The Enemy in the Mirror
by Sandra Miller
|Table of Contents.|
|part 1 of 4|
Until I rounded the corner of the engineering building and saw the rocket chair hovering in the university courtyard, I guess I thought I was used to the idea of Allacore attacks. I thought, like so many around me, that I knew everything there was to know.
But an Allacore too lazy to fly? I despised them, but this was a new low even for them. This Allacore must have stood over ten feet tall — if she ever got out of that flying chair of hers long enough to stand. Her wings must have been curled against her back, because I couldn’t see any evidence of them at all. The splintered ragged tips of her unkempt talons jutted out even when they were retracted. Her close-cropped white hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in weeks.
Their snowy white wing feathers and their equally white hair were the most attractive features Allacores had, if the word attractive could even be used, but on her neither was visible. Her gold metal armor must have been a sight to behold when it was new. At this point, though, it was dingy and pitted, and only added to her overall impression of disrepair.
Allacore. Just the name was enough to make my skin crawl, and here was one in my hometown! I stood there in shock as she hovered over the university path, herding students just like me into the holding cells that had been set up on the grass. We were out of her direct line of sight for the moment, but all too soon I knew we would be following our glassy-eyed peers into those dismal little cells.
The Allacore mind control devices were efficient. We had been spared the effect only because we had not been there when she fired it. But she could handle the two of us easily enough. After that, who knew? Hard labor in their factories, servitude in their homes, forced indenture on their small attack ships — any of a hundred unpleasant fates could await this newest group of prisoners once they were taken back to the enormous generation ship that had brought the Allacore here, the generation ship that even now orbited Earth.
I glanced at Trevyn standing there beside me, his face a picture of shock as he surveyed the scene playing in front of us, fresh out of a nightmare. Of course we had all heard about the Allacore raids, but who expected them this far inland, here in the middle of nowhere?
Before I had recovered myself, Trevyn had let go of my hand and was striding purposefully toward the Allacore’s hovering chair. I should have guessed he would do something of the sort — Trevyn never could stand by and watch injustice. The battle may have been doomed, but he was determined to fight it, even unarmed. He would not go quietly, like the groups of hypnotized students around him.
“Commander! I demand that you cease this at once!” Trevyn’s voice rang off the nearby buildings. I found time to wonder how he had known the Allacore’s rank — I should have guessed that politically-minded Trevyn would have been studying the Allacore raids much more intensively than I.
The rockets under the Allacore’s chair glowed red as she swiveled it around to face Trevyn — and me behind him. I shivered under that emotionless stare; she regarded us as if we were so many bugs. “You demand?” Her voice grated like ground glass crunching under boots. “You? Who are you to demand anything of me?”
“I am Trevyn Blaine, and I am a citizen of this free country, a country which does not allow the sort of acts you are committing here.” I stood as if my feet were rooted to the spot, horrified. Oh, please God, don’t let her kill him, I implored in my mind.
The Allacore’s face clouded with rage. “Filthy human!” she spat. “I’ll teach you some manners, you rude little bastard.” Her ragged talons were fully extended now, and she reached for the directional control on her chair.
The tension building in me was suddenly too much to bear. The capture of hundreds of students shocked me, but did not spur me to action; my own death I could have accepted with hardly a protest. But when she turned against Trevyn I could stand there no longer. Acting completely out of an instinct I hadn’t known I possessed, I balled my right hand into a fist and held it high over my head. “Enough!” I cried, and against her will the Allacore found her attention pulled from Trevyn and focused entirely on me.
“Enough?” Her tone was syrupy sweet. Her broken, yellowed teeth flashed at me as she smiled a condescending smile. “Enough of what, human? I haven’t yet begun!”
If she had dropped her superiority attitude and really looked at me, she would have noticed the bright yellow light streaming from beneath my curled fingers, pouring from between my knuckles. But she didn’t see, and I held my hand clenched in that fist for a moment longer. “I command you to stop!” I shrieked, and to my surprise my voice echoed and re-echoed, even stronger than Trevyn’s had a moment before. Before the Allacore commander recovered from her surprise, I pulled back my arm and flung it out towards her, opening my hand. The ball of light that left my grasp was like a miniature sun, racing toward her too fast for the eye to follow. It crashed into her chair and sent it reeling, casting scorch marks deep into her battered armor.
