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Mothers of the Disappeared
Sometimes, I can hear my son screaming. It's a high, thin sound, like the keen of a rabbit dying, and it pierces me straight through. There is no worse sound, for a mother, to hear her child suffering and not be able to reach out a hand to stop that torment. Far worse when the tormentor wears your face, and lets you look out from behind her eyes.
I dream, from time to time. I dream that we are a family, and we are happy: my husband's hand resting lightly on my shoulder, me turning to look up at him with love in my eyes and a smile on my lips; our son playing at our feet, rolling a ball back and forth and chasing after it with passion and conviction. I dream that we are whole, and safe; I dream that the events of the last years have been nothing but a nightmare, and the dream the true awakening.
When I wake, often to find that I have been walking and talking in voice not entirely my own, I wish that I had the control enough to weep. For the tears are there, hot and traitorous behind my eyes; but she who wears my body like a garment will not allow me to let them fall.
I could grow to hate her for that, even if there were nothing more.
How did we get this far? I remember -- god, how long ago it seems -- being young and in love, and utterly convinced that the world would rearrange itself for me. How innocent and naive I must have been! The day that Khan finally asked me to be his wife seemed like the most joyous day of my life; it could be eclipsed only by the contentment that I felt when I finally held my son in my arms for the first time, gazing down upon his perfectly-formed features. "Fei," I whispered to him, trying the shape of the name upon my tongue, and I could have sworn he looked up at me and smiled -- oh, I know full well that every new mother is convinced that her infant is the most beautiful baby to ever exist, but grant me the indulgence of motherhood for a moment when I say that Fei truly was an exceptional child. His eyes stared out at the world around him in wonder, seeking to absorb everything, to touch everything. I could tell, then, that he would grow to be an extraordinary man.
Perhaps I felt it, then, even when he was back in the cradle -- perhaps I knew it while he grew underneath my heart, that this child would be special. Perhaps it was only the fond glance of a mother. I cannot know. I know now, but knowlege that comes late cannot be factored in a recollection; then, perhaps, there was simply the quiet conviction of the mother.
Khan was there for the birth, of course; Zephyr was not so demanding as to send him away then. We had two months before he was next called away, and perhaps that was the last truly happy time I ever had. Certainly, it was idyllic: the young wife, radiant in the glow of motherhood, the young father proudly doting on his son. That is the image that I call up when I am in need of comfort. For shortly thereafter, it all began to go sour.
I could certainly understand why Khan was called away so often. Nor was I so demanding a shrew as to blame him for the length of time he spent in the Queen's service; I was fond of her too, and understood that he was one of the few she could trust fully. Even though he spent more time away than home over the next years, I was not so blind as to ignore the fact that she hated seperating him from his family thus; I could see it in the rueful smile she favored us with whenever she brought Khan another mission. I knew that she wished nothing more than to give us time with each other, but she needed him; and who am I to naysay a queen? Particularly when she took so much upon her slender shoulders. I knew her burdens, for I had spent some time as one of her operatives as well, albeit a home-bound and slightly bookish one. She gave her country so much; how could we not give in return?
I did not know, then, what I would be giving.
She came as a demon in the night, one of those indistinguishable nights where my bed was far too achingly alone and empty. I remember that I was dreaming: strange dreams, disturbing ones, where a bird with black wings came to carry my child away and I could do nothing but helplessly stand by. I can still call the dream to mind, and it chills me to think that perhaps it might have been true prophecy rather than simply half-formed night-vision. I remember reaching out a hand to Fei, but falling to my knees when I could no longer stand. And it was then that I turned my head, and saw /her/, wearing that hateful smirk on her lips. I did not know whom she was, of course; I thought her to be another player in the dream. Perhaps that was why my tone was sharp as I turned to her: What do you want?
I can still see the delicate arch of her eyebrows as she stepped forward. I'm terribly sorry to do this to you, child, she said in a tone that indicated she was nothing of the sort. But I have need of something of yours, and I have come to take it.
Even then, I did not realize, did not run; not that running would have served me any purpose. All I could say was, You will not get my son -- the feeble dare of the lioness standing against the encroaching armies to protect her cubs.
Ah, said she, eyebrows arching delicately, but I think I shall. Among other things.
The next few moments are a blur in my mind; I think I have blocked them out of sheer self-preservation. All I can remember is the way she reached out for me, her hands cold blocks of ice as they touched my cheeks; the way her eyes, cool violet, seemed to capture mine and hold them. I struggled, of course, and I could not know that my physical struggle in the dream-world had analog in fighting her invasion. I know now, in searching through the scraps of memory that drift across my consciousness from time to time, memory of women I have never been, that I was the first to fight her in aeons. I could almost take from that knowledge some small pride, were it not for what happened afterwards.
I fought, of course, but I have come to realize that there is very little of-course when it comes to my story; my fight meant nothing, in the long run. I blacked out, after long moments. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I could have sworn I heard a light, malignant chuckle as I lost consciousness.
It took what seemed like ages for me to wake; when I finally did, it was in a body that was no longer my own. I was unaware for so long; perhaps I drifted, in that endless formless void, unaware of even my own name. It was the cries of my child that finally stirred me to consciousness. He was screaming, terrible screams that should never come from a child's throat, as the woman who wore my body abused the sacred trust of a child for his mother. I opened my eyes, and saw the squalid scene painted there -- the boy I had carried, had nurtured, had pinned my heart and hopes upon, bound down while they --
I cannot bear to think of it, even now. Especially now.
I remember thinking, when Khan came home, that he would surely see what was going on. But he was distracted, and did not hear that the voice that greeted him was not my own, the hands that bade him welcome did not belong to his wife. I cannot fault him, not truly, for it had been a long lonely time he had been gone, and who can say how people might change? But Fei told him -- told him what was going on, told him of the experiments, of the torment ... and he did not lis