . .>>
Something sliced his back down the vertebrae. Parker weakly arched his back, struggling for breath and tried to see past the blood in his eyes. More pain radiated from his head down his back and with each wave, his awareness of Midnight faded further and further.
Steve collapsed, unable to move. Please, he begged inwardly. Please help me. He lay there in the green grass, thinking of Kyle . . . lying in Medbay.
* * *
He was a child lost in a huge city. The buildings towered over him like gods, the inhabitants stared at him from their lofty heights. He mentally called and called and called for Voodoo. But no answer came.
Something sliced the skin off Kyleís back and he crashed to his knees. His breath failed and he could not cry out. Suddenly, the silence between he and Voodoo increased a million fold and he was utterly alone. The void devoured him. He was no longer Kyle Scott. Some power, some great thing tore away that which made him who and what he was. Now he was nothing, just a shadow passing through a dimension, a wisp in the wind.
And he wept because his existence was forgotten . . . it must have been forgotten because no one called him by name.
Something from a distant place heard him cry, though. It Reached and just kindly touched him. Shame and embarrassment made Kyle retreat from the Touch. But the contact was made. The Touch found him again and Kyle realized there was no running away from it. He let it Reach him one more time, though fearful it would rape him, steal away even his name and leave his tattered self-consciousness to the winds of non-existence.
But no such thing happened. Instead, the Touch wrapped itself about him and embraced him tightly in equal fear.
Kyle was stunned. The Touch embraced him as though for dear life.
Kyle sensed a presence nearby. His bed was warm and comfortable. He had no notion of time or day, except that by the sounds pouring from the hall, he knew he was in Medbay, fourth floor, second wing and it was Ďdayí shift. He tried to open his eyes but found them covered. His hands were bound securely to the bed rails. Someone checked his temperature and he opened his mouth to say something.
"Youíve been out cold for two days, Doctor Scott." Came a firm voice from someone he did not recognize.
Kyle fought against the restraints. "What happened?" he asked anxiously. "I was home with Voodoo and-"
"We finally sent him to get a little rest. He hasnít rested in nearly a week, or so Iíve been told. Just take it easy, Kyle. Youíll be fine."
Kyle twisted his hands against the restraints and inwardly cussed. "I donít want to be fine." He spat sternly. "I-I need to get out of here."
"And do what, Doctor Scott?" The nurse returned the tone. "Youíre still recovering from the incident on Chenobis. You were brought in because of cranial hemorrhaging. They STILL donít know what caused it, or if youíll have seizures because of it. Itís a wonder you didnít have a stroke."
Kyle shook his head, frustrated because he couldnít see anything around him, irritated because they insisted on restraining him (Gatchelís, idea no doubt) and anxious because he sensed something terrible was about to happen. <<Voodoo!>> he called. <<Voodoo?>>
Ghastly silence. As broad and deep and long as the vastness of space, the void in his soul ached as if a limb had been torn from his body. Someone broke into him and ripped out his guts. Kyle slammed his head against his pillow once and gasped for breath.
"Keep it up, and weíll have to sedate you again." The nurse warned.
"Again?" Kyle echoed.
"Weíve been through this three times already, Doctor Scott-"
"I wasnít aware . . . did Voodoo say when-"
"Iím sorry, Doctor Scott, I have other patients waiting. You will have to calm down, thatís all there is to it."
"On sedatives. Good-bye, Doctor."
Help me! He thought, I canít even cry if I wanted to! Where is Voodoo! Where? He strained against the bonds holding his hands. He HATED the restraints! He squirmed and yanked to no avail, his whole body proved powerless against them and he wept, still unable to shed any tears.
<<Shhh.>> and the Touch came back and embraced him.
Kyle about jumped out of his skin. "Whoís that?!" He shouted. "Whoís there?!"
"Are you alright, Doctor Scott?" Another nurse asked.
"No! Iím not alright! Whoís in the room with me?! I want out of here!"
"Take it easy, Doctor Scott, youíll be fine. Just relax."
He was hallucinating. Kyle lifted his chin toward the ceiling in frustration. What was wrong with him?
<<Kyle, hush. Itís alright. Weíre alright.>> a completely different voice . . . came over his link. Not Voodoo.
Kyle lost his wind. << . . .>> . . . << . . .>><< Steve?>> he dared <<Steve-?!>>
<<Sh. Iím trying to sleep. Hush.>>
<<Go back to sleep, Kyle. Weíll talk later. Hush. Sleep.>>
* * *
Kyle woke again some time later. Utensils tapped against metal plates as someone set a tray of dishes on the nearby cart.
<<Get a load of this idiot, Kyle.>> Steveís voice came back to haunt him. <<Youíre right, heís a pompous snot-box of self-indulgence. Iíll bet he sleeps with threesomes.>>
Kyle shook his head, unable to bat his eyes in disbelief. <<Steve?>>
<< . . . how?>>
<<Donít know. Except that something blew my head open. Or at least, it felt like it.>>
<<Me too. . . .telepathy?>>
<<I donít know, Kyle. Honestly. Oh, youíll love this: Gatchel is giving me a lecture on safety-going out to the park by myself. What a blockhead! Iím willing to bet he listens to Country music at night, has a picture of his mother in hair curlers sitting on his desk at home and talks to himself while he watches TV. Iím even willing to bet he wears bikini underwear. Youíre a boxers kinda guy, Kyle, whaddya think?>>
Kyle about died laughing. <<Stop it! Youíre killing me! And how do you know I wear boxers?>>
<<Hey! Iíve been around you for four thousand years, I do know a few things about you! Oh! Ohmigod, Kyle, this guy just picked his nose and ate it! And in front of ME!>>
Kyle laughed harder and squirmed against the restraints.
"Kyle?" Jillís voice pulled it all to a screeching halt, but Kyle had a hard time trying to stop laughing. He kept seeing Gatchel in a bikini. The guyís form was slim enough to fit into one, no doubt . . . but Gatchel was so ugly, Kyle was sure only the guyís mother would approve.
Kyle drew a deep breath and tried to control himself. "Jill! Jill, Iím so glad to hear you. Something goofy is going on. Why are my eyes bound like this?"
McKennan forced a smile over her face. "Your eyes were bleeding, Kyle. They donít know why. So . . . whatís so funny?"
"Uhm . . ." Kyle didnít know how to explain it, if he should tell anyone at all.
<<No.>> Steve objected. <<Donít say anything until we know ourselves. It could be a fluke.>>
<<You mean we could just be a part of one anotherís figments.>> Kyle returned.
<<I donít hallucinate like this, Kyle. You know that. And neither do you.>>
Kyle drew a deep breath. "I was just thinking of Gatchel running down the hall wearing a pair of bikini underwear." He answered Jillís inquiry.
Jillís brows wrinkled. "Kyle, you need to get out more."
Up to this point, Kyle thought he knew Steven Marcus Parker. But everything he thought he knew fell by the proverbial wayside each time Steve said something-especially when a nurse attended him.
<<This olí girl hasnít Ďhad anyí in several weeks. I can tell by the way she looks at me. Sorry, hon, Iím supposed to be a married man. Oh, looket this gal, Kyle. She likes to use needles, I can tell by the way she handles this thing. Itís a weapon, not a tool-OUCH!>>
Kyle giggled with every description and nuance Parker sent his way. Scott talked kind-hearted Jill into asking Gatchel (or Gotta-Itch-My-Pants as Steve called him) to remove the blindfold. But he was denied the request.
<<Tightwad.>> Steve spat when Kyle passed the message on to him. <<Can you get a load of this guy? No, youíd better not. Itíll make me jealous.>>
Kyle only smiled, so pleased someone else was there to fill the emptiness in his soul. But then, as he grew tired, he thought of Midnight. <<Are you two . . . has your link been severed, Steve?>>
<<No. I hope it doesnít either. It-itíll freak me out. I know it sounds kinda silly, but I canít imagine my life without Mid.>> Steve fell quiet for a moment and Kyle could sense Parker debated with himself. <<You know, Kyle, I about freaked when I found out we were . . . connected. But when you started crying, I found I just worked it all out as if it were natural. You know what I think?>>
<<Whatís that, Steve?>>
<<I think all Humanoids have latent abilities toward ESP and suchlike. I think we all have something, but not everyone has the natural know-how. Oh, some people try to say "you can be taught" but you canít. Itís something that has to come natural, like . . . like music or art. It has to come from the soul.>>
Kyle thought of Voodoo and how he missed his Partner, how he missed Voodooís silly musings, too. He flexed his hands against the restraints and wished someone would cover his cold fingers. Kyle sighed wearily. He was worn out and frustrated because he could not see anything. <<Something has to be done soon, Steve.>> Kyle finally sent. <<Iím very worried. Nothing like this was ever mentioned by Beth, or in anything we looked over. What do you think those ghosts want with us?>>
<<You think theyíre responsible for this, Kyle?>>
<<Iím damn sure of it . . . Steve. Damned sure.>>
Steve paused a moment as a nurse fed him ate a spoonful of pudding. <<They want us for . . . bodies? As lame as that might sound, does it make any sense to you?>>
<<Yes. Yes it does. The dream I had . . . Ptysar said the borders between him and me will become so that I canít tell . . . oh gods, Steve . . . Steve? Please, please tell me Iím still me! Tell me Iím still Kyle! Tell me Iím not some freak! I donít want to be->>
<<Kyle, shhhh. Shhhhh.>>
His tears moistened the padding in front of his eyes and Kyle raised his face to the ceiling again. <<I wonít be me anymore->>
<<Weíre not going to let that happen.>> Steve answered gently. He could feel Kyleís frustration rise again, a terrible sadness leaked down the link and Steve tried to mentally embrace his friend. <<Kyle.>>
<<Iíve . . . Iíve lost Voodoo, Steve. The link is severed. Gone. I feel like someone has ripped me up inside and did nothing to sew it back together. And I donít know where he is. Do you think heís already lost his mind?>>
Steve thought it over carefully. <<Not yet. The impact wasnít fatal for you or me. It could be there is a little bit of time.>>
<<Time for what?>>
<<To plan, Kyle. To figure out what to do. We should sleep on it->>
<<Sleep.>> and Steve wrapped himself about Kyleís soul and Scott resisted at first. But he quickly calmed and relaxed and fell asleep soon after.
Cold metal touched Kyleís head and he flinched a little before realizing someone was cutting the binding from his eyes.
"Itís just me, Kyle." Kayla whispered. "Itís okay. Just hold still. Were you asleep?"
"Yes." Kyle replied groggily. "I-" he squirmed in the restraints and wished he could put Gatchel in them for a good forty-eight hours. "I guess Iíve been a good boy. Do I get pudding for dinner?"
Kayla blinked in surprise. "Was that a joke, Kyle?"
Scottís face lit up with a smile. "Yes." Actually, he surprised himself. Kayla removed the first two layers of bandage and sponged the area around his cheeks. "Kayla, how long have I been out?"
"About five hours, or so. At least thatís what Voodoo says."
"Voodoo? When did he say that?"
"Just before I came in here."
"Is he here?"
"He said he was going to be right back."
Kyle moaned inwardly. He felt nothing from Voodoo. Nothing at all. Kayla clipped away the last of the gauze and sponged the area around his eyes. Kyle forced himself to be still while she carefully peeled the small circular pads. "How does it look?" He asked with some dread.
"There is some blood, but itís dried." She reported.
"I cried yesterday. I assume that means my tear ducts work just fine. Did they say I had broken blood vessels?"
She dabbed gently with warm water and a soft cloth, carefully removing dried blood from his eyelashes. "I wasnít here when V brought you in. They just told me what was going on."
He gripped her hand firmly but gently. "Kayla, I was attacked by Ptysar here at Medbay. Voodoo took me home and I was alright for a while then something shot through my head. Talk to Steve-"
"I did." She answered deadpan. "And he said very much the same thing. He was in the park, but then, how did you know that? And how did he know you were ICU at the time Midnight brought him in?"
"Midnight brought him in?" Kyle loved the warm water Kayla used over his eyes. It felt good. And it felt good to be attended by her. Perhaps at any other time, Kyle would have laughed at himself about his feelings. But he really didnít think his feelings for her were a laughing matter.
Not after she kissed him.
Kayla patted his face dry and Kyle slowly lifted his eyes. It took a little effort because there was still some blood sealing the inner rims. But her smiling face greeted him and warmed his heart. Kyle returned the smile. "Hello, Kayla." He said softly.
He had to stay for observation purposes, but Kyle was well enough to begin thinking of other things. He had planning to do and worked while Steve slept. He tried to keep his demeanor light as Steve told him distance was beginning to form between he and Midnight. Kyle knew time was shorter than he cared to think. He mentally recalled all the things discussed in the meeting, all the information they gleaned from the journal, some things Jill brought back with her and the scroll Kayla found. Somewhere there had to be a weapon they could use.
<<Canít kill a ghost.>> Steve grunted.
<<Playing peeping tom?>> Kyle grinned.
