|"In Moments Hardly Seen"
Disclaimer: I don't own any of them.
Summary: An examination of Tessís lives.
|The car sped through the endless miles of beige scenery, the only vehicle in sight on the long, flat stretch of New Mexico highway. Tess stared out the passenger side window, eyes unfocused, the driver's voice tuned to a low, white-noise hum. Nasedo wasn't covering any new ground with this particular lecture. She already knew everything he had to say about the past. Her own memories of her former life were supplemented in full by Nasedo's detailed history of the political and cultural forces at work on their home planet. The past was no mystery, it was the immediate future she needed to be concerned with, but she knew better than to tell him to get on with it. It certainly wasn't her place to issue orders, and he wouldn't listen to her if she did. And perhaps she wasn't quite ready to hear his instructions as to what waited ahead. Not yet.
She looked blankly at the stack of photographs in her hands for a moment, before letting them fall and returning her gaze to the scenery flashing by. She had them memorized, there was certainly no need to look at them again. Tess lifted her hand and rubbed her forehead wearily, squeezing her human eyes shut and giving her alien psyche a rest from the obnoxious view. She truly despised the desert. The stark, barren landscape, the oppressive heat - such a miserable, inhospitable place. The latest vehicle Nasedo had acquired was an older model, and in her opinion somewhat insufficient in the air conditioning department. She considered using her powers to boost it up a bit, but a glance at Nasedo's stern profile changed her mind.
A great many things were different about her here, Now, but one thing that had not changed was her aversion to heat, or to physical discomfort of any kind. She thought of the soft air and smooth colors of her remembered home with a wondering sort of longing. The colors had been so different there, softer, more luminous. The sun hadn't been this harsh, burning yellow, but a delicate and gentle red. So much easier on her eyes, and her soul. Did this sun bother her because her alien soul remembered a different sun? Would her human eyes still think the alien sun beautiful?
It had been ten earth years since she'd broken out of her pod, and many, many years of incubation before that. A long time to be without familiar places and faces. So long to be without friends, family, people who loved her, sights that soothed her. She had been loved once, she remembered what being cared for felt like. Her longing for something familiar raked her without warning and suddenly, violently, she wished to be far away from this forsaken, bleak planet with its hated yellow sun. It would be such a relief to reach Roswell, to be among The Three, to be with people who had the same thoughts, felt the same feelings, the same pull of their true home.
She hoped desperately that they would be as happy to see her as she would be to see them.
A road sign flashed by, and her brain registered the words a good ten seconds after her eyes saw them. Roswell, now a mere 100 miles away. Her heart stuttered, just a bit, and she gulped convulsively. There was no use sliding back into the peace of highway hypnosis. Roswell was only 100 miles away, and the sleeping butterflies in her stomach erupted into a frenzy. With an effort she fought off the looming panic and took some deep, calming breaths.
She didn't really remember Roswell, although they had certainly passed through it shortly after she had emerged from her pod. Her memories of those early days were fuzzy, obscured by her confusion and the general befuddlement that apparently went along with incubation. She had awoken to three empty pods and a distraught Nasedo, who blamed himself for miscalculating the incubation period and arriving too late to guide the other three. Although sluggish and bewildered, she had understood immediately that the three empty pods had contained Others, like herself, and that it was the Others who were the important ones. She, herself, was not the purpose, or the goal. She was expendable. She smiled humorlessly at the thought. That was another thing about her life here that had not changed.
But Nasedo was not a barbarian, simply not human. Although she wasn't important, he would never leave her to fend for herself or possibly fall into the hands of the enemy. However, as the only survivor of the perilous mission to bring them to this planet, he had his priorities firmly established. The search for the other Three had started immediately, as soon as Nasedo and a very bewildered child emerged from the hidden cave. There had been hints, clues and wild goose chases that had taken she and Nasedo all over the globe. To search while hiding was no easy task, it had taken more than ten years to find the others. Although the odd alien bond that allowed Tess and Nasedo to keep apprised of each other's status had let them know that The Three lived, it had been ten years of fear, of worry. It was ironic, almost amusing that The Three they had been searching for so frantically for so long had not traveled very far at all. Not that she could laugh about it, not with her stomach already choking her with tension.
