You thought that it could never happen
To all the people that you became
Your body lost in legend,
The beast so very tame.
But here, right here,
Between the birthmark and the stain,
Between the ocean and your open vein,
Between the snowman and the rain,
Once again, once again,
Love calls you by your name.
Shouldering your loneliness
Like a gun that you will not learn to aim,
You stumble into this movie house -
Then you climb, you climb into the frame.
--"Love Calls You By Your Name," Leonard Cohen
IRENICON: Book Eight
Los Angeles, California
I wouldn't be dying if I hadn't married a putz.
Carrie hated herself for the thought - but she felt horrible,
and she knew she was going to die, and even if it looked like Mitchell was
going to be fine, she still didn't know that for sure. In her head, she understood
that the Bloodsight plague was Rambaldi's work, that it had been released
by Arvin Sloane, and that if Marshall had come up with a vaccine that protected
75% of the people who took it, that was still pretty impressive. And because
she'd already been reassigned to the Rambaldi task force, she would have been
given the experimental vaccine even if she hadn't been Marshall's wife.
But Milo Rambaldi, Arvin Sloane and the son of a bitch
who had assigned her to the Rambaldi task force were all far, far away. Marshall
was here. Now. Babbling like a putz.
"So, it's official, Schwarzenegger was just on TV
to announce it - 'martial law,' that sounds kind of scary, kind of like a
Schwarzenegger movie, if you think about it. Not 'Predator' really, at least
we don't have THAT problem, but maybe 'Total Recall' or 'The Running Man,'
something post-apocalyptic - you know, I don't think people are going to want
to see those kinds of movies anymore, assuming anyone's even going to be making
movies anymore -"
"Marshall," she choked out, "I'd like some
"Water. Of course you do - you need water - be right
back." He bolted from their bedroom, presumably for the kitchen.
When Carrie had become ill - months after the vaccination,
just when they had really thought everyone else was safe - Marshall had tried
to take her to a hospital. The CIA facility had been filled to capacity, but
neither of them had been prepared for every other hospital to be in the same
situation. After a long and terrifying day of driving through roads clogged
with people fleeing Los Angeles, Carrie had simply told Marshall to take her
It wasn't like she'd have better remedies than hot toddies
and Aleve at the hospital, anyway. She might as well die in her own bed as
But at least in a hospital room, everything would be clean
and white and - antiseptic. Carrie wouldn't have been surrounded by her failures:
the ugly bedroom set she'd kept meaning to replace but never did, the clothes
in her closet she never lost enough weight to wear again, and always, always,
She didn't regret dating him. She didn't regret getting
pregnant. But she'd married Marshall in a moment's sentimentality, not because
she truly wanted to, and Carrie knew that she was only saving them from divorce
by making him a widower. Worst of all was that Marshall didn't seem to have
a clue; no matter how many times she pushed him away, he just didn't get it.
Like a stray dog you've fed once, she thought, wincing
against the lancing pain in her chest.
Carrie heard someone at the door and turned, expecting
Marshall with a glass of water and yet more trivia. Instead, Robin Dixon stood
there, balancing Mitchell on her hip. "Somebody just had his bath,"
Robin announced. "I think he'd like to see his Mama."
"Bring him here." She managed to hold out her
heavy arms, and Robin laid Mitchell on her stomach. His skin smelled like
Baby Magic and talcum powder. He was willing to be cuddled for a few moments,
but then he began crawling across the bedcovers, exploring.
Robin grinned. "He loves his bath. We play with the
little ducks and everything. I think he'll learn to swim really early."
Carrie stopped smiling at her boy just long enough to
glance over at Robin. "Did you bathe him all by yourself?"
"I'm old enough to babysit! I promise I am."
"No - that's not what I meant -" Do I snap at
people so much that they just assume that's what I'm doing, all the time?
Carrie wondered. Yes, in fact, I do. "I just meant - thanks. I appreciate
the help. I know Marshall does too."
Robin smiled, almost pitifully grateful to be of assistance.
When the Dixon kids had first moved in, Carrie hadn't known what to do with
them; she'd only met them a handful of times, and both children were sick
with grief. But after her illness, they'd both pitched in, Robin especially.
For the first time, it hit Carrie that Mitchell would probably grow up with
Robin and Stephen. Her son would never remember his mother, but he'd know
the Dixon kids his whole life.
"Mitchell's a really good boy," Robin said,
reaching out to stroke his wispy dark hair. Mitchell, oblivious to the attention,
set to work gnawing on the lapel of Carrie's pajama top. "Most kids that
age, they fuss a lot. But he's sweet. All he wants to do is hug people
-- or take stuff apart. I guess he gets that from his Daddy, huh?"
"He gets the sweet part from his Daddy too."
Carrie pulled Mitchell back into her arms.
How much longer would she have the strength to hold her
son? A few days, maybe.
"Mitchell ought to be in bed," Carrie murmured.
"Could you put him down?"
"Sure." Robin collected him, and Carrie's heart
burned as Mitchell held out his arms to her. She managed not to start crying
until the kids were gone.
After another few minutes - after she'd sobbed herself
out - Marshall finally returned with the water. His face was unusually grave.
"The agency called. Somebody else got sick - Dr. Barnett, Judy, you know?
We thought we were clear but, well, we're not. Now it's at least another month
before I can get all of us to Anta - to the secret safe place."
"Marshall." She held out her hand to him, and
he took it, apparently surprised at the sign of affection. "You did your
best, okay? You saved a lot of people. That's all anybody can ask for."
"It wasn't enough." Marshall hung his head.
She thought: I wouldn't have Mitchell if I hadn't fallen
for a putz.
"Hey," Carrie said, so that he would look at
her again. "Did I ever tell you that marrying you was the best thing
I did in my whole life?"
Marshall's face slowly lifted into a gentle smile, and
he brought her hand to his lips to kiss her fingers.
It didn't matter if it wasn't true, Carrie decided. All
that mattered was that he believed it.
Sydney was alive.
Irina was on her feet in an instant, ignoring the rifles
her captors aimed at her. "My God. Sydney - how -" Then she saw
Jack and slowly released the breath she'd been holding. "You did this."
"Yes." It was his only greeting; his arms were
still wrapped around Sydney, who almost seemed to be holding him up. They
both looked pale and tired and more beautiful than Irina had ever seen them
before. It cut her open just to look into their faces, as though the sight
were a blade slicing through burn-blackened skin to find the red pulse of
Irina had been numb to the world. Now she was alive again.
"How did you find us?" Sydney's voice shook.
"Have you been looking for us, all this time?"
"Sydney - I thought you were dead. I thought - "
Irina felt tears rimming her eyes and didn't try to check them. Let the guards
see. It was worth revealing the vulnerability, to let Jack and Sydney see
it too. "I thought your father was in jail. I never dreamed this was
The young man behind them - Eric Weiss, friend to Sydney
and Vaughn, whom she had seen in person only when he fell into the crosshairs
of her rifle four years ago - scowled at her. "So, you were just in Antarctica
for a stroll? Don't tell me: You love penguins because they're so gosh-darned
"My sister - Katya - she left a message for me before
she died. Only coordinates. I followed her lead, but I didn't know what I'd
Weiss didn't look convinced, but Irina didn't care. Sydney
was alive. She was alive, and safe, and Jack had been taking care of her.
And the cure was still within her.
Irina had not damned the world after all.
