Author's notes: This is the third story from the Roachia Universe. While the first half is concurrent in time with Before Dawn, it is still recommended to read Before Dawn first.
For all the Roachia fans out there - thanks for waiting! I had suspected that this story would be a long one and it didn't disappoint me. It is actually longer than Before Dawn, which had been my longest story to date. As with the other Roachia stories, characters from other shows will make an appearance, including MacGyver, Star Trek Voyager, and The Magnificent Seven. For all the Blair and Jim fans, please be patient. They will appear in the last half of the story, I just needed to get Jeff caught up with them.
As always, I have many people to thank: My Real Life friend and practically brother Joel, an engineer who, whenever I ask if something is possible, gives me his 'thoughtful' look and utters the truly insightful, 'Maybe'. His-off-the wall comments led to a few of the Roachian inventions. To Sealie, whose long discussion over Roachian biology and other deep science fiction topics has been greatly enjoyed and appreciated. To Shallan, my military advisor, for her helpful tips on sneaking into enemy territory and military etiquette. And to my dear friend Zadra, who always finds the plot holes. Of course, many thanks go to Wolfpup and Susan, who keep my grammar and puncuation honest.
And with this story, I send a heart-felt prayer to the students and their families who were effected by the Columbine tragedy. It brought home the unimaginable pain of a parent losing a child to violence.
Please send any comments to email@example.com
Enjoy the ride.
Disclaimer: Most of characters are not mine. I'm borrowing them out of deep reverence, affection and respect. I will accept only personal fulfillment, and no monetary gain. If you do sue, you will not get much and I will send over my Black Lab mix, who will stare at you pathetically for hours and probably con you out of all your food.
Please do not reproduce, copy, or otherwise use any part of this story without permission from the author.
Rated PG-13, mostly for a little violence and language.
I had just talked with him the day before yesterday.
We talked about the ball game he had pitched.
I told him I was almost sorry the project was over. In spite of being two to four years younger than everyone else, I had made a lot of friends. It will be so much easier now to transfer to Glendale and finish up my engineering degree. He had laughed and said, 'I told you so'.
He had confided that after spending the summer working on the Franklyn Center's computers and interning at the Refugee Counseling Center, he had decided to go to grad school for psychology. He liked helping people and the need was so great. I had laughed and said, 'I told you so.'
Now, I don't even know if my brother will have a future.
Dad told me with certainty that Blair was alive. Before, I had always envied how Dad and Blair could sense each other and me at distances, while I had to physically touch them. Dad says my gift will grow as I get older, but for now I'm glad I can't. I could hear the strain in Dad's voice, so I know that things are not good with Blair. I'm not sure if I could handle it if that connection was suddenly broken. I'm not sure if Dad can, either.
I don't know what I'll do if Blair is gone forever. He's the one person who understands what it's like to be so far ahead in school. How hard it is with my shyness to make friends. How tough it is to follow in Dad's shoes.
It isn't fair. Blair has so much to live for, so much to give. He can't die, not now, not like this.
But since when is life fair?
- Excerpt from the journal of Samuel K. MacGregor, day after Sealand invasion
Lansbury, two days after Sealand invasion
The world around him didn't seem real. Colors were gray, sounds muted. It was more by habit and instinct that led Jeff MacGregor's feet from the train station to his home. With his thoughts and emotions in dark chaos, the outer world didn't have much meaning.
All the news had been grim since word of the invasion had reached him yesterday morning. Hopeless reports of new bombs and extremely high death tolls filled the media coverage. It seemed that everything and everyone around him kept trying to tell him that his eldest son was not coming home.
NO! Jeff's mind shied away from that thought. Blair was alive. Hurt and in danger, but Blair was alive. Not that anyone would have believed Jeff if he said that, of course. But then, Jeff had told few of his 'sixth sense' when it came to his sons. Most had noticed Jeff's natural compassion and understanding with people, a gift that had been passed down in differing degrees to his sons. But who would believe that Jeff had a sense of his sons at any given moment, even with one away at Glendale and the other in Sealand? It was a gift that was unheard of now, as mystic and legendary as the guides who once led sentinels. It was an ancient ability that ran in his blood as it had once ran in his ancestors'.
Jeff rubbed his face as he waited for a street light to turn. Just as the bond told him that Blair was alive, it also told him he was hurt, confused, and terrified. It tore into his soul, knowing that his son needed help but not being there to give it. He had to reach him, had to rescue him. He had to go to Sealand.
Of course, no one would understand that and many would try to stop him. The exception would be Sam, who would probably try to go with his father if he knew. Jeff crossed the street, mentally running through his plans. He would leave a message for Sam, pack up a few supplies, then start his mission this evening. No one had to know what he was doing until he was gone. With luck, no one would miss him too much until he was on his way back with Blair.
With this purpose in mind, Jeff entered his two story home. Walking towards the den, he was already thinking through the message he would leave for Sam, gently informing the teen of his intentions and warning him not to follow.
Abruptly, someone grabbed for his arm. Jeff instinctively jerked out of the hold, turning to see an unfamiliar man in his living room. Face full of menace, the larger man was again reaching for Jeff as he backed away. Forcing all other thoughts out of his mind, Jeff suddenly shoved an end table into the intruder's path. Spinning on his heel, he dashed towards the back door of the house. He had barely taken a couple of steps when he was thrown face-first into a wall. Though stunned, Jeff managed to latch onto the floor lamp next to him. He swung it behind him. As a cry rang out, he struggled to rise when another hand again shoved him into the wall. He tried to twist out of the grip as he felt the bite of a needle on his neck. Vision darkening, Jeff slipped to the floor.
The sun was just dipping below the horizon as a trim, dark skinned man walked from the Express station. Frank Colton shifted his light duffel over his shoulder as his steady pace carried him towards his friend's house. After finally receiving leave from his security position, he had made a beeline to Lansbury. He was needed here. Knowing Jeff, he'd either be in the depths of grief or planning his rescue attempt into Sealand. Frank would stand by him regardless.
He had been keeping an eye out for Jeff since they were kids. The memory of the newly orphaned eight-year-old sitting sadly on his grandfather's back porch was engraved on Frank's mind. Such quiet depression was unnatural to the Colton brothers peeking over the fence. It wasn't long before Frank and Jesse had coaxed the boy into a ball game. From that moment on, the sensitive and intelligent kid next door had quickly slipped into the Colton family as one of their own. Frank was just as protective of Jeff as he was of his two younger brothers. Yet the friendship was far from one-sided. Jeff had also been there for Frank, through school, promotions, the devastation of Harbor Bay, and the loss of Frank's wife. They had been through a lot together.
Frank closed his eyes a moment, images of two teenagers jostling each other as they raced down a staircase flashing through his mind. He adored Jeff's sons. It hurt to think that the enthusiastic light known as Blair Sandburg MacGregor may have been extinguished. Taking a deep breath, Frank shook his head and continued walking. If it had, Jeff would know and Frank would grieve with him. If it hadn't, Frank would follow Jeff to where ever they needed to go to get the boy back.
He was almost to the house before spotting a vehicle in the driveway. Assuming that it was one of Jeff's colleagues visiting to offer condolences, Frank continued at his steady pace. Then he spotted two large men walking out of the house. Jeff was tied and slung limply over the first one's shoulder.
"HEY!" Frank shouted, racing up to the men. The second charged to meet him. Throwing punches, Frank struggled to escape the man and reach his friend, but the other was much larger and stronger. One clean blow sent Frank to the ground, grazing his head against the stone flower bed border. Stunned, Frank gazed at the men shoving Jeff into the back seat, then tossing the extra rope into the trunk. Yet they didn't push the lid down hard enough to lock it. With a final surge of energy, Frank managed to crawl to the vehicle's back bumper as the men climbed in the front. Desperation gave him the strength to climb into the trunk just before the vehicle pulled away. Once inside, the throbbing head finally overwhelmed him. Frank slumped to the floor unconscious.
In the growing darkness, the vehicle pulled into a hidden airstrip just outside the city. A large Roachian plane sat there, ominous in its sleek lines and cruel purpose. A ramp was extended out underneath. The vehicle chugged up the ramp, then within seconds withdrew inside. Soon the plane rolled down the hard dirt runway, lifting up into the air towards the lost zones.
First Blair, now Dad.
Uncle Pete says not to worry, they'll find Dad soon.
Grandma Tess says not to worry, Dad and Frank are both tough.
Well, excuse me, but I AM worried. Heck, I'm past worried, I'm scared to death. It is bad enough that Blair is still listed as missing. Now Dad has disappeared from the Lansbury house. One is bad enough. I don't think I can handle both. To add Uncle Frank on top of that is just too much to even contemplate right now.
Thankfully, the project is almost over now. I feel like I'm in a daze, finishing up the reports. I just hope they make sense. I'm not sure if anything makes sense anymore.
But what do I do once the project is done? I'm not sure if I can handle going back to Lansbury without Blair or Dad. It isn't home without them. No place is home without them. I feel numb. I feel adrift.
One step at a time. I have to take one step at a time.
- Excerpt from the journal of Samuel K. MacGregor
Mound compound in lost zone, formerly known as Leesborough, two days later
Landing hard on the wood floor, Jeff curled up in a protective gesture. He tried to breathe through the pain as the world spun crazily around him. Everything hurt after endless hours of interrogation and beatings. Jeff wasn't sure how long it had been, but he knew he hadn't given them the information they wanted. There was no way he was going to give them the science plans. Whenever he felt himself weakening, he'd picture Sam's face. He would not destroy his son's best chance for a future.
"RISE!" Jeff forced his eyes open enough to squint at the speaker. The metallic tones of the translator was grating on his nerves. When he was hit on opposite sides by the guards' hard, thick tails, he managed to pull himself onto his knees. There was no way he could stand.
"Enough slowness! Tell us ~pop~ information!"
"No," Jeff managed to croak, staring defiantly back at the Speaker. The Roachian was taller and more purplish in color than the drones that had been dragging him around. Squinting hard, Jeff could make out the wings neatly folded on its back. The analytical portion of his brain hazily noted that it must be a Chosen One, picked to mate with the Queen and her court. Boy, do I rank or what?
"What ~snap~ we let ~pop~ son of MacGregor ~crackle~ Sealand live?"
Jeff swallowed hard. Hope rose for a moment, then reason deflated it. He had lost his mental link with Blair after he had woken up from his abduction. As hard as it was, he knew he had to face up to what it meant. Grief added a rough edge to his voice as he shouted, "Then show him to me!" He stared directly into the compound eyes, hoping the multiple images of himself was giving the bastard a headache. Time seemed to stand still as he pitted his stubbornness against the alien's strong will.
In spite of the odds, it was the alien who finally looked away. "~pop~ you allow no ~snap~ choice. You will be given ~crackle~ drugs!"
Jeff did not break his stare, though his stomach dropped to his knees. The drones grabbed him under the shoulders and dragged him away.
Outside the mound a mile away
Frank's eyes blinked open, staring at the ceiling above him. Sluggishly, he searched his memory, trying to place himself. Finally, he gave up and decided to try changing the view. Pain flashed through his head. Closing his eyes, he waited until he could think again. Then he tried to figure out what had happened.
He had reached the point where he had climbed into the trunk of the vehicle when he heard someone enter the room. Cautiously, he opened his eyes again. While he wasn't sure what he was expecting, it certainly wasn't a teenage girl. The young woman sat a tray and a small lantern on the low table. Her brown braid swung down to middle of her back. When she turned around, Frank was struck by the mix of innocence and sorrow on her freckled face.
"Hi there," the young woman softly greeted as she noticed his eyes were opened. "How're you feeling today?"
Frank tried to sit up, only to fall back down and grunt with pain.
"Easy there," she cautioned as she jumped to help him sit up again. "You have to be cautious with that head of yours."
"Do I know you?" Frank croaked as he leaned his aching head against the headboard.
"Well, you probably don't remember me," she replied, picking up a glass and pouring some water into it. "My boyfriend and I found you when we were searching for spare parts in the old airport hanger. You were pretty much out of it at the time. Preacher helped us get you out of there before the Roaches found you." She brought the glass over and held it so he could drink.
As he drank, vague images of the young girl and a teenage boy with straight dark hair flashed through his mind. "Where was I? Did you see anyone else?"
"No, just you, and we didn't see you at first. You were in the trunk of a human vehicle. We were kind of surprised to see it there, since most of the human equipment was shoved into the corners, probably to make room for all the Roaches' stuff. JD, my boyfriend, he wanted to see if there was any blankets or parts or rope or such that we could use, so he jimmied the trunk open. At first, we thought you were dead, but then I noticed you were breathing. So we got you out of the trunk and managed to drag you to a corner. We knew we couldn't get you out of there by ourselves, so I ran to get Preacher while JD hid with you. Do you think you could handle some broth?"
Frank wasn't sure whether his head was swimming due to the blow or to the girl's rapid words. Suddenly realizing that she had asked a question, he cautiously nodded his head. As she turned back to the tray, he questioned, "Who's Preacher?"
"Rev. Josiah. He used to be the preacher in our town. Huge guy, really smart, but as gentle as they come." She carried a mug to the bed then helped Frank wrap his hands around it. "Except when it comes to the Roaches. If it hadn't been for him, JD and I would have been killed when the Roaches found our hiding spot." Painful memories darkened the pretty face. "The Roaches just came in so fast after the bombing, there just wasn't time to get away."
To turn her thoughts away from the past, Frank asked, "Where are we now?"
"In an old inn about a mile away from Delroy. We've been hiding here while Josiah and JD repair an off-road vehicle. Then we're going to try to get back to a safe zone."
Sipping the broth and hoping it would stay down, Frank was pondering his location. "You mean, I'm all the way to Leesborough?"
The girl looked at him, puzzled. "Yeah. Where were you before?"
"Lansbury?" the girl repeated, eyes wide. "That's way up North. Surely the Roaches haven't made it that far yet!" At Frank's cautious head shake, the girl relaxed. "Then why were they there?"
Frank closed his eyes and rubbed his head. "Two men abducted my friend. I managed to crawl into their vehicle just before it took off." He lifted his head to meet the young woman's gaze. "Are you sure you didn't see anyone else by the vehicle?"
Sadly, the young woman shook her head. "We only found you."
"Damn, why would they take him to the Roaches?" Frank growled, then dropped his aching head back into his hands. His worry for Jeff was multiplying along with his headache.
The young face frowned a moment in thought. "I wonder if they were some of those human-looking Roaches."
"Yeah, one day JD came across this guy he thought was another survivor like us. Only when he turned, the guy tried to kill him. When I saw what was happening, I shot him with my rifle. Only the guy bled orange instead of red. Josiah said the Roaches' blood is orange, so somehow they've got Roaches that look like humans."
Frank tried to wrap his mind around the thought that Roaches could look like humans, but it only made his head pound harder. He could feel himself beginning to drift.
"I think you've had enough," the girl observed as she caught the mug before it could slip through his hands. "Why don't you go to sleep? Preacher said sleep was the best thing for you."
"I need to find Jeff," Frank protested softly, unable to keep his eyes open.
"You need to get your strength back first," she pointed out.
Frank realized that he didn't have the energy to argue. Hazily, he looked at the young woman helping him. "What's your name?"
A smile brightened the freckled face. "Casey."
"Thank you, Casey." Then Frank fell back to sleep.
Next morning, jail cell inside mound
She had never realized before that one could be both bored and tense at the same time. During all of her adult life, Jane Mullway had been a woman of motion. Her time had been carefully managed between the lab and teaching, just barely squeezing in time for the normal day to day chores. Even her vacations were filled with activity. Never before had she not had something essential that she simply must do. But that was before her abduction.
It had happened while she was walking the single block between the parking lot and her small condo. It had never occurred to her before just how dark and secluded that path was. All the other times she had worked late, her dog Bear had been with her, adding the security of the big dog's protective nature. Yet Bear had died from old age only two days earlier. So there was no one there to hear her scream when the two huge men jumped out of the bushes and grabbed her.
She had woken up surrounded by Roachians. It had been horrifying to discover they wanted information on how to create a virus that would kill most of the human population. Though she had been able to endure the interrogations and torture, the drugs had been her downfall. Jane was still ashamed of how easily she had answered their questions while under the drug's powerful influence.
Afterwards, she had expected to die. It was well-known that the Roaches viewed any female as a threat to their queen, immediately killing women and girls upon capture. However, she seemed to be the exception. The Roaches decided to keep her alive just in case they needed more information. She had been thrown into a cold cement room with a sink, a hole, and a few blankets and mattresses.
Already in the room was Dr. Felix. Jane hadn't decided whether that was a good thing or not. It was embarrassing to have to share the facilities with a strange man, especially this man. The tall, husky engineer was egotistical and grumpy, prone to long speeches complaining about everything from the room to the Roaches and just life in general. Jane had never seen the use of complaining, so the man was soon driving her crazy. Then his mood seemed to shift from practically begging her to confide in him to having nothing to do with her. She just couldn't figure him out.
Once she was well enough to stand, she spent days roaming the cell, looking for any weakness that would allow them to escape. She couldn't find one, much to Felix's amusement. Finally, she had to give up. But without anything to work towards, her boredom grew overpowering. In desperation, she managed to create a checker board on the dirt floor. Using the small gray and blue tiles that had fallen off the wall around the sink, she taught the game to Felix. It was the only thing that broke up the monotony.
With a sigh, she scratched another mark on the wall to join the 32 other marks. She had been in this damn cement box for 33 days. She almost wished the Roaches had killed her off immediately. The waiting to either be killed or forced to give more information was nearly as hard to endure as the torture. She pushed up the sleeves of the large sweatshirt she wore, wondering what to do that would break up the boredom.
The loud clunks of the outside opening brought Jane back to the present. It was too early for lunch, so that meant there was some other reason for the Roaches to enter the prison. Were they going to interrogate her again? Or had she outlived her usefulness?
"Stand back," the electronic voice ordered. She and Felix stood in the far corner, watching and wondering. Two more drones entered the cell, dragging a shaking man between them. Jane's eyes grew wide. Even from a distance, she could tell the man was having convulsions. How much of her medical training did she remember? Would it be enough to help the man with only a standard aid kit at hand?
The drones dropped the lanky man to the floor, then turned to leave. Once the door had been locked, Jane rushed to the man's side. Thankfully, the convulsions were ending. His naked body was covered with extensive contusions, lacerations, and burns. Probably like I was a month ago. "Help me move him!" she ordered as she felt for the man's pulse.
"What's the use? Looks like he's going to die anyway." Dr. Felix grumbled.
"It's a reaction to the drugs," Jane explained forcefully, grabbing Felix's arm and pulling him towards her. Together, they managed to lift the now limp man and carry him to one of the mattresses. After a quick check for broken bones, she rolled him over onto his side in the recovery position. "Get me the aid kit," she ordered while her hands gently wrapped a blanket around her new patient. He should be okay now. At least, I hope he will. Jane vaguely remembered a study where they had estimated that two percent of the population would suffer severe reactions to the interrogation drugs used by the Roaches. This poor man must be in that two percent. Who are you? Why are you important to them? Whoever he was, she would not allow him to die.
This will be my last entry for a while.
I have an opportunity. It's full of risk. It could turn out to be nothing. But it is a chance to find out what happened to Dad. I have to know, I MUST know what happened. I even might find out where Dad and Frank are, so Uncle Pete can rescue them. I have to do this.
But I can't take anything that will announce me as Sam MacGregor, son of Jeff MacGregor. So I'm sending all my important stuff to Willie. He's still mad that I refuse to tell him what I'm doing, but he promised to keep them safe.
So long, Sam MacGregor. Hello, new world.
- Excerpt from the journal of Samuel K. MacGregor
Jail cell, three hours later
Blair was crying. Jeff could hear the heart-wrenching sobs. Yet when he tried to reach his son, his hands hit a barrier. Desperate, Jeff slammed his fists against the wall, over and over again. However, the unseen material refused to let him pass. Then from behind, he could hear Sam's scared voice calling for him. Turning around, Jeff ran a couple of steps before he hit another barrier. Frustration filled his soul. He ran back and forth within the confines, shouting, "Sam! Blair! Can you hear me? Sam! Answer me! Blair! Blair!...
With a gasp, Jeff's eyes flew open. Pain and confusion assaulted him from all sides. Shivering, Jeff closed his eyes again as the memories surged through his mind.
"Easy there," a deep female voice soothed.
Jeff forced his eyes open to find a petite woman watching him with concern, honey blonde hair flowing past her shoulders. "Do...I...know...you?"
She gave him a sad smile and shook her head. "No, we've never met before. My name is Jane Mullway."
The name sounded familiar, but Jeff was too exhausted to figure out why. "Mine's Jeff MacGregor." Holding his bruised ribs as he struggled to sit up, Jeff missed the woman's eyes widened in recognition. Besides, he suddenly realized he had more immediate concerns. He quickly yanked the blanket back up. "What happened to my clothes?"
Jane tried to keep the smirk off her face. "I don't know. But they left some sweats for you when they dropped off lunch." She handed him a sweatshirt.
Jeff immediately pulled it on, wincing from the numerous injuries. Then he realized most of the cuts and burns had been bandaged. Pointing at the gauze wrapped around his wrist, he lifted an eyebrow in Mullway's direction.
She smiled. "I interned as a physician before going into research." Jeff gave her a weak smile in return. Jane noted that it was a rather charming smile. Then she turned to pick up a bowl. "You need to eat this to get your strength back up. We lucked out this time and got soup." Jane ignored the grumble from Felix on the other side of the cell. They had fought only fifteen minutes ago because he wanted to claim the third bowl as his, since the other man was too sick to eat it. Just when she didn't think Felix could get any more selfish, he surprised her by sinking lower. However, Jane Mullway was not one to back away from a fight, especially when she knew she was right.
"Thanks." Cautiously sniffing the bowl, Jeff managed to lift it to his mouth and take a sip. He paused as his starving stomach fought against having food again. "What do you normally get?"
Chuckling, Jane replied, "Whatever can of something or other the Roaches pull out and heat up. Sometimes it's a vegetable, sometimes we luck out and get stew or hash. I just hope we don't get the heated tartberries again. Some things just aren't meant to be hot."
Felix snorted. Jeff carefully turned to look at him, squinting his blurry eyes.
"That's Dr. Ted Felix," Jane introduced.
"Hello," Jeff greeted. Felix just shrugged his shoulders at him.
Jane rolled her eyes. "Felix got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning."
Jeff took another sip of soup, a feeling of unease gnawing at the back of his mind. Pushing it to the side, he turned back to Mullway. "Where are we?"
Jane shook her head. "All we know is that we're still prisoners of the Roaches. I think they're keeping us alive just in case they have more questions."
Worriedly, Jeff searched his mind, staring at the bruises on his arm. "The last thing I remember is being strapped down on a table. They had tried one drug which simply made me attempt to throw up my stomach. But I don't remember what happened after they gave me the second shot."
Gently laying a hand on his shoulder, Jane softly explained, "I think you had a severe reaction to the second drug. You were still having convulsions when they brought you in here." She met Jeff's gaze bravely. "In everything that I've read, the Roaches are unable to force information out of prisoners who react to the drugs."
Jeff closed his eyes and swallowed hard. That meant the incredible amount of technological information in his head was still safe. Sam's future was still secure.
"Why don't you get some more sleep?" Jane suggested, noting the exhaustion in Jeff's eyes. She took the bowl from Jeff's hands and helped him back down. As he laid his head on a pillow, Jeff realized he felt like something was missing. Sleep stole upon him before Jeff could sort out what it was.
That evening, a mile from the mound
Frank was carefully picking at the stew Casey had brought. Not only was he not very hungry, but he could tell the girl hadn't been cooking for very long. I'll have to introduce her to Mama, she could teach her. Frank refused to think that he wouldn't be seeing his mother again. He looked up when the door opened.
A tall, husky man with curly, graying brown hair entered. In spite of the man's size, Frank could see the compassion in his eyes. "Hello, Mr. Colton. My name's Josiah Smith."
Frank smiled. "Call me Frank. You must be Casey's Preacher."
A faint smile of remembrance crossed his face. "The teens tagged me with that name during youth camp. Sounded more friendly to them than Reverend. But you can call me Josiah."
"All right, Josiah." The two men shook hands.
"How's the head?"
Frank shrugged. "Hurts, but not as bad as before."
"Those head injuries can take some time to heal."
"I don't have time." Frank placed the food tray to the side. "I hate to think of what the Roaches have done to Jeff by now."
Josiah was studying him closely. "Casey said your friend was abducted by those human-looking Roaches."
"That's the only thing that makes any sense."
"Why would they want your friend?"
Frank closed his eyes for a moment, then made his decision. "My friend is Jeff MacGregor."
"Jeff MacGregor?" Josiah repeated, astonished. "THE Jeff MacGregor? The same Jeff MacGregor who invented the sea barrier?"
"Yep, that Jeff MacGregor," Frank answered, worry clouding his eyes. The Jeff MacGregor who is my friend and practically my brother.
Josiah's face turned grim. "Not the type of person you'd want keeping company with Roaches."
"Jeff won't tell them anything willingly," Frank explained. "He knows exactly what's at stake here and Jeff can be extremely stubborn when he wants to be. What worries me is wondering what they're doing to him to change his mind."
"I don't like any of the implications," Josiah replied thoughtfully. "If they can reach MacGregor in Lansbury, who else is next?"
"There were rumors of at least three other disappearances before Jeff, though one was killed during the attempt. It's being kept hush-hush, but I work security at the capital, so I hear things."
Josiah's eyes narrowed a moment. "Were there any women in that group?"
Frank searched his sore mind for an answer. "Yeah, Jane Mullway the microbiologist."
