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Mutants & Masterminds: StarGate Freedom - Prologue: Yseult Langlois/Marty

Dr. Yseult Langlois

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Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 3:30pm, EST (7:30pm GMT)

Yseult looked up with a sigh from the displays on the three monitors of her PC, vertebrae popping as she stretched. She looked at the time, her lips tightening with a frown - she hadn't planned on working on the analysis for the LANL's q-bio program for as long as she did. She closed down the program, skimmed the request to guest lecture at McGill University, then closed that window as well, having not decided if she was going to accept or not.

She stood up and looked out her home office window. Her family's huge bungalow was in Saint-Philippe, a tiny rural town on the outskirts of Montreal, so they had a huge yard, much to 'tit Loric's delight. The tiny, renowned scientist smiled fondly as she watched her exuberant, fair-haired, five-year old son run around outside, chasing and being chased by their two dogs and pet raccoon, his cheeks rosy with exertion. She would have let him play outside for a bit longer, but it was time to pick up Monique from school and to pick up François from work at the garage.

She headed through the house, the smell of the spaghetti sauce she was making permeating the air. She turned down the heat to let it simmer, then put on her three-inch heeled, low-cut boots and a dark longcoat over her grey slacks and white, button-down shirt. With an exasperated laugh, she went outside and collected her son, trying to brush leaves and grass stains from his pants and coat.

With a grunt, Yseult picked up Loric and carried him to the three car garage, his quick breaths tickling her ear. Her own breathing was starting to get rapid as she buckled him up in the back seat of their silver SUV - she was a small woman and Loric was starting to get much too big for her to carry him like this. By the time she pulled out of the garage, Loric already had headphones on and was bouncing in his seat, watching cartoons on the drop down screen in the back.

A few minutes later, she pulled up to the local school, the only one in the small town. Monique was already waiting for her, her eyes gazing at something in the distance only she could see, her teacher waiting by her side. Yseult spent a few minutes talking with Mademoiselle Denault, asking how Monique was doing in class.

Her eight year old daughter had a very mild case of autism - she was a very quiet child and sometimes retreated into her own little world, but she was very bright, with a superb memory, and was already showing signs of a fine artistic talent. Yseult smiled as she looked at Monique's rendition of Disneyland, which they had visited during the summer, then bent over and kissed her on the top of her dark-tressed head. Yseult thanked Mademoiselle Denault, then gave her daughter a light push to get her moving to the car. Yseult got back in the driver's seat, looked over her shoulder to make sure Monique had buckled in, then started the SUV up again and headed for the downtown core of Montreal.

Rush hour was in full force, but most of it was going the other way, so in less than twenty minutes, Yseult stopped outside 'François' FantastiCar', a repair shop for high-end and classic cars, that her husband owned and ran. The stunning, Nobel Prize winning molecular biologist entered her husband's garage, a child holding onto each hand, Loric tugging and pulling, Monique following sedately.

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François' voice carried through the building and Loric oriented on it like a hound zeroing in on a squirrel. Monique didn't pull like her brother, but she did look a little more animated as they drew closer to the man of the family.

François was in his office, talking to an agitated customer. He saw them and smiled, their presence clearly making him feel better in the face of being chewed by the customer. "Mr. Bradley," François said in English, cutting into the man's tirade, "my family is here, and I must shut down the shop. I assure you, bring the car back and I'll fix the problem. No charge." Mr. Bradley looked like he wanted to argue, but when François had said 'my family', he had looked. Something about the waiting trio made him swallow his remark and accept François' offer.

"Another of Robert's jobs?" Yseult asked after he'd kissed her, referencing a former employee who had been better at talking up and hiding his non-skills than doing body work.

"Yes, the paint is flaking," François sighed, rubbing his dark, unruly hair. He finally bent down and picked Loric up, stopping the boy's constant tug on his sleeve. "Robert didn't prime it properly, or perhaps at all. If I don't fix it soon, it will rust out the body."

"What kind of car?" Loric asked, as he shared François' love for a good car.

"A 1954 Bond MiniCar," François said. "Ugly, but rare, and unique. Virtually irreplaceable." He looked frustrated as he growled. "I wish he still worked here."

"So you could fire him again?" Yseult asked, smiling as she slipped an arm around him.

"Yes!" François said, laughing. "This time, I would not spare his feelings like I did last time." He kissed her again, then put his hand on his daughter's head. "Enough about bad employees. What is for dinner?"

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Yseult stretched up and savoured her husband's kiss, then nestled herself under his strong arm with a contented sigh, the hand she had slipped around him reaching up to work at a knot in François' back. Cutting way back on work to spend more time with her family was the best thing she had done... Well, possibly, next to finding a method for preventing the progression of Alzheimer's.

"We are having spaghetti and meatballs, with the thick, meaty sauce you like," Yseult said with warmth, as François began locking up the garage. "You will have leftovers to take to work for lunch next week, and it will be quick to make, since the sauce is already made. I do not think these two will want to spend long on supper, I expect"

"You two, do still want to go trick-or-treating, yes?" Loric began bouncing in the crook of his father's arm, clapping his hands, "Oui, maman, oui!" Monique simply looked up at her mother, one of her shy smiles spreading across her face. Yseult laughed and gave her daughter a fond squeeze on the arm.

"Okay, okay, we are going, do not fret, mes petites chouettes." Yseult handed François the keys to the silver SUV, then she buckled Loric in, while he started the car.

As they drove out of the downtown core, Yseult and François traded some more news of their day, her small hand resting lightly on his thigh. She reflected fondly on their children's costumes. Loric was going out as a pirate, again - he was very fond of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies - and was sure to just as darling as last year.

Yseult was particular proud of Monique's costume. Monique had informed her in all seriousness that she must go out as a faerie, so Yseult had done her best to accommodate her. She had designed the costume herself, all blues and purples and pinks and glitter, but realized that after many years, her sewing skills were very rusty. She had to get her own mother's help to finish the costume, but it had been worth it. Yseult couldn't wait to see the look on Monique's face when she saw the costume, nor wait to see her in it.

The car slowed to a crawl as they were crossing the Jacques Cartier bridge, leaving Montreal proper for their tiny satellite town of Saint-Philippe.

"Hon, can you stop by Bernadette's Bakery? I spent a little longer on that LANL project than I was expecting and did not have time to make any fresh bread..."

Yseult barely noticed her husband's affirmative nod as she rubbed her shoulders, feeling a sudden chill. Her eyes were looking out the window, gazing at the light of the setting sun on the mighty Saint-Lawrence River.

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The radio rippled with static and then squealed sharply, making the adults jump as Monique clapped her hands over her ears. Loric began to complain about the loud noise just as it quit, leaving his protests loud in the air.

"What was that?!" Yseult asked, just before the question was answered.

"I am Ra. Your god has returned." The strange, booming voice from their speakers made the adults blink and look at one another.

"Stupid hoax," François muttered, flipping to another station.

"You have forgotten your place in the universe. You-"

François flipped to another station.

"-forgotten my power. Now, I come to remind you."

Looking angry, François flipped again. "Is this joker on every station?" Yseult saw the man in front of them was flipping through his radio as well; she looked to the left to see the car on the other side doing the same.

"Look to the sky for the proof of my power."

"Mamam! Papa! Fireworks!" Loric said from the backseat, his voice full of innocent excitement. Yseult looked through her window, her eyes going to the sky. Red lightening arced over the sky, racing from one horizon to another. No, Yseult realized, not lightening; this was energy reacting with the atmosphere, perhaps a similar phenomena as Aurora Borealis.

