"Not With a Whimper"

by Trudy A. Goold

Earth: Final Conflict is copyright © Tribune Entertainment and Roddenberry/Kirschner. No infringement of that copyright is intended by this story.
"Not With a Whimper" is copyright © 2000, Trudy A. Goold.
Author's Note: This story was the prize chosen by DayBlaze, winner of the PhilosophySphere Fan Fiction Forum's October 2000 Drabble Contest. She has graciously given me permission to post it here on my site.
"This is the way the world ends
"This is the way the world ends
"This is the way the world ends
"Not with a bang
"But with a whimper."
-- T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Man"
"T.S. Eliot notwithstanding, some worlds end with a scream."
-- Trudy A. Goold


Sandoval stared blankly up at the ceiling. He couldn't feel anything - not even pain.

I'm in shock, he thought distantly. And then, I'm dying.

He knew it with an absolute certainty that transcended everything else.

This had never been a Resistance safehouse, he realized that now. It had been a trap all along. Had Da'an discovered what he was doing? Was that the reason he was lying here now, bleeding to death?

"Sandoval? Sandoval!"

Wha--? Had one of the Volunteers survived? He didn't know how they could have, considering that the explosion had happened when he'd followed them into the room...

Sandoval forced himself to sit up in an effort to see who was calling. The pain hit then, pushing past his body's shock - an excrutiating wave of agony that simply confirmed what he had already known. He was dying. Not even a blue tank could save him now, Sandoval suspected - even if he ever agreed to let them put him in one of those things.

"Oh, god, Sandoval!" came the sudden exclamation, and a moment later, Major Kincaid was there, crouching next to him.

Where did he come from? Sandoval wondered, his thoughts feeling even more distant. Kincaid hadn't been on the assault team.

The Major looked over his shoulder and yelled, "Medic!" Then, returning his attention to Sandoval, he reached out to grip the FBI Agent's shoulder firmly. "Don't worry, Sandoval, we'll get you to the hospital. I've got a shuttle waiting just outside."

Sandoval managed to shake his head, very slightly, and then coughed. He recognized the metallic taste that filled his mouth - and saw a look of horror and panic cross Kincaid's face as the Major saw the blood bubbling from his lips. "Too late..." he gasped out.

Kincaid shook his head, the panic on his face becoming even more obvious. "No! It'll only take us a few minutes to get you--"

"Too late, Kincaid," Sandoval rasped. He coughed again - his lungs were filling up with blood. He'd probably broken a rib or two and punctured a lung in the explosion. "I'm dying. In... few minutes..." Another cough tore its way through him.

The panic in Kincaid's expression transformed his face into a mask of anguish.

Why is he so upset? Sandoval wondered, confused, forcing himself to concentrate. He would have thought Kincaid would be glad to see him gone - they'd been adversaries too long. He even threatened to kill me himself. So why isn't he at least the slightest bit relieved?

"You're not going to die," Kincaid growled. He twisted around. "Medic!" he yelled again.

A moment later, a Volunteer with medic's patches on his uniform appeared next to Kincaid. There was an entire squad in the room, moving around and checking the bodies, Sandoval realized with some surprise. Had Kincaid brought them with him?

The medic took one look at him, and Sandoval saw in his eyes a confirmation of what he already knew.

"I'm sorry," the medic said quietly to Kincaid as he shook his head. "There's nothing we can do. I'm surprised he's managed to last this long."

Kincaid's eyes seemed to almost glow silver-green in rage at that answer. "Get out."

"Major?" the medic asked carefully, his tone a mixture of uncertainty and apprehension.

Kincaid shot a glare around the room, his hand never leaving Sandoval's shoulder as he did so. "Get out! All of you!"

A moment later, the room was clear of all the Volunteers, and Kincaid's eyes returned to Sandoval.

"Told... you... too late..." Sandoval managed to say.

Kincaid's mouth tightened, his expression the same stubborn one Sandoval had faced on many occasions, as he took his hand away from Sandoval's shoulder and clenched it. "You're not going to die, Sandoval," he repeated grimly. "I'm not going to let you."

If he'd had the breath for it, Sandoval would have laughed. How did Kincaid expect to stop this? His death was inevitable - it had been since the moment of the explosion.

Then, suddenly, his attention was drawn to Kincaid's clenched fists. Flickers of light were shining through the Major's fingers, illuminating the entire corner of the room with a brilliant, cold white glow. "I'm not going to let you die, Sandoval," Kincaid repeated, the words sounding almost like a vow. He opened his hands, and Sandoval found himself gaping as he saw the shaqarava glowing from the center of Kincaid's palms.

"Wha--?" he gasped, and then broke off as another cough wracked his dying body.

Kincaid reached out and touched him, and everything vanished in a flare of white light.


Sandoval stared. He was standing on what looked to be thin air, in the middle of a cluster of clouds. He couldn't feel any pain, and looking down at himself, was vaguely surprised to see that he appeared to be in perfect health. He couldn't see the gaping wound the debris from the explosion had torn in his chest; in fact, even his clothes were completely immaculate.

"What is this place?"

"An... in-between dimension, I guess one could call it," came the reply from behind him, and Sandoval turned around to see Major Kincaid standing there, looking more than a little bit shaken.

Sandoval's expression hardened. "What is going on, Major?" he demanded.

Kincaid's eyes closed for a moment, and then opened again. "I... was trying to heal you," he murmured. "I don't know what's going on. This didn't happen last time."

"Heal me?" Sandoval repeated. Then, remembering what he had seen in those last few moments before the bright light, his eyes narrowed. "Just who - and what - are you, Major?"

Kincaid shook his head. "We don't have time for explanations, Sandoval! It's dangerous for you to stay here too long - and your body is dying. I have to heal it before you can return. But..." He stared down at his hands for a moment - down at his shaqarava, which were still glowing, Sandoval noticed - and swallowed, the panic Sandoval had seen earlier returning to his face. "I don't remember how. I don't remember how I did it."

"How you did what?"

"Healed Augur..." Kincaid murmured, still staring at his shaqarava.

Sandoval took a deep breath, relieved to be free of the pain - for a few moments, at least, or however long they spent in this... 'in-between dimension'. Not the most helpful of descriptions, that.

"Major... Kincaid, it's too late for anything to save me," he said firmly. "Not even a miracle - or a blue tank - could repair all the damage that's been done to my body." He felt a touch of surprise at how calm and matter-of-fact he felt about his own impending death; but, in truth, he knew he'd been living on borrowed time since his MI had ceased functioning. It had only been a matter of time before either his CVI failed completely, or the Taelons realized what he was doing.

Kincaid looked back up at him, and Sandoval was stunned to see the Major's eyes brimming with tears. "You can't die, Sandoval!"

Sandoval forced himself to chuckle dryly. "I would have thought you'd be happy to have me out of the way, Kincaid. With me gone, the threat posed to the Resistance is much less, and Zo'or will start making mistakes that will destroy all hope of the Taelons remaining on Earth."

Kincaid shook his head. "You can't die," he repeated. Then, lowering his gaze again, he whispered, "You're all I have left."

What?! Sandoval stared at Kincaid, and took a step closer. "What do you mean?" he asked, his tone softening through no conscious will of his own.

There was no answer. Instead, Kincaid closed his hands into fists, hiding the glowing shaqarava, and wrapped his arms around himself as though he were chilled.

"Kincaid..." Sandoval started, and then stopped. He could feel himself starting to grow weaker, and, remembering what Kincaid had said a few moments ago about it being dangerous for him to be here too long, realized that he was going to have to try something else if he was going to get an answer before it was too late. "Liam... what do you mean, I'm all that you have left?"

Kincaid's head jerked up, his expression startled at Sandoval's use of his first name. Startled and... almost wistful? Then he answered, and Sandoval forgot everything else that was happening in his shock at the revelation.

"Mother's dead," Kincaid whispered. "Ha'gel's dead. You're the only parent I have left. I don't want you to die, Father."

Sandoval stiffened. 'Father'?! "What-- what are you talking about?" he asked, feeling completely stunned.

Kincaid's tear-filled eyes met his. "Didn't you ever wonder why Ha'gel wanted the use of your body?" he said softly. "It wasn't to attack the Taelons - if it had been, he'd have gone immediately to the Washington Embassy. Neither Da'an nor Zo'or could have stopped him from killing them, and Boone... Boone was too busy trying to trace him." Kincaid bit his lip, in an obvious effort to keep the tears from falling.

"Ha'gel was the last of the Kimera. He was compelled by a biological imperative to preserve his species - to reproduce. He'd already tried once, with the woman Boone and the police found, but failed because neither she nor the body of his host at the time could handle the energy of a Joining. She died; he was only just able to keep his host from the same fate." The young man swallowed. "When he took the police officer as a host, to protect himself, he found out about Implants - at least, what the police knew about them. He figured that having a host and a mate with CVIs might work - and he'd be safer as an Implant than as a police officer.

"That's why he took you as a host - to create a child." Kincaid's voice lowered even further. "To create me.

"You're my father."

It was impossible - and yet, it made a certain amount of sense. It certainly explained why Kinc-- why Liam had failed to kill him when they'd confronted each other on the cargo ship where he'd been keeping Marquette and Vor'jak.

Maybe it was the fact that death was approaching, inevitable and inexorable, but Sandoval recognized that Liam was telling the truth. He really was Liam's father.

It was so bitterly ironic, that he'd find his son now, as he was dying, and realize that they could have had two years of time together, if only he'd known...

Sandoval cut that train of thought off immediately. There wasn't time to mourn lost opportunities, not now. He was getting even weaker, and he could feel himself starting to fade. He wasn't going to last much longer - and he had some things he wanted to tell his son before it was too late.

"Liam... There's nothing you can do. I'm dying. As I said, the explosion did too much damage. I just..." He hesitated for a moment. "I'm sorry... for everything."

Liam's eyes widened, and the tears started spilling down his cheeks. "No..." He reached out, and grasped Sandoval's hand in his own.

A moment later, Sandoval felt Liam's thoughts and emotions flooding through him, as his son initiated a Sharing. He could feel Liam's confusion and anger at what he'd done over the past several years... but more powerful than that, he could feel Liam's grief and panic at the thought of his death, and the love Liam felt for him, despite everything. Love... and forgiveness.

