Fractured Memories

Fractured Memories

As I’ve mentioned several times, I participate in a monthly table top gaming group across skype. The game’s primary GM is really good at challenging me to do new things with my characters. Several months ago we started working on a behind-the-scenes incident with one of my characters so that certain things would be set up prior to an upcoming in-game reveal. This keeps things a surprise for the rest of the game group. It so gave me a chance to stretch my writing muscles. In this case, a psychic character has reached into Domerin’s memories, flipping through them like pages in a book. Which gave me a chance to really delve into some events of his past and depict them. So I present to you, a whirlwind tour of Domerin’s thoughts – some of them bright, some of them dark.
. . .

Domerin’s was a long-lived species, making the first and most noticeable thing about the library of his mind the fact that it was huge. There were more than three hundred bookshelves inside it, some of them fairly bursting with books. Others contained shelves that appeared empty, but for one or two books slumped against the edges of the shelf. Many of these memories might have been found on the desk; or they may have been locked behind the thick, solid oak door that stood locked along one wall. No one who glimpsed into his mind could ever have accused Domerin of leading an empty life.

The pages of the first book Faust opened seemed yellow around the edges, crinkled and worn by time. The image that flashed through Domerin’s mind as she set her fingers against the pages was one of a handsome young man, probably an adolescent of his species. His long hair was the color of liquid sunshine and his eyes were like two pieces of polished emerald. He laughed as he spun away from Domerin, covering his mouth with both hands as if he had just said something forbidden.

Domerin leaned close then, whispering something in the youth’s ear. The words, like much of this memory, were lost to time. Likewise, while the two young men seemed clear and keen in Domerin’s memory, their location seemed faded, drowned in the bright light of the day, as if Domerin could no longer remember where the kiss had taken place. But the silent words brought the hands away from the second man’s face. They were laid against Domerin’s chest as the youth leaned close and their lips met. It was an innocent kiss, and it lasted only a few moments before the second young man drew away. But while Domerin was unlikely to forget that moment if he lived a thousand years, it didn’t seem to stir any particular emotion in him, as if his connection to that memory was as faded and tattered as the edges of the book.

Where Faust expected to see the birth of a child, she would see instead an older woman, standing outside an old-style ranch. In the distance, ranch hands led horses to and from the stable, performing the usual day-to-day tasks. The woman looked somewhat confused, likely because the man she was looking at was dressed much nicer than most people who visited her tiny, backwater world. “Afternoon to you sir,” she said. “Do you have business with us?”

“I do,” Domerin’s voice replied, “but I’m afraid it’s not the usual. Someone sent me a message asking me to meet them here. Unfortunately, I’m quite late responding to the summons.”

“Here? Do you have the person’s name who called you?”

“I believe her name is Beth.” Reaching into a pocket, he pulled free what looked like a small slip of plastic, but turned out to be a miniature pad used for recording messages. The woman’s picture took up most of the tiny screen, and alongside it the beginning of her message. “She must have mentioned she was looking for me. It’s a fairly important matter. My name’s Domerin, by the way. Domerin Lorcasf.”

The woman’s lips drew into a thin line. “She did tell me, yes. I’m Beth’s sister, Susan Henderson. I’m sorry Mr. Lorcasf but you’re too late. Beth passed away, near on four months now.”

“I’m very sorry, Ms. Henderson. I’m sure it will sound shallow when I say I came as quickly as I could. And the matter she wrote to me about? Has that been settled?”

“Her daughter is currently in my care. I’m her godmother but given my sister’s interest in finding you her last wishes included a stipulation that you be allowed to see her if you wished.”

“I don’t think I could forgive myself if I came all this way and left without introducing myself.”

The older woman led him into the farm house, to an out of the way office tucked into a corner. There he settled, uncomfortably, to wait for his daughter, dreading all the while what she would say to him when she learned the truth. That he had abandoned her. That he hadn’t known about her existence until a few weeks before seemed a thin excuse for the oversight.

There was little doubt that the child who entered the room belonged to him. The resemblance was uncanny, from her dusky skin to her midnight hair, pulled back into a pony tail. When she looked at Domerin, her eyes were like mirrors of his own.

“Hello Mr. Lorcasf.”

“Hello Robin.” His voice was soft. He tried to sound friendly but he wasn’t sure a man like him was capable of such a tone. “You can call me Domerin. I knew your mother.”

