He rang the chime, then with
perfect understanding of the unsophisticated commlock apparatus, used the command override to let himself in without waiting
for an answer. Certainly it was what the Other did often enough. His uninvited
presence in her quarters took her by surprise. He could almost smell her apprehension and see the wariness in her eyes like
some skittish animal. This might be more entertaining than he’d anticipated.
At the beginning, he had shied from
her attempted touch. As the Base Medical Officer the danger she posed him, though temporary, was considerable. But she had
forced the issue…come to him, grasped his hand and made him attend her…and he had understood the greater error.
The protocol had focused on the necessary mechanics of his impersonation - their technology, their weapons – but ignored
personal details beyond the basics of names, faces, ranks. The assumption had been the whole operation would be so brief as
to require little else in the way of information and had, with that reasoning, overlooked the obvious: that the human model
would have a mate.
In that moment of contact, in the shocked
expression of her eyes that went far beyond professional involvement, he realized the risk he had run in allowing her near. A secondary scan of his double’s mind supplied him with additional facts; had
shown the human’s mind to be so filled with her, he wondered how the first scan had avoided her. He knew now she was
a hurdle he must overcome or destroy. It made no difference to him either way, and if she were to die a few hours before the
rest of her kind on this pathetic little rock, it could be argued to be a favor. That thought pleased him, that he might be
seen as granting a merciful end to the mate of his unwitting benefactor.
She had been trying to compose herself
after the encounter in the Observation Room. Her thoughts churned, sought any viable explanation for John’s behavior,
a clinical reason for his bizarre physical state. She wanted to believe Alan’s theory: that John had discovered something
on the asteroid so horrible, so potentially lethal to their survival that it was worth risking everything to avoid it…even
if that should mean causing their own demise. At their current rate of energy expenditure, the collapse of Alpha’s systems
and deaths of most of its people seemed all too possible.
Though she hated to admit it, part
of her wanted to believe Tony, too…If something had occurred to render John medically unfit, at least that offered a
starting point. It could be categorized and managed. She required more data than she currently possessed to create a working
analysis, but if they were dealing with a case of psychological breakdown, it would actually be good news for Alpha. It would
mean there was no looming catastrophe, their carefully balanced resources would recover from the energy drain, and with luck
and skill, John could be treated…hopefully cured in time.
But to mistrust John’s veracity…it
wouldn’t be the first time she’d questioned his command decisions or his sanity, and her feelings of guilt were
great. Maybe those other times she’d doubted him were why she was so reluctant now to admit that everything, everything, Tony and Maya were saying made sense…too much sense. She knew the two of them were working on
Alan, trying to persuade him to let them take an Eagle and go to the asteroid themselves. Even in the best light what they
were proposing was a seditious act, but it might be the right thing to do for everyone’s sake. If they asked her to
help them convince Alan, what was she going to say?
The door chime sounded unexpectedly,
jarring her already distraught senses. She was debating whether to answer the first ring or delay to be certain the interruption
was necessary when she heard the door slide open. It was…John…yet in the next instant, before he could speak,
before he could draw breath or take a step, she knew it wasn’t. She just wasn’t sure what that meant. Rising from
the couch she took a few steps backwards, realizing belatedly the action communicated her suspicions too clearly…and
left her commlock sitting on the coffee table, too far away for easy reach.
“Helena,” his voice was
a soft purr. “How are you?”
She swallowed with difficulty. His
voice, when he used that tone, always made her heart race and her pulse pound…but never with the dread that filled her
now. He moved beside her in a moment, his long legs covering the distance between them before she could think or react. His
fingers, masculine and strong, normally so welcome upon her skin, reached toward her seeking to grasp her wrist. She braced
for the shocking chill she knew was coming, tried to hide the twin emotions of fear and disgust that were racing up her spine.
“John,” her voice shook
more than she’d expected. She made herself smile into familiar, but now indifferent blue eyes, and tried again. “John,
how are you? Are you feeling better?”
A mocking smirk appeared on his face.
“I feel just fine, Helena. You seem surprised to see me,” he paused, calling up an appropriate piece of vocabulary,
“baby.”…A meaningless term of endearment to him, but it had been present in the mind of the Other when he’d
performed the second scan. He sensed he’d just made her even more uneasy. Good.