<<Youíre a loud thinker.>> Parker returned.
<<Funny. Voodoo never complains.>>
<<Iím not Voodoo, Iím cuter than that.>>
<<Thatís it!>> Kyle announced. <<Iím learning shields!>>
<<The whole thing is temporary, Kyle. Iím sure once we bag these ghosts, you and I will no longer be making these long-distance phone calls.>>
<<What did you say?>>
Steve stuttered mentally, suddenly caught off guard. <<The whole thing is->>
<<No, about Ďbaggingí. You said ĎIím sure once we bag these ghosts-Steve, thatís exactly what we have to do!>>
Parker was dumbfounded.
Kyle grunted, amused. <<You know, I recall somewhere in the journal Beth mentioned a broken jar. Do you recall that?>>
<<My name is Steve Parker. I remember that.>>
<<Alright, Smarty. How about this: "Mordi 17. Weíve broken through. Thereís furniture and an alter, bowls, vases and jewelry. We found the alter is a false alter with a secret door just behind it. We open that in two days after taking inventory.
We found three dead cats in the alter and a beautiful dark blue glass jar. How it was made is unclear. There are symbols all around the jar painted in red. I really want to take it home.">>
<<You know, I hate it when you do that.>> Steve teased. <<I wish you could teach me.>>
<<Me too.>> Kyle answered wistfully. <<But what Iím getting at is the jar. None of the things Beth mentioned in her journal were there.>>
<<Well, if you recall, Kayla found the scroll in Rychalís tent. What does that say?>>
<<These people were archeologists, Steve.>>
Kyle could feel Parker frown. <<That doesnít mean some of them werenít thieves, Kyle.>>
<<True. But, Steve, Beth made no mention of the tanks, the cabinets, the files, the control panel on the door . .. What gives?>>
<<It could be at the time of discovery, much of that equipment was covered, wouldnít you think? The place was sealed-with dirt.>>
<<Yeah . . . what of the other things, the dog statues, the jewelry she mentioned->>
<<Kyle, what if, what if the so-called jewelry wasnít jewelry? What if she assumed it was jewelry? What if it was more like remote controls you wear around your wrists?>>
<<Ahh. Itís funny how reading her descriptions gave the impression she was looking into some ancient tomb, rather than the star ship of some advanced civilization.>>
<<Maybe she didnít have the words to describe what they saw.>> Steve thought about what Mid told him of the half-buried ship, the mounds of graves on top, all the things neither he, nor his companions ever saw. It was freaky to think that Mid had the ability to see past the alien shields and holographic projections.
And Steve wondered about the Ďliquid figureí that led he and Kyle to safety. Was that a result of the Interface? Another ability, perhaps? And there was something else that bothered him: Kyle was still able to recite what he himself read word-for-word while only half conscious. Kyle surprised him from time to time. Though heíd never say it, Steve suspected Kyle had the latent ability to transfer information from his subconscious to his conscious mind at will. It would certainly explain how he knew Steve was nearly attacked by the dog-beast while visiting Kyle just after the very first encounter. Parker considered asking his friend, but didnít think this was the right time.
He stared out the windows from his own personal room in Medbay (and still couldnít get over the fact that Kyle bought the place for him). <<What about the jar, Kyle?>>
<<I think the dog-beasts were contained there. I think thatís where they were-but I have no way of proving that. Thereís no way we can find the jar. All we have are assumptions.>>
<<Well, we have one fact: they donít like glass. They canít cross into it. So how would you lure two blood-thirsty ghosts into a glass prison?>>
Kyle fell very quiet, now, considering. <<They canít pass through it . . . what if they could, but at the cost of losing something, some part of their essence?>>
<<How can a ghost-or anything for that matter-loose its essence? Are you saying the dog-beasts wonít attempt to cross glass because it really will hurt them?>>
<<"Might have something do to with the steadfast properties of silicon. Or light refraction. Maybe sound." thatís what Doctor Glibson suggested . . .>> Kyle did not know how he managed to recall that, but he did. He frowned and stared at his hands, still bound to the bed.
<<Whatís that?>> Steve asked.
<<The steadfast properties of silicon. Or light refraction. Maybe sound.>> Kyle repeated. But both of them fell quiet the next minute. Kyle kept going over Glibsonís observation. Somehow, it didnít seem right; the silicon idea, anyway. Light may not also have anything to do with it-they were ghosts and if they could seep through walls, murder people en mass, move objects or devour memories, what would or could imprison them?
Steveís thoughts kept going back to the restaurant he and Kyle visited on their first trip to Chenobis. Kyle defied it with a simple drinking glass. So it wasnít the amount of glass, or the thickness of glass-and he remembered the first time he saw the dog-beast in the hydroponics at Medbay. Sound? Sound? Or was it the impact of sound?
<<What about the impact of sound? What if itís the sound of glass, the impact it makes? It doesnít matter how thick or thin glass is, the ghosts react to it the same way.>>
. . . liquid without feeling wet. Kyle flinched when he recalled the attack in his office not more than a few days ago.
Visions of a drop of water hitting glass came to mind.
The drop of water had a face to it. The face didnít fall, however, it slammed into something and could not go through it. It slammed time after time, forcing itself, but unable to penetrate the glass.
<<Unless there was a way to hit them so hard, so suddenly, they were forced into the jar.>> he thought carefully.
Steve turned very perplexed. <<What?>>
<<Well, if these things can pass through all the things weíve seen them pass, why would glass be the exception? Why does it have to be? What if, what if they can go through glass, but only at an extreme velocity?>>
As crazy as it sounded, Steve knew what Kyle was saying. He remembered something about a girl and a crossbow and a glass jar and the speed. The impact. The horrible resultant pain. And the anger, oh, the anger! Parker shook his head. Where did that memory come from? And was that the answer?
<<Kyle, what if the jar was indeed a holding cell of sorts, and what if the ghosts were caught at such a high speed->>
<<A shooting bullet, perhaps?>>
<<Okay, a shooting bullet-that they could not resist passing through the glass. And what if after ending up in the jar, it was capped and they could not pass through because there was no way they could regain that velocity?>>
It made sense. Kyle remembered being able to run from Ptysar by bus. The ghosts werenít fast, just clever. He settled back. <<Faster than a speeding bullet.>>
* * *
Two days later, the two were released from the hospital. Steve was immediately called away to a meeting. He and Kyle still did not know how to tell anyone about their new link. Kyle anticipated some difficulties until they could get it all straightened out. The best part was, however, they could communicate when they chose. But the downside started to reveal itself as Kyle began to exhibit signs of an empathic link.
With a promise heíd try to be good, Steve bade good-bye and boarded Midnight.
Kyle watched them take off and disappear beyond the multitude of skyscrapers. Voodoo was patiently waiting for him.
"What will you do now, Kyle?" The Sentinel asked quietly.
Kyle let him fly, having no desire to weave in and around traffic, or bother with remembering if he could fly. He recalled the conversation between he and Steve and the tentative plan he worked out the day before. "I need to go shopping, Voodoo." He finally answered.
"I have a weapon to make."
* * *
Cathy-Lee sat at her couch, drinking lemonade with three eyeballs swimming around in it. One of them winked at her as she reached to take a sip. The news came on the TV and she lowered the newspaper in her hand. The reporter expressionlessly spoke of food shortage around the world and how the business communities around the world were closing one or several at a time.
A coldness covered Cathyís skin and she glanced around to see who it was. No one was in the room, however and she looked back at the TV and saw it was looking at her.
"What are you staring at?" She asked it. "Mind your own business." and she went back to reading the paper.
It kept staring at her.
She snapped the paper down and glared at the TV. "I SAID, mind your own business!"
The very next minute, she found herself ramming her coffee table into the screen and out poured billions of tiny dark spider. She screamed and stepped all over them to run away and then they mutated and turned into disgusting long white worms and they started to wrap themselves around her ankles.
And the coldness came back and wrapped itself about her and Cathy fell through her floor and down, down, down.
She sprung up from her couch with a start, finding the TV and her kitchen lights on, a cup of coffee on her table and an email flashing on her computer.
Cathy-Lee stumbled off the couch and accepted the email.
"Hi, Cathy," it read and instantly she knew it was from Jeff. "Coming home soon. Miss you. Love J."
Russell sank to the floor and breathed a great sigh. An alarm struck the air and she startled with a cry of surprise.
It was time to go to work.
* * *
Kyle traversed the mall the following day. Like other Tentchi, he had not slept well, if at all in the last two days. The silent link between he and Voodoo threatened to drive Doctor Scott out of his mind. Steveís presence helped to alleviate some of the torment, but not all of it; his connection to Steve was not the same as Voodoo.
The background noise from Voodoo had been there so long, Kyle could not be anywhere without noise of some kind. He grew accustomed to carrying a crystal music player everywhere. It helped to some degree.
The mall walkers passed him by, their faces bent on whatever their errands required. A great many young people came and left, their laughter hanging in the air like little chimes. Kyle smiled as a couple of giggling girls caught him returning their stare. The cuter of the two, a curly blonde with a hat, turned away in terrible embarrassment.
Her friend laughed hard. "Josi thinks youíre cute!" She shouted at Kyle.
Doctor Scott graciously smiled. "Likewise, Maíam." He returned with a touch of his hat. Josi peered over her shoulder, her eyes shining as Kyle walked on.
Kyle passed by a bookstore and a few eateries. He even passed by an indoor garden shop and stepped into a jewelry store. Peeling off his hat like a gentleman should, Kyle approached a clerk.
The chubby lady greeted him cordially, then recognition touched her eyes. "Doctor Scott!" She greeted warmly. "Hello!"
Kyle had no idea who she was, but he used the customary procedures: greet the person as if you know them and hope they reveal their name to you sooner than later. "Hello-" and he found her name tag-"Patty."
"What can I do for you today, Doctor?"
"Uh, a very odd request. I hope you can fulfill it."
She held her hands aloft, palms to the ceiling. "Thatís what weíre here for." And she laughed.
Kyle smiled and waited for her to listen. "I need to find someone who can blow glass bullets."
She blinked. "Glass bullets?"
"Yes. The price is inconsequential and I will pay three-fourths up front. They have to be exactly the size of my specifications." He produced a small tablet from his pocket and flipped the cover and handed her the designs.
Patty mused over it then gave him a quizzical expression. "One point seventy five millimeters circular and three millimeters tall, Doctor Scott?"
"Yes." Kyle replied quietly. "Is that too small?"
"No." She gazed at the plans again. "And you want an air bubble in the center?"
"As dead center as you can possibly make it."
"A medical procedure." He read the frightened look on her face and added a smile to his answer.
Then she lightly laughed. "For a moment, I thought you were serious!"
"How soon can this be done?"
"Mmm . . . week or so-"
"I need it in the next six days if possible."
"Yes. Itís . . . a gift."
"Just one bullet?"
Kyle opened his wallet and found his bank card. "No. Make it four. Just in case two doesnít do the job."
Patty nodded and charged him. "Theyíre not doing much anyway. Iíll have them start right on it." She offered him a wink and Kyle smiled in turn.
"Thank you." He replaced his hat and departed. He would have to make the gun himself.
* * *
It ripped her wide open and Shan laid there, drained of life while an unholy thing stretched its fetal form before her. Its wings glistened with birthing fluids and its eyeless face stared at her with mild consideration.
"Mother." It whispered and it reached for her and laid its sickly, sticky lips on hers, its wings fanned and folded.
Shan sat up in bed again and wept in frustration.
"LEAVE ME ALONE!" she shrieked to no one in the room. She rolled over and slammed the button on the visaphone.
"Hey." Nick answered, rubbing his sleep-groggy face.
"I had another one." Shan sobbed miserably. "I donít know what to do."
"Hon, go see if Kyleís awake. Maybe he can give you something for it." He waited a beat. "Shan?"
She sat on the bed, her slim figure hunched over in grief. "I gave birth again." She murmured.
Nick laid his hands on either side of the visiphone and sighed deeply. The remnants of his own dream still plagued him. "Hon, I know itís freaky. Go to Medbay, explain. Iím sure someone can help you."
* * *
Jill unrolled the scroll and set two glass paperweights on either side to keep it down. She hated the scroll more than anything else sheíd seen. It made no faces at her this time, but it vibrated with evil and sent chills down her back.
<<Mostly. Nothingís reached out and tried to choke me, if thatís what youíre asking.>>
Jill came across the Ďprinceí word again. This time it accompanied Ďragchashí meaning Ďcursedí. Her lips lined in uncertainty.
<<Will you be okay?>> Wolf asked after a moment.
<<Yeah.>> McKennan passed off. <<Steve said I can call him if thereís a problem.>>
She lined Ďbogknau aud aíraní with Ďragchashí but found the word Ďragchashí was changed to Ďruthuí which was another word for Ďmurderí. The girl grunted impatiently. What was all this about? Were the scientists murdered? Well, it was said the science community was killed . . . She sighed heavily.