"All right, over a month ago, JD and I saw the Roaches escort a woman to the old jail house. Since she was female and small, I'm willing to bet she's human and not one of those undercover Roaches. Now, that area is all covered by mound dirt, but I'd bet you they're still using it for prisoners."
"If you could draw me a map, I'll go in and see if I can spring them."
"Well now," Josiah drawled, "That's a mighty big job for one man, especially one still recovering."
Frank looked him straight in the eye. "You have helped me enough. I don't want to draw you or the kids into the line of fire."
"We've already been there and most likely will be again," Josiah pointed out philosophically. "However, I have an idea. JD and I should have the vehicle ready in another couple of days. That night, JD and Casey can finish loading while you and I search for your friend and any other scientist they've abducted. All goes well, we meet the kids on the road north, and we all escape. If we don't show up by the appointed time, I'll tell them to leave without us. Deal?"
Frank again shook Josiah's hand. "Deal."
Morning, two days later, jail cell inside mound
Sitting on a mattress and wrapped up in a blanket, Jeff watched Mullway and Felix play checkers on the dirt floor. From time to time, Jane would flash him a concerned glance. Jeff returned a weak smile. He knew she was worried about him. During the time he'd been in the cell, he had mostly slept. Fatigue still sank deeply into his bruised and aching body. Jane suspected he was just recovering from the torture and his violent reaction to the drugs. However, she wasn't very happy about the tiny amount of food Jeff was able to force down. Jeff tried to eat more, knowing he'd need all the strength and energy he could get. Yet his stomach rebelled, churning with nausea with every mouthful. Not that Felix minded. The engineer was happy to eat what Jeff couldn't. Again, Jeff tried to pinpoint what bothered him about Dr. Felix but gave up. His mind was too exhausted to make the connections it would have normally raced through.
Drawing the blanket tighter, Jeff pictured Sam in his mind. Between the Sealand invasion and Jeff's disappearance, the teen had to be worried sick and possibly grieving for his brother. But no matter how hard Jeff tried, he couldn't feel Sam. It was like his gift had been muffled, preventing Jeff from reaching out in a way that was usually second nature to him. He wondered if that might be why he couldn't reach Blair before. Had they given the drugs to Blair, producing a similar reaction in his son? Jeff swiftly turned his mind from that possible hope and back to the problem at hand. There had to be a way to get out of here and back to Sam. Again, Jeff sorted through their options and resources, searching for a way for the prisoners to escape.
At the sound of the outside door, the three prisoners looked at each other. Even without timepieces, they sensed it was too early for the next meal. They all stood up as the Chosen One, surrounded by guards, entered the hall outside their cell. The purple Roach stood close to the bars and stared at Jeff. Jeff stared back defiantly.
Then the Roach threw something at Jeff. Jeff caught the small object on a gold chain. Looking down, Jeff felt a numbing cold penetrate his body. It was Blair's star medallion. The medallion that Blair never took off, not even to bathe.
"~snap~ one is gone. ~crackle~ other will be taken ~pop~ you don't give us ~snap~ information." Stunned, Jeff raised his eyes to stare at his enemy. Again, it was his captor who broke the gaze first. "You have ~crackle~ tomorrow." The Roach turned around and left with his guard.
Confused and worried, Jane cautiously asked, "Jeff?"
Jeff couldn't answer her. He could barely breathe. Even though he had been telling himself to accept that Blair was dead, he wasn't prepared for this small bit of damning evidence. He violently turned and marched to the corner, collapsing down into a ball facing the concrete. Burying his head into his crossed arms, Jeff felt his heart break.
Several hours later, just outside the mound
Frank laid flat on the embank, staring at his goal. It was the first time he been this close to a Drone mound. It actually looked like a mound of dirt, though admittedly a very large one. The crown was comparable to the height of a four story building, while the base covered close to a hundred city blocks. Now Frank fully understood how the Roaches could incorporate several of the human buildings inside their own structure. Josiah had observed them build the mound while covertly picking up the spare parts he needed. General Thornton would be thrilled to have an eye witness report on Roachian construction.
However, that would be well into the future. They had more immediate concerns, like finding a way inside. Somewhere within that mound of dirt was his friend. Frank was determined to get him out. He again surveyed the area between the embankment and the mound, searching for Roaches. It was all fine and good for Josiah to say that the Roaches were too cocky to post regular guards around their installation, but Frank still felt exposed.
"Here," Josiah whispered, breaking Frank's concentration. He handed him a piece of plant.
Frank studied the blue-gray stalk a moment, pulling it away from his face when the putrid odor reached his nose. "What's this?"
"It's what the locals call Roach plant. It'll cover our human scents with a Roachian base scent. That will prevent them from sniffing us out."
Wrinkling his nose, Frank smeared it on his arms and legs. "Does this stuff really work?"
"It's kept them from sniffing out the kids and I for nearly two months."
"Sounds like a vote of confidence to me."
Soon, both men were running bent over to the edge of the mound. Josiah silently knelt and began brushing the dirt away. Mystified, Frank joined him. Only when their efforts revealed a stick and mud structure did Frank realize Josiah's objective. Josiah then pulled a small hacksaw out from under his shirt. He cautiously sawed at the sticks. Frank found a rock and began to chip away at the mud, occasionally glancing over his shoulder to check for Roaches.
Within minutes, they had created a hole large enough to crawl through. Josiah waved Frank in, then pulled off his dark jacket. He crawled in after Frank, using the jacket to cover up their entrance and hopefully future escape route.
Inside the mound was a dark tunnel of gray mud, lit by glow stones embedded in the ceiling. Throughout the tunnel walls were small alcoves. Josiah had noticed during his covert searches that the average drone or worker would duck into the nooks and cover his face if a female or Chosen One walked by. Josiah and Frank made use of them now, ducking into each one and checking for Roaches before darting to the next one.
Suddenly, Frank heard the shivery, clicking sounds of Roachian legs. He pressed himself back into the mud alcove, praying the enemy would not spot him or Josiah in the adjacent alcove. Slipping out the gun that Josiah had given him, Frank held his breath. He watched as three light gray Roaches, barely discernible against the mud, walked by. None of the three were over six foot and walked lightly across the ground. Must be workers. Frank was almost glad he didn't have to shoot. Workers were at the bottom rung of the Roachian ladder, sterile creatures who worked almost constantly during their short lives. Besides, it would have made noise that might lead the drones into discovering them. Once the sound of Roachian legs disappeared behind the bend, Frank and Josiah continued on their way.
Further down, Frank paused when the tunnel widened out into a small room. Tunnel openings could be seen spaced evenly around the oval. Off to one side, there was a small mud mound. Frank could see a couple of shovel-shaped tools resting next to the door. Using prearranged hand signals, Josiah indicated that it was a tool and supply hutch. During the construction, Josiah had discovered that such little hutches contained the items required for maintaining the mound, including cleaning supplies. They had decided ahead of time that Josiah would plant an explosive next to volatile cleaning chemicals. Such an explosion would create a diversion to cover their escape. Josiah waved to the tunnel that appeared to go in the direction of the jailhouse as he crept to the hutch. Taking a deep breath, Frank slipped into the tunnel. He really hoped he wouldn't get lost, because this was one place he definitely did NOT want to ask for directions.
Jane kept glancing at the silent figure curled up in the corner. It didn't take a genius to realize that the Chosen One's words had been some kind of threat. It was also obvious that whatever the item was that had been thrown to Jeff had devastated him. Yet even hours later, Jane could not bring herself to disturb the man she was beginning to think of as a friend. She could only wait and hope Jeff knew she would provide him an ear if he needed to talk. Yet the gloom she did not understand weighed heavy in the air. Even Felix had refrained from breaking the silence. When the outside doors clanked open, Jane and Felix again jumped to their feet. Jeff didn't move.
But instead of the Roach she had feared, a trim black man in dark clothing entered. He quickly studied the two scientists, raising a finger to keep them silent. Grabbing the key from a nail near the entrance, the man hustled to the locked door. Spotting the figure in the corner, he himself broke the still air with a quiet whisper. "Jeff?"
Immediately turning around, Jeff's red eyes widened. "Frank?"
By the time Frank had opened the door, Jeff was there to greet him. Frank pulled his pale friend into a gentle but warm embrace. "Easy, bro," he barely breathed, noting the weight loss and the slight tremors.
Jeff fought to keep from crying, soaking up Frank's strength. In his grief and turmoil, he had asked for a sign and here was his friend. Perhaps God had not abandoned him after all.
A couple of feet away, Jane smiled. For the first time, she herself had hope that they could escape. Watching the two men embrace, she missed the movement behind her.
Felix could no longer contain his anger. How did a human get in here? How dare he invade Roachian ground! He slipped a knife out from its hiding place and stepped towards the unguarded back of the rescuer.
~Spitz~ Jane, Frank and Jeff turned around at the soft sound, seeing Dr. Felix staring at the round hole in his chest as orange fluid flowed out. Jane and Jeff stared in horror as the figure collapsed. Frank quickly realized that this was one of the human Roaches Casey had told him about. He nodded his thanks to the man standing in the doorway.
Josiah quickly studied the two prisoners. While the lady was small, she appeared reasonable fit considering the circumstances. However, Frank's friend looked like a light breeze could knock him down. Josiah reigned in his anger at the dark bruises and bandages, wondering what other damage was hidden beneath the gray sweats. He added the abuse to the column of evil he kept against the Roachians, then put it out of his mind. Now they had to complete their escape. Glancing down and realizing the prisoners only wore socks, Josiah resigned himself that they still had a long way to go. He waved to the others to follow him. Jane swiftly joined him at the door, eager to get out of the cell she had spent 35 day in. Frank draped Jeff's arm over his shoulder and gently wrapped his arm around Jeff's waist. Together they walked out the door and towards freedom.
Once they had reached the hutch, Josiah waved them ahead. With a smirk, Frank took the lead, still supporting Jeff on his wobbly legs. By the time the three had reached the hole, Josiah had caught up. "Let's keep moving," the big man whispered.
By the time they had reached the bottom of the embankment, all could hear the explosions inside. Exchanging grins, Frank and Josiah hurried their charges down the road.
At the crossroads
"Will you stop pacing, JD. You're making me dizzy."
JD threw an exasperated glance at Casey, who was leaning against the packed off-road vehicle, known as an ORV. "What time is it?"
Casey rolled her eyes as she crossed her arms. "About one minute more than the last time you asked."
JD only grunted and continued pacing. Finally he mumbled, "I should have gone with them."
"Preacher said that more people would only make it easier for them to be caught," Casey pointed out. "Besides, who would have driven the ORV here? You won't let me touch it since I haven't got my permit yet." Casey still felt miffed that JD had so little faith in her abilities. She would have gotten her permit, if the invasion hadn't happened when it did.
JD ran a hand through his hair. "I know. I just hate waiting. I keep wondering if they're okay."
Casey's face softened. "I know, me too. But they aren't late yet, so we shouldn't be worrying so soon."
A few minutes later, both heard the shuffle of gravel nearby. Grabbing their guns, they ducked behind the hood of the ORV until a familiar large shape came into view. They stood up, grinning their relief.
Josiah smiled back at them. "Get the engine running, JD. We've left a group of angry Roaches coming after us. Once they've put out the fire, that is."
JD jumped into the driver's seat as Casey quickly opened the door for Mr. Colton and the man he was helping. "Jeff, Jane, this is Casey Rider," Frank introduced. "Casey, meet Drs. Jeff MacGregor and Jane Mullway. JD Dunn is the young man at the wheel."
"Howdy," Casey greeted, then helped the woman to the other side.
Frank helped Jeff up into the ORV, then stared into his exhausted eyes. "What's wrong?"
Jeff gave him a weak smile. "Just about everything. But it started looking up the minute you came through the door."
Frank narrowed his eyes as he whispered, "Details, bro. I want details."
Jeff sighed. "I'm exhausted, my body hurts everywhere, my stomach is doing loop-de-loops, and I can't feel Sam."
Frank frowned. He was one of the few who knew of Jeff's gift. "What do you mean, you can't feel Sam?"
Jeff shook his head. He looked so beaten and worn, Frank's worry increased tenfold. "The interrogation drugs did a number on me. Mullway says I was having convulsions when they dumped me in the cell. All I know is that ever since I woke up, it feels like my mind has been wrapped in layers of insulation cloth. Hell, I knew there was something wrong with Felix, I just couldn't put it together."
Frank sensed there was more, but decided to at least reassure his friend about the last bit. "Jeff, there was no way you could have know he was a Roach. Hell, he looked pretty human to me."
"I knew that the real Dr. Felix was over 60 years old. There was no way that guy could have been him. I just didn't remember that fact until your friend shot him."
Frank rubbed Jeff's back, careful to avoid the bruises and sores. "You need to give yourself some time to heal, bro."
Then Josiah softly called from the other side. "You guys ready to go?"
Jeff slipped across the seat so Frank could climb in. Then JD pulled away, heading north.
A couple of hours later
Jane's eyes flew open when the ORV shifted on the mountain road. Holding her breath until the teen had maneuvered the rut, she then turned to look at her seat mates. Jeff appeared to be asleep, resting against his friend's side. She lifted her eyes to meet the other man's. "How's he doing?" she whispered.
"Sleeping soundly. I haven't seen him this exhausted since Harbor Bay was first bombed."
Jane frowned. "Something happened when the Chosen One visited, but I don't know what." She quickly explained the situation to Frank.
Frank's own face turned into a scowl as he gently pried open Jeff's fist. The sight of the star medallion sent a surge of grief through his own soul. He could only guess at how much it had devastated his friend.
"What is it?" Jane asked worriedly.
Frank took a deep breath. "It's a medallion Jeff's eldest son always wore. It was all Blair had of his mother after the Clarian invasion. In fact, that was the reason I was at Jeff's home when he was abducted. Blair had been working in Sealand, which had been invaded only a couple days before that."
Jane's face grew stricken when she realized the meaning behind the necklace. "So 'the one who is gone' is Jeff's son?" No wonder Jeff had crumbled before her. "And 'the other'?"
"Jeff's younger son, Sam." Frank gently laid a comforting hand on his sleeping friend's head. "Those two boys mean the world to him."
They both fell silent, worrying about the man whose friendship they shared.
Dawn, seven days later, one mile from Sealand's Northern border
They were almost there. Josiah could see the border from the rocky ridge they were perched on. It felt good to be so close to their goal. While the trip from Delroy to the Sealand border once took only two days, it had taken their party over three times that. Not only were they forced to travel mostly by night, but they had often had to detour around the construction of new Roachian installations. It had been a long, often tension-filled trip.
But there was the border. After much discussion, everyone agreed it would be better to watch the border patrols for a day to discover the pattern. Then they could sneak across without raising suspicions. Josiah figured all the Roaches were on the lookout for them by now, especially since the escaping scientists were with them.
While it was nothing short of a miracle that the drugs had not worked on MacGregor, Josiah was certain it made the Roaches just that much more angry to lose him. He glanced at the pale figure staring over the rocks. Josiah had heard the conversation between Colton and Mullway the first night. It made him all that more impressed with MacGregor. For an important scientist who was ill and had just been dealt a tragic loss, he was surprisingly humble and considerate. That made Josiah want to get him home just as much as he wanted to get the kids to safety. If their luck held out, they should all be safe on the other side in a day or two. Unfortunately, life had taught Josiah that luck was fickle.
The morning air has a bite in it this morning. It feels like fall may be arriving early. That's okay, because that would fit my dark mood perfectly.
The medallion around my neck is a constant reminder of my loss. I know Frank keeps giving it and me worried looks. But it was so precious to Blair, that I can't just pitch it or tuck it away in some corner. There should be something left to proclaim that my son had lived. I also know Frank wants to discuss it and what had happened in the cell. I can't yet. I have to keep it together until we get back to the safe zones. There is too much riding on our return to fall apart now.
That is the one thing that keeps me going: to reach Sam as soon as possible. I know with certainty that the Chosen One's words were not idle. My refusal to cooperate and subsequent escape has put Sam on the Roachian abduction list. Yet I could not trade Sam's and everyone else's future for his current well-being. All I can do now is hope Pete has put Sam under tight security after my abduction. It sounds like something he'd do.
I miss my link with my sons. It's so strange not to feel their emotions as well as my own. I can only hope this is temporary. How much I wish I could fly like those dactyls and just wing my way home. Wait a minute...
Frank tossed another worried glance at his friend, staring out over the valley. Jeff had been strangely quiet since the escape. It probably was due to grief, but he looked sick as well. It angered Frank to see the damage the Roaches had rained down on his friend. Jane suspected that several of Jeff's ribs were cracked. Frank believed her, seeing Jeff wince with pain whenever he climbed in or out of the ORV. Typically, not one word of complaint had passed through Jeff's lips.
Unfortunately, neither had much food. Jeff tried to cover up how hard it was for him to eat, but Frank knew him too well to be fooled. Jeff's metabolism rate was high, so he normally ate almost as much as his teenagers while still staying trim. Weight seemed to be melting off him now. Frank glanced over to where Jane and Casey were fixing breakfast. Maybe Jeff will eat more today.
Also, Jeff had been sleeping way too much. At first Frank had thought it was his friend's way of handling his intense grief, but Jane had mentioned he had slept most of the time in the cell before receiving the medallion. Frank just wanted to get him to a medical facility in a safe place as soon as possible.
The object of his concern suddenly turned in his direction. "Hey Frank, do you guys have any binoculars?"
Frank traded glances with Josiah. "Just a minute," Frank called back. JD reached back into the ORV and pulled out a good pair of binoculars. Josiah quietly took them, then he and Frank joined Jeff on his rocky perch. "What's up?" Frank questioned.
Jeff didn't reply, training the field glasses downward. "Damn," he whispered.
Frank was chilled by the defeat in his friend's voice. "What?"
Jeff sighed then handed the binoculars to Frank. "Look at those dactyls flying over there." As Frank adjusted the lenses for his eyes, Josiah squinted in the direction Jeff pointed.
Once he focused on the colorful, flying reptiles, Frank asked, "What about them?"
"None of them are flying near the border."
Josiah frowned. "You're right. Why are they avoiding it?"
Frank turned his wide eyes back to his friend. "They couldn't have it up this early...could they?"
Jeff shrugged. "They invaded a lot of land at one time. With a fence up, that gives them some security while they get organized before winter."
Josiah turned puzzled eyes to his comrades. "What fence?"
"The Roachians put up a directional microwave fence on the border of their land during the winter," Jeff explained absently, voice full of disappointment. "Roaches can cross it, but it cooks any human to a crisp. It prevents us from retaking the land in winter while they stay in their warm mounds. The fence also hurts the dactyls' hearing, so they avoid them."
Frank carefully set the binoculars down, then violently threw a rock down towards the ORV, muttering curses under his breath.
Josiah stared down at the border, trying to see the invisible fence. "Is there any way to disable it?"
"The equipment that creates the fencing is heavily guarded." Jeff pointed to a mound near the border surrounded by drones. "The covert ops guys have special equipment to get through, but it would be hard to duplicate without the specialized material. The only other way is to fly over it, but you have to climb pretty high up in the atmosphere to clear it."
"Sounds like we need another meeting," Josiah replied slowly. The three men slowly climbed down from the perch to break the bad news to the others.
Jane's face was serious as she stared at Jeff. "Is there any way we can pass through the fence in the ORV?"
Jeff shook his head. "Metal simply focuses the energy and cooks you faster."
"Can you tunnel under it?" JD asked.
"You would have to start a tunnel far from the border in order to not be discovered," Josiah pointed out.
"And that would probably take all fall and winter to dig," Frank added sourly.
"Well," Casey thought out loud, "If we can't go through, can't crawl under, and certainly don't have the wings to fly over it, is there any way to go around it?" Everyone turned to stare at her. "What?" Casey blurted, wondering what she had said wrong.
"Out of the mouths of babes," Josiah muttered.
"Would they extend the fence into the ocean?" Frank asked Jeff.
Jeff nodded his head thoughtfully. "They usually take them out at least a mile or so. To go that way, we'd need a boat. Only there can be some pretty wicked storms brew up this time of year, and then we'd have our own sea barriers to contend with. However, Roaches hate the high mountains. They might not have extended it out over the Talbet Mountain Range."
"If we go that way," Jane added, "I know of a private school at Gillard. We may be able to get supplies there before trekking over the pass."
"We should have enough to last that far," Josiah replied after doing a quick inventory in his head.
"And if we can't take the mountains, perhaps we can pick up some wings." Jane smiled at Casey as she said 'wings'. "There's a small airfield near the school."
"Sounds like we've got ourselves a plan." Frank's scowl finally eased from his face. "Let's check out the map and get on our way!"
Jeff simply sighed, praying Sam was safe.
six days later, Gillard in Sealand Province
"Jeff," Frank called softly, shaking his friend's shoulder.
"Hmm?" Jeff mumbled, trying to pull himself out of the deep sleep he'd been in just moments before.
"We're here," Frank answered glumly. Jeff's eyes popped open, then studied his friend's grim face. A sinking feeling filled him as he climbed out of the ORV. Jane had parked them on a small wooded rise just outside of town. The rest of the group were in a line, staring at the mountains before them, the rising sun throwing deep shadows from the rugged terrain. Wordlessly, Frank handed Jeff the binoculars.
Taking a deep breath, Jeff adjusted the lens for his eyes, then examined the scene before him. He could spot several mounds evenly spaced halfway up the mountain. "Damn," he whispered. The Roaches had protected their flank by running the microwave fence along the mountain side. After a long trip of driving, hiding, scrounging for fuel, and avoiding Roachian installations and patrols, they had run into another obstacle.
"What about the airfield?" JD asked.
Jane halfheartedly waved to the left. "There must be three craters along the runway, and there is nothing left of the hanger." She felt almost sick, leading them all here to a dead end. Jane wanted to get back to her lab, to see if there was some way she could protect the humans from the information she had given to the Roachians. However, it seemed like she might have to continue living with her guilt.
"How well does that fence work in rough country?" Josiah asked, still studying the hillside.
Jeff shrugged. "They usually make it seamless, but sometimes there are holes near the bottom. It'll take time, but it's possible to find one."
"Meaning we'll need a base of operations while we do the scouting," Frank thought out loud. He turned to Mullway. "Where's that school you use to go to?"
Challenger Mountain School, Gillard in Sealand Province
The scene from the top of the hill caused Josiah to step on the brake. They all looked through the windshield at the damage. "They even bombed a school?" Casey whispered sadly.
Jane felt heartsick viewing it. Not only had she spent her last two years of secondary school here, but she had also spent her breaks helping to teach and mentor the young men and women. "I just hope they were given enough time to evacuate."
"Would they have been in session yet?" Frank asked, his scowl deepening.
"Yes, they ran summer sessions" Jane sighed. "They had taken in many teens who had been displaced by the Roaches. Those kids had no place else to go."
Jeff briefly thought of Sam alone, then shoved the thought out of his mind. "Guess we'd better see if there's any building we can hide in for a while."
Jane directed them around the destroyed Administration wing to the partially standing food commons.
"Now, in addition to shelter, we also need supplies," Josiah told them as they climbed out of the ORV. "Food, towels, dish soap, whatever looks to be salvageable."
"And be careful," Frank cautioned. "Roaches are all too good at hiding in debris."
They each carefully picked their way through the broken plaster and boards. Jeff had gingerly knelt to examine a bent metal pan when he heard the click of a gun. Raising his eyes, he found himself staring into the barrel of a shotgun. "Hello," he slowly drawled.
"Stand up," ordered the fierce voice softly. Jeff hid his pain as he casually stood up, studying the dark-haired young woman staring coldly at him. He gauged she was around Blair's age, though the face was harder than he'd ever seen his son's. She would be beautiful if her expression was not so harsh.
"Bella Torres?" Jane called out.
The barrel lowered from its aim at Jeff's chest. "Dr. Mullway?" Within an instant, the young woman changed from fierce to delighted. She gracefully sprang across the debris to greet the older woman with a hug. "We'd been told you were taken by the Roaches!"
"I had been," Jane explained, giving her a warm smile. She waved a hand to indicate Jeff, who was still keeping a wary eye on the shotgun. "But Dr. MacGregor and I were rescued by his friend and some other survivors."
"Dr. MacGregor!" Bella exclaimed, her hand covering her mouth and turning around. "THE Dr. MacGregor? I'm sorry!" Her face was crestfallen. "I didn't know, sir."
Jeff gave her a friendly smile. Jane noted that its charm worked just as well on the tough girl as it did on her and Casey. "That's okay. I'm willing to forget it if you'd put the safety back on." He gave the gun another pointed glance.
"Oh yeah!" The young woman swiftly clicked it into position.
"Why are you still here?" Jane asked, barely aware of the others from their group walking over to join them. "Weren't you able to evacuate?"
Bella shook her head. "No one expected them to sweep in so fast. We lost a lot of people during the bombing." Frank's scowl deepened as Jeff's eyes grew somber. They both could guess at how many students and teachers had been lost in the destruction. "Then Mrs. Patterson diverted the invading Roaches' attention by blowing up the rest of the Admin building while we rushed the survivors into the caves." Her hand indicated the foothills behind her. Then dark eyes grew even darker. "She had already been severely wounded, so she insisted that Harry and Jack go with us while she stayed behind."
Jane closed her eyes a moment, mourning the loss of her dear mentor and friend. "How many made it to the caves?"
"There's 41 of us." Bella turned and waved. Two teenage girls and a boy climbed out of their hiding spots in the debris. "There's Doc Fraiser, Gail Meredith the language instructor, the driver Jack Dalton, plus Harry Kim and myself who were assisting this summer. The rest are students."
"Hi Judy, Hi Eric," Jane greeted the two she knew.
"This is Lisa Woodrow," Bella introduced the shy young woman hanging back from the others.
