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Little Earth by Xanthe Part 2 of 2
Summary: Deslea's rec: "One from the archives. This fabulous post-col features a beautifully-drawn Samantha and quiet hope amid deep despair."


I was late returning to the Compound, so I missed breakfast. I saw to Fox, bathing him, and feeding him, and he was having a rare good day. So good, I almost didn't want to spoil it, but I was curious.

"Who is this Skinner you sometimes talk about?" I asked him, casting a glance at his handlers, although they pretty much ignored me.

"Skinner skins skin," he told me with a wink.

"But who is he?" I pressed.

Fox put his head on one side, and gazed at me curiously. "My friend," he replied, with rare lucidity, then he put his fingers over his eyes, and squawked at me. I didn't mind though - he'd told me all I needed to know.

I was on my way to see Dana, when I heard the commotion. One of the servants ran towards me, shouting.

"Quickly, come quickly!" she yelled, grabbing hold of my arm. I ran up the stairs two at a time, and burst into Dana's bedroom - then stopped. Dana was sitting on the bed, with a small pair of scissors in her hand, methodically slicing lines across her arm. Ruby red blood welled up in each cut, and dripped onto the bedclothes.

"Dana, sweetheart?" I stepped into the room, and she looked up at me, with dazed eyes.

"My bonnie lies over the ocean?" she chanted at me in a sing-song voice. "My bonnie lies over the sea," her eyes were dreamy, as if she didn't see me. "My bonnie lies over the ocean, bring back my bonnie to me." With each word, she cut a line into her flesh, and the blood was pouring from more than fifty cuts in her pale skin. She seemed immune to the pain, but with each savage jab of her hand, she tried to inflict more damage than she was really capable of. It was as if she was fighting something that told her she couldn't hurt herself, when all she wanted to do was slit her wrists, and watch the blood drain from her body.

"Dana?" With a few swift strides, I was at her side, and I whisked the scissors out of her hand, then drew her into me, holding her close, and rocking her back and forth.

"My bonnie?" she told me, in halting tones.

"Yes, I know." I kissed her head softly, and she wept into my shirt.

My father arrived a few minutes later, and surveyed the scene in horror.

"Dana." He plucked her out of my arms. "You mustn't do these things to yourself," he scolded. "I love you, and you love me. We're happy together, aren't we, my love?" I couldn't believe he really meant that, but Dana looked at him, and smiled, and nodded, and nuzzled up against him.

"Safe now," she said. "Daddy's home."

I left them, still puzzling this curious turn of events. That my father's new wife was a deeply unhappy woman, I did not doubt, but I had never seen her like this before - disturbed. She seemed almost like Fox. I took advantage of the commotion in the house to filch some supplies for Walter. Just the thought of his name made me flush with some secret, unnamable hope, and my stomach clenched in anticipation. Walter. My stranger from the sea, or the djebbe, which is the closest thing we have to an ocean on Little Earth.

He was sleeping when I returned to my shelter by the djebbe. I put down my sack of food, clothing, and medicine, and squatted beside him for a moment, just feasting my eyes on him. How can I describe him? He wasn't handsome in the accepted sense of the word - not like Fox. He was perhaps 10 or 12 years older than me, and his face was lined with pain, and worry, and the many scars of battle. Nothing though, could erase the curious beauty that his features held for me. I loved his wide head, and the sensuous mouth, the broad jaw with its small cleft. There was about him something uncompromising, solid, real, and reassuring. Having lived for so many weeks in a place where the truth slipped like water through my fingers, and where there seemed to be no solid ground to rest on, Walter, to me, represented all that I had not found in my father's house. Or, indeed, if I listened to that small voice in my heart, what I had not found in my father.

Maybe the age gap between us was important. It's easy, looking back, to see that the lonely little girl I had been was still there, just under the surface. I had waited all my life for my father and when he came, he did not, and to be fair, could not, live up to the fantasy image I had created in my head. This man filled a need in that aching crater in my soul that had been waiting for so long: he was someone to love.

