Lexia blinked. Everything was frozen in place like some kind of weird tableau. Everything, she realised, except her.
"You've finally figured it out."
Mirracon's words startled her. "What...what's going on? What've you done?"
Mirracon, apparently also unaffected by whatever had happened, smirked. "Me? I didn't do anything. You did."
Lexia stared at him as he released John's arm. She half expected the arm to drop. It didn't. "What do you mean?"
Mirracon stepped forward, smirk turning to a snicker. "You didn't think it was at all strange that this place was all pink?" he taunted. "That you knew what was going on...who I was?"
A cold trickle of fear ran down Lexia's spine as she slowly shook her head.
Mirracon laughed more. "My dear, darling, Pinkie; you are as much a part of this little universe as I am."
"Why would I lie?" Mirracon asked. "Look at the evidence, my dear. You are the reason everything stopped -- it did as you told it."
The accusation felt like a sucker punch. "No...I...I can't be...why... Why would it? Why would I be a part of this?"
Mirracon was now right in front of her, standing within touching distance. "Because I needed an accomplice. And you were so willing. So ready. So...eager to please."
"I don't believe you." The denial was instant, but at the same time, Lexia felt a chill of recognition run the length of her spine.
Mirracon reached out to grab her shoulder. She jerked out of reach. "Don't touch me!"
Mirracon shrugged his sculpted shoulders. "Have it your way. But I must know, my dear, what do you plan now?"
"What I've planned to do all along," Lexia retorted. "I'm going to beat you, beat the hell out of you and rescue Alice."
Lightning fast, Mirracon's hand clamped down on her shoulder. "Are you? I think you might think quite differently when I've finished with you, my dear."
His other hand came down on her other shoulder, effectively pinning her in place and he leaned in. Lexia struggled against him but his greater bulk and strength won out and he kissed her, hard and full on the lips.
The skin-on-skin unleashed a torrent of memories. Hateful, revolting memories from the time between being aged and waking up in Frax's cell with that ersatz and extra information stuffed in her head. Memories that Frax had suppressed. Memories that Zaskin's device couldn't eliminate because they weren't false.
Lexia felt sick to her stomach. She had been willing. Willing to help him. Willing to listen to his silver-tongued words. His flattery. His promises. And he had used her...was trying to use her now...was going to use her against her friends...family...
With as much force as she could muster, Lexia shoved Mirracon away. She obviously caught the mutant unawares and he stumbled backwards.
Mirracon looked stunned. Lexia forced herself to meet his gaze, trying to turn her revulsion into anger. Anger she could use. "I know what you are...who you are."
"You knew before. It didn't bother you then... You know you want me. I can see it."
"What I want," Lexia retorted, "is to beat you, beat this maze and rescue Alice."
Mirracon's face contorted into a scowl. "It's not going to happen. You're not strong enough to beat me."
Lexia forced a smile onto her face. "And that's where you're wrong. Start!" That last was whispered, but it still had the desired effect. Everything unfroze.
"Bitch!" Mirracon screamed.
"I damn give a," Lexia retorted, drawing her blaster and firing in one smooth move.
The first shot caught Mirracon squarely in the chest. So did the second. So did the third.
"Lex?!" JJ was astounded.
"Him or us," Lexia retorted, finally lowering the blaster. Then she managed a faint smile. "Besides. They were stun-bolts."
"Nice shooting, Lex," John offered; now cradling his broken arm to his chest. "But now what?"
"Hope this works," Lexia murmured. John looked bemused. Even more so when she just clicked her fingers.
"Ho-lee shit," JJ murmured as the scenery suddenly changed around them, from a walled maze corridor to a wide, marble hall.
"Lex...how'd you do that?" John asked.
"It's a long story," Lexia replied, frowning.
"You could do that all along?" JJ inquired, disbelief colouring his voice.
"Ask me later, guys," Lexia said. "Like when we're back in the real world again." Her frown deepened as she surveyed the hall. "This isn't right." Then her eyes caught sight of a doorway. "Ah-ha." That was it. She started towards it. "JJ -- see if James is OK." She tossed a bemused John her blaster. "Jonno, if Mirracon so much as breathes too deeply, stun him again."
"Where are you going?" JJ asked.
"To get Alice." Then we're getting out of here, and I don't have to think about this shit any more.
JJ looked at John.
"Did that really just happen?" JJ asked.
John sighed. "Yep."
"Do you have any clue what's going on?"
John shook his head. "Nope."
"As long as it's not just me, then."
