It had been an incredibly long day. Liam was tired and out-of-sorts and the last thing he wanted to hear from behind him as he walked toward the shuttle bay was his father's voice.
"Major, a moment, if you please."
Liam sighed, but didn't allow either his frustration or his fatigue to show as he turned back. "What can I do for you, Agent Sandoval?"
"I understand that you are headed back to D. C.," Sandoval said. "The Mothership's portal station is undergoing maintenance, and I would appreciate it if I could catch a ride with you."
Liam blinked at the courteous and questioning tone. Agent Sandoval didn't normally ask; he ordered. "Of course, Sandoval. I'm on my way now; are you ready to go?"
"Yes," Sandoval replied, surprising Liam again with the emphatic delivery of the single syllable. "It has been a very long day, Major, and I am ready for it to be over."
Liam grinned. "I was just thinking the same thing." He turned and led the way toward the shuttle bay, Sandoval silently keeping pace beside him. It was suprisingly comfortable, and reminded Liam of when they had worked together to find the source of Bliss some months back. Unfortunately, that only brought Lili, whose life he had been racing to save at the time, to mind. Her absence was still an aching void, made all the worse by Augur's and Da'an's betrayals. If only she had listened.
This was no time to get melancholy; he had to watch himself around Sandoval. He shook his head as they reached his shuttle, and gestured grandly for Sandoval to precede him. His father looked at him oddly, but climbed into the shuttle and secured himself in one of the passenger seats while Liam took his place in the pilot's seat.
He felt some of the tension and fatigue leaking out of him as he activated the virtual glass windscreen and waved up the holographic controls. There was nothing he loved more than flying, no matter who the passengers were. Besides, there was some childish part of him that wanted to show off for Sandoval, even if the other man neither noticed nor acknowledged Liam's skill.
As the shuttle slipped from the bay, Liam glanced back over his shoulder. Sandoval was pinching the bridge of his nose, his eyes closed. He looked, in that instant, as tired at Liam felt. He hesitated a moment, then turned around before Sandoval opened his eyes again and said, in as casual a tone as he could manage, "It's been a bit since you were released from the hospital. Are you feeling better now?"
For a moment, he thought Sandoval wasn't going to answer -- or was going to tell him to mind his own business -- but then he spoke. "Yes, Major, I am. Thank you for asking."
"You're welcome," Liam responded, with a quick glance over his shoulder. "Going interdimensional," he added, and made the double-handed gesture that activated the ID drive. It was a short trip to D. C. from the Mothership, and one that Liam had, by now, made hundreds of times with never so much as a hiccup. So he was not prepared for the alarms that suddenly sounded and the wash of red across the control interface.
"Major! What's happening?"
"Tell you as soon as I figure it out," Liam said shortly, his attention more for the readouts than for his father. The drives were functioning perfectly, so at least he and Sandoval weren't likely to slip sideways into another dimension, something Liam breathed a quick prayer of thanks for. He didn't think he could handle that again, and certainly not with Sandoval -- not after what had happened to Isabel and Maiya.
So if there was nothing wrong with the shuttle, then there must be something wrong with the environment. With a few quick brushes of his fingers against the interface, he switched from interior to exterior scanning and saw the problem -- there was some sort of debris in the slipstream. It was far too late to avoid it, though Liam certainly tried. He cut in the conventional drive, pulling them out of the ID slipstream, and turned the shuttle as hard as he could to try to miss the rock...but it was pulled out of the slipstream with them and there was nothing more he could do to avoid it.
The shuttle plowed sideways into the rock, flipped, and plunged earthward. One of the forward fins sheared off and went spinning away. Liam's hands frantically skipped through the air, activating the crash systems, and bringing up the landing controls.
"Brace," he called over his shoulder. "This isn't going to be pretty!"
Liam spared only a moment to wonder where they were -- it certainly wasn't D. C. Given the angle of the sun and the mountains that were approaching really, really quickly, it might not even be the eastern seaboard. He flicked a finger to activate the emergency beacon, then turned all his attention to bringing the shuttle down. With one of the forward fins missing, the craft fought his every attempt to stabilize it. It spiraled, no matter what he did; the best he could do was attempt to slow their descent.
The ground rushed toward them.
"Hang on!" Liam cried.
The shuttle hit. Darkness followed.
He could not fault the major's skill as a pilot; he had seen the boulder-sized rock in the ID slipstream even as Kincaid tried to avoid it. He doubted even Captain Marquette -- the best human pilot in the corps -- could have done so. He had seen her training in Kincaid and had cause at the moment to be grateful for the major's aptitude as a student. He spared a moment to wonder if Marquette had given the Jaridians the secret of interdimensional travel yet. He truly regretted having had to send her, but after her attempt to destroy the Mothership, it had been a choice between the Jaridians or Zo'or. She was better off by far with the Jaridians.
He set thoughts of Marquette aside as unproductive; she could not help in this situation. He turned his attention outward. The shuttle had come to a stop against a huge outcropping of what looked like conglomerate rock, pitted grey stone pebbled with rounded quartz. The sort of huge rocks left behind when the glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age.
Geology 101 in college. He wasn't interested in the physical sciences; he was prelaw, so he chose his science requirement at random. Astronomy 101 was the only other course that interested him; he'd flipped a coin between them. The first day of class, he had arrived late; the only seat available was next to a thin girl with a tumble of blond curls. She had been wearing a vanilla-scented perfume. He would always associate the scent of vanilla with DeeDee.
Sandoval shook his head. Now was definitely not the time for a memory intrusion. He didn't think he'd hit his head and he didn't appear to be injured. The major, on the other hand, had still not stirred. The shuttle was mostly upright, canted only slightly into the huge rock. Looking to the side, he could see that they were in a deciduous forest. He could hope that they weren't too far from their destination, but he knew that having come out of interdimensional space as abruptly as they had, and then hitting that rock, they could have been thrown anywhere. He was certain that he had seen the major activate an emergency beacon, so rescue should not be too far off. They had only to wait with the shuttle.
He frowned at the quality of the light. It had been 6:00 p.m. Eastern time when they had left the Mothership, but it looked far earlier than that outside. Had they been thrown even farther off course than he had originally thought? Were they on the west coast instead of the east coast? That would certainly throw searchers off; rescue might not be so close as he had hoped.
The major should have woken by now; it was time to check on him. It was entirely possible that he had been injured despite the Taelon crash bubble technology; the pilot's seat, situated beyond the bioslurry of the roof to afford the pilot as much of a view as possible, was quite a bit less protected than the passengers seats which were well into the body of the shuttle.
He reached up to release the seat restraints and was pleased to see that his hands didn't shake. The restraints parted and he slid out of the seat, standing slowly. When his legs showed no sign of giving out on him, he stepped forward, putting a hand on the major's shoulder.
"Major Kincaid? Major, wake up."
At the sound of his father's voice, he remembered: the rock in the ID slipstream, the crash. He was lying across the console; he seemed to remember slamming into it. His crash bubble must have failed to activate.
"Can you move, Major?"
"I--" There was something wrong with his vision. Everything was blurry. Liam blinked again. He pulled his arms in and pushed himself away from the console, stopping when his vision went from blurry to grey. He waited, his hands splayed on the console, his head hanging between his sitff arms, until his vision went back to blurry.
"Major, you're bleeding," Sandoval said at the same time that Liam became aware of the wetness on his face. He touched the fingers of his right hand gently to his forehead; they came away covered in blood.
"Here." Sandoval handed Liam a snowy handkerchief. He used it to mop some of the blood from his face and grimaced at the red on the white cloth.
"Where are we?" he asked, looking around, and noting the enormous rock against which the shuttle rested.
"I'm not certain," Sandoval admitted. "I doubt that the shuttle will fly again, but I was hoping you would be able to at least bring up the instruments and the uplink to the Mothership."
Liam nodded, wincing at the pain in his head, and gestured above the console. Nothing happened. He frowned and gestured again, with no better result than before. He poked at the console in front of him and a hatch opened in the bioslurry of the base. The emitter for the control interface was dark -- either broken or without power. Liam wasn't sure which was worse. If it came to it, he might be able to access the controls in the manner that the Taelons did, but that would mean revealing himself to Sandoval, and he couldn't take that risk -- not unless it literally meant the difference between life and death. And even then, there would have to be power for him to do it.
He released his seat restraints and heaved himself to his feet. He stood, swaying, holding the handkerchief to his forehead as his blurry vision pixelated under a wave of dizzyness. A groan escaped him; he swallowed heavily at a distinct feeling of nausea. He felt himself tilting....
Sandoval caught him. "How badly are you injured, Major?" The tone was sharp, but Liam was used to his father barking at him.
"Dunno." His sight was not clearing; now that he was upright, all he wanted to do was lie down. At the moment, his injuries were secondary; there were other things to consider -- like whether or not the shuttle had any power. "Need to check the engines."
He started to move toward the back of the shuttle, but as soon as Sandoval released him, he started to pitch over again. Sandoval made an impatient noise, but caught him gently enough and supported him into the back of the shuttle, where he helped Liam down to his knees.
Liam leaned against the wall, his hand flat against the bioslurry. It felt cold, which pinged an alarm in the back of his mind. Living bioslurry was always a bit warm, with the slightest thrum to his Kimera senses. The wall beneath his hand was cold and lifeless. He pried the hatch off the engine compartment to find it as cold and dark as the inside of the pilot's console. He turned his back to the wall with a defeated groan, sliding down to a seat on the floor, his knees doubled up in front of him. He leaned his head back and blinked up at Sandoval.
"We're in trouble."
Sandoval frowned down at him. "Explain, Major."
"Trouble," Liam reiterated. He gestured over his shoulder toward the open hatch. "No power. No power, no controls. No controls, no uplink."
"Can you fix it?"
Liam shook his head, only realizing what a terrible idea that was when everything from the top of his skull to his teeth started to throb. It felt like his head was going to explode; that might be a mercy. He squeezed his eyes closed and pressed the handkerchief once more to his forehead. "No."
When he opened his eyes again, Sandoval was still standing there, gazing at him impassively -- or so he thought, anyway. It was hard to tell...everything was so blurry. He sighed.
"I'm a pilot," he explained, "not a mechanic. Can you fix your car?"
"I take your point, Major. Very well. I cannot get a global signal. Can you?"
Liam fumbled his global off his belt and opened it. It started all right, but never got past the MCI logo. "Nothing."
Sandoval sighed. "It appears this day is going to be even longer than either of us anticipated, Major."
Liam wheezed a laugh, but it hurt and he stopped quickly, his hands going to his chest.
"Do you keep any emergency supplies aboard, Major?"
"The usual." Liam struggled to his feet. It was a little easier, but he still had to lean against the wall to keep from falling over. The bloody handkerchief remained crumpled on the floor next to the engine hatch.
Like light striking his brain, he suddenly remembered the one thing he did carry that would get them out of this. He swung back to Sandoval, an excited light in his eyes, but the movement was too much for his addled brain. He overbalanced and would have ended up on the floor again if Sandoval hadn't caught him.
His father eased him into one of the passenger seats. "Stay here, Major. What were you looking for?"
"There's a portable portal in the supply locker." Liam closed his eyes as the world spun around him, but that only made the dizziness worse. He opened his eyes, trying to find some point of stability. He was starting to feel nauseated and his vision was pixelating again, but he thought Sandoval raised a brow.
"A portal? Why would you need a portal on a shuttle?"
"For emergencies," Liam replied shortly, trying to keep his stomach under control. If there was one thing he didn't want to do in front of Sandoval, it was vomit.
"I see," Sandoval said, his tone giving nothing away. "Well, your foresight may have saved us a cold night, Major. Stay where you are. I'll get it."
"Don' think 'm goin' anywhere." Liam heard his words slurring. "San'val? Think 'm really hurt...."
Sandoval had started for the back of the shuttle, but Liam heard him turn back. "Major? Major, stay with me. Major?"
If Liam hadn't been so sick and in such pain, he might have been gratified at the concern in Sandoval's voice. As it was, he could barely hear his father through the sudden roaring in his ears. His vision went grey, then black.
Taelon technology was supposed to prevent such injuries, but it seemed that just like human technology, it wasn't always reliable -- Captain Marquette had been seriously injured when her shuttle had crashed a couple of years back, yet her passenger Da'an had been unhurt. Perhaps more safety measures were required for pilots, he thought. At the moment, though, the important matter was getting the major to a hospital.
It occurred to Sandoval, then, that this was his opportunity to rid himself of the thorn in his side that was Liam Kincaid. No one, looking at the wreckage of the shuttle, would even question if the major died here -- not even Da'an. If Da'an even asked; Sandoval had noticed a distinct cooling in the relationship between the Companion and his Protector in the last little while. Something had happened while he was hospitalized, he thought. Maybe something to do with those Resistance members who had been killed in a shootout with Volunteers at about the same time. He was certain that Kincaid was Resistance, but he had no tangible proof to bring to the Synod. Kincaid's close relationship with Captain Marquette proved nothing; after all, Da'an had had a close relationship with the captain. So, for that matter, had he, though clearly not close enough. Had he but known sooner that she was Resistance.... He shook his head. He should have known simply by the way she always challenged him; she had realized that the motivational imperative in his CVI had failed, and she had been pushing him to see if she could recruit him. He'd been blind enough to think she was simply rebelling against his authority, acting out because Boone had been her friend.
Life would be so much simpler without Kincaid around. And yet...Sandoval had quickly grown to respect the major. He was even more of a Boy Scout than his predecessor had been, but he was good at his job, an excellent pilot, and though he didn't seem to care for the Volunteers, he was always faultlessly polite to them. He seemed to be a genuinely good man -- a rare thing, in Sandoval's experience. The antagonistic nature of their relationship was based, in large part, on the fact that their Companions were adversaries. There were times when Sandoval could wish it otherwise. He had never been oblivious to Kincaid's overtures of friendship, and perhaps having the major's Resistance ties at his disposal would aid him in his own mission of destroying the Taelons, but...he didn't know that he could take the chance that he was wrong.
On the other hand, looking at the unconscious major, he found he could neither murder the man in cold blood, nor just let him die. If nothing else, he supposed he owed it to Captain Marquette to take care of her friend -- and he knew damn well that neither of them would have even given any thought to leaving him to die; he'd had ample proof of that. He sighed and got to his feet. A portable portal. He shook his head. A further indication that the man was Resistance; portable portals were hardly standard emergency equipment.
Though, all things considered, perhaps they should be, he thought, with a wry glance at his surroundings.
The supply cabinet was locked, but the codes were all standard, so he only had to cycle through three or four before he found the right one. He had to jump back to avoid the supplies, dislodged by the crash, that came tumbling out. Given the amount of stuff now lying on the shuttle's floor, the major kept a great deal more in his shuttle than was strictly necessary. He sorted through the mess on the floor and pulled out the portal.
It was broken.
Sandoval allowed himself to sag for just a moment, before squaring his shoulders and getting to work. With the aid of his CVI, he took a quick inventory of the items in the supply locker as he turned them over looking for the first aid kit. The major's injuries needed to be tended first, then they needed to see if they could figure out where they were. Given the supplies onboard -- most of which were not standard -- the major either really was a Boy Scout and living up to their motto, or he was particularly paranoid about being stranded in the wilderness. Or he fully expected to be discovered as Resistance at any moment and had an escape plan ready. That would certainly explain not only the portal, but what appeared to be camping gear and extra food.