So, I crouched beside my Walter, my stranger, who seemed as familiar to me as the veldt, and djebbe of Little Earth, and I did something I have never done before in my life: I kissed a man on the lips. Like sleeping beauty, he awoke, his dark eyelashes fluttering open, and he seemed startled, and was about to hit out, not knowing where he was, but then memory flooded back, and he smiled at me.

"That's some way to wake a guy up," he grinned.

"I was curious," I grinned back.

"Ah - just like your brother. Always curious!" He laughed that rich, deep laugh, and again, I couldn't help but join in.

I handed him the food, which he ate ravenously, and then I undid his makeshift bandages and dressed his wounds properly, cleaning them, and giving him the painkillers and antibiotics I had stolen from the Compound. I cannot deny that I enjoyed touching him, although I'm almost ashamed to admit it. I never felt any desire for the boys I was brought up with - their personalities always irritated me too much to make the thought of them touching me anything other than profoundly unpleasant. Now, a lifetime of repressed sexual desire flooded through me, as my fingertips brushed his naked chest, and his long legs, and I flushed, astonished by the thoughts that suddenly rushed into my mind. He caught my hand, and smiled at me.

"You're very gentle," he said.

"I'm used to tending to the sick animals I find on the veldt," I mumbled, hardly able to look him in the eye.

"Do you live out here then?" He glanced around. To an outsider, it probably does look inhospitable, but when you grow accustomed to it, there is no more beautiful place in this universe.

"Not all the time. I have to go back to the Compound. Since my father came home?" I bit on my lip, knowing his hatred of my father. There was silence between us for a long time, and then he noticed the blood on my shirt.

"Are you hurt? What happened to you?" he asked, and I could have sung for the anxiety I saw in his eyes. He had no reason to care about me, and yet, by some miracle, he did.

"It's not mine," I reassured him. "It's Dana's?" I noted with a sinking heart that the concern he had shown about my well-being, was far eclipsed by his reaction to this news. He tried to stand, his face crumpled, his eyes wild.

"Dana's hurt? How? Where?" He demanded.

"Walter, sit down, she's fine, my father's with her," I told him.

"That's supposed to make me feel better?" He sat, reluctantly, clearly knowing that his body was too badly damaged to take him anywhere right now.

"He's her husband," I told him, blankly. "She agreed to marry him." I might not have understood the nature of their marriage, but then I was used to not understanding my own kind. I was more at home out here in the wild, than with people, who made so little sense to me.

"Agreed!" Walter shook his head. "Yes, she agreed, if you can call it that, when she's got that implant in her skull that makes her say whatever he wants her to say. To say nothing of the fact that he tortured Mulder in front of her until she would have said anything to save him from the pain."

I stared at him in horror. This man he described was not my father. My father had only ever been kind and loving to me. I might not have liked the way he treated my half brother, but he had been good to me, and I was lonely enough, and hungry enough for his affection to live with his cruelty to others.

"How do you know this?" I asked him, in a broken voice.

"I'm sorry, Samantha, I know he's your father, but I was there." I didn't doubt him for one second. His dark brown eyes held such sincerity, that I couldn't have doubted him if I had tried.

"I've seen the metal devices in their heads. What do they do?" I asked, uncertain whether I wanted to know the answer. He gazed into space for a while, and when he spoke, it was in a dull monotone, devoid of emotion, as if that was the only way he could talk about it.

"They're wired directly into the nerve endings in the brain - alien technology. The aliens have implanted them on every remaining person on Earth, not that there are many of us left. That way, we can serve them, without question. They emit a pulse that constantly bombards you with reminders of what you should say, and how you should behave in any situation. As if that weren't enough, they're programmed to hurt you if you say, or even think anything that is forbidden. They also inhibit behavior - you can't harm your controllers, you can't even kill yourself," he whispered, as if somehow, that was the ultimate horror. I was reminded of Dana, this morning, sitting on her bed, chanting that rhyme, cutting into her arms and yet unable to cut deep enough to kill herself, no matter how hard she tried, or how much she distracted herself with the chanting.

