Literatti: Fiction By Deslea
Dead Man Walking
Deslea R. Judd
Pairing: Knowle Rohrer/Shannon McMahon.
Word Count: 5700
Summary: They were facing forever together, and it was better than facing it alone.
More Fic: On AO3 or my fic site.
Feedback: Love the stuff. On AO3 or at deslea at deslea dot com.
[ shannon ]
She thinks about love, and how she only loved him because he was there.
Is love ever more than two people with open hearts in the right place at the right time? Does it even matter anymore, when he isn't there and she loves him still? She puzzles over it, and she doesn't know whether the point is the answer or the question.
He was just another soldier to her once. He might have stayed that way, a dim memory as her life followed its predictable path. There was no attraction, no bond. Just camaraderie and sharing the satisfaction of a job well done. They high-fived one another, cheered each other on, and that was as far as it went.
But that was before. Afterwards, he was the only one who knew her. The only one to understand. Their coupling was inevitable. They had to touch and hold, because the alternative was a silent void in a world of the walking dead. In time, she grew to love him, and though he is gone, she loves him still.
She misses him. But she is alive, and in her right mind. And she will stay that way for as long as she can.
She was born in Snoqualmie Falls, Washington. It's a pretty place - less so now that the tourists have got their hands on it, but pretty, just the same. She was born to a fucked-up teen, third child before her mother's nineteenth year, and orphaned six years later.
She remembers her mother with kindness, but without much respect. Her death hurt, but life was better afterwards. Her middle brother was farmed out to his father, and the eldest was eleven by then, old enough to run away.
So Shannon went to her great-uncle, and he didn't seem to particularly care for her, but he was kind and sensible, and she admired him very much. It wasn't until her Marine graduation that he told her he loved her, and he died a few weeks later. She buried him, went off to Beirut, and when she came home, that was when they gave her the news - that like her mother, she bore dark shadows in her too-young womb.
The request was couched in noble terms. Serving her country. Making the ultimate sacrifice. It all boiled down to donating her body to military science. "It's very special, what these people give to us. What they entrust to us. We take care of our own. We'll take care of you." She was sick and alone, and she needed someone to care for her, and so she said okay.
In spite of herself, she was enthralled by the plan they laid out. A soldier with heightened abilities. Heightened strength. Heightened endurance. They'd been studying those animals that were able to grow new appendages, and the scientists confided that one day, they hoped to make a soldier who could even regenerate after injury. To Shannon, who'd pulled her comrades from the ruins in Beirut, this idea was so wonderful that she didn't even flinch when they told her what the tests on her would entail. "It's a great thing that you're doing, Shannon," one of them said. "What you've given us will live on."
So she knew what would happen when she died. It never occurred to her to ask what would happen if she lived.
[ knowle ]
He met her when they were seventeen.
His parents were gone, and he didn't think the children's home was really that bad, but the Corps was his ticket out of the poverty he would have to face when he came of age. It was also just about the only place that didn't sugarcoat his situation with false sympathy. "If parents were monitored as well as the orphanages," his recruiting officer opined, "kids would be a lot better off." Knowle liked him straight away.
Shannon went through MCRD at the same time as he did. She was with the women, on the other side of the island, but he met her at their graduation, and he liked her. He flirted a little, she flirted back, and then she had to go with her uncle. He didn't think anything more of it, and neither did she. When he mentioned it a few years later, she didn't even remember it.
They met again in Beirut, and they got along well. He flirted outrageously. She bantered with him, but she never took the bait. To Knowle, flirting was half the fun, so her good-natured rebuffs were like water off a duck's back. They worked together easily enough.
The laughs came to a sudden halt in October when the base was bombed. His injuries were only minor, but the x-rays turned up more sinister shadows. Bone cancer, they said. It didn't occur to him to seek a second opinion. He was less enthused about the tests than Shannon, but he agreed to them in the end. He wanted a decent burial, and there was no one else to give him one.
