Shelter

Authors: AmyJ, Toadie, & Karl W.
Rating: PG-13
Archiving: This story is not available for archiving at any other sites  ©2002
Challenge: The first section of this story is the same for all three authors. The purpose of this exercise was for each author to devise their own ending. You can see the ending each of the three authors wrote by clicking on the links below.

Continuation by Toadie

With a grunt she shoved John off her legs and was rewarded for her efforts with a stabbing pain from her wounded leg. Speed was of the essence now, so she levered herself to her feet and started towards the newly formed exit of their rubble tomb. She hadn’t even taken the first step when she hesitated and looked down at John, who lay on his back blinking in a dazed fashion. He had offered to help her even when he didn’t have to, it wasn’t like he was part of her squad. Plus he was some kind of defective. But apart from being dazed, he was whole in body and if she was to survive the Scarran kill sweeps no doubt going on in the city, she needed whatever aid she could get, even ludicrously inadequate aid since that was all that was available. 

With a sigh swiftly followed with a grunt she knelt over John and leaned over him looking into his eyes that were only now starting to focus as he recovered from being stunned by the explosion.  

In a whisper she could barely hear he said, “Well, that could have gone better.”  

“You have got to be the strangest creature I have ever met.” Mirna said to him as he opened his eyes and she found her brown eyes meeting his blue ones. 

An irreverent grin slid into place on his face as if it were his customary expression. “You ain’t the first to say that to me you know kid. You won’t be the last either, that is unless you mean to keep me here chatting with you all day instead of letting us get the hell out of here.” 

“Me? You’re the one who’s lying on the ground!” she spluttered indignantly, stung at being call ‘Kid’ as much as his preposterous claim that she was the one delaying them. How dare he! 

“Just admiring the view darling but I think it is time for us to get out of Dodge before we end up on Boot Hill.” 

“wha…” was all she got out before she found herself being half dragged, half carried towards the newly formed exit. His swift decisive movements surprised her especially when compared with her previous assumption that she was dealing with some kind of defective. He was as alert as any commando she had seen at work, moving swiftly and quietly. He had a conservation of movement to him, no effort wasted as he scanned their surroundings and made decisions instinctively as to what was their safest path out of here. 

The day was hot, almost oppressively so for her, yet it was dim. Dust clogged the air around them, turning everything into a gray indistinct shadow of itself. Yet this male who was practically dragging her did not pause or hesitate. 

Never once did he stop to ask her opinion and never once did she think to offer it. Slowly she fell into her role, the role she had been trained to follow since birth. To take orders unquestioningly and blindly. Who ever this John was it was obvious to her now that as strange as he was he was a senior officer used to command and expecting to be obeyed. 

“Ok, you know where we are?” His question was unexpected and she had to look around herself to get her bearings. She had been alert for any Scarrans but she had been following him, sure he knew where they were going. 

“You mean you don’t know where we are?” she asked incredulously and slightly angrily, cursing herself for following so blindly. 

“Of course I know where we are, but you were stationed here and know the area better than I and know the locations of the medical facilities, so I’m asking you again, do you know where we are?” she found herself blushing, an unaccustomed feeling, at the obvious scathing patience in Johns voice. 

“Oh… umm...” she found herself at a loss for their location, so little looked the same now, collapsed buildings made a mockery of the city as it once was. The streets were empty however, everyone knew what happened and were obviously hiding as best they could from the Scarrans and only the truly desperate would be on the streets at a time like this, desperate as she and her companion. 

Finally she formed an idea of where they were, somewhere in grid four by twenty which meant that the medical facilities should be… “That way.”  

She pointed off to their left, turning her head to look in that direction, finding she was staring at a Scarrans troop carrier as it cruised slowly and silently in their direction. She was still standing pointing when she felt Johns arms go around her waist and pull her into the deep shadows of the building they were standing next to. 

From their vantage the could see it coming, searchlights from its belly flickering over the remnants of buildings like pale fingers reaching down to grab the souls of the dead. Other more insidious sensors were also at work, poking and prying, search for body heat, rhythmical sounds created by breathing and the beating of a heart, anything that would betray the presence of life in the path of the craft. And it was coming straight towards them. Yet they dare not run, for yet more sensors would detect the motion and bring the troop carrier directly to them and lose them any hope of evasion, yet there was also no place to hide. 

The ship ship’s relentless journey towards them slowed and stopped, near enough for them to hear the whisper of its engine as it hovered yet far enough away to stay hidden. Someone wasn’t so lucky however, Shots reached up from the ground, in the hazy mist looking like lightning in reverse. From the sounds of it the heaviest weapons being used were pulse pistols, woefully inadequate against the meanest Scarran trooper never mind a heavily armored assault carrier. 

The craft simply hung there for several microts, immune and inviolate as the shots rained up upon it. Then it happened. Even from her vantage point she felt it, could see it even. A blast of intense heat came from the ship, the heat haze dancing in the dust-choked air causing a seemingly solid wall to appear before thinning and diluting in the heavy hot air. Mirna felt it hard to catch her breath even from this distance and knowing anyone caught directly underneath would be stunned into insensibility almost instantly, but the duration wasn’t enough to do permanent harm. Unfortunately for whoever it was under the craft. 

