A Sea of Stars - Ch. 14 - Madeline

        of
       all
    the species     
     on Earth
    only   one  
    has     not

            only

             the
           ability
      to destroy itself
        but also what
       seems     to be
      the          need
             to
            do
           so

“Missing something?” Lillian could feel her voice rising and tried to push it back down. “We’ve been looking for you for over an hour.”

“Looking for me?” Madeline looked truly confused.

“I stopped by your room probably a little bit after midnight and you weren’t here.”

“Sure I was. I’ve been here since I left your room.”

Adrian stood up beside Lillian. Thankfully, the other two had backed out of the room, so it was at least a little less crowded. Still, three was about two too many.

“She’s telling the truth,” he said. “We’ve had the security team out looking for you.”

“But I’ve been here the whole time…” She looked back and forth from Lillian to Adrian, looking for something—perhaps some clue that they were pulling some sort of prank on her.

“There’s more,” Adrian added. “Jacobs and Watkins…”

“Watkins?”

“One of the security guards. They were paired together to look for you. Jacobs and Watkins went missing as well. We found them in the communication center only a few minutes ago. Unconscious.”

“You don’t think I had anything to do with this?”

“We’re not thinking anything of the sort,” Lillian answered immediately. She turned to Adrian for confirmation. He was slow to respond, but after a long moment, he nodded.

After a few seconds, Lillian turned back to her friend. “Madeline, do you remember exactly what you’ve been doing since you got back?”

“Well, I got ready for bed and then started doing my yoga routine. Like I always do. I was just finishing up when you lot came barging in.”

“When did you start your yoga?”

“I don’t know. Maybe 20 minutes after I left your place?”

Adrian caught the line of questioning and asked “And how long do you normally go for?”

“About half an hour.”

“So what time is it now?” he asked.

“I don’t know, probably just a bit before 1?” She looked down at her watch. “Yup. 12:53. See?” She held her arm up so they could both see it. It showed exactly what Madeline had said that it would.

Adrian looked as his own watch and shook his head. “Lillian?”

She looked at hers. It showed a time more than half an hour after Madeline’s. She reached out and showed it to her.

“What? What does that mean?” Lillian could see her activating her aug’s displays and checking the time on them. “My augs say 12:53 as well.”

“Check the ship’s computers,” Adrian suggested.

Madeline let out a quiet gasp and sunk into her bed. She said quietly, “Either the two of you are going through to some monumental ends to pull a fast one on me or … I don’t even know what.”

Lillian shook her head and went to sit on the bed beside Madeline. “I don’t know either. This whole night has taken a turn for the strange. When Jacobs and Watkins went missing, Adrian checked the video records. We couldn’t see much, but for at least a chunk of the time, she simply vanished.”

“Vanished? As in…”

“As in she was there one second and gone the next.”

“How is that even possible?”

Adrian sounded tired but he responded before Lillian. “You tell us. So far as we can tell, it’s happened to you as well.”

“But I don’t remember anything.” She swung her head back and forth between Adrian and Lillian.

“Exactly,” he said. He looked out into the hallway. Akers and the medic were standing there talking softly between themselves. Too softly for Lillian to make out what they were saying. “I’m going to go out in the hallway and report this back to Johnson. You two will be ok in here for a few minutes?” The last came out as halfway between a question and a command.

Lillian wasn’t sure, but she nodded along with Madeline. Adrian walked out into the hallway, closing the door behind him. Lillian heard him calling Johnson up on the comms with a hesitant sound in his voice. Come to think of it, she wouldn’t want to have to report this mess to him either.

As the door closed, she turned back to Madeline. “You really are ok?”

“I’m really just confused. As far as I could tell, nothing’s happened. But now it seems that I’ve lost half an hour of my life.”

“We’ll figure this out.”

“How? How could we possibly figure this all out? We don’t know anything!” she was nearly shouting by the end.

Lillian really didn’t have an answer for that and she was sure that Madeline knew it. “We just will,” she said. She put the emphasis on the ‘we.’

Madeline smiled at her and gave her a quick hug. “So why were you looking for me anyways? I’d just talked to you and you said you were probably going to go to bed.”

Lillian sighed. “There’s something we need to talk about.”

Madeline turned her head slightly in a puzzled expression. “That sounds ominous.”

“A little bit,” Lillian acknowledged. “Madeline. Why did you hack into my room’s security system?”

Madeline’s eyebrows rose immediately, but she didn’t respond for several seconds. Finally, she took a deep breath. “How did you know?”

