Welcome To The Harem

Eschaton by Deslea R. Judd (Part 2 of 4)
Summary: You don't have to be mortal to love. You don't have to be human to feel. Knowle/Shannon backstory, pre-XF through XF and beyond. R for low-key sex and adult concepts.

Eschaton (2/4) (Chapters 3+4)
Deslea R. Judd
Copyright 2003

DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
ARCHIVE: Sure, just keep my name and headers.
RATING: R for low-key sex and adult concepts.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Pre-XF, through XF and beyond. Mainly Eve, Herrenvolk, One Son, Per Manum, Existence, NIHT II and The Truth.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Mytharc, Knowle/Shannon, Knowle POV. Pre-XF, post-col. Passing allusions to Shannon/Doggett UST, Doggett/ Reyes, Mulder/Scully and Krycek/Marita.
SUMMARY: You don't have to be mortal to love. You don't have to be human to feel.
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. deslea@deslea.com.
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky Awards 2003 eligible.

Eschaton: Last things, end times, pertains to the extremity of life and death. Koine greek: eschatos.



THREE



For a long time, he ignored it.

She came to him late at night, smelling like other men. Kissing and touching. Looking for what they couldn't give her, whatever it was. And then he would give what he could, but she couldn't accept it because it was from him. They would lie there, side by side, flushed and spent and more distant than ever until she got up and slipped away. When they talked about it at all, it was whispered reproaches and apologies and pleading, why, why as they covered one another with kisses and regrets, never spoken of in the light of day.

He ignored it while they lived on base in Durham, and he ignored it when they shipped out to Lebanon at the end of their second semester at Duke. He ignored it until he found her in their makeshift barracks in Beirut with John Doggett. They weren't even very far along, just rumpled shirts pulled open, smelling of booze, but it was enough to make him draw in his breath in a hiss.

"Knowle," she said. Sitting up. Pulling her shirt closed over her bra. Covering herself.

"Sorry," he stammered, and he left them, movements clumsy and jerking. He made it out of there and dropped down on the ground beside the barracks, his head in his hands. Reeling, as though from a punch to the gut. Somehow, he'd never really expected to deal with it head-on.

"I thought you said there was nothing goin' on between you two?" he heard John say through the window.

"There isn't," Shannon said. Knowle let out a low, miserable laugh. Wondered how many men she'd said it to. "It's just complicated. We go back a while. Before the service."

"Bullshit. I saw his face. I've got a girl back home, you know, and he looked like I'd look if-"

"If what?"

"Jesus. What am I doin' here? I'm gonna go sober up."

"John-"

"No, I don't wanna be part of this. You guys are my friends. If you got stuff to work out with him, you do it on your own time. I don't want anything to do with it."

Shannon's voice was pleading. Seductive. Knowle thought he might throw up. "John, you're making this so much bigger than it needs to be. Why can't it just be about you and me? Just for one night?"

He heard movement, and outraged sounds from Shannon. John pushing her away, maybe. "You know what? I'm gonna go sleep this shit off, and then I'm gonna phone Barb and tell her I love her. You got any sense, McMahon, and you'll do the same. Knowle's an all right guy. He doesn't deserve this." Thudding, belligerent footsteps, and then John came tramping out of the barracks and damn near tripped over him.

"Sorry," he said when John looked down and saw him.

"Hey, buddy, you got nothing to be sorry for." John pulled his shirt down straight. Sniffed at the collar a little and made a face. "What do you say we go get a drink?"

He didn't bother pretending he hadn't overheard. "I thought you were going to sober up."

"I am, but you might wanna head in the other direction, you know what I'm sayin'?"

He didn't get drunk, but he and John talked shit over the pool table, and in its own way, Knowle found that comforting. John had no particular expectations of him, and he liked that more than he'd thought he would. By the time they sneaked into their bunks at 0600, he was willing to bend his own rule and make an honest-to-goodness human friend. John was all right.

The base was bombed a half an hour later.

He got John out. He got fifteen of them out, in fact, and they gave him the Legion of Merit for it. He was proud of his service and proud of his men, but he took it as a warning, just the same. It was just no good to get attached to humans. They died. All of them died. And John, lying there in his bunk in the makeshift infirmary, was living proof.

"Sure do owe you one, buddy," John said that last day before they flew him home.

