It wasn't, strictly speaking, a question that he needed to ask; however, seeing the reactions of both twins to the mere suggestion of their former identities was rather informative. The reactions themselves were as subtle as he had come to expect from the twins: Saber tensed just enough to be noticeable by someone who was observing them rather closely, and Slade's expression hardened in almost the same manner as he had seen when the young man spoke about the Radam.
He was also certain of his conclusions because of the clear, physical resemblance between Slade and Saber, and the photographs that had been included in the dossiers of the Argos' crewmembers. Even Saber's blue eyes, as distinctly different from both Slade's bright green and Ness and Cain Carter's blue-green as they were, could easily have been explained as a result of the Radam's physical tampering. It would not, of course, have been the most obvious sign of such.
"Well, I guess you found us out," Saber said, after a few, long moments of silence; however, the presence of the vector-forms of Slade and Saber's teknocrystals appearing on their foreheads suggested that both twins had had far more to say to each other than to anyone else. "So; what now?"
"I believe I may be able to help fill in some of the other gaps in your respective memories." He was starting to suspect, however, that such gaps were not present in the first place; it was only natural that one would not want to speak about matters such as that. "Particularly with regard to your father, and his mission aboard the Argos."
"That rings a bell," Ringo stated, looking thoughtful. "Wasn't that some kind of an expedition?"
"The Argos was a deep-space exploration ship, sent out to map and study the moons of Saturn," Maggie said. "It vanished without a trace; what happened has always been a mystery."
"Correct, but I think it's a mystery we may be close to solving," he said, carefully watching the reactions of the twins to what he was saying. If they truly did not wish to speak about this, if it was truly too painful for them to recall even now, then he would respect their privacy. "You see, the mission was lead by Ulysses Carter, and his four sons were also on board: the identical twins, Ness and Cain Carter, as well as their youngest brother Samuel, and their eldest brother, Conrad."
"Just what are you getting at, Commander?" Ringo asked. "That our boys here were part of – I mean, are part of – the Argos' expedition?"
"That would fit, since Star already found out that Spear is Slade and Saber's older brother," Maggie said, turning to look at Saber with a commiserating expression; though it was clear that most of the young man's attention was focused on Jamison himself.
"Yes, but it also leaves many things unexplained," he said, stepping forward slightly; Saber's stance tightened, and Slade stood to his full height. Neither of them seemed particularly unwilling to continue, however. "Like, what happened onboard the Argos. Only two people in this room have the answer to that."
"It's a long, and very ugly story," Saber said, a half-smile on his face that looked far more bitter than amused.
"Even if we told you, you wouldn't believe it," Slade said, not even attempting to conceal his own bitterness the way Saber so often did. "There are times I don't."
"Sickbay, here." The voice of the head of the Space Knights' medical staff – Dr. Jacob Berenson – cut through the growing tension. "The patient's comatose state is deepening. She's dangerously dehydrated, and severely undernourished at this point. I don't know how long it's going to be before she regains consciousness, but for the moment she's going to need to stay in Intensive Care."
"Thank you for informing us, doctor," he said, once it was clear that no one else was in the proper frame of mind to say anything.
"Hey, why don't I help you two move some beds into the waiting area, and you two can stay there for a bit?" Star suggested.
"Thanks," Saber said, the smile on his face seeming far more genuine than it had before.
It was only natural that the two of them would wish to stay with their sister while she convalesced; particularly given their feelings for her, and how hard they had worked to save her from Spear. Suggesting that they wait closer to her rather than farther would do a great deal of good for their peace of mind. For that, Jamison found that he was grateful to Star for her consideration.
As she and Maggie helped to get Slade and Saber settled in the room just outside the ICU, Star found that she wasn't surprised much at all by the fact that the twins didn't actually have amnesia. It was something she'd begun wondering about, back when the two of them had been speaking to Dr. Random aboard his ship. Saber had said that they remembered, and now she knew just what he had meant by that.
"So, I guess we know why you and Slade never really liked talking about yourselves," she heard Maggie say.
Turning to look back over her shoulder, Star saw Saber's lips curl slightly upward in a small, bitter smirk.