"Hi Lisa," Jane gave her a gentle smile. Then she quickly introduced her group. "Do you think there's room for us to stay with you?"
Bella gave her a wide smile. "There's plenty of room."
After helping Bella and her group pick up a few boxes of can goods and other supplies, they followed them back into the foothills. Jeff was impressed at how well hidden the caves were on the hillside. Bella pointed out a spot where they could hide the ORV, then they all picked their way over the rocky terrain. Between the steep climb and his already fatigued body, it was especially hard on Jeff. He stumbled a couple of times on the loose rock, only to have the shy girl named Lisa help him to catch his balance. Jeff gave her a grateful smile and was doubly thankful when Bella led them behind a boulder into a cave.
The cave was cool and dark but the floor was fairly level. Bella and the kids turned on their lights and led them to the back of the cave and through a narrow bend. Josiah was just barely able to squeeze through. Jeff's tired mind hazily noted that it would be almost impossible for drones to get through.
The bend widened, then Jeff realized he heard a generator. Another gradual turn led them to a place of light. The passage opened up into a wide cavern. Inside electric lights, running off the generator he'd heard, circled the center. Jeff spotted five portable camp stoves with several makeshift tables behind them. On the outer edges of the circle were numerous small tents made out of various blankets and canvas material. Several people stopped what they were doing when they noticed the extra people Bella had brought.
"Jane!" A slender woman with deep reddish brown hair broke from the crowd and ran up to greet her friend with a hug. Several more soon joined her around the alumni. Jeff smiled faintly at the warm welcome. Perhaps their luck had finally turned, though it would help if the room would stop spinning. Jeff noted his knees buckling as if they belonged to someone else. He was vaguely aware of Frank and Lisa catching him as the room turned black.
Dad, where are you?
Sam, I'm right here!
Sam! Sam, answer me! SAM!
Jeff jerked upright, wrapping his arms around his throbbing ribs. Once the pain eased and his head stopped spinning, he cautiously opened his eyes. He was inside a small tent sitting on a sleeping pad. Absently, his fingers smoothed a wrinkle in the soft blanket as he studied the empty sleeping pad next to him. He groaned as the memory of his collapse swam through his aching head. What a way to make an entrance.
Still feeling lightheaded, Jeff gingerly stood up. He stepped out of the tent once the world righted itself. Jeff paused once outside, trying to orient himself. To the left he could see JD with three other teenage boys, working to put up another tent. Straight ahead he could see Jane chatting with the woman who had greeted her earlier. They were watching a group of teens washing dishes. Off to his right, Josiah and Frank were sitting at a table, talking with Bella and a burly man about his age in a leather jacket. A young man of about college age was hurrying towards them. Pushing a lock of his straight black hair out of his almond shaped eyes, he unrolled a map onto the table. The others quickly leaned over to study it.
Taking a deep breath, Jeff decided to join Frank and see what was going on. He was only a couple of yards away when Frank spotted him. His friend was by his side in an instant.
"What are you doing walking around?" Frank growled demandingly.
Jeff yanked his arm from Frank's grasp. "I'm all right."
Frank glared at him, not missing the pale face nor the faint catch of pain in Jeff's voice. "Right, and I'm the president's chief advisor." Jeff rolled his eyes at him. "The doc said you need food and rest, bro."
"I think I've rested enough." Jeff was peeved at himself for his fatigue. He had to find a way back to Sam and his body would just have to get with the program. Reading the stubbornness on his friend's face, Frank sighed and walked him over to the table.
Josiah, who had watched the exchange out the corner of his eye, just barely kept the smirk from his face. He'd witnessed several such encounters and had rarely seen Frank win. He stood up so that Jeff could have his seat, then indicated the burly man with his hand. "Jeff, this is Jack Dalton. Jack, Jeff MacGregor." Jeff shook Dalton's hand before taking the seat. "The young man is Harry Kim," Josiah continued. Harry greeted him with a friendly smile. "And you've already met Bella." The slightest hint of a blush crept into the young, yet tough, face.
Jeff gave her an understanding smile, then looked down at the map. "This is the microwave fencing?" Jeff ran a finger along a red dotted line. It looked like a recent addition.
"Yes," Harry spoke up. "Now that the Roaches don't have the patrols like they did when they first invaded, we've been able to do a little scouting."
"Colton says that there can be holes?" Jack asked. "We've been telling the kids to stay away from it, both due to the danger and the possibility of border patrols."
"Sensible," Jane replied as she approached the table. She sat a bowl of soup next to Jeff's elbow, along with a glass a juice. She met Jeff's stubborn eyes with her own.
Knowing she was right, Jeff sighed and sipped the juice, still studying the map. "Holes are not easy to find." Jeff launched into a quick explanation of how to locate areas under the fence.
Jeff watched from the tables as Frank slipped into the tunnel, Casey and two other teens on his heels. The adults had decided to set up teams to search for holes in the fence, each consisting of an adult and three of the older teens. Since they had a better chance of staying out of Roachian sight in the dark, they decided to wait until twilight. Jeff tapped his pen against a pad of paper as the last of the teams departed the cave. It was frustrating not to be out with them. Yet Jeff had to admit he was, as Frank had put it, 'in no condition to be traipsing around the mountainside playing tag with the Roaches'. Sometimes Frank sounded just like his mother, Tess.
Closing his eyes and taking as deep a breath as he dared with his ribs, Jeff forced the frustration out of his mind. He attempted to feel for Sam, but again ran into the barrier. Another good reason to allow himself some rest. Apparently his mind needed to heal as well as his body. Not that he planned on being idle. There were still many other things that needed to be worked out. Jeff turned the pen to the paper and started scribbling.
Of all the chores, Lisa hated carrying water the most. It was a long trip down to the underground river that flowed through the cavern below. Once full, the buckets were really heavy. Simply due to the location, you were carrying the full buckets uphill. Then if you weren't careful, the water would slosh all over, getting your clothes and shoes soaked. She was always so glad to finish filling the water barrels.
She glanced at Dr. MacGregor as she brought in the last buckets. He kind of reminded her of her dad with his long arms and legs. Then he had a really nice smile like her dad, too. Her dad's smile had always made her feel good. She could still remember him smiling and waving as her train left for Gillard. If she had known that have would been the last time she'd see him, Lisa would have hopped off that train and ran back to him. But he wanted her to go so she'd be safe, so she had gone.
Not that she'd been that much safer. Thoughts of the bombing still sent a wave a fear through her. Only by crawling under the heavy workbench in the art room had Lisa survived. The fact that she'd managed to pull 10-year-old Cassie under the bench with her had won the girl's devotion. Doc Fraiser's daughter often tagged along behind her when she could.
Lisa spared another glance at the scientist as she dumped the water into the barrel. News always traveled fast within the group of teenagers, but the story about the new people had broken speed records. She had heard all about what the Roaches had done to Dr. MacGregor and how they had threatened his son because the drugs didn't work. Bella said that her friends back in Glendale had met Sam MacGregor and thought he was pretty cool. Lisa hoped he was all right, if only for Dr. MacGregor's sake.
Setting the bucket down, Lisa frowned when she noticed Dr. MacGregor absently wrapping his arm around his ribs. It had really scared her when he had collapsed yesterday. She had overheard Doc Fraiser say that he had several cracked ribs, yet he didn't like taking the pain meds she'd given him. Lisa didn't want him to be in pain. Without much thought, she walked over to the cool box and pulled out some juice. Pouring it into a glass, she replaced the jug, took a deep breath, and walked over to the man at the table.
Jeff glanced up when he heard the light shuffle of steps against the cavern's stone floor. The young teen who had helped him into the caves approached the table hesitantly. "Hello, ah Lisa, right?"
A shy smile stretched across her face. Jeff noticed it was a rather sweet smile. "Yes, Dr. MacGregor." She sat the glass of blue juice on the table in front of him.
Jeff stared at it a moment, feeling his stomach cringe at the thought. "Thank you, Lisa, but you didn't need to bring me anything."
"I thought you could use some juice to take with your pain meds," the girl suggested ingenuously.
Jeff blinked, noting his aching ribs as he realized he'd been had. This girl was better than either Frank or Mullway. Raising his eyes to meet her eager ones, he could only concede defeat. "All right, thank you." He pushed the pad of paper away as he gingerly slipped his hand into his pocket to retrieve the bottle.
Lisa leaned over the table to look at his writing. "What are you doing?"
"I'm doing some logistics," Jeff replied. He tossed a pill into his mouth, quickly swallowing some juice to send it on its way. He grimaced as his stomach protested, but it seemed to stay down.
"It's a fancy word for making sure you have everything you need when you need it for a project." Jeff slid the pad so Lisa could read it, too. "When they find a hole in the fence, we have to figure out how to get everyone out and to the safe zones without getting caught."
"Wow, I hadn't thought about that yet," Lisa replied admiringly. "I guess 47 people is a lot to send through a small hole and get away before the Roaches see us."
"Well, we do have surprise on our side." Jeff shot her a smile. "They probably don't know we're all here." Jeff pushed out the fact the Roaches were probably searching for him. That Chosen One seemed pretty determined to make Jeff talk. He prayed that the kids wouldn't be hurt in an effort to reach him.
Lisa was looking at the map. "How far do we have to go?"
"Well, I'm hoping they aren't planning to push their border further north before next spring, since they have the fence up." Jeff lightly ran the pen over the fence on the map. "Most likely they'll do a few more bombing runs to make sure the humans don't sneak back here."
"But how could we, with the fence up?"
"Some of the commando units have devices to get through the fences. Unfortunately, I don't have the classified materials I'd need to make one." Jeff sighed, thinking of how easy he could whip one up if he had his lab. "So I'm guessing the closest bases would be here on the Toga River, the Front Ridge base, and the naval base at White Shores." He pointed to each one with his pen.
"The Toga base would be closest," Lisa remarked.
"Yes, but we'd have to walk across the plain here, and that would be wide open with few places to hide. Front Ridge would be a little farther, but we could hide in the mountains and this canyon for most of the way."
"What ya doing?" They both looked up in time to see a young girl hop onto a chair opposite them.
"Cassie, shouldn't you be in bed?" Lisa asked, exasperated.
Cassie shook her head, her strawberry blonde ponytail swinging back and forth. "Mom's busy looking at Davey's leg."
Jeff gauged the child to be about 10 years old. "Aren't you a bit young to be going to the Challenger school?" he asked with a smile.
She grinned back at him. "I just live here. Mom's the doctor."
"Ah, your Dr. Fraiser's daughter, Miss..."
"Cassandra, but you can call me Cassie."
"All right, Cassie." Jeff felt a small pang in his heart, his thoughts drifting back to his son who had found him at around the same age as Cassie. He swiftly turned his thoughts away from Blair and concentrated on the girls at the table. "Are you waiting for your mother to tuck you in?"
Cassie nodded. "She promised me a story, but she gets busy. Do you know any stories?"
Lisa noticed the sadness that sprang into Dr. MacGregor's eyes. But almost as quickly, he ran a hand over his face then smiled at the girl across the table. "Sure I do. Have you ever heard of sentinels?"
At the chorus of 'yeahs', Dr. MacGregor smiled and began his story.
"... Keegan leaned out from the bank, Harry holding tightly onto Keegan's legs. They had one chance to grab the little girl before the current swept her further downstream toward the dam..."
Dianne Fraiser paused, surprised at the sight before her. At least twelve of the eighteen students left in the cavern had gathered around one of the tables. At the center was Dr. MacGregor telling a story. While she wasn't surprised to spot her daughter at the table, she wouldn't have thought the young teens, mostly ranging from 12 to 14, would have admitted to being interested.
However, it became clearer as she continued to listen. MacGregor's deep voice was warm and enchanting, drawing the audience into his tale. It was a tale of adventure and heroism, just the kind kids of any age liked. While Dianne had read some of the sentinel legends, she had never read one that was at such a personal level. It was almost as if the story-teller had been there, personally witnessing the events as they unfolded. No wonder the teens were enjoying it.
As Jeff finished the story, Cassie immediately jumped in. "Tell us another one!"
Dianne walked up to the table. "Maybe some other time. Right now, you need to get to bed."
"Mom," Cassie pleaded.
"Bed." Then she looked at the other kids at the table. "Same goes for the rest of you. Since the others will be out most of the night, it's up to us to keep things running around here tomorrow." Her announcement was followed by mumbles and groans, but all the kids pulled back from the table and scattered to their respective tents. She heard Lisa thank Dr. MacGregor for explaining 'logistics' and watched the girl wander over to her tent. Following Cassie to bed, she wondered how Dr. MacGregor had been able to reach the girl when the rest of them had failed. Whatever the means, she was glad to see it.
When Dianne walked back to the common area later, she spotted MacGregor still sitting at the table, head resting in his arms. Concerned, she approached him. "Are you okay?"
Jeff raised his head and gave her a sad smile. "Yeah."
He looked exhausted, his darkly circled eyes and ruffled fine hair making him look so vulnerable. Dianne was still worried. "How are your ribs?"
"All right." Jeff chuckled. "Lisa managed to con me into taking a pain pill."
Dianne gave him an answering smile while mentally applauding the girl's initiative. "That's good. Lisa hadn't been with us too long before her father died, and she's been so withdrawn ever since. It's nice to see her taking an interest in things again."
Jeff frowned. "Roaches?"
"Yes. He was the owner of Woodrow Manufacturing in Greenwalk. When the front lines appeared to be faltering this spring, he sent his daughter to us while they prepared to evacuate. We received word that he had died helping his employees escape when the Roaches invaded. While Lisa is always the first one to pitch in when we need help, she doesn't interact with people much."
"Your daughter seems to worship her."
"I'm very grateful to her, too. She saved Cassie's life during the bombing." Seeing the sadness reenter his eyes, Dianne tried to change the subject. "Where did you pick up that story? The kids loved it." When the sadness deepened in his face, she wondered if she'd made a mistake.
Then like magic, he seemed to shake off the darkness. "Oral family history. My grandpa Harry use to tell me the stories when I was a kid, so I told them to my boys. They loved hearing them, especially when they were scared or sick."
Realizing it was grief she had seen before, she tried to turn the subject again. "Family history?"
"Yep. Keegan was Harry's grandpa and originally told the stories to him."
Dianne was surprised. "I hadn't realized any of the Guide families were still around."
Jeff shrugged. "The Center believed that the talent couldn't be passed on through the female side. Since we descended through Keegan's daughter, they didn't pay us much attention."
"Did you ever get to visit the Center before it was destroyed?"
Jeff slowly shook his head, a slightly bemused look on his face. "Harry was going to take me one year for the Gathering Festival. He was certain I had the talent and wanted to get me tested. Then all of a sudden, he told me we weren't going and refused to discuss it."
"That must have been disappointing."
"Just as well," Jeff chuckled. "That was the year the mountain blew and destroyed everyone and everything there. I don't know what happened to change Harry's mind, but I've always been grateful that he did."
Dianne chuckled with him, filing it away as one of those times when a higher power seemed to be working. This man had been so instrumental in developing the few defenses the colony had, she hated to think where they'd be if he had died as a child. Which reminded her that he was far too important to be allowed to become rundown again. She didn't want to be known as the doctor who lost the famous scientist. Besides, she was really beginning to like him. "Now, do I have to chase you off to bed, too?"
Taking in the fire entering the woman's eyes, Jeff shook his head. "No Doc, I'll be a good boy and head for bed." He gingerly rose, picked up the pen, pad and map, then walked to the tent he was sharing with Colton. He turned, gave her a brief wave, and ducked inside.
Dianne smiled and waved back. She really WAS beginning to like him.
Four weeks later, caverns in Challenger Mountain
"Why do the Roaches hate us so much?"
Jeff looked at Darla, noting the seriousness on the blue-eyed blonde's pretty face. Glancing around at the other students sitting at the table, he realized it was a question they all wanted answered. Even JD was focusing all his attention on him, waiting. Considering what all these kids have been through, Jeff couldn't blame them.
Taking a deep breath, Jeff carefully chose his words. "Well, the Roachians need more land and see us as outsiders. We came from somewhere else, and we've never been able to communicate with them very well. They feel we're taking up space on what is essentially their planet and thus rightfully belongs to them."
"Why do they need more land?" Lisa asked. "They have the other three much larger continents where it's warm. Why can't they just let us have this small one?"
"The Roachian population is growing very fast. They have already filled up the other continents, thus they want more land to expand into."
Steve looked puzzled, his normally cheerful face just as serious as the others. "Why are they growing so fast?"
Jeff sighed, realizing this was not a simple question, thus requiring a long answer. He pulled a pad of paper towards him and picked up a pen. The ten teens drew in closer so they could see. "Well, you all know that each group of Roachians are led by their Queen." All the heads nodded as Jeff drew a big Q in the center of the paper. "Each Queen has a circle of smaller females called her court. They become her advisors and do most of the Roachian technology research and development." Jeff made a circle of C's around the Q.
"It's the females who live in the Queen's Tower, right?" Steve asked.
"Right." Jeff drew a circle around the Q and Cs. "It is here that the Queen lays and nurtures the eggs that become drones. Once mature, they form her army. They carry out her plans, manage her affairs outside the Tower, and defend the Queen and her territory from outsiders."
"They're the ones who live in the Mounds," Casey added.
"Right." Jeff printed several groups of Ds around the Queen's Tower, and drew circles around each one. "Meanwhile, the female court members produce the workers, who do all the manual labor." He made lots of dots in and around all the other marks to signify the workers.
"Then where do the Chosen Ones come from?" JD asked.
Jeff smiled. "The Chosen Ones are drones who prove themselves to be superior in some way. They tend to be the strongest warriors, the most innovative leaders, the sharpest minds, and sometimes, just the most handsome." The girls giggled as the boys rolled their eyes. "Once the Queen has 'chosen' them, they come to the Tower and she feeds them her 'royal jelly'. This substance transforms them. They grow bigger, their coats gain a purple hue, wings develop on their backs, and their hormones are activated." Now all the teenagers were giggling. Jeff stifled his own smile and continued. "They then mate with the Queen and her court when they call. All the other times, each Chosen One runs his own Mound, with his selected drones and workers. As long as the Queen is pleased with him, he will continue to get the royal jelly and stay in control.
"Now, every so many cycles, the Queen will also produce other females, who become new court members, and sometimes a junior queen. When the junior queen has reached maturity, she has to make a decision between three options. She can challenge the senior queen to a fight to the death, and if she wins, she takes over the Tower. However, if the senior queen is young and healthy, it may be a tough battle where even the winner is badly injured. Thus, that's not always a good option. The junior queen's next choice is to challenge a Queen from another tower. However, she must get past all that queen's drones in order to challenge her. Which isn't very smart unless the other queen is weak and dying, then her drones will let the challenger through uncontested. If all the other queens are strong, then she falls back on her third option, which is to gather a group of young drones and junior court members, move to an unclaimed piece of land, and mark her own territory. This is a good deal for the drones, because they have a better chance to gain recognition and thus become a Chosen One. It is also a good deal for the junior court members, because it is easier for them to become senior court members. And it is certainly the better deal for both the queens, because neither has to risk a vicious fight to the death.
"This is where the problem starts. You see, the Roachians have developed to the point where the general population, and especially the Queens, live a lot longer than they use to. So there are many more junior Queens being born than senior Queens dying. Thus more are taking the third option."
"Even when that means they have to fight us?" Lisa asked, eyes wide.
"Yes, because there are also more drones being born, who are willing to give up their lives for their Queen..."
Dianne and Mullway stood several yards away from Jeff's table, watching his group grow from the original ten to somewhere closer to twenty. Even Harry Kim had join the teens to hear Dr. MacGregor's explanation. Dianne smiled. "He is so good with the kids. They all love listening to him, whether he's explaining a scientific principle or telling one of his stories."
"And you know they are absorbing every word," Jane added. She looked up as Frank joined them. "Has Jeff taught before?"
Frank shook his head. "He's been too busy with research. The only time he'd get to teach was with his sons. Blair and Sam were usually so far ahead of their respective classes, Jeff would work with them at home to keep them interested and steadily progressing."
"He must be great with them," Dianne commented, continuing to watch Jeff fielding questions.
"Jeff is very close to both boys. They are the only family he has by blood."
"By blood?" Jane questioned.
Frank cracked a smile. "My family considers Jeff as part of our family. Plus he has several close friends who are very protective of him. Jeff just has a way of getting through to people. So does Sam, and Blair was even better with people than Jeff. He'd been interning at the Refugee center in Sealand, and by all accounts doing wonders with the people." Frank closed his eyes, deeply feeling the loss of the bright young man.
Sensing Frank's grief, Mullway asked, "Is it time for the meeting?" At Frank's nod, she walked over and tapped Jeff's shoulder. Jeff glanced up, caught Jane's eye, then gently disengaged himself from the kids. Harry Kim also followed.
Frank studied his friend as Jeff walked over to join them. While he seemed to be moving easier, fatigue still clung to his much too thin body. Frank wasn't sure how much of it was grief and worry, but Dianne felt it was partly due to the aftereffects of the drugs used. Whatever the cause, the best thing for Jeff was to get him back home. Frank suspected a hug from Sam would do wonders for him. Unfortunately, that didn't appear to be happening any time soon.
They joined the rest of the adults in a side cavern. Since it was raining hard outside, all of the teams were staying in for the night. Dianne looked around the circle, noted the tired expressions. She had a feeling the news wasn't going to be good.
It wasn't. Harry rolled out the map, and pointed out the sections of the fence they had checked. "We have a couple more areas to cover, but so far we haven't found any hole except this one." Harry tapped the map with his pencil.
"And that's the one which is only a foot high, right?" Jeff commented, his face reflecting his deep concentration.
"Right," Josiah confirmed. "Little Cassie might be able to get through, but I doubt anyone else could."
"Not much to show for a month's worth of work," Frank sourly commented.
"Is there any way to contact one of the military units and have them reach us?" Gail asked.
Jane shook her head. "The Roaches would pick up the signal."
"It would be like painting a big, red target on us," Frank added. "We'd be long dead before our people could organize a rescue party." Except for Jeff, whom the Roaches would probably snatch up and torture again. Frank felt himself tense at the thought. There was no way he'd allow them to touch his friend again.
"So we are going to have to find another way out," Dianne commented thoughtfully.
"I've been trying to pull enough pieces together for a plane," Jack inserted. "However, the bombing hasn't left much."
"Where are you working on it?" Josiah asked in surprise. "There's no way you could bring it in here."
"There's a shed a little ways to the south," Jack pointed out the location on the map. "I work on it when I'm sure there's no Roaches around."
"Still sounds dangerous." Jane replied.
Jack waved off her concern. "The old pilot in me has to try."
"JD and I could help you," Josiah thought out loud. "Perhaps have a couple of the older kids play lookout while we work."
"I could help, too," Bella added.
Jack gave them a big grin. "I can always use the help."
"What if we moved it to the outside cavern?" Frank suggested. "That way you'd have more cover."
"That could work," Jack agreed.
"But would the noise alert the Roaches we're here?" Dianne waved her hand to indicate the cavern complex. "If we're discovered, they could decide to bomb us, or at the very least, barricade us in. That would make things pretty difficult if we couldn't go out for supplies and such."
"True," Frank conceded. "We'd better stick with the shed."
Jeff was still studying the map. "Do any of the caverns lead to the other side of the fence?"
The campus people all looked at each other, trading puzzled looks. Dianne turned back to Jeff. "I don't think so, but there are several unexplored passages. I don't think anyone knows how complex it is."
"That might be another option to check out," Jeff explained. "While one group works on the plane and another finishes searching along the fence, the rest of us could start searching for another route out."
Everyone nodded, then began discussing how to make it work.
Four days later
It was the 17th day of the Tenth month. She was now fourteen years old.
Before, birthdays were special. First, her Dad would wake her up with a surprise. When her mother was alive, she'd fix Lisa's hair up in ribbons and braids. Then after school, Dad would take them to a place of Lisa's choosing for dinner. After dinner she would get a present, something Dad had picked out just for her. Then on the closest weekend, Dad would throw a party for her with all her friends. Lisa had always looked forward to her birthday.
Yet here it was and Lisa felt anything but special. No one knew it was her birthday. She couldn't expect any presents or surprises. Worst of all, she now knew it wasn't the gifts or the dinner or the party that had made it special. It was her Dad's love that had made it special, made her special. Lisa had never felt his loss so keenly as she did today.
She managed to get through breakfast without embarrassing herself. She was on water duty, so thankfully she didn't have to make conversation as she would have on dishes or laundry. As soon as the barrels were full, Lisa turned to leave the area. She wasn't in the mood to map passages in the mountain, or watch for Roaches, or even listen to one of Dr. MacGregor's stories. She just wanted to be alone.
A high voice behind her broke her preoccupation. "Lisa, where ya going?"
"Not now, Cassie," Lisa harshly told her, still walking out of the main cavern.
Lisa spun on her heel to confront the girl. "I said NOT NOW!" Cassie recoiled from the older girl's wrath. "I want to be ALONE." Not waiting for an answer, Lisa turned back to her goal. She slipped into a passage off the main cavern. Since it lead to the south instead of east into the mountain, no one had bothered with it. Lisa knew she would be left alone. Brushing back tears from her suddenly blurry eyes, she flipped on her light and picked her way through the stalagmites.
Outside of the passage, Cassie also brushed away a tear. Now upset herself, she turned back to find something else to do.
One hour later, lower cavern
Jeff finished tightening a screw, then handed the communicator to Casey. "Now try it."
Casey held down the switch on the side. "Darla, can you hear me?"
"Sure can," the girl's voice crackled across the speaker. Casey looked up to see Darla give her a thumbs up from across the underground river.
