Characters: Katia Santiago, Dr. Kim Matsumoto, Margaret Morgan

The streets were quiet. The lights dimmed for the hour. Many of the houses were compact but palatial for a dome residence. The lights in many of the structures were out, the residents themselves asleep. It was the equivalent of close to midnight back on Earth. Those who had to work were actually resting for a few hours before beginning their day again.

So far, the security issue had not been a problem for the three crewmembers of the Phoenix as they slowly made their way through the streets.

Katia walked along, doing her best to look as if she belonged in this neighborhood. It was not a far stretch for her, since she had grown up in areas like this her whole life back on Earthdome. She fit in perfectly. Morgan, on the other hand was having a more difficult time of it. She was more used to mining colonies and military bases then she was to an upper-class neighborhood. The other telepath, Kim, had never lived so high, but she had been to so many places she had grown good at pretending she fit in. And appearances were all that mattered at the moment.

“Here we are,” Kim murmured and nodded up the street to one house that stood silent, with most of the lights out.

Katia had to fight the urge to rush down there. She knew their best bet was to keep a cool head about things. She asked, “So, should we try around back?”

“I’m beginning to think the front door,” Kim answered. “Katia, how good are you?”

Meg nodded at the plan, understanding what Kim was getting at, but she kept silent. Katia took a deep breath and exhaled quickly, understanding as well. “I can do it,” she answered quietly.

“I guess I will be the diversion then,” Kim said as she wiped her hands on the sides of her pants, betraying her nervousness. She needed no reminding of how alike she looked to Nathan, and for once it would be put to good use.

“All I need is a plain view of them, remember that,” Katia said, reminding Kim of the obvious.

Kim simply nodded.

Meg hung back, “listening” as it were, for any hint of another telepath who may be lurking around. The Engineer trailed behind a few steps, as she waited for Kim to get the person to the door.

It was a short walk in from the street to the house. Bordered by dwarf tree containers, with flowering plants tucked in around the feet of the trunks, it left Kim well boxed by a wall of greenery. She suppressed her concerns and rang the chime.

As she shook her head, Katia began opening herself up, drawing into her mind the strength required for the strike. There was a long pause before a middle aged woman opened the door, frowning as she asked, “Yes?”

“I’m here to see Nathan,” Kim asked.

“He’s –” was all the woman managed to get out before Katia shifted on the path, and struck with her mind. She hit her deep within the cerebral cortex, causing the woman’s neural sense to go into turmoil and her legs collapsed under her. The woman tried to fight, but finally she was unable to hold onto consciousness. Meg crouched down behind Katia to balance herself, the strike hitting her as well, if much less negatively.

Startled for a moment, Kim stood there then suddenly moved to catch the woman before she hurt herself. She quickly looked past, into the house and hissed to the other two, “Hurry.”

Katia gasped out in the wake of her attack, her hand automatically going to her head. Despite a sudden headache, Morgan stood quickly, her hand out as Katia rocked a bit on her feet. Finally recovered, Katia forced her feet to move and hurried into the house.

As the other two made their way to the door, Kim grabbed the woman under the arms and started dragging her back inside. “Meg, help me get her to the couch,” she whispered in the dark. Meg nodded carefully and grabbed the woman’s ankles and lifted her. She was a bit rough at it, but it was for speed then for cruelty.

The engineer paused just inside the door and laid her hand on the wall to steady herself. She hadn’t realized it would take so much out of her to have to do something such as that. She hadn’t had practice at this sort of mental use for a long time, having no need for it on the Phoenix even after she had allowed herself to open up and use her abilities. It had come so easily many years ago when she was working for the Corps and with William to battle against Clark. She knew she was going to have a splitting headache soon, but was willing to risk it to have her daughters back with her, safely.

The two women dumped the woman on the couch and Kim checked to make sure she was still breathing. She glanced around and opened her mind just slightly before she said, “Upstairs.”

Katia moved to the stairs, almost running in her haste to get her children. She said as she moved, “Let’s go.”

Kim glanced at Katia and replied, “I’ll keep watch down here.”

Meg shut the door and leaned up against the wall next to it, waiting. Katia turned and stopped halfway up the stairs and glanced at Kim. As she nodded she answered, “I’ll be back.”

Kim nodded quickly and then looked around. It was an odd sensation to be in her brothers house. There was individuality to be found in the design, and yet there was so little left of the person she remembered. The stark contrast almost scared her. She noticed Meg’s glance over at her with suppressed worry, but did her best to ignore it, along with her own feelings.

Katia hurried up the stairs, completely forgetting in her haste to open up and see if she could sense anyone else in the house. She glanced through an open door to her right when she arrived at the top of the stairs. Just a bathroom. She hurried on to the next.