As Jack slumped against the doorjamb, perhaps in exhaustion,
Sydney stepped forward hesitantly. Only then did Irina see how wide her daughter's
belly was, straining even against the considerable width of her parka.
"Sydney's having a baby." Jack had the worn,
wary expression of a boxer in the tenth round. "I never thought of anything
to say after that."
"My God." The oath slipped out as reverently
as though Irina actually believed in a god. At this moment, she almost could.
"Mom, were you out in the storm? You don't look good."
The long night she'd spent nearly freezing before stumbling
across a Jamesway by pure luck - it wasn't a story worth repeating. "It's
nothing. Tell me how you are."
"I'm good." Sydney looked more dazed than anything
else. Her baby, having a baby of her own - Irina's mind was reeling. Even
her considerable ability to compensate for shifts in fortune could not answer
Then Jack stumbled forward, only just catching himself
from falling. Snapping out of her confusion in an instant, Sydney said, "Dad
needs medical attention, immediately. He probably has a broken foot, and he
was hypothermic when I found him. Mom, I want Jenny to look at you too. She's
"Hey, hey." One of the guards stepped forward,
his rifle at the ready. "This is Irina Derevko. She's still on the Ten
Most Wanted list -"
"She's my mother." Sydney's eyes were blazing
fire, and the protectiveness she saw there warmed Irina more than she would
have thought possible.
"No offense, Agents Bristow, but this situation -
I've read the report -"
"That's exactly right." Jack spoke this time,
his words as clear and sharp as if they'd been chiseled into ice. "You've
read the report. You have read words written on paper that someone else prepared
and handed to you in a neatly bound folder. That is what you know about this
situation. Have I made myself understood?"
Nobody seemed inclined to argue further.
Jack added, "Minimal restraints, light guard. And
she receives medical attention immediately."
"After you, you mean." Sydney turned around
to support him again. "Let's go."
The doctor proved to be a small, argumentative woman whose
attitude faded into silence as soon as Irina fixed her in her stare. A cuff
was clipped to her ankle and then to the cot, but that was fine; Irina was
grateful for the excuse to lie down and not have it thought of as weakness.
"You needed an ER doctor, not an OBGYN," the
doctor said as she pushed up the leg of Jack's trousers. "You realize
While Jack gritted his teeth through the uncomfortable
examination, Sydney sat by Irina's side - half-toppling onto the cot, clumsy
with her new weight. "I have a lot of questions," Sydney said, her
hair falling across her cheek as she looked down.
"I'll answer them if I can." How much did they
know? More than Irina had thought, if they felt no anger - and it appeared
that they did not. She smiled at the belly that had been revealed when Sydney
unzipped her parka. "How far along are you? Six months?"
"A little more. It's a girl. Sarah."
"I like that name." Irina would have said that
no matter what the name actually was, but in this case, it was true. I will
have a granddaughter named Sarah, she thought. The name made it no less surreal.
Irina reached up to tuck a lock of Sydney's hair behind her ear, but Sydney
pulled away. Some anger still, then. It was still a better welcome than
Irina had ever hoped for.
"The good news: You don't have any broken bones,"
the doctor said to Jack. "The bad news: You have what we call in medical
terminology one serious motherfucker of a sprained ankle. Everything you could
have pulled out of whack, you did. Even a pretty bad break would've healed
"Wrap it up. I have work to do. "
"What planet is this you come from, where you nearly
die of hypothermia and think your doctor's going to let you get up and start
working?" The doctor pushed his shoulders back onto the examination table.
"You're going to be a grandpa before you're walking normally on this
again. And you're spending at least one day on IV fluids and under close observation."
Jack would be a grandfather. They would be grandparents.
Irina kept trying to get used to it. It would take a while.
Sydney awkwardly pushed herself up and took Jack's hand.
"It's okay, Dad. I'm sure Eric knows we need to keep patrolling - but
I'll go talk to him about it right now." She glanced over her shoulder
at Irina, still hesitant. But she said, "Make sure Mom's all right too."
After Sydney had gone, the doctor covered Irina with a
blanket and set them both up with IVs. They exchanged no words; the doctor
spoke only to Jack. "Do you want me to move her?"
"No. Leave us."
And then she was the last place she had ever expected
to be in her life - alone with Jack again. His exhaustion was clearly already
getting the better of him; now that Irina was beneath a warm blanket and lying
down, she could feel its heavy pull weighing her down too. But as long as
Jack was looking over at her, she would find the strength to look back.
At last he said, "I read the letter you wrote to
Katya and Jack had remained in closer contact than she'd
anticipated. But there was time to consider that later. At least their lack
of anger was explained. "Then you know."
"I know what you told her. I don't know if I believe
"You do believe it. You just don't want to."
Her stubborn Jack. Irina fought against her smile; it would only annoy him.
"That story explains almost everything. But one rather
critical question remains." Jack breathed out. "Irina - why didn't
you tell me about Nadia?"
Only Jack's blindness could have failed to show him the
truth that had haunted her for a quarter of a century. "I knew Sloane
had lied to me long before I ever gave birth to her. He lied about his evidence.
But neither he nor I nor anybody else could know which daughter was actually
the Irenicon, and which was the source of the Rain of Gold."
"It's obvious that Sydney -"
"It isn't obvious at all. You assumed." Irina
let her head fall back so that she was staring up at the ceiling. The unpainted
panels were marked with logos and numbers in unevenly printed blue, none of
the symbols matching up at the seams. "Nobody knew for certain until
the Sphere of Life was found. I meant to locate Nadia first, learn the truth
myself - "
"Wait." Jack's voice was hard. "Even in
Los Angeles, when you turned yourself in, you didn't know."
"That's right. I still didn't know which of my daughters
I would have to kill."
She could feel his stare on her like a laser sight; Irina
forced herself to face him once again. If he hadn't been injured, she wasn't
certain she would have survived this interview. "The whole time you were
working to win Sydney's trust - asking her about piano lessons, about the
Thanksgiving pageant -"
"Every time I looked at Sydney, I knew I might yet
take her life. If it had come to it, I would've pulled the trigger myself.
Why so surprised, Jack? You saw it in my eyes. And I knew you did."
Jack said nothing. Irina felt strangely dizzy - perhaps
from freedom, perhaps from the sudden and total surcease of her burdens. Or
maybe her overtaxed body was dragging her under, demanding sleep.
She added, "If I had told you about Nadia, you would
have realized all of this. You would have protected Sydney - by killing me,
and killing Nadia without even waiting to find out if she was the source of
the disease or its cure. I couldn't run that risk."
"I would have been right about Nadia."
"You have only one child, and she's the Irenicon.
You have the luxury of absolute loyalty. I've spent twenty-five years waiting
to find out which of my children had to be murdered. Do you have any idea
what that's like? Trying to guess what to wish for?" Irina laughed, the
sound strange even to her. "When I turned myself in, I hoped Sydney would
prove to be petty and selfish. Someone I could let go. Instead, she was -
she was Sydney."
Jack turned his face from her. "You raised Sydney.
You never even knew Nadia."
"So I said to myself, many times. But then - at least
Sydney had advantages, security, a father who loved her for herself. I knew
that, wherever she was, Nadia had none of that. Everything else had been stolen
from her. How could I take away her life? I wanted an answer so badly. There
was never an answer." Irina's gaze drifted back to the ceiling as she
began surrendering to her exhaustion at last. "For a quarter of a century,
I endured the knowledge that even if I found Nadia, even if I won Sydney back,
I would have to lose one of my daughters forever. For the past three months,
I thought I'd lost them both forever. I know you've wanted to see me punished,
Jack. Believe me when I tell you that I have been."
