Warped by Djinn

"Lieutenant," Spock said, his eyes shining in the way they did whenever he looked at her. "I will see you soon on the ship."

Chapel nodded, then turned and walked away, trying not to look as if she was hurrying away from his apartment. He was going to Qo'noS again. Not that he'd told her that, of course, but Cartwright knew where Spock was going, and he'd told her. Matt told her everything.

As she waited for the elevator at the end of the hall, she turned and stared into the mirror on the wall behind her. Valeris looked back at her. Valeris's calm, cool face betrayed none of Christine's inner turmoil, or her loathing for the man she'd just left. In fact, Valeris's body never betrayed that distaste--Christine had become expert at using her stolen Vulcan body to cover up all her emotions.

Spock was a touch telepath. Spock touched her all the time. Spock hadn't a clue that she hated him.

Spock was not as smart as she'd always believed him to be. Or else he was just too in love with his little Vulcan protege to ever bother to look deep inside her for a very bitter human. A human he'd never wanted but who he made love to with nauseating regularity. A human who didn't want him anymore, who wanted to jump in the shower and scrub his touch from her skin.

The elevator opened, and she left her image behind, hurrying into the lift, and then out again. Matt, she needed to get to Matt. She could let him scrub Spock from her skin with his lips and hands. Matt loved her-- Christine, not Valeris. And together, they would reclaim the future. The future Spock was so intent on selling to the Klingons.

The future that loomed just ahead of them. But they were ready for it. And they weren't alone. There were Klingons and Romulans who were more than willing to play into their hands. Who thought that this unholy alliance was really about preserving the status quo. Chang and Nanclus could not see that in the end they would be used and discarded. They would end up charred husks who would die so that the Federation might endure.

Chapel wasn't sure that she cared all that much either way. But she loved Matt, and he did care. And she hated Spock, and he wanted what they were trying to stop. She was no true believer, but her zeal was solid in its own twisted way. Emotions--whether noble or dark--were as good as causes in the long run.

Matthew was pacing when she palmed open his door. He pulled her to him, his lips on hers before she could get a greeting out. He hated sharing her with Spock, but he never took it out on her, and his lips were passionate but not cruel as they forced her mouth to open to him.

She gave herself freely, her arms circling him, her young, strong body pressing against his, making him moan as if his world was coming to an end. As they sank to the floor, she felt the thrill of their passion course through her, felt a more tender feeling follow.

She loved him so. And he loved her. And she could let go with him, be who and what she was even if that true nature was contained in the somber Vulcan frame. She didn't have to be on guard for elegant fingers that strayed to the meld points even though she'd "confided" to Spock that she did not like to meld, that she'd had a very unpleasant experience with one early in her training. He was so sure he could help her with that, make it better, replace the bad memory with a good one with him as the star.

She'd snapped at him more than once to get his hands off her face since that first time they'd had sex. He seemed to take her ire as proof of deep trauma, never seemed to suspect that his Vulcan lover was not precisely what she seemed.

He always apologized profusely each time he forgot himself.

"Christine," Matthew said, shaking her lightly. "He's got you again."

She could feel her face fall. She did not like to let Spock intrude on them. "I'm sorry." She kissed him again and again, until he pulled her under him and made love to her fiercely.

She had not known it was possible to love like this.

Sometimes she wondered if it was possible to love like this only because her ardor for Matt was counterbalanced by so much hatred for Spock.

She ignored the thought, giving herself over to Matthew again. Soon, it would be harder to find time together. Soon Spock would be back full time and then she would be on the ship. His friend's ship. The Enterprise.

Her old home. Only not this ship. She'd never served on this ship.

Thank god she'd never served on this ship.

She forced herself to forget about the ship, to pay attention to the man she loved. He seemed to be having no problem paying attention to her.

-----------------

She sat silently, watching her old friends as they bustled around. They had no idea that she was to blame for what had happened. They were blissfully unaware that Sandeau and Burke had been under her orders when they'd beamed over to Gorkon's ship and massacred the chance for peace. They didn't suspect that Kirk and McCoy were stuck on that frozen Klingon hell world because of her. She'd never intended her captain and mentor to wind up paying for this, knew Matthew would be frantic trying to rescue his old friend. They had counted on Kirk doing what he always did--winning. They had never counted on him doing what he never did. But he had done it. The unthinkable. He had surrendered.

Spock was going as crazy here as her lover would be on Earth. But while she felt bad for Matthew and for Kirk and Len, she found she could feel nothing for Spock but some sort of sick amusement. He was hurting. Even as he ran around playing detective, he was hurting. And she was enjoying that hurt.