On the other hand, Sandoval thought, the major was an SI vet. The over abundance of supplies could simply be a symptom of whatever had happened to him during the war and those three years he had been missing. Right now, it appeared that they were both going to have cause to be grateful for the major's precautions.
First aid kit in hand, he made his way back to the major's side.
Sandoval hated him.
He opened his eyes and looked around. His vision was still blurry, but it seemed that it might be a bit better. His stomach seemed...quiet. He wasn't certain he trusted it. He reached up and felt the bandage wound around his throbbing head. Sandoval had done his customary good work; Liam doubted that his father had ever been bad at anything, even prior to the implantation of his CVI. He wondered why they were still here, though; had Sandoval not found the portal? He had clearly opened the supply locker to get the first aid kit.
Liam sighed and raised the seat's restraints so he could get up. He moved slowly and carefully and made it to his feet, where he stood, waiting to see whether he would need to sit back down. After a moment, though, it appeared that he wasn't going to fall over, so he let go of the seat and took his first good look around. He spotted the pieces of the broken portal immediately and his shoulders fell. Damn.
Sandoval had been busy while Liam had been unconscious. Not only had he treated Liam's injuries, but he had emptied the supply locker and organized all the supplies. He had rigged thermal blankets to drape from the shuttle's roof; they were currently drawn back to let in light, but when night fell, could be dropped to trap heat. Liam didn't let himself believe that they were going to be rescued by nightfall. With no power, the emergency beacon would also not be working. They could only hope the Mothership had picked it up before the crash and could extrapolate their position.
He wondered where Sandoval had gone, but knowing his father as he did, Liam could assume that he had either gone to see if he could assess their location, or he had gone to find water, or he had gone to find firewood, since they would need a fire at nightfall. Looking around at the neat camp Sandoval turned the shuttle into, Liam judged he had been unconscious for at least an hour -- and while Sandoval had been treating his injuries. That was worrisome, to be honest. It indicated that he was more badly hurt than he thought.
Or maybe it indicated that he trusted Sandoval more than he thought, and that was worrisome, too, because Sandoval wouldn't hesitate to turn him over to Zo'or if either of his biggest secrets should come to light.
He was going to have to be extremely careful until they were rescued.
All right, Liam, enough of this. Do something useful, he ordered himself. He had checked the engines from the inside hatch; he should check them from the outside hatch, as well. He might be able to find a way to get power for the uplink. He moved slowly past the pilot's station to the edge of the shuttle floor and climbed down carefully, taking a look around once he was stable on the ground.
The shuttle was resting, as he had seen before, against a natural monolith studded with rounded chunks of white quartz. Turning the other way, he was astonished to see that the monolith was near the bottom of a steep hill, down which the shuttle had obviously slid -- and possibly rolled -- after impact. His hand went to his bandaged head with a wince. No wonder he hurt. It was a miracle that he had survived, given that his crash bubble had clearly not activated -- or at least not activated properly.
The hillside and rock outcropping were surrounded by forest. They had been lucky to hit up the hill, rather than crashing into the outcropping or into the surrounding forest. Unfortunately, the grassy hillside would not show the shuttle's path like broken trees might. On the other hand, had they plowed through trees in such a fashion as to scar the landscape in a way that the Mothership could easily detect, Liam would definitely not be alive to worry about it. He shivered at the thought, then shivered again. Despite the sun's warmth, he felt chilled.
He made his slow way to the engine hatch and opened it. Once again, there was no spark of life. He hadn't really expected there to be, but was, nonetheless, disappointed. He sighed and closed the hatch. They really were stranded. He wondered how far they were from the nearest town. Despite the Taelons and the associated technological advances and the reach of the global network, there were still places in the world that were cut off. It was just their luck that they'd crash into one. Still, if rescue wasn't forthcoming soon, perhaps they could manage to hike out.
There was nothing more that Liam could do, so he closed the hatch and made his way back to the front of the shuttle. He glanced speculatively at the hillside; maybe they could get a global signal from higher up.... He considered attempting to climb the hill, but just the thought of struggling up that slope made his chest ache beneath the tight bandages Sandoval had applied. His father had obviously noticed Liam clutching at his chest and assumed that he had cracked or broken ribs. Liam's hand went to his side and he grimaced in pain, closing his eyes momentarily. He was suddenly so tired, as if just the exertion of climbing out of the shuttle to check the engines had exhausted him.
His vision greyed out as it had before. He bent over, breathing as deeply and evenly as the pain in his chest allowed. He could not pass out again. He could not trust Sandoval. He had to stay awake. He had to....
After a few minutes that seemed like an eternity, the grey mist receded. Liam straightened cautiously, one hand still clutching his chest. The crisis had passed for now.
Somehow, they needed to get power to activate the uplink to the Mothership. Or they needed to get a global signal. He eyed the hillside again. Perhaps he could try it later. Maybe with Sandoval's help he could make it to the summit.
He needed power. What did he have to generate power? Think, Liam!
Okay. He had battery-operated lanterns in his camping supplies. Maybe he could jury-rig something? But how to wire a human battery into a Taelon bioengineered system? He doubted he could get something like that to work. Augur might manage it, but he wasn't so technically inclined.
His head throbbed. He pinched the bridge of his nose, his eyes momentarily squeezed shut. His hands were cold, an unaccustomed state for him. He was usually a lot warmer. He opened his eyes, and stared blearily at his hand. If only he still had his shaqarava, he might be able to use that energy to get power to the uplink. But his shaqarava had disappeared after Mount Weather, and there was certainly no sign of them now. He had told Renee that he was becoming more and more human, but right now, he really wished he were a bit more Kimera.
He boosted himself back up into the shuttle, and scooted back to lean against the pilot's console. He let his head fall back and closed his eyes, wracking his brain for a way to get them out of their predicament.
While Sandoval could move quietly enough when he had to, in this instance, there was no reason for stealth. Fallen leaves and twigs littered the forest floor. Not only that, but he was breathing heavily from the exertion of the climb from the stream he had found. He was somewhat relieved to see the major's head come up slowly and turn in his direction.
"Sandoval?" the major called, blinking myopically.
"Yes, Major," he replied. "I'm glad to see you're back with me. How are you feeling?"
"Awful," Kincaid replied, surprising Sandoval somewhat. He had expected the man to make light of his injuries, maybe make a small joke about them. Wasn't that what tough guys did? Then he surprised Sandoval even further when he said, "Thank you for the bandages."
Sandoval shrugged, a bit uncomfortable. "You're welcome."
Kincaid's gaze shifted to the canteen slung around his shoulder. "You found water?"
Sandoval nodded. "There's a stream at the base of the hill." He gestured vaguely over his shoulder.
"Were you able to get a global signal anywhere?"
Sandoval shook his head. "Not down below. I was going to try climbing higher in a little while."
"Any signs of civilization?"
"No. I'm not sure where we are, though the rock formations indicate somewhere northish; they're the kind of rock left behind by glaciers."
Kincaid raised an eyebrow, then winced slightly, the movement obviously painful. "How do you know that?"
Sandoval shrugged. "College geology class."
Kincaid nodded vaguely at that. "Guess it's a good thing you remember it."
"Not that it's going to do us much good." Sandoval finished his climb and stood in front of the major for a moment. He unslung the canteen from around his neck and handed it to Kincaid, watching closely as the major unscrewed the cap and carefully tipped the canteen back to get a drink. He turned to lean against the edge of the shuttle before the major noticed his attention. He wasn't a doctor, obviously, but from the way the major's eyes weren't quite focusing and his careful movements, Sandoval was becoming more certain that the head injury was worse than it looked.
"I checked the engines again while you were gone," Kincaid said, handing the canteen back. "There's no power at all."
"So no emergency beacon, then." Sandoval didn't know why he had expected anything different. The day had started out bad, continued bad, and gotten egregiously worse.
"No. If we're lucky, they picked it up before we crashed. If we're not...." The major's voice trailed off. Sandoval turned to look to make sure he was all right; the hand pressed to Kincaid's forehead partially obscured his grimace of pain. As if sensing Sandoval's eyes on him, his hand dropped. A mask seemed to descend over his features, but Sandoval could still detect the tiny tightening around his eyes and mouth indicating how much he was hurting.
"Sorry," the major said. "Bit of a headache."
And there was the minimization that Sandoval had been expecting earlier. He said nothing. He did not actually wish to antagonize the man -- not right now, at least. He looked away up the hill. The trail of the shuttle's downward slide was littered with bits of debris -- mostly chunks of bioslurry that had broken off, including the other forward fin.
"We were lucky," Kincaid said, then.
Sandoval, who had been thinking much the same thing, turned back. "Lucky, how?"
Kincaid gave a small shrug. "The engine cores died and we lost power before impact. If they had exploded, instead, we wouldn't be worrying about rock formations." He slanted a glance at the outcropping in question. "Come to that, the rock formations wouldn't be worrying about rock formations. On the other hand, an ID core explosion would've made the crash site very visible; the Mothership would've had no problems finding us."
"While they might have had no trouble finding the crash site, Major, I think they might have had plenty of problems finding us," Sandoval said dryly.
For just a moment, Kincaid stared at him, as if not believing that he had made a joke, then he grinned. "That's the truth."
Sandoval pulled out his pocket watch. It was 8:00 p.m. by his watch, which was set to D. C. time. Roughly two and a half hours since the crash. He looked speculatively up the hill, then up at the sky. It was starting to get dark. This close to the summer solstice, it wouldn't be fully dark -- in D. C., at least -- for another hour and a half, but it would get dark much sooner under the trees.
"We might have to leave climbing the hill until morning," Kincaid said, obviously following his line of thought.
"If we're still here in the morning," Sandoval replied, snapping his watch closed and returning it to his pocket.
"You don't really think they're going to find us before morning, do you?"
Sandoval turned back to the major. "One can always hope," he said mildly. He climbed into the shuttle. "I don't know about you, Major, but I'm hungry." He went to the back of the shuttle where the food was piled and chose two MREs out of the pile of a week's worth of food. He shook his head again at what was either the SI vet's paranoia or the Resistance member's careful planning. Whichever it was, it was going to be useful to them now.
He kept his thoughts from showing on his face as he walked back to the front of the shuttle and handed one of the packages to the major.
"Thanks," Kincaid said.
Sandoval was halfway through his food before he realized that Kincaid was not eating. "Are you all right, Major?"
Kincaid started to nod, then grimaced in pain. "Yeah. Just...not hungry."
Sandoval studied the major for a moment. He was pale, much paler than Sandoval had ever seen him. Tiny lines of pain showed through his impassive mask and his eyes still did not appear to be properly focusing. Since Sandoval had come back with the water, he had not moved from his seat against the pilot's console. Sandoval sighed.
"Look, Major, I don't want to sound like your father, but you really should eat something. We may need to hike out of here, and you'll need your strength for that."
He was surprised by the major's short bark of laughter. "Something funny?"
"No," Kincaid said quietly. "Sorry." He closed his eyes briefly and something almost like sorrow passed across his face.
Sandoval frowned, wondering what had caused it. He finished his food and disposed of the packaging in the back of the shuttle. There was no doubt, now, that night was falling, the sun had already sunk below the trees and the sky was a deep, deep blue. There were two sleeping bags in the gear that Kincaid had packed into the shuttle. Sandoval laid them out in the back of the shuttle, setting the flameless camp heater -- made by Doors International, he noted, and was there anything that Doors wasn't into? -- between them.
When he was finished, he found Kincaid had moved; he was now standing beside the shuttle, his hand on it to hold himself steady. He was gazing speculatively up the hill.
"What is is, Major?"
"We should go up there," Kincaid replied, gesturing vaguely up the hill.
Sandoval frowned. "We will. In the morning."
"No," Kincaid said, "I meant, we should go up a little way just to see the stars. It might help us figure out where we are."
"I don't think you should be attempting to climb the hill at all, Major, but especially not in the dark," Sandoval said after a moment's consideration.
"Which of us here is the navigator, Sandoval? Can you navigate by the stars?" Kincaid challenged.
"As a matter of fact, Major, I can," Sandoval replied. "My father taught me when I was a boy."
Kincaid was silent for a moment, and in the gathering gloom, Sandoval thought he saw that same odd sorrow cross the major's face. It was the mention of family that did it, Sandoval realized, and remembered that Kincaid, like Sandoval, didn't have any living family.
"I'm sorry," Kincaid said. "You're right. I just...want to see the stars."
Sandoval found himself responding to the longing in the major's voice. He considered it; a short distance up the hill would probably not hurt the major any more than he was already and would still afford a decent view of the sky.
"All right, Major. But not too far. And I will help you."
He had managed to keep from gaping in shock when his father agreed to help him up the hill a little way. Sandoval kept acting in an uncharacteristic fashion, and Liam wasn't sure how to deal with it. He knew how to react to his father's animosity. Though he had wished for it all his life, he wasn't certain how to deal with Sandoval being...nice. Sandoval sat nearby, his head tipped back, gazing upward. Liam found it less painful to lie on his back. The spot they had chosen was in the path the shuttle had made as it slid down the hill where the grass was already flattened.
They were silent as darkness descended and star after star appeared, tiny glittering sparks in the black vastness of the night. There were so many that they actually cast a faint illumination on the hillside. Liam could clearly see his father silhouetted against that glory. For a moment, something deep in him -- something Kimera -- reveled in the peaceful beauty of the sky. The night was hushed, with a numinous quality, as though something wondrous, hidden just out of reach, surrounded them. His mother, Liam knew, would have ascribed the feeling to the ancient ghosts of the land. This was not her ancestral homeland, but Liam felt that if he could just reach out in a certain way, he would connect with those spirits....
Before he could lose himself in such an attempt at communion, something human asserted itself. There were an awful lot of stars up there; a lot more than he had expected, meaning there wasn't any other light around to obscure them. This was bad. They might have accidentally found the actual middle of nowhere.
He sighed. A problem for tomorrow, he supposed. They weren't going anywhere tonight.
"Are you all right, Major?" Sandoval's voice was hushed, as if he, too, felt the sacred quality of the night, and did not wish to disturb it.
"Yes," Liam replied, equally softly. "It's beautiful, isn't it?"
"I haven't seen skies like these since I was a boy," Sandoval said. "We may even be able to see the Milky Way when it rises."
If he had any misgivings about the sky, he kept them to himself.
After a bit, Liam tentatively prompted, "When you were a boy?"
There was a long pause, as though Sandoval was considering whether or not to say anything more, then he said, "Yes. I was born in the Caya Islands, and didn't move to the mainland until I was nearly thirteen."
"I've never been there. Is it nice?" Liam found that he wanted to keep his father talking. This was the closest they had ever come to interacting as child and parent, and Liam liked it, even if he couldn't tell Sandoval the truth.
"It's beautiful." There was an undercurrent of something in Sandoval's voice that took Liam a moment to identify. Sadness?
"When was the last time you were there?"
"About six years ago." Sandoval seemed to hesitate. "For my father's funeral."