Normally, she liked it when John called
her ‘baby’. He said it with such sensuality, such love and caring. On this being’s lips it sounded demeaning.
She struggled for composure. “I uh, I guess I am…surprised. I thought you’d be busy in Observation all night.”
The smirk became more of a sneer…or
maybe that was her imagination.
“Well, it occurred to me that
we haven’t had any private time since I returned from the asteroid. In spite of the situation I’ve let myself
be far too preoccupied…and I should never be too preoccupied for you.” He smiled that wide crooked grin that usually
melted her heart. “I thought maybe we should remedy that this evening. I thought maybe that’s what was really
troubling you earlier.” His grasp tightened on her wrist as he pulled her a reluctant step closer.
Helena could feel his breath against
her cheek. No scent of rancidness as she had expected. No scent at all as a matter of fact. Puzzling. But his breath was cold, stunningly cold. ‘How is that possible? Just stay calm,
Helena. Try to reach him. This may still be John.’ She licked her lips.
“I don’t think I’m exactly troubled about your preoccupation, John.” She tried to sound lighthearted.
“You get preoccupied all the time…I’d just like to understand it. This project of yours…the danger
you say we’re in…You’re so secretive and guarded, even with me…I’m just concerned. You haven’t
been yourself since you got back.”
She had said too much. His other hand
landed swiftly on the back of her neck, forcing her face nearly against his own. His voice remained perfectly controlled,
but an unmistakable menace shadowed his words. “Who do you think I’ve been if not myself…baby?”
‘Okay, that made him angry, but why? Because he’s not John at all, or because he’s something inside
John? How do I get out of this? Think fast.’ Hesitantly, she gazed into his eyes, so uncaring, lacking any sentiment
she could recognize as ‘her John’. With effort she smiled once more, adopting what she hoped was a playful tone.
“Well, I didn’t mean that literally, silly.” She placed a hand on his chest, rubbing lightly. She could
feel coldness seeping through the material of his uniform, and…‘Oh my God,
there’s no heartbeat! Oh my God, who is he? What is he?’ Every cell of her body wanted to push him away, just
get away from him as fast and as far as possible. But his grip on her wrist had not loosened; if anything it was growing more
unyielding. She wouldn’t win a physical confrontation if it came to that and her commlock still sat uselessly on the
Warm, so very warm…He had felt
it earlier when she’d come to him in the Observation Room, when she’d touched him. It was astonishing, the innate
warmth of this species. It radiated off them with no contact at all and when there was contact…like then…like
now…He thought her skin might scorch him if he held her much longer, such lovely white heat. He could feel the heat
pumping through her body from his hand on her neck, so hot, yet not…unpleasantly so. He felt a flash of envy for his
double and he speculated whether actual combustion occurred during their mating. It would be interesting to see. It would
be more interesting to discover for himself.
His kind had been without warmth and
life, had known only frozen immobilization in deep space for so long…Not his kind precisely…He was a reflection,
an instrument, a figment of something real. But he was also part of the greater whole, an approximation of a seed himself
who would grow and live again once the regeneration was completed.
He didn’t know what that coming
life would entail, but he found himself hoping it might include something like her. Her essence was invigorating. She feared
him, he could tell…feared what she didn’t recognize and couldn’t define. But she would fight him; stand
in his way if she could despite her fear. She possessed much courage. He should kill her now.
“Really I’d say you’re
the one who’s not behaving like yourself, Helena. You seem very uncomfortable.” He kept the hand on her neck,
but let go of her wrist, sliding an arm around her waist and pulling her against him. His whole body seemed to sizzle at the
My God, he was strong.
She could feel it in his grasp all the way to the tips of his fingers. John was strong,
but this invader, replica, monster…he could probably tear a hole straight through one of Alpha’s outer walls barehanded
if he chose. For some personal motive of his own, he hadn’t harmed her yet. Maybe he still wasn’t sure what she
suspected. ‘Which would make two of us.’ Maybe he wanted her alive
to help effect an appearance of legitimacy. ‘And the second he thinks he doesn’t
need you…’ Obligated to look him in the eye or risk showing even greater panic, Helena inhaled a shaky breath
and evenly met his icy blue gaze with her own smoky green one. ‘Bluff, Helena.
You have to get away from him. Remember when Alan and Ben taught you how to play poker, and bluff.’