Or perhaps, Yseult thought, it was nothing like on Earth.

The impact from behind was sudden and violent. The SUV lurched forward as the crunch from the rear-ending registered in her ears. The air bags deployed a second later, filling her vision with white.

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"Damned rubberneckers!" François growled, shoving at the air bags.

Yseult blinked, stunned by the impact, face and arms reddened by the deployment of the air bags. Shaking her head to clear it, her thoughts immediately went to her children. Hands shaking slightly, she unbuckled her seat-belt and climbed into the back to console her son and daughter.

"I will check on the children, luv, you go check on the car and whoever crashed into us." Yseult could well understand that the strange phenomenon was a distraction, but she couldn't keep the sharpness out of her voice - her children could have been at risk.

Loric clung to her, face pressed to her bosom as he tried to stifle his tears. Monique was still quiet, though her large, blue eyes were wide as she stiffly rubbed her shoulder where the seat-belt had dug in. Yseult pulled her close, resting her chin on top of her daughter's head, comforting her son and daughter with soft hands and soft words.

While Yseult consoled their children, François climbed out of the SUV. He moved to the rear of the vehicle, grumbling about the attention span of drivers. The rear bumper had fallen off and he would have to tied down the rear door as it would no long stay closed on it's own, but the damage wasn't too bad.

The poor Taurus that had rear-ended them had fared worst, the front-end crumpling, front tires pinched in the wheel wells. François was going to give the man a piece of his mind, until he saw him, young, in his twenties, a trail of blood down one side of his face from a gash in his forehead from slamming into the wheel.

"Hey, are you alright?" The man, Claude, was coherent, just shocked from the accident. "I'll get my wife to look at that, she is a doctor," François assured the man, then turned to call out to his wife. "Yse, if the children are okay, can you get the med kit and see to this young man? He is bleeding pretty badly." While they waited for Yseult, the men traded insurance information, though François had to keep prodding Claude whenever he kept asking about the light in the sky.

"I will be right there, hon," Yseult answered. She soothed her children for a bit longer, then told them to wait in the car while she helped their father. Monique nodded, sitting back, her eyes turned to the sky, while Loric leaned out of the car as far as he could while still, technically, being in the car, watching his mother and father.

Yseult retrieved her med kit from the compartment in the trunk, then sidled up to her husband and Claude. "Ah, this is not so bad. Head wounds simply bleed a lot and usually look worst than they are." Her hands deft and sure, Yseult cleaned out the shallow gash and stitched it closed.

"What was that-"

"Stop talking, young man, you are making this difficult." Her lips were pressed in a tight line as she stitched the gash on the youth that had rear-ended them. "It was probably just an unusually vivid meteor." Yseult's head cocked to the side as she listened to the emergency broadcast on the radio, politely demanding everyone to stay home and wait for further information. "It's ionization trail is most likely playing havok with communications as well."

As she finished, Yseult gave a satisfied nod. "There. Done. Next time, stay aware of the road, yes?" She gave a dismissive sniff, then turned back to her own car, husband in hand. François added a glare, it's warning far more intent coming from a such a large man.

The ride home was silent, save for the rattling and clanking of the damaged car.

Once home, Yseult starting cooking the pasta, while François and the children got cleaned up. Soon, the family was eating the delicious spaghetti together, exchanging news of their day. The children talked on blithely, while François and Yseult were a more stilted in their conversation, both of them thinking about what had happened just a little while ago.

Checking the TV when they got home just showed them more emergency messages, and it seemed like the servers for their internet provider was down as well. The adults concealed their concern from their children behind forced smiles.

When they were done, Loric was asking if they were still going trick-or-treating. "Help Papa clean the dishes, and we'll see, okay little one?" Yseult tapped him on the nose, then headed outside to see what her neighbors were saying.

She found clumps of parents talking, quiet and worried. Rumours were flying until some of the parents got control of themselves - they didn't want their worries to affect their children. No one seemed to want to be out in the dark, nor did they want to be alone.

A consensus was reached - instead of an hour or two of trick-or-treating before heading to the party at the local community center, they all agreed to bring their children and treats to the center and hand them out there. That way, the children would still be able to show off their costumes and have some fun. As Yseult headed back inside, she noticed others knocking at doors to spread the news.

"Good news, little ones, we are still going to to the party at the community center, so let us get changed." François took Loric one way and Yseult took Monique another, to get them dressed in their outfits.

Several minutes later, they joined the mass exodus to the community center, the Yseult and Monique dressed as glamourous faeries, the boys as rakish pirates. The children laughed and played as if nothing had happened, and for them, maybe it was so. The adults on the other hand, their boisterous gaiety was purely an illusion for the sake of their children, all their talk carefully avoiding any mention of the red flash in the sky.

As Yseult entered the community center, her thumb flicked at her wedding band, spinning it about her ring finger.

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The party at the center was a great success, to begin. If the children missed the candy they would have gotten through trick or treating, they gained enough playing games and from the free bowls that they didn't notice. While the children played with abandon, the adults stood in small circles, talking.

"Some kind of attack, it has to be," Marcus, the neighbor from three doors down said fervently. "Otherwise, things would be more normal."

"I think we'd have internet if it were just another country attacking us," another person said, someone who wasn't on Yseult's street. "There's got to be something more to it. Besides, who would invade us? They'd go for the US first; invade us, and you'll have to fight them anyway."

"Yseult, you've worked for the government," Marcus said. "What do you think?" Twelve pairs of eyes locked onto her, as they sought answers from her.

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Yseult's hyper-active mind raced, a finger tapping her lips as she tried to come on up with a reasonable theory to explain the flash in the sky and the extensive disruption of communications. She was so occupied, she didn't notice the looks she garnered in her revealing faerie costume, some from boys young enough to be her son.

The fey-clad scientist had a faint smile on her lips as she watched her children. Loric was engaged in a battle with several other pirates and ninjas - and one Roswell alien - nerf swords swinging with breathless abandon. Monique had retreated to a corner, nibbling delicately at a candied apple.

Hearing herself being addressed, turned back to the circle of adults, her smile fading as she saw those gazes pleading for answers. She began twisting her wedding band again, this being one of the few times that she didn't have a satisfactory answer.

"Yes, it is true that I have done consulting work for the government, but nothing that could account for this. Without considerably more information, I can only give conjectures. I have seen theoretical compounds that, when binding with the trioxygen in the atmosphere, the ozone layer, could possibly produce an effect similar to that 'red lightning'. Also, it could possibly scramble radio signals, but..."

Yseult gave her head a sharp shake, obviously not pleased with that idea. "I suppose someone, NORAD perhaps, could have been testing a weapon, or anti-ballistic system, the disruption to communications meant to disable guided missiles. If so, either they have hidden technology considerably more advanced than is thought currently possible, or something went disastrously wrong, or both. I do not think this is a real possibilty, though."