They met again at the military hospital, and their banter was a welcome respite from the gravity of their situation. "You're dying, and you're still trying to get laid," she teased him once, much to the horror of the Naval doctor, whose pallor grew pale as the general tone of the conversation deteriorated.
"Damn Navy pussy," Knowle said after the doctor had fled. "Scared of a little necrophilia."
"Just as well they're using Marines for the experiments," she agreed with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. "I'd like to see them make a super soldier out of him."
"It's funny how it turned out," he said reflectively. "Two model soldiers, both terminally ill, both otherwise young and fit. It's almost as though we were tailor-made for it." Later, he would wish he had followed that line of thought to its conclusion.
"Must be the way it's meant to be, then," she said thoughtfully. After a moment, she wondered, "Do you mind?"
He shrugged. "Not really," he said, and it was true - he really didn't. "I've had a good life. You?"
"Same. And there are worse ways to die," she said, waving her hand. It was the one with a cannula in the wrist.
"They're good drugs," he agreed. "And no court-martial."
"They're bumping up the morphine," she said thoughtfully. "It must be working, because I feel fine, truly. But I don't think it will be long." She held his gaze. "Will you be with me, Knowle?"
"Course I will," he said. He swallowed a little, and covered it with a theatrical leer. "And if they give me time before they take you away, I might give that necrophilia a try, while I'm there."
She laughed uproariously. "Asshole."
They joked that way right up until the end, but on that last morning, even his capacity for banter deserted him. Seeing her adrift like that - it brought up a host of fears and losses that he had never really come to grips with. He held her hand, struggling against a sinking sense of desertion, and he reminisced with her until she slipped away.
She didn't die, but he sensed a shift in her as she drifted into sleep. His mind jangled with instinctive warning, and he rang for the nurse, and the nurse rang for the doctor, and that was when they took her away.
"She isn't dead," he argued. "You're not supposed to do anything to her until she dies. It's in the paperwork."
"She's in a coma, Knowle. We have to move her to Portsmouth so they can get ready."
"Jesus Christ!" he burst out. "Can't you even wait til her body's cold?"
"Knowle, I know you're upset-"
"I'm more than fucking upset!" he shouted. "I want to talk to the Veterans' Affairs advocate. She deserves better than this. She pulled half my fucking unit out of the rubble in Lebanon! You can't treat her like a slab of meat!"
"Knowle, let the orderlies pass. I don't want to have to have you restrained."
"You can try," he said. "I'm not so sick that I can't take down a couple of civilians."
They were arguing like that when he felt a pinprick in his back, and then everything went black.
[ shannon ]
When she woke, she was aware of pain. Not its presence, but its absence.
The cancer had been painless. No wonder they called it the silent killer. But the useless hysterectomy had left pain in its wake. Even at the height of the morphia, she was dimly aware of it. It was only niggling pain, but she was aware of it, just the same.
But now it was gone.
She blinked a little. Focussed on the soft glow above her head. Narrow windows, close to the ceiling. Streams of moonlight splashing over herself. Her bed. Her room. White room. Medical things.
"Something tells me I didn't go into the light," she murmured. Mustered a small, nervous laugh, and it echoed back at her. It unnerved her.
"Shannon? Is that you?"
She looked around the empty room. "Knowle?" she said. "Where are you?"
"I think we're at the Naval Health Sciences School in Virginia," he said. "You went into a coma. They took you away. Said they had to take you to Portsmouth to prepare."
"But where?" she said. "Where are you?"
"I don't know. I heard your voice, and I answered."
"Knowle?" she said. "We're alive."
Knowle's voice was grim. "And we've got very good hearing."
She sat up in the empty room. Prickles ran over her flesh as her mind computed his meaning. "You're not seriously suggesting that it worked, are you?"
"You tell me."
"But - but that was supposed to be years away! That's why they used terminal subjects!"