Liam closed his eyes, briefly, and swore silently at himself. "I'm sorry," he said. "I had no idea."
He could see Sandoval shrug and look in his direction. "It's all right, Major." He looked away, tipping his head back up toward the stars. "In any case, it was all a long time ago. In the islands, children are taught to survive on the open ocean as soon as they are old enough to handle a boat by themselves."
Understanding dawned. "That's why you can navigate by the stars."
"Yes. My father and grandfathers and uncles taught me the southern stars. I learned the northern stars after we left the islands."
"It sounds wonderful," Liam said wistfully. He regretted sometimes, growing up without a childhood. If his physical age matched his actual age, he wouldn't even be in preschool yet. And I wouldn't be stranded in the middle of nowhere because I crashed a shuttle.
"What about you, Major? How did you learn to navigate by the stars?"
Liam could hardly tell his father that his navigational talents were inborn -- partly Kimera knowledge, yes, but also partly because of what Sandoval had just related to him about being taught as a boy. Those memories and skills had been passed to Liam. At the same time, he found that he suddenly could not recall a single detail of Liam Kincaid's actual history that Augur had made him memorize before going to Boone's funeral, and cudgeling his brain trying to draw something forth only made his head ache more. Sandoval would have done a background check on him; he'd know Kincaid's history. He frowned into the darkness. "I picked it up here and there," he temporized after a moment.
Sandoval apparently accepted the answer. A silence fell, then, each man returning to his own thoughts, but it wasn't a stiff, uncomfortable silence. Rather, it was more like the silence between two old friends who do not need to build walls of words between themselves.
Eventually, the hoot of an owl broke the silence. Liam took the opportunity to ask a question that he had been considering for a while. "Do you think we should stay with the shuttle tomorrow, or attempt to hike out?"
"That's a very good question, Major," Sandoval replied. "Before we make that decision, we need to get to the top of the hill and see if we can get a global signal." His head turned in Liam's direction, though Liam wasn't certain if his father could actually see him any longer -- unless the CVI allowed him to see better in the dark. "Besides, are you capable of hiking out?"
"Of course I am," Liam said without thinking about it.
Sandoval's voice was surprisingly patient when he said, "Are you certain of that, Major? You're unsteady on your feet, probably have a concussion, and you certainly have at least one cracked rib."
Liam sighed. His father was right, and he admitted it sheepishly. "Maybe I'll be better in the morning."
"Anything is possible, Major. Anything is possible."
He sat up carefully, groping for the flashlight he had laid next to his sleeping bag. The sound came again, a little louder.
If I didn't know better, I'd call that a whimper. Could the major be in that much pain? He hadn't seemed to be in any more pain than before when Sandoval had helped him back down the hill and into the shuttle after they had spent over an hour gazing at the night sky. Kincaid had seemed grateful for his help and once he climbed into his sleeping bag, he fell asleep almost instantly. Sandoval had watched his fellow protector for a long time before he had finally switched off the light and gone to sleep himself.
Sandoval's hand connected with the flashlight and he switched it on, shielding the light with his fingers before turning it in the major's direction.
Kincaid was asleep, apparently in the throes of a dream -- not a good one, to judge by his anguished expression. As Sandoval debated whether or not to wake him, he whimpered again, and this time, Sandoval made out a single word.
Father? Kincaid's parents were dead, Sandoval knew. His father, an Army officer, had died in a car crash when Kincaid was a teenager. According to his official records, his father's inspiration was part of the reason he had himself joined the Army.
Sandoval was inclined to leave the major to it and go back to sleep, but then the dream seemed to get worse. The major began to thrash in his sleeping bag, which Sandoval knew couldn't be good for his ribs.
"No," he said, the words becoming clearer. "Don't leave me. Please don't leave me."
Kincaid had worked one arm free of his sleeping bag, and Sandoval lowered the flashlight, reaching over to touch the major's hand in order to wake him before he further hurt himself. Kincaid's eyes opened and he drew in a gasping breath. "Father!"
"It's just a dream, Major."
Kincaid's fingers curled around Sandoval's wrist, gripping it strongly. "Don't leave me, Father," he said in a pleading voice. "Please don't leave me."
The major was either hallucinating, Sandoval realized then, or not actually awake. He resisted his first urge, which was to pull away. The man was badly injured and apparently caught in the grip of a nightmare. It cost Sandoval nothing to relieve his fears -- though he would, of course, make note of them.
"No one is going anywhere, Major," he said softly, noting the man's dilated pupils and unfocused stare. No, definitely not awake. "Go back to sleep."
"Promise me you won't leave me." The major's eyes were already closing again.
"I won't, Major."
The grip around his wrist loosened and Sandoval pulled his hand free. The major's hand remained atop his sleeping bag, his fingers curled. Obeying an instinct to which he could not put a name, Sandoval cautiously tucked the major's arm back into the sleeping bag. He sat back in his own sleeping bag, wide awake, staring at the major's now slack features. Sandoval was only a few years older than the major, yet asleep, without the nearly omnipresent crease between his brows or the smirk that Sandoval often wanted to smash off his face, Kincaid looked very much younger.
Sandoval frowned, considering. There was something about the major that reminded him of Siobhan Beckett, though he couldn't say what it was precisely. Perhaps it was just the matter of their improbable friendship. Even now, a year after he had joined their ranks, Kincaid had no other friends among the Companion Protectors; the other protectors all resented that he had both appeared from nowhere -- second-in-command to William Boone during the SI War notwithstanding -- and had not been forced to be implanted with a CVI. Yet he and Siobhan had been friends. They had become close very quickly, though Kincaid had said that they'd never met before she turned up in Boone's office when everyone thought she was dead.
No. That wasn't what he'd said. Sandoval's CVI brought up the memory. She had asked if they had met before, and Kincaid, with an expression almost of loss, had replied, "No. Not in this life, anyway." That was back when he'd still apparently subscribed to the same Celtic mysticism as Siobhan had, constantly making obnoxious references to "the luck of the Irish" or to the runes of which Siobhan had been so enamored. Since her death, though, Kincaid had mentioned neither heritage nor runes -- at least not in Sandoval's hearing. Not even when they were in Ireland and the subject could presumably have come up.
It would be logical to conclude that they had been lovers, especially given how he had found them in the caves when Siobhan died. But something about that felt wrong to Sandoval. No, there had been something else going on there, something that he had missed. Not knowing was irksome, but he supposed that in the end it didn't matter; Siobhan had died, and as a result, he and Kincaid had both changed.
And...not necessarily for the better. Kincaid's openness had faded, and Sandoval suspected that was when Marquette had brought him into the Resistance. As for himself, losing Siobhan to the failure of her CVI in the wake of losing DeeDee had focused his hatred like a laser and fixed it squarely on the Taelons. He would see them driven off this planet if it was the last thing he did.
He looked back at Kincaid, who was now deeply -- and apparently dreamlessly -- asleep. There were times when he wished that he dared be friends with the man. But he had a mission and friends were too dangerous.
He switched off the flashlight so that he could no longer see the major's pale features, but it was a long time before he went back to sleep.
The ceiling above him was a blurred melange of blue and purple. He hadn't spent the night on the Mothership, had he? Then memory flooded back.
Oh. Right. Shuttle crash. Ow.
He unzipped his sleeping bag and groaned with the effort of sitting up. If anything, he hurt worse this morning than he had last night. Some of it was just bruising and the expected aches and pains associated with any accident. Some of it, though....
He was going to have to admit to himself -- and to Sandoval -- that he was really badly injured. If they determined that hiking out was the best option, then he would try. But he was not looking forward to it. Perhaps the best thing would be to stay here, let Sandoval hike out, and hope he sent help.
And speaking of Sandoval, where is he? The other sleeping bag had been tightly rolled and set neatly with the other camping gear Liam had stowed in the shuttle in case he needed to disappear. His mouth thinned. The portal had been the key component in that plan; he had not foreseen that it might break.
Of course, I didn't exactly plan to crash the shuttle, either, he thought, with a wry twist of his lips. He climbed out of his sleeping bag, but left it where it was; he didn't feel capable of rolling it at the moment. The curtain that Sandoval had rigged from silvery thermal blankets was closed, leaving the shuttle only dimly lit, but from the brightness leaking around the edges, Liam thought it might be midmorning already. Why had Sandoval let him sleep so late?
He slowly pulled himself to his feet using the back of one of the passenger seats. He felt light-headed and his vision pixelated; he clung to the seat, sternly telling his body that it was fine. It didn't really believe him, but after a minute or so, his vision cleared and the light-headedness faded -- though not completely.
Liam pushed through the curtain, not able to care whether it stayed up or not, but Sandoval had been careful enough in putting it up that it stayed where it was through his rough handling. He recoiled as the unfiltered morning light hit his face, driving a bright wedge through his eyes into his brain. He could feel a few tears squeezing past his tightly closed eyelids. After a few moments, though, he was able to blink his eyes open.
Morning light bathed the hillside in brilliance, gilding the shuttle's crash path. The bits and pieces it had shed as it came down the hill stood out darkly against the yellowed grasses. The sky above was a hard-edged blue. It was a glorious summer morning.
Despite the sun's warmth, though, Liam shivered, cold again. He knew he shouldn't be, not in late June with this plentiful sunshine, but that didn't seem to matter. He wrapped his arms around himself in an effort to stay warm. Why am I so cold?
He shuffled toward the edge of the shuttle's floor, near where the side wall transitioned to virtual glass -- when there was power, of course. Using the wall as support, he lowered himself to the ground, gazing away up the hill to see if he could spot his father. That Sandoval had hiked to the summit to see if he could get a global signal on his own without waiting for him to awaken, Liam did not doubt. He was a little annoyed about it, to be honest, but it was completely in keeping with his father's character. He hoped that Sandoval could get a signal up there, because he was completely done with this little trip. He wanted his own bed. He wanted a hot shower. He wanted some painkillers. He couldn't take regular over-the-counter drugs and the shuttle's first aid kit didn't include the pills that Dr. Park had formulated specifically for his particular physiology and metabolism.
Liam shivered again. His hands were ice cold. His eyes went to the sunshine on the shuttle's crash path and he suddenly yearned for that warmth. Surely he couldn't be cold out in the sun, could he? He was only cold because the shuttle was mostly shaded by the rock against which it had come to rest.
Yes, sunshine. That was what he needed. He'd only go as far as where they had watched the stars last night, and wait there for Sandoval's return. He could get that far on his own, surely?
Liam pushed off from the shuttle and started walking unsteadily up the hill. The slope wasn't that steep here, and the spot he was aiming for wasn't that far away. He was concentrating so hard on where he wanted to be that he didn't see the lump of rock sticking out of the ground until his foot caught on it. He was unable to stop himself from falling hard. The impact drove the air from his lungs. There was a curious twisting sensation deep inside and his chest burned. His vision pixelated once more as he gasped for breath; with the last of his strength he rolled onto his back.
His last thought before darkness took him was that Sandoval was going to be unhappy about having to drag him back down the hill.
After a moment spent catching his breath, Sandoval opened his global. There was no signal.
Because of course there isn't. Resisting the urge to throw the global to the ground and stomp on it -- after all, there was no one around to witness him indulging in such childishness -- he snapped it shut. He sighed heavily and lowered himself to the ground to rest and think. He would have to get back soon -- he had left Liam sleeping in the shuttlecraft.
He was very worried about the major; Liam had not stirred at all while Sandoval was moving about the shuttle this morning, nor had he responded to Sandoval calling his name. His breathing had appeared steady and unlabored, at least, so Sandoval had decided to leave him to rest. There was no point in Liam climbing the hill only to have to return to the shuttle if there was no global signal at the summit.
Sandoval paused, abruptly realizing that he had been thinking of the major by his given name. When had that happened? When had his dislike of Major Kincaid transitioned to concern for Liam? Upon consideration, it must have been during the major's nightmare. Learning that the man wasn't as annoyingly perfect as he sometimes appeared to be, that he had his hidden insecurities the same as any other human being, went a long way toward improving Sandoval's opinion of him. He laughed. Here in the wilderness with no one -- human or Taelon -- to witness it, Ronald Sandoval let down his guard and laughed. Who would have thought he could have gone, in the course of one night, from thinking of the man as Major Kincaid, an obstacle to eventually be removed, to Liam, someone he would not mind being friends with?
That thought brought him up short. I can't afford friends. Not anymore. Friends can be used against you, and I can't let anyone get that close. Not until the Taelons are gone. And if he were being honest with himself, when he was done, the world was unlikely to thank him for his efforts, given what he had had to do and would continue to have to do to maintain his position and ability to influence events. No, he fully expected to be executed as a traitor to the human race when he was finally done. But if humanity was safe, then it was worth the price.
He sighed. Such lofty thoughts were for another time. Right now, he had to get back to Liam. They had to decide what to do next.
Sandoval climbed to his feet and started back down the hill.
"Liam," Ha'gel said with a smile.
"Father." Liam reached out a hand. Radiance bloomed in the palm and he stared at it in shock. It couldn't be there; his shaqarava had been gone for months. He had told Renee he was becoming more human. "No," he whispered. "No. I want to be human. Forgive me, Father. I want to be human...."
The lights in his hands died. The clouds swirled around him. His father faded away, still calling his name.
Liam opened his eyes with a gasp. "Father!"
He made his way down the hill as quickly as he could while still taking care not to fall himself. They'd never get out of here if both of them were incapacitated.
"Liam!" he called again, sliding to his knees next to the supine form, heedless of his suit trousers. It was far too late to save this suit, in any case.
He was reaching for Liam's wrist when the major came awake. "Father!" he gasped, meeting Sandoval's eyes for a brief moment before he was wracked by a coughing fit. When the spasm passed and Liam was lying back on the grass, his chest heaving, Sandoval was alarmed to see specks of blood on the major's lips.
"Major," Sandoval replied, waiting until Liam got his breathing under control. "What happened?"
Sandoval was surprised to see something like embarrassment cross Liam's -- the major's -- face.
"I was cold," he explained, "and I thought maybe I could get warm in the sun. And then I tripped -- and apparently knocked myself out." The disgust in his voice would probably have been funny under other circumstances. As it was, Sandoval had to suppress a smile.
"Well. Are you feeling warmer now?"
"No," the major replied with a wince, his hands going to his ribs. "I'm feeling a lot stupider, though. I think I cracked another rib."
Sandoval kept his face smooth with an effort. That wasn't good news, though Liam could just be making a joke at his own expense; he did that sometimes. He didn't look good. He was pale, and the complaint of being cold combined with the blood on his lips was adding up to something nasty.
The major met his eyes. "How about you? Was there a signal?"
"There was not." Sandoval was not surprised that the major had surmised his destination. The man was not an idiot...under normal circumstances, at least. Trying to climb up the hill in his current condition had definitely not been an intelligent action. Still, there was no point in making an issue of it now. It was done and they would have to deal with the consequences.
Liam's breath went out in a heavy sigh and his eyes closed on a slow blink. "So what do we do now?" he asked when his eyes opened again.
