I stretch a little, joints cracking softly. There'll be no more sleep this morning; besides the alarm is set to go off in forty-five minutes anyway. "Another?" I ask. She nods. "This one's a little different. . ." my voice fades and she looks across at me, quizzically. I laugh.

"Not that different, I suppose. People are much the same in any time and place. This is an ancient tale among my people, handed down by my ancestors . . . no, don't look at me like that, this isn't quite the same as *that* ancient legend."

"Pity!" came the murmured reply, but she nods at me to continue.

"This is a true story - the details are probably allegorical, although the essence of the story is true, and there are symbols in this that I cannot explain. I suppose it ought have some background, but I'll add that at the end if you want it." My voice, rich and strong flows over her as she settles back again and immerses herself in the story.

Fiery Ideals
by Katane

A long time ago, there lived a man. A knight out of time, some called him the twentieth-century's Don Quixote, ever chasing giants where others saw only windmills and tilting at authority with impunity. His Sancho Panza was rather prettier, and followed him with somewhat more understanding as she struggled to keep up with his quest.

This was a dangerous quest of his, for his windmills really were giants - but giants who hid in the shadows of power and the underbelly of an increasingly corrupt society, disguised or simply invisible. These giants played with people, with lives, and with technology and ideals that they barely understood. In a few years, their actions would bring the Eugenics Wars into being, and they would be stung by their own creation.

There are many stories that could be told of this knight and his windmills, but this is the one that I know, set in the desert lands of my ancestors. Quixote sought a truth, hidden for years, and came to my ancestors. One of my people had helped him before, uncovering truth hidden within words in a way now lost even to us.

So he came, perhaps at my people's request, perhaps chasing a windmill. Exploring the desert in search of his truth, the tale tells that he found a tomb in the sand - a tomb that was nearly his own.

Days passed, etched in fire and smoke, days during which his Sancho Panza arrived in the village, trailing him. Searches, furtive and apparently futile, left the desert raked until a buzzard wheeling in the skies marked him. He was brought to the village, more dead than alive, caught in the fire that set the desert itself alight.

More days and nights passed as my people practiced a ritual to cleanse him and bring him back to life, the precise movements and sacraments followed with a rhythm that re-established his own. The burns healed, a wound to his shoulder slowly closed in a soft pucker of a scar, but the mind was slowest of all to heal. No-one knew what he had found in the deserts, save that his delirium talked of bodies, of smallpox, of horrors that could not be pieced together.

His healing was hardest on his Sancho Panza. A small woman, she had the will of two people and it was all my people could do to persuade her to not force her way into the ritual. A healer, some say a healer of the dead, she could not easily accept standing back and doing nothing. She seemed to feel his injuries, at the very least felt them to be her fault, and the waiting was harder on her than on him. Her dreams turned to nightmares within minutes of her sleeping, and she cried out his name on a sob, shuddering.

Other names disturbed her sleep, people unknown to mine, people portrayed in the bruised blue beneath her eyes. Still, when she slept, she echoed his movements, his breathing, his sighs as he healed. Those who watched over her murmured at her words, at her restlessness. Those who watched over him listened to their words and wondered at the connection between them. So, slowly, she also healed.

The joy when she saw him walking was swiftly hidden. Had he seen it? Perhaps. Or perhaps he didn't need to see it. They seemed to communicate without words, meanings and conversations conveyed in a glance - blue and hazel together. The stumbling of his steps, his relearning to live, all conveyed to her and her support conveyed to him. Yet so few words. Tied in sleep, in life, in healing.

The tale tells that my people saw little of them together but that little etched itself in legend. The tale fades as they left the village, but the absolute trust between them lived in the stories that my ancestors wove into the tradition of our people.

* * *

My voice trails off and, a while later, she blinks, the reverie interrupted by the soft sounds of Voyager's shift change approaching. "They had found a peace together?" she asked. I nod. "I think that's all the background I need, then. It's all the background anyone needs." A smile spreads slowly across my face.

The day has suddenly become a hell of a lot easier to start.

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