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F. Alexander Brejcha came to America from Sweden in 1968 at the age of 10 - and immediately fell in love with science fiction. Frequently published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and with stories and articles published or pending in several other magazines and newspapers, he presently divides his time between writing non-fiction and science fiction, disability advocacy, and working full-time as a night-shift hospital telephone operator/trauma dispatcher (where a wheelchair doesn't slow him down). Visit his Web site to find a wide range of disability resources and reprints of some of his work.

Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@cyberus.ca.

All materials copyright 1996-1997 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).

To Touch Life

by F. Alexander Brejcha

     Frozen water crystals fell from the sky to sheathe the naked trees outside with icy crystalline prisms that refracted the setting sun in a blazing display of color. On the thin glass windows in the Human's pod, delicate frozen webs formed as she breathed and watched in amazement. She was surrounded by startling colors and textures.
     A preternatural silence had fallen over the room after the Human had left the pod. This stillness was broken only by crackling and screaming hisses from the open fire burning in the large blackened metal pan in the center of the main chamber -- strange cries that mimicked agony but without pain. And escaping from the dancing flames were scents of destruction ... yet, in a way, it was all pleasant.
     The heavy woven fabric covering that the Human male had placed around her held other smells: essence of living wood and dead. And of dust, ashes and human skin, along with a vague undefinable animal odor. She pulled it tighter around herself and bent her head to breathe deep of the mysterious and strangely alluring odors as a draft of air from somewhere snuck beneath the scratchy material to chill her.
     A hint of fear crept with it as she waited for the man to return. Had she made a mistake in coming to this strange planet?
     No, the Human wanted her, needed her.
     A creaking sound approached from outside, closer and closer to the door. He was back. She watched the door nervously. She knew what to expect, but it would be her first time with a Human, for real. She had never dealt with them before, except in simulations or under supervision with an occasional volunteer. What if she could not handle the reality?
     The door opened and he entered.
     He was tall, and had to duck his head briefly as he came through the doorway to stamp his feet, shaking off clumps of frozen water sticking to his shoes. The door closed automatically behind him, but even though the double set of doors kept the elements partially at bay, the temperature in the pod dropped markedly and she shivered. His short, black hair was moist, the warmth inside the ... house, melting the ... snow, on it.
     She forced herself to try to think in the alien language.
     His large head with its vulnerably placed brain was strange to look at, and she studied it curiously. His eyes seemed to be too close together, and could not move independently -- which looked a little strange at first. He also had a dangerously combined mouth and breathing orifice, with a 'nose' above it as a partial back-up breathing tool and olfactory sensor. But, all in all, as bizarre as he had seemed at first, she was starting to appreciate the symmetry of his features, now that she had studied Humans extensively for several years. By the standards of his species, he would have been considered "handsome".
     She had to learn to feel for this species if she was to do her job. She stood up and moved towards him hesitantly. It was time to get to work. She dropped the ... blanket he had given her.
     He smiled, a wide movement of his mouth that touched his eyes, and as he showed his teeth, she had to force herself to remember that this was a positive gesture, not a show of aggression. She was helped by the warmth she felt in his mind. He was happy to be here with her, she felt as he moved closer.
     In his arms was her patient. The Ambulance-Flyer had just dropped his son off.
     The boy was her first Human patient. A serious responsibility and burden of trust. It almost frightened her, because the man's mind was full of such love for his son. The emotion was as bright as the burning fire when he approached and placed the boy on the floor. From what she had learned, she estimated that the boy was at most ten years old. He was covered with layer after layer of warm clothing which his father slowly removed until he was wearing a single white sweater, heavy blue pants and white foot coverings made of fabric with rubber soles. His face was slack and the eyes unfocused. A single line of spittle was hanging from the half-open mouth, which his father wiped patiently with a tissue and gently closed.
     "Here he is: Timothy." He reached out to touch her shoulder hesitantly. "Please, I hope you can help him." Then he let go and moved back to sit in a chair several feet away. He was worried, but he trusted her.
