Chapter 12
In the Blood
ESS Ticonderoga, Martian Sphere
Date: Thu 23 Oct 122
Time: UST 2336

Jeff was laying in one of the little love nests he had devised for himself and Eva. Several locations throughout the ship had been requisitioned for their private use, obscure little compartments no one ever visited or even knew existed. They were the perfect little getaways for two people who didn't want to be disturbed under any circumstances.
Jeff's uniform was in a pile by his feet. He was still wearing his StatSuit, though left open down to the navel so Eva could freely caress his chest and abdomen skin to skin. She was big about what she called 'skintimacy', but Jeff wasn't comfortable lying around naked like she was. She was pressed up against him and he could keenly feel the soft curves of her body even through his suit. They had been doing this for months and he still couldn't get used to it.
"I know you don't like small talk, Jeff," Eva said, "but you seem a bit distant. Even for you."
In all honesty, Jeff had spent the whole time anticipating a response along those lines and wondering about what he would say in return. It was true that their relationship was primarily physical, but Eva was occasionally capable of proving herself intellectually stimulating as well. Jeff was a bit of a stranger to how emotion was supposed to work and he tried to keep her at a distance on that level. However, his problem was a matter of emotion and it looked like he had no choice but to enlist her help. Who else could he turn to?
"I'm no good with people," Jeff said at last. "I don't think you're much better, but maybe you can be useful."
"Gee, thanks."
Jeff ignored her sarcasm and asked, "What do you do if you learn something about a person that even he doesn't know, something that'd change everything he thinks he knows about himself? Do you tell him or do you just let him carry on in blissful ignorance?"
"A friend of yours?"
"I don't know if you'd call it that," Jeff said. He then hastily corrected himself and said, "I mean, this is a hypothetical scenario, of course."
"Of course," Eva replied knowingly.
Jeff cursed himself for being so transparent, but Eva had a way of seeing through him anyway. He found it immensely frustrating but there was also some attractive quality to it, too. Everything about her and their relationship seemed dichotomous to him.
Eva played with the miserable three chest hairs on Jeff's breastbone for a little while before she came up with her response.
"Well, it kinda depends on the person, Jeff," she said, "but I'd rather know the truth, even if it hurts. Living a lie is only going to hurt more in the end."
"You really believe that?"
"I do. You weren't talking about me, were you? You weren't saying 'he' just to throw me off, right?"
"No, I'm not talking about you."
"Well then, let him choose if he wants the truth or not. If he says yes, tell him straight. Even if he blames you for it, you gave him the choice beforehand and he has to take responsibility for it, whether he likes it or not."
"I'm not worried about him blaming me. He's the sort who'll blame himself, even if there's nothing he did wrong. He's also the sort who'll say he wants the truth no matter how much it'll hurt him. He's stupid like that..."
"Sounds like he's a good person to me."
"He's that too. Too damn good for his own damn good."
"I don't think you needed to ask me after all."
"Yeah, but I thought there might be something to what they say about it helping to talk it over with someone else."
"Maybe there's something to it."
"Happy to help."
"Yeah, yeah..."
"How much more time do we have?"
"Twelve minutes and thirty-two seconds."
"Enough time for another go?"
"You're insatiable, woman."
Eva gave him an impish grin, took her glasses off and went in for a kiss.

