Welcome To The Harem

Eschaton by Deslea R. Judd (Part 4 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 (4/4) (Chapter 6, Epilogue + Notes)
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.


He feels light penetrating the darkness.

He blinks a little. Looks around him. He's in the sunroom. Their sunroom.

He's in Canada.

He gets to his feet. He's naked. There are clothes at the foot of his cot. T-shirt and track pants. He puts them on, more from force of habit than anything. Takes one, lingering look out the window at the dawning light, and then he goes in search of Shannon. Who else would have brought him here?

He passes through the kitchen. Stops for a glass of water. When he turns to leave, he sees something out of place, something that gives him pause.

Sitting there on the floor in the corner is a white steel barrel, with an attachment he doesn't recognise. McMahon Industries, the legend reads. Property of Chemical Separation Unit, Albuquerque. Liquid nitrogen. Authorised personnel only. That word, nitrogen, arouses some faint twinge of memory - but beyond that, it suggests nothing to him. He touches the side, but it isn't cold. Whatever it was used for, it isn't being used now.

He frowns a little, mentally filing his odd find for future reference, and moves on.

The lounge room is familiar, yet different. The old lounge is still there, but there are belongings he doesn't recognise. Old, dog-eared paperbacks. The curtains are different. It all seems so much smaller than he remembered.

He reaches their bedroom. Looks inside.

Shannon's there.

He goes in and closes the door gently behind him. "Shannon?" he says. She doesn't stir. Again, louder, "Shannon?"

She opens her eyes. Gasps a little.

"Knowle," she whispers. Sitting up. Gray t-shirt all askew on her shoulder. She holds his gaze for a long moment. Swallows a little. She pulls back the covers, making room.

He goes to her, and slips into bed at her side. She wraps her arms around him. Trembling. She clings to him, holds him tight. Kisses his hair. Fiercely tender.

He holds her too. Bewildered. He's never seen her like this before. When she finally releases him, her eyes glitter with unshed tears, and that only unsettles him more.

"Shannon?" he says. "What's wrong?"

She laughs a little through her tears. "It's a long story, Knowle." She strokes his neck. Says oddly, "You don't know how long."

He doesn't understand. But she's suffered, that much is clear, and he leans in closer and kisses her. The only thing he knows how to give her. The only thing she will accept from him.

She gives a hitching breath into his mouth, and then she kisses him too.

She smiles a little when they break apart. Keeps her hands on his chest. Doesn't seem to want to let him go.

"Do you know how you got here?" she says at last.

He shakes his head. "I was in New Mexico. I was trying to stop John Doggett and Agent Reyes. They were helping Mulder and Scully."

She nods. "Yeah, I knew about that."

He thinks about it. His brow furrows. "I felt this kind of - pull - when I got close to the ruins. Like a current. And then my skin started to burn. I remember looking at my hands. I was confused." Shannon swallows hard. "That's the last thing I remember. After that, everything gets fragmented. I remember starting to become aware again, but I think that was later."

She gives a short, sharp laugh. "You could say that." She releases him, settling in under the covers, still facing him. "I had to wait until it was safe."

"Wait for what?" he wonders, moving down beside her. "I don't understand."

She sighs. Runs her fingers through his hair, frowning a little. "The quarry, and those ruins in particular, contain large deposits of magnetite. Magnetite is harmful to us, Knowle. I wasn't sure if I was going to get you back at all."

He stares at her. Uncomprehending. "What do you mean, you weren't sure?" Then, nervously, "I mean - well, we can't die." But looking at her, he suddenly isn't so sure of that any more.

She meets his gaze in the dim light. "Yes, we can."

She's so quiet, so sure, that it doesn't occur to him to doubt her. There is a gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach - a void collapsing in on itself. He tries to comprehend the idea that he might one day cease to exist, and he can't do it. Tries to fathom his own fundamental absence, and it's too big, too dark and devoid to fit into the confines of his mind.

She watches him. Sees it all unfold in his face. Her look is kind. He touches her hair. Breathing hard. His fingers are shaking.

A thousand memories assault him. How many times has he brutalised her? Shoved her over or run her down or lanced deep into her flesh with his bare hands? How many times has he swept her out of the way of some goal or other, blindly thinking she'd be all right just because she always was? He feels something within him shatter - some complacency, some inner calm - and he is overwhelmed with an urge to possess and protect. To hold on, and never let her go.

