Fulcrum

Jun. 25th, 2009 10:18 pm
[personal profile] the_rck_fic
Fandom: Zenna Henderson's People/Doctor Who
Rating: G
Warnings: None to speak of
Pairing: Implied Karen/Melodye
Description: Karen learned a lot of things during the year she spent Outside.
Notes: This is my fic for Yuletide 2005, written as a present for Hyperfocused who asked for a Zenna Henderson's People story with slash and a crossover. I did my best for her.
Thanks go to many people. Amy the Evitable, Olna Jenn, Adrian Turtle, Maureen Wynn, Randall Ehrbar, and Valerie Mates for various bits of beta-reading and advice giving. Maureen gets an especially large thank you for helping out a stranger (friend of a friend) while everybody else gets deep thanks for being willing to read in fandoms they knew nothing about.
Originally Posted: 1 January 2006

So you're the latest bit of trouble?

Don't be foolish. Misuse of powers. Serious misuse of powers. They don't call me for anything less. Not these days. And I won't come for lesser need. These old bones have carried me about as far as they're going to. Eighty-five years.

I'm not sure if they're more afraid someone will break me or that I'll break someone.

No. I'm not joking. Power makes people nervous, even power in hands they trust, and the Old Ones don't quite know what I tell troublemakers like you. They just know that I won't tell them and that you won't tell them either.

Because this is a serious matter. Because I won't let you walk out of here until you understand how serious. No one was hurt this time, but they could have been. Very, very easily. And you know it as well as I do.

It's not that I'm not sympathetic. I do remember how things felt at your age. Even if I couldn't, I can feel the urgency in you now. But by the time you get to my age, you've got perspective. If you don't, you explode and fly apart, trying to track all the terribly, horribly important things that require pieces of you.

And really, that's why I'm here, you know. Never mind what your parents said or what their parents said. I'm here to give you my perspective, to give you a goal for all that urgency. You won't like it much, I expect. I didn't.

Your life, basically, is yours. As long as you remember where it rubs up against other folks and as long as you remember the Presence from which we all came. We all return to that the Presence in the end. It accepts us as we come with all our scars and broken places. It doesn't judge such things. It just lets us see who we've been and all. It loves us anyway, accepts us anyway, but... It won't mend everything about us magically any more than I'll mend you magically. I think it could, but that wouldn't be a blessing for us.

Goodness, I'm rambling. And I know you've heard all that before.

For people like you and me, it all comes down to secrets.

Yes, I know you've got them. I even know what they are. That's my job. I don't pry lightly. No ethical Sorter does, but the Old Ones, your parents, the whole Group is worried about you.

If you walk out that door now, you'll never know my secrets. Never.

Good. Now, I don't really mean those big, melodramatic my-life-will-be-over-if-it's-revealed things. I don't even mean the dangerous kind. I've got one or two of those, and they matter, but... They're not the important kind for all they matter. Most secrets, the kind everybody's got, are simple-- A quiet place for thinking. The best berry patch. What you think of when the sun hits your lover's hair.

Rather not think of an old lady like me with a lover? I suppose it's like not thinking about where your brothers and sisters came from and what all happened to get them here. Or worse, what happened to get your parents born. You know. You just don't let yourself think about it.

But secrets... My story's bigger than an evening's tale, bigger even than my part in it. Most of the secret belongs to someone else, and he only gave me shards of what he knew.

'Shards' is the right word, too. I think they cut him deep, very deep, but he blunted them for me.

No. He's no one you know. Not yet. I looked. If you're lucky-- Well, I'm not sure which way would be lucky for you. Or for the rest of us.

He looked ordinary the first time I saw him. Well, not ordinary. No one, not even seeing him as I did, from across the street, would have thought that he belonged. But he didn't not belong either. He stood there, watching me and eating something out of a white paper bag. He had on a big, floppy, brown hat that looked older than he did and a ridiculously long scarf that looked like whoever made it had been trying to get rid of years' worth of scrap yarn. He wore his hair too long-- It was New Mexico in the 40s, so it didn't take much. He had a nose that... Well, it was quite a nose. The sort that arrives just that much before the rest of the face.