"Yeah," he said, looking down for a long moment at the bed that he was moving into place. "Look, I'm sorry for not-"
"Hey, it's all right," Maggie said, reaching over to gently squeeze Saber's right shoulder. "It's not like something that painful could ever be easy to talk about." Saber smiled, a softer smile than Star had ever seen him wear before, as Maggie wrapped her left arm around Saber's shoulders and leaned against him. "It is nice to get to know more about you, though."
Saber laughed softly, though not particularly happily, Star noticed. "Yeah, I guess."
"Come on," Maggie said, gently pulling Saber back until the both of them fell back onto the bed that they had maneuvered into place. "You've been firing on all cylinders practically all this week; I think it's past time you got a chance to downshift."
Judging from the expression on Saber's face, Star wasn't the only one amused by Maggie's choice of words; trust a mechanic to think in machine-metaphors. Slade's voice distracted her from any further musings she might have had on that topic.
"Star… Thanks; you know, for understanding."
The expression on Slade's face was so earnest, his bright green eyes so intently focused on her, that Star found herself smiling in response almost out of hand. "You're welcome, Slade." Sitting down on the bed opposite Maggie and Saber, Star gently tugged Slade's arm, until he'd settled down on the bed next to her.
Together, she knew, the four of them would have the strength to deal with anything the Radam could send against them. Still, right now, they could all use some rest; they were all fairly on-edge at the moment.
When he had at last managed to regain full, conscious awareness of where he was – and how he had gotten there – Spear was forced to push aside the sadness caused by his earlier revelations about his younger brothers; what he would need to do to the other members of his family.
(Spear; I see that you are finally awake.)
(Yes,) he responded, half-closing his eyes; though he had been restored to full health in a physical sense, he was still uneasy. (I await further orders.)
(Yes. I can sense that this is difficult for you, Spear; these are members of your own clan that have turned against you. However, you must resolve yourself to this course of action. Your younger siblings have made clear their intention to stand with the people of this planet; you must do no less.)
(Yes, my Lord. I know,) he said, gaze falling to the floor of Darkon's vessel as the realization of just what he was going to have to do to three of his younger siblings in an effort to quell their rebellion.
(That is good; however, you must realize that this is an opportune time to attack. They are at their weakest, now. Vulnerable in mind and body. Go now, Spear; do as you must.)
(Yes, Lord Darkon.)
He could no longer afford to show Ness and Cain – and Shara, now – the mercy that he had once done; he could no longer afford to be sentimental.
As he lay down on the infirmary bed, trying to relax the way that Star had insisted he and Saber should do, Slade found that he couldn't manage to turn off his mind. Even the meditation that he'd learned during the course of his martial arts training didn't help, since that just served to remind him of what had happened to Grant Goddard; that, in turn, brought Slade's attention firmly back to the present. Shara's condition also weighed heavily on his mind, making it doubly impossible for him to relax.
(Tense as ever, I see,) Saber said, his younger twin's usual wry good-humor seeming a bit more subdued than usual.
(You think there might be a reason for that?) he asked rhetorically, beginning to feel perversely relaxed from Saber's gentle teasing; whatever name he went by, and whatever else happened to them, his younger twin would always be his irrepressible self.
That was good to know.
(Is there?) Saber asked, and out of the corner of his left eye, Slade could see his younger twin turning slightly to look at him.
(It's- I guess I just can't stop thinking about what happened,) he said, staring up at the lights of the room where the four of them were waiting. (Now that the Commander told everyone.)
It was kind of strange, the way staring up at the banks of lights reminded him a bit of the engines on the back of the Argos. Of course, given what the Argos had looked like from the back, he supposed that anyone could be forgiven for being a bit nostalgic under these circumstances.
"You're so tense, Slade," Star said, slinging her left arm around his shoulders as he leaned forward slightly to accommodate her. "Is there something else on your mind? Beside's your sister's condition, I mean."
"Yeah, I guess there is." He couldn't really hide it anymore; it wouldn't be fair to Star, after she'd stood by him all this time even without knowing about his past. He didn't know just how Saber felt about Maggie, but he didn't think that his younger twin would object too much. "It was like something out of a nightmare."