"Thanks, Dr. Mac!" Casey dashed over the makeshift bridge Jeff and Frank had put together with help from a couple of the boys. She joined Mullway, Colton, and the other teens who were roping up to enter one of the cave entrances on the other side. Jane carefully formed a harness from a thin white synthetic rope, then helped Casey step into it. The extra strong rope was one of the safety measures Jeff had devised. It was to keep the spelunkers from getting lost, while the small communicators helped the support team keep tabs on the explorations. Jeff figured the radio signals wouldn't reach the surface above, yet provided a safety net in case the exploring became dangerous. Jane gave the rope a jerk to test the knots, then signaled for Steve to start. The gangling teen sent a high sign to Jeff across the river, then stepped into the passage.
Once the last teen had disappeared from view, Jeff leaned back and rubbed his eyes with the palms of each hand. For some reason, he had been strangely tense lately. Feelings of fear and guilt seemed to flow and ebb through him without cause. Even his sleep had been restless as a small headache had plagued his waking hours. He had briefly wondered if some of Sam's emotions were somehow getting through to him, but he couldn't break through the barrier to know for sure. It was probably just his imagination. Hopefully, that was it and he wasn't getting sick.
"Bro, go get something to eat."
Jeff reluctantly raised his eyes to meet Frank's stern gaze. "I'm not hungry."
"I didn't ask if you were hungry," Frank pointed out. "I said go get something to eat. We have everything under control here. In fact, go take a nap."
"Go. I know you haven't been sleeping lately and you need the rest."
Studying Frank's scowl, Jeff sighed and slowly stood up. That was the drawback of sharing a tent -- there were few secrets in the cramped quarters. By the time Jeff had hiked up the sloped trail to the main cavern, he had to admit he was tired. Perhaps a nap was a good idea.
"Dr. MacGregor!" Jeff turned to see Gail rushing over to him. "Is Lisa with the spelunking group?"
Jeff blinked in surprise. "No, I haven't seen her all day."
"As far as I can tell, no one has seen her since breakfast. She didn't go with Dianne's supply run, nor did she leave with the plane repair group, nor was she in the class I taught this morning. Yet she doesn't seem to be anywhere in the main cavern. Normally, she's the first one to help with the cooking. It isn't like her to disappear."
Jeff felt his tension rise. He was becoming quite fond of the young teen. Trying to reassure himself as much as the instructor, he replied, "I'm sure she's around somewhere. Why don't you go back to the lunch crew and I'll look around." Gail thanked him profusely, then turned back to the center area. Taking a deep breath, Jeff pulled his thoughts together. If anyone knew where the teen had gone, Cassie would. His fatigue forgotten, he strode over to the Fraisers' tent.
Cassie sat outside, playing with a ball and the oddly shaped jacks that Dalton had made for her. However, Lisa was nowhere in sight. Jeff knelt down beside her. "How're you doing, Cassie?"
Shrugging, the girl bounced the ball against her hand. "I still have trouble getting sixsies." The dejection in her voice was easy to hear.
"That's because your hand isn't big enough yet." Jeff gently spread the fingers on her other hand, then scooped up six jacks to place in the palm. Cassie giggled when a jack fell out. "See, once your hand grows a little bit bigger, it'll be easier."
"But it just seems to take so long to grow."
"It does now, but pretty soon you'll get so big, you'll wonder where all the time went." Jeff shared a smile with the girl, shoving thoughts of his own grown boys out of his mind. "Honey, have you seen Lisa lately?"
Cassie's face immediately turned glum. Bouncing the ball again, she looked away. "Lisa yelled at me."
"Why did she yell at you?" Jeff asked nonchalantly, not wanting to transmit his concern to the girl.
"She just yelled at me." Cassie paused for another bounce of the ball. "She went in a cave passage and wouldn't let me go with her."
Jeff felt his stomach sink to his toes. Calmly, he asked, "Could you show me the passage?"
Cassie frowned up at him. "Is Lisa in trouble?"
"Nah," Jeff denied. "I just want to make sure she doesn't miss lunch."
"Oh," Cassie replied. Jeff wasn't sure from her tone whether she was sorry or not. "Okay."
Jeff walked alongside the girl as she led him towards the southern end of the cavern. She pointed to the dark opening, tucked behind an offshoot of the wall. Jeff pulled a light from a loop on his pant leg. Switching it on, he aimed it into the passage. It wasn't quite high enough for his full height, but more than enough so he could travel without crawling. He turned to the girl. "Cassie, I want you to go back to Miss Gail and tell her I'm looking for Lisa. Okay?"
"Yes, Dr. Mac," Cassie replied, picking up on the nickname Casey and JD had given him. She turned back, her step lighter having been given such an important assignment.
Jeff took a deep breath, released it, then entered the passage.
Lisa had found a dry spot to sit up off the muddy floor. Curling up on the raised platform, she absently scraped at the mud on the wall, trying to sort out her emotions. Finally, the tears ran down her face as the grief became overwhelming. She cried for her tall, brave father. She cried for the mother she barely remembered. She cried for her Nanny who had died a year ago. She cried for her friends who had not escaped before the Roaches invaded. Then she cried for herself. Misery sank her deeper into despair, being dragged down with feelings of abandonment and loss. Why was she still here, when everyone she had loved was gone? It didn't seem very fair to be left alone.
Jeff heard the heart-wrenching sobs as he followed the footprints in the clay mud. Swinging his light in the direction of the sounds, he walked around a bend and found their source. Any thought of scolding the girl fled in the face of such misery. He softly walked over to her, then laid his hand on her shoulder. "Lisa?"
Tear-drenched eyes raised to meet his. "Dr. Mac?" she hiccuped.
"I'm right here, Honey." Laying his light to the side, Jeff then gently drew her into his arms, comforting her as she continued to cry on his shoulder.
Once her sobs had quieted into an occasional hiccup, Jeff pulled her back far enough to look into her red and swollen eyes. Gently cupping her face with his hand, he asked, "Do you want to tell me about it?"
Lisa sniffed, then hoarsely explained. "I miss my Dad. He was all the family I had, and I'm all alone now."
Jeff draped an arm around her shoulder, giving her as much comfort as he could. "I know how hard it is, Honey." He drew her closer, Lisa tucking her head under his chin. Jeff quietly searched his mind for a way to comfort her. "It is overwhelming, being left alone. There was this boy I knew once who felt overwhelmed by it, too. His parents had died in a flash flood when he was younger than Cassie."
"What ha-happened to him?" Lisa hiccuped.
"He went to live with his grandfather. At first, it was really strange, because the grandfather was old and grouchy sometimes. There were a lot of strict rules he had to learn, a lot more than with his parents. But after a while it wasn't so bad. The grandfather was always there for him, going to school functions and sticking up for him when someone treated the boy unfairly. He would tell the boy wonderful stories that always made him feel good."
"Just like you do?"
A sad smile full of bittersweet memories crossed Jeff's lips. "Just like me. But then one day, when the boy was only a little older than you, the grandfather died. It was really hard on him, because the grandfather was all he had. Or that was what he thought."
"What happened then?"
"He finished school, then he traveled to a far away island, hoping to get away from his sadness. He met many different sorts of people and learned a lot. Then he went on to get more schooling in another far away place. But do you know what he found out?"
"That while his grandfather and parents were gone, their legacy still lived on inside him. It was up to him to make the most of his life, so that they would have been proud of him. He also discovered that while he had no family, he still had lots of friends who worried and cared about him. Some even became like family, so he didn't feel so alone. He went back to his grandfather's house, married a wonderful woman, and made his own family." Jeff gave Lisa a squeeze. "So see, no matter how bad things seem right now, your life will get better. You just have to keep doing the best you can, and continue to grow into the woman your father would have been proud of. You are his best legacy. Okay?"
"Okay." Lisa wiped her face with the back of her hand. "Is there really a boy?"
"Yes, there really was a boy. In fact, that boy was me."
Lisa pulled back and looked at him. "You?"
"Yep, me. So see, it does get better. I won't say it's always easy or ever stops hurting, but it will get better."
"Thanks, Dr. Mac."
"You're welcome." Jeff stood up and brushed his hands against the mud on his knees. "The laundry detail is going to love us."
Lisa giggled at the sarcasm and accepted his hand so she could rise to her feet. Then she remembered something she had seen. "Dr. Mac, what is a 'Venturer'?"
"A Venturer?" Jeff asked, puzzled. "A venture is a risky project or undertaking. Or do you mean an adventurer?"
"I don't know." Lisa turned to the wall next to the platform. "I saw it here on the wall." She pointed her light at the word she had seen.
Jeff spotted the block letters, VENTURER. A feeling of destiny lifted his hand to the wall, where he rubbed off the mud before the 'V'. His efforts revealed two more letters.
"I guess it is 'adventurer'," Lisa commented.
"More than that," Jeff whispered reverently. He pulled his shirt sleeve over his fist, and began to brush off the mud on the platform Lisa had sat on.
"You know, you are not going to win any more favors from the laundry crew by doing that," Lisa pointed out, trying to remember when she was up for that detail.
"This is much bigger than laundry," Jeff absently explained, his excitement growing. He pulled out a screwdriver from a pants pocket, using it to chip at the mud.
"What is it?" Lisa asked, mystified.
"Our ancestors first came to this world in five shuttles," Jeff softly recited as he continued to chip off the hardened mud. "Two crashed out on the Leesborough plain, one was used for housing equipment until it was destroyed in a fire, and the fourth sank in the sea. The fifth one was used until the first skirmish."
"The War between the Techs and the Naturalists," Lisa remembered from history.
"Right. The Techs were afraid the Naturalists would destroy the craft, so they hid it away in a sanctuary for future use. However, the ones who hid it were killed, so no one knew where it was. Its name was Adventurer."
"So you think it's here?" Lisa asked in surprise.
Removing the last of the mud, Jeff's face broke out in a wide grin. "I know it is now." With his knife, he managed to release the lock. Lifting the hard plastic lid that had protected a panel of controls, Jeff then pushed a button.
A loud creak echoed along the passageway. Jeff and Lisa turned in time to see a section of wall slowly move forward, scraping centuries of mud ahead of it. Cautiously, Jeff crept to the opening and shone his light inside, Lisa on his heels.
The light revealed a large, curved wall. Swinging the light around, Jeff realized the white wall was the hull of a huge craft, similar to the ancient designs he had studied.
"Is it....?" Lisa's voice trailed off as she tried to comprehend how large the thing in front of her was.
"It is," Jeff replied with a reverent tone.
Lisa pointed her light along the right side, eyes wide as she took in the length. "If this was just a shuttle, just how big was the ship that brought the ancestors here?"
"Gigantic." Jeff shone his light to the left and up. He could barely make out the pilot's window.
"JEFF! LISA! Can you hear me?"
Jeff turned back towards Frank's voice, eager to share their new discovery.
two days later, Gillard
Steve Hiller surveyed the debris before kneeling next to the broken box. As one of the older kids, he felt responsible for his group's safety. So far they had managed to avoid the Roaches on the supply runs, but as Mr. Colton had said, there was always a first time. Though they had enough stashed in the caverns to last at least a month, it only made sense to pick up more while they could. The demolished grocery store had been a treasure throve.
Pulling away the soggy cardboard, the teen drew out a can. He gingerly turned the can around so he wouldn't damage the soaked label. Red Peas. Yuck. Oh well, guess it's food. Steve untied the sack on his belt and began tossing the cans into it.
About half-way through, he again stood and checked the group. To the right, Harry was helping little Caro lift some boards. In front of him, Eric was shoving something into his sack, though Steve couldn't tell what. To his left, Jill was struggling to roll a hunk of concrete away, her red braids swinging with the effort. Steve made a mental note to help her once he'd picked up all the red pea cans. Then he turned his head to check the slope behind him. Nothing there. Steve folded his gangling body back down to the ground, a feeling of unease still pricking at his conscious. He again dismissed it, telling himself that he was just disappointed that he wasn't on the spelunking or the shuttle details. He had had fun exploring the passages and was just as curious as the rest about the shuttle Dr. Mac and Lisa had found.
Yet the unease continued to plague him. Once all the cans were in the sack, Steve again stood up and surveyed the area. Only this time his eye caught movement. Squinting, Steve was just able to distinguish a bit of brown in the debris field. Roaches.
Thinking fast, Steve realized that they were too far away from the caverns to make a run for it. Nor did he want to lead the natives to their hideout. They had only one other option left. Casually, he swung his sack over his shoulder and picked his way over to Jill. "Head slowly for the school," he whispered in her ear.
"But..." Jill began.
"Roaches." Jill looked up into his eyes, fear draining her face of color. "Just get to the tunnel. Grab Eric on the way."
As Jill worked her way over to Eric, Steve caught Harry's eye. He flashed the signal for Roaches. Harry glanced at Jill, then began to usher Caro in the direction of the school.
Steve picked his way after them, then risked another glance behind him. The sight of ten drones storming up the hill froze him for a moment. Then the adrenaline kicked in. Turning back, he shouted, "RUN!"
Josiah had been trying to figure out whether the manifold in his hands was replaceable when Casey slid into the shed. "Roaches!" she managed to say breathlessly.
"Where?" JD asked as he and Dalton turned from the propeller they were repairing.
"Down ~gasp~ by the ~gasp~ store."
"Harry's group?" Bella asked sharply, her wrench dropping unnoticed to the floor.
"R ~gasp~ Running ~gasp~ to the school."
Josiah felt his stomach sink. That was a long run with Roaches on their tail. He grabbed a rifle resting against the wall. "JD, get the rest of the lookouts and head for the foothills. You, too, Casey. The Ridger bushes should provide you enough cover to get to the caverns."
"Where are you going?" JD asked as he picked up two more weapons from the workbench and handed the rifle to Bella.
"Give the kids some cover?" Jack suggested as he checked the slugs in his own weapon.
"Exactly." Josiah turned back to JD and Casey. "MOVE!" Both kids dashed out of the shed, Josiah, Bella and Dalton right behind them then turning towards Gillard.
They raced to a high point overlooking the town. They quickly spotted Harry and his group running towards the school, Roaches only a hundred yards behind them. Suddenly, the lanky teen at the rear of the group stumbled, grabbing his upper arm. In unison, the three swung their weapons down to aim at the natives. Josiah dropped the lead drone while Bella nicked the one who had fired on the teen. The other drones were forced to take cover.
Once Josiah was certain they had the drones pinned down, he searched for the students. Harry was ushering the teens through an alley. The teen who had been hit was last, but he appeared to be keeping up with the rest. Then Josiah spotted another patrol of drones on an intercept course with the group. "Can you two keep them pinned down for about 15 minutes?"
"No problem," Bella calmly replied, reloading her weapon.
"Good, we have more Roaches after Harry's group so I'm going to help them." Josiah turned to Jack. "Let's switch."
Jack eagerly traded his shorter range weapon for Josiah's rifle. "Good luck."
"You, too." Then Josiah was gone, slipping back down the ridge.
"Boy, for such a big man, he can move," Jack commented as he took aim at a drone poking his head over a boulder.
inside the caverns
Jeff awoke with a jerk, his head shooting up from his arms resting on the table. For a moment, the sudden rush of fear that had wakened him continued to vibrate through his body. Then it swirled to an end, leaving Jeff breathless.
"You okay, bro?"
Jeff raised his eyes to meet his friend's concerned brown eyes across the table. Taking another deep breath to calm his pounding heart, he released it and replied, "Yeah, I'm okay."
Both Frank and Lisa were still studying him, unconvinced. "Who's Jim?" Lisa asked.
Jeff blinked at her in confusion. "Jim?"
"You muttered 'Jim' just before you shot up off that table," Frank explained, his scowl deepening.
"I don't know any Jim, at least not since grade school." Jeff slowly rubbed his face with his hands, trying to wake up. "How long have I been out?"
"About an hour," Lisa replied worriedly. "Maybe you shouldn't be spending so much time with both the spelunking and the shuttle."
"Sounds like good advice to me," Frank added, still studying his friend. He turned to the teen. "Why don't you get a glass of juice for him?"
"I'm okay," Jeff inserted, hating the way they were talking around him.
"I think we still have some tartberry left," Lisa told Frank as she walked away.
"Hey, don't I have a say in this?" Jeff asked, exasperated.
"No," both Frank and Lisa said in unison. Jeff rolled his eyes and took another breath.
Frank was still watching him. "What was your dream about?"
"It wasn't a dream," Jeff pondered out loud. "It was more of a sudden rush of feeling."
Frank's face turned worried. "Do you think it was Sam?"
Jeff shook his head. "I don't know. Every time I try to feel for him, I keep running into a barrier."
A large bell near the outside passage began to ding. Frank and Jeff exchanged glances. That was the signal for trouble, especially Roach trouble. Instantly, Frank turned towards the passage and ran, Jeff on his heels.
His arm felt like it was on fire, blood flowing under his hand and through his fingers. Yet Steve didn't dare slow down. It didn't matter how bad the wound was if the Roaches caught up to him. He thought he had heard shots coming from the ridge above Gillard, but he'd been too busy running and bleeding to check.
Glancing ahead, he quickly made sure everyone was still there and moving. While his long legs would have normally out raced the younger kids, the rubble they were climbing through had slowed him down to the point of barely keeping up. Nor was holding one arm with the other hand helping. He couldn't move his arms to maintain his balance like the others, making him even slower.
Risking a glance over his shoulder, Steve spotted another group of Roaches about two hundred yards behind him and to the left. In what felt like slow motion, he tried to scramble over a chunk of concrete as one of the Roaches took aim. He shouted for the others to duck though he knew he was the intended target. For a brief moment, he was certain he'd be dead before he took the next breath.
Then a shot rang out. The drone with the weapon dropped to the dirt, the rest of his patrol ducking down into the debris. Steve glanced up to see Preacher standing on a rock above, waving him on. He didn't need to be told twice. Steve scurried over the concrete and continued on to his goal, feeling a tad safer with Preacher behind him.
Frank, Jeff, Dianne and Lisa were just exiting the tunnel when the group from the shed entered the first cavern. Frank immediately focused on JD. "What happened?"
"Roaches are after Harry's group." JD breathlessly explained.
"Preacher, Mr. Dalton and Bella went to give them some cover," Casey rushed in as JD took a breath.
"It looked like they were all heading for the school," JD finished.
"The school?" Jeff asked.
"There is a tunnel that leads from the school to the foothills." Dianne explained. "It would be closer than trying to make the caves themselves."
"Can the Roaches get through the tunnel?" Frank questioned as he counted the kids coming in.
Dianne frowned. "I don't know. They might."
Jeff glanced at Frank. "Think we'd better give them some help?"
"Probably better." Frank took two steps, then turned around. "Where's the entrance for the tunnel?"
"I can show you," Lisa piped up.
Jeff bit his lip a moment, hating to risk her. But Dianne needed to stay in the cave in case there was more trouble. "Okay, let's go." He, Frank, and JD quickly followed the girl.
It was only a few paces before they reached a dark tunnel, the entrance covered with brush. Lisa easily slipped inside. She turned on her light, then continued to lead the men down the cement tube.
Steve stumbled, falling hard on his knees and one hand. He choked back a cry, trying to save his breath for rising to his feet.
Before he could push himself off the ground, Josiah slipped a hand under his good shoulder. "Just a little further, son." He helped Steve up and they continued to run after the others.
Jeff quickly examined the debris around the tunnel as they exited. Some of the surrounding buildings were only partially destroyed. He glanced back at the tunnel. It wasn't as well hidden as the other end. If the drones searched for it, they could find it.
"You three stay here. I'm going to see how close they are," Frank ordered.
"I'll see what we can do to stop them here," Jeff called back.
"How can we do that?" JD asked.
"What's that building?" Jeff pointed to a structure near the tunnel.
"That's the old pump shed," Lisa replied.
"The old garage."
"Okay, you two, this is what we're going to do. JD, I want you to find a battery and some jumper cables. Lisa, gather up as many old lubrication cans and fuel bottles that you can find."
"What for, Dr. Mac?" JD asked.
"You two are about to get your first lesson in Bomb Making 101."
Frank could see the kids, Harry and Josiah scrambling over the remains of the school, eight Roaches only a hundred yards behind them. He brought his rifle up to his shoulder and aimed for the lead drone. Two shots later, the lead drone was down and his followers were diving for cover. Frank took another look at the group, noting the blood on Steve's arm. Frank's scowl deepened as he again shot at the drones. He liked the young man who could so easily switch between clowning and serious, reminding him of his youngest brother, Billy. No way a Roach was getting another shot at him.
Within minutes, Eric and Jill had reached his position. Frank waved them on towards the tunnel, then lifted Caro over the large chunk of concrete she was having trouble climbing. He again shot at the drones to keep them in their hidey holes. Then he held out a hand to Harry.
Harry whispered, "Thank you", turning to check on Steve.
"Josiah's helping him. You get the rest of the kids in the tunnel, and tell Jeff to finish up quick," Frank advised as he quickly reloaded. Three more shots later, Frank knelt to help the wounded teen over the debris.
Josiah turned and shot a few more rounds behind them. "How much further?"
"The tunnel's on the other side of that building," Frank replied, pointing to the pump house.
"How're we going to keep them from following?" Josiah again wrapped an arm of support around the gray-faced Steve.
"Jeff's working on it," Frank replied. He shot over the debris to make sure any brave drone would think twice before following. Then he trotted behind Josiah and Steve.
Jeff was waiting behind the building. "Keep going," he told Josiah, sending a worried glance at Steve.
"Jeff?" Frank questioned.
"Taken care of," Jeff replied, stringing a wire low across the opening Frank had just stepped through. Once the wire was in place between two slabs of concrete, he turned to follow the rest.
Moments after the humans had disappeared, the patrol of drones entered the last place they had been seen. The legs of the lead drone unknowingly missed the wire placed across the former threshold. However, his long, thick tail did not. Pulled by the forward motion, the wire connected with another, sending a spark of electricity through them. Swiftly, the spark ignited the pile of old fuel cans and bottles. Before the drone realized he felt something, it was too late. A huge explosion at a stress point of the weakened pump house wall demolished the rest of the structure, burying the patrol under the debris.
Next Day, inside the cavern
"So Steve is going to be all right?" Frank asked at the adult meeting. He had been worried about the kid.
"He'll be fine," Dianne replied with a smile. "It's basically a flesh wound. The biggest problem will be keeping him from moving it too much until it's healed."
While everyone breathed a sigh of relief, they knew it would be short-lived. Jack, Frank, and Josiah had been strangely quiet since returning on their scouting mission. They all suspected their news wasn't good. The silence lengthened until Jane became impatient. "You might as well tell us. It won't get any better by making us wait."
Josiah traded looks with the other two, then sighed inwardly. Guess it was the job of a reverend to break bad news. "We didn't go very far from the caverns. It seemed that every single Roach patrol in the area is combing Gillard and the school."
"Have they discovered the tunnel yet?" Jeff asked.
"It doesn't look like it," Jack reported. "We think your explosion hid the entrance at the school. But we figure it's only a matter of time before they find the shed with the plane."
"So that option is out," Bella commented sadly.
"Do you think they will find the caverns?" Dianne asked.
"We don't think so," Josiah replied slowly. "It looks like they are trying something else first."
He, Jack, and Frank again traded uncomfortable glances. Then Frank took a deep breath and looked straight into Jeff's eyes. "They are broadcasting a voice message, saying if the Chosen One MacGregor would give himself up, they would let the rest of us go." The reaction was instantaneous.
"You have GOT to be kidding!"
"As if we would!"
The only two that remained quiet were Jeff and Frank, gazes locked onto the other. Once the chatter died down, it was as if there was no one else in the room. Still staring at his friend, Frank forcefully declared, "Don't even THINK about it."
Jeff sighed and averted his eyes. "I would in a second if I thought they'd do it."
"But you know they won't. We'd be slaughtered the moment you were in their custody."
"I know." Jeff again met Frank's gaze. "I just wish I could so the kids would be safe."
"And just how safe would those kids be if the Roaches forced you to talk?" Frank pointed out. "Even if we did make it back, how long would the lines hold?"
"Frank's right," Jane inserted. "You are just as important as the kids." Jeff just rolled his eyes.
"Yes, you are," Dianne quietly refuted. "Nor would any of those kids forgive us if we allowed you to do it. They wouldn't let you do it, period." Nor would we.
"Even the Roaches know how important you are," Harry pointed out. "They're calling you a Chosen One. Doesn't that mean they're acknowledging you as a top human leader?"
Jeff just shrugged his shoulders. Frank barely kept from sighing. The humbleness that was so much a part of Jeff's character prevented the scientist from realizing he WAS important. Frank knew that the only thing stopping Jeff from giving himself up was the fact he knew the gesture would be in vain.
"So, what do we do now?" Jane asked, turning the conversation away from an avenue they were all against."
"Guess our only option is to continue searching for a passage that leads to the other side of the fence," Josiah replied.
"Not necessarily," Jeff inserted thoughtfully.
"Jeff, we've already ruled out you giving yourself up," Frank scolded impatiently.
Jeff rolled his eyes again. "That wasn't what I was thinking. There is the shuttle."
"Do you think it'll fly again?" Jane asked.
"I need to look it over some more, but it was put away with long term storage in mind. We may be able to restore it to its working form."
Everyone looked at each other, then leaned forward with excitement.
Two weeks later, inside the shuttle
Quietly, Lisa draped a blanket over Dr. MacGregor. He had fallen asleep in the pilot's chair while checking over an instrument panel. Not that it surprised her considering the time. In spite of the fatigue and loss of appetite that the scientist still struggled with, he had been working long hours on the shuttle. It had become an unspoken code among the teens that if Dr. Mac fell asleep, no one disturbed him. Yet it worried Lisa. He didn't seem to be getting any better and she feared he would fall ill. Who knew what kinds of germs were floating in the dust they were stirring up?