I had just finished buying my books for my first classes when I saw him. I was coming out of the store with my arms full of potential. His eyes met mine, and he gave me a little wave. For a moment, I felt dizzy like someone had just tried to get into my mind, someone not very good at it. I reached out with my mind, trying to find him. I felt something that wasn't quite People and wasn't quite Outsider. And then, he wasn't there. I could still see him, but I couldn't feel anything at all.

Then he was gone. Just like that, between one breath and the next.

But really, I should start at the beginning...

I'd never done anything half as hard as going Outside to attend teacher's college. Oh, it wasn't the book learning. Between Valancy and Father and my own stubbornness, I was set for that. I placed out of everything they'd let me test for. For the rest, I knew, to say it, that it'd be hard, that I'd be alone, that I'd have to hide who I was and what I could do, that it would be unlike anything I'd done before. But knowing and knowing are different. And Valancy couldn't warn me-- How could she? She'd never lived any other way till she found us and came home.

It's not like I was first to go. Some of our men'd been called by the Draft Board and gone Outside to serve our adopted country. That was a mess and a half...

Anyway, some men had always gone Out for business, to deal with the state government, to make sure no trouble came our way, and we all went on Sundays to the church in Kerry Canyon that spoke of the Power in alien words, making simple things complicated. We'd always known our chosen separation wouldn't-- couldn't-- last. Still, I was the first woman to leave the Canyon for anything like as long, and I was the first to go alone.

Valancy did help as she could. I think otherwise I'd have panicked when I found out I'd have to share a room with an Outsider. A full year of keeping secrets even in my own room. Even in my sleep... According to the letter, her name was Melodye Amerson, and she was a year younger than me and two years into the three year program.

"Don't worry so," Valancy told me as she sat at her desk, going over arithmetic homework. "The state board wants a teacher for Cougar Canyon, a permanent teacher, too badly to let anything stop you. Even if she sees something, it won't matter." She smiled with mischief in her eyes. "After all, I told the board I'm marrying next year. They don't know yet that that means I'll be staying, so you're all they've got."

The warmth I felt from her eased me more than words could, at least until I remembered she wasn't going with me. I gave her a quick, impulsive hug. "I am sorry to make you and Jemmy wait."

"It's not as if we're really waiting." She grinned at me, knowing full well how I'd take that.

"Ew!" I pressed my hands over my ears. "I didn't hear that! I did not need to know that." Then I relaxed and smiled back. "It's one year, right? I can manage one year."

She looked away. "I never could," she said softly, and I knew she was remembering those other schools, the places she taught before coming to us, the terminations without references because somebody saw something. "But it really doesn't matter when you've got a home to come back to. It's a certainty Miss Amerson likely doesn't have."

I could only nod. In those years, teaching was for spinsters, widows, those with worthless husbands or large debts, and girls with no other respectable prospects. I couldn't know Melodye's story before I met her, couldn't guess why she was becoming a teacher.

I miss Melodye... I almost told you to ask her about it. She'd have told you her story quick enough. I do miss her.

The first time I saw her, she was lying on the right hand bed in the room we were to share, hugging her pillow. When she heard me shut the door, she sat up and rubbed her eyes. They had that bruised look you get from sleepless nights. She yawned like she'd just woken up, but her hair was too neat for that. I knew she hadn't been lying there long. She wore it up and back, the ends tucked under with pins, but her hair was so fine with just enough curl to keep escaping in wisps...

I don't care what you think you 'don't need to know,' young man. It's my story to tell.

Though, I admit, at your age, I'd not have wanted to hear it either.

I am getting to the point. I'm not quite so old that my wits are wandering. Melodye matters to what happened, too. She was there, and I think... I think she gave him hope. That we, together, gave him hope.

Anyway, our first meeting... Melodye's and mine, I mean. Even with the control I'd learned from Valancy, Melodye's pain drew me. She needed help, and I couldn't not give it. I went in to her without even thinking what it meant-- the ethics, the repercussions, any of it-- and I sorted her.

Her eyes widened. I could see that she knew I'd done something. She felt easier when she'd expected to feel worse. I grinned weakly. "Hi. I'm Karen," I said. I left my bags by the door, walked over to her bed and sat down. "Want to talk about it?"

