Tired of Running
Summary: Not all of the fugitives are evil people. One tells Cole her story.
Disclaimer: I don't own them, but, hey, just as soon as that deal with Zin goes through…
Timeline: Whenever *shrug* Later in the season
Feedback: Better than Fek-Maln. Feed me, feed me!!!
Tired of Running
Cole sat in the empty bar scanning his way through a newspaper. It was always interesting to see what these humans did and did not consider newsworthy. It was also insightful, realizing that they were really not that different from any of the Migar species. He smiled at a picture of a fireman rescuing a kitten from a burning house. Mel called those articles 'feel-good stories'. There was not real point to them, they were basically thrown in to remind readers that it was not all death and destruction.
Just mostly death and destruction, Cole reflected, turning the page and scanning two pages worth of headlines about the current round of difficulties in the Middle-East. Shaking his head, he closed the paper. He looked up as a young woman entered the bar. Mel had an appointment, so he had offered to keep an eye on things for her. In the past few months, he had actually grown to enjoy tending bar, especially on quiet days like this one when you could actually talk to the customers.
He rose and smiled. "Can I help you?" he asked, moving behind the bar.
The woman did not immediately respond. She glanced carefully around the bar first, not speaking until she was satisfied that they were quite alone. "Cole Hauser?" she asked in a quiet voice. "Daggon?"
Cole blinked, startled. Mentally steeling himself for a fight, he nodded.
She nodded in response to that, but made no move to come closer. She could tell that he was expecting a fight, but she had absolutely no intention of putting up one.
"I'm here to turn myself in," she said softly, regarding him with eyes that held a lot of regret but very little actual fear.
"Why?" Cole asked, shaking his head. It was unheard of, not something he would ever have expected one of the fugitives to do. At her small shrug, he moved closer, searching her eyes with his own. She was, he realized at this distance, quite a young life-force, barely out of adolescence and into adulthood. "What's your name?" he asked gently.
"Aeko, sir. I'm a Dessarian."
Cole nodded. He knew the name, but not the specifics of her crime. She had been housed in a separate area than the prisoners that he most often came into contact with. Different classes of offenders were usually housed in separate areas, almost like small communities, except for those who it was necessary to house alone for their own safety or for that of the other inmates. Cole had always worked in the section housing the violent criminals. He recalled that Aeko had been housed with the political prisoners. Her crime, then, was not a violent one.
"Why do you wish to turn yourself in, child?" he asked kindly.
She hesitated, a little thrown. She had expected him to Collect her life-force immediately once she had revealed herself as a fugitive. She could not help but like this one, so she answered honestly, if a little tentatively. "I suppose that I'm just tired of running, but there's more… If… It would be clearer… I think it would be… if I could tell you my story, explain my crime…"
Cole nodded. "Of course. Here, sit." He led her to a table and pulled out a chair. When she had seated herself, he sat down opposite her. She was visibly anxious so he waited a few moments for her to settle her nerves before beginning. "Why don't you tell me what crime you committed that made Sar-Top an appropriate punishment."
"I was serving a life-sentence for extreme stupidity," she said with a sad sigh. Seeing the Cirronian's confused expression, she continued. "They threw around a lot of words like 'espionage' and 'treason' at the sentencing, but my real crime was being a gullible, infatuated child."
Cole nodded slowly, not quite sure what the one had to do with the other. "Why don't you tell me about it?" he suggested.
Aeko nodded, inhaling deeply. As she related her story to Cole, she looked at him very little, preferring to examine the hands of the human she had killed because Sar-Top had become unbearable. It was an act for which she would never forgive herself. And it was not the only one.
"I used to work at the Dessarian Ministry of Science. I was a researcher there, just out of school, what the humans would call a rising star. I loved a man, and… I thought he loved me. I would have done anything to please him. So, when he asked me about my research one day, I told him. Of course, working for the government, I knew enough to stay vague. Or, I did at first. He just seemed so interested, quizzing me on every detail, pointing out omissions in what I told him, and I realized that he knew as much as I did about particle physics. And he was interested. No man I had ever known had been interested in my work before. I was flattered. I was stupid."
"When he asked to see some of my research, I saw no harm. After all, we loved each other. I thought. So I started smuggling some of my lab-reports out of the Ministry. Things progressed from there and, before I knew it, I was smuggling out other people's research as well. He promptly turned around and sold it to the Vardians who, predictably, found a weapons application for it."
She shrugged. "After that, he just kind of vanished."