Because he was watching so closely, Sandoval was suddenly struck by the major's eyes. He had never paid much attention to them before, but suddenly he realized that they were green, rather than blue or grey as he'd always thought. The only other person he'd ever seen green eyes in was Siobhan. Suddenly, he began to wonder if maybe what had been between them wasn't friendship. Maybe Liam was a relative? But she hadn't recognized him. His mind began to spin narratives of childhood friends, playmates, sweethearts...all scenarios that would fit the "not in this life" comment from that day in Boone's office.
"Sandoval?" Liam asked in a puzzled tone. "Something wrong?"
Sandoval realized that he had been staring at the major for entirely too long. "You mean other than this entire situation?" he replied dryly. "No. I was just thinking about something. Which is not important," he added briskly. "Can you get up, Major? Or would you prefer to say here, since you're here now? If you're still cold, I can fetch your sleeping bag."
Liam started to roll onto his side to prop himself up and stopped with a gasp. "No, I think I'd like to stay here for a while," he said. "It's good here. Sunny. Nice spot. Good view of...stuff."
Sandoval looked around with a brow raised. A good view of nothing but the broken grasses and an expanse of sky. "Of course, Major. I'll be right back."
"Take your time," Liam replied. "I'm not going anywhere."
And that's the problem, Sandoval thought as he walked back to the shuttle. There was no way that Liam would be able to hike out of this forest. The only thing they could do now was for Sandoval to go and bring back help -- and it wasn't going to be a short journey. If there were anyone around, some form of help would have arrived by now. A crashing shuttle would not have been exactly inconspicuous. He sighed as he entered the shuttle. He checked his watch; it was a little after 2:00 p.m. He could make a lot of progress today before he had to stop for the night, but he found himself reluctant to leave Liam, even though several hours spent traveling now could quite possibly be the difference between life and death for the other man.
For some reason, the remembered sight of Liam calling for his father during his nightmare rose in his mind. That the major had issues with abandonment was obvious. But was that a good reason for Sandoval to delay going for help?
He shook his head and gathered up the sleeping bag. He'd have to discuss it with the major. He hooked the water canteen over his shoulder; he wanted to see Liam wash the blood from his lips; it was possible he'd just bitten himself when he fell. But it was also possible -- and far more likely -- that he was bleeding internally. And if that was the case....
It might not make any difference when I leave.
When Sandoval returned to Liam's side, he was surprised at the alert look on the major's face. He had managed to prop himself up on one elbow, and he was staring at the sky, his head cocked, as though listening. Sandoval stopped and attempted to hear what it was that had caused such alertness in the major, but he heard nothing other than the breeze, which had stiffened a bit while he was down the hill.
"What is it, Major?"
"Wind," Liam replied. "The wind has come up and it's blowing from a different direction. I think there's a storm coming."
Sandoval lifted his head and took a deep breath, tasting the wind as he had been taught as a boy. This landscape was as alien to that little boy as the corridors of the Mothership; he didn't know what the various scents meant here. But he did know that when the wind changed quarter, it wasn't likely to be a good thing. He cursed inwardly, but said only, "In that case, perhaps we should get you back to the shuttle."
Liam shook his head. "Not yet. We have a little bit of time. I would really like to stay in the sun for as long as I can." Sandoval narrowed his eyes at the major's phrasing, but Liam was still watching the sky. His smile had something of a grim cast to it when he said, "I can work on my tan."
A shiver visibly rolled over him then, and Sandoval hurried to offer the sleeping bag. He had a sinking feeling that his earlier thought was correct; it didn't matter when he left. And if there was a storm coming, as Liam claimed, then it would be better to wait...and keep the major company for as long as necessary. He could spend part of that time making sure that their temporary shelter could withstand some battering.
"If you will be all right here for a while, then, Major, I will see what I can do about securing the shuttle against a storm."
Liam, wrapped in his sleeping bag and looking like an oversized child with a favorite blanket, nodded. "I'll be okay. I might...take a nap."
"If you need anything, Major, call me."
"I will. Thanks, Sandoval."
"You're welcome, Major."
Liam didn't see any way that he could get to a hospital in time short of a rescue that was not forthcoming.
There was no way he could hike out of this forest to civilization. Even were Sandoval inclined to help him -- which he might be, Liam thought, fingering the bandages strapping his ribs -- he didn't think he could make it. As for a rescue, while they would certainly have been missed by now, without power, there was no way to indicate their position to the Mothership. There would be no rescue from that quarter. Augur and Renee might be looking for him, but again, without some sort of signal, they were never going to find him. Augur might be able to scan for Kimera energy, but with the whole planet to search, it was extremely unlikely that he would be successful...and Liam didn't have any Kimera energy, anyway; as he had told Renee, he was becoming more human. Despite his dream, his shaqarava had been gone for months now.
The simple truth was that he wasn't going to get out of this forest alive. But his father could. So he had to send Sandoval away. He was uninjured and there were plenty of supplies for him. He'd make it out eventually. It was ironic that the supplies that Liam had packed in order to save himself should he be discovered as Resistance would save his father, but that was life, he supposed.
But back to the matter at hand. Should he tell Sandoval the truth? He wanted to, desperately -- had wanted to since the moment they had shaken hands at William Boone's funeral. There had never been a safe opportunity. But now there was nothing the Taelons could do to him. And while Sandoval might still reject a grown hybrid child, at least he would know the truth.
Liam was so tired. He had been fighting since the day he was born, and he was just weary. He didn't want to die, but there didn't seem to be any way to avoid it. The Resistance would carry on without him; Renee and Doors would see to that. As for the Taelons...they would -- with the possible exception of Da'an -- barely notice that he was gone.
He closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift. The sounds of Sandoval securing the shuttle were carried up the hill to him on the freshening breeze. They were fortunate that the shuttle was in the lee of the great rock; that would shelter them against the incoming storm. Despite the fading of his Kimera abilities, he could see flashes of it in his mind; bits of foresight that he had inherited from his Irish mother, not his Kimera father. It would be bad.
He was on the verge of sleep when he seemed to hear a voice calling his name.
Liam, where are you? Liam?
"Da'an," he whispered. Da'an?
Liam! A sense of relief came, and along with it the feeling of Da'an's presence, such as Liam had not felt for many months, not since their mentor-pupil relationship had deteriorated. Da'an was attempting to contact him through the Commonality to which he had a slight connection by virtue of his Kimera heritage. Liam, where are you?
Da'an. You're endangering yourself. If the others hear you....
Liam, I sense that you are hurt. Tell me where you are so I can send help.
I can't tell you, Da'an. I don't know.
Liam was still Da'an's Protector. Contact with him through the Commonality endangered Da'an's position. If the rest of the Synod -- especially Zo'or -- found out that Da'an had been harboring the last of the Kimera right in their midst.... Well, as he had only moments ago thought, there was nothing they could do to him now, but they could punish Da'an, remove him from the Synod, possibly even force him to embrace the Void. Liam forced himself to wakefulness, closing his mind to Da'an. He could feel the Taelon's desperation to find him, but it faded, and as he opened his eyes to the increasingly cloudy sky, it was gone.
Satisfied that he and Liam would at least remain warm and dry, he walked back up the hill. He was a bit surprised to see that Liam, still wrapped in the sleeping bag, had worked himself into a sitting position. He was squinting at the now overcast sky.
"Are you ready to head back down, Major?" Sandoval asked.
Liam nodded. "If you'd help me up, please." He extended a hand, but rather than grasping it and pulling the major to his feet, Sandoval ducked under Liam's arm, draping it over his shoulder. It would be slightly more comfortable for Liam to get up that way, though the difference in their heights made it awkward as a long-term solution.
"It seems you were right about the weather, Major," Sandoval said conversationally as they headed back down the hill, Liam's sleeping bag trailing down behind him.
"Unfortunately," Liam replied shortly. His attention seemed to be on his footing -- and Sandoval could hardly blame him for that, though he would not let the major fall again.
By the time the major was safely seated in one of the passenger seats in the shuttle, rain -- large, fat drops that visibly splashed -- had begun to fall. It pattered on the shuttle's roof and Sandoval had a bad moment when he realized he hadn't considered whether or not the bioslurry would be water-proof. The roof did not appear to be leaking, though, even after the rain went from a soft patter to a hard drumming, for which he gave thanks. The wind pushed and pulled at the thermal blanket barrier, but could find no purchase.
Liam cast a wry glance at the ceiling as though he had divined Sandoval's thoughts. "I was going to suggest that you leave me here and hike out to get help," he said, "but I think you might drown before you got three steps."
"I am not going to leave you here, Major," Sandoval replied evenly, despite his surprise at the major's suggestion. On second thought, it really wasn't a surprise. It was exactly the sort of thing that Major Kincaid would do. He'd never leave someone else behind, but when it came to himself? No problem.
Which, when Sandoval thought about it, didn't really match up with the nightmare of last night.
"Think about it, Sandoval," Liam said intensely, "it makes more sense for you to go. No one is going to find us here; the only hope for getting out is to actually get out. I can't make it and we both know it, so logically, you should take the supplies and go."
Sandoval frowned. He pulled out his watch and made a show of checking the time; it was 4:00 p.m. He had not had lunch, and he was beginning to doubt that Liam had eaten at all today.
"As you pointed out, Major, no one is going anywhere until this rain stops. It's late afternoon now; even if the rain stops in the next couple of hours, it would still be unwise to start out today. We can discuss this in the morning."
Liam sighed and nodded. "Fine, then," he said, with a flash of the stubbornness that Sandoval was so used to seeing in him. Then it was gone and he sagged, as though the brief argument had taken all his energy.
"Major," Sandoval said sharply, "have you eaten anything today?"
Liam shook his head and winced. "Too busy falling up mountains," he mumbled.
"You need to eat; you need the fuel to heal."
The look Liam shot at him tried for enigmatic, but Sandoval recognized that the major knew how badly injured he was. He glanced at the major's lips for evidence of blood, but there was no sign of any. Whatever further damage he had done in his fall, at least he didn't appear to have outright broken any ribs.
Sandoval went to the stack of food packages and rummaged through it, looking for something simple. There was a surprising variety of packages; and Sandoval was certain he had seen some soup earlier. Traditional canning had added a Taelon technique that worked sort of like glowsticks -- when you wanted hot soup, you cracked the bottom of the package and molecular excitation of the substance in the bottom portion of the tube warmed the soup in the compartment above it.
He handed the steaming package of soup to Liam. "There you go. Chicken noodle soup."
Liam accepted the package, cupping it in his hands and raising it to his face to breathe in the steam. "It does smell good."
"Didn't your mother swear by its curative effects?" Sandoval asked lightly. "I'm given to understand that most mothers do."
That same sorrowful expression from the previous day crossed the major's face. "My mother died when I was very young," he said. He raised the soup to his lips and drank; when he lowered it, sorrow had been replaced by surprise. "That is good."
Satisfied that he would finish it, Sandoval returned to the stack to find something for himself. He frowned as he considered the major's statement. Liam Kincaid's records indicated that his mother had died, yes, but only a few years ago, while Kincaid had been deployed during the war. It seemed unlikely that the man would forget when his own mother had died, but on the other hand, he did have a head injury, so it was entirely probable that he was confused. It wasn't important at the moment, but Sandoval filed the statement away to look at in the future.
When he turned to the rest of the shuttle having made his own dinner selection, Liam was hunched slightly over the still steaming soup container, his eyelids at half-mast, the lines of pain in his face pronounced. Sandoval's mouth tightened, but there was nothing to be done about it; there were no pain relievers in the first aid kit. Liam's eyes opened as Sandoval settled in the other passenger seat, but he still did not appear to be focusing correctly.
"Finish your soup, Liam," Sandoval reminded him as he ate his own meal -- something purporting to be meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans, with a little chocolate brownie for dessert.
Liam's eyes opened all the way and he looked at Sandoval in surprise, but obediently raised the soup to his mouth. Sandoval frowned, then cursed to himself; he'd used the major's first name instead of his rank as was his habit. He couldn't afford to slip up like that. He finished his meal, watching covertly as he did so to make sure that Liam -- the major -- was drinking his soup.
The rain pounded on the shuttle's roof, while wind roared overhead. The crack of thunder could be heard, but inside their bioslurry cave, no lightning could be seen. The thermal blankets rattled a bit, but held. For the first time in nearly twenty-four hours, Sandoval had reason to be pleased about the shuttle's position; tucked into the rock outcropping as it was, it was sheltered from the worst of what sounded like a severe thunderstorm.
Sandoval pulled a lantern from the supplies in the back of the shuttle and lit it; it was very bright, and he did not miss Liam's wince as the light assaulted his eyes. Fortunately, it was adjustable, and he dialed back the brightness.
"You should save the batteries," Liam said, his hand still over his eyes.
"We can afford a little light," Sandoval replied mildly. "I'll turn it off when the storm ends."
Liam shrugged. "Okay."
"If you're done with the soup, Major, I'll take care of the trash," Sandoval offered.
"Thanks." Liam handed over the empty soup tube; Sandoval was pleased that he had drained it broth, noodles, chicken cubes and all. He stowed it in the back where he was keeping the trash.
When he returned to mid-section of the shuttle, it was to see Liam drooping even more, his skin pale and waxy, his eyes almost completely unfocused, the lids only partially open. He was folding in on himself like a building slowly collapsing; the sight disturbed Sandoval who was used to the major being so much more forceful and dynamic. Alarm stirred in him; there might not be broken ribs, but that didn't preclude internal bleeding. And there was nothing at all that either of them could do about that.
This was now, he was afraid, a deathwatch. The only thing he could do was keep the major company.
"Major," he said, "why don't we get you situated so that you don't fall out of that seat?"
Liam jerked out of his somnolent state, and scanned the shuttle in a brief bout of alertness. "That might be a good idea," he conceded.
"Are you still cold?"
Liam nodded. "Yeah. I don't know why I can't get warm."
Sandoval kept his expression impassive. Worry for the major was a totally unaccustomed state for him, and he did not know if, given their history of animosity, Liam would welcome it. Instead, he simply helped Liam untangle himself from the sleeping bag, turned it right side out and laid it out on the floor while Liam remained in the passenger seat. "All right, Major," he said, when he had it ready, "settle down here. I can turn that heater on, too, if that would help."
Liam lowered himself awkwardly into the sleeping bag and Sandoval helped him zip into it. "Thanks. I think it might."
Sandoval retrieved the little heater and placed it near the major before turning it on. It was very efficient, and the interior of the shuttle was soon far warmer than Sandoval might like it, but Liam still appeared chilled, though he closed his eyes with a sigh of apparent contentment.
Not long after, he was asleep. Sandoval watched him for a little while, but his breathing appeared normal. He was simply asleep. Which, Sandoval reflected, is probably the best thing at this point.
He pulled out his watch to see that it was a little after 5:00 p.m. The storm's initial fury seemed to have abated, though the rain still drummed steadily on the shuttle's roof. It might have been a soothing sound, were the major's situation not so desperate. Sandoval was not suited to waiting. He was used to being able to affect what was going on around him, but now he was reduced merely to a witness. As an FBI agent, he had been used to saving people -- either directly with physical action or indirectly by use of his analytical skills and intellect. Neither would avail him here. There was, quite literally, nothing he could do. It grated. And it grated even more that he cared. The major was his adversary; had been since the time of their second meeting.