She didn't, of course, but she did talk eventually. She'd just gotten word a few hours before. Her brother, well one of them anyway, had been in the Navy.

It was 1942. What do you think I mean?

Of course. You don't remember those years. I guess I can't expect you to understand. You don't even remember the Vietnam War. This must seem like ancient history to you. Sixty years...

Just think about it a little. She'd known the risk. We all did. But like I said before there's knowing and there's knowing. Now her family, her tiny family, had shrunk by one. With her parents already gone... Well.

Her other brother survived the war. He lost a hand, but he survived.

After a while, Melodye did sleep. I made sure of that. She needed it almost as much as she needed somebody to hold her so she'd know she wasn't alone. I did that, too, pulled the beds together so we'd have room and held her. Unpacking could wait. Buying books, seeing the campus, all that could wait. Melodye couldn't.

It's a matter of priorities. Rules matter, but people matter more. Unless you're a Seer, you can't know what will come of breaking the rules with good intentions-- which you did not have--

You acted like a child, striking out and hurting because you could.

You should be glad the Old Ones consider you-- mostly-- a child. And sulking won't make anyone think better of you. It just makes you look foolish.

If you were much older, you and I wouldn't be talking. You'd be waiting for the next ship to the New Home. Everyone there can protect themselves against trouble like you.

I'm glad you're starting to take this seriously.

I certainly couldn't guess what helping Melodye would mean for me or for our People. I just knew that a person is a fragile thing. You don't notice so much when someone's holding you, but when you put your arms around somebody who's hurting...

Then maybe you should try it. Compassion can be learned. I hate to think we've failed you that badly.

Somehow, after that, I couldn't do what I'd planned. I was going to keep my distance, not talk to her more than I had to. I was going to find a church on the opposite side of town from where she went. Study in the library rather than in the room. The less time I spent with her, the less I might give away.

That was the plan, anyway. I'm sure you know the saying about the best laid plans.

Even the most trusting soul would have thought it peculiar if I'd pulled back after a start like that, and Melodye wasn't stupid, not in the least. Besides, I didn't want to do any of that. Having a friend, even one who didn't know-- who couldn't know-- my secrets would help make the year among Outsiders more bearable.

So I let her show me the campus, introduce me to her friends, teach me the trick for putting my hair up like she did. There's something soothing about talking about nothing much while someone you trust plays with your hair or while you play with hers. She knew just how to rub my shoulders to ease the headaches I got from worrying about remembering not to use my powers in front of Outsiders, and I learned how to make a cup of tea just the way she liked it. And we--

But most of that came later.

The strange man with the scarf and the nose and the unreadable mind turned up twice more that I noticed. Both times, he seemed to be watching me. On one occasion, Melodye pointed him out to me. I think he worried her because, after that, I couldn't go anywhere without her or one of the other girls from our floor going with me.

So that was how I came to be sitting with Melodye at church when the other-- well kind of other-- strange man showed up. He pushed his way past the other people already seated in the pew, using his gaudy umbrella as a lever when one man hesitated to let him pass. I stared, and so did everyone else around. Part was astonishment at his rudeness and part... Well, we probably all wondered why he had an umbrella at all, rain being something we'd no call to expect. He wore a jacket, too, one meant for chill, nothing like the light formal wear of the other men in the congregation. Even odder, he wore a sweater under the jacket, a sweater covered in question marks. Melodye described him later as 'dressing like the weird uncle who shows up at family gatherings and talks about things nobody else understands. Or wants to understand.'

He had a round face and brown hair, and while not abnormally short, he was quite noticeably not tall. I didn't recognize him, but, as he seemed to be heading for us, I reached out. The feel of him was familiar-- Neither Outsider nor People and quite, quite closed to me. He felt like the man who'd been watching me. I flinched, and I know Melodye felt it because she inched closer to me and took my hand.

"Oh, excuse me. Yes. There." He seated himself next to me, forcing the woman who'd been there to squeeze against her husband. He put his hat across his lap and leaned his umbrella against his knee.

