i. autumn (falling leaves)
Extract from the Diary of Professor Bernice Surprise Summerfield-
The work on the script from the Theatre Planet (a name I coined, of course) has been going fairly well since I got back. I dropped off some of the more important items at Brax's office, and took back the play scripts to study by myself. I work better when I don't have people leaning over my shoulder, asking questions. I've been working over them for a while; trying to find hidden patterns and such, and this is my expert conclusion:
As far as I can tell, the scripts look like forgeries.
Yes, yes, I know, when we found them, they were carbon-dated for at least a hundred years back, but that's easy to fake; even easier if you have a time machine. And I know a lot about that type of thing. It's not the age of the parchment or the ink that's the problem. It's the language used. It has a certain sound to it, and some of the words used couldn't have possibly been used at the time. I'd have to take it to a linguist to be sure, but I think someone planted this among the other artefacts for us to find.
Plus, the writing's rubbish.
Actually, now that I come to think about it… when I read it out loud, the wording sounded rather odd. It had a feel to it that made shivers run up and down my spine. It wasn't like someone was walking over my grave; it was a whole herd of elephants stampeding across it.
Ah, well. I'll talk to Jason about it tomorrow. I'm feeling kind of tired right now. I'll just read through it one more time before I go to bed.
Goodnight, diary dear.
Jason Kane knocked on his ex-wife's door, and she didn't answer it.
It wasn't unusual, under the circumstances. Anyone who knew Bernice Summerfield well also knew that 'morning person' wasn't on her list of qualities, so Jason didn't find it odd at all. He simply sighed loudly and pointedly, and knocked again. "Benny, open up!"
She had called him last night, saying that she had something important to show him involving the ancient-looking play script that she had found during her last expedition. She had sounded fairly urgent about it- he could imagine her, on the other end of the line, the very picture of excitement. All flapping arms, and scribbling frantically in her diary, taking notes. So they had arranged to meet today, early in the morning. It was that important, apparently, that she'd give up her 'beauty rest' for it.
So, here he was. And she was being rather inconsiderate- as always- by not opening up when he had been so kind to at least arrive on time. Although, knowing Benny, it was entirely possible that she had fallen asleep while in the middle of working past midnight on whatever was so fascinating.
"Benny," he called again, slightly irritable. "If you don't open up in ten seconds, I'm breaking in, and you probably won't appreciate that. And neither will Brax, when he finds out that I broke down another door." Although that wasn't entirely true, because he had a key and there wasn't any need to break in. At least it might get her moving.
He waited a whole minute before rummaging through his pockets for the small key that unlocked her door. It was awfully low-tech, but Braxiatel always stuck to the logic that electronic doors could be hacked easily, whilst hardly anyone had the time and patience to copy a physical key. He produced the tiny silver object and slotted it into the lock, twisting it and pushing the door forwards at the same time. It creaked open, and he stepped in, closing it behind him. "Benny?"
The room was an absolute mess, as usual, although he couldn't exactly fault her for that since he was like that himself. He picked his pay through the piles of clothes and discarded papers, past Joseph, who was charging on a wall socket, and past the crib that currently held baby Peter. He hesitated before her bedroom door, but shrugged. It was nothing that he hadn't seen before.
The first thing he noticed as he entered was that Benny wasn't on her bed. And there was shattered glass all over the carpet, along with a dark liquid that was slowly staining it- not blood; some sort of alcohol by the look of it. And Benny was there too; just not on her bed, lying on the floor, arms and legs at odd angles, and completely unconscious. The play script she had been so enthusiastic about was next to her head, the papers barely crumpled. Wolsey padded over, and nosed at her hair, mewing softly.
I guess I was right about her overworking herself, immediately shot through Jason's head, quickly followed by the crushing realization that it was highly unlikely that she'd fall asleep walking across the room, with a glass of booze in her hand, no matter how exhausted she might have been. He fell to his knees next to her, patting her face. "Benny, wake up."
She didn't stir, and Jason began to feel just the slightest bit worried. He slapped her in the face a tiny bit harder, and she still just lay there. He sat there, on the ground for a moment, staring stupidly, before lunging for her wrist and fumbling for the pulse point. He felt for it desperately, sighing in relief as the steady beat throbbed under his fingers.