Sighing, she turned back to the circuit board she and Steve Hiller were testing. After glancing at Dr. Mac then giving Lisa a reassuring smile, Steve turned back to their work. Lisa took a moment to again survey the craft. It was such a wondrous machine, so simple yet elegant, every detail and space utilized for a purpose. While some of the materials used in its construction were familiar, many were substances she had never dreamed of. The thought of tiles that could withstand the heat of falling through the atmosphere, yet keep the craft from burning up like a meteor was almost beyond her comprehension.
It had also been well preserved. This particular chamber was much drier than the rest of the cavern system, preventing moisture from ruining the electronics. So far there had been only a few things that had needed to be replaced. For someone who had never really thought about what a spacecraft would be like, Lisa was impressed. It looked like Dr. Mac's wild idea to fly the craft to the safe zones might actually work.
A moan from Dr. Mac broke her thoughts. Studying his suddenly restless movements, Lisa traded worried looks with Steve. She walked over and gently laid a hand on his shoulder. "Dr. Mac? Wake up, Dr. Mac, you're dreaming. Dr. Mac?" Gradually shaking the shoulder harder, she raised her eyes to Steve's. "I can't wake him up."
Round eyed and serious, Steve replied, "I'll go find Dr. Fraiser."
"SAM!" Jeff jerked awake and nearly fell off the chair.
Thankfully, Frank was there to catch him. "Easy, bro."
Fighting to get his breathing under control, Jeff grasped his friend's arm and gave his head a little shake. He gazed about the cabin in confusion, finally realizing he was in the shuttle. Then he noticed Dianne, Lisa, and Steve all staring at him worriedly. "I'm okay." Dianne rolled her eyes while the teens continued to look worried.
"Was it a nightmare?" Frank quietly asked. While Jeff had had a few since his torture by the Roaches, Frank usually could wake him with a touch. This had been different.
Jeff slowly shook his head. "It was Sam."
"Damn," Frank quietly swore. Obviously, Sam was in some kind of trouble. "Is he okay?"
"No." Jeff rubbed his face, trying to rein in his scattered thoughts. "But I don't think he's hurt bad and he's with help."
"What are you talking about?" Dianne asked in puzzlement.
Still breathing hard, Jeff glanced at his audience, then caught Frank's eye. Reading the look, Frank squeezed his shoulder. Then Frank partly turned back to the others. "From the first moment Jeff touched each of his children, he could sense their emotions."
Dianne blinked in surprise, both from the outlandish statement and Frank's complete conviction of it. Then Steve blurted, "Just like Keegan could with Harry in your stories?"
"That's right!" Lisa exclaimed. "Didn't you say that Keegan could also sense his sister and brother?" Jeff nodded, giving them a ghost of a smile.
"That's why your grandfather wanted you to be tested for a guide. You have the same ability as your ancestor," Dianne put together.
"Can you feel Sam now?" Frank asked.
Jeff slowly shook his head. "It's gone, but I could feel both Sam and Blair."
"What!" Frank exclaimed. "But Jeff, Blair is..."
"Yeah, that's what I thought. But I KNOW how Blair's mind feels, and Sam called him by name." A rush of relief flowed through his body as he realized that Blair was alive.
Frank's eyes widened. "You could hear voices?"
Jeff nodded. "It was just like that time Blair had the argument with Stover."
"What do you mean?" Dianne questioned, still slightly baffled by the conversation.
Jeff shifted uncomfortably in the seat. "Normally," Frank explained, "Jeff just feels the emotions from his sons. You can usually tell which emotions are coming from which son, right?"
"Yeah," Jeff agreed reluctantly. "Their different personalities flavor their emotions."
"About a year ago," Frank continued, "Blair had completed his senior paper in Culture Studies. However, one of the professors was extremely upset because Blair's paper didn't agree with many of the man's pet theories."
Jeff picked up the story. "Even though Blair had the references to back up his own assertions, Dr. Stover refused to even contemplate that Blair had a valid position. One day, Stover caught Blair studying alone and began to harass him. I not only felt Blair's anger and distress, I could also hear the words being said." Taking another deep breath, Jeff slowly released it. "That had never happened before or since. At least not until now."
"Are you sure that's what this was and not a nightmare?" Dianne asked hesitantly.
Jeff nodded. "In dreams, I see pictures. With this, I usually only 'feel' the emotions, and this time I could hear words. Yet I can't SEE what's happening." Again, Jeff ran a shaky hand over his face, frustrated with the limits on his gift. Worried, Lisa handed him the water bottle she had filled up with juice. Jeff gave her a weak smile then took a drink.
"Why don't you start at the beginning?" Frank asked once he thought his friend had recovered.
Jeff closed his eyes. "At first, it was a strong feeling of determination and stealth. The determination is how I recognized it was Sam. Blair's usually has a more stubborn feel to it. By the time I felt a rush of recognition and horror, I was certain it was Sam." Frank again laid a hand on Jeff's trembling shoulder, steadying his friend. Jeff flashed him a look of gratitude. "Then there was this sudden surge of anger. I have never felt that kind of rage from Sam before. I could hear him shout, 'Damn you! Why would you betray scientists to the Roaches and tell them where to drop bombs to kill innocent people?'" He met Frank's eyes. "It had to be one of those human Roaches, because he was telling Sam we were inferior, yet I could tell from Sam's confusion that he didn't understand the statement. Then there was some discussion about Sam not having any proof. Suddenly, there was a voice barking at Sam to move right. It was Blair's voice."
"Are you sure?" Frank pressed. Dianne still looked skeptical, while Lisa and Steve simply stared wide-eyed, absorbing the story.
"Positive. Blair would use the same command and tone when they played ball in the backyard. But apparently Sam didn't move fast enough. I could feel his pain. I think he was hit in the leg."
"Then what happened?" Lisa softly asked, strangely worried about two older boys she had never met.
"I could hear other voices, ordering someone to drop his weapon. There was some words tossed about, one claiming Sam was a traitor. Then another very strong voice said, 'The kid is human. You and your boss are not, Roach.' Then there were shots." Jeff ran his hands through his hair, still trying to separate and calm his own emotions from the turmoil he had felt. "Next thing I knew, I could not only feel Sam's pain and shock, but I could also feel him being held and comforted. At the same time, I could feel Blair's relief and protectiveness, telling Sam he was safe and reassuring him that he, Blair, wasn't dead." Jeff let out a deep breath as he again felt his own relief, then turned to look at the others around him. "That was it."
Frank gently squeezed Jeff's shoulder. "Now we know both of them are alive and safe."
"Yeah, but it was close, Frank. Too close."
Lisa took a deep breath, then announced. "Then I guess we'd better get this shuttle ready so we can all get back."
"Yeah," Steve replied, giving Jeff an encouraging smile. "I want to meet Blair and Sam, which I certainly can't do here."
Jeff returned the smile, gratified at how easily the teens accepted his story. Dianne didn't seem to be accepting it as easily, but at least she seemed to be keeping her doubts to herself.
Frank gave him a slap on the shoulder. "I think the work can wait a night. If Sam and Blair are together, those Roaches will have a tough time getting the best of them. You, on the other hand, need some rest."
Next day, Science Base Delta
Jim had been expecting this.
Within the last 16 hours, his young friend had gone from having no name and only a few vague memories, to discovering his name, his brother, and having said brother injured by human-looking Roaches. If that wasn't enough, he'd also met his godfather, adopted grandmother, and learned that his father had been abducted by the Roaches. Then to top off the stress meter, he had also agreed to be a guide to a sentinel who had no clue on how to use his abilities.
Any one of those events would have given his fragile friend a headache. Jim could only guess at the intensity of the one Blair, previously known as BT, had now. The young man's face was as pale and drawn as ever, his big, blue eyes reflecting his pain.
Just as predictably, Blair refused to take his meds and lie down for a nap.
"I want to talk with Pete." Blair tried to glare at him, though he was having trouble focusing his eyes on the larger man. "I have so many questions and I'm sure he can answer them for me."
Jim sighed inwardly at the tone of pain underlining every word his guide spoke. "BT, you're barely coherent. You need to take care of yourself."
"But he'll leave and I'll have missed my chance!"
"I'm not going anywhere, Blair." Jim and Blair turned to find General Thornton behind them, giving Blair a worried smile. Jim swiftly stood at attention, though the General's gaze was focused on Blair. "Get some rest and we'll talk later."
Blair stared at him, his vulnerability making him seem much younger than his 21 years. "You promise?"
A few minutes later, Jim was pulling a light blanket over his friend. Blair was already drifting into sleep, the strain of the day and the heavy-duty meds breaking through his stubbornness.
Jim stepped out of the dark room and softly closed the door. He found the General still standing in the common area. "Sir?"
Thornton gave him a smile. "Drop the formality, son. If I remember Jeff's stories right, you're practically family now." Jim eased the tension in his body, though he still felt rude not to stand at attention in front of such a high-ranking officer. "Is there a place we can talk privately? I suspect we have a lot to discuss."
Jim tipped his head towards the door. "This way, sir. There's a break room down the hall."
He was running through the dense growth of a tropical forest. He could feel the humid heat on his skin, the stinging slap of branches against his arms. Most puzzling of all, he was chasing some type of canine. He wasn't sure what kind it was. Its fur was white, gray, and black, its bone structure much finer than their old dog, Bogey. Suddenly, the dog disappeared. He skidded to a stop in front of a pyramid.
Blair turned around to see a man of about his height and weight, but whose curly hair was steel gray. Recognition suddenly slammed into his mind. "Grandpa Keegan?"
The apparition laughed. "Do not sound so surprised! I've have been waiting a very long time for this meeting."
Nervously, Blair glanced around the clearing. "I didn't, you know, die or something, did I?"
"No, my grandson, you are still with the living. This is just the place of dreams, where we can talk."
Blair's face was still puzzled. "But why have you been waiting for me? We've never met."
Keegan chuckled, a deep sound that reminded Blair of Sam. He waved the young man to a seat on the stone steps. "Before my death, I foresaw my descendants by my grandson Harry. I saw your father, your brother, and most especially, you."
"You saw us?"
"Yes. For all of you are essential for the continuation of our people."
Blair shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not sure how much help I'll be. I barely remember anything."
Keegan leaned forward to give him an encouraging smile. "You will remember. What you don't remember, you will relearn. What you haven't learned, you will reinvent. You and Ellison are important, young grandson. You will restart the tradition of the sentinel and the guide, free of the prejudice that existed during my time and beyond."
Blair blinked, trying to absorb the words. Then it hit him. "My sentinel? You mean, Jim really is my sentinel? I'm suppose to be his guide?"
This time, Keegan laughed out loud. "Yes, my boy. You and Ellison were ordained long ago, even before your respective births."
"You mean, our fates are set before we are born?"
"Fate is a winding, twisted road, full of forks and diversions. You are the choices you make. However, those choices are effected by your personality and upbringing. Who can say what came first and what is important?"
"And Sam says I'm confusing at times," Blair grumbled under his breath.
"I guess I'll save that lesson for another day," Keegan agreed.
Blair took another look around the clearing, then back at his ancestor. "Then why am I here? Is there something you want to teach me today?"
Keegan's face turned serious. "I came with a warning. You and the others must guard your brother. When Samuel's location was a mystery, the evil could not find him no matter how hard it hunted. Now, the target will soon come into its sights. If Samuel is taken, Jeffrey will lose the last of his strength. If Jeffrey is lost, it will place the future of every human on this planet in jeopardy."
"You mean, Dad's alive?" Blair asked, hope lifting his heart as well as his words. Then the full meaning hit him. "The Roaches want to abduct Sam to get to Dad?" Blair couldn't control the shiver that coursed through his spirit. The very last thing he wanted was for the Roaches to harm his younger brother. New determination glowed in his eyes as he met Keegan's gaze. "They won't touch Sam. I won't let them." Then he paused. "Well, at least when I can. I might not be allowed to help Jim and the Panthers guard him." He looked up in frustration. "How can I be Jim's guide when I'm not part of the unit? I'm not even allowed to go on patrol with him."
"A sentinel is always protective of the guide, especially when the guide is hurt," Keegan pointed out. "Once you have healed, you'll take your rightful place by his side. But you must be willing to change your path to join his." Then he smiled. "But first you must regain your strength. It is now time for you to return. You still need your rest."
"But Grandpa Keegan..." Then Blair felt himself spin upwards, then fall into a deep, healing sleep.
What do you mean, Sam MacGregor is missing?" Major Banks bellowed.
Dr. Sheree Jackson barely kept from wincing. It was a good thing she didn't have any more patients at the center. Her fiancé, Henri Brown, gave her a sympathetic grimace. "Just what I said, Major. When Amy went to his room with his pain meds, he was gone."
"Were there any signs of struggle?" Sergeant Joel Taggart asked.
"No," Sheree replied.
Simon closed his eyes for a moment. "Is he with General Thornton?"
"No, Sir," Lieutenant Rafe Janson answered. "I saw the General talking with Ellison in the break room."
Banks opened an eye at Janson. "The Colonel?"
"In the communications room."
The major sighed. Just what he needed, to have a teen connected to an important General go missing during said General's visit. "Okay, I don't want to disturb Ellison and the General yet. The kid's got a bum leg, so how far can he go? Split up and start searching."
As Rafe walked down the hall, he paused and closed his eyes. What would I have done when I was eighteen? He's been shot by his bosses who turned out to be human-looking Roaches. Plus he just found out that his brother isn't dead like he'd been told. Rafe's eyes popped open. Bingo! He turned right at the next intersection.
Rafe poked his head into the common area for the Panthers' bachelor's quarters, pausing when he spotted the teen. Sam's back was to the entrance, leaning against the door frame that led to Blair's room as he stared inside. Retreating into the hallway, Rafe flicked on his communicator. "Janson here. Major, I found him." Rafe pulled back from the device as his Major shouted. Waiting until a pause in the tirade, Rafe inserted. "He's safe. I'll take him back to the Med Center." He flipped it off and reentered the room. Softly, Rafe walked over to the teen. A quick glance inside revealed Blair asleep in the dark room. Smiling to himself, Rafe reflected how much better the young man looked. Then he turned his attention back to the other MacGregor.
Sam jerked when Rafe laid a hand on his back, then gasped as he accidentally put weight on his injured leg. Before he realized what was happening, he found his arm over Rafe's shoulder and himself being led back to the lounge area.
Gently, the young officer deposited him into a soft couch, positioning Sam's injured leg onto a nearby low table. "Is that better?" Rafe asked.
"A little," Sam admitted.
"Probably would feel better if you'd been in the Med center to get your pain meds," Rafe pointed out.
Sam shrugged, then glanced back at his brother's room. "I woke up, and I just, well, had to check, you know, to, well..."
"To make sure your brother really was alive and not something you dreamt up?" Rafe softly suggested, a faint quirk of memory on his lips. Realizing that the teen needed to talk, Rafe sat down on the chair across from Sam's seat.
"Yeah," Sam nodded, a hint of pink on his cheeks. He stared at his hands a moment. "I was scared that maybe he had disappeared again or something." Sam glanced across into the understanding hazel eyes. "Pretty stupid, huh?"
"Nah," Rafe assured him. "You've both been through a lot. It'll take some time for everything to sink in."
"He looks so thin," Sam commented worriedly. "And he's so quiet and, well..." Sam paused as he searched for the word. "Calm."
Rafe looked at him puzzled. "Not sure I know what you mean, but then none of us know what Blair was like before."
Sam chuckled, a deep sound that made Rafe smile. "Well you see, Blair has always been kinda hyper..."
Jim gazed at the picture in his hands. He recognized the younger version of Jeff MacGregor from Sam's picture, asleep with his head back against an old couch. Two sleeping boys, one on either side, were snuggled up next to him, tucked in close and protected by the young father's arms. Studying the older boy, Jim could pick out the features under the mop of dark, curly hair that would grow into the face of his guide. For a moment, the sentinel felt a bit of envy. His father never had time to relax with Stevie and himself like that. Now, with both of them dead, there would never be time.
"That is my favorite," Thornton explained softly. "It was when the effort to stop the Roaches was just starting. Jeff would work all day, only taking time out to drive Blair to his therapy sessions and attend school functions with Sam. Then he would set an alarm to make sure he left for home in time to spend the evenings with them. Once they were in bed, Jeff would work in his den for a few more hours, get a little sleep, then start again the next day. Dotty took this picture for me so I could force him to slow down." Pete chuckled, remembering that time. "I guess when I think of those three, this is how I see them. So if I sound a little protective, this is why."
"I understand," Jim assured him, also seeing the air of vulnerability in the picture. "I've always been protective of Blair, and will be of his family, too." Jim raised his eyes to meet the General's, full of promises unspoken. Then Jim glanced down at the picture again. "Besides, at this point I probably know more about Blair's past than he does."
The General sighed heavily. "I'm so grateful he's alive, yet it hurts to think of what he's been through. But the MacGregors are survivors. Blair will be okay, especially now that he has found his brother and his sentinel."
"My job isn't exactly the safest, sir," Jim pointed out. "If Blair's by my side, he could also be in danger."
Thornton chuckled. "That danger has never deterred his father, so I doubt it will stop Blair, either."
"So how do I explain him, sir? While he'll be treated fine here at the base, there will be times when we'll be required to report elsewhere. Blair will stick out as a civilian, especially when we deal with other units. Are we telling everyone about my abilities?"
"No," Thornton replied firmly. "I fear that would paint targets on both your backs, especially since we don't know how far in the human-looking Roaches have penetrated our command."
"So we've been working on something else," Colonel Jack Pendergrast announced from the doorway, giving Jim a wide smile.
It was the sensation of pain that woke him. Groggily, Blair sat up in his bed and wrapped a hand around his thigh. He searched his sleepy mind, trying to figure out how he had hurt it. But I haven't hurt it. Sam was shot there, but... Then he remembered. Instantly, the pain sorted itself out from the sensations of his own body, leaving himself feeling only groggy while his mind recognized the pain as his brother's. Concentrating, Blair mentally cleared the rusty channel leading to Sam. The pain was still strong, yet swirled with the faint tastes of concentration and ease. Sam was nearby, hurting but focused on something else. For a moment, Blair enjoyed the feel of the familiar presence. He had forgotten about the comfortable web that was growing between them, linking his family together. Yet he couldn't just sit there when Sam was in pain. Time to play big brother and force Sam back to the Med center.
Jim was only a few steps from the common area when Sheree caught up with him. "Jim, have you seen Sam or Rafe?"
Turning, Jim gave her a puzzled look. "Isn't Sam in the Med center?"
"Sam disappeared, Rafe radioed in that he found him, but no one has seen either of them."
Squelching the fear that started to rise with Sheree's words, Jim focused his hearing ahead. He wanted to make sure Blair was okay before he started panicking about the others.
... Blair convinced Willie and I to climb up this tree so the cheerleader would think he was alone. But while they were flirting, the branch Willie was on starting dipping towards the ground...
Releasing his fear with a breath, Jim turned to Sheree and smiled. "Rafe and Sam are in here."
Relieved, Sheree followed Jim into the room. "There you are!"
Both Sam and Rafe looked up, Rafe a bit sheepish. "Hi Sheree."
"Hi yourself." Sheree turned to the teen. "And here I thought BT was bad about resting and taking his meds."
Sam gave a shrug. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not." They all turned to see Blair standing in the doorway of his room. "You're hurting."
"Sam, I can feel that leg. Get your butt back to the Med center and have Sheree take a look at it."
Jim and Rafe exchanged puzzled looks as Sam gave his brother a glare. "You know, this is so unfair. I should hop over there and check you out."
Blair returned the glare with a stern one of his own. "Not with that leg you're not."
"Yeah, but I can still call you the 'C' word."
Blinking, Blair's stern expression turned puzzled. "'C' word?"
A wicked grin slowly spread across Sam's face. "Trust me, you don't want your friends to hear it. Now come over here so I can touch you."
With an eye roll, Blair dutifully marched over to his brother, holding out his arm so Sam could wrap his hand around the wrist. The brothers stared at one another for a moment. "You still need some sleep," Sam observed.
"Kinda hard when your leg wakes me up," Blair retorted. "It's worse than the headache I had earlier."
"What?" Sheree voiced the question for the others.
Sam was too focused on Blair to hear it. "You used to be able to block it out at least a little."
Blair shrugged. "I had forgotten all about it, so I need to get use to it again. Besides, I don't think even Dad could block this out." A sad memory crossed his eyes. "Dad would be dragging you to the Med center right now if he was here."
"Excuse me," Jim inserted. "WHAT are you two talking about?"
The brothers exchanged looks. Sam could easily read Blair's trust of the others, so he turned to answer Jim. "We and Dad can sense each others feelings and emotions."
"You're kidding," Rafe replied, startled.
Blair shook his head. "No, he's not. My abilities have grown to the point where I can feel Sam from a few hundred yards away."
"But I'm still at the stage where I have to physically touch Blair or Dad." Sam sadly smiled. "When I was little, I took it for granted that Dad always knew how I felt or when I would try to lie. It wasn't until I was older that I realized we were different."
"Dad can feel either of us from miles away now," Blair added.
Worry replaced the smile on Sam's face. "He could feel you in Sealand from Lansbury." The brothers again traded looks. It didn't take much imagination for Jim to realize their concern was for what their father must have felt during Blair's interrogation.
Meanwhile, Sheree slowly shook her head. "The book mentioned this, but I honestly didn't believe it."
Rafe shot her a puzzled look. "What do you mean?"
"My book on sentinel medicine said that some guides had various psychic abilities." Sheree waved her hands. "Telepathy, mind links, premonitions, that sort of thing."
Blair nodded. "Keegan could feel both his siblings' and Harry's feelings." Catching Jim lifting his eyebrows in an unspoken question, Blair shook his head. "Not yet."
"It took a while before Keegan's ability worked with Harry," Sam quickly assured them. "Dad always said that the talent grows gradually."
"There you are!" Banks strolled into the common area, General Thornton behind him. "Next time you decided to take a walk, young man, TELL US!"
Sam gave him a sheepish smile, which turned into a frown when Colonel Pendergrast walked in with a wheelchair. He rolled it next to Sam. "Figured you'd be needing this soon, young man."
Before Sam could protest, Blair asked, "What's going on?" He glanced at each officer nervously. Jim whispered something into Rafe's ear, causing the younger man to smile.
Colonel Pendergrast stepped forward. "Son, we have an offer for you." He handed Blair an envelope. "How would you like to be a commissioned second lieutenant assigned to the 135th, otherwise known as the Panthers?"
Blair blinked in surprise, glancing at the envelope then meeting the Colonel's eyes. "You mean, I'd be in the military? As an officer?"
"You can take some time to think about it," Thornton suggested. He knew there was a huge difference between the military and the life Blair had known before. Yet it would give Blair the cover and protection that the young guide would require.
Blair searched out Jim's face from where he stood behind the higher ranking officers. Studying his sentinel's face, Blair asked, "Would this allow me to stay by Jim's side? Like I'd need to be in order to be his guide?" The proud smirk on his sentinel's face filled him with the warmth of belonging.
"Yes," the Colonel assured him.
Glancing at his brother to confirm the pride and encouragement he felt from the link, Blair turned to his godfather. "Then this is what I want to do." He turned back to the Colonel. "I accept."
"Welcome aboard, BT," Banks congratulated him as he stepped forward.
As the others gathered around his guide, Jim took a step up to stand by the Colonel. He glanced at the pale teen, then turned towards Pendergrast. "Jack, how did you know Sam would be here?"
"Probably for the same reason Rafe knew where to look." Seeing Jim's puzzled face, Jack chuckled. "For the first few weeks after you left the long-term care facility, I would find Rafe watching you sleep. He had to reassure himself that you were really still alive. I figured young Sam would need the same." Jack clapped a hand on Jim's shoulder, then walked over to help Sheree move Sam back to bed.
Two days later, caverns in Challenger Mountain
Jane glanced up from her list to check on Jeff again. He was explaining how the shuttle flew to the kids, drawing his description on his ever present pad of paper. Somehow he was able to bring the concepts of lasers, vorticity, escape velocity, and annihilation of air particles down to the teens' level. An amazing feat, since Jane wasn't even sure SHE understood it. But if anyone could figure out how the ancestors made spinning tops fly, it would be MacGregor.
Hopefully, he would have it worked out soon. She and Gail had determined that they only had supplies for about four or five more weeks. With the Roaches crawling around Gillard searching for them and their human 'Chosen One', it was too dangerous for any of them to leave the caverns. She feared that even if her spelunking group did find a passage to the other side of the fence, the Roaches would spot them escaping. Winter was also biting at their heels; the risk of trekking through the mountains with so many people grew with each passing day. It was no wonder the tension was growing among the adults and filtering down to the kids.
Yet there was something different about MacGregor lately. Not that he wasn't worried like the rest of them. His face would darken with each new 'offer' by the Chosen One. He had also picked up a cough recently. Dianne suspected it was due to the dust and dampness in the cave. However, something had thrown off the darkness that had rode him ever since receiving his son's medallion. Jane could only hope it was a good sign. They desperately needed one.
Five days later, Science Base Delta
"Okay, what can you feel?"
"Even I could feel that. What's the ring made of?"
Eyes closed, Jim's fingertips lightly ran along the object that his guide had handed him. "It's smooth, kinda greasy, like a soft plastic." Pausing a moment, Jim's brow wrinkled in concentration. "There feels like something has been engraved or stamped on it."
Blair leaned in closer. "Can you tell which?"
"Stamped," Jim identified. "It says, Halsplay?" Jim's eyes opened to stare at the smirking young man in front of him. "What did you do? Steal a teething ring from Joel's youngest?"