"Imagine, being trapped like a zombie inside your own head, the only respite when you say what they want you to say, and behave the way they want you to behave. Mulder was driven insane within 2 days of being implanted - it has that effect on some people."

"My father said?that Fox's crimes drove him insane," I murmured, feebly, still trying to cling to some hope of his goodness.

"Your father always did have a way with words - and with the truth," Walter commented sourly. "Mulder's only crime was to lead the resistance against the invasion."

"Well that's crime enough, isn't it?" I rocked back on my heels, and looked at him intently.

"To want to save your world? That's a crime?" Walter asked. "If so, then you're talking to the wrong man, Samantha. Dana and I were Mulder's generals. We all three fought to the bitter end to save our race, and our planet. We failed." He said the word simply, without anger, but the self-reproach was evident in his eyes. "Except for the citizens of Little Earth, I think I'm probably the only man left alive who doesn't have an implant."

"Why come here?" I whispered.

"For them. Why else?" He shrugged.

"You know a way to remove the implants?" I asked, breathlessly. I would have given anything to see my brother sane again, and to witness Dana's smile reach as far as her eyes, just once.

"There isn't any way to remove them without killing the wearer," Walter told me, flatly. "And besides, we have nowhere left to run, Samantha. Earth is lost?we fought, so long, and so hard, but it's gone." He sounded so tired, and dejected, that I couldn't stop myself moving to his side, and taking him in my arms. He didn't resist. Feeling bold, I kissed his bare scalp, and a tingle ran through my veins. We lay there for a long time, looking out on the djebbe, wordlessly.

Some hours later, as he lay, captive in my arms, I told him about myself. I told him about growing up on Little Earth, about not fitting in, and feeling so lonely. I told him about my fantasy father, about what we had been taught about our alien overlords. I told him about my love for my world, about the djebbe, and the arraba, the marsh crests, and all that I've discovered out here while my kind languished within the walls of their Compound. They, who are too afraid to venture out, too scared of their brave new world to actually live on it, relying instead on the alien biosphere, and the livestock they brought from Big Earth. And as I told him, I understood for the first time what it means to love a world so much that you can't bear to lose it. No, Little Earth isn't the glittering jewel that is my Walter's world. If it were, the aliens wouldn't have given it to us. It's a rock; a swampy mass of red and black, but it's my home, and I love it. If someone came here, and demanded it back, I know that I would fight, as he fought, to the last drop of my blood to be able to stay. I told him this, I told him all that was me, and when at last I'd finished, he turned to me, and smiled, and took my face between his hands, and kissed me.

Journeys of discovery can be made without physically taking a single step. I made such a journey that night, as the sun went down over the djebbe. Walter was my guide, as we mapped out the plains and valleys of our bodies, exploring how they fitted together, each stretching to the other's needs as if by magic. I didn't even tremble as he slowly undressed me, paused to kiss a collarbone, or the tip of my elbow, and frequently, to part my lips with his own, and claim a deep, loving kiss.

I don't know what I meant to Walter but I know that I loved him with every single fiber of my being, and would have died for him that night. For him, I suspect that I was a reminder of what he had lost. I bore both my brother's face and Dana's blood, and also, of course, he was being kind. My Walter, my warrior Walter, with his scarred, battle-worn body, was, at his deepest core, a gentle man. He took me in his arms, and made love to me, because it was what I wanted more than anything, and he didn't have the heart to deny me. I don't think that he loved me. Why would he? I was just the raggedy girl who dragged him from the djebbe, and took care of him.

Walter made love to me so slowly, so carefully, making that first time one of magic, and beauty for me. Looking back, I cannot complain. Most people never experience one perfect moment in their whole lives, but I did. For that night, for just one night, I had everything that I loved most in the world. I was lying out, under the stars, hearing the water from the djebbe lap softly in the background, and I had my Walter, stroking me to heights of pleasure I never knew existed. I hope that I, in turn, reminded him that the battleground that was his body, could be a playground too. Later, towards dawn, we made love with the more passionate frenzy of two people who know that time is short, and who cannot tell what the future will bring.