Her memories of home had cleared quickly as she'd shaken off the incubation daze, and her memories of The Three had been clearest of all. Of course, her memories of who and what they had been Before were of absolutely no help in their present search. It would have been nice to be more useful. When she'd been younger she'd wracked her human brain for ways to help Nasedo search for The Three. But Nasedo hadn't seemed to expect help from her. Aside from developing her powers and capabilities to their fullest extent, he hadn't expected anything from her at all. If she did come up with a useful idea, he reacted with surprise. It simply didn't occur to him that she was capable of contributing to the effort. Of course, she thought wryly, he had no reason to expect that she could be anything other than decorative. She'd certainly given him no reason to expect anything like that Before. But she had been determined to become less of a burden, and she eventually had been able to assist with strategies and plans while they searched, and hid. She wondered vaguely if these were human attributes that allowed her to rise to the occasion. She'd never been capable of such deviousness Before.
Of course, she had never been forced to develop such talents Before. She had always been more interested in art and music than in espionage and political machinations. If left to her own devices here on Earth, she used whatever free time she had to draw, and paint. Not the harsh landscapes and brutal colors of this planet, but what she remembered of her home Before. Such a hobby was yet another trait that had followed her through space and time to become a part of the being that she was Now.
Roswell, now less than 80 miles away. The hated yellow sun began to go down, throwing the landscape into sharp edges of light and shadow. 80 miles. With an effort she kept her breathing steady.
Finally, so close to joining The Three. Their crucial mission had had to be put on hold for all these years, allowing time for the four of them to mature. Time which could have been spent getting strong, together, before making themselves known to the barbarians. The same evil barbarians who had enslaved their planet. The same barbarians that landed more insidious agents on Earth every year......
With an effort Tess put the distressing thought, and its accompanying terror, out of her mind. They were close to The Three. Soon, they would all be together, and their real work could begin. She ignored the small, inner voice that taunted her with the real reason for her anticipation. And her terror. She focused on Nasedo's voice, to distract her from her own thoughts.
".... so make sure you know those photographs well. I don't want you wasting any time in school tomorrow trying to figure out who is who, and if these are the ones you're looking for. You know that too much time has already been wasted. That last brush with the barbarians was too close, we need to get focused........" Nothing new there. Nasedo always repeated himself. Perhaps he thought she was stupid.
Although she and Nasedo had been acquainted slightly before the incubation process and mission that had brought them both to this strange planet, she'd been royalty, and he'd been part of the Sovereign's staff, and their paths had not often crossed. She had been the equivalent of a young Queen, part of a prominent and powerful family and joined only recently to the man viewed by the vast majority of the population as the savior of their planet. Nasedo had been one of the Sovereign's and his Second's most able and trusted advisors, heavily relied upon by both of them. Most of what she'd known about Nasedo had been gleaned from listening to her mate speak of him with his sister and his second in command. Of course, she'd never been a real part of such conversations, her presence had been tolerated out of kindness and good manners. But she'd learned quite a bit, and had retained a remarkable amount of information.
After the last barbarian invasion and the series of disasters that left their civilization in ruins, with their Sovereign dead and hope all but gone, she had learned of the secret plan to bring The Three, in new form, safely to Earth. Although she'd been nearly paralyzed with terror and grief at the loss of their beautiful planet to an uncaring and mercenary alien species, knowing that Nasedo would be part of the crew bringing the craft with The Three safely to Earth had given her some small hope. He was very efficient. If this mission could be fulfilled, the evil barbarians halted on Earth and their own planet saved, his involvement would give it its very best chance. And Now, on Earth, Nasedo was chillingly efficient. His methods were not always kind, or humane, but such human standards didn't really apply to him.