Yseult began pacing, quick, short strides, finger tap-tap-tapping her lips, heels click-click-clicking. "Most likely, it is a natural phenomenon, an unforeseen solar flare or more probably, a meteor. The tail of an unusually large one grazing the atmosphere could have produced that flash that was in the sky. And if the meteor was composed mainly of a radioactive isotope, it could have possibly acted in a manner similar to an electro-magnetic pulse, accounting for the communication blackout. Of course, the meteor must have been hidden behind another celestial body, otherwise it would surely have been-"

"This is all shit and you know it!" Paul interrupted. The grandfather glowered at everyone, bushy eyebrows drawn low over deep-set eyes. "It is War of the Worlds, but for real. The Aliens, they are here-"

Yseult snorted, showing what she thought about that. "That is utter nonsense, Paul. I will not say that there is not intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, but I sincerely doubt they are here or would bother with trying to conquer us. There is nothing to say that our planet would be suitable for them and if they simply needed raw materials, they would have an easier time mining the asteroid belt for metals and ice for water."

Yseult slid her hand into her husband's and began saying her good-byes. "It think it is time I am getting Loric and Monique home, give them some time to come down from the sugar. Bon soir, tout monde. Paul, do not be spreading these tales to your grandchildren, yes? It is not a worry they should have to carry."

Yseult gave him another sharp nod, then went to collect her children. She knelt down and hugged them tight, despite Loric's protests, barely holding back her fearful tears. "Come, my beloveds, it is time to go, you, at least, Loric have had enough sugar for one night."

She dug into her purse and wet some kleenex to wipe the stickiness from around his mouth. As she stood up, she clutched quickly at her brief costume as Loric's candy-coat hands stuck fast and nearly resulted in an embarrassing display. She gave François a narrowed eyed glared as she heard him chuckle. With a dismissive sniff, she began cleaning Loric's hands, but couldn't stop her lips from quirking into a smile.

Hand in hand, Yseult and her family walked back home in the cool, evening air, three of them in comfortable silence. The young, fair-haired boy excitedly recounted his piratical exploits, voice loud enough to make up for their silence.

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Loric’s excited chatter lasted until he put on a cartoon. Then there was only the tinny sounds of childish entertainment in the living room. Monique watched with half an eye, part of her attention on her drawing. François and Yseult withdrew to the kitchen and talked.

“People are getting scared,” François told her. “We might need to get the rifle out of the safe, just to be safe.”

“Do you think it’s that bad?” Yseult asked, trying to imagine her neighbors storming her house.

“No, not unless things aren’t better tomorrow,” François said, frowning. “If that happens, I think people will flee the cities, and we’ll have desperate strangers.”

Yseult nodded. “Once the children sleep, we’ll get it out, then.”

“They’ll see it in the morning,” François said.

“But let’s let them not sleep with it fresh on their minds,” Yseult pleaded, lightly leaning against him. François nodded, though that may have been from the physical contact. They discussed other things, including a dawn shopping run to get essential supplies. They finally decided that if things got too bad, they’d go and stay with François’ family in the north.

The tough plans made, they returned to the living and watched their children enjoy life.


Someone was pounding on the door. Yseult woke up groggily. François blinked, then rolled out of bed and snatched up the rifle. Part of Yseult’s heart hurt that things had already come to this; part of her was glad, given the hard poundings she could hear.

“Maman?” Monique stood in the door like a ghost, her nightgown catching the dim light in the room. “Someone’s being loud.”

“Yes, darling,” François said, “I’m going to see. Wait here with your maman.”

Yseult gathered her daughter to herself, then went with her to Loric’s room and sat with her son, who had slept through it. After a moment, François was back, “Yseult, it is AIRCOM. They say they need doctors. They are asking for you to come with them.”

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Loric's head rested in her lap, her fingers trembling slightly as she stroked his blond hair. Her other arm was around her daughter, holding Monique tight to her breast, softly crooning to her with a calmness she did not feel.

She knew, she had always known, that the red flash of light portended something far worst than a meteor.

Heart thumping painfully, she was on a verge of refusing them - her place was with her children and her husband. But she was still a doctor, even if she spent more time in research than around the operating table. She had the skills to help people make it back home to their families... And she needed to know what was happening, every extra bit of information was something that might help her protect her family.

François saw the worry and resolve in his wife's dark eyes, feeling both proud of, and concerned for, her. He watched her bend over and give their children a pair of tender kisses, her eyes glistening.

"You are going." It was a statement.

Yseult gave him a hesitant nod. "I... Yes... I have to, hon." Her second nod was more determined. "Tell the airmen that I will be there just as soon as I get the children and myself dressed. Once I am gone, I want you to get the RV stocked up and take them to your parents up in Sept-Îles. I will follow when I can. Promise me, François!"

His face was hard, his agreement given stiffly, but it was given. "I will do this, Yse. But I swear, if you are not there in a few days, I am coming back for you." The light in his eyes promised that nothing would stop him, then he turned away and went to inform the airmen of Yseult's compliance.

"You hear, my precious babies, you are going to visit grand-père et grand-mère." She gave them another tight hug. "And after Maman goes to work, she will meet you there in Sept-Îles, and will have lots of fun, okay? Come, let us get you dress for Papa."

She took her time, making sure Loric and Monique were properly dressed and helped them back their bags for the unexpected trip. Once François came back, he took over the packing, and she managed a quick shower. She dressed up in a pair of pin-stripe slacks and a pale-grey blouse, but forbore her typical heels for a pair of flats.

She put on her long coat, slung the small over-night bag and her purse over a shoulder, then paused to give her children one final embrace. François received a deep-lingering kiss, her arms wrapped tight around his neck.

"I am coming back for you," they both said at the same time, foreheads pressed together. Their soft laughter was full of faith and pain.

Then it was time to go.

Yseult walked down the driveway to the idling hummer, bracketed by the pair of AIRCOM officers. Accepting a hand up into the back seat, she posed the simple question that she was dreading to hear answered.

"What is happening?"

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The hummer sped off, while the man who had helped her in blinked. “We’ve been invaded,” he said, looking so utterly serious her gut knotted. “We’ve been invaded by extraterrestrials.”

Yseult had been expecting many things, but not this. As she struggled to absorb the news, the soldier continued, “I’m sorry about the deception we just engaged in, but we’re hurt. Most of us are hurt.”

“Deception?” Yseult asked, images of pod people or worse funneling through her mind.

“We are sorta AWOL,” the kid driving admitted. “They were overrunning Ottawa, and we were getting destroyed, so we… left.”

“We weren’t the only ones. We’ve picked up a few other deserters. But our medic was killed, and Geoff is from here. He remembered his mother saying you were here,” the soldier told her grimly, pointing at the jumpy young man riding shotgun with a shotgun. “But we’ll protect you and get you to your family, and we got you out ahead of the invaders. They’re not going to be satisfied with Ottawa.”

She had no time to answer, because they pulled up to the community center. The place that had been a place of children’s gaiety just hours ago was now a horror show. Even before she got out of the hummer, she could hear the cries of the wounded; as she entered the room, she could smell the stink of burnt flesh.

Roughly thirty soldiers lay on the floor of the center, resting on blankets, towels or even coats – anything to cushion them. Yseult stared with wide eyes, unsure where to start. With effort, she asked, “Have you done triage? Who is the most injured but can be saved?”

“I, uh… Can’t they all… all be saved?” the soldier asked, and Yseult realized how young he was.

“No,” she said, pulling her eyes from bleeding, broken and often screaming bodies. “They can’t.” As his face fell, she set her lips and started the hard task of triage herself.

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Delicate jaw clenched in fear and anger, Yseult began treatment on the wounded, her face an icy mask. Her voice was cool and clipped as she directed the able bodied deserters to collect the emergency medical kits in the community center, sent others to the basement storage room to bring up extra blankets and fold-out cots, and commandeered any military medical supplies they had.