“I’ve been talking with Adrian. He told me that there were three people looking into my system. One was Hans. One was Adrian. And the last was you.” Which was all true. Even if Adrian hadn’t been the one to tell her the last. She doubted that Madeline would ask him about it though.

Madeline wilted slightly at the news. “And I thought I was being so careful.”

Not to be deterred, Lillian asked, “But why? Hans was going to put up extra guards on my room and knows more about security than you do. Well, at least I thought he did. That was an impressive bit of work.”

Madeline was looking at the floor, refusing to meet Lillian’s gaze. Lillian reached over and lightly lifted her chin up. “It’s ok Madeline; just tell me what you did it.”

“But it’s not ok. It’s never going to be ok.”

“Why not?”

She was quiet a moment, and then looked Lillian directly in the eyes. She was crying. “Oh Lillian, I’ve done such terrible things. Seen such terrible things.”

She half fell forward and buried her face in Lillian’s shoulder. She was sobbing now. Lillian didn’t know what else to do, so she did what felt right. She held her friend close and tried to comfort her. Later. She could ask later.

A minute later, Adrian came back in, knocking on the door as he did. He took one look at Madeline and mouthed to Lillian, “Is she ok?”

“Tired, I think,” she mouthed back. She barely even thought of the lie, which worried her.

He nodded and went on in a normal voice. “Jacobs and Watkins are awake. There wasn’t anything wrong with them and, as far as the medics are concerned, there’s no reason that they should have been unconscious in the first place. They’re in perfect healthy.”

“Do they remember anything?” Lillian asked.

“Not a thing. Jacobs thought he saw something moving under the desk. That’s why he crawled down there. Best guess is that it either his or Watkins’ shadow. She crawled in after him when he didn’t come out.”

“So whatever happened to them didn’t happen at exactly the same time. It happened to Jacobs first.”

He nodded agreement.

She continued, “So either it’s targeted somehow or it’s based on location. Like under the desk. Or here in Madeline’s room.” At the mention of her name, Madeline lifted her head. Her eyes were red and puffy, but she wasn’t actively crying any more. She rubbed at her face with her sleeve.

“So what happens now?” Madeline asked.

“I honestly don’t know. Johnson sent someone to wake up the Commander and the rest of the staff. I’m sure your Chief will be there as well. They’ll discuss how best to go forward.”

“But what until then?” she asked. She was starting to sound worried again.

“I already sent the others back. I’m probably going to head back to the security offices.” He hesitated. “That is, unless either of you want me to stay.”

Lillian and Madeline turned and looked at each other. After a moment, Madeline shook her head in a bare perceptible manner. Lillian wasn’t completely sure that she’d even seen it, but she turned back to Adrian anyways. “We’ll be all right. I think I’ll stay here for a while and keep her company.”

He nodded and turned to go. Lillian called after him, “you’ll keep us posted if anything else comes up, won’t you?”

Over his shoulder he replied, “of course.” And was gone. He’d closed the door behind him and it had latched automatically.

They both stared at the door for a moment and then, as if on some external signal turned to look at each other at the same moment. Their expressions were almost perfect mirrors of each other. Worry gave way to amusement. Lillian grinned and Madeline chuckled quietly. But amusement faded from both their faces. Madeline looked about to cry again.

“You don’t have to tell me whatever it is you’re so worried about,” Lillian said to her. “At least not tonight. Not if you don’t want to.”

Madeline heaved a sigh of relief, but still looked worried. “Lillian?”

“Yes?”

“Do you trust me?”

Lillian hesitated. She knew that she should say yes, but she couldn’t. Not anymore. “Should I trust you?”

Madeline grinned, but it was a sad grin. “Probably not. I guess it doesn’t matter.” She took a deep breath and started speaking quickly. “I was the one that broke into your room. I took the all of the binders. But I’m not a Sympathizer. Far from it. I had to take the binders or you’d be in so much danger. I had to destroy them. And I never took your briefcase. I don’t know what happened to it!” She hadn’t breathed throughout the entire thing and had to pause to catch her breath now.

As she did, Lillian tried process what she’d said. “Destroy them?” was the first thing she latched onto.

Madeline turned red. “The bomb in the kitchen. That was me. I figured that if it did enough damage, then no one would expect that it had been intended to destroy something else.”

“The binders?”

“Yes. I slipped them in, along with a mining charge just before the card game. I didn’t expect it to go off until well in the night. Quinn was right on about the charges. I hope he didn’t get into too much trouble for that.”

“I’m sure he won’t. There’s nothing to prove he did it. For that matter there’s nothing to prove that you did it either. But why? Why did you do it?”

“Because there’s still a Sympathizer agent left on the ship.”

“We knew that. That’s why I was hiding the binders.”