Wosley miaowed plaintively.
Jason didn't know what to do. He wasn't a doctor, he wasn't an expert in any sort of physiological problems, and the best diagnosis that he could come up with was that Benny was in some sort of coma. He carefully dragged her over to a pile of clothes. At least she wouldn't have to rest her head on the floor.
From outside the room, he could hear heavy footsteps coming from down the hallway, and a knock at the door. Jason sat up. "Who is it?"
"It's Adrian," came the grunted reply, and Jason scrambled for the doorknob, flinging it open.
"Thank god you're here," he gasped, practically pulling the Killoran inside, albeit rather difficultly. "Benny's-"
But Adrian had already spotted her body on the ground, and stiffened. "What did you do to her?" He advanced on Jason like a large, menacing brick wall that really had no business being in Benny's rooms. Jason backed away, noting how small he was in comparison to the other man.
"I found her like this!" he managed. "Do you honestly think I'd hurt Benny?"
Adrian paused, about to throw a punch, and reconsidered. Jason could practically see the cogs turning underneath his head. He sighed, and lowered his arms. "What happened, then?"
"I don't know." Jason glanced down at his ex-wife's prone body. "I came at her invitation, and when I got here, she was lying on the ground."
Adrian stared at Jason. "What do we do?"
"I don't know!"
They gazed at each other in panic for a beat.
"Get her to a hospital," Jason suggested, logic overriding panic for a brief second. Adrian nodded, and very carefully scooped Benny up in his arms. Jason didn't protest, but Wolsey mewled. Jason reached down to scratch the cat behind the ears. "It's okay," he reassured. "We've got her."
Wolsey didn't seem convinced, even as Adrian crashed through the door, and ran down the hall. Jason was about to follow, when he noticed Peter, still managing to be asleep through all that. He couldn't just leave him there. He glanced around, and his eyes fell on Joseph, plugged in and charging. The little porter seemed to spend most of his time turned off. There was a very good reason for that, but it really didn't apply now.
So Jason hastily unplugged Joseph, and shook him, hoping the motion would wake him up. "Joseph!"
The ball clicked and whirred, and rose up out of Jason's hands. "Jason! Where is Professor Summerfield?"
"Long story," said Jason. "She's in a bit of a coma at the moment. Look, can you look after Peter for a bit? I need to follow Adrian."
Joseph hovered thoughtfully. "A suggestion, if I may?"
"Sure," said Jason. "Go right ahead."
"Inform Mr Braxiatel of this development. He'd want to know."
Development, thought Jason scornfully, but nodded. "Good idea, I'll go now. Wish I had thought of it first."
"Good luck," said Joseph as Jason ran out the door at the fastest speed he could manage.
Actually, Jason knew full well why he hadn't thought of talking to Brax before it had been suggested. He didn't trust him, and he wasn't quite sure why. Whenever he tried to think about it, the faintest sign of a headache sprung up at the edge of his consciousness. He thought that he should probably wonder why that was, but that brought up headaches too.
He arrived at Irving Braxiatel's office door, and barged in without knocking. The man himself was seated at his desk, immaculately dressed as always, and filling in some sort of paper.
"Mr Kane," he said without looking up. "What a pleasant surprise. I trust you have a reason for interrupting my work?"
Jason took a moment to appreciate the fact that Brax had known who was in the roof without him speaking a word.
"It's Benny," he said after a moment. "She's-"
Braxiatel sighed. "If she wants more time to work on her lecture, I'm afraid that she can't have it. I've given her more than enough time."
"She's writing a lecture?" asked Jason, momentarily distracted
"Mm." Brax placed his pen on top of the stack of papers in front of him, and reached for a different pile of papers. "About the second Earth World War. I believe she's had a fair bit of experience in that field."
"I'll say," muttered Jason, then remembered why he was there. "She's in a coma, Brax."
The owner of the Collection paused, hand halfway across his desk. He pulled it back, interlacing his fingers together. For the first time, a flash of some emotion flickered across his face. "What," he said softly. Jason took the opportunity to continue.