She fought a smile as she turned to watch Uhura and Chekov wrestle with Starfleet's directive to come home. They seemed sadly grateful for her nudge toward sabotage. It was just one of the countless pieces of information stored in the amazing Vulcan mind that was now at her disposal. It had taken time, and more sessions with a retraining helmet than she wanted to think about, but she'd learned to make her Vulcan intellect work for her. A true Vulcan--if she were to spend any time with one--would know something was off. But Spock never noticed.

Then again, she no longer considered him a true Vulcan. She often wondered if Valeris ever had. Would the woman have given him the time of day, or had she harbored feelings for him that mirrored the ones he held for her sweet body?

It still amazed Chapel that Spock could not see through her ruse. But she also knew that people--even Vulcans--often saw only what they wanted to.

The lift arrived, and she could hear the doors beginning to open. She loved the acuity of her new hearing, how every little sound was enhanced. It made life less unknown, made what waited around the corner just a little less scary.

Spock walked out of the lift. She had not been able to tell he was in it, which was a blessing. They were not bonded, would never be bonded, despite his increasingly frequent allusions to making their union permanent. She did not argue, just stalled for time. She pretended to be agreeable--for some remote and unspecified future moment when they could join.

It would be a cold day in hell before they would ever join.

-------------------------

Kirk was back, Leonard too. Matthew would be happy. Chapel would be happy too, if she were not standing in front of them all, alone. Under fire. The traitor revealed.

She'd had to kill Burke and Sandeau. Had stunned them first, then held the phaser to their foreheads and fired long and patiently. It took a long time to kill a man on stun. And she'd known they were dead--she was a doctor for cripe's sake. Why had she fallen for the trap Spock and Kirk had set for her? Why hadn't she trusted in herself?

She knew why. She couldn't afford any loose ends. Wanted nothing that might implicate Matthew or her. And so she'd gone to sickbay, to end her co-conspirators' tentative hold on life. And had found Spock waiting for her.

She'd never seen Spock so angry. Not as Valeris, and not earlier as Christine Chapel. He had been furious, had nearly broken her hand when he'd swatted away her phaser--would have broken it if she were anything but full Vulcan.

He looked less furious now, but she was afraid that was just a mask. A veneer of control he'd pulled down over his rage so that he could function.

He had loved her. She'd betrayed him.

She had a feeling that he would not take betrayal lightly.

She decided to ignore Spock, ignore all of them for a moment as she gathered her wits--or Valeris's--about her. When she spoke, her voice was calm. "I did not fire. You cannot prove anything."

"Yes, I can. At my trial my personal log was used against me," Kirk said. "How long did you wait outside my quarters before I noticed you?" His voice was the clipped voice of the Kirk she'd seen too many times on the ship. The one who'd had enough of the bullshit and was ready to cut to the chase. Cut through her, if need be, to get to the chase.

Peace, after all, was at stake.

She looked at Spock. It was time to engage the enemy. "You knew? I tried to tell you but you would not listen."

"Neither of us was hearing very well that night, Lieutenant," he said, his voice doing strange things to her title. It came out nearly as an endearment, as well as a condemnation. As if he would like nothing more than to relegate her to only a colleague, not the lover he'd spilled himself into over and over and over. "There were things I tried to tell you, about having faith."

Faith? What faith was there in a world where she had been just trying to get back to her ship and had ended up in someone else's body? Where she could destroy everything around her, including her own soul, just by continuing to breathe? She looked at her old friends. Faith was irrelevant. This was for love now. This was for Matthew. And Matt believed. She would find some of that belief. For him, she would become a zealot. "You betrayed the Federation, all of you."

"And what do you think you've been doing?" McCoy asked.

"Saving Starfleet. Klingons cannot be trusted." She turned back to Kirk. He might want to cut to the chase, but at least he did not look at her with those martyred eyes like Spock did. "Sir, you said so yourself, they killed your son, did you not wish Gorkon dead? Let them die, you said. Did I misinterpret you? And you were right. They conspired with us to assassinate their own Chancellor. How trustworthy can they be?"

"Klingons and Federation members conspiring together?" That appeared to be news to McCoy. She wondered where he'd been. Then she remembered. She'd consigned him to the place where hell had frozen over.

Kirk was clearly tired of the debate. "Who is 'us'?"

"Everyone who stands to lose from peace." She would not answer him. She would never betray Matthew.

