DREAMS AND DISCOVERIES

The dream was always the same.

Every time she fell into sleep, Star knew that the nightmare would come but she was powerless to stop it. Once the memories coiled their tentacles around her, cold and dark and sharp, she knew that she would not wake until the crack of the final gunshot echoed around her head.

In her dream the pain was real, the hand that was almost healed once again twisted out of shape and wrapped in bloody rags. Despite the warmth of her bed, she shivered convulsively as her dream projected the frigidly cold, windowless cell all around her, the bright light burning in her eyes and the words of Duncan Watt smouldering in her mind like a brand.

Silver never came to this cell, rescue was never an option. She would suffer this torment until they dragged her to the killing grounds at dawn and shot her in the head with a single bullet. She would always wake to the sound of the shot, the bright morning sun shining in her eyes as she sat upright in her bed, soaked in sweat and aching all over as if she had never slept.

This time, as she twisted and moaned in the depths of the dream, something did wake her, pulling her free of the nightmare. She opened her eyes with a jerk, feeling hands on her shoulders, seeing a pale face floating above her in the dark. She opened her mouth to scream and a hand clapped over it firmly.

"It's me, Djehn. Don't scream or you'll have the entire house in here, and that would give everyone something to think about, wouldn't it."

He let go of her mouth and stood back, lighting the candle next to her bed so that she could see his face.

"What are you doing in here?" Star sat up in bed, wrapping the sheets around her, glaring at him.

"I heard you moaning in your sleep," he said, not looking at her. "It's not the first time, but tonight I thought that I'd wake you from the nightmare."

She gazed at him with narrowed eyes, putting up a shaking hand to run through her hair. "I don't get you," she said. Djehn sighed and stood back.

"I wanted to talk to you too, but if you'd rather I left.." He stopped and turned towards the door and Star shook her head slightly, sure that she was still asleep and that this was just a dream.

"Wait!" she said as he reached the door. "Talk about what? You don't waste your breath on me without a reason."

He turned back to look at her, his face as grim as usual. "Here," he said, holding something out to her and she took it, moving closer to the candle to see what it was.

It was a small hologram, much clearer and more technically perfect than she was used to seeing. She could see something dark along its edge, staining a part of the picture and it took a moment for her to realise that it was blood. She stared at the woman in the picture, looked back up at Djehn then back down to the image. It was uncannily like looking in a mirror.

"Who is this?" she asked. "Will you come here and sit down, stop hovering by the door. You came here to talk. So let's talk."

Djehn perched himself on the edge of her bed, looking at her seriously, his habitual grim expression replaced by a strange defensiveness that made him look oddly vulnerable.

"That is a picture of my wife, Vana, and our twin sons Rog and Hal taken just two days before they were murdered," he said quietly, taking the picture from her nerveless fingers. "As you can see, you look just like her. Every time I see you I think of her and what I had to watch them doing to her."

"I am not your wife, Djehn," Star said seriously, kneeling up in the bed. "I might look like her, but I am not her."

"Do you think I don't know that?" Djehn said wearily. "Every time you talk and move I can see that you are not Vana. But when I look at you, my heart tells me differently."

Star reached out and touched his face. Her hand was trembling slightly and Djehn put up his own hand to cover hers, pressing it against his skin.

"I don't think I can cope with this," he said, his voice almost inaudible. "Sometimes, even thinking about what I have lost threatens to crush me. There are moments in every day when I yearn to go back and really die this time, to join her wherever she is."

Star said nothing. Her own pain matched his and she knew that words would do nothing to ease that pain. She moved closer to him, sliding her arms around him and pulling his head down to her shoulder, giving him the only comfort she could. His arms came up and he crushed her to him, holding on desperately for the moment. Then, when she thought she would not be able to breathe again, his hold slackened, but he didn't pull away, he just seemed content to hold her and be held.

"You're not Vana," he said quietly, his voice muffled against her skin. "You don't smell like her or feel like her." He pulled back slightly and looked at her intently, one hand reaching up and cupping her face, his thumb brushing against her lips, then he sighed deeply. "I'm sorry, Star."

"What for?" she asked. "Being human?"