I shook my head once. He couldn't possibly be the same man. If nothing else, he was much too short.

He smiled at me, a cheerfully empty expression. "Very nice weather isn't it?"

I stared. Everyone else around us, apart from Melodye, had started looking pointedly away. That, of course, had no effect on him. If he'd been your age, maybe, but as it was...

He looked up at the pulpit. "Do you know the lesson today? Something from Matthew, isn't it?" His voice became quieter and, at the same time, sharper and more aware but still not unfriendly. It didn't suit either his face or his clothing at all.

I cleared my throat, but Melodye spoke first, "That's what it said in the bulletin."

I nodded. I was still staring at him. Part of me wanted to reach out and find a way into his mind so that I could find out why he felt familiar, and part of me wanted to get up and run.

He smiled pleasantly then looked me directly in the eyes and spoke in the language of the People, saying, "I'd like to talk. After. In the burial ground." His accent broke the words enough that I had to repeat them twice in my head before I understood them, and even then, his choice of words made it sound like he wanted to meet in the ground rather than on it.

I missed most of the service. Oh, I did what was expected, but I just couldn't stay mindful. Melodye assured me later that I hadn't missed much, just a preacher saying one thing to mean another. I hadn't learned the trick of that then, so likely I'd not have understood even if I had paid attention.

Somehow, by the time the service ended, he'd disappeared. I hadn't seen him push his way out. He just wasn't there. I shook my head and turned to Melodye, trying to figure out a way to make my excuses.

She met my eyes. "Not a chance." She shook her head and pulled me back down on the pew. "You're not going anywhere without me." Her face set in stubborn lines as I wondered how on earth she knew. "That odd little man said something that upset you. I'm not letting you face that alone. You'd do the same for me."

I recognized the expression. She'd had it on her face when she dragged me to the diner after I missed dinner and when she'd volunteered us both to read stories at the public library. I could stop her but only if I wanted to change her. And she wouldn't be happier. She wouldn't be nicer. She wouldn't be healthier. I took her hands in mine and squeezed gently. "Thank you." And I knew she'd help. Whatever was going to happen.

I stood up. Our pew had cleared while we talked, so I led the way toward the aisle. "He wants to talk at the old cemetery. He couldn't've meant anywhere else."

But I wasn't entirely easy in my mind about that until we actually saw him. The old cemetery was left from settlement days. All the oldest churches stood in shouting distance of it. Which made sense as they'd likely all used it. Volunteers from the college usually kept it nice, but almost a year of war had taken a toll on that, too. Weeds poked up here and there, and some of the plants drooped for lack of water. The living needed that time and water more than the shells of the dead did.

He stood, leaning on his umbrella, looking at a family plot. It was dotted with several too small graves, babies and children lost one way or another. Though he must have heard us, he didn't look up as we approached.

I could feel more from him now, like he wasn't bothering to hide anymore. I groped for Melodye's hand. He seemed to loom, in spite of being a small man. Somehow, I knew he was old, old and alien, not People but not Outsider either. I made myself look with just my eyes, hoping that he'd seem more manageable that way.

No. It didn't particularly help. There's more to him than that.

Oh, yes. Is. I wouldn't be telling you this if he weren't still around, if it wasn't more than just a story.

Melodye squeezed my hand once. Her determination steadied me.

"So many beginnings ended," he murmured as we stopped beside him. "Possibilities gone."

Melodye frowned "It happens," she told him softly, "but I don't think the good Lord lets us lose anything for good."

He turned and stared at her. "Perhaps we're that lucky. Perhaps not." He looked at me. "Trust like that is..." He shook his head. "I thought you'd be alone, Karen. Foolish of me. Very foolish. Yes, well... I should have thought-- At this stage in your relationship..." He shrugged then shook a finger at me. "I know you've got obligations, but you treat her right or I just might change my mind about you."

I gaped at him when he used my name. Though why that surprised me more than him speaking our language, I still don't know. I looked sideways at Melodye to see if his words made any more sense to her than they did to me.

She was blushing. She let go of my hand and used her hands to cover her cheeks. She always was quicker to figure things out than I was.