"Well, you were worse than I was, Shannon. Like I said - you tell me."
"I feel fine, if that's what you're asking." She ran her fingertips over herself. Her face. Her ears.
"My ears," she said. "They're not pierced anymore."
She could hear the frown in his voice. "How long were they pierced?"
"Since I was a kid," she said. "What difference does it make?"
"Just wondered. I'm still circumcised."
"That's good to know."
"Didn't know you had a preference."
"Asshole." That broke the tension, and they laughed. She said, "Why would my ears go back the way they were, and not your foreskin?"
"I don't know. Maybe we stay the way we are until we're injured. Weren't they going to use tissue from the ear lobes in the experiments?"
"You mean they cut them off, and they grew back?" she said.
"Maybe? I'm just guessing here, Shannon."
She thought on this. In her mind, she read over the documents she'd signed. The disclosure statements. The memory was clear - clearer than she'd expected. "They were going to use our earlobes," she said. "And thumbs. I remember that. It bothered me for some reason."
"I have double-jointed thumbs," he said. "They're still double-jointed."
"If they grow back, it stands to reason they'd grow according to genetic blueprint."
"I guess," he said. "But why do they grow back? I mean, under what conditions?"
She shrugged in the dark. "Amputation, obviously. And maybe wounds that aren't fully healed." She pulled up her hospital gown and felt the flesh on her stomach. "My hysterectomy scar's gone. Did you have any recent surgery?"
"Yeah - they put a pin in my leg in Lebanon." A momentary pause. "That's gone too."
"The pin, or the scar?"
"I wasn't planning on cutting myself open to check on the pin." Then, "Jesus Christ!"
"Knowle?" she said. "What is it?"
His voice was suddenly very shaken. Very young. "Shannon, feel the back of your neck."
Frowning, she did as he said, and pulled her hand away with a gasp. "What the fuck is that?" she said, feeling her way tentatively from the base of her skull down to the base of her neck. "They're ridges!"
"They're like the back of a dinosaur or something!"
"Or a reptile. Weren't they looking at the regenerating properties of lizards?" Her voice echoed back at her, shallow and panicky. "Jesus, Knowle, what did they do?"
He didn't answer.
"Knowle?" she said. Panicked. "Knowle?"
"How far do you think this regeneration goes?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, would we survive being cut in half? Are we immortal?"
"I don't know, Shannon. I just don't know."
She thought about it. "If we could survive it, I bet you'd grow back with a foreskin."
"Like I said, I didn't know you had a preference."
"No, you don't understand. What if it happens with our brains, as well? What if we only have our memories and the things that make us who we are until we lose our heads? What if that happened, and we didn't die, Knowle? What if we came back as a clean slate? We'd be automatons - no ethics, no memory, no history. What then?"
He was silent for a long time. Thinking it over, probably, like her. The implications thrilled her. Terrified her. An army of biosoldiers. So many possibilities. So many ways they could be used. So many agendas they could be forced to serve.
"I don't know," he said at last. "But I think they'd like to find out."
The Naval doctor blinked. "I'm sorry?"
Shannon stood with her arms folded across her chest. "I said, no."
"But you signed-"
"I signed consent forms for experiments upon my remains after death. They didn't say anything about field testing, and I think you'd have a lot of trouble convincing a court-martial that I was dead."
The doctor - Smythe - sighed. "We didn't mean for this to happen, Private. We didn't know how close we were to success. I understand that you're upset."
"Upset doesn't quite cover it. I wake up very much alive with no idea of how long I'm going to stay that way and a fucking deformity on my neck that wasn't there when I went to sleep-"
"That can be remedied," Smythe said, moving towards her, "if you'd just let me look-"
She caught the doctor's wrist in her hand. "No. No-one touches me. No-one touches either of us."
Smythe stared at her. Nodded. Pale. Shannon released him, and then she understood why. His wrist was purple, imprinted with her handprint.
