Staring At the Sun

Characters: Dr. Kim Matsumoto, Tomás Darquin

He found her in the dark, sitting on the floor before the wall of viewports, savoring the sight of the stars glowing in space. After watching the hypnotic maelstrom of cosmic forces during the journey through hyperspace, the stellar void seemed more like a peaceful haven than a dead vacuum. Absorbed as she was with the view, she didn’t even shift as he stepped up quietly bedside her.

“Am I interrupting?”

Kim started and blinked up at Tomas Darquin. She let out her breath when she recognized him. “No, not at all. Just drifting.”

“I, um, was thinking about your offer from before you left.”

She frowned slightly with concern, looking at him more closely. “Has more happened?”

Darquin sat beside her in a lotus position, facing her. “Maybe a glimpse in my sleep. But I want to take the offensive. I don’t want this thing chasing me.”

Kim’s mouth twitched, a self-mocking expression, then she pulled herself back to the moment. “The offer does stand.”

Darquin shrugged, outwardly calm. “Um, okay. When and where? One of the meditation rooms over there?”

She shook her head, uneasy with the idea. She had her pride still, but a much-beaten-about confidence in her abilities. “Now is fine, but I’d rather my quarters. If something goes wrong. . . .”

“That’s fine with me. I could get something, if it’ll help.”

She pulled up a smile. “No, that’s all right. A no-accessories-needed kind of ability.”

“Yeah, probably a good idea to do this on an empty stomach anyway.”

Kim frowned. “You think it’s bad?”

“No, just preparing for the worst. EarthForce training.”

Kim nodded and stood up, grimacing as her side complained. “All right then.”

Darquin stood with her, a nervous smile emerging. “This’ll be the weirdest date I’ve ever been on.”

That drew an honest laugh out. She started for the door, speaking over her shoulder. “No kidding. Not that I’ve have had many lately for comparison.”

“None of mine would, either way.”


Kim was a little nervous herself when she keyed open the door to her quarters. She stepped in and called for lights, then moved aside to let him in. Illumination revealed quarters larger than Darquin’s but no more spacious for all that was crammed in it. Furniture, mementos and work in progress maintained and orderly truce…barely.

“Better today than the last,” Kim joked. “Nothing to embarrass me before guests.”

Darquin laughed a little, resting against the open doorway. “Thanks, I think.”

Kim idly picked up a stone from a display niche and waved at the place with it. “Well, as you can see, I tend toward clutter,” she said and smiled. “But then you’ve already seen the lab at it’s worst.”

“Eh. We can blame it on the war.”

“Guess I can buy that excuse.” She looked at him then and cleared her throat. “Well, are you coming in?”

“Hm? Oh, sorry.” He stepped in and looked for a chair. “Where would you like me?”

Kim thought for a moment. “You might want to lie down on the couch. I’ll pull over a chair.”

Darquin wandered over to the couch and exhaled to still his nerves before lying down. Kim hefted her most comfortable chair over, holding her breath to stifle the pain from her side, and waited until he was down before settling into her seat.

“You all right?” Am I?

“I guess so.” He looked up at her for a second, then up at the ceiling, obviously unsure where to turn his eyes.

Kim tried to become businesslike, controlled. “Okay. Give me your hand.”

Darquin paused a second then give her his hand, blushing slightly. In his head, he allowed himself a final private thought, chiding himself to can his romantic streak for once.

She held his hand in both of hers, lightly. “What I’m going to is prompt you to recall that dream again. I’ll be scanning, try to help,” she said.

“Okay…um, there’s a road,” he rushed in. “Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, a desert. And it was raining. It was coming down in buckets.”

Kim dropped her barriers and gently touched his mind, probing. She couldn’t get much beyond nervous flickers of thought and emotion. Chaotic. Very carefully she walled in her own reactions, knowing too well the damage that could be caused if she started projecting. Again. Just remembering that whole mess with the captain brought a hot flush to her cheeks.

But when she spoke, her voice was admirably calm, betraying nothing. “Try to picture it. Look at the road.” The sound as much in his head as without.

Darquin closed his eyes, picturing the old concrete road stretching across the desert to the dark horizon. Raindrops stabbed across his dreamsight.

“It’s always coming down so hard, like being stoned to death. And cold. God, I felt so small,” he murmured.

