Disclaimer: Very few of the characters within belong to me. You'll know which is which. I'm not making anything on any of them anyway, so nobody should get excited.
A/N: Many thanks to all of you who have read and enjoyed the story; this is the last of it. I hope I've answered all your questions and left nothing dangling. I've had a lot of fun challenging myself in the creation of this story, and this chapter is no exception. Please, let me know what you think. And as always, my eternal gratitude to Rach.
Angel with Two Faces
Six months later
Miri looked out of the window and smiled to herself. Qetre was a welcome change from the ongoing reconstruction of the ACC. It was an even bigger change from the technological familiarity of the Station, which was now in orbit around Earth. Miri fingered a vine that trailed past her window. Very different indeed. But she liked it.
Ba'altesch's home lay secluded high in the thick branches of an old-growth forest, dating back thousands of Qetren years. The trees were huge, as big around as Nemesis herself, in fact, and were thickly roped with vines. Their size and vitality was attributed by the Qetren people to the close proximity of the sacred springs of Bel Qetre.
Below the suspended village, things were bustling. Ba'altesch's family was an old and honored one, and he was determined to make this day stand out in the memories of his people, as well as his adopted family in the IRF. Miri could see his hulking form hurrying about, tiny as an ant from her elevated perspective in the bungalow she'd been given.
She was busy herself, finally completing a task that had taken far too long in her considered opinion. Something else had always seemed to take precedence, until now, and she was determined that she would discharge this last responsibility. Today.
Miri read back her dictation from the holopad, a small frown furrowing her brow. Yes, that seemed to cover the resurrection episode, at least as far as she could remember, given her head injury and the state of the ACC at the time.
"New file, heading Scott project, subheading follow-up and result interpretation." Miri waited a moment for her computer to comply, then began, her voice businesslike. "Upon regaining consciousness, subject Scott claimed quasi-awareness during his time in stasis. I have no explanation for this, but he was in possession of information that would have otherwise been impossible to come by. In addition, the subject demonstrated unusual abilities. He attributed this effect to an…" she hesitated, searching for the right words, "an expansion of consciousness attained during the period of stasis. Again, there is no way to prove or disprove his experience, but the fact of his newly acquired abilities is irrefutable. Over a period of six months, I have quantified these abilities as follows.
"Jason Scott has acquired the ability to accelerate the natural healing of damaged tissues. This was demonstrated numerous times on the Goldar mission. The length of time over which an injury had been sustained seems immaterial, as evidenced by his curing the degenerative spinal injury suffered by Auxiliary Commander Rocky DeSantos more than twenty years ago. This injury had been subsequently aggravated on mission Forever Red to the extent that DeSantos had relinquished his post as an active Ranger." Miri grinned. "Commander DeSantos has recently been reinstated to active field duty, at his request."
She paused for a moment to collect her thoughts. "In addition, subject Scott has the ability to move at speeds faster than can be tracked by the naked human eye. This ability is applicable in short bursts, and the subject suffers subsequent exhaustion in direct proportion to the effort put out.
"His physical strength seems to be enhanced as well, although my personal theory is that the subject combines his considerable body mass with an acquired telekinetic ability to give the appearance of increased strength. This seems to be an unconscious reflex, which would explain why this 'super-strength' appears only in relevant situations.
"He has on at least one occasion given evidence of a kind of precognitive awareness, but it is my belief that this ability is beyond his control and therefore not measurable.
"Lastly, as mentioned previously, Jason Scott has acquired telekinetic abilities beyond any thus far recorded in a human subject. This ability seems to be limited only by his will. Testing sessions were recorded and are included in this file."
She tapped her lower lip and swiveled in her chair, fidgeting. Now came the sticky bit. Jason was already being treated with far more reverence than made him comfortable among the ranks of the IRF. His reputation coupled with the resurrection was the stuff of legend, especially if Uncle Tom had his way. To fully reveal the changes his time in the exile of the Shadowlands had wrought would catapult him straight to myth, and make him utterly miserable. On the other hand, the information could prove invaluable someday, and ought to be on record somewhere.
A tricky line to walk. But Miri had a plan. A career-ender, possibly, but somehow that didn't seem to matter as much as Jason had begun to.
She smiled to herself, tucking a stray lock of hair behind one ear. He'd made it clear from the very beginning that he had feelings for her. How or why, she couldn't imagine. He'd seen something in her, he'd said. Certainly it wasn't impossible that his experiences in the Shadowlands had made him more perceptive. For her part she'd been willing to accept, even love Jason for her father's sake. But the truth was, over the last six months she'd come to love him for his own.