Robin clutched a glass of juice in both hands, a glass that had obviously been sent for him. “Oh,” she said, her voice shaking. “I’m sorry you missed her funeral. Are you here to visit her grave?”

“Maybe, if I have time. I came to talk to you, actually, if you don’t mind.” They chatted for several minutes while Domerin danced around the topic of why he had come, never quite sure how to bring it up. At last he said, “Robin… did your mother ever tell you anything about your father?”

The girl’s brows furrowed. “Not really. She said he was out there somewhere and that she’d like to find him one day.”

“She did find him. But because he has so many other responsibilities… I didn’t get here in time. I didn’t know about you, Robin, until a few weeks ago and I swear I came as fast as I could. But it isn’t enough. I should have been there for you all along and I’m so sorry that I wasn’t. There’s nothing I can do to make up for failing you. I can’t even offer to take you to the ranch in Carson because I can’t stay that long. I don’t expect you to forgive me, but I thought I should open a channel of communication between us, in case you want it.”

There was guilt in his heart when he said it; he was sick with it, and it seeped into his chest now, constricting his heart. He was always failing his daughter, never there when she really needed him. But even as her eyes filled with tears, and those tears began to slide down her cheeks, she ran to him, throwing her arms around his waist. “You’re my dad? I want to get to know you.”

And it was those words Domerin clung to, even after all these years. Robin had forgiven him. Robin always forgave him, though gods only knew he didn’t deserve it.

The meeting with his first grandchild was strikingly similar. And it was a fresh memory, from shortly after he returned from his long stint in shunt space. He sat on a couch in a living room on the ship that had so recently been destroyed.

Robin lifted her head and called, “Beth! Beth come out here!”

“Beth?” he couldn’t keep the tremor out of his voice.

“Short for Elizabeth.” For a moment, Robin’s smile was so dazzling it made his heart ache.

“Of course. I should have guessed you’d name her for your mother. It makes sense.”

“Mommy?” The small voice drew both their attention to the doorway. The child peeking through the open arch was a perfect blend of his daughter’s features mixed with those of her husband. She had Daniel’s nose and chin, but Robin’s delicate cheek bones and intense eyes.

The moment he laid eyes on his granddaughter, Domerin’s heart lodged itself in his throat and refused to be moved. He had never imagined having a child in the first place, now there was a whole new generation of Lorcasfs to watch grow. It seemed he had only missed four years this time, but he was determined to be around for the birth of the next one. If there was a next one.

Swallowing hard, Domerin slid to the edge of the couch and held out his arms. “Beth, is it? It’s nice to meet you. I’m Domerin.”

The girl looked at her mother, waiting until Robin nodded to shoot out from behind the door and straight into Domerin’s arms. The girl pressed herself flat against his legs so that she could wrap her arms around his waist.

“He’s the one I told you about,” Robin said, settling back down beside him. “What did I tell you to say?”

“I love you, gran-pa!”

He bent and lifted the child onto his lap and she snuggled close against his chest, much as another little girl had once, long ago, the first time they met. But much like the first memory, this guilt was also laced with wild hope. His family had yet to reject him, even when they should have.

The next set of memories were as faded as the first, and didn’t really seem to reach Domerin the way Faust might have hoped. They were flashes of he and the young man he had kissed growing up together. Studying together. Attending parties together. Their relationship had spanned the whole of the first section of their lives, and many of those memories had already been lost, save a few that Domerin had filed away for fond remembrances, so that his happy memories of his first love could never fully slip away. These memories were like a photo album, a set of events Domerin could easily recall if something brought them to the fore, but not the sort of thing he really thought about anymore, an old family movie, half-forgotten on a shelf.

His memories of Robin’s mother were equally brief, though oddly keen and strikingly important compared to the first set of memories he associated with a past lover. It had been raining; he remembered that keenly. He liked to walk in the rain. Back then, it had been one of the few things that eased the pain of his bionics. While the cool raindrops caressed his skin, he couldn’t feel the fire burning beneath it. So he had gone for a run, not caring that the steady downpour soaked through his hair and clothing, plastering both to the side of his face. Not even after he had nearly collided with the woman on the bridge.