     She moved closer and reached out an arm to touch the boy. She had already seen the metal plate in the skull, placed there to seal the brain case after the accident. The sensor tentrils of her 'hand' spread to cover his face lightly. She closed her eyes and concentrated on touching the boy's mind, delicate linkages entering through, ear, eye and nose. Anesthetic hormones numbed the pathways to keep the boy from feeling as she reached in to connect with his brain.
     FEAR ... Some isolated part of his mind felt the intrusion and feared it ... damp the adrenalin, increase dopamine and seratonin there and there ... CALM, she sent to his brain, humming a mental melody that was not sound, not feeling, not light, but a presence ....
     Timothy relaxed and gurgled happily, small spit bubbles forming on his lips.
     She wiped them without thinking, even as part of her mind felt his father's distant fear from where he was sitting, anxious and watching. He knew who and what she was, and what she could do, but he still feared for his son. She felt her 'love' flow out to him for it.
     He relaxed and let her do her work.
     Slowly, she mapped Timothy's brain and compared her impressions to the results the Humans had sent her. Gradually, his brain became a living entity in her own mind. Every synapse and nerve thread added to the maze of corridors she had to wander. And there were too many dark and constricted spaces with no light, no easy passage.
     As she had already guessed, 'Timothy' was not there. At some time in the past three years since the accident had robbed him of sight, speech and hearing, he had withdrawn and removed himself from the world, even retreating from the hollow echoes of his own mind when he could not break through to his father or to anyone else.
     She wondered where to begin, and why his father had insisted she work here, not in the medical center where the boy had been living.
     But they were here, so how should she start? The eyes? The ears? Or speech? The damage had been sudden and complete, and for years all doorways to the outside had been shut.
     Except for his sense of touch and smell.
     She switched mental streams and opened her eyes.
     "Mr. Borman?"
     "Yes, Eloyan?"
     "I want to start with his speech. The damage seems less there, and it will make his return less traumatic since there will not be an immediate need for it. Then I want to work on his ears, since it is so quiet and peaceful here. But I want you to sit on the floor behind him and hold him. Take his hands and touch them. Hold them and stroke them gently. Hug him lightly from time to time. I want him to have constant, familiar contact. He will know you, even if not consciously."
     Borman was on the floor immediately, and she saw small drops of moisture creeping out from around his eyes as his arms embraced the small body. Tears: she knew what they were and felt a flash of compassion for him.
     "Can you help him?" he asked.
     "I do not know yet, Mr. Borman --"
     "Jack, please."
     She had forgotten that they had two names. He was giving him his private one, she realized, and was honored.
     "Thank you. As I said, I do not know. I have scanned his brain to determine where the damage lies, and not all of it is as severe as I had feared so some restoration of function should be possible. But even if I can repair the physical damage, there is still his total withdrawal to consider. I want to warn you: I can not promise more than to do my best."
     "Hey, that's all I ask. I'm hoping this cabin might help once you start getting through. We..." She felt a surge of agonizing pain well up within him. "...spent a lot of time up here. With a data-link, I was able to work, and being close to nature up here was a God-send for all of us. Lisa and I both grew up in the country and we never felt comfortable in the city. It was great for Tim, too, because there were several other kids his age nearby for him to play with. He loved it up here...." He stopped, looking down at the boy sadly.
     She was starting to correlate expressions with the emotions she felt from him.
     He was alone, she knew. His mate had died in the air crash and explosion that had injured his son, and he had blamed himself continuously for not being there to save them, although he would probably have died himself. It had been a miracle that Tim had survived.
     Jack's arms tightened briefly around the unresponsive boy, who let himself be moved and touched as if he were a puppet. Move an arm, and it stayed where put until gradually drifting down to a relaxed point of rest. Tim was not in control any more.
     Eloyan closed her eyes and 'watched' him again.