He could still remember – all too clearly – what had happened that day; when the Radam probe ship had dragged the Argos into itself. He'd seen the two ships fused together, just for a few moments, before the escape pod that he and Saber had been so unceremoniously shoved into had passed out of sight of the two ships.
"I suppose it might have been our own fault," his eyes half-closed; he wasn't really seeing anything in the Command Center's infirmary, not anymore. "We opened Pandora's Box."
He could still remember when Conrad and Sam had been put into hyper-sleep; he'd held the hands of both his older and younger brothers as they had both been put under in their turn. Still, if he'd had any way to know what was coming, he would have insisted to anyone who would listen that at least the rest of his and Saber's family be awake. At least then, they would have had the option to run when the Radam had attacked.
For as much good as it had done any of them.
"If only we hadn't explored that ship," he muttered, wondering idly if the others were listening in on this conversation, or if Star was going to be telling them the salient points later sometime. "But, that's what we were out there to do: investigate and explore."
As he continued speaking, Slade found himself thinking more about the past than he had since the events had happened. Back to the last days of Ness Carter's life, not that he'd known it at the time.
Ness had been excited, back then; seeing the ship appear in front of them, not knowing that it was going to mean the end of basically everything that he and Saber had ever known. Even their names would be changed, in the end.
It was painful to think about: those last few moments when he and Saber had actually had family aside from each other and a sister who was sick and receiving medical care. Still, it was perversely more painful to think about what they had all had before; about the Carter family and all of the good times they had had together. Saber or Star would probably know why that was, but Slade could at least make a reasonable guess.
He was probably even right, not that he was going to ask.
Still, there were a few moments that stuck out clearly in his mind from those days, no matter how much he tried not to think of them: the sight of Sam's pale pinkish eyes sliding closed as the sedatives took hold; Conrad's calm, almost amused smile as he laid himself down inside the hyper-sleep chamber in preparation for his own sedation; Fritz's complaints to anyone who would listen, and some people who wouldn't, about the fact that he hadn't been able to eat for the entire day when he was put into hyper-sleep.
Those might have seemed like strange things to remember, but they had stayed with him, even after all this time.
He found himself sitting up on the bed, not quite consciously remembering the decision to do so; but then, he had a lot of things on his mind at the moment. "That ship; it was the Radam, of course. One of their galactic probes. Maybe we might have been able to escape. But, naturally, we didn't even try." He looked down, gaze settling on the space between his feet even as he saw the events of Ness Carter's life playing out before him. "It was Earth's first verifiable contact with an alien intelligence, after all. It's not every day that sort of thing happens; so of course we just couldn't let it be."
As he continued to speak, telling Star – and possibly the rest of the Space Knights – what had happened to him and Saber, back when they were still Ness and Cain Carter, Slade tried not to let himself think too much about just what he was saying. If he let himself think too much about the things he was saying, then he would inevitably start to feel them as well; he'd already had enough emotional upheavals for one day.
Now, if only he could lie to himself and say that he wouldn't have any more…
"Stupid; we were so stupid." Sure, just go walking merrily into hell; if there'd been any possible way for him to go back in time and meet Ness Carter, he would have punched his former self in the head, then dragged him and Cain Carter right off of that probe ship personally. "We were like kids on a fieldtrip. We never dreamed that it would turn into a nightmare."
Still, that was just what had happened; sure, it had all seemed to go smoothly at first: they'd walked into the ship, all of the teknopods dormant above their heads. They'd moved into the ship, the small lights that they had carried – little more than specially designed flashlights, really – playing over the walls and ceiling of the ship they were exploring. Ness Carter had been a bit wary of the place that he and the rest of his family were walking into, but that was only because it was so utterly alien to his sensibilities.
Neither Ness nor Cain had had any way of knowing just what they were walking into.
