DISCLAIMER: The characters and situations of the TV program "SPACE:Above and Beyond" are the creations of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Fox Broadcasting and Hard Eight Productions, and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended. This story is not to be published on any ftp site, newsgroup, mailing list, fanzine, or elsewhere without the express permission of the author.
& quot;What beastly incidents our memories insist on cherishing..."
Vanessa stared out into space, but she didn't see the stars; she could only see the darkness and hear the incessant chatter as her AI captors communicated with each other.
"Vanessa, are you okay?" Shane put her hand on Vanessa's shoulder, looking into her face for a sign that she heard.
"I messed up...big time. I shouldn't be here".
"What do you mean, you messed up? You were captured, it wasn't your fault."
"Shane, you don't know what it's like. You don't understand...you just don't."
Vanessa turned and ran from the room, almost knocking Cooper and Nathan over in her flight from the memories she held.
Paul sighed. "She's right. You don't understand." He got up and walked out, following Vanessa into the lounge.
She sat on the sofa, her head buried in her hands. Paul sat down next to her and put his arm around her shoulders. She looked up, staring at the wall, and began to whisper.
"They just kept on and kept on. They wouldn't stop asking questions...troops, ships, weapons. I gave them name, rank, and serial number, just like I was supposed to, and they would hit me. Pretty soon, they didn't even ask any questions, they just kept hitting. Then, they stopped. They started laughing." Vanessa put her hands over her ears. "I can hear them laughing in my sleep." She took her hands away and looked at Paul. "They said that soon I would be begging them to tell them what I knew. If that SAR team hadn't found me...I can't bear to think about what would have happened."
Paul spoke softly, almost as if he were thinking instead of talking.
"It's hard, 'Phousse. It's like there's a black hole inside of you that you never knew was there, and they find it and drag you down inside. And you try to claw your way out, but they keep pulling you back in. They play with your mind and make you doubt who you are -- even when they're no longer around. They keep chipping away and chipping away until there are only little pieces of your soul lying on the floor. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night screaming and I realize I'm only screaming on the inside."
McQueen stood in the doorway, listening to Paul, watching the tears trail down Vanessa's face.
McQueen was pushed into the cell as pale fingers of daylight seeped into the darkness. He waited a moment to let his eyes adjust, then dropped into an attack position as he heard the shuffle of feet on the rock floor.
"Who are you. What's your unit?" The voice was rough, tired, and very definitely feminine. She stepped into the dim light and studied McQueen.
They both noticed that neither was an AI and relaxed slightly.
"My name is McQueen, Captain T. C. McQueen. I'm with the AI platoons. I don't know where the rest of my unit is...we were separated when we were caught. Those of us still alive, that is."
She dropped to the floor. "Great. I'm stuck with some damn tank." She looked up. "Sorry, I've had a bad day."
He sat down, close enough to talk in a soft voice, yet far enough not to make her uncomfortable. "What's your name and your unit?"
"My name's Peterson; Commander Mariah Peterson. I'm with Naval Intelligence. At least I was. We were trying to track down some info that we had about a base and the rest of my team was wiped out. I've been here for two days. I never dreamed Hell would be like this."
McQueen sat in the dim light and studied his surroundings. She noticed the way his eyes lingered on the window and door.
"Don't bother with the window. They've got it wired with electricity. Gives you quite a little jolt if you touch it." Mariah leaned against the wall, trying to find a comfortable position. "Better get some rest. You're going to need it when they come for you."
She turned away and closed her eyes. He just sat there, willing himself not to remember his days in solitary. That had been a nightmare in and of itself. They said in-vitros didn't dream...maybe not, but he sure as hell knew about nightmares.
The room was dark, and memories crowded around him, whispering their names. Even the faces of a million stars failed to light the darkness of his memories. As the night embraced him, he heard of the silky timbre of her voice and the softness of her fingertips as she stroked his cheek.
He lay there, sweat beads rolling from his forehead into his eyes. He was so tired, his body ached from constant pain, yet he was grateful for just a moment to rest. There wasn't enough time to rest -- not enough time to gather the thoughts of betrayal and shove them deep into what little strength he had left. He had been in this chair for hours--arms strapped by iron cuffs at the wrists and elbows, legs tied down at the knees and ankles. Question after question, insidious little asides that he has been very bad and that he should be punished.
The high-pitched signal of AI conversation announced the return of his own personal hell.
"McQueen, this could be so much easier, so much less painful. Don't you want that?"
Audrey 2624 whispered in McQueen's ear, tempting him to give in and end the pain.