Even without the CVI, he would have remembered the major's fire when speaking of his lost platoon. Sandoval had goaded him into the emotional display, true, and the major had called him on it a moment later.
Sandoval had regretted setting the major up to be killed by the Jaridian probe along with Da'an. He still wanted to know how they had survived when the major was armed only with an inadequate weapon that would not have even scratched the probe's surface, let alone so thoroughly destroyed it. The major had survived any number of other situations where he should not have. He either had phenomenal luck, or there was some other factor at play.
If it was luck, then it would appear that the major's luck had run out last evening.
And it was Sandoval's own luck that he had been along for the ride.
Sandoval sighed, glanced again at the major, then pulled out his global. He might not be able to communicate with the device, but perusing his stored files -- reports, emails, possibly even a novel or two -- would be better than sitting here listening to the rain and waiting to see if the major woke up again.
As it turned out, he did have some novels hidden deep in the file structure where they could not easily be found. He had uploaded them over a year ago when he had realized that the motivational imperative in his CVI had failed. When he had first been implanted, everything that would take away his focus from the Taelons had been purged from his global's memory -- novels, social media, friends' contact information, photographs of DeeDee. He remembered not even hesitating over that latter; he'd done it even before he'd had her committed.
He hadn't had occasion to open the files before, but now, there was nothing keeping him from doing so. He read quickly and had finished one book and was choosing another when the major started to get restless, but did not wake.
Sandoval set the global aside as Liam once again called for his father.
And then, inexplicably, the Kimera Ha'gel.
But then, he reflected, when am I not?
Set apart from the rest of humanity by his service to the Taelons. Set apart from the rest of the Protectors by his lack of a CVI. Set apart from the Resistance by his alien heritage. His only real friends Lili and Augur, the one dead and the other doing his best to make amends for the betrayal that had cost so many Resistance lives. Friendship remained, but trust was shattered. They were gathering the pieces, trying to glue them back together, but what remained was less strong than before. The only other people he was close to were Da'an, the Companion he protected, and Renee Palmer. Da'an had once been like a parent to Liam and others had paid the price of his unconditional trust. Affection, perhaps, remained, but never trust. Never again. And while he hadn't trusted Renee to begin with, trust had been building between them until the night he revealed his greatest secret to her. Her palpable disgust and inability to understand why he had to save Sandoval's life had eroded the trust and fledgling friendship between them.
So, yes. Liam was more than used to being alone. It didn't necessarily trouble him.
"Why am I here?" he asked. There was no answer, but he didn't know whether to expect his Kimera father Ha'gel to materialize out of the moving clouds or not.
"Father?" he called. As before there was no reply. The scintillating patterns of light and shadow continued as serenely as if he were not there.
Maybe he wasn't. Maybe this time, it really was just a dream. Or maybe his first meeting with Ha'gel had been the dream.
"Ha'gel!" This time his call was a full-throated shout, but it was swallowed by the clouds, which continued to shift in their unknowable patterns, clearly indifferent to his presence.
And then someone called his name.
Liam started awake. He felt...heavy. Weighed down. It took enormous effort just to open his eyes and focus on...his father, who crouched beside him, a worried expression on his usually impassive face.
The other protector's expression reverted instantly to the blank one that Liam was used to seeing -- so quickly, in fact, that Liam began to doubt what he'd seen before. Sandoval wouldn't worry about him; it wasn't in his nature.
"What's goin' on?"
"You were dreaming again, Major."
Liam frowned. Dreaming? He remembered flashes of light, and calling out for Ha'gel. His visit to the psychokinetic plane was only a dream? He wasn't quite sure how he felt about that. Inside the sleeping bag, his fingers curled slowly over his palms, where his shaqarava weren't anymore.
"You called out for your father," Sandoval added. His expression remained impassive, but his eyes were strangely intent.
Liam opened his mouth to blurt out the truth, but something stopped the words before they came out. "He's been on my mind," he said instead. He attempted to sit up, but found Sandoval's hand on his chest, holding him back.
He drew breath to protest, but Sandoval said, "Let me get something for you to lean against." There were a couple of backpacks in the stores; Sandoval quickly stuffed one with the spare blankets that Liam had packed -- he was rather proud of himself for the sheer amount of stores he'd managed to stuff unnoticed into his shuttle -- and then helped Liam sit up and settled it behind him. It wasn't perfect; Liam was still flatter than he might prefer, but it was better than lying here unable to see anything except the ceiling.
It was still raining, he realized. "What time is it?"
Sandoval pulled out his silver pocket watch, angling the face toward the lantern. "Seven o'clock."
He had been asleep for only a couple of hours. He felt tired. He had been tired for a long time, he thought; he just had been able to ignore it. Worn out with the effort of keeping all his secrets. It wouldn't matter too much longer. He would be able to rest soon enough.
"I'm sorry I fell asleep on you," he said. "Not much company."
"You're injured, Major," Sandoval replied. "You need the rest." He waved his global. "I have not been entirely bereft of entertainment."
Liam's attention sharpened for a moment. He stared at the global, trying to get a look at the screen. "Did you get a signal?"
"No." Sandoval shook his head. He hesitated. "I was reading," he said. "Some books I had uploaded."
"Certainly more interesting than sitting here watching you sleep, at least," Sandoval said with a small smile.
Liam gaped at him for a moment, then laughed, wincing a bit and moving his hands to his ribs, though keeping them inside the sleeping bag because he still felt chilled. Warmer than before, but still not warm enough.
"Surely you keep a few books on your global, Major?"
"No," Liam said. "I spend so much time looking at screens or datastreams that when I have time to read, I prefer real books." He considered the overstuffed bookshelves in his otherwise spartan apartment. He had acquired copies of all of Sandoval's and Siobhan's favorite books and read them for himself. Those had led him in turn to other books that his parents had not read, which led him to even more books until his shelves were overflowing.
"Have you a favorite author, Major?"
Liam considered the question. "I like Tolkien," he said at last. "The passion and scholarship he put into his work is amazing."
"Have you read all his works?"
Liam knew that Sandoval had. "I am still tracking down all of the Histories," he said, referring to the books that Tolkien's youngest son Christpher had published based on his father's notes. "They're hard to find."
"They can be," Sandoval agreed. "I was fortunate to come across a full set in hardcover a while ago."
"Have you seen the films?"
"I have. My...late wife loved them."
Only someone who knew Sandoval very well would have noticed the hesitation. Liam lowered his eyes; he knew Sandoval's wife was alive. No one knew where she was, though, with the possible exception of Augur who had crafted the set of identities the Liberation had given her with instructions to choose one and destroy the others. Augur might have been watching to see which she chose, so he could put additional layers of security in place. Here was another secret, but this one was not his to reveal. If DeeDee Sandoval chose to resurface, it would be on her terms.
"Is there any of that water left?" he asked, casting about for a way to turn the conversation elsewhere.
"Yes, of course," Sandoval said. "Don't try to get up; I'll get it for you." He retrieved the canteen and handed it to Liam.
"Thanks." Liam, surprised at how heavy it felt, raised it with some difficulty. When he was done, he leaned back into the makeshift pillow, micro-tremors running up and down his arms. He hoped Sandoval hadn't noticed.
So once the canteen was capped and safely set aside, he simply continued the conversation as though there had been no interruption.
"Are you partial to any other authors, Major?"
The major looked thoughtful. "In the speculative fiction realm, I also like Guy Gavriel Kay's works. Coincidentally, he helped Christopher Tolkien edit The Silmarillion. I also quite like the Sherlock Holmes canon."
"I'm familiar with Conan Doyle, of course, but not with Kay's work."
The major brightened a bit. "If you like Tolkien, you might like his stuff. It's intricately-plotted historical fantasy, but set in a secondary fantasy world. It's brilliant. I'd be quite interested to see what he could do with the arrival of the Taelons, and the changes they've wrought in our world."
"I'll have to look him up," Sandoval said thoughtfully, knowing, even as he said it, that he probably would not be able to. Once this little "vacation" was over, there would be no time for such frivolity. Not until the Taelons were gone, and after that? Well. Given what he was going to have to do in the meantime, he honestly didn't expect to survive for long after that. "Do you read other classics, Major?"
The major's response was both enthusiastic and detailed; he was surprisingly well read for a man of his background and schooling. In addition, it turned out that they had similar tastes in literature and had read many of the same works -- and not just because they were standard reading in various school curricula. The conversation ranged far and wide, and Sandoval was surprised to find that he was enjoying it, something that he had not done since...at least since Siobhan had died.
And that was the second time that Liam had reminded him of Siobhan. As he puzzled over the connection, he almost missed Liam's question.
"Sorry," he replied, returning his attention to the conversation. "What was that?"
"Do you have trouble rereading books because of your CVI?" The major's voice was weaker than it had been an hour ago; the continuing rain almost drowned it out.
Sandoval inclined his head. "Yes. I never reread books anymore. But that's all right, because there are always new books to read."
"That's a really good attitude," Liam said approvingly. "I wouldn't mind reading some new books," he added quietly, closing his eyes and leaning heavily into the makeshift pillow behind him.
Sandoval looked at him sharply; it was the closest he had come to admitting that he knew his condition was worsening. "You'll have to tell me which of the Middle-Earth Histories you're missing, Major. I will lend them to you."
Liam smiled, his eyes not opening. "That would...be...." His lips shaped a final word, but there was no sound behind it. He had fallen asleep again.
Sandoval wondered if he would wake up this time.
He settled more comfortably into his own sleeping bag and picked up his global again. He did not yet need to sleep himself; he would keep watch until the major -- until Liam -- either woke again...or did not.
As he read, he kept half his attention on Liam, always listening for the major's next breath. He found himself breathing in sync with Liam. His eyes began to grow heavy....
The global dropped unheeded from his hand as Sandoval, too, fell asleep.
This time, when Ha'gel summoned him to that place between life and death, he could no longer hear his Kimera father's calls.
Again, the link to Siobhan. What was it about Liam that brought Siobhan so much to mind these last two days? He stared out at the Irish countryside, remembering. There was where Captain Marquette -- a pang of guilt -- had landed the shuttle and he had first seen Siobhan. There was the entrance to the passage tomb beneath the stone circle where she had shown up his chauvinism. In the distance, though he couldn't see it from this angle, was the king's tomb that they had thought was Ma'el's. He had thought her overly sentimental when she mourned having to destroy the stone blocking the tomb in order to gain access, but after his conversation last night with Liam about learning the stars as a child, he thought he understood her a bit better.
Following an impulse, he turned and climbed the hill, watching the stones' craggy faces change as he drew nearer. He stepped beneath the lintel of the low trilithon -- two worked uprights capped by a third -- that marked the entrance to the circle, and stood there, lifting his face to the rising sun and feeling the gentle breeze ruffle through his hair.
It was so peaceful here with no one else around. He began to regret having disturbed this peace in the wake of the discovery of Ma'el's mosaic. This was Siobhan's heritage, he realized. And Liam's, too, for that matter, if he was as Irish as he used to claim.
"Hello, Ronald Sandoval."
He wheeled, quelling the urge to raise his skrill. Standing near the trilithon was a man of middle years, tall, straight-backed. His face seemed stern, yet also kind; crinkles by his eyes suggested someone who smiled often. Dark hair was combed straight back from his forehead. His clothing was nondescript; pale tones, perhaps, grey or ivory. It was difficult to tell because light seemed to play over and around him constantly.
"Welcome to this place," he continued, his voice a deep rumble that Sandoval seemed to feel resonating in his chest. Something in him recognized this man, but Sandoval knew with CVI-aided certainty that he had never seen him before.
"Who are you?"
"I am Ha'gel of the Kimera."
Sandoval took an involuntary step backward his skrill arm rising almost of its own volition. "Impossible. Ha'gel is dead. William Boone killed him."
"No human being can truly kill one of the Kimera," the man said, "not even one so enhanced by the Taelons. Say, rather, that I was...disembodied by Commander Boone." A shadow seemed to pass across his face; for a moment, he appeared weary and sorrowful. "I regret that I injured him."
"Injured? You killed him!" Sandoval realized abruptly that he had accepted that this was, in truth, Ha'gel.
The man raised a brow. "I? I did not kill him, Ronald Sandoval, as you know very well."
No, that was true enough. Zo'or had been the cause of William Boone's death.
"You stole my body!"
Ha'gel folded his hands in front of himself. "That, I cannot deny. I did."
"Why? Why me? You were safe with that cop." Sandoval cocked his head. Before his implantation, he had been an FBI agent. Technically, he still was. He remembered nothing from the time Ha'gel had him coccooned, but now he began to chase down the puzzle pieces. He lowered his arm as he worked through it; his eyes never leaving Ha'gel's light-obscured face. "You were safe with the cop," he said, almost to himself. "And you called me. You wanted me. Why?"
"The Kimera," Ha'gel said, "once numbered in the billions, and we hungered for knowledge. We were scientists. Anthropologists, if you will. We used our talents to blend in with the peoples we studied, to observe from within, so that those we studied were unaware of us. This is the truest form of study. Everything we learned, we recorded. Vast stores of knowledge." He waved a hand, and Strandhill faded away, to be replaced by the Kimera. Their homeworld, the worlds they studied, their repository ships, and library satellites. All that they had been.
"Our downfall began the day we found the race that you know as Atavus...though that was not, of course, their true name."
A dusty, dry scene replaced the stars; a group of creatures looking much like Da'an had when his connection to the Commonality was severed and he regressed shuffled into view. They were raggedly dressed and many of them appeared ill.
"What happened?" Sandoval asked, fascinated in spite of himself.
"They were dying. We broke our rule of observation only and saved them, but with unforeseen consequences. From them came the Taelons and the Jaridians and their incessant war. We taught the Taelons how to form the Commonality."
Sandoval thought he knew the rest. "The Taelons knew that those who had helped them form the Commonality could also destroy it. But why would they imprison you when they destroyed all the rest...." Then he understood. "It was you. You were the one."
Ha'gel nodded, a single stately inclination of his head. "Yes. And because of me, because of my choice, my people died. It took many thousands of years before the Taelons were ready, but when they were, they destroyed the Kimera. I was all that remained of my people. That, you must understand, Ronald Sandoval. I was the last. What would you do, were you the last of your people?"
Sandoval frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I was awakened from stasis. Freed from my millenia-long imprisonment. I was seized by the biological compulsion to reproduce, a compulsion I could not fight."
"Reproduce?" Sandoval felt the first faint stirrings of something to which he could not put a name. And then he remembered something else -- Boone had been called in by the local police because of a weird death. "You killed that woman."
Was that shame on those handsome features? "I did not know that she could not handle the energy requirements of a Kimera Joining. But once begun, I could not save her."
Sandoval's agile mind had already leaped ahead. Ha'gel had called him. Had placed him in stasis and stolen his body. He looked away from the Kimera out beyond the circle of stones unheeding of the vista as his mind put the pieces of the puzzle together. Himself, with a CVI that allowed him to control and fire a skrill. Siobhan had also gone missing during the search for Ha'gel. Marquette had reported seeing her vanish in a bright light; she had reappeared a couple of days later, dazed and complaining of pain such as she had never before experienced. Perhaps the pain of childbirth? A hybrid child would have an accelerated gestational period.
We are destined to come together, Ronald Sandoval, she had told him. Whether you like it or not.
