[identity profile] ice-tealc.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] remix_redux
Title: Frame of Mind (The Eye of the Storm Remix)
Author: [livejournal.com profile] kangeiko
Summary: After a dig at Syria Planum goes awry, IPX dispatches a team from its New Technologies division to investigate.
Fandom: Babylon 5
Characters: Mr Morden, Mary Kirkish, Anna Sheridan.
Rating: PG-13 for swearing and sexual situations.
Disclaimer: I don't own them.
Original story: Before Any Coming Storms by [livejournal.com profile] aris_writing.
A/N: This monster was betaed by a great many people, all of whom worked very hard to fix my mistakes. For this, I am very grateful indeed, and if any snaphus sneaked in there anyway, it's entirely my own fault.


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3



Routine took over, foul and uninviting. Aspen and the rest were recalled to Earth and other projects; the team scattered as far as human exploration dared. Morden was one of the few who opted to stay and were allowed to do so: Holtz, again. He still lived in same hotel room, sharing a space with Denni that seemed a little cooler with every passing day. 'Familiar strangers', Denni called their situation somewhat derisively, but he wasn't even sure that they were that anymore.

He hadn't remembered Sarah's 4th birthday, either.

Work-wise, the grip of academia grew a little tighter, and his patience with it all a little thinner. He ached for something he did not understand and could not, in truth, remember, dosing himself with REM-less pills and sleepwalking through his lectures. I wonder what the others are doing, he often thought, more by reflex than by any genuine curiosity. His former fellow team members were simply out of sight and thus out of mind, and would that all things in his new life could be that simple!

He thought that Kirkish had gone off-world, like the rest of the team, so was understandably surprised when he found her waiting outside the Syria Planum University's lecture theatre one morning. She wore black slacks and a black sweater - non-clothes, and a world away from her familiar blue jumpsuit - and her hair was shorter, and dyed dark brown. He almost didn't recognise her. "Morden?"

He almost dropped the stack he'd been carrying. A couple of lagging students - doubtless waiting to make eyes at him in the hope of raising their grade - ran to help him. He waved them off and settled the stack back on the desk. "Mary? My God. I haven't seen you in months! How are you? You look - different." She looked awful. Dark hair did not suit her, and nor did dark clothes. Her pale skin looked washed-out beneath them, and thin as tissue paper. She had dark shadows under her eyes, deepened by the neon lighting inside the emptying lecture theatre.

"Morden. Do you have a minute?"

"I - yes." His next class wouldn't be for another couple of hours. It was a little early for food, but - "Coffee?"


They sat in the canteen, seated in one of the far corners on plastic chairs, their coffee in plastic mugs and resting on a plastic table that teetered uncertainly whenever either of them leaned against it. "I thought you'd left Mars for pastures new," Morden said, attacking his portion of allotted caffeine with gusto. It was all Earth-imported; the only luxury he bothered with.

"I did."

"Where did you end up going? I didn't hear anything through the IPX newscasts." He still kept up with the feed, even though there was hardly anything on there to interest him anymore. But, then, what else was he supposed to do? The university had plenty of feeds but not much on them; the linguistics department was so up-and-coming that he'd ended up as the head of it, more or less by accident. Morden thought that maybe Holtz had pulled a few strings to get him the position. Not tenured, though: that brought with it guaranteed Martian citizenship, and Holtz had seemed to him a bit skittish on the subject. At any rate, he had his office, with his name on the door, a hundred or so adoring students, mainly female, and a collection of archaeological artefacts gathering dust on the shelf.

He was honestly surprised to see Mary Kirkish again. He had thought that she had disappeared back into the main PIX pool of project-work. He supposed that it was the way of all things bright and fascinating: the biotechs, the guards, the systems techs, everyone, in short, needed a bit of a break. And Mars wasn't precisely Terra Nova, what with one quarter of the population below the Earth Alliance poverty line and the domes still under threat. He wasn't surprised that most of the others had scattered; he thought that he would have liked to go someplace else himself. He'd tried, even; it was Denni, in truth, who'd kept him here.

"Where are you going to go, then? Earth? Or some other forsaken place, to live out of a suitcase for months at a time? And what am I supposed to tell Sarah in the meantime?"

You could come with me, he'd told her, lying.

She'd laughed in his face. "You go, then. Go if you need to. But I'm staying right here, and so is Sarah."

