(( Part 4 of 5 ))
(( San Francisco, Earth - Starfleet Academy ))
Maria's surroundings coalesced once again, forming into the familiar exam room, filled with empty desks and proctoring screens on each table. She knew the day well: aside from the psychological evaluation, she’d passed every test on the first try - remarkable for someone who’d go on to a checkered academic record in her time there.
She had her badge, cupped in her hands, to prove her full admittance. It was still shiny and brand new. Most would have probably felt pride or fulfillment or satisfaction at this moment. That hunk of metal and electronics symbolized the key to a very special and unusual kind of future that plenty could (and did) only dream of.
But there she was, feeling like it was all some kind of absurdist joke that she - an "insane" ex-dancer - would be in Starfleet, with the bemused grin to prove it.
Fernandez: You didn’t think about the consequences that badge would bring when you signed up, did you?
Maria looked up, acquiescing to the fact this would be the latest in a line of bizarre ways for this person to torture her. Given she’d just seen two different ways to die a pointless death, this felt tame by comparison. She found herself waiting for the inevitable turn with trepidation.
Alvarez: No, I did…
She trailed off in thought.
Fernandez: I wonder what your mother would have said about it?
His face melted away, and hair grew, until Maria was facing her mother once again. She never so much as spoke to her mother after joining Starfleet, but she couldn’t deny she wondered what would have transpired if she had. She could feel that pang of anxiety, anticipating the fight and the disapproval. It was almost a thrill too. She’d been itching for a proper chance to give her mother a piece of her mind since she’d told Emilia she was joining Starfleet.
Emilia: How far you’ve fallen, my dearest daughter...
Her mother’s posture was aloof, her soul-sucking glare accusing Maria of a thousand sins against family, nature, and god. Apparently “indomitable” was a heritable trait in the maternal Alvarez-neé-Moyano bloodline.
Maria nearly engaged in a full assault, but found herself holding her back. If Fernandez was right, then that’s exactly how she would wander through life, never accomplishing anything of consequence. Maybe that’s what he wanted. That meant it was time to try something different. Something a little softer and more flexible. She could do it when the battle involved fisticuffs, why couldn’t she here? Even the irascible captain had surprised her, so why couldn’t she be equally surprising herself?
Her mind tumbled across a self-aware revelation.
Alvarez: You know, I just realized I think I joined to escape you. From this.
Maria found herself returning a cold, astringent smile - maybe the two of them really were more alike than she cared to admit. Maybe it was time to change that, too.
Emilia: No wonder you’re not fit to be an officer. You’re as flippant as ever about such a monumental calling.
Alvarez: I also just now realized that I can’t run away from you. Not this way at least. Not for as long as I keep carrying you with me - inside here. :: She pointed to her head. ::
Emilia: Of course you kept me with you. You need me. You need me to keep you on track... You need the constant reminder of what you couldn’t do, so you don’t repeat your failures.
Alvarez: No, I don’t need you. Not any more. I don’t need the gnawing doubt, or the chip on the shoulder.
The dream of Fernandez, in the form of Emilia, smiled wickedly at Maria, still firmly believing in his total control despite Maria’s newfound resilience in the face of torment.
Emilia: My, you sound awfully sanctimonious for someone stuck inside their own mind.
Alvarez: That’s why I’m getting out of here and finding Quentin.
Emilia: And how are you going to do that?
Alvarez: By destroying my demons. One by one. Starting with you.
Emilia: Oh, but you can’t kill me, Maria. Not without killing part of yourself too…
Bit by bit Emilia’s image began a transmogrification back to Fernandez, but not the hippie he was before. This time, the gnarled wooden staff of a shaman appeared in his hand, and a grotesque wooden mask formed over his face, complete with carvings at the top representing his hair. His clothing became something colorful and powerful, depicting scenes of all sorts of dark rituals. In the dimming light, it seemed his back unfurled, leaving him standing two feet over Maria.
The background darkened, and wind inexplicably whipped through the room. It was as if a storm front had invaded the exam room. Suddenly, Maria smiled. If anything should have told Fernandez it was all over, it would have been that.
Alvarez: It’s my mind. I can do anything I want.
Fernandez reached out, attempting to push Maria into submission, but this time it was he that was left powerless. Maria grabbed his wrist, and effortlessly peeled the claw-like hand from her shoulder. Then, she pried the staff from his grip, and it lit aflame in her hand. In seconds, smoke quickly turned into a conflagration erupting all around her, vaporizing the vision of Fernandez into absolute nothing.
With her tormentor gone, the wind settled, and the fire with it.
Finally, she was alone in her own mind. Free. She looked around the idle desks one last time. There was one thing she still had to do.
Alvarez: I’m coming for you, Quentin.
She closed her eyes, and she was off.
(( Collins House Grounds ))
She was back, somewhere in Collins’ brainscape. She couldn’t be totally certain if Fernandez, who she now was confident wasn't actually Faraday but her brain's interpretation of him, would be re-appearing or not. She was, however, fairly certain she was now in control of the nightmares.
As one foot, then another, touched down on the ground, the mist cleared away from her, as if afraid of her newfound power to manipulate the strange reality around her. It cleared away a path up to the massive looming house, truly ancient after standing who-knows-how-many hundreds of years.
Maybe in reality, there truly were ghosts and faye and monsters that haunted the bluffs or stalked the forests, but in the place, the only things with true power were her mind and Collins’. Overgrown vines twisted away as Maria proceeded past the walls, withering away in a fire that couldn’t be seen. They no longer seemed so menacing now that they were the ones fleeing in terror. She closed her eyes, and she could see Collin’s reality lying just beneath her own.
She saw him standing at the doors, and suddenly saw herself there too, without having walked a step. She reached out, took him by the shoulders, and then suddenly was off to another dream in a great rush of wind.