     Nothing. His father's touch had not evoked any response. Well, she had not expected it. She reached into his brain again, part of her mind seeing the models she had learned on and the living brains of the volunteers. She 'saw' the errors, the closed paths and empty corridors. Tickling and teasing with synthesized hormones and trace bio-electric currents she could generate and discharge with her sensor tendrils, she concentrated on restoring normal neural activity. Some areas stubbornly resisted her efforts, but, bit by bit, life reentered the dark and desolate places she had found.
     As responding light and life crept into her mind, she switched to an almost automatic mode of working. Part of her mind remembered her first patient ....
     Nouel, one of her pod's breeders, had fallen out of a tree when she had tried to retrieve her pet Mulot. Eloyan had been resting after her final season of Learning, but had been called home after Nouel's fall. Each pod was responsible for its own if possible, and since there was no other Healer within the pod, she had her first patient.
     After a quick diagnostic scan, she had stretched Nouel out on a bench in the pod and extended an arm over each leg to explore the damage. The right leg was broken, but it had been a clean break and all it needed was disinfecting and numbing while the two ends realigned and knit within the brace Eloyan applied. Then she had withdrawn and moved up to re-examine the rest of her patient. The chest's braincase had been undamaged as were her lung-flaps, and on her shoulders, the head, with its mouth, sensor cluster, and eyes, was fine. There had been no damage requiring hospitalization. Eloyan had been satisfied.
     Nouel had recovered well. It had been a data-file case with no surprises, and it had given Eloyan the confidence to go on to study alien physiology for her Advanced Learning.
     It had been an exciting period as relations between the Humans and her people steadily improved. The Humans had revitalized their stagnant world, which had given up hope of finding other intelligent life. Travel and trade between Earth and Luyona were extremely expensive and difficult, but each world had found that it had much that the other desired. With careful acclimatization, an exchange of personnel had even been possible, and after very little consideration, she had volunteered herself.
     She had decided that she wanted to go to Earth as part of a medical team because staying on Luyona had been getting frustrating. As a female Healer, she had been meeting constant hostility as she invaded what had been an exclusively male profession. It had even been the death of her one romantic relationship. Her Pod-Mate Couelen had also decided that her career choice had been a poor one.
     And now here she was, operating on her first Human patient, off in the wilds of the planet. Jack was a senior government official and had been able to 'borrow' her from the team. She agreed with his decision to try her way of healing, but she wondered why he had chosen her instead of one of the more experienced members of the team.
     She would find out later. For now, she realized, she was done with the speech center. There was no way to test it, but as she scanned the brain, she saw only healthy neural pathways where she had concentrated.
     She opened her eyes.
     "Jack?" She spoke softly, and he looked up from where he sat, his head resting on top of the boy's. He was terribly close, she realized. She could smell his strange musky scent and she considered what she thought of it. It was not unpleasant, she decided. And it blended well with the intriguing and spicy perfume he wore.
     As his eyes met hers, she studied them. She had never really paid attention to them before, but now she found them fascinating. The pupil was circular instead of slit, and surrounding its blackness was a striated band of brilliant color like the sky. A very pleasing effect.
     Sensing the surface layers of his mind, she realized that she was being equally carefully inspected.
     He still found her sensory fronds and independently moving eyes strange, she felt, but he was starting to look at her with curiosity and appreciation, instead of the controlled unease he had exhibited when they had first met back on the space station. He found her eyes fascinating. She had flash image of a small furry animal with eyes like hers. Warm, cuddling feelings accompanied the image. Then embarrassment.
     She realized why. The image had been of a pet, and with mental self-discipline he forced the image down. He did not want to think of her with that type of association. The scrutiny was abruptly discontinued.
     "I'm sorry Eloyan, I was half asleep." He glanced at his wrist. "It's been over two hours." He groaned and climbed to his feet to stretch after ruffling Tim's hair lightly. "God, I'm stiff." He perched on the edge of the chair he had been sitting in before, moving it closer so that he was sitting right behind Tim. He pulled his son in slightly to lean against his legs like a chair back. His hands rested on the boy's shoulders, thumbs stroking lightly.
     "I'm sorry," he repeated. "What were you going to say?"
