- Breathe -

She can't breathe.

Consciousness slams into her, a brutal reality. Harsh hands grip her, shouting voices assail her, and the lights flickering across the consoles are too bright for sight. Apollo has hurled himself across the CIC, catching his father as he falls.

Nothing makes sense...and yet everything does.

What's going on? What happened?

Her mind is curiously black of the last few minutes, and yet there are flashes of memory that aren't her own. She'd swear it.

Memory is what makes you, what forms you, the amniotic fluid in a sac of consciousness that moulds the self like an unborn child...

So Sharon thought.

Until she saw a sea of faces looking back at her - dark eyes, dark hair, olive skin, muscle-and-bone, flesh-and-blood, Sharon Valerii in life, in truth, in multiplicity and duplicity. Until she climbed back into the Raptor, dizzy with horror, pregnant with her mission, and filled with the nagging sense that she'd forgotten something important.

But these memories aren't her own - can't be her own. She doesn't know where they came from, but logic says they cannot belong to her; a denial that has as much force as the recoil of the gun with which she shot...

Breath catches in her throat, sharp as shattered glass.

No.

I didn't do it!

No...

The decking beneath her feet bucks as they take her prisoner and she stumbles, trying to keep her balance - or is that instability a lie as well?

--

She stands in the shower blocks with her hands in the sink.

Cold water cascades over her wrists, over fingers encrusted with blood that is and isn't there.

The water can't cool her blood because what runs through her veins isn't blood. She's not human, not Sharon, not Lieutenant Valerii, not sane. Nothing is real anymore, nothing makes sense.

In the mirror, her face looks back at her, oval, dark-eyed, dark-haired, olive-skinned, snub-nosed, full-lipped - familiar and unfamiliar, comforting and distressing. She hardly knows who she is anymore, hardly comprehends what's been done.

The hazy memory of her face looking back at her is enough to make her dry-retch, and when she looks back up again, she's not alone.

Her fingers clutch at the basin's edge for balance as she turns to face the women who are her. So many of them, their face and eyes and mouths and noses hers, their black hair gleaming with brown tints in the light of the

Behind her, water splashes unheeded against the metal curve. Before her stand the other versions of her - the copies, the machines that are her. Dressed in uniform, dressed in casuals, dressed in civvies, and the one before her naked and unblushing.

You're confused and scared.

You can't fight destiny, Sharon.

It catches up with you.

No matter what you do.

Don't worry about us.

We'll see you again.

We love you, Sharon.

And we always will...

The one in front of her is the last to speak. Sharon can't move back as the other woman - herself? - leans forward and brushes lip against lip. She can't move back, but she doesn't recoil, either; a hedonistic tide pours through her as she kisses herself back without ever letting go of the cold basin rim. The tingle of skin against skin is a betrayal of flesh, of self, of memory.

She can't breathe.

--

They crowd around her, heckling and jeering. Faces she knew, people she thought of as friends, now strangers turned against her.

She is what she is - but she is not what they think she is. Her world is chiaroscuro, deep shadow and blinding light, with the pale, blurred ovals and circles that are the faces of the crowd. Her mind is also chiaroscuro, deep mystery and blinding understanding, with the pale, blurred patches of memory.

Memory or lies?

I'm Sharon Valerii. I was born on Troy. My parents were Katherine and Abraham Valerii...

The Chief is there watching from behind the crowd, his square jaw set. He can't do anything and she won't ask him to. He's suffered enough because of her. Something more powerful than rage and more aching than grief squeezes her stomach.

Sharon is what she is.

But she is what she was as well.

And then there is movement from the shadows, a pale, round face whose gaze spits bitterness at her, whose gun spits a single bullet into her body, tearing through flesh and muscle, artery, and bone.

Echoing through the hall, through her head, the shot shakes free something in her - a wholly human desire to live. Sharon is not like the others - not just the machine they thought she was: she fears the coming death.

Darkness closes in, fading the bright patches, dimming the pale shapes, until the only thing she can see is his face and the movement of his lips trying to comfort her.

Thought is difficult. Her lungs burn. Pain grips her heart, a last gasping squeeze. Her sight fails and darkness closes in.

"I love you, Chief."

She can't breathe.

She doesn't need to.

- fin -