Knowle waved a hand. "Just doin' my job. How's that leg?"

"Pretty fucked. Barb reckons she's gonna nurse me when I get home. We'll see how long that lasts. I'm a terrible patient." Knowle laughed. "We should get together when you get home, Knowle. We'll knock back a few beers."

"Sure thing." He held out his hand.

John shook it, then sketched a little salute. "Semper fi."

Knowle returned it. "Will do."

So John went home, and when Knowle followed, he took him at his word. They had some beers, saw a few ballgames. Stayed in touch. But he never let his guard down with him that way again.

~x~

Things got better once they came back to Durham. Not great, but better.

They never really reached any kind of understanding about John, or about any of it, but they learned to coexist with it. They had their homes, bachelor houses on the base around the corner from one another. Close enough to stay close, but far enough apart that Shannon could come and go as she pleased, and Knowle didn't have to see who she took into her bed. These arrangements were made without discussion, rubber-stamped by Lauderton, and for a time, their relationship returned to something approaching normal. They studied together, they slept together some of the time, and Knowle rarely gave her other activities a lot of thought. He wasn't happy, but he wasn't really unhappy either. He was content. More or less.

In the evenings, she sat on her front step with a cup of coffee, waiting for him to come back from his run. Ready to study, or to talk about their day. It grew to be a routine. Still, he didn't think much of it the night she wasn't there. He had no inkling that anything was wrong until he rounded the corner to his own house, and she was sitting there instead. Her head was bent low, and she was weeping. She had a sheaf of letters in her hand.

He dropped down on the step beside her. "Shannon? What is it?"

She handed an envelope to him, addressed to him but otherwise identical to hers. It bore the USMC logo. "I got it from your mailbox," she said. "Open it."

Frowning, he did as she told him.

"We regret to inform you that you have been unsuccessful in your application for admission to officer training in the current intake," she said bitterly. "That's what it says, doesn't it?"

He sighed. "Pretty much."

"We worked for this for years. I told you this would happen," she said accusingly.

"We don't know that's what it was, Shannon."

She made a sound of annoyance. Clearly exasperated by his ongoing naivete. "What else could it be? We did a tour of duty in the middle it, survived a bombing, you got a fucking medal, and we still managed to stay on the Honours track. What more could they want from us?"

Privately, he wondered if she might be right, but he didn't say so. He took her by the hand and tugged her to her feet. "Come inside. I'll call Lauderton. Let's get this thing straightened out." He sounded more confident than he felt.

Shannon didn't look convinced, but she spared him a smile and let him lead her indoors.

~x~

Lauderton let out a low whistle.

"Something big's brewing, Knowle. You might want to stick close to the base for the next few days."

"What do you mean?" he asked, glancing through the kitchen hutch at Shannon. She was sitting on his lounge, drinking coffee. Calmer now. Watching curiously.

"Looks like your officer training was approved, then squashed from above. There's a whole lot of new security clearances on your file - just went into effect in the last twenty-four hours. Same with Shannon. Looks to me like you're about to be put onto something classified."

He frowned. "Do you know what it is?"

"No idea. It's SCI, and I don't have clearance for it. Something called the Genesis Project by the looks."

"How do we find out?"

Lauderton's laugh echoed down the phone. "You can't, my boy. You'll just have to wait for them to come to you."

~x~

Lieutenant Colonel Randolph was his name, and colonisation was his game.

"What do you know of your antecedents, Lance Corporal Rohrer?"

Knowle recited the specifics by rote. "After the failure of the Litchfield Eves, the practice of adding further human chromosomes to embryos was abandoned. Instead, cellular material was taken from an extraterrestrial biological entity executed in Hanoi under Security Council Resolution 1013. This matter was used to modify human embryos, which were then carried by human surrogates. The result was a male and female biosoldier prototype - myself and Lance Corporal McMahon - comprised of metallic and organic matter, capable of regeneration, and unhampered by normal human limitations." He added with a trace of pride, "The experiment was entirely successful."

"Eventually. There were failures before you." This was news to Knowle, but he didn't say so. "What you probably don't know is that despite the existence of SCR-1013, EBEs have been allowed to flourish in this country under a diplomatic agreement reached in 1972. A treaty was negotiated. Certain concessions were made."

"What kinds of concessions?" Shannon demanded.