"No need to be embarrassed," he told her. "All things in time. All things in time..." He looked back at the graves. "Or not quite all things..." He didn't say anything else for a while.

Finally, I got impatient. "You wanted to talk to me. I have better--"

Melodye put a hand on my arm and squeezed, cutting me off. "Are your people here, sir?" she asked.

"What?" He looked startled. "No. No. Quite... unlikely." He nodded at me. "Though I think one or two of her people are here."

I bit my lip to keep from demanding to know which ones and how he knew.

And I still don't know...

He flashed me a smile. "You're not quite hopeless." He straightened his shoulders, once again seeming ancient and serious. Even Melodye seemed to feel it. She pressed in closer to me.

That's when I realized that the clothes, the smiles, all the things he did were masks. The man behind the masks... "You're him! You are." I was sure of it, but I couldn't understand how it could be. He looked so different, and men can't change their height like that. A woman might, with an extra long skirt and some very, very careful lifting, but... "I don't understand!" It came out more a wail than anything appropriate for a woman grown.

He looked around, very quickly, probably to see if anyone had noticed my outburst, but we were quite alone. He tapped a finger on the handle of his umbrella. "I thought about coming before I did, but there isn't much of a window here, just one year, so I've already been by now." He smiled brilliantly. "Clear as mud, yes?"

I nodded, and next to me, I could just see Melodye doing the same. He scared me, but he didn't feel crazy-dangerous or even crazy-crazy, and I just had to know what he was going to say.

He tapped the side of his index finger against his chin. "It's complicated. He-- the man who's been watching you-- is who I used to be. You'll be seeing him and the other men I used to be from time to time till it gets to me and I make up my mind about you."

All that about other versions of him made no sense, so I pushed it aside. "About me?" I was pretty sure he wasn't talking about just me. There wasn't anything that special about me.

He shook his head. "Walk with me, both of you." He stopped and looked at Melodye. "How much has she told you? Nothing?" He clicked his tongue. "That complicates things."

Melodye looked from him to me then back again. "I know she can do... things."

And I thought I'd been so careful!

Careful isn't enough if you aren't willing to give up what you are. I wasn't near scared enough for that. Though maybe I should've been. I think we just didn't know to worry about the right things then.

He started walking again. "Make her explain it all later. It'll help a lot of things." He glared at me over his shoulder, only half serious but still scary. "Half those poor teachers would have done well enough if you'd trusted them more. It's the surprise and the certainty that no one else sees it that does the damage, you know."

"But Outsiders--" I broke off and shot a guilty look at Melodye. "I will tell you later."

She gave me a weak smile then squeezed my arm one more time before letting go. "Maybe I should just let the two of you talk..." She looked dubious, and I knew that at least part of it was leaving me alone with a strange man, even if it was day time.

Yes, we had to think about that sort of thing. Even if he was safe that way, teachers needed to be respectable. Just a whisper, if it was the wrong whisper, was all it took.

"No." He sounded quite certain. "You need to hear it, too, I think. If only so Karen knows she really did talk to me." He hooked his umbrella over one wrist and offered us his arms. "And it's a pleasant day for a walk."

Melodye and I exchanged a look then walked up and took his arms. "How can he be you," I asked, looking at him sideways, "or you be him, when he's so much taller?"

"Ah, well..." He cleared his throat. "People change."

"Not like that."

"My people do."

Oh. Well. Nobody ever told me we were the only ones. I looked at him again, studying. "Does everybody look the same? On every planet, I mean..."

Melodye made a small, half strangled sound but didn't say anything.

"Most don't actually..." He sighed and didn't say anything more for a few steps. "And I really only came to tell you that it will come out all right. Well... I can't say about the long term. It's just... I've been studying your people for a long time now. I've been doing it since I was him, and that's quite a while. From your point of view, I'm just starting, but from my point of view, I'm done. You can stay, you and yours. I won't make you go."

"That's generous," I said. "Mighty generous. Especially since you've as good as said you don't belong here. I'm People, but I'm an American, too. All legal and everything. Why shouldn't I stay?"

