Damaged: Enemy Me
“Peace to your journey.”
Kendall looked at one of his peers grimly. “I carry your honor with me.” He had said that several times as his squad-mates peeked into the physician’s office to express solidarity with him.
“The stress test was conclusive.” A voice from a neighboring room. His squad-mate nodded and departed quietly, closing the door behind her.
A physician entered the room, looking at a tablet. “Genetic markers have indicated the next progression.”
“So, the treatment didn’t work.” Kendall scowled looking down. He was not surprised. His fate was pretty much already sealed. “We have been through how many sessions over the past year?”
“Sorry, Kendall. It was a slim chance to begin with.”
“How rapid…” He stopped. That was a question he had asked several times, with the same answer.
“The onset of mania can come at any time.” The physician sat next to him. “We really hate to lose you, Kendall. You’ve been an exemplary agent already.”
“I love what I do.” Kendall shrugged. “I like making a difference.”
“And you have. Even with your illness you helped identify a Venda trying to infiltrate a school, of all places.”
“I was kinda perfect for the assignment.” Kendall grinned. “I cannot imagine what strategic importance the school presented to the Venda, though.”
“We shall discover their purpose. For that, we are in your debt.”
“Will it hurt?”
The physician was quiet for a moment. “Culling is never without a measure of discomfort. However, you have already endured worse in your training.”
Kendall nodded. “Okay. That… thanks.” He took a breath and looked up. “I wanted to see the mission through. I wanted to… find out why they were at the school. The golem-ship that… why?” He looked at the physician. “I thought the Cooperative got them all.”
“No cleanup is without stragglers. We’ll get them all eventually.”
“Yes. You will. I will miss it, though.”
“And we will be less for you missing it.” The physician pointed to his tablet. “We have learned much more about the Maddening thanks to you, however. You are getting us closer to a solution.”
Kendall smiled wanly, then frowned. “Is there an Elf here?”
The physician looked toward the door, furrowing his brows. “And something else.”
A middle-aged man opened the door and looked in. “Am I interrupting?”
“Not at all, Shawn.” The physician stood up.
“Sir.” Kendall stood up, attentive. “First Commander Needle, I was not expecting a visit from you.”
“And look at you, in your skivvies.” Shawn grinned.
Kendall looked down then back at the commander, bemused. “At least they’re on.”
The physician smirked. “I have not performed the prostate exam. Perhaps you wish to assist?”
Kendall looked at him, his eyes wide.
“Yeah, no.” Shawn held up a hand.
“I agree,” Kendall said, fumbling with his pants as he put them back on.
“I was anticipating your arrival. But… not your guests.” The physician handed Kendall his shirt as he strained to look behind Shawn.
Shawn looked over his shoulder. “May I introduce you to Steven Crow?”
A young man covered with short fur entered the room and nodded at the stunned physician. “I would like to have a discussion with your patient, if you don’t mind.”
The physician just gaped.
Kendall furrowed his brows. An Elf had entered the room, which warranted a measure of annoyance. But the physician’s reaction puzzled him.
“I take it he…” Steven pointed at the physician.
“He would have been one of the ones dissecting you back in the day.” Shawn nodded, smirking.
The physician glared at Shawn. “Examining him, sir. I was…”
“You were the physician who took my blood and scanned me. At the Seattle base.”
“Then you destroyed the base.” The physician frowned, crossing his arms.
Steven shrugged, looking sheepish. “Yeah. That was an accident. Sorry.”
“Well, small world.” Shawn grinned. “You two are already best friends forever.”
“You didn’t have fur then.” The physician left the question implied.
“Long story. My Elvish genetics were dormant then.” Steven glanced at the fur on his arm. Like the rest of his fur, it was mottled with light brown and off-white patterns. “This allowed me to hide from the Chasers for a bit. To fit in with the other Elves.”
The physician pursed his lips and glanced at Shawn, clearly restraining himself. “I am finished with Kendall. You should have my final report…” he stopped, his eyes widening. “What the hell is that?”