"I didn't steal it," Blair replied, swatting Jim's shoulder. "Ariel let me borrow it. And you should be glad I washed Hershel's slobber off it."
"Yuck." Jim handed the plastic ring back to Blair, holding it gingerly with his thumb and forefinger.
"Next is lunch," Jim replied, feeling his stomach gurgling. "I eat breakfast early, you know."
"I know," Blair frowned. "I still wish you'd let me go on your patrols with you."
"You're not ready yet, BT. We don't want to ruin all the good progress you've been making."
Blair shrugged as he stood up, brushing off his pants. Jim studied the young man a moment. While Blair was improving, he was still thin and tired too easily. "Come on, kid. Let's see what Ariel's dishing up today."
"You should be able to smell it," Blair pointed out as they walked towards the dining area.
Jim sniffed the air. "Smells like vegetables and spices."
Jim barely kept from sighing. Blair in guide mode had a way of turning everything into practice for his senses. Nostrils flaring, the sentinel began identifying the scents drifting past him. "Flat pods, curly root, waternuts, blue and red peppers..." Jim took a deeper sniff. "Marjoram, Tarragon..."
In Blair's mind an image of a beautiful redhead arose, tossing handfuls of chopped veggies into a metal cooking bowl as she stirred. Subconsciously, Blair reached for his neck as he tried to bring the image into focus. Yet his hand only felt his shirt collar as the image drifted away.
"...Cooked chicken, reed rice. I wonder what creation Ariel's dishing up this time." Jim opened the door to the dinning hall.
Blair gave his head a little shake. "Sounds like Island Stirfry to me."
Jim gave him a puzzled look. "What's that?"
"A dish from Claria Island. Dad made it sometimes."
"Hey Blair!" Blair and Jim glanced over to spot Sam and Evan at one of the tables. Once they had passed through the food line, they joined the other two young men.
"How is it?" Jim asked as he poked at the pile of vegetables on top of a mound of brown rice.
"Pretty decent," Evan replied after swallowing. He waved his fork at Sam. "Sam says it's an island dish."
"Yeah, Dad learned how to make it when he was working on Claria," Sam explained, noticing the puzzled look Blair was giving his food. "Blair said it was just like what his mom made, only she didn't use chicken."
"That's because Serenity was a vegetarian commune," Blair remembered. Again his hand rose to his neck, searching for something. Sam noticed the familiar gesture and felt his heart sink. Jim, too, had noticed his guide's preoccupation and gesture. He covertly glanced between Blair and Sam, wondering what was going on.
"Blair's mom?" Evan asked, missing the undertones as he concentrated on breaking a roll in two. "Don't you guys have the same mother?"
"No, Blair and I are actually half brothers," Sam explained, his eyes still studying his brother worriedly.
The redhead again appeared in his mind, only the name 'Ima' was now attached. "Yeah," Blair answered slowly, mentally cuddling the precious images to his heart. "I lived with my Mom on Claria until the invasion."
"So, what are these things," Jim broke in, realizing Blair was forcing his memory again for one that might not be all that pleasant. He displayed a yellow ridged strip.
Blair shook off the memory and focused on the vegetable. "Bambee shoots."
"Rather crunchy," Evan replied as he thoughtfully chewed.
Following Jim's lead, Sam again changed the conversation. "So, you guys are going with us to Glendale?" Evan had tests to take, while Dr. Branson wanted to set up Sam's off-site program.
"Yeah," Jim answered. "The Major is sending us, Janson, and Brown." He caught Blair's worried frown before the younger man could hide it. Jim decided to file that away for later.
"That's great," Evan declared. While he wasn't quite sure how Jim knew Sam's bosses were Roaches, he was happy to have the big man along to keep them safe.
"So, we're getting four guards just for the three of us?" Sam asked after he swallowed.
"Since the Roaches have already made one and possibly two attempts at Dr. Branson, the major wants to make sure both he and you two are safe," Jim explained.
"And Tom Paris is going to fly us in," Blair added. "Sheree needs him to pick up some supplies for her."
"I wish I was only going for supplies," Evan replied glumly. "Advanced Diffy Qs tests are NOT my idea of a good time." He glared at Sam when the other chuckled. "Laugh it up now. Next time YOU'LL have some tests to take, too."
Twenty minutes later, Jim snagged Sam as they walked to the racks to drop off their trays. Watching his guide separate his silverware from the dishes and place it into the bin, Jim whispered, "What's Blair searching for around his neck?"
"His mother's medallion," Sam softly answered. "She gave it to him during the Clarian Invasion while she was dying. Apparently, it had been in her family since the Landing. It was all Blair had left of her and he never took it off." Sam turned worried eyes to the big man. "I'm guessing he wasn't wearing it when you found him?"
Jim shook his head, still tracking Blair with his peripheral vision. "Blair had absolutely nothing on him."
Sam closed his eyes and swallowed hard. "That is not going to go over well once he remembers it."
"Can it be replaced?" Jim asked.
"I doubt it. It was made on the Home world and most of those still strong in the Esbrew faith died during the Clarian invasion. Dad had the worst time trying to find someone just to prepare Blair for his Bar Mitzvah." At Jim's blank look, Sam added, "The passing into adulthood ceremony. It was a big deal to Blair."
Jim released the breath he had been holding. "Guess we'll have to deal with it when it comes up." That it would eventually come up was certain. Jim just hated to have Blair hurt any more. While his guide had not said one word of the material possessions he must have lost in Sealand, Blair did highly value the ties to his family. The loss of his remaining tie to his mother could only hurt. Jim knew how much it bothered him not to have anything physically left of Steve or Sally. But we'll get through this BT, just as we'll get through anything else we have to.
Next day, jet traveling to Glendale
Blair again ran his fingers over the patch on his arm. While the new fatigues felt strange, the thrill of wearing the familiar black cat in mid-leap pushed away any discomfort. He was now a Panther. He still felt awed to be part of the team. No matter what his previous life had held, he could sense that this new one was on the right track. He glanced at his sentinel, snoozing in the seat next to his. He was a guide, just like Keegan had been, just as he had dreamed he would be. The ancient pattern was finally reestablishing itself.
Thinking of Keegan drew Blair's eyes to the seats ahead. Sam sat next to Dr. Branson, both pouring over class catalogs and graduation requirements. The familiar brown lock of hair falling into his brother's eyes made Sam look so young. Blair felt a flash of fear shoot through his soul. He had only just found this special person. He didn't want to lose Sam like he did his mother. An image of his Ima buried in debris flashed before his eyes, the voice of a younger Sam as they lay buried echoed in his ears. Unconsciously, Blair's hand rose to his throat, again searching for something.
Blair turned to find Jim studying him worriedly. "I'm okay."
"You don't look okay," Jim softly pointed out. It was the sharp rise in his guide's heart rate and drop of body temperature that had woken him.
Blair shot another glance at Sam. "I'm worried. The Roaches didn't know where to find Sam before. Now they do. A college campus would be the perfect place to grab him. All it would take for Dad to crack would be for someone to hold a gun to Sam's head."
Or yours. Jim reached over to squeeze Blair's shoulder. "We'll guard him the best that we can. But I want you to promise me something: You are to stay close to me during this trip."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Jim..."
"Yes," Jim tightened his hold on Blair's shoulder. "The Roaches can use you against your father just as easily as they can Sam."
"Yeah," Blair admitted. Then he met his partner's gaze. "But they aren't after me this time. They want Sam."
Surprised, Jim was about to ask Blair how he knew that when Paris announced they were landing.
An hour later
The Glendale campus was bustling when they arrived. Jim was the first out of the van. He stood still for a second, using both his sight and sense of smell to spot potential trouble. Blair's hand managed to slip out the door just far enough to touch his sentinel's shoulder. Detecting no Roach scent or overly tall students, Jim signaled an 'all clear' to Blair. The Panthers then escorted Dr. Branson, Evan and Sam into the Campus Security office, their bodies shielding the scientist and his students from any possible danger.
Still on alert, Jim swiftly examined the small room. A woman in campus uniform was filling out a report to the left while a young man wrote down a message as he listened to the com-link. Then a tall man strode purposely towards them. Jim tensed for an instant, then relaxed as the human scent and the wide grin on the dark face registered.
"So you finally decided to show up!" the man sternly announced, the grin disappearing. Jim spotted the Chief of Security insignia on his shirt sleeve.
Sam stepped around Jim and towards the man, a sheepish smile growing on his own face. "Well, I got distracted."
"Distracted!" The man shook a finger at the teen. "Next time you decide to do something THAT stupid, TALK TO ME FIRST."
Dropping his head and dragging his toe along the tile floor, Sam muttered, "I didn't have time."
"That's bull, Sam. If you didn't have time to talk to me, you should have realized there was something wrong with the deal." The man glared at the teen for another moment, then couldn't contain the large grin any longer. "It's good to see you, kid." He and Sam embraced.
The rest of the group looked at each other, then at Blair. Blair was staring at the Chief, his eyes narrowed in concentration. Jim could almost see the memory wheels trying to make a connection.
When Sam and the man stepped apart, the Chief spotted Blair. "Ah, the other lost lamb." Jim was relieved to see the man continue to give Blair some space, his smile turning gentle. "How are you doing, Blair?" Someone's told him about Blair's memory loss.
"Okay," Blair replied in a puzzled tone. Then recognition sprang into his eyes. "Uncle Jesse?"
A light turned on in Jim's mind. This had to be Dr. Colton's middle son.
Jesse Colton's smile grew brilliant. "That's right, kid." He drew Blair into a warm embrace, thankful the young man was still with the living.
Finally pulling back, Blair introduced the rest of the group. Colton paused as he shook Jim's hand. Including Janson and Brown with his eyes, his voice grew deep with gratitude. "Mama told me how you took care of Blair. Thank you, all of you." He again wrapped an arm around Blair's shoulders and pulled him close. "It still feels like a miracle to get him back."
Four hours later
Jim's eyes made another sweep of the hallway outside the door. As he turned back to the room, his eyes met Rafe's. The gaze exchanged assurances of their current security. Then Rafe turned his own eyes back out the side door, keeping watch that no one entered by way of long deck outside.
A glance around the room showed Branson and Professor Whedbee still deep in discussion. The object of that discussion was off to the side, flipping through a textbook. Jim didn't think Sam was bored, more like he was uncomfortable. Apparently returning to school was not as easy for the young man as he tried to pretend.
Then there was the bundle of vibrating tension standing next to him. Blair's deep blue eyes had examined everyone and everything even remotely close to Sam all day. Jim had never seen such intensity from the young man before. But then, his guide had always displayed fiercely loyal and protective streak towards his younger brother. Considering everything the General had told him of their background, Jim really couldn't blame him. He was just worried the kid was wearing himself out.
A tap on his arm pulled Jim out of his thoughts. It was Blair's signal that it was time to do another sensory sweep. Taking a deep breath, Jim carefully turned up the dial on his hearing, just as they had been practicing for the past week. Using the feel of Blair's hand on his arm as an anchor, Jim carefully noted Branson's and Whedbee's voices, pushing them to the side to hear the pages rustle under Sam's fingers. That sound was also pushed to the side as Jim noted the scratching of Evan's pencil in the next room and Brown shifting his feet as he guarded him. Stretching farther, he heard a woman lecturing on Fourier something or other, someone pulling a bucket out of a closet, and the voices of students accompanied by clicks and snaps as they struggled through a physics lab. Jim was about to pull back when he heard a familiar voice. It was Tom Paris, asking for directions to Dr. Whedbee's office. He had promised to catch up with them as soon as he had Sheree's supplies, adding to their small security force.
Another gentle squeeze on his arm slammed Jim back to the room they were in. He reoriented himself, then answered the question in Blair's eyes with a smile and a slight shake of the head. There was no danger. They were safe, for now. Jim again swept the hallway.
Sam suddenly stood up. He made an apologetic bow to Branson and the professor. "I think I need a little air. Would you mind?"
Branson indicated the outside door with a tip of his head, understanding filling his face. Jim communicated an order to Janson with a look. Rafe opened the door ahead of the teen, checked the deck again, then escorted the teen outside. Jim gave a reassuring pat on his frowning guide's shoulder.
Sam wrapped his hands tightly around the rail and took a deep breath, trying to release the tensions of the day. Unfortunately, he didn't have much success.
"You okay, Sam?" Sam turned around to face Rafe, gingerly keeping weight off his sore leg. The Lieutenant was leaning against the brick wall, giving him a worried glance before turning his eyes back to sweeping the area.
"I just feel, well, weird." Sam waved his hands at the campus around them. "Three months ago, I was all excited about moving here and finishing my engineering degree. Now..." Sam sighed, trying to put his chaotic emotions into words.
"Now you're a different person," Rafe softly explained. "You've had to deal with intense grief, your worry about your own survival, and about finding your Dad. Compared to that, books and degree requirements feel unimportant."
"That's it," Sam agreed, looking at the older man intently. "How did you know?"
Sadness briefly filled Rafe's face. "I went through something similar when I was your age." He gazed into Sam's eyes a moment before looking back out to the sidewalks. "By the time I got out of the camps, I had lost everything and everyone except Jim. It was hard to take school seriously at first. But my foster mom, Elly, helped me to realize that if I was going to have a future, I needed to hit the books. So I managed to get in the groove again. You will, too. You just have to give it some time."
Sam felt shaken to his core. The camps! Oh man, here I am all worried about me, and I didn't go through anything nearly that bad. "I must sound pretty stupid, huh?"
"Nah," Rafe denied. "Just normal." Suddenly, he stiffened. "Sam, go inside."
"Go inside," Rafe ordered more firmly as he stood away from the building and placed his hand on his gun.
Sam took a quick glance over his shoulder as he started limping towards the door. Two very large men were approaching the deck.
"NOW!" Rafe shouted as the men broke into a run. Pulling his gun, Rafe charged to meet them. He managed to shoot at the first man, hitting him in the upper arm. The flow of orange blood confirmed his suspicions. As the second man knocked his weapon away, deadening his right wrist, Rafe attempted to trip the first to prevent him from going after Sam. Then he was forced to concentrate on the second man who had pulled a knife. Awkwardly yanking out his own Kaybar with his left hand, he began to defend Sam's escape.
Sam limped as fast as he could, cursing the injury that was still plaguing him. Just as a large hand grabbed him from behind, the door burst open. Jim stormed out, shooting. The hand left Sam's shoulder as the 'human' fell away. Jim grabbed the teen and shoved him into Blair's waiting arms. Turning back, he delivered the killing shot to the first Roach.
Then Jim glanced ahead to Rafe. In spite of having to use his opposite hand, the younger officer was holding his own, but weakening as blood flowed heavily from the slash on his right forearm. As the attacker scored another strike across Rafe's ribs, Jim immediately joined the fray. He threw a punch that caught the Roach by surprise, throwing him over the rail and onto the moss covered turf below. With Rafe collapsing behind him, Jim jumped off the deck after the Roach. The would-be abductor attempted to get up, but fell back when Jim shot him twice.
Vaguely aware of Blair and Paris rushing out onto the deck, Jim knelt beside the Roach to confirm he was dead. Then a whiff of Roachian scent caught his attention. Standing up, Jim searched the buildings and thick bushes.
A light touch on his arm announced his guide's presence. "What do you smell?"
Absently noting Blair's heavy-breathing, Jim tersely explained, "Another Roach."
"Okay, try to find what direction it's coming from."
Closing his eyes a moment, Jim tipped his head to the left. "Over there." Yet when he opened his eyes, he couldn't spot the enemy.
"Okay, Jim," Blair's deep voice soothed his battle-tense nerves. "Try to aim your eyesight in the direction the smell is coming from. Kinda piggy-back your sight onto the smell."
Following the younger man's instructions, Jim focused to discover another tall man holding a camera. "Over there!" Jim began to give chase as the human-looking Roach disappeared into the bushes.
"Jim!" The sentinel turned back to see his guide's worried face. Then the smell of human blood reached his nose, along with another vague odor. Rafe was down, Jesse's reinforcements hadn't arrived yet, and if he took off that left only Brown to guard Sam and the others. There was always a chance of a second abduction team. Then Jim placed the other scent. It was a poison the Roaches coated their knives with that deterred blood clotting in addition to making the victim very sick. Rafe could be in real trouble. Jim shook off the instinct that wanted to chase after the other Roach and returned to the people he was duty-bound to protect.
Three hours later, Glendale General
Jim watched from the doorway as the nurse checked the various tubes and monitors surrounding Rafe. Jaw clenching, he studied the pale face with the faint flush of fever staining the cheeks. The slashes had been deep, sending the poison swiftly into the young man's system. If it hadn't been for Paris' habit of always carrying his medic pack and his swift action of giving Rafe the antidote at the scene, the young officer would have lost a lot more blood and be seriously ill right now. Jim would have to remember to thank Tom later.
Releasing his tension with a deep exhale, Jim reflected on how much it would hurt to lose Rafe. He had known the younger man since they were children and considered him practically a brother. While growing up, Jim had often promised Dr. Paul that he would keep an eye on his only son during their adventures in the neighborhood. It had been a promise he took seriously, since he had respected Rafe's father more than his own. The last time Jim had made that promise was when Dr. Paul had laid dying in Rafe's arms at the work camp. You'd be proud of him today, Dr. Paul. He fought hard protecting another. And I still promise to keep an eye on him.
Jim then shifted his attention to the heavily guarded room down the hall where his guide sat with his brother and the rest of the scientists. Even from this distance, the deep exhaustion his guide was trying to hide was evident in his slightly hoarse voice. At least he didn't seem to have a headache yet. Jim wanted nothing more than to take Blair to a safe place and order him to sleep.
Yet Blair needed to support his brother. The afternoon's excitement, in addition to the long walks on campus, had been rough on Sam's healing leg. Plus he was still shaken and worried about Rafe. Blair's voice softly soothed him, reassuring the teen that Rafe would be all right. Jim sighed. It would be just as tough for Sam to leave Rafe behind in half an hour as it would for the Panthers. Yet if the Roaches were willing to risk abducting Sam in front of a guard, who knew what else they might try. Their only course of action was to get the teen back to Science Base Delta, where they could control who came in or out. Since Rafe could not travel yet, he would have to stay behind in Glendale for another day. While logically Jim knew the targets were Sam and Branson, he hated leaving his injured friend alone.
Brown's voice at the end of the hall interrupted Jim's thoughts. "Hi, Elly."
"Good to see you again, Henri. With all the security downstairs, I was afraid they sent me to the wrong floor just to keep me away."
With a faint smile, Jim walked towards Henri and the petite blonde. "If I'd known you were coming, I'd have left word for them to escort you up." As she turned towards him, Jim gave her a big hug.
Pulling back, Elly Pendergrast's concerned green eyes studied Jim. "How's he doing?"
"Okay, considering the number of stitches. The doctors said his arm should still have full range of motion, his wrist is sprained but should heal quickly, and the knife only hit a rib, not any organs. They've given him some blood, so he's doing pretty well."
Elly was still concerned. "What about the poison?"
"The antidote took care of most of it. His temperature is only up slightly. He just needs some rest."
Elly relaxed. "So my raptor did good?"
Jim smiled at her pet name for her former ward. "Yep, he did good." He began to guide her to Rafe's room. "You sure got here quick. What about the girls?"
"Leah and Linda are at Senior Weekend in Lansbury. They are both planning to go there next semester."
"Can't believe they're ready for college. Seems like just yesterday you and Jack took them in."
"That's the problem with taking in teenagers. You don't get to foster them long," Elly explained with a sigh. A former grief and trauma councilor, Elly had shown a real talent for connecting with traumatized teenagers when the Pendergrasts had offered Rafe a home. Since then, Human Services had often placed refugee teens with her and Jack. Since Elly had always wanted children, she enjoyed the challenge.
A room door popped open. "Hey Jim," Blair began wearily as he walked between the guards. He stopped when he spotted Elly. "I'm sorry..."
Jim waved him over. "Elly, this is Blair MacGregor, the newest member of the Panthers. Blair, this is Elly Pendergrast."
Elly gave the nervous young man a smile, noting how tired and pale he looked. "Jack's mentioned you. I understand you're keeping this guy in line." She tilted her head in Jim's direction.
Blair chuckled, realizing she was referring to the guide/sentinel business. "As much as he'll let me, anyway. You're Rafe's foster mom, right? He's mentioned you."
"Yes, he's one of mine." Elly paused as she looked through the room window, studying the young man's face. Then she turned back to Blair. "How is your brother? This must have really shaken him."
"It did," Blair admitted. "After what happened to Dad and nearly being killed by his bosses, this was a bit much."
Elly gave him an understanding smile. "Do I have time to meet him?"
Blair glanced at Jim. Checking his watch, Jim nodded. "You two go ahead. I'll sit with Rafe."
After watching the two walk past the guards, Jim stepped into Rafe's room and snagged a seat. A few minutes later, the younger man began to stir. "Sam?" his raspy voice whispered.
"He's fine, Rafe," Jim gently assured him.
Rafe relaxed at the sound of his friend's voice. The hazel eyes struggled to open. "I'm sorry, Jim. I should have been keeping better watch."
"I doubt you could've seen them sooner and you fought them off long enough for us to get there and help. You did good, Pest."
A faint smile crept across the pale face at the familiar nickname. "Thanks."
"Now get some more sleep. We're leaving soon to get Sam back to the base, but Elly's staying with you tonight."
Rafe struggled to stay awake and ask more questions, but exhaustion won out. Jim stayed by his side until he was deeply asleep.
Next day, Gillard
The sound of a plane droning in the twilight caused the three humans to duck next to a partially demolished wall. Hiding in the shadows, they held their breaths until the craft passed overhead.
Frank carefully peeked around the corner of the wall. While most of the Roaches had moved on to search the surrounding area, a few were still patrolling the school. Seeing nothing, Frank turned and gave the 'clear' signal. JD and Steve nodded, then watched as Frank slipped to the next fall of bricks.
So far so good. It was risky coming back to the school. Yet their time in the caverns was growing short. Food was running low as tension ran high. With winter coming on, their only chance was the spacecraft. In order for the craft to run, Jeff needed supplies.
Frank sighed, thinking of the fight they had had. Jeff had argued that he should go, since he knew what he needed. Frank had put his foot down, reminding his friend of how much the Roaches would love to get their hands on him. When that didn't work, Frank brought up the fact that Jeff's growing cough would give away their position. As Jeff continued to persist, Frank pointed out that without Jeff to get the shuttle ready, the kids wouldn't live through the winter. That was the point that finally kept his friend in the caves.
Steve silently crept next to him. At Frank's questioning look, the teen pointed to a building that was still half standing. It was their objective, the science building. Once JD had caught up, they slipped through the broken door. With Steve consulting the list Dr. Mac had given him, it didn't take long to carefully pack their sacks with chemicals, circuits boards, and other miscellaneous items. Now they just had to get back.
Twenty minutes later, they had reached the edge of the campus. Creeping around a corner, Steve suddenly found himself facing a tall human man. Cautiously straightening up to shake off the start he'd had, Steve looked up into the man's face and whispered, "You scared me for a minute, sir. You've got to be careful around here with all the Roaches."
A snarl stretched across the face as the man raised his weapon to point it at the teen. Steve felt his body turn to ice as he realized his mistake.
~Spitz~ The Roach was shot in the neck, spraying orange blood. Shaking, Steve was only faintly aware of Mr. Colton and JD hurrying over to him as he dropped to the ground to avoid the Roachian blood. Absently, he noted the bag by his knee that the Roach had dropped. He had just picked it up when Frank lifted him to his feet and hustled him towards the blocked tunnel entrance.
Several more times, they had to duck behind debris as drones started swarming into the area. At the tunnel mouth, JD silently moved the chunk of concrete that hid their escape route. First Steve, then JD slipped into the hole. With a final look around, Frank crawled in after them and replaced the concrete.
next morning, the caverns.
"You have it working now?" Mullway asked as she entered the small side cavern.
"Looks like it," Bella replied absently as she wrapped together two sets of bare wire. She and Harry continued to check the makeshift projector as the rest of the adults walked into the cavern.
"So this tape was the only thing in that Roach bag Steve picked up?" Josiah asked as he sat down on a stool.
"Yeah, that was it," Frank confirmed, sitting between Josiah and Jeff. "We figure it must have been important if it was being hand delivered." He and Josiah exchanged glances when Jeff coughed. The sound was getting deeper, worrying his friends.
Once everyone had taken a seat, Harry took a deep breath. "Now, this doesn't seem to come with sound, at least nothing we can interpret, but we should be able to watch it." As Bella dimmed the lights, the images began to dance.
The sculptured lines of human landscaping filled the far wall. As the camera panned left, Bella suddenly realized why it looked familiar. "Hey, that's the Glendale campus. I recognized that deck on the back of the engineering building."
The camera then focused on two humans standing on the deck. Jeff felt his heart contract with fear when he recognized the slim figure leaning against the rail. "That's Sam," Frank whispered, stunned.
"Damn," Dalton added as two tall figures were taped walking up to the deck. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that they were really Roaches.
Jeff felt numb as he watched the drama unfold. He saw the young officer in gray-green fatigues notice the intruders and send Sam towards the door of the building. It was hard to watch his son trying to run with a limp towards safety. One human-looking Roach slipped past the fighting guard and grabbed the teen's shoulder. Just as Jeff feared that his son had indeed been captured, the creature fell back. A tough-looking man in fatigues raced onto the deck, shoving Sam to safety while killing the Roach who had dared to touch him.
They all held their breaths as the rescuer knocked the second attacker off the first officer and onto the grass below. Jeff barely registered two more people in fatigues racing out onto the deck as the camera followed the action to the ground, filming the older officer finish off the last Roach. Then the man stood. Jeff could make out the puzzled expression as the man seemed to search the area with his eyes. Then a second, smaller figure in fatigues joined him. "STOP!" Jeff shouted.
