Action and care will in time wear down the strongest frame, but guilt and melancholy are poisons of quick dispatch. – Thomas Paine
Katia Santiago sat in her office, reviewing the current reports on the ship’s status. She ran a hand over her face in exhaustion, trying to force herself to stay awake just a bit longer before going to her quarters to sleep.
Finally, she got down to the report on the injured and dead Engineering personnel. “Aden, released back to duty; Carson, in Medlab recovering from head injury…” she read down the list, murmuring to herself, “Kordieh, in Medlab in state of deep coma…”
She stopped suddenly, blinking at that name, then shook her head. She must be seeing things. She reread the last line. Kordieh, in Medlab in state of deep coma. “There’s no way,” she muttered, refusing to accept that the one who had caused all this — who had betrayed her and the ship — could still be alive.
She tapped her link. “Medlab, this is Santiago. What is Kordieh’s current condition?”
The voice that answered was unknown to Katia. “Santiago, Kordieh is in a catatonic trance. Completely unresponsive.”
Katia suddenly saw red, unable to respond to say so much as a simple “thank you.” The Chief Engineer was suddenly awake, no longer feeling the fatigue that had plagued her for the past several days, allowing her to catch no more than a catnap here and there in her office every few hours. Her mind whirled with the implications. How could he have survived that blast? When had it first been known he had survived, and why hadn’t anyone let her know? He had been in her department, and as such, she should have been notified. Katia’s irrational thoughts refused to let her see that she hadn’t been notified until now, not because they were keeping things from her, but simply because it had been total chaos, and no one knew how many had survived or died up until recently.
Her anger at the massive betrayal to herself and the ship just started boiling inside her, giving her no peace. She knew what she had to do to rectify the situation. A man like that could not be allowed to live after killing so many innocents!
She stormed into Medlab One, her face and reputation for a quick tongue enough to keep most out of her way as she began looking around for Kordieh. A Minbari woman in the robes of the religious caste stepped forward, hands steepled in greeting. “Anla’shok Santiago?”
Katia blinked, unable to focus on Daanike completely. “Kordieh?” Somehow she managed to choke out the name.
Daanike gestured to the back of the room. “Back there. But he can’t –” Katia maneuvered around her, moving with single-minded determination. Finally sensing Katia’s intent, at the last moment Daanike got herself between Katia and the table where Kordieh lay. “Anla’shok Santiago!” she cried. “You can’t –”
Laying in a bed nearby, curled on her side and head pounding, Margaret Morgan was silent, an unexpected witness. Some of her memories still felt scrambled. It was only when she heard the voices rising that she lifted her head to look. Katia moved past the bed without seeing the First Officer, as she pushed the nurse Daanike out of her way, hard. Blinking, Morgan dimly thought, Should stop her. Slowly, she pushed herself up to a sitting position.
Daanike caught Katia’s arm, pleading. “He can’t do anything to anyone now!”
Katia grabbed Daanike’s wrists, twisting hard, forcing her to let go of her arm. “Don’t get in my way!” Her voice hissed out, her eyes glinting hard and fanatical. Crying out in pain, Daanike was thrown to the floor.
Katia turned quickly, glancing over Morgan, vaguely noticing her in the back of her mind not occupied with the murder of Kordieh. Morgan’s headache threatened to blind her, but she got to her feet. She wasn’t trusting her voice, if it would even be noticed.
Kordieh lay still on the table, restrained, eyes open but unseeing the fate that loomed over him in the form of the enraged Santiago. Katia moved over to Kordieh’s side, her eyes settling on the limp, catatonic face. She almost wished he would look at her so he would know what his fate would hold.
Morgan was steadier on her feet than she would have thought. She followed Katia, staggering only a little. Daanike struggled to her feet and tried to stop the First Officer. “Anla’shok Morgan, you shouldn’t –” But Morgan just looked at her, then continued on.
Katia didn’t even notice Morgan moving her way, her total focus on the individual in front of her. “Wake up, you bastard!” she hissed down at him.
Kordieh blinked, but it was only a reflex, as his eyes looked past Katia into nothing. She did a very cursory scan, hoping to catch his attention and pull him back to the world before she killed him.
“Santiago,” called Morgan. Her voice was a faint rasp.