The Sharing was two-way, Sandoval knew, and he did his best to let Liam feel everything he could in the brief time he had left, even the emotions that had gone through him during the past several moments. The respect he'd always felt for 'Major Kincaid', even when they were arguing or fighting against each other; the knowledge that Liam was telling the truth; the regret he felt at the pain he'd caused his son; and the love and affection he'd felt for his then-unknown son from the moment he'd learned that he actually had a child. He poured everything - everything he'd felt, everything he'd thought, everything he'd done - into the Sharing, wanting Liam to know the truth of who he was.

As he finished, Sandoval felt a wave of love flow back to him; and, for just a moment, he glimpsed the totality of who and what his son really was - a truth that Liam himself had yet to discover.

Then the Sharing ended, and Sandoval blinked. He was once again lying in the room where the explosion had taken place, and Liam, his face streaked with tears, was bending over him, his expression desperate.

"Liam..." Sandoval lifted one hand - it felt so heavy, he could barely move it - and brushed it over Liam's cheek. "Thank you... for... telling... me..."

"Father..." It was little more than a whimper, but Sandoval recognized what he was trying to say, and smiled, even as he felt the blackness start to wrap around him.

"My... son..." he rasped, and fell into the darkness. The last thing he saw, the sight that brought him a certain peace as the darkness claimed him, was Liam's face, eyes bright with mingled love and grief.


Liam stared down at the body in his arms for a long moment, feeling nothing but the tears burning down his cheeks like acid. Sandoval - his father - the only parent he'd had left - was dead.

And Da'an was responsible.

Rage followed.

Street had been browsing through the mothership's computers when she'd found mention of a planned ambush. She'd told Liam, who had immediately taken a shuttle to the location, both of them having assumed that it was an ambush for the Resistance.

Instead, Liam had found Sandoval and a squad of Volunteers in the trap. And Da'an had been the one to send them, according to what Sandoval had given him during the Sharing.

The tears started searing down his cheeks again as he looked back down at Sandoval's - his father's - body. His rage grew hotter. How could Da'an have done this? How could he have taken Liam's last parent? Da'an knew that Sandoval was - had been - Liam's father...

It was the final straw. Da'an had betrayed him again and again. Until now, Liam had been able to rationalize it as being Da'an's effort to save his species. It had destroyed their friendship, but Liam had still trusted the Taelon - at least a little. No longer.

Yes, he knew that Sandoval had been working against the Taelons - that had become obvious when he'd found out what his father had done to Lili, and the Sharing had just confirmed it - but even that wasn't enough to forgive Da'an.

The Taelons had killed his Kimera parent - indirectly, admittedly, but they had been responsible for his death as surely as if one of them had fired the gun that had sent Ha'gel into the Void. They had been ultimately responsible for his mother's death, as the breakdown of Beckett's CVI had been what had killed her. And now, they - Da'an - had killed his father.

They'd taken everything from him: his parents, his friends, his species... his childhood. His innocence. His trust. All any of them - including Da'an - had given him in return was pain and betrayal.

Laying his father's body gently down on the floor, Liam stood up, his face a mask of rage eased only by the tears still pouring down his cheeks. Looking down at his hands, he studied his shaqarava for a moment. He'd been too intent on trying to heal Sandoval to be surprised when they had activated before. Now, with the rage running through him, he didn't care about the fact that he'd been wrong about becoming more human.

Right now, he had to make sure that the Taelons couldn't use his father any longer.

Taking two steps back, he activated his shaqarava, and fired them at Sandoval's body - not powerfully enough to disintegrate it, just enough to start it burning. A pyre - something from both his mother's and Ha'gel's memories - a traditional funeral for an ancient Celtic king, or for an honoured Kimeran host. And for the skrills, as well, he recalled, from his Sharing with the Skrill Queen - it was a sign of deepest respect, to be granted the release to one's journey to the gods by the energy of a loved one. Only fitting, Liam felt, for the man his father had been before the Taelons, and the man he had been trying to become again.

Watching the flames leap higher, Liam felt the rage mix with his grief at his father's death, and the combined emotions surged through him, almost as though they were trying to follow the flames up into the heavens.

{FATHER!}


Da'an watched Zo'or walk around the mothership's bridge, concerned. Things were not going well. The Commonality had become dangerously weakened - and Zo'or was encouraging that weakening, in the absurd belief that it would serve to strengthen their species. Too many Taelons had gone into hibernation - they had lost too much core energy. And Zo'or - his child - had... had killed T'than, a fellow Taelon. No, things were very definitely not going well.

The Jaridians' trick and their reception upon their return to Earth had not helped the situation. Nor had Agent Sandoval's actions. In fact, Da'an had begun to suspect that Sandoval was deliberately working to make the entire situation worse. And between that, and the constant temptation of the kryss that the human Implant had continued to offer him, Da'an had made the decision that Sandoval was a liability - a very serious one.

The explosive he had arranged to be in the isolated house he'd directed Sandoval and his team to had been detonated ten minutes ago - as soon as Agent Sandoval had walked into the room where it was located. If Sandoval wasn't yet dead, he wouldn't last much longer.

Da'an didn't particularly like the idea of being directly responsible for another death - but Agent Sandoval was simply too dangerous to permit him to continue what he was doing.

Sandoval had his own agenda, Da'an knew; and judging from his actions over the past two years - particularly what had been done to Lili Marquette - and what he had been manipulating Zo'or into, it didn't involve the survival of the Taelon race. Da'an had not really had that much of a choice if he wanted the Taelons to survive - particularly as he had been the only one able to see what the Implant was doing.

Walking over to the virtual glass window that looked down on Earth, Da'an couldn't help but wonder how Liam would take his human father's death. The two of them had never been allies, except perhaps during the Bliss epidemic; in fact, more often than not they'd been adversaries, if not outright enemies.

But then, the same was true of himself and Zo'or - and Liam had never tried to kill Sandoval. Even when Liam and Renee Palmer had come to rescue Lili, the young hybrid hadn't been able to fire directly at Sandoval.

So how would he react?

"Da'an, you have not yet given me your answer concerning the Essence Project," Zo'or commented suddenly.

That was another thing. This 'Essence Project' of Zo'or's - it was dangerous. It could potentially result in the complete disintegration of the Commonality. And it was a project that Sandoval had been supporting.

Da'an was just turning around to respond when it happened.

{FATHER!}

The cry, and the torrent of mingled grief and rage that accompanied it, reverberated through the Commonality, and Da'an felt his fašade vanish under the force of it. On the other side of the bridge, Zo'or staggered, losing his own fašade.

"What was that? Who was that?" Zo'or demanded unsteadily, slipping into Eunoia.

"I do not know," Da'an lied, shaken.

He did know; he knew exactly who it was. The mental scream had carried with it the sense of Liam's presence. The hybrid had obviously found out that Sandoval was dead - and was not taking it well at all.

In fact, he'd just revealed his existence to the entire Commonality. There was no possibility that the emotions that had just ravaged the Commonality could be Taelon in origin - they were too strong, too powerful. Not even Zo'or could have produced them. And as soon as the rest of the Commonality recovered from the shock, they would know that as well.

And knowing that there was a non-Taelon with access to the Commonality, they would search; which would result, sooner or later, in Liam's link to the Commonality - and his identity as Ha'gel's son - being discovered. He was in serious danger.

"We must find out," Zo'or said firmly, interrupting Da'an's thoughts. He had managed to regain his fašade, but he still looked... unsteady, Da'an reflected. Not that it was a surprise. Not even he had known that Liam was so strong - or could have such an effect on the Commonality. He should have, however.

"Perhaps..." Da'an began, hoping that he could forestall Zo'or long enough for him to warn Liam, but he trailed off as it became obvious that Zo'or wasn't listening to him.

A moment later, Zo'or's order rang through the Commonality. {Find the intruder!}


"Major?" said a quiet, almost hesitant voice from behind him.

It took a minute, but Liam finally managed to pull his eyes away from the smouldering embers of his father's funeral pyre. He turned around slowly, keeping his hands clenched - his shaqarava weren't active at the moment, but he didn't trust himself enough just now to keep it that way.

The Volunteer standing there was Lieutenant Shannon Breckner, the leader of the squad he'd called in from the nearby town as soon as he'd discovered that it was Sandoval who had been ambushed.

"What is it, Lieutenant?" he demanded harshly. He was distantly surprised at his tone, but at the moment, he couldn't care enough to soften it.

Breckner's eyes flickered toward the corner, and then came back to him. "What happened here, sir?"

Was she asking about the explosion, or about the pyre? Not that it really mattered.

"Agent Sandoval is dead," Liam said flatly.

Breckner nodded slowly. The medic had probably given her his analysis of the condition Sandoval had been in after Liam had ordered them to get out.

"We should take the bodies back to the mothership, sir," the lieutenant suggested.

It appeared that the pyre had been a good choice. He definitely hadn't wanted the Taelons to get their hands on his father's body. "Of course. I'll prep the shuttle. We can leave as soon as you're ready."

Without looking back, he strode out of the room, out of the house, and headed straight for the shuttle - a multi-passenger one he'd brought when he'd thought that he'd need to evacuate a Resistance cell. It would serve just as well to take the Volunteers and the bodies of the squad Sandoval had brought with him up to the mothership.

Liam had just sat down in the pilot's seat and begun activating the shuttle's systems when his global beeped.

Opening it, he was surprised to see Zo'or. The Taelon looked... nervous, almost, Liam thought, wondering distantly what was going on.

"Yes, Zo'or?" he inquired, with an enforced calm.

"Your presence is required on the mothership, Major," Zo'or ordered.

"Why?"

"It will be explained when you arrive," Zo'or replied. "And do you know where Agent Sandoval is, Major? I have been unable to reach him."

Well, that's no surprise, since his global was destroyed in the explosion... Liam thought, clenching his fists again in an effort to distract himself from the pain. "I regret to inform you that Agent Sandoval and the squad of Volunteers that were with him are dead," he said, his tone made flat by his effort to keep the pain out of his voice.

Zo'or frowned, looking more irritated than anything else. "Then it is all the more imperative that you come immediately, Major."

"As soon as--" Liam began.