"My name is McQueen, T.C., captain, serial number..."
"Yes, yes, I know who you are, and I must confess that this truly hurts me more than you."
Slowly and with great concentration, Audrey slid the heated knife in her hand down McQueen's chest, watching the skin redden and blister and blood trickle into his t-shirt. His body bucked under the pain. His fist clenched, knuckles turning white, then it slowly released as he lost consciousness. His limp hand dangled from the arm rest.
Awaking with a start and sitting up, struggling to calm his racing heart, McQueen realized that he was still aboard the Saratoga. Falling back against his pillow, he covered his eyes with his arm. The dream began again.
The cell was dark...cold...the floor was hard, but at least he knew that they would leave him alone for a while. Stretching out, McQueen felt the burns pulling at his skin, even though the heat from the knife had cauterized the incisions, and winced as he pressed his fingers against the pain.
He jumped as he felt her fingers slide over his palm and wrap around his hand. "Was it really bad this time?" Her voice shook with fatigue and anger.
"No more than any other time." He tightened his fingers around hers.
"I don't think we're going to make it out of this one, Mac." She lay there in the darkness, staring out the barred window into the dim winter light. " I don't have many regrets. I'd have called my mom more. We haven't really gotten along, and she didn't speak to me for a long time after I joined up. She pushed me to get my law degree, then insisted that I go into corporate law...you know, something safe, respectable. There were all these things she wanted me to do, to be. We never really understood each other...I guess that's the problem with a lot of mothers and daughters. What about you, Mac. Got any regrets?"
McQueen was silent for so long that Mariah thought he had fallen asleep. "Mac..."
"In-vitros don't have the luxury of regrets. I don't have any family, unless you count the other in-vitros. I spent five years in a uranium mine, earning my freedom. Only a few of us came out of it alive. After that, I swore I wouldn't let myself just go through the motions and let them believe that all in-vitros were worthless, that we didn't believe there was anything worth fighting and dying for. Ever since I can remember, I've been told that I'm lazy, useless, good for nothing. I've tried to live my life in a way that assures me I am worth something, trying to find out who I am and what I believe in...a code of honor if you will. If I can prove that to just one human..."
Mariah reached over and put a finger on his lips. "You are worth a hell of a lot more than most humans I know, and I'd be very honored to serve with you."
They lay there on the cold rock floor, almost touching, as the warmth from their bodies pushed at the chill.
"You know, Mac, I think that's the most I've ever heard you say." There was a smile in Mariah's voice as she closed her eyes. "Rest now."
Silence comforted them until light cut through the darkness.
The door opened, and an AI guard reached into the darkness, yanking Mariah onto her feet. McQueen moved, and the other guard whipped around to pin him against the wall. Mariah smiled, just a little, and winked at him as an AI guard pushed her out of the cell.
He paced the cell, stopping every few minutes to press his hand to his chest to try and ease the fire that burned his skin. He worried about Mariah, knowing that neither of them could take much more of the endless questions and the pain that came with every wrong answer.
It amazed him that they had actually gotten along in the little time they had spent in the cell together. She had a wicked sense of humor, imitating her superior officers -- college graduates who wouldn't know how to defend a position if their lives depended on it. She had asked only a few question about the learning center where he had spent his first year out of the tank. She'd asked even fewer about the mines, hearing the anger in his voice when he had mentioned it before. It scared him a little that he was beginning to think of Mariah as a friend.
McQueen sat in the officers' mess, slowly stroking his coffee cup, and gazed into the amber liquid, letting the steam carry him away to another memory.
Dawn had broken and was trying to seep into the cell, lighting the dank floor, illuminating the broken bodies. Carefully, he pulled her close in his arms, bending his head to catch the words she could only whisper.
"I tried...but I'm just too tired. Please don't be mad me...." Mariah's eyes remained closed, as if opening them were more than she could bear.
McQueen stroked the hair from her eyes. "I'm not...rest now. You've earned it."
A smile crept onto her lips, then she was gone. McQueen drew her up and laid his cheek upon her head. A solitary tear eased down his grimy cheek and disappeared into her hair. He held her until they came and took her body, where he didn't know, but he hoped she was at peace.
Vanessa stopped in front of McQueen's table. "Are you okay, Colonel? You looked...lost for a moment."
"I'm fine." McQueen got up and walked to the hatch. Before leaving, he turned to look at the Wildcards, who were laughing and cutting up just like kids. In the briefest moment, before anyone could notice, he smiled wistfully, then was gone.
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