Prison wasn’t so bad, Tillul mused. The worst part of it were his fellow prisoners; many of whom were uncouth, angry monsters. But then, they were all in for murder. Tillul had been here about a year, a long year of slowly acclimatising to incarceration, but he’d made what they laughably called his “accommodation” his own. He’d taken to carving small anatomical models of fauna from bits of wood and stone that he’d purloined from the yard during their daily exercise, and he used a small toolkit they’d allowed him from the workshop classes. He’d attempted to be a model prisoner, gaining the guards’ trust, or at least refraining from earning their ire.
He sat on his bed, reading the PADD that was a standard prison issue. It contained a variety of Betazoid literature, and he was currently engrossed in the works of Toman Chaa, a romance novelist of little consequence, but whose writings were deemed of having no qualities that might arouse a prisoner to undesirable emotions (such as rage) or mount an escape. He ran a hand through his thinning steel hair as he read, a slight frown on his face. No matter how many of these he read, they didn’t get any better. He was about to throw the book at the wall in a bout of aggressive tedium when a voice shattered the quiet.
Tillul jumped up with a start, his ageing frame showing surprising speed as he rushed to the cell door. There was nobody there.
"Over here, love of mine”
Tillul’s blood ran cold, the icy fingers of fear playing his spine like a human xylophone. He swallowed once as he turned around. There, on the viewscreen normally reserved for meetings with his lawyer or the warden, was Fumiko. Her almond eyes stared at him from not just across the room, but also across the heavens. She was supposed to be dead; she should be dead. He had pushed and she had fallen, and that was the truth. So how was she here? Tillul was a man of science, he knew there were no ghosts. It was possibly a mental trick, a faulty neuron firing the wrong impulses into his brain, or maybe a new delicious form of torture developed by the race of telepaths. The voice spoke again.
"What’s the matter, targ got your tongue?”
Tillul shivered as the syrup of her voice ran over his soul. This was impossible. His mouth was arid, as devoid of moisture as the desert wastes outside the prison. He opened his mouth to speak, his voice barely louder than a whisper.
"Y-y-y-you’re dead” he rasped, a stutter forming on his lips, a trait he had ironed out of his son with harsh words and tough love.
Fumiko tipped her head back to laugh, a brutal mockery of the warm tinkle that he remembered as her expression of mirth. This laugh was cruel, and high and cold and turned his blood to iron in his veins. She turned her eyes to face his, her chilling blue gaze meeting his ebony eyes. The corners of her mouth twisted into a glacial expression of amusement. Tillul felt his knees go weak and he slowly slumped back down onto the bed.
"Dead or not, I am here, aren’t I?” She blinked slowly, as Tillul hung on her every word. “My my Tillul, you did very well didn’t you? What, nearly thirty years of freedom after ending two lives in one fell stroke? An enviable achievement. And you would have got away with it too, if not for that son of yours. How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child, eh? After everything you did for him, and still he squeals on you like a pig, revealing your deepest darkest secrets. Sure, you suppressed his abilities, made him a cripple, what, two times over? But at least you were safe. Until you weren’t.”
"It wasn’t like that,” Tillul hastened to interrupt her unstoppable train of thought. “It was for his benefit as much as mine”
Fumiko scrunched up her face into an expression of extreme doubt and disbelief. In what felt an eon, she shook her head, maintaining eye contact the entire time.
"You and I both know you only did it so he wouldn’t accidentally stumble upon your dirty laundry Tillul, and frankly it’s insulting that you would believe I could swallow that pill. I’m not one of your animals; I’ve seen the size of some of the things you gave them”
Tillul’s face assumed a mask of purest, undiluted hatred. This woman, this stupid woman, had ruined his life twice over. First of all, she’d had the audacity to get pregnant, to make leaving her even more difficult than it was already. Then her death had come back to bite him in the rear, ruining his chance of a perfect family. Laxe had loved him, and his son had loved him, and then the revelation of one little secret had brought it all down like a house of cards. He pointed a short, bony finger at the face on the screen.
"How dare you, how very dare you! You ruined my life! If it weren’t for you, I could still be happy. Still be free!”
Fumiko’s face took on a patronising glare that needled into Tillul’s brain as she raised both her eyebrows at him.
"I don’t remember forcing you to push me down those stairs. In fact I seem to remember feeling a jolt of shock before the sudden nothingness. So please don’t be blaming me for that, thank-you-very-much”
Tillul’s eyes narrowed to thin slits through which his ebony eyes blazed. He considered throwing something through the viewscreen to gain himself a moment’s respite, but a feeling of some kind stayed his hand. Perhaps it was fear, perhaps it was the unsaid knowledge that this wasn’t a physical manifestation and breaking the screen wouldn’t do diddly. Instead he rearranged his face into a softer look of contrition that was as false as his testimony on the stand. He’d tried to argue that it was an accident, that guilt had rewritten his memories to pin the blame on him, because he had felt so anguished at his inability to save her. Unfortunately for him, it didn’t fly.
"I am sorry. I am sorry for what happened to you. I - “
She interrupted him before he could get any further. A red rose of rage blossomed in the pit of his stomach, but he clenched his jaw and stayed quiet. After all, he had all the time in the world.
"You’re not sorry that I died, you’re sorry that you got caught. Please don’t insult my intelligence or my memory in saying that. You deserve this though, and you know it. You are a murderer, Tillul, a murderer of your wife and her unborn child. Every minute you serve here brings her another moment’s peace, you know that?”
Tillul raised an eyebrow at the face on the screen, her calm, docile eyes boring into his, as the face took on a more neutral expression, one that made her look less like Fumiko and far blander. In fact she could now be anyone. If it even was a she - the features had become a nondescript androgynous humanoid face and it was that which scared Tillul most of all. The face winked once at him before disappearing with a soft ‘pop’ leaving Tillul alone on his prison cot, shivering with his penitence.
Over the next few days, Tillul frequently noticed a slight tremor in his right hand, often getting more violent as the day progressed towards night, and sleep. He had not slept well since the visitation from Fumiko’s ghost, or whatever it was. At first he had believed it was a manifestation of one of the many deities, some of which were vengeful and some were just and it could have been any of these. However he had dismissed that summarily when he reasserted his atheism to himself strongly in the mirror. Gods and demons simply did not exist and even if they did, he was sure he would be beneath their notice when compared to the grand scale of the universe. So instead he started to think that it was a dream, or rather a nightmare, a mental ordeal of torment that had visited him when he was asleep. That had to be it, he assured himself as he tossed and turned in his bed. And yet the screen in the corner of the room glowed a little brighter when he wasn’t looking...