So, he'd stayed, mainly because she was right: there wasn't anywhere for him to go. Wherever you go, there you are, his mother had used to say, God rest her soul. And wherever he went, his brain went with him. And his dreams.

Especially his dreams.

("Well," Denni said, finding a pack of the REM-less pills in his bag. "This explains a lot."

It's not like that, he'd wanted to say, not at all. It's the opposite of what you think; I'm not taking too many, I'm not taking enough, I can't make the dreams stop without them.

His mouth stayed stubbornly closed as if speech, too, was another thing he had forgotten.)

"Where have I been? I suppose I've just been around," Kirkish said at last. "Keeping out of sight, mostly."

That caught his attention. "What do you mean?"

She lowered her voice. "Psi Corps."

"What about them?"

"Haven't you noticed what's been happening? Eric Lustig, Yasser Onweni - the rest of them -"

"What about them?" he asked helplessly. He didn't recognise either of those names.

"They were biotechs. Both of them died recently."

"I'm sorry. How did it happen?"

Kirkish waved a hand to indicate the universe. "Oh, they made it look like industrial accidents, but I know what happened. They wouldn't stay put, they wouldn't cooperate, so Psi Corps killed them."

Silence. "Oh," Morden said at last, at a loss as to what to say other than that. She's gone off the deep end, and no mistake. "Are you sure?"

"Yes!" And she launched into a detailed explanation - with visibly restrained hand-waving - as to how she knew, for a fact, that Psi Corps had killed two insignificant biotechs whose names Morden had never bothered to learn.

It's a hell of a shame to lose Kirkish this way, he thought. She was always a bit on the wary side, but I didn't think that she'd slip into out-and-out paranoia. "Mmmmm," he said in all the right places, and otherwise tuned her out. His eyes skipped across her form, taking her in and weighting it all and judging her in one swift movement. She was tired, yes, and possibly sleep-deprived. She'd also lost some weight, and as she'd never been precisely plump, it showed in the thinnest of her limbs. Her wrist bones jutted out like wounded birds, all angles and thin, papery skin. She sipped her coffee too quickly, as if trying to get it all inside before she'd have to dash off again; he did not doubt that she ate the same way.

"I'm leaving," she said, the coffee leaving a thin film against her upper lip. She licked it away anxiously, her tongue darting out. "I was passing through Mars - sometimes you have to backtrack - and I wanted to warn you. You're safe as long as you stay still, somewhere visible. They don't worry about you then. They don't have to pin you down anywhere. And the Mars councillors - you're visible - they'd notice if you disappeared. But -" she tore another packet of sugar open and dumped the contents into her half-empty mug. "Just in case you do decide to leave soon." She said it as if it had some significance. "I wanted to warn you."

"All right," he said. "That was very kind of you, Mary." He knew better than to pretend collusion when he did not believe her, but neither was he confrontational. "I can't say that I've noticed anything, but, as you say, I've been planet-bound since the dig. If I decide to leave, I'll keep your warning in mind." He called a waiter over, and ordered them each a sandwich.

Mad, he thought, walking home afterwards. She's gone completely mad. And how had he appeared to her? He'd drifted off at some point, only for a second or two, but enough to catch her notice. It was a tiny moment of inattention, but it nagged at him. A few months previously, his attention wouldn't have wandered. Was this, then, the first signs of inertia, of a loss of intellect of - God help him - age? He had been feeling run-down as of late; older than his years would indicate. Maybe it was the ship's influence, he thought, not for the first time. All that radiation - it could have had long-term effects… And if it had affected him - his concentration, his focus, his ability to think about his lexicographic research, or Sarah's birthday, or Denni's day, or anything other than the fragging ship…! - of course, of course it could have affected Mary Kirkish. No, more than that - it was even more likely that it had. That it had affected all of them, to varying degrees. That those biotechs had been clumsy, yes, and so those accidents had come about; that Kirkish's natural wariness of Psi Corps had been amplified to out-and-out paranoia...

That his own mind was now a foreign place. It was more than possible. In fact, it was beginning to look likely.


He took the long way home. He was increasingly choosing this path, even though it added at least an hour to his journey. He got home past dinnertime, surprised to discover that Denni wasn't there. Sarah had already been collected from school, and the sitter was helping her put various multi-coloured blocks together and knock them down again.