He stopped and pulled his arms free. He took three steps then turned to look at us. He pushed his hat up so that it shaded less of his face. "You, all of you-- Well, most of you and certainly you personally-- should not be here. History says you weren't. All of you went to-- to the New Home or died. That's it. This is a... delicate period in history. If events don't go right, many things that are won't be, can't be." He planted his umbrella firmly then raised both hands, letting the umbrella stand on its own. He turned his hands so the palms faced each other, almost touching, then moved them a few inches apart. "Time is resilient but only so far." He moved his hands farther apart, very slowly, then smacked them together at high speed. "If you pull too far, either it pulls back and destroys you and the problem you created or it..." He sighed and sagged a little. "Or it does what it's doing now. What it might be doing now."

Well, I didn't understand it then, and I'm not sure I rightly understand it now, but... I talked to a Seer once, and he explained a little. As long as we're moving forward in time, especially at the same rate as our world, we can change anything without hurting ourselves. Someone who moves backward, though... If they step wrongly, they die. Or worse, they don't, but everything they remember does. It's like sawing off the bottom of the ladder you're standing on.

He straightened up and looked me in the eyes. "You'd better come in to me. You have to understand this, and I can't explain it with words. If you don't get it, I might reach a different conclusion, and this conversation will never happen."

The first sentence was the only part that made any sense, and that made me hesitate for almost a second. But I purely had to know, so I went in to him.

I almost drowned. There was more to him, much more, than I'd guessed. I saw the tall man with the scarf there and a blond man wearing a celery stalk on his lapel and a very old looking man with white hair and... They were all him. And at the same time, they weren't. Not anymore. I floundered, trying to find solid ground.

Then it was there, under me. I could feel his hand on my elbow, steadying me. You'll meet that one and that one and that one again. And maybe... He called forth the image of yet another man, one with dark and receding hair and shadowed eyes. Probably him. Almost certainly. I haven't been him yet, and I might not end up being him, but... He'll kill all of you if he has the chance. I don't know if he knows more than I do or less.

I blinked. I couldn't see anything but his mind just then, but I needed to do something. "Why? What--?" Our People'd met irrational fear in the past, but I couldn't imagine this man, this mind so weak as to fear anything that way.

This is the start for me, from before I was me. I don't know yet how it ends. Look...

We walked down a corridor. I recognized it from my parents' rememberings as part of the ship that had brought them to Earth. The ends of my companion's long scarf swung as we hurried along. I could tell that he was worried, that he feared something was desperately wrong with the ship and that there was something about the ship that his later self knew he should have recognized and hadn't.

I shook my head hard, trying to get rid of that later memory and to focus on the now. Layering memories in a remembering is a sure way to get lost even in a normal mind. In a mind like his... I'd never have gotten out again.

Ahead of us, we caught sight of a boy, maybe nine or ten years old, who was struggling with the dark haired man I'd just been warned against.

The Valeyard. He calls himself the Valeyard.

"No!" the boy shouted. "You can't do that! It's not supposed to be like that!"

The Valeyard shoved the boy away and turned to do something to a machine. The boy gathered himself again, obviously preparing to jump at his opponent again.

"Here now!" my companion said. "What's this?" Suddenly, we were between the Valeyard and the machine.

"He's breaking our landing system!" The boy stood up straight, speaking with a mix of fear and determination.

"What? This?" My companion looked down. One of his hands reached out and twisted two wires together then moved faster than I could follow, making other changes. "Sabotage is a very serious matter..." He stared at the Valeyard.

"We just need a few minutes," the boy said. "Just long enough to get the lifeslips off." His expression became distant then sad. "Well, some of them anyway. No matter what we do, they won't all make it."

"You have no idea what you're doing," the Valeyard hissed at us. "A disaster. Absolute disaster. You don't know the consequences." He grabbed my companion's hand. "You never know the consequences, do you? I'm trying to fix this before it gets too big!"

My companion froze, and I felt a powerful recognition pass between the two men. Then my companion pulled his hand away. "Why don't you explain it to me, then?" he asked in a reasonable tone. He kept himself carefully between the Valeyard and the damaged machine.

"Go ahead." The boy seemed completely calm now, almost remote. "We've got about ten minutes left. I think..." He blinked. "Though if you want to leave, it's less. I can See that much."

