Tara nodded. “I hope so. At first, when you got back, you didn’t have any enthusiasm for anything but going to your lab. You did everything Lee asked you to, but only just enough. And you left as soon as you could after the class ended.”
I remembered it from another angle. After we’d gotten back, it was hard not to see our fighting lessons for what they were—a way to keep us alive and take the other guy out of the fight.
If you’d asked me before I’d left, I would have said the same thing, but at the time I hadn’t seen people die because they’d made a mistake or felt how close the line was between death and survival.
I wasn’t even sure why I felt so much worse after getting back from Hideaway than after fighting the Hrrnna in New York or the sentient dinosaurs from whatever parallel world that had been. I had theories. Fighting the Hrrnna had been an afternoon instead of weeks. I’d killed more thinking beings when I’d fought the dinosaurs. We’d practically nuked them multiple times.
At Hideaway, we’d lost or almost lost people I knew.
I couldn’t say that I’d known or even liked Jadzen Akri, Hideaway’s leader very much, but I’d known her daughter, Kals. We’d stayed for the funeral and I could tell that Kals felt her death. She wasn’t the only one who’d died.
Between running from one place to another, hiding in a cavern, and fighting, I could think of at least a dozen faces that might or might not have survived the battles there. I could think of more that I knew were dead.
Maybe it was that? Maybe it was all the running and hiding or the period in which we didn’t know who was spying on us? Whatever it was, it went on for a long time.
“Plus, you zoned out even more than normal,” Tara said.
She didn’t need to add, “Like you are right now.” That was clear enough from context.
“I didn’t tell you much about what happened, did I?”
“You didn’t say anything and I didn’t ask. I thought you’d talk about it when you talked about it.” She stopped, sitting across from me on a stool, leaning a little on the counter next to it.
Knowing Tara, that was the request. Sometimes she was indirect about wanting things. I told her the story, starting as Jaclyn, Marcus, Cassie, Lee and I flew away from Earth, visiting the Xiniti and getting implants put into our heads. I described escorting the colony ship to Hideaway and the battle with the Human Ascendancy that followed it.
Tara didn’t interrupt me often, but she did ask questions. I did my best to answer them, finally getting to the end and our flight away from Hideaway. “And that’s pretty much everything. After that, we landed at Stapledon and all of you saw us. I was relieved to be home. I don’t even know how to say how glad I was to be out of there—which is funny. I still dream I’m back there some nights.”
She nodded, looking into my eyes. “I know what you mean. I don’t know how much Rachel told you, but I was born in Infinity City. My mom and dad and I spent our entire lives on the run because my parents were like Romeo and Juliet. The True are obsessed with remaining exactly as they were designed and not mixing our genes with outsiders which includes True from parallel universes, no matter how much like us they seem to be.
“We lived in constant fear because they were looking for us and if they found us both of my parents’ people would have killed me on the spot because of what I am and then each of them. Even though I spent my whole childhood in fear and even though they did kill my mom, Infinity City is still home. I still dream of it, the good and the bad, more often the good now.”
“Hideaway wasn’t my home,” I said. “It happened to be a place where I got stuck.”
She gave a small smile. “What’s important is that’s it’s normal to miss it even though it was horrible when you were there. It will fade and you’ll feel better.”
“It already has. At least a little bit. I didn’t mean to go on this long about it.” I tried to think if I had told anyone else the whole story before. I’d told parts to Haley and Daniel had probably picked up more than I was aware of.
Leaning back, Tara brushed hair out of her eyes. “I think we all need to talk about our lives and especially the bad experiences—you too.”
“Do you?” I watched for her reaction.
She laughed. “Not too often. I’m careful about who it is. It’s safer that way. And not to change the subject, but thanks again for letting me do my residency here. I don’t know where I would have done one otherwise. I don’t have many connections outside of Infinity City.”
As I began to respond, my phone and the nearest computer beeped. When I checked the screen, it showed the FBI’s seal and the words “Agent Isaac Lim.”
That was interesting. I’d intended to call him about Dr. Strazinsky, but I hadn’t yet had a chance to do it.
“That looks important. I’ll step outside.” Tara got out of her chair and left the lab.
I’d have invited her to stay, but given the conversation I was about to have, it was probably better that she left.