"Daddy!" Sarah squealed and jumped up. She ran to him and he fell to one knee, arms outstretched. Shyness suddenly overtook her; she little hid her face in her hands, stopping just short of his grasp. "Daddy?"

"Hi honey," he pulled her in, tucking her against one hip. She wriggled, evidently uncomfortable, and turned her face away when he tried to give her a kiss. "How was school?"

She mumbled something against his neck and kicked, wriggling desperately.

"All right. I guess you don't want to be held today." He set her down and off she went, hiding behind David's shoulder. "Hello, David," he belatedly remembered to say. The sitter was so quiet and kept Sarah so studiously occupied that often Morden could forget that either of them were in the room. "How was she today?"

"Good, Dr Morden," David said, and smoothed Sarah's unruly caramel hair. "Very happy, very inquisitive. They were doing some finger-painting in class, she was very excited. I don't know why she's become so shy so suddenly."

She doesn't like strangers, Morden thought but didn't say. "Well, that's fine. I can take over - you can have the rest of the evening off, if you like."

David didn't wait to be told twice. "Thank you."

Sarah hid behind a sofa for a full hour and refused to come out, only emerging when she heard her mother's voice in the hallway. "Argh! Bureaucrats!" Denni raged, stomping into the main living area. She seemed surprised to see him; expecting the sitter, probably.

Morden tried to look sympathetic. "Bad day?"

Denni slammed her bag down on the table. "Engineers!" She fumed.

Morden raised an eyebrow at that, vaguely alarmed at the use of one of Denni's worst epithets. "What happened?" He asked tentatively, folding his paper.

"You would not believe the day I've had! These paper-pushers wouldn't know a good idea if it jumped up and bit them. I was talking to Elena Yan about starting up the -"

Whatever Denni had to say was cut off by the quiet beep of the incoming call. He looked at her apologetically. "Hold that rant."

He toggled the main comm. switch and settled in front of it. "Morden, go." A familiar face resolved out of the opening static. "Aspen!"

"Hello, Morden," Aspen's bearded face smiled back. "I hoped you'd still be at the same place."

"My God. I haven't spoken to anyone from the team in months, and now two in one day!"

"Ah, so she contacted you too, hmm?" Aspen raised an eyebrow. "Yes, we do seem to have rather lost Mary to her demons. But that's enough of that; I didn't call interstellar to reminisce."


"No. Listen - I've got a job for you, if you're interested."

Morden could feel his eyebrows climbing to his hairline in response to both Aspen's words and to Denni's stare, drilling its way into his left shoulder blade. "What sort of job?"

"Set your comm. to receive - have a look at these." Glyphs filled the screen, carved into the familiar stone monuments; some into what looked like walls; some into - God - some across the bruised, blue-black skin that seemed to pattern the inside of his eyelids. Aspen smiled. "Look familiar?"

He forgot to get back to Denni's bad day that evening, too busy looking the prelim data over, and by the time he remembered the next day, there was no point in inquiring. He rather thought that asking might make it a great deal worse.



When Aspen's new consultant finally arrived a couple of months later, he was irrationally surprised at how young she was; more so, when he checked her file and found them to be of an age. His brief stint on Mars had aged him; or maybe he just felt older, which was the same thing, really.

"So, where's good to eat around here?"

He blinked, somewhat stumped. He couldn't remember going out to eat; NewTech and the hotel had taken care of him when he'd been tied up with the dig, and now that he was doing civilian work, he took most of his meals at the university. Denni liked dining out, though, and she took Sarah to restaurants, meeting up with work colleagues and friends, he supposed. She'd asked him to come along a few times, but he'd always been too busy, and eventually the invitations had petered off. Where had she mentioned was good? "The Lotus Garden," he decided at last. He waited for Sheridan while she dropped off her luggage at the hotel, and they took a flier out to the northern quarter.

Once seated, they ordered, and Morden was surprised to find that the food was indeed very good, and that he was, in fact, famished. "So. What brings you out to Mars, Dr Sheridan?"

She smiled a little cheekily at him and flicked her hair out of the way. "Fishing for compliments already, Dr Morden? That doesn't sound like the quiet, brilliant young linguist I've been sent to recruit." She twisted spaghetti around her fork. More adventurous than him, she'd ordered one of the local sauces, made with locally grown ingredients; he'd specified imported produce only.