Steven glanced over his shoulder and stepped aside to make room for a slender biped who had accompanied them. The creature, with skin appearing like the love-child of a spiny lobster and an alligator, bowed politely to Kendall and the physician. Steven returned his attention to the physician, clearly amused. “We call them Librarians.”
Kendall stepped back into a passive defensive posture, glancing nervously at Shawn. “Commander Needle, this is very… why are there aliens on our base?”
Shawn raised a brow at Kendall. “At ease, Kendall. They are not aliens to us.”
Kendall fidgeted. “My childhood was spent learning to hunt and fight aliens.”
“As was mine. However, we were also taught to discern who the true enemy is.” Shawn glanced at Steven. “And Steven here discerned that we were not the true enemy too, despite abundant evidence to the contrary.”
Kendall chewed his cheek, glancing at the physician. Things felt like they were spiraling out of control. Part of him wondered if his condition was taking over. Twisting his sense of reality. An anti-alien organization openly consorting with what had been their target for six hundred years?
“There will be some adjustments required.” Shawn continued. “However, our alliance with them has proven immensely beneficial. It is why so many of us survived the Awakening event.”
“Yeah, why wasn’t he Awakened?” Steven pointed at Kendall.
Shawn gave Steven a confused look.
“Look at him and close your eyes.” Steven nodded at Kendall.
Shawn complied but shook his head. “I don’t see anything.”
“He glows. Like all Gatekeepers do. He’s a latent. You don’t see that?”
“I’m a what?” Kendall looked at his arms. “I don’t glow.”
“Sorry. No.” Shawn closed his eyes again.
“Your extra abilities allow you to see what others cannot,” the Librarian said to Steven, its voice surprisingly soft despite its appearance.
“It knows English?” Kendall tried not to gape.
“He… knows hundreds of languages,” Steven said.
“Thousands.” the Librarian corrected.
“Thousands? That many?” Steven cocked his head. The Librarian blinked.
“It has double eyelids!” Kendall pointed. He gaped at the exotic, peculiar creature, almost forgetting the Elf who stood next to him.
“It also has feelings too.” The Librarian scowled.
“And figure-eight pupils.” Kendall ignored him. “That skin, it almost looks like an unmodified Venda.”
Steven glanced at the Librarian. His skin was similar to that of a crocodile, except the armor plates were larger. The armor ridges ran up its tall, slender form, with little, bony spikes protruding from each plate. The ridges met at the hornlike structures that made up his skull. “You know, except for your head, you do kinda look like a Venda.”
“Their ancestors and ours come from the same world,” The Librarian said.
“They… really? I always wondered where you came from.” Steven pursed his lips.
“That world no longer exists.”
“Well, that sucks.” Steven sighed. “Sorry to hear that.”
“Are you apologizing for the destruction?”
“It is how we empathize with the plight of others.” Steven waved a hand dismissively. “Kendall, we have come to debrief you.”
Kendall looked at Shawn, trying hard to regain self-control. He knew better than to express himself like this. But now the aliens wanted to debrief him too? The commander nodded, confusing him even more. “Sir, I have already been debriefed.”
Shawn hesitated, glancing at Steven. “The Librarian will collect your memory of the incident and make it available for us to examine.”
“It will… what? That thing is not collecting my memories. They’re… what I know is classified.” Kendall shook his head, stepping off the examination platform. He looked around for his shoes and stepped into them.
“That was not a request, Kendall,” Shawn said sternly.
“You could do it. You could scan my memories. You’re a Gatekeeper.” Kendall said. “Better than that thing.”
“I can, but I cannot transfer those memories so they can be examined by a team,” Shawn said carefully. He glanced at the physician who was surreptitiously preparing a sedative.
“Actually, the computer we gave you can,” Steven said quietly.
Kendall glanced at him. “What the Elf said.”
“The Elf? You know I was raised here, right?” Steven scowled at him.
“That… I can do that?” Shawn cocked his head at Steven.
Steven shrugged. “Cerebral User Interface?”
Shawn looked down, thoughtfully. He pulled a small, ornately decorated brass tube out of his pocket and turned it over in his hand. “I was not aware of that. Is there anything else about this computer you haven’t told me?”
