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Part of USS Endeavour: Certain Dark Things

Certain Dark Things – 10

February 2400
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At Lerin’s extended hand, Kharth stepped through the doorway into the blazing light of Teros’s sun. It shouldn’t have been this bright; the light of Teros was an anaemic thing, pale over a scrubland, capable of burning and still not quite warm. On one side stretched those endless wastes that had filled her adolescent horizon, and on the other squatted the shelters of the refugee camp where she’d eked out her life.

Like she was on a treadmill they rushed past, and a speck on the horizon became the hulking shape of the alighted runabout King Arthur, racing up before it enfolded her, and then she was stood in the briefing room as the footsteps of Nate Beckett echoed into the distance. She knew what she would see as she turned back, but frustration tightened in her chest at the figure before her.

‘You can’t keep pushing me away from the truth, Dav,’ Kharth said in a low, irritated voice. ‘Not here.’

Then he straightened, and she realised this wasn’t the Davir she’d been talking to all this time. That had been Davir Hargan, the man she’d known and loved. This was Davir Airex, and when they’d fought here he’d used everything he knew of her and every piece of cold manipulation he’d learnt since to try to steer her to his will.

The regret in his eyes shone bright, but perhaps not enough to dictate his every act. ‘It would have been for the best.’

‘Dav.’ She took a step forward. ‘What was Lerin saying? It wasn’t an encounter with him that’s kept Valance trapped in your mind? You kept him away?’

Airex swallowed. ‘T’Sann shattered us. It would have been incidental for us to survive the attack and come back together, though – we are a Trill, we’re many in one, that’s who we are. But I didn’t – we didn’t…’

‘You’re not still in a coma because T’Sann broke you too badly,’ she breathed in realisation. ‘You’re still in a coma because you don’t want to be put back together again.’ In his silence, she walked around the briefing table. In truth, he’d raged at her and manipulated her and done everything possible to make her do as he wished, and it hadn’t been enough. But it had been, she realised, the moment Davir Hargan and Davir Airex had been at their closest, using all they both had to achieve what they both wanted.

‘It might not be rational,’ Davir Airex allowed haltingly. ‘But we… we had to face him once before…’

‘Dav – Airex.’ Before him she stood, heart in her throat. ‘Who is Lerin?’

He closed his eyes, and it was like snapshots of forty years raced through her in a single heartbeat, shuffled and confused but full of lurching feeling, hate, loss, greed. ‘You read the files,’ he breathed at last.

‘Some damn biochemist doing research on the frontiers to try to develop pharmaceutical solutions to health problems from people settling in brand-new environments. That didn’t explain a thing.’ The question – the knowledge – hung at the tip of her tongue, and yet it sat too heavy to tumble. Too heavy for her to reach for answers.

She swallowed and said, instead, ‘Where’s Valance?’

Airex hesitated. ‘You don’t want to see her. don’t want to see her.’

‘That’s not the point. I’m not just here for you.’

‘You don’t give a damn about Valance -’

‘Since when,’ the words shuddered from Kharth’s chest, ‘did I only fight for people I give a damn about? I am the Chief of Security of USS Endeavour, and she is my first officer. I’m the friend of Isa Cortez, and she needs Valance.’ Her heart quivered. ‘You – Davir Airex – need Valance. Damned if I know why.’

‘You can’t -’

‘In this place, in this memory, you think you can turn me away?’ Spite was bitter on her tongue-tip. ‘We’ve been hurt enough by your – I thought it was malice. But these walls inside you aren’t made of hate, they’re made of fear and they’re made of weakness, and you’re really going to condemn your best friend for that?’

Airex’s head bowed as he looked away, the gloom of the briefing room deepening. Before, this had heralded a new memory and place entirely, but behind Kharth was still the gleam of the King Arthur’s cockpit and the stretching vistas of Teros beyond. As Airex looked away, she saw the dark-stained corners of his quarters on the old Endeavour and, silhouetted against the starry window, a tall figure.

Karana Valance stumbled forward. From the tidy state of her, she might have been here for only five minutes instead of hours, days; from the haunted look in her eye, she might have been here for fifty years. Her gaze landed on Kharth with bewilderment, uncertainty. ‘…is that really you?’