Katia suddenly realized Kordieh didn’t even know she existed. She had received nothing from her scan, as if he wasn’t even there. His consciousness had withdrawn from the world completely. She blinked a bit, thinking she heard her name called from a very long way off. She decided to ignore it. She now knew that the only way this murderer and betrayer would know who and why he had lost his life would be for her to go in after him.
Morgan tried again. “Katia, don’t.” She reached for Santiago as Daanike tried to support her, keep her from falling. Morgan could hear the Minbari whispering, probably a prayer.
Katia caught up Kordieh’s almost ice cold hand with her own, and instantly was swept into a mind so foreign to her… but familiar in a way since she had touched it before.
Morgan grabbed Katia’s arm. She knew exactly what was going on. She shook the engineer a little, trying to disrupt the link. “He’s not worth it.”
But Katia was lost to Morgan as she fell into the mass of chaotic imagery filling her mind, falling deeper and deeper into the vast emptiness of the lunatic mind that had been Kordieh. She collapsed on top of him, their hands still intertwined.
Morgan muttered a curse. With no shields, she could almost sense what was happening. And even if she couldn’t sense it, she could guess anyway. She turned to Daanike, expression grim. “Anla’shok Matsumoto. Now!” Daanike nodded and ran off in a wordless swirl of robes. Morgan held watch alone, afraid to pull Katia away. They might lose her too.
Please be close, Cyfeilles, she begged silently.
Katia could see nothing as she fell through the dark, but she could hear Kordieh’s voice. It was a long, drawn out wail, repeating itself over and over, like the wind. “No….no ….”
She fetched up at last, her fall broken by a vast pile of rubble. She almost felt the landing physically, hearing the wailing in her mind, closer now, as if she was really there. Her reality was becoming his, deep within the recesses of his chaotic mind.
She began moving slowly, searching for the source of the wrenching sounds. The wail slowly got closer, as she picked her way through the rubble. “Nothing. All for nothing.”
Katia slipped, fell, caught herself with her hand, scraping it raw. “Where the hell are you?” She almost screamed out to him.
The answer was hesitant. Kordieh was not expecting this other voice. “Hell? Yes, I’m in hell.”
“You aren’t yet, but you will be, I assure you!” Katia whispered.
“Lucius, why didn’t I listen? Why didn’t I believe?”
Katia slipped again on the rocks as she continued, rushing now to the sound of the voice. At last she saw him just below, about ten feet down a pile of rubble.
Kordieh huddled up against a tiny shard of standing wall, a single piece of smoky crystal. Katia blinked at it, wondering what it represented in this mind that was so alien to her. She picked her way down the pile of rubble, moving with single-minded determination to get to this “man”.
Kordieh had returned to his weeping. “Fool. Such a fool. All for nothing.”
Katia looked around, beginning to believe they were back on Minbar in his mind. She wondered why he had chosen this particular place in time to be.
In her quarters, Kim surveyed the ruins of her belongings with weary acceptance. The ceiling was a landscape of dents and straining ripples. Water dripped from one section, where the warm air condensed against the colder metal, a thin barrier between life and the icy void. With a sigh, she set the broken pieces of her tea jar and pot in a pile. There was nothing she could do about the tea itself, scattered on the floor in drifts.
Daanike slid to a stop in front of Kim’s door, panting. She’d come at a dead run from Medlab to Science, then from Science to Kim’s quarters. Not bothering with the chimes, she knocked hard.
Distracted by the chaos around her, Kim said, “Open.” Then, catching the first drift of emotions, she turned to meet the woman shouldering her way through the warped door.
“Anla’shok Matsumoto!” Daanike cried. “In Valen’s name, you must come with me to Medlab!”
Katia finally made her way down the rubble, moving on the same level Kordieh was. She glared at the top of his head, wondering if he even knew she was there. He was keening to himself, oblivious to everything in his misery. “No…. no. It can’t be….”
She sneered down at him. “Thought you could get away in here, didn’t you?”
Kim felt the stab of worry — her own as well as the Minbari’s. “What is it?” she asked, stepping around a toppled chair.
“Anla’shok Santiago — she came after Kordieh –”
Kim’s eyes widened. She crossed the room quickly. “What has she done? Damn. Never mind,” she said, almost pushing Daanike out the door.
