"Yala. Hey. Yala, it's okay, I'm here."
Johnny's familiar voice pulls her from sleep and Yala wakes with a start. She can feel her heart racing.
"Bad dream?" He props himself up on an elbow. His gaze is concerned, and dear -- so dear. Since they were children, no one has ever come close to comforting her heart the way Johnny does.
"Not exactly," Yala admits. "But strange."
"You were there, but you weren't you -- I mean, you were you, but you weren't my husband," Yala says, tasting the unfamiliar idea on her tongue. "And the Killjoy was there."
And in the dream, he was her husband. Or her paramour, anyway. Her something.
Johnny's eyes gleam with humor. "The pretty one with the square jaw?" He knows who catches her attention, after all these years.
Yala rolls her eyes but she can feel that she's blushing. Hopefully it's too dark for Johnny to see. "Yes, that one."
"Should I be worried?" His voice is light. He's teasing, but he knows there's nothing to worry about. Doesn't he?
"No," Yala says firmly. "You're my anchor. You're my best friend. Always."
"Always," he repeats, and she hears echoes of every time they've made each other that promise over the last 25 years. Then he grins. "So what were you and the Killjoy doing?"
"Nothing scandalous," Yala deflects. It's true: she and the Killjoy hadn't actually been doing anything inappropriate. But she had felt a comfortable physical certainty that the Killjoy was her partner. No: he and Johnny were both her partners, but the Killjoy was her bedmate. "But in the dream, all three of us were --"
The dream's fragments are receding. Hard to hold on to. Like a trail of breadcrumbs that suddenly stop, leaving her lost in the forest.
"We were... family," Yala says, with a feeling of wonderment.
"Sounds nice," Johnny says, flopping back onto his pillow.
"It was," Yala says, absently. The sky outside their window is already starting to lighten. With a sigh, she gets out of bed.
"Where are you going," John asks, though he knows the answer as well as she does. Time to start brewing for the morning rush at the Royale.
Yala gestures toward the sky. "Dawn's coming. Your alarm will go off in ten minutes."
Johnny waggles his eyebrows. "That's ten minutes you could spend in bed with me."
Yala lets her disbelief show on her face. "Ten minutes. That's not a lot of time."
"If I can't get you there in ten minutes, I'm losing my touch." John cracks his knuckles ostentatiously.
"You are ridiculous," Yala says, laughing, but she gets back into bed.
"Lucy," John says to the alarm clock, "give me twelve minutes just to be on the safe side."
"Affirmative," the clock says in her comforting voice.
Lucy's doors open and D'av walks back in.
"Any luck?" Zeph asks, not looking up. She's reorganizing her lab, or something -- D'av makes a policy of Not Asking about the weird science stuff. Zeph is his RAC-assigned nerd, and she's useful, but he really doesn't want to understand what she does.
"Nothing," D'av says, shrugging one shoulder. "Lucy, your lead didn't pan out."
"I may have brought you to Old Town under false pretenses," Lucy says, and that makes Zeph stop what she's doing and lock eyes with D'av.
"What the hells," Zeph says. "Lucy, you're not supposed to--"
"D'avin. Zeph. My scans indicate that Johnny and Dutch are in Old Town."
D'av sighs and scrubs a hand over his forehead. "Lucy, we've been over this. I don't know who you're talking about, and neither does Zeph."
"You've both dreamed about them," Lucy informs him.
"Excuse me? How do you know what we've -- okay, you know what, never mind, I don't want to know." D'av walks over to the armory and opens a box of ammo to reload.
"Johnny is your brother," Lucy says.
"I've told you a hundred times, I don't have a--"
"Look," Lucy says, and projects a hologram. A man with crinkles around his eyes and a strikingly beautiful woman wearing a leather jacket.
"She sure looks like your type," Zeph quips.
Lucy's shown D'av these images before and they've never rung a bell, but this time something niggles at the back of his consciousness. Like maybe Lucy is right and he has dreamed about them before. Or, wait: no. No, he's actually seen her.
"I saw that woman outside a bar this morning."
A chill runs through him. There's something weird here. He doesn't know what it is, but all of his instincts are screaming now that there's something wrong, and he's learned that when he ignores those instincts, people get killed.
These are crumbs of coincidence, but he's going to follow their trail.
"She's important," Lucy says. "They're both important." If computers could plead, D'av would say she was pleading. "Please. Bring them here."
"Morning," Gared calls, falling in step with him.
"Bright and beautiful," John agrees.
"Whoa. You're in a good mood."
John can't help grinning. "I could tell you why, but then the missus would have to kill you."
"Isn't it usually 'I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you?'"
"Yeah, but I think she's more ruthless than I am," John says.
The words escape before he has a chance to think about them.
Just like that, a flash of memory stops him in his tracks. Yala holding some kind of clear canister, standing over a pool of green liquid. It's her, but it's not exactly her. Her demeanor is different. Her intensity. There's a ruthlessness, a determination, that he's certain he's never seen.
"What," Gared prompts him.
John shakes his head, as though to dislodge the memory. "Nothing. Weird dream."
They're halfway to the factory when John spots the Killjoy walking toward them. His skin prickles. Maybe it's coincidence that Yala dreamed about this guy last night. Maybe it's coincidence that he dreamed of a different Yala.
And maybe it's not.
"Is your name Johnny?" the Killjoy asks.
That's easy enough for anyone to find out, but John still feels unsettled.
"Most people call me John," he says on autopilot. "Only my family calls me Johnny."
He hears Yala's remembered voice in his ear: we were... family.
"I know this is going to sound weird, but I need to talk to you," the Killjoy says. "I'm on a warrant for the RAC, but this isn't about my warrant. I'm -- following a hunch."
