"Good morning, Officer Renato."
The woman seemed not to hear him. She stared fixedly at the ceiling, dark blonde hair fanning out over her pillow, framing a face nearly as gray and pale as a Nebari's. But he could see the blood rush through her veins, could see the hot spots on her skin shift with galvanic response. She had heard him. She was just ignoring him.
"I came to see how you were feeling. The doctors tell me you should be fully healed and back on duty in a short while. I'm sure you're eager to return to your duties."
"Why am I alive?"
Her tone was harsh, hoarse, as if she wasn't used to using her voice anymore, as if she was barely this side of breaking down. There was a note of despair in her voice that to him sounded like an entire symphony.
"I received intelligence that the Scarrans were holding Peacekeepers prisoner, and arranged for a rescue mission. Unfortunately you were the only one left alive when the rescue squadron retrieved you. Your survival is a credit to your strength, Officer Renato, of body and mind."
"No," she said, and stared at the ceiling for another minute, saying nothing. He waited, seeing if she'd elaborate. "No. There's no strength in giving in. In failing."
"There's great strength in surviving."
"At the price of contamination?" Her voice broke on the last word, and she breathed raggedly. "No. I should die. I've been... I've been..."
"You have not been contaminated, Officer."
"I have. The most profound way anyone can be... they..."
"I know what they did." His eyes narrowed. "You needn't speak of it. I of all people know what Scarrans do to their prisoners. But they didn't contaminate you."
"I was their whore." This time her voice didn't break. "I became pregnant with a child. I am contaminated. Even if I live I'll never return to the force."
"Did you choose what happened to you?"
"No! How can you--"
He interrupted. "Did you fight it?"
"Of course I did... but I failed."
"That hardly matters. Scarrans are considerably stronger than Sebaceans. No one reasonable could have expected you to win, Officer Renato. Even if you hadn't fought, even if you accepted the inevitable in hopes of surviving to get your revenge, no one reasonable could blame you. And I have taken steps to ensure that no one unreasonable will learn of what happened." He walked over to the edge of the bed. "You will be reinstated at full rank. I give you my assurances."
"Why?" She looked at him for the first time. "Why would you do that? What do you want?" Her heat patterns shifted, showing fear for the first time. He shook his head.
"My reasons are my own. But I want nothing of you, Officer Renato, or rather, what I want of you is something I think you will be eager to give." He pulled over a chair and sat down. "If you were to return to your duties, how would you fight, if you were faced with Scarrans again?"
"How would I fight?" She stared at him disbelievingly. "I would fight the way I've always fought. I'd fight like a Peacekeeper."
"Not good enough. And not true, either. You'd fight with revenge in your heart, Officer. You'd want to see Scarran blood spilled. In quantity. An ambition I share, you see." He smiled at her, as gently as he knew how. "You will make yourself into a weapon against the Scarrans, for revenge, and to ensure they can never hurt you again. Why should the Peacekeepers lose such an excellent resource, simply out of bigotry? You had no control over what happened to you. But since you lived through it, now you will take control. You will fight Scarrans, with far more strength and skill than you'd ever had before, because now it isn't simply your duty. Now it will be a personal triumph. Am I right?"
"I don't..." She stared at him. "I don't know. I don't know if I can face them again."
"Imagine your tormentors, Officer Renato. Imagine them bleeding, their flesh melting off their broken bones. Imagine Scarran skin blackened and burned, seared by Peacekeeper weapons. Imagine the fat boiling off their bodies, their eyes blistering and boiling away. Imagine their screams as Peacekeeper weapons cut them down." He spoke rhythmically, hypnotically, caught up in the vision. "Can you see them, broken and burned? Can you see what we did to them to rescue you? What you can do to them, any time you meet their benighted kind? Does it entice you?"
She stared at him for a very long time. "Peacekeepers are supposed to put aside emotion," she whispered.
"And by so doing, we'll lose. The Scarrans let themselves feel, Officer Renato. It makes them stupid, on occasion. We can't lose the edge our greater intellectual control gives us. But we mustn't be afraid to tap into our passions, either. They're not, and they're winning. Our hate must turn the tide." He stood up. "Do you understand, now, why you're alive?"
"I..." She hesitated. "Yes. Yes, I can do this. I can hate them." A bitter smile slashed her face. "They haven't left me with anything else."
"That's the spirit, Officer. Make them pay for what they've done to you. Make them suffer as you have. If only we had more soldiers like you, they would be too afraid to continue to attack us." He took a step toward the door. "I must go. There were difficulties with the birth, and my expertise is needed."
Just like that, white-hot rage coursed across her whole body. "The child is alive?"
"We were able to save both of you."
"Kill it," she said. "It's an abomination. Kill it."
The words hurt a part of him he thought he'd buried so well it could never be hurt again. And what did you expect? he mocked himself. Did you think she'd be eager to embrace her son? That she would ask for his welfare, beg to hold him in her arms? Don't be a fool. It was harder than usual to control his emotions, and his other side slipped a moment, his "No" coming out a Scarran snarl. He recovered, taking refuge in cold, imagining shields of ice around himself, cooling the fire of rage. "No. That's not negotiable."
She seemed to realize, then, who she was talking to, and how her words could be taken. "I... I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean to offend you."
"No offense taken," he said peaceably, which was absolutely true, because offense was the wrong word for being stabbed to the heart by reality. "You needn't fear being accused of contamination by anyone who learns of the child. I'm taking him under my wing. His true parentage will be kept from any record. There will be nothing to connect him with you."
"And you won't... tell it? Who I am?"
It. "Of course not," he said. There'd be no point in telling the child about a mother who'd wanted him dead, after all. Let him keep his romantic fantasies, if he chose to have them.