"Names, Lieutenant."

She wanted to smile, but forced her features into the non-expression that only a true Vulcan could achieve. "My comrades will make certain all your ship to shore transmissions are jammed."

"Names, Lieutenant!" Kirk's patience--if he had any left--was leaking away.

She wanted to laugh at him. Did he think she would be scared by his words, by the anger that shone out of his eyes? Did he think he could intimidate her? "I do not...remember."

She turned, stared out the viewscreen, conjuring up a picture of Matthew to keep her safe.

"A lie?" Spock asked, turning her own words from when they'd been playing their silly detective game against her.

"A choice," she said.

She waited and heard Kirk say, "Spock."

Then she heard Spock's footsteps, the ones she'd dreaded so many times as they came toward her when she lay in his bed. The ones she'd known meant another night with him. A night full of steeling her mind not to react, of telling her body to let him touch her. Of forcing herself to pretend that she enjoyed his touch. Those hated footsteps hit the stairs, leaden now with the anger that seemed to pour from him. Even without ever having melded, she could feel that.

He pulled her to him, his fingers pushing painfully into her neck. But not as painfully as he might have if he'd been full Vulcan. He still had human in him. He was still tainted with the very thing that had made Christine so unattractive to him. And he was acting like a human at this moment. She wanted to taunt him with it but decided it would not be prudent.

Then he reached for her face, and she panicked, tried to wrestle away from his inferior strength, but his rage gave him the edge. His fingers pushed down on her face, and then there was only the terrible ripping sensation as he parted her mind in a way that was a million light years from the other time they'd shared consciousness.

He did not care if he hurt her.

He did not care if he damaged her mind.

No, that was not true. He did care if he hurt her. In fact, he had never cared so much about anything. Hurting her was his entire world. If she was damaged in the process, so be it.

She tried to shield, but this was one Vulcan talent she had not exercised as she'd taken over Valeris's life. He pushed her puny defenses aside, tore past her attempts to slow him. Her mind lay open to him, every memory, every thought, every feeling.

He reeled back, and she could feel his disgust as he realized that her feelings were far too human. And as he realized her memories were not what he expected.

As he realized who she was.

NO!

The word reverberated through her mind, nearly shattering her sanity. Only his hand on her neck kept her upright, and her head ached, her neck screamed for relief as she tried to sag and found his strength too great to escape.

WHERE IS SHE?

It was a thought more than words. A feeling more than a message. And as he tore through her, searching for Valeris in her mind, his rage grew.

She felt as if she might throw up, felt his hand tighten on the meld points and desperately fought to keep her memories away from him. But he was already inside her most treasured ones. Was already reliving all her times with Matt.

Her lover. The man she could not protect. Her voice and Spock's said, "Admiral Cartwright."

"From Starfleet?" someone--Chekov she thought--said.

"Who else?" Kirk asked. It had to hurt to know his friend had betrayed everything he'd thought they believed in.

Spock pressed harder. She responded with words, heard them echoing from his mouth. "General Chang."

"Who else?"

"Romulan Ambassador Nanclus."

Spock's rage was out of control. He gave up the interrogation, began to pull at the memories, shredding them as she watched, helpless to stop him. Matt, she said to herself, so she would not forget him. Matt, Matt, Matt--

"Where is the Peace Conference?" Kirk's voice stopped Spock from his ransacking.

She knew she was crying, wondered what her friends thought was going on in her mind. Then realized they still thought she was Valeris. Would Spock tell them the truth?

Would she?

"Where is the Peace Conference?" Kirk said again.

Spock's hand let go of her neck, came up to her face, pinching down on the other side, the meld points screaming in agony as he ratcheted up the connection.

She cried out then. Pain, indescribable pain, both from his actions and from his own feelings battered her. She could feel his indecision then. He could destroy her. And his fingers pushed in just enough to make it happen. All it would take was for his mind to dip a little lower toward her center. One sharp tug, then a few more, and she'd be unanchored. All thought, no order.

Mad. She'd be mad.

His mind grew fingers, each one poised to strike. She was shaking, waiting.

What did it matter now? She had betrayed Matt. The conspiracy was over.

DO IT! She finally found her mind voice, shouted her hatred through the meld, felt it echo inside him.

Empty. He was empty inside. Because of her. She laughed then. He was hurting as much as he was trying to hurt her.

She wanted to make it a little bit worse. She replayed their time together, the sex that she hated, the kisses she wanted to wipe off her lips, the conversations after sex when all she could think about was getting away and over to Matt's apartment.