"Immediately, Major," Zo'or repeated, and cut the connection.

Great. This is not what I need right now.

"Of course, Zo'or. Whatever you say, Zo'or," Liam muttered savagely, as he got out of his seat and gestured to Lt. Breckner, who was standing just outside the house supervising the removal of the bodies.

"Sir?" Breckner asked.

"I've been ordered to return to the mothership immediately," Liam explained, for once letting the sardonic contempt he felt at Zo'or's order remain in his voice. "I'll send another pilot down from the mothership to pick you up."

"Of course, sir," the lieutenant replied, eyeing him uncertainly.

Liam ignored the lieutenant's confusion at his tone. Instead, he simply gestured for her to move back as he sat back down, brought up the virtual glass windshield, and took off.


As he walked onto the mothership's bridge, Liam felt a flicker of surprise through the grief and rage that still burned bright within him.

The entire Synod - what remained of it, at least - was gathered at one end of the bridge, and all of them appeared to be extremely agitated.

I wonder what happened? Liam reflected as he strode over. "You sent for me, Zo'or?"

Zo'or turned to face him, as did Da'an. Liam ignored the North American Companion completely, purposefully keeping his attention focused on Zo'or. He had nothing to say to Da'an at the moment.

"Yes, Major," Zo'or replied. The Taelon appeared to be calm, but with an insight Liam hadn't realized he possessed until this moment, he was able to tell that Zo'or was anything but. In fact - Liam's eyes flickered around the rest of the Synod - Zo'or was the most agitated Taelon present. "Your promptness is exemplary."

Laying it on rather thick, aren't you, Zo'or? Liam thought cynically, with a bitter undertone. Yet more manipulation from the Taelons. Didn't Zo'or ever get tired of it? What are you expecting me to do? Become your lapdog?

"With Agent Sandoval's death," Liam winced, even as he noticed that most of the rest of the Synod was surprised by Zo'or's statement, "you are the senior Companion-Protector. As such, it will be your responsibility to handle the investigation of the current situation."

"Which is?" Liam inquired, in what he hoped was a cool, calm tone. He'd never really needed to hide his emotions before, but now... now it was imperative that he do so. He couldn't appear to be other than the perfect Protector - at least for the present. Sandoval's memories and the Sharing were coming in handy at the moment.

"There was an intruder in the Commonality," Zo'or declared.

It was a very good thing that he'd already 'pulled on the mask', so to speak, Liam reflected, as he took in Zo'or's statement. The timing of this was no coincidence; he must have unconsciously projected his cry into the Commonality. Not a very wise thing to have done - though 'wisdom' hadn't exactly been what he'd been feeling at the time.

"We believe it to be another human telepath, like Katya Petrenko," Zo'or was continuing, as Liam returned his attention to the Synod Leader. "You are to concentrate your attention on an active search for the intruder, Major."

"Forgive me, Zo'or, but if it is a human telepath, how am I to find them?" Liam asked, keeping his tone respectful - but not too much so. No sense in alerting Zo'or that something had changed - not yet, at least. "During the situation with Katya Petrenko, you and Da'an were able to get physically close enough to her to determine that she was the intruder only because of the conference. It won't be that easy this time." Particularly not as you're looking in the wrong direction, he added to himself. Not that I'm going to be giving you that information...

"It is quite likely that this particular telepath has just lost a parent," Zo'or replied, and Liam bit at his lower lip in an effort not to react to the statement. If he'd had any doubt at all that he was the 'intruder' Zo'or was talking about, it was now erased. "That should be sufficient information to narrow your search, Major. And we will remain alert for any future intrusions."

Thanks for the warning, Zo'or. "Then, with your permission, I will get the search started now," Liam said. Zo'or nodded, gesturing dismissively with one hand as he turned back to the rest of the Synod, and Liam strode off the bridge, heading directly for his father's office.

He'd get the information on the search for Katya Petrenko and use that as a baseline to see if he couldn't work out something to stall the Taelons and Zo'or; and then he'd figure out what he was going to do next.


Da'an watched with a certain amount of concern and trepidation as Liam left the bridge, ignoring the murmuring of the other members of the Synod. They were discussing the situation amongst themselves, trying to decide on how exactly to handle setting up a 'trap' within the Commonality for the intruder - something he was going to have to warn Liam about.

His Protector's reactions had been... wrong, he realized after a moment of reflection, as he tried to work out what had been bothering him. The scene he had just witnessed - it would not have seemed strange had it taken place between Agent Sandoval and Zo'or, rather than Liam and Zo'or. Not that Zo'or had noticed anything unusual...

He needed to talk to Liam; find out what had happened, what had brought on the violently emotional outburst that was even now sending ripples of shock through the Synod, and the Commonality as a whole.

Da'an drifted away from the rest of the Synod and walked off the bridge, heading in the direction that Liam had taken.

About two minutes later, he found Liam standing outside Agent Sandoval's office.

"Liam?"

His Protector didn't respond, his gaze never wavering from the door.

"Liam?" Da'an repeated. When that still didn't get a response, he sharpened his tone. "Major!"

At that, Liam turned around to look at him, and Da'an found himself taking a step back in surprise - and not a little fear - at the cold, baleful look in Liam's eyes. The young hybrid had never looked at him like that - not even after his betrayal of the Resistance last year.

"What is wrong, Liam?"

Liam just looked at him. "What's wrong?" he repeated tensely, his eyes narrowing. "You know perfectly well what's wrong, Da'an. Sandoval's dead."

Da'an felt a surge of unease go through him. Liam was not reacting as he'd expected him to. "If you wish to speak about it--"

At that, the young hybrid laughed harshly. "You and I have absolutely nothing to discuss, Da'an. Nothing at all. Not now. It's too late for that."

"Liam, I don't understa--"

Abruptly, a cold white light flared from Liam's palms as his shaqarava activated. "Who sent Sandoval to investigate that house, under the pretext that it was a Resistance safehouse, Da'an?" the hybrid demanded coldly, raising his hands so that his shaqarava were pointing directly at the Taelon.

He knows... Da'an realized. If Liam chose to fire, there was no way he could evade the blast. It would kill him as surely as the explosive he'd arranged for had killed Sandoval.

They stayed frozen in that position for a long moment, and then the glow from Liam's shaqarava vanished as he lowered his hands again. "You and I have nothing to discuss," Liam repeated, and then turned away, opening the door to Sandoval's office and walking in.

Da'an stood and watched, even as the door closed behind the young hybrid, and found himself wondering what he was to do now.


Liam looked around carefully as soon as the elevator doors opened, and then let himself relax for the first time since Street had called him about the ambush when he realized that there was no one around. He finally had a chance to let go of the grief he felt.

He'd spent the past five hours up on the mothership, carefully setting up a search for the non-existent human telepath. It would look efficient enough to satisfy Zo'or, but would give him two or three days to figure out how he was going to handle the current situation, and what he was going to do afterwards.

Although he'd been alone in his father's office for most of that time, he hadn't dared give in to his grief. There had been too great a chance that someone - one of the Volunteers or a Taelon - would come in; and there were only six people still alive who might understand his mourning for Sandoval. To everyone else, he and Sandoval had disliked each other intensely at best, and despised each other at worst.

And even to those that knew, how could he explain that while he'd hated what Sandoval had done, he'd never given up on the slight hope that his father could change, could start working for humanity - could learn to love Liam as his son?

It was too late for most of that now - Da'an had taken it away from them.

His only consolation was the same one he'd had when his mother had died. They'd both been told the truth before death claimed them - and both had, in those last few moments, seen and accepted him for who he really was - their son.

At the same time, that made the grief even harder to bear. In some ways, it might have been easier had Sandoval not accepted him; because then, he wouldn't be feeling the overwhelming loss of what could have been, had his father survived.

Going over to the couch, Liam sat down and pulled his legs up against his chest, wrapping his arms tightly around them and resting his chin on his knees. It was then, finally, that the tears he'd been holding back since Sandoval's pyre had burned out started pouring down his cheeks as he wept silently.


The sound of the elevator rumbling down the shaft from the church above woke Liam immediately. Pushing himself into a sitting position, he rubbed his face with his hands.

He felt groggy and sleep-mazed; obviously, crying oneself to sleep didn't lead to a refreshing rest. His throat was tight, his eyes felt hot and swollen, and he could feel more tears pricking at the insides of his eyelids.

From behind him, he heard the sound of the elevator door opening, and turned around to see who had just arrived.

"There you are, Liam!" Renee exclaimed briskly as she exited the elevator, a definite bounce to her step. Something had her excited... She was followed a moment later by Street, who looked equally pleased. "We've been looking all over for you! Have you heard the latest news?"

Liam was groggy and grief-stricken enough to not connect Renee's obvious excitement with the shocking events of the last several hours. "Huh?" he mumbled, rubbing his eyes again in a fruitless attempt to ease the hot ache.

"Sandoval's dead!" Renee declared.

Liam felt himself go white as Renee's words brought the full force of his grief crashing down on him again. Struggling past it, he murmured, "I know."

"Do you realize what an opportunity this could be?" Renee steam-rollered on, and Liam winced.

He could understand Renee's point of view - after all, Sandoval had from all appearances been one of the worst enemies of the Resistance - but the fact that she was talking about this now, when the pain of Sandoval's death was still so raw, was almost unbearable.

"Not now, Renee," he managed to say, his voice tight in an effort to keep the pain and grief he felt from showing.

"Liam, listen to me. With Sandoval dead, we have a chance to move you into a position of power in the Taelon hierar--"

"I said, not now," Liam snapped.

"Why not?" Renee asked, her tone one of curiosity, while Street looked between the two of them in obvious confusion. "It's the perfect time... things will be in serious disarray with--"

"Shut up!" Liam snarled, fighting back the tears that wanted to continue falling. Renee knew that Sandoval was his father, knew that that was how Liam had regarded him - why was she insisting on discussing this right now?

Renee frowned. "Liam, I know this--"

"No, you don't know! You don't know anything about it!" Then Liam took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. Screaming at Renee wouldn't get him anywhere, and the situation would only add to Street's already considerable curiosity about him. Calm, I've got to stay calm... Renee can't understand how it feels.

No one can.