He had nearly fallen on his face trying to avoid her. She had laughed when he apologized, as if he were the funniest thing that she had ever seen. He had recognized the way she fluttered her eyelashes at him, even though he had never really been attracted to women. But she hadn’t minded the rain either and they ended up talking for almost an hour before he suggested they go inside. And when she had finally lured him back to her hotel room, several glasses of whiskey later, she hadn’t been afraid of what lurked beneath his shirt. So he had stayed the night, and they had parted amiably in the morning, understanding that they were unlikely to ever meet again.

It was an oddly isolated memory, oddly warm, and Domerin felt neither pain nor shame to be reminded of that night, especially now that he knew the results of it.

As with so many of his other memories, his first meeting with Crescent would be considered bizarre by any standards. He had first seen the kattar when he lunged at the guards trying to throw Domerin into the brig with him, each of them on their way to find their own fate on the black market. Domerin had a particular disdain for the two idiots who tossed him into that brig; neither of them knew who he was and neither had taken the time to verify his identity either, which only confirmed their stupidity in his mind. If there was one thing he couldn’t stand, it was an idiot.

They had locked a shock collar around his neck and left him alone with the kattar, apparently believing their abuse of the creature would keep it from mauling him to death. Or maybe, they hadn’t cared to protect their business investment. It hadn’t mattered; the kattar had curled up on the floor near Domerin and he had spoken to it. Not because he had known it was an intelligent creature, but because he had seen no reason not to. It had been nice, for once, to share his incarceration with something that understood, even if it was incapable of communicating that shared understanding.

Except that it had been.

“It was kind of you to defend me, stranger that I am,” he murmured as he moved his fingers through the kattar’s soft fur, a soothing, gentle gesture. “I’ll repay the favor someday soon. I promise.”

The kattar turned its head to look up at him. Then its lips drew back and it’s mouth opened and, after a moment, a voice came from him, rough and somewhat thick, with strange cadence to the letters. “How?”

Domerin grinned when the kattar spoke to him, chuckling softly. He wasn’t surprised; a cat wouldn’t come unless it wanted to, so why should this creature speak unless it had good reason? “My people will come for me,” he said, softly. “I lead them and we are strong. They’ll set you free when they spring me. And if you want, you can come with me.”

“I will not be pet or slave. To no man.”

Domerin shook his head. “If you came with me, you’d be as free as any other man. As to where I go; to war, my friend. I live among the stars and I travel them until my conflict is resolved.”

“I want to help my people,” the kattar replied. “They are slaves.”

“Then join my mercenary company. Fight by my side, and I will do what I can to help you end the slavery of your people.”

The kattar looked at him for several long moments before it nodded. “I accept.”

They had met in a cage, not all that unlike that one. It was a reminder that he had escaped before. That there were people out there willing to risk their lives to help him. And that each time he survived something like this, it only made him stronger. Not the reaction Faust was hoping for, more than likely.

Domerin’s relationship with Crescent had never been typical. Though they were bonded by their shared experience, and Domerin’s efforts to help Crescent adapt to his new life, it had never been Domerin’s intention to form an intimate relationship with Crescent. As evidenced by the fact that he constantly rebuffed the man’s initial efforts, insisting that he was not the kind of man Crescent wanted to grow close to. Crescent’s first attempt to confess his feelings, after a night of heavy drinking, ended poorly, and Domerin’s memory flickered near the end, as if there was something there neither he, nor the psi talent could quite see.

But Crescent had persisted, drawn to Domerin by some force the man himself could neither identify, nor understand. Domerin remembered a particular moment, amidst a heated discussion, when Crescent had paused, taken his hand and leaned in as if to kiss him. But instead, the man had pressed his forehead to Domerin’s, lingering there for several long seconds before he drew away to behold Domerin’s confused face.

“That is a gesture my people share only with those they care the most for. It’s how we show our deep affection and complete trust with one another. I wanted to share it with you.”

Domerin arched one midnight eyebrow. “You meant this to symbolize something between us?”

“Yes. As a testament to my words and the feelings I have for you. As something we can share that’s ours alone. There is joy to be found in the touch too, an affirmation.”

“I’m not sure what we have to affirm. Despite your insistence, you seem disconnected with the truth about the man you pursue. If you cannot accept that there are forces well beyond my control, I do not know how you expect this relationship to survive.”

“I’m aware you have limitations. I still want to build something with you.”

Domerin slid to his feet. “And if I told you the man you saw in my bed, the man with the shakes and the nightmares, was the truest version of me you’ve ever seen?”