"Thank you, sir," she said. "For everything."
He tried very hard not to hate her for failing to be what she couldn't possibly be, what he had no right to expect her to be. "It's my pleasure, Officer Renato. Remember what I've told you, about revenge. Focus on that, and you will survive."
He left then.
The child floated in a bath of saline solution, carefully calibrated to match the salinity of the tiny, ill-formed scales and the bare patches on his skin. A breathing mask on his tiny face gave him a 100% oxygen mixture without risking damage to his tender eyes, which were open, and a nipple under the mask, which the baby was energetically sucking nutrients and analgesics from. Scorpius peered into the tank. He wasn't terribly familiar with Sebacean babies, but his studies had taught him they weren't supposed to be able to focus their eyes when newly born. He smiled wryly.
"You are determined to be a prodigy, aren't you?" He lowered one gloved finger into the bath, touching the child's palm. Tiny fingers closed spasmodically on his much larger one.
"You may not thank me for saving your life, later on, you know. In fact, there's a good chance you may curse me for it. You might be better off if I disposed of you now." He removed his finger. "Little awaits you but pain, young one. Constant physical pain. Terrible weakness, before you're old enough that we can install a permanent cooling unit of some kind-- even with the technologies we have now at our disposal, regulating your body temperature will be the task of a lifetime, painful and perpetual, always requiring part of your attention. It is not likely you will ever have any friends, nor is it likely that anyone will ever accept you unless you bludgeon them into submission with your intellect." He inclined his head toward the child. "Of course, I may be able to teach you a few tricks to make that a bit easier. But the fact remains that you will always be an outcast to them. You'll need to turn to aliens for solace, since none of your own blood will be willing to acknowledge you, or accept you." He considered. "I suppose having me around might help with a bit of that. And I will try to make life somewhat easier for you. But there are limits to what I can do. Most of your life, and what you make of it, will be up to you."
The child kicked, propelling himself unevenly through the tank. Scorpius reached into the tank and lifted the baby out entirely, removing his breathing mask. The little boy screwed up his face as his body came into contact with the cold air of the laboratory, and began to wail, loudly.
"This is life, little one. At least this is cold, not heat, but you'll find it just as unpleasant, albeit less life-threatening. This is the real world, and sooner or later you'll be grown enough to leave that tank and enter it permanently. Do you see what I mean?" He studied the wailing child intently, making no attempt to comfort him. "This is the world I'm condemning you to. What you're experiencing now is only a small taste of what your entire life will be like. Is this what you want?"
He smiled and set the child back in the tank, replacing the breathing apparatus. The boy gulped air for a bit, then found the nipple and started sucking on it again. "It hardly matters. You're going to live. I wanted survival, in the end, and I suspect you will too, even with all that you'll suffer as a result. There are compensations. You'll find out about them soon enough."
The salinity readings on the bath were just fractionally lower than the sensors on the baby's skin. Scorpius adjusted a counter up a fraction of a percent, lest the boy get waterlogged. "Not much longer, my boy. As soon as your environment incubator is built, it'll be the real world for you, or at least a temperature-controlled facsimile of it. Enjoy your bath while you can."
Footsteps behind him, echoing in the corridor outside the room, alerted him. He turned, and the door opened. "Sir. The papers are complete; it only requires your scan."
"Yes, of course." He read over the documents declaring the hybrid child to be a ward of the science sector, placed under his direct supervision. Peacekeepers didn't have acknowledged children even when of their blood; the effort it would take to legally adopt the child, contravening two hundred cycles of Peacekeeper policy regarding officers, even officers in the intelligence or science divisions, was simply not worth it. Making the boy his ward would be good enough, so long as he held his position, and if he did not, being his legal child wouldn't help the boy. Scorpius let his eye linger on the retinal scanner, imprinting the document with his retinal signature. He handed the document pad back to the admin who'd given it to him. "Make sure this is updated to Central Records within the hour."
"Yes, sir." The admin saluted and left.
Scorpius turned back to the tank. "Well," he said to the child. "It's done. You're as safe as you're reasonably going to achieve. Now all that remains is a name." He thought about it. The boy might well change his name when he grew to adulthood-- Scorpius had, as much because he despised his Scarran heritage as because he despised having a name that meant, essentially, "grub." If he had to be an insect-like creature, he would not be an infantile, soft, weak thing, but one with a shell and a sting. But this child... no telling, yet, what he'd be.
And then Scorpius smiled. There was a Scarran word that meant something close to "redemption", but its fuller connotation was to redeem the sins committed by one's blood relatives, in blood. The opposite of vendetta. He had considered it once himself for a name, but decided he didn't want a Scarran name at all, under any circumstances. Now, it would send a message to any Scarran that heard it. "Kessh'tar," he said softly. "I will train you to be a warrior and tactician, and together, we will redeem the crimes of the Scarrans, in their blood."
He closed the tank lid, leaving the child to peaceful warm darkness. It didn't matter if Birain Renato despised her child, even if she bore an unfortunate resemblance to a cross between Rylani Dellos and a knife. He had saved her life, seen her reinstated to the Peacekeepers. She would be another weapon against the Scarrans. He could never have reasonably expected anything more from her. What mattered, now, was the child. A hybrid of such extremes could not father children, and if he had been able to, the Peacekeepers would likely have been less willing to accept him. As sorry as he felt for Renato, as enraged as he was with the Scarrans who'd held her prisoner as their plaything, knowing her pregnancy would kill her and probably being amused by it, he admitted to himself that he was glad the child existed. It would be pleasant to correct the mistakes that had been made with him, to see how far such a child could go without the tortures of the Scarrans to cripple and damage him.
It would be pleasant not to be completely alone.