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[2005: FEB-MAR] *WINNER* What Price, Love?


Idril Mar
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((Trill))

The woman lay in a pool of her own blood, a surprised look on her face as her life drained out onto the floor of her spacious home near the capital. The last few moments of her life played back through her mind as it tried to comprehend what had just happened.

“You are Rumina Mar?” the man had said, the phrase more of a statement than the question that the inflection had indicated. She had been surprised, walking into the small antechamber off her kitchen and finding the pair of intruders. The woman, grey-white hair sprinkled with just a few strands hinting at the deep brown she had sported when she was younger.

“Yes, I am. Who are you and what are you doing in my house?”

Another of the shadows answered her, a woman. “We are here to repay you for your services to the planet.”

Rumina took a step back, apprehensive at the tone that spoke of anything but gratitude, and bumped into something solid and large that hadn’t been there before. The woman turned and found another intruder standing in the doorway, blocking her escape.

The first shadow spoke again. “Yes, your services. Thanks to you, the aliens have brought many diseases to our fair world… polluting it and killing many of our people.”

Rumina blinked away a sudden rush of tears. Her husband of 50-odd years and the father of her children had lost his life to the Lavornian flu, brought to the planet by a Rigellian tourist, just barely six months ago. She knew that many of the members of the planetary ruling council had been staunchly against the move, seen as too progressive among the more conservative members of the council, many who had been Joined for centuries.

The shadowy figure continued. “Thanks to your selfless dedication to diplomacy and understanding, including the free travel of other species to this world, many people have been allowed the pleasure of going on to the next life. We are not insensitive, however to your own loss.”

“My loss?” the woman spoke, her voice rising with just a hint of fear and pain. “You don’t know anything of *my* loss. Even though it led to his death, even on his *deathbed*, Moudan believed in our opening up our world. He knew it was the right thing to do.”

She saw the shoulders of the shadow lift slightly. “Be that as it may,” he continued, “we are here to repay you for your dedication. You should be happy… you will soon be reunited with your husband.”

There was a small movement, then a flash. Rumina felt a sharp pain in her side, as if a hot stake was being driven between her ribs. Her knees gave out and she fell to the floor. Her hands went to the side and came back wet and sticky; she knew it was blood. Another flash and she found herself on her back, looking up at the shadowed ceiling.

A woman’s voice, close to her ear, whispered, “You should have kept Trill for the Trills.”

Trill for the Trills… Trill for the Trills… the four words echoed over and over in her dying mind long after the three shadows had disappeared into the night through the open window.

-----

“Rumina? Are you here?” Durath’s voice echoed through the quiet house. He had been puzzled by the lack of an answer at the door. They had a date for tea, as they had every week since her husband died. This week, he had gotten there late, delayed at work. Keying in the code she had given him for the door when he house-sat, the man had let himself in. “Rumina?” he called again.

As he walked through the bottom floor of the house, he became even more puzzled. The tea and cookies that they always had were laid out on the table. Where was Rumina, though? Something unconscious, maybe a small movement of a curtain, maybe the slight smell of burned chemical, made him walk through the dining room into the serving area and turn on the light. The sight stole his breath for a moment; Rumina was lying on her back on the hard wooden floor, a pool of deep red around her.

“Oh my gods…” was all he could say. Here was the woman he had loved for more than fifty years… the woman he would’ve asked to marry if she hadn’t fallen for another man, lying on the floor before him. He ran, stumbling into the front room… the communications panel. I need to call… he found it, slapping the panel and calling for a medical team. Rushing back to the woman’s side, he cradled her head in his lap.

“Rumina, don’t die… don’t leave me… please…” His pleas fell on dead ears. He subconsciously knew she was already gone. The skin on her neck was cold... so cold. Something moved under the skin just showing at her midriff, drawing his attention to an area a few inches below where one of the gaping wounds was. He looked down… it moved again.