She sprawled paper print-outs from one corner of the library to the other. She taped the most important pieces to the glass walls. On the conference table lay tablets and notepads, binders and six dictionaries. A tape recorder stood on end, recording every movement, every little noise she made.
"I donít know." She sighed wearily. "Zhagk . . . demon. But thereís no plural like there is in the journal. Iím finding a discrepancy here, as if something were mistranslated. "Iím finding things like bogknau aud aíran which means Ďpeople of learningí and transliterated as scientists and the word Ďprithanayí which means Ďto die by violent means."
She moaned and thought about taking a break, "I think Steve should just come in here and read this out for me."
Jill re-examined the journal, the scroll and a particular picture she took of the dog drawing. Four words: Princes, demon king and curse. She sat down, her eyes shot from corner to corner as she tried to piece the mystery together.
And the scroll started to smoke. Jill jumped to her feet and poured water in a cup. She turned to douse the flame and found the scroll was no longer on the table.
Jill patted her hands over the table top, damned sure nothing could just disappear like that. Not like that. She kept patting the table, confounded. Then she stood very still and silently fumed while Skywolf nagged her about the problem. Her eyes ran back and forth over the tableís surface, finding not one clue of fire or smoke.
And one tiny area of the table lay shadowed just under the paperweight. Jill realized she was not playing with a simple scroll, but an intelligence. She approached the table and pointed at it.
"Lachna, Yawk nanath!" She cussed in her own language. She still stared at it and then did the unthinkable: she pulled a table knife from the cupboard and stabbed the visible discoloring. Instantly the scroll reappeared and a face reformed from the letters. It looked like it was spitting at her. Jill lost her temper and stabbed it between the eyes. "SHUT UP!!" she screamed.
Jill did not sleep for two days after that. Skywolf grieved over her inability to sleep. But her mind ran like a doctor racing against the clock. The library which she now inhabited was pasted floor to ceiling with photos printouts. She couldnít figure it out. There were layers of things the camera picked up and she did not know how or when to call Kyle and let him know that the ravine was haunted. Jill printed one photo, went back to it later in the recorder and printed it again but ended up with something slightly different.
She placed the scroll in a small containment field to keep its energies away from her. But it still affected her in ways she could not put into words. The thing caused her vision to shift and her mind spun in endless hallucinations. It was all Jill could do to keep her head on straight. She cussed at it continuously, but refused to give up.
Finally she turned back to the cubical and glared at the scroll. "All I ask is an answer. Who are Ptysar and Xesnex? Thatís all I ask. I know about the deaths, the obliteration of one continent on Chenobis. I know about the murders and the rape. But where do the ghosts fit in?"
Jill sighed in frustration and poured her umteenth cup of coffee. She sat at the table, her eyes stabbing the pin-ups as though willing them to speak to her. She cast her eyes at the cup of coffee, took a sip, ordered herself to remain awake.
Stay . . . a . . .wake . . .
The alien freaks murdered her lover right before her eyes. She cried for him and her House. They stripped Queen Gani Yi of her crown and clothes. The monsters slaughtered her daughters and nieces before her four eyes. Then they dragged her and her sons outside the castle walls. Their hideous dark hides glinted cold in the smoky sun. The monsters forced Gani Yi to her knees and drew blades from the pockets of their hides.
She forced a smile, staring at her youngest boy, the pride of the family. "Be strong." She told him. "Be strong for mama. Take care of your brother."
And they sliced into her arms.
She mouthed the words ĎI love youí as the blades slashed pieces of her flesh, sending waves of searing pain into her dark skin. But Gani Yi would not give the freaks the pleasure of her screams.
And they sliced off her head.
Jill sat up with a start and started to cry. It was okay. She was okay. It was just a dream. She stood and wiped her face.
McKennan recalled the dream: Two little boys. A queen mother-and something clicked.
"They ARE Chenobians!" She cried. "Oh gods, ohmigod! They ARE Chenobians!" She ignored Skywolfís demands to let him in on what was exciting her. She activated the visiphone and called. Kyle
"Come on!" She urged. "Kyle, please be home!"
But he was not. The answering system came on and Jill about panicked. "Kyle!" she cried. "Kyle! If youíre home, youíve got to pick up the receiver! Kyle! Kyle I figured it out! The ghosts-the journal-Beth mistranslated! Itís all backwards, Kyle! There was only one demon, one alien but two princes-and THEY are Chenobian, Kyle! Youíre not dealing with an alien force, but supernatural! It might explain the glass, the need to feed on living energy, and why they wonít take on Transformer life force-itís the wrong frequency! Kyle, CALL ME!"
* * *
Kayla considered going back to work the next day but voted against it, deciding to stay home instead. She panned over her mail and worked a little on her embroidery.
Lost in thought, she almost didnít hear the door buzz for attention. She jumped and opened the door for Shan.
"I need to do some serious shopping." Shan said without preamble. She walked right in and crossed her arms, her dark blue eyes stared through the Kshi. "And I donít want to go alone."
Kayla was surprised Shan was asking her. She blinked. "Come on in. Iíll change clothes."
Shan examined the pictures on the walls while Kayla swiftly departed for her room. "Whereís Cathy?" She asked from her closet.
"On business." Shan groused. "She wanted to come, but couldnít make it until later and Roddy wants me at that awful Nagk meeting tonight."
Kayla came back wearing a pair of blue jeans and pulled over a shaker sweater. Her dark hair swung freely about her shoulders and Shan smiled.
"What? Does it look awkward?" The tall dark lady asked, freezing in position.
"No." Shan shook her head. "It looks really great."
Not so sure, Kayla pulled a jacket over the sweater and she smiled bashfully. Shan was thinking of a time Kyle stared at Kayla in that same sweater.
But all that was gone. Kyle was lucky if he remembered anybodyís name let alone how he felt about them.
Kayla peeked about the crafts section, seeking ideas for a new project. She thought of creating a photo album, but didnít know what theme to base it on. She thought of putting one together for Kyle, but honestly, the Kshi had no idea where to start or if she had any photos worth using. She also thought of putting something together for Ashtar, but didnít know if Ash liked flower wreaths or swags. Cathy did. Well, over time, Cathy did.
"Hey, Kayla." Shan called, "Lookit this."
Kayla rounded three wrong isles before finding Shan in an isle full of woven baskets and ceramic vases. She plucked up a shallow basket and twirled it one way then another. "I guess for long-stemmed flowers, huh?" Her bright eyes caught the empathís silent stare and Kayla slightly flushed. "I supposed you could use one of those foam bases and stick in hundreds of tiny flowers into it and place a salt-and-pepper shaker set on either side for a table center piece. A ribbon at the top would be pretty too."
Shan shrugged. She herself was not into arts and crafts-she liked stuff like that, but could never figure out how to put it together. She replaced the item and glanced at other pieces hanging from hooks. "Didja find anything?"
"No." Kayla answered softly. "Not today."
Shan gave her a swift but guilty glance. "Thereís a really nice candy store down the way. Wanna go?"
Kayla nodded. She never shopped very often and felt a bit out of place. She followed Shan toward the exit when something caught her eye: a series of unpainted ceramic trolls. She bent closer to the merchandise, examining each crafted piece for potential flaws. "I guess I found something after all." She lifted one and turned it one way then another while Shan waited.
Outside the craft store, Shan caught Cathy swiftly making her way through the crowd. Shan lit up, excited and waved an arm. "Cathy!" She called. "Hey!" She pressed her way between two paying customers and out the shop into the mallís sectionway. "Cathy!" She called again.
A terrible force of stone slammed into Kaylaís right side and she hit an endcap. Two hooks ran into her left arm, exiting out the other side. She moaned in pain and pushed herself away. But whatever hit her to begin with, kicked her in the ribs and she hit her head against other hooks. Blood poured down her head.
"Hey you!" A clerk shouted. "Iím calling security right-"
A stream of water and blood shot out from the strangerís arm and sliced the lady clerkís head off her shoulders. Customers and co-workers panicked, their attempts to leave the scene were met with isles blocked by merchandise and other fleeing bodies.
The stranger, cloaked in grey and dark robes lifted Kayla and a stream of water and blood rushed toward her face. But as Kayla was brought up, her hand grasped a sculptured glass dragon and she stabbed her attacker with it.
The creature dropped her, a sound, humanoid/inhumanoid resounded off the walls and mirrors cracked under its spell.
Shan and Cathy bounded in, aiming for the dog-beast on two fronts.
It split in half, two rivers of blood and water raced about the room, the sounds of deadmen moaned as it passed over shelves and countertop displays. One stream chased a female customer while Shan tried to lift Kayla out of the shop.
The poor customer uttered a sound that could not be described by words. Her body was pulled inside out before the monster devoured her before three witnesses.
It was Cathy that dealt a final blow. She picked up a slender glass vase, broke off the end.
The aim proved true and the alien creature shot straight to the ceiling.
"CATHY!" Shan screamed. "GET OUT OF THERE! CATHY! CATHY!"
Russell wasted no more time. She kicked her heeled shoes off and leapt over a register counter and out the store as the two alien parts shot back together and spread out like a cloud. It swiftly descended, killing the three people who failed to leave on time. Then it gathered itself and disappeared through the ceiling.
Kayla fainted in Shanís arms.
* * *
Kyle felt well enough the following few days to return to Medlab. Voodoo didnít mind so much (since he had to get back to work) as the nurses in Reception promised to look after Kyle for him and inform him should something go wrong. Kyle merely made a beeline back to his office. This time he spent several hours musing over his books. Some of his private library turned out to be very ancient, extremely valuable. He had text on species of aliens he could not recall and notes on the inside of some covers, indicating which alien species were extinct.
Kyle shook his head, considering his life span. On one shelf, Kyle discovered a scrap book. He had to use both hands just to tug it off the shelf. He sat at his desk, carefully setting the book in the center.
Photographs, organic samples of trees, bugs, DNA samples, lists and lists and more lists of names and numbers and brief descriptions of people. His face twisted in puzzlement. He turned back to the beginning and found a crystal recording. He pulled that out and set it in the computer.
"Well, itís done." He heard himself sigh. "It seems so odd that I would collect such a thing. But at least here is a memorial of a dead civilization. We could not stop the slaughter. We could not find a cure. But here it all is; the only outside evidence of Nebulos." Kyle turned it off and stared at it. A dead civilization?
He leaned back in his chair, his finger rested across his lips in thought. What caused the death of an entire people? Did he have anything else like this?
A little boyís voice filtered through the silent halls. He talked to someone incoherently, but incessantly. Words came all jumbled and ended with affirmation. Someone elseís voice answered, an older, calmer boy.
Footsteps echoed eerily and Kyle gazed up from his studies and spotted two ghostly boys as they passed his office. He took to his feet and watched them as they slowly moved on. Their forms were not solid, their movements echoed as though out of time sequence. The little boy kept talking, his voice now a bit clearer, spoke of great heros and warriors. He spoke of their deeds and their deaths.
" . . . And Iím gonna be one too. Mamma said I could."
The older boy, not more than thirteen, shook his head. "You get the strangest of ideas."
"My ideas arenít strange." The child protested. "Iím a hero. All those monsters died like they were supposed to. But you keep wanting to drink their blood. How come?"
The older boys shrugged. "Just something to do, I guess."
The little boy pointed a thumb over his shoulder toward Kyle. "I get to keep him. I found him first."
Kyle sat up with a start, gasping. He found himself in his office, a pile of folders under his arms. At first he recognized nothing. His eyes took in the TV, the eight book cases, the computer, a small hanging garden and three file cabinets. But nothing registered until he found a coffee cup lying on the floor, its contents spilled . . . and it reminded him of something but Kyle could not grasp the memory. He staggered to his feet.
*DOCTOR SCOTT TO EMERGENCY WARD, PLEASE. DOCTOR SCOTT TO EMERGENCY WARD. DOCTOR MEIER TO EMERGENCY, PLEASE, DOCTOR MEIER TO EMERGENCY.*
Kyle swept up his coat. They were calling Meier, too? The blood loss must be very substantial to call him in. Kyle raced down the hall and stopped abruptly when the older boy in his dream appeared from nowhere and smiled viciously then disappeared. Kyle froze for a moment then immediately hauled out his communicator. "Caprice! Pull those people into the observation ward! Caprice!"
He broke into a sprint, taking the stairway rather than the elevator. He ran five stairs down, then jumped to the next level and repeated the process two more times. He whacked through the doors and swept up a mask as seven people were wheeled in. Kyle pointed to the left. "Observation." He ordered stoutly.
"Doctor McDere-" the paramedic stopped cold when he realized Kyle stared at him. "Yes, Doctor."
They pushed their patients into the auditorium and nurses rushed to pull carts of supplies and curtains as one patient after another was brought in.
"Whatís the meaning of this?" Someone demanded. She was short but mighty. Doctor Compton made a beeline right for Kyle. And gave him Ďthe eyeí.
"These patients are victims." Kyle answered evenly. "If we donít try to protect them-"
"This is MY ward, Kyle, you are here because you enjoy helping. We like to have you here. But everything is done through ME. Got it?"