He was only two years old, and he'd just lost his sole surviving parent. And while his emotions and thought-processes weren't those of a normal two-year-old, at the moment he felt very much his age.

He'd have to deal with the Taelons and the Resistance and Renee again soon, Liam knew, but right now, he wanted to be left alone to mourn his father. The morning - and with it, the rest of the world - would come soon enough.

"Go away."

"Liam--" Renee tried again.

"Just... go away, Renee. Take Street with you. Leave me alone.

"And don't worry about your precious plans," he added snidely - he knew his tone wasn't particularly nice, but at least it was better than screaming at her. "Zo'or's already made it fairly clear that he expects me to take over for... Agent Sandoval."

"Then--" Renee started.

Liam looked up at her, and saw Renee take an involuntary step back. "Go away, and leave me alone!"


Renee stared.

Right now, she found it very easy to believe that Liam was part-alien. His expression was so full of rage that she could hardly believe that the man in front of her really was Liam. She'd never seen him this angry before. His mouth was tight, angry, and his eyes appeared to be glowing a brilliant silver-green. He looked as though he was only just keeping his rage under control - a control that appeared to be stretched to the limit, judging from the way he was acting.

"Go away!" Liam shouted furiously, and Renee found herself backing up toward the elevator without even having made the conscious decision to move. Street was right next to her, looking both stunned and more than a little terrified at the change in Liam.

As soon as the elevator doors had closed between them and Liam, Street turned to her. "What was that all about?" the teenager demanded.

"I... don't know," Renee replied, still very shaken.

Yes, she was aware of the fact that Liam, for some inexplicable reason, considered Sandoval to be his father. She knew that he and Augur had told her the truth about his parentage - she'd confirmed it with Jonathan, who had shown her the security record of Liam's birth and rapid growth - but she still didn't understand why Liam felt that way. From what the three men had told her - Jonathan independent of the other two - Sandoval had simply been a genetic donor. She really couldn't conceive of any reason that Liam would even want to claim Sandoval as a father.

And yet, it was apparent that he did.

I'm going to have to be patient with him for a bit, obviously, Renee thought unhappily. She had no real interest in indulging Liam in a pity party, but it was clear from his reactions that she was going to have to deal with the Resistance alone for a few days.

I just hope this doesn't last too long.

"C'mon, Renee, what's up with Liam? I would've thought he'd be pleased that Agent Sandoval is out of the way," Street declared.

Renee shrugged as the elevator reached the main level. "I honestly don't know, Street," she replied. "I would've thought the same thing. After all, Sandoval was an enemy."


As soon as Renee and Street disappeared into the elevator, Liam curled back up on the couch.

Renee's reactions had hurt. He'd thought that she'd understood the fact that Sandoval was just as much his father as Ha'gel - maybe even more so, since he'd tried so hard to push away the Kimera side of his heritage. Unsuccessfully, he added to himself, glancing down at his hands - and the mark of his shaqarava - for a moment.

Resting his head on the back of the couch, Liam closed his eyes for a moment. Augur would understand, he thought miserably. So would Lili. Even after what Sandoval did to her.

I think...

But would anyone else? Liam opened his eyes and stared blankly at the wall straight ahead.

There were only six people who knew the truth. He was pretty sure that Lili and Augur would believe that he had a reason to mourn - that he was right to mourn. So would doctors Park and Belman; Liam was fairly confident of that.

On the other hand were Da'an and Renee. Renee had walked in, excited about the opportunities that his father's death would give them, not even bothering to hide it - or even be at least a touch sympathetic, for his sake; and Da'an...

Da'an had been the one to kill his father. Da'an, who'd been almost like an adoptive parent to him, who'd helped him deal with the Kimera side of his heritage... whom he'd begun to trust again... Da'an had been the one who had betrayed him completely.

For a moment, Liam almost wished that he had fired his shaqarava at Da'an. A death for a death...

The problem was that that was how wars got started, and his entire life - all two years of it - his focus had been on stopping the fighting and the deaths, not adding to them. Killing Da'an wouldn't have solved anything, wouldn't have even made him feel better, and would have definitely reduced the chance of him making his own choices about what happened next.

And it would have killed him. It would have been so completely against what he believed in, killing in cold blood, that Liam knew it would have eaten at him, destroyed him from the inside out.

He didn't want to think about this.

Closing his eyes again, Liam tried to let himself drift off to sleep - an effort doomed to failure.

Sandoval is dead. My father is dead!

The thought seared through him, forcing him back to complete wakefulness.

Tears burned his eyes again, and Liam impatiently brushed his hand over his face. Much as he appreciated the release crying gave him, he couldn't keep dissolving into tears. And he obviously wasn't going to be able to get back to sleep.

Staring up at the ceiling, Liam finally found himself wondering what he should do next.

He couldn't remain a Companion-Protector. That much was certain. The way he felt right now, one disagreement with Zo'or, or Mit'gai, or... Da'an, and he'd blast them. Not to mention the fact that eventually, no matter how well he managed to conceal himself, his link to the Commonality would be discovered by the Synod. He'd be seized and killed; or, worse yet, used in the Taelons' experiments.

Not something he intended to let happen.

So he couldn't stay with the Taelons, although he doubted that Zo'or, much less Da'an, would be willing to let him just leave. Especially with the added trust Zo'or had been giving him lately, and the matter of Ma'el's artifact... And Da'an knew who and what he was, and had stated more than once his belief that Liam was the bridge between Taelons and humanity - the savior of the Taelons.

Only... I don't think I want to save them anymore. Not after what Da'an's done.

It wasn't overly fair to condemn the entire race based on the actions of one member - but then again, Liam had always regarded Da'an to be the best of the Taelons, the one most willing to treat humanity as allies rather than as puppets or slaves. Even after Da'an's betrayal of the Resistance - the betrayal that had resulted in more high-ranking deaths than the crackdown, and all of them on his head - Liam had still believed.

But now, with his father's death, Liam knew he couldn't take any more. Da'an had hurt him again and again - maybe not always intentionally, but had hurt him nonetheless - and all of Liam's instincts were telling him that he was very close to the breaking point; that if he was pressed any further, he'd go over. And a flicker of a memory from Ha'gel told him that that would be a very bad thing.

As for the Resistance...

He'd never meant to become the leader of the Resistance. He'd been quite happy maintaining a distant relationship, working with the Resistance through Augur and Lili. But when Doors had decided to come out of hiding and run for President, Hayley and Lili between them had decided that he was the one who should be the new leader. He'd only been a few months old at the time.

And he'd never really been much more than a figurehead anyway. Oh, most of the 'official' Resistance looked up to him as their leader, and he'd been the one to give them the contact with Operation Dark Knight - but the 'official' Resistance wasn't even the half of it. Doors had had numerous other groups scattered all over the world, and he'd remained very firmly in command of them.

And then, when Doors had had to retreat into the background after the crackdown, he'd sent Renee to take over where he'd left off. And once again, Liam had ended up as little more than a figurehead, being used by Renee and Doors.

I'm probably making the entire situation out to be worse than it is, he reflected. But then again... that's exactly how I feel, looking back on everything. Like I've been used. By almost everyone. Da'an, Doors, Renee, Zo'or, even Sandoval at times...

"I'm only two years old," he murmured. "I should be learning to read, playing with friends, watching cartoons, being with my p-parents..." I shouldn't have the fates of three races on my shoulders. I shouldn't be all alone, with no one to turn to...

I want my mother, not a distant star I can only see during the night. I want my fathers, not just the memories they've left me and a heritage that both connects me to and isolates me from every other living being in the universe. I want my childhood, the one I was never given a chance to experience because of the Taelons. I want...

I want to leave.


Renee leaned back in her chair and stared at the screen for a moment, and then returned her gaze to Street.

"Da'an?!" she repeated in disbelief, stunned by what the young hacker had just shown her.

Street nodded. "Da'an," she confirmed.

Well, if Liam knows, at least this explains why he's so upset, Renee reflected. Despite everything the Taelons in general and Da'an in particular had done, Liam had still, even after the events of the past several months, trusted Da'an. Sandoval, although not completely loyal to the Taelons, had still been apparently willing to do their dirty work; to discover that Da'an had ignored that fact and had him killed must have been a tremendous shock.

Always assuming, of course, that Liam did know.

Liam.

Renee sighed and rested her chin on her fist. For the past two days, ever since Sandoval's death and her own mis-step, Liam had spent almost all his time on the mothership. She'd only spoken to him once since he'd blown up at her, and that had been this afternoon, when he'd called and curtly informed her that Zo'or had promoted him to Sandoval's position, thus putting him in command of all Volunteer activities.

Renee had been delighted at the news - having the leader of the Resistance in charge of the Volunteers would make things a great deal easier for them - but her delight had been tempered with a great deal of worry.

Liam had been a mess. In fact, with the heavy bags under his bloodshot eyes and his drawn, almost gaunt face, Liam had looked like an absolute wreck. She'd suggested that he go home to sleep, at which point he'd refused quite snappishly and cut the connection.

And that was another worry. Liam never got angry - and never stayed angry for this long. Or, at least, he never had in the year and a half or so that Renee had known him, and even Jonathan - for whom Liam had obviously had little patience and less affection - had considered him to be easygoing. He was, she had believed, incapable of holding a grudge.

But now...

I'm beginning to think that he does need a break, Renee thought grimly. He certainly can't keep going the way he is at the moment... If he doesn't get some rest, pretty soon he's going to end up making a mistake, whether due to exhaustion or ang--

"Are you listening to me?" Street demanded suddenly.

Renee blinked as the question brought her out of her train of thought. "Oh, sorry, Street. What were you saying?"

The teenager looked irritated. "I said, for some reason, someone on the mothership is doing a search on all known human psychics."

Renee frowned. "Psychics?" she repeated. "Why would they be doing that?"

Street shrugged. "Maybe Liam knows," the hacker suggested. "After all, he's now the top Companion-Protector, isn't he?"

Yes, Liam probably did know. Or if he had no idea that this was going on, he should be informed.

Opening her global, Renee dialed Liam's number.


He was standing in the middle of an empty field. The grass had the pure green coloration that he associated with Ireland and his mother.

Looking around, Liam caught sight of a figure in the distance - a figure that appeared quite familiar. Shrugging to himself as he wondered who it was, he started off in that direction.