"We found her in her rooms- unconscious- and she won't wake up," he said, very fast. "Adrian and I. We thought that you should know."
Brax seemed slightly more pale that usual, and he took a moment to collect himself. "Yes… thank you." He straightened up, and stood. "Shall we go, then?"
Jason blinked. "Go?"
"To see Benny, of course!" Suddenly Braxiatel was a whirl of activity and liveliness. "Humans don't go into comas for no reason at all! There must be a reason. There's always a reason."
And he was gone, striding down the hallway, as if he had never been in the room in the first place. Jason hurriedly followed him.
ii. winter (frozen over)
There were two hospitals on Planetoid KS-159- both situated at either end of the asteroid for convenience; after all, it wouldn't do to have two hospitals next to each other. Although the entire planetoid had a circumference that was possible to walk around in a good twenty minutes, it wouldn't do much good if someone was bleeding to death. This happened frequently, what with all the potentially-dangerous artefacts around. Hence, the establishment that Benny was currently at was the Parsons Foundation; the one located a short walk away from the Collection's main offices.
Ward 17 was a bleak grey room that looked in desperate need of sprucing up, say, by a group of hippies with a fully functional paint box. As it was, there were four walls, a ceiling, and a medium-sized window opposite the door. The blinds were drawn, and the bed in the corner contained Professor Bernice Summerfield, who showed no sign of waking up, which was only confirmed by the fact that the machines she was hooked up to that were spouting out scientific=sounding jargon onto printouts. Horribly damaging to the environment, of course, but more functional than any electronic records.
For convenience, a number of chairs were set up close by to the bed for any friends and/or family that would care to visit. Two of these were occupied, but that was only because one really wasn't enough to hold the full bulk of a Killoran's backside. Adrian sat, simply staring at his friend and one-time lover's comatose state. The doctors and nurses had assured him that she was in safe hands, and 'everything was perfectly fine', but he was determined to stay with Benny. To him, it seemed perfectly logical that someone might have attacked her, causing her to drop into her current state. It didn't take a genius to work out that the same person might come back later to finish the job.
Adrian and Benny's relationship was odd and difficult, to say the least. It was hard to say if there really was a relationship there, anything more than platonic, anyway. There was the slight problem of Benny having been possessed by a slightly-malevolent alien entity at the time of Peter's conception, and therefore not having actually 'consented' or anything.
Irving Braxiatel strode into the room, with Jason jogging a few paces behind him, having had to do this to keep up. "How is she?" he asked brusquely.
"Unconscious," Adrian snapped back, standing up. "What did you expect? A miraculous recovery?"
Braxiatel frowned and snatched a clipboard from the bedside table, eyes scanning it quickly. "There's no need to be sarcastic. I'm just as concerned about Bernice as you are."
Jason sat on the edge of his sometimes-wife's bed, and stroked her hair lightly. She always looked more vulnerable when she was asleep. Maybe it was because she wasn't able to hide anything underneath a shield of sarcasm and witty remarks. Or maybe it was because he had seen her at her worst- which was usually when she was unconscious. Like now. Jason's thoughts seemed to be going in circles; all leading back to his worry over Benny.
Adrian stood behind Braxiatel, squinting at the small print. "Is there anything important?"
Brax's frown had only deepened, and he slowly shook his head as if reluctant to say it. "No. There's nothing to suggest that she's in any sort of coma at all. Her brain scans indicate that she's merely sleeping."
"She's a pretty heavy sleeper," Jason suggested hopefully. "Maybe we just overreacted?"
Brax crossed over to the bed, and leant over Benny. "Bernice. Wake up."
She didn't respond, even when Braxiatel shook her slightly. He glanced up, and Jason realized that he'd been hoping for a reaction even as much as they had. "No. I don't think so." He paused, brow creasing slightly. "What was she doing before she fell into the coma?"
Jason tried to think. "There was a shattered glass of… whiskey. I think she collapsed when she was walking."
"Could have been drugged," Adrian put in, apparently not up to talking much.
"Anything else?" Braxiatel was pacing the room now, in full thinking mode.
"Peter was asleep; Joseph was plugged in… oh, yeah. There were the play scripts from her last dig on the ground next to her. She could've- I don't know, fallen asleep reading?"