"If we donít get these patients behind glass, they will be attacked again-"
"MY. WARD." Compton snarled again. She turned as patient number five came in and pointed toward the regular emergency facility.
Kyle about lost it. He cringed and turned away when Patient Number Five started screaming. Nurses and three doctors rushed to help but Kyle knew . . .their shouts did nothing to save the patientís life. Kyle heard him gurgle, drowning in his own blood.
And the next patient came in: Kayla.
Kyle silently pointed to the observation room and the medics complied without question.
They stabilized those six whom Kyle managed to send to Observation. Meier had to work on three transfusions and kept a constant vigil on each of them. Kyle operated six hours straight that afternoon, reattaching blood veins, sewing up burst organs and realigning broken bones.
He finally collapsed into a chair, keeping an eye on Kayla as she slept. Kyle nearly fell asleep himself when footfalls entered his ears.
"Doctor Scott." Comptonís tight voice brought him off the edge of a dream and he blinked himself awake. "I owe you a sincere apology. How did you know?"
"Premonition." Kyle answered quietly.
She frowned and turned away.
* * *
They all poured back into the council chamber. After another half an hour of insults, temper tantrums and accusations, Optimus called for yet another break.
Well, at least it was a break Prime was calling, and not everyone just getting up and walking out because of bad manners, Parker mused.
Two days! Two days of the same head-numbing nonsense!
Well, no. This was not a part of the Nagk conferences.
Reports from Level six, West Central rolled off the mayorís tongue like toothpicks. She had a hard time speaking Common Cybertronian and it made everyone weary. Mid kept working on the finer details for the next Nagk meeting since Rodimus was called away to an emergency in Below. Steve didnít catch the details except there had been a serious fight.
The mayor finally moved from the rations report to the power reserves, accounting for every jot and ounce used. The reason for her being there were complaints of theft by those in charge. To settle the matter, a meeting was set up so the mayor could account for everything.
Frankly, Steve couldnít care less. He was asked to be there because he represented the Human side of the situation. His mind lingered back to his own problems with his wife and his friends. Steve frowned and played with a pen between his fingers. He laid it down and tried to stifle a yawn. The mayor moved from the power supply report to the waste management and her terrible droning continued like the torture of a dipping faucet. Steve set the pen down and stared at it. It just lay there like a dead thing. He fingered it, moving it this way, that, but remained subtle so as not to annoy anyone else. Then he tucked his hands under the table and just continued to stare at the pen. For some reason, he commanded it to move right.
It moved right.
Parker swallowed air and slammed his hand on it. Then he glanced about to see if anyone else noticed his sudden movement. His heart jumped and he lifted his hand and stared at it again. He silently ordered it to move left.
It moved left and he grabbed it off the table, his eyes wide with silent shock.
<< . . . steve?>> Midís voice managed to filter in. << . . . whatís wrong? . . . fidgeting.>>
<<Nothing.>> Steve swallowed hard. <<Just imagining things, thatís all. Just goofing off.>>
Optimus Prime broke in here, "I think weíll take a break at this point." His voice overpowered the mayorís and she gazed up at him, blinking a set of huge saucer-shaped eyes.
"Ze vaste minigmint ríprt eesnít feeneeshed. Zer izz seex mur peeges-"
"We are taking a break." Prime repeated and he himself rose first and exited the room. The others filed out one at a time until Steve remained. Mid stared at his Partner for a long moment until Steve produced the pen. He held it horizontally in the air and waited three seconds before releasing it. He held it aloft with just a thought.
"Steve!" Mid gasped. "How are you doing that?"
"I donít know." Steve shook his head, his voice remained soft. He concentrated, ordering the pen to spin sideways then switch direction and spin up and down and it did both. It seemed so normal a thing.
But Midnight was freaked and he grasped the object as though it were bewitched. Steve remained calm. He crossed his arms and turned to his Dokiah. "I think Iím going to visit Kyle."
"Saw him yesterday." Mid pointed.
"No. I saw Nick yesterday. He said heís been having some really bad dreams in the last couple of days. I told him he was just working too hard." Parker shrugged. "I donít know."
The doors opened and Steve and Midnight turned, expecting the other Council Members to enter. Instead it was an Autobot communications clerk holding a digipad in her hands. "Captain Parker?" She addressed.
"Yeah." Steve blinked, grateful the meeting wasnít going to recommence so soon.
"Message from Doctor Scott. He says Kayla is in the emergency."
Steve cussed softly.
"Iíll take you there, Steve." Midnight offered.
"No. Youíre needed here. Iíll be okay." He swept his coat off the chair and met Midnightís concerned expression. "Iíll let you know how it is, you know I will."
Midnight silently nodded but inside he ached. Steveís presence was fading further and further from him and while Midnight suppressed the urge to keep his partner close to him, he understood Steve had responsibilities, too. It was hard to let go, especially now that the Sentinel leader sensed it might be the last time heíd see his Tentchi.
* * *
The baleful thunder rose, crying a harbinger of death. Smoke enshrouded sunlight and plunged the world into shadow. The terrible sound of buzzing engines hummed overhead and their music preceded several great black ships propagating a plaque of the devilís own savages.
As a bloodied sun dipped beyond the smoky horizon, eight raníkas tramped the ground with sure-footedness. They bore eight of Chenobisí greatest generals. Nanag against alien invader-flesh pitted against cold unfeeling exoskeleton.
DíThan scanned the carnage, knowing his men were doomed. But, he thought, better dead than enslaved by these abominations. Better dead than live to watch the fall of civilization.
By the end of the day, the space demons slaughtered every last Nanag soldier in their path. Not one was spared even to sign a truce.
For DíThan, no regrets. Not for the lives of his people, his country, his wife and son.
DíThanís face was crushed and he lived long enough to hear the victory yelps of demon spawn. He heard them laugh and clash weapons. Blood raced over the fields.
And the women screamed.
Kyle startled out of sleep when the screams faded into the cries of an alarm.
"No. Shh." Steveís face came into view and Kyle shuddered and turned away.
Steve peeled off his coat. "Youíd think they were trying to use patients as cryogenics subjects, not save them." His complaint of the cold air went unheard as he laid his coat over Kyleís shoulders. Then he knelt beside his friend. "I got the message, Kyle." he said softly. "I got here as fast as I could. How is she?"
"Out of danger." Kyle murmured. "But weíre keeping her here just in case she goes back into shock." He slipped his hands from under Steveís black leather coat and rubbed his face.
Steve approached the bedside and stared into Kaylaís face. She was pale, laying on the bed like an angel unconscious with cold. He ran his finger affectionately round the inside of her curved horned. Normally it would earn him a sharp but amused glance from the lady empath. Steve knew Kayla would never admit she was ticklish there. But the lack of response from her made him gravely withdraw and Steve glanced at Kaylaís chart dangling over Kyleís head. He swiftly counted the checks marked by Kyle himself and blinked. Steve stared at Kyle then narrowed his eyes "When was the last time you had something to eat?"
"Letís go get some coffee."
"Iím not hungry, Steve." Kyle argued.
"Yes you are. Come on, get up." Steve laid a hand behind Scottís back and pulled him up. Kyle did not fight but his eyes remained on Kayla. Steve lowered toward Kyleís ear to whisper, "Sheíll be okay." he assured his friend.
Compton walked in at that moment bearing a clipboard.
"Wonít she, Doc?" Steve said loudly to Compton.
The short woman stared at Parker as though he were infectious. "Whatís that, Captain?" She spired in her most authoitive voice.
"Iím trying to buy Kyle something to eat, but he seems to think Kayla is going to jump out of bed and run away."
Kyle looked sheepish.
Compton stared at Steveís intense blue eyes and nodded firmly. "Of course." She answered. "Someone will come in to check on her in a moment."
Pleased that she understood what he meant, Steve rested his hand across Kyleís shoulders and led him out.
Kyle remained abysmally somber. They traversed the hallway in silence and entered the elevator. "Downstairs." He ordered. The doors rumbled shut and the elevator slipped down one floor then two. He crossed his arms. "What happened, Kyle? How did that happen?"
It was the one thing that called Scott out of his mood. The professional side took over, but he still did not make eye contact. "Kayla and Shan were in the mall when Kayla was attacked. Or so Shan said. She saw Cathy and called to her when the ghost-dog appeared from nowhere and attacked Kayla." He paused a moment, his brows winkled. Kyle narrowed his eyes, considering something he hadnít thought of before. "Why does it keep trying to attack Kayla?" He really wasnít asking Steve.
Parker stared at him a moment. Kyleís eyes glued to one corner of the elevator. Steveís coat draped over the doctorís shoulder line like an inanimate hug and Kyle held on to it like a security blanket. His mouth was tight with worry. "Kyle," Steve softly called, "I want you to realize that what happened wasnít your fault. Not be any means. You did nothing to cause it."
Kyle shot him a swift glance, a deep breath came with the intent of an argument. "Steve-"
Parker held up a finger to silence the doctor. "Auh-Not one more word out of you." he ordered softly but sternly. "There is no law in the universe that says Ďthe ghosts are Kyleís fault.í None. What happened to Kayla was incidental."
Kyle lips tightened, knowing it would do him no good to argue. He knew Steve was right, anyway. Scott lightened up a little and finally greeted his friend with eye contact. "I had a very strange dream prior to the emergency." He reported as the elevator landed.
"You too?" Parker noticed Kyleís demeanor picked up slightly. A good sign. "Nickís been complaining about them for two days."
"Iím not sure . . . but I think Iím seeing myself as a little boy."
"You were never that young, Kyle." Steve joked. That earned him a smile from Scott.
They entered the cafeteria located at the forefront of the Downstairs level. Just a few doors down began the series of hospital libraries and Kyle silently reminded himself Jill was in one of them pouring over the journal, her photos and the scroll.
Steve had Kyle sit and he made a quick order of the largest breakfast the cafeteria offered. He rejoined his friend whose head laid over crossed arms on the table. Steve studied Kyle, thinking carefully.
"You said you had a dream." He spoke gently and waited for Kyle to pull himself together.
Kyle sat up with a soft moan. "Two boys were talking as they walked down the hallway. I couldnít make out everything they were saying but, Steve, I somehow felt I knew who they were. And just before I reached the ER, I saw the older of the two smile right at me."
A waitress came by and set their plates before them. Steve smiled his thank you and looked back at Kyle. "Have you heard from Jill?"
Kyle shook his head. "No. Not for the last couple of days. Iíve tried catching up on casework, sheís been living down here, piecing the information together."
Steve grinned and remembered another friend of theirs that did the very same thing. "Remember how Draynor would do that?"
Kyle chuckled, recalling the face of an old man and how he would eat, sleep and drink research. "I recall how he would lock the door on us now and again and-" Kyleís whole face brightened with the memory of a fortress made of solid stone and a great and heavy wooden door that lead to the family library. "-and you would slip packages of food to him with little notes that said things like Ďwe usually feed our prisoners. Hereís your rations!" And he laughed.
Steve echoed the laughter. "I remember Dad once sliced a lock off the door to shove one of the prettier maids in, locked the door behind her and shouted ĎIíd better hear noise!"
Kyle laughed harder-"And Raylan was still a virgin when she finally came out!"
And the two laughed again. "I think," Steve shouted above their laughter, "I think the old man must have forgotten what a woman was for!"
That stopped them both cold and Kyle dropped his fork. Steve froze, his eyes blank with shock. Never would Steve say such things.
Kyleís mind raced frantically, searching through all Voodooís memories, digging through the hours he listened to his journals but not once was there any mention of a Raylan or a Draymor. There were no fortresses made of stone, no wooden doors-not on Alean or Cybertron.
He pushed his plate away, his eyes shifting from one abstract place to another, searching for a reason or a place or something to explain-"
"Gods, Kyle." Steve swore, "Whatís happening to us?
* * *
The crystal lit up the topside of the ship and set it ready for departure. It released the air hatch so the shipment can be traded and equipment loaded and ready for disbursement. All was well for the moment. The people were perfect for the task; the first stage of redevelopment was about to commence and the greatest part of it; if they succeeded here, they could conquer other planets, other worlds. And soon, their kind would number in the trillions and what a perfect army! What a wonderful galaxy it would be! Theirs would be a dominate life form and the Humanoid population would be bred to serve them. Everything was going according to plan. The troops started to bring the females in, the scientists began the first stages of impregnation. Gkízamth was most pleased. He recorded it carefully, word for word because they would soon have a whole new generation of Shagchínauch to teach and train.
He turned to the female he chose to bed that night. The look of horror on her face was almost precious. Gkízamth purred with glee. The Chenobians had soft bodies and small faces. Their four eyes riveted his imagination and he approached her and pulled her head back by her hair and necked her. She wriggled under him, exciting him further and he played with her, pleased that he was strong enough to do whatever he wished.
And she screamed.