Nadia had never known a day so long, so hot, so filled
with dust and sweat.
"Four steps forward," Michael would say, guiding
them ahead. "Okay. Hang on. Let me look at this." And they would
stand there for long minutes, hands clenched tightly despite the moisture
pooling between their fingers, as he tried to evaluate the risk posted by
a stone or a tuft of desert grass. Their progress was achingly slow. In the
hottest part of the day - and, in this part of Mexico, it was scorching hot
even in January - the heat shimmered up from the sand in waves. Nadia, dizzy
and tired, kept repeating to herself, Don't faint. It doesn't matter what
else you do. Don't faint.
They had only two water bottles that had fallen from the
horse's pack when they ran off - it was enough to allow for a few greedy sips
every hour, but not enough to dab away the sand and grime that stuck to her
damp skin. Nadia could feel lines of dust around her eyes, beneath her breasts,
at the back of her knees.
"We should move to the west," she said to Michael
at the very worst point of mid-afternoon.
"If we go to the shoreline, Sloane can track us."
"If he were tracking us at this point, he'd have
us already." Nadia's training came from books, but she was determined
to call on it when she could. "He knows where the mines are buried; his
people could travel through this, if he wanted. So he's planning on getting
us in town."
Michael nodded, considering that. His hair was slick to
his scalp with sweat. "We can't move through this at night. And the sand
by the water will be too loose for him to have planted any mines there."
"We can walk. Or rest." Then Nadia smiled for
the first time that day. "Or bathe."
He grinned back. "When you put it that way -"
They heard the ocean before they saw it, the sound of
waves taunting her for the longest time as they painstakingly edged across
the ground. Finally, just at sunset, she turned to see the last light of day
reflecting on the water. It took them only a few more minutes to edge out
of solid ground and onto soft, yielding, safe sand.
Michael sank down onto his knees, as though he'd been
in danger of falling. "I'm good," he said, glimpsing her face and
reading her worry. "I just - I'm gonna sit here for a second."
"I'm swimming. Don't look." In truth, Nadia
thought as she ran to the water's edge, stripping away her clothes, she'd
like it if Michael did look. But she was more interested in the water, at
least for the moment.
Naked, she ran into the surf, laughing in sheer delight
as cold spray shocked her skin. The swift contrast chilled her, but shivering
had never been so welcome. Nadia dunked her head beneath the water, feeling
her grimy hair instantly become cool and light, floating free.
She surfaced, gratefully gulping in salty sea air. The
water lapped up to her shoulders, which was demure enough. "You should
come in," she called. "It's wonderful."
"Yeah. Okay. Hang on." Something in Michael's
voice made Nadia instantly certain that he had, in fact, looked. Even as the
water cooled her skin, Nadia felt a different kind of heat kindle inside.
As he walked toward the water's edge, he unbuttoned his
shirt; she allowed herself to watch - what was impolite in that? - while he
tossed it aside. He had a long, lean torso, muscles more defined than she
would have thought. Even in the twilight, she could see deep bruises all along
one side. Michael had acquired those from his trips into the computer room
to find the truth, the same truth she'd tried so hard to ignore -
No. She wasn't going to think of that. She was going to
think about Michael.
Nadia turned her head long enough to allow Michael to
strip down and enter the water. It gave her a chance to scrub down her skin
with her palms, arms and belly and thighs, while she listened to him splash
and sputter a few feet away. At last he said, "This is the absolute greatest
feeling in the world."
She turned back to him, laughing. "We should have
done this all along."
"Tomorrow, we will. At least until we get within
range of town." Michael shook his head, spraying water from his hair
like a dog. His grin was bright in the evening's dark. He had nice shoulders.
Their eyes met, and his smile faded - not disappearing,
but becoming more intent.
Her better instincts battled against her desire, and desire
won. Nadia stepped closer to Michael, into shallower water, so that the surface
of the waves lapped around the top curves of her breasts. She said nothing.
Michael was trying - and failing - not to stare. Maybe
he was fighting the same battle she'd fought. If so, desire was winning there,
Slowly, giving him time to pull away, she reached toward
him, her fingers skimming just beneath the water's surface, like a fish. When
her hand touched his bruised skin, they both breathed in sharply. "Michael
-" she whispered.
Nadia didn't know what she would have said after that,
and she never found out. He seized her arms and clutched her to him, belly
to belly, his erection hard against her pelvic bone. When their mouths met,
the kiss was hard and demanding, her teeth cutting into her lips. She didn't
care; all that mattered was that he wanted her, and she could give herself
A wave hit them hard, knocking her off balance, but Michael
caught her. One of his hands slid down her body, palming her breast so fiercely
it almost hurt. Nadia opened her mouth wider, inviting his tongue deeper inside,
already desperate for him to take her back to shore and lay her down upon
Just when she thought he would, Michael pulled his mouth
away, panting for air. "Nadia - wait."
His hands slipped away from her; Nadia, trembling in the
waves, suddenly felt more exposed than she had been just a few moments before
when she was naked in his arms.
"I've done this before." Michael wasn't quite
looking into her eyes. "Rushed after the first person who made me feel
- something, anything - without asking myself why."
She shrank away, grateful for the darkness that would
hide her embarrassment. "I'm sorry."
"Nadia, no. Don't apologize for - I did this. I started
it. And I - you know that I -"
"You don't have to explain. It's all right. We were
only - celebrating. We got carried away." Nadia stepped deeper into the
water, trying to ignore the painful need he had awakened. "We can travel
further tonight. Just give me a few minutes."
It wasn't Michael's fault. She understood everything completely.
He still loved Sydney - the other sister, the fallen martyr, the salvation
that had been stolen from them all.
Nadia was the disease. Of course he would turn away.
Sark knelt on the sand, staring out at the sunset on the
water. He would die looking at a sunset - how unimaginably trite.
"You missed them by a day," Bill Vaughn said,
never removing the muzzle of his gun from the back of Sark's neck. "One
day, Julian. If you'd gotten here 24 hours earlier, you would have found
Sloane and Michael and Nadia -- everybody you were looking for. Wouldn't have
run into a couple dozen extra guards, either. Imagine how much better your
whole world would be right now if you'd just gotten here One. Day. Earlier."
Extra guards. One day. Interesting. "If you only
just added extra guards, you weren't expecting an assault. You were responding
to something else. May I surmise that at least one of the recent departures
was, shall we say, unanticipated?"
"Shut the hell up." The senior Mr. Vaughn was
more distressed than he ought to have been by Sark's conclusion; this confirmed
that Michael Vaughn had defied his father and escaped. If this location had
still been considered secure, Sloane would not have allowed his daughter to
leave it - therefore, she must have escaped as well. Perhaps she had been
persuaded to do so by Michael Vaughn, whose power over women remained, in
Sark's opinion, mystifying.
"I realize you have no reason at present not to kill
me immediately," Sark said. "I would therefore like to offer you
Silence. The gun's metal was still cool against the base
of Sark's spine. He removed his mind from his own circumstances and studied
his surroundings - the fine white sand, the excellent view, the prints of
horseshoes a few feet away.
Unbelievable, Sark thought. Sloane found his daughter
and bought her a dollhouse and a pony. Was Michael Vaughn part of the
playset? Only the dead bodies of his own assault team marred the scene.
At last, Bill Vaughn said, "I'm listening."