I HATE YOU.

He hated her too.

And he loved her. He still could not distinguish. His mind was trying to protect him. But it was only making it worse to think of her as Valeris.

He crumbled then. Drew away and fled. "She does not know."

She stood shakily, refusing to fall down. She realized he was too shaken to tell them that she was not Valeris. She decided she would not either, at least not yet. Perhaps never. It could be her final revenge. She'd never been good enough, not until she was a full Vulcan. Why not let a full Vulcan take the blame for what she'd done?

She did not fight anymore. Just answered the questions, and then let security lead her away. She caught Spock's eye as she left, smiled and knew that the expression must be abhorrent to him on his beloved's face.

His beloved who was no more. Chapel rubbed her head, feeling a massive headache starting. He had wanted to destroy her. Part of her wished he had.

The future would not be pleasant. Unless, of course, Matt managed to win.

-----------------------

Chapel paced in her cell, wishing they'd let her see Matt. The last time they'd been together had been at Khitomer--two failed destroyers of peace. She wondered if Spock had a hand in their separation. He had seen how much Matt meant to her, had tried to destroy those memories in that terrible meld. Could he be keeping them apart just to hurt her?

Or was it just the Federation Council being cautious? That was probably more likely. Spock didn't appear to have as much pull with them as she'd expected. He and Kirk had been able to convince the Council not to give her or Cartwright up for extradition, but Spock hadn't been able to argue them out of the punishment they had ultimately decided for her.

She would rather be on Rura Penthe than face what was in store.

Total Rehabilitation. It was a euphemism. It sounded so noble, like the end state of some very successful penal system. It was an end state, all right. And a beginning.

Mind wipe. That was what it meant. Mind wipe. When they were done with her, she would be a blank slate. No more murderer. No more traitor. No more doctor. No more anything.

It was a tactic reserved for the most heinous criminals. They were sparing Cartwright because the headshrinkers at Starfleet medical thought redemption was possible for him. He may have been one of the masterminds, but his hands were only stained with second hand blood.

And she thought that perhaps someone even higher up than Spock was looking out for Matt.

She thought that this someone was trying to look out for her too. One of the guards had told her that Spock had not been the only one to try to argue the Council out of mind-wiping her. That some of her colleagues and past supervisors had testified. But the Council had not been swayed.

Any fool could see they needed a scapegoat.

It had only become embarrassing when Spock had told them the truth--that she was not really Valeris. She'd flatly denied it, mainly because she'd thought he had been trying to hurt her by exposing her. She'd been so stupid. By the time she'd understood what was at stake and had begun to support his story, it had looked like she was only trying to save herself. The Council thought she was crafty, not crazy, and they'd upheld the sentence. It hadn't made her feel any better when they'd looked on her with pity as they'd sentenced her to Total Rehabilitation.

Total annihilation would be a better term.

At least Matthew would be all right. She just wished she could see him one last time before they took everything she was away from her.

Everything that hadn't already been lost in that damned transporter accident.

The doors hissed open, and she looked through the force field to see Spock walk in. He talked quietly to the guard, who let him into her cell, then turned away to give them some privacy.

"Spock." She didn't try to add any warmth to her voice. He wouldn't care anyway. "Why are you here?"

"I came to say goodbye." His eyes as they stared at her were resigned, but there was something else in them. Guilt maybe? Or regret? "It will be tonight."

She looked down, swallowing hard. She'd known it would be soon. Could tell it by the way the guards had been treating her. "Soon, I will be gone."

"Yes."

He sat down, and she could see that his hands seemed to tremble. It gave her a surge of satisfaction. She didn't want to be the only one hurting. She was losing herself, but he'd lost the woman he'd loved. "They can rip my memories away, but you won't get her back."

"I am aware of that. Valeris is lost to me." He looked at her, his eyes hard, angry. "Why did you not tell anyone what had happened when you first regained consciousness?"

She'd had ample time to ask herself the same question since she'd been captured. "And what would you have done, Spock? Gathered your love's katra from my dying body? Pushed me out of hers and rushed off to Vulcan where one of your priestesses could have performed another fal-tor-pan? Et voila, your Valeris would have lived." She could tell by his expression that it was exactly what he would have done. "What about me then? I would have died."

"Your body did die. Perhaps it was you who were meant to die."

She shook her head. "I don't believe that. I'm alive. She's not. End of story."