“It would require some training,” Steven said, glancing at Kendall. “And it’s not as high… um, high fidelity as the Librarian.”
“Yeah.” He glanced at the Librarian, then shook his head. “I would need training.” Shawn looked at Kendall. “That is something we’ll explore. But we don’t have time to…”
“What I know is classified, sir,” Kendall repeated, pointing at the Librarian. “That thing should not know what I know.”
“Kendall, the Librarian has been cleared.”
“Commander, we are consorting with the enemy.” Kendall grit his teeth. “Look at it!”
“He is experiencing fear,” Steven said quietly. “Is that normal?”
“No. We have bred fear and disobedience out of us.”
“Yes.” Shawn squinted at Kendall. “Kendall, the flaw.”
Kendall balled his fists and looked at the floor. He was flush and ready for combat, contrary to his commander’s rock-solid demeanor. “Yes, sir.”
“Shall I?” The physician asked.
“Dosage?” Shawn kept his eyes on Kendall.
“It would bring his anxiety down.” The physician and Kendall looked at each other. “Your flaw would have less an effect.”
“It would affect my judgment,” Kendall said. “Make me less effective.”
“May I?” Steven stepped forward. “I can reduce your anxiety.”
“We tried to kill you. Laurence’s squad hunted you like an animal. Why are you helping us?” Kendall glared at Steven.
“You were acting out of fear and ignorance. Your people know better now.” Steven held out his hand.
Kendall looked at it, then sneered. “I could kill you now.”
“No. You cannot.” Steven smiled kindly. “But it is crucial to your mission that we collect these memories.”
“This is your legacy, Kendall.” The physician put a hand on his shoulder. “Who you are will not be lost to us.”
Kendall looked at the physician for a long moment, then turned a steely gaze on Steven. “You cannot imagine how unorthodox this is. Every bone in my body is screaming at me right now.”
“There was a time when you would have obeyed without question regardless. He freed us. Now obedience is a choice. One you need to make.” Shawn crossed his arms.
“Is this really freedom?” Kendall glowered. “We had a purpose before him. Now…”
“Now he and his people are our friends. And our purpose has never changed. Our ability to fulfill that purpose, however, has. And the information in your head will help us do our job.”
“I hate questioning you, sir.” Kendall stood up tall, struggling to bring his emotions back under control. “That is not who we are. I know it. It’s just…” He shook his head. “I am torn. I… I hate this. I hate questioning you.”
“Then don’t.” Shawn nodded at Steven.
“I don’t need that.” He glared at Steven with disdain, then looked at the Librarian. “What will I experience?”
“You will see your memories with me.” The Librarian nodded. “If you relax, it will not be uncomfortable.”
“Relax. That means submit.” Kendall scowled.
The Librarian cocked his head slightly, then nodded. “That would be accurate.”
“We are not your enemy.” Steven put his hand down.
“Are you?” Kendall glowered at him. He glanced at Shawn, then glared at the Librarian, flexing and unflexing his hands. “How does this work?”
“I will touch you and you will experience your memories.” The Librarian stepped forward. “The memories will be added to the Archive where they can be retrieved by… others.”
Kendall glanced at Shawn. “Do I need to sit?”
“If you prefer.” The Librarian nodded at the examination table.
“I don’t prefer.” Kendall looked back at the table, then returned his attention to the Librarian. “What are you?”
“I am a Librarian.” A non-answer.
Kendall realized he was delaying, and steeled himself. Obedience was critical for the mission. “Then do it.”
The Librarian placed his hand on Kendall’s cheek. His fingers were long and tipped with little claws. They almost reminded him of insect legs. However, Kendall was surprised that they felt strangely soft. Even warm. That observation melted away as his life was laid bare. All of it. Everything he was seemed to be utterly exposed and siphoned as if he was a bystander to his life. Just standing there, watching his life go by. It struck him, the utter futility of it all.
But something else occurred to him… a memory of the Venda claiming that he was also a child of Aliya. Aliya who?