     "Nothing much," she chuckled, still amused by his earlier and lingering embarrassment. "I just wanted to let you know that I have finished with his speech centers. I can not be absolutely sure, but I believe I was successful in restoring all functioning."
     "Fantastic! Hearing next, you said?"
     "Yes ... was there something else?" She had been about to return to Tim's mind when she had sensed an unspoken question in his mind. Too vague to be understood.
     He shrugged. "Well ... actually yes. It sounds stupid, but there's a lot I don't understand about your people, and just now, it sounded just like you were laughing. Is that what it was?"
     "Of course. You were embarrassed about associating me with a pet. It was just amusing how you were so worried about offending me, even in your thoughts."
     Sudden hostility ... no, not quite. He was displeased ... with her? Uncomfortable!
     "Are you reading my mind?" Suspicion, unease, embarrassment: a range of uncertain emotions were swirling through his mind.
     "I am sorry." She reached out a free arm to touch him, the tendrils of her hand relaxing to stroke his skin lightly as if he were a youngster. "I did not mean to offend. I am not reading your mind. Your thoughts are safe. But certain of your stronger and more focused surface emotions and impressions are clear. I couldn't block them if I tried. To really read your mind, I would have to link with your brain as I am doing with Tim."
     He was still disturbed, and her touch now made him uncomfortable. She couldn't sense anything beyond that, so she shrugged in apology and let go.
     "I am sorry. I will try to ignore everything and focus on Tim." She closed her eyes and looked inward.
     The ears.
     She quickly realized that the damage to the auditory brain center was minor, limited to key areas. But she carefully explored the damaged areas to be sure. Her tendrils traced the fine bones and hair-lined fluid reservoirs in the ears, and found only flawless functioning. The damage was wholly neurological. Certain key pathways were blocked from the traumatic impact the head had endured. Swelling and bleeding had blocked critical areas. Fine clots, too. Indirectly, she saw some more damage in the visual cortex as she probed his brain further, and for the first time she began to doubt her ability to fully heal the child.
     But she could not let that stop her.
     She ignored the visual cortex and focused again on the auditory centers. The small clots she encountered were carefully broken up and tissue synthesized, where possible, to carry crucial impulses. Bit by bit, her confidence came back as more and more life returned to the damaged tissues. Soon she was operating on automatic again, and curiosity sent her thoughts back to Jack.
     She was worried about his reaction to her and at the same time surprised by her own reaction. Why was she concerned about his feelings for her?
     She couldn't resist, and opened her mind to try to sense him ... and then she stopped. That was the answer to part of her problem with helping Tim! She turned her attention back to the boy and inspected her work, realizing that she was done. She opened her eyes to look up at Jack again. She needed to prepare him for what she had just thought of.
     He was asleep.
     Jack was leaning back in the chair, his head bent to the right, cushioned on a pillow. His chest rose and fell in even movements as he slept silently. Only the rhythmic sound of his breathing filled the room. His hands were still lying limply on Tim's shoulders as his son's head also slumped in sleep. The fire had burned down to nothing but smoldering embers, leaving the room in a warm twilight. Only a single incandescent lamp by the dining table was lit. The sun outside had long since fled.
     She felt an incredible sense of calm as she looked at the two sleeping figures and lightly withdrew from the boy's brain. Then she sensed a new odor as the boy shifted slightly. He had defecated. With his mind withdrawn on itself, he had no control of his bodily functions. She rose and bent to pick him up. He was quite heavy, but roused partially and his arms actually wrapped around her lightly. Startled, she looked at him -- but there was no real awareness in the half-opened eyes. Yet, on one level, Tim was responding. A surge of excitement overwhelmed her and she turned to Jack ... but he was sleeping so soundly that she didn't want to wake him.
     She carried Tim towards the bathroom. Jack had shown her the design of his house when they had arrived, and she was familiar with the location and function of the alien plumbing.