If I could have kept my wits about me, I would have grabbed Trevyn and run right then. But I was stunned, absolutely unable to believe what I had just done. I stood there gaping in disbelief while she brought her runaway chair under control and veered back toward me, whipping out a strange device that resembled a telescope. “So we have a powerful little monster here,” she grated. “So this trip will be considerably more worthwhile than I had imagined. Your power will benefit me greatly, human.” She leveled the telescope-thing at me, and it began to hum.
It was plain from her words that the thing was stealing whatever strange power I had, but I felt as though it was leeching all my energy. My knees buckled and I fell onto the sidewalk, marshaling everything I had for one last strike. This time when I flung out my shaking hand, no miniature sun burst forth. The Allacore laughed an ungodly laugh when she saw the wispy stream of light that issued from my palm — but she stopped laughing when the tendril of light wrapped itself around her telescope thing and snatched it from her grasp. I jerked my hand to my chest, and the light recoiled, pulling the telescope-thing into my palm with a satisfying slap. “No, Allacore,” I told her, leveling the device at her, “I think it is your power that will benefit me.” The device hummed louder than before, and she began to shriek.
I was bursting with energy. I could have run a marathon, and I suppose at that point I should have stopped. I was past caring about the welfare of this despicable Allacore, though, and I noticed that her shrieks had gotten the attention of the masses of students around me. As she weakened, they came forth from the cells, broke out of the mindless lines they had been herded into, and encouraged by this, I held the device steady. The hum was deafening now, drowning out the Allacore’s unholy screams. The device was shaking so hard that I needed both hands to hold it.
All at once the Allacore was silent. Her body seemed to crumble, to collapse it on itself — and then she was gone. The chair crashed to the ground and lay still, sitting at a sharp, broken angle. On the grassy field where hundreds of people had been prisoners only moments before there was silence, and then the cheering started. Grateful students surged out of the holding cells and toward me, cheering their happiness, their thanks.
I knelt panting there on the path, the telescope-thing hanging useless from my hand, stunned. It was Trevyn who reached me first, Trevyn who pulled me to my feet and started dragging me away from the crowd. “We have got to get you out of here, Ellena!” he shouted over the noise, and the alarm in his tone brought me back to my senses. Without questioning why, I ran with him, following him away from the university campus and the masses of students who had so narrowly avoided capture.
* * *
Trevyn secured the door, fastening the lock in the knob, the deadbolt, and the chain lock before he turned to regard me where I sat shaking on his couch. It was all too much, it had all happened too fast, and the shock of it was threatening to overcome me. The look Trevyn gave me as he approached said I had no time for that.
“You can go lie down and recover in a few minutes,” he told me, sitting down next to me. “Right now I need to talk to you. The situation is very serious. What happened back there?”
“What do you mean, what happened back there?” I said indignantly, frightened by his grave tone and offended by his manner. “You played hero with an Allacore commander, that’s what happened back there. And she was going to kill you for it.”
“Probably,” he agreed, with a calmness that frightened me further. “In the end it wouldn’t have mattered. Lots of people would have died there, one way or another. I might have bought them some time, maybe time enough for some of them to escape.”
“You would have bought them nothing,” I said sourly. “You saw them; they were like sheep. They would never have thought to run. And you would have been dead. But they didn’t have to run, and you didn’t have to die. Why is that so serious?”
“Oh, Ellena,” he sighed, taking my hand, “that is so typical of you. You think so much about some things, and then not at all about others. Right now all of those people are very grateful for what you did. They’ll go home and they’ll tell their families and friends about their miraculous savior. But in a day or two — or less — that will fade. Human nature is strange. They won’t remember the terror of their capture, or the danger they were in, or any of that. What they will remember is you and the impossible things you did today. The Allacore commander is gone. They will never have to deal with her again. But you are still here, and still among them. Do you think, after what they saw today, they will ever think of you as normal again?”
I sat there dumbfounded as his words sank in. “I’m not normal,” I said finally, realizing it for the first time. I met his eyes, and they were sad eyes. “What can I do?”
“I don’t know,” he said heavily. “But I do know you shouldn’t go back to your place. There was probably no one in that crowd who knew you, but you shouldn’t take that chance. Stay here.”
“But — what about you? You’re student body president. Almost all of them knew who you were.”
“Undoubtedly. But then, I wasn’t the one who fought an Allacore with balls of light. I’m sure I will be asked about you. For your protection, I think I’m going to have to lie. I’ll tell them I have no idea who you were. In their state, I doubt any of them saw us walk up together.”