Kordieh startled violently and looked up. His face was a mass of rents, tattered and bloody, much as his clothes were. Katia’s eyes narrowed as she glared down at him, watching the surprise come over his face, to be interrupted midwail in his own universe.
Slowly, Kordieh blinked away the blood that dripped into his eyes. “It’s time, isn’t it?”
“Time?” Katia chuckled darkly. “Oh, it is beyond time…” She let the words hang in the air between them.
“Good. I’ve been trying…..but I can’t,” Kordieh said.
Morgan was starting to wobble, but wouldn’t leave. Please, Kim…
Kim ran after the Minbari, long legs devouring the distance to the lift. She was about to rebound off the walls, waiting for it to descend, once she was inside. Overtaking Daanike, she burst into Medlab and took a quick look around.
“Cyfeilles!” Morgan called out, even though it started up a reverberation in her head.
Kim shook off the shock on seeing Katia slumped over Kordieh, then looked at Meg, too distracted to be pleased at her friend’s revival. “What does she think she’s doing?”
“Trying to kill him. But she’s lost herself now…” Morgan leaned on the bed, exhausted.
“That is because you are too much of a damn coward to do anything right!” Katia snapped.
Kordieh struggled to stand. “I know. And a fool.”
Katia moved a step closer to him, almost repulsed, but wanting him dead regardless. “Well, maybe I can do what you seem to be unable to accomplish!”
“I didn’t know. Didn’t understand. Too late now,” he murmured. “Yes. I wish you could kill me a thousand times over. But one will have to do.”
Katia blinked. Some of Kordieh’s words were getting through her closed, determined mind, but it didn’t appease her rage one bit. “Didn’t understand? How could you not?” she screamed.
Kim rushed across the room, then stopped, her hand hovering over contact. “I’m not trained for this,” she said under her breath, a last desperate thought. She reached out and planted one hand on Kordieh’s shoulder, the other on Katia’s back. Trying to use what she’d learned from cracking into Darquin’s mind, to find them both, she reached —
— then shuddered as her barriers dropped and she reached out into the chaos she could just feel beneath the still surface.
“Careful,” Morgan whispered, knowing she couldn’t help.
“Mad…. I’ve been mad all my life,” Kordieh said softly. “My brother… we were twins, but I believed we were one. He died… so I was dead too. We were all dead.” He laughed. “I thought you were the fools. But it was me.”
Katia wanted to slam him into the ground. “You betrayed the ship…. I trusted you as one of my crew! You betrayed me….” Her shout faded to a whisper. She blinked as Kordieh’s words penetrated into her mind.
Kim felt herself falling through vast empty space, to land hard on a huge pile of rubble. In the distance, she could hear voices. Katia? she called with all her strength.
Katia turned on her victim again. “And, I suppose you are miraculously ‘healed’ now?” Even as she spoke, she heard Kim in the distance. Not now, Kim! You don’t know what you are doing in here… get out NOW!!
Kim’s mouth set in a hard line as she stood. She couldn’t hear Katia’s words clearly, but felt the rage crashing over her. She followed it like a trail.
Katia withered a bit inside as she realized — I am why Kim is risking herself. She felt Kim getting closer, tried to put a barrier up so the Science Officer couldn’t get any closer, or further into the madness she now found herself surrounded in.
Kordieh’s sobbing drew her attention back. “I should be dead. I should be dead a thousand times for what I’ve done.” He held out his arms. They, like the rest of him, were a mass of torn flesh. “I’ve tried, can’t you see? Finish it if you want.”
Katia began looking at him with a horror she never knew possible, as she began to understand. Here, in his own mind, he had tried to tear himself to pieces with his bare hands. “Why? Madness isn’t enough….nobody can be that crazy!”
Kim didn’t feel her real body any more. Only the jagged ruins of Kordieh’s universe wrapped around her. Katia! she called again as she crested the rubble.
Kim, you don’t belong here! Get out while you still can! Katia tried once more to stop the science officer’s approach. You aren’t trained for this, Kim… Please? She was almost pleading now.
“You are right,” Kordieh was saying. “I betrayed you, the ship, my friends…. my brother. All of you. Maybe I don’t deserve the peace, the peace of death.”
