Epilogue - The Time It Takes To Let Go
Two weeks later, the Silhouette was cruising through a nebula, hidden in the shadowy red-purple cloud of gas and starfire. It had been a week since any UEF pursuit had even come close to their location. Kienan's gamble had paid off; by hiding on the edge of the Frontier, they stayed safe, unnoticed and alone.
The Silhouette's sensors picked up the strange discus-shaped craft as it flew silently towards the battered freighter. It wasn't part of the Silhouette's usual complement, nor was its pilot necessarily welcome on board, but her approach was cleared all the same.
The craft came to a landing in the docking bay; it's blued armor seeming to darken in the pale blue-white light of the bay. The cockpit lowered from the nose of the small fighter. The pilot swung her legs over the landing seat, gently placing her helmet on the seat and activating the retraction mechanism. Gently she shook her hair out, it's long dark brown locks cloaking her face in shadows.
She walked slowly to the ladder up to the upper decks, Mirage saw her as she passed, briefly pausing in her repair of a power relay to notice her. Her irisless eyes met the deep blue of the newcomer's and her eyes narrowed into an angry glower that was almost human.
Not her, Mirage thought. Not after everything else.
She watched the woman climb the ladder up to the deck and grabbed the remote communications unit on her belt.
"Vain," she said. "I'm afraid that horrible woman is back."
He'd named this ship for me, the woman known as Silhouette thought as she climbed up the ladder.
I could never work out whether that was supposed to be a compliment or an insult.
She walked down the main corridor, idly running her black gloved hand over the wall. It was so strange. It had been only a couple of years since she'd last been here, a lot longer before that, but somehow, something in her felt she belonged here, or at least tied to it in some vague metaphysical way.
Maybe it's just the lingering memory of what we were, she thought, mounting the stairs at the end of the corridor and entering the ship's living quarters. Or maybe it's because, for all intents and purposes, this is where I grew up.
Kienan had found her on Kuran, a blank slate. She couldnt remember anything about it, even now. Kienan took her in, trained her as he'd been trained, and she became a very capable assassin.
Or I was until the job began to bother me. I'm not a killer like him, I couldn't look people in the eye and pull the trigger. So I got out.
I dont think he's ever forgiven me for it.
She took a deep breath. The last time she'd come here she'd been out of her head, trying to warn Kienan that he was going to die.
Naturally, he couldnt be bothered to listen, she mused. But he did save my life, and in exchange for some information I made him promise me something, and I intend to collect on it.
She felt a stirring in her stomach, the old familiar butterflies that she felt every time she saw him. Even though she was involved with someone else, even though so much good and bad had passed between the two of them, something stirred inside her every time she saw him.
She passed the living quarters and made her way up another flight of stairs to the observation deck. She paused, putting a hand on the doorframe to steady herself, and walked inside.
Kienan was standing in the shadow of one of the observation room's struts, looking out the window. His arm was in a sling and his hair was down. He was dressed in loose red and black clothing that did a horrible job of covering the many bandages he had on his body. It looked strange to see him without the braid, somehow. It softened his features somewhat, framing his eyes, which were a little darker and a lot sadder.
Almost . . .lost, she thought.
He looked over at her, never turning from the window.
"What are you doing here?" Kienan asked gently, leaning against the strut and closing his eyes.
"Ronah let me know what was happening," Silhouette said, walking in slowly, as if picking her steps through broken glass. "I . . .wanted to see you. Make sure you were all right."
Kienan glanced down at his arm. "I've been better."
"I can see," Silhouette said. "We . . .heard how it finished. You've got quite the price on your head now. The Blue Dragons and the UEF both are tearing up the Frontier looking for you. And behind them, a very long line of people who'd like more than anything to kick you while youre down."
"It's nice to feel wanted," Kienan said. He swallowed, wincing a bit. "How are you?"
"I'm . . .good," Silhouette said. In truth, she was very happy, and had been for awhile, but somehow it didnt seem right to be so exuberant when someone was visibly suffering.