And she screamed and shocked him and he growled and back-slapped her. She fell off the bed and he reached for her. She screamed in Chenobian gibberish and he growled and spoke in his own language. He chased her down and pinned her by her shoulders. The female was going to do exactly as he wanted! But she squirmed and managed to kick him away and she raced for the lavatory and sprayed him with blood
and sprayed him with
and sprayed him with
and . . . and . . .
And she cried and he batted his eyes and Gkízamth fell away and all that stood there was Nick Cavanaugh. He sank to his knees, bewildered and fearful. His wife huddled against the wall in the bathroom and wept.
* * *
No sooner had Kyle calmed Cathy down for the third time in two weeks, than Shan called him. She wept uncontrollably, freaked. Kyle listened to her calmly and asked if there was something he could do for her. Poor Shan, however, refused any sleep medication. Kyle was not surprised, really. After reviewing her records, he found ancient notes made to himself how Shan refused medication whenever possible. She wouldnít even take aspirin for occasional migraines. He suggested some weak herbal tea, which he knew she would try and a light-hearted movie. But there really wasnít much else he could do for her.
Then he was called back to Kayla.
Kayla was taken off duty for the next several weeks, given light sleep aids and told to watch some Ďgoodí TV or do lots of reading and meditation. Kyle discussed Jillís discoveries with her the very moment he could get free of Medbay. With the final pieces in place, all Kyle needed was a reason for the dog-beastsí interest in he and Steve. Jill remained quiet on the visiphone while Kyle scribbled out the final sketches for his new weapon. He frowned, struggling to concentrate on two things at once.
"Do you think that by possessing you and Steve, the princes are more powerful, Kyle?"
Kyle sighed deeply and tapped the pencil against his pad. "You know, they have the power to kill en mass and at random. They have the ability to travel and pass through matter. Whatís left?"
Jill shook her head, her white hair sliding off her shoulders as she did so. "Maybe just to feel like a person again. They gave up being a person when they became what they are now. Wouldnít you miss being able to touch people?"
Kyle thought it over carefully, trying to logically guess their behavior. He added a little targeting notch to his drawing. "You know, Jill," he started softly. "Ptysar has cut me off from Voodoo entirely. And yet, I feel nothing from Ptysar except on rare occasions."
"Do you think heís trying to replace Voodoo?"
Kyle frowned and something surfaced to his mind. He lifted his eyes to the monitor, "You know, Jill, I recall finding a notebook in my office at Medbay concerning an extinct cannibalistic race. They believed that to devour a person, was to take in that personís soul and magic and power. And that could be the philosophy used here-Ptysar and Xesnex are . . . " and suddenly Kyle could not bring himself to say Ďdevouringí. He didnít want to think about the possibility that he and Steve were slowly being consumed by the dog-beasts. But the awful truth stood naked before him. Doctor Scott swallowed hard, his eyes darted down the hall toward his outdoor patio. " . . . Ptysar and Xesnex are trying to acquire our abilities."
Jill flinched in surprise. "Kyle, are you saying that by possessing you and Steve, Xesnex and Ptysar think they will become Interfaces?"
Doctor Scott winced and looked back to his friend over the visiphone, "Well, I think Ptysar, whoís the smarter of the two, sees Interfacing as the next step in the evolutionary scale. Heís looking to add to his existence, Jill. Heís looking for another form of power."
Jillís eyes peeled fearfully away.
The conversation ended when she was called away to Medbay. Kyle sat there quietly for several long moments, listening to his stereo, working out the finer details to his weapon. Once again, he was grateful to Voodoo. Memories of dimensional physics came in handy for this weapon. Kyle figured it would take a tremendous amount of air pressure to fire glass bullets: compressed air would ensure the glass would not crack or break when fired.
He sighed and examined his artwork. So much to do . . . Steve had been very quiet of late. Both of them tried to stay out of one anotherís lives as much as their new gift allowed. Steve sometimes nattered on about the meetings, the incessant politicians and their little games. Kyle calmly listened, expressing some concern while he reviewed his records and journals. They were not more than five days from their ordeal and already both men felt time press against them. Duties . . . duties.
* * *
Ashtar had left Steve alone for the night. He tossed about his bed, half wishing his estranged lover had not left after all. At least with Ashtar there, Steve did not have to face the fear of a nightmare.
But the sleeplessness would not let up. Parker finally sighed and abandoned his bed for his customary chair. He swung his legs over the arm and draped a blanket over his tense form. Steve plucked up the remote and remembered not too many days ago, he was doing this too, facing some dream about being poisoned.
The news came on, but knowing pretty much what was going on already, Steve flipped channels, having no idea what he wanted to watch.
<<Canít love you anymore. Youíre just too weak for me to care for.>>
<<You can return me to the pet shop, Midnight. Some wayfarer will find me.>>
<<No. Youíre mine. I can do what I please.>>
And Midnight proceeded to inject Steve with air bubbles.
Steve startled hard, nearly falling right out of his seat, finding his heart really hurt-but that was brief and the flickering light from the TV reminded Captain Parker he was safe, he was still loved.
. . . wasnít he? The link between he and Midnight was diminishing further and further. Iíll end up just like Kyle, Parker thought dismally. How can he bear under it? The silence! The isolation!
And Steve remembered what it was like to be isolated, to feel separated from everyone around him. Worse yet, the depression forbade him to get out of his chair and call for help.
He fought it. Steve peeled the blanket off his body and struggled to move. He fell to the floor and found he could not even stand. He curled up as darkness and emptiness assailed him.
And Steve wept.
* * *
Mid patiently listened to Ambassador Plakínuís endless whining. Mid and Roddi were on their way to a little off-time when Plakínu caught up with them. Everything from her burnt shakla to details covered at the meeting poured from her mouth in long fragmented sentences. Mid wondered how he and Rodimus might be able to escape her. A terrible pain settled in the back of his head. He wondered if it wasnít the link again. Or maybe Steve was having problems.
That was the last thought before a black light struck him from behind. The impact was such that it knocked him off his feet. Rodimus caught him as Midnight fell to the ground and Steve disappeared from his consciousness.
Skywolf and First Aid sent for Optimus Prime. The message merely stated that it was urgent and that he absolutely had to be there. Prime entered, anticipating a terrible discovery, or a surprise of some kind.
Thatís not what he faced.
Midnight fiercely wrestled against the containment field holding him to the flatbed. He growled and yelled and called Steveís name twice before screaming in frustration.
Optimus turned to Roddy for an explanation.
But First Aid spoke in his stead. "Heís been like this for twenty minutes." The medic reported.
"We were doing fine." Rodimus added. But then he had this funny look on his face and blacked out."
Optimus crossed his arms. "What is going on?" He asked sternly.
Skywolf shook his head. "Steve." Both Primes gave him pointed stares. "You see, the Tentchi have all been suffering terrible nightmares and bizarre circumstances since Kyle and Steve returned from Chenobis."
Primeís optics darkened. He recalled reading some of the reports handed him. But the crisis regarding the Nagk had taken all his time and energy. He wanted the piracy problem to be over and done with already, but the Nagk insisted on more hearings, more evidence, more and more attention. "What can we do?" He finally asked.
Skywolf and First Aid shook their heads. "Nothing." Skywolf answered like a death knell. "Essentially, there was nothing any of us could do to begin with. There is nothing any of us can do now. We donít know how to pinpoint the source."
"Whatís worse," First Aid broke in, "Kyle and Steve seem to know whatís going on, but they have not volunteered any real information. Both of them have spent extensive time in Medbay-as injured. But Kyle has not come to either of us with this problem."
Skywolf nodded. "Jill tells me Kyle suffers from amnesia. She says their trip to Chenobis has proven nearly-fatal, which I can account for as she had spent nearly two weeks under Doctor Hashuís care-"
"And none of them have come to the Council regarding this?"
Optimus was astounded.
Rodimus glanced at his feet once, then back to his friend. "Kyle is suffering from traumatic stress syndrom, as reported to me a week ago. Hashu suggests therapy, but hasnít come to me with a plan yet. Steve is showing similar symptoms, plus several irregular characteristics."
Optimus waited for more. "Like?"
"Telekinetics? Ashtar said she caught him doing odd things like making salt and pepper shakers float in the air."
"What is causing this?" Optimus was nearly breathless at this point.
"Possession." First Aid answered for the other two. "Itís the only explanation."
Chaos entered just then bearing a digipad between her hands. "Skywolf, weíre ready."
Rodimus turned from her back to the Sentinel medic. "Ready for what?"
"A test on Midnightís link. Weíre trying to contact Steve, but canít seem to get through to him. Heís not answering our paging. Chaos, have Midnight taken to the chamber."
They never got that far. Midnight managed to transform under the containment field, tearing his skin and injuring himself in the process. The containment field broke under his maddened state and he readied to blast off right in the room. Optimus and Rodimus jumped on him, holding down the Sentinel leader by his wings. Midnight shrieked.
"THIEVES! He screamed. "You canít keep Steve from me! Iíll find him and Iíll come back and Iíll kill you all! IíLL KILL YOU ALL!" He ignited thrusters as Skywolf bolted from the room and returned seconds later with a fancy laser rifle.
"Optimus, move slightly to your right!" He targeted the Sentinel and Prime, not knowing what the weapon was for, obeyed. Skywolf shot him and a blue light glowed about Midnight a moment before his form shrank and rearranged itself into the robot form. Midnight was transfixed in his alternate mode, incapable of changing back.
That didnít mean Mid was helpless, just unable to fly. He screamed again: "TRAITORS! YOUíRE ALL TRAITORS! IíLL KILL YOU ALL! ALL OF YOU! YOUíLL SCREAM HOLY MURDER! HOLY MURDER!"
Rodimus gasped in pain-induced shock. The finely smoothed surfaces of his body superheated and started to blister. "Skywolf, youíd better do something NOW!" Roddy demanded. He shut off pain receptors to his arms and the right side of his body as Midnightís aura started to flare. Optimus and Rodimus took one glance at the other and jumped away before their bodies fused to the Sentinel leaderís. Prime grabbed First Aid and Rodimus grabbed Skywolf as the aura shot out and enveloped nearby equipment, sizzling and warping the components. But as fast as the aura shot out, it died and with a heart-broken whimper of Steveís name, Midnight curled up and passed into a coma.
* * *
The project was only half way done. Kyle picked up his package from the jewelry store just the day before and all he had left was the note, two vials of antivirus made for two very special people, and the weapon itself.
The clock struck late, almost past his bed time. The stereo played a wonderful ancient piece of music: Prayer Cycle. Voices from various languages and dialects filtered through soft tones, wooing the listener to a somber, soulful mood. Beautiful and sad, and it fit Kyleís mood perfectly. Voodoo was called away to South Continent to assist in an emergency demolition. He promised to be back in a few hours, or as soon as possible. Kyle didnít mind. He didnít want Voodoo to see what he was doing because he knew it would be hard for his friend to understand. That was why the package was addressed to Kayla. He knew she would see to it the instructions were followed. Itíd hurt. Kyle knew the Community would be deeply hurt by it, but it was the only option he had left. Time grew shorter. Just today the news reported five unexplained deaths in the mall. It seemed the dog-beasts had an affinity for the mall-a lot of people and potential destruction.
Xesnex loved violence.
Something weakly tapped at his door. Kyle glanced up from the kitchen table and wondered if it were some prank from a neighborís kid. He waited but heard nothing more. Doctor Scott resumed his work, carefully tightening the barrel to the loader, adjusting the primary laser directive center so that the compressor did not break or crack the glass bullets on impact. According to his schematics, the weapon should prove powerful enough to crack through a human skull.
The tap came again and Kyle decided to simply see what it was. Maybe paranoia ate at him.
<< . . . Kyle . . .>>
Scott jumped to his feet, careful as not to damage his work, and dashed. Steve fell forward the moment Kyle opened the door. He caught his friend and Kyle lowered to his knees, bringing Steve close to him.
"Steve!" He anxiously called.
<<Mid . . . heís gone from me. Gone.>> Parkerís emotional state gave him no strength. But Kyle had already guess what had happened. He secured Steveís arm across his shoulders and managed to pick his friend up and carried Steve to his room.
Steve lay on the bed in deep shock. Kyle covered him and reached round the corner to his desk and punched in a call to Medbay.
<<Kyle . . . Kyle, donít leave me. Iím all gone . . . itís all gone from me, Kyle . . .>>
<<Iím here.>> Kyle promised. <<Iím here.>>
Kyle turned to the televisor. "This is Doctor Scott. I need to speak to Doctor Hashu immediately."
*Iím sorry, Kyle. Brian has left for the day-*
"Endema, Captain Parker is here and in traumatic shock. I dare not move him. Get on the goddamned phone and call him!" Kyle cut the communication before she could object, speaking out her nose. Kyle returned to his room and laid his hand on Steveís chest, checking heart rate and blood pressure. Steve seemed unresponsive, laying there like a deadman.