Some of what he said touched Katia’s mind, taking her back to her own anger… a semi-form of the madness he seemed to be lost in. “You don’t deserve the peace of anything!” she shouted, pushing back her vague sympathy for him. She would not let herself feel how alike they seemed to be.
Seeing someone amidst the rubble, Kim stumbled down, ignoring Katia’s warnings. Of course I don’t belong here…and neither do you! You’re coming back with me. She fetched up at the edge, catching her breath in shock on seeing Kordieh.
NO! I will finish this! No one else seems to have the guts to deal with this bastard so I will!
Outside, Morgan sank to the floor. Her body was failing her, but she refused to leave until the business was settled. Daanike found a chair and helped her into it. She nodded her thanks to the Minbari, then turned back to look at the others.
“Then you will be a murderer as well.” Kim was speaking aloud now, standing just behind Katia’s shoulder. “Do you want this?”
Kordieh slipped and fell to his knees. “No. No. Take your friend and leave me. My body will die. Slow, lingering. Better than I deserve.” His dark, bloodshot eyes met Kim’s for a moment before shifting quickly away. “She’s right. Don’t take any of the blood from my hands to yours.”
Ignoring Kim, Katia moved slowly over to Kordieh, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him violently, almost sobbing. In her anger she was no better then he, as mad and crazy only in a different sort of way, and she knew it. “WHY? I should kill you right now!” she screamed.
“You don’t deserve to have anyone’s blood on your hands. Least of all mine.”
Kim tried to keep her voice level. “He’s already acting out his punishment. You deserve better, Katia.” She reached out a hand to grip her arm.
“I have more blood on my hands then anyone will ever know… what’s one more?” Katia was almost lost in her agony and inability to murder the one man who was the epitome of betrayal. All the betrayal in her life, from her parents death to Nathan on to the Corps and Dylan Shaver and finally Clark — it was all reflected in her eyes by this one man.
Kordieh’s voice was a bare whisper. “Then, let it end here.”
“No!” The word was a sharp, explosive sound coming from the Science Officer. “Will you destroy every good thing you’d done for this? So you can rest in a bed right beside him? Do you know what I saw when I walked into Medlab?” Katia shook her head slowly at Kim, her focus on the beaten and broken man she still had her hands on beginning to crack. “You’re holding his hand, slumped across his body. Comatose.” Kim let the words cut, sparing nothing to make it through to whatever part of Katia’s good sense remained.
Katia blinked, her hands dropping from Kordieh’s arms as she looked over at Kim through tear-filled eyes, the other woman’s words flowing over her. “I can’t,” she whispered. “As much as I want to… I can’t… He and I aren’t too different from one another.” She looked down.
One hand wrapped around the shard of crystal pillar that was the only thing left in his world, Kordieh looked up. “Go,” he said. “Take your friend and leave me…. Valen go with you.”
“Nothing is fixed in stone.” Kim’s mouth quirked in a humorless smile. “And even then, stone breaks,” she added, looking around them. “Come back and change that.” She found herself speaking to them both, like shards of the same mirror.
The tears fell freely down Katia’s cheeks both in Medlab and in Kordieh’s mind as she nodded slightly.
Morgan closed her eyes. If force of will could get them back…. Standing behind her, Daanike was whispering in Adronando. “Valen guide your way….let all three of your souls come safely home again…..”
Kordieh hesitated. “Me? You hold out hope to me….?”
“If there is for me, then there can be for you.” Katia swallowed hard, realizing for the first time that the words she spoke were true. “But you will have to pay for what you have done first. Legally this time.” She closed her eyes, forcing herself not to look at him.
“Yes, of course,” said Kordieh, struggling to his feet once more. “Yes.”
Katia opened her eyes and looked at Kim, totally unsure of herself. The tears were still falling, silently now.
“There’s a better way,” Kim said. “Always. Or what’s the point of it all?” She reached out both hands to help them.
Almost hesitantly, Katia took Kim’s outstretched hand, nodding. “Indeed,” she said, adding in a whisper, “There would be nothing to live for.”