Aeko sighed deeply, shaking her head. Cole rose and walked behind the bar, pouring her a glass of water. He handed it to her as he resumed his place, feeling infinitely sorry for the girl. Sadly, her story was not entirely unique. And, while the young women who had been fooled in this manner suffered, the men who had fooled them generally vanished without a trace before charges could be framed. Aeko took a long drink of the water and stared at the glass for several minutes before sighing and continuing.
"I could have gotten away with it. No one suspected me: I was a model employee and a patriotic Dessarian. Superiors pointed me out to new lab-techs and interns as a model of how they should comport themselves on the job and after-hours. But looking at your reflection every morning is not an easy task when you know that you have done something that is likely to lead to hundreds or thousands of deaths." She shook her head, sighing and glancing down at the glass in her hands as she continued.
"So… I went to the local field-office for the Tracker Corps and I told them everything. So I was detained overnight and the Tracker Corps contacted the Migar Security Counsel. And they called in the Special Security Taskforce. I don't know… It seemed like a lot of fuss all things considered. I mean, in addition to my oral confession, I had given a full written one and even brought along evidence of my crimes."
"There was an investigation, and then a trial. Um, at the trial, I offered no defense. There was no defense. My actions were unjustifiable. So when they asked if I had anything to say, I said the only thing I could. I told them that I was sorry. Asked what punishment I thought I deserved, I answered truthfully: 'The only fitting punishment is that I should die once for each life that my actions will eventually end.' I meant it, too. I craved death by then. I would have done it myself, tried to more than once, but you know how Dessarians are."
Cole nodded. "By instinct you are unable to work harm against yourselves. A Dessarian can not take her own life."
Aeko nodded. "And, of course, we both know where the Migar Federation stands on capital punishment. So they sentenced me to a life term on Sar-Top. All things considered, death would have been the kinder alternative." She shook her head, sighing deeply.
"Sar-Top was a horrible place. Everything I'd ever heard about it is true. It was cold, dark, desolate, and lonely beyond words. Like everyone else, I hated it there. But Yhir, he had a lot of influence with Zin, and he felt that my services to the Vardian people should be rewarded. And so, when the prison-break was arranged, I was invited to join the others, told that it would be a chance to start over."
"It seemed like a wonderful opportunity and, like the others, I jumped at the chance. It was a foolish choice, as I quickly learned. There was no 'starting over'. Instead, we become Zin's foot-soldiers in this ridiculous little vendetta of his against the Migar Federation. Most of us committed more crimes after arriving on Earth than we had in the rest of our lives put together."
Cole nodded. "Zin has that ability to manipulate people into doing things that they would not normally do on their own."
She nodded in agreement. "Zin set me up in a United States government research-lab. For a long time, I thought that this was the fresh start that I had been promised. Until last night, actually. Zin came to me and asked me to start acquiring certain information for him from the lab. All of the information he asked for was dangerous. I knew that any of it would put in his hands the power to kill thousands."
She shrugged and looked up at him, looking him in the eyes for the first time as she quietly stated, "Once is stupid. Twice? That's unforgivable."
Cole nodded slowly, understanding.
Shrugging, she continued. "It didn't take me long after Zin's request to know exactly what had to be done. So I agreed and told him that I would start bringing the information to him starting tomorrow. Um, today, now."
"But why turn yourself in? Why not just run?"
"I'm tired of running. Running from you, running from Zin, it's all the same. And it's wrong." She paused for a moment, then explained. "It's not the first time that I've gotten my hands on information that I had no right to. So I found out what you looked like, what you called yourself, where you lived, and I did it right under the nose of Zin's most trusted Lieutenants. Espionage is just something I have a natural talent for, I guess…" She looked up at him, shrugging again. "So there it is. I'm turning myself in because I'm tired of running. Tired of running from you, more tired of running from myself."
Cole nodded slowly. "You're doing the right thing."
She nodded. "I know. It makes a nice change. I've missed the feeling it gives me."
He gave her an approving smile. "As soon as Mel gets home, we'll leave, find a good place…"
She nodded. "Thank you, sir. I am grateful."
They sat in not-uncomfortable silence until Mel returned. "Hey, Cole," she greeted him. "Who's this?"
"Aeko, Mel. She's one of the fugitives." Seeing her alarmed look, he quickly added, "She came to turn herself in."
Mel blinked in surprise, digesting this piece of information.
Cole rose and offered his hand to Aeko. "I'll be back in a little while, Mel," he assured her.
Aeko followed him from the bar wordlessly, head held high. For the first time since she had realized what her lover had been doing with her research, she felt proud.