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A Handful Of Life by David Hearne
Summary: Deslea's rec: "David packs a punch with this rich Red And The Black vignette. When Marita awakes from the oil, she encounters her saviour. WMM characterised at his clipped British best."



CLASSIFICATION: Post-ep for "The Red and the Black"


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Website is located at http://members.dencity.com/hearne


The best thing about her situation was still being alive.

Or maybe that was the worst thing.

She recognized the surrounding room only some time after regaining
consciousness. Then again, had she really been unconscious beforehand?
She had been paralyzed as an invading organism tightened itself around
her mind. Yet her own self had still been present, chained and only
able to watch the invader. She remembered shreds of what she had
witnessed. There had been blackness occasionally changing to strong
light, and then fading to darkness again. She also recalled words
spoken in a language which she couldn't recognize.

None of those memories could help her now. When the organism left her
body, she was confused yet relieved. She was in a weakened state, but
she should have been feeling a lot worse. The sight of medical
equipment also comforted her. At first, she thought that her body had
been found and taken to the hospital. She also assumed that the
organism must have transferred itself to a new host.

Then her sluggish awareness noticed the circle of windows above her.

And she realized where she really was.

Fear almost made her sit up, but her weary muscles couldn't even
respond to terror. Furthermore, there was nowhere to go. She wouldn't
have been able to get past the nearest door.

She surrendered to the examining table under her back and to waiting.
She spent many minutes wondering who was going to walk through the
door. A group of doctors with blades? A man who would quickly enter
with a gun and quickly leave?


One person she didn't expect was the old man who entered the room. He
walked up to the examining table and looked down at her in a way both
stern and regretful.

"I needn't have to tell you about your lack of resources now," he said
in a quiet, British-accented voice. "Nor about your dearth of

She was just strong enough to nod slightly.

"In return, you don't have to explain why you betrayed the Project.
You are not the first to do so. Whatever your motivation -- personal
idealism, survival -- is not important to me.

"What *is* important is that you might be the first step towards a
better future than we could have imagined."

The bewilderment in her eyes made him smile slightly. "You must be
wondering what happened to the black oil."

She exerted the muscles in her chest and throat in order to say,

"No. You were cured."

She almost sat up again, this time in surprise. She also felt an
emotion so long forgotten that it felt improbable to experience.

She felt hope -- hope for everyone.

"Alex stole a sample of the vaccine from the Russians," the Englishman
explained. "We are now trying to replicate it."

He lifted a finger. "Bear in mind that it took a long time to stop the
virus in your body. Nor do we know if it's capable of stopping the
virus under all circumstances. However, I believe that we have the
means of going beyond what the Russians have..."

The Englishman stopped himself, then sighed. "Well...we'll have to
see. Perhaps there is an opportunity here. Perhaps not. Let us discuss
what will happen now to you."

She forced herself to look the Englishman in the eye.

"What's keeping you alive is your status as a test subject. Our
research team is going to be very interested in what would be the
effects of both the oil and the vaccine on a human body. And you know
how their curiosity makes them...thorough."

Her breathing quickened, but she maintained eye contact.

"It will be a painful existence for you. The end will come when there
is nothing more to be learned. These are miserable consequences, but
you understood that such things would be possible when you turned

He touched her on the hand as lightly as he could. "Your suffering
will have a meaning, though. Through chance or design or both, you
have given us our first real weapon against the colonists. For that, I
thank you. This means little...but I still give my thanks."

Her lips moved. The buzzing between her teeth made the Englishman lean
forward until his ear hovered within an inch of her mouth.

Then he stood up straight. "No. He's not here. I'm afraid that he has
shown no interest in seeing you. Under the circumstances, I think you
can understand why."

She made no attempt at sound or movement. The look in her eyes gave no
hint to her feelings.

"If it means anything, he'll be under my protection. The rest of the
group remains suspicious of him. However, I daresay that they are a
bit suspicious of me now. So perhaps he'll make the best ally I can

He pulled his hand away. "It is a strange time in which we live. Even
those who hold the darkest secrets in the world have been surprised by
recent events. Who knows where will we be in the next year?" The
Englishman shrugged. "Maybe you'll be the one who has to send me away.
In such a world, it is hard to find anything fixed and dependable."

He looked thoughtful for a few moments, then added, "Maybe life itself
is the only true constant. And even then..."

He shook his head. "Good-bye, young lady."

Her eyes didn't watch the Englishman as he left the room. Instead, she
looked up at the windows. No light was shining above them.