<<Steve?>> Kyle called softly. <<Itís me. Iím here.>>
<<Itís all I have.>> Steveís inner voice was that of a child. <<Itís all gone from me. Lookit, Kyle, Iím bleeding to death. Itís all over me . . .>> Steve was so overcome with shock he could not even cry.
Kyle crawled on the bed and held Steve in his arms and waited for Hashu to arrive with emergency med staff.
* * *
A N D R E A . . . the voice whispered like the sound of a million fell voices, rising and falling with the highs and lows of death. Across a vast wasteland, long since obliterated by war and disease, she stumbled; a half dead thing that should be shot out of her misery. She wept when the voices used her first name. It wasnít her name anymore. Nobody calls her that fell name, not even Roddy.
A N D R E A . . . it was like being licked clean of privacy. She stumbled on, her feet bloodied by the acid laying on the ground, her skin burned with radiation and her belly swelled with the fruit of her desecration. The sun peeled her dark skin, chewing away at it with boils and festering radiation wounds. Her face, naught but a mask of horror.
A N D R E A . . . and a contraction hit. She cared nothing for the child about to be born. Shan knew what it was going to be; a spawn-a living abomination.
She contracted again and again and the pain threatened to rip her apart. She crouched low to the acid ground, screaming, bending over and screaming more, but her cries went unheard, drifting off with the putrid winds. And finally it arrived, sliding out of her onto the ground and Shan searched for something with which to cut herself free of the unwanted child. She grasped a piece of glass and when she rolled over to complete the birthing task, she found not a child, but a huge black beetle.
Shanygn shot up from her pillow and screamed, pounding the bed in an unbidden fit of rage and terror.
* * *
. . . Steve plucked lint from his overalls as he sat against the outer wall of the topside vent shaft. Midnight sat next to him, saying nothing for a long time. The inevitable had happened. Midnight found himself someone better, someone who could handle more responsibility more efficiently.
"I just want you to understand that itís nothing personal." Midnight explained gently. "Itís just that . . . youíre so weak and small. So fragile and Iím honestly tired of being so fearful that something will happen to you day and night."
Parker gazed out toward what should have been a cityscape. But only a dense vaporous blue haze met his eyes. The world shrank down to him and his partner.
But Midnight didnít want him anymore.
He wasnít wanted anymore.
"Iíll get better." Steve struggled to swallow his fear, his grief. "I promise. Iíll do better."
"Iím sorry, Steve. I will simply have to put you to sleep."
"Donít put me to sleep!" He tearfully quailed. "Somebody still loves me! Somebody still loves me!"
Kyle tried to think what day it was. Thursday. Might be Friday. He paused in his work. The weapon was nearly done. He never thought in his whole life he would have to administer medicine in a gun. But here it was. Kyle made it so that it could easily and swiftly be assembled and disassembled and/or added to a Sentinelís weapon.
Kyle paused in his work for another moment and smiled to himself. It seems that although he had lost his memory, had lost six thousand years worth of experience, he still thought like a Tentchi. But then the smile faded. He did not know how much time he and Voodoo had left together. Scott glanced past his dining table to the couch where Steve soundly slept. There was nothing they could do for him, not really. They ran three tests, all proving Steve was in Link Shock, a dangerous state of mind that crippled the individual close to a vegetative state. Kyle did not know if Steve could regain enough of himself to pull out of it, nor not. Hashu insisted, however, Steve merely stay with Kyle where he could be monitored constantly and closely rather than spend time in a hospital scrutinized by nurses who were there just to work.
Kyle agreed to it and arranged a meal service to his quarters three times a day. If he had to have company, he was going to make sure Steve was able to eat without food poisoning. Not that Kyle couldnít really cook, he just preferred not to.
Scott checked the accuracy of the weaponís target system and lowered it to finish the trigger mechanism. In a chair beside him sat a white box with white tissue paper flowering out. The box, and its contents including the weapon, the bullets, two vials of counterpoison for Matt and Nick and a good-bye note were for Kayla.
"Whoís going to fire the thing?"
The sudden voice nearly made Kyle jump out of his skin. He shuddered in surprise. "Steve!" He knew his eyes had to be huge. "Youíre . . . awake!"
Steveís face was a blank. He stirred under the blankets on the couch, so grateful Kyle kept him here rather than abandon him to his own empty quarters. He just realized he had been here for at least a couple of days; he could not really tell. He knew Kyle had taken good care of him, just as he always did. Kyle talked with him when he wasnít working on the weapon. Kyle had him watch TV, making comments on the really bad shows and even watched some sports programs-the ones Voodoo said Steve liked. And Kyle slept beside him at night just to make sure . . . just to make sure. If a man ever had a friend closer than brother, Steve knew Kyle was that man. He laid his head weakly against the couch and batted back tears. The nightmare haunted him.
Kyle got up to comfort his friend.
<<What are you doing, Kyle?>> Steve actually meant why Kyle was building the weapon.
Kyle did not need to answer him; he knew Steve knew. He embraced Steve in silence and waited for his friend to calm down, maybe go back to sleep.
* * *
She was a little girl, playing hop-scotch with some friends. Her mother just fired the latest mentor-teacher and now it would be several days to several weeks before Nitha would get another private teacher. Of course, sheíd make trouble for the next one, too and that one would get fired by her parents and Nitha would be without a teacher again. She laughed all the time. Her folks got her everything she ever wanted. Sheíd never have to grow up and go to work, because her folks did all that work stuff. But while Ausa took her turn at the squares, a huge shadow appeared overhead. Nitha and Ausa and Darci raised their little heads and beheld a black arrow, bigger than any building they ever saw. Bigger then the daun-sphere field her brother played on at his games. Big, big, big and Nitha watched as these things on wings poured from a white square in the ship. They dropped down and flew in different directions and then they started to shoot people with guns.
And that was when Nitha heard Ausa scream and scream and scream-her leg was cut off and she screamed and-
-and four in the morning seemed too early to get out of bed. But Kayla had been unable to sleep. She simply got up, showered and dressed, hoping the nightmare she woke from would not infect her the rest of the day.
<<What can I do to help?>> Spellbinder asked gently.
<<Knock me out and tell me when itís all over.>> Kayla joked dryly.
<<Give me another option.>>
Kayla about pouted in misery. Then the terrible thought hit and she stopped fussing with her hair. She stared herself in the mirror. Dark circles touched her face, the light in her eyes dimmed from distress. <<Just tell me we can find a way to save Kyle and Steve.>>
<<We will find a way to save Kyle and Steve.>> Spellbinder repeated confidently. <<Have you opened the package yet?>>
<<Oh. I forgot.>>
<<You were resting, so I took it for you yesterday. Itís on the table.>>
Kayla rounded the corner from her bathroom to the coffee table. A white box, sealed with packaging tape sat square in the middle. She approached it apprehensively and stared at the little tag on top.
<<Itís from Kyle.>>
<<Whatís in it?>>
<<I donít know.>>
Kayla undid the seal and fished through the tissue paper. She found a smaller box and opened it first. Four glass bullets with a single air bubble rested in a row. She made a face in puzzlement and fear. Then she dipped her hand in the box again and pulled out a letter. She held that with her other hand and found the hand-made weapon at the bottom.
Kayla covered her mouth and tried not to cry. She drew a deep breath and took strength in Spellbinderís loving presence.
*MY DEAR KAYLA,* Kyle wrote, *BY THE TIME YOU RECEIVE THIS LETTER, STEVE AND I WILL NO LONGER BE THE SAME PEOPLE YOU ONCE KNEW. ALL THAT MATTERS IS THAT MATT AND NICK WILL BE SAFE ONCE STEVE AND I ARE GONE.*
The words broke Kaylaís heart and she started crying before she could read the rest of the letter. Even Spellbinderís kindness could not consol her. She covered her face and cried a while longer, her heart pouring out in agony. Too late, they were too late!
She tried to stop crying.
<<Kayla, Kayla, you have to keep reading. Itís important, Little One.>>
Kayla swallowed hard and wiped her eyes and forced herself to concentrate:
*INSIDE YOU WILL FIND A SMALL BOX CONTAINING GLASS BULLETS. YOU HAVE TO SHOOT DIRECTLY INTO OUR FRONTAL LOBES-THATíS WHERE THE THINGS RESIDE. THE BUBBLE INSIDE THE BULLET WILL BE THEIR ONLY MEANS OF ESCAPING THE GLASS AS IT ENTERS OUR BODIES ONCE THEY ARE INSIDE THE BUBBLE, THEY CANíT GET OUT. THATíS THE THEORY, ANYWAY. I HAD EXTRAS MADE IN CASE THE TARGET (THATíS ME) ISNíT COOPERATIVE.*
Kayla smiled, hoping Kyle was just trying to be funny.
*I HOPE YOU DONíT FEEL I JUST GAVE UP. I HOPE YOU CAN FORGIVE ME, IF YOU DO. IíM SORRY FOR MANY THINGS, KAYLA. IíM SORRY WE DID NOT GO TO THE BREAKFAST YOU ASKED FOR. IíM SORRY YOU GOT INVOLVED IN THIS MESS. IíM SORRY I NEVER TOOK THE TIME TO TELL YOU HOW MUCH I LOVED YOU.*
Kayla cried a long time before she took the weapons and the upper half of the letter to Jill.
* * *
Shan fled through a dimly-lit passage. A soft blue glow emanated from a panel strip along the wall, guiding her ever forward. Spray-painted graffiti scarred the walls on either side. But the language was different from that of the letters and signs used on the panels. In her silk nightgown and bare feet, Shan raced over freezing cold floors.
Then tall ominous doors materialized, their sudden appearance resounded like the echoes of a slammed door. Shan dashed from door to door to door, desperately seeking a way out.
One tall, ancient wooden door opened into a torture chamber. Alien bodies dangled from the ceiling like so much rotting meat. She rammed the door closed but it opened again, moaning on its hinges. She shut it and it opened itself once more. She darted away running and whimpering in fear and frustration. But the room followed her, faster and faster, gaining as though to swallower her whole, to add her to its vile collection.
Shan finally fell to her knees weeping on the freezing floor.
"GET ME OUT OF HERE!" She screamed at the top of her voice. "No. I need to wake up. Thatís all. I need to wake up." And she tried to think of ways to wake up, to escape the hallway.
She slammed against another door and tried with all her might, willing the stubborn, metal door to open. Grudgingly, it did so. But to her dismay, Shan found herself in another corridor, lined on either side with doors and graffiti scribbled everywhere.
Shan stumbled against a wall and wept, unable to escape.
Nick woke the following morning and found his wife trapped in a coma.
* * *
Steve slowly pulled on a thick black sweater. Two days passed and this morning, Kyle received a call from Nick regarding Shan. Hashu begged Kyle to come take a look and Steve demanded to go; it was Community business and he needed to be there, too.
Kyle had someone go to Steveís apartment and bring back a few sets of fresh clothes. Steve had showered and shaved and although a bit slow, he insisted on dressing himself, too.
Kyle stepped out to his patio and watered his small herb garden. Voodoo stirred from shut-down and stretched a little. He offered Kyle a weak smile, but did not get one in turn.
"I have to go to Medbay. Something regarding Shan in a coma." Kyle informed.
"You have to do what needs to be done." Voodoo answered softly. "Let me take you there."
"Steve will be coming with us."
Kyle reached out and ran his hand over Voodooís warm metal skin. He choked up, wanting to say something, but lost his voice.
<<Itís okay.>> Steve Touched. <<V understands.>>
<<Does he?>> Kyle challenged. "Voodoo, I-Iím not going to beat around the bush about this. I want you to be prepared for what might happen."
"Kyle, donít." Voodoo begged. "Weíll make it-"
"We may not." Scott shot right back. "Often in life, bad things happen and itís nobodyís fault, they just do."
Voodoo sent his gaze elsewhere. "I wonít live without you, Kyle. You know that. I wonít live without you. No matter what you say-"
"Iím just asking you to be strong. Thatís all. Iím not asking you to be rational, to move on as if nothing happened. I just want you to be ready for the worst." Kyle shed the tears Voodoo could not. He struggled to pull himself together.
Voodoo gently set his finger along Kyleís spine, but did not try to stimulate Kyle with gentle bursts of power. If the link was broken, Kyle would not survive the stimulation; he was no longer Tentchi.
And Voodoo grieved that he could no longer even do that. "Iím still here, though, Kyle." He said quietly. "I canít hear you in my head anymore. I canít tell what you are thinking, I canít hear the music in your mind. But I know that when I come back here late in the day, I know youíre still here. I can still hear your voice. Iím-Iím happy with that.
But Kyle was not and he leaned against Voodoo, drained.
Steve stepped out wearing a black leather jacket over his thick black sweater and a pair of black jeans with black boots. Like Kyle, he still thought like a Tentchi. <<Iím ready, Kyle.>>
Nick sat at his wifeís side in a very quiet room at Medbay. Kyle checked her chart, signed it and stared into Shanís blank countenance.
"Will she wake up any time soon?" Nick asked, batting back tears.