Armed with those limited supplies, Yseult began the soul-numbing work of deciding who would live and who would die. As she tended to the injured, some of the soldiers spoke about the invasion, their voices shakey with youth and shock. Yseult let the words wash over her, only a small part of her attention aware of what they were saying - she would remember and review it later.

Yseult lost herself in the motions of tending to so many by herself. Blood was soaking into her blouse and pants, though her hands were clean from a steady supply of hot water. Her shoulders began to burn with exertion and though her composed countenance seemed dispassionate, every decision she made was a hard one.

Each of these soldiers was a brother, a father, a husband, or a son. She focused on the person she was working on now, rather than just the injury, and had to turn away for a moment before continuing. A sister, a mother, a wife, or a daughter. What hurt the most were the ones she could have saved, if she could have gotten them to an operating room, or even had the right supplies on hand.

As she stood up from losing another patient, one she probably should have classified as beyond care, her tired gaze fell on a strangely garbed figure, secured to a support pillar. Her head cocked to one side, black eyes scrutinizing, revealing nothing. Her thumb ran along the ridged grip of the scalpel she had in her hand.

"Who - What is this one? One of them?" Her precise tone should have frosted the air.

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It was a golden man-bird in shape, though it was easy to see what was armor and what was man. His visible skin was darker, as if he were of African ancestry. His golden armor covered most of his well-muscled body.

One of the young men – it was hard to see them as soldiers when they were so tired and scared, and largely deferred to her – looked at the form. “Yeah, it is,” he said. “We pulled him out of his airplane thing after it crashed. We have that on a transport out back, but… we didn’t know what else to do but treat him and take him captive, ya know?”

“Yes,” Yseult said shortly. Logically, it was the right call. The first step to defeating the enemy was to learn their weaknesses. “We need to get him out of his armor.”

“We tried that, Doc,” one of the soldier said. “We’re not sure how.”

Yseult nodded and knelt next to the enemy. It was hard to reach out and just touch him, instead of hurt him, but she did it, feeling at the seams and joints of the armor. She finally figured out that some of the decorative ‘buttons’ were actually buttons. One on the neck, when pressed, made the helmet retract in a distinctly impossible way, as the metal folded and shrank in on itself. The face revealed was very human, young and dark-skinned; Yseult wondered if it was as human inside his skin. Another button released the armor, and one of the soldiers stepped forward and peeled away the pieces.

As the chest portion was peeled back, Yseult hissed. There was a nasty cut on his chest, and the padding under the armor was soaked with red blood. As she watched, the wound began to bleed again. The man should be dead; at he was holding on testified to his strength. She began to stanch the wound as the soldier pulled away the armor from the lower torso. Yseult was looking at the sucking chest wound, but heard one of the soldiers say, “What the hell?”

She glanced down to see an x-shaped mark on the enemy’s belly; it appeared to be an old wound whose edges had healed open. She grimaced and started to order the soldier back. Who knew that that opening portended?

Yseult found out when a blue-gray form shot out of the slit, launching itself at the soldier. She wasn’t ashamed to admit that she shrieked in fear; for a moment, she was trapped in a horror movie, watching helplessly as an alien attacked an innocent. Then reality inserted itself; she was in a horror movie, watching helplessly as the snake-like creature slammed into the soldier’s neck, borrowing into his flesh. Before anyone could react, the snake had vanished into its gruesome hiding place and the boy was on the ground, thrashing in pain.

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Despite her utter surprise and terror at seeing the alien snake-thing burrowing in the soldier's neck, her hands still possessed the intuitive reactions of a professional surgeon, trained to deal with emergencies. Hands steady and fluid, she filled a syringe with a general anesthetic, then smoothly plunged it into a vein, thumb depressing the plunger with hysterical speed.

Immediately, the soldier's thrashings began to ease. Swallowing convulsively, only the slightest tremor entered her voice as Yseult began directing the remaining soldiers. Her desperate calm cut through the soldiers' shock, and they reacted instinctively to the commands. One was ordered to empty the big pickle jar full of candy that was used for a game to guess how many pieces there were inside. Considering how the thing moved, she wanted something to confine it, or at least its remains. Another two were directed to flip the alien-attacked soldier on his stomach and to cut away his clothing, striping him to the waist.

With Geoff standing over her shoulder ready with the pickle jar and lid, Yseult began probing at the entry wound. A faint frown crossed her stunning features. The snake had already burrowed deep, yet there was only trace amounts of blood. If it was some manner of parasite, perhaps its skin exuded a coagulant to prevent excessive damage to the host.

Her eyes traveled down the soldier's neck and back, discerning the sinuous protrusion coiling about his spine. Her breath hissed through her teeth - this was going to be very dangerous to attempt in this non-ideal setting, but she didn't hesitate.

Armed with a scalpel, forceps, and a spreader, she made a deep incision close and parallel to the spine. Using the spreaders to keep the incision open, she waited moment, then reached in with the forceps to pinch the glistening, blood drenched coils when the slid into view.

Strong fingers held the forceps tightly, the snake-thing writhing with a strength far out of proportion to its size. Slowly, gently, she began pulling the snake through the incision, hoping to avoid any permanent spine damage.

She had most of the snake removed when suddenly, it twisted, spread fangs streaking for her face, blue-grey flesh painted with a patina of bright red.

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An arm was suddenly in front of her, and the teeth of the creature dug into his arm. Had he come at it from the other way, it would have just been a nasty bite. Because he gave it his underarm, it tore into his wrist, opening a vein.

"Fuck!" the kid screamed as Yseult cringed and fell backwards. The snake hit the floor and began to scuttle away, but someone was quicker. It's body disappeared under a boot; when it was lifted, the creature curled on itself in a puddle of blue blood.

"Doc! You okay?" one of the soldiers asked as he pulled her to her feet. "Did it bite you?"

"Is it going to kill me?" the kid shouted. He held his arm and screamed, "Is it poisonous?"

The object of all this confusion writhed on the floor, half-crushed.

"Hey! He stopped breathing!" Yseult looked back at the enemy, who was still and silent. At her feet, a soldier lay with an exposed spine.

She was surrounded by the dying.

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Yseult closed her eyes, swallowing hard against the sight before her. This was why she preferred research. All she had wanted was to enjoy her semi-retirement, basking in domestic bliss with her family. But in a single night, the world had changed irrevocably, and to protect them, she would have to change with it.

To the gaping young soldiers, it seemed that the doctor with the supermodel looks had simple taken a deep breath before taking control once more. Yseult gave a long exhale, and began issuing orders once more.

"Thank-you, I am fine. You, you are not going to die," she assured the boy who had intercepted the snake, "It is not poisonous." I hope. She pointed to another soldier standing by, his eyes beginning to widen in panic. "You, take the gauze, and wrap his arm to stop the bleeding, yes? I will stitch it in a moment."

She looked down at the soldier with the deep incision down his back. The anesthetic would keep him from moving, still, he was in a precarious situation. Mon Dieu, forgive me.

Yseult knelt down next to the enemy soldier, to see what she could do for him, all the while continuing to issue orders. She couldn't stop, she was afraid that if she did, she would collapse with fear and despair. Her voice was cold, broking no delays.