Kim gasped as the room fell away, her senses drawn into the dream. She saw it, felt it as if it were now. Her point of view suddenly shortened, a body that wasn’t hers wrapped around her awareness. But it felt as real as her own and like nothing she’d ever experienced before.

Darquin could smell the centuries-old oil and gasoline getting kicked up from the rain, feel the rain plaster his clothing heavy to his skin. It was happening again as intensely as it had in the medlab, but this time there was someone beside him.

“Can you see back, can you remember how you got there?” Kim’s voice whispered.

Darquin paused before answering, his voice child-like. “I…I can’t.”

A woman was crying, her voice competing with the pounding rhythm of the rain.

“Can you see her?”

In the dream, Darquin turned to see a man trying to lead a crying woman into a Jeep just as they passed before the twin suns of the vehicle’s headlights.

“Who are they?”

“My mother…I can see her.”

And then his mother spoke, a wail. Pero esta un bebito! “He’s just a baby!” It had been spoken in Spanish, but through the link Kim heard it in English as well.

“Did you remember this before?” Kim prompted.

“Yeah, but….” He looked out into the rain, focusing on the face of the man holding his mother back. “Christ…that’s not my father!”

“Do you know who he is?”

Darquin flashed on old photographs of his father, then back to the dream with his mother and the strange man holding her back. He spoke coldly at first, suspicious and predatorial, then grew soft with disbelief. “I don’t know this guy at all. All my life, I thought it was my father here.”

“What happened?”

Sinking deep into the dream, Darquin didn’t hear her. He was looking wildly, all around the desert, a frightened child. “Where’s my father?” He ran onto the road, trying to follow the departing Jeep, screaming into the dream. “Where’s my father? What the hell are you doing?!”

Kim struggled, fighting to keep her own identity and control from the crushing force of his emotions. The sensation of her breath in and out of her throat led her back into herself. “Darquin?” she called, trying to focus him. “Tom?”

Darquin could taste the fresh ice-cold rainwater, but in the here and now, tears burned in his eyes. “Yeah.”

“I’m here.”

Darquin paused, more calm when he spoke again. “Yeah…okay.”

“Do you want to stop?”

“Something else. One more thing.”

Kim couldn’t deny such urgency. “Okay.”

Darquin kept his eyes closed, trying to push back the past long enough to think. “It doesn’t match with what really happened. My parents took us all to my uncle’s.”

“What happened?”

“They took us up to the arcology in Flagstaff during the night, to his door.”

“Why?”

The desert dream disappeared. Silhouettes of people in the dark flickered in Darquin’s thoughts.

“I don’t know. My uncle and aunt told me my parents had a business trip,” he said.

“Try to picture your parents taking you to them.”

Darquin’s mind jumped into the moonlit back seat of a Jeep. “It was dark. I don’t remember much.” His focus went back to the dark figures at a doorway. “They were talking when we got to the door. It sounds like mumbling.”

“Look closer. Try to hear them.”

A sudden brightness blinded them as his uncle carried him into the front room. “I hear my uncle. I can’t make out what they said before we came in,” Darquin said.

“What is your uncle saying?”

“It’s weird…some time I felt cold, sometimes I didn’t.” He stirred as his focus returned. “My uncle…he’s saying I’ll be all right.”

“Look around, can you see more? Is there anyone else there?”

“My aunt used to have roses in that room. The front room. I can see her across the room. But there’re supposed to be roses.”

Kim felt queer, in that house, and she couldn’t quite understand why.

Darquin unexpectedly chuckled. “They said I whacked an old velvet painting on the way in and scared ’em half to death. It’s a family heirloom–” To match the words, his little child-hand smacked a velvet portrait of a matador as he was carried around a corner, into another room.

Kim didn’t laugh, her unease growing.

Darquin fell quiet, stunned. “It wasn’t…it felt flat. Like plastic.”

“Darquin…?”

“Yeah, I can hear you.”

“Something’s wrong.”

“It’s…like a dream, isn’t it? I can’t hear anything. Just voices and you.”

“So quiet. Houses aren’t like this,” Kim said, and distantly felt her own body shiver.

“Oh God.” Darquin sat up sharply, opening his eyes. “It’s not real. The other dream…that was real.”