The bait, the hook, and now the nibble. Sark refrained
from smiling as he began winding in the line. "I can find Irina Derevko."
"A lot of men have said that. Most of them have been
"Very few men planted a tracker on her within the
past month," Sark replied. "She wasn't quite herself, you see. Her
guard was down. Only a fool would have foregone the opportunity."
The gun's muzzle slipped away from Sark's skin, and he
allowed himself a very small sigh of relief. Bill Vaughn didn't seem to notice.
"Are you sure your tracker's still operating?"
"I haven't checked the signal in the past 72 hours.
I've had no need. But a quick satellite uplink should allow us to determine
that for certain."
Bill Vaughn remained quiet. Had Arvin Sloane been present,
he would never have dared accept such an offer; Sloane retained some of his
old devotion to the mother of his child, which Sark could understand. But
Bill Vaughn hated Irina Derevko as much as he feared her, and now - abandoned
by his son, abandoned by Sloane - the temptation to go after her would have
to be very strong.
Then again, Bill Vaughn had no love for members of the
Covenant, either. Irina Derevko was still very far away; Sark was here. Would
he prefer a more certain vengeance?
Sark rose, damp sand sticking to the knees of his trousers.
Slowly, Sark lowered his hands from the top of his head and turned to face
his former captor - no, his partner. Bill Vaughn looked altogether too much
like his son for Sark's comfort, but that was all right. He thought of it
as a glimpse into the late middle age that Michael Vaughn would never be allowed
"We're going into town," Bill Vaughn said. "We're
going to double-check this signal. And if I find out you're lying -"
"You won't," Sark said. It was strangely comforting
to have the truth on his side.
"If you want to care about her, it's your business,"
Eric said. "She's your mother. It's natural. But if you want to trust
her, that's everybody's business, including mine. And I think it's a bad idea."
Sydney sat on the foot of his bed, her hands resting atop
her belly. Ever since the Katabatic storm two weeks before, their small world
had been turned upside down - and, he thought, their relationship with it.
Instead of hiding from her father, Sydney was talking to him; they weren't
exactly in the "Father Knows Best" zone, but the two of them were
clearly in recovery mode. Instead of feeling safely isolated from the troubles
of the world outside, everyone on the station knew they'd been found once
and could be again - and they all different reactions to Irina Derevko's presence.
And instead of being Sydney's best friend, Eric had found
himself not knowing who or what to be anymore. Before the storm, he'd known
where the boundaries between them lay. But the hours he'd spent fearing for
her life had showed him just how blurred those lines had become.
"My caring about her - that's not something I can
want, or not want. It just is." Sydney wasn't angry, but her voice was
firm. "And I don't know if we should trust her, either. I'm just telling
you that some of the information she's given so far could be worth investigating."
"Or it could be completely worthless. You know it's
possible, Sydney. Just don't forget it."
Sydney cocked her head to one side, studying him. Eric
had always thought that thing about pregnant women glowing was a tactful lie,
until he saw Sydney. "You don't believe her story, do you? About why
Nadia was born, or why she's done all the stuff she's done."
"You know how they say first impressions are important?
My first impression of your mother was that she shot me in the neck. Do you
remember that? Because I do."
"Oh, God." Sydney looked so stricken that he
wished he hadn't said it. "Eric - I'm sorry -"
"I'm not going to start talking about 'the darkness'
again, so, you can rest easy. All I'm asking is that you remember your mother
has lied to you before."
"Most of the people who lied to me in the past couple
of years were trying to take care of me. Most of the people who told me the
truth were trying to hurt me. It's hard to know who to trust." Sydney
breathed out, and then, to his surprise, she relaxed and smiled at him. "At
least I have one person in my life I don't ever have to doubt."
Eric tensed up; he couldn't help it. "You know, it's
getting late. A girl like you doesn't need beauty sleep, but I sure do."
Sydney didn't budge. "You're still mad."
"Mad? What are you talking about? I'm not mad."
"You've been acting like this ever since the storm."
Sydney lowered her gaze, as if ashamed. "Ever since I lied to you and
said I wouldn't go after Dad. You've been pushing me away."
"Syd, it's okay." At first, he'd been furious
at how easily she'd sworn on their friendship and then broken her word. But
during those long hours of the storm, when he hadn't known if she was dead
or alive and had been haunted by the thought of her lying helpless in the
snow - Eric had known that he would have told any lie, betrayed any promise,
if it meant he could help her. He couldn't blame Sydney for feeling the same
way about Jack. "You got back safely, and you brought your dad with you.
That's all that matters."
"Then why is there this wall between us?" Sydney
hesitated, and then, to Eric's astonishment, she slowly reached out and wrapped
his hand in hers. "Is it - Eric, is this because -"
"There's no wall. We're wall-less. Wall-free."
He knew he should pull his hand back, but he couldn't. He just couldn't. "I'm
always going to be your friend. Even if I get mad at you sometimes, okay?"
She sat silently for a few moments, not letting go of
his hand, her expression giving away no hint of what she might be thinking.
Finally, she said, "Aren't we ever going to talk about this?"
Danger, Will Robinson, danger. "About - about
"About this." Sydney squeezed his hand tighter,
sending warmth flooding up his arm, pooling in his belly, dizzying his brain.
"Whatever this is that's happening between us."
Their eyes met, and Eric had to fight to turn his thoughts
into words. "Oh. I - oh."
"I'm sorry. It's just -- I didn't think there was
anything happening between us. I -- I thought it was only happening to me."
Sydney's thumb brushed along his knuckles, a half-inch
of sensation that seemed to ripple throughout his body. "When they brought
you in, and you'd been hurt, I realized what it would do to me if something
happened to you. I think I'd been falling for you for a long time, but I'd
just been too confused to see it."
Part of Eric wanted to beg her to repeat that - "falling
for you," just those three words - over and over. Another part of him
prevailed. "You've been through a lot. It's easy to get confused."
He forced himself to let go of her hand. "I don't want to make things
more confusing for you."
"You're the only part that isn't confusing. What
I feel about you - it's scary and it's new and I know it's weird, because
of Vaughn, but - Eric, I can't pretend I don't feel it."
Vaughn, he told himself. Think about Vaughn. The father
of her baby. Her soulmate. Your best friend who fell in the line of duty.
Remember that guy? Right. "Listen, I'm not even gonna try to lie about
this. I'm crazy about you." His voice seemed to close up on the words,
but he kept going. "I'll still be crazy about you when all of this is
over. But -"
"But you're scared I won't feel the same way."
He managed to smile. "When you put it like that,
it sounds chicken."
"It's not chicken. It's normal. You're my best friend,
and I don't want to mess it up either." Sydney's eyes never left his,
and she was leaning closer, so close. "But ever since the storm - it
gets harder and harder to be with you and not -"
There was still time to make a joke, or pour cold water
on the situation, and Eric knew on one level that this was exactly what he
should do. But Sydney was leaning closer to him, and he was leaning closer
to her, as if his body understood what was going on a lot better than his
brain did. His voice low, he whispered, "Not -- what?"
"This," she said, bringing her lips to his.
The kiss was gentle at first, then harder -- with Sydney
leading the way, so aggressive and so eager that it took Eric's breath away.
He ran his hands through her hair, down her back, still dazed by the miracle
of it: Sydney's lips brushing his, Sydney's nose bumping against his cheek,
the scent of her, the taste of her, everything.
Eric brushed two fingers along of her throat; Sydney breathed
in sharply, so much so that for a moment he was frightened he'd hurt her.