“But you couldn’t just hide them. If the agent had found out where you were hiding them, no locked door would be able to stop him. And he probably wouldn’t have left you alive either.”

“So you stole them.”

“I stole them.”

“And blew them up.”

“And blew them up.”

“Destroying a rather expensive piece of kitchen equipment to do so.”

Madeline winced. “I didn’t actually expect the explosion to be quite that large. That’s why I chose the ovens. Besides setting off the charge for free, I thought they could contain the blast. Not so much.”

“Not so much,” Lillian agreed. She grinned a wicked grin. “That was a pretty cool explosion though.”

“You think so?” She perked up a bit.

“It was. I wish it hadn’t been on a space ship. I’m not really looking forward to dying of depressurization.”

Her face fell again. “Like I said. I didn’t expect quite so much of an explosion.”

“That’s still not really a why.”

“You noticed that?”

Lillian nodded.

Madeline took a deep breath. “I work for Dark Sun.”

Lillian gasped. As she did, her comm suddenly gave off a terrible hissing sound. She jerked forward, reaching for her ears. Unfortunately, the comm was subdural. It took her a long several seconds to regain her sense enough to signal her comm to mute with her hands. Finally the hellish racket ceased.

Madeline was staring at her. “I’d expected a strong reaction,” she said dryly. “But perhaps not quite that strong.”

“Something on my comm,” Lillian replied, poking lightly at her ears and trying to collect her senses. Then she flashed back to a second before the sound. Her hands dropped and she stared at Madeline. “Dark Sun? The same company that Jacobs worked for.”

“Exactly.”

“So why are you here? To get revenge on Jacobs?”

“Up until he told us, I didn’t actually know he’d ever worked for Dark Sun. Or for the Sympathizers.”

“Then why?”

“Jenkins.”

“The cook?”

“The cook. It turns out that he actually was a Sympathizer. Quite a nasty one too. He was responsible for several of the gate station bombings a few years ago.”

“Back when the Sympathizers where back active,” Lillian finished for her.

“Exactly.”

“So you can here to … what? Follow him? Kill him?”

Madeline was looking at her hands again. They were twitching slightly in her labs. “Just to follow him. And to report back to Dark Sun the next time we made a connection.”

Lillian could sense a ‘but’ hanging in the air, so she waited silently.

Madeline was silent for a while, but eventually went on. “But then there was the first bombing.” She looked up at Lillian with watery eyes. “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be sitting her right now.”

“But you are. And that’s what matters.”

“I guess so,” she drug her words out. Lillian wasn’t sure that she entirely believed her. Madeline went on, “Do you remember right after the first bombing?”

“Sure. We went to the command center.”

“And after that?”

“We went to fix the damaged panels.”

Madeline nodded.

“But you weren’t there for the first one. You went to go clean up.”

“Not exactly. I went to check on Jenkins.”

Lillian gasped. “You didn’t kill him, did you?”

Madeline shook her head sadly. “I didn’t. But I might as well have.”

“What do you mean?”

“I found him in the kitchens. He was having a heated argument with someone. I couldn’t tell who it was, but they were really going at it. I listened in for a bit, they seemed to be arguing about the bombing. Jenkins was saying that it was too soon. That they hadn’t found it yet. Whatever it was…” She stopped talking and looked lost.

Lillian nodded at her to continue.

“Whatever it was. The other man just laughed at that. And then there was gunfire. A plasma gun. I really haven’t heard one of those since I went hunting with my father all of those years ago. But it’s not a sound you’ll ever forget.”

She reached up and touched the side of her face. “There was blood. A lot of blood. Normally a plasma gun will cauterize the wounds that they make, but if you set it low enough it will cut without too much heat.” She shuddered. “Some of the blood sprayed out of the room.”

“I must have made a sound, because I heard footsteps coming for the door. I ran. To the locker room showers. I tried to get the blood off of me, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.” Her voice shuddered to a halt.

“That’d explain why you were so clean. And why you had a new jumpsuit.”

Madeline nodded. “And it’s all my fault!” She started to sob.

“Come again?”

“That Jenkins is dead. If I’d just reported him to the commander. Or to Johnson. None of this would have happened.”

“Come on Madeline. That’s crazy talk. What would you have reported him for?”

“For being a Sympathizer.”

“And I’m sure you had loads of proof.”

Madeline half sobbed and half giggled. “I guess that’s true.”

“And he was involved with the bombing. That’s one strike against him. He almost killed you after all.”

“I don’t think he did it. It sounds like the other Sympathizer did the bombing. Jenkins was just looking for something.”