"I'm not human," Djehn pointed out and she grinned at him.

"Fallible anyway," she said, moving slowly away from him as if afraid to cause offence.

"I can't promise that things will change," Djehn reached out and grasped her hand before she could move back any further. "I'm still the same bitter and twisted man that I was a few moments ago."

"Things have changed." Star did not pull away, accepting the contact for what it was, an olive branch. "You have taken away the power you had to scare me now."

"I scared you?" Djehn said, appalled. He shook his head slowly, "I never intended that, believe me."

"I believe you." Star shrugged. "It's just that there were times when you were so like Him it was uncanny. That scared me."

Djehn was silent for a while, looking down at their linked hands. "Maybe your nightmare won't come back tonight," he said.

"What about yours?" Star asked. "Don't you ever sleep?"

"Sometimes." He looked uneasy and she said nothing, simply watching him.

"Are we going to get through this?" she said quietly. "What happens if we fail again?"

"Something very bad I think," Djehn said. "If Silver and her ally need to reach backwards and forwards over such great distances in time, then the stakes must be high indeed."

"I'm scared," Star confessed.

"Of Him?" Djehn squeezed her hand slightly.

"Not of him exactly," she said slowly. "Of meeting him again. The last time I saw him, he had complete power over me. What scares me is that next time we meet, things might just have gone full circle."

Djehn nodded, looking at one of the tapestries on the wall of her room, his expression thoughtful. "We need to be scared," he said softly. "None of us can afford to be the least bit complacent where He is concerned." Then his face hardened as he looked back at Star. "But I mean to kill him. He has to pay for what he did to my family and me. Most of all, He has to suffer. Do you feel that way about Him?"

"Not exactly," Star said. "You have a terrible bitterness inside you, Djehn, and I think that you must deal with that before you can be any good to us."

"You sound exactly like Silver," he pulled his hand away, sounding cool and remote again. Star did not attempt to restore contact with him, turning away slightly so that he face was shadowed.

"Maybe," she said. "But we're both right. You're carrying a heavy load there, Djehn. If you're not careful it might break you more efficiently than He did."

"I'll see you in the morning." Djehn got up, moving towards the door.

"Goodnight, and thank you," Star said quietly. "Try and get some sleep, won't you."

***********

Edmund sat on a rock that jutted out into the sea from the bay below the house. The sun blazed down, turning the sea around him into a glittering mass of light, the white sand of the beach reflected the sun too and Edmund was using the brilliance of the light to examine the thing that Djehn had given him.

It was just a transparent cylinder; he could see right through it and there appeared to be nothing at all inside. It felt cool to the touch, but it was not made of glass, it was made of something that he had never come across before, something that refracted any light that entered it into myriad rainbows, something that felt almost like iron under his fingers. He turned it this way and that, wincing as every now and again a shaft of light speared into his eyes, magnified by the thing.

"Any luck?"

Edmund started as Star spoke behind him and the thing jumped from his fingers and fell onto the rocks. It hit the rock with a vibrating, musical clatter, bouncing several times and Edmund winced each time, expecting the thing to shatter into pieces as it rang with a crystalline chime at each bounce.

Star caught the thing just before it bounced into the sea, turning it over and over in her hand, using the light of the sun as Edmund had.

"Do you know what it is?" he asked hopefully, and she smiled, handing it back to him, shaking her head.

"Way after my time," she said, settling herself on the rock beside him and handing the thing back. "I don't think that Djehn wants you to have it or he would have given you a clue of some kind."

"But he did give me a clue." Edmund gripped the thing loosely, looking closely at her. The dark circles had gone from under her eyes and she looked almost rested. Her hair was getting longer now, tendrils creeping onto her face and while she did not look any happier, she did look more at peace. "He told me that this thing enabled him to steal the Hitcher and the thing that you have."

"That helps you?" she squinted at him in the bright sun.

"Yes," he said, looking out to sea while his fingers explored the thing. "He might not know it but he is going to lose this particular bet."

Something stabbed sharply into Edmund's finger and he almost dropped the thing again, looking down at his hand. Blood welled up from a small cut on the end of his finger.