Finally, she came to a room on the left and glanced through the crack. Two girls lay asleep in matching twin beds, just visible by the nightlight in the hall. The room was immaculately clean considering it was a children’s room.

She pushed the door open a bit and slipped through, leaving it open behind her just in case. That way she could hear any commotion downstairs if something were to happen. She took a sharp intake of breath at her first clear view of her daughters. Her first since they were born. Both had her dark hair.

Moving over to the younger of the two, Katia reached out and brushed the hair our of her daughter’s eyes as she whispered, “Kira –”

Kira woke slightly and glanced blearily through sleep-filled eyes until she saw the strange woman sitting on her bedside. She was not awake enough to be alarmed, asking calmly, “Who are you?”

Katia blinked at that, not knowing what she had expected, but, somehow had hoped for more. She replied softly, “I’m your mother, Kira. I’ve come to get you…to take you home.”

That pushed the remainders of sleep back, and she sat up sharply. “You aren’t my mother! My mother is dead!” the young girl replied as she cried out plaintively to her sister.

Kayla rolled over in her sleep and murmured, “Go back to sleep, Kira … I don’t want to talk right now …”

“Kayla, honey … it’s your mother … I’m come to take you both home,” Katia said.

At the sound of the strange voice, Kayla opened an eye and saw a dark-haired stranger sitting on her sister’s bed. It was almost enough to make her think she was still sleeping. She replied, “My mother is dead … you can’t be our mother.”

Katia’s breath caught in her throat as she saw they both had violet eyes the same color as hers. Their denials cut her right to the quick. She had known this wouldn’t be easy, but hadn’t realized it would be this difficult. She replied to both of her daughters, “But, I’m not dead, Kayla… Kira. It really is me. I have missed you both so much. I just want to take you home where you will be safe.”

“No! You are NOT my Mom … she is dead — Daddy told me so. Kira, come over here now,” Kayla instructed she finally sat up.

As she watched her daughter take charge with a self-possession many would envy, Katia’s heart filled with pride. Nathan had at least done something right. It was like looking at a mirror of herself at that age.

It was a sight not without pain, though. Kira tried to hurry over to her sister. Katia laid a staying hand on her arm and said softly, “You have to believe me. I would have come for both of you sooner, but I couldn’t.”

Kayla whined a bit, scared, feeling helpless and not knowing what to do. Kayla, however, did. She yelled out, “Ms. Parker! Help us!”

Downstairs, Kim paced restlessly. She knew she should have been keeping a better watch, but just couldn’t. So many emotions raged through her, it was hard to get a handle on any of them. She walked over to a table and picked up a framed picture. It was quite old, but she remembered when it had been taken. She had a copy of it herself.

Does it matter to him? Or it is just a show? she thought to herself silently as she set it down carefully.

More pictures sat out on tables. Kim saw those, of the children, some of them even with paternal relatives, and she became a little ill. He had been playing the part to the hilt all these years.

Cyfeilles,” Meg said softly.

Kim stirred and glanced back, “What?”

Her friend offered a wan smile, but kept silent. It was the best support she could give at the moment, words in English failing her. Kim just shook her head and walked back to the middle of the living room. Then she heard the cry from a small voice upstairs.

“This is taking too long,” Kim stated and moved to the stairs, leaving Meg to guard alone.

Meg nodded, and automatically checked the charge on the PPG she still had out in her hand.

“It’s really okay, Kayla … I just want to take you to a place where you will be safe …You have to see …” Katia was doing her best to get through to her little girls. Without their cooperation, she knew getting them off Mars would not be possible. And, her heart wouldn’t allow her to take them without some sort of consent from them.

Kira began to cry and Kayla jumped up. As she tried to run for the door, Katia intercepted her and knelt down in front of her. “Please, Kayla. Don’t do this. I won’t hurt you –”

“Ms. Parker!” her eldest daughter interrupted with a yell that was much louder this time.

The tears began welling up in Katia’s eyes now as she explained, “Your Daddy… he took you from me when you were born…Psi Corps forced him to… both of you… I wouldn’t just let you go… you have to believe me!”

Kim was quickly up the stairs. She didn’t have to guess which door it was. She walked up and opened it up the rest of the way to stand framed in the doorway. As she took in the scene, Kim realized things weren’t going well at all. Her heart went out to Katia as she knelt there trying to talk to her daughter.

Katia sensed Kim, but continued to try to convince her daughters. Kayla stood, still in her arms and Kira was on the bed crying. “If it hadn’t been for the Corps, we would have been together like a mother and daughters is supposed to be –”

Kim looked over them and said with an urgency that Katia ignored, “Katia.”

“I am not dead! Can you understand that?”

Her daughters’ eyes went wide upon noticing another in the room. Katia continued to ignore Kim in the doorway as she focused all her attention on her daughters. She tried to open her mind to them. She wanted them to see what she had been through when they had been born.

