Chapter 3: Ghosts.
Jotunheimen, camps in the valley. June 17th 1996. 00:49h.
With as much silence as he could manage Khan moved through the green vegetation of the hilltop he was climbing. He kept telling himself how much of an idiot he was being, that he was putting himself through more risks than logic allowed him to pass through. But so far he had been having dumb luck. He had taken a plane to Norway, a long flight that had left him blessedly undetected. It had gotten a little difficult at the airport, people had noticed a flaw in his fake ID but it was just put off as an old card, luckily. But he would do it again too. Because a safe escape meant nothing if he could not make it without the one he loved most. He finally reached the top of the hill and looked down below to the lights of camp. So primitive, tents. He carefully started on his way down. It had taken some time to track his lover. He had completely fallen off the map after his defeat two months ago. But he knew who it was that had defeated him, and Thor would not leave his little brother to rot. No, Loki would be isolated and put in prison when things were calm again. In the meantime, Odinson had come up with this. He was grateful for the man for once. To break Loki out of prison would have been much harder than to get the man out of this little camp. It was a warm night, the air cool but never cold as he rustled through the leaves. He entered camp by the supply-tents, hiding behind the boxes as he studied the different structures to assess where to find his Loki.
“When will we move again?” Khan heard a voice ask.
“In a few days.” Thor’s voice said. “I have arranged transport for Loki but it has yet to arrive.”
“He doesn’t deserve it you know…” the other countered.
“Loki is a human being!”
“I doubt it. He did some pretty in-humane things. ”
“Do not speak like that of him!”
“Jesus Thor he tried to kill you.”
“He is just confused! That project he was in changed him…”
“Stop trying to excuse his behaviour Thor. Loki is a war-criminal and a monster.”
“He is MY brother!”
"He WAS. Once he was. But Christ Thor. That thing we keep locked up only bears his face now. Loki is dead."
Khan watched from behind the crates as Thor vigorously shook his head. Of course that oaf still believed in his sweet baby brother. But Khan knew better. He had not known Loki before the program. But he knew the man it had created. Loki was powerful, intelligent and calculating. There was nothing sweet about him. Khan loved him to death. He waited for the men to leave and headed into the camp. There was one tent with a wooden floorboard under it. So the soil would not offer a way out. That was where Loki was.
He looked around one more time to make sure he would not run into anyone and made a run for the tent. He stayed low and when he reached the white canvas he was still unnoticed. This was so simple. He knew that Loki even knew that as well. He could have broken out with all the ease in the world, probably even take a snack and some clean clothes on the way. But why didn’t he?
He checked the close, the zippers were locked together with a code-lock. Khan let out a bit of a laugh at it and held the pad under his flashlight, he could see which buttons were littered with finger-prints right away. But he also knew that Thor wasn’t too great on numbers so it would be something he knew. A birthday, a year, a house number or postal code from where they lived once. But when he saw the numbers that were to be included he almost rolled his eyes at the simplicity. Loki’s birthday.
His fingers were quick to pad in the keys. The soft beep confirmed his hunch that he was right and he took the lock off. The zippers were simple… This was all child’s play for Loki. He could have gone out of here within five minutes of his arrival. Khan was getting worried. Clearly he was still here, Thor had eyes on him every day at least. His lips thinned and he zipped open the tent and let himself in. The floor was covered in a total of twenty different carpets. Thor had no sense of decoration, it almost hurt to look at that floor. On the far end was a simple matrass, square, to the point, with some grey sheets and a pillow. Thor was taking good care of his brother. He could see the telling bulge of a human form under the sheets and walked over slowly. Loki was asleep. He kneeled down next to the matrass and peeled away the blanket a bit. Yes… Loki’s face. He was fast asleep, too deep. Loki had the perception and instincts of a predator, he should have woken up even before Khan touched the lock to his tent. Cryo-sleep. Thor had neutralized the danger that was Loki by shutting him down. Asleep Loki was a danger to nobody. Khan sighed and let his thumb go over the smooth skin of his lover’s cheek. He had missed that porcelain skin, he had missed those long black eyelashes, the thin lips, those raven hairs. He had missed the touch of them.