"Here," Star handed him a handkerchief, taking the thing from him while he staunched the flow of blood, frowning as she looked at it. "How did you cut yourself?" she said curiously. "There isn't a single sharp edge on this thing."

Edmund shook his head slightly, his dark brown eyes puzzled. Star handed it back to him and he held it loosely in his hand, gazing down at it.

"I was smoothing my fingers over it," he said slowly. "Not even looking at what I was doing."

He handed Star back her handkerchief and she crumpled it up, just about to push it into her pocked when she stopped. "Edmund," she looked down at the handkerchief, spotted with his blood. "This is made of silk."

He gave her a quizzical look, watching as she smoothed the handkerchief through her fingers.

"You have a point?" he enquired.

"I used to work for my father when I was younger, repairing air cars and small strato-craft." She paused, looking across at him, he had that look of polite interest on his face which meant that he had been with her all the way up to 'repairing'. She smiled, "You don't need to know just what they were," she told him. "They were just different ways of getting around, that's all."

Edmund nodded impatiently. "So what do they have to do with a silk handkerchief?" he said.

"Well, when dad brought a used car or craft he used to lay a silk scarf over the bodywork and feel the car through it. The silk magnifies bumps or cracks and repairs that the eye and the fingers might otherwise miss." Star held up the handkerchief and smiled.

Edmund grinned at her and held out his hand for the small square of bloodstained silk, wrapping it carefully around the thing, smoothing his fingers down the length of it.

"It feels different through the silk," he mused, his fingers slipping all around it. "There are.." He paused, an arrested expression on his face. "Got it."

Star watched as he pressed his finger and thumb on either side of the centre of the silk wrapped thing. There was the smallest tearing sound and a needle thin spike slid smoothly from one end of the thing, pushing through the silk that wrapped it, as transparent as the main part of it. Edmund pressed again and the spike slid out of sight. He smiled at Star, removing the handkerchief and sliding his fingers down the length of the thing again, his smile broadening as he found the two concave depressions he had felt before through the silk and pressed firmly. Once again the spike came out of the thing, then slid silently back inside as he pressed again.

"I'd give you a round of applause, but we're no further on," Star remarked. "It's too small to be a weapon. So what else can you use a spike for?"

Edmund ignored her, slipping the thing into his pocket and getting to his feet. "Are you coming back to the house?" he asked politely and she shook her head.

"I've never been down here before," she said, staring out to sea. "I think I'll stay a while. Tell me when you find out what it is, won't you?"

Edmund made his way up the cliff path, turning at the top to look down at Star's solitary figure on the shore. Then he smiled and walked briskly back to the house. He had an idea what this thing was and he wanted to test it.

One door in the house was always locked, Edmund had tried it several times. He had no idea what was on the other side of it, and he wanted to know. Oblique questions to Silver had been ignored, so had more direct ones, and when he had finally asked her bluntly what was on the other side of the door she had smiled sweetly at him and told him to mind his own business.

The door was in a darker part of the corridor that led down to their rooms on the upper floor and Edmund took a candle from one of the wall sconces, lighting it and holding it steady by the ornate lock plate. Then he took the thing from his pocket and held it pushed gently against the keyhole, fitting his fingers into the depressions on either side of it and pressing firmly.

He wasn't entirely sure what he expected to happen. Mostly he expected nothing to happen, although his hunches were usually right, but he still wasn't surprised when the lock clicked loudly in the stillness of the corridor and the door eased slightly open.

"All right, Edmund," Silver said from behind him. "You can close the door again."

He didn't jump, he just sighed and did as he was told. Getting caught was an occupational hazard as far as he was concerned. He turned to face her once the door was closed, pressing the thing again so that the spike slid back inside and putting it into his pocket.

"Hello, Silver," he said with a bright smile. She looked coolly at him and took a large iron key from her pocket, locking the door again.

"Come with me," she said calmly, crooking her finger at him, turning and walking down the corridor. Edmund, who knew when it was better to follow instructions, ambled after her, inwardly delighted that his hunch about the mysterious thing had been correct.

Silver led him to the library, where Djehn was sitting by one of the large windows, leafing through a book. He looked up as they came in, an expression of polite enquiry on his face.

