Chapter 7: End of days

"Where are we?" Carma asked, gazing at the unfamiliar surroundings.

"Talkath's meadow," was Crais' matter-of-fact reply.

"Oh," Carma said. "Why are we here?"

"This is where you wanted to come."

"Have I been here before?"

"Of course you have. Many times."

"Then why don't I remember it?"

Crais surveyed the horizon. "Because you don't want to."

"Why not?"

"Because this is where it all began."

***

"Where are we?" Carma asked, gazing at the unfamiliar surroundings.

"Kelven Prime," was Crais' matter-of-fact reply.

"Oh," Carma said. "Why are we here?"

"Because this is the planet that Talyn located," Crais answered. "The medics here will take care of our...problem."

Carma looked around at the busy passenger port. "Are we going there now?"

Crais picked up the bag she had let fall to the floor and slung it over his shoulder. "Jool and I agreed that you should have some time to...recuperate, before undergoing the operation. We will be residing at one of the guest houses in the town. I suggest you follow me."

He strode off. Carma nodded vacantly and trailed after him.

***

"This is where what all began?" Carma asked, impatient with his cryptic answers.

"The end," Crais answered, turning his head to look at her.

"The end of what?!" Carma asked again, exasperated.

"The end, your end. The day when you started to fall into the darkness."

Carma shivered uncomfortably. "This is a stupid dream."

"A dream yes, stupid no."

"What's the point of bringing me to a place I don't remember and going on about an 'end' that never happened?

"You brought us here and it did happen. You've just tried to block it out."

"Then why have I stopped blocking it now?"

"Because you know you have to. It's the only way."

Carma looked out over the meadow. "If there's something I'm here to see, why don't you just show it to me so we can leave?"

Crais looked at her impassively. "I have no control over what you see here, I'm just a figment of your imagination."

"If this is something from my past, why is Crais guiding me?"

Crais looked back at her. "Because he is the only one you trust."

Carma glanced at him. "Then how do I see this?"

His answer was simple. "Want to."

***

Crais looked over at Carma. The balcony doors were open and she sat on the edge of the carpet, looking out. It felt like there was a canyon between them. She'd spent most of the last two weekens seeming as though she wasn't fully in her own body. They'd never discussed what she had done. He'd tried, as hard as it was for him to think what to say, but she'd brushed him off. Not by refusing to talk, just by refusing to be there. It was almost as if she were dead.

Carma looked out over the bay. The day was beautiful, with the warm sunshine that she adored, but she hardly noticed. The past two weekens had passed in a fuzzy haze, as if they were part of a world she no longer belonged to. The day they had already spent here had passed the same way. Her head full of daydreams, never quite focusing on the life before her. There was comfort in familiarity.

***

"Who's that?" Crais asked, indicating the adolescent girl who had appeared.

"That's me," Carma answered, "when I was about fourteen cycles old."

"And who is that?" Crais asked again, now pointing to the slightly older boy with her.

"That's my brother," Carma said, smiling at them in the distance.

"Do you remember coming here with him?"

"No."

"Keep trying."

***

He didn't understand. Nobody understood. Jool didn't understand how she could take her child's life. Crichton didn't understand why she wanted to. Crais didn't understand anything. Carma had told him that she would never be easy for him, he'd never imagined that she had meant this. In the time he'd known her she'd turned his world upside down a dozen times. He never knew what to expect from her, couldn't predict her, couldn't understand why he didn't stop trying to keep up with her. He hated uncertainly and she'd made his world more uncertain. He ought to give up on her but, somehow, he couldn't.

She still sat by the window. She spent hours there every day. Just getting her to eat was a monumental task. Crais wondered how much of her time was being spent thinking about jumping from that window. He was afraid, sincerely afraid, that it was a lot.

***

"I don't want to stay here any longer," Carma said, looking away.

"Because you remember it now."

"I don't want to remember it. He's dead now, there's no point. You shouldn't dishonour the dead."

"He raped you."

"I was young, I didn't know better."

"Is that an excuse?"

"It's a fact. And it was a long time ago."

Crais nodded. "Sixty cycles," he said, matter-of-factly, "but you're still living it."