In the space of an instant, his world changes. She changes. Becomes fragile and precious.

How do people live with it? How do they can keep on going when any moment could be their last? How do they love? How can they *risk* it?

For the first time, he knows real fear, and it is crippling.

"All those times," he manages at last. "I never thought-"

"Yeah," she says. "I know."

Of course she does. His fingers sink deeper into her hair, cradling her, tugging her close. Trembling. His mouth finds hers, fierce and demanding, breaths caught and hitching, and her hands rise up between them to pull him closer still. "Knowle," she whispers. Tugs him down on top of her. Her palms search the planes of his back, her thighs entwine with his, and her mouth is urgent and hungry. He kisses her, feasts on her, no tenderness, no finesse. She's hot and vibrant and *alive* and he has to be inside her, has to feel her around him and know she's still alive, still there, still his.

"Shannon, Shannon, God," he breathes as his lips travel over her jaw, her pulsing throat. He wants to take off her shirt, but he can't seem to let go of her to do it. Can't seem to stop devouring her. He blurts between frantic kisses, "Need to - Shannon, need you, got to -" and he can't finish, he can't think, he just needs, and nothing else is clear any more. But she understands, she nods and gasps out half-formed words into his hair, and she reaches down between them and scrambles to free him from his track pants. Strong palms caress him and guide him inside her. He can feel the elastic of her panties where she pulled them aside. Slick warmth closes around him, and it takes just one stroke, two, and a third for her to begin to seize around him, sharp breaths falling from parted lips, and that sends him racing towards his climax. It's all over too fast, too soon, but they stay there, mouths searching, feeding off one another until his body slips free of hers.

Their kisses slow. Urgency abated. Muted. Tender.

"Sorry," he murmurs, touching his forehead to hers. Calmer now, and a little sheepish.

There's a hint of laughter in her voice. "There's always next time." She kisses him with simple fondness and releases him.

His good humour fades. "Is there?" He eases off her, settling in beside her. Rests his head on the pillow beside hers and kisses her temple. He kicks off his pants and pushes them onto the floor with his feet.

She turns her head to face him. "It does get better, Knowle. You learn to deal in probabilities instead of certainties. It's not so bad."

"You seem so calm about it." He can't quite keep the reproach from his voice.

She shrugs a little. "I've had a lot longer to adjust."

"How long?"

She looks away. "You have to understand, Knowle. A lot's happened. There was a war. We used magnetite against the alien race. I couldn't do...what I did until I was sure they couldn't use the information to try to invade again. They might have used it on William. They might have tried to make him into what they needed again."

"How long, Shannon?" he says again. Suspicions mounting. She had to wait for William to die. That's what she's getting at.

Her voice is small and thin. "Eighty-seven years."

"Eighty-" he breaks off, breath catching in his throat.

She turns her head to look at him. Pale. Ravaged. "Knowle," she says, dragging his name out like an endless sigh. When, impulsively, he kisses her, her lips tremble like crumbling leaves. Hot tears spill over her cheeks. "I missed you," she whispers. "I wanted you with me so bad."

He feels her grief like an ache, a heavy burden on his chest. The pain of separation is pain he understands, and he feels heat rising in his face. His beautiful, strong Shannon is undone in a way he's never seen before, and it tears something inside him to shreds. It's all wrong, all out of kilter. Messy. Vulnerable. Mortal. Unsettling and terrible and fuck, she's beautiful like this, all askew, all out of place, just because she missed him.

He's going mad. They're both going mad.

"Shannon," he says. It comes out as a plea.

She silences him with a kiss, rising up, leaning over him, holding his face with her palms. He plunges his hands into her hair, all glossy and black, urging her down as sounds of grief meld into longing. Strong hands push his shirt up his side, kneading, grasping, moulding to his contours and learning them all over again.

Eighty-seven years, he thinks. He can't remember the time between, but he feels the loss, just the same. She transmits it in her kiss, in her touch. In the way his name mingles with her breaths like a mantra.