     Removing Tim's clothes was not as difficult as she had feared, since he automatically moved to accommodate her, although the unfamiliar fastenings puzzled her momentarily. As she removed his pants, she saw that he was wearing plastic-coated sanitary pants and sighed in relief. It would make things easier. She removed them, and running warm water, proceeded to clean him up thoroughly.
     She had just finished washing and drying him when she realized she had an audience. The odor of Tim's feces had overwhelmed her olfactory sense, and she had been so intent on helping the boy that she had not seen Jack standing in the doorway. He was holding a fresh set of the sanitary underpants in one hand.
     "Here, Eloyan." He held it out hesitantly. "Fresh diapers." He was embarrassed again, she sensed.
     "What is wrong?" she asked.
     "You don't know?"
     "No, I told you, I can not read your mind this way. And I am trying very hard not to intrude on you in any way."
     Jack kept silent while she put on the new sanitary pants and dressed Tim again. Then she picked him up and, again, she thrilled as his arms crept around her and tightened while his head dropped onto her shoulders, resting on her sensory-nerve crest.
     She stroked his head lightly.
     Jack's eyes were wide-open.
     "Is he ...?"
     "No." She sighed sadly. "But a small part of him seems to be coming alive. Is it not wonderful?" She couldn't contain herself. Her first Human patient, and he was already beginning to respond! She felt her heart speed up from the adrenalin surge.
     Jack reached out to touch the boy's cheek, joy radiating from him.
     "Yes, it is!" He turned away abruptly and went back out to the living room. He seemed confused again.
     She followed and put Tim back to sit on the floor in front of Jack, who had settled back into the arm chair. Then she sat down to caress Tim's hand. She looked up at Jack.
     "You never answered my question. I need to know because, after I repair the damage to his vision -- if I can," she amended, "the next step will be to bring him out from his withdrawal. At that point, I need your help, and if there is something distressing you, it could interfere."
     She fixed both eyes on him intently, challenging.
     Finally, he answered:
     "Okay." But he refused to look at her. "When I saw you with Tim, cleaning him up and all, it was eerie. The way you held him, washed him. The way he held on to you. It was like watching Lisa with him when he was a baby." His eyes were moist and she felt his pain like a physical twisting in her stomach.
     "Your feelings for him and his mother are very important," she admitted. "But you must let go of her. After I try to restore Tim's vision, I want to ask you to let me enter both of your minds at once to put you in direct contact with him. If you bring disturbing images and memories with you, it could drive him into deeper withdrawal, especially now when he is just beginning to feel his way out a little."
     "You mean..." He held out a hand and wiggled his fingers. "To enter my mind?"
     Strangely enough, he wasn't afraid. Then she understood. A direct mechanical connection, a physical linkage; that was logical and tangible. It was the intangible, unquantifiable, that worried him.
     "Yes. Your touch, the sound of your voice -- he can hear us now -- these are vital, and might be enough, but I have a feeling that more will be needed."
     Jack was hugging Tim fiercely, a wide grin on his face.
     "Hey, Star Ship Trooper, we're getting there. Before you know it, we'll have you up and flying my flitter!" He looked over at Eloyan. "He can hear me?"
     She nodded. "Yes. And I think perhaps we should work together on his mind, while I work on his eyes. That way we can ease his transition. All the new stimuli will be confusing and maybe frightening to him. If we are both there with him, it will make it easier." She stopped and leaned back to study him.
     "Can you do it?"
     "Keep my perspective?" Let go of Lisa? was the unspoken addendum.
     She kept silent as he chewed on his lower lip, thinking. Finally he nodded.
     "Yes. Losing both of them was almost too much, but to get Tim back? Yes! Lisa would have wanted it ...." His face reddened slightly. Then he leaned forward resolutely and squeezed Tim's shoulders again. "I'm ready."
     She sensed a surge of unease from him, but it was quickly damped and she sensed his strength rising. Action! That was something he understood and welcomed. Danger didn't worry him. It was not being able to do anything that he had difficulty with. She was starting to understand him more and more as his mind avidly focused on his son, curious about the next step of her Healing.
     "What do I have to do?" he asked.