"How can I be living it? I didn't even remember it until now."

"Haven't you wondered why you've been acting so strangely? You, who used to want a house full of children, wanting to die rather than have just one?"

"That was before I knew enough to think about it."

"That was before you were pregnant the first time."

"I was never pregnant before."

"Oh, no?"

***

"Would you like to go out into the town?" Crais asked, after four solar days of almost total silence between them.

Carma gave the vacant nod he'd seen so much of lately and got up. Mindful of the windy weather, he handed her her jacket. She pulled it on absently and waited for him to lead the way. Crais sighed inwardly. He was beginning to wonder if she would ever come back to him.

***

"I was never pregnant before!"

"We need a change of scenery," Crais said abruptly. The meadow disappeared and Carma found herself in the dark, dirty streets of the city. Definitely not a nice part of town.

"You found out you were pregnant. You couldn't tell anyone, because then they'd know what your brother had done. You couldn't go to the medical centre, because they'd tell your parents. You had to come here. No anaesthetic, no after-care. You caught an infection. You nearly died because you didn't dare tell anyone that you were sick. Then one day your father took you to the rescue centre where he worked. You fainted when you went to get something to eat. One of the carers there found you, gave you medicine and promised not to tell anyone. That's why you became a carer, although you don't remember that, do you? And because it meant that you had an excuse never to have children, or let any man near you again."

Crais looked sideways at her. "You know that that's why you've been acting this way. If you hadn't wanted children that would have been fair enough, but you've just been running from the memories. You pushed Crais away as long as you could before you finally let him in and now he's crossed a line you didn't want crossed. Bringing up parts of the past you wanted to keep hidden."

He looked up at the sky, which suddenly went blue. When Carma looked around again, she was standing on a green hill, watching Crais and herself.

"That's your present," Crais said, now standing beside her. "And your future. No matter how hard you try to resist, things are finally going right for you. You just have to let them."

"What do I have to do?"

"Scream, cry, do whatever you want. Just...forgive yourself. And stop pushing the good away. Look at him," Crais said, turning her to look at the real Crais, who was watching the real Carma.

"You keep trying to lose him and eventually you will. You could be good together, you know that? It's never an accident when people like you find each other. It's the universe trying to make two forest fires calm to warm a village. You've got a lot of good to give each other, if you try."

Carma nodded, watching her real self staring out into the valley below her, wind whipping through her hair.

"Scream," Crais said.

"What?"

"Scream. Take a first step, let some of it out."

He disappeared into the air, before she had a chance to say anything else. Carma looked around, feeling stupid even though no-one could see her. Concentrating on opening her mind, she let the memories she had just seen played out flood through her mind. Then she opened her mouth and began to scream. Long and loud she screamed, letting her head fall back and her eyes close. At first she felt nothing, but then she felt the wind began to whip past her body and then a rushing sensation. When she opened her eyes again, the scream over, she was back in her body. She looked down into the valley from her own eyes, seeing it for the first time. She noticed how close she was to the edge and took a step backwards, raising one hand and placing it on her stomach.

The first step at least, even though she wasn't sure where it might lead. She stood there for a while longer, not thinking, just being in the moment again. Then she turned slowly. Crais was standing at a distance from her, looking out to the sea on the other side of the hill. A smile slowly began to creep over her face. Slowly, she walked over to him.

Crais felt the touch of her hand before he heard her say his name. Relief at just seeing her behind her eyes was enough to bring a smile to his face. She stood, a little awkwardly, wanting to move into his arms but not sure of what the reaction would be. Crais sensed her uncertainty and slowly pulled her into his embrace. She pulled his head down to hers and their lips met in a gentle kiss.

"Bialar," she said, when he released her, looking into his eyes, "I want to go home."

"To the guest house?" Crais asked.

Carma shook her head. "Home, Talyn."

"But we are not finished here."

"Yes we are," Carma said simply. "Unless you want to stay."

"No," Crais answered, the worry of the last two weekens suddenly lifting. "I do not."

"Then we're ready to go home," Carma said, smiling at him. Taking his hand, she laid it on her belly, where their child had just begun to move. "All three of us."

FIN