His hand lingers on the ridges of her neck. Traces them. Relishing them, their mark, his mark, her mark, branded on her. On each other. It's never been arousing for them, but now she sighs for him when he does it. "So long," she whispers, "so long." She meets him, kisses all fiery and eager, sighing out his name.

It's longer this time. Slower. Her touch is reverent. She's never touched him that way before. It perplexes him. Pleases him. Humbles him.

"Mine," he whispers when they come.

She strokes his hair. Holds him with weary eyes. "Yes," she says. "Yours." He can still feel her body throbbing lazily around him. Tapering off into a low hum, then growing still.

"They should have let you choose, Shannon," he says. It is a truth that comes to him, and he doesn't even know why. Something to do with the tiredness in her voice. The slow acceptance of a destiny she never wanted.

She comes to rest against him. Draping her body over his. "Yeah," she says. Fingers drifting across his chest. He closes his hand over hers. "They took so much. From both of us."

Both of them? He doesn't believe that. He believes he would never have had her if she'd had the choice she wanted. The knowledge hurts him, makes him look away, swallowing hard. Feeling the unfamiliar smell and taste of tears. They don't come all the way up, but he can feel their aftertaste like bile. She loves him, yes, but deep down, she doesn't want him.

He wishes she hadn't told him. He never ached for her like this when he thought they would live forever. When he thought there would always be time to make it right. He never hurt before he knew there could be loss.

"You should sleep, Knowle," she says. Half-asleep herself. "It's good for the soul."

He manages, "Yeah. Maybe I will."

He does sleep in the end, and it helps, but it isn't enough.

Kind of like him.


When he wakes, the sun is high in the sky, and Shannon is gone.

He finds her in the kitchen, washing up. She greets him with a smile and goes back to what she's doing. He hoists himself up on the counter top and talks to her while she does it.

"Are you hungry?" she says. "This place has been abandoned for years now, and most of the crops are dead, but there's processed stuff over there." She nods to a large carton with the same logo as the barrel he saw last night. He notes that the barrel itself is gone.

He shakes his head. "McMahon Smallgoods?" he queries, raising an eyebrow.

"Strictly a sideline. We ship food to the miners, and it was cheaper for us to source it ourselves. The main thing is the mining. There are defence contracts."

"You mine magnetite for the DOD," he says.

"Well, the Department of Defence no longer exists, but for the modern equivalent, yes."

"That's how you found me?"

Shannon shifts a little. Clearly uncomfortable. "What there was to find, yeah."

"I don't understand."

She sighs. "I knew roughly where to look. John didn't report what happened at the time, but he and his wife - Reyes - testified about it after the war. They reported that you'd been - well - kind of sucked into the rock. It was like you were burnt up and absorbed." The lines of her jaw are hard, but she doesn't look at him. "Anyway. I got the coordinates by comparing their testimony with Fox Mulder's, and some other things - old defence files, GIS data, that kind of thing. So I knew where to look, but I didn't really know what I was looking for. Or whether there was anything to find." She pulls the plug and dries her hands on a dish towel. Swallowing hard.

"What did you find?"

"Nothing, for a long time," she says. "I had the area mined, separated out byproducts in chemical treatment plants - it's taken years. It was maddening. I wanted to go out there and dig myself, but of course, I couldn't." He nods. It would have taken her, too. "Eventually, my miners found metallic deposits that weren't indigenous to the region, adhered to the magnetite itself. A cluster of it in a small area. I wasn't sure, but-" she trails off, helplessly.

"So you collected it," he says. Held rigid on the counter top. Beginning to understand how complete his destruction had been. Blindly, stupidly, he'd assumed she'd found his body. His skeleton, still whole, merely immobilised in stone. Something like that. But this -

"There wasn't much," she says. He wishes she'd stop saying that. "I put together what I could. When I'd found as much as I could, I warmed it - you - whatever," she says, fumbling for a pronoun, "trying to get it to regenerate. But it was slow. It tried to rebuild, but it wasn't fast like before. It was like watching mercury rise on low heat."

"So you brought me here."

She nods.

"To bring me back? Or let me die?"

"Don't say it like that, Knowle," she says, looking away. "This was the one place we made things grow. Where we created things instead of destroying them. It just - made sense to come here. If there was anything left, this place would help. And if there wasn't, then it would end here. Where we were happy. That's all." She looks away. Stiff. Hurting. Trying not to let it show.