"Things sure have changed for us, haven't they," she said, walking towards him. She caught herself before she moved closer. No, she reminded herself. Keep your distance. Don't get taken in again, even if you want to.
"Yes, they have," Kienan said. He looked out at the nebula, annoyed. "Look . . .is there a reason for this visit?"
"You dont have to worry," Silhouette said. "No one followed me in, no one will flush you out. I came here because, well, partly, I wanted to see you again, make sure you were all right."
Kienan reached into his pocket with his good arm, fumbling for a cigarette from the pack within. He lifted it to his lips, reaching for his lighter. He mumbled a curse as it slipped from his hands and hit the deck.
Silhouette sighed and waved him off, bending down to pick it up. She brushed the hair from his eyes and face and lit it for him.
"Thanks," Kienan said, taking a slow drag off the cigarette. He looked at her curiously for a second. Silhouette wasn't fooled--whenever Kienan went into a laconic moment like that he wasn't being lazy--he was putting two and two together.
"What's the other reason you're here?" Kienan asked, finally.
Silhouette blinked, grimaced and looked guiltily away at the deck.
"You want it honestly?"
"If that's what youre here for."
Silhouette took a deep breath. Even now, even after so many years she couldnt help feeling like she was interrogating her.
"I'm here for Jayla, Kienan," she said. "Like you promised."
Jayla-2 stared at the console she was holding several feet above the deck on the bridge. Underneath it, Vain carefully soldered over short-circuits that Conscience insisted she'd found and they'd taken all day to spot.
"Which horrible woman was Mirage talking about?" Jayla-2 asked innocently.
Vain continued her work with no apparent physical sign but still visible annoyance. "She means Silhouette, Jayla-2."
"Oh, you mean, like the ship?"
"I believe the ship was named after her, yes."
"Is she nice?"
Vain paused for a moment, as if deciding what would be the most diplomatic way to speak her mind.
"I dont think she is."
Vain set the soldering gun aside and slid out from under the console. She looked at Jayla-2 as she gathered her hair over her shoulder. "You can put it back now, Jayla-2. But gently, if you please."
Jayla-2 carefully set the console back into the hardpoint on the deck of the bridge, watching as Vain stood up again.
"Why dont you think this Silhouette is very nice, Vain?"
Vain looked at her, again trying to figure out how to sugarcoat the bitter pill.
"I resent her for abandoning Kienan," she said.
"She abandoned him?" Jayla-2 asked.
"In a way," Vain said. "I dont know the particulars of it, because Kienan never talks about it, but I can see it in his eyes when he thinks of her or when she comes aboard. She causes him pain."
Jayla-2 digested this information slowly. The memories of Jayla Kyren stirred in her mind, memories of her and Kienan's brief courtship, how he seemed passionate enough but always holding back subtly.
"And since you're sworn never to see him hurt . . .that upset you?" Jayla-2 asked.
"I dont get "upset," Jayla-2," Vain said. "But no, I do not approve of her."
"Then why dont you tell her to leave?"
"It's not my ship, Jayla-2," Vain said. "Besides which, Kienan told Mirage and I to leave her alone. But she knows even that has a limit."
"Oh," Jayla-2 said. "I wonder why she came back then?"
Kienan pondered Silhouette's words for a few minutes. In his heart he wrestled with two distinct pains--the more immediate one of Silhouette coming on board and with everything else that had gone wrong in the last two weeks essentially greeting him with a slap in the face and another deeper pain.
The other, deeper pain was wrapped up in fear. Fear of losing one more person close to him when the life he'd known had essentially been destroyed and most of the people closest to him--Mao, Angela, and Lil--had been lost along with his old life.
Forgive me if I'm not willing to let go of one more, he thought. No matter how much sense it would make to do it.
"You promised me, Kienan," Silhouette said. "I gave you the information you needed to find people to help her, on the condition that if she wanted to leave, youd let her go."
"If she wanted to leave," Kienan emphasized.