When the door of the room suddenly opened, Alice expected that it would be Paul returning. Consequently she was more than startled to see Lexia.
Lexia smiled. "And I'm pleased to see you, too, Ali," she quipped.
Alice shook her head. "Sorry I... What the hell is going on?"
"Long story," Lexia answered, fully entering the room. "But we're going home now. Just need to..."
And to Alice's astonishment, rather than physically untie her, Lexia simply snapped her fingers. What was even more astounding was that it worked. The rope that had been binding her wrists and ankles dropped away.
"Part of that long story," Lexia replied with a sigh. "I only want to tell it once...and I'm gonna have to tell it to your dad so..."
Alice nodded as she climbed to her feet. "Fair enough...ouf." The world swayed for a moment or two. "Your mom wasn't wrong about being stunned not being pleasant."
"You OK?" Lexia asked hastily crossing the room to support her.
"Yeah...yeah. Just a bit..." The world swayed again. "Ugh. Don't ever get stunned, Lex. This sucks." Alice found her vision clearing again. "Didn't you mention going home?"
Lexia smiled. "Yeah -- c'mon. Not far."
Lexia gently helped Alice out of Mirracon's chamber. She was in two minds. On the one hand, she wanted to get out of this nightmare, but on the other hand, it was rapidly dawning with her just how many explanations she needed to make. And they're not going to be fun. She sighed.
JJ's voice drew Lexia out of her thoughts. She realised she'd been walking on autopilot. Just as well my feet knew where I was going... "Sorry, JJ." He gave her a dubious look. "How's James?"
"Got the mother of all headaches," James answered for himself.
"This would be the Leprechaun," Alice observed.
"Yep," James agreed.
"What Leprechaun?" asked John.
"The one Paul was complaining about...speaking of who..." Alice frowned. "Where is he?"
"Not really here," said JJ. "Apparently."
"It was a guise Mirracon was wearing," Lexia answered. "The real Paul's somewhere in the real world."
"SGHQ," put in John.
"Oh." Alice frowned again. "Would I regret asking what you're doing here Jonno? And for that matter, what's with the clothing?"
Lexia found herself smiling in spite of her own situation. "Guess I'm not the only one with explanations."
"He hasn't told you either, huh?"
"No," said JJ. "At least, not why he's here."
"We know about the clothes," James put in.
Alice looked from her brother to JJ and James and back. "Sounds like you guys have been having real fun."
John snorted. "Hardly. Lex -- how do we get out of here, and what're you planning on doing with the rock pile?"
Damn good question. "Home's easy." She sighed. "Mirracon..." You know you have power here. Do something with it. She frowned for a moment, plotting the course. "Can't kill him. Can't take him with us."
"So, what then?" JJ asked.
Lexia smiled a little, trying to hide a sudden bout of nerves. "Well...need to send James home...but we didn't exactly beat the maze."
The expression on James' face told Lexia he understood, even if no-one else did. He nodded. "Good plan."
"What?" asked John.
"I'm going to trap Mirracon here, permanently."
"Huh?" The three responses came at once.
Lexia shook her head. "I'll explain later. Promise." She crouched down in front of James. "I'm sorry."
He offered her a smile. "Not your fault, kiddo."
Ignoring the bemused snorts from behind her, Lexia closed her eyes and concentrated. The key to what she was doing was there. Somewhere... An image started to form in her mind, of the link Mirracon had woven between them, like a brilliant, pink thread. Gently, she took hold of the link and started to pull it.
"Bitch!" Mirracon might be physically unconscious, but his subconscious was still there and aware. "You can't do this!"
"Watch me," Lexia retorted. "Never again."
He resisted. She pulled harder. In the physical world, she was distantly aware of a groan. Someone said, "He's coming around."
Then there was a blast of laser fire, and suddenly the resistance was gone. Lexia felt as if she was falling backwards as her efforts were abruptly rewarded. She tried to regain her balance, but to no avail. It felt as if she hit the ground, hard. Winded and dazed, she could feel Mirracon's energy swirling around her and through her like a foul breeze. It was threatening to completely over take her. She felt panic. This was a mistake. She couldn't do it...
She felt someone squeeze her hand. Someone murmured, "You can do it, Lex."
She gritted her teeth and tried to focus the extra energy, but it fought against her. It writhed and twisted, eluding her grasp. She could almost hear sadistic laughter as she tried to master it.
"You can't do it. You're going to kill yourself trying."
"Anything's better than doing what you want me to."
She could feel the derision rolling along the residual link between herself and Mirracon and it acted as a spur. She would not fail...could not fail...