He thinks that if he were a mortal man in a movie of the week (do those even exist any more?) then he would hold her instead of sitting there in shock. Then he remembers he is a mortal man and reaches out. It feels awkward and forced, but she comes to him, and then it's okay. The way she fits in the crook of his arm feels okay.

"It took a long time," she says at last. Strokes his arm, moulding to muscle and tracing contours. "We've been here for months. And I didn't know if you'd still have your memories, your brain function - I was so scared I was bringing back an empty shell."

He wonders what she would have done with him if that had been the case. He doesn't ask. He suspects he wouldn't like the answer.

"I thought you thought I was an empty shell the first time around," he says finally.

She draws away. "I never thought that. It was a horrible thing to say. I should never have said that to you." She stands back. Hugging herself.

He doesn't understand her. Doesn't even recognise her. Can't bridge the gap between then and now. Where is the cocksure, jaded woman he left behind? He hated her at least half the time, but he knew her. The changes in her seem as terrible now as they were beautiful the night before.

He wonders why she brought him back. Loneliness? Obligation? What the hell does she want from him? He doesn't know what she wants, or how to give it to her, and with a sinking heart, he realises he never did.

Did she bring him back to sever the ties that bind them, once and for all?

He has to get out of there.

"I need to think, Shannon," he says. "I'm going for a walk."

She nods, still hugging herself, but he doesn't wait for a reply.


He doesn't deliberate about it. Not really. Whatever the changes of the last twelve hours, he is, after all, a soldier. He was raised for this. For making hard choices, and carrying them through.

The pain, though. Loss. Sacrifice. That's new. New, and brutal. He has been ripped apart in body more than once, and it didn't hurt - he isn't made that way - but he felt wrenching, and that's what this feels like, too.

Only this time it does hurt. It hurts a lot.

But the hurt is irrelevant. She needs him to go. She needs it to end. That's why she brought him back, so he could set her free. He realises that deep down he knew it all along.

It will be, perhaps, his final task. His final assignment in the tour of duty they began over a century before. And then, maybe, somehow, he can learn to simply live. He can shape himself into this new existence he has, mortal and alone. Thinking about it, he thinks that his mortality is, perhaps, not such a blow after all. He won't self-destruct without her (he isn't made that way, either), but he doesn't want to live forever without her.

He walks a little. He thinks about the stories of human men. Movies and books. He thinks he's supposed to cry now, but he doesn't remember how.

Finally, he turns around, back towards their home, and prepares himself for what needs to be done.


He finds her in the shadehouse.

She's tending to the ginseng. She kneels there in the dirt with her trowel, wiping sweat off her face, hair pulled back any old how, and he feels waves of nostalgia wash over him.

Quiet. Comfort.


He wonders if this is how the humans mean it after all. If this is how they love, and the swelling music and the pretty words are just because they don't know how to explain it, so they try to explain how much it matters instead.

He realises it doesn't matter what it is. What matters is that it's theirs.


She looks up at him with such simple pleasure that he wonders for a moment if he was wrong. The love there is so clear.

But then, it always was. Love was never the problem. It was everything else that brought them undone.

"Come and talk to me, Knowle," she says, and she goes back to her digging.

So he does. He comes and sits with her, and she talks. Her voice is soporific in the afternoon sun. She talks about the crops coming back. The irrigation system. Stupid things. He watches her. Enjoying her. Loving her, for the final time.

"I got married, you know," she says idly, turning over soil with her trowel. "His name was David. We met during the war. He was a UN peacekeeper."

Just what she wanted, he thinks. Everything he could never be.

"We did everything together. Food drops. We ran an orphanage. Everything I wanted to do for people, everything that was important to me - he was right there, Knowle. I was so happy."

"I'm glad you had that," he says. He means it, too, even though his heart is breaking.

Her mouth twists into a thin, bitter line. "Yeah, well, all good things come to an end, right?"

"He died?"

She shakes her head. "Worse. He found out what I was. He left me."


He reaches out. Puts his hand on her shoulder. She closes her fingers around his, and suddenly he understands what happened to her. It's the same old Shannon, underneath it all. Love and life and loss have just gradually worn the edges off her, that's all. Just like they are with him, even as he sits here, comforting her over a man who was everything he wishes he could have been for her.