Startled, Harry paused the film.
"That's Blair!" Frank asserted, identifying the smaller officer. "When in hell did he enlist?"
"Those are Lieutenant's bars," Dalton pointed out.
"He's alive?" Jane exclaimed, happiness for her friend lighting the words.
"Are you sure?" Josiah asked cautiously.
Ignoring everyone else, Jeff simply stared, soaking in the sight of the son he thought he had lost. The young man was pale and thin, his curly hair shorter than his father had ever seen it. Yet with the eyes, the nose, the curve of the face, it was definitely Blair. His long-fingered hand was touching the older officer in a manner that twinged at the back of Jeff's mind. The man, who Jeff guessed was in his late twenties, was standing slightly ahead of his son in a vaguely protective gesture.
"Jeff, is that Blair?" Dianne asked for the third time.
Jeff shook his head to clear it, though the faint smile continued to curve his mouth. "Yes, that's Blair." He looked back at Harry. "Keep going."
Harry unfroze the tape. They all watched as Blair's comrade spotted the operator. The film ended as the man took a step towards the camera.
"So Sam is safe and Blair is alive," Jane summoned up, giving Jeff a wide grin of delight.
"How could Thornton let Blair sign up?" Frank grumbled, worry roughening his voice. "That kid's not the military type."
"Blair's whatever type he wants to be," Jeff absently corrected, still trying to figure out what he was missing.
"This tape also confirms that Sam's a target," Josiah pointed out. "Though he seems to have some decent protection."
Darla poked her head into the cavern. "Miss Meredith, we need help with lunch."
Gail immediately stood up, which signaled the end of the meeting. As the others filed out, Jeff leaned over and reran the tape. He studied Blair's movements, then he reran it again to study the officer.
"Jeff, what are you looking for?" Dianne asked. She and Frank had stayed behind to watched him.
"The Roaches could have just reported a success or failure in capturing Sam. They didn't need to film it."
"So why did they?" Dianne questioned, also staring at the tape.
"Perhaps they planned to deliver an edited version to you, so you'd think it'd been successful?" Frank suggested.
The projector had reached the frames where Blair was lightly touching the officer's arm. Jeff could see that Blair was talking to the man, but couldn't make out the words. Then all of a sudden, it hit him. He paused the film, noting the officer had closed his eyes. A slight flare of his nostrils was barely discernible. A smile slowly grew on Jeff's face. "He did it."
"Did it? Who did what?" Frank asked in confusion.
"Blair did it. That's why he's joined the military. He found his sentinel."
"WHAT?" Dianne exclaimed as Frank turned shocked eyes back to the image. "But the sentinel bloodlines were wiped out!"
"Only the male side," Jeff pointed out. "That was Blair's theory, actually Keegan's, but Blair found supporting evidence. Just like our ancestor Miranda married someone outside the Center, there were other young women of sentinel or guide bloodlines who left. Their descendants could also have the talent."
"If that's true," Frank slowly thought out loud, "then Blair and this guy could have an edge against the Roaches."
"One the Roaches would want to eliminate," Jeff replied grimly. "They killed off the last three sentinel/guide pairs after the Center was destroyed."
"Which could be the reason for the tape," Frank added. "If Blair and this, what, Captain? If Blair and this captain are identified as a sentinel and guide, or even just very good at their job, they could be targets."
"Has Blair been working with this officer long enough so they can protect themselves?" Dianne asked. "How much training do sentinels and guides need?"
Jeff shook his head. "Before the Center's destruction, sentinels were identified as toddlers and given special training and protection throughout their childhood and into their twenties. Potential guides were identified by age 12. They would also go through special schooling, then take six years of intensive training. Blair has some knowledge between Keegan's journal and the stories, so he might get by. Who knows if the Captain has had any help before Blair. Part of Blair's paper discussed whether a young sentinel would be even recognized now. Keegan mentioned that sometimes a sentinel repressed his senses, either due to trauma or lack of guidance. Blair and this guy may have a lot of catching up to do."
"So neither would be ready to be discovered and targeted by the Roaches," Dianne replied. "It's a good thing Steve just happened to pick up this tape. It might keep them a secret a while longer."
Jeff again scrutinized the frame, memorizing the image of his son with his sentinel. "I want to get back. Blair might need some more support."
Frank clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Then we'd better get back to work."
Next day, Science Base Delta
Once inside the complex, Jim brushed the snow off his jacket as he stomped his boots. Winter had arrived in the Northern Territories. Blair should be thankful he doesn't have to go on these patrols. The kid would be an icicle today if he'd come with me.
"Man, I do NOT like the looks of this," Henri complained as he examined the snow still covering Jim. "I hate snow."
"It's not too bad yet," Jim shrugged as he pulled off his hat and shook it out. "And we'd better get use to it. It's only going to get worse."
"Great," Henri replied resignedly as he pulled on his own hat. "I can't WAIT until we get more security personnel in a few weeks. Maybe we can get out of this."
Jim chuckled as he watched Brown step outside. He quickly and efficiently stowed his own gear and walked to the lounge area where he and Blair worked on his senses. While Jim often complained about all the tests and training routines that his guide insisted he perform, the sentinel had to admit they seemed to be working. Before, he never felt like he had any control over his on-then-off-again senses. Now, not only were they on most of the time, Jim actually felt like he could use them like he did in Glendale. He'd do anything to provide his team an advantage over the Roaches.
Entering the lounge, he expected to find his guide surrounded by books and papers, busy tapping away at the data padd the team had gotten him. Instead, only a clean and empty room greeted him. Pausing, Jim extended his hearing. A squeal from the daycare down the hall shot a spike of pain through his ears. After several minutes of bending over and holding his head in his hands, Jim finally recovered enough to think again. Guess I'll have to do this the old-fashion way -- search for him on foot. Quickly scribbling a note in case Blair returned while he was out, Jim headed towards the bachelor's quarters.
Thirty minutes of fruitless searching later, Jim entered the hydroponics lab. A discrete sniff picked up on his guide's familiar scent. Walking towards the back, Jim finally spotted Blair sitting on the floor next to the tater plants. Arms wrapped around his bent legs and forehead resting on his knees, the young man looked very small and very alone. Quietly, Jim sat down next to his guide, not really knowing what else to do.
After a few minutes of silence, a sad voice softly whispered, "I once could recite the names of all the Sandburgs since the Landing. I can't recall many of them right now, but there has been about twelve generations before me. Twelve generations, and the eldest of each one held and protected the Star of David medallion, so the next generation would not forget from where we came. At least until now. Now, I have not only forgotten the names, but I've lost the medallion. Ima trusted me with it, the only thing I had left of her, and I lose it." Blair's voice cracked on the word 'lose', full of despair and self-recrimination. "Twelve generations, and the thirteenth fails to uphold the last remaining family tradition."
"Ah, Blair," Jim breathed, shaking his head. "It's not your fault."
"But I lost it."
"No, it was stolen from you," Jim pointed out sternly. "The Roaches stole it, just as they have taken everything else. You had no control over it."
"But it hurts so much," Blair softly explained. "It was all I had left of Ima and Uncle Michael, of Nana and all the other Sandburgs who came before."
"I know it hurts," Jim commiserated, wrapping an arm around Blair's shoulders. "I don't have anything left of my family either. Not the rocking chair that had rocked Ellison babies and oldsters since the Landing. Not the ancient jaguar statue that was my mother's." Jim paused, suddenly realizing the similarity between the old statue and the cat in his dreams, but mentally shook off the thought. "Not even a picture of my brother, my father, or Sally who raised us. It hurts, but there isn't anything I can do about it. However, there is one thing left of the Sandburgs. YOU are left. And I'm willing to bet your mom would rather have you still living than be upset that you lost an heirloom." He squeezed the young man's shoulder.
Blair raised red eyes to his sentinel, acknowledging the truth in his words. "Thanks."
"Any time," Jim replied. He then patted Blair on the back and stood up. "Now, weren't you going to have me taste a bunch of yucky stuff today?"
"Herbs, Jim," Blair corrected as he stiffly stood up to join his friend. "It's an exercise to develop your sense of taste so you can differentiate between different flavors."
"Whatever. There just better not be anything too spicy hot in the bunch."
"But there are many subtle differences between various degrees of 'heat'. You should be able to dial it down and still identify what you're tasting."
"Easy for you to say when it's not your stomach getting the fallout..."
Three days later, caverns
Jeff squirted more oil into the spin mechanism, then ordered, "Okay, try it again." He leaned back, secure on his perch astride the restraining arm, and waited.
Just inside the hatch underneath the craft, Bella hit the appropriate button. Grinding noises could be heard, but nothing happened. Jeff sighed. The craft needed to spin in order for the laser-driven compulsion system to lift them off the ground and into space. He leaned over the open compartment again, poking at a gear. Another cough rose in his chest, forcing him to pause as it forced its way out. Before he could turn back, he found a bottle in his hands. He glanced down into Lisa's worried face. With another sigh, he unscrewed the top and took a swig of the cough syrup.
"You want to take a lunch break? I'm heading to the main cavern now," Lisa asked, trying not to sound too eager.
Jeff didn't even look at her as he returned the bottle, his mind still mostly on the problem in front of him. "No, I want to get this working first."
Lisa took the bottle, disappointment weighing heavy on her shoulders. She couldn't remember the last time Dr. Mac had sat down and ate a meal with her. For that matter, he rarely left the work area to eat or sleep. Yet there wasn't much of a choice. The spacecraft was their only option now and Dr. Mac was the only one who could get it running. And he knew it. And Lisa didn't have any way to make him slow down and take care of himself.
Glancing up, Lisa spotted Steve carefully walking across one of the beams way above them. The top of the cavern was actually a roof that could be opened to allow the shuttle to fly out. Steve, Casey, and JD were cleaning and oiling all the hinges and gears. As Dr. Mac said, they were only going to get one shot at this escape thing, so it all had to work the first time. There was so much to do and so little time to do it in. Sighing heavily, she turned and walked back to the main cavern.
On the other side of the craft, Frank felt his anger grow as he watched Lisa walk dejectedly to the passage. He had become increasingly concerned about Jeff's new 'work until you drop' habits, but this was going too far.
Ordering Darla to keep an eye on Steve's safety line, Frank strode over to the restraining arm. Within seconds, he was perched next to his friend. "You know," he began, his voice rough with anger, "I never thought I'd see the day when Jeff MacGregor would ignore a kid."
"What?" Jeff asked, his attention still on the spin mechanism.
"Lisa was trying to get you to eat lunch with her and you blew her off."
Jeff spared a glance at his friend as he turned to pick up a screwdriver. "I'll eat with her later."
"What later? When was the last time you sat down and ate with her? Talked with her?"
"Just the...well..." Jeff paused, trying to search his memory.
"Exactly!" Frank declared. "That little girl has become quite attached to you. She's scared just like the rest of us. She's worried about you, with good reason I might add." Frank stared pointedly at his friend while he coughed. "She needs just a little bit of your time, but you aren't giving her any."
"Frank, I need to get this done."
"That never stopped you when it was Blair or Sam who needed you." Frank knew he had scored when Jeff closed his eyes.
Jeff took a deep breath, trying to force back the emotions he didn't want to deal with yet. "She's not Aubrey."
I knew it! "No, she's not. She's a teenage girl who desperately needs someone to care about her. I thought you were that person. Are you going to let her down?"
Jeff exhaled slowly, then opened his eyes to stare at his friend. "You know, you sound WAY too much like your mother."
"I'll take that as a compliment," Frank replied smugly. "My mother is a very wise woman."
Jeff shook his head, knowing he had lost. He was becoming attached to Lisa. He was just afraid of losing her like his baby daughter, like he thought he had with Blair. He didn't want to hurt that way again. Yet he didn't want to hurt Lisa, either. Replacing the screwdriver into the kit, he called out, "Bella? I'm taking a break."
"About time, Dr. Mac!" Bella shouted back. Frank could barely keep the smirk off his face as Jeff rolled his eyes.
Lisa had just joined the lunch line when the warning bell rang. Clamping down on her own fear, she glanced to Doc Fraiser for guidance.
Dianne took a deep breath, quickly surveyed which teens were nearby, then started barking out orders. "Everyone pull out your lights, we may need to shut down. Davey, be prepared to shut down the generator. Denise, go to the shuttle cavern and tell Mr. Colton and Dr. Mac. Lisa, go to the lower cavern and tell Dr. Mullway. Tims, go to the ammunition cave and warn the Reverend. Jason, DeDe, douse the lanterns. Caro,..."
Lisa raced to the passage leading to the lower caverns, fear giving her feet wings.
Jeff nearly ran into Denise as she raced through the passage. "What's wrong?"
"Roach alert," Denise forced out, breathing heavy. The willowy girl with long blonde hair leaned over to catch her breath. "Doc Fraiser told me to tell Mr. Colton."
"Go on," Jeff urged her. "Tell Frank I'm heading that way." Then Jeff rushed to the main cavern. He found it in a state of controlled chaos. He was striding towards Dianne and Gail when Harry raced in.
"Full ~gasp~ patrol of ~gasp~ Roaches," Harry forced out. "I ~gasp~ think they ~gasp~ might have seen me."
"Damn," Jeff muttered, thinking furiously. "Even if they didn't, they most likely will smell all the human scents and track them to the passage."
"Do you think they can get through?" Gail asked.
"They can't squeeze through," Jeff replied, "But if they think we're here, they might try to blast out a bigger hole."
"And perhaps bring the whole cavern system down around our ears," Josiah added as he joined them. He glanced at Jeff. "Do we go to plan B?"
Jeff closed his eyes a moment to center himself and make the decision. "Yeah, we'd better evacuate." Talk about moving up timetables.
"Okay, people, listen up," Dianne called out. "I want everyone to grab bedding, boxes of food, med supplies, anything and everything you can carry. Then I want you to carry them to the shuttle room. Once you're there, I want you to STAY there! Don't come back here unless an adult gives the All Clear. Now move!"
Searching the caves and counting, Jeff realized that Lisa wasn't around. "Where's Lisa?"
"I sent her to warn Jane," Dianne replied as she started dismantling a stove.
"Mom?" Cassie's voice quivered as the scared girl approached the adults.
"Grab something and go, sweetheart," Dianne ordered.
"Here." Jeff grabbed a basket of clean laundry and placed it into Cassie's arms. "Now go, honey." As the little girl walked as fast as she could towards the passage, Jeff turned to help load the arms of another kid with boxes of can goods.
Raising his face to meet Dianne's eyes, they both felt sinking dread at the muffled sound. The Roaches were coming. They didn't have much time. Jeff turned and swiftly filled another box of food for a waiting teen to carry.
Jane also felt her heart sink at the sound. She and the teens with her paused a moment.
"What's that, Dr. Jane?" Eric asked, trying not to sound scared.
"The Roaches," Jane told him as calmly as she could. She resumed the trek up the hill. "We need to get this water up to the main cavern and back into the shuttle room."
"But I thought the shuttle wasn't ready yet," Jill interjected as she continued with her buckets.
Bringing up the rear with the spare buckets, Lisa thought of the shuttle, too. No, it isn't ready yet.
"We're going there because the walls of that cavern are much thicker than the others," Jane explained patiently, hoping to keep the teens from panicking. Her own mind shied away from the horrors she had suffered by the Roaches only a few months ago. "We can hold out there for a few days while Dr. Mac and the others work on the shuttle. But we'll need this water to drink in the meantime."
The more water we have, the longer we can hold out. Lisa put all her strength and determination into making her legs move faster.
The explosions were sounding louder, shaking the cavern more with each one. Pieces of rock were falling from the ceiling, making the remaining humans duck with each boom.
"I think all the kids but Jane's three are through now," Gail reported, herself beginning to tremble.
Dianne shoved a full cook pot and a folded up camp stove into her arms. "Then go." She draped a blanket over the young teacher's shoulders. "We'll be right behind you." The doctor turned to loop her medical bag over her own shoulder.
Tears streaming down her face, Gail hurried to the passage. Harry was right behind her, loaded down with guns and ammunition that Josiah had stacked on him. Josiah then rushed over to Jeff and Dianne. "Is that everyone?"
"Jane, Eric, Jill and Lisa should be coming up from the lower caverns," Jeff replied tersely. He handed a box of medical supplies to Dianne.
"Do you think this is going to work?" Josiah asked calmly, carrying his own load of weaponry to the passage.
"It better." Jeff picked up another box of can goods, then leaned over to grab the tea kettle off the hook. "We'll need the time." He swiftly followed Dianne.
At the mouth of the passage, Frank, Dalton and Bella appeared. "Here," Jeff ordered, handing Bella his load. "Get that to the shuttle room and stay there." Next to him, Josiah handed much of his own load to Dalton.
"Jeff..." Frank began.
"There they are!" Dianne exclaimed. Turning, Jeff spotted Jane and the kids hurrying across the vast gloomy room, carrying water. He, Frank, and Josiah stepped towards them, ready to help with the buckets.
The nearby explosion violently vibrated the room. With a squeal, Jill and Lisa were knocked off their feet, shattered rock falling around them. Jeff raced to Lisa, Frank on his heels. "Are you hurt?" Jeff shouted as he helped the girl to her feet.
Tears mixed with the dirt on the girl's face as she shook her head. Jeff absently noted the blood on her knee as he hurried her towards the passage. Ahead of them were Jill and Josiah, who had picked up Jill's buckets and was urging her forward. Frank was following Josiah with Lisa's buckets. Jeff supported Lisa as she limped, slowing them down.
Jeff halted in his tracks. Spinning around, he placed Lisa behind him. He spotted the huge purple Roach on the other side of the cavern with his drones. Broken rock from the former passage surrounded the leader.
"CHOSEN ONE, ~crackle~ GIVE SELF ~snap~ UP."
"NEVER!" Jeff snarled. He practically flew across the remaining steps to the passage, shoving Lisa ahead of him. "Move!" he ordered, coughing as he turned back to the nearly invisible control box he had placed by the opening weeks ago. A few quick connections later, Jeff was racing after the others.
~BOOM BOOM BOOM~
The shock wave nearly threw Jeff off his feet, signaling the destruction of the main cavern they had been using. Jeff prayed the debris would prevent the Roaches from reaching them.
"Dr. Mac?" Lisa hiccuped as he caught up with her.
Jeff wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close, thankful she was still alive. He could feel the adrenaline flow out of his body, leaving exhaustion behind. Yet he had to keep going. They were far from safe.
Jeff woke with a start, frantically looking around. "It's okay, Dr. Mac," Bella assured him. "One of the kids dropped a hammer."
Rubbing his face with one hand, Jeff groped for his wrench with the other. "How long was I out?"
"Maybe five, ten minutes," Bella answered, returning to her task of adjusting one of the lasers.
Jeff took a deep breath, trying to wake up but only triggering another coughing jag. Bella glanced back with concern. "You could take a longer nap."
"No, I can sleep once we get back," Jeff replied. There was only enough water for another day, plus there was evidence that the Roaches were trying to work their way through the rock slide in the main cavern. There was no time for sleeping.
"Jeff!" Frank poked his head into the compartment. "We need you in the control room."
Jeff glanced at this friend. Seeing the thundercloud there, he realized it had to be important. Reluctantly, he crawled out of the craft. Frank handed him a steaming mug of java.
Drawing a breath of the aromatic steam, Jeff felt a bit of the tightness across his chest ease. Walking alongside Frank, he commented, "I guess Harry got the outside security system working?"
Frank's face grew even darker. "Yeah, he did."
Jeff took a sip from mug, refraining from further conversation. He knew that look and it didn't bode well. Entering the small room, Jeff quickly examined Josiah's and Harry's faces. They didn't look very happy, either. "What's up?"
In answer, Harry flipped on a switch. "~crack~ court go free. ~snap~ Chosen One, Give self up ~pop~ Junior Queen and ~snap~ court go free. Chosen One..." Jeff stared at the speaker as Harry flipped off the sound.
"Do you have any idea what they are talking about?" Frank asked. "What makes him think we're hiding a Junior Queen down here, let alone a court?"
"Well, we do have a lot of girls," Harry replied thoughtfully.
"And he already thinks Jeff's a Chosen One," Josiah added.
"So it wouldn't be that big of a step to think you're protecting a queen." Harry finished.
Jeff forced his tired mind to work until it hit pay dirt. "Ah, damn, he saw me with Lisa. And I shoved her behind me when I heard them."
"He thinks Lisa's a Junior Queen?" Frank asked in astonishment.
Shrugging his shoulders, Jeff replied, "Why not. They're aware that you and Josiah helped Jane and I escape. If they think I'm a Chosen One, they probably think Jane is a court member and you two are part of my circle. They've seen the handful of kids Harry had with him that day in Gillard. The girls might be considered junior court members and the boys young drones, trying to earn their Chosen One status by helping the Junior Queen and her court. He saw me protecting Lisa, and perhaps a glimpse of Dianne and Bella.
"When a Queen complex is in danger from an enemy or a natural disaster, often a Chosen One with his hand-picked drones will evacuate the Junior Queen plus a few important court members. They will take them to a secure location and protect the line of succession until it's safe to return. It wouldn't be that much of a stretch for them to think we stumbled across a Junior Queen and joined forces with her people to protect her."
"So what does this mean?" Harry asked.
Jeff sighed heavily. "It means if they think Lisa is a Junior Queen, she's just as much a target as Sam and Blair." Just about the LAST thing I wanted to happen.
"We'll worry about that once we get back," Frank declared. "We have enough to worry about right now as it is."
"How far along is the shuttle?" Josiah asked.
"We're getting close, as long as we don't run into any surprises." Jeff rubbed his face, trying to wipe off his fatigue. "We are having trouble aligning all the lasers, but once that's done, we should be able to fly her."
"You mean, Dalton should," Frank pointed out. "Do you think he can figure it out in one try?"
"Sure I can," a voice stated confidently from the doorway. "I can fly anything that's meant to fly, and a few things that aren't suppose to."
Jeff smiled wearily at Dalton. He just wished he was as confident.
six hours later
The wrench flew off the bolt, striking Jeff's thumb before it fell to the floor. Clutching the injured hand to his chest, Jeff opened his mouth to swear, only to start coughing instead. He spent nearly two minutes doubled over and hacking.
When the spasm eased, a soft voice ordered, "Let me see that hand."
Jeff looked up to see Dianne glaring at him. His first instinct to refuse died under her stern gaze. He held out the hand as a few more coughs forced themselves out of his chest. Dianne took the hand while passing a bottle of cough medicine to the other. Wordlessly, Jeff took a swig.
Gently examining the hand, Dianne whispered, "Your thumb knuckle is starting to swell, but I don't think it's broken." She stared hard into Jeff's eyes. "I suspect the problem is more lack of sleep than anything else."
"We're almost there," Jeff quietly explained. "And those Roaches are getting closer." He glanced over to the bench across the access area, where Lisa was curled up asleep. Fear of the Roaches reaching her and the other teens was a constant knot in his stomach.
Dianne sighed, knowing Jeff was right. She was well aware that the faint sounds of debris removal were being heard in the cave passage. Yet the man in front of her was sick and about to drop from exhaustion. "How soon do you think she'll be ready?"
"The lasers are about aligned," Bella interjected as she popped her head inside. Dianne noted that she looked tired as well. "How much more after that?"
"I want to give the computer another once over, check the rocket fuel lines, then run a couple of tests, just to make sure everything is ready and let Dalton get a feel for her." Jeff rubbed a hand over his face. "Five or six more hours, maybe."
Dianne opened her mouth to suggest that Jeff take a short nap when a commotion in the cavern caught their attention. Climbing down after Bella, she caught sight of Steve and Casey talking frantically to Josiah and Jane. They rushed over to join them, Frank and Dalton racing from the other side.
"...has to be close!" Casey was telling Josiah.
"The Roaches?" Frank questioned.
"Yes, sir," Steve replied, fear lurking in his dark eyes as he tried to stay calm. "The sounds of heavy machinery and rocks moving are really getting loud. I think they're about ready to break through."
"Damn!" Frank muttered.
"Bella, finish that last alignment now," Jeff ordered, shaking off his exhaustion as a surge of adrenaline rushed through his body. "The rest of you load all the kids and yourselves into the shuttle. Make sure everyone's belted in; I don't know how rough this ride might get. Frank, be prepared to start the roof and make a run for it." He glanced at the pilot standing next to him. "Ready for your first space flight?"
"Ready and eager," Dalton snapped off, giving Jeff a cocky salute. They raced for the shuttle as the rest scattered to start the evacuation.
Sliding into the pilot seat, Jack ran his hands over the instrument panel. He had been studying the controls since they had decided on this option, trying to get the feel of the foreign buttons and switches. He wanted everything to be second nature, to be able to react without hesitation. While this wasn't the way he wanted to learn, Jack was confident he could do it. He had to.
Behind him, MacGregor was punching code into a small data entry pad as he stared at a small screen above it. "Okay, it should be ready to fire up." Dalton flipped a switch. Nothing happened.
Softly muttering to himself, Jeff bent back over the entry pad. Jack glanced down out of the window, watching Jane usher three teens underneath the craft. He could picture them in his mind scurrying up the hatch at the bottom, then rushing to the passenger seats in one of the compartments. Strong fiber straps would then be pulled over each shoulder and secured into place.
"Try it again."
A flip later, the panel in front of him lit up with colorful lights. Bella rushed in, breathing hard. "The lasers are set."
Jeff pointed at a seat behind and to the left of the pilot's chair. "Strap in and read off the check list."
Bella dropped into the chair, already reading the instructions Jeff had translated from the ancient Basic of the ancestors. "Shield placement at launching position." Her hand reached blindly for the belt behind her and pulled it forward.