She tasked another soldier wipe away the blood welling out of the cut and to immediately tell her if he began moving. The soldier that had stomped the snake-thing was told to place it in the pickle jar, fill it with water. Due to its moist skin - just beginning to dry - and apparent parasitical nature to thrive within a human host, she was making an educated guess that is was amphibious. He was then to use a syringe to collect as much of the blue-blood as possible - everything might be important.

"People, we need more supplies and equipment than this. We are moving. Everyone not already assigned a duty, start up your transports and begin loading in those I've stabilized and the dead." Her lips were pressed in a tight line as she cleaned and stitch the alien invader's chest wound, while also trying to restart his breath.

The clinic or the lab, the is hospital too far? Clinic is closer, with more medical staff, lab has considerably better equipment, and independent power supply, and is outside any population centers in an isolated, widely spaced science park.

"Once I am done doing what I can for these two, we are going to a lab where I used to work." Own. I still have all the keys and access codes. She gave a silent snarl as the enemy soldier refused to co-operate and live, then immediately shifted over to stabilize the victim of the snake-thing. Another pair of soldiers were commanded to load up the dead enemy - and with care! - in a brisk voice.

Once she had done what she could, she stayed with him as he was carefully placed in the back of one of the troop carriers. Over a walky-talky, she gave the convoy - such as it was - directions to Laboratoire LangMorri. Keeping an eye in the soldier she had cut open, she stitched up the other that had been bitten.

As they departed the neighborhood, Yseult took a moment to looked out the back of the transport, peering down the street, hoping for a last look of her home and her family.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The angle was wrong, and Yseult left her home with no final glance. Instead, the soldier with the incision on his back started to falter, and the rest of the trip was a horrifying nightmare of stabilization and treatment. She won, but had felt death's cold grasp most of the trip.

Shaken, exhausted and wanting nothing more than the solidarity of her husband's arms around her, Yseult climbed out of the truck and keyed the codes in to allow access to the grounds. Then she had to climb down again to open the doors to grant entry into the buildings.

It took almost an hour to get everyone in and hooked up to the equipment; the sky was a pale gray by the time she turned to autopsy the enemy soldier and examine the snake-like alien. It appeared to still be in bad shape, coiled on the bottom of the jar, barely moving.

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Yseult's eyes were staring to feel grainy with the dawn, but she couldn't bring herself to go to sleep, the nightmare of reality was far too fresh in her mind. With proper facilities and equipment, she was in no danger of losing anymore young soldiers, so now she had time to turn her attention to the aliens. As she did when she was younger, Yseult pushed her personal concerns aside and lost herself in the research.

She put the enemy soldier in a temperature-control storage room for the moment, dropping the heat to preserve it. Then she began to run tests on the snake, taking special care, with soldiers on alert, even though it seemed to be severely injured. She weighed it while it was still inside the pickle jar, determining that it had surprising mass for its size. She placed it in a small, portable, secure, isolation chamber, then ran a series of x-rays and MRIs. That done, she placed the snake-thing into a larger isolation chamber that possessed integrated, protective handwear. She drew another sample of its blueish blood and collected a tiny tissue sample for study, then took a series of high-res photos. Finally, she filled the isolation chamber with a saline solution and set the cameras to take periodic photos - if the thing recovered, fine, if not, she wouldn't lose any sleep over it.

The blood collected from the floor was placed in a centrifuge to separate into its component parts, whereas the new sample she studied beneath a microscope, along with the tissue sample. She ran spectroscopic, electrochemical, and any other test she could think of, her eyes studying the results with a speed and intensity that was frightening. The stunning scientist had a slight frown on her lips as she correlated the information from the various tests.

Yseult only paused to nibble on an IMP (Individual Meal Pack) before starting on the autopsy of the enemy soldier. Some of the young soldiers thought to stay with her, but as the doctor began, few of them had the stomach to watch an autopsy being performed. Organs were measure, a variety of fluids and tissues collected for analysis - Yseult lingered in particular over the seemingly engineered uterus that the soldier possessed.

Her hands were trembling with exhaustion as she studied the latest test results, numbers and words beginning to blur before her eyes. She needed rest, needed to look at what she had learned with a fresh perspective.

Finding an unused cot, she laid down, hugging the thin pillow to her chest as a poor substitute for her husband and children.

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  • 2 weeks later...

She didn't sleep long. Hands grabbed her, pulling her up, a voice already yammering in her ear. "Doctor, we need to go!" Yseult recognized the young soldier who was putting her on her feet without really letting her wake up. "They're here!"

"Who?" she asked, even as terror gripped her heart and she knew exactly who.

"The fucking aliens! We have to go!" The young man was nearly hysterical as he started to pull her out of the room. "We need to get our buddies and get out of here!"

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Sleep still laying heavy upon her, heart hammering a staccato beat, Yseult struggled to stay calm in the face of immanent danger. She got up and pushed her exhaustion aside, mind considering alternatives - We need another place that will impede them searching for us, yet still has access to resources.

"Yes, of course, we will go immediately, but first, we need to do something," Yseult said, wrapping cool professionalism around herself like armour once more. She led the young man to the lab, glad she had the foresight to download her tests and findings on a portable hard-drive. She stored the hard-drive in her purse, then set the computer to delete all traces of her studies.

Carefully transfering the snake-alien to a smaller, secure quarantine box for transport, she sent it off with a pair of young soldiers in need of something to do other than panic, along with the alien soldier's armour and armament. Grabbing two other soldiers, she and they gathered up the remnants of the autopsied soldier and at a near run, placed them in the industrial incinerator.

"There, now, we are ready to go, yes?" Yseult gave a satisfied nod, turning on the incinerator, then ran with the others outside to the idling transport vehicles, eyes searching for signs of the enemy from beyond the stars.

"We are needing a place, one that is difficult for them to look for us, yet still has access to resources. I suggest, we see if we can make it to the downtown core, and try for La Ville Souterraine, it will give us concealment, mobility, and access to a variety of resources, I am hoping."

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"They're already in Montreal," the soldier said, shaking his head. "We need to go far away from here, from populated centers. And we should get you back to your family. You've helped us, kept your end of the deal. Last night, we got word that Ottawa is going to form a resistance, so we're going to join that. But we'll get you home, first, right?"

The soldier smiled at her, all youthful gratitude and hope. Apparently, the idea that he had someone in charge again had changed the attitude of this ragtag company.

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For a long moment, Yseult felt sheer relief that Montreal was lost to them - it meant that she could go back to her family, without feeling like she was abandoning these young soldiers. Then guilt assailed her as she thought about what that meant for those trapped in the city... But it wasn't enough to draw her thoughts away from François and the children.

"I - yes, thank-you, I wish I could have done more for your compatriots. If just one of your transports was willing to drive me home then escort me to Sept-Îles, that will be en -"

"No worries, Doc, you really helped us out, here. We're not going to split-up, but we're more than willing to stay with you 'til you're with your family again. It's the least we can do, some of us wouldn't ever have the chance to see our own families again, if it weren't for you."

Yseult just nodded, dark eyes glistening with the sheer gratitude in the young man's voice and the agreeing murmurs of the other soldiers. "Okay, my home first. There, I can gather a few things, and the data I have collected so far, I can make copies, just in case. Then we are heading for Sept-Îles, yes? The trip, it will take about twelve hours, but mostly only through very small communities, excepting for Quebec City. Hmmm, we will have to go wide around there, I am thinking, and drive up the west bank of the Saint Lawrence River. I do not want to take the chance that the Matane-Godbout Ferry is not operational. Those roads, they are less traveled in any case."