Spinning on her heels she turned into
his cold embrace, sliding her arms around his neck and pressing closer. “I’m not uncomfortable, darling. I just
assumed you’d be busy this evening.”
This was amazing. Was every human female
like her? She felt delectable. She smelled even better. The archaic animal awareness he’d acquired with this interim
human form was astounding. They used such a small portion of their brains, but, oh my, their senses!...How did they deal with
the struggle of survival with so many primal senses going off at once? The physical reaction his replicated form was experiencing
in response to her heat and scent was distracting, albeit highly enticing. He wondered…did his double undertake his
daily routine in this kindled state? How often must his mate accede to his conjugal demands for him to concentrate on duty?
She seemed willing enough now, though in view of her suspicions, he assumed she was only pretending and playing for time…but
what a seductive performance she was giving. He dipped his face into the curve of her neck, letting her hair tickle pleasingly
against his nose. He noted the softness of her skin, lightly perfumed with a scent fresh and exotic to him. He wondered how
she would taste.
Helena had hoped her different tack
would put him off-guard, confound him enough to make him loosen his hold on her. All she needed was a small head start to
get to her commlock and press the emergency button. So far though, it wasn’t working. To her dismay, he seemed like
he might be interested in exploring what she had only feigned to offer. The way he was sniffing her hair and neck and…‘oh my God, is that his tongue?’ The feeling was akin to a dry ice cube
slithering beneath her ear, down toward the collar of her uniform. She couldn’t stop herself from shivering, or prevent
her body from stiffening in his close embrace.
A tight, irritated smile crossed his
features. Fear was rippling off her. She remained unsure as to what he was, but her distrust was too high for him to feel
confident. He should kill her and be done with it. His only concern should be how and where to hide her body to circumvent
premature discovery of his intentions. His objective was specific. There could be no wavering or opposition allowed.
She could feel his tension rise. In
another moment she felt him pushing her backwards against the wall, decisively pinning her body with his, hands locking solidly
on both her wrists and holding them above her head. He pressed against her, torso to torso, groin to groin. His lips hovered
centimeters above hers. His aroused physical state was evident...and she couldn’t stop the thoughts that wondered whether
that part of him was as cold as everything else. She was very much afraid she was about to find out, and she knew if she screamed
it would do no good. No one would hear.
“Why are you afraid…baby?”
he whispered. There was no love or concern in his tone. “You like it rough once in awhile, don’t you? You don’t
think I’m going to hurt you…do you?”
She was terrified, not just for herself
or even for Alpha, but for John. What had happened to him on that rock? The only thought in her mind beyond her own safety
was that she had to try one last time to reach him. If any part of this being was John, somehow, some way surely he would
let her help him. He wouldn’t hurt her. She had to believe that.
“No, John, I know you’d
never hurt me.” Tears sprang into her eyes and rolled down her cheeks as she tried to see some glimmer of recognition
in his gaze. “I just want to know what happened to you out there. Honey, please…you know I’ll help you if
you let me.”
He had expected her courage to crumble,
expected her to beg for her life, not plead to help him. She meant it, too. She was deeply afraid of him, but also afraid
for him. It was clear she thought he might be who he claimed, but altered in some
way she couldn’t comprehend. Her reaction was confusing…and her eyes were leaking in an oddly disconcerting manner.
There was something else…something
his own species’ senses merged with the enhanced human ones were detecting that was entirely unexpected. He glanced
intently down between them where their bodies touched so intimately, then raised his eyes back to hers. This knowledge had
not been supplied in either of the scans of his double’s mind. The second scan had been performed after the human was
already in stasis and that limited its depth, but surely this information would have been available. “He doesn’t
know,” he muttered. Considering what his finely-tuned perceptions revealed and combining it with what he’d learned
so far of the human measurement of time, he added, “You don’t know. Yet.”
Now she was mystified, but she felt
his grasp on her wrists relax. His body no longer trapped hers so tightly against the wall. “He who, John? I don’t
know what?” Maybe she’d reached him after all. Maybe the situation wasn’t hopeless. Instead of wrenching
free, she placed a trembling hand on his frigid cheek and a small frightened kiss on his cold lips. “John, please…honey,
just tell me how to help you.”