"I dont see any reason why she would want to stay," Silhouette said, regretting the bitterness in her words seconds after she said them. "She won't survive very long with you on the run. Vain and Mirage will stay with you to the end--there's nothing I can do for them, but please, Kienan. If she's able to, she should be somewhere safe. I can provide that."
Kienan thought about that. I tried so hard to keep her safe--her and Angela both. Could I protect them as a fugitive from my old employers, old enemies and an entire army?
"I'm sorry Kienan," she said. "I know this isn't what you want to hear right now. But you have to think of the people closest to you now, and you have to think of yourself."
She put her hand on his shoulder. "Could you handle losing one more person? I know the Marionettes would never leave but this is different, isn't it?"
Kienan jerked his shoulder and her hand slipped away.
"Sorry," Silhouette said, annoyed.
Kienan took a deep breath and leaned his head back against the strut.
I could talk Sil out of it, he thought. I could tell her I have everything under control, I have a contingency plan, she'll be OK. Or I could yell at her and scare her off.
But . . .things arent so simple anymore.
"Listen," Kienan said slowly. "If she wants to leave, it's going to be her decision. Youre not going to make it for her."
"She . . .can talk?"
Kienan looked out at the stars, trying to restrain the sarcastic comeback fighting its way up his throat. "Yes," he said finally. The words came slowly, fighting to come out of the fear around his heart. "Yes she can. Talk to her. See if she wants to go. If she does . . .then I'll . . .feel better . . . knowing it's her decision. That's its not something you just up and decided for everyone, like the last time."
Silhouette looked away. Touché, she thought.
"I'd . . .like to talk to her," Silhouette said, running her fingers through her hair and looking away from Kienan, slightly hurt. She glanced back at him. "Do you . . .want to be there when I do?"
Kienan shook his head. He turned his back on her and leaned his head against the cold glass of the window.
"Are you sure?"
Kienan nodded. "I dont want to make her feel she has to stay any more than I want you deciding she has to go. It's up to her."
Kienan moved past her to the communications system on the wall. Silhouette watched him with curiosity.
He really is different, she thought. I've never seen anything shake him up this bad.
Ten minutes later, Jayla-2 walked into the medical bay. The woman sitting at the diagnostic terminal was unfamiliar to her--much shorter than she was, with blue-green eyes that seemed to shift all around them room, incapable of making contact with hers.
"Jayla?" Silhouette asked, getting up from her chair.
Jayla-2 looked taken aback. "It's Jayla-2," she corrected. "I'm not Jayla Kyren."
"But . . .you are a clone of her?"
"Vain calls me an "anti-clone,"" Jayla-2 said. "That's as close to a one-word definition for me as anyone's managed. I'm . . .kind of complicated."
"I know the feeling," Silhouette responded. She found herself smiling despite the gravity of what might be about to happen. Something about Jayla-2 was open, easygoing, and almost childlike.
I cant believe Kienan's put up with her, she thought, ashamed of herself for judging him so harshly.
"Is the ship named after you?" Jayla-2 asked.
Silhouette nodded. "It was supposed to be our home away from home . . .a long time ago."
Silhouette felt her teeth beginning to set on edge. Now she really wondered how Kienan stood up to this.
"Hmm, maybe so," she said quietly. "In any case, that's not why I wanted to see you. Can I ask you something?"
"You can ask me anything."
"Are you happy being here?" Silhouette asked. If the direct approach is the only way to deal with her, she thought, then we'll use the direct approach.
"Yes," Jayla-2 replied. Her face darkened slightly. "Except for the colony, it's really the only home I've ever had really."
"Even with everything that's happened?"
"Look, ah, I dont know how much of this Kienan's actually told you," Silhouette began. "But . . .Kienan has a lot of people looking for him. And they don't exactly care if he's dead or alive when they find him. They care even less if the people he's with are dead or alive, or if they have to go through them to get to him. Do you understand what I mean?"
"Yes," Jayla-2 said. "I know he's been marked. I was there when we escaped the colony."