The dream dissipated like a cloud of dust. Kim let go of Darquin’s hand, collapsing back heavily in her chair. Returned to herself, shaken, she labored to steady her breathing and slow her hammering heart.

There were tears in Darquin’s eyes. “They really left me in the middle of the night?”

“I–” Kim swallowed and scrubbed at her face. “Looks that way.”

Darquin dabbed his eyes real fast on his cuffs of his Ranger uniform. “You okay, Kim?”

She carefully reconstructed her barriers and took a deep breath before looking at him. “I’m fine. Just tired. Are you all right?”

He looked all about Kim’s quarters like a caged animal, trying to ground himself. He swung his feet down to the floor, and let his shoulders droop as he sat on the edge of the couch. “I think I’m okay. You said PsiCorp does…stuff like this? To cover something up?”

“So I’ve heard.” Kim scowled, and old anger resurfacing. Was nothing too terrible for them to commit? “But a two-year-old? What could have possibly been so important to implant a baby?”

He tried to picture it, the baby he once was being worked on by a circle of strangers as if he were little more than a faulty mainframe. He turned pale, then numb.

She stood up to give him room, then swayed dizzily, color rushing out of her cheeks. Darquin jumped to his feet to catch her, and steadied her with his hands on her arms.

“Whoa. We’re both going a million klicks a second….Sorry.”

“Why?”

“You had to go through it too. Because of me.”

Leaning on the back of the chair, she shook her head. “Don’t. If it helped…?”

Darquin bit his lip. “I guess it did. I feel like I’ve lost my direction. In situations like this, one of my old instructors would say something like, ‘To gain new direction, I must lose it.'” He stared off into the nearest wall. “It hurts to feel lost.”

Kim sighed and straightened. “I know,” she said, barely above a whisper.

Darquin balled his hands up into fists. “All this time, I thought I was okay. Out of all the crazy–“

Kim looked away and went for water. While she was pouring a second glass, he stopped and looked around for her. She brought it with her when she returned to him. As she handed it to him, she saw him blush again, frowning, before he turned away.

“Kim, it…I didn’t realize how tough this was going to be on you.” He turned to face her again, but couldn’t manage to make eye contact. “I won’t forget that.”

Kim smiled weakly. “Least I can do.”

He made a clicking sound inside his mouth. “No, it’s something else. You got your own problems, but you helped me anyway.”

She flushed a little. Darquin put down the glass and touched her arm again, taking special care to avoid her skin. “Thanks.” He looked into her eyes long enough to say that, then let himself look away. “I just wish I knew how to return the favor.”

“You’re welcome.”

Darquin reached for the glass of water, looked into it. The thought of drinking it made him feel unexpectedly ill. So like the rain. He abruptly put the glass down again, the contents almost sloshing over in his haste. “I’d better give you a chance to rest.”

Kim blinked and stepped back. Hesitantly, “If you ever want….”

Darquin pursed his lips, thinking, then nodded slightly. “Once we get over this time, maybe.”

Kim echoed the motion. “Whenever. I…it helps to be useful.”

Encouraged, his spirit lifted a bit. “Yeah?”

“Yes. If I can even undo just a little.”

“Maybe we are.” A small, tired smile faded into view. “See you in the galley tomorrow? I’ll get breakfast,” he offered.

“Tomorrow.”

“Great,” he said and headed for the door. “‘night, Kim.”

She followed him, showing him out. “Good night.”

Darquin gave her a warm glance as the door slid shut.

Kim stood by the door a long moment, lost in thought. She eventually pushed herself into movement, going through the motions of tidying up the room. Returned the chair to its place, the pillows to the couch and straightened the seat cushions. Finally she retrieved the untouched glass of water. She wasn’t surprised by it, remembering, but it wasn’t rain that filled her own thoughts. The desert in her memory was millennia dry, dust filling the unbreathable air until all was seen in shades of red.

But not warm. So cold. And quiet, until–

Robotically she poured away the water and retrieved the last item displaced by the afternoon’s activities. She cradled the rust-coloured rock in her palm, studying it. It was dull and small compared to the others in her little collection. It had been bigger once, and jagged, but time and frequent handling — and a few walls, in her rage — had blunted its edges.

“But not all,” she whispered.

Kim sank down on the couch and remembered.