"Unlikely," said Braxiatel, and his eyes suddenly widened. "Or… maybe not. Mr Wall, would you please go and fetch all of the scripts from Benny's rooms?"
Adrian jerked upright, and frowned. "But Benny-"
"Go," said Braxiatel firmly. "It might be imperative to her survival. Oh, and don't read it," he added. "Under any circumstances."
Adrian went, glancing behind his back the whole way. Jason gave him a 'what-can-you-do?' shrug, and looked to Braxiatel. "What's that about?"
The owner of the Collection gave a heavy sigh, and sank into the chair next to Benny's bed. "I fear I may have made a horrible mistake in letting Benny go to that planet."
"What do you-"Jason began to ask, and then the impact of that set it. "Someone tried to kill her?"
Braxiatel breathed out, and nodded.
"But… who'd want to kill Benny?"
"Possibly every Draconian currently alive, for starters," said Braxiatel without a trace of sarcasm. "And that's not to mention all the people and cultures she's angered for various reasons. I believe that several planets have a warrant out for her arrest and execution."
"Oh," said Jason. "Well, never mind."
Braxiatel sighed again, and lowered his eyelids, appearing to be meditating. Jason could think of nothing else to say, so resumed his stroking of Benny's hair.
A short while later, Adrian returned with the scripts. Braxiatel leapt to his feet, and snatched the papers from the Killoran. He opened up to the first page and scanned it rapidly, before folding the papers in half and striding out of the room, muttering to himself.
Adrian looked at Jason. "What was that about?"
Jason shrugged. "No idea." He glanced over at Benny. "We probably shouldn't leave her alone."
"No, we shouldn't."
Jason considered. "I'll go get some sandwiches or something. Be right back."
Adrian grunted and sat down heavily next to the bed. The chairs creaked alarmingly.
She still hadn't woken up.
It had been three days.
Braxiatel had dropped in at one point. He had informed Jason that the scripts were extremely dangerous and had been destroyed promptly. He went on to say that the reason Benny was still unconscious was that there had been a virus in the writing, a very complex and highly sophisticated one. It was purely mental. The only way for her to wake up was for her to defeat it in her own mind.
"Fortunately," Braxiatel added, glancing down to the bed in a way that could only be described as affectionate. "She's very strong in that respect."
"You're telling me," Jason muttered, recalling some of their… louder arguments.
Adrian had gone temporarily- you can't take a work from break, apparently, even if your friend is in a coma. Jason, not actually having a job as such, was exempt from such things. "She will wake up, though?" he added, almost as an afterthought.
Braxiatel smiled thinly. "I very much hope so. The Collection would be remarkably dull without her."
"And you're absolutely sure there's nothing we can do?"
He hesitated for a moment. "There may be… something."
"Well, what is it?" Jason snapped angrily. "If there's anything at all we can do to help-"
"As you no doubt already know," Braxiatel interrupted smoothly. "I am very slightly psychic. It may be possible for me to lend Bernice some mental support."
Jason blinked at him for a second. "Well, go ahead, then!"
Braxiatel nodded and moved over to the side of Benny's bed. He stared down at her for a moment, and placed one hand on the side of her head, closing his eyes. They both seemed to stiffen for a minute. Benny slowly smiled in her sleep, and Braxiatel grimaced. Then his eyes snapped open, and he took a step back, breathing out lightly. "It's done. She was coping remarkably well on her own, but I should hope that I improved her chances."
"Thank you," said Jason, because there wasn't much else that he could say. Braxiatel nodded, and swept out of the room.
He hadn't returned since.
Adrian came back to the small hospital room, eventually, and told Jason to get some rest. Jason reluctantly agreed; the hospital chairs weren't much good for sleeping on. And he wasn't being in any way useful sitting around, waiting for her to wake up.
So he went back to Benny's rooms and checked through every single file in her room or on her computer that he could find, looking for any piece of evidence- no matter how small- that could point to Benny's would-be assassin.
No such luck.