     "Nothing, really." She forced her attention back to Tim. "Just sit on the floor behind him, like you did before. That way you are close together. I have never done this with Humans before, but I have with my own people. I will show you in a moment."
     As he moved down behind his son, he looked over at her.
     "I have one question before you start."
     "How do you do it? The fingers, I mean. When you were working with Tim, your 'hand' changed into a mass of fine tentacles that spread and grew, but when you were carrying and cleaning him, it looked almost like you had normal hands."
     She held out a hand and looked at it curiously.
     "I never considered that. It is... what I do." She laughed. "How do you breathe and eat with the same opening without choking?"
     He smiled. "Touché!"
     She looked at her hand again, suddenly self-conscious. It did somewhat resemble his, except with only four fingers. It was almost difficult to do it with Jack watching curiously, but concentrating, she relaxed and opened one of her hands, and the tightly wound tendrils of her 'fingers' separated.
     He reached for her hand.
     "May I?"
     He touched it with infinite care, and she wrapped it around his hand lightly and then contracted, chuckling as his eyes opened wide.
     "They're strong!"
     "Individually, no, but as a unit, yes." She relaxed.
     "And soft." He looked over with surprise, and then relaxed with a smile. "Tim's in good hands."
     At the sound of his name, Tim leaned back into his father's arms and smiled faintly.
     "Do you see?" She squeezed his hand again. "He knows you are here."
     Jack smiled happily. "He does! Thank you!" His thumb stroked the still-encircling tendrils. "I knew I was right in picking you for his doctor."
     She leaned back curiously and let go. "Why did you pick me? And not a more experienced member of the team?"
     "Instinct." He grinned. "I didn't build a multi-billion dollar business and get elected regional governor based on hard work alone. I have a knack for picking the right person for the right job. For one thing, I like 'em hungry. Not necessarily young, but fresh to a task. Experience is vital, but for starting new, radical projects, fresh ideas are essential. I wanted to interview doctors who were open-minded, not so experienced that they 'knew all there was to know about Humans'. I knew all of you had to be the cream of the crop, or you wouldn't have been picked for the exchange program, but I asked who were the least experienced. Then I interviewed those."
     She remembered the unusual interview where he had asked her all sorts of strange questions seemingly unrelated to working with Tim. She did not bother to enlighten him about the fact that she had not been in the outworld program because she was one of the best -- though she had been -- but because she was a female, and it was easier to ship her out rather than having her at home.
     "Anyhow," he went on. "That's why I picked you: gut feel. And," he cocked his head, "you're a woman. Even if alien, it's obvious. Other than our heads, and some internal rearrangement, we're not all that different physiologically, and psychologically we're very similar. I guess I thought Tim might respond better to a woman's touch..." He shrugged. "I don't know. Just a feeling. But it worked out."
     "Thank you." She felt her sensor cluster curl in embarrassment. Time to continue. He was seated comfortably, and she moved in, one arm reaching back to Tim and the other towards Jack.
     "Close your eyes --"
     "So I don't see it coming?" He shook his head. "No thanks. It didn't hurt Tim, it won't hurt me. Besides, I know what they feel like."
     He faced her, unflinching, as her hand touched his face and the fine tendrils extended and spread. As she reached in through his eyes and ears to touch his brain, she felt surprise well from him.
     "I don't feel anything! Well, just sort of a light tickling ... feels kind of good actually."
     "I will let you get used to that while I link with Tim." She felt a surge of unease as she penetrated the now-familiar neural pathways of the boy, seeking out the visual cortex and optic nerves.
     Focusing on the damage with a more experienced eye, now, she felt a deep gloom come over her. The damage was too extreme. Whole sections of the key areas were dead. The extended lack of oxygenation to the tissues, the traumatic injury to the nerves -- all the damage was too extreme for her fine touch.
     "What's wrong?"
     She heard the question on two levels as the preliminary linkages with Jack's brain strengthened her empathic bond.