Crescent squared his shoulders. “I didn’t turn away from you then. Don’t you understand Domerin? I chose you.”

It was the kind of thing Domerin normally would have dismissed as clingy and irrational, but he recalled what Crescent said about the press of his forehead and hesitated. “No,” he admitted. “I don’t think I do.”

“My people are wanderers, in love no less than any other thing. But sometimes we find someone we feel a connection with, someone we grow to care for deeply, someone we want to give our everything to. My people cannot be tamed but we can choose those we devote ourselves to. That is what you are to me Domerin. My chosen.”

“And you can choose only one person? And only once in your life?”

“That is typically how it goes. Of course the one you choose might not always welcome such affection. But even if that happens you never forget.”

“What happens if your chosen rejects you? Are you allowed to seek elsewhere?”

“Yes, if you chose to. But it doesn’t mean you’ll ever find another like that, or that you’ll ever feel the same connection with another.”

“And once you have chosen someone, you can’t change your mind?”

Crescent shook his head. “No. It can be a bit hard to explain but it’s more than just a simple choice. There’s something you feel deep inside, a pull, and once you feel it you can’t deny it.”

Domerin hadn’t understood it then, and he didn’t understand it now. But he had embraced it. He had given Crescent a chance to see him, the real him, beneath the heavy clothing he wore to conceal his scars. It had been a slow process, painful for Domerin in many ways. But Crescent had been true to his word, had remained beside him, never pressing, until Domerin had finally opened his life and allowed the man to come in. The first night they spent together came just after Domerin asked Crescent to live with him – a request that might well have sealed his fate.

And if Faust had stopped there, Domerin might have seemed untouchable. But of course she found the one memory that could make his squirm. Everyone did, sooner or later. Most of them already knew it was in there, just waiting to be found.

It was the image of the same man from the first memory. A little older, but not by much.

Kerathivir.

This time Domerin remembered the setting of the memory, right down to the shape of the leaves on the nearby trees and the sound of the insects humming in the distance. He remembered the soft click, the herald of his doom. He lifted his right hand, palm facing outward, motioning for the man to stop, to hold still, but he didn’t get the words past his lips fast enough.

Domerin remembered what followed in such graphic detail that Faust could have paused it at any point and noted all the gory details. Could have fast-forwarded and rewound to any point along those few terrible seconds to note the progress. Could have moved it back and forth like a saw, forcing Domerin to relive each horrific moment in complete and utter detail. But it was nothing he hadn’t experienced before.

The pain that boiled from Domerin’s depths in response to this memory was instinctual and violent. This was the one mistake for which he could never allow himself to atone. This was the one moment from which all of his future actions and decisions flowed. It was central to his being, core to his character. This was the moment in which the Domerin Lorcasf who sat bound in the interrogation room had been birthed into the universe.

And yet, for all its strength, the memory’s blade was oddly dull. It might have the power to nearly drive the psi talent from his mind, but it didn’t have the power to break him like Faust may have hoped. Because Domerin had already driven that needle so deeply into his own heart, it was hard to conceive of how it could be pushed further. Domerin knew who, and what, he was, and the universe had never allowed him to forget it.

It was highlighted in the final memory Faust pulled from his mind, which mostly consisted of violence. Domerin had been desperate to escape the Ruby Daggers by then, desperate to escape the hell to which they confined him and find the light in which he’d once lived. And he hadn’t cared what it would take to get out, hadn’t cared how many people he had to cut down, how much ruthless hatred and anger he had to awaken to get through it. He had been tenacious, a dog trained to fight that somehow found its way free of its leash.

That beast still lived inside him, and he would gladly unmuzzle it again.

Had she stopped one memory sooner, Faust might have been able to shake him, even if she couldn’t break him. But the memory of his flight from the Ruby Daggers  – the same people who had worked so hard to destroy everything he built for himself – only rekindled the fire of hatred he had carried dormant in his chest for so many years. It lifted him above the emotional storm. Put strength back into his limbs.

He lifted his head enough that he could lock eyes with Faust; he could tell she was the psi talent from the hint of a grin that flashed across her lips. He answered it with one of his own, the cold cruel snarl of a wolf that has just located its prey. And he threw himself against the restraints, putting all his strength and weight into the motion, just as he had before.

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