He smiled, rueful. "Just Morden's fine. And - I can see how it might have sounded. But surely this could have been accomplished by Aspen, a data pad and an uplink terminal; it's not cost effective to send you all the way out here. It makes no sense."

"Mmm. True, if we were looking to recruit support staff, or someone new - or even if we wanted you to work as a consultant - we wouldn't have bothered."

That was surprising. "What else would I work as?"

"How about - Head of Linguistics, NewTech division?"

He laughed. "I'm not anywhere near qualified for that."

"No, not yet. But if you come along on this upcoming mission, you will be."

"Anna," he said slowly, "no single mission is going to give me this amount of experience. Two months on the Rim are not enough, not when I'd be heading up -"

"Yeah. But this isn't two months, Morden! I mean, sure," she flicked her hair again, "the initial dig is going to be two months, sorry, I misspoke. But IPX is planning to set up a base on the planet and do a thorough excavation. The company directors are really excited about this - Aspen recorded the meeting they had when the prelims came through, and they were practically jumping up and down. Given what came out of Ikaara 7 -"

"I wouldn't know about that."

"No - sorry. But that's why I'm here! They need someone to stay out there, and oversee the translation of what's found. They don't want the bureaucrats in EarthGov looking over their shoulder at the transmitted data, and then moving in to classify everything again."

"So - that's why they want the linguistics done on site?" It made sense, when you thought of it that way. IPX couldn't afford to lose more projects because they might be too profitable in the future; better keep the lid on everything until they could go public with the lot. At least, it's how he'd do it. "The work would all be done in situ -" No, wait, he wasn't considering this again! He'd had IPX screw him over twice already; he'd be damned if he'd let it happen again! He coughed and frowned into his drink. "Listen, Anna, I understand what you're saying. But you have to see my perspective on this - I've had IPX projects fall through twice now, and I'm a little sick of it."

"A little sick of it," she echoed thoughtfully. "Yes, I can see that."

He looked down to where he'd shredded his paper napkin; long, thin strips across the remains of his rice. He prodded it, disgusted, with his fork, and pushed it to one side. "OK, I've been a little on edge lately." That was the understatement of the century. He had managed to start sleeping again, if by 'sleeping' one meant drugging himself into a stupor. The human mind can't cope without REM sleep, his doctor had informed him patiently. And if his dreams were truly that bad, perhaps he should approach the Psi Corps' mental health division for assistance.

Anna Sheridan's look was calculating. "Yes. I see that academia hasn't been treating you too well."

He frowned at her but said nothing.

She sighed, and put her fork down. "Let me ask you for a favour, then. You don't have to agree to join the team, or to consult, or anything of the sort - just agree to meet with me again, and let me explain what NewTech is proposing. Let me show you what prelim data we've gathered." She leaned forward, her eyes shining. "Let me show you them."


"Your initial report spoke about the ship-builders. We know that they carved the monoliths on Ikaara 7," she nodded at the shard of rock still around his neck; he flushed. "We also know that it was their ship that was recovered from the Syria Planum dig two years ago. We've found similar monoliths on this world, but not in any one place, not on the surface, and not uniformly. Instead, they are below ground, some deep, some only a few metres. And they're not like the ones you've looked at thus far."

"I don't understand," he said woodenly, furiously crushing the sudden flare of interest that this sparked.

"Don't you? I think you do."

"This is getting us nowhere," he said flatly. He was beginning to grow angry - at her, at himself for meeting her all, at Aspen most of all, for starting this up again. How many more times must that man uproot him?

"So come prove me wrong. Or right. Or - both. Come look at them, Morden! We can't send the data back, not until we've finished, and, without you, we may never be finished. We're not talking about one or two sites; this is an entire planet. IPX is pumping thousands of credits into this, pulling people off other projects left, right and centre. They want answers. And so do I." She looked at him. "Don't you?"

He laughed, hollow and bitter. "What I want," he murmured, "doesn't matter." But I'll never be able to live with myself if I don't at least look. He swallowed hard. "But, I admit that it is an interesting premise. So I will meet with you again, Anna. And you can tell me about these ship-builders of yours."