The only place he didn't check was her diary. It seemed wrong, somehow.
iii. spring (new life)
Jason was woken rudely from his dream involving his ex-wife being awake and him proposing to her again by the loud and somewhat anachronistic ringing of his comms units. He fumbled from the 'accept call' button, noting that the caller ID was Adrian's.
"Yeah?" he asked blearily.
Extract from the diary of Professor Bernice Surprise Summerfield-
Adrian tells me I've been in a coma for four days.
It's what Jason and Joseph tell me too, so I suppose that I'll have to believe that information. The thing that really worries me, though, is the fact that I can't remember anything about anything else that they've told me. They said that I was on an archaeological dig searching for artefacts from a civilization built entirely around theatre. I don't remember a moment of that. They said that I asked Jason to come to my rooms because of something I had found- which, I might add, I can't remember either.
I looked back through my diary, and the last couple of weeks have been filled up with entries by someone who seems to have the same writing style as me, and drew the same conclusions I would have come to, faced with the evidence. In short, the person who's been writing in my diary for the last couple of weeks was me, only my memory seems to have been wiped. Or stolen. Or something.
I hate to admit it, but I'm scared. As an old friend once said to me- a man is the sum of their memories. And women even more so.
Or something to that effect.
I haven't seen Brax for a while, either, although according to Jason he was hovering over my unconscious body for hours after… well, it happened. I'm not sure if I should believe him or not on that fact; it doesn't seem very characteristic of him. Then again , what do I know about Mr Mysterious?
Adrian was awfully sweet when I woke up for the second time. He brought me my diary- you- and Peter came to see me. I'm incredibly relieved to see he's okay- what if I'd have been carrying him when I collapsed?
So most of the last few weeks are a mystery. I wish someone else would solve it so I don't have to.
For the next couple of days, no one would leave Benny alone. At first it was rather nice, having people fussing over her and catering to her every whim, but it quickly got rather tedious. Soon she was wishing that they'd just leave her alone.
"Remember those priceless vases I started chucking a while back?" she grumbled at one point. "I might just start throwing them again, if I can get my hands on any."
Soon after that statement, she was discharged, although she noticed that either Jason or Adrian always hovered behind her. Presumably in case of a relapse. Somehow, she found this not-so-subtle protection even more annoying than when it was blatantly obvious.
So she tried to ignore the fact that she had been in a coma. She spent time with Peter, read a few books, attempted to make a start on her book (to no avail) and lay on her bed, listening to old Earth audio plays. She couldn't shake the feeling that something was still wrong.
Benny had once read a story about a man dreaming that he was a butterfly. When he had woken up, he had wondered if his real life was fiction, and he was only a butterfly dreaming he was a man. Or was it the other way around…?
It felt like she was still dreaming, that was it. She wasn't entirely sure if she had woken up from the half-nightmare, half-fantasy that had been her life in the coma.
She wanted to be sure, but didn't know how to.
With lack of anything better to do, she left Peter to have a nap, and went to find Brax.
He was in his office, writing on half-finished documents that were neatly piled at either end of his desk. As soon as he saw her, he swept everything aside. "Benny! It's good to see you back on your feet."
She managed a shaky smile. "It's good to be awake."
"I can imagine." He stood up, and crossed to the side of his office that doubled as a mini kitchen. "Tea?"
"Oh, yes, please."
She took a seat on the rather comfy chair that was on the other side of Brax's desk as he busied himself making some fresh tea. It was a ritual the two of them had dropped into during the Fifth Axis occupation. A weekly impromptu tea party, although it really wasn't weekly since they both had meetings and problems and issues to attend to which broke up the schedule a bit. But the tea was always excellent, and it was remarkably therapeutic to spend some time with a friend.
"I assume that you had something to talk to me about?" Braxiatel asked, filling the electo-kettle with water and rummaging through the cupboard for a tin of tea leaves. "Jasmine or green?"
"Cinammon, if you have it," responded Benny, tucking her legs up underneath her; a reflexive motion. She fixed her eyes on the ugly painting on the opposite wall as the kettle began to boil. She sometimes thought he kept the painting there just to annoy her; she had made her opinions on it clear at previous meetings in this office. Although she had been very slightly drunk at the time, so that probably didn't count. "And yes, I suppose you could say that."
"I thought so."