She and the other stayed where they were long after the ship had landed, keeping a sharp ear out for movement towards their position. It was an unnecessary precaution and a mentally damaging one. Not long after the ship landed the screams began, first the hoarse cries of males, sounds empty of hope yet pleading for help all the same. A softer weeping could also just be made out, almost as a counterpoint to the screams. 

It was only when the last male voice dwindled into silence that the true horror struck home for Mirna. She had heard the stories yet never truly believed them, until now. The new screams were of the females, only these were different, uglier to her ears. She clasped her hands over her ears and turned her back looking for the first time in a long time at John. His face betrayed nothing, it was set, hard, maybe even harsh but his eyes shone, perhaps with unshed tears, she did not know, could not say. This male was everything she aspired to be as a peacekeeper. Perhaps he was unconventional but she understood what he was now. He was a commando, he had to be, everything about him screamed it to her now that she listened. He knew combat, had seen scenes like this and more. 

So she followed his example, she hunkered down beside him and waited it out, trying her best to ignore the cries. It ended… eventually. The ship took off once more but this time heading away from them.  She waited till it was out of sight then made a move to the site of the screams only to be stopped by a hand on her arm. 

“Don’t.” he said. “There is no point and there is nothing there you want to see.” His voice was not emotionless rather filled with them to the point where they canceled each other out, expressing everything yet reveling nothing. 

“But we might be able to help someone.” 

“There is nothing left to help there, nothing you would recognize at least. Leave it be. Trust me.” 

“So what do we do?” 

“We carry on. Get you medical attention then get the hell off this planet as soon as we can and avoid any contact with the Scarrans. The medical facility is this way isn’t it?” He pointed away slightly from where she had originally pointed, just enough so that they would miss… whatever he felt she should not bear witness to. She felt both stung and grateful at once. She had no desire to witness what the Scarrans had wrought yet she felt a dread fascination to see just what stories she had heard were true. 

# 

They made it to the medical facilities with no further incident. The place was crowded, which Mirna found both right and yet odd. So many people gathered in one place, so close to the Scarrans and yet nothing was happening. She wasn’t the only one frowning at this odd situation, she watched as John scanned their surroundings repeated with a frown, eyes peering through this soup of dust trying to see more than there was to see. 

He gave up with a sigh and turned back to her. “I don’t like this so we are not staying. In just long enough to patch up your leg and out before the big bad comes huffing and puffing, ok?”  

Mirna screwed her eyes up as she glared at him. Whatever he was saying was making no sense at all. It was worse than gibberish, it sounded like it should mean something but… “Big bad?” 

“Yeah you know, the big bad wolf, ‘all the better to eat you with’” 

“What...?” 

“Oh never mind, I could explain it till I was as blue as a Delvian and you still wouldn’t know what I was talking about.” 

She just shrugged. It was of no importance to her, although she was curious. He spoke like no other being she had heard of or even imagined. Obviously he had traveled far in his duties. If the situation wasn’t as dire as it was, she would maybe have worked up the courage to ask him to recreate with her just so she could get him to tell her some stories about his missions, the unclassified ones obviously.  

He helped her through the crowded corridors until they found a medical bay that was empty. The staff were busy, forcing panic to the back of their minds as they worked diligently to patch up the wounded. The soldiers got priority over the civilians as was right, as they would be the ones doing the fighting and the dying. Although they did not have exclusivity on dying when the Scarrans were involved. 

He sat her on a bed, ignoring her protests that she could get on it without his help. Then he knelt and examined her leg, uncovering the temporary bandage she had fashioned to stem the worst of the bleeding and poked it ungently causing her to hiss with pain and glare at him. He simply looked up at her and winked. 

“Relax kid. Pain is just nature’s way to let you know your legs still there. Now all we have to do is make sure that remains the case.” He reached over and opened one of the many emergency medical boxes strewn around the room. Sitting it beside him she watched in shock as he competently did a med techs job and dealt with her wound, cleaning it, stapling what needed stapling competently if not expertly or without causing some pain and then finally bandaging it. 

Slowly she levered herself to her feet, testing her leg. The worst of the pain was gone and she had almost full use, but she felt stuff and slightly clumsy. 

“Better?” he remained kneeling as he watched her walk slowly around the room regaining her memory of what it was like to move with two functioning limbs. 

“Better.” she looked down at him and smiled. Confidence returning. She had a leader and a pistol. 

“Good.” He stood brushing off the dust on his pants only to leave clear streaks. “Time to get out of here.” 

Almost as if those words were prophesizing doom it happened, the screaming, shouting and the sound of gunfire. With a curse she did not catch he grabbed her and pulled her into the corridor that microts before had been relatively empty, now crowded with panicking people, civilians and peacekeeper some part of her mind noted with disgust. 

The second time she witnessed the Scarrans’ weapon to incapacitate her people it wasn’t a wall of dust that marked its progress, rather a shimmering haze and a wall of collapsing people. Then it hit her and she collapsed. Conscious thought almost escaped her, all that she was left with was a bizarre kaleidoscope of images, flashes of events seen from odd angles. Gunfire too echoed in her mind, Scarrans chasing her as she floated away from them. 