Liam was about halfway across the field when the figure turned to face him; and when he saw the other's face, Liam stopped so suddenly that he fell to his knees, stunned.

"Liam! Liam... it's all right," Sandoval said, crouching down next to him and reaching out to gently grip his shoulder.

"F-Father?" Liam questioned, as tears began to gather once again in his eyes. Then, hesitantly: "T-this is a dream, isn't it."

"Mostly," Sandoval agreed. His tone was serious, but there was a fondness in his expression that Liam had never dared to even hope for.

"M-mostly?" Liam repeated, blinking rapidly in an effort to keep the tears from falling. "W-what do you mean, m-mostly?"

"Part of this," his father said, gesturing at the field they were in and the surrounding countryside, "is, indeed, a dream. I suspect that if we were to walk over that hill," he pointed to a small hill at the far end of the field - where Liam had started - "we would see the house where your mother grew up.

"I, on the other hand, am not a dream - not precisely," Sandoval continued. "I'm... more like the vision you had of Ha'gel - created for this dream from your inherited memories and what you received from me during the Sharing." He reached over and brushed his hand against Liam's cheek, wiping away the single tear that had begun to fall. "Liam, you have within you everything that I was, up to the very minute of my death - just as you do from your mother, and from Ha'gel up to the moment of your conception. As you get older, you will be able to consciously call on those memories, those experiences, to help you."

Liam nodded, though he wasn't really paying all that much attention to what his father was saying. "I-I miss you."

"I know, Liam," Sandoval said quietly. "But I want you to remember that in every way that counts - in your heart, and in your memories - I'm still with you."

Liam's tears began to flow in earnest at that, but they were... gentler, somehow, than the tears he'd cried before. The white-hot force of his fury, which had been the focus of his existence for the past two days, had ebbed somewhat, he realized. Oh, the rage was still there, inside him, biding its time - but right now, what he felt most was sorrow.

His father just stayed there next to him, waiting patiently until the silent tears stopped flowing.

Liam spoke first. "What should I do now?"

"What do you want to do?" his father countered.

Liam looked over at him for a moment, and then averted his eyes and said quietly, "Leave." Afraid that Sandoval would think he was just trying to run away - after all, Sandoval had spent the past two years fighting against the Taelons, willing to destroy his own integrity and peace of mind to ensure that humanity was safe - he added, "Too much has happened. I can't trust Da'an any more, and I just can't handle--"

He stopped as Sandoval put one hand against his cheek and turned his head so that they were back to facing each other again.

"Then you leave," Sandoval said, his tone gentle. "Quite frankly, Liam, even before I died, I was surprised that you hadn't left the Companion-Protector program and disappeared months ago. Now that I know everything you've been through..." He shook his head. "I can only say that your courage amazes me."

"Y-you're not upset w-with me?" Liam asked.

His father sighed softly. "Liam, you're only two. You've had the responsibilities of a Companion-Protector since you were little more than a day old, and you became the leader of the Resistance - with a whole other set of responsibilities - when you were only a few months old. That's too much for any one person to handle, no matter how gifted.

"Humans, with very few exceptions, don't take on that type of responsibility until at least their twenties. For Kimera, according to your memories, it's even longer." Sandoval sighed again. "You were forced into a series of serious and potentially dangerous situations, and you've coped astonishingly well for two years. But you should never have been in that situation in the first place.

"So no, I'm not upset - nor am I disappointed. I'm proud at what you've managed to accomplish, both with the Taelons and with the Resistance.

"But there are other perfectly capable people out there. If you leave, you won't be abandoning them, Liam. You may even come back one day.

"If you want to leave, you should leave."

Liam nodded slowly. "But... how?"

His father smiled and started to answer... and a loud buzzing noise abruptly invaded the dream. Liam found the noise pulling him back towards wakefulness, and tried desperately to hold on to the dream.

"Remember, Liam. Remember," his father called, just before vanishing with the rest of the dreamscape.


Liam jerked his head up from the desk where it had been resting, staring wildly around Sand-- his office in an effort to locate the buzzing sound, pushing the - dream? vision? - out of his mind for the time being.

After about a minute, he finally noticed his global off to one side of the desk. That was the source of the noise that had woken him.

Opening it, Liam somehow wasn't surprised to see Renee on the other end.

"Renee," he said curtly. He was still angry with her, but the control he'd found over his rage in the dream was still with him, and he was at least able to refrain from disconnecting the call immediately.

"Liam, Street's just found something I think you should know about," Renee told him.

"What?"

Renee grimaced slightly at his abrupt tone. "For some reason, someone on the mothership is running a detailed search on all human psychics."

Liam blinked. "And?" Why had Renee called about that?

"I thought you should be aware of it," Renee said. "We need to find out why--"

"Renee," Liam interrupted her firmly, "I'm running that search."

It was Renee's turn to be surprised. "You?" she repeated. When Liam simply nodded, she continued, "But why?"

Liam shrugged. "It's a long story. Essentially, Zo'or believes that the Commonality was breached by a human telepath, and he's ordered me to find out who's responsible. The Synod is afraid that it might be another like Katya Petrenko."

Renee's eyes gleamed with a sudden excitement. "If that's true, we need to find whoever it is before the Taelons do. Can you get me the results of your search as soon as you have them?"

Should he tell Renee that he was the 'human telepath'?

No. Not yet, came the thought. Following on its heels was another, and Liam's eyes widened as he suddenly realized what his father's last words in the dream meant.

"Liam?" Renee questioned.

"I'll talk to you later, Renee," Liam said hurriedly, and closed the global.

Now I know what to do.


Liam paid no attention whatsoever to the Volunteers he passed on his way from the security office to the bridge. His emotions were a peculiar mixture of rage and anticipation, and he couldn't seem to concentrate on anything except what was about to happen.

Reaching the entrance to the bridge, he paused, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. This was the point of no return. Within the next several minutes it would finally all be over, one way or the other.

He'd been up for the better part of last night after Renee's call, making his preparations. Now, finally, everything was ready - and just in time. The search program he'd been running had finished just over an hour ago, and now he had to present the results to Zo'or and the Synod.

And are they ever in for a surprise, Liam reflected, as he tapped his fingers against his global. A huge surprise.

He was about to take the biggest gamble of his young life, with the only guarantee of his success being Ha'gel's memory of how it had been done before. And if he didn't succeed, he'd be dead.

But he had no other options remaining. Neither the Taelons nor the Resistance would ever let him go if things remained as they were. With his father's death, and his subsequent promotion, he'd become much too valuable to both parties. So this was, really, his only choice. The only one that would leave him sane at the end of it, at least - assuming he succeeded.

Stilling his fingers, Liam straightened up, throwing back his shoulders, and took another deep breath before walking forward. It's time for Da'an and the rest of the Taelons to learn just what they've done to themselves...


The mothership's bridge was unusually busy for this time of day; the entire Synod, as well as two squads of Volunteers, was there, waiting. The tension levels were exceedingly high.

Da'an looked away from his favourite view of Earth through the virtual glass windows and toward the entrance of the bridge as Liam walked in.

Over the past three days, while his Protector had 'investigated' the matter of the intruder in the Commonality, Da'an hadn't had the chance to try to speak to him; although, truth to tell, he hadn't really tried all that hard. Not after their 'discussion' outside Agent Sandoval's - now Liam's - office. But he wanted the chance to explain to Liam why he'd done what he had.

He started to head toward the young Protector - but stopped, frozen in place, when Liam looked at him. The light grey-green eyes were cold and hard, and Da'an could see nothing but hatred in the pale depths.

Hatred? the Taelon thought in shock. Liam had never hated, not even when he would have been perfectly justified in feeling that way.

Not until now, that is, he corrected himself, beginning to understand the sheer magnitude of the damage he'd done to his relationship with the young hybrid when he'd arranged for Sandoval's death.

Then his attention was pulled to the centre of the bridge as Zo'or stood up.

"Major Kincaid," the Synod Leader began calmly, "you said that you had made progress in your search for the intruder?"

"I have found some information on the situation, yes," Liam replied calmly. He looked around the bridge, and Da'an felt a shiver go through him as the cold eyes met his for a moment. Something was wrong... very wrong...

"And?" Zo'or demanded, gesturing for the Protector to continue with his report.

Liam's gaze returned to the Synod Leader. "I have completed the search on all known human psychics, and none of them fit the profile you described to me."

Zo'or was obviously displeased by this - as was the rest of the Synod.

Go carefully, Liam...

"So you have been unable to establish the identity of the intruder, Major?" Zo'or snapped.

Liam's expression was still calm - a mask, much like that his human father had often donned, Da'an recognized, feeling uneasy. He didn't like the way Liam seemed to be taking on many of Agent Sandoval's mannerisms. "I didn't say that, Zo'or," Liam declared. "All I said was that none of the known human psychics fits the profile you provided me with.

"As it happens, I have discovered who was responsible for the intrusion."

Da'an stared at his Protector in shock. "You've what?!" he exclaimed, unable to prevent the incredulity he felt from seeping into his voice. Was Liam going to lie and give up one of his fellow humans to save himself? It was something that Agent Sandoval might have done...

"I've found out who was responsible for the intrusion," Liam repeated calmly. He met Da'an's eyes directly, and for just a moment, Da'an saw past the hate to the determination that lay behind it... and felt shock go through him again.

No! Liam, you can't--! he thought desperately.

"Excellent, Major," Zo'or was saying. "I commend you on your performance. Have a squad of Volunteers arrest the perpetrator."

"I can't do that."

Silence fell across the entire bridge. The blunt statement had startled not only Zo'or, but everyone else there - and made Da'an even more nervous for Liam. What was the hybrid thinking? He couldn't mean to simply reveal himself, could he?!

"I gave you an order, Major," Zo'or stated, drawing himself up.

"I know," Liam replied. "But it is one I cannot and will not obey."

The Volunteers were all gaping at him in disbelief, obviously stunned at this show of defiance. The rest of the Synod was equally stunned - except for Zo'or, who was clearly furious.

And Da'an himself, who was rapidly growing more and more fearful - although he wasn't entirely sure whether the fear was for Liam, or for what Liam might do.