     "I can not do it!" She heard the pain in her own voice. "If I would have had him as a patient right after the accident, I might have been able to help him. But it has been too long. Speech and hearing I was able to restore. Even though the rod impacted and penetrated the brain, the actual damage to those areas was repairable. But I can not do anything about his vision." She couldn't touch him to console him since both her hands were full, but she hoped he would understand.
     Instead of the pain or anger she expected, she felt only relief, gratitude ... and, affection?
     "Eloyan, thank you."
     "Thank you? I told you: I can not help him!" She was almost angry. She could not understand his reaction.
     "That's right. When I brought him to you, I didn't think you would be able to do anything. Oh, I hoped, but I didn't hold any expectations. But he can hear me -- he does hear me. And he'll be able to speak. There are a lot of people who manage very well despite being blind. So will he. One sensory loss we can work with. Now let's see if we can't wake him up a little, huh?"
     The strength and determination in his words and mind were almost a physical force, and she felt dizzy. She had not thought about anything other than a total cure. Našve of her. Jack was right.
     She concentrated on him, linking in with his brain as fully as possible. Frontal, parietal, occipital... bit by bit she plugged in until she had no more connecting links. The brain was a marvelous and intricate engine and too complicated for her to fully integrate with, but her linkage was enough, combined with her 'sense'. It was an eerie feeling. Far different than with any of the Human volunteers she had had experience with. In their cases, she had had to overcome their resistance at every turn, but here, she was being welcomed.
     She felt herself sitting on the floor, feeling Tim leaning into him/her, and warmed by Jack's love for his son, she felt the light touch of her own hand on 'her' face; the slight itching from a chin that needed shaving; a low rumbling of hunger fighting a physical tiredness; a strange constriction in the loin... and a multitude of sensations and impressions freely offered for her to share.
     Tim -- a younger Tim of six or seven -- running after a strangely oval-shaped ball and laughing madly. All around an immense expanse of open green lawn, a few trees in the distance and above an incredibly blue and cloud-free sky illuminated by a burning globe of fire in the sky...
     She fed the memories to Tim, to share and see.
     A beautiful woman was coming towards them across the grass, carrying a large basket and calling brightly. Her hair was long and shining black like the night sky, her tanned skin glowing with life and her green eyes sparkled...
     Numbing, tearing grief... NO! Sadness, and regret. A hollow sense of loss, but with forced determination resolving into acceptance...
     From Tim a mental scream!
     Jack 'heard' it and she felt his arms tighten around her... her arms tighten around him... multiple sensations swirled... she, he, was embraced.
     "Timmy, it's okay! I'm here, Trooper! Don't be afraid," Jack's voice urged.
     The scream wavered.
     "Tim! Come on. Remember when you got hit in the groin with a soft ball when you were pitching to Billy Baxter? That hurt, didn't it? Remember what I told you then?" He fell silent, and she could feel his desperate hope for a response.
     Only a decrease in the scream ... it continued.
     "We walked and talked and I didn't let you give up and lie there. We have to keep moving and not give up from the pain. It hurts, Timmy, I know it hurts ... I hurt, too. But you're not alone!" An almost physical blast of compassion washed over her. "And I could really use your help, too, you know? I'm all alone without you."
     Silence. No response yet, but the stirrings of rational awareness.
     "There's a lot we have to do, you know. A lot of unfinished business while you're young enough. Remember the Knights of the Round Table?" Images surged up of Jack and Tim in a workshop of some sort ... smells of fresh wood, sawdust and earth. Wooden swords took shape under skilled and powerful hands, shaping and smoothing straight lengths of wood. Shields, too, and helmets. Carefully painted with metallic paint. Breast-plates cut from thin plywood and painted, connected with rope to make an improvised suit of armor. Lisa made colorful clothes, stitched with coats of arms, and then it was up on the horses ... Tim on his pony, and Jack on Night Star, the coal black Arabian, riding through the morning-dewed fields under the trees. Fair damsels to rescue and dragons to slay, the wonder of the day to revel in. Cool air and water, fresh air and life. Watch the fawns in the field, does grazing cautiously on new growth. A proud-crowned buck alerting his herd.