Everything seemed to grey a little. The physical world suddenly seemed so far away. So distant. So...
It was with difficulty she realised that the voice didn't belong to anyone who'd been in the maze. She really had done it, then. And with that, she fainted.
Jen folded her arms and leaned against the wall of the warehouse. The site was secure. The jamming device had been found and dealt with. There was no reason for the SGs to remain on-site.
And yet they were still here.
And without any legitimate business remaining, Jen found her mind wandering to the missing quartet. She hadn't allowed herself to worry about Lexia during the cyclobot-battle or during the cleanup. She had needed her mind focussed on the here and now. But now the here and now was quiet.
A glance across at Eric and Kimberly spoke volumes, too. Their expressions matched. Both looked a mix of grim and petrified.
"John's in trouble when he gets back here," Wes murmured as he came to join her.
"What was your first clue?" Jen replied. She sighed. "If they get back."
Jen smiled faintly. Wes was still upbeat. Still as confident as he'd ever been. And yet there was a note of hesitancy in his voice. He was as worried as she was. She sighed and opened her mouth to say something in reply, but the words never came.
There was an ear splitting scream and the sound of shattering glass. Instinctively, Jen flinched away from the source -- the mirror circle. A moment later and a gust of wind blew through the warehouse, then the screaming stopped and calm returned, but not quite as before.
Standing, in a now completely wrecked mirror circle, were three out of the four missing people. The fourth was kneeling. Jen's eyes were drawn to her first as it finally penetrated her mind that the kneeler was the source of the scream.
"Lexia?" Jen started forwards, even as Lexia suddenly collapsed in a dead faint.
The faint didn't last long, mercifully -- at least as far as Jen was concerned. As Jen reached the perimeter of the circle, Lexia gave a groan.
"Lexia?" Jen was aware of Eric and Kimberly greeting John and Alice in a similar fashion, while Ben saw to JJ, but as far as she was concerned, all her attention was on her daughter.
"Mom?" Lexia sounded as if she couldn't quite believe her eyes and ears. "We're back?"
"You're back, kiddo," Wes answered. "Safe and sound."
Lexia managed a weak smile. "Can I go home now?"
Jen smiled a little. "I think we can manage that."
John could feel from the way Kimberly hugged him that while she was relieved he was back, she was also upset. A look at his father told him just how deep the trouble he was in actually was. As relieved as Eric looked, he was still visibly angry.
"We'll talk in the morning," Eric said.
John gulped and took an involuntary pace backwards. The sudden movement sent a fresh blast of pain through his wrist and he winced.
Eric frowned. "John?"
"Honey, what's wrong?" Kimberly asked.
"His wrist's broken," JJ put in before John could say anything. "Mirracon snapped it." John didn't dare look up at his father now. "But John had already saved us."
"John?" Eric repeated.
John still couldn't look up.
"He was the one who knew Paul wasn't Paul," JJ continued. "He stopped Mirracon from grabbing Lexia...and Mirracon broke his wrist."
The feel of a hand on his shoulder made John jump, jarring his wrist again.
"John, how you got there was wrong, but what you did there was right." The tone of Eric's voice finally persuaded John to look up. For the first time since his return, it was something other than simply polite. To John's surprise, Eric looked proud -- and a little worried. "How is your wrist?"
"Honey, why didn't you say something?" Kimberly wanted to know.
John shrugged a little awkwardly.
"We'll get it checked out on the way home," Eric promised. "OK?"
Eric offered a smile. "OK."
Alice wasn't entirely surprised by the looks Eric was giving John. From her brother's reticence to explain what he was doing in Mirracon's twisted little world, she knew he'd done something silly. And given Lexia's presence...
"Penny for 'em?" asked Rick.
Alice shook her head. "They're not worth that much."
"Yeah." Alice felt another wave of tiredness and dizziness overtake her. "Uhg."
Rick's exclamation came from a lot closer to her than she expected. That realisation more than anything drew her out of the spell. She found she was leaning against him, held up by his arms.
"You OK?" he repeated.
A little self-consciously, Alice pulled away. "Yeah...just...kinda...um...got stunned."
Rick winced. "Is it as bad as mom made out?"
"Worse." Keep talking. Don't have to think about how nice his arms felt. Don't have to think about having the hots for your brother's best friend.
"Ew." Rick grimaced.
"OK people," Eric called, interrupting the conversation. "Time to go home."
"Rick?" Jen called.
"I guess I'd...uh...better go," Rick said, hesitantly.
"OK, honey?" Kimberly asked, putting her arm around Alice.