"Besides," Liam continued, forcing his tone to remain casual as he did the one thing that had terrified him since the day he'd been born, "what would be the point? I'm right here."

The silence on the bridge seemed to be even more profound this time, as the implications of what he had just said sank in.

"Liam, this is not a matter for jokes," Da'an said abruptly. Liam could hear both concern and fear in the Taelon's voice.

Only I'm not buying the concern, not any more - and you're right to fear.

"You are not a telepath," Da'an continued.

"Nor am I responsible for the Synod's assumptions that it was a telepath. And you know I'm not joking, Da'an," Liam returned pointedly, letting the - now icy-cold - rage he felt enter both his voice and his expression. Let Da'an try to explain that to the Synod after he left!

He then turned back to Zo'or. "I may not be a telepath, but I was the one who 'intruded' on the Commonality - if it can truly be called an intrusion when I've been linked to the Commonality my entire life."

"If you believe I find this amusing, Major, you are much mistaken," Zo'or declared firmly - but Liam could sense an underlying hint of uncertainty in the Synod Leader's tone. "It is anything but amusing. You are a Companion-Protector; I gave you an order that I expect to be obey--"

Time to get this show on the road.

Liam took a step forward, re-focusing everyone's attention on him rather than Zo'or. Then he extended his hands, palms upward - and activated his shaqarava.

{Do you understand now, Zo'or?} he demanded, flinging the question into the Commonality like a challenge.

At the same time, obeying the memory from Ha'gel, Liam clasped his hands together, bringing his shaqarava into contact with each other; and closed his eyes, throwing his head back as energy began flooding through his body.


Da'an couldn't believe this was happening. What is he doing? he wondered, stunned, as Liam revealed his shaqarava.

At the same time, a powerful presence - Liam's presence - surged through the Commonality, making itself known. The presence radiated a sense of tightly controlled rage - and could not be mistaken for anything but one of the Kimera.

Da'an had thought himself beyond surprise at that point, after everything Liam had just done. But the distinctively Kimeran flavour of Liam's presence - something he'd never felt from the young hybrid, even before Liam had begun making an effort to integrate himself with humanity - succeeded in shocking him even more. He barely paid any attention to Liam's question - which rang through the Commonality with the same force as Liam's cry for his father had three days ago - concentrating more on trying to discern why Liam's presence suddenly felt so much like that of a full Kimera.

As a result, Liam's next action also caught him by surprise.

Glimpsing a flicker of movement from the hybrid, Da'an returned his focus to the physical world in time to see Liam move his hands together, so that his still-activated shaqarava were actually touching.

Horrified, fearing that Liam was going to kill himself, Da'an started forward - and then stopped short as he saw a glow begin to spread up Liam's arms.

As everyone on the bridge - save the drones - watched in a mixture of awe and atavistic terror, the glow continued to spread, until Liam was completely enshrouded in a brilliant white light. No one could move - they all stood frozen, rooted to the spot, staring at the tall column of light in the middle of the bridge.

Then, so slowly as to be almost imperceptible at first, the light began to recede. After about a minute, Liam was revealed again.

His physical features looked the same, but the light that had enveloped him was still there, glowing faintly from underneath his skin. And his eyes, when he opened them, shone with a pale silver-green radiance.

Slowly, he unclasped his hands... and, as if that had been a signal, the spell of silence that had bound the rest of the bridge was broken.

"Seize him!" Zo'or snapped at the Volunteers, pointing toward Liam.

"I wouldn't advise that," Liam said quietly. His voice hadn't changed; but still, there was something new in his tone, something that Da'an hadn't heard from him before... A sense of... knowledge, of understanding.

The Volunteers were hesitating, not entirely sure what had just happened, but - Da'an assumed - fairly certain that they didn't want to go up against Liam.

"I said seize--" Zo'or began.

"Enough!"

Everyone's eyes returned to Liam.

"I'm not staying."

Zo'or started to reach for the mothership controls - the security protocols that would engage the bridge defenses, Da'an thought - but before he could touch them, Liam surged back into the Commonality.

{You are dying. All of you. The entire Taelon race is dying,} the hybrid declared forcefully, the thought going to every corner of the Commonality - every Taelon outside stasis could hear what Liam was saying. {That's one of the reasons I was born - so that my destiny would change yours; so that the Taelons would be saved. That was the reason I became a Companion-Protector.

{But you have gone too far, done too much, both as a species and individually. The universe and the last of the Kimera gave you a chance to save your race. You squandered it - and you have doomed yourselves as a result.

{I wash my hands of you. Completely.}

The members of the Synod - all of them - stared at each other, each feeling a painful combination of dismay, anger, and the fear that even a mention of the Kimera induced in them.

Then, finally breaking free of his shock, Da'an looked around - and realized that even as he'd been giving his little speech, Liam had disappeared from the bridge.


Liam ducked quickly into a side corridor, hiding, as a group of three Volunteers walked past. He didn't think anyone - Volunteer or Taelon - on the bridge had recovered yet from the shock he'd given them; but considering the fact that he was glowing, he figured that the longer he avoided drawing any attention to himself, the better.

Glowing. Liam looked down at himself with a faint grimace as the Volunteers stopped in the middle of the corridor to let a group of drones go by. Even though he'd spent the entire night planning this, the results had still surprised him somewhat. He certainly hadn't expected his body to end up glowing, although he probably should have. After all, Kimera were energy-based, so it should have been a reasonable assumption.

He knew there was a way to control the pale radiance emanating from him - his memories were quite clear on that - and he was confident he'd learn to do so in time. But he was too drained to winnow through his memories for answers at the moment - what he'd done had used up quite a bit of energy - and, even if he'd had the energy, this wasn't the time or place for experimentation.

The radiance didn't endanger him. It was simply an inconvenience; it meant that he now had to sneak down to the bay where his shuttle was berthed, as opposed to just walking normally and taking the main corridors, which would have been a great deal quicker.

It wasn't that he was afraid of the Volunteers - even in the unlikely event that they managed to capture him, they wouldn't be able to keep him. He just didn't want to hurt them if it could be at all avoided.

He heard the sound of footsteps start up again, and peered carefully around the corner to see the three Volunteers continuing on their way. With a silent sigh of relief, Liam did the same, fingering his global again as he headed down the corridor in the opposite direction.

One of the things he'd done last night was record messages to several people. Yes, he was leaving humanity to its own devices, as he was leaving the Taelons, but his sense of duty wouldn't let him abandon the Resistance to a leadership struggle, and he couldn't leave the people who cared about him wondering what had happened when he disappeared.

He had two variations on the messages - as there had been two possible outcomes to what he'd done. Liam had sent the first variation on a four-hour time-delay as soon as he'd gotten the results of his search program, and they could be deleted anytime before the end of that four-hour - now down to two and a half hours - delay by a signal from his global.

That was the variation they would have received if he'd died.

The same signal would also deliver the second variation of the message, which was the reason he didn't want to send it until he was away from the mothership. Which meant that he had to reach his shuttle as quickly as possible.

Besides, he also wanted to change some of the messages, now that he'd actually gone through the transformation.

Liam looked back down at his hands, twisting them around, studying them.

What he'd done might sound complicated, but it was actually fairly simple - although dangerous. He'd used the energy of his shaqarava to render most of his human DNA dormant, thus making his Kimera genes dominant. Other hybrids had done it before, when they'd found Kimeran society to be more to their liking than that of their other parent species.

He was still part human - he couldn't change that even if he'd wanted to, which he didn't. He was now simply more Kimera.

Abruptly, Liam felt a familiar presence brush against his link to the Commonality; a presence that felt very nervous - and angry. Da'an.

{Liam!}

Liam ignored the call, looking around. He was about ten decks above the shuttle bay; and if the Synod was beginning to recover from the shock of discovering that Ha'gel had had a child, he was going to have to move faster to avoid capture.

The Volunteers didn't scare him... but the Taelons knew ways to deal with Kimera. If he was going to succeed in leaving, he was going to have to make sure that he didn't give them any opportunity to use them.


{Liam!} Da'an called again, even as he moved over to the controls that monitored the status of the mothership.

The rest of the Synod - except Zo'or - were talking to each other in quiet whispers of Eunoia, still stunned by what had happened. But Liam had said that he wasn't staying, and Da'an suspected that he was even now preparing to depart. Only with what Liam had implied, that one of the reasons the young hybrid had actually been created was to save the Taelons, they couldn't afford to let him leave.

As soon as he'd recovered from his own shock, he'd immediately sent one squad of Volunteers to the shuttle bay, and one to the portal, with orders to detain Liam if he appeared - they would be able to get there before Liam did, since they'd be able to use the main corridors of the ship, whereas Liam would have to keep to the side passages to prevent anyone from spotting him.

But the Volunteers were only a last resort, there to delay Liam if he got that far. With his shaqarava active again - and with his need to hide them gone - Liam would have no problems dealing with the Volunteers. They needed a way to trap him here on the ship.

Da'an's hands moved rapidly over the controls, implementing one of the security protocols - one that set up barriers of virtual glass over every exit point on the ship, and also within the corridors leading to the shuttle bays and the portal. He'd already given the leaders of the two squads the current codes that could be used to shut the barriers down just long enough for the squads to get past them, but these codes were kept under the tightest security, and changed every two days, so Liam couldn't possibly have them. They'd trap him somewhere along the way.

"You knew," said a quiet, angry voice from behind him, and Da'an turned to face his child.

"Knew what?" he questioned, but he was fairly certain he knew exactly what Zo'or was referring to. Liam's statement had been subtle - but Zo'or had never lacked subtlety, merely wisdom.

"That Major Kincaid was Kimera. You knew from the beginning."

"Part-Kimera," Da'an corrected, admitting the truth of the accusation. "He had two human parents." He glanced back at the console display, pleased to see that the Volunteer squads had reached their assigned positions.

"And Ha'gel," Zo'or hissed. Then he paused, and Da'an could almost see him put two and two together, as the humans put it - combining their knowledge of which humans Ha'gel had taken as hosts with the event that had started this entire search.