As the sun rose on our naked, entwined bodies the next day, I knew that what we had done, and what my father did to my stepmother every night, were two such completely different acts as to be beyond any comparison, and I started to cry. To know the beauty of this act of love, to experience it at first hand, and to know that every night, Dana was forced into a coupling with her greatest enemy, a man she couldn't refuse, made my heart break. Walter woke, hearing my racking sobs, and held me tight.

"Did I hurt you?" He asked, anxiously, his lips nuzzling my tears from my face.

"No?you never could," I told him honestly, wrapping my legs and arms around him. "Walter, whatever it is you're planning, I'll help you."

And so, I suppose, the fates of us all were sealed.

Walter never did tell me what his plans were. I suppose, deep in my heart, that I knew. He questioned me thoroughly, and at some length, about the Compound, but I told him he was in no condition to attempt to break in.

"Father will be looking for you anyway," I said. "The alien commander told him there had been an incident. I assume that he was referring to the capsule you launched to escape from the ship."

"Then we don't have long, and my injuries don't really matter. They'll be irrelevant before long anyway," he murmured, with a sad smile. After talking at some length, we decided that Fox was the easier of the two to get to, and Walter gave me my orders. Yes, orders - Walter's very good at giving them. He didn't ask me if I knew I was risking my life, and he didn't warn me about what could happen, what almost certainly would happen, because we both knew the risks. Walter gave me the courtesy of knowing my own mind, and choosing my own fate, and I knew that for the first time in my life, I could be of real use to somebody I loved.

I returned to the Compound in the morning, and went straight to Dana. Her arms were bandaged, and she was lying in bed. My father fussed over her, kissing her hand, clearly reluctant to leave her lying there, so pale and ill. The strange truth is that I think he genuinely loved her. Yes, on one level he knew that the words that came from her lips originated in the implant in her head - an implant he controlled. Yet still, he seemed to be able to ignore that reality, and believe in the illusion. We are all more complex beings that plain black and white and my father is no different in that. He worked so long in the dark that I believe he had no frame of reference for living in the light. He had achieved his aim, and saved his family, and, to his mind, the human race, from destruction, and now he was left with the aftermath. Happily ever after can be a hard place to live.

Dana shooed him away, with murmured trills of nothing, promising that she would be all right, and insisting that he had work to do, and he went, with the reluctance of a new husband worried about his bride. She sat up, and patted the bed, and I joined her there.

"Samantha?you look different," she commented, smoothing my dark hair away from my face. I stiffened - was it obvious? Did being in love, experiencing the act of love, make you shine and glow? I felt as though I were a beacon, and anybody looking at me would know, as if I had his name written on my forehead.

"No, Dana." I hated lying to her, but she didn't have the luxury of her own silence, and if I told her, I knew my father would find out.

"How's Fox?" she asked, her eyes glazing over slightly, and flinching. She always asked after him, but never tried to see him. I think it hurt too much.

"He's fine. That's why I'm here. I'm taking him outside for his exercise in a minute. Would you like me to bring him here on the way?"

She looked at me in a kind of horror, and betrayal. She relied upon me to somehow anticipate her feelings as she was unable to vocalize them, and the idea of seeing her old friend (had he been more that?) clearly upset her.

"No, I don't think?" she murmured.

I grasped her hand firmly, leaned forward, and whispered into her ear. "To say goodbye?" I suggested. She placed her hand to her throat, and was still for a long moment. I hoped that I hadn't said too much, but Walter had been adamant that I give her the choice. She looked at me, then nodded, and kissed me soundlessly.

Fox was in one of his smiling, endearing moods when I went to see him. He was crouched beside his bed, playing with his toes.

"Sammy." He pointed at his feet, and made them do a little dance.