"That's need-to-know. What I can tell you is that the ultimate objective of the Genesis Project is the integration of alien life into human society on this planet. Your role will be to facilitate the project in various facilities across the country. Most of the time, you'll work remotely in the Pentagon, but there will be times when you'll be called upon to troubleshoot." Randolph's pointed look left no doubt in Knowle's mind. The pun was intentional.

"Facilitate how?" Shannon was very pale.

"There's a list of facilities that will come under your brief in the document packets I've given you. Learn the work, and especially the staffing structure and the schematics. You'll need that for coordinating surveillance and tactical operations, among other tasks. You'll be relocated to Washington, and commence your placement next month."

Knowle nodded. Frowning. "Thank you, Sir," he said. Anxious to bring the meeting to an end. He wanted to study the paperwork before he said anything more.

But Shannon didn't seem so eager to pull the plug. She was already looking through her brief. She said, "Sir?"

"Yes, Lance Corporal McMahon?"

"These are medical institutions. Military hospitals, fertility clinics, maternity hospitals." Shannon looked up at him. "This is a breeding program. It's not integration, it's colonisation."

Randolph peered at her over his glasses. "I would be very careful about the words I bandied around if I were you, soldier."

"But-"

"And I will remind you that you have legal obligations to the Department Of Defence about the responsible use of this information. State that you understand these responsibilities, Lance Corporal."

Shannon stared at him, pale and still for a long moment, but then she backed down. "Yes, Sir. I've been so advised, Sir."

Randolph watched Shannon, grim-faced and stoic, but after a moment, he nodded, rising to his feet. Knowle and Shannon rose, too. "Very well. My office will make contact with further instructions closer to the time."

Knowle stood to attention and offered a parting salute. "Thank you, Sir."

Shannon shoved her hands in her pockets, and when Randolph glared at her, she turned and walked away.

~x~

She was packing when he found her.

He let himself into her house, ready to prepare her for what he suspected would be a charge of insubordination, but angry sounds of cupboards opening and closing distracted him from his purpose.

He followed the sounds to her bedroom. She ignored him when he appeared in the doorway, just kept darting back and forth across the room.

"Shannon!" he burst out. He stared down at the open bags on floor. Clothes and white cotton underthings stuffed in any which way. No uniform.

She was going AWOL.

Dismay settled over him, but not surprise. Hadn't she been drifting towards this anyway?

She didn't stop moving. Didn't even look at him. "Go back to your house, Knowle. You'll want to keep that plausible denial of yours intact."

"You're leaving?" he hissed. She ignored him. Just kept on moving back and forth. "Shannon?" he persisted. He grabbed her arm. "Shannon!"

She met his gaze at last. Eyes bright with fury. "This is wrong!" she said. "What they want us to get involved in is wrong!"

"Why?" he demanded. "The alien race was here first. They're only reclaiming what's theirs."

"But humans have been here for millennia! They've made it theirs! They're entitled to be here!"

He loosened his hold on her arm. "It doesn't matter! It's not for us to decide. We're just along for the ride. And we have a responsibility to the Corps."

Shannon stared at him. "So you'd fight against it if you were ordered to? Just as much as you'd fight for it?" She seemed taken aback at the very idea.

"Yes, I would," he said. Did she really think he was taking any side here, besides the Corps? Did she really think that was their place? "I don't have an agenda here, Shannon. I'm just doing my job."

She stamped her foot like a frustrated child. "Why?" she demanded. "Why are you so loyal to them?"

He stared at her. "They made me, Shannon! They raised me! They gave me everything!" He took her hands in his. "They gave me you."

At this, some of the fire left her. She suddenly looked very tired. "I wasn't theirs to give, Knowle."

He sighed. Not this again. "I thought we loved each other. Don't we?"

She pulled away. Paced a little. "Of course we do. But we were never given the choice not to love each other - don't you see that?"

"Why does it fucking matter?" he burst out. "I don't need that choice! I never wanted anything but you."

"But they taught you what to want!"

"Show me a parent who doesn't."

She gave a sound of exasperation. "It's wrong, Knowle. What they did was wrong. What they're doing now is wrong."

"That's a very human thing to say," he said. "They made us to be productive and happy. I just don't see what's so terrible about that."

She held her head in her hands. "But I'm not happy."