Kharth swallowed. ‘I’m real. Sorry for the wait.’

Airex took unsteady steps back, shaking his head. ‘I didn’t want to hurt you,’ he mumbled. ‘Either of you.’

Kharth couldn’t keep the sting from her gaze as she said, ‘You did a piss-poor job of that.’

Valance winced. ‘Dav… I couldn’t get to you. I saw Obrent, Tabain, Isady… all their danger and fear…’

Airex ran his hands through his hair, shaking his head. ‘They weren’t afraid of death. We don’t fear death. It was him. Every time they died, we got closer to him…’

Valance shook her head. ‘Lerin? Who is he?’

‘He’s me,’ Airex croaked. ‘He’s us. Tabain is every time I knew how to pick up a rifle, but Lerin’s how I knew to shoot to kill. He’s how I knew how to slink under your skin and make you do what I want. He’s how I knew how to lock – to lock anything away that hurt…’

The bulkheads of Airex’s twisted memories did not move, but to Kharth it was as if they bore down on her, a vice to make her burst under the pressure of what she suspected and what she knew and what she feared. She closed her eyes. ‘It’s you, isn’t it. Him. He was the Myriad.’

‘I don’t understand,’ said Valance.

When Kharth opened her eyes again, Davir Airex was cringing into the dark corners of nothingness between the time he’d failed to bend her to his will, and the time he’d barricaded himself against Valance. ‘I woke up,’ he whispered, voice shattering and breaking with his own memories. ‘And in my heart and mind, blood and bone, were the lives of two great men, a great woman, and a monster.’

Fear and hate and resentment and loss twisted a kaleidoscope of pain in Kharth’s heart, and still she had step towards him, the pinprick of tears in her eyes. ‘Dav…’

He reeled back, clutching his temples. ‘I woke up and knew for years – decades – I’d told the galaxy I was a researcher when long ago I’d turned from scholarship to greed. Used my knowledge and wealth to prey on the most precarious of the galaxy’s frontiers for my own benefit.’

Valance worked her jaw. ‘I… I still don’t…’

Kharth dug her heels in deep within herself to find the simple things she knew. ‘The Myriad dealt in narcotics and smuggling for years. Trading and profiting and building a network to kill his rivals and exploit as many people as he could. And that was Lerin Airex, pretending to the rest of the galaxy he was a respected but reclusive researcher.’

‘My God…’ Valance turned to him. ‘Dav…’

‘And,’ Kharth carried on tonelessly, ‘he ordered my father’s death.’

Even in this place of nothing but thought, tears streamed down the face of Davir Airex as he stared at her. ‘I didn’t leave you because Joining stopped me from loving you. I loved you. I loved you so much it broke me into a million pieces, because I couldn’t comprehend being the man who hurt you like that.’

There was a rushing emptiness inside her that howled at the truth being spoken aloud, but Kharth felt the edges in herself and knew this chasm wasn’t new. It had been there since he’d left, and it had been there since she’d grown to know the truth and refused to face it for all these weeks. All she could say next was, ‘Does the Symbiosis Commission know?’

Airex shook his head like a child challenged after his lies. ‘No, no – nobody knew, Lerin was a fit candidate for Joining, then led a respected life – you know he was murdered? Everyone thought it was an accident, but…

‘So it was just you,’ said Valance quietly. ‘Only you knew. And then we both got too close after Teros – Kharth came too close to the truth, and you thought you had to run from Endeavour, and you still couldn’t tell me…’ Kharth wasn’t sure if it was betrayal or realisation in her voice; she had never known or understood their friendship, and could barely see the unspoken ripples and communications here.

‘I am sorry,’ Airex breathed. ‘I’m sorry I hurt you, I’m sorry I said all of those things…’

‘You said I’d been your friend because I didn’t have the emotional imagination to pry, and then that I’d become volatile…’

‘He said what he needed,’ Kharth reminded gently, ‘to push you away.’

‘You weren’t my friend because you were safe, because I could keep you at arm’s length,’ Airex creaked, looking at Valance at last. ‘I came to Endeavour not long after Joining, when I barely knew who I was, and I don’t think you knew who you were, either. You were my friend because we were both broken into pieces, but we accepted each other, and together learnt who we were despite being broken. We didn’t fix each other, we accepted each other, and since I couldn’t be fixed, that was…’ His words stumbled over each other, and he had to stagger back into the memory of his quarters to lean on the sofa to steady himself. ‘…that was everything.’