“Oh Loki… I missed you.” He muttered.
When his ache of being separated for so long had faded he slowly peeled back the sheets. Loki was dressed in soft pajamas of black cotton. They were good quality as expected really. He saw the small punctures in Loki’s arm where the liquid was injected. Thor was waking him up and putting him under multiple times. That meant that he would keep the injections somewhere near here too. Khan roamed around the tent, looking for a stash, a box, a compartment. He would not leave without Loki tonight. That much was certain. It took a while before Khan realized that the box was not here. That would mean Thor was keeping it on him. Well, that WAS a problem. Without the antidote to pull Loki out of his induced sleep there was no use in taking him away… Khan huffed and let his fingers go through Loki’s hair. So close, he was so close…
There had to be a way to cut Thor out of this equation. Subdue him as he came to wake Loki? No, there was nowhere to hide, and Thor was like a giant. He was strong as a bear and he wasn’t dumb either. Of course he was less smart than Loki and him, but dumb? No. He bit his nails and looked around. But of course. Thor was carrying around a dosage only. The supply-tent had to hold the back-up flasks to keep Loki asleep for longer periods, and also more antidote to wake him up more often. He just had to get his hands on an unused flask and a syringe. He softly kissed Loki’s forehead.
“I’ll be back shortly, my beautiful Loki. I promise.” He said as he left his lover and locked up the tent once again to get what he would need to wake him.
Apartment-block south-side 157,Iowa. April 15th 2262. 23:34h.
Khan had no idea what he was doing, his blood was frozen in his body. Every muscle, every sense, it all came to a halt. This was stupid. What if the man woke up? He would see him! He would disarm him while he was just standing here like a fool. He pressed the tip of his blade to the man’s jugular again. His blood rushed. This wasn’t him. This was not his Loki. He could not be his Loki. The man’s name was Tom. Thomas William Hiddleston, a dear friend of Kirk’s father. He was about 60, but had spent long years in cryo from a terrible set of injuries after the demise of the USS Kelvin. His face and body were therefore about 30 years old. Khan had seen his life, he could not be Loki.
But the face, the face of his lover was the same as his. And he could not set his blade into the neck of Loki. He could not convince himself that this was a completely different person. Not with that face. His face contorted as his hand started shaking, and with a pained grunt he removed the dagger from his own grip, setting it back at his side. He breathed heavily, his eyes stung with tears. Tears! He was fighting tears over a stranger. He stepped back, his chest heaving as he put a hand over his face. Tom Hiddleston… He could not kill him. The man remained asleep, luckily Khan was still silent in his daze. If the other man had woken up… well… God knows what would have happened. He secured his blade back to his side, on his belt where it could no longer do harm. He stayed like that for a while, standing there. He was starting to get more aware of his surroundings.
This apartment was definitely one of the newer kind. The modern. Most of the walls and furniture were white or light wood, giving it a lot of light and space. This Tom had made something of it, mostly filling his empty space with books. There were easy tablets to use for reading, downloading all books that were written since the dawn of time. But as a novelist and writer he figured the physical touch and feeling of a proper book was a must. In his bedroom the man kept two bookcases full of them, his bed was against the far wall, the window above it casting in a line of moonlight that came through the crack between the curtains. The sheets were a dark blue, creating something like a dark sea around his pale body. The rest of the room was mostly personalized with several little ornaments, probably quite personal to the man, to Khan half of them did not make sense. It felt weird at some point, standing in the man’s house without the other even aware of his presence, just looking at where he lived, and each time Khan felt his eyes go back to Tom. He felt weird, he felt completely put off.