Silhouette grimaced. "But you do understand that just by being on this ship . . .your life's in danger, right?"
"I'm not stupid, Silhouette," Jayla-2 said, somewhat less gently than her usual tone. "I was just as endangered on the colony--maybe even moreso. I know we're not completely safe out here, but here is where we are. There's no use in hoping for some other fate."
"What if I told you I could take you somewhere where you'd be safe?"
Jayla-2 stopped. "How?"
"How isnt important right now, OK?" Silhouette said impatiently. "I have a safe place prepared, with a lot of people who could protect you. It's a lot more stable than having to be on the move all the time, like you would be here."
"I would be safe then?"
"Theyre after Kienan, Jayla-2," Silhouette said. "Not you."
Jayla-2 turned that over in her mind for a bit, then asked the question that Silhouette knew was coming.
"What about Kienan?"
Silhouette looked at her. "I'm afraid I can't protect him. He doesnt want it, and I can't offer it to him without putting a whole lot of people in jeopardy.
"I'm afraid he chose this path and he has to deal with the consequences."
Jayla-2 looked at her. "I thought you cared about him."
"I do care about him, but--"
"Then you should try to protect him."
"It's not that simple," Silhouette said. "Kienan wouldnt take it, anyway, so its a moot point."
"Did you ask him?"
"I don't need to ask him," Silhouette said. She looked down at the deck. "Some things I know the answer to already."
"Or you've gotten so used to assuming the worst about him, that you answer it for him before you ask it," Jayla-2 said.
"That's not fair."
"I was just about to say the same thing," Jayla-2 said. "Youre not very fair to Kienan, not at all. If you cared about him so much . . .why did you leave?"
Silhouette put her hand over her mouth and looked way, then up. Despite herself, her eyes were starting to moisten. This was a bad idea, she thought. I shouldn't have come. Lord, but Kienan's cold approach is so much easier to take than her straight-ahead method.
"I loved Kienan, very much," Silhouette said, trying to keep her voice even. "But . . .because of what he does, the life he leads . . .it was a part of him I just couldnt love or accept no matter how hard I tried. So I left him, and believe me, it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I'd rather face death and lose than ever have to do something like that again."
"Vain says you hurt him. Bad."
"I'm sure I did, and I feel bad about it. Every day," Silhouette said, her voice quavering. "God, why am I even telling you this? I thought this would be so simple--I come here and do him a favor. I take you to safety so he doesnt have to see one more corpse of someone he cares so much about. And I'm trying to do you a favor at the same time."
"By keeping me safe?"
"Well . . .yes," Silhouette said. "But more than that, to keep you from making the same mistakes I did. Jayla-2, if you fall in love with Kienan, it will lead to such misery and heartache, you cant imagine."
Jayla-2 let that sink in for a few minutes. "I'm not in love with Kienan," Jayla-2 said.
"No," Jayla-2 said. "I don't think you do. If you did, you'd know that taking me away from him, especially now, would mean making the exact same mistakes you did.
"And then she said, "Vain was right--you are mean," and insisted that by leaving you I was being thoughtless and selfish," Silhouette repeated, pacing back and forth in front of Kienan. Kienan smiled thinly, hiding his amusement behind his still-unbraided hair.
Silhouette stopped and glared at him.
"Are you smiling?"
Kienan shook his head. "No," he said quietly. "But . . .I've never seen you this annoyed."
"She's . . .infuriating, Kienan," Silhouette said. "Was she like this before."
"She's not Jayla," Kienan said quietly. "Didn't she tell you?"
"Many times," Silhouette said through gritted teeth.
Kienan chuckled under his breath. He'd almost forgotten what it felt like.
"I cant believe you find this funny," Silhouette said. "Has it slipped your mind how much trouble you're in?"
"No it hasn't," Kienan said. "Not for a second. But I'll admit, after what I've been through . . .it's kind of nice having someone rush to your defense. And even more flattering that youre so crazy jealous about it."