"Yeah." She sounded as shaken as he felt. "It's
just - when you're pregnant, your skin gets a lot more sensitive. And that
- just that touch -- that felt so good."
Ten minutes ago, Eric could never have imagined asking
Sydney Bristow to spend the night: She was Vaughn's girl, and the unattainable,
perfect woman he'd dreamed of for more than a year now, not to mention very
pregnant. But now - with Sydney in his arms, her eyes still closed in pleasure
from one simple touch - Eric couldn't have done anything else. "Stay
"Yes." No woman had ever said anything
to him that turned him on as much as that one word.
Slowly, he started kissing her neck, sliding his lips
along the long line of her pulse, tracing the beat with his tongue, taking
his time. His doubts hadn't gone away - but this wasn't the time for them,
It was Sydney who sank down upon the bed, pulling Eric
with her. He started to move over her to kiss her again - but the tactical
difficulty made itself apparent right away. "Whoa. Hang on."
Sydney pulled him back down, on his side, so that they
faced each other. "It's new to me too. We'll figure it out."
"Hey, my CIA aptitude tests? I aced the spatial relationships,
babe." Then his eyes widened. "This - we're not - the baby wouldn't
- she won't KNOW, right?"
Was there any sound in the world better than Sydney's
laugh? "She won't know. And it's safe, as long as we're careful of a
"You tell me what's right, okay?" Eric murmured,
as he ran one hand down her arm, along her side, and watched Sydney shiver.
"Tell me what to do for you."
"Only if you promise to tell me what to do for you
And then they were kissing again, touching, forgetting
jokes and words and everything else that could get in the way. Eric learned
how she liked to be kissed, how her hands felt on his body, the little whimpering
sound she made when he did something right. He couldn't lay her on her back
- bad for the baby, and a shame, because he had definitely imagined being
on top of Sydney Bristow - but other than that, there was nothing they couldn't
do, with some ingenuity.
Once she'd unbuttoned her shirt, he slipped the fabric
of her bra away from her breasts, nuzzling the delicate skin there. "Any
surprises I should know about?"
"Not yet," Sydney said, which was a relief.
"But they're really - the whole sensitivity thing - there's it's just
-" Her entire body tensed as he claimed one of her nipples in his mouth.
"Oh, God. Oh, Eric, yes -"
And that sounded like a cue to keep going for a while.
At last he undressed her slowly, making sure to brush
his fingertips along every inch of her skin. Sydney was almost bashful when
they finally lay naked together, putting a hand on her belly. "I guess
this isn't the fantasy."
"Syd, don't be crazy." He covered her hand with
his, stroking the swell of her abdomen with their joined fingers. "You're
She smiled at him as they kissed again, and her hand drifted
lower, perhaps wanting confirmation of his desire. Eric groaned as her fingers
closed over his cock, already so hard for her that it hurt. Sydney rubbed
her thumb across the tip, slow and teasing, before gripping him just tightly
enough to send him to the edge. Oh, God, he thought, thrusting slowly into
her fist, please let me last long enough to actually make love to her. "I
still don't know how we're gonna do this," he said, trying to keep his
voice from shaking, "but now would be a real good time to figure it out."
In a flash, Sydney had turned from him and started grabbing
pillows; Eric was puzzled for about half a second, until she started piling
them near the edge of the bed. "If I could - like, prop up, maybe -"
"Right. Yeah. Absolutely. Propping up is good."
They kept kissing, panting for breath when their lips parted, piling up the
pillows and rolling up the blanket to create a soft wedge for Sydney to lean
back on as she sat at the very edge of the bed. Grateful for their low bunks,
Eric knelt on the floor in front of her, parting her thighs with his hands.
"Is this going to work?"
"Only one way to find out." Sydney kissed him
deeply as he moved closer to her, and Eric almost didn't see how the sex could
be better than the kiss.
He went slowly, so slowly, slipping in inch by inch, breath
by breath. Sydney kept nodding, her breaths coming fast; her hands gripped
his shoulders, steadying herself. "Yes," she kept whispering, guiding
Then finally he was moving inside her, still taking it
slow, and Eric didn't see how anybody could ever want anything else but this,
gentle and deliberate and soft. When Sydney let her head fall back, he kissed
the long line of her throat, lost in sensation and in the knowledge that she
was swept up in it too.
Eric also learned that, when he took it gentle and deliberate
and slow like that, he could last a really, really long time.
Sydney was the one who began urging him for more, clenching
the muscles inside harder, faster, and then harder again; knowing that she
was racing for her own climax made him unable to hold his back any longer.
She came, crying out so loudly the whole station probably heard it, and he
didn't care. Eric kept thrusting, moving more quickly with her, still careful,
so careful, but she felt so good, and -
A rush of heat, and he was with her, lost to everything
else in the world.
Within a few minutes - and after some rearrangement of
pillows - Eric lay next to Sydney in the bed, spooned behind her back. She
had fallen asleep almost instantly; he felt like he'd never sleep again. He
just wanted to watch her, to know that he was her lover, and that this was
a very different kind of world than he'd ever dared hope.
He slid his arm around her, and felt a small shift within
her body - the baby, moving beneath his hand.
Eric thought of Vaughn - the best friend he'd ever had,
and the child's father. He spoke to Vaughn in his mind: I promise, I'm going
to love her like she was my own.
Then he tried very hard to believe he'd only said that
about the baby.
Vaughn stared the man in the eyes, keeping a smile on
his face - projecting not insincerity, but confidence. "How much did
they offer you, for information about us?" No answer. "Stay silent,
and you get double that, tonight." Vaughn nodded toward the decade-old
computer in the back of the police station, its screen flickering like a beacon.
"All I need is 30 minutes on that machine and whatever account information
you want to give me. It's that easy. If I don't come through, you pick up
the phone and call them."
The policeman's gaze flickered from Vaughn over to Nadia,
who was leaning languidly against the counter. Vaughn thought that was a good
sign; at the moment, unshaven and dusty from their two-day hike, he knew he
didn't look like a guy who could deliver up serious cash on a few minutes'
notice. But even in this condition, in a cinderblock station house with cheap
linoleum on the dusty floor, Nadia looked like a woman who could summon money,
power or men whenever the hell she wanted.
She smiled at the officer, just invitingly enough to tempt,
not enough to tease. Vaughn felt something in his belly turn over, but tried
to ignore it.
At last, the policeman gestured to the machine. Trying
not to be in too obvious a hurry, Vaughn took his seat. Thank God, he thought,
this is over. This is finally over.
He first accessed the financial accounts Jack Bristow
had turned over to him. Vaughn was jarred to see how much money had been taken
from it - what the hell had Jack been up to, before Sydney's murder finally
broke him? But the remaining funds were still more than enough for Vaughn's
purposes. He wired what he'd promised to the officer, then more to a local
bank for his and Nadia's immediate needs. Then, fingers shaking, he
typed in the address for a CIA site, a "back door" that would instantly
signal a lost or missing agent's presence. This was better than making a phone
call; phone lines might be tapped, with or without the officer's knowledge.
Within moments, Vaughn knew, words would begin to appear
onscreen: messages typed by a computer sentry, or maybe Marshall if he was
monitoring the site - God, he even missed Marshall's babbling - or perhaps
even Dixon. After so many months' absence, they'd surely have questions, so
verification might take a while -
Except that no words were appearing onscreen. Vaughn waited,
then tried a similar site. This time he only received an error message.