"Yes, Fox, very clever," I laughed. One way or another, I came to associate my brother with dancing, from his strange flitting eyes, to his restless, fidgeting feet.

I unchained him from the bed, and led him up the stairs. His handlers let us go, bored. They usually allowed me to take him outside, unaccompanied, for his exercise each morning, and today was no different. Fox was confused, when, instead of taking him outside, I led him up towards Dana's room. He stopped on the threshold, twitching, his face anxious and worried. Then he saw Dana, and it was as if something inside his mind snapped. She held out her arms, and as he walked over to the bed I saw him as he must once have been, with a wry smile on his lips, and a mischievous light in his eyes.

"My Scully." He knelt beside the bed. "One, one, one, one?"

"Mulder." She ignored the chatter, and took his face between her hands. "Goodbye, Mulder. I love you." She kissed his lips, softly, and when she drew back he continued:

"One, one, one?" She smiled at me sadly, and he reached up, fascinated, and wiped away the tears running down her cheeks. "Boom," he said. "Five billion, Scully! Boom, boom. One, two, three?"

"Fox, come on," I pulled him away, and he turned and looked at her as we reached the door.

"Bye." He waved his hand, and she smiled through her tears, as I led him away.

He followed me so obediently, like a child, as I took him out of the Compound, and across the veldt to the djebbe, and to Walter.

He was waiting, the sun burning down on his unprotected scalp, as he sat there, his feet dangling in the brackish water. When Fox saw him, he gave a startled shout, and ran across the veldt as if he had the wind in his shoes. He threw his arms around Walter and held on tight, as if he feared my lover would disappear.

"Mulder, Mulder?" Walter said his name over and over again, then pushed him away, and sat him down.

"One, two, two, two?" Fox began, but Walter silenced him.

"Mulder - hush." Fox shut up, but not without a little pout. "Come here." Walter grinned, dragging Fox over so that he was lying between his legs. Fox went happily enough, and lay there with an expression of such trust on his face, that it brought tears to my eyes. He had never looked at me like that. Walter picked up his knife, and handed it to my brother, and I took a sharp intake of breath, but Fox just played with it for a moment, then looked up, a question in his eyes.

"I made you a promise a long time ago, and I want to keep it," Walter said softly. "Is that okay with you, Mulder?" Fox smiled, and I let out a shout of warning, as he placed the tip of the knife against Walter's throat. Walter just sat, very still. "Mulder?" he asked gently.

"Finders keepers," Fox whispered, tracing the blade down Walter's neck. "Losers weepers."

"Yes, I know." Walter's hand fastened over my brother's and he gently retrieved his knife.

Fox leaned back, and smiled, his whole body relaxed, as if waiting for something. "Okay," he said brightly.

Walter looked at me, and then took a deep breath, and placed the tip of the knife against the metal implant in my brother's head. I gave a choking cry, remembering what he had told me, but it was too late. With a quick flick of his wrist, he sliced through the nerves connecting the implant, and then hacked the box out of my brother's head. The strange thing was that Fox didn't scream at all. He didn't even move as Walter finally dug that thing out of his flesh, and threw it into the djebbe. Blood flowed liberally from my brother's head, and Walter tried, uselessly, to stem the tide. Fox opened his eyes, and stared at me, and for the first time, I saw sanity in those hazel depths.

"Samantha. I'm glad I found you." He held out a hand, and I took it, and knelt beside him, crying my heart out.

"Walter - thank you," His other hand found Walter's, and he held it tight. "Tell Scully that I love her too."

"I will." Walter smiled gently, and kissed my brother's blood-soaked hair.

"The little green men got me after all, huh?" Fox asked.

Walter grinned. "Hell, Mulder, that was always on the cards!"

We stayed with him for the next hour, each of us holding on, until Fox finally slipped away. Even then, we didn't move. We just sat there, beside his cooling body, still holding him tight. Later that night, we wrapped him in a blanket, and Walter carried him out to the djebbe, and we slipped his body into the water together. We didn't say anything. I'm not sure what there was to say. I just wrapped my arms around Walter, and we both stood there, watching as the heavy swamp waters finally swallowed my brother into its depths.