And today she was going to tell him so.
She took a deep breath and began to dictate. "I, Miranda Cestria Cranston, tender my resignation as director of the Scott project, as I can no longer maintain my professional distance. Jason Lee Scott is not a project; he is a man. A hero, possibly the pre-eminent hero of this generation and the last. He deserves every consideration the IRF and the Council of Allied Planets can give him." Miri swallowed, then continued. "I am aware that there are those on the Council that will disagree strongly with my decisions in this matter, but I am willing to accept any and all disciplinary measures meted out. What I have done is, I believe, for the best." She cleared her throat. "Therefore, the results of testing for the abilities subject Scott evinced while on the moon remain in a separate file. This file is permanently encoded to Jason Scott's personal DNA to ensure his privacy and security both now and in the future. The Scott project is officially closed."
A deep voice from behind her startled Miri. "You didn't have to do that."
She turned, smiling her greeting. "I didn't hear you come in."
Jason frowned down at her. "Why do it, if you know the Council of whatever it is will be angry?"
"Council of Allied Planets." Miri hit 'send' and stood, stretching.
"Whatever. I told you I was okay with it."
"Sure you did. I even think you meant it, too, when you said it." She drew her palm gently over his cheek. "I saw your face when the Council reps came by the lab. They treated you like an experiment, not a person, even after all you've done. You're not quite real to them, I think." Miri stepped closer, wrapping her arms around his shoulders.
Jason looked at her searchingly, seeming to find an answer in her smile. He leaned his forehead to hers with a sigh, slipping his hands around her waist to pull her close. His dark eyes flared; his voice was husky. "What was that about not maintaining your professional detachment?"
She inched her mouth closer, nuzzling his nose with her own. "Distance. Can't maintain my professional dist — mmm."
And that was all they said for a while.
In a secluded, warm pool, far from the celebratory bustle, Kailey leaned back luxuriously into her beloved's arms with a purr of satisfaction. Scott chuckled, tugging on a strand of her wet hair that had stuck to his chest.
Kailey grinned. "Mmmm, yes." She stretched her arms up and twined them around his neck, turning slightly for his kiss.
"Nervous about today?"
She thought about it. "No, not really." Kailey fiddled with the diamond ring he'd placed on her finger three short months ago. "Time goes by fast, doesn't it? And things change."
Scott held her away from him slightly, studying her pretty face. "You are nervous."
She shrugged. "Yeah."
"Listen." He folded her close again. "Things will be different from now on, sure. But nothing fundamental is going to change. We're just shifting living arrangements around a bit. We still love the people we love, and they love us. And I love you, Kail. I always will."
She smiled. "I love you, too."
Ba'altesch looked around him with satisfaction. Bel Qetre had never looked quite so lovely, in his opinion, and that was what he had planned. This was a commission like no other he'd ever been asked to execute, and he intended to carry it out to the very best of his ability.
Hanging overhead was a bower of the most beautiful, fragrant blossoms Qetre could produce, in shades of white and ivory, yellow and the merest touch of pink, looped with lush greenery and held in place with the sheerest of white draperies. The music of the springs, serenely bubbling, added a note of purity to the scene. No footwear was allowed here in this holy place, but Ba'altesch had planned to wear his family crest and traditional garb. Such an occasion was due the highest marks of respect and honor, and besides, he knew he looked well in it. And Maya would be arriving soon for the festivities.
He grinned, running his fingers through his wavy ebony hair. He'd grown it out some at her suggestion, instead of shaving it to the scalp as he was used to doing. She'd seemed to like it very much the last time he'd seen her… Ba'altesch's grin grew broader. Yes, Maya had seemed to appreciate the change.
And speaking of whom… he checked his chronometer. Maya's ship was due to land shortly. He had better make haste if he wanted to meet it.
"Does it bother you that this marriage is happening relatively quickly?" Jason asked, while Miri rummaged in her closet for the outfit she'd been given to wear.
Miri shook her head, laughing. "I'll tell you the truth, after I walked in on them half-dressed the first time I began to feel like it couldn't come too soon." She tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow, her robe draped over her free arm. "I guess after she saw him get hurt on the moon things became clear for them. Anyway, they haven't been able to keep their hands off each other." She chuckled as they stepped out into the late afternoon sun, heading for the middle of the village. "And it's pretty obvious they're good together, don't you think?"
Jason nodded. "Yes. I was just wondering what you thought about it all."
"I think it's wonderful to have something to celebrate, after all the pain and trouble Goldar caused."
He nodded again, his dark eyes thoughtful.
Miri sighed. "Finding happiness in the wake of all that destruction… it's the final victory, isn't it?"