"Good afternoon," he said.

"Edmund has been experimenting," Silver sat in a chair opposite Djehn, indicating that Edmund should sit down too. "I caught him unlocking the door to my room a few moments ago."

"Your room?" Edmund said contritely. "My apologies, Silver. I had no idea that was your room. I would never have tried to get in if I had known."

"Hmm," Silver looked away from him and back at Djehn. "Well?" she said.

Djehn closed the book he was reading and looked at Edmund. "You've found out what it does, how clever of you." he remarked caustically, a twisted smile on his lips. "I don't go back on my word. You get to keep it. It will come in handy sometimes."

"Thank you," Edmund took it out of his pocket, placing it on the table in front of him. It glinted innocently on the dark wood, refracting back the sunlight that shone in through the window. "Tell me exactly what it is," he said.

Djehn shrugged, sitting back in his chair, resting the book on his lap. "If you've managed to unlock a door with it, then you should know what it is," he said. "I can't really tell you much more than what you already know."

"Oh, I am sure that you can," Edmund retorted, his brown eyes hard as he looked at Djehn. "I may not be up to the mark with the scientific achievements of your time, but I am neither a fool nor a dupe. I would like you to tell me what you know."

"Djehn," Silver spoke softly and the man shrugged irritably, putting the book down on the table and picking the thing up, angling it so it caught the light.

"All right, if you insist," he said gruffly and took a deep breath. "I came across this by accident when I was eighteen. I, er, just happened to be at the scene of a rather nasty accident near the spaceport and this was laying in the gutter, shining in my eyes like a beacon. I didn't know what it was then, but it looked as if it might be valuable, so I picked it up and stuck it in my pocket." He paused, watching the rainbows of refracted light from it sparkle on the shelves and walls, an expression of almost reverent awe on his face. "There are only three of these in existence. They are all very much the same and they were invented by Gregor Hanke, a master of the art of morphogenics, the science of creating materials that can change their molecular structure. This is called a Sensor Key and if something requires a key to open it, or operate it then this little thing can do what that key can do. Encoded into its very structure are the instructions that enable it to analyse a lock or object and then determine the function that it needs to perform."

Edmund had been frowning as Djehn spoke, trying to keep up with everything he was saying. "What you mean is that this is a key that can open any door?" he said and Djehn nodded.

"If the door requires a key to open it," he qualified. "Actual or electronic."

"Then it is a rare gift," he said quietly and Djehn chuckled, handing the key back to him.

"You can make far more use of it than I," he said. "And I should warn you that there are a lot of other things it can do. I've never managed to discover exactly what or how though. Hanke knew that he was creating something that would be highly dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands so he did not write a book of instructions for it."

"What happened to him?" Edmund asked and Silver laughed.

"You do know the criminal mind so well, Edmund," she said. "He was murdered, shortly after creating the keys for a rather eccentric millionaire. The keys themselves disappeared completely after his death."

"How do you know this?" Djehn said sharply.

"Because the keys are dangerous and I made it my business to know," Silver told him coolly. "Hanke put no limit on the programming he gave their molecular structure. They have the potential to do or be almost anything. I tracked down the other two some time ago and made sure that they were destroyed before they fell into the wrong hands."

"You will not destroy this one," Edmund stated flatly, gripping it tightly in his hand.

"Of course she won't," Djehn said shrewdly. "It's far too important to us for her to destroy it."

Silver looked at them both rather grimly for a moment, then she got to her feet. "You must never let it out of your sight," she said harshly. "It may be invaluable to us but it is also terribly dangerous. Can I trust you to guard this key with more than your life, Edmund?"

"You have my word," Edmund told her firmly and she looked at him for a long time before nodding abruptly and turning to walk out of the library. When she reached the door she turned back to them.

"Remember," she said bleakly. "If Magrin gains one more advantage then we will be set on the road to failure and I will not be able to influence the outcome. Right now we have the vanguard; it will not always be this way."

She opened the door, walking through and closing it firmly behind her. Both men looked at each other in the utter silence of the library.

"Game on," Djehn said, and grinned.