Her own inclusion in the mission had been a hasty, last minute thing. She could still taste her own panic and fear when she was informed. The final battle had been lost, their own forces betrayed in some way from within. The Sovereign, his sister and his Second had been killed, along with most members of the ruling families and the entire Council. There had been time to prepare only four incubation pods, but the wise council member for whom the fourth pod had been intended had been irretrievable. The barbarians had literally been at the gate, and the overwhelming cacophony of their approach had reduced intelligent beings to gibbering idiots. The city streets were rife with terrified citizens choosing ritual suicide over imprisonment and slavery.
With the fourth pod suddenly available, her own mother had demanded that Tess be included and the Sovereign's mother had reluctantly agreed. Through the screaming chaos coming from the streets below, Tess had protested that there were others who would be more valuable to the cause, others who were educated in the ways of Earth. But in the end she was far too accustomed to obeying her mother to put up much of a fight. Cowed by the sheer force of the personalities that surrounded her, she had always been easily manipulated. That was something that had changed from Before, and for the better. She no longer blindly accepted orders. She had grown a spine along with her human body Now.
The Sovereign, his sister, and his Second had already been harvested and inserted into the pods, and time was running out. There had been no time to send goodbye messages to her father or her best friend, the only people still alive that she cared about. Her mother had been working frantically with the Scribes to amend the instructions that were to be included in their space craft, and had simply ordered Tess in her usual brusque fashion to stop wasting time and get to Medical. The Sovereign's mother had been likewise unavailable, recording a holograph message to her son and daughter to be played upon their awakening, something to aid them in navigating the postincubation mental fog. There had been no one else for her to say goodbye to.
Before she'd been able to truly grasp what was happening, the First Medical had been approaching her with the terrifying array of harvesting equipment. Tess had felt the prick of the needle and the world, her world, started to fade. She realized that when she next knew consciousness, she would be a completely different life form. An engineered hybrid. Filled with panic, she was already past the point of no return. The last thing she saw was the First Medical's kind smile and worried eyes, as he'd wished her well and bade her to help the Sovereign deliver them from the barbarians. His assistant, a young woman her own age, had murmured something about how relieved and happy the Sovereign would be to see Tess when he emerged. Tess's last blurred thought was an uneasy one she sincerely doubted that her mate would be overjoyed to find her with him on Earth.
Well, she would soon find out for sure. Roswell, 50 miles. Her stomach clenched again. She wished for the millionth time that they had all broken out of their pods together, that the others had not finished their incubation early. Then this confrontation that she was so dreading would have been long in the past by now. She hated messy conflicts, she had always preferred not to argue Before. And here, Now, there really wasn't anyone to argue with. Despite the presence of Nasedo, she had been alone for so long......
Another road sign flashed by, informing her smugly that Roswell was now 35 miles away. Nasedo was still speaking to her, and she tuned him in almost guiltily.
". . . so you'll have to be prepared for that." He shot her an expectant look, and she realized she'd missed something important.
"I'm sorry, what was that you just said?" She managed to make it sound like he'd been unclear, not that she hadn't been paying attention.
His exasperated look told her she hadn't fooled him. "I said, that my observations indicate that, although they know they are not like other humans and they've gained some rudimentary control over their powers, they don't seem to have the memories of home that you do. I'm not sure they have any idea of who - and what - they really are. You might have to educate them about the mission, about their destiny, and I want you to be prepared for that."
This made absolutely no sense, and she frowned at him in puzzlement. "What do you mean they don't know who they are? Who else could they possibly think they are?"
"Pay attention!" Nasedo snapped, startling her. "I was in Roswell, I saw them! I sensed who they were immediately, just by being close to them! I followed them around, I listened to their conversations, and I'm telling you that they do not know who and what they are! I don't think they have anything but the vaguest memories of home! And, although I stood quite close to them, separately and together, on a number of occasions, none of them knew that I was there!"