She took the advantage while she could. "You've done your tests. You have samples. We've done our part, and now you can go on to the next set of guinea pigs. We're done here. I'm taking PFC Rohrer back to our base and no-one's going to stop us. Understood?"
Smythe nodded mutely, and led her to Knowle, and let them walk away.
[ knowle ]
It wasn't as simple as that, of course.
A string of incidents verified their seeming immortality. Most involved military vehicles. It was clear that the field tests, at least the ones on their physical limits, would continue with or without their consent.
Their injuries were many and varied. In a stroke of grisly irony, it was Shannon who was cut in two, not Knowle, and this was the first time either had been radically maimed. He watched in horrified fascination as her protruding spine began to grow at lightning speed. It was almost too fast for him to see, but he could see that it wasn't bone. He tried to touch it, tried to work out what it was, but the vibrations unnerved him completely. He stared dumbly as the rest of her bones (they were bones, thank God) took shape, as muscles and nerves and blood vessels and flesh wrapped themselves around her skeleton. Shannon was fine, but Knowle was white, and he wouldn't tell her what had happened for many days. By then, they were living together, too scared to face their daily assaults alone.
Finally, they decided that enough was enough. They called on a number of people in the chain of command, mostly late at night in their homes. Impressive strength was displayed. After that, both received promotions, and the "field tests" came to a halt.
They stayed together, though, unwilling to trust that the threat was at an end. Life returned to something approaching normal. They went to work, they came home, and as always, their banter was a comfort.
"Admit it, Shannon," he said to her one night. "You'd be disappointed if I ever stopped trying to hit on you."
"Now, that depends on why you stop."
"I don't follow."
"Well, I suppose it depends on whether you stopped wanting the girl, or you got her."
He stared at her. It had never occurred to him that he might have her. "Have I got her?"
She looked away. "It's very lonely, having secrets. And I touch other men and I can smell the death on them. It makes me sick."
He wondered if that were true. He hadn't dared touch a woman since it had happened. Terrified of impregnating her with whatever the hell he was. "Shannon, I don't want you by default."
"Is love ever really anything but two people who were in the right place at the right time?"
"You make it sound so romantic."
"You know who I was. And you know what I am. That's got to be worth something."
"Shannon, if you need to talk yourself into it, it isn't there."
She grabbed him by the arm. "It makes sense, Knowle. We make sense." They stared at each other. "I know it's not how you wanted it, but I'd like to try." She released him suddenly. "I'm not going to beg."
He bowed his head. "Shannon-"
She shook her head. "No, don't. Don't stand there and try and work out the right thing to say. Don't you think we're past that?" He sighed, feeling strong, nagging guilt, and she said, "Just think about it, all right?"
He nodded, and he sat and thought, and while he was thinking about it, she went to bed.
Finally, he went to her room.
He tapped quietly on the door. She was probably asleep, he supposed, but he pushed the door ajar a little, just in case. Sure enough, she was sleeping, covers drawn up to her chin. She was hugging them, fingers sunk deep into the bedding. Unconscious search for comfort. He knew it all too well. He did it himself.
He went to her. Dropped to his knees at her side.
She was beautiful.
Knowle was no stranger to beautiful women. Some of them pursued him, though not so many as Shannon apparently believed. But he was drawn to her unerringly. He thought it was because underneath the attraction and the craziness of their world, he genuinely liked her. He enjoyed her. She made him smile.
He stroked her hair.
"Knowle," she said. Sleepy.
"Sorry," he said, drawing back a little.
She relaxed. "It's okay. What time is it?"
"I don't know. Late. I didn't mean to-" he broke off. "I'll go."
"Knowle," she said. "What is it?"
He sighed. "I just don't want you to wake up one day and realise you're stuck with me."
"If I have to be stuck with anyone for all eternity, there's no-one I'd rather have than you," she said. Smiling gently.