That night, he slept fitfully, restless in slumber. Denni was curled up away from him, as far away as she could get while remaining in the same bed. He had not been a calm sleeper for a while now, and unless he'd taken a pill for a night of REM-less sleep, his dreams made him shake uncontrollably. He had always hated to be touched in sleep; now, it was worse that ever. He woke several times, and finally poured himself a glass of wine; took a sleeping pill. A normal one, though, nothing REM-less. He slept. And he dreamed.

The ships were back, high in the Martian sky, and there were many more of them. They flooded the horizon with long, ink-black limbs, their skin glistening with the sun's rays, the colours changing; mottled and dark. Shapes slid across them, curlicues and Latinate, Cyrillic, Sumarian letters, letters from all the languages he knew, twisted out of all recognition, all present, all inadequate. Talk to me! he called to them, stretching up on tip-toe as he had done as a small child, reaching for the sky. Stay! A buzzing grew in his mind; friction-noise, from two incompatible things wrapped around each other, trying to communicate. He hadn't been sure, before, if the ship knew him - if it knew that he knew it - but he was sure now. Oh, Lord, he was sure. How could he not be, when he dreamt of That Night every time he closed his eyes?

In his mind's eye, he felt the ship's cool, curious intellect press against him again, slick and wet and unyielding.


"The mission brief is simple: establish a base on the world -"

"And loot it for IPX before EarthGov has the chance?"

Sheridan frowned at his phrasing. "And document any advances to be gained," she corrected him severely. "We're not there to strip-mine the world. It's likely that there's a very good reason it isn't inhabited any longer. And, to be honest, Aspen isn't certain that there is anything to be gained in terms of biotech."

"So why send a biotech-heavy team?"

"He's not. You don't see Mary Kirkish's name anywhere on the team list, do you?"

"Mary Kirkish," he said quietly, "has gone off the deep end."

"Well, that may well be. But she's still the foremost expert on biotech, and Aspen's not using her for this anyway. He's bringing quite a few biotechs, but that's simply in terms of numbers. We've found bits of things - no ID as yet - all over the planet's surface, so they'll need to be strong in manpower. Linguistics is where this mission is really focusing, though, and that's why they want you."

"There are more qualified people out there," he said, reaching for the familiar self-deprecation that had characterised his early academic career, vaguely surprised that it no longer rang as sincerely as it once had.

Sheridan laughed, not fooled. "Ones that have had their PhD's for longer than three seconds, yes. Ones that have had two separate instances of studying these glyphs before, no. Aspen is very focused on having this language deciphered."

Morden frowned at that and sipped his coffee. It sounded a little too good to be true, and he'd already had Aspen's empty promises dangled in front of his star-filled eyes a little too often to be taken in that easily. "I don't know. It doesn't sound particularly different from what went before. Sure, you'll maybe hold on to the site for a little longer, but that just means even more months living in an EVA suit on a dead world - and, listen, I'm pretty settled here. I could bring my wife and kid to Mars - it was hard, but they needed engineers, so Denni was able to get settled in - but I can hardly ask them to come out to the Rim and live on a ship." Except, it hadn't been like that, had it? Denni had been the one to send him here; she'd done it all for him.

"No," Sheridan acknowledged. "This is a strict team-only mission. No family of any kind."

"So you see my point. Spend several months locked in a tin can, only to have EarthGov take it all away again. And for what?"

Sheridan worried at her hair for a little bit. He'd noticed that nervous tic before; it was relatively common in women with long hair, and a dead give-away of nerves. She was on edge, and, hell. She'd come all the way out there; Aspen would be pissed if he'd pushed the boat out and she couldn't get him on board. Still, there was no point in jumping for joy at EarthGov's scraps; he wasn't twenty-five anymore, and there was only so much grunt work he was willing to sacrifice on the altar of future career development. "Anna? This is your cue to up the ante."

She glared at him, eyes flashing. "Oh, you've been waiting for it, have you?"

"That's right. And so have you. You knew I wouldn't be interested in what you've said thus far. Yet you came all the way out here - which makes me think that there's something else." He steepled his fingers and smiled. "Want to tell me what that something is?"

Her smile was a little vicious. "I think you already know, and are a bit scared - isn't that right?" At his startled look, her face turned triumphant. "It's not a secondary language. We've had the prelim work redone twice, based on your guidelines, and there's no mistaking it. It's the root tongue, and it's not in any one place; it's all over the planet in various forms, even earlier than the base tongue your original paper surmised must exist." She leaned forward across the table. Her eyes were very wide and very bright. "Morden - I don't think that this is a world visited by the ship-makers; I think that this is their world, their home planet!"