The Valeyard straightened and took two steps backward. "You utter, utter fool! Investigate then. You'll find what I know. You'll see who they are and why they can't be here. I'll stop this later. The weight of history is still behind me." He spun around and ran.

My companion stared after him for a moment then knelt by the machine. "I can buy you a few more minutes--"

The boy put one hand over my companion's. "It'll be enough, now. Just... enough. Thank you."

My companion studied the boy's face. "Hadn't you better get to one of these lifeslip things?"

The boy shook his head. "I'm Called. It's my time." He closed his eyes just for a second, looking very young and very much in pain. "I've Seen the Presence, and that's... too much." He swallowed hard and looked away. "At least, I got to see the new world..." He managed a weak smile.

"Called?" My companion sounded puzzled. "If you won't go on a lifeslip, you could come with me."

"No." The boy smiled with more certainty and shook his head again. Then he hesitated, looking for a moment like he was thinking about it. "No," he repeated. "They don't need me anymore, and you don't need me at all. Just... You could still change it all. He could still change it all." He took a deep breath and shook a little. He looked directly into the man's eyes. "I can't See that part, so it's not certain yet. But... If you do decide... The other ships will make a New Home somewhere else. They can go there if they can't stay here. Please?"

You don't need to look at the rest of that. He pulled me away, whirling me through his mind-- I still find occasional wisps of him in me, even now-- until I found myself back in the cemetery, blinking at the sun which suddenly seemed much brighter than it had before. The little man still stood a few steps away, so I knew the support I'd felt from him hadn't truly been physical.

"You-- He-- But..." I shook my head. More than anything, I wanted to walk away and think for a while, to try to make sense of what he'd shown me, but something told me that we didn't have time for that, that he wouldn't stay much longer. I cleared my throat. "So who are we that we shouldn't be here?"

He sighed and picked up his umbrella. He pointed it at me. "You, my dear, are an impossibility. All of your people were supposed to go to-- to a place that they'd make into a world I know very well. Even now, most of them have. And even in the history I know, there was a lost ship, but it didn't come here, didn't land intact enough to leave groups. A few scattered individuals, I suppose might fit the history I know, but not a group, especially not a group like the one at the Canyon." He looked at Melodye for a moment. "Other groups, ones less... whole, might even pass without destroying things, without altering Earth's future, but you will. You can't help it. There's no getting around it. If you stay."

"You come from the future?" Melodye whispered, sounding awestruck. Then she shook her head. "That's not possible!"

He walked over to her and touched her cheek gently. "'Possible' is such a limiting word. You-- you particularly-- need to get rid of it." He sighed. "And I come from the past, too." He let his hand drop and looked at me again. "If you want things to go back to what I know, all you have to do is make sure everyone leaves when the chance comes. But I'm not sure... My people are stubborn fools." He shook his head then flicked his fingers as if dismissing an irrelevancy. "They have rules and rituals and have lost sight of anything else, even the things those rules and rituals were supposed to bring us closer to. Maybe... Maybe there is a plan. Maybe this was always meant to happen. Maybe I need to trust..." He smiled again, very gently and terribly sad. "The future that is... that was... that might still be... It's not terrible, but your people would find it unhappy. Make a better one. That's all I ask." He took my hand in one of his and Melodye's in his other then pressed hers and mine together. "Together, I think, it's possible. I don't know what it will cost, though, so remember that, too."

Melodye's fingers intertwined with mine.

He let go of our hands and stepped back. He turned and walked away. He didn't look back. Not even once.

When he had gone, I looked at Melodye. "I guess we need to talk..."

I haven't told many about that man. Knowing is a burden as much as a gift. I've seen him many times since that day, but it's always been before for him. Except when he's the Valeyard.

Yes, I've seen the Valeyard, too, and some of us have died because of him. If I hadn't seen him, if he didn't keep coming back, I might let the story die with me. But we still have to watch for him, and we still have a choice to make. No. Not we. I've made my choices and lived them. Guarded our People and our world as I could. My time's nearly gone.

You have a choice to make. What sort of future will you build?
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