His jaw tightened. But he did not say the words she expected. He did not taunt her by pointing out that soon she would no longer exist either. They would both be lost. End of all stories.

"Why did you really come here, Spock?"

He sighed, and the sound seemed wrong coming from him. "I thought Valeris was my lover, but it was only ever you." He stared at her, his eyes questioning, as if still unable to understand how she could have done it.

She waited for more, wanted more. But nothing came. "That's not an answer."

He seemed determined not to give her one. Fell silent for moment, then said, "I will be present during the procedure."

"Revenge?"

His expression was reproachful. "No. Duty. You are--she was my protege. Part of my family, in a way. And I and my family will care for whoever she will become once you are gone from her."

She felt a chill, tried to back away, but he caught her hand and held it tightly, out of sight of the guard. Ever since that forced meld, the link between them had opened at the slightest touch, and now she could feel his pain, and the lingering anger pouring into her, could also feel his terrible crushing sense of responsibility.

And just the slightest bit of hope.

"You think you'll get her back?"

He looked away. Let go of her hand.

"Or maybe you just think that whoever I become will be acceptable?"

"It is a Vulcan mind that you have taken over. I do not think that you will be strong enough to withstand a Vulcan mind coming back to life." His eyes were dead as he said, "Even if it is not her..."

"...it won't be me." She laughed bitterly, understanding what he did not want to say. "The woman who tricked you. The woman who almost ruined all your big plans."

He met her gaze. "The woman who I would rather have never known."

She didn't flinch, didn't look away. Once upon a time, that remark would have stung. Might have made her cry. Now, it barely made a dent on the warped and tangled thing that was her conscience, her heart, her soul.

"I want to see Matthew again. Just once."

"And I want to see Valeris again. Just once. Neither of us will get our wish." He stood up.

"I won't say I'm sorry."

He almost smiled. "That is good. Because I know you are not. Except perhaps for yourself." He walked to the force field, motioned for the guard.

"I am sorry for her. I liked her. She was my friend."

"Is that so? Then I would not want to be your friend, Christine."

He slipped out as the field came down, did not stop to look back as the guard turned the force field back on.

She sank onto the bench. It would happen tonight. She felt a rush of fear, and an even stronger surge of nausea, and closed her eyes. She would be lost after tonight. Christine Chapel would cease to exist.

And Matt would be lost to her after tonight too. Turning her back on the guard, she lay down and thought of Matt, remembering every moment that she could, replaying it over and over in her mind until he filled her. She pushed everything else away. He was her world; he was everything she cared about.

He was the only thing she cared about.

When they came to take her, she didn't fight them, just kept her mind focused on Matt. She could almost feel his lips on hers, his gentle touch on her arm whenever he'd had to wake her so she could go back to Spock.

She did not make them force her into the chair, did not fight as the helmet was lowered, as the straps were tied around her arms and legs. She felt fear and let it flow through her, but did not stop thinking of Matt. He would be afraid now too. Afraid for her, and for himself. Because he loved her.

Because he would always love her.

She heard the sound of buttons being pushed, could make out the separate tones. Matthew had sounded different through Vulcan ears. His voice more rich, more nuanced. She'd been able to tell what he was feeling just by the layers of his tone.

A piercing pain shot through her, and she screamed his name.

Then there was only blackness and thundering noise in her head. She felt as if she was drowning, tried to breathe and felt too heavy to suck in air.

She opened her mouth, called out for him again, but the scream came out as a moan.

Then there was only agony.

--------------------

She sat. She tried to move, could not. Where was she?

Who was she?

She felt gentle hands on her, her arms and legs were suddenly free, and her vision cleared as something large and heavy was pulled off her head.

Faces, so many faces. They peered at her, one in particular seemed so close. He had pointy ears and greenish skin and he was looking at her funny.

Then he called her, "Valeris," and reached for her face.

Fear filled her, and she flinched back.

"It's all right," one of the others said, a woman who smelled good when she pulled her into comforting arms. "It's too soon, sir. Please let her be."

The green one nodded and moved back as the nice woman helped her stand up. She almost fell, but the woman held her up.

"It's okay, dear."

A man took her other side, helping to support her. "You're going to be all right," he said softly, and he gave her a strange look.

She thought she should know what it meant, but she didn't.

Sad. The word came to her suddenly. He looked sad. Was he sad for her? Why? Why be sad when everyone was so nice to her and it was okay and she was going to be all right?

The nice woman talked softly to her. "It's all right now. No one's going to hurt you."