I frowned. “But if they find me staying here?”
“How? They will need a search warrant to get in, and if they get one, we’ll get you out of here before they come to serve it. I can protect you, Ellena, but you’re going to have to trust me.”
“I trust you completely,” I told him, and he squeezed my hand.
“Then tell me what that was earlier.”
“I don’t know, and that’s the God’s honest truth. I’ve never done anything like that before — I never knew I could. I only knew I couldn’t let her kill you. I had to stop her. And I did.”
“Yes, you did.” He sighed, and patted my hand. “You’d better go rest now. You look like you need it. Whatever that was, it had to be a strain.” He stood up and led me down the short hallway, into what was apparently the apartment’s second bedroom. The double bed must have had an extra mattress on it, as tall as it was, and the bedspread and curtains were pastels. I glanced at him, and he flushed. “Well, I had intended on asking you to move in at some point,” he said uncomfortably. “I just didn’t realize it would be like this.”
I hugged him hard. “Thank you, Trevyn.” His shirt muffled my voice.
“You’re very welcome, of course.” He suddenly stepped back from me. “Now get some rest. I’m serious about that.”
“Yes, sir.” I saluted facetiously as he closed the door behind him.
* * *
So that was how I came to be living with Trevyn Blaine. As he predicted, there was a hostile backlash against my actions, which I thought was completely insane. Where would all those angry people have been if I hadn’t done what I had? Enslaved? In medical experiments? Dead?
It didn’t seem to matter. Overnight, Trevyn became the hero of the campus, the one who had stood fast and saved them all from the Allacore commander. According to popular opinion, he had saved them from me as well, running me off before I could do them harm. I never left the apartment, but Trevyn brought home the papers. The editorials burned off the pages. I sighed and shook my head; what else could I do? Human nature was what it was, and if Trevyn tried to explain what had happened, they would have turned on him as well.
So I hid out in the apartment, and I stopped attending my classes, and I never went out into the world for a moment. I stayed in my room — and I practiced. What had come so easily in the high emotion of battle was hard to reproduce, at first. I had to concentrate till my eyes crossed to summon a wisp of light. But by the end of my third day in the apartment I could manage a ball of light almost as big as the one I had hurled at the Allacore commander. Trevyn never asked about my unusual power again, and when I tried to tell him about my practice, he just shrugged. I guess he figured he was better off not knowing.
That was when the headaches started. The first day I wrote it off to practicing too hard; after all I had summoned my biggest ball of light ever, and I had done it strictly through my own willpower. I was surprised when painkillers didn’t help, but not unduly concerned. Typical stress headache, I told Trevyn, all I needed was a good night’s sleep and I would be fine in the morning. He eyed my pale complexion dubiously but made no comment.
The second day was no better. My skull resonated with hammer blows from the inside out, my skin had all the color of pastry dough, and my eyes were surrounded by huge dark circles. I ached all over and I couldn’t keep warm. When Trevyn came home for lunch, my sunken cheeks astonished him. My face had gone from merely sickly to downright skeletal over the course of a few hours. He skipped his afternoon classes and spoon-fed me soup at my bedside. When my eyes could no longer stand to have the lamp on, he spoon-fed me soup in the dark.
The third day I couldn’t even get out of bed. Sitting up made me feel faint and dizzy, so I stopped trying. When Trevyn brought in the first soup of the day, I made a feeble attempt at humor and told him he should just hook me up to a soup IV. He didn’t smile.
That afternoon the fever came. I soaked the sheets with sweat, and complained of the heat even with the fan on. My skin was on fire. I would no longer tolerate soup, and it agitated me so much that Trevyn quit trying to give it to me. By midnight I was having convulsions, and hallucinating. Trevyn told me I spent hours raving about Allacores, something he could only attribute to the attack a few days before. I thrashed around there on the bed, burning up with fever and unable to speak coherently, seeing things that weren’t there, and Trevyn struggled with his dilemma. He was concerned for my health if he didn’t take me to a hospital, and concerned for my safety if he did.
In the end he made the difficult decision to keep me at the apartment. He draped me in damp towels, even wound my hair up in a wet towel on top of my head in a desperate attempt to bring my temperature down. He kept a wooden spoon by the bed for me to bite when I convulsed, and bathed my forehead with cool water while I hallucinated. And he prayed to a God many people found it hard to believe in since the Allacores came, and he wept when I finally fell asleep.
Copyright © 2005 by Sandra Miller