Driving back to her home, Yseult was disquieted by how eerily empty the roads were. Saint-Philippe seemed like a ghost town - though cars occupied most driveways, there were no people in sight and the silence was deafening.

She moved through her house in uneasy silence - somehow, voices, sound, no longer seemed to belong to the small, rural town she called home. She scrubbed herself clean at the kitchen sink, not willing to spend the time on a shower, then changed into a casual pair of jeans and a sweater. While packing up a few more clothes, some keepsakes that caught her eye in passing, and her laptop (with extra power packs), she set her PC to copy the information on the portable hard-drive to two others. Less than fifteen minutes later, the convoy was back on the road.

Yseult had intended to stay awake for the entire trip to her parents-in-laws in Sept-Îles, reviewing what she had learned and committed to memory. She rarely turned on her laptop, except when she was inspired to run a simulation or two. But sometime pass Quebec City, exhaustion of both body and spirit once again overwhelmed her. The soldiers in the back of the transport looked on 'their' doctor with proud gratitude, chin resting on her chest, and gently laid her out on the floor, with a bedroll for comfort.

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Comfort ended suddenly when she was shaken awake. "Doctor?" the soldier whispered, "we're at Sept-Iles. We need directions."

With her heart in her throat, Yseult climbed out of the back and into the front. The soldiers made room for her and she directed them to François' parents. She was dropped off at their door, left with the soldiers' gratitude and warm wishes.

The house looked dark, but it was getting on to night, and given the strange going-ons, it must have seemed safer to hide and not draw any attention. Smiling, she moved to their door and knocked softly.

After a long pause, she heard the locks clicking back, which was unusual. François' parents never locked the door. It eased open, then was thrown wide. "Yseult!" her father in law cried, his voice seeming to be too loud in the dark. "It is good you're here!"

Her mother in law looked past her and asked, "Where is François and the children?"

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"Quoi?" For a long moment, the words her mother-in-law had spoken didn't make sense. Of course, François and her children were here, they had to be. When Marie Dionne's question finally began to compute, the colour fled Yseult's face and her hands began to tremble - she needed Papa Antoine's help to move inside the house.

"They are not here? But - but, they left hours before me. I was helping some soldiers - Ottawa has fallen - and followed them about half a day later. What have you heard? Is the ferry still operating?"

Sept-Iles was a tiny town in northern Quebec - it hardly warranted any attention from alien invaders. Yseult's in-laws had only heard the radio announcement from 'Ra' and the local government advising them to stay indoors and wait for further instructions. The ferry was not running.

"That is it, it must be. François, he must have driven up to Rimouski, then found out that the ferry was not in service." There was another possibility, but she would not even consider it, would not allow herself to consider it.

"Hmm, driving back to Quebec City, then up the north bank of the St-Lawrence, he must be, at most, only a few hours behind me. Yes, I am sure of it. And if not, I will go back to look for him."

They waited in mounting anxiety, eating a cold meal, discussing what they had heard. Yseult mentioned the fall of Ottawa and the beginnings of a resistance, and told them what she knew of the aliens, the soldier and the parasitical snake-thing, which was little enough. Finally, she could wait no longer.

"I - I have to go, I must find them. Antoine, your SUV, I can use it, yes?" Her father-in-law assured her that it would be no problem, since he was coming with her. She almost cried with gratitude, but with his arthritis flaring, she couldn't in good conscious let him accompany her. Antoine understood, so pressed his old service revolver in her hands. Yseult looked at the cold steel in her hands, for the first time in her life, contemplating using one. She nodded, the determination of a wife and mother bright in her dark eyes.

"I will be back, soon with François and Monique and Loric"

Three hours after arriving to were she had hoped to find her family, she left again, traveling the same road she had earlier, in the company of soldiers, alone.

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The drive back was harrowing, not because of her lack of sleep, but it was dark and she was afraid. She held firm to the hope that she would find them just around the next curve, or that the next dark SUV she flagged down would be them. Then the snow started to fall, not an unusual thing at this time of year, but it didn't help her. She slowed so that she wouldn't miss them, if they had broken down and become covered in snow.

Soon she noticed that there was something odd; the closer she drove to Quebec, the less traffic she saw. It took longer to register than it should have; she was so tired that her thoughts were moving slowly. When she realized, she stopped, to let herself think about that. The sun was slowly rising behind her, again, and Yseult realized that she was just north of Tadoussac.

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The rearview mirror reflected the light from the rising sun, blinding her, until she adjusted it slightly. The lack of traffic should have signified something to her, but it was a long timing coming. Either the ferry was no longer running, or something much more dire had transpired.

Her eyes grainy, she drove down to Tadoussac. She was certain the lack of traffic was due to the ferry, or lack thereof, but she had to see for herself. Driving to the ferry landing, her eyes glanced at every car she passed, hoping one would be carrying her husband and children. The bright rays of dawn and gleaming white snow made her eyes strain.

At the ferry, it was as she expected, the ferry was down, by government declaration. She stared at the landing, letting out a string of curses that she would have flayed anyone for using in front of her children. She poured herself a cup of coffee from the thermos that Marie had handed to her, along with the keys to their SUV. The closest way across the river was Chicoutimi, about two hours west. She let out a long shakey breath, knuckles white as she gripped the wheel.

A moment later, what she thought was only a moment, she raised her head from the head rest. She had no clue how much time she had lost. Light was coming down at a steeper angle and the coffee had grown cold.

For a minute, she panicked, sure that is was just as she was sleeping that François would have driven past. Then she gritted her teeth in exhausted resolve - she had to go on. François said he would come back for her if she was too long in following, so the best thing she could do was keep searching for him, while she headed back home to Saint-Philippe - he would look for her there, first.

It was closer to three hour than two by the time she made it to Chicoutimi, her pace anxious as she watched every car go pass. Instead of taking the 175 straight down to Quebec City, she turned east on the 170, taking the route she hoped François would have taken if - when! - he detoured at Baie Ste-Catherine.

Deeming it too much of a possibility of missing François in Chicoutimi, Yseult drove on to La Baie, lucky to find an open casse-croûte on the main road. There was something to be said for the stubborn Québécois. She begrudged every second it took to eat the eggs and homefries, staring out the front window all the while. Ten minutes later, she was back on the road.

She had hours to drive yet, but she could rest once she had her family back in her arms.

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The signs of occupation increased as she drove along the northern bank of the Ste. Lawrence. Golden fliers arced by overhead with increasing consistency, and even Yseult with limited military knowledge could tell they were flying patrols. That implied a certain comfort with their occupation she wasn't comfortable with.

Then the ultimate slap in the face - a road block of cars and concrete blocks. She was in a concrete valley, a man-made canyon where following the highway into Quebec took her into trouble. Suddenly, she realized that the tops of the walls were manned by men in golden armor, carrying long staffs. She recognized the look, as well as the symbols tattooed on their foreheads. All of them trained their weapons on her.

The road block was manned by a handful of guards too. One of them stepped forward and raised a hand in the galactic gesture for "stop."

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Merde! Fatigue and the golden fliers overhead made her arms quiver as she silently prayed that the invaders would not find her a threat. I am only a woman, alone, trying to get back to her family.

As soon as she saw the road block, she knew it had been a mistake taking the highway through the city. Her thoughts were sluggish from her dreadful apprehension. Now, she was trapped in the trough. Peering up at the higher ramparts, she saw that they were manned with more the alien soldiers, armed with their odd staff-weapons - it would seem far too suspicious if she turned around now, and she didn't think she would make it far.