She leaned up and kissed him. Light and soft. Her lips just barely closing on his. He met her, just as tentative, just as tender. When her lips parted, it was slow and languid. Like a gourmet lingering over a meal. It wasn't passion. It was something deeper. Something slow-moving and molten. Not the urgent fumblings he was used to. Melding. Sinking. Being drawn in.
She pulled away, just a little. Her lips still brushing his. "Come to bed, Knowle." No doubt in her voice. As though it was an inevitability. Smiling against her, he thought that maybe she was right.
He slipped under the covers beside her. Gathered her up against him and kissed her hair. Her temple. Sensation. Drifting. Heavy. Her flesh was warm and soft beneath his lips.
No, it wasn't how he'd wanted it. But it was good. Better than good. When it ended, he couldn't remember wanting it any other way.
[ shannon ]
There were other assignments, and other houses.
They married in 1986, as much to ensure they would continue to be housed together as out of any particular desire for marriage. There was a new surge in attacks at that time, and Knowle speculated that they feared that they might reproduce.
Shannon made a point of asking the doctors for advice about birth control, saying that she and Knowle were afraid of passing the changes in them on. It wasn't a lie. Her menstrual cycle had resumed after she was cut in two, and she surmised that her uterus was back with a vengeance. She allowed them to fit her with an IUD, with a wary Knowle in attendance, and after that the attacks came to an end.
It seemed to her that as long as they didn't make waves, the military was willing to do the same. She wondered how they were so sure they wouldn't.
She got her answer in 1997, when they moved into yet another house on yet another base. Knowle was out cleaning things up at the old house, and she stayed up waiting for him to come home.
"Shannon?" he said when he found her there smoking on the porch. "What is it?"
She handed him an envelope. "They're x-rays. Yours. The one from the cancer. And one from nine months earlier. The letter said you had a fracture."
"I got hurt playing baseball," he said. "What am I looking at?"
"They aren't the same, Knowle. The bones are different lengths, different circumferences. The one from the fracture has chip. The one from the cancer doesn't."
Knowle stared at her. "I don't understand."
"We weren't sick, Knowle," she said in a low, wounded voice. "They knew how close they were to a successful prototype, and they chose us. Because they knew the service was family to us. Because they knew we wouldn't tell. And because they knew we didn't have anyone to ask questions if it went wrong."
He sank down beside her. "Oh, my God."
"They didn't save our lives," she whispered. "They stole them."
He looked around wildly. Visibly groping for something to say.
"We're going to be okay," he said dully at last, but she knew he didn't believe it, and she didn't dignify him with an answer.
Things were strained for a while after that. Acutely aware that they were together by virtue of what was done to them. Aware that it called their marriage into question. They got through it - they always did - but there were hurts and pangs along the way.
But in the end, they got past it.
They were facing forever together, and it was better than facing it alone.
"I think we were wrong."
Knowle said this, four years and a dozen missions later. This one was to undermine an FBI unit that was a little too close to the supersoldier program for their chain of command's comfort. The mission didn't require their more special attributes, necessarily. But John Doggett, one of the agents, had been in their unit in Beirut, so they'd been selected anyway.
"Wrong about what?" Shannon wondered.
"About what happens to our brains. I think something of the original remains. Some vestige. Fighting through like a TV signal through static."
She frowned. "Why do you say that?"
"Take a look at this." He handed over a folder.
She opened it, and recoiled visibly at the photograph inside. "Oh, my God."
"His name is Dr Parenti," Knowle said. "He worked at a place called Zeus Genetics. They're involved in the gene manipulation -"
"Butchering," she said coldly. They were going to take our thumbs. It bothered me for some reason.
"That too. Anyway. He was killed by Billy Miles. Billy Miles used to be a very nice respectable mild-mannered police officer in Bellefleur, Oregon. That was before the military got their hands on him."
"Oh, God," she whispered. "He's one of us, isn't he?"