"And this is how you solve it?" he demanded. "By going AWOL? By sleeping with human men?"

She stepped back a little. Face flushed with anger. "Don't start."

"How does it feel, Shannon? How does it feel when they touch your neck and they think it's a deformity? Does even one of them love you for it? Does even one of them understand it's who you are?"

Red blotches rose in her cheeks, and there were tears in her voice. "Stop it. Just fucking stop."

"Shannon, do they?"

"You're just jealous!" The tears were flowing freely now, and she wiped them away impatiently.

"I'm not jealous. I don't need to be jealous." Shit, he hated seeing her like this. He felt the anger drain out of him, and, sighing, he went to her and took her by the arms. Drew her close. She didn't fight him. "You can't run from who you are, Shannon. Sooner or later, you'll realise that, and you'll be back. And I'll be waiting."

Her voice was muffled against his shoulder. "You're very sure of yourself, aren't you?"

"I'm a patient man. And I have all the time in the world." He released her. "Do what you have to do. I'll be here."

"You're not going to try to stop me?"

He shook his head.

She touched his arm, and went back to her packing. He sat down on her bed, watching her.

"This isn't about you, Knowle," she said presently. "It's about something they took from me."

He looked down at his hands. "I'll miss you. If it matters."

She dropped a kiss on his head. "Same."

He was still sitting there when she left.

~x~

Lauderton loved his petunias.

Knowle never saw the appeal, himself, but he planted them readily enough. It felt good to get his hands dirty again. To plunge into soil and feel it shape itself around his fingers. Just waiting to nurture. It felt...right. Decent. Whole.

Lauderton was kind to him that day. He spoke of trifles in a low, droning voice. He spoke of his new sprinkler system. The way his secretary never got his filing quite the way he wanted it. The pretty physiotherapist who took care of his leg, and how if he were twenty years younger he'd take her to his favourite lobster restaurant in Maine. He filled the silences, and let Knowle have his time and his space to work himself out.

"It's different for women, Knowle," Lauderton said when he finally unburdened himself.

"But how? Why? I don't understand."

"I don't really understand it either, my boy. But they're made differently, and I think that has something to do with it." At Knowle's puzzled look, he elaborated, "I mean sex, Knowle. It's more frightening for women. Because there's more ways they can be hurt." He got to his feet and winced when his bad leg creaked.

"But we weren't like that," he argued. "I never hurt her. And she can't even be hurt."

"Physically, no. But I think she probably has the same instincts. The same reflexes." He hefted a bag of fertiliser, and waved Knowle away when he started to get up to help. "It's not you she's rejecting, Knowle. It's the idea that she was born into what amounts to a marriage. She's rebelling."

"You knew this might happen," Knowle accused.

Lauderton nodded, dumping the bag. He got out his handkerchief and wiped his brow. "I hoped I was wrong. But yes, Knowle, I thought so. The decisions that were made for you all those years ago were, I'm afraid, very short-sighted. The men who made these decisions feared the changes in the world, and they blamed those changes for the things that went wrong with your precedessors, the Eves. They said their psychosis was a result of sexual immorality - all sorts of nonsense. People were very ignorant back then. They came from a time when marriage was believed to solve everyone's problems, and they thought it would solve yours, too. We know now that it isn't so simple." He was panting. "Phew. That thing's heavy."

"I offered to get it," Knowle said pointedly.

"Yes, well, serves me right for being a martyr, I suppose. Beer?"

Knowle nodded, and got up to fetch it before he could argue.

"There's something else," Lauderton said after they'd been drinking a while. "Something you might not have put together, but that Shannon probably has."

"What is it?" he wondered.

"Shannon never got her menses, did she?"

Knowle frowned. He'd never thought about it. But he'd clearly noticed without being aware of noticing, because he was able to come up with the answer.

"No," he said. "She didn't."

Lauderton looked down into his beer. "She can't have children, Knowle. Neither of you can have children."

He felt something. Something obscurely hurtful. Not an ache, but a shadow of one.

"Oh."

"They made you that way. They were afraid you'd make more. Ones they couldn't control."

"That makes sense." Saying it helped him believe it.

"It makes sense," Lauderton said, "if you think of yourself as the property of the military. Something to be used and controlled. An asset. Which you clearly do."