They have not razed the city. From the little I have seen and heard, they are mostly concerned with military targets. I am not a threat to them, yes? They will threaten me, then tell me to be on my way. They will.

At the guard's gestured demand to halt, Yseult began slowing to a stop, stuffing the revolver beside her under the passenger seat. It would of no benefit here. Less than a hundred feet from the road-block, she coasted to a stop, shifting the SUV into neutral.

Her hands were tight on the wheel, her breath coming in ragged gasps as she watched the brawny man in golden armour approach.

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She was so focused on the big guy that she failed to notice the woman following him. She wore a winter coat, but her legs were bare and her feet were covered by utterly impractical pumps. Her silvered hair had probably been in a stylish bob, but it looked like she'd slept on it. Her hands, when not thrust under her arms for warmth, were encased in thin driving gloves.

The man stopped and spoke in a strange language; as the woman finished catching up, her feet sliding in the snow, she said, "Who are you? Where are you going?" She looked even more haggard up close; her eyes were dull with exhaustion and her coat had dirt patches on it.

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A part of Yseult's impressive mind was analyzing all that she saw, committing it to memory for later review. She was not a linguist, but to her, the language sounded Northern African or Middle Eastern, definitely not European, Slavic, or Asian. That the aliens were using an apparently native woman as a translator had several connotations. Either the aliens somehow possessed a connection to Earth, sharing a language, however distant, or they had a means to impart their language to others, perhaps using the parasitical snakes.

But mostly, Yseult's thoughts were filled with mind-numbing fear. The sight of the disheveled woman told her that the invaders were taking people, seemingly right off the street, if the woman's clothing was any indication. She was tempted to lie in answering the questions posed to her via the impromptu interpreter, but she presumed if the aliens were using natives for questioning, they would know that most people carried some means of identification. A misleading truth would have to do.

She swallowed the lump in her throat. "I am going to - My name is Yseult - Please, I am just trying to get home to my husband and children," she implored. Her glanced at the man, but quickly looked away at the cold light in his eyes, gazing at the woman pleadingly. "They are just near Montreal. Please, please miss, tell them I am meaning no trouble."

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The woman's eyes dropped, a very bad sign as far as Yseult was concerned. She said something to the soldier, who replied in kind. The woman's eyes rose to Yseult's collarbone and she visibly gulped as she said, "Get out of the car, ma'am, and have your id ready."

The woman's eyes flicked to hers and then back down. "It's best to do as they say," she said softly. "They just want you to go to a center and be processed. They won't hurt you... if you cooperate." Her voice shivered a little, and Yseult knew that she'd seen others hurt for not cooperating.

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Fear was a vice around Yseult's heart. She shivered and it had nothing to do with the cold November wind blowing in the car window. She couldn't restrain herself from looking around, seeking escape, but it was futile - there were too many of the aliens, covering every means of flight. If she wanted to save her family, she had to stay alive.

Stiffly, she got out of the car, trying to control her anxious breathing. Her hands shook so badly it took her three tries to retrieve her driver's license. While she was looking into her purse, she surreptitiously glanced around, committing everything she saw to memory, the smallest detail might be a key to resisting these galactic conquerors.

Finally, with a quick glance to the alien guardsman, Yseult held out her id to the woman, her hand trembling. "I - I am cooperating, fully, see? They - after I am processed, I will be able to go to my family, yes? I promise, I will causing no trouble."

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The woman paused and said, "Most of them are being released, yes." The man barked at her, and she jumped and flinched, her eyes darting toward him. She answered him quickly, her voice shaking. When she was done, he snapped again and she turned back to Yseult. "Walk toward the barricade, keep your id out. Your car will be returned to you on the other side." As she spoke, a teen hurried forward, looking just as scared as the woman and sporting a black eye. He was better dressed for the weather with a heavy coat and stocking cap, which was jammed over his dreadlocks. Of course, he was getting to ride in the warm car while the woman shivered in the cold.

Speaking of shivering, Yseult was soon doing that as she trudged through the sludge that layered the road. The snow plows hadn't been allowed to run, but the invaders were having a great deal of fun blasting snow drifts into steam with their weapons.

At the barricade, she was waved through an opening. She took the chance to eye it; it was made of debris and items from around the area; she recognized a mail box that was being used as a support in one place, while a park bench served as a frame for another section of wall. She wound back and forth down a narrow corridor; Jaffa looked down at her from above, their bored or impassive faces framed by the winter sky behind them. Yseult wasn't a tactician, but even she knew what was happening here; she was a fish in a barrel, if she tried anything.

The barricade ended after twenty feet; when she looked back, it was actually much narrower than that. The corridor extended beyond the depth of the barricade, giving them more time to shoot someone. Ahead of her were knots of people standing in rough lines. They were all shivering in the cold, waiting their turn for processing.

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Yseult nodded at the woman's directions, not trusting herself so speak, a slight frown on her face as she saw the boy heading to her borrowed SUV. She tucked her hands into her armpits, trying to suppress her shivering. Furtively watching the invaders and their method of snow removal, she inanely thought that the roads this year would be damaged by more than just freeze and thaw.

Passing through the barricade, she noted its improvised structure - modern militaries constructed more professional check points than this. She conjectured that the aliens did not have manufacturing facilities aboard their vessels, at least not extensive ones. Mon Dieu! No instant molecular manipulation, at least. They will have to adapt our own facilities for their own use. Knowing this didn't prevent her from feeling profoundly uneasy as she navigated the gauntlet, looking up at the hard faces of the guards.

Which made her ponder the woman's comment about most people being released. Despite the stoic expressions of the invaders, she noted more than one gaze linger on her. Objectively, she knew she was an attractive woman, fine featured with perfect symmetry and a flawless complexion. She had never been all that concerned about her appearance, despite what many others thought, but she was now. So far as she had seen, all the invaders were male, and even among the subjugated people, it seemed that men received the less onerous duties, or at least, the more comfortable ones.

Yseult quickly averted her gaze, keeping her eyes on her shoes, as she joined one of the lines of people waiting to be 'processed'. Peering up from beneath lowered brows, she looked at her fellow detainees, gauging their condition. All seemed scared and angry to varying degrees, though the angrier ones also seemed to have been subdued in a most direct fashion.

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For a long time she stood in line, slowly easing forward. When the sun was overhead, people came down the line, bringing food. It was a choice between a peanut butter sandwich or a bag of chips. The best part was the offered soda or coffee. Most people were taking the coffee because it was warm. The people passing out the food wore modern clothing and looked scared or numb.

Finally, she saw their destinations - trailers set up across the road. Behind them, she saw parked cars. As she watched a man got out of a trailer and grabbed a woman and three children who were waiting near a car. After a quick hug, they climbed into the car and fled, sliding in the snow.

It was harder to be patient here; everyone was a little more restless, now that they could see the destination in sight. Slowly the line progressed, until Yseult was able to climb up the stairs and into her destination.

A blast of heat hit her, and Yseult felt light-headed and immediately grateful for the sweltering temperature. A woman sat in the empty room, cross-legged in a chair. Unlike the other people, she was wearing togas. Yseult was sure that her light-weight dress was the reason for the maximum heat output. She wasn't going to complain, not until she could feel her fingers again.

