It was far from a peaceful rest. Images of Luc filled Kristin’s dreams. He was riding a motorcycle and tearing off down the road at breakneck speeds, making her stomach lurch in fear for his safety. He was running through a parking lot, avoiding Snakeheads charging at him from left and right. He was hiding in a cargo truck, attempting to conceal himself behind an unstable tower of boxes, not noticing that they were about to come crashing down on top of him.
And in every dream, every scene, he was always wearing that white helmet, looking so familiar, tearing at her heartstrings… but she just couldn’t figure out why.
Kristin woke with a start, the crack of a twig breaking jolting her back into awareness of the current reality. Luc lay by her side, his mouth by her ear.
“It was just a fox.” he told her. “It’s gone now.”
“I’m not as afraid of a fox as I am of a Snakehead.” she muttered, brushing bits of leaves and dirt from her arms.
“I don’t think they were able to follow us.” Luc said confidently. “But it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.”
Kristin nodded, sitting up and beginning to pull some supplies out of their packs. She handed Luc a roll and an apple.
“Breakfast?” she offered.
“Don’t mind if I do.” he accepted, taking the food and beginning to eat while Kristin did the same. The temperature had dropped significantly as the sun had set, and now in the dark they wiggled their toes and shifted the position of their legs to keep warm.
“Luc,” Kristin said thoughtfully between bites, “What if… what if you had worn a helmet… before? Like an American football player? Or a race car driver? Or a police officer?”
“You mean like this helmet?” Luc asked, tapping on the headgear he had worn while driving the motorcycle. “I don’t know. Why do you ask?”
“Yesterday, when you put it on… it looked right on you. And somehow… familiar. Only, it wasn’t familiar. Am I making any sense?”
“Yes.” Luc replied, “I had the same feeling. When I put it on, it was… it was like I was doing something automatically. Like it was second nature. As if I was used to wearing a helmet like that. But it wasn’t quite perfect… as if there was something different about the one I usually wore…”
“Well, we know that you were in the military.” Kristin thought out loud. “In what branch of the military would you wear a helmet like that?” She pondered the question while chewing on her apple.
“Maybe I was part of one of those Interplanetary Federation Forces.” Luc suggested. “If I was traveling in space, going to unfamiliar planets, then I might have had to wear an atmospheric helmet.”
“Maybe.” Kristin responded. “And don’t jet pilots wear helmets too? The ones who fly high up in the atmosphere, so they can have oxygen?”
“That…” Luc paused for a moment, staring off into the distance.
“That might be it.” he admitted. “Back after I escaped from the prison, I used to have dreams of flying… enough that a couple of times I wondered if I had been a pilot.”
“Perhaps that’s it, then!” Kristin said excitedly. “You were a pilot… in the UN Air Force!”
“Maybe…” Luc’s expression was pleased. “You know, I think we might be onto something, here!”
Kristin smiled as well. She hadn’t seen Luc this much at peace with his missing memories since she had first created the ‘what if’ game.
They finished their breakfast and went back to the motorcycle. It wasn’t nearly as intimidating to Kristin now, but she still hesitated before climbing on. Luc turned, smiling encouragingly at her, and that was enough to convince her to try it again.
They took off, the cold night air whipping at her hair, pulling the long red strands out from underneath her helmet, and sending a chill down her spine. Kristin snuggled closer to Luc, slipping her stiff fingers inside of his jacket. November was a cold, rainy month here in Italy, as well as in France, and going into the mountains meant that it wouldn’t be long before they started to see snow. After all, there was a year-round glacier at Chamonix.
They took less frequented roads through the north-western edge of Italy, coming back into France via the Tunnel de Frejus, then turning east, ignoring the signs to the international motorway and electing instead to take the regional carriageways, despite the additional time that would involve. There was no question that this was the ‘safer’ route.
It was better to be cautious. They had both seen Penal Complex 624-Alpha for themselves, and neither had any desire to be captured by the Snakeheads.