The one thing that had been certain for tonight had crumbled. It had been certain that this man would die tonight, in his hunger for revenge and lust for blood, this man was going to pass. Only, he had not killed him, and the longer he was standing there, the more certain he was that he was not going to do it. No, Tom Hiddleston would not die tonight.
The Enterprise. April 16th 2262. 01:54h.
With renewed vigour the Enterprise crew had been working today. They were preparing the ship for Scotty’s travel-plan. It was quite some work. It would cost them two days, maybe three to transfer the powerlines, the drives, half of the ship’s core… Many things had to be replaced to get them to travel quicker. But the 3 days they would lose doing this they would win back by cutting their travelling time back to 6 days instead of a little under 30. Kirk returned to the bridge when midnight drew closer. Khan always opened his transmissions around midnight. Well, midnight back home. They lived by their rhythm back home in America, out here in space time-zones didn’t really apply after all. But it was almost 2am now and there was nothing.
“Sulu… Did we lose power to our communications?”
“No, we can’t transmit but we are still receptive for signals. If Khan is calling he can come through easily, there’s no sign of any radio-traffic calling in.”
Kirk nodded. He felt a near relief that it seemed that nobody died tonight. But heavier than his relief was the anticipation and dread that it could mean that Khan was planning something bigger. Something worse.
“We really can’t call outwards?” he asked carefully.
“Sorry captain, we can’t. We would have to start up systems that are all taken apart for the big warp and we would lose power that we need to fire the core.”
“Maybe they have him. The police. Surely they are looking for him.”
“You think? We gave the police nothing to go by. Nobody on Earth knows that it’s Khan. They won’t have leads, he makes sure to not have a signature to alert people of a serial killer… I don’t think he’s been caught. At best he’s walked against a hick-up. He has to leave out a night. Or worse… He’s planning something bigger. Something… that takes more planning.”
The doors slid open and Spock came in.
“No news yet Captain?”
Kirk slowly shook his head, body deflating. He sat sagged in the chair, he was tired. This time not from his whirl of emotions, no, tonight was from all the work they had done. He was tired and used up.
“Well, that does not have to be a bad thing. Statistically speaking the odds are equal that it is 50% likely on either side…. But I do think it is a good thing captain, call it gut-feeling.”
Kirk snickered a little and shook his head, blue eyes drifting out of the window shortly.
“Gut feeling huh? Well I suppose that solves the whole dilemma.”
He smiled lightly. They were all standing in a line, his dear friends. They all looked worn out, tired, worked to the max.
“As long as no news comes, let us just assume it’s good news. There is nothing we can do up here anyway.” He stood and stretched.
“You all worked hard, we’ll put the ship in slumber mode so that we only need two people on the bridge, just get to bed and sleep a good night. Tomorrow we will hopefully get the last things ready to fire off into the warp.”
For a moment the others seemed to consider complaining, saying they were not tired, that they could work another full night if needed. But those would be nothing more than big fat lies. They did need a few hours of sleep, or they would make critical mistakes in the whole process of rewiring the ship. And nobody wanted that fatal mistake on their conscience. Slowly they all dispersed off to bed, for the first time now without phantom screams in their heads or images that were still swimming across their retinas of another death. It was oddly peaceful actually. Still, it did not feel right, it felt ominous.
Apartment-block south-side 157,Iowa. April 16th 2262. 10:26h.
Tom woke up the morning after his meeting with Winona on a time later than he usually kept to. He could have expected it. He had been sleeping awfully these past few days. He wasn’t worried, but shaken nonetheless. However, his decision to take his latest work to bed and write on it until he felt sleep lurk had been his best call in a good long while. He rolled on his back with a soft grunt, the sheets had left their mark all over his body, the creases and folds had made light impressions over the expanse of his skin.