"Agent Sandoval," Zo'or said slowly. "I think I begin to understand recent events now. The Kimera were always very family-oriented." He gave Da'an a very pointed look. "This current situation is of your making, Da'an, and it is your responsibility to deal with the results. If Major Kincaid is not captured, you will be required to explain to the Synod why you neglected to inform us that Ha'gel had a child - one who could have been controlled through his human parent. Unless you want the Synod to find out the exact nature of your involvement in what has just occurred."

Zo'or obviously knew that he was the one who had had Agent Sandoval killed.

"There is no need for you to threaten me, Zo'or," Da'an replied, glaring at his child. Forgive me, Liam, but I must save my people. "I have already ensured that Liam will not reach the shuttles or the portals, and there is no other way off the mothership."

"That had best be correct, for your sake, Da'an," Zo'or said coldly.

"I have--" Da'an began, and then abruptly fell silent as the display showed one of the barriers, about eight decks up from the shuttle bay, go down for a moment. But the Volunteers were already in position...

{Liam! Liam, what are you doing?!} he demanded, sending the thought directly to the young hybrid.

For a long moment, there was no response.

Then, {You will not hold me, Da'an. I am not either of my fathers - I will be no one's captive.} There was a flare of rage, both icy-cold and searing-hot at once, and then Liam's link to the Commonality vanished from his perceptions.


Liam glared furiously at the virtual glass barrier that barred his way. Whoever had set them up - and he suspected it was Da'an, from the rapid response when he'd brought down the first one using the codes Street routinely downloaded from the mothership's computer and sent to his global - was obviously determined to trap him.

And he couldn't keep using the codes - not only would that slow him down, but it would take Da'an only a few minutes to realize that that's what he was doing, and change them. So he was going to have to find another way to deal with the barriers...

Reaching up, he placed his hands against the barrier in front of him, and flared his shaqarava.

There was a flicker of pain from a momentary feedback - next time, he'd have to stand a bit farther away, not put his hands directly against the virtual glass - and then the barrier vanished as if it had never been.

Well, that's definitely a quicker way to deal with them! Liam thought in satisfaction, as he jogged forward. There was no more time for stealth - he had to hurry, and hope that anyone he ran into on the way would stay clear of him.

The only drawbacks are that Da'an will now know exactly where I'm going - and depending on how many barriers are between here and the shuttle bay, I'm going to end up seriously drained. It may not leave me enough energy to deal with the Volunteers I'm sure he sent there - and any Taelons I might find there as well.

But there's nothing else I can do. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

It took him another fifteen minutes - and ten more barriers - to reach the bay where he'd left his shuttle; and by the time he got there, Liam knew that he had - maybe - enough energy for two more shaqarava blasts. And from where he stood, just to one side of the entrance to the bay, he could see a full squad of eight Volunteers. They looked vaguely familiar - one of the squads who had witnessed his transformation?

Well, I've reached the bridge. Now how do I cross it before the Taelons get here?

Glancing down at himself, Liam suddenly remembered - for the first time since he had changed - that he still had his gun at his belt. And with that realization came the beginnings of a plan.


Volunteer Sergeant Ramsey looked around the shuttle bay uneasily. It didn't help her anxiety any that the rest of her squad was obviously as nervous as she was.

What had happened on the bridge... well, she still didn't understand most of it, but one thing had been quite clear. Major Kincaid was a lot more than he appeared to be - and he obviously terrified the Taelons. And if the Taelons were terrified - well, she and her squad had perfect reason to be even more so.

Silently, she hoped that - if Da'an was right and the Major was trying to leave the mothership - he would choose to leave by the portal rather than by a shuttle. The way he had looked at them so coldly when Zo'or had ordered them to grab him... She shivered.

A sudden subdued 'clank' called her attention to the nearest entrance, and she instinctively raised her gun as she tried to determine what had caused the noise. A careful scan of the floor found a dark, strangely shaped object, and she squinted at it as she wondered what it was.

"Hey, Sarge, isn't that a gun?" Private Landers asked.

Now that he'd said that, she could see that he was right... but it didn't make sense. Why would anyone throw--

The whine that reached her ears a moment later answered the unvoiced question.

"Get down!" she yelled, throwing herself to the floor. The rest of the squad echoed her movement just in time, as the gun that someone - most likely Major Kincaid - had tossed into the bay overloaded and exploded.

Ramsey quickly buried her face against the floor, shielding her eyes from the flying debris - but not before she caught a quick glimpse of a tall, glowing form racing across the bay from the entrance toward one of the shuttles.


Liam landed the shuttle gently on the flat outcropping and dismissed the control console. Glancing at his watch, he saw that he had just under an hour to recall the messages. Good enough, he decided, although he was a bit shocked at the length of time it had taken him to escape from the mothership and then find a landing place that would help him evade its sensors.

Opening his global, he quickly deleted four of the second set of messages - he would send those four people new ones - then set the time-delay on the rest at two hours, which would give him enough time to leave Earth and be out of range of contact before they were delivered. Then he sent the signal that would delete the first set of messages.

It took him about half an hour to record the other four messages - he wanted to make sure that everything was right, and that the recipients would understand exactly what he was saying, how much he owed them - and then he sent them as well before turning his attention back to the shuttle's controls.

Bringing up the autopilot, he set a preliminary course for Saturn's rings - they'd be able to hide him from the mothership long enough for him to figure out how to reach his first destination - and then engaged the ID drive.


Renee was sitting at her desk, wrestling with a proposal for another co-venture, when her global beeped at her. Grateful for the opportunity provided to push the proposal to one side, she opened her global and scanned the screen, frowning slightly. Apparently she had an incoming message that had been sent with a time delay delivery.

Tapping the button to accept it, she found her frown deepening when Liam's face appeared on the screen. Judging by the background, it had been recorded on board the mothership.

"By the time you get this message, Renee, I will be gone," Liam said calmly. "I'm quitting my positions as Da'an's Companion-Protector, and as leader of the Resistance."

What?! Renee thought, stunned.

"I don't expect you to understand, of course," Liam continued blithely on, "but there's nothing you can do about it now anyway. I've already made and carried out my decision - and anyway, I'm no longer on Earth. I've left - and I won't be coming back for a long time, if ever.

"However, as many times as I've been left in the lurch by others, I would never do that to the Resistance. After the events of the past year or so, I realized that I had to plan for all eventualities - including the possibility of my own death; so several months ago, I chose someone to take over the leadership of the Resistance if - for whatever reason - I was unable to continue in the role. That person - along with the other cell leaders - is also receiving a message from me right now, and if that person can accept the position, they will meet you and Street in the church in two days' time, at six PM.

"If they can't accept - and it's possible, as they do have other responsibilities as well - then there's a program in Augur's computer that will provide you and Street with the name of the next choice. Don't ask Street to go looking for it - she won't find it. I had Augur bury it months ago. The only way to activate it is through a signal from my first choice, at which point it will execute the first time you and Street are together there after the signal is sent.

"I wish you the best of luck in your fight against the Taelons. Goodbye, Renee. It's been... an educational experience."

Liam's face vanished, leaving Renee staring at the blank screen in shock.


Augur leaned back in his deck chair and sighed, pleased. The sun was shining brightly, and it warmed him all the way through.

A sudden beeping sound startled him, and he sat back up, staring at the global on the nearby table in astonishment. No one knew how to reach that global - no one!

Opening it, he blinked in stunned surprise as Liam's face appeared on the screen, with the small symbol in one corner that indicated that the message had been sent with a time-delay. How had the kid found this number? For that matter, the hacker added to himself, squinting slightly, why is Liam glowing? Is there something wrong with the screen? Or did the message get scrambled during the time delay?

"Hey, Augur," Liam said, grinning. "Bet you're surprised to know that I have this number, huh? Don't worry, I haven't given it to anyone - not even Renee."

Then the kid's expression turned serious. "Listen, Augur, there are a few things I have to tell you, and I don't really have all that much time. I need to leave before the Taelons manage to trace the flight-path of my shuttle and find me." Liam took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "First of all, my father-- Sandoval is dead. Da'an killed him - deliberately sent him into a trap. And I... I quit."

'Quit'? What the hell does that mean, kid? Just how serious is this? Why are the Taelons after you?

And why are you glowing?

"It was too much. I'm only two years old - and now I'm an orphan. Before this, even if I hated what Sandoval was doing, at least I knew he was still alive, still here - that I might just have a chance to have a father. Well, as it happened, I did - but only for a few minutes. Then he died in my arms... like Mother did. I just can't take it any more - the unrelenting responsibilities, the constant betrayals...

"I'm leaving, Augur. Leaving the Taelons, leaving the Resistance... leaving Earth. I might come back one of these days, but I don't know for sure if - or when - that might be, so I wanted to say goodbye... and thank you. For your friendship, for taking care of me, for being my big brother... I'll miss you. I miss you already. I only hope you can understand.

"One last thing... you're not imagining things, Augur. I really am glowing. You were right about that - I haven't become more human.

"And I haven't become less human, either. I've just become... more.

"'Bye, Augur."

Liam's image vanished, and Augur slowly closed the global, uncaring of the single tear that slid down his cheek.

'Bye, kid. I hope you find what you're looking for.


Dr. Melissa Park had just finished putting away the file with the results of her latest experiments when her global beeped.

"Wonderful... What now?" she muttered, picking it up and opening it. "If this is Zuckerman about those cultures again--" She stopped in mid-complaint as she recognized the face on the screen. "Liam?!"

"Hi, Dr. Park," the young man she had delivered just over two years ago said quietly, and Melissa realized with a small shock that he was... glowing?

"By the time you receive this message, I will be long gone. I don't know whether or not you've already heard this, but Sandoval is dead. Da'an lured him into a trap." For a moment, Liam's young face took on a hard look - and then it vanished, leaving a child who was hurting terribly. "I can't stay as his Protector any longer. I... can't stay here on Earth any longer.

"I may return - I just don't know at this point. In case I don't, I wanted to say goodbye - and thank you. Thank you for everything you've done for me."

With that, the message ended, leaving Melissa staring at a blank screen.

A moment later, the global beeped again, and Dr. Julianne Belman's code appeared on the screen. She tapped in a quick acknowledgement, and then the face of her co-worker and friend appeared.

"Julianne," Melissa said quietly, keeping her sorrow under tight control.

"Melissa," Julianne replied, and sighed softly. "I just received a message--"

"--From Liam?" Melissa finished, her tone making it less a question and more of a statement.

