Lukas stared at the young woman numbly. Behind her, the hulking form of Roger Bennet lurked; cautious concern expressing itself as a frown.
'I thought she was dead.' Jenna repeated, starting towards the clairaudient.
Lukas frowned, puzzled. 'Joan is dead.' He told her softly. 'What the hell's going on here?', he thought.
Jenna seemed not to hear him. She continued to stare past him, at the image of the clairaudient, then her gaze dropped to the two women on the couch. Puzzlement crept across her features, as she took a hesitant step forwards.
'Then how-' She swallowed and tried again. 'How come I can see her? And not my mum?'
Lukas shook his head, uncertain about how much to tell her. 'I don't know, Jenna.' He admitted. 'I really don't.' He heard a soft movement behind him, and a moment later, Helen brushed past him.
'Sweetheart,' she caught a surprised Jenna up in her arms. 'we will find your mum - I promise.' She pulled the young woman into an embrace, and nodded towards Roger, then the kitchen.
Jenna resisted, trying to pull away. Helen refused to release her grip and, after a moment the young woman sagged against her, allowing her pent-up tears their release. Helen held the sobbing girl, stroking her hair and whispering soft words into her ear. She glanced across at Lukas, and nodded slightly towards the door.
Wordlessly, the big man turned and disappeared, and Helen led Jenna towards the settee. Lukas watched them for a moment, then switched his attention to the spirit still hovering next to the window. Joan looked up from the settee, and Lukas motioned towards the door. Joan gave no indication that she understood except to fade slightly, as she drifted in the direction the medium had indicated.
Lukas preceded Joan through the door, and led the way towards the rear of the building, to the kitchen, the ghost drifting along, slowly behind him.
'Roger,' he addressed the big man, 'I need to have a quiet word or two with Joan; so I've brought her in here, away from Jenna.'
Roger, in the act of pouring boiling water into a teapot, didn't bat an eye at the strange statement.
'Okay,' he retrieved cups and milk, and placed them on a tray with the pot. 'Not a problem. I'll leave you to it.' He picked up the tray, and turned towards the door. 'When you want me, I'll be in the garage with the Jag.'
'Thanks, Rog.' Lukas was grateful to the big man, for not asking questions that he had, as yet, no answers for. He turned towards Joan, waiting patiently next to the door.
'Thanks, Joanie,' he began, suddenly awkward. 'For all the help, I mean; and for understanding.' He grimaced, angry at himself. Despite what Joan had told him, Lukas still could not help but feel guilty, for not being able to prevent her death. Joan smiled.
'I did little enough.' She told him softly. 'Mentor is the one to whom the thanks belong.' The clairaudient moved a little closer. 'You really could not have done anything - you do know that, don't you?'
'I-' Lukas swallowed. His eyes stung suddenly, as tears fought their way to the surface. He avoided looking at the ghost. 'I could have...' His voice broke.
'You could do nothing.' Joan insisted. 'At best, you would have been severely damaged, mentally. At the worst, you would have been killed. The Outrunners would have destroyed you, Lukey, if they could.' Joan paused a moment, waiting. When Lukas refused to look at her, she continued. 'Mentor needs you, Lukas. We need you. Please; the best thing you could have done, was exactly what you did do. Please try to see that. We stand a chance of beating it now.'
Still the medium refused to meet her eyes.
'Lukas?' Joan persisted.
Finally, Lukas raised his red-rimmed gaze to hers. Regret and sorrow vied for completion in his unshed tears.
Joan smiled. 'I do mean it, Lukas. The most important thing you did for me - for us all - was to stay alive. Only with a fully functioning Nexus, can we hope to defeat this.., evil - this abomination, that is threatening us all. Not only the living, but also the dead.' Joan fixed him with a penetrating look. 'There is no time, for what-might-have-been, Lukas.'
After a moment, the medium nodded reluctantly. The tentative beginnings of a smile tried to play with his lips.
'You do say all the rights things.' He said softly. Joan smiled.
'Yes.' She told him. 'I do. And, more importantly, I mean them.'
'I suppose.' Lukas straightened slightly, and glanced towards the empty doorway. He took a deep breath and exhaled noisily, before continuing. 'Jenna can see you; any ideas as to why?'
'In actual fact, yes.' Joan's reply surpised Lukas. 'I think that, because the Outrunner prison complex is, in essense, the enslaved persona of Juliette Stapleton, those trapped within her psyche must become part of her essense - and we a part of hers.'
'And, because Jenna could always see her mother,' Lukas' face brightened in understanding, 'she can now see you.'
'Indeed.' Joan gave Lukas the sort of smile a teacher would give to a favorite pupil.
'So,' Lukas went on, 'that might help us. I don't now how yet, but I'll keep it in mind. Does Mentor have any idea about how we find and release these prisoners? And Jenna's mother, of course. It's not her fault she's being forced to do what she's doing.'
'No; she is not responsible.' Joan agreed. 'As I told you earlier, you must locate the core of the Outrunners - their lair, I suppose you might call it, in the physical world. Mentor thinks that it will be well hidden - shielded by the remaining Outrunners, until they can create more of their kind. By their own admission, they know of you - of the Nexus. What they may know of your abilities is not so clear, but they will be prepared to fight to keep the labyrinth hidden. Menter said to tell you to be prepared to fight - in both planes of existence. You are vulnerable to attack both as Nexus and as physical beings. You must protect each other, the three of you. Should one die, then all will be lost - there is no other to replace any of you. Expect more of the type of creature I became, when possessed.'
'Damn.' Lukas muttered. 'I never thought of that. I suppose, if there's enough of them, they'll be able to spare some people - things, to come find us.'
'You must destroy them.' Joan said, and Lukas stared.
'Destroy them?' He forced the question through suddenly dry mouth. 'You mean kill them?
'They are dead already.' The clairaudient told him bluntly. 'Helen will verify the truth of that, when first she contacts such a one. Once the Al'Urion has taken their essense and trapped it within the labyrinth, there is little that may be done for the physical body. Playing host to an Outrunner is wearing in the extremem, as I know all too well; to incubate such a creature is beyond physical endurance. In destroying the body, you will be destroying the Al'urion, not the human. You can only aid them by freeing their essense from the labyrinth.'
'Yes, but-' Lukas raised a hand, and pinched the bridge of his nose with a thumb and forefinger as he shook his head. 'We can't just go around, killing people. We would never get away with it. The authorities-'
'The authorities are powerless against this threat.' Joan pressed on relentlessly. 'They are ill equipped to perceive what they do not see, let alone conceive of. This task falls to you, Lukas. And to Helen and MacKenzie. Your friend Roger will also be a valuable asset in this. It must be done this way, before you are overrun.'
'I'll be honest, Joan.' Lukas grated harshly. 'I really do not know, whether I can kill anybody - or anything,' he added quickly, before the clairaudient could correct him. 'And Helan and Mac? Well, maybe MacKenzie could; she's tough. But Helen? Not a chance.'
'Nevertheless.' Joan appeared unperturbed. 'I have given you the facts, as I understand them, and as Mentor instructed me. This is now up to you. I can do no more.'
Lukas smiled fondly at the clairaudient. 'You've already done plenty, Joan. Thank you; and that's from the bottom of my heart.'
'I know.' Joan's image began to fade. 'When the time comes, do not let sentimentality cloud what has to be done, Lukas. We are all relying upon you.' Joan's spirit became hazy, evanescent.
'The Cosmos itself, is relying upon you.' Joan's voice whispered faintly, and was gone.
Lukas Madson stood alone in the kitchen, and wondered what he was going to tell his sister and his lover.