"You used us! Siobhan and me. You used us for your own purposes." Sandoval's skrill arm rose again as he shouted his rage at the being before him. Raven hissed in agitation. His face twisted in grief. "She died! Was it because of you?"
The Kimera raised his hands, palms outward, in a calming gesture. "Peace, Ronald Sandoval. I would not have harmed Siobhan Beckett. Hers was a bright soul full of the fire of her ancient Celtic ancestors. The one thing she wanted more than anything in the world was a child, even if it were a hybrid. She died because her CVI broke down. You were there. You saw."
He had seen. He had seen Liam Kincaid cradling her body, his face calm, but his eyes anguished.
A memory: Siobhan rises from the chair in front of Boone's desk. There is something almost like recognition in her eyes as she stares at Kincaid. "Have we met?"
"No," Kincaid replies, sadness and longing in his own eyes before he blinks it away. "Not in this life."
Another: Zo'or rants on the bridge of the Mothership. "And you haven't offered any cogent explanation as to how Agent Kincaid was able to defeat the replicant with an inadequate weapon. And more importantly, how was Da'an able to miraculously rejoin the Commonality after he was cut off from it?"
And his reply, "There is another link between these two events. Liam Kincaid was with Da'an when the replicant attacked, and when Da'an rejoined the Commonality."
Liam Kincaid. Liam Kincaid who had conveniently showed up at Boone's funeral. Who had looked at Siobhan like she hung the moon, then denied knowing her. Like she hung the moon? Or like a child gazing at a parent he cannot acknowledge?
Zo'or's voice ghosted through his memory once more. "By rejoining the Commonality, Da'an has accomplished something only the Kimera could do."
He looked at Ha'gel, stunned. His skrill arm dropped. This was why Liam reminded him of Siobhan. Liam was Siobhan's son. And Ha'gel's. Liam was a Kimera hybrid.
"Yes," Ha'gel said simply. "I can see from your face that you know the truth. The one you know as Liam Kincaid is the child of Siobhan Beckett. And of Ha'gel of the Kimera. And," he added, "of Ronald Sandoval."
"Ronald Sandoval had nothing to do with it!"
"Not so," Ha'gel replied in a gently chiding tone. "Liam is as much your child as he is ours. Did your own physician not tell you so?"
And another memory: "Two pints of anonymous blood at the doorstep is not exactly how they teach it in medical school," Dr. Curzon says.
"Someone who was a close match must have wanted to stay uninvolved."
"Not a close match," the doctor corrects. "A perfect first-degree match. The DNA sequencer hit some genomes it couldn't process, but you do have a child in this world."
Dr. Curzon shrugs. "Well, none of us knows the consequences of everything we've done. Think about it. Maybe you'll remember a time, a place, a woman." She pauses on her way out of the room. "Oh, by the way, we can tell from the blood: it's a boy."
"It was Liam? The anonymous blood donation?" As his fury began to abate, Sandoval felt more dazed than anything. Liam was his son? Liam was Siobhan's son? That nagging familiarity made so much more sense now, as did the major's inconsistent behavior, why he sometimes seemed so much wiser than his years, yet at other times acted like a rebellious teenager. Then he remembered that only this afternoon, he had been contemplating the fact that both Liam and Siobhan had green eyes. Too, Liam had been concerned about him while he was hospitalized, the only one of his colleagues who had been -- and it hadn't been the first time; Liam had visited him when he had been hospitalized after the Atavus incident -- before Siobhan's death.
"His friends advised him against it," Ha'gel said. "They urged him to let you die. But he would not be deterred. He had to save the life of his father."
"But he hates me!"
"No," Ha'gel said, something like compassion in his deep voice. "He does not. In his short life, he has known little other than fear and betrayal, but his is a generous heart. He forgives. And he yet hopes that someday, he might enjoy the friendship of his father. His human father."
"I tried to kill him," Sandoval whispered, stricken.
"And yet he forgives. How better to show that than by giving the blood that saved your life?"
Sandoval looked up at Ha'gel, who had drawn nearer to him. "Why are you telling me all this?"
"Because your son lies dying and it is within your power to save him."
"Me?" Sandoval scoffed. "You're the one with alien abilities."
"There are those in whom Liam placed his trust, those who knew his secret, but who repudiated the Kimera part of him. In his desire to fit in with the human race, he has suppressed his Kimera side so that I may no longer reach him, unaware of the irony that this ability is also a Kimera trait." He gazed steadily at Sandoval. "I cannot reach him. But you, who are also his father, can."
"How?" Sandoval knew himself to possess no special abilities or talents, other than those granted by his CVI -- the Taelon "gift." If Liam did, then they came from his other parents.
"One of Liam's injuries has caused him to bleed internally. We can stop the bleeding and stabilize him long enough for rescue to come."
"And how do we do that?"
"You are bonded to a skrill. The skrill people were always great workers in energy. She has the ability. It is possible that she will consent to help."
"Consent? The skrill is a weapon, nothing more."
Now Ha'gel looked both sad and disappointed. Sandoval thought he had seen that expression before on Liam's face. "You know that is not so, Ronald Sandoval. You said as much to William Boone once."
Sandoval sighed. "I did. I remember. All right, how do we get Raven's consent?"
"If you will allow me to touch her, we will ask."
Sandoval unbuttoned his cuff and rolled his sleeve up, baring the skrill on his right arm. He had been bonded to her for so long that he sometimes forgot she was more than just an extension of him. There was a slight glow around her head. He lifted her toward Ha'gel, keeping his thoughts neutral and his hand open and flat. Ha'gel, rather wisely, stepped to the side so that he was no longer directly in front of Sandoval and the skrill, and laid a light finger on her head.
"Come, little one," he said aloud. "Join us here."
A wisp of fog wove itself between Sandoval and Ha'gel. Just as the landscape had slowly appeared, so now did a petite human figure with Asian features very similar to Sandoval's own. Save that her eyes glowed with unearthly fire, she could have been his sister. Whatever Sandoval had expected, this was certainly not it.
"Ronald," she replied with a grave nod. "You have not dreamed with me in a long time."
Sandoval shook his head. "No." He had not. It had been a long time since he had let down the barriers in his mind that kept him focused on his mission. His life had been so much simpler before the failure of his motivational imperative, and he had dreamed freely then, delighting in the images Raven showed him. He had once urged Boone to dream with Condor, back when Boone was newly implanted.
She turned to Ha'gel. "I understand what you would ask of me, Ha'gel of the Kimera. I will do what I may to help the son of the one to whom I am bonded."
"I thank you. Now, come. Our time grows short. Close your eyes, both of you; I shall give you the knowledge you need."
Sandoval complied, and a moment later, felt a heavy hand on his head. Since his skrill arm was at his side, he assumed that Ha'gel must also have put a hand on the human apparition of Raven's head, but did not open his eyes to check. He felt a sudden heat against his head and was abruptly, vividly reminded of the horrific injuries caused to Boone by Ha'gel's shaqarava. Before he could pull away in a panic, there was a burst of brightness like a lightning strike behind his eyes and he felt himself falling.
He thought about the first time he had met Liam at Boone's funeral. Liam had offered his hand. Sandoval had set him up to be killed the very next day. But Liam had never stopped offering his hand.
He looked over at Liam. The major was still propped up on the backpack pillow, asleep -- or unconscious. His pale skin was almost translucent and tinged with blue, his breathing quick and shallow. Sandoval could no longer doubt that he was dying. He felt, then, a gentle nudge in his mind, a tentative query, and knew it came from Raven. As in his dream, he rolled his sleeve up. Raven's entire body was suffused with a gentle blue glow, nothing like the hard white energy she emitted when being used as a weapon. The nudge came again. Sandoval slowly dropped the rigid mental shield he held in place at all times, allowing his consciousness to mingle with that of the alien creature embedded in his arm.
We must act. His energy will soon fade.
I know, Sandoval replied. I just need to get in place. He moved over and unzipped Liam's sleeping bag, pulling his son's limp body upward into a sitting position. Then, moving the makeshift pillow aside, he substituted himself for it, so that when settled back into place, Liam was leaning on him. He put his arms around his son and draped Liam's hands over the softly glowing Raven, making sure that both palms were in contact with the skrill. Ha'gel had been specific about that; Liam's hands had to be on the skrill for this to work. I suppose if he's part Kimera, he must have shaqarava, he thought, pulling the sleeping bag back around to cover Liam.
Of course, Raven replied, though the thought wasn't really meant for her. We begin.
Sandoval closed his eyes. This was really Raven's task; he was only here to act as an energy reserve for the skrill to do her work. Her job was to transfer energy into Liam's body to bolster his fading strength. She was to find the bleeding if she could and stop it. If she could not, she was to encourage his Kimera side to initiate a kind of stasis that would keep him alive until rescue arrived. He listened to the rain as she worked; after a while, he began to feel the trickle of energy from himself, through her, into Liam. The drain was slow, but perceptible; since his body had become used to working with alien energies over the years of his bonding to Raven, he paid it no mind. It was not nearly as bad as the drain required to use Raven as a weapon, something that he was going to have to rethink once this was over. He could add it to the growing list.
Listening to the rain, feeling the energy flowing out of him to be replaced by a sleepy lassitude, he fell into a meditative state that was half a doze. Despite the urgency of the situation, despite the screaming fits of guilt over his treatment of his son that he could feel building in his mind, despite the uncertainty of the future, he was more relaxed at this moment than at any time since the first rumors of aliens had surfaced five years ago. He had longed to meet his son since Dr. Curzon had first told him there was a child. Granted, a fully-grown Kimera hybrid was not what he had envisioned. It was going to take some time for him to rid himself of the image of a little boy who looked like him, but his expectations were hardly Liam's fault. That his son was a man of principle and character was something to be proud of. He just wished that he himself were still such a man.
Feeling a change in the energy drain, he came back to himself and opened his eyes. Liam rested heavily against him, still deeply unconscious, but his breathing seemed steadier. He cautiously raised a couple of fingers to Liam's throat. His son's skin was still cold, but less icy than before, and his pulse seemed stronger. Whatever Raven was doing, it seemed to be working. Sandoval dropped his hand and settled more firmly against the shuttle's wall. He let his eyes drift shut again, confident in Raven's ability to complete her task, falling easily back into the somnolent state that allowed her to use the energy of his body without his mind's interference.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed when Raven nudged him toward wakefulness. Her mental voice seemed to sigh as she declared her work finished. He will live now -- for a while at least.
Sandoval opened his eyes. He felt like he had run a marathon and his belly howled with emptiness -- symptoms of the energy drain, he knew; he had experienced such things before when needing to fire the skrill continuously. Some sleep and a meal and he would be fine.
Are you ready for the next part?
The next part is easier, Raven replied.
All right. Sandoval eased himself out from behind Liam and replaced the pillow. He zipped Liam securely back into the sleeping bag, making sure he would stay warm. He turned one of Liam's hands over, unsurprised to find a faint reddish mark in the center of his palm.
The next task was to alert the Mothership to their location. Sandoval moved to the engine hatch and removed it, then reached carefully inside with his right arm. Guided by the images Ha'gel had placed in his mind, he touched a forefinger to one of the organic conduits that ran through the space -- the one that he now knew was connected to the emergency beacon. He and Raven could not power the drives, but the emergency beacon only needed enough power for the Mothership to pick it up and pinpoint their position. Once again, a soft nimbus gathered around Raven's head. The energy built, then flowed down Sandoval's hand into the connection, which began, softly at first, then more brightly, to glow. After a few minutes, it was brighter than Raven, and the flow of energy stopped.
Sandoval sighed deeply and turned to slump against the wall, cradling his right arm -- and an exhausted Raven -- with his left. "The beacons are lit," he murmured, quoting. "Gondor calls for aid."
When next he surfaced, it was to the sound of a voice that he knew in his bones. His father was in the room, speaking to someone nearby. A woman's voice answered him; this time he recognized Dr. Park. There was something important about her presence, though he could not seem to dredge up what. He tried to open his eyes, but the effort was too much for him, and consciousness drifted away once more.
The third time he woke, he became aware that he was lying in a bed, rather than a sleeping bag on the floor of the shuttle. He was warm and blessedly free of pain, except for the pinch of an IV in the back of his left hand. A flow of words in a soft voice told him he wasn't alone; since it seemed that he was going to stay awake this time, he listened for a moment.
"...through the yellow leaves of the mallorn, and it seemed to the hobbits that the early sun of a cool summer's morning was shining. Pale-blue sky peeped among the moving branches. Looking through an opening on the south side of the flet Frodo saw all the valley of the Silverlode lying like a sea of fallow gold tossing gently in the breeze."
Liam blinked his eyes open, finding that at first everything was blurry; he blinked again and the white blur resolved into a tiled ceiling. He slowly turned his head to find his father, dressed more casually than Liam had ever seen him in a short-sleeved polo shirt that bared his skrill, sitting almost slouched in a hard plastic chair, holding a battered copy of The Fellowship of the Ring from which he had been reading aloud. As he watched, bemused, Sandoval paused and took a drink of water from a cup sitting on a moveable tray nearby.
"Sandoval?" Liam's voice came out as a surprisingly weak whisper.
"Liam!" Sandoval put the book down and got to his feet, looking down at Liam with an obvious expression of concern.
"What's going on?" Liam asked, confused by the concern, but even more by the fact that Sandoval had apparently been reading to him while he was unconscious.
"We've been worried about you," Sandoval replied. He reached past Liam, who followed his father's actions with his eyes, and pressed the call button.
"Strict orders," Sandoval explained with a small shrug, when he saw Liam watching. "Your doctor said I could only stay as long as I called her as soon as you woke up."
"What do you remember?" Sandoval's eyes were intent, but his expression was more open than Liam could remember ever seeing it.
Liam frowned, consulting his recent memories. Shuttle crash, watching the stars, falling up the hill, rain storm, check. "All of it," he concluded at last. "Except how we got rescued. How did they find us?"
Sandoval appeared about to answer when the door opened and a white-coated figure approached the bed. Liam was relieved to recognize Dr. Melissa Park, who was well aware of his nature, having delivered him and witnessed his rapid maturation. Her worried expression changed to a small smile when she saw that he was awake.
"Welcome back, Major," she said. "We've been worried about you."
"So I heard." Liam's eyes slid toward Sandoval.
"Agent Sandoval, would you excuse us for a few moments?" Dr. Park asked.
"Of course, Doctor." Sandoval put the book on the tray next to his chair. "I'll go grab some lunch, and notify Da'an that the major is back with us."
"Thank you." Dr. Park waited until the door had closed behind Sandoval, then turned back to Liam, dropping the impartial facade. "Don't you ever do that again," she scolded. "I thought I'd really lost you this time!"
Liam winced at the undertone of grief in Melissa's voice. He knew that she thought of him as a surrogate son, much as he thought of her as one of his surrogate mothers -- her, Julianne Belman...and Lili. He decided he shouldn't mention that he had thought the same. He tried for a teasing tone. "Melissa. One little shuttle crash and you go all to pieces?"
She squeezed his right hand. "Sometimes that's all it takes. Now, let me take a look at you." The impartial air came back as she briskly poked and prodded, shone a light in Liam's eyes, peeled back his blankets and peered under his hospital gown, then covered him up again. "Well, your pupil response is normal and your stitches look good. Are you in any pain?"