Just past Bonneval-Sur-Arc, Luc turned slightly toward her, pointing to a flickering light on the motorcycle’s dashboard.
Kristin nodded, keeping her head down as Luc pulled into the rest stop, moving to the most isolated row of petrol pumps.
Cautiously, Luc stepped off of the motorcycle, pulling out the fuel nozzle and placing it into the bike, before punching in the monetary funds code Mattieu had provided to them. It was connected to an untraceable prepaid line of credit attached to a Swiss bank account that had been opened by a now-dead Sardinian rebel. It was only one of many such accounts used for expenses by the loose alliance of Terran rebels in Europe.
Kristin wanted top remain on the motorcycle, close by to Luc, yet nature called and she glanced longingly at the restrooms.
“Go.” Luc whispered. “Just be fast.”
She nodded, retracting the visor on her helmet and slipping off of the bike before making her way to the facilities. She hurried as much as she could, and less than two minutes later was heading back through the rows of petrol pumps.
But as she approached their motorcycle, she heard a harsh, unfamiliar voice from behind the pump.
“That license plate is very interesting. It belongs to a motorcycle that was reported stolen just outside of Turin, this morning.”
Kristin froze. She couldn’t see Luc, or the owner of the unknown voice, but the menace in its tone frightened her. It had to be a Snakehead.
“Must be a mistake.” she heard Luc reply nonchalantly. “I’ve had this bike for about six months.”
“All the same, that is an Italian license plate.” the other voice sneered. “I think I’ll have to bring you in for questioning.”
“That won’t be necessary.” Luc replied calmly. “I’m sure we can come to some kind of ‘arrangement’.”
“I can’t do that.” laughed the other man, a tinge of regret in his voice. “You’ve been recorded on the security camera, and I’ve already been ordered to take you in.”
Kristin looked around nervously, spotting the cameras high above her, hidden in the protective overhang that covered the petrol pumps. Damn! The Snakeheads had gotten a good look at the two of them, along with their stolen motorcycle.
“What do we have here?”
She whirled around, only to find another Snakehead behind her. Before she could blink, he had grabbed her arm, pulling her toward him and pressing his rifle to her temple. Her back was forced against his chest, and she could feel his fetid breath on her ear.
“I don’t think you’re going anywhere.” he leered, clutching at her breast as he held her in a strong grip. Even through her coat, Kristin recoiled at the soldier’s touch.
The Snakehead kicked at her calves, knocking her feet out from under her and dragging her around the pump, into full view of Luc and the other soldier.
Luc stood unmoving, a dangerous expression on his face as he stared at her, while the other Snakehead pointed a rifle at his chest.
“This must be your girlfriend.” taunted the one pointing the gun at Luc. “Looks like we could have some fun with her, before we bring you in. If you come quietly, we might even let you watch.” He grabbed the hair that hung out the back of Kristin’s helmet, yanking her head backward and down for a rough kiss.
Kristin gagged and spat at the stench of sour beer and rotting meat that assaulted her as the soldier mashed his mouth against hers. She struggled in the grasps of both men, kicking wildly at anything she could reach and desperately trying to ignore the feel of their roving hands. She twisted her body, and suddenly found that she was falling…
A sharp bang exploded near her, and her vision cleared to see Luc slumped on the ground, clutching at his side. A bright red stain was blossoming on his jacket.
The Snakehead who had been assaulting her was on the ground next to her, his neck clearly broken. The other was holding his rifle, pointing it and laughing at the wounded Luc, who was obviously struggling not to fall into unconsciousness. The Snakehead did not appear to be concerned at all with the recent death of his comrade, but merely sneered at Luc.
Something inside of Kristin suddenly snapped. All she saw was a red haze across her vision as she grabbed the fallen Snakehead’s rifle, turned it on the other soldier and pulled the trigger, shooting at point blank range.