This is not right, Vaughn thought. They wouldn't shut
these sites down. Not unless they were abandoning half the computer network,
which isn't -
"Michael?" He glanced over his shoulder to see
Nadia staring down at the counter - no, he realized, at the newspaper lying
there. Apparently she'd sweet-talked a copy from the officer, and now was
staring down at it, white-faced.
"Hang on," Vaughn answered, trying one last
site. Another error message.
"Michael, you need to see this. Please."
"You read that. I'm going to check the Times
A few more keystrokes and the slow crawl of dial-up took him to the front
page of the New York Times
online, and as he read the headlines, his eyes
MARTIAL LAW FAILS TO STEM CALIFORNIA RIOTING
WORLDWIDE DEATH TOLL REACHES 100,000: PERHAPS FIVE TIMES
AS MANY NOW INFECTED
CDC DENOUNCES 'IONIC CURES' AS SCAM
EUROPEAN UNION REJECTS CALL TO CLOSE BORDERS
It went on, and on, and on. Sloane must have released
the Rain of Gold months ago, Vaughn realized. It's already too late to stop
it. It's too late.
The CIA had possessed some data about the disease; Vaughn
still remembered the test site in Italy Weiss had investigated so many months
ago. So they might have had the knowledge to create a vaccine or a cure -
or, at least, to try. But if they'd had such a thing, it would have been disseminated
to the public a long time before the world situation reached anything like
this level of crisis.
If they'd tried a vaccine, it had failed. And it was possible
that nobody was answering at the back-door sites of the Los Angeles field
office because that office had been closed. Nobody was there to answer.
When he looked back over his shoulder, Vaughn saw that
Nadia was crying. All this damage, all this death - Sloane had used her to
create it. Was Nadia weeping from the betrayal, or because she blamed herself?
Vaughn felt his jaw tighten and his heart thump harder;
his fingers lifted from the keyboards as he clenched his hands, imagining
having just one more chance to slit Sloane's throat. But where anger would
once have clouded his thinking, now it focused him.
Among the many useful pieces of information Jack had given
Vaughn was the access information for a storage vault in Santiago. Within
minutes, Vaughn had arranged for the vault's contents - Krugerrands that would
be more stable than most currencies, a few weapons and fake passports - to
be shipped to them the next day.
The CIA obviously still existed. Vaughn could still get
help from them if he chose. But there was a good chance that everyone he'd
worked with was either discredited or dead, and if he walked in with a woman
who could be blamed for what was happening by people who didn't understand
That wasn't going to happen.
Later that night, in their hotel room, he let Nadia cry
herself out on his shoulder. Vaughn held her with one arm and kept his hand
on the gun he'd bought with the other. He thought the officer they'd bought
off would honor their bargain, but there was no knowing. Betrayal could come
from anyone, at any time.
"I held out my hand to him," Nadia gasped. His
shirt was wet with her tears. "He took the blood from my finger. I thought
it was - tests - that maybe he was afraid I was sick. I thought Papa was trying
to take care of me."
Vaughn remembered gluing together model airplanes and
holding them up for his father's approval. "I know. I understand."
She lay against his side, legs against his legs, and Vaughn
felt that same pull of need for her. Fortunately, she was too miserable and
exhausted now to recognize it. He couldn't give her anything now that wouldn't
be tainted by his own weakness; Nadia deserved better.
All he could do for Nadia now was keep her safe. But how
could he do that, in a world like this?
Once she was calm again, he whispered, "Where do
you want to go?"
Nadia lifted her head. "Mozambique."
"Okay, that's a much more definite answer than I
was expecting." She actually smiled, which was an encouraging sign. "Why
"Ever since my father asked me to spy on you - I've
also spied on your father." Vaughn half-hugged her with the arm around
her shoulders, not caring that it was a strange thing to thank someone for
doing. "I've overheard him talking about a man named Kazari Bomani -"
"A Rambaldi follower. He was the one who got The
Telling, after your father."
"Whatever he used The Telling for, it's in Mozambique.
A small city just off the Zambezi - that's where his center of operations
was. A laboratory, I think he said. Whatever's there is something our fathers
considered very important, and I know other people were looking for it - but
they were sure nobody would get there first. I think we should prove them
"You mean - you want to go on the offensive."
He realized he was grinning. "Sloane and my dad and everything else he's
got on his side versus you and me and this gun."
"I'm already tired of crying." Nadia shrugged.
"What else is there to do?"
In that moment, Vaughn thought, he might have loved her,
if he were still capable of love.
I'm even in love with Antarctica, Sydney thought. Oh,
God, I've got it bad.
It wasn't Antarctica itself she was in love with, though
its stark beauty now enchanted her. Just yesterday, when she'd accompanied
her mother on a (well-guarded) walk around the station, they'd seen a solar
pillar, a glittering phenomenon that showed what a rainbow could do with ice
instead of water. After you've jumped through a couple of priceless 13th-century
stained-glass windows, you tend to get a bit jaded about beauty - or so Sydney
had long believed. But the solar pillar, shining in the sky, had taken her
breath away, and she'd looked over at her mother to share the wonder.
Her mother had the kind of face that didn't show wonder
easily, if ever. But Sydney had seen some reflection of her own happiness
Sydney's conversations with her mother were, at this point,
still brief and superficial. This was Dad's idea.
"If we both question her, we're likely to end up
revealing too much," her father had said as they ate breakfast together
that first morning.
"We're the ones asking the -" Sydney had begun,
but her voice trailed off. This was her mother they were talking about; Mom
would learn more while being asked questions than anyone else could hope to
gain from the answers. "If it's just one of us, at least she won't have
different perspectives to work with."
"Exactly." The approval was a small gesture,
but one Sydney had known her father had to remind himself to offer. He was
"It should be you, Dad. You're better at keeping
your cards close to the vest." When his eyes met hers, wary, Sydney had
laughed. "It's a compliment, this time."
Dad almost smiled.
Their interaction hadn't recovered the warmth of last
year; Sydney still thought of the embraces they'd shared so easily then, and
with even more longing. But at least they'd rediscovered some kind of - companionship.
And now, any time Dad mentioned the baby, he called her Sarah - as if she
were already there with them. He was matter-of-fact about it, but sometimes
it made Sydney's eyes fill with happy tears.
Of course, the final reason she was in love with Antarctica
- in love with her difficult and strange parents, with the brutal weather,
with the baby that kicked inside of her, just "in love" as a constant,
blissful state of being - was spending most nights in her room.
"Arms up," Eric mock-ordered as he sat behind
her on the bed. Sydney obeyed, allowing him to start rubbing lotion onto her
belly. She reached over her head, the better to ruffle his hair with her hands,
but also to lift her breasts for his view. He sighed appreciatively, massaging
her with long, warm strokes that kindled her need for him; it was delicious
to know that Eric was there, waiting for her, at the end of every day. "I
can't believe I could've been helping out with this a long, long time ago."
She grinned. "I just hope it keeps the stretch marks
"I'd still love you if you were striped like a zebra,"
Eric said. Then he froze, his hands suddenly stiff against the curve of her
Sydney didn't let him panic long. "If I'm going to
end up striped, I'd better look like a tiger."
"You are definitely more tiger." Eric gently
bit her shoulder, probably meaning to make her laugh, but instead sending
shivers down her spine.