"You spoke of a promise. What did you promise him?" I asked him, when Fox's body had finally disappeared from sight.

"His death. We all made a vow a couple of years ago, that if they ever caught any of us, and put those implants into us, anyone who was able to would? It's my last duty, to give them their death, as they asked, as I promised, as?" He paused, and I saw the tears in his eyes. Walter was a big man, with such strength, that it's almost shocking to see him cry. He sobbed his heart out, and I stood holding him, stroking his back until he was done. Despite his tears, he never once lost that innate dignity that made him so special. When he'd finished, he stood up straight, and wiped his face with his sleeve, then he started to walk as if nothing had happened.

"I didn't even really know him," I whispered, as we neared home.

"He loved you, and he never stopped looking for you," Walter told me, and I stopped dead in my tracks. For so many years I'd lived without love, without knowing it, or expecting it, that it hurt deep inside to know that this man, my brother, had cared enough to try to find me, even if he couldn't know how hopeless that task was. "It was his quest," Walter said gently, seeing the pain in my eyes. "He never got over losing you."

"I wish I'd known." The world was a blur, and I buried my face in Walter's chest, blindly seeking comfort there.

When we made love that night, it was with my brother's blood on our hands, and his thanks in our hearts. We clung together, seeking in this affirmation of life, a respite from our grim, inescapable, duty of death.

The following morning, Walter insisted that I took him into the Compound. We both knew that my father's men would be out looking for Fox, and it wasn't safe to stay in the shelter any longer. It would clearly be impossible to lead Dana out the way I had rescued Fox, so I helped Walter break into the Compound. My own bio-readings were readily accepted as we slipped past the security grid, but Walter's set off all the alarms. He half ran, half limped into the Mansion behind me, and I took him up the stairs towards Dana's room. I could already hear the dogs barking in the courtyard beneath us, and the cries of my father's men. We burst into Dana's bedroom, to find her standing beside her bed, fingering the tiny gold cross around her neck.

Walter stopped, in the doorway, and a look passed between them that made a lump rise in my throat. I never did find out what existed between the three of them, but it was clear that Walter loved my father's wife, and that she loved him. Whether as friends, or something more, I have no idea. I just know that I didn't begrudge her, although my heart ached with jealousy. If he could ever once have looked at me like that, I knew I would die happy. He was across that room and by her side within seconds, and he took her in his arms, and held her tight. She looked so small, and frail beside him, that it was almost comical.

"Walter." His name sounded beautiful on her lips.

"Dana." He stroked her hair, and his hands wordlessly found the bandages on her arms, and fingered them, gently.

"Did you come to do what you promised?" She asked, her face creasing up in pain as her implant kicked in.

"Yes. Did you doubt me?" He asked.

"Not you. You surprised me too often," she chided, "but you never once failed us - either of us. Mulder?"

"Free at last." Walter murmured, touching the side of her face tenderly. "He wanted me to tell you something." He bent his head and whispered into her ear, words meant only for her, and she smiled, and rested her face against his shoulder. At that moment, I heard footsteps outside, and I cried out a warning. I didn't even see his hand move - like the consummate soldier he is, he slid that blade softly home, between her ribs, taking her life so swiftly that she didn't even know. He picked up her lifeless body, and held her in his arms, just as my father burst through the door.

"Skinner." My father came to a halt, taking in the implications of the scene in front of him. "Dana!" He cried, wresting her corpse from my lover's arms, and laying her on the bed, crooning over her in genuine anguish. I couldn't help but feel sorry for him; he had truly loved her, in his own way. He took a few minutes to pull himself together, and then he stood, drew himself up to his full height - towering over even my tall lover, and confronted Walter. I had a sense of d?j? vu, although I had never seen my father and Walter in the same room before. I just knew that this confrontation had happened many times before, each one a rehearsal for this one moment, as they stood over the body of my father's wife.