She was so shocked that she simply gaped at him as Nasedo returned his attention to the road. The Three didn't remember their home? They didn't know who they were? She had always been able to sense Nasedo's presence, from the first moments when she'd emerged from her pod. She knew when he was close by, she knew when he was a significant distance away. Yet The Three didn't sense him? They didn't know that she and Nasedo were on their way to them at this very moment? How could that be? Her eyes stung with annoying human tears and she gulped hard. Drawing a deep breath, she moved her mouth soundlessly, forcing the words out past the lump in her throat. "What about me? Have they been searching for me? Did ... did you hear them talk at all about me?"
Nasedo was no part human and had very little emotion in common with her, but his glance was almost pitying. "No, they don't seem to remember anything about the pods. I don't think they have any idea that there was another. They know there is another alien out there, but its me they're looking for. They're completely unfocused."
Tess slumped back in the passenger seat, grappling with the conflicting feelings of relief and horror that washed through her. Although she had been consistently in the company of humans since she had broken free of her incubation pod, she had never quite gotten used to it. They were just too different. The last ten years had been focused on finding The Three. Others of her kind. Responsible, intelligent Others of her kind, those who were accustomed to taking charge. Although she had been apprehensive of what the Sovereign might say to her once he knew that it was she in the fourth pod, she had also been counting on being with them to make her feel safe, and secure, like she belonged.
And now Nasedo was telling her that they didn't even know who she was.
She had been alone all of her earth life, and, if she was honest about herself, for a long time before that. But the sense of desolation that gripped her with this piece of news literally took her breath away. With an effort she tried to make sense of the incomprehensible.
"But.... but how can that be? How can they not remember who they are? I know who I am. I had memories long before you started telling me about where we came from. What happened to them?"
Nasedo arched his eyebrows in a peculiarly human expression. "I really don't know. Maybe something went wrong with their incubation, or with the harvesting that preceded it. Perhaps they really do remember, and are keeping an extremely low profile. Maybe they've come to care about the humans they're associating with. Or maybe...." he paused to shoot an unfathomable glance at her, "maybe the fact that you do have memories is because you gave up your life and were harvested voluntarily, while they were killed in the line of duty and harvested after the fact."
With another convulsive shudder, she returned to staring out the window, although now hers was the blind stare of nearpanic rather than the weary road hypnosis.
Isabel, Michael, Max. She knew what their names were now, and thanks to the stack of photographs still held in her nerveless hand, she knew their faces. Nasedo had returned from his latest searching trip ecstatic and jubilant. He'd found the important Three, all of them. And wonder of wonders, The Three had found each other, had been living close by each other, protecting each other for most of the last ten years. It was a miracle, he'd told her incredulously, an absolute miracle that The Three had been together, and in Roswell, less than 20 miles from the incubation cave.
She could have told him that it was no miracle at all, simply another example of luck, solidarity and unparalleled devotion and loyalty. When dealing with The Three, such things were no miracle, came as no surprise. She was certain that they would have found each other even if they'd been separated by huge distances, by time, by space. They would have felt the lack of each other immediately, and moved heaven and earth to be together. Such had always been their way.
Obviously, they had not felt the lack of her. And while the thought caused a sharp, bitter stab of pain, it certainly wasn't surprising. She blocked the nagging sting of rejection and returned her attention to the photographs in her hand, examining the first one closely.
Max. His name was Max, and it was surprisingly easy to think of him as belonging to this earth name, and the earth name belonging to him. It fell from her human tongue in a way that reminded her alien brain very much of his old name, the name she had not really had the time to grow accustomed to using. On their world, there was an intimacy about using personal names that she had not felt comfortable with, although he had been kind in his encouragement. Perhaps here she could call him Max and not feel awkward. She glanced again at the photograph on the top of the stack. Now she knew what his human form looked like. He seemed to her to be almost painfully handsome, and she wondered if this was an honest reaction of her human hormones, or something left over from Before. She had always found the Sovereign extraordinarily, disturbingly attractive.