Guiding his hands up to her breasts, Sydney let her head
fall back onto his shoulder as he started massaging her there too. The
caretaking was slipping into foreplay - which wasn't a bad way at looking
at their relationship the past few months, Sydney decided. She remembered
what Francie had said about one of her college boyfriends, a guy Sydney never
could see the appeal of: "Don't get me wrong. A hot man is one of the
greatest things on the planet. But it's the average guys who have it all in
bed. Hot men think all they have to do is look fine and show up. The ordinary
guy is the one who knows it's his job to show you a good time AND knows how
to do it. Take a hot guy and an ordinary guy, and nine times out of ten, it's
gonna be the average one who sends you straight home to Jesus three times
So, so, so true, she thought. Not that Sydney considered
Eric "average," not any more. He was handsome, just in a way that
took longer to see -
"What are you thinking about?" Eric said,
tracing a line down the center of her chest with one finger.
"About what a good lover you are."
He laughed in surprise. "That is the best answer
I've ever gotten to that question. Ever. We're talking lifetime."
"It's true." Sydney turned around enough to
kiss him, relishing the warmth of his mouth opening against hers. As his arms
slipped lower, embracing her and baby both, she murmured against his cheek,
"So, you love me."
Eric went still. "You, uh, you caught that. Earlier."
"Yeah." She cupped his face in her hand. "And
I love you too."
"Syd." It was incredible to watch his face change,
to see that kind of light in his eyes, and know she'd given that to him. "If
I'd planned it out, you know, I wouldn't have told you I loved you for the
first time with some lame-ass zebra joke."
"It doesn't matter how you told me. It just matters
that you love me."
They kissed once more, more passionately now, and Sydney
began tugging Eric's T-shirt up and away. As soon as she'd stripped if off,
he grinned. "So, does this mean I'm supposed to ask for your father's
As they laughed at the shared joke, she shook her head.
"God, no. I want to spare you the Wrath of Bristow as long as possible.
Besides -" Sydney leaned conspiratorially close. "I like having
you all to myself."
"Sydney's dirty secret," Eric said, leaning
close again. "I can do that. Definitely."
Jack observed Weiss walking into the kitchen for breakfast.
There would be nothing extraordinary about this, but for the fact that thirty
minutes ago, Weiss had only just walked into his bedroom, perhaps for no purpose
beyond being seen walking out of it again later. Apparently he had failed
to learn precisely how early Jack awoke in the morning.
This was the second time Jack had noted such behavior
in two weeks. On another occasion, he'd seen Sydney, robe-swaddled after her
shower, walking in the direction of Weiss' room and not her own. It was logical
to assume that he had not witnessed all similar incidents. Jack thought he'd
foreseen every potential complication for their stay, but - as Irina's arrival
had already suggested - he had been wrong.
"Good morning, Jack," Weiss said easily, as
he helped herself to some muesli, then began measuring out the powdered milk.
"How's your foot?"
"Better." He could now use one crutch to get
around instead of two, so technically his answer was not inaccurate. "How
are you doing?"
Weiss glanced over at him, recognizing the question as
unusual. "Uh, good. I'm good."
"Excellent." Jack studied Weiss as he poured
the newly-made milk. "You seem -- relaxed."
"Oh, crap." Weiss let his spoon clatter as he
turned to face Jack head on. "Is this the part where you shoot me?"
"Not while Sydney's happy, no." After a moment,
Jack added, "And she is happy. I've seen that."
Weiss appeared not to have readied himself for any paternal
response besides shooting. "Yeah. Right. Exactly. I mean - I hope she
is. I want her to be."
"That said, Sydney's well-being is important to me.
It hasn't escaped my notice - and obviously it hasn't escaped yours - that
she's very vulnerable right now."
"Hey. Wait a second." Weiss moved forward, his
eyes challenging. Jack liked it when people got angry with him; it allowed
him an excellent chance to observe their unguarded reactions. "This is
not me taking advantage of Sydney. I wouldn't do that, not to anybody and
least of all to her."
"I see. So you began this relationship because you
couldn't resist the romantic ambiance of - Antarctica."
As he'd hoped, Weiss got madder and spoke without thinking.
"Listen, I could say that this is none of your business, which is damn
sure what Sydney would say, but I'm not going to. I know you're trying to
look out for her. Okay, you're kind of insane about it, but you know what?
I like that in a guy who's looking out for Sydney. So you can question me,
you can doubt me, you can have me watched. Have at it. Enjoy yourself. And
if you get any good surveillance photos, send me prints. But don't accuse
me of not caring about your daughter. That is the one thing you don't get
to do, ever."
Weiss just stood there, waiting. At last he said, "That's
it? 'Fine'? That's all you've got to say?"
"You've told me that you'll try to make my daughter
happy, and you've suggested that when I need to keep her safe, you'll either
help or get out of my way. And that's fine with me." Jack turned his
attention back to his coffee, smiling only slightly as Weiss went on his way,
shaking his head. The excellent mood he was now in would no doubt have lasted
all day, but for the fact that he had - an interview.
"As far as I've been able to observe, the immunity
granted by the bloodlines is dramatically lower than any of Rambaldi's followers
estimated." Irina sat so regally that it would have been easy to forget
that the guards outside the door weren't hers to command. "Most of them
believed it would be absolute, and behaved accordingly. But I would estimate
that no more than 80 percent of them are actually protected from the disease."
"Eighty percent." Jack made a few calculations.
Though the risk to Covenant members and other Rambaldi followers was reasonably
high, it still allowed an enormous number of them to expect to share in the
immortality to come. Whatever allegiances and alliances they'd formed could
be expected to remain intact, at least until the disease's final and most
destructive waves. "And the vaccines?"
"Almost all useless. I received word about the CIA's
attempt at one; for all the devastation it wreaked, your Mr. Flinkman came
closer to devising a vaccine than anyone else - with one exception."
She parceled the information out, bit by bit, making him
work for everything he wanted. Jack remembered how she'd done that in her
glass cell at the CIA, taunting him with her knowledge, playing with her life
and Sydney's to get what she wanted. This dance no longer served the same
purpose - if any purpose - but they had each fallen into the steps. Habit?
Caution? Jack hoped it wasn't just their enjoyment of the dance itself; he
was trying to preserve more objectivity than that.
And yet - this was Irina. When she had been playing this
game before, she'd been seeking her other daughter. And, Jack now knew, if
she had found Nadia, and had learned the truth - she would have murdered Nadia
to save Sydney. He tried to imagine loving anyone or anything enough to murder
his daughter, and could not.
"Let me guess," he said, though it wasn't entirely
a guess. "Kazari Bomani."
Irina raised an eyebrow - impressed, perhaps, or merely
annoyed. "You've had the displeasure of his acquaintance?"
"Not personally. But Sydney and Vaughn ran into him
several times last year. I know he was working closely with Julian Sark and
Lauren Reed, and they worked periodically with Sloane. It's reasonable to
assume that their intel would be considerably better than on the fringes of
the Rambaldi movement."
"Bomani had The Telling, and so he had Nadia's DNA."
Irina leaned against the back of her chair - the first time she'd relaxed
even that much in his presence since the day she arrived, when they'd both
been too undone for control. "He was able to do much more detailed work
than anyone else. As far as I know, he only gave three people that vaccine:
himself, Ms. Reed and Mr. Sark. Anyone else would have had to pay a considerable
Jack took a moment to accept that the only single human
being on earth guaranteed to survive the plagues was Julian Sark. "If
Mr. Sark had access to this vaccine, why isn't he profiting from it in Bomani's
"He was never admitted to the Mozambique lab. I'm
pretty sure he doesn't know where it is."