"There were two more," she says. "Just the same. Good, sound, committed men. We rebuilt villages in South America, taught people how to self-govern, started schools - you name it, we did it. But they saw how I was, how I didn't age, how I healed sometimes, and they got scared. They couldn't understand. And then when I tried to explain it, they got even more scared. They couldn't accept it. And the more time that passed, the more alone I felt."

He pulls his hand away. Looks down at the ginseng.

"I'm sorry you didn't find what you were looking for," he says. Then, before he can stop himself, "I'm sorry I couldn't be what you needed. I didn't know how." To his mortification, the tears that have been brewing since the night before rise up at last. They spill over his cheeks, and he bears them in silence.

She's staring at him.

"No," she whispers like a hurt little girl. "No, Knowle, no," she says, and she's crying too. "My God," she says, clutching his hands, "don't you see? All those years, I was looking for something, and I thought it was someone to understand what I was about, but it was really someone to understand who I was. And I was too angry about what they did to us to see what it was or that I had it the whole time. I didn't understand that until I didn't have it any more." She leans in, touching her forehead to his. Takes his face in her hands and says, "It took me a lifetime, Knowle, but I chose. I chose you. Don't you see that?"

It all hits him. Their estrangement all those years. The years they lost. The sacrifice he'd thought he needed to make. He tugs her into his arms, and he kisses her, hard, her name just a raw sound in the back of his throat. She kisses him too, his name leaving her in a sob.

Their lovemaking is slow and bittersweet. Kissing and touching there in the ginseng. Joining more as an afterthought, and he barely thrusts at all. Very nearly still.

"It wasn't just what they did, Shannon," he says when he's inside her. Touching his brow to hers. Hands in one another's hair. "I chose you every day of my life."

"I know that, Knowle," she says, trailing her thumb across his lips. "I think if they'd let me choose, I'd have chosen you much sooner."

They stay there, quiet, desire slow and constant. Melding and joining. Healing a lifetime of distance. She doesn't move or cry out when she comes, but he feels it in her deepened breaths, in the vibrations deep inside her. His name falls from her lips in a sigh.

When they come to rest together, the sun is low, and the air is cool, and as he drifts into sleep, the last thing he feels is her lips on his temple and the smell of ginseng in her hair.


"What do we do now?"

She asks it casually, kneeling there in the flattened ginseng, buttoning her shirt. He reaches out and brushes leaves from her hair.

"Not sure," he says, buttoning his trousers, "but I think I'm going to have to get used to the idea of being human. More or less."

"Well, we're still not really human," she says. "Just a little more human than we used to think."

He shrugs. "I'm not so sure the differences matter any more."

She looks at him. Eyes wide.

"Well, it's not like I'm going to become an ambassador for inter-species relations or anything."

"You were rocking my world on its axis for a minute there." Same old Shannon.

Somehow he needs to make her understand. He's still not that guy who shares all her dreams, and maybe he never will be.

"Shannon, those things - temporal things, passing things. Human things. They still don't matter to me. Not really." He sighs. "But for what it's worth, I'm starting to understand why they matter to you."

"Okay," she says. Eyes grave. Then, more lightly, "I suppose drilling artesian wells with me in South America is out of the question, then?"

He snorts laughter through his nose. "Ask me again in twenty years."

She laughs. "I will, you know."

"Of course you will." Yeah, same old Shannon.

They sit there, smiling at one another.

"We could stay here," she says after a while. "Work the land."

He raises his eyebrows in query. "There's a need for ginseng?"

She nods. "A lot of doctors died in the war. Folk medicine came back in a big way. Pretty near a whole generation was reared on it."

"There are doctors now?"

She nods. "Yes. But there's still a lot of people in need. We could help them, Knowle. We could heal them."

He thinks about it. Tasks. Purpose. The comfort of hard work and solitude. Everything he was raised for, everything that gives him a place, a foothold. And to do it here, where they belong, with Shannon at his side, and happy to be there at last.

Yeah. He could do that.

"All right," he says.



They smile at one another in the moonlight.

"We'll have to stop screwing in it," he says ruefully, looking around at the flattened plants.