Valance’s expression was crumbling, the weakest Kharth had ever seen her. ‘You made me feel like I had value the way I was. But then you told me who I was only served your purpose, and now was too weak for you.’

‘No,’ Airex whispered. ‘No, you’ve gotten better with Cortez. More in touch with who you are and what you need. If anyone got too weak, got worse, it was me. Because I thought I’d lose you anyway, because I wasn’t what you needed any more.’

Then Valance was storming towards him, and in her shoes Kharth thought she might have hit him – only for Valance to reach out and pull him into a bear hug, strong arms wrapping tight around him, eyes clenched shut. ‘You’re my friend,’ Valance hissed in his ear. ‘Davir or Airex or Obrent or any of them. And I won’t abandon you. I came here to save you.’

All Airex could do was sob on her. ‘You did,’ he managed at length. ‘They’re here with me still because you brought them through their fear and brought them back together, and I’m sorry we then turned on you, but you… we… didn’t know how to face him…’

Saeihr Kharth swallowed hard and said, ‘You’re a damn coward.’

Valance let go and gave her a cautious, bitter look. ‘Kharth…’

‘I get it,’ Kharth said briskly. ‘You hate being Lerin and you didn’t want to face him yourself, let alone have us see Lerin, see Lerin as part of you. But he is. He was in this room when you used my true name to stop me from finding out the truth. That wasn’t to protect me, that was to protect yourself.’

Airex straightened, exhausted and grief-stricken but gathering some strength. ‘I didn’t want to hurt you.’

‘Maybe. But more importantly, you wanted to hide from the truth and you were prepared to hurt us – hurt me to do that.’ She shook her head as she stared at him, aghast. ‘I don’t know what would have happened if you’d come back to me four years ago and told me the truth. I do know that what you did broke me, Dav.’

‘I -’

‘I lost my home and I lost my family and I lost everything. Do you know what it did to me to think you just woke up one morning and stopped loving me?’

He worked his jaw. ‘I know how much your father meant to you. I know how guilty you were for being so far away when he died. I didn’t – I didn’t know how to be around you and be the person who’d done that to you.’

‘I’m sure that’s true. But it’s not the whole truth. Because you didn’t just hide from me; you hid from the galaxy, and you hid from your family, and you hid from your friends. Don’t pretend you did this for my good. It was for yours.’ She looked away and drew a shuddering breath. ‘Until now. When it broke you. When it left you open for T’Sann to break you.’

Valance glanced between them, guarded and worried. ‘We can unpack that later. But the worst has happened, Dav – we know. There are no more secrets to keep. There’s nothing more for you to hide.’

Davir Airex gave a twist of a smile. ‘There’s always more to hide,’ he said sadly. ‘But wouldn’t it have been nice to bury him away a little longer? To pretend, a little longer, that he wasn’t a part of me?’

Then he looked up, and the bulkheads of the King Arthur and his old quarters on Endeavour began to fall away. This time it wasn’t shadows that crept in to fill the gaps, but light, shining and bright and, as Kharth looked up, searing, blinding.

It suffused them all, obscuring Valance within seconds, until Davir was nothing but another silhouetted figure – then beside him was another, and another, and another. The hint of shadow fell on her, and in her ear Kharth heard that voice again.

‘I was right,’ murmured Lerin Airex. ‘It has been a pleasure to see how you do not shy away from truth. I look forward to knowing you better.’

Comments

  • THIS trio of Valance, Kharth and Airex is such a great storyline and now both Valance and Kharth have some closure on why Airex walked out on them is such an interesting conclusion (or is it a conclusion?!). I truly loved that it was Kharth who was the hero of the hour here and broke down the walls to reveal the truth. Her determination to find out what was going on was intriguing and exciting all at the same time. I truly hope that we get to see a change in her relationship with Valance after this. I do enjoy their edgy relationship, but I feel they’re growing out of their past misdeeds towards one another and we may see something change here. Fingers crossed!

    May 14, 2022