Knowle nodded. "Yes. Though I'd say he's lost his head - maybe more than once."
Grimacing, she flipped through the photos.
"This is scary, Knowle. This guy's head's stuffed in a jar. It's not just killing, it's - it's -"
"I know. It's ritualistic. Symbolic."
"Like he's done to the doctor what was done to him."
Knowle nodded eagerly. "Locking him in. Putting him in a vessel, staring out."
"Exactly." Their eyes met over the word. Yes, exactly. They understood exactly.
"It gets worse," Knowle went on. "This guy, Billy, has apparently hooked up with a cult of fellow victims. They revere the experimental children, and they're fixated on the Scully baby." Scully was a colleague of Doggett's, and an experimentation subject too, although the details they had been given were a bit evasive on this point. "I dread to think what they'd do to it if they ever got their hands on it."
Shannon breathed out shakily. "What are we going to do?"
"I hadn't planned on doing anything, necessarily."
"Knowle, it's a baby."
Knowle sighed. "Well, I'm open to suggestions, but I don't have a lot of options here. John doesn't trust me."
"Can't you just try? Knowle, think about it. Think about if it were ours."
His eyes narrowed at that. "That's low, Shannon."
"All those children," she said implacably. "Please, Knowle."
He didn't like it, but he did it.
It cost him his head. She'd told him to do it, and it cost him his head.
She never knew how it happened. It had happened from behind, Knowle recalled; he hadn't seen his assailant's face. A contact of theirs, Alex Krycek, went missing around the same time. It was possible that it was Krycek, and that Knowle had managed to kill him on reflex without even realising he'd done it.
But she would never know; Knowle, for his part, didn't care.
He came back with his knowledge, and that included knowledge of the facts of his own life. But it was clinical knowledge, as though read about in a history book. There was no emotional anchor. Not for her, not for what had been done to them both.
Not that he was without emotion. Not at all. If anything, he was like a moody teenager. A moody teenager with scattergun rages and superhuman strength. The kind of teenager who might just take a gun to school one day.
She tried in vain to get through to him, but it was hopeless. There was almost nothing left of the Knowle he had been in there, and he would have hated what he'd become. She grieved silently for him, clung to whatever she could of him, but beneath it all, she knew he was gone.
So when he tried to kill Doggett one day, it didn't really seem like such a big deal to come up behind him and take his head to stop it.
Who knew? Maybe the next one would grow back better.
[ knowle ]
Realisation came to him one day.
He thought over everything she'd told him. It came to him from nowhere as he watched her looking over geology surveys (why the hell was she-) and he barged over to her, grabbing her by the arm, pulling her up.
"Four times," he yelled. "Four times, they've taken my head. Four times in six months. And never once to you."
She stared up at him in terror.
"It's you," he shouted. "It's you who keeps on doing it!"
He shoved her down on the table by the neck, sending maps every which way. Fury, deep and powerful, coursed through him. His hands tightened around her throat.
And then he felt a shift. Like a break in transmission. A voice he didn't recognise burst out, "Finish it, dammit! I know you know how!"
She stared up at him. Horrified. "Knowle."
"Please," he said, and he felt passion. Longing. He kissed her, abruptly, gently, on an impulse he didn't understand.
What the hell was happening to him? He felt displaced - like a witness to someone else living his own life.
"Oh, Knowle," she whispered, and there were tears in her voice.
"There isn't much time," that voice said, and then the spell broke, the fury spread over him, all over again, and he tightened his grip on her once more.
The blow was swift, and the last thing he saw as his head fell rudely to the floor was her dropping down next to him, weeping with his blood on her hands.
"What are you going to do?"
She reminded him of a blowfly. An annoying insect, flitting around him, an uninvited guest who never went home. She was baggage from a life he remembered but cared nothing about, and he wished she would just go away.