"I am not," Silhouette said. "I'm just . . .exasperated. She's so . . .simple, Kienan. She really has no idea what she's getting into with you."
"What is she getting into with me?" Kienan said. "She doesn't love me. Something I've heard from her many times. And I . . .havent worked out how or what to feel about her yet."
"Maybe not now, but . . .she cares about you an awful lot," Silhouette leaned against the other strut, closing her eyes for a second. She opened her eyes slowly and looked out the window.
"I look at her and see the way I was, this total blank and . . ." Silhouette let things drift for a second. She blinked. "Oh God. Youre right--I am jealous. Not of how close she is to you but . . .kind of how she sees things so clearly."
"That's her special nature," Kienan agreed. He chose his next words very carefully. "Would it help if I told you it makes me uncomfortable too, sometimes?"
Silhouette laughed. "I'm not surprised," she said. "Of all the people to share a ship with, you two couldnt be more dissimilar. She's determined to see the good in everyone, and youre . . .you."
"I . . ." Silhouette was about to say something, but then she thought better of it. Something was coming through, as if by way of her subconscious, and slowly becoming clearer, but she couldnt put it into words. Not yet.
"Did you ever get around to asking her whether she wanted to go with you?" Kienan asked, looking out at the stars. Further out, a new star was flaring to life, drawing some of the nebula's gases into it as it flared.
"I did, but I think she told me "no" every possible way except the most expedient," Silhouette said.
"Then I can tell you it right now," a voice called from behind them. Jayla-2 stood in the doorway of the observation lounge. "I'm staying here. For good."
Silhouette moved out from the window as Kienan slowly did the same.
"Are you sure?" Silhouette asked. "You dont even have to answer right now."
"No, I'm sure," Jayla-2 said, looking at her, then at Kienan. "I know it wont be easy, but this is where I belong."
"I can't persuade you?"
Jayla-2 shook her head.
Silhouette laughed brushing a lock of her hair from her eyes. "That's . . .well, I guess I had to try. Ironically enough, I think you ended up persuading me."
"Persuading you of what?" Kienan asked.
Silhouette looked at Kienan, the wary, suspicious look in her eyes surprisingly absent. "I think . . .you need her here, Kienan."
She walked between them, looking Jayla-2 up and down. Then she looked her in the eye. "You remind me so much of myself, you know," she said. "I realized just now why talking to you infuriates me so.
"Because I can't see things as clearly as you," she continued, looking away. "No matter how hard I try. And that you can do it so easily and I can't . . .makes me angry at myself."
She looked back at Kienan. "Because no matter what's happened between us, I still care about you, Kienan. This is the second time I've come running to see if youre OK. But I cant bring myself to help you, and I think after what's happened . . ."
"That's enough, you made your point," Kienan said defensively.
"Not quite," Silhouette said. "These are bad times, uncertain times, and I think . . .the two of you need each other. And I owe you both an apology."
She looked, moving closer so Jayla-2 wouldnt hear. "I know you need her," she whispered. "Whether you tell me so or not. Take care of her, OK? Dont be scared to let her in."
Kienan just stared at her, not entirely comprehending what she was talking about, but on some gut level understanding things. Things had changed, that much he knew and felt acutely. Not just his situation, but everything. Inside as well as out.
Slowly he nodded.
Silhouette embraced him, a bit more gently this time. "Take care of yourself," she whispered.
Then she turned to Jayla-2 and took one of her hands in hers. It seemed so easy to deal with you when you were frozen solid, she thought.
"You . . .talking to you really upsets me," she said. "Because I see what I've lost when I look at you and I lost too much."
"So has Kienan," Jayla-2 said.
"I know," Silhouette said. "Try to help him through it."
Kienan grimaced, not liking it overmuch that they were talking about him as if he weren't in the room.
"I'd say I was going to miss you," Kienan said. "But I have a feeling we'll be running into each other again soon."
If you only knew, she thought. "I hope the circumstances are better next time," she said.
"I hope so too," Kienan said.