She liked the sound of the woman's voice, so she cuddled against her and felt the woman's hand on her hair. Then the woman's hand went around her shoulders, and she led her away from green man.

"Where are you taking her, Nurse?"

"There's been a change in orders, sir. The Federation Council believes Valeris's retraining would be best accomplished here. They've denied your request for custody."

"I was not informed of these orders."

The woman turned so she could hand him a padd. "I'm sorry, sir. They must have forgotten to include you when they sent the order out."

The green one moved toward them, but the nice man stepped in front of him. "It's official, sir. Admiral Darnell brought this padd by himself."

She didn't understand what they were talking about, but she thought that the green man looked angry.

"You'll be able to see her any time you want, sir. Unlimited supervised visits." The woman sounded very sweet.

She liked the woman so much. She looked over at the green one. He seemed even angrier than before.

She wished she understood what was happening.

He finally walked away, and she felt relief as the doors closed behind him. He made her feel funny. Like her insides were all twisted up.

The nice man walked to the door and said, "He's gone."

"Come on, dear. Let's go." The woman urged her forward, her hand back on her hair.

Being touched felt so good. They walked, and she pressed against the woman who never stopped rubbing her hand down her hair. They went past other people; people who made the nice woman and man stare into a box before they could go farther.

Then they were taking her through some doors, to a small room with a long chair with no back. A man sat there.

He looked very sad.

He didn't say anything, just stared at her.

The woman was stroking her hair even harder.

She stared at the man, wondering why they were not moving anymore. Why were they standing in front of him? Why did she have to watch him?

He finally looked down, brought his hand up and pushed at his forehead.

He always did that when he was sad.

She cried out softly, unsure why she was filled with the need to push his hand away from his face. Why she thought he should be smiling.

"Sir..." the woman said softly.

The man looked up at her, letting his hand drop. "Do you know who I am?"

She frowned. Backed up a little and saw him frown too.

"Christine," he said.

She stepped forward, pulling out of the woman's grasp. "What does that mean?"

He said the Christine word again. And again. And again.

"Close your eyes," the woman said. "Just listen to him."

She did as the woman said. Heard the force field coming down, heard his footsteps coming toward her and suddenly heard other footsteps, heavier, coming toward her in the dark. She felt afraid, took a step back. "No. Please."

The footsteps stopped. "Christine, don't be afraid. No one is going to hurt you."

She smiled. She knew that. Matt would never hurt her.

Matt?

Matt.

Matt, Matt, Matt.

The woman moved her closer to the man. "Christine, this is Matthew. Do you remember him?"

She shook her head. Then she nodded. She wanted to cry. This was so confusing.

"That's enough for today," the Matt man said. His voice made her feel safe.

"The man who just left?" The woman turned her so she had to look her in the eye. "When he comes to visit you, you must not tell him about Matt. Do you understand?"

She nodded. Felt a shiver run down her neck. Why did the green man have to come back?

"Don't scare her," the Matt man said.

She looked up at him, narrowing her eyes. His voice had so many parts. "Who am I?"

"You are Christine Chapel." He sighed. "And you are Valeris. If anyone but us is around, you are Valeris."

"I don't understand."

"You will soon," the woman said. "We're going to retrain you a different way then what Spock thinks."

She frowned. "Who's Spock?"

Matt laughed, it seemed like a very happy laugh. "The man who just left."

"He's scary."

"I know."

She stepped closer to him, and he slowly reached out for her, and this time she wasn't afraid of fingers coming at her.

She heard him make a strange sound as he pulled her against him. Sniffing, she smiled. He smelled good. He smelled like happy things.

"I love you." He touched her hair, and it felt soft and good, but she wasn't sure what he'd touched her with since his hands were on her arms.

She looked up at him, and then he leaned in and touched her again, his lips on hers.

It felt good too.

"Matt," she said, wishing she understood what she felt.

"That's right. Matt." He pushed her away from him gently, and stepped back, and the nice man put the force field back in place.

"I'm Christine," she said.

Matt nodded. "But you can't say that."

She remembered. "For everyone else, I'm Valeris."

"That's right."

"Come on, hon. Tomorrow's going to be a big day. First day of school."

She looked at Matt, and he nodded. "It's all right. Go with Maura."

"Matt," she said again. It felt good to say it.

He smiled, and she smiled back. Then the nice woman led her to a room with a little bed and a big pillow, and she sank down on the bed, closing her eyes.

"Long live the conspiracy," the woman said.

"Long live the conspiracy," she echoed back.

Whatever that meant.

FIN