And his sister's earth name was Isabel. Her human form was also extremely attractive, and the photographs had shown her to be uncannily poised and selfconfident, much as she had been Before, when she had been not only the Sovereign's much beloved sister and trusted confidant, but an intelligent and highly respected military leader. Her composure and elegant grace were legendary, very much like her mother's, and the people of their planet had all but worshiped her. Tess herself had been completely intimidated and a little resentful of her husband's sister, although she had always treated Tess kindly, if a little patronizingly. Tess had despaired of ever winning her respect, much less her liking.
And this was Michael. She scrutinized the photograph carefully. It showed The Three sitting together on what looked like high school bleachers, surrounded by humans yet curiously apart, separate. Isabel was speaking, smiling, her face animated. Max was looking at her with a small smile. Michael was paying attention, but not smiling. He didn't look like he smiled very much. Although he had been her husband's Second and his oldest and closest friend and advisor, he had always frightened Tess. She had met him personally shortly after the impending joining ceremony between she and the Sovereign had been announced. He was known to be almost eerily insightful, which was part of what made him such a brilliant Second. But something about his penetrating gaze made her certain that he could see all her most desperately kept personal secrets, and it had been agonizingly difficult to meet his eyes. He had examined her with one perceptive glance, then dismissed her immediately as someone of no consequence. Which, she supposed, he'd been correct about. She was about to be joined to their planet's Sovereign, supposedly she had the world at her feet. But the Second had known the truth. His politeness had hidden his disdain, but she had known how he truly felt. He'd known that she didn't matter.
The Three of them had a bond that had been forged as infants, and strengthened over an entire lifetime. They had been raised together, educated together, and were unswervingly loyal to each other. As adults their responsibilities were enormous. Between them, they were accountable for a goodly portion of the governing of their entire planet. And occasionally, in private, the strain of it had been visible. But The Three (as she had privately referred to them long before coming to Earth) had drawn strength and solace from each other. It had taken very little time for Tess to realize that although all Three of them were kind to her, she would never be included in the shining circle of love and trust and support they wove around themselves. They worked together, served together, played together, backed each other in all things. In the end, they had died together.
Such bonds were remarkable amongst their people. Her own father had truly loved and cared for her, but he had been banned while she was still an adolescent, dismissed from the family for daring to question her mother's decisions. The family was expected to stick together, but Tess had always felt keenly their disappointment in her. She was not strong enough, smart enough, intelligent enough. Only her royal birth and good looks kept her from being sent away with her father. Her introduction to the Sovereign had been a calculated action by her mother, hoping that Tess's looks could be used to further the family connections and power.
The Sovereign and his Second had both had frighteningly portentous dreams - they had known that the barbarian invasion was imminent. The Sovereign had been desperate to unite all factions of the planet together before the invasion, knowing they otherwise stood no chance of defeating the enemy. The joining with Tess had been his mother's idea, not his, but his sense of responsibility had won out over his personal abhorrence or arranged joinings, and he had reluctantly agreed. He had courted her publicly, to the delight of the entire planet. His acting abilities were considerable - Tess had been one of the last of the inner circle to know that he did not love her. She had learned later that the strongest emotion she inspired in him was an absent sort of relief that she wasn't repulsive.
Her feelings for him had been quite, quite different.
To the young woman that Tess had been, the love and closeness among the Sovereign's family and inner circle had attracted her almost as powerfully as the Sovereign himself. She, who had always been on the outside of her ambitious and powerful family, longed to be part of this Clan, to feel the sense of belonging that they all took for granted. She had wished desperately, just once, to truly matter to someone. She had been hurt and disappointed Before. And the next few days would tell if such a thing could be Now.
However, her closeness to the power nexus had shown her many things that no one else, even the Sovereign's mother, knew. For example, the Sovereign's mother, and indeed the entire planet, had thought that the Sister and the Second were betrothed. The formal announcement had been made only a short time before the first barbarian invasion, and had been greeted with approval and much rejoicing. But a secretly overheard conversation between the Sovereign and his Second had revealed to Tess that the betrothal was a sham. The Three had staged the entire pretense to protect the Sister and the Second from falling victim to the same sort of forced, political, arranged joining that had befallen the Sovereign. It had been a bitter blow to be faced so baldly with the truth of the Sovereign's indifference to her and his resentment of their joining, but it had not been a difficult secret to keep. She of all people had understood the necessity of the deception. They were all simply too valuable as political commodities. Despite what the general populace believed, love matches amongst the royalty were rare.