“The symbiont…” He knew that Rumina had been Joined for decades. The symbiont she carried was a Kalash, the term for the symbionts who had not been implanted before. It had taken her family name as its own. Mar was still alive then… it would have Rumina’s memories. He needed to save it… for once, he would not be too late. He couldn’t be too late. Scrambling for the kitchen he grabbed a knife and returned to the dead body, his grief-stricken mind intent on saving the essence of the woman he loved. He cut carefully across the top of the abdominal pound that the woman had and gently pulled the fat worm from the cooling body. Struggling weakly in his hands as he looked at it, the vermiform creature looked lost… so very weak… so very alone. Durath knew that it could not survive long out of a body or the caves. There was only one alternative that came to his mind…

When the medical team arrived, they found two bodies, one an older man, the other an older woman. The woman was obviously dead. Two bloody puncture wounds in her chest and a large slash across her abdomen made that obvious. They knew who she was. Councilwoman Rumina Mar was well known in this part of the capital, the district she had represented for nearly forty-five years. It was apparent she had been murdered; the scans quickly showed that her symbiont was missing. As they turned their scanners on the man, however, they were shocked to found the symbiont, nestled safely in the man’s abdominal pouch.

-----

“It was a mistake! He’s never been trained… he isn’t able to handle the Joining. We should have taken the symbiont as soon as he was brought in!”

“If we take Mar from him now, the symbiont’s mind will break; do you honestly think a Kalash could handle two deaths like that? We can’t do it.”

“There is a way… ask for it.”

“He’ll never do it… it’s suicide.”

“You might be surprised… from all the ranting and raving the one thing I’ve gotten consistently is that he loved Rumina. Phrase it so that he knows that to save her, he must sacrifice himself.”

“Hmm… perhaps. We shall try.”

-----

“Durath, can you hear me?”

The voice echoed weirdly through the chaotic halls of the man’s mind. His conscious mind said to ignore it, that it was a figment, a vestige of something else. A deep depression had fallen over him in the last day or so. He was almost catatonic, the Joined minds of the vermiform symbiont and the humanoid host roiling so hard against each other that the outside was calm. On the inside however, the humanoid was slowly losing a battle with the despair and the grief that had come on him two-fold. Cut down as she had been in the midst of hard memories, Rumina’s last thoughts had been of the fresh wound of her husband’s death, a sacrifice to the open-door requirement of Trill’s entrance into the Federation. The last whispered words of the assassins, “Trill for the Trills,” tore through the psychological damage like salt being rubbed into a physical one, aggravating it and driving the pain to new heights. The answer came as a choking sob, almost a cry.

“I know it was my fault… when I found myself, dead on the floor, I knew it was all my fault…”

“Durath, we can make the pain stop. We can make you forget… save Rumina’s memories and Mar as well.”

The voice that answered started as something close to a maniacal giggle.

“I will lose MYSELF…” The last word was nearly a shriek, turning into a tortured howl that escaped from the man’s throat like demons from the depths of the netherworld.

-----

I am me, I am her, I am us. The three phrases rip at my mind as if to shred it to pieces. In this maelstrom of memories, what can I ever find that is in fact what and who I am? I know that there is an existence, but what it is eludes my waking mind and haunts my dreams. I am a woman, but a man. I am a mother, but am childless. I am dead, but live on. When I try to see my other self, the pain of the attempt drives me away. My blood, warm and sticky, pumping… pumping… pumping out onto the floor. My hands, full of life, reaching, trembling, recoiling, red and sticky from the same paneled wood. Silence, echoing with the whispers of voices heard but not truly understood, was all about me, pressing me to action… but to what end? What do I do, how so I know what do to, one that does not know one’s own self?

-----

“Durath, you need to tell us… we can help you, but only if you let us…”

“Will we sleep… truly and quietly sleep?”

A pause, the doubt of an apparently lucid moment, the hesitation of a half-truth-half-lie.

“Yes… you will sleep. Truly and quietly sleep.”

“Then yes…”

-----

“Tell me about this symbiont.”

“Well, Azulay, there isn’t a lot to tell. The symbiont’s name is Mar. It has only had one host, who died suddenly a few weeks ago, since which time it has been in the symbiont pools. Her name was Rumina.”

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