"I guess," Alice replied. "See you tomorrow, Rick."
Rick offered her a smile. "Yeah."
"C'mon," said Kimberly, gently leading Alice in the other direction. "You'll feel better after a night's sleep."
Alice managed a smile but the slightly giddy feeling that lingered after seeing Rick smile at her owed nothing to the stun bolt.
Taylor sighed as she sank down on to the couch. What a way to rejoin the SG's active roster! "Ow."
"Can I tell you I told you so yet?" Ben asked as he followed her into the living room.
"What for?" Taylor looked up at him.
He waved a hand in her direction. "That going back onto active duty was a bad idea?"
Taylor groaned. "Oh drop it, Ben."
He offered her a smile as he crouched beside the couch. "I was worried about you. Especially when the boss told me about Paul showing up at SGHQ."
"I know Ben. But..." Taylor sighed. "I can't not be active. I can't just sit and be waited on. I can't...it just isn't me."
It was Ben's turn to sigh. "I understand." He smiled again, faintly this time. "Doesn't...won't stop me from worrying."
Taylor struggled to sit forwards. "Look, if it's any help to you, I can only be active for a maximum of three weeks. After that and if I haven't signed myself off from active duty, Jackson will do it for me." She hesitated, then added, "And...OK...yes. Today wasn't great." The look of outright surprise on Ben's face was worth the admission, Taylor decided, swallowing back a grin. "When Eric's done with sorting out the kids tomorrow he wants to speak to me anyway...I can...talk to him."
Taylor's grin finally burst into life at that. Ben sounded so pleased and stunned the effect was comical. "I will. I warn you now, I'm not going to take myself off the active roster until I absolutely have to but...maybe I don't need to be this active."
Ben suddenly wrapped his arms around her in a hug. "I love you," he murmured.
Lexia closed the door of her bedroom door behind her and leaned against it in relief. She was finally alone. It was finally her chance to think without the constant 'are you OK' questioning from her parents and brother tapping away at her barriers. Yes she had fainted, but it wasn't a big deal. Trouble was, to prove it wasn't a big deal, she needed to explain...and that prospect filled her with dread.
Commander Myers was almost certainly going to want that explanation. So would JJ, John and Alice. So did her parents.
But she couldn't tell them the truth. Not all of it.
She pushed off from the door and walked into the room. Looking around it, she felt a metaphorical knife twist in her gut as her eyes fell on all the reminders of what she'd lost. The collection of Barbie dolls, the slim easy-reader and picture books, the teddy bears, they all sat on her shelves and stared mockingly back at her. Signs of a kid.
But the kid doesn't live here any more.
In a sudden surge of anger, she snatched up the nearest smirking doll and tore the head from it. It wasn't enough. She pulled the arms and legs off too, relishing the snap of rubber and plastic. It still wasn't enough. She flung the torso away. It bounced, hollowly, off the wall and landed with a dull thud on the carpeting. Nothing was enough.
The anger drained away into depression.
The anger didn't help. Didn't make her feel better. Didn't take away the knowledge of what Frax and Mirracon had set her up for. Didn't take away the humiliation of knowing they didn't even have to work for her cooperation.
She sank down on the bed and put her head in her hands.
What was she going to do?
Katherine Elizabeth Drake -- Katie to her friends -- looked at her husband.
He shook his head. "I'm not sure of much," he admitted. "The amount of information I can verify is...virtually nil."
"But you're sure about this, I can tell."
"It's the only logical step he can make now," her husband answered.
"We have to tell them."
"How?" her husband asked. "I know for a fact that I'm being watched. They have no proof of anything against me, but his network is watching me." He lowered his voice even further. "Why do you think we're having this conversation here?" And he made an expansive gesture as if pointing to the flora of the nature park they were walking through.
"I know they have our home bugged," Katie answered in similar tones. "But we've got to try and warn them. You know what he's already been through. They don't deserve this...he doesn't deserve this."
Her husband's shoulders sagged a little. "I know. I just feel so goddamn helpless, Kat. That son of a bitch has all but got me hogtied."
"We can go to Lucas," Katie replied. "I can comm. him without arousing any suspicion -- he's an old friend, after all. Better yet -- I'm seeing Trip tomorrow. I can get Trip to hook up a meeting."
Her husband wrapped his arms around her in a hug. "Have I told you you're a genius?"
"Not lately," Katie replied, returning the hug. She kissed him. "We'll get through this somehow. I promise."
TO BE CONTINUED IN QUANTUM CHAOS...