He digested that, changing the subject. "Which one is Trini and Kailey's bungalow?"
She raised an arm and pointed through the network of hanging bridges that connected the village. "Up there. I should hurry; I was supposed to be there ten minutes ago. We're all supposed to dress together." He slanted her a look; she giggled. "I don't know. It's a wedding thing, I guess." Miri skipped ahead, tugging on his hand. "Come on, I'm late."
Jason shrugged and tugged her back to him, a mischievous expression on his face. "Tell 'em you got distracted."
She chuckled. "And it's true, too." He bent his head and kissed her, and it was several moments before Miri realized their feet weren't on the bridge anymore. She opened her eyes to see thick foliage floating by; or rather, they were the ones doing the floating, skimming through the air as he held her close. "Jase! What are you doing?"
"Taking the direct route." He looked at her, dark eyes alight as they touched down lightly in front of the bungalow. "I'll see you later. I'm supposed to meet the guys at Tommy's." He chuckled. "It's a wedding thing."
There he was. Even at this distance and among throngs of his own people, Maya could pick Ba'altesch out with ease. It must be more than affection, she reflected, smoothing her attire. Love, she thought. Nothing less would upset her equilibrium so.
A hand over her stomach calmed the butterflies there as she waited for him to see her… ah, now he'd caught sight of her. Maya kept her face serene, inwardly rejoicing at the stunned expression in those dark eyes. She had known there would be little time to change before the ceremony, and so had chosen to dress on the ship.
Ba'altesch had sent her a traditional Qetren robe to wear. Apparently all of the visitors and celebrants had decide to adhere to this tradition. It would be a beautiful ceremony.
She glanced down at herself. The word 'robe' was sort of an overstatement, in Maya's opinion. It had taken her and Taylor some time to figure out how it was supposed to go; Maya hoped they'd gotten it right. She grinned involuntarily, remembering Eric's expression when he caught sight of his wife in traditional Qetren garb. It was a good thing they had taken a private cabin.
Ba'altesch began to smile, a slow, appreciative smile that curled Maya's toes. Evidently her robe was on correctly. She smiled back, inspecting his outfit. His hair was longer now, silky and wavy, brushing the collar of the long, deep purple cape he wore, lavishly decorated in gold. It was hitched back on one side with golden ropes to reveal a ceremonial sword with a jeweled hilt. His pants were dark and snug, outlining the muscular tree trunks that were his legs. He wore no shirt.
Maya chuckled to herself at that.
Kat held up the robe against her body. "Front, back… no sides. Are you sure this is right?"
Miri nodded, adjusting her belt straps carefully. "Yep. I checked with Ba'altesch. For such a modest guy, his people sure do underdress. The robe only covers front and back; the sides stay open. It's connected at the shoulders, and the neck part drapes down. And then these belt straps wind around down your body to your hips, sort of criss-crossing, to hold it together. No modesty for us." Taylor, from her seat across the room, laughed.
"But there's no way to wear underwear with this! I'm a middle-aged woman and a mother!" Kat wailed. "I can't go out in public without underwear!"
Taylor chuckled. "Trust me, you'll look great. Besides," she added, a devilish grin on her face, "wait till you see what Tom has to wear."
Tommy adjusted the purple cape over his shoulder and peered over Jason's shoulder to look in the mirror. No shirt, tight pants, cloak…"Anybody else feel like the chorus line of the Star Wars Ice Capades?"
Jason snorted. "Star Wars meets Chippendales, maybe. I'm just wondering how the Qetren manage to reproduce after wearing pants this tight."
"Did you see what the women are wearing?" This was Eric, who lounged against the wall by the door, arms folded across his bare torso. A chorus of 'noes' answered him, and he grinned wolfishly. "All I'm gonna say is, they manage."
The two seventeen-year-old boys, identical twins and both the image of Tommy, sprawled over the bed began whistling and making lewd remarks. Their father quelled them with a raised brow. "David, Will, knock it off. Your mother's going to be wearing whatever it is, so cool it."
"So where's the groom?" Rocky wanted to know, bouncing on his toes the way he used to do in high school.
Tommy nodded toward the bathroom. "Changing, in there. And when I say changing, I mean barfing; his color wasn't too good when I saw him a little while ago."
Jason grinned. "Think he's gonna back out?"
Tommy laughed. "Nah. Too stubborn. Besides, he really loves the girl."
"Who wouldn't?" put in Jason. "Whoop, time to get down there. Grab Scott and let's get on board this love train."