Kyle was prepared for Nick. Shan was brought in at ten that morning after Rodimus informed Medbay there was a problem.
"I donít know, Nick." Kyle quietly replied. "This is an area for which I have no expertise. Nor do I know anyone who does."
Nick swallowed hard. "Thereís no such thing as magic, Kyle." He said sternly. "Someone or something has done this to her."
"The key word, Nick is *Something."
Nick shook his head. "I donít-I canít believe anything would do this to her. Why? Why do this?" He pushed himself away from the bedside and strolled toward the window. He stared out the dark cityscape and tried to bring his grief under control. "I guess Iíll have nightmares about this, too."
Kyle clutched a hypo in his coat pocket. He didnít want to do it. To him, it was an abuse of trust. But he saw no other avenue. Nick turned back and Kyle swiftly shot him in the neck.
Nick gasped and fell forward. The drug raced through his system faster than he could react. "Kyle!" He gasped.
"Forgive me, Nick." Kyle answered quietly. "You have been targeted. No more deaths. The monsters will die with me and Steve."
Nick passed into a simulated coma without another word.
A nurse came in to sign for her rounds and spotted Nick, then looked at Kyle. He merely shrugged. "Better get someone in here." He ordered softly.
She ran out and Kyle sighed heavily, mentally preparing to do the same for Matt, hoping he could come up with some excuse to get the man to see him.
Kyle woke the following morning with the worst headache on record. He could not so much as climb out of bed. Steve left early to attend personal and political business, but promised to check in later. Kyle shuddered and rolled over, drawing his blankets tightly about him. Voodoo hadnít returned yet and his quarters stood terribly silent except the stereo which played at a low volume all hours of the day and night.
<<Kyle, Iím coming back.>> Steve warned.
<<Iím still in bed.>> Kyle grumped a little.
<<Itís important.>> Steve insisted gently. <<We have to talk.>>
No response and Kyle moaned. It was bad. And he guessed what it was about: the little Ďtreatmentí he gave Nick and Matt. Nick was easy: he was at the hospital. Matt . . . well, Kyle was lucky in that department. Matt was at the mall that afternoon. Unfortunately, Mattís estranged wife was there, too. They exchanged pleasantries with Kyle outside a gift shop. Then Kyle swiftly administered the same shot to Matt he gave Nick that morning.
He caught Frasier as the well-built man fell then Kyle gazed expectantly at Tracy. "Well?" He asked
"What?" Tracy stared as if nothing happened.
"Arenít you going to call the paramedics or the police?"
Her bright red and shiny lips parted slightly. "Is he dead?"
Her pretty face scrunched into an ugly sneer and Kyle suddenly did not think her so pretty after all. "Too bad." and she stepped over Mattís fallen form and exited the mall, leaving Kyle to call the paramedics.
Kyle forced himself up from his pillow and the room spun one way, tilted another. He feably lay back down. He knew, he just knew Dagger was going to blow a whistle on him.
"Doctor Scott?" Omaís voice filtered in from the front room. "Doctor Scott? Iím sorry to wake you. But Captain Parker is here. He says itís urgent."
Kyle moaned in pain and forced himself up. He pulled over some clothes and shuddered from cold. He staggered to the table as Steve silently greeted Oma with a small smile and turned directly to Kyle. "The Council has called a meeting, Kyle. They want to know whatís going on."
Kyle stared into Steveís blue eyes. "You mean Matt and Nick." He assumed.
"Yeah, that too."
"Too?" Kyleís head throbbed and he was grateful Oma made him a cup of tea.
"They want to know about the hundred and twenty-four people that have died in the last six hours."
Kyle stared, wide eyed and pale. His heart turned sick and suddenly he needed something more than good tea. Steve remained standing, arms crossed, his face and eyes struggled to maintain a facade of stern calmness.
Kyle propped his head on his hand on the table, covering his eyes with his fingers. He did not see the blood beginning to seep from the back of his hand. Steve approached, drew a chair leaned forward and folded his arms across the table top.
"Kyle." He whispered. "Kyle, what were you thinking?"
Kyle mutely shook his head as Oma set a cup of tea in front of him. He heard her quietly ask Steve if he wanted any and Steve almost said no, but changed his mind. Kyle sat up with a forced breath. <<You know why.>> he answered quietly. <<It was necessary. You know it had to be done. Iíve already made necessary arrangements for them to be wakened after . . . after." He couldnít bring himself to say Ďour deaths.í
"Thank you." Steve glanced at Oma and took a sip of hot tea. <<Theyíre going to want to know everything, Kyle. Everything.>>
Kyle drew another deep breath and reached for his cup. "Time is too short to placate to the ignorant, Steve. I have a recording Voodoo promised to send to them afterward. Right now, I just want to rest." Kyle somberly traced his finger over the edge of the tea cup. He took another sip. His shoulder started to ache, but he forcibly shoved it to the back of his mind. He didnít want to face the possibility he and Kyle might be attacked. Not now. Steve set his cup down and studied Kyle.
"No, Steve." Kyle whispered in answer to Steveís concerned expression. "I havenít been well. Not since last night. I awoke exhausted."
Steve glanced away then turned right back and sipped his tea. He waited for Kyle to say something more, but Scott did not have anything else to say in his defense. Parker laid a hand on Kyleís and the two exchanged weary glances. Honestly, neither of them had to say a word, verbally, or otherwise. They had to do what needed to be done, whether or not it was pleasant.
"Well," Doctor Scott sighed, "let me contact Voodoo. Heíll want to take us there."
Kyle and Steve stepped out to his patio. Kyle more or less dragged his feet, not willing to face a congregation of robots who may or may not understand his position. What he did to Matt and Nick was necessary. Should Ptysar and Xesnex decide they no longer wanted Kyle and Steve, Doctor Scott believed the poltergeists would turn to Nick and Matt
A coldness settled over Kyleís heart the moment he crossed the threshold to his patio. He thought he was going into a cardiac arrest. He tried to breathe, but could not. His sight faded and darkness took him.
Steve froze half way across the patio. Parkerís stomach lurched, as though he could vomit all his insides out but nothing came. Biting cold twisted his spine into impossible angles-or so he thought. Razors clawed his heart, threatening to rip it right out of his chest and Steve could not breathe.
Something wormed inside him. It tried to push out of his skin, but could not quite do so. His eyes blackened over and something in his head laughed.
*RIGHT TO THE EDGE! RIGHT TO THE EDGE OF DEATH AND BACK AND OVER AND BACK AGAIN! I COULD PLAY LIKE THIS FOR DECADES!*
It pulled his head back by his hair and Steve could not so much as whimper in pain. It greedily licked his neck and then his chest and he fought and It laughed.
*I LIKE THIS. KEEP IT UP, CAPTAIN. A CHALLENGE IS ALWAYS WELCOME*
<<Xesnex.>> Parker spat.
Voodoo hovered next to the patio wall. Kyle climbed in first, then Steve. But neither Tentchi greeted the Sentinel. Voodoo really didnít think much of it until he took off. Generally, business made both he and Kyle grouchy. However, Kyle would usually say something, or Steve would greet the Sentinel with the usual Ďhi,-how-are-youí ritual. Voodoo veered from the building and shot across town. The silent men still said nothing and Voodooís already-irritable mood intensified. He landed minutes later at the council chamber and allowed Kyle and Steve out first, then transformed. "Youíre welcome!" He snarled, at their poor manners. But as the two approached the glassy chrome chamber doors, Voodoo spotted their reflections.
And where Steveís form should have been, walked a huge misshapen beast, more demonic than animal. Its teeth were enormous. Saliva dripped from its jaws and massive claws stalked the ground. It turned-not Steveís actual form-but the reflection turned and smiled at Voodoo.
The Sentinelís fuel lines ran cold. He cast his gaze to Kyle, who acted as if nothing happened.
They entered the great hall. A huge metal circular table rounded the room like a great opened yawn. In the vacant center of the room rested a witness stand for those on trial. The rest of the seating remained arranged according to species and size. Voodoo did not know what to do. Were Kyle and Steve still alive at all, or did the . . . did they . . .
Voodoo didnít want to think about it; couldnít think about it. Kyle HAD to be alive somehow. He just HAD to be!
The council was already assembled when Voodoo brought Parker and Scott in. All optics and eyes shot to the entrance and watched as Voodoo followed the men in at a discrete distance. He watched their every move as they found a place on either side of Jill.
He sat nearby as Megatron proceeded with old business regarding the Nagk; stuff of which Voodoo was not involved. He continued to watch McKennan, fully aware that Rodimus Prime was watching him. Jill glanced from Kyle to Steve and back then glanced at Voodoo, her face bright with fear, her eyes wide with terror.
"Ms. McKennan," In spite of its soft tones, Optimusí voice made her jump slightly. "Is there something wrong?"
"Wrong?" Jill stammered.
Optimus set his elbows on the table top and laced his fingers, gazing at them over his clasped hands. "Perhaps we should move on to another problem at hand. Doctor Scott, we thank you for being here today. We know this may be inconvenient for you, but we need to ask some questions."
Steve stood instead.
A chilling sensation struck Rodimus and he bolted to his feet. The face of evil stared straight into his soul and smiled. Rodimusí first thought was to flee.
Kyle stood next and Jill jumped, kicked her chair out of the way and dashed down the stairs away from the table.
"VOODOO!" she screamed.
A stream of water and blood phased between Kyle and Steve and shot out at Rodimus, struck him square in the chest. He staggered back at first, then dragged against the table, pulled toward the tiny creatures now possessed by an ancient evil. Megatron aimed his cannon at them, but instantly withdrew, realizing what it would have cost.
Rodimus opened his mouth, but no sound came. His optics shone brightly as Voodoo leapt over the table into the center and aimed his modified weapon at Steve. Attached to the edge of his gun sat the weapon Kyle made just a few precious days before. Voodoo swore no one would pull the trigger but him. Nobody but him. He didnít want to look, but had to. He fired, aiming first at Steve.
The glass bullet bounced harmlessly off Parkerís forehead.
Kyle looked right at Voodoo, his usual dark brown eyes turned glassy white.
Kyle was the key.
Voodoo fought to control his reaction. He didnít want to do it; he didnít want to hurt his love. But then the Sentinel remembered he vowed heíd join Kyle in death. Theyíd never be parted again. With that thought, he trained the weapon on Kyle, as Rodimus finally cried out in agony, and fired.
Kyle fell back, his eyes still open.
Voodoo shot Steve when Parker turned to him again.
The streams of blood and water bridging Rodimus and Kyle and Steve ceased to flow and reversed coarse. Voodoo swore he saw faces in those streams, the distorted faces of two young boys, screaming in pure terror. The streams cascaded back to their source and Rodimus collapsed.
Jill cried out and raced back up the steps. Voodoo could not watch or listen around him. Council members either asked stupid questions, gathered around Rodimus, called medics or ran toward the fallen Humans. Voodoo didnít care. He and Kyle were dead. Steve and Midnight were dead. Voodoo carefully unmodified his weapon with ease and set it to kill. He was going to be join with Kyle again! He and Kyle were going to be-
"Ohmigod!" Jill cried, "Theyíre alive! V! Theyíre still alive! We have to get them back to Medbay!"
* * *
" . . . who will help me to gather the corn so that I may make cakes?í asked the little red hen. ĎNot I,í said the fox. ĎNot I,í said the little dog. ĎNot I,í said the pig. ĎAnd not I,í said the cat. ĎWell,í said the little red hen, ĎI and my chicks will have to do it ourselves. And so they did. They gathered the corn and dried it out and grounded it and later the little red hen made wonderful sweet corn cake and then she asked ĎWho will help me eat the cake?í ĎI will!í said the fox. ĎI will,í claimed the little dog. ĎMe too,í said the cat. ĎDonít forget me!í declared the pig. ĎNo.í said the little red hen. ĎYou did not help me dig the ground or plant the corn. You did not help me water the corn, or keep out the weeds. You did not help me gather the corn, or dry it. You did not help me bake it. My chicks helped me and they and I shall eat the cake-"
Kayla glanced from the book and found Kyleís dark brown eyes open and clear and shining with a smile. She set the book down and tried to think of a million things to say, all of them so pointless at this moment. She leaned over and took his hand-his warm strong hand-in hers and all she could do was stare.
Nurse Ady came shuffling in, a digipad in hand, yammering on with another nurse as she passed along. Ady stopped cold. "Whatís this?" She nearly sang. "Doctor Scottís come back to us, has he? Lord bless us all! Let me get Doctor Hashu!"
Kyle slowly blinked. "Little Red Hen, Kayla?" He asked quietly.
She smiled broadly. "Itís a great story. I read Little Red Riding Hood earlier, but . . . you didnít seem to like it quite so much. I think it was when the wolf ate her. It seemed to upset you."
Kyle smoothed the back of her hand with his thumb. Her hands were warm, soft and gentle. She was real. And the dreams . . . the dreams were all gone.