He was silent for a moment. "There's no evidence to support that," he said thickly, past the lump in his throat.

"Don't you trust your own semantic structures?" She flashed that smile again, wide and predatory. "It's the ship-builders' world, Morden. Their home planet. Isn't this what you've wanted for so long, what you've been waiting for and dreaming about? Think about it!"


He likes to tell himself that he hasn't thought about it, and that he isn't going to. It's not quite a lie; he had thought on it, obviously, but only insofar as everyone thinks on their desires, but not consciously. Instead, his vague wanting had been secret and furtive, hiding even from him, winding itself around his dreams and cloaking itself in guilt. Every time he woke up he remembered to feel guilty; every time he looked at Denni he remembered that something had gone wrong. He had built his life up from nothing so carefully, stretching every link to its maximum, pulling at it this way and that, splitting himself open with a single blow and inserting a stone – red and smooth and bloody in the night sky – to keep the wound wide open.

Did he want that? He didn't want to stop bleeding; no, certainly not that. The simple things: he wanted the ship back, of course. He wanted Psi Corps to go hang, and most of IPX, come to think of it. He wanted Denni to touch him again, and not look at him and then look quickly away, as she'd started doing two years ago and never quite stopped. He wanted his students to stop calling him Dr Morden and bringing him 'delicacies' from Earth to curry favour for their upcoming assessments. He wanted to care about tenure, or to not have to worry about it, or to be doing something that mattered to him. He wanted more time with Sarah, or less time with Sarah, or something - he wasn't quite sure – but, anyway, she wasn't his little girl anymore, but her mother's daughter through and through. He wanted the dust to ease and finish falling, because for two years it still overloaded the filters and got through anyway, coating everything and making it seem aged and decrepit. He wanted Mars terraformed, or abandoned, or bombed into nothingness, and he wanted to leave, and he wanted to stay, and he wanted to be able to look at his work again.

He wanted to sleep again. He wanted dreams that were pleasant and filled with Norse runes and Minbari characters and Egyptian glyphs and naked women. He wanted to dream in many colours, and not in black-on-red, with his head pounding and heat pooling in his belly until he'd wake up and jerk off silently, curled up into himself so's not to wake Denni (who likely knew anyway and that's possibly why she reacted as if his touch made her skin crawl). He wanted to play baseball again, and run on green grass again, and not close his eyes and see a red Mars shining directly above, like the sun itself, and black spiders crawling across it, building their webs and eating him alive.

Mostly, though – God, mostly, he wanted. It wasn't logical or rational or calm or collected, but something fierce, something that twisted in him like a knife in his gut. He wanted. Something deep inside him stirred; // ? // it said, sweet and low and forbidden, as it had said before. What is it, what are you asking, talk to me!

"Morden?" Denni touched the nightlight, and the room was softly illuminated. "You were talking in your sleep."

He stared at the ceiling.


It's maybe significant that he hasn't had sex with Denni in over a year. No, longer than that – nearly two years, now. It's possibly even more significant that he finds himself not missing it, which is odd, to be sure. Back on earth, he was very tactile, always pulling her into his lap or stroking some bit of skin he could reach.

"Are you planning on going?" She asked him, calm and reasonable, pouring them both coffee and plunking it in front of him. "Is that it?"

He gave her a measured look. "I hadn't decided yet."

Denni's lips thinned. "Maybe you should," she said.

That caught his attention. He folded his arms, and then unfolded them again; painfully aware of how defensive he looked. "I know," he said. "Look, I know. I've been distracted for the last –" God – "- year or so. I haven't been around."

"You've been a ghost," she said sadly. "It's like living with a corpse, Morden. And I can't do that anymore."

I'm not dead enough to matter to you, he heard in his head, as if she'd only just said it; as if she'd seen this already. He wasn't the least bit surprised to taste bile.

He called Sheridan that afternoon. "I can't."



"What are you doing here?" Anna found him nodding off in a corner of the spaceport, slumped in a chair. "I thought you weren't coming."