A small black hole appeared between the Snakehead’s eyes, and he stared blankly at her before falling to the ground in a heap.
Kristin was suddenly brought back to the night of the Snakehead Invasion, when she had killed two soldiers who had attempted to rape her. For a moment, she stood frozen in time, staring at the dead Snakehead in front of her, but remembering another. Had she just damned herself for all eternity, by taking yet another life?
The click of the petrol pump shutting off jarred her out of her shock, and her eyes fell on Luc’s prone form.
It was up to her now.
No one was going to save them. She was the one who had to help Luc. He was still alive… he had to be.
“Luc,” she whispered frantically, bending down and pulling him into a parody of a sitting position, “wake up! Come on, Luc, you have to wake up!”
Luc moaned softly, and inside, Kristin rejoiced. He was alive, and from some place deep inside of herself, she knew that she could save him.
She just had to have faith in herself.
Quickly she pulled off her scarf, tying it around Luc’s side to help staunch the flow of blood, even as she addressed him again.
“Luc, you need to hold onto me.” she instructed him. “That’s all you have to do. Just hold me.”
She repeated these words over and over again, helping a dazed Luc onto the back of the motorcycle and then getting on herself, taking the front position. She wrapped his arms around her waist, and her hopes skyrocketed when she felt him grasping her, albeit weakly.
“Just hold on, Luc.” she repeated again, starting up the motorcycle and taking off into the darkness, leaving the two dead Snakeheads behind her in the night.
Kristin didn’t even think about what she was doing, but merely raced down the road as fast as she could, her only concern being to put as much distance as possibly between the rest stop and themselves as she could. Fearing pursuit, she took the first turnoff on the carriageway, then again the first turnoff on that road, and so on, until she was eventually speeding down tiny backroads that were little more than dirt paths, the motorcycle tearing through the darkness of remote areas with hardly a sign of anyone or anything.
The motorcycle ate up the kilometers one by one, passing through farmland and an occasional tiny village as the wind whipped by, drying the frightened tears that streamed down her face. She forgot everything, except her need to be safe, and to get Luc to safety.
Nothing else mattered.
After some time, Kristin saw that Luc’s grip around her waist was slipping, and she realized that he needed medical attention immediately. She looked around the surrounding landscape, seeing a small building in the distance. It was somewhat back from the path she was following, and only barely visible in the moonlight. She headed toward the structure, her headlights now illuminating what turned out to be a small house. She was amazed that she had even found it, hidden by the blackness and so far away from the road. It had been an incredible stroke of luck that she had seen it at all.
Kristin pulled the bike up behind the house, ensuring that it was well-hidden from the road before getting off and pulling Luc with her. His head lolled to the side, and a cold fear rose up in her as she noted his barely conscious state.
Kristin rapped impatiently on the back door, but there was no reply. The exterior of the tiny dwelling looked as if no one had been there in some time, with overgrown plants beginning to take over the side of the house. Even the couple of meters between the spot where she had left the motorcycle and the door were covered with knee high grasses.
She tried the door, and found that it opened easily. A flash of understanding passed through her mind. This must have been one of the thousands of homes that had been abandoned during the Snakehead Invasion, nearly a year before.
As quickly as she could, she scanned the interior for signs of life, but found no indication that anyone had been there in some time. There was really only one main room, with only one other room leading off of it. She closed the door through which they had entered and locked it, then quickly dragged Luc into the other chamber, which turned out to be a small bedroom.
Kristin laid Luc down on the bed as gently as she could, before taking off her pack and pulling out the emergency medkit she carried. She opened up Luc’s jacket and shirt, pulling back the bloodied fabric so that she could examine his wound. She held her breath as the injury was revealed before her eyes.
The cloth of his shirt was already sticking to his skin as the blood dried, yet there was still a lot more blood seeping out of Luc’s side. Additionally, Luc’s breathing was rapid and irregular, and his skin was cold and clammy. Kristin instantly recognized that he was going into hypovolemic shock from the blood loss.