"Well! This is unprecedented, Doctor Scott." Hashu declared as he walked in. "Seems youíll have to make a note of it: five people go comatose and all five come out of it."
Kyle found it hurt to wrinkle his brows. "Five?"
Hashu exaggerated his nod. "We received the antidote for the simulated coma you put Matt and Nick in. Steve came out of his four hours ago, then went right back to sleep. Midnight is recovering. And I have a present for you."
Hashu disappeared for the moment and Kyle turned to Kayla. "Voodoo? Voodoo?"
She sighed and looked sad. "Heís been so lost, Kyle. Weíve already started him on counseling and therapy. But while he will be very happy to know youíre alright, heís already showing symptoms." Kayla swallowed a lump in her throat and looked away as her eyes glassed up with tears.
Kyle understood what she was saying, but his foggy mind couldnít fathom it just yet. He started thinking it over when Hashu returned and handed Kyle a small gift-wrapped box. Kyle slowly slipped his hand from Kayla and frowned at the bandage still covering his right hand. He undid the wrapping and found the bullet. The glass was clear save for a small bubble in the center. A blood-red liquid swished with his movement and Kyle nearly freaked. His eyes zipped from Hashu to Kayla.
". . . Ptysar?" He dared. "Ptysar?"
Kayla nodded. As bizarre as it sounds, thatís him. Your theory was right."
"Thereís only one." Kyle shook the bullet and inwardly laughed, knowing he was shaking up the life force that could never escape its tiny prison.
"The other one rightfully belongs to Steve." Hashu bounced on his heels.
Kyle smiled but found his forehead hurt when he did so. He lifted the bullet to the light and stared at the blood that sloshed inside on its own. "One good torment deserves another." He muttered quietly. He lowered it, finding the pretty Kshi lady a far better sight than the new toy. "I know I still owe you a breakfast." He offered as Hashu was called away to deliver a baby.
Kayla smiled and stared at the coverlets and straightened them out just a little. "Breakfast sounds good. But I want you to wait until youíre strong enough to go out." She looked back up with her eyes only.
Kyle stared at her and found himself lost in their sparkle. He wondered how he could have known her for six thousand years and not once fallen in love. Maybe he had and never realized it.
But there was another matter to take care of.
"When can I see Voodoo?"
Kayla sat up and uncustomarily shrugged. "When he feels he can handle it."
Kyle nodded in acceptance. Voodoo was starting to loose his mind and Kyle only wanted to treat him with as much love and patience as he could possibly give.
But just two days later, Kayla came in with good news. She brought Kyle some fresh clothes and a menu from a restaurant. "They said you seemed to be okay and you can go home. And Voodoo is on his way to take you there."
Kyle looked up and it was then that Kayla realized Steve was there, too. She blushed, realizing she had interrupted a private conversation.
But Kyle graciously encouraged her to step into the room and Steve offered her his seat. She took it, all in silence.
"Iím glad you came by." Steve greeted.
The smile fell from her face. "Kayla," he drew a breath and touched the bandage wrapping his wounded forehead. "We have something to tell you that needs to be kept confidential." And Steve closed the door.
Kayla glanced from one man to the other, speechless.
Kyle gave her a grim smile. "Steve and I developed some form of telepathy during our possession. The telepathy turned into an empathic link. I thought that with the exorcism, the link would fade. But as it turns out, the link was strengthened. I donít know how it happened, I donít know if itís reversible, or if it can be broken. I doubt it. But for the last few days, Steve and I have begun to build a vocabulary based on moods and emotions. As odd as that sounds."
She again glanced from one gentleman to the other. "Gods." She breathed. "Wh-why are you telling me this?"
"Someone has to know." Steve broke in. "We needed to tell someone in case something should happen to one or the other of us. Midnight knows. Voodoo does not. Not yet."
Kayla stared at them a long moment, having no idea how to respond. Then she remembered. "Oh, heís coming-and youíre not dressed yet!" She handed Kyle his clothes and he slowly disembarked from the bed. With another smile, he slipped into the restroom to change.
Steve stared at her with weary blue eyes. "Kayla, I know it will be hard for you to deal with all this, adjusting-"
"Steve," she smiled. "Youíre still alive. We still have Kyle. Isnít that enough for right now? Isnít that just enough? I know you have a new link. Thatís good. But right now, I just want to rest and have breakfast and take care of someone I love."
Truer words could not have been spoken. She voiced the very thing Steve had been thinking: he had no idea what he was going to do with Ashtar. In time, he believed they could get through it. But the tragic thing of it was, (and it was a thought he really had been avoiding all this time) was the broken link between Kyle and Voodoo. No doubt, Voodooís Interface systems were scarred. Kyle most likely had already begun to age and Steve did not want to think that in thirty years or so, Kyle would be gone.
He just couldnít face that reality right now.
Kyle stepped out of the restroom in a dark blue sweater and dark blue jeans. Kayla had graciously remembered to bring his coat, which hung over his left arm.
Steveís smile dimmed a little. Kyle had lost weight and he didnít look quite right, not quite the same. But then, Steve had also lost a lot of weight and he didnít look quite so well, either. Time, Parker thought dismally, time heals all wounds.
They stepped out the hallway, greeting a brighter light than in Kyleís room.
And Kyle spotted Voodoo emerging from the elevator from the other end of the hall.
Silence before the song.
Like the stillness before the storm.
A breath is stolen, maybe two.
The match is lit.
Gasoline is poured
and an explosion of experiences cascade through, rising and pushing.
The breath is stolen.
The voice fades, unable to express the million lifetimes of experiences compacted into a split second.
The pain struck just once, slamming him atop his head and shot straight down his spine. His heart stopped. Kyleís eyes never closed, but he saw nothing, either. He didnít hear Kayla call for him. He wasnít aware of the call for help.
His eyes filled with tears.
A presence filled all his soul. It embraced him first kindly then passionately.
It was as if a door had slammed shut, or more appropriately, like a rubber band snapping together when stretched too tightly. The face and the mental sound struck Voodoo against the transparent titanium windows. He slid to the floor, paralyzed with shock.
Someone contacted Skywolf.
Someone shouted "V! V!"
But it was Kyle . . .Kyleís precious presence that kept Voodoo from going out completely. He could feel Kyle struggling to breathe. He could hear Kyleís heart beat. He could sense the terrible shock. <<Kyle,>> he mentally whispered. Voodoo loved Kyleís name. He loved Kyleís soul. And it dawned on the Sentinel just how precious, how . . . awesome . . .
The world for him brightened suddenly. He could hear everything around him, sense all things to such a degree as he had forgotten. The power of Interface was such that a Sentinel was no longer just another creature, but something the ancient gods feared. He was not one person, but two. And with all this might at his call, with all the energies and powers at his disposal, he returned his attention back to Kyle.
Someone touched him. He was a million miles away.
Someone called his name. Voodoo heard them but couldnít really answer.
<<Kyle.>> He called again.
But Kyle lay in shock, unable to answer.
Voodoo wrapped his mind about his Tentchi. <<Kyle . . .>> he whispered softly. Voodoo became vaguely aware of a commotion down the hall. His optics flashed off, on, and he gazed left, ignoring Skywolfís voice. People milled around Kyle, Kaylaís voice called over and over.
<<Kyle.>> Voodoo called again. <<Breathe. Kyle . . .>>
<<Kyle.>> Voodoo enclosed himself about his Interface. No response. Voodoo substituted and breathed.
Kyle came to but remained right where he lay. He felt himself the dead center of a terrible storm. He didnít see anything, couldnít hear anything around him. But a set of huge hands cupped around his weak form and brought him close to warm, smooth metal. Kyleís fingers glided along the metal. It became familiar to him.
Kayla and Skywolf harped on Voodoo to get Kyle back to his room so they could examine him. But all Voodoo wanted was to hold him.
"Bring him in so we can check on him." Gatchel barked.
"NO!" Voodoo whined. "I just want to hold-heís okay."
Kayla firmly signaled him to lower Kyle and Voodoo reluctantly obeyed like a child told to share his toy. But he kept Kyle in his hands, unwilling to do anything more.
Kayla ran a scanner over Kyle twice. She read the results then smiled, pleased. Kayla snapped the scanner shut. "The shock is slowly wearing off. Take him home, Voodoo. Heís going to be sick for a couple of days. No phasing until heís better. Okay?"
It took Kyle several days just to recover from the sudden attack. Voodoo laughed at him nearly all the time because it didnít occur to Kyle until the third day that he and Voodoo re-Interfaced.
"This is a new one." Kyle mused, adding to his journals. "A Tentchi-Dokiah are separated by supernatural means. Then they are snapped back together, the link stronger than before." He paced about his little garden, hand in pockets. "There should have been scarring on Voodooís Interface systems. But there is none. The two of us tested at ninety percent the other day, a thirty percent increase over our original Interface. Iím, Iím still trying to sort it all out. I think back to what Prophetess Alandra once said to me and Steve: ĎYou are the new species in the universe.í She said Ďyou may soon find others who will become Tentchi-Dokiah. Every new species must be given permission to exist.í I am astounded by the thought that there are or will be many others like us. But I think Alandra meant something else, something entirely different. Another species, perhaps." Kyle sat on the edge of his patio and stared out toward the vast and crowded citiscape. He thought about Voodooís offer several weeks ago regarding a trip to Alean.
Kyle grinned when a familiar presence let Himself into his quarters-Steve still had the access codes and Kyle didnít see the need to change them. He warmly greeted his friend through their empathic link and received an emotional embrace. Steve stepped out to the patio.
"Place needs some sunlight, Kyle." He suggested.
"I think WE need sunlight, Steve." Kyle waited until Parker joined him on the metal wall. "How did it go?"
"Ashtar is still upset. I told her it was going to take a lot of time for me. I donít think she understands."
"No." Kyle agreed. "Itís something you have to experience, I suppose."
Steve studied Kyle a moment. His friend looked far better than he had in weeks . . . the last three months, actually. "Howís Voodoo?" He asked quietly.
"Doing vertical loops in forbidden zones. I tell him heís going to get caught and Midnight will give him something unpleasant to do as punishment."
Steve stared a little more intently, daring to ask the next personal question. "Have you phased yet?"
Kyle shook his head. "No. Iím still a bit shaky and Voodoo doesnít want to push me into anything." Scott bowed his head with a broad smile. "He spoils me, Steve." The forty-something gentlemanís eyes sparkled in a way Steve had not seen in decades. "Voodoo makes me coffee and talks . . .just talks. He says he wants to take me to Vega Three where they hold races and sports year-round. He says the football there-"
"Oh yeah!" Steve grinned equally broadly. "Vegan football. Thereís nothing that compares to it."
"Come with us." Kyle invited.
"I might." Steve replied easily. "But I want to see you back to your old self first . . ." His voice drifted and he thought about the Ďold Kyleí and bit his words. He stared deeply into Kyleís dark brown eyes. "Kyle, come play pool with me tonight."
Kyle looked puzzled and found he had to keep reminding himself not to scrunch up his brows so much; the wound was still there. "Pool?"
"Hmmhmm. Itís uhm, a table with a whole bunch of round colorful little balls and you hit them with the tip of a stick."
Kyle stared at Steve in mild disbelief. It sounded ridiculous. "Well, uhm, um . . ."
"Kyle, I donít want to force you into anything youíre not ready for. Itís just that in the past, you were always too busy."
Kyle heard that accusation before. He couldnít believe heíd be too busy to goof off.
Steve went on: "Long before we came to Cybertron, it was just you and me, Kayla, Shan, Jill, Mike and Ray. We used to do all kinds of crazy things together. We were very close. Then, of course, Midnight met Rodimus Prime and things havenít been the same since. Youíre my very closest friend. Weíve always had good rapport and I want to spend more time with you."
At first Kyle wasnít so sure. He was being dragged out of his comfort zone. But he knew Steve would do nothing to deliberately embarrass him. He smiled again. "Okay."
Steve stood, triumph beamed in his face. "Well, I need to get back. Mid wants a report made for the Counsel. At least you and I did not have to set another appointment for another meeting-thatís one thing I like about Optimus Prime: he wonít waste his time on things heís already aware of."
"Names." Kyle shook his head.
And Steve was sorry. It would take Kyle years, if not a life time to reacquaint himself with his life. "Oh!" Steve brightened. "Before I forget again-" he brought out a small wrapped box and gave it to Kyle. "I know Hashu said I get this one. But really, for all youíve been through, Kyle, I think you deserve it more than me."
Kyleís face went blank and he opened the little box, finding the other bullet containing Xesnex. "Really now, Steve. If you were going to propose to me, you should have used something a little more romantic."
Steve pointed a finger at him and opened his mouth to say something, but Parker caught his words when he realized he didnít know what to say at all.
Kyle grinned and made his way back inside his quarters. "Donít worry, I wonít tell Ashtar."
"Youíre really asking for it, Scott." Steve finally said.
Kyle placed the bullet between Ptysar and an ancient hourglass on the bookshelf of his desk and thought of Kayla.