Mar'altesch straightened her robes, touching her headpiece gently to insure it was in place as the gentle music of the processional started. She smiled affectionately at her son as he escorted Maya to her seat, then took his own place beside her.
Mar'altesch looked approvingly at Maya. For a human, the girl was quite presentable, and certainly knew how to handle herself with the quiet dignity so attractive in a mate and daughter. She wondered if Ba'altesch had asked Maya to be his lifemate yet. Probably not; he was a shy child, always had been. Still, Mar'altesch could see which way the wind was blowing, and she found the fragrance it carried to be sweet.
And here came the other humans who had become so important to her son. Really, they all looked quite well in Qetren native dress. Not all beings could carry off the rich purple that denoted the Altesch noble house. Ku'raltesch beamed. They made her quite proud, these humans. She had spent some little time with each of them, wishing to know those who completed her son's life away from home, and had found each worthy of respect and affection.
Ah, here came the lifemates. Bride and groom, Mar'altesch corrected herself. She had spent some time with Trini and Kat going over human wedding rituals so that she could conduct this ceremony, paying heed to the traditions of the sacred springs, and still honoring the couple's heritage.
Kailey had her hair loose, in keeping with Qetren tradition, and wore a simple circlet of ivory flowers in her hair. Her feet were bare, as were the groom's; that Mar'altesch really had insisted on, for it was imperative to keep a part of oneself in contact with Bel Qetre.
For his part, Scott cut a fine figure in his Qetren finery. He made a handsome groom, a handsome addition to the house of Altesch.
Perhaps when Ba'altesch and Maya said their vows... well. The music stopped, and it was time to begin.
"My dear ones," Mar'altesch said expansively, her voice warm and melodic. "We gather here as beloved family to unite these two in sacred vows. We surround them with our love and support as they embark on their life together."
She wrapped a ribbon around the clasped hands of the couple and began the recital of the vows. Scott smiled down at his bride; Kailey beamed at him, and Mar'altesch opened her arms wide, surveying the crowd benignly. This was a mating that would stand well over time. It rolled off the happy couple in waves: this was a pairing that was meant to last.
"And now, my dear ones, are there others who wish to renew their pledge, or who wish to make a new one? If so, let them come together and stand before us, before me and the sacred springs, and let their promises be blessed."
Eric and Taylor popped up like a child's toy on a spring; Mar'altesch chuckled warmly and blessed their commitment to one another. Tommy and a fiercely blushing Kat followed, the latter trying to walk so that her costume was less revealing. Mar'altesch mentally gave the elegant blonde points for trying, and when she had said the ritual blessing Mar'altesch took Tommy's cloak and slung it around his grateful wife.
Mar'altesch looked at her son expectantly, but he blushed a royal blue and she realized she was going to have to wait a bit longer for those grandchildren. Maya, however, sent her a serene smile, and that vastly eased Mar'altesch's disappointment.
The next part was as good as a play. Mar'altesch watched Jason hold out a hand to Miri, his eyes dark and full of love, and after a brief hesitation Miri took it and stood with him. The young Oliver twins cheered and were hushed by their mother. Kailey ran from her place and hugged Miri impulsively. Mar'altesch, who felt a bit like cheering herself, said that blessing with hearty pleasure.
And then Billy got to his feet, and the gathering fell silent as he walked slowly forward, stopping in front of Trini. Mar'altesch was fervently wishing for an Earth delicacy she'd recently become addicted to, and which her son claimed people ate by the bucket when in entertainment venues. Yes, some popcorn would be perfect, given the drama of the moment.
Billy got down on one knee in front of Trini, whose eyes were wide. He took her hand. "I thought, after Cestria, that I would never be whole again. You proved me wrong, a long time ago. You offered me friendship and understanding beyond anything I could ask for. I should have asked you years ago, Trini. I love you. Will you marry me?"
Trini looked at her daughter, who was clutching her new husband's arm and nodding so hard Mar'altesch though her head might come loose. Miri was chewing her fingers and nodding as well, silvery tears tracking down her face.
Trini looked back at Billy.
Mar'altesch wanted to shake her. Instead she folded her hands and waited.
Pandemonium ensued. Mar'altesch let it go for a bit, wishing her position were less exalted so she could let out just one good whoop. Instead, she blessed the promise in her most carrying tones, inviting the best the sacred springs had to give on the company.
"And so, my dear ones, I conclude this ceremony. May we all love one another forever as heartily as we do now, and may we stand strong together against whatever may come to us. Blessings be on us all." She bowed her head, and there was silence, broken only by the serene bubbling of the springs behind her.
Until Rocky and the twins yelled in unison, "PARTY TIME!"