“Katia, we’ve got to go. Now,” Kim said firmly.

Outside, someone began striding up the walk.

Her daughters were blocking her attempts to enter their minds and to project anything to them. Katia contemplated forcing it, but she knew she could never hurt them in that way. She was unsurprised to find Nathan had already been working on training them. What surprised her was the strength with which they blocked her. She answered Kim distantly, “Kim … I … I can’t! We have to take them with us!”

Kayla tried to force herself toward her sister, and Katia let her go. She would never try to keep the two girls apart. Kayla rushed over and put her arms around her sister, comforting her as she cried. They both cringed back as Katia moved toward them with an outstretched hand.

“How? Twenty minutes isn’t going to work against 8 years!” Kim said, trying to break through Katia’s stubborn insistence.

“I can’t just leave them! Damnit, Kim. There has to be something!” Katia almost cried out as a lone tear finally fell down her face. She looked helpless at her two daughters.

Just then, Kayla sensed her father outside and cried out as loud as she could, “DADDY!!!!!” Kayla reached out with her mind to her Father as he had taught her.

Meg heard, rather then felt, someone coming up the walk. She could guess who it was. Cyfeilles! she managed as loud as she could manage. She worked herself into a good position by the door.

Kim went cold, sensing the contact and then hear Meg’s thought. She looked at Katia and replied in a hard tone, “There isn’t a choice! You know my brother.” With that said, she turned and left. She couldn’t leave Meg alone to face whoever was down there.

Katia stood there in the room, breathing hard with tears streaming down her face. She finally sensed Nathan through her anger and grief. She tried reaching out one last time, but her daughters cringed away from her in fear. Broken, Katia slowly turned and made her way to the stairs.

With Katia gone, Kayla glanced at her sister and whispered, referring to Kim, “I think I know that woman. She is the one in the picture with Daddy.” By now, the fear had overwhelmed her and she was crying a bit as well, upset as she asked her younger sister, “She is, isn’t she? Did you feel it?”

Kira nodded slightly, wiping her nose with the sleeve of her nightgown. She replied, whining, “I want Daddy…” She sniffled as she tried to stop crying.

The door opened halfway as Nathan began to step into his house, then he paused as he sensed his daughter’s frantic thoughts.

“That’s far enough,” Morgan barked out at him.

Nathan froze in the doorway. It took just a few moments to take in what his eyes and mind had to tell him. He saw his housekeeper lying on the couch and felt Kayla’s callings. There was also a person behind the door, and … Kim? His eyes widened in genuine surprise. It didn’t, however, quite mask the realization there was another. An odd feeling struck him, something he hadn’t sensed in years.

Kim came down the stairs quickly and stopped dead in her tracks at the bottom. She was struck stupid for a moment upon seeing her brother for the second time in days. She was just as surprised to find him at home, as he was to see her.

“Come in. Let me see your hands. Nice and slow,” Meg ordered from behind the door, her PPG trained on him.

Coming at a slower rate, Katia left her daughters’ room and crossed down the hall. She halted at the top of the stairs when she saw Kim stop suddenly at the bottom. She felt a pull to return to her daughters’ room to protect them from the unpleasantness she knew was coming, but she battled against it, knowing it was hopeless. The tears continued to fall.

Nathan instantly wrapped himself in a mask of cool, covering his surprise. He lifted his hands and followed Meg’s directions, slowly moving inside the doorway. Morgan watched him close, knowing he could still attack, but praying he wouldn’t remember to, or have a chance to get that far. His eyes flickered over to Meg, and then seemed to dismiss her, focusing on his sister, Kim.

“Kimberly,” he addressed her as if there wasn’t a PPG pointed at his chest. Her friend pushed the door shut behind Nathan, but didn’t take her eyes off of him once.

Katia felt Nathan’s presence down below and almost launched herself at him. It took all of her self-control to stay in place. She hoped he didn’t notice her standing up at the top of the stairs. Especially with her tears falling down her face. She had wanted to show no weakness when she met up with him again.

Kim’s expression was as much a mask. “Hello, again,” she replied calmly.

Nathan held out a weak hope that he could manage to get out of this situation, and then he saw Katia standing above them. A brief flicker of an emotion neither could identify briefly flashed over his face before he shut down again, showing the cool, calculated reserve he showed in every situation. He responded to them quietly, “You’re a fool to have come. Both of you.” He ignored Meg, dismissing her as if she were a non-entity.

Meg scowled, but realized it was time to let the teeps have it out for now.

Katia slowly walked down the stairs, staring back at him with hatred in her eyes, “You thought I would just stay away?”

“You did leave, did you not?” He said quietly.

Kayla and Kira blocked themselves like their Father had taught them and then moved to their doorway where they could listen in and not be caught. This was something they had perfected over the years, and did not hesitate to do again.