Madeline lifted her head. The tears were fading. “That’s what I still can’t figure out yet. What in the world was he looking for?”

Lillian thought that she knew. She wondered if Eve knew anything about the whole situation. She gingerly turned her comm back on. The hissing was gone. Eve? she typed.

Madeline was watching her eyes. She’d noticed the typing. Probably the first person that had.

“Yes,” Eve responded. There was a dangerous edge to her voice which surprised Lillian.

She scrapped what she’d been about to ask and asked instead, What’s wrong?.

“Dark Sun.”

You know them?

“Know them? Of course I know them.” The hissing suddenly built up again, not quite as loud as before, but still uncomfortable. It seemed to pass right through her ears and cut into her brain. It cut off right when Eve continued, “They’re the ones that found the Artifact.”

I’m sure that Madeline…

“She’s a Dark Sun agent! You can’t trust her.”

But I do trust her. She was somewhat surprised to find out that it was true. Even after all that Madeline had told her, she still believed in her. She’s my friend.

“Well you can’t tell her about me. If Dark Sun got a hold of me…”

What?

“Well, I’m not completely sure. But I know that it wouldn’t be good.”

Lillian realized that Madeline was trying to get her attention. She nodded at her. Madeline mouthed the words, “Is that Eve?”

Lillian’s mouth dropped open.

“You stopped talking. Why did you stop talking?” Eve asked through her comm.

“How do you know about Eve?” Lillian mouthed back to Madeline, ignoring Eve for the time being.

“A long story. It is isn’t it? Is that what was in the briefcase?” Her tears were completely gone now and excitement was showing through her whispers. Enough so that Lillian’s comm must have been able to pick up her voice.

“YOU TOLD HER!” Eve yelled. The hissing was back with a vengeance. Lillian jerked in her seat and dropped the comms volume to its lowest setting. The hissing still cut through her head like a hot knife. She could feel a headache forming.

Well, I guess she’s already mad at me, Lillian thought. I might as well go ahead and do what she already thinks I did. So she told Madeline everything. It felt good to get it off her chest. To finally have someone to talk to about the whole mess without constantly having to lie and leave things out. At some point during the conversation, the hissing vanished completely. Lillian couldn’t tell if Eve was listening in or just gone completely, but she didn’t stop talking. She would deal with Eve later.

When she finally finished the story, Eve looked mildly surprised. Less so than Lillian would have expected though. “You already knew about Eve, didn’t you?” Lillian asked her.

“Of course I did. That’s actually the main reason that I’m here.”

“It is?”

“To find Eve. Dark Sun lost track of her over 15 years ago. Long before I joined up with them. There have been hints of her activity throughout the years, but nothing until 3 years ago. Then there was a sudden burst of activity hinting strongly that Eve was arranging for herself to be moved onto one of the gateships. Atlas, Borealis, and Remus all had scheduled connections within the three day window, so Dark Sun sent an agent to each of them. I came here.”

“And now you’ve found her.”

“Well. You found her.”

Lillian nodded. “So now what?”

“I’m going to have to report back to Dark Sun that I found her. That’ll be an interesting conversation. But I can’t until the next scheduled communication. And that’s not for another two weeks.”

“And until then?”

“Well…” she hesitated.”Actually. I’d like to meet her.” There was a definite lift at the end of her sentence, as if she couldn’t decide if she was asking Lillian or telling her.

“That sounds like fun,” Lillian said, half sarcastically. “I’m not so sure that she wants to meet you though. She seems to have a grudge against Dark Sun.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because Dark Sun designed her.”

Lillian raised an eyebrow at her.

“Well. Most of her. Not all of the technology is human.” She looked at Lillian as if she was expecting a reaction. When she didn’t get one, she commented. “She told you that part too, didn’t she? What did she tell you?”

“That she was partially based on alien technology.”

“Did you believe her?”

“I’m not sure what to believe. It sounds like you know more about it than I do though,” she accused.

“It’s a long story…”

“We have time.”

“It’s the middle of the night. And we have work again in the morning.”

“No we don’t. We have the day off tomorrow.”

“Oh yeah.”

“So talk.”

Madeline sighed. “I guess I owe you that much. Which story do you want to hear?”

“Tell me about the Artifact.”

“How do you … Eve. She told you.”

“She just mentioned the name. I really haven’t had much time to talk with her…”

“I guess not. Just keep in mind that all of this was well before my time. They found the Artifact the year before the Hermes was lost.”

“When it was lost or when we got the message?”

“When it was lost. But they told me most of the story when they sent me to the Borealis to look for her.”

Lillian made a gesture for her to continue.

“Right. It all started out in the Kuiper Belt…”

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