Kordieh gave Kim’s other hand a quick squeeze, reaching toward Katia with the other. The Chief Engineer took his hand, staring into the eyes of one who seemed to be so like herself. She understood him now, and that scared her more then the havoc he had caused. It was time for her to deal with herself and let herself be free once again from the anger. Completely free this time. Kim’s hand closed firm on his, and distantly her real hands twitched on their still forms.
“Go now. I will follow,” Kordieh said.
Katia looked at him, truly seeing him for the first time. “You won’t be able to get out on your own. I can get us out.”
He nodded. “Very well. Thank you… thank you both…”
Kim nodded to Kordieh with more compassion than she had expected of herself. He returned the nod with a slow, painful blink. Kim answered Katia’s questioning look with a faint smile. “There’s a way in, so there must be a way out.”
Katia’s mind had rejected all she had learned, but she was forced to use it now. “I can get us out. Just let me lead,” she whispered.
“Then lead the way,” Kim said quietly.
Morgan too was whispering. “Bless to me the thing, whereon is set my mind. Bless to me the thing, whereon is set my love…”
Drawing on everything she had learned back on Syria Planum, Katia slowly moved them up through the levels of Kordieh’s mind down which they had plummeted, into the depths of his sorrow. Kordieh said, “All that I knew is destroyed. All that remains…are the Anla’shok.”
Katia answered him without even thinking. “The Anla’shok will draw you in and protect you well, Kordieh.”
Kim opened her mind, following the path Katia set, keeping a grip, then felt the familiar beacon of another mind, outside. Loud, worried. It quickened the way. Katia peeled back layer after layer. Slowly the rubble left them and a light appeared in the distance.
“I am one, but never alone,” Kordieh said. Katia pulled them along, forcing herself to concentrate on nothing but saving the two who depended on her.
Kim said, “I see –” With a start, she was back within her own body again and nearly toppled backward, like she was holding a rope that had snapped. Morgan automatically reached for her, and Daanike stepped up quickly, supporting them both. Finding herself caught, Kim shook away the dazzle and straightened, with a balancing hand on Daanike’s shoulder.
Katia slammed back into her body, her hand still intertwined with Kordieh’s as her eyes opened slowly to the brilliance of the real world once again. Kordieh blinked, aware again. Face intact save for one small bandage on his cheek, his eyes met Katia’s. “Thank you,” he said.
She slowly raised herself up, meeting Kordieh’s eyes, tears welling in her own, still not letting go of his her hand. “And, thank you.” Her free hand softly reached up, unconsciously, and pushed a lock of dark hair out of his eyes.
“Forgive me,” Kordieh said softly. “I am so tired….” His eyes fluttered closed as he drifted off to sleep. Katia smiled very slightly down at the pale man. She leaned against the bed, weak with the efforts of the past few minutes, then glanced over at Morgan and Daanike, realizing for the first time others were there.
Katia looked down, almost protectively now, at Kordieh. “You sleep, for you have a long road ahead of you…But I will help you make it through.” She was completely in shock at the whispered words coming from her, but knew she would stand by him now, like no one else could through the trying months ahead. Collapsing into an empty chair at his bedside, sleep tore her away almost instantly.
Kim glanced to them, then back at Morgan. Her friend gave a lopsided grin, eyes nearly shut against painful light. Kim took a deep, cleansing breath. She’d have a headache of her own, but it didn’t matter at the moment. “I think they’re safe on their own now,” she said to Daanike. “Help me get this fool back to bed,” she added, a tentative tease aimed at Morgan.
“Ie, that’s me.” Morgan sounded amused… and better.
“You both need to rest now,” Daanike said.
“I will,” Kim promised, thinking that she might be meaning it for once. “But trust me… I won’t be able to until I know she’s properly restrained.” She took Meg’s arm, and her friend used the support to stand, shakily. Kim cast a bemused glance backward, then focused on helping Meg away.
As she helped Morgan back into bed, Daanike spoke. “You all deserve thanks. He was lost, and you found him.”
Morgan collapsed onto her bed. “I had to try, Cyfeilles.”
Kim let go once Meg was supported. “I know. And it was something we could put back together.”
“Only thing, maybe. But enough.”
Daanike said, “It is a beginning.”
Copyright (C) 1998 Jamie Lawson, Tamara Freise, Alida Saxon and Leslie McBride. All rights reserved.