Shaking, and trying to control herself, Katia replied to him as she stifled the flow of tears, “Like I had a choice? I had Bester and every Psi Cop on my trail when I left. Besides, you had already taken the girls from me by then, hadn’t you?”

“You had a place, but you threw that away. You made that bed for yourself,” Nathan said. There was just a hint of anger in his voice, and a carefully calculated disappointment in her.

It hit a nerve perfectly. Katia finally lost it and screamed out at him, “You took them from me when they were born! You and the Corps never had any intentions of letting me have access to them — their own mother!” Silently she began coaching herself, Don’t let the hate overtake you, Katia … you have to stay calm … don’t let him do this to you …The words from the book Yoshino had given her coming back to her.

All the while, Kim was shifting slowly around the perimeter of the room, sliding into place. Meg gave Kim a faint nod to Kim to signal her that she was ready whenever her friend was.

Upstairs, Kayla and Kira sat, listening silently. Kayla felt her younger sister gasp out quietly at the words they could hear from below. The younger girl’s shielding slipped momentarily, and Kayla automatically compensated with her own, so that no one would know they are there.

It was an unnecessary concealment. Nathan had sensed the girls already and knew they had an audience to whatever was said, so he replied calmly, “Their mother is dead.”

“NO!” Katia roared. “You know that isn’t the truth! You bastard!” She was shaking once again with the effort of not reaching out to him and physically trying to claw his eyes out, or striking out with her mind. She shook her head and said with derision mostly at herself, “To think I actually loved you and believed your lies…and, you perpetuate those lies to this day, don’t you? Within our daughters…what do you tell them? That their mother was a good little woman, who did everything you asked of her? That she wanted them to be good little Psi Corps drones? And that you loved her very much?”

Nathan continued on in the same cool vein he had started upon entering his house, further infuriating her, “Katia, look at yourself. You haven’t any control of yourself, your mind. How can you have what you want? There is nothing here that is yours anymore.” At that same time he was talking, he was planning as well, keeping Meg in the corner of his sight. He knew she would be his first target.

Gathering her calm like a shroud, Katia said in a deathly quiet voice, “You bastard! How could you lie like that? They are as much my daughters as they are yours! And nothing can take that away from them or me! Not you, not the Corps.”

“On that–” Nathan suddenly turned before he could finish his line and reached out for Meg’s unguarded mind.

Meg snarled something as the attack came suddenly, unexpectedly. She staggered, but was just able to stay on her feet and glared at him. She refused to show weakness, though it felt as if a white hot poker stabbing her in the head.

Katia stood there shocked for a second as she realized she hadn’t even felt the attack or his preparations because she had been too wrapped up in the maelstrom of emotions.

For Kim, the attack had come more quickly than she was prepared for. She reached out to block with raw, untrained force, wrapping a barrier around Meg’s mind. Katia quickly regrouped and gathered her mind as well for an attack on Nathan directly. This time, she went for the telepathic center trying to force him into ending the attack.

Nathan, with the first strong show of emotion he had had, showed shock in his eyes before he narrowed them and switched tactics. He wasn’t without other means, including physical force. He moved to attack, rightly thinking Kim could only do one thing at a time. He was about to take Meg down.

Katia quickly discovered it was impossible to stop him as she was doing. She had his telepathy all but blocked now, but it had done nothing to stop the deadly precision of his movements. Dimly, she remembered his skill in the martial arts. He could kill, and he had no reason to hesitate.

Desperate, she flung herself at him as she screamed out, “NO!” As she did, she finally changed her mental attack and hit him deep in the cerebral cortex just as she had the woman earlier.

Like so many times before, Nathan underestimated Katia and staggered. He finally turned to his own defense now. Meg, her PPG somehow never having wavered from him, charged the first round audibly. It was all but lost to Nathan’s ears. Adding her own talent to the fight, with brute forced Kim slammed into Nathan’s mind. He finally was overpowered, unable to hear now, in the ringing pain of two minds slamming against him he reeled back.

Kim focused all her anger into the one attack. All the hurt done to her and the family over the years. Her lip drew back in a snarl. Her mind teetered dangerously close to the blinding haze hatred.

Meg, her head spinning from the attack, stepped forward and backhanded Nathan hard, snapping his head to the side as he collapsed to his knees. His eyes rolled up against the threefold attack and he dropped in a loose-limbed sprawl, unconscious before he hit.

Kim staggered a step as suddenly there was nothing left to fight. She lifted her eyes to Katia.

The other woman wavered and finally fell to the floor on her knees, her hands catching her from falling completely over. The was pain actually inviting. It made it absolutely clear that, somehow, she was still alive.

(C) Copyright 1999 Tamara Freise, Alida Saxon and Leslie McBride. All rights reserved.

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