"End game," Walter said softly.

"The game ended a long time ago, Skinner," my father snarled, "and you lost."

"Maybe." Walter shrugged. "And now, so have you."

My father drew his gun, and pointed it at my lover, and before I knew it, I had stepped between them, with a cry.

"Please, Father. I love him."

There was silence for a long time, as we stood, wondering, waiting. I didn't know whether my father would kill both of us, or just Walter, although it wouldn't have made any difference because if he had killed my lover, I would have followed soon after, by my own hand. Instead my father smiled, a grim, cadaverous smile, and put his gun away, gesturing to his soldiers.

"She loves him. Well, then you must have him, Sam. Nothing is too much for my precious little girl, hmm?" He patted my head, and I felt a chill stab deep into my heart. They dragged Walter away, and I threw myself at my father's feet, and begged him not to harm my lover.

"Of course not," my father told me, helping me up. "You'll see him again this evening - at dinner. He can live here, with us. I could do with a good administrator to help me run this place, and Skinner has always been an excellent administrator. In fact, it's all he was ever any good for." He opened his packet of cigarettes, and lit one, only his shaking figures indicating the true level of his distress. He inhaled deeply, standing for a while beside his wife's body, the ash dropping onto her bloodstained nightdress, and then he left, without looking back.

Yes, they brought my Walter back to me. He looked so handsome - bathed, shaved, and all dressed up, in a shirt and tie, and his wounds had been treated properly as well. All in all, he was very presentable - except for the metal box that was clearly visible, embedded in his skull. I knew then that I had done him a grave wrong in begging my father for his life. If I had just let him kill Walter, then he would have been spared this fate. As I looked into my lost love's eyes, and heard him talk, so carefully, so emptily, praising my father, congratulating him on his successes, I knew that I had condemned my lover to the very living death from which he had been courageous enough to liberate his friends.

It took me three months to find the strength to emulate him. Three months of watching him walk around the Compound like a zombie, doing my father's dirty work for him, saying "yes, sir, no sir," while his body language spoke wretched volumes about his true feelings. Our freedom was greatly curtailed: wraiths once more, we floated around that house, pale shadows of our former selves, and although Walter shared my bed, I could see in his heart the words that were denied him.

"Please," he would beg me, as I held him in my arms, night after night.

"I can't," I replied, the tears running down my cheeks. To have found him, after so long alone, it was more than I could bear to lose him again. I ran through all the options in my mind - those same options that he must have gone through months ago, when he first arrived, or even before he stowed away on that ship from Big Earth.

There was no escape from Little Earth; no ships visited us. We were alone. There was no chance of overthrowing my father on his very own power base. We couldn't even escape to live outside the Compound, in the veldt, because Walter's implant had been fitted with a tracking device, and my father kept him under surveillance 24 hours a day. I think, also, and it pains me more than I can say to remember this, that my father had done something with his implant that kept my lover in constant pain, although Walter never spoke of it. The dark bruising under his eyes, and their weary depths told me that particular cruel truth about my father's soul.

My father. My poor, lost father, my poor lost brother, his lost Dana, and my lost Walter and his poor lost world. Little Earth was populated by ghosts - not all of them dead. I never came to hate my father, although I tried very hard. Maybe a part of me understood him. We shared the same genes after all. I came to learn the hard truth; that you can love someone without liking them.

We all have to face ourselves, sooner or later, and my moment came the day I felt the new life move inside me. I took myself away from the Compound, and back to the shelter by the djebbe where my brother died. As I sat there, my feet dangling in the water, trying to make sense of what had happened, I saw the bottle, bobbing up and down towards me. The swamp waters are heavy, so I was surprised to see that it hadn't sunk, but it nudged insistently against my leg, and I plucked it out. It took a moment before I realized it was the bottle Dana and I had thrown into the water several lifetimes ago. I remembered her red hair, and pale face, and those cold, lifeless, blue eyes. She was the first friend I'd ever had, and maybe the last. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I recalled how hard I'd tried to hate her. I opened the bottle, and pulled out our notes. Two words on each - I recognized my own untidy writing, and her neat loops, but the words stabbed deep into my heart, making me struggle for breath.