She did not know how long it was before she recovered herself but when she did she was far from the medical facility, alone but for the jacket strewn over her. It was nearly dark, probably earlier than she thought but darkness was certainly drawing close, aided by the seemingly ever-present dust in the air. 

She sat up with a start barely keeping the presence of mind not to cry out. But she could not help jumping when a voice from the deep shadows called out to her. 

“Awake I see, Sleeping Beauty. I almost thought I was going to have to kiss you there for a microt.” 

“We escaped.” 

“Hail princess of the obvious.” 

“How did we escape? How could we escape?” panic edged her voice as she began to contemplate a horrible possibility.  She was with a collaborator. That’s the only thing that made sense. He would have been knocked as senseless as she when the Scarrans attacked and yet they were here, safe. She scrabbled at her holster only to find it empty. 

With wide eyes she watched as John reached into his holster and came up with her pistol. “Looking for this?” He tossed it at her, it fell just short of her fingers yet she made no move to pick it up. 

“Look kid… Mirna. I may have not been completely straight with you but I am not your enemy. I am just trying to get us both out of a bad situation.” 

“Who are you?” she whispered. 

“I told you, my name is John.” His voice was tight and he would not quite meet her eyes so she asked again, stronger this time. 

“Who are you!?” 

“John. John Crichton.” He said barely above a whisper. Eyes on hers now, waiting for recognition to spark in them. 

Her eyes narrowed as an earlier memory surface. “The same John Crichton that the Scarrans were hunting for?” 

“Yeah that’s me, unfortunately for this world.” 

“They did all this just to capture you?” Awe flecked her voice. If the Scarrans were so willing to expend such resources on one male he must be incredibly important. 

“Yeah well, when you’re the only human on this side of the big galactic pond who has a head stuffed full of secrets that could win a war for whoever possesses them, you’ll find that people are willing to spend big to get you.” 

“Human?” 

“Yeah my race. I am human.” 

“Your not Sebacean?” 

“I thought we covered that. You Sebacean me human.” 

“I have never heard of ‘umans before.” 

“Few have in the uncharted territories or anywhere else for that matter.” 

“I’ve been contaminated.” With a jerk she pulled herself to her feet. Pistol in her hands pointed squarely at John’s chest. “You have contaminated me. If they find out I am finished. My career is over if they find out. I can’t... won’t…” 

in a panic she ran, leaving him behind ignoring his shouts for her to return. She just ran. Away. She had to get someplace where she could think, make plans to hide her contamination. 

It was only when she stumbled and fell did she look around her and realized where she was. All around her lay bodies, all male. Burned, tortured and obviously dead. With a shiver she replayed in her mind the sounds she heard almost being able to pick out which male had made what sound. 

Morbid curiosity pushed her on. Made her search for the other bodies she knew were here, the females. it didn’t take long to find them, they were all grouped together clothing torn, bodies abused in ways that made the torture of the males merciful by comparison but the worst was yet to come. It took her microts to realize they were still alive, breathing. She stumbled forward to the first victim shaking her trying to get some response but got none. On she went from one woman to the next, finding most of them alive but all equally as responsive as the dead. Only breathing differentiated the living from the dead. 

They were dead in the living death. Tortured beyond hope of salvation and left to die in the most horrible way a Sebacean could imagine. She could not understand how anyone could hate another being so much as to do this to them. 

She looked around, for help, advice, someone to tell her what she should do but she was alone. She could only do what she would want, need done in their place. She had to release them from their pain. With a deep breath and a prayer to a god she did not believe in she drew her knife, it trembled in her hand, yet she had to do this. 

# 

She was kneeling, weeping when John appeared and knelt beside her, his eyes taking in all her work, yet he said nothing. She looked up at him, tears in her eyes, all illusion gone now. 

“Why?” 

“Because they could. Peacekeepers have done as bad or worse to their own kind, why should you expect Scarrans to be any more softhearted?” 

“But… why?” 

“Inside every living being lies a tiny seed of darkness, call it evil or call it something else. We all have it. In some it is closer to the surface than others. Some species don’t even bother hiding it, they simply embrace it and follow its call The Scarrans aren’t evil they simply are, they know no other way it is their nature to hate all that is different from them. In many ways Peacekeepers are the greater evil, they train you to hate those different from you, twist your natures to bring out that seed of darkness and to let it grow. It is a strong person who can survive all that and still be themselves.” 

“You think I am evil?” 

“No. I just think you knew no other way, now I think you do.” 

“So what do i do now?” he voice trembled and was weak, barely above a whisper. 

“You stand up, walk on and live. Life goes on; in the end the best way to beat evil is to outlive it. Watch it perish as it chokes itself to death.” 

“So we go on?” her voice still trembled slightly but it was stronger than before, her desire to believe powerful, her need even more so. 

“We go on.” With that he put a hand under her elbow and helped her to her feet. “Lets get out of here. I have friends who will be worried about me.” 

FIN

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