"I am Thea," she said, flipping black hair over her shoulder. Her voice had the same double-echo that Yseult had heard on the radio; in person it was much more terrifying. Under that echo, Yseult could hear but not identify an accent. "The process is simple. We ask questions, you answer. What is your name?" Thea held up a device, a stylus paused over it, waiting for her answer.

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Yseult watched the family leave, a tiny bit of hope rising, before she entered the trailer. She couldn't help but stare a moment as the woman spoke, the odd - and frightening! - timber to her voice. If this woman was anything like the alien she had studied, she had no idea how the audio effect was accomplished. She hadn't had enough time to study the parasitical snake-thing to determine the magnitude of physiological changes it could have on its host.

Yseult's knowledge of the Greek language was mostly limited to the classification of flora and fauna and other organisms. 'Thea' was the former name of the tea plant genus (now included in Camellia), as well as the Greek word for Goddess. She was sure there was mythological meaning for the word, but that wasn't a field she had ever really studied.

"My name, it is Yseult... Yseult Langlois," she answered, a slight quaver to her voice, eyes going from the woman, to her device, and back again. She hoped answering succinctly would get her out of here all the quicker.

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"What do you do?" Thea asked this with all of the interest of a high school girl at the opera.

"Now, I am mostly stay at home mother." Yseult answered quietly, hoping to just get through this.

Thea paused and looked at her. "What were you doing before that?"

"I... worked at a... pharmaceutical company." As she spoke, Yseult looked away, plucking at her slacks with nervous fingers.

Thea sighed, looking irritated. "Doing... what?" she asked sharply.

Yseult bit her lip and twisted her wedding band with her thumb. "I was a researcher," she said, "I dealt mostly with curing diseases."

This seemed to please the woman, and she nodded, taking notes. "What is your..." Her nose wrinkled in distaste. "Social insurance number?"

Yseult frowned, feeling her eyes narrow in concern. "It is 561-090-573."

"Where are you from?" Thea asked as she made more notes.

Yseult swallowed a sigh of relief. "Montreal."

Thea frowned. "You were not coming from there. What were you doing driving east, so far from home?"

"I - I was visiting my... parents," Yseult tensed again, clutching her slacks in white knuckled grip.

Thea studied her. "Why did that question make you so nervous?" she asked.

"I - I am sorry, this - you coming here, it is very nerve wracking. I am meaning to say they are my parent-in-laws." Yseult clenched her hands around her slacks.

Thea put down her stylus and leaned forward, her face attempting sympathy and achieving boredom. "We are just attempting to get to know our subjects. So long as you aren't lying to me, nothing bad will happen to you. How many other people are in your immediate family - husband and children, only."

Yseult relaxed a bit and nodded. "Three, my husband and two children."

"And where are they, currently?" Thea quickly added, "This is a census, more than anything else." She gave her a fake smile. "We're almost done."

"I am hoping they are at home, we lost connection with each other, when you, hmm, arrived." Yseult felt a familiar tingle of fear running up her spine.

Thea smiled, a more real expression this time. "Just tell me their names, and I can look them up and see if they were entered into our database and where. I can tell you where they are."

Please François, do not have done something rash, Yseult begged, then said, "My husband, his name is François Dionne, my children are Monique and Loric."

"One moment." Thea bent over her stylus. "Hmm, they were here yesterday, as we secured this country. I see... they were flagged for special interest and transferred to Lord Ra's Flagship." As Yseult paled, Thea casually added, "You can check on their status at what the Americans call Cheyenne Mountain."

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Montaigne Cheyenne? NORAD, they are using it as their center of operations? Oh, François, I am hoping you are okay. With extreme effort, Yseult composed herself, hands clasped before her, summoning a faint, thankful smile for the woman.

"I will be doing that, Ms. Thea," Yseult said, trying to sound as friendly as she could. "I am wanting to cause no trouble. If possible, would I be able to procure a pass for your security checkpoints along way?"

Thea paused, then inquired, "Pass? We don't have anything like that."

Yseult sighed, then tried to be more clear. "I am meaning, will your security personnel at other checkpoints along the way, they will be able to access my processing information, so they know that I am just trying to check on the status of my family?"

"Ah." Thea shrugged. "When you are interviewed, just tell them that you've already been processed, and give them your information."

"Ah, okay, thank-you." Yseult thought it sounded like a rather security protocol, though hopefully it would not cause her undue trouble. "I can go retrieve my car now, yes?"

"Yes, please go." Thea dismissed her with cool indifference. But as Yseult shrugged, working the anxiety out of her tight shoulders and turned to leave, Thea presented an alternative to a long drive. "You might be able to get a ride there, but you must convince the Jaffa to take you." Thea shrugged, "One might be inclined to aid you."

"I may do that, thank-you." Yseult nodded, then left the heated trailer for the chill of the November weather. Outside, she saw her car parked next to a number of others, then shifted her gaze to consider several of the 'Jaffa' - who she inferred were the gold-armoured soldiers.

She was exhausted, both physically and mentally, and had several more hours before getting home, let alone all the way to Cheyenne Mountain. A quick way seemed very enticing, despite the company she would have. Taking a deep steadying breath, Yseult began inquiring among the invading soldiers.

It did not go well. The Jaffa did not seem to know any Language she knew, the glowers from such large men were very intimidating to the petite woman. The other Jaffa, with their coldly leering eyes and crude, juvenile gestures were even worst. When one of them grabbed her wrist in a tight, possessive grip, only releasing her under the glares of several other fellow guards, she had enough.

She strode to her car, rubbing her wrist, then opened the driver's door and dropped limply onto the seat. She turned on the engine, letting it warm up as she shook with relief at what had almost happened, head cradled in her hands.

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A tapping on the glass interrupted her weariness. She looked up to see a man huddled in a heavy coat, looking expectantly at her. She carefully rolled down the window, just enough to talk. "Yes?" she asked in French.

In halting French, he answered, "Are you trying to get to Cheyenne Mountain, too?"

Yseult looked at him more closely. He was wearing modern clothes, and didn't have the forehead tattoo she was coming to look for on the enemy. "Yes," she admitted, sitting up straighter, her hand going for the gun.

"I know how to get you there fast," he said, his eyes darting back and forth. "One hundred dollars, cash."

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The man hardly looked trustworthy, but on the other hand, if he did have a quick method to reach Cheyenne Mountain, she was willing to indulge his request. Besides, if communications remained erratic, people were going to have difficulty accessing their bank accounts.

"A moment, if you please," she said with a cautious nod.

She rolled the window back up and pulled her purse to her chest and turned her shoulder so he couldn't watch her look through it. Looking through her wallet, she found five twenties and a five. She suppressed a frown - she didn't want to give over everything she had, just in case - then her eyes brightened when she saw the change dish. She pulled out several toonies and loonies, along with some smaller change, until she amassed $97.55, while holding a twenty in reserve.

She turned back to the man, and cracked the window. "I am having only $97.55, is that being enough?" She carefully counted out the money in his view so he could see she wasn't lying.

"It'll do, hand it here," he said with anxious impatience.

"A moment!" Yseult exclaimed, turning off the car. "There, you see, I cannot escape so easily and you have seen the money, yes? Tell me first how I can get to Cheyenne quickly, and it is yours, I promise."

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"Get out of your car and head that way," he said, pointing past the trailers to where she could see something golden and pyramid shaped over their top. "Look for a man with a blue scarf. Tell him that Ben said you could have the last seat. He'll take you to the ship, get you a seat on the transport."

With that, he waited for his money.

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