"Kill me," her note said, and I wept for a moment, in pity for her life, and thanks for her death.
"Love me," my own note said, and I wept again, for myself this time, the little girl who never managed to fit in, sent away from her home, and family, always yearning for someone to love her. Walter had come along - an answer to both our pleas. He had given us both what we wanted most. Wasn't it time to return the favor? I glanced around the veldt, and placed my hand on my stomach. Walter wouldn?t want this child to see him like this - a strange, lifeless, almost strangulated imitation of the man I'd fallen in love with. Walter would have done anything to avoid such a fate, only he couldn't. So I had to act for him, and show him the same compassion he had shown to Dana, and Fox. Somehow I had to find the same depths of love and courage that Walter had found, to put my needs aside, and think of someone else.

I stayed there all day, watched the sun go down over the djebbe, and then returned home. Walter was sitting in our room, rocking himself back and forth in his chair, in a way that seemed to soothe him. He looked up as I came in, and I went quickly to his side and kissed him.

"I'll run a bath," I whispered, and he nodded, his eyes glazed, and blank. I set the water running, arranged what I would need, and then returned to him.

"Walter." I placed his hand on my belly. "I'm pregnant."

There was, I think, a momentary joy in those sad, dark eyes, but it was quickly eclipsed by the expression of intense pain that followed it. "It's all right, my love, I know what I must do now. It's clear to me. Don't worry." I put my finger over his lips, and kissed him, before leading him to the bath and undressing him one last time. I sat down in the warm water, and guided him to sit between my legs, his back against my breast. Then I picked up the knife, and held his wrist in my hand. He looked at me with a wordless expression of gratitude, and nodded.

I made the cut long - lengthwise along the vein, not cutting across it, to speed his passing. He didn't flinch, didn't even move as I worked, just looked at me, with those intense, grateful dark eyes. First one wrist, then the other, then I pulled him back into my arms, and we both lay there and watched the water turn red together.

"Tell me," I whispered, as he faded away from me, "did you ever really love me?"

"Yes," he smiled. "Of course, Samantha."

A final act of kindness, from a kind man. I saw in his eyes that he cared about me, that he was fond of me. I think though, that he had used up all the true love of his heart on his lost world, and on whatever strange, tangled, skein of thread bound him to my dead brother, and my father's wife. Whatever he had left was mine, and for that much, I'm grateful. He slipped away from me without a fight, after a lifetime of battles, finally following his heart's desire.

When I was sure he was gone, I eased myself away from his body, and dried myself, still smelling his blood on my flesh. I got dressed, and left the Compound one last time. I wouldn't be coming back, and I didn't think they'd look for me for long. None of them had ever explored the world outside the Compound as I had, and they were all convinced that it was impossible to live for long away from the biosphere, and all their technology. They were wrong. I knew that I could live out here quite happily, away from the sickness of my kind, and my father's house of ghosts. I had done it before for months at a stretch. I knew it was a hard path too - delivering my child alone, and caring for the infant by myself, but I was full of hope for the future. When the baby was born, I would call it Fox Skinner or Dana Skinner, depending on its gender, and in a strange way, this child would be the sum of us all, and of our tragedy. My father, Fox, and Walter, three men who fought a bitter battle that consumed their lives, would be united at last by genetics, all of them sharing some part of my child. As for Dana, she lived on in my heart - I would tell my child about her beauty, her intelligence, and most of all, her quiet, desperate courage.

I think, maybe, that you can be born to a certain state. With me, it's loneliness. It's all I've ever really known, and I think, if fate exists, it's what I was fated for. In 6 months time, I'll finally have someone who will love me more than anyone else in the world. I suppose that's all I've ever really wanted. After all the death, it's time, past time, for a new life.

The End

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