He needed more sunlight, he decided when the sight of the sharp light from outside hit his arm in a sleek white beam, almost blinding him when it reflected on his pale skin. He did not colour in the sun… Not really, he got freckles, here and there. Specks of brown like little droplets of paint on a white canvas. He sat up straight and let the blankets pool into his lap. He rubbed his face as he adjusted to the sunlight that filled his room. His eyes squeezed shut every time he looked to the window again, his pupils rapidly slinking away to the middle of his light eyes. They were blue, his eyes, a light shade, clear like water, and colouring along with environments, from blue like summer-skies to grey like a winter puddle, or the lightest of greens. But they were always soulful. Tom wore his heart on his sleeve. It was what made him a good writer, but it was also a thing that got him mocked and bullied because he was emotional. He opened his curtains with a firm press on the pad that operated his house from different access-points.
He paused however when he found the orange light blinking at the top. The apartment system kept track of all the devices used in his home, and when it picked up unusual errors it put them in a log. Tom just huffed, probably that bug in the kitchen again. He hoped the fridge hadn’t blinked out for two hours again. Last time the smell of sour milk had been unbearable. He pressed a few buttons to call up the log. It wasn’t the power in the kitchen. The lock. It had been accessed twice from outside, once when Tom had come home last night, and one more time somewhere around 11. Tom thought it was a bug in the system, but there was another log going out again about half an hour later.
Tom hopped out of bed, shaking down the pant-leg of his pyjamas. He only wore the pants, the apartment was always warm. He walked back to the front door and opened it, looking at the pad outside. It looked ordinary enough, nothing wrong. But Tom could see the small blue light that was blinking just around the side. He shifted the lock slightly and took off the clip. A decoder. Someone had broken into his house? He ran back in, slamming the door behind him. What did they take? Not his laptop, not his old books which were worth a fortune nowadays… please. But there was nothing missing, nothing. Not his wallet, even though it was in plain sight, his laptop which was only under three sheets of paper, his phone, his books… Nothing had been stolen.
Suddenly he felt cold. The killings… Was he next? Did that… monster scour the place to make a plan to murder him. Tom swallowed, suddenly wide awake. Oh dear god… He shot back into the bedroom, grabbing the first top he could find and pulling it over his head, the curls on his head shortly bouncing up as they pulled through the hole for his head. He returned to the living room, his fingers shaking when he cleared the paper from his laptop and started it up. Maybe it was a bug…. Maybe he didn’t close the door… But the decoder… Why would- He was rubbing his neck almost compulsively, the skin reddening under the rough treatment of his own hand. He stopped then, his fingers tracing the ridge of a small crust. It could not have been more than a few drops when it bled. But it was right on his jugular. A tiny spot… Almost like the tip of a blade pressing- He felt the air leave his lungs. His fingers now shook so much that he had to retype his password three times. He had surveillance, he could see if anyone entered his house. He would be able to tell… Right? Or would the cameras have been offline? No. No, he needed to know. He couldn’t just go on knowing, suspecting, that his house had been invaded, his skin broken. And he had not even known it. He logged into the camera feeds and waited before the libraries had loaded. He did not even realize that he was trembling until he failed to fix his hair properly. He was scared. He got up to make breakfast while the recordings of last night loaded for view. He made toast and eggs, but he almost burned himself three times.
“God damnit. Get a grip.” He hissed at himself.
He worked down his breakfast and watched the cameras, for a while he just watched himself go around the house yesterday, do some work, making dinner, watching the news, all that. He skipped through until the timer hit somewhere around 11:30 at night. Tom almost turned white as a sheet as the door from the hallway into his apartment was slowly pushed open, a man sneaking in, taking a look around, his hand curled around something in his pocket. Tom was numb as he watched him move to his bedroom. There was someone in his home. He watched a steel blade slide out, coming down to his own sleeping form. And then it halted. The man just stopped, frozen. Tom could not see who it was, what had stopped him, but for more than a minute the image seemed to freeze. Then, slowly, the other backed up. As he turned Tom paused the screen, looking at the blurred face of his assailant. Khan Noonien Singh. Tom swallowed and then leaned over to study the image of the man.
“Why did you let me live?”