Her friend nodded. "From Liam," she confirmed. "I gather you received one as well?" When Melissa just nodded, Julianne paused, and then added, "He was... glowing. Literally."

Melissa responded with a sigh of her own. "I think... I think he's starting to grow up, Julianne." Grow into his heritage, that meant - and Julianne knew it as well as she did. "And it's time for him to leave the nest."

The two women met each other's eyes, silent for a moment, both thinking of the young boy/man who had been humanity's hope against the Taelons.

Then, "He'll be back," Julianne said, her tone oddly confident. "One of these days... he'll be back."

"I certainly hope so," Melissa replied. Then she forced a smile, pushing away the shock and sorrow she felt at Liam's message for the moment. It was something she'd have to deal with - she and Julianne - but not now, not over their globals. In person. "Meet you for lunch tomorrow? We can talk then..."

"Good idea. I'll meet you at Bruckman's," Julianne replied, nodding in agreement as she named one of the few 'safe' restaurants in the area.

Melissa took a deep breath, closing the global and putting it back down on her desk with more force than was strictly necessary. Then she just sat, staring out the window for a long moment.

Wherever you are now, Liam - no thanks are necessary, but you're welcome all the same. Just... please, come home to us soon.


"...Don't go looking for the program, Street. I had Augur hide it for a very good reason. With any luck, my first choice for the position will agree, and it won't need to be activated." Liam's solemn voice echoed slightly in the large underground chamber, but Street paid no attention to it, her focus on the image of her friend's face.

"I can't tell you to keep helping the Resistance, and I wouldn't even if I could," the recorded message continued. "That will have to be your decision. I just want you to understand that it's going to become a great deal more dangerous with no one high in the Taelon hierarchy.

"I know we haven't known each other for very long, Street, but I'm proud to consider you a friend. I'll miss you.

"Goodbye."

Liam's image flickered and disappeared, leaving Street staring at the large screen in shock. She couldn't believe it - couldn't believe that Liam would leave, just like that.

"Where did the transmission originate?" she asked the computer.

"Analysis indicates that the transmission was recorded on the Taelon mothership," the computer replied. "Origin of transmission cannot be determined."

And that was that. Liam had said that he was leaving Earth - and the message had had a time-delayed delivery. He was probably already gone.

Furious, Street shut off the computer and stalked out of the lair, heading for the worst part of the Fringes. She was in the mood for a fight.


"Sir, you have an incoming message," said a quiet voice from the doorway.

The man thus addressed looked up from the pile of paperwork - Red tape, he thought sourly - on his desk. "A message?" he repeated, curious. "From who?"

There was a momentary pause, and then, "Major Kincaid, sir."

The man's eyes widened in surprise. That was the last answer he'd been expecting.

Pushing his chair back, he stood up, wincing as he stretched. He hated paperwork - not necessarily because he didn't like the work itself, although quite often there were other things he felt his time could be better spent on, but because sitting at his desk for several hours at a time always resulted in back spasms. An old injury that hadn't healed quite right.

His subordinate, still standing in the doorway, handed him a global whose number was supposed to be top secret. "The message downloaded directly to here, except for a note that went into the system to let us know," the man told him. "It also said that it was private."

He shook his head. "I'm not even going to ask how the Major got this number," he muttered, closing the door behind his subordinate. "Augur, no doubt."

Opening the global, he entered his authorization code.

A moment later, the image of Major Kincaid appeared on the screen, and the man bit back an gasp of surprise when he saw the glow emanating from the Major's skin.

"Hello, Colonel Kincaid," the young man said quietly. "I have a number of things to tell you, and not much time left to tell them, so please, bear with me.

"First of all, I want to thank you for allowing me to use your identity. It kept my own secrets safe from discovery, which is what has kept me alive this long.

"However, my secrets have now been revealed to the Taelons - by my own choice - and there is no more need for me to hide behind a name not my own; especially as I am leaving, both the Taelons and Earth. So I am returning your name to you, with my humble thanks for the loan.

"The second thing is... do you remember when we first met, and I told you that you would never believe the truth of who I am? Well, I really have no idea whether you will believe or not, but I feel that I owe you the truth in return for the use of your name, the advice you gave me the last time we saw each other, and the favour I'm about to ask you for.

"My real name is Li'am Beckett-Sandoval, and despite my appearance, I am two years old."

Colonel Kincaid sank down into his chair, uncaring of the momentary back spasm the sudden movement caused, staring at the screen of the global in shock.

"You've undoubtedly noticed the fact that my skin is glowing," the young man - child? - continued with a wry grin. "I assure you, it's not a problem with the transmission - it really is doing that.

"I'm not entirely human, Colonel. I have - I had - three parents: two of them human, one a member of a now-extinct race called the Kimera - the only Kimera to survive a genocidal attack by the Taelons millions of years ago. My mother was Companion-Protector Lieutenant Siobhan Beckett, and my human father was Agent Ronald Sandoval. All three are now dead.

"There are only a few people in the world who know this information. If you accept my proposal, Augur will be able give you the entire story.

"Which leads to the third - and last - thing I need to tell you.

"I want you to lead the Resistance.

"I realize that it may not be possible for you - in which case, there is a code at the end of this message which you will need to transmit to Augur's computer - but I'm hoping that you will at least consider it.

"Despite my use of your identity, I have no military experience whatsoever. I have the memories of my parents - a racial trait of the Kimera - but even with them, I'm not meant to be a leader. At least not yet. I may be an adult physically, but I've only been alive for a little over two years.

"You are a leader - and more to the point, you have the experience to run the Resistance. That's what they need right now - a leader who knows what he's doing; especially as the situation now that I'm gone will be tense, to say the least.

"And last, but not least, you are also one of the few people who are completely up-to-date on the status of the Resistance; and of those few, you're the only one I trust to hold the position.

"If you agree - which I hope you will - you'll be expected at Augur's lair in two days, at eighteen hundred. The people who will meet you there will be able to fill you in on any information you don't already have.

"Once again, Colonel, thank you. Whatever you choose, I wish you all the best."

With that, the message ended, although a line of text flashing on the screen indicated further information - the signal that the other man had mentioned.

Leaning back in his chair, Colonel Liam Neville Kincaid thought for several hours about everything that the message had told him.

Then, after a quick consultation with his superiors, he made arrangements to go to Washington DC the day after tomorrow.


Street glared at the computer.

"What's wrong?" Renee asked, though she didn't stop her pacing. It had been a very long two days. The Taelons were behaving... strangely - Zo'or had been meeting secretly with President Thompson and Hubble Urick, and Da'an had been keeping to the Embassy, apparently in disgrace for some reason - and with Liam gone, the Resistance and the ANA's connection to the Taelon hierarchy had disappeared, leaving them guessing.

"I'm not having any luck getting into the mothership's security records," Street replied, sounding unusually irritable. But then, Renee was aware that she'd had a crush on Liam for as long as she'd known him, and to have him vanish like this...

"Which security records?" Renee asked, walking over to where Street was sitting, in an effort to distract herself from thinking about Liam's disappearance.

"The ones from two days ago, of course," Street replied irritably. "I'm trying--" She broke off as the two of them heard the elevator start to move.

"Well, looks like we're finally going to find out who Liam chose as his successor," Renee muttered; nonetheless, her hand went automatically to her gun.

A moment later the elevator door opened, and a tall, dark-haired man with a curved scar on his right cheek walked out and stopped, looking around.

Then his eyes went to them. "Well, well, well... Ms. Palmer, Ms. Street. It's a pleasure to meet you." His eyes flickered over the room again. "Is Augur here?"

"Who the hell are you?" Street demanded. "And how do you know who we are?"

"You can call me Colonel Zeke," the man replied calmly. "As for how I know your names... Liam's told me about you."

Renee frowned. "You're not one of the cell leaders," she declared, studying the man. She had never seen him before in her life - she would swear to it. And she knew all the Resistance cell leaders - and a number of anti-Taelon people who didn't care for the Resistance's generally low-violence methods. This man - whoever he was, since his name sure as hell wasn't really 'Colonel Zeke' - wasn't any of them. Besides, Liam wouldn't have chosen a fanatic to head the Resistance after him.

"No, I'm not," 'Colonel Zeke' replied calmly.

"So whose cell are you from?" Renee persisted.

The man stepped down from the elevator platform and began wandering around. "None of them," he said, his tone absentminded. "By the way, I really like what you've done with the place, Ms. Street."

"Hold on just a minute," Renee snapped, as Street's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What do you mean, you aren't from any of the cells?"

"Exactly what I said, Ms. Palmer," 'Zeke' said evenly. "I'm not from the Resistance. To be quite frank, I'm not exactly all that interested in leading the Resistance either, but Liam had some very compelling arguments."

"And how do we know that you really are the person Liam sent to meet with us?" Street demanded.

"Well, for one thing, the DNA scanner that enables the elevator accepted me," 'Zeke' pointed out.

"DNA scanners can be fooled," Street countered.

Renee kept silent, letting Street handle this. Personally, she believed that this 'Zeke' was telling the truth - at least as far as being Liam's chosen successor - but she still wanted to know who he really was.

"Suspicious, aren't you?" the man said. "Very well... but you both must promise me that what I'm about to tell you won't go beyond this room. The lives of more people than you know depend on it."

Renee and Street glanced at each other, and Street nodded. "Very well," Renee replied. "We agree."

"Computer. Voiceprint identification. Colonel Liam Neville Kincaid. 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery'."

The holo - which Street had, on a whim a few weeks ago, changed to the image of Liam - appeared. "Voiceprint confirmed. Welcome back to the lair, Colonel Kincaid."


The Taelon shuttle landed lightly on the grassy verge, and the virtual glass that formed the front of the shuttle disappeared with a wave of the pilot's hand.

Standing up, Li'am Beckett-Sandoval stepped out and crouched down, reaching out to reverently touch the blades of bluish-purple grass that were almost exactly as his memory had pictured them. Evolution on this world was slow.

He lowered his hand to the ground, and dug into the soil, picking up a handful. Then, standing up, Li'am smiled, relaxing completely for the first time in far too long, as he slowly let the soil of the Kimera homeworld dribble through his fingers back down to the ground.


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