Of course, that was pretty much when everything had gone completely off the rails: the teknopods activating all at once – probably in response to all of the new stimuli they were receiving – and falling from the ceiling en masse. The crew had tried to run, at least those few of them who were even awake to run in the first place; just Ness, Cain, their father, and Grant Goddard. Shara had stayed behind; their father had wanted her to wake the rest of the crew.
At least, back when they had all actually believed that they were exploring a deserted alien ship; not when they realized that they had all basically walked into hell. Still, the order had never been countermanded – there'd never been a chance for anyone to do so – so Shara had probably been caught while she was working. He might have thought about asking, but Slade already knew how much he didn't like talking about what had happened to all of them back then, so he wasn't about to ask his own younger sister to relive something that he tried so hard to avoid thinking about.
"That was it," he said, fist clenching at the memory of Ness Carter's last, hopeless stand against the ring of teknopods that had surrounded him: he'd tried to shoot them, in the end, but that had proved to be almost more futile than running. "Before we knew what was happening, it was over. I know they got Shara and Conrad, but I still don't know what happened to our younger brother Sam, or Conrad's fiancée Katherine."
"Your older brother was engaged?" Maggie asked, drawing his and Saber's attention.
"Yeah," Saber said, the smirk on his face looking about as bitter as Slade felt. "He and Kathy were going to get married just before we turned back from Saturn; just before the Argos used the gravity-slingshot."
"That's horrible," Star said, biting her lip and looking down slightly.
"Yeah," he muttered; he could still remember the smile on Conrad's face when he had introduced Katherine as his fiancée.
They'd all been happy for him; Ness, Cain, Shara, and Sam. Ness and Cain had teased him a bit about that, and when they'd told Fritz about who their eldest brother was planning to marry, he'd gotten in on the teasing, as well. Sighing, Slade once again shoved the thoughts of Ness Carter and his life out of his mind. He wasn't Ness Carter anymore; he probably never would be again.
It wasn't something he liked to think about, but that didn't make it any less true.
Feeling Star wrapping her arms around him, Slade leaned into her embrace and half-closed his eyes. He was grateful, to both her and Saber, for their silent support. Slade didn't know if he would have been able to talk about this, otherwise.
"Once they trapped us aboard their ship and destroyed the Argos, we found out what the alien creatures were really here for: to turn all of us into Tekno-beings." He gritted his teeth briefly, remembering the pain that they had all been through; the sound of Cain and Shara's screaming as they were changed. "The ship we'd encountered was one of Radam's probes; it traps sapient lifeforms and transforms them into Tekno-beings. The Tekno-process taxes the human body, to the limits of its endurance; a lot of us didn't survive. The rest of us weren't so lucky: our bodies and brains were altered; our minds twisted into… something else."
Realizing then that he had tensed up again while he'd been talking, Slade just sat for a few moments and tried to relax while Star gently rubbed his back. He could feel the tension that had built up while he was talking slowly ebbing away, and Slade tried to breathe deeply again to try to calm himself down. After awhile, he managed.
"Thanks, Star," he said, smiling slightly as the two of them continued to lean on each other.
Looking back up, he could see that Saber and Maggie were sitting up on the bed that the two of them had pushed into the room. They were facing him and Star, both of them against each other, and Maggie with her head resting against Saber's left temple the way that Slade could remember doing so many times, himself.
"So, after you killed gunner, that just leaves you, Shara, Saber, and Spear," he heard Star say, sitting back up with her right arm wrapped around his shoulders again. "How many more Teknomen do you think there might be?"
"If there really are so many other Teknomen, wouldn't Darkon have used them by now?" Ringo asked, looking around at all of his fellow Space Knights.
"Not necessarily," Mac opined. "He could be holding them as a reserve-force, to be used later."
"Well, there's Slade and Saber, and then Gunnar. And Spear, and Shara. Should we count Darkon as a Teknoman too, or not?" Tina asked.
"How many other Teknomen are there?" Ringo asked, activating the intercom. "Would either of you know?"
"I'm not entirely sure," Slade's voice came back. "But I think there may be four, maybe five more."
"Sir," Tina turned a worried look to Commander Jamison. "We've just barely managed to hold our own against one of them. What would we do if all five of these new Teknomen decided to hit us all at once?"