"Well, of course," he said. "They made us. We owe them."

Lauderton looked at him with curiosity. "This idea that Shannon has - that she has a right to be free. It seems very ungrateful to you, Knowle, doesn't it?"

Knowle hesitated. He didn't like to criticise her. But-

"Yes. It does."

"Because they created you."

He nodded. More sure of himself now. "Yes."

Lauderton sat back a little. He said expansively, "Imagine you saw yourself as made by something else, though. Doesn't matter what - God, the life force, the soil, primordial slime, whatever. And then they interfered with you. They gave and took, unjustly, for their own ends. You can see how it might look different if you saw it that way, can't you?"

Knowle stared at him. "Is that what you really think? That she's right?"

"I think she's hurting, Knowle. And you're just going to have to give her the space she needs to work it all out."

"But she will," he said. "Won't she?"

Lauderton clapped him on the shoulder. "Course she will, boy. It's just going to take some time. And that's the one thing you two have in spades, right?"

"I suppose you're right."

"Of course I'm right." He set down his beer. "Now, my boy, it's time to earn your keep. Let's take another look at these petunias."

~x~

The next time he saw her was two years later.

She was living in Maryland with a group of identical women - renegade Samanthas turned rogue. "You're choosing a dangerous path," he warned her. "If they order me to go up against you, I will."

"Of course you will," she said. She tried to close the door in his face.

"Shannon," he said, holding the door open. "I miss you."

That affected her. Real grief flitted over her features. She came through the door, out onto the verandah. Closed it behind her. She admitted, "I miss you too."

"House feels empty without you," he said.

She hugged herself. Held herself taut, pulling her cardigan around her. "Knowle-"

"Are you happy?"

She looked away. Blinking. Swallowing. "I, uh," she managed, "Knowle - please -"

It hurt, seeing her like that. He went to her. Tugged her close. He only meant to hold her, but she kissed him. Hungry. Needy. Whispering his name into his mouth. God, he'd missed her.

Finally, she pushed him back. Stroked his lip with her thumb. "You should go."

He didn't want to, but there was no point in pressing her. He knew that now. He just sighed. "I love you, Shannon."

She smiled a little. "Me too, Knowle." She turned to go.

"Shannon?"

She turned.

"If they ask me where you are, I'm going to have to tell them. You should get them out of here."

She nodded. "Thanks."

She shut the door gently, and left him standing on her doorstep in the cold.

~x~

The next time was eighteen months after that.

He found her sitting on his back porch in the rain in the middle of the night. Hair straggling. He could see the lines of her bra through her shirt.

He came out of the house, closing the screen door behind him, and sat down beside her. She didn't look at him. Just sat there, lips trembling. He put his arm around her, and her face crumpled. He rocked her while she wept.

"What do you want from me, Shannon?" he asked her when the worst of it had passed. He kissed her hair. "Whatever you want, you can have it. But you have to tell me. Because I just don't know any more."

She kissed his neck. Slow. Gentle. He bent his head to hers. She tasted of rain and tears.

"You," she whispered. Wet fingertips on his jaw. She drew away and met his gaze. "I know I don't have any right to ask."

"You have every right to ask. I'm yours, Shannon. You know that." It wasn't a sentimental statement in the least. Just a statement of fact.

She sniffled a little. "I don't deserve you, Knowle."

He drew her close. "Shh," he said. "I just wish I understood. I wish I knew how to make it all stop hurting." She clutched at his shirt, weeping again, and he tilted her chin up to face him. "Hey, hey, don't. Come on. Come in."

She shook her head. "No, stay here. Please." She reached for him. Pressed her face against his. Kissing and nuzzling. Her skin was white and cool. "I need to feel."

So he had her there, fierce and tender in the pouring rain, but he still didn't understand.



FOUR



They were on the same side, for once, during Desert Storm.

He didn't know how she managed it, but she was there in his unit with him under a different name. He didn't know whether she was there with any kind of official sanction from those who knew what she was, or if she was there independently under falsified credentials. But she was there, and they fought side by side.

"I like seeing you like this," she said one night during a lull in hostilities in Basra. There were Iraqi troops on the other side of town, but they appeared to have run out of firepower and were presumably waiting for backup. Knowle wasn't worried. They'd be ready.