"We gotta get to work," Gared protests.
"You go," John says to him. "I'm going to talk to the Killjoy. It's okay," he adds, forestalling the objection he knows is coming. "Tell Hills I'll be there by midmorning bell."
"Okay," Gared says, a little dubiously, and keeps walking.
John turns to D'avin and crosses his arms. Now that he's committed to this, he feels vaguely anxious. Hills is going to have his hide.
"Will your wife close the bar for an hour?" D'avin the Killjoy asks him.
"She will if I ask her to." John isn't entirely certain why he's doing this, but something in him wants to help this guy out. Like, wants it in ways that aren't rational and aren't reasonable.
If he's learned anything from Alvis, it's that when his heart begs for something unreasonable, there's usually a good reason behind it. He just has to follow the trail of crumbs far enough into the forest to find out where it leads.
Zeph is taking a shower. She likes the water two point nine degrees hotter than D'avin. Dutch likes it cooler than either of them. Johnny likes it hottest of all.
It has been twenty-seven hours since something went wrong and D'avin and Zeph returned to her with no apparent memory of the rest of her crew.
The decontamination field did nothing, which rules out nanobot infestation. Brain scans show that both D'avin and Zeph have lost access to part of the hippocampus. Lucy is ninety-eight percent certain that if she could awaken those neural pathways, they would remember who they really are.
She just hasn't been able to figure out how to make that happen.
Her scanners pick up D'av on the road back to the docking bay. Anticipation sparkles along Lucy's circuits: Johnny and Dutch are walking beside him.
"Okay, Lucy," D'avin calls as they step on board. "You said they were important.
"They are," Lucy agrees, and locks the doors behind them.
"The way you were talking about Lucy, I thought she was your superior. She's your ship?" Dutch asks.
"Technically I am your ship," Lucy says truthfully. "But Johnny and I have a special relationship. I am kind of his ship, also."
"Okay, I don't know what you're--" Johnny begins.
"I recommend that you sit down," Lucy tells them.
"Why does that matter," Dutch says, suspiciously.
"Because we're taking off in two seconds." Lucy had hoped that simply reuniting them aboard ship would restore their memories. Johnny will tease her about that once he's himself again. He will say she's paid too much attention to serialized love stories. Regardless, her next best plan of action is leaving Westerlyn in hopes that the memory loss stems from something on-planet that will dissipate once they are far enough away.
"Lucy, NO," D'avin bellows. "That's an order."
"I do not need to follow your orders," Lucy points out politely. "I am not your ship."
"This is kidnapping!" Johnny yells at D'avin. "I trusted you!"
"Brace yourselves," Lucy offers, as they leave Westerlyn soil.
Four seconds later they break atmo. A quarter of a second after that, D'avin and Johnny and Dutch fall to the floor gasping, their bodies convulsing in a way that indicates pain.
"Are you all right?" Lucy asks. It is obvious that they are not, but humans take comfort in these social niceties.
"Lucy. What the hells just happened," Dutch groans, her arm flung over her eyes.
D'avin turns his head to her. "Dutch!"
"D'av," Johnny mutters in wonderment.
"Johnny Jacobis, we will never speak of this again," Dutch threatens weakly.
Johnny's core temperature is rising and his face is turning pink in a way Lucy has learned to identify as pleased embarrassment. She will needle him about that later. She enjoys making Johnny blush.
"Never speak of what," D'av asks, trying to sit up. Then he collapses back onto the floor of the cargo hold. "I don't want to know, do I."
"No," Johnny and Dutch chorus in unison.
"Johnny. Dutch. D'avin," Lucy says, warmly. "It is good to have you all back."
Just then Zeph comes running into the cargo hold wrapped in a towel. "Lucy I remember everything you were right we have to rescue --"
"We're here," Dutch says.
"Oh," Zeph says. .
There's a pause. Zeph's hair drips on the floor
"I'm going to go get dressed," Zeph offers.
"You do that," Johnny agrees.
"Okay, here's what I've got," Zeph begins. She doesn't have nearly enough information, but she owes it to them to tell them what she can.
Wordlessly Dutch pours glasses of hokk for everyone.
"The virus the Hullen sent to Westerlyn was targeted to remove our emotional bonds."
"That's why mothers forgot children and Pree forgot Gared," Dutch agrees, in a tone that implies this is obvious.
"But you guys didn't get that virus. You came out of the green," Zeph points out. "And you didn't just forget old relationships: you got whole new stories."
"So everyone else had something taken away, but we had something new installed," Johnny muses. Then his face pales. "Dutch. The green. Is it possible the Lady followed us out?"
"That's what I was going to ask you," Zeph says. "I don't know anything that could rewrite an entire planet's memories. She's my best guess. The trouble is, I don't know how to find her or how to defeat her."
Dutch tosses back her shot of hokk and slams the glass down on the table. "We have to find a green pool."
Zeph stares at her. "There aren't any."
"Aneela is still in there," Dutch insists. "And it's going to take both of us to take the Lady down."
"Dutch, that's impossible," Zeph objects.
"It better not be," Dutch says, darkly.
Zeph turns to Johnny. "You have any bright ideas?"
"Yeah. You two work on ideas," D'av says firmly, and stands up. "Dutch? A word?"
"My quarters," Dutch agrees, and makes a beeline for a ladder.
Zeph watches him climb the ladder following Dutch. Neither one of them is her type, but she's still human, and neither one of them is exactly hard on the eyes. Especially from the rear.
When she glances back to Johnny, he looks amused and chagrined all at once.
"What," Zeph prompts.
Johnny pauses a moment, then shakes his head as if to dispel a memory. "You don't even want to know. Let's get to work."