     "We never rode to Camelot to see King Arthur, Tim. Never slayed the dragon terrorizing the villagers. There's so much we need to do. Come on Trooper. Remember the space shuttle we built?"
     Middle ages melted into the future. Dazzling computer panels made of Christmas-tree lights and plywood ranged across a wooden cabin. On the other side of the view-ports, hung black and heavy sheets, pierced and backlit with floods to yield a rich and wondrous star field ... a dangling moon, painstakingly painted and mounted by clumsy seven-year old hands hung proud, beckoning to the starship trooper.
     A faint thought quavered hesitantly. Fearing, lonely, hurting.
     "Yes, Timmy. I'm here."
     She withdrew her links, oh so carefully, trying to keep from twisting her sensors with emotion as father and son reached towards each other. As she opened her eyes, she saw Tim turning around and grabbing on to Jack tightly and crying.
     "Mommy's dead!" His voice was a harsh croak, barely comprehensible from lack of use. But the words rang clear in her mind. On one level they were still connected. "I saw her ...." He couldn't finish, and Jack held him close.
     "I know, Timmy. But she's not really gone. Part of her will always be with us."
     No more words were said, and as quietly as possible Eloyan rose and moved away from them. This was not the time to express the joy and triumph she felt.
     She grabbed the blanket she had discarded earlier, and moved over to the window to stare out at the night. Soft waves of white flowed over the landscape lit with shimmering silver light from the cold and looming moon above. So much larger and brighter than Luyona's whirling triple satellites. The calm and silent beauty of it was almost too much to bear, and she shivered under the blanket.
     She didn't know how long she had stood there, but she started as a gentle hand touched her shoulder.
     "He's asleep."
     She turned to see Tim curled up in the chair, sleeping soundly.
     "Exhaustion and reaction, I guess," Jack sighed. "I can't say I blame him. I'm beat, too. Too many things spinning through my head. I saw Luyona, you know."
     She stared.
     "When we were linking. I didn't really know it, but after Tim went to sleep, I was just sitting there trying to sort through my feelings, and I started remembering things that couldn't possibly have been my memories. Triple moons and giant tidal swings every so often when the moons line up just so; a strange pet that looks like a cross between a raccoon and a platypus; a first date, and a first kiss." He shook his head, confused.
     "It's weird enough remembering a girl's first kiss like it's your own, but when that girl is an alien?" He laughed softly. "It's funny how different you look to me, now."
     She spun away and went back to the remains of the fire, kneeling down to warm herself. And to look away.
     Then she got up and faced him. "I have to leave."
     He looked upset. "Why?"
     "I need to go back home and stand up for myself, and for what I am ... and I need to leave because of what I see in your mind: you want me to stay."
     He didn't flinch. Didn't mind her looking. "Yes, I do. You'll be great with him. You never know, you might be able to help restore some of his sight if you really try. And he's going to have an awfully rough time adjusting to reality again --"
     "You see me as more than a new mother to him." The thought ... frightened her. "I can't."
     "Why not?"
     "It wouldn't work."
     "Hey, stranger relationships have --"
     "No." Because she could see it happening. Part of her wanted it. What she had seen, and felt, from Jack's mind and actions drew her, even though part of her was laughing at her for being ridiculous.
     "I can't," she repeated. "I'm a doctor. It's wrong." It's wrong because you don't know yet what it is you do want, Jack. She could 'see' him looking at her -- but a large part of him saw Lisa, not her. She couldn't tell him that, though.
     She looked up at him squarely. "You and Timmy will be fine. You need to find each other again, heal each other and start over. You are going to have enough work to do without me complicating things. Maybe in time something like this will happen anyway, and maybe, in time, people might even accept it. As you said, we are more alike than we are different. But it can not work here, or now."
     Maybe she was wrong, but for herself, at this time, she was right.
     She went back to the window to look out at the snowy fields. It would be the last time she ever saw snow or a single and brilliant moon like this.
     It was all so beautiful.