Jayla-2 watched Silhouette walk out of the door without another word or backwards glance. Then she turned to Kienan, walking over to him. Her eyes flitted from bandage to bandage as she looked him over.
Everything looked OK. None of his wounds had reopened or looked infected, but the most surprising change was in his eyes. They seemed a little lighter and a little brighter.
Finally, Jayla-2, looking into his eyes, said what was on her mind.
"Silhouette is a very strange woman, Kienan."
Silhouette quickly put her helmet on and sealed her suit, sighing as the cool air supply took over. She felt scared for them, but also good.
I dont envy them the path they're on, she thought, straddling the pilot's seat. As maddening as that Jayla-2 is . . .I think she is good for him. Or maybe it's that she's just good, period.
Hard to believe something can exist in this universe and be that pure. Maybe she can do what I wanted to for him, but never could.
Her fighter completed its preflight checks and its engines roared to life. Silhouette carefully maneuvered the ship into launch position, waiting for the blast shield to raise behind her. She pushed off against the shield and was out in open space again.
She thought back to when she'd been with Kienan, what she'd been like, and what they'd been like together. She realized that in her memories she'd weighed the bad more than the good, just as Jayla-2 had said.
She engaged the fighter's Space Drive and in the blink of an eye was hundreds of light years away from the Silhouette. She sighed, pushing the feelings weltering up in her back before she burst into tears again and activated her long-range communications.
She blinked for a moment, gathering her resolve. What I'm about to do isn't a very Jayla-2 thing to do . . .but I'm not that good anymore, am I?
Sorry, Jayla-2, she thought. I guess I'm deciding for the both of you now. I'm hoping you'll both be all right, but hope isnt enough.
I'm going to give it a little push.
She grimaced. Situational ethics were a little too much like the part of Kienan she didn't like and finding that they came to her so readily was slightly disturbing.
"Private message to Captain Meridius Soldato," she said into the microphone. "I've found him. He's alive."
Jayla-2 watched Kienan looking at her for the longest time. If it were possible to blush she would have, as the attention was slightly embarrassing.
Jayla-2 sighed. "I miss Angela."
"So do I," he said. Every second of every day. Her and the others. Hard to believe it took two days time to totally ruin my life, he thought. He looked down at the deck, the ache in his heart like a fist squeezing at his soul.
It's going to hurt for a long time, he thought.
"Do you remember Heaven's Day last year?" Kienan said.
"Uhm, yes," Jayla-2 said. "You yelled at me."
Kienan frowned, embarrassed. "Not that part. When I told you I didnt want you to go."
Jayla-2 nodded. "What about it?"
Kienan smiled shyly. "Nothing. Just . . .what happened with Silhouette made me think about that."
"I didnt want to go either," Jayla-2 said. "It doesnt matter how people get together, it matters that you're with the people you belong with."
"I never thought I belonged with anyone," Kienan said. "I think what happened proved that."
"Yes it did," Jayla-2 said. "But I don't think in the way you mean."
Kienan looked at her, raising an eyebrow. "Three of my best friends were killed," Kienan said. "The place where I thought I belonged is closed off to me forever, really. And I honestly dont know where or if I belong anywhere now. Seems like every place I go . . .gets taken away."
"You still have a place to belong," Jayla-2 said. "Here with us. As horrible as what happened at Kuran was . . .I think the fact that when it came down to it, you weren't alone means something."
Kienan looked around. "It's not much."
"Is it enough?"
Kienan thought about that for a long time.
"I dont know yet," he said. "For the past two weeks all I could think about was what happened, and how it still seemed so fresh and why I was still going on when there wasn't anything to go on for. But . . .I think . . .maybe finding out won't be so bad."
Jayla-2 took his hand in hers and smiled.
Despite himself, in contrary to his very nature, he was growing to like that smile.
"Turn around," she said after awhile.
Kienan turned to look at the stars. The Silhouette was moving out of the nebula, out of the Frontier, off the charts entirely into unknown space.
Behind him, he felt fingers in his hair, gently brushing it and gathering it.