"How do you mean?" he wondered. He looked over his shoulder at their men. They were sleeping. Nodded down at her M16. "How you doing for ammo for that?"

"Four and a half mags. I'm fine." She put the rifle back in its holster and came to sit beside him. "What I mean is, you're not stressed by it, but you don't get off on it, either. You're just...you. Like you're in your natural habitat."

He thought about it. She was right. "I like it," he said. "I like all the crap stripped away. All the shit that humans-" he glanced over his shoulder again, and said in a lower voice, "that people hang onto. The petty hopes and fears. They're just here with their heads down trying to get the job done, and they'll live or die in the attempt, and either way, that's okay. I like that. I understand it."

Shannon nodded. "I can see how that would appeal to you." He wasn't sure whether that was a compliment or an insult.

"I like being on the same side with you," he said after a while.

A smile spread over her face. She was filthy - they both were - but he thought she was beautiful. "Same."

"Think it will last?"

She leaned in and kissed him. There was none of the anguish that had come to mark their occasional trysts. Just plain affection, pure and simple.

"Not a chance in the world."

They laughed softly in the light of the rising sun.

~x~

She was right, of course.

When they came back home, the camaraderie fell by the wayside. He went on with his work in the Project. She went AWOL again and took her place with the renegades, working against him. Now and then, they were positioned head-to-head, and sometimes she bested him, sometimes he bested her. Either way, there were no hard feelings. Not for him, anyway. For her, it was more complex, but then, wasn't it always?

She took a succession of men into her bed, and at her lowest lows, she came to him. He was gentle with her, gave what she could accept, and did not reproach her for what she couldn't. In fact, he didn't give their relationship, what there was of it, very much thought at all. He missed her, but they had all the time in the world to work things out. He was at peace with the way things were.

At some point, Shannon apparently decided it was more efficient to work on the inside, because by 1995 her career mirrored his own. Her indiscretions were elegantly erased from her files. Lauderton was not forthcoming about her agenda, and it was likely he simply didn't know. Whatever the case, they were amicable. There were stolen moments. They were rarely on the same side.

It was one of their better days when the call came. He stood there in his office in the Pentagon, eyes fixed on hers, smiling at her while she stroked his chest and talked shit to him. He knew perfectly well she was gearing up to ask him for information about something or other, and he didn't care. These moments were a game, but there was love too, and he could play the game and enjoy the love at the same time.

There was a knock at the door, and then his secretary came in. They broke apart. "Lydia, I told you no calls."

"Begging your pardon, Sir, but your phone is off the hook."

"There's a reason for that." Lydia was a civilian, but she came from a military family. There would be no wise-ass retorts about what those reasons might be.

"Sir, it's a Captain Heimann. He says it's about the Genesis Project." He and Shannon exchanged looks.

"Do you want me to go?" Shannon asked him in an undertone.

He thought about it. Heimann was not a familiar name to him, and that was a bad sign. "No," he said after a moment. "Stay."

She held his gaze, frowning. "All right."

"I'll take it," he said to Lydia. "Shut the door." Lydia looked doubtful. He prompted, "Miss McMahon has the same clearance as I do. Shut the door."

"Yes, Sir." Lydia spared them one last look and departed.

He waited until she was gone, and then he put the phone on speaker. "This is Master Sergeant Rohrer."

"Sir, this is Captain Heimann. I'm chief of security at El Rico Air Force Base. I have a situation here I'm told you should be made aware of. Is this a secure line?"

"Yes, it is. Go ahead, soldier." He held out his hand to Shannon, and she took it and came closer, her brow lined with worry.

"Sir, there was an incident here at the base overnight. There was some kind of meeting of the heads of the Genesis Project, and they were killed outright. It appears that they were victims of a mutiny."

Shannon's hold tightened around his fingers. "This is Master Sergeant McMahon. Are there any survivors?"

"I have unconfirmed reports that Mr Spender and his assistant, an FBI Agent Fowley escaped unharmed. All other members of the team have been identified, Ma'am."

Knowle spoke. "Have you established live contact with them?"

"Not yet, Sir."

"Captain, who has taken provisional command of the Project?"

They listened, and Shannon's shoulders slumped. She looked ill.

"Thank you," he said after a moment, and he rang off.

"The Purists have control," she said. "Of all the possible ways it could have played out-" she broke off. "At least the Colonists were going to let the humans live."

