CJ swallowed the lump in her throat and forced herself to enter the room, unprepared for the onslaught of memories that bombarded her when she curled her fingers around the cool metal framework of the footboard. Nights of lovemaking, mornings of waking in his arms... they all came back in a vicious wave.
"What part of leave was confusing?"
CJ closed her eyes against the hate and anger in his voice. "I will leave--"
"Yes, you will."
"You have to hear this first, Nicky."
His head snapped up and he glared at her. "There is nothing you can tell me that I want to hear."
CJ released the footboard and slipped a trembling hand into the hip pocket of her dress, her fingers curling around the data chip sleeve she had tucked away there. She extended her hand, palm up, and unfurled her fingers. Nick sat up, staring at the chip, his dark brown eyes darting up to meet hers momentarily. She nodded, jutting her chin toward it.
"Go ahead. See for yourself. Then, if you want me to leave, I will."
Nick stood, the old bed creaking at the loss of his weight. His fingertips brushed her palm as he took the chip and strode past her into the main living space. CJ took a moment to breathe deeply, closing her eyes. Her skin tingled where his fingers had touched. Clearing her throat, she turned and followed him. As she stepped into the main room, Nick opened the data receptacle on the monitor and placed the disk inside. He didn't spare her a glance as she moved beside him, punching in the command codes to open the file and run the program.
The screen flickered and a video began to play. CJ was far too familiar with the contents, having watched it again and again. The image spanned a large common room filled with men and women of all ages, dressed in loose, white clothing. Some sat together in small groups, some curled into themselves near the wall, rocking to the rhythm of an unheard beat. Orderlies and nurses stood on the outskirts, distributing medications to some, removing one or two for experiments that CJ hadn't yet been able to define or determine.
"What am I looking at?"
She pointed to the far right corner near the bank of bar-covered windows. A single man stood, facing out into the sun, with his feet set apart and his hands linked behind his back in a stance all too familiar to CJ. He was tall and lanky in build, even that was obvious through the baggy clothing he wore. His hair was probably brown, although the exact color was hard to determine with the black and white video. Even now, looking at him, CJ's heart skipped. The reality excited her, yet broke her heart in the same instant.
"Here," she said. "Magnify and enhance."
Nick touched the screen and the image paused. He tapped with his pinky and a menu appeared. With deft fingers, he relayed the commands and the video shifted, magnifying the image two hundred percent so the single man filled the screen. His back was still to the camera.
Nick tapped again and the video restarted. CJ's pulse quickened as she knew the moment she wanted approached. She stepped closer to Nick, her shoulder brushing his arm. He didn't move away, his interest on the screen, and she wondered if he felt the same niggling sense of familiarity she had the first time she saw it. She glanced quickly up at him. His gaze was intent on the monitor, a deep crease digging in above his nose as he focused.
Another man entered the view dressed in a white lab coat with his hands pushed into the large front pockets -- Victor. He had dark hair and Latin features, and the two men stood nearly at the same height, the doctor only being slightly shorter. He looked to be about CJ's age, around thirty, but if he was Areth as she suspected his appearance meant nothing. Her own supervisor at the lab didn't look much older than Nick, and she knew he was nearly four hundred years old.
"Get ready to pause again," she said softly.
He held his hand over the monitor, not touching it.
The doctor stopped and spoke, and the focus of their attention shifted. For one brief moment, he looked straight at the camera.
Nick tapped the screen.
"What the hell..."
His words mirrored CJ's own reaction the first time she saw the young man's face. It was like seeing Nick Tanner twenty years before. The same eyes, the same angled features, the same lips.
"Who is this?" he demanded, only briefly looking at her before focusing again on the screen.
CJ cleared her throat to try and push through the thick emotions that threatened to choke her. "His name is Michael Tanner. Your son."