"You're right, that would be a headache," Ringo said. "We don't have enough place settings."
"How can you joke about it, Ringo?" Tina demanded. "We're talking about the fate of the planet here."
"Calm down, everybody," Mac said. "Whatever comes we'll face it together, just like we always have."
"Yes. There's no point in worrying about what may happen," Commander Jamison advised. "And remember, we also have Slade and Saber on our side."
"That's something I don't understand," Mac said over the intercom. "Slade, how did you and your brother manage to escape in time to avoid the full effects of the transformation process?"
"Because of Father," Slade said sadly."I don't understand, I thought your father was in one of the teknopods himself," Star commented.
"He was," Slade said, turning a hard look on her. "But he was released before the rest of us. You see, our father didn't survive."
Saber sighed, taking up the narrative. "By all rights, he should have been dead when the teknopod rejected him. But Dad was tough, he wasn't going to let something like that stop him," Saber lowered his head, bangs falling over his eyes as Maggie cuddled closer to him. "At least… not for awhile."
They were both remembering now, even as they spoke. Remembering how their father had given his life just to save the two of them. Remembering their harried trek to the remains of the Argos, their father's parting words to them, and those endless months in the escape pod just waiting. Waiting to see if they would reach Earth before the Radam did, or even be in time to help.
"It was all gone; just like that," Slade said, forcing himself not to tense up again; it wasn't like anyone here didn't already know just how hard it was for him to talk about this. "Our family; our life. Everything."
Behind the Plexiglas window that separated the rest of the Space Knights from those inside the medlab, Maggie and Ringo were just staring at their three friends with varying expressions of pity. Even Mac, the one who had tried so hard to keep himself in check while the twins had been relating the sad story of how they had come to be two of Earth's last hopes for survival, was crying now.
It had been one of the saddest stories that any of them had ever been "privileged" to hear; to have your entire family kidnapped by the aliens, and not killed but programmed by some kind of brainwashing to want to kill you. Or not even to want to, but to need to; that had to be one of the worst things that any person could go through.
Especially people who seemed to have been so close to their family, they way Slade and Saber had so obviously been. This had to be killing the both of them, even in spite of the way they both seemed to want to hold on. For revenge if nothing else; or that was the way anyone could see that it had been.
Both boys seemed to have found new purpose in their lives since joining the Space Knights. It had been good for both parties to have found the other; the Space Knights had urgently needed the raw power and the intelligence that the boys could provide about the Radam and their creatures, and both twins had needed people in their lives to remind them of just what they were fighting for in the end. Both had been perilously close to forgetting that there was a world outside of what they fought against, and though they would have stood by the other in half a heartbeat and unto the end of the world, other people hadn't mattered so much to them at the beginning.
Now, however, they were fully aware of just how many people's lives depended on their own actions. Now they were ready and willing to fight not just for themselves, but for every person on the Earth; all of whom would have been in grave danger if the Radam were allowed to succeed in their plans. Now, they had a cause greater than themselves; something to give them strength on the hard road ahead.
"We were stuck in that escape pod, helpless," Slade said, staring at the edge of Saber and Maggie's bed as Star cuddled him closer. "I'm not sure for how long, but it felt like forever. So I still don't know when or from where Darkon showed up to take charge."
"When we saw them attacking the Space Ring, we knew we had to do something," Saber said, sitting up slightly and taking up the thread of the narrative again. "Of course, it wasn't just because they were trying to invade the Earth. We were alone with our thoughts for who knows how long. And what we'd just gone through wasn't something that anyone would want to talk about very much, I don't think."
"By the time we made it back to Earth, all we really cared about was destroying them. Taking the tekno-powers that they had given us and turning it against them. Cain and Ness Carter were gone. Only the Teknomen Saber and Slade remained."
As Slade sat there, he thought again about everything that he and Saber had gone through just to get to this point. All the times that the two of them had been forced to fight against one of their friends or family members. The battles with Spear were at the forefront of his thoughts, since he was the one who they had had to deal with lately. But he also remembered the other, earlier battles.