"Some of them," he reminded her.

"Yes. But the human race would have survived. It was still better than this."

It was on the tip of his tongue to remind her that Purist ascendancy was a predictable outcome of her own renegade activities against the Colonists, but he decided against it. He said instead, "This changes nothing. We still have a job to do."

"Even when the government changes hands? Even when that government is not the government that made us? Knowle, if we ever owed them anything, the debt is paid. They're gone - they're all gone."

The idea that that might really be true was more than a little frightening.

"I don't accept that," he said. A little shaken. "The politics are irrelevant. They're not my affair. I do my part. It's what I was made for. That's all."

"We're hybrids, Knowle! Half-castes! You think we're going to have an easy time of it under the Purist rule?"

"So what? What are they going to do? Kill us?"

"You know, we're not invulnerable just because we can't be killed," she said, pacing the room. "They can make life very difficult for us. How would you like to be locked up for all eternity?"

He gave her a withering look. "You don't really think there's a prison that can hold us."

Shannon shrugged. "Maybe we'd just be drones. A slave race."

"That's no different to what I do now," he pointed out. "Unlike you, Shannon, I like following orders. And my loyalty has been repaid."

She snorted. "I wish you'd been that loyal to me."

"You were always my first loyalty, Shannon. It's your politics I have a problem with."

She sighed. "This is pointless." She turned and went to the door.

"Where are you going?"

"I'm going to try and find Spender and this woman Fowley. See what I can find out."

He shook his head. "You're going to go AWOL again, aren't you?"

She shot him an infuriated glare.

"You want to watch out, Shannon. You keep switching sides like this, and you're not going to have anyone left on yours."

"I could just do what you do and let the devil come to me, I suppose." Lightly scornful.

"Shannon," he warned, "the Purists aren't going to piss around like the humans. You defy them, and they'll send me after you over and over again. It won't be a couple of times a year - it'll be every step of the way. If you're gonna walk out of here, you have to tell me you understand and accept that as a consequence of your actions."

"No," she said. "I don't accept that. I don't accept that you can live that way."

"Shannon, we've been killing each other every time they told us to since we were five years old. You don't seriously think I'm going to stop now."

"Yeah, I do. Because you don't believe in it any more. I can see it in your eyes." She went to the door and opened it.

"You're wrong, Shannon," he called after her. It sounded hollow and forced, even to his own ears.

She just gave him a pitying smile and left him there.

~x~

She drifted in and out of his life after that. She appeared when he least expected it. Sometimes he would go to his bedroom in search of something and find her asleep in his bed, and he would wonder how long she had been there, because sometimes he didn't go in there for days.

"You know they've worked out how to turn humans like us now, don't you?" she said one evening. He hadn't heard her come into the study, but there she was, reflected in the window in front of him, floating there all in white like a ghost. Or maybe a poltergeist. She was certainly good at wreaking havoc. It would have been funny if he wasn't so damn tired of it.

In fact, he knew nothing of the sort, but he said, "So I heard." He spared a look at her reflection and then went back to his reports.

"This accelerates things," she warned. He revised his assessment. This time she was a fucking prophet of doom. "They don't have to wait to make more like us, and ease them into positions of power. They can just take over the people already there."

"It's still not our problem, Shannon. It's between the alien race and the humans. And in case it escaped your notice, we're neither."

"We're both! It's every bit as much our problem as theirs!"

He threw down his pen and sighed. Twisted in his chair to look at her. "I don't want to argue about this."

"Then what do you want to do?" she challenged, coming around him to sit on the edge of his desk before him. "Kill each other, or screw? Because it only ever seems to be one of those three for us."

"That wasn't my choice, Shannon." He held her gaze. "All these years you've been searching, and you're no happier for it. Are you?" She closed her eyes. Lips trembling a little. "We could have had a life together all that time." No reproach. Just a statement of fact.

She swallowed a little. "I know that, Knowle. I would if I could." She pulled away. Went to the door. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I just hate knowing you're unhappy, that's all." He sighed. Shuffled papers. Waiting for her to leave.

She turned back. Came to him, and leaned down and kissed him. "I do love you, Knowle."

He put a good face on it, but when she left, he felt bruised, and for the life of him, he couldn't work out why.


CONTINUED IN PART 3