"Shields at launching P," Jack replied as he pushed a button.
"Frank!" Jeff called from his com-link. "Start the roof retraction!" Please roof, don't hang up anywhere! Flipping on the top outside viewer, Jeff watched on the small screen as the roof slowly lifted and pulled away, it's creaking and moaning audible even inside the craft. The faint pings of dislodged rocks hitting the metallic hull echoed throughout the interior.
"Power up lasers 4 and 5."
"Lasers 4 and 5 up."
With the roof's screeching, Jeff couldn't hear the hum of the lasers powering up. He prayed they were working or this would be a short ride. Briefly wondering if Blair's sentinel would be able to pick out the laser hum, Jeff flipped on the inside com. "Compartment one status."
Jane's voice burst forth with a flash of static. "15 kids strapped in plus Gail and myself."
"Stay put and prepare for launch." Seventeen in so far. He flipped on the next switch. "Compartment two status."
"15 kids, Harry and myself," Josiah's calm voice answered.
"Stay put and prepare for launch." That made thirty-four. He took a deep breath. "Compartment three status."
"Eight kids and myself," Dianne's warm voice replied. Jeff released the breath he was holding. That made forty-three, meaning all of the kids, including Lisa, were in. Adding in himself, Jack, Bella and Frank, everyone was accounted for. "Stay put and prepare for launch." He changed to the viewer with the clear line of sight of the passage. No Roaches yet.
"Compartments all red light?" Bella asked, a check that all doors and compartment lids were closed.
"Red lights are on."
Frank rushed in. "Entry hatch's secure."
"Buckle in," Jeff ordered, pointing to the co-pilot chair.
"Don't forget your own," Frank returned as he hurried to the seat.
"Release spin locks."
Jeff absently pulled his own belt into place, still watching the monitors and coughing.
"Spin locks released."
"Ready for spin maneuver?"
"Ready." Jack and Bella both looked at Jeff for the launch go ahead.
"GO!" Jeff ordered. "We've got Roaches in the cavern." Large brown natives were slipping through the door and ducking behind crates.
"Then let's do it!" Jack shouted, jabbing a button.
Jeff could barely feel the bottom outer hull start to spin. New pings were heard as the Roaches began firing on the craft. "Has the roof fully retracted yet?"
Frank peered through the clear glass above his head. Stars shone bright in the clear night sky. Frank hoped that was a good omen. "All clear!"
Tension filled Jeff's body. It was now or never, with the consequences of never too horrible to contemplate. "Once it's green lighted, Jack, PUNCH IT!"
"Right-O!" Jack confirmed with excitement as the spin light flashed green. He hit the large yellow button that started the lasers. "Here we go, folks!"
Lasers began firing, annihilating air particles and giving the craft lift. With a shudder, the ancient shuttle lifted off the ground, spraying the Roaches with loose dirt. Holding his breath, Jeff struggled to keep his eyes open as they rose out of the new hole in the mountainside and into the clear autumn sky.
"We're through!" Bella gleefully announced. She and Frank watched as the stars grew brighter as the atmosphere thinned.
Jeff counted the seconds off. He knew once they were high enough, the rocket propulsion should kick in. However, they didn't get a chance to see if all the fuel lines were clear. He didn't know if the computer would handle it at the proper rate. Heck, he didn't even know if the old fuel would fire. He held his breath. The craft gradually slowed down. Jeff could feel his body float slightly off the chair as force of gravity lessened. Glancing over, he could see Bella's hair lift away from her face.
"The rockets aren't firing!" Jack shouted.
Damn! Jeff instantly unhooked his belt. Latching onto the handholds, he pulled himself over to the back wall. Bella joined him as they swiftly looked over the systems. "Fuel's clogged," Bella exclaimed, pointing at the blinking red line.
"We need to bypass it," Jeff returned as his fingers flew over the entry pad. Bella grabbed his belt with one hand as she held onto a bar, preventing them from floating away.
"There," Jeff announced. Ferociously, the craft moved like it had been kicked as the fuel ignited. Jeff and Bella were thrown into a wall.
"Jeff! Bella!" Frank shouted.
Jeff barely could gasp as pain shot through his shoulder. Bella, biting her lip, pushed off with her feet. She snagged Jeff's shirt, pulling both of them to their seats. It wasn't until Jeff was shoved to the chair that he realized her left arm was at an awkward angle. As he grabbed his safety belt and pulled it over him, Bella made another push to her own seat.
She had barely clicked her belt in place when another jolt shook them. "Oh, Oh." Jack's eyes grew big. "The rockets are out again." The craft began to fall. "HANG ON!"
Jeff closed his eyes as they fell towards the Roachia's surface.
Science Base Delta
Blair awoke with a start. It took a moment to realize someone was shaking his arm. Blinking in the faint light, he focused his eyes on Jim. "We have an alert. Get dressed and be out in the common area in five minutes."
Squinting his eyes, Blair read the red time display next to his bed. "1:33 am?" he muttered. "Man, why did I decide to do this?" Five minutes later, Blair stumbled out of his room to find Jim, Henri and Rafe standing together in the center. Yawning, Blair wandered over to join them.
"...came in just as I was finishing my rounds," Rafe was explaining. He waved his good arm around in the air. "It must be something big, because they demanded to speak to the Major, and the Major only. I waited outside until Banks came out, and he told me to wake up you guys."
Before Blair could ask a question, the Major walked in, a blurry-eyed Taggart right behind him. "All right, men," Banks began, "Approximately forty-five minutes ago, a craft landed on the tundra about fifty miles from here. It is believe that this vehicle came from space."
"What?" Blair exclaimed, now wide wake. The other Panthers exchanged stunned looks.
"That is the suspicion. Thus, the Branson team is being sent to investigate. We are going with them to provide security."
"Why are they sending the Branson team?" Jim asked.
"They've done some rocket research in the past," Taggart replied thoughtfully. "And I think Nash was involved with the space program before the war."
Blair dropped his eyes to the ground. He knew exactly why the Branson team was being sent. He just didn't think he was cleared to tell the others.
"In any case, it is also believed that there may be humans involved. Dr. Jackson and Lieutenant Paris are being sent to provide medical support. They, Ellison and MacGregor will fly in first, meeting the ground troops already being scrambled." Banks turned to the sentinel and guide. "I want you two to make sure they ARE human, and not those damn human-looking Roaches. The rest of us will fly in with the Branson team." He glanced at Janson's left arm, still in a sling. "I want you to handle communications and stay by Sam."
"Sam's going, too?" Henri asked. "Is it safe?"
Jim was also surprised that they would risk the young man so soon after Glendale. About to argue, he glanced at Blair only to be even more surprised to see his friend accepting the news calmly.
Blair noticed his friend's attention. Thinking fast, he replied, "Dad was also with the space program. Sam and I learned a lot from him."
Banks glanced at the wall clock. "Let's get moving people. The first helicopter leaves in five minutes."
Dashing after Jim, Blair felt excitement fill his soul. Who knew what they were going to find? It was just like a Keegan story, only this time Blair was the guide.
As Paris landed the helicopter, Jim took another look at his guide. "You okay?"
"Yeah, just too far off the ground," Blair replied, wiping his face. "I hate heights."
Jim hid a smile. "Ready to get to work?"
Blair nodded. He climbed out and followed Jim to the Sergeant who seemed to be waiting for them. The huge man snapped off a sharp salute. "Sergeant Crimshaw with the 4th division."
Jim returned the salute. "Captain Ellison, 135th." He glanced at his partner, only to discover Blair had totally ignored the salute while focusing his attention ahead. Jim sighed inwardly. Gonna have to work on that. "And this is Lieutenant MacGregor."
Blair continued to stare at the round craft. "Oh my god, that's got to be the Adventurer!"
Jim finally took a good look and felt his mouth drop open. Slamming it shut, he took a deep breath and asked, "The who?"
"The Adventurer. The one remaining shuttle from the Colony ship. It's been lost for centuries."
"Really?" Paris asked in astonishment, walking up behind them and also staring at the craft. "I've read about it, but never imagined it was so big!"
"Whatever it is, it came from Roach territory," the sergeant grumbled. "The people on board look human, but who knows anymore. You two suppose to be the human Roach experts?" He glanced back at the rude officer, figuring he was one of the military scientists.
"Something like that," Jim replied vaguely, watching his guide and Paris slowly trudge through the snow towards the ship in awe. Sheree had joined Jim, also staring at the craft.
"Then I'd better take you to the Lieutenant."
Still scrutinizing the stuff of legends, Blair was unprepared for the sudden surge of feeling that crashed into him. He staggered a step as pain, exhaustion, and sickness assaulted him. Barely aware of Tom's supporting grab for his elbow and Jim rushing to his side, Blair sorted the feelings out from his own, picking up a trace of annoyance mixed with the others. "Dad," he softly whispered. Before Jim could reach him, Blair broke away from Paris and raced towards the Adventurer.
Jeff, seated on the steps to the cockpit and wrapped in a blanket, hazily watched as Frank continued to argue with the Lieutenant in charge. Feeling a shiver from Lisa seated next to him, his annoyance grew. Way off from their expected landing site, Jeff was simply glad they had landed someplace uninhabited. The snow had helped cushion their crash landing, keeping the shuttle in one piece and reducing the injuries among the passengers Yet they were far from civilization, the craft was growing colder, and they were stuck with some idiots looking for Roaches under every snow drift. Jeff briefly wondered if Bella and Harry were getting anywhere with the radio when a coughing fit and the accompanying pain in his shoulder drove all thought from his mind.
"We have kids and injured people here. They need to be evacuated to someplace warmer with medical facilities," Frank pointed out, throwing his arm towards Jeff. "If you'd let me contact General Thornton..."
"Until we know who or what you are, you will stay here!" the young man declared with self-righteous importance. Josiah, Jane, and Dalton sat nearby and listened, Jane holding a cloth against the cut above Dalton's blackening eye.
Jeff missed Frank's rebuttal when a surge of recognition and excitement flooded his mind. Carefully shaking his head, Jeff wearily struggled to sort out the input he hadn't dealt with in months. By the time he had separated his feelings from the other's, everyone heard a voice declare, "LET ME THROUGH!" Looking up, Jeff spotted Blair burst through the guards and stumble into the small area. Blair paused a moment, delight and relief lighting his face. "Dad!"
"Blair!" In an instant, Jeff was being embraced by his son. Burying his face in Blair's curly hair, Jeff soaked up the warmth, the joy, the relief, and especially the love radiating through their touch and their bond.
Blair closed his eyes, finally feeling like everything was back in place. The arms that always made him feel safe and loved were wrapped around him, or at least one arm was. Then Blair felt his father's condition. Worry began to rise.
Lisa's eyes were wide as she studied Dr. Mac's son. Not that she could see much but the back of his head, but the bond between them was obvious. She suddenly felt adrift, like an outsider suddenly thrown out into the cold.
"What is going on here!" roared the Lieutenant, trying to regain control of the situation.
Ellison, finishing his quick check for Roach smells within the compartment, turned to the officer. "I'm Captain Ellison of the 135th." Jim made sure he emphasized 'Captain', subtly pointing out his higher rank. "Lieutenant MacGregor is greeting his father, Dr. Jeff MacGregor. And you are?"
"Lieutenant Kolsen," the officer replied, snapping off a hasty salute. Then astonishment and fear filled his eyes. "Wait a minute, THE Jeff MacGregor?"
Jim barely kept the smirk off his face. "Yep. And may I suggest you contact General Thornton immediately? He'll want to know his best scientist has been recovered."
As the lieutenant gulped and headed back outside, Blair pulled away from his father, brow wrinkled with worry. Placing a hand against Jeff's forehead, he called out, "Sheree!"
Jeff swatted the hand away, feeling the concern flowing from his son. "I'm all right now. I have you back." It still felt miraculous that his eldest was alive. To touch him both physically and mentally filled Jeff with utter contentment.
"You're hurt and sick," Blair refuted, his voice anxious. He stepped to the side to let Sheree through while keeping a hand on his father's good shoulder. "His shoulder is hurting, he's exhausted, and he's having trouble breathing."
"I'm fine," Jeff asserted sternly then started coughing, grimacing with pain.
"No, you're not fine," Lisa corrected. She continued bravely, "Doc Fraiser just set his shoulder."
"It was dislocated, and Dr. MacGregor has been sick the last couple of weeks," Dianne added. She held out her hand to Sheree. "Dr. Dianne Fraiser."
"Dr. Sheree Jackson," Sheree replied as she shook the hand. "Let me guess, he's an obstinate patient who rarely wants to take his meds or get enough rest."
Dianne returned the grin. "Exactly. And you know this because...?"
"His sons are just as bad," Sheree replied as she continued her examine.
"Hey, don't I have a say in this?" Jeff complained.
"No," the two doctors replied in unison.
Jim watched as the dark man who had been arguing with the Lieutenant gently touch his guide's shoulder. "Blair?"
Blair turned, paused a moment, then recognition lit up his eyes. "Uncle Frank?"
Frank pulled Blair into a tight embrace. "It's good to see you again, kid."
"I'm just glad you're okay," Blair replied with joy. Stepping back, he waved Jim over. "Uncle Frank, this is a friend of mine, Captain Jim Ellison. Jim, this is Frank Colton, Grandma Tess' son and Jesse's brother."
Jim warmly shook the man's hand. "Can you tell me your situation here?"
Frank began to fill them in.
Like his brother's before him, Sam's eyes grew wide at the sight of the craft.
"Is that what I think it is?" Evan asked in awe.
"Man, it's hard to believe, but I think it is," Harvey replied.
"What?" Rafe asked, studying the object they were walking towards.
"The Adventurer," Sam replied. He quickly explained its history.
Henri tilted his head. "You mean, this thing's older than the Landing?"
"We'll soon find out," Nash stated confidently. Excitement grew at the thought of actually seeing an example of the designs he'd been studying.
As they approached, Sam spotted Tom Paris having an argument with a young woman standing just outside an emergency hatch.
"Leave me alone, you pig!"
Tom took a deep breath, trying to hold onto his patience. "I really need to look at that arm."
"My arm is fine!" insisted the dark-haired girl, giving him a glare that should have burned a hole right through him.
Sam tried to keep from laughing at Tom's exasperated expression. "Well, it looks broken to me. Why don't you let me put a splint on it?"
"Because I have work to do and I don't want you touching me, pig."
Rafe, who had been listening to his radio, tapped Sam's shoulder. "I need to get you inside."
"What's up, Janson?" Banks asked.
Rafe gave Sam a reassuring smile. "Jim says that Dr. MacGregor is inside."
Sam felt his stomach sink to his toes, then rise back up into his throat. "He's, he's here?"
"Right in..." Rafe's voice trailed off as Sam dashed to the open hatch.
Sam practically slid into the compartment. "Dad!" As soon as he spotted the pale face, Sam ran over and embraced him.
Jeff again soaked up the presence of a son. In spite of his pain and exhaustion, Jeff felt almost giddy. It felt so good to hold Sam, to know that the Roaches had not touched him. To have Blair standing nearby, his concern mixed with Sam's relief and joy, was heaven.
Nearby, Banks and Janson stopped next to Ellison. "Report," Simon softly growled to his second.
"MacGregor, Jeff MacGregor that is," Jim smiled a moment as he watched the family reunion, "found this ancient shuttle craft. With the help of other survivors in the Sealand lost zone, they managed to get it working just in time to escape the Roaches."
"How many survivors?"
"Forty-seven, including 35 teenagers from a private school and Dr. Jane Mullway, a microbiologist the Roaches had abducted. There are a few minor injuries, the worst off being Dr. MacGregor. Apparently, he's had as hard a time recovering from the Roaches' drugs as BT has. He also dislocated a shoulder trying to keep the shuttle in the air."
Banks thought a moment. "Science Base Beta is closer, but I don't think they have their medical facilities up yet. We'll have to take them home with us. Have you identified any Roaches?"
"No. I haven't smelled everyone, but I have covered all the adults. I can check the kids before they're airlifted."
"Good, let's start evacuating these people to someplace warmer, starting with the injured."
Before them, Sam had pulled back and called, "Dr. Sheree?"
Blair chuckled. "I already had her check him out."
Jeff wrapped a hand around Sam's neck and smiled wearily into his eyes. "I'll be fine now. I've got you two back."
"And we've got you back," Sam replied, his quiet smile stretching across his face. Blair joined them by wrapping his arms around his family. They were together and safe. That was all that mattered.
Next night, Science Base Delta
It was like swimming to the top of a deep well. Slowly, he rose through thick layers of unconsciousness, finally breaking the surface. Eyes blinking, it took Jeff a moment to realize he was in an unfamiliar Med center. He closed his eyes again, trying to figure out how he had arrived at this place. The details of the last few days gradually sorted themselves out. Gingerly, Jeff managed to push much of the haziness from his mind. He could feel the aching shoulder barely protruding from under the drug-induced comfort. His chest was still tight from the illness he had picked up. But the dragging exhaustion seemed to be loosening its hold.
With ease, Jeff mentally reached out for his sons. Both were warm and asleep. Gently sifting deeper, Jeff could sense that Sam's leg was nearly healed and that he was otherwise healthy. Relieved, Jeff carefully focused on Blair. He didn't like what he found. Not only did he sense fatigue and a headache, there was something else wrong. Worried, Jeff gingerly probed deeper. The headache was just the tip of the iceberg. Blair's head and mind felt like it had been severely wounded and now only partial healed. Jeff could sense the injured brain repairing and rewiring, a painfully slow process. What the hell happened to his son?
As Jeff struggled to sit up, a hand laid across his chest to halt his movements. Turning his head to the left, Jeff discovered Pete Thornton sitting there. "Pete?"
"Easy, friend," Pete soothed him.
"How long have you been here?"
His old friend glanced at the clock. "A few hours."
"A few hours?" Jeff repeated, startled. He also spotted the clock, surprised to see it showed 3 am. "How long have I been here?"
"A little over a day," Pete replied. Anticipating the next question as Jeff opened his mouth, he added, "You're at Science Base Delta."
"What?" Jeff blinked. "When did they open the science bases?"
"After the Sealand invasion and your abduction, it was decided it was time to move the top scientists and the more sensitive research to safer locations. This base has been opened for almost a month now."
Jeff swallowed past the lump in his throat. "I never thought things would have gotten so serious."
"We lost a lot of research and scientists in Sealand. Now, considering what the Roaches pulled out of Mullway, it was definitely the right decision."
Jeff winced, remembering what Jane had told him about her interrogation. Then he shook off the worry for the overall picture. He had more important concerns. "Pete, what happened to Blair? I can tell he was hurt pretty severely. And how did Sam end up getting shot?"
Pete gave him a reassuring smile. "You better get comfortable. Your two boys have been busy while you've been gone."
Lisa slipped into the Med Center, trying to avoid people. She was supposed to be filling out endless forms and taking school competency exams so that Human Resources could place her. A few of the kids had already left, either going to relatives or foster homes. With no family, Lisa knew her destination would be a foster home. The very thought of living with strangers filled her with fear. She felt so alone.
However, she pushed down the fear as she walked towards Dr. Mac's room. She didn't want to burden him with her insecurities. He was sick enough as it was. Her eyes darkened, remembering how fragile he had looked yesterday. Doc Fraiser had given her permission to sit with him. It had been hard to watch him sleep, dark circles under his eyes and a slight wheeze to his breathing. After all he had gone through and the tremendous effort he had put forth to get them to safety, it didn't seem fair that he would be the one suffering now.
While she was leaving, she had ran into his sons. Blair was so friendly, asking her name and if she'd been treated well. Sam, with eyes so much like his Dad's, had made her smile with his quiet humor. They had both asked lots of questions, wanting to know what had happened to their father. It had been fun talking with them. She'd like to get to know them better, but she doubted she'd get the chance. Lisa expected to be whisked away soon, never to see them or their father again.
Which was why she was here. Even if Dr. Mac was still asleep, she wanted a chance to see him one last time. He had been so nice to her, had shown her that even alone in the world, she had a lot to live for and live up to. The least she could do was to thank him.
Jeff saw Lisa poke her head around the door and smiled. "Come on in," he greeted, then coughed.
"You sure? You still sound sick," Lisa asked.
Jeff waved her in. "I'm fine. Besides, I've been wanting to talk with you anyway."
Lisa walked in and sat in the chair next to Dr. Mac's bed. He did look better, the circles under his eyes barely noticeable. "Did you get enough sleep?"
Jeff chuckled while studying the young woman. He noted the new flower-print dress and the sadness in her eyes. "I slept through a whole day. I'd say that's more than enough. How are you doing?"
Lisa shrugged her shoulders, not wanting to talk about her fears. "I'm fine. Just tired of filling out forms."
"Yeah, government and their paperwork," Jeff acknowledged with a nod. "It can be rather tiresome. But I have something to ask you before either of us fill out any more." Lisa looked at him, her face puzzled. Jeff took a deep breath, then asked, "Do you have anyplace to go, Lisa? Any family to stay with?"
Lisa dropped her eyes. "No family. I think they're looking for foster homes for me and for some of the other kids."
"Would you like to stay with me?"
Eyes wide with shock, Lisa stared straight into his face, scared she had misunderstood. "Stay with you?"
"Well, at least be my ward," Jeff waved a hand. "I'm not exactly sure where I'll be staying. Since I'm still a Roach target, I'll probably work at a base like this one. Being with me could make you a target like Blair and Sam. I also have a lot of traveling to do, to catch up on what's been going on and help develop a plan to protect us from the Roaches next spring. Sometimes you'll be able to go with me, and I'll make sure you're under protection with people you know when you can't. But I promise I'll always be there when you need me. That is, if you want to be my ward."
Lisa broke into a large smile. She threw herself into Jeff's arms excitedly, giving him a tight hug.
Jeff turned a grunt of pain into a chuckle. "I take that as a yes?"
Lisa giggled as she sat back down. "Yes."
Jeff looked up to see Sam, Blair, and another man in the doorway. He waved them in, recognizing the third man to be the one from the film, Blair's sentinel.
"We're not interrupting anything, are we?" Blair asked.
"No, Lisa and I just settled a few things," Jeff replied. He glanced at the tall man standing behind Blair and Sam.
Blair's face beamed with pride and excitement. He'd been waiting for this moment for over half his life. "Dad, this is a friend of mine, Captain James Ellison."
Jeff smiled at him, himself full of pride that his son was continuing the ancient family tradition. "Your Harry?" Lisa's eyes grew wide, catching the meaning behind the question.
A huge smile burst across his son's face. "Yep."
Jeff held out his hand to the older man. "Welcome to the family, Captain Ellison."
"Call me Jim, sir."
"You can me Jeff," Jeff returned. Then he flashed a smile at Lisa. "Speaking of new family members, how would you boys feel about getting a new sister?"
"Great!" Blair replied, smiling at the shy girl. "We could use a female in this family."
"You mean, I get to be a big brother now?" Sam asked. "Cool. I'd like that."
Lisa smiled shyly back, enjoying the unexpectedly warm welcome.
"That means I'll count on you two to keep an eye out for her while I'm on travel," Jeff pointed out.
Blair waved his hands. "No prob. I think we can make sure Lisa keeps her grades up and check out her boyfriends."
"Check out my boyfriends?" Lisa asked, not quite sure how to take that.
"Sure," Blair replied. "Only the best for our little sister."
"Yep," Sam added, his face deadpan. "Meaning any guy like Blair we chase off immediately."
"HEY! I'm not that bad with girls." Blair paused a moment. "Am I?"
"Let's just say all the mothers lock up their daughters when you show up."
Jeff chuckled, enjoying the familiar exchange between his sons. Then he remembered something. "Blair, I have something for you in the drawer there."
Puzzled, Blair pulled open the drawer his father was pointing at. Jim heard his guide's heart skip a beat. Sam and Lisa traded confused glances.
Blair slowly picked up the star medallion, the gold chain flowing over his fingers. He raised shocked eyes to meet his father's gaze. "How..." Blair gave his head a shake, suddenly hit with the implications. "Oh God, Dad."
Waves of shock, guilt, and fear rolled from Blair's mind to Jeff's. "It's okay now. The main thing is that you're alive."
"Blair!" Jeff snapped. He wrapped his hand around his son's neck, forcing him to meet his eyes. "You're alive and I didn't tell them anything. As long as you are safe, as long as Sam and Lisa are safe, I can deal with anything the Roaches want to throw at me."
"Oh, God, Dad." Blair wrapped his arms around his father, hugging him tightly.
Jeff hugged him back, soaking in his son's warmth, sending his reassurance through the bond. This horrible period was over. Not only were his boys here and safe, but his small family had doubled with the shy girl next to him and the strong, quiet man in the corner. There was so much life ahead of them all.
Yet in the back of his mind, Jeff knew the protection was only temporary. The Roachian threat still hung over them like a dark cloud. He had to jump into the fight again, had to find some way to safeguard the future of the four in this room and for all the other young people of the human colony. The war was not over yet.
Author's note 6/29/99: WHEW! Thought I'd never get this one done! And on that note, I'm leaving the Roachia Universe alone for a while so I can work on both the next one in the TS/MacGyver series, and a story for The Cascade Virtual Tales. Perhaps by this winter I'll have time to fit in the next Roachia story.
And for you who like these things, below is a list of the number of characters from which TV shows. Email me if you'd like the full list.
||# OF CHARACTERS
||Diagnosis Murder||0||1||0||0||Fresh Prince Of Bel Aire||0||1||0||0||MacGyver||3||4||0||2||Magnificent Seven||0||3||0||0||Nash Bridges||0||2||1||0||The Sentinel||2||3||2||3||StarGate SG-1||0||2||0||0||Star Trek: Voyager||0||4||0||0||Touched By An Angel||0||0||0||1|
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