"But you do."
"Yes." She tilted her head to one side,
her auburn hair flowing past her shoulder. Even now -wearing ill-fitting men's
clothes taken from their own spares - Irina remained beautiful. Desirable.
And he was not fool enough to imagine that she didn't know it. The vulnerability
he had seen in her months ago was gone now; it was as if the mere sight of
Sydney had instantly restored all Irina's power. She burned as brightly now
as she ever had - perhaps more so.
He wanted to believe her. He wanted to believe in her.
If he could just believe in Irina, then so much of the weight of the past
eight months - of the past twenty-five years - would drop away, reduced to
nothing. Jack almost couldn't imagine what life would be like without that
weight. Just the idea seemed - insubstantial. Unreal.
"If you've had access to this vaccine, but you're
so dedicated to ending the Rain of Gold - why haven't you gone there? Disseminated
"So far as I know, he didn't have much, and there
was no mass production or distribution method. You could slowly brew a few
doses and administer it via injection." Irina's eyes flashed her impatience.
"Within a matter of weeks, that vaccine will be the only commodity of
any value anywhere in the world, and its value will be infinite."
"You want us to go after it," Jack said. "To
make a grab for power."
"Power is security, Jack. It's always been true,
but never more than now. This one move would allow us to consolidate power,
and that means we could make sure that our granddaughter -"
The word hung in the air for a moment.
"That our granddaughter is safe."
Jack tried to imagine placing a baby in Irina's arms again;
it was strangely easy to do.
Quickly, he said, "In other words, you want me to
take our pregnant daughter from the safest place I've been able to devise
for her, travel into a world infested with a deadly disease and ridden with
economic and military turmoil, and travel to the outposts of one of our worst
enemies, all on your say-so."
"The sooner, the better." Irina might have been
smirking at him - on the other hand, she might actually be amused.
"I have to think," he said, reaching for his
crutch and wobbling up onto it.
"What?" She was definitely amused now. "You
can't think straight when you're with me?"
Jack smiled back. "No."
He spent the afternoon in front of the computer, supposedly
getting the news but actually doing little more than scanning headlines, each
of which was bleaker than the rest. If they did leave Antarctica soon, it
would be in a ship heavily armored enough to be impressed into service by
Irina's story made sense. No fact she'd given failed to
check out; a surprising amount of it confirmed some of his own suspicions
and intel. He should believe her.
But he wanted to believe her - wanted it too much, so
much that Jack knew it clouded his judgment. If he could know that she'd gone
to Sloane's bed out of necessity, not by choice - if he could know that the
love he'd sensed in her for Sydney was real and true - if he could know that
the purpose guiding Irina, even her betrayals, was one he could respect and
Jack wasn't sure he was the kind of man who could believe
that any longer.
Late at night, someone rapped on the door; he turned to
see Sydney, her hair piled atop her head, and wearing one of the few real
maternity tops she had, a soft blue smock. "You've been in here a while,"
she said. "Should I leave you alone?"
"It's all right. Sit down. What's on your mind?"
Jack knew their relationship was better, and was grateful for it, but he was
not under the impression that Sydney would come by simply to chat.
"Eric said you guys had a talk this morning."
Sydney seemed to expect him to say something more, though
Jack wasn't sure what. After a few seconds, she said, "You didn't give
him too hard a time, he said, but - Dad, I know you, and I know how you get,
and if you're - planning something, or -"
"I'm not planning anything. I approve."
She gaped at him. "Wait - what?"
Jack wished they could talk about something else. "I
think you heard me."
"I did. I just -" Sydney breathed out, obviously
stumped. "Every single guy I've ever liked, from Chip Jones in fifth
grade all the way to Vaughn - you never thought any of them were good enough
for me. But now, you approve of Eric? Not that I don't think you should, it's
just - new."
"Weiss isn't good enough for you either," Jack
said. "But he has the sense to know it, and to appreciate his good fortune."
"Right." Then she shook her head. "You're
a very unusual person. You know that, right?"
Jack had the distinct sense he was being teased. For once,
he found, he didn't mind. "I'm glad you came in here. There's something
I'd like to discuss with you."
"Are you just trying to change the subject?"
"No," Jack said, which was at least half true.
"I'm trying to decide whether or not to move on your mother's intel."
To his surprise, Sydney smiled. "You're asking my
"When it comes to your mother, I sometimes fail to
be - objective."
"So do I." She considered her next words carefully
- the way she often had when she was small. But when she spoke, she wasn't
behaving like a child any longer. "Mom has lied to us both. A lot."
"Yes, she has." Jack did not want to attempt
"But every time she did, there was always a motivation.
Even if we don't accept that her motivations are what she says they were -
there was a reason that we could see, or at least guess." Sydney's fingers
thumped against her belly, "Dad, she came here alone. If she wanted to
hurt us, she would have come with a team, like Brill did. Except we wouldn't
have seen her coming."
Jack didn't care for that assessment, not least because
he suspected it was accurate. "She could have a purpose for wanting to
draw us out."
"Like what? This disease needs a cure. I have the
cure inside me. If she didn't want what we want - to try and end the Rain
of Gold - she couldn't have any goal besides seeing me dead. We know the steps
she would have taken if that were what she wanted. She didn't take them."
He'd said all of this to himself and been unable to believe
it. But when Sydney said it, everything seemed more believable. More real.
But this was still Irina Derevko.
"I need to think," he said, and Sydney took
it as the dismissal it was. She struggled up from the couch to leave him to
On her way out the door, her hand rested on his shoulder,
just for a moment. But the touch strengthened him in the hours that followed.
The next morning, Jack called a meeting in the common
room - all hands. Jenny Lo showed up first, looking badly in need of coffee.
Weiss and Sydney arrived together, no longer bothering to hide their relationship
from him or anyone else. The last two guards to appear had Irina between them,
her hands cuffed.
"Originally, our plans were to take on a handful
of other guests after CIA personnel and their families were confirmed clear,"
Jack said. "Due to the failure of the CIA vaccine, that clearance has
been many months in coming. But as of two days ago, Marshall Flinkman, his
son and Marcus Dixon's two children were finally confirmed as successfully
vaccinated against the Rain of Gold."
Sydney smiled, and Jack saw her squeeze Weiss' hand. He
continued, "They are en route to Mountaineer Station as we speak, along
with additional guards, also successfully vaccinated. But - instead of taking
them into our shelter - we are going to meet their vessel at the coastline
and move up into Africa to act on Irina Derevko's intel."
"Just for the record," Weiss said, "I think
this is a mistake."
"Your objection is noted." Jack could tell that
Weiss was far from the only one dismayed by the news; most of the guards looked
skeptical, and even Dr. Lo folded her arms across her chest. But Sydney's
chin was raised, her bearing confident. And Irina -
For once in his life, he'd actually managed to surprise
Hobbling forward on his crutch, Jack gestured to one of
the guards next to Irina. "Remove the cuffs and give her a weapon."
"Do it," Jack said. "We're moving on her
information. That means we've chosen to trust her. And that means we can't
afford to waste our resources on containment efforts we don't need - or to
deprive ourselves of any extra hands."
"Thanks," Irina said. The word seemed to mean
Jack didn't know how to respond, but Sydney said it for
him: "Let's go."
Read on to the next chapter.
Go back to the last chapter.
Return to the "Irenicon" Index Page.
Return to the New Fic Index Page.
Return to Yahtzee's Main Page.