* * *

Date: Sat 25 Oct 122
Time: UST 2012

Matt had not heard a thing from Lieutenant Wallace since he approached him back in June. Although he was eager learn the results of the Lieutenant's search, he knew better than to get impatient. It was a difficult thing he asked and the search may not have yielded anything. He was not entirely sure which would be worse: continuing to know nothing, learning that Sheolite woman had crafted an elaborate lie, or finding out that she was telling the truth.
"What is it, Lieutenant?" he asked. "You have something?"
"Actually, I do," Lieutenant Wallace replied. "You know those tests you asked me to run back in June?"
"You've gotten the results?"
Although you could not really tell on account of the visor, Lieutenant Wallace seemed to be averting his gaze. Such hesitation was not normal for the mystery man who casually exposed tangled webs of government conspiracy in the past.
"Look, sir," he said, "before we get into this, I have to ask you something. Do you really want to know? No matter how this turns out, you've been lied to and I don't think the truth is going to make things any better for you."
Even more uncharacteristic than the Lieutenant's hesitation was this display of concern for Matt. He was usually so detached, some would even say callous. If what he learned was the cause of this change in him, it filled Matt with dread, but he had gone too far to turn back now.
"I appreciate your concern, Lieutenant," Matt said, "but I want to know the truth. I need to know the truth. Please, don't hold anything back from me."
"Don't blame me if you don't like what you're about to hear," the Lieutenant warned. "Dieter Richthofen died on the cruiseliner Stargazer in a prewar Shelly raid on 13 May '96, along with Chairman Richthofen, the First Lady, and 4541 other people. There were only five survivors in a single escape pod that managed to get out.
"That's the official story, but there were originally reports of six survivors. The existence of a sixth survivor was later covered up by the government. The sixth survivor was Dieter Richthofen. It was you, sir. You're Dieter Richthofen."
Matt did not really react as strongly as he thought he might to the revelation that he was secretly Chairman Richthofen's son. Perhaps it was because he believed the Sheolite woman calling herself Tabby all along.
"So Tabby was telling the truth after all..."
"Tabby?" Lieutenant Wallace asked. "You mean your mother, Tabitha Harold?"
It took a moment for the Lieutenant's words to sink in.
"My mother? No, Tabby... Tabby was my sister, or at least I thought she was my sister until you said I was this Dieter Richthofen."
"The two things aren't mutually exclusive," the Lieutenant replied. "You are Dieter Richthofen and you are related to Tabitha Harold. You just got the degree wrong. Dieter Richthofen, born 13 March '92, serial number 533-Echo-Mike-Kilo-3023. Officially the son of Erich and Margerithe Richthofen, but actually the son of Erich Richthofen and Tabitha Harold."
Matt shook his head. He thought the big lie was his true identity as Dieter Richthofen and Tabby as the daughter of the people he thought were his aunt and uncle. Now Tabby was supposed to be his mother too?
"But that can't be right... I know I was really little, but from what I can remember, Tabby couldn't have been old enough to be my mother."
"You really don't want to dig any deeper into this, sir," Lieutenant Wallace said gravely.
Matt could feel the foreboding like a hand squeezing his stomach, but he had long since passed the point of no return.
"I've started down this road," he said resolutely. "I need to see it through to the end."
"This is a really bad idea..."
"Just tell me," Matt insisted.
Lieutenant Wallace sighed.
"Alright. Don't say I didn't warn you. Back in '91, Richthofen was still Minister of Defense. He was also, ah... Well, he had a thing for little girls...
"Tabitha Harold, she was really smart. Ahead of the game. Already in Year Two of pre-sec at nine. Her class went on a school trip to Atlantis City for Fall Break. Of course she stood out, being a good five or six years younger than everyone else in her class. She got separated from her group. And that was when he got her.
"I'm not even going to start to analyze Richthofen's motives, but maybe he thought he wouldn't have to worry about any unwanted pregnancies if he got 'em young enough. Only there was a problem. It wasn't just Tabitha Harold's brain that was precocious..."
Matt felt sick, but he did not say anything. He did not want to interrupt the Lieutenant.
"I don't know how he was keeping tabs on her," the Lieutenant continued. "Maybe it was his contacts in ISIS--he was deputy director before he was appointed Minister of Defense. Anyway, not long after it was clear that she was pregnant, he scooped her up with this bogus internship program and when you were born, he had the records altered to make it look like you were his legitimate son, but he kept her around. She got to raise you, got the best private tutors money could buy and her folks got a nice little check for her 'stipend'. All she had to do was be Richthofen's personal sex slave."
Matt thought back to his history classes. Erich Richthofen was an unremarkable Chairman whose primary claim to fame was dying on the Stargazer. Matt would have never guessed what a detestable monster he was. Or that such a detestable monster was his own father.
"Are you alright, sir?" Lieutenant Wallace asked. "I know this can't be easy to take."
"I'll be fine," Matt said weakly. "Continue."
"Well, after the Stargazer Incident, you got your records changed again. You became Matthias Lerner, son of Jemma Merrywell's sister Adine who'd conveniently died in a traffic accident along with her husband two years earlier. Jemma Merrywell, as you may or may not know, is the maiden name of Jemma Harold, the woman you thought was your aunt. Tabitha Harold's mother, your grandmother. The Harolds adopted you, moved away from anyone who knew the truth and started the life you knew, lie that it was."
Matt's troubled childhood suddenly started to make sense. Cold and distant Uncle Harman, mournful Aunt Jemma, the cousins who always seemed to resent him and never accepted him as one of the family... How much of the truth did they know? It was little wonder they virtually erased Tabby's existence, all to hide their shame and sorrow. But in spite of their efforts, they had him as constant reminder.
Even though Matt's memories from all those years ago were fuzzy at best, he knew he loved Tabby. She was a phantom who had haunted him his entire life and now he knew why. What could he do about it, though?
"That blood sample you gave me was fresh," Lieutenant Wallace said. "There's no evidence Tabitha Harold survived the Stargazer Incident, so what's the deal?"
Matt did not know if he could confide in the Lieutenant with the truth, even after everything they had been through together. Lieutenant Wallace did not give him time to deliberate, though.
"I reconstructed what happened while we were on leave," he said. "I know you were picked up by some shady-looking guys at the bar, but I lost track of you for nearly an hour. What happened?"
"I don't know if I should tell you..."
Showing another uncharacteristic emotion, anger, the Lieutenant snapped, "Dammit, sir, I've gone through a lot of shit for you. I deserve to know at least that much." He then dialed back his tone and said, "The more I know, sir, the more I can help."
Given how much of Matt's secrets the Lieutenant already knew, perhaps there was nothing to lose. Then again, when everything in exposed, even a single insubstantial fig leaf is welcome.
"I, I can't..."
Annoyed, Lieutenant Wallace grumbled, "Fine then. Keep your damn secrets for all the good they'll do you. Just don't come around asking me for help again, sir."
Matt had had enough of the Lieutenant's bad attitude.
"You know just about everything there is to know about me and I know next to nothing about you, Lieutenant. And I've never asked. No matter how much you dig into stuff an airman in your position has no business accessing, I've never asked who you really are and what you're doing on this ship. God help me, this deal of ours could be putting everyone's lives in danger, but I haven't once entertained the thought of reporting you because for some reason, on some level, I trust you. I'd appreciate a little of that trust in return."
This actually seemed to give Lieutenant Wallace pause.
"Okay," he conceded. "You have your reasons, I'm sure, and though I'm not one for trusting anybody, I'll make allowances for you, sir. I suppose that's what people are supposed to do for each other."
"It's what friends do for each other," Matt said.
"Well, I don't think you can call yourself a neutral party, Lieutenant, and I'd like think you're not an enemy."
"I don't know much about friends or anything like that," the Lieutenant said.
"I'm not much of an expert myself," Matt replied, "but I do know a thing or two on the subject."
"Well then, as your, I guess, friend, I'll give you some time to think about filling me in on the rest of the story. This last piece of the puzzle could make all the difference and I have a feeling it's going to come into play soon."
Matt extended his hand.
"Shake on it?"
Awkwardly, Lieutenant Wallace accepted his hand and shook it. That would have to do for now.