Not that the Sovereign, her mate, had ever been anything but kind and courteous to her, in public or in private. The general populace had thought it a love match, and their joining was wildly popular. Before the first invasion, the citizen's appetite for news about the Sovereign and his young, beautiful mate had been overwhelming. Only the Sovereign's inner circle and Tess's immediate family had known the truth. She had been very good at keeping secrets Before. She knew grimly that she was still good at keeping them.
For she had a secret, a secret she had in her shame kept from everyone Before, and which she could barely admit to herself Now. Long before her mother had negotiated the joining, she had dreamed of attracting the Sovereign's attention. To her young and naive mind, he had embodied everything that she had ever dreamed of in a mate - fine looks, kindness, intelligence, position, power. She had been giddy with delight when he actually began to court her, and had fallen hard for his charm, his humor and kindness. She had been on the verge of handing him an unqualified admission of her true feelings for him. The truth, garnered from the unintentional eavesdropping incident shortly before he proposed the formal joining, had crushed her. And he had been relatively honest with her, explaining to her that the safety of the planet was the most important thing to him, and their joining would unify several opposing factions, virtually guaranteeing a united front when the barbarian invasion came. Outwardly she had taken his business-like proposal calmly. Inside, she had felt like something was breaking apart and dying. She had been grateful for the iron control her upbringing had instilled in her.
Despite the threats of her family, she had thought long and carefully before accepting the Sovereign's proposal. In the end she had resolved to proceed with the joining, and for all the right reasons. Signs had indeed indicated that the barbarians were targeting their planet, and a united front was crucial. If being joined to a man indifferent to her was the only meaningful contribution she would make, she would make it.
And privately she admitted to herself that she had hope of more. Perhaps, over the lifetime they would share, she could make the Sovereign feel something more for her than resigned indifference. Maybe, just maybe there was a chance that he could grow to love her. It was a secret she held to herself guiltily, too ashamed to admit to even her best friend, or her father. And so she had pledged herself to a loveless, soulless joining, and in the end, the best she could do was not good enough.
If she was brutally honest with herself, she knew that her decision or lack of real protest to come to Earth was because she hoped for a fresh start with the man she was joined to. Maybe here, on Earth, in new and different bodies, in a strange place where they would only have each other to turn to, she would begin to matter to him. Perhaps he would love her, as she had always so hopelessly loved him.
Tess raised her eyes again to the dreary landscape as the car sped toward Roswell. There was only this one slim chance of saving their planet. The mission that so many had fought and died for was the important thing. Not her. She was here by accident, an afterthought, an inferior substitute for someone who mattered. She needed to stop thinking about Max, Isabel and Michael in terms of what they meant to her, or what she meant to them. They were the ones that mattered. The only contribution she could make, really, was to educate them about their planet, about the mission, about their destiny. Her own feelings, as always, were unimportant. One more thing that had not changed between Before and Now.
"Here we are" Nasedo spoke abruptly, snapping her out of her reverie. "This is the town limits. I've rented a house in the residential section, and tomorrow you'll start school. It's the best way for you to approach them. Now, remember all you've learned. You need to get close to them, get them to trust you before you let them know who you are. It's possible that they may recognize you, that your presence might trigger some memories for them, but don't count on it. I'll worry about the FBI and keeping you all safe - your job is to educate them about this mission." He arched a sardonic human eyebrow at her. "I hope you're clear on that."
She nodded firmly, her expression impassive. But she felt a curl in her gut that meant something different than fear. For the first time in either of her lives, she felt something other than apprehension at the thought of being in the presence of The Three. For the first time, she felt anticipation. Perhaps things could be different here. They were confused, and she could provide answers. They were lost, and she had a map. Maybe, just maybe, she could make a difference. And maybe she could matter.
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