"I'm sending in troops to blow it up," he said, barely acknowledging her, still looking down at the geological surveys in front of him. "They let the old man live far too long. We'll get Mulder, Scully, and that old fuck Spender, too." Spender was off the goddamn deep end these days, living in a pueblo with no power and an ancient old lady injecting him with alien green shit to keep him alive.
"That's not a bad idea," she said, a bit grudgingly.
It annoyed him, somehow, that she agreed with him. He liked it better when she was upset about his plans. It made a change of pace from when she was upset about him not being the man she married.
Was there anyone on the X Files that she liked? A smirk spread over his features, and he went on deliberately, "Who knows? I might even get Doggett and Reyes while we're there. Call it a fringe benefit."
"Why don't you like Doggett?" she wondered. He'd scored a hit, all right, and she was trying not to show it. "You used to."
He shrugged. "I don't remember."
"The man you used to be wouldn't have liked you very much." Her eyes were sad. It was the same look she got after their rather pedestrian late-night fucks. Still, it was better than jacking off in his hand.
"Well, he's not here anymore, is he?"
"No. I suppose he isn't."
"Well, if you've finished your trip down memory lane, I have work to do." Just go away, he felt like screaming at her. Her presence was annoying and disruptive, and the inefficiency of dealing with her offended him. He thought that he'd have to see about an accident for her before too long.
She hesitated. Looked down at the maps, trailing her fingers lovingly over the legend. Red for iron ore, purple for copper, brown for magne-
He felt something. Some flare of pain, white-hot and sudden and sharp. He hissed.
"Are you all right?" she said, full of loving concern, raising her hand to his brow.
He frowned, rubbing his temple. The sharp burst of pain had died as suddenly as it had flared. He brushed her hand away impatiently. "I'm fine. Don't fuss over me, for Christ's sake."
She watched him. Eyes grave.
"There was something," she said at last.
"What is it?"
"I'm worried about this thing in New Mexico, Knowle. Spender might be half out of his mind with heat stroke out there, but he's survived before. I think you should go and make sure they do it right."
He wasn't entirely convinced by her sudden interest in the work. It occurred to him that maybe she just wanted him out of her hair for a few days, and hell, that suited him down to the ground. He decided to humour her. "You don't trust them?"
"No," she said quietly. "I don't." She looked at him steadily. "Finish it, Knowle. It has to end here."
"All right." He got to his feet. "Well then. I'll be seeing you."
She swallowed a little, and nodded. Came over and kissed him gently on the lips. His own was perfunctory.
"Goodbye, Knowle," she said, eyes clear and bright.
He tolerated her final touch on his arm, and he left her there.
[ shannon ]
They never told her, but she knew, just the same.
She saw it in their eyes when they talked about that day in New Mexico. She saw it in the fear, and the trails of sweat where there once had been none. She saw it in the new directives, the new contracts to geologists, the new policies and departments and collaborations. She saw it in the new defence contracts, and the new buildings with magnetite in the foundations.
They knew that Knowle was dead, and they were afraid. Afraid of what she might do, and afraid of what the world would become with their immortal soldiers now mortal once more.
She wasn't sure what she would do, herself.
She watched, and she waited, looking for her chance to get her revenge for it all.
But while she was waiting, they managed to kill each other all on their own. The whole house of cards came tumbling down without her lifting a finger.
The old conspiracy had passed away, and now there was nothing left of it but her.
She thinks about love, and how she only loved him because he was there. She thinks that if none of it had happened, she'd have married some nice boy, and he'd have married some nice girl, and she'd never have seen him again.
She thinks about the ways that people can be united and divided, and she realises that it doesn't matter. How it happened doesn't matter. What matters is that they took the humanity they had left, and held on as long as they could, and that there was love along the way.
One day, she thinks, when this life gives way to whatever life is next, she will see him again. She hopes he will forgive her for sending him to his death. She hopes he will forgive her for waiting so long to do it.
She misses him. But she is alive, and in her right mind. And she will stay that way for as long as she can.