Benny chanced a glance over at him, and saw that he was patiently leaning against the counter, waiting for the tea to steep. She noted absently that he had found some cinnamon tea. He had said once that he didn't like it, so he must keep some for guests.
"Do you know anything about who might have tried to kill me?" she asked.
He frowned, and poured a cup of steaming hot tea into a mug that was probably worth more than the elaborately decorated chair she was currently sitting on. "It intrigues me that you immediately jump to the conclusion that they were trying to kill you."
He passed her the mug, and poured himself a cup from another pot. She took a deep breath, enjoying the scent. Then her brain caught up with what he had just said. "…what?"
"It's entirely possible- in fact, I'd go so far to say probable- that the point of the mental virus you were infected with was to possess you in some way. It would be remarkably convoluted to go to all that trouble to kill you when poisoning the page with some type of fast-acting venom would have worked just fine."
Braxiatel blew on his tea lightly, and took a sip. He walked back around his desk, and sat down. "Mm."
Benny looked down into her mug, and gulped down a mouthful of the burning hot liquid. It scalded her throat on the way down, but she didn't really mind.
"Tell me," Braxiatel said after a lengthy silence. "Did you dream?"
She knew what he was talking about, and nodded slowly. "Yes. It's all a bit muddled up right now, to be honest. But there was a palace… and a Player… and you were there too, I think."
"Was I, now," he said quietly, and the look on his face almost scared her. But then he smiled. "Interesting."
She grinned. "Hope it's not permanent, though. I'd hate to have a mini-you in my head twenty-four/seven."
"I might provide you with some valuable advice," he replied.
"Such as not deliberately provoking trouble at every given opportunity."
They both smirked at each other for a moment, before Benny's gaze dropped back to her cup. She drank some more tea, and felt the warm glow that comes from a good friendship and a good cuppa bubbling up in her chest. She slowly and regretfully drained the last dregs of tea from her mug, and sat it down on the table in front of her. When she looked up, Braxiatel was watching her, having finished his cup already.
"How are you feeling?" he asked her. "About the coma and the possession."
She gave him her brightest smile. "Fine."
The one rule they had during these tea parties of theirs (apart from not throwing cups at each other) was not lying. Sure, skirting around issues and giving deliberately cryptic answers was fine- but no outright lying.
So Braxiatel gave Benny a Look, and raised an eyebrow. "Let's try this again. How do you feel?"
She sighed, and her hand shot up to massage her temples. "Physically? Like a Cyberman decided to give me a massage for half an hour, and brought all of its friends to help. Mentally? About the same."
He was still watching her carefully. "And emotionally?"
She gave him a tired smile. "Brax, we both know that you don't want to hear about my love life."
"True," he allowed. "But sometimes it helps to talk about it."
She considered for a moment. "Confused," she decided. "I feel confused. There's too many people fussing over me at the moment, and I feel like a fictional character. I need something to occupy me."
Braxiatel opened his mouth, but Benny forestalled him with a raised finger. "Something that doesn't involve lecturing students that only signed up for the classes because 'Archaeology' was first on the list alphabetically."
He steepled his fingers together, and rested his chin on them. "That wasn't what I was going to suggest. Before you came in, I had gotten a call from the planet Tysir IV. There's a man who specifically requested you for your expert opinion."
Her eyes visibly lit up. "Oh?"
"Yes, something about a mining corporation and an ancient building." He paused for a second. "Interested?"
"Oh, yes. But Adrian mentioned something about keeping me here on the Collection just in case whoever tried to…" She hesitated. "…whoever placed the virus on the scripts showed up again."
Braxiatel reached for a sheaf of papers, and brandished his pen. "You're more than capable of taking care of yourself."
"So I can go?"
He nodded with the faintest trace of a smile. "Just don't read any ancient manuscripts without checking their dating first."
She leaned over the desk and pecked him on the cheek, before standing up and heading over to the door. "I'd better pack some things, then. Adrian can take care of Peter for a while."
"Have fun," said Braxiatel, and his office door closed.
iv. summer (fire)
Extract from the diary of Professor Bernice Surprise Summerfield
Screw the worrying and self-pity. I have an adventure to go on.