She shrugs. "Wouldn't worry too much. The leaves are secondary. The roots are the most important part."

He grabs her by the wrists and tackles her down. "In that case-"

She squeals laughter. Leans up and kisses him.

"You smell like ginseng," he teases.

She reaches out. Runs her hands through the leaves. Gentle rifling sounds in the night. "It's good stuff," she says. She runs her thumb over his lips. "Maybe it will heal us, too."

"Maybe it will."

She tugs him down. Kisses him. Touches him, warms him, until there's nothing but the two of them, the warm night air, and the sound of ginseng moving with the breeze.



As I embark on the final cleanup of this story before its release, troops from my own country and others are being deployed for Iraq, so this story takes on more immediate layers of meaning. I come from a military family, and I have a great love and respect for the military, even while I acknowledge its shortcomings and the shortcomings of the governments who direct it.

My aim was not to write a story in which Shannon was right and Knowle was wrong. I think they were both on a personal journey, and there was truth and falsehood for them both. The middle ground they reached in the end was hopefully a meeting of the best and most truthful in them both.

So I wouldn't like this work to be seen as anti-military in the current climate. It's just the story of a couple of people who had to learn to live in a world that wasn't entirely theirs. For one of them, the military was a good place to do it, and for the other it wasn't. That's all.

At the risk of stating the obvious, this is all filtered through Knowle's singular lens, and I think there's a lot here that is not entirely accurate. For one thing, I think Shannon's journey is probably a lot more complicated than he thinks it is. I also think that Knowle was quite misled in his understanding of who was running things and how they related to him and his own creation. I think Knowle probably never learned to analyse human agendas critically because they were rarely relevant to him.

I also think it's very possible that Knowle and Shannon were a modified version of the Herrenvolk drone children themselves. Their initials point to that, and their physical colouring and build is very similar to that of the children we met in Herrenvolk. (This is true far more so than the impostor Samanthas we met in Colony and the renegade Kurts we met in Memento Mori, neither of whom were ever conclusively associated with the Herrenvolk children. However, I have used the widely-understood "Kurt" and "Samantha" designation for the children here in order to avoid labouring the point. Poetic licence). I think that connection may have been where the show intended to take Knowle and Shannon's arc before Lucy Lawless became pregnant. But Knowle doesn't make issue of this, because he considers himself and Shannon to be radically different from the drones. To him, there's no meaningful relationship at all.

So there's a lot of canon backstory here that didn't make it into the final cut, because it would be out of character for Knowle to perceive it or dwell on it. In that sense it's a more flexible account of the truth than I usually write. That has been quite freeing, oddly enough, and it's also helped me to be more accepting of the kaleidoscopic nature of the mythology as a whole.

So be careful how much of this you take on faith. Knowle is entirely truthful about his own perceptions, but he's not a good judge of anything he can't see, because he is essentially incapable of fully taking account of human idiosyncrasies. It's been interesting for me, because I have never written such an unreliable narrator for a long story before. Probably the only other narrator I've written who was this unreliable was Teena Mulder in A Woman's Code.

I've given a lot of thought, while writing this, to the matter of Knowle's morality. I original envisaged him as amoral - outside the human and moral sphere, existing more in the sphere of animals with a more limited set of instincts and purpose, and lacking an experience of consequences as we understand them. Certainly, there are vestiges of this idea in his identification with the bees, and in the idea of his upbringing and military training effectively serving to tame him. But this sense I had of Knowle changed as the work went on, and I reached a point where I felt he'd internalised a kind of modified morality that was as full as it could be in the absence of an experience (either directly or empathically) of mortality. And, of course, this too came full circle in their post-col world.

So all this was really interesting to play with. And I must admit, I developed quite a fondness for Knowle in the course of this. It's been fascinating to look at humanity through his eyes. Hopefully I've conveyed that. He is not a noble character in any usual sense of the term, but he is, I think, an endearing one. There's a peculiar kind of honesty and simplicity about him that I've enjoyed a great deal.

Anyway, thanks for coming with me on yet another ride into extreme possibilities. This one means a lot to me - it touched a lot more chords than I'd thought it would. So, thanks for sticking with me as always. It means the world.

Love always, Deslea