She grabbed a stack of blankets from the edge of the bed to elevate his feet, then tilted his head back to open up his airway for breathing. Next she ran into the tiny attached bathroom, grabbed some towels from a closet and wet them in the sink. Fortunately there was still some water in the pipes, and it was running clear. She then brought the wet towels back into the bedroom and began cleaning the wound, washing off as much blood as she could so that she could see how bad the injury was. Kristin held her breath as the torn flesh was exposed, but to her immense relief, she quickly realized that it was only a surface wound; the rifle blast had grazed Luc’s side, causing only soft tissue damage and not hitting any vital organs.
Without hesitating, Kristin grabbed antiseptic pads from the medkit, thoroughly disinfecting the wound before applying sterile dressings over the area, being careful to apply pressure to stop the bleeding. To be on the safe side, she applied a second dressing over the first, increasing the pressure even more.
Once Luc’s wound had been dressed, Kristin gently rolled him over to remove his bloody clothing, then laid another blanket on top of him. She noticed that his skin was now dry, and his breathing had returned to normal, and she said a small prayer of thanks as she cleaned up the mess she had made during this entire procedure.
When Kristin had finished, she came back to check on Luc again. His chest was rising and falling in a soft, regular pattern, and she realized that he had fallen asleep. She leaned down, pressing a tender kiss onto his forehead. To her surprise, Luc’s eyes opened, and they focused on her face as he weakly whispered to her.
“I guess we made it…”
“Yes.” Kristin laughed softly with relief, “We’re safe… for now.”
“I knew you could do it.”
“You inspired me.”
A silent tear ran down Kristin’s cheek.
“All I need is you…” he murmured, his eyes closing again.
Kristin smiled, relieved and astounded that she had somehow managed to pull them both out of that terrible situation and ensure that Luc remained alive. She lay down beside him, snuggling against his body so that he was spooning her. Kristin smiled to herself when Luc sleepily threw his arm over her waist, understanding that he needed the comfort of her presence just as much as she needed his.
But now that she was able to relax, the events of the past few hours raced through Kristin’s mind.
Stopping for petrol… hearing the Snakehead threaten Luc… being grabbed by the other soldier… being forced into that horrid kiss…
She relived the terrible moment when Luc had fallen to the ground, and she hadn’t been certain if he was alive or dead. She had simply grabbed the fallen rifle and used it instantly; no thought, no hesitation, just rage and an instinctive reaction.
Even more troubling than this, was that afterward she had somehow gotten Luc onto the motorcycle and taken off into the night, speeding down the road like a professional racer, rather than a timid university student who had never been on a bike in her life before the last forty-hours.
Yesterday, she had been terrified at the mere idea of getting on that motorcycle, and yet only a few hours ago, when she had needed to, she had been able to pull something out of herself that she hadn’t even realized was there.
How much more about herself didn’t she know was there?
Just now… she had taken one look at Luc’s condition and had instantly known that he was suffering from shock, and what to do. She had seen his wound, and had understood immediately how to treat it, without even looking at the emergency first aid booklet that was part of the medkit.
As far as Kristin knew, she had never had any medical or first aid training. So where had this knowledge come from?
As she thought about it, a fuzzy image flashed through her mind…
She was a child, learning how to bandage wounds and control bleeding…
Where had that come from?
Kristin eventually fell into a fitful sleep; strange dreams taking over her mind. She was driving a motorcycle, Luc holding on behind her. But he wasn’t injured; he was laughing. Then she was waitressing in a small restaurant, and then she was in a classroom learning how to read the Spectran language…
The man next to her awoke, pulling her body close to him and burying his face in her hair. And suddenly, everything was all right. The confusion in her mind was gone and she knew exactly who she was.
She yawned delicately, snuggling up against the man beside her, whispering softly.
“I’m glad you feel better, Mark.”
And then she went back to sleep.