Liam shook his head. "What happened?"
Melissa gave him a sharp look, then seemed to realize what he was asking. "You mean how badly were you hurt? You had a concussion, two cracked ribs and one broken one, and a ruptured spleen. Those were the worst. There was a lot of deep bruising as well. You nearly bled to death from the internal bleeding." Her face grew serious and she pushed her hair back from her eyes. "It was close, Liam. Very close. You were dying when you came in, you've had two surgeries, and you've been unconscious for four days."
"He was unhurt, other than a few bumps and bruises, and a very minor concussion himself. His restraints and crash bubble worked properly. Yours didn't, for some reason." She looked over her shoulder toward the door, before saying in a lower voice, "I'd blame Sandoval, except that he has obviously been very worried about you. He has hardly left this room since you came out of surgery."
What? Liam thought that they might have been building toward a friendship on that hill, but this was unexpected. He closed his eyes and shook his head slightly. "No, Melissa. It's hardly his fault there was a rock in ID space."
Her eyes narrowed. "I meant for the failure of your equipment, Liam. You have always been a bit obsessive about your shuttle, ever since...." Her voice trailed off.
Ever since Doors' sabotage had sent him and Augur to Maiya's world, she meant, and Liam nodded. His eyes slid closed; he struggled to open them. He needed some answers before he could sleep again.
"How were we found? There was no power to the emergency beacon."
Melissa frowned. "Sandoval claims he got it working again, but he won't say how. All I know is that two days after you disappeared, Sandoval himself called me here. He wouldn't let anyone else treat you, nor would he allow you to be removed to the Mothership. He's been acting very strangely, Liam."
Liam's eyes started to slide shut again; he fought against the pull of sleep. "Melissa...."
She patted his hand reassuringly. "You're safe here, Liam. Go back to sleep."
"I guess I could use a nap," Liam mumbled, giving in to the inevitable and allowing his eyes to close. Melissa squeezed his hand one more time. He heard the door open, heralding Sandoval's arrival. When his father spoke, asking Melissa his condition, something in Liam realized he had been fighting sleep until his father returned. Now that Sandoval was here, he could let go.
A slight sigh escaped him, and Liam slept.
Since then, Sandoval had kept watch. Dr. Park had tried regularly to persuade him to go home and had even sent Dr. Curzon, his own physician, to intervene when he refused. Dr. Curzon, at least, knew when not to push. At last, when it became apparent that he was not going to leave, Dr. Park had offered to try to find him a more comfortable chair, but he didn't want to risk not being awake if Liam needed him. So he stayed in the orange plastic chair, leaving it only for brief runs for food and to update Da'an about Liam's condition, and only dozing when his CVI could no longer keep him awake. Until he knew that his son would live, Sandoval refused to be separated from him for more than a few minutes.
And apparently, Liam felt the same. When he had returned from his brief lunch and even briefer call to Da'an, Sandoval's sharp eyes had not missed that Liam had been trying to stay awake right up until he had spoken to Dr. Park. He could see Liam give up the struggle as soon as he registered Sandoval's presence. That his son felt safe in his presence was both astounding and humbling. Ha'gel had been right about Liam's ability and willingness to forgive.
He looked over at the still figure in the bed. The habitual crease was absent from between Liam's brows. As Sandoval had noticed in the shuttle, he looked so much younger freed for the moment from the weight of his cares.
He is young, Sandoval thought. He's only a little more than a year old.
He abruptly realized that Liam must have been only two or three days old the first time Sandoval had tried to kill him. He went hot with shame, but forced himself to face the memories head on. He had done this. And despite everything, Liam had forgiven him. Had saved his life when it was he who lay unconscious in this very hospital.
I should have realized then that my son couldn't be anything other than a hybrid, with a hybrid's accelerated growth rate. No child could have donated two pints of blood.
Liam. His son. How could he not have realized? Now that the nagging sense of familiarity he had always felt around Liam made sense, his CVI catalogued all the little mannerisms Liam displayed that were either his or Siobhan's. And, of course, now that he knew to look for it, he could see the resemblance to Siobhan. Not to himself -- which was probably for the best. If Liam had ended up looking like him, there would definitely have been questions asked.
There were different questions to be asked now. How were they to proceed? Should Sandoval reveal his knowledge? He couldn't continue to treat Liam as he had before the crash, that much was certain. How would Liam react to Sandoval's continuing to do Zo'or's bidding?
That the two of them were going to have to have a very long talk was clear. What the outcome of it would be was far murkier. Sandoval had, perhaps, already endangered both of them by his insistence on staying with Liam -- though he could use Dr. Curzon's order of medical leave for him as a cover for that. He had suffered a slight concussion himself, though nothing that his CVI couldn't compensate for. Had Dr. Curzon not put him on leave, he would have been expected back at Zo'or's side by now. Not reporting immediately skirted the edge of what was acceptable for someone with a fully functioning motivational imperative. He would have to report soon, and once he did, he might not have time to come back to the hospital, because Zo'or was sure to run him ragged to make up for the time he had missed.
But for now...for now, he would stay and watch over his son. He reached for the tattered paperback still sitting on the tray nearby.
"Da'an," he said softly, opening his eyes. The Taelon occupied the chair next to his bed; there was no sign of his father other than the book sitting on the rolling tray table currently shoved out of the way.
"Welcome back, Liam," Da'an replied, equally softly.
Liam rubbed sleep out of his eyes and slanted a look at the clock across the room from his bed. It read 10:17, though he had no idea whether that was morning or night, or even, for that matter, what day it was. He found the control for the height of his bed and thumbed it, raising himself to a position more comfortable for conversation. "Shouldn't you be at the embassy?"
Da'an tilted his head. "My Protector is not at the embassy," he said, his hands held tightly to his body, one at chest level, one lower. His fingers opened and closed gracefully. "So I must perforce be where he is."
"You may need to find a substitute, Da'an." Liam's tone was rueful. "I don't think Dr. Park is going to let me come back to work for a while."
"In that, I believe you are correct," Da'an agreed. "She is very protective of her patients, as is only proper in a physician. Our chief healer Mit'gai can be the same."
Liam had met Mit'gai; his opinion of the abrasive Taelon was considerably lower than Da'an's. But then Mit'gai's opinion of humans was also considerably lower than Da'an's. The Taelon healer had little time for the trifling complaints of a lesser species. Liam got along with Taelons generally, but there were some, like Mit'gai -- and Zo'or, of course -- who just didn't get along with anyone. But then, there were humans like that, too. Before the crash, he would have put his father in that category. Now...he didn't know what to think.
But Da'an was continuing. "It will be at least a week before you can come back to work, perhaps two."
Liam laughed, a little surprised that he could do so without pain. There must be some really good drugs in that IV. "I think it will be a little longer than that, Da'an. Humans heal more slowly than Taelons."
"Perhaps so," Da'an allowed, "but you, Liam, are not entirely human. And so I have brought Dr. Park an energy stimulator. Such a device has been used successfully on implanted Volunteers and on Companion Protectors whose CVIs and skrills change the way energy is channeled in their bodies. It should work even better for you than for them due to your unique physiology."
"Because I'm part Kimera," Liam said flatly.
"Yes," Da'an replied. He looked at Liam thoughtfully. "You cannot change what you are, Liam. You will only cause yourself grief, if you cannot accept it. From what little Agent Sandoval has said of your experience, if you were not Kimera, you would not have survived."
"I hope that you didn't tell him that."
"Of course not, Liam. Your secrets are safe with me. Still, you should be pleased to have survived, rather than bitter about the reason it was possible."
Liam sighed. He looked down at his blankets and picked at bits of fuzz in the soft weave. He hadn't expected to survive at all. He supposed it was a bit stupid to be upset that he had lived because of his triple-stranded DNA. "You're right, Da'an. I just...I thought the Kimera side of me was fading. I thought I was becoming more human."
"You are what you are," Da'an said firmly, his hands fluttering in emphasis. "You cannot be anything other. Regardless, Dr. Park has the stimulator. I told her only that it had been calibrated to work with humans, so she also remains unaware of your...difference."
Liam's fingers continued to move over the blanket; he kept his face still. Melissa had not been present at the Liberation headquarters the day he had brought Da'an there, so the Taelon remained unaware of her true affiliation, and therefore unaware that she knew perfectly well who and what Liam was.
"Thank you," Liam murmured.
"Liam," Da'an said, and there was something hesitant in his manner now, something Liam had not seen before. "I am gratified that you are going to recover. When I thought you were lost, I grieved. I have many things I wish to discuss with you."
Liam drew breath to protest -- he didn't think he could handle that discussion right now -- but Da'an raised an admonishing hand, and he remained silent.
"Now is not the time for such speech. You must rest and heal. There will be time, later. Perhaps when you have returned to work, we may speak again."
Liam nodded against his pillow. "I will look forward to it, Da'an." He reached out with his left hand, turning it over and holding it palm up in invitation. Da'an unhesitatingly brushed his own palm against Liam's, both expressing affection in the light Sharing.
This was the first evening since his return to work that he had arrived home before 10:00 p.m. Because Zo'or was keeping him so late, he hadn't been able to get back to the hospital, so he hadn't seen Liam in a few days. He was keeping up-to-date with his son's progress, though, and what he had heard was encouraging. Liam was regaining strength much more quickly than expected and might be discharged soon. According to his records, which Sandoval perused at least once a day in contravention of privacy laws, Dr. Park was using a Taelon energy stimulator provided by Da'an as part of his treatment.
Sandoval was familiar with the energy stimulators. Such a device shouldn't work on an unimplanted human -- no matter what Dr. Park might have been told about it being calibrated for such use. That Da'an had provided it for Liam's treatment indicated either that Da'an did not know the first thing about human physiology -- unlikely -- or that he was aware that Liam was part Kimera.
And that led to all sorts of interesting speculation. It certainly explained Da'an's initial insistence that Liam be made his Protector, as well as their closeness, which had caused much talk amongst the ranks of the protector service. It explained why Da'an had never insisted on having Liam implanted with a CVI; a motivational imperative would have made Liam betray himself to the Synod. It indicated that Da'an was protecting Liam from the Synod for purposes of his own. Sandoval wasn't certain how he felt about that; he knew the Taelons to be untrustworthy. What would happen if Da'an changed his mind about protecting Liam? He wouldn't even have to announce that Liam was Kimera, merely state that he had learned that his Protector's identity was false. Sandoval made a mental note to dig deeper into the real Kincaid's status; he was only presumed to be dead; it would be inconvenient for everyone if he should suddenly turn up alive. That Liam's identity had been set up by a very skilled individual, Sandoval didn't doubt; he had done the background check himself and found no trace of anything suspicious. But it couldn't hurt to throw some more security at those records, maybe using some of the same techniques used in witness protection.
It would all have to be done in his spare time as he couldn't afford to alert anyone on the Mothership that there was anything irregular about Major Kincaid's background. He scrubbed his hand over his face. He was too tired right now. He was at the ragged edge of what his CVI could do for him. He needed sleep.
But first, he needed to check on Liam. He moved into his study where his computer was waiting.
"Though if I find out that you're doing anything other than resting, young man," she said sternly, "I will have you back here so fast your head will spin."
He stooped to give her a quick kiss on the cheek as he made his slow way to the cupboard to get his street clothes. Fortunately, Augur had brought him a clean outfit along with the pajamas he had been wearing. "You know I can't promise anything, Melissa. If they need me...."
"I'm serious, Liam," Melissa replied. "Yes, you can make it around the hallways. But you're not fit even for light duty, and you are certainly not fit for any Resistance work. The only reason I'm sending you home is because people are going to start taking note of the progress you're making, and we can only point to the energy stimulator for so long before people will want to know why it's working so well for you and why we can't use it on, for instance, your little friend Sean."
Sean was the wanna-be shuttle pilot in the pediatric wing.
"Maybe you should start seeing if there is a way we could adapt it for use on humans," Liam said thoughtfully.
Melissa sighed. "Did you really think I wasn't already planning that? But we only have the one, and you need it. When you're back to work, you can acquire another one for us." She gave him another stern look and actually shook her finger at him. "And don't think you can distract me, Liam. There will be a set of written instructions for you when the nurse brings the discharge paperwork for you to sign. But just so you can't claim that you didn't know, I'm going to tell you now: no work until I say so. Absolutely no Resistance work. No driving -- Augur is on his way to pick you up and take you home. No flying."
"I can't just sit home all day doing nothing." Liam was aware of the sulky whine in his voice and frowned.
"You can and you will," Melissa responded, unperturbed. She motioned for him to sit on the bed and settled beside him. She took his hand in hers, patting it comfortingly. "Listen to me, Liam. This is important. It can take up to six months or more for someone to recover from what you've been through. You are progressing much faster than that, and we can't let anyone know how or why. You know that. Trust me. As soon as you are ready -- and not a moment earlier -- I will let you go back to work. As it is, I'm going to have to either falsify some of your medical records or 'lose' them. All right?"
He sighed. "All right."
She patted his hand again. "Good boy."
It was late afternoon by the time Liam walked into his apartment followed closely by an overly attentive Augur, who firmly pointed at the black leather recliner by the window, ordering Liam to sit, while he himself bustled around the small space opening the few windows that did open and setting fans in motion. He also watered Liam's few plants, moving so confidently that Liam knew whom he had to thank for their continuing survival.
As for himself, Liam was still getting used to the idea of his own survival. He had truly not expected to make it out of that forest; he still had no idea how he had -- and he couldn't ask Sandoval because he hadn't seen him since waking up to the sound of his father reading to him. All Dr. Park could tell him was that Sandoval had been required to return to his duties.
Liam didn't know what to think about that. Was Sandoval deliberately avoiding him? Were things going to return to the not-quite-open hostility of their relationship prior to the crash? But Melissa had told him that Sandoval had been there the whole time he had been unconscious, which was very much unlike the Sandoval he had always known. He desperately wanted to talk to his father, but at the same time, he was afraid to do so.
Something had happened on the hill, Liam was certain of it. There had been no way to get power to the emergency beacon. So how had Sandoval done it? He had already asked Augur, who denied having found them -- and confirmed that neither Jonathan Doors nor Renee Palmer had been involved in the rescue operation. Augur himself had barely known about the crash. They had been lost, then the beacon had come on and they had been found.
He tuned Augur's puttering out, turning one of his hands over and staring at it. He'd discovered that the marks of his shaqarava were back only when Sean had asked about them.
He'd been demonstrating how you turned on the interdimensional drives on a shuttle when little Sean had cocked his head, and with narrowed eyes, asked, "What are those red marks on your hands, Major Liam? Did you hurt them?" He'd babbled on about the time he fell down and skinned his palms. "And my hands were red for weeks! Is that what happened to your hands?"
He'd made some affirmative-sounding noise, too surprised to really follow the thread of the boy's conversation. When he got back to his own room, he'd sat in the visitor's chair for a long time, just staring at the marks. They were faint, no darker than they had ever been, and probably not noticeable to anyone who wasn't paying attention like ten-year-old would-be shuttle pilots.