"That was when we met up with the first of Darkon's Teknomen: Gunnar. That's also when we realized that no matter how powerful we were, stopping them wasn't going to be easy. Still, when we saw what they had done to Gunnar, what kind of a monster he'd become, we knew that no matter what else happened we had to find a way to survive. To find a way to stop them."
"The first fight didn't go very well," Saber said, smirking slightly at his own dark humor. "And then… Well, you know just as well as we do what happened next, don't you Star."
It wasn't really a question, but Star answered it anyway. "Uh-huh. That's when Ringo and I found you and brought you both back to the Command Center medlab."
"Yeah; that's pretty much how it went," Saber said, his wry smirk looking a bit less strained now that everything was out in the open; or maybe Slade was just thinking of how he felt.
He'd carried these secrets with him for so long, not knowing if he would ever be able to trust anyone but Saber with them, that it was something of a relief to finally be able to tell someone else.
"Slade, Saber; your sister's pulled through," Tina's voice came over the intercom; Slade sat up, and was just peripherally aware of Saber doing the same thing just opposite him.
"When can we see her?" he asked, getting right to his feet; he might have wanted to see her as soon as he could, to finally know that at least one other member of his family had made it through all right, but he was at least going to try to listen to the Space Knights' medical staff.
He at least knew that he could trust them to have his and Saber's best interests in mind.
"Right now," Star said.
Since no one seemed to be in any kind of hurry to contradict her, and since he was particularly eager to put his fears about what might have been happening to Shara to rest, Slade grabbed Saber's hand and the two of them made for the Space Knights' infirmary at a quick jog. He barely noticed that Maggie and Star had both fallen back a bit, and he didn't think about it.
When he and Saber finally did make it to the room where Shara had been put up during her stay, Slade found their sister sitting in the bed. She looked up right when they came in – right into his eyes, it seemed like – and Slade smiled. He almost didn't care what else happened today – what kind of horrible thing happened out of what seemed to be the universe's sick desire to punish him for whatever transgression that it thought he'd committed some time in the past of either of his lives – as long as he could just have this one, perfect moment.
It was almost too much to believe: seeing Ness and Cain standing in the threshold of the door in front of her. Still, when the two of them hurried to her side, Ness on her right and Cain on her left, both of them embracing her almost as tightly as they ever had, Shara knew that she wasn't dreaming.
"Believe it, baby sister, it's definitely us," Ness said, in response to something she couldn't quite, consciously remember saying.
"We're so happy to see you again, Shara," Cain muttered, his breath warm on her neck, and one of his tears dripping down to land on her shoulder.
She'd never known Cain to shake; he'd always been just as strong as Ness, in his own way; the supple bamboo shoot to Ness' unyielding oak, but she could feel him shivering just slightly, now. She hated the thought of what she was going to tell them now – what the transformation process had done to her, even after all of the effort that both of them had put into trying to save her from the Teknoman who had once been Conrad – but, in the end, not telling them would be even more cruel. She wasn't about to make them suffer that, just for her momentary comfort.
"I was so frightened; it was horrible," she admitted; it wasn't just having the twisted remains of their eldest brother hunting her, the soft voice of a person that she had trusted for her entire life now speaking those horrible words. Not just knowing that her older brothers would be forced to kill Conrad, and Katherine, and even little Sam. "This is all I really wanted: just to see the two of you, one last time." She blinked back tears, feeling Cain shift slightly, and seeing him turn to look at her from the corner of her own left eye. "Just one more time, before the end. I knew that you two would be able to give me the strength I needed, to face what's coming. I dreaded the thought of having to face it all alone."
"What? Shara, you're talking crazy, here," Cain said, his arms wrapping more tightly around her, as if he was trying to change reality through sheer force of will; if she'd been a different person, she might have believed that he could do it.
Even so, she still wanted to. "No, Cain; I'm not. There's nothing you, Ness, or anyone can do. You see, it won't be long before I join father."
She felt Cain's and Ness' arms wrapping around her from both sides, and while she was grateful to know that they would both be there to support her, she was still sad that she would end up needing it so much. None of this should have happened to any of them.