He grimaced and ran a hand through his hair, knowing that he looked a state. His hair was unmanageable at the best of times, and he hadn't bothered with it for weeks, letting it grow wild and curly. He'd made a half-hearted attempt at shaving a couple of days past, enough to leave him with scratchy, uncomfortable stubble and a residual soreness. Maybe that wasn't from the shaving, though; the soreness seemed to be everywhere, seeping through his bones. While the rest of the Earth-born around him were exclaiming over the wonders of Martian gravity, he dragged himself from lecture to lecture like an old man, regurgitating the same tired old lessons for the undergrads, handing out grades and demerits indiscriminately. He showered every day, paying double for the privilege of so much water usage, standing under the hot spray until he'd washed the darkness of sleep away. He remembers when he used to shower after work, scrubbing at the perennial dust that got through the filters and onto everything. Now, it's all he can do to make himself get up and get in the shower, trying to wash away the lingering, oily smell of sleep and nightmares.

"I wanted to see you off," he said.

She tipped her head to the side, her hair spilling across her black-clad shoulders in waves. "You don't sound very sure."

"No," he said, quiet. "I'm needed here." He spread his hands helplessly. "I just… wanted to wish you luck." He gestured towards the stack of flimsies and the three pads he'd brought along. "I wrote up some prelim thoughts on the, the semantic bridges, and -"

"How very noble of you," she mocked quietly. She fingered the clasp on her bag; silver-on-black. "So selfless."

"I have a child, Anna. And Denni needs me."

She frowned. "And, what, my husband doesn't need me? I'm doing this for my health?"

He blinked at that, a little surprised. He hadn't known she was married. "People are different," he said instead.

"Not really. Not when it comes to something like this. You think that Denni would hesitate if she was offered her dream on a platter?"

"I've had that happen before," he reminded her. Somehow, he'd taken a step forward. "Twice, in fact."

Her eyes were very large, and very kind, the pupils flooding them until he couldn't see the iris at all. "And then they took it all away."

He took another step forward. "Yes."

He thinks that maybe she's laughing at him a little, or trying to seduce him. Something is not right, and he cannot believe that the wrongness is inside of him, that it wasn't brought here by this woman and her Mars-red hair. She shook her head again, and smiled. "And what if you took it back?" Her smile was very bright and very hungry; all teeth and appetite. "Forget about Denni. She's a grown woman. Forget about trying to justify your existence with how much she needs you, and how much your students need you, and how much your work needs you, because it's a lie, Morden. You're not here for them; you're not here for anything at all. You're here because you're scared. But -" she reached out and tapped her nail against the slice of black rock, scratching lightly, "You wouldn't wear this if any of that truly mattered. What matters is working out what you want – what keeps you awake at night, what makes your blood sing and your toes curl to think of it – and then taking it."

"And if they take it away?" He was dizzy from the caffeine and the adrenaline and from her smell, heavy with sleep and raw hunger.

Inches away from him, she rose up on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear. "Then you fight. You take it right back." She leaned back on her heels, smile wide and self-satisfied; the look of those anticipating a truly excellent meal. Morden felt something inside him twist and give way in response. "So. Let me ask you a very simple question, Mr Morden. What do you want?"



(no subject)

Date: 2007-04-22 05:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aris-tgd.livejournal.com
Oh, my God. I love it. I love it SO much. I'm dizzy with love.

I mean, the ship, the dreams, the slow fracturing, the everything, Anna--oh! It's got that runaway-train-can't-look-away feeling. And the ending with the awful sense that maybe somehow somewhere something... I'm utterly blown away. SO MUCH LOVE. I am knocked into flailing incoherency. THANK YOU.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-04-22 05:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aris-tgd.livejournal.com
And somewhere in there I forgot to close an <em> tag, so, erm, assume that only half of that is suppose to be in italics. ;)

(no subject)

Date: 2007-04-29 05:24 pm (UTC)
kangeiko: (babylon 5 family)
From: [personal profile] kangeiko
I'm so glad that you liked it!! I was very nervous about 'cause, well, yeah. *g*

(no subject)

Date: 2007-04-23 03:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] soundingsea.livejournal.com
This is absolutely amazing. You humanize Morden and make me care about him. I didn't think that was possible. You take the reader on this wild, unreal journey into madness, and end with the perfect question. Fabulous story.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-04-29 05:25 pm (UTC)
kangeiko: (babylon 5 family)
From: [personal profile] kangeiko
Thank you so much, I'm so glad that you enjoyed it!


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May 2007

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