She should have jerked away from him
the moment he loosened his grip, should have made a move, any move, to summon help to her side. Had she done so, he could
have dealt with her and been gone before assistance arrived...but she stood there…and caressed him instead. Her eyes
gazed into his with tremendous fear and hope and something he didn’t know how to define, but staggering in its power.
Her kiss made him withdraw even further, bewildered by her response.
With surprising gentleness, his hand
closed over hers and removed it from his cheek, lowering her arm to her side. Now she was free to take whatever action she
wished, though he could stop her easily if he chose. To his astonishment, she took his hand in both of hers, rubbing the fingers
together. She was trying, he realized, to transfer some of her natural warmth to him, to reach him, to save him.
Her voice was the barest entreating
He could close the fingers of his other
hand round her neck and squeeze. Her life shouldn’t matter. Primitive seedlings, incapable of existing without her,
should be accorded no value either. He could choke the breath out of her right now and finish this. Then this sorceress’
spell she had flung about his thoughts would end, those tiny clumps of cells would cease their multiplying and dividing and
her disturbing green eyes would stop trying to peer into his very being. He knew precisely what he ought to do.
He raised the hand…and carefully
lifted a lock of hair away from her eyes, allowed his fingertips to trace across her throat. He felt her hand begin to stroke
the side of his face. Had he thought her eyes disturbing? Really, they were quite attractive, quite…beautiful for a
species so foreign. He had never seen that color before. What was that she had done with her mouth, when she’d pressed
it briefly, too briefly, to his? Would she do it again, if he asked?
A fiery needle of pain abruptly shot
into his brain from the vicinity of his right temple, ricocheting around his skull, igniting images not revealed or even sought
in his mental fusions with his duplicate. Jumbled pictures, a rich collage featuring this pair; united through struggle, united
in sorrow and joy, united with an unbreakable bond. He had to brace both hands against the wall on either side of her to keep
his balance. It was only then, when it was too late, when the choice had been made, the plan had been set in motion, only
then did he realize that this particular human had been about the worst choice that could have been made. This human possessed
a secret weapon: the formidable heart of his mate.
With little surprise he noted his moment
of physical weakness only served to increase her strength. For now, she had both arms around him, and willingly; not in fear
or as a ploy to win her escape, but only to help him. He could almost feel his energy being sucked out by the warmth of her
hands on his face, the heat of her body next to his. In another few moments, he thought he might begin to melt. With effort
he took hold of her wrists once more, still tenderly, and again lowered her arms to her sides.
His voice, when he found it, was soft.
“You can’t help me, Helena. And if you could, you wouldn’t want to,” he said matter-of-factly.
He stepped away from her. He desired
to spend not a second more in the company of this pale witch, she with fire in her touch, casting enchantments with her eyes..
“I need to get back to Observation. You can’t trust anyone around here to follow orders unless you watch them
Her own confusion grew. The attack,
seizure, whatever he’d suffered alarmed her, but his words…They almost sounded like the real John; a John in a
very foul humor, but nevertheless, John-like. “Why don’t you come to Medical with me first? You don’t feel
well. We could…”
“No.” He was already halfway
to the door. “After we break free. I’ll do it then.” He was out the door and gone before she could say another
On shaky legs, Helena slid down the
wall to the floor, wrapping her arms round her knees and hugging herself into a tight ball. She was grateful to be alive but
beyond that, she felt no relief. The crisis Alpha faced remained and she was no closer to having the facts about John…how
he could be aided, or even if he could be. Of one thing she was certain; Tony and Maya were right that the answer lay on that
asteroid. She would do what she could to help them. John, the real John, if he returned to them fully, would understand their
He stormed back to Observation in a
fury, more enraged with himself than the alluring doctor and more determined than ever to finish this. It had been a near
thing, but thankfully, he had resisted the momentary flight of fancy to conjoin with the human female. He believed, as his
head began to clear and his strength returned, that such an act would have unmade him, perhaps literally have dissolved him
to a puddle on the floor. Certainly it would have hindered the completion of his obligation.
As to her, her soft skin, her hex-filled
eyes…it didn’t matter. It wouldn’t matter. He had no reason to preserve her. If she knew the truth, she
would not try to save him. In the end, she would be dead with the rest of her people and his planet would live again as it
deserved. His directive was all and the next time he was tested, he would show no weakness. He would not fail.