He was recalled to the present by Augur calling his name in a tone that indicated that he'd already done so a couple of times. He blinked, and found Augur standing beside him with a bottle in his hand.
He folded his fingers over his palm, but Augur was just as sharp-eyed as Sean.
"I thought those went away," he said, handing Liam the bottle, and nodding at his hands. "Sorry," he added. "No alcohol, only soda for you -- doctor's orders."
"Thanks." Liam took a swig of the soda -- it tasted good after all the water and juice he'd been drinking in the hospital -- then shrugged and sighed. "They appear to have come back. I don't know why, or even how."
"Well, I wouldn't worry too much about it," Augur said. "Maybe that jolt you took at Mount Weather just burned them out for a while. Listen, are you hungry? I can order a pizza or something -- or even cook if you prefer. I got groceries for you before I picked you up."
"No, I'm fine, Augur. Thanks, though. I'm actually kinda tired, believe it or not. I think I might take a nap."
"Probably for the best," Augur said. "Okay, so there's sandwich stuff in the fridge in case you don't feel like cooking. I also got you some stuff that you can just toss in the microwave and heat up. So you should be good for a couple of days. I will call and check on you tomorrow, but if you need anything in the meantime...."
"I'll call," Liam said with a smile. "Thanks, Augur. I appreciate you looking out for me."
"Yeah, well...Lili wasn't the only one who promised your mother," Augur said, as he slipped out the door, making sure it locked behind him.
Liam knew perfectly well that it wasn't all spurious promises to Siobhan Beckett. Augur was still trying to atone for having betrayed Liam and the Resistance not so very long ago. The edges of their friendship were still a little raw, but they were slowly settling back into the old rhythms. And even while he chafed at the restrictions placed on him by Dr. Park -- restrictions that he knew were perfectly reasonable -- some part of him was enjoying having other people take care of him for a change. He'd had precious little of that in the year and a bit since his birth. And while he had convinced himself that he didn't need anyone to take care of him, it was still nice.
He took a swig of soda, then set the bottle on the floor next to his chair. He scrunched himself down into the recliner and allowed his eyes to drift closed. He could hear the fans that Augur had set in motion and feel the air circulating. Already the apartment was less stuffy than it had been. Maybe later he would switch over to the air conditioning that the apartment shared with the Flat Planet, but for now he simply reveled in the change from the feel and smell of the air at the hospital.
It was definitely good to be home.
When Liam woke, the fans were still circulating air. He could see by the golden quality of the light coming through the high windows that it was nearing sunset. He must have slept for at least four hours.
He was wondering what had woken him when he heard a knock on the door. He swung his legs around, remembering the soda bottle on the floor just in time to avoid knocking it over and spilling the remaining liquid. He picked it up and carried it over to the bar before heading for the door, wondering who could possibly be out there. He didn't have visitors very often, and Augur would sail in like he owned the place -- which, in fact, he did -- instead of knocking. Maybe it was Dr. Park coming to check up on him.
He was utterly unprepared to find Sandoval there, two large bags in his hands, when he opened the door. His brain juddered to a halt and he gaped at his father. For his part, Sandoval looked slightly uncomfortable, but after a moment, he raised a sardonic eyebrow.
"May I come in, Major?"
Liam's brain rebooted and he flushed slightly. "Sorry, Sandoval. Of course. Please come in." He moved aside to allow his father through the doorway. As Sandoval passed, the rich smell of garlic and tomatoes wafted from one of the bags.
"Did you-- Did you bring dinner?" Liam asked blankly.
"Yes. It seems that I got used to feeding you on that hillside -- or attempting to, anyway." His eyes glinted with humor, as they roved around the apartment. He moved toward the bar with Liam trailing along after him, not entirely sure what was happening.
"As I recall," Liam said as Sandoval put the bags on the top of the wavy-edged bar that constituted both room divider and work space, "you only fed me twice."
"It's the spirit of the thing," Sandoval replied. He started removing plastic clamshell containers from the bags. "Do you have plates, Major? Or we could just eat from the containers."
Liam raised his eyebrows, even as he was moving toward the cupboards. "We? Are you planning to have dinner with me?"
For the first time, Sandoval sounded uncertain. "Unless you'd rather I didn't? I...wanted to talk, Major, and...this seemed like the best way to do that."
"Talk?" Liam frowned as he reached into the cupboard for plates. He set them on the counter, then returned for silverware and glasses.
"Yes, Major. Talk. There are some things we need to discuss."
"About...work?" Liam asked. "I'm sure Dr. Park has told you -- or at least told Da'an -- that I won't be returning to work for quite some time."
"No. Not about work. Let's just have dinner, then we can talk after."
"Okay," Liam agreed with a sigh. "What would you like to drink? I'm not certain what I have; a friend got groceries for me." He opened the fridge. "Looks like milk, orange juice, ginger ale, or Coke." He straightened. "I can get you a drink from the bar, if you'd prefer. Or I could put the kettle on and make tea, though it's not really tea weather."
Sandoval shook his head. "No, thanks. Ginger ale would be fine."
By the time Liam had poured two glasses of ginger ale and returned to the bar, Sandoval had served up two helpings of lasagne.
"Is that from the little Italian place around the corner from the embassy?" Liam asked, handing his father a glass.
"Yes. I often had dinner there when I still worked out of the embassy, and I thought it was something you might enjoy."
"They have good food there," Liam acknowledged, taking a bite of lasagne. "Oh, yeah," he said, "this is so much better than hospital food. Thanks, Sandoval."
His father didn't openly smile, but his expression lightened and he nodded. "You're welcome."
They chatted companionably as they ate, Sandoval catching Liam up on news from the Mothership. In addition to the lasagne, Sandoval had brought crusty garlic bread, small salads, and two small servings of tiramisu. It was more food than even the two of them could eat in one sitting, and when they were finished, Sandoval packed it all up efficiently and put it in the fridge.
Liam topped up their ginger ales and led Sandoval over to the back corner of his apartment under the second-story loft where a black leather couch sat flanked by gleaming glass-and-chrome end tables. A matching wing chair sat to one side. Stuffed bookshelves stood against the walls.
Assuming his father would prefer the chair, Liam dropped onto one end of the couch, setting his glass on the end table with a click.
"Ah, that reminds me," Sandoval said, catching sight of the bookshelves. He returned to the bar, picking up the second bag, which he set on the couch next to Liam before settling into the wing chair.
"What's this?" Liam asked.
"I said I'd lend you the Histories of Middle Earth," Sandoval said, taking a sip of his ginger ale.
Liam's eyes lit up. "Really?" he said in delight. He pulled the heavy bag closer and peered inside; it looked like Sandoval had, indeed, brought the entire set of books, all hardcover in excellent condition. "Thanks, Sandoval!"
"Just bring them back when you're finished," Sandoval said.
"I will. Shouldn't take long; Dr. Park has forbidden me to do anything more strenuous than taking a walk around the block, so I'm going to have plenty of time to read."
"You should listen to her. You were very badly hurt, Major," Sandoval replied. He set aside his drink. "Which brings us to what I wanted to talk to you about."
Liam tried not to let his nervousness show. Da'an had flat out told him that he had only survived because he was part Kimera. And his shaqarava were back. What had Sandoval seen? What did he know?
"I feel like I should thank you for taking care of me," he said, in an attempt to deflect whatever it was. "I know you didn't have to. I know it would have been easier for you not to." He looked away from Sandoval's impassive expression, hesitating, before he added, "And I know that you have never liked me."
Something unidentifiable crossed Sandoval's face. "Well, part of that was true, at any rate." Liam shifted uncomfortably as his father studied him for a long moment before asking a rather surprising question. "Is your apartment secure, Major?"
Liam tilted his head slightly in confusion. "I have a standard security system installed."
Sandoval shook his head. "No. That's not what I meant; I saw your security system. What I wish to discuss with you is...sensitive."
Liam's eyes widened slightly as he got what Sandoval was asking -- was his apartment free of listening devices? "Yes."
Sandoval nodded, then sat back in his chair. "Very well, then. What I am going to say, Major, is between you and me. It cannot -- it must not -- go any further."
Surprised, Liam nodded. "Does this have something to do with how the emergency beacon started working?"
"Yes," Sandoval replied. "Before we get into that, though, there's something I want to say, and I want you to listen without interrupting."
"All right," Liam said warily.
Sandoval nodded. "Thank you. I think you are aware, Major, that the motivational imperative in my CVI has been non-functional for some time. In fact, it only worked for a couple of months after this CVI was implanted. Whether it was a failure of the CVI itself, or whether my system threw it off, I do not know. But I began to see the Taelons for what they are, and I began to make plans."
Liam was about to speak when Sandoval simply raised an eyebrow at him to remind him not to interrupt. He closed his mouth and nodded.
"Yes," Sandoval said in reply to his unspoken question. "I do realize that I am putting my life in your hands. But I think that I can trust you, Major."
Liam nodded again.
"Did you know that when I was in the hospital, you were the only person to visit? I thought at the time, that it was just because you had to in order to discuss your duties. But then I remembered that you had also visited when I was injured before -- when you had no reason to. You were actually concerned about me, but all I could see was that everything was falling apart. I was going to die and the Taelons were going to win and there was nothing to be done -- and all because I had no family.
"And then I didn't die and Dr. Curzon told me it was because I had a son who had donated blood to save my life. But my late wife and I never had children, and there was no one else with whom I could have had a child. I could't figure it out. Nor could I find the boy, though I searched. And believe me, with the resources of the FBI and the Taelons at my disposal, I would have found him.
"The only problem was that I was looking for a child. And my son is not a child."
Liam's heart began to race and his fingers closed spasmodically over his shaqarava, but from long practice, he was able to keep his voice steady. "What do you mean?"
Sandoval didn't answer the question directly. Instead, he got to his feet and started to pace. Liam restrained a flinch.
"You were right earlier, when you said that I didn't have to save you. I could have let you die, Major -- and believe me, I considered it." He stopped his pacing to meet Liam's eyes briefly.
Now they were on familiar ground again. Liam relaxed his hands, opening his fingers, then folding his hands in his lap. "Why didn't you?"
Sandoval shrugged. "I found that I couldn't. Make no mistake, Major, I am not a good man. I have sold my soul in order to eventually bring the Taelons down. But I could not let you die, even though you have stood in my way.
"So you were right about that. But you were wrong about the other thing. I do like you, Major. I have always admired you. You are the kind of man I always aspired to be."
"I'm no better than anyone else," Liam muttered, suddenly embarrassed.
"That's as may be," Sandoval said, starting to pace again. After a few laps back and forth, he stopped and faced Liam again. "Do you remember your nightmare on our first night?"
Liam frowned. He remembered Sandoval helping him back to the shuttle and into his sleeping bag after they had watched the stars for a while. He remembered trying to distance the pain in his head and ribs enough to sleep. He obviously had managed to drop off, but he didn't remember any dreams.
"Sorry, no. Did I keep you awake or something?"
"You woke up in the middle of the night, looked me right in the eye, and said, 'Father, don't leave me.' And then you did it again the next day when I found you on the hillside."
Liam winced inwardly. He had come so close to betraying himself -- had even considered telling Sandoval the truth. "I told you my father had been on my mind."
"Fathers and sons," Sandoval said softly. "I assumed at the time, of course, that you were delirious. You were dying, and without power, there was really nothing I could do to help."
"Dr. Park told me that you managed to get power to the emergency beacon," Liam said, hoping to redirect the conversation. "I was wondering how."
"On the second night," Sandoval said, his tone soft, reflective, "after you...fell asleep, I was going to keep watch. I felt that I owed you that. But I fell asleep. And I had a dream...and when I woke up, I knew how to save you and I knew how to get power to the beacon."
"That must have been some dream," Liam said lightly.
"It was," Sandoval acknowledged. "I dreamed about the Kimera Ha'gel."
Liam felt the blood drain from his face. His heart was thudding so hard and fast he thought surely Sandoval, with his CVI-enhanced hearing, must be able to hear it. He felt cold and hot at the same time, and he didn't know what to do with his hands, so he gripped his fingers tightly and hoped that he wasn't having a heart attack. "Ha'gel?" he managed through numb lips.
"Yes," Sandoval replied. "He told me how to save you."
Liam was trembling now, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Maybe he was having a heart attack. But if Ha'gel had something to do with his survival, maybe that partly explained why his shaqarava had reappeared. "What...else did he tell you?"
"Everything," Sandoval said. He stopped pacing and faced Liam for the first time. "He told me everything." He suddenly seemed to realize the effect his words were having on Liam, because he frowned. "Hey," he said softly, "it's all right, Liam. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm not going to turn you over to the Taelons. It's all right."
He moved over to the couch where he took a seat facing Liam. He solemnly offered his hand, palm out.
Liam stared at his father's hand for a long moment, then hesitantly accepted the offer, touching his larger palm to Sandoval's and initiating a Sharing. He saw the dream, Sandoval and Raven and Ha'gel. He saw how Raven and Sandoval's mixed energy stabilized his condition long enough for them to be found. He saw them feeding energy into the emergency beacon. He saw Sandoval's memories of the next days: his own pale, unconscious face, Dr. Park's worry, the book Sandoval started reading to him. And he felt Sandoval's pride and growing affection. And beneath that, he felt Raven's pleasure that her efforts had not been wasted and that Sandoval had acknowledged her as a being rather than a tool. To her, he offered the vision of the Skrill Queen he had released into the jungle some weeks ago and was rewarded with a pleased trill. To his father, he offered his own affection and hope that they could someday publically acknowledge their bond as father and son.
"Did Siobhan know?" Sandoval asked as the Sharing ended and their hands separated.
"She always knew something," Liam replied, a little shaky still. He rubbed his thumbs across his shaqarava. "She just didn't know what. You saw that, I think. But, yes." He nodded. "At the end, she did. She told me to fight the Taelons."
"She wasn't wrong," Sandoval said. "I'm glad she knew."
"And you?" Liam asked. He was starting to regain his equilibrium after the Sharing. His father knew him. Moreover, Sandoval accepted him. He had longed for this his whole life, but had started to lose hope that it could ever happen.
Sandoval smiled. "I'm glad, too. You're a good man, Liam, and no father can wish for more than that for his son."
Liam let the warmth of the praise wash over him, then -- to his surprise -- he yawned. These last two hours had been overwhelming and he was suddenly exhausted. "Sorry, Sandoval."
Sandoval chuckled. "No, Liam. I'm sorry. This has been a long day for both of us. You go on to bed; I'll try to stop again tomorrow, if Zo'or lets me go early enough. At the very least, I will call to check on you."
"Okay," Liam agreed. He worked his way to his feet and walked Sandoval to the door. "G'night, Dad. Drive safely."
Sandoval smiled. "Good night, Liam. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
Liam closed the door behind his father and leaned against it. He had hoped so hard for this to happen, but he had thought that it never would. It would never be easy for them, and there was still so much they had to discuss -- like Liam being the leader of the Resistance, for one thing, and wouldn't Renee Palmer have an absolute fit about this! -- but he felt more hopeful now than he had in a long time. He wasn't alone, anymore. Who could have known that crashing his shuttle could have such a positive result?
Liam smiled as he turned out the lights and climbed up the tightly spiraled stairs to bed.